Saturday, July 28, 2007

Gratitude 7/28/07

A couple of things I am grateful for today:

1) I re-watched Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring for the first time in a couple of years. This is a truly beautiful Buddhist film on the nature of attachment, the power of forgiveness and surrender, and the cycles of life.

2) We had some serious monsoon rains today -- more than three hours of heavy and steady rain. Much needed and appreciated.

What are you grateful for today?

The Aware Self in Therapy and Relationships

Richard Schwartz is the creator of the Internal Family Systems model of psychotherapy, an approach to therapy that works with parts or subpersonalities. One of the things I find valuable in his approach, beside the fact that I find "parts" therapy to be incredibly useful and productive, is that he also emphasizes that the therapist needs to be aware of his or her own parts so that they won't act up during the course of working with a client.

Moreover, and I think this is where the most benefit comes from, he places great importance on the role of the Self in therapy, for both the therapist and the client (and by self he means "the deep ground of our being"). As I suggest below, I think this also provides a valuable tool in our interpersonal relationships.

The following passage is from an article in Psychotherapy Networker (May/June, 2004).

From The Larger Self

[O]ver the years, I've come trust the healing power of what I'll call the Self in clients and in myself. When there's a critical mass of Self in a therapy office, healing just happens. When I'm able to embody a lot of Self ... clients can sense in my voice, eyes, movements, and overall presence that I care a great deal about them, know what I'm doing, won't be judging them, and love working with them. Consequently, their inner protectors relax, which releases more of their Self. They then begin to relate to themselves with far more curiosity, confidence, and compassion.

As clients embody more Self, their inner dialogues change spontaneously. They stop berating themselves and instead, get to know, rather than try to eliminate, the extreme inner voices or emotions that have plagued them. At those times they tell me, they feel "lighter," their minds feel somehow more "open" and "free." Even clients who've shown little insight into their problems are suddenly able to trace the trajectory of their own feelings and emotional histories with startling clarity and understanding.

What's particularly impressed me in those moments isn't only that my clients, once they've discovered the Self at the core of their being, show characteristics of insight, self-understanding and acceptance, stability and personal growth, but that even disturbed clients, who'd seem to be unlikely candidates for such shifts so often are able to experience the same qualities. The accepted wisdom in the field during my training was that clients with truly terrible childhoods -- relentless abuse and neglect -- resulting in flagrant symptoms needed a therapist to construct functioning egos for them, virtually from scratch; they simply didn't have the psychological wherewithal to do the job for themselves. But even those clients, once they experienced a sense of their own core, began to take over and acquire what looked like real ego strength on their own, without my having to shovel it into them. And yet, almost no Western psychological theories could explain where this newfound and quite amazing ability to contain and understand their inner turmoil came from.

The more this happened, the more I felt confronted by what were in essence spiritual questions that simply couldn't be addressed in the terms of problem solving, symptom-focused, results-oriented, clinical technique. I began my own novice's exploration into the literature of spirituality and religion and discovered a mother lode of esoteric writings by sages, holy seekers, wise men and women, who emphasized meditative and contemplative techniques as a means of coming to know their Self. ("Esoteric" here means not exotic or far out, but derives from the Greek esotero, which means "further in.") Though they use different words, all the esoteric traditions within the major religions -- Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam -- emphasized their same core belief: we are sparks of the eternal flame, manifestations of the absolute ground of being. It turns out that the divine within -- what the Christians call the soul or Christ Consciousness, Buddhists call Buddha Nature, the Hindus Atman, the Taoists Tao, the Sufis the Beloved, the Quakers the Inner Light -- often doesn't take years of meditative practice to access fully because it exists in all of us, just below the surface of our extreme parts. Once they agree to separate from us, we suddenly have access to who we really are.

I have also found, however, that the most important variable in how quickly clients can access their Self is the degree to which I am fully present and Self-led. It's this presence that constitutes the healing element in psychotherapy regardless of the method or philosophy of the practitioner.

The cool thing about this approach, for those of us who are not therapists or in therapy, is that this same basic approach can be used in our relationships, especially when conflict arises.

When we are in conflict, there is nearly always a part or subpersonality that is involved, defending its "turf" in some way. But we can always be mindful of this and choose to step back from that part -- ask it to let us handle the situation without its interference, as long as we promise that its needs will be met. This takes a well-developed self-awareness, and it will be hard at first, but it is possible. And when we do it, as I have seen in my own experience, it can greatly enhance the intimacy and integrity of our relationships.

Subpersonalities are reactive -- that's their role to a large extent -- but the Self is not reactive. When we access the aware self, we can relate with others from a place of compassion and empathy rather than conflict and reactivity.

Daily Dharma: Love, but only if...

Today's Daily Dharma is a very useful look at the ways we can mistake attachment for love -- this has been a struggle for me in recent months, but one that seems to be coming more clear. Learning how to love fully and honestly without attachment is hard, but it makes the difference between a healthy relationship and an unhealthy one.

Love, but only if...

The near-enemy of love is attachment. Attachment masquerades as love. It says, "I will love you if you will love me back." It is a kind of "businessman's" love. So we think, "I will love this person as long as he doesn't change. I will love that thing if it will be the way I want it." But this isn't love at all--it is attachment. There is a big difference between love, which allows and honors and appreciates, and attachment, which grasps and demands and aims to possess. When attachment becomes confused with love, it actually separates us from another person. We feel we need this other person in order to be happy. This quality of attachment also leads us to offer love only toward certain people, excluding others.

~ Joseph Goldstein, in Seeking the Heart of Wisdom

Daily Om: The Energy Of Honesty

Yesterday's Daily Om is a nice reminder that being honest takes a lot less energy than not being honest.

Honesty Is Best
The Energy Of Honesty

As children most of us learn that honesty is better than dishonesty, and we may not question this beyond whether or not to do what we’re told. As adults, however, we can go deeper to examine our choices as investments of energy with predictable risks and returns. When we speak the truth, we affirm what already is. This is like using a paddle when the stream is already moving the same direction. We are already supported by the universe and its energy flow, so we don’t need to exert much energy, leaving more for other pursuits. But dishonesty redirects a portion of our energy against the flow, which requires extra effort. In addition, it creates an alternate reality that requires further energetic input to be maintained. So we can easily see that we are best served when we work with the flow of the universe.

Life is not always clearly defined, so we may find it useful to follow our choices to their logical conclusions. We may feel that little untruths are harmless, but they can be like small cracks that weaken an overall structure over time. Even giving someone a compliment or trying to protect them can create problems later when the alternate reality we’ve created becomes the basis for further actions. Even if the actions that follow are honestly done, the underlying unstable foundation of dishonesty will threaten to topple things eventually. This can lead to further energy being spent on keeping things hidden, working to remember the tales we’ve spun and fearing the consequences of being found out. Life doesn’t need to be this draining, but we can make the choice to free ourselves from the bonds of dishonesty at any time.

Speaking and living our truth may involve risking, among other things, the possibility of rejection. But when we allow ourselves to follow the flow of life, we are supported. We can then use our energy to cultivate physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being and to create our dreams, rather than leaving ourselves too drained to even maintain our existence. Today we can make honesty our choice in every interaction, bringing the nurturing power of the universe’s energy into our lives to bring positive, lasting results.

Guitar Masters - Andrés Segovia plays "Asturias"

Some nice music for a Saturday morning.

Via: VideoSift

Friday, July 27, 2007

Gratitude 7/27/07

I am grateful tonight for a new poem:

Monsoon Season

I like gentle rain, the kind that softens
the earth, guides leaves to the ground,
gets beneath the skin, the way memories
lie just beneath the veil of surfaces

But here, in the desert, the rains are violent,
dragging trees to the ground, drenching everything
in minutes, then the skies clear, and it feels
more like an eruption than a cleansing

Monsoon rains peel back the veneer of things,
undo my illusions, wash away surfaces
until all that remains is the core, solid,
unyielding, the darkness no one wants

So here it is, all the shadows laid bare,
the sediment washed away, the body wind-whipped
and submissive, every fiber vibrating,
everything exposed I have tried to hide

And I am grateful for another good workout, as well as a new client at the gym who I think will be fun to train.

What are you grateful for?

Soul in Intergal Theory

When I began Integral Options Cafe back in June of 2005, it was intended to be the place where I wrote about all things integral and Buddhist. At the time, I already had a politics blog (now defunct) and a fitness blog (now inactive), so this was the place for the more intellectual and theoretical stuff.

This is now the only blog (aside from Elegant Thorn Review -- which is poetry, flash-fiction, and photography) that I am actively involved with. For long time readers, you've probably noticed the drop-off in integral-related posting. My interest in all things integral has waned (largely beginning with the Wyatt Earpy episode last June). Don't get me wrong, I still think AQAL is a great model for making sense of the world -- but it's only a model.

One of the things that has moved me away from Integral Theory is that it's highly theoretical, intellectual, and based in agency and transcendence. That's all well and good -- those things are important. But Soul couldn't give a rat's ass about theory and agency and all those other things that Spirit is tied to.

Integral theory, in my experience, is heavily biased toward Spirit at the neglect of Soul. Lately, I have been feeling the need to have a more balanced relationship with the world -- I want transcendence and translation, agency and communion, autonomy and interconnectedness, knowledge and experience, and so on.

I'm not going to gender the distinction between Soul and Spirit, but this is how I see it:

Soul seeks communion, interconnectedness, experience, inclusion, and darkness. This is what Jung called the anima, which is the original Greek word for soul.

Spirit seeks agency, autonomy, knowledge, distinctions, and light. This is what Jung called the animus, the original Greek word for spirit.

In my experience -- and this might be just how I have approached it -- Integral Theory is very focused on Spirit. Maybe this is because it has largely been formulated by people interested in how to bring more Spirit, and especially transcendence, into the conversation. In one of the first magazine interviews I remember seeing with Ken Wilber (back in the mid-1990s), he was heavily intent on demonstrating that most of the New Age movement was worthless because it was just a bunch of different translations of the same basic developmental level. He argued strongly, and I bought the argument, that Integral Theory offers a path to transcendence rather than merely another translation of the same basic material.

Integral Theory does offer a basic series of assumptions that can be built into a solid spiritual practice -- the ILP model. It's a good model that I know from experience offers a lot of foundational practices, all of which are geared toward transcendence in one way or another. Sure, there is a shadow module, but it's there to remove obstacles, not because swimming around in our shadow material might actually be something the Soul needs to do on occasion.

Soul doesn't follow the dictates of intellect -- it has its own agenda that usually remains baffling under the best of circumstances. One thing I know for sure is that whatever Soul takes interest in is usually something to which we should pay attention.

When soul is neglected, it doesn't just go away; it appears symptomatically in obsessions, addictions, violence, and loss of meaning. Our temptation is to isolate these symptoms or to try to eradicate them one by one; but the root problem is that we have lost our wisdom about the soul, even our interest in it. We have today few specialists of the soul to advise us when we succumb to moods and emotional pain....

~ Thomas Moore, Introduction to Care of the Soul

Thomas Moore is one of the New Age types that Ken Wilber would probably dismiss out of hand. But there is quite a bit of value in his little book (not so much in the later ones). We do neglect soul in this culture. We're all about materialism, surfaces, motion, and action. Even our spiritual practices are more about transcendence and God than they are about being and soul.

Soul likes to simply be, without having to do. It likes fine foods, nice scenery, sensuality, and lots of other things that we often do not make time for -- or if we do, we do not value them as expressions of Soul but as mind-altering addictions. We do not eat for pleasure so much as we eat to self-medicate. We have sex, but we seldom make love. We travel to beautiful places and take photographs (I'm really bad about this one), but we do not sit quietly and allow the place to work its magic on us.

All of this is missing for me in Integral Theory. Certainly, Wilber has identified 24 or more developmental lines, and some of them are lines that feed Soul rather than Spirit: socio-emotional capacity, creativity, joy, and so on. He even defines Soul as "the aspect of self that adapts to the psychic/subtle realm" (Integral Psychology, 126). Further:

Alongside those developments [of self], the soul (the psychic/subtle self) can follow its own trajectory, unfolding in its own holarchical stream. The soul or deeper-psychic line includes all the self-streams that adapt consciousness to many facets of the subtle sphere. The soul is the self that depends on the subtle line of cognition (which includes, as we saw, imagination, reverie, daydreams, creative visions, hypnogogic states, etheric states, visionary revelations, hypnotic states, transcendental illuminations, and numerous types of savikalpa samadhi), and thus the soul is the self-stream that orients and integrates consciousness in the subtle domain. (126)

I don't know about you, but my Soul reads that and says what the hell does any of that have to do with me? I'm willing to give KW the benefit of the doubt, but this is a case where I think Moore offers a better definition:

It is impossible to define precisely what soul the is. Definition is an intellectual enterprise anyway; the soul prefers to imagine. We know intuitively that soul has to do with genuineness and depth.... Soul is revealed in attachment, love, and community, as well as in retreat on behalf of inner communing and intimacy.

Tradition teaches that soul lies midway between understanding and unconsciousness, and that its instrument is neither the mind nor the body, but imagination. (CS, Introduction)

I suspect that Moore and Wilber are saying essentially the same thing, except that Wilber is using the language of intellect and Moore is using the poetry of the imagination.

I've grown weary of the language of intellect being the only language I speak. When I stopped writing poetry several years ago, it was at the same time that I began to seriously study Wilber's books. It was also when I quit drinking. I had used alcohol as the key to unlock the door to Soul-level experience and language -- without the key, there was no more poetry.

Lately, I have been trying to write again (not very successfully) and spending more time doing things that feed my soul (sitting outside watching storms pass over, visiting with friends, cooking, reading poetry, and so on). There should be some kind of a "Soul Module" in the ILP Kit -- I'm sure many of us could benefit from allowing ourselves more time to be rather than always having to do.

Even meditation can be an active pursuit rather than a way of being still and allowing soul to have some solitude. My last therapist asked me not to meditate as an activity when I was working with her. She was trying to unplug me from a compulsive need to DO things, and meditation at the time was one of things I was doing. She asked me to just sit, nothing more. No counting breaths, no returning my mind to my breath, no visualizations -- just sit and let my mind wander anywhere it wants to go, but to notice where it goes, because that is the path to learning what is going on beneath the surface -- it's a useful approach.

So, that's the deal on the lack of Integral posts here. As some balance returns to my life, I'm sure the interest will return -- but right now I'm interested in other things.

How Much Is Your Dead Body Worth?

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Wow, $3,875, not bad.

Speedlinking 7/27/07

Quote of the day:

"The keenest sorrow is to recognize ourselves as the sole cause of all our adversities."
~ Sophocles

Image of the day (John Craig):

~ Exercise of the Week: The Drag Curl -- "Break out of your training rut and build some new biceps mass with the drag curl! It's not easy, you'll look like a gimp doing it, and you'll have to use sissy resistance. What more could you ask for in an exercise?"
~ Flexible muscles may be stronger muscles -- "Adults with tight leg muscles can improve their flexibility, and may make their muscles stronger in the process, a study shows."
~ African plant halts bleeding, speeds healing -- "The leaves of Aspilia africana, a plant used in African traditional medicine, can stop bleeding, block infection and speed wound healing, a new study from Nigeria confirms."
~ Japanese women live longest -- "Japanese girls born last year can expect to live to an average age of 85.8 years, making them the longest-lived in the world, according to figures released by the government on Thursday."
~ Lactose Intolerance Doesn't Mean Goodbye to Dairy -- "If your child is lactose-intolerant, you probably shy away from giving him or her milk or other dairy products. But that may not be the best tactic to take, experts say."
~ Zen To Slim: A Simple, 5-Step Weight Loss Plan -- "I think this one will be a bit controversial — weight loss theories seem to be a bit divisive, judging from past posts on this topics, as people have very strong opinions about the right way to lose weight." Good advice for the most part.
~ Prebiotics: Food for Good Bacteria -- "No, that supplement manufacturer didn't misspell "probiotics." "Prebiotics" are a separate category of food additive that are supposed to help probiotic bacteria grow and thrive in the human digestive tract. Probiotics, in turn, help people stay healthy, recent research shows."

~ Legal Hallucinogen Warrants Greater Scrutiny -- "While some drug specialists report no signs of potential for addiction, pointing to the brief duration of the "high" induced by chewing or smoking the plant's leaves and positing that use of the drug will not lead to any late-night emergency room visits or states of prolonged psychosis, others categorically disagree: researcher Bryan L. Roth of the University of North Carolina, author of the most extensive clinical assessments of salvia, states that "Salvia divinorum and salvinorin A are emerging hallucinogenic drugs of abuse" and that they should clearly be regulated by law."
~ PTSD Linked To Physical Problems -- "A new study, conducted at the Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research and published in the journal, Psychosomatic Medicine, has found that people who develop post-traumatic stress disorder are at a higher risk for developing physical problems."
~ SciAm special on the science of children and teens -- "Scientific American have just released one of their special editions of collected articles. This one is on 'the early years' and looks at the psychology and neuroscience of children, from infancy to the teenage years."
~ Some insight into who can "just say no" [Cognitive Daily] -- "Psychologists have been exploring the powerful influence of peer pressure for decades, but now neuroscientists are also getting involved in the research. Can fMRI and other techniques offer more insight into why so many kids do as their peers do, even when they know what their friends are doing is wrong?"
~ Junkies and victims: addiction and the disease debate -- "Slate has an article by a psychologist and a psychiatrist who argue that addiction is not a 'brain disease', contrary to much of the recent rhetoric about drug abuse. This is one side of the debate that is driving our attempts to understand addiction."
~ The Optimism Revolution -- "Grounded optimism can help you fight illness."
~ Key to Successful Marriage: Say 'Thank You' -- "Gratitude can ease resentments over housework."

~ Medical marijuana backers say they'll fight on -- "Backers of a measure to stop the U.S. government from blocking the use of medical marijuana in states that allow it vowed on Thursday to press on with their fight despite losing another congressional vote."
~ The least bad plan for leaving Iraq -- "Peter Galbraith's article in the current New York Review of Books, "Iraq: The Way to Go," is one of the most bracing essays written on the subject lately—a provocative but logical case for a U.S. withdrawal (though not a total withdrawal) that still manages to achieve a few of the war's original goals."
~ Will the G.O.P. Bag the YouTube Debate? -- "Some of the major candidates are getting skittish about a sequel to the Democrats' CNN debate. Are they leery of the questions or of the network?"
~ Where Iron Man and Beowulf Roam -- "At Comic Con, 120,000 geeks are being entertained by everyone from an old English monster to a young Mr. Spock."
~ $100 Million to Wrongfully Incarcerated -- "Yesterday, a federal judge ordered the U.S. government to pay more than $100 million to four men who were wrongfully imprisoned for 35 years. The court found that the FBI had withheld evidence proving the men's innocence for decades. The Justice Department actually argued that the FBI has no duty to share evidence with state prosecutors, even if not sharing will result in a wrongful conviction."
~ Giving Science the Finger -- "In the August issue of British Journal of Psychology, a team of researchers led by psychologist Mark Brosnan of the University of Bath, England, have published findings that suggest women who are good at science and math have longer ring fingers than index fingers, which indicates a relatively high level of prenatal exposure to the male hormone testosterone."
~ Democrats' Best Move Is to Let Gonzales Stay -- "With his bewildering and maddening testimony, the attorney general is a fine target in '08."

~ How bacteria evolve into superbugs -- "Researchers at McGill and Oxford Universities have applied ecological and evolutionary theory to demonstrate how bacteria become resistant to antibiotics in hospitals."
~ TurtleNet Tracks Snappers to Save Them -- "Computer-toting turtles could be the key to preserving their habitat."
~ Hundreds of Oil-Covered Penguins Surface in South America -- "Hundreds of oil-covered Magellanic penguins have surfaced off the Atlantic coast of South America."
~ Fractal Dust and Noise [Good Math, Bad Math] -- "While reading Mandelbrot's text on fractals, I found something that surprised me: a relationship between Shannon's information theory and fractals. Thinking about it a bit, it's not really that suprising; in fact, it's more surprising that I've managed to read so much about information theory without encountering the fractal nature of noise in a more than cursory way."
~ BP, coal plants dump mercury into Great Lakes -- "Last week, I put up a post explaining that BP will be increasing their dumping of toxic waste into the Great Lakes. ... Now, thanks to some fine investigative reporting by the Chicago Tribune, we find out that BP has been dumping mercury as well, and will continue to do so."
~ MIT model could predict cells' response to drugs -- "MIT researchers have developed a model that could predict how cells will respond to targeted drug therapies. Models based on this approach could help doctors make better treatment choices for individual patients, who often respond differently to the same drug, and could help drug developers identify the ideal compounds on which to focus their research."
~ Shape-Shifting Robot Bird Flies, Spies -- "The "RoboSwift" mmics a bird that can fly for three years without landing."

~ Riding the Kundalini Dragon: Integrating Altered States -- "As I contemplate how to present written material that is meaningful for myself and others regarding Kundalini and spiritual emergence, I find myself smiling quietly and simply appreciating what is. It has been many years since my initial awakening, and that has allowed me time, precious time, to assimilate that at once sudden and life-changing experience."
~ Contributing Through Your Career -- "As I see it, your best long-term outlet for making a meaningful contribution to the world is your career. Yes, you can contribute by donating money and volunteering on the side, but that’s not as efficient as being able to give through the work you do each day. Most of the time when I see people overly concerned about giving money and volunteering, it’s because they don’t feel they’re contributing enough through their work, so there’s a bit of guilt connected to the money they receive."
~ Ego -- "Meanings of ego…"
~ Early Tibet -- "Sam van Schaik's Early Tibet weblog, containing notes pertaining mainly to the Dunhuang collections, was announced on H-Buddhism today. We gladly welcome another online drip of primary material on tantric Buddhism."

Daily Dharma: The Five Spiritual Faculties

This was yesterday's Daily Dharma, a very useful perspective on the need for mindfulness.

The Five Spiritual Faculties

The five spiritual faculties--faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom--are our greatest friends and allies on this journey of understanding. These qualities are most powerful when they are in balance. Faith needs to be balanced with wisdom, so that faith is not blind and wisdom is not shallow or hypocritical. When wisdom outstrips faith, we can develop a pattern where we know something, and even know it deeply from our experience, yet do not live it. Faith brings the quality of commitment to our understanding. Energy needs to be balanced with concentration; effort will bring lucidity, clarity, and energy to the mind, which concentration balances with calmness and depth. An unbalanced effort makes us restless and scattered, and too much concentration that is not energized comes close to torpor and sleep. Mindfulness is the factor that balances all these and is therefore always beneficial.

~ Joseph Goldstein, in Seeking the Heart of Wisdom

The Illusion of Time

Science is beginning to approach the idea that many mystical traditions have been holding for centuries -- that time may not really exist.

From Discover (since this is from back in June, I'm posting the whole article):

Newsflash: Time May Not Exist

Not to mention the question of which way it goes...

by Tim Folger

No one keeps track of time better than Ferenc Krausz. In his lab at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany, he has clocked the shortest time intervals ever observed. Krausz uses ultraviolet laser pulses to track the absurdly brief quantum leaps of electrons within atoms. The events he probes last for about 100 attoseconds, or 100 quintillionths of a second. For a little perspective, 100 attoseconds is to one second as a second is to 300 million years.

But even Krausz works far from the frontier of time. There is a temporal realm called the Planck scale, where even attoseconds drag by like eons. It marks the edge of known physics, a region where distances and intervals are so short that the very concepts of time and space start to break down. Planck time—the smallest unit of time that has any physical meaning—is 10-43 second, less than a trillionth of a trillionth of an attosecond. Beyond that? Tempus incognito. At least for now.

Efforts to understand time below the Planck scale have led to an exceedingly strange juncture in physics. The problem, in brief, is that time may not exist at the most fundamental level of physical reality. If so, then what is time? And why is it so obviously and tyrannically omnipresent in our own experience? “The meaning of time has become terribly problematic in contemporary physics,” says Simon Saunders, a philosopher of physics at the University of Oxford. “The situation is so uncomfortable that by far the best thing to do is declare oneself an agnostic.”

The trouble with time started a century ago, when Einstein’s special and general theories of relativity demolished the idea of time as a universal constant. One consequence is that the past, present, and future are not absolutes. Einstein’s theories also opened a rift in physics because the rules of general relativity (which describe gravity and the large-scale structure of the cosmos) seem incompatible with those of quantum physics (which govern the realm of the tiny). Some four decades ago, the renowned physicist John Wheeler, then at Princeton, and the late Bryce DeWitt, then at the University of North Carolina, developed an extraordinary equation that provides a possible framework for unifying relativity and quantum mechanics. But the Wheeler-­DeWitt equation has always been controversial, in part because it adds yet another, even more baffling twist to our understanding of time.

“One finds that time just disappears from the Wheeler-DeWitt equation,” says Carlo Rovelli, a physicist at the University of the Mediterranean in Marseille, France. “It is an issue that many theorists have puzzled about. It may be that the best way to think about quantum reality is to give up the notion of time—that the fundamental description of the universe must be timeless.”

No one has yet succeeded in using the Wheeler-DeWitt equation to integrate quantum theory with general relativity. Nevertheless, a sizable minority of physicists, Rovelli included, believe that any successful merger of the two great masterpieces of 20th-century physics will inevitably describe a universe in which, ultimately, there is no time.

The possibility that time may not exist is known among physicists as the “problem of time.” It may be the biggest, but it is far from the only temporal conundrum. Vying for second place is this strange fact: The laws of physics don’t explain why time always points to the future. All the laws—whether Newton’s, Einstein’s, or the quirky quantum rules—would work equally well if time ran backward. As far as we can tell, though, time is a one-way process; it never reverses, even though no laws restrict it.

“It’s quite mysterious why we have such an obvious arrow of time,” says Seth Lloyd, a quantum mechanical engineer at MIT. (When I ask him what time it is, he answers, “Beats me. Are we done?”) “The usual explanation of this is that in order to specify what happens to a system, you not only have to specify the physical laws, but you have to specify some initial or final condition.”

The mother of all initial conditions, Lloyd says, was the Big Bang. Physicists believe that the universe started as a very simple, extremely compact ball of energy. Although the laws of physics themselves don’t provide for an arrow of time, the ongoing expansion of the universe does. As the universe expands, it becomes ever more complex and disorderly. The growing disorder—physicists call it an increase in entropy—is driven by the expansion of the universe, which may be the origin of what we think of as the ceaseless forward march of time.

Time, in this view, is not something that exists apart from the universe. There is no clock ticking outside the cosmos. Most of us tend to think of time the way Newton did: “Absolute, true and mathematical time, of itself, and from its own nature, flows equably, without regard to anything external.” But as Einstein proved, time is part of the fabric of the universe. Contrary to what Newton believed, our ordinary clocks don’t measure something that’s independent of the universe. In fact, says Lloyd, clocks don’t really measure time at all.

“I recently went to the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder,” says Lloyd. (NIST is the government lab that houses the atomic clock that standardizes time for the nation.) “I said something like, ‘Your clocks measure time very accurately.’ They told me, ‘Our clocks do not measure time.’ I thought, Wow, that’s very humble of these guys. But they said, ‘No, time is defined to be what our clocks measure.’ Which is true. They define the time standards for the globe: Time is defined by the number of clicks of their clocks.”

Rovelli, the advocate of a timeless universe, says the NIST timekeepers have it right. Moreover, their point of view is consistent with the Wheeler-DeWitt equation. “We never really see time,” he says. “We see only clocks. If you say this object moves, what you really mean is that this object is here when the hand of your clock is here, and so on. We say we measure time with clocks, but we see only the hands of the clocks, not time itself. And the hands of a clock are a physical variable like any other. So in a sense we cheat because what we really observe are physical variables as a function of other physical variables, but we represent that as if everything is evolving in time.

“What happens with the Wheeler-DeWitt equation is that we have to stop playing this game. Instead of introducing this fictitious variable—time, which itself is not observable—we should just describe how the variables are related to one another. The question is, Is time a fundamental property of reality or just the macroscopic appearance of things? I would say it’s only a macroscopic effect. It’s something that emerges only for big things.”

By “big things,” Rovelli means anything that exists much above the mysterious Planck scale. As of now there is no physical theory that completely describes what the universe is like below the Planck scale. One possibility is that if physicists ever manage to unify quantum theory and general relativity, space and time will be described by some modified version of quantum mechanics. In such a theory, space and time would no longer be smooth and continuous. Rather, they would consist of discrete fragments—quanta, in the argot of physics—just as light is composed of individual bundles of energy called photons. These would be the building blocks of space and time. It’s not easy to imagine space and time being made of something else. Where would the components of space and time exist, if not in space and time?

As Rovelli explains it, in quantum mechanics all particles of matter and energy can also be described as waves. And waves have an unusual property: An infinite number of them can exist in the same location. If time and space are one day shown to consist of quanta, the quanta could all exist piled together in a single dimensionless point. “Space and time in some sense melt in this picture,” says Rovelli. “There is no space anymore. There are just quanta kind of living on top of one another without being immersed in a space.”

Rovelli has been working with one of the world’s leading mathematicians, Alain Connes of the College of France in Paris, on this notion. Together they have developed a framework to show how the thing we experience as time might emerge from a more fundamental, timeless reality. As Rovelli describes it, “Time may be an approximate concept that emerges at large scales—a bit like the concept of ‘surface of the water,’ which makes sense macroscopically but which loses a precise sense at the level of the atoms.”

Realizing that his explanation may only be deepening the mystery of time, Rovelli says that much of the knowledge that we now take for granted was once considered equally perplexing. “I realize that the picture is not intuitive. But this is what fundamental physics is about: finding new ways of thinking about the world and proposing them and seeing if they work. I think that when Galileo said that the Earth was spinning crazily around, it was utterly incomprehensible in the same manner. Space for Copernicus was not the same as space for Newton, and space for Newton was not the same as space for Einstein. We always learn a little bit more.”

Einstein, for one, found solace in his revolutionary sense of time. In March 1955, when his lifelong friend Michele Besso died, he wrote a letter consoling Besso’s family: “Now he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”

Rovelli senses another temporal breakthrough just around the corner. “Einstein’s 1905 paper came out and suddenly changed people’s thinking about space-time. We’re again in the middle of something like that,” he says. When the dust settles, time—whatever it may be—could turn out to be even stranger and more illusory than even Einstein could imagine.

Fox News vs the Blogosphere

Faux News compares the left-wing bloggers to Nazis and the KKK, as if the right-wing bloggers are a bunch of morally upright, fair-minded individuals. Bill O'Reilly really hates the Daily Kos and must have his staff search the thousands of web journals kept there to find the most radical examples, as though they represent all left-wind bloggers. Pathetic.

Via: VideoSift

Nietzsche Online

Almost all of Nietzsche's writings are available for free online -- check it out.

Amazing Photo

Hummingbirds are cool . . . .

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Gratitude 7/26/07

Some things I am grateful for today:

1) Great workout today. I am always grateful when my body feels good when its pushed to its limits. Which, I guess, is a way of saying I am grateful for my health.

2) I found this cool variation on the Peanuts characters by Charles Bukowski. This is definitely not for children. But it's funny and sad in a way only Bukowski could have envisioned these characters. The main character is a sort of hybrid between Charlie Brown and Charles Bukowski -- Charles Branaski. Here's a sample:


Schroeder played the piano and all of the girls loved him. They would sit there for hours and watch him play. Schroeder had a big old cock, too, and the girls loved that just as well. The times Schroeder wasn’t playing one instrument, he was playing the other. He would play the piano all day and screw all night and he got maybe an hour or two of sleep. He came into the bar one afternoon and took a seat next to Charlie.

“You’re looking sort of beat there, baby,” Charlie said.

“You don’t know the half of it,” said Schroeder. “It’s these girls. They’ll kill me one of these days. They just won’t quit, Branaski! Every time I think I might get some sleep, here comes another one, pounding at my door. It’s enough to drive me mad.”

“I bet Beethoven never had these problems.”

“Beethoven probably had the clap,” said Schroeder.

They sat and drank their beers and talked about women.

“There’s Lucy and Violet. They’re some real pieces of work, Branaski. They don’t get jealous of each other and sometimes one will come over while I’ve still got the other one in the sack! It’s not like Frieda. I think that Frieda would kill me if she ever found another woman over. It’s nothing but trouble, all the time. More trouble than it’s worth, I can tell you that much.”

And Charlie said, “Maybe you should just give it up.”

Schroeder laughed and clapped Charlie on the back.

“I could never give up women for the same reason I could never give up the piano, Charlie Branaski: I’m just too damn good.”

3) I love my job -- I am grateful for that and for my clients. What are you grateful for?

Funny Beer Ad

Yeah, this is juvenile, but it made me laugh.

Speedlinking 7/26/07

Quote of the day:

"Laughing at our mistakes can lengthen our own life. Laughing at someone else's can shorten it."
~ Cullen Hightower

Image of the day:

~ Improve your chin-ups for a bigger bench press -- "Here’s a quick test of your lower trap strength. Do a full chin-up. Most will assume that if the chin clears the bar that they are successful. Test passed. Next exercise please. Not so fast."
~ Building the Case for Hybrid Training -- "Bodybuilding guru Scott Abel says that training for hypertrophy, size, thickness, density, and shape is not the same as strength training. If the question is how to gain unadulterated muscle mass, is hybrid training the answer?" I've kind of been doing this for years -- it works.
~ Delicious Low-Cal Foods -- "Makeover your shopping cart and get a list of the best low-calorie foods for your diet."
~ Metabolic Syndrome Linked to Low Magnesium Levels -- "Nobody really knows why low levels of magnesium prevent cells from responding to insulin. A leading theory is that magnesium is necessary for insulin to act after it attaches to insulin receptors on cells. Before insulin can do its job of driving sugar into cells, it must first attach to special hooks called insulin receptors on the surface of cells. Then it moves sugar into cells by activating an enzyme called tyrosine-kinase. Magnesium is necessary for this reaction to occur."
~ Confirmed: A Link Between Breast Cancer and Hormone Therapy -- "Breast cancer is second only to lung cancer as the leading cause of cancer death among women. This year alone, nearly 180000 women in the US will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, and some 40000 will die from it...."
~ More fish oil, less vegetable oil, better for your health -- "Scientists have provided new evidence that using more fish oil than vegetable oil in the diet decreases the formation of chemicals called prostanoids, which, when produced in excess, increase inflammation in various tissues and organs."

~ An Overview of Depression Recovery -- "Each person's recovery from depression is different, and WebMD offers insights into what to expect and how to help your recovery."
~ Healing Friendships During Depression Recovery -- "Recovery from depression is easier with the support of those around you. WebMD talks about how to get the support you need."
~ Talk Therapy During Your Recovery from Depression -- "Some people keep getting therapy long after they recover from depression because it helps them stay well. WebMD offers a brief summary of effective types of talk therapy."
~ Couples' faces grow more alike as they age -- "PsyBlog has picked up on a neat study from way back in '87 that found that couples faces look more alike the longer they stay together, and the researchers suggest that empathy might play a part."
~ Seven Deadly Sentiments -- "The taboo feelings we have, but can't admit." See also: Shameful Thoughts: A Primer.
~ 40 years on: Experiences of 'gay conversion therapy' -- "This Saturday marks the 40th anniversary of the first major decriminalisation of male-male sexual acts in the UK. Dr Petra Boynton looks back at how the change came about and has dug up some fascinating articles on the experience of patients and professionals who took part in 'gay conversion therapy' in the 60s and 70s."
~ How to Stop Worrying -- "When you stop worrying you free the mental & emotional energy you need to live creatively & productively. Learn how to let go of obsessive thinking patterns."

~ Masters of the Modern -- "It’s almost impossible to talk about modern art without tipping your hat to these greats. Here are the masters who gave birth to the modern."
~ Alberto Gonzales: Lying Liar -- "Here is a Mashup created by titled "Lying Liar Edition" featuring Alberto Gonzalez and his recent testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee."
~ Exclusive | Emails Detail RNC Voter Suppression in 5 States -- "Truthout's Jason Leopold and Matt Renner report, 'Previously undisclosed documents detail how Republican operatives, with the knowledge of several White House officials, engaged in an illegal, racially-motivated effort to suppress tens of thousands of votes during the 2004 presidential campaign in a state where George W. Bush was trailing his Democratic challenger, Senator John Kerry.'"
~ Tour de France: Is Anybody Clean? -- "Just when French race officials thought it couldn't get any worse, it did." Short answer -- they're ALL doping.
~ FitFlops: Do They Really Sex Up Your Legs? -- "For women in the know, FitFlops are the must-have sandal of the summer. But can wobbly shoes really get rid of that wobbly thigh fat?" Silly people.
~ Vick pleads innocent in dogfighting case (AP) -- "Michael Vick pleaded not guilty Thursday to federal dogfighting charges and was released without bond until a Nov. 26 trial. The Atlanta Falcons quarterback then apologized to his mother and asked that judgment be withheld." If nothing else, this mess is bringing attention to the fact that crap like this is going on.
~ Dodd proposes universal health care plan -- "Democratic presidential candidate Chris Dodd proposed a universal health coverage plan Thursday with benefits matching those given to federal workers."

~ Presence of wolves allows aspen recovery in Yellowstone -- "The wolves are back, and for the first time in more than 50 years, young aspen trees are growing again in the northern range of Yellowstone National Park."
~ Senators Worried About TV 'Train Wreck' -- "On Feb. 18, 2009, tens of millions of televisions that are not equipped to receive digital signals will become useless pieces of furniture. The government is spending $5 million to let owners know so they can do something about it - a sum critics say is too measly."
~ Surprising new species of light-harvesting bacterium discovered in Yellowstone -- "In the hot springs of Yellowstone National Park, a team of researchers has discovered a novel bacterium that transforms light into chemical energy."
~ Hidden order found in a quantum spin liquid -- "An international team, including scientists from the London Centre for Nanotechnology, has detected a hidden magnetic “quantum order” that extends over chains of 100 atoms in a ceramic without classical magnetism. The findings, which are published today by Science, have implications for the design of devices and materials for quantum information processing."
~ Hidden Underwater City Wows Experts -- "The ancient Greek city dates to seven centuries before Alexandria."
~ New clues to ozone depletion -- "Large quantities of ozone-depleting chemicals have been discovered in the Antarctic atmosphere by researchers from the University of Leeds, the University of East Anglia, and the British Antarctic Survey."
~ The Insects Among Us -- "Excerpts from a new book of photographs, Unseen Companions, published in the U.K., reveal the fascinating and often beautiful organisms that share our world."

~ The Dynamics of Social Networks -- "Social networks are by nature complex phenomena -- they can never be fully known or understood, and there are an infinite number of variables that affect their evolution and their success or failure. My observation is that they are also very fragile -- while some 'bonds' of a network may be eternal or resilient, most networks as a whole seem to be in a constant state of flux, and easily disrupted. I've been trying to figure out why this is, and what might be done to make whole networks more resilient and more effective."
~ Now available: A Bird In The World (EP) -- Matthew Dallman -- "Friends, on the occasion of this my daughter Twyla’s 2nd birthday, I am excited to officially release my newest record of music: A Bird In The World. This is an EP of seven songs that celebrate the emergence of Twyla Christine Dallman."
~ NEWS: Second Life Integral -- "The Second Life Integral Community held its first day-long gathering on June 30, enabling it to test multimedia features for presenting slides, streaming audio and video in-world, while participants talk in real-time using text-based chat...."
~ The Thirty Tenets (revised) -- "I'm continuing to revise my poem based on Ken Wilber's twenty tenets of all holons (from Sex, Ecology, Spirituality), previously published on this blog as "Trinity". Here's the latest version...."
~ More on post-metaphysics redux -- "An addendum to yesterday's post."

Daily Om: The Wisdom Of Surrender

Today's Daily Om is quite good -- an issue I have struggled with over the years. One of the few consistent ways I have discovered (in my own life) for releasing attachments is to surrender to whatever underlying need is creating the attachment -- only when I can let its energy speak to me can it be dissipated.

The Wisdom Of Surrender
Resistance Equals Persistence

We all know the feeling of being repeatedly haunted by the same issue, no matter how we try to ignore it, avoid it, or run away from it. Sometimes it seems that we can get rid of something we don’t want by simply pushing it away. Most of the time, the more we push away, the more we get pushed back. There are laws of physics and metaphysics that explain this phenomenon, which is often summed up in this pithy phrase: That which you resist persists.

Resistance tends to strengthen the energies it attempts to oppose by giving them power and energy to work against. Additionally, resistance keeps us from learning more about what we resist. In order to fully understand something, we must open to it enough to receive its energy; otherwise, we remain ignorant of its lessons. There is a Tibetan story of a monk who retreats to meditate in a cave only to be plagued by demons. He tries everything—chasing, fighting, hiding—to get the demons out of his cave, but the thing that finally works is surrender. He simply lets them have their way with him and only then do they disappear.

Now, this wisdom must be applied practically. We are not meant to get ourselves physically injured. Instead, this story speaks of how, in essence, our demons are inside of us. What plagues and pursues us on an inner level has a way of manifesting itself in our environment in the form of people, events, and issues that appear to be beyond our control. But all these external expressions are reflections of our insides, and it is inside ourselves that we can safely experiment with surrendering to what we fear and dislike. It may feel scary, and we may find ourselves in the company of a lot of resistance as we begin the process of opening to what we fear. But the more we learn to surrender, and the more the demons that plague us disappear in the process, the more courageous we will become.

[Emphasis added.]

Zen Habits: 12 Ideas for Establishing a Calming Routine

I found this at Zen Habits -- very useful ideas for those who live high stress lives or who just seem to always be in motion. It's good to be quiet, to let the mind and body come to rest for a bit. I've been trying to be very consistent with sitting on the cushion for at least 10 minutes every morning -- seems to be helping me in a variety of ways. But meditation isn't the only option -- here are twelve other ideas:

I recommend that if you haven’t yet, you create your own calming routine. Give it a couple of weeks to become a habit, focusing on doing it every day, and soon, you will not want to miss it.

Here are just a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Morning coffee. If you’re not a coffee person, tea or cocoa work great as well. Sit and enjoy the silence as you wake up, and even better, watch the sun rise. It’s the perfect way to greet the day.
  2. Exercise. I like to go on an easy run. It relieves stress, and gives me time to myself to think, and enjoy nature. Evening runs are great too, especially as the sun goes down. If you’re not into running, walking, cycling, swimming, or really any exercise works well. Just take it easy in the beginning, and try to do a little every day. Don’t overdo it.
  3. Meditation or yoga. I haven’t been meditating on a regular basis, but when I do, it’s so calming, and so centering. You don’t need to do anything formal — simply focusing on your breathing, as it goes in and out, is a good meditation. While I’ve never been into yoga, I know a lot of people who swear by it, and I would recommend you give it a try if it sounds appealing to you.
  4. Gratitude session. This is one of my favorite rituals: every day, take a couple of minutes to think about everything and everybody you are grateful for in your life. This may sound corny, but it is an amazing ritual. Try it right now — it only takes a minute. Who are you grateful for? What are you grateful for? I’ve found that this little ritual has so much power that it makes me happier and more compassionate. Btw, every time I do it, I thank the people who donated and helped me become a giant step closer to my dream (that’s you guys!).
  5. Goal mantra. This is another one of my absolute favorites. I got the idea from Guy Kawasaki, who tells us that corporate mission statements are basically useless, and recommends you create a corporate mantra instead of three or four words (tops). So instead of creating a corporate mantra, I created a personal mantra to remind myself of why I do everything I’ve been doing this year (with the blog, all my writing, and some new projects that are coming up, including an e-book). Here it is: Liberate Yourself. And I just make sure to repeat this mantra at least once a day (if not several times). It helps me stay focused. I suggest you do the same for your personal mission.
  6. Evening review. I think this would be an especially fruitful routine for anyone. Basically, it’s a routine that Ben Franklin did himself: he would spend some time at the end of each day to review how he did with his goal, and reflect on how his day went. It only needs to take a few minutes, but just go over your day, think about your goal (your mantra), what you did to further that goal, what you did right and what you did wrong today, what you can improve, what you need to do in the future. If you want to journal this, it would be even better!
  7. Bath time. My home doesn’t have a bath tub, but I truly cherish a long hot bath. If you have the time to do this, it can be extremely relaxing.
  8. After work unwinding. Long day at work? Stressed out? Take 30 minutes to unwind. Some great ideas for that: a 20-30 minute nap, snuggling with your kids, deep breathing, stretching, self-massage, or really anything that relaxes you.
  9. Pre-bed ritual. Another ideal time for a calming routine is just before you go to bed. You can do any of the calming things mentioned in the other items, or just develop a routine: get clothes ready, get lunches ready, clean up, brush teeth, decide on your three Most Important Tasks (MITs) for tomorrow, etc.
  10. Journaling or writing. A morning writing ritual is a good thing, but you can do a writing ritual at any time that works for you. Or instead of writing, try journaling. It can be very productive and relaxing.
  11. Conversation. Try this: every night for an hour, just sit and talk to your spouse. Share the highlights and lowlights of your day, talk about your goals, your finances, your relationship, movies, music, books. This can, of course, be adapted for conversation with your children.
  12. Reading time. Ah, one of my favorites. Take time each day to spend with a good book. Or a trashy novel. It doesn’t matter. I actually like to take time in the morning and evening, but whatever time is convenient for you will work.

Very good ideas -- for more great ideas in living a better life, please go check out Zen Habits.