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Summary of classes one to three:
The new wisdom is built around ways to improve and enrich conscious experiences over the course of our lifetimes. Here are ideas basic to the new thinking:
We can enrich future conscious experiences by what we make ourselves aware of today.
For us to control what we’re conscious of we must have free will.
The new thinking allows for only two kinds of processes: physical forces acting on things made of matter that make them physically determined, and processes special to living creatures that give them some degree of free will. In the new wisdom, living creatures are not entirely determined by physical forces.
Consciousness runs on meanings. To learn how to enrich conscious experiences we must understand meanings.
Meanings originate in how we evolved so we need to understand how we evolved. In the new thinking it’s the genome that evolves. Once the genome evolved to become intelligent, conscious, and creative it could create us. To understand meanings we need to study both how the genome evolved, and why it created us.
Genomes of living creatures act as a distributed intelligence, directing life at every scale from the millisecond to billions of years, and from the single cell to entire living kingdoms. The meanings living creatures are born with are wisdom the genome embeds in its creatures.
Today we’ll look for ways to apply the new thinking in our own lives. First, let’s look for resources we can use to continue to enrich our future conscious experiences.
Resource one—continual reminders of evolution’s wonderful powers. That can be easier to appreciate in other creatures than us, such as the spider I mentioned last class. Today let’s turn to insects. In us everything except our eyes lies hidden under our skin but most of an insect’s wonders springs out from its skin. Its skin is the skeleton that most of its muscles are attached to and pull on. Its skin has holes in it for air to diffuse through a network of passages throughout its tissues. Skin covers its antennae and makes up the lenses for its eyes. Every so often insects that molt shed that skin, and regrow it, along with attachments for muscles, new holes for circulating air, coverings for its antennae and the lenses covering its eyes, all its bristles and hairs, even its wings and attachments for the muscles that power them. At first the new skin is soft and the insect can’t move or breathe but in a few hours the new skin hardens and works just like the old skin. That’s like a swiss army knife every so often shedding all its tools and blades and growing a new set, larger but otherwise exactly the same.
In some insects a caterpillar transforms into an adult with fully-formed legs and wings. Those legs and wings were already defined in the larva as small disks that carry, in a series of concentric circles, all the information needed to form a leg or a wing. When they’re needed those disks move to where they belong and elongate from the center out to one side to form all the segments of a leg or a wing. That’s like a vanilla ice cream coming as a small disk like a dime with a brown center and a white surround, you’d make the ice cream by pulling the brown center out to become a cone, followed by the white surround expanding to become the ice cream. It’s a wonderful piece of engineering. We’re full of engineering even more wonderful than that. Just think back to how complicated our eyes are.
Information telling us how wonderful we’ve evolved to be is in short supply in the old thinking. To learn it we need to occupy ourselves with new kinds of information like this.
Once we appreciate how wonderful evolution has made us we can be proud to be members of our species, even just to be alive. But we need to bear in mind that, although we evolved to be conscious with some meanings already embedded in us when we’re born, that consciousness is very primitive. It’s like those disks in caterpillars, it holds wonderful potential but it still needs to be pulled out and expanded to full size. Except, in our case, we don’t know how a consciousness like that would feel. We won’t know until we try it. That’s the mission behind the new thinking.
We’d start by expecting more of ourselves, of what we’re conscious of. But that’s the easy part. More important, we’d have to recognize that everyone around us is just as wonderful as we are. We’d aim to become part of a community of people all knowing how wonderful we are. Our shared goal would be to expand the consciousness we’re born with into a new skin to attach new mental muscles to. We’d collaborate to gather the new mental resources we’d need so our own conscious experiences became as wonderful as those parts of us that come wonderful already, like our eyes.
Like those flat disks in caterpillars, this new thinking has all along lain in the discovery that we evolved. Because it contradicted modern science it got covered up in favor of purely physical and chemical theories. But suppose we insist that what we value is enriching our own conscious experiences in our own lifetimes, rather than progress in physics and chemistry. Then we should focus attention away from science for its own sake to the meaning in our own lifetimes of having evolved.
I’ve said several times that I base my new thinking on science and reason. So why, in the title of my course, do I call this new thinking a new Western mysticism and not a new science? I call it a Western mysticism because it ended up reconnecting us with Ancient Greek and Roman wisdom, in particular Ancient Roman Stoicism. Here’s Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of Rome: “take care all through life to think only of what belongs to an intelligent animal and a member of a civil community… Reverence the faculty that produces opinion [rational consciousness?]. On it entirely depends whether your judgment will be consistent with nature and the constitution of the rational animal.”
When I say the new thinking isn’t science what I mean is, I don’t care whether it can be proved true, I’m more concerned with how to enhance conscious experience. But I think Marcus Aurelius would call that science. He writes “Noting is so productive of elevation of mind [future conscious experience?] as to be able to examine methodically and truly every object which is presented to you, how it illustrates what kind of universe this is, the use of everything in it, and what value everything has both with reference to the universe as a whole and to individual human beings. Look to see what each thing is, what it’s made of, how long its value to me will endure, and what virtue it call to in me, such as gentleness, manliness, truth, fidelity, simplicity, contentment, and the rest.”
Most of all I call this new thinking a mysticism because the point of it is the lifestyle it implies. First, it call to us to maintain what used to be called integrity—that what we think and do matters not for religious reasons but for how it will shape our future conscious experiences. We owe it to our future selves to maintain our integrity, however we conceive of it.
How we conceive of it should emerge from what we learn about the wisdom that four billion years of evolving has built into the genome. Almost all of that wisdom still remains to be discovered, along with figuring out how to study nature so as to reveal that wisdom.
Recovering that sense of integrity could help us trust one another again. Then we could practice the new wisdom communally. Here’s how congregational meetings might go. Part of it would consist of dividing into pairs and holding hands while giving testimony to each other about the new wisdom. Holding hands is a powerful channel for insight, only possible when we trust each other enough. Part of the meeting would consist of meditating together on lighted candles--fats and waxes in a candle were laid down by living creatures in their tissues to serve the urgings of their intuition, something unique to living creatures. Meditating together on a burning candle could be the shared sacrament in the new mystique.
The meeting would include an address, perhaps about how historical figures such as Marcus Aurelius enriched their conscious experiences, or about resources useful for enriching conscious experiences drawn from natural history, perhaps like the examples I gave about spiders and insects. A collection might be taken to fund nature study aimed at identifying various forms of intelligence implicit in various aspects of evolution, contrasting the evolution of the trilobites with that of sharks, for example or the intelligence implicit in how the bones of mammals differ from those of dinosaurs.
Between meetings members would continue their quest for integrity. By the standard of Marcus Aurelius most of us have a long way to go.
What I’ve tried to do in this course is suggest how we might enhance lifestyle by combining what scientific discovery tells us about the outside world with what conscious experience tells us about ourselves from the inside. I suggest we allow for only either physical processes or those that come from us being living creatures, and only as we could apply those processes to enriching conscious experiences over the course of a lifetime. To me, this should be the foundation of our shared wisdom. From that will come the civilizations of the future, that will date a great advance in their wisdom to the discovery a couple of centuries ago that the origin of all living creatures, including us, is, we evolved.