Thursday, August 29, 2013

Indian Buddhist Pundits: From "Jewel Garland of Buddhist History"

Indian Buddhist Pundits: From “Jewel Garland of Buddhist History” – translated by Lobsang Norbu Tsonawa (Library of Tibetan Works and Archives 1985, 2005)

This is a book of the history and lore of the Mahayana masters of India. Their stories and deeds, often miraculous, are recounted. Most of these masters were monastics with many of them also trained in Tantra. A few, such as Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, and Shantideva count among the 84 mahasiddhas as well. Through Atisa, the Indian monasticism profoundly influenced Tibetan monasticism. Many of the textual works of these Indian masters are key texts in the Tibetan training today as they were in India more than a thousand years ago. These stories are often contextualized in the teachings of Tibetan lamas.

The introduction contains a concise classification of Buddhist teachings according to Tibetan Buddhism. In terms of the Three Turnings of the Dharma Wheel, it was said that Buddha gave three styles of teaching: The first turning was the teachings on the Four Noble Truths given in Varanasi to the five ascetics. Other sutras as well as the Jataka tales are also attributed. The second turning was teachings on emptiness from the Prajnaparamita (Perfection of Wisdom) Sutra, given in Rajagriha at Vuture’s Peak. The third turning was teachings on Buddha Nature, given in Vaisali and other places, which became the basis of the Vajrayana (Tantra) system. Of the four philosophic schools of Buddhism: Vaibhasika, Sautrantika, Cittamatra, and Madhyamika, the first two are associated with the first turning, Madhyamika with the second turning, and Cittamatra (aka Yogacara) with the third. The four classes of Tantra were said to have been originally taught by Sambhogakaya Buddha Vajradhara. The teachings on Vinaya (discipline of monastics), Sutra (direct teachings of Buddha), and Abhidharma (psychology, cosmology) comprise the Tripitaka, the Three Baskets of the Buddha’s teaching.

The first pundit is the famed Nagarjuna, often associated with the early days of the Mahayana. Some say there are at least two Nagarjunas as the times and teachers’ times don’t match. Some say there was Nagarjuna the early philosopher and later Nagarjuna the alchemist and tantrika. Others say they are different incarnations of the same being or even an immortal being. In any case, Indian history is notoriously vague about dates and very big on legend and magical feats. In this text Nagarjuna (the alchemist) was taught Guyhasamaja and other tantras by Saraha, the great siddha. Manjusri was said to be his cosmic guru and guardian  (and the source of his lineage) but he was also a devotee of Tara and a mantradhara of Kurukuli. He utilized Mahakali and Mahakala as protectors. Many of the deeds of these Mahayana masters beginning with Buddha himself involve successfully debating with other Buddhists and non-Buddhists about various doctrines and winning them over – as the custom was that whoever lost the debate would be required to convert to the victor’s view. He was invited by a virtuous group of Nagas to give teachings and to bring back the Prajnaparamita teachings. Like many of the panditas he was known as a builder of temples and stupas and an establisher of the Buddhist doctrine. Many texts are attributed to Nagarjuna, including those original to the Madhyamika (Middle Way) philosophy. He gave teachings on Vinaya, emptiness, and dharamadhatu (thus all three turnings of the dharma wheel). Some of his main students were the mahasiddhas Aryadeva and Nagabodhi and the pandits Buddhapalita, Bhavaviveka, and Asvagosha. Nagarjuna is a pivotal figure in the history of Buddhism and is known as the Second Buddha. Nagarjuna appears in the lineage of Mahayana, of the Mahasiddhas, and even in the lineage of Chan/Zen Buddhism.

Aryadeva had a legendary birth from a lotus flower, like the later Padmasambhava. He was known for his naturally virtuous behavior and became the main student of Nagarjuna. One of the stories is that a non-Buddhist named Asvagosha was a master in debate having been granted a boon by Isvara. He went to central India to debate at Nalanda. The Buddhist monks there were worried about him so they made a torma to Mahakala containing a letter to Nagarjuna, whose whereabouts were unknown. A crow emerged and flew off with the letter to Nagarjuna. Nagarjuna trained Aryadeva to be able to win debates from the Buddhist or the non-Buddhist perspective. He said there would be an obstacle on the way – this appeared as a malevolent spirit taking the form of a beggar asking Aryadeva for one of his eyes which he gave readily and then noticed that the beggar smashed it on a rock. After this he shouted that this was a shame and no one would be benefitted – but this attachment of regret did not allow him to regain eyesight in his one eye. It was a great debate with many details but Aryadeva won and Asvagosha knowing he was defeated fled into the sky. Aryadeva chased him to the limits of the universe curiously known as the “sword-energy zone” which dissolves that which enters it. Aryadeva captured him and out of boredom he began to study Buddhist texts and eventually Asvagosha embraced the doctrine and wrote several famous texts.

Buddhapalita was another student of Nagarjuna and studied both the Buddhist and non-Buddhist views. He wrote a famous commentary to Nagarjuna’s text Root Wisdom which clarifies the meaning of the Madhyamika view.

Bhavaviveka was another of Nagarjuna’s students. He wrote a commentary that refuted the view of Buddhapalita’s commentary on Root Wisdom. But since the usefulness of the various views of emptiness are dependent on the beings to which they are taught – both texts are part of the taught tradition.

Candrakirti was the latest of Nagarjuna’s students. He also excelled in the Buddhist and non-Buddhist teachings as well as the sutras and tantras. He was accused of being a lazy monk and a non-Buddhist. He was known for his magical acts and would even engage the Buddhist and Saivites to work together on common problems such as magically repelling an invasion of Turks (called Turuskas), the Buddhists supplicating the Three Jewels and the non-Buddhists supplication Siva. Candrakirti was said to be aided by Manjusri. He wrote many texts and commentaries clarifying Nagarjuna’s view as well as commentaries on tantras such as the Guhyasamaja.

Candragomi was born as a rebirth of a previous pandit who died in order to be reborn to demonstrate the process of rebirth. He was said to be able to directly perceive Avalokitesvara and sometimes Tara. He studied at Nalanda with Candrakirti. Magical stories abound in his life. He wrote many texts, commentaries, and praises to Avalokitesvara and Tara.

The story of Asanga is a famous one. He was born and taught all the sciences and the dharma, became a monk, then went off to meditate in solitude on his chosen meditational deity – Maitreya. He meditated for 12 years without a sign then after leaving his meditation found a female dog dying by the road, full of maggots. While caring for the dog, the dog transformed into Buddha Maitreya. Maitreya noted that he had always been there but only beings with good fortune (fortunate karma) and/or great compassion could perceive enlightened beings. Curiously, in this story as well as another, there appears a woman who sells wine that was able to see parts of the enlightened beings or at least perceive them in some way. Asanga desired to revive the Mahayana doctrine so Maitreya took him to Tusita heaven for many years where he directly heard teachings and experienced many types of samadhis. When he returned he established a dharma school and retreat. Here were written the famed five works of Maitreya and many other texts composed by Asanga. The lineage from Maitreya to Asanga became one of the two major Mahayana lineages, the other being the lineage from Manjusri to Nagarjuna. Even today these are the two lineages of the Bodhisattva Vow – the Vast Conduct (from Asanga) and the Profound Emptiness (from Nagarjuna). At the end of his life Asanga was said to have served as the abbot of Nalanda University.

Vasubhandu was the brother of Asanga, from a Brahmin father, as Asanga was from a Ksatriya father. Like Asanga, he was taught the sciences and dharma first by his mother.

He extensively studied the Abhidharma (metaphysics) in Kashmir. Eventually, Asanga taught him the Mahayana. After this Vasubhandu composed his most famous text, the Abhidharmakosa, a major explication of the Abhidharma that incorporates the Mahayana view. Although his Hinayana teacher from Kashmir was skeptical of Mahayana he refused to debate his teacher, apparently, as other stories confirm, a rule in debate. There are other tales of the magical exploits of Vasubhandu and the spread of Mahayana. He was said to follow his brother as abbot of Nalanda.

Sthirmati was a student of Vasubhandu. He first (as a pigeon or dove) heard his master reciting texts while sitting in a vat of sesame oil. After the dove died it was reborn as Sthirmati, a son of low-caste parents. He found Vasubhandu and learned more. Eventually he composed several commentaries.

Dignaga was another of Vasubhandu’s students. He was a master of debate and was able to champion the Mahayana view over that of the Hinayana Buddhists and the non-Buddhists. Once he debated and defeated a non-Buddhist named Sudurjaya, who directly perceived Isvara, and then Ksrnamuni-raja. After Ksrnamuni-raja was defeated in debate, he challenged him to a battle in magic – which often occurs – debate with words then battle with magic. He was aided by Manjusri and praised the cultivation of Bodhicitta over all intellectual and magical abilities. His most famous text is The Synthesis of All Reasoning, a summarizing text of logic. After this composition he was adorned with many perceptions and samadhis.

Gunaprabha was a student of Vasubhandu that excelled in the Vinaya (discipline of monks). He learned all the Vedas and teachings of Buddha. He became the guru of a king and composed important texts on the Vinaya.

Sakyaprabha was from the north and taught dharma in Kashmir. Not much about him except that he wrote a text on the Vinaya and one called Possessing Light.

Vimuktisena was another student of Vasubhandu who excelled in the Perfection of Wisdom teachings. He was also a student of Samgharaksita. He composed several key texts and commentaries on the Perfection of Wisdom, uniting them with the Madhyamika view of Nagarjuna.

Dharmakirti was born into the family of a non-Buddhist Brahmin. He learned the Vedas and the sciences. After discovering Buddhism Dharmakirti was expelled from the Brahmin community. He became a great debater and even studied the secret teachings of the non-Buddhists. He was able to convert many to the Mahayana. He was said to have such mental absorption that he could debate ten opponents simultaneously. His most famous debate was with Sankaracarya (I am not sure if this is the same Sankara famed as the reviver of Advaita Vedanta or another). Sankaracarya was defeated and drowned himself in the Ganges. He was reborn, grew up, debated Dharmakirti again and lost and drowned himself in the Ganges. A third incarnation of Sankaracarya with the ability to perceive Mahadeva arose to challenge him but again was defeated and drowned. Finally a fourth incarnation was defeated and accepted the Buddhadharma. Dharmakirti taught some Kashmiri Brahmins who propagated his lineage there. He wrote many texts and commentaries. He was said to have lived in the 7th century CE, although time periods are often very sketchy in Indian history.

Santiraksita was a Sarvastivadin monk from Bengal. Basalnang, a minister to the Tibetan king Trisong Deutsen, went to China to bring back Buddhist texts. He also went to India to bring back texts and a teacher. In Nepal he found Santiraksita and invited him. After much difficulty he made it to Tibet and taught the king but there were storms, floods, and sickness thought to be conjured by spirits and demons of the area. Santiraksita suggested he invite Padmasambhava, an expert in subduing wild spirits. When he came this was the beginning of the establishment of Buddhadharma in Tibet. Santiraksita and Padmasmbhava built the famous Samye Monastery. The king had many Tibetans train as translators and other pandits such as Vimalimitra were invited from India. Thus was the first phase of the large-scale transference of the teachings to Tibet.

Simhabadra, aka. Haribhadra, was a student of Santiraksita. He specialized in Perfection of Wisdom studies and the tantric sadhana of Maitreya Buddha. He wrote a famous commentary to Maitreya’s Perfection of Wisdom teachings.

Santideva was said to be able to perceive Manjusri and receive teachings directly from him as well as from Tara. After serving a king, Santideva traveled to Nalanda where he became a monk. He became known as Bhusuku – one who only eats, sleeps, and defecates. Some other monks sought to discredit the lazy Santideva by having him recite the Pratimoksha Sutra which he could not have memorized. They made a high seat that he would not be able to get to – but he did magically. He asked if they wanted that sutra or something they had never heard before. They said the latter so he recited the Bodhisattva-carya-avatara (The Way of the Bodhisattva) which he apparently composed the night before. This is one of the most revered practical texts in the Mahayana tradition. At the 9th chapter on emptiness he ascended into the air. Later he debated a non-Buddhist master and finally subdued him through a contest of magical powers. Many other great deeds are attributed to Santideva.

Atisa Dipamkarasrijnana was born in 980, the son of a prince in Bengal. Throughout his life he was said to be guided by the enlightened goddess Tara. He learned the teachings and became proficient in the tantric teachings as well, attaining siddhis and samadhis. He learned from the siddha Avadhuti and Guru  Rahula Gupta. In a vision Heruka told him to seek ordination. His teacher Rahula taught him that siddhis and samadhis were not enough, that he should learn and practice compassion and Bodhicitta with the help of Avalokitesvara as a meditational deity. Therefore he sought the most famous teachings on compassion and Bodhicitta. He discovered that Suvarnadvipa Dharmakirti in Sumatra (Indonesia) had such teachings so he made a dangerous voyage there. He studied there with his guru for 12 years imbibing teachings on Bodhicitta and Transformation of the Mind. I believe this is where he learned the famed Tong Len teaching of exchanging oneself for others. Afterword he ended up teaching at Vikramasila Monastic University in India. Meanwhile in Tibet there was a decline in dharma flourishing due to a king known as Langdarma who did not tolerate Buddhist practice, especially those of ordained monks. After this king was gone another king – Llalama Yeshe Od sought to revive the dharma. The situation was such that those who practiced Vinaya and those who practiced Tantra were separate. Apparently there was also lots of deception among teachers of dharma, both Tibetans and Indians who traveled there. He was invited to Tibet. The details in this text are somewhat different from other versions I have heard. He was aging but made the long journey after considerable deliberation. At the request of Jangchub Od, the king – nephew of Yeshe Od, Atisa composed the famous text Lamp on the Path to Enlightenment so that the Tibetans could follow practical and easy instructions rather than profound and difficult ones. He then met his disciple, the non-monk Dromtonpa that he was told about in a vision by Tara. Atisa was said to have given many teaching in Tibet and performed magical feats. He taught sutras and tantras. He also taught that these different classes of teachings should not be taught and practiced separately, as had become the norm in Tibet, but together. Atisa was said to emphasize the Bodhicitta that he learned in Indonesia with Suvarnadvipa Dharmakirti. Dromtonpa went on to continue the then secret Kadam lineage which later became a famous lineage of mostly monks. Atisa remained in Tibet for 13 years and died in 1053 CE. According to the translator:

“In the religious tradition of the old and new Kadam School, the ethics of discipline is made the foundation of practice; the three vows (individual liberation vows, Bodhisattva vows, and tantric vows) are combined into one practice, and in dependence upon listening and contemplating the teachings, one takes the essence of the practice. These methods of spiritual training are due solely to the teachings of Jowo Atisa.”

At the end of the book there is a long list of texts attributed to these masters. Unfortunately they are only in Sanskrit and Tibetan.

This text along with those by and about Padmasambhava, those about the lore of the Mahasiddhas, and the much later sketchy histories by Taranatha, are the key texts directly connecting the Indian Mahayana tradition and the Indian Vajrayana practice lineages – which basically gradually perished after the Muslim invasions  - to the continuing traditions of Tibetan Buddhism.



Monday, August 19, 2013

Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism

Book Review: Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism by Ozzie Zehner (University of Nebraska Press 2012 – Kindle Edition)

This book is not at all ‘against’ renewable energy as the title might suggest, but makes some important points toward shifting the whole focus of environmentalism and economics away from productivism, growth, and faith in technology. It is a rather sobering assessment of our predicaments concerning both the potential destructiveness of climate change, the current limitations of non-renewable energy, and the many pitfalls and less than desirable implications of renewable energy technologies (especially at current tech levels). Indeed the author shifts the focus away from being “for” or “against” energy technologies. What is fairly clear is that the best and fastest means of mitigating carbon emissions will have to come more from the consumption side than from the production side.

The first subject encountered is the viability of solar photovoltaics. Solar PV is commonly touted for CO2 reduction, simplicity, silence, local energy, economies of scale, durability, and the promise of further cost-reduction down the line. He gives a quick history of photovoltaics. Then he takes on the question of how we could actually power the planet with PV technology. He estimates optimistically that it would cost 123 trillion bucks to do so plus about 700 billion a year for maintenance. Then he considers other factors and ups the estimate to 1.4 quadrillion (100 times the US GDP) for global solar. In addition, people would have to live near the desert as losses from transmission would be too much. Economies of scale are often cheered as solar components become cheaper – although as the author points out those costs have remained relatively flat and other expenditures: insurance, warranty expenses, materials, transportation, labor, etc. may offset any reductions. Apparently, in some areas, theft of PV panels has become widespread – which can make a need for securing them better and can increase homeowner’s insurance.

Solar power does have great applicability as a local source of power, especially in remote areas. As a local source it can also compare favorably to the lack of efficiency of power distributed long-distance through wires. It also has great potential to add significant back-up power during peak power usage times which are often peak solar radiation times as well. Even with these timing and transmission advantages as well as factoring in the social costs of reduced CO2, it has been calculated that solar PV is still uneconomic compared to status quo power production. The author debunks the notion that solar cells will shrink in the manner of microchips, where more and more memory can be stored in smaller spaces. The reason is physics – solar panels need space to collect the sunlight – that space can be reduced in ingenious ways but there is a limit – so they won’t follow the pace of microchips.

Carbon offsets in Europe go for about $30/ton. When one compares solar to coal it could only compete if carbon offsets were $300/ton and for natural gas they would have to be $600/ton. He also mentions that manufacturing solar panels produces hexafluoroethane (C2F6) which is 12,000 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2, nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) which is 17,000 times more potent than CO2, and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) which is a whopping 25,000 times more potent. These man-made gases are measurably accumulating in the atmosphere and have a long stay-time (~ 10,000 yrs). He also mentions many cases of solar waste-dumping in China as solar produces a significant amount of toxic waste that must be dealt with. Solar panels have limited lives – 20-30 years and the waste in them is toxic and must be disposed of properly. Many chemicals of varying toxicity are used in the manufacture and final product. The waste is far less in potential damage than that spewed by fossil fuels but it would probably increase significantly with the growth of solar.

Apparently, solar panels can be very affected by humidity, haze, dust, snow, leaves, ice, and other soiling effects. Too much heat (in tropical areas) can lessen their ability to harness sunlight. A less than ideal angle can diminish them. Apparently, solar cells lose an avg. of about 1% efficiency per year – so they “age” and some thin film versions may degrade faster. Solar panel efficiency ratings may be twice as much or more as one actually gets. According to the author:

“This limitation is regularly concealed because of the way reporters, corporations, and scientists present these technologies.”

Corrosion, delamination, electrical arcing, water infiltration, and broken glass may also occur, further reducing efficiency and function. Such sobering thoughts have influenced me to reconsider a potential solar project. He suggests that at 5-10 years is when an inverter will fail. According to him the inverter (at $8000 each) must be changed 2-5 times during the life of the solar panels.

“In fact, the unanticipated costs, performance variables, and maintenance obligations for photovoltaics, too often ignored by giddy proponents of the technology, can swell to unsustainable magnitudes.”

Zehner notes that solar CEOs and those who work in the industry are well aware of these limitations and hazards of PV technology even if idealistic activists and optimists are not. He notes the – Five Harms of Photovoltaics – 1) can be seen as a form of ‘misdirection’ or greenwashing, 2) may cause people to abandon more sensible but less popular options – such as cutting down trees so that solar panels can collect more sun, 3) the promise of solar panels may prop up a productivist mentality, 4) possible misallocations of taxpayer monies as when a large business gets large taxpayer-funded subsidies for going solar, 5) photovoltaics generate their own environmental side effects throughout their life cycle. He does acknowledge that one of the best applications of solar is in more remote places where there is no electricity and only a small amount is required to make life better.

Other solutions such as converting coal-burning power plats to natural gas, utilizing solar water heating, passive solar, and better insulation could have a much more profound effect on CO2, pollution, and cost than installing solar panels. Citing long-studied comparisons in Europe, California, and Japan, Zehner sees proposals that solar PV can compete with fossil fuels as downright delusional.

Wind has many advantages over solar, one being that it is about 1/6 as expensive. Advocates say that with a modest carbon tax wind power can compete with coal and natural gas. The author gives a quick history of wind energy and its modern revival beginning with the Arab oil embargo of 1973. Wind energy has a modern history of being dependent on high oil prices but with climate change threats and better economics and technology it has steadily grown over the last few years. Even so, wind energy in 2012 was not enough to fulfill even 1% of global energy demand. Detractors note unpleasant sounds and headaches and there is even a “wind turbine syndrome” though that may be placebo-effect related. The main problems occur within a mile of the turbines so that suggests a solution. There have been NIMBY complaints, about the giant structures, the lights, the noise, etc although some find them picturesque. The well known phenomenon of wind turbines killing birds is noted – eagles, birds of prey, and migrating birds have been cited – although any tall structures such as buildings and towers kill birds in the same way. Electromagnetic interference is another issue with wind turbines which limits siting them.

In Brazil, large swathes of rainforest have been torn down to build roads, pads, and power line cuts for wind farms – roads which were subsequently used by illegal loggers and poachers. Such deforestation – especially in that area – cancels out some of the positive carbon impacts. Calculating the life-cycle carbon footprint of wind turbines is variable but quite significant. 40ft by 40ft by 40ft deep concrete pads made by fossil fuel consuming concrete plants mount each turbine. Turbines break and wear out eventually. The author notes that wind is renewable but turbines are not. The biggest problem is simply that the wind does not always blow. Relying on wind power alone without adequate storage would likely result in erratic electricity which could be damaging and dangerous. Current wind power grids are backed-up by what he calls dirty peaker plants powered by fossil fuels. They are often idled awaiting the next lull in the wind. Minute-to minute output of wind is apparently quite variable. If the wind is still the turbines will suck power from the grid since they have idling and steering systems powered up. The bottom line is that wind power is not well-suited to provide “base-load” power – the power to supply minimum demands at all times. The grids are not well set-up to handle intermittent wind power, especially those in America – apparently 2% is about max many of the grids can deal with. Even with the completion of the new smart grids engineers predict they could only handle about 30% max wind power. Energy storage options have not yet emerged as feasible though many are in the works. Here is something I have suspected for quite some time:

“Policymakers, journalists, and wind proponents alike regularly misunderstand or misrepresent these windy realities. Proponents frequently declare that wind power costs the same as natural gas or just a bit more than coal, but this is misleading…. The inconsistency of wind power necessitates a dual system, the construction and maintenance of one power supply network for when the wind is blowing and a second network for when it isn’t – an incredibly expensive luxury.”

A new American smart grid – though not likely soon due – could be quite beneficial:

“Instead of utilities adjusting their output to meet demand, a smart grid would allow homes and businesses to adjust their electrical use automatically, based on the availability of power.”

This could minimize the need for expensive peaker power plants and “spinning reserve” (idling power plants). Power leaks, stealing of electricity, and power outages would be reduced. Upgrading to a smart grid would offer more benefits than investing in solar and wind at present.

Zehner notes the “capacity factor” of coal plants (74%) and wind plants (24%) and states that a 1000 MW coal plant will output the same amount of energy as a 3100 MW wind plant over time. This equivalence is hypothetical and does not factor in the inconsistency of wind power. Taking into account the “reliability factor to measure the minimum percentage of wind power that turbines can deliver 90% of the time” – 18,000 MW of wind power would offset 1000 MW of fossil fuel or nuclear power 90% of the time! The author notes that journalists and politicians have opted for far more optimistic projections that do not match reality. A DOE report saying that 20% wind power by 2030 was possible has been strongly criticized as a fraudulent assessment not based on DOE data but on data projected by self-promoting wind and renewable energy consultants. The author brands this report as propaganda with totally unrealistic estimated capacity factors. Zehner goes through this report in detail and notes that it assumes technology would lower costs and increase capacity factors, which has not happened since the report was made several years ago. He sees this report as an example of “selection bias” where “people tend to overvalue information that reinforces their ideology and undervalue that which contradicts it.” Other studies have also verified discrepancies between anticipated and realized wind power outputs. Zehner again emphasizes that changes in patterns of consumption and waste offer more hope than producing more power. He says that we don’t have an energy crisis but a consumption crisis.

The section on biofuels emphasizes what is now well-known: that biofuels, particularly ethanol, offer little or no mitigation of carbon emissions, use vast amounts of water and land, and compete with and raise food and grain prices. He goes into great detail to explain what is now obvious, that corn ethanol was a flop. Sugar cane ethanol was much more of a success in places where it grows, like Brazil. Palm oil fuel from Indonesia has been a climatic disaster with deforestation, killing of animals, and little, no, or even negative emissions reduction. Cellulosic ethanol mitigates some of the problems but getting it to ferment is not so easy and currently requires expensive enzymes, so it is still in the research phase. It does potentially offer higher yields than sugar cane if perfected.

Less than 10% of U.S. sewage and wastewater treatment plants capture methane. Captured biogas has been utilized by landfills for a long time now though it is small-scale in impact. Wood and dung fires are particularly toxic. Biochar, cooked wood and cellulose that burns more efficiently than wood, which can save emissions and be sequestered as fertilizer later, may offer some benefits – although like corn ethanol it would require the use of much land. The bottom line is that the whole global potential for biomass energy is only enough to replace a few percent of current fossil fuel consumption.

The section on nuclear power goes through the history of accidents and releases of radioactivity and problems with waste disposal, clean-up, and decommissioning. Spent fuel from nuclear energy can be used to make bombs. The price of nuclear energy is also very high compared to fossil fuels even though it releases no CO2. Taxpayers end up paying for much of the construction, storing of waste, and deconstruction of nuclear plants. Spent fuel rods can be reprocessed into new fuel for so-called yet to be built “fast reactors”, as done in Europe – but this is still in R & D phase. Thorium offers a possibility as a nuclear fuel as it is more abundant than uranium but is also still in the research stages. Apparently, radiation risks are difficult to predict. Even though fossil fuel pollution kills and sickens magnitudes more people than radiation, there is a fear of big disasters with widespread carnage, as Chernobyl was.

Energy from hydrogen fuel cells, the so-called “hydrogen economy” has been called a pipedream, a hoax, even a conspiracy. Unfortunately it takes quite a bit of energy, presumably fossil fuel or nuclear to separate hydrogen from other molecules. The propaganda eventually suggested that renewable energy could be used to make hydrogen for fuel cells but that would drastically increase costs beyond any feasibility. Fuel cells are desirable because they can store energy. There are many many serious logistical problems for a hydrogen economy and he goes through them in detail. All the hype of hydrogen eventually brought on hecklers. Eventually the bubble burst. Beginning with Bush and ending with Obama the hydrogen dream was abandoned. The whole history of it is one of unrealizable hopes based on propaganda. Hydrogen fuel cell technology does have some niche applications, potentially, such as power back-up and battery replacement.

Next examined is the equally hyped notion of “clean coal”- the dirtiest of the fossil fuels. Air pollution, water contamination, land degradation, fly-ash waste, occupational risks, and community health risks are among the well-known problems of coal. Smokestack scrubbers filter out some contaminants but this sludge is routinely apparently dumped in waterways  that supply drinking water. Scrubbers have managed to very much reduce sulfur dioxide (SO2) pollution which comes from high-sulfur coal. Nowadays the idea of clean coal technology also includes carbon dioxide capture and sequestration, particularly from coal-burning power plants. This is very expensive at present and mainly still in the R&D stage with only a few projects active around the world. The costs, extra energy usage, and uncertainties virtually guarantee that it will make coal uncompetitive with natural gas for electricity production. CO2 capture, CO2 transport, favorable reservoirs (mainly porous saline reservoirs, salt caverns, and depleted oil and gas fields), and seal integrity (CO2 is harder to trap than hydrocarbons) are other hurdles. Though unlikely, a CO2 leakage on a large scale could be dangerous – a 1986 CO2 leak from a volcanic crater in Cameroon killed 1800 people. It is conceded that widespread deployment of CO2 capture and sequestration is a decade or probably two away. The amount of emissions that will be mitigated will likely be small even with widespread adoption due to the many scattered sources of emissions. The whole idea of “clean coal” is another hyped illusion.

Hydropower produces about 15% of energy around the world but that is unlikely to rise much due to the best places being already taken up. Other ones in potential development – in China and Brazil for instance – threaten to displace indigenous people and so have been unpopular. Dams can cause many ecosystem problems as well.

Low-temperature geothermal offers some mitigation after initial costs of emissions from heating and cooling, but only in places where the lots are big enough to bury the underground tubes. This is not feasible in cities where most houses are. For me out in the country this may be a more sensible option than solar panels.

High-temperature geothermal is dependent on places where the geothermal gradient is high enough to return sufficiently hot water and is also wrought with uncertainties like earthquakes. It holds great potential in the right localities. Places with shallow geothermal such as hot springs and volcanism– ie. Iceland and a few parts of western North America are tapped but deeper projects would require drilling wells, fracking them, and repeatedly injecting large quantities of water (the biggest earthquake risk) to be heated and cycled back to the surface. One Geothermal CEO optimistically predicts geothermal may end up producing 2% of energy in 20-50 years but that is about it.

Cold fusion and low-energy nuclear reactions have also been hoax-like in their tech development. Cost and technological feasibility do not look promising at present without some pretty serious breakthroughs.

Concentrating solar PV offers cheaper collectors but those are offset by much faster replacement times. Solar thermal is more grid-friendly because collected energy can be stored longer and the steam turbines can be integrated better with back-up power. These are applicable to deserts but affect desert ecosystems and use a lot of water which is scarce in the desert. Much smaller solar strategies like hot-water heating for homes and pools and geothermal heat pumps have proven to be feasible.

Zehner’s section on natural gas is wrought with fallacies and makes me wonder about the other aspects of the book. If his research here is so poor maybe it is elsewhere too. It seems he bought the whole anti-shale gas propaganda, particularly regarding the Marcellus Shale – now the most prolific American source of gas. This seems a reverse-hoax. The concerns about methane release during drilling, fracking, testing, and producing have been way overstated by one poorly calculated study – the only one cited by activists. The others, including the ones by the EPA, show far less leaks and are far more realistic. There is really little doubt that natural gas creates less greenhouse gas emissions than coal, not to mention the pollutants. Water contamination, though possible and occasional with drilling, has been vastly overstated. He scoffs at natural gas a bridge fuel but if one removes his inaccuracies and biases here, it makes much sense as a bridge fuel as moving from heavier to lighter hydrocarbons has immediate benefits to the environment.  

Electric cars and hybrids are really powered by fossil fuels and lithium mines. The expensive batteries support mining industries with questionable environmental records. Batteries are expensive and eventually need replaced. Hybrids and electric vehicles bring more benefits in cities as they can support sprawl in the suburbs and countryside. He compares greener vehicles to low-tar cigarettes. The author has designed hybrid vehicles but eventually changed his mind about them. I still like our Prius though and it continues to save us money with the battery nearly 8 years old.

Zehner says we have an alternative-energy fetish fueled by peer pressure and productivism, which suggests that simply producing more energy will solve our energy problems. Reduction is poorly utilized. He goes through some philosophical ideas to explain why we have come to embrace productivism. Producing alternative energy has gained vastly more headlines, airplay, and articles than energy conservation even though energy conservation offers better, cheaper, and faster opportunities as he demonstrates. Technologies can be promoted, bought, and sold but many conservation strategies must be implemented by the public – although there are vast opportunities at the corporate level as well. Conservation also reduces consumption which can reduce corporate profits. Journalists often seem to present the prevailing beliefs of those who promote products and often present energy issues as fossil fuels vs. alternative energy. This distracts from reduction options. Journalism and the internet have also made it so that politicians and ideologues can influence opinion about scientific issues as much or more than scientists. Technology is commodifiable while energy conservation is generally not. During a history of sustainability section he says reduction does not appeal to industry – but I disagree and again some forms of reduction can save industry significant amounts of money so I think this is or perhaps will change much in the future. Faith in clean energy technology is one way to justify our consumptive lifestyles and habits.  Cheap energy supply tends to feed consumptive recklessness.

Framing serious energy and climate issues as technological problems with technological solutions is a trademark of productivism. Zehner calls the low-price-influenced demand and high-price supply issues of energy an energy “boomerang effect.” Since the 19th century it had been noted that increases in energy efficiency make energy cheaper which increases demand for energy. In that sense energy efficiency can increase demand for energy which has the potential to feed a productivist mentality concerned with growth and affluence. He calls this a “rebound effect” – this tendency to use more energy because it is cheaper. Acceptance of higher gas mileage, smaller vehicles, and improved energy efficiency in buildings and appliances have proven to bypass much of this rebound effect.

Energy and economy are inseparable. Fossil fuel will eventually run out and alternative energy will supply our electricity needs. Efficiency will continue to improve and waste will not be tolerated. Even though energy is cheap at the moment it gives us an opportunity to redesign and reconfigure for the scarcity and high-energy costs projected in future times. Zehner says in the meantime we must “achieve specific structural reductions in global energy consumption.”

“The best way to get precious renewable energies to meet our needs is simply to need less – a chore that will be more fun than we might think.”

An example of things to come in an energy conserving paradigm given is California where decades ago energy production was decoupled from utility company profits. This decoupling and taxing heavy energy use has been fairly successful. He notes that two Californians use as much energy as one Texan. Appealing to human behavior and drawing on human creativity will be required in designing incentives to conserve energy. Zehner suggests that convincing people to partake in these creative solutions will eventually be the new activity of environmentalism. He says the proposals should be achievable, congruent, and meaningful.

The section on women’s rights as an environmental and population mitigation strategy was fascinating. Women who are educated, economically fit, and in control of their own bodies tend to crank out less children – so it is a no-brainer form of population mitigation. Currently the necessary population engagement debate concerns contraception vs. women’s rights. One question is simply - what is a sustainable population level -  and there is disagreement.  One dilemma is that more people means more people will have to live with less yet stifling reproductive rights fringes on free will. The search is for optimum and sustainable levels of both population and consumption, particularly in relation to available resources. Population growth fuels economic growth as companies seek more demand for their products. Japan, Germany, and Italy have all seen reduction in their population as women have fewer children. This has also affected their bottom line in things like pensions and health-care commitments. The challenge is to develop prosperity that is not based on growth. Voluntary population reduction has worked best as people come to realize that smaller is more sustainable. Many women around the world do not have access to contraception and family planning. Reducing poverty and hunger hinge on greater access to these services. Population control measures in the 60’s and 70’s were unfair to women. It is also true that women can bear the brunt of environmental impacts such as caring for the sick. Zehner thinks and I agree, that focusing on women’s rights will do much more for population control than fertilization programs. Higher fertility rates are often the result of economic and gender inequities. Women’s rights are in a dreadful state in many places and cultures around the world. Illiteracy, poverty, violence, child marriages, rampant rape, genital mutilation, narrowly defined and strictly enforced roles, and lack of basic rights are prevalent. This is foremost an ethical problem but also an environmental problem. Worrisome is that population growth has consistently been underestimated. The U.S. has the highest teen pregnancy (and abortion) rates among industrialized nations (many times the rate of some European countries) even though rates of sexual activity are similar. Teen pregnancy and parenting has generally resulted in disadvantages for mother and children. Nearly all of these pregnancies are unplanned and half or more of all pregnancies are unplanned. Social stigmata and religious views have tended to dissuade contraception and medical services related to family planning which are not given high priority. Social acceptance of teen sexual activity has been correlated with lower teen pregnancy rates and lower STDs so rights (socially) and education of teens can be helpful and have likely been neglected here. Childtren’s rights are important as well and universal health care availability is a cornerstone of those rights.

Ecoconsumerism is explored. Zehner, in his slightly condescending, slightly pessimistic style – talks about all the labels that get people to buy, thinking they are helping the planet: natural, sustainable, eco, green, fair-trade, local, and organic. Such green marketing buzzwords may not be as beneficial as they appear, especially if one calculates and compares life-cycle carbon footprints and ingredients. The diaper wars of the 1990’s between disposable and cloth really became a choice between expanding landfills and detergent-filled waterways. Very often, “ecofriendliness” can’t be measured, yet if products get that green stamp of approval they will sell better. Some of those initially optimistic about green consumption have changed their mind these days as it is not so easy to assess how green a product really is. Zehner notes that: “The best material consumption is less material consumption.” He blames advertising for tying us into high-consumption patterns, advertising that begins targeting us when we are children. Curiously he notes that the way we treat childhood began to change in the 1700’s and 1800’s as children’s books became available, birthdays began to be celebrated, and children began to be socially treated much differently than adults. In the late 19th century marketing to children began. Thus youth-consumerism was established with brand names, products associated with social status, and other psychologically exploitative strategies. Such tactics have worked for selling to kids but may well have damaged them in the process – sowing consumptive habits. Americans typically work more hours to buy larger and more expensive homes. “Affluenza” has been described as our desire to own more in a sort of materialistic arms race with others. We are preoccupied with what we own and this is unhealthy. We strive for money to buy short-lived and superficial enjoyments. Striving for wealth and status may undermine psychological health. He talks about the different mindsets of work productivity in Europe and the U.S. since he has lived in several p;aces in both. He notes that since European countries provide health care and elderly care there is less anxiety about having enough money when one gets old and/or sick. One issue for Americans working overtime while others are unemployed is that employers have to pay less health care costs for a smaller number of employees.

In a section called – The Junk Business – he talks about the junk mail cycle and excessive product packaging that acts as another layer of in-store advertising. Getting back to materialism he talks about a group called “downshifters” who change the mentality of “live to work” to “work to live” As ways to improve happiness without materialism he advocates volunteering – which I concur is a great way to make friends. Volunteering can mix people of different socio-economic backgrounds which can be beneficial. He also advocates eliminating advertising to children as a way to short-circuit rampant life-long habituated materialism. Many countries around the world have banned it and claim success. He gives some good arguments for eliminating such advertising. Another thing advocated is social enterprises for youth. These can be bikepaths and walkways near schools, edible schoolyards, volunteering, school media like newspapers or film projects, things like Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots naturalist education, and other creative ways to learn and engage. Next advocated is to shift taxes from income to consumption. Such things will probably happen in a future where scarcity of energy resources gets more real. Luxury taxes and energy taxes loom in the future. Smart packaging would likely save manufacturers money and reduce waste so that is advocated as a no-brainer. He suggests implementing junk-mail choice as in Germany where a sticker on a mailbox means no junk mail. Such a simple change would likely save vast amounts of wasted energy – more than all solar PV energy combined. Ditching the GDP as a market health indicator is also recommended. Other indicators such as a coefficient of wealth disparity and sustainable economic welfare (which is adjusted form of GDP) could be employed. Other things advocated are shifting spending from military to education and energy/environment and promoting vegetarianism. Meat production uses vast amounts of energy and creates far more emissions than agriculture. He notes members of the Union of Concerned Scientists identifying the most harmful types of consumption in terms of greenhouse gas emissions: driving, meat and poultry consumption were the top two. Even part-time vegetarianism would be extremely beneficial.

In a chapter called – The Architecture of Community – he bemoans the sidewalkless monotonous suburban landscapes of America. He also criticizes the environmental movement for promoting rural living and technological fixes. Of course, few people can actually live rural and there are definite environmental costs to doing so even if one is off-grid. Redesigning cityscapes offers much for reducing energy consumption. Cities were re-designed to accommodate cars but now they are being gradually re-designed to accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists. Nowadays we spend large amounts of time in our cars where we are exposed to toxins, especially in traffic. In town and country everyone mows their yards, using vast amounts of fossil fuels, yet spends little time enjoying them. Maintenance is the principal activity in yards. Often those yards are filled with pesticides and chemical fertilizers that drain directly into our drinking water supplies. Perhaps the suburb was an attempt to balance the pleasures of rural living with the convenience of urban living. I live rural and sometimes bemoan having to go into town while at other times I crave it. Suburbs progress from rural retreats to urban gridlocks. He gives Detroit as an example of failure where one economy – the suburban – expanded outward while the inner city economy was neglected – and just recently the city itself became the first city to file for bankruptcy. It has been revealed that urbanites end up subsidizing suburbanites. Nowadays we think of a maturing suburbia that is adapting and being retrofitted ecologically. Suburban sprawl is depicted as the epitome of energy wastage becoming the psychological norm. He presents New York City, particularly Manhattan, as first in public transportation and walking and last in per capita greenhouse gas emissions. For many reasons urban living is simply more energy efficient. Studies indicate that modern dense living may have many advantages. On average New Yorkers are healthier and longer lived. Europe is far ahead of the US in the walk-ability and the bicycle-friendliness of cities. The US is of course more car-friendly which makes walking and biking more dangerous. Creating safe bike routes is probably more effective in reducing carbon emissions than adding more solar energy capacity but few dollars are set aside for this and other safety issues.  Making biking and walking legitimate and esteemed forms of transportation is what is needed.

Public transportation works best where there is high population density. Greening the cities with trees and parks, car sharing, bike sharing, congestion pricing, and traffic calming are advocated. Zehner also advocates reforming zoning laws so that people can be more creative with warehouses and with retrofitting buildings for other uses. Retrofitting and densifying suburbia is also advocated. Short blocks, mixed-use buildings and refitting vacant big box stores and buildings will help. The biggest challenge may be funding since real estate bankers see such changes as non-traditional and so more risky. Energy efficiency and plugging leaks in energy systems offers many benefits. The degree of energy waste is the real energy crisis. Energy production has come to be associated with well-being but in the future energy efficiency will be more valuable and rewarded. Creating efficiency standards for buildings, the biggest users of energy, just like there are for vehicles, is recommended. He examines LEED certification and concludes that it undervalues simple reductions and overvalues technological fixes. He describes LEED as bureaucratic. He suggests reformatting building efficiency standards along the lines of the Energy Star ratings of appliances – possibly even incorporated them into building codes.

Systems thinking may be beneficial in considering energy use. A carbon tax can be seen as a tax on consumption levied at the production end. The wealthy could more easily adapt to carbon pricing. Such pricing is sometimes termed a free market approach where the carbon market takes care of emissions without regulation but many disagree and Zehner just says it makes another false solution still tied into growthism. But sometimes regulation works wonders. He gives the example of the FTC mandated energy consumption labeling on refrigerators which led to much more energy efficient refrigerators in a short time as the technology was already available. In fact today’s fridge uses less than 20% of the energy used by one in 1974.

“Some regulations introduce transparency or choice. Others place limits on pollutants or an undesired activity. Historically, the most successful pollutant regulations have mandated initially low limits that tighten over time. These not only enable firms to plan ahead but also allow them to brew up their own solutions.”

Ideologues typically see a free market and regulation as mutually exclusive but extreme deregulation can be damaging. Zehner advocates an energy tax rather than a carbon tax. Such a scheme would tax alternative green energy as much as fossil fuel energy.

Rediscovering passive solar is recommended. Houses, neighborhoods, and cities with strategically placed trees increase efficiency, filter air, mitigate runoff, and absorb CO2. Building and neighborhood cogeneration systems save money and wastage by creating local energy. At the federal level Zehner suggests a Department of Efficiency. The bureaucratic DOE is criticized. A Deptartment of Efficiency could save money rather than waste it. He gives Harvard energy specialist Max Bazerman’s five guiding priorities for making energy decisions.

1)      Educate the public on energy trade-offs.
2)      Maximize benefits to society rather than special interest groups.
3)      Seek energy policies that would make sense even if climate change were not an issue.
4)      Identify nudges that significantly influence the behaviors of individuals and organizations in a positive direction without infringing on personal liberties.
5)      Achieve buy-in on long-term policies that require up-front costs and consider a mild delay before policies take effect.

Zehner argues that environmental problems are rooted in social, political, and economic issues and that those most be engaged rather than focusing on training students in alternative energy technologies at university environmental degree programs. Researchers such as the McKinsey and Company consultants ranked the best CO2 reduction schemes by cost and benefit:

1)      energy-efficiency strategies that typically save money.
2)      agriculture and forestry management that either save a little or cost a little
3)      energy-production strategies that cost the most (least?) per ton of “avoided CO2.”

Promoting workers rights, corporate transparency, and socially-based enterprises should yield good results. Focusing now on the economic, social, and cultural issues will yield immediate benefits and help the eventual transition to an alternative energy society.

A key part of this book is changing the focus of environmentalism to reduction of waste and increasing efficiency – even in a watchdog sense – rather than all-out support of alternative energy technology solutions. These reduction solutions may be boring to media and politicians but as Zehner says “Ultimately clean energy is less energy.” The challenge is to formulate a society able to be powered by alternative energy – when fossil fuels run out or much better yet - before projected climate tipping points hit. He makes an interesting comparison of the U.S. and China – even though China is building oodles of coal burning power plants, their per capita energy consumption is about 20% that of the U.S. and their population is stable or waning while that of the U.S. continues to multiply.

At the end Zehner notes the strategy conclusions of several other recent books about energy and environment including those by Bill McKibben, Vandana Shiva, John Michael Greer, Derick Jennson, David Goldblatt, and quite a few others. There is a section on resources and websites for various ideas in the book and extensive notes.

Overall an excellent, though large book, a bit pessimistic and condescending at times but otherwise very informative and useful.



Saturday, August 3, 2013

Remembering Heraclitus

Book Review: Remembering Heraclitus by Richarde Geldard (Lindisfarne Books 2000)

This is a decent book examining the fragments of Heraclitus, their meaning, his impact in ancient times, and implications for today. The title reflects the double meaning of re-membering the de-membered scattered fragments. The extant fragments are cryptic and at times harsh. The author sees them as having a dual-function of “blows” and “riddles.”

Heraclitus lived in Ephesus, in Greek Asia Minor (Anatolia) around 500 B.C. The statements of Heraclitus concerning the elements are sometimes seen as a forerunner to Alchemy. Aristotle depicted Heraclitus as backward but many do not agree. Along with the surviving fragments there are various other words attributed to Heraclitus, some suspect. There are also a few blurbs about his life, a biography of sorts, which is also at least partly dubious. The author notes that there are about 60 fragments that should be considered essential and another 70 that should be considered dubious. Fragments attributed to him come from Plato and others up through Roman times. Aristotle, Hippocrates, and Sextus Empiricus had much to say about Heraclitus. Heraclitus’ book is thought to have been entitled On Nature. It was likely placed in the famed Temple of Artemis in Ephesus as was the custom. Remembering was also associated with truth in the Greek term aletheia, a term which was the first associated with philosophers (first called “truth-tellers), those “lovers of wisdom.” Heraclitus was reputed to have left a destined life as part of a ruling family in order to search for wisdom, leaving the city to become a hermit.

Geldard paints Heraclitus as an instigator: one who “prods sleeping mind to the waking state” rather than just one who seeks beyond the traditional mythological religion of the time, as he is often depicted. As an instigator, he would have been much like Socrates, who came later. Ephesus was a center of Artemis as Goddess of the Moon and in contrast to post-Attic Greek notions of the soul being feminine but lesser than the male “spirit”, here the feminine was exalted, says Geldard. For nearly a thousand years, well into Roman times, Ephesus was a center of learning, culture, and freedom of thought. Heraclitus appeared at a time some call the “Great Leap of Being” around 500 BC which theoretically includes Buddha, Lao Tzu, Confucius, and Zoroaster, as well as the advent of Vedanta in India. Sri Aurobindo gave a comparison in 1916 of Heraclitus and Vedanta. Ephesus was a melting pot cosmopolitan city where many languages and cultures mixed, East and West. Heraclitus was early among the Greek philosophers to address the problem of the One and the Many. Many another would follow. This issue is also addressed among the early Vedantists. The “Supreme Self” or paramatman of the Vedantists may have been the origin of the Logos of Heraclitus and his predecessors and the One of Plato, although there may be Mesopotamian and possibly Egyptian ideas previous to that. The Logos exalted by Heraclitus would later become the Logos of Gnostic Christianity.

Heraclitus is thought to have taught esoteric ideas to an elite esoteric body of students – thus the cryptic nature of the fragments. The fragments may be aphorisms to be remembered by students but there is some evidence (from the writings of Sextus Empiricus in the 3rd century C.E.) that there was a specific sequence as if in book form. The teachings of Heraclitus have been depicted as a sort of spiritual alchemy – with fragments about the elements, about dry souls and wet souls, etc. There is also a story where students peer into his house and see him at his stove whereby he says. “Do not fear, the gods are here also.” Some have interpreted him at the stove as a depiction of alchemy. Apparently, there are a few direct references to Heraclitus in the works of early Arabian alchemy (Khalid 660-704 CE).

According to some accounts, Heraclitus was quite critical of some of the preceding early Greek philosophers and poets including Homer, Archilochus, Pythagoras, Hesiod, Xenophanes, and Hecataeus. Heraclitus was bitter that a worthy and wise man, Hermodorus, was banished from Ephesus. Heraclitus is not known to have had a strict- practice school like Pythagoras or even a more intellectual one like Plato’s Academy but many think that he strongly influenced Plato. According to Aristotle, though, Plato gradually turned away from the influence of Heraclitus and embraced the ethics of Socrates. The famed Neoplatonist Plotinus revived the Heraclitean Logos in his hierarchy emanating from the One (Plato’s the Good). Marcilio Ficino would revive Plato and the Neoplatonists in the Renaissance and such Heraclitean ideas would live on in Renaissance Alchemy but eventually were superceded by the Aristotelian doctrines adopted by Thomas Aquinas and the official Church. Heraclitus confirmed his spiritual questing by noting “I searched my nature.” His monistic leanings can be seen in the statement: “Listening to the Logos, and not to me, it is wise to agree that all things are One.”

So-called Negative Theology, which works through apophasis, or denial/negation, has been traced back to Plato and Parmenides but reached its prime much later with Plotinus and Proclus. Heraclitus also embodies the apophatic method. The author sort of suggests that Heraclitus’s fragments resemble the utterances of the Sybll – as Heraclitus himself described those utterances: “… raving …. somber, unembellished, unperfumed sayings ….”

Heraclitus can be seen as negating the creation scenario of Hesiod’s Theogony and maybe too that of Genesis which was around in his day:

“This cosmos was not made by immortal or mortal beings, but always was, is, and will be an eternal fire, arising and subsiding in measure.”

The eternal fire is equated to the Logos, and also the One, the Good, the All. Though later Judeo-Christians would say that God created the Cosmic Order out of Chaos and “in the beginning was the Word (Logos)” – this is not at all implied in the statement of Heraclitus. That it ‘arises and subsides in measure’ can be compared to the Hindu Theogony of Brahma opening and closing his eye. A century after Heraclitus, Anaxagoras subsumed the Logos into his idea of Mind (Nous). Heraclitus indicates that the Logos is normally hidden and incomprehensible but possibly accessible to those who search their own nature. Some commentators have lumped Heraclitus’s Logos as a part of the Delphic oracular tradition but this is speculative. Much later, the Gospel of John would describe Logos as Christ, as the Word of God that “creates and sustains the universe.” However, at the time of Heraclitus, Apollo would have been the oracle of the father Zeus, the one speaking his Word. Thus Apollo is the Logos of Zeus.

The ideas of flux/change/impermanence can appear in the fragments of Heraclitus:

“Everything taken together is whole but also not whole, what is being brought together and taken apart, what is in tune and out of tune; out of diversity there comes unity, and out of unity diversity.”

A more famous quote is that “we cannot step twice in the same river.”

Another famous quote of Heraclitus is that “Nature prefers to hide” which suggests that the true nature of things is often hidden from us. Nature (as physis) may also be interpreted as “essence” or “truth.”

Heraclitus notes the “eternal fire” as the Logos and notes also its presence within all things:

“All things equally exchange for fire as does fire for all things, as goods are exchanged for gold and gold for goods.”

The above quote also seems to allude to an alchemical model of reality based on exchange and transformation.

His ode to Zeus as “Bright Consciousness” and bearer of the thunderbolt is as follows:

“The lightning directs everything.” … “To be wise is one thing: to know the thought that directs all things through all things.”

The author makes the inference that since Zeus is equated to the fire of the mind, or consciousness, that what he means is that “consciousness directs all things.”

Geldard considers the Pythagorean tetractys, a pyramid of ten points (set up like bowling pins) and considers The One at the top to be the Logos. He suggests that our longing for immortality is a longing to return to the Logos, our source.

The pre-Heraclitean philosophers of the city of Miletus (south of Ephesus) – Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes – are credited as originators of scientific thought, encouraging the systematic study of Physis, or Nature. It is thought likely that Heraclitus built on their knowledge and ideas of physis as well as that of Xenophanes of Kolophon (north of Ephesus). Heraclitus seemed to understand that fire, particularly the hidden fire within, is the spark of life, and its heat drives the elemental cycles of nature. Some of his cryptic fragments about fire and the sea may allude to natural cycles. An esoteric alchemical cosmological model appears again in the following statements:

“It is death for souls to become water” and “A dry soul is wisest and best.”

So we see that a dry soul can be seen as more rarified, more developed, less deluded, than a moist soul.

The author notes that Heraclitus saw breathing as “drawing in the Logos,” that which fuels the fire within and sustains us. Geldard also does some comparison of Heraclitus with the Emerald Tablet of Hermes, considered a founding document in the Alchemical tradition.

Next we come to the idea of Logos manifesting as nomos, or Law. According to Heraclitus, Logos is the divine Law that informs (or should inform) human-made laws.

“For all man-made laws are nourished by one divine law;” In this sense, the Logos nourishes culture, morality, and the laws of the city. The author notes the plays and poetry of Sophocles as comparing the laws of nature to the laws of humans and seeking their harmony as a noble undertaking. The Logos is considered the “universal” principle from which other principles derive. There is a sense of justice implied in the divinity of the Logos as seen in the quote below:

“To God all things are beautiful, good, and just, but human beings have supposed some things to be unjust, others just.”

The next idea is ethos. Geldard mentions several different translations of a challenging fragment: ethos anthropoi daimon. Most translate it as “Character is fate.” It has also been translated as, “A man’s character is his guardian divinity.” Geldard suggests the meaning (not the translation) as – “An evolved human nature is our destiny.”

Heraclitus has several statements about wet and dry souls, wet ones being less developed and closer to death and dry ones being more developed and refined. The confused state of drunkenness is also equated to having a moist soul:

“When he is drunk, thus having his soul moist, a man is led about by an immature boy, stumbling and not knowing where he is going.”

The author recalls the story of the goddess Demeter, when searching for Persephone, she was in disguise as a nurse. She took the child nightly and placed him on the coals of the fire in order to make him immortal – so in this sense the moist souls are mortal and the dry souls immortal. Heraclitus says just this in one fragment.

Heraclitus also denounces superstition, possibly even that of the Orphic mystics who purified themselves in a ritual by covering themselves with mud. He also criticizes those who pray to statues, saying they do not recognize the true nature of gods and spirits. The author sees Heraclitus favoring a more abstract conception of divinity over the anthropomorphized mythological varieties. In considering the harshness and enigmatic nature of the teachings of Heraclitus, the author sees his methods as blows and riddles, each fulfilling a need of the human ethos. The following cryptic quote, says the author, represents the nature of the human ethos as Being and Becoming:

“Immortal mortals, mortal immortals, living their death and dying their life.”

Next is a foray into telos, the goal or aim of human life. The author sees the fragments as a whole offering some sort of aim. Heraclitus has been accused of elitism – from some of his statements about the superiority of the aristoi, the few good, noble, and learned ones, compared to the many. Heraclitus can also quite readily be seen as a non-conformist in his views and approach.

The author compares the fragments of Heraclitus to the Hebrew statements of the prophet Jeremiah, to the teachings of the Buddha, and to the teachings of the Tao Te Ching – all ideas in different parts of the world more or less contemporary to Heraclitus, all part of Voegilin’s “Leap of Being” idea. Geldard speaks of the metaxy, an “in-between” state amenable to transformation, a state capable of bridging the living and the dead, man and god. This, he suggests is the state where the aware human can experience the influence of the divine, the Logos. He also notes that Heraclitus was the first to describe the qualities of the mind, the nous. Later, it would be Anaxagoras who most elaborated on these qualities. The Nous, said Anaxagoras, was not, like other things, composed of parts, but was unlimited (apeiron). The author, as well as Voegelin, suggests that Anaxagoras altered the concept of mind of Heraclitus, and the concept of Being of Parminedes to be the interface of the human with the divine – to alter things enough so that the study of nature became more human-centric. To exemplify this Geldard goes through some of the statements of Aristotle that reduce the ideas of Heraclitus to the child-like ignorance of an earlier primitive age. Later, Plotinus, would revive some Hericlitean ideas in his hierarchy of Being – from immature matter to vegetative mind to sensation to animal perception to human image-making to concepts and opinions, to the logical faculty to creative reason to soul to World soul to Nous (mind) and finally to the Absolute, Unity, or One. Long before Plotinus, Plato saw the mind as the means of distinguishing truth and opinion. Plotinus’s hierarchy would make it into the Renaissance as a key idea. The author criticizes the divinization of the intellect as the arrogant beginning of the downfall of Athenian high culture where cleverness was exalted higher than truth. Plotinus, he says, tempered this a bit. An example he gives is Sophocles’ story of Oedipus where the clever Oedipus has eyes but cannot see while the blind sage Tieresias cannot see but is able to discern truth.

In the epilogue the author examines the idea of a Heraclitean Theory of Consciousness. He suggests that the fragments denote a “continuum of mental conditions” from sleep to wakefulness, perception, self-consciousness, and on to more spiritual consciousness. As a summary of the key terms, Geldard offers the following:

The Logos is the eternal, conscious basis of the world order, the true home of the human soul, embodied and otherwise. Physis is change and flux, the ever-living fire bursting forth and going out in measure. Ethos expresses the essence of human nature: existing in space/time using the flux of existence to establish an order of the mind and of the soul. Its nature is such that is has the potential to partake of Being in its Becoming. Telos is the natural but rare movement into the metaxy, the in-between where ethos and Logos intersect in transition and transformation. It is a noetic state based on intuition and the objective presence of the eternally emanating Logos.”

Geldard also presents a sort of history of consciousness theory from Descartes and Hume through Emerson’s notion of Universal Mind up to what he suggests is the extremist reductionism of psychologists such as B.F. Skinner. Emerson seems to have similarities to Hericlitean thought. A more modern consciousness researcher is Roger Penrose, who sees consciousness as possibly underpinned at the quantum level with probabilities. As Geldard suggests – “we are conscious because consciousness exists, and we can study the greater consciousness [presumably the Logos] by knowing human consciousness.”

Interestingly, he also makes a suggestion that we can study or present the fragments of Heraclitus in a sort of “cut-up” fashion without order or syntax – sounds kinda like a fun art project.

The first appendix is about the problem of the text – how the various fragments should be ordered – which fragments are considered essential and authentic and which are considered dubious. The three most notable commentators on Heraclitus were Plato, Aristotle, and Hippocrates. The fragments from Sextus Empiricus suggests a text with a definite sequence. Only a limited number of Heraclitean fragments are considered to be direct quotations. Others are either reworked through the lenses of others or are considered not reliable. For further reading on Heraclitus the author recommends The Presocratic Philosophers, G.S. Kirk, G. M. Raven, and M. Schofield as well as volume four of Hippocrates translated by W.H.S. Jones, Harvard University Press.

The final appendix is what the author considers the Essential Fragments of Heraclitus.

In summary, this was a decent book, a good overview of the thought of Heraclitus, those he influenced and how, and ideas about pre-Socratic thought of Ancient Greece and vicinity.