ex metum…

It seems to me that any thinking, rational humans have decided for themselves that life is precious and good – perhaps without knowing this choice has been made. An alternative view, that our sense of survival and self-preservation derives merely from instinct, would mean that none of us are more than creatures.

The universal view of how wonderful having a life and living it for as long as possible is best represented in legend by the world’s various Flood myths. Noah’s story and that of Utnapishtim (in the Epic of Gilgamesh) are the most well known but the concept is a worldwide and long-standing one – appearing in the lore of at least a few dozen cultures.

Most involve the construction of a boat; those that do not indicate that survivors climbed tall trees or the highest mountains to reach safety. In Greek mythology, there was a deluge of incredible magnitude at least three times, two of which marked the end of a specific Age. The first of the three was considered an ancient event by those we now call the ancient Greeks.

After the second the line of Deucalion and Pyrrha to the end of the Heroic Age consists of ten generations. The chronology of Archbishop James Ussher places the Genesis Flood at 2348 ʙᴄ. This can’t be made to match timelines of Greek myth as the end of the end of the Bronze Age is estimated somewhere between 1480 and 1450ʙᴄ. It is interesting to note that the 2nd Christian Age also lasts ten generations – from Noah and Emzara to Abraham and Sarah.

generation

I don’t mean to suggest here the Flood myths and traditions are all the same. Further, I do not support the claim that a very widespread myth is in and of itself evidence of an otherwise unsubstantiated event in prehistory. The dates can’t be forced to match. Hesiod’s list of Ages does not align with that of St. Augustine.

What all the world’s epic disasters do seem to have in common is the reaction to the perception that things are getting worse all the time. The philosophy of “life sucks and then you die” and the complaint about “these kids today and their haircuts” are nothing new but they become amplified when society is seen as being in decline.

The notion that might makes right also has a long history and gains strength in such times whether the decline is real or not. In essence, the diagnosis of social woe is: “The Divine has forsaken us for we have lost our righteous way.” From this point the reaction in myth and sociology follows a similar pattern.

realmyth

This is all shockingly familiar in today’s political climate – but really not the point of these stories if life truly is precious and good. Not to be too cute about it but I think we’ve missed the boat.

Hesiod did not suggest what Age would follow his own times. And the implied 7th Age of St. Augustine starts with the End of Days. In the first formulation one might expect something worse than the Dark Ages but even that would be preferable to the prevailing current meaning of apocalypse.

Since Hesiod is silent and we believe life is so precious and so good we’ll go to heroic lengths to preserve and maintain it, let’s not assume that the best days are behind us in an ever more remote Golden Age. Such an Age should be held as an ideal to strive toward rather than a long-ago lofty perch from which we’ve fallen (and continue to fall). If we can’t actually reach Ages of Silver or Gold, I’d settle with joy for a new Heroic Age.

Rather than paint the sort of heroism required by who is condemned and who is spared I’d prefer to define righteousness by who best points the way and lights the path.


dear Brutus…

dna chain

In mid-May of 2014, at the 60th anniversary of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC), Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) was quoted as stating the equivalent of “There’s no gene for invasion in Chinese people’s blood.”

In late June of that year, Jürgen Klinsmann, the head coach of United States Men’s National Soccer Team (USMNT) said, “It’s not in the U.S. DNA to go out and play for a draw, nor is it in the German DNA, we’ll both be playing to win.”

The phrase “not in our DNA” has long been a bête noire for me. The connotation is, more often than not, used to state an aversion somehow built in to the behavior of a person or group. As such, it is a reversal of the late ‘90s business jargon of “corporate DNA”. In that context it was meant to express what was part of a company’s vision, mission, and culture. It has evolved into what could become a dangerous misconception based on casual misuse.

While technically correct, behavior is not dictated by DNA, the metaphor has become very common in American political discourse. In May of 2011, then presidential candidate Herman Cain voiced the opinion that being No. 2 economically and militarily is not in our DNA. This bad habit is not limited to the GOP either; their critics often charge that “unlike the conservatives, it’s just not in our DNA.”

Often this is used to hint at one position having moral superiority over the opposing side. Last year, President Obama opined that discrimination casts “a long shadow and that’s still part of our DNA that’s passed on.”

Misuse of “DNA” and what result it may or may not produce is probably unrelated to doubt of or actual opposition to science. For the most part, we trust doctors to use true understanding of genetics to treat or prevent disease. Increasingly we expect forensicologists to employ the same discipline either to convict or exonerate in matters of jurisprudence.

But at the same time the suspicion that the moon landing was a hoax persists and the anti-vaxxer subculture has been gaining strength for more than a century; it’s nothing new.

If we’re not careful about science, whether from ignorance or Luddism, in fiction or reality we run the risk of making potentially tragic mistakes. The Inquisition tried Galileo for heresy in 1633. He was sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life. Pope Urban VIII had acted out of anger and fear of science and its implications. Considering other acts of the Inquisition, Galileo got off lucky. It took the Vatican almost 360 years to come full circle on their decision with Pope John Paul II finally admitting the errors of the Catholic Church in that regard.

Misapprehension of science including genetics did not spare Alan Turing unfortunate and severe persecution. The father of artificial intelligence and hero of breaking the German Enigma cipher machines during WWII was honored in 1945 with induction to the Order of the British Empire. Six years later he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.

The following year he was convicted of gross indecency (homosexuality was considered criminal in the United Kingdom from 1885 to 1967) and given a choice between imprisonment and probation. He chose the latter but that forced him agree to hormonal treatment designed to reduce libido. It is a widely held belief this judgment led to Turing committing suicide.

It may be hyperbolic to suggest that “It’s not in our DNA.” could lead to future attempts to cure racial or ideological diversity. There probably won’t be further recourse to medicine to enforce conformity with regard to gender binary. But misconceptions, like their cousin – superstition, die hard.

There are dangers in a political climate where one side seeks to make opposition illegal, or worse, misuse science to eradicate it. I can’t – and I don’t think we should – avoid the worry that any belief that fault lies in our stars (i.e., that our behavior is chained to our DNA) could end in catastrophe.


What would Master Zhūang say?

In the opinion of this author, there is not as much value in dream dictionaries as I’d like. One can provide assistance to someone in the interpretation of their dream experience but it seems inadvisable to dictate a specific meaning for each symbol. At least four factors govern the meaning of a dream symbol to an individual dreamer, not the least of which being the dreamer’s knowledge and opinions formed during waking life. The other factors depend on circumstance and culture. An anchor may mean something entirely different from one dream to the next ὄναρ or in another 梦想. And certainly all of these would represent divergent things to someone who makes or uses anchors as opposed to someone who doesn’t.

Similarly, there are certain assumptions put forward in psychology about the meaning of doodles. Circles, for example, are said by some to indicate a desire for a more peaceful or organized state. How each person thinks of them – what they may represent during and after drawing a few – is the same as dreaming. Probably during my elementary school years the circle began to serve as the symbol of introspection. This has gradually evolved closer to the idea of an orbit – such as an electron around the nucleus of an atom held in place by electromagnetic force. A moon in the gravity well of a planet, if you will.

The moon, planet, and gravity well as a set represent my understanding of myself and the world around me. The orbital path illustrates that maintaining comprehension is an on-going process. Additional satellites each indicate a separate interest. If I lose interest in something, it has reached “escape velocity”. Those ideas that come back seemingly seasonally to distract me are comparable to long-term comets. Anything not “in orbit” is outside the range of interest. It hasn’t caught my attention – or, in this metaphor – I haven’t caught interest in it yet.

Since I became aware of the word affinity I’ve had an affinity for it. From the 1600s to the present day, it has been used to describe an attraction to something. During the three centuries prior to that, affinity was used to refer to a relation by marriage. Ultimately, the term derives from the Latin affinis or ad + finis, meaning “to the limit or boundary of” – in essence, the state of being adjacent. Affinity is a handy explanation for why people do what they do: they’ve an affinity for it, whatever it is.

Just as the definition of affinity has evolved – symbols change their meanings over time. The anchor in future dreams may have little in common with interpretations today. Literally today, in the field of psychology, there is debate on the veracity of the theory of ego depletion. (For those who are more curious, consult next month’s Perspectives on Psychological Science.) Mention is made of it here because this could signal an evolution in certain theories of human behavior.

And while I likely won’t abandon the “orbital” mechanism for introspection, I do think I’ve a new metaphor for affinities — they’re a quite specific form of pocket or niche. There’s engineering behind why a honeycomb looks the way it does. Comparable principles dictate that any three bubbles that connect will form 120° angles between them. If oneself is a pocket of interest, one’s range of interest would include adjacent pockets.

In a honeycomb, this would result in just six interests – all of equal proportion even to the central or “self” pocket. A globe in a volume of identical globes will touch twelve others at a maximum.

The visual metaphor for one’s range of interest is probably pockets of air in a volume of bubbles. Foam. Not all of our interests have equal attention paid to them. They don’t all last for the same duration. The adjacency still applies; anything non-adjacent to the “self” bubble is out of range. In a volume of foam, whichever bubble represents the self (and self-interest) is surrounded not only on one plane but above and/or below as well.

Bubble theory

Funny story… Guess what the universe looks like at the grandest scale presently possible.

foam

It’s a bit of a foam. I’m not saying anything. I’m thinking a lot, though.

The other handy think “bubble affinity theory” provides is the idea that if bubbles could overlap instead of mutually building walls they would form lenses. Almost a year ago I was struck by the notion that we see each other through a lens defined by our respective sense of self.

We should expect this to evolve as well.


It’s poetry in motion…

We are – for lack of a better word – programmed to look for meaning. Our education works to enhance this natural tendency. It may be why some have an affinity for sacred geometry. Certainly Johannes Kepler attempted to demonstrate that meaning was a built-in feature the solar system (Mysterium Cosmographicum, 1596).

Kepler-solar-system-1The phenomenon of one or two orbits helping to predict the next may not be by design but gravity does create some poems in the cosmos. Resonances – such as that between Jupiter’s moons of Io, Ganymede and Europa – are my favorite example. For each of Io’s orbits, Europa makes two and Ganymede makes four.

Galilean_moon_Laplace_resonance_animation_2But science is not the only field of study.

Imagine there were some mental equivalent of gravity and celestial bodies. Suppose that this explains why certain ideas – presumed forgotten – return to us from time to time. Or that it is precisely why certain locations are thought to be frequented by ghosts. Wouldn’t that be cool?

For quite a long while I have enjoyed this poetry and I can see why it has an appeal, particularly in astrology. It would be very nice to know why the wheels seem to fall off the wagon when Mercury is in retrograde (which it isn’t) or why it’s a good idea to be more mindful when Uranus is in retrograde (and it is). And though these changes are not caused by planetary action, the poetry serves as a reminder that they do, however, happen.

Notwithstanding ☿ and ⛢, et al. – or haunting thoughts or spirits – the cosmos is a very big and usually unpredictable place. Maybe it’s unfair to consider astrology a pseudoscience.

Certain aspects are really just a To Do List.