I loved Carl Sagans series ‘Cosmos’ and would implore anyone to check out the whole series. This version of a tiny portion is a brilliant comic expression. The man behind Zen Pencils is a real inspiration. Glad I found him!! Show your children, show your friends, show your grandchildren, show the law makers, the law breakers, the money makers, show everyone.
‘In the second machine age, the challenge to the human world is mental rather than physical. As the gadgets become more intimate and the scanners more powerful, it is our inner worlds that are being transformed. Perhaps they are even being destroyed. The perpetual connection and distraction of our lives now are the opposite of Stevens’ solitary thinking time or Dickinson’s isolation in her room. Connectivity is replacing creativity on Facebook and Twitter.’
Bryan Appleyard confronts the new reality facing our species. David Foster Wallace, the highly rated American author who was overwhelmed by his depression also tried to confront the more negative consequences of modern connection with technology. He accepts the more desirable aspects that accompany it,
“Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it.”
And goes on to say
“The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.”
Wallace was determined to stay as close to his vision of being human as he could, and this involved a deal of confronting the difficult complexities that perplex all of us. How to steer our way through the world and retain a view of humanity that is compassionate left him bereft. It is that willingness to engage with an imperfect world that is the challenge of everyone. What Wallace saw was that a vast portion of mankind refuses to do that, and turns against any view or practise that does not reflect their own. Worse than that, a huge portion of them exploit the greed, ignorance or poverty of others. That view of mankind becomes untenable, and more so when there is recognition of faults within oneself. He was frightened by the default settings that he perceived amongst American culture, and warned against them,
“The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.
Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.
They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.”
The counter practices to these default settings have been recognised by seers and philosophers across ages and cultures, and include mindfulness and acceptance. They occupy the same emotional and spiritual spaces in our psyches as religion once addressed, and still does. It is a tragedy that he died so young, since he had messages of deep import and was a voice to a generation. Those messages have been handed down by Tolstoy, Einstein, Thoreau, Tagore, but he had the authority of living in the age of now. That is always a powerful hand.
“That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.”
Further reading http://moreintelligentlife.com/story/david-foster-wallace-in-his-own-words
‘Men walk as prophecies of the next age.’
How could we, you and me, have imagined the world we live in today at the age of ten or eleven? How can the sum of man’s knowledge and curiosity have taken us so far on the journey of say the last 40,000 years? And where will tomorrow be leading?
It may be that about 40,000 years ago our species made a leap in brain function, because it is from this period that there has been found evidence of artefacts produced by our species for reasons that go beyond survival. They have produced drawings on cave walls, and small statuettes identifying female forms, and imaginary beasts, mythical beings that have bodies of two legged creatures and heads of lions. What that shows is the development of a brain which reflects on the human condition, and wants to comment on it. And that goes beyond finding dinner and staying healthy in the body.
We are not evolved , we are evolving and it is an exciting part of history to be alive in, when science, technology and creative thinking have taken giant steps in this adults lifetime. Exciting and terrifying. The paradox of our species having arrived at a point where space travel is possible, when communication is immediate in most parts of the globe, when we can produce life in a laboratory, and yet there are children dying of malaria because they don’t have the resource to own a simple net, defies comprehension.
Most simple problems become complex because we allow them to do so, global politics, domestic policies dictate that problems that are solvable become difficult to address. Cern has scientists from across the globe overcoming the difficulties of language, culture and politics in an attempt to push back the boundaries of scientific knowledge. Could this model be useful as an example to leaders of industry and politicians?
“Outside consciousness there rolls a vast tide of life which is perhaps more important to us than the little isle of our thoughts which lies within our lives” E.S Dallas 1866
Poets have been good at recognising the depth and power of the human unconscious, and have written exceptionally moving and resonant lines that help us to some recognition of this. It is this apparent paradox that is brought into the light by Timothy D Wilson, a social psychologist and a professor at the University of Virginia. He has written a convincing book detailing how our conscious judgments and actions are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to knowing who we are. Our adaptive unconscious is the real master , and the conscious is really only the tail. We think we are the tail wagging the dog, but it isn’t so. His book ‘ Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious’ explains this understanding. This newly considered appreciation of the importance of the unconscious has far-reaching consequences for policy makers and social commentators. If we understand how our mind operates, we are more able to effect change to behaviours, and thus create more healthy outcomes for ourselves and for our societies. Wilson demonstrates this in a very short lecture on video at the RSA, where he cites four simple cases that could benefit from early intervention of behaviour change. As Wilson himself quotes, ‘Do Good, Be Good’ from Aristotle.
To return to the beginning, I think I have been affected by poets revealing these same truths to me all my life, and in some strange inexplicable manner their words reveal solace and comfort and reassurance in a world that often appears incomprehensible and even hostile. I don’t always understand the whole meaning behind the words of these poems, but I do feel their music, their life and their truth. I approach much of my life in a similar manner, from a position of instinctual understanding rather than from a more rigorously attained intellectual understanding. It is both a strength and a flaw, two sides of the same coin. Thus I cannot help posting an old favourite of mine which demonstrates this poetic understanding of Wilson’s truth.
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo
Questa fiamma staria sensa piu scosse.
Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero
Sensa tema d’infamia ti rispondo.
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question . . .
Oh, do not ask, ‘What is it?’
Let us go and make our visit.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.
And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
And indeed there will be time
To wonder, ‘Do I dare?’ and, ‘Do I dare?’
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—
[They will say: ‘How his hair is growing thin!’]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
[They will say: ‘But how his arms and legs are thin!’]
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
For I have known them all already, known them all—
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?
And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?
And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
[But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!]
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?
. . . . .
Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? . . .
I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
. . . . .
And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep . . . tired . . . or it malingers
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head [grown slightly bald]
brought in upon a platter
I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and
And in short, I was afraid.
And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: ‘I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all’—
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say: ‘That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all.’
And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that
trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns
on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
‘That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant at all.’
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.
I grow old . . . I grow old . . .
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
The existence of human life relies on man’s ability to accept paradox, the idea that conflicting principles can be simultaneously applied and experienced. Thus we can be simultaneously convinced by separate and sometimes opposing concepts.
Do I contradict myself ?
Very well then I contradict myself.
( I am large, I contain multitudes.)
We can value the freedom of leisure, and yet practice the contrary position of tying ourselves to the means of production. While inevitably life requires the ability to provide sustenance, the prevailing view of acquisition and consumption has overwhelmed the provision of requirements and provided a complexity of goods and choice. When consumption and acquistion become more important motivators, we lose the opportunities to spend our own time. Time is a resource that is spent and cannot be replaced.
The sunlight on the garden
Hardens and grows cold.
We cannot cage the minute
Within its nest of gold;
When all is told
We cannot beg for pardon
Thus wealth is surely to be considered in measurements of time available to oneself, as opposed to increasing the individuals money stock, and that which it buys. The poorer man has to work at more menial tasks and give greater portions of his time in order to produce enough money to pay for the requisites to live. The richer man has money in the bank to pay service providers , and release him to be active in his chosen areas of interest. So on one level money can buy time. But this leaves us with a political problem. Men are not born equal, they are born with very different capacities, health conditions, mental abilities, character traits,family circumstances, even the country born into. How can we make the world a fairer place to exist in? Either we live within a state system , where the rules are supposedly agreed on within a democratic process, or we live in a system where individuals take hold of the means of production, and to some degree or other , we rely on some patriachy towards the lesser able from the more able.
Could we evolve politically to create a more balanced society? Is it possible to convince enough of the people that the resources can be used more fairly by balancing the means of production, by re evaluating how we live? How many people will it require to question the status quo? And what form will that questioning take? Rebellion and revolution throughout history shows that nothing much really changes, so the overthrow of tyranny has to be via over means than that of anarchic rebellion. Progress, if progress is the correct term, requires the acceptance of all bodies politic. How to reconcile the differing requirements of the haves and the have nots? The only possible way is the evolution of a new understanding and practice of an age old stratagem, employed throughout all eras, by all peoples. It is the common practice of compassion. By the use of empathy, humans can use their compassion even when it is not in their immediate benefit to do so. Everyone knows it, everyones seen it. If compassion is put in the centre of all human endeavour, then every activity engaged in needs to be re visited, re-understood. It’s a big ask, but it’s a big question. How will the human species evolve facing the questions ahead of it, today? Start your quest today, the real quest of living your real life in the here and now. It’s all you’ve got.
Bye for now.
It turns out the Rich man is the biggest Thief of all, and it appears that none of us cares!!! Been to the Cayman Islands recently? It is a melting pot for trillions, yes, trillions of tax that has been filtered away from the economies of countries throughout the world, and hoarded by very, very rich savers.
“Civil society groups, economists, journalists, and ordinary people need to rouse themselves and make this one of the great political struggles of this young century.” from Taxjustice.net
At some point . . . such conduct passes from clever accounting and lawyering, to theft from the people.
Somebody robs your house, takes your life-savings , you would be mad wouldn’t you? It’s happening to whole countries by individuals now, and it’s happening to us all by clever people hiding behind a nasty myth called ‘tax avoidance’ on a scale undreamt of. Go back a couple of centuries to the French aristocracy, on a personal level they were (probably) lovely people, but when the starvation could be borne no more, the injustice of their wealth drove a country to up end its cultural and legal precedents. What makes anyone think it won’t happen again?
James Henry, former chief economist at consultancy McKinsey and an expert on tax havens shows that at least £13trillion – perhaps up to £20tn – has leaked out of scores of countries into secretive jurisdictions such as Switzerland and the Cayman Islands with the help of private banks, which vie to attract the assets of so-called high net-worth individuals. Their wealth is, as Henry puts it, “protected by a highly paid, industrious bevy of professional enablers in the private banking, legal, accounting and investment industries taking advantage of the increasingly borderless, frictionless global economy“. According to Henry’s research, the top 10 private banks, which include UBS and Credit Suisse in Switzerland, as well as the US investment bank Goldman Sachs, managed more than £4tn in 2010, a sharp rise from £1.5tn five years earlier.( taken from http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/jul/21/global-elite-tax-offshore-economy)
“The very existence of the global offshore industry, and the tax-free status of the enormous sums invested by their wealthy clients, is predicated on secrecy,” Henry.
Governments need to act on making that secrecy illegal. If you are in the UK. get your M.P. to object in Parliament. For a start you could do worse than go over to http://blog.38degrees.org.uk/2012/07/03/banking/ and add your name to the petition , M.P’s are voting Thursday on supporting an independant inquiry on banking practices.For clarity on money matters, I suggest further reading here; http://www.positivemoney.org.uk/about/
For excellent research on tax matters and why it matters, I suggest further reading here
For UK readers, a politically unbiased group of campaigners are making our voices heard, check out their campaigns including the banking industries one, http://www.38degrees.org.uk/
Neuroscience has discredited the pseudoscience of phrenology, so popular amongst the Victorians to explain how areas of the brain influenced human behaviour. In many ways it was the precursor of neuroscience, influencing the progression away from philosophy and religion being the drivers of human conduct, to the more modern interpretations of neurological function. Even so, I like some of the oddities that the practice of phrenology came up with. The intuitive reasoning sometimes has correlation with how we do think and act, and that isn’t an endorsement, just an observation! Thousands of Victorians consulted the practising phrenologists for advice on life changing events such as marriage or business difficulties much in the same way as today we look towards dubious sciences to give us answers. The massive growth in alternative ideologies identifies the same need for humans to look for understanding and meaning, and taking it from wherever seems meaningful to them.
Today phrenology is outdated and unfashionable, but that didn’t make it unhelpful to the believers at the time. What are we investing our energies and time in today that tomorrow will appear as ignorant of real understanding?
Image from Wikipedia, for more information on the fascinating model of phrenology go here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phrenology
I like the idea of ‘Eventuality’, of there being a location for curiosity. The need or desire to be informed. I think we all need more of that.
I did it to myself, but when you get to the point when the time ahead starts to close in, then looking back is inevitable . This self portrait refers to a younger me (by about a decade) and the effects of being a mother and a wife on the psyche. I don’t complain, I have loved being both. But somerwhere along the line, I lost some sense of the woman I wanted to grow into. I am less outward looking than I wanted to be, more introverted. Less involved with the world at large than I intended, with the sense of something still to offer.
The next decades will see change, not all bad I hope!!
I hate it when a book cover claims ‘ this book will change your life’. Big claim,until you think about it, since every action pursued will ultimately change you life to some degree, since if you hadn’t performed it then that moment would have been occupied by something else. So in that sense EVERY book will change your life. Nevertheless there ARE books that illuminate, motivate, realign perspective or broaden understanding and lead to significant alterations to the way I look at things forever. Forever. That is a big word. That is the power of language and communication when it is being used expertly.
Over the past decade ( I am currently beginning my sixth) I have intermittently turned to the greats for solace, and for inspiration when I have felt overwhelmed by life, by the challenges and disappointments every life inevitably experiences. I have delighted in wonderful finds, discovering the wisdom of Montaigne, the humanity of Seneca , the beauty of thought from Keats, Shakespeare, Socrates. All of these have helped me to endure and to transcend the present of various difficulties, or simply assuaged the boredom of periods of stasis. Recently it has occurred to me to look towards contemporary thinkers for their take on the human condition. We have had such massive changes in technology during the past 150 years that the context of the human is a changed landscape to navigate. Some of our experiences are timeless, and the ancient wisdom continues to enthrall and to enlighten. I will never tire of being introduced to novelists and poets from any era that manage to capture the wonder in me.
Simultaneously I have been thinking about how my history has been governed by left brained thinking, by the rationalists. How our capitalist Western society has used logic and scientific thinking to produce models for living, working, making money. And I have been thinking how it has failed to produce a society of well rounded, content , productive, creative individuals. Where have our models gone wrong? LIstening to a variety of psychologists on TED (where else) , I have been led to read a fascinating book by David Brooks, ‘The Social Animal’. I am in the middle of it currently, but so delighted by it taht I can’t help sharing it with you all before I have completed it. That could be a mistake, but even if it turns out that I hate the second half, the first half has captivated me. I so want my eldest son to read it, he and his friends could change the world if they read and assimilate the wisdom in there! Brooks brings together information and knowledge from a variety of disciplines,marrying science and pyschology with sociology, politics,cultural commentary and literary. He does it in a style that echoes Rousseau, taking two imagined characters and weaving into their lives the preoccupations of the author, so that it reads more like a novel than a research paper. He is no Tolstoy, but the book is evidently readable since I am finding it hard to put it down and write this blog .
The art of living well is to know how to steer our natures, and slowly remodel our characters.
What interests me is how Brooks relates the way in which we are human, we are not likely to be overtaken by Artificial Intelligence, sophisticated as that is becoming. This knowledge has been intuitively understood for centuries by poets and artists, and it is via their expressions that we less gifted individuals can be matched with that insight, that our humanity itself is something to be celebrated and encouraged , nurtured and supported. The left brained thinking of rationality has to be countered with right brain thinking , bringing back intuition and imagination. Einstein knew it.
Imagination is more important than knowledge.
Here is Brooks transcribed form the TED talk, introducing the concept behind his book.
… in the study of the mind, across all these spheres of research, from neuroscience to the cognitive scientists, behavioral economists, psychologists, sociology, we’re developing a revolution in consciousness. And when you synthesize it all, it’s giving us a new view of human nature.. …
Through the policy failures of the last 30 years, we have come to acknowledge, I think, how shallow our view of human nature has been. And now as we confront that shallowness and the failures that derive from our inability to get the depths of who we are, comes this revolution in consciousness — these people in so many fields exploring the depth of our nature and coming away with this enchanted, this new humanism…..discovering a more accurate vision of the unconscious, of who we are deep inside, and it’s going to have a wonderful and profound and humanizing effect on our culture
I so hope he’s right. If you read one non-fiction book this year, make it this one. Especially if you are setting out on your life journey. I would love to have read this at the beginning of my career, at the point I chose a life partner, before I gave birth. So good. http://www.ted.com/talks/david_brooks_the_social_animal.html