We think of living things in biological terms, but it is also possible to consider life from chemical, physical, and even economic perspectives. However we define life, both chemistry and physics are embedded in it deeply, and together form the economy of living systems. Although we easily place life… Read the rest
I ran into an old friend at the market the other day, and when I asked him how he’s doing, he replied, “Still an asshole, and you?” We both laughed. We had a nice chat and after he departed I began to think about the mystery of who we are and the persistence of self.
The self-of-the-body and the self-of-the-mind… Read the rest
I am my mind and my body, and they are me. So it is that my self-consciousness imagines itself. My inner thoughts, unspoken but constructed of words nonetheless, convert my embodied experience of being to the symbolic and then back to embodied again. I feel hungry; I think “I am hungry;” I find something… Read the rest
We’re all used to maps, even our smart phones have them. Maps help us locate ourselves, providing a sense of what surrounds us to determine how best to get where we want to go. In addition to paper and digital maps, we also employ mind-maps. Mind-maps are imaginary, internal projections of space; we use… Read the rest
The other day the boys and I were talking about the afterlife, and that if such a thing exists, would any of the four of us want to “come back.” I was the only one to answer “yes.”
It’s important to keep in mind that the average age of us four boys is seventy-five, and we all have, in one way or another, faced a life-threatening… Read the rest
The moment That Fly landed I turned to my wife and declared, “there’s a fly on Pence’s head!” From then on, I knew, the Internet would be abuzz with comments and reactions and a new meme had been born. Within minutes, images of Biden and Harris holding fly swatters appeared online,… Read the rest
Ego seeks to impose order; accordingly, people employ a variety of creation myths to establish an orderly narrative about existence and human life, such as imagining the universe atop the shell of a monumental turtle to immortal gods able to create life at the snap of their fingers. These myths are an… Read the rest
The story goes that very long ago, a hermit lived in sacred mountains, a Buddhist monk named Shih. Now, even hermits do not live entirely alone; they depend upon the generosity and support of a small community of others, and so it was that when Shih entered into a period of deep meditation, others looked… Read the rest
We can peer into the farthest reaches of space and identify objects and forces of such massive proportion that they’re virtually inconceivable. In the other direction, we can dive into the quantum world, an unfathomable, infinitesimal realm that contains the very building blocks of matter. Science… Read the rest
Abstract: Self-consciousness is the sustained delusion of self and other, the capacity for objectifying both thoughts and objects as if they exist in states of separation. While animals in general have the capacity to identify features of and interact with their environment, it does not appear that… Read the rest
While enjoying my daily five-mile walk I found myself attending to each foot coming into contact with the ground, and reflecting on the nature of densely-packed space, as Buddhists refer to matter. That ancient Buddhists determined that solid-appearing matter is mostly space, albeit densely-packed,… Read the rest
Our fixation with moving screen images is perhaps the most obvious example of our fascination with change, but whether fast or slow, change unfailingly captures our attention. Change is so constant and pervasive that it is at times overwhelming, but change itself is really the only constant in our … Read the rest
Sense of “self” is just one among a constellation of mental states, and the experience of “I” varies considerably. “I” is described by some neurologists as a stable form of hallucination, which is to say, a subjective experience of being “in here”… Read the rest
You’re the director, the camera operator and play the lead. You’re the scriptwriter, too, and the costume designer, art director, gopher, finance director and critic. Everything about your movie is under your control, except the stuff that isn’t, which actually is quite a lot.… Read the rest
As living beings we naturally gravitate to other animate things, like plants and pets that become companions in our homes and lives. The feelings we have for inanimate objects can become strong as well; possessions gain value–sentimental, economic, historic–and… Read the rest
Now that the election is over, we can attend to other matters of gravity. Literally. Gravity is so ever-present in our lives we rarely think about it, except perhaps, when we slip and fall. The effects of gravity are well understood, beginnings with… Read the rest
The mystic teacher G.I. Gurdjieff wrote of “three-brained beings” and their difficulties. Though his teachings were given during the early part of the 20th Century, the wisdom tradition in which he was steeped – Sufism and Middle Eastern mystic teachings –… Read the rest
Our experience of the continuity of self, the sense of personal autonomy with which we awaken each day, is very persuasive. “I” is a persistent experience, persistent enough that each of us can treat it as real and thereby treat others as real, too. Indeed, the richness and history of persona,… Read the rest
I’m enjoying my life. I didn’t ask to be here but now I don’t want to leave; seems to be my particular version of the human condition. Think about it; two microscopic gametes meet and decide to live together as one for a lifetime. If it sounds like marriage, well, it wasn’t my idea.… Read the rest
A great deal of attention has been paid to the workings of mind, that curiously self-conscious and often self-absorbed entity we take to be who we are in the world. The widely-held presumption is that mind is an emergent function of brain, and therefore, mind is located solely within the confines of our… Read the rest
While I was having lunch with “the guys” I began talking about “how we know what we know.” One friend interjected that what I was saying was “too abstract” to be of interest. This has happened to me before, and in such social situations switching topics … Read the rest
It’s been said life is like an illusion; a drop of dew, a flash of lightning, a phantom, a dream. Such contemplations have endured for thousands of years, fueling philosophers, Mystics, poets, and even scientists. But what if life is not a dream at all? What if life is a video game?
I know you’re rolling… Read the rest
We relate to life primarily in two ways: experience and memory. Our experience is subject to the type attention we offer at a given moment; if our attention wanders we lose track of a particular experience. For example, at a baseball game we might find ourselves distracted by a hot dog vender and lose track… Read the rest
It’s easy to dismiss much of modern culture as crass, insensitive, dull or even stupid. Set aside the fact that a TV commercial featuring Mathew McConaughey for the new Lincoln MKC is a 60-second full-fledged Hollywood production costing millions to create; it’s… Read the rest
Although the human impulse towards religious experience is undeniable many people today do not consider themselves as religious or spiritual. Writer Richard Dawkins or television pundit Bill Maher take great pains to paint religious belief as nonsense – destructive mumbo-jumbo unsuited… Read the rest
Among the plants in my greenhouse are many in the Gasteria family, a type sometimes called “Cow’s Tongue” due to their thick stems, lack of leaves and dappled surface coloration. Many Gasterias display varying patterns of white spots on green backgrounds, which vary from species… Read the rest
Human sensibilities are in part a matter of scale, which is to say that as we interact with the world we move from the particular to the general and vice versa, oscillating between conceptions of reality in order to find our comfortable place among events.
Though we like to imagine we and the universe move… Read the rest
The Chinese Taoist Yin-Yang symbol wordlessly conveys the deepest truth of each moment: that existence is not static but dynamic and the forces of creation and destruction carry the seeds of their opposite. The dynamic quality is represented by one black and one white teardrop-shaped intersecting… Read the rest
It’s notable that so much of that which make us uniquely human remains hidden until we die. Metaphysical strands and threads invisibly connect us to each other, things and events in which we had a part, stretching through time and space often unacknowledged and unseen.
There are the strands of possession,… Read the rest
Human existence can be organized within two orders of experience. A first order experience is felt: unmediated sensory awareness responding moment to moment to the space around us. A second order experience includes image and thought, which arise due to the first order experience, and impels communication… Read the rest
The human power of abstraction, our ability to imagine something and then build upon that imaginary idea distinguishes us from lower animals. Brain physiologists might say such abilities reside within our frontal lobes, that area of the brain held responsible for higher thought, but whatever the… Read the rest
A cosmic self-referential paradox, our reckoning of time can be used to prove that it’s an illusion. Is this testament to our enduring capacity for self delusion or an example of humanity’s uncanny knack for cracking the underlying code of existence, or both?
What allows all this mental reckoning… Read the rest
When the economy collapsed in 2008 it was widely blamed on poor home loan lending practices. People who should have never received loans to purchase a house due to their inability to repay those loans once the introductory low-interest rate period ended were granted loans anyway.
It is true that in the… Read the rest
He stroked his beard, leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes in thought. I’d known Ben Eleazar for many years, but never could predict how long such pauses would go on. I’d once waited two hours and twenty two minutes.
“Ok,” he said, “I’ll tell you.” It had only been four minutes. “But,” he added quickly,… Read the rest
We think we live in a world of things: cars, dogs, trees, tables, salt shakers, cardboard boxes, underwear… the list is nearly inexhaustible. Every culture has its own words for each thing, and each thing has many sub-categories, right down to its molecular structure. So complete is the presentation… Read the rest
Conventionally, time as we know it is a socially-constructed artifact of civilization. Subject to the application of widely differing schemes, intervals, periods, adjustments and methods of tracking, time has been variously rendered according to the seasons, phases of the moon, growth habits… Read the rest
Like scattered pieces of a jig-saw puzzle life often seems a jumble, its meaning unclear and divided into separate bits. Examining it, a few pieces here and there may fit together easily, forming portions of an overall picture, but often the complete whole eludes us, pieces missing, lost or not quite… Read the rest
What is self, and how will you know if you know it? are unanswered questions that have been the subject of endless discussion, from esoteric religious thought to reductionist scientific rationalism. Who is looking, and who is found? Even asking such paradoxical questions seems to require multiple… Read the rest
Time can be visualized as a branched structure of causes and outcomes, beginning with interactions between the simplest subatomic particles all the way up to the current composition of the cosmos. All that exists and has ever existed is interconnected by this vast array of branched history. A limited… Read the rest
I was sitting on the couch with granddaughter Isabelle listening to her talk about numbers the other day – how ten is a bigger number than one, that one-hundred is even bigger, and that a million is even bigger than that. Suddenly she blurted out “infinity!” My mind stopped for an instant;… Read the rest
This past month marks what looks like the confirmation of the Higgs Particle, or what has been called “The God Particle.” Like most things quantum, the Higgs Particle is simultaneously the Higgs Field, and its confirmation is a big deal.
The Standard Model in… Read the rest
Before our universe began, things were simple. All-and-everything, including time, space and matter, was compressed into an infinitesimal, dimensionless singularity of virtual probability. Then something happened; depending upon what you choose to believe either God initiated the big bang… Read the rest
“We can’t return, we can only look behind.”
– Joni Mitchell
Despite the persistence and power of memory, the seduction of the past and 20/20 hindsight, the arrow of time appears to go in one direction only: forward. It might be more accurate to say “outward,” insofar as forward inclines one to think… Read the rest
In our pursuit of self-identity we accumulate physical preferences such as hairstyle and body shape, various beliefs, likes, dislikes, and psychological habits. In general, we consider these accumulations personality, and once gathered, we protect personality with great devotion.
In addition… Read the rest
Understanding of brain physiology has increased enormously in recent years, yielding answers about mapping, the role of various structures such as the neo-cortex, amygdala, corpus collosum, and so forth. Moreover, though we now know how various structures relate… Read the rest
In a previous column about money I wrote about symbolic and imaginary mind, and its place in human experience and psychology. The symbolic is related to language. Through language we form thoughts about our perceptions… Read the rest
Physicists generally agree the matter we can see and detect makes up only a small percentage of the total matter in the universe, something less than 17%. The remaining matter has been named “dark matter” because it cannot and has not been positively detected; its gravitational effects, however, have… Read the rest
Europe has a lengthy history of philosophical thought, ranging from ancient Greeks such as Aristotle up to and including English, French and German philosophers of the 20th Century. Knowing and the nature of knowing have occupied some of the… Read the rest
The human condition requires eventually losing everything, even our body; we don’t get to take it with us when we die anymore than we get to take our favorite sweater. Birth, aging, sickness and death comprise the totality of our physical experience – we all know this – but we still suffer… Read the rest
Thousands of years ago the idea of atoms was proposed. Ancient Hindus and then Buddhists wrote and taught about atoms, as did the Greeks. Reduced to smaller and smaller particles, physical material eventually became too small to be seen physically, so the existence of atoms was inferred.
Not verified… Read the rest
One of the great unsolved mysteries of existence is…existence. Given all the possible variations in the nature of time, space and physics, how is it that things exist as opposed to not existing?
There is the issue of matter vs. antimatter, for example; when they meet they instantaneously cancel each… Read the rest
We live in a “me” world, where attention to self is a daily preoccupation. “I want this and you want that” is the basic functioning of contemporary society and we routinely go to sleep each night expecting to greet our “selves” the next morning.
Our sense of self is contingent, however. First there must… Read the rest
In the 1974 book Lives of a Cell, author Lewis Thomas paints a disarmingly sweet portrait of a single cell that all but imparts a charming personality upon a living thing so small it’s microscopic. The life of a single cell, one of 40 trillion in each of our bodies,… Read the rest
Separating an object into component parts and then ascribing that object’s existence to the coming together of those parts is reflected in the way most of us conceptualize the world. We call this reductionism, and from one perspective it is correct. For example, taking an automobile as object, we typically… Read the rest
Love: a deceptively simple word we use to describe a stunningly complex phenomenon. Compassion, caring, comfort, support, desire, attachment, attraction, and appeal – empathy, affection, tenderness, infatuation, intimacy and ardor; these feelings and more are at work within love’s bind. … Read the rest
What exactly is a moment, what we commonly call nowness? Does it have duration, and if so, how long is it; if not, does nowness actually exist at all? (Warning to the easily confused: This might be a good place to stop reading).
Nowness has no physical dimensions or fixed aspects: no size, no shape, no color,… Read the rest
People think in words, but the world is not words. Language is an expedient method to describe reality using words in an attempt to communicate what we or others actually experience, but it never quite suffices. Life has an ineffable quality that’s hard to pin down. Try describing the color blue.
When… Read the rest
Perhaps it really is true everything we need to know we learned by first grade. The songs we sang as children, “Row Your Boat” for example, actually contained surprising wisdom. It’s a rather simple four-line song, easily dismissed:
Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily,… Read the rest
The immensity of the universe is inconceivable. No matter how far we look, there is still more beyond. No matter what we see, there is far greater yet unseen. No matter how much we come to understand, there is ever more about which we no nothing.
The Mahayana Buddhist Flower Ornament, Avatamsaka Sutra… Read the rest
The typical view of the body is it is a thing apart, something we “have” but not what we “are.” According to this view, when illness occurs “it” needs to be fixed, much as we fix a broken muffler or lawnmower. This common narrative reinforces a mind/body split, objectifying our body.
An alternative view… Read the rest
The newly born infant enters the human realm pure of heart and mind. In the beginning all is one: no form, no feeling, no perception, no memory, no consciousness. Despite the varied manifestations and appearances of the world, for infants all sight, sound and feeling are the expression of one unconfined… Read the rest
Entropy is the process of the orderly becoming less orderly, like water in a bowl slowly evaporates into vapor. The second law of thermodynamics posits entropy with determining the ultimate state of matter in the universe. As energy dissipates, the very structure of matter transforms through an entropic… Read the rest
Our uniquely human existence is both physical and metaphysical. The physical includes matters such as eating and sleeping, cutting the grass and driving a car. The metaphysical is not doing, but thinking about eating, sleeping, cutting the grass and driving a car. If we examine our everyday existence,… Read the rest
Go ahead and take a breath, dear one,
The earth is generous.
You will give it back, soon.
Breathing is so constant and continuous that it’s easy to forget about it. In fact, if we could not forget about it, life as we know it would be nearly impossible. Regulated by the autonomous nervous system,… Read the rest
The world is the sum total of its parts, a constantly emerging manifestation of all that has come before. The actions of causes and conditions – natural forces such as weather and human behaviors such as technology – naturally produce effects, and these effects become the causes and conditions for effects… Read the rest
Biologists speculate that the adult human body is comprised of roughly 40 trillion human cells, give or take several trillion. Considering the rather remarkable fact that we begin life as a single cell containing enough information to organize 40 trillion anything… Read the rest
The ability to concentrate our attention and focus precisely upon an object or a thought requires filtering and mediating our experience of the world. Our five senses afford us the ability to detect information only within a limited range. Our eyes perceive certain wavelengths in the visible spectrum,… Read the rest
The early Hebrews created the first written alphabet, which they called the aleph-beth, which was later adapted by the ancient Greeks. The alphabet we use today is itself derived from that Greek alphabet.
Unlike Chinese, which uses tens of thousands of symbolic pictograms with… Read the rest
At the level of sub-atomics, where quantum effects can be predicted and observed, the customary distinctions between that which exists and that which might exist become blurred. Depending upon the desire of the observer and the methodology of observation, at the quantum level things can appear as… Read the rest
Ever wonder why you feel right at home in your favorite comfortable chair? Or why it feels good to get your hands down into the dirt and plant spring flowers? How about that first bite of cinnamon French toast with maple syrup; do you ever wonder why it feels so naturally good and satisfying?
Most of us have… Read the rest
Recent cosmological discoveries by leading astrophysicists have generated some astounding new theories about the nature of the universe and our place within it. With the rapid advance of observational technology, up to and including radio/X-ray telescopes and Hubble, our ability to measure the… Read the rest
Announce autumn’s arrival.
Leaves yellow, walnuts drop,
The wise man
Covers split wood.
The rainy season has arrived, and with it the smells and sounds of autumn. The ground itself seems to breathe a sigh of relief after the first rain, its earthen breath carrying the captured… Read the rest