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August 2012 Posts

The Love of Language

“Language is a skin: I rub my language against the other. It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words. My language trembles with desire.” –Roland Barthes

One:
Language is an almost magical system of communication. Imagine an early civilization transmitting a message between two individuals hundreds of miles apart. One carves cuneiform symbols with a reed onto a small, thin brick of wet clay and dries it under the sun. A porter on horseback carriers the brick to its destination and hands it to the receiver, who stares at the brink, translating the written symbols to audible symbols, conveying a meaning to those listening.

This would seem a miracle to the uninitiated, illiterate members of the audience. It is like the cartoon where a shipwrecked anthropomorphic animals speaks into a jar, closes it, and throws it into the water to be heard upon opening wherever the jar happens to find its way.

Cultures on multiple continents have viewed their language and even alphabet characters as holy. An alphabet was often viewed as being handed down by God. Written language was divinely inspired.

The spoken language carried a similar weight. Ancient Jews would not speak the name of their God. To utter the collection of sounds that made up that name was taboo.

We speak with purpose to convey a meaning to another. We tell a story, express emotion, attempt to create desire or anger in a recipient, relieve withheld anger, or ask for an answer.

In every situation we use language we communicate multiple meanings – what we might call  layers or levels. It is not that we simply make a statement. We use words to connect what we have understood in our heads to what is understood in the recipient. Words are the force between two magnets, either pulling or pushing sender and receiver towards or away.

Two:
In a meeting I utter the sound “uh” after being asked a question. The sound has an intention. It is a placeholder. The sound is subtle and carries on for two full seconds. Any longer and it would have garnered attention and seemed unique, unusual.

Silence would have allowed for others to take my place in response. I use this sound as a place holder in a social queue. It is a word but not a word: I use it to convey my consideration for the question. If I had stated “please hold while I formulate a response” my language would have seemed forced, robotic. If I had remained silent and simply looked at the asker, I would have again delivered a message.

Three:
I may disconnect my language from my emotion to preserve a relationship or continue on with an objective. I am asked to do something I wish not to do. I reply an enthusiastic “yes” before pausing for a moment and replying “ok” and nod my head twice. It is the follow up that conveys my lack of assurance.

I answer twice.

My emotion is expressed and withheld. It is not a false response as I wish to convey my willingness as well as convey my lack of personal interest. There is an “I” as well as an “I am”. I want but I am also I am wanting ________________.

With language I may express a range and variety of opinions and mix my meanings to convey the complexity of human emotion. It is not the 1 0 of binary language. We are a strange loop.

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Name the Colors, Blind the Eye [, a] Zen Dialectic

One:
The title is, I’m told, an old Zen saying. In looking at the specifics of a situation, in labeling the elements of an experiences, we are limiting our understanding rather than deepening our awareness. In looking for the specifics or meaning we are keeping ourselves from really seeing.

This is a concept clearly applicable to nearly every situation in life. When we define an idea or a person we have already limited our perception of what is really before us.

The antithesis of this argument is the old adage, “if it quacks like a duck.” My iPhone has the ability to quack. Is it in fact a duck? Perhaps in a former life.

Labeling is a very helpful ability in evolutionary terms. If something looks like a snake we assume it is a snake and know to stay away.

I think to be slow to judge is in fact quite a value. To really understand someone we have to listen and focus on the message transmitted rather than our intuitive desire to just assume.  We have to be willing to shrug off biases and see the individual for who they are.

Unhappiness is always an option. It is easy to create associations between the aspects of life and create a narrative in which we in fact are the poor, sad benefactor of life’s cruel misery. This is, however, not the reality of the situation.

We are a part of the whole. What is misery for us might in fact be a tremendous improvement for another. Life is chance and we roll the dice every morning. We play well or we simply hope the next morning will bring a new configuration.

Two:
But is it up to us to decide our fate in a situation? What about the time when things are truly terrible? If someone in a ski mask is holding a gun to our head are we to ignore the objects on display and try not to assume that we are being mugged? When is it beneficial to make judgments and when is it systemic of a deficiency? Should we always assume the best in people in situations?

We cannot say for sure how a situation will turn out in the end. We pay attention to the colors so we can survive what life throws at us. We are born to survive and reproduce. We are happy when our needs (both natural and assumed) are met. We are not happy when we lack or experience loss.

Three:
The meaning is what is found by looking at the meaning. We create meaning from our judgments. It is in looking at this statement and considering its “truthiness” that gives me the ability to create meaning from its parts. I might say, “Yes, I understand this statement to mean … as being a figurative analogy regarding the way I should live my life.” But in this I am giving weight or purpose to the color of nuance.

I have to realize that the logical must give way in moments to the understandings that are not definable or describable. If I assume a logical understanding of not the statement but rather the intuitive awareness that is created through its reading, I am missing the true intuition that is available as its purpose. I must cease to define the object, even the meaning as an object, to create space for the purpose of the statement.

I picture a simple example: a man, dressed like a thug serving food to the homeless and crying while watching chick flicks. The image conveys meaning. But in this I have created meaning around the simplicity of the meaning. The man might in fact steal food from the soup kitchen out of spite. But I cannot know this. I have to experience the moment and gauge that the situation might not in fact be what it seems – in both the good and the bad. In this sense it is through the reduction of meaning that the meaning becomes clear: it is the moment that matters, not our interpretation.

Only in defining the experience can I know my relationship to the meaning. I am the one who defines the colors and the color of the statement. I am the one who finds meaning in the statement. I define the statement and loose the meaning in phrasing a sentence about its purpose and understanding. It is the individual who is creating, not the creation itself.

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On Complexity and Simplicity: Biocentrism and the Universe

If everything when it occupies an equal space is at rest, and if that which is in locomotion is always occupying such a space at any moment, the flying arrow is therefore motionless.

-Aristotle

Biocentrism is a philosophy and cosmology which proposes that life is responsible for the creation of the universe, rather than the universe creating life. At the core of this theory is the  role consciousness plays in the creation of the reality we experience on a day to day basis – mainly, consciousness creates reality.

What does the author of this theory and the quantum physics conjured backbone mean by reality?  Our immediate experiences, the time and space in which we and objects around us move and interact, the actions we take, are developed and created by our consciousness. It is in our minds that the universe takes shape.

I will forgo the extensive arguments and justifications only because I hope to keep this post from becoming too extensive. The field of quantum physics and the strange attributes of this theory are widely documented in both academic and pop-science literature (a list of recommendations will be available at the end of this blog).

What an idea to consider. Could in fact the universe be created in not a single random occurrence or desire of a creator but in the flash of every moment we experience?

Scientists look at light, thanks to Einstein, as the constant in the universe. Not the constant of speed but rather the constant of everything. Light is the substance from which everything is compared. For example, time is not constant by any means. Neither is space. Both are relative to our speed in comparison to light. The faster we travel, our relation to light in both time and space remains the same. If I were to travel at 99% of the speed of light for 10 years and return to earth, I will have aged 10 years while the rest of the planet will have aged 70 years. Not only that, but my size while traveling would shrink to a fraction of my original physical state. I would compress, in both time and space – but my experience would not alter in the least. My experience as an “observer” will remain the same.

This is not the work of mental gymnastics on our parts. It is not that we adapt to conditions. It is that our experience is always relative to light.

Even our experiences on a moment by moment basis are not what they seem. Motion is not what it seems. Motion, the theory goes, is an illusion created by our consciousnesses ability to piece together the moment by moment. And at a quantum level, the very fabric of our bodies and reality are simply appearing and vanishing continually. Like the astute child in the Matrix stated, there simply is no spoon.

My point is that the universe is incredibly complex and our ever changing and evolving ideas regarding the nature and fabric of the universe present a picture of complexity as well as simplicity. Complexity in that, if this theory is in fact “true” (little “t” true as a working theory with tremendous potential to explaining the big picture) it has taken the greatest minds of our species to unravel the concepts we are now understanding. And simplicity in that the idea that there is a consciousness creating the order of our experiences.

Lately I have been thinking quite a bit about my withdrawal from organized religion. My reasons are many; some are quite earned, some preferential.  At the core is an intuitive notion that the way we view the universe is a reflection of the experiences of humanity up to this moment and is simply the beginning of an understanding that could take the lifetime of our species to unravel.

The concept of intuition is a dangerous ideal in our logic-centric culture. We view rational idealism as the end all summation of thought. And religions are as guilty of this as the law.

We are able to create almost any idea out of a text. It is up to the reader to interpret the concept and make sense of what is read. What I see in religion is a reliance on what is “read” (which is never simply read but rather always interpreted) and how this fits into the worldview of the reader, forming a rigid belief that is incapable of viewing external stimulus as of benefit.

What I would like to see in an organized religious system is an openness to the possibilities of the universe and the betterment of all people and things, a flexibility and ceremonial casting off of the rigidity of inflexible ideals, a development of intuitive notions as forming a more central role in belief, and a responsibility to listen to the ideas we all have – knowing that we come to different conclusions and this is something that makes our species great.

If our minds piece together the universe as it unfolds in front of us, the universe we interpret should be expected to have a different contextual association for each of us. But at the core are there beliefs or ideas that are central to all of our experiences that we can “tap into” and connect with in ways that extend our understanding for the benefit of us all?

How would a religious system such as this look and feel? As a born and raised Evangelical Christian, how would or could I combine my past with my present?

WKNPTAWXNNUX

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Speaking Against the Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day

Let me start out by saying that I hope whoever reads this will understand that this is written with a genuine caring for the friends and family who will read it. I am not in any way pointing out individuals but rather the expressions of the culture as a whole.

I am frankly embarrassed and appalled by the volume of Chick-Fil-A postings I saw yesterday and the message that this sends. I understand, Chick-Fil-A president Cathy is an Evangelical Christian and his small comment (which is part of a larger part the restaurant’s giving has played in the debate) sparked a media frenzy. I also understand that many of you reading this agree wholeheartedly with his belief that one man one woman is the traditional form of marriage and the only way ordained by God.

Here is where I am confused: I am told that yesterday’s Chick-Fil-A rally was about free speech. Was Cathy arrested for his views? Is he in prison? Is Cathy rallying lawyers to come to his aid? Forgive my ignorance, but he is in no way in a position to lose his right to free speech! No one is taking this away from him. I’m sure some would wish they could, but that isn’t even an option.

People who disagree with Cathy have come out in support against his position. People, who in exercising their right to free speech, have publicly disagreed with him. People don’t feel and think that he should have said what he did; just like people (myself included) don’t think a corporation should support a public discussion in one way or another.

Should they have the right to publicly disagree with Cathy? Shouldn’t they have a right to their opinion? Do they have a right to believe that his statements reflect a wrong in society?

Please hear me on this and really think about what I’m saying: Christianity in America has become convinced of its own martyrdom while forgetting that we are the majority! Christians are 76-80% of the population. Christians occupy 86% of congress, 85% of the senate. You can’t, so far, win a presidential election without a confession of Christian beliefs!

But I still hear so much about persecution and rights being taken away. It’s a myth perpetuated through crazy media that wants nothing better than to cause trouble because THAT brings in revenue.

Sure, things change. That is how life works. That is literally how it has always been. 40 years ago we had separate water fountains for people who were black. When this changed it made people uncomfortable (sadly there are still places in the US where this still makes people uncomfortable).

What does this have to do with Chick-Fil-A? Where is the love and compassion that is the foundation of Jesus’ work? Where is the caring about the welfare of people different than you? How are you fulfilling your beliefs by buying a chicken sandwich? Is Cathy’s stance even reflective of the love of Christ that is  so quick to be thrown around as a rallying cry?

This was not an act of love or compassion. Freedom of speech and religion are not on the chopping block. The only rights in this conversation that are up for grabs would be that of option for two consenting adults to choose to unify their lives because they are of the same gender.

Hear me out. Your family is not at risk from an outside source. If gay people get married it will not change your marriage. It will not cheapen your marriage. If the church is really worried about that, why not try to have marriage legally restricted to only Christians? If it is truly a sacrament given by God to you why not keep Muslims or Jews or secular humanists or atheists from participating? And I don’t mean keep them from marrying in a church. I mean why not keep them from marrying legally? This is fear backed up by scripture just as racism and even slavery was many years ago. I see a mentality of division (us vs them), not the actions of a group that was told to care for those who made them uncomfortable.

Even if you do not change your position realize that the message people are hearing is one of hate and bigotry and disdain. If you really want to help and save people, if this is really your goal, realize that something has to change. Supporting a fast food chain and pushing legislation to make the union between two consenting adults illegal is not going to change hearts and minds to your cause, nor is it in any way a fulfillment of Jesus’ call to love your neighbor or even the great commission.

Without doubt to some my writing this will come across as the ramblings of a liberal bias or that of someone trying to justify sin or something. Right now there is little to no room for discussion or disagreement in the Evangelical community on this or many other issues. I have seen the word heretic used for far more minor disagreements than this. I’m just asking that my friends and family who are actively participating in this discussion through their actions and conversations reflect on whether the Christian community is in fact reflecting the love that is so actively preached.

If you do disagree I am not suggesting you say nothing. But just think about the message that you send and whom it is directed. As of right now the message that is received is smug and rude and  self-righteous.

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