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Welcome Back

These pages are just the musings of a (newly) retired person, living in a small village in North Hampshire, England. The range of topics is eclectic, as reflects my life in general; I hope you find something of interest.

Old Habits

They say that old habits die hard. And it’s true. Whenever we seek to change any part of our “being”, it will be old habits that pose the greatest impediment. Old habits are so powerful that they can last even after death – dragging the soul through the memory, as if it still has a physical existence. Old habits are routines of comfort, built up from a whole host of little strategies for coping with an uncertain world. Old habits are well-worn; predictable; rewarding. And our animal selves are led oh so much by reward.

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“I Wish …”

Such a common phrase – perhaps even more so in these puzzling times. And yet, what is “wish”? Is it even just one thing? Gurdjieff taught his students that the “wish” of ordinary man is a weak thing, and if they wanted any real change in themselves, they had to cultivate the “wish” of a real man. But what did he mean? And what use is “wish” when one is beset on all sides by huge forces and impossible conditions? What use is “wish” in deep depression? What use is “wish” when men with machetes are killing anyone who cannot quote the Qu’ran? Or when a maddened gunman is shooting indiscriminately in the mosque? What use is “wish” when no food will grow and children are reduced to silent bags of skin and bones? Is it merely a luxury, reserved for those who have nothing pressing on them?

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A Benevolent Dictator?

There are still many countries in the world where the national government sees itself as a benevolent dictatorship. And many others where there is a “paste gem” of democracy that can at best replace one, temporary dictator with another: where the choice is only between party A or party B to hold the reins of power and accountability. And time and again we see the weakness of that system, in how it divides society and in how it produces only half-baked policies. Is that really the best we can do? Or is there, perhaps, a better option? Is the root of the issue perhaps that those politicians who strive to “lead” and therefore to make the necessary alliances are drawn more to the power than the accountability? What about a system that ensures that the power remains collective? Is that possible?

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Artificial Intelligence

One of the more interesting things to have emerged in computer technology, over the last few years, is the growing understanding of how to make “artificial intelligence”or “AI”. In short, intelligence is what allows humans and other animals to solve complex problems. And the way it does this is by analysing relationships and predicting “likely” chains of consequences. In humans and animals, it is paired with the emotional function, which attaches “weight” (desirability) to the different paths. So AI also has to include artificial emotion, too. All of that would seem to require quite a lot of computing power but researchers have also borrowed another technique from the animal world. We use remembered strategies – things that have worked in the past – before we turn on our goal-seeking intelligence.

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The Rising Dark

It has been an education to watch, in recent weeks, a number of converging strands of experience – reported to me – of an emotional condition that might reasonably be called “the Rising Dark”. It is a recurring theme in fairy tales: of some emerging threat that is eventually defeated by good, human courage. Whilst some might dismiss fairy tales – tall tales of elder times – I see them as vehicles for social memory. They speak to us of our emotional heritage: of what it means to be human. So at this time, some are facing a cruel and merciless, invisible killer. Some are facing financial ruin. Some see the planet engulfed in waste or suffocated by greenhouse gases. Some see decades of racial or social inequity. And what the fairy tales teach us is that while we can still see the dark, we have the possibility of courage. And it is courage – emboldened by love – that defines us as human.

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The Harnel-Aoot

For those readers who do not explore the teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff, this post may well seem like mystical gibberish. Gurdjieff is known for peppering his teachings with odd-sounding, “made up” words, derived from his Greek-Armenian origin. He did that because he wanted students to start their exploration of these features of his system without the preconceptions that would come with more “usual” terms. This post is about one, such feature, which Gurdjieff called “the Harnel-Aoot”.

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Anyone Can Cook

The title of this post comes from the Disney/Pixar movie ‘Ratatouille’. The premise there is that whilst not everyone becomes a good cook, a good cook can come from any background. (Even a rat, it seems.) And the same is true of any human activity, including enlightenment. Various disabilities can get in the way, but none is an outright blocker. There are, however, some “critical” requirements. First is the belief that change is possible. Close behind is the strength of the desire to succeed. Third is an understanding that every day one can learn something new that helps the journey. And fourth is an understanding that change only comes with work. If you put all of these together – whatever the goal – you will work every day, treating every failure and even every “success” as an opportunity to learn more, rather than a mark of “progress”. With that attitude, the work will produce results.

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Injustice

There is a train of thought that if a “good” man sees injustice and does nothing, evil grows. Those who commit the injustice gain strength from the inaction, feeling that there is implicit support – or perhaps implicit fear – that means they can repeat or even scale up their malice. There’s clearly some truth in that thought. Some of those who commit overt injustice on others are just testing the boundaries of tolerance in what they see as a weak society: either weak because it doesn’t act as forcefully as they do, but wishes it could, or weak because it can’t or won’t stop their use of force. But “justice” is a slippery concept.

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Down The Rabbit Hole

The search for enlightenment is fraught with many traps. At heart, it is a simple process but those who choose that route in life must overcome – or at least understand – much that only serves ordinary living. We all have an animal side to our nature. It wants to survive, to reproduce, to be comfortable and well-fed. In order to do those things, it competes. It predicts the future and makes cunning plans. It expends energy only when there is a reasonable return. The centre of its world is “I”. When we embark on a search for enlightenment, we are that creature: that “I”. We hope there is a spark of something else in us, or we wouldn’t set out at all. But we view that something with animal eyes.

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