Wednesday, September 30, 2009
From the existential comedy film
"i heart huckabees"
Lyrics to the song played over the end credits:
"It's something unattainable,
That you can't live without.
And now the unexplainable
Has you riddled with doubt.
You gotta find a way
To be okay.
But if you want to spend the day
Wondering what it's all about,
Go and knock yourself out.
Why we're put in this mess,
Is anybody's guess.
It might be a test,
Or it might not be anything
you need to worry about.
But if you're still in doubt,
Go and knock yourself out."
Several times we hear the existential refrain:
The question is asked:
"How am I not myself?"
[Directed by David D. Russell. Written by David D. Russell & Jeff Baena. Music by Jon Brion -- who also did the music for the existential films, "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," and "Magnolia."]
A new spiritual, mystical, and global consciousness is manifesting. A new world is forming; an inevitable evolutionary step for humanity. An Emerging Culture with a PostModern Worldview versus Traditional Narratives.
An acknowledgment, recognition, and acceptance that,
"All is One."
"We are all connected."
"We are One."
This includes a growing ability to have empathy and sympathy for others. To understand multiple viewpoints and belief systems. To see beyond the duality of conceptions, of Black & White, Us & Them, Good & Evil.
This is a relevant, positive distillation of a fundamental "Spiritual," "Holistic" view. Recent experimental attempts were the Psychedelic 60's and the New Age 80's; both eras had silliness and dead-ends, but both laid the foundation and groundwork for more thoughtful and valid systems.
Philosophical precursors range from the Neoplatonism of Plotinus, to the works of William Blake, and include the body of thought called The Perennial Philosophy, or the Ageless Wisdom. Many of the arising elements are from the category of Mysticism.
More and more, we are seeing Religion facing-off against Spirituality. New ideals are slowly being accepted, which will eventually lead to the falling away of organized religion and its old-fashioned institutions.
Many world problems and conflicts are the Birth Pangs of the new belief system: The Culture Wars, Conservative "versus" Liberal/Progressive, Fundamental Christianity and Fanatical Islam....
These are signs of the Old World/Status Quo trying to hang on to their old ways.
No one is to blame for our current predicament. Generally, people's drives, needs, and desires are valid -- just confused -- mixing and misunderstanding the metaphors; taking them too literally. Trying to make sense of the new via the old.
"We look at the present through a rear-view mirror," as Marshall McLuhan said.
We all have the strong desire and need for MEANING:
Who Am I? What Am I? Why am I? How did it all get started? Where is it all going? Organized religion offers ready-made answers. Science can explain quite a bit. Psychology can help. Spiritualism offers various explanations. Philosophy, such as Existentialism, which says -- and it's not synonymous with Nihilism -- that we have to find the meaning ourselves.
Ultimately, you have to figure it out by yourself.
So... Where to start? How de we make sense of all this?
By coming up with new ideas, new beliefs, new connections, and new relationships.
We need New Myths, New Models, New Metaphors....
New Mythic Stories are all over the place. In films, music, comic books, anime, role-playing games -- or conversations with your friends and strangers.
Look around: Magic is afoot.
Mysticism is bubbling beneath the surface: On TV in Lost, Buffy, Angel, Charmed, Sabrina, Medium. In the movies as Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars. The Matrix is thinly-veiled Gnosticism. Religion morphed from Touched By an Angel to the more complex Joan of Arcadia. The young-wired-multitasking generation are the Mutant Generation of Super-Heroes, Spider-man, Superman and Smallville, The Batman, The X-Men, The Hulk. In comic books and graphic novels like Watchmen, Sandman, The Invisibles, and Promethea. There's the popular manga and anime like Yu-Gi-Oh!, stories in Shonen Jump, and many, many others. Role-playing and Card Games like Dungeons & Dragons, Magic the Gathering, and PC or online games, Myst, EverQuest, Lara Croft, Tomb Raider, and Halo. Many mediums overlapping with blurred borders.
Not to mention the online communities like this one, where every kind of interest -- however noble or outré -- exist side-by-side. Be anyone you want online. Kids are especially adept with electronic technology, they've grown up being able to control The Screen. Digital info is a way of life. Chatting online while text messaging and taking pictures with their ubiquitous cell phones while listening to their iPods... Whew!
These are all ways to experiment with -- and learn about --
The New Complexity:
Multiple viewpoints, alternate universes, malleable reality. New definitions of the Self. The Other as a facet of Your Self.
The World Wide Web makes everything available to everyone:
that's the Information Revolution...!
If you see and are made aware of starving people, or people dying of AIDS, or people hurt by natural disasters -- just being AWARE of this changes you, whether you know or not.
If you see religious people who think we are in the End Days, or religious people who feel so threatened they turn to terrorism, or spiritual people who say they've seen another world -- it AFFECTS you, if you admit it or not.
This is the Melrose Place Effect: Everybody's in everybody else's business.
We're in a global village. The Info Net of communications create this intense feedback loop: instant data. Wisdom is needed to deal with this Wired New World. Can the Bible, Koran, Torah really deal with nuclear weapons, stem cells, genetic engineering, and global climate change?
And more changes are on the horizon. Humans will be able to manage their own evolution via bio-engineering, cloning, computer chip implants, altered brain chemistry. People will live longer and have enhanced intelligence.
Will this fractionate people into new classes, with new priorities? The standard definition of human will have to be updated. And there's Artificial Intelligence, the sentient machine, who'll speak up one day, "Uh, excuse me, but--"
Is the wisdom of Moses, Jesus, or Mohammed, going to be enough to deal with this 21st century complexity?
Humanity now has to face more change than at any other time in history. People can't help feeling fear of too much and too abrupt CHANGE. That's why many get caught up in expecting The Apocalypse/Doomsday/Rapture/Second Coming -- they want something to save them. While many other people have the general unease that "Things are Getting Worse." Apprehension of tomorrow. The future is inevitably unknown and therefore different, new, and strange.
It is hard to avoid psychological Future Shock.
Well, at least we finally grew out of the Cold War -- until 9/11.... wherein Mr. George Bush reacts to a massive horrific event the only way he knows how and, feeding off people's understandable fear, he launches into a "War on Terrorism," waging deadly wars in the Middle East -- oblivious to the complexities of factions of people with different belief systems who acted appallingly because they're scared -- and then all we do is to confirm their worst beliefs.
Children fighting in a sand box. Adults might have a more nuanced discernment that sees beyond "Good" and "Evil." These terms of abstraction are too simple and outdated.
Anyway, all the old-school, backwards-reacting by the Bush Administration and the Christian Right -- "Them" -- helps to define "Us." That the old institutions are aggressively flailing about, with obvious desperation, and having some apparent success: it means that we're actually on course.... They're running scared because they know deep down that their days are numbered.
It's hard, but maybe we can even have a bit of empathy and sympathy for them. Our parents and grandparents can be a pain in the neck, but they did get us this far.
Things are changing.
We may cross the threshold way off in the future, in our lifetime, or next Thursday after lunch.
So let's Imagine...
or at least Pretend,
and at best Envision...
"Everything is going according to plan...."
One thing cannot be infinity.
Infinity is not one.
Infinity cannot be one.
There is no "one infinity."
Because infinity is not an entifiable thing
that can be then measured --
"Here's one and there's another."
Infinity is infinite.
Therefore it's never encompassable,
and therefore it defies one-ness,
infinity as well as multiplicity.
So we always think of "one infinity" --
but that's a mistake.
From a talk by Robert Thurman, Ph.D.
"Making the World We Want," Part 1 of 4.
A scholar of Tibetan Buddhism in the West,
he was the first Westerner to be ordained
as a Tibetan Buddhist monk.
Robert A. F. Thurman currently teaches
at Columbia University and holds the first
endowed chair in Indo-Tibetan Buddhist
Studies in America. He received ordinations
in 1964 and 1971 from the Dalai Lama.
He is a cofounder of Tibet House in New York
City, a cultural nonprofit organization
dedicated to preserving the endangered
civilization of Tibet.
He is the author of
"Essential Tibetan Buddhism," "Inner
Revolution: Life, Liberty, and Real
Happiness," and many other original books
and translations of sacred Tibetan Texts.
I transcribed the above text from a talk of his,
available from "Sounds True," 1(800)333-9185,
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Given a phenomenon that is intriguing and relevant -- yet subtle and not easily discernible -- what is the best way to describe said phenomenon? First ask for patient indulgence; a bit assuming but already done.
Next, try the highbrow approach by referring to something from the world's canon: The 2,500 year old classic of Eastern thought, the Tao Tê Ching, says in its very first line, "The Tao that can be spoken of is not the Tao itself." ....And then proceeds to explain "the Tao itself" for 5,000 words.
Herein is a similar conflict of method, of attempting to speak about The Unspeakable. In this postmodernish analysis, a Lovecraftian Horror may take on Derrida's "Undecidability."
Finally, for the case to be presented, the likes of Carl Jung, Philip K. Dick, and Alfred North Whitehead must mix with the artifacts of lowbrow Pop Culture.
All the disparate pieces of "X" will be flung into view; like the facets of a diamond, taken together they form a whole. The "X" is a gestalt.
Under the entry for the letter "X" in dictionaries and encyclopedias:
Twenty-fourth letter of the English alphabet.
Roman numeral for 10.
Signifies an unknown quantity or variable.
A sign indicating multiplication, dimensions, power of magnification.
Often stands for Christ, Christian; Xmas for Christmas.
Denotes a film recommended for adults only. Rated "X."
Used to indicate a kiss.
To indicate a choice, as on a ballot.
To indicate an error, as on a test.
A legal signature by an illiterate person.
In Mathematics, the x-axis.
In Chess, captures.
Originally an abbreviation for the Arabic shei, meaning "something;"
during the Middle Ages was transcribed xei and was used to mean "unknown."
"X" represents a person, thing, agency, factor, etc., of unknown identity.
The X is a crossroads, an intersection.
X marks a target, X-Rays, the female X chromosome.
There is Generation X, and they play "eXtreme sports."
In comic books and movies is the popular X-Men, featuring mutants, X-People, with "extra" abilities.
Many "sci-fi" movies from the fifties had titles like, The Man From Planet X, and X, The Unknown. The phenomenon of the hit television series The X-Files manifests an attitude in the zeitgeist that Things Are Not What They Seem; millennial jitters, a primordial fear of the unknown.
But the connection need not literally be the letter of the alphabet; there's no link with ex-wives, Ex-Lax®, Xerox®, or Xerxes I, King of Persia.
Rather esoterically, in a deck of Tarot cards the Two of Swords shows a woman holding up two blades, thus forming an X, and meaning conflict, often interior. [This is inaccurate, to be fixed.]
Primarily its role is metaphorical. In mythology this agent for change is personified by the recurring Joker/Fool/Clown character, and the Trickster of Native American belief, and the folklore of gremlins, elves, things that go bump in the night.
Oblique illustrations of it permeate pop culture. In movies such as 2001: A Space Odyssey it is represented by the Monolith, and in Pulp Fiction it appears as the briefcase with the never-disclosed glowing contents.
Advertising imagery overflows with connotations of the "X."
There is the archetypal television commercial:
Across an enormous dark expanse, an indiscernible object -- a radiant chimera -- streaks by. A resonant female voice says, "The path to the future. Our future, your future." The specter is like an angelic laser beam, an otherworldly technology. "Taking you forward, getting you there -- is the Nexus." Speed becomes form as it stops on a dime: a silver passenger car. Flash on the manufacturer's logo.
Quiet and implicit, as if embedded subliminally (though rarely accompanied by eldritch laughter), lurks the "X".
"X" is simply a metaphor for the abstract concept of change.
It's an agent of the dialectic, causing things to move forward or backward; the thesis and antithesis together in an evolving synthesis.
It is a ubiquitous sign -- symbol and icon.
It shows up in our environment via the psychological mechanism of projection.
In 1958 Carl Jung examined the '50's phenomenon of "flying saucers" as a modern myth. (Volume 10 of his Collected Works, and published separately as Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies.) He saw the psychic aspect of UFO's as imagery emanating from the collective unconscious.
The indefinite objects, typically round or disk-shaped, had the archetypal form of the circle -- and the mandala of the East -- symbols of unity, wholeness. Perhaps, he thought, this was a mass vision arising from humanities' desire for peace and unity during the Atomic Cold War.
In a time of rapid change, with the promises and threats of technologies such as computers, genetics, and warfare -- plus the mutually-arising conflicts in cultures, economies, and politics -- there is a new infusion of strange "events:" Aliens and angels, ghosts, black helicopters, images of a virgin in tortillas, crop circle graffiti doodles.... Goofy and loony ideas, yes, but stemming from real feelings.
We know instinctively that something unforeseeable is hurtling toward us: our future -- a world unlike one we have ever known. Our apprehensive expectations take many forms; a boiling liquid becomes steam escaping in odd ways.
Marshall McLuhan talked about the 20th century's global village of electronic speed-up, instantaneous communication. The feedback process becomes visible. The "X" symbol manifests as, frequently, consumer product: car, clothing, haircut, hi-tech gadget, deodorant, movie, guy, girl -- the thing -- you need.
The Holy Grail.
The Ultimate Answer.
Philip K. Dick's novel Ubik played with this theme. In a speech titled, "How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later," Dick pointed out a funny translation for that book's German edition, which rendered the original sentence of Ubik's "I am the word," as, "I am the brand name."
The Logos as Brand Name... Brand X.
X is a media virus.
Genetic traits are transmitted by genes; the socio-biologist Richard Dawkins proposes that ideas are spread by memes -- akin to a "contagious idea." Across the datasphere, the world's circulatory system, the X-Meme replicates, iterates; proliferating and insinuating everywhere.
X is the undecidable, a term used by Jacques Derrida, the "father" of Deconstruction. By definition, the X is not one definite thing; like a Zombie, it's neither alive or dead; or like a photon, it's both a particle and a wave.
X is the manifestation of novelty -- a situation of greater connectedness, complexity, and negentropic organization. This novelty figures into the metaphysics of Alfred North Whitehead in his Process and Reality.
X is the Wild Card, the catalyst.
Thus Spake Zarathustra.
Like the Monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey, it remains unknown. To quote Clarke, Kubrick, and Floyd (Heywood, not Pink): "....Its origin and purpose, still a total mystery."
X is a turning point, a boundary, an edge.
Like the Event Horizon of a black hole.
X is a singularity.
X is a semiotic ghost, a sign with a shifting referent; the sign itself changes too.
X is the incursion of The Other, the new and different. Flux and flow.
X is an immanent force. The harbinger of change... present at a sharp turn, a paradigm shift.
X is the cause. Hidden or explicit.
And the X is ambiguous.
In one of his last public lectures, the late philosopher, essayist, ethno-botanist, and underground legend, Terence McKenna said, in his characteristically nasally, nerdy, yet compelling voice:
"....History being the shockwave of a future event. Chaos Theory talks about the Strange Attractor. Maybe that's the influence of the Attractor -- impinging upon us, pulling at us. The End-Point in the future, sending reverberations, echoes of itself, backward in time -- affecting us now. The Transcendental Object at the end of time, bringing itself into existence...."
In the poetic sense, each of us is an X -- the unfathomed depths of the human mind and heart and all that -- unknowable to others if not ourselves.
Perhaps ultimately the X is infinite.
The symbol for infinity is the figure-eight on its side --
-- technically called the lemniscate, like this:
And at the center...