The flowers' aroma breathes of hotter days

ealnm mehl, modified 4 Months ago at 7/10/23 7:31 PM
Created 4 Months ago at 7/10/23 7:30 PM

The flowers' aroma breathes of hotter days

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I'm making no claims to attainment of any kind. This is because I have very little belief in the ability of formal language to convey what I think. One of my intellectual heroes was Frank Ramsey, and the reason I am grateful to him is for showing me how small the domain of application of logic actually is. In my view, if you can't imagine a finitely axiomatizable system for automatic verification of truth/falsehood of statements, it's not worth formalizing. All the rest is gut feeling. I can't imagine such a system for verifying claims to attainment, or even formal semantics for such claims (although God knows what they'll come up with in ten years), so I'm riding this one out on intuition all the way down.

I find that I need a space to write about my process. I am likely to make more systematic progress if I actually share it with someone else; I've gained some proficiency in being self-accounting, but maybe someone else wants to see it for a change? I would be surpprised. My practice is not particularly impressive, not disciplined, nothing to see here, really. I mean it. It's just me sitting and seeing or maybe not seeing some stuff. I'm not going to try to put it on any map because I can't stand the stuff, but also because I would surely not sustain a minute of serious scrutiny if I had to do my duty on *that* frontline. I'd rather count my blessings and try to be a bigger fish elsewhere. 
ealnm mehl, modified 4 Months ago at 7/10/23 7:57 PM
Created 4 Months ago at 7/10/23 7:57 PM

RE: The flowers' aroma breathes of hotter days

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I'm having the weirdest issue where when concentrating on vision, I am trying to really relax -- but you know, like, *really* relax -- and I end up having double vision. My brain relaxes so much that it stops bothering to put these two images into one. Or maybe that's just how I experience the story I'm telling myself about being really relaxed, who knows? But I'm guessing it's real; it has this annoying quality to it, that I initially did not want it and did not know what to do with it when my vision went double, and I really was at a loss until I figured out that maybe it's a symptom of 'cognitive relaxation' of some sort. From my maths experience, when you usually really have to struggle with things and they keep working differently from what you'd want, then you know what's happening is real, and I guess the way I experienced double vision was like this.

So now I went one step further, and I figured, to what extent can I relinquish control over my eyes? Like, motor control? It turns out when I really don't care what I'm looking at, my eyes start oscillating around what I think are essentially random points of focus. It's like there's some sort of reflex that takes over, and that reflex is targeting locally most bright point in the vision field, but also that point keeps changing? Or maybe it's reacting to the artifacts that it itself is generating? Who knows! Basicaly nystagmus. It feels like I'm releasing a lot of control over the eyes, and now what takes over are those more random-like reflexes, that typically are very weak when compared against the strong control signal and thus they are not well gauged against each othes. There's probably a gradation of reflexes that govern eye movement, and some of them might be more involuntary than the others, and now that the strongest signal is out, these more basic reflexes are running the show and get to explore their real selves. Turning *them* off, in turn, would probably be very advanced practice indeed not unlike dying?

So what actually happened is that I got these rapid eye movements, mostly horizontal, and my eyes also gradually closed by themselves. It was kinda funny, the gradual close was like two spiders coming at me from both sides. Then I figured that maybe I want to open my eyes now, but, *in a new way*? I could just open them right up by sending the strong control signal, but I wanted to sort of coerce reflexes into opening them up for me by slightly manipulating the environment? I guess? I have no idea but in this *new fancy way* I did manage to open my left eye, slightly, and that was honestly a fascinating experience, but my right upper eyelid was slightly too glued to the lower eyelid and I couldn't just get it to open by these arcane measures, so I gave up and opened them the old-fashioned way. The vision field was very vibrant.

Honestly the whole thing was so fun and now I'm wasting time writing this grade-school essay about it. Sad! I really need to get better about condensing these reports into one-liners if I want to have the energy and interest to go on writing this log.
ealnm mehl, modified 4 Months ago at 7/11/23 8:54 AM
Created 4 Months ago at 7/11/23 8:54 AM

RE: The flowers' aroma breathes of hotter days

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I have recently felt myself being very close to Bankei Yotaku's words, to the effect that he does not want any part of an enlightenment that he cannot share with his mother. Daniel in his book threw a lot of shade on the 'you are all already enlightened' set of ideas, which to my knowledge seem to originate with Bankei, but it's worth finding out *why* he believed this. In the 17th century, Japan was in the middle of a major social transformation, that ended up with closing off the country for the next 250 years. The emphasis was on stability, and there was a belief that if society is given exactly the right laws, held in exactly the right balance, then it can be sustained forever just as it was in early Edo period. Regardless of what Bankei thought about this project, I believe the question he asked himself was: "All these people, coming and dying in this country, for the next 250 years, what can I say that will help all of them the most? What spirituality has a chance of helping everyone?"

There's also the fact that Bankei was raised by a single mother, who struggled to raise him up on her own, and that tends to make you attached (oh no, curse word!) to that person to a level beyond what most people can imagine. I have a similar background. I would never pursue meditation if it weren't for the fact that I can use what I learn to help my mother and father overcome their own limitations. I am simply not that interested in myself for my own sake. This is also why I struggle with maps, and I ultimately don't see their point. I don't care for any framework that I cannot explain to my mother. If it's so precious to you, you can have it for yourself. Enjoy! 

Hakuin wrote this story: '“Priest Ch’ien-feng addressed his assembly: “This Dharma-body has three kinds of sickness and two kinds of light. Can any of you clarify that?” Yün-men came forward and said, “Why doesn’t the fellow inside the hermitage know what’s going on outside?” Ch’ien-feng roared with laughter. “Your student still has his doubts,” Yün-men said. “What are you thinking of?” said Ch’ien-feng. “That’s for you to clarify,” said Yün-men. “If you’re like that,” Ch’ien-feng said, “I’d say you’re home free.”'

I mean, I have no idea what these three and two kinds are, but I'm pretty sure I get what the rest is trying to say. 
ealnm mehl, modified 4 Months ago at 7/11/23 9:39 AM
Created 4 Months ago at 7/11/23 9:39 AM

RE: The flowers' aroma breathes of hotter days

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What the hell, I'm just going to post whatever I'm thinking here! Hopefully someone finds it amusing.

I'm talking a lot about *social* stuff here, nothing to do with my own body and a lot of answering the question:

"who believed what at which time and why they might have been motivated to believe that instead of something else?"

Since I'm committing such a sin against the idea of being grounded in the actual, physical world, I might as well explain myself. First of all, I have autism, so the embodied stuff just doesn't feel natural to me. (Here's a good article about connection between autism and abstract thought: ) It often comes easier to me to express my actual experience in these symbolic, abstract, decidedly non-phenomenological terms. It's just who I am! That ship has sailed a long time ago, I'm afraid. I do started to enjoy dabbling more in phenomenology in recent times. It mostly comes from my growing appreciation of physics -- I never understood physics as a kid, and only recently I'm just sort of starting to barely get an idea of what it's all about. Because physics is intellectual, but also deeply empirical, it provides a key connection between the phenomenological world and my dis- (or under-embodied) cognitive processes, and I really like having that connection! But it is not easy to have it on a daily basis. 

Second of all, I think if you squint hard you can see the Three Characteristics in anything, and that includes social and physical phenomena. A lot of people go their entire lives primarily living them in social terms, and we simply cannot ignore the existence of these people, and the point they're trying to tell us. I'm thinking of 'Dream of the Red Chamber', which I am currently reading and which I already think is the best book I've ever read. Everyone says that 红楼梦 is a Buddhist work, so you'd think it will teach us about impermanence and whatnot, but if you open it up, you just see a bunch of posh people discussing money and poetry and stuff. There is no empty emptiness; on the contrary, there often seems to be nothing but objects, mostly expensive ones: the chapter I've just read featured a ridiculously long discussion of an outrageously expensive Russian coat made from twisted peacock feathers (is that even a thing? Idk) that the main character accidentally burned a hole in, and of efforts to repair it so that the lady of the house won't get mad. All the scenes in this book are group scenes; whenever there's a dialogue, you have to remember that there are probably like 6 or 7 female maids standing around, waiting to serve their masters. 

And yet, what hasn't this book taught me about the world already! Much better than many a meditation teacher. At the moment, what strikes me the most is how the Chinese empire seems to have functioned in a manner very similar to today's corporations. Even the language, coming as it does from mid-18th century, is distinctly *corporate*: the same, stylistically soft and frictionless talk of targets, procedures, social responsibility, &c &c they even have casual Mondays (of a sort). The family is much closer in spirit to a company than to the familial idyll of that period's Western literature. Part of it may be because many characters spend copious time lazing around in luxury pretending to do something important, while less fortunate ones clean after them; an experience that closely mirrors my own experiences in the IT industry. I think this is more than an analogy. The reason Imperial China and Big Tech seem so similar is because they are actually the same, in some information-complexity-theoretic sense; they both have problems stemming from a need to coordinate a vast number of information workers.

Anyway! The point of the book is that because of being out of sync with reality, and maybe just out of sheer bad luck, the family actually loses the court's favour and descends into semi-poverty. This is based on fact; 红楼梦‘s author is actually writing about *his own* family, who reached similar heights in the mid-1710s when he was about 10 years old. They lost it all when the Kangxi emperor was succeeded by the Yongzheng emperor in 1722. Yongzheng, one of the youngest sons of Kangxi, who had to murder many an older brother to get the throne, did not like all the posh people hanging out with his father, and simply took away the family's hereditary post of overseeing the textile trade in the Southern provinces of China (or was it some other post? I can't recall). After that cash cow got butchered, the family rapidly lost their fabulous wealth. The key thing is that all this luxury, which we spend 1500 pages admiring, was resting on favor of a *single* person, that could be overturned at any time. One cool definition of reality is that it persists; it does not depend on whether you pay attention to it or not. If the family's achievements were so ephemeral, can they even be said to be real? Maybe it really was just a dream? A dream of the red chamber, if you will.

But think about China itself. During the 18th century, and at the beginning of the 19th century, it imagined itself the center of the universe. It was a proud civilization, very sure of its ineveitability; people believed in it so much that they had no issue with wasting 20 years of their life studying for an exam that had a pass rate of about 0.1%, because the thought of passing it and joining the Son of Heaven's team was just so much more appealing than any alternative. Who would want to scratch a living trading in tea and fish when you have a chance, in this very life, of a direct dial-up to Heaven? But on the inside, it had many of the same issues today's economic-political system also suffers from. My go-to example is he Sino-Burmese wars: what's hilarious is that the Chinese actually lost all three of those, reaching *none* of their objectives and being BTFO each time, but thanks to creative chronicling they managed to pose themselves off to themselves as winners. The chronicling was so creative that it is today difficult to research these wars, because all the Chinese accounts are so obviously fake. And when the British came, nobody had any reason to doubt a swift victory. And yet, they lost, more and more catastrophically each time. The whole fabric of society collapsed, and all tradtional Chinese learning was null and void within 80 years. If you count up the deaths that can be in one way or another attributed to China's grappling with modernity, from 1830 to 1980, surely you'd manage to count beyond 500 million people.

Everyone believed in the system so hard, it was so obvious and self-evident, and yet it collapsed so easily and so extensively. If it was so easy to break, was it even real? Maybe all those people for so many generations were just living in a dream, liable to break at any moment at dreams do? I think this is a very pressing question for our age.
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 4 Months ago at 7/11/23 10:25 AM
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RE: The flowers' aroma breathes of hotter days

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I'm autistic too and this is my kind of nerdery so I will be enjoying this thread. 
ealnm mehl, modified 4 Months ago at 7/11/23 5:35 PM
Created 4 Months ago at 7/11/23 5:34 PM

RE: The flowers' aroma breathes of hotter days

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Thank you!!

The only real goal of this log is to motivate me to actually sit my ass down for half an hour every day, and I did it today! Sat for 40 minutes. I think though that it might be a bit tough for me to make any progress if I don't *dramatically* increase the length of my sits, to like 8 hours or more. The reason being, my narrative impulse manages to tell me a story about sitting for 40 minutes just fine (as you can sadly see by this entry), but I feel that at few hours it might start running out of things to say. We need to go durational on this.

From today's sit, I also think one thing that was slowing me down was my aversity to campy visuals. When I first tried out meditation, I was following my (shallow, anxious) breath, and I was really struggling to get even a minute of proper focus, and the lesson I got from it was that my breath *should be enough*, that I should be satisfied with this small thing and not try to mindwander off to greener pastures. What I later learned about Zen (or Seon, I guess) confirmed this, that we should really keep a clear mind and be satisfied with the clear white wall we're facing. But then as I progressed I started getting all kinds of psy-trancey visuals, like floating Buddhaheads and spinning hexagonal mandalas and God knows what. Such cringe! It annoyed me enough that I always shifted my focus to suppressing this aesthetically embarrassing content. A shame because I could've just let the thing do what it wants to do and focus on my thing, which is just sitting. So I've been learning to let go of that!
ealnm mehl, modified 4 Months ago at 7/12/23 4:05 PM
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RE: The flowers' aroma breathes of hotter days

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I sat today for 30 minutes. There is a lot of delay when I look at my phone. 
ealnm mehl, modified 4 Months ago at 7/13/23 3:42 PM
Created 4 Months ago at 7/13/23 3:42 PM

RE: The flowers' aroma breathes of hotter days

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Later I sat for 20 minutes more because I was especially motivated. I think that went well.

Sat today for 30 minutes and had some thoughts that I can't remember anymore. I think I overplayed my hand. Just because I know what kind of errors in computer vision result in the same visuals I'm having doesn't mean that I actually have the faintest idea what's happening to me.

If I am to have any hope of understanding Bankei's words (to wit, "At the place of the Unborn, there's no distinction between being born and not being born") in this life I have to practice much more, and in much quieter ways. It can't be many things constantly coming in and out of awareness, it has to be this one extremely uniform thing, just the same thing happening over and over, over very long periods, and I have to be satisfied with it not changing. That's the pull I feel now. 

I also feel resistance because I really commited to living in a way that engages external world to the fullest; I really think things out there are getting worse every year, and it's cowardly to not react to that. To that end, I used to think I could just time-manage my way into enlightenment by doing these little 30 minute drills here and there. I was honestly most inspired in this by Hasidic Jewish households, or by my ineveitably inaccurate bookish idea of what they are like. Us Christians are big on renunciation and dramatic reversals, but entire families of 19th century Manhattan tailors reached enlightenment while tailoring just fine. I'm really attached (oh no, that word again!) to the idea that with right balance, you could really make your entire daily life become a form of prayer; and then you only need to meditate just a bit, to be the most focused part of a practice that takes up your whole life.

And maybe you can do that! But it's not some sort of Meditation as a Service (MaaS) for optimizing your engagement/result ratio. For those people, and other people like them, it worked because they made their entire lives about following God. Hakuin wrote 'Tapping my staff, I say: Confucius has prayed a long time'. 

So, that's why it needs to be the same thing, over and over again, a large thing.
ealnm mehl, modified 4 Months ago at 7/13/23 4:00 PM
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RE: The flowers' aroma breathes of hotter days

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Okay I'm able to actually explain what I mean more clearly. I think a lot of meditation practice is about noticing errors in cognition and focusing on the exact nature of these errors. For instance, when I focus really hard on an object, it makes the part of me that does visual processing question, why is this object attracting so much attention? Must be something weird about it. It tries to fit various hypotheses onto the object, and I can actually see these hypotheses with my eyes being invented in real time -- what if this object is actually something else, and *that*'s why we're so interested in it? Does it look like this? No? I'll try something else. This works not just on level of conceptual vision.

The same thing happens with just light. I meditate at night, because night vision is more coarse than day vision and I know I have a really good focus when I can see my visual field saturating with this fairly coarse noise. I don't know how vision works exactly but I know that it's just my visual processing trying to catch every single bit of light it possibly can, because it's so much more sensitive at night, and constantly mistaking not-light for light, and vice versa too I guess. This accounts for the non-fineness of night vision, of the sort of lumpiness that it has and of Gaussian noisi-ness of it.

So you can probably go a long way with that and I already have a rough idea of how it works but what now? I have moved almost nowhere in what was my original goal, which is to perceive a scene stably and clearly, in a way that I can get everything I need just from looking at it. I would probably have to start meditating with my light on, and facing an actual wall as Bodhidharma did instead of a windowsill with trees outside still visible. The present scene gives me too much to do, and too much to be mistaken about. But while I'm at it, just look at the windowsill! Not at your idea of what it could be.

Woah spent 1 hour just writing this down. Which is ~1.8x time I spent meditating. This will not continue! Even if I'm still stuck with my measly 30 minutes, in the future I'll have enough dignity not to go on and write a novel about them.
ealnm mehl, modified 4 Months ago at 7/14/23 2:34 PM
Created 4 Months ago at 7/14/23 2:34 PM

RE: The flowers' aroma breathes of hotter days

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30 minutes. I was sleep deprived but that turned out to be an advantage. I'm shooting for hour tomorrow (not as a regular thing, for now just trying things out).
ealnm mehl, modified 4 Months ago at 7/19/23 4:25 PM
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RE: The flowers' aroma breathes of hotter days

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Saturday 30 minutes
Sunday, Monday nothing, for very regrettable reasons
Tuesday 30 minutes
Today 30 minutes

I had a very distracted and desire-driven day, and it showed. When I sit down and look at my mind it really is like an abundance of filth. There is a 12th or 13th century Chan text in which a master says: 'Even these few words are like having mud sprinkled all over one's body', and makes a gesture of sweeping filth off his robe.
ealnm mehl, modified 4 Months ago at 7/19/23 4:49 PM
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RE: The flowers' aroma breathes of hotter days

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On a different note, here's something that has done me some good. Some of it I borrowed from a dear friend of mine.

An elderly mother dies suddenly. Having lived a virtuous and self-denying life, she immediately ascends to Heaven, where she is invited to spend the rest of eternity in all-understanding communion with God. Clear and blissful as she feels, she at times -- just barely and briefly -- senses in her mind a thought of her daughter, who is still on Earth. Sensing her anxieties, an angel assures her that communion with God will, with time, overcome all such worries, clearing them up without fail. She can sense that the angel tell the truth, but one worry builds up on another, and soon she is busy thinking: does my daughter spend her financial resources well? Is she wasting her money? Why is she alone? If she fails to take care of herself, won't others at her job treat her as an outcast and ostracize her, or even fire her? How will that impact her son? One day, God catches her with her head down in a cloud, trying to get a peek at her daughter's life and maybe hint to her to put more effort into how she dresses to work. She feels as if she cheated God, but in His voice there is nothing but sadness: 'If your problem is like this, I'm afraid I can do nothing to help you.'
ealnm mehl, modified 4 Months ago at 7/21/23 6:44 AM
Created 4 Months ago at 7/21/23 6:35 AM

RE: The flowers' aroma breathes of hotter days

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30 minutes yesterday. I was feeling very low, both yesterday and the day before, so I'm glad I've sat after all. The longer I do it, the less I want to not do it.

I would like to be unafraid of writing mostly for myself.
shargrol, modified 4 Months ago at 7/21/23 8:50 AM
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RE: The flowers' aroma breathes of hotter days

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ealnm mehl:
The longer I do it, the less I want to not do it.

Nice! Yeah, usually the hardest part is putting life on pause and just actually sitting down. 
ealnm mehl, modified 4 Months ago at 7/21/23 6:06 PM
Created 4 Months ago at 7/21/23 6:04 PM

RE: The flowers' aroma breathes of hotter days

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That's the whole challenge!

I sat for just 25 minutes today in very chaotic circumstances. It was reassuring, though, because despite the chaos, my experiences were largely *the same* as yesterday, and the day before. I take it as at least *not contradicting* that there is something fundamental going on in my practice. Maybe I'm on to something. 
ealnm mehl, modified 3 Months ago at 8/7/23 2:26 PM
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RE: The flowers' aroma breathes of hotter days

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Well I think I sat ~15 times since last post. Had an unbroken streak right up until a vacation in Croatia; I went to a jungle/dnb festival and failed to maintain discipline amidst all the craziness. Sad! I realize it isn't an excuse, but at least it is a cause. (I did manage to sit once while there.) I'll restart my investigations soon, hopefully.

I'm annoyed at myself for having often written in such an abstruse, elliptical way in this log, and elsewhere on this forum. This Emily Dickinson-lite act is cute and occasionally amusing, but ultimately not useful. I guess I thought I have to protect myself against the vultures out there ready to eat my achievement* alive and spit the leftovers. So I wrapped my real thoughts in this heavily symbolic language designed to only be understood by some. But this isn't 1960s France and we don't have that kind of luxury at our disposal; hence I'll try to be clearer.

See for example visual snow. This is a well-known phenomenon that often appears even without meditation. For me, visual snow is constant; I don't *actively* see it, in the sense that it isn't a distraction for me at all, but I just have to think about it and it's there. Or sometimes I see it invountarily when there is a very slight gradient of two similar colors, or light and shadow.

I am convinced that the correct explanation of this is that I see errors in measurement made by either individual rod cells, or (more likely) some sort of ad hoc coalitions of semi-adjacent rod cells that are an artifact of visual processing cortex analyzing the incoming data from the retina, which probably involves some binning. An evidence I have for this, which is not scientific evidence yet could be if I bothered (or got some funding lol), is that the deviation from true** color follows this distribution:

Table Of Contents

where the X axis is wavelength and instead of 0 the distribution is centered around the true wavelength. I am convinced of this because the Gaussian distribution typically measures errors in empirical observations. This is a very deep fact in probability theory known as the Central Limit Theorem***, link:

Now them's the facts and none of you 4th path enlightened masters can do nothing about them. Try! Even if I'm deluding myself as to my attainment at least I have the satisfaction of knowing this. 


*I mean, *try to* eat my achievement; real achievement is completely indisputable, and I'm not afraid of losing it. I'm not afraid of defending it against Daniel Ingram, Dalai Lama or Jesus upon His second coming. Even if I'm not right, I'm bound to be wrong in an interesting way. I am (correctly) afraid of losing an impression of having understood something, because it will lead to people treating me less seriously, which is not beneficial for me and for what I have to say.

**For anyone who jumps up to inform me about something about truth: You can either define "true" her as either an average of all measurements made by the visual system on a given object, or maybe (less safe since variations in color perception are actually pretty wide) an average of reported color perception on a given object from a very large sample of individuals who test healthy for color vision. 

***If you want more explanation, from what I know in a rod cell there's a *lot* of opsin molecules, and at any given time, some of them receive more/less light than others, which translates to more/less all-trans retinal being sent up to the visual cortex. An opsin molecule can be either active (absorbed a photon) or inactive (not absorbed). So a rod cell is a measuring device which conducts a lot of experiments with a binary outcome, one for each opsin molecule, and the sample average corresponds to how sunny it thinks it is outside. So here n from Wikipedia's article on CLT (the one that is supposed to grow to infinity as sample mean goes to Gaussian in distribution) is the number of opsin molecules in a rod cell. This is also related to why a gradient blur in computer graphics programs is sometimes called 'Gaussian blur'.