Archive for May, 2013

Inferno!

inferno

No spoilers about story or plot in this entry!

On May 14th I was among the first to purchase Dan Brown’s new book, Inferno.   By the next day I had finished all 463 pages, it is perhaps the best in the Robert Langdon series, including the earlier books Angels and Demons, The DaVinci Code and The Lost Symbol.

The reason I devoured the book is because almost of all the action takes place in either Florence or Venice; the lion’s share in Florence.   On Monday I take off with students on a travel course to Italy, visiting Venice, Florence and Rome.  This book whetted my appetite for Italy with brilliantly descriptive images of Florence, mixing tidbits of history with a story line that honored perhaps the greatest and most influential author of history, Dante Alighieri.

Dante’s book The Divine Comedy included The Inferno, which was Dante’s description of hell.  Brown notes that most of our images of a dark underworld of torture, demons and suffering come from Dante’s imagery.   Yet Dante wasn’t simply trying to depict a religious vision of hell – quite the contrary.   His book was sarcastic social commentary – a kind of satire – in which famous politicians, church leaders and other elite of his day found themselves suffering somewhere in the inferno, with the punishment always fitting the sin.

Exiled from his city of Florence in 1301 due to political rivalries, Dante (1265-1321) wrote The Divine Comedy as a kind of literary revenge, skewering leaders and the politics of the day, while honoring his muse Beatrice, a woman he had barely met but with whom he had fallen in love.   She died at 24, but remained a muse for the poet until his death.  Dante wrote The Divine Comedy before the printing press, but in the vernacular.  In fact, modern Italian is traced back to Dante, so great was his influence.

Botticelli's image of Dante's inferno.

Botticelli’s image of Dante’s inferno.

Dante was one of the first humanists, moving away from a focus on the divine to a perspective embracing the world as it was.    While in exile he would meet Giotto, whose Scrovegni Chapel in Padova broke with past practices to offer a true humanist perspective.   The life of Christ is told with emotion and realistic detail.    Humanism would change European thought forever, and make the enlightenment possible.

While most of that is away from Brown’s story line, which looks more towards the future than the past, his embrace of Dante adds an historical poignancy and meaning which puts Inferno  a step ahead of his previous efforts.   For anyone who loves Florence, the book is a must read; he captures the spirit of the city while describing some of its most compelling locations.

Angels and Demons  was my favorite before now.  I not only liked the story line – mixing the CERN Large Hadron Collider with a Papal Conclave – but it has delightful images of some of my favorite places in Rome.   I make sure to do an “Angels and Demons walking tour” when I take students to Italy.  Not only do those who have read the book identify with the places we see, but Brown does an excellent job in choosing interesting and relevant locales.

Dan Brown, author.

Dan Brown, author.

In the future I will add “Inferno” walking tours to both Venice and Florence.   I may even try this year, though since the book just came out I doubt too many students will have read it.

I heartily recommend this book to anyone who likes a fast paced plot with twists, turns, compelling characters and a few dramatic surprises.   It is a must read for those who love Italy, especially Florence and Venice.

So I’m ready to head to Italy next week, starting in Venice and then going on to Florence and Rome.  It was a pleasant surprise that Brown’s latest novel would be released just in time for me to re-immerse myself into Florentine history and images from both Florence and Venice.

Next week I start blogging from Italy.  My co-instructor in this endeavor is Dr. Steven Pane, who teaches Music History.  He also is fascinated by the study of sound, and plans a sound seminar for our first day in Venice to help students learn to appreciate the different sounds of various cities and locations.   I sent him this snippet from Inferno  (p. 313), set at the piazza San Marco.   Steve said this could be an introduction to his seminar:

“It was not until this moment, as he entered the sheltered square, that Langdon could fully appreciate this city’s most unique offering.

Sound.

With virtually no cars or motorized vehicles of any kind, Venice enjoyed a blissful absence of the usual civic traffic, subways, and sirens, leaving sonic space for the distantly unmechanical tapestry of human voices, cooing pigeons, and lilting violins serenading patrons at the outdoor cafes.  Venice sounded like no other metropolitan center in the world.”

Next week, blogging from Italy!

Advertisements

9 Comments

Physical Suffering in Quantum Life, PI

torture

(Note:  this is part 12 of a series called “Quantum Life,” in which I post the contents of a strange ‘guide book’ I found for a game called “Quantum Life.”  It is in English, which the book calls a “Quantum Life language,” unable to capture all the complexities of the world as it really is.   I’m not sure where this book came from – these next sections on suffering are fascinating).

Physical Suffering PI:  Pain directly inflicted by players on other players

In the early trials of Quantum Life Sunitolp and the designers were shocked by the level of cruelty and the lack of empathy of the first players.   People were doing horrific things to each other and causing considerable suffering.   The trial was terminated and the future of Quantum Life was in doubt.

The working theory had been that separateness from the natural unity of existence would leave individuals lonely and vulnerable, leading players to experience emotions in the Quantum Life realm much more intensely than in the real world.  It was expected people would have fear, sorrow, joy, and anger – emotions we know exists within unity of all, but which are balanced and evened out by the fact we are all connected.

What they did not expect is that these emotions could lead individuals to engage in actions that were so barbaric.    Many wanted to call off the game right there – clearly separation from the unity of all is a pain so horrid that it leads to atrocious acts.    Why go there?

Upon returning to the real world  players described the intense pain they felt both suffering and, after the game, on realizing how they inflicted suffering.  That pain was quickly relieved by immersion into the unity of all existence, but it was clear that Quantum Life had provided a troubling experience.

Sunitolp’s Argument

Just when it appeared Quantum Life would not get beyond the trial stage, Sunitolp made one last pitch.  He was countering the argument that said that Quantum Life was dangerous in that it causes suffering and leads normal people to engage in atrocities that may harm them, even when they’re back in the comforting realm of the real, unified world.  Experiencing separation is unnatural, sadistic and masochistic.

Sensing the collective will shifting against him, Sonitolp made an impassioned plea.   “Were we not once separate, like the players in Quantum Life?   While we experience unity, are we not still individuals, me with an idea, trying to convince you to allow me to move forward?   We need to look inside to who we really are.   Yes, our unity creates a world of contentment and joy – and that proves that our nature is more pure than evil.  Yet our nature also allows fear, which leads to anger, suffering and hate.

“Allow me to make some revisions to the program, and assess it then.  But don’t we owe it to ourselves to learn the deepest aspects of our nature – to learn perhaps what we were in the long lost pre-history of our world?  This is a voyage of discovery, of exploration to the very nature of what kind of beings we are, both individually and collectively.  It cannot help but make us grow!”  Sunitolp swayed the collective.

Four major additions were made to how the program writes itself based on choices players make:

Empathy allows players to understand that each of them is a subject, not a mere object

Empathy allows players to understand that each of them is a subject, not a mere object

Empathy:   The early trial of the game went so far in trying to create the illusion of  complete separation/individualism that players saw other players as objects rather than subjects.  Players were used to being part of a unified whole, and didn’t differentiate between the objects of their new world (trees, rain, dirt, etc.) and the other players.   Pure separation, or even the illusion thereof, led to disintegration of a player’s sense of moral restraint.   Therefore a part of the real world was made more evident, so players could feel that others are like themselves.

Synchronicity:   In the early trial people suffered by chance – if one player decided to stab another, the stabbing victim was random.   What Sunitolp and his engineers had to do was devise a way in which people could let their connection with the real world (sometimes called the spiritual realm, or “God”) guide their actions.   The fullness of synchronicity is dealt with later in this manual, but in the case of suffering it helps assure that players who suffer/inflict pain are those who can learn something from the experience.

Through synchronicity events and probable events are choreographed in a way that benefits the players

Through synchronicity events and probable events are choreographed in a way that benefits the players

Karma:  As noted in the section on evil, Karma is a way in which players experience consequences for their actions.   Great rewards go to those who can endure suffering with grace and without themselves fall into the trap of wanting others to suffer.   While suffering itself is not to be sought, karma assures that the sufferer will have experiences that mitigate the pain and provide opportunities for joy.   Karma also works to create lessons for those who inflict suffering.  Since all is one, punishment or revenge would be irrational – the sufferer and perpetrator are aspects of the same whole.  However, learning of how to overcome being one who inflicts suffering benefits the whole.

Enveloping:  When physical pain and suffering get extremely intense, the program allows more access to the real world, so that the sufferer is enveloped by a sense of the greater unity.  This does not make pain and suffering go away, but keeps it bearable, as if time speeds up.    The enveloping often is experienced as rage or anger, as those aspects of what we are can help overcome extreme distress.  In fact, one theory is that the existence of hate and anger in our nature is because it helps overcome pain of suffering.

During the game, suffering, like evil, seems contrary to any belief in a natural unity.  People are angered by injustice, which reflects imbalance.  In the real world unity creates a natural balance we take for granted; lacking that the Quantum Life world is imbalanced in a multitude of ways.

Dramatic physical suffering directly inflicted by others isn’t the only form of suffering.   It can also be a consequence of culture, or a chain of actions that indirectly lead to suffering, even though there is no clear perpetrator.

—–  (end of today’s transcribing)

Earlier posts in the Quantum Life series:

Quantum Life – August 3, 2010
How to Play Quantum Life – August 4, 2010
Why Play Quantum Life – August 5, 2010
The Soul in Quantum Life – August 20, 2010
Getting Started with Quantum Life – October 1, 2010
Quantum Life: Birth and Pre-Birth – November 22, 2010
Quantum Life:  Childhood – July 20, 2012
Quantum Life: Obstacles – July 29, 2012
Quantum Life: Empaths and Extensions – August 8, 2012
Evil in Quantum Life – October 8, 2012
Mates in Quantum Life – May 9, 2013

2 Comments

Gates Smacks Down Obama Critics

Gates served as Secretary of Defense under Bush when the President altered his Iraq policy

Gates served as Secretary of Defense under Bush when the President altered his Iraq policy

Gates was harsh on Republican critiques of the President, ridiculing the idea that we could have flown planes overhead so “apparently the noise” should scare them.   Not only would they be undeterred by noise, but Gates noted that given all the missing anti-aircraft weapons, it would have been a stupid decision.

Gates said that he would have made the same choices the President did, and defended former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.   There was no military alternative, he insisted; Republican critics that imagine some group could have been flown in on the fly have a “cartoonish” view of what military action is all about.

Of course.

There is no scandal around Benghazi except for the fact that some Republicans are shamelessly trying to use an attack on America to fish for some kind of partisan jab at the President.   Or perhaps they want to hurt Secretary Clinton’s chances to be elected in 2016.

We should come together to learn about what went wrong or right on a tragedy, but not turn it into a political partisan circus – something that the hearings last week obviously became.   With wild hyperbole (Sen. Jim Inholfe  R-OK, said it was worse than Watergate, Iran Contra and Clinton’s scandals) and claims of a cover up, they use noise and accusations to hide that they have nothing.   It is a fishing expedition designed for partisan purposes, nothing more.

The only claim they really have is that maybe some talking points right after the attack didn’t call it terrorism when they knew it was terrorism.  They claim it was to somehow protect Obama’s re-election campaign; but given how quickly he came out and labeled it terrorism and got the information out there, that’s a pretty lame argument.  It’s also one that has no traction.  In the early days after an event when so much is still uncertain, and when the Administration is weighing responses, there are limits to what you want to be public.

So they have that non-attack, absurd claims that the military could respond, smacked down by Secretary Gates who has served for both Obama and Bush, and who knows Obama’s character.

The bottom line is that many Republicans didn’t think Obama would be re-elected, they thought they’d have the Senate, and they don’t like how the media is focusing on how out of touch their message is right now.   As pragmatic Republicans try to wrestle power away from the extremists, many want to construct a scandal where none exists.  They hope to use that to weaken the President, take the public’s mind off both the pressing issues of the day and how dysfunctional a divided Congress has become.

It will backfire – it already has.   The story is old and despite all the hype FOX and the GOP are trying to create,  more columns are being written critical of the Republicans in Congress than the President.   It has given the late night hosts plenty to mock.   Jon Stewart skewered FOX for playing up the hype of yelling fire when there’s not even smoke!
But sadly, this circus is indicative of the political dysfunction that paralyzes the country as our problems mount.  Rather than recognizing that the attack was a tragedy that should bring us together and learn how to better defend our embassies, politicians search for partisan gain (and Democrats are not blameless, some claiming that Republican cuts to embassy security allowed the attacks).

This is why we can’t reach compromises and deal with the difficult issues facing the country.  It’s spectacle and posturing, rather than hard work and compromise.   It is a sign that our democratic institutions are starting to buckle at the hands of ideologues who don’t understand that the founders designed a system to inspire compromise.  They were divided t00 – the founders had a variety of different views, and they know that would always be true in a democracy.   They compromised, and created a system that requires compromise to function.

Thank you,  Secretary Gates for pointing out the absurdity of the charges being made.   I hope within the GOP leaders look at the lack of evidence of even a whiff of scandal and recognize that this absurd circus is hurting them, and that real issues facing the country need serious attention.

35 Comments

Mates in Quantum Life

mates1

(Note:  this is part 11 of a series called “Quantum Life,” in which I post the contents of a strange ‘guide book’ I found for a game called “Quantum Life.”  It is in English, which the book calls a “Quantum Life language,” unable to capture all the complexities of the world as it really is.   I’m not sure where this book came from).

Picking up where I left off, the next section in this ‘guidebook’ is “Mates”:

Quantum life creates the illusion of individual identity, hiding knowledge of the inherent unity of all existence.  It is out of this alone-ness that players experience emotions, situations, and challenges that do not exist in the unified real world.   However, as players overcome fear and start recognizing the inherent unity of all existence, they also have access to more knowledge about the real world.

A mate is different than the kind of agreement quantum life players make between rounds to meet as friends or choose parents.   Mates are innately drawn to each other regardless of the context of the game.   They are in tune with each other outside the game, and those harmonies penetrate into the Quantum Life reality.  Most players are closed off from such connections, but advanced players can experience an enhanced level of joy in finding a true mate.

Recognizing Mates:    For players caught up in the game – level one players focused on the material – mates are rarely recognized as such.   Fear blinds the inner knowledge that they are connected, and at best their lives connect serendipitously at various points.   At level two mates often meet to help each other see the importance of connection and spirit above material concerns.   They can develop into true friends and grow closer during a given round of play, helping each other advance.   Advanced players can have stunningly powerful relationships and generally have an easier time recognizing mates.

Empaths can literally feel the energy of a mate.   The connection they share from past games and even in the real world is strong; they feel hit by a force beyond anything they’ve ever experienced, drawn magnetically to their mate.   Most others  intuitively feel a powerful attraction.  Mates usually come together in three forms:

True Friends/Siblings:    Mates often come together as friends who have a special bond and who can share with each other everything, helping them through Quantum Life’s challenges.  True friends can be closer than most spouses, even if each has a loving relationship.   There is something mystical about their friendship that both recognize.  At times two siblings are also mates, and share an intensity in the family experience.

friends

Chance encounters:  Sometimes mates are not together for a long portion of their lives.  Their particular game paths may have them going different directions in a given round of play.  But they can manage to appear at a time when needed – to save a life, to help each other make a good decision, or to alter the course of an individual destiny in a given round of play.   The encounter may be brief, but powerful.

Soul mates:  Sometimes the mate is a spouse or life-partner, and the two build a life together and experience the joy of unity at a profound level.   This is rare, but represents the closest experience in the Quantum Life world to the joy experienced through the unity of the real world.   Soul mates tend to balance and compliment each other, teaching and learning together.  However, to truly experience the bliss of unity, they have to avoid the temptation to build walls and be seduced by the culture around them.  This means they may met later in life after working through a variety of challenges.

If they choose to be open and honest, sharing completely without fear,  they’ll find themselves in a love profoundly deep and mystical.    They will sense of taste a the true reality where all is united, and bring a bit of that into the Quantum Life world.   It will reflect itself in their lives at every level – physically, intellectually, emotionally and with their families.  Soul mates find their lives riddled with synchronicities they draw to themselves.  Sex becomes more than a material, physical act, but a physical expression of a love transcending the Quantum Life world.

Choosing the path of total honesty and acceptance is harder than finding each other.   Each has to risk bearing their soul and rejecting the protective walls and barriers that most individuals playing Quantum Life feel necessary to build.   The risk is worth it; soul mates experience a level of pure joy that very few approach while in the game.  It is a taste of the real world.   If this path is chosen, both implicitly recognize that their true home is not the Quantum Life world.

What draws mates of any sort to each other is a deep connection at a core level; they are close to each other in the real world, just as they are in the Quantum Life world.

acceptance

Honesty and Acceptance: 
Mates only develop a powerful bond and experience true joy if they are able to be completely open with each other.  They must be honest about their own thoughts, experiences and emotions, and must accept unconditionally the validity of the others’ experiences, thoughts and emotions.   They share secrets rather than keep them.  They do not hide part of themselves out of fear of what the other might think.  They do not judge the other, but understand.

That signifies the true meaning of Love.   Love is a misunderstood term in Quantum Life, often connected with emotions of fear – jealousy, envy, pride or false desire.   Mates love because they accept each other as they are, and do not hide who they are.   Without such honesty true love is impossible.   Mates – true friends or soul mates – can help each other awaken a powerful love inside the Quantum Life world that can ripple through the entire game, impacting every life they touch.   It is the personal expression within the game of the love that defines existence in the real world.

OK, enough transcribing for today.   Here are links to past entries in the quantum life series:

Quantum Life – August 3, 2010
How to Play Quantum Life – August 4, 2010
Why Play Quantum Life – August 5, 2010
The Soul in Quantum Life – August 20, 2010
Getting Started with Quantum Life – October 1, 2010
Quantum Life: Birth and Pre-Birth – November 22, 2010
Quantum Life:  Childhood – July 20, 2012
Quantum Life: Obstacles – July 29, 2012
Quantum Life: Empaths and Extensions – August 8, 2012
Evil in Quantum Life – October 8, 2012

2 Comments