18 April 2011

How do you react?

On my last metaphysics post I discussed almost all of my ritual activity for the Spring Equinox. I omitted one item which is complex enough that it may take up a post of its own. On the 21st of March I did a special tarot reading, for that and for the 77 following days. It was the first time I ever did a tarot reading using the whole deck.

Tarot is a useful tool, but I do not usually take it very far. I have only performed a handful of readings for other people in real life. And I am unsophisticated at it, and new enough at it, that on the eleventh of September 2001 I did not even know that this card was in my deck, although I had used it a few dozen times already at that point. One thing which I still have not done is figure out how many shuffles are required to randomize a 78 card tarot deck with two possible orientations for each card. For a 52 card playing deck we have peer reviewed work in Combinatorics which gives the number of shuffles needed: seven. When I shuffle a tarot deck I shuffle it 49 times, with an inversion for around half of those. This is a number I arrived at experimentally when I first bought the deck and it took that many shuffles to convince myself that the factory order had finally been obliterated. More often than not, when somebody asks me to perform a reading for them, they lose interest in the exercise before I finish shuffling.

On the 21st of March I performed my scrupulous 49-times shuffle, read the first ten cards per normal; I then wrote down the first ten and the following 68 for the purpose of a 78 day regimen of studying one card per day, using that card to reflect upon that day, and refine my one-liner representation of the card that I use for readings. Most of my interpretations are based upon Rachel Pollack's book, which has many flaws but which contains mostly great information.

For today, day number 29 in the series, the card is the five cups. My one-liner summary for this card is: "How do you react?" This comes from a man who has nothing to do with tarot that I know of--college football coach Nick Saban. I have written before about my fascination with sports talk radio, but this is an indication of how deep this fascination goes. I do not even like college athletics. There are thousands of professional football and basketball games televised yearly with the most-skilled athletes--far too many to watch it all. It never ceases to amaze me that people have any time at all to attend to college players. In spite of never watching college football, I listened to Nick Saban's radio show when he was coaching at Louisiana State, because he told the most fascinating stories. This is why I love sports talk radio--it has great stories.

I can recall verbatim one time Saban discussing his coaching philosophy and he said:

"Everybody gets hurt. Everybody gets sick. Everybody makes mistakes. It makes all the difference in the world between winning and losing, success and failure: how do you react?"

It stuck with me enough that I penciled it into my Pollack tarot book right below the five cups. It is fully consistent with Pollack's explanation of the card's meaning, and it is one of the better one-liners I have now for all of the cards in the deck.

13 April 2011

Hypnagogic and hypnopompic

Dreams have been covered here, and I really don't have much more to say about them. They can be fascinating, but I am not of the school that makes them a royal road to the unconscious. I am not sure the idea of an unconscious mind is very useful. In the current set of metaphors, I prefer the notion of reptilian brain functions to the unconscious mind. Most dream discussions are beastly dull.

One observation which seems trivial is relation between dream experience and waking mood. A pleasant dream experience is flying. Sometimes it is chaotic, tangled in high wires or crashes on landings; sometimes it is perfect, free and controlled and with beautiful vistas. In my experience, perfectly controlled beautiful vista flying dreams are strongly correlated with elevated mood for the following few hours of waking consciousness.

Another experience, again trivial, is love objects in dreams. Jung coined the term anima to describe an inner personality of the opposite sex; I prefer to describe the anima as a love-object type of woman. The attractive women who I do not recognize in my dreams are all of one physical type. My shorthand for this is: anima-woman. The real world equivalent to this would be that all of the public relationship figures for some prominent men seem to be of one physical type--all the Bill Clinton women (except for his wife) have the big salon hair and heavy makeup; all the Tiger Woods women have long straight blond hair, &c.

One time I participated in a Jungian T group where the group leader was nearly a perfect instance of my own anima-woman. Fortunately I had the sense not to mention this to her. I am fairly sure (probability~.7) she has heard that enough to be sick and tired of it, and more sure (probability~.9) that her response to such a comment would be akin to: "Ack! Stay away from me you creep."

This can be a little disturbing when a real-life person of little importance sneaks into my dream world in the anima-woman role. This happened to me recently. The woman is not unattractive, but I have not had any personal interaction with her. When she showed up in my dream the attraction was intense. This was not disturbing at all; to the contrary it was a pleasant dream. The disturbance came into the waking world when it took some effort to banish the anima-woman from repeatedly creeping into my conscious thought.

The kicker was the hypnopompic material that came right after, the stuff that came into my half-world and mostly conscious mind. I conceived what I thought to be a novel theory of clinical depression and treatment and a conversation with my doctor where I explained it all and enlightened him. It is simple enough to explain in a paragraph or two.

Human mood varies--we have good days and bad days. For the sake of discussion, evaluate all of human mood with one number, scale 1 to 10.

10: the first time you fell in love, winning the World Series, sex with a nine-thousand-dollar prostitute.
1: what would be the most painless and sure-fire way to commit suicide?

Natural fluctuation is between 3 and 8. If your mood is at 3 for too long an interval and too often, you complain to the doctor and he prescribes a Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitor, which solves the problem for a lot of people.

Here is where my hypnopompic theory and imagined discussion with my doctor comes in. I told him what the SSRI does is not just block off the lower state, but compresses the range from 4 to 7 and blocks out the potential for high states as well, which may not be a desired outcome at all. I used diagrams in my explanation, with graphs of mood versus time which resembled Neumann Functions. In my hynopompic state, this all made perfect sense and my diagrams were beautiful. When I got up I immediately made notes and drew graphs and it all made a lot less sense to me than it did in my hypnopompic state.

08 April 2011

What does not kill me makes me stronger I

"What does not kill me makes me stronger."
Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, Maxims and Arrows, #8, tr. R. Hollingdale.

I have a love and hate relationship with Nietzsche, and the hatred portion is neatly summarized by the above aphorism. Today is a milestone day on the calendar year. It happened to be the day when the heat in my apartment got high enough (88 degrees Fahrenheit at 4:00 P.M.) that I had to surrender and finally turn on my air conditioning for the first time this year. This isn't killing me but it is surely not making me stronger. The British philosopher Bertrand Russell had more of a hate and hater relationship toward Nietzsche. It is amusing to read his Nietzsche chapter in his History of Western Philosophy; over-educated British guys can display a knack for truly creative name-calling.

Before I get to the negative, first I will accentuate the positive. The best thing about the Nietzsche books is their style. The prose is light and easy to read fast and make sense out of. This is not to say that second and closer readings do not reveal deeper layers. They often do. The quip in my title is not an example of this.

His readings and interpretations of the ancients are great. Informative. Innovative. Almost every time he writes about the Greeks it stimulates me and I often wonder how he could come up with this stuff. Nietzsche represents an archetype--the archetype of the tortured genius struggling alone producing beautiful work that nobody appreciates. Those of us who have spent much time struggling alone to produce work which we considered worthy and few others appreciated might feel a personal connection to this character. I certainly did when I was younger. I was so under the spell of this archetype, that when I studied creative work systematically in the form of 's Creativity, I was surprised at his finding that for almost all top creators and innovators, their most important time is spent in discussion and consultation with fellow workers. This is certainly not how the process seemed to work for Friedrich Nietzsche, and this is not how the process has mostly worked for me.

Nietzsche is extraordinarily popular, and he gets people reading Philosophy who would otherwise be intimidated by the density of the typical work in the field. He is often the very first Philosopher that people read because of his accessibility. He is certainly the very first Philospher that I spent a long time reading. He is a gateway. My experience is that most of his readers have a diametrically opposite experience to that of Bertrand Russell--love and more love without dilution. This has made it very difficult for me develop my own reading with any discussion or consultation. Things go fine as long as I am positive and then I say something negative and my fellow readers usually draw the conclusion I am an idiot.

I remember one discussion I had on USENET long ago which I can no longer locate. I was writing about this idea I got out of Deleuze--that Nietzsche was approximately equal to all of the best parts of Sigmund Freud with none of the worst parts. This fellow I was discussing this with first went ballistic about how I didn't know what I was talking about. Then, right after that, he posted chapter and verses from Deleuze's book which were the exact thing I was drawing my memory from, and they said almost exactly what I was saying. That was really bizarre, but it was kind of typical of how my discussions of Nietzsche go with people who have also read a bunch of the books.

My main complaint about the Nietzsche books is this:I believe the man went mad before he stopped writing. It isn't like one day he was perfectly lucid and literate and writing, and then the next day he went mad and the writing stopped. I think the later books, like Twilight of the Idols, contain madman ravings. As a philosophical statement, "what does not kill me makes me stronger" seems vulgar to me.

There are precursors to this in the earlier work on the subject of modern (to him) Europe. He was living in a culture filled with human failing, as do we all. He does not seem to get that the wonderful classical civilizations of Greece and Rome were also quite full of human failing. I have more faith in progress than is evident in the Nietzsche work.

And now I have a segue so abrupt I must defer it to a part II which I will post in twenty days.

03 April 2011

The movie was not as good as the book

In my preparations for Easter I watched (almost all) three movie versions of the story:
King of Kings,
The Last Temptation of Christ,
and Passion of the Christ.
The comparison and contrast was fascinating, and after I looked up a few things which I found noteworthy.

The oldest of the three, King of Kings, is from 1961 and parts of it did not age well. The thing which sticks out the most is the sensibility of the movie; at no time while I was sitting there was I unaware that this was a presentation from 1960 Hollywood. The movie did not suck me into its false reality with suspension of my disbelief. The one thing which distinguishes it is the music. The score is by Miklos Rozsa, one of the best ever film score composers. I have this CD (not too bad) and in the liner notes they have comments by Rozsa. He did Ben Hur and King of Kings right after, and he comments that Ben Hur was the Jesus story without any of his speaking parts, and then Jesus' speaking parts are immediately picked up in King of Kings. King of Kings is, so to speak, one of the many supplemental discs for Ben Hur. The cover photograph on that CD illustrates one of my problems with the movie. It shows a still from the movie with King Herod and the queen and they are wearing really goofy costumes.

Omitting Ben Hur from my program may have been a blunder. I had always thought that Jesus was a minor character in this movie, but in looking at the program notes for the DVD they have a picture of the jacket from the original novel where it says in a plain English sub-title: a novel of The Christ. Easter isn't for a couple more weeks and so I may remedy this, but it is a very long movie. The thing I remember most from my last viewing is that Charlton Heston's abdomen closeups were as impressive as anything they have ever gotten out of Brad Pitt. That guy spent a lot of time in the gym.

The best of these three movies, for me, was The Last Temptation of Christ. No Rozsa score, but the Peter Gabriel score is not chopped liver. The thing which I really appreciated was the depth of seemingly all, even the most minor characters. The relationships between Judas and Jesus, John the Baptist and Jesus, Mary Magdalene and Jesus were all believable (for the two hours I was sitting there watching it) and very interesting. I do not know what Palestine in the zeroth century was really like, but the setting provided for this story was clearly like nothing I am familiar with from my everyday life. The contrast between this and the familiarity of King of Kings is large.

Then there is The Passion of the Christ. The beginning of the movie was great. They have the dialog in Aramaic with English sub-titles, which I thought was an interesting way to do it. I could not watch the movie to the end, however. When the Roman guards beat Jesus during his trial, it is just too gross. It is like those scenes at the end of Rocky where the beating is way more than a human could withstand, and still maintain conscious brain function. I watched Rocky all the way to the end, so I can stomach a lot. Passion is at least five times worse than that, perhaps much more. When the bloody gore got to the five Rockies level, I shut the DVD player off.


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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.