31 August 2010

Aristotle on friendship and Plato on love

Examining almost any philosophy subject begins with either Aristotle or Plato. Aristotle tells us there are three types of friends. First there are friends with benefits. Aristotle did not mean the modern usage--those would fall into category two. Friends with benefits are people who help you move, let you borrow their truck, sell you their childrens' fund-raising candy bars. You do me a favor. I'll do you a favor. That is Aristotle's meaning of friend, benefits.

Secondly there are friends with whom you share pleasures. Friends you go to coffee with. Drink beers. Dance. &c. Friends, pleasure. Your modern friend with benefits would be a friend, pleasure.

Aristotle's third and highest form of friendship is based upon virtue. The rare person is such a fine example of a human being and your relationship with them is such that they inspire you to be your best.

Many, if not most, misunderstandings between friends begin with category errors. One or the other folks involved in the friendship thinks it is of Aristotle type I, when it really is type II. Aristotle's definitive discussion of friendship is in the Eudemian Ethics, Book VII.

Phaedrus is my favorite dialog on the subject of love and lust. It is not a simple subject. There are three features which Plato points out that are unforgettable. The first is his description of love as a form of divine madness, the person's soul being captured by the god Eros. He has a delightful term, sophrosone, which can be conceived of as a clarity of mind attained on return to full sanity after an excursion into the world of madness. He draws a parallel to the poet's state of inspiration from his muse. It is very similar to the world of Rumi:

I have lived on the lip
of insanity, wanting to know reasons,
knocking on a door. It opens.
I've been knocking from the inside!

The second unforgettable point in Phaedrus is the analogy of the chariot driver and two horses: one well-behaved and the other almost out of control. The horse which is almost wild must be reined in to the point where the rider pulling on the bit has the poor beast cut and bleeding on the inside of its mouth and sometimes pulled to the ground. These first two Platonic love aspects are both appropriate to love and lust. This is not the case for our last lesson from Plato.

Plato's third unforgettable lesson on love is a comparison of love to divine rapture. He writes that the closest we come on this earth to experience of the realm of the gods is when we look into the eyes of the person we are passionately in love with, alone together.

26 August 2010

The Vision Thing

My blog which I started here three years ago and promptly abandoned for two years after making the first couple entries has now arrived at a steady state. This post is a short explanation for what has been here for the last six posts and what I intend to write here for the foreseeable future. It may look random, but there is a method behind the randomness.

It is a system with four subsystems. The system is to report my recreational research which others might find useful. The four subsystems are those of the poet, the philosopher, the psychologist and the theologian. This post is labeled: literature. The subject is my writing. Every fourth post will be labeled: literature. The subjects will rotate regular; from my poet-self, next to my philosopher-self, next to my psychologist-self, finally to my theologian-self and then repeating, in order. The other three labels are: philosophy, psychology, and metaphysics. So far, I have kept to this system for six posts, every five days over the last thirty days.

The next post, on philosophy, is nearly complete; the one after that, on psychology, is close to a first draft. There are a number of other planned posts, some of which are now nothing but one sentence fragment. There is also a four-page glossy brochure, which a few folks in real life have seen. On page one I have the Coleman-Smith-Rider-Waite "Hermit" image. There is also an original drawing, a slogan, a sigil, and a number of other characteristics which I try and bring into my writing and hazards to avoid. Pages two through four have a similar form, symbolized by the Fool, the Chariot, and the Magician. The other features are tightly parallel in a format which is loosely patterned after an Occult Table of Correspondences such as Aleister Crowley's 777.

In addition to a catalog of my recreational research activity, this blog also serves as an association record. A couple years ago I took a class at the Houston Jung Center on Active Imagination, which was Jung's term for his trance technique. Active Imagination is closely related to self hypnosis. I asked the teacher what process goes on in our minds when we find ourselves daydreaming or in reverie and we are thinking the weirdest thing; and we stop and ask ourselves, "whatever made me think of that?" We try and work it backwards, but we are lost in a wilderness of weird grouped thoughts. She said it is an association process, like free association in Freudian Psychoanalysis. My blog posts are a map of this association process in my recreational research.

21 August 2010

The Fall

In his book Waking Up, which is his interpretation of George Gurdjieff's spiritual and psychological work, Charles Tart has a repeating proverb which he stumbled upon in his Gurdjieff studies:

There is no God but Reality
To seek Him elsewhere
Is the action of the Fall.

The Fall is an origin myth, which may be found in a wide variety of traditions. In modern Western Civilization, we have the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The ancient Greeks had Prometheus and Pandora. In India we are in the age of the Kali Yuga. Fallen. The story is so common that it was a foundation for Carl Jung in his theory of the Collective Unconscious.

I have been writing some Artificial Neural Network software, and I realized I know very little about human brains, human organs, animal physiology, cells. So, I have been on a remedial Biology study course. This has taken a couple odd turns. One of them ended up on a theory of the origin of these Fall legends. Through the mechanism of hyperlink clicking I journeyed from Biology to Evolution to Evolutionary Psychology to its critics. This explanation of The Fall is very simple, so for now I am going to tentatively accept it as very probably the truth.

We know from Anthropology and Sociology that a stable network of closely associated humans has a maximum number of 150. Field workers find that simple forager tribes will divide into two when they grow to near that number. The Sociologist Nan Lin has spent his career trying to quantify social capital and studied a number of human networks and records a similar finding. Attention is a limited resource, and humans just cannot keep close track of more than 150 family and friends and neighbors and co-workers.

The most popular family in the United States of America just married off Chelsea Clinton. I did not read much about it, but I did see in the New York Times there were 600 guests at her wedding. Assuming Chelsea invited 150, the groom invited 150, her parents invited 150, and his parents invited 150, there is yet another instance of our familiar number showing up.

The first tribe of foragers that approached 150 and broke up a million years ago (or whenever) would be the original Fall event. And after that it happened thousands and tens thousands and hundreds thousands times on every continent except Antarctica, implanting some form of the myth into nearly every tradition. There is even one academic who thinks labeling the previous condition "paradise" is not too far off:

The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race
by Jared Diamond.

One of my favorite treatments is the short novel by Albert Camus, The Fall. The main character Clemence is one of the best examples in literature of the fellow who stoops in order to conquer. It is a pitiful position, and Camus tells it well in a modern version. Clemence's fall is from the upper rungs of his society's status ladder. He retains his dignity with a perverse attitude. He cannot make you love him, but he does have the power to make you hate him. It is pretty sick but it is not illogical.

16 August 2010

Visualizing the Golden Age of Neurolinguistic Programming

On a group weblog where I participate, several people have expressed an interest in Neurolinguistic Programming. This is a subject in which I have done enough work that I feel I can provide a useful introduction and reference list for the beginner or novice. I am not certified as a Master Practitioner, but I have read all the basic texts and taken several seminars; I have taken a number of seminars from people who have personally studied under Richard Bandler and John Grinder, including two seminars led by Steve Andreas, who edited the books where I would recommend anybody begin. These are transcripts of Bandler Grinder seminars:

Frogs into Princes
Using your Brain for a Change.

A more systematic and comprehensive treatment, suitable for beginners is the following:

NLP The new technology of achievement, edited by Steve Andreas and Charles Faulkner.

If you want to get technical and theoretical, the books to read are:

Patterns of the hypnotic techniques of Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
; Vol I by Bandler and Grinder; Vol II by Grinder, Delozier, and Bandler.
The structure of magic; Vol I by Bandler and Grinder; Vol II by Grinder and Bandler.

The oldest of these books were published in 1975; the newest of the Bandler Grinder books was published in 1985. As near as I can determine, the field has been stale since 1985 and the innovators have stopped innovating. It is a mystery to me how and why this came about; I have some idea about it, but shall leave that for another post.

In addition to the above listed books, in the past week I have spent around three hours reading the Wikipedia artiles on Neurolinguistic Programming topics. The Wikipedia is uneven; if you want plot synopses for Star Trek episodes, the Wikipedia is superb. If you want information about the BP Transocean Deepwater Horizon oil well disaster, the Wikipedia is useless. For Neurolinguistic Programming, the Wikipedia is quite good. It is better than the average book on the subject you can find today in your local bookstore. Some of those books are lousy. The worst shortcoming I saw (I did not read every single entry) in the Wikipedia collection is the article on Rapport; the rapport techniques are some of the most important results of the original Neurolingustic Programming work.

The hottest Neurolinguistic Programming specialists in the United States in 2010 are the speed-seduction (pickup artist) people. They seem mostly a misapplication of NLP; that is going by what I have seen which is not much of a large group. Surely somebody in that crowd knows what they are doing but I have no idea who it would be. If that seems a little harsh, take a look at that Amazon page linked above and see what else the people who buy that NLP Technology of Achievement book link to.

A difficulty with Neurolinguistic Programming as presented in the Bandler and Grinder seminar transcripts is concentration on visualization. The phobia cure, the reframing technique, the swish pattern, and the rapport tools all work well for visually oriented people. Almost all of the examples in their seminars are dependent on visualization. This is a skill with a large variance and I am not good at it. Or perhaps I am not good at it in the context of communicating with people. Visualizing a geological structure from reflection seismic images or visualizing art work or architectural drawings are visual tasks which seem natural for me, but observing the visual details of humans I am talking to and trying to get along with is not a skill which I have used successfully more than one time in about a hundred hours of practicing.

The one time I did use it successfully was in a T group on hypnosis and the seminar leader and the person I was working with and several of the other participants all applauded my great expertise. It may have been mostly luck, because every subsequent attempt I have made since then was a failure.

The largest benefit I have gotten from my NLP studies is using the Milton model and the Meta model to frame my objective experiences in a subjective fashion to benefit my peace of mind. The Milton model goes from specific and local to general and global. The Meta model goes from general and global to specific and local. The Meta model can be used in an extremely similar manner to the Albert Ellis Rational Emotional Therapy technique where you identify and challenge irrational beliefs. An example of an irrational belief would be something you tell yourself like: "I always get screwed when they calculate the salary raises."

We all have unpleasant experiences that are part of our lives. Lovers reject us. We break bones. People dent our cars when they are not watchful of how they are moving. I could make a long list here. What Albert Ellis invented, and what Bandler and Grinder productively use their Meta model for, is that your own description in your mind of these events can influence wide areas of your life experience. (Ellis invented this as an approach to psychotherapy. The idea goes back to the ancients. It is one of the foundational concepts in Stoicism and Buddhism. It is in the very first verse of the Dhammapada.)

To illustrate this with a personal example, I got laid off on 31 March 2010. This does not mean that I am a loser, unless of course it might, if I repeat to myself in the ensuing four months a few hundred times that I am a loser. Applying the Meta model to this calamitous event means that I describe it to myself with a set of exact specific details. It was near the equinox. The camellias had bloomed but the azaleas had not yet bloomed. There was one man who decided I had not done enough for him lately. There was a small group of people who communicated true friendship and camaraderie to me during their farewells. I got a nice severance package. Suddenly all my time is free time and I get to learn the definition of personal responsibility. And so forth. My layoff is this set of extremely specific facts tied to one point in the four dimensional time and space continuum that we are all traveling through. The Stoics and the Buddhists and Albert Ellis and the Neurolinguistic Programming Meta modelers prescribe to glue it on that one specific point and do not allow it to diffuse to any other elements of my life experience and this enables me to have more peace of mind.

The Milton model is the inverse process, specific to general. Another personal example: yesterday I had a terrific workout. I did 2000 jump ropes, 800 squats, 550 abs, and 250 arms in 102 minutes. At the end of the workout I was completely spent. This delightful happenstance also had specific time and space bounds of narrow limit. Milton Erickson would say spread it around. When I cook my dinner, write this blog post, perform the research for the business I am creating--really any waking moment of the day--I can do any task with energy and determination and tenacity because it is purely subjective and pleasurable to view myself as an energetic and determined and tenacious man. I have one objective data point here to support this view; it is a trivial matter to extrapolate it to hell and back as some are fond of saying in the earth science businesses. This is a formula for bliss consciousness technique. You can use it to go about in the world and radiate loving kindness to every human you encounter. Win friends and influence people!

These are not things you need to study Neurolinguistic Programming specifically in order to learn, but you can find them well presented in those books and seminars. The material they have, which is unique, is the rapport material. This involves careful observation of others: their respiration, skin condition, level of arousal, postures, where their eyes focus, blinking rate, pupil dilation, and many other characteristics of their organism. The seminar transcripts are filled with data such as these and the use to be made of them. In seminar rooms I have seen others use these type observations powerfully for rapid psychotherapy and change work. I myself have had little success using these tools, and sometimes I feel intrusive or creepy or stalky when experimenting with them. I think it would be fascinating to perform a Rupert Sheldrake sense-of-being-stared-at experiment where the staring experimental subject is an expert NLP creep.

Sheldrake's research is controversial. There are more mainstream fields of Psychology research which could also benefit greatly by incorporating the NLP rapport tools. One example is the Paul Ekman micro-expression work which has received much positive attention of late. As far as I know, Ekman and his co-workers look almost solely at facial expressions. The Neurolinguistic Programmers in their rapport examples look at a wide variety of similar phenomena.

I conclude with a quotation from James J. Gibson, late emeritus Psychology researcher:

"I seem to be, to my surprise, a member of a large profession. There are some 20.000 psychologists in this country alone, nearly all of whom have become so in my adult lifetime. They are all prosperous. Most of them seem to be busily applying psychology to problems of life and personality. They seem to feel, many of them, that all we need to do is to consolidate our scientific gains. Their self-confidence astonishes me. For these gains seem to me puny, and scientific psychology seems to me ill-founded. At any time the whole psychological applecart might be upset. Let them beware!"

This post was written in collaboration with my friend Zhanar Suleimenova, who learned her NLP in Novosibirsk with books which have not yet been translated into English.

11 August 2010

one hot tamale

It is 103 degrees fahrenheit, 46% relative humidity, and the heat index is 122. Aye aye aye aye aye aye aye. This happens every August on the Gulf Coast. The first year I lived here I spent the entire summer as air conditioned as I could possibly be. There were August weekends when I would stay inside my apartment from Friday evening until Monday morning and not even consider going outside. I don't suppose I will ever get used to it, but I have come to some understanding of summer weather adaptation.

An advantage to working from home is that I do not get blasted with air conditioning 40 hours a week from the office 75 degree climate control. This is not a panacea. Yesterday I went someplace in the middle of the day. The worst part was that my car was parked unshaded for two hours and when I got in it to come home there was a cooking interval of around ten minutes before the air in the car was cool, and during the first minute it must have been 125 degrees in there. Just those ten minutes of overheating had me so tired when I got home that I took a forty minute nap even though I had eight hours of sleep the night before. If I stay inside during the hot part of the day, my adaptations protect me from nearly any effects.

My thermostat is usually at 82, so it is warm, but it is not at all uncomfortable. I open the windows at sunrise and leave the air conditioning off until I feel the need for it. This was usually around 10:00 a. m. for the last week, although this morning I did not turn on the air conditioning until 11:00. So unlike last summer, when the apartment was closed up from around June 1 until around October 1, this summer I have flooded the apartment with fresh air every morning. Also I have been taking sunrise walks in Bear Creek Park and on the Addicks Reservoir dam which get me out into nature, in touch with our roots. Sometimes I see raccoon, skunk, possum, hawk, or fox. I usually see deer and toads and egrets and butterflies and vultures. I always hear frogs and crickets and crows. I have not yet seen a rattlesnake, but I know they are out there. This is the first time I have been active outdoors through the whole summer in years.

A website concerned with the hazards of civilization is the Anthropik network. They are a thoughtful group and their viewpoint is quite interesting, even though I do not agree with it. They are pessimistic regarding our culture's destiny--peak oil and environmental ruin and more. I am not pessimistic at, but I do agree with them that time spent attending to the natural world is vital to our being. I like this summer a whole lot more than I liked the last four. In my living room with the windows open and the crickets chirping away on a warm summer morning it is almost like a paradise.

06 August 2010

Whitman the psalmist

A literature professor told me a few years ago that the poetic structure and voice of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass was very close to that of the King James version of the book of Psalms. The King James Bible was the one book in everybody's house when Walt grew up and he was taught to read from it. Among the easiest books to read is Psalms, so he naturally became a psalmist in style. I have looked for confirmation of this idea intermittently and have not yet found a good source.

I decided to perform a short experiment. I examined one of my favorite Whitman passages, the last stanza in Song of Myself. Then I went to the Psalms, started at Ps. 23 and searched forward until I found one that was roughly the same length. This was fast as I chose Ps. 26 to be close. Then I counted the feet.

Song of myself, stanza number 52

The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me—he complains of my gab and my loitering.

I too am not a bit tamed—I too am untranslatable;
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

The last scud of day holds back for me;
It flings my likeness after the rest, and true as any, on the shadow’d wilds;
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.

I depart as air—I shake my white locks at the runaway sun;
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.

I bequeathe myself to the dirt, to grow from the grass I love;
If you want me again, look for me under your boot-soles.

You will hardly know who I am, or what I mean;
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first, keep encouraged;
Missing me one place, search another;
I stop somewhere, waiting for you.

King James Psalm 26

1Judge me, O LORD; for I have walked in mine integrity: I have trusted also in the LORD; therefore I shall not slide.

2Examine me, O LORD, and prove me; try my reins and my heart.

3For thy lovingkindness is before mine eyes: and I have walked in thy truth.

4I have not sat with vain persons, neither will I go in with dissemblers.

5I have hated the congregation of evil doers; and will not sit with the wicked.

6I will wash mine hands in innocency: so will I compass thine altar, O LORD:

7That I may publish with the voice of thanksgiving, and tell of all thy wondrous works.

8LORD, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place where thine honour dwelleth.

9Gather not my soul with sinners, nor my life with bloody men:

10In whose hands is mischief, and their right hand is full of bribes.

11But as for me, I will walk in mine integrity: redeem me, and be merciful unto me.

12My foot standeth in an even place: in the congregations will I bless the LORD.


By my counts, Whitman Song of Myself stanza 52:

7 verses; syllables 22, 29, 39, 31, 29, 20, 26; total 203, average 29;

Psalm 26:

12 verses; syllables 29, 15, 18, 18, 22, 20, 20, 21, 15, 14, 24, 20; total 236, average 20.

This was a fun experiment. From two data points we cannot conclude Psalms is written in decameter and Leaves of Grass is written in pentadecameter, but it might be that Whitman did represent a shift of line lengthening, or a consideration of Psalms as being a book of poetry, first. At the time he began many poets were grooved upon the pentameter line, and poets as late as Alfred Lord Tennyson were concentrating on pentameter. The literature professor is not at all contradicted by my findings.

I have been playing with Natural Language Processing and it seems it would be feasible to construct a line analyzer and construct statistics in an automated fashion for all of the Psalms and Leaves of Grass and quantify this idea. I do not personally know any Natural Language Processing practitioners; perhaps this is a trivial exercise they all do in their first semester class.

As a public speaking exercise, I have been reading aloud from Psalms and Leaves of Grass. My teacher who told me about the resemblance also told me that the voice of Leaves of Grass is the voice of American public discourse. He said any time Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton or Barack Obama gave a speech, it echoed Whitman. He told me professional political speechwriters read Leaves of Grass over and over to use as a template. If one can internalize that voice, it will make his own voice more listenable. I have been doing these readings for around a year and a half, but have not noticed much effect yet.

One thing is unarguable. Whitman is the voice of the psalmist in that he lived one of those verses in Psalm 26--he told us all of God's wondrous works. At times it can seem as if Whitman was obsessed with Ps: 26.7.

That I may publish with the voice of thanksgiving, and tell of all thy wondrous works.

01 August 2010

my first pagan supper

Lammas is the first of August. If you know nothing about the pagan holiday calendar, it is almost the simplest possible system. There are four major holidays: the two solstices summer and winter; the two equinoxes spring and fall. There are four minor holidays which are almost exactly in the middle of the four equally spaced main ones. Everybody knows about Halloween and May Day, but the other two are a little more obscure. The other two go by different names; I use Candlemas for the one around 1 February and Lammas for the one around the 1 August.

Candlemas might with a small amount of distortion masquerade as Saint Valentine's Day. My calculation would place it 45 days after the winter solstice so for 2010 that would be 21 December + 45 days = 5 Feb 2010. The current imbolc wikipedia page has 2 Feb as the day, which is very close, but 14 Feb is not so close. Lammas has nothing close to it at all in mainstream culture. I would offer that it is the most obscure of the pagan holidays.

The first time I attended a pagan holiday celebration, it was Lammas. I had no idea what I was agreeing to. It was a friend of a friend invitation deal. He was my friend as well, but not close. I was close friends with Ann and she was close friends with this fellow Bill, who I knew and did not dislike at all; but we really did not have much in common. I rated an invitation to the holiday dinner at his parents' house because I had a car, and I could transport Ann. Dinner was scheduled for 9:00 p.m. which is a little late, but the sun sets after 8:00 p.m. on the first of August and that is when his parents scheduled it.

We set out from New Orleans to Mandeville around 8:00. It was myself, Ann, and Ann's sister Jamie. It is amusing in retrospect that Bill had a crush on Ann, Ann had a crush on me, and I had a crush on Jamie. All of these feelings were unreturned, at least on that night. The sun was setting when we arrived at Bill's parents' house. At the house were Bill, his parents, his sister, and one other dinner guest. She was a pagan priestess and friend of the family. They all greeted us real friendly and said some brief informal friendship blessing with a sincerity which was closer to incomprehensible than it was to touching. It was confusing.

We had dinner on their back deck next to their swimming pool. They brought out huge platters of food--jambalaya, beef stir-fry, beans, other vegetables, salads--there was enough food to feed thirty people easy. Bill's mom lit candles around the edge of the deck and the priestess said some foreign prayer while holding a carved malachite knife over a big mug of mead. I would guess the prayer was in Gaelic. Then they passed the mug of mead around and everybody took a sip out of the mug. They served many bottles of wine with the dinner.

After awhile I had to use the restroom. The priestess was disturbed that I was "breaking the circle" but Bill's mom insisted this was not a problem and she quickly hushed. We did not discuss pagan religion much, or if we did I do not remember that part. The food was very good. Other than the short prayer and the circle of candles business, I don't recall anything that was different from a typical dinner party.

On the wikipedia Lammas page they have the following Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet quotation: "Come Lammas Eve at night shall she [Juliet] be fourteen."

That was the only Lammas celebration I have ever participated in. I have a friend who considers it a big deal. She calls it Lughnasa (just like in the movie, Dancing at -) and every year she goes to a large group camp where they burn bonfires and dance naked and sacrifice a goat. For all I know she is totally making up the parts about the nudity and animal sacrifices.


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About Craig

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Houston, Texas, United States
I have been living in the lovely neighborhood of Spring Branch in the great city of Houston since late in 2005. I started out with the idea of making this blog about my life in this neighborhood. That did not last long. Right now I am posting every five days on the alternating topics of literature, philosophy, psychology, and metaphysics. This project has been ongoing since July 27, 2010 and I believe it will continue for at least a few more months.