I’ve been reading a rather interesting perspective on the nature of art lately. The author’s interest is, apparently, to present art as a broader more all-encompassing enterprise: as something with the potential to reach deep into the psychic as well as philosophical realms of human Being. This advocate for the arts maintains that a total sensual and intellectual emersion on the part of the art consumer might potentially move him/her far beyond simple aesthetic appreciation onto a psychological plateau of unimaginable ecstasy or at least engagement: that art, when attentively considered might changer one’s way of perceiving and thinking about the world.
The idea, I guess, is that art at its best may produce psychic displacement, as in a nightmare when those around you are aware of information you aren’t privy to leaving you exposed, naked, alienated, outside of the common knowledge shared by everyone else. Such a shocking realization might then lead to basic questioning of all you previously took for granted: the physical and social norms of daily existence come into question.
Well, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit. The author’s intent though is that the best art will provide the attentive consumer a truly cathartic experience. As I think about it, there’s nothing really new about the idea of art as catharsis: the ancient Greeks were creating such work millennia ago and it was pretty successful. Such art provided respite from the anxieties suffered during the disruptive wars between the city states. Given our politics these days I’m thinking we could probably use a bit of that now.
I am realizing, after doing some reading and thinking about the nature of social media these days, that as I write, then publish this short contemplation I am being a participant, a conveyor, along with tens of thousands of others on this day, of information with the potential to reach all sorts (thinking optimistically) of readers, viewers many of whom (optimistically, again) are unknown to me.
I tell myself repeatedly I do this primarily to better grasp and retain the ideas I read about, which is true, of course, but assuming there are consumers consuming the brief content of my posts is an attractive consideration, motivating, really.
But, realistically, given the enormous amount of content available for the average surfer to wade through I know I should expect little if any engagement in my posts. Still, I rationalize my participation in the public conversation, available amidst the offerings of national media outlets, conspiracy theorists and trolls as, hopefully, an appreciated light respite.
I’ve been reading lately about the differing perspectives among certain religious scholars in medieval times, and earlier too, as the church fathers gradually constructed through biblical interpretation the dogmatic beliefs which formed the essence of the Christian religion.
As one might imagine deciphering meaning from sacred texts led to conflicting beliefs, then power struggles within a church hierarchy that became more interested in material gain than saving souls, overtime producing a church that treated it’s parishioners less as children of God than as prey, selling indulgences that were claimed to be one’s ticket directly to heaven, which was a big deal because the fear of the tortures of purgatory was so embedded in people’s minds that extortion was pretty easy to practice. So, with the clergy in complete control, calling the shots, getting rich off of indulgences, the parishioners cowed into subservience, things weren’t looking too good for an extended run of a religion that began as a promise of true salvation to an oppressed people of meager prospects.
Jumping ahead a few centuries we find that the church did survive and has pretty well got it’s act together, you know, practicing honest concern for those in need and pursuing the spiritual well being of it’s community, not demanding unreasonable alms and recognizing, for the most part, the legitimacy of other belief systems.
They should, though, probably work on staying out of politics.
I’ve been reading about the difficulties that the Early Christians faced translating the Bible into Latin. There were, apparently, a number of translations from the original Hebrew and Greek in early Christian times that were treated as ‘living text’, altered to suit the inclinations and personal biases of the interpreter. Serious scholars like Jerome (whom the church eventually thought well enough of to grant sainthood) struggled, in the 4th century CE, to gain a sufficient knowledge of Greek to produce an accurate (or fairly accurate anyway) translation of what was originally written. Even so our intrepid scholar, given the enormity of the task, made plenty of mistakes. And on top of it all, the time being pre-printing press, copies had to be made by hand by ill-fed, poorly housed monks who it is certainly reasonable to understand, made plenty of errors of their own.
Later, in the 16th century, Erasmus of Rotterdam, a respected Biblical scholar, unhappy with the grammatical errors and discrepancies of meaning in the New Testament returned to the original Greek in order to produce a translation more in keeping with the intentions of the authors of the gospels and epistles. Erasmus (whom the church apparently didn’t deem sufficiently saintly) spent years working on his Biblical update. He, too, was prone to translating mistakes.
Assuming the multiple translations into modern languages has inevitably built mistakes upon mistakes I have to wonder how today’s Christian Fundamentalists can maintain a belief in Biblical inerrancy.
I’ve been thinking, lately, about the idea of the inter-connectedness of all things and events. I get it in an abstract sense, from the standpoint of particle physics, you know, sub-atomic particles in constant flux moving between solid objects and the ethereal. But, from a pragmatic point of view, the idea is contrary to my ingrained perspective of linearity, one thing following another in straight forward cause and effect.
I’m beginning to see, though, that sometimes seemingly inconsequential occurrences can have wide-spread ramifications affecting a multitude of subsequent events. And, inclined as I am to dismiss as ludicrous the realm of the extra-sensory I’m beginning to think there may be something to the notion that the subtlest of actions, an intense thought, even, might alter the behavior of animate beings as well as affect the very structure of the physical world.
This line of thought may be due, I realize, to the existential discomfort of the changing seasons, the slumber onto death of on-coming winter, but, on the positive side I’m finding a new focus for a time, a new way of thinking outside of the envelope of logic and rationality. Maybe I’ll come up with some great new ideas before I retreat back into my rational world, which, I’m pretty sure I will do.
Reading the news these days leads me to the observation that humankind is existing in disparate realities. Political discourse seems to be polarizing, getting nastier, adherents on left and right becoming angrier and angrier. It’s almost as if we’ve submerged ourselves in sensory deprivation chambers resulting in a behavioral regression to a more primitive animal nature. ‘Sensory deprivation’ in this case amounts to willful ignorance, to a refusal to see views other than our own as valid, leading to tribalistic demonization of the ‘Other’.
It is pretty easy to find one’s preferred narrative nowadays, there being such a variety of news offerings. Unfortunately, many of these information providers seem to be less interested in providing fair assessment than attracting followers who prefer their intuitive beliefs reinforced, which seems to be a pretty consistent characteristic of our innate tribal natures.
Sometimes it’s hard not to be embarrassed for our species.
I’ve learned from the ancient Stoics that one must pick one’s battles: there are certain things that will occur in one’s life that one simply has to accept and live with. I get the idea, you know, that screaming and hitting one’s head against a wall in impotent exasperation is never a useful procedure.
But now I read that Friedrich Nietzsche not only advocated the acceptance of one’s fate, but he said it should be embraced, loved even. Granted, F. was a bit crazy toward the end of his life and not particularly upbeat before that, still, the idea deserves contemplation, I suppose. As I wait around to see what happens next, what fate has in store for me, embedded as I am in the real world, I’m not sure all conceivable possibilities will necessarily be loveable. In fact, there are several scenarios I can imagine so dire, that, if they were to happen, may lead me to the precipice, threaten my very sanity, be so totally incapacitating as to render me catatonic and irretrievably mentally lost.
Such a realized occurrence may, I guess, have been what happened to F.
I happened upon a commentary the other day about perspectives: how we as individuals see our world(s) as inherently good places or as bad and getting worse. The suggestion the psychologist author offers, in the end, is that our world view(s) are less about the world than about certain primal beliefs we harbor. To emphasize her thesis the author provides access to an on-line questionnaire whereby the reader might find out why, exactly, he or she wakes up in the morning enthusiastic and ready to face the new day or in a funk.
I couldn’t resist. I answered the 20 or so questions designed to determine to what degree I saw the world as safe, enticing and alive fairly quickly and was then presented with bar graphs ranking my responses with those of other survey takers. According to the results I found that my world view is pretty positive; a safe and enticing place (for the most part) inviting enthusiastic exploration, rife with opportunities to earn and grow and populated with mostly warm and supportive people.
When it came to the ‘alive ‘ part I didn’t fair so well, ranking down in the 20-30 percentile, which meant, I guess, that I couldn’t come to grips with the idea worldly events happen for a purpose which was how the questions were posed. But then I got to thinking about the idea of synchronicity, the idea that coincidences of time and place occur too frequently to be, well, coincidences: like thinking of an old friend one day and then hearing from him the next. And then there’s chaos theory, you know, like the butterfly effect where a small inconsequential occurrence begins a chain of events that snowball into a happening of enormous consequence, like the meteor sited by the Emperor Constantine providing the impetus for the rise of Christianity.
So, it has become clear to me that the world is a living, dynamic albeit chaotic place. I retook the test and did much better on the ‘alive’ part. So, I guess I see the world as a pretty good place. Well, mostly anyway.
(If you’re curious about your own perspectives take the survey at myprimals.com)
I’ve been thinking lately about what it means to be conservative. The tendency is, I think, to consider the term in a political sense, the stereotypical conservative/liberal dichotomy of uncompromising social and economic positioning that even conjures images of partisan physical appearance.
But, what I’m thinking about is how one deals with, resists or assimilates, changing social, cultural and moral values; how flexible one’s thinking needs to be to accommodate new ideas regarding ingrained beliefs that have become firmly ensconced and unchallenged for, maybe, generations.
Having long thought of myself as a progressive and open-minded individual, I’m finding it difficult of late to go beyond a ‘live and let live’ acceptance of notions that seem to be widely and enthusiastically embraced. It’s a bit disconcerting. The person I’m seeing in the mirror these days is less someone on the cutting edge of new ideas, someone not so avant-garde as I had always thought of myself as being.
I hate to think it but I’m afraid I’m becoming conservative.
I’ve been reading that neuroscience has made significant inroads toward determining how exactly the brain makes possible our biological existence. Apparently, the mind can be thought of as a neural computer comprised of modules, each with specific tasks, that respond to the input of information that arrives through the senses. Within the brain, billions of neurons make up various organs that control everything from toe wiggling to eye blinking.
I find it all pretty hard to picture but maybe it can be thought of as a sort of ‘light show’, neurons sending electric pulses down a line to a ‘blink center’ (in the case of eye blinking) which converts the pulse to a chemical which is sent to nerves in the eye lid and blinking happens.
As I think about it, I suppose there must be another organ with it’s contingent of neurons that keep the lungs inflating and deflating, another one that processes the oxygen and delivers it to the blood cells and yet another that maintains blood flow to the extremities and on and on; and all of this brain activity happening just to keep us animated and more or less cogent.
In the light of such knowledge one might not be surprised, I guess, if mental lapses are experienced occasionally.