Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Seriously, the mind is most likely a Hologram

Spaun is the worlds largest functional simulated brain. It is built of realistic virtual neurons and operates by creating holographic or high dimensional vector spaces for doing computation. 

The Universe is a Holographic Gem

Some physicists think the universe is a hologram. Some neuro scientists think the brain operates by generating holograms. This would make the mind a hologram built within a hologram, which is perfectly acceptable from a technical point of view. Holograms seem like complex things but the basic idea is very simple - they are high dimensional spaces that can be used to describe or compute things (this is usually portrayed in movies or on tv by showing 3d visual holographic imagery but holograms can be used for any information). In addition to the possibility that holograms underlie all  physical and mental phenomena, they can also be used as a way of thinking about ones own place in the universe and how suffering works. Think of the universe as a high dimensional gem (or a hypersphere if you like math). You are a vector in that gem, that is you are a straight line from the surface to the centre of the gem. Metaphorically, this could correspond to looking into the gem from a particular point on its surface. Since everyone is a different vector, everyone will see things aligned differently when they peer into the gem because they look from different angles. This image can be used to understand suffering in ourselves and in others. Specifically, a lot of saints and bodhisattvas got a lot of happiness helping the poor (e.g., consider Saint Francis and the Lepers). For them, the suffering of others was an opportunity, a gift from God or a Karmic reward. But when put in this way it sounds like they exploited the suffering of others, or that God or Karma created suffering in one person to benefit another person. However, if we use the gem metaphor then we can see that the same situation will be different for each actor. As actors we can be aware of this and understand that for someone else the situation involves suffering but if we help them it can also be a blessing or merit for ourselves. It’s really a win/win situation. We help another and also benefit from this. This is also a way of seeing how we are all separate and different but all equally important and valid. We are all the gem, just from different angles. Anyway, I hope this gem metaphor works for people who are unfamiliar with the idea of high dimensional spaces. I know the holographic stuff sounds a bit crazy but it's really serious science.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Reading Texts

Buddhists and Christians often reading sacred texts in order to gain understanding, and this is a good thing. However, the texts are also meant for meditative reading and this really should be what ultimately guides understanding as well. Often, for modern westerners, Buddhist and Christian traditional texts can seem repetitive, meandering, pointless, or worse, evil minded (e.g., some passages in the old testament make God and his people sound like a bunch of crooked real estate agents). However, spending time on the texts, saying them slowly and with a meditative rather than analytical focus, possibly visualizing them, can spontaneously produce new and deeper insights. On another level altogether, this practice can also sometime produce powerful emotional and spiritual responses without any accompanying insight. These can hit you in different ways but regardless the point is not to analyze them but to sit with them and experience therm. In this way, a text that you cannot intellectually connect with can be an important tool. Thomas Merton was initially drawn to Christianity because sitting in churches gave him a feeling he could not explain. I think texts work in this way too. Many things can work in this way, even things from your own life.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Consolation, desolation, and the four noble truths

In the Jesuit tradition, consolation refers to the feeling of moving closer to God and desolation refers to the feeling of moving further from God. Consolation is generally associated with a lowering of suffering and desolation with an increase in suffering. However, both can be seen as good in that are both feedback about our spiritual state. In Buddhism, ignorance of the Dharma (i.e., truth about reality) causes suffering. The term enlightenment is usually meant to refer to the state of being of a fully realized buddha but, in terms of process, the word enlightenment refers to a decrease in ignorance. The first Noble Truth is that suffering happens, the third Noble Truth is that suffering ceases. In my opinion desolation can be thought of as the feeling accompanying the occurrence of suffering (the first noble truth). It is not the initial suffering but can be thought of as an additional suffering laid on top of it. For example, if you learn that your child is seriously ill you will experience suffering because you love them. Desolation occurs on top of that, when you despair, when you curse God or the universe, when you think there is no hope. This is the heaping of ignorant reactions on top of a compassionate response. It is the feeling of moving in the direction of increasing ignorance. Contemplative or mediative spirituality is based, in part, on a belief that humans have a seventh sense, a way of sensing the truth about the universe or God’s will. But this sense is often buried and therefore difficult to detect. Desolation is not simply despair, it involves a sense that we are acting in ignorant or sinful ways. Consolation, or the process of enlightenment, comes when we cease acting ignorantly (the third noble truth). Further consolation can occur if we replace it with something that is good for us. In both Buddhism and Christianity there is a belief that we can detect or discern movement in either direction - desolation is the feeling of moving toward greater ignorance, and consolation is the feeling of moving toward less ignorance