Thursday, September 21, 2017
... the most fundamental scientific ‘fact’ is not the existence of a universe of things in space and time but awareness of such a universe.
Awareness is not a ‘thing’ that can evolve from or arise out of an unaware or insentient universe of things. On the contrary all things in the universe emerge and take shape out of a universal awareness.
The Awareness Principle
In Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective novel A Study in Scarlet (1887) we learn that Sherlock Holmes used the most effective memory system known: a memory palace. Although imagined memory palaces are still used by memory champions and the few who practice the memory arts, they are best known from Greco-Roman times when great orators, including Cicero, used them to ensure their rhetoric was smooth, detailed and flawless. The physical memory palace, usually a streetscape or building interior, would become so familiar to the orator that it was always available to them in their imagination. By ‘placing’ one piece of information in each site, they could mentally stroll through their memory palace, location by location, drawing out each portion of the speech in the required order without missing any element.
Received opinion is that this method of loci, as the technique is also known, dates to before Simonides of Ceos (c556-468 BCE), who is often credited as the inventor. However there is ample circumstantial evidence that indigenous cultures the world over have been using it for far longer than that. There is a continuous record dating back at least 40,000 years for Australian Aboriginal cultures. Their songlines, along with Native American pilgrimage trails, Pacific Islanders’ ceremonial roads and the ceque system of the Inca at Cusco all exhibit exactly the same pattern as the memory palaces described by Cicero. At each sacred location along these paths, elders would sing, dance or tell a story, all making the information associated with the location more memorable.
The memory skills of indigenous elders exceed anything reported for the ancient Greeks. Research with the Native American Navajo people, for example, shows that they memorise a classification of more than 700 insects along with identification, habitats and behaviour. And that’s just insects. A fully initiated indigenous elder would be able to relate stories equivalent to a field guide for all the birds, mammals, reptiles, fish and hundreds of insects within their environment.
Another study shows that the Hanunoo people of the Philippines were able to identify 1,625 plants, many of which were unknown to Western science at the time. Add to that knowledge of astronomy, timekeeping, navigation, legal and ethical guidelines, weather and seasons, complex genealogies and belief systems, and you have a vast encyclopaedia stored in an interwoven memorised web: a web that is tied to a real or imagined memory palace.
Cultures without writing are referred to as ‘non-literate’, but their identity should not be associated with what they don’t do, but rather with what they do from necessity when there is no writing to record their knowledge. Cultures without writing employ the most intriguing range of memory technologies often linked under the academic term ‘primary orality’, including song, dance, rhyme and rhythm, and story and mythology. Physical memory devices, though, are less often included in this list. The most universal of these is the landscape itself.
Australian Aboriginal memory palaces are spread across the land, structured by sung pathways referred to as songlines. The songlines of the Yanyuwa people from Carpentaria in Australia’s far north have been recorded over 800 kilometres. A songline is a sequence of locations, that might, for example, include the rocks that provide the best materials for tools, to a significant tree or a waterhole. They are far more than a navigation aid. At each location, a song or story, dance or ceremony is performed that will always be associated with that particular location, physically and in memory. A songline, then, provides a table of contents to the entire knowledge system, one that can be traversed in memory as well as physically.
Enmeshed with the vitalised landscape, some indigenous cultures also use the skyscape as a memory device; the stories of the characters associated with the stars, planets and dark spaces recall invaluable practical knowledge such as seasonal variations, navigation, timekeeping and much of the ethical framework for their culture. The stories associated with the location in the sky or across the landscape provide a grounded structure to add ever more complexity with levels of initiation. Typically, only a fully initiated elder would know and understand the entire knowledge system of the community. By keeping critical information sacred and restricted, the so-called ‘Chinese whispers effect’ could be avoided, protecting information from corruption.
Rock art and decorated posts are also familiar aids to indigenous memory, but far less known is the range of portable memory devices. Incised stones and boards, collections of objects in bags, bark paintings, birchbark scrolls, decorations on skins and the knotted cords of the Inca khipu have all been used to aid the recall of memorised information. The food-carrying dish used by Australian Aboriginal cultures, the coolamon, can be incised on the back, providing a sophisticated mnemonic device without adding anything more to the load to be carried when moving around their landscape. Similarly, the tjuringa, a stone or wooden object up to a metre long decorated with abstract motifs, is a highly restricted device for Aboriginal men. As the owner of the coolamon or the elder with his tjuringa touched each marking, he or she would recall the appropriate story or sing the related song.
This is very similar to the way the Luba people of West Africa use a well-documented memory board known as a lukasa. Previous researchers have claimed that the ‘men of memory’ of the Mbudye society would spend years learning a vast corpus of stories, dances and songs associated with the bead and shells attached to a piece of carved wood. My initial attitude when I read this was complete skepticism. It was surely claiming far too much for such a simple device. So I made one. I grabbed a piece of wood and glued some beads and shells on it and started encoding the 412 birds of my state: their scientific family names, identification, habitats and behaviour. It worked a treat. I no longer doubt the research. Though simple, this is an incredibly powerful memory tool. Inspired by my success with the lukasa, I have also created songlines for more than a kilometre around my home. I have a location on my walk for each of the 244 countries and dependent territories in the world. I walk through them from the most populous in China to little Pitcairn Island. I also walk through time from 4,500 million years ago until the present, nodding to the dinosaurs, meeting our hominid ancestors and greeting numerous characters from history. My memory has been hugely expanded by using this ancient mnemonic technique.
It is the structure of the human brain that dictates the memory methods that work so effectively right across human societies. It is our dependence on writing that has eroded this skill. We can, if we choose to, implement these techniques alongside our current educational methods. I have taught schoolchildren to sing their science and to create memory trails right around the school grounds, with excellent results. We can and should learn from the intellectual achievements of indigenous cultures by adapting their techniques to contemporary life. But when we do this, we should acknowledge the source. These memory techniques are far older than our Western civilisation, and they are far more effective than the crude rote techniques that replaced them.
First find the immutable center where all movement takes birth. Just like a wheel turns round an axle, so must you be always at the axle in the center and not whirling at the periphery.
Running after saints is merely another game to play. Remember yourself instead and watch your daily life relentlessly. Be earnest, and you shall not fail to break the bonds of inattention and imagination.
You darkness, that I come from,
I love you more than all the fires
that fence in the world,
for the fire makes
a circle of light for everyone,
and then no one outside learns of you.
But the darkness pulls in everything:
shapes and fires, animals and myself,
how easily it gathers them! —
powers and people —
and it is possible a great energy
is moving near me.
I have faith in nights.
—Rainier Maria Rilke
Robert Bly version
Wednesday, September 20, 2017
We never see the world as our retina sees it. In fact, it would be a pretty horrible sight: a highly distorted set of light and dark pixels, blown up toward the center of the retina, masked by blood vessels, with a massive hole at the location of the “blind spot” where cables leave for the brain; the image would constantly blur and change as our gaze moved around. What we see, instead, is a three-dimensional scene, corrected for retinal defects, mended at the blind spot, stabilized for our eye and head movements, and massively reinterpreted based on our previous experience of similar visual scenes. All these operations unfold unconsciously—although many of them are so complicated that they resist computer modeling. For instance, our visual system detects the presence of shadows in the image and removes them. At a glance, our brain unconsciously infers the sources of lights and deduces the shape, opacity, reflectance, and luminance of the objects.
Consciousness and the Brain: Deciphering How the Brain Codes Our Thoughts
We cannot live in a world that is interpreted for us by others. An interpreted world is not a home. Part of the terror is to take back our own listening. To use our own voice. To see our own light.
–Hildegard of Bingen
circus elephant, trainer's daughter
john drysdale, england 1986
Wherever you are can be considered the center, because all directions from you are infinite; and, therefore, if you wish to put it this way, they are all the same distance.
No one spot really is any more ‘The’ center than any other spot; no one spot is really more the end, or the edge, than any other spot. No one reality is actually any more or less ‘real’ than any other reality.
Everything is the same one thing; the same one thing manifesting in all the simultaneous, multidimensional ways that it can manifest.
Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously.
And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.
Make your own Bible.
Select and collect all the words and sentences that in all your readings have been to you like the blast of a trumpet.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson
There is a way between voice and presence where information flows.
In disciplined silence it opens.
With wandering talk it closes.
Knowledge studies others
Wisdom is self known
Muscle masters brothers
Self mastery is bone
And if I forget how many times I have been here, and in how many shapes,
this forgetting is the necessary interval of darkness between every pulsation of light.
On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are
Leave it all behind you. Forget it.
Go forth, unburdened with ideas and beliefs.
Abandon all verbal structures, all relative truth, all tangible objectives.–Nisargadatta Maharaj
Tuesday, September 19, 2017
In the morning as the storm begins to blow away
the clear sky appears for a moment and it seems to me
that there has been something simpler than I could ever believe
simpler than I could have begun to find words for
not patient not even waiting no more hidden
than the air itself that became part of me for a while
with every breath and remained with me unnoticed
something that was here unnamed unknown in the days
and the nights not separate from them
not separate from them as they came and were gone
it must have been here neither early nor late then
by what name can I address it now holding out my thanks
this is for you
this is for you
I prefer zeroes on the loose
to those lined up behind a cipher.
I prefer the time of insects to the time of stars.
I prefer to knock on wood.
I prefer not to ask how much longer and when.
I prefer keeping in mind even the possibility
that existence has its own reason for being.
It has come to this: I'm sitting under a tree
beside a river
on a sunny morning.
It's an insignificant event
and won't go down in history.
It's not battles and pacts,
where motives are scrutinized,
or noteworthy tyrannicides.
And yet I'm sitting by this river, that's a fact.
And since I'm here
I must have come from somewhere,
and before that
I must have turned up in many other places,
exactly like the conquerors of nations
before setting sail.
Even a passing moment has its fertile past,
its Friday before Saturday,
its May before June.
Its horizons are no less real
than those that a marshal's field glasses might scan.
This tree is a poplar that's been rooted here for years.
The river is the Raba; it didn't spring up yesterday.
The path leading through the bushes
wasn't beaten last week.
The wind had to blow the clouds here
before it could blow them away.
And though nothing much is going on nearby,
the world is no poorer in details for that.
It's just as grounded, just as definite
as when migrating races held it captive.
Conspiracies aren't the only things shrouded in silence.
Retinues of reasons don't trail coronations alone.
Anniversaries of revolutions may roll around,
but so do oval pebbles encircling the bay.
The tapestry of circumstance is intricate and dense.
Ants stitching in the grass.
The grass sewn into the ground.
The pattern of a wave being needled by a twig.
So it happens that I am and look.
Above me a white butterfly is fluttering through the air
on wings that are its alone,
and a shadow skims through my hands
that is none other than itself, no one else's but its own.
When I see such things, I'm no longer sure
that what's important
is more important than what's not.
S. Baranczak and C. Cavanagh translation
"When a dolphin scans an object with its high frequency sound beam, each short click captures a still image, similar to a camera taking photographs,” Reid said. “Each dolphin click is a pulse of pure sound that becomes modulated by the shape of the object."
–John Stuart Reid
Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill — more of each
than you have — inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.
Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.
Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.
Words move, music movesOnly in time; but that which is only livingCan only die. Words, after speech, reachInto the silence. Only by the form, the pattern,Can words or music reachThe stillness, as a Chinese jar stillMoves perpetually in its stillness.
Not the stillness of the violin, while the note lasts,Not that only, but the co-existence,Or say that the end precedes the beginning,And the end and the beginning were always thereBefore the beginning and after the end.
And all is always now. Words strain,Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,Will not stay still. Shrieking voicesScolding, mocking, or merely chattering,Always assail them. The Word in the desertIs most attacked by voices of temptation,The crying shadow in the funeral dance,The loud lament of the disconsolate chimera.
The detail of the pattern is movement,As in the figure of the ten stairs.Desire itself is movementNot in itself desirable;Love is itself unmoving,Only the cause and end of movement,Timeless, and undesiringExcept in the aspect of timeCaught in the form of limitationBetween un-being and being.
Sudden in a shaft of sunlightEven while the dust movesThere rises the hidden laughterOf children in the foliageQuick now, here, now, always—Ridiculous the waste sad timeStretching before and after.
–T. S. Eliot
Although from the beginning
the world is impermanent,
not a moment passes
when my sleeves are dry.
Sky Above, Great Wind
The Book of Disquiet
The Book of Disquiet
Sunday, September 17, 2017
The Greeks understood the mysterious power of the hidden side of things. They bequeathed to us one of the most beautiful words in our language—the word ‘enthusiasm’—en theos—a god within. The grandeur of human actions is measured by the inspiration from which they spring. Happy is he who bears a god within, and who obeys it.
Ah! would the heart but be a manger for the birth,
God would become once more a little child of earth.
Immeasurable is the Highest! Who but knows it?
And yet a human heart can perfectly enclose it.