Saturday, 23 August 2014

My education

My best friend asked me one day how one can even conceive of the dual nature of reality (wave and particle), and I told him that we can see this in the everyday: everything that we see has colour.

I read a very interesting article on Scientific American by Barbara Kantrowitz called, The Science of Learning (August 2014), but it was a quote in the article that got me thinking. Said Joseph Merlino (on p. 73):

"I don't think you can look at education from the point of view of whether it works or doesn't work, as if it's a light bulb. I don't think human knowledge is like that...In the mechanical age, we are used to thinking of things mechanically. Does it work? Can you fix it? I don't think you can fix education any more than you can fix your tomato plant. You cultivate it. You nurture it."

As someone who has spent his life learning and thinking as much as I can for the sheer joy of it, I say well said, Mr Merlino: You cultivate it; you nurture it. This is an art in the decline.

Yesterday I was listening to the CBC radio show, Ideas, where Steven Pinker spoke about his book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined. During the Q&A segment of his presentation, a military academy teacher of philosophy tried, rather dismissively, to box him in with a question why he'd claim such a thing when everything that's happening in the world points to the contrary. His answer was brilliant.

After all his tour de force presentation on statistics and inferences from humanity's past, his answer was that he's talking about the part that is not reported on the news or documented by historians (countries at peace, schools that weren't shot up, mailmen who didn't go postal, etc.) but nonetheless bear down on his (rather counter-intuitive) conclusion.

The brilliance of his answer lies in the fact that he's somehow able to take a step back to take in a more complete picture than the hapless guy who thought he had him. But...but...but. But nothing.

There is a piece I just read on Huffington Post (Canadian edition) by Giovanna Mingarelli (http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/giovanna-mingarelli/inuit-elders-history-_b_5698664.html) where one of the comment posters betrays his mechanical thinking (a right-wing troll who thinks he cracks wise regularly on subjects he knows very little or nothing about); something Merlino is saying is the problem.

I've spent a great deal of time thinking about what (especially) younger aboriginal people mean when they talk about education as if it were a reward or a designation earned after suffering through something rather than a characteristic one acquires through (sometimes) hard work. Unscrupulous bureaucrats visibly cream their pants when confronted thus because it is the most unproductive and uninformed starting point of discussion (can we even say "discussion"?).

I know some of the elders Mingarelli writes about in her article (elders including Shirley Tagalik who has spent many years working with Inuit elders both as an educator and social activist). Their assumption is that "education" is a human developmental process where acquiring manual and intellectual skills is seamlessly incorporated to developing character (to have a good and caring heart capable of being useful and wanted on the voyage). It is called the "warrior mind" by some cultures but I think a closer description is "inferential learning".

We were struggling one time in one of the workshops organized by Shirley and her colleagues in the Arviat curriculum development office trying to communicate the subtleties of Inuit notions of education when it occurred to me that we (the Inuit) were actually talking about the holistic process of human development (Inuliurniq).

Mark and Donald are no longer with us but I am grateful for all the learning I got from them and the others mentioned in the Mingarelli article. From them I learned that it is less about the brand of "education" than it is about acquiring the drive to become fully human.

Jay

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Richard Kearney's "anatheism"

I've rediscovered the radio. I'm the midst of moving to another town, another job and everything is packed and gone so I've been listening to online radio all day. Thank G*d for the CBC, or more precisely, the CBC radio show called, Ideas. This is where I've discovered Richard Kearney and his notion of "ana-theos" or returning to G*d after G*d.

Here is the link to the online broadcast of the episode of Ideas where Kearney is featured: http://www.cbc.ca/player/Radio/Ideas/Full+Episodes/ID/2469543746/

Wow. I know I've wanted to "reclaim" Christianity but I didn't realize that there is a beautifully developed discourse for what I've only felt and been unable to articulate and clumsily tried to actualize both in thought and act.

I need to think some more...

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Naujaat

There have been a few times when I've felt the power of a landscape—at once ancient and new, eternal and ephemeral. Naujaat is one of those landscapes. Words alone cannot do it justice, but it reframes the mind, the soul (dare I say?). It has the mountains and hills of south Baffin, only the scaling is differentsmaller.

There is a familiarness to it like something or someone we've never seen before but know immediately how beautiful they are once we've seen them. It is a spiritual synchronicityif you'd forgive my literary/intellectual paucity.

The landscape clearly has been occupied by Inuit for thousands of years. It is a gathering place of Inuit. One can tell that it has never been taken for grantedat least up to our times. There is a lot of ancient engineering but it is incorporated into the land and to leave the bio-productivity untouchedunhewn stonework:

And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it. (Exodus 20:25)

It is less about uncritical yearning for the past, though in honouring it, it is about the renewal of the eternal promise: the Tao; the Halakhaboth in essence refer to the path to follow. That is Naujaat.

Jay

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Luke 18:10-13

Yesterday I read a very interesting interview by Matt Sledge on Huffington Post with author Max Blumenthal on the current Israeli-Palestinian crisis (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/10/max-blumenthal-israel-palestine_n_5574082.html?utm_hp_ref=world). Blumenthal has been labelled an "Israel-basher" but I think he has some important things to say about the social engineering efforts of the extreme right whose strand may be traced back to the rise of the so-called, New Christian Right movement, which emerged in the 1970s in America and Australia (google: Televangelism as Pedagogy and Cultural Politics, written by Peter McLaren and Richard Smith).

It is not hard to see why this movement has been such an insidious and aggressive movement by the list of well-funded Superpacs: The Moral Majority, Christian Voice, Religious Roundtable and the Institute of Religion and Democracy (in America); The Festival of Light, The League of Rights, The Queensland National Party, STOP and CARE (in Australia) (McLaren and Smith, p. 153), and in Canada, to a lesser degree, off-shoots of these movements that have taken root especially in the western provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan that Harper has been able to exploit to achieve a majority government.

The ultimate aim of these funding agencies is to bring about the "new" Jerusalem culminating (up to this point) in the re-election of Netanyahu ("...with Netanyahu determined to reverse the damage that had been done to him and shatter the unity agreement."):

I noticed in 2009 that Israel had undergone a massive societal transition, and that new voices were moving into the mainstream from the extreme right. That the peace process had completely collapsed and failed to accomplish what it supposedly set out to do, and that the most right-wing government in Israel's history had been elected by a comprehensively indoctrinated and militarized public, whose youngest members were its most extreme, and that this was going to spell serious trouble on the ground. 
....
They're the direct result of an education system that promotes militarization, that seeks to delegitimize the other in the minds of Israelis, and to cultivate Israelis as good soldiers, not good citizens.
To help them accomplish the psychological feat, which is not normal, of joining an occupation army at age 18, they have to be processed through a prolonged program of indoctrination which convinces them that they are in existential peril at all times, and that Palestinians could throw them off their land if they don't join the army.
(Abu Khdeir's killers) are a common product of Israel's education system and its comprehensively militarized culture. (Blumenthal interview on Huffington Post)

As a Judeophile I see the ruthlessness of Netanyahu and the largely invisible Christian Right as pure hubris, as sinful arrogance assuming the role of a mid-wife, not because of some great and external evil but because of the misguided belief that this is what G*d wants. Armageddon and the rising internecine strife benefit who? It is the multi-billion dollar funding complex that preys on and perverts the core belief systems of the invalids, the misfits, the angry, the mean, the greedy, the mentally- and ideologically- seiged, etc. spoken of in Depeche Mode's song, "Personal Jesus".


Jay

Friday, 11 July 2014

Halakha

The term, halakha, is a Hebrew word meaning "the way to go" which is taken to mean the "overall system of religious law" which is contrasted with another term, aggadah, meaning "to draw out" which is taken to mean the diverse corpus of rabbinic commentaries and philosophical and mystical interpretations of the Holy Scriptures and other important works of Jewish literature and thought.

I was given a book recently called, How Forests Think: toward an anthropology beyond the human (2013), by the author, Eduardo Kohn, a husband of an old friend and whom I now consider a new friend. In much the same way that original intellectual works of achievement draw together seemingly disparate insights from seemingly unrelated fields of study,Einstein's theories of relativity drew from ideas and findings that had been bandied about for many years before he came up with a consistent frameworkEduardo's work on, and applications of semiotics is profoundly insightful.

I read an article today on the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/10/torah-robot-berlin-jewish-museum_n_5574936.html?utm_hp_ref=science&ir=Canada) that got me thinking about the Kohn book, or more precisely, helped expand the notion of transcending dualism as Kohn speaks of it in his book.

The inventors of the robot arm that writes Hebrew calligraphy takes pains to make clear: "The finished scroll, to be complete in January 2015, will not be considered halakhic, or meeting the requirements for use for religious purposes. The installation is part of the exhibition 'The Creation of the World' ('Die Erschaffung der Welt' in German), predominantly a collection of Hebrew manuscripts."

There is a system to copying the Holy Scriptures—a halakha—that is considered, by some sects of Judaism, as a partnership between the people and G*d, and not to be taken lightly at all:

"'In order for the Torah to be holy, it has to be written with a goose feather on parchment, the process has to be filled with meaning and I'm saying prayers while I'm writing it,' said Rabbi Reuven Yaacobov."

This brings me to Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007)—and Kohn's comprehensive critique of dualism. Baudrillard, in his later years, increasingly became obsessed with virtual reality, and, in effect, gave up on trying to transcend dualism and sided with materialism in the extreme having seen his children (his theories) either cut down by history or by the very developments in technology and human knowledge he said would happen a certain way with certain results. -Here's to Baudrillard: a tragic hero of post-modernism.

Kohn, on the other hand, uses the very terror and angst that brought down Baudrillard to gain an original perspective on the nature and ontology (and perhaps a way out) of dualism. In reference to a personal experience that brought about an "aha!" moment, he writes:

Panic provides us with intimations of what radical dualism might feel like, and why for us humans dualism seems so compelling. In tracing its untenable effects panic also provides its own visceral critique of dualism and the skepticism that so often accompanies it. In panic's dissolution we can also get a sense for how a particular human propensity for dualism is dissolved into something else. One might say that dualism, wherever it is found, is a way of seeing emergent novelty as if it were severed from that from which it emerged. (Kohn, p. 57)

In my rather crude interpretation of Kohn, I'd say that the interplay between the halakha and aggadah (ie, the historical being that is Rabbi Yaacobov) is what distinguishes the Rabbi from the robot arm, but the distinction is ultimately superficial because it is not a matter of choice but a symbiosis between the goose feather, the parchment and the Rabbi that creates the religious act (the partnership between G*d and man, if you will). This symbiosis negates the utility of the robot arm but simply because the cycle of relations is complete.

It is these cycles of relations within cycles of relations that Eduardo Kohn studies:

An emergentist approach can provide a theoretical and empirical account of how the symbolic is in continuity with matter at the same time that it can come to be a novel casual locus of possibility. This continuity allows us to recognize how something so unique and separate is never fully cut off from the rest of the world. (Kohn, P. 56-57)

Jay

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Striving for simplicity

One of my closest and beloved friends has been on a program to simplify her home, to take away the superfluous and the unnecessary and to find satisfaction in a simple home. I think it's very cool because the notion of accumulation seems to be our default setting while the taking away seems a torturous task of sacrifice and self-denial.

In the Taoist philosophy the concept of the "uncarved block" goes hand-in-hand with the concept of "non-action" (simplicity and humility). And, along with these, Lao Tsu says that to attain wisdom one has to subtract things everyday.

The distillation of these spiritual truths—believe it or not—achieve a personal perfection in the Christ who had not even a pillow to lie on (Matthew 8:20).

Like most people who grew up being forced to go to church I was really put off by the presentation of the Christ as an arbitrarily judgmental, petty and spiteful figure, and for many years I wanted nothing to do with religion: some people were going to heaven and some people were going to hell, and I had a natural affinity for the latter. Why even try...said I.

Then I kind of lost my mind and shrank into Jewish mysticism called the Kabbalah. This is where I found the notion of "divine simplicity" that holds the transcendence of G*d from His creation is because He is absolutely simple with no element, no part, not structure that should be attributed to Him even—and especially—for the purposes of worship. "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3 and Deuteronomy 5:7)

A literal, concrete reading suggests that we should not worship idols (very little chance of that in the modern world), but a more nuanced (esoteric) reading says that:

He who obeys his inclination is like an idolator. "There shall be no strange god in thee" [psalm 81:10] means, Make not the stranger in you your ruler! (Yannai. Talmud J: nedarim 9.1)

The surrounding commentaries say that without the Yetzer Hara (evil inclination) no illumination is possible: In every evil thought there is a spark of divinity, which has sunk to a very low degree, and begs to be elevated (Joseph Opatoshu, In Polish Woods, 1921)

This is in line with the Book of Genesis: The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good (Gen. 1:12)

In essence and fact, the Yetzer Hara (vanity and pride) is a superfluous addition to what is already perfected and deemed "good" by our Creator. "The lamb of G*d who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us sinners" There is no trick, no secret divulged only to the privileged few, there is only the taking away. Our duty and responsibility as disciples is only to strive for simplicity.

Andrew Murray was given to me by a fellow Christian at the beginning of my re-animation:

There are three things that should motivate me to be humble. Humility is the only normal way for me to live as a man. This healthy desire to take a rightful place under God moves the angels in heaven, just as it did Adam and Eve when they were freshly created and Jesus when he lived as the carpenter from Galilee. Humility also gives me hope as a sinner. It appeals to us humans in our fallen condition and points out the only way to return to our right place in God’s creation. Finally, humility strengthens me as a saint. Grace teaches us that as we lose ourselves in the overwhelming greatness of God’s love, humility before Him is caught up in everlasting blessedness and worship. (http://www.cec-sd.org/materials/Humility_by_Andrew_Murray.pdf)

I freely give as am encouraged by the author and the publishers of his divinely-inspired commentary on the Humility of Christ.

I close with a series of quotes from Lao Tsu (which I maintain are also in correspondence with the best of spiritual insights of Inuit Knowledge):

"When goodness is lost, it is replaced by morality."

"The usefulness of a pot comes from its emptiness."

"The best people are like water, which benefits all things and does not compete with them. It stays in lowly places that others reject. This is why it is so similar to the Way."

"When people see some things as beautiful, other things become ugly. When people see some things as good, other things become bad."

“Try to change it and you will ruin it. Try to hold it and you will lose it.”

"The more that laws and regulations are given prominence, the more thieves and robbers there will be."

Jay

Sunday, 29 June 2014

All is beautiful

In the 2011 movie, Immortals, John Hurt's Zeus tells the Theseus to mind his rhythm when he fights. The concept of rhythm or periodicity—everything from cadence to static repeating patterns, mutating or regular—is fundamental aesthetics that is hard-wired to the human brain, and most of it is subconscious. It is truly the final arbiter in our acceptance of nature, and the "natural". It is, to me, manna from heaven dividing the insane from the mystical.

Pythagoras is famous for his willingness to kill to try and quell "irrational" numbers where non-repeating, endless expansion of numbers follow a decimal point is the definition, though it is not the psychological "irrationality" but the fact that a given number defies a whole numbers ratio representation. However simply because a number is irrational doesn't mean it has no inner beauty—the analytic and geometric proofs of the square root of 2, the number π, etc. have something of a divinely inspired beauty about them much akin to a landscape that only the mind's eye can perceive.

I personally have spent now literally years exploring the abstract structures of language and am ever on the look out for "new" ways of perceiving—I put quotation marks around the word new because sometimes the old (old English, or reconstructed proto-languages) provide insights not obvious in synchronic analysis alone.

For eg, taking cue from the Gematria (a numerological analysis of Hebrew letters in Jewish mysticism) I came up with a way of numeral coding of morpheme types allowable in Inuit language grammar and I saw beauty never before seen but was always there (a four number sequence, a genetic code of language if you will). -Sounds pretty "far out", doesn't it?

It is nothing less than a pons asinorum of linguistic analysis: impassive, inscrutable without a proper frame of mind, like the monolith in Arthur C Clarke's 2001: a space odyssey.

Having seen and tasted fruit not intended for the vulgar (and I say this in all humility) I join the author of psalm 19:

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.

Jay