So read a recent comment on one of my philosophical articles, and it’s a worthwhile question to contemplate. A friend of mine made a similar remark during a past conversation. “I like talking about practical things,” he said, indicating that philosophical talk was not useful. Yet another friend of … Read the rest
The fluid continuity of the real
“Be here now,” wrote the late Richard Alpert, aka Baba Ram Dass, fellow researcher of psychedelics and consciousness at Harvard University with Timothy Leary in the 60’s, and self-made mystic sage. His instruction is easier said than done, since now is a timeless transition of no duration; perhaps… Read the rest
Blues and the abstract truth
It’s pretty easy to feel down about the state of human affairs. There’s so much greed, so much suffering, so much to feel bad about. What’s to be done when feeling blue?
There are those who view the current moment as deterministic, that everything that’s happening is simply the result of previous causes.… Read the rest
Feeding the tiger
Responding to the many dire situations in the world reminds me of a Buddhist parable. While in the form of a Bodhisattva, the Buddha encounters a starving tiger with two cubs to feed and willingly sacrifices himself. He first offers his leg to the beast, and then his other leg. The starving tiger needs … Read the rest
Have you thanked your kidneys lately?
This colorful portrait of me, insides and all, is one of a series of CAT/PET scans recently produced to determine whether or not a lump in my right lung is malignant. I particularly like how it captured the profile of my nose. Thankfully, the lump appears to be some scar tissue that formed during a serious… Read the rest
Our place in objective reality
Objective reality; prove it to me! What seems obvious is strange; proving objective reality can only be accomplished subjectively. It’s like the old saw about whether a tree falls in the forest if nobody’s there to hear it; without a subjective observer, objective reality may not exist.
Objective … Read the rest
Does the universe have a purpose?
Aristotle thought so, and his ideas dominated for many thousands of years. Both living and non-living matter, he believed, were purpose-driven, carried forth by an initiating force towards a goal in a process he named Telos, what we today call teleology.
Living things, certainly, demonstrate teleology,… Read the rest
The Universe of Yes
We live in an affirmative universe, the Universe of Yes. The presence of matter is itself evidence, as are all the other forces and fields we’ve discovered. The universe only says “yes,” even to our ability to say “no.” It doesn’t get more affirmative than that.
I wrote an essay a couple of months ago about… Read the rest
The hub of the wheel
Consider the human condition in all its glory: creative, depressing, loving, deceitful, generous, lawless, kind, hateful, gregarious, afraid, compassionate, and cruel. What a chaotic and confusing mix of elements we are.
No matter the era, political system, geographic location, economic status… Read the rest
The truth of false duality
Self-awareness is a double-edged sword; awareness of self presupposes awareness of other. Developmentally, this experience typically occurs during infancy, and although the duality of this shift of consciousness is fundamental to being human, it is not entirely comfortable; resolving its inherent… Read the rest
When life is worth living
Life can be a punishing experience, and difficulties often happen without advance notice. Aging, sickness and death await us all, the foundational elements of myriad forms of suffering. When things get really bad, inevitably the question arises: is life worth living?
I am physically materialist,… Read the rest
While on a retreat at Sonoma Mountain Zen Center, a small sign in the communal restroom saying “Leave No Trace” caught my attention. Outwardly directing that everyone should clean up after themselves, the message’s inner meaning pointed to Zen instruction about the responsibility we have to each … Read the rest
The best or the worst of times?
The boys and I have continued to explore life’s vexing questions, moving on from whether any of us want to “come back” to what, exactly, is the reason for making that decision. It occurs to me that the opening of Charles Dickens’ 1859 book, A Tale of Two Cities sums up the dilemma perfectly:
“It was the best… Read the rest
The edge of the abyss
I woke up this morning. Usually, waking up seems nothing special, but my older brother Jeffrey won’t be waking up anymore; he died this past week after succumbing to brain cancer.
My brother and I were not particularly close; he’s lived in Connecticut for the past thirty years, a long way from California.… Read the rest
I recently awakened to discover that a plant thief had raided my succulent garden at the front of our house, snipping off cuttings and pulling out some plants entirely by their roots. Having poured years into developing my garden, I felt shocked, angered and violated. Before long, paranoia set in, and… Read the rest
The whole story of everything
Our sensory perception is of things in the present, and that perception is often of just the immediate surface layer. Walking down the sidewalk seems ordinary, as does the concrete beneath our feet, but nothing is ordinary. Behind every thing there is an immensely long story stretching back in time … Read the rest
Navigating intersubjective reality
What in earlier times might be a minor dispute between folks explodes into full-out verbal warfare, shaming, and humiliation, attracting the attention of potentially thousands of strangers eager to get in on the action. Like a viral pandemic, outrage on the internet spreads from local neighborhoods… Read the rest
I understand why people invented god. Life is full of surprises, many of them terrible. Searching for answers about why we suffer is mostly a fool’s errand. Shit happens. Yet despite the challenging uncertainties of living, the world’s religions, whether Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu… Read the rest
The continuity of catastrophe
Ego seeks to impose order; accordingly, people employ a variety of creation myths to establish an orderly narrative about existence and human life, such as imagining the universe atop the shell of a monumental turtle to immortal gods able to create life at the snap of their fingers. These myths are an… Read the rest
Hating the haters
One of the toughest things about haters is hating them, finding yourself wrapped up in fear and anger you so dislike seeing in others. This, of course, is an experience haters never have; to be a hater requires setting aside introspection and appreciation of complexity. Hate is simple, it’s love… Read the rest
Nature’s resonant harmonic
Nature on this planet functions as a complex adaptive system, a self-regulating, self-propagating process responsive to changing conditions. It is a totalistic meta-system with no “off” switch and within which all the individual systems of each biological entity are enmeshed and… Read the rest
Where we are now in the story and how it ends
Just to make myself clear, this is a story about a story, one of 7.25 billion stories we human beings tell ourselves and each other at every waking moment. With that caveat, I shall proceed.
At pandemic moments like this it’s important to remind ourselves about stories; it’s all too easy … Read the rest
Change fascinates us
Our fixation with moving screen images is perhaps the most obvious example of our fascination with change, but whether fast or slow, change unfailingly captures our attention. Change is so constant and pervasive that it is at times overwhelming, but change itself is really the only constant in our … Read the rest
The meaning of life
In the brief time we spend on earth, each of us goes about our business in whatever particular way we do, placing one foot in front of the other as the days and years roll by. “Waxing philosophical,” as my late father used to say, is something else apart, the activity of ruminating on the “why”… Read the rest
Life at the Improv
Welcome to the I Am Larry Barnett Show. I’m your host Larry Barnett, and like you, I’m making it up as I go along. Hey, this is The Improv, right?
I know, you’re going to tell me you’re busy starring in your own show, and coming up with your own material moment to moment, but here … Read the rest
Sense of “self” is just one among a constellation of mental states, and the experience of “I” varies considerably. “I” is described by some neurologists as a stable form of hallucination, which is to say, a subjective experience of being “in here”… Read the rest
Your real-life 3D movie
You’re the director, the camera operator and play the lead. You’re the scriptwriter, too, and the costume designer, art director, gopher, finance director and critic. Everything about your movie is under your control, except the stuff that isn’t, which actually is quite a lot.… Read the rest
Society recapitulates phylogeny
I recall my high school biology teacher, Mr. Ricci, explaining the phrase “Ontology Recapitulates Phylogeny”, as much because his long, snagged teeth made saying it nearly impossible for him to say, an amusing moment for us sophomores, as for the sheer poetry of its sound. It’s… Read the rest
Particular forms of torment
The methods and strategies devised by ego to sustain itself are largely primitive and barbaric. They display themselves due to the ways we feel and imagine ourselves and others, and the behavior that flows from that. Ego does not conform well to others; a daemon in the cave of self-identity it purposefully… Read the rest
The animate and the inanimate
As living beings we naturally gravitate to other animate things, like plants and pets that become companions in our homes and lives. The feelings we have for inanimate objects can become strong as well; possessions gain value–sentimental, economic, historic–and… Read the rest
Dimples in Space-Time
Now that the election is over, we can attend to other matters of gravity. Literally. Gravity is so ever-present in our lives we rarely think about it, except perhaps, when we slip and fall. The effects of gravity are well understood, beginnings with… Read the rest
My life as a sheep
There are those who believe there are two types of people, wolves and sheep. According to this view, we are divided into two camps: predators and prey.
In the animal world, this commonly is true, populations of prey vastly outnumbering predators. These large populations support progressively smaller… Read the rest
The Beauty – The Horror
The soaring melody of a mockingbird’s song, the terrible cries of a small child being separated from parents seeking asylum; is it possible to reconcile experiences of such beauty and horror? Openness to and awareness of the world that surrounds us simultaneously exhilarates and wounds; to… Read the rest
The dogma of no dogma
Is truth real? What truth do we know, and how do we know it? Humankind has been asking these questions for a very long time and, big surprise, we’re no closer than ever on agreeing on answers.
If anything, our scientific age inclines us not towards confidence in what we know, but awareness of how much… Read the rest
The future is certain
The 1978 film “The Dead Zone,” an adaptation of a Stephen King novel, stars a young Christopher Walken in the role of an accident victim who awakens from a year’s long coma with powers of clairvoyance. Physical contact with another… Read the rest
Are you being too hard on yourself?
I’m struck by how many people feel badly about themselves: thinking they’re failures for not “doing enough,” faulting themselves for not having accomplished anything, walking around feeling guilty. Feeling self-critical is not necessarily unhealthy, but like any … Read the rest
Getting a grip on suffering
Are we doomed to suffer? There seems to be widespread belief that suffering is the nature of human experience; (a) we are all born sinners afflicted with original sin; (b) we are bound within the circle of Samsara where our attachments breed suffering;… Read the rest
The fire of compassion
The color of Mars, the color of blood, the color of sunlight through a sky filled with smoke, red on the Cal Fire map means the land is burning. Buddhist paintings depicting wrathful deities often show the figures surrounded by red flames. Though deities like… Read the rest
The Dark Side
For all the attempts to cast humanity in the brightest way possible — religious positivism, new-age soul-making, liberal visions of the evolution of virtue, and fairy-tales with happy endings — the dark side keeps casting a shadow across history. Is this simply, as some believe, the … Read the rest
Your life as an amoeba
Amoebas, as you likely know, are one-celled animals you can only see with a microscope. Tiny enough to swim freely in a drop of water, amoebas animate themselves using pseudopods, projections of its cell wall into lobes that move. They surround and absorb the living tissue of even tinier life forms, … Read the rest
The pathology of happiness
When an idea, an object, a substance or an emotion preoccupies consciousness to the near exclusion of anything else, we call it an obsession. And when an obsession becomes a compulsion so powerful as to assume the driving force of consciousness – even when harmful to oneself or others – … Read the rest
Hit and myth
Our human experience is fundamentally emotional, and emotions are fundamentally confusing. The stuff of imagination and subconscious life, emotions are primordial, which means not subject to the whims of logic or reason. From the standpoint of brain development, logic and reason are newcomers… Read the rest
The search for autonomy
Our experience of the continuity of self, the sense of personal autonomy with which we awaken each day, is very persuasive. “I” is a persistent experience, persistent enough that each of us can treat it as real and thereby treat others as real, too. Indeed, the richness and history of persona,… Read the rest
When life throws you a curve
At our human scale it’s easy believe in straight lines. High School geometry made things worse; Euclid’s imaginary geometric forms served to reinforce our illusion that Point A, Point B and Point C can be connected by a straight lines, like when we point a finger at the moon
We’ve … Read the rest
Name your psychopathology
Your dreams are sending you information, and it’s all about you. Your mother might appear in dreams, but it’s not really her, it’s your imaginary her, or rather, the mother-archetype your mother represents. And you are in your … Read the rest
Right back where I started from
I’m enjoying my life. I didn’t ask to be here but now I don’t want to leave; seems to be my particular version of the human condition. Think about it; two microscopic gametes meet and decide to live together as one for a lifetime. If it sounds like marriage, well, it wasn’t my idea.… Read the rest
In appreciation of quiet
I like quiet. I don’t mean the complete silence of no sound whatsoever, but the quiet of the natural world. I find the sound of leaves rustling in the wind comforting. The same is true of water running in a creek, or birdsong. My wife and I once stayed in a cabin on the shore of Tomales Bay and at night … Read the rest
Body, Mind and Universe
A great deal of attention has been paid to the workings of mind, that curiously self-conscious and often self-absorbed entity we take to be who we are in the world. The widely-held presumption is that mind is an emergent function of brain, and therefore, mind is located solely within the confines of our… Read the rest
The Liberation of Lowered Expectations
One reason I sometimes feel dissatisfied with life is that my expectations are too high. In fact, this is the primary reason. I expect, for example, that candidates for President of the United States will have been taught good manners like politeness and not interrupting… Read the rest
Fixated on the future
For many people, there’s something about the present that’s just not good enough, the nagging feeling that what’s happening now needs to better, is in some way insufficient and unsatisfying. Out there, tomorrow, in the future, things will be better.
Even if we like our job, enjoy… Read the rest
With regard to difficult people
My father used to say “life can be good.” A cautious man, he was wise enough not to categorically state “life is good.” He knew, and the fact is, life can be difficult.
Life’s difficulties are both natural and unnatural. Our natural difficulties arise from natural causes;… Read the rest
How funny it is that everybody’s talking ’bout The Cloud! English lexicon has caught up with the reality of human consciousness: we have always had our heads in the clouds.
Human beings float in a boundless sky of mental and emotional ambiguity from which we extract concepts and string … Read the rest
Levels of abstraction
While I was having lunch with “the guys” I began talking about “how we know what we know.” One friend interjected that what I was saying was “too abstract” to be of interest. This has happened to me before, and in such social situations switching topics … Read the rest
The equanimity of annoyance
I get Donald Trump. I don’t like him, but I get him. I understand why he acts and sounds like a jerk; The Donald is annoyed.
Being annoyed places him the company of a lot of New Yorkers and former New Yorkers, like me. When you grow up in a city teeming with crowds, noise and stink it’s easy to feel… Read the rest
Feeling Angry – Being Kind
We live in complex, trying times. We know more about what’s happening in the world than any people who have ever lived before; much of it is disturbing, and about which we can often do little or mostly nothing.
Closer to home, the emotions being stirred up in this election year are alarming. Whatever… Read the rest
On learned ignorance
Oh, the stories we tell ourselves! Some of them are funny, some not so much, and some of them are, well, are downright dangerous.
It’s not like this is something new. Human beings have been dubbed “toolmakers” but our real and original talent is making up stories. I’m not saying… Read the rest
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily
It’s been said life is like an illusion; a drop of dew, a flash of lightning, a phantom, a dream. Such contemplations have endured for thousands of years, fueling philosophers, Mystics, poets, and even scientists. But what if life is not a dream at all? What if life is a video game?
I know you’re rolling… Read the rest
Holding the Middle Ground
Living in fear is a terrible thing; it produces thoughts and feelings we would otherwise reject, but in fear, accept. Fear clouds judgment; it breeds suspicion and provides fertile ground for bigotry, intolerance, scapegoating and violence. Fear makes people more easily manipulated, more accepting… Read the rest
From Eco to Echo
Having now passed the 50th anniversary of the publication of ‘Silent Spring’ by Rachel Carson it’s tempting to feel the ecology movement she fostered has made a difference. However, in comparing its successes to its failures, I’d argue the ecology movement has been a colossal… Read the rest
Experience, memory and time
We relate to life primarily in two ways: experience and memory. Our experience is subject to the type attention we offer at a given moment; if our attention wanders we lose track of a particular experience. For example, at a baseball game we might find ourselves distracted by a hot dog vender and lose track… Read the rest
It’s not easy being puny
We’ve told ourselves that people are the greatest for so long, most of us actually believe it. Religious narratives puff us up with tales of being made in God’s image, having dominion … Read the rest
The Unnatural World Moves Too Quickly
I’m dreaming about my great-great-great granddaughter. “Shame,” she says, “How could you?” Of course she’s talking about the ruination of the world, and I know that. “What can I tell you,” I say gently, “The unnatural world moves too quickly.”… Read the rest
Not, but also not not
It seems as if human beings are on the brink of knowing everything. Ours is the history of accumulated knowledge, beginning with fire and now extending to exoplanets circling suns many thousands of light-years distant. We’ve jumped from one understanding to the next, each built on the one before;… Read the rest
On Being Transcategorical
Part of being human is being categorical. This means putting ourselves and things into endless categories, assigning names and establishing hierarchies. Our penchant for fragmenting the nameless whole into named parts and then using these named parts to construct a newly-named whole is deceptively… Read the rest
The Happiness Habit
Certain memes – persistent thematic constructs which achieve near ubiquity – emerge from the noisy background of culture and assume prominence for a long while, decades or even centuries. Democracy is one such meme, and it’s been spreading through social contagion for several… Read the rest
The current discussions surrounding the topic of sustainability generally revolve around systems analysis and a scientific approach which evaluates resources, utilization rates, waste production, economies and other quantifiable and measurable elements. As far as this goes it’s useful… Read the rest
Ornaments of Liberation
It’s easy to dismiss much of modern culture as crass, insensitive, dull or even stupid. Set aside the fact that a TV commercial featuring Mathew McConaughey for the new Lincoln MKC is a 60-second full-fledged Hollywood production costing millions to create; it’s… Read the rest
Majoring in Philosophistry
One of the common experiences of contemporary politics is feeling like what you are being told is so stupid and nonsensical that the person saying it knows it is stupid and nonsensical too. Denial of climate change, evolution and established historical fact certainly provide such moments, and often… Read the rest
Unity Through Diversity
The number of life forms on earth is staggeringly huge; despite the discoveries of the past three hundred years there remains a vast, nearly uncountable number of unknown species of life forms. For perhaps a billion years, earth’s plants and then animals have filled every available environmental… Read the rest
A skeptic’s bread and butter
It would be nice, I suppose, to believe that everything is just fine: the motivations of people are well-intended, science and technology always solve every problem, freedom and democracy are humanity’s natural state, the world can accommodate an unlimited number of people, and infectious… Read the rest
If not for communication, what’s a metaphor?
All language is metaphor, and for that matter, so is every word in every language. We humans are metaphor-makers, and making metaphor means making meaning.
Words create a nominal, or language-based reality which generates internal image-ideas. Through a process of fine-grained description we … Read the rest
Mistaking Ignorance for Wisdom
The internet of things had not arrived when NYU professor Neil Postman wrote his 1985 critique of television and its effects on society. I suspect the concerns and predictions he made in “Amusing Ourselves to Death” would have not differed greatly had he seen what… Read the rest
The rationality of the irrational
Though it is supposed that rationality and logic comprise a monolithic structure apart from feelings and emotions, the truth is that our rationality sits upon emotional structure. This is most evident in attachment to scientific rationalism, and its reliance on empirical “fact-based” data. I put… Read the rest
Cause and blame
We conventionally view causality moving from “Point A” to “Point B,” a straight line through which we can trace each step and assess responsibility. Even if we move from points “A” to “D” we still think in terms of lines of responsibility, which pass through points “B” and “C.” The framework of our legal… Read the rest
The social mythative
People love stories, particularly melodrama. Thus television programs like “Downton Abbey,” the mini-epic about changing manners and society set within a grand estate in the London countryside is less history than soap opera. Scriptwriters plot their dramas in terms of “narrative arc,” casting… Read the rest
Words and meaning
Communication between people defines us as social beings; all our senses are employed in the act of establishing contact and sharing information with others. Ordinarily, our senses work in concert with each other, creating a synesthetic blend of information from which we continuously convey and… Read the rest
The importance of being plastic
Benjamin Braddock, the part played by Dustin Hoffman in director Mike Nichol’s acclaimed film “The Graduate,” is taken aside by a dinner guest at the graduation party thrown for him by his parents and quietly told the secret to his future success. “Plastics,” the guest sagely offers the non-plussed… Read the rest
The explicit and the hidden
It’s notable that so much of that which make us uniquely human remains hidden until we die. Metaphysical strands and threads invisibly connect us to each other, things and events in which we had a part, stretching through time and space often unacknowledged and unseen.
There are the strands of possession,… Read the rest
Regarding all appearances as divine
Human existence can be organized within two orders of experience. A first order experience is felt: unmediated sensory awareness responding moment to moment to the space around us. A second order experience includes image and thought, which arise due to the first order experience, and impels communication… Read the rest
When the economy collapsed in 2008 it was widely blamed on poor home loan lending practices. People who should have never received loans to purchase a house due to their inability to repay those loans once the introductory low-interest rate period ended were granted loans anyway.
It is true that in the… Read the rest
By all accounts, particularly his own, poet Charles Bukowski was a miserable wretch. I attended one of his readings in my youth, and from the mini-fridge next to his stool on stage, he extracted beer after beer; as the evening progressed he ended up falling-down drunk and unable to continue.
But Bukowski… Read the rest
What weather type are you?
My father-in-law used to answer, “Fair to partly cloudy,” when I asked how he was. By this time he was in his late 70’s and not in the best of health, but I suspect he’d been a “fair to partly cloudy” guy his whole life.
I certainly know people who spend a lot of time “Overcast,” a gray cloud hanging above their… Read the rest
Masculine and feminine
A powerful urge towards wholeness and unity drives human behavior, while at the same time an equally powerful urge towards independence and autonomy is also at play. In general terms, such forces may be categorized as the feminine and masculine principles.
In its healthy aspect the feminine… Read the rest
Like scattered pieces of a jig-saw puzzle life often seems a jumble, its meaning unclear and divided into separate bits. Examining it, a few pieces here and there may fit together easily, forming portions of an overall picture, but often the complete whole eludes us, pieces missing, lost or not quite… Read the rest
Understanding greed and envy
“I want the big half,” said Isabelle, flashing her joyful five-year-old grin. I was dividing an ice-cream sandwich to share. “Well,” I said, “both halves are the same size, but you can choose the one you want. Do you like to having the bigger piece?” “Yes,” she replied, choosing.
“Wanting the bigger… Read the rest
What is self, and how will you know if you know it? are unanswered questions that have been the subject of endless discussion, from esoteric religious thought to reductionist scientific rationalism. Who is looking, and who is found? Even asking such paradoxical questions seems to require multiple… Read the rest
Our Mandala of meaning
All objects are devoid of inherent meaning, which is to say for example, a chair is not a chair except in the mind of the perceiver. To a squirrel, a chair is simply something namelessly convenient upon which to settle while cracking a black walnut; it has… Read the rest
Society is basically good
Industrialization is grinding the planet to dust, pollution radically changing our climate, population increasing to unsustainable levels, disease and poverty continue to spread and politicians worldwide bicker foolishly over non-issues; … Read the rest
Resting in complexity
Before our universe began, things were simple. All-and-everything, including time, space and matter, was compressed into an infinitesimal, dimensionless singularity of virtual probability. Then something happened; depending upon what you choose to believe either God initiated the big bang… Read the rest
Art, love, time and money
Be it ritual figures made for spiritual practices, decorations placed on everyday objects, hieroglyphs applied to rock faces, images created using colored sand, applied body paint, feathers or jewelry, so-called “folk art” is the natural and often… Read the rest
The mythology of self
In our pursuit of self-identity we accumulate physical preferences such as hairstyle and body shape, various beliefs, likes, dislikes, and psychological habits. In general, we consider these accumulations personality, and once gathered, we protect personality with great devotion.
In addition… Read the rest
Who owns the truth?
What, exactly, are we looking for, and why is it everyone is always telling us what we need and what to do? Need a new car? Of course you do and BMW has the answer. For that matter, so do Ford, GM and Chrysler. Need new clothes? Foolish question; just ask Penney’s, Target, or Nordstroms, they know. Salvation… Read the rest
Doing human being
I’ve just returned from a solitary retreat in the Colorado Mountains where I stayed in a tiny remote cabin in the woods without electricity, telephone, running water, bathroom, Internet connection or refrigerator. I prepared meals on a one-burner propane stove and read by lantern light. Nights were… Read the rest
Freedom’s just another word
Sitting here in the “land of the free” while much of the world struggles with democracy and reorganizing society, I can’t help but contemplate the meaning of freedom. Tossed around liberally by conservatives, freedom as a word seems to have morphed into a convenient catch-all political platform.… Read the rest
In their present form people have been knocking around this planet for something like 200,000 years and over that span of time many conclusions have about people have been made.
Such conclusions are by no means consistent or logical. Different cultures have arrived at their conclusions about people… Read the rest
Is knowledge power?
The defining character of the modern age is its relationship to acquiring knowledge: the idea that knowledge is power, specifically power over nature and others. This orientation distinguishes modernity from antiquity’s belief in knowledge as its own reward and wisdom… Read the rest
The psychology of the inconceivable
In a previous column about money I wrote about symbolic and imaginary mind, and its place in human experience and psychology. The symbolic is related to language. Through language we form thoughts about our perceptions… Read the rest
New gets old
All things change; what is born grows older and dies. Sometimes such change is quick, sometimes slow, unexpected or anticipated, dramatic or subtle. Moment to moment, we are changing; our thoughts literally alter the physical framework of our brain, our actions alter the components of the body, and… Read the rest
It’s all about you
You get up, use the bathroom and find your robe and slippers in the dark while your wife sleeps. Closing the bedroom door behind, you make your way to the kitchen at the front of the house. You flip on the lights. You walk to the door leading outside and find your way to the driveway. A newspaper lies rolled-up… Read the rest
The meaning of life
Let me begin by saying I like food; I make it everyday in my own kitchen. Food can undoubtedly be one of life’s finest distractions, though as I’ve been explaining to my three-year-old granddaughter Isabelle, no matter how cool food is, tomorrow it’s all poo-poo. But America is totally obsessed with … Read the rest
The pursuits of happiness
Lucky for us the framers of the U.S. Constitution put happiness right near the top of the list, just under life and liberty. Had that not been the case, most of us would be in dead-end jobs we hate, buried in debt, beholden to others, taking anti-depressants and complaining most of the time. OK, I’m being… Read the rest
The mother of necessity
It’s said that necessity is the mother of invention but what is the mother of necessity? Just as generosity is mother of all blessings, so the mother of all necessity is suffering.
To live is to suffer. Is there anyone you know who does not suffer? Everyone you see has suffered, is suffering or will one day… Read the rest
Hurrying forward while running away
Our modern lives are very speedy, filled with constant activity and continuous stimulation – deadlines, commitments, obligations, forms of entertainment, trips to the store, picking up the kids from school, getting to and from work, doing the laundry, cleaning the kitchen, running errands… Read the rest
Living in a banana peel world
We study, analyze, organize, strategize, plan, anticipate, and calculate probabilities, but life constantly upends us. We enlist computers, algorithms, software programs, collected metrics, trend-spotting, forecast modeling and plain old intuition, yet fail to accurately predict much more… Read the rest
The contextual self
We live in a “me” world, where attention to self is a daily preoccupation. “I want this and you want that” is the basic functioning of contemporary society and we routinely go to sleep each night expecting to greet our “selves” the next morning.
Our sense of self is contingent, however. First there must… Read the rest
My life as a turnip
In the 1974 book Lives of a Cell, author Lewis Thomas paints a disarmingly sweet portrait of a single cell that all but imparts a charming personality upon a living thing so small it’s microscopic. The life of a single cell, one of 40 trillion in each of our bodies,… Read the rest
When bad words happen to good people
I attended a lecture today. The topic was Jews in the 21st Century, but it covered the 20th century as well. All told, it was not a bad talk, if a bit too long and somewhat repetitive. As it pertained to Israel, I found no basic disagreement with its premise that extremist intolerance on the part of both Israelis… Read the rest
Stuff happens. Now what?
The answer is…more stuff! The continuity of existence is existence itself – an unbroken timeless non-event in which nothing is actually ever the same, and thus never changes. In essence, nothing happens continuously.
This conundrum notwithstanding, from time to time most of us would like … Read the rest
The perverted aspirations of barbarians run rampant
The U.S. Supreme Court has decided that the distribution of films or videos depicting actual animal cruelty is a protected form of free speech. The case at issue was prompted in part by a video showing a sexy model wearing pointy high heeled shoes walking on live kittens and stabbing them with her heels.… Read the rest
The power of the pile
I have an orderly mind but a disorderly desk. In this, I think, I am not alone. There are those, to be sure, whose desks are neat and tidy, pens and pencils standing upright in a cup like good little soldiers, perhaps an in-box holding one or two pieces of paper. This, however, is not my desk. My desk has piles.… Read the rest
A guide to difficult times
We tend to classify events into those that are good and those that are bad, the reference point being our own well-being. When things happen that we don’t like, when the world seems terribly unfair, we wonder why bad things happen to good people, good people like us. In the midst of terrible hardship such… Read the rest
Leaning into hate and fear
The wisest among us have always known of hate’s power to consume decency, and they have counseled us accordingly. “Love thine enemies,” Jesus is quoted in the Bible. The Buddha advises that one moment of hate destroys eons of accumulated merit. Mohammed teaches forgiveness above all else, the true … Read the rest
An epidemic of happiness?
A recent article in the New York Times Magazine highlights the work of two social scientists named Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, who have concluded that happiness is contagious. Unhappiness is contagious too, but 2% less contagious, it turns out.
The research used data from the historic multi-year… Read the rest
Row your boat
Perhaps it really is true everything we need to know we learned by first grade. The songs we sang as children, “Row Your Boat” for example, actually contained surprising wisdom. It’s a rather simple four-line song, easily dismissed:
Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily,… Read the rest
The animate and the inanimate
Entropy is the process of the orderly becoming less orderly, like water in a bowl slowly evaporates into vapor. The second law of thermodynamics posits entropy with determining the ultimate state of matter in the universe. As energy dissipates, the very structure of matter transforms through an entropic… Read the rest
The celebrity of nothing
I have no Facebook page. I do not post tweets on Twitter. My cell phone number is a secret, and I don’t blog. All this is true despite the fact that I have been in the website development business for 13 years and working with new technology is my daily occupation.
I help my clients with all of the above, and … Read the rest
In New York, where I grew up, the differences between the seasons were dramatic and obvious, each bringing sweeping changes in temperature and color. The whiteness of winter was broken by early spring crocus flowers poking yellow heads through the snow; verdant summer green yielded to fall’s palette… Read the rest
The power of choice
The earth is hiring, dear one,
And you got the job.
What is the job of being human? The job of being squirrel seems quite straightforward: climb trees, find nuts, bury nuts, and make baby squirrels that can find and bury nuts. Ants seem to have a pretty clear job, too: dig holes, crawl around… Read the rest
Meditation on the heart-breakingly beautiful
It’s been 36 long years since tiny feet pressed against my back in bed in the middle of the night, to say nothing of little arms wrapped ‘round my neck and kisses planted on my cheek for absolutely no reason whatsoever. There is nothing like a 13-month-old granddaughter to crack open your heart. Watching… Read the rest
This statement is false
Much of the conflict in the world is about who knows the absolute truth. Attachment to a particular truth often leads to disagreement, bloodshed and violence perpetrated in the name of one truth or another. This is not a recent development; the history of human culture is replete with examples from every… Read the rest
Time, nowness and attention
Einstein’s general and special theories of relativity put an end to the notion of absolute time. His formulations and subsequent scientific experiments confirm the plasticity of time, and demonstrate that depending upon velocity, direction and position of the observer, time is not the same at every… Read the rest
Seeking happiness in objects of enjoyment
My stepdaughter asked me to perform the marriage ceremony at her recent wedding, and in preparation, I decided to buy a white linen suit. I ordered it online and paid $169; with a few alterations, it fit and looked great. I also decided that I wanted white footwear, and as the wedding day approached, I popped… Read the rest
Bumps in the road
We tend to think of life in Euclidian terms, that is to say, straight lines between points A and B, negotiating space and time using the geometry of fixed shapes. Sure, we negotiate curves every once in a while, but even those we like to describe as smooth, dramatic arcs in an otherwise straightforward … Read the rest
Congratulations, you got the part
Hollywood is falling all over itself in anticipation of a truly effective 3-D technology that can move cinema ever closer to a simulacrum of actual reality. When I was young, 3-D was already in the theaters, but we had to wear cardboard glasses to see it. One lens was red and the other was blue. I can’t honestly… Read the rest
Emergence, confusion and wisdom
The world is the sum total of its parts, a constantly emerging manifestation of all that has come before. The actions of causes and conditions – natural forces such as weather and human behaviors such as technology – naturally produce effects, and these effects become the causes and conditions for effects… Read the rest
84,000 degrees of happiness
It is commonly accepted that all human beings wish to be happy, but what is happiness, exactly? The framers of the U.S. Declaration of Independence believed that along with life and liberty, the pursuit of happiness was a primordial right of all people, yet they made no mention of nor defined what constitutes… Read the rest
Speaking with silence
On retreat in the mountains of Colorado, amid alpine Ponderosa pines gnarled and majestic, aspens shivering in an afternoon breeze, sudden gusts of wind, torrential rain, thunder and lightening followed by crystal clear blue skies, I sat in silence for 14 days with 90 others. The silence was not total,… Read the rest
This truth is false
The scientific method requires that to be called truth, theory be confirmed through experiment and yield quantifiable and replicable results. Without such, theory will simply remain theory and will fade into obscurity.
When it comes to quantum mechanics (dealing with the very smallest forms of … Read the rest
Desire that’s perfectly pure
Holding four-day old Isabelle, our first grandchild, on my lap and gazing at her features, I could not help but think about how this new world looks and feels to her. Isabelle’s world is a non-conceptual one unfettered by distinctions, discrimination or structured thinking, a completely unified and… Read the rest
Life among the brokenhearted
Like many other medical patients confronting mortality, I have had to come to terms with my broken heart. No doubt our modern American lifestyle has made its contribution to heart disease – super-sized portions, trans-fat and processed foods, refined sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, lack of exercise,… Read the rest
The world as it is
It seems just like any other ordinary day, when Wham! My father suddenly ends up in the hospital – seriously anemic. As soon as he is doing better and things begin to feel normal again, Wham! My sister gets thrown while white-water rafting in Thailand, cracks her helmeted head into a rock and suffers serious… Read the rest
Of art and the sacred
People have been arguing about art for a very long time. The cave paintings in Lascaux, France, are reported to be over 20,000 years old, and no doubt they stimulated considerable dialogue, “It looks more like an ox than … Read the rest
A world beyond words
The early Hebrews created the first written alphabet, which they called the aleph-beth, which was later adapted by the ancient Greeks. The alphabet we use today is itself derived from that Greek alphabet.
Unlike Chinese, which uses tens of thousands of symbolic pictograms with… Read the rest
Who’s not weird?
Go ahead and answer this question if you can, but if you are like everyone else I’ve asked and are honest about it, you won’t be able to come up with anyone. Turns out, everyone is weird.
When I use the word weird, I don’t mean people who eat worms, wear their underpants on backwards, or… Read the rest
Deconstructing reductionist philosophy
When I was young, I used to love to take things apart and reassemble them into something else. Electric clocks were a particular favorite; I would remove the motors and gears and attach propellers or colored disks made from shirt cardboards, reattach the wires, install switches and set them all a’spinning.… Read the rest
Longevity equals awareness of every moment
In our modern culture, longevity has come to mean a lengthy life, and modern medicine has added some veracity to the possibility of extending human life to perhaps hundreds of years. Diet, stress, exercise, antibiotics, genetics; at one time or another all of these… Read the rest
Understanding the nature of discovery
My goodness, people are terribly clever. Really, we must be the cleverest creatures ever born, anywhere! After all, it’s we who created the iPod, the microwave oven, the combustion engine, can openers, deodorant spray, pop-top soda cans, four-blade razors and disposable diapers…you can’t… Read the rest
Earth, air, fire and water
It was with good reason that wise ancients designated four primal elements of existence: earth, air, fire and water. Many make the confused mistake of assuming that past cultures thought of elements the same way we modern people do, scientifically. However, while correspondences can be found within… Read the rest
The tyranny of normal
The physical sciences are all about observation, measurement and statistics. Our “scientific method,” in fact, requires the ability to repeat, measure and verify results; lacking that ability, a hypothesis cannot be “proven.” Despite the fact that on an individual level, human beings are far too… Read the rest
Flexibility and firmness
Upright between gusts,
Bamboo sways in a strong wind.
A robin sits undisturbed
Amid shifting shadows.
We are surrounded by the successful combination of flexibility and firmness, and equally witness the failure of one without the other. As in most things, finding balance and equilibrium between … Read the rest
On cultivating kindness
As I do two or three times a week, I called my dad in the other day to chat. I am among those extremely lucky 59-year olds who still have a dad. My grandfather died in his 60s when my father was in his early 40s. It’s been just wonderful to have my father around so long. Still vigorous at 88, he walks a mile or two … Read the rest
The sweet mystery of life
Once upon a time, well before the cell phone, there existed a surprising mystery to life. This mystery included a nagging uncertainty about things, yet, conjoined to this uncertainty was the majesty of faith. As long as there have been people on this earth, life has required faith. I am not particularly… Read the rest
The myth of adulthood
I recently attended my fortieth high school reunion. I lived in the same small town for the first 18 years of my life; consequently I’ve known a number of people at the reunion since nursery school and kindergarten. Being 3,000 miles away from my birthplace in New York, I’ve lost touch with most of those… Read the rest
The algebra of good and evil
There are those who believe that everything can be reduced to mathematics; that underlying the order of the universe is a set of immutable laws that govern all things, and these laws can be expressed mathematically. Thus, the future of humanity can be calculated.
I freely admit that I’m no math whiz. … Read the rest