synthetic zero


May 31, 2007

Check out my friend's new website, a very talented artist, Alyse Emdur. She designed it and I built it. She has a very childlike quality, yet her work and outlook is also extremely deep and sophisticated, though without pretension and too much self-conscious irony; she's honest and straightforward yet also subtle. Check it out.

May 27, 2007

One thing that many people greatly underestimate is the value of doing things without a clear purpose. There's a tremendous value in sprinkling your life with useless moments --- moments not geared towards a specific goal or end state, but moments intended just for their own intrinsic value. Ironically, of course, it is often in those moments that one has one's greatest ideas and inspirations --- but you can't go into them with that purpose in mind, either. Uselessness is underrated.

May 26, 2007

In the Bay Area for my cousin's wedding. It's funny to see relatives whom I never have seen before --- or at least not since I was a kid. Two of them are from Japan, and they for some reason really took a liking to me and my parents; but for some inexplicable reason, some of my aunts didn't want them to hang out with us one morning, so we had to stage a sort of rebel breakfast where we defied my aunt's wishes and all ate together. Luckily, my other cousins were quite used to this and they figured out how to get around all the weirdness and we had a very good time. Sue's comment was that every family needs some people to inject senseless drama into otherwise quite straightforward and ordinary life events, otherwise you'd feel cheated.

One thing that really depresses me about Berkeley, however, is the way it seems to have slid into a sort of torpor. It was evident back when I went to college there for a year, but at least at that point there was some residue of some kind of energy; now, however, it seems the disease of being obsessed with the 60's has just led to what seems to be a cultural paralysis. Walking down Telegraph Avenue there just doesn't seem to be anything new except for a few new shops and some 60's nostalgic detritus. You still see a few people wearing tie-dyed T-shirts, but it's been forty years, and where are the new ideas? It seems they're trapped by their past.

Wandered into Blondie's Pizza, a place I used to frequent when I lived in Berkeley, and the wall was covered by photographs about, what else, the 60's:

Contrast this to a place like Portland, which keeps moving on and moving on. Sure, there were the 60's, stuff happened, but that was FORTY YEARS AGO and it feels that way when you're there. Nobody talks about or obsesses about the 60's, and how things have gone downhill or changed since then, or how the kids aren't as with it as they used to be, or whatever. People are too excited about what just happened last week, or what's going to happen tomorrow. There are new things going on every day, but in a relaxed way, a sense that it's perfectly normal for culture to continue to evolve without either a sense of hurry nor a sense of resignation or misplaced nostalgia.

May 21, 2007

Global warming skeptics seem to be inverting the burden of proof. That is to say, their argument seems to be something along the lines of --- the hypothesis that the Earth is going to heat up due to greenhouse gases is one that needs to be demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt --- but, in fact, the burden of proof is the other way around. Given a simple model (say, a 1D model of the atmosphere), adding greenhouse gases ought to show a measurable increase in the equilibrium temperature. Naturally, such a model is a gross oversimplification --- but it sets up the baseline. That is, the burden is on the skeptics to demonstrate how, in the 3D version of that model, somehow all of the effects of greenhouse gases are magically done away with by some sort of strange process that only kicks in when you account for more details in the model.

But that's not what happens with the models. In fact, the more complex models, the ones that account for cloud formation, ocean heat sinks, changes in weather, changes in ice and ground albedo, etc., etc., etc., ALSO show significant global warming.

In the end, this is hardly surprising. Sure, you have to do the detailed calculations but ultimately the point is the energy has to go *somewhere*. Does the Earth actually have some sort of magical way to absorb the extra energy? The answer appears to be no. However, the so-called skeptics seem to act as though magical energy absorption is what one would expect by default, whereas in fact such thinking is merely wishful thinking. When all the most complex models predict warming AND observations shows warming in close agreement with the models, the skeptics really are in a difficult position, one which they seem to fail to realize: the onus is on them to demonstrate how in Heaven's name the Earth manages to absorb the extra energy without increasing the average temperature of the planet... something which they have consistently failed to do. Instead, they merely try to cast doubt on the models and calculations without taking seriously the question that they need to be answering: if the skeptics are right, how? It's sort of akin to arguing that if you smash an object into another object, the second object will neither heat up nor gain any momentum --- it will just sit there, largely unchanged. Huh? How?

May 20, 2007

Many current cosmological theories posit things like many universes, colliding universes, quantum gravity theories which allow for breaking of causality and linear time, etc.

But suppose when something happened, that was it --- you can never repeat it, go back in time, etc. And suppose that eventually the universe were to end. This is it: this is the one life you're going to lead, and this is the one civilization, and the one galaxy, etc. Eventually all the stars are going to burn out, and there will be nothing, forever, ever again. Life and existence came into being once, and never again occurred. This is IT.

Even if that were the case, I think it still is based on an erroneous way of thinking about time. I'm with Vonnegut --- every moment, I believe, is in a certain sense, eternal. It is itself the beginning and the end, or without beginning nor end. Whether life is finite or infinite, meaning inheres in life as it is lived, now, not in some teleological future goal. So, if this is our one shot at life: that's fine with me. It makes life all the more sweet.

However --- I tend to think there's a lot more to it than this.

May 16, 2007

Katharine has a lot to say, and it is very impressive:

Notes on that which is impossible to explain

There is no saying how the door opens. There is no saying how the wind is sucked out of the world and you with it, through the door, which, as one can see clearly from the other side, was never closed in the first place. One can see clearly, from the other side, that there is no other side. There are no words to describe a change which is not a change from one thing to another, a movement which is no movement at all. But because writing is what I do, I will try to write about this.

The funny thing about enlightenment is that people think it is a state they should strive to achieve. It sounds like a good thing: enlightenment. It sounds like laying down burdens. The problem with this, thinking enlightenment is a good thing, is that you might then suppose that burdens are a bad thing. Everywhere, there are people who want to be enlightened so they can stop suffering… so that they can get rid of the bad stuff and be free. But that is not how it works. Enlightenment is not about getting rid of suffering. Enlightenment is realizing that suffering isn’t something one needs to get rid of.

I think this is very similar to the saying that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. I think an elephant would have an easier time getting through the eye than a person who doesn’t suffer would have attaining enlightenment. A person who doesn’t suffer isn’t alive. Enlightenment, though it requires a kind of death, is a state of extreme alive-ness. Everything is more vivid in THIS, even suffering.

Of course, the other thing about enlightenment, the kingdom of God, or whatever you might call it, is that once you see that you are there, you also see that you were always there. You didn’t have to go through the eye of a needle afterall. All you had to do was open your eyes. This isn’t really something one can attain, because it is impossible to attain something you already have. This is why you can’t find God by looking for him. But this isn’t to say that looking for God or trying not to suffer is bad either. There’s no difference between saying that suffering is a bad state to be in and saying that trying to stop suffering is a bad state to be in. They’re both wrong. The bad state doesn’t really exist. The line between immanence and transcendence doesn’t really exist. THIS isn’t about breaking through barriers, it’s about no longer believing in them.

A lot of people might say they couldn’t be happy, because happiness requires believing in things blindly. Actually, it is being miserable that requires this. You really have to believe that you are trapped, that you are doomed, that you are worthless, that you have nothing to give, to be truly, deeply, miserable. You have to believe it no matter what other people say. You have to believe it even if you can’t prove it. These are the kind of beliefs that are hardest to let go of. Happiness is the absence of beliefs.

To find God is to see that one has been in God from the beginning. There is nothing new. I think another thing a lot of people expect from a big, universal, insight, is that it will be a new thing that changes the world. That’s not really true either. Yes, there can be a sudden, profound shift in how a person experiences the world. But it’s still the same world, and you’re still the same person. Nothing new is added. Everything was already there.

Some people object to the idea that there may be something that is difficult to see, that "most" people don't see (even if, at the same time, part of this "seeing" is seeing that one has never been separate from it). But I find this odd --- few people have a problem with the idea that, say, there are things that quantum physicists understand that most people don't, etc. But when it comes to something basic as existence, it is sometimes difficult to want to admit there might be anything that isn't transparently obvious.

The weird thing is, that there isn't actually anything hidden about what Katharine is talking about above. It is the most present thing in our existence. But --- it is also the case that "most people" don't experience it that way, not because we are far away from it, but because we slather on top of our lives so many accretions, we add on top of life conditions and demands and ideas and assumptions which obscure the basic fact, the simple, basic fact of our already being through the gate. Paradoxically, even though the whole point is to see that there is no gate in the first place, there is, strangely, something here that is difficult to see. It is a gate of no gate: as the Zen people call it, the "gateless gate".

So is there a reason to respect this sort of knowledge? This reminds me of a story:

The morning after Philip Kapleau and Professor Phillips arrived at Ryutakuji Monastery they were given a tour of the place by Abbot Soen Nakagawa. Both Americans had been heavily influenced by tales of ancient Chinese masters who'd destroyed sacred texts, and even images of the Buddha, in order to free themselves from attachment to anything. They were thus surprised and disturbed to find themselves being led into a ceremonial hall, where the Roshi invited them to pay respects to a statue of the temple's founder, Hakuin Zenji, by bowing and offering incense.

On seeing Nakagawa bow before the image, Phillips couldn't contain himself, and burst out: "The old Chinese masters burned or spit on Buddha statues! Why do you bow down before them?"

"If you want to spit, you spit," replied the Roshi. "I prefer to bow."


May 10, 2007

Breathe, breathe, breathe, breath, breath, breath, breath. Breathe.

May 1, 2007

I really like the phrase "always already". Postmodernists such as Derrida use it a lot, but it also applies well to Buddhist thought. We are always already ... what we are. "...the destructive force of Deconstruction is always already contained within the very architecture of the work..." To deconstruct is not, however, only destructive; it is to open to the infinite which is always already what we are, the unborn source.