Dirk Bertels

The greatest malfunction of spirit
is to believe things (Louis Pasteur)

Homespun Philosophy

Last updated 04 December 2013


the biggest question of all
thoughts on science
language and reason
yin and yang
personality and right living
life force
love and attraction
politics and humanity
Carlos Castaneda
2006 musings
2010 musings
2012 musings


Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success.

Albert Schweitzer

Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.

Buddhist saying

Happiness is like a butterfly which, when persued, is always beyond our grasp, but which, when you sit down quietly, may alight upon you.

Nathaniel Hawthorne

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.

Dalai Lama

Joy's soul lies in the doing.


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Social Psychology

Social Psychology is the happy marriage between two disciplines that are mutually indispensible. - one doesn't go without the other. To listen to the Social Psychology lecture podcasts at Berkely University, go to Social Psychology: Self and Society.

It's the context (environment) in which you live that has most impact on your inner state of being.

If you want to change yourself, change your behaviour. Act out what you want to be.

You can't get over things you never do.

Everyday we experience small and fleeting intimacies with other people - the nod of recognition exchanged with a stranger on a country lane ... brief moments when even the company of strangers somehow touches our being, gets inside the boundaries of ourselves and in some small way leaves an impression there. We are never quite the same again, and neither is the other.

Danah Zohar: The Quantum Self (pp109)

... the concept that I am my relationships ... requires a radical turnaround from our accustomed egocentric, and hence alienated, way of looking at things.

Danah Zohar: The Quantum Self (pp141)

Once something has become a habit, the probability that we will repeat it becomes so great that there is almost no element of choice left in the situation... the cultivation of habit may free us for more creative living where it really counts.

Danah Zohar: The Quantum Self (pp168)

The great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances, as though they were realities, and more often influenced by things that seem than by those that are.

Niccolo Machiavelli

Man is possessed of two natures -- a lower, in common with animals, and a higher, peculiar to himself. The whole meaning of sin is the humiliating bondage of the higher to the lower."

Joseph Le Conte

The Happiness hypothesis - Excerpts from the book by Jonathan Haidt:

Automatic processes generate thousands of thoughts and images every day, often through random association. The ones that get stuck are the ones that particularly shock us, the ones we try to suppress or deny. The reason we suppress them is not that we know deep down, that they're true (although some of them may be), but that they are scary or shameful. (pp20)

Responses to threats and unpleasantness are faster, stronger, and harder to inhibit than responses to opportunities and pleasures. This principle, called negativity bias shows up all over psychology. (pp29)

We often use reasoning not to find the truth but to invent arguments to support our deep and intuitive beliefs. (pp37)

It just seems plain as day, to the naive realist, that everyone is influenced by ideology and self-interest. Except for me. I see things as they are. (pp71)

The two biggest causes of evil are two that we think are good, and that we try to encourage in our children: high self-esteem and moral idealism. (pp75)

Phenomenology (Edmond Husserl): A way of uncovering the nature of reality by an examination of ideas or how things present themselves to us. Turn to the things themselves to avoid prejudices - use immediate experiences.

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Conversation enriches the understanding, but solitude is the school of genius; and the uniformity of a work denotes the hand of a single artist.

Edward Gibbon

The capacity to be alone is based on the experience of being alone in the presence of someone, and that without a sufficiency of this experience the capacity of being alone cannot develop.


It is only when alone that the infant can discover his personal life.


The worst solitude is to be destitute of sincere friendship

Francis Bacon

The young individual's task is primarily to emancipate himself from his original family, establish himself in the world, and found a new family in his turn. The middle-aged individual's task is to discover and express his own uniqueness as an individual.


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Swedenborg, mystic born in1688, was the Leonardo Da Vinci of his era. He was the leading mathematician in Sweden, and spoke 9 languages...Throughout all of this he meditated regularly, and when he reached middle age, developed the ability to enter deep trances during which he left his body and visited what appeared to him to be heaven...The German philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote an entire book on Swedenborg, entitled Dreams of a Spirit - Seer. According to Swedenborg, the information that arose during the opening of the Book of Lives was recorded in the nervous system of the person's spiritual body. Thus, in order to evoke the life review an "angel" had to examine the individual's entire body "beginning with the fingers of each hand, and proceeding through the whole." ... Dole, who holds degrees from Yale, Oxford, and Harvard, notes that one of the most basic tenets of Swedenborg's thinking is that our universe is constantly created and sustained by two wavelike flows, one from heaven and one coming from our own soul or spirit. "If we put these images together, the resemblance to the hologram is striking," says Sole, "We are constituted by the intersection of two flows - one direct, from the divine, and one indirect, from the divine via our environment. We can view ourselves as interference patterns, because the inflow is a wave phenomenon, and we are where the waves meet."

M. Talbot: The Holographic Universe, pp257

Sri Aurobindo [born 1872 a thinker, political activist, Yogic teacher, and mystic whom Indians revere alongside Gandhi...]. Through meditation, he eventually learned to become, in his own words, "an explorer of the planes of consciousness." One of his most intractable obstacles he had to overcome was to learn how to silence the endless chatter of words and thoughts...To plumb the subtler and more implicate regions of the psyche does indeed require a Bohmian shift of attention. ...

"We fragment things because we exist at a lower vibration of consciousness and reality", says Aurobindo, and it is our propensity [tendency] for fragmentation that keeps us from experiencing the intensity of consciousness, joy, love and delight for existence that are the norm in these higher and more subtle realms.

Just as Bohm believes that it is not possible for disorder to exist in a universe that is ultimately unbroken and whole, Sri Aurobindo believed that the same was true of consciousness ...

But if the cosmos is ultimately ineffable [beyond words], a farrago [mixture of different things] of multicoloured vibrations, what are all the forms we perceive? What is physical reality? It is, said Sri Aurobindo, just "a mass of stable light."

M. Talbot: The Holographic Universe, pp264

We must not only cut asunder the snare of the mind and the senses, but flee also from the snare of the thinker, the snare of the theologian and the church-builder, the meshes of the Word and the bondage of the Idea. All these are within us waiting to wall in the spirit with forms; but we must always go beyond, always renounce the lesser for the greater, the Finite for the Infinite; we must be prepared to proceed from illumination to illumination, from experience to experience, from soul-state to soul-state...Nor must we attach ourselves even to the truths we hold most securely, for they are but forms and expressions of the Ineffable [too great for words] who refuses to limit itself to any form or expression.

Sri Aurobindo

Non-action does not mean doing nothing and keeping silent. Let everything be allowed to do what it naturally does, so that its nature will be satisfied.


Zen, being Buddhistic in its essence, is a unique blend of the philosophies and idiosyncrasies of three different cultures. It is a way of life which is typically Japanese, and yet it reflects the mysticism of India, the Taoists' love of naturalness and spontaneity and the thorough pragmatism of the Confucian mind.

F. Capra: The Tao of Physics, pp108

Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment.

Alan Watts

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The biggest question of all

Why is there something instead of nothing? (Alan Sandage)

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  • Attention is responding selectively to certain types of cues
  • Neurological studies have shown that attention functions like a spotlight.
  • When it is learned that an important visual stimulus appears in a certain area of the visual field, the corresponding area will be 'primed' in that the neurons in that area will be at a higher level of excitation.

Francis Mechner - Learning and Practicing Skilled Performance

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Zoltan on Awareness

(from a radio interview with ABC radio presenter Philip Adams)
Consciousness has become too vague a word as it is commonly used both in terms of awareness and reflective awareness.

Awareness is the evolutionary derivitave of what is cell sensitivity. Single living cells are sensitive to the outside environment. They use photo -, kino -, pressure sensitivity, etc. in order to survive.
Once groups of cells combine into more complex organisms, the internal cells have to be included so that information of the outside environment becomes internalised and drawn together into a brain.
The brain synthesises all the incoming data into a multi-dimensional canvas. It informs the motor system what to do next, based on information derived from this multi dimensional canvas. This is awareness.

Reflective awareness is an extra layer on top of this. It has the concept of language at its roots.
The brain attaches word labels to stable precepts (concepts) in the brain; and by organising them, thinking them, uttering them, the brain generates internal experience, which it superimposes onto the original awareness.

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Dreams are masters in metaphor. The metaphor is full of meaning because it isn't consciously constructed. The being which covers a certain range of emotions, constructs these dreams because this range of emotions is guiding it to do so, making it in a sense unavoidable. Dreams are an honest account of one's state of being. The true interpretation of a dream can be gotten from the emotions it invokes.

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Thoughts on science

  • To me, science comprises any field that attempts to comprehend reality. This may allude to fields of arts and philosophy, but generally it signifies that we have to apply some kind of reasoning ... not merely speculate and blindly accept dogmas by faith alone.
  • The field of science is like a giant bubble of information that is slowly expanding. Nobody can fully comprehend all of it, let alone perceive all the possible links and combinations that even this limited bubble provides. Each person's contribution is expressed in the way we form our threads within this bubble of information. Some of us specialise, i.e. extend a particular thread or band of threads. Others create entirely new threads, some of which may actually lead somewhere. Others are more intrigued by the similarity of some threads and try to find a common explanation for this similarity, organising the treads into bands... The possibilities and combinations are as varied as there are scientists.
  • As one grows up, it is not so much that we get answers to our questions, but that the questions change. In fact, our understanding of the world is reflected by the life cycle of the questions we ask. Real important life questions are never answered, we only see interpretations. Why did 15 million Jews get killled in WW2? What is love? A complex situation has too many changing variables.
  • Equations define relationships.
  • When a scientist talks about light, he doesn't claim to know what light is, instead, he builds upon former scientist's discoveries and theories, to describe the phenomena of light as far as we've grown to understand it. The power of science resides in the method it uses, which is mainly building on previously determined and proven solid foundation. Sometimes a quantum leap is made, but these are the exceptions, the milestones, the insights that often come out of necessity, rather than divine inspiration ...theories get stuck sometimes, and the subject can only be described in this new revolutionary way, which eventually has to be accepted ... The best proof is the one that has been tried to be disproved. That's why scientists who naturally cling to outdated concepts are part of the solution, they are proving the new concept by trying (and assumingly not succeeding) to disprove it. Einstein defending his non-quantum reality, Hawking defending his loss of information in the dying black hole.
  • Any physical situation can be viewed as [the interaction of] forces whose consequences accumulate over time.
    Science can be beautiful. Take the concept of force, for example. One of the first concepts Galileo defined, (and Newton made abstract using mathematics). The changes of a moving particle's velocity is caused by force, and the interaction of those forces whose consequences accumulate over time constitutes a physical situation. These concepts are deep...
  • First there was one - and from that we have many. For example, what we understand about elements is how their atoms relate numerically - all else is more removed from reality - what really happens is beyond our understanding, but the interaction of quantities is factual. And the theories we construct to enable our understanding is based on mathematics.
  • One hundred billion stars in our Galaxy - One hundred billion galaxies in the Universe - One hundred billion nerve cells in the Brain

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Language and Reason

  • Description, which is necessarily limited, demands abstraction. This enables us to conceptualise, which after all is the formation of ideas corresponding to abstract terms. Once we work with abstraction we can see the similarities in seemingly unrelated fields. In order to communicate, we need to get a good grasp of the language being used.
  • I suspect many of us dream of ever writing a book, a chance of putting our thought processes, our feelings into the open, making them immortal. Like a multi-dimensional photograph, it would be a record of how we, as individuals, perceive the world. But those records of perceptions are not all that individual, they are largely society's perception. The language, the things we do, our culture, they're all part of the ether, the field in which we exist.
  • Probably the hardest part in conceiving a book is to decide that you have the authority to write one.
  • We all harness the same basic information, but structure it individually, according to our life experiences. And the sum of all these experiences represents the reality of the whole of mankind. In a way, mankind has as many dimensions as there are people.
  • Even though the language we use is limited, the laws we discover provide us with insights consequently enhancing this language.

Every language is a collection of forgotten metaphors, and the derivation of these metaphors usually contains a summary of the social history of the race.

Harold Goal: Language in History

Writing is not a profession but a vocation of unhappiness


It is creative apperception more than anything else that makes the individual feel that life's worth living.
[apperception: the process whereby perceived qualities of an object are related to past experience.]


Both Jung and Freud lived into their 80's and both almost abandoned interest in psychotherapy in favour of ideas and theories about human nature.

Anthony Storr

One of RadioLab's podcasts, titled Words, has many intriguing ideas on language. It describes how a group of deaf people who hadn't acquired language communicated with each other by miming an occasion; e.g. after seeing a bull fight, one of them would mimic what happened and when he finished the next individual would stand up and add his own observations to it, also by mimicking. But that's were communication stopped: A simple attempt such as signing 'I am Sam' to any of them would be responded with 'I am Sam'. This is reminiscent of the great movie The Miracle worker were the teacher Annie Sullivan after many weeks of intensive one on one teaching helps the deaf blind child Helen Keller understand that words actually describe objects and concepts.

Another incident is in Nicaragua in the 1970s where the initiative was taken to bring handicapped children (including deaf people) together in an attempt to educate them. A group of 50 or so language-deprived deaf children ended up together. Slowly over the years they started to create a language - so observers could see a language being born in real time. The first generation of these children used their whole body while the next generation limited their signing to their hands. The later generation also developed more concept words thus enabling them to communicate subtle notions.

Another intriguing section in this program concerns a patient who suffered a stroke in the language area of her brain. She describes it as a somewhat blissfull state where she experienced the immediate sensation of the world. The lack of words derived her of the capability of constantly describing the world to herself (inner dialogue), resulting in an overall feeling of connectedness - no distinctive boundaries between herself and the world around her.

Gradually, painstakingly, she acquired language again. She describes how a sentence like 'the president of the United States' would baffle her for hours, trying to string the words together into a meaningful whole. Her method would be to associate pictures to each word and then trying to find meaning in connecting them. At closing, she adds she would have a hard time deciding given the choice between both worlds with or without language.

A 5 year old hasn't acquired the ability yet to string concept words together, such as in the corner left of the blue wall, his thinking somewhat exists in pockets, which only at later stage become connected.

It seems that without language, our thinking is severely impeded. But on the other side of the coin, the very existence of language somewhat removes us from reality.

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yin and yang

If something is heated up, it also becomes less cool. Numerous examples of this logic can be found in ancient Eastern philosophy. The most famous one being the I CHING, the Chinese Book of Changes. Also in the Tao Te Ching, and in the ZEN koans.

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Habits occur when the brain starts taking shortcuts, bypassing straight to emotions - we're at the mercy of our habits.

Rather than desiring a plum, we desire the situation in which we are ating the plum.

James Giles

Reason connot defeat emotion. An emotion can only be displaced or overcome by a stronger emotion.


Emotions emanate, thus activating the same forces in the organisms it interacts with. We cry when others cry, we laugh when others laugh.

Emotions are not an indication of one's depth of being, they are a consequence of interactions.

First imagine your emotions when you think someone has done you wrong.
Then imagine the scenario where you find out the person actually didn't do wrong... your negativity will disappear. A shift in perception has erased or replaced all these little memories of negative emotions. The dye in the water can't be removed, but a dynamic entity, such as an emotion, can be switched off, or it can be redirected because we know the source responsible for it, us. The shift in perception erased the previous emotion, but knowledge and insight was required to enable this shift.

Knowledge and insight (intuition) can be regarded as two sides on the coin of wisdom.
Philosophers and mystics alike would call the ability to change perception will.
Will, then, is not brute denial. It has to do with harnessing energy through right living.

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Comedy is rebellion against everything: God, authority, hero. It loves our earthiness.

Comedy defies death. This is the great challenge to writers; the whole point of laughter is that we laugh at the very things that aren't laughable. One is funny because life isn't. It is precisely because life ends in death and nothing is waiting for us that we are funny. You can't be a believer in the afterlife and also be funny.

Comedy is born of imperfection. Everything we love in life is bound up in the shortness of life and eventually death that's where comedy finds its domain.

Howard Jacobson

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Personality and right living

Personality is your shell. It is shaped in time and can't be erased. It is the memory of your existence. If a shift in personality is required, one needs to return to the source, and maybe that is pointless; whatever personality is wished upon oneself, it always will be a shell. Imperfections in personality are no big deal, awareness is, how deep do you experience reality? To experience deep reality, one has to have energy; and one accumulates energy by right (balanced) living, the golden mean between extremes. Living in a world of extremes demands energy. And one should only use those extremes when a boost is required. After that, a degree of self control (self observation) is required.

Personality is the supreme realization of the innate idiosyncrasy of a living being.
[Idiosyncrasy: Greek for "a peculiar temperament", "habit of body" (idios "one's own" and sun-krasis "mixture"). It is defined as a structural or behavioral characteristic peculiar to an individual or group.]


It is easier to facilitate self-assertion in the timid than it is to induce humility in the overwheening.

Anthony Storr

Diffusion responsibility: As a group's size increases, each person's feeling of responsibility decreases.

Latane and Darley 1968, 1979

We deem a thing to be good because we strive for it [not the reverse]


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Life Force

Life force is related to the organism's drive for individuation by means of standing out, excelling in something that separates it from the others. Hence flow the ideas of evolution, competition, and identifying oneself with one's virtue.

One is merely incarnation, merely mouthpiece, merely medium of overwhelming forces.


Habitual attitudes and behaviour often receive reinforcement from external circumstances. [Give up smoking when on holidays].

Anthony Storr

Watch yourself whither in time. You thought you could beat time - but no one can. You thought you could work towards something, but you end up with no more time. Only so much is given to you. How can all this have meaning if in no time you will be forgotten. As if you never were.

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Knowledge is created by mankind, but only the individual can advance it. (Einstein)

Dutch philosopher Baruch de Spinoza (1632 - 1677) defines Knowledge as consisting of three subsets: Intuitive, Rational and Imaginary. Beth Lord, director of the Spinoza Research Network, elucidates on this very well in the following exerpt taken from an interview on Australia Radio National's Philosopher's Zone program:

The three kinds of knowledge are crucial to Spinoza's system. Imagination is the way we know through experience. So anything that has to do with the way we experience and perceive the world with our memories, with our anticipations, with our dreams, all of these kinds of things are what Spinoza calls imagination. And imagination, while it's less adequate than rational knowledge, as Spinoza puts it, it's a kind of confused and partial and mixed-up version of true knowledge, nevertheless, it's not entirely false or illusory, we shouldn't take the word 'imagination' necessarily to mean made up, or anything like that. Imagination is essentially empirical knowledge, and empirical knowledge is hugely important in building up our true rational knowledge, which is sort of the next stage up.

Now imagination is important with respect to this question of God and religion, because through the imagination we build up what Spinoza calls 'fictions', and fictions, they have quite an interesting status in Spinoza's epistemology. Fictions are neither true nor false, they're kind of organised systems of images based on our experiences, based on the experiences that human beings share. These fictions are hugely useful in structuring our experience and helping us to decide how to behave and how to live our lives. And religion, and the Biblical notion of God, fit in to this idea of fiction.

Philosopher's Zone, ABC Radio National - 04 June 2011

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In the Mind there is no absolute, or free, will, but the Mind is determined to will this or that by a cause which is also determined by another, and this again by another, and so to infinity.

Spinoza - The Ethics

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The fanatic is always involved in changing other people, in that sense he is an altruist.

Fanatisism is unconscionable self-righteousness.

Fanatics paint conflicts in black and white.

For the fanatic, life is meaningless outside the cause - hence he's willing to die for it. He is 100 percent public.

Fanatics are great sentimentalists. They have no imagination.

Curiosity is a powerful antidote to fanaticism, so is the sense of humour and empathy.

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The word religion originates from the Latin word religio, which means to establish an obligation. religio in turn is derived from he verb religare meaning to tie back or to tie tight. In light of this, the term religion can be interpreted as that which establishes a tight bond or an obligation between the human and deity.

Quoted from What is Religion?

To me, religion seems to delve in two different areas:

  • interpretation of the world around you
  • moral code based on this interpretation

In this context, religion can be seen as the force in you that tries to understand the relationship between you and all else in the universe.

The hour is getting very late to be able to indulge, having key decisions made by religious people, by irrationalists, by those who would steer the ship of state not by a compass but by the equivalent of reading the entrails of a chicken. Faith means making a virtue out of not thinking. It's nothing to brag about. Religion is dangerous because it allows human beings who don't have all the answers to think that they do. Religion stops people from thinking. ... We have a bill of rights. What we need is a bill of responsibilities ... Don't get so tolerant that you tolerate intollerance

Bill Maher

According to reproductive biologist Professor Roger Short (Melbourne University), experiments using twins concluded that there is one thing that twins have guaranteed in common: Religiosity. Indicating a genetic predisposition.

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Do not follow where the path may lead. Go, instead, where there is no path and leave a trail.

All things take on their existence from that which perceives them. (Upanishad)

Once you realise the approximate nature of all concepts, then you can really love them, because you love them without attachment. (Tibetan Buddhism)

Those who speak do not know, and those who know do not speak. (Lao Tzu)

Non-action does not mean doing nothing and keeping silent. Let everything be allowed to do what it naturally does, so that its nature will be satisfied. (Chuang-Tzu)

Not knowing that one knows is best. (Lao Tzu)

The way up and down are the same. (Heraclitus)

Leaves falling
Lie on one another
The rain beats the rain

All action takes place in time by the interweaving of the forces of nature, but the man lost in selfish delusion thinks that he himself is the actor. The man who knows the relation between the forces of nature and actions, sees how some forces of nature work upon other forces of nature, and becomes not their slave. (Gita)

Be bent, and you will remain straight.
Be vacant, and you will remain full.
Be worn, and you will remain new.
(Lao Tzu)

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Love and attraction

Love requires humiliation, which is its protection from destructive reaction. Without humiliation, love, when it enters the conditioned world, gets caught into the polarity of love and hate and finishes as its own opposite. (J.G.Bennett)

Love is the emotion one feels that accompanies the striving for completeness.

Although only one man may be receiving the favours of a woman, all men in her presence are warmed. That's the great generosity of women. (Leonard Cohen, 1965)

When in love, we get an inkling of the real essence of live. The real magic is in the love, not the person you feel the love for. This makes possible the idea of Transference: the capability of transfering your love to others.

Emotions are expressions of the body's mind. Love is the body's mind being attracted to another body.

We may contemplate far out ideas and reasoning, though in the end it's only memories of passion and affection that have meaning.

The Joy of love play, manifested in so many attractive forms, makes the human condition blessed.

Rudra - Light of love

The desire that animates the caress is reborn in its satisfaction.

Levinas 1961

...And you have only disbelief that this, of all you have ever known, should have the possibility of pain.

Nadine Gordimer - the Lying Days

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As the earth is a body that regulates itself like any other organism - it stands to reason that our existence is meaningless without a healthy earth. Some people treat their bodies as something outside of themselves - and consequently abuse it at their own peril. But people that see the earth as a separate entity and abuse it, do so at the cost of all others. It's a much greater wrong than the wrongs perpetrated by many criminals.

Young people are attracted to music because it resonates with nature's laws. Nature, earth, our environment is our body - People living in environments that are devoid of any life only have 'God' as their spiritual guidance. In the wilderness, God is in every leaf - in the desert, God is everything.

Anyone who's 'experienced' the wilderness knows the magic it entails. Jobs and prosperity don't even come close to the value of these forests and wildlife.

Steven Schneider's reply to the question from an audience in a discussion on climate change: "Who should we believe?": How can you discern the quality of an argument? Watch out for the myth busters and truth tellers. Anybody who's got the answer almost certainly is not credible on a complicated problem.

Steven Schneider on Insight, ABC TV

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Politics and humanity

We can discuss political arguments on both sides of the fence - and language is our tool to do this - but attitude is recorded by our senses, and attitude isn't as pliable as words - they stand out naked and reveal the inner truth of the ones who undertake the action.

Political parties reflect civilisation's divide between those who support economic growth based on resources at any cost and those who don't. Those who believe we have the God-given right to exploit this earth, and those who don't.

Journalists should declare their articles either as Appearances and Arguments or Realities and Facts.

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Living this rich existence in this little space in this little slice of time - so deep and meaningful and yet so insignificant. Can a great truth exist in a small space in a small slice of time?

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Consciousness ... must issue from some physical mechanism which is far more primitive than the developed human brain, from a mechanism that is available to the lowliest amoeba.

Danah Zohar: The Quantum Self (pp49)

...nearly half a century ago, biophysicists working on the retina discovered that nerve cells in the human brain are sufficiently sensitive to register the absorption of a single photon ... and thus sensitive enough to be influenced by the whole panoply of odd quantum-level behaviour, including indeterminism and non-local effects.

Danah Zohar: The Quantum Self (pp61)

There is ... an eerie similarity between the way both the brain and the hologram distribute information across the whole system... But even as a metaphor it goes too far in some respects, being as extreme in its own emphasis on the wave-like side of being as mechanism and the computer model are in their emphasis on the particle side... A really adequate model of the nature of consciousness and its relationship to the brain must be able to account for both. ... the rock against which all previous theories have broken, is the problem of unity of consciousness, the distinctive indivisibility of our thoughts, perceptions, feelings, etc.

Danah Zohar: The Quantum Self (pp53, 56, 60)

The orderliness of awareness - its apparent stability within time - is what gives us the feeling that we live in a world rather than within experiences conjured up by capricious senses

John Crook

Within our brains alone some ten thousand million neurones contribute to the rich tapestry of our mental life. Another ten thousand million or so cells keep our hearts beating, the same number again give us a liver, and so on. How, given all this complexity are we, in sum total, one thing?

Danah Zohar: The Quantum Self (pp90)

Consciousness, by its very nature as a quantum system, is a thread of freedom running through our lives at every moment... If we reflect gently on the contents of our conscious minds, at any moment, we are aware of a dim array of multiple thoughts, of 'possible thoughts'... Their reality is fuzzy, and their future indeterminate, awaiting some act of realisation... In quantum terms however, this fuzzy, indeterminate margin of thought is the necessary precondition of all thought.

Danah Zohar: The Quantum Self (pp159)

Everything you're consciously intending to do is preceded by neural events of which you're not conscious. We walk through life thinking we're the conscious author of our thoughts, but you can't think a thought before you think it.

Active role of consciousness experiment

People volunteer to have electrical signals recorded at a point on their heads (EEG's). They were asked to flex their right index finger suddenly at various times entirely of their own choosing. What is found is that there is a gradual build-up of recorded electric potential for a full second, or perhaps even up to a second and a half, before the finger is actually flexed. This seems to indicate that the conscious decision process takes over a second in order to act! This may be in contrasted with the much shorter time that it takes to respond to an external signal.

Passive role of consciousness experiment

Patients undergoing brain surgery consented to having electrodes placed at points in their somatosensory cortex. When a stimulus was applied to the skin of these patients, it took about half a second before they were consciously aware of that stimulus, though the patients were not aware of the delay. Touching the corresponding point in the cortex only revealed sensation if touched for more than half a second. Now suppose that the skin is first touched, and then the point in the somatosensory cortex is electrically stimulated about a quarter second after the touching of the skin. The skin touching will not be felt at all. This is backwards masking... The conscious perception can be prevented by a later event, provided that the event occurs within about half a second. This tells us that the conscious awareness of such a sensation occurs at something like half a second after the actual event producing that sensation. It would appear that half a second must elapse before consciousness is called in to play; and then well over a second before one's 'willed' response can take effect. ... Perhaps consciousness is, after all, merely a spectator who experiences nothing but an 'action replay' of the whole drama.

R. Penrose: The Emperor's new mind, pp568-569

Consciousness is, after all, the one phenomenon that we know of, according to which time needs to flow at all! The way in which time is treated in modern physics is not essentially different from the way in which space is treated. Yet, according to our perceptions, time does flow...

R. Penrose: The Emperor's new mind, pp574

Bohm believes that consciousness is a more subtle form of matter, and the basis for any relationship between the two lies not in our own level of reality, but deep in the implicate order. Consciousness is present in various degrees of enfoldment and unfoldment in all matter, which is perhaps why plasmas possess some of the traits of living things.

M. Talbot: The Holographic Universe, pp50

There's no theatre; there's no Cartesian theatre where everything comes together for consciousness. There's this great competition going on, all the time, between information, sensory information and the different sense modalities, and lots of this is being put together and analysed by what we might as well call for the moment 'sub-conscious' mechanisms, and it's all vying for influence in the brain. And the stuff that succeeds in gaining and holding influence for some time, long enough so that you can talk about it later, that's what we're conscious of. It's only retrospectively that we can identify what we were conscious of.

Prof Daniel C. Dennett: Australian ABC radio broadcast 'The Philosopher's Zone', Saturday 26 Nov 2011

For billions of years there was no free will on this planet. Now there is. What has changed is that evolution has created nervous systems that have more and more power. And that access of power, that capacity to look ahead, that capacity to reflect, that capacity to respond to reasons, to give and respond to reasons, those capacities are the core of moral responsibility. And we're the only creatures that have them. And it evolved, and once it evolved-ta-da!-we have entities that have tremendous power, cognitive power, and that's what free will is. So it's sort of noblesse oblige: Those of us who have the powers are obliged to use them wisely.

Prof Daniel C. Dennett: Australian ABC radio broadcast 'The Philosopher's Zone', Saturday 26 Nov 2011

See also consciousness and awareness

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Carlos Castaneda

2 years ago, in 2011, I received an email from Carlos Castaneda's adopted son who features on one of the rare photos existing of Castaneda. It basically stated that he was tired of people using the photo "of him and his father" and requested me to remove it from my blog - which I promptly did. In a strange sense I was a little flattered that someone connected to Castaneda would actually contact me, even under these terms.

During my 'formative years' I went through a stage of reading all the books from Carlos Castaneda several times. So there's no denying that they have inspired me greatly - Like other 'spiritual writings' the point is not whether these tales really happened or not - but what you get out of them. The quotation: "There's no reality, only perception" aptly describes these works in a nutshell. This collection of quotes is a good compilation of Castaneda's philosophy as regards living the life of a warrior. The following excerpt attributed by Castaneda to his character, Don Juan is possibly his most quoted.

For me there is only traveling on paths that have heart, on any path that
may have heart. There I travel, and the only worthwhile challenge is to
traverse its full length. And there I travel looking, looking, breathlessly.

Another quotation I particularly like is: The purpose of life is to enhance awareness

Sadly, Carlos Castaneda did not succeed in his quest. Amy Wallace, daughter of the famous writer Irving Wallace wrote an excellent book, Sorcerer's Apprentice (ISBN 978-1-58394-206-2) in which she vividly describes her relations with Castaneda and his inner circle. Following are some excerpts:

It is truly daunting to try to convey the level of envy, pettiness, and competition that pervaded many of our lives, although Carlos wrote of it at length in his books. If I had observed Carlos' methods working successfully, and we'd all been broken of our struggles for dominance and position, I should have applauded his Theatre of Cruelty, as a supreme accomplishment. Instead I saw spirits crushed, particularly by public humiliation; I saw malevolence, breakdowns, illness and anguish.

Amy Wallace - Sorcerer's Apprentice - pp223

Tony Karam is the only man to have been offered "successorship". He declined, telling me years later that based on his knowledge of Mexican culture, he believed don Juan to be a fictional character. Thus Tony would be leading a group based on lies - something he did not view as 'magical'. Carlos castigated him, Tony withdrew with a humility I found admirable - in all my years amongst these people I found him to be truly 'impeccable'. He never partook in hierarchical struggles, was not seduced by Castaneda's offer when he perceived it clashed with his values, and has retained affection and respect for all that was most admirable in "the nagualito".

Amy Wallace - Sorcerer's Apprentice - pp182

... I took this as one of many signs that although Carlos had begun as a genuine seeker, a true philosopher, he had ended as a tyrant watching over a cult of terrified followers. Power had wielded its legendary seductions, illness had weakened him terribly. But nothing, I believe, can subtract from the sincerity and beauty of his early works. To take their wisdom and leave the rest would be to take the best of Castaneda.

Amy Wallace - Sorcerer's Apprentice - pp354

The last chapters in the book describing life after Carlos' death are more reflecting,

I continue to share Carlos' belief that this is a magical world, that there are things we will never grasp with our minds, terrible and glorious things. I believe that we are capable of sublime acts of love and creation. Like Carlos, I believe that our dreams are myriad, that the fight for impeccability is not over until we breath our last; for all I know, it may not be over then.

Amy Wallace - Sorcerer's Apprentice - pp397

I do not believe that Carlos was a con man who callously sought money and women. I think that he believed in his dream to the last, and did his best to make it come true; that he made terrible mistakes as the years went by, due to poor judgement, narcissism, and illness; and in his last decade he created an abusive cult... Carlos was not a shifty huckster but a misguided philosopher whose experience of power was corrupting.

Amy Wallace - Sorcerer's Apprentice - pp397

Sadly my experience showed me that although he sorely wished to, he was unable to live up to his standards of impeccability. Occasionaly, Carlos would bounce like a rubber ball to the extreme opposite of his fierce insistence, and say, "Do what I say, but don't imitate what I do, because I'm just human - what do you expect from me? I lack don Juan's power - I've failed to sustain impeccability.

Amy Wallace - Sorcerer's Apprentice - pp398

Carlos' last word to everyone he saw were, "Have a splendid day! Be a raccoon, devour every last moment of life, so delicious, so precious!" He had ceased to intone his familiar grim mantra, "I am driven by fear," and now spoke of the ineffable splendor of everyday. To greet Infinity in that spirit, he must surely have seen a light in the darkness.

Amy Wallace - Sorcerer's Apprentice - pp401

Five women from Castaneda's inner circle comitted suicide directly after he died from pancreatic cancer at age 72. Amy Wallace died from a heart condition in August 2013. She was 58.

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2006 Musings

50 years of life

Is, as Einstein says, life lived without questioning and wonderment a life wasted? If we manage to have the discipline and luck to stay healthy, we each have about one thousand months of existence on this earth. While this does not seem much when put in this context, many of us aspire to make our existence on earth as meaningful as possible. Problem is: What constitutes a meaningful life? As a child we feel unique, but that soon disappears as we gain life experience. No matter what we experience, we eventually get used to it.

As a child, many of us question the amazing coincidence of existence - one sperm in 300 million - why me? Though soon the wonderment subsides to make way for the mundane issues life brings. And yet, existence is abundant; why, even in the most uninhabitable places on earth, such as in the cold darkness of the deep sea, at the edges of volcanoes - life manages to get a stronghold. Rather than a wholly sacred entity, life manifests itself excessively, and therefore seems redundant, if not accidental. But it only seems to be like that because the vastness in number.

I believe that number, which can express both multitude and proportion, is the one fundamental thing in life. For example, number bridges the vastly different fields of quantum and relativity: number is the one thing they have meaningfully in common. Unlike concepts such as mass, light, moisture, heat, love, colour, number has no grey fuzzy areas.

From number evolves reason, and from reason evolves wisdom; those intuitively knowings. All this, of course, was realized a long time before science came into existence (such as the wisdom of the Chinese I Ching and Lao Tzu), the Greek philosophers Pythagoras and Plato, the Australian Aboriginal dream time, every culture has its understandings.

Mathematics is the clue that the universe makes sense. And one of the clues that hints to this meaningfulness is metaphor. Metaphor implies structure. A great example of this is the helix (spiral): The double helix of DNA, the helix of space-time, the mechanical string, the electric coil - the mechanical pendulum and electronic coil/capacitor system are represented by the same equation. In mathematics, the Golden Ratio produces the spiral that represents the most irrational ratio. One can go on to the physical manifestations of tornadoes, all these can be represented by the same mathematical equation. This doesn't mean that mathematics explains these phenomena, but it functions as the language that describes these forces metaphorically. It shows the unity in the Universe, the factors common to all of these.

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2010 Musings

Not that special

The thing that's growing on me is the idea that what you think is yours isn't really yours. The words I speak all have been said before, the music I play consists of lines that have been played before thousands of times. The thoughts I have have been thought before. The emotions I feel have been felt ... etc. Even these very words have been uttered before - maybe not in this particular order, all I really am doing is re-ordering and re-structuring - constructing a particular combination. This thing I call 'self' is just a clone of thousands of other selves - my mind is doing a great job in making me think I am unique. As beings we are pretty much alike. That's not degrading or putting values on things or being depressive - it's just that we shouldn't all get so wound up about ourselves. It's possibly a good argument of becoming more social beings - seeing the value in our totality rather than just individuality. There's great beauty in life and love and it's great to be able to experience all that, but let's not delude ourselves in how special (and some even believe 'sacred') each individual is.


The degree of intelligence can be measured by memory capacity and pattern recognition. Certainly, this is also prevalent in many other species. Our very recent elevation to the top of the species ladder is due to our development of language - making our world abstract by allocating sounds to objects and actions. By re-uttering those sounds, we can bring back these objects and actions and recognize them in our current situation, thus providing foresight. This is reflected in the extra layers that our brain developed to process this extra capacity.It must have required a leap in imagination, possibly spurred on by circumstances, which reminds me of the story of the deaf/blind girl Helen Keller who all of a sudden saw the connection between words (which were spelt on her hands) and the objects they represented after weeks of intensive work by her teacher, Annie Sullivan, in the film The Miracle Worker.
While providing many advantages, language also came to us at a cost - we mostly live in this abstract world now - removed from the reality of the NOW. Objects and actions are now made abstract via this mental loophole. This insulation is what separates us from the other species.

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2012 Musings

Wherever you go, there you are

Here I am - 13.7 billion years of astronomical forces forging particles and atoms. Mixtures of billions and trillions of particles and atoms shaping molecules. Organisms evolving over millions of years of natural selection. One in the trillions of threads of life, one conception with millions of sperms - and just one of these - Here I am - an outcome witnessing its own process. I will die knowing I witnessed the miracle of all miracles: Existence.

Creativity of Nature

Another attempt at defining creation - The dynamic interaction between the directed nature of evolution (natural selection) and probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics, in a field of unlimited number and unlimited time;