Journal 2021-09-18

I’m sitting here under an old oak true, on a bright September afternoon, with my phone at the ready, having told myself to record literally anything that pops into my head. Well the first thought that jumps to the top of the queue isn’t particularly interesting, but here goes… 

It is quite an old joke that “it’s er” can sound like “sir” when introducing oneself. So I remember going to some event where I had to sign in at the front desk; I introduced myself as “it’s”, then as the man behind the desk was picking up his pen, I offered the dreaded “er”, before finally saying my name. He had a moment of sardonic glee, then sneered: “Sir Robert Walker, is it?”

I said “not yet” and the man next to him, who had been intently looking down, broke into a laugh – it must have been how I said it rather than what I said. The first man actually grimaced and grumbled to himself, as if annoyed by my response. My interpretation walking away was that he was expecting people to be nervous and this was his welcome, from a raised chair behind a desk within an institution. 

I’m thinking of this now more as an observation of how some people engage in this world trying to subdue others. The man would have been a lot happier if he was interested in helping rather than hindering the people he met.

A Different Story (Gandalf The Great)

What would have happened if Gandalf had accepted Frodo’s offer of the One Ring?

Gandalf freezes, the shadow of the ring draws his hand nearer; and as the fire skips a beat, the ring falls into Gandalf’s pocket. “I shall keep the ring safe and unused. However if there is just cause to use it, I shall become the guarantor of peace,” announces Gandalf solemnly.

As night draws in, Gandalf looks back over the hills at the tiny flickering lights of the Shire. The wizard whispers to himself: “There is much to do. Much to do.” He notices the weight of his robes and the precious ring within.

Gandalf wanders, ruminating intensely upon the weaknesses of elves and men. He reasons that elves are incapable of comprehending the true power of the Ring, and would foolishly wish to destroy the golden future of Middle-earth. He knows that mere men are too easily corrupted by its power. Gandalf is absolutely resolved: he must keep the Master Ring his own secret, at all costs.

Gandalf sits on the crest of Weathertop. The days pass, the rain falls but Gandalf does not notice; he is lost in matters of deepest consequence. Then out of every corner of the darkness come the cries of The Nine: “The Ring. The Ring!”

Gandalf raises his staff and proclaims: “I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the Flame of Anor, your master, the Lord of the Ring!”

“The Ring. The Ring!” chant The Nine. As the Ring slides onto Gandalf’s finger, the sky erupts with lightning. “I am the bringer of light,” exclaims Gandalf in triumph.

Gandalf of Many Colours imprisons Saruman the Traitor and unifies elves and men against Sauron, destroying the Dark Lord and his Dark Tower of Mordor. Much rejoicing is had by all. Gandalf announces that there is much more to do – to the consternation of Aragorn, who is executed for treason, with all his followers, kinsfolk and other suspected spies of Elrond.

Gandalf later wears an imperial gown of black and proclaims himself the Lord High God of all Middle-earth. He anoints his Ringwraiths Lords of Middle-earth, as a temporary edict to ensure order while the new Great Age of Wisdom is being forged. He puts his vast prison camps of heretics and traitors to work, building a bigger more magnificent tower on the ruins of the Dark Tower, called The Great Tower of Unity – as a example of beauty and perfection to all. Gandalf sits at the top of the tower in his golden throne room and ever-watches, ensuring his subjects are forever obeying his great will.

Gandalf is regularly overcome with anger at the disloyalty and ingratitude of his subjects, which necessitates public demonstrations of his great power, much to the amusement of the uruk-hai. Transgressors of the laws of Gandalf are sent to Mordor to learn more of The Way of Gandalf – they are not seen again.

One day, as the Lord High God of all Middle-earth is amusing himself with the antics of his hobbit court jesters, he sips from a chalice of poisoned wine, carefully prepared by his servant Grima Wormtongue. He takes his last gasp as the Ring slips from his withered finger on to the finger of his murderer. The Great Tower of Unity is renamed The Dark Tower.

But Gandalf had foreseen and refused this fate, placing his hope instead on the unnoticed deeds of hobbits. “Will you not take the Ring?” says Frodo. “No!” cried Gandalf, springing to his feet. “With that power I should have power too great and terrible. And over me the Ring would gain a power still greater and more deadly.” His eyes flashed and his face was lit as by a fire within. “Do not tempt me! For I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself. Yet the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good. Do not tempt me!”

A Contrast

A few years ago, out of curiosity and in the hope of encountering some benevolent souls, I went to a Buddhist centre in London. I could see the practical benefit in the exercises being taught and listened to some wisdom words, but was far less impressed with the paradigm of shared beliefs being propagated. There were several comments that jarred me, such as hero-worshipping and speculating in earnest as to who was the greatest recent guru; or the retelling of fantastical cosmologies as a matter of fact. My mind was truly decided, however, when music and singing were attempted: no doubt the purpose was to emote joy, but the result was blank and joyless for me. Nothing close to truth would create art – the expression of the soul – that uninspiring.

At the end, the assembly exited the front door past two Buddhist religioners standing on either side, giving their goodbyes. The first person was everything I had hoped to find there – she clearly just radiated a sense of peace, compassion, joy and love. The second, who from the literature seemed to be the leader of the place, did not have the same effect on me; I had a feeling of disquiet and, to be honest, slight revulsion. I recognised that all too familiar look in his eye, which should not have been there in a person purporting to teach spirituality. Yes I can see you, I thought at the time, before leaving and never going back.

I think that practising the religion is great if it can help a person grow into the state of consciousness of the woman I encountered. More importantly though, the experience lasts in my memory because of the contrast presented to me between the two people: Do I want to be more like the one or the other?

Metaphysics

The dictionary definition of “atheist”, as a non-believer in God or Gods, isn’t accurate because there seems to be many people who think that the doctrinal teachings of religious institutions are cultural-based anachronisms – and so would be labelled “atheist” for not adhering to definitive religious beliefs about deities – yet believe in some higher spiritual power they cannot define.

There are several belief jumps in this sentence: The universe is a purposeless collection of matter that mindlessly configured itself by chance out of nothing, existing in time with causes and effects that had no beginning. A reasonable-minded adherent might be aware of the glaring uncertainties, but state it is more parsimonious to adopt a materialistic concept of reality than implant a God belief system as an unnecessary additional layer. Yet the certainty with which many proponents preach this position as absolute truth suggests a type of commitment witnessed in religious belief.

An agnostic would state that the ultimate “why” questions are unanswerable, so from a practical perspective we should just be concerned with the “how” questions. The materialist’s objections to agnosticism – based on the burden of proof for God being on the proponent – misses the point to an agnostic who has already ruled-out religious explanations of God, but not higher spiritual meaning and purpose to reality. A particularly zealous materialist might overplay the remit of verifiable facts by stating that opinions about ultimate meaning are irrelevant if they are not scientifically falsifiable – ignoring the fact that their own conceptual model for reality contains unfalsifiable conjecture.

My own instinctive opinion is that I believe religions share the same spiritual root, although the core message was often corrupted by the doctrines and institutions that arose. This is my personal version of “spiritual but not particularly religious”. As I am most familiar with Christianity I can be labelled Christian; however I do adopt a filter and select only what resonates with me, mindful that the scriptures were written and edited by early practitioners of the religion; and that the biblical canon was decided upon by the politics of powerful men in ecumenical councils, rather than being the unadulterated teachings of Christ. Looking back in history, the cruelties that have been perpetrated by professed followers of the religion represent the antithesis of the message of Christ; for real spirituality – the root of Christianity – is always inspired by love, joy, and peace.

Human Cyborg 2.0?

The implied current direction for the future is that all the functions of your phone will be migrated directly into your brain. The “screen” will be projected into your vision and options chosen by thoughts.

All vision, sound, thoughts and feelings could be recorded. You could download and replay any recording from your experiences, or indeed from any experience of anyone else. Communication by mindscapes would replace the spoken and written word.

Invented experiences could be created for you to replay or interact with.

Your perception of reality could be changed and selected thought patterns switched off.

Pleasure and pain sensations could be activated on demand.

Your thoughts could interact with an artificial intelligence that calculates the most efficient algorithm for any process you wish to undertake. You could instantly download data and skills; and have immensely augmented cognitive processing speeds.

Your mind could operate any physical body, humanoid or not. As only the brain would need to be maintained, you would potentially have ultra long life.

Of course a totalitarian regime could easily control their population by these means; and an empowered sadist would run amok in all the enslaved minds. Philosophically it makes me wonder what it is to be a human being, but in the realm of practicalities it makes me certain: humans must become worthy of the knowledge we are gaining.

Journal 2020-07-06

There is a greater chance of releasing the magic if not consumed by self-aggrandizement or conforming to other people’s expectations, especially if the current norms are harmful and wrong. Success in transcendent goals is not the same as success in negotiating positions of status in the current society, which of course will change with the relentless passage of time. It just so happens, however, that those people who were motivated mainly by intrinsic value, rather than their individual psychological desires, produced the best long-lasting examples of beauty and creative human potential.

The Colosseum

The Romans viewed the Colosseum as the zenith of civilisation, representing the natural order playing out, in tribute to the glory of the Gods. In the arena was unadulterated murder and torture for the entertainment of the baying crowds.

People two thousand years ago are us, just brought-up differently with different beliefs and living under different conditions.

Humanity has mostly now progressed to recognise the depraved evils that were socially accepted in previous times – yet a person of the time would have gone along with the accepted norm, assuming it was right because everyone else said it was right. They were wrong.

Unless you think we are currently at the zenith of civilisation, what are the great injustices of our time that are socially conditioned and accepted as normal justifiable behaviour?

Alternatives

What would have happened if the US was not the first country to develop the nuclear bomb? What would have happened if the Nazis, Stalin, Mao or the Imperial Japanese Empire had the bomb first? No doubt after numerous live demonstrations on target cities, the world would have been subjugated to the particular brand of sadistic totalitarian control.

As technology progresses, additional existential threats to humanity will happen more regularly – the most frequently noted in biological engineering, artificial intelligence, and nanotechnology. Technology is also making it ever easier to centrally track and control people’s behaviour, enabling the ideal conditions for any strain of despotic regime to thrive.

The pressure to evolve to survive is growing for humanity; given the stakes and the alternatives, we have to get better.

Journal 2020-06-01

I sometimes experience Hypnagogia, particularly when I am very tired, where I have vivid hallucinations in my mind’s eye in the period between wakefulness to sleep. I have no conscious influence over the arising images; I am just an interested viewer, with no mental presence internally voicing opinions or conclusions.

I also have experienced, although more rarely, a Hypnopompic state of mind between sleep to wakefulness, where I briefly have no memory of my life or where I am – I am just there. That sounds scary in the default settings of everyday life, to lose identity and a life story, but my overriding sense is feeling at peace, just before my thoughts come flooding in and layering everything on top.