Tag Archive: Activism


Adopting Medieval Tactics to Promote Modern Science

This is one of those ideas that came out of the blue while thinking about current events. It’s no secret to anyone reading this in 2018 that there is an alarming reduction in fact-based thinking and discussion. Some of this is due to the highly-charged emotional times we live in. Some of it is also a long, slow decline in emotional connection to science.

I remember reading old 50s magazines and comics years ago. The nuclear age had just begun and the Space Race would soon be on its way. There was this idea that the future would be all space ships and laser guns. In short the future was an adventure and science would pave the way. Today is much different, of course. People use computers, cars and airplanes, but routinely deny the existence of climate change as well. In the past science was magical, but still understood as a human invention to make life better. Today, it seems to have simply drifted into background noise.

I think a lot of this has to do with a lack of proper communication of scientific concepts to the average citizen. As I mentioned earlier, a lack of emotional connection. People seem to understand that science exists, but not that it is a man-made phenomenon that is accessible to the average person. As result, interest has waned, competing ideas are coming into the foreground and America finds itself fighting to get students interested in science so that we can compete with the rest of the world.

A Proposal on Communicating Science to Citizens

Although not entirely the same situation, we do see an ongoing lack of interest in art education. Art is seen as something kids do in school, but no real effort is made to bring artists in line with small business owners on the scale of social respect. In fact, a life of art tends to come across as a sure-fire way to basically be broke all the time. This is bizarre because artists, be they painters, actors or musicians, are basically skilled in emotional communication. They provide emotive experiences that are designed to move audiences towards an idea or state of being.

This ability has been exploited in the past very effectively in the Medieval period in Europe. On the secular side of history, bards were also employed to create poems and songs highlighting important people and events. This was important because while the elites were well educated, the masses were largely illiterate. Written texts would have done very little for spreading information. Religious organizations went even further. First, they spread by identifying the holidays for other religions and presenting their own competing holidays. This is why Easter is a Christian holiday despite originally being a pagan holiday. It’s also why Christmas is celebrated during the winter solstice despite Christ himself having been born in the summer.

Re-purposing the holidays was only part of the equation. Once the people had been assembled, indoctrination had to begin. This began with chants and hymns, which were easy to remember, but expanded over time to plays and pageants. The plays fell into three basic groups: morality plays, mystery plays, and passion play. Mystery plays covered the history as presented by the Bible. That is, the birth of the universe, its death and the intervening events. Morality plays were as their name implies and were generally diverse, as seen by the play Everyman and the medieval plays of Saint Nicholas. The Passion plays were focused on Jesus Christ in particular. These plays were short, easy to understand and, at least in the case of Everyman, highly metaphorical. They were meant for an audience that had not yet been prepared for complex ideas or discussions.

Adapting Ideas to Science

It seems both science and art complement each other well. Scientists are more interested in uncovering facts and expanding knowledge, and artists are more interested in moving the hearts and minds of people. It seems both could adapt the tactics developed in the Medieval age to promote each other in a symbiotic manner in the modern age.

The first step is to identify holidays that draw major public interest, such as Christmas or the 4th of July. Scientific organizations can then organize and promote pre-holiday festival and celebrations. These events would offer free music and theatre presentations. Taking a cue from Medieval plays, they would be short and easy to understand. Comedy is effective, as well. Both the music and the plays would focus on science in some manner. Think Jonathan Coulton’s Mandelbrot Set, as an example for music. In addition, the celebrations should be replete with demonstrations of science. These demonstrations would displays meant to “wow” the attendees. The goal isn’t so much to educate, but amaze. The music and plays themselves are the educational aspect in that they would present easy-to-digest introductions to ideas, people and so forth (again, think Mandelbrot Set, or 88 Lines About 44 Mathematicians.)

Scientific organizations could expand on this by creating in-house positions for theatre groups and individuals. These individuals would act as resident “bards”. Their job would be to create music, poetry and writings that introduce important figures or events, illustrate important ideas and methods and so on. This would be a kind of expansion of general PR duties into the field of edutainment. In essence, someone from within the greater scientific organization would give some information on scientific advances, people or ideas and the bards and playwrights would compose something to present to masses. Imagine Friday nights at a college campus where there is a free concert by the Science building, or an ongoing tradition of lunchtime plays, all free watch.

This material would, ideally, be in the public domain. Since different organizations in different locations would each have their own set of theatre groups and bards, a great wealth of material would develop to share and adapt. These would be composed of plays, poems, stories, parables and so forth. Collections could be made and offered for free or a small price to add funds to the productions. One might also argue for a scientific “bible” which would contain various parables, lessons and stories of meant to draw the reader in. Theoretically, if this was done on a large enough scale, a large enough population of people would associate science with some positive emotion. The emotional connection would build and, hopefully, foster an ongoing interest and trust in science.

Appealing to the Non-Masses

There’s another idea that is somewhat complementary, if also somewhat cynical. During the Medieval and Renaissance periods, Masques were all the rage. These were a specific form of theatre that merged together spoken theatre, song and dance. They were specifically made for a particular party event and even included attendees in their performance. Often, they glorified the host of the event and the attendees. Masque’s were the must-go events of their day and were exclusively the domain of those in favor with the court.

Much has been made, both publically and among the tech community, of the incredible position of the scions of Silicon Valley. Jeff Bezos, as of this writing, is the wealthiest man in the world and has aspirations of being the first man on Mars. That is to say, achieving a goal that involves spending billions of dollars with no guarantee of return. Silicon Valley CEOs are phenomenally wealthy and, possibly, very self-satisfied with their success. They are also very interested in continuing their dominance in technology, which itself is a product of scientific research. Interested science and technology organizations could expand on the celebrations mentioned earlier to create exclusive name-only events for these privileged few. After all, who wouldn’t want to enjoy the benefits of wealth?

Like the masques of old, these events would involve productions that glorify the attendees and hosts before transforming into a larger party. In addition, there would be more of the aforementioned scientific spectacles. Something to amaze, but also a possible venue for inspiring some form of argument for funding. Think of it overall as a celebration of successful people. The production feeds into the collective ego of those attending and in turn makes them amenable to arguments for funding this project or that supporting that legislative proposal. Parties are a great way to network and fundraise.

Summary

The current distrust of science and lack of scientific interest can be attributed, at least in part, to the lack of ability to emotionally connect to science, or at least associate science with some positive state. By looking to the past we can observe that there were problems with drawing people to a particular message or idea. Using the tactics of art, in the form of bards, plays and masques, we can see how secular and religious organizations promoted themselves to the masses and the elites. This allowed them to spread messages, secure support and otherwise fulfill their goals. These same tactics can be used to promote modern science and, one hopes, bring scientific literarcy and trust back into the public sphere where it belongs.

Social Media as a Totalitarian Framework

I read an interesting article over at the New Yorker titled “How George Orwell Predicted The Challenge of Writing Today”. One of the points made in the article was that totalitarian societies emphasize the intimate knowledge people have of one another. A sort of enforced closeness and awareness of the other person. Another aspect of totalitarian societies is that people are punished seemingly at random. It’s not so much who the person is or why the person is targetted, it is that anybody can be targetted for any time and any reason.

These two concepts stood out to me because, in essence, social media enforces both these ideas. Much has been made of the Facebook memo which declared that connecting the world is the most important thing, justifying any form of underhanded technique to achieve it. Further, anyone who has been online for more than a few months is aware of just how quickly denizens of the Internet will gang up on someone for the slightest misstep; no offense is too small for an overblown reaction. It strikes me, then that, however unintentionally, the social media tech giants have created a foundation for a totalitarian society. This is a foundation, however, with an important difference.

In previous totalitarian states, there was always a central body at the top. China is a perfect example of this. At the top of the heap is the ruling Chinese party in Beijing, which in turn is ruled by Xi Jingping. With the social media companies, however, there is no ruling party. It’s just a framework. Control goes to those who can game the system the best. Right now that would appear to be Russia. No doubt China will level its power on the world later as circumstances dictate. In the meantime, the tech companies will pursue their own, largely capital-based interests.

Silicon Valley has, for some time now, been in the thrall of a pseudo-Randian, neo-Libertarian philosophy in which making money is the goal and everything else is just a series of data points to manage. Despite outward appearances, Google, Facebook and others will happily make any deal that gives them more profit. Witness Google, which dropped their famouse “Don’t be Evil” slogan recently and only pulled out of a deal with the Department of Defense thanks to a public lashing generated by some of their own employees. Facebook, of course, has shown no such problem with ethics in general and Bezos has employees that pass out on the production line lest they be fired for missing a performance goal.

If the Trump administration were more aware of the possibilities it would quietly engage in back-room deals with these companies to give them the market profits they crave in exchange for access to the raw data that the tech companies have accumulated. Trump could protect them from legislative backlash and in return the companies could supply data, propaganda and surveillance. If the tech companies were smart they would quietly cultivate Trump’s favor. He’s not a complicated man. He likes people who idolize him and he does favors for them. It would not take much to learn how to control his favor. One could take things a step further and see the two forces working together to create a propaganda campaign for Trump as a permanent President.

I don’t actually think things would go this far, nor do I really want it to happen. It just strikes me American society is on the cusp of this idea, even if it is not the direction that things will ultimately travel. Still, one hopes one day some politician makes the same realization I have briefly made just now and works on legislation to prevent this very outcome from occurring. It’s clear things will likely not change without serious government intervention; the tech companies are just too entrenched.

The Misandrists: It’s… interesting…

The Misandrists by director Bruce LaBruce is… interesting. I’ve been mulling it over in my head for a few days now and I think in a way it needs to be taken more as an experience than a traditional story-driven film. By virtue of its director alone it is a transgressive film and an almost conceptual one. The closest analogy that comes to mind is Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void, which was about the death dream of a dying drug dealer. Both films are intense, visual, helmed by extremely creative outside-the-box artists and films I have no intention of ever seeing again. This is not so much because I don’t think highly of the films. Rather it is because now that I’ve seen each once, I just don’t need to do it again. I think for those, like myself, who are raised on a relatively mainstream diet of cinema, watching these kinds of films is a good exercise. It is a way to view the world of cinematic storytelling through a new lens and be exposed to new ideas. A nice place to visit, but perhaps you don’t want to live there.

What follows in this article is a breakdown of things I noticed as I was watching the film, supplemented a bit by an after-film interview by the director himself. Because I came to the theater expecting a more traditional work, I kept trying to figure out how everything fit together. If the film is understood as a more abstract work, however, perhaps the traditional complaints will fall away. It will still be an intense experience, but there might be fewer questions about what is going on.

Storytelling

Dancing Nun

My issues really revolve around choices in scenes that appear during the film. These choices, for me, amounted to a lot of unnecessary misdirection. This might be partially my fault as I tried to understand where the film was going. As I mentioned before, a better strategy might have been to just absorb the film and mull the overall meaning later. That said, the first scene to take note of was the “Dancing Nun” scene. This was a moment when a nun, whose face isn’t seen, walks very purposefully and slowly before looking around and then breaking into dance. This happens for a moment, then the nun returns to walking purposefully and slowly again.

A couple things to note here. First of all, it’s established earlier in the film that the nun outfits are mostly just ruses. Unless there’s someone in authority nearby, the outfits are never worn. Secondly, there’s no real connection in this scene to the rest of the film. It’s just a strange non-sequiter. Perhaps it could be taken as a symbolic moment (perhaps some idea of being reserved and disciplined, but being unable to prevent loosening up once in a while.) Even if that were true, however, there seems to be no immediate connection to the rest of the film. As mentioned earlier, the very idea of wearing a nun’s outfit on a regular basis seems odd given that it was clearly initially worn by characters in the film as disguise.

Secret Nun

The next issue revolves around a cameo by the director himself. In one scene, a nun’s face appears and looks out into a courtyard where an event is taking place. That “nun” is the director in a nun’s outfit. The pupose of this moment made sense in the interview after the film, but it completely misled me prior to that point. In the interview after the film, Bruce LaBruce mentioned that he liked to make the audience part of the film. This “secret nun” moment was part of that. Essentially, the camera watches the nun look out the window and then cuts to view the courtyard from the nun’s perspective. The problem here is that, without the benefit of the after-film interview, it appears as if the secret nun is an actual character. I certainly took it that way. Until the interview, I really kept trying to figure out who this nun character was. I kept expecting to find out that this secret character was in fact controlling the events of the film while hidden way. Watching the film in this context made me feel there was a real unresolved storyline.

Big Mother

Speaking about unresolved, I feel there were some issues surrounding the character of Big Mother that were not properly laid to rest. In particular, there were a number of cues that seemed to me to indicate that Big Mother was heading towards failure. The first indication is very early in the film when one of the girls, Isolde, openly voices opposition to Big Mother’s policies. Doing this so early in the film sets the tone for a tale of authority versus resistance. This thread continues on with a discussion of rules about smoking. This is forbidden by Big Mother in the film, but everyone, including Big Mother herself breaks the rules casually. Thus Big Mother’s authority is false, even to herself.

To be honest, the whole environment Big Mother has set up feels cultish and artificial. The girls are regularly told stories that revolve around mythology and could easily have been made up. The exercise regimen includes pseudo-militarized chanting. Educational material is delivered with such heavy modification that it is reduced to propaganda. In a replay of the false authority issues mentioned earlier, the girls are shown as not even listening to the teacher. In the meantime Big Mother is extolling the virtues of prostitution as she prepares to enact a plan to create a pornographic film. One she admits needs to be done for money while declaring that it will also be her group’s manifesto.

The Ending

The above issues seem to mean the film is headed to an ending of disappointment for Big Mother. In reality, the plan ends in complete victory. Big Mother makes her film resulting, among other thigs, an ending scene showing the audience of her film inspired into an orgy. This didn’t make much sense to me from the standpoint of a logical plot, but the reasoning behind it was made clear in the after-film interview. The interviewer noted that Bruce LaBruce tends to end his films with orgies. LaBruce confirmed this and indicated that he likes to end films on a positive note, which for him would be an orgy. This is fine, but it is a significant break from all the cues being delivered throughout the film. This more than anything else brings the film into the world of magic reality. Essentially, it is a confirmation that the film is a conceptual exercise rather than a more conventional tale. Were I so inclined to see the film a second time (I really don’t think I will be), I would try to view the film through that perspective.

Conclusion

None of the above should promote the idea that I think the film is bad. It’s certainly the product of strong creative vision. I also think it was worthwhile to see the film if for no other reason than to step outside my regular diet of cinema. It’s important to be exposed to new and alternative ideas once in a while. For purveyors of mainstream films, I would recommend taking The Misandrists as a magic reality film. I feel, after some thought on the subject, that it is more of a presentation of a particular idea or theme rather than any traditional narrative. Audiences, particularly mainstream audiences, should absorb the film as an experience and try to understand the events seen in a somewhat symbolic or non-literal manner.

Please be aware, however, that no matter how you approach the film, it will be an intense and, in some parts, deeply unsettling experience. If you’ve seen Bruce LaBruce films before, you know what to expect. If you haven’t, well… good luck.

Iron Man, Gimmickry and Code Words

Wherein I ponder the a strange intersection of prejudicial code words and reasonable criticism. View full article »

Facebook and Google Own You

The future is now.

In Blade Runner, the dystopian future was heavily influenced by the Tyrell Corporation, which provided artificial humans for almost any purpose.

In Robocop the Omni Consumer Products megacorporation planned on buying the entire city of Detroit and make all the citizens shareholders and employees.

In Elysium, the future was ruled by a wealthy social elite that existed above Earth in a technological Eden.

The problem is that these are not just stories. These are issues that we’re facing today. While the world watches Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump battle for the American throne, Google, Facebook and the tech community in general are in the trenches affecting our lives right now. Read on for more. View full article »

Zootopia: Was It Timing or Was It Luck?

Animated films are planned out at least couple years in advance. There is the initial idea, the pitch meeting, various explorations into the viability of the story and so on. At some point, everything is greenlit and the animators go to work. It’s a long process. That begs the question, did the people behind Zootopia know how relevant their story was going to be in an election year, or was it an amazing coincidence? View full article »

#AppleVsFBI Talking Points

By this point, most people in the tech world know about Apple’s fight against the FBI on hacking an iPhone used in a terrorist attack. Most in the tech world are siding with Apple, while many outside the tech world side with the FBI. Because of the controversy, we though it would be useful to present a summary of what is going on. View full article »

Several months ago, I wrote an article on how Mad Max: Fury Road was going to be spectacular, but not really a “Mad Max” movie. I was wrong. I apologize. I throw myself at the feet of the Gods of Cinema and beg forgiveness. This is indeed the Mad Max film we’ve all been waiting for. More than that, it may be the best action film we see all year. Before I dive into the rest of this article, however, there is something I have to do:

[box type=”warning” align=”aligncenter” width=”90%” ]WARNING: This article may contain spoilers! (although, honestly, this is a film where that wouldn’t actually matter)[/box]

With that out of the way, let’s talk about this film. By now, all the critics are waxing poetic about, basically, two things: the visual spectacle and the feminist undertones. These are worthy things to be discussing, to be sure, but virtually all the reviews agree the story itself is paper thin. To be honest it’s easy to see why. George Miller has stated in interview that Mad Max: Fury Road did not actually have a script, but a series of storyboards drawn under his direction by a pair of comic book artists. The visceral, emotional nature of this process created a visceral, emotional powerhouse of a film. Because of this however, it’s very easy to miss that there is a strong thematic current underneath it all. Plot-wise, this movie is paper thin. Yet, underneath the carnage and adrenaline, there is a story of desperation and the recovery of humanity.

Desperation, Redemption and Hope

Max begins the film with a voiceover that mostly just serves to establish the world he lives in. Up until about a third into the film, he’s either grunting or yelling incoherently over the noise of engines and mayhem. Imperator Furiosa (her name is Furiosa, her rank is Imperator) speaks more often, but in short sentences. Nux speaks the most of the three of them, repeatedly, loudly and often with ambivalence from others. There is a pattern here. These three are reflections of each other; each one at a different stage of the same journey from desperation to redemption and hope.

Mad Max

We begin with Max, who is living the with the trauma of his past life. Those who remember the first Mad Max trilogy know that he watched his family get run over by a biker gang. In the intervening years he has lived through a world-wide collapse and has nothing left. He’s been reduced to an animal-like state in which he eats, sleeps and evades predators, only to repeat the same the next day. Max’s first real encounter with Furiosa could have easily been a bargaining moment. “Let me free of my chains”, he could have said, “and I will help you.” Instead he growls like a dog and gestures angrily.

It’s no mistake that he doesn’t tell anyone his name until nearly the end of the film. By that point, however, he freely gives his own blood to save Furiosa’s life. His experience with her and given him someone to respect, then to care about, then to fight for. He isn’t completely whole, but there is now a foundation for a real future. Of course, anyone who has seen the original trilogy knows what happens, but here, there is a chance to be human again.

Imperator Furiosa

Furiosa is farther up the road than Max is, but her journey is still far from complete. Her body is a shattered as Max’s soul, but her mind is still strong. She has never forgotten who she was or where she came from, but her instinct is still to flee. Unlike Max, who has no place anywhere, she has in her mind a land called “The Green Place”. It was the home where she was raised, and the memory of it has fueled her whole existence.

Of course, these hopes and dreams become completely dashed. Furiosa’s journey is her realization that running will get her nowhere. The world has changed and hope along with it. As Max rightly points out, she can’t just run away and hope to find a safe haven. She has to risk everything to make one. This of course leads to the film’s climactic battle.

At the end of the film we see Max leave for parts unknown while Furiosa looks on. The camera angle is a worm’s-eye view. We the audience see her looking down at us. This is a classic angle for a position of power and indicates that she will become the next leader of her new tribe. She has moved from a lamb on the run to a queen; a soldier to a ruler.

Warboy Nux

Nux is even further up the road than Max or Furiosa. He’s completely embraced his world and can’t imagine life outside of it. He doesn’t yearn for escape. He’s ambitious, this one, and seeks approval from his leader Immortan Joe, and a place in the history books as a Warboy. His yearning to die gloriously is an indication of a higher ideal. In another life, he’d be fighting his way up the corporate chain, or perhaps an athlete of some sort. Here, he’s just another Warboy trying to stand out and make a name for himself.

Nux’s part of the journey is about realizing there’s more than just fighting for something. For all their evolution, Max and Furiosa are not at a stage where they can think about things like love, ambition or a higher calling. Max is to traumatized and Furiosa is too cynical. Only Nux, when he meets one of Immortan Joe’s wives, is capable of understanding that there is a difference between dying for something and dying for someone. Of the three, Nux, for all his ridiculous insanity, is the least broken and the most human.

The Feminist Aspect

There’s been a great deal already on the feminist aspect of the film. From reports of The Vagina Monologues to condemnations from “Men’s Rights Activists”, there’s been responses across the spectrum. All of these things are unimportant and a distraction from the film. It’s a nice nightcap to a fun evening, but otherwise something to be ignored. This is, first and foremost and action film. It’s a spectacular action film. It should be seen for what it is. It’s brilliant. It has a strong theme of human redemption and growth. And it has crazy guys in white makeup spraying their mouths with chrome paint. Why would you watch for anything else?

Conclusion

Mad Max: Fury Road is a great film. Go see it. Buy the DVD and Blue-Ray. Tell your kids about the day you were there to see the film in theaters. And forgive me for doubting how awesome it would be.

Every year, as the Halloween season comes upon us, I find myself stopping by bookstores and curiosity shops more and more often just to browse around and pick up a trinket or two. Often this trinket comes in the form of a book. One such book was Monsters: An Investigator’s Guide to Magical Beings by John Michael Greer. In it he covers major categories of supernatural creatures and then delivers ideas on how to go monster-hunting, neo-pagan-style. What turned out to be really interesting, though, wasn’t the book itself, but the introduction where he took some time bash scientific thought. Take the following quote for example:

Before the Scientific Revolution most people saw the world as a living unity, one that communicated with the observant mind. With the new science came a radically different way of thinking about the universe – a way that saw dead matter moving in empty space as the only reality, and rejected everything else as fable, fraud or delusion.

This is a common complaint by spiritualists (pagans, shamans, healers and others) of the adherents of science. It’s not quite true. Take, for example, Neil deGrasse Tyson, a noted astrophysicist. Listen as he discusses the what he considers the most astounding fact in the cosmos:

These are hardly the words of someone who thinks of the universe as dead. Rather, he finds everything in the universe heavily interconnected, just not as an animist philosophy.

The type of rhetoric that Mr. Greer states is echoed in one form or another by spiritualists in general. Take, for example, a random video selected by searching for “Modern Shamanism” on YouTube:

At the 2:24 mark one Dr. Alberto Villoldo notes that Western society is sick and that children are dependent on the medical system. He then follows up with a statement that 20 years ago only one in ten thousand children were found to be autistic while today it is one in one hundred. This is all very ominous, but it’s a common statement in that it criticises modern society and it’s lack of adherence to spiritualistic ideals.

The rivalry goes both ways. In the following video, Neil deGrasse Tyson spends time discussing the dangers of spiritual beliefs (in this case Intelligent Design) in science. The video is 40 minutes, but well worth watching for this discussion.

The Objective/Subjective Rivalry

Just as humans generally have two eyes, two arms and two legs, so too do they (generally) have two realities. The Objective Reality concerns itself with concrete physical dynamics such as geology, physics, thermodynamics, and so forth. The Subjective Reality deals with psychological and emotional dynamics, such as perceptions, relationships and management of emotional situations. Each have equal importance in daily life. Objective reality tells us to be careful while driving, but subjective reality helps smooth over interactions with people at work.

These two realities intersect quite heavily in certain areas of a person’s life, and this creates a struggle for territory and influence. Nowhere is this most obvious than in the fields of health and medicine where the two sides battle constantly. In the shamanism video above, a neurosurgeon is featured who suffered a debilitating disease. He goes to Peru and takes a hallucinogenic compound that gives him an out-of-body experience and, apparently, heals him of his illness. A scientist might argue there is some placebo effect going on, or the compound the man drank had chemical ingredients that required study. Or, perhaps, the medical issue that was ailing the man was either on its way out anyway or a figment of his mind. A shaman might argue that the man suffered from demons or negative energy that needed to be purged to heal him, or that modern medicine is too stuck on details to understand the whole picture of physical balance.

Both sides reject the other and find arguments to support them. Spiritualists decry the modern medical system and insist on the non-existance of neurological conditions such as autism or ADHD. Scientists point to the fast food spiritualists who are looking for a quick fix to their problems rather than spending time in treatment and to the charlatansĀ who might actually get someone killed with misinformtion or blind trust.

Both sides have a point to a degree. Westerners eager for alternative medicine or a comfortable solution to their issues flock to shamans for healing, often with tragic results. On the other hand modern Western medicine is often seen by some in modern society as a cold machine that pumps out medication for profits not health. Such people gravitate to herbalists or shamanistic healing because they feel someone is listening to them and taking their needs into account.

An Objective/Subjective Duality?

It’s interesting to contemplate a world where the two get along. For the most part, they do. There are plenty of scientists who are religious or spiritual and there are plenty of spiritual people who accept science. The benefits and practicality of science are obvious; we would not live in the modern world in almost any way without it. Spiritualism, with its focus on the relationships between humans and the world seems to benefit people from moral or philosophical angles. In the end the often strange cosmologies and rituals aren’t required so much for their veracity as they are to lull a participant into accepting advice on how to live one’s life or deal with various issues.

Psychiatrists would, no doubt love to have the influence shamans and psychic readers have over their customers. With their offices, chairs and diplomas on the wall, however, patients often are aware of the need to confront and work with themselves. A psychiatrist often feels like a distant bystander. In fact, psychiatrists sometimes use the idea of emotional distance to prevent a patient from becoming too attached. In a shaman’s lodge or at the table of a tarot reader, however, clients are encouraged to believe a higher power is directing them, which potentially reduces the stress of dealing with one’s issues. Perhaps tarot readers should take psychology courses? Of course, the greatest benefit to this would be the psychological framework of morality and interpersonal relationships. The symbiotic relationship between science and spirituality could be that science creates and discovers and spirituality directs the best use of that creation or discovery.

The symbiotic relationship is defeated once literalism takes hold. Creationists, for example, are trying essentially to replace science as the explanation of the world. Scientists in turn have no room for superstitions. Everything must be testable, verifiable and provable. Here again is Neil deGrasse Tyson, this time on the absurdity of UFO believers:

And just for fun, a little bit on astrology:

So, maybe, things can’t be reconciled after all. At least parts of the two world views aren’t just distinct, but fairly opposing.

Conclusion

As Halloween approaches and I find myself looking more and more at the occult section of a bookstore, I ponder whether or not the spiritual philosophies and the scientific philosophies can find some level of cooperation. Spiritualists and scientists have coexisted fairly well with the exception of very specific issues relating to people, health, and the general interaction of people with the rest of reality. In these areas there is rivalry and conflict. It would be interesting if the two sides could work together in a sort of symbiotic relationship to direct and improve the lives of people in general, but largely it seems like there will always be a battle of some sort.

There’s nothing in this article to suggest a solution. It’s really more of a loose arrangement of thoughts. It would, of course, be fascinating to hear different perspectives on this issue. Feel free to comment below to get a discussion going. I look forward to reading them.

Smile! You’re in an FBI database!

The EFF, or Electronic Frontier Foundation, is an organization set up to protect the civil rights of citizens on the Internet or anywhere electonic surveillance is possible. Because of this, they frequently engage in legal challenges to the United States Government, including Freedom of Information Act requests that net them useful information.

On April 14, they announced a goldmine. According to the EFF, the FBI is about to have a fully operational face recognition database by sometime this summer. This FBI database is not going to be restricted to criminals. The FBI seems interested in virtually any image it can store, which can then be used to tie together any other information to build a profile of each person who has an image that’s been captured on their servers.

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