Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Jungian archaeology and the Palaeolithic Venus: conclusion

Venus of Brassempouy
Photo: Mathis Patrick
cropped to golden proportion,
stand removed.
When I found  J. T. Thomas' paper, The Cousins of Sarah Baartman, it struck me that it was pertinent both to my series, The Palaeolithic artist, and to my concept of a Jungian archaeology.

Facing a lack of physical evidence about the motives of the prehistoric artist, the archaeologist must inject suppositions and the source of these can be nowhere but the mind of that archaeologist. Archaeology obtains its results purely from physical evidence so we have to ask ourselves to what degree of psychological materialism is the archaeologist working from and how much did that psychology play a part in the adoption of archaeology as an interest? In other words we cannot study the object without also studying the subject (the observer). At the very least, the subject formulates questions about the object.

In recent years, the subject of art has come under scrutiny by archaeologists and the consensus of opinion has separated ancient art from modern art to a very great degree: art for art's sake has been rejected in ancient art, but the only studies that have been done on the subject have involved not the creative processes of the artist, but the reception and function of the art, itself. I maintain that this is a projection of the materialist psychology and that its consensus is partly due to to agreement from minds of the same psychological type and partly due to the fact that the materialist psychology is strongest in extraverted types who are favoured in organizations and who are more forceful in transmitting their wishes than introverted types.

An archaeological organization or group wishing to embrace Jungian concepts would organize itself more along the lines of an impartial think tank and thus select people who, together, displayed a balanced psychological viewpoint. Only by doing this could objectivity be better approached. Communication is very difficult for for people on opposite ends of the introvert/extravert spectrum and the best scientific collaborations are always made by people that are opposite in this spectrum but much closer to the middle as such people can communicate very well and have a great deal of respect and even admiration for each other.

But given the setting up of such an ideal crew, the mind of the prehistoric artist might seem to be unavailable. While this is true for particular, specific and conscious thoughts, it is not true for the underlying psychological components from which these specific thoughts issue in the same way that the thoughts issue from the archaeologist depending on their degree of extraversion/introversion; materialism/spiritualism and so on.

For the last part of these dichotomies, Jung's observation about the unconscious will be considered both valid and more importantly, applicable: As deeper levels of the unconscious are revealed, the first loss is that of language which is replaced by mental pictures. Going deeper, the mental pictures lose their subjectivity and become geometrical arrangements e.g. Jung's quarternity and his extraverted collaborator, Wofgang Pauli's dominant double-triadic symbol (section 3.2)

The mind/brain duality becomes quite useful for such an archaeological crew as I envision because the materialist can come to the same conclusions by looking at the evolutionary development of the brain, itself: The reptilian brain does nothing more than regulate the physical processes, but the human brain evolved from primates and is capable of conscious thought, abstraction and language.Between these two is the limbic brain which appeared in the first mammals and "It can record memories of behaviours that produced agreeable and disagreeable experiences, so it is responsible for what are called emotions in human beings.". Clearly, this is also the part of the brain that governs aesthetics as it is very common for artists to be unable to state exactly why they did a certain thing beyond the statement that it "felt right". So, this leads us back again to the concepts of art and aesthetics as discussed by Jung; the "peak experiences" of Maslow (which can be both aesthetic and religious) and Joyce's definition of "proper art".

John's Coydog Community page

Friday, 20 May 2016

Jungian archaeology and the Palaeolithic Venus: part four

Morph between an Altamira Cave bull and one
drawn by Pablo Picasso, John Hooker
 (public domain).

If I had known I was going to use this graphic
more than just once, I might have done a
better job in creating it!

"Picasso and Altamira

We are all familiar with Picasso’s (1881-1973) phrase, after a visit to the Altamira Cave where he admired the rupestral drawings: “after Altamira, everything is decadence.” By saying that, Picasso granted an absolute originality and an artistic essentiality, never to be repeated, to the Palaeolithic men who painted those caves in a very distant time (18,500 – 16,500 b.p.). In a certain way, this phrase fits together with his own artistic agenda, interested in breaking with the pictorial classicism – despite his enormous respect for the masters. This will lead him to “cubism”, one of the movements with greatest impact in western art and one of the engines of the so called “modernist rupture”." Paulo Pereira

VIII. In the Cave of Forgotten Dreams

I wish that I had known of J. D. Thomas' paper while I was writing my series The Palaeolithic artist. Thomas says:
"While it is clear the Venuses are symbols of something, what they are symbols of we will never know: unlike stone tools, symbolism doesn’t preserve very well in the ground, or in the back of the cave, or anywhere else for that matter. Produced by minds as cognitively sophisticated as our own, the Venus figurines are no more interpretativly available to us than Les Demoiselles d’Avignon would be to a Paleolithic person who stumbled across it."
Jung, in Spirit in Man, Art, And Literature: On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry.(Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 15), says:
"Art by its very nature is not science, and science by its very nature is not art; both these spheres of the mind have something in reserve that is peculiar to them and can be explained only in its own terms. Hence when we speak of the relation of psychology to art, we shall treat only of that aspect of art which can be submitted to psychological scrutiny without violating its nature. Whatever the psychologist has to say about art will be confined to the process of artistic creation and has nothing to do with its innermost essence. He can no more explain this than the intellect can describe or even understand the nature of feeling. Indeed, art and science would not exist as separate entities at all if the fundamental difference between them had not long since forced itself on the mind. The fact that artistic, scientific, and religious propensities still slumber peacefully together in the small child, or that with primitives the beginnings of art, science, and religion coalesce in the undifferentiated chaos of the magical mentality, or that no trace of “mind” can be found in the natural instincts of animals— all this does nothing to prove the existence of a unifying principle which alone would justify a reduction of the one to the other. For if we go so far back into the history of the mind that the distinctions between its various fields of activity become altogether invisible, we do not reach an underlying principle of their unity, but merely an earlier, undifferentiated state in which no separate activities yet exist."
Jung's lamentations are about the limitations of understanding art at a level that has not yet been reached by archaeology. Archaeology requires solid evidence and art is only ever discussed with regards to its interpretive meaning of the product: the actual process of artistic creation is completely invisible to archaeology. We can see evidence of this in the way that artistic creations are said, by archaeologists, to be the property of everyone, even though this is usually applied only in nationalistic terms. Artists in the classical period sometimes signed their work; they followed available markets and patrons; they were happy to export their work to wherever it might be purchased. The intentions of ancient artists are regarded as nothing in archaeology, their thoughts are silenced and they have less status than any member of the the public. But is not that archaeologists hate artists, it is that, for the most part, they cannot perceive them at all. Aesthetics is non-material and to a materialist is less than worthless. Of course there are a minority of exceptions: art historian/archaeologists and archaeologists of a more postmodern outlook. Modernism sank into scientism.

In my series on the Palaeolithic artist, I emphasized the experiential: my experiences as an artist and my experiences exploring a cave. But I also dealt with the experiences of other artists and made quite a bit of use of Picasso's statement "After Altamira, all is decadence". There are those who think this phrase apocryphal because he never signed the visitor book at Altamira. This sort of criterion is included in the criticisms within Karl Popper's work: The Poverty of Historicism. Just imagine what it would feel like if everything that you had ever done that had left no written record was denied to have happened by everyone. Yet, what we have done in the past has shaped our present. We can see from my morph, above, that Picasso was familiar with with the Altamira Cave art. We also know that he owned reproductions of Palaeolithic Venus's and that they influenced his work.

The Brothel of Avignon (Le Bordel d’Avignon)
Retitled, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (Las chicas de Avignon)
Of all the many thousands of images of women that Thomas could have chosen as an an example in the quote above he chose this one by Picasso. That choice virtually proves the existence of the collective unconscious because it, and the artist who painted it bridges the gap between the Palaeolithic and the modern in art. A Palaeolithic artist would have understood it at once. The combination of different angles of view; the very aspect that brought about cubism, is also revealed with the morph I did where Picasso has changed the angles of parts of the original drawing in his interpretation. In the Altamira Cave, the artists took advantage of swellings of the rock face on which they painted their images to to produce an impression of movement of the figures as one passed them. Only through the medium of morphing can we see Picasso's thought process: it was an experiential process and the morph reveals the underlying movement in the artist's consciousness. But that is not all:

A boar at Altamira

It had to be a boar didn't it? Look at the dark lines
that express shadow, volume and movement against
their absence at the back of the boar's hindquarters.

I have used that trick, too, in my own paintings. So
did Cezanne, so did...
You can see the similarities in the use of lines in Picasso's painting and in the Altamira boar: their intermittent use to show volume and movement and the tapering which further emphasizes movement and graduated shadow. Compare, for example, the line defining the central woman's right breast with the line at the base of the boar's rump. This ability, most recognized in modern art, but which can also be seen, although in smaller detail and subtly, where it is entirely subservient to realism in works by Rembrandt, has created scepticism in many people over the years that these Palaeolithic paintings were ancient at all. Modern analysis and dating methods have confirmed their great antiquity, sometimes dating them even earlier than was previously assumed. So who other than Piccaso could have said "After Altamira, all is decadence". There is even more:

Natural light near the entrance of Moose Mountain Cave

The jagged appearance and fracture lines can be compared
to the same motifs in Picasso's painting.As limestone is
sedimentary, and an ancient seabed, it can fracture along
its strata as well as due to other forces. One such force is
conveniently shown in the screen shot here where,
on the left, a slab has fallen.
In the experience of caves, jagged and fractured rock is often strongly felt. I noticed it in the Moose Mountain Ice Caves having gone far deeper into them than most people have and far further than is possible today because ice has blocked access to the deeper levels. Although the Altamira Cave is of a different sort of rock, the fractures, strata and fallen rock can also be experienced there as this photograph of the Altamira Cave reveals. Incidentally, a geologist friend to whom I was describing my passage through a narrow chimney in the Moose Mountain Cave, commented that no one could even drag him into such a place. He was keenly aware of the ever-changing nature of such caves where rockfalls can block some passages and open others. Geologists, of course, see time greatly speeded up in their studies. Picasso's experiences in more than one cave has left its mark in works partially inspired by cave art. That most often, it is African masks that are cited as his inspiration is probably because such masks were in the present and people just cannot comprehend that the Palaeolithic artists were "modern artists" par excellence, in the  way that profoundly affected Picasso.

All of the images and their captions are taken from my series The Palaeolithic artist. The same themes are woven in and out throughout the series and are best revealed by a complete reading, but parts 117, 18, 19, and 27 will give you the most pertinent parts.

I will wrap this series up on Tuesday (I am taking Canada's Victoria Day off). Have an artistic weekend.

John's Coydog Community page

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Jungian archaeology and the Palaeolithic Venus: part three

Cole Porter in the 1930's

"In olden days, a glimpse of stocking 
Was looked on as something shocking. 
But now, God knows, 
Anything goes."

Excerpt from "Anything Goes", lyrics by Cole Porter, 1934.

VI. Paleoporn

In this section of J. T. Thomas' paper,  Cousins of Sarah Baartman he has is no hesitation in pointing out just how extreme can be modern people's ability to project the present onto the distant past, and as I read this section, Cole Porter's song "Anything Goes" sprung to mind.

While we can know nothing at all about the subject of this section, we might question why such a topic would even be projected onto the distant past. We are so bombarded by sensation in today's world it takes rather a lot to shock us and and even Cole Porter might draw the line at much of what appears today. But there are another aspects of this, too:

Malcolm Muggeridge said, "Pornography has always, of course, been popular, and enjoyed a wide, if usually under-the-counter, circulation ... Its avowed purpose is to excite sexual desire, which, I should have thought, is unnecessary in the case of the young, inconvenient in the case of the middle aged, and unseemly in the old."  He also said: "Sex is the mysticism of materialism and the only possible religion in a materialistic society". Archaeology is basically materialistic and when the subject of art comes up (as it did in section III of this paper), "Art for art's sake" is considered far too modern to be applicable in the Palaeolithic (and that is also true for archaeological claims about much later periods as well). I have always thought this to be a very short-sighted view: The aesthetic sense is part of our humanity and is not culture-specific. Maslow includes both the aesthetic and the religious experience in his "peak experiences" The problem is that you do not find too many materialistic artists and when archaeology write about art it is almost always about the reception and understanding  of art and not the production of art from the artist's point of view. For a more detailed look at this subject, see my experimental series, The Palaeolithic artist.

Joseph Campbell, in Mythic Worlds, Modern Words: Joseph Campbell on the Art of James Joyce (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell), p. 211-2, speaks about Joyce's ideas about proper and improper art:
"Proper art is art in the service of what is properly the function of art. Improper art is art in the service of something else. And, Joyce says, proper art is static and improper art is kinetic. Static art produces esthetic arrest. What, then, is the opposite of static art? What does Joyce mean by kinetic art? He tells us:
Desire is the feeling which urges us to go to something and loathing is the feeling which urges us to from something and that art is improper which aims at exciting these feelings in us whether by comedy or tragedy. 
"Pornographic art is art that excites desire, It is not proper art. If you see a picture of a dear old lady, for example, and you think, "What a lovely old soul! I'd love to have a cup of tea with her" -- that is pornography. You are exciting desire for a relationship to the object. Or you open a magazine and see a picture of a refrigerator and a beautiful girl standing beside it and smiling, and you think, "I would love to have a refrigerator like that." This is not art, Joyce says, it is pornography. ... Another type of improper art is art critical of society, art in the service of sociology. Such art excites loathing, and Joyce calls it "didactic art." Those who produce such art I call "didactic pornographers." "

So when you see archaeologists claim that ancient art is functional and not "art for art's sake", they are identifying all ancient art as pornographic on an unconscious level. The artist understands art completely differently and as something experiential. Some artists might believe what the archaeologist says and think that the aesthetic sense only existed in relatively modern people, but most, I believe, would not take such claims seriously at all for any period, even the Palaeolithic. Thus, it is no small wonder that the idea of the ancient Venus sculptures were pornography has bubbled up from a few archaeologists unconscious mind.

VII. From Paleoportraits to Performance Art

Here, a number of other theories are given, all from a modern perspective. There is nothing wrong in doing such providing that each would be either labelled as speculative or would contain supportive evidence either from the Palaeolithic time, or with a demonstration that such is particular to all human beings by their very nature, and thus would be true for Palaeolithic people. Without these criteria, accusations of projection could certainly follow.

The final section of the paper will be tomorrow's topic. Although this section is very short, I will have rather a lot to say about it.

John's Coydog Community page

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Jungian archaeology and the Palaeolithic Venus: part two

Venus of Laussel, cave art, 23rd millenium BC
V. Honest to Goddess

Thomas gets to the crux of the matter when he says:

"Critics of Gimbutas’ archaeomythological approach suggested there was little hard evidence to justify her interpretive leaps about a pervasive Goddess culture. (The oldest European Palaeolithic art is now thought to be a red disk and outlines of human hands in Northern Spain, but thus far no one’s suggested Ice Age sun or hand-worshipping cults). In any case, despite a six decade career devoted to unravelling the mysteries of the past, Gimbutas received somewhat of a critical lambasting and, like many other successful but decidedly old school archaeologists before her, saw some of her less controversial ideas too easily written off, partly because of shelf-date and partly because of mean-spirited professional jealousy." [some spellings changed]

Yet we can delve further into these topics using a Jungian perspective: "hard evidence" signifies an extraverted materialistic viewpoint and its possessors are often drawn more to archaeology than to mythology and even history. These same people only talk about religion and mythology in archaeology by using the term "ritual" as a ritual is a real-world enactment, and not its underlying, non-material, philosophy. Both "goddess" and "worshipping" are open to multiple interpretations, not just in the quoted passage, but in their use by critics of Gimbatus and even by Gimbutas herself. It is too easy to take modern concepts and project them backward. The concept of "sacredness" could well omit deities and worship and be more akin, in Palaeolithic times, to the Polynesian concept "Mana".

Taking the female principle more generally, Jung has this to say:
"In the case of the son, the projection-making factor is identical with the mother-imago, and this is consequently taken to be the real mother. The projection can only be dissolved when the son sees that in the realm of his psyche there is an imago not only of the mother but of the daughter, the sister, the beloved, the heavenly goddess, and the chthonic Baubo. Every mother and every beloved is forced to become the carrier and embodiment of this omnipresent and ageless image, which corresponds to the deepest reality in a man. It belongs to him, this perilous image of Woman; she stands for the loyalty which in the interests of life he must sometimes forgo; she is the much needed compensation for the risks, struggles, sacrifices that all end in disappointment; she is the solace for all the bitterness of life. And, at the same time, she is the great illusionist, the seductress, who draws him into life with her Maya— and not only into life’s reasonable and useful aspects, but into its frightful paradoxes and ambivalences where good and evil, success and ruin, hope and despair, counterbalance one another. Because she is his greatest danger she demands from a man his greatest, and if he has it in him she will receive it.
"This image is “My Lady Soul,” as Spitteler called her. I have suggested instead the term “anima,” as indicating something specific, for which the expression “soul” is too general and too vague."
Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 9 (Part 2): Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self: paragraphs 24-5
Moving into the more recent mythosphere, Jung also says:

"To the men of antiquity the anima appeared as a goddess or a witch, while for medieval man the goddess was replaced by the Queen of Heaven and Mother Church." 
Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 9 (Part 1): Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious: paragraph 61

The "multi-breasted" Ephesian Diana
Photo: Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.

Joseph Campbell, in The Power of Myth, p.44  reveals the syncretistic events that led to what Jung had to say about the Queen of Heaven and Mother Church:

"MOYERS: So when the Council of Ephesus met in the year 431 after the death of Christ, and proclaimed Mary to be the Mother of God, it wasn't the first time?

"CAMPBELL: No, in fact that argument had been going on in the Church for some time. But the place where this decision was made, at Ephesus, happened at that time to be the greatest temple city in the Roman Empire of the Goddess Artemis, or Diana. And there is a story that when the council was in session, arguing this point, the people of Ephesus formed picket lines and shouted in praise of Mary, "The Goddess, the Goddess, of course she's the Goddess.""

So why was syncretism not considered by the critics of Gimbutas' theories? There is much more to that than just "mean-spirited professional jealousy." Not only were the people of Ephesus clearly engaging in metaphor. Mary was, in reality, not Diana, Artemis, or the Great Mother Goddess. Even Diana and Artemis are not just Latin and Greek names for the same goddess, but different goddesses that had become syncretized through some shared characteristics. A materialistic mentality rejects metaphor and it also requires proofs linked as if a chain. The mind does not work in such a manner, but the extraverted materialist never looks inward and that sort of content remains unconscious.

Richard J. Bernstein's critical pragmatic fallibilism is a more realistic way that the mind works when it not being repressed by materialistic and linear thinking:
"The philosopher who most carefully and penetratingly distinguishes epistemological skepticism from human fallibilism is Charles Sanders Peirce. Peirce criticizes the picture of scientific reasoning that represents it as a linear movement from premises to conclusions or from individual "facts" to generalizations. In its place he emphasizes the multiple strands and diverse types of evidence, data, hunches, and arguments used to support a scientific hypothesis or theory. Any one of these strands may be weak in itself and insufficient to support the proposed theory, but collectively they provide a stronger warrant for rational belief than any single line of argument -- like a strong cable that is made up of multiple weak strands. This shift in characterizing scientific argumentation is one of the reasons Peirce so emphasized the community of inquirers -- for it is only in and through such a critical community that one can adequately test the collective strength of such multiple argumentation." 
Beyond objectivism and relativism: science, hermeneutics, and praxis, Philadelphia, 1983, p.68.
 Any sort of community of community of enquirers is eliminated through "mean-spirited professional jealousy" because the profession has a tendency to form as a clique, in essence, acting as a single individual where inward-looking is repressed, and this can then manifest itself as a neurosis such as inflation (as I spoke of in part one). The best scientific researchers, however, always follow the cable method that Peirce spoke of. It is just that they then eliminate mention of all of that process in their reports by hiding it within their hypothesizing process. What is left, however, could rarely ever be accomplished without such cable reasoning. I think it was Konrad Lorenz who spoke of students wishing that if only they could come up with such hypotheses (as far as they are stated in the literature), then they, too, could make such great discoveries. Being unconscious, the hidden and most important contents of the true hypothesis then becomes "magic" to them.

I will cover the next two sections in Thomas' paper tomorrow.

John's Coydog Community page

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Jungian archaeology and the Palaeolithic Venus: part one

Although C. G. Jung is not referenced in J. T. Thomas' paper the Cousins of Sarah Baartman, the topics it covers give credit to a Jungian approach; perceives a number of Jungian concepts; and would be even more enhanced by direct reference to Jung's work in both the psychology of the modern individual (in this case, the archaeologist and the anthropologist) and also the mythologies of the ancient people that are studied.

Anyone completely unfamiliar with with the work of Jung and the mythologists strongly influenced by his work (most notably Joseph Campbell) might well ask about what we can possibly know about the mythologies of pre-literate peoples. While there are many problems in this sort of study, they are lessened, somewhat, first by the fact that the structure of our modern brains are no different from that of the earliest Cro Magnons; second, because people sharing similar environments and problems often come up with similar solutions, and this does not require any sort of diffusionism for this to happen; third, that beliefs also spread through syncretism, and when this happens, both the transmitted and the received beliefs change somewhat. Even in cases where people are "converted" to a new religion, that conversion does not wholly replace previous cultural elements. If that did happen, there would not be multiple sects within any religion.

To make things easy, I will format this post as a series of notes to Thomas' paper with the section number and title. Sometimes, the  topic will be directly Jungian, but where I speak of scientific topics, the Jungian content will be to question the psychological basis of why such scientific evidence was not considered. Obviously, I will often not be able able to answer this, or even suggest various possibilities, but the reader might speculate on these individually, and according to one's own interests and knowledge.

II. Ancient Races of the Ice Age

Thomas questions the "Fertility Idol" theories, but this presupposes that the idea of presenting a very corpulent female is to create fertility and not to create the conditions whereby fertility naturally occurs. Famine survivors are less fertile and this infertility can last in their children and grandchildren, However, these later generations are smaller and less subject to starvation. Thus this becomes an epigenetic evolutionary survival trait. We can thus see two possibilities for the creation of such figures in the fertility theme: the hope for plenty in the future, or the celebration of plenty in the present. These figurines also do not have to reflect the actual body types of the people who made them, the images can be symbolic and exaggerated. We do know, from cave art, that these people were quite capable of presenting realism, but often did not choose to do so and presented things, also, in symbolic ways. We do the same, today, and intention is the defining factor.

III: A Religion of Magical Homeopathies

In Primitive Mythology, Joseph Campbell (p.296-7) quotes a passage by Leo Frobenius about him, in 1905, asking some Pygmies in the Congo to go hunting for an antelope. One of the Pygmies tells him that certain preparations must first be made (I have abbreviated the quoted passage considerably):
"...One of the men, with an arrow in his drawn bow, stepped over to the cleared ground. In a couple of moments the rays of the sun struck the drawing and at the same instant the following took place at lightning speed: the woman lifted her hands as though reaching for the sun and uttered loudly some unintelligible syllables; the man released his arrow; the woman cried out again; then the men dashed into the forest with their weapons. The woman remained standing a few minutes and then returned to the camp. When she had left, I came out of my hiding and saw what had been drawn on the ground was an antelope, some four feet long: and the arrow was stuck in its neck. ...The hunters caught up with us that afternoon with a beautiful buck. It had been shot with an arrow through the neck.... They caught up with us again only two days later... And he told me simply that he and the others had run back to plaster the hair and blood on their drawing of the antelope, pull out the arrow, and then erase the picture... He pleaded earnestly that I should not let the woman know that he had talked to me about these things."
 Thomas stresses the anthropological fashion of the time in contrasting practices of magic in the past to more modern "civilized behaviour". However, the solution seems to have been to discount the idea of  magical practices, thus doing exactly the same thing again! In actual fact, we continue to use magic. It is just that we do recognize that we are doing that. Every time you read a newspaper or magazine where "Experts say" is given and without any reason given for believing that what they say is indeed true, you are experiencing the modern form of belief in magic manifested as an  inviolate belief in experts even though so-called experts often do not even agree with each other. This also has an unfortunate backlash effect on academia when they buy into that same idea and become psychologically inflated. I have seen the quality of research drastically diminish in areas where such inflation has taken place and where cliques are dominant. They all prop each other up! My term for dismissing the past completely and without any regard for what was actually well-researched is "the conceit of the present". It is rather pathetic when the only way that one can raise oneself up is to dismiss all that had come in an earlier time.

IV. The Raw and the Cooked

While it is true that tends in theory influence the question we ask of anything about the past, we should really try to understand that history (or pre-history, for that matter) is not "what happened" but a dialogue between the present and the past.This was well known to E. H. Carr when he wrote What is History in 1961. Perhaps E. H. Carr is now considered "old fashioned". When we enter a "new present" the "old present" then seems antiquated. The problem with this is that we rarely understand that our present ideas will always seem just as antiquated to future generations. This is why old forgeries are easy to detect. It is not that they are bad, it is just that they will always reflect the age in which they were made. Unfortunately, we are unable to perceive the nature of our own age because we cannot stand back from it. We think that we are now right about everything .

More tomorrow.

John's Coydog Community page

Monday, 16 May 2016

Techism (and you thought totalitarianism was scary): conclusion

Black Box
by the Argentinian surrealist painter Ruben Cukier
'We call the unconscious "nothing," and yet it is a reality in potentia. The thought we shall think, the deed we shall do, even the fate we shall lament tomorrow, all lie unconscious in our today.'

Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Volume 9 (Part 1) Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious [498]
black box. 1 : a usually complicated electronic device whose internal mechanism is usually hidden from or mysterious to the user; broadly : anything that has mysterious or unknown internal functions or mechanisms... Merriam-Webster.
In this series, we have seen how IBM's Watson currently is at the pinnacle of "deep computing", and yet can contain suppositions within its algorithms with little basis in reality and that are hidden from our consciousness; why Marshall McLuhan said 'The medium is the message' (and so we never see the enemy because it is ourselves); and how greed-inspired technology could spell disaster for our heirs.
It is not a pretty picture.

We were surprised when the Berlin wall came down and the Soviet Union was disbanded. We were shocked to the core when the Twin Towers fell, and are stunned each time that our economies melt down. Yet all of these things were fated within our unconscious. We do not think, and the "like button" provides us with an easy valve to propagate yet more memes onto the world. We are fascinated by black boxes; we buy them; we become them. We lose the ability to adapt. What starts as the personal unconscious manifests itself as the collective consciousness: something far more dangerous to our survival. Question everything. "Like" nothing.

John's Coydog Community page

Friday, 13 May 2016

Techism (and you thought totalitarianism was scary): part 5

Avatar Poster
James Cameron's film Avatar is an icon for the theme of industry over nature, and James Cameron joined my old friend Chief Francois Paulette in his fight against the environmental damage caused by Alberta's tar sands development  An oil slump followed by the Fort McMurray wildfire demonstrates that both economic cycles and nature can bring the Alberta tar sands project to its knees far more dramatically than any protest.

The Gaia hypothesis of the seventies has been criticized in its entire picture, yet aspects of it such as its holistic approach and being aware of certain natural systems gives credit to its existence.

Keeping to my local theme, the Canadian Rocky Mountain limestone plays an important role in the earth's CO2 balance and rain in our Rockies contributes to the ecology of the oceans. This, too, was noted in the Gaia hypothesis, and you can read about the chemical process in The great chemical reaction: life and death of Gaia. With global warming, this area is becoming wetter, yet the recent, strong, El Niño effect has reversed this, temporarily, and has been instrumental in the early start of Alberta's wildfire season and its devastating huge fires. Once again, we return to the Alberta Tar sands with its end product of bring even more CO2 into the atmosphere. It would almost seem as if Mother Nature is wagging her finger at us, but all of this are purely automatic ecological processes.

Evolution, too, is an automatic and natural process that grants no favour to any species, not even Man. We are currently in the midst of the world's sixth extinction event in its history. It is called the Holocene Extinction but it is also called the Anthropocene Extinction because it is man-made.

Yet nature has evolved to counteract anything that threatens its sovereignty: The Monsanto Corporation, in playing up to human greed and disregard for its offspring attempts to increase food production by building genetically modified organisms that are both food seeds and herbicides and pesticides. It uses unethical business methods, highly questionable scientific testing procedures and political/economic sway in order to ensure that the soil will eventually produce nothing more than giant dustbowls and that our children's children will starve, be less likely to be able to reproduce, and be far more subject to cancers, all for the sake of profit to us now. Read the following:

Genetically Modified Soy Linked to Sterility, Infant Mortality in Hamsters
New Study Links GMOs To Cancer, Liver/Kidney Damage & Severe Hormonal Disruption
Claims that GMO seed reduce the amount of herbicides and pesticides used has been proven to be false. Evolution has produced resistant superweeds and superbugs:
 Another Strike Against GMOs – The Creation of Superbugs and Superweeds
And yet, the domestic honey-bee and its wild cousins have been unable to achieve "super" status:
EPA Finally Admits What Has Been Killing Bees For Decades
Perhaps the evolutionary process is starting to include Homo Sapiens in the Holocene Extinction process. But don't worry, life will persist. Have an active weekend.

John's Coydog Community page

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Techism (and you thought totalitarianism was scary): part 4

"Let them eat cake" (attributed to Marie Antoinette
 when told that the people had no bread to eat).
The wonderful thing about totalitarianism is that it most often presents a very clear target when things become intolerable. When democracy is absent or it fails and when the choice of political rule is either the rock or the hard place, revolution is nature's way of evening things up. You might call it an example of extreme evolutionary adaptation. One adapts to the situation by removing the situation; when the herd has eaten all of the grass, the herd moves elsewhere. With a single dictator it is sometimes enough just to drag him from his bed in the night.

Of course, when things get to that point it is also an indication that everyone had been doing a pretty bad job of adapting to things for a very long time: The chain of events that led to Saddam Hussein being dragged from the hole where he was hiding started in the First World War. In fact, the very existence of his rule was just one phase in Iraq trying to ensure that it had a deep-water port from which to ship its oil to the world. It does not sound like an unreasonable request, does it?   Which do you prefer? friendly competition resulting in lower prices and less inflation, or monopolies resulting in high prices, inflation, war and death? A little early adaptation could have averted much. The democracy of the early Greek city states was more than just electing people to do everything, it was actual rule by the people and the rich and the poor lived not that far away from each other and there were plenty of people occupying social positions at every point between the two. Some ancient slaves had a much better life than many of today's working poor. In ancient Celtic societies every level of society had effective representation from Druid judges who were not that much better off than those who they represented.

But nothing exists in isolation: lots of cheap oil can contribute to man-made global warming because you have to burn an awful  lot of fuel to ship things from distant monopolistic producers to local markets. Car-pooling might feel virtuous but it is not solving the real problem is it? I have been watching glaciers shrink, visibly, for fifty years. I can even remember small glaciers that do not exist any more and the winter snows I remember at the age of sixteen I have not seen the like for many years. On Tuesday morning, The Fort McMurray fire to the north-east of me had joined another wild fire  and was 229,000 hectares in size. That is almost the size of London, Madrid and Washington DC combined. But that was two fires that had joined. There are 25 wildfires currently burning across Alberta. Calgary seems to have had about 5 mm of rain today, 5-10 mm was forecast. We might get another 1mm over the next two weeks. But even today's rain is just fairly local, it is dry to the north of us.

With bad habits brought about by our mutual love affair with techism the enemy is ourselves; we cannot drag a dictator from his hole or start a revolution to overthrow those who are to blame for our problems. Always, we feel that each of us is not really the person to blame, others are doing much worse than we are. We sometimes take the bus; eat less; use lower wattage light bulbs; recycle.

Happily, nature is on top of all that, too. I will talk of nature's solutions tomorrow.

John's Coydog Community page

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Techism (and you thought totalitarianism was scary): part 3

With cognitive computing IBM Watson is offering all manner of Application Programming Interfaces (API's) whereby you can take advantage of its extreme level of computing power. One of these is called "Personality". Of course, I immediately thought of Jungian personality types; Briggs-Myers; Humanmetrics and so on. Mind you, all of these already use computer applications far less powerful than IBM Watson and it would be speculative, indeed, to try and analyse anyone's personality just from a sample of something they had written. Even human estimations on bodies of work, descriptions of people by others and observation of the person can only go so far. Sure, it is easy enough (if you know what you are doing) to separate the introvert from the extravert but as you go deeper, it becomes progressively more difficult. The average person would not even be able to separate the introvert from the extravert. I am mistaken for an extravert all the time. You see, Jung's classifications are far from intuitive and his definitions are often very different from dictionary definitions of the same word. A sociopath, for example is an extreme version of one of his "rational" types. This would make no sense at all to anyone not well read in Jung.

Pursuing the personality links further I came across this classification: Agreeableness; Conscientiousness; Extraversion; Emotional Range; Openness. It had all the hallmarks of a business-oriented personality classification, but I thought I would give it the benefit of the doubt and look at "The science behind the service" and I found "For Jung, extraverts were more focused on the outer world and introverts on their own inner mentality". Of course, no reference was given for this idiotic statement. Perhaps it came from a book entitled "Jung: By Dummies, for Dummies" or some tabloid at the supermarket checkout, who knows? Let me set this straight: Extraverts look at the outer, visible workings of themselves, others and the world; Introverts look at the inner, hidden, workings of themselves, others and the world. Extraverts are not too keen on spirituality and aesthetics; Introverts do not get terribly excited by accounting and selling Ferrari's. If you want the very best systems analyst never pick an extravert, they are most likely only going to see the top levels of anything.This would be magnified a hundredfold if you are looking at social systems. If the extravert was so focused in the external world, we might expect them all to be rather poorly dressed.

Reading down in the classification I came across "[Extraversion:] Friendliness / Outgoing / Warmth: Genuinely like other people and openly demonstrate positive feelings toward others." All sociopaths are extraverts so let's take Ted Bundy. He sure was able to openly demonstrate positive feelings toward others. The problem was that for some of those who believed him, it was the last thing they ever did. Not only did he not "genuinely like other people", he could not even perceive people as individuals, just as things in his own environment to do with as he wished.

But it gets far more complex than that. An individual has both Introverted and Extraverted traits even though they will be dominantly one or the other. I am an introverted intuitive, but my feeling function is extraverted. I can, and do, speak very passionately about things and this why most people see me as an extravert.

Here  is a very good account of the value of introverts in business. If you have any experience with business at all, you will know that these things are not widely understood: The Value of Introverts in the Workplace: Why Employers Should Take Notice.

If you read yesterday's post, you will see that with IBM Watson being very fashionable, the business world is likely to become even more screwed up than it already is.

John's Coydog Community page

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Techism (and you thought totalitarianism was scary): part 2

Marshall McLuhan said "The medium is the message". Instead of focusing on the content within the digital age, we find we become more focused on the means of transmitting that content. When these means become fashionable, and desirable, we no longer yearn for the content but for the machines that brings it to us. then we fashion ourselves in the image of these machines.

Joseph Campbell noted that in the movies, the credits roll after the hero kills the bad guys, wins the prize and gets the girl.The mythological hero is positioned mid-way in our lives. After his victory, he returns to his people to teach them ways of avoiding the things that led to the hero's conflict. He becomes the sage and brings wisdom. But the audience becomes the hero in their minds and go nowhere. They fight and kill and fight and kill again and the only goal, always,  is the prize. The economies cycle boom and bust and never progress beyond that; the GMO seeds kill insects and weeds and do not replenish the earth and the plants that grow from them produce seeds that can never be used and seeds have to be purchased again to repeat the sterile cycle until the earth gives up or the insects and the weeds evolve. We click the "like" button for the content but do not add to it. We become the machine.

In The Gutenberg Galaxy, McLuhan quotes the physicist Heisenberg who is discussing "science as a part of the interplay between man and Nature":

"In this connection it has often been said that the far-reaching changes in our environment and in our way of life wrought by this technical age have also changed dangerously our ways of thinking, and that here lie the roots of the crises which have shaken our times and which, for instance, are also expressed in modern art. True, this objection is much older than modern technology and science, the use of implements going back to mans earliest beginnings. Thus, two and a half thousand years ago, the Chinese sage Chuang-Tzu spoke of the danger of the machine when he said: 
"As Tzu-Gung was travelling through the regions north of the river Han, he saw an old man working in his vegetable garden. He had dug an irrigation ditch. The man would descend into the well, fetch up a vessel of water in his arms and pour it out into the ditch. While his efforts were tremendous the results appeared to be very meagre. 
"Tzu-Gung said. 'There is a way whereby you can irrigate a hundred ditches in one day, and whereby you can do much with little effort. Would you not like to hear of it?' Then the gardener stood up, looked at him and said, 'And what would that be?' 
"Tzu-Gung replied, 'You take a wooden lever, weighted at the back and light in front. In this way you can bring up water so quickly that it just gushes out. This is called a draw-well.' 
"Then anger rose up in the old man's face, and he said, 'I have heard my teacher say that whoever uses machines does all his work like a machine, grows a heart like a machine, and he who carries the heart of a machine in his breast loses his simplicity. He who has lost his simplicity becomes unsure in the strivings of his soul. Uncertainty in the strivings of the soul is something which does not agree with honest sense. It is not that I do not know of such things; I am ashamed to use them.'"

After a while any art within the remaining content is also lost and the content is designed only to propagate the machine that brought the content:

John's Coydog Community page