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Renovation of the Soul

If there's nothing to be learned in life then in my opinion, you aren't living life. This past week has been full of anger, tumult, hate, love and renewal. Just today I was caught between bliss and indignation, the latter caused by a failure to stop and take repose. In moments of intense pressure, the head takes flight and the heart gears for war.

Rationality has no meaning and in some cases, the sounds coming out of one's mouth would sound almost foreign to you and others in calmer moments. A industry colleague of mine, after unjustly calling him "unprofessional" (I later apologized and thanked him for his good work and kind words) advised me to "kick back."

Kick back! If only I could kick back, I thought. I have work - paid, unpaid and academic to finish. I have all these attachments that signify anything other than kicking back. But why? Was this true? Had I forgotten my GS training? Were my meditations and self-reflections all for naught?

These items of paper with instructions printed on them are not the cause of my stress and worry. Ultimately, I am the culprit. If I am dissatisfied with an aspect of my life, then I can only really blame myself. So I took his advice. I poured myself a double whiskey and sipped a while. My feelings told me that I was putting myself under the "pump" rather than anyone else. My thoughts were not in alignment with reality - 3,000w of 4,000w done with 2 full days to complete the remainder? Hardly a challenge for me. It has been done before and can be done again. My internal map was very much out of alignment with the blank, "objective" territory.

Reading my colleague Sandi's blog, she has learned a lot in 26 years. She makes some good points, others I disagree with. But there is one point that remains pertinent:

Disappointment and hurt is everywhere in life. Happiness and wonder is also everywhere in life. Choose what you decide to focus on.

Just like a modern day Marcus Aurelius, we sometimes have to sometimes stop and remind ourselves: "The universe is change, life is what our thoughts make it."


Embargo of Presence

Some excerpts with commentary from my recent essay (footnotes removed) on media ecology entitled "An iPhone in every hand."

Neil Postman in his magnum opus “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” wrote the easiest way to see through a culture is to “attend to its tools for conversation.”  Currently, all of our conversation, save for face to face contact is mediated, at some level, by computers and the internet – the tools – and the conversation – the exchange of messages – is happening globally in which any user of a computer is theoretically part of this “globalized conversation.”  But what is the nature of the language of this conversation – the “driver” of conversation that makes it possible?

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis presents the formation of language is “not merely a reproducing instrument for voicing ideas, but rather itself is a shaper of ideas.” The computer and the internet and all its various convergent and multimedia forms not only have produced new platforms for communication, they have, in fact, shaped a new way of organizing and regulating ideas; the way humans interact with one another, conduct their business, their politics and their education of future generations.

One such device that achieved this was the mechanical clock. A computer is built on a time-telling function – time regulates the processing of information by creating a sense of “dramatic, fictional or symbolic time as well as a sense of past, present and future.” Computers, like clocks are self-operating machines; they manufacture no physical products. They are able to regulate starting and ending times for social/economic/political engagements; enforce deadlines and are used to track units of remuneration (workers paid by the hour, etc.)  For example, all people across the known world began to
"[W]ork, sleep and eat by the clock” and began to “regulate their actions by this arbitrary measure of time, the clock was transformed from an expression of civic pride into a necessity of urban life…the computer too has changed from a luxury to a necessity for modern business and government.”

In 1993, Postman said that it would be possible for us to "privatize" our public space by outsourcing it to computers - we would be able to shop, converse and vote from the comfort of home. We have moved beyond that space - we can now do this anywhere with mobile smartphones. Like the mechanical clock, the computer regulates our movement and how we communicate.

It as if we cannot communicate if we do not have a phone or access to the internet like social media. It's commonplace to hear about events after the fact if you did "not check your Facebook."

Chunks of time can now be graphically represented; we can see the past and the future in our own present by the dynamic exchange of text, video, audio and images. The television was bound by time to show its programs sequentially - now the programs can be viewed in our own "time" at our will from wherever. As Watzlawick says, "one can not not communicate" - but what happens when one does not have an iPhone in his hand to begin with?


This is not a sign

Talking to my broskie Mari today, we had a (very hearty) chuckle at one of our (former) twitter followers' predicaments following a "breakup" of her "boyfriend" who just so happened to live on the other side of the world. Communicating exclusively over the internet, it was revealed that this "boyfriend" neglected to give his e-paramour his phone number. He promptly deleted her from Twitter, Facebook, Skype and stopped responding to her emails.

You read correctly, sports fans. He didn't even give her his phone number.

I have been in a similar situation before but I was given her phone number, the phone numbers of her friends, pictures of them, letters and almost everything barring a physical presence. So why do people blatantly see warning signs when they arise and blithely decide to ignore them? Is it because they aren't told a warning sign is one when they see it? Do they need to be told in order for them to act upon it in the "correct" way?

Although seemingly unrelated, I had some free time today (on account of having no job - hopefully I'll inadvertently hack twitter somehow and gain some attention for myself) and read more of my perpetually renewed copy of Postman and Weingartner's Teaching as a Subversive Activity. There contained was an example of a class of students being forced to sit an exam again after several students were caught cheating, stealing the exam ahead of its sitting. Students' opinions ranged - it was unfair for make all to resit it due to the actions of a few; that it would give them an advantage over others; that sitting it again would impair their chances of passing since they forgot what they studied after the sitting anyway. The content of the test was irrelevant; it was only important the students passed.

Students in the modern era have been asking teachers "will this be on the test?" I always thought it curious and harmful during my high school years, considering I almost always read outside of the curriculum, especially for the humanities. I was ridiculed by others for doing so. It was, in the context of my "education", a complete waste of time which could be better spent "studying" for assessments.

So what did we all learn at high school? I loathe to think it was only information that required to be regurgitated at the right time in the right context. But the more I do remember about those days, the more my suspicions are confirmed. Since "being taught" is a top-down process, we are coerced into "learning" what teachers provide for us. If we didn't, a horrible consequence would befall us (such as ending up cutting onions in a potato factory, as my father would enjoy saying to frighten me.)

If they tell us a warning sign looks like A on a certain exam, then it cannot look like B. It is either A or not A. The Aristotelian law of non-contradiction holds fast in the classroom (in addition to the law of the excluded middle and the is of identity.) But as adherents of GS or other multi-valued empirical systems can attest to, it's far more ambiguous than that.

Affairs of the heart seldom are guided by the head. If the head is empty, then even more so. A warning sign usually doesn't say "Warning" on it. If our schools insist they do, then our schools are derelict in their mission to pass our knowledge on to the next generation so they may expand upon it.


Sense Data from the AGS

Here follows a summary of the activities of the Australian General Semantics Society National Conference and our attendance at the UN DPI-NGO Conference "Advancing Global Health" held in Melbourne, Australia.

The 1st Australian General Semantics Society National Conference
27-29 August, 2010 held at the Initiatives of Change Center, Toorak, Australia

The first day of the conference on Friday Night was muted - just a dinner held in the stately Armagh manor in Toorak. A federation mansion, it boasted a ballroom, two libraries and a conservatory - the focus point for our discussions. I met some of the AGS members - David Hewson, Pauline Heather as well as Dr. Earl Livings, Laurie Cox and Robert James and his wife Jeanne. We talked into the night before retiring for the big day ahead.

Saturday Morning saw President Robert James and elder statesman Laurie Cox make their keynote addresses and Earl make his talk on Fiction and GS, particularly A. E. van Vogt and the World of Null-A and Nexialism, a sort of fictional applied GS that has even been applied in the real world.

I then gave my talk on Overcoming Conservative Characteristics, a research into a little known chapter in Korzybski's Science and Sanity.

In the Afternoon, David gave his talk on GS and Happiness to the general public as well as another one on GS and problem solving using other sciences. Laurie talked briefly explaining GS to beginners. Robert James prepared a talk on a "sense of purpose" that GS brings as well as bringing in Initiatives of Change volunteers to give their perspectives.

Sunday morning we reconvened for a talk by David on "Identity, non-identity, then what?" which was originally published as an article in ETC. Confusing facts with inferences was a warning to us all. Earl then presented his talk on the nexus between Edward De Bono's work and GS which proved very useful, in my estimation.

31st August - 2nd of September - the United Nations DPI-NGO Conference: "Advance Global Health" held at the Melbourne Convention Center, Melbourne, Australia

Though I only attended one of the three days at the UN conference, I thought my time to be more interesting than valuable. It was admirable to see the United Nations and affiliated NGOs work to advance the Millennium Development Goals. However, the milieu of the delegates was centered around a select few organizations and their booths (we at the IGS were not given one) as well as "Workshops" which focused more on guest speakers, established players and government officials rather than opening up the debate to people like myself or even the youth delegates. Though we met many people interested in GS, its hard to explain "What GS is" since GS principles are more like verbs, not nouns. I can explain How it works or why one should use it but emphasizing "clear thinking" or "sanity" will invariably draw glances of indignation - "How dare you imply I am unsane!"

Nevertheless, it was a rewarding experience and I would like to thank the members of AGS for affording me these wonderful learning and networking opportunities.


Clarity and Passion

Either August will kill me or I will kill it.

In addition to my actual studies, I'll also be:

I'll probably need a drink at some point. Its also come to my attention that a candidate for the Secular Party of Australia is running in my electorate against incumbent Simon Crean who holds Hotham with a 13% margin. Since I don't want to vote for or even preference the ALP, Liberals or Greens or (shudder) Family First in the Lower House it makes sense to vote informal to avoid my vote going to a party I disapprove of. Then there's the dilemma of voting for the Secular Party to grant it some measure of public campaign funding for the next election and their ambiguous policy on "banning religious attire at schools" (Yarmulkes? Hijab? Crucifixes? what?) which seems to contradict their call for maximizing civil liberty. Though I have decided to preference Stephen Conroy dead last in the Senate Group Voting Ticket (below-the-line) I'm still undecided as which party to preference first. I am of course leaning toward the "Triumvirate of Libertarians" - the LDP, the Australian Sex Party or the aforementioned Secular Party. It seems politics, like everything else in life, one size rarely fits all.