Month: July 2014

Reflections on Four Meditations

dogen

July 9, 2014:

“If you are unable to find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?”

-Master Dogen

 My first session began with mental chatter: music and snippets from the previous month’s conversations. No doubt it would have been worse if I had I felt no inclination to struggle with it, so it quickly dissipated. Doubts, fears and memories of aggravating situations entered my awareness. These are more difficult to dispel.  Years ago when these feelings came up during meditation I felt as though I was doing something wrong. The anxiety over failure made things worse. I had read about these experiences in several works on yoga, yet I wanted to be the exemplary exemption to St. John of the Cross’s la noche oscura del alma, a born jivanmukta. Unfortunately, I am not. I too must go through the dark night of the soul. As I calmed down pictures of trees started to move through my mind’s eye.

 I zoomed in and out, examining each branch and each curve of each leaf. Although my visual memory is not sub par, I cannot ordinarily recall images in photographic detail. I opened my eyes and caught a glimpse of the timer (I should not have, but I was wondering if it was broken as it already seemed like an hour had passed). In reality 17 minutes had elapsed; 10 remained. When I resumed my mind was free from hallucinatory intrusions. It was then I became acutely aware of my circulatory and respiratory systems. In an ordinary state of mind the mere mention of these  functions would make me nauseous. Instead I felt detached from them and in awe of them. This was followed by a deep but pleasant trance in which the external world fell off and my inner world quieted until I felt as though I was bobbing gently in the middle of the ocean.

I went into the session expecting my monkey mind to muck things up, but was pleasantly surprised.

July 10, 2014

Adishank

“Just as the fire is the direct cause for cooking, so without Knowledge no emancipation can be had. Compared with all other forms of discipline Knowledge of the Self is the one direct means for liberation.”

-Adi Shankara

 Since yesterday’s session had brought up many odd and unwanted emotions, I initially opted against doing it again so soon. I reflected on emotions and how they tend to seek objects to justify themselves. People are exceptionally adept at searching for attackers and things to attack. Some are more guilty of this behavior than others, but then again we must wonder how many among us hold back avalanches of anger.  I thought often about “riding the tiger.” I had a dream earlier this year about being thrown from a tiger and then being ripped to shreds.

 It is troubling to know the better portion of humanity’s energies are spent in mere subsistence. The energies of the first world are squandered as much by aimless work as they are by leisure. During meditation I found myself sinking, both in a positive and physical sense, but also in an existential one. The thought of a planet devoid of empathy is harrowing. I do not think this state of affairs is new, although it seems the Information Age has created a Second Samsara for us to wade throughas if the first one was not treacherous enough, as if our civilization was not too impersonal already.

The session commenced with these thoughts buzzing around like stray melancholic flies, yet I accepted the fact that the problems we face in relating to one another are magnified by our insistence on focusing upon the worst. The worst is determined largely by our own personal enemies, which we confirm daily through our own peculiar biases. All of the problems we perceive in humanity at large are made more painful by our own pessimism, by our own refusal to see good in them and in ourselves. We must recognize the error in people’s actions, and respond appropriately to them, but we must not demonize them, we must not forget we are also human. More and more, based on what I hear and see, people identify with the notion of superiority stemming from an imagined individuality.

 Most machines cannot repair themselves. Identifying problems to repair among an endless sea of objectively neutral memes and behaviors is far beyond their reach. We as human beings have this capacity, but more often than not choose not to cultivate it. Advertisers tap into these delusions daily. Yet the sort of individualism society explicitly endorses  is not the sort that must be earned. In other words, it is the absolutely insignificant sort. It concluded with the same oceanic sensation as the last.

Lao

July 27 and 28

“Would you like to save the world from the degradation and destruction it seems destined for?

Then step away from shallow mass movements and quietly go to work on your own self-awareness.

If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself.

If you want to eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself.

Truly, the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation.”

-Lao Tzu

 We, in our entirety, are the greatest gifts we can give to the world. What we do is determined by what we are, not the other way around.  It is therefore our responsibility to remove the debris that causes us to act out of instinct instead of intellect, out of selfishness instead of compassion, out of blind obedience to an injunction rather than our own reason. I began the session on the 27th by repeating a mantra to put myself in trance, then proceeded to enjoy the rolling silence. One may say the past is the past until one is blue in the face, but it does little good until one recognizes the events as gone, as ephemeral as any confabulation. During the preceding sessions, from the 20th to the 27th, I found the past slipping away.

It’s natural to have a bit of free floating anxiety when thinking of the future. Mine has not evaporated yet. Many people I’ve spoken with describe thinking about detailed scenarios they may or may not have to face before going to bed. Normally these situations are exceedingly unpleasant, but possible, like sickness or the loss of a loved one. I don’t commonly do these things, but during my waking hours I can sense a twinge of doubt about the direction of my life, which, I suppose, should serve as an impetus to give all my undertakings my full effort and attention.

Regarding my most recent journey I wish I could describe a fantastic voyage through inner space, but today’s meditation was marred by lust and mosquito bites. The former fell off within a few minutes, but the latter remained. Pain is an intensely personal sensation, it is one few wish to be burden with, ergo, we should not try to burden others with our own. I think people often develop an unhealthy attachment to their pain. Like anger, they search for it, subject themselves to it, and use their pain, past or present, to excuse themselves from their indiscretions and deviations from their true path.

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Another Reason VeriCoin Crashed

Veria

 

Yesterday I posted an article about VeriCoin here.

Shortly after tweeting the link a kind stranger contacted me and informed me VRC’s drop was not caused by the attack on MintPal. Like a number of other investors I mistakenly believed VRC’s plummeting price was entirely the result of a mass panic. However, it can be partially or largely attributed to one whale and a couple manatees vomiting at the wrong time. The investor in question, who is not named in the document, spotted a double top reversal in the VRC chart. Convinced its fate was forever sealed, he not only sold his holdings, but advised others at a BTC conference to do the same. Few people have the luxury of making sure their predictions bear fruit.

In his broken English he states at the very end:

“Sorry, the coin was nicely build (sic) with devoted devs, but at the end money wins. Always!”

 

Earlier in the memo our mystery dumper reflects on his decision:

“Vericoin is a good coin and the idea behind an open dev team drove the price up. Also VeriBit and VeriSMS are nice features, BUT that’s it.”

That’s it? What does that even mean? What he listed is more than the overwhelming majority of altcoins provide, although it is difficult to compare as none of the others offer these same features. Several VRC fans on Facebook and Twitter have lamented the utter lack of correlation between a coin’s value and its price, but neither the innocent enthusiast nor the cold investor should only consider the short run.

Vericoin: A Very Strong Buy

Veri

 

Although the market is inundated daily by unoriginal altcoins, innovative projects occasionally emerge, like precious diamonds amidst mounds of coal. PrimeCoin, NameCoin and DarkCoin are examples of  currencies that offer more than a new logo. New technology, or the promise of new technology, is enough to put a speculative mania into motion. In this endeavor learning how to ride the big waves is not a difficult as learning to ride the small ones. Vericoin, which offers a suite of useful features crafted by a dedicated team of talented programmers, is poised to become a typhoon.

Patrick Nosker said he and other VRC were “disappointed in the lack of innovation and general stagnation in all coins besides Bitcoin. We were also tired of pump and dump schemes that got the developers very rich for almost no additional work.” Baron Rothschild’s famous advice comes to mind whenever an asset drops precipitously. Vericoin’s price dropped after the infiltration of MintPal, a credible and widely used exchange. This was a tremendous blow to investor confidence. The attack resulted in the theft of nearly 8 million Vericoins, which prompted a hard fork of the VRC codebase to retrieve them. The intruders also stole Bitcoins and Litecoins, but these had been put into cold storage and were easily returned to their owners. The situation has been rectified, but its effects were tangible and are now just beginning to dissipate. To be clear, the problem was not with the Vericoin client itself, which is based on thoroughly audited Bitcoin code, but with MintPal’s servers.

Through Veribit VRCs can be sent to any merchant who accepts Bitcons. Those who have Vericoins in their wallet can accrue interest. Yesterday I predicted VRC would reach a low of 10 cents (technically its low point was $0.999995565) before rebounding to 12. This forecast, though supported by technical analysis, was based more upon the psychology of the crypto markets. At the moment it is somewhat bothersome to acquire in comparison to BTC as it requires one converts a fiat currency into another cryptocoin first. Vericoin could easily be a long term investment for those who fail to see the appeal of day trading. Over the next year its price, based on the quality and originality of its code, will continue to climb. It may fall again, even go as low as 5 cents. It will not skyrocket to a dollar tomorrow or next week, perhaps within a few short months it will topple its father and its grandfather. 10 cents to 10 dollars. This would be quite a feat and it is far from impossible in this wild age of wonders in which we are so fortunate to find ourselves.

 

MILE

‘The rapid progress true science now makes occasions my regretting sometimes that I was born too soon. It is impossible to imagine the height to which it may be carried, in a thousand years, the power of man over matter. We may, perhaps, deprive large masses of their gravity, and give them absolute levity, for the sake of easy transport. Agriculture may diminish its labor and double its produce: all diseases may by sure means be prevented or cured (not excepting even that of old age,) and our lives lengthened at pleasure, even beyond the antediluvian standard. Oh that moral science were in as fair a way of improvement, that men would cease to be wolves to one another, and that human beings would at length learn what they now improperly call humanity.”
                               -Benjamin Franklin
 In fifty years we will hardly recognize our world. When we look back and examine how people once were, how they lived their lives, how they let their passions amok, how they allowed themselves to be divided by intangible trifles and petty materialism, and how they allowed their ignorance to almost destroy all of civilizations achievements, we will take a sigh of relief and be thankful we have come so far. All of the lofty ideals once espoused, all of the grand political ideologies, will be nothing more than curiosities to coming generations, a generations which will know neither hunger nor war nor disease nor hate nor fear nor death.
 We are approaching the end of humanity’s adolescence. Our decadent culture, obsessed with the wealth and the body, with the doings of popular figures and the pablum fed to us by mainstream  media, will seem more and more infantile as the years pass. Our culture, bent on acceptance and mediocrity for the many, turns a blind eye to the mind. All the comings and goings, all the accusations and protests, all of the grand schemes to improve the lot of our species through legislation and empty rhetoric, will seem childish compared to the exponentially increasing strides of modern science. Yet, in spite of all it has given us, all the comforts, cures and wonders, there are many who spit upon progress and have no admiration for those who work tirelessly to to promote it. They prefer to bask in the banality of lust and greed, of Eros and Thanatos, of all their loathsome faults and pathetic limitations imposed upon them by biology as we know it now.
 All arguments between liberals and conservatives,  theists and atheists, libertarians and Marxists, as well as the all principles of governance founded upon anything but pure reason will seem absurd to our cognitively enhanced descendants. Our very emotions will seem one dimensional and our lack of control over them less than optimal. In a short span of time we have progressed from flint tools to silicon instruments manufactured with incredible precision. In affairs of the mind few men and women have progressed beyond the rudiments of what is possible; few have even attempted to ponder if it can be transcended if, perhaps, we are now but mere shadows of what we will become. At last the keys to the cosmos, to happiness, to genius, to everlasting beauty and immortality are within sight.
 At this moment we live but a  short while before we die. We live for a short while before our bodies and brains begin to deteriorate. We must die, we are told. We must never attempt to augment ourselves, to better ourselves, we must conform to a culture of mediocrity and illiteracy by embracing primitivism and the love of death. Shall we collectively regress? Shall we long for the idyllic childhood that never was? Or shall we see ourselves for what we are and our history for what it is. More than ever we inhabit an era characterized by frivolities, by materialism and by misplaced priorities. We are finite beings longing for the infinite and, but it is within our reach.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” 
                                                                                                   -Theodore Rossevelt

Three Free Kindle Books on Freemasonry

goethe

 While I had heard it mentioned in “documentaries” on the History Channel (it took an enormous amount of fortitude to refrain from putting quotation marks around the word history as well) I did not learn anything worth knowing about Freemasonry until quite recently.  Before speaking with current members and reading a few key texts I thought of them as a small society of Deists who helped spark the American Revolution. My impression was incorrect. I am not a Mason myself, but any organization that can claim Benjamin Franklin and Goethe as its own is bound to spark my interest.

 Its ideals are now universally accepted in developed nations. Yet brotherhood, liberty and religious freedom are dangerous ideas to demagogues. This is why Freemasons were persecuted by the Nazis and the Catholic Church. Neither one of these organizations are known for their human rights records. When and how speculative masonry (as opposed to the profession of cutting stones) began is still debated, but there are many in the craft who believe the society is as old as the pyramids. This seems implausible to me, but a memorable myth can be more powerful than a boring truth. Here are three free kindle books on this ancient fraternal order.

When I was a King and a Mason—
A master proved and skilled,
I cleared me ground for a palace
Such as a King should build.
I decreed and cut down to my levels,
Presently, under the silt,
I came on the wreck of a palace
Such as a King had built!
—Rudyard Kipling

 

 

JosephFortNewton

 

 “When we inquire into origins and seek the initial force which carried art forward, we find two fundamental factors—physical necessity and spiritual aspiration. Of course, the first great impulse of all architecture was need, honest response to the demand for shelter; but this demand included a Home for the Soul, not less than a roof over the head. Even in this response to primary need there was something spiritual which carried it beyond provision for the body; as the men of Egypt, for instance, wanted an indestructible resting-place, and so built the pyramids. “

“Small wonder that such an order has won to its fellowship men of the first order of intellect, men of thought and action in many lands, and every walk and work of life: soldiers like Wellington, Blücher, and Garibaldi; philosophers like Krause, Fichte, and John Locke; patriots like Washington and Mazzini; writers like Walter Scott, Voltaire, Steele, Lessing, Tolstoy; poets like Goethe, Burns, Byron, Kipling, Pike; musicians like Haydn and Mozart—whose opera, The Magic Flute, has a Masonic motif; masters of drama like Forrest and Edwin Booth; editors such as Bowles, Prentice, Childs, Grady; ministers of many communions, from Bishop Potter to Robert Collyer; statesmen, philanthropists, educators, jurists, men of science—Masons many.”

“Following the first day of the battle of Gettysburg, there was a Lodge meeting in town, and ‘Yanks’ and ‘Johnny Rebs’ met and mingled as friends, under the Square and Compass. Where else could they have done so? (Tennessee Mason). When the Union army attacked Little Rock, Ark., the commanding officer, Thomas H. Benton—Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Iowa—threw a guard about the home of General Albert Pike, to protect his Masonic library. Marching through burning Richmond, a Union officer saw the familiar emblems over a hall. He put a guard about the Lodge room, and that night, together with a number of Confederate Masons, organized a society for the relief of widows and orphans left destitute by the war.”

“Manifestly, since love is the law of life, if men are to be won from hate to love, if those who doubt and deny are to be wooed to faith, if the race is ever to be led and lifted into a life of service, it must be by the fine art of Friendship. Inasmuch as this is the purpose of Masonry, its mission determines the method not less than the spirit of its labor. Earnestly it endeavors to bring men—first the individual man, and then, so far as possible, those who are united with him—to love one another…”

 

Morals And Dogma - Albert Pike - Books Covers

“Truth, indeed, for the most part, shoots over the heads of the masses; or if an error is prostrated for a moment, it is up again in a moment, and as vigorous as ever. It will not die when the brains are out, and the most stupid and irrational errors are the longest-lived.”

“To impose ideal truth or law upon an incapable and merely real man, must ever be a vain and empty speculation.”

“A peasant-boy, guiding Blücher by the right one of two roads, the other being impassable for artillery, enables him to reach Waterloo in time to save Wellington from a defeat that would have been a rout; and so enables the kings to imprison Napoleon on a barren rock in mid-ocean. An unfaithful smith, by the slovenly shoeing of a horse, causes his lameness, and, he stumbling, the career of his world-conquering rider ends, and the destinies of empires are changed.”

“The true alchemist will extract the lessons of wisdom from the babblings of folly. He will hear what a man has to say on any given subject, even if the speaker end only in proving himself prince of fools. Even a fool will sometimes hit the mark. There is some truth in all men who are not compelled to suppress their souls and speak other men’s thoughts. The finger even of the idiot may point to the great highway.”

“Rhetoric, Plato says, is the art of ruling the minds of men. But in democracies it is too common to hide thought in words, to overlay it, to babble nonsense. The gleams and glitter of intellectual soap-and-water bubbles are mistaken for the rainbow-glories of genius.”

“We think, at the age of twenty, that life is much too long for that which we have to learn and do; and that there is an almost fabulous distance between our age and that of our grandfather.”

“Then we, in our mind, deduct from the sum total of our years the hours that we have needlessly passed in sleep; the working-hours each day, during which the surface of the mind’s sluggish pool has not been stirred or ruffled by a single thought; the days that we have gladly got rid of, to attain some real or fancied object that lay beyond, in the way between us and which stood irksomely the intervening days; the hours worse than wasted in follies and dissipation, or misspent in useless and unprofitable studies; and we acknowledge, with a sigh, that we could have learned and done, in half a score of years well spent, more than we have done in all our forty years of manhood.”

 “Masonry is engaged in her crusade,–against ignorance, intolerance, fanaticism, superstition, uncharitableness, and error. She does not sail with the trade-winds, upon a smooth sea, with a steady free breeze, fair for a welcoming harbor; but meets and must overcome many opposing currents, baffling winds, and dead calms.”

Symbolism of Freemasonry

“The definition of Freemasonry that it is ‘a science of morality, veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols,’ has been so often quoted, that, were it not for its beauty, it would become wearisome.”

“The square is a symbol denoting morality. It teaches us to apply the unerring principles of moral science to every action of our lives, to see that all the motives and results of our conduct shall coincide with the dictates of divine justice, and that all our thoughts, words, and deeds shall harmoniously conspire, like the well-adjusted and rightly-squared joints of an edifice, to produce a smooth, unbroken life of virtue.”

“The Winding Stairs begin after the candidate has passed within the Porch and between the pillars of Strength and Establishment, as a significant symbol to teach him that as soon as he has passed beyond the years of irrational childhood, and commenced his entrance upon manly life, the laborious task of self-improvement is the first duty that is placed before him. He cannot stand still, if he would be worthy of his vocation; his destiny as an immortal being requires him to ascend, step by step, until he has reached the summit, where the treasures of knowledge await him.”

Roger E. Nichols for President

rogernic

 

 Roger Nichols is the Unity Party’s presidential candidate. Recently I had the pleasure of communicating with Mr. Nichols over Facebook. I came across the Unity Party at the beginning this year after discussing possible names for a moderate third party with a friend who was back from MIT for Christmas. Over smooth Kentucky bourbon he and I decided on “Unity Party.” A Google search showed me there were already several organizations with this name. The one I eventually stumbled upon, founded by Bill Hammons, is a centrist organization. There are no doubt many Democrats and Republicans praying for politicians who offer more than canned arguments and empty rhetoric. They want representatives who will work with them and with other parties, who will fairly consider all the evidence available instead of voting along predictable party lines. The American people demand a president who embodies the spirit of American pragmatism, the Yankee ingenuity that has seen us through so many difficult times in the past. This is the promise of the Unity Party.

     Not Left. Not Right. Forward

Roger is a former pastor with a degree in theology who has also served his community as a youth counselor and as a volunteer at the Red Cross. He has coached high School football, men’s semi-pro football and men’s semi-pro basketball. He holds degrees and certificates in education, counseling and nutrition. Born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri; he now resides in Maryville.  Although he is a Christian, he strongly supports the constitution and recognizes the need for a separation of church and state. He strongly believes in the words of our founding fathers and the genius of the Constitution. Generally opposed to large government, and particularly to the use of tax dollars to fund unnecessary military conflicts, Mr. Nichols does not deny government can do good as well, but believes the people are best left to make their own decisions. After a near death experience Roger resolved to run for president.

“To Protect and Defend the Citizens of The United States of America, Uphold the Constitution for All Americans. My goals are not for wealth, fame or privileges. When I see families and individuals who are struggling to survive, not able to provide enough income for basic necessities, my heart is filled with sadness. I understand deeply because I have been in the same situation myself. I have always wanted to help others in time of need, but in the past I have had take care of my own family just to survive.”

-Roger Nichols

 

 

 

The Polymath Advantage

paea

We are incredulous when someone claims to have mastered a single field. We are infinitely more skeptical of someone who claims to have mastered many. However, mastery approaches a limit, one in which minor alterations are less and less noticeable. In the sciences this may or may not translate to more contributions. A fecund mind, like von Neumann’s, can contribute to many fields. Along with a peerless command of mathematics, Neumann had an eidetic memory and an almost unrivaled capacity to juggle huge amounts of information. In other words, he had the right tools to tackle unresolved and unrelated problems. He did not need formal accreditation or decades of experience in each, which, sometimes can be cumbersome to academics. The analogy between academic subjects and archery is strained; though the fundamentals remain stable, physics changes constantly, shooting a target with a bow does not.

This means the term “mastery” is misleading when applied to a fluid endeavor. Moreover, an encyclopedic knowledge of the subject in which a problem may arbitrarily reside (the lines between different disciplines are frequently blurry) is not necessary to a person wishing to solve it. Einstein preferred to work from first principles, for instance. Intelligence and memory are not the same thing. Kim Peek, the fellow who inspired Rain Man, should have been greater than Hamilton and Clerk Maxwell put together, but, alas, he is merely an idiot savant. Potentially helpful. However, approaching a task as a tabula rasa can be beneficial. If we are bogged down by unnecessary presumptions we are less likely to break new ground. This is one of the reasons older scientists may have difficulty accepting new information. There are countless controversies, ranging from the atomic theory to dual nature of light, that illustrate this detrimental phenomenon.

As I chronicled in my documentary about Thomas Young, polymaths are occasionally the targets of criticism, springing from real and imagined perceptions of their approach to life. In Young’s case the attacks were fueled primarily by envy. Although he made errors in his translation of the Rosetta Stone, even an accomplished linguist could err when dealing with a language no one had heard spoken since the fall of the Roman empire. Pseudointellectuals believe no can possibly juggle more than they, which is precisely why figures like Goethe, Da Vinci and Young have had to tolerate insults from uninformed detractors. Though these figures have long since disappeared into the mists of history. Polymaths see connections; this not only makes them better suited for many tasks, but it makes their lives richer.