The Tree of Nothingness

I found a Tree of Knowledge of sorts and have been visiting it daily.

For the last few months I have been spending most of my time in nature.  On a journey several weeks ago I came across one particular tree.  The tree was big and old and, at first glance, looked dead through and through.  Its bark-less form protruded from the ground like a thick rope all frayed at the top.  Upon closer inspection I found that the rope effect came from it being made of four trunks grown together.

Leafless branches, pointy and black with age, flanked its trunk like an armory.   One branch of significant size had broken off and fallen to the ground.  Otherwise the ominous tree stood, content in its frightening display.

I made my way through the fallen portion to investigate the far side of the tree.  From there I could see how it had remained standing.  One of the four trunks that made up its magnificent meta-trunk was still alive!  Bark covered it, and a set of pale roots each the size of a person’s forearm extended into the ground behind.  When I stared up through the forest understory I could just see the branches that held its leaves.

Trees, intimate in their connection to the earth, make timeless metaphors for knowledge.   Knowledge arises from what is hidden (the roots) and branches out in search of energy (the leaves).   In the right habitat, one will grow and even seed further knowledge.  Trees are common to religious stories and other wisdom traditions.  The serpent slithered from a tree in the Garden of Eden.  Siddhartha sat beneath a Bodhi tree where he was visited by his inner demons.  The tenets of mystical Judaism are constructed as a tree.  The tree in the movie Avatar represents our modern fascination with the knowledge of communities and connectedness.

I offer the gnarly tree as a Tree of Nothingness.  Not Sartre style nothingness.  Cosmological nothingness, by which I mean everything other than something that can be directly sensed.

Since the discovery of dark energy, Newton’s contribution to understanding nothingness… dead.  Relativity’s contribution… dead.  Quantum theory’s contribution… dead.  Three dead branches.  Dark energy, a mystery even among physicists, is a challenge to re-conceive nothingness.  It is the live part of the Tree of Nothingness that continues to grow, in spite of the weight of dead ideas around it.

But there is another metaphor, this time historical, that injects itself conveniently into the geometry of the Tree of Nothingness.  Dolpopa, writing in the 14th century, refers to his divergence from the existing Buddhist doctrine as his “fourth council.” (Only three such councils had, or have ever since, been widely recognized.)  In short his doctrine distinguishes emptiness as being not a singular state but a metaphysically rich one.   Buddhists have long focused on the notion of empty-of-self as the ultimate state due to it being the source of Buddha-nature, but Dolpopa noticed that plenty of nothingness exists outside of Buddha-nature itself, and he called it empty-of-other.   He too had discovered dark energy.

I burned what I could from the branch that had fallen from the Tree of Nothingness.  The fire was the hottest fire I think I have ever felt.

Clever Lass with a Lucky Guess

Over the last few weeks I have been participating in an active NPR-based blogging forum known as 13.7 Cosmos and Culture.   Very fun.  Have not been sure where it would lead but enjoy having scientists to “talk” to.

Scientists willing to talk to me are in short supply.   Dr. Dinsch is the exception of course, but he’s a research physician, which doesn’t count (jk… Roger’s the best!).

The posts on 13.7 – and it seems most of the comments too – are made by forward-thinking scientists.  I have added comments here and there, but basically kept a low profile.  At this point its readers, like most scientists, are unlikely to see my saga as anything but melodrama.

One post I have been following is Marcelo Gleiser’s  “To Unify Or Not Unify: That Is (Not) The Question” (June 24, 2010).   A comment posted Sunday really hit home.  Steve O observed that “even if you can prove an inability to measure our way to a complete understanding, maybe some clever chap will make a lucky guess!”

That is exactly the way I see myself in relation to redefining physical theory.  Cleverness, the most respected trait in Tibetan culture by the way, is one I have heard myself described as more than once.   Chonyi said as much the first time I met him to discuss apprenticing in his restaurant.

And how lucky am I to have had access to perhaps the most distinct tools in all of history for making a lucky guess  – 350-year-old carvings from an obscure group of Buddhist gnostics. Plus translated-into-English scripts from cosmologically-minded doctrine that preceded that by another 250 years (The Buddha from Dolpo, text and translations by Cyrus Stearns 1999).  That plus having a brother who was immersed in physics and yet compelled to question its central tenants.

I have not presented my “lucky guess” formally here yet — I hope I have demonstrated some small bit of cleverness.  Continued  concentrated effort is needed to work out what appears to be the final piece of the puzzle:  gravity.  I have all of the edge pieces of the puzzle in place, have even filled in most of the picture, and what remains is a hole where gravity should be. Actually I know gravity manifests as part of the VEHICLE continuum, I just have not settled on what its complement (opposite end of the continuum) is and why.

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Missing the clothes of reality

First a bit of practical business to share, then on to the missing clothes metaphor.  I did not mention in my last post – it was still stinging a bit – but I have been asked to not return to the Chenpo Terma for the time being.  So I won’t, or rather, can’t. I know its location on a map and have been there, but traveling to the Himalayan plateau is not a trivial matter to be attempted alone and the locals will have been warned not to help me.

I have asked Chonyi to appeal again to the Sangha-dhatu council of elders to change their minds, but I know the difficulties I face gaining their trust again.  The earthquake, and my tendency to push them to go public, have led to understandable resentment, trepidation, and the like.

Add to that the fact that the relic was in my possession when it was confiscated and me being a fugitive from the international relic police (yes Interpol)… neither has bought me points with the council.

What the relic police would do if they caught me remains a bit of a mystery, but I do not want to find out.  That is what the bad guys are betting on too.  Plus they know I would not keep my mouth shut about my suspicions, which would probably get me charged with slander (and what I’m writing here, if I weren’t using pseudonyms, would be called libel).  Whatever to build some kind of case against me.   How far Bernie Ghes would go to keep the relic from me (and any positive attention from the relic or my brother) is hard to imagine, but he is not one to do dirty-work himself.  The real question is, How far would do-gooders and career criminals hired by a self-important academician go to keep the relic out of my hands?

So why do I care if I ever hold or view these terma again?  Why not move on?  Obviously they have cultural value, but UNESCO should be able to advocate for that if provided enough information.

So here’s the thing.  I have experienced first hand the power of these terma.  Not raw physical power like a sword, but gnostic power.  Under their influence I saw with a clarity rarely achieved, even when I find myself by the remotest stream on the clearest day.  Such assertions cannot be quantified, much less believed, given modern fascination with all things testable.  I realize I may just be being sentimental too because I had insightful moments with them in mind (something my brother never seemed willing to admit about his own experiences with the relic).  I do not know for sure which interpretation is accurate, but I know I want to have the chance to find out what my experience means.  And others should have the chance to experience it.

One such insightful moment happened as follows.  The day after a friend and I literally cracked open the relic to reveal its three puzzle-like layers, I sat turning it over again and again in my hands, linking and unlinking the pieces in their various combinations.   What I saw was this:  when a holistic truth or unified physical reality is manifest through three interconnected continua, meta-theories tend to form around subsets of two continua with the third being neutralized, or made a null set, in order to analyze the other two in relation to each other. At the time I was thinking specifically of physics theories, but the wider relevance is also apparent to me.

So by way of example, let’s take Newtonian physics, special relativity, and quantum mechanics – three physics meta-theories.   Assume three continua are at work, let’s call them MODE, VEHICLE, and PARTICLE, and ascribe one continua as missing from each meta-theory’s symbolism.  For the sake of (a non-coincidental) argument, say Newtonian physics is missing MODE, special relativity is missing VEHICLE, and quantum mechanics is missing PARTICLE.  If we make a single diagram in which each of the three continua are represented not only by an interrelated symbol but by color coding, then vary the background color so that it corresponds for a time to each continuum’s color, you get an animation like the one above.  A visual representation of how the same underlying reality looks different but connects back to the whole if we define the continua as interrelated (one symbol) but distinct (variable color).  I chose the carvings on the relic to create my representation.

Overlapping meta-theories is a non-controversial observation.  When interpreted this way it can be seen as evidence that interrelated and likely hidden continua are at work behind reality (and I don’t mean hidden dimensions! you don’t want to get me started on that!).  Important conceptual hurdle to get over, but just the beginning of what would end up being an intellectual obstacle course.  Clearly, the correct complement of continua have to be identified and defined in an interrelated way.   Not a small task given that each continua falls into the hidden/missing/background role naturally when relying on known types of analysis.

It should not be surprising at all that modern science cannot get its meta-theories to mesh together.  Each is based on an assumption where one essential continuum is demoted to the role of backdrop.  Symbolic languages are adopted for the resulting meta-theories and, most importantly, links to the temporarily nullified continua are lost.

Each meta-theory is like a stage production, with its own characters, story and backdrop.  That is the science we have come to know and love, and now, after the fact, we expect to be able to build holistic models of it?   Call it the Ghost of Reductionism, or Human Longing for Predictability, or the commercial value of Paradigms-R-Us.  Consumers and the majority of professionals in science and culture long ago severed their ties with reality and associated holistic truths when they accepted the model of interpreting the scenes and stories played out in each human field of investigation as more than what they are:  non-real parallel universes of thought.

We are a society of clothes-less emperors.  All missing the clothes of reality, with no one to challenge us.  I am here to advocate for the advantages to donning colorful, real accouterments once again.

Since there is stripping going on, try to relish the thought of taking away the backdrops and removing the symbolic languages from existing theories, if just for a moment.  What we are left with is not only the potential connectedness of meta-theories but, with all these hidden continua to uncover, a likely critical role for nothingness itself.  Maybe we are getting somewhere after all.

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Good news mixed with fear

Double-slit experiment

I heard from Chonyi a few days ago.  He had good news.  The Chenpo Terma site we explored in April just one day before the earthquake is intact for now.  The entry to the underground portrait room had been blocked, but a few dedicated and brave individuals, working slowly and in secret as usual, cleared away the collapsed rock and were able to enter once again.  They even returned with the naljorpa who lives nearby to renew the blessings and protections on the site.

This development was so great, but it meant I had to soul-search all over again.  I have been paralyzed, not knowing what to do, or not do.  The location and the secrets behind it and the relic too have been hidden for over three hundred and fifty years.  Events (like the earthquake) and some people’s bad intentions keep conspiring to keep them hidden.  Am I just an overreaching American, a Scooby-Doo style meddler?  People, nice people, are telling me I should let this lie, that I am making things worse – for myself and for their efforts to protect what is precious to them.

Then I turned on Coldplay.  Listened to the song “Fix You.”  “Lights will guide you home,” he crooned.  And yes, tears did stream down my face.

I keep talking about physicists perpetuating dark, insidious theories about reality.   Keep the lights out… just question the darkness!  I preach.  But we are all susceptible to its most basic form.  Everyone experiences fear, some groups just build on it with fancy names and elaborate theories is all.  Others of us conspire with it to hide a tough reality we are reluctant to face.   My Tibetan friends have made a lifetime of commitments over generations to hide the Chenpo Terma, and they are afraid to let go.

Light is bound to reach us in the darkness.  When we wait for it rather than reflexively turning on the self-conscious light of limited understanding, perhaps more so even,  it may pain us, it may surprise us, but it will slowly warm and enliven us again.  Our first thought in this new state should be, If there is a god, it is a Cosmic God.

Personally, my second thought was, Repeat to yourself, mantra-style, The paradox of revealing nothingness. The paradox of revealing nothingness. The paradox of revealing nothingness.

Preferable to The paradox of preaching hypocrisy, which is what I was toying with these last few days.

Ours is a paradox, in which nothingness may be revealed and somethingness is certainly hidden.  I can only promise for now that the motive remains.

Dumbfounded

I started out to write a review of the movie A Serious Man, released last year and directed by the Coen brothers.  Seemed relevant enough.   While reviews are not my specialty murking around in the depths is.  My feelings about this movie (and those of many others, from what I could tell looking at reviews online) were heavy in the murky department.  I am still, three days later, unclear whether it was a waste of two hours or a useful intellectual exercise.

What did the first scene mean?  Was the woman supposed to be the depiction of crazed certainty, or was she a temporarily misunderstood heroine for her village?  Why did the protagonist, an academic physicist, have an older brother who was pointlessly addicted to his own genius, among other things?

The “conclusion” they reach, in the context of retelling the biblical tale of Job, is predictably catastrophic.  The conundrums it reveals – religious, scientific and otherwise – are grossly stereotyped.  The combination on screen, and in the hands of the Coen brothers, has an uncomfortable if unsurprising effect, which is, dumbfoundedness.  Some people like that feeling (rave reviews!); others hate it (insulting reviews).  I am in the middle, preferring a bit more substance and less  in the obscure allusions department.

I lured you along with this sparkly movie talk so I could hook you with a big juicy worm of a Revealing Tangent.  (It took a tangent of this magnitude to get me to reconsider writing anything about this movie after three days of dumbfoundedness).  So hang on to your holy books, because you’re going to be wondering where the answers are hidden.

An obscure branch of philosophy known as modality concerns itself with what it means about reality that some aspects of it are possible, necessary or contingent.  For instance, it is possible that George Bush could have lost the 2000 presidential election.  It is necessary that your parents are yours.

Really important at this point that you not “turn on the lights,” but be willing to muddle about in this darkness for just a bit.  Remember, that is where mysteries about reality reside.   The non-mysterious, lights-on version of reality today, when faced with the questions I want to pose, is simple:  parallel universes explain all confusing aspects of reality.

It may be true that they unconfuse a confusing situation, but explain parallel universes?  Go ahead.  Examples would be helpful… no.  Can you see this leads to a dead-end?

So, now humbled, we can get back to the tangent at hand.

First let me answer the question, what does philosophical modality have to do with the movie A Serious Man?

The reality of movies is the perfect metaphor for modal primitivism.  (Tangent – I warned you!)  Modal primitivism  is a metaphysical interpretation of philosophical modality.  It says the universe’s underlying reality is not just about nailing down the facts, so to speak, via solving enough mathematical problems or adding enough dimensions or worlds to account for everything.  The metaphysics of primitivism creates an essential distinction.  Some kind of carrier of necessity and possibility is needed above and beyond “modal facts,” or  logical statements about cause and effect.  Modal primitivism says, for instance, that connections between objects and their origins are necessary.  A mental image of a chair is not a real chair.  Possible outcomes are part of reality if and when they are contingent on a set of quite real initial conditions.  And finally, modal primitivism suggests that existence which manifests from nothing must be possible, particularly if you wish to suggest the manufacturing of an infinite number of parallel universes (aka possible worlds) to solve every problem imaginable!

Which brings me back to movies.  Movies are the closest we have come yet to making parallel universes real – a story acted out, filmed, viewed by millions.  Their existence proves that modal primitivism has to be satisfied before any model of reality can be accepted as complete.

In the period just before John died he had left academic physics and was studying modal philosophy and Buddhism.  But not in a human potential way you might expect.  He had an agenda.  He was intent on cracking open the problems that crop up in physics so often in the form of dualities, exclusion principles, and generally irreconcilability among the scales of physics.

[See my newly minted Physics Disclaimer.]

I got hints and insight about his thinking from time to time.  I grew up hearing about physics from him and the people he studied with.  Later we shared an interest in Tibetan Buddhism, me because of my mentor-in-the-kitchen Chonyi, him because of its ancient and varied doctrines. That was easy to continue after he was gone.  But the modal philosophy proved a bit trickier.  I ended up asking for help from a friend of the family, a philosophy professor, who hooked me up with a grad student who wanted an interesting thesis project, in this case, studying an ancient relic in relation to modal primitivism.

Nothing in modern physics fills this “primitive” metaphysical requirement.  Or I should say nothing-ness.

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Metaphysical Yoga

Yesterday I heard an interview with writer and yoga teacher Matthew Sanford on NPR’s Speaking of Faith.   Amazing, gifted person whose body was disabled after a car accident at the age of 13.  Check out the following, which is an excerpt he read from his recent memoir Waking:

Imagine walking from a well-lit room into a dark one. Imagine the darkness as a visual expression of silence. My rehabilitation made a mistake with the silence by focusing on the absence of light. It too quickly accepted the loss and taught me to willfully strike out against the darkness. It told me to move faster rather than slower, push harder rather than softer. It guided me to compensate for what I could not see.

Another course of action, however, is patience. Stop moving, wait for the eyes to adjust, allow for stillness and then see what’s possible. Although full-fledged vision does not return, usually there is enough light to find one’s way across the room. After a while, the moon may come out, sounds might gain texture, the world might reveal itself once again, only darker.

The darkness of certain physical views like quantum mechanics and the uncertainty principle is dramatic.  Its experts have all had metaphysical rehab!   Media, art and literature accept their rehabilitated opinions, which morph into cultural messages full of positive spins – and, to certain ears, irony.  Quantum leap over your limitations… uncertainty makes the universe exciting, or… in an alternate universe you may be experiencing bliss!  After my brother parted ways with the physics community he regularly lamented this.

I would take it one step further now. Should theorists lose track of one basic principle – that physical theories must connect to physical reality – what would keep the problem from spiraling into a new type of darkness, one of human making?

[I am aware I keep mixing two notions of darkness / nothingness that are quite distinct.  See my Philosophy Disclaimer.]

Matthew Sanford says something similar happens to the disabled all the time.  They accept their fate as being cut off from their physical bodies rather than of needing to become more finely attuned to it and accepting of its subtleties.  First and foremost being as whole as possible should be more important that being “a fighter,” or in the case of physicists avoiding metaphysical crises, of being a pedant?  (That was John’s favorite insult to hurl at career physicists.)

Matthew Sanford, in reconnecting his mind and emotions with his disabled body, says he identified a common source of physical limitation in the world.  Without knowing it even able-bodied people disable themselves in small ways over a lifetime through closing down physical communication with the parts of themselves that hurt.  People’s focus is too often on accepting immediate relief through physical silence (a darkness of human making?).  He says instead we should focus on being patient with our existing capacity, however limited, and re-connecting with the energy and physical processes that built us in the first place.

Maybe I should rename this weblog Metaphysical Yoga.

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The Relic

Until a year ago I had NO idea there were intricate international, government and law enforcement bodies dedicated to protecting old stuff.   Registries of things-people-might-want-to-steal and valuable-stuff-that-doesn’t-look-it abound, including registries of already looted relics and art.  In principle I’m glad people care about history, prize beauty, etc.   I’m less impressed by rich people wanting to protect or even escalate the value of their abstract investments. I’m really frustrated at being forced to the wrong end of this good-intentioned scheme that has no independent system of justice.  Those in positions of power get to use it to their advantage.  Period.  Oftentimes they’re working for good and playing fair, but when it’s for bad, too bad.

When my brother John and I were given a relic in 2008 while on a trip to China and Tibet I never imagined I would be lamenting such a thing.

(Wondering about my political views on Tibet… see my Anti-political Disclaimer.)

The relic was taken from me and Brooklyn (John’s widow) at a physics conference in Turkey a year later.  Brooklyn began an invited talk on the relic and its relationship to John’s unconventional observations of physics, and ten minutes in UNESCO’s cultural property police, who were waiting in the wings, confiscated it.    I suspect Dr. Bernie Ghes orchestrated the whole thing.   He’s been wanting to get his hands on it ever since John’s death.  Death to the relic too.  I’m guessing his wish has come true and it’s been bagged and labeled into oblivion.

Our gift was stolen from us by bad guy good guys.

Here’s a stylized rendering of the carvings found on and WITHIN the relic.   Again, we never dreamed it would be stolen and have little record of it other than what we remember.  My friend Peter created this last summer from sketches and descriptions I provided.

Tibetan relic series of carvings

The relic looked basically like a dingy, lumpy brick.  It was hundreds of years old and apparently made of rock that is common but sacred in Tibet, not a man-made material like metal or ceramic.  “Positive” and “negative” carvings, in the pattern you see here in the top frame, decorated opposite faces of the brick.  The patterns of the bottom two frames were visible as carvings only when the brick was pried open at its two center seems.  So in each case there was a carving and its “negative” on opposite faces.  A three-dimensional puzzle of sorts.

Another friend Cam, a philosophy grad student, was the one who noticed the seams along the uncarved sides and proposed prying at them.   Luckily, at the moment we had butter lamps at our disposal, and that did the trick getting the old joined together pieces to release.

John never saw the relic open so he only saw 1/3 of its content.  Relic aside, he was fixated on wave-particle duality.  So the pattern he saw (the first frame) on the relic bolstered his fascination (though at least one friend has joked it looks like a snake with a tumor).  What he always described when he talked about the relic was its, how do I put it, magical properties.  He claimed that the relic changed in unpredicted ways in different types of light.   He died the same night he took it out for a moonlight ride – to see if he might discover different properties in that kind of light.

Early on I was more interested in establishing connections to the relic’s origin.   The discovery of the embedded carvings opened up a whole new question in my mind of the significance of the set of carvings though.  Recently, with the visit to the Chenpo Terma, the two perspectives finally converged.

The carvings on the relic and “portrait” in the Chenpo Terma are not connected to the existing understanding of Dolpopa’s 14th century central doctrines (on emptiness) in an obvious way.  Still, both terma, literally “wisdom treasures,” are ascribed significance by those who know his doctrines well.  Which leads me to conclude they may have significance all their own.  Could they represent cosmological extensions of Dolpopa’s doctrinal work?  It’s entirely possible that esoteric gnostics actively pursued such insights up until the middle of the 17th century.   Not coincidentally, that is was when Tibet’s civil war ended, and all but Gelukpa (the dominant “yellow hat” sect headed by the Dalai Lama) doctrine was banished.

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Necessity: The paradox of naming things… like this weblog

My posts so far have been about recent events, how they affected me, and why I decided to weblog.   The question remains, Why should anyone care?

A good place to start is with the title of the weblog.  You might be asking,what’s with “Hidden: The paradox of revealing nothingness” aside from, perhaps, a clever word play?  Maybe you get that I am in hiding, something about stealing relics and bad guy physicists, but are not clear if I am revealing nothingness or caught in a paradox where nothingness is the unfortunate consequence.  If it’s the first, then you may be unsure how you are supposed to tell when there is a revelation vs. nothingness vs. a revelation about nothingness.

Before we switch on the lights in a panic, I hope you will take a deep breath with me and consider that the dark is nothing to be afraid of.  At least not here.  You may wish I would turn on the lights and just give you a friendly tour.  You may be increasingly uncomfortable, imagining zombies, or hoards of bugs, or death each time I remind you that the lights are out.  But turning on the lights would mean deferring to our dominant sense, to “see” a problem that, while not imaginary, can only be solved by evoking our other senses.  No matter how many times someone tells you there are no such things as zombies, until you sit in the dark, awake, aware, and alone, and prove it to yourself, you will not be able to answer the more interesting question, Does nothingness have something to reveal?

When it comes to pondering nothingness (metaphorically = darkness), I would equate “using all of your senses” to letting our collective blend of scientific wisdom (wonder), faith and philosophy mingle instead of reflexively evoking a media sound byte understanding of valid debates and concepts.

I have reason to believe that these things – wonder, faith and metaphysical philosophy can be brought together only in darkness.  Not darkness in the sense of uncertainty and fear though.  Darkness in the sense of potential, of a coherence that, if it exists, is not separate, to be observed, but must be conceived.  The place it exists is in the paradox of revealing nothingness.

We are hardly the first to bravely go where I am suggesting I will go.  Any of you familiar with lay theologian C.S. Lewis’s “Wood Between the Worlds,” central to his Chronicles of Narnia prequel The Magician’s Nephew, can consider this endeavor a scientific and philosophical application of that spiritual vision.   Far, far fewer of you may be familiar yet with the radical doctrine of a 14th century Buddhist monk Dolpopa.  It energized, and divided, Tibet’s spiritual development for three centuries.  Then in the 17th century, political agendas that eventually led to the re-stabilization of Tibet and its establishment as a theocracy, squashed the rich diversity of doctrines such as Dolpopa’s that had flourished.   A potent doctrinal vacuum resulted.  I would compare it to the reality crisis sparked this century by the indoctrination of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics.  Not just nothingness but emptiness, nothingness devoid of the possibility of meaning and ruled by uncertainty.

__________

This 5 minute YouTube video “What is theoretical physics for?” is fascinating in relation to what I’m doing here.  Youth plus the perceived nothingness that surrounds us, in relation to physics theory, metaphysics and beyond.  Check out the funky lighting… he’s barely illuminated in the darkness.  Very humble.  I like that.

I know I said media perspective is bad, but I meant mainstream media…

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Time-ly article reminds me of John’s trouble

An online commentary from the NYT today delivered a bittersweet reminder.  In “The Stone: What Is a Philosopher?” Simon Critchley, an academic philosopher, recounts:

Socrates tells the story of Thales, who was by some accounts the first philosopher. He was looking so intently at the stars that he fell into a well. Some witty Thracian servant girl is said to have made a joke at Thales’ expense — that in his eagerness to know what went on in the sky he was unaware of the things in front of him and at his feet.

Critchley went on to flatter the field and make plenty of jabs at unphilosophical professionals who lack not only ethics and morals but the ability to understand them.

My brother was not a trained philosopher, but he traveled down its well-strewn path and fell in and never got out.  He drowned.   Not metaphorically.  Really.
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Cast of Characters

Me – “Cherokee Paul”

22yo swf, native of the west coast of the US, current location unspecified, assumed identity, forced into anonymity by the bad guys who leveled accusations of me being an international Tibetan relic thief.

My parents – let’s call them Dick and Jane Paul

Both are academicians, specifically feminist epistemology and social science. Mortified that I aspire to own a kitchen garden restaurant.  In their minds I am supposed to aspire to break stereotypes by becoming a top biochemist.

My brother – let’s call him John Paul

10 years older than me, famous physicist who went rogue, died last year.  He was not crazy or a threat to himself, and his death was no ordinary accident.

John’s widow – Brooklyn Saffire

(that’s not her real name, I hope you get the idea by now)

Brooklyn is a writer who has become one of my travel partners since John died.

My mentor – Chonyi Gharma

He’s so cool I can’t even explain.  Tibetan ex-pat, owns a restaurant that I worked at all through high school and some since.  Leader of the secret society the Sangha-dhatu that has guarded the location of the Chenpo Terma, at least I think he is.  Still sort of a secret.

Dr. Bernie Ghes

Prize-winning author of self-important books such as Knowing the Unknowable.  Bad guy physicist.  Looter of those less influential than him (i.e. me and the relic given to me and my brother by a Chinese scholar desperate to see it not fall into the wrong hands).

Dr. Roger Dinsch

Australian physician.  Travels to conduct first-hand research into superhuman feats by Tibetan holy men.  My hero.  Dr. D is always in the right place at the right time, and is a walking encyclopedia of unusual (and super-useful) facts.