The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Photo ...

I just haven’t had the inspiration for any picture-taking lately, so I decided to take a walk up to the reservation after dinner this evening. I still wasn’t inspired, until this mourning dove decided to humor me for a few moments while I took his picture. He was obviously a bit annoyed with my presence, interfering with his evening contemplations. So he soon flew off into a tree, abandoning this nice rocky perch along the ledge.

But hey. The rock will still be there tomorrow, and I’ll be somewhere else. Hopefully we shall both live to contemplate another day.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:30 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, June 26, 2010
Personal Reflections ...

Taking my cue from the late, great Joseph Campbell, I will state here that myths are important to people. In modern America, most of us would claim that we “aren’t into” myths; we deal in facts and reality. But then along come the foils, follies and foibles of real life, and we go running for our myths. We just don’t like to call them myths. We call them “therapy” or “philosophy” or “religion” or “literature” or “entertainment”. Or even “science”. At some point, all of these things depend upon assumptions that sound good but just can’t be proven, upon things we would like to believe, on leaps of faith. Some are just more honest about it than others.

The classic myths can inspire heroism, but also teach and explain why human beings often fall short. The Iliad and Odyssey tell of great battles and heroic efforts, but also of human blindness and foolishness; and also the fickle finger of fate. Some myths are simple, others long and complex. But at bottom, they help the reader to make some sense out of life even when it seems utterly senseless. Myths don’t always offer hope and redemption; sometimes they tell you “that’s just the way it is”. But at least they help you to resolve yourself to it.

My nutshell definition of a “myth” is a story that means something important, something very personal, to those who enjoy the story.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:49 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Current Affairs ... Economics/Business ...

As noted in my June 10 entry, I’ve been doing some reading lately about whether our industrialized / “civilized” world, which most everyone who might read this blog lives in and depends upon in order to stay alive, is fragile and vulnerable to collapse. There was a good article on this in the NY Times on April 30 called It’s Complicated: Making Sense of Complexity.

In a nutshell, the term “complexity” formerly signified progress such as advances in technology and innovative government structures. Today, when all of our economic, governmental, communication and social systems are strongly tied together by technology and performance management, the complexity of it all is running into the law of unintended consequences. There was an article two years ago in New Scientist called “Are We Doomed?” This kind of thinking is becoming typical amidst the techno-intellectuals in academia; even the more reserved professorial types ponder “end-of-civilization” scenarios these days.

A good academic summary on techno-fragility is “The Hidden Fragility of Complex Systems — Consequences of Change, Changing Consequences”, written by complexity expert James P. Crutchfield.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:03 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Politics ... Religion ...

In my last post, I noted the destruction by lightening of ‘Touchdown Jesus’ down in fundamentalist Ohio, and commented on the tendency of Christianity in general (and evangelical Christianity, in particular) to favor grandiose images of its Savior despite the injunction against graven images from the religion actually practiced by Jesus (i.e., Judaism). I also made some positive references to the philosophies of the Buddhists in contrapoint.

Since then, it has occurred to me that the Buddhists have never been shy about keeping statues of the Buddha, some incredibly large. Interestingly (and also distressingly), some very large and ancient Buddha statues carved into mountain cliffs in Afghanistan were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001, blown to bits by dynamite and other weapons.

Archeologists and historians were extremely upset by this; hopefully the Buddhists took it in stride. Huge statues intentionally placed in public view step over the line between spiritual power and world power, between teaching and politics. Buddhists have not been immune to politics, of course, and Buddhist war is not unheard of. But the founders of both Buddhism and Christianity were men of peace; they were teachers and not politicians. Their followers have certainly strayed into politics, often with bad results. Perhaps both Touchdown Jesus and the Buddhas of Bamiyan are good reminders of the wisdom behind the Second Commandment.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:09 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Current Affairs ... Spirituality ...

The news buzz recently turned away from the BP Gulf oil disaster for a few moments to note the fiery demise of “Touchdown Jesus”, a 62 foot high statue of Jesus formerly residing along the baptismal pond at the Rock of Rock Church near Cincinnati.

The statue, a partial bust from the waist up, portends to show Jesus triumphant from the cross, raising his hands up towards the heavens (not unlike the way that a football referee signals a touchdown). Unfortunately, this Jesus was not built for the ages. The statue was built up with plastic foam and fiberglass surrounding a steel frame. It was hit by lightening a few nights ago and caught fire, leaving nothing but charred metal remaining.

The “blue state” liberal/agnostic types who don’t have much regard for “red state” spiritual expressions such as Touchdown Jesus  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:08 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, June 13, 2010
Photo ...

I’m still brooding over the “collapse of civilization” idea. I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime. And I would say that the chances of it happening by the year 2100 are between 5 and 10 percent. But it still is kind of “mind-blowing” to think there’s a possibility that humankind could experience a combined economic, social and population collapse that could take us back perhaps to the year 1700. (I thought that threat passed with the end of the Cold War. Guess not.)

Within the past 10 years, here in the USA we’ve seen a fair amount of calamity and negativity, including: Hurricane Katrina; Nine-Eleven; the Gulf Oil Spill; the Health Care Crisis; Political Gridlock; the new “Angry at the Government” movement in the US, i.e. the Tea Party; a Housing Market Collapse that became a Financial System Collapse; destruction of 2 of 5 US Manned Spaceships; and an on-going Middle Eastern War. That’s a lot of drag on the system. Not enough to break us, but . . .

Nonetheless, I think it’s time for me to take a break. So I’m posting two nice shots that I took many years ago, somewhere along the Atlantic Ocean, somewhere in Connecticut or Massachusetts. It’s time to just enjoy the moment, while we still have it.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:51 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Society ... Socrates Cafe ...

The Socrates Café meeting last Tuesday seemed like a sleeper to me. The topic for the evening was, what is a corporation’s moral responsibility in our society? This was inspired by the on-going BP deepwater oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico near Louisiana. Oh, what a surprise; so original. For the first hour or so, I just couldn’t get interested. Montclair is a town for educated liberals, and most of the people at the meeting are . . . guess what? Educated liberals. Thus, the conversation was peppered with anti-business rants and “I heard on NPR today that . . .” If I wanted that, I could have stayed home and pulled up the Huffington Post. I listen to NPR on my drive home from work, and I had already heard most of what the local wanna-be revolutionaries were talking about.

But finally, finally, someone said something interesting and thoughtful. During the middle of a lecture on corporate greed, a woman stopped and reflected on how complex the world had become. About fifteen minutes later, after an anti-Tea Party speech, she ended with an observation on how frustrated everyone seems to be these days with our leaders. Well, I finally woke up and joined the discussion. The moderator graciously gave me the floor, and I suggested to the previous speaker that perhaps the quandary noted in her second comment stemmed from what she had identified in her first. I.e., perhaps everyone is frustrated with our leadership these days just because our leaders are being overwhelmed by complexity themselves. Our leaders aren’t pushing the right buttons, because no one really knows what buttons should be pushed anymore.

(It’s happened before; see The Collapse of Complex Societies, Joseph Tainter, 1988)

A scary thought.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:07 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, June 6, 2010
Politics ... Socrates Cafe ...

Last week at the local Socrates Cafe meeting, a very good question was raised for discussion: whether science or religion were the more arrogant in nature. In the end, the group more or less concluded that in their pure, spiritual forms, both science and religion are not arrogant. However, we live in a politically charged society, and both science and religion are social institutions. So, they can’t help but become political; and politics seem to inspire arrogance.

Whenever people get together to assert joint interests, whether as a political party or a labor union or a social activist group, a collection of reasonable and humble individuals often start asserting and believing positions about their righteousness and the wrongness of all who oppose them which go beyond what they might have concluded in isolation. There’s just something about the group dynamic, about the reinforcement dynamic of people interacting in groups.

Thru this “echo chamber amplification” effect,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:11 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, June 3, 2010
Current Affairs ... Science ...

I recently found out about RADIOLAB, a popular hour- long radio show from NPR about science and philosophy. Thanks to Khan of the Socrates Café group for putting me on to it. Actually, it’s kind of hard to listen to RADIOLAB on the radio, as they only make five episodes each year. It’s mostly an internet pod-cast thing; you can listen anytime to any of the episodes made since 2002, when RADIOLAB got started. Also, they put a handful of additional “shorts” on their site each season.

The RADIOLAB producers producers often focus on topics relating to the brain and mind, or to numbers and modern physics. Well, if you know anything at all about me or my blog, you know that science and philosophy and mind-stuff are right up my alley (even though I often get mugged in that alley). So, I got out the earplugs and started catching up with RADIOLAB.

After listening to 5 or 6 full episodes and 7 or 8 mini-podcasts,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:14 pm       Read Comments (5) / Leave a Comment
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