Feeds:
Posts
Comments

My Hyper-Ordinary Life

So.

I’ve been away, so they say, but come what may, I’m here to stay.

In other words, I’ve been busy. How do you make poetry out of the everyday motion of the mind and limbs? I see no reason that I should try. An honest voice is always in song, eyes that look back only sparkle when perfectly reflective.

And back indeed I can look, now, after the longest three months I’ve ever had. Time stretches, it seems. When I was young, ten years seemed like one. When I was an adolescent, suffering made me forgetful; whole years passed in solicitude. When I was twenty, confusion condensed weeks into seconds. Now, a day is like a month, a week a year, three months a lifetime – long enough to sink into reminiscent forgetfulness of a
thousand memorable transformations.

Yet, nothing happened. I may mark down achievements, challenges met and defeats overcome, but what for? When the past kills the now, all self-inflicted medals die with it. There have been more moments in India, when I was traveling the mountains, than in two hundred sedentary evenings, but what are moments when compared to daily effort? Effigies of self-lore gone upon arrival; yet effort stays in the mind like a rock.
How then should I measure thee, three months of action and doubt? Perhaps by each droplet of difficulty made ease, or by the weaving this thread of meaning into the general forming purpose of life? One thing I am to remember in all this – that the way I remember has determined the quest.

But on to business, to numbers that measure our death, three steps out of a thousand heartbeats towards stillness. On to the death of poetry.

This is what I have been up to in these three cycles of the moon:
1. Second semester of MA in Philosophy.
2. First semester of BA in Psychology.
3. Third semester of Yoga Teacher’s Course.
4. Working as a SOA project manager.
5. Teaching Logic at the university.
6. Teaching a bit of Yoga.

That, of course, alongside all the usual hobbies and occupations which have characterized me from my beginning at thirteen. I should like now to sketch my schedule for posterity. Roughly, it looked something like this, although it had a way of mutating from one week to another, due to my own volition or otherwise:

Sun
: 1200-1600 University, Logics Lesson + my class
: 1700-2100 Home, studying Psychology
Mon
: 0900-1600 Yoga Teacher’s Course
Tue
: 1000-1900 Work
Wed
: 1000-1200 University, Seminar on Metaphors
: 1300-1700 Home, reading Davidson seminar materials
Thu
: 0930-1300 Work
: 1400-1800 University, Seminar on Davidson
: 1800-1930 University, helping logics students
: 2000-2200 Tel-Aviv, Giving a yoga class
Fri
: 1000-1130 Home, Yoga practive
: 1300-1700 Home, Preparing material for Logics class
: 1700-2000 Home, Reading Metahors seminar material
Sat
: 1000-1300 Home, Yoga practice
: 1300-1500 Visiting parents
: 1500-1700 Home, Studying Psychology

Now, keep in mind I had to drive to and from work, university etc. Sprinkle the various chores and errands that crop up in daily life, add the desire to see my friends and my innate tendency to pursue other hobbies in addition to whatever I am committed at any one time, top it with emails, phone calls and meals, and you get a very, very busy life.

I am hesitant to state all the reasons I found this schedule to be so difficult. There were, of course, surface reasons: The quick transitions from one thing to another, and learning how to do so many new things at once proved to be thoroughly confusing. The fact that this schedule kept changing was no help either, and that it was mostly self-managed really made it truly nerveracking – I had no signposts to follow.
But that really wasn’t why it was difficult. It was difficult because I was full of doubt. None of all these things that I did feel like the “right thing”. Not one of them. Sure, Yoga does, but only when I do it on my own. Philosophy does, but in my own way and not in the university. Psychology does, but… Well, you get the picture. This was an exercise in acting out of doubt (double meaning here); the main point being to try and figure out why I am so full of doubt – always have been – about everything I do. Even spending time with friends or simply listening to music is no exception; in fact, those cases are even more prone to painful questions than others.

The other reason for the difficulty was that this surfaced a thousand issues deeply etched into my memory and personality, which were not easy to deal with. This was precisely the plan, the reason that I decided to create such a hectic life; but knowing that I was doing it only helped a bit; I still had to work out all the hard feelings that kept cropping up. That I was very much alone in this was no help. As of late, a rift had been created between me and my close friends, which started six months ago, and by the time the semester started I rarely had anyone to talk to. This caused all sorts of emotional mayhem which I’d rather not specify. I am glad for the process, but the solitude made it that much more painful.

The first month was, well, hard. I really can’t describe it. I was running all over the place, kept making mistakes. I didn’t know how to to study, I didn’t know how to focus my efforts. By the second month I started to get my bearings, which is when deeper emotional stuff began to appear. By the third month, working through this schedule was easy; what was hard was what I was working through internally. I’ve handed in all my papers, gotten the highest grades, I’ve more than was expected of me in each of my fields of interest; but with all that, I’m left with too many unresolved questions about my self.

And so my conclusion is to keep this up, and I intend to. This may sound a little crazy, but I am not inclined to justify it here. A few days ago the semester vacation has started, and I had arranged matters to be almost as hectic as they were so far. Next semester I am even adding a few new elements, and it will be back to the grind at least until July.

What am I doing? Why? I’m not sure. I don’t know myself enough to answer that question. I am following an old instinct that will some day answer back. Its answer may be its own self-destruction and an understanding of past mistakes, or it may be a continuation and re-affirmation of the current path. But whatever happens, I follow.

Finally, you may ask, where is Joy in this? And I can answer that it is there. I have always had a peculiar access point to joy, and this is it, or at least I think and hope it will be. This lifestyle will make little sense to anyone else; it is thoroughly adapted it to my own conditions and characteristics.

I finish with a sense of uselessness and pursuit. The contemplation of death is upon me. I have been watching autopsies and identifying with the lying corpse. All this for what? Where am I headed?

No answer.

חתול

Yoga Update

As a result of a few things that happened in my meditation retreat, as well as some other factors, I have decided that the Pranayama experiment has come to an end. I have been doing Pranayama every day for an hour for six months. Asanas only about twice a week.

There is still much to explore, but this much is clear: Pranayama is a great benefice. That and mantras are for me the heart of Yoga. The most important facets in Pranayama are: listening, exploration, imagination, acceptance, moderation and hopefulness; the rest comes on its own, and I assure you that it does come, and is undeniable.

However, even with my careful practice, which has been gradual and full of good effects, I have found that I do not know enough to control some outcomes. I will not write about it here, but suffice to say that one can trigger phenomena one feels are more than he can handle. When the body is made ready by steady practice, even sitting in meditation can become overwhelming, and may spark a powerful process; no damage is done, but there are obvious signs that more knowledge is required before I can proceed. This is why I’m shifting to a lower gear.

For now I have no set practice plan for the future. I will probably practice about one to one and a half hours each day, alternating Asanas and Pranayama, but focus on Asanas.  In Asanas I am going back to the basics – sun salutations, standing poses, a bit of balancing and Sarvangasana, that’s it. In Pranayama I will stay with Nadi shodhana, Kapalabahti and Ujai, with Antar Kumbhaka.

That’s it. For me, Yoga feels better each day, more complete, more a part of me. That I am retreating from Pranayama is out of love for it, out of respect for due process. Some things cannot be rushed, and besides, why rush through what is such a scenic, beatific road?

Meditation Retreat IV

Notes:

At home, four days. The most difficult retreat yet.

Strict vipassana rules. Only Ana-Pana.

Nothingness. No action. Confirmation.

Yogic effects such as over heating are not to be trifled with. I should have been better prepared. Mind and body are inherently connected. A careful diet is imperative. Practices should be learned to reduce heat and control energy flow.

This again in a few months.

Cook
Use incense, perfumes
Wear scarves
Sing
Dance
Cry
Kiss my friends
Sleepover
Have sleepovers
Sit with friends without talking
Facebook
Linkedin
Have many circles of friends
Travel
Sleep outdoors
Shower with friends
Get a massage
Give a massage
Just relax doing nothing
Talk about love
Learn from others
Pray
Hug my parents
Accept gifts from my parents
Be grateful to my parents
Sunbathe
Call random people on the phone
Have days off
Be moderate
Feel hopeful

Some of these I do rarely
Some I do every day
Some I only did once
There’s a long way to go still

(I was kidding about showering with friends, btw)

Herbert

In my last paper, I proposed that symmetrical explanations are inherently non-informative, illustrating this using an example of two electric engines connected in tandem. This approach was doubly problematic: First, to say that symmetric explanations are non-informative in misleading, and probably false; second, the example I gave is man-made rather than natural. In addition, it is not the case that a symmetric explanation, taken one explanation at a time non-informative, but both directions, the explanation and its symmetric counterpart, taken at once, that create the problem. In this paper I will explain what I meant by ‘non-informative’ using two examples taken from the natural world, namely the biological realm and planetary mechanics.

More specifically, I will be looking at two explanations which are symmetric in the same context, and argue that there is something about such explanations that begs the question and is at odds which a certain manner in which science asks questions. I will propose a property of ‘open-endedness’ as essential to valid explanations, and show, though rather briefly, how this pertains to validation.

 

Take the following explanans-explanandum pair:

“Why do bees have pouches on their backs?”

“Because certain flowers, that bees attend to disperse pollen, are constructed in such a way that the pollen is placed in the pouch on the bees back”

 

This explanation is obviously reversible in the very same context it was given. Assume, however, that apart from a short added explanation (or prior knowledge) about how flowers procreate and how bees feed, no added explanation is given; in other words, there is nothing said or pre-conceived about evolutionary theory.

Given that this is the case, I think the explanation will still satisfy at least some speakers. However, I think this is misleading; for if it is explicitly stated, that it is not at all true that bees came before flowers, nor flowers before bees, and that both elements of the explanation (the pouch, the pollen and the shape of  the flower) in fact exist simultaneously, then I believe the explanation will not be accepted.

 

This is what is meant by saying that symmetric explanations beg the question: If pouched bees are the reason of pollinated flowers, and vice versa, then something here remains has not been explained. Nor do I think this is an appeal to another, different explanation, like in the case of a child who asks ‘why?’ repeatedly, whatever answer he is given. Once an explanation is given, is stated to have no temporal element, and is shown to be symmetric, that is enough I think to question the validity of the explanation.

In this particular case, we may say that the disturbing aspect of this explanation is its never/always sort of construct – either bees and flowers have always existed simultaneously, or they never will. What then is missing here is the question of genesis, of a temporal sequence; our attempt to create a non-temporal explanation only resulted in a questionable explanation, at best, hence prompting an appeal to an explicitly temporal explanation, that of how the bee-flower duo was created.

In evolutionary theory, this is amply explained. Namely, there are rules of random mutation and feedback cycles (e.g. death), and hence a temporal, step-by-step change in properties in each generation. Neither pouch nor pollen were created overnight, nor simultaneously; they gradually evolved ‘towards’ each other. And while the specific details of mutation are left out, at least we have a plausible way of gradually getting to a fully-fledged proposition. So we see that to validate our unsuccessful explanation, we resorted to a temporal process, and hence, to an asymmetric explanation[1].

 

There are, then, two things to note about this example and generally about same-context symmetric explanations: The first is that they are ‘closed-ended’ because they lack a temporal process, and the second is they do not satisfy a certain condition which is implicit in many scientific inquiries. Let’s take each in turn.

 

Beginning with the first, by ‘closed-ended’ I imply a certain extension of the concept of symmetry, to include any closed-chain explanation. One example of this is the ecliptic plane: It is a little-known fact (outside academic circles) that all of the main planets in our solar system orbit around the sun on almost the same plane, the largest angle of deviation from it being 7 degrees. In other words, the shape the orbits create around the sun resembles that of a pancake. Now, if we ask ‘why is planet A on the same plane as planets B, C… F?’ we may reply ‘because planet B is on the same plane as planets C, D… F’, and this, in the Hempelian sense, will be a valid explanation. It is easy to show that the explanans, coupled with laws of orbital mechanics, entails the explanandum[2]. Now consider that we ask ‘why is planet B on the same plane as planets C, D… F?’, then we may answer ‘because planet C is on the same plane as planets A, D, E… F’. Proceeding in this manner, we get what I call a closed-ended explanation chain, and I think it is obvious that in no way have we explained the non-trivial fact that all planetary orbits in our solar system reside on the same plane. We have only explained why it is possible, why the current state of affairs is coherent and compatible with our theory of orbital mechanics. It seems that entailment explains correspondence, but not actual occurrence.

 

What I hope this examples illustrates is that science seems to have a preference for open-ended explanations. It is easier to see what is meant by ‘open-ended’ in planetary orbits than in the bees-flowers example, although I am sure other biological examples could be constructed. Open-ended systems have a lot to do with the notion of causality: If ‘billiard ball B moves’ because ‘ball C has hit it’ this is a valid explanation, because it leaves open both ends: ball A may have hit B and started the chain, or C may have gone on to hit D, etc. In other words, explanations lean towards the concept of cause and effect (if they are not simply equivalent to it) – they require sequence, which is really to say that they need to be open-ended. Open-endedness, temporality and cause-and-effect I think go hand in hand, although this should be demonstrated more decisively. Closed-ended explanations lead to infinite regress, and ‘seal off’ the sub-system examined from the rest of the world in such a way that it invalidates the explanation.

As for explanations that are reversible under different contexts, I think this is a specific case of sequence. Different contexts usually, perhaps always, means that a different cause on the ‘open-end’ started the chain of events going. In the engine tandem example from my previous paper, the ‘open-end’ is the fact that someone has to start paddling at one engine for both engines to run. In any event, I only mention this as a passing remark, to be studied further in future.

 

As for the second point, I said that there is an implicit issue at the heart of many scientific inquiries, and it is this: ‘why is this the case, and not something else?’. I think a good explanation often has such this question in mind. In the case of the bees, we may say that the explanation does not satisfy us because there are many other possibilities – the pouch could have been on the bees feet, or on her wings, or perhaps instead of a pouch it could have been a rough filament jutting out from her head, or maybe pollen could have been stickier and simply rubbed off on the bees belly. There are infinite other options. In the case of the ecliptic plane, we have only shown correspondence, possibility, not reasons for actual occurrence. What symmetric explanations do not explain is why one specific explanation is true, rather than another.

In asymmetric explanations, even if alternate explanations are not excluded entirely, at least there is the possibility of knowing which explanation is true by ‘following’ the causal chain. We can trace back from effect to cause to the cause of the cause, and verify that our particular explanation is true. Open-endedness, in other words, is an important condition of verifiability, and again stems from a very basic concept in causality: that a certain state of affairs is uniquely created by another state of affairs. This is rather a quick-and-dirty way of putting it; but for now, I offer it only as an intuitive conjecture.

 

It is now obvious that my use of the term ‘non-informative’ was rather unfortunate. A far better way of putting it is to say that same-context symmetric explanations are, simply, invalid, although this should be established further. The reasons for their invalidity stems from the close relation between explanation and properties of causality, namely open-endedness and uniqueness. These two properties I think are necessary conditions for theoretical validation. While symmetric explanations stop at correspondence, asymmetric explanations go a step further. I hope that I have at least opened a small venue into what this ‘step further’ is.

 


[1] Any temporal explanandum-explanans pair is asymmetric, as I have shown in my previous paper.

[2] The reason for this is that if any one planet deviates from the shared plane, the other planets will begin to deviate as well. This is not dissimilar from biological systems, in which disturbing one element will disturb the balance of the entire ecosystem.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.