My meditation practice is to observe what is going on inside me, breath and heartbeats, physical sensations, and also thoughts and emotions. The practice is not to judge or to decide, but when I catch myself judging (or deciding), I just remove myself one step and watch the process of judging (or deciding).
In life as in meditation, I always have the option of adopting the vantage of the witness, watching my own responses. It is a practice that can carry me from beating myself up for what I should have done to being the impartial observer of a struggle within myself. Instead of being consumed in anger, I can watch my anger playing itself out. If I have a difficult decision, rather than try to figure out what I “should” do, I step back and adopt a stance of curiosity: I wonder what I will decide…
What about experiences of fun or pleasure? Try abstracting yourself—watching yourself laugh—and see whether this destroys your fun or enhances it.
— Josh Mitteldorf
Before the first commercial radio broadcast, when vacuum tubes were large, expensive, and short-lived, Leon Theremin invented the first electronic instrument. Two antennas respond to the position of the hands, one for volume, one for pitch, without the need to touch the antennas. Anyone could make sound from it, and the most difficult thing is to get used to how exquisitely sensitive it is, so that tiny movements make notes of the scale.
The headline above came from a newspaper review after the 1928 Carnegie Hall debut by Леон Теремин himself.
The theremin has experienced a renaissance in the last 10 years. Its sounds can be made more like a human voice than any other instrument. Theremins excel at slow, sentimental melodies in the soprano range
but it’s not possible to play quick, exciting music on the theremin because no one can jump the hand with sufficient control.
(When she rises an octave for the second time through, all the hand motions have to be half as big as the first time.)
No speed of wind or water rushing by
But you have speed far greater. You can climb
Back up a stream of radiance to the sky
And back through history up the stream of time.
And you were given this swiftness not for haste
Nor chiefly that you may go where you will,
But in the rush of everything to waste,
That you may have the power of standing still—
Off any still or moving thing you say.
Two such as you with such a master speed
Cannot be parted nor be swept away
From one another once you are agreed
That life is only life forevermore
Together wing to wing and oar to oar.
A single step, that freed me from the skirts
Of the blind vapour, opened to my view
Glory beyond all glory ever seen
By waking sense or by the dreaming soul!
The appearance, instantaneously disclosed,
Was of a mighty city—boldly say
A wilderness of building, sinking far
And self-withdrawn into a boundless depth,
Far sinking into splendour—without end!
Fabric it seemed of diamond and of gold,
With alabaster domes, and silver spires,
And blazing terrace upon terrace, high
Uplifted; here, serene pavilions bright,
In avenues disposed; there, towers begirt
With battlements that on their restless fronts
Bore stars—illumination of all gems!
By earthly nature had the effect been wrought
Upon the dark materials of the storm
Now pacified; on them, and on the coves
And mountain-steeps and summits, whereunto
The vapours had receded, taking there
Their station under a cerulean sky.
Oh, ’twas an unimaginable sight!
Clouds, mists, streams, watery rocks and emerald turf,
Clouds of all tincture, rocks and sapphire sky,
Confused, commingled, mutually inflamed,
Molten together, and composing thus,
Each lost in each, that marvellous array
Of temple, palace, citadel, and huge
Fantastic pomp of structure without name,
In fleecy folds voluminous, enwrapped.
— Wordsworth, The Excursion
There is a popular and active school of futurism that regards human intelligence and machine intelligence as different realizations of the same thing. Because the hardware is different, computers are good at doing straightforward things rapidly, while brains are good at doing holistic tasks rapidly. The human brain can do everything a computer can do, but it is slow and inefficient at computing thousands of digits of π, or sorting information in exact temporal sequence. The speculation is that computers can do everything a brain can do, though they are still slow and inefficient at recognizing a human face in shadow or extracting meaning from speech.
Is it true that computing machines are not essentially different from brains, and that they will eventually (soon?) be able to excel at “real-world intelligence”?
Computers use indexing. Humans have content-addressable storage.
How exactly does the human brain enable us to perform recollections that are baffling from a technological perspective? Neuroscientists and psychologists haven’t yet been able to help the techies much. Perhaps more worrying is the fact that there is little awareness of the interesting features of human acquisition and recall, even among researchers. If we are ever going to understand human memory, more people need to think about what is distinctive about it.
Charles Darwin had a vast amount of knowledge about biology and geology, but it was his reading of Thomas Malthus’s An Essay on the Principle of Population — with its dire image of humans struggling with each other due to overpopulation — that finally enabled him to conceive of natural selection.
Read Yohan J. John at 3Quarks Daily
What is your association with this cartoon?
- A California boy remembers in vivid detail his exploits in a WW II fighter plane, and the trauma of being shot down by Japanese anti-aircraft. He attends a reunion of WW II Navy airmen, and recognizes other members of his platoon by name.
- A Turkish boy describes his life as a highwayman. He has birthmarks on his chin and the crown of his head, corresponding to entrance and exit wounds where a famous Turkish gangster shot himself to death rather than be captured by the police.
- A 20th Century Hollywood actor under hypnosis describes his life as a 19th Century piano teacher. In ordinary life he has no musical training, but under hypnosis he plays classics on the piano.
- A Lebanese toddler calls into the telephone “Lela! Lela”. As she develops ability to speak, she describes her child (Lela) and husband in Richmond, VA, where she died of complications during heart surgery.
Dr Ian Stevenson, born 99 years ago on Halloween, was head of psychiatry at UVA. He traveled the world for 40 years interviewing children who claimed to remember another life, and wrote 16 books and hundreds of articles detailing over 10,000 stories, any one of which might be taken as powerful evidence that either a highly specific telepathy is at work, or the children are reborn from a previous life.
Video summarizing the evidence, including clips of a lecture by Dr Stevenson.
Early academic book with documentation.
(Dr Jim Tucker continues Stevenson’s work at UVA.)
Our laws are not generally known; they are kept secret by the small group of nobles who rule us. We are convinced that these ancient laws are scrupulously administered; nevertheless, it is an extremely painful thing to be ruled by laws that one does not know… The laws are very ancient; their interpretation has been the work of centuries, and has itself doubtless acquired the status of law; and though there is still a possible freedom of interpretation left, it has now become very restricted. Moreover the nobles have obviously no cause to be influenced in their interpretation by personal interests inimical to us, for the laws were made to the advantage of the nobles from the very beginning, they themselves stand above the laws, and that seems to be why the laws were entrusted exclusively into their hands. Of course, there is wisdom in that—who doubts the wisdom of the ancient laws?—but also hardship for us; probably that is unavoidable.
The very existence of these laws, however, is at most a matter of presumption. There is a tradition that they exist and that they are a mystery confided to the nobility, but it is not and cannot be more than a mere tradition sanctioned by age, for the essence of a secret code is that it should remain a mystery. There is a small party who are actually of the opinion that there are no laws, and who try to show us that, if any law exists, it can only be this: The Law is whatever the nobles do. This party see everywhere only the arbitrary acts of the nobility, and reject the popular tradition, which according to them possesses only certain trifling and incidental advantages that do not offset its heavy drawbacks, for it gives the people a false, deceptive and over-confident security in confronting coming events. This view…is lightened only by the belief that a time will eventually come when the tradition and our research into it will jointly reach their conclusion, and as it were gain a breathing space, when everything will have become clear, the law itself will belong to the people, and the nobility will vanish. This is not maintained in any spirit of hatred against the nobility; not at all, and by no one. We are more inclined to hate ourselves, because we have not yet shown ourselves worthy of being entrusted with the laws…
There is, of course, a sort of paradox: Any party which would repudiate, not only all belief in the laws, but in the nobility as well, would have the whole people behind it; yet no such party can come into existence, for nobody would dare to repudiate the nobility. We live on this razor edge. A writer once summed up the matter up in this way: “The sole visible and indubitable law that is imposed upon us is the nobility, and must we ourselves deprive ourselves of that one law?”
— Franz Kafka