Thursday, 9 December 2010

672 - TV

Just wondering to what extent TV schedules throw up festival experiences in place of real life carnivalling. Participation in watching and water-cooler moments afterwards could be distant cousins to shared feast-days and acts of revelry like apple-bobbing or wassailing.

Monday, 8 November 2010

673 - Gerard Manley Hopkins Quote

She caught the crying of those Three,
The Immortals of the eternal ring,
The Utterer, Uttered, Uttering.
(from his poem, Margaret Clitheroe)

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

674 - Ludic Self

Nice quote, Pat Kane, The Play Ethic: A Manifesto For A Different Way Of Living (2004), p.48:

"But the idea of a 'playful self', of a self that plays with its boundaries and masks, was birthed long before tricksy ad campaigns and postmodern theory. The clear starting point is Renaissance literature, and that list of writers - from Rabelais, Erasmus and Machiavelli, to Shakespeare, Donne and Marvell - who used their art to imagine a self that was not validated by Church, nobility or tradition. And their most favourite strategy was the ludic self - a literary persona that toyed with the very idea of being a single unitary consciousness."

Also, earlier in the chapter, a telling reference to the effect that the opposite of play is not work, it is depression.

And for the record, the chapter explores Brian Sutton-Smith's six rhetorics of play, which are:
  • Play as progress
  • Play as imagination
  • Play as selfhood
  • Play as fate and chaos
  • Play as shared identity
  • Play as contest

Thursday, 28 October 2010

675 - OSECA launched!




Photos on the Bay Games website here.

Great night, lots of fanfare, and the Berkley Tavern gave us a generously tasty spread. Best moments were seeing the kids getting into the game. (We'd not tested OSECA with children).

This photo was taken by a guy called Simon whose surname I really should know...

Friday, 15 October 2010

676 - Depression

Tangled up in my spirituality have been a lot of symptoms which have recently been diagnosed for me as Depression.

A clinical psychiatrist described this as severe, meaning, he qualified (I think), deep-seated. Who knows how deep? Perhaps I have been depressed since my mid-teens. That might have flavoured my whole spiritual journey.

Depression can result in wrong-thinking, but wrong-thinking can result in depression too. Wilful wrong-thinking would be my fault, in a fault-finding universe.

Anyway, lots of questions, and, at point of writing, maybe a glint of light that isn't hellfire (though it might not be heaven, either). Not to waste it, I'm posting this, but ending my post here.

Monday, 11 October 2010

677 - OSECA



A selection of cards from the prototype pack of the new card game, OSECA, which we are launching on 25th October!

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

679 - Four Colour Theorem

This states that it is possible to fill in any pattern of shapes across a single plane using a maximum of four colours.

Bizarrely, I suspect the same is true for story plots - that conceptually, a plot being a field, and therefore representable as a shape on a map, it might be possible to prove that any larger plot can be reconfigured as a combination of smaller plots for which the four colour theorem holds true.

Colour in this instance would be a metaphor for action (or emotional hue?).

Monday, 20 September 2010

Friday, 10 September 2010

681 - Long time

no post. Here's a haiku:

Now, Whitley's dome, a
Cake-iced white, or plaster cast,
Sweetly heals within.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

682 - Tetrahedral Spirituality?




It might be that God is love should be read "And even God is created by Love (even as Love allows that it is being created by God)"?

So that it is impossible to set oneself against love, because one is love, even if one sets oneself against God (but because one is love it is not that one is set against God so much that one is with God?

It might be?

Try replacing 'love', capitalised or uncapitalised, with 'consciousness'. Or maybe 'light'. Jesus, the light of the world? Perhaps in some sense this is other than fact or metaphor, but a third thing? Spiritual?

Perhaps there is a universe of this kind of light. So many specks linking and unlinking - a communion of Spirit. Perhaps, like factual light, this light can be particle or wave, in two places at once, or one, or three, to make a plane, or four, to make three planes, a tetrahedron.

In a tetrahedron each of the four points allows the others to pull their ways, each three support the fourth. If the four have equal pull, there is no distortion. Perhaps in every discussion of Christian theology, one should speak not only of the Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but of a fourth? Humanity? Each Personhood holds and allows the others their place. If no humanity, endlessly reproducing, which new ears would there be to hear the wonderful gospels, which new voices to join the choir, which mothers and fathers to nurture and let go their children, or elder kids to do what is right the whole time, or prodigals to range from home and return (and range again perhaps, this time full of meat, with the love of their life met at the party their parents threw, to risk the pain of childlessness for the joy of a new generation).

I always feel Jesus, being the firstborn, in his telling of the parable would have had compassion for the older brother of the prodigal son, as well as the father, and perhaps the fatted calf too! This is a story in which nobody loses: though the older brother becomes angry and refuses to come to the family party, and severs his own links with his father, even he is not rejected: "'My son', the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. ...' So the question is, what does it mean to be always with the father, and to have everything he has. Everything including, presumably, the love for, joy at the return of, and celebration with the prodigal? He who has ears to hear, let him hear, as is said.

The parable of the prodigal son sounds like an icon of the Trinity, with the wilful Holy Spirit blowing where it will, including home. The three points are the father, older son, and younger son. But a fourth is provided by the storyteller as he speaks, and his audience, the speed of sound later, as they listen. In the same way, Rublev painting his icon would have felt a part of the encounter, just as you or I do standing or seated in his place today.

Such an encounter reveals love and compassion in us. We are seeing the love and compassion of the trinity, and sharing in it. There is great pain in turning away to the next thing, anger bubbles beneath (and on) the surface. We are like the elder son.

If, however, the story never ends, there need be no turning away, no cessation of love and compassion. Or the minute we turn outwards, away, we become part of a new tetrahedron, and anger, though seemingly present, has no opportunity to break before it is gone. Perhaps it never fully formed at all. What we thought was anger was the effort, mentally, to break away from a trinity we didn't want to leave, because our mental quest is not only to God, but to each other. And each other's others - the fatted calves, perhaps; or the spirituality of the religious East. Then maybe those parts of creation that have not evolved on Earth, or at all.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

683 - Upstarts


[thanks to http://www.hageprat.com/images/eden/eden-tropical-biome-1.jpg]

As Firefox has it, inviting you to clothe your browser in a chosen skin: Choose your persona.

Christianity is Trinitarian, which in conventional terms has rounded edges. At least, of the three personalities, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, each has been assumed to bind in, or at least, mutually support the others.

Jesus, by his life, is seen to have left this family to redeem a fallen humanity: those who choose his path are bound back in, where previously, presumably, they were Hellbound. Heaven is seen as mutually supportive, safe environment; Hell as feral, where the beasts that are bigger than you bite, and those that are smaller burrow. It is possible to read the scriptures as promising universal salvation, but only if you assume the storyteller has a twinkle in the eye when the story is told: Oh , the sheep will get to heaven, but the goats will be cast into outer darkness [*But we know, listeners, that no-one will really turn out to be a goat*]. Christianity has, somehow, to incorporate a fall, even if it is wholly happy with evolution as a concept.

But what if the Trinity were a little more ranging? What if, for example, the Holy Spirit were a bit of an upstart, blowing where it will, including in all the awkward places?

If any of these were true, there might, despite the scriptures, be a cause for believing a person, or people, could exist who were perfectly happy to live their allotted span on the Earth, be called into existance at birth, and out at death. Somehow at the end they might become part of the firmament of Love in which dwell all others: they might for the duration be the Holy Spirit, and explain an anarchic streak in humanity, and perhaps elsewhere.

Such a people might live by pre-fall myths, as Hugh Brody, delicately unpicking Genesis, and interpreting its creation stories as wholly agriculturalist (even Adam starts a gardener, and the first murder is by a herdsman of a farmer) suggests Hunter-Gatherers continue to do. Or somehow they might dwell in myths of the new Jerusalem, with the old heaven and earth passed away already. Or not dwell in myths at all, but in the conscious heart of the universe, expanding despite the odds, or expanding and contracting continuously from and to a point of singularity, as Einstein's scientific poesis defines it.

They might find each other out, or simply recognise each other by the twinkles in their eyes, and know they are somehow one, even though the myths, beliefs and practices they have been shaped by are wildly different, even mutually contradictory. It would be for them to wrestle meaning out of the primordial mud, and watch it sink back again (or not watch, as their senses depart despite themselves).

These people would be neither good nor evil, might dream they are deific, but wake to the demonic (remembering that dreams can occur in waking reality, and waking reality in dreams). Finding enough succour in each other and the anarchic Spirit of Holiness, they might be borne by each other through the hard times, and be blessed in the good, directing their blessings to their friends in the dark till roles are perhaps reversed.

They might find wisdom comes midway through such a life, so that they no longer need rely for absolute being on the support of others, but shine their Spirits, enflamed by Love, for the benefit of all. They might even appropriate the myths of others, but only to enfuse the myths with compassion, expanding them past the realms of feasibility till all are redeemed, so that they need not hand the myths back, because they have already given the fruit of them to those they have taken the myths from. (And these in turn have grown their own myths, with which to feed their anarchic friends.)

A model by which we might see such interactions could be the networked domes of the Eden Project, which contain and make possible the ecosystems within them. You go to see the plants, but you also go to see the star-crossed architecture which makes them possible.

Some may be called, from time to time, to explore each other's worlds. The anarchic trinitarians might lower a friend into the ecosystem, or an archaic Trinitarian might fly a kite to the anarchists. A touch of realism, however: of course (of course) each would return to their kind: Model 2 might be deep sea diving, or aeronautics: no-one could remain anywhere without the support of their fellows. (A network of tetrahedrons, extending upwards and down, might just perform the job.)

In conclusion, beyond the calls demanded by individual religions might be a further call, to each and everyone, to which each and everyone responds. I (who am biased in this) might phrase it thus: Choose your persona. Go and Story!

Monday, 19 July 2010

684 - Christian

The deepest, toughest, most demanding week of my life, the week just gone. I will draw on it for the rest of my life, and write about it honestly here from time to time.

Suffice to say, for now, that I've concluded that being a Christian means ending cycles of abuse. No more, no less. And if you have to stop being a Christian in order to do so, then stop being a Christian.

But as for me, now, I no longer feel that is necessary. So from now on, I'm happy to wear that label, and will do my utmost to wear it well.

I am a Christian.

Friday, 16 July 2010

685 - Indomitable



Whitley Bay, Tuesday.
[new camera!]

686 - A Pernicious Idea

...is that by our choices we can live a life that adds more good or evil to the world than any other person.

It's not that life isn't a fantastic adventure (or that adventure doesn't seem cold and disheartening when you're in it). But authentic spirituality has to embrace pain as well as pleasure, death as well as life, thwarted ideals as well as miracles, including ideals we hold about ourselves.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

687 - Birth, Sex and Death

One sweeps you into the world.
One sweeps you up in it.
One sweeps you out of it.

Not sure there's anything sensible to say about any of them!

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

688 - A Fair Deal

It seems to me a fair deal that a seer should spend half their life mad. A civilization at the birth of itself has no knowledge, certainly no medical terminology. Observation would perhaps have led to the understanding that humanity, like 'pigness' or 'oakness', is its own value, separable from the distortions it suffers through growth in a restricted (or overly rich) environment. Long before DSM IV, the American diagnostic manual for mental disorders, the seer would observe, internally as well as externally, the mechanics of consciousness, and, from their location within the community, offer testimony that others undergoing fluctuations of sanity, with all that entails, were still wholly human (neither devilish nor divine).

The seer, then, performed a vital role within a group of social animals, and if his or her watch really promoted the integrity of the herd, it is not hard to see how such qualities as 'seer-dom' might evolve naturally, in the same way that symmetrical features evolve, and strength, and other aspects of physical health.

Perhaps we are all seers to a greater or lesser extent. And perhaps civilization, if it fails to acknowledge that we are all as mad as we are sane, is blind to the possibility that it is possessed, intrinsically, of the same divide. Divide? If it is located in the ebb and flow of consciousness, as David Lewis-Williams and others suggest, this is perhaps an artificial distinction. As Daniel Everett, in Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes points out, at least one tribe in the Amazonian jungle, the Piraha, sleep a maximum of two hours at a time, and talk through the night. At a recent seminar on sleep that E attended, it was reported that one in ten of us are naturally nocturnal.

Myths arise out of our experiences in altered states of consciousness. The clarity of science allows for certainty that the twin poles of deepest sleep and wakefulness coexist but do not impose on each other. In the same way, perhaps, the experience of a myth fulfils the same function, from the opposing pole. Karen Armstrong and others divide cultural discourse into two streams, one logos, one mythos. Their work teases at the implications this division has for societies, religious and secular, as they grow and split.

The division of action, and its precursor intentions, into good and evil, is another artificial distinction. Perhaps it is relevant solely in our waking domain, and maybe not even there. In any case, if there is no useful distinction we can make (even religious texts that accept the dualism, like Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43, leave the judgement to God), perhaps it is better to abandon talk of morality for talk of mental health, and of mental health for the flow of consciousness?

In such a transition, the role of seer is as relevant as ever, be it one that we all share , or one that some undertake on behalf of others, or a bit of both. Either that, or we all act, waking, alone, and dream in silence. That might be possible, too, though whether, given an evolutionary basis for see-ing, it would achieve anything apart from a massive exercise in repackaging, is debateable, and perhaps, therefore, better left undebated?

689 - After Faith

[Work in progress]

That I am an extraneous man
Is (is it?) no doubt. That you
And I have met, on the intersection of
Love and doubt, is
Our hopeful declaration of marriage:
We will, I'm sure, make it work.

But in my thought sphere (my world) I
See two trajectories: I am
Falling away from myself,
Falling together. One two - Outside
The cradle in which all is borne,
Sinking centripetally; or, in the cradle,
The cuckoo, becoming legal,
Only by correctives
Applied by in- or external hand.

Caught in the fall upstream, in
The bounds of this flesh, perhaps
You enkeep me, as I try to keep you:
Necessity nest me, and I will
Garland you in my superfluous words.
(Morning I chase them away;
Evening I welcome them back.)

I say instead: life, be our guard;
Evolution our holding cell; church our
Sentence, a palindrome. Restitution, fly
In dissipating threads, quickened
By black holes. But in this instance, if only this,
Be love.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

690 - Stars

In the end, all we are, all we can give, all we can give to, is stars.

Monday, 12 July 2010

691 - Pottery is Poetry With Typos

Hmm. Self-identity as an artform? Midlife must be the point in the creative process when you want to ditch the clay and start again.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

693 - Reluctant Shifts

Funny how words don't appeal very much any more. A bit dramatic, perhaps, and tough given the vast neurological networks I am, as well as possess, dedicated to language and its written form. Like being a typewriter of great insight, aware that it is being asked to perform like a word processor - a mix of joy that its visions can be better expressed, and despair that the job is beyond it.

The Christian vision, which I bought, then rejected, until a mystical experience convinced me there was a deeper truth beyond the words, gave me great hope that everything I wanted to do or say could find creative expression within its remit. But alongside the hope is a great despair, and as ruts form, and I physically age, and as I test the boundaries of the vision, the despair has overtaken the joy, recently, too often.

The appeal is then to revert to word-level truths, or even abandon words altogether. A spirituality that takes evolution seriously, that allows a place in heaven, or whatever might follow, if anything does, for everyone, shouldn't have a problem with choices like these. A sick animal dies, or recovers to die later. Too much pain and anyone is let off the hook. Everyone breaks down sooner or later.

But a third option is to sense oneself as part of an evolutionary shift through words to a state somewhere beyond. It would be Lanarckian to claim that exposure to the information age is inducing an evolutionary shift within a single generation. That's not what I mean. But it is possible that our societies are demanding, or inviting, new responses from us, to which some may be better suited than others. And those of us with a predeliction for words, like me, might find ourselves brutally tested, and failing, if societal shifts of too great a moment occur in our lifetimes.

That might not mean that we cannot catch the vision, and run with it as far as we are able, like the aspiring word processor that collapses in a jumble of levers and lead typeface, but has sensed, at least, the shape of things to come.

What might a post-verbal world be like? One where people communicate not just by sound and text, but by total performance? That's surely already happening. And come to think of it, maybe it's been there all the time anyway. Dance, drama, ancient ritual, being what they are. Maybe I'm chuntering on about nothing. Probably, okay definitely, am.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

694 - Spanish City Dome


A sketch of the Dome for use in the logo of our new games-making company - Bay Games Ltd.

(Overheard yesterday that they've plans to divert the coast road behind the Dome, presumably so that the area can be pedestrianised. That'd be cool!!)

Monday, 7 June 2010

695 - Whirred


[photo by giuss95]

Notwithstanding The Language Instinct, by Steven Pinker, that we are essentially a-verbal suggests to me that we can become, perhaps already are becoming, post-verbal.

This, wryly, from Sara Maitland's A Book of Silence: "'Communication' (which always means talk) is the sine qua non of 'good relationships'. 'Alone' and 'lonely' have become almost synonymous; worse, perhaps, 'silent' and 'bored' seem to be moving closer together too.' (p.3)

I was at a discussion at which Sara Maitland spoke, and one of us who had come to listen argued that we are a noisy species, that we survive because of noise - warnings and attraction calls and the like - and that not speaking is therefore unnatural. But I wonder (following Maitland) if it is not quite as simple as that.

I follow Pinker's ideas that our relationship with language, indeed the whole of culture, is sustained through our having evolved brains that can comprehend and develop it; that, to the extent that it is evolutionarily desirable to be fluent, those of us who have an optimum capacity to handle words will, over eons, have passed our capacities down, through genes and culture, so that this generation is likely to be the most fluent ever.

And yet two thoughts intrude. First, what is evolved is the capacity to handle language, rather than language itself; second, verbal communication is incredibly effective, but not necessarily in all (even, perhaps, most) evolutionary niches.

I'll take these in turn (and I know I am using words to do so). It is true that we do, by and large, all speak, but we are not born speaking. What gets us speaking is exposure to parents and peers who can teach us. So whilst there might be a thirst to learn to speak, as there is a hunger for food, what this reveals is a brain fine-tuned to apprehend and adopt words, as a mouth can suck a teat. If every word was suddenly expunged, we would continue to be born with brains to listen for words, at least until evolution had worked its winnowing magic and replacement expressions of life, taking advantage of the distress our word-thirst placed us in, started to prevail.

Therefore a question arises: if our brains' verbal apprehension, creation and distribution technologies were combined with other neural technologies, to effect new communication (or wider than that, life) tools, might we not allow these to grow in place of modern human verbosity. Because not to do so would be to restrict our humanity. This is what has happened with the spread of reading, after all, which co-opts the brain's visual system into working with its language systems. Arguably something similar is happening as text-based communication widens into virtual reality - a phenomenon that neuroscientists are engaged in documenting.

But modern life throws more at us than electronic interfaces. Not least it continues to throw big questions from past eras about our capacity, for example, to adapt to new physical environments. Speech is great, but it'll never work, unmediated, underwater or in space or, perhaps, in noisy, jam-packed cities, where we preserve our personal space only by raising walls through which conversation cannot effectively pierce. And there is always the potential for us to create new neural technologies and subsequently to identify the niches where they can take us, for the sheer joy of it.

Evolutionary niches like cityscapes or wind-swept deserts are presently on the increase. There is no guarantee that the optimum conditions under which our language instinct evolved should continue to prevail. This drives us back to consider what the essence of humanity is. Our modern culture is, certainly, word-based; our post-modern culture less so. Perhaps it becomes more important for us to read one another's emotions projected alongside and concurrent with the brands we are wearing.

Or to adopt opportunities offered by our growing genetic or environmental awareness. If understanding is defined simply as the act of engaging with information packaged and sent between each other, and if we can package that information with greater dexterity and beauty in the form of a butterfly than a word, then our future conversations might be lepidoptic, rather than auditory.

With the hum of insect wings, in future days, words may have whirred into obsolescence.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

696 - After an AUB

Certain thoughts pertaining to identity formation, to consciousness, superfluity, life-purpose, follow from the perambulations on which my reading programme has taken me.

It is important to me to try to summarise the hypothesis I am now about to entertain.

Something happened to me, going on thirty-four. Something happens to a lot of people. During my year at theological college, many of those called to be vicars were in their thirties. It was expected. My father, too, in his mid-thirties, chose a career change. If the gospel stories are just stories, that Jesus was in his mid-thirties when he died seems an apposite choice for the storytellers. If they contain accurate biographical material concerning the days leading up to his crucifixion, it would seem that his mission, a revelation of his identity, achieved its completion when he reached a similar age. At my theological college none of this went unnoticed.

At thirty four, in certain cultures, this is the age that boys finally become men, or having become young men, warriors, in their teens, now become elders. And I've noted that at twice seventeen, or thereabouts, this is also the age, biologically, that parents see their children grown to the age where they can bear children, where the focus on nurture switches from eldest child to potential grandchild. It seems natural to me that such a switch would be accompanied by a widening of perspective, a concern growing for one's community as a whole, rather than one's immediate family.

So what happened to me then? I experienced what psychologists call a moment of Absolute Unitary Being - AUB. At this point I re-engaged with the vocation to vicarhood from which I had in my twenties walked away; though not in a desperate sense, more in the sense that any choice I might make would be good - or perhaps honest, okay, are better words. In a nutshell, my perspective widened. I sensed a one-ness with everything, including my understanding of God. Indeed, my understanding of God widened to include everything I didn't know, as well as those things I did.

How to make sense of such an event? One way might be to describe it in terms of identity. This was the moment I knew myself as an individual. Jung calls it individuation. It's quite easy to see such a moment as the apotheosis of one's life. Nothing will ever feel as good. Enlightenment is pursued through one's novitiate: afterwards, the Buddhist saying goes, one returns to chopping wood and lugging water around. Recently I've found it next to impossible to shake the idea that having experienced the AUB, yet again I've returned to a sinful state. I've been given a free pass to Heaven, and even turned my back on that.

I think - and this is the hypothesis - that a more helpful conception of what is happening would be the following. The AUB was about individuation: since then, however, I've not been regressing, I've been developing. Every faculty by which I achieved my identity the first time has not been switched off: instead it is going about its business building secondary, perhaps even tertiary or further identities. Identities that finesse the one I already feel good about, extending my range, building my empathy, giving me alternatives, allowing me to venture beyond myself at just the point in time when the first intimations of mortality start whispering about my joints (think evolutionarily, rather than idealistically, pre-cod liver oil and U3A).

The difference this time round is that I already know I'm okay, and everyone else, and everyone else I could be. All I need to do, when spectres of guilt haunt me, is remind the new identity I am constructing around me, that I inhabit, that, for the duration I am, that it is every bit as okay as the AUB proved my first full identity to be.

Multiplicities; stories with new characters I have created myself to be - these take shape as I pursue the relevant and new-minted art of storying, an art which may, actually, be what evolution has hardwired us all to experience.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

697 - Creative Minds And Information Flow



[Original picture cc licensed flickr photo by Franz Patzig: flickr.com/photos/franzlife/2845138799/]


Lots of interesting ideas in this news article from the BBC, especially if you lift the focus from the 'artists are a bit bonkers' tenor of the headline ("Creative Minds 'Mimic Schizophrenia'").

First, the established ideas that higher creativity carries a higher risk of mental illness, especially psychosis, and that a family history of mental illness correlates with an increased likelihood of greater creativity. This is nicely summarised, relating it to the Big 5 personality theory, in Geoffrey Miller's book Spent, as a probable result of high values in one's Openness trait. Daniel Nettles also links this trait to an openness to unusual experiences and consequent beliefs.

Second, the possibility that creativity is related to the brain's ability to manage information flow. Research by Associate Professor Frederic Ullen suggests the fewer dopamine receptors there are in the brain's thalamus region, the more information is allowed unfiltered into the brain. In the words of the article, "He believes it is this barrage of uncensored information that ignites the creative spark. This would explain how highly creative people manage to see unusual connections in problem-solving situations that other people miss."

I like the idea that creativity might be related directly to information management, as it makes sense of my professional interest in Librarianship, and my family's, perhaps, in editing and publishing books. As gatekeeper professions, these can suffer from appearing deeply unsexy. Instead, it might be that the very tools you need to manage information flow, are those that can allow you to create the greatest art.

Third, the disconcerting, fractured perspective associated with the rush of information. Again, from the article, here's UK Psychologist Mark Millard:
"Creativity is uncomfortable. It is their dissatisfaction with the present that drives [creative people] on to make changes. Creative people, like those with psychotic illnesses, tend to see the world differently to most. It's like looking at a shattered mirror. They see the world in a fractured way. There is no sense of conventional limitations and you can see this in their work. Take Salvador Dali, for example. He certainly saw the world differently and behaved in a way that some people perceived as very odd."
I've tended to see the discomfort I feel much of the day as a result of a higher than average neurotic personality. On bad days, when I'm off kilter, the dualistic thinking of religious fundamentalism becomes appealing. It's an easy escape from the onslaught, like diving into a bus shelter in a storm, which may keep you dry but gets you no closer to your destination. The flipside of such thinking is a tendency to muddle the discomfort of a walk in the rain with the guilt associated with the rejection of fundamentalist certainties: sinning, as such thinking would have it.

So this research offers an alternative and empowering explanation for an experience I've always thought of as debilitating. Instead it's like the experience I had recently of fighting against a jet of water in a spa pool, which I could tolerate for a while, then had to escape, but returned to again and again, because it was fun. If I can reframe church as a place of harbour, a backwater, then I can think of my moves in, and out of it, back into the maelstrom, as a series of deliberate acts, none of which have primarily a moral dimension. Instead they become the equivalent of eating to fill an empty stomach, or ceasing when replete.

Fourth and finally, the definition of creativity as the 'suspension of disbelief'. Once again, the neural make-up that makes it easier to entertain the counter-intuitive accounts of the various religions - that a man might rise from the dead, that the majority-view of modern science might be wrong, or (always more likely) merely a partial account of reality - is given a sound physiological basis, and one which, painted as a sign of mental weakness too often, is at least as likely to lead to creative benefits to oneself and one's society.

The key, in this interpretation, to avoiding overly sticky fundamenatlist thinking, is to learn to manage one's movement in and out of information flows, and to identify and learn to use tools for getting as much as one can out of information-quiet and information-heavy states.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

699 - Muggles

Back from Brussels via Kings Cross. We race for the train and settle into our seats. Then we notice the large red steam train next to us through the window. "Hogwarts Express", puffing steam, with spatters of soot on its funnel, right alongside.

There is a buzz up and down the carriage, and camera flashes. An air hostess opposite leans over to take a picture for her daughter. A brisk woman wearing the tag 'Locations Manager' and followed by a policeman steps along the aisle, telling people to please put the cameras away and chat normally (rather than gawp out the window).

Our train pulls out and we see, as we leave the steam train behind, the camera crews and detritus of the filmshoot on platform 4. There's an actorish guy reclining in a director's chair (logic'd suggest a director, but he seemed rather too compact, the way actors can go when they are off-camera but still in the zone).

The word is they've been filming the absolute final scene in the Harry Potter series. E wonders if her orange hat will have been in shot. Further up the train, somone announces they've seen Daniel Radcliffe with an owl.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

700 - Haiku! (Bless you.)

This night I last the
Longitudes round, zero to
Zero, northern lit.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

702 - Hypnosis

Nice definition by Bryan Appleyard in Aliens: Why They Are Here:
Hypnotism is a technique that triggers a mass storytelling project in which all the stories are linked.
This, I am pretty sure, is what must be harnessed if storying (deliberately shaping your life/lives to stories of your choice) is to become a shared artform.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

703 - Exegesis




Philip K Dick, the science fiction writer, underwent an experience of mental intrusion and enlightenment, in an altered state of consciousness induced while taking painkillers, which he proceeded to interrogate over the last eight years of his life. The result, a million pages of journal writing which he titled 'Exegesis', will be edited and published in two volumes next year.

According to Bryan Appleyard, in a subtle book, Aliens: Why They Are Here, Dick came to believe the Roman Empire had never fallen, and found its current expression in rampant materialist capitalism. He also believed that a Vast Active Living Intelligence System (VALIS) orbits the Earth, using symbols such as the Christian fish sign to disinhibit people to whom it wishes to communicate. Appleyard writes:
Dick glimpsed the centrality of the alien in the postwar world. He was himself a stranger in a strange land, a troubled drifter. In his madness he lived in the third realm of aliens and angels. The world was alien to him and he was alien to it. He understood the eternal truth that we don't fit and he saw how modernity had heightened and dramatized our discomfort.
'The fish sign causes you to remember,' he wrote in his exegesis, 'Remember what?... Your celestial origins; this has to do with the DNA because the memory is located in the DNA... You remember your real nature... The Gnostic Gnosis: You are here in this world in a thrown condition, but are not of this world.'
(pp.156-7)
I can identify with Dick the drifter, not least because I can see my own in his experiences in altered states of consciousness. I particularly like Appleyard's suggestion that making sense of his experiences required him to move into a third realm where the supernatural, or extraterrestrial at least, was commonplace. My own experiences precipitated a similar search for explanation, which I tried to find in Evangelical Christianity, and I'm very sure I wasn't the only one there to make such a journey.

I'm less happy with the suggestion that alienation is an eternal truth, in the sense that having realised we are here in a thrown condition, we can do no more about it than pick up the pieces and start walking. My subsequent journey has been about the discovery that if we are all aliens, then we are aliens nurtured by the world we have been born into - that has evolved us to be who we are. We are social aliens with four billion years worth of fine-tuned mutual space-suit around us.

I'd like to suggest that alienation is only half the picture: familial warmth provides the rest. The Gnostic sense of thrownness is there, but so is rootedness: my learning path, hereon in, is about using each to critique and expand my appreciation of the other.

I think this expands Appleyard's third realm to the breadth of the cosmos. That is to say, there is no third realm worth speaking of, the first (physical) and the second (mental) having always fallen away by the time we pause to analyse them. Or to put it another way, we are all of us born into the third realm, where the unknown stands side by side with the known, and as we grow we turn first to the physical and then to the mental (maybe vice versa) to make sense of it all.

I guess we all have to journey the full length of our journey. Quick fixes and permanent stop-offs in realms along the way are not an option. Dick's Exegesis, which I would like to read, will prove no more (or less) than a map of his particular path through life.

Monday, 10 May 2010

704 - 6-1!

First goal at Wembley after 21 seconds, fastest yet. Second year running Whitley lifts the FA Vase.

These boys deserve the freedom of North Tyneside twice (six times?) over, and if the honour doesn't exist yet, it should be created for them...

705 - Can Do



On the seat opposite me, a can of energy drink, empty. Could get stressed, but the branding grabs me. I've been thinking about the nature of humanity, and in cheap coke fashion, this captures the point.

First the name, which seems a bit overblown for a Red Bull substitute. I mean, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was sweat from the brow of Jason Statham. Carbonated. But we are a bit relentless, really. All drives: sex, hunger, status, vigour, nurture. Strangest of all, perhaps, a drive to create.

Creation is what the font says to me. It's a bit gothic, a bit spiky, somewhere between vampire and cyber punk. And it's a bit 'the force that through the green shoot drives the flower' (Dylan Thomas). Like our daily work is somehow driving a lifeforce through the aluminium can itself, causing it to curl out in fish-hook shoots and fractal serifs, a thousand memes lodging in our brains and into those we are hoping to pull.

Finally, completing the design, the logo is stamped against (into?) the anatomical drawing of a head. It's deeply corporeal, quite unsexy, unless you're catching what the drawing is hinting at: that this drink, this relentlessness, goes beyond the surface. It's non-dualistic in the same way that vampires are non-dualistic, because there's a spiritual edge to the relentless cadaverousness: the promise is that this drink, feeding your head-flesh, will directly inspire your thoughts. That's very, very now, psychologically. The curl of the aluminium, the tang of performance-boosting chemicals, joins with your body cybernetically, affording a glimpse of your transhuman future.

Which is what I've been reflecting on: the way that imagination, a tool, is also a sense, like sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell, proprioception. Our vision, for instance, gives us the impression of three dimensions, but as Steven Pinker indicated in How The Mind Works, it's a bit of trickery: all we see are surfaces, and experience gives us the information to be able to round them into full and solid objects. By filling out what is insensible by other means, our imagination supplies vital information: it is the sense that senses the insensible. Because it is working with what is not directly there, it has to create - answers, perspectives, images. It reaches out of itself, to what is otherwise known, what can be supplied from sources, such as people, and sews it into new possibilities, creating technologies, art forms, cosmologies.

What is true for the rest of biology must also be true for the imagination. Just as sight has been honed by evolution, so too must image-making. And just as evolution suggests that sight contributes to our forward capacities for survival and reproduction, answering the 'where do we go from here?' questions as well as the 'where have we come from?' kind, so that we know that sight of a steep drop will induce vertigo, and a buxom or buff torso, sexual stimulation, so, we should expect, is imagination similarly directed.

In short, whatever we are able to imagine has evolutionary value, and should be treasured as such.

Something more. Imagination, reliant on shared information, has an intricate relationship with the objects we create - far closer, arguably, than the other senses with which we perceive those objects. It is imagination that puts the objects out there, or appreciates them when proferred by others. It is not, perhaps, too much of a stretch to suggest that culture, which is the combined results of human imagination, is itself a part of the imaginative sense - a collective tongue extended to taste the fall of future snows.

The minute we begin to think of our creations as a part of ourselves - and this implies a closer than conventional relationship with the tools we make, I'd argue, and a more open-ended, organic one - we are acknowledging ourselves to have evolved already into cybernetic beings. Perhaps the essence of humanity is our relentless pursuit of creative participation in the wider ecosystem. Perhaps we cannot understand fully our relationship with our ecosystem unless we appreciate that we are half-hardwired into it, and actively involved in increasing its and our diversity.

Monday, 3 May 2010

706 - Analysing Dreams

A line of thought developed in conversation with E last night. It must have worked because I slept smiling and woke at 2.30am with an idea for a great new card game. Calling it Aseco, and played it this morning with E, who offered great spousal support: "I hate to admit it, but this is really quite good!"

I'll post the rules and a sketch later in the week - lots happening to do with board games, etc, which it'll be fun to let you know about.

In the meantime, line of thought:

1 Our life, linearly through time, proceeds from sleep to waking to sleep to waking, so on and so on.

2. Therefore, one source of information for a particular night's dreaming is the events of the day preceding it.

3. And one outcome of a night's dreaming is information expressed in the way we live the following day.

4. People for whom, in given circumstances, this process occurs more beneficially are more likely to survive and pass their genes on.

5. Therefore, because we are here, we are likely, unless circumstances change, to find processes 1 to 3 beneficial to us.

6. Elaborating on the processes, information from one period of waking is likely, during the subsequent period of dreaming, to be well-integrated with previous experiences of waking and sleeping.

7. Similarly, information from this subsequent dream period is likely to inform not only the following day, but days and nights (waking and dreaming periods) beyond.

8. All this will tend towards a positive outcome, given reasonably constant physical (health, environmental etc) parameters.

9. Not only will a smooth process of waking and sleeping, with little or no conscious analysis of preceding and subsequent states, tend towards a beneficial outcome, but also disruptions to that process, such as a sudden wakening, and hence memory of dreaming, or induced slip into an altered state of consciousness.

10. Waking strategies to deal with disrupted sleep states will inform the waking and sleeping processes following their implementation, as these will be a part of the greater body of wake-time information to be processed.

11. Similarly, sleeping strategies to deal with disrupted waking states will inform future life experience.

12. Given that all this tends to the beneficial, one is free to approach dream analysis any way one wants, tried and tested or experimental (or indeed to ignore the process of analysis entirely), confident that subsequent cycles of sleeping and waking will allow one to refine and/or expand that technique, in the same way that any other process of learning evolves.

13. If non-linear time is also allowed, and/or multidimensionality of other kinds, as a source of information for dream or waking states, this too, from the perspective of linear time (and perhaps from all perspectives), can only be seen as an evolving process, and as such, beneficial, or at worst, neutral.

14. In the same manner as dream analysis whilst awake, analysis of waking experience whilst asleep will tend towards the beneficial (at worst neutral), over subsequent cycles, and can therefore begin at any point, and in any way.

15. I am writing this because as of today I wish to recommit myself, and redouble my efforts at, dream and waking analysis.

Friday, 30 April 2010

707 - Two-Way Traffic



[Joseph Campbell (1973, rep. 1991), Myths To Live By]

Niche Construction would suggest that all we aspire our technology to do is to allow us to be the human we already are. Therefore we do not need to look outside of ourselves to find the relevant myth for a given technology or the event/s it precipitates.

The dynamic is sketched at the foot of the page.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

708 - Binker



Binker: measure of the correlation between empirical reality and a given account of it. Or between two accounts of it.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

709 - Fictitious

As of today, this blog'll be containing fictional posts as well as factual. I'll stick a 'fiction' tag at the foot of each such post, for clarity. I want to start feeding invented moments into the blog as an experiment in storying. And if it all goes a bit rubbish, I'll stop!

(I'll tag this post 'fiction' too, to link the explanation in, but it's up to you to decide whether that is a valid commentary on its content or not.)

Friday, 9 April 2010

711 - A New Strategy



The Game Of Life makes my skin crawl a little. It's a boardgame that portrays life as a path through education or work to success, wealth, property and retirement. Then you die, sometimes lingeringly, though that isn't presented as an option on the official board.

The truth is that the game offers a baby-boomer life story, very modern, very black and white, and measured in dollars.

I'm in a conciliatory mood, so I want to suggest that this is a valid life story, but it is still, surely, only one of many. The postmodern Game Of Life would offer as many options, as many strategies, as each player chose to imagine.

My idea is that this could be the ideal way to start exploring what storying, as an artform, might mean in practice. I've started to get a grip on the concept of identity, but storying (follow the tags!) is more than the establishment of a conscious identity: it's also about arranging life circumstances in such a way that moments evolve into the stories you want, as a conscious and creative act.

It's easy to get bogged down: if you can't generate a story worthy of Tolstoy, Trevor, Proulx or Nabokov, why start? But games, especially the classics, are simple, like narrative rules. Though they do generate great complexity, which is why chess is a beautiful art, they grow organically from very small beginnings.

What better way, therefore, for me to begin to get a grip on the rules of narrative than to play them out as a series of games?

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

713 - Nature/ Nurture

I think these three quotes all say the same thing. Do you?

Now here's the pivotal point: the neurology and functioning of the brain create a mercurial type of human consciousness that is universal. And the ways in which that consciousness can be accommodated in daily life by human beings are not infinite, as world ethnography, spanning a multitude of cultures, indeed shows.
David Lewis-Williams and David Pearce (2005), Inside the Neolithic Mind, p.9

[Our perception of aliens] is to do with the ambivalent nature of consciousness and our uneasy sense of being both within the world and outside it. This is, in part, a commentary on modernity, but also it is about an eternal aspect of the human predicament that has been massively amplified but not created by modernity.... For now, I need simply say that I start from the undoubted reality of aliens. they may or may not exist but they are all around us and they are trying to tell us something, possibly about themselves, but certainly about us. In order to understand what they are saying it is necessary to abandon the usual barriers between fiction and reality. There are many important connections between the aliens in Star Trek, H. G. Wells' Martians, the abductors of Betty and Barney Hill, the cattle mutilators in Montana and the committee of beings known as the Nine who speak through the Florida medium Phyllis V. Schlemmer. These connections form an enormous mirror of ourselves and of our age, through which, like Alice, we can pass and find ourselves in a different world.
Bryan Appleyard (2005), Aliens: Why They Are Here, p.9

What is The Filth?
The Filth contains the active ingredient metaphor.
Metaphor is one of a group of problem-solving medicines known as figures of speech which are normally used to treat literal thinking and other diseases. Metaphor combines two or more seemingly unrelated concepts in a way that stimulates lateral thought processes and creativity...
What is The Filth used for?
This comic book is used to treat all manner of disorders including Internet pornography addiction, insomnia, grief, "mid-life" crisis, schizophrenia, the ignorance of samsara and the 21st century blues, especially in patients whose millennial anxiety and general paranoia has not yet responded to normal treatments.
When must The Filth not be used?
If your doctor has advised you to avoid the use of metaphor.
If you refuse to acknowledge the mocking laughter of the Abyss.
If you cannot face the fact that your entire immediate environment is a seething battlefield of microscopic predators, prey and excreta and, simultaneously, a rich and complex metaphor.
Grant Morrison (2004), The Filth, opening pages.

I think each of these is saying that culture is by definition fiction, because we make it up. And nature is by definition reality. And to be human, we have to hold the two in tandem. We can't avoid it. It's what we do.

I think what we do, what all of us do with this tension, is make church.

Friday, 26 March 2010

714 - Greenbelt Festival, Cheltenham, 2009, 3/3



Lots of reinvention goes on. This is a focus for meditation produced by an emerging church from, I think, London. Frozen inside a block of ice were hundreds of kitsch Christian images, plastic bangles, crosses, 'Jesus and Mary's. The block was always surrounded by a crowd of teens, till it had gone. Brilliant.

715 - Greenbelt Festival, Cheltenham, 2009, 2/3



Big Bad Top.

716 - Greenbelt Festival, Cheltenham, 2009 1/3



Greenbelt is described by Mona Siddiqi as Radio 4 in tents. It's an arts festival, run primarily by (and it has to be said, for) Christians, but with a commendably open and searching approach. I feel at home there. I had plans to draw a massive doodle, but ran out of time. Here's the first of three thumbnail sketches, inside a tent, with a panel discussion, possibly about psychogeography, going on. There were more than three other people present!

Thursday, 25 March 2010

717 - Memory, Nostalgia and Civil Rights



Imagine if the memories of Whitley Bay submitted by you and I to Francis Frith were manipulable, erasable, through targeted pill use or disruptive stimulation. We could forget the Dome ever was, our trip to the seaside having been prevented from forming. That kiss-me-quick under the wurlitzers? The dodgy B&B we stayed in? Gone. Or last week's return trip - how downbeat, compared to the childhood memory, how disappointing. You could lift it, replace it with happier times (though the physical buildings, and our bodies, would still degrade).

Well, they are, just about. A report on Radio 4 this morning described one recent experiment where memories of traumatic images from old public information films were prevented from 'developing' - it takes six hours for them to set in place, it seems - by having viewers play Tetris after watching (the cognitive processes used are so similar, the brain 'forgets' to remember the film images). The Today programme interviewed Anders Sandberg and AC Grayling afterwards. Both agreed that such technologies are useful for dealing with disfunctional memories - induced, for example, by post traumatic stress - but they raise profound questions about what it means to be human.

We are our memories, bad as well as good. Or is that actually true? Perhaps we can 'dress up' in fresh memories, the way you'd wear a smarter dress if you had the choice. Why, in a meritocracy, let a shoddy past hold you back?

This is why, in a blog dedicated to Whitley Bay, I've spent so much time getting my thoughts straight about communal and personal identity. It really does impact on the real world. Whitley, a nostalgia-buff's wet dream, has a stronger identity than most, and one, perhaps, more often let down. The seaside town's journey to find a new identity offers a perfect case study for reflection on the kinds of questions raised by neuroscientific and biotechnological research into identity formation. (Perhaps a bid could be prepared for some of the new seaside town regeneration money, also announced today on the programme, to fund a research project into nostalgia and its cure.)

I call the creative use of fresh and manipulated identities storying, because I believe stories, in all their beauty, are both the outcome, and the best tools by which we may get a handle on our identies. The potential is huge, but scary, and I suspect attempts will be made to control such technologies, not always for the best of reasons.

I reckon I'm pretty much on the money, too. The joke in the interview was that our grandchildren will look back at us as Neanderthals, exclaiming, as James Naughtie put it, 'They didn't know what pill to take!'. More pertinently, Sandberg explained, our right to control what goes on cognitively in our own heads should be "considered one of our basic liberal freedoms".

Storying is a civil rights movement.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

718 - Whitley Bay Memories



"But kindly lower your gaze to the lone car. It is a Vauxhall 14 and it is parked outside 7 The Links, my old home. Despite being 16 years old it was the coveted company car of my dad, Eric, works manager for a firm that made concrete lamp standards at the old Cramlington Airship Shed." (Colin Henderson)

From a short collection of Whitley Bay memories submitted by users of the Francis Frith website - worth a read!

Monday, 22 March 2010

719 - Personality and Consciousness

Geoffrey Miller, in Spent, documents research into five key personality traits, and concludes that, together with General Intelligence (or IQ), they give us pretty much all we need to know about the inner life of the people we meet. The traits are openness, conscientiousness, agreeability, stability and extroversion. Broadly speaking, populations are distributed in a bell-curve across every trait, and also across IQ. There are few correlations between trait scores, although openness correlates fairly positively with IQ.

Miller suggests IQ is a measure of the healthy functioning of our nervous system, and the personality traits reflect survival and reproduction strategies adopted by our earliest ancestors. Daniel Nettle, in Personality, suggests that openness is a measure of the breadth of connections we make amongst concepts and sensory stimuli. Although there is no moral value attached either to high or low scores in any trait, different communities have favoured traits differently at different times.

Openness carries with it the benefits of creativity, but the risks of psychosis. Nettle argues that openness evolved as the ability to manipulate symbols became increasingly valuable in early human communities. Miller wonders whether displays of extreme openness amongst the young reflect a strategy for demonstrating the essential soundness of their minds.

Openness is linked to artistic creativity, as well as receptivity to unusual experiences, and as such, one might hypothesize, is important to any consideration of spirituality and religion, though a high score would not predict religiosity, which has frequently a conservative bias.

But David Lewis-Williams and David Pearce, in Inside The Neolithic Mind, offer an alternative measure by which the religious content of a community might be explained. They locate the source of religious imagery in experiences of altered states of consciousness. Our minds function across a spectrum of consciousness, from attentiveness to waking reality, through periods of reflectivity, to daydreaming, hypnagogic states, and finally, in sleep, our normal dreamlife. The modern west, they suggest, values the wide awake, rational state, where earlier cultures favoured the various dream states. Therefore, earlier cultures developed concepts of dream wisdom and spiritual realms, which we abandon (perhaps legitimately) for logic and empiricism.

It is certainly very pleasing to correlate religious concepts of the immanence and transcendance of spiritual powers with, respectively, attentiveness to the details of reality, and dreaming swoons. It is also intriguing to ask whether measures of openness and of consciousness correlate. If they do, one might ask whether they are interdependent, or in fact facets of a single trait. If they don't, it might be fair to ask that consciousness be accorded value as a mental trait in its own right.

Perhaps the consciousness spectrum will be found to equate to IQ, instead, except that high alertness might exist in dream states as well as maths tests, but some might prefer to operate in the former, whilst others are predisposed to the latter. If you choose one rather than the other strategy for obtaining survival tips, this may fairly be described as an aspect of your personality, rather than a measure, like IQ, of general health. In any case, whatever the analysis, one might expect preferences to be distributed in a bell-curve across the human population, in much the same way as other traits.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

720 - Art; Cosmologies; Bill Thompson

All at Cafe Culture Newcastle last night.

Bill Thompson is a new media critic, a self-described early adopter and technology addict - from last night, quote, 'the way I'm addicted to breathing'. On-line he bases himself here and among other places, here.

He was talking about the digital revolution as one of only a handful of civilization-changing events in human history. It's on a par, he says, with the discoveries of fire and agriculture. As with learning to read (he plugged Proust and the Squid heavily) it is an event which requires the brain to be rewired in new ways. So it raises profound questions about the ways we perceive and structure our identity.

This resonates with controversial works by Rita Carter and Susan Greenfield, which I've blogged about here and here. Not to say that Bill Thompson would agree with them (he would find Susan Greenfield, I suspect, unnecessarily alarmist). But he would find them rather interesting.

Bill sees himself, as an early adopter of technology, as one of a small but significant group of people who define their identities, in part at least, through their life on the web. He defines identity as a loose and provisional 'make-do' response to the essentially random experience of human existence. If the building of this identity should come to include networks of friends on-line, at the expense of those off-line, and if it should include multiple or single avatars, and a growing sense of what is normative, socially, for behaviour on-line, then that's just evolution. It's exciting, anyway.

I asked him what kind of art we might expect to see created through this and other identity-shifting technologies. I've a few ideas already (storying: life-story manipulation as an artform in its own right). He had his own insights.

He could see, he said, in five years' time, interactive user-generated art displays on every surface in the cityscape. Some kind of crowd-sourced imagery, some expression of bottom-up, swarm intelligence, perhaps. He defined art as a manipulation of the technology, to see how far it might go, what beauty could be made from it. I liked that - and it chimes with ideas from evolutionary psychology about art being a demonstration of one's mastery of symbolic thinking, or a demonstration of one's personality, one's openness, for example, and one's intelligence. (More on this another time.)

This was his second answer, however. I liked his first, too, offered provocatively and not pursued. He suggested we should see the network as the artform - the shimmering artform, he called it. The technology to be the artform, and as such, appreciated, untouched, for what it is.

This resonates with me for two related reasons. First, I suspect that if by network he means not just the technology, but the identity shift that accommodating the technology requires, he is providing an image by which I can expand my thinking on storying. Having considered how one can begin to manipulate one's own identity, I now want to explore questions of shared identity. Few stories, after all, concern just one person. Bill Thompson's 'network' will include his friendship network, as well as the hard/soft ware that supports it. Perhaps it can be demonstrated that the proper way to think about networks (including even the inorganic ones) is through narrative.

Second, my ears pricked up at his use of the word shimmering. This is the language of spirit and transcendence. It is religious. Only holy things are pristine. Stars shimmer in the night sky. I remembered the way Steven Johnson started his book, Emergence:
Certain shapes and patterns hover over different moments in time, haunting and inspiring the individuals living through those periods.... These shapes are... a way of evoking an era and its peculiar obsessions. For individuals living within these periods, the shapes are cognitive building blocks, tools for thought.
(p.22)

I suspect that for Bill Thompson, the network is such a shape. And if so (and the word was used last night), perhaps he is engaged in building a network-shaped cosmology.

David Lewis-Williams and David Pearce are archaeologists with an interest in what ancient cultures can tell us about the generation of cosmologies. Their book Inside the Neolithic Mind argues that it is a fundamental of human consciousness that new technologies arise alongside imaginative conceptions of the world and humanity's place in it. Sometimes it appears that the cosmology drives the technological advance, in contrast to materialist theories which have argued that new cosmologies come about only as a response to environmental and technological change. If religion's supernatural accretions are separated from its basis in human consciousness, they argue, it can be harnessed by science as a cradle for technological advance. The book focuses on the Neolithic or agricultural revolution - in other words, it is about the second civilization-changing event in human history. To reiterate, Bill Thompson holds that we are witnessing in the digital revolution a third.

On a personal note, I've already expressed my wish to work within a natural world view, this despite personal experiences it is hard not to label supernatural. I'd rather be scientifically rigorous about interrogating such experiences. Any supernatural conception of Love worth supporting has, in my book, to allow us the experience of a totally natural universe, however much else could be going on. If something unscientific, unnatural, happens, then I'd rather redefine science to include it than create a second domain that science cannot touch. That statement might mean my own position is hopelessly untenable (time will tell, I guess), but it does at least allow me to advocate the conclusions of Lewis-Williams and Pearce as a scientifically-literate way forward into the digital age.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

722 - Playing With Identities

Still trying to get my head around whether storying will work as a concept, and if so how. That's the deliberate creation of and dwelling in one's own story-world, as an artform the time for which, with growing technological focus on identity manipulation, has come.

Choice of identity must be key. I'm looking for evidence that people are manipulating their identities as a form of self-expression. Alongside the growth of interest in improvisation courses, burlesque, role-playing games, and Second-Life, I've noticed people getting increasingly creative with their social-networking site images. It's no longer just yourself aged sixteen, or manga-tized, or Legolas instead, but paintings, photographs of look-alike stars, images snatched from all eras of popular culture.

Hmm. Are we just having a laugh, or are we trying these personas on for size? And given that facebook is about realtime-life as well as online game-playing, are we taking these personas out into the world with us when we switch the computer off?

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

723 - Family Silver

I suppose that if any Government seriously thought that everything in this country should be understood by its monetary value, they'd sell it all and invest the money in China or India or another boom country.

Just saying...

Monday, 8 March 2010

724 - Wrestling

In February I turned thirty nine (or as E helpfully, and forward-thinkingly put it, I am in my fortieth year).

Thirty nine is the same number of years as the Church of England has Articles, which is enough to give anyone a midlife crisis. Mine is brewing and bubbling around the nature of my vocation.

Here's the thing: if I'm voluntarily placing myself outside the institutional church, and deliberately identifying with its anarchic expression instead, does it actually mean anything to speak of a vocation? I realise this will be of extremely limited interest to most people, except that vocation is a very common word.

Teachers, nurses, artists, doctors, soldiers, sportspeople, all are said to have one, in the sense, at the very least, that it explains why they take the rough (and I know it gets very rough) as well as the smooth. If, like my dad, the mid-thirties bring to someone a career change, especially one that results in greater social engagement, they're often described approvingly (and with relief) as finding their vocation.

It was suggested to me at twenty five, with my parents present, by somebody I deeply respect, that I'd be a vicar. Then I left church. When I re-engaged, eight years later, I felt experienced enough to make a claim on this insight, but content enough outside the institution not to want to jump through any church hoops in order to have it endorsed. But something new is happening.

Ten days ago E and I met with our good friends, a couple who, though they cherish their years inside the church, are now on a quest beyond its walls. They had been staunchly evangelical youth workers. He became a vicar. She began work promoting a spiritual approach to teaching. Currently they are resting, reassessing. So I told them that I wanted to take my vocation further. The act of asking their advice felt like stepping off the 'V' of the word, and onto the 'O'.

They suggested I attend a meeting of the forum Spirituality in Mental Health North East (simhne), where I could connect with a friend of theirs who operates as a kind of non-aligned spiritual director and celebrant. Perhaps we could arrange to meet up later - which is what, in fact, we will be doing, in, her suggestion, a coffee-shop.

Anyway, at simhne, last Thursday, I also met an academic with a specialisation in the theology of emotion. The idea she challenges is that a spiritual being, as God is envisaged to be, would somehow be unable to identify with emotions. She uses current philosophy to suggest the opposite. As random meetings do, the chat we had has precipitated a fantastic 'penny drop' moment: what's been missing, what I've been avoiding in my vocation, is that it's about the whole of me, body, mind, emotion, whatever, engaging with the whole of the person I meet. I don't know how at ease an academic would feel about their PhD ministering to someone, but I'm absolutely sure that this is what has happened.

There's something, in particular, about the insight as it relates to anarchy and institution, that removes the distinction between the two. I think it's that once you admit your whole body to the kind of wrestling that you are called to - as human being, never mind the vicar label - there is simply nothing more that you can give. How a given society chooses to frame you, and whether you choose to accept that frame, or hold to a more holistic idea of your place (loaded word!) within humankind, is altogether secondary - outside, entirely, the process of call and answer that the experience of vocation embodies.

Randomly I bought, this morning, a cultural history of Boxing, fantastically reduced in a sale at Blackwells. If Jacob's whole-body experience of angel-wrestling is really where I'm at, this book will be a comfort to me!

Thursday, 25 February 2010

725 - Vocation

Three in one day, I know: I just wanted to add something to post 726 before I go to bed.

I wrote: "That, my dear, dear religious friends, is the Kingdom of God". And it matters to add, I think: the Kingdom of God may be much, much more than a universe of stories we can create, real life, real time, but even if it is more, it is at the very least that. And I don't see how I could ever find anything more rewarding to do than to spend the rest of my life making this known to people, so I'm happy to claim that as my vocation.

726 - Story Nations

Another day, another dispiriting prognostication from the evangelical church people I left fifteen years ago. I won't link to it: it's on Facebook. But apparently we're all going to hell in a handcart.

Why do I bother? Because it's not the world, it's not even the Christianity I recognise, that's why. I love these people. I want to shake them out of their isolationism. I don't think Christianity is about the nailing of one's life to a single story - or if it is, it's the story that there are as many stories open to us as there are, well, us. So no probs if part of the story you want for yourself is the traditional evangelical one. But equally, you might choose something completely different.

And this is where the excitement starts. Because there is a universe of stories open to us. An old Jewish proverb says God created people because he loves stories. The Gospels say there are so many stories about Jesus all the books in the world couldn't contain them. See, Jesus gets it. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, especially now that the technologies are burgeoning where we can rehearse and test those stories in safe places (any such place is a church), can manipulate our identities, can recognise our common humanity in law, to stop us creating those stories real life, real time.

That, my dear, dear religious friends, is the Kingdom of God.

And kingdom is an interesting word. Nowadays, as we've experimented beyond monarchy, nation might be a better choice. Also a interesting choice, because nation-states are the means by which, in a modernist secular society, we identify our public allegiance acceptably. But we're no longer modernist, we're postmodernist, and the nation-states are crumbling. At the very least, in the developed world, we could do with finding new ways to express our identity, to replace the over-consumption of resources by which we've maintained and projected our own lifestyles, but depleted the lives of others. That's one way of putting the argument in Geoffrey Miller's book, Spent, by the way.

(And what's with the word lifestyle anyway? Like we only ever select one, to which we are then bound, till we can sustain it no longer. No character development, no plot twists: what successful story ever paces monotonously along in the same style from start to finish?)

So my proposition is that we recognise our new great resource to be the stuff of our identity, the stories we choose to inhabit, and that from now on, those nations that are richest in the world are the nations where the most various stories are told, and where the freedom to tell them is greatest.

By tell, of course, I mean live.

Here's a daydream, by way of jottings in the margins of my copy of Volume I of Christopher Partridge's great book, The Re-Enchantment of the West:

The birth of Story Nations... nations whose peoples are informed by a voluntary delight in stories and story creation; where from the abstraction of a page in a closeable book, the story is drawn into oneself - like the book people of Fahrenheit 451, but into one's very lived self and the actions therefore that one performs....

Was it ever really possible before? The sheer interaction of such stories, the possibilities inherent...? The lightness of such footfall on the Earth?

The only metanarrative one will ever need is provided by one's innate being. But it's a truism that what one needs and wants are not always the same. Why not, then, as one builds a beautiful home to live in, rather than live under canvas, or clothes oneself in the fashion of one's choice and reach, rather than drabbery, create as fulfilling a story life for oneself and yes, one's nation, as one possibly can?

727 - Iron Man



What? It's a piece of corroded metal I found on Whitley Bay beach. It's a tribute to Ted Hughes. It's art.

Friday, 19 February 2010

728 - Word Up



After reading Jay Griffiths on the essential wildness of all things, it sure is hard to resist putting her thesis into action.

So, if time is wild, and time is money, then money can be wild; money can be, say, words. And words, in turn, can be wild.

Maryanne Wolf in Proust and the Squid sets the thought going. She's talking about the brain areas that inter-wire themselves as we learn to read: visual areas; visual association; auditory and language centres; centres for analytical and forward planning. Her suggestion is that as these link up, our cognitive abilities change, and our ways of relating to the world and to our culture with them.

In her book this is pretty much unequivocally a good thing. Hugh Brody and Jay Griffiths, who both champion the intelligence of preliterate peoples, might want to suggest that the potential that we direct towards reading is, amongst those who don't read, directed towards other, equally meaningful, ends.

I'd like to suggest that, by interrogating the nature of words and text to discover just exactly what they are, we might begin to find surprising word-forms in many places. Taking Wolf's point that our brains have changed neurologically in response to exposure to text-based cultures, there are perhaps other ways that we could encourage them to develop as we become fluent in forms championed by newer cultures.

Perhaps the essence of a word is that it is a meaningful communication. The call across a clearing from one to another, using the medium of sound-waves, explains the link between the auditory sense and our language centres. The weighting we give to our visual sense as a means of interacting with the world explains why most, but not all writing, is visible. But the question of how many senses are involved in word formation and comprehension grows rapidly more complicated.

Early texts, Wolf says, include cuneiform scratches on clay tablets, and hieroglyphs on papyrus, but also knots on Mayan rope (quipus), and script on tortoiseshell oracles. The cuneiform, knots and tortoiseshells are tactile - indeed, writing is itself a movement of the wrist. These actions, like Braille, extend the senses involved to touch and proprioception (body-sense). The same senses form the basis of sign-language, and the language of dance. Up is an orientation of the body, so up-ness can be a word. Body pressure, the application of which stills some people with autism, such that weighted blankets are common in therapy centres, is surely key to the communication of a hug. And where would meaningful communication be without the kiss, stirring visual, auditory, pressure, temperature, taste and olfactory senses? A kiss is surely a word.

If language is seen in its widest sense as an interplay of meaning, which is not limited to words on a page (or screen), then the nature of words is set free. This video challenges, and is fascinating, about the insight into language that one person's experience of autism has given her (and us). Surely there is nothing to stop a culture, and cognitive develop among the people within it, centring upon and elevating, if they choose, any given word form. Might that not take the culture into hitherto unsuspected realms of human experience, as the book has done? Might that not be the true legacy of virtual reality technologies?

And seeing every sense-meaning combination as part of a flow of communication illuminates the world of inner as well as outer experience. Dream language, with its powerful imagery and sensory stimulation, does not seem quite so alien if it is understood to be of a piece with the exchange of information we can engage in between ourselves and others during waking hours. Perhaps, latterly, these literate millenia, we've just been ignoring this daylight exchange.

Perhaps as our fluency in such exchange increases, our dream life will begin to blossom into daily activity. That might help explain why altered states of consciousness are more easily achieved in dance and music, or sports, where such language flow is already prevalent. To repeat, it may not be so much that these are exceptional states, but our natural state, which has been utterly narrowed by our focus on oral and textual exchange as the only legitimate means of information transfer. That would turn our thinking about the relative values of preliterate and modern civilisation on its head. It could give a genuine scientific basis for admitting magical thinking back into the public arena, alongside, and in engagement with, the discourse modern thought has given us.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

729 - Perfect?



There may have been a perfect life - someone who grew up without hurting his or her parents, siblings, friends, others - but the signs were never promising. Even Jesus, who, they say, self-conceived in Mary, to avoid the physicality of a conventional conception, burst out of her the usual way, which no doubt, like the more esoteric messages that came with him in the envelope, she'd held in her heart and pondered.

Say there were more like him - men and women who have been allowed to grow tall, full and unstinted, like oaks in good ground. Still, for most of us, life is about learning that isn't so. Most trees, it seems to me, grow as well as those materials they have been given allow them to be. What unfurls from the acorn takes shape in the soil and grows in wrenching disorder as much as in the order of the world it finds around it.

That, come maturity, we learn is beauty, and enough.

But what after maturity? After enlightenment, which I take to be the same thing, a zen proverb says, chop wood, carry water - just as you did before. I know this is true, but I also know that as I grew up, I hurt people. I punched my mother as I sat on her knee. I scared a young woman older than myself as I sought, self-absorbed, to define for myself the limits of what I felt might be love. A friend of hers gave me the chance to stop before the police were involved. That was the beginning of company. I am grateful to him and to her.

I suppose one has learned that, as a tree in a copse is bowed down by one tree, but supported by another, which in time, daisy-chained around the line, draws support from the wounding first, one is soothing even as one tears open; one is wheat, to quote Matthew 13, even as one is a wild weed. Therefore, in the new wood-chopping and water-carrying, I might hope to build good things alone, but at least I know I build good as I build bad.

It is time to build.