Ideas and insights

Arrows Here are some wise sayings I have collected.

During a dream I formulated the following simple definition of spirituality. It is what gives life meaning and depth. If pursued directly it disappears.

Manners and politeness keep people separate. What connects people is taking liberties. Intimacy relies on breaching privacy and other social inhibitions. Holding on to manners is infantile for it means we do not trust ourselves to behave appropriately.

I have read about what is called 'choking', the phenomenon where a top sports-person suddenly seems to lose their skill during a match. I think this happens when they make a mistake that seems so elementary that it 'should not happen'. Hence their confidence is shaken, and once this happens they make more mistakes and the downward spiral begins.

It seems to me that confidence is one of the most important components of any skill. I define it as the belief that if faced with a problem or challenge in our field of expertise then we will be able to handle it competently. Once this belief is not there our level of competence falls drastically.

Scepticism rebuffed
Wittgenstein could not rebut the radical sceptic, but he could shut them up. He suggested that if the sceptic wants to doubt whether the chair is really there then he should begin by doubting language. For even to state "This chair is not really here," is to assume that the use of language symbols is in some sense meaningful.

Two Buddhist monks were about to wade across a river when an old woman came up to them and asked to be carried across. They were both horrified at the thought of touching a woman but the first monk relented and carried her across, much to the chagrin of his companion. He farewelled the woman and the monks continued on their journey. Some hours later, the second monk said to the first, "I can't understand how you could have done something so unthinkable as to carry a woman." To this the first monk replied, "I left her behind at the river, you are still carrying her."

We differ from animals in that the human being is susceptible to every imaginable delusion, for instance that other members of our own species who look, believe or behave slightly differently should be eliminated. This is amply demonstrated in Rwanda, Bosnia and the Middle East.

The recent discovery of a plot by extremists in the US to kill Rodney King in order to start a race war made me reflect that there is no idea so crazy that some people won't accept it as gospel truth and even kill for it. The "Heavens Gate" suicide cult is another shining example. What does this say about human beings? Was human evolution a mistake.

The intellect
On one side, I believe the intellect is responsible for war, prejudice, self-defeating behaviour, separation and so on. It doesn't really solve problems but rather creates problems that need to be solved by further application of the same tool. On the other side, the intellect is the prime human faculty that distinguishes us from other animals and is responsible for all of civilisation.

Religious people
One of the aspects of being religious that amazes me is that the religious person seems entirely unaware of the fact that the religion they belong to is purely an accident of birth. (Converts are an exception to this.)

I have little respect for the views of people who think that the particular religion (eg Chinese Baptist) they were born into is THE RELIGION, the one and only door to ultimate truth. It is as though the circumstances of their birth had momentous cosmic significance. I see them as being unthinking because they are completely unaware that their most cherished beliefs are purely accidental.

Someone once told me that a friend of his was not an anti-semite but simply disliked Jews. I knew this was a rationalisation, but it took me a while to work it out. On the face of it, one might think this statement is OK. After all, we are not obligated to like everyone, and certain habits practised in other cultures can seem most abhorrent. But then what is prejudice, if not pre-judgement. How can you know you won't like a person before you know anything about them except for their cultural origins?

The statement, "I don't like Jews," is racist because it expresses a prejudice regarding millions of people whom the speaker doesn't know. It is based on the idea that the culturally-determined qualities possessed by all members of a large group of people are more important than the humanity they share in common with all other people.

Of course, the statement of dislike can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you are convinced you dislike all Jews then it is very probable that on meeting a Jew your prejudice will make you dislike them, irrespective of their personal qualities.

I read that a film presenting a sympathetic portrait of a black child was shown to some people and their attitudes to blacks measured before and after. It was found that pre-existing attitudes of sympathy or hostility were both deepened. I think there is a deep lesson here: that we are able to interpret anything that happens according to our prejudices and actually strengthen them in the process.

Reading a love story it occurred to me that the essence of romance is that the other person is a mystery to you. You don't know what they think or feel, especially about you, and you dearly want to find out.

The trouble with political conservatives is not that they are behind the times, for we need a balance of accelerator and brake as we motor into the future. The trouble is that they are socially uncaring. They don't care about the poor, the homeless, battered wives, aboriginal deaths in custody, or vanishing rainforests.

Four basic questions
In "Tuesdays with Morrie" by Mitch Albom, Morrie asked his student four basic questions that capture some of the essence of life:

Have you found someone to share your heart with?
Are you giving to your community?
Are you at peace with yourself?
Are you trying to be as human as you can be?

The roots of error
Edward de Bono writes, "We know from David Perkin's work at Harvard that 90 per cent of the rrors in thinking are errors in perception."

Men denying reality
It is common to hear about men denying or discounting the presence of dangerous symptoms, such as rectal bleeding, or simply avoiding prostate checks and the like. They differ from women, who generally take good care of themselves. Since actions speak more loudly than words, my conclusion from this is that men fear reality more than they fear death.

The anthropic principle
Some scientists talk about the so-called anthropic principle. This is the notion that the possibility of humankind's existence constrained how the universe could be, by narrowly constraining the values of basic universal constants, such as that involved in gravity. It is generally believed that life could not have evolved if any of these basic constants had values slightly different from the actual ones. While the latter conclusion may well be true, the anthropic principle is a piece of nonsense. It is meaningless to talk about how else the universe could have been. It is as it is, and any speculation about how it 'could have been' is meaningless, similar to saying, "If I were Leonardo da Vinci then I could have moulded the Renaissance."

The so-called anthropic principle is just an instance of unbounded anthropomorphism. It is meaningless to speculate about how the universe "could" be by discussing the "possible" values that Plank's constant could have had, as if the Creator, having an infinite variety of universes to choose from, picked our particular variety. The reality is that the universe is a certain way. It is the only universe (by definition) that we have, or ever will have. So to say that it is the way it is in order that humans could develop is just playing with words. It is the way it is, and we are in it. This is all we know and there is no backward causation from the second element to the first.

It's rather like the question, "Why is the universe 5 billion years old?" A: "Because it took that long for a being to develop that would ask that question." Though true, this answer is obviously empty of information value.

Interesting facts

Lucid dreaming
The dream you are having is termed 'lucid' if you realise you are dreaming during the dream itself. This is usually a very exciting experience. You lose all fear as you know it is only a dream. You can experiment with controlling the dream and making your wishes come true. Highly recommended. Try telling yourself you will have a lucid dream just before you fall asleep. Eventually you will.

Whales sleep with half a brain
Apparently whales and dolphins sleep with only half of their brain at a time, as they have to remain partially alert. Maybe it's because they have to come up for air while sleeping.

A philosophical prediction
Oliver Sacks mentions the only known (to me) prediction by a philosopher that has been confirmed, namely Locke's assertion (in 1690) that a person born blind and taught by touch to distinguish between a cube and a sphere would not be able to distinguish one from the other by sight when this was restored.

Recommended books

"The Art of Loving" by Erich Fromm. What is love? There is much depth and insight in this uncompromising little book. Easy to read and highly recommended.

"Greatness and Limitations of Freud's Thought" by Erich Fromm. Fromm at his best writing about Freud at his best. A painless and enjoyable way to find out the essentials of Freudian thought, with many of Fromm's key insights thrown in at no extra charge.

"The Penguin Krishnamurti Reader" edited by M. Lutyens. Krishnamurti is one of the most incisive intellects of our time. No philosopher is more uncompromising or less doctrinaire. His insights are so fundamental that they shock me at first; only later do I begin to understand them. A challenging book.

"The Tao of Physics" by Fritjof Capra. A classic. Very well written and admirably clear. Highly recommended to those intrigued by any of: (1) modern physics, (2) Eastern mysticism, (3) the connection between the two.

"To Have Or to Be" by Erich Fromm. A penetrating look at attachment and how it limits us. This book had a big impact on me.

"The Flock" by Joan Frances Casey. It is the autobiography of a person with multiple personalities, similar to 'Sybil' but about 21 times better. It is not primarily a story of pathology, rather it shows some of the wondrous possibilities of the human being, including the capacity to heal old hurts and overcome separateness. Above all, it is a book about love in action.

"Amazon Beaming" by Petru Popescu. This is the story of how the renowned photographer, Loren McIntyre, was captured by an almost unknown Amazonian tribe. The book chronicles his discovery of the actual source of the Amazon, as well as what appears to be a form of telepathy. Amazing.

"No Boundary" by Ken Wilber. An attempt at a grand synthesis of all forms of personal and spiritual growth, East and West. A heroic effort. Though somewhat abstract, it does have practical recommendations.

"The Warrior's Honour" by Michael Ignatieff. His essay "On the Narcissism of Small Differences" is the only credible attempt I have seen to explain events such as the bloodbath in Bosnia.

"Wild Swans" by Jung Chang. A fascinating family story that sums up modern Chinese history.

"On Becoming a Person" by Carl Rogers. A classic book on non-directive counselling, empathy, acceptance and personal growth. Highly recommended.

"Reality Therapy" by William Glasser. A radically sensible approach to therapy. "People do not act irresponsibly because they are mentally ill, they are ill because they act irresponsibly."

"Creative Dreaming" by Patricia Garfield. Essential reading for people interested in dreams. Easy to read, comprehensive and authoritative.

"The Enneagram" by Helen Palmer presents the fascinating Sufi character typology. One of the nine types fits me almost exactly - you may have the same experience. Palmer focuses on personal growth.

"Life after Life" by Raymond Moody. This, or a similar book, is required reading for anyone interested in our fate at death.

"Life before Life" by Helen Wambach. Essential reading for anyone interested in reincarnation. See also Wambach's "Reliving Past Lives".

"Other Lives, Over Selves" by Roger Woolger. Fascinating for those interested in reincarnation from a psychological viewpoint. Woolger believes we re-enact past-life dramas and that this is the primary cause of neurosis.

"The New Diary" by Tristine Rainer. An authoritative and well-thought out approach to personal growth through journal writing. "You can get hold of anything by writing about it."

External links

A personal philosophy site with heaps of links.

Revolutions in modern physics A quick introduction to special relativity, quantum physics, general relativity and superstrings.

If you have an intellectually oriented website and would like to exchange links then please send me your URL. In most cases I will be happy to link to your site. (Nazis and fundamentalists need not apply.)

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