Category Archives: My Bookshelf (and a movie or two)

The things I read

Review ~ When the chains of dogma keep us from seeking truthfulness.

The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity, by William Paul Young. Available for $7-18 (movie released this month).

Th Shack

There was such a hullabaloo about the whole thing. There were people excited it was finally going to be on the big screen, as well as people resurrecting the battles over the theology and doctrine portrayed in the original book. As I attempt to do with at least some controversies, I let most of it flow on by. I am, after all, still an avid fan of Oh, God, a movie some evangelicals considered downright blasphemous. I was finally enticed to view the trailer; and I fell instantly in love. I had to have the book, sooner rather than later (and will watch the movie). Every spare moment this week, Kindle in hand, I devoured Young’s tale. Then, I spent a bit of time poking around on the Internet attempting to determine what all the fuss was about. You would have thought the story was a Doctorate Thesis, submitted to the public for vetting. On second thought, maybe it should be. Here is my take on the emotional and spiritual punch, and theological challenge, delivered by this lovely little book.

As a reference point for most of the criticism, I used a fairly prominent Christian blog, www.boundless.org. The article was articulate, and summarized most of the points others were making at various levels of ability and understanding. I found the criticism telling.

First there is the accusation that the story as presented seeks, in many subtle ways, to undermine The Faith. In my opinion, what the author is gently pushing against is the dogmatic doctrine of the church. A structure that believes, somehow, that the interpretations of the early Church Fathers are every bit as holy as the original text penned who knows how many millennia ago. The author points to a particular passage where the character of Jesus states that he is not Christian. Well, as it happens he was not. He was Jewish. Subversion of the “orthodox” view started a couple of millennia ago, I seem to recall the image of Jesus turning over tables in the temple courts.

Since folks like to quote things, let’s look at Proverbs 2:1-5 (ESV). “My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” As far as I can tell, scripture here, and in other places, encourages us to seek insight and understanding – not to accept it as a God-wrapped treasure from those who declare themselves our leaders and sole interpreters of ancient manuscripts.

There is also the issue of how we know God. Many Christians look to scripture as the beginning – and the end – of the discussion. They feel that messages, commands, and admonitions written for people in a different time, different country, and under far different circumstances, should be adhered to without fail today. There are two problems with this approach.

First, it is okay to hold tight to the letter of the law as long as it fits within preconceived notions. Many Christians have problems with the idea of an adulteress being stoned in a Muslim country – and yet that is scripture. Scripture indicates that we should not divorce and that if we do remarry, we are committing adultery. These may sound like old, worn-out arguments, but at the core is this issue: understanding what scripture is trying to impart about the duties of a person that follows the first and foremost command – to love – often comes to blows with modern science, understanding, and culture. The Bible is a living breathing text and should, by all accounts, serve us well whatever the century or however advanced the culture. Look for the message – not the letter – of the law. This is something that The Shack tries to drive home.

And while we’re on the subject, as much as the reader may wish that the Bible was God breathed in every syllable and comma – that is just not a possibility. We do not have access to the original, inspired texts, and we have pushed what we do have through centuries of cultural, personal, and faith driven interpretations. This, of course, it the purpose of the reference to the King James Bible in the book. The challenge to see beyond a specific translation, or interpretation, of scripture and to look for the message that sings the whole way through.

It seems hardly right to devote a short paragraph to the subject of Salvation and what, precisely, it was we see accomplished on the Cross. I keep it short because this is a subject which has been debated since the nascent church began to spread throughout the population of the early Middle East. All the more reason to ponder the thoughts suggested by Young. After centuries of having the hell-fire of sinners pounded into our heads and our souls (a vision we owe more to Dante than the Bible), it is difficult for Christians to see beyond that vision into the conundrum they have created. Simply labeling something a “mystery” is no more than a cop out. We cannot reconcile a loving Creator with an eternal fire – a really eternal fire – for the least of the possible infractions against a code. A code, by the way, we are quick to say was done away with on the cross. If we continue to lock ourselves away in these labyrinths of theological conundrums, we will awaken one day to find we have not done the most important thing we were commanded to do – love. The possibilities discussed by The Shack are thoughts and theories presented by many outstanding scholars within the field. Why would God expect us, no – command us – to forgive whatever the response from the target of our forgiveness – if He was not prepared to do the same?

Oh, and last but certainly not least – how do we portray God? This was a point well brandished in the article I read. According to that author, scripture tells us not to make images of God. Except – scripture does provide images of God and it is those images we defend the most. One is of God as some grandfatherly figure in long robes. And we read that as a white male. When was the last time you saw a portrait of Christ in a church that actually looked like a native of the Middle East? Personally, I was delighted at the portrayal of a functioning, interactive, personification of the multiple aspects of God as defined in scripture – including that of Sophia. I was delighted because that presentation challenges us to break our preconceptions down into the ludicrous assumptions that we defend. Who are we to describe what God would look like as He spoke from the burning bush? Can we really grasp what Daniel, John, or any other author saw in their visions? Would those visions not be based on the people and culture they knew? Do you know without a single doubt, how the Creating force of this universe operates and relates? If The Shack does nothing else – maybe it will break that fragile shell of how we perceive something which we can only grasp in brief and finite thoughts.

Did I agree with everything in the book? Of course not. But I found the story a real attempt to reach people where they are, in the middle of their pain, and carrying years of baggage, some of which they have nothing to do with. One of the most telling bits within the story for me was that Mack never realized that his older daughter blamed herself for the loss of her sister. He was so wrapped up in his own pain, he never thought that someone else may be suffering from the same burden. If you take anything away from this book – know these things. Creation meets us where, and when we are. Our pain is a part of an evolving universe, we are neither the worms beneath our feet, nor lords of the universe. Sharing our pain is how we love one another, and how we help those who also suffer, while healing our own hurt.

Before you attempt to doctrinalize (like that word?) this story into Gahanna – see if you can find some small bit of insight you can work into your own inquiring soul. Or use it to open your eyes to the vast, creative force behind and throughout the universe in which we live.

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Filed under My Bookshelf ~ Fiction

A review, and a challenge, by a master

This post is shown in its entirely as published by David Gerrold on Facebook along with my comments. If you are not familiar with the name, perhaps you will recall the Trouble with Tribbles, a Star Trek episode. Or, The Martian Child. David knows how to spin a tale and has made a career of building worlds, and dissecting this one. First, my comments.

“Absolutely and unequivocally on point. While in college I talked a professor into letting me write a term paper on science fiction. Not literature in her opinion – but I wrote well enough to make my point and she conceded. In fiction, sometimes most effectively in science fiction or fantasy, we have the freedom to take a social or civil issue and put it far enough away from the reader we can challenge the person without being confrontational. It is a way to engender thought by leading. David Gerrold points this out beautifully below. Hopefully he won’t mind if I publish this, with credit, on my blog.”

I think Sarah Pinsker is a marvelous writer. I admire her ability to paint a picture in words. Most of all, I admire her ambition.

In the current issue of Asimov’s, she has a story called, “The Ones Who Know Where They Are Going.” It’s a beautiful piece of work and I would not be surprised to see it ending up on various award ballots.

It’s intended to be read as a sequel to Ursula K. LeGuin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.”

If you have not read the LeGuin story, go do that now. I’ll wait.

If I had to pick one story to represent the entire SF genre, possibly the most memorable of all tales anyone has ever written, it would be “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.”

Omelas is a beautiful city, filled with joyous people living joyous lives. But … its serenity and splendor depend on the eternal misery of an unfortunate chld, kept in perpetual filth, darkness, and misery.

When citizens are old enough to know the truth of Omelas’ success, they are shown the true price of the city’s glory — that this single child must be locked away in a cruel dungeon. Most of the city’s citizens accept this as necessary to the continuing elegance of Omelas. But every so often, a few citizens cannot. They walk quietly away from the city. The last line of the story: “The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.”

What occurred to me immediately, the first time I read this story was that the wealth and success of the United States depends on foreign labor — child labor, peasant labor, and in some places even slave labor. The braceros who pick our vegetables, the Chinese factory workers who assemble our iPhones, the children in Bangladesh who sew our clothes. We don’t think about them. We simply accept that the low prices of goods at Walmart are a sign of our national success, our splendor, our wealth — but in truth, our denial of the facts about the world we live in is a sign of our cultural sickness.

The trap — the real trap — is that we cannot walk away from our own Omelas. We don’t know how. We can’t survive without the technology we’ve constructed and all the hard work it takes from so many people to keep that technology functioning and to keep us fed and clothed and amused with electronic toys.

Never mind that for the moment — the point of the story, as I see it, is that we as humans always have a choice: whether to accept injustice and live with it or reject it and refuse to participate in it further. And this is why I think it is one of the greatest stories ever written — because it isn’t about Omelas, it’s about the reader.

And that brings me to Sarah Pinsker’s marvelous tale.

I hated it.

Not because it’s a bad story, not because it’s badly written, not because it’s wrong — but because it is a philosophical and emotional reversal of LeGuin’s story. Where LeGuin leaves us troubled, Pinsker wants to let us be okay.

SPOILER ALERT.

If you haven’t read Pinsker’s story, go do so now.

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In Pinsker’s story, someone has left the door to the dungeon ajar. The child, bruised and hurting, laboriously climbs the steps toward the dazzling daylight, wondering about the beauty that lies above, and speculating on how long it will take the city to collapse after the escape.

But by the time the child reaches the tenth stair, he or she (never specified) stops and turns around and heads back down to the dungeon. And we are told that this is not the first time that the child has made this journey toward dazzling freedom and then returned to the sanctity of the darkness.

Now, if the point to be made here is that the child cannot deal with freedom, is afraid of freedom, that’s horrifying enough — but that’s not Pinsker’s point. No.

Instead, this child is acting out of altruism, nobility — returning to the dungeon so that no other child will have to suffer the same fate. And again, this is not the first time this child has made this great moral choice.

And as a reader, I can feel good, I can feel proud of this child for willingly martyring herself/himself for the good of —

No. I can’t.

There’s an old joke. “How many Jewish mothers does it take to change a light bulb.” “None. Don’t worry about me. I can sit here alone in the dark.” That’s also the short version of this story.

And this is why I take issue with this story. Both philosophically and emotionally.

Philosophically: Where LeGuin was saying underneath the glory of this civilization, its foundation rests on a crime, an act of profound cruelty and injustice to another human being — where LeGuin was making a profound plea, Pinsker is now excusing the cruelty and injustice. It’s all right, because the child is there willingly, the child is making a noble sacrifice.

And emotionally — it’s all right, you don’t have to feel bad. The child is doing a good thing. He/she wants to be there.

Um, no.

There’s this thing called “the victim racket.” It’s where you give away your power to others so you can feel good about never getting what you want. It’s about being right about being miserable. It plays out a lot of different ways, “I have to sacrifice for my children,” or “I’m not good enough,” or “It’s okay, I didn’t want dessert anyway.” (Or even, “I deserved the award, but the vote was rigged.”) The victim racket is about excusing injustice.

Now that might not be what Sarah Pinsker intended. Unfortunately, that’s how I read it. And as much as I try to find another interpretation, I’m stumped.

I’m not against sacrifice — every good parent makes sacrifices so his/her children can grow up to have a life they love living. But that’s an informed consent. The child of Omelas isn’t there because he or she has consented, isn’t there because of a higher purpose, isn’t enduring a noble imprisonment — the child of Omelas is there because the people of Omelas prize their splendor too much to give up the injustice.

Still with me?

Do I think Pinsker was wrong for writing this story? Hell, no. I’m glad she wrote it — because it will start the kind of discussion that all good stories must start. It invites the readers to argue about the nature of Omelas as well as the plight of the child. It invites us to consider the very real implications for our own society.

I’ll add this — the LeGuin story is necessarily incomplete. It invites the reader to decide for himself/herself about the morality of this situation.

In the hands of another writer — not me, not today — a sequel to “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” would be about those who walk away.

Those who stay are accepting responsibility for the injustice, they’re owning it the same way the Germans who profited in the days of the Third Reich owned their atrocities. They decided not to care.

But those who are walking away, they’re rejecting responsibility. They’re leaving without trying to change anything. They’re fleeing the responsibility of rescuing the child. They’re unwilling to trigger the revolution that would surely occur if the city’s success were threatened. They’re unwilling to take a stand, unwilling to say, “I cannot be a part of a civilization founded on injustice. We must find another way. We must bring that child up into the light.” By walking away, they are running away.

And to my mind, the ones who walk away are just as detestable, maybe even more so than the ones who stay.

Whatever the case, I believe it is wrong to ascribe nobility to the child. It’s wrong to assume nobility among the oppressed. That’s a convenient fiction — that torture and oppression, discrimination and victimization somehow confer wisdom on the sufferers. Hell no. Torture and oppression mostly inspire outrage and hatred and counter-violence. Gandhi and Mandela and King and Frankel and Weisel are exceptions. Everybody else likely has a lifetime battle with PTSD.

That assumption of nobility through oppression — that’s why we have “the magic Negro” and the wise old native American and the sassy black lady and the insightful old Jew and the noble Asian and the spontaneously clever drag queen in American movies — because we’re afraid to acknowledge the real hurt and bitterness that our own Omelas has created, not in a single child, but in whole populations.

Perhaps there is a worthwhile sequel to be written to “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.” I applaud Sarah Pinsker’s ambition in this effort. And I wish I could celebrate this story as a worthwhile sequel. Any writer this ambitious deserves applause.

But … I wonder if LeGuin’s original tale has left us with an unsolvable challenge. We are damned if we stay, we are damned if we leave. I can’t walk away — but I have no idea how to get that child out of that dungeon either.

That’s the story I want to see someone tackle.

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Filed under My Bookshelf ~ Fiction

Voting ~ and what it means to you

This is NOT a blog about who to vote for. I do NOT expect to change people’s minds on whether or not they should vote for any specific candidate. What I DO wish to accomplish is to provide food for thought. If there are races in which you feel compelled to withhold your vote, I want you to find the ones you can commit to. Somewhere, there is a race that you can research, that you can determine a choice, I don’t care if it is the local dog-catcher. It’s a long term plan, people. But if we don’t start now…

I have been wanting to write a blog about voting for some time now. Problem is, the history of voting might require something of a tome and that is not what blogs are for. The best way to say what I feel is important is to choose some aspect of that history and go from there. I chose the movie Suffragette as a starting point for a number of reasons that will become clear.

Suffragette

According to the Washington Post, the movie is based on some of the historical elements of the struggle British women faced in and about 1912-1913. Definitions are in order, a Suffragette is a member of the suffrage movement that advocated action, often involving violence of some kind. A Suffragist was a member of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies and they advocated using the political and social system to achieve their goal. Although the Suffragettes brought much needed attention to the issue, it was the latter organization that finally won the vote for British women in 1918. The Union’s membership included men who were of the opinion that it was far past time to involve the other half of humanity in the process of governing the people. Why?

In the early 1900s a woman in British society rarely had the barest of rights. Her employer controlled her from the time she began work (usually in her teens) until she died. It was not uncommon for these men to demand personal service as well as that required in the factory. A woman had no right of consent over her children. Should her husband dismiss her, their children were his to do with as he pleased, including surrendering them for adoption. Many women were abused. They had no avenue of regress. On the other side of the coin, persons who hold the right to define government have difficulty equating those who don’t as equals: whether the difference is gender, or race. Women were, in large part, merely possessions; whatever made them think they had the cognitive ability to vote?

It was not until August 18, 1920, that the United States followed Britain by ratifying the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. This was a long battle that became a more organized effort as early as 1848 when women’s suffrage was organized at the national level by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucrecia Mott. Included in their platform (as it was in Britain) was the right to better opportunities for women in education and employment. This was no light undertaking. Women, and men, died to support the effort. Some in prison, some in riots or protests. Some women were simply beaten by the men in their lives.

After a great deal of sacrifice, the movement began to have success at the state level as Alaska (Territory), Arizona, Arkansas, California, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota and Washington all established suffrage for women between 1910 and 1918.

Another long battle ensued in the United States over the voting rights of blacks. It was not until the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that the right to vote was secured by law. There are still legal battles that include practices such as gerrymandering, various levels of testing, and onerous forms of identification. Voting is not a settled matter in this country; those who wish to take responsibility for the selection of the government and the manner in which they govern still have a fight.

Why is this all so terribly important? There are many forms of the thought that a people deserves the government they receive. In some ways this is not true. Once a ruling class is established, the fee to join the club is usually beyond the common person and, therefore, not as easily changed by those with vision. However, there is a piece of the puzzle that does fall within the control of every-day folk. It starts at the local level.

The people we see in power today did not start there. In most cases, their career started at the local level as a council-person, a mayor, a local representative, a state elected official. Rarely does a candidate come out of the clear blue with no public service background. The way to change the available choices is to begin at that level where you can have a personal connection with the individual and truly assess what they can contribute to the community as a whole. It comes from watching how they handle what is happening in your community and how they represent the interests of those that depend on them.

I sincerely want people to vote their conscience – really. But I also want them involved. If you don’t like the way your preferred party selects candidates: be part of the change. If you are frustrated with the choices: think about being one yourself, or banding with others to encourage someone you think would be a good choice. Become involved in your destiny; participate in the process that impacts your life. Too many people have given too much for the privilege; don’t throw it away.

I have attached a document with a link to the voting information for voting and elections in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. This is for your convenience so you can look up who is running in your state for what. Don’t go with the Facebook version of the campaign, research those that interest you. Make an effort to be a contributing member in the process.

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Filed under General Comments, My Bookshelf ~ Current times, Personal Journeys

Review ~ Is it something that we’ve left behind…

The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World. By Wade Davis. $16

This was a book that has been on my “someday” list for quite some time. Written by an anthropologist, this group of lectures is structured using a wealth of information Dr. Davis has accumulated over a lifetime of travels to distant corners of the globe. His travels have been funded by such organizations as the National Geographic Society and the Harvard Botanical Museum. Don’t let the term “lectures” scare you off. Davis is a story-teller.

The presentation of this book genuinely touches me for a number of reasons. Davis does not attempt to throw away our technological advances. He does not suggest that we should return to some simpler time to unlearn the advances of the last several centuries. What he does call on us to do is respect the past, and to learn from its wisdom.

hokulea_sunrise_02_12

The voyages of the Hokule’a

[photo credit from the Hawaiian Voyaging Traditions page]

Long before we had compasses, GPS, and automated navigation systems, the Polynesians settled the South Pacific reaches under the guidance of Wayfinders. They were highly esteemed navigators. In Hawaii, the ancient practices are being recaptured. Hawaii’s Hokule’a has sailed since 1975 and has made its way all over the South Pacific using the same navigation methods that settled the area – finding the way. The ancient explores worked with their environment and learned the currents and the winds. They learned which birds flew how far from land. How to read the clouds and the paths of the fish. How to feel the very waves. In the ancient tradition, Wayfinders did not sail to find land; they called the land up from the sea.

Davis covers other ancient cultures, some of which have only recently been introduced to modern life. Each culture discussed in this book has found a time-honored way to live within the ecosystem that was home. Each culture has found a way of give and take with limited resources. Each honors the earth on which we live as the source of life and a treasure to be preserved.

I was taken by the story of the Penan of Borneo. On a visit to Canada to gain support against the clear cutting of their ancestral forest, they were exposed to the homeless of cities in British Columbia. To people who lived in a culture that would be considered impoverished by almost any Western standard, they could not understand why the inhabitants did not share. Their culture was built on the concept that everything must be shared – always. How, then, could there be homeless, hungry, people? Sharing is how the entire community learned to survive.

Davis was part of the expedition to research the growing and use of coca in South America. In the tribal areas, coca is a central part of the culture. It is also a source of protein to a people who have few other sources. Used in the manner developed in ancient rituals, they do not get addicted. The wide spread use of the plant for a number of applications is what gave modern governments the leverage to “take care” of the poor, drugged, Indians. It was the modern perversion of the plant that has caused so much heartache in modern society – not the former highly ritualized use developed through centuries of cultural stability.

From the Amazon to the Arctic, from Borneo to Australia and the South Pacific, Davis tells the story of ancient peoples and their time-honed methods of surviving in their home. He also tells the story of the impact of modern intrusion. His thesis is not that we should abandon our hard-won knowledge; what he does suggest is that we incorporate the wisdom of older cultures into our application of that technology. These cultures, the ones that survived, understood that it is a cycle. In order to receive from earth, we must return to earth. It is critical that we protect our heritage and re-learn the lessons we thought so trivial.

It’s a small book, and well worth the read. You may find yourself far more committed to preserving the life support system on our tiny piece of rock, hanging in a vast universe with no friends in sight. For me, Davis grasps the sentiment of my poem and asks that we not stop learning; but that we protect our heritage and preserve its wisdom in the process.

Is it something that we’ve left behind,
Or something that we’ve yet to find,
That keeps each one forever hoping,
To reach that thing for which we’re groping?

© 1988

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Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Bookshelf ~ Before Current Era

Reflections ~ How we think.

This is an exploring post. I have only just begun to read the things necessary to build these concepts in my own mind, but I so wanted to share what I have found. So, here we be in our own quiet alcove, discussing the workings of the mind, again. These are really important ideas, so join me for the hunt – a hunt for how we think and why it matters.

In the process of finishing my manuscript on the Book of Job, I have been researching what makes us tick. Why do we perceive an event, a person, a situation as we do? What is it that makes us believe that we are accurate in our assumptions and interpretations? Is there a way that we can test those assumptions and conclusions while still believing that we are right – and, perhaps, most of the rest of the world is wrong?

I have recently started a hashtag on Facebook, #BreakTheBox. I did this because I like to challenge commonly held presumptions. Not always because I think they are wrong, in whole or in part, but because I firmly believe that whatever you believe, you should know why you believe. That is very hard work – and here is the reason why.

Thnking

I am currently reading Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman. Professor Kahneman won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2002 for his work on decision making. Along with his research partner, Amos Tversky, he revolutionized what we know about how we think, how we make decisions. Professor Tversky would have shared the prize, if he had still been living.

Here are the basics. Our perceptions of subconscious and conscious thought go far deeper than what we may expect. Kahneman uses terms fairly common in the field; System 1 (the subconscious) and System 2 (the conscious). How these two systems interact is the basis of everything we do and think – everything. That makes it critical to understand that interaction if you truly want to be the master of your fate, the owner of your mind.

System 1 is the quick thinker. By accumulating all of the information that you are in contact with, the things your senses bring to you, and sorting through that sea of data to arrive at – what makes you comfortable, what feels right. As you can see, this is the basis of our intuitive thought. It is an efficient way for our brains to work because it happens quickly and, for the most part, the reactions are based on past experience. It also allows us to make seemingly instantaneous decisions for our own safety or well-being – such as flight or fight choices.

This is also, at times, an unreliable decision-making process. It can be influenced by such things as presentation of the data (was it in a clear font with soothing colors and using grammar in the comfort zone of the reader). Or, how often the data, or something similar, is encountered. Such as a surprise meeting in one location being less surprising the second time in a different location. System 1 is all about averaging things out and making quick decisions based on, well, gut.

Although not strictly statistical in its processes, for the sake of efficiency, this System 1 also relies on a short-hand version of the data. For instance, in the drafting of a bell curve (natural distribution), once the information regarding probability is acquired, our mind locks on to the higher probabilities and ignores the possibilities. So, once we determine that the incarceration rate of young black men in American is statically higher than whites, Asians or Hispanics, we assume that ALL young black men are prison candidates. Consequently, when events happen in the conscious world, our decisions are guided by a presumption made on incomplete data. This becomes an even stronger influence as we gravitate to information that reinforces what we already know, beliefs and interpretations that are within our comfort zone.

Kahneman describes System 1 as highly associative. It links bits of data to previous information and then builds on that link, whether or not there is a clear correlation. In one example he mentions a test question asking the reader if a man who is described as quiet, introspective, and a loner would most likely be a farmer or a librarian. Statistically, there is an overwhelming response that this is a librarian. Here’s the catch. In my mind it was the farmer. Why? I know both, but I am as familiar with farmers as I am with librarians and so I had a wider associative memory on which to base my assessment. Statistically, there are more farmers than librarians meaning that the probability is higher that the person described is a farmer. That, however, is something that System 2 must discover.

This is not a condemnation of our subconscious mind. This is how our minds are built and it works this way to be efficient with the resources at hand. Here, then, is the catch. Unless you want to be guided by your over-reactive, intuitive subconscious, you need to more actively pursue thinking with System 2. This takes work and our minds are notoriously lazy — they like to find the easy way out. And it does not matter how intelligent the thinker is. There are also physiological reasons why our conscious minds cannot maintain a constant level of focused attention. What, then, is the answer?

We can engage in reprogramming our subconscious. This doesn’t mean we have to question each and every thought and impulse. What it does mean is that we should actively pursue the verification of the associative influence on which our decisions are made. When we hear something that seems right, we should try to understand why this is so. Have we actually thought about the logical end result of our decision or association? How much dis-information is shared on social networks without verification because the piece at least sounds like what the person wants to hear?

To give you food for thought, I leave you with this:

Roses are flowers.
Some flowers fade quickly.
Therefore some roses fade quickly.

Well, maybe, maybe not… Some roses might fade quickly, but the presumptions detailed here which led to that conclusion are not directly related; and therefore, not a basis to decide. You see, the fading flowers might not be roses…

Rose dl

Photo Credit: JM Randolph, WANA Commons, Flickr

#BreakTheBox

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Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Bookshelf ~ Current times

Review ~ About the dark corners of the mind.

I have recently wandered into the series “Mr. Robot.” It is an award winning series and “everybody is talking about it.” The trailers intrigued me, after all, I know something about financial markets and IT. At least the subject matter would be of interest. It is rated L for Language. I have to say there should also be some trigger warnings or something about sexual content. Let’s just say things get intense.

Selected because - you have to watch your back...

Selected because – you have to watch your back…

I am watching the catch-up versions so there is an opportunity to catch the creator’s thoughts about each episode as you move through the story. However, catch-up viewing (read binging) does not usually allow time for reflection, so some plot twists do catch you unawares. If I had to say whether or not I “liked” the series, I’m not sure I could answer. But, then, one doesn’t always have to like something to find some value in it. So, here we are. Let’s explore the ambiguity.

The premise of the show introduces what we might call an anti-hero. In some minds he would be the avenging angel, in some the evil clown that destroys the world as we know it. You don’t know just right away, who the real Mr. Robot is. But it does become clear. The season ends with a successful hack that destroys world markets. No debt, no records, no way to retrieve any of it. It is a global revolution that vaporizes trillions of dollars of financial assets (and debt) overnight. I think one of the things that keeps me intrigued enough to check out season two is how the show’s creator handles the real impact of such an event. As terrific as it sounds to wake up tomorrow with no debt, there are very real economic consequences to such an event; consequences that might not work out as planned. The seed of that thought is in the story line. And, again, having watched the mental games written into this series – did it really happen? So, yes, I will probably, for a bit more at least, continue to watch.

There is also the “intense” part. And this is the part that causes me to reserve judgement on the series as a whole. It is either a work of art, or a cheap attempt to manipulate. Sex, in this film, is a function of power. Certain body parts do not make it on screen, but little is left to the imagination. No, I’m not a prude, but the context of these scenes is very edgy and says volumes about the characters involved. What interests me far more is the development of those characters, most specifically the main character.

This is what kept me watching. If you have not seen the first season this will be a spoiler, but because of the amount of time I have spent studying how the human mind works – especially the very intelligent human mind – this story would not let me go.

Elliot is a brilliant engineer that works for an IT security firm. At night he hacks into people’s lives, sometimes confronting them and “encouraging” a change of perspectives. It doesn’t appear that he does this for financial gain – it is usually to stop a crime, protect someone he cares about, or to live vicariously. We learn, as the story progresses, that Evil Corp (a name Elliot assigns it and which has a logo blatantly reminiscent of Enron) was responsible for the death of his father and a friend’s mother. A leak that was more expensive to clean up than to pay off in court. But this isn’t entirely about revenge. We are in Elliot’s head. We are his special friend, the one he goes to when things are not clear. When he needs to say what he is really thinking.

There is great debate on the internet about whether or not Elliot is schizophrenic or subject to some other disorder such a Social Anxiety Disorder. IMDb goes with SAD. Without the benefit of this debate, I was pretty certain of schizophrenia. Not that most of the other characters are all that mentally healthy, (Tyrell is a sociopath) but Elliot is the star. Late in the season it is made clear (if you haven’t already figured it out) that Elliot is Mr. Robot. He is the leader of the group programming a massive hack on financial markets and plotting and negotiating with other hacker groups to make sure that backups are not available to anyone, anywhere. To Elliot, Mr. Robot is his father – even though he does not recognize the illusion as his father. His dead father. And the segment where he recognizes his sister, and realizes that his illusion of Mr. Robot is his father, would be traumatic to anyone who has experienced this issue. The offhand references to his medications and his visits to the therapist are clues, but we have yet to find out why all of this is court ordered.

If it is, indeed, the creator’s intent to portray this individual as a schizophrenic genius – he nailed it. That is the part that is both troubling and intriguing. The layers of mental gaming in this show are intricate, extremely well written, and unsettling. I’ve lived in that world where someone I knew and loved created realities that were every bit as real in his mind as yours are to you. I have learned, and observed, that the mind is an amazing thing. I am hoping that the creators of this show are seeking for that moment when reality collides with the illusion, and the focal point must sort out the chaos. It appears so at this point. So, I continue to watch.

Has anyone else among my friends ventured into this dark, and yet revealing, world? What is our reality, and how much is it truly shared?

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Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Bookshelf (and a movie or two)

Review ~ Where did it Begin?

Origins, A Skeptic’s Guide to the Creation of Life on Earth by Robert Shapiro, less than $10

Origins

Science: knowledge about or study of the natural world based on facts learned through experiments and observation. (Merriam Webster)

Seems simple enough. The field of science is something that we know and learn through watching and testing. Predicting things that should happen and then running experiments to see if that is, indeed, what happens. This is why, even though science has its own battles with dogma and conflicting theories, there comes a time when it self-corrects. When the data and the predictability come together and we have what we can call knowledge.

And I love to watch that process. Some of my heroes are physicists, well, maybe a lot of them. People like Michio Kaku, Sean Carrol, Brian Greene, Steven Hawking and so many others that look at the universe as a great big romper room waiting to be discovered. Some evidence hints of faith, some shake their heads with a shrug and a whatever. But they all pursue truth as best they can wherever it leads them. And they don’t get in a twist when questioned. They operate in a field where everything they know may be turned on its head with the next discovery so they research and build and test with whatever tools they have. I have longed for the same kind of dialog in the biological sciences.

One of the reasons I chose this book was because I wanted to know just where we were in the field of evolutionary biology. The book is dated. Copyrighted in 1986 it lacks the progress made for nearly 30 years and that is a lot of time in science. There are many lines of inquiry presented in the book that I would (and probably will) follow up on in order to see what progress we have made. For instance, in 2009 John Sutherland and his team at the University of Manchester were able to synthesize the basic ingredients of RNA. Whether or not the process followed could occur naturally is still, of course, being researched.

The point is that there are as many unsolved issues in the field of evolutionary biology as there are in physics. Maybe more. Who’s to know? The frustrating thing is that questions about this science are often met with derision and comments about myths vs. science. But that isn’t the reason I’m asking.

I liked this book because Shapiro walks through the science of where we have been and where we were as of that time and why some of the things appeared to work and some were, well, just not getting us there. Just to be clear, we do know a great deal about how lifeforms change and modify based on the environment and the needs of everything from climate to culture. We can show how some things evolve and we are deep into research about the story our DNA tells about the past. No, we don’t have all the answers and that’s the point, isn’t it? Science is science when the same, predictable result can be duplicated by someone else with consistency. Self-correcting.

Shapiro steps through the history of our search for that spark that started non-organic chemicals down the path to life. Yes, he discusses the history of conflicts between Creationism and Science on the issue but he does not do it in a manner to disparage faith. He only wants to present what makes science and what is required to test a theory. He was, actually, not all that sold on the ruling paradigm at the time the book was written, leaning more in the direction of a minority opinion on what started the engine. It certainly was interesting reading a text that was looking forward to some of the advances we have made in the past 30 years by visiting Mars with the rovers, as well as the moons of Jupiter and Saturn with our probes.

Is it important that we one day find the scientific roots of our creation? I actually do believe so. Ever since man could think he has sought knowledge about the whys and hows of his existence. He has wondered about his place in the universe from both an egocentric and an insignificant-mite point of view. We are creatures, creations, of reason. Capable of looking out at the place we find ourselves and wondering. There must be a reason, from somewhere or someone, we became so. If you are a believer, in something or someone, most of the ancient scriptures I have seen admonish the faithful to seek knowledge, to learn, to observe the place in which we find ourselves and to grow in wisdom.

Check out Mr. Shapiro. He is not afraid to challenge the science of the day or to ask questions about what we know and why. He may help you put some of those pieces in place.

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Filed under My Bookshelf ~ Current times, Natural Sciences from the Observation Deck