Re-thinking life, death, and purpose

After the death of my friend, Rafe Sagarin, I’m re-thinking the nature of life, death, and one’s purposes and values while on this planet.  Below are a few articles that I want to read and then discuss.

  • Matthieu Ricard in the New York Times (2011) regarding “The Future Doesn’t Hurt. Yet”
    • References a book written with his father “The Monk and the Philosopher
      • From an Amazon comment, the Monk sums up with:
      • `…such a dialogue is useful, but can never be a substitute for the silence of personal experience, as Goethe had aptly stated, “silence allows nature to whisper to us”.’
    • Review by Maria Popova
      • “When Revel takes issue with the Buddhist concept of reincarnation, pointing out its mystical and scientifically ungrounded suppositions, Ricard emphasizes its metaphorical and philosophical importance over its literal interpretation. Embedded in that notion, he suggests, is the key to unmooring ourselves from the tyranny of the self in the here and now:”
      • From the book: “It’s important to understand that what’s called reincarnation in Buddhism has nothing to do with the transmigration of some “entity” or other… As long as one thinks in terms of entities rather than function and continuity, it’s impossible to understand the Buddhist concept of rebirth.


        Since Buddhism denies the existence of any individual self that could be seen as a separate entity capable of transmigrating from one existence to another by passing from one body to another, one might well wonder what it could be that links those successive states of existence together… It’s seen as a continuum, a stream of consciousness that continues to flow without there being any fixed or autonomous entity running through it.

      • “The fact that there’s no such discontinuous entity being transferred from one life to the next doesn’t mean that there can’t be a continuity of functioning. That the self has no true existence doesn’t prevent one particular stream of consciousness from having qualities that distinguish it from another stream. The fact that there’s no boat floating down the river doesn’t prevent the water from being full of mud, polluted by a paper factory, or clean and clear. The state of the river at any given moment is the result of its history. In the same way, an individual stream of consciousness is loaded with all the traces left on it by positive and negative thoughts, as well as by actions and words arising from those thoughts. What we’re trying to do by spiritual practice is to gradually purify the river.”
      • “There’s a natural feeling of self, of “I,” which makes you think “I’m cold, I’m hungry, I’m walking,” and so forth. By itself, that feeling is neutral. It doesn’t specifically lead to either happiness or suffering. But then comes the idea that the self is a kind of constant that lasts all your life, regardless of all the physical and mental changes you go through. You get attached to the idea of being a self, “myself,” a “person,” and of “my” body, “my” name, “my” mind, and so on. Buddhism accepts that there is a continuum of consciousness, but denies any existence of a solid, permanent, and autonomous self anywhere in that continuum. The essence of Buddhist practice is therefore to get rid of that illusion of a self which so falsifies our view of the world.”
    • Founded Karuna-Shechen Foundation doing humanitarian work in Tibet, Nepal, etc.
    • “The unbridled consumerism of our planet’s richest 5 percent is the greatest contributor to the climate change that will bring the greatest suffering to the most destitute 25 percent, who will face the worst consequences.”
    • “Unchecked consumerism operates on the premise that others are only instruments to be used and that the environment is a commodity. This attitude fosters unhappiness, selfishness and contempt upon other living beings and upon our environment. People are rarely motivated to change on behalf of something for their future and that of the next generation. They imagine, “Well, we’ll deal with that when it comes.” They resist the idea of giving up what they enjoy just for the sake of avoiding disastrous long-term effects. The future doesn’t hurt — yet.

    • Interdependence, sentient living beings, suffering
    • “all beings are interrelated and all, without exception, want to avoid suffering and achieve happiness”
  • Harkening back to one of my childhood’s most trusted sources — Scientific American on “What Happens to Consciousness When We Die” (2012).  I’m not intrigued by the rather dull article, but inspired by the title and many of the comments!
    • “…the goal of enlightenment is to transcend to a more universal nonlocal, nonmaterial identity.” — Deepak Chopra?
    • “The hypothesis that the brain creates consciousness, however, has vastly more evidence for it than the hypothesis that consciousness creates the brain.”
    • “Thousands of experiments confirm the hypothesis that neurochemical processes produce subjective experiences.”
    • “2008 paper published in Mind and Matter by University of California, Irvine, cognitive scientist Donald D. Hoffman: Conscious Realism and the Mind-Body Problem. Conscious realism asserts that the objective world, i.e., the world whose existence does not depend on the perceptions of a particular observer, consists entirely of conscious agents.”
    • “In Hoffman’s view, our senses operate to construct reality, not to reconstruct it.”
  • Seven strange questions that help you find your life purpose” by Mark Manson

Exemplary quote from a “whole lake” ecologist

Would that I could come up with such eloquent prose when talking to the press about alarming environmental politics!

Here is what David Schindler said in the Tyee article about the Harper administration closing Canada’s world-famous archive of freshwater ecological research:

The library’s closing did not surprise retired water ecologist David Schindler. “In retrospect, I am not surprised at all to find them trashing scientific libraries,” he said.

“Paranoid ideologues have burned books and records throughout human history to try to squelch dissenting visions that they view as heretical, and to anyone who worships the great God Economy monotheistically, environmental science is heresy.”

Carl Sagan can change his mind

In science it often happens that scientists say, ‘You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,’ and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time someting like that happened in politics or religion.  — Carl Sagan, 1987 CSICOP address

Succinct goal to stabilize CO2

NASA’s Gavin Schmidt quote from his comment at 10:17 in a March 7 Congressional hearing live blog:

CO2 stabilisation requires cuts of 60-70% in emissions at some point in the next few decades (and the sooner it occurs the lower the stabilised value will be). That *will* require concerted international action, which is made up of national actions. The only ethical response is to work towards building the conditions for international action.

Marine algal biodiesel in Bermuda

Marine algae paste

Marine algae paste

Just caught this April, 2010, video of Dr. Michael Lomas making biodiesel from marine algae of the Sargasso Sea.  He’s getting yield of “about 1/2 coffee cup or 4-6 oz” of concentrated (1/100th human hair mesh opening) paste from an 80 liter culture.

Still no mention of open-ocean culture.  It’s all about scaling closed incubators up by 1000x volume.