June 14, 2018

The Power Of Human Creativity: The Future Of The World May Depend On It

"Things I Would Not Normally Recycle"

On Tuesday, June 12, 2018, the Owl & Ibis Confluence of Minds took a swipe at the Dark Mountain Project by tapping into our respective creative spirits. Why? Perhaps to actively, personally demonstrate to ourselves that the human creative spirit is alive, well and ever necessary - now, if not more than ever, during the 200,000-year evolutionary history of Homo sapiens.

Necessary, especially now, given DMP's and others' claims of impending global catastrophe(s) from human arrogance and delusion, and wasteful, unbridled-growth global capitalism.

Since January, O&I has been closely examining DMP's bleak forecast, and DMP's suggestion that only the arts, especially literary efforts at a new "story" for civilization, can help avert the coming fall of Humankind. Tuesday evening's presentation, "Current Worldviews and Visions of the Future, Art" led by Judith Moore, and the upcoming O&I presentation on June 26, "Current Worldviews and Visions of the Future, The Humanities" by John Cruickshank, will conclude O&I's look at the Dark Mountain Project. To the relief of many, I am sure.

Kudos and a hearty thank you to Judith for organizing and leading this great evening, and to her husband Richard who participated and helped schlep the pile of art materials to the meeting! Judith's presentation also included showing excellent short videos on creating art works from disposed of materials and Dan Phillips' construction of alternative homes from found and natural items, and construction project discards.

"Never underestimate the power of human creativity!" one attendee quipped at Tuesday's meeting.

Great evening, time well spent! At top is an image of one of the evening's creations. Here are the rest:

 

 

 

Pith helmet a prop, not standard O&I gear. :)

June 11, 2018

Remaking the World With Words - Plus, How to Read Them

Johannes Gutenberg (1400-1468)

Johannes Gutenberg's printing press met the Catholic Church's need for consistency in its canon at a time when the Christian church was divided within and challenged from without. Later, this great invention assisted the Church's central European detractors by facilitating the beginning and spread of the Protestant Reformation. The invention then promoted science by hastening the dissemination and exchange of scientific ideas about the composition and workings of the universe, and how to study them. More broadly, it greatly contributed to the Western Enlightenment in terms of making ideas - such as how to improve individual well being (freedom and justice), and how to better organize and facilitate group living - available to more people.

The details of these important events in world history and what led to an invention that deeply influenced them all is a story well told in Gutenberg: How One Man Remade the World with Words (2002) by John Man. This book is an excellent description of the life and times of Johannes Gutenberg, and the impact of his 1440 invention, the movable type printing press.

Example of a European Printing Press 1568

EXCERPT
"Gutenberg's invention had created the possibility of an intellectual genome, a basis of knowledge which could be passed from generation to generation, finding expression in individual books, as the human genome is expressed in you and me itself remaining untouched, a river of knowledge into which every new generation could tap and to which it could add, even after the last press ceases, and paper is no more, and all that the vast store of accumulated knowledge is gathered in hyperspace. For there, in perpetuo, will be Gutenberg's Bible in all its electronic glory, to remind our children's children that this was the thing that started the revolution made by Johannes Gutenberg."

An Early Printing Press with Movable Type

For more on the great inventions in human evolutionary history see here.


As for how to read, there's this:


Photo: Zat Rana

by
Zat Rana
Medium
June 8, 2018

EXCERPT
"Reading is telepathy, and a book is the most powerful technology invented.

"Homer, Shakespeare, Voltaire, Flaubert, Tolstoy, Woolf, Hemingwaythese are names without a living body. We cant talk to them, nor touch them, but their thoughts are immortalized through the written word.

April 22, 2018

Hamlet & Human Nature


What follows in this note and the linked essay below may be obvious to you. Maybe such things become more obvious to most of us the longer we live; and if, in living longer, we find ourselves among the fortunate who learn from our experience. I think the matter of decision-making prior to taking actions in our lives is worth thinking about to some degree, at least occasionally.

Doing so seems especially important in our teens. Or maybe later in early adulthood when we start to put in practice and test the ideas we learned, fully or partially, as teenagers. But, really, who among us ever did this in our youth? Rarely, except maybe when we were smacked between eyes by the reality of some stupid action we had taken, did we stop and consider what led us to such an action. And when we did we were seldom able to ferret out a good, useful answer from our under-cooked brains and the cauldron of hormones we were drowning in. That said, I think it is important from time to time - in our youth, in our prime, and in old age - to occasionally revisit our means of personal decision-making.

What is the point of such an effort? To become sagely wise? Very few of us become sages including first and foremost, yours truly. In fact, I've never met a sage and if I did or ever will I am not smart enough to know it. Should we study our moral decision-making because Socrates insisted that "an unexamined life is not worth living?" I don't think either justification has merit or is inherently worth pursuing. Self examination should be attempted for good practical reasons and purposes. The Stoic Epictetus put it this way: "This, then, is the beginning of philosophy – an awareness of one’s own mental fitness." More to the point, he said: "If you didn’t learn these things (the principles of philosophy) in order to demonstrate them in practice, what did you learn them for?" In short, we should pursue wisdom and self-knowledge in order to become better persons.

As for you who have a means of personal decision-making you are satisfied with, or have no difficulty with the imperfect way most of us muddle through, I salute you. But I'd be lying if I didn't say I'm skeptical that the confidence and comfort you feel comes from a decision based on blind faith for the sake of making the anxiety of uncertainty tolerable, if not "go away." I understand that. "Hamlet moments" of indecision over the serious matters arising in our lives are unpleasant. And the act of agonizing over these episodes solves nothing. I think for most people making these decisions is a practical matter. That is, make the best decision you are capable of at the time, in a way that keeps one's stress level as low as possible, then just move on. I suppose, sooner or later, we all end up doing this.

But I sometimes wonder, is it better to be comforted based on such faith, or be practical and not agonize over our dilemmas, or to live in the ebb and flow of anxiousness from trying to truthfully, objectively stare the uncertainty of our moral decision-making in the eye? Maybe there is room for a full range of valid and viable approaches among Humankind. Maybe there always has been and always will be. Then again, maybe there is a way out of the recurring dilemma of whether to act or not, and if to act, in what way? To find out, let's consider the main character in Shakespeare's Hamlet, and an author and a reviewer's respective views of him and his moral decision-making.


Is Hamlet the moral, decision-fearing weakling we were taught in high school or college? Was Hamlet no different from the rest of us at present?  That is, being too often overwhelmed when facing serious moral dilemmas - to be, or not to be; to act or not act? How is it many of us so often find ourselves blocked from making a decision about action on a serious matter because we don't have, or refuse to avail ourselves of, a satisfying moral system to turn for help in making our decisions? For example, when someone finds no help in the rigid moral codes of religion, or secular reasoning such (including Stoicism), or the common sense of folk psychology? And in the end is left on his/her own, with only the question of what is best for ourselves and, maybe, for others? Then, finding our 'self,' by its very nature, torn between our personal needs for survival, virtue and self-respect on the one hand; and on the other the needs of other people - the moral obligation to honor our family and larger groups, and live up to that which others say a honorable person should do to be human?

All social animals often face and must resolve this dilemma. Sometimes the result has serious if not deadly consequences. That is, deciding what is best for oneself and/or what is best for the group. Humans, and perhaps all sentient social creatures, are born with and improve upon inherent capacities to do this. But each of us must resign ourselves to probabilities rather than guarantees that the choices we make and actions we take will benefit us and/or others appropriately.

Of course, during our respective lives some of our possible and actual choices and actions are better than others. But we can never know for sure beforehand, only afterwards. Even then, the outcome can be mixed as to its virtue or morality. That is to say, acting in a compromising manner that partially satisfies oneself and the other can be a disappointment to all.
The Nguni Bantu peoples of southern Africa (Zulu, Xhosa, Swazi, & others) provide some insight on these matters. Their notion of ubuntu, "I am because we are" or "a sense of and appreciation for the humanity of others" is helpful. The Nguni take the long view - in your decision-making give first priority to what is best for the group not the self, that is, one's family and one's community. Their rationale being, if all give first priority all the time to the self, the group will eventually fail and disappear. When that happens there will be no more groups to give birth to, nurture, protect, and support new selves.

However, there is seldom a clear and unequivocal choice between what is best for me or what is best for us. Further, whatever decision is made or action taken, on all matters great or small, the outcome that is played out in our lives and among our fellows is for the most part beyond our control.

The book Hamlet and the Vision of Darkness and a review of it "The Question of Hamlet" provide respective views on Hamlet's decision making. Both consider the consequences of relying either on the groups' moral systems or on his (our) personal, self-oriented needs. The author and reviewer both seem to argue there is no way to resolve the dilemma. That it is an endeavor each individual is bound to lose, especially when choosing what best suits the self.

Here's my take. Your best chance to survive and possibly thrive is to learn the rules of the game, take the stage, make decisions and take actions you think best. Sometimes this will favor your own interests, other times the interests of your groups. Then, once your action is taken, respond to the consequences as best you can in a like manner. Maybe you will survive. Maybe you will flourish. Maybe not. In the course of your life, that being the evolutionary short term, consider if each action option matters to you, and consider what you see of your self living within the group after each of the options is taken. In the group's life, the long evolutionary term, you and your decisions only really matter to the extent your actions help the group - to survive, to flourish.

Your thoughts?

April 16, 2018

Hamlet & Morality - Where The Buck Stops

AGIP/Bridgeman Images
Jean-Louis Trintignant in the role of Hamlet, at the Théâtre de la Musique, Paris, 1971

by James Shapiro
April 19, 2018
The New York Review of Books

by Rhodri Lewis 

This book relates to my past efforts on this blog and elsewhere arguing my hope for and the possibility of a global morality. See here, here, here, here, and here. I’m not thinking of a morality based on an absolute truth, rather a scientifically-derived provisional truth based on the most simple humane principles. Those being minimizing the harm we do as individuals and maximizing the wellbeing and flourishing of the groups we live in. This would include ideals for human ecology – codes for our relationship to the planet and all its resources and other life forms. We are heading in that direction through the conventions and protocols of the United Nations. Author and skeptic Michael Shermer and neuroscientist and author Sam Harris suggest ways of arriving at such a global morality in their respective books, The Science of Good and Evil and The Moral Landscape. Regrettably, their approach has not been well received in the intellectual community or by the public.

Among the thinkers, criticism is mainly of three types. First, they say, you can’t legislate morality. Codes that might apply to all current and future societies, if such could ever be arrived at, would, due to cultural diversity, be so general that they would be meaningless due to exceptions and shaded meanings on specific moral codes. These critics often mistakenly cite the anthropological notion of “cultural relativity” claiming it prohibits, in all matters, taking moral positions favoring one culture or moral tradition over another. See moral relativism. Also, they ask, who would enforce such legislated morality, by what standards and methods?

March 8, 2018

Emotion Over Reason, Reason Over Emotion?



Suddenly seeing a snake in your path, followed by a fixed wide-eyed stare, muscle tenseness, increased heart rate, perhaps a jump backwards, are emotionally reflexive responses, not deliberative or reasoned choices and actions. There is little if any deliberative, choice-making reasoning occurring in this instance.

During the snake encounter emotion played a dominant role. Reasoning, as a reflection on the events that just happened, came second: “Yes, that was a snake, a poisonous one. Good thing I saw it when I did. To have stepped on it may have made it bite me. I might have died if it had.” Reasoning can also be a slower more deliberative post hoc rationalization of the emotions we experience and the emotion-driven actions we take: “So-and-so repulses me physically, visually. I have a bad feeling being in his/her presence. I will avoid this person because of this.”

These examples do not justify a now widely accepted conclusion that reasoning, in general and for the most often, is an after-the-fact comment, reflection, justification or rationalization of emotional states. This emotion-above-all view is one that psychologist Jonathan Haidt and others have recently convinced many pundits and much of the public to believe. I think Haidt’s view is yet another modern version of sociobiology or Skinnerian stimulus-response behaviorism. It minimizes the role and importance of reasoning in human affairs and points to genetic, sensory-emotive and hormonal processes as the predominant and overriding causes of behavior.