August 12, 2010
This is a picture that hangs from the living room wall at home… Everyday ‘I’ see it, it triggers a deep reminder of the treachery of delusion and of all wasted narrative. This is my point of entry into a daily meditation that rests upon the delusion of ‘self.’ As my ‘self’ sits cross legged under this framed print, the memetic ideals of my ‘self’s’ identity slowly dissolve into ‘emptiness.’
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We should always remember… Any interpretation always remains – and only can ever be – an interpretation. The actual ‘something’ that is being interpreted i.e. the object of interpretation, say, within an artistic work such as Magritte’s “The Treachery Of Images,” is merely a means of transmission… Means that relay the ‘key’ to the idea of/about ‘something’… That is, the notion of the ‘something’ can be conjured up in the mind of the viewer through simply seeing the ‘imperfect’ painting. Thus the painting of the object becomes a sort of sign… One that is housed, in this case, within two dimensions i.e. laid flat on canvas, allowing us to observe the unambiguous and unequivocal nature of its physical presence, just as it was viewed through the eyes of the artist who originally painted it… But never, at any time, are we viewing the pipe directly! And yet, when many of us look at the pipe in Magritte’s modest reinterpretation, and are asked what we are looking at, a majority will reply, “It is a pipe!”
In many ways, experience itself is like this… What we interpret from our senses – our senses being the artist that paints what he sees/hears/feels/tastes/touches – is not as clear, defined, nor even as present, as the actual ‘object’ itself… Always our ‘minds’ become involved beyond immediate appropriateness, and acts as if everything is on trial; as if it was the high judge him/herself presiding over the case called our ‘Life’ as it unfolded moment by moment… And yet all we can do to support any decision we arrive at – decisions regarding what we perceive through our senses i.e. hardness, softness, colour, hue, shape, etc… – comes not only from all good sense data derived from our eyes, ears, nose, taste buds and sense of touch alone, but from our good (or maginalised) intentions too.
The real interpretation of the pipe in Magritte’s picture is done by the viewer using a set of past observations, which act as points of references through which one compares the observed ‘picture’ to the picture of mind… Through these a priori ideas/memes/schemas, we find meaning in the picture being observed… When we understand this, we can see that the meaning imposed upon experience comes solely from within ourselves… And not from within the picture itself.
No doubt ALL of our interpretations regarding the pipe will not exactly agree with one another. One must only consider all the possible variances in experiencing a pipe i.e. the diversity of each individual’s direct or indirect experience with one, in order to understand this… For example, I remember first hand my uncle smoking a pipe, using pipe cleaners to clean the accumulation of tar from within the pipe, their sticky fur left coated with sweet aromatic gumminess in used ash trays… While after every smoke, is vividly remember the way he ceremoniously and gently tapped out the soft grey ash… Along with the rich aromatic scent of honey-dew tobacco that permeated and lingered on all the apartment’s upholstery… While, on the other hand, my friend George simply has never come across a smoker of pipes in real life… The only way he can relate pipes to comes from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s fictitious character, Sherlock Holmes, which he read avidly as a child. How different are our experiences? While we can agree on the conceptual aspects of what a pipe is, we have had totally different experiences concerning them. But the important thing remains… Despite these differences, all of our own interpretations and observations about what a pipe is, which have been derived through our experiences, do regularly – and commonly – overlap with other people’s ideas about what a pipe is.
Here, in “The Treachery Of Images,” Magritte reminds us that these interpretations and inspections are not based on direct, or first degree, observations of the object itself… The pipe we observe follows from the sensory input that, when seen from the right angle, merges together with the minds previous experience of a pipe i.e. the shape and coloration, giving rise to what the mind – after all its programming – can only naturally want to call a pipe. But, in actual fact, what our minds sees and recognises as the pipe is nothing more than canvas and paint brushed in a manner that seems to resemble what we think we see as a pipe.
From this ‘brushed’ representation, when we really think about what we are seeing through our eyes, we can all deduce a clear conclusion that, what we are looking at, resembles a pipe… In other words, we all interpret what we see, so as to expose the implicit meaning behind the painter’s ‘subject,’ just like our senses watch temporal events unfold before us in our daily waking lives… But it is our own programming that paints the meaning of this picture. Thus I ask… Are we in error when we reply that we are viewing a pipe instead of a picture of a pipe?? Is our interpretation of life, via religious and scientific modes of understanding, actually real???
With our experiences we paint the abstract meanings we have been taught to ‘bear’ by family, friends and society. But before this ‘rude’ imposition of mankind’s own making, the world was a subject who at first refused to be defined… The blank canvas of our minds saw through the bizarre reality of present day understandings. Then, as we became more laden with successive ideas about the world around us – ideas that no doubt relayed survival tactics and skills, which natural selection seemed to chose prudently – these memes started to forge the schemas of our ‘fantastical’ world, causing us to operate somewhat ‘out-of-alignment’ with our original purpose i.e. to simply survive. Thus, in this strange state of memetic frenzy, we seem to have forgotten what exactly it is that we were really looking at. And so we over pollute, over consume and never question what we see.
We recognise the pipe from Magritte’s perspective… But, despite this recognition, it is not really the pipe. We see the world and all Life through human social constructs i.e. all the mythological and scientific understanding we have learnt… But it is not the real world. Nor is it what Life really is.
“We are faced with the paradoxical fact that education has become one of the chief obstacles to intelligence and freedom of thought.”
If we reply that what we see is a pipe, then we have lost sight of reality… We have become disconnected with the pattern behind our Being… We have lost the simple essence of Life’s organic and fluid form. Like the Tao, Life has no meaning… It requires none to exist. To talk about it misses the point. It simply is, always has been, and always will be a part of the infinite universal flow.
So I ask… Can you see through the fantasy of society’s drama? Can you cut through the taut/taught memetic structures that echo through your own mind to reveal the haunting delusion of society’s limited schema’s of Being? Can you free yourself from the social inertia – those heavy ‘herd’ like constraints – that bind the majority of us to pointless routines and epic errors of under estimating and limiting our own potential? Can you help us break free from the over consumption of raw materials, monetary hoarding for luxurious goods, pointless pollution and en-mass over population? Can we survive the Tao’s “gom jabbar?” Or will we die at the hands of our own insatiable appetites, like the “animal’s” who failed the “Bene Gesserit‘s” test, all because we/they could not see the pain for what it really was i.e. it is nothing more than a sensation that links into a reactive habit for preserving an instinctual and complacent desire to remain in comfortable bubbles of blasé subsistence, and thus withdrew their hand from the box?? Will we simply get lost in the memetic sea of illusion and forgot to exercise any honest measure of self-control, so that we might pay honest concern to the Mother who bore us???
Surely if we have come this far… Then shouldn’t we go all the way? Perhaps it’s time to put the expensive, week long holidays abroad on hold, and instead put solar panels on your roof? Perhaps it’s time to avoid all plastic packaging, and buy your food from a local farm that is slightly further out of town than the immediate convenience of the big, unenlightened supermarket?? Shouldn’t we be discouraging the big petrol companies from digging for more oil by giving up our cars and going electric??? Or even just cycling to where we need to go if only locally??? Perhaps it’s time to consider how you want to love the children you have brought into this world… ??? Shouldn’t we give them the greatest gift of all i.e. a clean planet that can support the complex web of Life for generations to come???
As I walked through town this morning I saw, in a Building Society’s shop window, a slogan on a bill board… It simply read, “Protect what is most important.” Followed underneath, in slightly smaller writing, by the words “Car Insurance.” So I wonder… When I see the amount of this BS littering the high street, I shudder a mighty spinal wriggle. Can we still not really see that the ‘pipe’ that we are all looking at is not the ‘pipe’ itself??? As Gael García Berna’s character in Jim Jarmusch’s “The Limits Of Control” mentions, “The old men in my village used to say… Everything changes by the colour of the glass you see it through… You don’t think that’s true? Everything’s imagined…” Then, a moment later, he adds… “Do you notice reflections? For me, sometimes the reflection is far more present than the thing being reflected.”
No doubt we must become what we feel we should become… I, nor anyone else, can – or even should – tell you how to be or what to do… First one must find their ‘self.’ Then, through honesty and a keen sense of observation, one can begin the formidable task of changing themselves. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “You must become the change you wish to see in the world.”
No doubt reality is arbitrary… And so I leave it to you to create what fate you feel should be ours… Shall we float – here in this garden of Eden – a garden that we call the Earth… Which is really a dot of lively, rare moving magic in the vast inky black void of space and time – where a select group of atoms have been given the chance to spin into an ecstasy of human Beingness – wondering at how fortunate WE ALL ARE to have won this lottery of existence… This lottery of experience… ??? Being naturally so in moderation and with ultimate concern and awareness of where we’re at in the universal pattern… ??? Or should we hang ourselves upon our own fantasies and fictions, obsessively clinging to the very thing that will bring about our concluding demise… ???
Pour en savoir plus sur René Magritte, s’il vous plaît cliquez ici.
August 11, 2010
Damn I love stats… If you don’t understand the stats, then you can really make some blindingly bad calls of judgement. Trust me… I’ve done so at university before.
So… In line with the discussion about illusions of mind i.e. illusions that we are all prone to and, thus, allow to influence the decisions we make in Life… And to demonstrate that sometimes how things initially appear – things that look so obvious upon a first glance – might not actually be what we originally thought they were… It’s no good slamming some poor bloke who didn’t commit a crime in prison, just because it looked like he did it… Seriously… That’s not justice. That’s stupidity on the prosecutor’s behalf.
Don’t believe me (seriously, it’s probably better that you don’t take my word about anything) that stats are seriously handy? Well… I call to the stand Oxford University’s Mathematical Genetics Group leader, Peter Donnelly, to explain…
To find out more about Peter Donnelly, please click here.
And to find out where I sourced this video from, please click here.
August 10, 2010
Just the other day, I was sitting down with a friend during a cool summer’s eve… All this stifling heat that we have been having here in the UK recently has left me slightly frazzled in mind… So this cool spell has been warmly welcomed, allowing me to enjoy cups of tea and other warming drinks without over heating during passionate debates/conversations.
One recent cool eve, a friend was imbibing some fine Arabic coffee that he had just brought back over with him from Morocco. Having only just ground the beans moments earlier in my Uncle‘s old coffee grinder, I could smell the rich aroma that had begun to diffuse through the kitchen, as a bubbling sound spewed up into the air, overflowing, once again, from the dulled Bialetti…
“Damn this is strong…” he muttered on several occasions, all the while his hands trembling as he brought the cup to his pursed lips for another eager sip. Personally I’m not really a coffee drinker… And unless I’m in Morocco, seated in a café with a Shisha that is kindling some fine Arabian or Persian apple and honey tobacco, inhaling the compliment of the dry arid heat of their desert air along with the fresh vibrant fragrance their coffee, I’ll usually be sipping tea. Non the less, that really didn’t stop me from enjoying the scent of Jim’s fine coffee blend… Just remembering those velvety roasted overtones, I find myself desiring an espresso.
As usual Jim was indulging his appetite heartily… And any seasoned coffee drinker could see from his demeanour that it was strong coffee. He was babbling away with Bialetti about philosophy, Zen and this new film by Jim Jarmusch, called “The Limits Of Control.” In his over stimulated muddle he mangled on about the cinematic flow of this percolating “masterpiece,” how it brewed notions of profound insight over sagacious, minimalist moments of Zen… And that I would love it more than any of Federico Fellini‘s films… All of which, I must say, I still enjoy immensely… Especially “8 and a half.” After hearing this, I was simply at a loss to find a retort… So I suggested that we find a copy that very evening and watch it… Which we did.
All I can say is that this film is a meditation on life… One that certainly reminded me about aspects of T’ai Chi Ch’uan and meditative understandings about what We – as human beings – are, somewhat resembling the essence of that which I’m trying to convey and/or capture here in the writings littered throughout this website. Despite it’s fictitious nature, it is drenched in metaphor, and pressed smartly with “eye candy” that somehow spoke to my own deeply ingrained sensibilities… It demonstrates, sometimes obviously, and sometimes not so obviously, Jarmusch’s own personal musings about the nature of reality… Or at least, his own understanding about what it means. Magritte seems to come to my mind, as characters speak about what they like and dislike. Precision surrounded by suspicion encapsulates the smooth rolling, cosmopolitan imagery… No character needs any lengthy introduction. They are simply there doing what needs to be done.
Certainly there are clever moments… Like when Bill Murry’s character asks the protagonist how he got into the room, which leaves me finding all sorts of analogies as to how one might think about and do anything in Life. After all, imagination is where one’s memes… OR rather, one’s ideas… All have sex with one another, bearing their creative progeny into a world of limitless and wondrously unexplained potential.
But still… Besides the curvaceous Paz de la Huerta as a romantic, revealing nude temptress… ! One essence seemed to stand out from the rest during this languid dream sequence of a flick…
“He who thinks he is bigger than the rest must go to the cemetery. There he will see what life really is… A handful of dirt.”
Here the humbling reminder of what we are i.e. nothing more than a mixture of star dust and chaos, comes to mind. In an arbitrary world, no one is ‘bigger’ or ‘better’ than the rest. Everything is imagined. We live and then we die. Life is mysteriously precious… It flows with equal mystery… Following the Tao. And with this we should never forget how to live humbly… Helping those that need help along our way, and yielding to the help and advice offered when it is presented to us. To do all of these things while remaining in control of our “monkey mind” is the key our silent warrior uses to unlock the encounters within his rights of passage. “For every way in… There is another way out.”
To find out more about Jim Jarmusch, please click here.
August 9, 2010
A poem that has inspired me to carrying on doing what I do… Regardless of the cost. Trust me… I’m not here for the money. Experience is what speaks to me.
When you’ve won the lottery of existence, as we all have, and you’re basking in the starry light of being, here on a planet that is situated in a ‘sweet’ spot precluding Life, orbiting around a friendly star… A planet which we have called Earth… Well… You might just be able to see how fortunate you really are. ‘This’ experience is reality… Whether drunk or sober… Poor or rich… Ugly or beautiful. Amazement flows everyday… Whether painful or joyous… Peaceful of agitating… Happy or sad.
And the glory is ours… If only we dare to claim it…
If you’re going to try, go all the way.
Otherwise, don’t even start.
This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind.
It could mean not eating for three or four days.
It could mean freezing on a park bench.
It could mean jail.
It could mean derision.
It could mean mockery–isolation.
Isolation is the gift.
All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it.
And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds.
And it will be better than anything else you can imagine.
If you’re going to try, go all the way.
There is no other feeling like that.
You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire.
You will ride life straight to perfect laughter.
It’s the only good fight there is.
by Heinrich Karl Bukowski
To find out more about the poet and writer Charles Bukowski, please click here.
August 8, 2010
Please excuse the late posting of this… However, things have been slightly more hectic than usual here. Anyway… Better late than never.
Do feel free to come along…
The Joy of Living
A 6 week course with Lama Chodrak from London
Monday Aug 2: Intro to Shiné – What is mind? Taming the horse, taming the rider
Monday Aug 9: Shiné
Monday Aug 23: Shiné
Monday Sept 6: Shiné & Empathy
Monday Sept 13: Extending empathy
Monday Sept 20: Insight – Looking at how we perceive reality
Once you have completed the course you will be equipped (and more importantly in the habit!) with meditation methods designed to help us deal with our thoughts and emotions.
Lama Chodrak’s Bio:
Lama Chodrak was ordained by the previous Kalu Rinpoche in 1984 and took full ordination from Tai Situ Rinpoche in 1986. He served as translator and attendant to Venerable Palpung Lama Thubten in the Birmingham Karma Ling Centre for 7 years and then entered a 4-year retreat in Scotland at the Kagyu Samye Ling monastery in 1989.
After his 4 year retreat, he ran the Cape Town Samye Dzong for a while in 1994, and then later moved on to Sherabling in India, where he spent 4 years being secretary and translator to Mingyur Dorje Rinpoche, translating for the Rinpoche on all of his UK tours.
At present Lama Chodrak works for the NHS, in relation to mental health, and also teaches meditation in Wales, South Africa and Finland.
To find out more about Lama Chodrak’s teacher, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, please click here.
August 7, 2010
Family sure is a funny thing… I don’t think many of us ever realise quite how influential they can be until we look back and see how we, ourselves, have been shaped and moulded by their actions and example.
Certainly I loved my uncle… I loved him dearly. And still to this very day I often think of him. As for my memories with him, I hold most of my experiences in fondness and high regard. The ‘architecture’ of my mind – which seems fitting, seeing as he was an actual Professor of Architecture – is particularly partial to housing all the affectionate memories of the times we spent together… Whether it was constructing wooden model boats in his apartment’s ‘cupboard of a workshop,’ or programming the Sinclair ZX Spectrum to play small rifts that were taken from Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer,” or just simply ‘hanging-out’ in Sarajevo, visiting his friends and family (Igor, Sabina and Ira are all in there), while strolling through cobbled streets in between a myriad of Mosques, Churches and a few Synagogues… It all brings back the heady scent of incense that spread around those market stalls, all of which were laden with decorative Eastern European and Persian slippers, along with other bit of clothing, broken with rich foods, meats, spices and sweet pastries… Damn! I feel like I’m tip-toing into nostalgic bliss… Which reminds me… That nostalgia is like language… The present is tense… And the past is perfect.
We never really spoke of any of my uncles dedicated writings concerning his ideals and beliefs about the civilised world. Back then I was probably far too young to appreciate his hard earned insights. Besides, I distinctly remember being more interested in fantasy and science fiction than I was in real world politics, reading 2000AD comics and various graphic novels. But even so… When my uncle realised he wasn’t going to have any children of his own, he asked his sister – my mother – whether I wanted to come over and see some of the family. When I heard his summons from my mother, I replied with a big and resounding “YES!”
So I travelled to the former Yugoslavia in 1985 when I was just nine years old, doing so all by myself… Partly because no-one from my family here in the UK could afford the time off work (or from our busy family life)… But mainly because of my father’s dislike of being left on his own without his family around him (he was not partial to visiting countries where he might be left out of the conversation). So when I asked (or begged) my dad to go (he had his hand on the family purse strings), I was given the only option that he could think of that wouldn’t break the bank and wouldn’t have to directly involve him: to go alone. Well, I was no fool to turn down an adventure in a far away land… Even if it did mean going out into the world alone. Still, when I think back to it, I get the impression that my father was testing me, to see if I was ‘man’ enough to do something all by myself. Well, my immediate answer of ‘yes’ must have been a bit of shock to him. However, I just couldn’t think beyond anything other than the pangs of excitement that were jolting through my mind about what it was going to be like… And how much fun I could have without any immediate family members to rope me in or mollycoddle me!
I really didn’t realise at the time what a profound experience this was going to be for myself. However, something in my uncle’s way must have rubbed off on me… Because just the other day, while scouring the world wide web for articles that he had written – mainly to provide a translator, whom I have recently appointed to translate one of his books into English, with more ideas about his written style – I came across this essay he had written concerning “Multiple Identity And Borders Within Human Mind.” While reading this brief little essay, something struck me… There was a note of similarity between our writing styles. However, I had never read any of his articles until just recently i.e. six months or so ago!? So I began to wonder… Was this self-similar expression being channelled through our genetic makeup!? After all, he died from bowel cancer in 1998 while living in Prague with his partner, Sabina, so he couldn’t have influenced me much in these past twelve years. And yet, I realised just how similar some of our sentences seemed to flow across the page. !?!?
Whatever the reason, I am here now, writing about this realisation… A realisation that has come somewhat as a bit of a shock to me. But none the less, as the facts present themselves, I accept them for what they are, and so will give him the recognition he duly deserves. Here I will do my best to introduce those few days I spent with Uncle Rayk – as we all used to call him here – back in 1985 and try to sum up what was probably going through my mind and body at the time.
I had been to Yugoslavia with my mother and brother before, in 1983, a time when the Winter Olympic games were just about to commence in Sarajevo… Wherever we walked, we just couldn’t seem to escape the cheery (and somewhat scarily drawn) mascot image of the wolf – or “Vučko” in Slavic – that was representing the proceedings… We would see the Olympic logo brandished everywhere. Certainly the wolf seemed to be an iconic beast in Slavic folklore, one that I was to later read about frequently in Vasko Popa‘s works of poetry… But at the time, poetry didn’t do much to captivate my attention. I was more interested in burning Birch tree bark with my brother and visiting my uncle’s home that he was building out in the country side.
The first time I went alone seems to stand out most clearly in mind. My uncle had bought me a “Koh-I-Noor – Versatil” lead holder pencil as a sort of welcome present… And it proved to be a handy tool with which to write my varied Sci-Fi ideas down with… Back then I was drawing heavily… Mainly characters from the 2000 AD comic strips i.e. Judge Dredd, Strontium Dog, Zenith, Tharg’s Future Shocks, Chopper For Oz, etc… But also dragons and crazy puzzles, along with some very weird cartoon characters of my own. There wasn’t a lot more to do in the cold wintery month that I had arrived in. Just the very memory of it still seems to bluster through my mind. My uncle was rather busy too… So these fantastical characters seemed to offer a focus for my attention in the very apparent midsts of an un-namable rising angst. For these were the years preceding the Yugoslav civil war. A time in Yugoslavia’s history when peace and equanimity were threatened by the same mistrust of too many religious decrees living under one socialist banner. I distinctly remember feeling the tension even back then… Though I was not properly aware of the impending threat that it would ultimately result in.
The Yugoslav Wars were a series of military campaigns fought in the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia between 1991 and 1995 (with wars and ensuing infighting still continuing within the region). The wars were complex: they have been characterized by bitter ethnic conflicts among the peoples of the former Yugoslavia, mostly between Serbs (and to a lesser extent, Montenegrins) on the one side and Croats and Bosniaks (and to a lesser degree, Slovenes) on the other; but also between Bosniaks and Croats in Bosnia (in addition to a separate conflict fought between rival Bosniak factions in Bosnia). The wars ended in various stages, mostly resulting in full international recognition of new sovereign territories, but with massive economic disruption to the successor states.
Often described as Europe’s deadliest conflicts since World War II, they have become infamous for the war crimes they involved, including mass ethnic cleansing. They were the first conflicts since World War II to be formally judged genocidal in character and many key individual participants were subsequently charged with war crimes. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was established by the United Nations to prosecute these crimes.
Although tensions in Yugoslavia had been mounting since the early 1980s, it was 1990 that proved the decisive year in which war became more likely. In the midst of economic hardship, the country was facing rising nationalism amongst its various ethnic groups. At the last 14th Extraordinary Congress of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia in January 1990, the Serbian-dominated assembly agreed to abolish the single-party system; however, Slobodan Milošević, the head of the Serbian Party branch (League of Communists of Serbia) used his influence to block and vote-down all other proposals from the Croatian and Slovene party delegates. This prompted the Croatian and Slovene delegations to walk out and thus the break-up of the party, a symbolic event representing the end of “brotherhood and unity”.
I remember coming back to Reyk and Sabina’s apartment one evening and seeing snails doing their best to climb out of the open plan kitchen’s sink, all while being pushed back by Sabina into the salty water that was washing them. Sitting on the couch, my uncle puffed on a pipe and exhaled the sweet, rich blue smoke of honey-dew tobacco. I resided in the corner playing Hungry Horace on the ZX Spectrum. Out the corner of my eye I observed them as they spoke in dulcet Slavic tones of lively banter, while the poor writhing molluscs slowly cooked in butter and garlic to perfection. It was almost as though there was such a difference in this country to the way people led their lives… No television, no hamburgers and chips, no popular music worth talking about, all our food being purchased in markets that abounded through the rickety old, thriving streets of Sarajevo… Here, in Yugoslavia, one simply enjoyed what one had… Nothing to tempt one on further, like the promise of a sports car, or another story of monetary success… Here knowledge and freedom were the orders of the day, where the only distractions came from subtle pleasures: fine pipe tobacco, salami wrapped in freshly made bread, freshly ground espresso coffee, and snails that had been gathered in the markets the same day. This alien land enthralled me… I was almost as though it was too simple to understand… And yet behind its minimal ways there stood a vibrant and rich culture of ideas and family values, all of which were mingled with distrust and confusion. How poetic it seemed to me. These people didn’t hide their feelings. They expressed them in any company they found themselves in. It was here that I realised how prim and proper the British really were… How they hid their deeper emotions from view, only showing revelry and joy as a front. I honestly still can’t tell you which way of life I’d prefer to enjoy. They certainly both had their merits.
My grandmother was still alive then too. And on one occasion we visited together a graveyard on the hill to see where my grandfather rested. I never knew him, but had heard many things about him. He was a chemist who had worked in the development of concrete that set underwater… Along with other stories about how he used to manufacture soap in his laboratory for his family, and even was know to distill some fine alcoholic beverages every now and again. All of this experience seemed vibrant and alive with real world people who were free from the Hollywood mask of entertainment and biased grandeur. Here people we humble and poor, but filled with vigour and honesty. Being there made me realise how the UK populous seemed to be marginalised and overly concerned with cloaking improper attitudes and behaviours. The only proper bit of Western influence I remember seeing was that of Pink Floyd‘s “The Wall.” It seemed that Igor, Sabina’s son, had a strong penchant for this type of psychedelic revolt against the self imposing, morally constraining establishment.
And as if to certify this temperament, my uncle wrote me a letter by before he died that winter…
Prague, 9 January 1998
I was delighted reading your letter. First of all, thank you for your good wishes for the New Year and your advice concerning T’ai Chi Ch’uan. Since a certain time I am myself a little bit involved in Tao reflections, but uniquely related to meditation. I will try to find here a (possibly good) T’ai Chi Ch’uan teacher and to follow your advice.
In addition I am glad that you continue with a PhD study… // …do the same job only for earning money.
Your mother told me that soon you might have an access to the Internet and I hope that we will be able to communicate directly through our respective e-mail boxes. I have the chance that I got an Internet connection directly at my home computer through a small research grant in which I was involved, so after finishing this letter I will look for new messages and send some to my friends around the world. It helps me to deal with my most recent project, in which I intend to develop strategical and practical instruments for local war prevention.
Since a certain time I am trying to make a final point in my rather long mental and intellectual preoccupation with former Yugoslavia. In discussions with a few friends of mine (some by way of e-mail) I had the idea to learn from this tragic experience in order to help preventing possible similar tragic outcomes in other regions and countries. Unfortunately, the book fro Sarajevo was never published in English, but if you are interested, I could send you the first paper of my project draft. Under the long title and even longer subtitle “The Possibly Avoidable Conflict In Former Yugoslavia – The Prevention Of Wars In Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina Was Possible And The Approaching War In Kosovo May Well Be Avoided” I try to give a short description of the whole process and of the forces which caused it. It is no longer that 12 pages and I could send it once you have your e-mail address.
We have, Sabina and myself, spent only 5 days in Sarajevo last August, but it was a depressive experience. We made the journey in a Land Rover type of car, with a former student of mine from Vienna driving it. The man is now an Austrian diplomat working in Sarajevo and has free access to every part of the country, so we had the very unpleasant opportunity to see and cross a lot of completely devastated towns, cities and countryside. I do not think that I will return there anymore.
We both wish you that your dreams become fulfilled this year, at least these which could be accomplished during a year of (possibly moderately) hard work at the University and some additional labor for the pocket money.
Much Love to you, dear nephew,
Aside from being a real influence in my life… Something which I didn’t really realise until recently… I felt like he was a father to me too. Thus, in his good memory, I’d like to take the time to introduce my uncle… Professor Dr Raymond Rehnicer… Or as my mother (his sister) and I used to affectionately call him, Uncle Reyki… By providing you with an essay he wrote on about multiple identities and boarders within the human mind, which seems to high light for me why we should all cultivate and expand our varied stances of perception to break down all impassable boarders within the human collective mind.
Multiple Identity And Borders Within Human Mind
The industrial society did not only entirely change the means to transform the human environment, but marked also the spiritual and political shape of the environment. The most consequential was – and still seems to be – the concept of nation and nation-state. Until the national-state emerged as the most decisive cultural and political factor a multiform ethnical and religious mixture was usual and even desired in border zones. It was rather difficult to integrate these mixed zones in the homogenous nation-states and that were the most frequent reasons for numerous quarrels in europe during the last two centuries.
I was born and spent the major part of my life in a mixed region. By the most recent conflict within the old military frontier that occurs throughout former Yugoslavia I was forced to leave my country. Now I live in Czech Republic – where the painful “solution” of similar problems before and after the World War II did not bring ultimate peace to the soul of concerned people.
From Sarajevo – the oldest preserved multicultural city in Europe – I went to Prague, which lost its multiculturality by this painful “solution” of the mixed border zones some fifty years ago. Thanks to a guest professorship at the technical University in Vienna I have now the opportunity to discover a new kind of arising contemporary multiculturality. From my experiences, I accumulated in Sarajevo, Prague and Vienna, I will here try to formulate some ideas about the modern multiculturality. The now disappearing inherited multiculturality of Sarajevo seems to be a relic of the past, therefore I will attempt to develop some more modern concepts of multiple identity borders within human mind.
Borders and its perception
Two remarks from my friends in Vienna were important for my own understanding of that city and Austria in general.
To the simple question concerning my own national identity I was unable to give a simple answer. Some people in my country considered my family name as a typical Jewish one – the family name being a usual form of identification there. From a Jewish viewpoint my father was not a Jew, despite our name. His mother, my grandmother, was born in a strong catholic Polish family from northern Bosnia. In order to marry her my grandfather – a rather agnostic Jewish physician – converted to the roman church. On my mother’s side the grandfather was Hungarian and his spouse a Croatian protestant – but there too things were not as simple as they seem. In the Hungarian language my mother’s maiden name signify “Turk” – and that was the name given to immigrants from southern regions under Turkish rule. Some Hungarian Jews had the same family name, but he could as well be a Bosnian, Serb or even a genuine Turk. My friends reacted with the remark that I am essentially a typical Austrian, or that I have at least similar roots like most people from Vienna.
The second remark concerns my Balkan origins. One friend said that the Balkans are not as far from Vienna as it is generally supposed, because the border occurs along the famous Vienese circular road – Gürtel. The other considered that Vienna itself is a Balkan city. Both these images are imprinted by the typical European concept – shared by ourselves from Balkans – that the whole Balkan region is nothing else than a highly problematic border zone. In one simple word this concept implies the large variety of unsolved national questions, that are made extremely complicated by nation-states. The possibility that Vienna encounters problems similar to these border zones was rather a surprise for me.
Borders, as well as their ethnic foundations, are principally a result of the culture. Our cultural circle originated in eastern Mediterranean and eventually spread out over the whole Earth, so it now influences the larger part of humankind. This cultural circle generated a remarkably complex form of culture, that is customarily described as civilisation. Civilisation is a result of urban style of life and its name comes from the Latin word for the city. By its essential characteristic, civilisation is not simply a farther development of culture; it also tends to substitute the pre-urban culture in its original culture, that evolved in its own way. Contrary to civilisation, original culture in its original form. However, the spread of civilisation did not fully replace the original culture. It remains much more simple, even simplistic, and it is not surprising that there is a continual – albeit more latent than openly admitted – conflict between these two styles of culture.
The original, pre-urban culture is based on the extremely strong spirit of a closed group that is ruled by the primitive spirit of family clan, which is – regardless its formal manifestation – based upon the concept of race, ethnic group or nation. In the city a person is considered a complete citizen if she/he accepts and respects the complicated rules of urban life style. One inherits the membership in a pre-urban culture by her/his birth, but the membership in an urban group is the result of a free choice.
Nowadays a rising part of humankind lives in cities and the ‘industrial culture’ – which produced the actual nation-state – rapidly transforms itself into something we do not know yet how to describe. Moreover, the spread of global communication makes it impossible for human groups to continue to be isolated by nation-state borders. After the disappearance of communism, this evolution is the growing trend and not only in Europe. While the outer borders lose their importance, numerous people feel some apprehension when they have to define their own identity. Lacking precisely defined borders, they are distressed by the question how to defend themselves from the potentially dangerous “others”. Within the rising number of big cities there are no clear borders and people search to re-create some new, comprehensible frontiers as the accustomed backbone to their own identity.
Borders and the identity
In Vienna, as well as in most other big cities, it is extremely difficult to define comprehensible frontiers between “us ” and “others”. Therefore one can easily conclude that the overall conditions in Vienna are rather similar to these in a problematic zone, for example, in the Balkans.
On the other hand, due to the general paranoid communist attitude, Prague had for almost half a century an unequivocal viewpoint of an ethnically “clean” population. At the time I went there, at the end of 1992, this situation was ending. Some of my Prague friends were delighted that their city had developed again into a similar mode of prosperous multi-culturality seen in the first republic and the Austro-Hungarian empire. Numerous others were troubled by the rapid progression of cultural diversity. With more than twenty thousand North Americans, many miscellaneous emigrants from the former Yugoslavia, along with numerous immigrant workers from Poland, Ukraine and Vietnam, the national situation changed rapidly. For many Prague citizens the question of their own identity became a controversial one, particularly because they suddenly missed the usual clear line between “us” and “others”.
Of course, my explanation that we in Sarajevo had a really rich and happy life in a greatly mixed multicultural environment did not persuade my Prague friends. It is certainly not easy to understand that the actual bloodshed in former Yugoslavia is not an inevitable consequence of the urban cultural mix, but the extreme expression of the ancient conflict between two styles of culture – the civilisation and the original pre-urban culture. The conflict did not erupt from within our cities, nor was its purpose to gain control over cities – rather its objective is much more the deliberate destruction of urban cultures without any aim for control whatsoever. The ultimate purpose of the war is the final eradication of these places that reject the visible borders between “us” and “others”. Under the pretext of liberating Vukovar the city has been destroyed. The same thing happened over more than three years in Sarajevo, and even in the presumably “liberated” Banja Luka, that is the Serbian capital of Bosnia.
This way of destructive “liberation” from all that city life implies by nationalists is nothing new in European history. The Nazi movement wanted to re-establish the German national identity by eradicating even the word city – within the Third Reich there was no room for cities, all purified Germans should live in “settlements”. In the same spirit – and because the urban environment refuses distinctive borders, creating ambiguous and multiform identities – early Soviet planners invented a particular urban planning practice that was called “de-urbanization”.
The Nazi and Soviet rulers, as well as our fervent defenders of Yugoslav national purity, were unable to consider this basic problem of identity without clear limitations. They simply saw it as a threat to their own identities. Therefore they all detest the city, where these borders do not even exist. But on the contrary, most of my friends consider the city to be the best place to live. I appreciate very much the ability to immerse myself in a totally different environment without being worried about crossing some paranoid frontier – and this is possible only in a truly multicultural city like Vienna. Since I have lived in Prague there are more and more opportunities for similar experiences. The diversity and tolerance of the city allows numerous people to have simultaneous equanimity and at the same time more than one basic identity – without becoming schizophrenic. One can feel absolutely Viennese without being forced to abandon her/his ancestral Balkanic, Italian – or other – identities. It is a place where one can at the same time feel strongly homosexual or atheist, without any constraint to be less Viennese.
Imposed and elected identity
This way of building one’s own multiple identity is certainly not easy. Although we in Europe consider ourselves highly civilised, the majority of us still have a strong need for clear and unequivocal borders of mind, along with a need for a feeling of belonging to the nation of our forefather. The process of urbanisation was extremely fast and only a minority has been able to cope with all the consequences of individual freedom and responsibility. The old pre-urban culture seems to have had such a strong influence on so many present day urban people, many of whom were forced into this new mode of being without choice, and thus many have had huge difficulties reconciling the magic of their own unequivocal identities with those of the culture they presently reside in – and thus many have felt, whether rightly or wrongly, their own lineage of imposed identity seems to be more attractive than the effort required to strengthen these multiple, and somewhat alien, identities.
I am convinced that the deliberate choice of one’s identity, if given freely by individual conscience and responsibility, is the modern (or post-modern) world. Within the actual “global village” there are no efficient ways to isolate and defend some group from the multitude and diversity of influences from “others”. So we have to learn to live with these numerous intrusions in our most intimate privacy and, if possible, take an advantage of them. It is certainly not a great achievement of civilisation, but it is a marvellous feeling around the Viennese Naschmarkt (flea market) one can choose between the traditional Austrian and Italian, Greek or Turkish food… !!!
If we do not want to smuggle into the “global village” the obsolete and uncivilised customs of strong borders and unique national identity – as it occurs now in former Yugoslavia – we should accept and cultivate the more civilised understanding of a multiple, freely chosen identity.
by Raymond Rehnicer, Prague, March 18, 1996
To find out where I sourced this article from, please click here.
August 6, 2010
Well… It’s come up before, in The Human Ape, just how similar we all are to our primate brothers/cousins. However, I am still always surprised at how many of my fellow human beings seem to want to remain in denial about this striking fact.
Just the other day I was speaking to a friend about how similar we are to the great apes, and possibly even some of the small monkey species, here on Earth. However, she stopped me there, pointing out that the only real similarity was the striking resemblance of our morphologies… But that was about as far as it went. So, bearing in mind this was a lady who had worked in zoos for several years at a time, and been on several safaris too, and thus having more than several monkey experiences under her belt, I quit blabbing and listened to her point of view… The main issue that set us apart was that we were obviously a lot more clever than any monkeys were i.e. our neural nets operated in very different ways to theirs… Sure we might have some very strikingly similar behavioural patterns as one another, but wouldn’t any species that shared similar bodily structures? And I couldn’t help but agree… After all, when given two legs and two hands, a torso and a head, with the potential that their bodies could stand upright… You’d expect the being endowed with these physical attributes to utilise them and grab things, maybe even trying to stand up at some point and walk while carrying these things in their hands. But all further similarities ended there.
So sat there… With furrows of concern that what I had just heard went against what I had recently seen on a TED talk… Something that had politely pointed out that we were even more similar than this simple body parity i.e. we even shared very similar behavioural traits… So I mentioned that I had to disagree with her. To which she asked me to prove my point.
So here I am, writing this entry with an eye to pick out something that can only be deemed to be as abstract and infuriatingly human as “economics” and then demonstrate that the similarity between bodily structure of our distant familiars – one which can only yield certain movements due the the constraints of joints and other bio-mechanical limitations i.e. we can’t bend our knees forward, etc… – also apply to our limbic system too… Well, I won’t… But Laurie Santos will. While the lemurs, capuchin monkeys and other primates that Santos has been studying are only shown to operate on a ‘one-on-one’ level, we need to be reminded that the only two things that really seem to set us apart – and not even that far apart – from our distant relatives, are our ‘ability’ to share resources fairly and work together as a team… As a unit… And build communities, cities and develop technologies… As well as effectively communicate and exchange detailed information with one another.
So, bearing this in mind, shouldn’t we expect to observe very similar traits to our primate brothers/sisters/cousins in the way that we operate within our own man made social constructs and communities… For example, similarities in the way we manage risk assessment in ‘economical’ terms… ? And, as Santos points out, we certainly do…
For those of us who still like to think that we’re really something special in comparison to our monkey see, monkey do relations, I beg they take 20 minutes out of their schedule and watch the some interesting facts that Laurie Santos has recently brought to light, demonstrating that all of ‘Us’ primates have very similar behavioural mechanisms at work – probably based on the neural net’s structural similarities – within the patterns our brain/mind continuum.
A Monkey Economy As Irrational As Ours
Laurie Santos looks for the roots of human irrationality by watching the way our primate relatives make decisions. A clever series of experiments in “monkeynomics” shows that some of the silly choices we make, monkeys make too.
To find out more about Laurie Santos and her interesting work, please click here.
Or to read an interview with her in Discover magazine, please click here.
And to find out where I sourced this video from, please click here.
I have often wondered what parts of the brain interact with each other… Are there areas in the neural net that only directly link to others via hardwired links through neurone structures i.e. via axion and dendrite structural linkages, while indirectly effecting the overall patterns of other physically unconnected areas, via the release the of chemical signals? Do some areas remain completely independent of one another and operate as distinct control areas that regulate other critical functions of the Central Nervous System (CNS)? I mean, I’ve already proposed an idea as to how our brains might well use fractal/chaotic dynamics to modify behavioural patterns within our minds – so as to ensure survival of our biological bodies – by smashing through predefined, repetitive modes of behaviour, thus elucidating a fairly erratic and highly unusual modified behaviour. But, to date, this has only been based on observations and insinuations about behavioural modifications noted by other scientists.
But just the other day I Stumbled over this amazing article… One that seems to suggest that answering the questions I have been pondering over these last few years, while in various states of meditation, psychedelic inebriation, metaphysical wondering and simply while walking around Dunorlan Park most evenings, are closer to hand than I had previously thought.
IBM Scientists Create Most Comprehensive Map Of The Brain’s Network
The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) published Tuesday a landmark paper entitled “Network architecture of the long-distance pathways in the macaque brain” (an open-access paper) by Dharmendra S. Modha (IBM Almaden) and Raghavendra Singh (IBM Research-India) with major implications for reverse-engineering the brain and developing a network of cognitive-computing chips.
“We have successfully uncovered and mapped the most comprehensive long-distance network of the Macaque monkey brain, which is essential for understanding the brain’s behavior, complexity, dynamics and computation,” Dr. Modha says. “We can now gain unprecedented insight into how information travels and is processed across the brain.
“We have collated a comprehensive, consistent, concise, coherent, and colossal network spanning the entire brain and grounded in anatomical tracing studies that is a stepping stone to both fundamental and applied research in neuroscience and cognitive computing.”
The scientists focused on the long-distance network of 383 brain regions and 6,602 long-distance brain connections that travel through the brain’s white matter, which are like the “interstate highways” between far-flung brain regions, he explained, while short-distance gray matter connections (based on neurons) constitute “local roads” within a brain region and its sub-structures.
Their research builds upon a publicly available database called Collation of Connectivity data on the Macaque brain (CoCoMac), which compiles anatomical tracing data from over 400 scientific reports from neuroanatomists published over the last half-century.
“We studied four times the number of brain regions and have compiled nearly three times the number of connections when compared to the largest previous endeavor,” he pointed out. “Our data may open up entirely new ways of analyzing, understanding, and, eventually, imitating the network architecture of the brain, which according to Marian C. Diamond and Arnold B. Scheibel is “the most complex mass of protoplasm on earth—perhaps even in our galaxy.”
The center of higher cognition and consciousness?
The brain network they found contains a “tightly integrated core that might be at the heart of higher cognition and even consciousness … and may be a key to the age-old question of how the mind arises from the brain.” The core spans parts of premotor cortex, prefrontal cortex, temporal lobe, parietal lobe, thalamus, basal ganglia, cingulate cortex, insula, and visual cortex.
Prefrontal cortex: integrator-distributor of information
By ranking brain regions (similar to how search engines rank web pages), they found evidence that the prefrontal cortex, while physically located in the front of the brain, is a functionally central part of the brain that might act as an integrator and distributor of information. Think of it as a switchboard.
As they stated in the PNAS paper, “The network opens the door to the application of large-scale network-theoretic analysis that has been so successful in understanding the Internet, metabolic networks, protein interaction networks, various social networks, and in searching the world-wide web. The network will be an indispensable foundation for clinical, systems, cognitive, and computational neurosciences as well as cognitive computing.”
The findings will also help them design the routing architecture for a network of cognitive computing chips, they suggest.
The research was sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Defense Sciences Office, Program: Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics.
Dr. Modha presented the exciting findings of this study in a talk I attended at the Toward A Science Of Consciousness conference in Tucson in April, but he asked us to hold off on covering this until the formal paper appeared in a peer-reviewed journal.
A detailed Powerpoint slide show with voice narration (60 slides, ~52 minutes, ~50 MB) is downloadable here.
by Amara D. Angelica
I like the author’s comparison to the “Mandala Of The Mind.” Could this reference be a coincidental incident relating to the Sanskrit word Mandala, which means circle? Certainly the psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung saw the mandala as “a representation of the unconscious self,” and believed his paintings of mandalas, which he made after patient contact, enabled him to identify emotional disorders within his subject and work towards developing a wholeness in their personality. But could these “scientific” studies demonstrate a clarity of understanding that allows mankind to understand his/her own basic behavioural tendencies in relation to the way we perceive reality?
This is something I will discuss further when I come to discussing what I have uncovered while studying the idea of the “Self.”
To find out where I sourced this article from, please click here.
To find out more about the author of this article, please click here
And to read more about Dharmendra S. Modha’s amazing work on mapping of our primate neural net, please click here.
August 4, 2010
We have five Polynomial T shirts to give away… Why? Well… Basically some people who heard us play at a gig back in 2005 in the South of France contacted us out of the blue the other week and asked if we still had anymore of “those weird T shirts” for sale that we had made up for our listeners… And alas we hadn’t… Mainly because some French lady at the gig ran off with the thirty or so that we had taken with us to Perpignan. I know… I know… That’ll teach me to let beautiful blue eyed French female strangers look after our merchandise while playing a set at future gigs.
Anyway… Rather than disappoint them by turning them down, we decided to get ten more T Shirts (ten being the minimum order we could press up at any one time) made up just for the pure diligence they showed by getting back in contact with us after all this time. And so we have some left overs… But rather than giving them to our friends and family, we figured it would be a good idea to give some away to all of you “nutters” – meant in an endearing sense, of course – who find the time to read this blog… BIG yourselves UP!
Basically the T shirt has a high quality, three colour print on the front, depicting the Polynomial logo… Along with the slogan “Are you functioning properly?” printed in white on the back just under the neck… You can see what it roughly looks like here:
One thing to note about these T shirts is… They come in just three sizes for men i.e. Large, Medium and Small. This is not be cause we’re sexist… Or mean… Or short sighted to the fact that females also live here on Earth. Nope… Nothing like that. It’s just simply all we could presently afford to print off. Oh… And because those French “nutters” were all male. But if that’s not a problem for you, then all you have to do to claim one of these literal ‘rarities’ is E-mail me by clicking here and fill in the E-mail that is generated in your OS’s mail application, making sure you send me the details of the size you require i.e. simply an L, M or S will do, along with the delivery address you would like the T shirt to be shipped to. I will ship anywhere in the world for free! But please don’t ask me for more than one T shirt. One T Shirt only per postal address… Why? Because we want to spread the love… !!!
Also, if you’re feeling a bit paranoid about who you give your details out to i.e. some “nutter” like me… Well… You can be rest assured that I won’t hang on to your postal address or E-mail for long… They will only be used to dispatch the T shirt, along with an E-mail notification that it has been dispatched, and then they will be promptly disposed of to ensure your absolute privacy is maintained.