#FurryFives Eeurgh!

– C’mon little fella, you can make it…

– That pond’s not far!

– Just three more hops… one, two–

– Eeurgh! I can’t look

– I hate herons…

©Stephen Tanham

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The What of Life (1)

Luca original for WPress blogAA Sm

She was sitting in the front row – the car, for the first time in its life, had failed to start, and she set off late, as though projecting her future to this point – the front row of a group of about twenty people, a collective warmth -she had to admit – within which she was a complete stranger.

They had sounded interesting. Not presumptuous, not critical, just warm and intelligent.

The speaker was talking; a man with kind eyes, who had the relaxed manner of someone who’d one this many times. He looked at her, smiled and asked the question, “What is Life?”

It was the end of a miserable event curve that had begun with the car’s idiocy. Now, she felt nineteen pairs of eyes and ears upon her as she wished herself away. Instead, she breathed, wishing to rise to this double challenge of being unknown and facing an question to which there was no entire answer – itself an unknown…

But he was shifting his attention. “We all need to ask ourselves that, for it is the basis of any spiritual exploration…”

His head turned towards the back of the room, where she could feel someone straining to answer. There’s always a resident swot, she thought, recalling her school days…

“I would say that….” rose the voice from the back. Then it paused.

It was the gap that did it, she would later reflect. The pause that spoke to her and said You can respond to this. Damn it! She had studied biology in some depth; had created a synthesis in her own head, mixing it with her belief in universal kindness at apparent war with a cold universe…

“It’s a mysterious continuity,” she said, firmly – filling the gap.

She didn’t need to see to know that all eyes were upon her. His eyes dancing with mirth at her interruption, smiling gently at the depth of her answer.

“Yes?” He said, inviting…

She would apologise to the interrupted man at the back, later… For now, she had something to say.

———–

What is life? It’s an obvious question that has taken us thousands of years to approach. Even philosophers have argued over the question, unable to frame the properties of ‘living’.

As a child, and keen on cheap horror films, we would go out into garden with old, water-filled milk bottles and create coloured mixtures of soil, bits of plants and various other substances like the dust of old cement from the builder’s yard next door; that sort of thing. We would jam our hands over the neck and shake the contents for all we were worth, eventually, and exhausted in arm, watching the swirling mass of usually dark liquid spin like its own speeded-up universe.

Did it live?

Of course not. But the broken fractures in the middle of the deep sea oceans, with their bubbling, muddy vents, powered by the intense heat from a gap in the Earth’s crust did live – according to the most likely theories on the origin of life – our life.

What lived there that contrasted with our dead but sincere shaken milk bottle stew? What was it that came into existence and sustained itself, miles from the surface of the sea, coaxed into life by the energy of the volcanic deep-sea trench?

The answer is fascinating and multi-faceted. One very good answer is that we did. We came into existence in that deep ocean trench, a billion years ago. The chain of life that began then resulted in us – a being that can actually look back, with some authority, on the history of life on Earth. But it doesn’t just look back; it asks whether this was a unique, freak event, or whether the universe is teaming with life…

The growing mind that resulted from that self-sustaining life form can still only describe what life is, not why. The ‘what’ is wonderful and mysterious, but the why is either ignored with disdain or avoided. Science is not good at sharing the ‘truth’ with anything not based on its rigorous, but limiting principles. There are good reasons for this. The ages before the birth of rational thinking were marked by sheer fantasy and religious dogma as to what life was. The resulting materialistic swing of science was a natural reaction to this – and a good one. Perhaps now – as the questions of consciousness pile higher – there will be a loosening of what has become its own dogma, and a much deeper sharing of what it means to be human.

Over the next few Thursday posts, we will take a journey from those ocean vents where life began, making the leap from chemical to organic – and watching it change its relationship with ‘the world’ forever.

©️Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

The Faces of Shiva (2) Twisting Democracy

 

(Montage image by the author. See base of post for source of Shiva element)

The ‘perfect storm’ is a phrase that has entered our common vocabulary; that coming together of events to create a maelstrom of change and, often, terror – the terrorist attack of ‘9/11’ was a vivid example. These events change our world. We need a new word that describes the way we can look back at catastrophes and dissect them with great insight, yet seem unable to react in time to change them when they are happening.

The fact that our societies cannot fend off these ‘attacks’ in time to change them is part of a bundle of risk calculations made by the perpetrators.  They rely on the ‘attack’ being something new, something of a different order to what has gone before, and which therefore will escape the safety mechanisms already in place. By following this plan, they calculate that the plurality and slowness of the response (of democracy) will dilute any ability to frustrate what they are carrying out.

They also rely on poor education; the inability to see through over-simplification of important and life-changing decisions. Few things are black and white, but we have to work to distinguish things in colour…

Politically, we could dispense with the slow and measured response of democracy and instigate a small or very small group of controllers – this would be fascism. Fascism always seems to be attractive in the face of a crisis; that’s why generating a false crisis is usually the first move of the proto-fascist. Decisions with depth need the kind of thinking through that makes things slow, and depends upon the goodwill of the people and the maturity of the judiciary.

Fascism is not a political party. It’s a state of mind that preys upon the under-educated. It follows a well-tested curve to power; something I will write about in the final blog of this series. It is a mistake to think that the snake of fascism ever dies. Its mechanisms are always funded by the super-rich, who need to damage the power of ‘reasonableness’ in order to get the sweeping changes they need for yet more power. This is key: while a society’s centre of reasonableness holds, the extremists cannot gain traction.

The year 2016 saw two examples of a dynamic and decisive use of a new technology for the manipulation of political power: the US presidential elections, and what has become known as the ‘Brexit’ referendum in the UK- though, at the time, ‘Brexit’ was the name of the well-funded camp that wanted a second national referendum on the issue – the first was in 1975, which confirmed that the British nation wanted to stay in Europe.

I am not writing here about the results; the winners of the elections. The idea of democracy is that people vote for what they want. I am discussing the advanced methods by which democracy is manipulated; and the step-change in power of those who now control mass opinion. Historically, newspapers and television have done this, but the massive growth of social media has changed the playing field across the world – particularly the use of Facebook data, something acknowledged by Facebook itself.

During the start of the second UK referendum, I was first alerted to what was going on when a full-screen image appeared on my Mac over my morning coffee. There, in an exact match of the colours and fonts used by the UK’s Labour Party, was a political advert saying that Jeremy Corbin, the leader of the Labour Party, was against Britain staying in the European Union. The content of the Facebook ad was subtly worded, such that it was the right side of the law, but the inference: that Corbin had endorsed the ‘Brexit’ campaign, was entirely false. Subsequently, it was discovered that there were hundreds of variants of each advert, each specially tuned to the exact political parameters of the recipient. Ask any psychologist: people give a lot away about themselves when they fill in the boxes on fun surveys like ‘What kind of avenging princess are you?’

Surprisingly few people know the full story of how Facebook data was used during that period in the UK and in America. It was estimated that the personal social-political media profiles of over 50 million Americans were held by Facebook and legally (though deviously) extracted by an English firm – Cambridge Analytica – to be used in the election that brought Donald Trump to power. Exactly the same process was used to sway the million and a half voters needed to tip Britain into the present chaos of ‘Brexit’, as per my Labour Party example, above.

Cambridge Analytica ceased trading following the exposure of its methods by journalists not politicians. It was a runaway business success to that point. Only social pressure and the refusal of other companies to be seen to be customers drove it out of existence. In the end, much of that boils down to the pressure exerted by institutional shareholders, which points to one effective way of tacking such abuses.

It would be a mistake to assume that the methods developed by Cambridge Analytica have faded away in the aftermath. Facebook did nothing illegal, but – particularly in the US – is deeply fearful of new laws that would classify its screen-based output as ‘publishing’ and bring its content under the same legal and political scrutiny as conventional publishers. Such a move would dramatically affect the growth and share price of the ‘Tech’ giants in the social media world. Just as significantly, it would give them a task that they were, technically, not yet able to perform. The sheer volume of content means that even an army of human monitors could not deliver the control needed. Only advanced AI methods can do this – coupled with much faster follow-on response than they have shown previously.

The recent teen suicide scandal in the UK, where the Google subsidiary Instagram was seen to be hosting videos that promoted the practice, has highlighted the slow response to present crises, despite a stated willingness on the part of the Tech giants.

Personally, I think both Google and Facebook offer excellent products. But both face a barrage of ‘social responsibility’ issues, the response to which could bring them into a societal maturity they currently lack. But they have deep pockets… very deep pockets. We can hope that such money will be used in the development of automated ‘cleansing’ systems, rather than fighting off the need for society to protect itself – and the integrity of the political process of government.

All of what is happening may be inevitable. This ‘Face of Shiva’ may be characteristic of the destruction of a way of life that comes at the end of an age. The shift of power into the hands of very few people and corporations is a frightening thing. Plurality protects; the US lawmakers who are now looking at anti-trust legislation against their own companies face a difficult dilemma, but one that must be solved if we are to feel that the individual human has any value at all.

Is there a spiritual dimension to this? There is certainly one of consciousness. The most destructive forces at work are those creating the ‘polarity of hate’ across the western world. However much we feel ‘our side’ has been wronged, our only hope for the future is to re-discover the middle ground from which the extremists have pushed our collective centre of gravity- and that is a personal, not a political, action.

Other parts in the Faces of Shiva series:

Part One


These are my personal views. I respect those of others who may not agree with them. If there is a way through these things we need to share opinions and ideas in a non-polemic way. Currently, hatred reigns. As Stephen Hawking said, “All we have to do it to keep talking”.

If we don’t there may not be a future…

Please free to add your own comments.

©️Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Images: The opening montage is by the author. The underlying image of Shiva is from Wikipedia under the licence detailed below.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4a/Shiva_cropped.jpg

Thejas Panarkandy from India – Murudeshwara Statue

 

Verily, Verily…

From Stuart…

Stuart France

rs-204*

The thing is…

It is impossible to ‘do’ such sites in one visit.

In fact, it is not possible to ‘do’ such sites at all.

If anything, they ‘do’ you, if you allow them.

As we were about to learn…

*

rs-203*

The stone I was interested to get a closer look at is a, one would hope,  carefully positioned, replica.

The original, carved stone, is now in a local museum for safe-keeping.

The orientation of the tomb is, according to the authorities, towards the midsummer sunrise, so time-wise, at least, we were half a year away.

But I think it is clear that something is going on here with sun and stone, especially as it becomes obvious that a second outlier in an adjacent field also lines up with the stone and ‘passage-way’…

*

rs-199*

All things which would have been missed had we not returned when we…

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Inside the church at Penn II

From Sue…

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

Continuing my visit to Penn, to keep my promise to Noelle Granger. The second part can be found here:

There is so much to notice in the church at Penn… far too much to take in at a single visit. Even the grave markers and monuments each have a story to tell and, while I seldom spend a lot of time reading inscriptions on a visit, here there were too many that bore names important to history to simply ignore them.

All around the church there is evidence of not only the history of the building, but of its people and patrons across over eight hundred years.

Faces, shields and heraldic symbols look down upon you are you explore. You know that each one means more than you understand… and know that you will be trawling the heraldry websites again in search of their stories.

The royal…

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Reality TV?

 

It’s full of trivia and artificial things; things which have arisen in the name of entertainment. Everywhere you look there is a stream of mindless celebrities willing – some would say desperate –  to eat tropical bugs to give themselves a chance of being famous, again. It reminds me of a sad film I once saw called “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They”.

There are also some of the best and most informative documentary programmes we have ever seen. Such a mixture, and, as usual, it’s a matter of personal choice – and a bit of effort…

Television. It’s changed a lot since I was a boy… Perhaps not all for the better. But it’s not the purpose of this blog to complain about the ‘box’. We are all entitled to our leisure time and to choose how we spend it. To me, there is a sense here of a ‘race to the bottom’ about a whole layer of modern entertainment. This seems to go hand in hand with a view of life as a comic strip, where there must be good guys and bad guys and violent resolutions. Superhero movies don’t help. The truth is complex. Resolution of problems always involves compromise. There is no black and white.

How about considering the humble TV in a different way: as a reflection of the mind and human consciousness, it’s an experiment that opens up a set of parallels that are fascinating.

The TV shows us a flat screen that our minds have learned to convert back into our native 3D. With a well made drama programme that we can be ‘lost’ in, the experience is a good approximation of being there. Children can be traumatised by scary TV programmes. Adults sometimes forget the degree to which they cannot separate it from reality. Only later in life do we see that the ‘scare’ can be switched off inside ourselves, but only if we ‘pull back’ from the flat screen experience and deny it its imaginative power. My wife still can’t and hides her face behind a cushion with really scary films…

In ‘switching off’ what appears to be present lies a mystical parallel. Can the television teach us to do the same thing with life, itself?

I’m watching a bunch of gym-obsessed twenty-somethings flaunt themselves on an island in the sun. The women are blonde and beautiful; the men shaped like Greek gods… But their conversation could be from a junior school. The whole thing is entirely artificial. I mutter under my breath and switch it over. It’s a documentary about plastic waste and what we are doing to our oceans. I care about this, so I sit down and watch, clutching my cup of tea. This is real… and painful. I wish the perfect sun worshippers were watching this, too. We could us their energies…

Can we, in life, switch over channels? To do this we have to find the equivalent of us being on our comfy chair and watching the TV. This is entirely possible and is one of the basic techniques that we teach in the Silent Eye School of Consciousness.

We need to, literally, push the world away from our eyeballs. Sound crazy? Well, the reason the world is painted on our eyeballs is that we identify with what we see. Like the child with the television, we can’t see the screen and ourselves at the same time. By developing this dual consciousness – which is the work of only a few months – we  can begin to watch our own life as though it were a screen. In fact it is a kind of screen, one on which we project much of our existence. We see this as happening to us, but, really, we are happening to ourselves. At least at the mundane levels of life.

Once we begin to penetrate the understand of the ‘world as television’ we can start to look for the truly real…. and that is a very different journey.

©️Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

 

 

 

Swans…

From Stuart…

Stuart France

*

‘Birds-of-the-Beyond’, Mountain-Ana called them.

She bought us a book.

The picture of the Lir-Clan huddled on a rock in the middle of a raging sea, slipping into Swan-Vests still remains, clear as each new day that dawns.

*

“They’re here!” she said, her eyes aflame.

“What are?”

“The-Birds-from-Back-of-Beyond.”

I smiled at her memory, “They’re where?”

“Our-Back-Field!”

“Not possible,” I said grabbing my coat.

But I was wrong.

It had rained heavily overnight and two swans now swam on an impossible lake in the middle of Our-Back-Field.

We watched them all morning and wept when they flew away.

*

View original post

The Faces of Shiva (1)

 

(Montage image by the author. See base of post for source of Shiva element)

Brahma creates the world. Vishnu sustains it so that it might achieve its potential. Shiva destroys it when its positive energy has been exhausted. The ‘world’ might be everything, or, for the initiate of old, it might just as well apply to anything created by the mind – large or small. In other words a system.

It should make us think…

The ancient Hindu triumvirate describes a deep and recurring motif in spirituality: that there must be a threefold process, which necessarily involves the sweeping away of that which has served its purpose; has ceased to support the structures it built to achieve its purposes; has ceased to draw upon the positive (expansive) energies that sustained its coming-into-maturity.

We could be forgiven for thinking that this ancient myth accurately describes what we are experiencing in the world economics, politics and technology.

At the heart of it is the question: does the ordinary human have any intrinsic value?

We take for granted that we have value – that human life has value. We are at the top of the food-chain. We are intelligent. We created machines that appear to think, at least well enough to solve problems. Yet we are surrounded by recent and powerful changes that are sweeping away the consensus of ‘human worth’ that have sustained our civilisations for centuries.

Even a decade ago, we could have counted on an unwritten agreement that human life had value among the powers that control. Now, I’m not so sure. On both sides of the Atlantic (and elsewhere) what was supposedly put to bed at the end of the age of Fascism (World War II and its surrounding periods) is being attacked by either ultra-rich or fanatical forces.

In Britain, we have a crumbling national identify, divided by the hatred generated by Brexit and the advancing power of the political ‘right’ whose vision sweeps away thirty years of social thinking. Thugs from the ultra-right have been empowered by Brexit’s implicit racism and feel justified in threatening and even killing members of parliament who promote social and inclusive agendas.

In America, there is a President who is adored or hated in seemingly equal measure; a head of state who openly rewards the super-rich – that one percent of the elite that owns ninety percent of the wealth.

This kind of approach is applauded by those who espouse the supposed ‘trickle-down’ effect of wealth at that top; yet detailed studies on both sides of the Atlantic have shown that the tricking down of such wealth is non-existent. Many of those who voted for Brexit admit they did it to ‘spoil the party’ of the better off.

On holiday, last November, we met and had dinner with an American couple from Arizona whose company we liked but whose values were very different to ours. The personal possession of guns was one of the issues, but we were able to discuss it in a friendly manner. I learned a lot – particularly from the man’s statement that the police were incapable of responding to armed burglary in time to do anything, and so anyone not armed was vulnerable… He was appalled when I said that, in the UK,  I would be committing a serious criminal offence if was caught with a pistol in public. I won’t be – I don’t like guns, but it pays to listen to other people’s views…

We did not fall out. Both sides of the table listened, and we continued to understand each other in more depth. Most telling was what the husband of the couple said to me as we were preparing to leave. He said that we should not believe this ‘bullshit’ that the average American middle-class family was prosperous. In his view this entire layer of American society had become substantially poorer over the past twenty years – the period that the super rich had hoovered up the available wealth – particularly after each financial crash.

The same is true in Britain, where the supposed ‘middle-class’ has seen its prosperity whittled away by the politics of ‘austerity’ since the financial crash of 2007.  As a close friend of mine – a very working class man – said, “None of the ****ing bankers were put in prison, yet we’re all a lot poorer through having to bail them out… and the rich seem to be a lot richer, despite this.” In our case, this rage came home to roost with Brexit – changing the face of Britain, possibly forever, and destroying an economic coalition of European countries that had prevailed since the end of WWII.

When I worked in IT (for a Californian company) it was often said to me, in confidence, that the Europoean Union was ‘too successful at international law and too principled…’ Food for thought.

Recently, I watched a documentary in which an American billionaire from Silicon Valley was interviewed on this subject. His opinion runs counter to most of his super-rich friends. He argued that the very wealthy had only to share a little of their wealth to make the whole economic carousel continue in its revolutions; but that they didn’t see it that way, and therefore it was likely doomed…

Everywhere we look there is destruction of the old and formerly stable way of looking at things.

Back to our ‘value of the human’ consideration. I used to think that we could only fix things if we addressed the following:

  1. There has to be a ‘society’. Former UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher famously said that ‘there was no such thing as society’ – prompting outrage at the time. Collectively, perhaps, we need to re-learn where society comes from and how its values stay strong. The Scandinavian countries seem the best at doing this, and they willingly pay the higher taxes needed to sustain it.
  2. We have to believe that politics both works and matters. To have politics we  have to have real choices. If, say, a victory for either side in a two-party state actually results in a the same economy-controlled decisions, then that is not a choice – it’s a fake choice. Following WWII, Britain voted out an astonished Winston Churchill in favour of a radical Labour Party that proceeded to carry out an exhaustive and effective overhaul of British social provisions. That was only possible because there was belief that change could be achieved.
  3. There has to be education about the issues. Brexit is a case in point. Even hardline pro-Brexit voters now admit they had no comprehension of the complexity of what they were voting for. They may not want to change their minds, but they agree they were misled.
  4. Technology – particularly social media –  needs to be brought under a unified regulatory structure, even if it means extending the present laws to accommodate the uniques. The abuse of this mechanism was widespread in the Brexit referendum – and in the last US election. An English software company – Cambridge Analytica (about which I wrote at the time) – was chased to ground and had to ceased trading, but that’s proving to have been the tip of the iceberg. The origin of some of the vast sums spent with the social media companies on these campaigns remains shadowy.

Today, I’m not sure that list is comprehensive. Much of what follows in these posts is about the gaps…

Our world is complex and it is international. Any attempt to turn the clock back to simpler days, like ‘little Englanders’ do,  is doomed to swift and painful failure. The degree to which people’s prosperity is inextricably linked with the state of the rest of the world is a terrifying thing – unless you see it as part of an evolution of the human race; an evolution in which we are brought face to face with the real conditions prevailing in the rest of the planet – unable to ‘turn off the TV’.

Is the face of Shiva upon us? The speed with which these changes occurred, and is occurring; and the success of some of the most destructive forces suggests that, whatever you call it, something whose time has come is active across the planet. This may be a test of the present stage of humanity, or it may simply be an age of destruction. It’s happened before, but few learn from history.

In the next few posts, I will be writing about some of the most pressing topics around the subject of global power, economics and technology. Beginning with the degree to which western democracies are wide open to active and politically-sponsored online interference from hostile forces.

These are my personal views. I respect those of others who may not agree with them. If there is a way through these things we need to share views and talk a lot. If we don’t there may not be a future…

Please free to add your own comments.

©️Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Images: The opening montage is by the author. The underlying image of Shiva is from Wikipedia under the licence detailed below.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4a/Shiva_cropped.jpg

Thejas Panarkandy from India – Murudeshwara Statue

©️Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.