Thursday, December 31, 2015

Tibetan Sky Burial



Today is the time where we celebrate yet another completion of the Earth's orbit around the Sun.

The New Year celebration is recognized around the world & symbolizes the continual process of renewal. Along with that renewal of all things on an ever-occurring basis, there is also decay & dissolution. These are simply subjective distinctions for the eternal process of change in all forms.

Destruction & Creation are inherent in all phenomena. The Universe is in a continual state of oscillation- in which things arise, change, and dissolve.

So, as we look forward to a New Year & new beginnings, we should also be mindful of the impermanence of all things. It is inevitable that all things we can currently experience will eventually be no more.

These are Buddhist notions of non-attachment, used to free the spirit from suffering in this human realm. It is a difficult & almost impossible practice for emotional beings such as humans.

For both practical & spiritual purposes, Tibetans who live in the Himalayas practice "sky burials" for their dead. The bodies are chopped up and allowed to be consumed by the vultures & other living creatures that are nourished by it. Part of the reason for this is because the ground is rocky & hard, so burial in the dirt isn't possible. In the spiritual sense, Buddhists believe that the dead body is an empty vessel, so there is no reason to give it any preservation.

I saw this article recently, that made me think about this ritual in the context of the passing of the current year and the unstoppable flow of time.

Daily Mail:

Monday, December 28, 2015

Robot Buddha


I saw this interesting clip from the movie "Doomsday Book". The story is referred to in the film as 'Heavenly Creature'. In the movie, an A.I. is depicted that is recognized as an enlightened being- a 'robot buddha'.

It raises ponderous questions about the nature of mind. How we would be able to know if an artificial intelligence or even a non-human intelligence were able to experience consciousness? Would an A.I. be able to attain "enlightenment" and provide spiritual insight to people?



Tuesday, December 22, 2015

"Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens" Review


This past Sunday, I had a special outing with my entire immediate family, our significant others & kids, and my parents, to see "Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens". My sister-in-law ordered us a block of tickets to see the movie in reclining chairs. We all loved the movie & really enjoyed it.

In this review, I'll give my brief opinion without any spoilers, and with some spoilers afterwards.

• First, here's my spoiler-free review:

It was awesome & had the best of everything that someone can appreciate about the richly detailed fictional Star Wars universe. So, if you haven't seen it, stop reading this & go see it- NOW!!!

• Ok, now there may be **SPOILERS** from here on:

First of all, I was born around the release of the first Star Wars, now known as "Episode IV: A New Hope". That singular movie has expanded into a much larger story that has captured the cultural imagination for decades. The Star Wars saga has always entertained & deeply inspired me. I loved the original trilogy as a kid, & even as an adult I'm continually amazed by the creative forces that could form such epic artistic creations. Most importantly, the spiritual elements communicated in the movie are unlike anything that someone in the Western world otherwise encounters through pop culture.

"The Force Awakens" successfully carries on this tradition of entertaining storytelling, coupled with deep insight into the nature of the human soul and it's relation to the world. It is a movie with everything good about the Star Wars movies, and very little of the negative.

First of all, the cast is solid in this movie. To me, the most important thing for this movie has been the inclusion of the characters from the original trilogy. The fact that Leia, Han, Chewbacca, and the droids appear in the movie give a true sense of continuity to the overall story.

Although we don't get to see much of the legendary Jedi master Luke Skywalker in this episode, his appearance is powerful enough to satisfy me for now, until his larger role in the next movie. In the beginning of the movie, both the heroes & the villains in this film are searching for Luke, who has gone missing after a tragedy surrounding his attempts to establish a new Jedi order. They are all trying to connect pieces of star map that will lead to an ancient Jedi temple where Luke is believed to have exiled himself.

As great as it was to see the existing characters again, the new characters really shined in this movie. FN-2187, who is later called Finn, is a stormtrooper who does not fit into the mindless mode of death and terror that his training requires. The transformation of the faceless soldier into a friendly, personable hero was an interesting and effective transition. His authentic demeanor & sense of humor made him an extremely likable character, who thankfully survived to see future adventures. The rolling droid BB-8 is a fun & personable robotic character who is just as expressive as the older R2-D2, who is in power-down mode until there is a sign that the galaxy is ready to find his master.


Kylo Ren is the masked Dark Side villain, who is one of the leaders of the First Order. After the rise of the new Republic, this powerful organization has continued the pursuit for galactic military domination, begun by Palpatine's Empire. Kylo has a rank outside the normal military chain of command, similar to Darth Vader's unique position of authority in the Imperial Fleet. Kylo is portrayed as a deeply conflicted and emotionally unstable maniac, with an uncontrollable temper that leads to some frightening & disturbing confrontations. Early in the movie, it is revealed that Kylo Ren is actually Ben Solo, the Force-sensitive son of Han & Leia. This means his grandfather was Anakin Skywalker, aka Darth Vader. On his ship, Kylo tries to commune with the spirit of his ancestral Sith Lord through Vader's iconic helmet, which is now just a charred relic. Although he apparently trained under Luke Skywalker with a new Jedi order, Ben was turned to the Dark Side & into Kylo Ren by a enigmatic figure called Supreme Leader Snoke.

Snoke is the seemingly disfigured Dark Side master, who is pulling the strings behind the scenes. His appearance was one of the surprising visual aspects of the story. He is shown as a seated 25ft tall giant, a towering figure looming over Kylo Ren & General Hux, the military leader of the First Order forces. His voice echoes throughout the dark, cavernous chamber in which he communicates with his minions. However, it is revealed that this enormous image is just a holographic projection. The Emperor appeared holographically in the same larger-than-life way to Darth Vader in "The Empire Strikes Back". Therefore, it seems reasonable to think that the huge projection of Snoke is not his actual size. In fact, I'd guess he appears physically small and frail in person. However, that does not mean that he does not have tremendous power from The Dark Side. After all, "Size matters not," as a diminutive (yet powerful) character once said.

All of these characters were compelling and in their own right. The dynamics of their stories set up an arc with tremendous potential for an interesting narrative covering the next 2 movies.

The main protagonist of this new series, who is pivotal to the story and experiences drastic changes over the course of the film, is a girl named Rey. Abandoned at a young age on the desert planet of Jakku, Rey is a lonely and struggling scavenger. She visits the wrecks of Imperial & Rebel Alliance ships that were scattered throughout the sands after a battle that happened on Jakku decades ago. She is forced to survive by trading in mechanical parts she finds in the ruins for small rations of food. Rey literally comes from nothing, but by the end of the movie she has the potential to be one of the greatest Force users in the Star Wars galaxy.


Throughout the events of the movie, Rey unlocks latent powers that allow her to survive impossible circumstances and directly challenge the dark power of Kylo Ren. During the course of her adventures with Finn, BB-8, Han Solo, & Chewy, she comes into contact with the lightsaber of Anakin Skywalker from his time as a Jedi. After he turned into Darth Vader and was defeated by his master Obi-Wan Kenobi, this weapon was held by Obi-wan. He watched over Anakin's son, Luke until he was old enough to receive his father's weapon. Luke used this lightsaber until it was lost at Cloud City, when his hand was sliced off by Darth Vader before revealing their true connection.

Somehow this lightsaber ended up in the hands of Maz Kanata, a millennium-old alien who lives in a palace that's a bar & a hangout for space pirates. Maz is visited by the group of heroes traveling aboard the Millennium Falcon. Rey is eventually attracted to a basement area, which holds the Skywalker lightsaber in a small chest. Contact with this lightsaber triggers a hallucinatory vision in Rey. The sequence went by so fast & had so much going on, that it was hard to perceive everything that was happening. It seemed to be a flashback showing the history of the users' experiences while in possession of the lightsaber, mixed in with Rey's own buried memories. I'm sure these visions will be expanded upon in the story to come. Like many heroes, she first refuses the call of her journey when she refuses to take the lightsaber from Maz.

After this initial trigger from finding the lightsaber, Rey's Force powers begin to grow quickly. When she was captured by Kylo Ren and interrogated, Rey not only resists his mind probe to find the rest of the Skywalker map, but she actually begins to mentally fight back & pull information from Kylo's thoughts instead. She taunts him with what she had sensed in his mind- that he is plagued by doubts about whether he will be able to become as powerful as his icon, Darth Vader.

Although Finn goes into combat with the lightsaber against an injured Kylo Ren to defend Rey, he is quickly taken out. After being incapacitated during this battle, she eventually emerges to take possession of the lightsaber to fight Kylo. Drawing on her natural abilities & what little she has been taught about the nature of The Force at this point, Rey puts up a considerable fight with the unmasked Kylo. She becomes mentally still & focused in the face of a raging Kylo Ren, drawing on The Force to overcome her antagonist as he attempted to lure her onto his side. It was a great contrast in the different aspects of The Force, as well as their relative power & effectiveness. They are separated by their surrounding environment crumbling around them before a clear victor can be determined, ensuring a future confrontation.

Although Kylo Ren was badly injured, Rey's ability to harness The Force, wield the lightsaber, and hold her own against a more experience opponent is an indication of the potential she possesses. After her ordeal with Kylo, she finally is able to track down Luke Skywalker on an isolated island in a remote star system, where she presented him with the weapon of his father in a powerful, silent ending to an amazing movie.

Considering that the entire Star Wars saga has been the story of the Skywalker family, it's hard for me to think that Rey is not Luke's daughter. My brother said he saw what looked like a gravestone at Luke's dwelling. Perhaps Luke fell in love, but ended up losing the mother of his child. This combined with his failure at reviving the Jedi was enough to make him regretfully withdraw to his current location. Even though Kylo/Ben is the only definite descendant of Anakin Skywalker we know of, I can't see him becoming the focus of the hero's journey that defines the Star Wars stories. This leads me to believe that Rey will be the new Jedi, who perhaps brings further balance to The Force. As many people have noticed, her use of a long staff in fighting aggressors on Jakku could eventually lead to a fighting style that uses a double-bladed lightsaber, similar to Darth Maul's, which would be pretty awesome.

Obviously, I enjoyed the characters, old & new, in "The Force Awakens". I have read many criticisms about the plot of the movie being a rehash of "Episode IV: A New Hope". I'm not going to repeat all the similarities, and although I see many familiar aspects of the original, this movie was so good that it doesn't really bother me. Instead of a Death Star, the First Order builds Starkilller Base, an entire planet that is weaponized by somehow drawing energy from a star to blast away planetary systems. This is completely unimaginable technology, but, hey, this is science fiction.

I went into the movie trying to avoid as many spoilers as possible. I tried not to get my expectations too high, but "The Force Awakens" exceeded them in every way! I thoroughly enjoyed it the whole way through, with no cringe-worthy moments- such as Jar-Jar's character or Darth Vader's "NOooooooo!!!" at the end of "Revenge of the Sith". Usually I pick movies apart, even ones like Star Wars, of which I am a fan. However, this movie brought back all the best things that the Star Wars series had to offer. My family spent hours discussing it afterward, and everyone enjoyed it as much as I did.

This is the movie every Star Wars fan has wished for, and was an incredible lead-in to the new trilogy. The Star Wars story is a mythology for the modern age, and I am deeply inspired to be able to continue experiencing such a wonderful work of storytelling and visual creativity.

The Official Monkey Buddha Rating: 9+ out of 10!

Friday, December 18, 2015

"The Force Awakens" Trailer- Final Thoughts

Like so many people, I am anxiously anticipating seeing "Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens" this weekend.

My sister-in-law reserved a block of tickets for my immediate family for Sunday, so I'm trying to remain spoiler-free until then. Until now, I have been absorbing all the trailers & information I could find. Now I'm going to patiently wait, until I see the latest movie in a legendary series that has inspired me since I was a young child..

The people who have seen the movie already have given it overwhelmingly positive reviews, which is confirming my high hopes. Just from the trailers & footage I've seen, I knew it looked like a faithful continuation of the Star Wars legacy.


I previously posted my impressions of the official trailer, which was masterfully done & succeeded in driving the hype train full-steam ahead!

The Monkey Buddha Archives:

After I wrote that post, I thought of some other things that I wanted to say about it. While I'm waiting to see the movie, I figured I'd share some additional observations.

The one thing I love about the entire Star Wars saga is how it speaks to the human desire for expansion, of both the self & of all life. Specifically, the movies speak to the human (& alien) desire for traveling into outer space and among the stars.


This sentiment is captured in the trailer when Rey looks up to see the spaceship flying upwards through the atmosphere of her home planet Jakku. You can see the look in her eyes that reflects the longing to travel outside your own boundaries and experience all the Universe has to offer.

The other thought I had was about the relationship of man & machine, which is a constant theme throughout the movies. The scene that brought this to my mind was the brief glimpse of a hooded figure, reaching out to touch R2-D2 with a robotic hand. I'm assuming the person is Luke Skywalker, who no longer wears a glove to cover the replacement for the hand that was sliced off by his father, Darth Vader. It look like they are in a fire-lit cave or a secluded rocky area. One thing I have heard is that Luke has been missing for awhile, so maybe this is him reuniting with his friendly droid.


This brings up the interesting dynamic of humans & robots being friends, and truly trusting each other. I've always said that the droids, C-3PO & R2-D2, are really the central characters, who remain throughout the generations of human lives in the story. In fact, R2-D2 could be the biggest hero of the series, who saved his biological companions in many, many seemingly impossible situations. 

Because it's memory has not been wiped, R2 is an artificial intelligence that could be said to have developed a personality, and perhaps even a conscious mind. This raises several questions- How does The Force affect or influence electronic beings? Can the power of The Force be utilized or experienced by a droid? Perhaps these are questions that will be answered in the coming stories.

Finally, the image of Luke's cybernetic hand led me to think about the use of technological prosthesis or augmentations to the physical body. In the original trilogy, Luke was aware that having this robotic part represented the possibility that he could eventually become "more machine than man" like his father, if he lost his sense of humanity. 

However, a life form can obviously have mechanical additions without becoming evil or soulless.  The question becomes, how much can a living being be replace by technology & still be a conscious individual? Darth Vader was still a human, but disfigured & encased within a suit that double as life-support. General Grevious was mostly machine, except for his central nervous system & viscera.  Perhaps as long as you have a biological nervous system & brain, you can be considered to be a living person. Then, how does droid intelligence and personality factor into the idea of something being "alive"?

This is why I love Star Wars, it makes us confront deep questions about ourselves, life, the world, and our place within it. I look forward to seeing "The Force Awakens" with an excitement that no other cultural phenomenon can match. It is a story that has inspired me & countless others for our whole lives, and ignites the imagination of every person who truly engages it. It is truly the mythology of our age.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

How to Build a Lightsaber

With my tickets to the opening weekend of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" already secured, I figure it's only appropriate to share some Star Wars posts while waiting anxiously to see the movie.

One of the most iconic aspects of the Star Wars saga is the preferred weapon of the Jedi & the Sith- the lightsaber. The beauty of science fiction is that the elements of the story don't necessarily have to be based in current scientific understanding.

Although we don't have the technology to develop a working lightsaber, that hasn't stopped people from imagining ways to bring this legendary melee weapon to life. Here's a post I made in 2010 about building this deadly energy blade:

The Monkey Buddha Archives:


I recently saw this article which discusses some of the problems & possible solutions involved with creating a working lightsaber.

The Conversation:

Here's a video from the excellent series FW: Thinking that also explores the possibility of building a lightsaber. The lightsabers in the movies are plasma weapons, however, not lasers.


Since I'm talking about lightsaber construction, I have to include my own crude schematics that I drew as a high school student, back in 1996. I knew just enough about physics to let my mind go wild thinking about how to solve this perennial problem in sci-fi tech.

In reality, I didn't know what the hell I was doing, but it was fun to think about...




Monday, December 14, 2015

The Monkey Buddha Bazaar

I don't usually run ads, ask for donations, or try to earn money through this blog. This is something I do for my own enjoyment & creative release.

However, I do have a Cafepress store, with products featuring many of my own designs, photography, and abstract art. I appreciate anyone who purchases items from my shop, any time of year:

Cafepress Shops:

Some of the designs have been featured in previous posts on The Monkey Buddha blog:








Thursday, December 10, 2015

Nebulous Nightmares

This is a truly frightening image, of imposing beings that are able to grasp a planet in their fingertips.

The idea of a threat on a cosmic level is something that humans are completely unable to face. We tend, collectively, not to consider our narrowly-occupied place in the endless size & scale of the Universe.

by Matthew Attard

http://priteeboy.deviantart.com/art/Nebulous-Nightmares-569281317



Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Hilarious Knock-off Toys

I've posted many times about horrible graphics & poor product design. Absurd items with crappy artwork always amuse me.

Recently I saw this gallery which had a nice collection of truly awful & funny items:

Imgur

There are a couple that I've posted about before.


  

Here some other ridiculous items I've shared here:





Thursday, December 03, 2015

Cyber Monk


I saw this cool illustration on Rude Mechanicals. I'm not sure who the artist is, but the original source appears to be the Tumblr blog Inner Cosmos.

It is an image of what looks like a cyber zen monk, or perhaps a digital buddha.

I am always interested in how digital technology will augment or merge with conscious expansion and mindfulness training. Many people believe computers and tech are distracting us from our inner nature. This is true in many cases, but I also think it's possible that our minds will be unlocked or understood in certain ways that were impossible before the digital revolution.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Mayan Math


 The ancient culture of the Maya people have been a continual source of interest for me.

The Monkey Buddha Archives:

I recently came across an article on Ancient Origins about the re-introduction of Mayan numbers & math concepts to the indigenous children of Mexico, with positive results.

Ancient Origins:

It takes a little bit of effort for someone (like me) who grew up learning the Western numerals and decimal Base 10 system to wrap their head around the use of bar & dot symbols in a Base 20 configuration.

It appears that the use of bars & dot symbols in the Mayan number system may have originate with the physical representations of sticks and rocks, as seen in this video linked in the article. The use of the labeled grid really helped me visualize the Base 20 system.


The article also has a link to the online game below, that teaches the fundamentals of Mayan numbers & mathematics. I've played it and found that I was able to get better at using the symbols & vigesimal counting system.

Game:

This chart shows the number symbols & the placement grid below:

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Life is a Hallucination

I saw this animated GIF on fUSION Anomalog that describes the state of our mental experience.

"This Whole Life is a Hallucination"

In Buddhism, the phantasmagoric array of perceptions that make up our conscious experience is called "Maya".

The external sensory input, that our body processes as sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell, create the illusion in our minds of independent existence. Actually, experienced phenomena are manifestations of The All- the underlying, pervasive source of the reality that we perceive.

The light & sound show going on inside our head is a hallucination of sorts, a mere representation of the energies and processes that cause them. We can never know "reality" as it is- only how it is translated through the filter of our senses into our consciousness.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Star Wars: Prequel Marathon 2015



Yesterday, my brother & his wife hosted a marathon showing of the so-called 'Prequels' of the Star Wars movies, Episode I,II, & III. He played it on the projector screen & we had a fun time. We are anticipating the release of "The Force Awakens" this month with viewings of the existing saga.

It was the first time some of the girls there had ever seen any Star Wars movies. My girlfriend is watching the series in 'machete' order. On our own, we've watched Episode IV: "A New Hope" & Espisode V: "Empire Strikes Back". Yesterday she had to do work for nursing classes, so she missed Episode I- but watched  II & III. She was resistant to the whole "Star Wars" mass culture phenomenon, at first. With only "Return of the Jedi" left to see, she has come to enjoy them, especially Yoda. "Return of the Jedi" is my favorite movie of the original trilogy, with the culmination of the Skywalker/Vader story. Missing Episode I: "The Phantom Menace" did not take away from her experience. That is my least favorite movie of the entire saga, so far, so I didn't think she'd be missing too much. Besides the horrible Jar-Jar character (unless he's a secret Sith Lord), Episode I is just okay.

The prequels get progressively better. Despite my love for the movies, I've criticized many of George Lucas's descisions. However, I don't agree with people who criticize the prequels to the point of not wanting to recognize them at all. Even after watching them again, I personally think Episode II: "Attack of the Clones" is a great movie, and Episode III: "Revenge of the Sith" is an awesome movie.  The tragic story of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader is one of the most compelling hero journeys in fictional history.

It will be interesting to see how the Star Wars story is continued in the future films that Disney plans to produce.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Future of Food: Yeast Vats

I've been recently posting a series concerning The Future of Food. This is of the utmost importance for human beings, if we are concerned about our continued existence.

It is the time of year when we in America celebrate Thanksgiving, which is completely based around the necessities of food & family. As humanity advances and situations change, who knows what kind of food-based innovations & customs will arise?

Legendary science fiction writer Isaac Asimov envisioned a possible future in his book, "Prelude to Foundation" At the Galactic Capital world in the story, food was for a time grown using microorganisms. The nutrients were created from vats of yeast & algae, then flavored.


Gizmodo:


Yeast is already grown & used as a food product with many nutritional properties. However, it cannot currently be used a singular source of nourishment.

 Time:

In the future, perhaps people will be able to refine the production of this yeast, or other microorganisms, to yield more benefits.

Nutrition Stripped:

Self Nutrition Data:

Monday, November 23, 2015

"Black and the Blues" Band Reunion


This past summer, I went to a reunion jam for "Black and the Blues," the band that my Dad and his childhood friends formed in the 60's.
 
They were influenced by the mid-century icons of rock n' roll and, of course, the band that influenced the entire generation- The Beatles.

From the top: John, Chuck, Paul, & Charlie

Anyway, the get together was alot of fun. The guys were jamming on an impromptu set of songs, while our families filled the house listening, singing, and clapping along.

My brother Justin took video of the event, and he recently uploaded the songs to his YouTube page. Here is a link to the playlist:

 MicPros Videos:

They performed an original song that was published in 1966 that I posted about before- "I'm Sad"




The "Black and the Blues" band members:
• John Carnuccio
• Chuck Emma
• Paul J. Micarelli
• Charlie Pestritto

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Digital Expansion Into Space


I believe that one of the major factors in the survival of the human race is the migration of our species off-planet, into space.

One aspect of our expansion beyond Earth is the ability to communicate and access the information infrastructure that we call The Internet.

The interconnected electronic hive mind, made of signals and data storage, has become an integral part of the human experience. Space colonists or long-term travelers will need ways to stay connected to whatever digital information network humanity is using.

I saw this article about NASA's plans to create a laser broadband that can be used to transmit data in the immediate area of the solar system.

ExtremeTech:

As for data storage moving into space, we are already beginning to send artifacts of humanity to the moon.

 New Scientist:

Any where humans go, we will also take physical objects with us, so it's good to think about how to create things that can withstand environmental extremes.

Ultimately, I think we will have to develop some form of communication similar to the "FTL (Faster Than Light) communication" in the game series Mass Effect. If not through the use of advanced space/time relays, than perhaps through quantum entanglement or some yet undiscovered technology...

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Primitive Technology


I'm not sure where, but I came across this website and YouTube channel about using ancient methods of tool & material use in the wild.

Wordpress:

YouTube:




There are many things that are fascinating about re-learning primitive ways of living. For one, it is amazing that the human mind/body can adapt & use it's surroundings to alter reality for its needs.

Watching these videos shows how difficult it is to just survive without the support scaffolding of many thousands of years of human civilization.

It is also interesting that we are using modern technology, computers and the Internet, to spread this information about our ancient technological heritage.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Future of Food: Space Farming


This is part of a series of posts I'll be doing about a topic that's vital to the ongoing survival of mankind:


Ultimately, the future of food lies off-planet, because for long-term sustenance of humanity we need to eventually move into outer space.

NASA is already experimenting with growing produce in the International Space Station.



Not only will space travelers need to be able to grow food staples with the resources available in their isolated location, they will have to ensure regulated conditions to keep the process going indefinitely.

I thought this article gave a good overview of the challenges that space farmers and gardeners will face as they try to maintain plants in spaceships or on other worlds. It also gives some background on the development of plant life here on planet Earth.

Gizmodo:

Future farmers in space will have to deal with issues like atmospheric changes caused by the plants production of oxygen & humidity. The effects of any microorganisms present will also have to be understood. Recycling water supplies will also be very important for both plants & humans.

As the article states, it's possible that humans will not directly interact with the crops at all, and robots will actually do the growing & harvesting.

Here is a computer rendering of automated agriculture aboard a space craft, from one of the awesome projects at Spacehabs.com:


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Futility Frog

I came across this crazy meme on Weird Wide Web.


"You have been visited by futility frog
'like' and nothing will happen
comments are meaningless
share if life is just yawning blankness
we will all die alone and be forgotten."

Holding two opposing views & contemplating paradoxes don't cause problems for me, personally.

On the one hand, I think Life and existence are miraculous phenomena- in which each & every manifestation of consciousness is an integral part to the whole of Reality, on all scales. Each life form, each cell, each molecule, each atom, is amazing & wondrous.

On the other hand, I also recognize my own mortality and relative insignificance to the incomprehensible vastness & complexity of the Universe.

So, I can also relate to "Futility Frog" in a Zen sort of way, but not really feel the despair that it may instill in most people because of attachment to their own ego & sense of being.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Science of Shamanism

Tempo © Alexandre Segr├ęgio - www.alexandresegregio.art.br

 Shamanism is a general term that describes many approaches to traditional healing & spiritual guidance. All ancient cultures around the world have has a form of shamanic practice, where an individual in the community had the ability to go into altered states of consciousness through various means & perform sacred functions.

With the rise of Western medicine, indigenous shamanism has been seen simply as an antiquated mode of dealing with sickness, environmental problems, & social issues. The practice of shamans and medicine men & women was seen to be mostly suggestive ritual for show, to cause a placebo effect on the subject's mind.

Although Western medicine is good at dealing with the mechanical & chemical aspects of human physiology, it is very short-sighted in many areas. For instance, modern medicine has no real working approach to the energetic aspects of the body. It is a simple fact that there are interactions & imbalances of energy throughout the body. These are interconnected with the physical biology of a lifeform, but are also a set of systems unto themselves. This includes the mind and also the subtle energies that our bodies contain & transmit.

By getting past cultural & cognitive biases, Western researches are beginning to understand the efficacy of the shaman's practice.

Huffington Post:

For instance, pharmacology is benefiting from knowledge gained from shamans about plant medicines. Pharmaceutical companies usually look to take a plant with beneficial properties and break them down into compounds and chemicals that can be manufactured in pill form. The problem with this approach is that there could be interactions of many different compounds in a particular plant that interact to effect the patient. However, it is a positive development that modern medicine is recognizing the information that native cultures possess as useful.

When shamans or healers in the Amazon were asked how they figured out the effective plant combinations they use, they claim that the plants told the people, directly. Although information about the plants and animals of a particular location must be passed down from generation to generation, maybe it's also possible to gain the initial inspiration from consuming or interacting with plant life. This might sound absurd, but it leads to another characteristic of shamanism that is being investigated with more scrutiny- the experience of altered states.

As a professional artist and generally creative person, I have often found myself generating ideas or visions while in trance-like states. It's called being "in the zone" and it is a state of mind that many people engage in, whether they realize it or not. Even scientists have made great discoveries while in various degrees of altered consciousness. This can be done through meditation, fasting, enduring extreme conditions, mind-altering substances, rhythmic drumming, ecstatic dance, and any other technique that gets the brain out of its normal mode of operation.

As humanity progresses & continues to discover its roots, shamanism and other indigenous practices will continue to be rediscovered and integrated with our ever-expanding knowledge base. Perhaps one day soon, this ancient wisdom will be commonly used to heal body, mind, & spirit as a integrated whole. This is the essential purpose of the shaman, and it is vitally needed in our world.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Star Trekonomics


I have been a fan of Star Wars my entire life. Although I was never really as into the other major sci-fi franchise, Star Trek, I can appreciate the vision of a future that is more directly related to people of Earth & humanity's place in the galaxy.

There is going to be a new Star Trek series produced for TV. That news prompted me to post this article I read recently, after wondering how the fictional economy of the Federation worked.

Medium.com:

It seems as if both the Star Trek & Star Wars civilizations use a medium called "Credits'. However, the economic systems appear to be much different, overall .

Star Wars seems more capitalist, in the sense that Credits act like currency, as we know it. Credits can be accumulated by corporate entities & individuals- while others without access to this wealth are poor, or even slaves. Although the Empire is a fascist dictatorship, with the Emperor directly in control of the military machine and the industries that feed it, regular individuals can still use Credits for goods and services like we use money.

The Star Trek Federation, on the other hand, has no currency, per creator Gene Roddenberry's rule. Federation Credits exist to facilitate an accounting of energy and resources in certain cases, but money is not needed for basic existence. There is also currency among the various alien races and other means of exchange of goods & services. However, there is no poverty among the Federation member planets, and society's main goal is the enrichment of all people- not accumulation of personal wealth. Thanks to technology, such as replicators, the need for physical "things" is easily fulfilled. The real goal becomes to create a better society, so all people benefit. The article above explores some of the technical possibilities behind this model of a galactic economy.

Star Trek Wikia Alpha:

What I like about these kind of fictional models, like the one used in Star Trek, is that they are an opportunity for human beings to dream a new reality into existence.  Collectively, we should constantly be re-thinking the way we do things.

People usually can't think beyond the existing possibilities- of Capitalism, Communism, Socialism, Fascism, etc. Perhaps there is a way to conduct society that is completely outside any of these traditional modes. Bitcoin is one system that is a step in breaking free of the bounds of familiar economic models.

Nature.com:

The ideas of 'money', 'capitalism', or even 'economics', are not universal. One day, they will be replaced by new ways of interacting.

Practicality should not be as much of a concern for creating new paradigms, as much as simply imagining alternative possibilities. If humanity has a goal, we can most likely achieve it together. The details can be worked out through ingenuity & cooperative activity. If that goal is the eradication of poverty and de-emphasis on greed and wealth acquisition, then it can be realized.

Science fiction and visionary stories about our future gives us an outlet to manifest creative solutions to problems & situations that the human race may encounter.

No matter how much we try to envision these situations, though, the future will still manage to bring us outcomes that we currently cannot even imagine...

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Future of Food: Floating Farms

Earlier this year, I posted Future of Food: Urban Farming, about the creation of soil & aquaponic gardens in cities. This practice provides fresh produce to communities is major population centers.

I plan on having an ongoing theme,"Future of Food", which anticipates the ways humanity will deal with the basic necessity of nourishing itself.

In many ways, for us to create new ideas to move forward, we have to take inspiration from the past. One civilization that also used the idea of floating gardens were the Aztecs of Mexico. It was an aquaponic system, meaning farming was done in conjunction with a water system using fish & their waste as fertilizer.



I saw this modern concept for a massive floating garden on a barge-like vessel. They are called smart floating farms & are harvestable ecosystems unto themselves.

Inhabitat:

Undefined Ideas:



Friday, October 30, 2015

Tooth Zoom

I came across a mind-bending animation- which zooms into the surface of a tooth at increasing degrees of magnification, down to the atomic scale:



This virtual journey through scale demonstrates the fractal nature of reality.

The world is not a set of discreet levels- such as the cosmic, human, microscopic & atomic scales. Reality is a non-stop continuum of infinitely intricate detail.

I also found a video version of it on YouTube:


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Wim Hof Interview with Joe Rogan


A few months ago I posted about Wim Hof, after seeing the VICE documentary about him. He is a very interesting man, who has learned to control his mind & physiological processes through meditation, breathing exercises, and increased exposure to the cold.

The Monkey Buddha Archives:

Wim has broken endurance records and offered himself up to intense scientific scrutiny. The most amazing thing about his achievements is his ability to control his autonomic and immunological physical responses.

He has been injected with endotoxins without eliciting a immune response. His biological system has been shown to possess superhuman traits. He can endure freezing temperatures and hold his breath for periods that other people would find impossible.

What makes Wim Hof so important is his eagerness to share his wisdom and abilities with the rest of the world. His motivation is literally to change the human race and to fight the perceptions of illness and mental limitation in all people.

I recently heard he was on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast, so I listened & wasn't disappointed. The interview is about 2 1/2 hours long, but I highly recommend it. I would go as far to say it's a must-see.



If you can't hear the entire interview, it would be beneficial to at least listen to this excerpt, where he teaches Joe some of his breathing techniques. These techniques are drawn from ancient meditative practices such as Tummo, "The Inner Fire".



Wim Hof is definitely a man we can all learn a lot from. Here is an article that outlines his breathing & meditation techniques. Even if we can't implement all his teachings, even just learning to breath deeply & consciously will have great benefits.

High Existence:

Here is a summary:
• Breath in 30 times fully, then letting each breath go- but not fully breathing out.   
• Breathe in fully, then breath out fully and hold until gasp reflex    
• Inhale fully and hold for 10-15 seconds.    
• Repeat one or two times.     
• Take 5 minutes to relax and scan your body

Friday, October 23, 2015

Animating The Cellular World


On Visual News, I saw animations by Markos Kay that I thought were really cool. I am endlessly amazed by the study of Life, biology, & things on the microscopic level that we can't perceive with our ordinary senses. These animations simulate biological processes on a cellular level & look almost psychedelic.


The Flow from MRK - Markos Kay on Vimeo.



These videos show the "squishiness" of life on the cellular scale. Everything is vibrating and interacting. Life is much more full of "life" than we realize. I think these animations capture that vibrant & organic quality.


On a side note, I've been listening to alot of lectures by Dr. Bruce Lipton. He thinks that environment is much more influential than genetics for the organsm. DNA is just a blueprint, but he explains that the real "brain" of the cell is the membrane. This is where interactions take place that influence the response of the cell. It is where the cell body "learns".


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" Trailer

A new servant of the Dark Side holds a precious relic,
 the destroyed helmet of Darth Vader. 

Last night, the movie trailer for "Star Wars:The Force Awakens" was released. I didn't catch it on TV, so I looked it up online. It had 700,000 views, but this morning it's already up to 7+ million.



The trailer definitely exudes the character of the Star Wars series. Everything I've seen about the movie so far looks & feels great. It's awesome to think that this timeless saga is going to get new chapters on the big screen, using a combination of new & existing characters.

What it is really making an impact on me is the use of familiar elements, but seeing them in a different way. For example the scene with Kylo Ren holding the long-dead Sith Lord Darth Vader's aged helmet, which is now mangled, burnt, and reminiscnent of a skull. It is a stark contrast to the fearsome. polished black armor that one represented Vader's temporal power.

Also symbolizing the old order of the Galactic Empire, the beginning of the trailer shows Rey (with a light on her face that may be seen as a symbol of searching & future illumination) rappelling through the husk of a crashed Star Destroyer, a gigantic mile-long warship that had the ability to conduct planetary assaults. It is now nothing but cavernous ruins, slowly disintegrating in the desert of Jakku. These are clear symbols showing that this is a new era, yet still connected to the past.


Along with the name itself, "The Force Awakens," the feel of the movie seems to be keeping in line with the original focus on the telling of The Hero's Journey. This is a journey of the soul exemplified by fictional characters, but experience by each one of us through the challenges that we face in life. By facing life with courage and purpose, while rising to each circumstance you encounter, you can also embody the hero's quest. This set of transformative experiences can lead to an awakening of one's mind & spirit.

It appears that the main characters, Rey and Finn, are both facing the traditional hero journey. There is speculation that Rey is really a Skywalker, and this would make sense to me, since the entire series is a telling of the family story. The absence of Luke Skywalker is fueling a lot of rumors, but it appears to me that he is the one touching R2-D2, with the mechanical hand that replaced the one sliced off by his father. Luke may eventually help the younger characters on their quest as Obi-Wan did for him. I'd like to think that he is either creating a new Jedi order or forced out of hermitage to help confront new manifestations of The Dark Side.

The calling to the hero's journey is usually unexpected. It looks like both of the main characters are suddenly thrown into their situation- much like the characters in the original movies were led into their journey by circumstances beyond their control.

The interplay of the opposite aspects of The Force also seem to play a big role. The heroes (especially Rey I would guess) will have to grapple with both sides, The Dark and The Light. It is interesting that the group of black-clad figures that appears to be The Knights of Ren do not follow the Sith rule of allowing only a master & apprentice. In fact, it looks like the "Knights" look like a fairly ragtag & motley group with mostly non-energy weapons, like staffs & clubs. Maybe they're a gang of wanna-be thugs or mercenaries, with Kylo trying to find relics to establish a connection to the Dark Side users of old.


I think the mix of old, familiar features with new looks really well done, so far.

I'm really looking forward to joining the rest of the human race in seeing "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" when it is in theaters at the end of the year.

I almost forgot... the official poster for "The Force Awakens" was also revealed a few days ago. It shows most of the major characters- including Rey, split between the blue & red sides. This was also the first glimpse at Starkiller Base, a weapon built right into a planet that can destroy an entire solar system:



Monday, October 19, 2015

Small World Photography 2015

The invention of the microscope opened up a new level of reality that was previously outside the realm of human perception.

Since then, we have been continuously expanding our boundaries of experience, using tools that help us to understand reality at different scales and in different modes. It's possible to see things that people in previous times not only were unable to see, but were unable to even imagine.

I've posted before about the Nikon Small World photography contest. It is a contest that combines science and art, with entries of photos which show fascinating images of mostly biological systems & phenomena in the microscopic realm.

The Monkey Buddha Archives:

On Neatorama, I saw the winners of this years contest. The winner was this awesome closeup image of the compound eye of a honey bee, covered in particles of pollen.


To see the other images, check out the site for the contest:

Nikon's Small World

Friday, October 16, 2015

We Are Infinite Consciousness

This animated GIF speaks for itself.
 

"We are all infinite consciousness 
experiencing a human reality."

It seems that consciousness and the creative principle pervades the entire Universe, including the temporal collection of phenomena we call a "human being".

Our individual consciousness is a specific manifestation of the information processing that happens at the quantum level & pervading all existence.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

2016 Democratic Presidential Debate #1


Last night, I was able to watch the entire debate between the Democratic candidates for President. I wanted to post a few quick thoughts about it.

First of all, it was much more of an adult conversation than the perverse spectacle put on by the dozen Republican candidates in their debates. I would rather have any of the Democrats on the stage in the Oval Office before any single one of the Republicans. The GOP have knack for putting forth horrible candidates, and they are mostly only pandering to the lunatic right-wing fringe & big money donors that have come to dominate the party.

As far as the Democrats, I am sticking with my man- the Independent Senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders. Bernie came out swinging in his opening remarks, blasting his top issue- economic inequality in this country.

Overall, I think Bernie was pretty strong. Someone who I was watching the debate with (who is fairly conservative) commented that he was the most forceful out of the group. He spoke clearly about the serious issues facing this country, and he explained where the U.S. is behind compared to other industrialized countries- wealth disparity, lack of universal health care for all citizens, absence of paid family leave, no tuition-free public education, etc.

He was also the only one with a realistic view of gun control in this country. He emphasized the importance of mental health in preventing gun violence. He was also correct to believe that we shouldn't be going after gun manufacturers with lawsuits if their products are used for evil purposes. It would be the same as suing a car manufacturer if someone uses a car to run people over. I'm not a big gun advocate, but the reality is that there are millions of people with guns in this country & that's not going to change. What we need to do is to make it more difficult for psychologically disturbed people to aquire guns & get these people the mental health care they need.

Hillary Clinton did very well in the debate. I'm not a big fan of her & definitely think we need someone other than a Clinton or a Bush in office. However, she came off as empathetic to the needs of the people in this country. She is undoubtedly a war hawk, but that's perhaps compensation to look like she'll be tough enough to handle a foreign policy crisis. She clearly has no love for the Republican party, who have demonized her relentlessly over the decades.

Martin O'Malley is someone who I was unfamiliar with, but he impressed me during the debate with insightful answers and a vision for how to lead the country, including the goal of clean energy independence.

Lincoln Chafee seems like a nice guy who made clear he is "scandal-free". I think he is well-intentioned but I'm not sure he has the mass appeal of the other candidates.

Jim Webb is a typical military guy who has serious experience & credentials, but he kept complaining about how he wasn't getting enough time to talk... which wasted a lot of time. It also made him look like he was whining.

Like I said, any one of the Dem candidates would be a better choice than a Republican. However, I'm sticking to my choice of Sen. Sanders while looking forward to more debates in the coming months.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Crash Landing


I saw this awesome image on fUSION Anomalog & had to post it, since it contains both apes & aliens.

An extraterrestrial baby is found in the forest by a gorilla, at the crash landing of a flying saucer spaceship. 

The high resolution original seems to be from the Google+ page of John Karnaras.