April 21 2013

* realms

"A man's friendships are one of the best measures of his worth."
(Charles Darwin)


Dumbing down is a very different kind of threat to scientific sensibility. The 'Public Understanding of Science' movement, provoked in America by the Soviet Union's triumphant entry into the space race and driven today, at least in Britain, by public alarm over a decline in applications for science places at universities, is going demotic. 'Science Weeks' and 'Science Fortnights' betray an anxiety among scientists to be loved. Funny hats and larky voices proclaim that science is fun, fun, fun. Whacky 'personalities' perform explosions and funky tricks. I recently attended a briefing session where scientists were urged to put on events in shopping malls designed to lure people into the joys of science. The speedier advised us to do nothing that might conceivably be seen as a turn-off. Always make your science 'relevant' to ordinary people's lives, to what goes on in their own kitchen or bathroom. Where possible, choose experimental materials that your audience can eat at the end. At the last event organized by the speaker himself, the scientific phenomenon that really grabbed attent ion was the urinal that automatically flushed as you stepped away. The very word science is best avoided, we were told, because 'ordinary people' see it as threatening.

I have little doubt that such dumbing down will be successful if our aim is to maximize the total population count at our 'event'. But when I protest that what is being marketed here is not real science, I am rebuked for my 'elitism' and told that luring people in, by any means, is a necessary first step. Well, if we must use the word (I wouldn't), maybe elitism is not such a terrible thing. And there is a great difference between an exclusive snobbery and an embracing, flattering elitism that strives to help people to raise their game and join the elite. A calculated dumbing down is the worst: condescending and patronizing. When I gave these views in a recent lecture in America, a questioner at the end, no doubt with a glow of political self-congratulation in his white male heart, had the insulting impertinence to suggest that dumbing down might be necessary to bring 'minorities and women' to science.

I worry that to promote science as all fun and larky and easy is to store up trouble for the future. Real science can be hard (well, challenging, to give it a more positive spin) but, like classical literature or playing the violin, worth the struggle. If children are lured into science, or any other worthwhile occupation, by the promise of easy fun, what are they going to do when they finally have to confront the reality? Recruiting advertisements for the army rightly don't promise a picnic: they seek young people dedicated enough to stand the pace. 'Fun' sends the wrong signals and might attract people to science for the wrong reasons. Literary scholarship is in danger of becoming similarly und ermined. Idle students are seduced into a debased 'Cultural Studies', on the promise that they will spend their time deconstructing soap operas, tabloid princesses and Tellytubbies. Science, like proper literary studies, can be hard and challenging but science is - also like proper literary studies wonderful. Science can pay its way but, like great art, it shouldn't have to.

And we shouldn't need whacky personalities and fun explosions to persuade us of the value of a life spent finding out why we have life in the first place.

I fear that I may have been too negative in this attack, but there are times when a pendulum has swung far enough and needs a strong push in the other direction to restore equilibrium. Of course science is fun, in the sense that it is the very opposite of boring. It can enthral a good mind for a lifetime. Certainly, practical demonstrations can help to make ideas vivid and lasting in the mind. From Michael Faraday's Royal Institution Christmas Lectures to Richard Gregory's Bristol Exploratory, children have been excited by hands - on experience of true science. I have myself been honoured to give the Christmas Lectures, in their modern televised form, and I depended upon plenty of hands - on demonstrations. Faraday never dumbed down. I am attacking only the kind of populist whoring that defiles the wonder of science.
(Richard Dawkins, Unweaving the Rainbow)


"The creative act is a letting down of the net of human imagination into the ocean of chaos on which we are suspended, and the attempt to bring out of it ideas. It is the night sea journey, the lone fisherman on a tropical sea with his nets, and you let these nets down. Sometimes, something tears through them that leaves them in shreds and you just row for shore, and put your head under your bed and pray. At other times what slips through are the minutiae, the minnows of this ichthyological metaphor of idea chasing. But, sometimes, you can actually bring home something that is food, food for the human community that we can sustain ourselves on and go forward."
(Terence McKenna)

Billions More to Come | By Patrick Watts



In these realms, states can range from occasional hells to hells of constant torment. The suffering of the hells can be experienced for what seems like a thousand lifetimes. Time drags on without end.

In this state of existence all thought has to be directed towards mere survival; there is no striving for perfection. Serious intellectual thought is impractical for one in such poor mental condition. You cannot speak to a person about lofty ideals while their head is on fire; they are too busy frantically seeking a bucket of water.
(Poison for the Heart, KS)

Preta Realms


Pretas (entities residing in the preta realms) tend to feel empty, insubstantial, ignored, and barely alive. No matter what beauty surrounds them, they see only ugliness. No matter what gains they may make, satisfaction eludes. For this reason they are known as "Craving ghosts". As in the hell realms, there is no arduous striving for ideals, only a wretched scratching for survival.
(Poison for the Heart, KS)

Animal Realms


Those who are termed "animals" do not suffer greatly, for they do not use their brains enough to suffer. They are experts in submission and in the creation of authorities which they proudly worship. They are like sheep, content to follow, and to be led, rather than to think and take control of their own lives. They are beasts of burden, ruled by the whip of duty and guilt. Or they are like cows contentedly grazing in a field, unaware that the cold steel of the abattoir awaits them. Again, there is some desire, but no burning passion for truth and perfection.
(Poison for the Heart, KS)

Warring Gods


The remaining realms of desire are called the god realms. We call the people in these realms "gods" because their behaviour seems miraculous or magical. They have far greater concentration, clarity of mind, intelligence, intuition, memory, confidence, and happiness than those in any of the previous realms.

The warring gods consist of the suras and asuras. The asuras are known as the "jealous gods" because of their jealousy of the material achievements of the suras. They are in constant battle against the suras, but are always badly defeated by the superior mental and material strength of the suras.

This warring nature is often exhibited in businessmen, politicians, and academics. Some have "got it", while others, for all their talent, simply don't have the required winning magic.
(Poison for the Heart, KS)

Human Realms


A "human birth" is exceedingly rare, numbering perhaps only one in every several thousand people. Such a mind has learned to value reason in earnest, and can therefore be reasoned with! This human mind has room for doubt, and for the knowledge that something new is possible, which is the ground for learning. Humans possess ideals and their accompanying passions, which is in sharp contrast to the passionless, content and unchanging animal people.

Reason dilutes pain, so the suffering of humans is not crushing, and therefore does not keep them from deep and penetrating thought. Reason also dilutes joy, preventing the blissful happiness which would make one content with pleasing illusions.
(Poison for the Heart, KS)

Deva Realms


The devas, who "inhabit" the deva realms, remain within the realm of desire as they still undergo subtle sufferings, and possess small seeds of idealistic desire. Consequently they have some potential for learning, and may later attain human rebirth. That is, they may become more rational, losing their blissful, yet ignorant mind. Devas are rare indeed, even more so than humans. They often appear as exceptional musicians, novelists and the like.
(Poison for the Heart, KS)