Cambridge Mature Summer School 2012

Probably one of the best experiences I’ve had in my life.

After taking a flight from Edinburgh to Stansted, then a train to Cambridge I arrived quite early in the afternoon. I felt calm with an inner sense of purpose as I contemplated the University of Cambridge.

It symbolizes my innate desire to reach a point of excellence, to better myself, to go beyond the boundaries of a past stalked by academic underachievement. Cambridge on a deeper level signifies my highest accomplishment, Enlightenment. I wish to go to the university so that I can become a Therapist, a servant of others, a scientist of the mind. To learn, to understand, to hear different points of view, to experience many different cultures and to understand the experiences of others.

Immediately I threw myself into meeting people with a positive confidence which many people found disarming, fresh and warming. I opened to everyone and everyone warmed quickly to me. I felt part of a family, a community. We each shared interesting stories, views, ideas. Everyone was extremely talented and intelligent, and we all found it easy to relate to each other. My rapport skills had a great work-out and my confidence with others is heightening.

We started Thursday evening with Ice-breakers. Many people dreaded this but I really looked forward to it and it with good reason. It was an un-obtrusive ice-breaker session where we all got to meet each other and have lots of fun, not the usual awkward team-building sessions you get in the financial world. We all then stayed up way past bed-time hours sampling the night-life, brilliant!

Friday was early risen, a fry-up and then lectures from Giles Yeo, a brilliant lecturer who spoke on metabolic science. A trip to the science library then after other lectures we experienced a punting tour along the river Cam where many of the colleges are situated. We learnt of endless facts and the great scholars who have been at Cambridge. This was followed by an outstanding meal at Wolfson college. Julius Caesar, Shakespeare’s classic started in the evening of one of the other colleges. We all loved it! This was followed with excellent late night drunken student shenanigans!

Saturday we had several other lectures in biochemistry and we went to the institute of astronomy and the zoology museum. This of course sparked much talk of the universe, evolution, genetics, human responsibilities, and religion. In the evening we were fortunate to have a couple of admissions tutors ask our questions. This was followed by a formal Gala dinner at Clare college with a Michelin star meal, out of this world! The compulsory pub trip was legendary, we ended up at Club Fez and got back about 4 am!

After sleeping in for breakfast I went to awesome Biofuels and physics lectures. We then had a ‘graduation’ received a certificate as successfully completing the summer school and other things, then we departed.

I have made some wonderful friends, many of us feel like we have known each other for years. This was an extraordinary experience which I will cherish for the rest of my life. Thanks Cam!

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A Precious Human Life – in our time

Human beings have been around for a very short time and Earth is a relatively new planet. Science has yet to discover the many thousands of species here on Earth, even the depths of our oceans have hardly been researched.

It is interesting to know that we all came from the same single cell and we are 99.9% identical in every way to each other human being who has lived, died and is part of the human race. Remarkably, we share  many similarities with so many other people but even within this 0.1% there is tremendous variation. Some people are more fortunate than others, yet we all experience similar things at certain times; pleasure, pain, sadness, love, hate etc. We all share the very basic needs of food, water, shelter, sense of purpose and belonging etc. With all this humanity it is mind-blowing to note that all of it will one day end.

Our Sun will die. The death of every other of the 200 Billion stars in our galaxy alone will go out as will all stars in the universe. They will extinguish any possibility of life anywhere within the universe. This means that the universe will remain disordered, cold and full of radiation forever. It’s written into science as an inescapable fact that the cosmos will die, nothing will survive. Millions of extra-terrestrial lifeforms that potentially exist on other planets out in the vastness of space will also perish.

The conditions for life in the universe are incredibly minute. The sequence of events that create the death of the universe are the very same things that make life possible for the briefest periods of time here on Earth. It takes time for gravity to pull planets together. It takes time for mountains to form and trees to grow. It takes time for civilizations to evolve genetically.

Our Sun is a great example of a perfect condition for life. Earth is at the right distance to sustain life, just a small veering from this perfect distance and life would be vastly different. But this star will not always be here. It will eventually die. Long before this, man will have died out from the extreme heat of the growing Sun. There will be no conditions for life on planet Earth.

As a fraction of the lifespan of the universe as measured from its beginning to its end, to the evaporation of the last black hole, life as we know it is only possible for 1/1000th of a billionth, billionth, billionth, billionth, billionth, billionth, billionth, billionth, billionth percent.

Trillions of years along the arrow of time, the universe itself will have all but faded out – there will be no energy to sustain anything whatsoever. No new stars will be born and all lifeforms on the various other planets throughout the universe will also be extinct.The billions of different species will be no more.

I am sure you agree, that makes your life a pretty rare miracle. This is not a depressing thought, but one of great appreciation and awe that we are here right now under almost unbelievable circumstances.

Inner science or outer reliance

“Don’t blindly believe what I say. Don’t believe me because others convince you of my words. Don’t believe anything you see, read, or hear from others, whether of authority, religious teachers or texts. Don’t rely on logic alone, nor speculation. Don’t infer or be deceived by appearances.”

Buddha Shakyamuni apparently said this.

But who is to say that Buddha was actually enlightened and did actually say this? Did Buddha Shakyamuni actually write any books? Maybe a bunch of hippies from thousands of years ago imagined it and thought it would be cool if they invented a being who appeared infallible yet was beyond the ordinary appearances and sensory perceptions of the conventional world? But some would say that there is a lineage and there is a history of this glorious enlightened being.

Do we have to directly experience something to believe in it? Obviously not; as we know history no longer exists yet it was real and it did exist. Did man really land on the moon? The media told me so. Have I checked? No, I am happy to believe this conventional ‘fact’ yet many people believe otherwise. Why do people believe in ghosts or reincarnation?

Being a scientist involves relying on certain methods that others can test and validate: Psychologists are scientists of behaviour (actions and responses that can be observed directly) and scientists of the mind who study internal states and processes (these are often inferred from observable measured responses). Evidence to validate scientific conclusions referring to inner phenomena are not easily obtained.

I ask myself:

What are you asking me to believe? How do you know? What is the evidence? What other possibilities and alternative viewpoints are there? What constitutes a reasonable thought-out conclusion? What is most beneficial to believe?

Self-actualization and real experience from ones own investigations are extremely valuable since there is no benefit in probing things to the point of impotence of clear thinking but the proof of anything really lies in experiencing it for oneself.  Then again science doesn’t really prove anything does it? How do we find the middle-way between being objective and being subjective?

Perhaps there are more questions than answers. This is good news.