January 7, 2014 § 46 Comments
“We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.” ~ Marcel Proust
“The only journey is the one within”. ~ Rainer Marie Rilke
The turn of another year inspires reflection on what has come before.
When I first started Parallax three years ago, I didn’t know what the theme would be. I wasn’t sure if anyone would care about the topics that interested me, or indeed, if I had anything interesting to say. I had only a vague feeling—a multitude of disconnected puzzle pieces floating around inside me, like dots begging to be connected.
I had one focal point, and it became the source of my first entry: “The Role of the Dreamer & the Falseness of Civilization,” inspired by a stop light. I realized how automatic my response had been upon seeing the amber traffic light turn red: foot on break, like a trained animal. Then the light changed to green and without conscious thought my foot obediently pressed upon the gas.
In that moment, I wondered what else I had been conditioned to accept that had become automatic—even intimate—to my functioning, which was the product of some external system. I saw that my experience with the traffic light—my unconscious conditioning—was a metaphor for society at large.
The blog soon became my shared in-process journey connecting the dots, many of which (of course!) remain unconnected. Yet, a picture emerges…
I began to see a coherence to the topics, which at first seemed merely a loose, eclectic collection of curiosity-driven investigations.
A theme began to crystallize. I realized I was trying to mentally pan back—to accurately perceive a reality, which I had witnessed for so many years that I had ceased to truly see it. Familiarity seems to breed a kind of trance state of assumptions. I began to attempt to deconstruct society as I knew it—imagining what our world would like like to an alien observer (“The Mad Cult of the World”) with no preconceived notions. This excercise was a tremendous eye-opener for me.
What I saw was a well oiled machine. An (apparently) self-perpetuating system of control, with built-in reinforcements & viscous cycles so as to appear both inescapable & desirable.
I observed how conformity & consumer-based lifestyles that feed the system—and increase people’s wage-slave circumstance with debt & emotional dependence on external status—are marketed & reinforced constantly from every angle (“Invisible Architects,““The Engineering of Human Desire,” “Mind Control in the Music Industry,” “The Perversion of the American Dream”)…
How our natural instinctual herd mentality & desire for acceptance (“The Mythology of Conformity: Totem & Taboo“) is exploited by marketing to create a climate of uniformity (“The Politics of Normalcy“), where independent thought that jeopardizes the status quo (“Polarity & Paradox”) is not given a widespread platform of expression.
I began to realize that my feelings of alienation within mainstream society were not necessarily indications of personal failing, but perhaps symptomatic of a larger imbalance within the system.
I became convinced that positive social change, in fact, could only come from an outsider, because only someone looking in from the outside could see the problems for what they were (“The Outsider As Visionary”, “The Art of Madness”).
I became interested in the idea of personal authenticity (“Authenticity & The False Self”) as the path towards true self-knowledge, beyond social conditioning. For I believe we can only incite true social change—contribute positively to society— when we have processed our own shadows (“Navigating the Dark Night of the Soul,”) and begun to piece together our true selves, which have been fragmented by a compartmentalized system (“Soul Retrieval”).
As I became more conscious of my personal journey (“The Modern Vision Quest,” “The Question of Reality, “The Human Soul & The Floating Man,” “The Art of Seeing,”) I began to explore my own thoughts, feelings & direct experiences with reality. The further down the rabbit hole I went, the more the dots seemed to connect. And it felt different to come to these ideas in a visceral way—through personal gnosis—than through reading the ideas of other minds. I only used their works to substantiate my own discoveries, and offer what I hoped would be interesting background to the topics which most compelled me.
As I wrote on these subjects, I received—wonder of wonders!—a positive response from readers (you guys!), which reflected back to me that I was actually speaking to subjects which were not just in my heart, on my mind, alone, but were also meaningful to others. I actually acquired readers at all, which itself is both humbling & thrilling.
Your feedback is what keeps this blog going. To know I am not dropping letters into a well but actually contributing to the collective conversation has shown me that these subjects, which at first seemed so disconnected, are truly on our collective mind—and truly form a cohesive picture.
The idea put forth by British Zen philosopher Alan Watts in the 60s that “[We] are an aperture through which the universe is looking at and exploring itself,” later re-popularized in the 80s by American astrophysicist Carl Sagan—“We are a way for the cosmos to know itself”—was actually first developed in its modern form by 18th century German philosopher George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.
Hegel contended that Spirit was at first unconscious of Itself. (Hegel’s use of “Spirit” is a translation of the German word “Geist,” a nonreligious term, not comparable to our English word for “God,” but a neutral term, mingled with the idea of “transpersonal mind” & “essence”.) He called this stage of unconscious Spirit the Thesis stage.
At one point, Spirit-exploring-itself-through-Man became conscious of existing.
The self-aware man looked around (or Spirit looked around through Man’s eyes) seeing himself and others—others who might be similar to him, but were not him. And the newly self-aware man defined himself through this negation. In short, he knew himself in part by what he wasn’t: the other. He looked at the world and saw many, a multi-facetted prism. He saw division. Those who were not him were perceived as foreign, alien, other—often, too, inevitably, as “enemy.”
This was Antithesis stage.
Eventually, as man’s time on the planet progressed, a few, rare introspective humans—specifically, for Hegel, the philosopher—became aware of the interconnectivity of all life-forms (“Connectivity Through Form”), at which point he perceived Self in Other (a hallmark throughout all mystical literature of enlightenment) and became self-realized. The prism revealed itself to be—while multi-faceted in appearance—in essence, a single diamond.
This was the Synthesis stage—where thesis & antithesis, two apparent opposites, merged & integrated to form a more complete truth.
I believe we are currently experiencing the growing pains of collectively & individually moving—shifting—into a Thesis stage of existence (“Transformation, Destruction & The Inner Apocalypse“). That is where my studies thus far have lead me. (“Starseeds, Cosmic Consciousness & The Galactic Generations,” “Stardust Contemplating Stardust: Inner Space & The Science of Illumination”).
There are many fighting this emerging connectivity. But there are an increasing number straining towards it. Some, only half-consciously, as I was when I first began this blog—driven only by a vague sense of discontent & yearning. As Morpheus tells Neo in The Matrix: “Something is wrong with this world, you’ve known it all your life, you don’t know what it is. It’s like a splinter in your mind … driving you mad.”
Still others, aware & awake through their own process of trail, error & self-discovery, are fighting for the cause: of reverence for life & planetary harmony.
The Fear Culture of the media news may tell you otherwise, but I—perhaps you, and so many others—are beginning to tear down the facade like a paper sky and see it for what it is: the attempts of a system under threat to maintain control through division, traumatization & uncertainty.
I perceive this as a time—intense & trying as it may be—of integration for many. We are all connecting the dots. Feeling more connected to one another, across space & time, even while we may still experience major bouts of isolation…we see that we are not alone in our strange (or not so strange) thoughts & visions. If through the advancement of technology alone.
We are a mere Google search away from learning, for example, that the long-dead Hegel’s complete life philosophy beautifully articulates that intuition we could not quite put to words; or perhaps that blogger you’ve never met, but read sometimes, has been mulling over the same insights you’ve been contemplating on your journey.
And it is a journey. (“Alchemy: An Allegorical Map for the Transmutation of Consciousness.“) No doubt about it. Complete with dragons to slay, puzzles to solve & dark forests in which we must, by virtue of necessity, learn to generate our own inner light to illuminate the path ahead.
We are heroes and heroines scaling Dark Nights of the Soul like mountains … swimming rivers of sorrow, where we reach dry land of revelation & new strength. Each trial, an initiation, each passage, a threshold into new insight, if we continue to search for the lesson, for the center, for the truth. Nothing is wasted. We can use it all.
Happy 2014, fellow journeyers! I would love to know what you think about all this! All comments on this first post of the new year—as has become Parallax tradition!—will be entered into a drawing, the winner of which will receive my current heart-compass book-companion, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…And It’s All Small Stuff,” By Richard Carlson, Ph. D: a slim inspirational little easy-read manual for transcending postmodern angst and tapping into inner peace.
Here’s to the journey, fellow travelers.
February 22, 2012 § 38 Comments
“As an artist, I think delusion is the greatest gift that you can bear.” ~ Lady Gaga
You’re not supposed to take pop music seriously. By definition, it is fluff; pure sugar. But sugar, sweet and insubstantial as it is, can be a dangerous thing.
Music is a powerful force. And pop music holds great influence over the masses. It’s worth noticing, then, what kind of messages are being broadcast to our minds via the pop music industry.
As the slew of buzzing conspiracy sites can attest to, there has been a distinct and disturbing trend in the pop music imagery of the past several years, which propagates the glamorization of mind control themes.
Whether it’s Lady Gaga portraying an insane asylum through a high fashion lens in “Marry the Night,” or Britney Spears posing as a laboratory marionette with tubes coming out of her bandaged fingers in “Hold it Against Me,” pop stars are all pumping out the same recycled slew of mind control themes.
Many people may not realize that the practice of trauma-based mind control has a very real and chilling history in the US: in the 1950s and 60s the CIA conducted covert and illegal experiments on unwitting citizens, now declassified and known as project MK ULTRA.
If you’re not familiar with this subject, be prepared to discover a disturbing facet of American history. The image below is shocking—it’s the only photographic image online from the MK Ultra files, most of which have been destroyed—but I offer it under due consideration to substantiate the argument that conspiracy theories of trauma-based mind control are not so far fetched.
The published evidence indicates that Project MK ULTRA was a government-funded operation created with the goal of studying various methods of mind control, using the surreptitious administration of drugs and other chemicals, hypnosis, sensory deprivation, isolation, verbal and sexual abuse, as well as various forms of torture.
Project MK ULTRA was first brought to public attention in 1975 by the U.S. Congress, through investigations by the Church Committee, and by a presidential commission known as the Rockefeller Commission.
Although the CIA insists that MK ULTRA-type experiments have been abandoned, 14-year CIA veteran Victor Marchetti has stated in various interviews that the CIA routinely conducts disinformation campaigns and that CIA mind control research continues. In a 1977 interview, Marchetti called the CIA claim that MK ULTRA was abandoned “a cover story.” (Project MK-ULTRA.)
So why does the fashion and music industry glamorize these atrocities? The question, complete with spooky implication, remains. But that such themes recur with bizarre and increasing regularity, should be of interest, not just to conspiracy buffs, but to every thinking citizen.
According to experts, one of the consequences of trauma-based mind control is the creation of several different personalities, called alter egos. This deliberate compartmentalization and fragmentation of the whole person allows for more control over the subject/victim: one alter ego, for instance, could hide something from another. So, in theory, a “dark” alter ego could be created to carry out actions distasteful to the dominant personality.
Considering this, it’s odd to note how many celebrity recording artists have publicly discussed their “alters” as though it were the most natural thing in the world.
“This alter ego takes over when I am on stage. She is really wild and daring and a much more impulsive performer than I am. Her name is Britannia. When I am her I feel I can take on the world, normally I am pretty shy.” ~ Britney Spears
“Slim Shady is just the evil thoughts that come into my head, things I shouldn’t be thinking about.” ~ Eminem
“I had to separate the two because Mary is nice, you know, intelligent. Brook-Lynn is crazy and ignorant and she don’t care.” ~ Mary J. Blithe
“I have someone else that takes over when it’s time for me to work and when I’m on stage, this alter ego that I’ve created that kind of protects me and who I really am. When I’m onstage I’m aggressive and strong and not afraid of my sexuality. The tone of my voice gets different, and I’m fearless. I’m just a different person.” ~ Beyonce
Notice the two Beyonces are quite obviously divided into “pure/innocent/good-in-a-boring-way” Beyonce and “sexy/corrupt/dark/bad-in-a-good-way” Beyonce. The coin symbolism is quite clear as well: two sides of the same coin; black & white polarization. Obviously, the former is portrayed as a goody-two-shoes and a wimp, and the vixen wins our favor with her superior, fierce fashion and high-powered queenly self-possession. We can hardly help but feel our sympathies allied with the dark Beyonce, aka Sasha Fierce. But who is Sasha Fierce?
“Many years ago,” Beyonce explained to the press, “I named my alter ego Sasha and it’s something that stuck. So when I was trying to decide the title of my album… I realized it had two different sounds. One represented who I really am and one sounded like my alter ego, so I decided to split it into two. Because I feel like Sasha is a big treat for my fans. It’s definitely exciting being able to have an excuse to be so over the top.”
Anyone with knowledge of psychology knows that splitting the personality into “good” and “bad” is an unhealthy coping mechanism.
“Splitting can be seen as a developmental stage and as a defense mechanism. In psychoanalysis, there are the concepts of splitting of the self as well as splitting of the ego. This stems from existential insecurity, or instability of one’s self-concept. The borderline personality is not able to integrate the good and bad images of both self and others, so that people who suffer from borderline personality disorder have a bad representation which dominates the good representation.” (Splitting.)
As humans we have both positive and negative impulses. We should foster self-acceptance and positive action, not internal division. To promote compartmentalizing, rather than integrating, these conflicting inner aspects is to advocate a problematic road.
“What I feel onstage,” says Beyonce, “I don’t feel anywhere else. It’s an out-of-body experience. I created my stage persona … so that when I go home, I don’t have to think about what it is I do. Sasha isn’t me. The people around me know who I really am.”
It seems odd for the singer to describe wanting to “forget what it is she does,” as if it were something dirty. And the description of feeling outside of her body, while channeling a personality she has described in interviews as “someone I wouldn’t want to meet on the street,” sounds notably dissociative.
It’s understandable why so many demonic possession threads surround the singer. Beyonce went from the girl next door to a vixen sporting satanic goat skull imagery overnight. Now she has told press: “Sasha is done. I killed her.”
These sound more like the words of a troubled teen than a world-renowned performer in her thirties. And troubled teens everywhere are hanging on her every word.
Nicki Minaj, known for her brash style, multiple wigs and personalities, describes her alter ego “Roman Zolanksi” as a “crazy boy who lives in me and says the things that I don’t want to say. He was born just a few months ago. I think he was born out of rage. He was conceived in rage. So he bashes everyone. He threatens to beat people and he’s violent.”
The interviewer, of course, treats all of this like it’s perfectly normal and even funny, despite Nicki’s strangely expressionless delivery: “That must be nice,” he says off camera, “to have, like, an ignorent loud mouth so you can just sort of blame every–” Nicki Interjects: “He wants to be blamed. I don’t want to blame him. I ask him to leave. But he can’t. He’s here for a reason. People have brought him out. People conjured him up and now he won’t leave.”
The fact that she concludes another interview by snarling demonically and proclaiming that “anybody who ever doubted Roman is going down in a coffin” is seen by the world as harmless theatre. More recently she has been quoted as saying that Roman is her favorite of all her different personalities because “everybody else started to like Roman, so he became my favorite.”
In a recent interview with Ryan Seacrest, Minaj details creepily: “He wanted to show that not only is he amazing, but he’s never going to be exorcised, even when they throw holy water on him, he still rises above.”
That the scratchy-voiced singer chanting “Take your medication, Roman! Take a long vacation, Roman!” while handcuffed to an upright table, electroshock -style, and surrounded by hooded figures has been touted by the press as a “show stealer” at the recent Grammy Awards ceremony shows the sad state of pop music today. (She has called the performance “Roman’s coming out party.”) That she is shouting “Stop! Get me out of here!” in the beginning of the performance is emblematic of a troubling trend.
Electroshock therapy imagery is everywhere these days. It’s hard to find a Lady Gaga video without it. She skirts the issue in “Yoü and I,” a video fraught with mind control imagery and multiple selves, including Gaga’s recent alter ego, a greasy Italian dude she calls “Jo Calterdone.” In interviews she says the video is about “the crazy things people will do for love.” She explains the weird scenes in the barn, when her lover straps her down by the wrists and ankles to an upright table, as being about her “mad scientist boyfriend turning her into a mermaid.”
But throwing in fanciful ideas like mermaids doesn’t change the undeniably disturbing nature of being strapped down in a barn and experimented on; adding the fact that the mad scientist is supposed to be her character’s boyfriend only ups the creep factor.
And why is the version of Gaga narrating the conclusion wearing weird straps and wires on her jaw like it’s the latest trend?
You might recognize this look from the earlier MK ULTRA image (echoed quite directly in the image of Gaga at the top of this post.) But this video is about the crazy things we do for love, right?
The shock pop star’s video “Marry the Night” starts out in a Girl Interrupted-style insane asylum, where Lady Gaga is being wheeled in on a gurney in post-surgical garb after apparently having had her spine removed. The voiceover notes:
“When I look back on my life, it’s not that I don’t want to see things exactly as they happened. It’s just that I prefer to remember them in an artistic way. And truthfully, the lie of it all is much more honest because I invented it. Clinical psychology tells us arguably that trauma is the ultimate killer. Memories are not recycled like atoms and particles in quantum physics. They can be lost forever. It’s sort of like my past is an unfinished painting and as the artist of that painting I must fill in all the ugly holes and make it beautiful again. It’s not that I’ve been dishonest, it’s just that I loath reality.”
Later, looking wearily up at her nurse, a traumatized-looking Gaga says she is going to be a star, because she has “nothing left to lose.”
“See the girl to your left?” she asks the viewer as the nurses wheel her into a spooky psychiatric ward of half-naked, tranced out, trouble women…”She ordered gummy bears and a knife a couple hours ago. They only gave her the gummy bears. I wish they’d only given me the gummy bears.”
Gaga has told press that the video is intended for ‘art to imitate life’ and depict her journey to stardom. For those wondering what left Gaga so traumatized on that journey, MTV.com has the artist’s official answer: “The video is a metaphor for how she felt when she was dropped from her first record label, Island Def Jam, before landing at her current home at Interscope.”
A statement that leaves us wondering exactly what that transition from Def Jam to Interscope entailed!
June 16, 2011 § 42 Comments
“Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives.” John Lennon
“Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.” Edgar Allan Poe
“The world we see that seems so insane is the result of a belief system that is not working. To perceive the world differently, we must be willing to change our belief system, let the past slip away, expand our sense of now, and dissolve the fear in our minds.” William James
Imagine how our world would look to an alien observer. The notes taken by an evolved and sensitive species might look something like this:
Humans appear to be creatures of routine — the majority wake up before they have rested sufficiently, needing a loud beeping alarm to prematurely stir them from their slumber, and a liquid stimulant to force them into unnatural alertness. They then get into small metal vehicles, which emit toxic gasses and were assembled by mostly miserable factory workers.
A large number of humans take these small metal vehicles to small, sterile cubicles, where they stare at a small rectangular screen for eight hours, pressing buttons, with one hour off to eat.
For their time in front of the screen, they receive tokens (some people have their own private cubicle and receive more tokens than the rest,) which they exchange for shelter (which is left empty most of the day, while they go off and earn the tokens which obtained it in the first place).
Other items of interest requiring tokens are packaged food of mostly poor quality and various large unnecessary upgrades to their stronghold of posessions, the desire for which is stimulated by large rectangular screens in their shelters, for which they exchange a large amount of tokens willingly.
On these screens (which most humans watch, mesmerized, for hours at a time, when they are not staring at the screen in the cubicle) they see images designed to simulate reality (a form of entertainment which has all but replaced the experience of reality) and stimulate covetousness, which seems to mesmerize them into exchanging their hard-earned tokens for items which appear to have social significance for them.
Another large percentage of the population goes to work in factories which produce (or stores which feature) these coveted and mostly useless items.
This exchange is considered desirable. The rationale is that it creates more jobs and keeps the economy in good health. No one seems to question the point of this self-perpetuating wheel of psychological enslavement, and those who do are deflected and dismissed.
The primary activities expected to be carried out by these adult humans seem to be almost unanimously joyless, but the tokens received appear to be incentive enough.
Individuals who refuse to conform and pay homage to the tokens are almost unanimously ridiculed as lazy, good-for-nothing, mentally unsound, losers, etc. Unless individuals can find some way to earn tokens, they can not afford to buy or rent shelter and as a result become cemented in their roles as social pariahs.
Often these pariahs abused liquid downers to numb their misery in the world described above. Their status as shelter-less social rejects only fuels their need for this numbing agent. It seems reasonable to blame the numbing agent, or the individual’s inability to cope with reality. However, few blame the reality which made them have to cope to begin with.
Such probing strikes close to home: as every socially functional person is aware, there is no escape from the need to conform to the all-consuming demand of the token. And so those who do put forth the effort to work are forced to ennoble their enslavement, calling it a good hard day’s work.
Though hard work is a virtue, there is a stickier truth surrounding this truth, which is more convenient to ignore.
If our ET observer were to have read up on the nature of cult indoctrination, he might notice what writer Bettina Drew observes, “[…] there are similarities between corporate indoctrination and what’s thought of as organizational brainwashing.”
“The victim must first be isolated from society, so that the cult or other coercive entity need not compete with outside influences. Access to outside information must be eliminated or at least rigidly controlled; the information is then reinterpreted according to the precepts of the cult. Questions from the victim are not be tolerated, nor are replies given.
During the early isolation period, certain psychological pressure or even physical torture techniques are usually employed. These measures can include […] sleep deprivation […] humiliation […] and constant repetition of indoctrinating ideas.
Repetitive tasks may be assigned to dull the senses and reasoning skills, while also hastening the breakdown of the will. Threats of violence, death, or destruction of the victim’s soul if she rebels against the “groupthink” are frequently utilized. A period of punishment followed by the doling out of small rewards or privileges keeps the victim off-balance.”
Sensory overload, such as drugs, flashing lights and overwhelming visuals, she notes, are also employed.
To our old friend the alien observer, the Westernized world itself could seem like a kind of cult.
Repetitive tasks? Check. Small rewards? Check. Sensory overload? Check. Drugs? Check (Prozac anyone?) Sleep deprivation? Check. Limited access to information? In a sense: while the modern world does have access to international media in most cases, the information itself is limited to the focus of our contemporary culture. Those with ideas not in line with the accepted reality face the threat of social rejection — in the past they have even been put to death, and still are in some parts of the world. Threats of death? Check.
Studies show that “the same regions of the brain that become active in response to painful sensory experiences are activated during intense experiences of social rejection.” So in a very real way, the threat of outcast status can act with the same coercive force as threatened physical violence. Threats of pain/humiliation? Check.
The average American watches more than 4 hours of TV each day, which adds up to two months of non-stop TV-watching per year. By age 65, that person will have spent 9 years watching television. 99 % of American homes own at least one television. Sensory overload and repetition of ideas? Check.
As social media mogul Joe Summerhays points out:
[During the advent of the industrial revolution] gin carts filled the street of London, numbing the dehumanizing pain of mindless factory work into submission. The 1800′s lacquered workforce lubricated the march of industry […] As the efficiency of industrialized society produced more free time, the gin cart became television. This new lubricant oiled things into the late 20th century.
And so our sensitive and saddened extraterrestrial anthropologist would have to report that humans have essentially cornered themselves into having to conform to an insane system, where they are required to spend the majority of their lives gritting their teeth through joyless activities to earn tokens to support their enslaved existence.
We have built a society where, in order to survive, we must, in effect, build our own cages, even paying to consume our own propaganda.
Our interplanetary visitor might feel obliged to make one final note in his evaluation of 21st century human culture:
It appears, none the less, that some individuals are not entirely hypnotized. They still turn inward to the private flickerings of their dreams, which whisper of possibilities greater than the reality before them.
January 19, 2011 § 9 Comments
“I dreamed I was a butterfly, flitting around in the sky; then I awoke. Now I wonder: Am I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming that I am a man?” — Chuang Tzu
There is a basic unease to the human condition, the vague and gnawing sense that there must be something we are missing, something we have not been told; a feeling rooted, no doubt, in the fact that we are born into a world where the most burning questions have only theoretical, subjective answers.
Religion has attempted to fill this void with meaning, but even in its answers, more questions arise.
How solid is our reality? Science, so often pitted against the mystical, has the most mystically fraught of answers: not solid at all. On an atomic and subatomic level — as we all learned in school, though most likely didn’t grasp the full implication of at the time — there is space and movement between atoms. The so-called solid wall is teeming, pulsing, dancing — molecules full of wide open space.
If I put my hand on the wall, the sensation I experience as touch is the interaction between the molecules of my hand and the molecules of the wall; on an atomic level, there is a point where the difference between my hand and the wall become indistinguishable.
In other words, it has been scientifically proven in our lifetime that the reality we behold is — to some degree, anyway — illusory.
The idea that the nature of form is misleading and ultimately unreal, of course, has been in existence for centuries — perhaps most famously put forth in the Eastern concept of Maya, (found in Buddhism and Hinduism,) a word derived form the ancient Sanskrit, ma, meaning “not,” and ya, meaning “that.” Though the details differ, Judeo-Christian philosophy reiterates the same basic idea: that things are not as they appear, and this world is but a pale echo of a brighter, truer place.
There are more sinister shades, more paranoid potential, to this question of reality. The possibility that, as in The Matrix — where humans are grown by sentient machines, imprisoned in a virtual computer-generated world —we are living in an unperceived prison of sorts. As the character Morpheus says:
“What you know you can’t explain. But you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life. That there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind driving you mad.”
Of course, we can clearly see that there are many things wrong with the world — war, hunger, violence, hatred. Easily, that can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on-it-feeling of unease can find its root in quite tangible phenomena. Perhaps it is a form of escapism to look elsewhere than the obvious issues — wishful thinking that there is some explanation which would make the world’s horrors somehow more comprehensible. And yet, true though this may be, it doesn’t hurt to probe, to dig, to question consensus reality.
The Matrix premise borrows heavily from the Gnostic tradition, wherein the world was created by imperfect gods (though within the spectrum a perfect one exists.)
These flawed creators are described as a race of inorganic beings local to our solar system, called Archons. Agents of error, they feed off human misery and hence work to deceive the mind towards darkness. Pretty trippy stuff, considering the ancient texts date back to the 3rd and 4th century.
The fact that our experience of stimuli in the world is actually an experience of our brain’s interpretation of that stimuli (rather than the thing itself) does make a Matrix-like gap between reality and perceived reality plausible.
After all, the smell of a rose is simply information recognized through sensory organs and registered as “rose.”
The light waves we see when we perceive the rose are in our eyes, not the thing seen; the molecules we smell are in our nose, not the thing smelled. They are not the thing itself, but a relayed message or impression of the thing.
In the language of philosophy, this is known as the “brain in a vat” thought experiment. Theoretically, if it were scientifically possible to place a brain in a life-sustaining liquid environment (or “vat”) & hook its neurons up to a supercomputer—generating electrical impulses identical to those the brain normally receives—the brain would perceive the simulated reality as experiential reality.
This concept is used as a basic argument for philosophical skepticism; as theoretically it is impossible to know, from the brain’s perspective, whether it exists in a scull or a vat.
For, indeed, it is not a pipe, but a representation of one. Yet our first thought upon reading the painting’s caption is to object—certainly this is a pipe.
Yet upon reflection we must admit that the clever artist’s pronouncement is absolutely accurate and, indeed, our tendency to associate the-thing-itself with its representation has been illustrated.
How can we assume this world is as it seems, when nightly dreams themselves can seem so real? What deeper, truer, more expansive identity and truth might be revealed to us about the cosmos and our place in it upon leaving or waking from this reality?
I’m not in any hurry to get there, and as Tom Hanks says in Joe vs. The Volcano, “Some things take care of themselves,” but I do — after many a dark night of the soul wrestling with doubt — have a good feeling about it. After all, the world minus man’s debacles, is a place brimming with potential and inspirational phenomena.
I’ve heard the life-as-dream/world-as-illusion theory described as angst-producing, proof of pointlessness. I don’t see it that way. Does an inspiring nocturnal dream enrich our spirit any less because it gives way to a deeper, fuller reality upon waking? Is a great novel any less meaningful because it didn’t really happen? When you start subdividing it, the word “real” itself begins to lose meaning.
We can knock on a table and feel reassured by its bright, solid sound. But even the table is like Magritte’s pipe — both what it seems to be and also not at all. Reality ripe with paradox and potential, lots of wide open space for us to take a tip from the molecules and dance, even in the smallest spaces.
December 24, 2010 § 31 Comments
“We are the music-makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.”
We live in a world of dead men’s dreams. Our reality, the society that has been conditioning our perception from the day of our birth, is a construction built on a construction built on ideas from other minds, long dead. Their creations compose our world and make up the maps of our psyches, a collective human inheritance.
Today, staring at a lit red traffic signal in the shape of an arrow, waiting to get on the freeway, I was suddenly struck by my—and everyone’s—trance-like acceptance of the symbol. I noted how automatic my responses to the direction had been: I stopped calmly and waited until the light turned green; a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Except, in that moment, I felt unusually aware of the lab rat-like nature of my obedience. Stranger still, I realized I had never noticed the phenomenon before, because it had always been that way.
Green light, go. Red light, stop. Yellow, slow. It’s as if we are on a motorized conveyor belt with an endless array of arrows telling us where to go. Apart from the occasional miscalculation, our roads, our cities, our skies, run like the inside of a well-oiled machine. Sitting there, waiting for the arrow to turn green, I imagined looking down from an airplane at the grid-work of cities, the straightness of sidewalks, the neat ribbons of car rooftops.
Stop. Go. Cogs and wheels. The machine of the city, like the inside of a clock.
Our education starts young. We are groomed for the world: sit quietly, yield to authority and accept the consensus reality. Anything that falls outside of this perimeter is systematically dismissed.
We aren’t taught to ask questions but to regurgitate articulately. We go to school and learn the rules. Then, when we’re of age, we get a job and try to play the learned rules as good as or better than our peers, to make money to survive.
In a very basic sense, this rule-playing to survive is the only option given us. The alternative is homelessness, insanity.
There are other options, of course, and many brave souls do live the unfettered life of the irrepressible spirit within these thinly populated margins. But it’s damn hard, against the grain, and the majority of people get funneled into the general conveyor belt of The System, spending all day at work in order to afford the house or apartment they leave empty five days a week to go to work.
As we all know, but rarely stop to consider the wild absurdity of, part of the Education involves some very highly regarded paper notes printed by The System to represent worth. We are told that some of these notes are worth more than others. Some are worth enough to exchange for a yacht and others are worth enough for only a cup of coffee. The only difference between these two notes is the symbols on their faces.
Despite our Education, I think everyone has had the passing thought that we’ve been duped. As we all know, this Monopoly money isn’t even backed by its worth in gold anymore. Though gold has its own hollow ring—you can’t eat it and it provides no information, functioning solely as a signifier—at least it has a tangibility. But the System ran out of gold years ago, and just kept printing bills. So, after spending all day at work we are given a handful of Monopoly money for our trouble.
“Here ya go!” says The System, patting Its worker bee on the head. “Some nice, crisp, colored paper. Don’t spend it all at once! Or do…”
Once we are equipped with our colored paper symbols, we are bombarded by advertisers who seek to steal our image of ourselves as we exist without their product, and sell it back to us “upgraded” in exchange for the paper notes we have earned with our labor.
We are encouraged by media everywhere to overeat bad food and shop our cares away. It’s not personal, it’s marketing. And yet how many commercials does an average American watch in a lifetime? Billions. It would be impossible to be unaffected by such a bombardment.
MBG recently underwent some criticism for creating a commercial that literally burned the image of their logo onto the inside of movie-goers retinas. Utilizing the phenomenon that happens when you look at the sun and close your eyes, the effect left an after-image on the inside of the viewers’ eyelids for several moments after they had stopped viewing the advertisement.
But how different is this from what regular commercials are doing every day? In this world of advertisers who steal our images of ourselves, of speedy soundbites and cheap entertainment, a newer/bigger/faster culture of diversion has taken us hostage on its runaway train. Writer Nicholas Carr speculates that our constant Internet trolling is remodeling our brains, making it nearly impossible for us to give sustained attention to a long piece of writing.
He wonders if modern humans’ addiction to technology is weakening our ability to engage in deep thought.
Tests show that internet perusal activates the “seeker” instinct in man left over from foraging days, so that when a quest for online information is initiated, the promise of obtaining a new nugget of social interaction or trivia sets the dopamine flowing in our brains.
But research suggest that, chemically, the payoff is less exciting than anticipated. In affect, an obsessive loop can be activated, leaving us continually pressing the lever for another crumb.
Modern entertainment culture creates a largely passive experience for the viewer or listener. While some films do generate spectacular visuals, and even, at their best, mental-emotional exploration, movie-viewing is a passive experience. The image is generated for us by other minds, and viewers become happily immersed in an alternate reality. With the rising popularity and marketing push behind 3D movies, today’s cinema experience is beginning to look more and more like a “feely” out of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.
“Going to the Feelies this evening, Henry?” inquired the Assistant Predestinator. “I hear the new one at the Alhambra is first-rate. There’s a love scene on a bearskin rug; they say it’s marvelous. Every hair of the bear reproduced. The most amazing tactile effects…”
In our tick-tock world we are encouraged to function like clockwork, prescribed medication when we aren’t integrating well with society [See “The Politics of Normalcy”] and given our jollies at the “feelies.” To quote Jim Morrison:
“We have been metamorphosised from a mad body dancing on hillsides to a pair of eyes staring in the dark.”
For centuries, the medicine men and women of indigenous cultures have utilized disassociative substances to step outside the hive mind & brush with other dimensions of reality. They have taken psychotropic plants to travel through inner space, bringing back dreams & stories to stimulate the imagination of the tribe.
It’s noteworthy and suspicious that substances which might open up new ways of thinking are illegal in our culture, but consumption of the cancer-causing distraction of cigarettes and the numbing agent of alcohol is legal and actively encouraged (shades of “1984‘s” Victory Gin.)
What is to be done then, once it becomes clear that we are living in a reality inherited by long dead others? The first thing is to step outside of the consensus spell, as much as possible. Awareness is key.
And then what, after deconstruction? Endless analysis? What really can be done? Society will not disappear. Enter The Dreamer.
The role of the dreamer is the same as the philosopher, the artist, the social critic, the wizard or shaman, and s/he has had the same noble destiny for all of time: to stimulate the imagination of society.
During times when philosophical complacency runs high and value for the arts and the humanities runs low, it is the moral and metaphysical obligation of every Dreamer to speak their truth as best they can in whatever medium most excites them. It is the destiny of every Dreamer to bring aliveness to the mechanized time, provocation to the complacent culture.
In order to engage in the original thinking necessary to provide the world with stimulating observations, The Dreamer must effectively step outside of the mental framework of society and perceive the world from a bird’s eye view.
We must question everything we have been taught and hereto assumed. We must seek new information of worth and be on a constant mission to set the imagination on fire.
There is so much beauty available, so many notes left behind by others before us who have questioned the way we live. To combat the mechanized, plastic, consumeristic worldview infiltrating our minds everyday from the outside, we must consciously seek experiences that feed the soul.
We must give ourselves time to dream, to exist in undisturbed silence and nature, to ruminate on our lives and question reality.
As the advertisement-driven Western World slowly succeeds in covering the globe with McDonald arches and brand name blurbs, as people become more and more addicted to the instant gratification of pop technology, we are increasingly in danger of losing the impulse to dream. Without vision, without self-questioning, we lose our way.
Dreamers are in high demand these days. This is a call to arms. Can you be a professional dreamer? I, for one, am certainly going to try.