Monthly Archives: July 2012

Tuning in to the Past: Morphic Resonance and It’s Consequences

Standard

Artistic rendering of Rupert Sheldrake

What is morphic resonance? (Bear with me through this part. It’s rather confusing and a bit weird.)

In his 1988 book, The Presence of the Past, biochemist Rupert Sheldrake first proposed his theory of morphic resonance. This idea, which has largely been ridiculed by the scientific community and has essentially resulted in the end of Sheldrake’s academic career, proposes an alternative to the ideas of Neo-Darwinism, as well as the belief that the universe is built on a set of fixed laws. He questions the traditional understanding of this political metaphor that man has used to understand the workings of reality in which the patterns inherent in nature are compared to the man-made laws of human society, albeit put in place by the highest law-maker, God. Rather than being fixed for eternity, man-made laws change throughout time as a result of precedent and Sheldrake proposes that the laws of nature change too, equating them less to fixed laws and more to a system of habituation and developed regularities that are conditioned on how things have been in the past.

All of the forms and processes that exist and occur in reality consist of morphic units, which are perpetually engaged in a feedback mechanism with a particular morphic field, which organizes the characteristic structure and behavior of those morphic units (also referred to as holons). These holons are constantly tuning in to the morphogenetic field that they exist within and that has been produced by the morphic units that precede them, which contributes both to the further development of the morphogenetic field as a whole and the individual holons. Given that the universe is, at the most fundamental level, composed of energy and vibration, Sheldrake draws the conclusion that similar things resonate with subsequent similar things on the basis of similarity of pattern and of vibratory patterns of activity. This leads to an established pattern in reality, whether that be in a population of rabbits or the formation of salt crystals.These habits may change over time, presenting a view of evolution that goes beyond Darwin’s processes of variation and selection and extending to the inorganic as well as the organic, creating the possibility that even the most very basic particles that comprise this material universe have evolved throughout time. Reality as a whole is composed of an infinite number of nested sets of systems, and each one of these individual systems is suggested to have its own morphogenetic field by which it evolves.

Has this been looked at empirically? 

The concept of morphogenetic fields, which Sheldrake views as the universal database for both physical and abstract, mental forms, bears a striking similarity to C.G. Jung’s idea of the collective unconscious, the aspect of man that transcends his genetic composition and acts as a source of mankind’s conglomerated experiential knowledge, a form of psychological instincts. This concept has constantly come under fire as being unfalsifiable and, put bluntly, total BS. To combat these claims, Sheldrake cites a number of experiments that have been performed that appear to support these hypotheses of morphic resonance and morphogenetic fields. A few of these have been listed below.

A study was conducted at Harvard in which lab rats were trained to escape from a maze over the course of 10 years. As the original rats died, the experiment was carried on with their offspring and it was ultimately found that the final group of rats, which were separated from the original subjects by a number of generations, were escaping the lab ten times faster than the initial group had been. It was originally thought that this might have been the possible result of some sort of Lamarckian inheritence in which the decedents of the initial rats had acquired some sort of ability in escaping mazes, or a set of skills that would contribute to that ability, via genetic modification. However, it was then noted that this trend was appearing all over the world in rats of that same species. This increased ability to escape a lab maze appeared in rats of the same breed that had not been descended from trained parents, showing that this improvement could not have been due to a mere genetic alteration and suggesting the existence of a morphogenetic field that all of the organisms in that system were tuning into that improved their ability at navigating mazes.

Sheldrake also cites the historical example of the Blue Tit, a bird found in England, and its developed ability to open the top off of milk containers (back when milk was still delivered door to door) and drink the cream off of the top, a skill that the Blue Tits in South England learned over a couple of decades. Roughly a year after this initial population had developed this ability, Blue Tits more than a hundred miles away were found performing the same cap-popping, milk stealing trick. Given that Blue Tits only fly up to 15 miles from their home territory, it seemed likely that this new appearance of the skill was an independent discovery. This trend continued to turn up across England and eventually in other European nations. And then World War 2 happened, and milk deliveries ceased in Holland, one of the other countries in which the Blue Tit developed this ability. These birds don’t ordinarily live more than three years and it was eight years until milk deliveries resumed. After having taken decades for this skill to initially appear in the species, it reappeared within the Dutch Blue Tit population within a matter of months. This suggests some form of communication with a collective memory of the species that the Dutch Blue Tits were tapping into, going beyond an ability learned via genetic mutations from parents to offspring.

There have also been studies conducted on humans that have clearly indicated that it is easier for people to learn things that have been previously learned before. One such study that demonstrates this fact was conducted by Gary Schwartz, a professor at Yale. He took 24 common Hebrew words and 24 rare Hebrew words from the Old Testament (all in Hebrew script), as well as anagrams of each of those words, using a total of 96 words, half of which were real and half of which were not. The study was done only using written language and performed on a group of participants that were entirely unfamiliar with Hebrew, so it served as a test of pattern recognition rather than of language ability. Each of the words was run by the participants and they were asked to give the first word that came to mind, as a way of proposing an English meaning for the Hebrew word, as well as a confidence rating (from 0-4) of how accurate their guess might be. Schwartz ran statistical analysis on the results (omitting all the participants that had gotten words right, hypothesizing that they might have unconsciously picked some Hebrew up at some point in their lives) and found an extremely interesting result. The confidence ratings that the remaining participants had given were substantially higher (to a statistically significant degree) for the real Hebrew words than those that they had given for the false, anagram words. Furthermore, the confidence ratings were notably higher for the common Hebrew words than the rare ones, suggesting that the participants had tapped into a collective memory of the morphogenetic fields created by all of history’s Hebrew scholars and speakers, creating a sense of unconscious familiarity. Schwartz even demonstrated that this apparent familiarity was entirely unconscious by running all the words past the participants once again, this time armed with the knowledge that half the words were real and half were false. The participants were requested to identify which were which, but when asked to perform this task consciously, the results were purely random.

Why does this matter?

So this all seems like pretty ridiculous stuff. Almost like magic existing in the realm of science. Well if you can suspend your belief and cynicism just a bit longer, I think it’s worth taking a look at a couple of the potential consequences that the concepts of morphic resonance and morphogenetic fields would have, not only on many other domains of scientific thought, but on our entire conception of reality as a whole.

Heredity and Evolution
The idea of morphic resonance suggests that the development of a species is contingent not only on the random mutations in genes and selective pressures that act on the organisms, but also by the morphogenetic field created by past members of that species. While DNA provides the blueprint for producing particular chemicals and consequently, an organisms chemical hereditary, Sheldrake proposes that the organization of those chemicals, the form that they take, and they way in which they are expressed through behavior are largely a result of morphic resonance. By tuning in to their ancestors, living members of a species are altered on a level that goes beyond genetics. This opens up the possibility for evolution to occur on a far smaller time-scale than Neo-Darwinian thought would lead one to believe, creating a tremendous potential for new ideas and attitudes to spread among the human species.

Memory
Scientists have continuously struggled to find a material basis within our brains for our memories. While they have been able to demonstrate that by stimulating certain parts of the brain specific memories can be evoked, as well as by ‘blocking’ those same sections of the brain, memories appear to be erased, neither of these tests conclusively demonstrates that our memories are physically located within our brains. Rather than likening the brain to a deeply complex storage mechanism, Sheldrake chooses to use the metaphor of the radio in considering the brain. The system of morphogenetic fields depends on similarity, and who or what could be more similar to oneself today than oneself in the past. Rather than storing all of our memories in our brains, which would seem to be an absolutely monumental task, our memories are recorded as a sort of energy signature in our distinct morphogenetic field. When we retrieve a memory, we act as if we were a radio, tuning in to a particular frequency and channeling that information through us. If the brain, which might be considered our receiving mechanism, an antennae perse, is externally moved to a particular frequency, as in being poked with an electrode, it could prompt a particular memory to be tuned into. Similarly, if part of the brain’s machinery is damaged, it might become difficult or impossible for one to tune to the correct frequency to access a memory. This doesn’t mean that the memory is completely gone, but that the brain can no longer properly tune itself to retrieve it.

Experiencing Past Lives
Much of what was mentioned in the previous section seems to be equally applicable for many individuals that claim to experience past lives. Yet rather than tapping into their own morphogenetic fields, they appear to be tapping into the field of another individual, separated from themselves by both time and space. Drawing from the tremendous amount of work done by Ian Stevenson on reincarnation (which I would recommend checking out. Absolutely wild stuff), it seems that young children are far more likely to have experiences of past lives. This is presumably because their sense as a separate self and their own particular morphogenetic fields are not yet fully formed and concretized, leaving open the possibility that they could access the morphic resonances of some deceased person. One’s answer to the question of whether they are that person or not is largely dependent on what one considers to be personhood. If being a particular person is simply having that person’s continuity of memory, then it seems that one could be considered to actually be that person who’s memories they are tuning into. However, you could also take a more liberal view and say that they aren’t that person, they’re just accessing those memories. This seems to lead into an endless discussion of what really constitutes a person and what might carry on from lifetime to lifetime, if you believe in reincarnation. I think I’ll try and stay away from that here, seeing how absurd most of you probably think this post is already.

Ritual
Societies as a whole can also be thought of as being governed by these habits formed by morphogenetic fields and rituals are a particular way in which this is particular manifest. People are often extremely resistant to changing a ritual, whether it be a religious one such as the Passover Sedar or a secular one like Thanksgiving dinner, but are often unable to express exactly why; it’s tradition hardly seems like a valid answer. Why is tradition so important? Rituals are performed very deliberately as similarly as possible to the original model using the same language, and even the same words in many cases. By recreating this particular pattern of activity, ritual performers are able to tap into the morphogenetic field created by all of the individuals before them that have ever properly participated in that same ritual. In doing so, the past is brought into the present in a very real way. By changing the ritual, the ability to tune in is increasingly weakened, providing an explanation for why people might be so resistant to changes in ritual.

Could any of this actually exist?

It’s hard to say. Since originally proposing the idea over 20 years ago, Sheldrake has written a number of books on the topic but there appears to be virtually no other developments in the idea, which is presumably because the whole thing reeks of pseudoscience. Then again, most ideas that don’t fit into the current paradigm and that ultimately end up defining the new one are generally not accepted at first and the person responsible for their genesis is severely persecuted. While Sheldrake may not face persecution as harshly as some of science’s most famous paradigm shifters (see: Galileo), his ideas certainly haven’t been received well.

As I try and make sense of all of this and determine my own stance on the matter, one thing that does jump out to me as being of monumental importance is the implications that morphogenic fields might have on expansion of the self and improvement of society as a whole. Sheldrake’s ideas suggest that the culture in which we live and systems in which we place ourselves have a very real impact on our development as individuals. This goes beyond the lessons of social psychology and enters a whole new realm of influence on the Self, one in which our very energetic composition is being manipulated by the morphogenic fields that we choose to place ourselves within. My mind can’t but help to jump to Eastern conceptions of the subtle body and the way in which it could potentially be constantly tuning in to an innumerable number of morphogenic fields. By deliberately altering our environment, behavior, habits, and thought patterns, we have the capacity to tap into various morphic resonances, providing a fascinating lens through which one can view personal transformation.

So, what do you think? Absolute absurdity? Pseudoscience? Buy it? I’m still working through my own thoughts on the whole theory and its potential consequences so help me figure it out: comment!

Advertisements

10 Things Most Americans Don’t Know About America

Standard

The below article, written by Mark Manson and taken from http://postmasculine.com/america captures a lot of the sentiments I’ve had since I’ve been back and puts them in a far more translatable way than I’d managed thus far.

———————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Imagine you have a brother and he’s an alcoholic. He has his moments, but you keep your distance from him. You don’t mind him for the occasional family gathering or holiday. You still love him. But you don’t want to be around him.

This is how I lovingly describe my current relationship with the United States. The United States is my alcoholic brother. And although I will always love him, I don’t want to be near him at the moment.

I know that’s harsh, but I really feel my home country is not in a good place these days. That’s not a socio-economic statement (although that’s on the decline as well), but rather a cultural one.

I realize it’s going to be impossible to write sentences like the ones above without coming across as a raging prick, so let me try to soften the blow to my American readers with an analogy:

You know when you move out of your parents’ house and live on your own, how you start hanging out with your friends’ families and you realize that actually, your family was a little screwed up? Stuff you always assumed was normal your entire childhood, it turns out was pretty weird and may have actually fucked you up a little bit. You know, dad thinking it was funny to wear a Santa Claus hat in his underwear every Christmas or the fact that you and your sister slept in the same bed until you were 22, or that your mother routinely cried over a bottle of wine while listening to Elton John.

The point is we don’t really get perspective on what’s close to us until we spend time away from it. Just like you didn’t realize the weird quirks and nuances of your family until you left and spent time with others, the same is true for country and culture. You often don’t see what’s messed up about your country and culture until you step outside of it.

And so even though this article is going to come across as fairly scathing, I want my American readers to know: some of the stuff we do, some of the stuff that we always assumed was normal, it’s kind of screwed up. And that’s OK. Because that’s true with every culture. It’s just easier to spot it in others (i.e., the French) so we don’t always notice it in ourselves.

So as you read this article, know that I’m saying everything with tough love, the same tough love with which I’d sit down and lecture an alcoholic family member. It doesn’t mean I don’t love you. It doesn’t mean there aren’t some awesome things about you (BRO, THAT’S AWESOME!!!). And it doesn’t mean I’m some saint either, because god knows I’m pretty screwed up (I’m American, after all). There are just a few things you need to hear. And as a friend, I’m going to tell them to you.

And to my foreign readers, get your necks ready, because this is going to be a nod-a-thon.

A Little “What The Hell Does This Guy Know?” Background: I’ve lived in different parts of the US, both the deep south and the northeast. I have visited most of the US’s 50 states. I’ve spent the past three years living almost entirely outside of the United States. I’ve lived in multiple countries in Europe, Asia and South America. I’ve visited over 40 countries in all and have spent far more time with non-Americans than with Americans during this period. I speak multiple languages. I’m not a tourist. I don’t stay in resorts and rarely stay in hostels. I rent apartments and try to integrate myself into each country I visit as much as possible. So there.

(Note: I realize these are generalizations and I realize there are always exceptions. I get it. You don’t have to post 55 comments telling me that you and your best friend are exceptions. If you really get that offended from some guy’s blog post, you may want to double-check your life priorities.)

OK, we’re ready now. 10 things Americans don’t know about America.

1. Few People Are Impressed By Us

Unless you’re speaking with a real estate agent or a prostitute, chances are they’re not going to be excited that you’re American. It’s not some badge of honor we get to parade around. Yes, we had Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison, but unless you actuallyare Steve Jobs or Thomas Edison (which is unlikely) then most people around the world are simply not going to care. There are exceptions of course. And those exceptions are called English and Australian people. Whoopdie-fucking-doo.

As Americans, we’re brought up our entire lives being taught that we’re the best, we did everything first and that the rest of the world follows our lead. Not only is this not true, but people get irritated when you bring it to their country with you. So don’t.

2. Few People Hate Us

Despite the occasional eye-rolling, and complete inability to understand why anyone would vote for George W. Bush, people from other countries don’t hate us either. In fact — and I know this is a really sobering realization for us — most people in the world don’t really think about us or care about us. I know, that sounds absurd, especially with CNN and Fox News showing the same 20 angry Arab men on repeat for ten years straight. But unless we’re invading someone’s country or threatening to invade someone’s country (which is likely), then there’s a 99.99% chance they don’t care about us. Just like we rarely think about the people in Bolivia or Mongolia, most people don’t think about us much. They have jobs, kids, house payments — you know, those things called lives — to worry about. Kind of like us.

Americans tend to assume that the rest of the world either loves us or hates us (this is actually a good litmus test to tell if someone is conservative or liberal). The fact is, most people feel neither. Most people don’t think much about us.

Remember that immature girl in high school, who every little thing that happened to her meant that someone either hated her or was obsessed with her; who thought every teacher who ever gave her a bad grade was being totally unfair and everything good that happened to her was because of how amazing she was? Yeah, we’re that immature high school girl.

3. We Know Nothing About The Rest Of The World

For all of our talk about being global leaders and how everyone follows us, we don’t seem to know much about our supposed “followers.” Here were some brain-stumpers for me: the Vietnamese believe the Vietnam War was about China (not us), Hitler was primarily defeated by Russia (not us), Native Americans were wiped out by a plague (not us), and the American Revolution was “won” because the British cared more about beating France (not us). Notice a running theme here?

(Hint: It’s not all about us.)

We did not invent democracy. We didn’t even invent modern democracy. There were parliamentary systems in England and other parts of Europe over a hundred years before we created government. In a recent survey of young Americans, 63% could not find Iraq on a map (despite being at war with them), and 54% did not know Sudan was a country in Africa. Yet, somehow we’re positive that everyone else looks up to us.

4. We Are Poor At Expressing Gratitude And Affection

There’s a saying about English-speakers. We say “Go fuck yourself,” when we really mean “I like you,” and we say “I like you,” when we really mean “Go fuck yourself.”

Outside of getting shit-housed drunk and screaming “I LOVE YOU, MAN!”, open displays of affection in American culture are tepid and rare. Latin and some European cultures describe us as “cold” and “passionless” and for good reason. In our social lives we don’t say what we mean and we don’t mean what we say.

In our culture, appreciation and affection are implied rather than spoken outright. Two guy friends call each other names to reinforce their friendship; men and women tease and make fun of each other to imply interest. Feelings are almost never shared openly and freely. Consumer culture has cheapened our language of gratitude. Something like, “It’s so good to see you” is empty now because it’s expected and heard from everybody.

In dating, when I find a woman attractive, I almost always walk right up to her and tell her that a) I wanted to meet her, and b) she’s beautiful. In America, women usually get incredibly nervous and confused when I do this. They’ll make jokes to defuse the situation or sometimes ask me if I’m part of a TV show or something playing a prank. Even when they’re interested and go on dates with me, they get a bit disoriented when I’m so blunt with my interest. Whereas, in almost every other culture approaching women this way is met with a confident smile and a “Thank you.”

5. The Quality of Life For The Average American Is Not That Great

If you’re extremely talented or intelligent, the US is probably the best place in the world to live. The system is stacked heavily to allow people of talent and advantage to rise to the top quickly.

The problem with the US is that everyone thinks they are of talent and advantage. As John Steinbeck famously said, the problem with poor Americans is that “they don’t believe they’re poor, but rather temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” It’s this culture of self-delusion that allows America to continue to innovate and churn out new industry more than anyone else in the world. But this shared delusion also unfortunately keeps perpetuating large social inequalities and the quality of life for the average citizen lower than most other developed countries. It’s the price we pay to maintain our growth and economic dominance.

In my Guide to Wealth, I defined being wealthy as, “Having the freedom to maximize one’s life experiences.” In those terms, despite the average American having more material wealth than citizens of most other countries (more cars, bigger houses, nicer televisions), their overall quality of life suffers in my opinion. American people on average work more hours with less vacation, spend more time commuting every day, and are saddled with over $10,000 of debt. That’s a lot of time spent working and buying crap and little time or disposable income for relationships, activities or new experiences.

6. The Rest Of The World Is Not A Slum-Ridden Shithole Compared To Us

In 2010, I got into a taxi in Bangkok to take me to a new six-story cineplex. It was accessible by metro, but I chose a taxi instead. On the seat in front of me was a sign with a wifi password. Wait, what? I asked the driver if he had wifi in his taxi. He flashed a huge smile. The squat Thai man, with his pidgin English, explained that he had installed it himself. He then turned on his new sound system and disco lights. His taxi instantly became a cheesy nightclub on wheels… with free wifi.

If there’s one constant in my travels over the past three years, it has been that almost every place I’ve visited (especially in Asia and South America) is much nicer and safer than I expected it to be. Singapore is pristine. Hong Kong makes Manhattan look like a suburb. My neighborhood in Colombia is nicer than the one I lived in in Boston (and cheaper).

As Americans, we have this naïve assumption that people all over the world are struggling and way behind us. They’re not. Sweden and South Korea have more advanced high speed internet networks. Japan has the most advanced trains and transportation systems. Norwegians make more money. The biggest and most advanced plane in the world is flown out of Singapore. The tallest buildings in the world are now in Dubai and Shanghai. Meanwhile, the US has the highest incarceration rate in the world.

What’s so surprising about the world is how unsurprising most of it is. I spent a week with some local guys in Cambodia. You know what their biggest concerns were? Paying for school, getting to work on time, and what their friends were saying about them. In Brazil, people have debt problems, hate getting stuck in traffic and complain about their overbearing mothers. Every country thinks they have the worst drivers. Every country thinks their weather is unpredictable. The world becomes, err… predictable.

7. We’re Paranoid

Not only are we emotionally insecure as a culture, but I’ve come to realize how paranoid we are about our physical security. You don’t have to watch Fox News or CNN for more than 10 minutes to hear about how our drinking water is going to kill us, our neighbor is going to rape our children, some terrorist in Yemen is going to kill us because we didn’t torture him, Mexicans are going to kill us, or some virus from a bird is going to kill us. There’s a reason we have more guns than people.

In the US, security trumps everything, even liberty. We’re paranoid.

I’ve probably been to 10 countries now that friends and family back home told me explicitly not to go because someone was going to kill me, kidnap me, stab me, rob me, rape me, sell me into sex trade, give me HIV, or whatever else. None of that has happened. I’ve never been robbed and I’ve walked through some of the shittiest parts of Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe.

In fact, the experience has been the opposite. In countries like Russia, Colombia or Guatemala, people were so friendly it actually scared me. Some stranger in a bar would invite me to his house for a bar-b-que with his family, a random person on the street would offer to show me around and give me directions to a store I was trying to find. My American instincts were always that, “Wait, this guy is going to try to rob me or kill me,” but they never did. They were just insanely friendly.

8. We’re Status-Obsessed And Seek Attention

I’ve noticed that the way we Americans communicate is usually designed to create a lot of attention and hype. Again, I think this is a product of our consumer culture: the belief that something isn’t worthwhile or important unless it’s perceived to be the best (BEST EVER!!!) or unless it gets a lot of attention (see: every reality-television show ever made).

This is why Americans have a peculiar habit of thinking everything is “totally awesome,” and even the most mundane activities were “the best thing ever!” It’s the unconscious drive we share for importance and significance, this unmentioned belief, socially beaten into us since birth that if we’re not the best at something, then we don’t matter.

We’re status-obsessed. Our culture is built around achievement, production and being exceptional. Therefore comparing ourselves and attempting to out-do one another has infiltrated our social relationships as well. Who can slam the most beers first? Who can get reservations at the best restaurant? Who knows the promoter to the club? Who dated a girl on the cheerleading squad? Socializing becomes objectified and turned into a competition. And if you’re not winning, the implication is that you are not important and no one will like you.

9. We Are Very Unhealthy

Unless you have cancer or something equally dire, the health care system in the US sucks. The World Health Organization ranked the 37th in the world for health care, despite the fact that we spend the most per capita by a large margin.

The hospitals are nicer in Asia (with European-educated doctors and nurses) and cost a tenth as much. Something as routine as a vaccination costs multiple hundreds of dollars in the US and less than $10 in Colombia. And before you make fun of Colombian hospitals, Colombia is 28th in the world on that WHO list, nine spots higher than us.

A routine STD test that can run you over $200 in the US is free in many countries to anyone, citizen or not. My health insurance the past year? $65 a month. Why? Because I live outside of the US. An American guy I met living in Buenos Aires got knee surgery on his ACL that would have cost $10,000 in the US… for free.

But this isn’t really getting into the real problems of our health. Our food is killing us. I’m not going to go crazy with the details, but we eat chemically-laced crap because it’s cheaper and tastes better (profit, profit). Our portion sizes are absurd (more profit). And we’re by far the most prescribed nation in the world AND our drugs cost five to ten times more than they do even in Canada (ohhhhhhh, profit, you sexy bitch).

In terms of life expectancy, despite being the richest country in the world, we come in a paltry 38th. Right behind Cuba, Malta and the United Arab Emirates, and slightly ahead of Slovenia, Kuwait and Uruguay. Enjoy your Big Mac.

10. We Mistake Comfort For Happiness

The United States is a country built on the exaltation of economic growth and personal ingenuity. Small businesses and constant growth are celebrated and supported above all else — above affordable health care, above respectable education, above everything. Americans believe it’s your responsibility to take care of yourself and make something of yourself, not the state’s, not your community’s, not even your friend’s or family’s in some instances.

Comfort sells easier than happiness. Comfort is easy. It requires no effort and no work. Happiness takes effort. It requires being proactive, confronting fears, facing difficult situations, and having unpleasant conversations.

Comfort equals sales. We’ve been sold comfort for generations and for generations we bought: bigger houses, separated further and further out into the suburbs; bigger TV’s, more movies, and take-out. The American public is becoming docile and complacent. We’re obese and entitled. When we travel, we look for giant hotels that will insulate us and pamper us rather than for legitimate cultural experiences that may challenge our perspectives or help us grow as individuals.

Depression and anxiety disorders are soaring within the US. Our inability to confront anything unpleasant around us has not only created a national sense of entitlement, but it’s disconnected us from what actually drives happiness: relationships, unique experiences, feeling self-validated, achieving personal goals. It’s easier to watch a NASCAR race on television and tweet about it than to actually get out and try something new with a friend.

Unfortunately, a by-product of our massive commercial success is that we’re able to avoid the necessary emotional struggles of life in lieu of easy superficial pleasures.

*********************

Throughout history, every dominant civilization eventually collapsed because it became TOO successful. What made it powerful and unique grows out of proportion and consumes its society. I think this is true for American society. We’re complacent, entitled and unhealthy. My generation is the first generation of Americans who will be worse off than their parents, economically, physically and emotionally. And this is not due to a lack of resources, to a lack of education or to a lack of ingenuity. It’s corruption and complacency. The corruption from the massive industries that control our government’s policies, and the fat complacency of the people to sit around and let it happen.

There are things I love about my country. I don’t hate the US and I still return to it a few times a year. But I think the greatest flaw of American culture is our blind self-absorption. In the past it only hurt other countries. But now it’s starting to hurt ourselves.

So this is my lecture to my alcoholic brother — my own flavor of arrogance and self-absorption, even if slightly more informed — in hopes he’ll give up his wayward ways. I imagine it’ll fall on deaf ears, but it’s the most I can do for now. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some funny cat pictures to look at.

Governmental Molecular Analysis of U.S. Citizens

Standard

Hidden Government Scanners Will Instantly Know Everything About You From 164 Feet Away

Written by Anonymous (taken from http://gizmodo.com/5923980/the-secret-government-laser-that-instantly-knows-everything-about-you)

Within the next year or two, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will instantly know everything about your body, clothes, and luggage with a new laser-based molecular scanner fired from 164 feet (50 meters) away. From traces of drugs or gun powder on your clothes to what you had for breakfast to the adrenaline level in your body—agents will be able to get any information they want without even touching you.

And without you knowing it.

The technology is so incredibly effective that, in November 2011, its inventors were subcontracted by In-Q-Tel to work with the US Department of Homeland Security. In-Q-Tel is a company founded ” in February 1999 by a group of private citizens at the request of the Director of the CIA and with the support of the U.S. Congress.” According to In-Q-Tel, they are the bridge between the Agency and new technology companies.

Their plan is to install this molecular-level scanning in airports and border crossings all across the United States. The official, stated goal of this arrangement is to be able to quickly identify explosives, dangerous chemicals, or bioweapons at a distance.

The machine is ten million times faster—and one million times more sensitive—than any currently available system. That means that it can be used systematically on everyone passing through airport security, not just suspect or randomly sampled people.

Analyzing everything in real time

But the machine can sniff out a lot more than just explosives, chemicals and bioweapons. The company that invented it, Genia Photonics, says that its laser scanner technology is able to “penetrate clothing and many other organic materials and offers spectroscopic information, especially for materials that impact safety such as explosives and pharmacological substances.”

Formed in Montreal in 2009 by PhDs with specialties in lasers and fiber optics, Genia Photonics has 30 patents on this technology, claiming incredible biomedical and industrial applications—from identifying individual cancer cells in a real-time scan of a patient, to detecting trace amounts of harmful chemicals in sensitive manufacturing processes.

Above: The Genia Photonics’ Picosecond Programmable Laser scanner is capable of detecting every tiny trace of any substance on your body, from specks of gunpowder to your adrenaline levels to a sugar-sized grain of cannabis to what you had for breakfast.Meanwhile, In-Q-Tel states that “an important benefit of Genia Photonics’ implementation as compared to existing solutions is that the entire synchronized laser system is comprised in a single, robust and alignment-free unit that may be easily transported for use in many environments… This compact and robust laser has the ability to rapidly sweep wavelengths in any pattern and sequence.”

So not only can they scan everyone. They would be able to do it everywhere: the subway, a traffic light, sports events… everywhere.

How does it work?

The machine is a mobile, rack-mountable system. It fires a laser to provide molecular-level feedback at distances of up to 50 meters in just picoseconds. For all intents and purposes, that means instantly.

The small, inconspicuous machine is attached to a computer running a program that will show the information in real time, from trace amounts of cocaine on your dollar bills to gunpowder residue on your shoes. Forget trying to sneak a bottle of water past security—they will be able to tell what you had for breakfast in an instant while you’re walking down the hallway.

The technology is not new, it’s just millions times faster and more convenient than ever before. Back in 2008, a team at George Washington University developed a similar laser spectrometer using a different process. It could sense drug metabolites in urine in less than a second, trace amounts of explosive residue on a dollar bill, and even certain chemical changes happening in a plant leaf.

And the Russians also have a similar technology: announced last April, their “laser sensor can pick up on a single molecule in a million from up to 50 meters away.”

So if Genia Photonics’ claims pan out, this will be an incredible leap forward in terms of speed, portability, and convenience. One with staggering implications.

Observation without limits

There has so far been no discussion about the personal rights and privacy issues involved. Which “molecular tags” will they be scanning for? Who determines them? What are the threshold levels of this scanning? If you unknowingly stepped on the butt of someone’s joint and are carrying a sugar-sized grain of cannabis like that unfortunate travler currently in jail in Dubai, will you be arrested?

And, since it’s extremely portable, will this technology extend beyone the airport or border crossings and into police cars, with officers looking for people on the street with increased levels of adrenaline in their system to detain in order to prevent potential violent outbursts? And will your car be scanned at stoplights for any trace amounts of suspicious substances? Would all this information be recorded anywhere?

Hidden Government Scanners Will Instantly Know Everything About You From 164 Feet Away
Above: A page from a Genia Photonics paper describing its ability to even penetrate through clothing.

There are a lot of questions with no answer yet, but it’s obvious that the potential level of personal invasion of this technology goes far beyond that of body scans, wiretaps, and GPS tracking.

The end of privacy coming soon

According to the undersecretary for science and technology of the Department of Homeland Security, this scanning technology will be ready within one to two years, which means you might start seeing them in airports as soon as 2013.

In other words, these portable, incredibly precise molecular-level scanning devices will be cascading lasers across your body as you walk from the bathroom to the soda machine at the airport and instantly reporting and storing a detailed breakdown of your person, in search of certain “molecular tags”.

Going well beyond eavesdropping, it seems quite possible that U.S. government plans on recording molecular data on travelers without their consent, or even knowledge that it’s possible—a scary thought. While the medical uses could revolutionize the way doctors diagnose illness, and any technology that could replace an aggressive pat-down is tempting, there’s a potential dark side to this implementation, and we need to shine some light on it before it’s implemented.

———————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Absolutely terrifying. The government could never possess the Eye of God but at least it’s giving it its very best effort. Time to move to a less developed country.

The National Anthem of PMW

Standard

One for the money,
Two for the motherfuckin haters keep my name in the game.
I’m screaming, “Fuck the world!”
I keep three bad bitches for all my ni**as,
Wave your fingers if you’re feelin the same.
I’m screaming, “Fuck the world!”

For those of you that are reading this and don’t know me (which I suspect is still a terribly small number of people), I’m a huge fan of rap music. As I’ve gained some clarity into my personal interests and potential life goals over the past couple of years I’ve been forced to the realization of how different what I’m seeking is from what most rappers are after, as well as how different the methods of obtaining each of our particular forms of success are. This might sound like a semi-ridiculous statement, given the tremendously different life circumstances that I face from most of the people that make the music I listen to, but I believe that a lot of what rappers aspire to is a reflection, albeit in a somewhat distorted mirror, of the larger culture of the United States in which it emerged.

In what is perhaps Lil Wayne’s greatest love song (and maybe even one of the greatest of all time), the rapper professes his love for the object of desire by saying, “I love her like pussy, money, weed (PMW).” For Wayne, this seems to be the highest possible expression of his love, placing this girl on the same level as the three great pursuits of his life: pussy, money, and weed. At first glance, this probably seems remarkably crass to most people. However, this trifecta, which should arguably include recognition too (though that doesn’t seem to roll quite off the tongue as smoothly as PMW) , seems not only to be highly desirous among rappers but among the American population at large. Cam’ron seems to capture these aspirations equally well in his call and response chorus of “What Means the World to You”:

What means the world to you? My money, my doe, my hoes, my clothes.
What means the world to you? My money, my doe, my hair, my nails.
What means the world to you? Some sex, some mex, and a little bit of head, rah.
What means the world to you? Sex is sweet wit a cat who eat.
What means the world to you? Lots of cheese, shopping sprees.
What means the world to you? Diamond rings, shinin things.

As Big K.R.I.T. puts it, “A rapper’s only as big as his chain; the flashier the better.”


(I could have picked literally any rap video ever made to get the same point across.)

I have to imagine at least one person reading this cringed at that last paragraph because it seems to be an unimaginably and unnecessarily blunt way of stating the issue, but I believe that some unpacking of the terms might help. Pussy, a.k.a. women, certainly seems to be a goal for most people. While for most women this would obviously apply in the reverse and refer to men, a life aspiration of many people seems to be to find a spouse with whom they can settle down and raise a family. That money would make the list of “things Americans want” should almost go without saying: living in preeminently capitalist society has ensured that we all want more money and more material things than we currently have. As to the final piece of the PMW puzzle, the notion needs to be expanded a bit. If not weed then another vice chosen from the plethora of other external substances, including prescription drugs, alcohol, and even television, supplements the lifestyle of the average American, merely to help one get through each day. Why people indulge in these substances is a deeply complex issue but I think it can be boiled down, along with the rest of PMW, into what people seem to be implicitly assuming, but never actually explicitly stating, each of these things will bring them: genuine and sustainable happiness. By seeking happiness through purely external means, PMW fails to help one achieve a true sense of satisfaction that can be divorced from things beyond oneself.

Breaking the components down should make it pretty clear why none of these things have the capacity to bring happiness in and of themselves. Drugs obviously don’t bring lasting happiness or addiction wouldn’t be such a large concern. All they serve to do is help remove the individual from the reality in which happiness is not yet achieved. Certainly money and material comforts are necessary to a certain extent to have the capacity to achieve genuine happiness, as Maslow points out, but to a far lesser extent than most people of consumption cultures seem to realize. The pursuit of material wealth is endless and a hunger that will never be satiated without the proper internal state. As for women, Darwin clearly demonstrated that it is our biological imperative to reproduce. But that doesn’t mean it is the key to happiness. It can certainly contribute to happiness but, as with money, one’s internal state is crucial and a relationship can’t instantly patch up any and all flaws in ones outlook on life: “The purpose of love should not be to find another to complete oneself but to find another with whom you can share your completeness.” It seems that very few people are concerned with taking direct action to obtain happiness, but rather become preoccupied with means that they believe will ultimately lead to the end goal of happiness. This is symptomatic of buying into the religion of Inevitable Progress with it’s strong belief that perfection is always something to be obtained in the future but never at this very moment. Lasting happiness is constantly kept at arms reach as one is perpetually assured that one more dose of PMW will do the trick.

The ways by which people choose to pursue PMW generally only serve to push one further away from genuine happiness. Due in large part to the Enlightenment thinkers but also an incomprehensible number of other factors that I’m still working to trace back, people have a very particular idea of themselves as being autonomous agents, working relatively independently to achieve one’s goals. It seems that many people take pride in their successes not merely because they were achieved without the help of others, but actually because they were obtained in spite of others that might have acted as hindrances. The lyrics I wrote at the top of this post come from Freddie Gibb’s song “National Anthem (Fuck the World)”, and seem to reflect this all too common idea. It’s fair to say that this mentality may manifest itself more strongly in rap music than other spheres of American culture, given that it emerged in an ethnic and cultural minority that has been oppressed politically, socially, and economically for its entire history in this country, but I believe the point still holds within the larger American consciousness.

All of this seems to point to the larger idea that I brought up when discussing the ways in which we need to redefine success.  By holding on to our current ideas of what it means to be successful (i.e. obtaining maximum PMW), we miss out on much of what lies behind these desires. By restricting ourselves to egocentric methods in pursuit of these goals, we only further hinder our progress on the path to happiness. As a culture, we need a massive reevaluation of what it is we really want out of life and hope to accomplish on this earth. However, that can only occur if each individual takes the chance to reflect on those things for themselves. And while there are many resources out there to help aid in this introspection, it is an endeavor on which the individual must choose to embark on for themselves, stirring what lies within on to great things.

Mirrors

Standard

I, who felt the horrors of mirrors
Not only in front of the impenetrable crystal
Where there ends and begins, uninhabitable,
An impossible space of reflections,

But of gazing even on water that mimics
The other blue in its depth of sky,
That at times gleams back the illusory flight
Of the inverted bird, or that ripples,

And in front of the silent surface
Of subtle ebony whose polish shows
Like a repeating dream the white
Of something marble or something rose,

Today at the tip of so many and perplexing
Wandering years under the varying moon,
I ask myself what whim of fate
Made me so fearful of a glancing mirror.

Mirrors in metal, and the masked
Mirror of mahogany that in its mist
Of a red twilight hazes
The face that is gazed on as it gazes,

I see them as infinite, elemental
Executors of an ancient pact,
To multiply the world like the act
Of begetting. Sleepless. Bringing doom.

They prolong this hollow, unstable world
In their dizzying spider’s-web;
Sometimes in the afternoon they are blurred
By the breath of a man who is not dead.

The crystal spies on us. If within the four
Walls of a bedroom a mirror stares,
I’m no longer alone. There is someone there.
In the dawn reflections mutely stage a show.

Everything happens and nothing is recorded
In these rooms of the looking glass,
Where, magicked into rabbis, we
Now read the books from right to left.

Claudius, king of an afternoon, a dreaming king,
Did not feel it a dream until that day
When an actor shewed the world his crime
In a tableau, silently in mime.

It is a strange dream, and to have mirrors
Where the commonplace, worn-out repertory
Of every day may include the illusory
Profound globe that reflections scheme.

God (I keep thinking) has taken pains
To design that ungraspable architecture
Reared by every dawn from the gleam
Of a mirror, by darkness from a dream.

God has created nighttime, which he arms
With dreams, and mirrors, to make clear
To man he is a reflection and a mere
Vanity. Therefore these alarms.

-Jorge Luis Borges

All art credit to Josiah McElheny

Finding the Flow

Standard

On Friday morning I turned off my cell phone, left it in my car, and hopped on a ferry to Vinalhaven, a small island off the coast of Maine, for the weekend. After a difficult week of acclimating from traveling independently in Northern India to living at home while working and attending night classes some perspective was much needed: a point outside of the point to get some reference of where I’ve been standing the past week. Disconnecting from the Internet and my phone, rock climbing and swimming in a quarry, kayaking to and exploring some heavily wooded islands, eating a home-cooked meal of lobsters pulled out of the ocean only an hour earlier, and heading out to sea on a skiff to catch the most incredible sunset I’ve ever seen definitely provided me with that expanded reference point.

My friend, Davis, living in the flow

(photo credit to Jenny He)

I was talking with a lobsterman about people that spend all their time traveling from music festival to music festival, never ever really leaving that world. They become trapped in a very specific perception of reality, one that doesn’t mesh with nearly any other perspective, which is incredibly dangerous and detrimental to their personal development. In a way, that’s what I have been doing when I’ve reflected on my India experience since I’ve been home. I’ve been fixated on an idealized experience, one that isn’t simply transferable to any other country or its peoples. It was what it was for me exactly because of what it is, and not because it was anything else (that sentence made a lot more sense in my mind than typed out, but I still think it gets the gist of what I mean.) My life in India and my life in New England are both grounded in the same reality (as far as I know) and are both equally real (again, as far as I know), but the circumstances afforded to me in each situation allow me to live each reality in a extremely different ways. I was living by a particular flow of life in India, one that suited me immensely, but one that is ultimately only one manifestation of the greatest flow.

As the Universe, in the final analysis, is composed at the most basic level of energy, all of life is part of the flow of this energetic stream. Everything that occurs across this globe is within that current of energy, but it manifests itself in drastically different ways depending on an innumerable number of factors. It’s always the same underlying flow, but because it can appear in so many different ways it is often difficult to identify and abide in. When I was in India, I had a remarkably easy time of finding the flow and life seemed to come more easily than it ever had before. I’ve had a tough time adjusting to being back where I’ve found tapping into the flow to be far more difficult, often resisting it and getting lashed around by in response.

I went sailing for the first time this weekend since I was 7 or 8 years old, and found that the lessons of the flow were really driven home in a deeply experiential way. By working with the wind and allowing it to move me about, getting from point A to point B was far easier than if I had tried to be the focal point of the activity and act with resistance. On a similar note, when I was practicing spinning poi one night my friend Davis told me not to move the poi around me, but to move myself around the poi. In cases such as that, immersion in the flow is particularly evident, but the idea is equally applicable to all walks of life. One has the capacity to position oneself properly, but after that the energetic flow can take over and guide and direct one’s thoughts, words, and actions. Control can safely be released, which is an idea that is initially quite terrifying but ultimately proves to produce a life of minimal hindrances, psychological or otherwise.

So as I acclimate to my time back in New England, I have to work to find the flow that exists here too. It may seem exceedingly arduous at times, often hidden beneath an innumerable number of systems and mechanisms that might disguise that it even exists, but it is there to be discovered. It is the flow that produced me and within which I developed for 18 years and once it’s existence it truly recognized and appreciated, it is always there to be fully surrendered to and act as a guide through all obstacles. We are all in this flow together, whether we like or not, and are all at vastly different levels of realization regarding its existence. No man can judge any other man’s external appearances and actions because no one can ever truly know the experience that another is having within the flow. People have very different goals and are looking for extremely different things, but one should never belittle an aspiration, however misguided it might seem as the reality of another’s circumstances can never be known. All that can be done is to always approach the world with openness and a willingness to direct others to the flow when the opportunity arises.

This could potentially be an appropriate place for me to go off on a tangent about how this flow is always giving us exactly what we need at every possible moment and how most of us just don’t realize that which causes us endless problems, but I’ll save that for another day and another post.

A Parable on Nature

Standard

The ruler of the Southern Ocean was Shu, and the ruler of the Northern Ocean was Hu, and the ruler of the Center was Chaos. Shu and Hu were continually meeting in the land of Chaos, who treated them very well. They consulted together how they might repay his kindness, and said: “Men all have seven orifices for the purpose of seeing, hearing, eating and breathing, while this ruler alone has not a single one. Let us try to make them for him.” Accordingly they dug one orifice in him every day. At the end of the seven days Chaos died.

Re-visioning the Eye of God: On the Disciplinary Society’s Will to Omniscience

Standard

In his interrogation of disciplinary society in Discipline & Punish, Michel Foucault comments on the common Western belief that, “Every detail is important since, in the sight of God, no immensity is greater than a detail” (Foucault, 1977, 140). This notion of the eye of God, the eye that can see all, as particularly concerned with minutiae is central to the development of Western culture and social practice. As Foucault reveals throughout his explication, this will to omniscience is attempted through the discipline of the masses by both physical and psychological division and categorization. However, these means by which Western disciplinary society seeks to possess the eye of God inherently prevents it from seeing all. Rather, Emerson’s concept of the transparent eye provides a more useful blueprint for how man may not only obtain the eye of God, but how he may ultimately become it.

While this essay sadly lacks the scope to properly examine the ways in which the literal and symbolic sun figures into the Western conception of the eye of God, a brief mention seems necessary given the ubiquity of associations between the sun, God, and vision. The preoccupation with these symbols suggests that the Western approach to possessing the eye of God both consciously and unconsciously emulates the sun’s manner of revealing the world: its light reveals distinctions between objects, visually defining each object’s particular form and identity. However, the sun’s light is unable to shine upon everything, suggesting that the sun’s illuminating vision might not truly illuminate all. The West, however, seems to find great merit in this method of achieving omniscience, as will be seen in its imitating means of achieving the same ends.

Before delving more deeply into the matter of how Western society seeks to possess the eye of God, it will prove useful to begin with the question of “why?” Why is it that an entire society strives towards omniscience? The answer lies deeply rooted in our most basic survival instincts: man fears the unknown. As creatures thrust into a hostile environment, early man’s best chance at survival was to make sense of his surroundings and act accordingly. Although times and circumstances may have changed, man is still the intensely curious being that he was in infancy, constantly desirous of knowledge to help make sense of the world. When large groups of men that share these concerns come together the ensuing results are “all the spiritual shelters [that] man puts between himself and the uncertain cosmic weather” (Mumford, 1926, 151). From the Western perspective, it is through these structures that man might see all and ultimately establish dominion over Earth and the chaos that seemingly reigns. The will to omniscience, then, is not merely about seeing all, but about what that perfect sight enables: power. By developing the perfect eye, that which sees all without been seen itself, man strives for omnipotence as well as omniscience, seeking to stretch his influence into the realm of the gods.

This will to omniscience, however, is not that of any particular individual, or even any single institution. As an innately human attribute, this characteristic will doubtlessly manifest itself in the ethos of a culture when a large number of men congregate. In the 1997 film Cube, the character Worth proclaims that the construction of the cube, which serves as a grandly conceived metaphor for society, is not driven by anyone or anything in particular. Rather, “there is no conspiracy. Nobody is in charge…[there is only] infinite human stupidity” (The Cube, 1997). In what follows, I shall explore the cube of Western disciplinary society. While “infinite human stupidity” may be too harsh of a condemnation, this explication seeks to prove that the methods by which the West has sought omniscience are misguided and inherently flawed.

The primary means by which the West has sought to obtain omniscience is through the discipline of the masses, converting unpredictable individuals into normalized, docile subjects. Foucault defines discipline as, “that vast system … comprising the functions of surveillance, normalization, and control and … punishment” (Foucault, 1980, 121). In examining the various institutions to which these disciplinary tactics are extended, including schools, hospitals, barracks, and prisons, it becomes clear that the defining mechanism by which individuals are subjected to discipline is through division, separation, and punishment, occurring on in both the physical and psychological domains. On a material level, this is accomplished through the physical partitioning of individuals, producing a system designed to monitor behavior on an individual level.  Through this act, institutions acquire the ability “to be able at each moment to supervise the conduct of each individual, to assess it, to judge it…It was a procedure, therefore, aimed at knowing, mastering and using” (Foucault, 1977, 143). By physically dispersing people throughout space, it becomes easier to monitor man individually, creating a tremendously efficient analytic system. Additionally, these physical acts of division serve to instill a sense of psychological separation as well. By isolating man from his peers, he is made acutely aware of his individuality and the concrete corporeal boundaries that separate his Self from the world beyond.

This construction of a strengthened egotism is furthered through the institutional hierarchization of individuals. Particularly in the educational and military spheres, a strong emphasis is put on classifying individuals for competency and adherence to normalcy and rewarding them for such behavior. By being psychologically separated from his peers through this hierarchization, man develops a sense of isolation not only from his material environment, but from his companions in whom he might have previously found fellow feeling as well. Additionally, a reward system conditions people to happily and blindly abide by social norms, creating what is frequently referred to as the herd mentality. This encouragement of adherence to the norm is also supported through the division of time. By making individuals highly aware of time through the use of timetables that segment out the day, rhythm to activities and regulation of cycles of repetition can be established in man. These psychological mechanisms ultimately produce a population that is normalized not only within particular disciplinary institutions, but in all aspects of society.

This normalization of society is key to the Western conception of the requirements to obtain omniscience. By establishing the normate, individuals that fit the mold are easily identified and understood, whereas those that defy normalcy starkly stand out, creating an incredibly efficient information gathering system. The chaos of natural man and his motions are mitigated through the institution of order, both on a material and a mental level. Furthermore,

“it was a question both of making the slightest departures from correct behavior subject to punishment, and of giving a punitive function to the apparently indifferent elements of the disciplinary apparatus; each subject find himself caught in a punishable, punishing universality” (Foucault, 1977, 178).

By normalizing what is acceptable, the disciplinary society is then able to easily spot any abnormalities and, consequently, determine what new information must be treated. As with the initial act of segmentation, this disciplinary behavior is evident through both physical and psychological punishment. In regards to taking physical disciplinary measures, the United States’ foreign policy serves as a remarkable exemplar of defining a norm to which others are expected to abide and punishing those who stray from that norm. Although this specific type of behavior is hardly evident in the acts of all Western nations, the United States stands as a particularly useful example due to its crystallization and cherishing of so many central Western values. Bacevich notes that the U.S. sought to establish an international system founded on the ideals of democratic capitalism, “with the United States as the ultimate guarantor of order and enforcer of norms” (Bacevich, 2002, 3). This is achieved by means of what the U.S. Military has coined “full spectrum dominance” (Joint Vision 2020, 6). By segmenting and identifying the various fields in which threats may rise (land, air, sea, space, and one might now add ‘information’), the military can declare complete dominance over all of them, further displaying its will to omniscience. By exerting its power in each of these domains, the U.S. is capable of regulating any deviations from the normalized system of democratic capitalism.

In addition to such cases of outright discipline of abnormality, punishment takes place on a far more subtle level in our daily social arena. Stigmatization and the attraction of stares are particularly evident ways in which this form of discipline manifests in daily life. Thomson believes that, “human stigmata function as social dirt” (Thomson, 1997, 33), which serves as a way of identifying deviations from the normate. The deviants then receive the stares of those who consider themselves to be normal, inflicting social punishment and highlighting the staree’s individual status. Additionally, Thomson comments that, “Stigmatization…reinforces [the dominant group’s] idealized self-description as neutral, normal, legitimate, and identifiable by denigrating the characteristics of less powerful groups or those considered alien” (Thomson, 1997, 31). Through the stare, the world is sharply dichotomized into normal and abnormal. Significantly, one will be hard pressed to define the normate without considering the abnormal, leading Thomson to the conclusion that the normate is no more than a complex of oppositions in which “the margin constitutes the center” (Thomson, 1997, 5). This dichotomization of normal and abnormal is not merely an act of classifying people, objects, and events, but of dividing and ordering thought itself.

This evident dichotomization gets to the heart of why this type of disciplinary society might appear to be able to possess the eye of God, as well as why the attempt is doomed to fail. By dichotomizing thought into a series of opposing symbols (normal vs. abnormal, Self vs. not Self, etc.), individuals’ reality is strictly ordered, causing the world to appear quite clearly divided: “What is visible to us…is made so by the set of conventions with which we look at the world and by which we determine what is worthy of our attention” (Thomas, 1999, 119). While this selective vision is an innately human characteristic required to operate in a world of near infinite visual stimuli, the disciplinary society institutionalizes this natural instinct, segmenting reality to the maximally productive extent. Every object may be individually observed and disciplined if necessary. As individuals internalize this dichotomization of normal and abnormal, they become capable of identifying deviancy and punishing it through stares and social pressure. In this sense, the conditioned individual becomes a component in the larger eye of God, perpetually monitoring all.

However, as complete as this endeavor may seem, it overlooks one crucial aspect. By dividing up the whole and focusing on the individual pieces, one loses sight of both what lies in the interstices of the parts, as well as their gestalt. There is surely a vast amount of information to be gained from segmenting and normalizing society, but the attempt must ultimately be a failed one. By defining strict categories and encouraging physical and psychological adherence, one is only able to see what has been explicitly conditioned for observation. That which falls in between the cracks of the dichotomies disappears and goes unaccounted for by the eye that is supposed to see all. In speaking on the Parisian police department, Dupin, Poe’s famous detective, reflects that,

“He might see, perhaps, one or two points with unusual clearness, but in so doing he, necessarily, lost sight of the matter as a whole…and it is possible to make even Venus herself vanish from the firmament by a scrutiny too sustained, too concentrated, or too direct” (Poe, 1841).

This description serves not merely as a critique of the Parisian detectives, but also of the Western pursuit of omniscience. By excessively focusing on the divided minutiae, the will to omniscience will surely falter before it reaches its goal.

Speaking on this very method of approaching the world, Emerson remarks that, “Our servitude to particulars betrays into a hundred foolish expectations…It is a symbol of our modern aims and endeavors, of our condensation and acceleration of objects; -but nothing is gained” (Emerson, 1844). Society constantly comes up with new ways to redefine and reinvents its methods, yet the core ideology remains the same. Rather, one might take a page from the book of the Transcendentalists and consider alternate means by which the will to omniscience might be satiated. Instead of dividing up the world and separating oneself from the object of observation, Emerson suggests a radically different method of achieving the eye of God: “Standing on the bare ground…all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God” (Emerson, 1836). The crux of this ideological approach lies in Emerson’s claim, “I am nothing, I see all,” and what follows will be a dissection and explication of this core concept.

The origin of this idea of eliminating the ego in pursuit of absolute knowledge can hardly be attributed to the Transcendentalists. Whether through fana, moksha, kevala, or any other label given to the annihilation of the Self and absorption into the Ultimate, religious traditions around the world have pursued this goal for millennia. Whether through severe physical austerities, vast professions of faith and love, or any number of other techniques, practioners often claim experiences of abiding in the undercurrents of reality. These types of transcendence are commonly identified as ecstatic experiences in which intellectualism can only go so far and experience becomes the only guide. This, however, is not the only realm in which egotism may be released and sacrificed to the Absolute.

Emerson and the Transcendentalists pursued this task intellectually through the revaluation of symbols. Within Emerson’s statement, “I am nothing,” one finds the unraveling of all that has been so carefully constructed by disciplinary society: “his central doctrine is the virtue of this intellectual, or cultural, nakedness: the virtue of getting beyond the institution, the habit, the ritual…” (Mumford, 1926, 96). In doing so, the illusory boundaries and false order imposed by society are dissolved. By coming to terms with the thought that “I am nothing,” one also releases all of the thoughts, emotions, and conventions that are associated with the Self. Consequently, one becomes the transparent eyeball, inseparable from the object of observation: the whole of reality.

In this respect, Emerson’s transparent eyeball functions as the eye of God that Western society so fervently strives for. Through identification with and absorption into the whole, nothing can go unnoticed because the observer is united with everything. As the transparent eyeball, one not only sees the gestalt of reality, but the infinite layers of microcosms of the whole that lie within. The subtle relationships that lie between all things are made apparent, freed from the obscurity of meaningless divisions and dichotomies.

Emerson is adamant that this state as the transparent eyeball is achievable only beyond the societal sphere, where one is free to achieve a level of intellectual nakedness beyond that attainable within society. To this end, the poet ventures into nature and the liminality of the wilderness. It is within this liminal sphere on the margins of society that “a man casts off his years…and at what period soever of life, is always a child. In the woods, is perpetual youth” (Emerson, 1836). This renewed youthfulness provides man with a fresh set of eyes to view the world, in which ingrained symbolic associations are deconstructed and everything appears new and numinous. Within the limen, man is free to shed his egotism and enter the eye of God.

This is not to say, however, that the liminality of nature is the only place in which the poet, the man who revalues symbols, does his work. While his encounter with the eye of God may not be so direct while within the confines of society, the figure of the poet finds a number of ways to develop sight beyond that of ordinary men. In its most literal sense, men like Emerson and Thoreau occupy the role of the poet. These poets recognize the inherently makeshift nature of our social institutions, seeking the liminality that exists within the social sphere, and liberating their fellow men from the aesthetic burden of the past. This sentiment is captured particularly well in Emerson’s claim: “I unsettle all things. No facts to me are sacred; none are profane” (Mumford, 1926, 105). Through this unsettling, the Emersonian poet seeks to free man’s mind from its conventions and help him see into the interstices, where much undiscovered knowledge lays to be uncovered.

Another form that the poet takes within society is that of the detective, as demonstrated by Poe’s fictional detective, Dupin. The narrator of The Murders in the Rue Morgue notes that he and Dupin lived in perfect seclusion in Paris, and that the detective was “enamored of the Night for her own sake” (Poe, 1841). Furthermore, Dupin has no association with the Parisian police department, conducting his investigations on his own terms. Before even being familiarized with his incredible ability of ratiocination, readers already begin to view Dupin as a figure of liminality, occupying the space to which most men think not to enter. Through his liminal nature, the detective knows that a complex case is not solved by meticulously observing all of its most apparent parts, but that “the necessary knowledge is that of what to observe” (Poe, 1841). This enables to detective to look beyond the simple facts of the case and the ordinary conclusions that would be drawn and to see into the true nature of the matter. He can see the answers in the areas where they might not ordinarily be found, catching glimpses through the eye of God.

Ultimately, the poet is a man that must operate independently, beyond the webs of significance that society has spun. While he may physically reside within society, his psyche remains free from the conventions that govern the normate. By this very fact, then, any large-scale attempt by Western society to obtain the eye of God is doomed to failure. Any institution or movement operating on a societal level must become entrenched within its own symbols by its very nature if it is to survive. Yet this entrenchment restricts its ability to see beyond its own paradigmatic conventions, limiting it to a sense of omniscience that is ultimately not omniscient at all. Rather, such attempts come face to face not with “the kindly, milk-fed absolute, in which all conflicts are reconciled and all contradictions united into a higher kind of knowledge…[but] the sheer brute energy of the universe, which challenges and checks the spirit of man” (Mumford, 1926).

Bibliography

Bacevich, A. (2002) American empire: The realities and consequences of U.S. diplomacy. Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press.

Foucault, M. (1977). Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison. New York, NY. Vintage Books.

Foucault, M. & Gordon, C. (1980). Power/knowledge: Selected interviews and other writings, 1972-1977. New York, NY. Pantheon Books.

Mumford, L. (1926). The golden day: A study in American experience and Culture. New York, NY. Boni and Liveright.

Natali, V. (Producer). (1997). The cube. [Motion picture]. [With N. de Boer, M. Dean Wint, & D. Hewlett]. Canada: Cineplex-Odeon Films.

Office of Primary Responsibility. (2000). Joint vision 2020. Washington, DC.

Poe, E.A. (1836). Nature.

Poe, E. A. (1844). Essays: Second series. Selection is from the chapter Nature.

Thomas, R. (1999). Detective fiction and the rise of forensic science. Cambridge, England. Cambridge University Press.

Thomson, R. (1997). Extraordinary bodies: Figuring physical disability in American culture and literature. New York, NY. Columbia University Press.

What’s Your Life About? Enlighten Me

Standard

What’s your life about, enlighten me.
Is you gonna live on your knees or die on your feet?
Is you gonna plead the fifth or sound the horn?
The time is now, child, come on.

I’m not on the outside looking in;
I’m not on the inside looking out;
I’m in the dead fucking center, looking around.

#hiipower

Jung on Kundalini: Manipura and Anahata

Standard

Inspired by Jung’s concept of the Shadow

Jung begins his second lecture on the psychology of Kundalini with a discussion of the duality of the human psychology. On the one side is the personal aspect in which all the personal things are the only meaningful things; and on the other side is the impersonal, that which reflects the development of Kundalini and the eternal energy within our being, to which the personal is utterly meaningless and insignificant. It is by nature of these two sides that man has inner conflicts at all for it only by nature of another point of view that one can criticize and judge, recognize and understand: “You must always have a point outside if you want to understand.”

As one discovers this other side of one’s Self and ventures into the unconscious, Jung warns against identifying oneself with it because the collective unconscious is by nature an impersonal identity. He advises one to remain outside, detached, and to observe objectively. Otherwise, one is faced with inflation of the ego and runs the risk of plunging into insanity. That is the main reason that these experiences are kept secret; not because solely because they are intentionally kept secret but because they are entirely unintelligible to the ordinary world. The real secrets are truly secrets because no one understands them.

Jung also makes a strong point of the fact that the convictions of the muladhara world, that of our ordinary reality, are necessary. One must be rational and believe in the definiteness of our world because, otherwise, one becomes detached from muladhara. I initially had some trouble understanding why this was necessarily a problem, since it seems to be the goal in many ways. But we are ultimately bound to this world. There is no getting away from it for us because we must be there as long as we live. To deny the definiteness of the physical reality in which our form is held is merely to live in denial of an inescapable fact of life. One will always be in this world, even while striving to transcend beyond it. So after recognizing the reality of muladhara and proceeding into the svadisthana and getting the first inkling of the unconscious, one next asceneds into manipura.

Manipura: This is the third cakra, “the fullness of jewels” and the fire center. It is the first light that appears after the baptism of svadisthana. Physically, this cakra is located at the solar plexus, lying just below the diaphragm. This is the place at which one emerges from the waters to come toward the sun, toward God, and begins to feel an identification with the divine soul. It is here that one seeks to escape the futility of personal existence and tap into the eternal existence. Jung identifies manipura with a source of tremendous energy, capable of both creation and destruction, that drives one to assimilate the Shadow into one’s Self. This can be an earth shaking process in which sex, power, and every devil in our nature is let loose as we attempt to become acquainted with the unconscious. The fire of passion is unleashed, that same fire that the Buddha speaks of in his sermon at Benares where he says “the whole world is in flames, your ears, your eyes, everywhere you pour out the fire of desire, and that is the fire of illusion because you desire things which are futile.” Yet there is a great treasure of the released emotional energy because as the dust settles, one is free to see a new picture of oneself. Much of our lives is spent living in euphemisms and abstractions as a sort of barrier between this realization, so it is in manipura that one come face to face with what lies behind these facades.

Anahata: As one ascends from below the diaphragm to above it, one comes to anahata, the heart cakra. Jung relates the diaphragm to the surface of the earth so movement to anahata represents being lifted above the earth, becoming identical with the sun that was so overwhelming in manipura. It is here that the purusa is born and one begins to catch the first glimpses of the true Self might look like. Jung identifies purusa as the primeval or luminous man, that which is freed from matter and mere nature. One’s sense of “I” is understood to be only the ego, merely an appendix of the Self of purusa, that which is smaller than small and greater than great. However, and this is of the utmost importance, we are not the purusa. Jung refers to making this mistake as “thinking that one lives at the same time in the basement (muladhara) and on the fourth story (anahata).” As beings that live in our own material worlds within physical reality, we do not become purusa in any sense while we are still restricted to the world of physical form. Purusa is exceedingly impersonal, it itself being a symbol of the impersonal process. It is as St. Paul expresses it: “But it is not I that lives, it is Christ that liveth in me.” It is here that one’s life becomes an objective life, lived beyond the confines of the ego and lived in a greater, more eternal sense, that of the purusa.