Sunday, May 8, 2011

Steven Johnson - Emergence

Excerpts from Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software by Steven Johnson.

Quote by Gerald Edelman:

"Can a selectional system be simulated? The answer must be split into two parts. If I take a particular animal that is the result of evolutionary and developmental selection, so that I already know its structure and the principles governing its selective processes, I can simulate the animal's structure in a computer. But a system undergoing selection has two parts: the animal or organ, and the environment or world. No instructions come from events of the world. No instructions come from events of the world to the system on which selection occurs. Moreover, events occuring in an environment or a world are unpredictable. How then do we simulate events and their effects on selection? One way is as follows:

1. Simulate the organ or the animal as described above, making provision for the fact that, as a selective system, it contains a generator of diversity - mutations, alterations in neural wiring, or synaptic changes that are unpredictable.
2. Independently simulate a world or environment constrained by known physical principles, but allow for the occurrence of unpredictable events.
3. Let the simulated organ or animal interact with the simulated world or the real world without prior information transfer, so that selection can take place.
4. See what happens."


How different is this, really, from the real world as we know it? First, start with the Tao, fullness, undifferentiated pure matter-consciousness and absolutely nothing else. This is beyond concepts, thoughts, time, space, the forces of nature, and organic life forms. Spontaneously, on the quantum level, it begins to vibrate, creating diversity and variation, evolving and changing unpredictably. In Hindu mythological terms, Shiva begins her dance, the drum of creation beats unrelentingly. As this process begins, soon certain characteristics emerge from the chaos, cosmological terms that are found to be the same everywhere we can look: the fundamental forces of gravity, the strong and weak nuclear forces, electromagnetism, the speed of light, et cetera. So we now have a set of constraints on the environment that emerged unpredictably from the chaos, and which continue to produce unpredictable events. We have learned that these characteristics are the way they are because all other possibilities fizzled out long ago, the universes that they created had a negligible lifetime, leaving only one universe that continued to evolve into one where living entities emerge. Given the set of constraints on the physical environment and the inherent unpredictability, the environment begins to interact with itself as life, it continues with the process of variation and diversity through genetic mutation and reproduction. Natural selection takes place by the continual process of the environment consuming itself as its multiplicity of temporary forms, in a constant feedback relationship to the ever-changing, unpredictable nature of the environment. Eventually, after eons of iterations, we are where we are now and when we are now, conscious human beings, free to stare at the stars and wonder about our origins, ask questions and pursue knowledge, learn, dance, and create. In other words, for better or worse, this is the Tao, this is Shiva in her dance of creation. Now, more than ever, we can "see what happens." The beautiful difference between us and the simulation is that not only can we see what happens, we can BE what happens.

This is summarized in the following quote from Jane Jacobs:

"Under the seeming disorder of the old city, wherever the old city is working successfully, is a marvelous order for maintaining the safety of the streets and the freedom of the city. It is a complex order. Its essence is intimacy of sidewalk use, bringing with it a constant succession of eyes. This order is all composed of movement and change, and although it is life, not art, we may fancifully call it the art form of the city and liken it to the dance - not to a simple-minded precision dance with everyone kicking up at the same time, twirling in unison and bowing off en masse, but to an intricate ballet in which the individual dancers and ensembles all have distinctive parts which miraculously reinforce each other and compose an orderly whole."

Remember always, strange as it may seem, it is our nature to be this way. The way is strange, the way is ever-changing, the way is infinitely complex. We all have a part to play in the way, and it is up to us how we play it.

"You are what your deep, driving desire is. As your desire is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny." - Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

Quotes from Anatomy of the Spirit

Excerpts taken from Anatomy of the Spirit by Caroline Myss.

On the sensation of the individual self:
"The third chakra in particular resonates to the boundaries of the physical body. Are we physically strong or weak? Able or handicapped? Beautiful or scarred? Too tall or too short? From a spiritual perspective, any and all physical assets and limitations are illusory, mere 'life props'. Yet a person's acceptance of or resistance to them is critical to entering spiritual adulthood. From a spiritual perspective, in fact, the entire physical world is nothing more than our classroom, but the challenge to each of us in this classroom is: given your particular body, environment, and beliefs, will you make choices that enhance your spirit or those that drain your power into the physical illusion around you? Again and again, the challenges of the third chakra will cause you to evaluate your sense of power and self in relation to the external world."

On detachment:
"We achieve wisdom both through life experiences and by acquiring the discriminating perceptual ability of detachment. Symbolic sight is partly learned 'detachment' - a state of mind beyond the influences of the 'personal mind' or 'beginner's mind' that can lead to the power and insight of the 'impersonal' or open mind."

"The sacred truth of the sixth chakra is Seek Only the Truth. It compels us to search continually for the difference between truth and illusion, the two forces present at every moment. Separating truth from illusion is more a task of the mind than of the brain. The brain commands the behavior of our physical body, but the mind commands the behavior of our energy body, which is our relationship to thought of perception. The brain is the physical instrument through which thought is transferred into action, but perception - and all that is associated with perception, such as becoming conscious - is a characteristic of the mind. In becoming conscious one is able to detach from subjective perceptions and see the truth or symbolic meaning in a situation. Detachment does not mean ceasing to care. It means stilling one's fear-driven voices. One who has attained an inner posture of detachment has a sense of self so complete that external influences have no authority within his or her consciousness. Such clarity of mind and self is the essence of wisdom, one of the divine powers of the sixth chakra."

"Becoming detached and conscious means getting certain perceptions from our minds into our bodies. It means merging with perceptions that are truth and living them so that their power becomes one and the same as our own energy. Take, for instance, the truth 'Change is constant.' Mentally we can absorb that teaching with little difficulty. Yet when change occurs in our lives - when we notice we are aging, when people we love die, or when relationships shift from being intimate and loving to distant - this truth terrorizes us. We often need years to recover from some changes because we had hoped that it - whatever 'it' was - would remain the same. We knew all along that it would change, but we can't help hoping that the energy of change will pass by this one part of our lives. The promise of 'Change is constant' is that new beginnings always follow closures."

On consciousness and change:
"Consciousness is the ability to release the old and embrace the new with the awareness that all things end at the appropriate time and that all things begin at the appropriate time. This truth is difficult to learn to live with because human beings seek stability - the absence of change. Therefore becoming conscious means living fully in the present moment, knowing that no situation or person will be exactly the same tomorrow. As change does occur, we work to interpret it as a natural part of life and strive to 'flow with it', as the Tao Te Ching counsels, and not against it. Trying to make things remain the same is useless as well as impossible. Our task is to contribute the best of our energy to every situation with the understanding that we influence, but do not control, what we will experience tomorrow."

Don Juan on Knowledge and Path

Excerpts taken from The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge by Carlos Castaneda.

Don Juan:
"To be a man of knowledge has no permanence. One is never a man of knowledge, not really. Rather, one becomes a man of knowledge for a very brief instant, after defeating the four natural enemies.

"When a man starts to learn, he is never clear about his objectives. His purpose is faulty; his intent is vague. He hopes for rewards that will never materialize, for he knows nothing of the hardships of learning.

"He slowly begins to learn - bit by bit at first, then in big chunks. And his thoughts soon clash. What he learns is never what he pictured, or imagined, and so he begins to be afraid. Learning is never what one expects. Every step of learning is a new task, and the fear the man is experiencing begins to mount mercilessly, unyieldingly. His purpose becomes a battlefield.

"And thus he has stumbled upon the first of his natural enemies: Fear! A terrible enemy - treacherous, and difficult to overcome. It remains concealed at every turn of the way, prowling, waiting. And if the man, terrified in its presence, runs away, his enemy will have put an end to his quest.

Carlos Castaneda:
"And what can he do to overcome fear?"

Don Juan:
"The answer is very simple. He must not run away. He must defy his fear, and in spite of it he must take the next step in learning, and the next, and the next. He must be fully afraid, and yet he must not stop. That is the rule! And a moment will come when his first enemy retreats. The man begins to feel sure of himself. His intent becomes stronger. Learning is no longer a terrifying task. When this joyful moment comes, the man can say without hesitation that he has defeated his first natural enemy.

"Once a man has vanquished fear, he is free from it for the rest of his life because, instead of fear, he has acquired clarity - a clarity of mind which erases fear. By then a man knows his desires; he knows how to satisfy those desires. He can anticipate the new steps of learning, and a sharp clarity surrounds everything. The man feels that nothing is concealed.

"And thus he has encountered his second natural enemy: Clarity! That clarity of mind, which is so hard to obtain, dispels fear, but also blinds. It forces the man to never doubt himself. It gives him the assurance he can do anything he pleases, for he sees clearly into everything. And he is courageous because he is clear, and he stops at nothing because he is clear. But all that is a mistake; it is like something incomplete. If the man yields to this make-believe power, he has succumed to his second enemy and will fumble with learning. He will rush when he should be patient, or he will be patient when he should rush. And he will fumble with learning until he winds up incapable of learning anything more."

Carlos Castaneda:
"...what does he have to do to avoid being defeated [by clarity]?"

Don Juan:
"He must do what he did with fear: he must defy his clarity and use it only to see, and wait patiently and measure carefully before taking new steps; he must think, above all, that his clarity is almost a mistake. And a moment will come when he will understand that his clarity was only a point before his eyes. And thus he will have overcome his second enemy, and will arrive at a position where nothing can harm him anymore. This will not be a mistake. It will not be only a point before his eyes. It will be true power.

"He will know at this point that the power he has been pursuing for so long is finally his. He can do with it whatever he pleases. His ally is at his command. His wish is the rule. He sees all that is around him. But he has also come across his third enemy: Power!

"Power is the strongest of all enemies. And naturally the easiest thing to do is to give in; after all, the man is truly invincible. He commands; he begins by taking calculated risks, and ends in making rules, because he is a master. A man at this stage hardly notices his third enemy closing in on him. And suddenly, without knowing, he will certainly have lost the battle. His enemy will have turned him into a cruel, capricious man. A man is defeated only when he no longer tries, and abandons himself."

Carlos Castaneda:
"How can he defeat his third enemy, don Juan?"

Don Juan:
"He has to come to realize that the power he has seemingly conquered is in reality never his. He must keep himself in line at all times, handling carefully and faithfully all that he has learned. If he can see that clarity and power, without his control over himself, are worse than mistakes, he will reach a point where everything is held in check. He will know then when and how to use his power. And thus he will have defeated his third enemy.

"The man will be, by then, at the end of his journey of learning, and almost without warning he will come upon the last of his enemies: Old age! This enemy is the cruelest of all, the one he won't be able to defeat completely, but only fight away.

"This is the time when a man has no more fears, no more impatient clarity of mind - a time when all his power is in check, but also the time when he has an unyielding desire to rest. If he gives in totally to his desire to lie down and forget, if he soothes himself in tiredness, he will have lost his last round, and his enemy will cut him down into a feeble old creature. His desire to retreat will overrule all his clarity, his power, and his knowledge.

"But if the man sloughs off his tiredness, and lives his fate though, he can then be called a man of knowledge, if only for the brief moment when he succeeds in fighting off his last, invincible enemy. That moment of clarity, power, and knowledge is enough."


Don Juan:
"Anything is one of a million paths. Therefore you must always keep in mind that a path is only a path; if you feel you should not follow it, you must not stay with it under any conditions. To have such clarity you must lead a disciplined life. Only then will you know that any path is only a path and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you to do. But your decision to keep on the path or to leave it must be free of fear or ambition. I warn you. Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary.

"This question is one that only a very old man asks. Does this path have a heart? All paths are the same: they lead nowhere. They are paths going through the bush, or into the bush. In my own life I could say I have traversed long long paths, but I am not anywhere. Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn't, it is of no use. Both paths lead nowhere; but one has a heart, the other doesn't. One makes for a joyful journey; as long as you follow it, you are one with it. The other will make you curse your life. One makes you strong; the other weakens you."