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To live is so startling, it leaves but little room for other occupations….[Emily Dickinson]

kaleidoscope

…..gazing through one of my kaleidoscopes – enjoying this present moment

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I don’t get the obsession with the physical which underpins materialism. The idea that “truth” is only found in what can be measured, weighed, or touched, seems, inherently to deny the reality of our irreducible subjectivity. Can love be measured? Can passion, beauty, joy?

I think it’s some desire for certainty, coupled with a drive for power. Materialistic, physicalist scientism places a high value on certainty and a need for prediction to deliver power over “outcomes”.

I do understand that. But, I don’t sign up to it.

This pre-eminence of matter is being undermined by our exploration of sub-atomic reality. As Lynne McTaggart describes in “The Bond”

matter is nothing but a relationship; x + y, in a sense, stands for an impenetrable bond between two indeterminate things that do not exist on their own

Think about that for a moment….what we perceive as matter does not in fact exist as other than a relationship between things which don’t exist on their own…..

The universe contains an indeterminate number of vibrating packets of energy that constantly pass energy back and forth as if in an endless game of basketball with a quantum sea of light. Indeed they aren’t even there all the time, but are constantly popping in and out of existence, making a brief appearance before disappearing back into the underlying energy field.

Beautiful.

The surface of the sea is rarely still. In fact, it is never still at the edges. Have you ever been to a beach where there are no waves breaking on the shore, where there is no tide?Some days, however, as you cast your eyes out further to sea, the surface may appear flat and calm, but it rarely stays that way for long. The wind blows, the currents flow, and the surface breaks into a myriad of waves. Every one of us is like one of these waves. We appear, as if we are separate and distinct entities, but only for a brief time, then we are gone again. This is no illusion. Like the waves, we do indeed appear as distinct, discernible entities. But only for a short period of time. Just as the waves emerge out of the ocean, without breaking away from the ocean, so we emerge from the universe, from Life, from the non-dual nature of reality. And just as the waves dissolve back into the great sea again, so do we, after a brief life, return to the universe, to whatever it is that we emerge from.  [Bob Leckridge. Be The Flow]

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Tit for tat and taking turns

In Lynne McTaggart’s The Bond she has a chapter entitled “Taking Turns” which describes multiple experiments designed to test the way people use either competitive or collaborative strategies.

One of the most well known of such experiments is “The Prisoners’ Dilemma” (google it if you want the details). Another one, which is also fascinating, is “The Ultimatum Game” where one player receives a sum of money. They offer the other player a share. If the other player accepts the offer, both keep the money. If the player turns down the offer, both leave with nothing.

In both these games a strategy of collaboration wins. In fact using computer modelling researchers were able to devise different game strategies. The one which succeeds over all other strategies is “tit for tat” – start with a generous offer, then follow the other player’s offers. If they make a low offer, punish them with a low offer back in the next round. If they offer a high share, then do likewise next time.

Other experiments include an imagined couple with different interests who are trying to decide where to go on a night out – the strategy which wins when the game is played through several rounds is “taking turns” – partner A’s choice is agreed to this time, and partner B’s choice will then be agreed next time.

What’s interesting about allow these experiments is that collaboration wins out every time – not competitiveness.

The other kind of experiment she describes involves groups which all play by certain rules – everyone plays fair until a player is introduced who has been primed to grab all the biggest shares for himself ignoring the rules. What happens then is that the group totally breaks down with the initial collaboration strategies getting blown away with an every man for himself one.

These latter experiments show that groups naturally prefer collaboration over competition except when there is obvious unfairness at which point social cohesion and collaboration is lost.

That’s such an important lesson for us as we become aware of the grabs made by the 1%, and the widening of the gap between the lowest and the highest paid in society. This socio-economic structure is just not going to last……

 

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Thomas Berry, in “The Great Work” describes a creative tension which exists in the universe. He uses the terms “wildness” and “discipline”

Wildness we might consider as the root of authentic spontaneities of any being. It is that wellspring of creativity whence come the instinctive activities which enable all living beings to obtain their food, to find shelter, to bring forth their young; to sing and dance and fly through the air and swim through the depths of the sea. This is the same inner tendency that evokes the insight of the poet, the skill of the artist, and the power of the shaman. Something in the wild depths of the human soul finds its fulfilment in the experience of nature’s violent moments.

Throughout the entire world there exists a discipline that holds the energies of the universe in the creative pattern of their activities, although this discipline may not be immediately evident to human perception.

..[the] mutual attraction and mutual limitation of gravitation is, perhaps, the first expression of the primordial model of artistic discipline.

We might consider then, that the wild and the disciplined are the two constituent forces of the universe, the expansive force and the containing force bound into a single universe and expressed in every being in the universe.

This is a beautiful description. Creativity requires both the freedom of play and the discipline of practice (the routine of “showing up every day”). He goes on to relate these ideas to our own solar system.

When first the solar system gathered itself together with the sun as the center surrounded by the nine fragments of matter shaped into planets, the planets that we observe in the sky each night, these were all composed of the same matter; yet Mars turned into rock so firm that nothing fluid can exist there, and Jupiter remained a fiery mass of gases so fluid that nothing firm can exist there. Only the Earth became a living planet filled with those innumerable forms of geological structure and biological expression that we observe throughout the natural world……….The excess of discipline suppressed the wildness of Mars. The excess of wildness overcame the discipline of Jupiter. Their creativity was lost by an excess of one over the other.

Wow! Beautiful story, fabulous imagery, and really a great insight. One thought which comes to mind when reading it is how the brain functions best in what is termed a “near chaos zone”. When thoughts and brain function become completely chaotic we are lost. When the brain function becomes absolutely rigid and fixed we can have seizures. Another thought is about the healthy heart. The intervals between every beat are not exact. The heart is not like a metronome or a machine-like pump. If it does become so rigid in its rhythm then begins to fail. However, if it becomes completely chaotic, it fails too. What we really need is a state of coherence, where the heart rate variability is high but rhythmically so.

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The Bond

Lynne Mctaggart’s “The Bond” makes a strong case for a reinterpretation of our commonly held view of life. She begins by summarising the current “scientific” story of the universe thus…

a story that describes isolated beings competing for survival on a lonely planet in an indifferent universe. Life as defined by modern science is essentially predatory, self-serving, and solitary.

Although that is the dominant mythology, it’s not one which attracts me in the slightest. I just don’t buy the miserable nihilistic theories of a pointless, meaningless universe and the belief that only what can be measured should be valued.

From Mary Midgely‘s clear demolition of atomism, to Rupert Sheldrake‘s skepticism about materialistic science, from Thomas Berry’s The Great Work, to Ian McCallum’s Ecological Intelligence, there is a more appealing story emerging. According to Lynne, The new story is…

An entirely new scientific story is emerging that challenges many of our Newtonian and Darwinian assumptions, including our most basic premise: the sense of things as separate entities in competition for survival. The latest evidence from quantum physics offers the extraordinary possibility that all of life exists in a dynamic relationship of co-operation.

All matter exists in a vast quantum web of connection, and a living thing at its most elemental is an energy system involved in a constant transfer of information with its environment.

The world essentially operates, not through the activity of individual things, but in the connection between them – in a sense, in the space between things.

This shift in emphasis from “things” to “relationships” produces a different set of views – a shift from solitariness and competition to connectedness and wholeness….

Nature’s most basic impulse is not a struggle for dominion but a constant and irrepressible drive for wholeness.

 

 

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When you stop to think about it, there’s an awful lot going on inside your brain that’s nothing to do with thinking. Well, when I say nothing to do with thinking, I don’t exactly mean that….after all, everything is connected to everything else in there. What I mean is that conscious thought and reasoning is only a small part of the function of the brain and the mind. Some of that is about sensory and motor function – your brain processes a lot of signals from the sensory nerves and a lot of those signals don’t make it as far as conscious awareness. Your brain also processes a lot of the muscle activity of your body…everything from voluntary movements eg picking up a pencil….to involuntary effects like heart rate and rhythm.

One interesting aspect of what goes on in the mind is emotions – by “mind” I do not mean “brain” – I mean the extended, embodied network of nerves and chemicals which are involved in “mental processes”. Emotions occur below the level of consciousness and some of them we become directly aware of and can think about, but others seem to occur in what Freud and Jung described as the “unconscious”. In fact, “depth psychology” is all about trying to work with all this material which lies either wholly or partly inaccessible to conscious, rational thought.

We have tended to hold rational, cognitive thought, at the highest level. As if it is best to think things through, and not to trust our feelings. But is that the best strategy?

Here’s a fascinating article on this subject from Jonah Lehrer writing in Wired.

…..from the lab of Michael Pham at Columbia Business School. The study involved asking undergraduates to make predictions about eight different outcomes, from the Democratic presidential primary of 2008 to the finalists of American Idol. They forecast the Dow Jones and picked the winner of the BCS championship game. They even made predictions about the weather. Here’s the strange part: although these predictions concerned a vast range of events, the results were consistent across every trial: people who were more likely to trust their feelings were also more likely to accurately predict the outcome. Pham’s catchy name for this phenomenon is the emotional oracle effect. Consider the results from the American Idol quiz: while high-trust-in-feelings subjects correctly predicted the winner 41 percent of the time, those who distrusted their emotions were only right 24 percent of the time. The same lesson applied to the stock market, that classic example of a random walk: those emotional souls made predictions that were 25 percent more accurate than those who aspired to Spock-like cognition.

The explanation given for this is…

Every feeling is like a summary of data, a quick encapsulation of all the information processing that we don’t have access to. (As Pham puts it, emotions are like a “privileged window” into the subterranean mind.) When it comes to making predictions about complex events, this extra information is often essential. It represents the difference between an informed guess and random chance.

One important aspect of this study was that just guessing about a subject you knew nothing about, and cared nothing about, didn’t produce the same results. But if you really care about something, and are knowledgeable about that subject, then learning to be aware of, and trust, your feelings can produce better results than relying on logic and reason.

This reminds me of a Heartmath technique called “Heart mapping” where you make a “mind map” about your project, then, get coherent, then ask your heart what more does this project need, and create a second, complementary map – a “heart map”. Between them, you have a more holistic map of your project – one which captures both practicalities and values.

It’s reassuring to learn that our feelings are actually such potentially powerful and useful tools.

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