My eBook is almost here!

I’ve mentioned in various posts that I’ve been writing a book. It’s now in the review process at Amazon, and should be available in a day or two, depending on how long they take. Look out for the title “Unleash Your Dreams: Going Beyond Goal Setting”.

I’ll let you know as soon at it’s available.

I’m going to be on the move for the next few days, then I’ll start preparations for a paperback version, which will also be available on Amazon.

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The Most Important Word

In the pursuit of self-development and personal growth, there is one word that is probably more important than any other. Can you guess what it is?

That word is “why”!

I’ve been using the word since I went to university in the 70s. I remember one of the first times I used it, while studying chemistry.

We were learning about the Schrödinger Wave Equation, which is fundamental to much of quantum physics. Basically, an electron is considered to be similar to a vibrating string stretched around the nucleus of the atom. It must make a whole number of vibrations before the “ends” are connected. It “vibrates” like a guitar string without moving anywhere. At one point, the professor extracted out mass * velocity, which is a measure of linear momentum, and replaced it with another variable.

I asked him “why”, meaning why were we using linear momentum on something that was not only not moving, but any motion would have to be in a circle, not a straight line. He stood there for several seconds, looking blankly at me, then said, “Because that’s what Schrödinger did.”

I learned two things from this:

  1. The word “why” is a very powerful tool for getting to the truth.
  2. The truth was that the professor himself didn’t know the reason for Schrödinger’s insight at that point in the derivation of the equation. Either that, or he was not capable of explaining the insight to us.

Using the word “why” again and again can lead us to find the hidden assumptions and beliefs that are causing us so much grief. The word itself need not be used explicitly; it can be implied.

For example, a friend states that he finds he cannot ask a female friend out to dinner. The conversation might go as follows:

“I can’t ask her out.”

“Why can’t you ask her out?”

“Because she might say ‘No’.”

“Why would it be bad if she said ‘No’?”

“Because it means she rejects me.”

“Why does it mean that she rejects you?”

“Because otherwise she would say ‘Yes’.”

“Why aren’t there any other reasons that she might say ‘No’?”

“Um …”

At this point he realises that he’s working from false assumptions:

  • “Yes” and “No” are not the only options; she might very well suggest another day if she says “No” for the day in question.
  • If she says “No”, it doesn’t mean that she rejects him; it just means that she doesn’t want to go out with him at that time.

Lying behind the problems in life are often assumptions about the way the universe should be, and behind them there are often limiting beliefs. Once you find those hidden assumptions and beliefs you can do something about them. Get into practice questioning little things in your life, and go on to bigger ones as you become comfortable with the idea.

Oddly enough, I’ve found that many people are too scared to use the word “why”, because they might find out something they don’t want to know. I think this is because, once you know what the source of a problem really is, you have a responsibility to do something about it. You can’t play Poor Me or the Blame Game and make others responsible for all your woes.

“Why” can be the most liberating word you ever use!

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L.I.F.E.

I was inspired by my previous post to create a new one, using a different “acronym”.

Liberating

If, as I suspect, we are eternal beings who are experiencing being humans for a reason, the reason must be very important. It’s probably because it’s liberating in some way: from boredom, from lack of change, from omnipotence and/or omniscience.

The last pair needs some explanation. If eternity is timeless (see my earlier posts Time and Eternity, Time, Eternity and You and Why Do We Need Immortality?), then it’s likely that, in our eternal aspect, anything we can conceive will automatically occur. If that’s so, then being alive and not knowing everything must be an amazing adventure.

Intense

As I’ve also mentioned, life being as short as it is in comparison to eternity, it’s highly intense.  Emotions run high and we get high off them, no matter whether they are “positive” or “negative”. This intensity is why I believe we come back again and again. Think how you feel when you’re in love, or you’re scared out of your wits while white-water rafting. You want to repeat the experiences, don’t you?

Fantastic Fun

The real fun lies in discovering the world and everything in it. If we deliberately forget what it’s all about, finding things and finding out how it all works (i.e., discovering the rules of the universe aka science and philosophy) is the best fun there is. Just as much fun is discovering each other and sharing the experiences together.

Ephemeral

Being of such short duration, life is ephemeral and soon over. Then, like some addict reaching for his/her drug of choice, we want to experience it again, and again, and …

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T.I.M.E.

I remember an English teacher once saying that, if you have no idea what to write, you should choose a word and treat it as if it were an acronym. Try to make each letter have something to do with the original word. This is good advice even if you do have an idea what you want to write about.

I wanted to write about time again, but when I recently started thinking about time, I got so many ideas connected with the acronym that I ended up writing the previous several posts on the subject. Now, I’ve finally got round to writing the original post.

Temporary

Because time is temporal (i.e., measured and of brief duration), everything is automatically temporary. In other words, nothing lasts for forever, not even time. As I’ve written before (Why do We Need Immortality?) things having a limited existence allows them to be experienced with an intensity that would not be there if they were endless.

Immediate

As I also mentioned in that post, this intensity factor makes all our experiences immediate, i.e., their effect is with and on us right now! The immediacy of the experience is what makes everything important to us. If we had eternity to experience things in, then they would very likely seem very thin, because there would be endless eras between each one. Having these bunched together, their effect is cumulative and, sometimes, overwhelming! Which is all to the good.

Movement

Because time happens, events take place one after another, causing movement. Movement implies change, which in turn means there can be evolution, either of physical or of mental and spiritual nature. Without time, there is no possibility for spiritual beings to experience change and evolve and change into different forms. Think of the boredom of not learning new things and not having new experiences…

Emotions

The end result of all these thoughts is that we can experience emotions, transient changes in state we can enjoy (or not) because they are fleeting. I sometimes think that one of the main reasons we (re)incarnate is because eternity (endless or timeless) is not a place to experience emotions.

TIME

In all, TIME is the reason we exist, not only because it allows us to experience so much, but also because we could not evolve and become ever more knowledgeable and knowing without it. Could it be that WE created time, space and everything within simply because we could, and we realised that we could do so much and become so much more than we already were? And then we forgot that we did it, because it would be more fun that way?

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Time, Eternity and Immortality

As a quick side panel to the main discussion about time, I would like to go briefly back to the subject of Time, Eternity and You.

The point I'm considering is that of eternity being endless time.

  • If this is true, are the two times (“real” time vs. “eternal” time) running in parallel? If they are, then future incarnations will only be in the future. What happens in “eternal” time when “real” time comes to an end? Does another “real” time get created?
  • If they are at an angle to one another, then one may seem to be moving “faster” than the other, or they drift apart somehow, or there will be some other kind of disconnect between them. What that may be, I don’t know.
  • On the third hand (making me feel like an alien or octopus), they may have no direct connection to one another at all. If that is the case, then it is possible that “future” lives might lie in our “past”.

All of this presupposes that we are immortal and live multiple lives, of course.

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Time and Free Will

If you’re beginning to feel confused by the last two posts, don’t worry. Time is a very complex and confusing thing. Scientists can’t even explain why time seems to flow in the direction it does. You’ll hear a lot of things about the Second Law of Thermodynamics, entropy, and the arrow of time, but what it boils down to is: “we have no idea what time really is!”

When we start to look at free will in connection with the various theories I discussed last time, we find the following:

  • Relativity Theory does not allow free will. Because everything is deterministic (there is only cause and effect, and choice plays no part in the equation), free will cannot exist.
  • Quantum Theory does not allow free will, either. Everything is statistical and all events have a random factor controlling them that plays the predominating role. Because of this, cause and effect are stripped of much of their power, and free will cannot exist.
  • Biological theories ultimately derive from other scientific theories (see below), so they don’t allow free will either. They see nothing but physical and chemical processes, and are incapable of measuring anything else. Our thoughts cannot be seen; only the physiology they are involved with can be measured physically and chemically.

The last point probably requires some explanation. When I was studying chemistry, I remarked to the professor during a physical chemistry class that I didn’t understand why we had to learn so much about quantum mechanics. He took me to his office after the class and spent a long time talking to me about the importance of learning physics in order to understand chemistry. He quoted: “biology turns into chemistry; chemistry turns into physics; physics turns into mathematics; mathematics turns into philosophy and music.” I’m not sure where the quotation comes from.

It took me a long time to realise what he was actually telling me. You cannot understand biology until you know about the chemistry that drives the biological processes. You cannot understand chemistry until you understand the physical processes that underlie the chemical ones. You need mathematics in order to describe physical processes. And, I believe, until you understand the philosophical underpinnings (the theories) and their beauty (the music), you cannot understand anything.

Now back to the main theme. If Relativity Theory, Quantum Theory and biology all agree that there is no free will, even if for different reasons, why do we believe that free will exists? For free will certainly does exist; we sense it every day and see its actions all around us.

I believe that the problem arises because all of these theories are reductionist (that is, they reduce complete systems to their component parts). The individual parts have no free will, and therefore scientists often conclude that the whole systems from which they derive also have no free will. They forget that the whole can very well be more than the sum of its parts. These so-called emergent systems derive their existence from the whole and the parts, but do not belong to any of them directly. It requires a holistic approach (building up to the whole) for the emergent systems to become apparent.

Furthermore, it seems to me, in the case of free will, that the main point of emergence lies in the interfaces between the relativistic, quantum, and biological theories. This can perhaps best be shown by the famous Double Slit experiment (explanations can be found at Wikipedia and High Existence). Decisions made at the macro level of existence affect experiments observing the micro world. The reverse is also true: whether or not an atom splits determines the fate of Schrödinger’s cat.

So many of these clues seem to point to our thoughts, our free will, affecting the world in ways that we can’t even begin to understand. This lack of understanding probably exists because we cannot see the whole, the interfaces are obscured, and J.B.S. Haldane was correct when he said: “the universe is not only queerer than we imagine, it’s queerer than we can imagine.”

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Time vs. Time

To continue the discussion, time is not equal to time, depending on which theory of physics you are contemplating.

Relativity vs. Quantum Theory

One of the greatest problems in modern theoretical physics lies in the reconciliation of relativity and quantum theories.

Both the Special and the General Theories of Relativity are classed as deterministic theories. In such theories, cause and effect lie in direct relationship to each other, the one follows on automatically from the other. If every particle position and direction of movement is known precisely, every future position and direction of movement can be calculated to any desired degree of accuracy. There are no surprises, and nothing is random. The future can be extrapolated to any degree of time and volume desired, and everything will be known, if our calculating power is sufficient. All particles are considered to be tiny balls bouncing off each other.

The various Quantum Theories (including Quantum Electro-/Chromodynamics, String Theory, M-Theory, etc.), on the other hand, are statistical. We can only state the possibility of a particular particle being in a particular place and moving in a particular direction as a probability. On the quantum level, the one that concerns itself with atoms, neutrons, electrons, protons, and the particles that make them up, nothing can ever be definitely known. The more we know about the position of a particle, the less we know about where it’s headed, and vice versa. This uncertainty, inherent in the nature of the universe itself, is not a reflection of how accurate our instruments are; we are intrinsically unable to get greater accuracy. Particles aren’t particles, and waves aren’t waves, but everything is both, and fuzzy into the bargain.

Worse, time in Relativity Theory is a continuous dimension stretching unbroken into both the past and the future. On the other hand, Quantum Theory regards time as consisting of discrete units, unimaginably small, but distinct. We can’t know what will happen in the future, because it is all controlled by chance. Mathematically, the two views of time are treated completely differently, too.

Biological Time vs. “Objective” Time

I use the term “objective” because, as we have seen, there is no objective, absolute time.

Have you ever noticed that time seems to pass more quickly these days than when you were young? When I was a child, a summer’s day was long, and the summer holidays seemed to last forever. Nowadays, I have the feeling that if I blink rapidly four or five times, I’ll lose an hour of my life.

Why is this?

The cause lies in our physiology and metabolism. The only way we can only “know” how time passes is by checking our internal processes. We all have a feeling for time depending on what we feel is the passing of time, and that depends on how quickly our bodies are working inside.

The problem is, as we grow older, our metabolic processes begin to slow down. As they slow down, our thought processes begin to slow down with them. Compared to our internal time, external time then appears to be getting faster. It’s almost like the relativistic slowdown caused by travelling at extremely high velocities…

Next time, I’ll be discussing scientific theories of time and free will. I hope you choose to join me.

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Time Redux

Wow, more than a month has gone by since I last posted. Doesn't time fly! All this has got me thinking about the subject of time again, so I’ll be spending the next few posts back on the subject.

Let’s start by looking at some of the scientific views on time.

How fast you think we travel through time? You’d be right if you said one second per second, but that’s not always true. From Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, we know that objects in motion relative to one another measure each other’s time as differing from their own. If their relative motion is fast enough, they see each other as either moving too fast (if they are approaching one another) or too slow (if they’re moving apart). But which one is right? Einstein’s breakthrough was the simple insight that they are both right. There is no absolute motion, only relative motion, and therefore only relative time.

But that still doesn't answer the question of how fast we are moving through time. If time were a dimension like any of the other three that we know, how fast would we be moving along that dimension in one second? Another of the insights from Relativity Theory is the fact that we move along the time dimension at the speed of light. Any time when we are motionless, we are still moving because we are travelling along in time at light speed. In fact, no matter how we move or stay still, our total velocity is always light speed.

This explains why time appears to slow down when we are in very rapid motion. Let’s conduct a thought experiment.

Imagine you are standing on the Equator facing due north. You drive your car north at 50 miles an hour. This is the equivalent of standing still, while still travelling through time. You make a half-turn to the right, so that you are travelling at an angle of 45° from due north. You are now travelling through time and space at the same time. Your total speed is still 50 miles an hour. However, your speed to the north is now significantly less than 50 miles an hour. This is equivalent to time slowing down if you are travelling at a significant fraction of the speed of light. The diagrams below will perhaps make this a little easier to understand.

TimeRelativity

On the left, you are standing still, but still travelling in time. For you, one second takes the same time as for those observing you while not moving relative to you.

On the right, you are moving fast enough through space that time has apparently slowed down when viewed by outside observers. Both solid lines are exactly the same length, meaning that your total speed is exactly the same. However, you will notice that the amount of time that passes for you is less than one second in “objective” time. The figure represents a velocity of half the speed of light, at which point time slows down to just over 70%. You have to travel much further for one second of time to elapse for you.

Fortunately for us, we rarely achieve speeds fast enough for this to affect our lives. If you were to take a around the world trip in a jetliner, you would return to your starting point only a fraction of a microsecond younger than if you had stayed in place. However, it does allow short-lived particles to be observed for longer periods of time when they have a speed of 99.99% of light speed, as we can observe in such places as CERN.

Even if we could achieve high speeds, we wouldn't live any longer. For us, such a trip of 10 years would still be 10 years long, even if the rest of the world thought it had taken over 14. Conversely, if they thought it was 10 years long, it would only seem to have been just over 7 years long for us. It amounts to nothing more than a form of time travel into the future.

Next time, we’ll consider time from a biological point of view, as well as the differences between relativity’s and quantum theory’s views of time and events happening in time.

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One Step at a Time

Lao Tzu tells us that every journey of 1000 miles begins with but a single step. This is of course true of every journey that we take. But have you ever considered that, having taken the first step, the rest of the journey still has to be made? This means that the next step is the first step of the rest of the journey. So every step is, in a way, the first step.

If that is so, every journey can be achieved by taking nothing more than the next step. In other words, every journey can be completed one step at a time. This is true of a journey of a few steps, as well as a journey lasting a lifetime.

Almost every self-help and goal-setting workshop tells you that you must keep your eyes on the ultimate goal at all times. By looking so far ahead, however, you are unlikely to see what is close at hand, and are more likely to trip over your own feet. You also miss out on all the roses they keep telling you to smell along the way.

On the other hand, looking down at the ground all the time means you can’t see where you’re going. It does have the advantage that you’re less likely to be overwhelmed by the size of the task ahead of you, but you miss out on seeing the goal gradually approaching you. It’s all a matter of how much attention you give to where you’re going, as opposed to what’s around you.

I made an interesting discovery years ago while walking through darkened scrubland at night. It was the night of the new moon, and I had only starlight to guide me. I found that I could see what was down by my feet and next to me much better by looking ahead than by looking down or around. It’s all a matter of using your peripheral vision, which is more sensitive to light differences than your central vision. In this way, I was aware of both where I was going and what was around me. I didn’t run into any trees or bushes, and the world was much more interesting because of my double awareness.

If you spend all your time looking at the goal, events and objects around you will constantly be getting in your way, and your progress will be very slow and disheartening. Spend all your time looking down or around, and before you know it, you’ve wandered off course and have ended up somewhere completely different. You must do both, switching back and forth from one to the other as necessary, but always being aware that the other exists. If you can, do both at the same time, keeping the two in balance with each other.

I can’t give you any advice on where the line of balance is; each of us must find their own balance point. But find that balance point you must, if you wish to achieve your goals.

PS Happy birthday to my Dad on his 79th birthday!

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Service Thinking

If you are British or watch British television, you may have seen the advertisement for car insurance where the actor talks about “Three Things; service, service, service!” When I first saw it, I realised that service thinking has been on the decline for years. Haven’t you noticed how reluctant people are to render service to you, and how begrudgingly they do when they have to? It’s as if they are being forced to give service at gunpoint, instead of giving it willingly.

This isn’t the case everywhere. Some years ago, I took part in a conference on the island of Penang in Malaysia. We were told at the hotel that giving a tip to someone was actually an insult, as they considered it an honour to be able to render service to a guest. The only exception was if they had to carry heavy luggage, or perform some other major physical labour.

How different it is in the Western world. Here, service is often treated as though it was something that has to be done with the minimum of effort necessary to gain the maximum reward.

I once had a boss whose whole philosophy of life was based on this concept. He said on numerous occasions during meetings: “find out the maximum that they want, and the minimum that they will accept. Then give them that minimum, while charging for the maximum.” My attitude has always been to give the customer more than they ask for. This is probably the reason why he let me go after 11 months. His excuse was that he couldn’t afford to employ me anymore, as he needed to buy a new laser printer (ah, the Good Old Days, when a laser printer cost a month’s wages).

I've always striven to give more than I’m being paid for. Over the years, I've done such things as: adding a template system to a customer’s data entry system; added extra reports or made two versions of a report to satisfy two different departments within a bank; added extra buttons, functions, bells and whistles to input forms; all to give the customer what they wanted and needed. This is probably the reason why customers kept returning to me, while the other company eventually folded and was shut down.

Why is the attitude today always take, take, take, instead of give, give, give? Have we really become so selfish? Or is it that society has so reduced our expectations of receiving anything, that we are slowly being robbed of the ability to give? If so, I fear for the future.

So let’s be willing and eager to give people a little (or a lot!) more than they ask for, and let’s make the future a bright and kind place.

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