Tag Archives: mother

… body electric …

Tolima Pectoral 1000AD

In my last post, Teddy mentioned my fascination with AI. This interest became obsessive while doing a sabbatical film degree that ended in 1997 – my lucky chance to catch up on cultural history and post-modern theories. I plan to re-type my dissertation, which includes pages of tedious notes and a bibliography. But presently, like so many papers I wrote at the time, the master piece rests in an old Mac disc in a format I can’t translate to Word.

Artificial intelligence is unstoppable. I’m curious as to your take on the subject, so I’m sharing a few quotes from my exploration of human identity in the digital age.

I pinched the title for my dissertation ‘Body Electric,’ from Walt Whitman’s poem ‘I sing the body electric.’  He celebrates the body – of man, of woman, of child, bodies of flesh, sinew and blood. Do follow the above link, the invigorating poem stands in ironic juxtaposition to the theme of AI. Could a mechanical electric body ever convey the curious, breathing, laughing flesh that Whitman hearts because it pleases the soul? How would its divine nimbus compare to a form governed by mechanical algorithms? For Whitman the human body is sacred. Its magnetism comes through eyes, from the soul, a term shelved by neuroscience. Call it what you will, soul or consciousness; its light will forever seek vessels and new direction.

Fronting ‘Body Electric’ is my translation of R M Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus X, which, even at his time, bemoans machines that ignore the hesitant gesture of a radiant hand. Here only one a few lines:

Yet our being remains spun in mysteries of birthing

Origins from enchanted wells, a play of pristine powers

To behold only with eyes closed and in adoration.

The text develops as an intuitive assembly and starts with a quote by Michael Foucault:

‘Man is only a recent invention, a figure not yet two centuries old, a new wrinkle in our knowledge; he will disappear again as soon as that knowledge has discovered a new form.’

For the artist Maya Deren (1917-1951,) who created some highly influential films in her short life, scientific findings were but the raw materials of creative action: ‘The first step of creative action is the violation of the natural integrity of an original context.’ She saw the function of art and its validation in the creation of mythical realities. Her symbolic images of personal significance also chime universally.

Here is a link to her film ‘At Land.’

In dreams, time vanishes. This applies equally when dream worlds are shared, with the additional ecstasy of an interactive virtual reality:

‘… we would enter the world of fluids … Over with the solid, over with the continuous and the calm; some dance quality would invade everything and Cartesian philosophers would go through a trance, floating on history like chops on gravy.’ – Henry Michaux

But what about the vanishing space? In the public realm of instant ‘in’form’ation’ nothing keeps its form long enough to take root. Spaces to hide or resist the other fade as human nature is flood-lit. Jean Baudrillard foresaw a silence of the masses as ironic and antagonistic coping mechanism:

‘… hyper conformist simulation of the very mechanism of the system, which is another form of refusal by over acceptance …’  Jean Baudrillard

Simulated reality blinds with the Gestalt of our collective mind, where every viewpoint exists at the same time. It lacks context and shadow definition, over-exposes our field of consciousness. For Baudrillard, the schizophrenic subject can no longer produce the limits of its own being, or produce itself as a mirror. It becomes a screen, a switching center for all networks of influence. The electric sphere of the internet simulates our nervous system and turns it inside out. There remains the reality of our psychological experiences, where shadows have to be reckoned with.

Donna Haraway, a biologist and professor of the History of Consciousness, sees pleasure in the confusion of boundaries. She once said, ‘I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess.’ This intrigues. The inspiring, if manic torrent of concepts pouring into Haraway’s lectures requires extreme co-presence from her students. I resonate with her thought that contradiction is the criterion of the real, which is a theme in my planned third book (following Course of Mirrors and Shapers.) I like it that Haraway’s favourite story teller is Ursula Le Guin 🙂

CYBORG – a human, enhanced with integral technology. Visit this link for a taster – a TED talk by Kevin Warwick, a Professor of Cybernetics.

When it becomes possible to clone super humans one has to ask, why the need for babies, why the need for women, and what’s the point of males. Can myth be banished, and what if the human being – that pack of neurons – is squeezed into microchips like genies into bottles, how will future societies hang together?

An emerging idea proposes that to maintain homeostasis requires a new religion, DATAISM. Check this link to an extract from Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, by Yuval Noah Harari on WIRED … 

Would shadow entities of the collective psyche slip through data and act out hidden agendas? Kevin Kelly wrote: ‘… as we unleash living forces into our created machines, we lose control of them. They acquire wildness and some the surprises that the wild entails. This then is the dilemma all gods must accept: That they can no longer be completely sovereign over their finest creations.’

Besides the above quotes, my dissertation includes thoughts from Marshall McLuhan, Paul Virilio, Roger Callois, Walter Benjamin, Gregory Bateson, Don Cupitt, Francis Crick, D Dennett, Goethe, Anthony Stevens, John Searle, David Chalmers, Horst Hendriks-Jansen, Sherry Turkle, Danah Zohar and many more – all of them google worthy.

As a golden thread through my dissertation I use scenes from the film Bladerunner, where replicants are indistinguishable from humans and develop emotional responses. If we give them a past, Tyrell says, we create a cushion for their emotions and can control them. A fail-safe device makes sure of that. Familiar? It turns out that ‘mother’ the equivalent of history, is a trigger word for lack. One replicant blasts his tester to smithereens and seeks revenge on his maker. The film leaves one with the uncomfortable sense that we are all replicants, with memories implanted by history. There is no escape from the burden of existential insecurity.

Theodor Kittelsen 1857 – 1914

Relationships and the context of place are vital to experience a sense of identity, like an energy field that grows in relation to the reality we create for ourselves. In other words, we are artists of our continuous self-invention, and we must choose our horizons.

Reverend Don Cupitt wrote the self is an animal with cultural inscriptions on the surface. Not that he is wrong, but when he assumes the soul has died, he must refer to his personal version of soul and its loss of meaning.

The Soul, the light of the universe, eternal life and consciousness, is essentially independent of matter and mind. Once embodied, we tend to forget the light’s source and feel trapped and homesick. Whether there is a purpose to the cyclic embodiment of consciousness may be a useless question, since purpose can only emerge through living and through the myths we create. Bless our imagination. Presently AI is the most generously funded myth, forging ahead, regardless of the dire state of humanity and our planet as a whole.

Birth and death remain the ultimate spinners of life. In the parlance of the mystic, the moment of exaltation is in the immanent glimpse of the curl of the beloved. Can the beloved be the beloved if she is fully known? And what do we know of the various dimensions where she resides?

Don’t miss this worthwhile article by John Gray in the New Statesman (Oct 2016) on the upgrade from Homo sapiens into Homo deus. The page may take a while to load.

All links open a new page. They are part of post and totally worthwhile.

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… sometimes I feel …

… like a motherless child … This famous Spiritual is known the world over, maybe because it touches the orphan child in us. The lament of being a long, long way from home speaks of the universal desire  to feel safe, to be accepted, have one’s talent nurtured and simply be held. Listen to this deep-felt ache in Odessa’s voice from a late recording on You Tube.

In most cases we leave the nest in order to become our own person, but winning the obstacle race of growing into an adult and finding self-worth is a remarkable achievement, made easier when a child is welcomed and loved by a parent, a mentor or a community.

The latter presents a grim challenge for people who are forced to leave their homes, for whatever reasons. Affluent societies are now faced with a surge of refugees. There is much goodwill, but equally resentment, often based on ignorance. Public debates seem to miss the acknowledgement of how the wealth that brought about commerce and stability in the west was and is part-indebted to slavery and the exploitation of defenseless countries. The lesson for humility and tolerance is implicit – and ongoing.

Before I get carried away, this post is in memory of my mother, who died three decades ago to this day.

I miss her, and yet …

Sometimes I feel like my mother is near                                                                                                                                    At home, right here in my heart

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… answers to questions we dare not ask …

Could it be that we frequently get answers to questions we dare not ask, allowing us to ignore certain messages? When do we challenge an issue and when do we keep silent and move on? Maybe I’m naive, but given my peculiar tolerance for uncertainty, I tend to trust in the random timing of guardian angels.

In der Eng 1954Last night, in a dream, I jumped from the ground onto a flat roof by sheer determination. Then someone asked me to repeat the feat, in the manner of a scientific trial. A ridiculous request – nothing is ever repeated under the same circumstances, try as you might. It’s as far as I got with this dream. I’ve no idea what the flat roof represents, apart from maybe having my first novel aired, which has been waiting to be launched with my small publisher since 2013.

Yes, I’m frustrated, and tempted to self-publish, instead, it looks as if I need to secure money for my father’s care and funeral. He decided not to die and plans to reach a hundred. While he requires support with basic daily tasks, he is comfortably secure in the care department of the place where he had rented a flat, which I must dissolve within the next few weeks. I arranged for him to keep items he holds important, his paintings, books, art materials, easel … in his present care-abode.

The process of letting go of things and projections was distressing but worthwhile on both sides. After endless paperwork, bureaucratic complexities, sorting stuff, and living with ancient dust and revelations, I felt totally exhausted, and decided to recover for a few days with friends, and then take a break, once more, back in the UK, choosing a 12 hour train journey because of possible strike actions at Munich airport.

I was not cheered by a financial cover-up that, in retrospect, may (or not) have saved my marriage at a time when I felt trapped with my creative longing sans resources, all based on sad misapprehensions my father had of me over time, including blaming me for my mother’s early death. Nor was I cheered sorting through over 30 photo albums covering 16 years of Luxury Ocean cruises my father undertook with his second partner, touristy snapshots that did no credit to his past photographic excellence, earlier works of which I’ll post more in time, and which, I hope, my son will archive.

In der Eng 1953 - crossing the stream - smallerIn der Eng 1954 - crossing the stream - smallerStill, there were tender moments and highlights during this recent testing odyssey … my dad’s new appreciation of my existence, which warms the heart, and the finding of precious images from my childhood, like where I brave icy mountain streams, or cross them with my mother – memories of intensely happy times that restored my spirit.

 

 

 

Worth reflecting on, BBC4 broadcasted a prospect of old age that seems kind of scary in its social implications …

Should we retire the concept of aging?

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… the shock of disorientation – the unknown …

Change is the only reliable constant. I sometimes wished I could pledge my life to a convincing reality. For me, what is derived from facts or beliefs in our culture often lacks a vital ingredient – the acceptance of the continuous process of harmony unfolding from cycles of necessary chaos – so I watch the river flowing and imagine stories and create worlds.

four weeks old

Though my childhood had its trials, I was lucky to be held during my early years, both physically and metaphorically, which gifted me with a sense of basic trust, a right to exist, a right to question, and a playful irreverence. Maybe this is why my little wisdoms play with facts and beliefs, dust the inner mirror, value what is emerging, the ever higher level of coordinates of truth and beauty, like a trajectory of the love I received.

For someone not held at birth, change can be dreaded, or seen as a means of escape from an unsafe environment. What we all have in common, is a longing for sufficient containment, and periods of relaxation.

Some years ago, I walked up the stairs of the Social Services centre where I worked. The building had two sections of offices that mirrored each other in design, with exactly the same stairway on each side. A lift in the middle accesses both sections. Being lazy, I usually took the lift up to the third floor, though I liked to take the stairs down on the far side. On this particular day I wanted exercise, and time to ponder a logistic problem. Steeped in thought, I headed for the staircase in sight. Arriving at my floor, I entered the office with its familiar layout and was hit by a sense of total disorientation. Wrong, all wrong, on my desk sat a row of bright, fluffy soft toys, not the company I had round my computer. In a split-second I noticed other irregularities, the quality of light – a smell of heady perfume. The entire atmosphere in this office was alien, the wrong music – alien to my expectations.

 

M. C. Escher

First thought – I must have time-jumped, returned from the past – my mother often marvelled at my vivid imagination. More laser-fast thoughts – perceptions are tenuous and dreamlike reality is self-made and its boundaries are fragile. Calling in episodes of lucid dreaming, my fear switched to wonder, until I grasped the situation. With my thoughts dwelling in abstract orbs, I had walked up the wrong set of stair, expecting to see my desk, which was however in the other, mirror-part of the building.

Being sandwiched between two realities, the expected and the unexpected, the cognitive familiar and the unknown, tends to cancel time for an instant, long enough to escape the compulsion of identifying with objects or thoughts. Shocked awake, the mind is free and spacious, a delightful state.

 

Disorientation, if tolerated, can bring a sudden glimpse of unidentified consciousness in action.

Not discounting trance and meditation, or the vast variety of personal experience – mind and body work in synergy if we loosen up our ideas and learn to relax. In synergy the combined intuitive intelligence of body/brain and the collective mind brings us into resonance with a reality beyond our comprehension – the reflection of a universal order. Not a miracle.

As a child I once dived into a swimming pool. The brilliant sky was of the same blue as the tiles that lined the floor and walls of the pool, which would have been fine had I not opened my eyes under water – the blue world overwhelmed. I lost all sense of direction and panicked. With no way out, I instinctively shut my eyes, which calmed my racing heart and allowed my muscles to relax. My body naturally floated upwards.

I later learned, during experiential Sufi practices, that apt intentional exposure to situations depriving us of habitual coordinates, can prepare us to face change, the unknown, with less stress and more equanimity.

Have you had moments of disorientation – even if it was putting a cup to your lips expecting coffee and tasting tea?

*    *    *

The theme of ‘disorientation’ came up after recent posts by a blogger friend, Joe Linker (see blog roll), on Buckminster Fuller – his thoughts on synergy are powerfully relevant today – http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Buckminster_Fuller

… We are now synergetically forced to conclude that all phenomena are metaphysical; wherefore, as many have long suspected — like it or not — ‘life is but a dream’ …

Buckminster Fuller

So we might as well dance … http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pXpaI5IMQsg&feature=related

 

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… village poem …

 My father’s recent move away from the village I grew up in meant another goodbye, though my impressions of the place live on in me, and my writing. I like to share an old, bitter-sweet lyrical poem, which recalls an aspect of my experience growing up in a village. It leaves out the lake,  the mountains, and the church-bells – their marking of time could make an epic- their melodic ring still sounds once every quarter of the hour, and every hour in full from morning to midnight, so that people should not lose themselves in relative time.

 

 

The Village Poem

Through the veil of time I drop to the heart of my village,

child again, inhaling dust and summer-heat.

Drawn to the bright blue tiles in the dairy, I suck cool air,

watch the jet of buttermilk spool from pump to cup like silk.

 

The milkmaid frowns at the antics of our pianist, whose mass

of silver hair trails dangerously close to a display of camembert,

while her left hand swings a crystal pendulum, her daily rite

in search of resonance. I hold an image of her fine hands

striking keys on a white grand, giving air to Bach and Brahms

below the star-lit night, painted on her study’s cupola.

 

She is my link to otherness, the unseen in me, the odd child,

who rejects the cream for the undercurrent of her dream.

 

Crisp greens at the grocer, white roots, red fruit and purple aubergines.

The woman flicks brown paper to a cone, scoops pickled kraut:

‘Take it, to nibble on your way.’ Warm wafts of steam rise up

from the cellar of the bakery, a scent of cinnamon lingers in the street.

Taming and bonding takes place; it’s easy to love and be loved

when food is bait and the tongue’s code for paradise is taste.

 

In shops, daily gossip thrives, turning the fate of familiar faces.

Sweet tongues do sour talk – the time it takes to pay – a hero is made

or falls from grace. Spells are cast: ‘No good will come of it,’

and refrained, ‘Just as I said, I knew it form the start.’

Confused, I veil my face and seek the last shop in the street.

Here my village becomes the village and its many tales can be read.

 

I inhale the vast promise of virgin books

and a smell of print more exciting than bread.

*     *     *    Ashen

An areal photo of my village, taken by my father.

Then there is me with my mum at the lake …

 

 

 

 

And a class picture, taken around that time, from primary school. You can click on the images here to enlarge them.

 

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