Return of the sun

Screenshot from a Japanese animation

Low sun, an artist’s impression.

This week, for the first time this winter, there was sun on the way home from work. Only a few rays actually hit the bus today, seconds rather than minutes at a time, but it will increase very fast for each day. And it is already sunshine much of the time in the morning when I take the commute bus to work.

I live on the south coast of Norway. We don’t have midnight sun in the summer, but we don’t really have night either during the summer months. Conversely in winter, we don’t have any days without the sun rising above the horizon, but the days used to be fairly short around the turn of the year: It was night when I left home and night when I returned. Now, it has turned around like that.

I am not as happy about this as you might believe. I have a weakness: I cannot read in sunshine, or I get a migraine attack. There is no guessing about it: Reading more than a few glimpses in direct sunlight or very bright daylight, and the migraine attack will occur a short while later. It has not always been like that, I think, but since my late teens or so. Needless to say, I am very cautious about reading in sunshine because of this. It is simply not worth it.

The low sun comes in through the windows no matter which side of the bus I choose. In midsummer, the sun is so high above that the middle of the bus is in shadow, shaded by the roof. But that is still far away. For the duration, I read briefly when we pass through a shaded zone, I listen to music, meditate and think. And I love it when the weather turns overcast. But I can’t exactly complain about the sun either. It is beautiful. But so is reading. So if I can’t have both, I am not really in a position to complain. There is no end to wishes, wants and desires. Having either the sun or a good book is already an enjoyable position, don’t you think?

I am energetic?

Screenshot anime Sakurasou, featuring Misaki

Genki girl. Not larger than life, just much more energetic. Not like me. For one thing, I am not a girl.

I couple of things came together recently. The Norwegian winter seems to have a dragged on for months now, and it came on the heels of the rainiest November I can remember (at least here on the South coast of Norway). So I haven’t really exercised my body since sometime in October. Instead of a 1 1/2 to 2 hours of walking and jogging, I am just walking briskly for about half an hour a day.

Wait, what? The other day I read an article by a Norwegian cardiologist, who said that he personally walked half an hour a day; that was a sufficient, in his opinion. I’ve seen a number of seemingly sane medical experts say approximately the same thing, some of them adding that if you can’t walk half an hour a day, you should at least try to walk a quarter of an hour.

When I try to imagine someone exercising less than a quarter of an hour a day, I automatically imagine something like the illustration photos for articles about the “obesity epidemic”, a triple-sized American whose gender is half lost in the rubber tires surrounding their vaguely humanoid body. (My visual imagination is very hazy, admittedly.) I am like “how do they do that?” because I hurry to the bus, hurry from the bus to the office, hurry up the stairs, often take a walk during lunch break, and do the same thing again on my way home, except I hurry to the bus station across downtown. Then I may or may not go get some groceries after I am home. I guess having a car can be pretty bad for your health.

But the thing is, it does not feel like I am exercising or even being active. These are all things that just happen. And it matters who I compare myself to.


If you have read the early years of the Chaos Node, you will notice that I occasionally wrote about my then best friend, the girl I loved approximately like myself, the amazing Supergirl (later called SuperWoman, at her request.). (She has a name, but did not feel comfortable with being online, so I don’t have her name or address or photo anywhere on the site.) What I noticed the most about her was her intelligence, because she was one of the few people I had met (at that time) outside my family that was actually more intelligent than me. This fascinated me. She was much younger than me, so I knew and understood many things she didn’t (at least back then), but in raw processing power she was high, high above me.

But intriguingly, this was not the only thing she excelled at. She was also good at sports, good with people, played a couple of instruments and could sing and dance well. It was as if everything she put her mind to, whether for the body or the mind or a combination of the two, she mastered easily. Well, it did not always seem easy to her, but by human standards it was amazing. It seemed like she came with 300% energy in a human-sized body. That is the best way I can think of it.

I came to think of this because I recently watched two episodes of an anime, Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo (the pet girl of Cherry Hall). One of the characters there is a girl who is just way too energetic for a single human body. Her teacher refers to her as an alien, hopefully in jest, but she feels kind of lonely among all the normal people who cannot do what she can and who grow tired easily. It was hauntingly familiar.


It really seems to me that some people come with more energy than others, and that this energy often shows both in the body and the mind. (Of course, the two are not really separate beings that just happen to travel together for a while – they are very much intertwined or even aspects of the same being, I have compared them before to the metal and the imprint of a coin.)

I have not thought of myself as an energetic person, although I have learned things fairly easily all my life. I did not do really well in grade school and even most of middle school, as I was home sick whenever I could think of an excuse for it (so as to not be bullied) and because I was lazy and did as little school work as possible. But when something interested me, I learned it easily. But only theoretical knowledge. I was small and weak and frail, and moved as little as possible. Therefore, I could never see myself as energetic.

Ever since I started running around as a toddler, I had asthma attacks. Likely I was born that way and am still that way – the attacks may simply have stopped because it was exercise asthma and I stopped exercising. The last years before the attacks stopped (around the age of 10, I think) they mostly appeared in the morning, I woke up gasping for breath. This week I am doing that again and it really drives home how creepy it was. But I realize, looking back, that the attacks back then were probably triggered by dreams of running and jumping and all the things ordinary humans did. Only when I became very, very quiet even in my dreams did the attacks stop.  And that is how I remained for the next four decades or so.

I have had my heart tested a few times during the last decade or so, last May very thoroughly by a cardiologist with modern equipment, and before that a few times with EKG machines for anything from a few minutes to hours. In each case, the result was something I had a hard time believing: That my heart was like that of an athlete. Not a world class athlete obviously but perhaps not too far off: The cardiologist said I could participate in “Birken”, the Birkebeiner race which is a national-level competition of unusual endurance. Surely the man was exaggerating, but my resting pulse was in fact squarely in the bracket of endurance athletes on a regional level. (It is higher now, but then I have a chronic infection these days.)

If not for the asthma, it seems, I might have been an athlete as well as a genius, like my brother, although perhaps not quite at the same level in either. That would take a lot.

What does this difference in people come from? Is it some kind of spiritual “life force” or does it come from differences in the metabolism? Perhaps in the mitochondria, the organelles in each human cell which is the only part of the cell that transforms fat and sugar and oxygen into energy for the cell? But the mitochondria are all inherited from one’s mother – the sperm cells leave theirs behind when they enter the ovum. If the mitochondria were to blame (or praise), you should be roughly as energetic as your mother. I am not sure that is how it works: Supergirl had the energy and smarts of two normal girls ever from she was little, but her numerous siblings were quite normal, as was her mother from what I could see and hear.

I don’t have all the answers, although I like to play someone who has all the answers on the Internet. Perhaps I will learn the answer if I live long enough. For now, I wish my supposed energy could be used to get rid of this infection of the sinuses and thereabout. Even with the return of daylight up north here, I can’t exercise with infection in my body. If I do, I tire quickly and the infection flares and spreads.

The Japanese word “genki” translates both as “energetic” and “healthy” or even “well” (Genki desu ka = How are you?) “Ki” is of course the Japanese word for energy and also spirit (also known from Chinese as “chi” or “qui”). I don’t feel entirely genki these days, but perhaps I am simply used to being among the 1% of energy?


Screenshot anime Osaka-okan

To someone from Osaka, there may not seem to be much difference between Jalapeno and Frappucino. Today’s topic: Learning languages for free on the Internet!

When I wrote about the Khan Academy, I mentioned that it was very good for math but you would have to go elsewhere for languages. Well, I’ve found one place you can go, but the range of languages is a bit limited yet. Still, the idea is very interesting. And, it is free!

One day, one of those university intellectuals was pondering the troubles of the world: Not only was learning a new language too expensive for most of the human population (typically costing $500 for a self-learning kit, and most of the world does not have hundreds of dollars lying around – let us not even talk about going to a school that teaches foreign languages). But in addition to this, most of the world did not have all the information of the English-speaking Internet in their own language, either. Spanish is a big language used in rather advanced nations, but the Spanish Wikipedia is only 1/5 of the English. Life is unfair, and then you die. Intellectuals know this.

But this particular fertile egghead came up with an idea: How about we teach people a second language for free, and in the process make them translate the Internet? And so, Duolingo was conceived. Some months later, as is good and proper, it was born. It’s been going through some childhood diseases, or at least warts, but it is thriving now.

The website presents you with a range of exercises, starting at the most basic with words like “the” and “woman”. As you begin to get an idea of the language, you get to translate expressions and short sentences between your starting language and the target language. You translate both ways as part of the basic training. Several possible translations are often possible. You get used to all that. As you gain confidence, you learn to translate longer sentences.

At some point in your linguistic ascent, some of the translations you are given are actually from the Internet, not from your teachers. The website then uses “crowdsourcing”, in this case a kind of election system, to determine what translation is best. If enough people try to do the right thing, the right thing will likely emerge, if it is within their skill level.

(We are not talking about religious truth here, where it is an axiom that the majority is always wrong…)

The learning process is “gamified”, much like at the Khan Academy, with skill points and small data sets which you complete to “level up” to more advanced sets. At the beginner level, you typically go through around ten words at a time. Or at least that is the case for French, my test language.  (English is already my third language, so I am doing this just for the test. The only other language I want to learn right now is Japanese, since it is the only language I don’t understand but still hear pretty much every week, besides being almost impossible to translate by machine.)

The available languages at the moment are Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian and German. Or English for those who speak those other languages. Thus the “duo” – it works both ways. This will come in handy when we translate the Internet, since it is always easier to translate into a good-sounding form in your native language. (For instance, I doubt a native English-speaker would say “good-sounding form”! ^_^;)

The languages just happen to be those used by the imperialist powers of the 19th-20th centuries. This may sound like a bad idea, but it has some benefits. Remember, the problem was that the developing world could not afford expensive language training? Much of the developing world is former colonies, where one of these languages is used either as the national language or as a second language. (Actually, I am not sure any of the former German colonies speak German anymore, and if any speak Italian, it is probably just one or two countries. But still, they are among the more popular second languages.)

One benefit of having only European languages is that they are very similar. They may not look that way to you, gentle reader, but if you have ever tried to learn more than a dozen words of Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Korean, Hebrew or even Finnish, you will realize that all of the big European languages are siblings of English on one side or another. English is originally a Germanic language (actually more related to the Scandinavian languages than to High German) but with a large vocabulary from the Latin-derived (or Romance) languages, most of which are quite similar to each other. Again, they may seem alien to you if this is your first time learning a new language, but they present minimal challenge compared to learning a language with completely different cultural concepts, like personal pronouns that depend on who you speak to as much as who is speaking.

Basically, you cannot translate a simple sentence into Japanese without knowing the relationship between the people involved. If there are no people in the sentence, then at least the relationship between the speaker of the sentence and the listener. (What other language programs usually do is default to formal or polite speech, which is great for business but quite different from what you’ll hear in a movie or on the street or in a family.) I am sure other non-European languages have other hurdles that I cannot even imagine. I know Chinese have tones that “sing” the same syllable differently, although they sound much the same to us. Hebrew and Arabic have sounds that seem more like a symptom of strep throat than a part of western speech. Some languages don’t have past and future tenses, and so on.

But for now, you can learn a related language with Duolingo. That seems like a good start. The sooner you get going, the more time you have to open your mind and realize that words and reality don’t map exactly one on one. If you live in America and only speak English, you should have at least learn Spanish before your first Spanish-speaking President. I am sure you have time if you start now. And it’s fun!

Quick recipe for happiness

Screenshot anime Little Busters

“When you make someone happy, in turn it makes yourself happier as well.” It is like a garden hose never becomes dry as long as it is in use. If happiness runs through us, we have happiness in us.

Someone on Quora asked if there was a step by step plan to become happy. Well, there are several. Arguably the Dhammapada by Shakyamuni Buddha or the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus Christ could be used as such: Their effectiveness does not depend on believing in the divinity of the men who spoke them, they are effective because they represent unchanging truth about human nature. But presumably people want something that is not tied to classical religions, something more generic. And much, much easier. So, what about something super basic. It is not super high concentrated The Fastest Way Ever to Complete and Everlasting Happiness, but it is simple.

1) Each day, try to give others a little more love (respect, understanding, sympathy, thanks) than you receive. Another way to say this is to put a bit more work into other people’s happiness.

2) Each day, learn something new. Preferably something you don’t need to hide under your bed. ^_^; I mean more like improving a skill, or understanding something (or someone) better.

3) Keep an eye out for your own mistakes and spend some time looking for them. Be grateful if someone points them out, or at least investigate whether it may be true.

4) Keep at it. It takes time from you start planting seed till you can harvest fruits, but if you keep at it, sooner or later you will become a happier person and the world a little better than it otherwise would have been.

Being human is hard enough

Screenshot anime GJ-bu

I am human too, you know. Just with more books. ^_^;

I have written a number of attempts to describe the reality of spiritual gestation, how the spiritual life begins as a small embryo, stuff like that. But it remains above my pray grade, it seems; I cannot express it in a way that I feel sure will do more good than harm. So let us talk about being human instead.

A lot of humans live in poverty. I am not one of them. Even in my childhood, I did not go to bed hungry. I wore patched clothes when I was at home and played with used batteries and tin cans, stuff like that; but I was never worried that I would not get enough food or that we would be evicted or anything like that. So I can’t bear personal testimony about that kind of thing.

In Norway, there is something like a security net that catches people when they fall on hard times, although they can get through it if they are crazy enough. There is also some resistance for those who try to become rich. Both of these borders are much weaker in the USA, from what I hear. I just read on Quora a highly educated and intelligent man describing his rapid descent into poverty because of medical expenses for himself and a loved one. Once he was poor, medication was hard to come by and his health got steadily worse. He was too poor to go to job interviews even when his health allowed it, because he could not afford to travel to the place where the interview was. Eventually his luck turned and he got a job where he could use his old high-income skills. If he had not had them, things would have been grim indeed. As it was, he was able to gradually improve his health and replace essential things for living in America, like a super cheap car.

This kind of problem would not have happened in Norway, but it is a matter of degree. It is expensive to be poor here too, just not that bad. Higher education is free, but you still have to live somewhere (it is pretty could outside most of the year here) and you still need to eat. You won’t get paid life support by the State if you are taking an education, but you do if you are just refusing to work. I am not sure about the logic of this. I suppose you could stealth educate yourself using the local library (in towns where there still is one) or a cheap laptop and the Khan Academy. But you are unlikely to get a job without an actual college degree these days, so sooner or later you have to go there, or be parked on the side line of society.

If being poor is hard, being stupid is no walk in the park either. Or rather, that may be what you end up doing for the rest of your life. This may actually be worse here in the zeroth world, because we need only productive workers with the ability to quickly adapt to ever new challenges and keep their skills from rusting. OK, perhaps not worse than in the USA, since we at least have health insurance for the unemployable. So they are likely to live to a ripe old age unless they drink a lot, take dubious drugs, fail to take prescription drugs, or eat immense quantities of unhealthy food. All of these things happen with alarming regularity, but it takes quite a bit to kill a stupid person, so they still tend to live quite a while. What they do beside writing comments on Net News sites is a bit of a mystery. But from what I see, ignorance is not bliss.

But even if you are employable, life is not a dance on lilies. People who earn more than me, and have nice homes and nice cars, still suffer. The most common reason is problems with relationships. They have unhappy marriages or almost-marriages, or are living alone with a screaming kid, or living alone and paying child support, or have troubles with their friends, troubles with their parents or children, troubles with their boss or their coworkers, trouble with their siblings or trouble with their neighbors. And almost all of them thinks there is nothing they can do about it. Either it is always someone else’s fault, or (in the rare case where people actually realize they are not anywhere near perfect) they are just born that way and they can’t help it.

There are also numerous health challenges, and even more so for our mental health. There is hardly a person who does not have a phobia or two, or a recurring depression, or an addiction or compulsion, or thoughts and worries that assail them and don’t take no for an answer. And if you are lucky enough to not have any severe disturbances yourself, it is a good bet that someone close to you is suffering, and eagerly sharing their suffering.

With all that, it is a bit of a miracle that there are happy people in the world. But there are. For most people this is the result of being in the right place at the right time, I think. But some people have a tendency to wait out at the right place, while others are rarely there to be found, so there is also partly a matter of character. It is not an either / or, it is about increasing one’s chances, not a guarantee for success. That is life in this world. This world is called Earth, not Heaven. It is not a world of absolutes, there is a random element in it, but it is not completely random, not by a long shot.

The satanic element

Screenshot anime Chuunibyou

“I’m different from everyone else” and then all Hell breaks loose. Or just a bit of Hell, depending on just how special we are.

Regular commenter Llama writes recently: “Someone thought it would be funny to shit on my career plans and my plans to help other people.” This may be a baffling experience, but not all that uncommon. I know Kristi has been through this with alarming regularity as well. So this seems a great occasion to revisit the concept of the General Law which personifies as Satan.

Mouravieff is the one who calls it the General Law, a concept that is unfortunately hard to Google since the first thousand pages will probably be filled with lawyers. But it represents the force that keeps the world spiritually asleep. It can be seen at its best as a form of inertia that keeps people in place so they don’t break formation. The saint and the loony are both constrained by the same force, and it is not always easy for the casual bystander to say who is who. Whenever someone steps out of row, rocks the boat, changes course or speed compared to the world around him, the General Law kicks in. This is what it does at its best, rounds up the strays.

But when a person begins to accumulate Light, the General Law personifies as Satan (a name that means Adversary). It can adversely affect us either internally or externally. Internally it amplifies temptations, stirs up thoughts and emotions that seem to come from nowhere and ignore our attempts of control, makes us sensitive to pain and makes us feel heavy and tired. (This comes in addition to any medical conditions we may have – don’t ignore those. Life is short enough as is and the path is long.) We may even feel revulsion at the thought of spiritual exercise, a pretty clear sign that the Adversary is at work.

Externally, the Adverse element stirs up people of a suitable disposition and makes them single us out for attack. They are of course not aware who or what is controlling them, they just have a vague feeling that we are troublemakers and don’t know our place. This is indeed exactly what happens: We are leaving our place as passive pawns in society (a role that is valuable in a certain perspective, actually, but which stands in the way of Awakening). Those who act on behalf of the Adverse element will feel a deep sense of satisfaction in making trouble for us, as if from a job well done. Jesus Christ put it this way: “There will come a time when everyone who kills you think he does God a service that way.” This came to pass during the rapid expansion of early Christianity, one of the more disruptive forces of its age. It could happen again, but for most of us in this era it doesn’t go that far. It is not restricted to Christians either; this is a General Law, after all.

And yes, this means that if you are among those who sometimes take a pleasure in putting people in their place, you may at those times be the handyman of the Adversary. This could happen to anyone, but it is not something to aspire to, although someone will end up doing it. As Jesus Christ says: “Woe to the world because of snares! For there must be snares, but woe to the person who sets the snare!” The snares are there to keep people stuck in place, so they don’t leave their place in the lattice.

By now we have a pretty clear idea what is going on with our reader. He is rocking the boat, stepping out of line, having ambitions we did not tell him to have. He must be put in his place. Let the shitting commence!

This General Law is why throughout the ages, men of an esoteric bent have become hermits, unless or until they have a specific task they must do to help others. They stay hidden as long as reasonably possible. Actually this is not the first: At first they will tell everyone, but reaching a certain stage of knowledge, they tend to go underground to reduce the backlash as much as possible. To come back to my hero Jesus Christ, the gospels mention him impressing people at the age of 12, when he could kind of get away with it. Then he disappears from view until he is 30! There are innumerable legends of what he may have done during that time, but from an esoteric point of view it is overwhelmingly likely that he stayed hidden in plain sight, spending his time and energy inwardly without giving away any hints of who or what he was.

Of course, once you begin to help people, there is no hiding anymore. That’s when all that hidden preparation pays off. Or so I have been told. I, after all, am just some guy playing The Sims and eating yogurt. If you want to know the Truth, you can’t avoid going to your own heart and asking there for advice.

In Russia, space explores YOU!

Screenshot YouTube: Meteor explosion Russia February 15, 2013

This just to note the big meteorite that exploded today over the Chelyabinsk area in Russia this morning. It is said to have had a kinetic energy corresponding to 20 Hiroshima bombs, but of course this kind of energy does not cause radioactivity. It did cause some light and heat, but most of the energy was spent in a sonic boom that destroyed windows and to some extent doors and walls in the nearest city, wounding more than a thousand people, but most of them lightly. Most of the territory is however sparsely populated, so the damage was moderate. If one of these rocks had exploded right above a major city with millions of inhabitants, things would have looked far worse.

A few hours later, an asteroid big enough to end the Age of Mammals flew harmlessly by Earth, so close that it could be seen with binoculars. Lately, with our better telescopes, we are kind of getting used to those fly-bys. There will probably be some questions of the type “What is NASA doing to detect and prevent an asteroid impact”, and a few days later most of us have forgotten it until next time.

Amazingly useless

Screenshot anime Minami-ke Tadaima

I hold within this body infinite potential – and you’ll never get me to admit otherwise!

What I write now may be hard for some to believe, but I can only assure you that to the best of my conscience I do not lie, exaggerate or embellish this:

If I had a thousand bodies, each living for a thousand years, I would still not have time for all the things that interest me, and which are easily within my reach to do. To read all the books I would like to read, to learn the languages I would like to learn, to learn higher maths and physics and chemistry and the other sciences, to learn and master drawing and painting and gardening and woodcarving, to become proficient with various musical instruments and various musical styles, to write all the facts and fiction I would like to write, to play all the games I would like to play, to pay attention to the interesting people in this world.

I am not even thinking of the things that would be outside my reach today for financial reasons or health reasons, like traveling to exotic locales or owning a large estate, things that I suppose could have been possible if I had lived an alternate life starting in my younger days.

Far less am I thinking of things that are outside my biological range, like having an IQ of 180 or the strength of a top athlete, never mind wings and breasts. No, right here, right now, this life has such an overflowing abundance of interesting things, easily within my grasp as I am today, except for this one thing: Time.

I remember boredom, I remember loneliness, I even remember envy; but dimly, as something that happened a long time ago, just slightly more real than something read in a favorite childhood book.

I have been told that there are adults, even in the rich world, who have a reasonably healthy body and mind and do not feel this overwhelming anti-boredom, this love for life, a gratitude for being allowed to live, for being born into this world, this time. But I believe this is the human birthright. We may have to go some distance to claim it, but if it was given to me, then surely any normal person can also have it.

You may think of my feelings and attitude as the polar opposite of a suicidal person. It is an irony that if you hate life, you can easily end it; but no matter how much you love life, you cannot live forever in this world. Oh, if only those who do not want their lives could give them to me! But that is not how the world works. Well, I suppose they could donate their organs, but peculiarly this seems to be the thing least on their minds when they choose the time and place of their exit.


 It is a wonderful life, but it is also kind of useless from a higher perspective. I mean, even if I had all those bodies and could do all those things, it would still mostly be for my own enjoyment, and in the end there is nothing left of that, like a stone that slowly sinks into a clear pond and is gone, barely even making a ripple as it passes. Or like a star burning out in the void far from any eye that might have seen it. No matter how bright, it is still passing away in nothingness.

A better man than me – though some feminists may disagree – listed a number of impressive things one could do, and then added: “… but if I don’t have love, I am nothing.” Specifically we here mean the love that gives. The problem was not receiving love, but giving it. No matter how brightly we burn, it still comes down to this in the end.

To enjoy life is great, and I am grateful for it. But it is not my ultimate goal or highest aspiration.


Salman Amin Khan - Wikipedia Commons

Another real-life superhero (picture from Wikimedia Commons). Yes, he is good, smart, and handsome too, but keep your eyes to yourself girls, he’s married.

If one looks at the daily news, the future may look bleak. But then you come across projects like the Khan Academy, a global non-profit school on the Internet, and suddenly the future looks so bright you may want to put on shades. Chances are your local news channel is not likely to feature news like this on a regular basis, so today I will pick up the slack and tell you why this is amazing and awesome.

The Khan Academy starts with first-grade math of the 2+2=? Type, and continues all the way into the depths of calculus. It also features physics, chemistry, history and various others, but seems to avoid languages so far. New courses are added constantly, though, so perhaps one day even that will be covered. For the time being, it requires you to be fluent in English though.

To sum up the principle of the Khan Academy in a couple words, it is self-paced mastery. The student works at his or her own pace, but is expected to demonstrate mastery in more basic skills before continuing to the more advanced. The problem with ordinary school teaching is that you have to follow a set pace. If you are running ahead, you will get bored and distracted, and you certainly won’t get any help from the teacher. If you are lagging behind, you will hopefully get help, but it may not be enough, because now the class must move on and sorry if you only understood half of it but the time is out! At the Khan Academy you can watch YouTube videos explaining and demonstrating concepts, as often as you want. You can then do exercises to make the knowledge into skill. Only when you have reached mastery of the skill, will the software on the website direct you to the next step.

It is true that intelligence has a generic component, but there is some randomness in this world also. Someone may have a hard time “getting” a particular topic, but have an easier time with the next… but if they fall off the wagon at the first difficulty, they may be running after and never get the chance to excel. When you can work at your own pace, you can overcome any difficulty by spending more time on the basics. Of course, this requires you to actually want to learn. Luckily children and young people tend to be naturally curious. But just in case, the site hands out badges and maintains counters, making learning into a bit of an online game.

In addition to the instructional videos, you can ask your fellow students if you are in doubt. Experienced students are encouraged to tutor those who come after them, because this is another way to cement your skills into long-term memory. In fact, teaching is one of the best ways to learn anything, especially when the knowledge is still fresh. It helps you to see the knowledge from different angles and adds a personal, even emotional component in relating to a human rather than just a book. (In Norway we have a saying: “One learns as long as one has pupils.” This is a local pun on another saying: “One learns as long as one lives”, but I’d say teaching is more effective than just living. Your teacher may vary. ^_^)

Let me remind you once again that this is a free, non-profit service available over the Internet. By using YouTube for its many instructional videos, it lets Google take much of the heavy bandwidth load, but the videos are embedded seamlessly in the learning interface. Even in the middle of solving an equation, you may call up a related video that explains the principle, and then continue where you left off without ever leaving the browser window.

The site started with math (Mr. Khan made the first videos for his relatives) and this is where the site shines most brightly. Even if you fell off the math bandwagon the day you should learn two-digit addition, you can catch up here and continue all the way to calculus on your spare time. I don’t personally believe that all humans need to be skilled in calculus, but the point is, if you dropped out at school in first grade and you feel the urge to learn calculus, time is the only thing you need. You don’t need to be intelligent; if you learned the numbers and can read, you can simply keep repeating the exercises until you master them. And if calculus is not your thing, at some point you may want to scoot over to a neighboring domain such as statistics, economics or physics. Once you have the necessary math automated in your head and your fingertips, these fields become wide open to you. Just listen to the explanations and do the exercises until you master each little step along the way.

Do you now see why this makes me optimistic about the future? Not so much my future. I have reached an age where I am happy to still be breathing when a new morning dawns. But with literally a billion people having the opportunity to learn an ever growing range of topics to the point of mastery, for free, in their homes (or the library) … well, as I said, children are naturally curious. Right now most of them don’t even know that this opportunity exists. But the rumor is going to spread. I am spreading it now, and I ask you to do the same. Bookmark or just type “Khan academy” in your favorite search engine, and a life of fun, easy learning is waiting for you and/or your kids.

The Khan Academy is founded by Mr Salman Amin Khan. He quit his job as a hedge fund analyst to “empower an unlimited amount of people for all time.” That’s a goal I can respect!

Miracles, divine power and signs

Wedding in Cana, Screenshot from movie of Jesus' life

Water into wine. Let’s face it, if that literally happened to us, it would be scary.

Recently I read a Quora question about how believable (or not) religions are. This reminded me of two very different ways of looking at religious miracles such as those mentioned in the New Testament. There are believers who approach these stories single-mindedly in one way or the other, and some who have some of each.

As an example, let us look at the story of the Wedding at Cana, where Jesus (somewhat reluctantly) changed water into wine. To one believer, this may simply be an expression of power: Jesus had the God-power so he could do impossible things if he wanted to. Don’t mess with the guy with superpowers! But to another believer, it is a sign, a symbol: Jesus can transform something ordinary, boring and all too common (like a Monday at the job) to something precious, enjoyable and rare (like an opportunity to make others happier, learn something new and improve ourselves).

Generally the first view is common among exoteric or “outward” Christians, the second among esoteric or “inward” Christians. Other religions likewise have both of these types, because they are both needed for a religion to survive and grow large. The exoteric view is the easiest, or at least that has been the case throughout history up until now. I wonder if we are not now in an age where that balance is shifting, and it will be harder to be exoteric than it has been in the past. In times when a religion is under pressure, it is difficult to be an exoteric believer because you have to hold on to the dogma in blind faith, whereas the esoteric believer actually experiences the miracle, only in a different form. But when the religion is strong, you know that everyone around you believes the same stories, so you don’t need to defend them even to yourself. In this way, the balance between the two views varies over the course of history.

To take a more controversial miracle, the Virgin Birth – Mary, Jesus mother, was said to be a virgin who had not been with a man (in a sexual way). This continued at least until Jesus Christ was born. With this miracle, there are actually at least three facets. There is the miraculous display of divine power again, but there is also the whole “Son of God” thing, as it is important to most Christians that Jesus was literally the son of God and not literally son of man. I’ll not touch that with any shorter pole than this. But I’ll touch the esoteric meaning in our own life: That the new, divine life within us depends on there not being any other possible father. When the new life begins to show, it is important that we are not in a position where we can say: “Well, perhaps this is the power of God’s Word. Or perhaps it comes from the many self-help books I read during that time. Or perhaps it was because I got into money and moved to a better neighborhood.” If there are many such claims to fatherhood, there is no need for God to intervene and let his Word become flesh in us. This is why most Christian esoterists have first undergone a moral bankruptcy and exclaimed with the apostle: “For I know that in me, that is in my flesh, there is nothing good.”

If you look at the miracles in the Gospels, if you are an esoteric Christian you will find that they all are signs, symbols of something important to our life today. But there is no reason to think that they were meant to be only symbols. If they were, Jesus could have simply told them as a parable: “The kingdom of Heaven is like unto a wedding where they ran out of wine…” But there is no such parable. Those who wrote down the gospels, supposedly around the time the first generation of Christians began to die out, firmly believed that the miracle actually happened.

And that is probably a good thing. Because it is not really so that the inward application of the miracle is something we can easily do by ourselves. Even today, it is a miracle every time.


Do you have a religion and want to talk about its miracles? Feel free to add your comments!