July 22, 2008

On changing your mind

When I was a kid I was afraid. I wondered whether I would ever have an opinion of my own. Everything seemed like it had been thought before. Sometimes I was proud of some product of my mind but then I realized that it did not really impress anyone.
I thought that maybe I was not very good at thinking critically because in most discussions I was jumping on bandwagons. In Germany we have another metaphor for that, "being a little flag in the wind", changing direction with it. That was what it felt like when I listened and then agreed, then kept on listening and agreed with the opposite opinion.
My problem was that I often could not decide which side I was on. I was afraid I could not define my own position which I thought every adult had to have. It seemed so important to know where you stood. A necessary prerequisite to stand up for yourself.

Today I have my own opinion. It developed without me really noticing it. It came from going with the current and letting all different views wash through my mind. I have learned to defend what I stand for. It also came from being educated and being shown the world through the tolerant and wise eyes of my parents. Most of all I probably learned through my own positive experiences with diversity. I think that most people today would describe me as rather principled.

The most important principle and one of the few I would accept for myself is openness. Being aware of the fact that you do not know yet what you will believe in the future, be it still far or very close, to me is a sure sign of wisdom. I try hard not to nurture preconceived ideas, although they are hard to let go. Through forming my own views I have found the true value of being a little flag in the wind.


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July 18, 2008

Poema 6

Te recuerdo como eras en el último otoño.
Eras la boina gris y el corazón en calma.
En tus ojos peleaban las llamas del crepúsculo
Y las hojas caían en el agua de tu alma.
Apegada a mis brazos como una enredadera.
las hojas recogían tu voz lenta y en calma.
Hoguera de estupor en que mi sed ardía.
Dulce jacinto azul torcido sobre mi alma.

Siento viajar tus ojos y es distante el otoño:
boina gris, voz de pájaro y corazón de casa
hacia donde emigraban mis profundos anhelos
y caían mis besos alegres como brasas.
Cielo desde un navío. Campo desde los cerros.
Tu recuerdo es de luz, de humo, de estanque en calma!
Más allá de tus ojos ardían los crepúsculos.
Hojas secas de otoño giraban en tu alma.

Pablo Neruda

July 10, 2008

Autopoiesis or What is Life?

I just thought you might want to be taken on a trip through my current academic topic. You may never have heard of it, but it is probably the best definition of what life really is. The theory of autopoiesis was made popular by two Chilean neurobiologists, Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, who started out with a theory on visual perception and ended up with this general theory on cognition and life.

It basically says that you call things alive that have boundaries that are produced by the thing itself and that consist of components that all interact and thereby also produce themselves :D Freaky, huh?

In other words, autopoiesis means self-reproduction and tries to explain the difference between a lifeless car factory, where you put things in on one end and get cars at the other end without fail, and a biological organism that is intertwined with its environment, but only uses the material that surrounds it to maintain its own metabolism, not to produce things it can't use itself. That is what life does! It sustains itself :) Stunning!

Varela also says that the study of buddhist meditation techniques and philosophy can help western cognitive science advance in their understanding of the mind. I am for it! There should be more interdisciplinary teaching everywhere!

July 03, 2008

On climate change

Let me tell you about the time I first saw the movie "An Inconvenient Truth" by Al Gore. It was a small cinema showing selective movies, not blockbusters. I went to see the film with a friend, a moderate environmentalist.
The demonstrator first started the wrong movie, which speaks for the little attention it had been given before.
There was also a group of schoolkids with their teacher, who obviously thought this to be a nice outing for the class. So did I, but when I noticed how little those kids could focus on the message, how little interest they showed, I was disillusioned. It was noisy and one time or another I turned to ask them to be quiet (thing I don't usually do in my need for harmony).
I was upset after the film, by the topic that is one of the things I get really passionate about, and about the obvious (and afterwards still continuing) unawareness of the whole problem among those youngsters. I hope there were at least a few quiet ones that actually saw the movie...

Take your time and think about this: Even if Al Gore is not right about every single point he makes, would you be willing to take the chance of not doing anything until it turns out it is too late and you should have acted before?

July 01, 2008


I am a pretty extroverted person as anyone who has met me would readily confirm. On most occasions I would intuitively talk to people or at least make some kind of contact. Even in elevators! I talk to the lady at my bakery, smile at random people at the bus stop, talk loudly with friends in the street and shortly after find myself talking to interested bystanders. Being social is a part of me. I like to connect and learn and be interested, because what I get back is knowledge and affection and love.

But then I also live alone. If I don't make sure I have company I don't get it. I can link myself in seconds, but I can shut myself away just as easily and sometimes I need that. It is a way of getting my head free. Letting emotions and thoughts flow that usually are developed in conversations with my people. That's when all the mental processes come and go and I have to cope with them without taking refuge in another person's head that I can empathetically access. I am forced to think about myself, feel my feelings without immediately expressing them and thereby transforming them. This is confusing and I choose to pick up a conversation with a piece of paper. I calm down. I am sure to somehow have grown spiritually. I will still not know what I should do, but I will not feel as overwhelmed any more.

Tomorrow I will go and see some friends! Or maybe the day after tomorrow...