Monday, May 30, 2005

The Power(lessness) of Imagination

When I was taking tai chi classes (something I should perhaps start doing again), my sifu told a visiting sifu that I had an extremely powerful imagination. He was asking us to imagine a tornado that spun down to our feet, then up to our hands in order to do a push-hands. So I did. The sifu I was practicing with was very surprised by what he felt from me, and said so. Thus, the comment. ANd it's true. Of course, as a poet, fiction-writer, and artist -- and philosopher -- I have to have a strong imagination. Wouldn't be able to do the work I do if I did not.

Thus, it is currently torture for me. I am on my way to Athens, Greece, where I will be spending a month away from my girlfriend, who I am very much in love with. I think of her all the time. I imagine her face before mine all the time. I feel like I can almost conjure her -- I wish I could conjure her -- but there is precisely where imagination ends. AH, what I wouldn't do to be able to actually comjure her to me with my imagination! Imagination can move the body, help you to control it, create new things in the world... but my beloved must stay in Texas while I go to Athens... If only I could imagine her with me, and not have to just imagine her with me.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Responsible Journalism

For those who have been reading my blog, you know that I have not typically discussed topical issues. However, the short article in Newsweek compels me to say something about responsible journalism.

Since when did journalism consider one uncorroborated source as sufficient to run a story? And, more, what on earth was Newsweek thinking? Do they not realize that there are consequences to the kind of story they ran?

The Koran is the holy book of Islam. Every copy is considered to be completely holy, and cannot be destroyed or disrespected. We in the West do not truly understand this, since the Bible, the Christian holy book, is not considered holy in quite the same way. It is the ideas, not the book proper, that is holy for Christians. For Moslems, it is the very book itself that is holy, because it contains the word of God. This is something we need to be aware of, so we do not do anything disrespectful to the Koran. We cannot be ignorant of others' cultures. We are not alone in the world.

Thus, anyone in the military caught desecrating the Koran should be punished. Our government, precisely because of the First Amendment, should show nothing but the utmost respect for all religions, religious practices, and religious objects. Our military has had a history of respecting historical and religious sites and has typically gone out of its way not to even damage these sites during a war. At the same time, while those of high military rank have tried to respect such sites, we need to make sure that all of our troops understand this policy.

At the same time, Newsweek acted highly irresponsibly on several levels -- not just the level of reporting something given to them by one source. The editors of Newsweek also acted irresponsibly in reporting the incident at all, since reporting such an incident was bound to have at minimum the outcome it has actually had so far -- riots in some Islamic countries. If we assume the best, this means that the editors at Newsweek were completely ignorant of the importance of the Koran to Islam -- meaning they had no idea what the consequences of their actions would be. If we are considerably less generous, and propose that it was reported in order to harm the President's image in the world, then the editors of Newsweek are responsible for purposefully putting the U.S. in danger of going to war with all 1.5 billion Moslems. I propose both extremes, since it is difficult to say if either, or something inbetween, is the truth of the matter.

While Newsweek and every other news outlet has the First Amendment right to publish anything they want, without legal consequences, they need to be more responsible in what they choose to publish, since what they publish could result in hundred, thousands, or -- if what they reported were to result in a war with all of Islam -- millions of people dying. And if the U.S. system were to collapse because of a sustained war with 1.5 billion people, then Newsweek and other news outlets would most likely find themselves in a system where it would be illegal to publish certain things -- as is the case in most countries in the world. The freedom to do something does not mean that you always SHOULD do something. When a news outlet considers publishing something, they should consider the outcome of what they report. It is no conincident that when the news reports high school shootings, that more high school shootings occur -- when they report child abductions, more abductions occur. Reporting crimes results in copycat crimes. Does this mean that we should remain blissfully ignorant of the world? Of course not. The news does have a responsiblity to report newsworthy events. But the fact is, we are ignorant of the world -- and when the kind of ignorance the editors at Newsweek exhibited occurs, the outcome is anything put blissful. The news outlets need to become less ignorant of the world before they go around reporting on it. When they do, their reporting will become more responsible -- and more coherent -- than it is. And perhaps they will even report on the things that matter -- international news -- rather than on much of the irrelevancies that happen in the U.S. (Michael Jackson, the crime de jour that gets extended to several weeks or months, etc.). And we would also not have ignorant people like Lou Dobbs on CNN spreading his complete ignorance of economics to the U.S. as if he were an expert in the field. He isn't. And CNN is equally irresponsible for giving such a person his own show to talk about a field he clearly knows nothing about.


What do I need to do to get what I want? What do I want? I... What do I want? I feel driven toward... what? Art? For certain. Philosophy? It seems more and more to be a drive. A poet philosopher? A philosopher poet? I am the incarnation of transference. I want to transfer my ideas to others. I want to transfer my vision to others. I want to transfer my self to others. I want to carry myself across into others so I never die, in mind or material. I have a strong sex drive. I feel a drive to make art. I feel a drive to philosophize. I am ruled by the madness of Eros and the Muses. As Socrates says in Phaedrus, philosophy comes from the Muses of Astronomy – and thus of the sciences – and of epic poetry. How many more Muses can I combine? What drive is that, to merge the Muses, make them one? And what of Eros? That I have far fewer visitations from. Well, that’s not true. He seems to visit me while neglecting those he has helped me fall in love with. Where is Aphrodite when I need her? The two need to team up with each other when it comes to me, so Eros doesn’t continue to drive me mad, as he’s driven me mad before.

How many have been guided to Hades by Eros? And how many were brought back up by the Muses? Ah, the Muses, who have helped me maintain my madness in a more productive way than when I was driven into Hades by Eros. Did he guide or drive me? The way up and the way down are the same. He drove me by guiding me there. And the Muses carried me up, out of the dark pit Eros brought me to. And yet, I miss the madness of Eros. I am lonely for Eros, for the chemicals my body emits with the repeated long touch of someone, that make me feel warm. Lovely chocolate has helped me through the early and worst parts, but now I feel chocolate is hardly substitute. I have tried substitutes, and none compare or can even add up to in any way to two nude bodies embraced in pleasure, as Eros and Aphrodite mean for us to be. I can only control Eros so much, for so long, before I feel more and more like giving in. Abstinence is not moderation – I am not interested in asceticism. There is no virtue in that. Yet I have shown that I have virtue enough to not give in as much as my drives desire – but where is the balance? I want a war between overindulgence and asceticism that will bring a balance of Eros in my life. I want a return to a life of erotic play. Only then can I not drown in the obsession of Eros, so I can spend more time and drive with the Muses.

Can I chose my madness, or have those who make us mad chosen me? Eros chose me, of that I am certain. The Muses have certainly chosen me. The madness of initiation? To what have I or need I be initiated into to require Dionysus? Nor do I think I have the madness of prophesy – so Apollo too has not chosen me. Eros and the Muses – those two have been enough and seem to be sufficient. I chose the madness of Eros. Only one of these who rule over madness is not enough to make us take the complete trip to and through and out of Hades. Does it take one to drive us there, another to free us? And how often is it Eros or Aphrodite who drive us there? Dante said it was Virgil who led him through Hell, but it was his love for Beatrice that drove him there. Odysseus even went to Hades so he could get home to his wife. And Orpheus, the most beautiful singer and poet in Greek myth, went down to Hades to bring back his beloved Eurydice. I too was driven into Hades by a woman – each time I was driven there. But it was the Muses who, again, brought me back, though my weeping and wails fed Hades well.

But why speak of traveling to Hades and being brought up by art? These myths are part of our deep archetypes and have gone on to become cliches. Among some people, anyway. But in a real sense, they can never become cliches, because we are always forever forgetting their lessons. We keep telling stories of descents into Hades because we forget the old ones, and feel we need to retell them using our own myths – this is what renews the stories. This is why the stories of Orestes and Dante are both so interesting and so different. Cliches are those things we say that we know and never forget. Romance books are all cliches. True novels never are. We all live chiched lives, those lives that are forgettable because they are so easily remembered. An uncliched life is lived in such a way that we cannot forget it, though we inevitably forget the lessons it could have taught us. This is the soul of great art, and why we come at it anew each time. Artists live such lives that would seem new each time through, sometimes in their actual lives, and always in the lives of their art. This is the mark of a true artist, and why a true artist can never, himself, know if he really is a true artist – and among readers, viewers, listeners of the works there will always be endless debate about their value, level of value, reasons for their value. So I cannot say that I myself am or will ever be one of these artists – yet I feel the call of the Muses. I feel their call, and can never know if I have or will ever measure up. And yet, I serve under their rule. And I chose to serve, though the Muses have equally chosen me. It is healthier to chose one’s fate – rejecting it can lead one into sorrow or madness of the worst kind. But it is a fate that is indeed chooseable. Fate, like the world, is not deterministic. By choosing to abide by the rule of the Muses, I have chosen to try to measure up to that choice. It is a great honor to be chosen by the Muses, and it requires much work to live up to that honor.

Ah, the likelihood of life. We do not know that for which any of us are chosen. I started off with the certainty I would become a scientist. I majored in molecular biology in college and worked on a Master’s degree in molecular biology for two years. And then Eros drove me mad, and the Muses brought me back. And now I am a poet because I cannot stop writing poetry. I am a short story writer because I cannot stop writing short stories. I am a novelist because I cannot stop writing novels. I am a lover of beauty because beauty called me forth to reproduce it in art. I am a lover of the arts, especially of literature, because the arts are the beautiful creations of the mind of man, and as such are the most beautiful of objects, more beautiful even than their creators. And, once the doors of perception are cleansed, we will see the world as it truly is: beautiful. This is what I was able to see by descending into the depths – I was able to see beauty in all its manifestations, to understand the beautiful nature of the world, and that drove me to want to make it more beautiful by adding more beauty to it, deepening and complexifying the beauty of the world. The tragedy is that there is no certainty that it will last – or that anything will last. In the end, will we all be swallowed up in the sun’s expansion? And even personally, will my work survive beyond my life? Will my genetic material? At the moment, my work looks to be the likeliest candidate for a kind of immortality. But I will take it – my work can pass my energy on into the future, and I will not complain. My work is myself at the moment of creation. It is a gift I hope is worthy of giving. I have had a difficult time getting others to accept my gifts. Perhaps they are not (yet? I hope) worthy of being given. Yet, I will continue to offer them.

Perhaps calling my work a gift seems narcissistic? There is a reason the narcissus is holy to Hades. It is narcissistic to believe that the gift of art we who have been to Hades have received should then be passed on, through us, to others. It is narcissistic to believe that anyone should care how we view the world, what we think, or what we feel. Yet that is the role of every teacher: every teacher has proclaimed that they have knowledge that you should have, and that they should teach it to you. The artist too is a teacher, as is the philosopher, and the preacher too. Who am I to offer a gift? The gift has first been given to me – and now I must, now I am compelled to give it to others. I have taken on the role of teaching others of the gift of beauty through the works that I am compelled to create. It is the gift of me that I hope others will take – my art if not my body. The drive given me by the Muses, even if no one will allow me to fulfill the drive given me by Eros. Are the Muses enough? I hope they are, and fear they are not. Eros will have to be placated, or other trips to Hades could occur – will the Muses always be able to rescue me?

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Models for Thinking

In the Phaedrus, Plato says that he likes dividing things up into categories because it aides in thinking. Nietzsche came along 2300 years later to remind us that conceptual categories are, ultimately, artificial, and that we need to challenge them periodically, and remember that the divisions among things are not really so clear-cut.

That having been said, let me lay out several models I am using that determine my thinking.

1) information theory. I support an ontology of information. If something is inform, it has no form. If something informs, it gives form. Thus, information is that which is without form, yet gives form. All things in the universe are information, and the universe itself began as information and continues to exist as information.

2) chaos theory and fractal gemoetry. All things in the universe are self-similar regardless of scale, in several different fractal gemoetries.

3) emergence. All laws of the universe evolved from separate entities interacting to give rise ot those laws. These laws are called strange attractors.

4) nested hierarchies. Everything in the universe evolved into its level of complexity from lower levels of complexity. Biology evolved from chemistry which evolved from quantum physics (atoms), and atoms evolved from quantum strings. New levels of complexity arise naturally from lower levels of complexity as the entities of that lower level interact as a complex, dynamic system.

The idea of nested hierarchies comes in several flavors:

1) the physical model exemplified by J.T. Fraser's umwelt theory of time. With his model, the timeless level of pure chaos evolved into the probablistic time of quantum physics, whihc evolved into the deterministic time of chemistry (Newtonian physics), which evolved into the weakly forward direction of biotemporality (biological time), which evolved into the strongly forward direction of nootemporality (human time). Each level contains more and more time. And, I would argue, each new level becomes increasingly fractal in nature.

2) the human cognitive and social model developed by Don Beck. WIth his model, the pure survialism of animal life evolved into the weak communitarian structures of tribalism, which evolved into the weak individualism of Achilles-type heroism/belief in power gods, which evolved into the stronger communitarianism of authoritarian-religious systems (like Medieval Christianity of modern-day Islam), which evolved into the stronger individualism of the capitalist/scientific social system (the Modern Era in Europe and America), which evolved into the stronger communitarianism of secular egalitarianism (Marxism/Communism, environmentalism, postmodernism), which evolved into integralism, which recognizes the value of each of the lower levels (lower in the sense of being less complex, as each level is more complex than the lower levels), which evolved into holism, which attempts to more smoothly unify all the lower levels. The last two levels recognize the value of complex, fluid, nested hierarchies, as opposed to the egalitarian level, which rejects all hierarchies, and the authoritarian level, which tries to impose rigid hierarchies on everyone.

To have an even more integrationist way of thinking, we cannot forget these four things: I-we-it-its : individualism-communitarianism-traditional science-systems science. And these must be fully integrated into the two forms of nested hierarchy mentioned above (as those two ideas must themselves be integrated).

These are a few of the models with which I am thinking. Which should help to make sense of much of what I have said and will say from now on in the blog.