Lunar Calendars

Today is the full moon.

In the Jewish tradition, today is Sukkos, when we hang gourds from a little roof over a make-shift shelter out-of-doors so we can take our meals surrounded by The Harvest.

In the Chinese culture, it is mid-autumn, also a harvest festival and the second most extensive holiday of the year.

In the ancient past, there was a hero named Hou Yee who was excellent at archery. His wife was Chang-uh. One year, the ten suns rose in the sky together, causing great disaster to people. Yee shot down nine of the suns and left only one to provide light. An immortal admired Yee and sent him the elixir of immortality. Yee did not want to leave Chang-uh and be immortal without her, so he let Chang-uh keep the elixir. But Peng Meng, one of his apprentices, knew this secret. So, on the fifteenth of Autumn in the lunar calendar, when Yee went hunting, Peng Meng broke into Yee’s house and forced Chang-uh to give up the elixir. Chang-uh refused to do so. Instead, she swallowed it and flew into the sky. Since she loved very much her husband and hoped to live nearby, she chose the moon for her residence. When Yee came back and learned what had happened, he felt so sad that he displayed the fruits and cakes Chang-uhe liked in the yard and gave sacrifices to his wife. People soon learned about these activities, and since they also were sympathetic to Chang-uh they participated in these sacrifices with Yee.

And so it came to be the custom that everyone eats mooncakes.


Imagine being dead

“Photography would seem to preserve our past and make it invulnerable to the distortions of repeated memorial superimpositions, but I think that is a fallacy: photographs supplant and corrupt the past, all the while creating their own memories.” So here you are, holding onto your imagined or real-life photographs that contain your memories, and the memories of those memories. What do you do with them? Toss them out? Live with them? Accept their nostalgia or pain and accept, too, that photographs are images that do not necessarily represent what’s truly real? — Sally Mann (in quotes), Diane Mehta (the rest)

A Prescription for Forgetting

In fact, I was the opposite: tortured, fact-based, skeptical, provocative, thorny, and closed-minded about new age or Eastern-facing Western philosophies that seem created from a spreadsheet. I wanted to breathe. I like oxygen, photosynthesis, the blood-linked real-life company of my father and son, the sound of my keys turning in the lock of my house. I like my new green Adirondack chair and my biased unreal photographic memory of that week in Ooty, where my parents bought me a striped walking stick with a carved lion head that I used to pretend I was a mountain climber.

Maybe it’s true that if I discard every memory and every attachment, I will find my true nature, but it is also possible that then I will have no nature at all, and nothing to live for.

Ecstatic octopuses

Octopuses are loners, but when they are drugged with MDMA (“ecstasy”), they are drawn to reach out to one another.  This is the finding of a research project at Johns Hopkins.

The strange thing about this is that the organization of the octopus brain is so different from the human brain that it is quite surprising we would share any neurotransmitters or any biochemical targets of the small molecule MDMA.  Octopuses are playful, they plan and remember, they strategize, they use tools—all these mental feats that until a few years ago were thought to belong uniquely to humans.  But they evolved all these behaviors and abilities quite separately from vertebrates and mammals and primates and humans.  Octopuses evolved directly from shellfish like the clam that have no real brain but only a cluster of nerves called a ganglion.  If they evolved the same neurotransmitters we did, this is a mysterious case of convergent evolution.  The many cases of convergent evolution that have been studied all involved a common function, not a common mechanismFor example, birds and bats and fruitflies all evolved wings independently, because wings are useful for flying.  But neurotransmitters are thought to be arbitrary signal molecules which acquire a meaning according to the way they are interpreted.  It is as though we had ET visitors from another galaxy, and found to our surprise that the language they spoke sounded a lot like Hungarian.

The octopuses given MDMA were moved to seek out cage containing another octopus, and to hug the cage because they weren’t permitted to make contact.  Perhaps if the researchers had taken MDMA themselves, they would have had sufficient empathy to realize that they were being cruel to the octopuses.

Science Daily article

Cave art

In most human societies there has been no presumption of a sharp boundary between the natural world and the built cultural milieu, between wilderness and settlement, and in consequence there has been no default presumption of a fundamental difference between the ways in which human art transforms the environment and those in which animals and plants do the same.2 [Paleolithic artists regarded] reindeer as in some deep and real sense equal actors, as persons if not as human beings, in a shared sociocosmic reality.

Read about cave art, from Justin E. H. Smith

For day-to-day

For day to day, a lucid logic serves—
Analysis of fact be my best guide.
But when there’s more at stake, I’ve been misled,
And destiny was quick to vanquish pride.
It’s thus I’ve learned to doubt my brain’s own nerves,
And trust my body rather than my head.

— Josh Mitteldorf


Reshaping capitalism

America has wildcat capitalism, where the biggest companies can use their economic might to wipe out competition, and where the corporation has a mandate by law to do everything it can to increase shareholder profits, with predictable effects on employees, the environment, and customers.  Europe has a softer brand of capitalism in which companies are regulated by government, competition is protected, and the corporate boards include representation from employees and from the community.

Quietly, gradually, Europe has transformed itself into a capitalist haven, a place where profits and prices are kept in check by fierce competition among businesses, and where anti-competitive schemes are policed by active, independent regulators.

Boston Globe article by Evan Horowitz

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