Syntagma Digital
Editor, John Evans

Sherlock and I


I was pleasantly surprised recently to discover that my first book shared a publisher with Sherlock Holmes (ie Sir Arthur Conan Doyle).

George Newnes also published Tit-Bits (don’t go there!) whose occasional contributor, Alfred Harmsworth, founded The Daily Mail. It’s amazing what you turn up when you start digging.

My book — stifle that yawn — was on technical writing and was the first thing I did after university. Like most hopelessly dedicated writers I find I can scribble some thousands of words on any subject that I know nothing about, say, botulism.

Of course, one prefers the topics closest to one’s heart, in my case, psychology and mysticism. So why write a book on technical writing, which I didn’t even know existed as a separate subject? It was a bit of a misunderstanding actually, a pattern that was to repeat itself in later years… often to my considerable advantage.

The first job I did was advertised as “Writer Wanted”. Great, I thought, just up my street.

At the interview the first question I was asked was “Do you know Atlas?”

I replied, “Yes, I’ve got one at home.”

“You clearly don’t then! Never mind, we’ll soon teach you. It’s only got a thousand words and they are all in the Oxford dictionary.”

It was explained that Atlas was a drastically cut down version of English comprising mainly technical terms strung together with the bare minimum of connecting tissue. Shakespeare it is not.

I was intrigued, so accepted the offer. The work itself was so boring, I decided to write a book in the intervals, of which there were many. Hence my first published title was Technical Writing, which was commissioned by Newnes. Hi Sherlock!

I couldn’t resist adding some purple passages to the book which must have confused the engineers trying to make sense of it. The section on style of writing quite perplexed a few of them. Here’s part of it:

There exists a considerable body of opinion which believes that technical English is a subset of the language with only a tenuous dependence on the real thing. The idea is that such texts as are written would be immune from misinterpretation and could convey technical descriptions in man- or machine-readable form. … It remains a strange phenomenon that technological man, with all his complex artefacts, should look to the future in terms of the palaeolithic past.

Despite that, they have made impressive strides lately among those who believe that technology and its implementation is enough to guarantee human happiness. They have certainly struck a chord with the stereotypical engineer who is “a whizz with wires and things” despite his semi-illiteracy. The reply to this tendency lies in a statement by the French historian, Renan: “La verite consiste dans les nuances” — “Truth consists in shades of meaning”.

It went down a treat and I was soon looking for a new job. Life just isn’t fair sometimes. But at least I was now a published author.

PS: And, yes, I know the title should be “Sherlock and me”, but “I” sounds a lot grander, even if grammatically incorrect. Grammar isn’t everything!

John Evans

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Midweek Discussion: A meditation on nothing

Mind Only

Generally, we take matter as solid and real, and we recognize a rather ineffable substance called mind, which in some way interacts with matter to produce our consciousness of the hard, metallic landscape out there. This duality of matter and mind, however, serves to fracture the actual reality of the world and gives rise to all our false notions of separateness and alienation.

Non-materialists do not talk of mind and matter, but of mind and form, where form is not a separate substance like matter, but the shape that mind assumes in this case and that. Mind is the only reality. Form is the way that mind works, its play and way of expressing itself.

“All very well,” say the materialists, “but how do you explain the solidity of the world? If I hit you on the head with this hammer, will you still believe that the hammer is ‘mind only’?” The reply is that both the hammer, the interaction and the pain are all products of mind’s activity.

A stage hypnotist, for example, tells his subject that there is a fierce dog on the stage. Immediately, the subject sees the dog and moves away from it. Later he is told to pat it on the head. Now he feels the solidity of the animal, its skin and bones, its hot breath. To the hypnotised man, the dog is totally real.

The same effect occurs during dreaming. We recognize the absolute presence of the dream world, until, that is, we awaken and realize that it was all the product of our mind.

Objects, then, are concentrations of mind activity brought about by concentration. To the One Mind school of Buddhism, the universe is the vast concentration of the Buddha–mind. We ourselves are clusters of concentrated thought–energy. But since in a single ocean the part is inseparable from the whole, we are also the whole of the contemplating mind.

This “idealism” can be off–putting to many people. We sense a kind of existential abyss here and back away from it. The question we should ask, though, is who is it who is afraid? The answer is that it’s fear that fears because, in a non–dual perspective, the ego–entity does not have a separative existence. It is only its “death” that opens the way to the picture of eternity. In other words, you have to lose your life in order to find it.

The Zen master Huang Po recognized the difficulty: “Men are afraid to forget their own minds, fearing to fall through the void with nothing on to which they can cling. They do not know that the void is not really the void but the real realm of the Buddha–mind.”

The English author Paul Brunton expressed this paradox, or reverse perspective thus, “What the unenlightened regard as substance, that is, the form of things, is really its negation, whereas true substance, that is the essence out of which those forms emerge, is disregarded by them as non–existent. The hardest barricade for our Western understanding to break through is this simple acceptance of the Unmanifest as ultimate reality.”

If you suppose a universe full of nothing, as scientists sometimes do in describing the world before the “big bang”, there is still the void of nothingness, and this space is itself something, and yet nothing.

You can never reach the end of negation, because at that point it slips back into an affirmation. Wherever you want to place the end of the universe, perhaps with a wall, there must be something else beyond the wall, even if it is only nothing, which in itself is something. This is the “plenum void” of the Mahayana, which “holds in it infinite rays of light, and swallows all the multiplicities there are in the world”.

The nothingness of this void would be untenable without a consciousness to void it. Try to imagine, intuitively, an empty space without any form of consciousness to observe it. Thus consciousness and space are identical, as the Chogyam Upanishad implies.

In a world of something and nothing, our normal reality realm, there is always a pit into which we can fall. If we step away from the comforting solidity provided by the ego viewpoint, we are in a dreadful limbo, an emptiness so profound that it is sometimes described as the “dark night of the soul”.

In a world of mind only, however, there is nowhere to fall, nowhere to disappear, nowhere to face obliteration, and, more to the point, there is no “thing” to fall, disappear, or face annihilation.

As Huang Po put it: “That which is before your face is it, in all its fullness, utterly complete.”

“This pure mind, the source of everything, shines forever and on all with the brilliance of its own perfection. But the people of the world do not awake to it, regarding only that which sees, hears, feels and knows as mind. Blinded by their own sight, hearing, feeling and knowing, they do not perceive the spiritual brilliance of the source–substance.”

From: The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face by John Evans. Available soon for Christmas ordering.

John Evans

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Excerpt: The Eternal Quest For Immortality — Is it staring you in the face? by John Evans

C.G. Jung

Carl Jung, the great Swiss thinker and psychologist, did not mince his words when referring to immortality: “When the summit of life is reached, when the bud unfolds and from the lesser the greater emerges … and the greater figure, which one always was but which remained invisible, appears to the lesser personality with the force of a revelation, he who is inwardly great will know that the long expected friend of his soul, the immortal one, has now really come.”

A more perfect apotheosis can hardly be imagined, for Jung had spent his whole life rummaging about in his own mind and that of others. As a scientist he was naturally reticent – colleagues could be dismissive of any apparent “descent into the swamp of mysticism”. However, as the final chapters of his late memoirs, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, show, Jung had penetrated to the heart of the matter even while playing the part of a dull, diligent, boffin of the mind.

Coming soon for Christmas ordering.

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Is news bad for your health and wealth?

Jason Zweig We’ve all had the experience of a good mood turning sour after watching a news bulletin full of distant, but gloomy, events. It can ruin a whole evening by casting a pall of low-level misery over everything else.

Obviously there are health implications in this phenomenon usually observable through higher blood pressure and faster pulse rate. But can it also affect your wealth?

Jason Zweig believes that “the more you look at stock prices, the more illusory ‘trends’ you see.” His thesis is that Neuro-Economics “can help you understand your reactions and get richer”.

All this appears in his book, Your Money and Your Brain — Become a Smarter, More Successful Investor, the Neuroscience Way.

Neuro-Economics is a blend of neuroscience, economics and psychology designed to interpret the brain’s reaction to economic stimuli like falling stock prices. Apparently, within 12 milliseconds (one-25th of the time it takes to blink an eye), the news activates the amygdala, a part of the brain that initiates fear and anger. Falling stock prices incite the same brain circuits as the roar of a wild beast.

In those moments, if you make a snap decision, the likelihood is that you will sell your shares. You will also believe you have made a rational decision because the process happens so fast you are unaware of it.

However, all data shows that if you hang onto your shares, you will do much better in the long run. So what’s happening here?

The conclusion is that, the impulse to stay continuously informed about your shares in times of market turmoil leads to nothing but trouble — not to mention high blood pressure and pulse rate.

“Furthermore, the more often you update the prices of your stocks, the more often you will perceive ‘trends’ that are most likely to be just illusions.”

Neuroscience shows that it takes only two iterations of a stimulus for your brain to form an automatic and uncontrollable anticipation of another repetition. However, it’s more likely than not that the “news” was just noise.

Zweig’s advice to investors is : “Stop clicking on market websites. Stay away from the Bloomberg terminal. If you read the FT, pass over the market news and spend your time on the opinion pages instead. You will surely be happier — and almost certainly end up richer.”

Now that sage advice applies not only to economics and investments, but it can also be extrapolated into other areas as well.

It’s generally agreed that 90 percent of what we worry about never happens. It follows that 90 percent of speculation and prognoses never happen either. Keeping up with news, current affairs, politics, and many other topics, will prove to be nothing but hot air and a lot of bothersome timewasting. We should save our equanimity for the actuality of our own lives and never make decisions on the basis of incoming “news”.

This book neatly adds convergence to a couple of trends. All those books that tell us how to save time, e.g. The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss, and the current crop of books showing how great scare stories like mad-cow disease and apocalyptic warnings of the end of the world, never turn out the way the doomsters predict.

The Simpsons really is good for your health and your wealth.

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Autumn changes at Syntagma Media

Bzzzz! Continuing into Fall with our summer series of changes at Syntagma Media, we are now incorporating the long-planned print publishing arm into our main Syntagma workstream. This move is on the advice of Gerry Reynolds, our business consultant.

Dial Publishing has been eased into oblivion and its projected print products moved to the Syntagma Media brand. Some of the book titles we earlier had in mind have been syphoned off to a trade publisher, leaving a couple to launch our new imprint.

They are, The Natural History of Nirvana by yours truly, which we hope to have out in the New Year; and The Syntagma Story, which may materialize by May 2008 if there’s enough interest.

Our office move scheduled for October has fallen through, so we are now aiming for November, or at least before Christmas. Our current location is a real property hotspot so it’s no easy matter finding alternative office or residential space. We may have to move out into the sticks, assuming at least 8Mb/s broadband is available.

We are also continuing to develop new sites and topic areas : health and fitness being the probable next launch, followed by a sub-network devoted to the West Country of England. The aim is to transform the inventory into a fully commercial network.

So there you have it, slimming down and expanding out from a solid base is the name of the exercise.

Hot business tip : Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.


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