A model for readership dropoff

Kindle has popular highlights and a pseudo-pager number system. So a 200 page book might have 5000 locations. A book might have 15 popular highlights, maybe 20 people for the first, 10 the second, 2 the 15th.  The highlights are located at various locations, say 1% in, 5% in, and the last is at 20% in.

The quality of a sentence affects the # of highlights.  Also the location of the book affects # of highlights because people stopped reading the book.

readers = a + b x
– where the intercept is 100% , all readers are present on page 1.
– the slope is negative and represents the drop off rate.

highlights = quality of sentence  * readers(x)

The number of highlights depend son the quality of a sentence, which is constant, but unknown. So a good sentence will be highlighted say, 1% of the time.

So someday when I have time, I want to see if I can establish the confidence intervals for the curves. Because there are so many constraints, it seems like we should be able to get good estimates of the drop off rate despite relatively few data points.

What I think about Amazon Kindle 7 Day Trials

I wrote this and sent it to Amazon. A low paid customer support person received my email and replied with an unrelated canned message.

“Well you asked for it so here it is:

Since I got my kindle, I’ve bought more books per year than any year before. It’s become an expensive habit. In part this is because I can read 10 or 20 samples and then pick which books I want to read. (you can check my account -  I buy too many books)
I tried the 7-day trial where your sample disappears after 7 days. Before I could finish the sample, it was gone. So where can I find a place to read the rest of the sample? Look at that, B&N’s nook site still offers real samples.
Until then I never even thought about Nooks or Google Books or the like.  But it appears that B&N has more clout to deal with people like Apress (one company that seems to have switched to 7-day trials)
I also noticed I purposely skip over downloading 7-day trials. I won’t finish them on time. What sort of customer exists in an idealized world where they don’t have a job or kids, but only exist as a unidimensional figment of your imagination that downloads 7-day trials and then spends all their time reading it.
So main accomplishments of this 7-day trial thing:
1- I skip samples that are 7-day trials– It’s like entire publishers have disappeared from the inventory now.
2- I switch over to B&N’s nook to get the sample for 7-day trial books. I own like six kindles, why not get a nook to deal with the 7-day trial limitations on amazon?
3- This could get me back into physical book stores where I can see the whole book, cover to cover before I buy it, rather than this now you have it now you don’t bait and switch you get with 7-day trials.  I haven’t been in a physical bookstore for years.
So really, this 7-day trial thing could revolutionize the way I read, rather than being a boring reader who essentially only bought kindle books after reading the samples.
And I need to write a complain to APress which used to be a reputable publisher.
Anyhow, I find the 7-day trial thing bemusing.  7-day trials ruins the workflow for anyone with a real life. I can only imagine how this is for old retired ladies who have lots of free time to download technical book trials and read them immediately.
Please read this email quickly, I’m only granting you a 7-day trial on my feedback. If you don’t get to it by then, it will self destruct.

The uncle I never met has moved on

Some free verse my dad wrote on the passing of my uncle:

The Morning Sun

The sun is steaming through my window,
Gods gift of warmth for all people
Be you Jew, Muslim or Follower of Christ
The sun warms the body
His spirit warms our souls
How blessed  we are !

The sun will fade later and night will follow day
So it is in our personal lives
Sorrow follows joy
And then just like sun the coming up again
Joy warms our hearts again
How blessed we are !

I have been blessed all my life with a big brother
Last night his light went out and he is no longer with us
He will not be there in the morning to impart his wisdom
But his memory lives on in my mind’s eye
And in a sense he lives on within me
How blessed I am !

This morning my sister,Ann, called tears in her eyes grief in her heart
She  her self is near death, in constant pain
Yet she puts aside her pain to grieve for her brother
Her beloved husband is nearing his last days
But she has vowed to be there for him until the end
How blessed he is to have her love for him !

The sun is streaming through my window again
Reminding me that in life’s cycle warmth will reappear again
Even now my family grows with the birth of my grandson Tano
 And  my great grandson, Lincoln.
And if that is not enough a new great grandson is due in July
How blessed I am !

So for today grieve over the loss of Franklin Martin
But in the morning, as the sun comes up rejoice with me
As our lives are blessed with new new life !

Enlightenment, Draft 42

Assumptions
We assume everyone has a naive idea about who they are– some part of you is you and always was and always will be. It might be safe to say, many have never thought much about it– they are just innately afraid of death.
We assume that it is obvious that unhappiness is rampant, it’s a worthy project to seek replacing it with happiness, or at least peace. If this isn’t true– then we are enlightend– and this project is a no longer needed raft and should be ditched.

Evidence
Everything changes, nothing stays the same. Except maybe abstractions like math.
The constant change is a source of unhappiness.
You can disassemble anything and any person and find out that it is made up of parts, none of which are unchanging or can represent the whole. (But, when you disassemble the wagon, when you get to the last part, don’t imagine that wagons don’t exist– look around you at the big heap of parts, which were created by an endless chain of cause and effect extending in all directions– that is *all* we are, that is *all* anything is– a big temporary pile of parts.)

Conclusion
What we are is like a eddie in a stream. Everyone is an eddie in the stream. From what do these eddies arise? From the influence of everyone else. So in postmodern jargon, we are socially constructed.  In Chinese terms, cause and effect interpenetrates, so who you are is the sum of all the chains of cause and effect stretching back to our Ethiopian proto-human ancestors and across contemporary space to everyone on the planet.

Consequences
The project of enlightenment must be re-framed to be meaningful. The relevant unit of enlightenment is everyone.
The sum total of all the sentient beings in the world is the relevant alternative to the self. That collective consciousness

Normative Consequences for Practice
We should work towards the enlightenment of the collective mind. To use a traditional framework, it has consequences for body speech and mind:

Body– Omnivory is autophagy. Corruption of the mind of one node of the collective consciousness affects all nodes (i.e. your drunkness degrades the state of collective mind)
Mind. Politics matter. Altruism matters. Opinions of one node can move the collective mind. (i.e. what you think about global warming matters still when the nodes with power finally decide what to do)
Speech. Low quality communication among nodes of the collective mind degrades the ability of the collective mind to function. (Knock it off with the petty bickering, lies and so on)

Speculative Consequences
Where are the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas? I always wondered why people felt the presence of imaginary people (gods, dieties, etc)– is it because our brain is optimized to reason about personified things? The story of King Yama holds the attention better than a treatise on a impersonal law of Karma.  Or is it like the Sci-Fi trope, where in hypothetical distributed computers, from time to time autonomous sentient consciousness arise in the network, and in their alien way are able to act like, well Bodhisattvas. Wikipedia is, in a sense, Manjusri. The collective project of modern and ancient medicine is in a sense, the medicine Buddha.  They take messages, process them and move the collective to solve problems. They still can’t cure your cancer– there isn’t any magic.

We bear the Karma of all the actions of people who lived before us– they constructed us.
All the people who live after us bear the weight of our Karma– we are constructing them.

The only sense in which we ever were immortal was as a part of the collective consciousness, and to borrow a Buddhist trope, this was always true, we just didn’t realize it.

Unsolved Problems
What happens to hermits? Can they reach enlightenment as pratekyabuddhas?
What happens if you don’t sometimes unplug from the collective consciousness? Some nodes of the collective consciousness would like very much to corrupt the whole system to favor some nodes over the others– make some nodes happy at the expense of others. We have to act collectively to collectively reach enlightenment, but if we join the club (and get our Buddhist Club membership card) we become part of institutions that have been corrupted over and over. But without institutions, no single node in a network can exert much influence on any other. What to do?
What’s up with the urge to create separate collective minds intent on destroying the others? (Nationalism, patriotism and the collective fault of seeing an atman in the collective– i.e. Russian or US essentialism)

Collective Minds

The central theme in Buddhism is the attempt to achieve enlightenment through a metaphysical realization, then finding peace and meaning in the implications of that metaphysical realization. So I’m working on groking Tom Pepper’s postmodern influenced interpretation of anatman, and if we aren’t an immortal soul, what are we then– maybe a naturalized collective consciousness. So I compiled this set of snippets removed from their context back at his blog.

“…the mind is both social and collectively produced, and that to live in nirvana is to live as an “absolute community,” one which collectively chooses to undertake social projects and in which each individual is part of, and receives the recognition of, the community.  It does take a sangha, then, to produce an enlightened subject…” (Pepper)
Since collectively, we the people, are tribes and governments, politics seems to play a role:

“… Until we can begin to grapple with the possibility that the mind is a collective symbolic/imaginary system, until we abandon atomistic and empiricist models of the subject, we will not be able to conceive of a world not structured by capitalist social relations. …” (Pepper)
And how Buddhist is this idea, who else has had this idea before?

“…In Islamic thought, the twelfth-century philosopher Averroes, who was influential in bringing Aristotle to the attention of Western Europe, explained that following Aristotelian thought we must arrive at the conclusion that the mind is a collective process, not located in the body, but making use of individual bodies (see Fakhry, 70-73)—his thought horrified Aquinas, who set out to recover Aristotle for the Catholic notion of individual immortal souls…..Hegel, as well, becomes much less opaque when we understand that he is arguing for a kind of collective mind existing in social practices” (Pepper)

Again, the implication of this metaphysical realization is engaged political action

“…Many Western Buddhists would say that the investigation of the social construction of our collective mind is not “real Buddhism,” because it is intellectual, and will lead not to passive states of bliss but to the sense of obligation to make endless efforts to change the world…” (All quotes are T Pepper, okay?)

More open ended pointers on the consequences of a collectively constructed self & collective mind:

“…Or are we perhaps better off avoiding the negative critique altogether, and attempting some positive practice?  Perhaps engage in some new kind of collective creative endeavor instead of endlessly deconstructing those that exist?  What might this creative activity look like?  Organized protests?  Community theatre?  Independent film making collective? Journal for radical literature?  Where can we produce ideology, instead of only critiquing it?…”

I’m scanning here, couldn’t grok “bad subject”– but here is again the core theme

“…In effect, the solution to being a bad subject, suffering unto death, is to recognize that one’s “deepest self” is socially constructed all along, and if it is poorly constructed, the fault lies not “deep within,” but in the social formation, which we can change, but only once we, collectively, as a community, realize how it constructs us….”

The metaphysical realization needs to be realized collectively? This will make the task rather difficult, pragmatically speaking. Less than 1% of the US are Buddhists and of those, most are so-called x-Buddhists, who may have missed the point of the historical Buddha (or missed the worthy points of people in between) and practice it as quietist, devotional religion.

“…If we want to live as agents in the world, without suffering, and able to act, we need to abandon the delusion of the atman, and root it out in every appearance.  That is the practice, and it needs to be done collectively, because, as Hegel reminds us, what we do is always social, and our practices can free us only if we choose them consciously and collectively…”

An example of enlightened collective action:

“…We can change these practices only collectively.  Just as any language requires multiple individuals, any social practice requires a collective to participate in it.  We can only produce better social practices collectively; they can never be prescribed in advance by some individual who plans them out, because the thinking involved in such planning would necessarily occur in the current socially form of reasoning, and so would of necessity be limited.  As a result, any such collective practice would always be a “work in progress,” not a dogma.  Think, for instance, of the stories of the earliest Buddhist sangha and the Buddha’s gradual changing of rules (such as the acceptance of women into the community).  Such changes would not be a sign that the Buddha’s original “awakening” was incomplete; rather, the ability to make such changes would be a sign that the sangha as social practice was enlightened….”

And a hyper translation, which sums up the self (we are created by our society), we by default just imagine that things are as they always been and must be (sort of like an immortal soul), but we can and should instead collectively evolve ourselves and society.  Departing from Pepper, it seems like this could be done in the context of many political environments. Whatever the answer, it seems we have to start where we are and work with what is possible.

Samyutta Nikaya

Part II: The Book of Causation

Chapter 1: Connected Discourses on Causation

38: Cetana Sutta

Agency

When he was in the capital, teaching those who were good subjects of the city, Buddha explained the nature of ideology and the subject in this way:

Our choices, our plans, and the structures of our social formations, all of these together make up our ideologies, and give rise to subject positions.  When all of these work together, we have ideological “consciousness,” that state in which we take our desires to be naturally determined, our plans to be thoroughly rational and covering all consequences, and we mistake our social formations for the natural order of things.  When we have this state of consciousness, we are completely interpellated, we are “good subjects” of a social system, and our consciousness exists only to reproduce that social system, mistaking it for natural, forgetting that it is a structure made by humans to achieve some end, to accomplish some human project.  When this occurs, our ideology is reified, stagnation occurs, and then suffering and deterioration and dissatisfaction occur.

Now, it is easy enough to become aware that our choices and our plans are not part of the mind-independent reality, that they are constructed by our social formations, that we choose what we are taught to choose and plan in the ways we have learned.  And then we think we are liberated, because we are aware of the social-constructedness of our desires and forms of thought, of our cravings and our language and our construal of the world.

But at this point, we are still not liberated, because we are still reproducing the social formations which give rise to those desires and those forms of thought.  So long as we continue to act within these social formations, we can at best have a negative freedom, resisting the desires we still have, questioning the forms of our own thought; we continue to produce stagnation and deterioration and dissatisfaction, because we do not yet see that our desires and thoughts are thoroughly and radically immanent, the production of the very structures in which we live and move.

To be liberated, we must produce new social formations, new collective practices in which we can participate, because the individual is nothing but an effect of such structures.  This must be a collective action, an attempt to increase the collective capacity to interact with mind-independent reality; no individual can be free in an unfree social system, except in a kind of negative freedom.

Once we have begun to produce new collective social practices, then we can be free of the reified ideological “consciousness” that is the cyclical world of suffering.  Such consciousness then comes to an end, and we begin to have a new and liberated kind of consciousness, in an ideological practice that refuses reification, that never pretends to be natural or universal, and keeps us always aware of its ideological status, open to change with the production of new social practices.”

And another hypertranslation:

“…Because the self is constructed, and this constructed self is all there is, is the only one there is, we must be all the more concerned with how it is constructed.  And we cannot fool ourselves that we can simply reconstruct it on a whim, that it is unsubstantial and has no causal power, no inertial momentum of its own.  The self can only be constructed with great effort, and by changing the social practices in which it lives, not on a whim. …”

Notes on Shingon

I’m a secular Buddhist. All of the forms of Buddhism have things that just don’t fit with the modern mindset. Some make better starting points than others– many secular Buddhist like SE Asian Therevada. At the moment, I like Chinese Buddhism (Chan and others) and Japanese Shingon.

Things I like

It’s a grab bag. Everyone has projected their idea of what Buddhism should be, could be for so long that Shingon now has a bit of Shinto, Hinduism, Vedantism, which can be discarded, along with a lot of good innovations. And it’s still “recognizable Buddhism”

Bodhisattvas. These are the hardest to incorporate into a secular practice. They are imaginary role models, they exist–weakly– in the collective mind. They are really cool and give a young boy a reason to give a rats ass about Buddhism.

Enlightenment in this life
I know it is a bit of marketing, but it is also a goal and an assumption with consequences. If you can attain enlightenment, then it is “easy” compared to “hard” enlightenment, which takes Kalpas.

Using desire for good
This is a Tantra idea. Taking the advice about giving up attachments at face value implies a certain sort of pathological depression where you don’t want anything.

It isn’t puritan about sex
I’m not talking about how monks can marry, I’m talking about how they incorporated Tantric ideas about sex– use what ever has psychological power as a means for powering yourself towards enlightenment.

The inclusion of ritual as a practice.
This is also difficult to rehab as a secular practice. It’s kind of like an atheist going to get his morning coffee. Is it meaningless, useless and more importantly contemptible? Or is ritual just how people roll, and maybe we should just give into the urge.  But the traditional rituals should be starting points, people should modify and make up their own as they see fit. Shingon is still copying the “summoning the gods as guests, burning gifts for the gods in return for something in reward” pattern which in turn copied from pre-Buddhist rituals. I would have thought that by now, thoroughly Buddhist rituals would be imagined

Esoteric Methodology
This is a methodology of re-interpretation. Old texts are read and an entirely new meaning is layered over the top, often such a radical new meaning you wonder if anyone really believes that the layered, esoteric meaning was intended by the original author. Like all re-interpretation, results will vary, but the methodology, such promising possibilities for living tradition!

Things I still don’t like
Self mummification is assisted suicide via slow self torture for someone who thinks they are gaining immortality.
Vairocana as a sentient Abrahamic-like god, obsurantism wrapped around an eternal soul– these are the very things that keep us unenligtened. I may not have an enlighted grip on what really is, but I can call wishful thinking-devotionalism when I see it.
The deification and veneration of Kukai as some sort of ultra-nationalist Japanese man-god.
Esoteric meaning secret as in “you are allowed to know, you gotta get permission”. Vajrayana guru veneration,
Fixed, unevolving rituals.
And rituals as frickin’ magic– summoning rain and expecting rain is a waste of time.

What is The Brahma Net Sutra Project?

What would it be like to try to live the precepts as a modern, independent lay person?

Independent
If you are an ordained monk or nun, the answer is simple. Practice as your teacher or abbot instructs. Independents have no choice but to reason over if and how to follow precepts.

Modern
It isn’t 600AD anymore, times have changed. Precepts that may have been good advice then might be downright silly or unhelpful today. The rest are wisdom and the path to liberation. Which precepts are which?

Lay Practice (Being an Upasaka)
Full time practice isn’t available to everyone– at many points in Buddhist history Buddhists have believed that liberation can be achieved while continuing to handle money, farm, do business, and take care of family.  The famous Brahma Net Sutra hints at this and the lesser known Upasaka Precepts Sutra makes this explicit.

Which Precepts?
There are many forumulations– BNS, Upaska, the various paths to liberation (the 10 of this and 40 of that)– some are vague, some are rather specific, some require some interpretation do make them into valuable practices. So the project is not only to try to follow the precepts but to develop the precepts.

The Brahma Net Sutra Project

I seem to like forums.
Like a moth to candles, I keep getting involved. But the flame wars, heated discussions, and polite but pointless discussions… there is no way that that is helping anyone. So maybe I should create a new forum.

Blogs should be single topic, or nearly so.
This particular blog is my “everything else blog”, but I think I now have enough Buddhist content that it should be branched off into a separate blog. Sorry to everyone who’s been bored by this burst of religious content.

Forums are cheap, so maybe instead of comments (which just get overrun by spam) I’ll instead set up a forum for commenting.

The Brahma Net Sutra Project
The Brahma Net Sutra is a Chinese sutra written shortly after Buddhism arrived in China and needed to adapt to local conditions. It is one of the few formulations of Buddhism that

* Takes vegetarianism and animal liberation seriously
* Takes the ideal of gun control seriously (and weapon control in general)
* Takes precepts as a means to liberation seriously.
* Specifically mentions independent Buddhism (i.e. Buddhism practiced outside of an institution, without monks, priests, without a temple, meditation class and driving to Sunday service)

It also has rules that are incoherent outside of an institutional monestary, outside of China, or in a world that has learned a lot since this sutra was written.  We are now pretty sure that onions are not aphrodisiacs, but viagra, testosterone, estrogen are aphrodisiacs and things like alcohol and bad-social skills do lead to unskillful interactions with the opposite sex.

In the book, “A Year of Living Biblically” The author makes the point that mindlessly following all the rules is more comedy gold than liberation. But there are 84,000 gates to the Dharma, some include following recipe-like precepts. For those people for whom the Brahma Net Sutra speaks to them, there isn’t really a place to discuss it without getting bogged down in angry and irrational arguments against vegetarianism, in favor of widespread ownership and use of deadly force and against the very idea of using precepts as a means to liberation.

Nonsense

I keep coming across these words in my readings about Buddhism

- subtle: so delicate or precise as to be difficult to analyze or describe.
- ineffable: too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words
- transcendent: beyond or above the range of normal or merely physical human experience

A better word, albeit with some normative connotations would be “nonsense” at best, an attempt to manipulate someone’s behavior for nefarious goals at worst.

What can be said about the things we can’t describe and don’t know? Nothing. Seeing something in nothing is delusion.

If you can’t explain the soul, or prove it or disprove it, all you can say about it is that you don’t know anything. And this should have no impact on any decision what so ever.

So on topic X, we know nothing, therefore … what? We can derive no interesting conclusions. Not Pascals wager, nothing.

If we try something and it works for us, that is something. If we try something and it doesn’t work, it works for you, that is something.

It is time we start telling the ineffable to f-off.

Rules, rules, rules. Roll your own Bodhisatva Vows

Quick recap. Ethics are good, it’s hard to express ethics strictly as themes and complicated algorithms. A short list of rules can be instructive. Traditional rules are good starting point, but the have mixed into them repugnant rules, silly rules and so on. (For example rules about touching flowers, plain misogynist rules from ancient times, rules condoning slavery, rules to support some alien power structure, such as an ancient abbot or an ancient Emperor)

Also, there are may ways for ethics to go wrong, much in the same way that there are many ways for secular legal systems to go wrong.
- Power. Subscribing to an ethical system not so much for one’s own goals, but as a means of controlling others. (I.e. not only do I follow the rules, but you need to follow the rules, too. What a fine coincidence that when you follow the rules, I accrue benefits!)
- Rank. Rejecting ethical systems because you think someone is trying to re-arrange the social hierarchy. For example, I practice virtue & accrue merit. For anyone to recognize that merit, would be to raise that person in rank. If it is important to maintain the social order as-is, then it is important to go on the offensive and attack the do-gooder and the ethical system they subscribe to.
- Complacency. Your desire for inertia encourages your mind to do everything possible to fight any ethical system that requires actually changing anything.
- Antinomianism. The rules prohibit doing what you want to do, but with great mental gymnastics, you’re able to come up with a reason to break any rule, sort of making ethics either unnecessary or at least a sham. These mental gymnastics can be sophisticate or primitive– the brain tolerates cognitive dissonance (thinking contradictory thoughts) better than it tolerates not getting what it wants.
- Rules as magic. You follow the rules because… they’re rules. And why? Because. And why? Because someone made the rules. And why? Because they did. And so on. This sort of reasoning would made anyone get fed up with ethical systems altogether. Where the rules are unmotivated, unexplained, detached from any benefit, then they’re magic rules.

Not addressing the ways that ethical systems can fail is the heart of antinomian thinking. For example, lets take two ethical rules, one controversial and one less so.

“You can’t force me to change my diet! You think you are better than me for being a vegetarian? I’ve always eaten turkey, it’s history and I can’t give up history. Kill animals? No, you vegans are the real violent ones that kill animals and your ethical rules are the way you show your true evil face.”(phew, cognitive dissonance solved!) Reasoning away an uncomfortable ethical rule doesn’t even require an airtight logical thought, it just has to be strongly emotionally felt.

“You can’t force me to stop microwaving babies! You think you are better than me for never having microwaved a baby? I’ve always eaten microwaved live babies, it’s history and I can’t give up history. Kill babies? No, you baby coddlers are the real violent killers and your ethical rules are the way you show your true evil face (phew, cognitive dissonance solved!).”

If you substitute in something neutral like “water drinking”, the example doesn’t work– because there is no cognitive dissonance, no part of you that thinks that drinking water is problematic for anyone (oddities like dypsomania excluded).

So here is an idea. Make your own set of rules, use the traditional set of rules as a starting point. We follow other peoples rules that way anyhow, accepting or discarding rules that are unpleasant or simply wrong. Each rule also has at least two forms in Buddhism, householder style and “professional”  Personal rules can be more like guidelines- if you break them, it’s your conscious that suffers and that’s it. If you are a professional, ie. a monk or a nun, when you break the rules the institution gets to deal with it– so those rules are going to be nit picky precise and influenced by the fact the act happened in an institution that has goals of its own.

“Get your house in order rules”
Metarule—> Keep it simple, simplify your life until it is easy to practice
Metarule—> Try to work within existing secular law.
> Economics, aka, don’t steal/be generous.
> Family, aka, no sex/no sex (ha!). Buddhism has little to offer in this area if we are to look at the traditional rules. You’ll have to generate specific rules from themes, such as compassion.
> Mental Health. Drinking, smoking, over (under)eating, and other health activities that mess with your mind.
> Skillful Communication, aka no lying/be honest. The Buddhist tradition is sort of conflicted about this. Per the Lotus Suttra white lies are okay, variances among sects is “skillful means” (different versions of the Dharma for different folks, not lies for you and truth for me) and everyone older than a child knows that managing information in a socially acceptable way is more difficult that just a policy to always tell the painful truth.
> Death and Suffering. Don’t exacerbate the situation, minimize death and suffering of all sentient beings.

“Take care of others rules”
> Boddhichitta – Sincerely wish that others can find peace.
> Engagement – Actually do something about helping others find peace. In the Buddhist informed view, this isn’t just enabling people to be more materially successful. This is enabling people to achieve Buddhist goals, regardless to if they follow through. If someone is sick, impoverished to the point where they are time starved (or rich in a way that makes them time starved), or wandering and uninformed, then we ought to be obliged to do something about it.