At the Speed of Life

•January 23, 2017 • Leave a Comment

If man’s ability to calculate abstract mathematics and write poetry creates the jobs out of which he distills his skills, then its life’s job to teach us some rather important lessons in regards to this.
Oh god, it’s one of those. I know, bear with me on this. No one likes that-life-long-wisdom-wistful-pedagogy any-more than the next-know-it-all-stringing-words-together-hyphen-addict. But there’s a point to this.
We all have lives outside of the places we work. We have lives outside the dwellings we call home. Sometimes there is intersection of the sets. Our hobbies. One of the things I’ve grown to appreciate over the past year is my ability to criticize my own fascination with the things I choose to call hobbies.  I’m one of those poor, pent-up slobs that has a tendency to take everything in life seriously. (Too seriously.) So I’ve realized it’s good to take a step back and observe Einstein’s relativity in action in regards to life and how I spend my time.
Whether it’s rolling your eyes at the workout routine the previous week (why?!) how many hours you spent playing video games (ugh),  how many pages you read of that book you’ll never have the opportunity to discuss with another human being(clones don’t count, neither do identical twins.), or sighing at how many times you applied that god-awful run on your guitar to classical pieces in C just because humans have a love affair with C major. I think perspective is good. I think our busy lifestyles try and convince us that it’s less important than the sacrifices we make in indulging our interests, which is unfortunate.

 

If we lack the perspective to understand why we feel passionate and creative about the things that compel us to be human – no, being better people, then what does that say about us? That we’re mice in a box pressing serotonin and dopamine levers out of some reward based aphasia? No, there has to be more to life than that. Perspective gives us that. It’s our time away from the madness of our minds that allows us to clarify our goals, or offer insight into our own atomic clocks.

 

Our schedules are, for better or worse, relatively predictable in our society. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Our happiness isn’t (or shouldn’t) be predicate on things determined the moment we wake up – or obliterated in a moment of irrational anger at the coworker who spilled milk on our chocolate cake. The beauty of that means that happiness is something completely within our power to attain.
Well, i’m not sure how I got here. I’m not really sure what the speed of light and spilled milk have to do with happiness, but here we are. We’ve slowed down as we’ve approached the constant.

 

Maybe you’re wondering about something left undone elsewhere you forgot about in the carry-it-forward momentum of life, or why you wasted your time on this silly-old-thing.  Whatever the case, I hope this got you thinking.  Laugh at your hobbies, or that stupid milk container that ruined your cake. Forget why you were angry or took things too seriously.

 

Our time is predictable, our happiness should not be.

If it’s any consolation, I’m wondering why I wrote this.

Cross your T’s and your F’s

•January 5, 2017 • Leave a Comment

The contemporary interpretation of the Myers –Briggs archetypes would convince us that somehow, something as inordinately complex and scientifically incomprehensible as consciousness (that eager and abstract interplay of billions of neurons firing off and on at the whims of milk and salsa constitutes) can be explained in four letters. The truth is, however, that our interpretation of the archetypes is as far removed from Myers-Briggs as Myers-Briggs was from Jung’s original thesis.

 
That is to say, we’ve veered from pseudoscience right into post-modernist rigeur. Bet you didn’t see that coming.

 
It’s understandable, though. There’s something uniquely appealing to the idea that complex abstractions can be neatly contained in principles that are easy to understand.  Like all complex systems, though, this presents a real danger. In this case, people affixing themselves with labels to rationalize their beliefs or behaviors. We want to feel validated, and the archetypes give us that tool.

 
To present my own case scenario: I’m an INTJ. If studies are to believed (perhaps I should start citing things in my blogs.) I’m the rare unicorn. The 1%.  The mad scientist. The magician. The intuitive leader. The strategist. According to our interpretations, one or all of these are true.   Interpretations of Newton’s journals and work suggest that he was an INTJ, and truthfully, a preponderant number of important intellectuals certainly appear to be INTJs. In Newton’s own words though, he was not a scientist, but rather “the last of the great magicians.”  If studies say Newton is an INTJ, and an INTJ says it – is it true?

 
The logical disconnect aside, the answer is no, but it is nonetheless insightful.  My personal interpretations of Jung’s work has always been that the archetypes are a commentary on how we synthesize and extrapolate on the nuanced and complex mechanisms and behaviors that underlie different types of information.  In this case, Newton’s affirmation of being a magician is somewhat relevant.

 
At our core, INTJs are first and foremost planners. We seize an internalized vision and gather information from the world around us to make it conform to that vision. It goes without saying, that we are not details people. In fact, when the facts do not suit us, we have a tendency to re-invent them, or build around them. In Newton’s case this was especially true. His grounding work in physics and developing calculus showed an intuitive understanding of principles that could be ascertained from external information. It wasn’t ‘detailed’ though. In fact, it was left to Einstein and many other great intellectuals to fill in a lot of the gaps Newton didn’t explain, and if I had to venture a guess – we still have a lot of explaining and filling in to do. Newton gave us an incomplete system. If he had gotten bogged down in the details rather than the vision, society would not be as it is. (Sorry, Leibniz)

 
Our take away from this can be that INTJ’s are somewhat in opposition to attempts to understand their mind.  While it’s not far from the truth, it is better rendered that INTJs spend most of our time trying to figure out what’s on our mind, and we don’t like wasting time explaining that to others – those are the details. It’s why INTJs tend to have very little patience for people who don’t accept our opinions or prognostications for what they are.  Our reluctance to inquiry isn’t one nested in social anxiety or ignorance, it’s rooted in our understanding of ourselves. We express ourselves in our thoughts, so objection to those thoughts is tantamount to the sudden break-up, loss of employment, or other erstwhile emotional upheaval.

 
The reverse of this is true, insomuch that INTJs are very extroverted and receptive to people that indicate an unabashed interest in our ideas. We’ll hop, skip, jump, and wax as eloquently as any extroverted stand-up comedian if unbiased interest in our opinions is shown. As a logical archetype, from Jung’s work, our interest is in obtaining information that suits our internalized vision. This form of verbal validation pleases us (Unlike our present interpretation of the archetypes, INTJs do have feelings. ) It also lends an opportunity for us seeing flaws in our own vision. Feedback, right?

 
All of this is a form of information handling and synthesis. It has very little to do with being a social recluse, judgmental, nerdy – whatever. Those are the emperor’s new clothes.  An INTJ can be those things, and the way we prefer handling information in our cultural climate certainly disposes us to that, but these are very different explanations of the same idea.

 
So maybe in spite of my monologue I’ve seemingly adopted this into my identity, or maybe I’ve realized we can’t reduce complex systems to simple ones without the loss of nuance and self-liberty.  Our interpretation of Jung’s original research is compelling. It’s fun, but maybe Newton’s recollection about being a magician was a general deduction of the human condition. Maybe we enjoy these things because we’re drawn to the mystical, and we’re all magicians.

 

“Worst Year Ever!”

•November 28, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Quit finding reasons to say 2016 was a terrible year. Quit creating excuses for yourself to feel like you have no control over your life or the events therein. Maybe it hasn’t been a great year, but I suspect it’s the case that the number of earth-shattering negative events in your life are vastly outnumbered by the good things that have happened. Be rational.

 
I find it a bit ironic that a chronically depressed, type II bipolar is having to say these things to counter the cognitive distortions so many people seem to be foisting on our society. Quit tying your conceptions of happiness into things outside of your control. Exercise your intellect when assigning values to your emotions and events that influence them.  Overall? Quit being emotionally weak.

 
I suspect that a majority of events people have cried wolf and beaten their breast for over the past year will be forgotten by this time next year, and replaced with another series of worst year yet explications.

 

Of course, you could break out of that if you wanted.

Mere Christianity

•November 26, 2016 • Leave a Comment

(Part I of III)

A few weeks ago I was approached by a friend who asked me my thoughts on Christianity. I thought it was a good topic to elucidate for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the dramatic role Christianity has played and continues to play in the world. Frankly speaking, however, for something as established, respected, hated, understood, and misunderstood as Christianity – there must necessarily be more nuanced things I cannot hope to comment on.  So, for their sake and the sake of brevity – I do not.  Nonetheless, I hope the reader will bear with patient stoicism the author’s fault of literacy and education on the matter.

Before I begin it is important to make transparent my own beliefs or feelings in context of this topic. I am a Deist, and since this post isn’t about Deism or my beliefs, I will offer a succinct explanation of it. Deists are people with a traditional Christian upbringing who have grown to harbor grave and irreconcilable issues with the testaments of Revelation, Miracle, and Prophecy in the Bible. Deists believe that there are fundamental truths proffered in the Bible, but  the God that can be inferred from the laws of nature and the cosmos cannot be explained in exclusion as the Bible does.

 
The Devil is in the Dinosaur Bones.  Christianity and Society.

Religions are innately resistant to negation. All they have to do is make statements that are incapable of disproof. Does that mean they are true or false? Neither, I would argue. Not at least within the confines of logical assessment. If they claim knowledge of such, then they may assuredly be disproved, but so long as they concern things immaterial no proof can be given for or against their nature. Argued either way, I would  find suspect the motivations of a person who claimed the pathway to such knowledge existed in the first place.

The problem begins when religions attempt to make claims of testable knowledge nested inside this neat shell of disproof. Evolution, the shape of the Earth, Earth’s age – et cetera.  Either this absolves us of our ability to construct arguments off of methodical processes, or is a formal mea culpa of religious overreach. It is even more problematic when traditional interpretation considers these types of arguments necessary to maintain textual integrity.

It is good to understand that religions are not designed to change, which one is right to expect. ( Spinoza and Einstein were both keen to point this out from a certain point of view. ) What about interpretation? That, too, is problematic, as interpretation always changes with the advent of additional information. More educated Christians will posit that the Bible’s integrity is such that it interprets itself though, which makes sense – and goes back to this shell of disproof. Yet this is where Christianity gets itself in trouble.
What happens when interpretation is in contrast to regulation? Or, worse, as a barrier to effective communication?

What that means in context of Christianity and its relationship with contemporary society is that disproportionate dialogue is legislated for and against the wrong things.  Basically, two sets of people by and large prefer to talk about two different things.  I suspect a majority of non-Christians will proffer their negation of the faith vis-à-vis the aforementioned testable data.  In this form, their ‘non-belief’ (and I choose this term carefully) is reductio ad absurdum.  Surely a faith that is contradicted by hard data cannot be construed as true? At least, I think that is the line of thought.

Christians don’t really help this argument. It’s an imminently indefensible position. In many cases dialogue on this matter is curt. A few places try – like Ancient Faith Radio, but the interpretations found there are inherently credulous.  The worst case scenario for Christians is the one I see played out the most. That is to say, Christians choose to say nothing, or absolve themselves of an opinion on the matter. More ammunition for non-believers, I say.

It certainly does not help Christianity’s case when dialogue on the matter devolves into discussions of validity based on the nature of faith. It is certainly odd to hear a Christian claim that an understanding of the formal logic found in mathematics (‘science’) is rooted in the same ‘non-logic’ as the Gospel.  It’s not, and to put it quite simply: What’s the difference between miracles and mathematics? One is testable regardless of bias. A Buddhist scientist will reach the same conclusions about terminal velocity as a Christian or atheist scientist. Will they reach the same conclusions about miracles though?

 
“There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness. “ Society and Christianity.

I have spoken to some length about why I feel that Christianity generates its own difficulties in society. On the other side of the field, however, are the systemic dogmatisms society inveighs against Christianity.

What comprises these? If one looks back at what I said about how Christianity inflicts itself in assuming indefensible positions one can infer how society chooses to inoculate itself against anything Christianity has to say. Society tells Christianity to live by its own prescriptions, which is a bit ironic. Society wants to tell religion to keep its hands out of science (Which the theologically educated will seldom aver in ministry) and morals. Ah, but what then SHOULD Christianity concern itself with if not morals?

Now it is the time for non-believers to hedge, and nest their rhetoric in indefensible positions. Most, I think, will say Christians should just keep their faith to themselves. This seems innocuous enough, right? Perhaps – if it wasn’t an intentional way of saying ‘don’t tell me how I should live.’  The more educated milieu will more reasonably posit that a separation of Church and State is a historically important trend – which I agree with. Saying Christians should keep their beliefs to themselves, though, is an ignorant assumption of the values Christians choose to live and lead their life by.   This, too, is a gross trivializing of Christians’ agency of opinion.  Just as Christianity is an active faith, so too are its believers active and engaged citizens.

The implication is transparent here. There is a logical corollary between what people believe in and how their mission is made.  By averring that Christians should ‘keep to themselves’ non-believers are culpable of a cardinal contradiction. It’s indefensible to suggest that Christians should absolve their right to moral legislation, when this is a central mandate of their belief.

Of course this speaks little of the cynicism to which many non-believers ascribe their interpretations of Christianity. This so called negativity bias creates a distorted picture of Christians and Christianity in the modern conscience – and the press doesn’t help. If one looks at the coverage Christianity gets in mainstream media there is an implicit bias against the faith. What do the media choose to talk about? What Christians don’t do. How Christians are militantly opposing progressive reformism – or, worse, Westboro Baptist Church.  The informed reader can render their own conclusions from this.

Inside this disregard is a particularly insidious, and, I would argue, revisionist ideology. There is this notion that Christianity is an inherently dangerous institution in our world history. This, again, is a good example of how negativity bias induces people to make decisions on things they already had established opinions about. “Christianity repressed so and so for so and so!”

I would rebut that Christianity’s constructive force vastly outweighs the alternative (which by the way, we can rightly dismiss as ‘might-have-beens.’). Many of our greatest values and social intuitions exist by merit of Christians acting according to their mandate and sharing these convictions with a society that, by and large, didn’t/doesn’t seem to really care.

Ultimately, the expectations society foists on Christianity are many times disingenuous.  The unitiated express at every opportunity their grievances against Christians’ habit of cherry-picking which truths they abide by, when this is an error of reasoning. People expect Christians to be Christians, not people, but when those people are Christians – their opinions are immediately invalidated by ridicule.

So, where does that leave us – society, Christians, non-believers?

Hopefully in a higher state of self-awareness. Regardless of one’s religious affiliation or lack thereof, there are unarguable, horrific truths that violate our sense of human decency occurring in our world on a daily basis. If people’s bastion against fear and hatred is solace in a faith that impacts their lives and the society they live in – I’m for it, but I want to see something out of this.

What I want to see is more effective communication. I want to see Scientists speaking passionately with Christian leaders. I want to see Christian leaders seeking out scientists and sharing the beauty of the Gospel. I want to see a mutual discussion on how the panoply of human affairs encompasses both the physical world of evolution and the immortal soul. I want to show the common man that we can dispel the torrid myth that Religion and Science are enemies.

I guess I just want to show people that it’s ok to believe, or even just respect something you don’t believe in.  In a world where nuclear weapons exist, bringing the temerity of grace into discussions driven by convenience and political agenda can only serve us well. In finding peace in ourselves and the world around us we must strive to remain active, sur le qui-vive.

Out of Two Thoughts, Half of One

•November 13, 2016 • Leave a Comment

A writer is simultaneously the worst and greatest planner at the flashpoint of creation. He or she sets out with one goal, and may achieve two or three others before ever arriving in the first place. It should go without saying that words carry the author away like a sluggish ocean with unsuspecting undertow.

Basically, that’s my way of saying I set out to write one essay, this thought peered through pi, and half a thought later we’re left without a complete solution.

There is a missing element to contemporary drama. It is something ancient Greeks figured out more than two-thousand years ago. That is to say, in the stead of the soporific mode inevitably filled to the brim with cultural euphemisms, there could be a message, a moral, to our dramas. I am, of course, referring to the Greek tragedies, which in and of themselves were intended to relay moralistic lessons from the elders and educated of the community to a less interested or educated milieu.  Meaning, they were meaningful stories – pragmatic as creative, with the intent to unite a diverse people with a common thread. They entertained – and taught.

Willing or not, there is an essential lesson to every tragedy. Sometimes it is simple, like realizing an unassuming mistake can result in grave consequences. Other times it is more complex, inspiring a great deal of personal, and thus cultural, introspection. Shakespeare knew it – and in an English community stratified by disparate societal norms, he wrote his tragedies to appeal to the English conscience as a whole. Why can’t we have the same? Does The Walking Dead teach us anything meaningful about ourselves and our culture? What about others? Some like Breaking Bad make the attempt. Of course, there are places where intelligent drama does live on in our popular media. Shows like Black Mirror can convey complex and provocative themes in an imminently accessible format.

Can video games do the same? It is my opinion that we are at a point in video game development that this answer is, unequivocally, yes.   Modern graphical capabilities give games an unprecedented deal of verisimilitude.  To this ‘realism’ is attached an increasingly mature appreciation of the narrative. Together, they can relay important ideas and themes to a select audience as effectively as Netflix’ Black Mirror or Aeschylus’ Oresteia do.

It should, however, go without saying that most games are vehicles for the insipid as much as their mass-televised counterparts. Nonetheless, it is worth considering that video games are of an age of considerable maturity.

Can we entertain ourselves and learn in the process? Yes.  I don’t think this is something we can force upon ourselves, as a refined appreciation for the sophomoric can distill sanity in its own awkward way. On the other hand, it wouldn’t exactly hurt us to hold our dramas to this higher standard.

The Long Run

•November 11, 2016 • Leave a Comment

There is a certain solipsism to the long run. Ask any serious runner what day of the week their life revolves around, and much like many Americans the answer is almost unanimous – Saturday.

But it’s for a different reason. The Long Run.  There’s more to it than the name, though. There’s an almost mystical appreciation of its effect on a runner’s life – so much so that many runners approach it ritualistically, eschewing a late night Friday life in favor of winding down early in eager anticipation of an early morning.

The alarm goes off, half a sandwich, a few light muffins, or a bagel with peanut butter are devoured– and the communion proceeds apace. (Don’t worry, Baptists, only some runners carry alcohol with them.) Some runners run in groups, others solicit the magnanimous solitude of their own minds – using the time to think critically about events on hand, perhaps solve a few problems the week had them too stressed to figure out. (Ask me not how something as intentionally torturous as running for 3 hours engenders critical thinking, but that’s part of the magic.)  Many people use it as a chance to escape from life. Like a sudden road trip that leaves the family perplexed by a sudden and unanticipated event. “You’re going WHERE?!”

Of course to non-runner’s the response is, universally, “You’re running HOW far?”

Really, runners don’t tend to think in miles any more than the road tripper. It’s not the destination, per say (one always ends up back at home. There is a philosophical one of course, but I digress), but the experience.

The only thing I really think runners tend to think about before and during the long run is: “How hot will it be/what’s the humidity, where are my water stations, and how many carbohydrates do I need to carry with me?”

Not slices of bread. Though, if we can figure out how to distill german rye down to gu plasma and add cinnamon swirls, I’m in.

Someone create a kickstarter.

Perhaps the long run is a bit munchausen.  Many runners appreciate and respect their long run like some vague, irrevocable illness. Of course, it’s a hobby, but to many it’s a hobby that is, well, abnormal. After all, who makes a habit out of giving up Friday night, getting up in the pre-dawn darkness of glorious Saturday, and running for hours on end? (Did I mention you tend to want to spend the rest of the Saturday plastered to the couch, almost questioning one’s ritualized addiction to an activity that always ends in exhaustion and discomfort as your spoon deracinates a helpless jar of peanut butter?)

To me, the long run is a quasi-spiritual ekdysis. Hence the communion imagery. It’s a great way of getting away. Not from people, sure that’s part of it, but from my own mind. That math problem that was eating away at you? Probably solved. Grand unified theory? Probably not, but it was considered somewhere after the third water stop as hypoglycemia was setting in.

After all, you have to be somewhat mental to do what we do.

At this point I’ve rambled on enough.  My own ritual is beginning: water and gu are packed in the car. My route is (somewhat) planned, and my alarm is set for an unlawful hour.

In a few hours I’ll be unconscious, and as soon as that alarm goes off I’ll amble to my altar of sweat and figure out things from there.

The Road Less Traveled, thoughts on Contemporary American Voters

•November 8, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Qui n’avance pas, recule.

So you voted. “Done your civic duty.” You’ve “Participated in the ‘great experiment’.” Now what? You sit forward in your recliner with violent solicitude, refreshing that web-page, or listening to the same speakers drone for hours on CNN or Fox as the results pour in? Perhaps you wail and beat your breast when your team loses, bemoaning to the world that it heralds a new age of darkness and depravity, all the while simmering in self-righteous anger over the ‘others’ who voted for the opposite obstreperous animal.

Or you could stop for a moment and realize it’s the perfect opportunity to create a round-table for discussion, keeping alive the brutal necessity for rational political discourse. You could spend the next four years learning to countenance opposing ideas, putting your own through intense inquiry, and learning, perhaps, that you are more than your opinions, and that a true democratic process necessitates fair and truthful dialogue.

You could learn that the ‘other’ guy isn’t out to destroy the world as you know it. In the meantime, you may even develop a renewed relationship and appreciation of yourself. In your newfound emotional awareness, you may even begin to realize that, maybe, society doesn’t summarize to ‘0’ if it doesn’t directly correlate to your personal beliefs.

There is a surfeit of information proving that our survival as a species is an exception to the rule.  Instead of erecting barriers to dialogue out of fear and mistrust and choosing to live by this rule, we could try something different. We could continue being the exception. We could choose to live by reason instead of allowing our minds to be ruled by fear. By tying our personal beliefs in evaluation of that fear to the value of our society we inoculate ourselves against new and potentially beneficial ideas.

In effect, we shut down the opportunity for communication.

Communication – the necessity for discourse, is the life-blood of our culture. Our individual, invidious hatreds and biases are more apt to destroy us than the woman upstairs that voted for Trump, or the guy across the street that voted for Hillary. You know what’s killing America?

People that are dishonest with themselves and don’t know how to talk with each-other.

You want to feel like you’re actually contributing to society? Force yourself to listen. Force yourself to consider viewpoints from the other person’s perspective. Ask questions – to yourself and to others. Being open-minded does not mean being weak-willed, it means you’re an effective communicator. Evaluating an idea fairly is not the same as accepting it as your own.

Of course, if being irrational, self-vindicated, emotionally dishonest, and angry is your thing – by all means. You do you. Keep name-calling – keep self-seething over people that hold opinions contrary to your own. Keep soliciting information that reinforces your opinion alone. Keep finding reasons to distrust or even hate your fellow Americans. Do that, and guess what?

You are destroying America more surely than that ‘other’ person’s vote.

Haiku #1; Twenty Second Stream of Conscious

•March 7, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Frankly leaves wither

Wisdom implies no knowledge

Straw coats are fire-fuel.

 
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