Beginner's Mind

"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few." - Shunryu Suzuki-Roshi

Monday, February 28, 2005

Late night - early morning

I'm having those odd nights when I wake up from a dream and can't get back to sleep.

Maybe it is the contents of the dream, I don't know. More likely I've mis-programmed the alarm clock in my circadian rhythm, and it goes off at 3:35 AM. Sleeping during the day doesn't help any.

I'll spend anywhere from a half-hour to forty-five minutes pretending that I'm going to go back to sleep, before I get up and come to the computer. I check e-mail, which at this hour is usually SPAM which gets nicely shunted to my junk box (thank you Netscape people!). I check a few blogs. I yawn (ohh! can I get to sleep now? noooo...). Usually I run across a good blog, like this one.

Every year the price of propane goes up. Every year the thermostat gets set a few degrees colder. At night when I'm supposed to be sleeping it goes even lower, courtesy of one of those fancy programmable thermostats. As a result, my personal comfort zone keeps dropping. If this keeps up I'll be sweating in a speedo at the North Pole.

It's the last day of February. That stretch of warm weather at the beginning had me thinking spring was near, but the month has ended with single-digit temps. Though my mind keeps telling me, "It's still winter, after all" my body keeps saying, "No, no, it's almost over! Just one last cold snap! Just, just...ah hell."

I found myself today searching the web for retreats that deal with chronic pain. I feel stalled in my progress and my practice. Though I know it is all about being right here, right now, I feel I could be using the present moment in a wiser fashion. I guess this is true of most everyone, it's just that I've got a lot more free time to dwell on it. So, I've been thinking a retreat might give me a good kick-start.

(It's kind of silly in a way, because virtually every day I'm already on a retreat of sorts. Maybe I just need the structure of people telling me what to do.)

Music in my head: Brahms' First Piano Concerto

Saturday, February 26, 2005


It washes into the nose and swirls around the back of the throat, in a feng shui approved fashion. Down it spirals into the lungs, where you can feel it expanding in your chest. It nips at the edges of your ears. Step out into the snow, and it rushes over the top of your shoe and down, around your feet and tugs at your toes. It creeps into your gloves and grasps each of your fingers. It dries your lips like a hot, desert sun. It stings your eyes, making the moon and the stars appear as if through a fog. It reminds you of the grave, and points out that here, now, you are alive, at least for awhile.

I thank it for the reminder.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Turning towards pain

Here is an interesting interview with Pema Chodron, found on the blog The Informalist.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Monkey see, monkey do

I've been listening to The Teaching Company's course Roots of Human Behavior, taught by Professor Barbara King.

Right off the bat I learned some of the differences between monkeys and apes that I did not know, but find very interesting. A really quick way to tell the difference is whether or not the animal has a tail; monkeys have tails, apes do not. In addition, monkeys will move along the top of a tree branch or structure, while apes will swing underneath. Dr. King points out that, in playgrounds, what we call the "monkey bars" should really be called "ape bars," as a monkey would not swing from rung to rung but would actually walk along the top.

I used to think chimpanzees were monkeys, but they are apes.

The course discusses many aspects of the "anthropoid mammals." One lecture is dedicated to sexual practices. Among the great apes you will find homosexual and bisexual behavior. There are also cases of what we would identify among humans as rape.

Chimpanzees are tool users. They have discovered how to pull termites out of their mounds using grass reeds, as well as how to use a hammer and anvil to crack nuts. This last behavior is taught to the young by their parents, who will slow down the action to demonstrate the technique. Gorillas have been shown to be tool users, but only in captivity, under man-made conditions. Out in the wild, their environment does not require that they use tools.

It's been a fascinating course so far, and a good way to spend the time waiting for my body to fight off the viruses in my sinuses and chest.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

What goes around...

First it was bronchitis. Then Karen got some sort of virus. As she is just now getting over that, I've got a sore throat. Why is it that when your throat hurts you feel the need to swallow more? Doesn't seem like an evolutionary advantage to me.

Thankfully, Biography Channel yesterday was showing a marathon of *Ancient Mysteries with Leonard Nimoy*. Between that and a set of Robert Greenberg lectures on Beethoven's fifth piano concerto and I was able to make it through the day (well, those things and a bit of meditation).

Today is George Washington's birthday. That seem appropriate; outside it looks like winter at Valley Forge.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Hunter S. Thompson 1937-2005

Hunter S. Thompson, the gonzo reporter who wrote Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas died yesterday of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot.

Rest in peace, Duke.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

A tale of two bloggers

Had a nice lunch yesterday with Karen of Vermont Diary. Sadly my Karen wasn't able to join us, she has come down with a virus or some such which is making her school vacation start off with a whimper.

Blogging Karen is a dog person, so we shared stories of our hounds past and present. Readers of her blog will remember she raised nine puppies until they were old enough to be given away. We are also both flatlanders from the South, and we complimented each other on our lack of accents.

We also relocated from Big Cities to Vermont, her from New York and me from Dallas. She was a big-time investment analyst type with a bank; I was a hot-shot applications engineer.

In further proof that we live in a small place, we both are herb gardeners, though where I am a gardener (small "g"), Karen is a Gardener (big "G") and has even mastered the arcane art of raising rosemary (I'm a kind of rosemary bush Grim Reaper).

Karen lives near some very productive trout fishing water. Who knows? I might be able to entice her into trying to fly cast this summer.

Music in my head: Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 25, K. 503

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Strategy on Star Trek

Here's something I've never understood about Star Trek. Why wasn't the transporter ever used as a weapon?

Here's the Enterprise dwarfed by a Borg ship. The crew beams over and walks around, getting all shocked at the weird things they see. Why not just beam over a bunch of photon torpedos and blow the thing to smithereens?

A maniac is mucking about the decks, shooting the extras, rewiring panels, and generally causing mayhem. Why not just beam the interloper into the vacuum? Or, at least, into the brig? How about when the ship is being boarded? Why not just seal off the invaded section with force fields that seem to be everywhere and then transport the invaders into a cargo hold (sans weapons)?

How about that episode where a starship captain is cruising around blasting Cardasian targets. Chief O'Brian comes up with a way to beam over to the offending ship despite the fact that the shields are up. Why not just beam the bad captain off his ship instead?

It just seems to me that having a transporter would be more useful than giving Klingons tribbles.

Music in my head: I've Got a Brand New Pair of Roller Skates (You've Got a Brand New Key), Melanie Safka (those of you who are Unix savvy might enjoy this version).

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Love is...

Love is letting your lover have the last ice cream sandwich in the freezer.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


Katherine and I have been swapping e-mails about science. She points out that there is something wrong about a school of thought that is divorced from spirit. I've been thinking about that all day.

In some ways, it is necessary for science to do this. Scientific exploration is reductionist in the manner in which knowledge is sought. It tries to control as many variables as possible, to see the results of that control on the unknown variable. It is this way that it seeks to find connections among the forces of nature.

It is similar to how two people carry on a conversation in a loud and crowded room. If you tried to keep track of all the simultaneous talk you would find it impossible to carry on a conversation with another person. So, we concentrate on what one person is saying, and try to ignore the rest of the rabble.

This works fine up to a point. But physicists are finding that there is a connection between the "independent" actions of the experimenter and the results of the experiment. This is what I humbly call "Robert's Rule of Exploration," which is stated as, "Observing something changes the observed." It isn't only physics where this anomaly shows up; it occurs in medicine (hence the need for double-blind studies) and psychology.

Is there a place for spirit in science? I think there is. Spiritual beliefs can be a spur for innovation, as well as provide intuitive "leaps" that can uncover relationships that would otherwise be missed. As a source of ethics and morals, it can prevent the kind of dehumanizing experiments carried out by some Nazi scientists. When you consider that there is, at any one moment, a finite amount of scientific resources available to work on problems, spiritual beliefs can play a part in deploying those resources.

By the same token, one's spiritual beliefs can blind one to certain truths. A famous quote of Albert Einstein is, "God does not play dice with the universe." He said this in response to the growing body of evidence that probability plays a part in quantum physics, believing that the universe is completely deterministic. But, he was wrong.

Rene Descartes is known for his separation of mind and body, with mind being part of the soul. I would argue that there are three parts to what we call an individual: mind, body, and spirit. Science exists in the realm of the mind, but explores aspects of the body and spirit. This latter has gone on for centuries in some cultures, and has recently been a part of Western discovery. Body is the biological aspect, the "works of the watch." Spirit is that connection we have to things "bigger" than ourselves. Historically, spirit has been claimed by religion, which has as its stock and trade supernatural explanations for causality we don't understand. As religion is now in a turf war with science, with the latter continually proving the former irrelevant, people have begun to see the true colors of religion. This has had the unfortunate side-effect of leaving some people spiritually bereft (while others go to the other extreme of fundamentalism).

I should add that, as I say all this, I tend to see the world through my logical, left-brain eyes. My mind-body-spirit triangle is obtuse (and, yeah, that's a pun of sorts).

Music in my head: Pancho and Lefty, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard

Monday, February 14, 2005

Mathematics and augury

I've been spending some time with The Teaching Company's course Particle Physics for Non-Physicists: A Tour of the Microcosmos. One of the things I've found fascinating about the discovery of various particles is how so many of them were predicted to exist in mathematical models. Physicists who won Nobel prizes sat down and penned pages and pages of formulas, and the braver of them stated things along the line of, "At this energy level you should find a fundamental particle with this amount of charge, this amount of mass, and this amount of spin," and, when the atom smashers got powerful enough, sure enough, there they were.

The last remaining particle to be discovered is predicted to be the Higgs boson. This particle is supposed to be the carrier of perturbations of the Higgs field, an ether-like field that is all around us and fills the universe. This is, of course, if the Higgs field really exists; it may turn out, however, that such a field is only a mathematical fudge factor that helps reduce infinities the electro-weak force. We may find out in 2007 when CERN completes their upgrade to their particle accelerator, capable of generating 17 TeV.

It was the search for the Higgs particle that was one of the driving forces behind the Superconducting Supercollider which was to be built in Texas. Alas, the project was halted in the early stages. I've been told that the tunnels that were to house the collider are now used to grow mushrooms.

This notion of using mathematics for prediction is at the heart of Isaac Asimov's Foundation series of science fiction novels. The character Hari Seldon invented the science of psychohistory, which predicted all sorts of big happenings in the galaxy. It has been decades since I read the original trilogy.

I predict I will be reading it again soon.

Music in my head: Themes from Beethoven's Sixth Symphony

Update: I can't find any references to the mushroom farm actually being built, though I did find a few articles on the idea. So I don't know if the 'shrooms farm exists. If anyone knows for sure, please let me know.

Saturday, February 12, 2005


It took almost four (!) years, but I finally reached 5000 workunits!.

Want your unused computer processor time to do something useful and interesting? Consider using the SETI@Home screen saver. Who knows? You might just go down in history as the person who first found intelligent life! (Extraterrestrial, I mean.)

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

A flower

Karen, the one who happens to be my wife, asked that I blog about her wonderful qualities. Alright, maybe this will suffice:

A few weeks ago over dinner I glanced at Karen and realized, again, as I do so often, that she is a beautiful woman. She asked me, "What?" with a nervous smile on her face.

And this is what I said:

If you were a flower, you would be a flower of such grace and beauty that everyone would want to plant you. Botanical gardens all over the world would rip out the inferior plants and grow nothing but Karen-flowers. People would travel long distances to sit on a bench amidst your loveliness for hour after hour, and peace would break out all over the world.

Music in my head: Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony

Monday, February 07, 2005

The power of joy

Bernie Siegel tells the following story on the Sounds True recording The Beginner's Guide to Humor and Healing:

An elderly man is looking forward to death. This is because he will go to heaven and meet Jesus and family members who passed on before him. While in the hospital, surrounded by family, the doctor comes into his room and tells the assembled visitors that the old man will not live through the night. Everyone thought the old man could not hear what was being said, but he could. Hearing he was about to die, he became overjoyed, and thus he recovered. This happened on three different occasions before he finally died.

Music in my head: At Last, Cyndi Lauper

Saturday, February 05, 2005

9 x 6 = 42

Alan asks, "Now that you've found the answer at (age) 42, what's the question?"

The question is, "How can I help?"

Look, there are all kinds of philosophies, tenets, and goofy ideas about what happens to us after we die. Because there are people who make money schilling these notions, it gets way too much press and attention. Whatever does happen when we die, there are (at least) two inescapable conclusions: (1) you're going to die, and (2) because of (1), now is a pretty good time to make the most of the life you've got.

I've seen people die, and one of the things in common with these experiences is that the world didn't wink out of existence when they did. It seems only logical, then, that the world won't come to an end when one of us do. Yeah? So what?

I'll tell you so what: The only thing that is positively certain is that the results of your actions when you are alive will live on after you are dead.

So...maybe you should write that Great American (or British or Korean or...) Novel, paint that unforgettable picture, compose a memorable piece of music, or portray a character in a box-office smash movie.

Or, you could just help out a neighbor.

Now, this won't (most likely) grant your name immortality, but, then again, what will you care? You will be dead! I believe in the interconnectedness of all beings, so it is easy for me to understand that helping a neighbor spreads good vibes up and down Indra's net. But how about something concrete? By helping others, you make an impression on the person helped, as well as anyone who sees you helping. Others see how helping out makes you feel better, and they are inspired to do the same. Next thing you know, you've got the Pay It Forward effect going, and it all started with little old you.

February 14-20 is Random Acts of Kindness Week.

There. Was that helpful? :)

Music in my head: Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 1

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Adam's rules of technology reaction

Read today in Douglas Adam's The Salmon of Doubt, a set of rules describing our reactions to technologies:

1. Anything that is in the world when you're born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.

2. Anything that is invented between when you're fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.

3. Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

Music in my head: I Can't Go To Mexico, Chuck Pyle.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005


Welcome all you scavenger hunters! Sorry, but I don't know which clue refers to me, but I've got a couple of days to figure it out!

Don't know what I'm talking about? Michele (a great site from a topless woman [safe to open at work - really!]) can tell you all about it.