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topWelcome to Issue 33 
And a special welcome to new readers.
The School promotes practical philosophy from the first session.  So the articles here by students relate the ways they have found to put philosophy into practice in their lives.  And other unusual insights!   

I'd like to recount an interesting event that took place in April.  Some terms ago, a young woman in Florida joined one of the online philosophy classes.  Jess (who is happy to share these details) has advanced Cystic Fibrosis and needs continuous oxygen.  So when it came to introduction to meditation, she was unable to travel to New York where this was due to take place.   So enterprisingly, the New York School put together a 'flying' meditation team, to travel to Florida.  In the meantime, a number of other students also appeared wanting to receive meditation, including another person with severe health issues, who was greatly assisted by a fellow student.  So it was a happy event that took place in April, with 8 people starting to meditate, after overcoming tremendous obstacles, including last-minute flight cancellations.

Jess, 33, says: I am getting SO very much from the mantra meditation and I am looking forward to continuing with it and deepening my practice.  I feel as though I have been shown a world that is deeper and more vibrant, a world that lives only within the present moment.  April 8, I believe I was the most present I have ever been. I felt so free and so light and I trusted completely and it was effortless.  I tried to simply soak up all the wisdom, mindfulness, love and presence that was abundant.  It was a once in a lifetime experience and I am exceedingly grateful to have been a part of it. 

All good wishes, 
Christine Lambie, Editor

photo Gb1
photo: Arian Zwegers
Listening to the universe
Read about the exciting radio telescope project in SA
Finding the Zen of Sport 
 in sea kayaking

The Oracle of Delphi
Why was it so important?

Story1Both a tutor and student in the School in Cape Town, Jasper is a physicist by training with a PhD in radar signal processing.  He has worked at SKA South Africa since 2004.  He also works as a co-founder in a start-up company.  Here he talks about the exciting SKA telescope project.  

Listening to the Universe
Jasper Horrell, Cape Town
In a remote sheep-farming area of South Africa, a semi-desert region called the Karoo, something unusual is happening.  Low hills mark the boundaries of vast dusty plains populated by low, hardy shrubs.  The wandering breezes gently move this way and that, stirred by distant thunderstorms.  It is quiet, so quiet, ancient and unchanging.  For a human in tune, the space resonates with the space in the being, drawing one outward and inward all at once.  At night, stars.  Not just one or two... millions!!  The universe moves closer here, engulfing the silent landscape.  Dizzyingly beautiful.  Stop and look in awe.

Amidst this silent landscape, a vast field of giant dishes is emerging, springing up like oversized white mushrooms.  This is the MeerKAT radio telescope array, each dish around 15m in diameter with 64 of them spread out over 8km.  Buried beneath are power lines, fibre optic cables and a bunker full of computing.  Scientists waiting.

On each dish are several highly sensitive radio receivers, each tuned to a different part of the electromagnetic spectrum, each cooled by state-of-the-art cryogenic systems, way down to about -250C.  The universe whispers very quietly in radio waves and measuring the signals requires very quiet electronics.  Shhh. 

City sounds, cell phones, microwave ovens, car electronic systems are all way too noisy for this place.  One cannot keep the satellites away with their noisy transmissions, no place on Earth is free from that, but one does what one can. 

At a recent school reunion, I was asked the inevitable question, "So, what are you up to now?"  "Manager for science computing at the Square Kilometre Array project in South Africa", I replied to slightly puzzled faces.  People are always amazed to hear that South Africa is involved in such things.  I have been working on it for 11 years; it will be another 10-15 years before the full international project, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), is fully constructed plus 30-50 years of operations after that.
photos: SKA South Africa

The 64-dish MeerKAT telescope, which we are rolling out now and is to be completed in 2017, will be a world class instrument in its own right, but is only a precursor of bigger things to come.  SKA Phase 1 will add 133 dishes to MeerKAT, bringing the tally close to 200 dishes spread over 150 km rather than 8 km.  More sensitivity and better resolution too.  In addition, a low frequency system in the remote western deserts of Australia should be running by 2023.  Phase 2 will add new technology, extending the array over the African continent with some 2000+ dishes as well as an expansion of the low frequency system in Australia.  Ten member countries (and growing) are involved and an intergovernmental organisation has been set up to coordinate the project, its headquarters being in the U.K.

What will we learn by building such instruments and systems on such scale?  We now understand that the universe is a vast place, almost 14 billion years old (since the Big Bang), extending from quiet neighbourhoods to places of violent interaction of highly exotic objects and yet we "understand" about only 5% of its matter-energy content.  "Dark matter" and "dark energy" ("dark" because we don't understand it) now dominate the science scene.  

Is there life out there?
It would amaze me if there were not, but whether we would be able to communicate with the life forms on other planets, is another matter.  Vast distances, different evolutionary paths and timescales.  Let's see.

Find out more about SKA 
Find out more about SKA
We hope to discover other things too: How did the universe evolve from the Big Bang to the present day?  What causes galactic and cosmological scale magnetic fields and how  


are these sustained?  Was Einstein absolutely right about General Relativity?  What can we learn from gravitational wave astronomy about distant cataclysmic events?  We are also learning how to work with and respect other cultures in a global endeavour and that working with such a broad international group takes time and patience.  Most major telescopes become famous not for the science that they plan to do, but for the unexpected discoveries they make.  The SKA will likely be no different.

Philosophy and science - do they fit together? 
I don't make the distinction anymore.  I quietly start the car early each morning, keen to go to work, for the next interesting conversation or view on the latest technology.  There is an understanding that the incredible achievements of science are reflections of what is more incredible still and lies within us all, that our physics theories, glorious triumphs of human intellect, are, well, just theories in the end, no matter how elegant and practical.  The universe is alive and will always have more in store. 

On the drive in towards the science/engineering office, the Cape Town mountains shine with the early morning sun.  Deep in the Karoo, new giant dishes glinting in the same morning sun, turn their focus in unison to the heavens and tune into the ancient whispers from faraway worlds trickling onto the shores of Earth.

SKA website: SKA

Insight Photo competition

Many thanks to everyone who sent in photos for the competition with the theme of home.  Below are the three winners:
1st place: Kim Ward, South Africa: Home for a night in the Drakensberg
2nd and 3rd place: Alvin Wasserman, USA, illuminated sailboat; Roanna Wells, UK, my parents' home.  

Interested in tips on taking photos on an iPhone?  Go to  photo-tips

Dennis is a senior student in Boston.  He has pursued cycling, hiking, and sea kayaking in his adult years, learning both physical and mental discipline from each pursuit.  Since 2005 he has focused on sea kayaking. 

The Zen of Sport
Dennis Blejer, Boston Story2

When I was in high school I played table tennis at a competitive level.  I remember reading an article by a player on the U.S. National Team.  'Even if you are down 20-19 in the finals of the World Championship (in those days games were 21 points), play to perfect your game'.  This made a tremendous impression on me.  I knew this to be true in experience.  Winning or losing had nothing to do with how much I enjoyed the game.  The enjoyment came from how well I or my team played.  

Off to sea
I was inspired to pursue sea kayaking one day when I was with friends on a power boat on beautiful Squam Lake (think 'Golden Pond').  I saw a fellow in a kayak and it seemed to me that he had the right idea.  As a cyclist and hiker, moving under my own power in the outdoors was always something I enjoyed.  Adding the water environment was a natural extension for me.

The challenge of the ocean environment 
There are so many aspects to it: the dynamics of the wind and waves, tidal currents, navigation, and boat handling.  Paddling skills and techniques are challenging to learn and very satisfying to apply in rough seas.  There are five levels to sea kayaking as determined by the American Canoe Association (ACA) and it has taken several years to get my skills to Level 4.  I am still working on those skills as they are not easy to master. 

Sea kayaking has multiple aspects to it in terms of how it appeals to people.  Some are attracted simply to being on the ocean, and some enjoy destination paddling where you choose an island or some coastal destination, which may include camping for a multi-day trip.  The more extreme end of sea kayaking includes expedition kayaking such as circumnavigating Ireland or even Australia (both have been done) and paddling in rough water such as surf or tide races (fast moving rough water) and playing in the currents of a rock garden.  Rough water sea kayaking is a bit like race-car driving, requiring extreme focus, great boat handling, and excellent judgement.  The slightest mistake and you are in the drink!  

The art of rolling
The first time I rolled a kayak in ocean conditions (rather than during a training session in a pool), we were surfing our sea kayaks in the surf zone near a beach when I was hit by a large breaking wave and capsized.  Rather than exit the boat I attempted to roll.  Two aspects of the roll came to mind: (1) get the power face of the blade flat on the water surface, and (2) keep my head down.  The next thing I knew I was up without any effort on my part.  The experience was like that of falling but without fear.  The roll simply happened by itself while my mind was free and without concern for what it was doing and yet there was bliss! 

Another challenge was to practice getting back into the kayak after capsizing.  Being under water in a kayak with a spray skirt on (a form-fitting neoprene skirt that attaches you to the boat) was definitely intimidating.  The impulse to breathe air is one of our strongest instincts and when that is at risk there is a tendency to panic.  Finally, there is paddling in rough water with the constant feeling of being unstable.  So how to overcome fear and panic?  For me, it was the same as in table tennis - perfect the game by just playing and applying the fundamentals.  Stay in the moment, watch what is happening, and let the body respond as it will according to training.  After a few years of continuous practice I began to realize how stable I actually am in my kayak, even in rough conditions.  

Water on the rocks
Another time my instructor said to me:  'Go through that slot' pointing between a cliff and a complex array of rocks.  This required extremely good timing to catch the incoming water at the right time so that I could ride through the slot and maneuver appropriately.  Faith in my ability was all-important as doubt is the destroyer!  What bliss paddling into the rising water and seeing the rocks disappear.  I only had to turn 90° to avoid the cliff!  You learn in these conditions how water behaves: it likes to flow around things and if it can't, it will move upwards.  So as long as the water isn't overly turbulent you are actually safe.  But please don't try this on your own . . .  Competent instruction is all important.

One note of caution: sea kayaking is a dangerous sport whenever the water temperature is below 50° F (10° C).  One must dress for the water or hypothermia is a serious risk when in the water for any length of time.  

Sea kayaking has been an adventure for me.  I have learned to regard and respect it as a challenge rather than an activity to fear.  I am not a good swimmer, so, the first few times I was away from shore at an appreciable distance were a bit unnerving.  

When I am underwater I realize now that there is plenty of time to do what I need to do, whether it is exiting the boat, or rolling up. Enjoying a small level of mastery leaves me free to enjoy the sport and take reasonable risks.  There is a rough water symposium that I have attended several times over the years.  We seek out rough water to play in, such as surf, tide races, or rock gardens, and now it really is play.

An ancient Samurai text known as the Hagakure says: 'There is one transcending level, and this is the most excellent of all. . .  Throughout your life advance daily, becoming more skillful than yesterday, more skillful than today.  This is never ending.'  

Typical insight reader??!
Reader Feedback
As always, thanks for reading!

Hello from sunny Cape Town.  Actually it's a very sunny and blue skies day here - I'm sitting right on top of Table Mountain as I'm reading this - pic attached :-)  Just wanted to drop you a quick note to say I really enjoyed this newsletter - loved the personal stories - Aatif's and Jaime's - and particularly Lily's!  Thank you!

Thank you for the Insight 32 I have just received.  The story of Aatif Hassan was inspiring.  It's wonderful to know there are people like this these days.  Greetings from Cyprus

Insight always inspirational but this one is particularly so.  Aatif's moving account of his life of service is so worth sending to others.  It has been forwarded to all my family so that they too can share his inspiration!  London

Margot first visited Delphi in the summer of 1965 as a student at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens.  While studying, excavating and working in Greece from 1966 to 1986, she went to Delphi countless times.  After moving to London, she took St James students to Delphi, Olympia and Athens every year for 20 years.  For the last few summers she has lived for a time in the village of Delphi before attending the School's Plato study events.

Delphi: the navel of the world
Margot Camp, London

A seed must have been planted 65 years ago in Massachusetts when I first encountered Delphi.  Off school, bored and swollen with mumps, I was given a book called 'The Treasures of Delphi'.  An unlikely gift for an eight year old.  The text, written by archaeologists, was far too advanced but I looked again and again at the beautiful black and white photographs of the site which was not fully excavated at that time.  The sculptures and architecture found there were so mysterious and unlike anything I had seen before.  I was struck by the harmony between the natural features and the man-made, so perfectly at one.  I still have the book.

The approach
The approach to the site which is on the outskirts of the modern village affords a spectacular view down to the bottom of a deep gorge, over a plain carpeted with silvery olive trees opening out onto the Gulf of Corinth and beyond to mountains. For over a thousand years suppliants coming to consult the oracle would have arrived by boat and made their way up steep winding pathways to the walled Sanctuary of Apollo, overshadowed by two towering cliffs. 

The first and lasting impression is that the setting is much more powerful and lasting than anything any human being can make or do.  Man is dwarfed by the landscape.  The steep ascent on the Sacred Way through the sanctuary is awe-inspiring and evokes a sense of the divine. 

How to seek advice from Apollo, god of prophecy
The most significant form of divination practised at Delphi was delivered by the priestess of Apollo, called the Pythia, a simple village girl chosen for her piety.  Once chosen, she would live the rest of her life within the sanctuary.  She was consulted nine times a year on the seventh day of the month and only by the powerful and renowned.  The questioner, after purification, had to maintain complete silence once in the sanctuary.  After much ritual, the Pythia entered the Holy of Holies at the back of Apollo's Temple.  Here she went into a trance induced by intoxicating fumes and her natural openness to inspiration.  Her words were unintelligible but they were interpreted by the priests and given to the inquirer in verse form.  The inquirer, once he received his answer, had to examine it and understand what the god had said, which was often cryptic.

There are stories about men who interpreted these cryptic responses in a way that served their own ends; they famously came to grief.  However Socrates, on hearing that the oracle proclaimed there was no one wiser than him, spent the rest of his life trying to understand this answer.  Socrates knew that he knew nothing and yet God is infallible so the difficulty was not in the god's words but in his own understanding.  

Sacred place
How Delphi became what Greeks called the navel ('omphalos') of the world is told in a myth.  Zeus, king of the Olympian gods, sent out two eagles to fly in different directions across the world to determine its centre.  The eagles met over Delphi, so this became the place where Apollo conveyed to men the will of Zeus through the medium of the prophetess.  
It is a thrilling sight when, every now and then,a pair of eagles appear suddenly  out of nowhere.  They swoop down at great speed into the valley and then up again until they dissolve into the blue of the sky.   Visible once more they descend, play together for a time above the silhouette of the cliffs and then they are gone.  

The space, the almost blinding light and the sense of presence and stillness; the sky, the land and the sea; the hardness of the rock, the smell of thyme, the heat of the sun and the brightness of the stars - all the same now just as then.  Long before any building was built, this remote inaccessible elemental place was recognized as sacred, as belonging to the gods, and although the Pythian voice is stilled and the sacred spring has dried up, this feeling is still very much present today.

Lily is the black labrador who lives with Donald Lambie, the leader of the School, and his wife, the editor.  She has become a popular contributor to this newsletter, with her own canine insights.
Letter from Lily 
I've just been on a very pleasant holiday with my People, to the South Downs.  I'm wondering where Dog Advisor for Trips is so that I can leave one of those helpful reviews?  I'll be commenting with acerbic clarity on friendliness to canines, availability of wildlife (or cats) for chasing, garden dimensions, proximity to beach (very important), and welcome pack of tennis balls and treats on arrival.  I notice that I didn't get any of those nice goodies left for my people on arrival, although there was a dog bowl for water - call that a welcome? Must try harder, is my comment, although the pheasants were fun.

Fenton, even better
Fenton, even better
I know I've shown you Fenton's heroics in a previous letter.  But I'd like you to take a look at this new video, slightly enhanced.  What I like about it is that my colleague Fenton, a good-looking black Labrador ;) is chasing deer yes, but also elephants, ostriches, and even a T rex.  Now that really is herding.  Huh, sheepdogs, who needs 'em?  Obsolete!
Dog bless,  Lily

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