Thursday, August 17, 2017

Shamans, masks and illusion.

Watching 'Vikings' this evening, the penny finally dropped.

Yes, obviously, it is Fred, in a mask, for the ritual, and, though Fred is the shaman, we know he is a decent enough bloke, who enjoys an evening chat, and the odd beer, as much as the next fellow.

So, how can we go weak at the knees, filled with divine inspiration and inspired by the dance to decide to do great things in the hunt tomorrow?

It isn't that we are daft primitives, you know, we've exactly the same mental equipment as you do, even if we find electric lights magic.

What is it then?

It is obvious, really, when you think about it. yes, Fred in a mask is just Freda's the magic soup that does it. When you have had a drink, specially prepared to be packed with entheogens, like psilocybin, then your critical faculties aren't there. The mask does the job. You really do see him as the antelope, the praying mantis, the snake that runs the universe. Fred simply isn't part of your calculations.

Obvious, really. Silly me, I only grokked these this evening.

Monday, August 29, 2016

A new study showing that genetically determined levels an anti-inflammatory (IL6) are linked to intelligence and personality changes, and caused by disease levels.

This is fascinating. It makes sense, that it should be more important to survive pathogens than to be clever, but the effect on so many things is remarkable.

Who'd have thought that on part of the immune system, an anti-inflammatory, interleukin-6 (IL6), should have such a powerful effect on personality, with high-levels of conscientiousness, openness and neuroticism all more common where disease burdens are lower.

It also makes sense that optimism should be linked with a lower disease burden.

I suppose it's less of an appealing set of results to those who put a high store on use being responsible, through 'free will', for the way we are.

It seems a bit perverse that dim, unadventurous, impulsive, bovine types should be more attractive and, thus, fecund, in places where there's a high level of infectious disease - but there you are, that's the way it is, because of IL6... at least that seems the most reasonable direction of causation for a genetic trend.

Still, IL6 doesn't seem to have any effect on agreeableness or extraversion, so, maybe these people are hail-fellow-well-met types to make up for their otherwise dull approach to life.

It's a very good reason to be careful in the use of anti-biotics and earnest in looking for replacements - we probably spend too much on cancer research compared to pathogen extermination research.

This also provides some support for David Horrobin's view that schizophrenia was related to the immune response and could be ameliorated by essential fatty acids in the diet. -- I've checked and Omega-3 does decrease IL6 levels significantly. ( )

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Wealth and wellbeing - Heraclitus' balance - Epicurus' eudaemonia?

The statistics office in the UK has just produced the figures for life satisfaction for 2012 ( ).

The Financial Times (FT) has interpreted this as showing that the richer you are, the happier you are. Well, they would, wouldn't they.

The good news for those who do not think wealth for the sake of it is a good thing, is that it isn't quite that simple. There is still room for what Epicurus called 'eudaemonic' (human flourishing) and for Heraclitus view that life is about balance and flow, not extremes.

Here are the graphs:

What about decile 7? -- from ONS
You can see the one that the FT has latched on to. The top left shows 'Life satisfaction' against wealth, and shows it is lowest for the poorest, and highest for the richest.. Not quite, though, notice the bump at D7, which is more satisfied than D8, even if not as smug as D9 and D10.
Reported smugness isn't everything there is to happiness, though.

At the bottom left, self-reported happiness shows another bump for D7. The three happiest deciles are D3, D7 and D10. For some reason, D8 and D9 are over twice as unhappy as D7.

A sense of worth is very important to eudaemonia - and, there you see, again, at the top right, D7 is the anomaly, happier than both D8 and D10, and about as happy as D9.

Finally, what's the point of having lots of money and being anxious? The most anxious people are the D3s, which offsets their reported happiness. Yes, the very richest, the D10s, are less anxious than most.... But, the least anxious of all, almost half as anxious as the D10s, are the D7s.
On every measure, there seems to be something special, something closer to eudaemonia, than all the other deciles.

Who are this happy few? Well, the centre of the income group is a gross income of £41,123, or, more sensibly, an income between £37,700 and £45,575. That was in 2012, when the average gross income was £39,200. In percentage terms, this adds up to +/-16.3% of the average gross income.
In terms of disposable income, this is +/-12.9% of the average disposable income, that was £29,447, or, in the range between £28,482 and £33,280.

This looks much more reasonable than the FT's notion that the richer you are, the better.

To have the best balance of satisfaction, happiness, and a sense of worth, with the least anxiety, you need to be round about the average income, about 10% of it.

As Goldilocks would have said, not too much, and not too little, just right.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam - I'd not recommend it.

I was at the wonderful, renovated Rijksmuseum only a few months ago, and I've can't remember how many lovely visits I've made to the van Gogh, so a change seemed a good idea. The Stedelijk was not a good choice - I'd recommend against going, actually.

They've a big exhibition of pictures by Marlene Dumas. I'd never heard of her, not that surprising. I looked her up and she's a South African, based in Amsterdam. Clearly she's very good at marketing.

There were two or three good pictures - this portrait, on a vast scale, was one I thought OK:

Mostly, though, they were large, messy, monochrome scribbles with much emphasis on genitalia, for no reason I could see. Stuff that'd be find for student practice work, but not the sort of thing you'd want to pay 75€ to see when on your hols with excellent art only a few hundred metres away.

The rest of the gallery was variable. There is a nice van Gogh, an interesting Kandinski, a few walls with vivid blocks of colour and lots of indifferent messes. 

There are lots of 'found' objects - the main question they raise is why they weren't just left there when found.

There are a few rooms of furniture and household goods - the furniture can't be sat on, it's in glass cases, so you can't tell if it is as uncomfortable and impractical as it, mostly, looks.

I liked the kettles, but I've a particular interest in the evolution of the kettle. I liked a few porcelain pieces, below.

The highlights (pretty well all of them):

Can you see the magnificent cockroach?

A most unpleasant woman

I didn't want to listen to her at all. At Citizen M, you breakfast at long refectory tables, sadly not under the rule of St. Benedict. So I had no choice, she sat opposite me.

I don't agree entirely with the St. Benedict, 'Scurrilitates vero vel verba otiosa et risum moventia æterna clusura in omnibus locis damnamus et ad talia eloquia aperire os non permittimus.' goes too far, certainly. I'd hope that even Trappists were allowed the occasional joke. He was right about silence at breakfast though.

After a long, loud discussion with her neighbour about some business they're doing in Amsterdam (she's away from home, leaving her husband to look after the two children - I had much, too much information!), she mentioned that it was their tenth wedding anniversary - and she had heard nothing from her husband.

One of her companions (pan au chocolat - so a genuine companion) suggested that he might have some nice secret surprise in store for them.. 'No! I know him and he's not like that - not like that at all'   the harpy replied, with no thought required.

A few minutes later a message came through on her 'phone. He's sent me a message, the disappointment at her anger coming to an end was evident, obviously his mother has reminded him.

It seemed completely beyond her ken that it was not her wedding anniversary, but their, shared, wedding anniversary. She hadn't any notion that, being away, on the anniversary, was her failing and the least she should be doing was getting in touch with him first, and early, to reassure him that all was well and she'd remembered.

In fact she seemed to think that the only reason for the event at all was for her to get presents, the most sought-after being a metaphorical knife to dig into her husband's ribs, as she goaded him for his forgetfulness of the anniversary.
It's possible that the chap in question is also a nasty piece of work - an estate agent, serial or mass murderer (soldier or free-lance), or a prison warder or framer of laws against victimless crimes - who knows. If he's a decent human being, he certainly doesn't deserver that treatment.
I hope he's rid of her soon, poor fellow. I know nothing about his qualities or achievements - only hat he has a very poor taste in women and, in at least one area, an inability to make sound judgements.

She listened in to our quiet chat about the day, and interrupted us to advise going to the Stedelijk museum Foolishly, I ignored the evidence in front of me and went. I wish I hadn't, what on earth made me ignore the obvious - how could such a woman have any aesthetic taste?

Harpy - Matthew Lewis -

Friday, March 23, 2012

More than this?

Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music answers the question:

More than this, there is nothing.

Quite. What could there be? Why would anybody want it?

If you realise, and consider that everybody you meet, even the beggar in the street, I living, consciously, the only life they have. Everybody, at the moment you see them, in the Café, on the road, in the hospital, in the school, walking on the mountain, eating their breakfast is, having the only moment of their lives that is real - now. How can you imagine that there is any need for more - than this?

This. Now. This-now. The moment between memory and anticipation, the instant where all our past makes us what we are, just now. It cannot be bettered. Even if this present moment might be dull, apparently, or painful, or sad, or just mundane - it is everything. There is not, and cannot be - more than this.

Yes, of course, we might have imaginings of the future, ambitions, dreams, plans, expectations, but, even if all, or none, of them come to be, it still remains the case that there is only, in the absolute sense of it, this. Now. This moment - and, no matter how long, or short, or happy, or sad our lives that will always be the case - more than this, there is nothing.

It might seem to be a recipe for defeatism, for regret - it would be nice to think that there might, or could be, more than this, but, a moment's thought shows that it couldn't be. It shouldn't be, and we wouldn't want it to be. This is. This is complete, and sufficient for any life.

Yes, it might be less than this. If we don't realise, at the time, that there is no more than this, we may live our lives in pointless, fruitless, and depressing anticipation of the 'more' that we anticipate, or hope for. We'l l always be disappointed...

Unless, realising that there is no more than this, we make it our aim, our reality, our dream to be just this, now, what we are and what we feel at this precise moment. If we fail to do this, but think of ourselves as what we were, or what we might be, then, no matter how wonderful those thoughts, no matter if the best imagining become true, we'll never appreciate them. Because, the only magic, the only delight, the only pain, the only part of being real, really real, is being here now. Exactly at the moment - not missing it, not pretending that it isn't here, but being in it, part of it, having it as the understood, precise and only moment when we are actually alive.

How simple it is. How odd that it should be necessary, or seem necessary, to point this out. Isn't it obvious?

When we meet another. Whether it's a moment of intense togetherness, or a glimpse into the eye of a stranger, we share our aloneness, in our moment, in our life, with another. That exit from solitary contemplation into being a part of another's life, is precious. Precious beyond our moment of being ourselves, in this moment, just now. It's an opening to another universe, another human - being a being more than just me, being a human being, being a moment in another life that, also, like ours, is made only of just now.

There is nothing new, or surprising, or odd, or wise about anything I've said - it's as original as breathing. What's odd, and in need of explanation is, rather, how far we distance ourselves, through illusions, from understanding this. Why is it that we need an explanation? Why do we find Bryan Ferry's song profound, rather than obvious? Why do we build such edifices of rationalisation to pretend, to ourselves, that anything other than this, and now, matters?

I'm not, and this obvious set of remarks isn't supposed to make you feel less than you are - you shouldn't feel upset that your hopes, dreams and memories are less meaningful than how you are exactly now. It is rather the other way around - our hopes, dreams and memories are there precisely to make now, this, exactly as precious as it is.

It's peculiar, really, that we need meditation, philosophy, the words of the Dalai Lama to tell us what is obviously in front of our nose:

“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” ~ Dalai Lama

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” ~ Dalai Lama

Compassion is only the result of seeing another, any other, conscious being and seeing that he is in exactly the same moment of the same amazing thing - conscious life - as you are.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Europe's Problem with rules

Why only the UK has problems with EU rules:

The Belgians make the rules.
The French follow rules that suit; eg. Champagne & Camembert.
The Germans follow all the rules, but only in the German translation.
The rest know the rules exist but are too small to attend to them all.
Only the English actually follow all the rules.