Obsession, like its Gorgon sisters, Compulsion and Addiction, consumes, setting fires that burn long down the river of time. So it was with M, who, in the twilight of her teens, began the obsession that would infuse everything she did, everything she was, with its insidious siren song. Sometimes smoldering, sometimes raging conflagration, it burned through five careers, three marriages, the love of two children, numerous cats, oceans of alcohol, truckloads of chocolate chip mint ice cream.
She had tried so many times to control it, had seen a legion of therapists, gone through forests of tissues drying torrents of tears in countless sessions, all to no avail. Yes, there were times when she would right herself in the saddle of the beast that carried her forward into her sad life, but it was always a short lived reprieve. Inevitably the beast would unexpectedly twist, turn or buck, throwing her into ever deeper descents into the hellfire of her deviously compulsive mind. It was a beast she seemed destined, some would say doomed, to ride.
Family and friends would periodically try to rescue her. There were numerous interventions undertaken by an ever evolving cast of colleagues, lovers, family and friends, filled with emotional descriptions of what the beast was doing to everyone around her. She would dissolve into tears, rivers of which seemed to extinguish the fires of the monster raging within her. For varying lengths of time they would get her back, love and relief would flow, gratitude would be offered to all the positive spiritual forces in the world.
The beast, however, was never fully extinguished, its faintly glowing embers would persist deep in the shadowy realm of her primal self, waiting for the circumstances of her life to blow across them, coax renewed flames up from them, raise the chimeric phoenix from the ashes left by each futile attempt to love her back to a being that could be hugged, kissed, held.
No moment would be opportune for the re-ignition of such torching compulsion, but the timing was always the worst possible. Calibrated to do the utmost damage to anyone unfortunate enough to find themselves caring about her, the beast would emerge and charge around, laying waste to every ounce of love and compassion offered up from the deep wells of human to human concern available to her.
Decades burned by without any change to her story. One had to wonder if hers was a struggle of a more eternal nature.
As would be expected, she arrived at a moment of utter destitution, hopelessness, emptiness. The black hole of her obsession collapsing in on itself, sucking her tortured being rapidly towards the event horizon of being-not-being.
There came a day when a bullet crashed through her brain, ending her tortured life.
She was found by the banks of a stream, water gaily tumbling by. A gun was never found. There were no signs of struggle, no signs that anyone else had been present, no definitive indication she had done it herself. Had she taken her own life? Had the universe taken pity on her and sent a delivering angel, or taken pity on humanity and sent an avenging one? The moment is recorded in the databases of the cosmos, but the information is unavailable to anyone who might still care.
Those same cosmic databases also record, halfway around the world, a girl child inhaling her first breath at the precise moment M breathed her last. The reader will decide if these two events were more than temporally connected.
- My Humanist Concept of Sacred
Current theory in Physical Cosmology tells us that the Universe literally exploded into existence approximately 13.7 billion years ago. As this same theory predicts that the event emerged out of a single point, it can be presumed for the time being that there was nothing in the way to be savaged by the blast.
About 13.4 billion years ago the first stars and galaxies began to form. Suns are massive nuclear furnaces where matter is subjected to unimaginable extremes of pressure and heat. Throughout the life of stars there are constant eruptions that spew matter out into space and, as most of us know, stars eventually die, many of them going through massive explosions before going cold or possibly collapsing into very dense matter, even black holes. Indeed, at some point in the very distant future our own sun will die, taking with it any life that may still exist on this planet.
About 3.8 billion years ago the first primitive life forms appeared and the workings of the survival of the fittest were set in motion. It was a microbe eat microbe world back then.
700 million years ago the first primitive animals appear and start their competition to be the next big thing.
About 200 million years ago mammals emerge, but since the dinosaurs won the big thing competition long before that, they remain a secondary trend for some 135 million years.
About 65 million years ago the dinosaurs become extinct, the apparent victims of a random universal catastrophic event. An asteroid or comet collided with the earth, indiscriminately killing, it can be presumed, any kind of life in the vicinity of the impact and altering long term environmental conditions to such a degree that the dinosaurs fail to survive. Mammals begin their pursuit of becoming the next planetary idol.
About 600 thousand years ago homo sapiens arrives and soon after, geologically speaking, these intelligent creatures begin to ponder the world around them and observe that it is a dog eat dog world and that nobody gets out of it alive.
About 170,000 years ago, a supernova explodes in the large Magellanic Cloud, destroying who knows what in the immediate vicinity and sending a brilliant flash of radiation out across the reaches of interstellar space.
On the 24th of August, 79AD, Mount Vesuvius erupted burying the city of Pompeii and indiscriminately killing everyone, the good the bad, the men, the women, the children.
On August 26th and 27th of 1883 an eruption of Krakatoa culminates in a series of massive explosions heard as far away as Perth in Austrailia. The official death toll recorded by Dutch authorities was 36,417. Tsunami waves were experienced by ships as far away as South Africa. So far reaching are the effects that researchers have recently proposed that the blood red sky depicted in Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream” can be attributed to the lingering effects of the explosion. Munch is quoted as saying “suddenly the sky turned blood red … I stood there shaking with fear and felt an endless scream passing through nature.” The painting was made in 1893, a full ten years after the eruption.
In 1987, earth based observers witness a super nova in the Large Magellanic Cloud, 170,000 years after it actually happens.
In October of 2003, a young boy was playing beneath the clay cliffs of Block Island and was suddenly buried under a dump truck sized hunk of clay that broke away. Frantic efforts to save him were to no avail.
On December 26, 2004, a great earthquake shook the floor of the Indian Ocean producing a Tsunami that took the lives of almost 230,000 people.
On August 29th, 2005 Hurricane Katrina, one of the most costly and deadly hurricanes in the history of the United States, reached land fall on the Louisiana coast. Almost 2000 people died and an estimated 81.2 billion dollars worth of property damage was done.
My topic today is the concept of sacred and its usefulness, or lack thereof, to humanity in general, and more specifically within the context of our Ethical Humanist religion. Let me immediately add the caveat that this is my concept of sacred. I say “my” because it is a concept I have largely worked out on my own. I will be quoting no authorities today, not because it isn’t useful and even important to build our understandings on the shoulders of those who have gone before us, but because I am trying to reach deeply into my own personal experience of the world through the 52 years I have been here and grapple directly with a concept that I think is key to our human existence and our ability to live with one another. And, since this is my concept of sacred, you are free to accept or reject it as you will. I do not present myself as an authority on the subject, nor do I plan to beat you into submission with any authority higher than my own. Instead, what I hope to do today is to provoke at least a little thought and reflection on your part as to what your own concept of sacred is and how useful it is to you.
Let me start by sharing a definition of sacred provided by Wikipedia:
sacred (comparative more sacred, superlative most sacred)
- Set apart by solemn religious ceremony; especially, in a good sense, made holy; set apart to religious use; consecrated; not profane or common; as, a sacred place; a sacred day; sacred service.
- Relating to religion, or to the services of religion; not secular; religious; as, sacred history.
Smit with the love of sacred song. -Milton.
- Designated or exalted by a divine sanction; possessing the highest title to obedience, honor, reverence, or veneration; entitled to extreme reverence; venerable.
Such neighbor nearness to our sacred [royal] blood Should nothing privilege him. -Shakespeare Poet and saint to thee alone were given, The two most sacred names of earth and heaven. -Cowley.
- Hence, not to be profaned or violated; inviolable.
Secrets of marriage still are sacred held. -Dryden.
- Consecrated; dedicated; devoted; — with to.
A temple, sacred to the queen of love. -Dryden.
- (archaic) Solemnly devoted, in a bad sense, as to evil,
vengeance, curse, or the like; accursed; baleful. But, to destruction sacred and devote. -Milton.
I am very interested in the idea that when we make something sacred, we set it apart as something that is not to be violated. That a place, a thing, even a concept becomes sacred through collective agreement to hold it apart from violation. Let me repeat that, a place, a thing, even a concept becomes sacred through collective agreement to hold it apart from violation.
Humanists have a natural and understandable aversion to words so thoroughly claimed by the dominant religions. We are especially averse to words and concepts when common usage connects them to a belief in any kind of divinity. Almost all of us are refugees from one or even several religions, and we are uncomfortable with any concept that might lead us back to what we experienced there.
None the less, there are many words and attendant concepts that hold great power if we can wean them from their supernatural connections, and understand them as purely human constructs that are key to making our limited earthly existence happy.
I began this talk by reaching way back to the beginning of time as we know it and then marching you forward through a representative litany of the rumblings and churnings of the Universe. The Universe, it turns out, regularly produces moments of great violence. The unfolding of matter and energy in time and space brings all kinds of things together in juxtapositions where one or all of them cease to be anything like what they were before.
It seems pretty certain too, that everything that comes into existence will sooner or later go out of existence. I am pretty sure there is no judgment involved in this unfolding of matter and energy in space over time. The universe is indifferent to what you and I would perceive as the consequences of these comings and goings. Stuff happens. The universe unfolds.
It is important to understand, then, that there is no place or thing that you, or I or anyone can wish to set apart from violation that this churning unfolding of the universe cannot easily wipe away in the blink of an eye.
You and I too are relatively indifferent to the plight of lifeless matter along the way. Things come and go according to the physical laws of the universe and that is that. We are even relatively indifferent to the comings and goings of entire evolutionary branches of the distant past. What one of us mourns the fate of dinosaurs, creatures that were unlucky enough to be residents of the planet when both it and a comet or asteroid attempted to occupy the same space at the same time? We are perhaps a little awestruck at the magnitude of the event and its consequences. We worry that something similar could happen to us one day. But really, who cries for dinosaurs? Or for that matter, who imagines that their fate was some kind of divine retribution for their failure to reign in the debauched ways of the Tyrannosaurs or the evil cunning of the Velociraptors?
I think you will agree that even had humanity been present for such events, there is little that we could have done to stop them.
Ok, I know we are currently tracking a lot of asteroids hoping to detect, and ultimately deter any that may look as though they will come too close. Nevertheless, as my extremely partial list of calamities shows, we are unlikely to be able to avoid them all. Sooner or later the universe is going to throw something big at us and there won’t be much we can do about it.
We will be violated, as in, “interrupted, disturbed,” which is the fourth definition of the transitive verb, violate, to be found in the online version of Webster’s dictionary. I have a feeling that very early on humanity noticed that the world was an often brutal place, that they had little control over the calamities that could befall them, and that, even if they managed to avoid those calamities it was inevitable that they would one day feel their strength and vitality slip away. That eventually and inevitably their very beings would be interrupted. The unfolding of our lives after a certain point, 30, maybe 40 years of age for us, can seem a steady and continual chipping away by violations, small and large. As Stephen Sondheim put it in his musical A Little Night Music, “Every Day a Little Death.”
When you think of it this way, it is not hard to understand why humanity would develop a profound longing for some place beyond the continual and inevitable intrusions of the workings of the world in which they lived, a place that is eternally apart from violation, a heaven. Or that they might imagine a place that was beyond those violations at one time in the distant past, a Garden of Eden. Or even that they would contemplate a place of eternal punishment with violations of the most awful kinds for the damnation of the wicked among them.
It is this line of thinking that really helps me understand how elaborate fantasies like the concept of heaven, the Garden of Eden and the fires of hell came into being and how so many of us can believe in their literal existence. What one of us doesn’t long for a place to be where there is no violation?
I and most of you don’t really believe these places existed or exist as anything more than mythological constructs addressing deep seated existential longings we all have. And I would suggest that once we start to wean the concept of sacred from the supernatural we can start to examine it for its utility to our earthly existence. I would further suggest that a critical component of the concept of sacred is that we are a species that experiences and understands violation because we are something more than a creature that lives from one day to the next. We experience our world, remember how we were, and entertain dreams about the future. We create words like sacred and violate so that we can share our experiences, fears and desires with one another. And, unfortunately, the violations I think we were most concerned about when we first identified and named the concept are those that we all too readily perpetrate ourselves. It is no accident that eight of the Ten Commandments are proscriptions against actions that violate and that six of those are proscriptions against actions that violate one another. We long ago came to the conclusion that in order to have a civil society we would have to collectively set things apart from our own propensity to violate them. We had to agree that certain things are sacred.
And in case I have been too subtle up until this point, I want to emphatically state that what is sacred and what is violation is purely a human construct, as I was hoping my review of selected universal calamities in the beginning would help me illustrate. The universe, except through and by us or any other intelligent creatures there may be, does not make distinctions about what is open to violation and what is not. Mother Nature will as easily wipe away a temple as it will uproot a tree or kill off the dinosaurs. It is we who make the distinctions because they help us in some way to navigate our lives and our relationships to the rest of life around us.
Now there are all kinds of sacred when we define it simply as that which we agree to hold apart from violation. I would bet that all of us sitting here today have numerous places and or objects that are sacred to us. We give them special reverence because they mean something to us. They help us know who and what we are. And we would be incredibly upset if someone took them or destroyed them or otherwise desecrated them.
Let’s explore for a moment the sacred places that are our homes. Have you ever stopped to think about how different it is to be on one side or the other of the threshold of the front door of your home? About how the simple act of crossing from one side to the other substantially changes your frame of mind? We repeat it on a daily basis and each time we do there is a qualitative experience of transition from sanctuary to the bustling and demanding outer world. There is a particular feeling to walking out the door to go to work. There is a particular feeling to walking out the door to run a few errands. There is a particular feeling to coming home from the end of a long day of work and closing the door behind us leaving the energy draining challenges and frustrations of that workday outside. There is a particular significance to the invitation we offer to an acquaintance or friend to cross that threshold and join us inside of our homes. As visitors we intuitively understand that when we cross a threshold into the home of another we have been granted a privilege and that with it goes a certain amount of trust that we will not violate the sanctity of it. What one of us does not cherish the sanctity of our homes, either consciously or unconsciously? What one of us has not felt, or would not feel violated by the intrusion of the world outside in some uninvited way?
And significantly, we broadly agree that one’s home is one’s castle and that we are entitled to enjoy it free of violation by others. And, recognizing that there are at least a few for whom this common agreement does not hold, we employ significant security tactics to keep ourselves free of violation and we collectively agree to punish those who do.
It is not only personal places and things that develop a sacred character. We collectively identify things, places and even concepts as sacred. Most of us commonly acknowledge the myriad of churches, synagogues, temples, shrines, etc. that are sacred places and all the sacred relics that fill them. We don’t necessarily share the belief in the sacredness of these places and things, but we understand that others do and we tend to respect that and in so doing, we also help to reinforce that sanctity. Somewhat less obvious to some of us would be the sacredness of our cultural institutions. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, MOMA, and my current favorite temple of contemplation, the DIA Art Museum in Beacon, are all places that are sacred, largely because they contain objects that are of profound importance to our collective existence, representing our most important cultural memories and concepts.
We often hear the complaint “Is nothing sacred anymore?” And some of us may even nod our heads in knowing sympathy as we have often experienced the loss of something that had relevance to our own history and sense of being. I have to laugh a little at this though, because everywhere I turn I see evidence of people deciding what is sacred and what is not and an amazing amount of the world is sacred to somebody, and an equally amazing amount of the world is sacred to large numbers of us collectively. It is just that we are constantly churning through the ceaseless production of humanity and deciding what is sacred and what is not. Our ideas about that evolve continuously. And of course part of that churning is a challenge to the status quo of the past. We are, and should be, always asking the question, is that really worthy of setting apart?
As I stated a minute ago, places and objects are not all that can become sacred. Perhaps some of the most significant as well as some of the most difficult to puzzle out are really more conditions or states of being.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
These rights are not just unalienable, they are sacred and therefore not to be violated. Though, exactly what is meant by the concepts of Life and Liberty or the pursuit of Happiness is open to interpretation. And of course there was some distance to go before these rights were understood to apply to more than just white male property owners.
It is in the realm of such concepts that I think we find the most important and significant instances of the sacred. This is the realm in which we are most likely to find agreement that approaches universal on what is deserving of our reverent respect, though we might have to struggle to bring some around to it.
The sanctity of human life is a concept that a vast majority of humanity clings to, in spite of the difficulty we have in maintaining it or agreeing about when it begins and whether it is right to terminate a nascent one. In my listing of calamities at the beginning of this talk I specifically avoided thinking about the tragedies that are of our own making, largely because I needed to make the point that stuff happens and I did not want to get caught up in the whys and wherefores of human violence nor trivialize it in any way. But let’s admit the obvious, humanity is capable of incredibly destructive and violative acts as we are all too well reminded of by the events of September 11th, the Genocide in Darfur, or the daily tragedies occurring in Iraq.
It is our own capacity to violate one another and everything living around us that makes a concept of the sacred incredibly important. It is, I believe, one of the main reasons it came about at all.
So here we are standing in the the meeting house of The Bergen Ethical Society, talking about the concept of sacred and the relevance of it to our lives and our religion. I think we have reached the time to ask the question, what do we Ethical Culturists believe to be sacred? That is, what do we commonly agree to honor, and thereby hold apart from violation?
On the outside of NYSEC’s building it says that we are “dedicated to the ever increasing knowledge, and practice and love of the right.” Above the stage at NYSEC, it says “the place where people meet to seek the highest is holy ground.” It is an interesting and telling statement. Notice that it is not that place that is holy, but any place where we meet in an effort to seek the very highest. Of course NYSEC’s building has importance as the first home Ethical Culture could call its own. It has achieved a certain level of sacred within the Ethical Culture movement and even to some who are outside of the movement and are familiar with the things that have emanated from within its walls. But for Ethical Culture, the highest level of sacred is reserved for something else.
The place where people meet to seek the highest is holy ground. The highest what? And why do we want to know and appreciate and love “the right?” It is because our fundamental belief is in the worth and dignity, indeed, the sanctity of every human being. It is because we believe that individuals and peoples are brimming with potential and have the capacity to do the most remarkable things. And finally, it is because we believe that in order for individuals and peoples to achieve that potential we must learn to conduct ourselves and the affairs of our institutions in such a way that we honor that worth and dignity. We honor it by refraining from unreasonably or selfishly restricting an individual’s potential. And even more importantly, we are enjoined to conduct ourselves in a way that moves ourselves and those around us ever closer to the realization of that fullest potential.
Take a look around you, there are no objects and trappings that are intended to channel a higher authority. And while we do indulge in some of the trappings of ceremony, it is relatively sparse and it is clear that we are not here to worship or acquaint ourselves with any higher authority. In Ethical Culture we put at the very center of our faith the ethical treatment of one another and the work we are to do is both the work I am doing right here and now in trying to deepen my understanding of the principles by which I want to guide my life, and the actions I am compelled to take because of that understanding.
One of the fundamental characteristics of human beings, indeed, one of the essential ingredients in our capacity to be ethical human beings, is that we have some degree of free will. That is, we can choose between a set of alternative actions in a way that is at least partly based on an understanding of likely consequences. Put another way, we are not driven purely by instinct. Without this crucial distinction there is no concept of sacred or of an ethical culture. If there is no free will, no capacity to make reasoned and thoughtful choices, then we might as well pack it up and go home.
Ours is not a religion that assumes we are helpless to help ourselves. In fact, our assumption is that in the here and now, we are the only ones who can help ourselves. And how do we go about helping ourselves? We do that by building relationships of integrity that honor and respect the worth and dignity of all involved. That is the fundamental core of Ethical Culture. That is our reason for being.
So, you may ask, how do relationships of integrity get built? I’d like to begin to answer that question by looking at a set of human capacities that appear to me to be essential ones to be possessed and clearly demonstrated if we wish to establish relationships with integrity. Among these are the capacities for courage, honesty, fairness, forgiveness, tolerance, respect, empathy and joy. Together these capacities, or the lack thereof, will determine the integrity of our relationships by setting the level of trust, and consequently, the level of commitment we will have to one another.
Let’s think a little about why each one of them is important.
When an individual has a capacity for courage, we know they will stand by us under difficult situations and do the right thing by us in those situations. This will be true whether doing right by us means facing an outer peril together with us or the inner peril of our anger because they will tell us something we don’t want to hear but need to. We know too that they will have the capacity to do the right thing, regardless of the consequences for themselves. Several of the other capacities are intimately linked, even dependent on the capacity for courage.
When we know an individual is both honest and has courage, then we know we can rely on them to give us as accurate an account of any situation as any individual would be capable of, and that they will endeavor to do so regardless of how it reflects on us or them. We know too that they will have the capacity to admit their mistakes.
The capacity to be fair tells us that an individual can regularly overcome their prejudices no matter what they are and how they arise and that they can consistently resist the temptation to benefit or satisfy their own hunger or thirst to the detriment of another.
An individual’s capacity for forgiveness tells us that mistakes can be made, but we know that they will always be reviewed in the light of our intentions and the circumstances that were attendant. It also tells us that there is room for redemption even when the transgression is significant. And who among us has not transgressed significantly at least a few times in our lives?
The capacity for tolerance tells us that there will be room for our differences, without which a diverse group of individuals cannot hope to congregate in relative peace and harmony.
The capacity for respect tells us that we will have worth and dignity in an individual’s eyes and that they will honor that worth and dignity even while disagreeing with us or having their faith in us challenged.
An individual’s capacity for empathy tells us they are able to understand the world as we see and experience it.
And finally, an individual’s capacity for joy lets us know that they can join together with us in optimism and wonderment and with a full appreciation of all that is possible.
Combine these capacities together with a generally shared set of values, add the leavening of the experience of one another over time, and you have the prime content of any relationship with integrity, trust. In my opinion, to come to a place of mutual trust and respect is the mother of all sacred places in Ethical Culture. It is only from this place of trust and respect that we have any hope of helping one another to reach his or her greatest potential. That we have any hope of an Ethical Culture.
It is not easy work to get to this place. To begin with, possessing this set of capacities is not a given. It is something we work on throughout our lives. And even if we have all of these capacities in good measure, it takes time and a lot of willing effort for individuals to come together and create that space of mutual trust and respect. And once achieved it is an exquisite but relatively delicate flowering. Failing even modestly, in any one of those capacities can easily shatter it.
None the less, it is a place of sanctity that is eminently worth trying for, again, and again, and again.
In closing I would like to offer up my own humanist concept of what is sacred.
Sacred is created through an act, or a series of acts of respect and honor. By offering our respect and honor, we set apart a place, an object, or an individual, and in doing so, we hold them apart from violation. This is true whether we do so as an individual or as a people. The significance of the sacred is contained in its power to center us on that which is most important to our lives. When we find a person, a place or a thing worthy of honor, and we honor it, it becomes a shining beacon from which we may obtain our bearings at all times. It helps us to solidify ourselves and move out with confidence. Only by honoring and protecting these beacons can they be of any value to us. For each of us there are numerous individuals, places, things, and concepts which we honor and the fabric of our being, both individual and collective, is woven around them. We are, both individually and collectively, what we hold to be sacred.
When we understand the sacred as being created by an act or a series of acts of respect, then we also understand to what extent the world can become sacred. If we choose to honor everything that impinges on our being, the entire world becomes sacred. If we choose to honor nothing, then the entire world is profane. We must recognize, however, that whatever we choose not to honor and make sacred, becomes open to violation. And a world in which nothing is honored is a world of anarchy.
I honor and respect the incalculable worth and dignity that is in all of you. May you all have the capacity for courage, honesty, fairness, forgiveness, tolerance, respect, empathy and joy, especially joy, in abundance. And may your lives be deeply infused with all that is sacred to you, and perhaps even a little that is sacred to me.
- Week 08
February 22, 2020
8:11 AM – Big Mouth Coffee Roasters
… blew up at H last night… number of nagging irritations, some on her, some not… she, baking bread, commanding kitchen and ovens till well into the evening, me wanting to roast chicken and Brussels sprouts, mash potatoes, impossible, angry, not because i was unable to make dinner, because she didn’t plan, figure out time needed, talk to me, work it out… also not helping enough with Fiona, feels like it’s all up to me… she appreciates evidence that i think of her, as in morning coffee set up, rarely does anything like for me… posts on FB, i both cook and do dishes, i find this embarrassing for us as a couple, my perception being most couples at least share cleaning up if one has done the cooking… anomalies in my right and left eye, need to visit the eye doctor, reluctance to do so, fearing some sort of bad news, wanting no evidence the body is beginning to fail… thoughts about market/capitalism, that it is secular given its intense materialist view of the cosmos, science intensely materialist, religion tries to lay itself along side, over the top, not successfully, becoming the victim of materialist/physicalist secularism that is the natural result… DT, symptom of the bankruptcy of the system… does science struggle from it’s lack of connection to subjective, qualitative?… there is no moral center or foundation for a materialist market/capitalism, if it isn’t of the system, it isn’t…
February 21, 2020
8:19 AM – Big Mouth Coffee Roasters
… S in charge, i say her name, she likes it… finishing Galileo’s Error, free will, do we have it?, mentioned the split brain experiments, we make decisions largely sub or pre-consciously, it is seconds, as many as 10, before the conscious mind catches up… pansychism, a way to think about consciousness that leaves room for free will… my belief, we have some degree of free will, but not unencumbered or unconstrained free will… consciousness exists to make sense of the world in a way that allows prediction and actions based on predictions… how could predictions and actions around those predictions not be some kind of free will?… by the same token, we predict and act on predictions in the service of pre-conscious instincts and desires… we can become more disciplined in allowing our conscious predictive capabilities to direct our actions in the world, but we are never free of primal instinct which has a huge directive impact that cannot be considered to be free will… the idea that DT has a better theory of power, acquiring and using, than those who would reign him in, it is not clear to me that the Dems yet have a strong enough theory of politics, power, acquiring and using… pansychic book talked about the idea that plants can communicate and consequently can be viewed as having a kind of consciousness… consciousness, the ability to make use of experience in predictive way… feeling frustrated by interruptions to my morning routine, my inability to stay on top of my work…
February 20, 2020
8:20 AM – Kitchen and Coffee
… new book on pansychism excites me, the idea that mind is a fundamental quality of the universe…
“Eddington’s panpsychism was not dualistic. His view was not that particles have two sets of properties: physical properties (mass, charge, spin, etc.) on the one hand and nonphysical consciousness properties on the other. The view is rather that the physical properties of a particle (mass, spin, charge, etc.) are themselves forms of consciousness.”Galileo’s Error, Philip Goff
mass charge and spin as expressions of consciousness?… at some point this morning i read that proponents of panpsychism are not claiming that a rock has consciousness, but that its fundamental constituent parts do, does this make sense?, is it the same problem as with emergence but in reverse?, (i am not convinced emergence isn’t a correct way to look at things), if constituent parts have “mind” would the would need to have some form of mind?, isn’t there something there is to be a rock, which leads me to think about the rock on BI, how it has an attractive power to my perception, how we are both mass and consequently have an impact on one another, don’t we curve time-space around ourselves?, albeit in minuscule ways… i am excited to find Bertrand Russel is among recent progenitors of pansychism, have always like writings on philosophy, will have to look into Arthur Eddington, will eventually have to read Alfred North Whitehead, also the academic version of the book i am reading now, am i going down a rabbit hole?… crapped out on the debates last night, had too much alcohol, couldn’t stay awake, read about it this morning, Liz seems to have done well, Bernie too, apparently he wasn’t nicked very badly, Mike did not make a good showing, hoping Liz gets a bounce, she is my preferred candidate, speculation that Bernie has it sowed up… Bernie/Liz as a ticket?… H annoyed this morning, Fiona woke her up barking at the cat… lost my fitness tracker, don’t really need it except for clock alarm function on wrist…
February 19, 2020
… feeling blue again, a little frustrated i haven’t found a new routine, i suppose it will evolve as it needs to, meantime, things feel a little broken… Rachel Maddow made a big thing of the perversion of the Justice Department, painting scary what ifs, then had a guest who didn’t really support the worst case scenarios she was painting, disappointing… thinking about skipping writers group tonight, thinking i should not… frustration, try to have a look at photo for twice told, thinking i might take a crack at starting to write the story i will write, app/service passwords get in my way, the problem with an internet filled with criminals, unique and impossible to remember passwords the norm… it will have to wait, photograph is of a person in water from behind, is the start or the end of something, a moment in the slipstream of time… purchased and downloaded Galileo’s Error, general audience book explaining and arguing for pansychism, i have been through a chapter on Dualism and starting the chapter on materialism (physicalism)… Dualism the idea that mind is separate, other, not an aspect of the material universe, possibly something fundamental itself, but separate, not to be considered along with material, matter, as part of those… don’t view Dualism as viable… materialism (physicalism) the idea that all is based in the material aspects of the cosmos, that perception, experience, is an illusion (in more extreme interpretations), this the more likely alternative to pansychism, in answer to pansychism my question is why consciousness, self awareness, can’t emerge from the material universe as the result of increasingly complex organization of matter?, haven’t seen an adequate answer to this question… Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality, comes to the front as i open my browser to view the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy…
There are of course cases in which one property arises from another, e.g., liquid arises from individual molecules each of which is not itself liquid. However, in all such cases, Strawson argues, the emergence is perfectly intelligible:Galileo’s Error, Philip Goff
We can easily make intuitive sense of the idea that certain sorts of molecules are so constituted that they don’t bind together in a tight lattice but slide past or off each other (in accordance with van de Waals molecular interaction laws) in a way that gives rise to—is—the phenomenon of liquidity. So too, with Bénard convection cells we can easily make sense of the idea that physical laws relating to surface tension, viscosity, and other forces governing the motion of molecules give rise to hexagonal patterns on the surface of a fluid like oil when it is heated. In both these cases we move in a small set of conceptually homogeneous shape-size-mass-charge-number-position-motion-involving physics notions with no sense of puzzlement…. Using the notion of reduction in a familiar loose way, we can say that the phenomena of liquidity reduce without remainder to shape-size-mass-charge-etc.(Strawson 2006a: 18)
But it’s very hard to see how any set of conceptually homogeneous concepts could capture both the experiential (i.e., consciousness-involving) and the non-experiential (non-conscious-involving), and hence hard to see how the thesis that consciousness emerges from non-consciousness could be rendered intelligible.Galileo’s Error, Philip Goff
… in other words, there are no identifiable preceding qualities that would give rise to consciousness as a progression from matter…
February 18, 2020
8:58 AM – Big Mouth Coffee Roasters
… feeling a little blue this morning… C called to see if i was ok, no email response, no FB posts, she was worried… ok walk, not too many photos… finished Beloved, harrowing novel that made me sad, made me cry a bit, i wonder how it is that there can be such brutality from people who should know better, want to do better, how hideous belief cannot be tamed more readily… someone on news this morning talking about how if we don’t act to rescue democracy now, and someone with authoritarian bent and smarter than DT gets in, we will loose our democracy, the threat at the moment is palpable, out of this i wind up thinking that Warren is most likely to push for the required reforms, the commentator saying that institutional norms are not enough to contain willful authoritarianism, we need stronger guardrails… he also talked about white patriarchy setting things up to rule for decades to come and increasingly multicultural population as a minority power over situation, i thought this a long time ago, not fond of the patriarchy myself…
February 17, 2020
8:25 AM – Ellas Bellas
… note from L, sorry to bother you, please choose, i write back saying i did choose but i guess it didn’t take… warm this morning, we haven’t had a winter, apparently the warmest winter on record, i believe that, it is spring like, it’s February… wondering about submitting, a variety of things i need to get on my calendar… a young family sits at the rectangular table across from me, wondering why they are here on Monday… children newly arrived, children soon to arrive, unusual for a Monday… tried Fiona in a downstairs crate, apparently she started complaining and a howl fest developed between her downstairs and Chas upstairs, trying different configurations of being able to get out the door in morning… J has walked in and is setting up at a table up front, she is not usually here on Mondays, everything seems changed up today… thought about walking up the mountain this morning, but opted for route past Bob’s Corner Store… coming down the home stretch on Beloved, each unfolding of the story worse than the last in terms of human suffering and horrible treatment, how do people come to behave the way they do, come to believe the way they do?… continue to think through the pansychism philosophy, the significant question, to me, to be answered, is why supporters of pansychism believe that mind cannot be seen as an emergence from the conditions of the cosmos, there were arguments made, but they didn’t stick with me, at present i see the ideas as another statement of God trying not to be inconsistent with science… reading in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, about pansychism, the issue seems to be that physicalists are unable to give a satisfying account of mind out of their theories… pansychism seems to lead to a more satisfying account, the question being, is it how things work, or are we waiting for discoveries that are physicalist in nature for a more satisfying explanation from that direction?…
February 16, 2020
8:35 AM – Big Mouth Coffee Roasters
… thinking about pansychism during my walk, about the way presentations of it are reminiscent of god belief systems, that it is based on a concept that is fundamentally unverifiable, in this case what the experience of another experiencing entity might be, this is fundamentally unknowable and consequently scientifically unverifiable, at least so far, unless the way in which it is verified is expecting one kind of thing when it is in fact another kind of thing… i think of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, i think the idea of quality, the quality of a thing, an act, an experience, why should the universe be interested in cheapness?, as well as quality, yet it is, through humanity… i read further in Beloved, pieces of the story continue to unfold, tragic circumstance upon tragic circumstance, i struggle to get my head around it, things that have sometimes been difficult in my life but never that difficult, i have never been enslaved… how do you wrap your mind around the historical experience of a people, Blacks, Jews, American Indians, when you have never experienced anything so horrible?… how is it that inhumanity is a possibility of the cosmos, certainly brutal things happen, but they happen to matter that we view as being in a neutral state, an unfeeling state, what happens when perception is added to the equation, does matter suffer?, do rocks suffer?, does this table on which i work, set my cup, have any perceptions about the way i use it?, does it have any opinions about my presence?, and sensations?, what is mind besides the apprehension of that which is not itself?, but what if all is itself?, mind rises like Narcissus in the still waters… i read up on the Greek Mythological character, and as i write i wonder what has sent me down that road, i read that excessive masturbation can be part of a narcissistic personality disorder, self being both lover and loved, come to think of it, psychology seems to be the study of qualities of mind and behavior, a science has been made of it?, but dealing with the subjective, not the objective?…
- Week 07
February 15, 2020
8:09 AM – Big Mouth Coffee Roasters
… K and A in the store today… bitter cold… household up when i am… made a cassoulet, bitter green salad, chocolate mousse for Valentines day last night, H got me a set of Opinel Knives including a vegetable peeler and bread knife, with canvas pouch, for road trips, camping, etc… i check the bank account, i know we don’t have enough in checking to get through to H’s next SS check, going to need to be abstemious… forgot to bring computer glasses with me, oh well… need to do some catching up, behind on photographs and posting… not feeling great today, not sure why… Johnny Cash, In My Life, Beatles, “in my life I’ve loved them all“… beautiful love song… need to write, need to work, need to produce… something going on with my eyes, need to see the eye doctor… an hour on the phone with my sister, a trim woman with tight sweater showing off breasts, lifted and rounded, brunette, hair down to shoulder blades, pony tail tied and draped over right shoulder, the pleasures of sitting in a coffee shop and observing the movement… JC doing Solitary Man now… reading further and further into Beloved, a sad story of inhumanity to humanity, the description of being in boxes in a ditch, of rains coming, threatening to bury men in mud, a story to be expected from the horrors of war, but this is peace time during a time when human beings could be owned… sad and appalling, how things were, do many white people read this book?… a Jehovah’s Witness crew is arriving, planning what they plan, continuous presence in town, they own property, stand quietly on street corners, greetings as i pass, looking for me to enquire, i never do… an article in Scientific American on Pansychism, the second one i have seen in as many weeks, promoting a book, i wonder if i will find it in the library, Galileo’s Error, not available from the public library, will have to buy it, appears to be another book written from the philosophical point of view, a view beyond the reaches of scientific verification… thinking about cleaning out and organizing my studio, thought about my guitar which i have had since high school, sitting there waiting to be played by someone… i wonder if i will ever get it out and spend enough time with it to build up calluses and play for longer periods of time… Riding First Class On The Titanic, Nathan Lyons, i open it, turn to the first photograph, a poster of Rocky Balboa, from the first Rocky movie?, plastered over it is a hand written poster with the words from Mark 8:36 “for what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and loose his own soul?“, indeed, facts don’t matter, what people believe matters… the next photograph of a hand sculpture in front of a Victorian house giving the Vulcan “live long and prosper” hand sign and then the head of an American Indian tucked under and inside, a sign of some kind, no longer in use…
February 14, 2020
9:00 AM – Big Mouth Coffee Roasters
… S___ is the name of Amy Winehouse Eyes Barista, she filled my order without my telling her what i wanted which i told her necessitated being on a first name basis… interesting thoughts about short stories this morning, wanting to build them on myths presented in a modern day context… little girl and her dad playing checkers a few tables over… feeling frustrated, struggling to get done all i want to get done… more Beloved, makes me sad, for our brutality and our willingness to be brutal again, the incredible hardships a people were forced to go through, the continued problematic place they are given in our society, the hatred… ran into W leaving, then S coming in, they often appear within minutes of each other but aren’t moving around their day together… the dogs were annoying this morning, would not settle down, had to crate Fiona for a while so i could read… S has been joined by another barista,
February 13, 2020
8:48 AM – Big Mouth Coffee Roasters
… don’t have much time, H has painting class this morning… started reading Beloved, by Toni Morrison, i am too old to be devastated by the picture it paints, but it is, so far, a sad picture of lives lived with very limited hope for a better future… the American values project continues, not too much response, doesn’t matter, it’s what i need to do…
February 12, 2020
9:11 AM – Big Mouth Coffee Roasters
… many good thoughts passing through my head, mostly about my work, going to try some pairings and combinations of photos, going to stay focused on “The Unanswered Question,” all the work deals with that, flows from it, the work should gather and be presented with that core idea at its center… writing about the American value of competition/free enterprise, really needs to be reconsidered in my humble opinion, we need a more communal approach to production and distribution, we need a more localized approach, we need Buddhist Economics, economics as if people mattered… got up late this morning, read the news instead of a book as i wait for Toni Morrison book, looking for inspiration, looking for joy… nice exchange with K as i got my coffee, complimented her t-shirt, she told the story of how she came by it, the bits and pieces we can learn about one another as we go about our daily business… New Hampshire primaries last night, Bernie and Pete duke it out for lead position, Amy leapfrogging to third place in dramatic fashion, Liz and Joe on the ropes, Bloomberg waiting in the wings… will be interesting, edge of seat nerve racking to see how it all plays out, given my thoughts about communal economy, local economy, an economy as if people mattered, Bernie might be my choice, but he needs to demonstrate he has more than the white vote, next couple of primaries will tell the story on that front, can’t really get into Pete, don’t know why, but at most i think he may be VP candidate… well, need to get going…
February 11, 2020
7:28 AM – During my walk.
… the idea that free will is experience and socially dependent… typological meditations… close to finishing my book on Pansychism, i need to write down a running list of questions, such as, how is this not a philosophy meant to give us comfort in a cosmos that has no meaning?, is an ontology required for a complete explanation of the cosmos?, is there anything about Pansychism that is required by the physical laws of the universe to operate?… these are a few… i was excited to find mention of Teilhard de Chardin as being part of the history of Pansychic philosophy… i am comforted by the idea of it, specifically, Idealist Pansychism, if true, it means we are definitely part of something larger than we can perceive, ever… another question, why is the emergence of consciousness from matter with no perceptive capabilities problematic?, is gravity a perceptive capability, any attractive or repulsive force?, does Pansychism become an anthropomorphic expression of these forces to their detriment?… i have been given a list of sources to read, i need to activate my library membership to see if i can get the books without paying for them, i will buy only the ones i want to go back to again and again…
February 10, 2020
8:11 AM – Big Mouth Coffee Roasters
… rainy day, walked with iPhone to make pictures… writer’s group with S, S, and A, was a good group, got a good critique on my obsession short story which suggests it needs more development… i read up on the Gorgon Sisters, Medusa, Stheno, Euryale… Medusa was mortal, Stheno and Euryale were not, they all had the power to turn anyone who gazed upon them to stone and were considered evil omens… images and carvings of Medusa when placed at entryways are able to ward off evil… Perseus killed Medusa, Pegasus and Chrysaor, children of her Union with Poseidon, were born from Medusa’s death… Medusa was punished by Athena when Poseidon raped her in a temple of Athena… thinking my story needs to be more deeply infused with the greek mythology… also talked about my WordPress site last night, i am very enthusiastic about the way it is developing, really looking forward to evolving it and thinking that i should start to migrate my portfolio over to it so the work is presented all of a piece… thinking about that… looking forward to getting some basic book making supplies, i have decided to use the proceeds of my photograph sale to do that… this will allow me to reconfigure and produce the accordion book more easily… also planning an overhaul of my studio so that it can function for book making and so forth… i am excited about that as i think it will set me free to produce more artists books as i have been wanting to… forward motion, forward motion… i think i will install my flattened can series on the WP site first… time to go home and make breakfast…
February 09, 2020
8:46 AM – Big Mouth Coffee Roasters
… lots of communicating this morning, J, S, email to H and J to thank for members show at CPW… light dusting of snow on the ground, might have gotten some nice pics… thinking about need to clean and organize my studio so i can more effectively work in it… getting going on J work tomorrow, yea, make some money, a little, pay for my framing costs for upcoming show… time to get going, maybe more later…
- Week 06
February 08, 2020
9:41 AM – Big Mouth Coffee Roasters
… starting to obsess about the flattened cans project, thinking of the variety of ways that it could develop… today’s value, self help, pull yourself up by the bootstraps, etc., taken together with individualism a value system that says we are responsible for ourselves on every front… started to read new book on panpsychism, wondering if i have found a philosophical system i can embrace, perhaps have already embraced, one interesting statement in the book is that if you have an idea that your approach too understanding and acting within the world should be based on a scientific method of inquiry, then the scientific method is not a primary value of exchange with the universe, it is part of a philosophical system… the book points out the physicalism, materialism, the idea that the universe runs according to basic laws that can be scientifically verified, is not the only philosophical system compatible with the rigors of scientific investigation… one of the thoughts i had about individualism this morning is that it is responsible for loneliness and the failure of individuals in secular society to find meaning, atomization isolates… having some kind of sense of being part of something bigger is the only path to meaning…
February 07, 2020
8:16 AM – Big Mouth Coffee Roasters
… A is the name of ironic barista girl, she too knows my order, we agreed we should be on a first name basis… another rainy day, photowalk anyway, photos from doorways, awnings, wherever i could find protection… R comes today, cleaned up in anticipation… thinking about bald eagle photo, S liked it, i have decided that my photographs of creatures will be from the distance one generally experiences with their eyes, though i am contemplating zooming in and pulling a fuzzy image of the bird, MF style… “damned impartial subterranean war” from California Shake by Margo Guryan, about an earthquake, i thought possibly about something more people at war specific, some kind of protest song, like it anyway, young folk educating me… thinking i will let the chickens stay indoors today, they won’t be happy, or open doors and let them choose… whatever… downloaded book on pansychism…
For its proponents panpsychism offers an attractive middle way between physicalism on the one hand and dualism on the other. The worry with dualism—the view that mind and matter are fundamentally different kinds of thing—is that it leaves us with a radically disunified picture of nature, and the deep difficulty of understanding how mind and brain interact. And whilst physicalism offers a simple and unified vision of the world, this is arguably at the cost of being unable to give a satisfactory account of the emergence of human and animal consciousness. Panpsychism, strange as it may sound on first hearing, promises a satisfying account of the human mind within a unified conception of nature.Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
February 06, 2020
8:28 AM – Big Mouth Coffee Roasters
… sturdy barista girl’s name is K__, which seems suitable, neither expected or unexpected… i have been having this thought that all my content should be shared through my websites, for free, hard copy costs money, but internet content does not, why not acknowledge the reality?, concurrently, i won’t worry about how much attention it gets, i do what i do, what i am compelled to do… rainy day, but i got my steps in, 5200 so far, well on my way to 10K by the time i get home… H has painting class today i remember, she didn’t sleep well and was having pain in her knee last night, she kept me up too, kept nudging me with her foot as she tried to adjust herself to comfort, Chas having appropriated 1/3 of the bed for himself, pushed her up next to me, i suspect her pain had to do with immobility due to Chas pinning her down and me boxing her in… read about Rachel Bitcofer poling model this morning, suggests the Dems are set to win across the board in November, hoping she is right, found it interesting that her fellow pollsters (a largely male crowd) are annoyed with her twitter self promotion tactics, they viewed it is prideful, egotistical, the profession apparently values working in obscurity until your model proves itself, let the proving of itself be what catapults you to attention, i think a bunch of men are pissed off by a successfully self promoting woman with a so far successful model, if her model fails in the 2020 election i am sure they will pounce, her model makes sense to me though, hope it is correct… H up and posting on FB, need to get home and make breakfast in case she wants to go to painting class…
February 05, 2020
9:16 AM – Big Mouth Coffee Roasters
… in bed early last night, slept well… let Fiona out of her crate when i went downstairs to read, i have started E. M. Cioran’s The Temptation to Exist, an essay by Susan Sontag represented 10% of the pages of the book, hmmm… sturdy barista girl minding the store today, need to find out her name, she knows my coffee order… someone talking loudly on the phone up front, i have learned to tolerate that better than i used to… state of the union address last night, couldn’t bare the thought of listening, watching, not much good TV to watch in its place… Iowa’s caucuses finally started reporting results, Butigidge, Sanders, Warren, Biden way down in fourth… Bernie Sanders is the way the nation needs to change, just don’t know if he’s the change the nation can tolerate… DT will be acquitted of impeachment charges today, not a good thing, his approval rating ticking up, not a good thing, the economy great, not a good thing, it’s all adding up to strong possibility that he will be reelected, i am starting to divorce myself from the outcome, there is no reason that things should go the way i think they should, the universe doesn’t behave that way, it goes like it goes, not exactly according to fate, but according to the resolution of forces at any given moment in time… i look to navigate myself in calm waters despite the turmoil, remember the birthing center of the universe…
But even so, amid the tornadoed Atlantic of my being, do I myself still for ever centrally disport in mute calm; and while ponderous planets of unwaning woe revolve round me, deep down and deep inland there I still bathe me in eternal mildness of joy.Herman Melville, Moby Dick
February 04, 2020
8:40 AM – Big Mouth Coffee Roasters
… finished Naomi Klein book, This Changes Everything… the earth is fucked, at least as far as human and animal habitation is concerned… the task of turning things around seems impossible and the news from the past is not promising… the best example of massive social change is the end of slavery which was brutal by all accounts… what should a rational person do now?… no response to my American Values challenge, posted day 2, H hearted it, will see if anyone else climbs on board, has anything to say… Iowa caucuses a disaster apparently, irregularities statewide, no results, not sure when results will be available, wondering what kind of irregularities and whether incompetence or some kind of assault on the mechanisms of voting happened… sturdy barista girl is in charge today, wearing a white t-shirt that seems oddly casual to me… when the revolution comes… gave my business card to the crossing guard near the Roundhouse, old time Beacon man, nice man, he was curious about my photography so i gave him the means to look it up, be interesting to see if he does… H commented on my values post just now… Fiona peed in her crate last night, going to have to change the schedule, get her out when i get up so she doesn’t have to wait so long, walk her just before going to bed and confirm pee so we know she goes to bed with empty bladder, puppies, they change your life… Young couple sits at the table near by, new love, arms around each other, they seem a little out of place, not sure why… cloudy, flat light day, more flattened can photos…
February 03, 2020
Whether we choose to see the earth as a mother, a father, a parent, or an engendered force of creation, what matters is that we are acknowledging that we are not in charge, that we are part of a vast living system on which we depend. The earth, wrote the great ecologist Stan Rowe, is not merely “resource” but “source.”Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything, Capitalism Vs. The Climate
… PERSONAL CONTROL OVER THE ENVIRONMENT: People can/should control nature, their own environment and destiny. The future is not left to fate. RESULT: An energetic, goal-oriented society.”… first American Value up today, control over the environment, incredibly outdated but incredibly active at present, Americans are the original can-do-anything-we-want-to-the-environment people and this position is not sustainable, this is a value that has to change, COMMUNAL, MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL RELATIONSHIP WITH THE ENVIRONMENT, is what it has to be replace with… we have to banish the concept of property ownership and replace it with property stewardship, which is what it is since the property will continue beyond any one individual’s existence…
February 02, 2020
9:37 AM – Big Mouth Coffee Roasters
… long thoughtful walk this morning, lots of thinking about American Values statement below… sticking in my mind, need to do something about it, i reposted to FB, suggested i would enjoy conversation about it, wondering if anyone will be interested… Super Bowl Sunday, i will not be watching, i could care less about the game, the outcome… i am thinking about a photography project based on the 13 American Values below, i think my flattened cans project could, for example, be the embodiment of a number of those values, individualism, materialism, etc., the church series, the by the sea series, i would pursue the values through typology series, this could be interesting… reviewed S’s photographic project this morning, love it, made hopefully useful suggestions… time to move on, make breakfast, get on with day…