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Wednesday, August 06, 2014

How come this book is so popular?

A couple of days ago I stumbled on this site.  Ann Voscamp, the owner of the site and author of a best-selling book, and her family are such an attractive bunch of people, so I looked on Amazon for the book and reviews. I took advantage of amazon's "look inside" facility, and read some, but the style was so difficult to read and the subject-matter so - in my philosophy - (as in Hamlet I mean) blindly Bible-believing and dangerously misguided that I started wondering (for the thousandth time) how such lovely people could espouse such impossible beliefs. Perhaps it's just Ann, but most likely her husband, too, and then inevitably at least some of the children, some of whom are old enough to have developed beliefs of their own or at least abandoned those of the parents.

 Then I started reading some of the reviews. As it happened, the reviews were shown in order of "helpfulness", and the most helpful ones turned out to be generally unfavourable, often reflecting my own views especially as to style and readability. I found it astonishing that such a difficult book should become a Number 6 best seller on amazon. I also felt anew the very familiar feeling of puzzlement about a large number of apparently sensible people adopting such apparently non-sensical beliefs and using those beliefs as guides to an apparently useful and fulfilling life.

This is the whole problem of religion, for me. To religious people (and I think that means the majority) belief is all, it doesn't have to make sense, but it has to appeal to the emotions. Glaring inconsistencies, such as the existence of other religions with different beliefs underpinning them, are ignored or treated the way I treat all religions: they are mostly mistaken and their adherents misguided. The fact is that life treats everybody with indifference, whatever religion or lack of religion they espouse. Life does not care whether you are a Christian or a Muslim or an atheist, whether you are a philanthropist or a mass murderer. People want to see order and reason in life (though there is really no necessity for it) so they invent stories which seem to justify their situation or the situations of others; but I don't believe such stories. Karma, the wrath of God, Satan's tempting, past lives, judgement after death etc - all stories, pure invention.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Growing old

One thing about getting old in this country, people go out of their way to help quite often.  If I am standing at the back of a long line at the supermarket, I may find one of the male staff suddenly appearing at my side, taking my cart and gently pushing it and me right through the checkout and towards a cash desk in another area of the store which for some reason does not have anyone waiting.  Then again, I went into the bank last week to withdraw some cash and many of their lights weren’t working.  I took my withdrawal slip to an area where there seemed to be more light (my vision in poor light is bad and writing by hand has been very difficult for me for the past three or four years due to tremor) and Joyce, one of the tellers, immediately came round to me with a pen and withdrawal slip in her hand, asked me what my requirements were, wrote out the slip herself and a minute later the other teller was giving me my cash in the assorted denominations she knows I like.  It was all done with smiles into the bargain.
I have never regretted leaving UK and settling in this country.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Reality again

When considering the substance of reality, what things are actually made of, how about considering the substance of what dreams are made of?  What is the scenery of your dreams made of?

Could it be the same with the substance of our “real” world?

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Suggestions for Happiness (practical and philosophical)

1.     Eat what you like, but no more than you need
2.    Spend money only if you have it.  I have a credit card but the balance is paid in full automatically every month.  It’s a convenience mainly for shopping online.
3.    Life happens, so it’s best to accept fully whatever Life brings to you. Non-acceptance is called suffering.
4.    Assume you do not actually control anything. It’s very likely nobody controls anything, anyway.  If you think you are controlling your life, you may be mistaken. Just do what is there to be done. There can be no evidence that you have or had any choice in the matter.  This will save you a lot of worry. Giving up the illusion of free will is a radical step, but don’t you think some radical steps are needed?
5.    Understand that the past does not exist.  Memories are thoughts and feelings and if they arise they are happening now.  Life, including thoughts and feelings, can only be happening now. Even the concept “now” implies some other time, but there is no other time. The future does not exist, either; hopes, fears, expectations are thoughts and feelings only.  They are happening now.

(If there is inconsistency in these suggestions, please don’t expect a tidy scheme.  Take it or leave it.)

If there is no other time than now, then there can be no actual time, it wouldn’t make sense. The whole idea of time is just that – an idea. A convenience for everyday living.  For scheduling stuff.

I have found it very instructive lately, very helpful, to investigate carefully the nature of what is seen as reality.  Just going by my actual experience, without making any assumptions, I can see that everything I have been used to thinking of as “out there”, outside me, is really inseparable from my perceptions – in other words, a part of me.  So I could say that my world is inside me.  Or is me.  What I have been used to thinking of as “reality,” separate from me, is a thought construct,  a set of assumptions.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Sense of “I”

There’s something very strange about the sense of “I” each of us has.  Have you never wondered why you feel to be the person you are and not someone else?  Who decided you should be you? And if you were someone else, you wouldn’t realize it, probably.

There are a (relatively) few people who have lost this sense of “I”, some after much searching for the answer to this riddle or to some other universal question, but in many cases just suddenly and unexpectedly without any searching at all. They say this relieves them of worries, hopes, fears and regrets - in other words, they no longer suffer - and gives them freedom; they now understand that they are not a person: that person they thought they were was just a tiresome, restrictive illusion, and they call this new state of affairs liberation or enlightenment.  

You cannot get this liberation by looking for it, they say, because your idea that you don’t already have it is part of the illusion, so looking for something you already actually have makes no sense and gives no result.  You only need to realize it. 

No paths lead to it, you cannot get nearer to it just because the idea that you are not already enlightened is an illusion.  A “person” never becomes enlightened, because enlightenment entails the loss of the illusion of being a person. There never was a person .

Enlightenment doesn’t result in a life free from pain and problems, because the body/mind organism you have been used to thinking of as yours is still living the human game, of which pain and problems are an intrinsic part. There is no person but there is still a body with its associated thoughts and feelings we call the “mind,” and apparently its character is usually little changed by the transformation.   It is just no longer a personal possession.  To outward appearances, it seems the same as before, but the subjective experience is radically different.

To add to the fun, enlightenment appears to bring the realization that there is no such thing as free will.  Life happens, normally we think we are controlling our little bit, at least to some extent; but this, too, is part of the illusion.  And you don’t need enlightenment to realize that not having any free will is a distinct possibility, because it is impossible to demonstrate that you could have done something differently at the  time you did it.  If something can never be demonstrated, it is probably just an assumption and not true at all, but that doesn’t stop most people from believing it, because belief in free will is one of the important aspects of the game of being a human on planet Earth. I sometimes try to imagine what life would be like if everyone knew they had no free will.

Absence of free will means, of course, absence of any agent capable of exercising it. This alone reduces our personhood to very little – a completely passive thing, obviously not a person in any meaningful sense of the word.
Philosophers of every persuasion have had something to say about free will, so it seems that a little thought will give us pause and cause us to wonder if we really have such a faculty. Here is a link to a discussion of the matter of free will in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

The great majority do not wish to apply their thinking abilities to these tricky questions, they just prefer to get on with life as they believe it to be normally lived.  My wife is a good example: when I ask her to show that she really has free will, she cannot, or she will assert that merely saying she is going to do something and then doing it means she has free will.  Anyway, she believes she has it and that's enough for her!  She, like most, wants to use thinking to work out how to play the game more successfully, not to question the whole setup.  Thinking too closely may seriously interfere with the rules of the game!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Real Life? or dream?

Most people, however bad their life might seem from time to time, don’t want to leave it. The fact is, people are addicted to this human game.  I see it as a game that we, for mysterious reasons, have decided to play. After all, what else is there to do?! We don’t know.

 But what happens when we die – leave the human game?  Many people have beliefs, perhaps strongly held and even exclusive, but few have certainties, based in experience.  My personal belief takes its source in what happens to a dream character when we wake up.  The character is seen to have had no real existence, though we didn’t realize this while we were dreaming.  I think that’s what happens when we die.  I cannot say “I” will see that I had no real existence, since “I” will be seen to have never really existed – to have been imaginary, with a body somewhat like a counter in a board game, enabling me to play, collect rewards and forfeits, compare myself with others etc.  We call this “real life” since that’s how it appears to us, and if we understood that it is no more real than a dream, it might lose some of its excitement. Like the follower of this blog who unfollowed me when I queried “is life important?”  Life, to her, still relatively young, was vividly important.

Who, then, will see that I was only a dream character?  We have to resort to impersonal verbs: “it will be seen” – like that. The really fascinating thing is that for some, this seeing has occurred while they were still actively playing this dream game.  They tell us that though life is transformed, it still continues much as before, though since it's apparently a dream in which they no longer have a personal identity, they see it very differently.

 Should anyone be interested in acquiring this “seeing,” it seems it cannot be commanded.   

I may continue this subject in a day or two.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Try this Mandelbrot program I have written

During the last three weeks I have been amusing myself learning the java programming language.  It hasn't been so easy as at the age of 84 learning and remembering new stuff is harder than it used to be! I have had some help from my son Claude.

To give me inspiration I decided to use my interest in the Mandelbrot set to get to grips with the java language.  I created a program which displays the whole set and you can outline any area you think might be interesting to examine it more closely.

There is a limit to the minimum size of area, due to the limitations of computer precision and it's unavoidable.  However there is plenty of interesting stuff there.

I believe that to see the Mandelbrot set as anything more than a pretty picture or a boring mathematical formula, you need to be mathematically inclined.  The fascination, for me, lies in the mysterious ability of this formula to produce extraordinary patterns from apparently humdrum repetition of a formula.  Looking at the patterns, I am struck by the similarity to many natural forms: Could it be that natural forms, such as a leaf or a flower, have as their formal basis a mathematical formula? Is mathematics more pervasive in the universe than we have heretofore imagined?

There is also the weird phenomenon of little pieces of the set cropping up at some distance from the main chunk, similar in shape but facing in different directions and connected to it by untraceably fine filaments (there are no isolated pieces, they say, and I also suspect that every distant piece is connected to the main by only one path.)
In case anyone wants to explore for themselves, this is a link to the file of my program which I have placed online for anyone to download and try.  To run it, or any other java-based program, you need "java runtime environment" which you probably already have on your computer, but you can download it at the Oracle website if you don't have it.
Once you have opened my program, use your mouse to draw a rectangle somewhere interesting, then press ENTER.  Drawing the rectangle is largely automatic as it has to be horizontal and have certain proportions, so you only need draw the top side of it.  A little practice will soon give you the idea. Email me if you need help.  Read the info on the left of the screen. "Page Up" increase the precision at high magnifications, but also takes longer to draw the picture - perhaps ten seconds or more depending on your  machine's speed..

Possibly you can also open the file in a text editor such as Notepad or Wordpad, if you want to fiddle with it and make alterations.


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