Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Damage Done?

You and I need to grow up. We have little choice. The years from babyhood to adult, or to the day we die are filled with lessons. And we may see those lessons as the damage done, in many cases, or as the passages by which we in turn have learned not only to survive, or thrive, but also to give us the experience for empathy, consideration, care, and compassion for others.

We sit on a bench beside the popular pathway along the ocean shore, my long-time old friend and I. A young couple in their 30's are panting and perspiring as they overtake five younger women also headed in our direction. They all pass by and I think I overhear:

"Ew! A sweat drop hit me! When they run that close I'd like to trip them!"

"Check out her lard ass," comments another, leaning over, colluding.

"Wouldn't be caught dead wearing that outfit," responds yet another.

"There but for the grace of God go I," the fourth demurs.

"Nice that she's out with her husband, trying to keep fit though," offers the fifth.

At which her friends lean over, almost musical in unison, and tease, "Oh, trust you!" Giggle.

And they wend their way.

Our pathways from birth to now are like that, full of observation, comment, reaction, responses, provocations, misunderstandings, and temptations. We cannot but help grow up under the influence of others, of our culture, our country, our parents, our friends, our teachers and...

The lesson is always there to be learned, but do we always learn all from the lesson? Evidently not, and so the lessons repeat in ever increasing cycles of differentiation, however subtly, with an essential essence at their core; the ethics and integrity of the individual. Would that such concepts have been articulated when I was a child! Would that all children be made cognizant of such precepts  at their earliest ages, with love and care and compassion and nurturing from the most mature and insightful and integrative of elders, in ever increasing spirals, but...

Too many of us have suffered abuse and maltreatment and war and poverty and the insecurities of disenfranchisement and the imposition of paradigms established by others and the sad or bad consequences of our own choices en route. We kinda all know that. Yet we also too easily perpetuate the negativity and the harshness and the dismissive-ness and even the unkind. We too easily do not think ethically (let alone enact it), and we too easily cheat our own integrity by thinking we can get away with things when 'others do not know.' And too many of us then drag the anchor of our shame along the pathways of our route, letting its weight trip us up, hold us back, or go round and round in circles. Fundamentally, we understand, deeply, though we may not conceive of it nor understand it, what P.B. Shelley meant by, "And perne [my soul] in a gyre."  Few dictionaries contain perne. Knowledge is not all. We whirl in spirals of insight, or?

It is that precise spiralling in our evolutionary process that allows for compassion, forgiveness, understanding, acceptance, and inclusion. "A gentleman is defined not so much by what he thinks and does in front of others," intoned my old Headmaster, "but by what he does and thinks when he is all by himself!" Ethics, and Integrity; indeed, now there's the gyre of one's perseverance!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Transcendent Man (A Review)

Immortality is more immediate, apparently, than we can foresee. By 2029, (a mere 14 years from now,) we shall sufficiently have integrated technology into the human being that he (or she) indeed shall have become ‘A Transcendent’. It means that one’s aging innards can be implanted with nano-bots so small as to circulate in the bloodstream, entirely overcoming our natural katabolism. Yes! Ordinarily as we reach our young 30’s we begin naturally to decline. Our bodies are no longer easily in anabolism, such that our regeneration and rejuvenation takes longer; we wrinkle and age and slowly but surely decay. But not necessarily after 2029! We shall have the technological capability to live forever! Not only that, we shall have the ability thanks to brain and nerve implants to be Omniscient and Omnipresent and Omnipotent at that! Truly! (At least, according to Ray Kurzweil.) He wrote, The Singularity is Near. And it’s fascinating stuff. He also is the subject of the documentary, Transcendent Man. Well, it all is a mesmerizing probability!
Yes, he has his detractors. (Imagine trying to explain television to a cave-man?) Yes, he has the Religious Right up in arms. (Imagine confronting a man who says God is not yet awake, nor will exist until brought into being by The Singularity!) Yes, this Singularity is the enmeshing of man and machine and technology such that all information, all knowledge, all constructs and probabilities (think of what 3-Dimensional printers are already producing) are immediately at one’s command. Transcendent Man will engender an entirely new paradigm, integrative and assimilative and absorptive and inclusive and altogether able to create new dimensions and even material things just by virtue of his interconnection with The Whole, not only globally, but Universally.(In such Oneness are some of my individual indignities not suffered?)
Yes, Kurzweil has his gainsayers. What arguments and contentions and beliefs and fears do we not each put forward? And yes, several scientists and physicists and biologist pooh-pooh his pronouncements, but... What if he is right?

Kurzweil, deeply affected by his father’s death in 1970, seeks immortality. For us all! Now a billionaire thanks to his genius with very many technical products (heard of the Kurzweil reader for the blind?) he points out the growing intelligence already inherent in our machines (ever wrangled with the computer intuitive-spellchecker?) and emphasizes the rapidity of technology’s exponential evolution. It was a mere decade from DOS to the Internet. It took less for bulky cell-phones to shrink to the size of credit cards. Technology is so exponential that we hardly can conceive of the possibilities. (Recall when Skype was a thing one saw, with awe, on Star Trek?) Hm? Who’da thunk we’d be where we are at now??
Throughout the documentary, and in his book, Artificial Intelligence is the buzz-phrase, and accreting our Knowledge and Ability are the overriding concepts. We transcend biology. We transcend our beliefs. We transcend our limitations. We can transcend our individuality to be a participant in “The Singularity”.

For me there are three factors that basically govern Man: His Biology; His Knowledge (as used by his Intelligence); and His States of Consciousness. For me, it is one’s states-of-consciousness that most will determine one’s degrees of Enlightenment, not knowledge. Kurzweil naturally interlinks Knowledge, Intelligence, and Consciousness in the documentary (which is more likely to be seen than his dense book is to be read). For him Knowledge and Artificial Intelligence are the paramount operatives. For me, were we indeed to become Omni-All, then at what level is ego-mania, evil-intention, and all-power no longer an issue; other than that a person, an Individual, be more enabled to be entirely caring, compassionate, and serving the Whole? Hm? I say, bring on 2029 and beyond! (Don’t you wanna be aroun’ to see it??)

Monday, February 2, 2015

M'Lady's Mirror

Pregnant with possibility, Arnolfi had to have her. That’s what the 1434 painter, Jan van Eyck displayed. The small convex mirror behind the couple in the painted bedroom revealed all. It had an eye on the present, and the past. Its convex circular shape gathered in all that happens in 180 degrees to left and right, and 360 degrees in the round. Yet that which was behind (like that which was in the past) was entirely forgotten. Unlike humans, it could not recall the image. It lived only in the present, absorbing the immediate, and taking in the complex and multiple dimensionality of life that few humans, at a glance, could possibly be expected to see.

M’Lady Nancy Sinclair has just reminded me that she bequeathed to me her family heirloom, the convex mirror now hanging above her fireplace in her living room in Guildford, South Western Australia, “When I drop off the perch!” Her phraseology is idiomatic and platitudinous. Yet she is very brave, very accepting, and generously perspicuous so to email me. At 93 years old and still young, alert, brilliant, gifted, beautiful, caring and compassionate, M’Lady’s gift is of a mirror that has travelled with her most of her adult life. It’s seen her five children grow up. It’s seen her dear departed husband and all her dearest friends and relatives and visitors as well. It has taken in much of her life. It has watched her smile and weep. And it still reflects her lonely opening of the living-room curtains every morning, and the closing of them at night. “You must tell me now,” she entreated me in her museum-like-house of artefacts when I was there in 2013, “what item would you like to have from me when I drop off the perch?”

Awkward moments, those. With things, which of us does not feel like a vulture?

“Oh, I couldn’t,” I demurred. “Besides, you’ve a decade or two to go yet; there’ll be no flopping from a perch, thank you!”

But when she asked again, and again, I succumbed, and mentioned the convex mirror. Her blue eyes sparkled as she looked at it, then at me. “That’s exactly what my beloved Perry wanted too!” she exclaimed. “But he died before I did.” She smiled again. “It’s yours! When I go. But you must tell me, why?”

I downloaded van Eck’s ‘The Marriage of Arnolfi’ onto her computer. “When I was a schoolboy in the late 60’s,” I explained, “our art master, Mr. Payne, asked us what was special about the painting; what did we notice? For South African boys, it was a matter of indelicacy, this business of being pregnant, but when he said, ‘look in the mirror,’ my world of symbolism was born! And now that I’ve seen that mirror in your family pictures, I know its import to you, its history. It may well reflect our own present as we stand before it, but it will always reflect you!”
Present and past converge and get reflected in the convex surfaces of our lives, get swallowed up in the concave. Unlike mirrors, we see backwards sometimes more clearly than our present. (How often have you not wished you could repeat some passage of time to say or do different things?) Upon reflection, we gather insights that we did not have in the moment. Yet we are not as objectively perceptive as mirrors; we are not even as subjectively reflective! We can but hope to gather into ourselves sufficient unto the moment. How possibly to live entirely in the now?

The mirror sees all.

Framed in the round, reflecting in the round, even when that magical mirror of M’Lady's makes its dark way packed up in the mail to me one eventual sad day, it will reflect a past filled with love and vitality and a lifetime of her memories. And like the indelibility of the magic in the mirror in Van Eck’s painting, I too shall make M’Lady’s mirror live on in a canvas of my own.