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Arts & Sciences, models & illustrations, Buddhas within mandalas

Friday, June 29th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — on the illustration, visualization and modeling of supposed reality — note: I am no scientist, no artist, in fact an aphantasic ]
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A telling caption to an image in New Scientist gave rather more of the game away than was maybe intended.

The image:

The caption:

We have no pictures of the real thing, so enjoy this one instead. Oliver Burston/Alamy

**

It’s a nice image, and could be used to represent Lise Meitner‘s discovery of nuclear fission, or some new feature of Kepler’s Supernova, or even, Lord knows, to sell collectible gold coin or diamonds.. And it brings up in acute form an issue I’ve long had with science — in the context of education and the last century’s growing indifference to the arts and humanities.

How much of what passes for science in the pop science press is in fact art, and specifically photography? And as a sub-question, how much of the impact a particular piece of scientific work receives is dependent on the various qualities of the illustrations used to accompany and promote it — which all too often fit the description in the caption above:

We have no pictures of the real thing, so enjoy this one instead.

Or alternatively, shooting for something a little more frank, but not too terribly impolite:

We have no pictures of the real thing, so enjoy this bullshit instead.

**

We hardly ever have a picture of the real thing — which occurs at nano-scale, or outside the visible spectrum, or —

Well, some while back, we discussed (ignorantly, rest assured, De Docta Ignorantia, qv) a mathematical object of interest to physicists known as The Amplituhedron:

The Amplituhedron can alternatively be illustrated thus:

There’s a donut for anyone who can imagine what can possibly merit both illustrations!

**

On our way to an understanding of the Amplituhedron, we pass by diagrams such as this:

— immediately followed by these words:

Although it is hard to draw the complete four-dimensional polytope, its four three-dimensional faces each define square-pyramidal regions of G(2, 4)

— as, for instance, this:

**

Oh, c’mon, it’s not that hard, just visualize it!

Tibetan monks can visualize things like this 3-D palace replete with Vases, Wish-granting Trees, Bodhisattvas, Tathagatas and Shaktis, all surrounding the deity Kalachakra and his Consort, Vishvamata

And the vajrayanist Tibetan practitioners, yes, manage this just by PhD and postdoc level visualization practice, with diagrammatic assists like this:

— and a blueprint like this:

— always bearing in mind that, eh, “Kalachakra is a black skinned, four-faced god with twelve arms and twenty-four hands, in passionate embrace with his consort”:

Kalachakra and Vishvamata, from the Rubin Museum of Art

**

Ah, but that’s arts and humanities > comparative religion > Tibetan meditation, not sciences > physics > mathematical physics, eh?

In all this, I intend to defend both science, properly so understood, as practiced bt qualified practitioners within its various subdisciplines, and arts and humanities, properly so understood, as practiced bt qualified practitioners within their various subdisciplines — while making clear the overwhelmingly important distinction that illustrations are all too often not science but STEM-propaganda, glossy / shiny objects passing for science while in fact falling under the categories of illustration or photography.

**

This isn’t, for instance, in any scientific sense, the Horseshoe Nebula

It’s, as its title suggests, a reproduction of a compositie color image of the Horseshoe Nebula

— and to be honest, it may bear as much resemblance to a horse’s head as this reoroductionf of a color image of a seahorse does:

**

Just let’s keep the arts’ contribution to science illustration filed under arts (illustration), and math diagrams filed under math (diagrams) — I’ve included some of both above — and maybe the arts and humanities will get to siphon off some of the excitement and funding currently pouring into the coffers of (poor little) science.

Tibetan Buddhists FTW!

**

Ooh-wah!

Art or science?

Gravitational lens RX J1131-1231 galaxy with the lens galaxy at the center and four lensed background quasars

That, at least, is what they tell me..

Fly fishing with Trump, Priebus and Suzuki Roshi

Saturday, July 29th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — or fly swatting, fly watching, in white house and zendo ]
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Trump once summoned Priebus to kill a fly in Oval Office: report

A source told The Washington Post that once during an Oval Office meeting, a fly began buzzing around Trump’s head, distracting him. Trump eventually summoned Priebus and told him to kill the fly. As a senior White House staffer, the chief of staff would not ordinarily be tasked with such matters.

**

I was going to write something about the fly being the buzzing, distracting thought that disturbs the quiet of meditation — but hey, I’m not a zen master, I just play one, as the saying goes..

Shunryu Suzuki, om the other hand, just might be the real thing, and in his book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, on pp 68-69 he leaves the question of the fly open:

Peace is with the Withinners

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — ever grateful ]
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Top-down peace talks are by no means a bad thing, maybe even a source of joy..

but to tell the truth..

.. peace is with the withinners:

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Sources:

  • Pravmir, Egypt’s Al-Azhar University to Hold Peace Conference With Pope
  • NCR, Vatican calls on Catholics and Buddhists to work together to promote nonviolence
  • A tip-of-the-hat to Ursula Le Guin for her marvelous coinage, “the withinner”.

    6,000 years and still together

    Sunday, February 26th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — from a burial to Buddhism, just a skip and a jump away ]
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    A sweet visual DoubleQuote I ran across today —

    — shows on the right, the Lovers of Valdaro — a matched pair of skeletons of which Time wrote in 2011:

    For 6,000 years, two young lovers have been locked in an eternal embrace, hidden from the eyes of the world. This past weekend, the Lovers of Valdaro — named for the little village near Mantua, in northern Italy, where they were first discovered — were seen by the public for the first time.

    On the left, you have an artist’s representation of how they might have been embraced in death.

    **

    All of which reminds me of Buddhist meditation on death, and of the dancing skeleton couple known collectively as Citipati:

    By Wonderlane – https://www.flickr.com/photos/wonderlane/3172647615/in/photostream/, CC BY 2.0, Link

    Wiki tells us:

    Citipati is a protector deity or supernatural being in Tibetan Buddhism and Vajrayana Buddhism of India. It is formed of two skeletal deities, one male and the other female, both dancing wildly with their limbs intertwined inside a halo of flames representing change. The Citipati is said to be one of the seventy-five forms of Mahakala. Their symbol is meant to represent both the eternal dance of death as well as perfect awareness. They are invoked as ‘wrathful deities’, benevolent protectors or fierce beings of demonic appearance. The dance of the Citipati is commemorated twice annually in Tibet.

    **

    Considering two together as one is a recurring interest of mine, see also my posts on duel and duet — themselves a great pairing or dual — in Duel in slow time and more prosaically, Numbers by the numbers: two.

    Also: Of dualities, contradictions and the nonduality.

    Nesting Buddhas and insubstantiality

    Monday, July 25th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — from the Buddha’s Diamond Sutra via matrioshka dolls and koans to Sun Tzu and Wittgenstein ]
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    From Karl Brunnhölzl, The Heart Sutra Will Change You Forever, in today’s Lion’s Roar:

    Besides being a meditation manual, we could also say that the Heart Sutra is like a big koan. But it is not just one koan, it is like those Russian dolls: there is one big doll on the outside and then there is a smaller one inside that first one, and there are many more smaller ones in each following one.

    After reading that, I wasn’t exactly expecting to find illustrations of Buddhas in the form of Matryoshka dolls on Google, but in fact there are quite a few variants on the theme. Here’s one, original source unknown:

    matryoshka_buddha

    Buddhism actually has a doctrine of the Trikaya or three bodies of Buddha, as described in the dictionarily dry words of the Britannica:

    Trikaya, (Sanskrit: “three bodies”), in Mah?y?na Buddhism, the concept of the three bodies, or modes of being, of the Buddha: the dharmakaya (body of essence), the unmanifested mode, and the supreme state of absolute knowledge; the sambhogakaya (body of enjoyment), the heavenly mode; and the nirmanakaya (body of transformation), the earthly mode, the Buddha as he appeared on earth or manifested himself in an earthly bodhisattva, an earthly king, a painting, or a natural object, such as a lotus.

    — and point you to a deeper reading as set forth by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, whose understanding far surpasses anything I could muster.

    I don’t. however, believe these three bodies are “nested” quite the way the Russian dolls are..

    **

    Now let’s get down to business. In the same article, Brunnhölzl writes:

    Many people have complained about the Prajnaparamita Sutras because they also trash all the hallmarks of Buddhism itself, such as the four noble truths, the Buddhist path, and nirvana. These sutras not only say that our ordinary thoughts, emotions, and perceptions are invalid and that they do not really exist as they seem to, but that the same goes for all the concepts and frameworks of philosophical schools—non- Buddhist schools, Buddhist schools, and even the Mahayana, the tradition to which the Prajnaparamita Sutras belong.

    That’s by normal western standards, is pretty strong philosophical meat. But Brunnhölzl continues, asking:

    Is there any other spiritual tradition that says, “Everything that we teach, just forget about it”?

    **

    I sense a slight “my path is edgier than yours” tinge to that question, so I didn’t treat it as rhetorical, I pondered it — and in my googling ran across this rather neat pair of DoubleQuotes, which had been put together by Noah Greenstein in a blog-post titled Wittgenstein and Sun Tzu (on throwing the ladder away):

    DQ Sun Tzu Wittgenstein ladders

    and which I’ve presented here using one of my own DoubleQuotes formats.

    **

    It should be noted, however, that the Sun Tzu translation quoted here is the 1910 Leonard Giles version, that the text with a little more context reads:

    At the critical moment, the leader of an army acts like one who has climbed up a height and then kicks away the ladder behind him. He carries his men deep into hostile territory before he shows his hand. He burns his boats and breaks his cooking-pots..

    and that Giles‘ own comment on “the leader of an army acts like one who has climbed up a height and then kicks away the ladder behind him” reads:

    literally, “releases the spring” (see V. § 15), that is, takes some decisive step which makes it impossible for the army to return—like # Hsiang Yü, who sunk his ships after crossing a river.

    Sun Tzu as quoted here, then, is not in fact a great match for Wittgenstein — but Wittgenstein, who can indeed be said to have “thrown away” his own early philosophy as outlined in the Tractatus before acquiring the new one outlined in his Philosophical Investigations, comes far closer in spirit to the Diamond Sutra as discussed above.

    **

    Did I say the Heartv Sutra was “pretty strong meat”? I did. Perhaps this excerpt from Brunnhölzl’ piece will bring the point home:

    There are accounts in several of the larger Prajnaparamita Sutras about people being present in the audience who had already attained certain advanced levels of spiritual development or insight that liberated them from samsaric existence and suffering. These people, who are called “arhats” in Buddhism, were listening to the Buddha speaking about emptiness and then had different reactions. Some thought, “This is crazy, let’s go” and left. Others stayed, but some of them had heart attacks, vomited blood, and died. It seems they didn’t leave in time. These arhats were so shocked by what they were hearing that they died on the spot. That’s why somebody suggested to me that we could call the Heart Sutra the Heart Attack Sutra.

    Now that’s serious philosophy.

    **

    Okay, this has been an early morning meander, sufficient to drive away both fatigue and insomnia. On with the insubstantial day..


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