06 May 2008

More About Life

Life is more than meat moving around in metal boxes upon rubber circles, pushing little buttons with symbols on them so that some people can have a bigger number of virtual units which allows them to have more clothing and a larger house. Most of time, all we think about are bits of paper and metal that we endow with worth, or we worry about the state of our (or other peoples') meat. We routinely ignore the Real.

Real life is amazement, love, magick, divinity, discovery, knowledge, passion, expansion. Real life is not physical; it's intangible. Real life is inspiring, not mundane. Real life is infinite and eternal.

Life For Life's Sake

Why do we insist up on life? Why do people imprint some sense of "good" onto life? Why is life -- all of the biological reactions -- so special?

I ask these questions because such attitudes have an extremely negative effect: they do not allow dignity at the end of life, nor do they promote logical medical decisions. Instead, we use all of our "amazing technology" to prolong the functions of life way past the point where they would have naturally ceased. We don't think of the person, only of the "tumor" or the "infection"; dignity never enters the equation. Efficiency never enters the picture, either; of course, that allows doctors to make more money, so they don't argue any of these points.

This is completely and utterly wrong. It is a serious strike against us, both as a society and as human beings.

"Life for life's sake" is an evil idea.

04 May 2008

Everthing, All, and Us

It is confusing, amazing, inspiring, and frustrating how the Universe works. We're all one, united by consciousness, matter, and energy. Yet, we are of diverse forms -- me, you, that dog over there, all the planets, and the bird in the sky. And, somehow, we have to reconcile these things and understand that within diversity is union, and within union is diversity.

It's confusing as hell, really. Be one with all, yet be unique. Be uniquely one with everything. "You!" be "All!"

Is that even possible? Is it desirable? Can a unique, diverse individual realize their unity with everything? Can I find God?

The answer is a resounding, amazingly loud, and soul-reverberating "YES!"

27 December 2007

We Are Destroying The Planet?! 1 $€€ M0N€¥!

(In case your browser doesn't interpret the title correctly, it says, "We Are Destroying The Planet?! I SEE MONEY!" but with various currency symbols and numbers instead of letters.)

I can't quite believe that I saw this article from BusinessWeek today. Because I'm somewhat speechless, I'm just going to quote the first bit of the article and let it speak for itself:

Set aside, for now, the really complex and costly financial implications of climate change. Ignore the tricky abstractions of carbon trading. Forget the worries over flooded cities and the ins and outs of renewable energy.

Instead, consider just a few everyday money-making ideas created by the warming of our planet. For example, oenophiles could short the stocks of vintners in drought-prone areas such as Australia or California and bet on upstarts in Canada and England, where new wineries are sprouting as temperatures rise. Or, since ski resorts are seeing less and less snow, it might make sense to buy and hold manufacturers of snowmakers.

Of course, the potential of climate-change investing goes far beyond mere curiosities. A growing number of advisers to big institutional investors and high-net-worth types are sizing up companies based on how likely they are to benefit from rising energy prices, stricter regulations, and changes to the natural world ranging from freshwater shortages to new disease patterns and more chaotic weather.
'Nuff said.

05 December 2007

Religion, Faith, Belief, And Understanding

I'll start this post by opening a can of worms: What is religion?

There are many, many answers to that question. Some say that religion is a social construct. Others say that it is a system used to control a populace (Marx's "the opiate of the masses"). Others say that it is a mystical union with the Divine. Others say that it is a narrow way, a union only with a specific Divinity. Others say that it is an outdated remnant of our evolution. Others don't care what it is, and others don't know. What is a person to do when confronted by so many different - and often conflicting - viewpoints?

The term "religion" supposedly originates from the Latin term "re-ligare", or "to reconnect, to rebind"; a more free-form translation may be "to re-unite". This brings up the idea that we are somehow separate from something which we should not be, and that religion is a system of practices to reunite us with that thing. Many people interpret the Sanskrit word "yoga" the same way: to reunite, to re-yoke. The biggest and most problematic issues arise when people start trying to define the "thing" from which we are separated.

I've personally been through many states with regard to religion. I was raised in an agnostic household; my parents didn't really care about religion, faith, or God. In my teens, I became an atheist of my own accord, arguing against the existence of any deity. In my late teens, I converted to Christianity and remained there for about 12 years; in this tradition, I was training to be clergy. After a serious tragedy in which I didn't feel that my religion had given me the support I needed, I became an atheist again. A few years later, I realized that I may have thrown the baby out with the bathwater, and I have since returned to an open mind concerning religious matters. I now believe that there may be a deity or deities, or there may be nothing, or there may be an amorphous, unconscious "greater state" which creates, sustains, and destroys the universe. None of my beliefs are deep-seated at this point, as I'm not yet sure of anything.

I do, though, hold one deep-seated belief: human beings need religion. They need faith, community, belief, ritual, and most of all, understanding. Religion isn't about gods or prophets or enlightenment or salvation; religion is about understanding. Human beings want to understand the universe around them. They want to understand themselves, and their relationships between themselves and their environment and other human beings. This is the basic abstract goal of any religion, belief system, and/or on the planet: understanding.

Why do people get so upset when their religion is attacked or insulted? They become upset because they believe that they will lose understanding, that they will be cast back into the darkness of ignorance. They want to know. It's a very strong drive, almost as strong as pure survival, so they fight back.

Which religion you follow hardly matters (yes, there are a few bad apples; with a little research, they fall by the wayside very easily). What matters is that you desire understanding and that you approach your religion/belief system/faith with an open mind and an open heart. You must also be open-minded with regards to others who may disagree with you. If you believe that the main goal for all of this is "understanding", then you have gone a long way towards getting along with your fellow humans, your environment, and your self.

Understand your religion/belief system/faith. Understand yourself. And understand others. These are the tenets of every religion on the planet. They just all word them differently and drape them with different clothes, languages, texts, and rituals.

27 October 2007

You Own Nothing

We come into existence naked and with empty hands. We leave naked and with empty hands. Possessions are only possible between the two events, during the state we term "life". Our natural state is naked and with empty hands.

Yet, we never really own anything, even if we possess it. You work, and your employer writes you a check. You take the check to the bank. Any number of things can happen here:

  • The check clears and the money is "in your account", yet you do not possess it.
  • The check doesn't clear, as the employer doesn't possess enough money.
  • The employer's bank refuses to honor the check for some reason, even though they possess the funds to do so.
  • The economy crashes between the time you leave work with your check and the time you get to the bank. No one possesses any worthwhile money.
As you can see, you really don't possess your money. Your employer, your bank, the economy overall - they possess your money. And society is the 800-pound gorilla, so if you want to possess your money yet society doesn't want you to possess it, you won't.

People make up excuses, thinking they are smart or clever or are being protective. What they are really doing is making it more difficult to live as a human being.

This post is spurred on by an experience with my credit union today. I deposited money in there yesterday. I had money in there already, so it was money+money. Today, my account shows $0 available even though the actual balance is over $70. No, I don't have outstanding checks or transactions that would do that. The credit union, or the credit union's computer, or someone at the credit union decided that my labor was worth $0, so that's what my account reflects. It's an insult, and they will hear about it.

24 October 2007


What is time? Is it an external measure, passing by us? Or is it our perception? Do we "experience" time, or do we "create" time in our minds?

Someone once said, "time is God's way of keeping everything from happening at once". What if time isn't that at all, but just our brains taking quanta of experience and filing them, one after another?

Time isn't what we think it is. Time is purely perception. Time is us.

28 September 2007

Humanity's "Progress": Creativity, Tools, or Sheer Population?

Picture progress' progress over, say, the past 500 years. Without computers, we did amazing things. With computers, we've done more amazing things. But, how much progress is due to technology, and how much is due to individual creativity, and how much is due to the pure number of humans increasing?

Meaning: Leonardo da Vinci thought, drew, painted, and built amazing things. One guy, without a computer. Radio and television were developed, as well as computers, using vacuum tubes and slide rules. The first successful small computers were built in garages and small, run-down warehouses, by very few people.

But, find things that are coming out now: biotech, software, whatever. In many cases, it's not "just one person" doing it, but a team or a company, or a country. Is that due to sheer numbers of people being thrown at the problem? Are we becoming more stupid because we each, individually, have to give less to have a project succeed when there are multitudes working on it?

Maybe we need to return to slide rules and hand-mixed paints, and using our own minds instead of computers.

Formality Isn't Just a Formality

In the United States, people often downplay the importance of ritual. It is looked at as haughty, unimportant, and/or repetitive. What people don't realize is that ritual is a vitally important part of how we interact with ourselves, with others, and with the universe around us.

Rituals have many purposes. They can help one focus on an object. They can teach. And they can bring people together to celebrate an event, whether present, past, or future. They do all these things and more, yet modern Americans don't see their power. I believe this stems from the fact that the United States was formed by a non-ritualistic group of religious fanatics. Their influences still affect us down to the present day.

I recently heard of a wedding where the groom wore blue jeans. This is a perfect example of how someone doesn't take a serious ritual seriously. He may have thought, "Oh, this is all pomp and circumstance. No matter, we are still married.", or "This ritual means nothing; it is our love which is important." Both of these things are true, but neither abrogates the importance of the ritual itself, both to its participants and its spectators. I would go so far as to say that he disrespected himself, his new wife, and their marriage by his actions; his clothing reflected the state of his mind. I wonder if they will remain married.

Human beings are hard-wired for ritual. We do better when we have a bit of order to which we can cling — but not too much. Rituals should be performed with all of one's energy, which will be directed towards the purpose of the ritual itself. Then, the ritual's purpose will manifest into something stronger than if someone "just does it". Yet, these days, everyone "just does it". Proof abounds of the failure of such an approach. Look around you.

We are allowing magic, strength, companionship, bonds, and emotion to flow out of our regular direct experience, and we are the worse off for it.

25 September 2007

Do We Need As Much Sleep As We Think We Do?

Here's an article about a gentleman in England who stayed awake (in a pub, of course!) for over 11 days. His idea is that when parts of our brains get tired, other parts take over. I wonder a little bit about his hypothesis, but I think that, with training, one could train their brain to do exactly that. The article is quoted below in case it disappears off the Net.

Staying Awake by Switching Brain Hemispheres
Adam Conner-Simons
Adam Conner-Simons is a Gelf intern and a student at Pomona College.

New sleep-deprivation record holder Tony Wright tells Gelf he's altered his brain chemistry and thus can stay up indefinitely.

On May 14, Tony Wright walked into the Studio Bar in Penzance, England. For 11 days and two hours, the long-haired horticulturist stayed there, playing pool, talking with other customers, and taking notes. One thing he didn't do, though, was sleep. When he finally left, he had broken the unofficial world record for sleep deprivation that has stood for more than 40 years.

"I was frustrated that 99 percent of the coverage was. 'Crazy guy stays awake, blah blah blah.' Very few people wanted to know why I actually wanted to do it."

Tony Wright

Wright, 43, readily admits his feat was a PR stunt designed to drive interest in his radical theory about diet and brain development (and perhaps sell a few copies of his self-published book Left in the Dark). He claims that as humans have switched from our ancestral diet of fruits, vegetables and nuts, to our current meat- and fat-laden culture, we've lost access to important hormones that protect the left side of the brain during its development. As a result, Wright says, not only does the weak left-side of the modern human brain get tired out more quickly than it should, but the connection between the hemispheres is also damaged, meaning that we're not able to tap into our fully-charged right hemisphere when we get sleepy. Wright claims, by changing his diet and using meditative techniques, he is now able to switch over from his tired left hemisphere to his right, which he says can go several days without needing a recharge.

Even if his ideas seem far-fetched, it's hard to deny that he has done something that most of us—regardless of how many college all-nighters we pulled—can't even imagine. Gelf emailed with Wright to learn more about his theory, what he thinks of the media coverage of his feat, and what it's like to stay up for so damn long. The interview has been edited for clarity.

Gelf Magazine: How do you tire out the left hemisphere and make the switch to the right? Do you make conscious efforts through things like avoiding reading, etc.?

Tony Wright: Simply staying awake is sufficient, as my proposal is that the left hemisphere's batteries are effectively weak and cannot hold much charge, whereas the right hemisphere's batteries have much greater capacity. Talking will speed up tiring out the left, as it is one of the things it is dominant for.

GM: This wasn't the first time you had deprived yourself of sleep for experimental purposes. Why did you decide to try to break the world sleeplessness record?

TW: I've done at least a hundred experiments of at least 50 hours [of sleep deprivation] over the last 12 years, including some as long as seven or eight days. I was getting impatient. The history of new ideas is such that you usually have to wait until you're dead. I thought, "What can I do here to gain some attention for this theory?"
[For most people,] it's going to be difficult: some people get manic depressive, most people say they feel "trippy." Two or three days is as far as most can go. You can feel the change [in hemisphere concentration] cutting in after two days, where you slowly start feeling better—and there's even mild euphoria. Usually the whole process takes at least five days.

GM: You said that after five days or so, you felt completely normal. Do you think you could have kept going? If so, for how long?

TW: Well, it's difficult to say. Obviously 11 days was feasible. It's not really about longevity so much as the fact that the differential in sleep requirement due to damage and normal sleep keeps the damaged side dominant. However, I suspect with further experimentation it would be possible to keep going indefinitely, as the left hemisphere would simply shut down while consciousness switched to the right (a classic nirvana-type experience). It then re-awakens and consciousness returns to near normal. This appears to have happened on a number of occasions but needs further experimentation. Whatever sleep the right genuinely needs (and I do not know what this would be) could well be taken during "normal" left dominance.

GM: Did you talk to Randy Gardner—the previous sleeplessness record-holder—before your attempt?

TW: Yes, I did. He's been very polite during it all. In my initial correspondence, he was a bit fed-up about being known for just [the record]. When I finished, though, he emailed me to congratulate me.

GM: Gardner said exercise was the best thing to keep him awake. What did you do to keep yourself busy?

TW: Staying hydrated is important. During that initial period you are irritable, straining the part of your brain that's normally in charge. People get dysfunctional—I accept that. It's about getting through. Any activity you can do is great—listening to music, dancing, going for walks. Things that are rational like reading are OK for about 24 hours, but then they seem to take you to the most tired part of your brain. The key is just not sitting down and getting too comfortable. You come out the other side and end up less tired.

GM: You talked a lot about how hard it was to look at and use a computer. What made computer use so difficult? Do you have any idea why sleep deprivation has this kind of effect?

TW: I can only guess, really, that when staring at something banal and boring like a computer screen, it takes you to this tired place.

GM: What were your main physical symptoms during those 11 days? Did you experience any of the side effects that doctors traditionally link to sleep deprivation (dizziness, hallucinations, paranoia, mood swings, difficulty communicating or understanding others, etc.?)

TW: From the outset, I never claimed it would be clear sailing. There would be periods where I felt intense tiredness—in those windows I could feel quite irritable (which I expected). There were glimpses of altered states of consciousness. Because it was a PR exercise, I wanted to keep the lid on anything too weird; I didn't want to slip into states that could be perceived as psychosis.
The nearest I got to classic hallucination was on Day 9 or 10, when I noticed that the shape of the pool-ball seemed to be different. Basically my eyes were starting to work independently: I was getting a slight double-image.

GM: You mention mystics as people who have often been fascinated by sleep. Did you do any research on them for your project?

TW: I've certainly read around the subject of mystics. For example, there are living traditions in North and South America where they intentionally use sleep deprivation as a spiritual technique. One of the texts I first came across in my research was The Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest surviving text from Babylon. The last challenge in the story is for Gilgamesh to stay awake for seven days and seven nights. There has always been an interest [in sleep deprivation].

"Because it was a PR exercise, I wanted to keep the lid on anything too weird; I didn’t want to slip into states that could be perceived as psychosis."

GM: Do you believe in the legends that mystics could stay awake for years at a time? TW: Possibly the fully functional neo-cortex may have evolved to a point where it could recharge as it operates. A few lucky people who are born with such left [hemisphere] damage that it just cannot dominate would have easier access to the enhanced abilities/experience of the right hemisphere and whatever its real sleep requirement is.

GM: The Guinness Book of World Records no longer recognizes sleeplessness feats because of health dangers. What do you think about that?

TW: I knew about this for 14 or 15 months. I had contacted Guinness, thinking they still would sanction the record. I wasn't too bothered about it—it would have been nice in a way, because I wanted to draw attention to my research—but I understand why.

GM: How do you respond to claims that the true record was not Randy Gardner's 264 hours but Finland's Toimi Soini's 276 hours in 1964 (London Times)?

TW: I'll be honest, I didn't know about all the other [records]. I was drawn to Gardner because of articles in the San Diego Reader, Gelf, and other media.

GM: A few years ago the British journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that drivers who have been awake 17 to 19 hours drive as poorly as legally drunk drivers (CNN). You yourself admitted that you had much difficulty keeping your eyes focused and using computers. After all that, do you still believe that "the brain does not become less effective with tiredness" (as you said in an interview with the Daily Mail)?

TW: I completely accept that there's a wave of dysfunction, but the whole point is getting beyond that. I think generally, it's less about how much sleep we need, and more about are we running on an inefficient neural system.

GM: What do you think of media coverage of your feat?

TW: I certainly didn't expect [coverage] to take off the way it did. Both my mobile and the bar's landline were ringing off the hook. But so much of it was very superficial. I was frustrated that 99 percent of the coverage was "Crazy guy stays awake, blah blah blah." Very few people wanted to know why I actually wanted to do it.

GM: How much did you sleep when you finally went to bed? Have your sleep patterns changed since the record?

TW: There was nothing astounding to report. After the 11-day run, I had about five-and-a-half hours of sleep. I woke up 30 minutes later for an interview. I felt back to normal—which is to say, as if I had been awake a day. I generally feel better and more-relaxed when I am sleep-deprived.

GM: Do you think your efforts generally have led to more awareness of your research?

TW: It's too early to say. I have more interest than I had before. There has been some follow-up stuff going on, but not a lot. To be honest, this is one of the more in-depth interviews I've had.
Last year I approached various sleep-research centers, but they didn't want to get involved and thought it was crazy. They dismissed it but wouldn't test it.

GM: Why do you think your views are controversial?

TW: I think it's a combination of things. People have so many preconceived notions about diet and food, that my diet is easily dismissed. Also, it's quite a radical theory—basically, that humans are currently dysfunctional because our brains don't develop. I view it in a positive light, as something that we can fix. I am driving a bulldozer through people's views. Then again, maybe it's because I look like a born-again hippie or something. I don't know.