The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Saturday, July 31, 2010
Personal Reflections ... Science ...

I’m not a big fan of Ken Wilber-inspired “Integral Theory”, as it seems to require large doses of wishful thinking in order to be “truly universal”, i.e. “integral”. But I recently decided to have a look at a book by Ervin Laszlo that proposes a science-based “integral theory of everything”; the book is called “Science and the Akashic Field”. As expected, it has a lot of wishful thinking once the “Akashic Field” side kicks in. But when Laszlo discusses pure science, he gets down to some interesting ideas and theories (i.e., those not his own).

I’m still cutting thru this book, and I just read an interesting overview that Laszlo provides of current “Metaverse” theories. These are serious ideas put forth by cosmologists about where the Big Bang might have come from, what might have existed before our Universe arose, what else there is out there beside our Universe, and what might eventually become of our Universe. There are many very interesting (and very speculative) theories out there, including the “chaotic inflation” model of physicist Andrei Linde. Laszlo describes Linde’s theory of how our Universe and others form as somewhat akin to a bubble bath. Universes form like bubbles from a churning pool of water and soap, each one expanding and separating off from a cluster of others.

Very interesting. This brought back a childhood TV memory  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:58 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Monday, July 26, 2010
Economics/Business ... History ... Society ...

In the July 23 review of my life and economic times, found below, I speculated that the American economy was heading for “a new equilibrium” whereby the big corporations and maybe 80% of the population would do just fine, and the other 20% of America would be shut out. That other 20% would be permanently stuck in poverty, unemployment, or under-employment at best. It would scrape to stay alive thru “off the books” activity and whatever government support might still be available (which will obviously decline over the coming decade due to huge federal deficits).

Here’s an article I read today by economist Robert Samuelson that seemed to affirm what I am saying. Samuelson notes that most major American corporations are doing just fine with regard to profits; but they just aren’t hiring. They are learning how to maintain a sufficient return on their invested capital without needing to expand their business base beyond what the big recession of 2008 currently allows. They have adjusted just swell to the recession.

The recent gyrations of the stock market also seem to affirm this;  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:58 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Photo ...

I was scanning some pix today from my father’s old Navy scrapbook. My dad served as a mechanic at Pearl Harbor from late 1944 to 1946. So he is a WW2 vet, and thus he qualifies as part of the “Greatest Generation“. Dad’s the guy at the center, putting a bit of wit into the act (by seemingly holding up the nose girl on the old F2A Buffalo fighter plane with his hand). My brother inherited his spirit and naughty humor; I am much more of a “stick in the mud”. But then again, Dad could be as stodgy and studious as the next guy when he had to be. We both got a part of him in our blood.

Whatever. The bottom line is that he and his generation did do a lot, and we Baby Boomers never gave them enough credit for it. Tom Brokaw struck a nerve with his book; maybe they are finally getting their due.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:52 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Friday, July 23, 2010
Economics/Business ... Society ...

I am what you might call an “economic determinist”, at least in part. I believe that economic factors such as the material wealth of a society and how that society distributes that wealth determines a lot about that society. Of course, the real world is a two-way street. Social factors effect economics just as much as economics effect social factors. But both social dynamics and economic realities ultimately respond to the environment that the society and its economy live in. And of the two, I believe that economics responds quickly when things change, e.g. war, climate change, new discoveries, depletion of resources; and that social change then follows the lead of economics.

So, I am going to tell the story here of my own life and times in terms of economics, as a way to help understand all the social change that I’ve seen in my 57+ years. When I was born, the USA was recovering from the effects of a major world war. Technology developed in the course of WW2 was being applied to make new products and services, and to make existing products and services more cheaply. Also, the GI bill gave the work force an injection of higher education, providing another boost for the economy. Energy supplies were cheap, especially since the USA now had unhindered access to oil, minerals and other resources throughout the globe. Things were good and getting better.

The rise of the Soviet Union in the 1950s put a burden on the USA, creating the need for large military forces ready to fight the Cold War.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:45 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, July 17, 2010
Economics/Business ... History ... Politics ...

I realize that the fall of the western Roman Empire, and whether it has any parallels and lessons for America today, has been beaten to death in a stack of books, movies, magazines, op-ed columns and blogs. Despite all the discussion, there is no consensus on this topic. Some people conclude that the parallels between that ancient empire which once thrived between the Mediterranean, the Atlantic and the North Sea, and the modern empire that has thrived since the 18th century between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans north of the Mexican Gulf, aren’t all that important. Others say that they are important, but that we have learned the lessons and are innovative enough to avoid Rome’s fate. Still others agree that there are some important parallels regarding decline, but are nervous about our ability to avoid it.

I’m not sure whether I fall into the second or third camp. Modern America still has a lot of innovative spirit and is riding the crest of an applied technology revolution that started over a hundred years ago and has not yet subsided. We might still come up with techno-fixes for much of what ails us. And yet, some of the parallels between what happened to Rome between the second and fourth centuries, and what is happening in the USA today, are compelling and even creepy. I think that they need more and not less public attention and discussion.

The Roman Empire is compelling because, well, it’s our family.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:54 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Religion ... Spirituality ...

As noted in my last entry, I’ve recently become involved in Zen practice. Of course, this is an “Americanized Zen”, not the real thing from Japan and China. In American Zen, you don’t need to become a dedicated, exclusive follower of the Buddha, as would be expected in Asia. I belong to a sangha whose roshi (i.e., guiding teacher and district-leader of sorts) is a Catholic Jesuit priest. That would be Fr. Robert Kennedy, SJ, who studied throughout his life under various Japanese and American Zen masters. Father Kennedy does not call himself a Buddhist, although he considers himself a student of Buddhist teachings.

So, there’s an ambivalent relationship with Buddhism in our group. We have our Buddha altar and idols, we chant some Buddhist drivel (like the Heart Sutra), and we occasionally discuss basic Buddhist teachings. And yet, our local leader (and many “modern Zen” web sites) tell me that Zen is open to all faiths or no faith. You have to respect the rubrics, he says, but once you close your eyes to meditate it’s up to you what to believe or not.

Well, that’s groovy. But I  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:17 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Photo ... Spirituality ...

I went to meditation sittings with two different Zen groups this weekend, Morning Star in Jersey City and Clear Mountain in Montclair. So I’m pretty zen-ed out. (And I’m going to need it, as my landlord is having contractors re-do my bathroom this week.)

Anyway, I try to find answers to the world’s problems using a whole lot of words on this blog. But for now, I’m going to say it (i.e., “the answer”) Zen style:

And I’m also going to illustrate it (again, “the answer”), Zen style:

So there, that’s “THE ANSWER”. For now, anyway.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:11 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, July 8, 2010
Foreign Relations/World Affairs ... Socrates Cafe ...

I just didn’t have a lot to say at the Montclair Socrates Café meeting this week. The topic of the evening was suggested by Kon, who always comes up with interesting topics. His topic on Tuesday was whether the US and western Europe have the right to criticize and judge inhumane practices that occur in the Muslim and underdeveloped nations (e.g., stoning adulteresses, chopping off the hands of theifs, female circumcision, criminalizing homosexuality, etc.).

So the topic had potential; a spin-off from the classic tension between relative and absolute views of morality. But after a while the discussion bogged down into a tear-session about how terrible our so-called civilized society is. Let’s just say that the people that attend these meetings are generally educated, well-off, and have a “liberal” political bias; they don’t stray too far from what they read or hear from the Huffington Post, the Nation, and NPR. So they decried our nation’s history of prejudice, poverty, slavery, male dominance, economic inequality and military action. Even today, we make war. We still have soldiers out there shooting bullets and killing people. Our economy distributes wealth, power and privilege in highly unfair ways. One fellow at the meeting decided to lecture us about Abraham Lincoln, claiming that Lincoln only issued the Emancipation Proclamation so as to prevent British aid to the Confederacy. He was clearly implying that Lincoln, who has been held up as the American Gandhi, was not against slavery in principle; in fact, our lecturer concluded that if Lincoln could have held the Union together without ensuring African Americans their rights as human beings, he would have taken the lesser path. (There is a more nuanced analysis of this question on Wikipedia).

I usually don’t jump into the conversation at Socrates for the first hour or so;  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:59 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, July 3, 2010
Economics/Business ...

Right now, things seem pretty gloomy for both the American economy and the world economy. Paul Krugman recently published an article about “the third depression”. He believes that the American economic engine just isn’t turning over and that the world economy has flatlined, despite all the recent Keynesian stimulus by government borrowing and spending and printing of money. Over the past few weeks, the stock market seems to agree with him. Under this view, we’re in for at least a decade of high unemployment, growing poverty and real declines in living standards.

Well, that’s not impossible. Businesses are hoarding cash and avoiding additions to the payroll account. Real estate is still depreciating in value in many places. Banks are not increasing their lending. Consumers are still quite hesitant about spending, given all the continuing unemployment and uncertainty. Oil, food and other commodity prices (like gold) are about the only thing rising; these all put a damper on prospects for growth. Production, employment, financing and consumption all seemed locked in to a lower equilibrium than what we were used to up until recently. Technology and its corresponding effects (e.g. increased productivity, new business formation) should continue to inspire growth, but this is counterbalanced by the uncontrolled costs of health care, the costs of carbon reduction needed to avoid a future global warming calamity, and the high sensitivity of oil and food prices to even the slightest increases in demand.

But when viewing the state of the economy, most of us wear the darkest, grayest sunglasses out there.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:08 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
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