This week I witnessed an intense debate for and against the idea of afterlife. I proposed a view quite different from the usual extremes:
Actually, as I near 70th birthday, a year after cancer surgery, I experience a more practical reason to be more concrete about how I view death in my personal planning.
Most people fall into the usual trap of a bias towards black or white thinking on the issue.
I really like Connie Willis's inspired novel Passages on the issue of life after death, from a more sensitive and less formal black and white viewpoint. She does not endorse the Mickey mouse mundane view that "nothing at all survives death ever" but deeply and sensitively disputes the naive idea that we are the same after death, that we appear as our normal selves in some Bardo or other, to be judged where to walk with our normal two legs.
If in reality we as individuals are a symbiosis or "alchemical marriage" of mundane body and "soul" (which is easier for me to fit with science and with experience both), then of course after death we are missing something quite serious. How serious? It varies from person to person. As Bennett says, in his book popularizing Gurdjieff, which I translate as: "If you have important data to save, put it on hard disk."
For this blog, I should go further on a few obvious questions.
First, I never joined any of the various Gurdjieff schools or groups. At Harvard graduate school, I had two very close friends who did – one a fellow graduate student in the El primo scholarship based in France, set up by ouspensky, and another an undergraduate in the number two group based on Bennett in England. I did read all three of Gurdjieff’s books, and one by Bennett and ouspensky each.
Second, what can I say about the specific methods they propose for “putting your data (and other key information) on hard disk, more permanent storage”? Those schools had their own incredible personality issues and distractions and red herrings; I do not endorse all of that. Above all, in discussing ethics or the meaning of life, gurdjieff suggested (as a very rough generalization) that people go through three levels of spiritual motivation as they mature: “to know, to do, to be.”
Yes, a lot of folks get frozen out as they pursue dry academic “knowledge” about life beyond the mundane. After a period of intense exploration by experiment (“to do”), they settle down to what matters objectively here (to be?). But in fact, it is usually not natural for a creature evolved from natural selection (on earth or in a larger ecology) to care only about prolongation of its own personal existence.
(E.O.Wilson’s book Sociobiology has some important gaps but deserves a lot more respect than the ideologues would allow it.) Thus is why I hesitate to say much more about the two core serious subgoals gurdjieff presents, the most reliable part of his approach: (1) “crystallization,” simply raising intelligence and knowledge in “the soul” based on mental challenges overlapping with the challenges we use to improve our brains; and (2) connection, in which we, like neurons within a brain, develop strong and energetic connections with other souls of the earth, ideally the earth as a whole.
Maybe these two are not so risky, if one remembers that they both require a high degree of honesty and altruism, higher emotional intelligence, without which many types of catastrophic breakdown can occur.
To that list I posted a few more details in another context:
I am depressed that anyone on this list would reassure us with absolute total conviction that paranormal connections exist only in a tiny fraction of humanity, somewhere less than .01%. Work in Dean's community, and in western mystical disciplines, suggests that this is false. Priest kings following the tradition of ancient Sumeria have used that lie, and claims of their divinity, to control and repress both brains and souls, for millennia -- most recently support by a follower of Ayn Rand, Mercer, of Ted Cruz, as a cynical way to subvert democracy. (Just search Google news!) As with mathematics ability, another discipline of the mind, DNA does matter, but training (intensity and quality) matters more, and the abilities aren't so strictly personal as the priest kings seem to imagine.
Once again, I highly recommend the article "Are we a nation of mystics?" by Greeley and McCready (sp?), reprinted in Goleman anthology Consciousness, which everyone on this list should own. (I bought it for $1 used on amazon.)
From what I have seen, paranormal abilities have some analogy to mathematical abilities. Dean rightly notes that only a small fraction of the people who come to him for testing show dramatic and reliable results, though 30% show something memorable. The classic book Mind Race by Puthoff and Targ sounds similar, and highlights two very special subjects, Swann and Price.
But what if Dean were testing for understanding of the mathematics of general relativity? The percentage of reasonable understanding would be even less -- but would be very much a function of education. Many people who COULD understand the basics of general relativity never do, because their education and motivation does not lead them there. Education in basic mathematics and general relativity is far more available than education in how to use inner powers of mind. Yoga, AND people like Dean and Julia, have the potential to help close the gap. In truth, I wish for a world where both types of education are more prevalent and effective-- and I believe they support each other because discipline of the mind works best in am integrated way.
I have also been recently near the places of Carl Jung, and people who spoke about the synergy of music, Mathematics and mysticism.
Friday, July 21, 2017
This week I witnessed an intense debate for and against the idea of afterlife. I proposed a view quite different from the usual extremes:
Wednesday, June 7, 2017
Part one, reply to a guy from the Vedanta list:
On Wed, Jun 7, 2017 at 6:10 AM, '... wrote (to someone else on the list):
[S.P.] I repeat for the second time: electric impulses (or the physical sensory signals) have nothing to do with my writing the replies. My reply is a product of my consciousness. Second. Electric impulses do not carry information.
Thus, when you say about incompleteness of machines, it perhaps can be construed that it is part of the Evolutionary transition, as everything else.Maybe. I see it as a step toward the contemplation era. Today we are in the "production era".
A Hardware Update for the Human Brain
From Silicon Valley startups to the U.S. Department of Defense, scientists and engineers are hard at work on a brain-computer interface that could turn us into programmable, debuggable machines
Before Borghard received a brain implant, she was having as many as 400 “spikes” of seizure-like activity a day, along with multiple seizures. This unrelenting storm of abnormal neural activity turned her teenage years into a semiconscious nightmare.
See: Regular Cycles of Forward and Backward Signal Propagation in Prefrontal Cortex and in Consciousness, by Paul Werbos and Yeshua (J.J.) Davis, Front. Syst. Neurosci., 28 November 2016. (Note the clickable link to the open access paper.) It is "can do" manipulative intervention no more justified than the frontal lobotomies which once were popular.
Tuesday, June 6, 2017
Sunday, June 4, 2017
Trump has stated that he is not (currently) taking a stand against constructive action on climate change, but that the Paris agreement was a bad deal. He said something like: “I now invite climate change people, including even Democrats, to come work with me on something more effective.” After the experience with health care, it is understandable that many people have reason not to take him at his word, but if we do not try to take the moral highground here we will share in the blame for what happens, which in my view could kill us all.
It is understandable that many people believe that climate change is not important enough to distract us from other more serious issues, such as the dangers of new wars, especially serious when some folks would push us into a war between US and Israel versus Russia and Iran, in much the same way as they calmly pushed us into a war with Iraq under Cheney. In 2009, working for Senator Specter (one of the few people who gave priority to the search for truth over PR advocacy for selected external groups), I was impressed by the conclusions of the International IPPC effort, which estimated that “business as usual” energy policy would result in a 5% loss to world GNP in 2100 due to climate change — not exactly a matter of life or death to the world as a whole.
However, there were serious loose ends in everyone’s understanding back then, and I did wonder about John Kerry’s forceful argument that we should pay serious attention to the “25% probability that Hansen might be right, that the Antarctic might start to melt, resulting in sea level damage much worse than the base case.” Kerry argued “even a 25% probability of something that bad requires.. precautionary principle.” In the second half of my recent paper, , I review the new information which has forced me to be MUCH more worried now. A big crack is starting to fissure right now, this month, in the Antarctic, following Hansen’s worst case scenario (as did the retirement process applied to Hansen himself) — and, even worse, the crucial currents which bring oxygen to the Pacific ocean have shut down. THE PROBLEM IS NOT GLOBAL WARMING; THE PROBLEM IS ANTARCTIC WARMING. So far as I know, global warming elsewhere is a problem no more serious than what IPCC IV depicted, on the whole, but Antarctic warming has the potential to literally kill all humans on earth, if one looks with hard eyes at the system of system effects in operation now.
And so: if President Trump wants to do something more useful than the Paris accords, focused directly on keeping us all alive at minimum possible cost, he does have an opportunity to work with Democrats to take positive action, to propose a new international partnership on something much smaller on cost but much bigger on value. More precisely, he could offer to lead a new international coalition apply the Teller/Caldeira/Wood geoengineering scheme NOT to cool the earth, but specifically to cool the Antarctic, under a strategic effort focused on restoring the oxygen-bringing ocean currents at the soonest possible time.
Of course, Ed Teller was far from a fuzzy-headed left winger. If anyone here does not know his name, I sure hope you will do a web search; even dead, he is still a person whom everyone in energy should know about. Lowell Wood, his former science advisor, is still alive, and I have often hoped that Trump would consider him for OSTP — someone compatible with Trump’s general attitudes but deeply competent. At , an important site for energy and environment research, it is reported that total global cooling by geoengineering would cost only $700 million per year. That may be low (as most cost estimates at this stage are, for aerospace projects or for nuclear power plants, etc.), but compare that with the $500 billion per year in substantive “allowances” which the Obama climate bills would have given out.
People who wanted that $500 billion per year were understandably violently worried about the risk that right-wingers would do something so cheap instead (even if geoengineering the Antarctic ended up costing, say, $2 billion per year to be split across all the nations now working together in Antarctica). Would this hurt the politics of the effort to get other larger actions, such as laws which force greater use of renewable energy? But maybe we have wasted too much energy on political double-think and triple-think. Yes, if Trump offers this to Democrats, some of them may object because of such calculations, but by taking the moral highground and making the offer sincere and visible to everyone, the worst risk would be that he would strengthen his position politically. Those of us who truly recognize the nature and urgency of the problem would not hesitate to save our lives, regardless of other considerations. (Waxman type bills are not the most realistic way to move renewables faster in any case.)
Does anyone see any hope of making this kind of middle way opportunity more visible in serious political circles? Or will we just waste our time in useless ego wars and mutual posturing? I wish Specter were still part of this game, but if anyone knows Murkowski or Collins or Cantwell…
Saturday, June 3, 2017
One question. Do you think the experiences Rishis had in meditation are similar to those under psychedelic drugs even though most of them could not have taken these drugs? Your description of Mukti is much more general than Vedic concepts of liberation of soul etc. Well, quantum mechanics may not be a path to mukti! But it sounds like a bridge to non-sensory world. Though, of course, the story is unfinished yet. Many people challenge even the existence of non-sensory world.
Tuesday, May 30, 2017
Monday, May 29, 2017
If I understand you correctly, you are reviewing and applying a three-fold classification of knowledge into: (1) knowledge based on direct personal experience (essentially, the flow of direct sensory inputs) to a person; (20 knowledge based on what we impute the experience of others to be, and (3) knowledge based on logical reasoning. As I recall, some parts of the Upanishads suggest that mystical enlightenment, the seeing of the world through many eyes at once ( i.e. the brahman/Atman viewpoint), appears as a manifestation it extension of the third principle, the reasoning.
In 1964, that was my interpretation of what I saw in the Upanishads and in reality. It seemed more elevated and pleasing and logical than the "yoga alternative," present in other parts of the Upanishads, in which enlightenment could be seen "merely" as an extension or manifestation if the first type of knowledge, the direct and substantive personal experience. Sometimes an abstract concept or representation is of real value only to the extent that it "opens our eyes," by enlarging what we consciously see, expanding the power of the direct personal experience. That is how I see this now, after many years of reassessing based on all three types of knowledge.
On netlix there was one great season of a show called "sense8," which ultimately failed commercially (perhaps due to unnecessary confusion and baggage related to sex) but which did contain beautiful images of what it means to see through many eyes at once.
This is not just an academic issue. At the present stage of development of the economy and technology of humanity, the species itself us under very clear threat to its very existence, and traditional concepts of balance of power may not be enough to offer us hope of a sustainable resolution of deep conflicts of ideas. The yogic approach in general (which has manifestations in all the great cultures of the world) is more and more essential, and of course in need of more advanced development.
Just as parts of the ocean nay be mapped according to depth and longitude, not just latitude, the ocean of knowledge can also be mapped according to other dimensions in addition to .., .. and .. For example, there is great value in being mindful of the distinction between knowledge which takes the form of strings of words, versus knowledge which takes a form like images in fields of neurons exactly as we see in the brains and minds of other mammals who do not use words. A key part of the yogic approach, and of some enlightened aspects of Confucianism (like Meng Tzu's concepts of zhengqi), is to respect always the nonverbal "half" of our minds. Professor James Anderson of Brown has compared the formal "half" to a "new but still buggy alpha version of software." It gives a great extension to the power of the mind, but we do need to get the bugs out, and put it into proper relation with the bigger, older part.