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Tuesday, 14 June 2011

A Distinction Between Wisdom and Knowledge

The age-old slur "Bird brain" is no longer appropriate, I have learned, because they seem to exhibit far more reason and logical acumen than anyone expected (except perhaps David Abram)

A recent study done by University of Cambridge, and Queen Mary, London, found that birds can in fact use tools and reasoning, though they rarely exhibit it outside the laboratory. Birds were given a glass of water - one too narrow for their beaks to reach the water - and several stones. They eventually found that dropping the stones and pebbles into the glass raised the level of the water until it was high enough to drink. They were then rewarded with a floating seed.

Was this sounding familiar? It was a recreation of the classic story by Aesop, who used it as the basis for his moral "necessity is the mother of invention." I love this fable, and I love the study - though for different reasons. The study shows the beautiful underestimation people have of nature: though we embrace technology and urbanism, we are still surprised by how "like us" the world is. It also reminds me of Eckhart Tolle's description of the brain as the "problem-solving" organ, no different than the lungs being the "breathing organ" or the heart the "circulatory organ". Perhaps logic is more universal than the we originally suppose.

The fable, of course, is enjoyable for its timeless message. It is a beautiful and simple illustration of truths that surpass culture, period, and perhaps even species. And what's more enjoyable than talking animals?

How was this portrayed in the media, though? It was presented as evidence that Aesop's fable was based on fact, and that he may have used physical observation to create his stories. Gone is the "truth" that exists out of logical necessity, replaced with "fact", a mere byte of information that can be placed in the annals of human knowledge.

Kant held that a 20 pound note in our head holds no less value than a 20 pound note in our hand. It was an element of his philosophy I had difficulty grasping. I think I understand some of this now, and may propose a second example: Aesop's fables' significance is not rooted in its factual/historical accuracy. Like myths, fables exist not out of a misguided notion of pre-history, but out of a need to find expression for the human condition: why we suffer and feel pain, why we perceive imperfections and feel a need to promote ourselves above them, why we see a world outside ourselves and desire to know what lies beyond.

This isn't to poo-pooh factual accuracy, mind you; understanding historical details, discovering unknown scientific insights, are both important for understanding and respecting our place in the world. But it need not be to the detriment of wisdom.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

A Very Brief Introduction; Or, Why This Blog Is Bound to Fail

There was another blog. Unieuph came into being in the last year of my undergrad, and survived two years of initially frequent, then gradually sporadic posts. It then lay dormant for two years; and with this new endeavour, I can officially box up the notes from that period in my life.

In preparation for this blog, though, I took it upon myself to peruse my earlier observations - and wow! what I learned:

1. I was far more prolific than I had remembered, most especially when I was at RNCM.

2. Although I find myself in a new time, and a new place, and a new career (looming), my core values remain rooted in the environment, equality, and encountering the world. Furthermore, as I reflect on the stagnant period, I don't see these ideals as being unchallenged; indeed, they have ran the gauntlet, and are stronger from it.

3. I wasn't nearly as bad a writer as I had feared. Or at least I am not put off by my earlier style. Of course, this could mean I am just as obtuse and vague as I was four years ago.

Reading the posts awakened me to the disparity between who I was then and who I now think I was. Seeing this Cody, I can forgive him for failing to become a musician. It was not (and is not) his only character. When the sun recedes, it doesn't darken the globe; it simply lightens a different patch of earth.

So why, then, will this blog fail? I could argue that I often escape the internet, seeking to rejoice in a world of touch, instantaneous sound, and a view larger than an 10" screen; or I could argue that it will eventually grow old, cumbersome, and too much of a bore to carry on, dreadful for both myself and you.

But the failures are dependent on the purpose. And why must blogs be timeless? To span their supposed potential? Libraries have book sales, and if our centres of knowledge can weed their gardens, why can't we?

No, this blog's purpose lies beyond duration and 'stats'. If it provokes questions, and conversations; if it encourages introspection and meditation; if it can, for one instant, capture the world and share it with someone, then it will be a success.

To Blaspheme: This is my blog, with which I am well pleased.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

The All Important Dedication

One of my favourite Dadaist sculptures is "The Gift" by Man Ray. It is simply an old iron with nails welded onto the bottom. It beautifully expresses the fundamental difference between Dadaism and Surrealism. Whereas Surrealists deal with the juxtaposition of independent objects, Dadaists deal with their synthesis. Instead of presenting two discrete items, nails and an iron, Man Ray welds them together and wields something far more alien and disturbing. The result gives the appearance of a torture device, most likely because we cannot see an iron without imagining it being put to use.

This instinct within us, furthermore, highlights another element of Dada: to draw out our personal experience into the present. We instinctively apply our knowledge and imaginations to everything we encounter. We can look at an unlit bulb and see its potential; but when faced with items we wouldn't expect together (think Arthur Rimbaud's umbrella and sewing machine on a dissecting table), we force ourselves to reconcile them, creating a "story" backed by our reason. Dadaists exploit this impulse, creating freakish and ghoulish images which consistently defy explanation.

Finally "The Gift" presents the humour and pain coexistent in life. By welding the parts together, Man Ray has made a new, useless object. It can neither iron clothes nor hold boards together. It must find its meaning elsewhere. Humorously and Humorlessly we find ourselves in the present, separated from but connected to the predicaments of past generations. Meaning may be out there, but it's our journey to find it.

I am drawn to Dada and the Surreal, to composers such as Ives and Berio, and ultimately to Unitarianism because I see these juxtapositions in life as inseparable. The movie my neighbour is watching, the sound of my typewriter as I punch this out, participate within my mind; they may act of their own accord, but ultimately I see them as one aural experience, united and unique.

This blog will serve as that unifying element: the string which may bind two sticks together, either to build a bridge, or simply to write a story.