“THE GREATEST OF ALL THE ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF 20TH-CENTURY SCIENCE has been the discovery of human ignorance.” Lewis Thomas, Lives of a Cell. “OUR IGNORANCE, OF COURSE, HAS ALWAYS BEEN WITH US, AND ALWAYS WILL BE. What is new is our awareness of it, our awakening to its fathomless dimensions, and it is this, more than anything else, that marks the coming of age of our species.” Timothy Ferris, Coming of Age in the Milky Way.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Even the Lion Lies Down for the Worm

Excerpt from the novel “Cinnamon and Gunpowder,” by Eli Brown.

(In this shipboard scene, crashing furniture has killed Kerfuffle, a pet rabbit owned by Mabbot, a female pirate captain. The narrator is a man who is nursing the wounded captain, his lover, back to health. Until now, the man has felt jealous of the pet rabbit, but is aghast when the captain tells him to cook it for them to eat.)

“You’re joking.”

“Do you imagine that I don’t know where meat comes from?
It was the most lucid I had seen her in days. I would have balked if not the glare she gave me over her shoulder, which was a taste of the old Mabbot.

Knowing she needed proper nourishment, and as there was no other fresh meat, I dressed and went to the galley, holding Kerfuffle under my arm.

I thought I would take pleasure in skiing that watchful rabbit, but not that it was still, it engendered in me a tenderness for all fragile flesh. I sharpened a knife until it shone, then skinned and cleaned the rabbit, trying to make each cut a gesture of respect. Loath to waste any part of the animal, I set brains and hide aside for tanning.

As I progressed deeper into the body, I felt a mystery revealing itself to me and began to pray, not with words but with simple cooking, a prayer not for the soul of the rabbit exactly but for the generous blending of its life with Mabbot’s. She had fed and loved it, and now its flesh would become hers and mine, and in this way I understood that all beings lived to feed one another as even the lion lies down for the worm. In the striations of the rabbit’s muscle, I saw eons of breath and death.

This was God’s grace, without which all bodies would fall to ash. I had been cooking my entire life and had never understood the sanctity of my duties. For all of my kitchen philosophies were nothing compared to the truth that now opened me to the bone: that I was, myself, food.

The book of rabbit broth I carried to Mabbot’s cabin was a forgiveness and a plea for forgiveness, an acknowledgment that this blood is shared universally. With this meal I surrendered to the mystery of my days and vowed never to look askance at love of any kind, nor to defy it. For the world is a far more expansive and mystifying place than can be said.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Naming the Nameless

Every philosophy and religion has its “god-term”— the term that stands for ultimate reality. Plato’s term was “The Form (or Idea) of the Good.” Lao Tzu called it Tao (“The Great Way”). Pythagorus referred to “The Divine Number” and Plotinus named it “The One.” One of my favorite terms for ultimate reality comes from the German theologian Rudolf Otto: Mysterium Tremendum et Fascinans, that is, “The Terrible and Fascinating Mystery”.  Or we could just agree to name it Sheila.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Astrology Debunking 101

Carl Sagan complained that of the ~1,500 daily newspapers in the U.S., only 31 have weekly science sections. Yet EVERY daily newspaper offers a daily horoscope.

There are five schools of astrology: Egyptian, Chinese, Tibetan, Hindu and Western Astrology. What if there were 5 schools of biology, 5 schools of anatomy & physiology, 5 schools of physics? Which particular school of physical science would you trust? Which surgeon would you allow to operate on you---the doctor who believed in and practiced Hindu surgical procedures, or Egyptian?

Yes, there is a grain of truth in astrology: INTERDEPENDENCE. Related to chaos theory: a butterfly farts in Beijing and one hundred zillion multiplier effects cause a rainstorm in Tallahassee.

Interdependence, YES. But astrology?

How accurate were astrological charts before...

1781 and the discovery of Uranus?
1846 and the discovery of Neptune?
1930: and the discovery of Pluto?
2003: and the discovery of Charon (twice the size of Pluto)?
2005: and the discovery of Quaoar (½ size of Pluto)?

Here is my UNIVERSAL Astrological Reading. It applies to virtually all human beings. Read it carefully and see if the description fits you:

You are a mostly self-confident character, yet sometimes you feel drastically unsure of yourself. With the help of your circle of friends you feel, for the most part, self-sufficient and more or less complete emotionally, yet at certain moments you can get so lonely and haunted with an undefined longing that it surprises you—and kind of scares you.

You’ve got a few little unexplained quirks or habits that are mostly just amusing to you and those around you, although once in a while your little hang-ups or idiosyncrasies may start to bug others—or especially annoy yourself. That’s no big deal. But on the other hand, every now and then, a REALLY perverse thought or feeling runs through your mind that you are damned glad no one else can detect!

In general, you do accept and appreciate yourself. You deem yourself to be an imperfect but basically good person—if people took the time to know you, they’d like you. Yet in certain moments, it can feel as if you are own worst enemy!—or that in some weird way you are both “who you want to be” and the “opposite” of who you want to be! But in spite of such self-conflict and the occasional sense of struggling with yourself, you truly believe you have a remarkable potential for happiness, love, and success—maybe even greatness of some kind.

All-in-all, you consider yourself “above average” in intelligence, talent, and abilities. If you were to compare yourself to 100 Americans your age, chosen at random, you would rank yourself in the top 25 percent on most scales: looks, smarts, personality, sense of humor, likability, creativity, loyalty to friends, and so forth. In other words, you regard yourself (quite honestly, you believe), as actually superior to most of the people you know and meet. (If you are "above average" and in the top 25 percentile, then it follows that you are superior to most humans.)

Is this YOU?

The Pre = Trans Fallacy

Let's take a look at the Pre = Trans Fallacy (as exposited by the philosopher Ken Wilber):

The Pre = Trans Fallacy is the belief that to return to a state BEFORE the mind (pre-rational) is the same as advancing to a state BEYOND the mind (trans-rational).

This false idea is universal among the "New Age" philosophies and pseudo-sciences. It operates like this this: 

1) The rational mind is limited, therefore, it cannot grasp truth.
2) Therefore, the rational mind is to be distrusted and discarded.
3) Therefore, the PRE-rational (pre-verbal, "magical thinking") state of a little child is superior to the rational.
4) So let’s all return to our childhood pre-rationality (a mind so open, one’s brains spill out in one’s lap)!

The only problem is, you CAN'T go back to the pre-rational. You simply end up with the irrational, the immature stuff of the superstition of the ages.

The genuine way to deal with the limits of the rational mind is to move forward, evolve BEYOND it and thereby experience the trans-rational—without losing the ability to discriminate, to use knowledge and reason, to think critically.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Original Blessing

I completely disagree, which inspired this little rhyme:

Church on Sunday is a fossilized vision,
CPR for a heart-dead religion.
Words dried in ink on pages,
Is not true Tao, say all the sages!

Spirit breathes, it flows! It waltzes in the weather,
It’s found in children’s laughter; not bound in antique leather.
Tired old rituals just make you sleep and nod
While Shakti surges as the Ever-Living God.

So on Sunday, stay in bed and practice Tantra,
Let "O God, I'm coming!" be your honest mantra.
May all lovers feel the real spiritual delight
Of rising up, up, up into the Lotus of Light.

But what if you’re not into Tantra and you’re not a Bhakta?
Well, good old-fashioned passion is guaranteed to rock ya!
Great sex is infinitely more healing than listening to preachings
About imaginary devils and women-hating teachings.

So allow me to introduce my own concept of church
(In the hope that eager readers will start their own research):
I simply worship the Goddess, Who smells and tastes divine.
She gladly blesses me in these hungry prayers of mine.

From morning until noon in the Heaven of Appetite
We dance and we spoon to the fires we ignite.
I kiss her as my liturgy; I lick her as my hymn.
I enter in her temple, which makes her come again.

At last we find our naked souls languishing in the Garden
Where all our roughness and our sins have healed and been pardoned.
Sexual Love is the Original Blessing, not the original curse!
And the congregation of our church is the total universe.

Indeed, Shakti is making love through all the streams of living.
Through birth and death and everything, she is now-ever giving.
The Goddess is not modest! Prudes would scream themselves hoarse
If they knew—truly knew—how Orgasmic is Our Source.

Monday, March 10, 2014

'Self' Emerges

What does it mean to say "self" is an emergent phenomenon? Here's an explanatory excerpt from my novel "Orchard of My Eye":

“Neuroscientists tend to think of ‘self’ as an emergent phenomenon, like team spirit. Let’s say a group of guys get together to play soccer. They pool their talent and skills, enthusiasm and so forth—they interact—and team spirit emerges. Follow me?”


“So the experience of team spirit is real enough while it appears—it’s felt by all the team members and even by others—but team spirit has no vital essence that survives the breakup of the team. Team spirit has no ‘soul.’ As soon as the team disbands—poof!—the phenomenon, or process, called team spirit no longer exists.”


“Now, did team spirit go somewhere? North, South, East, West? Off to heaven?” he asked. “No. It just stopped arising. Another specimen of it will emerge whenever the necessary ingredients come together.”

“Two guys, a football game, and a six-pack of beer,” Aria said.

“In the same way, the self—the sense of ‘yourself’ as an independent entity—is an emergent process. The self emerges from the synergism of the senses, language, memories, and so forth. These simpler parts interact to give rise to a working sense of selfhood. But the self has no essence that exists independently of these senses and thoughts and all the little algorithms busy making something wonderfully complex out of simple parts.”

“What about the soul?”

“No such entity.”

“So you’re saying the self is just an illusion. This is Buddhism you’re throwing at me, Nat.”

“Actually, this is neuroscience I’m throwing at you. And no, I did not say the self is an illusion. Like ‘team spirit,’ it’s very real when it exists, even though it isn’t eternally real at all.”

“I’m not sure I follow you.”

“In other words, it’s real enough to say, ‘I feel angry,’ and ‘I am an American,’ and ‘I blew my driver’s test,’ and ‘I can’t stand licorice.’  It’s also correct to say, ‘do not exist aside from a temporary, emergent phenomenon. There is no abiding substance that is self.”

“Yep. Zen Buddhism. Thought so.”

“Not just Zen. Others have said the same thing. The Greek philosopher Epicurus said, ‘Death is nothing to us, because when we exist there is no death, and when there is death we do not exist.’”