12 November 2006

The Logic of Asceticism

There are some kinds of desires that lead to a feeling of satisfaction when their object is obtained, but others which leave us curiously empty, or sleepy, or dull, or uneasy.

In the extreme case, an addiction may be defined as a craving the fulfillment of which leads (after an interval) to more craving.  The effects of junk food, TV, or other distractions may be less extreme, but nevertheless corrosive to our wellbeing in the long run.  The desire for sex without intimacy can fall in this category, and when we feel angry the desire to tell someone off may be a similar temptation.

One of the most difficult and rewarding practices that we can take on is to learn to recognize those desires that are best left unfulfilled, for our own sake.   A helpful attitude is to study the desire in ourselves, and learn to enjoy the desire in itself, unfulfilled.   Anticipate.   Imagine.   Fantasize.   Play with the desire, without yielding to it – and note with curiosity how the desire responds.

…and let me know what your experience is.

– Josh Mitteldorf

11 November 2006

All major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 with the German signing of the Armistice. 

All wars are tragic, useless, absurd. But The Great War had been played out on a scale that beggared the imagination. More nations were involved than ever in previous human history. Weapons were more lethal, including airplanes and poison gas, used to destroy human life on a mass scale for the first time. And the political differences that had led to the war were more obscure and difficult to explain than anyone could account for. The Great War had indeed been a Great Accident, sucking in leaders and whole nations like quicksand.

More than nine million soldiers died on the various battlefields of the War to End All Wars, and millions more civilians perished. Then, as soldiers returned home, they carried with them the germs of the greatest pandemic the world had known, hugely magnifying the devastating toll of the war over a few short months of the following winter.

Armistice Day (Remembrance Day in the UK) was established not for the sake of glory, but as a reminder of the tragic futility of war, and a warning to future generations: Man takes up arms against his fellow man at his own peril. War has and can have no winners. From this day forward, peace is a global imperative.

10 November 2006

Vain, very vain, my weary search to find
That bliss which only centres in the mind:
Why have I stray’d from pleasure and repose,
To seek a good each government bestows?
In every government, though terrors reign,
Though tyrant kings, or tyrant laws restrain,
How small, of all that human hearts endure,
That part which laws or kings can cause or cure!
Still to ourselves in every place consign’d,
Our own felicity we make or find:
With secret course, which no loud storms annoy,
Glides the smooth current of domestic joy.
The lifted axe, the agonizing wheel,
Luke’s iron crown, and Damien’s bed of steel,
To men remote from power but rarely known,
Leave reason, faith, and conscience, all our own.
From art more various are the blessings sent;
Wealth, commerce, honor, liberty, content:
Yet these each other’s power so strong contest,
That either seems destructive of the rest.
Where wealth and freedom reign, contentment fails,
And honor sinks where commerce long prevails.
Hence every state, to one loved blessing prone,
Conforms and models life to that alone:
Each to the favorite happiness attends,
And spurns the plan that aims at other ends;
Till, carried to excess in each domain,
This favorite good begets peculiar pain.

~ from The Traveler, by Oliver Goldsmith, born this day in 1728 or 1730

The nakedness of the indigent world may be clothed from the trimmings of the vain.

9 November 2006

Researchers at the University of Michigan and London Institute of Opthalmology have succeeded in restoring the lost light-sensing capability of damaged eyes in mice, by transplanting immature cells directly into the mice’s eyeballs.  The research teams are headed by Anand Swaroop and Robin R. Ali, respectively

These cells are referred to as “precursors”: they are immature cells that are “programmed” to be, but have not yet become, functionally mature photoreceptors – the light-sensitive cells in the retina that are essential for sight.

Swaroop believes the research has potential for developing therapies for people with retinal and macular degenerative diseases that are untreatable today.

Science Blog article from the University of Michigan
News article in Nature

8 November 2006

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

7 November 2006

“You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the inividuals. To that end each of us must work for his own improvement, and at the same time share a general responsibility for all humanity, our particular duty being to aid those to whom we think we can be most useful.” 

Marie Curie, born this day in 1867

Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.

6 November 2006

“I feel that there is much to be said for the Celtic belief that the souls of those whom we have lost are held captive in some inferior being, in an animal, in a plant, in some inanimate object, and so effectively lost to us until the day (which to many never comes) when we happen to pass by the tree or to obtain possession of the object which forms their prison. Then they start and tremble, they call us by our name, and as soon as we have recognised their voice the spell is broken. We have delivered them: they have overcome death and return to share our life.

“And so it is with our own past. It is a labour in vain to attempt to recapture it: all the efforts of our intellect must prove futile. The past is hidden somewhere outside the realm, beyond the reach of intellect, in some material object (in the sensation which that material object will give us) which we do not suspect. And as for that object, it depends on chance whether we come upon it or not before we ourselves must die.”

– from Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust, translated by Charles Kenneth Scott-Moncrieff