Saturday, September 17, 2016

Seeing Yoga for the Trees

I enjoy analyzing systems. I like to break down the processes and components and really delve into the inner mechanics of a variety of situations both mundane and profound. There is a certain confidence that comes from the fact that there are no secrets after you've taken something apart and put it back together again.

For instance, if I buy a new desktop computer, I normally tear it all the way down into it's base components and put it back together again. That way I know the system. I would do the same with my car if I had the time and the tools. It satisfies my nearly insatiable curiosity for one but it also gives me an edge if something goes wrong. I know the system. I'm familiar with the parts.

I do the same with ideas, concepts and philosophies. Break them down. Slice off the propaganda and discover the core element or even the motivation behind the idea, concept or philosophy and you may very well gain insight into the myriad of human conditions.

That being said, I'll never be able to break down yoga as a system. It's just too big and too saturated with ideas both old and new from a huge variety of cultural sources. And it's so old. There is so much history to account for and considerations that cannot be ignored if you are trying to break down yoga as a system.

My attempts at breaking yoga down as a system quickly collapsed into a morass of frustration for all the stated reasons. Too much, too old, etc.  But that quickly dissolved one day when I was feebly trying to explain all the different flavors of yoga to an interested party. I had to pull an analogy up that has been used before in other matters.

Yoga is like a forest. And there are many paths through the forest and some cross and some double back on themselves but it's all the same forest. Now it's important to pick the path that appeals to you but that's about it. From there you just see where you go and feel free to try that path right over there or the one that one that crosses your own. That's very fine and even healthy. Don't assume that any path is the perfect path. Keep the mind open and the feet moving.

Explaining it that what lead me to my own revelation that no matter how hard I tried, chances are that I will never see every tree in the yoga forest. And I'm okay with that. At least now I am. Because in my early attempts to disassemble the system, I came to another realization which may actually be one of the Secrets of Life.

And that secret is: Eat right. Breath right. Move.

It appears to be a key to contentment. Nutrition and a deep breath and keep the feet moving.

Now isn't interesting that yoga gives advice on one of those and systems to handle the other two? Yoga advises a no-meat to low-meat diet (but you can take that advice or leave it). Pranayama is a system devoted to breath and asanas provide work for the body.

With that revelation, I had to relax. I have the basics down. I just need to enjoy the path through the forest.

But what if I need a bit more or or a bit of clarification on a practice or concept?

That's a problem. A big problem. A problem that illustrates both the blessing and the curse of the modern Information Age. I have the sum of human knowledge and experience at my technological fingertips. And I only have to dig through everyone's opinion to get to it. This is dangerous and it requires a good bit of skepticism and maybe a little bit of cynicism to filter out the bullshit that is slowly piling up over the sum of human knowledge and experience. I'll still take it over looking at 10 year old encyclopedias but you have to understand that anyone can throw up a Youtube video or post to an Instagram account and claim a lineage back to the yoga masters of old. And if they look good, they will get followers.

I have found some fantastic teachers through online video, I will say. But I had to wade through some stuff that I knew was wrong. And it's the same with books and such. Yoga is hot right now and shows no signs of slowing down so everyone one and their dog is "recreating" yoga in their rock star image.

So where do you get your information if you need more? Your local studio? Maybe. But what if you don't have a studio nearby? Yoga is hot right know but it's not everywhere just yet.

There are no easy answers to this one. You have to walk a tight rope of skepticism over the canyon of open-mindedness to get along.

But I have found some resources that I will share. First is a book that I actually started with, Hatha Yoga Illustrated. It is just the basics. It has a short introduction of the concepts and some of the breathing and then it moves into illustrations of each asana and the steps to get there. It does not get into details but it does do enough to get almost anyone started. This book and a weekly yoga class would be a perfect place to begin. I have never found another that just handled the basics so well.

Another book that has become invaluable to me is A Systematic Course in the Ancient Tantric Techniques of Yoga and Kriya. This book is thick and the type is small and it does not pull any punches on information. The forward of the book states that this is an effort to create a reference and to try to put as much of the practice and traditions into one place for this particular school. The other exceedingly cool thing is that the author explains the tradition and then goes to some effort to explain the science behind the tradition. It gets deep but if you feel that need to "go deeper" this is a great book to start with.

Understand that this is not the Westernized version yoga. I will state again that no punches are pulled although cautions are given and some of the cleansing techniques would make some squeamish. But it is a tradition to this particular school and it's interesting to read even if you would never try it. The philosophy and the approach to the asanas are well worth the price of the book and I've picked up a variety of new pranayama techniques.

It's the combination of "Here's the tradition" and now "Here's the science" and then "Here's our opinion" that has me recommending it as a reference. That breakdown leaves a lot for me to digest on my own terms and through the lens of my own experience. There is no one saying that this is the only way it can be done because that's the way they were taught. It's a book of ideas and information, not dogma.

What about videos?

Hard to say and harder to recommend. There are some great teachers that produce content on Youtube but your choice is probably going to be personal. I would avoid anyone that has incorporated the word "yoga" into another word to make a new word. But some of the established personalities are established for a reason and so the number of video views might be good guide. But follow your gut. If it doesn't seem right, it probably isn't so move on.

Honestly, I could recommend more and I could recommend what to avoid but that would run really long. But I'm finding anything with a New Age tinge would best be avoided. The New Age is really just the Old Age with the blood and guts removed. Sometimes literally. If anyone is wrapping New Age terminology around yoga terms or practices, I am instantly suspicious.

But follow your gut and stick to the basics as long as possible but don't be afraid to explore the other paths through the forest. The variation of the ways through the forest are what makes the experience so real and personal.

And all the paths through the forest don't necessarily lead to the same place. Sometimes its the journey that is important or maybe it's the destination but either way it's your journey and that final bit of commitment to your experience is power that fuels a transformation.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Music Mondays: Tengger Calvary

The first Dan Carlin podcast I experienced was Wrath of the Khans which lead me into some fairly deep investigations of Mongolia and her culture. Which is how I discovered Tengger Calvary, a Mongolian Folk Metal band that uses the traditional Mongolian throat singing along with some traditional Mongolian musical instruments all bound together with modern metal.

It is an absolutely insane mix that absolutely works. They even use traditional Mongolian folk songs that sing about the open steppes and good horse and praise Genghis Khan. Just set to metal.

Modern metal is stagnating hard at the moment. Everyone is locked into the growl/scream thing and the community has fragmented into a ridiculous number of sub-genres which dilutes and demeans the energy that the metal style of music was suppose to deliver. There are exceptions and break-aways but I was afraid that the genre as a whole was done for.

Tengger Calvary brings us back to the roots. Driving rythyms, distorted guitars and high energy and lots of fun.

For a little more context and comparison here is some traditional Mongolian throat singing:

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Late Review: Stranger Things

I love to get creatively blind sided.

I walked into Star Wars in 1977 completely cold, unaware of even the basics. Of course I was blown away in that life changing way that I the creative types hope for. There was not one preconceived notion in my 12 year old mind so the reaction to the movie was pure and real.

Same thing happened with Indiana Jones. The marketing failed in that I walked into the theater without having seen a preview or reading a review. I saw the movie poster and I think I shrugged and decided to give it a chance.

Once again, mind blown. And going in cold only made it more of the experience that I have come to crave but so rarely get due to idiot marketing strategies that involve putting all the best parts of the movie in the previews and saturating every form of media. I think it was one of Avenger movies that sparked a sense of true raging frustration. I could have literally strung together all of the previews and I would have seen the movie or at least all the best parts of it.

Netflix doesn't do that. I don't know if they do it intentionally but they let the internet do their marketing in a subtle and word-of-mouth way. This leads to moments of discovery that may not be as mind-blowing as Star Wars or Indiana Jones but they are getting close.

I have had friends recommend Stranger Things for a while and I had heard recommendations online. But it was slow burn marketing efforts and I didn't see previews or a synopsis or anything before I finally settled down to watch it. I went in as cold as you can in this modern information age.

And my mind was blown. It's eight episodes of pure entertainment and I loved it and I binged it almost in one sitting and I do not regret it. I spotted the elevator pitch by the end of the second episode (Eighties nostalgia, Stephen King, Pre-Schindler's List Spielberg and let's throw in some X-Files) but that only intensified my interest. It was a roller coaster ride of detail and artistic revelation that pretty much only Netflix is interested in these days.

So I will not get into any more details other than the elevator pitch, especially since it's still generating that low background buzz at this point and you may have the opportunity to go in cold.

But give it a chance and enjoy the ride.

What Can a Little Curry Do?

My diet and cooking preferences have simplified a lot lately. My current favorite meal? Steamed vegetables over rice with a bit of Cajun seasoning and a boiled egg or two. Done in about fifteen minutes and immensely satisfying.

I've had the 30 minute rule in place for a long time. Meals should take 30 minutes or less for prep and cooking on a week night after work. But I wavered away from that rule with my foray into Indian cuisine which was delightful and educational but time consuming. I didn't dig too deep but I'm pretty sure there is no such a thing as a simple Indian dish. There are steps and lots of prep and yes, it's worth it but there were nights after work that I felt like I was working a second shift in a restaurant. In the end, I had learned more about spices and discovered new depths of flavors than I had thought possible but a lot of my favorite Indian recipes are in line with the time commitment of Texas chili. It should take a day or two to get it really good.

But the education was invaluable. Spices add depth to a dish and that's what Indian cooking excels at. And I have no fear of curry which is an accomplishment as far as I'm concerned since a lot of the home-style cooks speak of curry in hushed tones tainted with fear.

Curry powder has a interesting origin in that the "heat" of the curry power is actually an import from the Americas in the form of a variety of chilies. This is actually a common theme in culinary history. The two big exports of the Americans onto the world culinary stage are peppers and tomatoes. So the heat of a curry or the North African tagine didn't develop until the discovery of the New World. Same thing with tomatoes which is kind of mind blowing when you consider how ubiquitous the tomato appears to be to Italian cooking.

Now one could get really caught up in the minutiae of curry powders since curry powder is actually a mix of spices and this mix will vary from region to region and from country to country. South Asia curry or Thai curry may be different from an Indian curry. But, usually, it's not worth splitting hairs unless you become a true curry connoisseur at which point you may consider grinding your own. Garam masala has the same status. It's a mix of spices that may vary.

For my purposes, I just need the spice container to say "curry" and I'm good to go.

I have added two recipes to my "fast and furious 30 minutes or less but don't skimp on flavor" repertoire. Both are so simple that they can be a little daunting. You may find yourself looking at the dish and saying "That's it?" It's almost too easy but if you want flavor and you want fast, I haven't found much that beats either of these.

The first is a coconut curry with rice noodles.

Put a cup and a half of water on to boil.  Add a bouillon of your choice. I usually go with a tomato chicken variety but you could use vegetable or even beef if you have it. I think the chicken turns out best though.

Bring the bouillon to a simmer and let everything dissolve. Then add a half a teaspoon of curry, a half a teaspoon of garam masala and salt. Let this simmer for a minute or two and then add about a half a can of coconut milk (remember to shake the can vigorously before you open it) . Bring everything back up to heat but don't let it get to a roiling boil. Just let it simmer.
Get two packages of rice noodles. I'm specific on the brand here because the individually wrapped servings are perfect for this. Place the noodles into deep bowls and then pour the hot mixture carefully over the noodles until they are submerged. Cover the bowl and let sit for five minutes and then the noodles will be done.

It's almost too easy for the level of flavors that you will experience. And you can ramp it up easily if you want more heat by adding more curry power but be careful. Go a half teaspoon at a time until you find your sweet spot. Remember that when the Thai or Indian restaurants are asking "What heat level would you like, 1 to 5" they are most likely asking how many spoons of curry do you want added to the dish.

Now take all of this and maybe boil an egg to go with it or steam some vegetables and you have very nutritious meal by most standards and essentially all you had to do was boil water.

The other recipe actually came from a post on Reddit which has the original recipe and the variation that I now lean upon for a super quick meal that also serves as a complete protein.

The variation I use was suggested in comments of the post and uses far fewer ingredients. Basically, saute a little bit of garlic, a little bit of onion and a half a teaspoon of curry in a pat of butter or a little bit of olive oil. When the onions are translucent add a can of red beans and bring up to heat. Pour a serving of beans over a serving of rice and you are done. You could add a bit of sour cream or yogurt and some chopped green onion if you are feeling fancy.

Now, I admit I was dubious on this last one. Speaking as someone who spends Sunday afternoons cooking beans in a slow cooker Cajun style, eating beans out of a can seems pedestrian. But I had the ingredients so I tried it and now I am embarrassed to admit that this is the best beans over rice recipe I've ever had. It is insanely good and satisfying in its base form.

Why does curry work? If I were to channel Alton Brown for a second, I would imagine it has something to do with not only a combination of appealing and savory flavors but also the fact the the heat will open your sinuses and thus enhance your sense of smell for a moment. The better you can smell, the more you can taste so a lot of the inherent flavors are allowed to shine.

That would be the science of it. But for me it's magic. A little spoon of something that instantly elevates a dish on a variety of levels and can make the simplest of ingredients into a flavor adventure.

So what can a little bit of curry do?

At this point I'm wondering what it can't do.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Writing Projects

I have set up some of my writing projects off of my personal site at as a publishing experiment.

I enjoy writing but never found myself in position to try to publish through traditional vectors. So I wanted to try this. The Temple of Fate is a probably one of my favorite projects but its a bit more free form as opposed to The Chalice which is more of a traditional fantasy novel.

Like any writer or creative person, I want to get eyes on my efforts in the hopes that some may enjoy or find themselves intrigued.

Legal Stuff: Anything I publish on any of my sites is copy-protected and may not be re-published or reproduced without the permission of the author.

Music Mondays: Dark Jazz

The modern music scene is a mess. And that's probably a good thing.

Not every one would say so. Record labels are still shaking their heads over the fact that they lost control so quickly. One moment, the masses listened to what they were told to and the next, independent artists were dumping their efforts onto a variety of websites and getting virtual airtime without an agent or an audition or anything. These artists just throw it all out there and hope for the best. It's chaos. It's creative anarchy.

And it's probably a really good thing.

Now we, the listeners, the potential audience must wade through more material of questionable quality but the cream still rises to the top and as a bonus, we are sometimes exposed to some genres that we might not have heard of in the days before the creative anarchy set in. And this is why I think the anarchy is a good thing. In the last five years, I've made more musical "discoveries" that have piqued and held my interest than in the previous forty by a ridiculous margin. And I think the more diverse my search history gets, the better chance of making even more discoveries and finding new creative renditions of anything gets me excited.

Today's example is Dark or Doom Jazz.

My musical tastes range far and wide. I like old school metal and thrash, eighties pop and nineties grunge, classical and electronic; basically anything that's not modern country or jazz.

Yeah, I'm not a fan of jazz. I never could get past the ingrained pretentiousness of it. I wallowed in the blues revival of the nineties and so I dipped pretty deep into jazz extensions of the blues but, to me, jazz is the blues all educated and refined but largely devoid of the passion that made the blues a window into the woolly confines of the human emotional condition. Jazz claims rules and pretense and structure and but even in the best improvisational solo, it gets mechanical. It should soar but to me it just rides the same train over and over.

That's just my opinion. And there are exceptions. But for the most part I'll move quickly to something else on the playlist.

But how did I get to be a fan of dark jazz if I'm not a fan of jazz?

Well, as usual, I came in the back way.  I was looking for some down-tempo electronic or maybe some trip hop. Something to play in the background that was compelling and maybe a little driving but still in the background. Something that could just fill the spaces during creative activities without becoming a driving force or an intrusion upon said activities. But maybe a shy participant.

That's why I was thinking ambient or trip hop. Maybe some Massive Attack or something similar. But a lot of trip hop gets pretty vocal and then I'm distracted.  So I can't tell Spotify or Pandora to just load a trip hop station and go to town.

After a bit of exploration, I landed on Kalpatura Tree. It fit the bill. It falls into sort of a world music dub mix that definitely fuels the creative vibe and atmosphere which is what I was looking for.

Search over? Not necessarily. Following a few rabbit holes and a post or two of "if you like this, then try x" I land in the midst of the dark jazz genre.

Well, it's jazz so I'm not going to like it. Right? But the name of one of the primary groups is so intriguing: The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble

They have full albums available on YouTube so I was listening and almost instantly I was a fan. This is what I was looking for. Subtle. Dark. Driving. Infinite. In the background but on your shoulder whispering. Maybe haunting in a way but you can leave it on the edges of perception or you can listen and be transported. Very artistic stuff. or very "sit on the window sill and watch it rain" kinda mood music that takes you and leaves you as you are.

If you are listening to Kilimanjaro, Bohren and der Club of Gore is going to pop up on the suggested list.  More of the same really with more sax. But so very good.

And guess what. That's it. You can look for other stuff that may be labeled "dark jazz" but, in my experience, it lacks subtlety and I always seem to circle back to Kilimanjaro and Bohren. Which is sad and exciting at the same time. Two cases of lightning in a jar that others seem to have trouble matching or catching. Yes, it's sad that we don't have more but it's also exciting that the bar has been set.  A standard is present that must be met or exceeded to count. I hope some one sees that as a challenge and makes some good stuff.

So, for your consideration: Dark Jazz. Give it all a listen while wearing something comfortable and sipping something edgy. Bourbon is a good choice. Maybe with a splash of water or just one ice cube.

Headphones are a must. Attitude is optional. Expect creative results.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Free Will and the Nature of Time

The concept and definition of Free Will is perhaps the deepest rabbit hole in philosophical thought. So the idea of layering the Nature of Time onto the myriad of arguments relating to free will is daunting to say the least but so very interesting so many levels.

I have to say that I'm on the fence concerning notions of free will. I see both sides of any argument and would argue in return that answer may not be absolute. We may have degrees of free will depending on the person and the situation but philosophers hate the gray and want the answer to be black and white so the argument is usually pushed to ridiculous extremes.

But to state the question: Do you humans have free will? Do we have full control of our processes and decision making? Or are we subject to the whims of destiny, shackled to a predetermined path that we can not deviate from? Or perhaps even remove destiny from the equation. Are we merely meat machines driven by hormones, base desires and reflexes and maybe even the whims of our gut flora.

Most will argue that we have free will because, to a thinking person, the idea of not having a choice is tantamount to slavery or confinement. If I don't have free will, if I do not have the capacity to make a choice to determine a condition in my own reality then why bother? Why try to choose? It's just going to happen how it has already happened and there is no sense in fighting the future.

But the problem with that take on the argument is that it's not an argument. It's a reaction. You can't stand the thought of not having a choice. You didn't answer the question as to whether or not you actually have a choice.

For some it's too much to consider. Others choose to test the system by consciously making a choice in the very moment. Although did they really choose to make that choice or did their response to the question compel them to test the system and if they were compelled, did they really have a choice?

And you see how deep the rabbit hole could potentially go.

But a problem that plagues the argument is how quickly the hole branches off into a myriad of disciplines. Philosophy, spirituality, theology all want to contribute to the idea of the solution to the determination of free will. Unfortunately, the arguments can run in endless circles. Philosophy, spirituality and theology are all based off of ideas. Intangible, malleable ideas that depend on perspective and that is almost the very definition of subjective.

So what if we turn to physics? If we can't get solid answers from the ruminations of scholars and mystics, can we turn to the scientist and depend on "laws" and "theories" to give us answers?

Well, maybe . . .

It's actually a short hop from the concept of free will to the nature of time. The argument surrounding the concept of free will is centered on whether or not the choices in our past affect the resulting future and whether or not we have control of those choices.

Past. Present. Future. The nature of time would appear to be relevant to any discussion about the nature of free will.

So what do we know about time? Well, there appears to be an arrow of time and there appears to be connection to space and time to the point that physicists refer to them as a single entity called spacetime. Einstein basically said you can't affect space without affecting time and all sorts of oddness happens with you go really fast through space in regards to time. Interestingly, a lot of experiments have taken place that have confirmed a lot of Einstein's ideas so we have a pretty solid foundation of "laws" (theoretical or not) to base some observations on.

Now, I could try to stumble through a description of the theory in question or I could turn to Youtube and let an actual scientist use graphics and moving pictures to explain it for me:

 As a brief summary, all of time and space, past, present and future exists and we are experiencing spacetime as individual moments or "slices" that give the illusion of "moving through time".

That sounds almost New Age-ish. All of time has happened but we still must experience it one moment at a time. But this isn't some swami sitting under a tree spouting ideas about the nature of reality. This is a scientist stating that scientific observation has noted that this is the structure of spacetime and within that structure, past, present and the future exist.

The future exists. It's there, solid and real. We have to dip back into perspective though to ponder this because if we take this idea at face value, that the future is already there and we just have to wait for it, then we have a "choice" to make. We could look at it as "The future is there waiting to be discovered". That's the positive take. It doesn't matter that it's set. Only that we haven't seen it yet.

Or we could look at it as the future is there and I am a slave to it. Choice doesn't matter because it all ends up at the same future. So it just doesn't matter.

That's us dipping our toe into the metaphysical for a moment. Scientists don't like the idea of predetermination any more than the rest of us and if you corner them, they stumble and stutter to say that just because the future is "there" doesn't mean it's set. If you follow the video above back to Youtube, the poster in his description goes to great lengths to say that very thing. It involves quantum energy and other oddness but the bottom line is that no one likes the idea that they are not in control on some level.

But, at this point in my life, I'm not sure I agree that you can change anything. The future is there. It seems to me that it would take enormous amounts of energy to "flex" the future every time someone makes a decision. Chances are it's already there and we just have to experience it.

We could even take it a step further and plunge both feet back into the metaphysical puddle. The idea that the future is set addresses a bunch of spiritual and paranormal ideas and experiences. For instance: Precognition. If the future is set, then a person in an odd state of mind might glimpse that future. Past life experiences: What if we stand outside of spacetime between lives and simply choose where to dive in? My own idea of "The Perfect Village" could use the concept of a set future. What about the idea that we pick our own parents? What if we don't just pick our parents, but we see our lives in their entirety and say "Yeah, that's the one I want and/or need".

What if you chose the life you are living? What responsibility do you have to that decision?

And, please note, that at some point, you did have a choice.

But that's the metaphysical side of it and you can argue those points forever and they still just come down to personal opinion and experience. I think it's intriguing that the argument over free will may be settled using scientific observation but our collective egos would never allow it to be settled in anyway other than with answer we desire. The science may be there, depending on your perspective but we choose not to accept it. We make an almost conscious choice not to accept what may be the truth. That the future is set and we roll towards it one moment at a time.

And isn't it interesting that we can choose to fight this, clinging to every illusion of choice and the idea that we are in control? Or maybe we could choose to surrender to the idea that the future is there and we will see it when it's moment has come and that maybe the best thing to do is be in each moment fully and let the future be what it will be. But that means I have to choose to be in the moment and surrender to a future I cannot change.

That means I have the power to make one choice as opposed to a thousand meaningless choices. A lot of the more esoteric traditions of the world even point out when the ego is removed from the equation, only the moment matters. The choice becomes irrelevant.

This rabbit hole is deep. So deep that I choose not to venture any further and return to the illusion that my choices matter. As a matter of fact, I think that at this very moment in time, I choose to have another cup of coffee. See, I'm in control. I have free will. The future didn't know that I wanted another cup. Honestly, I don't think the future cared but that's not point.

The point is that I had a choice.

Really. I did.



Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Review: Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow

I crave innovation.

Which means my tastes vary wildly and can veer unexpectedly into interesting areas. And I enjoy the side trips and discoveries especially with the aid of modern search engines. Bustling algorithms comb my search histories and spew forth a cacophony of oddness and relevant suggestions that only drive me further into an intense appreciation of human creativity.

Which is how I found Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow. It came recommended from a couple of sites, no doubt filtered down to me from a plethora of searches for latest Patricia Briggs or Bernard Cornwell books and I would have overlooked it but something in the description caught my eye.

It's written in free verse. Poetry. Yes, it's a story of werewolves in modern L.A. but it's delivered in literary chunks of eye kicks that skimp on detail but deliver on emotional touch points. You are carried along with the rhythm of verse and the narrative of street level characters that you come to fear, respect and care about.

It shouldn't work. It defies convention on the conceptual level. There is not a creative writing course in the world that would approve of this method. This is a rolling story with wolves and blood and carnage and delivered with phrasing that would fit right into a poetry slam.

It just shouldn't work.

But it does.

I will say that it takes a minute to warm up to the delivery. It's almost like Shakespeare. You have to read a few pages and maybe read them again but then the language centers in your brain relax and the words flow like water into a thirsty mind. Pictures form and the world disappears as you sink into the story until you look up and it's an hour or more later. I was beginning to wonder if immersive reading experiences still existed. I enjoy reading. But most of the best books are very choreographed and almost stilted. Modern writing went through a phase of self imposed rule mongering that frankly cut hard into the creativity. Rules and guidelines have their place of course but I've seen critics shut books because the author violated the "show, don't tell" rule or the "never use passive voice" guideline or the "past tense is the only tense" commandment even if it was done with intent and creatively.

But then came the Internet and now the rules lawyers are sweating and gatekeepers are wondering if they still have a job and any creative can put their product out there if they have the balls.

It is a fascinating time to be alive.

But back to our book: There is also a lot going on in the story and the scenes are sometimes short and shifting and it gets tricky to keep track of all the threads. I considered it part of the fun and was fine with rereading a passage that dipped a bit far in to the stream of consciousness. But I could see how that would annoy some. But this book isn't for everyone even though I think anyone who has any interest in the written word should give it a try.

Also keep in mind that it's about werewolves. And not the happy, fluffy kind that litter urban fantasy. And the horror is there along with some blood and guts (tastefully done, mind you, no pun intended). Expect a twists and surprises and maybe a cliche or two but mostly expect a different literary experience.

And, yes, it really shouldn't work.

But I'm really glad it does.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Is the Universe a Simulation?

The universe is huge.

Being a lover of sci-fi I have always assumed that we, as in we humans, will eventually get to stars but the more that I learn about the distances and the math involved, I feel my confidence waning.

Because the universe is really, really big.

But just because we may never jump in our starships and zip to the next solar system in time for next week's episode, doesn't mean there aren't frontiers to explore. The ocean is full of the unseen and there are planets and moons such as Europa than may even harbor life. So there is plenty to do.

And I am beginning to contend that we may end up creating our own frontiers. And with a bit of encouragement, I may further contend that we may be living within one of our frontiers.

The Simulation Hypothesis has caught my imagination over the last few years and it appears that scientist are taking the idea more and more seriously to the point that experiments are running to try to determine if we are living within a simulation. And the more I think about it and the more I see advancements in computing and other technologies, I would have to wonder if it's more likely that we are part of simulation than not.

The reasoning is that certain conundrums in physics and philosophy suddenly make sense if we assume the existence of a simulation. That's a bit of an oversimplification but definitely the gist of it. And it makes a lot of sense. The computer game industry builds more and more complex simulations of entire worlds that become more and more immersive with each passing year. How long before they actually build a simulation so perfect that participants can't discern the difference between the simulation and "reality"? And what happens then?

Now throw in quantum computing. Suppose that a quantum computer with all it's potential is the home to this simulation. Move this scenario fifty years into the future.

What can happen then?

This is where my imagination really takes off. What if a simulation is created within a quantum computer based on simple self sustaining algorithms and the scientists just sit back and watch it grow? What if they watch the simulation take shape and evolve. Then what if they work out an interface so that they can go into the simulation as participants and observes the evolution first hand.

What happens then?

 But what if one of this simulations really takes off and it becomes truly self sustaining? But, due to quantum fluctuations, the mere act of observation of the scientist from within the system actually crash the system. So the scientist propose to send in avatars with their memories blocked so that their preconceived notions can't effect the experiment but when the avatars are withdrawn from the simulation, they can recall their experiences and report.

What then?

Watching the headlines of science new, it's not hard to see the possibilities. A computer manages numbers and a simulation is nothing but numbers. Taking a survey of games like Skyrim with modern mods installed, it's not hard to see the future

So it's very possible that in the near future we will create our own frontiers to explore. We will build worlds and send in explorers to observe the developing universes.

But that begs the question: Is that what we are doing now?

Are we in the simulation? Did we conveniently forget where we came from and why we are here?

Is there some scientist sitting outside the box poking us with a metaphorical stick?

Lots of questions with few answers but answers may be forthcoming. Although I have to wander what happens the day the scientist looks at the numbers and realizes that this is the simulation.

What happens then?

Probably nothing.

Considering a lot of the Eastern philosophies are concerned coming to terms with maya or the illusion (or delusion) of reality and considering there are documented "masters" who have become "enlightened" and suddenly the rules don't necessarily apply to them any longer, I think we are safe from the threat of catastrophic realization. Another way to look at it is that some have become aware of the simulation and have learned to hack the simulation source code like Neo in The Matrix.

So these are not new ideas.  Look at Plato's Cave or Decartes' Demon or any religion where a "controller" is controlling a "system of control" and technically that's a simulation. But for the first time, actual scientists, not philosophers are looking for actual proof and that is exciting.

It's also interesting to think about what happens if the scientists prove that we are part of a complex simulation. What exactly would change?

Sadly, once again, probably nothing.

The realization that reality is a string of 1's and 0's doesn't change much at all. The sun still shines, the grass still grows, it still hurts when I stub my toe. It's not like it matters that it's "real" or not because, technically, it's real enough.

Now, assuming proof that reality is a simulation, some may learn to hack the source code of reality a lot easier since the whole "faith" problem is removed from play. Some may be able to take that proof and run with it. I have a feeling most would care until they were hungry again and then living would take precedence.

It doesn't matter really, the source of reality. If it is a game-like simulation running on an super-computer on the desktop of some teenager in a super reality, then we are still in play. Isn't that a thought. It's not scientist in this super reality running a serious simulation. It's some kid on summer break just messing around with something like the Sims or Minecraft.

But it just doesn't matter. To a certain degree. Until it starts to explain certain things. If the "masters" of the world have learned to hack the source code of the simulation, could the existence of the simulation also explain other supernatural phenomenon?

One of the first that comes to mind are the oft-reported Greys. Are the Greys actually the Programmers? Or maybe the avatars of the programmers?

Are ghosts just artifacts like burnt in images on a lcd screen?

Could there be alternative reason for running the simulation altogether?

Could the entire purpose of the Simulation be to produce one of Kurzweil's singularity's? Basically, a Simulation is how computer scientists in the super reality create superior A.I.. Which basically makes us retroactive brain food for a developing A.I..

Could the simulation be done. From the perspective of physics, all time happens at once. We just experience it in a linear fashion. If someone was observing from the super reality, they would see a sequence of events that they could press the play or pause button on.

Crazy stuff but a lot of fun to think about.

But once again, in the end, it doesn't really matter. To me at least. Apparently a simulated reality is as real as reality so what does it matter? I'm not sure everyone would feel that way but a shrug is about all I can give it.

At least until someone pulls the plug and the battery backup fails.

200 Hours of Yoga: One Year Later

So last year about this time I was pushing towards the end of a 200 hour yoga certification class. The experience was a bit of a whirlwind and I've spoken before about jumping into the deep end  so soon after discovering yoga. I'm still on the fence about whether or not I would suggest that for anyone else. I had about three months of classes before I entered the program and, while it worked for me, I don't think I would recommend it for anyone else. A year of regular classes would have served me well.

But, that being said, it did work. I have a regular practice and stress levels are down and blood pressure is down and mental acuity is up. My meditation practice is what benefited the most and it's also why I think I fit into the program without the benefit experience. Meditation is my method of maintaining the software and I've worked on techniques and methods for a number of years before adding yoga to the mix. I'm not going to say that yoga is the final piece of the puzzle but it's definitely a sign post on the road to serious introspection if you choose to let it be.

But it's not magic. It's not even mystical. You can get caught up in the transformation processes and it can feel magical but in the end what's really happening? Your moving. Your moving with intention and concentration. Points of stress are being released. Breathing is happening.

At it's best it's a moving meditation. You have to concentrate or you are falling over so your mind just naturally clears. Then as the points of stress release especially around the neck, shoulders and hips, the meditation moves deeper and the breathing becomes more meaningful.

Which explains why blood pressure drops with a regular practice. Yoga, among other things,  is basically a fully responsive stress reduction system.

But yoga is so many different things to different people that I think a lot of the basics that could be so beneficial to so many people are lost in the yoga culture. Everyone has a lot of ideas and expectations that contribute to the air of the mystical and may turn a lot of people away before they even get to the mat. They see yoga bunnies in blinding tights bouncing onto the mat and contorting into advanced asanas without any explanations and they think they are expected to keep up. Or if the explanations are forthcoming, they are shrouded in intentional obfuscation in the effort to keep it mystical. Or keep it tuned to their own expectations.

For instance, I've been told that if you're not speaking Sanskrit, then it's not yoga. I've been told that yoga is really for woman and men shouldn't be intruding into classes and making everyone uncomfortable. I've been told if your are not reaching for samadhi then your wasting your time. I've been told that if you haven't been to India then you can't teach yoga.

The list goes on. And thankfully none of these came from the studio I trained at. I heard most of this after I started digging into the culture both in the Big City and online.

And I could spend a lot of words refuting every point but the actual point is that a lot of different people have a lot of different ideas about yoga.

Which is fine. Everyone is experiencing the realities at their own pace.

But I have to say that I found myself floundering in the culture after training was done. Remember that I had little to no experience before I started so when I started digging and discovering some truly diverse viewpoints, I honestly felt better going at it alone for a little while. This gave me time to refine my own practice and test theories and try some things. And just figure things in general.

Most go into 200 hours with the idea of becoming teachers. I went in with almost zero expectations and about halfway through I started thinking about teaching and then toward the end I decided that teaching may not be for me. I tried it and I wasn't happy with the results. I thought I should try it again but the more I thought about it, the less comfortable I became with the idea. I still have a lot to learn and teaching is a great way to learn but, in this case, it's also a great way to get someone hurt.

So yoga is just for me right now. I need to learn and grow and investigate this set of tools and see what happens.

A year later, I think it's safe to say 200 hours is just the beginning.