Saturday, 29 February 2020

Conscious Life after Death?

Lent 2020 - Day Four

As well as having a deity or deities, nearly all religions have some concept of an Afterlife. These may differ greatly. Essentially they all offer the promise of everlasting life to the faithful, conditional on adhering to the precepts of the religion.

It may be an eternity of basking in God's Glory if you are a Christian, or it may be returning to life in a different form if you are a Buddhist or Hindu.

The non-religious would rather believe in eternal oblivion - a nothingness that cannot be experienced because, they would argue, the conscious mind is extinguished as its host body expires.

Who is right? We have a trichotomy - three possibilities:
  • No afterlife whatsoever

  • An eternal spiritual afterlife immediately after this one

  • A succession of afterlives in the physical world
If you were building your own religion, which one of the three would you select? Which do you personally believe in?

On the basis of my own personal observations, over my 62 years, I'd go for the third - if only because I have experienced many times anomalous familiar moments not from my own lifetime. These feel just as familiar to me as memory flashbacks from my current life. They are not as frequent, but they are just as real to my subjective conscious experience. *PAFF!* suddenly I am back in 1950s U.S.A. and it feels like it did. I will expand on this in future posts (I have written about this phenomenon on this blog several times), but there is another reason why I favour this succession of afterlives concept.

How much do you remember about yesterday? About ten years ago? About your childhood? Was that really you? Or are those memories now an illusion? An afterlife in an other person's memory? Is that it?

I believe in the notion of spiritual evolution as a process, as a growing toward, as constant development. Life is so short that we cannot gain anything but the slightest insight into the full glory of God the Universe; the becoming, the growth and evolution of consciousness takes forever. The notion that I am good in this life so that I can be rewarded with a high-quality, eternal afterlife after one short lifetime of avoiding sin strikes me as banal - a simplistic form of social control. The gradient from Zero to One, the amount of learning required - takes up endless numbers of lives. A single life, even if lived a hundred years in optimum physical and mental form, is insignificant in the eternal scheme of things.

The hydrogen atoms that came together to briefly form you and I have been in existence for almost all the time between now and the Big Bang. Those same atoms will survive us all and will continue to exist forever - until shortly before the next Big Bang (Big Bounce, if you believe in a cyclical model of cosmology.)

Can atoms carry consciousness, memory or will? We don't know (sceptics here would invoke the God of the Gaps). How our consciousness may survive our bodies, what vectors (quantum decomposition?) are involved - don't know. But I do feel that this is the closest of the three possibilities to my own experiences - a consciousness that grows in awareness from life to life; that is moving towards perfection away from imperfection, from ignorance and beastliness towards the angelic, life after life. Inexorably.

In search of another time, another place
If you are a Christian and believe in the Christian concept of an afterlife, I draw your attention to Richard Swinburne's excellent book Are We Bodies or Are We Souls, which I reviewed last summer. This draws me into my next post, about monism vs. dualism... More tomorrow.

This time four years ago:
Probability: Chance or God?

Friday, 28 February 2020

Define your Deity

Lent 2020 - Day Three

At the heart of any religion is its deity, its God. In the process of building a religion, the central deity needs to be defined. Here is a set of questions I have asked myself - what are your answers?
  • Was your God necessary for the creation of the Universe?

  • Was your God present and perfect at the birth of the Universe?

  • Is your God in a steady state, or evolving along with the Universe?

  • Is your God intrinsically a good and loving God?

  • Is your God omnipotent (able to do everything), omniscient (knowing all) and omnipresent (everywhere)? 
These are, I think, the basic questions to ask about God - questions as to God's gender and image are entirely secondary. A male 'lord', 'a king'... No - such thinking is nonsensical, given the infinitesimally tiny scale of life, human life, on Earth placed in the context of a Universe consisting of billions of galaxies, each consisting of billions of stars. A Universe which began with a Big Bang - and who knows, may one day stop expanding, start contracting in upon itself back into a singularity from which another Big Bang and so on into infinity. And then the question of Life emerging - conscious life, the emergence of consciousness within the Universe... Our expanding scientific knowledge is opening, rather than closing, the possibilities and dimensions of our deity.

It is our imagination that's lacking; it's easier to imagine a deity that's anthropomorphic - a wise old man with beard - rather than as a concept; God as a process, an unfolding, a becoming, a purpose, a destination, an evolution, a path to perfection.

I have taken to not using the personal pronouns 'He', 'Him' or 'His' in relation to 'God' any more than one would use the pronouns 'he', 'him', 'his' in relation to the Universe, to Creation.

We are either tied to religions rooted in history, rooted in pre-scientific times - or else we are tied to Newtonian determinism that rationalises and reduces wonder to physical laws and equations. But science has moved on; quantum physics has opened doors to new questions rather than answers. Nearly a century ago science felt nearly ready to announce that it would be but a matter of years or even months before a final set of equations explained everything. Not so. The wonder is still there; the big questions concerning the future of the Universe, concerning our own consciousness, remain unanswered.

And how does God manifest God in our lives? In your life? Tiny chinks of light that shine through the everyday - that inner hug, tears of love welling up in the eyes...? Miracles? Does God intervene in our lives? Can we "petition the Lord with prayer"?

Looking for answers to this particular question will take more than a lifetime; I think that our instinct is a good guide that can help at least point us in the right direction. Organised religions often serve to distract and confuse with dogma - it is your own inner voice, those moments of profound insight - that are most useful to finding your own answers.

To find your way, keep walking, eyes open

This time two years ago:
The Mysteries of Quantum Physics

This time three years ago:
Lent starts tomorrow

This time four years ago:
Coincidence and survival

This time seven years ago
The Book of Revelations

This time eight years ago:
Strong late-winter sunshine

This time nine years ago:
Best pics from February 2011

This time ten years ago:

This time 12 years ago:
End of the line

Thursday, 27 February 2020

The Physical and the Metaphysical;
the Natural and the Supernatural

Lent 2020 - Day Two

You may be a rational person, reducing the universe to the equations upon which the laws of physics rest. In your universe there is no mystery. Religion - spirituality - is a mere delusion. You have rationalised away the wonder of life. “It’s all just wishful thinking.”

“Can’t explain something? Then it’s god. The god of the gaps. Lightning - God. Ah, no, electrical discharge. Big Bang? Consciousness? You don’t know? Just ascribe it to God. Or aliens.”

If that's how you think - removing the divine motivation from the Universe, then fine - you don’t need any religion; just an ethical code to ensure win-win relations in a sustainable society living on a sustainable planet. That code can be boiled down to one sentence - “Don’t be a ****”. Don’t be arrogant, don’t harm others, think about your footprint upon the planet. Do that and you’ll be fine - we’ll all be fine. If you are a reductionist-rationalist, then the rest of this post, then, is not for you, neither is the rest of this series of posts. Normal blogging returns after Easter, Sunday 12 April.

However… if you feel a spiritual need that transcends the physical, a greater glory than that which can be merely measured; if your beliefs include concepts that are supernatural - metaphysical – that which cannot be described by any law of physics nor detectable by any scientific instrument, that which lies above, outside, physics... then read on. This is for you.

What could be more supernatural than your own consciousness? You know you have it, you know that you are aware. You feel - but while we can all agree on the path of Venus around the Sun, while we can all agree how fast fingernails grow - we cannot begin to have the slightest clue into what’s going on in the mind of the other person. Facial clues may give away emotions, but a face at rest, a mind gazing placidly into the middle distance may be engaged in a train of thought that no sensor, no instrument, no other human mind, will be able to pin down.

And yet the mystery endures, within the tranquil mood, meditating upon the metaphysical, the eternal and the infinite; moments of fleeting communion with the higher truths, far higher than the mundane strivings of everyday life.

Do you believe in supernatural phenomena? Ghosts in haunted castles? The presence of God within the Communion Wafer? Life after death?

Religious belief is a form of belief in the supernatural. We cannot detect nor measure God's presence in our lives any more than we can know what your cat is thinking. (Incidentally, is your cat conscious of its being aware? We don't know. We can only guess.)

Does  religious belief bring luck - should it indeed bring luck? Are religious people demonstrably luckier than non-believers? Are religious people healthier, happier? More importantly, do they have greater peace of mind?

It is a matter of belief, a matter of faith - but faith should be based upon one's own observations and one's own most profound emotional experiences, rather on something passed down and accepted uncritically.

I do believe in the metaphysical; there are properties present in the universe of which we, mere humans, have as yet no knowledge. The effects of the supernatural are hard to discern, largely because they take effect at a scale of time (eternity) and distance (infinity) that our short lives and geographical groundedness prevent us from observing. It’s like people in the Dark Ages denying the existence of electromagnetic force, having nothing with which to measure it.

On the Way to a Better Place?

In coming posts I shall examine our need (well, the need of some of us) for that which lies above and beyond the visible, the measurable and the day-to-day.

This time last year:
Heathrow Airport now and then

This time four years ago:
Radom line modernisation will change the face of Jeziorki

This time five years ago:
How do we perceive good and evil?

This time six years ago:
Civilisation and a civil society

This time eight years ago:
Strong, late-winter sunshine

This time nine years ago:
Jeziorki's wetlands freeze over

This time ten years ago
Kensington, a London village

This time 11 years ago:
Lenten recepies

This time 12 years ago:
A walk through Sadyba

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Lent 2020 - Build your own Religion

Lent 2020 - Day 1, Ash Wednesday

This year, for those who follow my blog during Lent (normal blogging resumes after 12 April), I shall be indulging in a thought-experiment entitled Build your own Religion. Again, not for everyone - part of my readership fosters no belief nor interest in the metaphysical, nor in an afterlife nor a supreme deity. And then part of my readership does - but within the confines of an established religion. Finally - my target group for this Lent's blogs - those who are actively engaged in a metaphysical search for meaning. If you are in this group, then I hope the next six and half weeks will take you a little further along that path.

My thought-experiment posits a lack of any organised religions anywhere within human society at any time in human history. Now, the very fact that my initial premise here is so preposterous shows how deeply felt our need for the numinous has always been. That, usually harnessed for purposes of social control, explains immediately why we've had religions for tens of thousands of years, the earliest being little more than rituals associated with burial of the dead, suggesting a belief in an afterlife. Astronomy - observation of the progress of celestial bodies around the heavens - and perhaps a link between their motion and the fate of one's tribe - astrology - has a long history too.

But let's forget that for a moment. Let's imagine no religion, let's assume that there never has been; everything around us is rational. All can be explained, described by equations, defined by laws of physics - there's no mystery, no magic, nothing capable of existing beyond the physical - only that which can be measured and quantified. And yet... and yet you feel, you instinctively feel that there is more, much more than that. Far more than simply a Newtonian universe of cause and effect, consisting of planets moving inexorably around stars, within galaxies that are accelerating away from one another at an ever-faster rate. This feeling is more than just a desire for peace of mind, though that is important. It's more than just being lost in awe and wonder and the beauty of a cloudless night sky. This feeling can take the form of brief glimpses into different, higher, planes of awareness. And those big, nagging questions - where to? What's the purpose, the direction, the goal, the meaning of it all?

So, you have these feelings, these higher-level thoughts and questions - and then what? What to do with them? You want to discuss them with others, but only a few feel the same way as you do - or the time isn't right - and anyway, these thoughts come irregularly, infrequently...? And yet come they do. 

What should you do with them? Ignore them? Or strive to codify them?

How, then, would you begin to create a belief system that encapsulates what you most deeply feel -  in the absence of any such preexisting belief system that's been already been organised for you, passed down to you by your forefathers?

This is what I'd like to consider over the next 46 days. What would be your doctrines, your sacred texts, hymns, rituals, symbols, holy places of veneration, vestments, sacred artwork - what would you incorporate into your own religion? How would your God be represented - what is metaphoric, and what is literal? What would be the central, immutable, tenets - and what could you be persuaded to change - for example, would your God be omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent?

Not a disc, but a globe
This will be my 29th Lent. The first, very basic one (nothing more than giving up alcohol, confectionery, salt-snacks and salting my meals) took place in 1992. Lents became more demanding as I added extra things to forswear such as caffeine (really tough), fish and dairy (ditto), reaching a zenith in 2008. These years I am focusing more on what I should do as well as what I should give up - so more writing, more exercising. No meat, no alcohol, no fast food, no salt snacks, fizzy drinks, cakes, biscuits, confectionery - but cheese, fish and caffeine will not be off the menu. Ah - no pop, rock or soul music, no jazz - just classical music between now and Easter.

This time four years ago:
God, Creation and the Fine-Tuned Universe

This time five years ago:
The infinitely long path from Zero to One

This time seven years ago:
Images of God

This time eight years ago:
City-centre living, Warsaw-style

This time nine years ago:
Communist plaque on Zygmunt's Column

This time 11 years ago:
Three weeks into Lent

Sunday, 23 February 2020

The Mechanical Engineers

Inspired by a dream I had on the morning of 23 February 2020

“What’s that smell – unwashed feet or armpits?” asked Nadia as the overcrowded tram jerked its way down the cobbled street towards the gates of the zavod. “Feet”, replied Yakov. “Feet”. He said it to her quietly, so as not to incense the people standing around them. But he was overheard. “Insulting the proletariat, you rose-scented intelyigyent? Yakov looked across at a short, pock-faced man in his early thirties with a few missing teeth. The stench became overwhelming, there were still seven stops to go and more people were boarding the tram. Yakov looked at a pair of narrowed eyes that glared at him with pure hatred. Yakov wondered whether to stand his ground here, and threaten the man with denunciation as lacking in socialist personal hygiene; but he too considered the risk that the man might be carrying in his filthy coat pocket some sharpened tool he'd smuggled out of the factory. Where is the greater fear – party discipline or low-life violence?

Yakov could feel Nadia tugging him back, away from confrontation.

The tram rattled on. Outside, the grey industrial districts that sprawled endlessly outside Moscow. The Fifth Five-Year Plan had just been approved by the Party's 19th Congress. A victorious nation, one devastated by war, needed to rebuild its industries at a lightning tempo, so that the capitalist-imperialist camp would never catch it off guard. Yakov and Nadia – not his girlfriend, but a very good friend from student days – had arrived last autumn in Moscow as graduates of the Irkutsk Mining and Metallurgical Institute, with degrees in aeronautical engineering.

Irkutsk had a good reputation; the institute had started taking on female engineering students at the height of the Great Patriotic War, and they had proved themselves a useful asset in the fight against Fascism. And now Capitalist Imperialism. The fight for production was the front line in every Soviet factory; technology and numbers. Better, faster, more powerful - and more. Always more.

Since the end of the summer holidays of 1952, Yakov, Nadia and a few of their colleagues from Irkutsk had been delegated to work at OKB 301, the Lavochkin factory, in a suburb of Moscow called Khimki. Their job was to transfer the blueprints of parts - what of, they knew not, they were not told - aircraft? rockets? and to prototype them for production. Sub-components, precision parts. Work was urgent. In Korea, the capitalist-imperialists were murdering children. The Soviet Union's socialist allies, China and North Korea, were holding the front line, defending world peace. Jet engines, bought from England for bags of flour, were being taken apart in and copied in our factories so that we could give the capitalists a bloody nose with the very rope that they had sold us. "This is our job!", thought Yakov to himself. "And this filthy scum with his stinking feet is threatening me, an aeronautical engineer with a diploma, me - a candidate member of the Party!"

Nadia tried to steer Yakov's attention away from the malodorous fellow, but Yakov remained caught up in his train of thought- "Whose denunciations carried more weight? Maybe the man had fought at the Front - from Stalingrad to Berlin... Medals, decorations, orders... Or maybe he was just a wastrel who'd somehow managed to keep himself out of the war? Those ten extra years upon his shoulders... years unknown to him, Yakov the mechanical engineer, with diploma... Nadia, sensing the acute tension, again engaged with Yakov. "On Sunday, we will go to the zoo, no?"

This finally snapped Yakov's attention elsewhere. "Yes, the zoo, the zoo... the animals - Africa, lions, elephants, Africa, childhood stories, monkeys, zebras - " Yes, Nadia - I am looking forward to going to the zoo," Irkutsk had a botanical garden, but no zoo. It would be interesting. A brief reflection; Yakov's father had been taken by the NKVD in 1938, no one would tell him why. A seven-year old boy; the day after the arrest, his mother took him to the zoo. No giraffes or hippopotamuses, no rhinoceroses, just wildlife from Siberia - but he most remembered the small animals he could touch - goats and sheep. It took his mind off his father's disappearance...

The aggressive man had lost interest and began picking his nose, he too was on his way to work and not feeling in a happy mood. The works canteen - so airy and spacious! - would again be selling second-rate sausage, more gristle and bone fragments than meat; but the broad beans and fried cabbage at least could be depended upon. He looked down and spat at his feet. Everything in his life was wrong. And that tall intelligent-looking chap was right - his feet did smell. But he looked like a party member. Better take care of yourself! Don't let them provoke you!

Dirty late-February snow lay piled up against the walls, it was above freezing, the meltdown would soon begin. The endless grey sky promised not spring - that was many weeks away. Sweaty winter clothes, heavy overcoats, burdened shoulders. Where was the hope? Nothing but hard work. Where was the laughter? Always looking around - who's watching? Who's talking?

At last the tram reached its final stop, the loop at the end of the line. The two wagons disgorged far more workers than they were ever designed for, and then there was a rush for the factory gates - the whistle would soon be blowing for the start of the morning shift. Another morning shift. Plastered to boards running the length of the factory fence, today's issue of Pravda. Read about the progress of the war. How the Camp of Peace is prevailing, having stopped Eisenhower's forces at the 38th Parallel. But there is no time to read! Everyone is focused on punching in. The clock is merciless.

Four hours at the lathe, then lunchtime. Precision. If you are sloppy - sabotage! If you spend too much time on one piece, and you're behind with the plan - sabotage! The Party is all-vigilant. The plan must be met. The imperialists and their lackeys must not prevail. Yakov couldn't work out whether he was a pawn in the scheme of things or whether he was being groomed to be one of those controlling the game - join the Party, work your way up, in your profession, in the zavod, in the Party, and all will be clear, Yakov! Work, don't question.

Never question.

Don't ever question.

This time last year.
Ealing in the earliest of spring

This time three years ago:
Fat Thursday: a blast against sugar

This time four years ago:
The Devil is in doubt

This time five years ago
Are you aware of your consciousness?

This time seven years ago:
"Why are all the good historians British?"

This time eight years ago:
Central Warsaw, evening rush-hour

This time nine years ago:
Cold and getting colder

This time 11 years ago:
Uwaga! Sople!

This time 12 years ago:
Ul. Poloneza at its worst

Saturday, 22 February 2020

Live fast or live slow? Preparing for Lent

"No eternal reward will forgive us now for wasting the dawn", sang Jim Morrison. He might have not have wasted his dawn, but he lived not to see his noon. Live fast, die young.

My father lived slow and died old. Is there a rush? Brief, bright candle or long smoulder - how do you choose - is there a choice, or is it just about the cards that are dealt out to you?

Is there even a dichotomy?

The Doors' Texas Radio and the Big Beat came to me late this morning as I wasted my dawn. I woke around seven, then went back to sleep for another hour, got out of bed, opened the roller-blinds to see a pair of swans flying fast and low across the back garden, their white plumage lit vividly by the low morning sun. This sight seemed to justify my decision not to get out of bed at seven.

But by the time I'd had breakfast, exercised, washed, done some shopping it was half past eleven. I had indeed, wasted the dawn. I caught the 12:36 train down to Chynów, rather than the 10:35. Make the most of every hour - there's one less left every hour. And while down on the działka I finished editing three articles that I could have done in the office on Friday but didn't get round to it. Work blurs with leisure, leisure blurs with work, but that's the nature of my job - and I love it dearly.

Why the rush?

Well? Why indeed... Lent starts Wednesday, Ash Wednesday. It's that annual reminder of our mortality - "Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return". A time of mortification of the flesh, a time to contemplate what's been, and what's to come; a time to re-impose rigour upon one's life. Time to consider one's routines, a time to consider what works and what doesn't. A time to anchor one's soul into a time and a place, to winnow the wheat from the chaff in one's existence.

Cancel my subscription to the Resurrection. It's coming up to Ostatki - literally, 'the Lasts' - finishing off the last of the booze and the meat; getting ready to push away all the distractions - getting ready to push open to the doors of perception. The annual six-and-half week break from being on autopilot. Consciousness must take over, on a diet of oatmeal, fruit, vegetables and mineral water. Normal asceticism shall yield to extreme asceticism.

Lent is about body, mind and spirit. And so, this Lent, I shall be launching into a series of blog posts entitled Build your own Religion, another annual spiritual quest, a further milestone along my personal road from Zero to One.

Below: the long way home, via ul. Buszycka.

This time last year
Warsaw growing in the sun

This time two years ago:
Of Consciousness and Will across the universe

This time four years ago:
The Devil is indeed Doubt

This time five years ago:
Are you aware of your consciousness?

This time six years ago:
"Why are all the good historians British?"

This time eight years ago:
Central Warsaw, evening rush-hour

This time nine years ago:
Cold and getting colder

This time 11 years ago:
Uwaga! Sople!

This time 12 years ago:
Ul. Poloneza at its worst

Thursday, 20 February 2020

Bus shake-up for Jeziorki and Dawidy

With the opening of the viaduct on ulica Karczunkowska, the provision of bus routes is changing. It's clear that the last three and half years have been a temporary blip, and that things will get back to (kind of) how they were. But a bit better...

In essence the 715 will return to ul. Karczunkowska, while the 209 will run down ul. Baletowa, terminating at the bus loop that was completed almost three years ago (but has yet to see a bus actually using it). A new, peak-hours only, bus, the 809 will run the same route as the 209, but rather than terminate at the loop on Baletowa, it will turn into ul. Starzyńskiego, go through Dawidy Bankowe and Zamienie, and terminate at the bus loop by W-wa Jeziorki. Which will still be used by the L39 as its northern terminus.

The 737, which links Ursynów to Zgorzała, Lesznowola and the southern cemetery (Cmentarz Południowy, Antoninów), will now run down Karczunkowska rather than Baletowa.

No announcement has been made regarding night buses calling at either the W-wa Jeziorki or Baletowa bus loops.

But for Jeziorki, this is good news; it's bye-bye 209, hello again 715 and welcome 737. From five buses an hour at peak times to eight buses an hour. Plus - for the first time in three and half years I can catch a bus from Trombity that goes more than just one stop west - and, given the extension of Warsaw travel passes into Zone 2 from 1 September 2018, for the first time I can travel for free from Trombity on both the 715 and the 737 right to the end of both routes (P+R Al. Krakowska in the case of the 715).

Below: ul. Baletowa. Three years almost, waiting and ready, the bus loop complete with shelter - all that's needed is a bus to use it and a timetable. In the meanwhile, graffiti, broken glass, unauthorised advertising and empty miniatures.

Below: has ever a piece of Warsaw public transport infrastructure stood completed and unused for three years? It's usually the other way around.

Below: looking west; ul. Baletowa becomes ul. Warszawska on the other side of ul. Starzyńskiego, beyond Warsaw's city limits. You can see two bus stops; for people travelling from Dawidy, Łady or Nowa Olszynka towards Ursynów, the change in bus routes means either a 3km detour around Dawidy Bankowe, Zamienie and Jeziorki including an extra 1km of jammed-up ul. Puławska (an additional 20- to 25-minute travel time in peak hours), or changing buses, getting off at these stops and walking 200m to the new loop to catch a 209 or 809.

Meanwhile, at W-wa Jeziorki station, they're still trying to fix the lifts. Left: two guys working away this afternoon... until they've succeeded, buses won't be using the two bus stops on top of the viaduct. This raises the question as to whether passengers on the re-routed 715 and 737 buses will be able to alight here for the station! The alternative is to run the buses around the loop until the lifts are working...

The buses are one of the two big stories around Jeziorki. The other is that there is now a go-ahead with building the S7 extension from the airport to Lesznowola (section A, work on sections B and C are under way already). Rubau, the company that won the tender for section A of the S7 extension back in August 2017 was taken off the job by the Polish highways authority GDDKiA in March 2018 for not showing sufficient progress. Since then, the job has been put out to tender again; the new winner is PolAqua, and the company has been given 26 months to complete the work. So - summer 2022? We shall see...

Left: in the fields between Dawidy Bankowe and Jeziorki, I spot this day-glo orange cross sprayed onto grass. I assume this is to do with the S7. It will run from the junction south of Okęcie airport where the S79 meets the S2, running southwards through these fields, swinging to the west a bit to run between Zgorzała to the left and Zamienie to the right.

Below: from the top of where once stood Ballast Mountain, but now is a heap of soil, I look north towards Dawidy and ul. Baletowa. The S7 will run to the left of the white buildings on the horizon.

Below: an excellent map from the new WTP (Warsaw public transport authority, that has been rebranded from the familiar ZTM, just like London Transport became Transport for London). The map shows the location of the S7 as it runs this way, it also shows (still!) the old PKP Jeziorki bus loop to the east of the tracks, not the new one across the viaduct.

Click to enlarge the map. Apart from the wrong location for the bus stop, it's much more up-to-date than Google Maps.

This time last year:

This time four years ago:
The Occult and mysticism

This time five years ago:
How do we see God?

This time six years ago:
Who needs a Leica with a Noctilux lens when you can do this?

This time seven years ago:
Fides quaerens intellectum

This time eight years ago:

To the Devil with it all! - short story, Part II

This time ten years ago:
Building the bypass as the snows melt

The time 12 years ago:
Two weeks into Lent

Monday, 17 February 2020

Grey February dusk, buzzing Warsaw

I can't remember (nor can I google) who said it, the quote about jazz being like going home from work a different way each day. Variety is important; today I got my paces in by walking from the office to W-wa Ochota station, along ulica Świętokrzyska, then under Rondo ONZ, along ul. Pańska, then south-west along ul. Twarda, then finally south along ul. Miedziana to the station.

Below: surviving prewar architecture sandwiched between Warsaw Trade Center and Rondo ONZ 1, the old social health insurance building on ul. Mariańska. The mural on the side facing Świętokrzyska says 'Revolution begins on the street' - let's hope not.

Below: entrance to Metro Rondo ONZ on Line 2 of the Warsaw Metro. Note the cranes on the skyline, beyond the next stop on the Metro, Rondo Daszyńskiego.

Below: view along ul. Prosta; Wola is ascending.

Below: I reach my destination, W-wa Ochota, its pavilion designed by Arseniusz Romanowicz and Piotr Szymaniak, completed in 1963.

The short (three carriages, loco-hauled) passing on the long-distance line in the foreground is the Warsaw to Lublin service.

Daytime high today was 14.1C, very warm for mid-February. One thing that's immutable is the lengthening day - the sun set at 16:51. Nearly an hour and half after the earliest sunset (15-21 December).

Bonus photo: the following day, a brief burst of sunlight just before nightfall... view from our office window, overlooking three building sites.

This time last year:
Skierniewice-Łuków line modernisation announced

This two years ago:
Entropy and anti-entropy in a constant-ruled universe

This time three years ago:
Truth, spin, bullshit and lies

This time four year:
How much spirituality do we need?

This time seven years ago:
The Chosen Ones

This time eight years ago:
Fixies in the snow

This time 11 years ago:
Just the ticket

Saturday, 15 February 2020

New 'down' platforms take shape at Sułkowice and Chynów

I got off my Chynów train a stop early, at Sułkowice, to see how work is going on. To my surprise, I could see that the platforms here will be staggered, just like at W-wa Jeziorki, with the 'down' (southbound) platform to the north of the level crossing. The 'up' platform is now operational, serving trains in both directions, though not 100% complete.

Saturday morning at the there are some guys at work here - not many, but something is going on, behind the new concrete platform walls.

Below: behind the new 'up' platform, ulica Dworkowa in the foreground. Temporary fencing separates the platform from the slope down to the street - I presume once in place, those concrete slabs will be removed or covered by lawn.

Below: across the track; sections of the old 'down' line have been cut up and dumped by the side of the trackbed.

I'm walking alongside the line towards Chynów. Below: the DK50, Warsaw's de facto southern bypass, crosses over the railway. Note the new overhead power-line pylons run exactly as the old ones did - to the right of the central bridge support. Evidently it was too expensive to reposition the support so the two railway lines could run parallel, and southbound trains would not have to slow down to swing past it.

South of the DK50 and apple country begins in earnest - orchard after orchard all the way down to the Pilica river. At this time of year - dead. In two months' time, the blossom will start to emerge.

Below: a farm crossing. Will it remain after the line modernisation is complete? With barriers and lights? This unasphalted farm road is a dead end, serving several orchards. Ah - and look across the way, where's he at, sittin' over there... Straż Ochrony Kolei, presumably guarding against any pilfering of building materials stockpiled between Sułkowice and Chynów stations.

Evening falls a bit later each week, my train back to town at 17:02 is now just quarter of an hour after sunset. Below: Chynów station and the 'down' platform is also starting to emerge. Unlike Sułkowice, it will be parallel to the existing ones (the third platform serves a loop line that allows trains to pass here). The 'down' track was meant to be ready next month; PKP PLK now says June.

BONUS SHOTS: On my way to W-wa Jeziorki station, I overtook this group of geese on their way home after a short stroll around nearby fields. They turned left past the tree into a courtyard. Could you see such a sight in Postal London?

Below: former English, Welsh and Scottish Railways Class 66 loco brought over to Poland by DB Cargo, hauling empty coal wagons from Siekierki power station back to Okęcie sidings, passing under the viaduct at W-wa Jeziorki station.

Below: an unusual sight - first time I've seen an east-west container train without containers! Normally, over 30 trains a week carrying containers full of Chinese consumer goods to the markets of central and western Europe pass along the Skierniewice-Łuków railway line. Is this a symptom of the Corona Virus shutdown of Chinese industry?

This time last year:
Birds return to frozen ponds
[not frozen this year]

This time two years ago:
Bending the forces of physics with your will

This time four years ago:
Giving it up for Lent

This time six years ago:
North-east of Warsaw West revisited

This time seven years ago:
Looking for answers

This time eight years ago:
Fresh powder in Warsaw's parks

This time ten years ago:
Another Lent starts

This time 12 years ago:
Okęcie dusk

Friday, 14 February 2020

Cooperate, cooperate / Defect, defect

I have written about the Prisoner's Dilemma several times on this blog over the years. The famous thought-experiment holds a useful life lesson for us all. I came across this excellent version (link below), using a coin game in place of the harder-to-understand dilemma put to the prisoners, but essentially working the same way.

It's you vs. another person. Do you cooperate for mutual interest, or do you try to cheat the other player? More importantly, in the long term - which strategy works best?

[Click through to the game, and have a go for yourself. See what works and what doesn't. It's worth spending a bit of time to understand it.]

Once you've done that, time for reflection. The strategy that is clearly victorious is the one whereby you start off trusting the other person, and continue cooperating with them until the very moment in which they do the dirty on you. Then you break off. Then you carry on retaliating - until the very moment in which they relent and go back to cooperation. In this version of the game, this is called the 'copycat' strategy. It depends on your copying of what the other player does, in the very next round. No need to initiate or think. Nothing smart about this strategy - there are others which depend on you trying to work out the other player's strategy (assuming they have one).

The results are clear - if you carry on cooperating even when the other player is abusing you, you're a sucker and deserve to lose. And if you are abusive you will not get far either; people will work out that you play dirty and will start to hit back.

The 'copycat' strategy is essentially the one deployed by the US in the Pacific War. The Japanese bomb your fleet? You take the war to them. You hammer them at sea and from the air. Eventually, they surrender. Then you help them rebuild, grow their economy. But watch that they don't defect on you again.

The 'sucker' strategy? Appeasing aggression. Hoping the defector will come to their senses and change behaviour, unbidden. To quote Lenin again; if you plunge in the bayonet and feel nothing but mush, keep pushing. But if you push in the bayonet and come across steel - stop.

So cooperate, cooperate / defect, defect is the way to go.

Would that it were so simple.

Define 'defect' and define 'punish'? Here is the problem. Is the fact that a friend of yours voted for Brexit or Trump or PiS a 'defection'? Is it reason to 'punish'? And what form should that 'punishment' take? If someone parks their car across the pavement so you can't push through with a wheelchair - is that reason to scratch the car - or is leaving a polite note under the windscreen enough? A house in your neighbourhood continues to burn crap, harming air quality for everyone. Call Straż miejska? Or heave a brick through their window and continue to do so until they switch to a cleaner fuel?

A thought-experiment that is binary in its policy-response choice (cooperate or defect) comes face-to-face with the messiness of reality, composed of an infinite number of shades and nuances. Here, that crucial word 'judgment' (a word so lacking in Polish!) comes into play. Response needs to be proportionate, balanced and fair; one needs to be alert to infractions and instances of the other player defecting - even when no binary border has been crossed.

This is Putin's strategy - avoid crossing the red lines (such as invading a NATO member), but pushing all the time through social-media trolls, agents of influence and useful idiots for a similar outcome - splitting Western societies. The West needs to take tougher action to send the message to Putin that this behaviour is utterly unacceptable. The balanced response would be to step up sanctions against Russian oligarchs who are in Putin's pockets and their assets, while at the same time launching an unattributable cyber-war against Russian IT systems. Cooperate. cooperate / Defect, defect. And keep on hitting back until the very second Russia relents. And should it then renege, return to hitting back. And so on until the end of time - the copycat strategy is the one that works best - something proven by millions of rounds of simulation.

This time two years ago:
The Becoming and the Magic that'll Re-enchant Us

This time three years ago
Short-haul musings 

This time four years ago:
Mind, matter and life

This time five years ago:
Compositions in blue and white

This time eight years ago:
Waiting for the change to come

This time nine years ago
A wetter Poland?

This time 11 years ago:
Heavy overnight snow

This time ten years ago:
Changing Jeziorki skyline

Thursday, 13 February 2020

W-wa Jeziorki bus loop opens at last, but...

After three years and half years with a temporary bus loop, W-wa Jeziorki station finally has a new and permanent one. This morning, the first 209 and L39 buses drove right on past the Biedronka access road, to terminate at the new loop. Below: view of the loop from the viaduct; the yellow-and-red 209 at the pick-up point, the blue L39 at the drop-off point. Note the cars parked on the footpath. Another one (out of shot to the left) stands just behind the L39. Within a few minutes a police car was on the scene and parking tickets were being written out.

As I wrote a long while ago, the Achilles' heel of any infrastructure project are the level-access lifts. Not so much installing them, but getting them approved for use. I have seen two groups of hi-vis attired gents strolling round with clipboards, checking out the lifts... one would have thought that by now, they'd be given the OK. But no - the LED panels still say 'SERWIS'. Because the lifts aren't approved, the two bus stops atop the viaduct are not yet operational. Below: the L39 ignores the bus stop bay. So passengers to the station have to go the long way around, with the risk that the extra couple of minutes on the bus might mean missing their train.

Below: there are two routes to the platforms from the bus loop. The official route (top right) and the direct route (bottom). As you can see, the direct route takes you into such deep mud that you won't want to do it ever again. Rack up more steps to catch that train!

The biggest drawback to the new bus loop is that shoppers at the Biedronka supermarket who've made the climate-saving choice of not driving have a harder time to get home with the groceries.

The viaduct was opened on 15 November 2019, nearly three years and three months after the original level crossing on ul. Karczunkowska was closed. I will judge the job done and the work complete once the lifts are working and the rubbish behind the bus loop cleared away.

The old temporary loop had stood, for the past three-and-half years, a mere 150m from the shop. The new one entails having to drag your bags over four times that distance, over the viaduct and down the steps, to the new one. Even once the lifts are deemed safe for use, shoppers wanting to use the bus will have a half-kilometre walk to the nearest bus stop. Google Maps still showing the old loop, the new loop doesn't yet feature (I've alerted Google to this).

There's still no word about whether the 715 bus will be rerouted back along ulica Karczunkowska, or whether it will remain running down ul. Baletowa; ditto for the 737. And word is that the bus loop in Dawidy, completed in May 2017 but still never used, will finally see buses running to it.

I trust the local authorities will tidy up the situation. It's better than it was, though far from optimal.

Below: how it was, the day the old pętla (bus loop) was closed - 14 August 2016.

This time last year:
[Warsaw's] Morskie Oko in black & white

This time two years ago:
Preparations for Lent

This time four years ago:
Religion and Spiritual Growth

This time six years ago:
When trams break down

This time eight years ago: 
Who are the thickies of Europe?

This time nine years ago:
Oldschool Photochallenge: Response No. 2

This time ten years ago:
Oligocene water from Jeziorki 

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Dark, wet, gloomy February - no winter

Grim blows from the west the remains of Storm Ciara (renamed 'Sabina' in Poland for some reason); wave after wave of dark clouds propelled by howling winds, bearing great amounts of rain. I dodged a shower and got to W-wa Jeziorki without getting wet... would I be so lucky during my stroll to the office?

Below: the area around Rondo Daszyńskiego is climbing skywards. Not good weather for the construction sector...

Outside W-wa Śródmieście station, the rain is chucking it down. So I nip through Patelnia and into the Metro Centrum station, along the shopping galery overlooking the platforms (below). This way I can get to ulica Złota in the dry, and then shelter under arcades of Ściana wschodnia (the old Wars, Sawa and Junior buildings) to get to the south-east entrance of Metro Świętokrzyska. Down the stairs and through the passages and I emerge outside the doors to my office - nearly dry.

Below: not so lucky on the way home; it wasn't raining when I passed the Palace of Culture, but the malignant threatening tower merited a snap.

Onward, not far to the entrance to W-wa Śródmieście station (on this side of Aleje Jerozolimskie from the Polonia Palace Hotel). Within a few seconds of taking this photo, the heavens opened and a tremendous downpour sent people sprinting for the nearest shelter.

My train was delayed for some reason, crawling between stations then stopping for ages; no explanation given (unlike those helpful Tube announcements in London). I arrive at W-wa Jeziorki, miss the 209 bus from the (still after all these years temporary) bus loop 'near' the station, and proceed home on foot in the teeth of the ongoing downpour. Usual story - no pavements, sides of ulica Karczunkowska turned into huge, muddy puddles. So I'm walking along the wet asphalt into the oncoming traffic, which mercifully is driving a bit more slowly and cautiously than usual. Once again, my message for local authorities is get some pavement laid here before someone gets killed again.

This time last year:
The filth and the fury
[Since then the paths to the station have been paved, but still no pavement alongside Karczunkowska]

This time four years ago:
Defining the human experience

This time six years ago:
The City of Warsaw wants you to complain

This time seven years ago:
Czachówek's wild woods in winter

This time eight years ago:
Vistula freezes over downstream of Warsaw 

This time nine years ago:
Twilight of the Ikars

This time ten year ago:
Polish TV adverts for parapharmaceuticals

This time 11 years ago:
Jeziorki wetlands in winter

This time 12 years ago:
A week into Lent