global change, Intelligence, simplicity, Uncategorized

HOW TO RESPOND

As a Scot living in Catalunya, with a keen interest in world affairs, I often wonder how to respond to current events. The litany is all too familiar – the madness of Trump, the sadness of Brexit, the pathologies of radical Islam and climate change, as well as the local struggle here for independence.

Although there are dark clouds on the horizon, I see quite a few silver linings. Trump will go, probably sooner than we imagine; we will, at last, stop tolerating the stupidities and abuses of Islam; people will realise that Brexit is a big mistake, and do something about it; and, hard as it is to believe, we will eventually stop destroying this planet and its climate. Of all this I am certain.

True, we will go through some unpleasant moments before all this happens, but perhaps we need to. Perhaps we need extremely loud wake-up calls before we really do come to our senses. As for my adopted home, Catalunya, I know the strength of feeling here and the quiet determination. Independence will surely come, sooner or later.

You may be wondering what all this has to do with intelligent simplicity. Two things. First, it is intelligently simple to allow crises to pass – they always do! Trump, radical Islam, Brexit and climate change will all pass. When we recognise this, it makes it easier to live our lives. We don’t have to fret all the time!

Second, it is intelligently simple to be realistic about what you, personally, can do to change things. On the world stage you can do very little. On your own stage you can do a lot. For example, if you are living an intelligent and simple life, you are already making a difference. And if you are consciously working on your own evolution, the whole world somehow benefits.

being natural, Intelligence, less is better, simplicity

THE LITTLE THINGS

Take care of the pennies, and the pounds take care of themselves. And it’s true. When you pay attention to the “little things”, the big things usually work out well. Goethe no doubt had this in mind when he said “Let everyone sweep in front of his own door, and the whole world will be clean.”

Of course, it is understandable that we think about the big things, be these personal, societal or global. We worry about the state of the world or about a particular problem, so we get involved in some movement to “change the world.” This could be politics or an NGO or some voluntary activity. Yet whoever it was who said “Be the change” knew what he or she was talking about! If you want to address climate change or indeed any other big problem, just make sure that you are not part of the problem. How you do this is up to you. Be the world in miniature that you wish to create.

None of this is to suggest that you should not get involved in politics or an NGO or some other “helping activity”. But it is to suggest that you first put your own house in order before you even think about trying to put society’s house in order. If you don’t, you are likely to end up like those people who preach “Do as I say, not as I do!”

The Japanese have taken all this to an art form. Paying attention to the little things and putting one’s own house in order are central components of their culture. To take one example – the tea ceremony (cha-no-yu). To an outsider this may seem painfully stylised. To a Japanese the intricate moves are confirmation that if you hope to do the big things well, you first have to learn top do the little things well. This is why, in a Zen or Taoist training, the pupil first has to learn to basic things well – things such as walking elegantly or sitting quietly, doing nothing. Believe it or not, it takes a lot of time to learn to basic things well. Only when the pupil has really mastered the basics is he or she ready to move on to the bigger things.

Now here’s a thought. Just set aside a day every so often when you pay attention only to the “little things.” Put the big things right out of your mind. See what a difference it makes!

CT
30 July 2018

being natural, Intelligence, less is better, natural, simplicity

FULLER AND FASTER

The world is fuller and faster. In fact, it’s more than that. The world is also noisier, busier and, by all accounts, more anxious.

The world is fuller, in the sense that there are more things in it, more things to do, and more of us. Just think of the word “shopping” and you will know what I mean. Never have we had so much choice, and never have we had so many pressures to acquire things.

The world is getting faster by the day. We can travel at speed, and we can communicate instantaneously with virtually anyone, anywhere. We have never experienced such speed and “instantness” before. We are not sure what to do with it.

The world is noisier. We say much more – on phones, email, texts, chat shows, and so many other ways. Much of this counts as noise, defined as “unwanted sound”. This is not all. Muzak is everywhere – in shops and shopping centres, and in trains and planes. To call this irritating is to be kind! And then there is the sound of traffic…and so on. We have made a very noisy world. Is this what we really want?

The world is busier – indeed people these days think being busy is a virtue! Many of us are constantly active, often doing more than one thing at a time…such as driving and texting and drinking coffee. If we are not actually doing something, we are probably planning the next activity. Sitting quietly, doing nothing has become so rare that people run courses in it under various banners, such as Zen and “mindfulness”.

And the world is more anxious, with good reason. The climate is changing dangerously. Sociopaths are in power. Inequality has reached Victorian levels. And there is no sign that we human beings have renounced war. Good cause indeed to be worried, and the anxiety is evident in many ways – retail therapy; “space-filling” activities, such as eating, drinking, sex and drugs; and the fact that we have become ludicrously risk-averse.

Need it be this way? Clearly not! One can easily envisage a world that is emptier, with more space, literally and metaphorically. It is slower, more leisurely. People are not rushing towards the end of their lives! They have time to stop and stare. It is a quieter, more peaceful world. People still talk, of course, and there is good music. But there is much less unwanted sound. It is a less busy world. People still do things, but they do fewer of them. They value the quality of what they do, rather than the quantity. And, yes, people are still anxious. That’s just part of being human. But I suspect that in an emptier, slower, quieter, less busy world, we would not have sociopaths in power, the climate would be in its natural state, gross inequality would be a thing of the past, and that we would use peaceful means to settle disputes. In short, we would be less anxious!

being natural, natural, simplicity, Taoist

MAN AND NATURE

The Chinese characters Tao Te Ching mean “Nature’s way”, “human virtue”, and “book”. The book itself is a highly condensed attempt to reconcile Man and Nature. In other words, Taoism seeks to marry the best of being human with the best of being natural. Clearly, this presupposes that we know what we mean by “being human” and “being natural”.

A useful starting point is to look at all other creatures, because in their own ways they are all Taoists! They qualify on both counts. They are natural, and they are fully who they are – fully eagle, fully wolf, fully dolphin, and so on. We have much to learn from them, because few of us qualify on both counts. We are neither natural nor are we fully human. Indeed, we think it is human nature to be imperfect!

It need not be this way. We could, if we chose, be both fully human and fully natural. Man and Nature need not be in opposition to each other. More than any other philosophy and practice I know, Taoism points the way to this much-needed reconciliation. It shows that, by being more natural, we become more fully human. It does this by showing us to be like Nature, think like Nature, tune into Nature, and trust in Nature. When we learn to do this, our true humanity illuminates the world.

being natural, Intelligence, less is better, simplicity

JUST A PIECE OF STRING

In the Sixties, when Boeing produced the first Jumbo jets, the Federal Aviation Authority refused to grant a licence to carry passengers. Why? Because they required to know the weight of the plane. Boeing had spent a lot of time, money and energy trying to work out a way to weigh this unusually large aircraft, but without success.

As it happened, a visiting salesman heard about the problem, and said that he thought he could help. At first, he was not taken seriously. However, he insisted, so the engineers and executives thought they could lose nothing by letting him try. So, they asked him if he needed anything. He said: “Just a piece of strong, a measuring tape, and a tyre pressure gauge.” Needless, to say, there were a lot of raised eyebrows.

The salesman walked up to one of the planes sitting on the tarmac and did a few very simple things. First, he wound the string tightly around the base of a tyre, where it touched the ground. He then measured that length. He did this with several tyres, just to get an average. He then took the pressure of each of those tyres, again just to get an average. Next, he counted the total number of tyres. Finally, he did a quick calculation on a piece of paper and turned to Boeing’s and announced the weight of the plane. There were more than a few red faces, but Boeing got its licence, and the salesman got his contract!

This story is just one of countless examples of intelligent simplicity – where you do something that looks too simple, yet is very intelligent. In complete contrast to the very expensive, complicated, time-consuming methods that Boeing had tried, the salesman’s method cost nothing, took almost no time, and was the opposite of complicated. Yet it was far more intelligent, because it worked!

global change, Intelligence, natural, simplicity

ARE WE HERE BY CHANCE

Today I will apply intelligent simplicity to an important question: are we here by chance? Do we human beings just happen to be here, for no reason, on this particular planet, and nowhere else? In any event, what do we mean by “chance”? When we say that the toss of a coin or the throw of the dice is a matter of chance, what do we really mean?

What we really mean is that we cannot predict the outcome. This is not because the outcome is theoretically unpredictable. It is because we cannot do it in practice, because we do not know all the variables. There are two many of them, and the effect of some of them (for example, the exact force exerted by our thumb, or the influence of the air temperature) are too difficult to know.

This is important because it suggests that there might be no such thing as inherent chance – meaning no reason at all for something to happen. What we have instead is apparent chance – meaning our inability to know exactly why something happens. There is a world of difference between inherent incomprehensibility, on the one hand, and our current inability to understand or explain. The first would be a quality of the universe. The second simply reflects our state of knowledge and consciousness. The problem is that we tend to confuse the two.

Having said this, I believe that nothing happens by chance. We may not be able to explain why it happens, but this is no reason for consigning it to “chance”.

Significantly, if we are not here by chance, but for very good reasons, it is clearly important that we discover what these good reasons are. To express another way, if there are good reasons for our being here, this suggests that there is a purpose – a meaning – for our being here. We have a role to play in the grand scheme of things! How would we go about finding out what our role, our purpose is? For the moment, I think this question is best left hanging in the air!

Intelligence, simplicity, Uncategorized

ENERGY AND CONSCIOUSNESS

Today I would like to apply intelligent simplicity to exploring the relationship between energy and consciousness. I believe this to be the basis of all our relationships with the Cosmos.

We are told that everything is a form of energy – that the Cosmos consist entirely of energy in all its many forms. So, what exactly is “energy”?

A very helpful way of defining energy is to think of it as “that which consist simply in its own movement and order”. There can be nothing more fundamental, which moves or is ordered. Energy is that order-movement. As Fritjof Capra pointed out: “There are no dancers, there is only the dance.” And what is dance if not ordered movement!

And if you are not sure what “order” is, it is that which makes sense to us, now or in the future. We know from experience that some things that did not make sense to us before – they appeared to be “disorder” – make sense to us now. Thus, our knowledge keeps increasing. As knowledge advances, apparent disorder retreats!

Now, if the Cosmos consists entirely of energy, and energy is order-movement, then this suggests that the whole Cosmos will eventually make sense to us. It may take a very long time – possibly millions of years – but eventually we will make sense of the Cosmos. We will know it because, being made of energy, it is wholly ordered, and therefore wholly knowable. Disorder and chance lie only in the eye of the beholder. They are merely reflections of our level of knowledge and our state of consciousness. They are not inherent qualities of the Cosmos.

So, what is “consciousness”? Ultimately, it is perception. We perceive what’s “out there” and what’s “in here”. Our inner perceptions flow from our external ones. And we can perceive only because things are perceptible in the first place. If the Cosmos was not made of order-movement, we would not be able to perceive anything. Just think about this, if you are not sure.
It is the fact that there is this central relationship between consciousness (we, the perceivers) and energy (that which is perceptible) that makes our lives possible and liveable.