I went to see Stephen Pinker on Monday night, interviewed by Decca Aitkenhead of the Guardian, talking about his latest book, Enlightenment Now, an argument for science, rationalism and humanism. Bill Gates’ new favourite book apparently, knocking his previous favourite, Pinker’s Better Angels of Our Nature, off the top spot.
Not the kind of God that most people imagine. Not the kind of God listens to your prayers and maybe answers them, not the sort of God who might tell you to do certain things, like strap explosives to yourself and blow up a bus full of people. That kind of God couldn’t exist in an infinite universe in which everything that can exist does exist. In such a universe, God is the one thing that can’t exist. There could be gods though. If we were to go to another planet and terraform it, make it like Earth, introduce advanced animal and plant life to, do a bit of bioengineering then sit back and watch it unfold, we’d be a bit like the gods of that planet. If intelligent life evolved we might find ourselves being worshipped.
At 19.44 on 2015.04.27, a Monday, I thought I’d jot down a reverie that plays out in my head from time to time in which Wol
and I discuss matters religious and I give voice to my long-held contention that Christianity includes some rather confused theology – the notion of the trinity, for example, or the idea of original sin, both of which Wol believes in, not to mention the purported divinity of Jesus. I haven’t the heart to tell him where I stand as regards Big G these days – people tend to cleave strongly to their religions (an assertion perhaps evinced by the expression “to do something religiously”), canons more than most, and there’s little point in upsetting him when ignorance can be bliss. We have occasionally had some fascinating debates on religion, usually when both of us are drunk, but it became more and more apparent that our Weltanschauungen diverged on key aspects.
Friends of the Earth is no longer fundamentally opposed to nuclear power and neither is the Green party of England and Wales. They still oppose nuclear power, but now because of its cost and how long it takes to build, but they’re quite happy to keep existing power stations running. They no longer see them as inherently dangerous and needing to be shut down at the first available opportunity.
I asked The Professor (4) what animals he could see in this picture.
He said rabbit. Good, and what else? What about the birds? Yes, he agreed that birds were animals. And what else? The boat and the tractor, he said after a while. No, boats and traction engines are not animals (yeah, the traction engine has a face and is smiling, but let’s overlook that for now). What about the man driving the traction engine? No, people aren’t animals, he insisted. Yes they are, I said. I’m an animal, you’re an animal…
In 2100 my son will be the same age my father is now. When my father was born the world was emitting just under a billion tonnes of carbon per year. When my son was born we were emitting almost 9 billion tonnes a year and global CO2 levels had increased by about 30%.
- How old is my son?
- How old is my father?
- What will the world be like in 2100?
Three Goldilocks planets discovered orbiting the same star. They’re all in the Goldilocks zone where water can exist in liquid form, which is supposedly necessary for life as we know it. Perhaps any kind of life. Almost certainly for any kind of advanced life, though who can be sure? So if advanced civilizations developed on one or more of those planets they would quite likely visited the other life-supporting planets in their system at an early stage of development, the stage we’re at know, and perhaps in learning about those other planets that were quite like their home planet they may have learned to look after their own planet better. Or if they did trash it, at least they’d have a Planet B to move to, and then a Planet C after that if they wanted to. Then maybe they’d be advanced enough to travel to other stars and they’d happen across us, this remote planet, like an Easter Island to their Europe, and they’d witness us doing to our planet just what they did to their Planet A. Would they intervene and stop us or would they sit back and watch us with great academic interest? Historical interest as to their historians it might be like watching their own history unfold in a parallel universe.
There are dense toxic gases and bacteria the size of buses, but apart from that, unless you’re able to see in the tenth dimension, there’s not much on Venus. Some call it the ninth dimension, some the eleventh, some the first, some say it isn’t a dimension at all. It doesn’t really matter what you call it, except to the Venusians for whom it’s very definitely the tenth dimension, and they get quite offended if you suggest it isn’t.
There was a Tibetan monk sitting outside my guest house this afternoon. He was sleeping when I looked out of my window but he was awake when I got outside and sat down. He talked in a very quiet voice about emptiness and compassion and how you should spend time studying and meditation rather than of partying. Impermanence – we waste too much time. If you’re forty you may only have another twenty years. I could barely hear what he was saying. An Israeli with a loud voice was talking to an Irish woman about Buddhism. When I got the chance I asked him one of the questions that has been bothering me about Tibetan Buddhism: What do they mean by sentient beings? They say may all sentient beings be happy. Animals are sentient beings? Yes, of course. But are plants sentient beings? No. Why not? Because they don’t have a mind. How do you know? He said that plants can react to sunlight, to the four elements: wind, fire, water and earth, but they can’t think. But isn’t the border between plants and animals quite blurred? Corals and sea anemones are animals. No all animals have a head, a body and legs, particularly the ones that live in the sea. There it’s not so easy to tell the difference between plants and animals. Things that cling to rocks and may never move throughout their lives may be animals. Plants are just things that photo-synthesize. And aren’t these distinctions we make between things, dividing life into animals and plants, sentient and non-sentient beings, illusory? They’re categories we impose on the world, which is what the Buddhists mean by reality being illusory. And emptiness is about the emptiness of reality once you strip away our arbitrary discriminations. Basing your concept of rebirth on concepts that you argue are illusory undermines your concept of rebirth.
More lecture notes coming up. Print them out and memorize them if you want to become enlightened.
Hatha yoga – prana energy
Raja yoga – mental energy
Kundalini/Tantra yoga – primal energy
Hatha yoga, in the west, is mainly for health, to make the body more active, but its higher purpose is to make the body steady, inactive.