Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Memory vs. Novelty and the Impact of Belief

The human memory system is a profound process that encodes environmental information as physiological signals.  In doing so, it must employ an encoder which manages the task of actually converting the information, which comes in as electrical signals from sensory organs, into a form that it can store, long term, and access with relative ease.

This is a profound task.  Anyone who has ever worked with an audio file knows a thing or two about this task.  Music comes out of a musician in a continuous, analog stream of pressure changes in the air.  Technological equipment must somehow capture these pressure changes, using some sample rate (to catch changes every thouandth of a second, or 44 thousandth, since it cant catch allll of them right down to ultimately small time), and encode the changes as a digital signal, which is stored as a .wav, for example.  This file, despite the losses of information that occurred when the analog signal become digital, is considered lossless.  But the problem is its huge!  The human brain does not have room for lossless data.

Computers have a handy solution for dealing with .wav, namely, to convert it to mp3.  If you take a look at the file sizes, an mp3 is about a tenth the size of the .wav it came from, despite both having the same song and for the same amount of time.  The difference lies in the concept of 'compression.'

The basic ideas emerged from a man named Claude Shannon in the middle of the century.  Shannon was an electronic engineer.  His master's thesis, which was published in 1937, demonstrated that Boolean algebra could be used to build computers, and has been considered the most significant master's thesis ever written (consider that when you're studying the subtle effects of protein A on the localization of protein B's less prominent cuzin, Protein Ba, in some subcompartment of the nucleus in the presence of chemical C and D at room temperature in rainbow trout because it may have something to do with cancer).  But the important ideas about information came out a decade later.

Basically, Shannon defined the entropy of some amount of information to quantify the extent to which one piece of the information could not be predicted from the others.  The higher the entropy, the less predictable the information.  But the power of the idea emerged as a consequence: if there is redundancy in a set of information (parts can be predicted from other parts), then the information can be compressed into a less redundant form.  The entropy of the information is then equal to the entropy of the information compressed into its smallest, non-redundant form.

With music, instead of encoding every piece of the music as it came in through the microphone, we can represent those parts that are similar to earlier parts (say, the same guitar note) by pointing to the earlier instance of the part, instead of actually storing it again.  Naturally, it is far easier to store a 'pointer' in memory than it is to store the whole thing we're 'pointing' to, and thus the file can be compressed significantly.

If you speak to an audiofile, though, you will find that they want nothing to do with compressed music.  It is too 'lossy' - it is missing information, they say.  Naturally, they are right.  The guitar tone that was repeated, that we compressed by pointing to the original instance, may not actually have been exactly the same each time.  In fact, it probably wasn't.  The subtle differences, be it in the way the note was picked, or the way it flowed out of or into other parts of the melody, are lost in the compressed version, and those with trained ears can literally hear this loss in the way the track plays - it doesn't sound real enough.

For most of us, the compressed mp3 file does just fine.  It is efficient and effective in re-presenting a piece of music.  What can we say about the way the brain stores information about itself and its environment?  What algorithms does the brain use to compress such information?  Is the compressed version sufficient?

Information comes into our brain by way of neurons (brain cells) linked to sensory organs (eyes, ears, skin, nose, tongue).  It travels as electricity down neuronal wires and flows through complex neural circuits, the structure and dynamics of which 'process' the information.  What this actually means is a raging mystery, and understanding this mystery sits right up front in the auditorium of science's goals.

Lets gloss over the technical neuroscience and consider how we remember things.  By the time we're an adult, say, we have experienced numerous contexts and objects and processes, have assimilated them into our understanding, structured them relative to one another, assigned associations between them, grouped them under labels and classifications, regrouped them, redefined their associations, restructured them, and so on.  The net result is our psychological person - the sum of our memories, valuations, expectations, and opinions.  Any new information comes into the brain through an already established network comprising an individual psychological person.

So how should information form the environment at this stage of the game be remembered.  Ideally, if the information is identical or particularly similar to other memories (to other experiences), then we need not store them twice, and can simply refer to the previous encoding as part of the memory of this 'new' experience.  Similarly, if we expect certain things to happen, and our expectations are corroborated by the outcome of events, then perhaps we need not even remember the new event at all, simply our expectation, and the fact that our expectation is true.

Now, I hope you can see the danger in this last assertion.  Indeed, this fact lies at the heart of all Human bias.  We see what we expect to see, we hear what we want to hear, we feel what we want to feel.  More often than we might suppose, we witness something which does not adhere to our expectations.  Nevertheless, we massage into being a new memory that supposes it actually did happen according to the way we expected it to, and thereby save energy on memorizing new and unexpected information.  Partial neglect breeds higher efficiency.

It seems reasonable that the brain should evolve like this - to be able to store new experiences using less energy by assimilating them into old, expected, experiences.  To compress information by squeezing it into a framework, a belief system, a system of expectations.  To consolidate one's perspectives and confirm one's own biases.  To be right.  It is easy to know you are right.

But to be wrong?  Novel information is energy expensive.  It requires more activity, more attention, more Being, to assimilate the new.  It suggests that we were not, in fact, completely right.  Suggests that there is more to learn (that there is infinite to learn), that the world is dynamic and we must be too.  Suggests that stagnation can corrupt the soul.  Does it suggest that we should just forget the old?  Let go of memory of past and future?  Be entirely open and aware of the moment, only memorizing with perfect accuracy what Is, Now?

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Creation. Lossy. Less?

Before time begot a moment, when space was fine and thin,
When oil had to yet to crystalize, sun light from the wind
The tear of Now emerged, on chaos' ruffled cheek,
It sputered and it splurged, it sang itself a beat
It sang the songs of beauty
of wonder and of speed
of mischief and recursion
of wheels and golden deeds
Waves crashing though the fortress, spinning change beneath their feet,
sine and cos, exporation, chaotic to the teeth.
Chaotic, just to breathe.
Marauders, take a seat
Breathe a whiff of carbon's jiff and staple nitrogen to your knees.
Singing hydrogen  -  sing the flurry.
Sing an atmosphere of courage
Sip on grandma's morning porridge.
Keep a rock beneath your feet.
A hawk within your reach?
A spinning rock beneath your feet.
Jump and breathe
So the howl of creation ripped apart-icle
Ripped a-flow,
Ripped a massive bubble flame
Ripped a photon, just for show
Ripped gravity from the tension
and sonar from its mask
Ripped magnets from the dangle
of Higgsy trippin past


calls the soul, dreaming, stretching thin,
"There is less of me for Now, and more of me for When.
Whenever will I find, this Oneness that has past
What is left for me to do, however will I get back.

... Jack?

so She peopled and She prayed
She danced and sung of joy
She protected and She played
She drank and She destroyed
She discovered and She wrote
She wondered and She dreamed
She ensnared the famous Oak
and She yearned to set him free.
To let him Be.

And they sat by shade of tree.

Downtown without a Cause

I often find it intimidating if not damn right difficult to emerge into a dynamic social reality such as the downtown scene having consumed more pot than booze.  Pot's got this whole self-conscious ego-effacing element that for what-ever reason drives me away from even the thought of participating in the grope-and-go of the dance floor.  I find myself considering far more than simply the desires of my penis when I am high, as opposed to what appears to be the common tendency among males intoxicated by ethanol.

Last night, as it happens, I found myself in a state of moderate 'stone,' shall we say, undertaking a simple journey to a friends apartment, to you know, hang around on couches shooting the shit and probably inhaling more of the sweet products of the combustion reaction between cannabis and oxygen.  But lo and behold, as the elevator opens to allow me out onto the appropriate floor of the building, I find myself faced with the people I was going to see, laughing and shouting and drunk as all hell, heading out, intent on a club  My oh my was I unnerved.

Feeling largely sapped of the ability to interact in a socially coherent way away from the comfort of a couch, I thought I would end up having to go home.  But I stuck it out a little longer.  And just long enough to have a young lady exclaim:

"Look at him, he's sooooo high!"

As it happens, that was just the ticket I needed to pull out of the impossibility of communication.  Next thing I know I'm stuffing my shoes full of soil and walking around like a clown.

But that's not the half of it.  Consensus emerged that we should, infact, sit here by these raised soil beds in front of the clubs, reading real-estate papers non-chalantly, "hrrrrmmmmm"ing about the houses and the state of the market.  And as people walked by, so it happened, we would all of us get up at once and cheer extravagantly, applauding the well-Being of those who happened to grace us with their passing.  We were quickly joined by others, and the routine turned into an all night applause party.  Far more fun than any one of us could have ever expected to have had in a club.

So what's the moral here?  That stoned people are antisocial?  That they can be pulled out by general good cheer and the creative possibility of street gags with friends?  Indeed, that may be.  But I think there is more to it.  It has something to do with the general degradation of the human spirit that seems to accompany much of the general club scene.  There seems to be so much drama and scoff, so much of the straight edged and the "you think your tough?" so much nonsense and decoherence that the true meaning of the thing has been wiped off the face of the concrete.

Sure, music and dancing are a part of the mating experience, as they are with most advanced animal species.  But human creativity offers so much more.  The standard club scene today suffers from a severe lack of community and ecstatic joy for life.  The same tracks over and over again, the same skinny dress and blonde hair brushing you off, the same totalitarian grin from the bouncers.  Why associate with such places?  Creative gaming on the streets offers a new and unique form of entertainment, communal participation, and just straight up good quality fun. 

Unless of course there's a sweet band playing near by.  Then the dance floor is where its at.  ;)

Friday, 22 July 2011

On Shape, Science, and Soul. Part I

From the simplest of packages emerges the most complex of arrangements. This is the story of the world.

Small amounts of information, arranged in specific structures and catalyzed by environmental resources, form the basis from which all magnificent manifestations of cosmic creativity emerge. The most pristine of examples is the way Life is encoded in packages of DNA.

Scientists, soaking in a historically-stirred solution of confident naivety and zealous valuation, were only a decade ago under the impression that a complete understanding of DNA dynamics was just around the corner. This was the academic context that gave rise to the Human Genome Project, a multi-billion dollar international collaboration with the goal of determining and deciphering the entire sequence of DNA in a Homo sapien – the goal of determining all the genes that make up a human.
(A second, privately funded pursuit of the human genome, led by Craig Venter (the man who just recently brought us synthetic life – more on that later), actually beat the rest of the world by about a year and spent far less money (600 million vs. multiple billions) in determining the entire sequence of human DNA. Thus, Craig Venter was the first man to have his entire DNA sequenced, and that information is freely available on the internet. For all the bad things said about capitalism, here’s at least one good. Let your mind remember the name Craig Venter.)

Some background biology might now be in order. DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is essentially an enormously long string of molecules called nucleotides. The information coding part of nucleotides are about the same size as molecules like caffeine or MDMA (a little smaller than LSD), and are made up of the same component atoms (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen – nearly all the molecules in your body are made up of only these 4 atoms, arranged in different sequences and spatial configurations. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it). While all nucleotides in DNA share the same backbone (the part that makes up the sides of the helix or ladder of DNA), there are four different possibilities for the information coding region (the rungs of the ladder). These have been designated by the letters A, C, G, and T. So basically, the Human Genome Project’s goal was to figure out the 3 billion letter long string of A’s, C’s, G’s, and T’s that make up a human being.

Let me repeat that, in case the magnitude of it skipped by you. The single cell that was the union of your father’s sperm and your mother’s egg (!), contained a long string of 3 billion (!) bits of information, in a particular configuration (!), in a protective cavern (!) in the center of the cell, from which all (!) the instructions on how the organism (you!) should emerge (!). WOW! Wait till Apple get’s ahold of that technology!

Ok. So we start as a single copy of a long string of information, the DNA Queen in her Cellular Palace, and we turn into people. That’s pretty wild. But tell me, what sort of information is it that DNA codes for?

Traditional genetics conceives of DNA as consisting of smaller units called genes, which may be on the order of hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of letters long. These genes code for large molecules called proteins, and every sequence of three letters in DNA codes for a specific building block of a protein (these building blocks are known as amino acids, and include molecules like glutamate, tryptophan, serine, and tyrosine).

Essentially, proteins are the work horses of life. They are the molecules that respond to and interact with light when it hits your eye; the molecules that receive odours and communicate the message to your cells as smells waft through your nose; the molecules that govern metabolism and break down foods and noxious chemicals; the molecules that govern the shapes of cells and the overall forms of life. Proteins do it all, and they are indescribably awesome.

Appropriately, it is the primary goal of DNA to encode the information required for cell’s to make proteins. And it is synchronously the primary goal of the cell to transcribe DNA into molecules called RNA (basically expendable DNA – clones), and to translate RNA into proteins. Naturally, proteins are responsible for carrying out this entire process.

Now. In traditional genetics a single gene codes for a single protein. However, the Human Genome Project discovered that for the hundred thousand or so proteins expressed in the human body, there were only about twenty thousand genes. Furthermore, it was found that the vast majority of DNA (roughly 98%) didn’t code for proteins at all, and was thus termed “Junk DNA.”
Ha! Junk! What a fantastic notion. This simple conception in academia actually parallels a much more significant behavioural pattern in Humanity itself. Namely, that of ignoring, belittling, defacing, or destroying that which we do not understand. This is the motive behind all forms of discrimination, from racism and xenophobia to cognitive biases and social rejections. 

The world of an animal consists eternally and entirely of that which is Known and that which is Unknown, and humans are no exception. However, these two domains do not have the same kind of relationship as opposing armies in a battle over land, where the advancement of one necessitates the retreat of the other. For no matter how far the Known advances, the size of the Unknown remains infinite and unchanged.

It is precisely this dynamic which supports the phenomenal experience of Time and which underlies all other sociopsychological structures. The distinction between Known and Unknown derives for an individual the impression that it is moving, not through physical space, but through informational space. In the progression of moments, an individual comes to acquire more and more information and so surmises that he has moved from one position in informational space to another, and that this motion necessitates the introduction of a non-spatial dimension called time. We should thus expect that the experience of time is somehow correlated with one’s pursuit of the unknown. Indeed it is.

When one is doing nothing, that is, passively adhering to the rhythms arranged for him by eons of evolution and exerting no effort to engage the world, one gets bored. Time passes extremely slowly. Steps between manifestations of novel information are large. This takes alot of time. One may consider that time has been wasted. However, when one is highly active and engaged in novelty production or exploration, be it through improvisation, psychedelic agents, meditative practices, or athletic flow (among countless other activities), one finds that time, almost literally, flies. It is interesting in this regard that one of the principal ideas of Einstein’s theory of relativity is that as one approaches the speed of light, one experiences less time. At the limiting condition – the speed of light – the interval between successive events is effectively 0. One can be anywhere, in no time. And this is physics.

No physicist, however, will admit that any amount of mass can ever travel at the speed of light, for that would require more energy then exists in the universe. Physics thus suggests that man is doomed to suffer the reign of time. But from a psychological perspective it does not appear that this need be the case, at least at all times. In other words, the individual appears able, in particular circumstances and by particular methods, to exclude himself, intermittently, from the reign of time.
The past decade has witnessed an enormous amount of progress in understanding the functions of “Junk” DNA. A lot of it, it seems, is concerned with regulating the rate and extent to which proteins are made by the cell. Indeed, this is a very important point. It essentially states the what is significant about information is not what it is composed of but how it is arranged and how it is managed. What matters is not the content, but the dynamic structure. (Or, in more famous words, “The medium is the message”).

The case of DNA is extremely interesting in this regard. Every cell in your body, and there are trillions of them (though there are about 10 times more bacterial cells in and on your body than Human cells – and to think you thought you were ‘just’ human), contains the same script of three billion letters of DNA. However, there are about 200 different cell types in your body, each of which manufactures and expresses a different bundle of proteins and at different rates. For example, neurons need to make proteins to respond to neurotransmitters (and drugs) and permit the flow of electricity, while the liver needs to make proteins that can breakdown biological molecules (and drugs), and to manage the metabolic needs of the body. Both cells contain the necessary genes for all proteins, but signals in early development manage to convince one cell’s DNA to take on one shape (and thus make available one set of genes) and the other cell’s DNA to take on another shape (and thus make available another set of genes).

On a species level, differences in DNA lie not so much in genes themselves, but in the sequences that determine how and if genes will be expressed. At the extreme, the differences in protein coding regions between chimpanzees and ourselves amount to roughly one or two percent (ie. 98-99% of our proteins are identical to chimps). However, subtle changes in protein expression patterns over development and later life have led to astronomical differences in the capacity of the human nervous system to manage information and to form unique psychologies. Again, it is not the content that is significant but rather its organizing form and structure.

It is no trivial matter that the structure of things determines their functionality and capacity. In fact, it may be the case that our conception of “information” is merely an abstraction of the existence of diverse spatial patterns and their potential for interaction. At the heart of the universe lies not the atomic bit, but the geometric flower. Existence is, in essence, intricate geometry.
The very success of Humanity as a proliferating species has depended almost entirely on its capacity to transform the Unknown. In animals, this is the prerogative of the nervous system (actually, the immune system partakes of a similar transformation of the Unknown, as does the whole organism when considered as a holistic unit). 

From an evolutionary perspective, transformations of the Unknown manifests in physiological adaptation of an organism to a changing or novel environment.

From a religious perspective, transformations of the Unknown manifests in the spiritual adaptation of an organism to a greater interface with God.

The highest possible transformation of the Unknown may be to assimilate the totality of Its existence, Fully, into one’s own identity, and thus to unite one’s self with God. When you become the Unknown, knowingly, the distinction is dissolved.

A word on the word God, then, please. Unfortunately for those of us who wish to use English to describe and expound upon matters of metaphysics and the fabric of Being, the word God is heavily loaded. It will thus be instructive to distinguish between three uses of the word God, and to make clear their relative roles and relationships with one another in the History of Humanity.

There is first and foremost It. This is it. Everything is It. No-thing is It.
It Is It. Is It. It Is.
It is the timeless, ineffable potential for all of creation bathing in a well at the bottom of the Cosmic Tree.
In Hebrew, It is called Ein Sof.
In Sanskrit, It is called Brahma.
In China, It might be called Dao.
But China is a sponge that was soaked in mystery the day a Dragon chasing a bamboo stick tripped over Tibet into a waterfall of Jade.
In English, we may call It “Now”.

It is one thing for Now to Be Now. But for Now to know It is Now? Could this have been the grand event catalysizng the dawn of Human Consciousness? Could the ebb and flow and sprinkled fillet of Universal Design have launched Itself so deep into Its own Navel that it came out the other end, to greet Its own ass? And say Hi?

So if we were the first sociological body on the planet to encounter the stubborn fact that we are the very heart and soul and fingers and toes of Existence existing, what sociological structure would we devise in order to cope with this overwhelming discovery?
Well, we would make music, and we would dance…

(To be continued in Part II)

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Man: Mediator between Earth and Sky

Let us consider, briefly, who you are.  You are a person, for one.  An individual human organism.  But you are much more than that.  You are the entire genetic history of life as it has existed and evolved on this planet.  Half of your genes are shared with bananas.  But surely, you are no banana.  Surely, you are more than a microbe.  Surely?  So what is your position, you great and wonderful human?  What role are you to play, here, in the history of life, and death?  Surely, we have agreed, you are to do more than hang around like the banana, waiting in a brilliant hue for the grasp of the ape or drift about in an infectious frenzy, like the microbe of notorious fate.  And surely, you’d prefer I would refrain from further use of the word surely.  Surely.

So I urge you, for one minute, to stop reading at the end of this paragraph.  Stop and reflect on what it feels like to be, here, alive, as a human – to be dependent on and fully connected to the ground below you – feel your feet grounded in the immensity of the Earth.  Feel the blood coursing through your arteries and veins, the cycle of oxygenation that vivifies your very being.  Feel the interface between your skin and the air.  Can you feel the difference there?

Did you feel it? Could you sense your own immensity?  Do you realize how powerful you are?  The Earth has sprouted many beings.  Some of them are confined, directly, to the soil.  Others are grounded, sure, but are free to roam.  Still others have been given the power of flight.  But you?  Have you considered your priveleged position?  Grounded, for certain, in the terrestrial realm, but permitted, no doubt, to roam the vastness of intergalactic space – with your mind.

There is so much energy invested in you.  So much influence.  So much creativity.  If the tree of life were a stock market, Humanity is the late 90′s dot.com sector – before the bubble burst!  Investment after investment has poured in.  4 billion years of research and development, of tried, tested, true, and false ways of living – all of this has amounted to us – the animal internet.  And what have we to show for it?  Buildings?!  Concrete?! Airplanes?!  Nuclear Reactors?! Oil Rigs?!

No.  These things may approach the sky.  But they mediate not.  They deny below, and curse above.  They sing only their internal working – and ignore everything else.  But You.  You must be the mediator.  The universe awaits.  It has invested in you, so heavily, that every night, before getting into bed, the universe kneels at its bedside, in its fluffy starlit pajamas, and prays to the trees that they should smack some sense into its most cherished investment.  That sooner or later we will see it, before the bubble pops.  That sooner or later, we will wake up, to our role.

So consider!  You will one day go to sleep, and never wake up.  Ahhh, but how you have woken up, without ever having gone to sleep!  And now, you find yourself, with eons of insight and evolutionary impetus packed into one little interval, one breath, one sigh, one ride between birth and death.  You find yourself here, with infinite energy, and a creative duty.

What enormous freedom!  You man, you woman, you mediator between Earth and Sky.  Are you anything less than a mythic creature, living!  Real!  Mystically aware of yourself and your surroundings.  You have within you the utmost potential of the universe, the infinite creative genius of the Great Mind.  So mind, please.  Mind your matter, and your manners, while you are at it.  And remember your role, you mediator, tween Earth and Sky.

For one day, should we stay grounded enough, should we stay sane enough, should we limit our over indulgence and apocolyptic tendencies enough, should we radiate compassion enough, should we hug enough, should we kneel by the trees enough, should we feel enough – then one day, we shall lift enough, more than enough for a flight from London to Chicago; more than enough for a flight over the ocean with the birds; more than enough for a flight in a balloon – how absurd!  We shall lift our souls and our spirits and our bodies into space, beyond this place, and settle on a new Earth.

And once again, we shall find ourselves mediators between Earth and Sky.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Language: The Universe's Way of Beating Around the Bush

What do you know about the ocean deep?  Would you share its secrets with me, please?  Would you inform me of its hidden caverns and flavoured colors secluded from prying eyes and absorbing cones?  Can you describe the flow and glow of the electric eel?  The buzzing brilliance of barreling bits?  Or would you prefer I took my own look?  Will your words suffice?  Will mine?

Words.  Are they anything more than a beat around the bush?  We are infatuated with The Word.  Everywhere I look, I see words.  And dare I resist reading them, aloud, silently.

Language rewires the nervous system.  There is nothing so powerful a distracter as language.  Blessed animals, na├»ve, pure creatures, innocent, uncorrupted by the word.  Occasionally asked to “sit!”, maybe, but still oblivious to the intricate and abstract relationship between assembled phonemes and their referents.  What I would give for such freedom!  But then again, what I wouldn’t.

Language is the universe’s way of beating around the bush.  You want to know about the universe?  Feel it.  Touch it.  Hear it.  Breathe it.  But talk about it?  What sort of knowledge is that?

I’ll tell you.  It is re-presentational knowledge.  It is abstraction.  It is a re-presentation of the world as is.  It is a compression of the .universe format into .word – like compressing a .wav into an .mp3, but not nearly as effectively.  Much more compact!  Much easier to store!  Much less overwhelming!  But certainly, oh, how certainly deprived of true quality!  Perhaps some are content with the word, with description, with abstraction.  It most certainly takes the pressure off comprehending the entirety of Creation.  But where does that leave us?  Are we settling for second best?  It is no wonder the Zen master refrains from too many words.

Words are tricks.  They say to you – to me – “hey, look over here, and I’ll tell you what’s over there.  But for the love of God, don’t look over there!”  And why do they do that?  For the sake of control.  Words control us.  Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.  Bullshit.  Nothing hurts more than words.  They are the defacto power in our world.  People are judged by the words they use, much more than the breath they breathe.  Is this freedom?  Is this equality?  Is it fair to judge a man by his words?  Or would we see more if we judged each other by the breath we breathe, by the love we radiate.

So let us agree to one thing: at least once, every, single, day, we should suspend our words.  We should stop our outer dialogue, stop our inner dialogue.  We should sit, silently, beneath the Bodhi tree, and Feel the great Being that Is.  Don’t talk about it, don’t conceptualize it, don’t criticize it.  Just feel it.  Let it Be what it Is.  And nothing else.  And you will find yourself enormously refreshed.  Like sipping back a cool glass of lemonade.

But there is something to be said for words, naturally, those soothsayers.  They may be the universe’s way of beating around the bush, of hiding its true self, of disguising pure joy beneath a myriad of equations and persuasions, but they do partake of a particularly potent beauty.  Let us not condemn them too far!  For words are perhaps the only thing that can free us from themselves.  Like fire burning a path through the flames.  Words dance.  And romance.  And prance.  And they may be the key to turning the Universe’s eye on itself – the key to the “Aha!”, to the great realization, that we are nothing more, nothing less, nothing but, It.

So tread lightly. Wield your words wisely.  Remember their power.  Be conscious of what they can do to others, and what they do to yourself.   Do not let them get the best of you.  And trust me, I know how wonderful you can be.  So please, oh please, remember, there is more to you, to me, to our world, than words can say.  There is the world.  And the world will never succumb to the word.

Monday, 25 April 2011

God's Heir

Some refer to our species as Homo sapiens, the thinking hominid, as if the capacity of our motivational and emotional systems to control behaviour lay entirely subordinate to wonderful Father Reason.  But most of us are well aware that really it is the other way around.  Indeed, Shakespeare made his very living off the abilitiy of passionate feeling to overcome the whining of the intellect, an innevitable tsunami threatening the wall’s of Reason’s fortress.

So what’s the appropriate taxonomic name for our species?  What single word connotates the entire ability of unreasonableness, emotion, passion, feeling, and love to overcome the tremendous resistance initiated by the pursuit of logic?  Mircea Eliade proposed Homo religiosus, the religious hominid.

If we consider the history of humanity, from an anthropological and animal behavioural perspetive, we find that an enormous amount of our behavioural output has been oriented towards the pursuit of goal’s seemingly ordained by divine and spiritual beings: the Sistine Chapel, the pyramids of Egypt and the temples of the Aztec, the ziggurats of Mesopotamia, the Angkor Wat’s of the Khmer, monasteries in the Himalayas, and the God-Knows-What-Goes-On-Over-There.

Perhaps now adays you’re not so convinced of the necessity of religion for anything.  Fine.  We’ll get to that.  But for the time being we should agree that for most of the rest of us, at least until a couple hundred years ago (of say, 40 000 years of human cultural evolution), perhaps the most primary motivation in the lives of the majority was somehow or other a religious one -  a pursuit of goals passed down to us from beings on another plane.

Cute.  I know.  That we should believe in fairies and elves and Hercules and El, monsters and hells and Hades and spells, Christ’s, alright! Buddhas, Shiva, Thor, and Night, god’s a plenty, oh so many, where’d they go, are they alright?
Are we alright?

If you would humor me so much as to agree to the taxonomic designation Homo religiosus, then it is a curious thing that we should find our selves in an era where the popular claim of influential philosophy is that God is Dead.  God’s have been with us, sometimes personally, sometimes much more socially, for at least the last 40 000 years.  And now they are gone.  Where did they go?  Or did we just get smart enough to realize they weren’t there?

Here’s why you cannot deny the existence of the gods.  The stuff that gives rise to the religious experience, to convictions about Divinity and an unbreakable passion to fulfill its will, is the same stuff that gives rise to dreams, to ideological persuasions and pursuits, and to the deep and wonderful well of humanity’s creative juice.  It’s all the same stuff.  And it’s right there in our nervous system, somehow coded as the interaction between our bodies and our environments.

What is this stuff?  And what are we to make of its various manifestations?  What forces lie beneath ourselves, operating in neural circuits parallel to our conscious river of ceaseless thought?  What unconscious personalities battle for expression into consciousness, and realization in behaviour?  Have the gods gone into hiding, motivating us without our knowing?  Coaxing us into a downward spiral of socio-ecological destruction, from within our very own neurophysiology?!

In this age, then, of smothered gods, industrial jaws, and consuming paws, we grope and we grope for the brief, subtle pause of a fleeting feast of satisfaction.  But a fleeting feast is on the order of yeast when compared to the beast in the scheme of life’s greatest feats.  We’re hooked on treats.  And The Trends can be tough ones to beat.

Consumption cannot extend the pause of pure joy.  It can only make it repeat.  And the intervals between treats will toss a driver out of his seat.  Desire will consume you, as you so ravenously consumed before.  And the spiral contends release.

The gods cannot be replaced with treats.  The gods commanded diligent effort, commitment, discipline.  They enforced order and stability on societal goo, molding it into the cultural mosaic of our world.  But we no longer serve majestic, immaculate divinities.  We find ourselves the servants of new gods, of the Pepsi’s and Nestle’s and Gucci’s, and their legion of Great and Powerful Providers.  Are these satisfactory heir’s?    Are they deserving of a seat in legend?  Our diligence is to them, not for the sake of the universe, or of Nature’s Great Beauty, or of divine, passionate, love, or of the pure thrill of the existential position – but for the immediate pleasure they bring to us as individuals.  And don’t think for a second that such pleasure is authentic.  Our reward systems have been hijacked.  Sugar tastes as good as it does because it was once rare – nature did not intend for us to consume hundreds of grams of the stuff a day.

So where does this leave us?  Mass marketing, the Economy, and the world of advertising have made us into addicts.  They have usurped the role of the gods and taken hold of our reward systems, our motivations, our emotional health, and our passions.  They have desacralized us, shamed our inherent divinity.  They have shaped us into vultures.  What retribution can we seek?  How can we re-instate divinity?  Are we in need of new gods?

Or are we in need of something different?

Something a bit more fluid, more tolerant, more accepting.  Something more identifiable, present, and sustaining.  Something that does not fool our sense of joy with the trick of a treat but rather encompasses and reminds us, just how wonderful, really, is this Great Feat.  Something like humility and inspiration.  Like the realization of your own infinite, and your own emptiness.  Something like unconditional acceptance of the way things are meets determined passion for the integrity of us, as stars.

We are God’s heir.  And that is an enormous responsibility.  Act wisely, lest we unleash the final flood.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Reflections on Passover

Festivals are awesome.  There is nothing anyone likes more than festivities.  That’s their very point – they are festive.  And its fun that there are common times to have festivals – usually when you are celebrating something, like a birthday, a new year, a historical event, sunshine, snowfall, or just Pure Golden Love.  Today, April 20th, was a celebration of something I like to think is awfully close to Pure Golden Love.  I’m bound to touch on the topic of the Green and Delicious Mother Goddess, Cannabis, at some point, perhaps also under religion, but here we are concerned with Passover.  What exactly is passover celebrating?

That’s obvious: Exodus.  We celebrate the anniversary of the simultaneous release and birth of a nation from the pangs of slavery in Egypt.  Oh my how beautiful and wondrous is Egypt.  Such spectacular tradition!  And the magic that floated about in that country, a hub between the entirety of Africa and the Eastern world.  Talk about charged places.  But what were the Israelites doing there?
The bible’s got a great story of the epic.  And it really is an epic, so I’m not about to recount it here.  Take a look at that story again some time, without your childish rebellious values.  It has all the features of a marvelous story – a tragic hero, magic, chaos, mass suffering, freedom, and existential loneliness.  And it’s surely a hell of a thing to consider that elements of it may have actually been true.  The Exodus Decoded, a documentary that investigates the very history of the exodus, does a superb job at explaining how the ten plagues might have happened, given how they appear to happen, in modern times, in similar sequence, in the aftermath of certain volcanic eruptions.  A wonderful watch.  But why do we care?

Lets make a couple basic assumptions here, some propositions we can work with in building up a plausible basis for appreciating passover.  Let us assume that there was an Egypt, and there were slaves in Egypt, and a subset of those slaves probably had some kind of familial relationship with one another, through some common heritage that may (or may not) have originated in Mesopotamia and travelled through Canaan.  And let us further suppose (just for fun), that there was a massive volcanic eruption during the period of this slavery, sometime towards the end of the seccond mellenium B.C (in fact, there is a vast amount of  evidence in the geological records and in the literature that supports the occurence of such an event, and the massive wave of migrations that it triggered – sometimes called the invasion of the Sea People), and the aftermath of this eruption caused enough havoc to free a number of these slaves from bondage.

These are moderately reasonable assumptions.  Details are unimportant – everyone mythologizes.  Think Chuck Norris.  But the next assumption is crucial, and it goes something like this: Let us suppose that this group, who has by whatever means exiled themselves from slavery in what was considered a foreign country, now band together under a new ideology, one vastly different from that of their previous masters, but perhaps still borrowing elements from it.  They take this ideology, and they champion it.  They render it the fruit of all their hard work.  Their real salvation.  Perhaps one man played a primary role in the generation of the ideology and its distribution.  Perhaps not.

Regardless of the details, we look at these people and this is what we should see: the birth of a new child – the most wonderful event that occurs on the planet – the birth of a unit, an identifiable, conscious (eventually, we hope), cohesive body of intelligence, passion, and being.  A Nation.  And what a beautiful thing for that to happen, that they should emerge from the perils of slavery into the brightness of a new time with a new, powerful, present God, who offers them peace and security if only they will subscribe to him, and praise him, and allow him to really protect them, and care for them.  Now that is fucking beautiful.

And how different is it from what we are doing now?  Are we not in the throes of a transition out of the tyranny of broken capitalism and industrial mechanics into a new world of global electricity?  Are we not trying to free ourselves from the slavery of our consumption and ecological ignorance into a new era of care, compassion, empathy and for lack of an English phrase, namaste?  We are slaves, still.  There is no doubting that.  We are slaves to the media, slaves to our wallets, slaves to our stomachs, slaves to our drugs and to social judgements.  Slaves to the great pyramidal power of the Big Corporation and the slow click of the Political clock.  But we need not be slaves forever.  The Israelites were freed from their oppressors, freed to spawn their own kingdom, under the eyes of their own God, with their own temple, practicing their own true love.  And that potential rests within us, too.

But I don’t think it would be wise to depend on a Volcano for salvation.  The volcanoes are already erupting and they’re only complicating matters.  We need to be the ones to harness the power of the new religion, the second passover.  Because this time, we cannot be sure that the Angel of Death will pass over the doorways marked with lamb’s blood, or hash oil.  We must be God’s outstretched arm.  We must make the change, and free ourselves, by our own free actions, from the tyranny of today’s institutions.  We must ensure our own survival, for our own sake, for our children’s sake, and for the sake of this magnificent and caring planet.


About Me

I’m generally called Ethan, or E, or sometimes Reginald, Greg, or Steve.  But I couldn’t possibly say that that is who I am.  I’m not exactly quite sure who I am, and I don’t think I ever will be.  At least I hope I am never ignorant enough to think I know.  But I do find that very proposition of my own unknowing to posses a quality that is immensely uplifting, electrifying, really, and you might say I use it, however ironically, to help define who I am.  But talking like that doesn’t get us anywhere (anywhere but right here).  And I imagine you clicked on this page to learn a thing or two about the supposed human who authors these posts.  I suppose I am that supposed human – but I cannot take full credit for authorship.  There are certainly critical forces, far outside my consciousness, much greater than my human being, that play a large role in much of what is done by me.  So if you are enjoying yourself here, or ever in my presence, thank them, and while you’re at it, thank the guys running your show, too!

As far as the human goes, if you are still interested, well, he’s a university student, in the marvelous town of Guelph, Ontario, studying some kind of mysterious assembly of topics he likes to call Neurophysics, and playing music as often as he can in his wonderful band, The Company.  But really, he likes to think, and to talk about his thoughts, and to hear other peoples thoughts, and to have about as much thought-sex as he can get his mouth, ears, brain, and peers to put on.

He also knows that there comes a time in the life of all good hearted individuals – with plenty of things to say to themselves and not enough people with not enough time to sit and listen to them – when they decide to start a blog so that they can write those things down, publicly, to share the burden of their own thoughts with the rest of the world, and to bring their thought-sex online. I hope you do not object to thought sex.  And I sincerely hope you find something here that interests, fascinates, inspires, and/or elevates your already wise soul.

Cheers, to learning, compassion, and beauty.