synthetic zero


November 27, 2007

I've been having an intense set of conversations with Katharine. About a week ago, after a very tough period in her life which had lasted a month or so, while she was in the shower after we'd had a phone conversation, she had a huge revelation about time, which suddenly put things into perspective:

....I was in the shower, standing there under the water, and I was thinking about a phone conversation I had had a few minutes earlier. I was in the middle of thinking about this conversation when I noticed that I was actually in the shower. I paused in the middle of the thought and said to myself, wait a minute, I'm in the shower now.

In this split-second pause, it was clear to me that while I was thinking about that phone conversation a moment earlier, I wasn't just in the shower, I was actually still having the conversation, right then. The conversation wasn't some event that was stuck in the past, over and done with and frozen and unmodifiable. The conversation, as I thought about it, was just as much in the present as the shower was, and in fact no longer existed in any other moment but the one I was currently in. The conversation wasn't sitting back there behind me somewhere in a perfected form I could only partly access, it was right there before me, happening, even though I was doing something else. It wasn't just a static thing I was remembering, but something that was still active and changing as I thought about it.

Thinking about all this a little more, it becomes obvious that not only is that phone conversation going on right now as I bring it into mind again, but everything is.. my entire history is in each moment. And every moment, my history is changing. Just as there are many possible futures, there are many possible pasts. There isn't just this one immutable life story I can plug into or out of at different points in time. It sounds silly, but it is literally true that every breath is a brand new life: a new past, present, and future all in one. And this is why we cannot be forever doomed by the mistakes we've made and the traumas we've suffered. It isn't possible, because those mistakes aren't really the stable anchors we think they are. Or, to put it another way, they are only stable in as much as we think they are. All you really have to do is let go of the belief in this false stability, and you're free.

I've said it before but one of my favorite quotes from the Korean Zen master Seung Sahn: "Everyone believes that time and space exist. Ha ha ha ha! That's very funny! Your thinking makes time, and your thinking makes space."

November 16, 2007

I sometimes feel as though I were some sort of con man, or criminal, or rampaging warlord in a past life --- that is to say, I often find myself thinking like a con man or criminal. I see the angles. I look for places to take advantage, and I watch for things that others might do to take advantage of me. I think about security at many levels. However, while I do use this to protect myself and those close to me, I never act on my criminal thoughts, schemes, or subtrefuges --- because it is stupid and pointless to do so in nearly all cases (for game theoretic reasons I am fond of discussing --- though certain kinds of deception can be beneficial --- depending on the circumstances --- it only works if it is not primarily self-interested). So in general I present myself to the world as a relatively relaxed, open person ... which I am ... but I am not a naive, trusting, innocent soul, at all --- in fact exactly the opposite. I am, oddly enough, suspicious of everyone and everything around me. I sense schemes in people far in advance, I look for hints at plans within plans in the slightest actions and words of others. Despite this, however, I think living in a distrustful way robs one of the benefits associated with trust --- so by choice I am willing to place myself somewhat at risk by giving people the benefit of the doubt --- because the rewards of cooperation are great. Nevertheless, when I trust, I still try to position myself to limit my total risk, and I am constantly on the alert (but relaxed because I generally speaking have limited my risk and am willing to pay the price of being proven wrong).

Having said this, I have to say: there is nothing more infuriating to me than to have someone else think I am stupid enough to fall for an ill-conceived con. I am not saying I would never fall for a con --- obviously a well-executed one could fool nearly anyone --- but if it's some sort of ham-handed attempt at subtrefuge, give me a break. What angers me is not so much that the person is trying to con me as what it means they think of me by trying --- do they really think I am so stupid they can fool me that easily? If you are going to fool me, at least put some effort into it. It's insulting to be the intended target of an inept attempt at a con.

The fact is, it is embarrassing for both sides. I don't want to have to point out that I already understand much more than the other person is assuming, and I don't appreciate being insulted, particularly in that way. I often let small deceptions go without even making a note of it --- because to me, it's not worth fighting over every single transgression. But the fact that I let such things go without comment does not mean I am unaware they have occurred. I don't con other people, but that doesn't mean I am an easy mark. Don't try to con a con man --- at least not with a half-assed con. Better yet, don't con (anyone) at all. It's a mistake on many levels, which is why the smartest con men have given up on the self-interested con.

There's a different kind of con, though, which I think is perfectly sensible. The difference is simply in the motive. One type of con destroys trust and tears apart the fabric of life, the other engenders trust, ironically.

November 6, 2007

Come to my next Synthetic Zero Event in Williamsburg! We're going to have a sustainable food/cooking demonstration by Kyle Kessler, a live multimedia performance by Pashly (Susan Ploetz), Powerpop/New Wave music by Yoko Kikuchi, a dreamy experimental pop orchestra by Opsvik & Jennings, and experimental electronic music by Bryan Eubanks & Andrew Lafkas, as well as experimental short films and visual art. The event will be free. This will be my first in Williamsburg, so please come check it out...

November 4, 2007

From Stuart at Random Thoughts has an interesting story about his meeting with the Zen master Seung Sahn:

"What is your name?" ZMSS asked. "Stuart," I replied. "No, no, no," he scoffed. "That's just body's name." It was confusing. I'd given a clear, simple answer. His words, though, were a philosophical idea, the type of unnecessary thinking I'd been told to throw away. But what could I say? How could I question his teaching, when he was the Big Zen Master, and I was the new kid?

After some awkward silence, ZMSS explained, "Now you must say, 'You are incorrect, Zen Master.' When I make mistake, you must correct it." Wow. After all the years I'd spent meeting gurus who claimed perfection, here was ZMSS, right from the get-go, saying that I had to watch for his mistakes.

Infallible, inschmallable!