23 September 2007

I devote much time and attention to self-care.  Aerobic exercise, healthy diet, stretching and meditation are daily habits.  I seek stimulus and challenge, avoiding not just drugs but any conditions that may become habitual dependencies.  I take responsibility for my own health and wellbeing, and have come to trust in a vibrant body and a rich inner life.  I believe that my positive expectations play a role in creating my robust condition.

I am blessed with health, prosperity, loving friends – these are gifted to me as an act of grace for which I claim no entitlement, but feel gratitude in each moment of my life.  It is my privilege to spend my energies working for the benefit of others, since I have all that I want for my own happiness, and all that I will ever want.  My cup runneth over.

I find both these attitudes useful, and I live with the contradiction.  I take responsibility for creating my own circumstances, but endeavor to avoid the arrogance of judging others who are less fortunate, and seek to serve without condescension.

– Josh Mitteldorf

22 September 2007

According to a venerable Western tradition, man is prey to savage instincts that drive him to pursue selfish pleasure, and the virtuous life consists exactly in asserting the will in order to resist those instincts in every moment, deliberately to defy our nature in order to peform actions that we know are noble and good. 

We can reject such harsh judgments intellectually, but our subconscious mindset still leads us to approach life as an ongoing struggle.

This is not the way that we wish to live. An alternative is to manage our own moods and desires, gently and persistently nudging ourselves toward harmonious relationship with those around us, always remembering humor, patience and forgiveness, especially in relation to ourselves. The difference is between, on the one hand, forcing ourselves to behave as if the interests and designs of the people around us were just as important as our own, and, on the other, living with an open heart in a state of communal empathy and compassion.

All vows, obligations, oaths, and anathemas which we may vow or swear or pledge, or whereby we may be bound, from this Day of Atonement unto the next, we do repent.  May they be deemed absolved, forgiven, annulled, and void and made of no effect; they shall not bind us nor have powers over us.  The vows shall not be reckoned vows; the obligations shall not be obligatory; nor the oaths be oaths.
– the Kol Nidre

21 September 2007

Calm is all nature as a resting wheel.
The kine are couched upon the dewy grass;
The horse alone, seen dimly as I pass,
Is cropping audibly his later meal:
Dark is the ground; a slumber seems to steal
O’er vale, and mountain, and the starless sky.
Now, in this blank of things, a harmony,
Home-felt, and home-created, comes to heal
That grief for which the senses still supply
Fresh food; for only then, when memory
Is hushed, am I at rest. My Friends! restrain
Those busy cares that would allay my pain;
Oh! leave me to myself, nor let me feel
The officious touch that makes me droop again.

– William Wordsworth

20 September 2007

“India’s greatest contribution to the West is at once both its most pristine and highest philosophy and a science that rivals the greatest technological achievements that the West could ever impart to the East. This gift to humanity is the science of the mind, of experimenting with human awareness, and of controlling life and death and thereby investigating the individuated sense of self.  It is the science of intuition, sense-introversion, or pranayama, and is the bedrock means to explore an avenue to infinite self-knowledge.  It is the science that, above all else (except perhaps silk), was the prized export to Tibet, China, Japan, Palestine, Persia, and Egypt.  All the mysticism of the world can fit in it, and all owe a great debt to it. 

It is this science that makes mystics.  If mysticism underlies all religions, then pranayama underlies all mysticism, as it is simply the most sophisticated means to look within.  More than that, all useful means to look within reduce to pranayama.”

Sankara Saranam

19 September 2007

William Hesketh Lever, 1st Viscount Leverhulme was an English Industrialist, philanthropist and colonialist.  The company that today is called Unilever (better known as Ben & Jerry’s) was a British soap factory set up by the Viscount.  He popularized the use of vegetable oils in place of animal fat for soapmaking, and called his dish soap ‘Sunlight’.  He built a village to care for his employees, and sought to design a utopian community in Port Sunlight.  Working “conditions, pay, hours, and benefits far exceeded those prevailing in similar industries,” (according to Wikipedia).  Lord Leverhulme “could relax anywhere at will and put himself into a sere state of reverie.  In the midst of the most gigantic tasks he frequently availed himself of this power,” (says Paul Brunton

“Half of what I spend on marketing is wasted.  The trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

Lord Leverhulme was born this day in 1851.

18 September 2007


Spring scarce had greener fields to show than these
Of mid September; through the still warm noon
The rivulets ripple forth a gladder tune
Than ever in the summer; from the trees
Dusk-green, and murmuring inward melodies,
No leaf drops yet; only our evenings swoon
In pallid skies more suddenly, and the moon
Finds motionless white mists out on the leas.

 ~ Edward Dowden (1843-1913), In September

17 September 2007

Evolution endowed us with intuition only for those aspects of physics that had survival value for our distant ancestors, such as the parabolic trajectories of flying rocks.  Darwin’s theory thus makes the testable prediction that whenever we look beyond the human scale, our evolved intuition should break down.

We have repeatedly tested this prediction, and the results overwhelmingly support it: our intuition breaks down at high speeds, where time slows down; on small scales, where particles can be in two places at once; and at high temperatures, where colliding particles change identity.  To me, an electron colliding with a positron and turning into a Z-boson feels about as intuitive as two colliding cars turning into a cruise ship.

Max Tegmark, from an article in last week’s New Scientist

Tegmark is a specimen of that rare breed, a brilliant physicist who likes to approach the Big Questions creatively with an open mind and is a consummate communicator for those of us who know less than he does on the subject.

I am inclined to follow Tegmark’s argument here and agree without reservation until he gets to the point of his argument:  He proposes that physical existence is merely an artifact of our position as physical beings trapped in space and time.  He talks about the ‘frog’s eye view’ from inside the universe and the ‘bird’s eye view’, which is what he supposes the Universe might seem from ‘outside’ it (whatever that might mean).  His thesis is that there is no difference between mathematical possibility and existence.  ‘Everything that is not forbidden is mandatory,’ in the sense that there is nothing that, in theory, could exist but doesn’t happen to exist (in this universe or ‘another one’).  He is saying that everything that is logically possible to exist does actually exist, but more than that he is saying that there is no distinction to be made between logical possibility and actual existence.  He starts with the postulate that physical existence is a real fact, independent of human perception (reasonable enough!) and concludes that physical existence is an illusion common to us frogs (preposterous!).  Here is a fuller exposition of the idea.