Sunday, June 21, 2015

hunting tigers in the jungles of Rajasthan

 Most of us have read about "photo safaris", where you hunt after animals with a camera, not a gun.  That's not a sport for wimps; after all, if you are in an open jeep face to face with a big tiger, with nothing but a camera, that's not safer than having an elephant gun you know how to use. (My father and uncle did, though the grizzly bears just ran away from my uncle when he came to their territories in the West.) I was surprised to learn that on March 29 that we would be on a photo safari ourselves, in the big wilderness preserve of Rajasthan province in India.
Before Rajasthan, we had visited Delhi (New Delhi, old Delhi and regular Delhi) and Agra, which are all in Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state of India.  On March 28, the Gate1 bus took our group to a kind of lodge hotel in the national forest in Rajasthan, the largest state by area.
   When people asked me for a two-sentence summary of "how was that tour?", I answered: "It was truly great and inspiring in the spiritual, intellectual and political dimensions, but my physical body had to cope with some distress."
Probably the distress was all due to some delicious lassi we had had from a respected street vendor before we got to the wilderness.  Though I had never had Imodium before in my life, I was glad our doctor recommended we take it with us. March 29 was when it was most needed.
    For a Gate1 tour, our group was relatively small, maybe 21 people or so. That was small enough that in the morning, Luda and Chris and I had the great privilege of riding in the small jeep you see above, with a driver and a naturalist guide, while the others rode in a much bigger open air jeep.
   The two pictures here are just two of the 400 picture files (pictures and videos) we have from that day -- jeep in the morning, and one of the tigers in the afternoon.
     There was no iron wall of anything like that separating tigers from the human town we drove through to enter the wilderness park. "But don't worry," they said, "it has been decades since a tiger came to town and ate anyone. The only cases of tigers eating people in recent years have been due to human fault, when people were stupid enough to hike up into this park. Still, we do get leapords coming to town quite often.   Mainly they come at night, to eat dogs or wild boars (both very common on these streets). If a small child wanders out at night, it is more likely to be eaten by a pig than by a leapord."
    Even before we entered the park, before we left town, we saw many other vehicles parked and looking up at a hill across the street, a wild natural place. I could not see the leapord myself, but Luda could; with binoculars and their help, even I could, and we have pictures. It was pacing to and fro on a high rock, looking down at us.
     The guide told us how the maharajas from Jaipur, ruling over all of Rajasthan, often came here for real tiger hunts in the old days. Jaipur was the greatest center of Hindu power in all of India, before Ghandi, at least for a thousand years, and we later visited the room of the Peacock Throne in Jaipur, from which the Moslem Moghul Emperors also ruled for many years.
       Human entry by road was controlled. The park is divided up into zones, separated by big chains across the dirt roads, and only guides and vehicles assigned to specific zones are allowed in.
        As we entered the initial road in the park... we could see old fortifications from TRajasthan history which they explained. More and more we could feel the jungle/forest we were entering...
What was most remarkable there in the morning was the feeling of peace.   We saw groups of various types of deer, and I wondered how the whole place could be full of such extreme calm, security and tranquillity, when these deer were out in the open where they would make excellent tiger food.
   Luda was concerned.. "Our zone is not at the center. What are our chances of seeing tigers out in this zone?" Guide: "Don't worry. We set the zones to have an equal distribution of tigers. Don't believe anything you hear to the contrary. After all, tigers have territories, and they naturally expand to fill all the territories available. In fact, we keep good track of these tigers now, and know who they are and where they are, in general." So tigers could be anywhere near us, right now... near these deer. So why the incredible thick aura of tranquility?
    Later, in the afternoon, the feelings changed. It became much hotter and drier... and of course,,... a lot of big cats come out at night. Tiger, tiger burning bright in the forest of the night, duh. All of our tiger sightings were in the afternoon... all but one, in the late afternoon.
   In the morning, as I wondered about tigers coming out at any moment to gobble this delectable food... suddenly I heard a really loud screeching "meow." (Mroow?) I thought...I jumped... but then... I had never before heard peacocks making such sounds, but that's what it was. We saw many groups of peacocks in the morning, as well as deer and monkeys.  The monkeys were eating bright red flowers off of "flame of the forest" trees; and so, for the first time, I understood better about the "mountain of fruit and flowers" in the Chinese classic book, Journey to the West -- the mountain of happy monkeys.
   That morning, I also did try to reach out in my mind to try to make contact with nearby tiger. I did get some impression... but all as you might expect and thus not veridical... pride, cynical thoughts about humans, happy to deal from a position of sleep, too much interested in resting to have much interest in the plentiful food nearby.  (Still, it wasn't until later in the day that I was so conscious of the night hunting aspect.)
    The ranger said they knew the tigers by name, such as "Much Li" (sp?), a tiger we had seen on TV. Would we get to meet that famous movie actress? "No, she is mostly retired now, in a different zone. She gets some kind of motherhood award, highest percentage of cubs that survived to adulthood. But one of her daughters liked her territory, and kicked her out of it.. just as MuchLi herself did to her mother years ago. " That was on a BBC nature documentary. The ranger went on to describe the BBC camera crew, whom he really enjoyed working with.

  I asked: "Aside from the BBC camera group, have you have more serious researchers come here and try to understand the tigers?" "No, not really. There is just one group of researchers I remember in recent years, from some new India ecology research group at the university... But they came to study the wild boards in the forest. There is money for wild boars, because the farmers are very worried about them, and also some people want to eat them," So we mentioned Ben and other folks hunting the wild boar in the US.

But... no tigers that morning. They bounced around frantically from one dirt road to another, looking for spoor and asking people in other jeeps what they had seen. There were two very brief tiger sightings that morning in our zone, as a tiger and her cub went to get water, but we never got close.
When we got back... I still wanted to thank the ranger and driver who had tried hard... but my stomach was acting up more and more. I ran back to our (very nice) room in the resort, past a swimming pool, a little bridge, and trees... and skipped lunch. (I lot 15 pounds and 2 inches of waistline on this trip.) Just strong tea and more Imodium.

We were the last back to the rendezvous in front of the lodge for the afternoon session. Since three people had dropped out, there was room for us on the big open-air jeep. However, as the last we got some idea of why they might have dropped out. Two people in the group, who were in most ways quite friendly, but had a real waistline problem, were very determined to occupy not only their seat but most of the one next to them. Chris and I offered the one good seat, towards the back to Luda.

And so... very son I felt like an incredible 3D commercial for Imodium. So sad that I could not record the whole 3D experience for their product! Only one part of my right side could be on the seat, as they jeep bounced and rattled all over on the dirt trails, and it was very hard to hold back from drenching the woman glaring at me to make sure I did not get too close.

But... very soon... a tiger. A very big male, just like the one I had pictured earlier. He was walking along the side of the trail, and looked closely at us. It seemed he sniffed a bit... and in the direction of fat woman and Imodium.. sniffed harder, looked disgusted, and just turned around to flash us and walk straight away (well, at about 30 degrees angle away from the trail.). Because it happened so fast, the most people caught on camera was his rear end. (For example, Luda had to struggle to get up from the back to get the picture at all.)

And then later... we saw one female adult far away from the side of the road. Lots of pictures, no movement.

And then... as twilight approached, we approached a female and two cubs, all big enough to move close but separately. The ranger said that Much Li had several tricks to get a high survival rate for her cubs. Since the main thing that kills tiger cubs growing up is larger male tigers, she would often bring her cubs close enough to human tourists that the big males would prefer to stay away. Suddenly, other jeeps saw what we saw... and a whole mass of them stopped... and the cubs moved especially slowly, in sight of humans. We have lots of pictures.

As we drove back, I wonder how the schedule of the tigers and schedule of their meals meshed. Do they hunt sleeping deer? Don't know.

Back at the lodge, our newfound friends, Irena and Paul, showed us the garden where the lodge grows most of the food they serve. Too at any of it. A good time to practice living off of water.

The next morning, we got on the bus for Jaipur.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Can a Netflix series explain the destiny of India and my retirement from US government?

Can a Netflix series explain the destiny of India and my retirement from US government?

First, I recommend the new series Sense8 available on Netflix to folks serious about the future of the world, including India in a serious way, but including seven other significant characters as well. (I am not so excited that two of the eight are gay – not a representative percentage – but this is a minor reflection of the more important principle of diversity, just as my stomach problems are a side effect of personality traits I would not want to be without. One or two really good characters are enough to justify looking at this.)  Yesterday, Luda and I watched episodes 3 and 4 where important things started coming together, building in an amazing way on things I have learned about the past and future of India since March. The trip to India was organized by Luda, as was this new episode.

The destiny of India... not a trivial subject. Please forgive me that I cannot even give a quick higher-order picture of the vision of that future, without a few pages to weave various threads together, and try to tell some entertaining stories.  

How do **I** have any right to talk about the future of India, when other people I know have spent their entire lives or half of them in India? Well, sometimes it is hard to see the forest for the trees, and I have learned not only from my friends and from my adversaries but from various sources such as the Upanishads, from other books recommended by my friends, and from a chance to actually see the pieces coming together... in India itself... and even in this little TV series, which should not be underestimated.

Many call the Upanishads “the New Testament of India.” I won’t review the basics of that, as I already did two blog postings ago. After our India trip (with Luda and Chris), I obtained four copies of the Upanishads, and reread them. Ninety percent of the value of the Upanishads for me now lies in meditation on two important passages, which I posted in the Buddhism, Daoism and Hinduism page at, along with a link to my previous blog post and a link to a free version of the Upanishads available online. I even did an Amazon review of the hard copy book I bought ($12).

In essence, those passages breathe additional life and spirit into the core idea that we are all one together in the noosphere, exactly fitting a more technical science-based paper on the same subject I also posted a link to. What does it feel like that we are all together? Where does it take us? How can we better manifest and use our inner powers, much of which are powers to cooperate at a higher level and understand each other better, powers crucial to the very survival of our species in the face of new challenges? The science and the two passages from the Upanishads reflect two sides of the same coin.

This netflix series, Sense8, is all about the same basic theme – just with eight people, to make a story, but in a way, it is an image of the real story of the whole planet we are all part of.  A series giving further life to a core idea of the Upanishads, a key starting point for the whole culture of India, form past to future.

That’s amusing in itself, but there is more.

In actuality, for the first two episodes I was watching just “on faith,” and sometimes it took a lot of faith not to just turn it off. (You will see what I mean if you follow up.) Luda thanked me for having faith in her, and that is part of this. But this was not mindless faith. I know her track record, and she told me the track record of the people who created this series  (including at least the Matrix, Babylon 5 and Jupiter Rising, coming together). From the start, the basic theme (as just stated) was clear; I knew it takes time for more intelligent things to crystallize out of disorder from that basic theme and for intelligence to show itself, in reality, and not just in the series. (Added below: further thoughts after seeing episodes 5 and 6.)

Of the eight characters... probably the one I liked most was the Indian woman, even though there was a Western cop “engineered” to give me a more personal hook into the series.

In one of the early scenes, the Indian woman goes to pray at a temple of Ganesh. (For details, do see the series.) This gives a quick window into another major part of the deep spiritual thinking of India, of what I saw in our trip, and of what India has been struggling with for a long time. I certainly saw very warm, productive and connected people in India who “channeled” the spirit of Ganesh, like our truly excellent tour guide, Mr. Lalit, from Gate1, who showed us his own temple in Delhi (regular Delhi, though he also showed us Old Delhi and New Delhi) and all parts, including the Ganesh part. In his warm, wise and informative guidance, it almost seemed as if I could see a friendly image of Ganesh hovering there as he spoke. (But that delicious Lassi on the street market was not so wise for our stomachs, as I learned from my GI guy at the hospital yesterday – not there for Imodium, but I am glad our regular doctor recommended having it when traveling to India.)

The Upanishads show respect for the polytheistic streams of thought in India, but they also have a beautiful sentence comparing servile worship and belief in such gods to becoming a mascot or servant of a pet animal. I accidentally ended up having good relations with the Monkey God in India, not because of any awful servility but because we visited a national wilderness BEFORE getting to the hidden Monkey God complex in Jaipur. OK, folks, being Paul, I used my powers to do a little communicating with tigers and monkeys in that forest, from the safety of a couple of open-air jeeps bouncing on rough dirt trails. I felt deep and complete sympathy with the cause of ecology, including some endangered species. (NOT rare snail darter fish and such nonsense, but humans, above all, and also our most respectable cousins, like intelligent mammals especially.) And I expressed my support and concern to those creatures... and the image of where they really are in the world of their lives (not so simple as it seems, for tigers or for humans)... and in their case, the value of putting on a reasonable good show for their visitors, consistent with their way of life, to help maintain the revenue which helps pay for this vast natural park. Oh, did the monkeys perform, and demonstrate their understanding and even friendship! When one dropped from a tree almost into my lap in the later afternoon (in the bigger jeep), it was fun to see the expressions on everyone’s faces, human and monkey alike.  

So then, in Jaipur, when everyone else was having lunch, we were led by a retired social science teacher (and yoga practitioner), inspired by two insanely energetic Russian women, to a place I think of as Monkey God Valley (see the picture) ... a great yoga teacher deep in the valley... typical temples, pools which were moderately famous for monkeys and for humans, majestic views, a funny bull who gave Luda a chance to play Crocodile Dundee... but two key relevant memories for now. First, of course, our leader purchased a bag of peanuts, and we threw peanuts to monkeys in all parts of the valley. The monkeys by the high pool hardly paid attention, as they were overfed already and more interested in sleeping. But lots of little girls (one quite bright eyed and beautiful)  pranced around and up to us, and the bright eyed girl said, “see, we can be monkeys too. Watch us jump and play... and please, throw peanuts to us too....”.
I liked that little girl, but that image will always stay in my mind, in all its dimensions There was a lot of hunger in India (and yes, a lot of folks playing with visitors exploiting that)... and the worship of the monkey god has a couple of dark sides, and folks who really seriously want food. I would not underestimate those passages in the Upanishads (not what I have posted or will meditate on!) which talk about how to get food. Yes, there is a kind of spiritual food in play, like mana or prana or qi (actually a from of backpropagation), but sheer physical hunger is also in play, and is a core growing reality in the history of India, not just for a few of the wandering monks from the time when the Upanishads were written (“the Axial age,” look it up), but ever more as population pressures grew. Objectively, a rational social science analysis of India would say that the nation is at a kind of tipping point, where it could go either way, towards economic growth like what China has seen recently or better, or like earlier times when a promising civilization fell apart. There is a lot of rational economics and technology entangled in which way it falls. But for this posting I will try to focus on the cultural, spiritual and Mind aspects, which may be the most important and highest drivers. The Mind of India is certainly aware of hunger, and no one can claim to see the spirit of India if he or she cannot also see that aspect ever so clearly. India does need to rise above a possible path increasing the hunger problem, making the worship of Monkey God ever more servile and mindless, reinforcing the caste system, and decaying unto death; only a certain clarity of mind can accomplish that.

In the monkey valley, our taxi driver, a Moslem, finally decided to join the four of us, but he quietly expressed some great horror about this Monkey God stuff. A huge fraction of the nation of India is Moslem, and they too are a major part of us. As he and I walked along a trail... I remember the questioning look on his face to me as if to ask “Hey, don’t you guys see how insane this is..?” I responded... “I believe in universality... and I always try to remember that they too are part of the larger us... but no, don’t worry, I haven’t gone crazy, I am still grounded in the larger context.” As the Upanishads urge us to be! I hope to write more, later, about the Moslem aspects of India, which we also had a chance to commune with... but this is already too long. (There is, for example, a book called Rumi and Vedanta, related to this subject.)

I liked the little girls, even though I was sad for some aspects of their life, but later that day ... well, I am human, after all.....  life was different when the whole group set out for an elephant ride, elephants carrying us up to a temple of Kali. (See far below for a comment on what happened first.) I had looked forward to the elephant ride, and hoped to communicate with these elephants – but it was impossible. This place was real, but it was also a tourist trap. A huge mass of street urchins behaved like a troop of unrelenting ruthless monkeys, insisting on trying to get money form us by any means possible. At one point, they physically wedged into a gap between my Lalit and me and the rest of the group, as we approached the kind of side door that most tourists would not notice on their own; I used energy (not force) to create a kind of gap where the followers could see the way to the side door, and not get lost, as calmly as possible while still being visible enough to do the job, but absolutely everyone was angry with me for doing that anyway, including even the folks who may have narrowly missed getting lost in India. I still kept quiet, as we lined up to the place where we would board our elephants, but one of the tour members, a big pig farmer from deeper South, then screamed very loudly, in the voice he would use ordering his pigs, “You! You heard her. Tie your shoelaces! Now!” So I turned around, looked him back in the eye and said in an equally loud voice: “And who the hell are you to give orders to me in that kind of tone?” Well, folks didn’t like that either, but it was quite after that. Please forgive my dwelling on this, but so much of my life has been like this episode...

But no, it did not end on the elephant. Just when I was hoping to relax and commune, one of the monkey boys jumped at us and tried to bargain to sell us a wooden model elephant. It is interesting how negotiations for idols can replace communing with the real thing, whether it be an elephant or a mountain or a planet or a universe!! Yes, the monkey boy needed money, just as the wild monkeys needed food, but people who pay for elephant rides also have a right to focus on what they paid for, to say “no” to the merchant, and get on with it. For me, it was especially disappointing that I could not do with the elephants what I had done before with (ironically) monkeys and tigers, before I had seen the human connections to them. Will the elephants of India also end up being oppressed and suppressed by certain troops of monkeys? I hope not. But the monkey boy would not accept no for an answer, and he kept screaming and jumping all around us, making concentration impossible.  I said “no” quite clearly and energetically.. but then the elephant driver, who was supposed to be working for us (and Gate1), said: “but the price he is asking is quite reasonable. Why won’t you talk with him?” I said “No, I don’t WANT to buy an elephant statue, PERIOD. I do not WANT this discussion.” I was especially sad when Luda said, “He is being very reasonable in his bargaining about price, it is true.” But that wasn’t the point. Don’t we, the customers, and the elephants, also have some rights? It seems as if some of the monkey people have become so unhearing like statues themselves... they are as bad as the soulless jihadi zombies we also worry about. Not like that yoga teacher we met in the monkey valley...

As he kept screaming, another older guy, across the way, called out loudly but politely, “Hello, I am Rama, and you see I am taking your pictures. Remember me. I am taking your pictures, yes?” I called out so all could hear, “Well, if you are Rama, I am Shiva, and my third eye is starting to feel very itchy right now.”  I suppose it all put me in the right state of mind for a temple of Kali. Some of Kali’s followers (like snake people, some I have met in the US) are worse than servile, but the people here were quite friendly and, sadly, my mood at that time fit in quite well with the higher part of their thinking. Yes, I could commune with them.

I later asked Lalit: “We have seen so many temples to Vishnu and to Shiva, but not yet to Brahma, the third person of the folk trinity. Where is Brahma in all this?” I remembered that Brahma was the real one in the Upanishads, the highest and most promising of the deep paths growing out of ancient India. “oh no,” he said, “Almost all the temples are to Vishnu or to Siva. Vishnu preserves, and Shiva destroys. Brahma just created the universe in ancient times, and we do not live in ancient times, so to live our lives we go between Vishnu and Shiva and their avatars. There is just one temple to Brahma, far away on a mountain pass, near a Jain Temple I will take you to.” (The picture below is of the Jain Temple, a complex story in its own right; there was a curious mix of feelings of light and spaciousness and emptiness, along with cautious wealth strict to preserve itself.)

I had asked: “But wait, besides preserving the ancient order, or rebelling, what about BUILDING a new order? What of creativity, construction? Isn’t it a big problem not to have more of that?” I thought back to graduate school, when I was seriously hoping to marry a woman studying neuroscience, who has also studied yoga, who had once suggested I might be an avatar of Shiva. I had said, “No, I am not a rebel type or a destroyer. I am a creator type. Building is much harder than destroying, and it is the essence of everything I am trying to do.” But Lalit said: “Oh, the rebuilding, that is part of the job of Shiva.” Maybe if building were taken more seriously, it would be easier to marshall the consciousness and energy needed to do it! But to some extent it seems that the Jains – part of the parentage of Ghandhi – try to fill that hole in the spirit of India, and play a much larger role in the economy than I had realized before visiting India.  

As we left the Temple of Kali, Luda went up to a guy with a cobra. I took a picture of her... and then of the cobra leaping and trying to bite her. The cobra lived... that was lucky for it... Our own pictures were much more vivid than what we did finally buy from Rama (for a good price, negotiated as he ran after us while we rode on an electric jeep).

Our last official stop in India was in Mumbai, in the house where Ghandi lived for many years.  Perhaps we were ready to commune with the incredible complexity of what he was coping with, and the need for the continued energy to move forward in that complexity. We have photos of his personal library, including well-worn obscure books which we also have in our own shelves – some surprising even Luda, with how exactly they confirmed some improbable things I said before we left. Yes, of course he was a real spiritual leader, unlike many followers and many in other parties who talk big but see nothing.  (We have 1500 high resolution pictures from this trip...)

And so... it is real challenge... between Darwinian entropy and spiritual depth... between greedly wooden idols and deep Brahmanic spirit... between new science/technology and intellectual insight versus Malthusian and partisan pressures, which way will India fall in the end? Between technology breakthroughs inspired by unique hard creativity, “yang thinking,” and the death by pride and closed stubborn minds, which way will India go in the end? Of course,. It is India’s choice, but it will affect the entire world.

Between the time of our return and my purchase of Upanishads.. I won't bore you with even more details... but there was a really acute physical episode which reminded me of what Carl Jung said about the risks of playing with powerful archetypes. But some of us really have a duty to do, and maintain a balance. That's part of the unity mission. Archetypes or prototypes are part of any brain as high or higher than a reptile, let alone a human brain or a noosphere.

And then, finally, after all of that... episodes 3 and 4 of Sense8

There was a scene with the beautiful Indian woman which will stay in mind just as vividly as the one with little girls in the monkey valley. She goes back to the Temple of Ganesh, where the old priest says he remembers her well... and complains about her fiancee, who is not American, but is cosmopolitan and doing well in industry. The priest views him as an effective foreigner, an agent of those evil Americans taking over the world so as to destroy the worship of Ganesh and the soul of India and all they have ever stood for. She hears him... and has always respected him... but there is a delicious irony here since she has just begun a process of more authentic awakening, fulfilling those verses in the Upanishads in real life, and they are pushing her towards a larger Self, a more whole-earth self, which is much more authentic than  becoming a “meals on wheels” service for this very narrow priest. Real spirit versus Darwinian decay. (I call it “Darwinian decay” rather than “entropy” because the word “entropy” has a precise mathematical meaning, quite different from the special case of systems where disorder and “the heat death” are the only possible outcomes.  To see the equations, search at for my name and “cond-mat,” a paper from about 2003.)

Curiously, the subject of “the Monkey God”  is also discussed in the Official Classic of China, Journey to the West – and in a humorous movie “remake” by the folks who produced “Shaolin soccer.” All three are also worth knowing about. In my view, the “journey” book and movie both evince some interesting “invisible” communication between Chinese and Indians, some by mundane channels but some via noosphere. The movie is newer than the Classic, and may partly reflect developments in India itself, from a Chinese viewpoint.


So that’s all. That’s the India story, for now, at a big picture level. More details and related subjects to come elsewhere.

But... I also mentioned my retirement from NSF (on 2/15/2015) in the subject line.

I told people: “My decision – made late in 2014 – was based on many pros and cons. It was not just one thing. But the number one consideration in favor of retirement was the plan to try to do more, somehow, to advance the spiritual goals which tend to be beyond the scope of what I can do at NSF.” What are those goals? In essence, to do more to strengthen the unity, coherence and growth of us noosphere. A bit like the netflix series. Like what those verses in the Upanishads advocate.

To enter India, on the visa application, we had to choose “religion” form a list of five options – Hindu, Moslem, Buddhist, Christian, and “other” (with a fill-in line for what). If there was another choice, I forget what it was. Luda just checked “Christian,” saying “you know what they mean.” But I felt a duty to be more accurate. I actually considered “Buddhist” a moment, as I thought about some folks I feel some resonance with, but decided that that would be as misleading its way as “Christian.” So I checked “other,” and wrote in “Quaker Universalist.” Someone asked: “But isn’t that a PART of Christianity?” My reply: “We regard Christianity as a part of US, an important part to be sure, but there are other parts as well, and in visiting India it is especially important to remember those other parts.”  The scientific approach provides a way to integrate and appreciate the best parts (while eschewing a lot of nonsense and corruption, which also exists everywhere).  I don’t like names like “Pink Dandelion,” but his book on Quakerism says interesting things about Rufus Jones, who sounds like a key channel for creating Quaker Universalism in the first place. Something to add to the long reading list, but who needs to read it when there are good enough live Meeting Houses nearby?

========================================================================This was about India, not about Netflix, but after I see episodes 5 and 6, some further thoughts come to mind. Above all, I still don;t feel anywhere near as engaged in this as I was, for example, by Babylon 5. It is still just an early part... (as it is for earth itself maybe?).... but I don't empathize personally with any of the characters as much as I do in some other movies. 

If you were part of the normal Buddhist stream of Mind... you might say... the world is full of suffering, and these characters simply reflect what life is like for most people on earth. I em ever so grateful that my own is not, despite the incredible struggles I have worked through in much of my life. But the struggle to rise higher does involve themes which are more positive, more outgoing, and happier than what this series depicts... maybe it does more justice to the streams of mind in Asia than elsewhere... but even so, it really is missing something. Like the galaxy, for one. 

To be positive... at NSF I would focus on the very most promising and novel 10% of proposals coming in. The passages from the Upanishads which I posted at were also selected, from a larger universe which was more mixed -- like Ssense8 itself, a reflection of the world they came from. One good scene in Sense8 to use... two good passages... but more detachment from the rest... and memory that there are other sources to fill in the huge gaps.

The Korean character in Sense8 also reflects real dilemmas in that area... 

But... OK, this caveat is important, but today it is more important for me to put this to a close for now, and move on to other topics.


Next day, after two more episodes of Sense8 (and other stuff):

The strength of the Indian part of the series grows ever stronger, as does my sense of their missing other major strands important to the larger thought. There was another scene of the Indian woman at a festival as a child, which was really amazing. It made me wonder: given how few Indians I met actually knew the basics of what the Upanishads say. how many will understand this scene, powerful and direct as it was? But as I think of it... of course it would be meaningful to most; knowing the deeper background in the Upanishads behind the scene would allow deeper understanding, but they would still get something. Likewise, understanding the even deeper background of mathematics behind such noosphere things would yield more.

For the other parts -- people would really get the wrong idea if they identified the approach to unification here too much with me.  The series is very valuable, and I plan to watch it to the end, but it is missing many of the other strands as deep as the Indian strand which it captures. In the beginning, I found that I could empathize with the Indian and Korean women, as deeper than the others... but even the Korean strand does not even mention (yet) any of the important spiritual strands flowing through Korea and East Asia as a whole. The one US male, a cop, is a good guy... but at a personal level I felt I had more in common with the German criminal, but abhor the enterprises he is involved in. Is this a case where the Vishnu (cop) and Shiva (criminal) images are being projected onto the wealthy West, in a way which really leaves out a lot of really important core stuff? At a personal level I can identify more with characters in Interstellar and Inception... and many other movies... but the big challenge is to weave all these different strands together at a higher level. Sense8 represents one important strand -- just one. 


Footnote on monkey valley versus elephant ride: both were in March 31, in Jaipur, as I see on the image files. But the elephant ride was earlier in the day. Why did I mention the monkey valley first? Well, my reactions on the elephant ride were very much a function of what I remembered from the monkey valley.  Sorry about that. I don't pay much attention to that, because there have been much more improbable and clear experiences of asynchrony in my life...  


Monday, June 15, 2015

Resurrecting the US space program -- a draft position paper in process

This is being discussed in several space organizations. As it happens, I am also up for election as one of the two candidates for new deputy chair (next chair presumed a year form now) of the IEEE-USA Committee on Transportation and Aerospace Policy (CTAP). I owed them a position paper anyway... and sent it out in the midst of the vote. We will see how much appetite their is for a vigorous effort to save the day here. (The vote is until midnight, and I gather I am ahead at present.)

Resurrecting the US Space Program

A draft position paper, ByPaul Werbos and Ed McCullough, June 15, 2015

1. Guiding Principles

Decades ago, the historian Spengler [1] described how civilizations on a path to collapse often go through periods of nostalgia, when people try to relive their collective childhood in a way which blocks them from facing up to new challenges and seals their doom. Many of us who strongly support the development of space worry that the US civilian space program is following that path, due in part to the power of groups hoping to revive public excitement through ever more boring reruns of the Apollo program,  aimed at planting flags and footprints on the moon or Mars, without making use of serious strategic analysis of what it might take to bring human settlement of space to the point of being self-sustaining economically,   and more useful to the earth. The Star Trek generation and the Tycho de Grasse generation understand that space has great potential, but are wisely skeptical on the whole about the present directions at NASA. This position paper calls for a radical change in priorities, to try to achieve that potential, and revive the true original spirit of Apollo.
            The original Apollo program was a fantastic success, and we can learn a lot from its lessons. The period of Apollo coincided with the fastest growth in overall productivity in the US economy in the twentieth century, related to the great slate of high risk advanced technology R&D which NASA initiated under Kennedy. Kennedy said: “We go to the moon, not because it is easy, but because it is hard.” The current emphasis on proven technology and old pathways and things which are less demanding on the skills of the workforce  reverses the one aspect of Apollo that we really need to revive. Above all, we need to go back to dedicating a larger portion of the NASA budget to more aggressive, high risk advanced technology, and building the infrastructure – both human and material – needed to improve productivity in space.  This would be more difficult now than it would have been ten years ago, because of retirements and changes in corporate culture [15], but it can be done, if we apply enough determination and foresight. If it is not done, the story will not have a happy ending in any case.
            Many critics of space have asked: “Who needs humans in space at all?” Others have sometimes asked: “Who needs humans on earth either?” Our support for human growth on earth and in space is based on the fact that we are humans, and care about humans for their own sake, as a fundamental value.  Certainly there are great risks in trying to improve productivity, markets and infrastructure in space enough to create a growing human economy [2] there – but there are also risks of human extinction on the earth itself. The challenge is to create a strategy to maximize the probability that we achieve our larger goals, facing up to all the many uncertainties, and regularly asking ourselves how to adapt that strategy focusing on the larger goals themselves. This position paper gives a sketch of such a strategy.
            The hopes for human economic development in space, and for larger benefits to earth, do not rest on NASA alone.  DOD, other nations and the commercial private sector all have crucial roles to play, which are part of  any optimal strategy for NASA.  None of those other space programs are enough, on their present course, to bring us to the human settlement of space, without additional, catalytic efforts through NASA and Congress. New directions for collaboration and enhancing the activities of those partners, is a crucial opportunity in making the hope of success ever more real.
            Market economics says clearly that the government can have a proper role in this kind of venture, which some call “the moral equivalent of war.” Success in the human settlement of space will require investment in technologies too high-risk, too long-term in payoff, and with benefits too hard to limit to just one company for normal market mechanisms. Government investment is justified only if it focuses on those aspects of what is needed, and on general-use infrastructure, and continues to try to download as much as possible to the commercial market sector. A strong system of universities and small businesses, making use of high quality apolitical competitive review systems, is crucial, to enable success in this kind of high risk R&D, and also needs some reinvigoration at this time in the US. When government spending tilts towards large low-risk jobs programs, it strongly violates the basic principles of free market economics.

2. A Vision of What NASA Could Be

High productivity in any organization (or research project) depends critically on having a very clear and ambitious long-term target, not only to focus effort within the organization but to inspire people and overcome the petty distractions which can cause stagnation in any aspect of human life.
            For NASA, we propose that there should be a core focus on achieving the target suggested above: to achieve technology, new markets, infrastructure and life support for humans in space (whether NASA or nonNASA) great enough to initiate self-sustaining human presence and growth in space – a  “tradeoff economy [2]” for humans in space.  How to do that is an optimization problem – how to maximize the probability that humans someday do get to that point,  and how to minimize the time between now and then. The mathematics of this kind of optimization should have absolute priority over the myopic kinds of bean counting which have often led to grossly suboptimal policies in the past. For example, the cost per pound of getting to low earth orbit (LEO) is one crucial metric of progress towards these goals, but the requirement is for costs which are low enough ($500/kg or less) under conditions of multiple launches, after the initial RD&D is complete;  the selection between options for the space shuttle, at the start of that program, put heavy emphasis on short-term variables. It is conceivable that we would already be at $500/kg-LEO today, supporting a much larger volume of activities in space at a lower cost, if we had selected the original more aggressive proposal from Mueller of NASA, which better reflected the spirit of the Apollo era [3].
            In order to do justice to this optimization problem in real time, year after year, there should be greater use of an open, analytic process of revisiting the “decision trees” [5,12] which we face., and which change every year, if we develop new technology and new knowledge as fast as we should. A well-constructed process should naturally reflect concepts like technology readiness levels, like build a little and test a little, and like the value of buying information [5]. Not only strategic plans but actual budgets, at the highest level, should be continuously adapted in accord with the shifting needs of the larger goal of human settlement of space, and of other values to society. Key information should also be digitized in an organized fashion, as it is developed, with a kind of succession plan, so that we do not ever in the future face the risk of technology loss which we face today. Given constraints on resources, the goal of not losing technology which may be crucial in the future is perhaps thge most urgent task now before us.
            Having a strong core mission/target is essential, but there is also a compelling need for NASA to support other activities which leverage its capabilities. Studies of defense spending [4] have shown how gross inefficiencies and gaps can arise when policy is carved up into separate organizations or stovepipes which focus only on their core mission to the exclusion of all else. Therefore, we propose that all NASA funding decisions be based on a kind of cost-benefit analysis (accounting for uncertainties [5]), where benefit is the sum of two benefits:

(1) (CORE MERIT) Impact on the core mission, the accomplishment of a “takeoff economy” for humans in space; and

(2) (BROADER IMPACT) the extra benefit to other important national goals which results from leveraging the use of unique NASA capabilities developed as a benefit of the core mission.

These are the two foundations of the NASA we would like to see. The remainder of this white paper will describe the new opportunities in these two areas in more detail.

3. Requirements of the Core Mission

To achieve  a takeoff economy for humans in space, NASA support activities aimed at building the four pillars which our hopes here rest on:

1. NEW MARKETS from space to earth, large enough and tricky enough to create "multiplier" effects beyond what the existing applications in space provide. Energy from space [6,7] and  space "tourism" (which is sometimes just recreation and sometimes more serious) are the two obvious possibilities, but we are open to others, such as geoengineering, or higher levels of communication capabilities to bring better internet capabilities to the poorest people on earth. Whatever the risks in these markets, we need to do the best we can to open up the full potential of the new markets, both through changed regulation and technology development. That's a top priority.

2. ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY will also be crucial to making space activities sustainable, affordable and profitable on a larger scale. Most urgent is the development of new technology to allow reusable access to space at minimum marginal cost, designed with foresight, looking ahead to the hope of large launch volumes to serve new markets [8]. DARPA's XS-1 project is a unique shining light in this space, but earlier projects at the height of the cold war (like Science dawn, RASV and TAV) developed low-cost technology still essential to the possibilities before us. IEEE does not actually take a position on who develops this technology -- new space, old space or governments. Rather, it will try to provide encouragement and support for any player ready to do the serious advanced technology work. In addition to access to space, better technology for transportation beyond low earth orbit is also essential, and other elements of crucial economic infrastructure to improve cost-effectiveness of all efforts in space, even to the end of the solar system and beyond.  Among the most important options in this area would be: (1)  restructuring and extension of the SLS program (without reducing spending per year) to move as soon as possible and as completely as possible away from government-developed expendable rockets, to at least partially reusable concepts, such as shuttle-derived vehicles, using passive hot structures to withstand re-entry; or (2) a reusable booster to be companion to X37B, in a joint NASA-DOD effort organized like NASP but based on rocket technologies ready for full-scale development and testing here and now [8]. Air-breathing hypersonic technologies offer real hope of even lower costs in the future, but the long-term success of such efforts will be strongly endangered if we do not begin full-scale development and testing now of technologies which will also be needed for such airbreathers.

3. NONTERRESTRIAL materials are another basic pillar of humanity's hope for self-sustaining economic growth in space. This will take more time than the initial development of new markets, but it is an essential requirement which we must meet sooner or later. We have no interest in putting flags and footprints on the moon for their own sake  -- but we do have an interest in rational steps as part of a strategy to get real economic value from the moon and from the asteroids, and eventually Mars. The economic history of earth tells us that the best strategy is not to develop just one source of materials, but all of them, starting with what is easiest to get to, and planning to transition the key decisions about priorities into market systems as soon as they become able to take over. It is important that our “decision trees” account for a variety of materials and production technologies (e.g. [13,14]), and that key capabilities not be lost. There should be a new push for crossdisciplinary research, cutting across lunar chemical engineering, manufacturing and propulsion, and accounting for the new findings from the LCROSS satellite, to try to develop higher performance new options in this sector.

4. HUMAN ABILITY to live and work in space, in the long term, is the fourth and final fundamental pillar of human settlement, and another basic commitment. To make this real, we agree, at a minimum, that human presence in space should remain continuous and permanent, initially through ISS but through larger, expanded systems in the future, without any retreat.

4. Broader Benefits With Especially Important Potential

Among the most important new broader benefits possible from NASA and form its partnerships are:

(1) Better understanding and imaging of the earth, such as the need to better understand and predict the climate variables which could lead to a global H2S emissions disaster, like what caused most of the mass extinctions in previous earth history. This would leverage existing NASA partnerships with NOAA, ESA and the Navy, to better monitor levels of oxygen and nutrients at depth in a coarse grid

(2) Combining low-cost launch and massive new communications satellites, and related work, reaching out to provide K-12 education by internet to the "other 3 billion" (O3B), in public-private partnerships;

(3) Technological breakthroughs in imaging of objects in space (asteroids, sun, astrophysics) using new quantum and/or constellation technologies to massively improve resolution and create other new capabilities [9,10,11];

(4) Space-based missile defense... where a factor of 10 reduction in $/kg-LEO equates to having ten times as much mass in orbit for the same launch cost;

(5) Advanced physics experiments in space, exploiting either the unique observation platform or exploiting the safety benefit of doing some things off the surface of the earth;

(6) Developing geoengineering capabilities, such as low-cost mirrors, which are strongly advocated by Abdul Kalam, the popular past President of India, as another option for energy from space;.


1. Spengler, Oswald. The decline of the West. Oxford University Press, 1991.
2. Rostow, Walt Whitman. The stages of economic growth: A non-communist manifesto. Cambridge University Press, 1990.
3. George E. Mueller, The new future for manned spacecraft developments (Manned spacecraft developments, considering Apollo Applications Program, space station establishment, space shuttle operations and payload cost), Astronautics and Aeronautics, Vol. 7, pp. 24-32. 1969.
4. Charles J. Hitch, Economics of defense in the nuclear age. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan, 1967,
5. Raiffa, Howard. "Decision analysis: introductory lectures on choices under uncertainty." Addison-Wesley, 1968.
6. Mankins, John. The Case for Space Solar Power. Virginia Edition Publishing, 2014.
7. Paul Werbos, Reviewing Space Solar Power policy, Ad Astrra, Vol. 26, No.2, 2014,
8. IEEE , Low Cost Access to Space, Position Paper,  February 2014.)
9. Hyland, David C., Jon Winkeller, Robert Mosher, Anif Momin, Gerardo Iglesias, Quentin Donnellan, Jerry Stanley et al. "A conceptual design for an exoplanet imager." In Optical Engineering+ Applications, pp. 66930K-66930K. International Society for Optics and Photonics, 2007.
10 Jianbin Liu, Yu Zhou and Fuli Li,  Changing two-photon correlation into anticorrelation by superposing thermal and laser light, See also Ruifeng Liu and Fuli Li, Effects of photon bunching on ghost imagining and interference, presented at Princeton-TAMU Workshop on Classical-Quantum Interface, Princeton U., May 2015.
11.Strekalov, Dmitry V., Baris I. Erkmen, and Nan Yu. "Ghost Imaging of Space Objects." Journal of Physics: Conference Series. Vol. 414. No. 1. IOP Publishing, 2013.
12.  Frank Lewis and Derong Liu, eds. Reinforcement learning and approximate dynamic programming for feedback control. Vol. 17. John Wiley & Sons, 2013.
13. See Planetary and Terrestrial Mining Sciences Symposium ((PTMSS), Also see and

15. Bainbridge, William Sims, ed. Leadership in science and technology: A reference handbook. Sage Publications, 2011.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

From James Bond to Upanishads: Getting Past Childhood Illusions

Psychologists, mystics and science fiction writers have all talked about how much our lives seem to be re-enactments of stories – especially, stories we learned in childhood, which we seemed to forget, but somehow dominated our lives anyway.  But we can change that, by going back to the original stories and re-evaluating them based on more complete, adult knowledge (if we have it!).

This past week, I returned to my childhood memories of reading the Upanishads, which some people call “the New Testament of the Hindus.” I had to update a lot of my memories and impressions. But before I get into that... first... a bit of an older story, about a time when my life seemed to be dominated by James Bond movies.

In the 1960’s, I really enjoyed those movies. Beautiful places by the water, neautiful women, high technology, lots of excitement. When I went to my “first real job,” at the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, in the summer of 1968, I was happy to see how much it looked like those movies... really nice beachfront area, lots of high technology inside, so close to the beach that we could actually go to the beach over lunch breaks, almost every day.  And there was a beautiful intelligent woman in the small library inside for classified documents in my section.

But then, it started to become TOO much like the movie. Honest to God, the beautiful woman turned out to be part of a Communist Party cell, working to get out the Pentagon Papers. (Google on Pentagon papers and Ellsberg and you will see I am not making this up. But I am not saying everything either.) The usual mechanisms for taking care of this gently did not work either.  

And then in 1969, there were two attempts to kill me. In the first one, I was supposed to be asleep in a new apartment. (I have the address in my files.) But I felt very strange as I prepared to sleep. I was 50-50 about whether I believed in psychic stuff or not at that time (because of a VERY compelling experience in March 1968 which I was only just then coming to fully accept). I certainly knew I was not anything like Spiderman... but the tingling sensation was really overwhelming, unlike anything I ever felt before. But I was skeptical still, and I had nowhere else to sleep; it was dark, in a place totally new to me.
So I put stuff back in my suitcase, and walked in the dark to a pay phone, where I called my mother – who, like her family, had a lot more natural psychic sensitivity than I ever had. She was pretty clear – “If that’s what you feel, don’t just ignore it. You can find a place to sleep somewhere.” I didn’t have money or a map that I can remember, but I trudged across a big grassy field towards a residential looking tower. I was ever so happy to find it was a student dorm, largely unoccupied in summer, more than willing to  accept a new  resident (assigned to a two bedroom suite with a roommate) even at such a late hour. The next morning, it was in the newspapers how someone had broken into the room where I was supposed to be, found no one, broke into the only other room on the floor, and murdered the person they found by stabbing them through the covers.

That was quite a wakeup call. And the next day or two, there was another one. I will resist giving more details – except two. At some point, I went to proper authorities, and reported an hour or two of detailed evidence which they recorded. I also had a chance to speak to the guy who ordered this, and asked why in the world... he said simply: “Because you knew too much.”

But before that... I realized I needed to fully tell myself NOT to get too much into James Bond movies. I resolved: “I will never give up my attraction for high technology, beautiful places, and beautiful Russian women. But I never want to get close to people killing people ever again. The guns are not for me, either sending or receiving, absolutely and emphatically, ever.” That was the right resolution for me, and I am happy that my track in life changed quite firmly. I did not ask for universal instant disarmament for everyone... only for me and my life.

It was many years after that that I met and married Ludmilla. For her, “From Russia with love” was always primarily a love story. It was amusing for a few years that we would hear “From Russia with love” on speakers in some places, and look at each other and smile. So eventually, we relived the childhood memory by playing the DVD of that movie at home – and it instantly changed the color and power of our remaining memories. The characters were so insipid and so hard to empathize with – and that was the end of that. It is a lot easier to associate Luda with Natasha in the Avenger movies than with... but let me end that train here. Reliving memories can change them, and that is what happened to me last week with the Upanishads.

The Upanishads were also a powerful part of my childhood,  more powerful than any movies. From age 12 to age 16, when I forcibly rejected any psychic or spiritual concepts of reality, I was still deeply interested in the question of the meaning of life – of the meaning of MY life, and of ethical philosophy in general. My starting point was mathematical logic, and “metamathematics” in particular. I lived in the shadow of John Von Neumann, especially. I came up with some abstract logical way to try to answer the question “What should my utility function be?” – what should be the goal, the telos, the purpose of my life?  I started it with the question “who are you?” When I was 16, in my senior year of prep school, a bright new kid in school looked at what I was saying and said,” You really should read the Upanishads.”

And so I did. I was taking mathematics courses at Princeton at the time. The bus came earlier to Princeton than my class, so I had time to eat lunch in that town, and visit the undergraduate library. I remember a long, long shelf full of Upanishads in English translation. I was even allowed to check out one of those volumes, in hard red binding, and take it back to my dorm house to read. I became very excited; my friend was right, the original upanishads talked about a Greater Self and lesser self very much like my abstract (nonmystical) theory of ethics... and I was hooked. I did notice some hairier less theoretical stuff, along the lines of yoga and psychism, in later sections, but I attributed that to he general decline of the top culture and paid less attention to it. I was excited; I felt someone else had similar ideas; I returned the book to the library. Later that year, my theory came crashing down, and I came to agree with a letter I received that year from Betrand Russell. (See for that story, and my current views.) No more Upanishads. By the way, that year I also met Robert Oppenheimer as part of a group; friends of his and mine told me about how he learned Sanskrit ever so quickly, in order to read the Upanishads in the original.

But later, as I learned more about all the cultures of the world actively exploring first person experience, I remembered about the yoga parts. Again, that is a long story, but last week I decided to go back and see what I could learn in the Upanishads themselves, beyond that simple part I learned so many years ago.  

My first step was a google search. Wikipedia seemed to confirm my basic memory, that the Upanishads say a lot about “Atman,” a kind of Greater Self – which I now identify more with the noosphere than with any formal abstraction. (Again, see www, for more explanation of that.) It was amusing to read about one or two hundred “minor Upanishads,” mostly specific to narrow sects of Hinduism, all written much later, as if a local preacher in Alabama were to write his own version of the Bible tuned to push his own specific views.  But next, I asked how to FIND the 13 principal Upanishads (in English translation). The reviews at Amazon were heavily biased by devotees of one group or another, even for translations of the principal Upanishads, Thus I ended up buying the classic original translation by Hume (not THAT Hume), with a long introduction. (A kindle version is available free on the web from Liberty books; it can be found in google but not google scholar!)

Reading Hume’s translation was very informative but very sobering... in a way like watching “From Russia with Love” as an adult. Hume was ever so positive about the Upanishads; he even gave prominent speeches in India to the Independence Movement. But as he gave the details... well, not quite so simple and helpful as I had hoped.

There is a tendency for mystics to struggle to find The Original Source, past all the contaminations of people like the Emperor Constantine, whose version of the Bible is infamous among true Christian mystics with deep knowledge of history. But it is not as if people in 1000 BC were all-knowing. Long traditions can be helpful exactly when they grow in the right way, building knowledge more and more over time. It was clear that the early stages of Upanishads reflected very humdrum polyglot paganism, and self-serving priest kings, just like what one may find in many parts of the world, without much special. But the Upanishads are a mosaic of very different things, as Hume notes. There are few passages worth extracting, like the section on the inner Self Hearing and Speaking... which reminded me of a book by Pete Sanders... adding a few “extra chapters” implicitly. The power of poetry linked to experience in those passages has some special value. And there are a few good,  juicy quotes about folks who get too hung up on worshipping stuff like the Golden Calf. And yes, the more enlightened passages about seeing and hearing through the Greater Self do point a better path than those versions of Buddhism which ask people to “be here now” to the exclusion of very important other disciplines of the mind.  

The Great Debate about Monism versus Dualism sounded interesting, but I saw nothing beyond what was in wikipedia for useful content. Having a clear scientific picture of what these words mean gets rid of a lot of nonproductive groping with froth.

On the whole... I see no reason to go back over any of these 13 upanishads in real depth (except again one or two passages)... too much blatant mythologizing and fantasy. I get indications that some later work in the yoga tradition (or perhaps even things cited in Hume’s long introduction) would be more interesting at this point. Yes, I have already looked at Patanjali and Ramakirishnan, but there is more there...

Best of luck...