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Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Current Affairs ... Science ... Spirituality ...

My topic for today regards a line from a book about Hindu spirituality, entitled “The Secret of the Yamas”. This book was written in 2001 by a self-discovery guru named John McAfee. Yes, this is the same McAfee who was a NASA computer programmer in the late 60’s and later founded McAfee Anti-Virus. After selling his stake in that successful enterprise for around $100 million, McAfee went to Belize to work on a “natural antibiotics” venture based on bacterial “quorum sensing“, but became a suspect in a murder investigation and went fugitive, fleeing to Guatemala with a 20 year old girlfriend. She was allegedly one of many young women who have participated in his vision of a yogic spiritual lifestyle, one which certainly has a robust “kama” component to it. McAfee finally found his way back to Portland, Oregon, and still dates a number of women less than half his age (67).

Despite his dicey reputation, McAfee’s Yama book is a nice summary of eastern spirituality, written from a Hindu / yoga practice perspective. The Yamas are part of yoga, but aren’t the usual body posturing exercises that we Americans think of when we refer to yoga. Yamas (and the related niyamas) are actually a religious code of ethics, rules for living one’s life, akin to the Ten Commandments and the Buddhist Precepts; they are part of a “bigger yoga”, an integrated Hindu approach to life. There seem to be 5 Yamas, regarding Non-Violence, Non-Stealing, Non-Attachment, Chastity (non-you-know-whating) and Truthfulness (non-lying, I guess). McAfee’s book is a quick read, but presents a good overall summary of the ideals, values and philosophies behind almost all “eastern religions”. I’m not sure if McAfee is the best example on how to actually live according to the Yamas, but as with many spiritual guru’s, it’s a matter of “do as I say, not as I do”. Especially with regard to that fourth Yama on chastity.

Back to the line in the book needing correction . . . in the Introduction chapter, McAfee says that “We [i.e., humankind] can know the workings of distant solar systems and can predict the movements of subatomic particles . . but how many of us have sought out the source of our own desires”. I won’t comment on McAfee’s desires, but at least you’d think that a math and computer geek who worked for NASA would know that subatomic particles are subject to quantum mechanics, such that their observable movements are highly “stochastic”, i.e. subject to random variation and uncertainty. This stems from the good old Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which says that you can know something about a particle’s movements and its location, but you can never fix both of them with 100% accuracy. You can get an average fix on where they are, which way they are headed, and at what speed. But any particular observation is subject to uncertainty and random drift from the average. Thus, we know the workings of such particles; but we can’t predict each one’s exact path, as we can never simultaneously know position and direction with complete certainty.

By contrast, we CAN know the movements of large things like distant solar systems quite well, and can predict with good accuracy where they will be tomorrow or next year, relative to us. So, it would have been better if McAfee had reversed the sentence, i.e. that we can know the workings of subatomic particles and can predict the movements of distant solar systems.

As to McAfee and his “Secret of the Yamas” — there certainly remains a secret, insolvable, Heisenberg-like uncertainty as to what the Mr. McAfee’s life ultimately has to do with the Yamas. Still, the book remains a pretty good read, so long as you aren’t looking for reliable information regarding particle physics; and aren’t looking for a role model on how to live what it does accurately describe.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:00 pm      
 
 


  1. Jim, I know little or nothing about the topics of this book, physics, computers, and most especially Yamas. So my comment(s) will brief and, of course, as usual with me, tangential.

    The first thing that popped out at me about the Yamas was that 3 of the Yamas are worded in the negative, and I immediately asked myself: Why are these stated in the negative when it would be so easy to state them in the positive? And then, of course, the guy who favors running off with women much younger than he is exactly the one who favors “Non-Attachment”. Why does this not surprise me?

    It seems to me that if Mr. McAfee cannot get his physics right, how in the world would anyone look to him for moral/ethical/life advice?

    I’m going to take a pass on his book. MCS

    Comment by Mary — July 31, 2013 @ 1:33 pm

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