The name of this blog, Rainbow Juice, is intentional.
The rainbow signifies unity from diversity. It is holistic. The arch suggests the idea of looking at the over-arching concepts: the big picture. To create a rainbow requires air, fire (the sun) and water (raindrops) and us to see it from the earth.
Juice suggests an extract; hence rainbow juice is extracting the elements from the rainbow, translating them and making them accessible to us. Juice also refreshes us and here it symbolises our nutritional quest for understanding, compassion and enlightenment.

Tuesday 16 July 2024

What Noise Annoys An Oyster?

When I was a boy one of the songs I often heard on the radio (a precursor to the iPhone) was by Max Bygraves – What Noise Annoys An Oyster? It was just a humorous ditty with a catchy tune I could sing along to. The song answered its own question. ‘A noisy noise annoys an oyster most.’

What that noisy noise was is not elaborated upon in the song.

Recently, I have begun pondering the source of noisy noises. What constitutes a noisy noise? Moreover, what is the noisiest noise? There would appear to be at least two ways to answer the first of these.

A noisy noise could be the loudest noise.

Or, a noisy noise could be one that is unrelenting. One that keeps nagging away at your eardrums.

I did some research. The loudest natural sound is that of the Blue Whale, whose mating call can be as great as 188 dB (decibel) and heard from hundreds of kilometres away underwater. The loudest sound ever in recorded history is said to have been the Tunguska Meteor in Siberia in 1908. This meteor exploded some 5 – 10 km above the Earth’s surface, so leaving no impact crater, but emitted a noise of 300 dB or more. The Krakatoa eruption in 1883 produced a similar noise level and was heard 2,000 km away. Sailors within 60 km had their eardrums shattered, and thousands of people close by were killed. In comparison, an earthquake of magnitude 5 on the Richter scale can be as much as 230 dB.

All these are sudden events of relatively short duration – although I have not checked how long the mating season is for a Blue Whale.

They are also all extremely loud. A level of 85 dB is often quoted as the maximum level of toleration for a human before hearing damage is done. Normal human speech is around 55-65 dB, and a human scream can be from 80 – 120 dB. Upper safe noise levels for humans are usually set at around 75 – 80 dB.

But, what of continuous and unrelenting noise?

Unsurprisingly perhaps, the species on Earth that is the noisiest in this regard is us. We humans are incredibly noisy. Most of that noise is not from our voices, but from our technology.

Household technologies such as vacuum cleaners and dishwashers are close to the safe threshold for humans, at around 70 – 75 dB.

Other everyday technologies however are above the safe zone. Consider a few examples: Leaf blower 80 – 90 dB., lawn mower approx. 95 dB., and chainsaws around 105 dB. No wonder your ears hurt each weekend when the neighbourhood starts mowing lawns, blowing leaves around, or cutting up firewood.

Yet, even these are not our noisiest creations. A pneumatic drill for example produces 110 dB. Our city streets are extremely noisy. A car horn registers 120 dB as does the siren of an emergency vehicle. Sporting events and music concerts have levels of up to 110 dB. Go out to an airport and you’ll hear a jet aircraft take off at 130 dB.

City dwellers are beset by a continuous noise level of 60 dB or more. This constant noise level is enough to lift blood pressure and raise heart rates above normal levels. Chronic noise of this level can elevate stress levels, cause loss of concentration, and be a factor in sleep deprivation. Simply put, living in cities can be unhealthy for you.

Sadly, unhealthy noise levels are not restricted to cities.

What of the other life forms on this planet? Does the ever-present noise generated by humans have an impact?

It sure does.

Our noisy noise detrimentally affects the mating, communication, and navigation patterns of many animals. Even supposedly protected nature areas are not immune to the presence of human noise. Noise levels can be 2 – 10 times the normal background noise levels in these areas.

The effect of human noise upon animals has only recently begun being studied and analysed. However, already the damage is being witnessed. A 2019 research paper looked at data from more than 100 species (including amphibians, arthropods, birds, fish, mammals, molluscs and reptilians.)1 The paper concluded that: ‘We found clear evidence that anthropogenic noise affects a wide range of species from a variety of different taxonomic groups.’

Disturbingly, the researchers noted that, ‘it is likely that we underestimate the effect of noise.

The oyster in Max Bygraves’ song was correct. Noisy noises do annoy oysters – and just about every other animal (including us humans) on the planet.

Note:

1. Hansjoerg P Kunc and Rouven Schmidt. The effects of anthropogenic noise on animals: a meta-analysis, The Royal Society: Biology Letters, November 2019. https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsbl.2019.0649 accessed 16 July 2024

Monday 8 July 2024

Retrieving Shadows - Book Review

The Mirriam-Webster dictionary gives a definition of shadow as the dark figure cast upon a surface by a body intercepting the rays from a source of light. When we look, we can see this sort of shadow.

This is not the sort of shadow that Christina Lavers is writing about in Retrieving Shadows: A Return to the Heart.1 The sort of shadow she is writing of cannot be seen, and most often we are not even consciously aware of.

The sort of shadow that Christina Lavers is referring to is defined by the eco-psychologist Bill Plotkin as ‘what is true about us that we don’t know – don’t know at all – and, if accused of it, would adamantly and sincerely deny.’

This is the shadow that is the subject of Lavers’ beautiful book.

Retrieving Shadows is the best introductory work on how to work with our shadows that I have read. Christina writes in an easy and compassionate style that makes this book so readable and accessible.

Given the description above, shadow work may sound mysterious, daunting, and possibly even ominous. Christina writes to lighten and assuage such fears.

All of us have much to gain from undergoing shadow work, for as Christina says, we are all ‘full spectrum people, meaning that we each contain the full spectrum of potential expression, from the most sweet, innocent, and easily lovable to the nastiest, greedy, cold, controlling, manipulative aspects.’ Some, or all, of these parts of us can, and do, get hidden away in our Shadow.

Although Christina acknowledges Carl Jung as the originator of the concept of shadow she does not get bogged down in theoretical explanations. Her book is straight forward; indeed, it almost reads as if it were common sense.

Retrieving Shadows is illustrated with words by analogies, stories (presumably from her professional practice,) and personal experience. It is also illustrated graphically with delightful, evocative drawings. These all enable the reader to become comfortable with entering the darkness where shadow resides.

Shadow work has much to offer us, both individually, and collectively. Christina notes that our social system is often both the source of our shadows as well as being the maintainer of them. ‘As children’ she writes, ‘…immersed in the dual nature of reality, we quickly learn to categorise our world into good and bad … even ourselves.’ Working with our Shadow then, must be beneficial for us individually and socially.

Christina offers a number of tools and techniques for working with shadow, and suggests that the supportive facilitation of a shadow-work practitioner may be of benefit. This caveat is well worth noting, as sometimes what arises in shadow-work can be difficult and emotionally painful.

Yet, the work is important, and offers tremendous opportunity for growth, self-awareness, and (possibly unexpected) beauty.

There are some warnings however, and Christina points these out with kindness. The most crucial warning is that of denial. ‘If we deny (the) potential within us, then we are likely to project this energy out into the world, ultimately contributing to and energising distortion at the collective shadow level.’ To me, this is a vital warning, for we may not even be aware that we are projecting a hidden part of ourselves. It can be argued that the massive and inter-connected ills of the world have been created, in large part by our individual, and collective, denial of our shadows. Christina is utterly correct to make the observation.

Three other warnings that Christina makes are: 1. To not rush or attempt to consciously direct the healing process – allow it to take the time it needs. 2. To not ‘remain continuously in the basement’ as this can act to re-traumatise us. We must, she says, ‘stay with the heart.’ 3. To not attempt to point out other people’s shadows.

Retrieving Shadows is not long (just 110 pages) making it easy to read, and re-read. The book is not just for those wanting to do inner work. It is also, perhaps even more so, for those who want to act to change the world, and for those who would wish to transcend the world. For, as mentioned earlier, Chistina declares, we are all full-spectrum beings.

If you know little or nothing of shadows or of shadow-work, then this is an excellent introduction. If you already know of shadows and shadow-work, then this is a valuable addition to your knowledge.

The last words in this review should be those of Christina. They come just 10 pages before the end, and beautifully summarise the interplay between the uncomfortable, and threatening aspects of shadow-work, and the magic and beauty the work can summon.

‘It is important to note that dark absolutely does not equate to evil. Evil is just darkness without love. The dark itself is beautiful, and like the soil out of which live grows, it holds incredible potential in its depth. The heart can hold the whole spectrum of being without judgment, and when aligned with this loving frequency and expressed with awareness of the whole, the dark becomes an integral piece of the entire picture.’

Notes:

1. Christina Lavers, Retrieving Shadows: A Return to the Heart, Christina Lavers, NSW, Australia, 2024

Tuesday 2 July 2024

Small Is Beautiful: 50-year Re-reading

When I was 21 years old I read a number of thought-provoking and transformative books. One of these was Small Is Beautiful by E.F. Schumacher.1 Published in 1973 Small Is Beautiful is one of those books that had an enormous impact on a generation that was beginning to realise the importance of environmental issues.

Now, fifty years on I have read it once more. How does this re-reading today compare with fifty years ago? What has changed? Did my initial reading really transform me? What did Schumacher have to say fifty years ago that still applies today?

As the sub-title - A study of economics as if people mattered – suggests, Schumacher was keen to examine, and possibly retrieve, economics from the morass within which it had mired itself. Indeed, is economics of any use at all was one of Schumacher’s questions:

“If (economics) cannot get beyond its vast abstractions, the national income, the rate of growth, capital/output ratio, input-output analysis, labour mobility, capital accumulation; if it cannot get beyond all this and make contact with the human realities of poverty, frustration, alienation, despair, breakdown, crime, escapism, stress, congestion, ugliness, and spiritual death, then let us scrap economics and start afresh.”

Challenging words fifty years ago. No less challenging today. Indeed, more so, if we consider the changes that have taken place over the past fifty years.

Although not primarily a book about environmental issues, Schumacher did have some apt observations to make. He noted that we are part of nature, yet in our battle with nature even if we win the battle, we will find ourselves “on the losing side.” He noted too that “nature always knows where and when to stop,” yet we (humans) continue to act as if economic growth can go on ad infinitum. Asking “what is enough?” Schumacher claimed that the economist is not in a position to reply, for the economist has no concept of enough.

Schumacher was keen to espouse ideas of appropriate technology and small, decentralised economies and technologies. In championing appropriate and small-scale technology he noted that our use of technology to solve problems often only generated more, and worse, problems. Citing a contemporary of his, Barry Commoner (an American biologist and ecologist) he noted that “the new problems are not the consequences of incidental failure but of technological success.”

Fifty years on and Schumacher’s warnings cannot be consigned to history. Indeed, many of them have come to pass.

Furthermore, things have sped up and additional harms and difficulties have come about. For example, when Schumacher was writing, the terms global warming, the greenhouse effect, and climate change had not entered our vocabulary. Nor had the basic cause of it all -overshoot. In 1973 when Schumacher was writing his book, humanity was still operating within the boundaries of one Earth. But only just! Within a year of publication our consumption, waste, and pollution activities required more than one Earth to cope. Fifty years later, at a global level, we require 1.7 Earths!! William Catton’s ground-breaking book, Overshoot, was a decade in the future.2

Had Schumacher known the full magnitude of these, would he have written a different book?

I suspect so. He would possibly have been more strident in his criticism of technology. He would probably have put greater emphasis upon our exploitation of nature and the Earth.

I doubt that he would have changed his mind about the underlying ills of the world. He said it then, he is likely to have said it today, “We are suffering from a metaphysical disease, and the cure must therefore be metaphysical.” Indeed, he may have stressed this much more, and have explored our metaphysical disease in greater depth.

Schumacher addresses our metaphysical disease not in great depth. However, what he does say about this disease is worth listening to. For example, he notes that, “The beginning of wisdom is the admission of one’s own lack of knowledge.”

Today, fifty years on, we have a lot more knowledge, yet we seem to have less wisdom. Wisdom askes the question, what should we do? Knowledge asks the question; how can we do this? without considering the possible consequences. Schumacher was correct fifty years ago, yet we have not yet acknowledged our lack of knowledge.

Perhaps the most important counsel that Schumacher can give us in reading his book fifty years on comes in the final sentences of Small Is Beautiful:

“Everywhere people ask: ‘What can I actually do?’ The answer is as simple as it is disconcerting: we can, each of us. work to put our own house in order. The guidance we need for this work cannot be found in science or technology, the value of which utterly depends on the ends they serve; but it can still be found in the traditional wisdom of (humanity.)”

Fifty years after I first read this book, I now think I understand Schumacher’s ideas with greater clarity.

Notes:

1. E.F. Schumacher, Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered, Abacus, London, 1974. Previously published by Blond & Briggs Ltd., Great Britain, 1973

2. William R Catton, Jr., Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change, University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, 1982

Thursday 27 June 2024

Asthmatic Earth

When we (humans) breathe we inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. Trees do exactly the opposite. Via the process of photosynthesis, trees “inhale” carbon dioxide and “exhale” oxygen. This cycle is crucial to our life on this planet.

This process often has trees and forests metaphorically characterised as the lungs of the world.

Normally, when we are healthy, our breathing is a relatively quiet activity. However, when we get sick or develop a disease of some sort, especially one that affects our lungs, we cough. Coughing is a symptom of some illness.

What if trees get sick? What if the normal process of photosynthesis becomes diseased?

Do trees also “cough”?

It seems that – metaphorically at least – they do?

A study released in November 2023 by a team of earth and planetary scientists from Pennsylvania State University reveals a disturbing trend. When trees get stressed by high temperatures and/or limited water then the process of photosynthesis gets impeded, and a reverse process commences.1

This reverse process, known as photorespiration, means that trees no longer take up carbon dioxide; rather they begin to send CO2 back into the atmosphere.

The lead author of the study, Max Lloyd (Assistant Research Professor of Geosciences) says that “Trees in warmer, drier climates are essentially coughing instead of breathing.”

This is a worrying condition. Continuous coughing in humans can be a sign of asthma. To stretch the analogy of trees breathing a little further we might ask: Is the Earth becoming asthmatic?

There is no known cure for human asthma. Is there one for an asthmatic Earth?

Not likely.

Plants and trees presently absorb around 25% of the carbon dioxide emitted by humans. If these “lungs” become diseased, and the world becomes “asthmatic” then the ability of trees to absorb this carbon dioxide will diminish.

Consequently, a positive feedback loop in the carbon cycle of Earth becomes established. Humans pump CO2 into the atmosphere, trees absorb that, thus sequestering it. But now, a positive feedback loop gets launched, whereby trees no longer sequester the CO2 – they contribute to the rising emissions. This form of “positivity” is not good for trees, it is not good for humans, it is not good for Earth.

Just as asthma sufferers worldwide find ways to cope with asthma, so will we as a species have to find ways to cope with an increasingly asthmatic world.

Notes:

1. Max K. Lloyd et al., Isotopic clumping in wood as a proxy for photorespiration in trees, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, November 2023, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2306736120 accessed 25 June 2024.

Tuesday 18 June 2024

War Is Not Healthy (Song For an Unknown Foe)

When I was a teenager and young man the Vietnam War was raging and coming to its final end. I participated in many anti-war marches and rallies. One of the most prominent posters of the time read: “War is not healthy for children and other living things.”

The etching upon which this poster was based was created by Los Angeles printmaker Lorraine Art Schneider in 1965. She donated the etching to a women’s anti-war group called Another Mother For Peace. The poster and sentiment rapidly permeated the large anti-war movement around the world.

The sentiment in this etching has remained with me ever since. Over the years I have discovered just how many ‘living things’ are encompassed by the words.

Amongst those ‘other living things’ are the soldiers themselves. Many came back from wars traumatised men. Many still do from the wars around the world today. Today we know this as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD.) During World War 1 it was known simply as shell-shock. Shell-shock could strike down men on all sides.

I tried to capture this trauma, pain, and sorrow in a poem titled Song For An Unknown Foe. It is written from the perspective of a German sniper in World War 1.

Today I shot a man I did not know
Though I shot him through the head
Straight through my heart that bullet sped
Leaving me in pain and deep sorrow.

Lying in that god forsaken muddy field
Thousands call it, name it, no-mans-land
Yet, in this confused and cratered land
Lies many a man, his guts and bones revealed.
 
And now another son I’ve taken from this earth
For ‘twas my ’pon that vile trigger
Stole from him his vitality, vim, and vigour
In this wretched war of little worth.
 
Now I hear the Generals propound
‘He did his duty, he did it well’
Yet no pride have I, no chest to swell
No honour in that duty have I found.
 
When I awake with each breaking dawn
Consider that foe whose name I know not
All those others with each practiced shot
            I’ll picture him lying in a soldier’s lawn.’

Tuesday 11 June 2024

Large Language Models: Destroyers of Communication

This blog is on a topic I know little about. However, I do know three things. First, I know how to listen to my inner-tutor (my intuition) and second, I know how to listen to experts in the field. Third, and most importantly, I know how important trust is to the building and maintenance of community and global well-being.

Large Language Models (LLMs) are computational models that enable language generation and processing. Probably the most well-known expression of LLMs is ChatGPT.

When I listen to my intuition and the thoughts of experts, I grow increasingly wary of, and sceptical of, LLMs and Artificial Intelligence (AI) in general.

AI poses many threats and risks to humanity and the rest of the world. To mention just a few here: 1. The energy use by AI is doubling every 100 days, 2. Studies are now being show that LLMs are learning to lie and deceive, 3. Universities and other institutions are being challenged by the issue of plagiarism and originality of thought because of LLMs, 4. Inbuilt bias (gender, race, class, sexuality etc) occurs in the ‘harvesting of words’1 that LLMs undertake, 5. AI undermines democracy and privacy.

I want to focus here on another issue, that of trust.

First though, we must discuss what communication is and is not. Communication is not simply the passing on of information. As with many words in the English language, communication comes to us via Latin, in this case, communicare. In Latin this word can be translated as: to share, divide out, join, unite, participate in, impart, inform.

Communicare itself derives from communis, meaning in common. Com = with, together, and unis = oneness, union.

When we understand this, we realise that communication is much, much, more than simply passing on information.

Communication is a means to commune, a way of building and maintaining relationships. Wholesome communication is a cornerstone of healthy communities.

This is what AI destroys.

Relationships are built on trust, and that is what LLMs undermine.

A study undertaken by the University of Queensland in 2023 of over 17,000 people from 17 countries showed that three out of five people were wary of trusting AI systems.2

Not trusting AI systems is one thing. Not trusting each other is another. AI does nothing to mitigate the already high levels of mistrust and polarisation in the world. It may indeed exacerbate it.

The reason for this is that LLMs are not a communication tool. They are simply an information tool. They pass on information, without regard to the veracity of the information gleaned and generated.

Let me pose a scenario, which is likely to become more prevalent in the future. Suppose I am in communication with someone and have built a relationship of trust with that person. When I read something from them I do not question that what I read is that person’s own ideas and thought.

But then, what happens if I discover that that person has begun to use ChatGPT (or other AI) to generate what they write? Will I accept that the words are indeed those of the person I am in communication with?

If all I am interested in is the information in what I read, then I will possibly be accepting of the material.

However, if my concern is more that of maintaining a relationship with that person (including the exchange of information) then knowing that the material has been generated by AI, and not by the person themselves, my trust in future interactions with that person is likely to be diminished. In other words, the communication between us is seriously undermined.

LLMs, and AI generally, is poised to damage levels of trust between people. When trust is destabilised then relationships founder, and polarisation follows.

Already, the levels of inter-personal (and inter-national) trust are decreasing, and polarisation  increasing.3 AI exacerbates this trend.

AI is destroying true communication.

Notes:

1. Harvesting of words: a term used by Tracey Spicer in a public presentation on Artificial Intelligence, 8 June 2024. Spicer is the author of Man-Made: How the bias of the past is being built into the future, Simon & Schuster, Australia, 2023.

2. Gillespie, N., Lockey, S., Curtis, C., Pool, J., & Akbari, A. Trust in Artificial Intelligence: A Global Study. The University of Queensland and KPMG Australia. 2023, doi:10.14264/00d3c94

3. For example, in the US less than 40% of people felt that ‘most people can be trusted.’ Dan Vallone et al., Two Stories of Distrust in America, More in Common, New York, 2021.

Wednesday 5 June 2024

What If We Weren't Alone?

Homo sapiens and
Homo neanderthalensis
The question ‘are we alone in the Universe?’ has been pondered for decades. The Search for
Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) is a collective term for the many forms of search that exist for intelligent life beyond our planet. Scientifically, the search began in earnest soon after the invention of radio.

What would we do if intelligent life were discovered elsewhere in our own galaxy or in other galaxies? How would we react? What would we think of our own existence? Would we react with fear, or with open arms?

Would we re-evaluate our own place in the cosmos? What about our life on this planet? Would we reconsider our place here on Earth?

Crucially, would we continue to think of ourselves as the supreme beings? Would we continue to think of ourselves as the Crown of Creation or as the Pinnacle of Evolution?

Of course, notwithstanding various conspiracy theories and ufology, there has not yet been any scientific evidence to confirm the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence. Nor, however, has there been any scientific evidence to confirm that extraterrestrial intelligence does not exist.

Are we alone? We don’t know, but so far, we seem to be.

Yet, we haven’t always been alone.

Just 100,000 years ago, right here on our home planet, we Homo sapiens were not alone. We shared the planet with at least five other hominins of the genus Homo. The longest living of these was Homo erectus who lived from around 2 million years ago up until the relatively recent time of about 100,000 years ago. Homo erectus was widespread throughout Eurasia.

Two of the others, Homo luzonensis and Homo floresiensis were confined to islands (Luzo in the Philippines and Flores in Indonesia respectively.) We, Homo sapiens, most likely did not know of the existence of these two long-lost cousins at the time they existed.

But the other two hominins, Homo neanderthalensis and Homo denisova we probably did know of, as well as interacting with. Homo neanderthalensis (the Neanderthals) roamed throughout Eurasia from (possibly) around 430,000 years ago until as recent as 40,000 years ago.

Homo denisova were an Asian species living from about 285,000 years ago until just 25,000 years ago.

We certainly did know of these hominin cousins. Indeed, we knew them quite well. Modern day Homo sapiens of European descent contain approximately 2% Homo neanderthalensis DNA. Homo sapiens from Asia, Melanesia, and Australian Aborigines contain up to 6% Homo denisova DNA.

Hence, as little as 20,000 – 40,000 years ago we were sharing our planet with two other species of Homo. We were sharing the land, trees, fruits, nuts, grains, and waterways with these cousins for some 80% to 90% or more of our existence.

What if those two species were still extant? Significantly, what if all five of them were still living and breathing somewhere on Earth?

We would have to re-evaluate our notions of superiority. We would have to recognise that we (Homo sapiens) had to share this planet with at least five other species within our genus. Recognising that, we might even begin to accept that we needed to share this Earth with other-than-human species.

A corollary to this thought experiment is the question of why these other five species of Homo died out? The reason is chilling.

A study in 2020 strongly suggests that the extinction “coincides with increased vulnerability to climate change.”1 In the case of Homo neanderthalensis competition with Homo sapiens at a time of severe climate change appears to have hastened their demise.

The study further suggests that we (homo sapiens) managed to survive the climate change of the time because we were the “only species whose climatic niche was still expanding … when the Neanderthals went extinct.”

Nowadays, however, we have nowhere further to expand. Climate change affects everyone, everywhere. We are the latest of the Homo genus, we may well be the last.

Unless we change how we perceive of ourselves and if we were to think of ourselves as not alone.

Note:

1. Pasquale Raia et al., Past Extinctions of Homo Species Coincided with Increased Vulnerability to Climatic Change, One Earth 3, 480–490 October 23, 2020.