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Archive for the ‘Philosophy of living’ Category

I was trying to show off my vast intellect to a friend the other day – a completely untenable situation, all things considered – by posing the following question: are all statements about reality subjective? Well, I came a cropper even quicker than might be expected when she fired straight back at me the question: is that question itself subjective?

Hmmm. That showed me up! But it got me to thinking that to say everything is subjective is rather self-defeating, since it must therefore itself be a subjective thing to say and so rather lacking a firm foundation. And that got me to thinking that the whole ‘I thing therefore I am’ train of thought is highly shaky. What is certain? The only thing I can think of that is certain, considering that everything might be a chimera, is that information exists. Even if you & I do not exist, there is some exchange of information somewhere to make us think that we do.

The big question that arises from that is: can information exist on its own? I tend to think not. For information to exist, surely there has to be some energy or matter somewhere to engender it. Perhaps this then leads to a less presumptive statement ‘I appear to observe a changing universe around me, which requires information and so something must exist’. Not the most catchy of maxims, I admit!

As ever I am probably missing the point and would be very grateful for your help in furthering my understanding.

ps – sorry for any typos, but my slightly odd cat is going trough a frenzy of licking my hands as I type this!

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If you’re looking for titillation or the Hayne’s Manual of sexual technique, it is time to retrace your steps as this is about fundamentals. Some say that sex is mainly in the mind, but that is blatantly wrong: it is ALL in the mind. Obviously so, really, since that is where all senses, perception, ideas and mores are processed to create our concept of reality. For instance, things that would tickle normally will delight when aroused. So the important questions are: what, fundamentally, is sex? Why is it wonderful?

The answer, as with almost everything in life, is lots of things. It can be comforting, an adventure, exciting, an expression of love, an ego boost, pure sensory pleasure and much more besides. But this is still not its essence, but its effects. It is not enough to be amazingly dextrous, fit and breath through your ears; you have to understand the spiritual nature of sex before you can get the physics right.

So what is sex? Please think before you reply, as even the mechanics of it are not as simply defined as you may think. It is not all grapple & grunt: potentially you do not even need to touch each other to have great sex. Although usually, I’ll admit, it does help.

The simple answer is that sex is about communication. I don’t mean talking. “Further to the left” or “Do you like it when I rub this?” might be practically useful, but do not provide much insight. The communication I mean is on a primeval level that is more basic than language. It harks back to our evolutionary past, to our uncivilised and animalistic core. Sex allows us to connect to another human on the spiritual level, allows the fundamental essence of your being to join with another.  Sex alone allows us to join absolutely with another, allows us to penetrate our loneliness and briefly lose our isolation. Well, some serious narcotics possibly get us there too, but that is a different discussion!

Well, I am glad we got that sorted, so we can all now toddle off and have multiple orgasms. Ah, of course, there is the question of ‘how’. What is it we actually have to do to connect to someone else? The answer, as with almost everything in life, is lots of things! The first and most important is to want to connect and to give pleasure. Its all in the giving, I’m afraid, so stop right now and don’t waste any more time reading this if you just want to have more fun yourself.

You have to deeply like the person you’re with. Love is not directly related to sex, but helps in as much as you will be serious about giving to someone you love. The next bit will be easier as well, as you must open yourself up to them. You must expose the inner you, take down all defences and show yourself naked to the core. The only way you can join with someone essence-to-essence is for the cores of your beings to touch, and the only way for that to happen is for both of you to strip away all outer layers of you personas. Stand down your defensive shells, demolish your facades, can your carefully constructed character traits. It’s very temporary, but is still tricky to do. Someone has to start and help the other along (or help each other), as otherwise you will remain just two bodies rubbing bits against each other.

Don’t worry if it doesn’t happen straight away. It is complex and difficult and will take time to come together (so to speak). One practical way to start off is to concentrate on the other’s reactions: try to feel what the other likes and dislikes, try to predict what they want next. We are pack animals and programmed to understand very slight changes in body language, so although this may seem a bit of a Jedi Power at first, you can become highly attuned to your lover. You will find that you get better at this, possibly even knowing more about what your lover really wants than they do, but the real point is that you will be communicating. As you read them, so you will be sending signals back and they will be reading you too.

This stage is good! You work well together, become great at pleasuring each other and sex becomes fabulous. Keep going, use your desire to drive you towards connection and you will get to the body-and-spirit-tingling moment when you both drop your last barriers, surrender entirely to each other and truly become ‘with’ another person. Add in the physical, sensory delights of sex and whoa! Its fun time!

Some couples will never get this, others can get there during a one night stand. It is not about what you do or who you are, but about being compatible. Every person is capable of this, but only with the right partner. Or partners, possibly. Some people may be able to connect with every lover they have, others perhaps with very few.

If you cannot connect with your lover, perhaps you shouldn’t be together. A survey recently found that 1 in 7 couples remain deeply in-love all their lives, never losing the heady feelings of their first few years together. I suggest that these are the people that can connect at the deepest, most intrinsic level.

This could be all of us, we just have to make the right decisions in life, be with the right person.

p.s. let’s take a moment to reflect on how lucky we are. Most animals merely copulate: a compulsive attempt to breed that has little pleasure (part from pygmy chimps, obviously). But we can take immense pleasure from indulging in sex as frequently as we desire. If there is a God, surely this is compelling evidence to show that we are Her special children!

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Hopefully, this will help you live within the planet’s means: work out your impact on the planet & plan your year ahead to reduce that impact to sustainable levels. Want to fly off on holiday? Well, turn your heating down a bit & buy fewer clothes so that you can. Read on and learn how to balance your budget!

To make lifestyle budgeting easy, I have translated all our ecological impacts into carbon emissions; or tried to. There is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding things like resource depletion, toxic emissions, habitat destruction etc. This lifestyle budget is based on so many shaky assumptions, rues of thumb, approximation and downright guesses that it probably all falls out in the wash anyway. Basically, it is a first approximation of a sustainable lifestyle to aim for. Something to work towards.

 All assistance in making it more accurate and inclusive will be most welcome! So far, this is how it works:

Every person on the planet has 3.5 tonnes of CO2 they can produce a year. Anything more is unsustainable, meaning you start to deplete resources and add to climate change. The following figures give you carbon outputs for various activities (emissions + ecological impact), so that you can budget properly: save a bit of carbon here to spend it there. Remember that things like electricity can be shared between everyone in the house – they are not per person, but per household.

 The basic figures for working everything out are given first, then examples about how to use them to plan your year’s activities to be sustainable: balancing your carbon budget.  

All figures are per year per household, unless otherwise stated.

 

Thing                                                                            Carbon emissions

 

Background life support                                                                 

Rubbish: recycling                                                                              0

Rubbish: wheelie bin to landfill                                                          5kg per bin

Electricity small house                                                                        1,500kg

Electricity large house                                                                         3,000kg

 

                           Savings: being careful & turning everything off save 500kg*

                                          Using green tariff divide emissions by 5

 

                           Extras:    use a tumble drier? Add 640kg

 

*This means turning the TV & other kit off when not watching/using it, turning lights off when you leave the room, unplug chargers when not in use etc.

  

Heating with gas small house                                                             600kg

Heating with gas large house                                                              1,600kg

 Heating with oil small house                                                               750kg

Heating with oil large house                                                               2,000kg

Heating with electricity small house                                                   1,500kg

Heating with electricity large house                                                   4,000kg

                           Savings: well insulated and careful divide by 3.5

                                          Using green tariff divide by 5

                                          Turn the thermostat down save 200kg per 1oC

General water use (av person London)                                               17kg per person

Showers, washing & washing-up (including hot water)                     200kg per person

 

                           Savings: quick, low flow shower (3 minutes) reduce by 100kg

                                          Wash clothes half as often & at 30o reduce by 100kg

 

Food

Home grown (fairly organic)                                                              0

Veggie (from veg box)                                                                        0.07kg per meal

Veggie (supermarket veg)                                                                   0.1kg per meal

Meaty & cheesy                                                                                  1.5kg per meal

Ready meal/processed food                                                                2kg per meal

 

Booze (shot of spirit, glass of wine, pint of beer)                               0.2kg each drink

Coffee, tea, soft drinks                                                                       0.3kg per cup

Cordial & tap water                                                                            0

 

Transport

Car small, new & eco (160kg per 1000 miles driven)

                           Seldom used (3000 miles)                                        480kg

                           Often used (12000 miles)                                        2,400kg

                           Hardly out of the car (20000 miles)                         3,2000kg

 

Car large, old & nasty (640kg per 1000 miles driven)

                                         

                           Seldom used (3000 miles)                                        1,920kg

                           Often used (12000 miles)                                        7,680kg

                           Hardly out of the car (20000 miles)                         12,800kg

                          

                           Commuting sums: rough length of journey one way x 480 = miles per year

 

Public transport (95kg per 1000 miles travelled)

 

                           Short commute (2 miles)                                          90kg per person a year

                           Medium commute (25 miles)                                   1,125kg per person a year

                           Long commute (75 miles)                                        3,375kg per person a year

 

Flying short haul                                                                                 100kg per hour flying

Flying long haul                                                                                  70kg per hour flying

 

NB the driving figures are for the car – if there are multiple occupants, then they will share the carbon between them. Flying & public transport figures are per person.

 

Holidays

UK holidays do the transport only (car journey or public transport)

 

2 week holiday with short haul flight (1000km)                                450kg per holiday

2 week holiday with long haul flight (5000km)                                 1,800kg per holiday

 

NB the figures for holidays involving flying are per person

For 1 week holiday short haul is 400kg, long haul 1,400kg

 

Consumerism (buying stuff)

General rule for everything                                                                 0.8kg for every £1 spent

 

Electronic stuff (TV, mobile, computer etc)                                       1kg for every £1 spent

Clothing                                                                                              0.6kg for every £1 spent

Sofa                                                                                                     300kg each

Toys (general)                                                                                     0.9kg for every £1 spent

Toys (plastic, electronic)                                                                     1.2kn for every £1 spent

Toys (eco)                                                                                           0.2kg for every £1 spent

Appliance                                                                                            680kg each

Car                                                                                                      4,000kg each

 

Motorsports

 

Waterskiing, motocross etc                                                                 0.7kg per hour

 

 [sorry – the formatting of that has gone a bit weird from Word, but I really can’t be arsed to correct it]

 

Doing your budget

First of all, do not be afraid to use fudge-factors or estimates to extrapolate between the figures given. For instance, using a tumble dryer less will save some of the carbon: half your use & save 320kg.

 

So, take an example of an average family of four in a decent size house:

 

Total normal carbon spend per year (assuming they are a bit crap at turning things off etc)

Heating 1600kg

Rubbish (1 wheelie bin a week) 260kg

Electricity 3000kg

Water us (17kg each) 70kg

Washing etc (200kg each) 800kg

Food (1 main meaty meal a day each 4×1.5×365) 2190kg

Booze (1 glass wine a day for parents 2×0.2×365) 145kg

Car (12000 miles, fairly large but fairly new car) 3500kg

Stuff (buy £5000 of stuff a year total) 4000

 

Total: 16000kg carbon per year (roughly).

 

So, they want to live more sustainably, which means they need to get down to 3,500kg each: the total needs to come down to 14,000kg. They also want to go on holiday to Spain for 2 weeks. How can they do it?

 

In all they need to shave off 2,000kg from their normal lifestyles to become sustainable in everyday living, plus save another 1,800kg during the year to ‘pay’ for their holiday (which is 450kg each). So, in total they need to get their everyday living to emit 3,600kg of carbon less over a whole year. Tough call!

 

The first thing to do is start turning things off: never leave TVs blaring to an empty room, unplug all chargers when not in use, turn lights off when they leave the room, don’t leave stereos or games on standby and generally think about every way to reduce electricity consumption. Do it right and save 500kg. Then switch to a green tariff, like Ovo (about cost neutral to normal electricity suppliers & quite helpful – I use them), which will divide the remaining 2500kg by 5. Total saved on electricity use 2500kg.

 

Stop using the tumble drier most of the time & buy a drying rack (Brabanita do a good one) save 500kg. Heat the house to 1o lower, wear a jumper some of the time & save 200kg.

 

Stop buying so much unnecessary tat and start actually doing things with their time instead, save £2000 and 1,600kg.

 

Well, that takes them to 4,800kg saved over the year, which is more than enough for them to enjoy their holiday to the full! And all with very little effort and probably an improvement in lifestyle, as they will be pulling together as a family and doing more stuff rather than just shopping.

 

If they go even further and start eating less meat and get a veg box, take shorter showers, wash their clothes less and even use the car less (walking or cycling is very healthy anyway), then they should have enough carbon left over to go skiing. The money they save means that they will be able to afford it too.

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The worst thing about GPs being given their own cash to manage, it seems to me, is that we have seen a resurrection of the term ‘postcode lottery’. Apparently one of the evils of taking control away from central bureaucrats is that we might not all get exactly the save quality of care.

Who cares? What sort of snivelling, petty, mean spirited ingrate would worry that they might not get quite as much as everyone else? Surely the only thing to matter is that there is a general improvement in service, no matter that some of us might get fantastic improvement and some of us only slight or no improvement? The whole concept of whingeing about postcode lotteries is just pure jealousy, indulged by idiots who have never grown out of playground squabbles over who has the best lunch.

Life is not fair: we were born into inequality and we will die there. Trying to force the in-between bits into a wholly unnatural state of fairness will cost huge amounts of money and achieve nothing, except perhaps giving people false expectations & creating dissatisfaction. Let’s just be honest and admit that shit happens. This will let us focus our limited resources on creating achievable benefits, improving life as much as possible for as many as possible. We should concentrate on absolute benefits (most people in the UK happy with their medical care) rather than relative equality (nobody has to wait more than 6 days to see their GP).

Pragmatism in politics would be a great thing.

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I have been wondering about the purpose of death lately: what is it for and why does so much of life indulge in it? After all, in some respects single-cell creatures can be thought of as being immortal. Yet we humans replace cells all the time, hardly remaining the same person from year to year, so why do we slowly decay? Why do we die?

The answer, I though, might be that death started as an evolutionary advantage. What I am suggesting is that all really early organisms on Planet Earth were immortal: nothing ever died of old age before about 600 million years ago. Things did die, of course, but only when actively killed by outside forces, such as having a moutain fall on them. Then, about 550 million years ago, some creatures learnt how to die. They would reproduce then auto-destruct, leaving their offspring far better able to survive and flourish.

The very early planet was a tricky place to live, with conditions appropriate for life being rare and the total quantity of nutrients (or ‘food’) in each of those places being limited. Conditions could also change rapidly, both over distance and time. Single-cell beings divide rapidly and so random change can lead to rapid evolution, with each generation taking comparatively little food to produce. However, for more complex life reproduction is slower and more resource intensive, so that a greater proportion of the total available food is locked into each generation.

If the parent generations of more compex organisms do not die, there is competition for resources between parents and offspring: they are in direct competition with each other. This leads to a massive reduction in the chance that sufficient evolution will occur before (1) all the food is gone, or (2) the environment changes to make life untenable. This is because the genetic advantage of change through the generations is diluted if the original genes have as much chance of reproducing as the altered ones – it would be like Neanderthals still having as much chance of reproducing today as the most successful of society intelligentcia.

If the parent generations do die, then only those with the greatest chance of having altered genes will be competing for food. In each successive generation, only individuals with genes altered by natural selection will survive to produce the next generation. This will result in a far greater chance that changes will be compounded over the generations and so useful, pronounced adaption will occur. The death of the parent generation will also release food back into the system, increasing the chances that their offspring will adapt before the food runs out.

The species that died therefore survived, out-evolving their immortal cousins and populating the planet with their offspring. That is why about 1 billion years ago there was an explosion of complex life on Earth: it had learnt how to die. Of course, death would really come into its own as an evolutionary force once sexual reproduction had been invented. Death and sex: perhaps life really is the ultimate Gothic story.

Death and sex helped fuel the explosion of complex life on Earth.  Perhaps that is why they are both a part of life for all complex organisms on the planet today.

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“Don’t give yourself a hard time about getting things wrong: to err is human. Be kind to yourself (and others) so that you have room to change for the better.”

It’s about 11pm & I was thinking about going to bed, when my mind got working on the concept of kindness. So here I am downstairs tapping away at my blog. To get in the spirit I have poured myself a wee whisky, even though I have already cleaned my teeth!
 
Such rash, anarchic exuberance!
 
Well, anyway. Being kind starts at home, with yourself. Most people, especially women, are not very kind to themselves. We expect so much of ourselves, one thorny part of which is the expectation to achieve our expectations.
 
We live in an age of Hello Magazine. OK, there are lots of other magazines,papers, TV programs, films etc etc etc, but Hello sums it up quite well. At least I think it does, since I don’t often read/watch much of that kind of stuff so am not an authority. It might sound like I’m being all cultural & high brow by saying this, but it’s actually much simpler than that – I just can’t be arsed with any of it. Anyway, the point is that Hello (et al) pedal the idea of perfect lives led by perfect people. Beautiful, cool, rich, successful, funny, interesting, sexy people that are so much better than we are & who live such better lives. It is almost impossible not to aspire to have some of that: to be those people.
 
Unfortunately, they don’t exist. To start with, the pictures are engineered to be highly flattering or are actually doctored, so give a sheen of beauty to the most haggard of munters. Then the stories are selective in what they portray, exaggerating the heroic & interesting and missing the boring bits or dull depression. Finally, think about why the story is in the magazine in the first place: with billions of people on the planet, there will always be something worth reporting happening to someone that the buying public will pay to read about. It’s just the odds game that it’s not you.
So, this rather leads to a society where people want to emulate the (secretly fictitious) people they read about. They want to be perfect. Perfect in looks, in body, in mind, in aspiration. In fact, we get to the point where we expect it of ourselves. We feel we have failed if we are not gorgeous to look at, toned, tanned & young. We have failed if we are not funny, if people do not flock to our company & hang on our every word. We have failed if we do not wear clothes that emphasis our stunning good looks in a way that is cunningly fashionable yet slightly quirky & unpredictable. We have failed if we are not rich & successful in whatever we do. We have failed if we are not extraordinary.
 
This is, of course, a shame as the vast majority of us are ordinary. By definition, really.
 
So what I am saying is give it up. Let yourself off. Be kind to yourself. If it doesn’t matter if you’re a bit podgy, a bit thick, a bit dull or a bit poor, then oddly you probably won’t be. At least, not to the people to whom it matters, the people that you will enjoy being with & who will be true friends to you. By giving yourself space to fail, you can try whole heartedly to succeed as it will not be catastrophic if you don’t.
 
Take a moment to visualise this: there are no boundaries to what you can try to do, as there are no repercussions for failure (obviously within bounds of moral & legal decency, for those of you going “aha! But what if I tried to……”). Just put yourself in that situation, where whatever you do you will be OK. What would you attempt? Where would you go? What would you try to change?
 
OK, once you have come back down from the space station or finished dismantling government, you can still get some of that euphoric freedom simply by being kind to yourself, albeit in a rather more realistic and manageable way. If you are truly kind to yourself you can be happy with falling flat on your face, as you will be full of self-forgiveness. Having fun & having a go become so much more important than succeeding, which gives you space to become content. Possibly to succeed too, but that won’t be important any more once you’re content.
 
As an added benefit, others laughing at you become a minor irritation or actually quite fun in itself.
 
An example of kindness is my hair. I’m getting a little bit older now & my hair is not quite as rumbustious as it once was. I struggled for a while both with the disappearing hair and the fact that this bothered me, as it shouldn’t: it’s just vain silliness. Then I gave in, admitted that it did & that it was alright to be a bit vain & neurotic, so bought some hair-helping shampoo. It’s got caffeine in it, so as a bonus I am sort of main-lining coffee through my scalp. Anyway, now I have it I have relaxed & don’t mind any more about either the Shiny Scalp Syndrome or my incipient vanity. Hell, with jutting jaw, rippling muscles & sparkling eyes, who wouldn’t be a bit vain? (I assume here that neither of you reading this have actually seen me).
 
None of us are perfect. Very, very, very few of us are actually beautiful. But most of us are attractive and would be more so if we allowed ourselves to be. Allow yourself your flaws & you will become an attractive person through being content. Why? Because you will have become what even the most rich & famous out there want to be: content, centred, enlightened. Even that Holy Grail of modern psychological achievement – Confident!
 
People find this attractive as it is infectious: once you have allowed yourself to become content, you will be well placed to help others find the ability to be kind to themselves and become content too.
But please just remember, being kind to yourself does not mean giving up & becoming a slob. It usually means giving yourself room to try harder, as there is truth in the saying ‘the more you put in, the more you get out’.
 
Well, maybe just one more wee whisky to read through with!

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“The objective of life is contentment. Happiness is surficial and short-lived, but contentment permeates every aspect of your life consistently, once achieved. Religions tend to talk about enlightenment, but it is basically the same thing.”

We live in a society where size matters. Everything is target driven, from government ministers obsessed by management theory to school children dominated by SATS. If something cannot be measured it has no value, as how can you compare yourself to the ‘model of perfection’ if you can’t quantify either? We are constantly told, sometimes very subtly, that to be whole and happy people we have to have enough fun, happiness, money, beauty, sex & cool stuff. If we have enough of all these, which incidentally are generally on sale or available to those who tow the party line, then we too may become models of perfection and the envy of all our friends.

{The ‘model of perfection’ seems to be based on those lifestyles of the rich & famous that are detailed in Hello magazine. Unfortunately, these bear less relevance to real life than most Mills & Boon stories, even for those of us who are actually rich & famous. So we are on a hiding to nothing if we try to measure up to these models that are commonly peddled in our society. Even more unfortunately, most of us do just that.}

Now, most of the truly important things in life are not measurable in themselves or take years to be noticed. Examples are kindness, understanding, wisdom and gratitude. Also the most important of all, contentment. Contentment is very like enlightenment, only you don’t need to like yoga or joss sticks to indulge. I use the word indulge on purpose, as it coveys a sense of doing something wonderful but naughty. Trying to achieve contentment within our society is just that: a wonderful thing to achieve but naughty because content people make poor consumers, are less swayed by spin and less blinded by duty.

Contentment is often confused with happiness, but they are quite different. The former is a pervasive state of being, a constant boon that permeated every aspect of your life. The latter is mercurial, easily conjured by good company or good booze, for instance, but just as easily lost. Happiness can animate even the most icy heart for a while, but once gone leaves nothing behind but memories. Or possibly even depression. Once you are content, you will be able to accept your life as it should be and ignore the model of perfection. The fashions and fads of the world will hold no sway, leaving you free to pick and choose what you want to use and what discard. You will not be stressed by you imperfections, but accept them with a sense of humour and appreciation. Being kind to yourself will allow you to grow and, most importantly, help those around you grow through your kindness to them. This is why contentment and enlightenment are so similar, as they both lead to great wisdom and the ability to help those around you.

It is not easy to be truly content. To do so you need to understand what is important to your life, then act upon it. This will be different for everyone, so there is no Haynes Manual to contentment – rather, there is a system to follow that should allow you to understand what’s right for you. The basics of this are outlined in my blog post ‘A short sharp (ish) guide to zeta’, but will be explored in greater detail soon. ish.

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