Yearly Archive: 2015

No Room for Form

The Zen teacher says, “The secret is in you.  You are the secret.” What does it mean? The truth offered in these two short sentences is cryptic, and almost tautological. The meaning of my search for truth is in me. If I have found myself, the secret is gone, because I have realized that it was in me all along. In order to find it, however, I need someone to help me, and in this case it is the Zen teacher. Furthermore: The truth is not conceptual. the secret is not a thing, and it is never something that can be found. It is right here,...

The Message of Jesus

During the Fall of 2015,  I was teaching a class on mysticism, and the question was raised, what are the central teachings of Jesus? Is Jesus a mystic? What are the ingredients for a genuine Christian life? These questions are important because one cannot claim to be Christian and at the same time ignore the examples set by the life of Jesus. It is not enough to proclaim that “Jesus saved me and will save you” in order to be a true Christian, despite  the claim that salvation occurs through faith alone. What are the central teachings of Jesus, and what are...

What is Zen?

Thomas Merton describes in his 1961 book “Mystics and Zen Masters” how the tradition of Zen resonates and overlaps with mystical traditions worldwide. He also examines various Christian monastic traditions in order to show us the similarities and differences in the search for mystical experience across cultures and religions. The following comments, based on quotes from his book, illustrate that he understands the Zen insight as a direct grasp of being in itself, not an intuition of the nature of being. It is not an intellectual act, and also not the result of contemplation or other meditation practices. Merton also...

The Rivers of Europe

The rivers of Europe are the veins that run through European culture and geography. They are the main lines of transportation and commerce, they irrigate and feed the surrounding landscapes, but they also serve as natural borders. European rivers are celebrated in songs and poems; they play a major role in the economy as well as in politics. Hundreds of rivers and their tributaries crisscross the European continent, thus connecting many cities and landscapes. Nowadays, tourism booms along these rivers: River cruises offer an easy way for foreigners to travel through Europe and experience many cities and historic places close-up. The following list includes...

Kierkegaard: The Inwardness of Existence

Kierkegaard’s works are interesting to read, they have a freshness and intensity that separates them from other philosophical writings. It is easy to get lost in his aphorisms – but what are the main features of his thought? I will examine his view of becoming a Christian, his idea of a “subjective truth,” and the “dialectic of existence.”  

Existentialism Today

The task of facing one’s life cannot be met by reasoning alone; it cannot be captured in an abstract system. It requires concrete choices and actions of existing individuals in order to make it meaningful. Existentialism is a philosophical approach aimed at understanding human existence from the point of view of the experiencing subject, not from an academic distance. In the words of Søren Kierkegaard: ‘It is perfectly true, as philosophers say, that life must be understood backward. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards. And if one thinks about that proposition, it becomes more and more evident that life can never really be understood in time simply because at no particular moment can I find the necessary resting place from which to understand it—backwards.’

You are my Creator, but I am your Master.

“Nature” has different meanings: It is the horizon of civilization, it is the material from which everything is made, and it is the origin to which everything wants to return. By “nature” we also mean the basic form which determines what something is. Aristotle thought that this natural form also determines the purpose something has. And finally, we human beings have a nature too – but how do we define it?

The Happiness of Fish

The “happiness of fish” refers to a story in the Zhuangzhi, which is a Chinese book (c. 286 BCE), and one of the foundational texts of Taoism. The story consists of a dialog between Chuang Tzu and Hui Tzu, Most of the Zhuangzi passages portray Hui Tzu (or Hui Shi) as a rival of Zhuangzi. Hui Shi acts as an intellectual opponent –  he argues the alternative viewpoint, or criticizes the Taoist perspective, and his arguments are often laced with humor. The following famous story of the Zhuang-Hui dialogues concerns the subjectivity of happiness, and whether we can know anything about other...

The Life of a Bee

The following video shows the 21 day transformation of the honeybee from larvae to nature’s greatest pollinator in a 60-second timelapse. The video was produced in a partnership between Anand Varma and the Bee Lab at the University of California, Davis. And here is his commentary, from a TED talk: Like most advanced insects, bees go through a complete metamorphosis during their development. The young and the adult look very different, and the diet of the young and the adults differ so much that there is no competition for food between parents and their offspring. The life stages are egg, larva, pupa and adult....

Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961)

Carl Jung was a Swiss psychoanalyst who created a version of psychoanalysis that is still very popular today. His system blends to some degree with New Age thinking and resonates with a popular cultural trend that is fascinated by mythology, dreams, storytelling, and archetypes.

What is life?

The study of life is the domain of biology as a natural discipline. Biology examines all living organisms, and focuses on structure, function, growth, evolution, distribution, as well as the taxonomy of life forms. Life itself is hard to define, because there is such an extraordinary diversity in its manifestations. It is more like a process, rather than a substance or state. Is it possible to develop a definition for life? Is there something that is common to all life? A good definition must be broad enough to encompass all known life forms, as well as leave room for the forms of...

Josef Koudelka: Photos from the Underside of Europe

Josef Koudelka, a Czech photographer, was born in Moravia, Czechoslovakia, in 1938. He began to take photographs as a student in the 1950s. He started a career as an aeronautical engineer in 1961; during that time he began photographing Gypsies. He also worked part-time taking photos of theater performances in Prague. In 1967, he became a full-time photographer. In 1968, Koudelka documented the Soviet invasion of Prague, publishing his photographs under the initials P. P. (Prague Photographer) for fear of reprisal to him and his family. In 1969, he was anonymously awarded the Overseas Press Club’s Robert Capa, Gold Medal,...

The Getty Museum in LA

The Getty Center has a very impressive collection of paintings, sculptures, and photos, but what makes it truly unique is the architecture. It sits like a castle on top of a hill, overlooking LA, and is build with Travertine stone, glass, and steel. The garden is truly extraordinary – it is itself a piece of art, surrounded by the museum buildings. It was opened in 1997, and it cost 1.3 billion dollars to build. Designed by architect Richard Meier, the Center also houses the Getty Research Institute, the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Foundation, and the J. Paul Getty Trust. The Getti Foundation has...

Chai Jing: Under the Dome

China’s economy has grown around 9 to 10 percent for the last 20 years. One of the side-effects of this economic miracle is extreme environmental damage: Pollution in China is by now legendary, but the full picture is still emerging. On March 2nd, Chai Jing, a Chinese journalist and writer, released a documentary about air pollution that she produced herself “Under the Dome”. By March 3rd, 2015, the film had been viewed more than 150 million times in China, and sparked widespread discussions. On March 7, the film was blocked on Chinese websites. The Chinese government was consulted during the production...

Venice Beach, the Hyperreality of California

Venice Beach is California at its best: the diversity, irreverence, and playfulness of Venice Beach attracts millions of visitors every year, and whenever I am in LA, I feel a strong urge to go there. With all its diversity, it seems to remain what it always was: Street shops for tattoos, marijuana, and T-shirts, entertainers performing their shows with sizable audiences, graffiti, ballgames, roller-blades, and tourists. There is a back side, an older portion of town in the back alleys,  with small houses, and occasionally you find a corner where the homeless and poor young travelers congregate. Venice Beach was once a...

Ancient Chinese Proverbs

The proverbs of China form an embodied philosophy; they transmit a common-sense approach to life mixed with a deep sense of humor, and compassion for failure. The origins of most these sayings and quotes are lost in the mists of time; some appear to be related to comments by Confucius and other ancient sages. Some also appear elsewhere, for instance in the Zen sayings from Japan. You can fond many sources of Chinese proverbs; Amazon has many books dedicated to Chinese proverbs. Here is a small collection: A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because...

What is characteristic about Human Rights?

Human rights are universal: all human beings have these rights, for no other reason than their humanity and the values attached to humanity; this means that human rights precede and trump considerations of national sovereignty and that national sovereignty, therefore, does not provide a means to escape human rights obligations. They are also moral claims, and therefore they are grounded in morality, not just law. They are necessary for the protection and realization of certain fundamental, basic and universal human values and interests. They are instrumental principles in the sense that we don’t want them for their own sake; they are means for the creation of better life quality and not just goals in themselves.

Visit at the De Young Museum, Jan 2015

I really like the De Young Museum in San Francisco; it is worth a visit every year. The museum’s architecture is just as interesting as the collections themselves. It is located right in the middle of the Golden Gate Park,  across from the Japanese Tea Garden and the Academy of Sciences. It was completed in 2005, and it  is very earth-quake resistant. It adapts to the park environment due to a natural reddish-brown color created by oxidizing copper, and has a characteristic twisted tower that gives a magnificent view of the Golden Gate Park and San Francisco. The museum houses rich...

What does it mean to have rights?

When thinking about what it means to have a right it is sometimes useful to replace the word “right” with another word that expresses something similar. Let’s review some of these words in order to get a more differentiated notion of what it means to have rights. Each of these translations only capture an aspect of what we usually understand by the word “right,” but taken together they give a more comprehensive meaning of the concept of “rights”. This overview is partially based on the work of the influential American Jurist Wesley Hohfeld (1879-1918). Hohfeld’s analytic framework Wesley Hohfeld was a Harvard law professor who...

Finite and Infinite Games

A game is defined by its rules. In a finite game, the rules are designed for the purpose to have a winner, therefore to end the game. In an infinite game, the purpose is to play the game, therefore continue to play.
You know what the game is by knowing the  rules. Rules in a finite game are the terms  by which the players agree who has won. Rules are valid because the players agree to them. There is no rule that require us to obey the rules. (Saul Kripke on Wittgenstein.)
In a finite game, the players have to agree who won. Since there is a clear end, there must also be a clear beginning. The boundaries for finite games are externally defined.
Players have to play freely, or else it is not a game. Whoever must play, cannot play. This is the only commonality between finite and infinite games.
Infinite games have no boundaries: time is created within the game itself. One cannot say how long an infinite game has been played because it generates its own time.