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Archive for July, 2013

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When you look closely at a spectacular flower, like this Eryngium, you can really immerse yourself in the present moment.

This is a kind of meditation for me…..an exercise in being fully present, in flowing into that amazement and wonder of the everyday reality, and of savouring it fully.

The colours and shapes bring me such aesthetic pleasure.

The astonishing delicate complexity fills me with awe and wonder.

Life is living these moments.

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After days and days of sunshine, the storm clouds gathered, and down came the rain

I love how the garden smells and looks after the rain

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I don’t know if you are familiar with the hexagrams of the I Ching, which are created from a set of trigrams, but I had it in my head there was one called “mountain”, and one called “cloud”. However, it turns out that, whilst there is a “mountain” one, there isn’t a “cloud” one.

So, here’s the scene from my living room window the other day, which has inspired me to think of a hexagram entitled “Mountain over cloud”

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Well, here’s a very interesting study from New Zealand. Researchers took a group of 49 adults from 64 to 97 years old and got them all to write for 20 minutes each day for three consecutive days. One group had to “write about the most traumatic/upsetting experience in their life, delving into their deepest thoughts, feelings, and emotions about the event, ideally not previously shared with others”, and the other, “write about their daily activities for tomorrow, without mentioning emotions, opinions or beliefs.”

Two weeks later, all participants received a standard 4mm skin biopsy on their inner arm. The resultant wounds were photographed regularly over the following days to determine the rate at which they healed. On the 11th day after the biopsy, the wounds were completely healed on 76.2 percent of those who had done the expressive writing. That was true of only 42.1 percent of those who had written about everyday activities.

Measures of stress levels and depression were the same in both groups, so just how this faster healing resulted from the expressive writing isn’t clear. Fascinating though!

 

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meadow1 meadow2 meadowclose meadowcastle

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There’s an old Scottish phrase, “A hae ma doots”, which roughly translates as “I have my doubts”. We use it when we don’t agree with another person’s view, but we think there might be something in what they say. Fundamentally, it’s the essential Scottish expression of skepticism.

I haven’t been very impressed with the modern version of skepticism which seems to have evolved from something people refer to as “scientific scepticism”. There are a number of “skeptics” societies around in the UK, and one of their main activities has been to organise attacks on homeopathy and “alternative medicines”. What’s always struck me about the pronouncements and activities of these groups is their utter conviction, their complete, unflinching sense of the rightness of their own opinions, and their often contemptuous dismissal of the opinions or beliefs of others. In fact, it seems that the only thing they are really skeptical about is any view they don’t agree with. When it comes to doubting their own conclusions, their skepticism flies out the window.

Scientific scepticism (you’ll see I use the two spellings interchangeably), has a distinct characteristic. In some ways, its the attitude of “doubting Thomas”…..”I’ll only believe what I can see with my own eyes”. There seems to be some core to scientific scepticism which is materialistic. Objective, measurable data is what counts for the scientific sceptic, and they are likely to dismiss, or at least to be sceptical of, any perspective, view or opinion which isn’t based on a physical reality.

Not all scientific scepticism can be reduced to materialism of course. There’s a scepticism which is intertwined with humility and curiosity. Humble, curious scepticism is based on believing that we can never know everything about anything. There will always be something new to discover, some further research, or exploration which will deepen or even radically change our understanding. Modern physics, it seems to me, is even sceptical about the physical basis of the universe (at least in the sense that the universe can be understood to be made of “things” which exist independently of each other)

It’s this latter kind of skepticism which we find in the writings of Montaigne. His essays are peppered with phrases like “peut-être”, “je crois”, “ce me semble”, and even “encore ne sais-je” (“perhaps”, “I believe”, “it seems to me” and “again I don’t know”).

I am very attracted to this kind of healthy skepticism. It’s about keeping an open mind; remaining curious; desiring to hear, and being respectful of, the views of others.

So when modern day “skeptics” campaign on the basis of their convictions, I have to say that “A hae ma doots” about their claim to be skeptics! But then, what do I know?

 

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Howard Bloom, in his excellent, “The God Problem” [ISBN 161614551X] starts by highlighting what he calls “five heresies”, or “five tools” which we can use to try and understand how our universe of everything was created, apparently, from nothing. I think they are all useful. Here they are –

1. A does not equal A

This is a challenge to dominant Aristotlean logic. Aristotle couldn’t accept Heraclitus’ view that you can’t step in the same river twice. He wanted to nail reality down by reducing it to a simple logic of A = A. Trouble is, the universe is a dynamic, evolving universe, so nothing stays the same. Even once you’ve named something, that something has already changed since you named it. This is what I was referring to when I wrote “waves not things“.

2. One plus one does not equal two. Here, he is referring to the fact that complex systems cannot be explained by simply adding up their parts. When a vast number of components join together, they begin to exhibit behaviours which could never have been predicted by any of the parts themselves. This is the main reason I refuse reductionism. To reduce a human, is to deal with something subhuman. A whole human being cannot be understood by adding together his or her bits!

3. “The second law of thermodynamics, that all things tend toward disorder, that all things tend toward entropy, is wrong” Just consider how a human being grows from a single cell, and continues to develop ever greater order and complexity as it matures. Or consider what’s happened from the perspective of the universe story – where the universe hasn’t demonstrated a path towards ever greater disorder, but rather to ever greater complexity and order.

4. “The concept of randomness is a mistake”. The popular view that we live in a totally random universe is not supported by what we know about the universe. The Big Bang did not create a billion DIFFERENT elements. Our entire physical universe is made of the elements we’ve laid out on our Periodic Table – a surprisingly small number of elements for a totally random process! It’s not totally random, of course, chaos has been seriously misunderstood. There are underlying patterns influencing the creation of the details – from galaxies, to worlds, to human beings. The underlying pattern is not total randomness.

5. “Information theory is not really about information”….instead “meaning….which believe it or not is not covered by information theory….is central to the cosmos. Central to quarks, protons, photons, galaxies, stars, lizards, lobsters, puppies, bees and human beings”

Bloom concludes

The bottom line? Sociality. This is a profoundly social cosmos. A profoundly conversational cosmos. In a social cosmos, a talking cosmos, a muttering, whispering, singing, wooing, and order-shouting cosmos, relationships count. Things can’t exist without each other.

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