Tag Archives: Nature

Why onmipresent consciousness isn’t that unlikely

If you think about it rationally, there is no reason why consciousness should reside within the brain and cannot be outside of it. Surely, numerous neuroscientists would instantly prove me wrong here, but they have two main problems. 1: like myself, they look upon this question from a limited perspective, that is, from within the limitations of their own thoughts, projections and perceptions and 2: they search for consciousness within the human brain, assuming they’ll encounter it. Of course they will. Yet that won’t exclude its presence outside of it. And that’s not their expertise.

Now, we say that if we sleep, and I mean dreamless sleep, we are unconscious. But is it possible that we think exactly the opposite while we’re asleep? That during sleep, we perceive the waking state as the unconscious state? That we simply forget about everything we lived during daytime? Or worse: that we do remember it, but from our different state of mind, perceive it as nothing? Just like being asleep appears as ceasing to exist when we’re awake? Could there be a different world where our body lies inside a bed while we are awake here? If there was, how would we know?

A dense network with a filter
Consider the scientific status quo on how the brain looks. It’s an enormously dense network of cells with micro-telephone cables, including numerous interconnected regions where basic functions support more complex ones. The system is kept active by constant influx of oxygen and other building blocks, and outflow of waste materials. And where is consciousness? According to neuroscientists, it exists as a result of the continuous interchange of electric signals of the brain. The theory seems somehow similar as magnetism emerging from an electromagnetic coil with electricity going through. But one of the mayor neurscientific theories is that a filter is responsible for our higher awareness. That’s the mechanism which selects a fraction of the signals reaching us through our senses. By that, it turns our perception, our consciousness, into something we can grasp.

This premise fails to acknowledge that by defining consciousness as the filter that makes the world understandable, you say that the way humans are perceiving the world during their wakeful state  is the one and only ‘conscious’ way. Some bypass that problem by calling it ‘higher consciousness’. While I acknowledge the presence of such a filter, I challenge the view of calling it ‘conscious’ or ‘aware’ by asking: how would the world look without it? Isn’t it likely that our consciousness is just ‘a state of consciousness’?

Neurologists say it is hard, perhaps impossible to find a structure in nature as intricate as the human brain. That it has gone through aeons of evolution. They are right. The way they are right, however, falls entirely within the timescale and the spatial scale in which that very brain perceives. We have evolved a style of perceiving that has made our own style of perceiving look like the ultimate style of perceiving by confining itself to a selection of it all. And we need this limited consciousness to keep ourselves organized and by that protect it from going extinct. Smart fellas we are.

I’d posit that this filter forges our egos, but not so much the fact that we’re conscious. The signals in our brains, the clouds of electricity that run from one part to the other and back, may not be structured in the same way outside of our heads, but they are just as present everywhere else.

What else could be conscious?
A tree that stands with its roots in the ground, branching into the sky, constantly exchanges signals, transferring charged matter from above to below and back. Its roots as well as its branches touch those of other plants. As much as the cells in our brains and bodies, these plants and other organisms need to constantly exchange with each other to survive. Is it truly unlikely that out from this continuous buzz rises some kind of awareness?

A galaxy, constantly revolving, has bricks and pieces bumping against each other. Each of the stars continuously radiates all kinds of wavelengths in the direction of its fellow stars. Could it not be that out of that motion spins a thought now and then, so big and so slow that we will never even notice it?

Is it not likely that each species has its own filter, is its own filter of reality? Ants constantly gather substances from around the nest, transporting them to the core. They process them there, then bring them back outside. Meanwhile, the inside of the nests is a cacophony of smell and touch, all eventually leading back to that one queen. We know the chemicals are there, we know the pathways of the ants, but we don’t know how it is to live inside. Could that queen be communicating with other queens via the ants in her nest? In the same way as words stand between human communicators?

Or how about cities? Is it not possible that Amsterdam, existing for over 700 years, has learned? Could it be that all beings inside it compose something bigger? Something that chitchats with Paris and London? How can we be certain that it does not, when we send airplanes, cars, boats and electricity up and down every day? Could we say the same for businesses and other organizations, which, in their way create a filter by bringing the same people together day in, day out?

How complex should structure be in order to give birth to awareness?

Dreamers
I personally find the presence of consciousness in every bit of matter and energy more than likely. I’m fascinated by the idea of ‘dreamers’. That we are all just dreaming our way into reality. That there are dreamers dreaming the sun and the moon, others dreaming wasps, chairs, the cosmos and the atoms. That none of these dreamers are truly isolated or alone, but rather clouds of consciousness, reaching into one another. Sometimes aware of their connection, other times not. That consciousness is not just us, but a sea of dreamers, stretching out in all directions and dimensions. In that view, those who dream our fates would be our gods, and we would be the gods of those whose fates we dream.

 

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The Redeemer

When the earth no longer knew what to do with mankind, she decided to release them into space. She didn’t feel particularly proud of her move, but said to herself that it was better this way.

 

John the Baker, floating in outer space, looked at the earth from a distance. Millions of others were serenely drifting into the darkness with him. They looked like many coloured needle points from here. He tried to recognize friends or family.

‘Hey!’ Yelled a man in colourful robes at John from a distance. ‘Hey you there, mister Bakerman. John, was it? I remember you had excellent cookies!’
John the Baker gave him a single piercing look, then looked the other way.
‘We should stick together, you know.’ Said the colourfully clad man, who was managing somehow to move himself in John’s direction, his clothes hovering behind him. ‘The situation is bad enough as it is…’ he kept silent for a while. ‘do you know why she did it?’

John the Baker still tried his best not to give the man any attention. He looked back at the others. They were helplessly gaining more and more distance from what was once their home. It now seemed like an enormous blue orb, hanging in a vast, uncanny infinity of absolutely nothing. Like everyone else. In the distance, he recognized one of his old class mates, with equally little control over her movement as himself. Then he looked back at the big, blue earth. The sight did not comfort him.

‘How do you do that?’ John asked the man in colour.
‘Do what?’
‘Steer your way’
‘Steer my way?’
‘Yes, how do you manage to float in my direction?’
‘How do I manage?’
‘For gods sake, explain me how you do it, hippyman! You’re deciding on your direction’
‘Do you think I want to drift away from the earth?’
‘Look, right now, all I think is that I don’t know what to think, and that I want to get away from you. Do you think you can help me with that?’
‘The earth has expelled me as much as you. I’m not in control at all’
‘But you manage to adjust your direction!’
‘It may seem that way, Bakerman, but I’m really just floating along’
‘Hey, you know what?’ said John, who had a bright idea. ‘We could push ourselves off each other, and then both go in a new direction.’
‘Well I suppose we could’ answered the other ‘but you haven’t answered my question yet.’
‘Which question?’
‘Why do you think she did it’
‘Who did what?’
‘The earth, Bakerman. Why did she release us into space?’
‘What kind of question is that? There’s some kind of physical explanation for this…’
‘Look around you, John,’ answered the man. do you see any cows around? Pigs? Any fish? Birds? They’re not here. Nor are there plants or stones or any material except for the umbrella’s and the suitcases people were carrying.’ He grabbed an apple out of space and took a bite of it.
‘It’s just humans. And there’s a lot of them. I’m guessing all… We were released. Purposefully.’
‘Well maybe it didn’t like us anymore, then’ answered John.
‘That’s what I think! We were too disrespectful with her, and now she let us go. John was now close enough to grab the colourful man’s robe, and pulled him in.
‘Look, Hippyman, I have absolutely no intention to be stuck here in space with your happy face or your wild theories after losing everything I had. I honestly don’t care why this is happening, but it needs to stop. I am going back’. With that, he decidedly kicked the man off into the darkness, giving himself momentum back to earth.

 

Earth was, indeed, relieved by the sight of all humans floating in open space. For one thing, she deserved some free time from their constant, demanding presence. If she’d ever miss them, she could always decide to evolve some new ones out of the few remaining monkeys. She’d make them smaller next time. Maybe evolve them from the squirrel monkey. That way, they’d probably not consider hunting down lions or elephants, and they would need smaller houses, so they’d leave more for the others. They’d survive for a week on a chicken’s egg. Yes. That would work. She wondered why she didn’t think of that before.

She would miss them. Humans had by far been the most entertaining species around since the giant dragonfly. Their constant running around in anxiety, their little airplanes flying back and forth, their crazy little inventions, the way they tried to control each other with them, their self-proclaimed independence had all kept her warm inside for many centuries. For a long time, she expected all that to be harmless. It had recently got completely out of hand. The digging started to hurt, and their constant burning of everything became a menace to the others. Tigers had already been complaining about them for years, but when even the birds and the ants came home angry, she was forced to draw her conclusions. Humans had to go.

And it seemed to her that they were far better off in space. Flying was after all what they wanted, right? They could do it all the time now, and they did not need to worry about digging up anything first. They could constantly chill in the sun, had no more weight to carry or bills to pay, had no more responsibilities to carry or wars to fight. All of that was gone for them now. No, she didn’t doubt that out there, these people would find the redemption they deserved.

 

When, after a long flight back to the ground, John finally hit the earth again, he bounced back from it as if nothing had happened. There simply was no more attraction. He grabbed a far reaching branch. It ripped.

John had by now had some time to ponder what the hippyman had asked him. He didn’t understand what he’d done to deserve this. A lifetime of bread baking. Day in day out. Did he feed Nazis without knowing? Did he accept the money of manipulative traders? Unethical judges? But drifting away from the earth for a second time, he could not see any humans left behind. He understood he shouldn’t take the action personally. And yet he felt betrayed.

The floating itself was quite a thrilling experience. John never expected to be able to see the earth slowly gain distance below him this way. The sky was clear, and the tickling sensation of air passing by his ear was in fact quite pleasant. Moving his limbs didn’t cost him any effort. And okay, he was unable to steer himself in any direction, but where did he really have to go? Seeing the horizon slowly get rounder and rounder had something magical about it. Perhaps it was okay this way.

‘Watch out!’
He saw a woman in a dark green woman’s suit comet down from above. It seemed that their courses would cross somewhere ahead.
‘What can I do?’ Yelled John.
‘I don’t know!’
‘I’ll grab you!’ Yelled John.
‘No!’ she screamed back in slight panic.
Some seconds later, the woman’s leg crushed into Johns diaphragm. He choked. Throwing his arms around the leg, he got a hold of it and gulped. Her leg moved as if she wanted to get rid of him. Slowly revolving, they drifted in a new, common direction.
‘Let me go!’ she screamed. ‘I’m going back to earth!’
‘I just was there’ John answered. ‘you bounce against the surface and float back into the sky’
‘I’ll grab a tree’
‘Tried that, the branch broke’. He held the branch in front of her face, holding her leg only with one arm now.
‘Mine won’t’
‘It’s a thick branch, see?’ John said, and tried to catch a bypassing piece of chocolate with it.
‘Let me go!’ The woman yelled.
‘There is no-one down there.’
‘How would you know? You bounced back’ she said. Then she pushed and kicked herself loose, projecting John further into space.

In the black distance above him floated a group of people holding on together. They were shaped like a big ball. He heard some babbling from their direction. John couldn’t make out if they were partying or fighting. The ball moved awkwardly, a discharged, clumsy blob. Perhaps he could find a way to join them. He hit his branch against a briefcase to his left. It redirected him.

 

When the earth saw more people return, she created thermal columns to push them back. Her position was clear. No more humans, not even those who seemed okay. They’d multiply and turn into disaster. Blowing the returnees away perfectly supported that stance. Good. It was time to hang back, relax and enjoy the rest.

 

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Everything that’s wrong with personal computers

Okayokayokayokayokay. Yes. I owe the fact that you’re reading this to the same personal computers I’m about to abolish. I’m sure there’s a great deal of good coming from them. And I mean PC’s, laptops and smartphones as well. But before we as society have completely disappeared inside our close companions, let’s take a little step back to look at the damaging part of computers and our relationships with them.

They’re flat (even the yoga-ones)
Some days ago, I flew over Paris at night, and for the first time in my life recognized a city by its lights, while flying above it. Then I thought that it seemed as though I was looking at google maps. Then I thought of how much this didn’t look like google maps at all. Very much. Real life is so incredibly more striking than the screen, even if you have to stretch your neck into a cramp to perceive it through a tiny airplane window. Suddenly seeing the Champs-Élysées with my own eyes reminded me of that.

They demystify
In real life, miracles are something you cherish, something exceptional, something that feeds the life inside you, something you breathe. Building a friendship for example. Computers give us access to an endless flow of cute cats, beautiful women, great inventions and unlikely basketball points. But they’re not special! You will never see someone on the street or even in a theatre dance as well as you saw them on youtube, or hear a better song. So we keep watching, turning the exceptional into the norm, and making the normal unattractive. Seemingly unattractive.

They hypnotize
Yes. I’m fairly sure that there’s actual hypnotization going on when we face a screen. Why else is it hard to stand up and walk away? Computers, with all their imagery, sounds and repetition hook us stronger than Coca Cola ever did. What’s more, I believe that working with several tabs or windows at once, actually fragments our minds. It creates the feeling of having a pile of tasks to attend to. That causes stress. Anxiety. It scatters your attention. As if you’re talking to a hundred people at once. O, wait, you are.

They make mistakes (and you get the blame)
Some say machines don’t make mistakes. Well, sloppy programs sure do (not that I can write them better). In the past months, I have spent at least a week on phone and e-mail to correct wrong transactions, fix technical issues and create new categories for my particular case. If more and more of our data get registered and uploaded, that means that more and more of them get mixed up in some administrative system, which bounces it on to the next. And as the gear wheels of those machines keep turning, they suck our identities in untill we’re completely stuck. And of course we’re not the ones to benefit from that, we just have to fix it. More than anything, it’s a problem for elderly people, who are already in deep water when it comes to the digital status quo.

They disempower
To give an example: some say social media give people the chance to bypass the traditional media which are controlled, edited and censored by an elite. It has been true for places where censorship was high. For a bigger part, however, social media follow the already established entities, who know perfectly well what to say and how to build their capital of followers. Indeed, the algorithms of social media have the weak feed the strong. A new capitalism of attention. The big ones casting shadows over the small who hope to be heard, but are silenced by the noise of their soulmates. Thus, they waste time in virtual life.

 

Ha! Writing this makes me sound old. Yet I always had my reservations (and attractions) to computers. It is clearer to me again, now, how important it is to take time off the screen. Watch the brightness of the sun. Smell the smog on the streets. Hurt my head on a low ceiling I didn’t know before. And luckily, that actually works. Joy cannot be injected through the eyes. It arrives when you are in motion, rushes through your veins when your heart pumps wildly. Spring is coming.

Vegan Challenge

For the coming fourty days, I will eat and drink solely plant-based foods and drinks. I will succeed, except perhaps for a few mistakes out of ignorance (though I just took screenshots of a list of vegan E-numbers, and intend to verify them). It’s not my intention to permanently switch to a vegan or even a vegetarian diet. I don’t consider that necessary, but I do think doing such a challenge is a good idea for everyone. Since it is a topic of discussion these days, let me briefly give my views on some of the arguments.

Eating vegan is the more natural thing to do
Some vegans claim that eating vegan is a natural thing to do. They support this statement by pointing out some of our physiological adaptations to green food, such as our molars to chew, our long intestines to digest greens and our not so acidic stomach. These are supposedly signs that evolution adapted us to a fully vegan diet. For now, all I’d like to contest against this doctrine is ‘Vitamin B12’. That vitamin is vital to our nervous system, but can be found solely in animal products, in some very exceptional algae and in food supplements. The fact that humans would get serious problems (such as blindness) if we don’t regularly ingest B12 pretty much settles the argument for me. And I find the ‘natural’ argument a bit scary in fact. As if ‘cultural’ would be wrong. Depending on your definition, we humans have moved far beyond the ‘natural’. I don’t see that as morally wrong as long as we stay respectful, and I do not support such doctrines.

Eating vegan is healthier
Here’s an argument I haven’t researched that much. So far, I have lived by the principle that my body knows perfectly well what is good for it and what is not. Now that I’m thirty, I do admit that this outlook may be a little naive, since I would supposedly not yet notice the potential long-term damage I did to it in my early years. Yet following my appetite, I noticed that my food choice becomes heavier in winter, containing more meat, and more vegetable-based in summer, when I need less energy and fat to keep my body heated. I consider that a good sign. Of course, I cannot be sure if that is a mental of physical thing. Probably a combination.

Essentially, health is a complex thing. What is healthy for your brain, may be unhealthy for your heart, and what is good for your kidneys may be less good for your eyes or your nervous system. Food scientists discover new impacts of foods every day. Hence, next to following my taste, I have always tried to adopt a balanced diet and eating a bit of everything.

To stay within the discourse on health and veganism, some people use the argument that vegans get sick as soon as they eat a bit of meat. I wouldn’t deny that they get sick, but would look for the explanation in the switch of diet, rather than blaming the actual meat or dairy. And many people have allergies, intolerances or other medical conditions which would fully legitimize certain diet choices. Problems I don’t have, luckily. In the end, I’d say that avoiding illness requires a broader outlook. We should stimulate our capacity to continuously heal ourselves, which in my view is about untightening.

Vegan consumption reduces animal suffering
I’m all for the decrease of animal suffering. Whether an animal suffers or not, depends on how it is treated. Not eating meat at all means turning your back on meat farmers. Buying organic meat of the kind that focusses on animal welfare, on the other hand, stimulates a better practice. It could indirectly stimulate change in the standards of animal treatment in general. Thus using market forces, buying organic meat could decrease animal suffering in a way that eating no meat can’t. Let’s not forget also, that many of the animals we’re talking about would never have existed without us. Provided they enjoy existence, breeding animals could be a good thing. I would say that this conversation should be more about respectful animal treatment than about eating or not eating them.

Killing animals is wrong
I’m not happy that we have to kill other beings to survive, but that’s the bitter truth. Vegans, vegetarians and many others make a sharp distinction between plants and animals. Now, I agree that there are differences between the groups, but there also are plenty of things about plants we do not yet understand. And if there’s one thing in which plants do not differ from animals, it’s in the meaning of death. We are talking about the difference between being held together by life, and falling apart. I don’t see how plants and animals differ under that light. I believe that feeling the life flow out of you is a deeply relaxing experience to all creatures alike.

Vegans’ environmental impacts are lower
I find this the strongest argument against eating animal products (or for the reduction of it). Every step up the food pyramid costs ten times the amount of food and drinks as the previous step did. In other words: it takes 10 kg of grass to create 1 kg of cow, and 100 kg of grass to create 1 kg of human that fed solely on cows, while it would take 10 kg of vegetables. Keeping our position in the food pyramid low will inevitably reduce our impact on the global environment.

There is something unfair about this calculation, however, that I do want to stress. Grass can become new fertilizer. None of the ingested substances truly disappears. All of it will be given back to the atmosphere, the water and the land. The power of the global ecosystem has always been to keep the cycle intact. But: we humans have disrupted the balance, to a point where ecosystems are incapable of dealing with all of our waste. We could, theoretically, compensate for that ourselves and create new cycles that are more adapted to our taste for meat. However, we are far from having created such new cycles at the moment, and many of the valuable nutrients for our food are disappearing into the oceans. Hence it would be better for now to decrease our meat ingestion. Yet in this discussion, we should not forget that many plant products such as coffee, chocolate and plant-based oils have similar impacts on the global nutrient cycles as meat does.

Still taking the challenge
So, if I’m not against consumption of animal products per se, why still take this challenge? Well, first of all, not being anti doesn’t make you pro. I like meat, and not being discriminatory against it is by far the easiest way to go. Reducing my consumption of it is nonetheless still a good idea. Besides, I am not fond of habits that have taken control over me. I take yearly month-long brakes from coffee and alcohol, and I decided to do that with animal-based products as well at least this year. By doing so, I force myself to explore different behavioural patterns, and I expect that my outlook on food will expand. I suppose I’ll have a bigger palette of habits and dishes at my disposal after this period, which will decrease my animal-based consumption without me noticing.

I’m by far not the first of my friends to do something like this. Many have gone before, and I suppose that seeing them do it triggered it in me as well. But this is my choice, and I’m quite sure I will face some small conflicts with myself and society. For a short while, I will look into the faces of the pro-meat camp with the eyes of an anti. That may well turn out to be an interesting experience in itself. I do think I come equipped to disarm potential opponents.

Smurf-intensity

If you talk about economic goals, people say “hmm…” and nod gravely. They perfectly know what you mean. The ideal of earning money, usually the kind of which we are all victims. But if you think about it for a moment, economic goals can (and should) be far more complex than that. Are we talking about long-term goals? Selfish economic goals or the more sustainable kind? Goals that support economic growth, or goals that support economic stability? With the possible exception of economists, people generally don’t quickly ask such questions. That it because the word economy has quite a high smurf-intensity: its definition is unclear, and yet people understand each other when they use it.

Smurfs can smurf smurfs and smurf exactly what other smurf smurfs. This is part of their smurf, because they are used to using the word smurf all the time and look deeper into its meaning. We humans are not smurfs, or at least we don’t seem to be, but have a certain capacity to do the same. The problem for us is, that the meaning of a word with a high smurf-intensity depends on the subculture we find ourselves in.

The word ‘love’ has a cosmic smurf-intensity. It’s a word everyone has a strong connection to, and everyone has a personal definition for. One calls it partnership, the other friendship, another calls it passion, someone else thinks of it as community and yet one more describes it as a divine rush. But if we talk about love, people generally don’t feel a strong need to truly define the word. There is a silent mutual acceptance of the differences in understanding, and the impossibility to pin it down.

Words that are slightly less smurf-intense have this silent agreement only within specific communities. At the same time, they bind and define the community in which they are used. Take the word “energy”. That’s a great adhesive for the New Age communities. A sentence like “this place has great energy”, says something about a place, but it also sets the identity of the person who uses the word. This is a person who explicitly understands the world in flows and vibrations. Subtly using the word energy in this sentence affirms this person is  part of this culture. Only people from within that community truly get the sentence.

People from outside such communities are often quickly annoyed, precisely by smurf intense words and precisely because of that high smurf intensity. The words God and Allah are good examples. Many people spend much effort attempting to dismantle them. They do so in the name of truth, but miss out on the bigger picture: the community they would tear apart if they were to succeed. This also highlights another property of smurf intense words: within the community they have immunity to the kind of criticism that threatens its understanding as existing beyond the imagination. This means that being overly critical on smurf-intense words typically excludes you from the community in which it is smurfed.

Pointing at a word’s smurf intensity during a debate is an effective technique to divert an argument. As an example, you could answer the statement: “It really is becoming time that humans protect nature.” with “well, humans are part of nature”. The second speaker has broadened the definition of nature, and the first speaker now has to spend effort finding more precise wording. By that, speaker one loses terrain in the battle. A typical weakness of using smurf intense words.

The use of smurf-intense words can also distinguish the expert from the amateur. Biologists among themselves would never speak of ‘biological’ phenomena, because that’s far to broad. They would specify if they are speaking about cellular processes, animal physiology or ecology, for example. At the same time, a sentence such as, ‘well that’s just my biology’ is meaningful among all other people. In this case, avoidance of a word with a high smurf intensity may indicate above average knowledge on the meaning of the word.

Smurf intense words are the big fish of the verbal sphere. Using them successfully helps you speak to a broad public. At the same time, you risk being misunderstood because of the innumerable interpretations it causes. But every word has a certain smurf intensity. Being aware of the smurf intensity of a word can help you take a distance  from it, and worry less about its roots in reality. This way, you can take a look and appreciate that high smurf intensity can be a cozy and innocent thing.

Education

People sometimes use the word education when in fact they mean brainwashing. I’m quite sure that most people who do that are not aware of the fact that they do so because they have been brainwashed themselves.

An example: “We should put more funding in education of African countries so that they can build a democracy from the bottom up”. Great idea, but how would this look in practice? Money would go to certain organizations, monitored by their funders according to Western standards. They would employ people to build education programs, benchmarked along Western thought, then train people to teach the deep truths that stand at the base our beautiful democracy, powered solely by light and guided by the highest ethics. Then, at the end, of course, they are checked for optimal performance.

Such structures provided by nation states are often seen as education. Mandatory programs, packages of concepts, knowledge that is transferred and tested, ranking the students into their overseeable life paths, may lift society to a different standard, but they are only a limited part, a controllable bit, of a collective learning process that could also be tuned to enlivening, respect and curiosity-driven exploration of whatever it is that the human mind is eager to find out. I would say real education starts at the point where teacher and student receive the space and the freedom to show each other their views on reality in all its colours.

Transmission of knowledge is important, but we should honour the pathway through which this occurs. That pathway would in my view be called mutual trust. The possibility that another might see something out there which you don’t, not because he or she is more or less capable or suitable to see it, but merely because that other stands on a different position. Exams and profiles undermine such trust.

To translate this back to the omnipotent West, perhaps indeed, there was a time when our long fought for ideals made sense and empowered society at large. But these ideals are starting to take the form of dogmas, heritage we should protect and keep in place with tighter rules and regulations. Our knowledge is growing old, expiring, starting to fail us and begging for fresh inputs from the same societies we have kept in the enlightened dark for centuries.

And yet more importantly, I think we should all allow our inner wise guys to sometimes shut up and listen to the voice of the weak and silent for a change. The fact that we still understand education in a top-down way, taking all these quality checks for granted, shows us a whole lot about our status quos. If only we could see that in the mirror…

Psychoindustry – II

This is a school.

More precisely, it is a secondary Montessori school, which is one of the freer kinds of Dutch schools, where children are supposed to follow their own curiosity and where the role of the teacher is to facilitate that. This school hosts about 4000 people, who spend the majority of their adolescence here. It’s where their minds take shape.

In 1973, Edward Relph wrote his dissertation on ‘Place and Placelessness’. In it he worked out a theory on how the place we find ourselves in shapes our feelings, our beliefs and behavioural patterns. We identify with our places, and partially become them. The theory is used by some architects, and proof for it is accumulating in psychological studies.

Take a look at the school again. Straight, squared lines, regular shapes. The rooms enable just distribution of space, equal for all students. The place is fair, overseeable, easy to cope with, efficient and justifiable to whichever authority paid it. An efficient school to efficiently educate kids into efficient members of society. It does look a bit like an industrial grid, doesn’t it?

Without looking at important factors such as the educational rules and programs of this school, or the structure of society in general, I think this building has huge impact on the development of the personalities of the younger generations. To speculate: it may increase a person’s preference for a predictable life where he or she feels in control. It may subconsciously decrease creativity, openness to the unknown and innovative thinking, but strengthen skills such as the capacity to structure data, perceiving people as numbers and following rules. I believe that school buildings such as this one stimulate more machine-like, cold and lifeless attitudes than, for example, a school composed of little huts in a forest. More industrial minds, capable of more industrial decisions. In that sense, the building fits the age.

Marrying words

It just dawned on me that words, in fact, are an experience. Rewind? Okay.

I am adjusting a scientific article on spiritual experiences in nature. One of the central problems is the definition of the word ‘spiritual’. It has so many meanings! It all depends on who describes it. Some authors have the courage to define it as something ‘non dual’. They say that within a spiritual experience, there is no connection between a person and God, because there is no distinction between them.

One can dismiss those words as elitary blah blah, but whoever does that ignores the fact that every word manifests itself as an experience to the one who uses it. He denies the experience of another. It is the same with words such as God or Allah. The user experiences them and they are therefore meaningful.

This is an essential insight for a frequent writer such as myself. It might be one of my core drives. Writing, for me is about letting go, about enjoying the ride. It’s about discovering my relationship to the words, separately and combined. And I invite you as a reader to do the same.

So how did I get entangled in this quest to pin down ‘spirituality’ as a truth seeker? It seems paradoxical to look for objectivity in a place where the topic cannot exist without the lived, personal world. But it’s a beautiful paradox, because the role of the truth seeker brings me to a new experience of the word ‘spiritual’. As a scientist, you have to believe that words have a certain objective meaning in order to create a valid story. Even if only temporary, you have to believe in order to be believed. In that sense, science is not more than a theatrical act, an impersonation of ‘the objective’. And by impersonating the objective, we get into a closer relationship with the word ‘objective’. A word that cannot exist outside of our experience of it.

The relation we ultimately have to our words defines our communication. The more we cling to the word, the more intimately we experience it and the harder we are willing to fight for it. It makes sense, because the way in which we experience our words makes us who we are.

Biodiversinesque

I enjoy making up new words. It’s an exploration of realms of meaning. A good new word is new territory accessible for other people too. I also like it when other people invent words. That’s why I’ll discuss Maria E. Ignatieva’s ‘Biodivesinesque’, to bring some light into this ‘blue monday’, as a marketeer once called it.

Ignatieva is a European (more or less) landscape architect focussing on urban ecology and design. In several articles, she notes that in the previous two centuries, two main styles have inaugurated globalized urban landscape design, meaning these styles were introduced in colonial territories. The first one was ‘picturesque’, a natural style in which parks look like deforested Western European landscapes, containing elements such as meandering roads and irregular terrains. Open grasslands are an iconic aspect of this style. The second one was ‘gardenesque’. This is a far more high maintenance, regular yet artistic way of designing landscapes, using a variety of exotic plant species and neatly cut hedges to convey a sense of human triumph over nature.

Biodiversinesque goes beyond both styles by integrating deeper understanding of the behaviour of natural environments into the design. The designer lets go of the imperative to imprint a thought upon the landscape. Instead, she or he shows appreciation for nature by taking vital characteristics such as ground water, local species and weather fluctuations into account during the design process. When working with nature, instead of over its back, areas have the potential to become far more biodiverse. This style allows for dynamics in vegetation patterns, since surprises are appreciated instead of being seen as messy and a lack of park management. Through biodiversinesque design, landscape architects can convey the beauty of ecological processes to the visitors of a park, while blending the urban landscape into the natural surroundings.

Reconnecting the urban ecosystem with the surrounding ones, a process that is advancing steadily in Europe, is a way to invite traditional flora and fauna back into the lives of city dwellers that may have forgotten about them. It is a public acknowledgement of the fact that not interfering can sometimes lead to better results than doing something. With her presence, nature gives us soft, subconscious education. By allowing nature back into our lives, we peacefully become it. All we essentially have to do is give it some space.

Inner Revolution

On the train platform of Circular Quay a cockroach is crawling in my direction. It seems to be normal here. This animal would easily survive the downfall of mankind if it were to happen soon.  I am alone because I left a group of fellow young environmentalist professionals who went to eat at MacDonalds. Can you blame a hungry lion for killing prey?

Things here at the congress are moving fast. Two  unspoken questions reside in our midst: are we really so good ourselves and aren´t we preaching to the choir? Reaching out is the YPMC´s main task here. We are exploring the ways. How do we take our accruing knowledge out of this inbred crowd, how do we go beyond the given pathways, into the world that does not seem to care? Do people who don´t really exist? I guess that what we really want, is to help others realize that deep inside, they do. Care. Most are merely numbed.

The Congolese minister of environment, great guy, told me yesterday that in order to halt poaching in his country, it needs a citizen movement. New laws are valuable, but not enough, we all need to want them in place. It´s beautiful to see that the trends expressed on this congress match with the mind-set of the visitors. The bottom line: the problems of today concern every single one of us. All people have to be engaged, all should be involved, regardless of culture, gender or any other type of background. We all need to want to obey the rules we set ourselves. Most know it: the system is broken and we are part of the problem. I bought a ticket to this petrol-driven train device with beer in my belly that was flown here from my neighbour country on the other side of the world.

A citizen movement. An inner revolution. That´s what it needs. And it is happening: Barcelona and even Brussels had hundreds of thousands of people on the street some weeks ago. Perhaps linked to this congress, there was a new climate agreement between China and the US very recently. Australia announced a new great barrier reef project. Results of long, hard fights, supported by our presence.

Humanity is bettering. Without knowing precisely what it is, we gradually commit ourselves to the good.  We are heard. It is felt. Governments and people are approaching each other. A new world order is forming and it is one that listens to people´s needs,  not our greeds. The movement is inside us and around all of us. Our influence to shape this order is here and now. All we need to do is keep joining in and keep figure it out. Do something different sometimes. More now than then. It has started, let´s keep it going.