Vanity thought #981. Food me once

Science, tech, and all kinds of nerdiness are at the top of their game now. While in popular culture finding a geek who can break into CIA mainframe from a cellphone is as easy as making a phone call, actual geeks are hard to find. Jobs in technology are always short of qualified candidates, one can casually dismiss programmers as useful idiots but hiring a qualified programmer is a tough job and they cost a lot. They don’t *look* expensive but their time is really really valuable simply because such raw brainpower is rare.

Most people do not realize this and expect geeks to work for a simple thank you and acknowledgement. Actual costs aside, they expect geeks to explain complex things in a simple way so that they can feel themselves smart and intelligent because now they understand them.

Translating geek speak into simple English, therefore, is very popular. We have tons of articles in the media which are meant to make hard things look easy. Two weeks ago everyone was writing about Heartbleed vulnerability in OpenSSL, for example. Completely ignorant persons were giving solid sounding opinions to impress general public but were making fools of themselves to anyone who actually understood what happened and how.

It was a simple programming mistake, btw. They were asking for certain things to check input data but forgot to do the checking itself. It took two years to spot the loophole and only a few lines of code to close it. Look here – that’s the fix right here:

    /* Read type and payload length first */
    if (1 + 2 + 16 > s->s3->rrec.length)
    return 0; /* silently discard */
    hbtype = *p++;
    n2s(p, payload);
    if (1 + 2 + payload + 16 > s->s3->rrec.length)
    return 0; /* silently discard per RFC 6520 sec. 4 */
    pl = p;

The first line is a comment, disregard it, and that leaves seven lines of code of the fix itself. I wish it was as easy to plug all those running mouths all over media.

Never mind. I am actually ranting about a couple of easy to read “scientific” articles that spout absolute nonsense because people writing them had no geeks to translate them into English properly. One was about consciousness being a state of matter. That would pique interest of any devotee, of course, but it turned out to be a dud. One guy with German sounding name postulated that matter organized in a certain way would produce consciousness. He didn’t know what that way was, he just thought it would be possible.

He hopes that consciousness is a function of complexity and thought it would be nice to quantify that complexity by how much consciousness it produces. This is a fine point – he has no idea about level of complexity itself, he simply says that if organism shows certain level of consciousness then it should be assigned a grade of complexity, and he even thought up a stupid name for it. It takes us not even one tiny step closer to producing consciousness from matter or even explaining how it could happen, it simply says that if humans are at the top of the pyramid than they should be given five stars of complexity.

Total waste of time reading that.

Then there was another article about freezing light for up to a minute. That was an actual experiment, very successful, but it has nothing to do with freezing light, of course. No more than shutting a fridge door which captures the light inside and then releases it when the door is open again.

It wasn’t about freezing light in a sense of stopping it either. Light can’t be stopped, period, so it’s not what happened. Theoretically it was nothing, no new insights were gained, but it was a successful practical application of well known principles. “Freezing light” was just a very bad headline and the explanation was not much better, too.

AFAIK, all it had to do was with controlling how matter absorbs light. Some crystals’ transparency can be affected by shining lasers of certain wavelength at them. So this one controlling laser fires to turn the crystal transparency on and off. Another laser, carrying sample code, modified condition of crystal’s electrons in another way. When transparency was off these electrons couldn’t revert to their natural state so they kept the modifications from the code carrying laser until transparency was turned back on again.

After that they jumped back into their original states releasing a bunch of photons that exactly replicated the ones that came from a code carrying laser. This shutdown period was as long as one minute and that’s what they meant by “freezing light”. They didn’t freeze the actual light but they managed to keep electrons in new positions for a minute before they released light received earlier.

I hope that explains it, though I won’t be able to describe practical implications of this method in full. Internet might become a million times faster, that should be enough.

One article, however, turned out to be very relevant to our lives as aspiring devotees. It was about food and diets.

Fifteen years ago some researchers worked with people with short term amnesia, the ones that can’t remember anything that happened to them just a minute ago. They offered them a meal, waited until they forgot about eating it, offered another meal, waited until they forgot about it, too, offered a third meal, and so on.

Some said it was cruel and I tend to agree but what this “research” showed was that we do not eat with our stomachs but with our minds. These poor people couldn’t remember having a meal just a few minutes ago and they couldn’t read signals from their stomachs telling them that they were full.

This is a very profound discovery. It means that our dependence on food is mostly in our brains. Sure, we do need some nutrients to survive but we don’t *need* to eat the way we feel this need now. We decide when, what, and how much to eat based on calculations in our brains, based on certain rules we set for ourselves – three meals a day, for example.

We think these rules are real but they are not. It’s all in our minds. That’s why Six Gosvāmīs could survive on very little food, in some cases only on buttermilk which is not even solid food but a drink, and they lived on such diet for fifty-sixty years. All left their bodies when there were over seventy, which was a very long life by medieval standards.

There are many other studies that show how our understanding of what should our diet be and how much we should eat has very little to do with reality. Nice smell in movie theaters make people eat more popcorn and drink more soda, for example. Low ambient lights also make people eat more and for longer times. Healthy items on the menu also help people order more high calorie, greasy stuff because they don’t feel guilty about it anymore – they are dining in a healthy food establishment.

I guess I could compare this with devotees living in the temples or in holy dhamas. They might fall into the trap of thinking they don’t need to watch their sādhana as closely as those householders in the wild, they are in a safe place already. It’s a trap nevertheless and it’s only natural for us, humans, to lower our guard and think we can afford to relax our rules.

And those rules themselves aren’t real, remember, it’s just something we make up for ourselves to give us some sort of a system. Rules do not make devotion, following them because our guru said so does, that’s their only value.

If we try to judge ourselves by those rules we will make serious errors in our judgment, that’s how our minds work, and if we try to judge others we might ruin our spiritual lives forever. All it matters is if the guru appreciates our efforts.

Sometimes we take our lives here too seriously, we want them to make sense but they are not worth it, it’s all just an illusion.


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