Abbreviated Pundit Round-up: 100 days of Meh and Chaos
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It might be a place that only a lichen or pond scum could love, but astronomers said Wednesday that they had found a very distant planet capable of harboring water on its surface, thus potentially making it a home for plant or animal life.
Nobody from Earth will be visiting anytime soon: The planet, which goes by the bumpy name of Gliese 581g, is orbiting a star about 20 light-years away in the constellation Libra.
But if the finding is confirmed by other astronomers, the planet, which has three to four times the mass of Earth, would be the most Earthlike planet yet discovered, and the first to meet the criteria for being potentially habitable.
“It’s been a long haul,” said Steven S. Vogt of the University of California, Santa Cruz, who, along with R. Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, led the team that made the discovery. “This is the first exoplanet that has the right conditions for water to exist on its surface.” ...
Gliese 581g (whose first name is pronounced GLEE-za) circles a dim red star known as Gliese 581, once every 37 days, at a distance of about 14 million miles. That is smack in the middle of the so-called Goldilocks zone, where the heat from the star is neither too cold nor too hot for water to exist in liquid form on its surface.
“This is really the first Goldilocks planet,” Dr. Butler said.
Other astronomers hailed the news as another harbinger that the search for “living planets,” as Dimitar D. Sasselov of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics calls them, is on the right track.
Among the topics covered in the survey were: Where was Jesus born? What is Ramadan? Whose writings inspired the Protestant Reformation? Which Biblical figure led the exodus from Egypt? What religion is the Dalai Lama? Joseph Smith? Mother Theresa? In most cases, the format was multiple choice.
Even though modern mathematics has achieved enormous success in all areas of life, it appears to be fragmented and incomplete. It lacks a solid foundation and breaks down when faced with the ultimate infinite. In fact, the work of twentieth-century mathematician Kurt Gödel gives mathematical proof that mathematics is not complete and can in fact never be complete. As an example, mathematics cannot even handle concepts such as “the set of all sets.” The result is that most mathematicians choose to ignore the foundations of mathematics and work in isolated, fragmented areas with no vision of the whole of mathematics.Maharishi’s Vedic Mathematics, on the other hand, is a complete field of knowledge.At Maharishi University of Management, students gain direct experience of the infinite field of pure knowledge through their practice of the Transcendental Meditation program. Your study of mathematical infinity is followed by personal experience of infinity. Your study of mathematics is complete and personally fulfilling and cultures the ability to spontaneously handle all possibilities in life.
Therefore, Ananda, be islands unto yourselves, refuges unto yourselves, seeking no external refuge; with the Dhamma as your island, the Dhamma as your refuge, seeking no other refuge.
"And how, Ananda, is a bhikkhu an island unto himself, a refuge unto himself, seeking no external refuge; with the Dhamma as his island, the Dhamma as his refuge, seeking no other refuge?
"When he dwells contemplating the body in the body, earnestly, clearly comprehending, and mindfully, after having overcome desire and sorrow in regard to the world; when he dwells contemplating feelings in feelings, the mind in the mind, and mental objects in mental objects, earnestly, clearly comprehending, and mindfully, after having overcome desire and sorrow in regard to the world, then, truly, he is an island unto himself, a refuge unto himself, seeking no external refuge; having the Dhamma as his island, the Dhamma as his refuge, seeking no other refuge.
I see you, and you see me. I experience you, and you experience me. I see your behaviour. You see my behaviour. But I do not and never have and never will see your experience of me. Just as you cannot "see" my experience of you. My experience of you is not "inside" me. It is simply you, as I experience you. And I do not experience you as inside me. Similarly, I take it that you do not experience me as inside you.
"My experience of you" is just another form of words for "you-as-l-experience-you", and "your experience of me" equals "me-as-you-experience-me". Your experience of me is not inside you and my experience of you is not inside me, but your experience of me is invisible to me and my experience of you is invisible to you.
I cannot experience your experience. You cannot experience my experience. We are both invisible men. All men are invisible to one another. Experience used to be called The Soul. Experience as invisibility of man to man is at the same time more evident than anything. Only experience is evident. Experience is the only evidence.
Dan Savage has started a new project, prompted by the suicide of a bullied gay teenager, Billy Lucas, in Indiana. So they're trying to get the word out: It gets better. Don't despair. And they're collecting other people's stories, too.
This particular project is specifically about giving gay kids the strength to carry on, but it's not just gays who are made miserable by schools and religion and other agents of the enforcement of artificial norms. I suspect that the readership of Pharyngula, all you geeks and nerds and oddballs, is enriched for people who were outliers in their youth…and still are, but most of us have reconciled ourselves to our status. It gets better for all of us.Another good essay to read is The disease called "Perfection". We all face ridiculous expectations from our culture, and we all face these pressures to conform with the boring mundanes with their distressingly unrealistic and uninteresting ideals. I didn't have the stigma of being gay, but I was the homely, unathletic, four-eyed weirdo no girl would look at twice…and I can say that it got better for me, and it can also get better for everyone.
... Our brains create an illusion of unity and control where there really isn’t any. Within the wide range of works arranged along the axis of soulism [i.e., belief in a separate individual "soul" and a separate "mind" as used in this article], from Life After Death: The Evidence, by Dinesh D’Souza, to Absence of Mind, by Marilynne Robinson, it is clear there is very little understanding of the brain. In fact, to advance their ideas, these authors have to be almost completely unaware of neurology and neuroscience. For example, Robinson tells us, “Our religious traditions give us as the name of God two deeply mysterious words, one deeply mysterious utterance: I AM.” The translation might be, “indoctrination tells us we have a soul, it feels like we are a unified little god in control of our bodies, so we are.”
In explaining why science suggests that the unified mind is illusory, there are thousands of supporting cases and experiments to choose from, but let’s take one case from the Emergency Room.
After eating dinner with her husband, Mrs. Blanford collapsed. She could not move the left side of her body. I met Mrs. Blanford soon afterwards: Her speech was normal, but she couldn’t see objects to her left, and she couldn’t move or feel the left side of her face, or her left arm or leg. Mrs. Blanford was suffering a stroke.
An interesting thing happened when I brought her left arm up across her face so she could see it. I asked, as I always ask such patients, “Whose arm is this?”
“That is your arm.”
“Then why am I wearing your ring?” I pointed to her wedding band.
“That wedding band belongs on the arm of Mrs. Blanford.”
“So whose arm is this?”
“That is your arm.”
How can we explain this? Given that we find neglect soon after right-brain damage, we are best served by adopting a neurological point of view. To do so, we need to understand a bit about how the brain works. In general, and in the broadest strokes, the brain is divided into two hemispheres. The left hemisphere processes speech and the motor and sensory information for the right side of the world. The right hemisphere processes nonverbal information and representations from the left side. This particular stroke rendered Mrs. Blanford’s right hemisphere dysfunctional, unable to process anything from the left side of her world. It is not the left hemisphere’s job to recognize the left arm, and the left hemisphere can’t immediately step in to do that task. To the left brain, the left side of the body essentially does not exist. The right brain has failed, not only to process arm information, but failed to let the left hemisphere know it failed.
For Mrs. Blanford, it isn’t only that her left brain can’t do the right brain’s task. The left hemisphere also can’t recognize that there is missing data, or that there is something wrong with the data it receives. It has to use the data it has, so the left hemisphere comes up with confabulations, creating verbal fabrications to explain away missing information. In this case the confabulation becomes, “That is your arm, not mine.” Although easy to falsify, the idea is internally consistent, makes some sense of the scrambled internal data, and feels correct. The injured brain creates a confabulation to maintain a unity of self and a feeling of control. We find a brain convincing itself of something that feels right, but isn’t.
A neglect case only makes sense if you consider each hemisphere as its own separate entity. We see that when a stroke damages the right brain just so, the mind follows as a result. It is expected, to be compared with the unplugging of a mouse resulting in a frozen cursor.
One of the most fundamental beliefs of Buddhism is that all the multitudinous and multifarious phenomena in the universe start from, and have their being in, one reality which itself has "no fixed abode," being above spatial and temporal limitations. However different and separate and irreducible things may appear to the senses, the most profound law of the human mind declares that they are all one in their hidden nature. In this world of relativity, or nânâtva as Buddhists call it, subject and object, thought and nature, are separate and distinct, and as far as our sense-experience goes, there is an impassable chasm between the two which no amount of philosophizing can bridge. But the very constitution of the mind demands a unifying principle which is an indispensable hypothesis for our conception of phenomenality; and thishypothesis is called "the gate of sameness," samatâ, in contradistinction to "the gate of difference," nânâtva; and Buddhism declares that no philosophy or religion is satisfactory which does not recognize these two gates. In some measure the "gate of sameness" may be considered to correspond to "God" and the "gate of difference" to the world of individual existence.Now, the question is, "How does Buddhism conceive the relation between these two entrances to the abode of Supreme Knowledge (sambodhi)?" And the answer to this decides the Buddhist attitude towards pantheism, theism, atheism, and what not...
Thus, according to the proclamation of an enlightened mind, God or the principle of sameness is not transcendent, but immanent in the universe, and we sentient beings are manifesting the divine glory just as much as the lilies of the field. A God who, keeping aloof from his creations, sends down his words of command through specially favored personages, is rejected by Buddhists as against the constitution of humanreason. God must be in us, who are made in his likeness. We cannot presume the duality of God and the world. Religion is not to go to God by forsaking the world, but to find him in it. Our faith is to believe in our essential oneness with him, and not in our sensual separateness. "God in us and we in him," must be made the most fundamental faith of all religion.We must not, however, suppose that God is no more than the sum-total of individual existences. God exists even when all creations have been destroyed and reduced to a state of chaotic barrenness. God exists eternally, and he will create another universe out of the ruins of this one. To our limited intelligence there may be a beginning and an end of the worlds, but as God surveys them, being and becoming are one selfsame process. To him nothing changes, or, to state it rather paradoxically, he sees no change whatever in all the changes we have around us; all things are absolutely quiet in their eternal cycle of birth and death, growth and decay, combination and disintegration. This universe cannot exist outside of God, but God is more than the totality of individual existences; God is here as well as there, God is not only this but also that.
As I mentioned before, Buddhists do not make use of the term God, which characteristically belongs to Christian terminology. An equivalent most commonly used is Dharmakâya, which word has been explained in one of the sermons herein collected, and it will not be necessary to enter again upon the discussion of its signification. Let us only see what other equivalents have been adopted.When the Dharmakâya is most concretely conceived it becomes the Buddha, or Tathâgata, or Vairochana, or Amitâbha. Buddha means "the enlightened," and this may be understood to correspond to "God is wisdom." Vairochana is "coming from the sun," and Amitâbha, "infinite light," which reminds us of the Christian notion, "God is light." As to the correct meaning of Tathâgata, Buddhists do not give any definite and satisfactory explanation, and it is usually considered to be the combination of tathâ = "thus" and gata = "gone," but it is difficult to find out how "Thus Gone" came to be an appellation of the supreme being.
[T]he knowledge arising from the attainment of enlightenment [ = an intuitive understanding] is of a permanent nature, the Tathagata is permanent. Mahāmati, this knowledge, as it is attained intuitively by the Tathagatas, Arhats, Fully-Enlightened Ones, is, indeed, permanent. Whether the Tathagatas are born or not, this Dharmatā, which is the regulative and sustaining principle to be discoverable in the enlightenment of all the Śrāvakas, Pratyekabuddhas, and philosophers, abides, and this sustaining principle of existence is not like the emptiness of space, which, however, is not understood by the ignorant and simple-minded. Mahāmati, this knowledge of enlightenment belonging to the Tathagatas comes forth from transcendental knowledge (prajñājñāna); Mahāmati, the Tathagatas, Arhats, Fully-Enlightened Ones do not come forth from the habit-energy of ignorance which is concerned with the Citta, Manas, and Manovijñāna, and the Skandhas, Dhātus, and Āyatanas. The triple world originates from the discriminating of unrealities, but the Tathagatas do not originate from the discriminating of unrealities. Where duality obtains, Mahāmati, there is permanency and impermanency because of its not being one.
While researching their forthcoming book about American religion, the Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam and his colleagues polled on this hypothetical question: Say a group of Buddhists wanted to build a large temple in your community. How would you feel? Putnam & Co. asked about Buddhists because, they had discovered, Buddhists are one of the least popular religious groups in the country. People like Buddhists less than they do atheists and Mormons—and only slightly more than they do Muslims. Like Muslims, Buddhists “do not have a place in what has come to be called America’s Judeo-Christian framework,” Putnam and his coauthor, David Campbell, write in American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. The book comes out next week...
There are three major differences between the traditional Zen monastic training and those who practice in the West. The vast majority of those who practice in the West are lay people; there are a large number of women who practice and hold positions of leadership; and there is more interest in emotional and psychological approaches to meditation.
We are integrating these facets into our approach to teaching Zen and have moved in the direction of westernizing the practice. Reading Dr. Lenz, we have found inspiration to expand our teaching in new ways that were not part of our training. Dr. Lenz has helped make Zen more accessible to a wider portion of the population, including non-Buddhists as well as committed Buddhists.
Arianna Huffington for many years sought to downplay the extent of her involvement in the Movement For Spiritual Inner Awareness, a cult ex-members described as sexually and financially exploitive in a series of Los Angeles Times exposés in the 1980s and 1990s. uring her then-husband's 1994 U.S. Senate run, the Greek-born socialite claimed movement founder John-Roger (pictured with her at a 2004 book party, left) was a mere friend, and pictures of him holding her daughter were ordered withheld from the group's newspaper, the editor later said. But the Huffington Post editor-in-chief is an ordained "Minister Of Light" in the group and once described John-Roger to Interview as her "way-shower." She relaxed a bit in the New Yorker's Oct. 13 profile , admitting she had been too "defensive" about John-Roger, and allowing writer Lauren Collins to listen to a guided MSIA meditation stored on Huffington's iPod. But she wasn't entirely forthcoming. What about the role she has fashioned for her cult in HuffPo staff development?
Late last year, former staffers say, Huffington directed two Huffington Post employees to attend an Insight Seminar in Westlake Village, California. Though technically distinct from MSIA, Insight shares a founder, John-Roger, and a "Spiritual Director," John Morton (right) with the group. This sharing of staff goes back at least 20 years, when the LA Times reported Insight was rife with MSIA "volunteers" and obtained emails showing John-Roger was calling the shots. A former top-ranked church minister told the paper Insight was used to draw new recruits into MSIA.
The other staffer was apparently an unnamed Los Angeles-based scheduler struggling to serve Huffington, an erratic and sometimes brutal presence over staffers who work out of her Brentwood mansion. It was made clear to this person, one source said, that attending the conference was necessary to keep her job. Huffington asked the staffer to think about how important her job was to her, then suggested the seminar as a way to refocus — a neat way of making the event mandatory without being explicit and perhaps running afoul of laws governing religion in the workplace, the source said. After struggling with the decision for a week, and supposedly making a fruitless plea to HR in New York, the scheduler ended up attending, only to leave the company a month or two later.
Huffington's commitment to MSIA may well go beyond seminars for her staff. One tipster said that while Huffington is reported, including by the New Yorker, to give to 10 percent of her income to charity each year, that money flows as a tithe to MSIA, and/or to charities closely linked to the cult...
So sit back and relax for the next 45 minutes or so, and let's talk about psychic development. How you can escalate your level of awareness with patience, practice and a good sense of humor. What to expect, what to avoid. How to know what you don't know. Psychic development.
There are two ways to come by money in this world. One is to inherit money. The other is to make it, to acquire it. If you inherit money, you can squander it and lose it. You can use it, or you can make more money. You can also start with no money and acquire money and get richer and richer, or you can acquire it and lose it. Once you know how to make money, even if you lose it, it's easy to do it again.
So in the world of psychic development, some people come by their psychic development through a kind of inheritance. It has to do with reincarnation, of course. In a prior lifetime, they developed their awareness field by the practice of psychic development exercises, meditation, zazen, things like that. And that state of mind stayed with them. They are that state of mind. They were born with these psychic sensitivities.
One of the funny things about awareness, within that framework, is that it never assumes it will end. And in a way it does, and in a way it doesn't. When we're alive, we never picture ourselves dying, yet someday each of us dies. Someday in a room somewhere, perhaps a hospital room, in an automobile, perhaps outdoors, you will leave this world. You won't be here anymore and everything that you've known will fade from your view, and it will happen at the darndest time. You will be quite convinced that it couldn't be happening then, and yet you'll be powerless to stop it. Then another kind of continuity occurs, and that's the continuity that is beyond death.
Death is a doorway, but it's a very small, thin doorway, and only a portion of our being can walk through that doorway. The rest stays behind and is lost or transformed into something else. At the time of death, we walk through a doorway and our spirit, which is very thin, slides through into another world, another existence, another experience.
But for now, we are here. We are in this world. And in this world, there are limitations - and no one likes to be limited. We all want freedom. We all want to be limitless. Limitations exist in the mind. Freedom exists in the mind. Heaven exists in the mind. Hell exists in the mind. There are objective circumstances and situations. You can be in jail. You can be free. You can live in a country with restrictions on travel. You can live in a country where they don't restrict your travel. But happiness, awareness, consciousness has little or nothing to do with physical restrictions.
There are ten thousand states of mind, ten thousand planes of awareness. Most people spend their entire lives confined to a few of these states of mind. Let's imagine them in a scale going from the left to the right. Let's say that number one is all the way over on the left, and let's say that number ten thousand is way over on the right. Number one is very dark; it has almost no light in it at all; it's hard to distinguish it from complete darkness. Number ten thousand is bright light. It is hard to distinguish it from light, yet there's a subtle difference. And there are gradations in between - 9,999 to be exact.
My career - I'm a teacher. I teach people the arts of enlightenment - how to become conscious, powerful, successful, at peace with themselves; how to move from one world to another, through different dimensional planes, and to explore and experience the different parts of this vast creation; how to become selfless; how to become everything or nothing, or just to be the moment; how to reach that still point between the turning worlds, where everything is one, or to play in the multiplicity. I'm a trainer. I train people at different levels, depending upon their interest and their natural talents for studying perception and the various arts related to perception - one of which is Zen Buddhism.
Co-authored by Menas Kafatos, Fletcher Jones Professor of Computational Physics, Dean College of Science Chapman University
Stephen Hawking occupies a position in popular culture comparable only to Einstein's eminence sixty years ago: he is our last wise man speaking with the total authority of advanced science. Until his new book, The Grand Design, appeared, co-authored with Caltech physics professor (and adept writer) Leonard Mlodinow, Hawking had left open the whisper of a possibility that God might be allowed to survive scientific scrutiny. Einstein had a strong feeling for the presence of awe and wonder at the far horizon of the cosmos and saw evidence for the existence of a unifying, rational presence in the mathematical order of the cosmos. But since then the universe of theoretical physics has become random, complex, paradoxical, and barren of divine presence. Therefore, when Hawking made worldwide news recently by declaring that "it is not necessary to invoke God... to set the Universe going," a blow was struck for the noisy camp of atheists while the world of devout believers had one more reason -- this time a crushing one -- to consider science as the enemy of religion.
Yet when you read the new book, it becomes clear that Hawking and Mlodinow are leading us on a journey to the very edge of "nothing," the underlying source of all space, time, matter, and energy, and the closer they get, the more their findings lend no contradiction to a universal presence, often referred to as God. The ultimate basis of material existence which physicists dub as this nothingness is the ground zero of creation. It is imbued with the pure order that generates mathematics; it gives rise to the laws of nature that govern and balance the universe; and it remains mysteriously above its own creation, monitoring quantum interactions beyond the speed of light. If that sounds a lot like God, it must be said that the richness of this pre-quantum realm is the best model physics has devised for the unknowable -- and that leads Hawking into a paradox. If "nothing" gives rise to the human desire for meaning, how can it be meaningless? If the universe operates randomly, and this randomness created human brains that do all kinds of non-random things (such as writing Shakespeare and saying "I love you"), how can the purposeless give birth to the purposeful?
The Grand Design surveys, with considerable brilliance and sovereign impartiality, the latest "network of theories," termed M-theory, about how the universe came to be. The public for popular science has heard about a proposed "theory of everything" and identified it with Hawking's name. In their new book, he and Mlodinow promote M-theory as "a fundamental theory of physics that is a candidate for a theory of everything," Yet in place of a single overarching explanation, we get a sort of heffalump. "There seems to be no single mathematical model or theory that can describe every aspect of the universe... Each theory in the M-theory network is good at describing phenomenon within a certain range." Perhaps the most striking piece of the network is the theory of multiple universes, a hypothesis that Hawking and Mlodinow favor. Yet what is more important for culture at large is that the "design" of their title is not what believers in God might hope for. Rather, it is a strictly mathematical possibility for explaining as much as can be explained.
They fail to address Gödel's incompleteness theorem that categorically implies that no mathematical model of cosmos can ever be complete. Ultimately, Hawking contends that our source cannot be fully known by the rational mind, and his version of M-theory offers so many alternate universes -- far more than the stars in the known universe -- that it must be out of reach of the rational mind -- it's like explaining glass by counting every grain of sand on the beach. Humans are trapped in one universe alone out of billions upon billions upon billions, confined by the particular laws of nature that created us. Our minds are unable to conceive of a reality beyond these laws of nature; therefore, the only design admissible to physics has no purpose, meaning, goal, or creator. It is pure, seamless mathematical possibilities arranged in superposition with an escape clause that there are other species of mathematics that fit other universes. Effectively, even if God does exist, we'll never know for sure since our minds can see only their own reflection -- a new twist on St. Paul's seeing through a glass darkly. One can hear the window to God's mind that was opened by Einstein being firmly, sternly slammed shut.
Sept. 7 (Bloomberg) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has found an unlikely ally to help raise cash for his impoverished regime: The Dude, the pot-smoking underachiever played by Jeff Bridges in the movie “The Big Lebowski.”
Programmers from North Korea’s General Federation of Science and Technology developed a 2007 mobile-phone bowling game based on the 1998 film, as well as “Men in Black: Alien Assault,” according to two executives at Nosotek Joint Venture Company, which markets software from North Korea for foreign clients. Both games were published by a unit of News Corp., the New York-based media company, a spokeswoman for the unit said.
They represent a growing software industry championed by Kim that is boosting the economy of one of the poorest countries in the world and raising the technological skills of workers. Contracting with North Korean companies is legal under United Nations sanctions unless they are linked to the arms trade.
“From the government’s point of view, foreign currency is the main reason to nurture and support these activities,” said Andrei Lankov, an academic specializing in North Korea at Seoul- based Kookmin University. “These activities help to fund the regime, but at the same time they bring knowledge of the outside world to people who could effect change.”