Curved Balls

Altering reality, minds, Time and Futures

Yesterday I posted something of a vitriolic piece about the altered reality inhabited by the agitprop tendency at The Guardian. I was talking to a close chum about it this morning, and he made the very pertinent point that an inability to face reality or stop can-kicking was almost universal among the Elite – be they multinational CEOs, politicians, bankers, civil servants or trade unions.
He’s right, of course: looniness is nowhere near restricted to the Fluffies. In fact, as the Rednecks have more money and power, they are potentially a lot more dangerous – see The Slog’s earlier post today. But for some reason, the conversation got me thinking on a more philosophical level.
What is reality? There are at least a thousand answers to that timeless question….ranging from Buddhists who would say ‘it doesn’t exist’ through to atomic theorists postulating that if you get the same result in a physical experiment every time, than the occurrence was real.
Neither position at each end of that spectrum is easy to maintain. If there is no reality, then clearly we are all tuned in perfectly to the same nightmare. We look in mirrors and at photographs, and seem able to agree about the image that’s there. But if the physical experiment thing is to be followed, then it falls down at the sub-atomic level, where some phenomena are disturbingly erratic in what they will or won’t do under identical conditions.
If you’ve ever taken LSD, then you’ll know that what’s dubbed ‘hallucinogenic’ by observers is, to the person experiencing it, physically real enough. I saw and touched a brick wall where a toilet door had been, felt extreme pain when some railings leapt out to spear me in the cheek, and watched in horror as the sky turned bright orange. (Once was enough for me – I never took it again).
But here too, physicists would say, “Yes, but if you think you were run down by a truck on an acid trip, you’ll be alive when the drug wears off. If it really happened, you’d be dead.”
Absolutely right. However, there are former LSD users all over the world who, after a bad trip, were never the same again. That too is a ‘real’ effect left behind years after the drug wore off.
In much the same way, years after amputees have had a limb removed, they have a completely physical experience of the long-absent appendage. In some patients this is a terrible problem, and requires constant use of pain-blocking drugs. That sort of pain too is ‘real’ – if it requires pain blocking drugs.
Post-hypnotic suggestion can make people believe the most extraordinary things, even to the extent of being a different species. They relate (occasionally) having ‘seen’ other people as cats or mice.
Does all this represent a false reality, or another reality? For me, this is a question for chemists and neuroscientists, rather than necessarily just a topic for metaphysics.
Ultimately, we consist largely of water, and some complex chemicals busily reacting 100% of the time until we die. When given drugs in pharmaceutical tests, some people given the placebo will respond as if they had been given the actual drug. Somewhat typically, medics write this off as ‘the placebo effect’, but of course it isn’t – the positive effect has been caused by chemicals in the brain. Whether based on expectation or not, the astonishing possibility here is that we could all cure ourselves of just about anything…if we only knew consciously how to create the correct chemical mix.
While researchers call that a placebo effect, those studying recreational drug use refer to ‘mind altering drugs’. But what if that’s only half the story? What if the alteration of ‘the mind’ (a set of chemical reactions and electronic pulses) produces an altered reality? What if there are millions of realities existing side by side, and most of the time, we’re merely tuned to one narrow channel?
In terms of actual matter, the ‘reality’ we perceive is a version of it we create to enable our brains to handle the data. As Carl Sagan wrote, ‘We were to be conscious of every electromagnetic signal that hits our senses, we would suffer data overload within seconds’. We refer to things as solids, liquids and gases, and we measure density to explain why some things are more impenetrable than others; but the universe is almost entirely empty. Even the simplest molecule, massively enlarged, would consist of two or three specs of dust rattling around in the Albert Hall. The cushion, chair or brick we ‘see’ is in fact largely space. And the mass of such objects will also rise or fall depending on the speed at which they’re travelling.
Any changes that occur in our physical environment are largely explained in terms of Time. But time itself, Einstein showed, is relative – and therefore cannot be entirely ‘real’ within the atomic physicist’s definition. If it was, it would behave in the same way wherever we were, but it doesn’t: it moves more slowly or quickly depending on what speed we’re doing….but to the mind engaged in going at that speed, it appears always to be the same. To all intents and purposes then, time is indeed an illusion.
The conclusion reached is nearly always that, while the mind can change the perception of what’s happening, what’s really happening is an absolute. The odds were pretty much on the side of this once we’d invented mechanical things to record events as an ‘objective witness’: the video camera shows the chimney falling over, so the chimney fell over – QED.
But there is a flaw in this concept: why should a machine with no elements of the mind in it record exactly the same ‘simplified’ appearance of events as the mind saw from its own vantage point of filtering out much of the data? It’s a flaw that, in the movie business, every director would tell you can be stood on its head: that a human mind can change what the cameras sees to produce something different to what we see…that certain actors can change their ‘reality’ for the camera….or do they do it by changing how the camera operates? Monroe, Wayne, Gable and Chaplin all had this ability. What was it?
What we discern most of the time, on this planet inhabited (and physically dominated) by us is human beings capable of being incredibly selective about the reality they see around them. This pertains no matter how many mathematical calculations suggest they’re wrong, scientific investigations show that they’re barking up the wrong tree, or film records prove that Americans really did go to the Moon. For some people, belief is everything.
Fine, neuroscientists say, it’s just a left brain/right brain imbalance thing. And indeed, schizophrenia is now increasingly thought by those treating it to be a hippocampus problem, involving one side of the brain failing to tell the other what is ‘real’ and what is delusional. Except that here too is an assumption about how what most people (outside the asylum walls) see is real, whereas those inside don’t. A closely related ‘given’ is that dreams are unreal, and daytime consciousness is real. Yet while we are asleep, there can be no doubt that we dilate time: a period spent asleep for four hours can sometimes ‘feel’ like five minutes, and a dream that seemed to last for hours – psychometric graphs will show – lasted a matter of seconds. As this is an ability to change the illusion of Time when we are unconscious, who has the right to say that this is imagination, whereas conscious Time is real? After all, we already know that Time is an illusion: so maybe the subconscious is entirely same to challenge it.
Is there any point to this conjecture? Yes, I think there is. Imagine how our somewhat leaden visions of the future would change if:
1. We were able to master travelling along a diferent Time reality, rather than being constrained by the one we ‘normally’ perceive.
2. We could reverse the sense of feeling a limb that isn’t there, and thus remove the need for anaesthetics.
3. We could train the brain to combat attacks of a debilitating and cancerous nature on its own.
4. We could dilate unconcscious Time and go wherever we wanted, without ageing 10,000 years.
5. We could study the effects of ‘mind’ altering drugs in a context of them being ‘reality’ altering drugs, capable of enabling people to withstand appalling environmental changes and still survive.
Those are merely five possibilities chosen at random. There must be thousands more. And that’s the point: Ford said that all history is bunk, but he was wrong. History can be a lesson or an intellectual tyranny, but it can enlighten: the future guessed on a linear fashion from the aspect of today reall is bunk. The possibilities for our species are endless, and none of them are known in 2011.

70 thoughts on “Curved Balls

    • Who knows? Maybe this life is the hell after a previous existence.

      God knows, I must have been an evil sod to have Balls, Brown, Blair, Harman & co. inflicted on me as a punishment…

  1. Further to my comment on hell,this, a new airline hiring,”Ladyboys”. PC Air, whose name comes from the initials of president Peter Chan, originally planned only to hire male and female flight attendants, but changed its mind after more than 100 transsexuals and transvestites applied.

    Six were chosen, along with 19 women and seven men. The airline said qualifications for the ladyboy flight attendants were the same as for females, with the additional provisos that they be like women in how they walked and talked, and have a feminine voice.

    Chan, the airline president, said the ladyboy flight attendants actually might have a special advantage. “They might provide better services because they understand both males and females. And they’re well trained according to the aviation standard,” he added. Training is with both sexes,women,gentlemen,and with ladyboys. No holds,are barred.

    PC Air flies domestically as well as to several Asian destinations, including Japan and South Korea.

    • Gemz Sir or Madam. I thought you knew everything,or have they not got any balls in Holland? (curved ones ,you understand),being from the Emerald Isles.A pint of the best Murphys,would be in order. Only water from the Liffey,is in order.

      • Gemz I assumed that,as you were talking double dutch,that would be your country of origin.So given a choice,I will plump for the UK,being Irish ,you understand.

      • Hil 2 something

        No, the other (fraudulent) person was speaking of something that they know nothing of. I speak Dutch well, the other one does not.

  2. JW
    Very very philosophical …… So what was the reason for the lateness of the previous post again :-p…. Research for old times sake ? Up for about 6-8 hours if memory serves me right !
    All the same another excellent piece, brings me back to younger days when such things were a topic of conversation.

  3. On the subject of LSD, I used to take a lot in the early 70s and only stopped when I moved to a small town in NZ where it was not available. I always had good experiences on it and the only bad times were when someone else panicked whilst taking it. My experiences were usually of seeing everything with radiating colour or movement even inanimate objects. Music if I closed my eyes was a spiral of colours in my brain. The closest to experiencing the same sort of .phenomena was when I was knocked out of a championship years later.. I had caught a cold playing through the rain the previous day and had caught a fever the next day. I was knocked out the first round and watched other players.The fever caused me to see most moves players made look like an electrical pulse radiating from them. The ones who had the least pulse radiating were the ones knocked out of the next round. I was ill in bed for several days after that fever. Just some shared thoughts. I would be interested in others experience.

    • I remember one September when I was a teenager we found out that magic mushrooms were growing near my school. For me and a few of my School mated we literally spent the next couple of weeks tripping every day. We had some amazing experiences, most of which I am not eloquent enough to describe at all, in fact I don’t think it is possible to describe. One of the strangest things I experienced was tasting colours, when I touched something I would get a taste depending on the colour of it. Really weird and I have never heard of it happening to anyone else.
      I also remember one of my friends sitting in deep thought for some time and then announcing excitedly that he understood the meaning of life, we asked him what it was obviously, but he had immediately forgotten. The torment he put himself through for the next six yours trying to remember, was indeed very real.
      Another strange one was my friend went completely cross eyed. We spent all day trying to think up ways of explaining this to his mum without getting into trouble, only for them to return to normal as the mushrooms wore off.

      • I experienced was tasting colours,
        Synesthesia. More common than tasting colours is seeing sounds. A stimulus in one modality produces a response in another.

    • I think you need to read more closely Marko, JW is just covering a different aspect of the bollocks you are looking for the deconstruction of. If you can’t comprehend it then remember that JW is doing this in his own precious time for no monetary gain that I am aware of, I see no donate button. If you don’t appreciate this article then wait for the next one.
      I say this because I take your comment as rude but that’s just my opinion and perhaps I should have kept it to myself but like yourself I didn’t.

    • Phantoms in the Brain – Ramachandran. Fascinating book.

      I did a massage course a few years back. Very good, excellent people running it, and very helpful even tho’ I don’t practise. Guy who ran it told of one patient he had, who had had a leg amputated, who insisted that it be massaged all the way down.

  4. John, You are actually much closer to the Buddhist viewpoint than you realize. Your comments on time, for example, are very insightful. The Buddhist viewpoint (in the Tibetan Dzogchen tradition that I follow) is that there is a (metaphysical) Reality which transcends conceptual thinking. So any ‘reality’ which we can talk or write about, being reliant on communications using concepts, must be incomplete, distorted and confused.

    As you doubtless know, Mahayana Buddhists train to see the good in everyone (from our P.O.V. people are born with ‘original goodness’, not with ‘original sin’) but, as they are taught and as they learn to operate in society they become more and more confused about their true nature. Part of this confusion is that they learn to see and interpret the world through their own individual ‘filters’ of right and wrong, things to grasp at, things to fear and so on.

    This understanding of human nature offers a different slant on the ‘anti-bollocks’ theme of the Slog as a whole. Whilst not denying the existence of liars, cheats and so on, a compassionate Buddhist would remember that, very often, people may be operating with complete integrity in their own version of ‘reality'; they see the world from a different perspective than most of the rest of us. Think of certain politicians who have ‘faith’ in their own rightness, in their own sanity, and who may sincerely believe that they are ‘doing the work’ of some deity in whom they have an absolute belief.

    Both you and I have had careers in business. It alarmed me how, when in senior management in a large company in the 1990s one could come to believe that ‘maximizing shareholder value’ was the only metric that was valid. One could feel all other values, such as intrinsic product quality, the health and welfare of employees, good relations with the local community and so on becoming regarded as inappropriate for consideration in decision-making. One’s only fiduciary _duty_ was to maximize shareholder value. You could feel this narrow framework within which decisions were made becoming the only ‘reality’ which was to be considered; all other values were invalid; to remind people of them became heretical.

    So, in my personal view, the people who are most dangerous to society are not the individual liars and cheats who know, in their heart-of-hearts, that that’s what they are, but the individuals and groups who sincerely believe that their version of reality is the only one that can possibly be true, and that therefore the culture and values of that private reality should be imposed on the rest of the world – through religion, -isms, politics, investment banking ethos or whatever.

    The path to freedom (individual and group) lies in acknowledging that all the realities we can possibly discuss are provisional, incomplete and based on confusion. The path to compassion starts with understanding the pain and confusion of others as their own (mis-)perceptions of reality come into conflict with actual Reality.

    • @Nangpa, thank you! You have just said in a very elegant way, what I have been trying to post on here since I started reading this blog.

      ie – the sun will come up tomorrow. Black and white points of view misses out all the grey………… etc….

    • Nangpa
      Your corporate experiences obviously mirrored mine. I had a long and terse argument with a senior Halifax (HBOS) twerp in the mid 1990s about ‘shareholder value’. I told him that 64% of all mergers (they’d just done one) destroy shareholder value. Where’d you get that, he asked, Socialist Worker?
      No, I replied, the Economist. But while we’re at it, I think shareholder value is a lot of cock anyway: why should I care more about shareholders than I do about ordinary people having a home of their own?
      The truly terrifying thing about neocon economics is that they do not survive anything beyond the most superficial examination. They are just a polite name for utterly selfish greed.
      Yes, I accept that neocons see their own reality, and are genuine about it. But I’ve yet to meet one that wants to be one of the 93% left behind.

    • Nangpa

      Hope the politician’s ,*ankers,CEO’s etc don’t see your post.
      They’ll tell us we’re not in their reality and that really everything is ok
      and that we must just keep trust in them.

  5. The “ology” relating to alternate realities is huge. I’m not sure there’s a common description. But whatever reality you exist in, you feel it. Usually, despite the kicks in the teeth it gives you, it’s accepted and you move on in it. But to try to engage something that looks like a little different as a another, possibly new reality requires a change that most folk will bottle. Look at David Icke. Would you follow his path if you were seized of “your” reality as the mainstream?

    • Within the tradition I follow, realities are regarded as group constructs. So they may just evolve naturally out of the culture / activity of the group, or they may be deliberately constructed or manipulated. The test of a reality may be its utility to the group in its particular context – ‘does it work?’.

    • @nerdman:
      In my view realities belong to those who inhabit them. What their reality is and how they came across it is theirs to declare…

  6. Sir,
    The Higgs boson story could be bigger than we can even imagine.
    Already there is talk about the particles using extra dimensions to take short-cuts through space-time.
    Then there is the possible discovery of the identity of the “dark matter” that makes up about a quarter of the universe, and of the reason why matter rather than anti-matter dominates the universe. And what of the chance that we might glimpse into those hypothetical extra dimensions of space?
    This is why Thomas Cook shares took a dive recently – new destinations at super speeds……presently on offer only to the deceased.

    • As someone who has studied physics to a graduate level, of far greater concern of missing ‘particles’ was we do not know how gravitational force is ‘transmitted’.

      Particles transcend time and space all the time, one example of this is quantum tunnelling. A really messed up phenomena is quantum entanglement

    • As someone who has studied physics to a graduate level, of far greater concern of missing ‘particles’ was we do not know how gravitational force is ‘transmitted’.

      Particles transcend time and space all the time, one example of this is quantum tunnelling. A really messed up phenomena is quantum entanglement.

      As for dark matter and dark energy, which between them supposedly make up 95% of the mass of the universe and we are unable to observe due to our limitation of only observing electromagnetic interactions and feeling the results of the strong, weak and gravitation forces. Who knows why we can’t observe it? Has there been a miscalculation in the amount of energy in the universe? Possibly, we are but a speck in the vastness. Or are we so limited in our conscious state that we can not interact with 95% of the universe?

      • PJames
        All very true. Einstein thought the missing ‘bit’ in quantum theory was probably the electromagnetic/gravity thing. He foresaw the discovery of invisible ‘connectors’ to explain being in 2 places at once etc.
        I have an open mind. It’s a bit like an open prison: I put things in there, and they escape.

  7. Sir,
    Sorry, I should explain. I always get up early to cook the breakfast for the kommandant. Today he is preparing the bunker in the compound for the beer festival, and then going to our stall on the christmas market to sell the Knackwurst weiner that we are clearing at 1.55 euro / kilo today.

  8. Too much postmodernism for me. It doesn’t really matter anyway. Life as we know it is inevitably of limited duration. We are an interglacial species who has developed a very high for better and for worse civilization. It will not last. The Yellowstone Supervolcano (beneath Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, US) is due to detonate any time now. Geologists have calculated that it erupts every 600,000 years and it has been 640,000 years since it last erupted. Last year 2010 the roof of the volcano, i.e. ground level or floor of the park, rose three feet, more than it ever has before. When it erupts, the pyrocastic flow will destroy most of the western US. The ash cloud will do the rest. When the Toba Lake Supervolcano, Sumatra, Indonesia, erupted 75,000 years ago vulcanologists estimate that it “plunged” the earth into a “nuclear winter” that lasted “1000 years” and killed about 60% of the human population. Humanity survived and bounced back relatively quickly all things considered. Maybe they will find a record of us and do a better job of civilization than we have, or maybe they’ll do worse. It doesn’t really matter because we will have been long safely reduced to dust.

    • Bears keeping the watch on. We as a species may nearly already possess or soon possess technologies which can shunt off or alter the outcome of such catastrophes. But maybe not.

      You’ve pointed out a margin already of at least 40,000 years, assuming they have all that right and so on. We, individually, it seems, live by the generation or two or three, if fortunate, and tend to form horizons of outlook accordingly. But now that things like what you mention are being understood it is conceivable, if you are optimistic or simply open to change, that there exists some survival instinct so strong — temporally speaking, and somehow transcending also the urges for endless picayune conflict –that the general logistic train becomes very much extended as compared to past circumstances rumored, known or recorded. Look at where we’ve come in our ability to harness the powers of nature over just the last two hundred years — but 1/2 a percent of the 40,000 year interval mentioned.

      There is no telling what we may be able to do in another two hundred years time — and if there’s another five thousand in the bank, who knows indeed?.

    • Mary you may go to the head of the doomer line and receive a chocolate cookie for your efforts. Ooops it;s not ‘real’ well never mind. If you have ever read William Catton’s Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change and understood it you will know that we are already in overshoot and headed for collapse. In this respect we are no smarter than fruit flies in a bell jar. Whatever social structure succeeds us it won’t include the wondrous technology we achieved at this point. That was an artefact of cheap abundant energy. So it’s highly unlikely we’ll ever find out more about travels with Higgs.

  9. @soap mc tavish, I have never taken LSD or Magic Mushrooms, I have an allergic reaction to Morphine so going into hospital after throwing a bike up the road has given me some nasty ‘dreams’ in the past, however when I was a lot younger I used to ponder on many things and one of my conclusions was that you could taste colours, just as surely as you could feel them, this conclusion came from a conversation with somebody who was born blind yet somehow understood what colour was……Truth is infinite and therefore very difficult to ascertain.

    • Johnny, I have to ask, were you eating skittles when you pondered such things? :). Sorry couldn’t help myself.
      @ nangpa. You would nearly convert an atheist to Buddhism with your point, very well put. Makes a person wonder if TPTB are using this thought process to control the sheeple on this mortal coil! It’s certainly beginning to look that way, perhaps a shred of truth in some of the ‘crazy’ conspiracy theories.

  10. Anything that shakes up our cosy beliefs about ‘how things are’ without killing us is probably good for us. It could be magic mushrooms, meditation, living in a totally different culture, the boss working on the factory floor, being poor/rich for a year, etc etc.

    Acting as though our beliefs are true is probably the most dangerous thing we can do.

    Thanks for this piece JW.

  11. JW

    I content myself with the understanding that we are only ever groping around in the dark or semi dark in trying to make sense of our existence, be that reality or otherwise. There isn’t an answer, only the relentless engagement with the question. The real lunatics , who pose the greatest threat to others, are those who ‘know’ that they know the answers.

  12. “After all, we already know that Time is an illusion”

    No it’s not, the bankers and politicians are always buying time! It’s just a matter of how much money you have got…….. or haven’t!

  13. I wonder if this could be a turning point for the Slog: moving from a strong polemic/deconstructing bollo* in one particular domain (politics, banking, economics) to expressing a wider perspective on the human condition.

    The response from @Nangpa above is key to this.

  14. “…an inability to face reality or stop can-kicking was almost universal among the Elite – be they multinational CEOs, politicians, bankers, civil servants or trade unions. He’s right, of course…”

    I certainly agree this is often true w/r/t politicians, civil servants and trade unions, but not usually to multinational CEOs or even bankers. CEOs may display an image of being in denial but will usually be well aware of reality and planning accordingly. Those that don’t, fail.

    The euro crises is one of the best examples for many decades of just what a complete shambles politicians make of running a nation’s affairs and then go into denial of the consequences when it all goes wrong. Brown comes to mind. There needs to be a mechanism of pushing the political elites aside and calling in experts who really do understand reality and can take whatever decisions are necessary to sort out the mess. But there isn’t one, save a revolution.
    It would be easy to blame it all on the shortfalls of democracy but as we know from history, unelected despots make a huge mess of things too, often far worse.

  15. The appendices to the Illuminatus! trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson address a lot of what you covered in your post (not conclusively, of course), as most of the book was about how perception is more flexible than we acknowledge. There are one or two fascinating mind programming experiments they recommend as well, which are educational and harmless (i.e., no drugs needed.)

  16. P_Jamez,
    Interesting that – apparently – we understand only some 5% of what makes up our Universe. I feel the same about most things and I guess that was what John was trying to imply in his philosophical piece. To add weight to this interpretation, while most people will know that the human genome has been “cracked” and the coding for all known genes identified, how many know that this encoding sequence comprises less than 10% of our total DNA within cells and that the function of the other 90% is largely mysterious?
    John, a pedantic note re your last sentence (sorry, it grates). None is known.

  17. Another interesting post JW. For once I’m going to offer a relatively lengthy response, in the context of Nangpa’s comments.
    My starting point is from Nangpa:
    ‘The path to compassion starts with understanding the pain and confusion of others as their own (mis-)perceptions of reality come into conflict with actual Reality.’
    In my experience of being a practising Buddhist for 20 years (not anymore) the path to compassion – contrary to your view – starts with understanding that all creatures with consciousness suffer, and suffering is something we all share, albeit in varying ways. Buddhist practice enables one to realize that selfishness brings pain – either to others through our selfish actions, or eventually to ourselves when we have to let go of clinging to what brings us a percieved personal satisfaction.
    At present I, like many others are looking at the ‘interesting times in which we live’ with sheer amazement and horror. In relation to JW’s post, the colossal fraud perpetrated by the bankers/corporatists and the politicians in their pockets is a study in archetypal selfishness, and the accompanying inability to perceive how greed causes pain to others, and now threatens the well-being of humanity as a whole. I believe that ‘ego’ i.e. in the sense that my needs must be served before anyone else’s, is the basic problem we face as humanity, and whilst Buddhism has some admirable traits the main one for me is that that through the practice of mediation combined with compassion for others on the basis that we all share a desire to feel content and not wish to suffer, it offers a route to deal with anything that happens to us in life without over-reacting to life circumstances. In effect, it alters our perception of life to encompass others, and to realize that we share a common humanity.
    The most important word used in JW’s post for me today is ‘perception ‘.
    It made me think of a couple of quotes:
    ‘I think therefore I am’.
    ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’.
    I offer some personal observations on perception:
    My Mum is 72 and is in a nursing home. At 39 she went into a coma and came out 3 weeks later with permanent brain damage – she has had no short-term memory for 33 years, is schizophrenic due to the brain damage, but due to medication this is extremely well controlled. What’s interesting is that she has maintained her personality from when she was well – and her beliefs. Being brought up very very strictly as a Christian, this conditioning has stayed with her and she has a firm belief that Jesus is looking after her and that she will go to heaven (and so will I if I carry on going to church Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday). I never tell her she is talking nonsense, even though in my view she is. I regard her beliefs with a sense of relief as it protects her from the reality of being aware of what’s happened to her and her beliefs don’t threaten anyone else. It doesn’t matter to me that perhaps heaven doesn’t exist – she percieves everything is ok because of her beliefs.
    One of the most enlightening Buddhist fables for me is the story of the old woman who kept asking her son to bring her a tooth from the Buddha. He kept forgetting, and on one visit home he remembered that he’d forgotten again. He took his Mum a tooth from a dog and told her it was the Buddha’s. The story goes that eventually, due to her faith in the tooth, she became enlightened. My Father, a nuclear engineer, was ex-communicated by the church for divorcing my Mother a year after she bacame ill because he just couldn’t cope with her psychotic behaviour in those days and wished to re-marry – and I supported him with entirely. Nevertheless he visited my Mum every single month for the next 15 years. He eventually lost his faith, as he told me just before he died in 1996. However, he had some admirable qualities. He never once complained about being ill ( he died three months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 1996), played tennis everyday until 3 weeks before passing, crawled to the bathroom every morning to shave until two days before he died, and was always thinking of everyone around him on his death-bed. On my 18th birthday he gave me a hand-written poem – Kipling’s ‘If’, and I’ve been fairly useless at putting it into practise. Despite me being a lefty and he being a staunch conservative Telegraph reading ex-nuclear engineer he reached out to me two days before he died from his death-bed, hugged me and said he loved me. I read The Telegraph these days – oh and The Guardian, I can be as fiery and explosive as he was and I’m not so left as I used to be. Oh how we change!
    If anything moves anyone reading this, I’ll wager it’s because something triggers a recognition of our common humanity – something the bankers and politicians are incapable of.
    I’ll end with this. There is compassion, and there is stupid compassion. The world will not be righted by compassion shown to the bankers. Strong action is sometimes justified to stop people causing suffering to others.
    Thanks JW for continuing to expose this debacle. Awareness and changes in perception are needed more than ever in this world.

    • @shiningrain
      My “path to compassion” description used the Dzogchen explanation of the origin and basis of suffering, rather than the word itself.

      @everyone
      The problem with the use of the word “suffering” is that people think we Buddhists are a miserable lot. People say “This can’t be right. I’m not suffering, I’m quite happy right now”.

      My tradition teaches that the suffering experienced by all sentient beings is actually quite subtle; the Buddha’s teaching on universal suffering was given to senior students who were ready, through advanced meditation, to start to actually ‘feel’ and share in the suffering of others, not just to talk about it.

      An unconventional English Buddhist of our tradition famously (and ambiguously) declared: “I never really knew what suffering was until I became a Buddhist”

      • Fair comment, but my description uses the Mahayana explanation – no doubt you will hold that the Dzogchen explanation is ‘superior’ and only for those who are ‘read’ to take it on board. As I’ve grown older I see things simpler (you will say my capacity to understand is limited – but I reserve the right to disagree). At the end of the day no individual or group will ever have a monopoly on the truth – that’s what’s so unique about being human. Even scientists, who, if continue to be corrupted by corporate controlling interests will eventually end up ultimately controlling human perception rather than understanding the importance of compassion and it’s role in furthering a positive future for mankind.

  18. …I’ll end on an amusing note regarding perception.
    The funniest example given on how we perceive things was given by a meditation teacher many years ago – I can’t do justice to the way he told it but here it is. A pubic hair of on’es lover in bed is regarded as radically different to one that is found in one’s soup. Interpret that as you wish….

  19. Fascinating stuff. I would recommend Aldous Huxley as a 2nd hand experience of LSD, the books ” Doors of perception” & ” Heaven & Hell” are very good. I think if I remember rightly he makes the point that our brains are capable of extreme wonders, but in order for us to survive, we need to exist day to day on a much more mundane level. Marijuana isn’t good for productivity for instance. He also lists the various methods used by religious zealots to experience visions, flagelation fasting etc.

    The parallel universe thing I also find fascinating, the theory that every time we make a decision we split off into 2 different universes in which everything will be different from that point on, an infinity of choices available, so even Clegg would eventually get it right. Even infinity itself opens up the possibility in a multiverse that the 15 billion years it took for us to arrive here would not even register as a pinprick within infinity. This potentially means there is enough time for all the events that need to happen will happen again in order for countless Earths, with you on some of them to evolve. As John said because time is linked to awareness the in between bits when you are dead would not register & you can only experience one life at one time. I am probably not explaining this very well, & it is all a bit mad.

    It was only a relatively very short time ago our galaxy was thought to be the only one, now we know there are billions & more stars than all the grains of sand on all the beaches on the planet. It makes me think that in such a miracle anything is possible & that we need to suffer to provide us with contrast.

    • Stevie
      I read Doors of Perception/Heaven & Hell after the acid trip. Huxley had probably been taking mescalin…as I’m sure Antoni Gaudi was when he designed Sa Grada Familia.

  20. Placebo is a fascinating field. It appears most reliably in pain medicine or in areas involving ailments with a strong psychological interaction – say anxiety. But interestingly there is an Italien neurosurgeon who has shown a placebo response in training folks with brain stimulators for Parkinsons. The stimulators improves their function when it is switched on. They are trained to respond and then they respond despite the unit being switched off. To be fair I do not know how long the effect lasted. The guy is Benedetti. His work is well worth a look.
    In the theme of the article I have long thought that we assume a consensual reality just because it makes life easier when in reality each persons experience of it can be very different. An example is the temperature range of comfort/discomfort. It can be very different and we will just assume that you feel what I feel when I touch that hot/cold thing. The same goes for emotional interpretation or ethical or anything else.

  21. JW,

    Your piece reminded me of a Charles Dickens short essay I heard, along with a great film when I went to the London Museum’s excellent exhibition devoted to him this year when he was walking by Bedlam (now appropriately the Imperial War Museum) at night and he noted that people who dream in the day are in the asylum whilst those that dream at night are considered normal.

    As to forecaster errors I am reminded of two of the several faux pas front cover stories run by the Fortune magazine, namely the forecast that Japan’s GDP was going to grow by 6% pa indefinitely apparently, however, literally a few weeks later the 1973 mid-east war occurred and petrol prices tripled and poor old Japan being totally energy dependent shuddered: the other cover story said a nucleur accident was unlikely to occur at any atomic power plant, for, if my memory serves me 1K or 10K years, again a few weeks later Three Mile Island disaster occurred.

    They say experts are wrong as often as we mere amateurs, it is just that they just have better explanations for their erroneous picks.

  22. I went to a seminar given by a futurist (I’ve forgotten his name) a number of years ago at Antioch College in Seattle. He said something that I recall on a regular basis and in this case it was about playing the piano which was we already know how to do it. Very simple but yes everything is in place. Frustrating becauses I’ve always wanted to be able to play but how to find the key to that lock.

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