Monday, November 28, 2011

Copying and Stealing


One of the blogs I most enjoy reading is Jayarava's Raves. Jayarava is one of the few Buddhist bloggers with genuine scholarly chops. His dissections of Buddhist source texts are always meticulous, extremely knowledgeable, often highly perceptive, and sometimes extremely relevant to the questions modern Buddhists are grappling with. For example, see his short post on the case of Bhadda. He has substance and originality, which is something that's in sorely short supply in the mostly commentarial blogosphere.

But this time he put his foot in it, and on a topic I consider to be of so much importance that it deserves to be addressed. In Taking the Not-given, his posting about Buddhist Torrents, a site containing links to copies of books about Buddhism, he argues that the Second Precept—"I undertake the training of not taking that which is not given"—unequivocally prohibits copying intellectual property:
Let me just be quite clear here. Copying is theft. All those pirated books, DVDs, and CDs are stolen. There is no grey area here.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Claims about the Nature of the Mind

Shadow play
Shadow Play, Helsinki, 2005

Sante Sensei has started a blog. He has a couple of posts up about emergence and free will. He's discussing the contention—by neurobiologists and other people working with the plumbing of the brain—that the mind is an emergent property of the brain, and that it can be, in theory at least, completely understood by understanding the physical processes that go on in it.

There are a quite a few very hairy philosophical questions involved, particularly with regards to free will, determinism, and randomness. From the neuroscientists' point of view, the brain is either a deterministic system, or a random one. As Sensei points out, it is not immediately obvious how determinism or randomness can be reconciled with the notions of intention and volition—free will, that is.

I've gotten into a few discussions about these same topics here, and posted some of my thoughts on the matter.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thinking about Thinking

There was a discussion recently on Barbara's Buddhism blog regarding the uses and drawbacks of philosophy, especially Western philosophy, in Buddhist practice. Barbara was a bit ambivalent about it, having come across plenty of smartass know-it-alls who are all too eager to explain how Buddha got it wrong.

That got me thinking about thinking, and the uses thereof. Philosophy is, to a great extent, thinking about thinking.

I find thinking about thinking a useful exercise in many ways. For one thing, it's challenging, and practicing it will help you think about other, more practical things as well. It gives you more things to relate and connect to, which makes it easier to get a grasp on new ideas and even new fields. It can be a drawback as well, naturally, since there's often a superficial familiarity to things that causes you to assume you understand them before you actually do. "Oh cool, Nagarjuna is just like Baudrillard. What about Vasubandhu?" Except he isn't, even if the two have some overlaps.

Sunday, November 13, 2011



I'm exploring a new hobby. I do that every few years. I'm tinkering with mechanical wristwatches.

My first objective was to take apart a watch movement and then put it back together so that it still runs. I just accomplished that yesterday, and I feel as proud of it as if it's an egg I just laid. I even sorted out a problem it had. It doesn't run very well, but no worse than when I started, and I didn't actually do anything that ought to make it run better. Just disassembled and reassembled it. Three times, actually; I had done something wrong the first two times and it didn't run.

I still need some tools to be able to try my hand at cleaning and oiling it. That's my next objective. I figure the odds of the watch surviving my tender ministrations are about 25%. Yesterday morning I would've said 5%, so that's an improvement. It's a really beat-up looking Citizen about as old as I am, and I picked it up at a fleamarket for not much money, so it's no great loss to humanity even if it gives up its life in the name of science.

I've learned a quite a lot already, about what makes watches tick, and what I'm looking for in watch projects, and even a bit about why bother in the first place.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Zen Choir Boys

Guild of Craftsmen

When you first walk into a zendo to do a couple of rounds of zazen, it feels like not much happens, other than in your mind of course, which is going to be about as Zen as a treeful of monkeys on nitrous oxide, if it's anything like mine. Yet there's a surprising amoung of choreography going on there. In fact, everybody there has a role to play, even if that role is "only" to sit still between the bells, get up, walk, sit down, bow, and chant according to them.

I'm only really realizing how much ceremony there is now, since I agreed to be something of a Zen choir boy and help that choreography happen. I got to ring bells yesterday, for the first time. I screwed up the final complicated bit, naturally, but nobody was hurt, so it was no big deal. I'll try again next week. If they'll bear with me, I figure I'll eventually learn it.

Ringing a bell is much more interesting than I expected. It's not at all easy to get anything like a pure sound out of it, and even more difficult to get more or less the same loudness, say, three times in a row, even when you're not at all nervous. A bell does exactly what you make it do; the sound is very revealing of the way you hit it. Hesitation or tension makes it sound broken. And you cannot, indeed, un-ring a bell. On the other hand, a nice, good, clean Ting! is very rewarding.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Greece and Germany

Bundesrepublik Deutschland

The Eurozone looks like it's about to unravel. Greece announced that it's holding a referendum about the austerity/bailout package offered to it by the EU and the IMF, and it's pretty likely that such a referendum would reject it. It's quite likely that it won't even be needed, as the mere announcement has gotten stuff moving so quickly that by the time there is such a referendum, it'll be too late.

The EU leadership has completely failed to address the crisis. I'm really disappointed in it. There's a simple, basic refusal to face reality. The reality is this:


This has been entirely obvious for at least a year now. Instead of accepting this and dealing with it, the approach has been to go "BLAA BLAA BLAA I'M NOT LISTENING I'M NOT LISTENING" and pretend that it's a liquidity problem, and that "confidence" and "voluntary debt forgiveness" that just might, if we're lucky, get the Greek debt/GDP ratio to about 120% instead of 140% in another decade or so, will magically sort things out.