Category Archives: psychology

Travel Post # 5 Alter do Chao, Pirates and the Rio Arapiuns

Alter do Chao, 17/07/16

Smiles, sunsets, palm trees and a samba band – music in the night always makes me feel at home. And I feel enormous right now,  don’t know where I end, how to contain all of this. Lightning lights up the night and I sway on the rio. I’m terrible at making friends, at looking people in the eyes. They hurt me too much. I wish I could stare without them staring back. If only I could make myself small, a menina, so I wouldn’t feel so constricted. Is it poverty that killed activity in Santarem or is it something else? It’s GLOBO that holds the power over here, it’s all about American idols and dreams. The telenovelas have murdered history, love for nature and spirituality and now the children in the comunidades lacked even basic imagination. Creativity replaced by fake promises, of money and social status.
Caranazal, the Pirate’s Lair and the Pajes (chaman) 18/07/16


I have been abducted by pirates. Hippie pirates, with skulls on the face and body and grand illusions of freedom. They say I’m in the middle of the jungle now, but there’s a road a few miles away. I drove a wolkswagen truck and they threw thei pet rat, Chorinha, onto my lap. I didn’t even budge. Artesanato, drugs, the reggae music, the car, the dirty ethnic prints, the snake skin, the ayahuasca plants in the garden and the forceful natureza. Slaves and stereotypes in their escape of society. But you’re not free, you pry on people – on gringos – to live your lie of community, free love and no possession. But you were kind to me and I am grateful. But that man, that wise man… there was magic there and I felt it inside and I cried. I cried for the kindness and strength he found in me and the empathy and calm he left in me. I confessed my biggest fear, of being alone with myself and he gave me his silent resonting answer, awakening a knowledge that was already inside of me. “There is no fear when you are alone with yourself”. Fear and anger are the most social of constructions.

Comunidade de Anã, Rio Arapiuns, 27/07/16

The rio is cooler and bluer, the forest is greener and I feel lighter. The language stopped being a barrier a soon as I stepped foot into this side of the resex, almost like magic. And there is something magical about this place. About the people’s knowing peaceful smile and how lightly my feet step on the leafs.It’s almost as if the Muanã, the protector spirit of the lake, really is protecting its land and people. I feel like I’ve always belonged here and all my fears and bothers are distant memories from someone else’s life. The excitement in the air subsides my need for sleep, and I lie in the dark, unafraid of snakes and insects, gazing at the infinite white marks and swirls in the sky, frogs croaking all around me. I then walk straight into the all embracing orange light, as the MUSA’s – Mulheres Sonhadoras em Ação – set their nets. There are no human words for happiness.

 

 

Travel Post # 4 – Indigenous Communities of the Rio Tapajos – A Reflection on Learned Helplessness

There are no jaguars here, and there is no conception of power. Chicken. Featherless chicken everywhere. And dogs, skin and bone, sickly and hungry with empty eyes, biting at each other´s skin for a mouldy orange. Ants explore my legs and arms, as a dragonfly buzzes about and I wait for the boat, sweating, thirsty and useless. And often my eyes cross, a curious bloodshot glare – of men, women, children. But it isn´t malaria that haunts the forest and fills the air with sickness. It isn´t snakes and wild beasts that flood me with fear. It is the demon of helplessness that lurks here, by the edge of the Rio Tapajos. The air in these ´comunidades´ is drenched in learned helplessness. The playfulness, the dancing, the brincadeiras – they make me sick as a poisoned rat and I´m suffocating. Brincar, brincar, bola, bandoleira. Blissful ignorance and hunger. Laboratory dogs – they have been taught there is nothing they can do. Things will never change here, we will always be conquistadores. One cannot change what doesn´t want to be changed.

All I can do is hold on to this heaviness of heart. As always, I let the weight of the world sink in. The one that floats around in this forest, homeless, ignored by the bodies it belongs to. There was nothing I could do for that man who lay helpless in the mud, covered in ants and mosquitoes amd soaked in cachasa. Life had run him over. Life has run all of them over. All of these children, all this Criança, the demon of passivity etched upon them from the womb. A helplessness that is almost genetic. They queue up for the special merenda: chocolate milk and three biscuits. They look at me curiously, the meninas touch my braid. Eyes open, brains full of potential. Yet they are all slaves to Globo TV, that want to grow up to be modelo or a football star.  There´s no spirituality in these comunidades in these washed out wooden structures with holes for doors, but with TV´s inside, flashing telenovelas 24/7. I´ll always be a gringa here, eyed with awe or hatred, even if I play bola barefoot and let the insects eat my feet. Even if I swim naked in the rio with biscios. If I carry heavy things in the sun and take nice photographs and sleep on hammocks under the stars and learn amazonas music. Even after the insistence and casually handed out sexuality, just cause I´m playing a yes man game.
A transparent albino child plays in the middle of this dark brown criança. I wonder if he feels as much of an outsider as I do. I feel terribly lonely and nostalgic. The language, the faces, the colours, the heat, the upset stomach. Pull me, push me, make me feel alive. Maybe they´re right, autonomy is too hard a plight. One must choose and pick and do. Better to have someone do it for you. How many of you have really felt these chains? Understood the possibilities, felt the stagedness of this narcissistic freedom? And even if you do feel the chains, would you still choose to run alone? If you don´t know that you don´t know, you don´t torture yourself in doubt and uncertainty. To reach the knowledge of not knowing implies a duty as the next move: to act. So maybe openness to experience doesn´t have to come without care or with stupidity. It means considering and choosing what feels right, not playing a yes man name. And does recklessness really feel right what it comes with the risk of snake venom, malaria a hepathitis? I value this, because I recognise how easy it is to fall prey to the contamination of stupidity and carelessness. It snuck into my every pore over here and for two nights I gave into a carelessness that doesn´t lead to freedom. A million bloodshot eyes stare into mine every day to prove it. Freedom and versatility come with choice. I want to choose, not prove. I Have nothing to prove to these people. I don´t have to be like them. I need to learn how to stop feeling like I´m in debt to the world.

Note: All photos taken and thoughts written during work with a indigenous community development program of the NGO Saude e Alegria, based in Santarem.

OUTRAGEOUS! The Psychology behind morality, mass indignation and self righteousness.

This is a post about the way people react to the ‘bad things’ going on in the world. Or rather, the way people react to the ‘bad things’ they learn about from the news, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or their classmate/workmate, which are by no means exhaustive of the bad things going on in the world.

The illustrations in this post are by Pawel Kuczynski, a brilliant Polish satirical artist and illustrator which you can check out here.

1385815_603773366353858_1504917352_n.900x600I would like to direct your attention to how morality causes mass indignation, and how in turn this leads to self-righteous behaviour. I shall keep this very brief and technical, so as not to contribute to the various rants and political positions being upheld at this very moment about events happening in the world.

Let us begin with the question of MORALITY. Collins dictionary defines it as ‘conformity, or degree of conformity, to conventional standards of moral conduct’. Pretty accurate, although I do quite prefer Nietzsche’s description of it as the ‘herd-instinct in the individual’. What you need to understand is that morality does not rest on absolute truths of what is right and wrong in universal terms. It rests rather, upon conventional and agreed sets of rules and guidelines, which vary significantly amongst different groups.

So if morality is not an objective truth, but rather a human/social construction, you may ask why exactly it is that we need it. I suggest it is comparable to the ‘social contract’ advocated by luminaries such as Rousseau, Hobbes, Locke and Rawls. We need morality, to get along with other people, because we are all different and self-interested, and the world would be absolute chaos if we didn’t have it. In some ways, morality is a partial sacrifice of the self, for the benefit of the community: we agree to give up a part of our independence of thought and action, in other to live harmoniously with other people. The reasons behind this, behind why man is a social animal and why we need other people, is a subject I’m not going to go into right now.

What you do need to understand is that for whatever reason, we do make this sacrifice and that this ‘giving up a part of oneself’ to the community, is not an easy sacrifice to make. Just think about all those fuzzy moral questions that continue to raise serious debates: homosexuality, abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, contraception, animal ethics, torture, slavery, war… the list could go on a while. My point is: morality is a sacrifice, and a big one at that.

And yet some people break this contract, undermining the effort you put into keeping this world order going. Hence comes the INDIGNATION: the feeling of shock and anger which you have when you think that something is unjust or unfair. I work so hard to keep up something, and then you wankers just come and blow shit up and ruin it. Not cool. What did I even work for?

And here we come to the point in which we decide to share our indignation with all the other animals in our group. After all, these moral law-breakers have ruined the outcome of my efforts, so I need to find some other way to benefit from my work. This leaves me with my final point, which is SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS, which Mr. Collins again describes as ‘having or showing an exaggerated awareness of one’s own virtuousness or rights’. Some of the synonyms listed are: sanctimonious, smug, superior, complacent, hypocritical, goody-goody (informal) and holier-than-thou. This pretty much means that someone exhibiting self-righteous behaviour is not just saying ‘look at me I’m great’, they are saying ‘look at me, I am better that these other people and I want you all to know’.

So what does this have to do, you may ask me, with my desire to share my indignation with others? The answer to this question resides in the reasons as to why you share such information and/or to the barely existent reflections you make upon the consequences of this rather simple act.foto8discorsosporco.900x600
So I ask all of you: when you post an indignant post, or share a picture to express your solidarity with victims of an event, what exactly, are you trying to achieve? I’m pretty sure the standard response to this question is that you want to ‘raise awareness on an issue’. But if that is the case, I ask you again, is there not perhaps a better way you could be doing such a thing? Is expressing your indignation really worth your time and energy? The effect of adding your post to the millions of other online shares is really minimal compared to the useful things you could be doing with you time. If you are so interested in a particular cause, why is it that the only moments in your life in which you contribute to it, are those in which the information hits you right in the face? And why have you chosen to take a stance in this cause, and ignored the millions of other ‘outrageous’ things that go on in the world?

I’ll answer the question for you. You are not writing to implement change, you are doing it because it makes you feel good. Because it puts a safe distance between you and these outrageous moral law breakers. Your message is not going to implement change and you know it: it is the same as many other thousands of messages, and their counter-messages, with the sole purpose of increasing public indignation and making the topic a hot potato all over the world, perhaps because it is someone’s interest that it be so.

ces-oeuvres-poignantes-qui-remettent-tout-en-question-444915.900x600This leads to another argument: are we a group or are we, as Nietzsche classed us ‘a herd’? Since I am not here to take a political stance, but rather to attempt to give a technical explanation behind mass behaviour, I shall leave you to reflect upon this question yourself. Let us just leave it at the notion that a herd implies the presence of a shepard, and perhaps of his sheep dogs. And that if that were the case, Foucault’s insights on how learning and information are the best form of power in governing masses, are pretty insightful in understanding how morality and indignation can be easily used to direct and influence the masses.

But regardless of political positions, or who’s ‘side’ you are on, and who decide to point your finger at, what you are doing, yet again, is blaming Hitler for Nazism and WWII. Do yourself a favour and read ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem: on the Banality of Evil’ in which Hannah Arendt attends and reflects upon the trial of nazi architect and executioner Adolf Eichmann.

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Arendt described how the officer, far from being a vehement anti-Semite, was a rather innocuous and banal individual. He followed his orders without thinking or asking questions or considering the effects of his actions. The pain of his victims was not apparent to him, nor was his active role in their suffering. It was not hatred that caused him to act as he did, but rather the lack of self-awareness and judgement. The book received much criticism and Arendt was accused by many of justifying the criminal, which in truth was far from what she was doing. She was simply pointing out that if it weren’t for the millions of people, who just went on with their lives and performed their duties without asking questions, Nazism would have probably remained a crazy man’s romanticised idea of a ‘perfect’ society.

It is easy to find a scape goat and point your finger towards authority, much less so to accept the responsibility of being an accomplice in a faulty world order, who only laments things gone wrong when they hit you in the face, whereas the rest of your time your only concern is to get on with your daily life and routine.

My suggestion to you is stop thinking about and lamenting what people should be doing, start looking at what they actually are doing, why they are doing it and why you know about it, and then decide how to react to it. Stop making yourself feel better for not doing anything, by pointing at and comparing yourself publicly to greater evils. And understand that you do not have power over other people, unless you have power over yourself and you development. Spend your time on thinking about your own character and actions, before shooting down those of others. Only then will you be able to come up with ideas and ways to ‘change the world’ and if it is your desire to do so, to help others.

 

The Truman Show on Reality, Illusion and Scientific Revolution.

‘We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented.’

Some of you may recognise this quote from the 1998 film The Truman Show, written and directed by Andrew Niccol and Peter Weir and starring Jim Carrey. The film features the life of Truman Burbank, who lives with his perfect wife, in a perfect town full of perfectly happy people who all know and love him. What the unsuspecting protagonist doesn’t know is that since before birth he has been the star of a 24h reality TV show, broadcast live around the entire world. His hometown of Seahaven is built under a giant arcological dome in which everyone except Truman himself is an actor involved in the screenplay. He is furthermore classically conditioned by negative imagery and memories that dissuade him from travelling or moving away from the setting.

The film touches on some of the greatest philosophical debates of all time such as the distinctions between free will and determinism and appearance and reality. The question of what is real has been debated for centuries. In Ancient Greece, almost as a presage to Einstein’s general relativity, Heraclitus identifies the essence of the universe in ‘becoming’ believing that everything is subject to time and change and that even that which appears static is effectively moving. This philosophy is incorporated in his famous aphorism “πάντα ῥεῖ” which means “everything flows”.

‘It is not possible to descend into the same river twice, or to touch a mortal substance twice in the same state; due to the impetuosity and speed of change it is dispersed and collected, it comes and goes’

being not beingParmenides on the other hand on the other hand offers a more static and objective notion of reality, according to which man can only choose between truth (ἀλήθεια), based on reason which guides us towards true essence and opinion (δόξα), based on sensation, which guides as towards appearance, or false essence.

‘For nothing exists or will exist except being, since Fate fettered it to be whole and unmoving’. (fragment 8)

The most famous analogy to the Truman shows depiction of an illusory reality can perhaps be found in Plato’s allegory of the cavePlato_-_Allegory_of_the_Cave, in which tied up prisoners observe shadows on a cave wall believing they are all that there is to reality. In this analogy one prisoner breaks free from his bonds and notices that the shadows are mere imitations of puppets behind him and, upon leaving the cave, sees the real things which these puppets are meant to represent. Truman, until he begins doubting the world around him is like such a cave prisoner.

The notion of an illusory reality has also been depicted in many fictional masterpieces such as the Matrix, 1984, Blade Runner, Brave New World, Memento and Inception. What, in my opinion, makes the Truman Show such a modern depiction of man’s perception of the world is how it is dealt with in a lighthearted and almost humorous manner, almost as presage to the superficiality of our age, which unsurprisingly is obsessed with reality shows and gossip culture. But most of all, what I find particularly refreshing in the Truman show, which is absent in many film and literature depictions of the topic, is that it provides a motivation as to why Truman begins to question his reality: technical difficulties. While for example, in the Matrix, the protagonist Neo is portrayed as some sort of mystical prophet with a strong inner eye, Truman is a completely normal man, living his day to day life. If it weren’t for some particularities in the production, he would most probably never have questioned his odd existence.

Which leads to some rather complex questions: (1) Why is it that we ask ourselves certain questions and others we do not think of? (2) Why is it that some question reality and others do not? (3) when is it or rather what is it that makes us question our reality, or rather, which are the technical difficulties that cause our attention to shift away from what we know, and lead us to question our worldview?

To answer questions (1) and (2), let me bring your attention to the topic of ‘attention’ itself, which I believe is extremely relevant to this argument. I want you to imagine for a second walking down a busy city street and paying attention to your surroundings. You are likely to set your eyes on many different people and situations: perhaps a particularly skilled busker, an interesting architecture, a woman talking loudly on the phone about her husband or a police officer placing a fine on a badly parked vehicle. Now imagine you are not alone on this walk, but your best friend is walking beside you. You have many things in common but still, do you think he/she will notice the exact same things you do? You might both notice the busker as you have a similar taste in music, but for a million reasons, most of which determined by the casual setting of your eyes (maybe you stop to tie your shoelace and notice something on the ground) your 50 metre walk is characterised by a million different particularities. Extend this argument to the whole street and you’ve got 200 people living a completely different experience.

This subject is discussed brilliantly by cognitive scientist Alexandra Horowitz in her research book titled ‘On looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes’. In which she purposely goes on walks with people in different fields of expertise to see how differently everyone perceives the world around them.ct-prj-0303-on-looking-pictureThe author points out how “attention is an intentional, unapologetic discriminator. It asks what is relevant right now, and gears us up to notice only that.”

I often pride myself upon my ability to be distracted by the beauty in life. In my first post on this blog I wrote about a woman playing the violin in the tube in Berlin, and how angry at humanity it made me that no one else seemed to notice her. Now my mind flutters to all the thousands and thousands of things that, every day and in every situation skim past me unnoticed. Even in this moment, while I concentrate on writing this article, I am missing out on the majority of things happening around me. In her book Horowitz invites the reader to a similar reflection.

‘By marshalling your attention to these words’ she writes: ‘you are ignoring an unthinkably large amount of information that continues to bombard all of your senses: the hum of the fluorescent lights, the ambient noise in a large room, the places your chair presses against your legs or back, your tongue touching the roof of your mouth, the tension you are holding in your shoulders or jaw, the map of the cool and warm places on your body, the constant hum of traffic or a distant lawn-mower, the blurred view of your own shoulders and torso in your peripheral vision, a chirp of a bug or whine of a kitchen appliance’.

The absurd level of individual bias that affects perception and hence, reality, is rather scary. The scary question is: if I had handled and directed my attention differently, would I be a different person? If I hadn’t read a particular book, smelled a particular smell, met a particular person, or been in a specific place at a specific time, would my reality be different? If a stage light had not fallen from the sky right in front of Truman’s nose, would he ever have questioned his world?

How much of our notion of reality is dictated by sheer and utter casualty? As I have previously pointed out, it is impossible for a human being to see the world without the filter of our perception: this is made up by our cognitive functions and conserved knowledge. We don’t see the world how it is exactly, but how it is projected through our own beliefs, knowledge and sensations. I am not sustaining that man has some magical thinking ability that can create phenomena with his mind, but simply that what we look at, and the way we look at it are what construct our notion of reality.

These considerations on attention explain both, why it is that we pay attention to certain things and others not, and why different people pay attention to different things. This is made up largely by casualty, and increasingly more by the personality based decisions that are constructed through time by the combination of our casual experiences, which eventually determine the objects of our attention.

I recently have embarked upon an online course in Philosophy of the Sciences offered on Coursera by the University of Edinburgh (brilliant course by the way, I suggest it to anyone who is interested in the notion of reality and consciousness and exploring the origins of our universe and the world as we know and perceive it). During my studies I found a similarity between the casualty of attention and experience and what Australian physicist Brandon Carter referred to as the Anthropic Principle in 1974, which has since become a key worldview in philosophy of science. Anthropic reasoning is based on the notion that the kind of observer we are will set restriction to the kind of physical conditions we are likely to observe. In other words, we are context-sensitive physical observers that can only thrive in a narrow range of physical conditions and are only likely to observe conditions suitable for our observation.

Think of this from a cosmological point of view: our bodies contain a very wide range of elements, from lighter ones such as hydrogen to heavier and rarer ones such as iron and sodium. These last ones are only formed in the heart of stars through stellar nucleosynthesis, in which lighter nuclei combine together to form heavier ones. This means, quite literally, that our bodies are made of stardust. Now think of all the other natural phenomena that have permitted our existence on planet Earth, in the Solar System, in the Milky Way, in our Universe. (for a good picture of the size of Earth in the Universe, check out this interactive scale). Without gravity, carbon chemistry (which is only possible at particular temperature and pressure conditions), the freezing of water or the particular structure of space around us, we wouldn’t even be here to observe these phenomena.

The absurdity of circumstances that has permitted our existence, which is often referred to as ‘cosmic fine tuning’ has lead to many theories according to which the universe has somehow been ‘designed’ for our specific existence. This is, unfortunately, a categorical generalisation, of the anthropic principle, which is far from what the principle wishes to suggest. Imagine being a frog in a pond. It is one thing to say: it is likely that I have grown up in conditions that allow for frog spawn, and thus these are the conditions I can observe’. It is another to generalise and say: my presence in this pond indicates that the universe was designed with a view to generate frogs’.

The reason why we cannot make this generalisation is intrinsic in the anthropic principle itself. We know what we observe. And it is likely that what we observe is a reality that has allowed for our existence, for us to be there to observe. In other words we are in someway codependent on the specific reality we observe. Who is to say that there may not be other types of reality, in which there are not conditions for our existence and hence we are not able to observe? Scientists have speculated the possibility that our universe is merely a subset of a much larger ensemble (often referred to as multiverse) that can contain all the physically possible ways the universe could be. From such a point of view, it is not surprising that we inhabit this particular universe with just the right conditions for life.

If it isn’t clear to this point, I am offering a critique of the scientific and philosophical notion of causality, which is at the basis of Newtonian science. The sheer casualty (by which I intend chancely, accidental, unforeseeable nature) of our daily experiences, leads me further and further away from the scientific cause-effect laws of physics. Which leads me to another consideration on scientific progress.

To answer question (3) let me introduce another topic we looked at in the afore mentioned course: the different stages of ‘science’ as described by Thomas Kuhn in ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ (1962). Before Kuhn, science was seen as a sequence of scientificThomas_Kuhn theories which build on and perfectioned its predecessors by providing a more accurate image of the world.

But according to Kuhn this picture is totally wrong and there is no such thing as a distinct scientific method. He describes how, during periods of normal science, scientists work within a scientific paradigm. This includes the main scientific theory, the experimental and technological resources as well as the system of values of the community, such as simplicity, mathematical elegance, parsimony, etc. During this time, textbook work is fundamental. Kuhn moves away from Popper’s notion of falsificationism, towards a view of scientific research as ‘problem solving’, or rather attempting to solve the minor difficulties and discrepancies of textbook knowledge.

When a significantly large number of these anomalies accumulates, the normal science enters a period of crisis. At this point the community may decide to abandon the old paradigm and move onto a new one, in what Kuhn refers to as a paradigm shift. The choice of this new theory is not dictated by its superiority over the old one but on its higher puzzle-solving power, which accounts for the anomalies in the old one. In short, according to Kuhn, a scientific paradigm is picked over another one not because it is closer to the truth, but because it is better at problem-solving than the previous one.

In the Truman show, Truman constructed his notion of reality with what he was presented. When anomalies started to present themselves, he attempted to find solutions to them, based on his conserved knowledge of how his world worked. When the number of anomalies accumulated (stage lights falling from the sky, people acting in a repetitive and staged manner, meeting his supposedly deceased father, etc.) he no longer had the ability to solve them according to his rationale. Truman entered into a period of crisis, and decided to search for solutions elsewhere, similarly to what Kuhn would define as a paradigm shift. When Truman discovered that his life was a TV show and decided to exit the little door in the sky, he did not move closer to reality. He did not pick reality over fiction. He merely chose a different reality, in which the anomalies he couldn’t account for in the first one made more sense.

Shift this argument to our human notion of reality and you get the same reasoning. Newtonian science has worked so far, and we’ve managed to find solutions to minor difficulties with its basic principles and assumptions. With the introduction of aliceinquantumland6quantum mechanics in the 1920’s, this is no longer possible. What quantum mechanics demonstrates is that the reality we observe is dependent on the observer. This seems to have rather strong connections with the psychological notion of consciousness: the fact that we experience an internal world of images, sensations, thoughts, and feelings that are related to the external world.

However, mainstream science seems to have always largely ignored the anomaly of consciousness which its traditional methods were unable to explain. This kind of goes against Kuhn’s view that unexplainable anomalies cause a crisis and then a paradigm shift. Based on recent times, one could ironically revise Kuhn’s theory as follows: when science has unexplainable anomalies that accumulate it does not immediately enter a crisis. It quite simply ignores the problem until it happens to discover a theory that works better, causing a paradigm shift. Consciousness has been ignored because it didn’t make sense with traditional newtonian science: it could not be empirically observed, and it clashed significantly with science’s search for objective and universal truths.

However, with the introduction of quantum mechanics, the phenomenon of consciousness is no longer ignorable and can in no way be explained by our current paradigm. Many theorists have tried to do so, opting towards a better understanding of brain chemistry, towards computing theory according to which consciousness rises from complexity of the brain’s processing, or looking towards chaos theory. But how can something as immaterial as consciousness rise from something as unconscious as matter?

The impossibility of answering such a question leads me to think that we may be approaching the time to stop with the problem solving and justifications, and to question the basic assumptions of science and reality. What I’m trying to get at, in this rather diverse argument which has fluttered from cinema to philosophy and from cosmology to consciousness, is that I feel it might be time to question the validity of cause-effect, materialist newtonian science. I believe we have reached a point in history were the failure in its explanatory value is significant, as quantum mechanics and consciousness show us. From a broader perspective, cosmology and anthropic reasoning show us how so called cosmic fine-tuning have pushed a us towards an anthropocentric view of reality which is widely supported by cause-effect laws. Is it possible that we are now shifting from a causal view of reality to a casual one, in which our existence is based upon chance and not cause-effect laws?


References

Gilmore, Robert (1995). Alice in Quantum-land, Springer Science and Business Media, illustration.

Horowitz, Alexandra (2012). On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes, Simon and Schuster: 2014

Kuhn, Thomas (1962). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Einaudi: 1999

Professors Massimi, Michela and Richmond, Alistair. Lectures in Philosophy of Science at the University of Edinburgh.

A GUIDE TO HIBERNATION: How to Prepare for the Winter Blues.

So it’s getting to that time of year where the days are grey and drawled out and moods swing low. When lethargy preposterously shoves our will power out of the way and takes over our lives. You feel less energetic, motivated and less engaged in your life. Wether you suffer from a mood disorder, or just find the winter season unbearably dull and demotivating, there are are a series of things you should be doing NOW, to make the next few months bearable.

As anyone who has had anything to do with the mental health system probably knows, there is quite a long list of things you can do to help you mood stay on the up side, without pharmaceutical assistance. These are only some of the ‘natural remedies’ suggested by websites such as web MD and Psych Today:

(1) Get into a routine, (2) eat healthy, (3) stay fit, (4) get enough sleep, (5) take on responsibilities, (6) challenge negative thoughts and (7) try to have fun.

What I would like to point out is that, although this list is indeed full of virtuous and healthy actions, it is also INCREDIBLY UNREALISTIC. As someone who has personally found it impossible to decipher words on a book (if I could even see anything other than a blank or fuzzy page) and to establish a link between mind in body during my downer periods, I know very well how straightforward and banal tasks can at times become unbearable and impossible.

I always get extremely annoyed when someone blames me for being forgetful or un-concentrated. They make it seem like I purposely forget or lose things, or like I don’t actively care that I’m broke and I just lost the seventh expensive technological gadget in a year. Seriously, it’s not like I intentionally fling Iphone’s out the window. How do you expect me to remember to remember? It defies the whole point of the term ‘forget’. Forgetting something, especially when your brain is so full of distracting thoughts, is not something you can help. What you can help, however, is taking precautions for those days in which your mind and your memory just don’t want to cooperate.

What I would like to propose in this post, is really a rather simple and primitive approach to the winter season. I suggest that, just as animals store food for hibernation during the summer and autumnal period, now that you are still motivated, is when you you should be preparing for the dull, painful months to come.

So here is my alternative (and in my opinion somewhat more realistic) list of natural precautions for the winter blues:

1. Get someone to exercise with you. You know very well that if you plan to do it yourself, it ain’t gonna happen. Fill them in on the fact that you’re probably going to find some excuse: tell them to literally show up at your place in sports gear and ready to go. It is possible that the guilt of letting them down might get you to face te unbearable feat of getting your ass off the couch.

2. Make an emergency happy file. Find artwork that is known to get you in a good mood. Music, a movie or whatever floats your boat. Store it in a file titled emergency on your laptop, where it’s easily accessible when you’re feeling blue.

3. Buy yourself a locker. If you find yourself constantly distracted by binge sessions of tv series or movies that distract you from your duties, lock them away. When you pull out your laptop, note it down! Again, the guilt of the action, as well as seeing the list of your slips in black in white, is a pretty good avoidance device. If you can, and have someone close to you who can keep an eye on you, hand them the keys.

4. Get a blocked savings account. I know how important it may feel in a manic moment to buy 50 books on your newfound interest in gardening, and how stupid the act is in hindsight, when you’re full of unread material and two grand into your savings account, with bills and rents to pay.

5. Try out phototherapy. Vitamine D (the ‘sunshine vitamin’) is a steroid hormone precursor. Vitamin D deficiencies have been linked to many conditions, depression being one of them. However, due to unfavourable geographical conditions or just plain demotivation, getting your daily intake of sunshine is not always a feasible option. Invest in a light box: a specially designed light, which contains 10,000 lux. Regular lighting is usually between 320 to 500 lux, whereas a light box is closer to the level of indirect sunlight during the day (10,000 to 25,000 lux). Keep in in your room, near your bed, and switch it on for 20-30 minutes in the morning.

Also, check out  this journal article on why Vitamin D supplements are not the same as natural sunlight.

6. Do the whole ‘healthy food’ thing. Sure, eating a lot of fruit and vegetables is not going to magically cure your depression, and I’m no advocate for complex diets or a vegan lifestyle. However, a balanced diet does have a significant impact on health and if anything it makes you feel like you’re doing something, without requiring too much of an effort. So say hello to omega3 fishy fats, lemon and ginger tea, wholegrain cereal, nuts and blueberries.

If you’re looking for healthy ideas, check out this ginger and turmeric honey bomb recipe. Just have a spoonful a day, on its own or in your tea. Ginger is a root that has antibiotic effects and is helpful for pretty much every bodily function: digestion, detoxification, inflammation, circulation, joint and muscular pain, etc. Turmeric is a crazy strong antioxidant used in traditional indian medicine and it has strong cleansing, digestive and anti-inflammatory effects, especially on the liver. It is considered to be more effective when paired with black pepper, which helps activate its functions.

7. Get your friends in the loop and inform people. Socialising is rough when you’re feeling down and apathetic, so make sure you get someone you trust to check up on you and give you a little nudge every now and again. If you think your condition can affect your work performance and your social life, you also need to let people know, to avoid miscomprehension’s and at times, just coming off as a miserable dick.

8. Get yourself a fancy daily planner. (or one of those fancy planning app things), and write everything down. Plan, plan and plan now. Prepare your job activities and do anything you can do in advance while you’re still functional enough to do it. If you’re feeling over active and hypomanic, even better: direct your excessive energies somewhere useful.

9. Try out yoga and meditation. I cannot stress enough how important I think training your brain is in looking after your mental health. I don’t think there is a perfect philosophy or religion you must follow in order to combat you internal hardships. I do however believe that meditation helps further a contact with your emotional self and assists you towards a more balanced outlook of the world around you. It’s benefits are incommensurably useful when struggling with mood swings and persistent mind rumination.

I used to not been able to sit still and meditate for five minutes without an increasingly panicked sense of anxiety. I am however, gradually getting better and have found meditating beneficial not only for my anxiety, but for enhancing brain function, memory, concentration, empathy and perception of the world around me. It is a practice of patience and dedication to oneself, which is fundamental on a path towards healing and self-awareness.


These are just a bunch of suggestions, that have proven to work quite well for me. You may or may not find them useful, but my main and final point is:

TAKE MATTERS INTO YOUR OWN HANDS. The amount of times I have heard the sentence ‘you don’t know what it’s like…’ is ridiculous. Well you know what? It’s true. Others don’t know what it’s like to be you and feel the way you do. You are the person who, if not entirely, knows yourself the most. Which is why you are your best flippin’ hope. I you don’t want to help yourself, nobody else can.

You are the top person who is in control of your life, and thus your happiness is your main responsibility, not anyone else’s. Stop wallowing in self pity and thinking of yourself as a lost case, or a useless waste of space. Just because you suffer from a mental condition does not mean you are stupid, un-resourceful or incapable of strategic planning. You may be helpless when you’re down, but if you act now, you can avoid being hopeless.

Think of all the things you tend to do when you’re manic or depressed and take as many precautions as you can, RIGHT NOW. Make a list, and think of solutions. These points will not only be useful, they will be fundamental to your happiness. Nothing in life comes without effort, and those things we work the hardest for should be the things we care about the most. You should be your top priority, because if you’re unhappy with yourself, nothing else you do and achieve is going to make you feel any better. And similarly, you’re always going to be miserable and un-inspiring to those around you.

Why the “Mercury” Thing.

I’ve now been writing on this blog for more than a month, so I suppose it’s about time I explain the meaning behind it’s name. It’s really quite random: it comes from a dream I had a few months ago, that I came to interpret as a metaphor for the duality of my existence (yay to over analysing everything).

So, I was slightly manic, I guess, or at least excessively high spirited, and I had this kind of weird dream (as happens often) that I was this beautiful, goddess-like, amber curled creature dressed in silver, floating above pools of mercury right next to the blazing hot sun, bubbling with purpose and a secret. Pretty cool huh?

Except that all of a sudden, I was sinking into that same surface, watching the godlike me floating away and contemplating me with a mixture of pity and disgust. I was immobilised and uncomfortably warm: I wasn’t burning (as you would kind of expect, seen as I was pretty much chilling in a pool of corrosive substance right next to the goddamn sun). No, I was just uncomfortably warm. And I knew I was stuck there: never to drown and never to be free.

While the other me floated away towards bliss and immensity, towards a world of hope and possibility, I was signed up for eternal apathy and discomfort, and completely incapable of helping myself.

In the morning confusion that followed I also wrote this poem about my ‘mercurial’ (and grandiose) persona, so I might as well put it in as well!


I dropped the thermometer:

What a thrill to chase
Little bubbles everywhere.
Acrid shiny silvers –
They are drops of mirrors.

Look there: it is me!
It is my reflection I see,
Blazing sunlight and glee:

My volatile moods,
Etched with smiles and deadly fumes,
On my ever-changing moons.

An eternal river,
I gurgle with promise
In the soil, the air, the water –
Breathtaking and flawless.

My shiny surface
Draws you in closer.
I’m your road to gold,
the gods’ messenger.

But my scalding skin
You cannot touch
You greedy treasure scavenger.

You’re too avid and bitter
With your truths and reason –
Your reality addiction!

In the gaping darkness
I will eat you whole
Like a death trap –
A black hole.

I’m liquid metal,
Quicksilver.
I will melt your brain,
Destroy your swollen liver.

Only the mad can dip their toes
In these pools of chaos and clatter.
I’ll be the gloss on your top hat

If you’ll be my mad hatter.

DOES CONSCIOUSNESS CREATE REALITY?

Why Creativity is the Key to our Future and Quantum Mechanics for Dummies.


How do we understand the reality we live in?

Humanity has gone through different stages and opinions in the matter.

big bang
adameve

Today, CLASSIC PHYSICS is mainly based on the experimental method, which focuses on objective and repetitive experimentation.

scientist experimet

In this realm of knowledge, what cannot be explained or recreated simply does not exist.

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It all started when Galileo proposed a heliocentric vision of the Earth as a sphere which circles around the Sun.

Copernicus_solar_system

NB: I would add that he was preceded by Eratosthenes, who measured the radius of the Earth in 300 BC, but I guess Galileo has the merit of saying ‘hey fuck you Church people, the Earth isn’t flat and the universe doesn’t revolve around us!’

CHURCH PEOPLE

And to further complicate things in 1929, Edwin Powell Hubble decides to inform us that the whole flippin’ universe is constantly expanding and so there is absolutely no such thing as something entirely still.

expanding universe

So I guess good old Heraclitus, was also onto something when he was all ‘panta rei folks’.

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But, since talking about something moving, kind of implies something fixed in comparison, physicists use these things called ‘reference systems’ or ‘inertial frames of reference’, in which a reference point – which is moving in a state of constant rectilinear motion (basically in a straight line at fixed speed) – is considered fixed, with respect to the object we are measuring.

For example we assume that fixed stars are such, merely because they are so far away that they appear to be so.

fixed stars

Continuing with our historical excursus, in the 1600’s Isaac Newton sets the basics for modern physics by placing MATTER as the main object of his studies.

matter


Here’s your Oxford definition of matter: ‘that which occupies space and possesses rest mass, especially as distinct from energy’.


According to Newton and pretty much every physicist since, human beings, as everything on Earth, including the air we breathe, are entirely made of matter.

leonardo_uomo_vitruvio

In this mechanical world view, everything is CORPORAL, and subject to the natural cause-effect laws of physics.

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However, towards the end of the 1800’ comes a new study of matter which explores particles at the SUBATOMIC LEVEL. (Basically really tiny microscopic stuff that can only be measured with really fancy instruments and technologies).

atom

And, what they discover is, to say the least, MIND BLOWING. Basically, at a subatomic level, electrons DO NOT ACT LIKE PARTICLES OF MATTER, ACCORDING TO THE LAWS OF PHYSICS.

…WHAT??????

It’s pretty complex stuff, but if you want to look into the basics, there are plenty of youtube videos on the ‘Double Slit Experiment’, Schrödinger’s ‘Cat-in-the-Box Experiment’ and the ‘EPR Paradox’, which are the three main empirical observations in the field of QUANTUM MECHANICS.

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Here’s a video explaining the DOUBLE SLIT EXPERIMENT by comparing photons (light particles) to tennis balls.



The double slit experiment, shows how at subatomic level, light can act as particles (or photons) of matter or as waves, based on whether or not they are OBSERVED.

For a more complex explanation please read this journal article on science mag (you need to sign up but it’s free). http://www.sciencemag.org/content/332/6034/1170.abstract

This entirely revolutionises our notion of reality, science and everything we know. It means that particles only act as particles, because they are observed.

mind power

The question to be asked is:

Does the world of perception exist because it is perceived? And would the physical reality be the same if we weren’t there to perceive it, or would it act differently or indeed not exist at all?

According to quantum mechanics it seems that the answer is YES.

Moving onto Consciousness….

Could a COLLECTIVE CONSCIOUSNESS (for example everyone on Earth) actually create a physical reality? I am not talking about a matrix like illusion that rests within our minds. I am talking about actual concrete matter.

tree growing

Is it possible that ‘reality’ is a fluid state (think of waves), a chaos made up of infinite potentiality, from which human beings can manifest a reality, for example by producing/emanating energy?


Quantum physics discovered that physical atoms are vortices of energy that are constantly vibrating. So every material structure in the Universe including you and me radiates a unique energy signature. – Bruce Lipton


This reminds me, sure enough, of the findings of another great scientific mastermind. Albert Einstein introduces the concept of relativity and the infamous formula:

E=mc2

(which, for who is interested was proposed in a 1905 paper on Special Relativity titled ‘Does the inertia of an object depend upon its energy content?’)

Translated, this means that energy transforms itself, and is dictated by the mass of a body, multiplied by the squared value of the speed of light in a vacuum. In other words, energy and mass are directly related concepts.

energy

Up to this day, man has been able to transform matter into energy (hello atomic bomb and nuclear reactors) but not the other way around. That is because (note the tiny little c-squared) the amount of energy that would be needed for such a deed to be possible, is enormous.

atomic bomb


‘Doc, you don’t just walk into a store and buy plutonium!’ – Marty McFly, Back to the Future

emmett_brown_by_finangel-d8ay1z3

 


However recent studies in nuclear physics at Imperial College London have discovered the possibility of turning a pair of photons into an electron and its antiparticle, a positron. For more details check this article out: http://www.forbes.com/sites/paulrodgers/2014/05/19/einstein-was-right-you-can-turn-energy-into-matter/

The possibility we could be looking at is that human consciousness, or emotions, may indeed possess a particular form of energy, which allows us to actually CREATE MATTER. If this were true the potential consequences for humanity could be magical. It means the conception we have of the planet we live in are dictated by the knowledge and limitations through which we understand it.

mind projection

Could our limited perception be limiting our infinite possibilities? Are we the ones who dictate the types of experiences we have? And, more importantly, could we take control of our own consciousness and eliminate the boundaries we have imposed upon ourselves?

There is one more question to ask when we consider the notion of collective consciousness, which is perhaps, the biggest mystery of our existence. Why is it that we all perceive the same reality?

mind proj real

This paradox is the reason why, mankind has always been split between two: those who believe that there necessarily must be an objective and physical reality (hence modern physics) and those who believe in a certain abstract something (be it a god, gods, spirit, energy, infinite, fate, destiny…) that constructs our reality.

Maybe we are finally close to uncovering this mystery, or rather, to finding a communion between these two opposing theories. But, the real dilemma is,

HOW??????

We have just discussed how physics, science and reason as we know it describe the reality we perceive. They describe our CONSCIOUS REALITY.

Sigmundhttp://s218.photobucket.com/user/Dyntor/media/Sigmund.gif.html

Could it be, maybe then, that the key to the reality that exists outside our consciously perceived reality is to let ourselves slip into the realm of the SUBCONSCIOUS MIND?

iceberg

Is it really just a consequence that we use, or better, are aware of, such a tiny part part of what goes on in our mind? By exploring the subconscious mind we could be unleashing many of the dilemmas of reality and all the weird stuff we don’t understand, such as hallucinations and psychoses, hypnotic states, emotions, and so much more!

dragon

Examples of individuals controlling their brain’s subconscious impulses are not unheard of: for example fire walking, fasting for days and many other insane human endeavours, practiced mostly in ancient and oriental cultures whose practices not surprisingly involve act such as meditation and isolation, aimed at delving further into oneself and cutting out the external pre conceived reality.

levitation

 Could the venture into the subconscious be our bridge into a future reality? A reality where conceptually, anything could be possible, from altering the balances of space and time, to changing the particles in one’s own body. A reality where we are the gods, we are the crafters and our consciousness is the only great ‘cause’.

Or maybe just a world where we rediscover simplicity, and are more in harmony with the fluidity of the reality we are immersed in. Whatever the outcome, I think the degeneration of humanity and the social world we live in is definitely calling for a change. We cannot make provisions for what is to come for the future of our kind: it is too different a reality for us to even be able to imagine it. But I think that our responsibility as (as Nietzsche called us) the ‘last men’, is to set the course for future generations and explorers. To start taking a step back from the capitalist knowledge regime we are subject to, and start promoting and encouraging creativity, self awareness, emotional exploration and meditation. Only then, can we start to imagine a possible change.

Talk about ‘spiritual’ revolution.