Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Osho: "Courage" Part 5 - Listen to Your Heart

(Cover) Courage: The Joy of Living DangerouslyPart 5 of my series summarizing and commenting upon Osho's bookCourage: The Joy of Living Dangerously.

Osho writes:

Don't listen to the scriptures -- listen to your own heart... Listen very attentively, very consciously, and you will never be wrong ... you will never be divided ... you will start moving in the right direction without ever thinking of what is right and what is wrong.

Not surprisingly, this contrasts sharply with the Judeo-Christian view:

"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?"
-- Jeremiah 17:9

Yes, the contrast is so clear: in the religions I know, the heart is not to be trusted, it is a source of error. In its native wickedness, tainted by original sin, it seeks to lure us into falsehood and ruin. Therefore we have Scriptures to which we must adhere, rightly interpreted by prophets, priests, prelates and padres.

And it's easy to cite examples of sociopaths and megalomaniacs, the Genghis Khans, Hitlers and Mansons of the world who "listened to their heart". But one could also cite many who have listened to the Scriptures and caused equal destruction.

Don't follow rules imposed from the outside. No imposed rule can ever be right -- because rules are invented by people who want to rule you.

Osho argues that Jesus and Mohammed did not give rules to the world but rather they gave their love. Only after they were gone did their followers codify rules of conduct -- Scriptures -- in order to have something to follow. In his view this makes us imitators.

"Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ."
-- St. Paul (1 Corinthians 11:1)

Never be an imitator, be always original.
-- Osho

So once again, the contrast is razor sharp. Many people think of America as basically a Christian nation. Yet in this respect Osho's teaching seems perhaps more truly American than even the Bible:

You are not in any way less than anybody else. Respect yourself, respect your own inner voice and follow it.

It's important to understand that Osho is not suggesting our hearts will always lead us "to the right." He argues that it will lead us generally in the right direction, even if along the way we stumble, wander astray and knock on some wrong doors. And this is why courage is so important: these wanderings are real dangers. And because of that we must be always alert, always prepared to recognize what is wrong so that we can leave it. Moving on toward the right.

This is a central problem with most of us:

People have been taught never to do anything wrong, and then they become so hesitant, so fearful, so frightened of doing wrong, that they become stuck.

Afraid of making a mistake, we become like rocks, devoid of movement. Osho urges us to have the courage to make mistakes, even "as many mistakes as possible" but not frivolously, moving purposefully. "Don't commit the same mistake again."

Thus we grow. "It is part of your freedom to go astray." Sure. "It is part of your dignity to go even against God." Well that's intense. "This is how you will start having a spine."

To go against God? I believe Osho's point is that we may think we know "what God wants", but he doesn't believe we can really know that. "The thing that is right today may be wrong tomorrow." To rail thus against moral absolutes invites a battery of counter-arguments, but let's keep moving.

"That which is harmonious with existence is right." So there is some absolute after all, if dangerously vague. But here again is his essential point:

You will have to be very alert each moment, because it has to be decided each moment afresh. you cannot depend on ready-made answers for what is right and what is wrong. ... Life goes on changing continuously ... Life moves so fast ... It is not a stagnant pool, it is a Ganges, it goes on flowing... So one thing may be right this moment and may not be right the next... The only possible thing is to make people so aware that they themselves can decide how to respond to a changing life.

Each moment is a surprise and no ready-made answer is ever applicable.

Challenging? Most certainly. But how literally can we take this view? At the core of "learning" is to take lessons from one experience and apply them to subsequent experience. The fire is hot, it will burn you. This does not change, and a ready-made answer is both useful and sensible.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Osho: "Courage" Part 4 - To Be True

(Cover) Courage: The Joy of Living DangerouslyMy series on Osho's bookCourage: The Joy of Living Dangerously continues. I am still in the first chapter, "What Is Courage?"

Everybody in the world wants to be true ...

So what stops us? Recent events in my own Real Life bear heavily on the question of falsehood. In fact, these circumstances are the main reason I started reading Courage. On the one hand, I was not being honest about my thoughts and feelings. And later, when my actions began to better reflect my thoughts and feelings, I wasn't honest about my actions.

Why are you afraid? What can the world do to you?

My biggest fear has not been what the world will do to me or think of me. My biggest fear has been the certain knowledge that my "truth" would hurt others.

My responsibility is toward my heart, not toward anybody else in the world.

Many would disagree. Most of us have been raised to shoulder our responsibilities toward others and bear them stoically through our lives, even to the grave. Perhaps such self-sacrifice creates stronger families, communities and nations. Perhaps the denial of self is healthy, making us stronger and more righteous. Perhaps it honors God.

Your responsibility is only toward your own being. Don't go against it, because going against it is committing suicide, is destroying yourself.

And what of my responsibilities toward my family? Toward my community? How dare I put my own happiness ahead of another's?

Just living is not always living. Look at your life. Can you call it a blessing? Can you call it a gift, a present of existence? Would you like this life to be given to you again and again?

Thus we come around once again to the "pursuit of happiness". Embedded in the foundation of the American State, do we dare admit to ourselves that we have no idea what it means? Or have our aspirations become the helpless pursuit of Duty?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Masaru Emoto Postscript

Back in February I posted a short critique of Masaru Emoto's The Hidden Messages In Water. Since then I had mostly forgotten about it, but today I noticed a BBC news item:


The idea that water "remembers" what it has been in contact with is part of the essential theory behind homeopathy, a health theory popular in the 1800s that has enjoyed a resurgence in the 1970s. The "scientist" Dr. Masaru Emoto is a homeopathic doctor and its dogma apparently directs his work.

This BBC article was interesting because it assesses the impact of a 1988 paper by French scientist Jacques Benveniste in which he claimed to have proven this memory effect. The paper appeared in the respected journal Nature, though not without some disclaimers.

Benveniste had started with a substance that caused an allergic reaction, he diluted it over and over again until there was nothing left except water, and then he observed that the pure water still managed to trigger an allergic reaction when it was added to living cells.

Unfortunately for homeopathy supporters, and for Benveniste himself, investigators were not able to reproduce his results. Furthermore, a careful review of the practices in his laboratory found that his lab workers had been "subconsciously selective" in their interpretation of the raw data, reporting that "We believe that experimental data have been uncritically assessed and their imperfections inadequately reported."

This accusation of biased lab work echoes some of the major objections that have been leveled against Emoto's results.

My Thoughts

People will believe what they want to believe. Many are mistrustful of the scientific or medical or religious establishments. Rejecting established authority, we may fall under the thrall of charismatic teachers. Grasping desperately at straws of new hope, we embrace a variety of ideas that, in the harsh light of critical inspection, seem silly.

But then how many times have "silly" ideas been the source of some new advance? From Galileo to Einstein to Page and Brin, our readiness to think "outside the box" is one of man's greatest strengths.

The hard part is being willing to let go of outdated, disproven ideas and move on.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Osho: "Courage" Part 3 - The Way of the Heart

(Cover) Courage: The Joy of Living DangerouslyThis is a continuation of my summary of Osho's bookCourage: The Joy of Living Dangerously. I'm still in the chapter "What Is Courage?" -- these notes are from the section "The Way of the Heart".

Osho takes special note that the English word courage comes from a Latin root meaning heart. "So to be courageous means to live with the heart" and "The way of the heart is the way of courage," a path of insecurity, propelling oneself into the unknown.

Since Osho makes much of the English etymology of courage, it's interesting to consider other, non-Latin, languages. The Wikipedia article on "courage" includes the following:

The Tao Te Ching states that courage is derived from love (" loving causes ability brave") and explains: "One of courage, with audacity, will kill. One of courage, but gentle,, spares life. From these two kinds of courage arise harm and benefit."

While there is no specific mention of "heart" there, I think the connection with loving and bravery amounts to the same thing. We are after all speaking of "heart" in its metaphorical sense.

The Heart Is a Gambler

Courage is to move on dangerous paths... A person who is alive, really alive, vitally alive will always move into the unknown... The heart is always ready to take the risk, the heart is a gambler.

This he contrasts with those "weaklings" who "live with the head":

Afraid, they create a security of logic around themselves. Fearful, they close every window and door -- with theology, concepts, words, theories -- and inside those closed doors and windows, they hide... The head is businessman.

The Future

In our heads we reason and "calculate", weighing risks, not meaning, filled only with what we have known. "It is the past, the dead, that which has gone." Osho argues that "The heart is noncalculating" and can proceed by love and trust as it embraces the unknown.

Head thinks about the past; heart dreams about the future.

The future has yet a possibility ... The past has no possibility, it has been used. You have already moved away from it -- it is exhausted, it is a dead thing, it is like a grave. The future is like a seed.


Questions

Freedom from the past may seem appealing, but I think in some sense man's ability to hold onto his past is essential to his humanity. I don't just mean to learn from it, I mean even allowing it to shape our identities. For example, what about the commitments we have made? To follow the heart into freedom is certainly appealing, but I've found that the most meaningful actions in my life have been those which required a long-term commitment.

But I can see that we easily cling too much to the past. What to keep and what to let go of?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Osho: "Courage" Part 2 - What Is Courage?

(Cover) Courage: The Joy of Living DangerouslyThis is Part 2 of my summary of Osho's bookCourage: The Joy of Living Dangerously.

Courage means going into the unknown in spite of all the fears... The coward listens to his fears and follows them, and the courageous person puts them aside and goes ahead... He knows the fears, the fears are there.

Accept the Challenge of the Unknown

A central theme in Osho's view is that courage is a quality of action. Consider an opportunity that is accompanied by danger and risk: fear is normal. One man will be guided by his fears and turns away. Another moves ahead despite his fears. This is courage.

When you go into the uncharted sea, like Columbus did, there is fear, immense fear, because one never knows what is going to happen. You are leaving the shore of safety. You were perfectly okay, in a way; only one thing was missing -- adventure. Going into the unknown gives you a thrill. The heart starts pulsating again; again you are alive, fully alive. Every fiber of your being is alive because you have accepted the challenge of the unknown.

To accept the challenge of the unknown, in spite of all fears, is courage... If you go on accepting the challenge again and again, slowly those fears disappear.

Why Seek Courage?

Osho reminds us that courage affords us the opportunity to experience the joy and ecstasy of the unknown. And that this very action makes us stronger, more intelligent, and gives one "a certain integrity".

"The Tao of Courage"

There is a section of this chapter in which he tells two stories to illustrate that courage does not imply being tough and unyielding, but rather that "the way of Lao Tzu" is to bend with the wind. This is a difficult thought. So for example, should one be yielding in the face of evil rather than confront and resist? But of course most of life is not about confronting, say, Nazis and Stalinists.

The second story goes on to suggest that we should be observers, witnesses of our own bodies. As witnesses to our own stories, detached, we can remove ourselves from the slavery of fear.

It is your fear that makes you a slave ... in fact it is your fear that forces you to make others slaves before they can try to make a slave out of you. A man who is fearless is neither afraid of anybody nor makes anybody afraid of him.

This detachment from my own life, doesn't that imply simply that I would be refusing to feel?

Much that I don't understand, but I can begin to imagine that instead of just being the actor in my life's story, I could stand a little aside and be the author or director. A good story has jeopardy, adventure, romance and conflict, and the actor may need some prodding to take the harder roads.

Recovering an Invalid WAV File

Last Saturday I was using my newish Edirol R-09HR to record a gig (Almaden Auto Festival). I had it in a shock mount on a mic stand, which worked fine for more than 3 hours. But towards the end, a bunch of little kids were dancing nearby and, you guessed it, one of them finally hit the stand and knocked it over.

After the song ended, I jumped down from the stage to inspect the situation. This recorder writes to an SD card. It has no moving parts so I didn't expect any damage, and in fact I figured it would still be recording. Nope, the power was off. But no apparent damage to the recorder so I quickly started it up again and set it to record the last bit of our set while I jumped back on stage.

Later at home, I downloaded the files and opened them all in Sound Forge -- all but one of them. Uh-oh, the 1.5GB file containing the entire set for The Iconics was invalid. Yikes!

Eventually, as one does, I turned to Google and searched for something like [invalid wav file]. In due course this led me to some forum posts that suggested using Audacity's "Import Raw Data" function. Hooray! I'm saved!

Had been meaning to try out Audacity, so I had no hesitancy about downloading. It started right up, I found "Import Raw Data" under the "Project" menu and clicked. As expected, an options window opened. I knew my format was 24-bit, 44.1kHz stereo WAV, and I thought that would be enough. Wrong. There are also a bunch of options for big-endian, little-endian.

I won't bore the reader with details of how I spent the next hour or so. Suffice to say I tried every one of the endian options, combined with several different data formats, and never did get more than noise. I even tried doing a raw import of a file that I knew was good. Still no dice.

Finally I had an idea. I knew that the WAV files had headers, and that the raw import would treat them as if they were sound data, but I hadn't considered that the header could be throwing off the alignment of the data.

Think of it this way: 24-bit stereo requires six bytes for each sample (3 bytes per channel). The importer will start chewing up bytes in groups of six starting at the beginning of the file. If the header is a size that is not a multiple of six, then by the time the importer gets to the real data, it will be out of alignment and won't interpret the bytes correctly.

I Googled my way to a nice description of Microsoft WAVE format found at Stanford's CCRMA.


The answer is right in front of me now, but by then it's 2am and my brain is toast -- bedtime for bonzo.

The next morning I can attack it freshly. First of all, I decide to dump the beginning of the damaged file and compare it to an undamaged file, and to the fields described in the diagram.

Here's the dump of an undamaged file using the Cygwin unix command "od -N 128 -x -c". Note that od writes the offsets (the first column) in octal.

0000000 4952 4646 7e24 0d68 4157 4556 6d66 2074
R I F F $ ~ h \r W A V E f m t
0000020 0010 0000 0001 0002 ac44 0000 0998 0004
020 \0 \0 \0 001 \0 002 \0 D 254 \0 \0 230 \t 004 \0
0000040 0006 0018 6164 6174 7e00 0d68 3925 b500
006 \0 030 \0 d a t a \0 ~ h \r % 9 \0 265
0000060 ffc8 3159 1000 ffe9 16f7 7b00 fffe 0793
310 377 Y 1 \0 020 351 377 367 026 \0 { 376 377 223 \a
0000100 6b00 0012 ef9b 50ff 002a cc71 acff 0040
\0 k 022 \0 233 357 377 P * \0 q 314 377 254 @ \0
...

Now here's a dump of the damaged file:

0000000 4952 4646 0000 0000 4157 4556 6d66 2074
R I F F \0 \0 \0 \0 W A V E f m t
0000020 0010 0000 0001 0002 ac44 0000 0998 0004
020 \0 \0 \0 001 \0 002 \0 D 254 \0 \0 230 \t 004 \0
0000040 0006 0018 6164 6174 0000 0000 340a ed00
006 \0 030 \0 d a t a \0 \0 \0 \0 \n 4 \0 355
0000060 0048 3878 7d00 004b 3aaf 7b00 004f 3be8
H \0 x 8 \0 } K \0 257 : \0 { O \0 350 ;
0000100 7800 0051 3d29 e100 0054 4083 9200 0057
\0 x Q \0 ) = \0 341 T \0 203 @ \0 222 W \0
...

Some observations:
  1. The damaged file obviously has an intact WAVE header.
  2. Comparison with the chart confirms that the the actual data begins at offset 44 decimal (40 octal == 32 decimal. Count from there).
  3. In the damaged file, the "Subchunk2 Size" is zero. This makes perfect sense, since that could only be written when the file was completed, and the power was shut off before that could be done.
Now we can fix our problem by setting the "Start offset" for Audacity's raw import to 44.


That's it! It worked fine.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Osho: "Courage" Part 1 - Foreword

(Cover) Courage: The Joy of Living DangerouslyI finished reading Osho's bookCourage: The Joy of Living Dangerously a couple of weeks ago and have started collecting a few notes. For the most part I really loved this short (200 pp) book and hope that I can capture the essential points and a few quotes without simply echoing the entire text.

The Joy of Living Dangerously

"Courage" is subtitled "The Joy of Living Dangerously", and that pretty much captures Osho's primary theme: courage is not "bravery" but a willingness to embrace danger.

His Foreword to this beautiful, and sometimes infuriating, book begins,

I am not here to give you dogma -- a dogma makes one certain.
I am not here to give you any promise for the future. Any promise for the future makes one secure.
I am here simply to make you alert and aware -- that is, to be here now, with all the insecurity that life is, with all the uncertainty that life is, with all the danger that life is.


Nothing is Secure, Nothing Is Certain

I would like to make you more insecure, more uncertain ... When there is more insecurity and more danger, the only way to respond to it is by awareness. ... In fact, only idiots feel secure. A really alive man will always feel insecure. What security can there be? ... Life is an unpredictable mystery.

A Christian, especially a Protestant, should disagree: "Our security is in Christ and in the promises of God" one might say. But Osho squarely attacks this view.

If God knows what is going to happen the next moment, then life is just a dead, mechanical process. Then there is no freedom ... Then there is no possibility to grow or not to grow ... Then there is no glory, no grandeur. Then you are just robots.

Of course anyone who has thought seriously about pre-destination from a believer's perspective will reject that simplistic view. And one weakness of Osho's book is his use of convenient strawman representations of the various world religions. As I once thought of it, pre-destination is, in effect, a separate dimension to reality, a dimension outside of time where God, the artist, God the painter of the picture, God the creator surely knows the end from the beginning because He/She/It sees the entire landscape, the entire timeline, the whole map revealed. Thus our glory and grandeur is intact, despite a Being who knows the end.

Yet Osho is not attacking God's foreknowledge without reason. Central to his argument is the all-important conclusion: "Nothing is secure... nothing is certain." I appreciate the fact that he does not mince words: a Christian can be completely secure in his or her faith, yet Osho will argue that this security actually saps one's courage to explore life's "unpredictable mystery". And what about scientific certainty? Of that we shall see ...

"A man is not yet a man if he is afraid of freedom."

But why is this so important to a discussion of courage? Why does Osho claim that, "A secure life will be worse than death"? Because he wants us to taste the rawness of life's uncertainties and surprises: "That is its beauty! .. When you say you are certain ... you have committed suicide" because you have abandoned the essential freedom of human life."

But "freedom creates fear" and mankind has always sought instead a warm, fearless certainty. Science has helped, but chiefly man has embraced or invented philosophy and religion to create certainty where none exists. Osho warns that "Knowledge will make you certain" and religious knowledge makes us certain about things that we really cannot know. And this certainty kills our freedom.

Arguing that the very nature of life is uncertain, Osho demands that an intelligent man, therefore, must always remain uncertain, alert to the ever-changing flow of life, ready to respond with his whole heart, participating in life as a continuous surprise.

Don't call it uncertainty -- call it wonder. Don't call it insecurity -- call it freedom.