Friday, 18 May 2012

Back with a vengeance

Although my previous post was about the idea that stress can cause back pain, and that one has to treat most such pain through dealing with unresolved emotional issues, rather than treat them as physical damage - and the shifting pain(s) I had been suffering had eased (if never quite gone) - I am sad to report that they have returned and worse.

This is not just the dull aches of the hernia, for instance, but serious pain in the neck, and between the shoulders. At the moment it feels as though someone hit me across the upper back with a plank. So I guess I have to return to wondering what it is trying to tell me - as I still assume it is not a physical injury (because of the way it shifts around).

Very frustrating, and depressing. Can't keep taking pain-killers, etc.

Friday, 4 May 2012

It's all the rage...

For some weeks now I have had a stabbing pain between the shoulders, and occasionally a stiff neck, or RSI symptoms in my right hand.

Very annoying.

I somehow suspect that I haven't "pulled a muscle" or "trapped a nerve" and am inclined to think that it is another manifestation of that old body-mind connection.  I read Dr John Sarno a while back, and the mere act of reading his book about what we (subconsciously) do to ourselves seemed to cure what the doctors had no idea about, but loosely called 'Prostatitis' (which doesn't mean much more than irritation in the prostate (although they couldn't find anything wrong, and tried various antibiotics, etc).

Which seemed kind of spooky, at the time.

Dr Sarno may not be alone in thinking that many shoulder and back problems do not come from any kind of illness or physical damage to the system, but represent displaced (suppressed) anger, building up to rage.  And our language seems aware of it, too, as a metaphor (things are a pain in the neck or a pain in the arse; we feel a stabbing pain in the back, etc). A stiff neck could relate to stubborness, etc.
I can't keep stumbling around like this, or taking Solpadeine on bad days, going to bed early, and all that.
It's doing my head in, so I will have to consider what stresses might be making me angry.  I know of old that I have this British thing about trying to appear to rise above things, the stoic approach, an attempt a Buddhist serenity, and so on (Oh Really? Is that so?) - all of which just means that emotions far too often do not get expressed well enough, or often enough.

But I'll make my lists in private, I think...he lists everything from work stress to relationships, getting old to stuff hungover from childhood.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dr Sarno's website

"Dr. Sarno has coined the term TMS--"Tension Myositis Syndrome"--to describe this "psychophysiological" condition. The brain, he says, mildly oxygen-deprives our back muscles and certain nerves and tendons to distract us and prevent our repressed anger from lashing out."

Read more here (or click on back picture above).

Thursday, 23 February 2012

It's illegal, it's immoral or it makes you fat

The modern world seems full of diets and theories about eating (almost to the point of obsession).

Now I realize some people have allergies, which can even prove life-threatening (anaphylactic shock from eating strawberries, say), but the general population seem like omnivores to me - like goats, we can eat and digest more or less anything, and survive with all kinds of strange combinations of food sources.

So the idea that everything I happen to like 'is' addictive does make me defensive.  But then addicts can often find themselves in denial.

I refer, of course, to the Paleolithic Diet - the theory that modern folks would thrive on the pre-agricultural diet of the gatherer-hunters.  I like the general idea.  I feel less certain about the skewing towards high meat consumption (not all gatherer-hunters have the 95% meat consumption of the peoples who inhabit the Arctic regions).  In more tropical zones the balance leans the other way to fruits, roots, shoots, leaves - and even the hunting/scavenging more likely includes insects, shellfish, eggs and baby animals than large animals.

But people still like that old Man the Hunter myth.  And that high-protein, meat-based diet has attracted some interesting and unusual people - from John Lilly to Augustus Owsley Stanley III who put The Grateful Dead on a totally carnivorous diet (so that destroys the myth of all hippies being veggies, doesn't it?) He did include dairy and eggs in that, though - he just hated vegetables and carbohydrates.  He made it to 76.

I became fully aware of my own sugar addiction 30 years ago, and gave it up totally.  I now allow myself tiny amounts - rather than obsessively read every packet label, but still don't miss it at all, not even at Christmas (no chocolate for me, or Christmas Pudding or Mince Pies, etc).

So now the story is that Wheat and Dairy 'are' addictive.  I suspect we should perhaps change that to 'potentially' or 'for some people' but people seem to prefer flat statements.   I never did get on with milk as a child (we call it 'lactose intolerant' these days, back then they called it 'fussy eater') but I was fed cheese and yoghurt, because at the time people believed vegetarians needed the animal-based protein.

So although I don't/can't drink milk, I do like my cheese, so perhaps I do have an addiction.  Likewise, I love bread, and although I often vary it with Oatmeal, Rye, etc, I obviously go through quite a lot of Wheat. Of course, the first time I heard about this sort of thing was from the Macrobiotic crowd, who saw no paradox in claiming all food should be locally grown, and then claimed rice as the basic food group. Which seemed strange to me, in Notting Hill, however appropriate in Japan.  I figured wheat as a staple.

Yet I was pretty happy in Mexico, where more of the peasant food had corn as a staple (I didn't see 'bread butter and cheese' for six months.)

But Vegan friends probably correctly dislike my cheese consumption. It ain't nice what we do to cows.

However, even when I have been settled enough to start devising my own food, from sprouting beans to cooking a little, I never stray from my vegetarian ways.   66 years and counting.  So the Paleolithic Diet just ain't for me.  I enjoyed a bit of seafood when living with gypsies in Spain.  It was alright.  I don't eat it now, though, it arose out of politeness to hosts.

People have disputed the theoretical basis fo the PaleoDiet, anyway (like most diets, it seems more like an idea than a proven scientific fact, true for all people).   Indeed, my own tendency leans to frugivore, like those wonderful great apes who share 98% of our genetic make-up.   They might occasionally eat grubs, or a baby bird, or something, but essentially Gorillas (for instance) have a vegetarian diet.

So I still don't quite buy the 'cave man' diet.  Or not for me, at least.

Apart from anything else, my desire not to eat other animals overrides my desire to be high energy, healthy, etc.  To me there remains the trade-off of living well at someone else's expense.  I have trouble with that.

But hey, each to their own.

Turn on, Tune In, Opt out.

It’s funny to me how many times I act in the way I do because of social pressure.  I long ago stopped thinking I could actually Drop Out of being a social animal, because other humans had pretty well locked up the habitable areas of the planet by the time I arrived, so to survive as a recluse seemed a very ambitious move.

The ‘hermit in a cave’ model works better if you have a society who feels it a duty, or perhaps consider it a valuable investment in their karma (say) and a privilege, to provide you with the basics.

So although we can rarely completely separate ourselves from the human community, we still retain some options within those parameters. 
They forced free milk on me as a child in post-war Britain, even if it made me feel ill. Nowadays I would be considered lacto-intolerant, and offered an alternative.   Many people do opt out from what many others consider ‘staple foods’ – Coeliacs can’t tolerate grains (no bread or beer), diabetics have to avoid sugar, we have now identified all kinds of allergies to nuts, strawberries, etc  and encourage people to opt out of them. 

As a child people considered me very odd, growing up as a vegetarian, The first veggie restaurant I remember had the name "Cranks" (which gives you a clue). Most people in the UK in The Fifties still associated that diet with strange belief systems, or sentimentality – although the ecological virtues of a smaller meat intake have started dawning on many, now.  More people adopt it for a while, but it still strikes many people as odd.
I opted out from meat, early on, and stayed that way.

It made it easier when I later decided to avoid sugar.  In spite of the social pressure to indulge a sweet tooth at (for instance) Christmas time.

Similarly, I opted out of credit/debt as an approach to money.  I found, early on, that I couldn’t avoid negotiating for food and shelter with the humans who got here first, and had staked their claim, but I tried to stay in a cash economy (or trading 'in kind') so as not to find myself obligated, addicted or enslaved.   My ‘voluntary poverty model’ did not extend to the minimalism of a Buddhist monk, but only because such a social option did not seem to exist at the time (I had no desire to become a Christian monk!) This did keep me out of property owning, however.

I also opted out of car ownership (although cars were not considered a universal necessity in my childhood). As I grew up, they became harder and harder to avoid.  This did create some restrictions in my lifestyle, my working opportunities, etc – but I stick to it as a choice (option).

I don’t opt out of all progress, developments and luxuries. I feel like a relatively early uptaker for internet and computers.   We all choose the places where we make a stand against the common herd, and all draw the line in different places.

The important thing, to me, is having the right, and the will, to actually choose how you want to spend your time, where you want to invest your energy, and what you consider unnecessary (or even harmful).

Turn on, Tune In, Opt OUT.

Move along there...

I didn't arrive on the planet that long ago, but it seemed like you could get lost pretty easy back then.

Not like characters in Dickens, who can simply disappear into London for the rest of their lives - even by accident - but something like that.

If I wanted to run away from home, I could really be out of touch for a while, not just unfindable, but with pretty good excuses - even when our house had a phone (it didn't have an answering machine).

If I got abroad, then my only mailing address at the main Post Office (called Poste Restante) didn't guarantee delivery (I had to go collect it).  If I kept moving cities, then dead letters would pile up before getting 'returned to sender' eventually.

And I really did feel drawn to the nomadic life.  Not just for that romantic, bohemian, gypsy life - if you check out how our culture treats people with no fixed abode (or 'homeless' as we like to call them) then the romance drains away from the lifestyle pretty fast.

The fact remained, that in the UK, as I grew up, all the land belonged to someone.  If not to individuals, then to Councils (parks), the Forestry Commission, The National Trust, etc.  As a landless serf, I had literally no right to stop and sleep anywhere (without permission, or paying rent).

I felt pretty grumpy about that, as I felt sure I never would 'own' a piece of land.  Not only because the chances of my earning enough seemed slim (even before the folly of 'easy mortgages'), but  because I tended to side with the nomadic peoples of the world in not understanding the concept exactly.  From the Amazon rain forest to the American Plains, to most desert folks, people understood having hunting rights, or priority on a water hole, a favourite tree, or something like that, but the idea of fencing it all off and keeping other people out never seems to have occurred to them.

Farmers and settlers invented that territorial thing as a lock down...with lines drawn, walls built, and all that. And that stage in cultural evolution seems to have also led to nation states and other borders and boundaries getting defined. 

Plus turf wars, of course, and other property rights, like inheritance.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Simple pleasures

I have just read a wonderful book called  The Swerve: how the Renaissance began by Steven Greenblatt

It outlines the idea that the re-discovery of an ancient Roman poem, On The Nature of Things by Lucretius, contributed to the sweeping changes in Europe we call the Renaissance - when humanist thought and science first began to compete with the Christian monopoly on thinking.

Lucretius, in turn, looked back to the Greeks, and in particular to the group called the Epicureans. As with so many such groups, the meaning of the word has slid away from it's original meaning (as with the Cynics, the Sophists, the Stoics, etc).  This can partly be blamed on the propaganda of the Christian Church fighting a rearguard action against dangerous thoughts.  Nowadays we might think of an epicure as someone with fine tastes in food and wine, someone quite fastidious, but the original group led simpler lives than that, although they enjoyed the sensory life without guilt or shame - considering humans as animals, no more.

In the book Steven Goldblatt makes it clear that the Church dismissed the atomic philosophy as leading to atheism, but in fact Lucretius does not say gods do not exist, as yet another complex combination of eternal atoms, simply that they do not bother themselves with human activities and so all attempts to placate them, or plead with them, remain pointless.  Some apologists suggested that as he had lived before Christ, he had pagan religions in mind when he described all organised religions as pernicious.   Hmmm.

Anyway, these bullet points from Chapter 8 summarize some of the startlingly modern ideas that appear in the poem (easy to see how these ideas influenced Giordano Bruno):

• Everything is made of invisible particles

• The elementary particles of matter – “the seeds of the things” – are eternal

• The elementary particles are infinite in numbers but limited in shape and size

• All particles are in motion in an infinite void

• The universe has no creator or designer

• Everything comes into being as the result of a swerve (“at absolutely unpredictable times and places they deflect slightly from their straight course, to a degree that could be described as no more than a shift of movement” (2.218-20). The swerve, which Lucretius called variously declinatio, inclinatio or clinamen – is only the most minimal of motions.

• The swerve is the source of free will

• Nature ceaselessly experiments

• The universe was not created for or about humans

• Humans are not unique

• Human society began not in a Golden Age of tranquillity and plenty, but in a primitive battle for survival

• The soul dies

• There is no afterlife

• Death is nothing to us

• All organised religions are superstitious delusions

• Religions are invariably cruel

• There are no angels, demons or ghosts

• The highest goal of human life is the enhancement of pleasure and the reduction of pain

• The greatest obstacle to pleasure is not pain; it is delusion

• Understanding the nature of things generates deep wonder

In spite of the fact that Epicureans became portrayed by their enemies as decadent and self-indulgent - because of their delight in the sensory world – it appears they considered the simple life as more likely to lead to pleasure, and did not torment themselves with pain and guilt in this life or fear of the next world (unlike the Christians of the time). In their preference for the reduction of unnecessary suffering we might perceive some resemblance to Buddhism.
And how about “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”? Jefferson considered himself an Epicurean.

And finally, but never last, this 'swerve' lies at the heart of Jarry's 'Pataphysics - there called the clinamen, but we may have to save detailed pursuit of that idea for another time.
One essay among the Tate Papers might clarify some of that:

'Pataphysical Graham': A Consideration of the Pataphysical Dimension of the Artistic Practice of Rodney Graham

[excerpt to save you clicking through]

1.''Pataphysics is the science of imaginary solutions', which implies that all solutions to any problem whatsoever, scientific or otherwise, are imaginary in nature; and

2.'Pataphysics is the science of exceptions – in other words, there are no universally valid laws such as science seeks to discover; laws or principles can only be legitimately applied to particular cases, and are in any case imaginary in nature.


There several pataphysical motifs in Graham's work – or at least I think I see them there – but I want to focus on two: the clinamen and the spiral. Graham has written about the clinamen on two occasions, and it informs his work in general. This concept, which is featured in Faustroll and which is foundational to 'pataphysics, was the Roman author Lucretius' term for what the Greek philosopher Epicurus understood to be an indeterminate swerve in the downward motion of atoms. The concept of the clinamen was used to refute the idea of a uniform, fatalistic flow of atoms, which had previously been suggested by Democritus. Here is Graham's own definition of the clinamen:

The word is from Lucretius, for whom it signifies the sudden and unpredictable swerve of a single atom from its otherwise pre-ordained trajectory ... It is the clinamen, according to the physicist, that breaks the endless chain of fate and yields the law of nature.

Lucretius, following Epicurus, described an exception to the fatalistic understanding of matter by Democritus, as a kind of free will that was a property of atoms themselves. To this extent, the unmotivated swerve or clinamen becomes the locus and the guarantor of free will in general, against fatalistic thinking.

 The concept of the clinamen underpins Jarry's understanding of 'pataphysics as the science of exceptions, which attempts to undermine all claims to universal validity. Graham makes a particular application of this concept, which we will come to later.


Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Clouds, Macs and ecosystems

I am fascinated by the difference between becoming an Apple user and remaining an eclectic user of a range of tools.

I can see the appeal for Apple users, as they get integrated units, an ecosystem of hardware and software that all work together.  And now that iCloud seems like the direction they are going in, then you get all your files stored online, accessible from any Apple unit that forms part of that unified field, and which you can edit without complications with the formatting.

There is the trade-off (for reliability) of living in a walled garden, however.

iCloud: The Future of Apple's ecosystem, on Mac Stories.

Google seems to have chosen to go the web route, the 'open' system which can be accessed from any gadget or device that has access to the web.  Google also have a cloud approach (GoogleDocs, etc) with both files and software stored online, but more universally accessible (if rather less simple and reliable).

How the Apple iCloud compares to Google's Cloud on Computer World.

Perhaps it depends whether you like the lock-in that investing in Mac, apps, etc tends to create, or prefer more promiscuous use of whatever tools come to hand, accessible by more routes.

Apple users remain so loyal because of the reliability of the product (things should ‘just work’). Which is great, of course, and very impressive. Apple as a business can claim to retain customers better than most, in a fickle world of accelerating change. This does not only have to do with reliability and integration, however, but the difficulty of migrating out, once committed to that system.

Not to say that Apple has addictive qualities.

Still, given that they remain a niche product, there remains an argument for variety, the equivalent to being multi-lingual. Using eclectic mixes of tools has its hazards, and sometimes frustrations, when systems do not prove fully compatible, but gives the user access to a wider range of possibilities, not just in future developments, but in moving between platforms.

You pays yer money, as they say, and take your choice.

I don't feel totally sold on Clouds, as it happens.  I still have the experience of going to a training centre with 'thin clients' when the network went down, and all the students had was a monitor, a keyboard and a mouse each.  No computers, no contingency plans for the tutor, etc.  No doubt, when it all becomes stable, it may appear the way to go.  I only recently suffered the Blackberry meltdown, so I know about dependency.  And if all computing activity had to come through a 'utility' pipeline, rather than owning my own freestanding computer, then I can see dependency (and prices) increasing.

Not to mention security issues, and not having local copies of your own data. (shudder).

Cloud Computing topic centre at Computer World.

Apple’s Greatest Advantage: The Apple Ecosystem on GigaOm

Cloud Computing on Wikipedia

Varsitech explains Cloud Computing