Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Let's befriend a ... tree ...

I did not expect this book will change so much in my attitude to nature... "The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from A Secret World" by Peter Wohlleben. (See GoodReads entry) Passionate, scientific, non-fictional - don't know how to label it :-), yet it really changed the way I thought about nature.

There was perhaps something inside me when I was sick seeing a tree cut without a reason or the large parts of forests in North Poland "cultivated" as the lumber industry calls it. Don't take me wrong, I'm not in the camp of people who protest the lumber industry. Not at all. But I saw so many examples of a very bad way the forests were managed... We heard the stories of officials (here in Poland) trying to kill the last pristine forest we have: Puszcza Białowieska...

The book will tell you more about that. I read it audio. Great voice of Mike Grady.

This seems to be my real return to blogging about books. Even short notes are better than nothing.
However, the post like the three earlier, are from my early morning reading of mostly physical books, so they are a bit different in character and the way I write ...

Cheers
Mirek@Lodz

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Stanislaw Ulam - Life & Legacy

I was able to buy a true rarity (through SealsThings via Amazon): the antiquarian volume of "From Cardinals to Chaos. Reflections on the Life and Legacy of Stanislaw Ulam" edited by Necia Grant Cooper and published in 1989 by Cambridge University Press.

While not a very old print, it is generally hard to get.

For long time I was in admiration to Stan Ulam. That dates to my Master Thesis in which I used Monte Carlo simulations, pioneered by Stan. The book gives me a possibility to know about him much more.

Stanislaw Ulam was Polish-American scientist. Educated as mathematician in the pre-war Poland, he worked on Manhattan project and invented many techniques for computer simulations and contributed greatly to both pure and applied mathematics.

In time, this post will perhaps tell you more about him ...

The book starts with amazing account on Stan by his wife Francoise Ulam. She outlived Stan by 27 years and helped to compose this amazing edition....

"He was a loner, a maverick, a very complicated man, a Pole, and, above all, a study in contrasts and contradictions, which often aroused mixed and conflicting emotions in people. He moved only to the beat of his own drum and never kow-towed to anyone or stopped to promote himself."

FROM STAN'S AUTOBIOGRAPHY

"Banach once told me, 'Good mathematicians see analogies between theorems or theories, the very best ones see analogies between analogies' "

"Contrary to those people who were violently against the bomb on political, moral or sociological grounds, I never had any question about doing purely theoretical work... I felt that one should not initiate projects leading to possibly horrible ends. But once such possibilities exist, is it not better to examine whether or not they are real? An even greater conceit is to assume that if you yourself won't work on it, it can't be done at all. (...) Sooner or later the Russians or others would investigate and build them."

MATHEMATICS AND REALITY

"Of all escapes from reality, mathematic is the most successful ever. It is a fantasy that becomes all the more addictive because it works back to improve the same reality we are trying to evade. All other escapes - love, drugs, hobbies, whatever - are ephemeral by comparison."
(The Lost Cafe, Gian-Carlo Rota)

at p.26


(Notes to myself: Borsuk-Ulam theorem: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borsuk%E2%80%93Ulam_theorem 
with Everett on Projective Algebra: https://doi.org/10.2307/2266746
Both Françoise and her husband are buried with her French family in Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris.[69][70]
http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/santafenewmexican/obituary.aspx?n=francoise-ulam&pid=150769924
http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=7205311
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gian-Carlo_Rota
)

More to come - Stay tuned ...

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Chinese Painting and Thought - A Different Perspective ...

In one of my last visits to "Shakespeare and Company" bookstore in Paris (I wrote about it here before), a small, inconspicuous book, almost by chance, found itself in my hands. "Existence. A Story" by David Hinton. David is a poet and renown translator of Chinese poetry. The book sheds light on the experiences that are so often ignored by our proud (yet frequently blind) Western tradition... What is amazing for me, is that on the deepest level, as you could find in my previous post about Kabbalah, it is not that bad - we also have some amazing traditions touching the essence of everything ... But, for some reasons, that awareness of existence is much more prevalent in Chinese thought and art than in ours ...

As it was before with Kabbalah and the Journey to Lhasa, this post will contain the most interesting quotes I find in it during my everyday early morning reading ...


"We turn to the empty darkness of pure awareness, which is all that remains after this practice of forgetfulness, and we inhabit the expansive space of that darkness"

"That clarity is a beginning place, and almost as soon as this empty gaze into the nature of things reveals existence vast and deep, it reveals something else no less wondrous and unimaginable: there is no distinction awareness and the expansive presence of existence. They are whole, a single existential tissue, which is to say that existence-tissue is our most fundamental self."

"(...) the pictographic nature of Chinese means that words share the nature of things as living phenomena. (...) This suggest a very different concept of time. We in modern West inhabit time as a metaphysical dimension, a river of future flowing through present and into the past. This grand metaphysical assumption about the world structures our immediate experience, but it is purely imaginal, and it creates a strange schism between us and the vast tissue of transformation that is reality. As inhabitants of this linear time, we are located outside of existence. But there is no trace of such dimension in empirical reality. (...) and 'time' is nothing other than the movement of change itself, an ongoing generative moment in which every thing (noun) is alive (verb) and pregnant with transformation."

LANGUAGE

"In the modern West, linguistic thought is experienced in a mimetic sense, as a stable and changeless medium by which a transcendental soul represents objective reality. This sense of language assumes language did not evolve out of natural process, but that language is instead a kind of transcendental realm that somehow came into existence independently of natural process."

"The history of language in China reveals that language was not experienced as a mimetic separation by ancients (...) They recognized language as an organic system evolved by the existence-tissue describing and explaining itself. In the cultural myth, language begins in China with the hexagrams of the I Ching, such as the first two, Heaven and Earth:

These hexagrams embody the two fundamental elements of the Cosmos: yin and yang, female and male, whose dynamic interaction produces the cosmological process of change"



"Here we encounter the tantalizing fact that to translate a Chinese poem into English is to fundamentally misrepresent it, because the mimetic function of English, with its distancing, is exactly what a Chinese poem is meant to undo"

ELUSION

"Existence decorates itself with identity and meaning, just as it decorates itself with mountain ridgelines and sea-mist, cities and rainbows. And yet (how can it be?), as soon as existence begins to know itself, it is lost to itself. Existence rustles. It wants to know itself; and in the end, it cannot. It can only elude itself"

TAO

'Tao also means "to say"'

"A Tao called Tao isn't the perennial Tao.
A name that names isn't the perennial name."

"(...) the might be translated 'A Tao that can be described/explained is not the perennial Tao"

THE FIRST REVELATION

"From this attention to thought's movement comes meditation's first revelation: that we are, as a matter of observable fact, separate from our thoughts and memories. That is, we are not the center of identity we assume ourselves to be in our day-to-day lives, that center of identity defining us fundamentally outside the existence-tissue. Instead, we are the empty awareness ('empty mind') that watches identity rehearsing itself in thoughts and memories relentlessly coming and going."

"(...) mind refers not to the abstract analytical faculty that we normally associate with that word. Instead it refers to the empty awareness that Stone-Waves encountered in meditation, that we encountered before opening our eyes here in the beginning"

PRESENCE AND ABSENCE

"In perennial Absence you see mystery,
and in perennial Presence you see appearance
(Lao Tzu - Tao Te Ching)

Presence is simply the empirical universe: the ten thousand things in constant transformation, existence vast and deep, everything and everywhere. And Absence is the generative void from which this ever-changing realm of Presence perpetually emerges. (...)

In this mirror-deep empty mind, the ancients experienced perception as nothing less than Absence itself mirroring Presence"

FEMALE COSMOLOGY

"Lao Tzu often employs female terminology to describe the elemental contours of Absence, the dark and mysterious source of all appearance: 'mother of all beneath heaven', 'nurturing mother,' 'dark female-enigma'. This female cosmology feels very primal, and probably dates from the earliest levels of human culture, levels when the existence-tissue first began decorating itself with celebration and meaning"

COSMOLOGY AND CONSCIOUSNESS

"In Ch'an meditation, that cosmology is revealed as the very structure of consciousness, for meditation allows you to watch thought emerge from a generative emptiness, follow its dynamic evolution, and finally return back into that emptiness.(...)
This is a return to the elemental mystery of creation; and at the same time, it reveals consciousness as an integral part of the cosmological tissue: thought, memory, identity, all moving with the same dynamic energy as the Cosmos itself"

POETRY

"Poetry was sometimes referred to as "poetry-Ch'an." Although made of words, it is at its most profound level a spiritual practice opening consciousness to an immediate experience of the existence-tissue that precedes thought and language. (...) And poetry is the language's most distilled expression."

CHINESE GRAMMAR

"As we have seen, this grammar is minimal in the extreme, leaving a great deal of open space in the poem: all words can function as any part of speech, subjects and pronouns are often missing, verbs have no tense, function words (conjunctions, prepositions, articles, etc.) are rare, there is no punctuation, etc. This open space feels like an extension of the open space that surrounds the poem, and together they are a single tissue of emptiness: Absence, the source-tissue. (...) In this poetry participates in that more primal experience of time as an ongoing generative moment, which also defines the texture of the poem, for the wide-open grammar and absence of verb tenses creates a sense that the events of a poem occur in a kind of boundless present."

CALLIGRAPHY

"The practice of calligraphy is similar to the practice of meditation. It changes our relation to language, the medium of identity; and finally, it reweaves identity into the existence-tissue"

ANCIENT PAINTINGS

"When the ancients looked at a painting with mirror-deep mind, they rehearsed empty awareness here in the beginning, (...). As they gazed mirror-deep into a painting, they felt within consciousness both the blank field of Absence and dynamic Presence emerging from that field, its forms chosen not arbitrarily or to portray a particular landscape, but for the resonance they open in X, its empty mind and full heart."

CHINESE INSPIRATION

"The COSMOLOGY of Absence and Presence structures everything in ancient China. It defines the physical structure of the Cosmos, with the empirical world emerging from a generative emptiness; the compositional structure of calligraphy and painting, with their forms emerging from that same emptiness and vanishing back into it; the structure of language and poetry, with their empty grammar and pictographic words emerging at the empty source of things, the ideograms themselves nestled around the empty space within them, the structure of consciousness, in which thought emerges from a generative emptiness and returns to vanish there; and finally, it structures perception, where empty mind mirrors empirical reality"

"So the concepts of Absence and Presence might almost be translated: 'formless' and 'form', for they are just two different ways of seeing the existence-tissue"

THE DARK ENIGMA IN TAO TE CHING POEM

"In perennial Absence you see mystery,
and in perennial Presence you see appearance.
Though the two are one and the same,
once they arise, they differ in name.

One and the same they're called dark-enigma,
dark-enigma deep within dark-enigma,

gateway of all mystery."

"Dark-enigma is a return to consciousness prior to language and the utilitarian differentiation of things we need for survival (...) As soon as you conceptualize it, name it even with this first name, dark-enigma, that immediacy and wholeness is lost"

THE ANOTHER NAME

"There is another name for Absence and Presence recognized as a single entity, a concept that emphasizes its nature as a living tissue: Ch'i:

"This is experience at a very primal level in this cosmology, revealing that empty consciousness is not emptiness, but an ethereal configuration of:

"
 


(And with this quote I'm ending the relation from this amazing little book...
Mirek@Lodz)

Monday, September 26, 2016

Reading "Mysteries of the Kabbalah"

I have been reading Marc-Alain Ouaknin (the most famous for his account on Talmud: The Burnt Book) "Mysteries of the Kabbalah" for quite a long time, both in Polish and English...
I was coming to and going away from it for other books.

I must say that this is one of the most important and most beautiful and most comprehensive (for us mere mortals of XX/XXI centuries...) book about the Kabbalah...

This is not a review yet. This is a running log of some finest thoughts and ideas.

Let me start with, actually, some quotes the author makes:

"... the mystery of evil, the only one in which God does not make us believe but makes us think" (Marie Noel)

opens Chapter 20.

"The very root of evil is hidden in the depths of absolute good and it is the act of denying the miracle and the possible" (Yosef Ben Shlomo from "The Master of Lights")

Now, Marc-Alain himself:

"For man, good resides in the gap between the perfection of God and the transgression of this perfection through the creation of the world. This creation is a break in the immanence of perfection. Any creation is less perfect than the source of all perfection."

I will perhaps come here to some previous thoughts of the book later ...

There we go now: from Rabbi Nachman from Breslov: "It is forbidden to be old" .

And from the author: "A person is old when he has lost hope. A person is old when instead of seeing hope as a door opening onto the future, he sees it opening onto the past. Old age is a nostalgia for hope. It is when one does not have the strength to say, 'Tomorrow'"

CREATION OF THE UNIVERSE

"... in the beginning, after the contraction of the divine, the tsimtsum, and the first emanation of light, there was beriya. This word literally means 'creation', the transition from absolute nothingness to a state of being, the transition from ayin to yesh, to produce the raw material of the universe ..."

"This raw material, the infinitesimal element in matter, had a specific shape, the point.(...) So, in the beginning, there was the point ..."

"The second phase of creation for the kabbalists is called yetsira: "formation". (...) the first transfiguration of the point was a vertical line, (...) After this vertical line a horizontal line was born and attached to it, and thus the plane was born."

THE IMPERFECTION AND EVIL

"(...) the Kabbalah of Rabbi Isaac Luria was an immediate success, since it answered the existential questions of the period."

Rabbi Issac Luria replied by formulating the theory of tsimtsum ("reduction"). According to this theory, the first act of the Creator was not to reveal himself to something on the outside. (...) the first stage was a folding in, a withdrawal; God withdrew 'from himself into himself' and in doing so left a void within his bosom, thus creating a space for the world to come."

"That which happens in the world can only be the expression of this original and essential exile (one might be tempted to call it 'ontological'). That the divine presence, the shekhina, might be ontologically in exile is a daring and revolutionary idea. All the imperfections of the world can be explained by such an exile"

"This kabbalistic explanation () is of striking originality in that it does not consider exile to be uniquely as a proof of faith, nor a punishment for sins, but, above all, as a mission. (...) the aim of this mission is to cause the holy sparks that had been dispersed to ascend again and release the divine light and holy souls from the domain of the qlipa, which represents tyranny and oppression on the terrestrial and historical plane."

I must admit, that this theory developed by Rabbi Isaac Luria is the first ever explanation of the imperfection of the world and its horrible condition, its evil - given from inside a religious tradition - that speaks to me... That was a revelation to me to find it out after so many years of study ...

LITERATURE AND SILENCE

"This silence of words that speak to say nothing is perhaps the very essence of literature"

Rabbi Nachman from Breslov: "Words are like birds; why keep them shut away in cages?"

THE JOY

"Joy is the creation of space in which speech can be expressed and exist."

Rabbi Nachman from Breslov: "It is a great obligation to always be in joy" , "Sadness is the exile of divine presence"

Jean-Yves Leloup: "Being is not a thing, but a Space, an Opening which must remain free. God is the freedom of man."

THE VOID

"The letter of the Ten Commandments were produced 'in a void', as one might say 'in marble' or 'in wood'. The actual substance of the writing is a nonsubstance"

THE MEANING OF WORDS

Rabbi Levi Isaac of Berditchev: "Everyone has a duty to look at their nothingness and to respect it"

LANGUAGE AND LOVE

"Saying that 'father' and 'mother', each in their own way, possess the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet is expressing the fundamental relationship between language and fertility; it is stressing the fact that 'making' a child is first and foremost a dialogue and that the human being anchors the possibility of his existence in the linguistic potential unleashed in speech"

THAT IS ENOUGH ! DO NOT COME

"To summarize the theory of tsimtsum, the space occupied by the world is created aby an emptying or withdrawing of the infinite and by a force that maintains the light of the infinite at the periphery. This force is called Shaddai"

"It is also the name of God, which designates the force that prohibits the infinite from reoccupying the void it has left."

ON THE UNIVERSE

A quote from Maurice Blanchot: "... at the beginning of everything, the power of words and exegesis is affirmed, in which everything begins from a text and everything comes back to it, a single book in which a prodigious sequence of books unfolds, a library that is not only universal but which takes the place of the universe and which is even more vast and more enigmatic than the universe."

THE REVELATION OF A TEXT

"The Revelation is first and foremost the revelation of a text; this is the revolution contained in the Bible story"

"The question of the relationship to the text is not merely that of reading but of interpretation. Interpreting is discovering meaning but not truth - not revealing a secret, but revealing that secret exists."

"The "Text-God" must be accorder its status of infinity; in other words, every means must be used to give it an infinite meaning. These means consist of all the rules of interpretation that have been explained in the previous chapters, and especially gematria, tseruf, and so on. The need to interpret the text as the liberation of the divine is one of the fundamental meanings of all the work of kabbalists and Talmudists."

"Truth does not mean the appropriateness in relation to certain prior existing meanings, but resides in being "open to" ...

ON THE TETRAGRAMMATON

"The infinity of God is self-limiting. He created the world and became its guest in a finite form. For the Kabbalah, this passage from the infinite to the finite occurs through the text"

"For kabbalists, the incarnation is produced in the body of the Text"

"The name is a meditation on nothingness that becomes a being, and which returns to nothingness. It is entry into movement and an infinity of time"

LOVE

"(...) it is the conjugal, or rather love, relationship that is the favorite metaphor, as the Bible shows in the Song of Songs. Love, (...) is the primary value on which the world rests. This reunion of the beloved and the bethrothed is a refrain that runs through kabbalistic literature and is translated at the cosmic level by the reunion of man with the Creator (...)"

CODA

Rabbi Tarfon taught, "You are not required to complete the work, but nor are you at liberty to abondon it" (Pirke Avot 2,16)

Baal Ha-Orot, The Master of the Lights:
"If you want to, you can. Son of man, look!
Contemplate the light of the Presence that resides in all existence!
(...)
You have the wings of wind,
the noble wings of the eagle...
Do not deny them for fear that they will deny you.
Seek them and immediately they will find you."

Absolutely incredible book ....
Mirek@Lodz, Poland / October 26, 2016





Sunday, September 25, 2016

End of reading of "My journey to Lhasa"

I have finished this great book.

Let me share only one reflection that comes to its reader's mind: it is deeply tragic what has happened to amazing Tibetan culture since Chinese invasion and during their occupation of Tibet. On the eyes of the entire world, China has killed the smaller world of the culture so deep and beautiful.

How many times in the history of the world, large and powerful countries were destroying the peoples and their culture on the eyes of powerless world ...





Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Reading "My journey to Lhasa" ...

I have been reading, for some time, "My Journey to Lhasa" by Alexandra David-Neel.
Interesting account about Tibet as it no longer exists ...

This is not a review yet. Just some quotes...

"When we left him the old farmer's face expressed a perfect serenity, a complete detachment from all earthly concerns, having, it seemed, entered the true Blissful Paradise which, being nowhere and everywhere, lies in the mind of each one of us."


"Farther in the deserts, higher still on their giant peaks, they seek caves and almost inaccessible shelters, where they may meditate and be alone, face to face with the Infinite and the Eternal."

more to come ...

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Hope and a Fear ...

I just finished reading (listening in fact) of "The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer" by Siddhartha Mukherjee.
The only thing I could tell you all is the message of hope and ... a message of fear. While absolutely incredible progress has been made when it comes to cancer cure - we still are far away from victory. And the reasons are absolutely mind-blowing: the very essence of cancer is the same as is the essence of life itself...
Despite enormous efforts, like the one described in the book - The cancer genome atlas: http://cancergenome.nih.gov/ - we are far, on the clinical level from the precise knowledge how to treat the malady ...
However, the overall tone of the book is realistically optimistic. At least to the extent of cancer prevention - we can do a lot ...

It will stay with me for long ...

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Jacob's Scriptures

This incredible book (by Olga Tokarczuk) is not yet available in English. I hope it will be one day.

On 900 pages of it we get one of the most fantastic mixture of fiction and history of XVIII century Poland and Eastern Europe.

The book tells the story of Jacob Frank, a Jewish mystic, who created almost impossible, new messianic sect in XVIII Judaism - the sect that broke with traditional Judaism, adopted some tenants of Sabbatai Zevi, had a short affair with Ottoman Turkey Islam, and then ...converted to Catholicism! Frank and his family and followers got into plays with Austrian Emperor, had a kind of small kingdom in Brno, were imprisoned in Czestochowa and ended its glory in a noble castle in Offenbach, Germany !

Absolutely amazing book; from the perspective of care paid to facts and play between imagination and history - I could compare it only to Umberto Eco’s “Prague Cemetery” …

The book ends beautifully:
“It has been written though that a man who labours himself with the works of Messiahs', even the unsuccessful ones, will earn respect as the one who studies the eternal mysteries of the Light, just by telling these stories.”


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Last books read ...

It is not yet a review. It is just a harbinger of the reviews to come.

Let me list here three books I read during last months with great admiration:


  1. "Moon in a dewdrop" by Eihei Dogen
  2. "One Man's Judaism" by Emanuel Rackman
  3. "Moral tribes" by Joshua Greene


I'm sure I will review them soon. They were just great.
I'm now in famous "Superintelligence" by Nick Bostrom... Lot's to tell about it ...

Cheers
Mirek@Lodz


Return to blogging ...

I hope to return to regular blogging. Yes since almost 2 years I was not active here, and I regret it. As always, I have explanations (hard work at MakoLab while in Europe, equally hard at Chemical Semantics - while in US)

However, I just realized, that I can't stay silent here. I have this blog for more than 10 years. In most cases it was about books I have been reading (and listening). And I'm going to come back to this. But there is something else.

My country is in quite dangerous situation. The democracy and open society we have been building since 1989 is endangered. It is not just for the fact that some right-wing party won elections. It is for the way they deconstruct the pillars of all open societies - by manipulating with judicial authorities, with media, taxes, and, if take what they plan - perhaps soon with Civil Service...

What is more, when citizens started to protest through non-partisan movement called KOD, the government officials started to use a specific rhetoric against them, which unmistakably reminds me time of late communist regimes.

You could read more about that here: http://visegradrevue.eu/the-mutiny-of-the-lemmings/ 

I don't know how much time my life will give me to write here. But I just realized that I have no choice. Everything I did in my life, particularly since 1989, when I started MakoLab, lead it through its 2007 IPO to today's status, kept it open to people from many countries, cultures, religions may easily be wasted if this country becomes some authoritarian island, contesting European Union, judicial supervision, free media etc etc.

Stay tuned.