31 January 2009

Frost from Fog

ice-coated sage
gleams silver in
dawn’s early fog

Once again, we had a foggy night coat everything in ice. Now if only I could come up with the right words to describe the wisp of fog that hovered over us, wraithlike, as it crossed the interstate..

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Driveway Archaeology

through translucent ice
layered tracks reveal
history’s footprints

Before the most recent snow, everything had turned to slush. Then the snow came, and the slush froze underneath it. On my driveway, there's a beautiful overlay of tiretracks, and this poem is my attempt to capture them in words.

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30 January 2009

Stopping Torture

"torture is the tool of the lazy, the stupid, and the pseudo-tough. It's also perhaps the greatest recruiting tool that the terrorists have."

~Major General Paul Eaton

Via Dispatches from the Culture War

Obama just signed an executive order reversing the tolerance for torture shown by the previous administration.

The steps already taken amount to a stunning political turnaround. One of the executive orders places all terror suspects held abroad unambiguously under the protection of the Geneva Conventions, which outlaw any cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. Obama also unilaterally closed the C.I.A.’s “black sites,” and set a one-year deadline for closing the military prison camp at Guantánamo. He decreed that, from now on, the International Committee for the Red Cross must have access to all detainees in U.S. custody; the Bush Administration barred the Red Cross from seeing prisoners held by the C.I.A.


They debated whether a ban on brutal interrogation practices would hurt their ability to gather intelligence, and the advisers asked the intelligence veterans to prepare a cost-benefit analysis. The conclusions may surprise defenders of harsh interrogation tactics. “There was unanimity among Obama’s expert advisers,” Craig said, “that to change the practices would not in any material way affect the collection of intelligence.”

~Jane Mayer, NY Times Blog

About bloody time.

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29 January 2009

Heidegger: Being and Time

I was rather dreading starting to read this one, but I've made it through the introduction and I actually enjoyed it. I particularly like that the translation we're using makes comments about the way that certain phrases and terms were translated. The idea of the book seems to be to examine what it means "to be." That appeals to me, much like Quine's attempt to determine what "meaning" means appealed to me. I like to see people going at the very basic, fundamental concepts, and I'm particularly fond of it when they rip the foundations right from under them.

Full disclosure, Heidegger was a member of the Nazi party in Germany. I've encountered the view that this was a move of sheer expediency/safety on his part, and the view that he wholeheartedly embraced the party, plus several in-between views. I have no idea which is the case, and intend to take the work on its own merits, whatever they may be.

So far I haven't thought much about the work itself, but it got me thinking about space and being for a while, and I had this odd sort of "vision" ... If we think of all matter/energy/etc. as little vibrating strings (a la string theory), and consider that their forms might rise and fall and recombine somewhat at random, it seems like a stable form might arise, and not be broken back down. Then if a stable form capable of "nudging" the other wavelets into similar forms arose, we'd have an explosion of whatever that form was (say matter, for the sake of argument). Then matter would find stable forms, then stable forms capable of producing copies of themselves, etc. I found it a rather beautiful, enlightening image. Particularly when I tried to picture a human body as made up of all these vibrating wavelets.

Of course, a vision proves absolutely nothing, but I find it worth pondering.

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27 January 2009

Existential Musings, III

This is likely our last selection from Husserl before we move on to Heidegger. I'm not sure that all of it comes from the same document (Dr. Levenson did a lot of cutting and pasting on his photocopy), but at least some of it is from Husserl's Cartesian Meditations.

“if what belongs to the other’s own essence were directly accessible, it would be merely a moment of my own essence.” I think this is trying to get at the idea that we cannot perceive anything directly from any point of view but our own … which begs the question of how we know for certain that any point of view but our own actually exists.

“what is appresented by virtue of the aforesaid analogizing can never attain actual presence, never become an object of perception proper.” Similar to the previous point: if another’s point of view exists, we will never be able to perceive it directly. We can only perceive apparent results of that point of view, and infer its existence. However, if Husserl wants to build a certain foundation for knowledge, this sort of inference requires an awful lot of assumptions.

“I, as the primordial psychophysical Ego, am always prominent in my primordial field of perception, regardless of whether I pay attention to myself and turn toward myself with some activity or other.” In most cases, I would tend to agree, but I know of at least one exception. Push-hands. You cannot do push hands well while being aware of ‘I’. Instead, all of your focus is on your partner, your partner’s movements, your partner’s balance. In that instance, when push-hands is happening correctly, there is no ego. There is only the moment and the movement. After a good exchange, the ego can come back and analyze it, so it is in the background somewhere, recording data, but it is not “prominent in my primordial field of perception.” There is no conscious awareness; there is only the movement and the response. Somewhere underneath the ego, there is something that is aware, but it is not the ego: the ego is continually surprised by the resulting exchanges. Don had a student who became supremely frustrated with this; he’d say things like, “But I wanted to do it!” To me, that misses the point entirely. While absorbed in the ego, one cannot be completely aware of and one with the moment.*

“my animate bodily organism (in my primordial sphere) has the central ‘Here’ as its mode of givenness; every other body, / and accordingly the ‘other’s’ body, has the mode ‘There’.” Brings to mind a zen quote: “The fundamental delusion of humanity is to suppose that I am here and you are out there.” ~ Yasutani Roshi

* And suddenly it dawns on my why the concept of a "personal god" makes no sense at all to me. In order to have a personal god, the ego, the personality, must be prominent, and that requires such a god be unaware of the actual moments. I suspect "all-powerful" would be the rallying cry for those who object, yet that, too, is an idea of ego. When the ego is the least of that-which-is-myself, why should I take seriously a god who seems to consist only of ego?

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Existential Musings, II

Our reading consisted of selections from Husserl's Phenomenology: Eternal Time Conscious, some of which is available on Google Books. I found myself arguing less with this selection than with the previous one.

“the duration of the sound apprehended in the now … constantly sinks back into the past and an ever new point of duration enters into the now or is now” Very nice, very zen. Recognition that this instant, this moment, is all we ever directly perceive.

“the further we withdraw from the now, however, the greater the blending and drawing together” The further we get from a particular moment, the more it blends into all the other moments surrounding it, blends in. For ordinary moments, perhaps, yet some moments can be brought to mind nearly as clearly as they were in the instant of experience. So there’s something missing in this formulation.

“the way in which we are conscious of it [the immanent Object] as actually present or as past” What about memory-objects that are so vivid that they almost seem to be present? What about hallucinations that occur in the present?

Interestingly, he hits on the idea of a time-cone, albeit from a different direction (and intention) than that of relativity (i.e. that our sphere of experience is limited by the speed of light, as is our sphere of influence: events can only radiate out from us at the speed of light): “every subsequent phase of running-off is itself a continuity, and one constantly expanding, a continuity of pasts.” Tangent: What is the speed of time? What do I even mean by that? Er, what determines how fast time passes? We know that gravity can slow time, as can any massive grouping of energy or mass. Yet in the near-absence of mass and energy, time doesn’t seem to speed up to infinitely fast: the opposite of it seeming to stop at the event-horizon of a black hole. Would it go to infinity in the complete absence of mass or energy or space? Would that mean nothing happening or everything happening all at once? Or something else entirely that I can’t begin to imagine?

“Since a new now is always presenting itself, each now is changed into a past, and thus the entire continuity of the running-off of the pasts of the preceding points movie uniformly ‘downward’ into the depths of the past.” Not to the Chinese. The Chinese language has the past “above” and the future “below.” So you descend through time, and the past rises behind you, as if going down a staircase. To be honest, I’ve tended to think of it more as flat, just moving straight along an axis in the t-direction. I wonder if the Chinese would want to orient the t-axis vertically, with the future down…

“It is not true that lengthwise along the flux each earlier retention is merely replaced by a new one, even though it is a continuous process. Each subsequent retention, rather, is not merely a continuous modification arising from the primal impression but a continuous modification of the same beginning point.” This is good. It is a good description of the way that memories can alter as they are maintained. At least, I’m assuming that “retention” is to be interpreted as “retention of a previous now”, i.e. “memory.”

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Conversation at Philosophy Club

As best I remember it (sentiments are accurate; quotes may not be exact) :

Student: I'd like to see a reality tv show where participants had to draft a utilitarian calculus every week to convince other participants to spare them. The winner would be the one whose calculus was adopted. What do you think? Think I could get someone to air it?
Will: I cringe at anything containing the word "calculus."
Me: I cringe at anything containing the words "reality tv show."
Student: And here I thought "utilitarian" would be what sank it.

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25 January 2009

Never Finished

In the most recent Yoga Journal (February 2009), Matthew Sanford shares this thought about Yoga:

I feel wonder as I realize that every pose is infinite and that ultimate mastery is not possible. I feel wonder as my practice teaches me to trust that time, dedication, and curiosity are what bring me progress, not the intensity of my will. Most of all, I feel wonder about the little things—how my breathing is such a sensual experience, how my lifted chest directs awareness through my extremities. Finally, I am filled with a sense of wonder as I realize that my yoga practice allows me to refine the quality of my existence.

The same sentiment applies to taiji. It is a task that is never finished. It's hard to imagine what it would mean to be finished. Perfection? Professor Cheng Man Ch'ing himself never felt he'd reached perfection, and said that he had only done the form perfectly perhaps three times in his lifetime ... and he created that form.

This is something that constantly puzzles me about adherents to mainstream religion. Except for the ones who emphasize proselytizing, their task is done the instant they convert. There is nothing left to do or perfect. What's the point? What meaning can there be? What is left to explore? There is no path to be found there: only a destination. This is true, also, of the common view of heaven. It is a destination with no purpose other than to be a destination: there's nothing and no where left to explore. How can that be a heaven? If perfection is ever genuinely achieved, that is the time to give up, as there is nothing left to perfect. That is ultimate hopelessness and despair. But just as there can be no largest prime number, there is no such thing as perfection. Any so-called "most perfect" point can still be improved upon.

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23 January 2009

Strange License Plates and Statistical Software

One that I liked read "FROGSTR". Another that puzzled me read "MRSEE". Mr. See? Mrs. E.E.? Mercy; merci; Mars C? I have no idea. Wait... Mr. See could be a corny plate for an ophthalmologist... That's my best guess at this point.

In other news, I've been asked to review materials for an independent study Statistics class that the university is in the process of re-vamping (as the book used in the last program went out of print some time ago). I haven't done much yet. It uses software made by the same company that makes our Math108 software. That software was pretty bad when we first started using it, but is mostly decent now. I haven't tried the statistics program enough to say how it compares yet. After that, it's possible that I may wind up supervising the course itself. From the sounds of things, it isn't much work for the supervisor, but there's a decent compensation. So we'll see how that goes.

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22 January 2009

The Phenomenology of Qi

This had been on my mind anyway, and Ebonmuse gave me the perfect excuse to expound on it. The problem with telling people that there is no such thing as qi, is that many people have experienced a sensation that they interpret as qi. Ebonmuse even has a physiological explanation for one of these sensations: The Ideomotor Effect. Beautiful stuff, particularly as something like this very effect is taken advantage of in push-hands. From Wikipedia: "The ideomotor effect is a psychological phenomenon wherein a subject makes motions unconsciously. As in reflexive responses to pain, the body sometimes reacts reflexively to ideas alone without the person consciously deciding to take action."

Mark once asked Kayo Robertson how to follow someone who wasn't moving. Following in push-hands means, essentially, responding to another person's movements, and simply staying with those movements (without tensing up). Kayo responded, "You think you're not moving?" Kayo placed one hand on the center of Mark's chest and told him to try and not move. There were still small movements that Kayo could follow and use to push Mark out. Wikipedia describes reflexive movements, but I think unconscious or unintentional would be a better descriptor in this example.

Ebonmuse also suggests that most of the other reported effects of qi flow are due to suggestibility in the practitioner. There are some instances where I strongly suspect that is the case; look for Henry Wang's push-hands videos on You-Tube, for example. There are some problems, however.

My first experience with qi was before I had any idea there was such a notion. I was riding on a bus, either in junior high or high school. My feet kept getting hotter and hotter and hotter, as if there were a coal burning roughly in the center of the bottom of each foot. I looked around, wondering if something was wrong, but no one else seemed to notice. With great effort, I managed to pull my feet up off the floor, and the sensation decreased noticeably. Years later, I had a similar sensation during a qigong exercise, and suddenly I knew what it was I'd felt on that bus. Even stranger, the place where I'd felt the hot coal has a name: the bubbling well. Certainly, my latter experiences could have an element of suggestibility to them, but that begs the question of why I felt heat in a location that is believed to be a center for qi flow before ever hearing of qi flow or that there was an energy center in that location.

Another problem with the pure suggestibility hypothesis is that beginning taiji students often spontaneously report feeling heat in their hands. Usually I don't even mention qi unless students express interest in it, or mention such sensations. I'm not claiming that the only explanation is a metaphysical energy source; I am claiming that the sensations are real and a result of the taiji practice. What the practice does to result in those sensations, I can't say, at least not in physical terms. It's simpler, and more useful, just to call it qi-flow.

Why? Because it feels like an energy flow. Mentally, it can be manipulated as if it were an energy flow, at least in one's own body. If it's not an energy flow, then it's probably an artifact of the way the brain processes information coming in from the body. That's not going to help people figure out what to do with those sensations, however. And they are useful sensations in the context of taiji. They tell practitioners when the body is lined up correctly, and treating the sensations as actual energy flows tends to give people exactly the right impression for adjusting their own postures. Most of the time. Every so often I locate a different flow that turns out not to be the one we're aiming for in the taiji form, and then Don and I argue about it, and he nearly always turns out to be right.

As for where the maps of the meridians and such came from, I would bet solid money that they came from practitioners of the martial arts and meditation, noting where these "energy" concentrations felt like they were located, and whether they felt any flows between them. One more personal anecdote: in our morning warm-ups, we rub the centers of the right palm around the center of the left foot 36 times, and then switch to left palm on right foot. I was told this was supposed to be good for the kidneys. After a few weeks of practice, I could feel a sensation, almost like an electrical current, running from the center of my palm, up the arm, over the shoulder, and down to the middle of the back, where it seemed to collect. I had to look up where the kidneys were, and it turned out that they were exactly where the energy felt like it was collecting. It took several years before I got a similar flow running up from the center of the foot to the opposite kidney, and I still don't always get that one: it seems to depend on getting the presumed energy centers in the feet and hands precisely lined up.

Do I think there's actual electricity flowing from my limbs into my kidneys? Possibly. Then again, it may just be another artifact of the way the brain processes sensation. What I know is that I experienced that in the absence of any expectation of feeling such a flow, and before I knew for certain where my own kidneys were located. So I'm inclined to be dismissive of anyone who just dismisses the meridians as hokey nonsense with no physiological correlates. There is something to them, even if it's not a literal energy flow.

For the record, I would like it if qi turned out to be energy in the sense that the term is used in physics. That would just be cool. However, I don't think I'll be convinced of that until/unless I manage to physically affect some inanimate object without physically touching it. And, yes, periodically I do try. I suspect that if I ever did succeed, my first thought would be to wonder if I was having a psychotic break-down.

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21 January 2009


There are things that I really like about phenomenology, things that I find strange, and things that make no sense to me. This post is mostly going to be me rambling about some of these.

The idea, as I understand it, is that the one thing 'I' can be certain of is that while I am experiencing X, I am experiencing X. Husserl seems to take it further, to say that I can be certain that I have experienced X if I can remember experiencing X. However, there is still the possibility of some sort of Last Thursdayism, and that my memories are false. This may be why Husserl spends a great deal of time discussing time, and the phenomenology thereof.

I also find it strange that language itself is "allowed" to be used. I mean, take a word, like "jar." What do I experience when I read that word? I see a series of shapes. Those shapes I experience as connected to a sound and to a meaning. Why? Why should those particular shapes connect to those particular sounds and that particular meaning? Ah... I just figured out what's been bugging me. There is no why in phenomenology. There is only the experience. There is only "what", and, possibly, "when" and "where". It provides no explanation.

That's not to say that it has no practical use. I can think of plenty of places where a phenomenological approach would probably improve things vastly (medicine comes to mind). But I don't like the tendency to treat it as a be-all and end-all in itself. It is very useful to recognize what you've actually experienced vs. what you have inferred/assumed/etc. about the experiences. It is not so useful, to my way of thinking, to assume that the experience you had is all that there really is. We were talking about experiencing the "stream of time" today in class, and a Zen quote kept coming to mind: "Jump into the river of time and swim, instead of standing on the banks and noting the currents!" (as best I remember the quote) Phenomenology seems to be a bit too enamored with watching the currents.

The funny thing is that there's a strong relationship between the phenomenological viewpoint (Husserl's Transcendental Subjectivity) and the eastern notion of detachment. Yet in the latter case, I feel no objection; it makes sense to me. The way it's been described thusfar, transcendental subjectivity seems too detached somehow, to the point that I just might understand why some people have trouble with the notion of detachment. It may just be that the language that Husserl uses makes his version seem colder. I'm not sure.

The other zen quote that kept coming to mind tonight (again, as best I remember it) was, "Before I gained enlightenment, mountains were mountains. While I was seeking enlightenment, mountains were not mountains. After I gained enlightenment, mountains were mountains again." Phenomenology seems to be in a "mountains may or may not be mountains" stage, of just reporting what the experience of some collection of sense-data labeled a "mountain" is like.

I think that's the last of my coherency on the subject for tonight.

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19 January 2009


James McGrath got me thinking today, about the word "faith." The way it is most commonly used these days, it seems to be synonymous with "belief", particularly with "belief in the absence of evidence" or "belief despite evidence to the contrary." Yet that is not how the word began. At its heart, to have faith means to trust.

What is it to trust? In the first place, it means letting go, yielding, accepting. To trust that things will turn out all right does not mean running around, pulling strings, trying to force them to turn out all right. To trust that a book is correct does not mean twisting its words until you can force them into a fixed meaning. To trust a person is to yield, to allow that person to carry out his or her own path. To trust a book is to allow the book to say what it actually says, without preconceptions.

Insisting on a particular meaning is not trust. Refusing to consider any alternative is a bit like insisting in push-hands. You decide that you're going to push, regardless of what your partner is doing, regardless of whether it's appropriate at that moment in time. If you're fast enough and lucky enough, you might push the other person out, but, if your partner is any good, insisting on that push only gives them something to use against you.

In my random quotes list, there are two from Alan Watts that sum it up nicely:

But the attitude of faith is to let go, and become open to truth, whatever it might turn out to be.

To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don't grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float.

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18 January 2009

What to Do with Peanut Butter that You Can't Scrape Out of the Jar

I have a sneaking feeling that this represents my longest title for a blog-post, ever!

So, in answer to the title: drop a handful of chocolate chips into the jar; shake and/or stir them around; remove and eat them using chopsticks.

It didn't quite use up all of the peanut butter, but it took care of most of it, and tasted good to boot. ^/^

As always, make sure to read ingredients on both chocolate chips and peanut butter if you have food sensitivities, and avoid off-brands of either one. Of course, right now might not be the best time to be buying peanut butter products... However, the jar in question came from well before the salmonella scare, and never made me ill in any fashion.

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17 January 2009

Existential Musings, I

Part of the course requirements for Existentialism is that we keep a journal of thoughts that occur to us as we're reading at least some of the texts. I have a funny feeling that I'm going to have to do a lot of cutting and pasting, as he wanted about 20 pages, double-spaced, and after reading half of one article, I've got 2.25 pages, single spaced, so about 4.5 double-spaced.

The reading consisted of selections from Husserl's Paris Lecture, and the first part was pages 2 through 10 as available on google-books. Interestingly, he advised that we not read both sections in one sitting, which I found odd, as the first part wasn't that difficult a read (much easier than Quine, for instance, or Heidegger, who was one of Husserl's students). Anyway, my random musings are below the fold. Mostly I just noted a quote of interest and typed "out loud" about it.

“absolute foundation for knowledge” … What does “absolute” mean? Unable to be doubted? Certain? Perfect? I don’t know. And I don’t think that it is necessary. What is necessary is that all presuppositions accompanying a supposed piece of knowledge be examined and brought to light. If one is found wanting, then the piece of “knowledge” must be re-examined, to see if it can survive without that particular presupposition. Quine realized that even things which are considered known truths based on their meanings alone could be called into question. A qualifier is needed: given a particular set of definitions and an understood grammar, certain statements are known truths based on the definitions and the grammar.

“It is the spirit of science to count nothing as really scientific which cannot be fully justified by the evidence.” In one sense, yes… in another, absolutely not. Nothing in science is ever considered to be “fully justified”. There is always room for doubt, always room for the possibility that new evidence may arise and force us to throw out the old conclusion. Still, it is true that evidence must exist that supports the scientific hypothesis, and that the more evidence that exists in harmony with the hypothesis, the more confident we are in that hypothesis. But we always must leave room for the possibility that we’ve missed something. “fully justified” implies that it is certain and settled, that there is no room for doubt; i.e. we’re back to “absolute.”

“we, the beginning philosophers, make it a rule to judge only by the evidence.” What counts as evidence? Are thought-experiments “evidence” or merely suggestive? Are subjective experiences evidence, or must there exist others who can confirm X for it to count as evidence? In general in science, “evidence” must be equally available to all, in the sense that anyone with the same equipment and the same test subject would get the same results. If everyone gets different results, that, too, is evidence, but now the differences need to be explained before the results can mean anything.

“We can no longer say that the world is real — a belief that is natural enough in our ordinary experience — instead, it merely makes a claim to reality.” If the world makes a claim, then it presumably must exist to make the claim. So can things exist without actually being real? Presumably this is where Husserl gets the reality of the phenomena: they make a claim to reality on him, so the phenomena themselves must exist, whatever their correct interpretation must be. Sidetrack: Hallucinations also make a claim to reality. They also are phenomena. Can we label them as having the same degree of reality as other phenomena? Generally there is something that is observable going on in the brain/blood chemistry to cause the hallucination, but it must be measured by a machine, almost certainly operated by someone not experiencing the hallucination. Supposing that the hallucinatory is so far gone that he/she is unaware of the machine and cannot observe its results, would the hallucination then be real to that person and the machine not? Is there an observer-independent reality? Husserl’s early comments about science notwithstanding, the lack of an at least mostly observer-independent reality would render science useless.

“On the contrary, it is precisely the phonomena themselves which, without excption, render possible for me the very existence of both reality and appearance.” If the observed phenomena are all that is real, how is it meaningful to distinguish between reality and appearance? And in the same paragraph, “I no longer judge regarding the distinction between reality and appearance.”

“I must similarly abstain from any other of my opinions judgments, and valuations of the world.” Is not the decision to abstain also a phenomenon? Is not the decision to adopt a phenomenological framework also a phenomenon?

“ubiquitous detachment from any point of view regarding the objective world” also a phenomenon. Also implies that there is an objective world which might differ from the phenomena. Something in all this strikes me as circular. It’s one thing to decide to take all observed phenomena at face value, and just examine them. It’s another to claim that this is in any way detached.

“Everything in the world, all spatio-temporal being, exists for me because I experience it, because I perceive it, remember it, think of it in any way, judge it, value it, desire it, etc.” (emph. mine) Then would we say that if I experience the sight of a dragon in my living room, which no one else reports, that dragon is real for me? I would say yes, but I’m not sure that’s particularly helpful in coming up with a basis for knowledge, as Husserl seems to want to do.

“I cannot live, experience, think, value, and act in any world which is not in some sense in me, and derives its meaning and truth from me.” Seems to presuppose that the phenomena are all that exist, and so whatever meaning they induce in the one experiencing them is automatically true. Thus he has exchanged an assumption of an external world for the assumption of a solely internal one. Yes, the internal world must be considered, but it seems vacuous to allow it to be the sole world, and to allow that all truth depends on the person experiencing…whatever. It seems to be advocating an extreme form of relativism.

“I do not exist as a human being … But through all this I have discovered my true self. I have discovered that I alone am the pure ego, with pure existence and pure capacities.” I suspect part of the problem here is the simple limitations on language for discussing these ideas, but what is the ‘I’ of which he writes? He identifies it with himself, but is there really an ‘I’? Is there really an ‘ego’? If there is no ‘I’, how can ‘I’ be the pure ego? I think what he means to say is that the ‘I’ goes away when it is sought, and seems to expand into pure existence. (could also be a translation issue)

“Consciousness is always consciousness of something.” Agreed. But isn’t consciousness itself a phenomenon? Likewise, consciousness of consciousness being a phenomenon, is itself a phenomenon.

“the concrete contents of experience, precisely as these are experienced” Oh, good. Concrete. Another synonym for absolute. This passage also presupposes the existence of adequate language for describing experience, and the existence of adequate memory of said experience and the existence of adequate processing power so that every aspect of the experience can be held in awareness. Recent research indicates that when we remember something, our memory of it will change. Our brains function on the “Save As” modality.

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16 January 2009

Spiritual Type Quiz

For once, I think the result is spot-on:

Quiz: What's Your Spiritual Type?

You scored 47, on a scale of 25 to 100. Here's how to interpret your score:

40 - 49
Active Spiritual Seeker Spiritual but turned off by organized religion

Click here if you're interested in trying it.

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Dimension Mismatch Error(s)

Admittedly, I tend to overuse this phrase, but it's literally applicable in this instance:

Results 1 - 4 of about 2

It doesn't much matter what phrase I was searching for. I can see the point of Google rounding down the number of results when it's in the hundreds or higher, but this? I don't get it. Oh, but that just reminded me of a beautifully odd segement from my Existentialism class:

All respectable ants begin with the ant-hill, and they will probably end with it too, which does great credit to their constancy and their positive characters. But man is a fickle and disreputable creature and, perhaps like a chess player, is interested in the process of attaining his goal rather than the goal itself. And who knows, (nobody can say with certainty), perhaps man's sole purpose in this world consists in this uninterrupted process of attainment, or in other words in living, and not specifically in the goal, which of course must be something like twice two is four, that is, a formula; but after all, twice two is four is not life, genetlemen, but the beginning of death. At least man has always feared this 2 x 2 = 4 formula and I still fear it.


Twice two is four is, in my opinion, nothing but impudence. 'Two and two make four' is like a cocky young devil standing across your path with arms akimbo and a defiant air. I agree that two and two make four is an excellent thing; but to give everything its due, two and two make five is also a very fine thing.

~Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground pg 40-41

I fixed a few typos that were on the typed sheet Dr. Levenson handed out, and made it clear that there was a substantial amount of text where the ellipsis is. Somewhere between a third and a quarter of a page, anyway. It's a very odd bit of text. Levenson picked it as portraying existential dread and/or defiance. Btw, two and two don't always make four. Particularly if you put two electrons with two positrons. They make zero! 2 cups of water mixed with 2 cups of alcohol does not result in four cups of liquid. And in Z3, 2 and 2 make 1. ^/^

ADDENDUM: I just found another one:

No Active Advisories (US Severe Weather)
Dense fog advisory in effect from 8 PM this evening to 11 am MST Saturday...

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Ice-Covered World

ice crystals cover
cars, branches, sidewalks:
sign of frozen fog

Statement as of 9:01 AM MST on January 16, 2009

... Freezing fog advisory remains in effect until 11 am MST this

A freezing fog advisory remains in effect until 11 am MST this

Dense fog along Interstate 15 from Blackfoot to Pocatello and
Interstate 86 from Pocatello west towards Burley will continue
to reduce visibilities to one quarter mile or less in many areas.
With temperatures below freezing... slick spots are likely on area
roadways. The fog is expected to improve by lunch time.

A freezing fog advisory means visibilities will frequently be
reduced to less than one quarter mile. If driving... slow down...
use your headlights... and leave plenty of distance ahead of you.
Also... be alert for frost on bridge decks causing slippery roads.

~Wunderground NWS warning

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15 January 2009

Political Philosophy

This looks to be an entertaining class. I started to type that "The professor is somewhat eccentric," but then realized that, thusfar, that applies to all of the philosophy faculty. He's got a touch of arrogance, which might be annoying, except that he realizes he has a touch of arrogance, and often seems to laugh at himself for it.

A random yet entertaining tidbit:

We're focusing on the politics of the nation-state, the concept of which, arguably, did not exist before the Hundred-Years-War. There was a sense of unity and loyalty within a single town or city, but not so much a sense of unity with all towns in the same area. In fact, Dr. Pelletti explained, most historians will wrongly tell you that the Hundred-Years-War was between England and France, when no such united country existed at the beginning of the war. In fact, it was between two warring families: the Plantagenets and the Valois. The Valois were French-speaking and the Plantagenets were English-speaking, but many of the people in so-called France supported the Plantagenets. Dr. Pelletti actually suggested that Joan of Arc was the first person in recorded history to voice an idea of something approaching a nation-state. She objected to these English-speakers (not-us) ruling over native French-speakers (us), and hence had some idea of something uniting all the French-speaking-people. He acknowledged that this was an uncommon thesis, but still managed to sound fairly sure of himself.

I think I had another tidbit in mind when I started this, but I seem to be too tired to remember it. Perhaps an addendum will follow in the morning.

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14 January 2009

January Sunset

crisp sunlight
bare branches filter
criss-crossed beams

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11 January 2009

GF: Taco Seasoning

Before finding out I was gluten intolerant, my family would always make Mexican dishes using spice packets from the store. Unfortunately, nearly all of them contain "whe*t flour" as an ingredient. My best guess is that the gluten is supposed to help the spice stick to the meat. Whatever the reason, it means that I cannot use the pre-made spice packets. So I took it upon myself to make up my own spice mix. Essentially, I noted the spices used in the pre-made spice packets, and tried mixing them up.

There are two versions below the fold, but the instructions for use are the same:

Brown meat (usually beef), drain fat, add 2 T of spice mix per pound of meat and approximately 3/4 c of water per pound of meat, cover and let simmer for 10-20 minutes, uncovering for the last few if there's still too much water. Serve with your favorite taco fixings.

Here's my very first attempt. If you like very spicy tacos, it's pretty good. If not, go down to the milder version.

Spicy Taco Mix

5 t cumin
6 t chili powder
3 t cayenne or red pepper
3 t oregano
2 t paprika
1/2 t garlic or onion salt
1/2 t salt
(use 2 T spice + 3/4 c. water per pound of meat)

Mild Taco Mix

5 t cumin
2 t chili powder
1 t cayenne or red pepper
3 t oregano
6 t paprika
1/2 t garlic or onion salt
1/2 t salt
(use 2 T spice + 3/4 c. water per pound of meat)

Essentially, I just switched the amounts of chili powder and paprika, and decreased the red pepper. This time, I tried 3 t chili pepper to 6 t paprika and left the red pepper at 3 t. It's just a touch spicy to me, which means that my mom would hate it. As for the various salts, they're completely optional, imo. You can always salt the meat itself, and I usually put a fresh onion or garlic clove in with the meat anyway.

Oh, the level of spiciness will also depend on the kind of chili powder you get. Some are very mild, while some are almost as hot as the red pepper. So keep this in mind, depending on where your preferences lie.

The mixes result in 20 t and 18 t of mix respectively. 18 t = 6 T = enough for three batches if you cook one pound of meat at a time. I usually mix up a double batch and keep it in a jar.
GF Tips Index

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10 January 2009

Two Sunrises, One Morning

Two sunrises in a row
on the road to Eagle Rock
Over lava beds, rocks glowed
with molten liquid light
In the taller mountains north
the sun set for a moment
Night settled in that moment
until the sun rose once more.

A few clarifications: Eagle Rock was once the name of Idaho Falls, and it scanned better when I was writing this. Basically, the mountains to the east of I-15 vary in height, and I was traveling at just the right time to see the sun rise over Hell's Half Acre, only to "set" again behind some taller mountains, and then rise above them as well.

I'm not entirely happy with the last line yet... but I can't think how to fix it just now. But here's a sunrise that's out of this world.

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09 January 2009

On the Scarcity of Eight by Eight Frames

A while back, I found a piece of embroidered artwork at the Purple Moon (an import store in downtown Pocatello). The art itself is about 4 inches by 4 inches, and still pricey since the process of making the art is extremely intricate, and it was mounted on an 8-inch piece of backer-board with an 8" by 8" matte attached.

There started the attempt to find a frame for it. My first find was an actual eight-by-eight frame from, of all places, a dollar store. It wasn't until I got it home that I could take it out of the plastic and discover that the backer-board was too thick to slide into the frae. Trying to separate the embroidered silk from the board would likely have ruined it, and trying to widen a very cheap, plastic frame would have ruined the frame. So that was out. Next I came across a frame that I thought was eight-by-eight, though it was matted for a four-by-six photograph. I pulled the matte out... and discovered that it was just slightly smaller than eight-by-eight. I debated using a jig-saw on the backer-board, but figured I'd look around some more before risking ruining the piece.

Finally, I came across some framed artwork on clearance at Ross. The bits that had been mounted inside the sealed frames had come unglued. The frames were larger than eight-by-eight, but they were square, and the display area inside was roughly eight-by-eight. So I bought one of these and used a paring knife to get the backing off. Then I removed the intended artwork, glued the backer-board in its place ... and needed a way to seal the frame back up. I could have glued or nailed it, but I liked the idea of being able to get back into the frame if I wanted. I wandered through various hardware sections, and found these connectors at Fred Meyer:

The screws actually came from Lowe's, as Fred Meyer didn't have any that were small enough. But these work beautifully. Attach them just outside the backing for the frame the frame, and you can rotate the plastic piece in to hold the backing in place ... or out to allow the backing to come out again. I attached four of these.

At any rate, here's the finished, framed piece:

I would have loved to get one of the larger pieces, but the prices went up rather steeply from this one. I think the 8.5" by 11" matted ones were $45, and the next size up (can't remember dimensions now) was around $60 or $80. Not bad, considering that the embroidery is done by hand, but more than I could afford.

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08 January 2009

Thought for the Day

States clearly possess, or at least claim to possess,political power. The sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) made a similar point, if in more startling language: states possess a monopoly of legitimate violence. Within any state, violence or coercion is seen as primarily the state's business, either directly, through its agents—the police and law courts—or indirectly, through the permissions it gives citizens to be violent to each other on occasion: in self defence, for example. All legitimate violence or coercion is undertaken or supervised by the state.

~Jonathan Wolff
An Introduction to Political Philosophy, pg. 36

I'm taking Political and Social Philosophy this semester, and this is from one of the textbooks we'll be using. So far, it's quite interesting. Hopefully, the class itself will be at least as interesting.

ADDENDUM: This article at Positive Liberty goes well with this quote.

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07 January 2009

Adding to the Practice

At the taiji camp that I usually go to, Bataan opens each day with a 30 minute meditation session. He refers to his style as "Vipassana meditation", and he or one of his students always gives a brief introduction for those who haven't done it before. The interesting thing is that a quick internet search turns up all sorts of information on Vipassana, and there is little resemblance to what I have been introduced to as Vipassana meditation.

The practice that I have learned is to focus on the breath, and allow the breaths to become deeper. Then just allow the mind to be empty. Thoughts will arise. Notice them, then let them go. In the beginning, it's very easy to become distracted or fixated on a thought. When you notice, acknowledge the thought, and let it go. Trying to force a thought to go away just gives it more power.

The last time I tried adding this into my regular practice, I was ... somewhat impatient with it, to be honest. I would set a timer for whatever time I could allow (usually 5-10 minutes), then focus on my breath, to the point of counting the breaths, and, assuming that each count took one second, trying to figure out how much time was left. I didn't maintain the practice for long at that point but, honestly, I don't think it's possible to get much out of it that way. This time around, the thoughts stay empty on their own much more easily. Some do arise, and I note them, and wait for them to fade so I can return to the emptiness.

I don't know if I'll manage to continue when the semester gets going, but I hope that I can. So far, the time has passed smoothly and continuously, so that I'm surprised when the timer goes off. It's not that the time has gone quickly... it's more that it feels like there is no time. And if there's no time, how can time pass? It's a bit hard to describe the sensation.

At any rate, here is what Wikipedia has to say about Vipassana, and here is a brief summary of some of the recent research into the benefits of meditation.

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06 January 2009

Medication Aftermath

I've been off the prednisone for more than a week, now. As far as breathing, it loosened the tight feeling in my chest, but did not make it go away completely. However, thanks to a suggestion from my taji teacher, Nasalcrom did make it go away completely. I can't say for sure whether it would have done so had the prednisone not first lessened the tightness, but I suspect it would have.

Nasalcrom is supposed to reduce the amount of histamine released (presumably into the nose, since it's a nasal spray), rather than attacking the histamine after it's already been released. Generally, people take a few weeks to start showing results from it. I got near-instantaneous results. The first day I used it, it was like, "Wow! This is what it's like to be able to breath freely!" Unfortunately, that was also the day I came down with probable food poisoning. Minor case, but due to the conjunction in timing, it made me stop using the Nasalcrom for a few days. Once those symptoms went away, I started the Nasalcrom again. My breathing is much more open than it has been all fall. I'm not sure what, exactly, it did, since I'm still having some allergy symptoms, but it certainly improved my breathing.

On the odd side, the recommendation from my taiji teacher came through a friend of his ... who got the recommendation from his "spirit guide." He's been playing around with shamanic meditation (using drum sounds to induce a trance), and his question before one particular session was about making his asthma symptoms go away. The answer came into his mind, "Nasalcrom." He had no idea what it was, and went to look it up, guessing at the spelling. My suspicion is that he'd encountered an advertisement for Nasalcrom somewhere along the way, which probably mentioned asthma, and his subconscious stored it away. Under trance, the name came back to the surface. I consider it possible that there is such a thing as a literal spirit guide, but find it more probable that it was simply subconscious prompting brought to the surface by a trance-state. Whichever it is, I'm grateful either to his spirit guide or his subconscious for the suggestion, as it works beautifully for me. ^/^

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05 January 2009

Maps, Maps, Maps

I've been trying to get my at-home office cleaned up before the new semester starts. Part of that involves going through a file drawer full of maps and getting them in something resembling "order". They were divided up, roughly, by state and/or country and/or continent. I found a few out of place ones, several boxes of maps that hadn't been filed yet, and a few folders containing only one map that I grouped together. I also got some of the hanging folders with flat bottoms for the larger sections: Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming... i.e., the places I've been to most often to collect maps.

I have 11 maps of Wyoming, all different. 9 of them are the freebies put out by the state. I have about that many maps of Jackson Hole. I don't have quite as many of Idaho or Colorado, but we stop less often at the places that have the freebies available. On the way to Colorado, we always stop at the port of entry at Kemmerer, and they almost always have the official Wyoming map for that year available. Whenever we see one of those kiosks of tourist fliers, I hunt through them for any that have real maps. Sometimes I'll grab little cheapies that are just sketches on a page, but I much prefer the actual maps, with street/road names and scales.

To be honest, I'm not sure why I find maps so fascinating. Maybe it's because they represent a piece of the earth being squeezed onto a little sheet of paper. I did finally break down and throw out some of the duplicates. I didn't really need three copies of the 1999 Official Wyoming Highway map, for instance. It bugs me to get rid of them, but I'd prefer to have my collection remain confined to a single file drawer. The flat-bottomed file folders help with that. I can line the maps up side-by-side, "standing up", and make them take up half the room that they did before.

So... if anyone needs an obscure map from the intermountain west, it's quite likely that I have it. I've also got a few oddities, like a map of Yugoslavia when it was still called Yugoslavia. I found it on clearance at a little bookstore in Brush, CO. That's something else I like about maps: they represent a slice of history. That country no longer exists. Its borders are probably different. But the map records what was.

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03 January 2009

The Kitties' Christmas Present

My mom and dad both gave me a bit of money this Christmas, so I used most of it to get the cats a nice climbing tree. This is the top level. It's roughly five feet tall. Among other things, it gives the cats a safe way to get to the window that's above Pouncer. They had found rather interesting ways to get up there without the toy ... one of which involved climbing on top of a television set. I figured if they were going to get up there anyway, they might as well have a way that was less likely to damage them or the house.

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02 January 2009

Early Thaw

white mountains melt
rivers flow beneath street ice
winter turns to spring

wind rises
cold front brings back
winter's chill

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01 January 2009

Years Come and Years Go

The four seasons don’t ever stop to rest
The years come and the years go
The ten thousand things
Succeed themselves endlessly
But the universe itself does not die or decay
The east is bright and the west is dark
Flowers fall and flowers bloom again
Only the travelers to the Yellow Springs
Go shrouded in mystery and don’t return

- Han-shan, from Daily Zen

This is from either yesterday or the day before, but it seems appropriate both to the new year and to the I-Ching (see previous post). Changes come and go in cycles until the end of things is reached. And the end, of course, will prove to be a new beginning.

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The I-Ching

I've been curious about the I-Ching (yi jing in pinyin) for quite a while, but whenever I'd pick up a copy of it, I'd get the sense that now was not the time ... right up until I found Deng Ming Dao's Living I-Ching on my trip down to Salt Lake last summer. The title is usually translated as "The Book of Changes". "Ching" or "jing" generally means "classic text".

The idea behind the Changes is simple. All things in life are constantly changing. They change according to observable and predictable cycles. If we can figure out where in the cycle we are, we can be prepared for what's likely to come next. The Book of Changes attempts to organize the cycles of change. It is often used as a tool for divination. Use some random method (usually the casting of yarrow sticks or coins) to choose a hexagram. Rules will determine if any of the lines of the hexagram are about to change, and the changing lines will yield a second hexagram. The first is believed to be the situation as it is now; the second is the situation about to come into being.

While I do cast coins and look up the corresponding passages, I don't think of it as divination. It's more...inspiration. The imagery in the poems may take my thoughts in a different direction with regard to some problem or question. I have noticed that I'm more likely to consult it in times of stress, where I feel a bit out of control, and that fits recent research which suggests superstitious behaviors in part serve to re-establish a sense of control over an uncontrollable situation. For me, I recognize that I will find in the imagery something to soothe my mind, whether it represents an accurate forecast for the future or not.

As for Deng Ming Dao's version, I like that he includes the Chinese character with its partial* pronunciation and some of its meanings. I like that the beginning of the book discusses some of the history of the I-Ching, and the way it progresses through a cycle itself, just as the Changes do. I also like the discussions of each hexagram. He includes the poem, two of the interpretations, the readings for each changing line, and then goes into his own commentary. Interestingly, his commentary is always on a separate page from the "classic" material. I would consider this an excellent version for someone just getting started.

For the record, there is a part of me that takes the I-Ching more seriously than I've indicated here. According to Master Jou (my teacher's teacher), you can't master the Changes by casting coins or sticks: you've mastered them when you know which hexagram applies in a situation without any extraneous ritual. Whether that's truly possible or not, I don't know. I do know that I've had some eerily applicable readings, but I also know that, once I've primed myself with a question, I'm going to see an answer to it in what I read.

One final oddity: when I found the copy of the book in the bookstore and picked it up, it was warm in my hands. My hands almost tingled. I frowned at the book, put it back, and picked up another from the same shelf. No warmth or tingling. So I picked up the Living I-Ching again, and the warmth and tingling came back. I still get it if I hold the book for very long. Does it mean anything? It does to me, at least, but to anyone else, it probably indicates some sort of subconscious appeal of the book to me. However, it's not an appeal for any version of the I-Ching. I found an older translation in an antique store (Jung, or one of Jung's students, iirc), picked it up, and it was painful in my hands. *shrugs* I was actually thinking of buying it until I picked it up. Make what you will of that. I find it a curiosity worth exploring.

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