Weekly Service Call Readings

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Here are some readings we've used at our Weekly Service Calls

Contents

Enthusiasm

Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.

--Ralph Waldo Emerson

I feel sorry for the person who can't get genuinely excited about his work. Not only will he never be satisfied, but he will never achieve anything worthwhile.

--Walter Chrysler

Together

Snowflakes are one of nature's most fragile things, but just look at what they can do when they stick together.

--Vesta Kelly


Light is the task where many share the toil.

--Homer


Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.

--Helen Keller


Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.

--Henry Ford

Don't be a Team Player

I don't like ass kissers, flag wavers or team players. I like people who buck the system. Individualists. I often warn people: "Somewhere along the way, someone is going to tell you, 'There is no "I" in team.' What you should tell them is, 'Maybe not. But there is an "I" in independence, individuality and integrity.'" Avoid teams at all cost. Keep your circle small. Never join a group that has a name. If they say, "We're the So-and-Sos," take a walk. And if, somehow, you must join, if it's unavoidable, such as a union or a trade association, go ahead and join. But don't participate; it will be your death. And if they tell you you're not a team player, congratulate them on being observant.

--George Carlin

Wholesome Fruits

Do not be satisfied with hearsay or with tradition or with legendary lore or with what has come down in scriptures or with conjecture or with logical inference or with weighing evidence or with liking for a view after pondering over it or with someone else’s ability or with the thought, ‘This monk is our teacher.’ When you know in yourselves: ‘These things are wholesome, blameless, commended by the wise, and being adopted and put into effect they lead to welfare and happiness,’ then you should practice and abide in them.

--From the Kalama Sutta (trans. Nanamoli Thera)


Lost (poem)

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you,
If you leave it you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.
- David Wagoner

The Earth (poem)

Two-thirds water.
One-third land.
Valleys deep.
Mountains grand.
Sky of blue.
Clouds of gray.
Life here, too --
Think I’ll stay.

After the Gold Rush (third verse of a song)

Well, I dreamed I saw the silver
Space ships flying (sic)
In the yellow haze of the sun,
There were children crying
And colors flying
All around the chosen ones.
All in a dream, all in a dream
The loading had begun.
They were flying Mother Nature's
Silver seed to a new home in the sun.
Flying Mother Nature's
Silver seed to a new home.
— Neil Young

Miscelaneous Science Fiction

Beyond Infinity; Part IV A Mad God; Chapter 4 Continents Alive; a few paragraphs from pp. 362-3

Sandwiched between layers of grit and grime, even those earliest life forms had found a way to make war. Why should matters be different now? Some microbe mat three billion years before had used sunlight to split water, liberating deadly oxygen. They had poisoned their rivals by excreting the gas. The battle had raged across broad beaches bordered by a brown, sluggish sea. The victorious mats had enjoyed their momentary triumph beneath a pink sky. But this fresh gaseous resource in turn allowed new, more complex life to begin and thrive. Their heirs eventually drove the algae mats nearly to extinction.

So it had been with space. Planetary life had leaped into the new realm, first using simple machines, and later, deliberately engineered life forms. The dead machines had proved to be like the first algae. Instead of excreting oxygen, they brought life--inadvertently at first, then with deliberation. Compound forms arose.

In time the space-dwelling gray machines, adapting solely through unliving self-evolution, retreated. They were driven into narrow enclaves, like the early algae mats.

Out here, bordering the realm of ice, machines had finally wedded with plants to make anthology creatures. This desperate compromise had saved them.

The alliance of the gray machine and the living green drove a cornucopia of new forms. Once allied with the virtues of dead mass, synthesis life seethed across the vast volumes with prodigious invention. Nothing could stop--though some tried--the creative destruction of Darwin from fashioning human designs into subtler instruments. For a billion years life had teemed and fought and learned amid harsh vacuum and sunlight's glare. This opera in the sky played out with little aid from the planets.

Some time long ago, spaceborne life had begun to compete for materials with the planetary life zones. After all, most of the light elements in the solar system lay in the outer planets and cometary nuclei far beyond Pluto. In this competition the rocky worlds were hopelessly outclassed.

From the perspective of space, planetary life looked like those ancient algae mats--flat, vulnerable, trapped in a thin wedge of air, unaware of the great stretching spaces beyond. And now the true ancient mats survived only in dark enclaves on Earth, cowering before the ravages of oxygen.

Given a billion years, planetborne life had done better than the mats. Slowly the planetary biospheres forged connections to spaceborne life through great beasts like the Pinwheel, the Jonah, the Leviathan. But was this only a momentary pause, a temporary bargain struck before the planets became completely irrelevant?

Or were they already?

Gregory Benford

Forty Signs of Rain, Part XIII Paradigm Shift, p 272

... Science was the gene trying to pass itself along more successfully. Also it was the best way to pass the hours, or to make a living. Everything else was so trivial and grasping. Social primates, trapped in a technocosmos of their own devise; science was definitely the only way to see the terrain well enough to know which way to strike forward, to make something new for all the rest. No passion need be added to that reasoned way forward.

And yet, it occurred to him, why did things live? What got them through it, really? What made them make all these efforts, when death lay in wait at the end for every one of them? This was what these Buddhists had dared to ask.

Kim Stanley Robinson

Freeman Dyson

Disturbing the Universe; pages 227 and 235

In everything we undertake, either on earth or in the sky, we have a choice of two styles, which I call the gray and the green. The distinction between gray and green is not sharp. Only at the extremes of the spectrum can we say without qualifications, this is green and that is gray. The difference between green and gray is better explained by examples than by definitions. Factories are gray, gardens are green. Physics is gray, biology is green. Plutonium Is gray, horse manure is green. Bureaucracy is gray, pioneer communities are green. Self-reproducing machines are gray, trees and children are green. Human technology is gray, God’s technology is green. Clones are gray, clades are green. Army field manuals are gray, poems are green.

Man’s gray technology is also part of nature. It was, and will remain, essential for making the jump from earth into space. The gray technology was nature’s trick, invented to enable life to escape from earth. The green technology of genetic manipulation was another trick of nature, invented to enable life to adapt rapidly and purposefully rather than slowly and randomly to her new home, so that she could not only escape from earth but spread and diversify and run loose in the universe. All our skills are a part of nature’s plan and are used by her for her own purposes.

Freeman Dyson

A Many Colored Glass; Reflections on the Place of Life in the Universe; Chapter Five; Can Life Go on Foreever; Selected Paragraphs pp. 85 to 90

Can Life Go on Forever ... I ... gave some lectures that were published in the Reviews of Modern Physics in 1979 ... I arrived at an optimistic conclusion, that the laws of nature do not make it impossible for life to survive forever ... And then, silence for fifteen years. ... A sudden change came ... Two scientists at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Lawrence Krauss and Glenn Starkman, sent me a paper with the title "Life, the Universe, and Nothing" ... it says flatly that survival of life forever is impossible. ...

In the years since I read their paper, Krauss and Starkman and I have been engaged in vigorous arguments, ... But we have stayed friends. ...

What Do We Mean By Life?

The arguments about survival only make sense if we take a very broad view of what life means. If we take a narrow view, supposing that life has to be made of flesh and blood, with cells full of chemicals disolved in water, then life certainly cannot survive forever. Life based on flesh and blood, the kind of life we know at first hand, can only exist at teperatures in the range above zero Celsius where water is liquid. It requires a constant input of free energy to keep it going. In a cold expanding universe, the available store of free energy in any region is finite, and life must ultimately run out of free energy if it keeps its temperature fixed. The secret of survival is to cool down your temperature as the universe cools. If you can stay alive while your temperature goes down, you can use energy more and more frugally. If you are frugal enough you can keep going forever on a finite store of free energy. But this requries that life and consciousness can transfer themselves from flesh and blood to some other medium.

...

Another possible form of life is the Black Cloud described by Fred Hoyle in his famous science-fiction novel of that title. ... The Black Cloud lives in the vacuum of space and is composed of dust grains instead of cells. It derives its free energy from gravitation or starlight and acquires chemical nutrients from the naturally occurring interstellar dust. It is held together by electric and magnetic interactions between neighbouring grains. Instead of having a nervous system or a wiring system, it has a network of long-range electromagnetic signals that transmit information and coordinate its activities. Like silicon-based life and unlike water-based life, the Black Cloud can adapt to arbitrarily low temperatures. Its demand for free energy will diminish as the temperature goes down.

...

... The conclusion is that [Krauss and Starkman] are right, and life cannot survive forever, if life is digital, but I am right, and life may survive forever, if life is analog. This conclusion was unexpected. In the development of our human technology during the last fifty years, analog devices such as LP records and slide rules appear to be primitive and feeble, while digital devices such as CDs and personal computers are overwhelmingly more convenient and powerful. ... the laws of physics and information theory forbid the survival of digital life but allow the survival of analog life. Perhaps this implies that when the time comes for us to adapt oursevles to a cold universe and abandon our extravagant flesh-and-blood habits, we should upload ourselves into black clouds in space rather than download ourselves to silicon chips in a computer. If I had to make the choice, I would go for the black cloud.

Freeman Dyson

Disasters giving rise to utopias

We didn't have time to worry about failing. It was just like "okay, this seems like it'll work right now, so let's do it, and if it doesn't work, we'll tweak it on the next one, which will be, like, five seconds from now."

Unnamed Occupy Sandy volunteer, from this video about the early days of their hurricane relief effort

In the wake of an earthquake, a bombing, or a major storm, most people are altruistic, urgently engaged in caring for themselves and those around them, strangers and neighbors as well as friends and loved ones. The image of the selfish, panicky, or regressively savage human being in times of disaster has little truth to it. Decades of meticulous sociological research on behavior in disasters, from the bombings of World War II to floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, and storms across the continent and around the world, have demonstrated this.

Rebecca Solnit, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster, p. 2

Contemporary language speaks of the effects of disaster entirely as trauma, or even more frequently as post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD. The twin implications are that we are not supposed to suffer and that in our frailty we are not merely damaged, but only damaged by suffering. If suffering is a given, as it is for most religions, then the question is more what you make of it rather than how you are buffered from it altogether. The awareness of mortality that heightens a sense of life as an uncertain gift rather than a burdensome given also recalls religious teachings,...

Indeed, disaster could be called a crash course in Buddhist principles of compassion for all beings, of nonattachment, of abandoning the illusion of one’s sense of separateness, of being fully present, of awareness of ephemerality, and of fearlessness or at least aplomb in the face of uncertainty. You can reverse that to say that religion is one of the ways crafted to achieve some of disaster’s fruits without its damage and loss. That state of clarity, bravery, altruism, and ease with the dangers and uncertainties of the world is hard-won through mental and emotional effort but sometimes delivered suddenly, as a gift amid horrific loss, in disaster.

Rebecca Solnit, A Paradise Built in Hell, p. 118

...the crisis had somehow gotten beyond war. Flood, ice age, population boom, social chaos, revolution; perhaps things had gotten so bad that humanity had shifted into some kind of universal catastrophe rescue operation, or, in other words, the first phase of the postcapitalist era.

Kim Stanley Robinson, Blue Mars, p. 77

The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt (an explanation of the Elephant and Rider metaphor) pp. 4, 13-16

Modern theories about rational choice and information processing don't adequately explain weakness of the will. The older metaphors about controlling animals work beautifully. The image that I came up with for myself, as I marveled at my weakness, was that I was a rider on the back of an elephant. I'm holding the reins in my hands, and by pulling one way or the other I can tell the elephant to turn, to stop, or to go. I can direct things, but only when the elephant doesn't have desires of his own. When the elephant really wants to do something, I'm no match for him.

...

In the 1990s, while I was developing the elephant/rider metaphor for myself, the field of social psychology was coming to a similar view of the mind. After its long infatuation with information processing models and computer metaphors, psychologists began to realize that there are really two processing systems at work in the mind at all times: controlled processes and automatic processes.

...

Most automatic processes are completely unconscious, although some of them show a part of themselves to consciousness; for example, we are aware of the "stream of consciousness" that seems to flow on by, following it

s own rules of association, without any feeling of effort or direction from the self. Bargh contrasts automatic processes with controlled processes, the kind of thinking that takes some effort, that proceeds in steps and that always plays out on the center stage of consciousness. For example, at what time would you need to leave your house to catch a 6:26 flight to London? That's something you have to think about consciously, first choosing a means of transport to the airport and then considering rush-hour traffic, weather, and the strictness of the shoe police at the airport. You can't depart on a hunch. But if you drive to the airport, almost everything you do on the way will be automatic: breathing, blinking, shifting in your seat, daydreaming, keeping enough distance between you and the car in front of you, even scowling and cursing slower drivers.

Controlled processing is limited -- we can think consciously about one thing at a time only -- but automatic processes run in parallel and can hurdle many tasks at once. If the mind performs hundreds of operations each second, all but one of them must be handled automatically. So what is the relationship between the controlled and automatic processing? Is controlled processing the wise boss, king, or CEO handling the most important questions and setting policy with foresight for the dumber automatic processes to carry out? [To answer that question], it will help to go back in time and look at why we have these two processes, why we have a small rider and a large elephant.

...the first clumps of neurons were forming the first brains more than 600 million years ago... By the time we reach 3 million years ago, the Earth was full of animals with extraordinarily sophisticated automatic abilities, among them birds that could navigate by star positions, ants that could cooperate to fight wars and run fungus farms, and several species of hominids that had begun to make tools.

...[since] around 2 million years ago, when hominid brains became much bigger, conscious planning arrived in the most recent eye-blink of evolution. They are like new software, Rider version 1.0. ... but there are still a lot of bugs in the reasoning and planning programs. Automatic processing, on the other hand, have been through thousands of product cycles and are nearly perfect. This difference in maturity between automatic and controlled processes helps explain why we have inexpensive computers that can solve logic, math and chess problems better than any human beings can (most of us struggle with these tasks), but none of our robots, no matter how costly, can walk through the woods as well as the average six-year-old child (our perceptual and motor systems are superb).

... When language evolved, the human brain was not re-engineered to hand over the reins of power to the rider (conscious verbal thinking). Things were already working pretty well, and linguistic ability spread to the extent that it helped the elephant do something important in a better way. The rider evolved to serve to the elephant.

Gaia's Whisper from Reversing Spirals in Seeing Nature by Paul Krafel

Begin the work even though you cannot see the path by which this work can lead to your goal. Do not block your power with your current understanding. Evolution is the process by which the impossible becomes possible through small, accumulating changes.

Concentrate on the direction, not the size of the change. Begin the work with actions that seem tinier than necessary but that are small enough to maintain. The rate of change is slow at first, but do not prematurely judge your efforts. Change happens through spirals; the work grows upon itself. As little changes accumulate, they will reinforce one another and make larger changes possible. Gradually, balances will shift. Enemies that block the way will become allies that lead the way. Where and how this happens cannot be predicted.

You do not work alone. Billions of other living things are doing the work. You are part of an invisible power. As it grows, the erosive power will fade. Begin the work.

Stories Written and Used as Readings

We have written and used a number of stories as readings for services. For instance:

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