Signals and morality

A valuable and basic definition of morality might simply be “clear signaling.”

If I harm you, I am messing with your signaling, making it less clear. If I deceive you, I am doing the same.

If my own internal signaling is unclear, confused, or contradictory, I am probably going to cause harm to others whether I mean to or not.

If we see humans as signaling networks at various levels of clarity or confusion, we can remove terms like self, personality or ego. “I,” then, am a system or network of signals that interfaces and interacts with other signaling networks.

By extension, there is no need for terms like “narcissist” or “abusive personality” or any of the other many, many words we normally use to describe human signaling networks.

For example, we can see that each human does social management within their own signaling system and as that system interacts with other human signaling systems. We compose a signaling system that we want others to see and then display it.

When a person often uses social signaling to manipulative, control, or deceive others, we can say they are doing malignant or immoral signaling instead of saying they are “narcissists” or “abusive personalities.”

The advantage of removing those traditional terms that assume an intentional personhood (narcissist, etc.) is we can see much more clearly what is actually happening.

With respect to narcissism,  we can clearly say what a “narcissist” is. When narcissism is redefined as a signaling problem, we can also see that many narcissistic acts are done out of ignorance more than “selfishness.” People believe that they are supposed to be selfish or secretive or withhold important information simply because they do not know another way to act or have had long experiences with others who signal in those ways.

Of course, all of us manage our signaling systems to put us in a good light, at least to some extent. Refraining from gross behavior at the dinner table is a form of manipulating the signals you send to others. Since that is objectively a kind act, it is not narcissism.

Signaling integrity between adult friends is rarely perfect or even very good. Not because many of us don’t want that, but because we don’t know how to do it. Rather than make virtually all signals clear through a technique like FIML, we are forced instead to use off-the-shelf cultural norms to communicate our “personalities” to others.

Besides the few crude markers like punctuality, basic honesty and reciprocity, basic pleasantness, etc., it is very difficult to know another or even oneself without detailed control over the signaling we do with them.

If morality is seen as fundamentally a signaling issue, then the soundest ethical position would be to make our signaling clearer, more honest, less manipulative. Clarity depends on detail. In this light, we can say that there is a sort of moral imperative to do FIML or something very much like it.

Yet another example of how irrational we are

The gist of a recent study, and there are more than just this one, is that people form strong opinions about others based on their faces—their shapes, prominent features, eyebrows, etc.

An article about the study, which is behind a paywall, can be found here: Impressions shaped by facial appearance foster biased decisions.

The authors of the study suggest a few ways to mitigate the facial effect, but admit that “more research will be needed.”

I doubt there is much anyone can do to mitigate the face effect, the lying-sack-of-shit-effect, the phony-persona-effect, the self-deceiving-fake-personality-effect, or any of other ways that people fool themselves and others.

Similarly, ideologies have not fixed the problems of bad government and never will.

In my view there is only one thing we humans can do to ensure that we get good leaders in society, honest workers at all levels, and real friends—develop accurate brain scans that can test for conscious lies and psychopathy.

Technology like that could be used to do more harm than good. But it could also do a lot of good. Any system of government will work if government officials are all honest. The same is true for education systems, businesses, science, and many other endeavors with significant social ramifications. If the people in those systems are all verifiably honest and verifiably well-meaning, the efficiency of society will increase tenfold if not more. Trust among the population will increase apace and most of us (save the psychopaths and scam artists) will be greatly relieved knowing that members of Congress really are upholding their oaths, teachers really do have their students’ best interests in mind, scientists really do believe their data, police really are there to protect and serve.

I don’t see any other way to raise ourselves out of the mire of deceit, error, mistrust, cruelty, and usury that has characterized all human societies for all time. Nothing changes in our minds when we change systems and ideologies. On the scale of society, only technology changes us.

(On the scale of the individual, change can happen due to personal and interpersonal effort.)

The Diamond Sutra and moral idealism

Most Buddhists know that a bodhisattva is someone who helps others through their understanding of “enlightened practice” or “enlightening practices.” The Buddha is called a bodhisattva when referring to the time before he became a Buddha.

A bodhisattva uses wisdom to do compassionate work or “generous” work, to use the terminology of the Diamond Sutra. Strictly speaking, “generosity” in the Diamond Sutra means sharing the Dharma with others, but in practice this concept can, of course, take many forms. For example, maybe just being nice to someone will help them more than an extensive Dharma talk.

It is possible when studying the Diamond Sutra to experience a kind of spiritual ecstasy or meditative ecstasy as one contemplates the fulsome purity of mind that attends the selfless generosity discussed in the sutra. At such times, you know without doubt that this is a higher state of mind, a better way to be; it feels like a genuine glimpse of Buddhahood, of the enlightened state of a Buddha.

I for one have no doubt that those states are higher and realer than the mundane states of mind we so often are consigned to. But it is important to understand that the Diamond Sutra is not only about being generous. It is also about being wise.

In all Buddhist traditions at all times, the highest virtue is always wisdom.

A well-known analogy is often used to explain this. If you want to save someone who is drowning you must know how to swim. If you can’t swim and you jump in the water, you will not help and probably only lose your life, too.

So a bodhisattva must be wise enough to know what they can do and what they can’t. This is not generosity with strings attached. It is wise generosity. It is wrong to have good motives but destroy yourself without even helping others. It is not even wise to destrpy yourself even if you do help others. I suppose there are degrees at this point. If you give your adult life to help some children, it might be a wise move.

But the basic point should be clear—generosity must be tempered with wisdom. The Diamond Sutra is not about moral idealism, or the belief that “individual rights and responsibilities are universal, regardless of outcome.”

Buddhist teachings are all about good outcomes. The point of Buddhist practice is to become enlightened. When we glimpse the bliss of pure selfless generosity, we are glimpsing Buddhahood. But at that point we are still merely bodhisattvas, at best. In this world, absolutely pure, selfless behavior will get you robbed and killed. So you need some smarts, a sense of what really can be done to get real outcomes. Even terrible reprobates can be helped and can change, but don’t be foolish about your chances for success or the methods you use.

MacDonald on Shipman

In his The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America, Eric Kaufmann described liberal Protestantism as one of several liberal traditions in American history. Although it had its origins in the 19th century, by 1910 there arose a liberal Protestant elite committed to “universalist, humanitarian ethics.” Elite Protestants (but not the great mass of Protestant Americans) were opposed to immigration restriction in the 1920s and were at the vanguard of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. They embraced the dream of universal humanity, and they developed idealized images of Jews who, after World War II, had assumed the leadership of liberal causes in the U.S. (Bruce Shipman and the Idealized Image of Jews among Elite Protestants)

Repost: FIML as a “loose” method of control for chaos in interpersonal communication systems

Interpersonal communication systems can become chaotic when there are misunderstandings. And they can become wildly chaotic when the misunderstandings are serious and/or involve emotional responses.

Normally, in virtually all cultures, out-of-control interpersonal communications are settled by authoritarian decree, by reverting to pre-established roles, by fighting until one side tires, or by ending communication all together.

It is nothing short of tragic when this happens in close relationships during significant or profound communication acts.

FIML is designed to fix communication problems that occur during communications between two (or more) people who care deeply about each other.

FIML is a “loose” method of control in that FIML largely does not have any content. It is a technique that allows partners to discover their own content and their own ways to fix their contretemps.

As with so many potentially chaotic systems, interpersonal misunderstandings can become wildly unstable for even very small reasons. A single misheard word or a single misinterpreted expression can lead to destructive chaos within the system, no matter how dedicated the communicants may be to each other.

Evidence that supports the use of a “loose” method of control like FIML can be found in this paper: Stalling chaos control accelerates convergence.

To paraphrase from the abstract of that paper and apply their conclusions to FIML, we can say that FIML works “…by stalling the control, thereby taking advantage of the stable directions of the uncontrolled chaotic” system.

By not having a set outcome in mind, by not allowing static interpersonal roles to control the outcome, FIML can succeed in fixing even very serious contretemps between caring partners. FIML accomplishes this by providing partners with a means of achieving a meta-view of their contretemps and from that point of view gently nudging their analysis toward mutual agreement, mutual transformation for both parties based on a complete and completely shared understanding of the unique conditions that generated the problem.

In this, FIML takes “advantage of the stable directions of the uncontrolled chaotic” system. The stable direction is the complete and mutually agreed upon resolution of all aspects of the contretemps. It is a “return” to the stable state of caring that preceded the problem, but a “return” with a significant upgrade because the new stable state will now include the experience of repairing the chaotic state that just passed.

The pleasure in a full FIML resolution can be very great because the semiotic systms of both partners minds will also achieve an upgraded level of stability and awareness. This kind of resolution, clearly, strengthens and resonates with the core of conscious beings who live in the midst of and use (often not so well) semiotics to understand themselves and others.

An article on the study linked above describes the “loose” control method as an “approach that cleverly exploits the natural behaviour of the system.” (See: Control is good, freedom is better)

FIML exploits the natural behavior of two people who seek mutual caring and mutual positive transformation by providing a method that allows them to intelligently deal with the chaos that is 100% bound to arise during some of their acts of communication. Rather than flee from communication due to the fear of chaos, FIML partners have a reliable method of controlling it and reestablishing harmony on a higher, better level.

The Diamond Sutra section 5: Seeing the Truth That Lies Beneath Perception

The fifth section of the Diamond Sutra has been added. A link to the sutra can be found at the top of this page or here.

In this section, the Buddha continues his discussion of laksana (marks, characteristics) by asking, “Subhuti, what do you say, can you see the Tathagata in his bodily laksana?”

In this context, Tathagata means an “enlightened Buddha,” with an emphasis on enlightened. This question could reasonably be interpreted to mean, “…can you perceive the enlightened state of a Buddha through mundane (bodily) characteristics or marks?”

Subhuti answers, “No.” He then explains himself by negating “bodily laksana,” which are essentially delusive and thus not profoundly real.

The Buddha confirms his answer and emphasizes its import by saying, “All laksana are delusive. If you can see that all laksana are not laksana, then you will see the Tathagata.”

Thus, enlightenment and the generosity and wisdom upon which it is based or of which it is a manifestation cannot be perceived by mundane (bodily) laksana. In fact, the Buddha says, to become enlightened you must be able to see that “all laksana are delusive.”

A common interpretation of this section is that that the word laksana refers to the thirty-two marks of a Buddha. Since these thirty-two marks are discussed later in the sutra, it probably makes more sense to interpret them straightforwardly as “bodily laksana,” indicating mundane perception of the enlightened state.

The thirty-two marks or signs are also know as the thirty-two marks of a great man.

Interestingly, the Wikipedia entry on the thirty-two marks says the twenty-ninth mark is “Eyes dark brown or deep blue.” A few other pages I checked on Google claim the eyes are are “clear” and the pupils dark. Traditionally, this laksana has been translated as “blue” or “very blue.”

The Dhammawiki page linked above has this:

He has very blue eyes (Pali: abhi nila netto). Note 1: “very (abhi) blue (nila) eyes (netto)” is the literal translation. Nila is the word used to describe a sapphire and the color of the sea, but also the color of a rain cloud. It also defines the color of the Hindu God Krishna. Note 2: “His lashes are like a cow’s; his eyes are blue./ Those who know such things declare/ ‘A child which such fine eyes/ will be one who’s looked upon with joy./ If a layman, thus he’ll be/ Pleasing to the sight of all./ If ascetic he becomes,/ Then loved as healer of folk’s woes.'” (Lakkhana Sutta)

In Chinese, the Buddha’s eyes are described as “blue” or “jade-like.” Some years ago, I had a discussion with a very capable Pali translator on this point. He wanted to know what I thought (as someone who knows the Chinese) about describing the Buddha’s eyes as “clear.” I said I did not think that that was what the Chinese was saying and that, furthermore, that would be a strange meaning for ancient Chinese, as “clear eyes” is not the kind of thing they would have written. He agreed with what I said, and being an intelligent man, was amused by the whole controversy.

Whatever the case, I suppose it’s inevitable that PC sensibilities will enter even the history of Buddhism. It does seem likely that the Buddha, who is frequently referred to as an “Aryan,” was born into an actual Aryan family. We know he spoke an Indo-European language (Magahi) and that he could easily have had blue eyes. Alexander the Great had blue eyes as did many other people in those days.

A major interpretation of the thirty-two marks is that they are mystical and only an enlightened being can see them anyway. They are not a very important part of Buddhism. As the Diamond Sutra itself says, “All laksana are delusive.”

Still, it is fascinating to observe how people react to imagining a blue-eyed Buddha. In my experience, most Westerners who have not studied much Buddhism, imagine the Buddha to have looked Chinese. Some imagine he looked Indian. Just as Christ gained blond hair and blue eyes in some European portrayals of him, so possibly, a blond-haired blue-eyed Buddha gradually morphed into having a Chinese visage in the northern tradition and a darker Indian one in the southern tradition.

How we perceive and what to do about it

Human perception is massively based on human memory, expectations, and schemas already formed and present in the brain.

A recent study on visual perception came to this conclusion:

Altogether, these results show that many neurons in the medial temporal lobe signal the subjects’ perceptual decisions rather than the visual features of the stimulus. (Source)

This study is about visual perception and it focuses on neurons in the medial temporal lobe of the brain, but it’s conclusions have been discovered in many other studies—that is, we very often perceive what we already know or expect to perceive visually, aurally, verbally, semiotically.

Humans are capable of seeing new things and forming new conclusions and perceptions, but our default brain state is that most of the time we react to what we already think we know, consciously or unconsciously.

And how could it be otherwise? We could not function if we had to reassemble every pixel in a photo or our visual field every time we looked at anything. Same for sounds, sentences, concepts, and semiotics in general. If we are unable to quickly generalize and categorize something as something we already know about, we will find ourselves utterly lost in a maze of astounding complexity every second of our lives.

We cannot live without that default state, but when we use it during interpersonal communication we frequently run the risk of applying an erroneous “perceptual decision” about what someone is saying or about how we think they have heard us.

If you make erroneous perceptual decisions at a normal pace, which can be several times per hour, you will almost certainly begin to build up bigger and bigger wrong perceptions of the person you are doing it to. If that person is a spouse or close friend, you will have problems.

How do we usually deal with or work around problems of that type?

  1. We ignore them.
  2. We spend time away from the person.
  3. We get mad openly or seethe quietly.
  4. We resort to the simple generalities of basic friendship—shared activities, safe topics, declarations of loyalty or friendship.
  5. We believe or hope that mistakes will average out and not matter much.

In order:

1) If we ignore problems that arise from erroneous “perceptual decisions,” we are merely pushing them aside where they will continue to fester. Some people are truly able to completely ignore or forget, but do you really want to do that to your memory? And what replaces what you have forgotten? Isn’t it just another false “perceptual decision?”

2) This works to dilute feeling and perception, but not to improve or upgrade it. In most cases, this is a losing strategy with close friends.

3) Getting mad is better than most responses if you have the tools to fix the problem. Seething silently is a horrible way to go, though unfortunately a very common one. The worst of all is “not getting mad but getting even.” People who do this with friends are universally idiots.

4) Sad way to go but probably the most common halfway-decent thing people do. This describes most friendships and marriages. They become  sort of lifeless card games that go on and on because no one knows what else to do. And the longer they go on, the less likely there will be change.

5) I think this is an unrealistic belief because false perceptions can go off at many different angles. They don’t cancel out. At best, this belief may produce an outcome similar to item four above.

There is a way to handle these problems and that way is FIML. With practice, FIML partners will find that they have no festering false perceptions about each other and that they have not been forced to compromise the integrity and complexity of their relationship by resorting any of the about strategies.

If you read about morality in books and essays, it is all usually very philosophical. What is it? What are the foundations of it? How does fairness contribute? Is it emotional? Cognitive? Non-cognitive? Etc.

But how do you do it? Not how do you do it in the big sense of politics or global warming or philosophy, but how do you do it with just one other person? Can you do that? Have you ever done that? Can you conduct a complex and moral relationship with even one other person?

I don’t mean just sex, though that’s in there. I mean everything. Can you get very, very clear about all of the complexities of your relationship with just one other person? How can you be psychologically healthy if you cannot? I think most people are stuck, at best, on level four above. The reason is not that they want that but that they do not see another way.

You absolutely have to do something like FIML. If you don’t, false perceptions will accumulate and lead to one of the five things mentioned above.

Ethics, morality

If we consider our minds to be networks of signals, then we can say that it is better that the signals be more efficient and contain fewer errors.

This might be a good definition of a sound ethical position—to reduce signal error and increase signal efficiency.

In many ways, the two are the same. When we reduce signal error, we increase the efficiency of the entire system.

Thus, for any one system, such that there is a such a thing, the best ethical position would be to reduce signal error while increasing signal efficiency. That one system might stand for one human being.

But what if there are two or more systems that interact with each other?

In one sense we might say they are the “same” system, especially if interaction is imperative. In another sense, we can treat them as different systems.

If they are seen as the “same,” then reducing error and increasing efficiency will benefit the whole system (of two or more).

If they are seen as separate and not the same, there are two possibilities. Separate systems within the whole may decide to lie or cheat or they may decide not to lie or cheat.

If none of the separate systems within the network ever lies or cheats, efficiency will be increased and error will be reduced.

If one or more of the separate systems within the network decides to lie or cheat, efficiency will decrease and errors will multiply.

The separate systems can be understood to be people while the large network can be understood to be human groups. Lying and cheating or refraining from lying or cheating must be conscious acts.

Errors that just happen non-consciously (misspeaking, mishearing, misunderstanding, data mistakes, etc.) are not moral errors unless they could be or could have been avoided by a reliable method.

No network without lying or cheating has ever been achieved by large numbers of human beings. Even very small groups, as few as two people, rarely are able to achieve an ideal ethical state of no lying and no cheating. And even if they do get pretty good at that, it is very difficult for even just two people to remove non-conscious errors from their interactions.

FIML practice can greatly reduce non-conscious error between partners while at the same time providing a robust basis for increased moral awareness and increased understanding that both partners are benefiting greatly from the honesty (or ethical practice) of both of them.

My honesty with you greatly improves my understanding of and honesty within my own network and also gives me much better information about your network. And the same is true for you. Together we form an autocatalytic set that continually upgrades our mutual network and individual systems.

Clarity, honesty, and efficiency in interpersonal communication is satisfying in itself and also it improves efficiency between partners as it upgrades the self-awareness of each.

One partner could lie and cheat while doing FIML practice, but since FIML is fairly involved and somewhat difficult to learn, it is likely that most partners will do their best by each other ad that most individuals will come to realize that honesty benefits them much more than lying.

I think it is fair to conclude that the best ethical or moral position to take is one that increases efficiency of signalling (talking, doing, etc.) while also reducing signalling error. The problem with doing that is people can and will lie and cheat and we do not (yet) have a reliable way to tell when they are lying and cheating.

A good way to tell if someone is being honest will be an accurate lie-detector, but even that may not be efficient or work well with the dynamics of real-time human communication.

Thus some other technique in needed. FIML can be that technique and I know of no other one that works as well. Thus a sound ethical position in today’s world would be having the aim of reducing signal error while increasing signal efficiency through the practice of FIML.

Without FIML, interpersonal communications is at least an order of magnitude cruder and thus much less efficient. FIML is not perfect, but it is much better than what we ordinarily do. If you can increase resolution and detail at will within any system, it will improve that system. If you can do that with interpersonal communication, it will improve all aspects of that system.

The Diamond Sutra and modern thought

Modern thought is characterized by physicalism and atheism.

The forerunner of physicalism was materialism. Basing everything on matter doesn’t make good sense so materialism became physicalism. Physicalism, very simply, means that everything obeys the laws of physics, and thus physicalism has an open-ended definition because the laws we understand today will surely be different in the future.

Criticisms of physicalism claim it is vague since, as of today, we can’t say what the ultimate laws are and we are unlikely to ever be able to for how do you know when you know all there is to know?

I have no problem with physicalism and would be happy to call myself a physicalist. I think physicalism fits well with Buddhism and if you push at it a bit it can easily include many aspects of religion and the “supernatural,” which just means that which has not yet been explained by the laws of physics. See The invented God argument for more on this angle.

Another interesting way to connect modern thought with Buddhism is to look more closely and with different eyes at the Diamond Sutra or any other major wisdom teaching within the Buddhist tradition.

The Diamond Sutra is a long answer to a single question: “…when good men and good women commit themselves to complete, unsurpassed enlightenment, on what should they base themselves, and how should they subdue their minds?”

The Buddha’s answer is that they should be generous and not base their generosity on anything. That is, no phenomenal thing, nothing material, nothing conditioned. To say it another way, they should be generous but not base their generosity on any transient thing or material calculation.

Doesn’t that sound like the Buddha is indicating a higher level of understanding not unlike the laws of physics? Consider some questions: Where are the laws of physics? What holds them together? Do the inhere in matter, do they spring from matter, or do they “reside” at some other level?

I don’t know what it would mean for them to inhere in matter or spring from matter. Are the laws “out there?” Are they  more fundamental than matter? Higher than matter? We don’t have the answers to these questions yet, but there is nothing wrong with the questions.

The Buddha’s answer to Subhuti also contains this: “This means that he should not base his generosity on form, and he should not base his generosity on sound, smell, taste, touch, or thought.”

In Buddhist thought, our senses are sight (form), sound, smell, taste, touch, and thought. These, of course, can be expanded to include proprioception, balance, and much more. The important point here is that the Buddha uses the six senses mentioned to categorically exclude all phenomenal input including thought.

It takes time if you are coming from a modern language to see thought as being a sense. But look at how materialism has transformed into physicalism and how we can’t be sure even today which of our thoughts is really good and will be viable in a hundred years and which of them will look outdated in ten years. Psychoanalysis and materialism, to name just two thoughts, have suffered complete falls from grace over very short time-spans.

Consider again the six senses of Buddhism. Sight depends on light, something outside the body system. And so does sound, smell, taste, and touch. We see and perceive via our senses because those things are “out there.” Birds fly because air supports them. Fish swim because the water allows this. The fish are adapted to water and have evolved within it.

But what about thought? Is thought material? An epiphenomenon of matter? Since materialism is a weak philosophy, we should ask instead is thought physical? Does it obey the laws of physics?

One answer is reductionism, which goes down deeply into matter to find what we may already know. But another answer is that thought is “out there.” It exists independent of our bodies and brains. Just as the laws of physics do not inhere in matter, so also does thought not inhere in the body. As a bird’s wings are supported by the air, so our thoughts are supported by a reality that is different than the material world and probably superior to it.

If that is so, our capacity for thought is shaped by the laws of physics as much as our bodies are shaped by matter. Birds crash, make mistakes and die due to their mistakes. So also, we humans make mistakes in our thoughts and crash and die due to those mistakes. To glimpse a higher source for thought and being is not to say that our thoughts cannot be horribly mistaken.

Glimpsing a level of reality, profound physicalism, that is “superior” to the reality apprehended by our senses is not to say that we are enlightened or that we have reached the end of the road. We have, rather, caught sight of a way of understanding our lives that is fuller and probably truer than anything on the current spectrum that lies between materialism and spiritualism.

Is this what the Diamond Sutra is indicating when the Buddha adds generosity to the emptiness of the self? As sentient beings, we are capable of being generous. But we also tend to want to have our actions confirmed by our lower senses, our material senses, thus reducing them in much the same way that materialism can reduce higher sensibilities by binding them to a lower calculus.

Is this why the Buddha makes his point so explicitly? He says, “This means that he should not base his generosity on form, and he should not base his generosity on sound, smell, taste, touch, or thought.”

Profound wisdom (prajna) means being generous without basing that consciousness on anything material or any understanding we have (so far) of physicalism. Now, does this mean that generosity is itself an element of the deepest laws of physics? Do we perceive unconditional generosity because it is already “out there?” Is the universe as we know it generous or is it cold, as so many materialists claim?

The Buddhist answer is that the universe is generous. We know it is vast, abundant, and creative. We k now it “obeys” the laws of physics such as we know them. We know birds fly due to there being air. Is the Buddha saying we can grok profound, unconditioned generosity because it is already “out there?” It’s part of what an enlightened being knows?

In this respect, can we say we have made some progress in analyzing whether maths are “out there” or are mere constructs of our minds? The answer would be both, with an emphasis on maths being “out there.” Surely some of them are wrong, and some are not deep enough, but like the laws of physics or the generosity of a Buddha, maths are also very importantly “out there” and that is why we can find them.

Similar things can be said about other uses of the mind that rise above materialism—music, in this respect, is far more than mere “pleasing sounds,” art more than pretty pictures, poetry more than good sounding words.

Another way to look at this is consider what you mean by your “self,” your “personality,” “ego,” “autobiography,” etc. Can your personality, such that it is, handle detailed analysis of active communication as in FIML practice? I am all but certain it can’t. So what good is it if it cannot even analyze its own listening and speaking while they are happening?

In Buddhism, the self, the personality, the ego are fictions. They obscure reality rather than reveal it. If your personality or self is a touchy little thing inside your head that loses control of its emotions every time it hears anything out of the ordinary, how can it be true? Why would you want it? Why do we organize our senses and beings around such bankrupt concepts as self or personality?

The small answer is we don’t know any better and everyone else does it so we can’t be different. The big answer is the Buddha’s answer. The self is a narrow organizing principle that relies on base sensory calculations to maintain itself and as such is subject to the selfish delusions of greed, pride, anger, and ignorance, to name just a few.

The answer the Buddha gives in the Diamond Sutra to Subhuti’s question is a supreme “physicalist” answer which indicates that just as birds can fly humans can soar.

The Diamond Sutra section 4

Section four has been added to the Diamond Sutra. A link to the sutra can be found at the top of this page or here.

In this section, the Buddha continues to answer Subhuti’s question by emphasizing the importance of generosity. Generosity and wisdom are two of the most important behaviors or aspects of Buddhist practice. In the language of the Diamond Sutra, they are two of the main virtues of a bodhisattva.

Wisdom is always the preeminent Buddhist virtue because without wisdom, all other virtues can be misdirected. And yet, wisdom without generosity can be cold and stale.

But what is generosity and how does one do it? How are we to be generous? The Buddha answers, “…Subhuti, within this phenomenal world, a bodhisattva ought to practice generosity without basing it on anything.”

Then he continues, “This means that he should not base his generosity on form, and he should not base his generosity on sound, smell, taste, touch, or thought.”

Form, sound, smell, taste, touch, and thought are the six basic senses recognized in Buddhism. In this context, form indicates sight and also anything that gives rise to the skandha of sensation. Again, the Buddha is making an unambiguous  statement: “…within this phenomenal world…a bodhisattva…ought to practice generosity without basing it on anything.” And that means neither sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, or thought.

The Buddha could not be clearer or more emphatic. Generosity subject to phenomenal attachments, definitions, or rewards is not the sort of generosity he is talking about.

“Subhuti, when the generosity of a bodhisattva is not based on laksana, his goodness is… immeasurable. Subhuti, a bodhisattva should base himself on this teaching and this teaching alone.”

What teaching is that? Being generous without basing it on any laksana, any phenomenal sense or form.

(If you click on the Diamond Sutra tag on the right side of this page, you will find explanations for the parts of the sutra that have already been posted.)

An anthropologist on Rotherham

I think we are going to have to consult with anthropologists if we want to figure out what happened at Rotherham and what to do about it.

The anthropologist Peter Frost does a good job of analyzing Rotherham in his essay Rotherham: The search for answers. Here is a short passage:

 First, most Britons have been living in denial. Few wish to believe, at least openly, that organized gangs are preying on school-age girls. Fewer wish to believe that the gangs are overwhelmingly non-white and largely Muslim. And even fewer wish to believe the extent of the problem: perhaps one in ten of Rotherham’s white families, if not more. It all sounds like vicious propaganda that only ugly hate-filled people could believe.

Yet it’s true. So what comes next?

Frost argues convincingly that the root of the problem is not “racism” or “Islam,” but culture because, as he says assimilation to British society

…does not mean giving up the restraints of one culture and taking on those of another. It means the first but not the second. Immigrants leave an environment where behavior is restrained mainly by external controls (shaming, family discipline, community surveillance) and they enter one where behavior is restrained mainly by internal controls (guilt, empathy). To the extent that assimilation happens, external social controls will weaken and may even disappear, but they will not be replaced by internal mental controls. There is no known way to give people a greater capacity for guilt and empathy than what they already have. No such psychotherapy exists. This is true even if we assume that population differences in these two traits are due solely to cultural conditioning, and not to inborn tendencies.

Please read Frost’s whole piece as the short quotes I have used do not do his argument justice.

A proper analysis of Rotherham must go much deeper than political memes or the maddeningly shallow emotions of political correctness, for as Frost writes, humans are not “…interchangeable units in a global community. Each human and each community is a product of adaptations to specific circumstances, and what works in one set of circumstances may not work so well in another.”

Israeli soldiers from elite wire-tapping unit refuse to use ‘extortion’, ‘blackmail’

“I’m worried that Israeli society will see us as traitors, as people who are trying to harm Israel, while in reality it’s the opposite. We’re doing this because we feel a sense of urgency, a sense of responsibility for the place we live in,” another captain said.

“The continuous cycle of violence is something that has to be stopped and something we can’t be a part of.” (Source)

A person can do great moral good by just stopping. Sometimes what is stopped is a “cycle of violence,” one that goes back and forth and on and on. Sometimes the good comes from just stopping reacting badly. For example, a tree falls on your car, making you feel bad, so you yell at your wife who then is sharp with a colleague who then goes home and drinks too much….etc.

The invented God argument

The invented God argument is similar to the simulation argument, but does not have to be earth-based or limited to historical sims.

Our universe is some 13.2 billion years old. Somewhere in that universe, maybe within our own galaxy, there likely is at least one civilization with technological capabilities that are many millions of years more advanced than ours.

A civilization of that type would be something like a Type V or beyond civilization. Their powers would be God-like. We may be part of their “world” or they might be us far in the future, able to reach back to us now.

In this sense, even a strong atheist is forced to admit that there may indeed be God, gods, higher realms, divine intervention, immortality, heavens, hells, reincarnation, karma, ghosts, visions, divine forgiveness, divine laughter, effective prayer, and so on.

The Buddhist tradition has six realms, billions of world-systems and Buddhas, Buddhas and bodhisattvas with “supernatural” powers, Dharma protectors, demons, rebirth, enlightenment, karma, and much more.

The usual way Buddhism is understood today by “educated” people is little if any of that stuff is true; it’s just the beliefs and superstitions of people of yore that have accreted to the tradition or that were used by the Buddha (who thought like us, of course) to make his points to “uneducated” audiences.

The invented God argument could also be called the invented Buddha argument or anything else that pushes the limits of our imaginations. I take this argument seriously and find it well-worth contemplating as doing that forces us to shift off the narrow seat of materialist/physicalist complacency and the fake sense of certainty that goes with it.

I don’t think we need to buy everything in every religious tradition from the past, but we can with little effort today see that the real state of our universe and our knowledge is complex and that we do not know its limits. Why wouldn’t having a pure mind, a developed moral sense, openness to visionary insight and higher realms be valuable skills?

One of the best Buddhist sayings, which I heard from Master Hsing Yun some years ago, is simply “make your mind bigger.” This saying can be applied to any problem, including the problem of unnecessarily narrowing our understanding of where we are and what is going on here.