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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.

Waking Up

in many of the world’s longest-lived traditions, there is a recurring theme of the soul struggling to “wake up”. This term is used because all of us have the experience of the body waking from sleep – of the rational mind reassembling from the landscape of dream. We can therefore all relate to the idea that perhaps even when we feel our body and mind to be awake, the soul still sleeps. As a concept, it explains why there is evil in the world of Man: if the soul is asleep, it cannot act against the greed and fear that arise from struggle to survive. Without the soul and its direct perception of the universe, imagination is chained only by the tenuous links of rationality. Tenuous because emotion can break and re-forge them as easily as ice-cream melts in the sun. Without soul, each man writes his own “story” of how the world works – and how it “should” work. And then we share our dreams with others, to find comfort in the feeling of stability that we get from positive feedback. Whole nations arise from these shared dreams and then pit their dreams against each other. “Purge the non-believers!!”

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Right To Repair

Several countries look set to follow the USA and introduce some form of “right to repair” legislation, the aim of which is to allow consumers to keep maintaining their domestic equipment and electronic goods for longer. Of course, this isn’t meeting with universal approval from suppliers, many of whom have come to rely on the regular revenue stream from ‘latest version’ sales – even to the point of deliberately making older versions unserviceable. But there’s a much wider picture here: with the imminent need to address climate change, we all need to be throwing away far fewer domestic goods. So a “right to repair” is not just good for consumers (and for secondary, service industries), it’s the right thing for the planet. However, it’s not the whole story.

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“Am I Conscious?”

Seeing the title of this post, you might be tempted to reply “Well, of course! I know I am reading.” And for sure, such self-awareness is the threshold, as it were, to consciousness. But even this lowly state can be deceptive. Are we self-aware all of the time, or does that awareness wax and wane, depending on what draws our attention: what we “notice”? I used to find, for example, that certain activities – driving, working for my employer, shopping and so on – each had a quite separate pattern of “noticing”. It was as if each of these activities switched to a different model of what was important. Within those models, noticing my self-awareness was often not important, so it simply stopped. And then, of course, even self-awareness would come and go. Often, it would arrive again with a bit of a shock – a sort of “did I really just do that?” moment.

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Hidden Agenda

A friend recently forwarded me a link to a video on YouTube. It was an interview (from Channel 4 News in the UK) of one Jordan Peterson on the subject of “the gender pay gap” – a topic that Mr Peterson had apparently challenged in a recent book. You can easily look up Mr Peterson and his views online and you can probably find the interview without much difficulty. The interview itself followed a fairly predictable path, given the views for which Mr Peterson is apparently well known. There was some rather futile tussling on the topic of why women in general don’t compete as hard as men for the jobs that pay highest, after which the interview stumbled to a halt on a rather more knotty question, namely whether there should be legislation to give women a more equal chance.

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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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