A Seed of Lightning

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Silhouette of two, finding in the dark
Alongside, they’d smile in a frozen moment
Preserved forever, with a dazzle of light
Burned into dreams, in transient white

The greatest of this generation has left us. So long, Michael Jackson.

Neda of Iran

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The icon of the Iranian resistance. There are few images that move me so. This is one of them.

Social Animal

Monday, June 22, 2009

It’s a rainy, foggy morning in the streets of Brisbane city. I have realized that I am beginning to disregard people. “In what sense?”, I hear you ask. I’m beginning to disregard them as animals that have learnt to respond when in a given situation. They have spent years of their life learning how to be socially acceptable. Their notions of self will usually mean they always take their own side when it comes to exploitation or taking blame or simply being selfish. It is a natural and deeply ingrained instinct.

And yet I find this to be, at some level, disgusting. To act with automation. To disengage the mind for the choices you make. Let me qualify that: I’m not saying people don’t think, but people are unable to think outside what they’ve always thought. Sound crazy? Maybe. They will always see something through the prism of their experience, or the lenses of their prejudice. This is not objective. But what is objective when every human interprets the world around them as only they can view it? Is not the very notion of objectivity a fallacy? Again, it ties in with things being the way they are simply because the majority want it that way (i.e. right / wrong).

But back to people = animals. We hoard things. These things bring us pleasure or convenience. We long for people. They make life relatively interesting. We interpret how we see ourselves through how we affect and are affected by people (hermits excepted, perhaps). Our whole perception of self is rooted in the very foundations of our social fabric. If this is all there is, knowing yourself as you know others, then we are very simple animals indeed, and are easily distracted.

I think I need to go mountain climbing and re-calibrate my sense of the world.

You Are Just A Manimal.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

So here we are again, at the nexus point of many planes of thoughts, and ideas, notions, preconceptions. We have a different understanding of the laws and religions of mankind, the reason for them, and the effects of such novel concepts as ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. We need to make big decisions soon and we need to examine ourselves and our friends, as well as strangers and acquaintances. Their actions betray their intentions louder than their mouths could ever scream, and yet they persist in denying it.

Does it make you angry to be caught in a lie?

It is an empty world, but it saps strength to just acknowledge that. And many do not. Because they fear they are nothing special.

Look, Ma, I’ve Got Superpowers!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Recently, I was introduced to the wonderful work of three magicians: Penn & Teller, James Randi, and Derren Brown. The interesting thing is that all of them are agnostic / atheist. Now, while I normally try not to care about someone’s spirituality, the fact that they were all also magicians lent an interesting bent to the way they expressed their skepticism.

Penn & Teller had a segment called ‘Bullshit’ where he would disassemble what they brand as bullshit beliefs. Penn, being the only speaking person in their shows, is very outspoken and has a broad view on many issues such as freedom of speech, alternative medicine, and alien abduction. They also did what many magicians do not do, in that they revealed how magic tricks were done while performing a show.

James Randi has a standing offer of US$1,000,000 to anyone who can prove, under mutually agreed conditions, to display some form of paranormal power. He has had it up for so long that he is now retiring the challenge, so that the money may be used for more useful endeavours. Says a lot, doesn’t it?  He has debunked various mediums and psychics on his shows, and I recall a lot of drama involving high-profile ‘psychics’ such as Uri Geller (the famous Israeli spoon-bender), Allison DuBois (yes, the one who inspired the show ‘Medium’), and Sylvia Browne. Sometimes people accuse him of being particularly harsh on them but I have no complaints. After all, if someone grieving comes to you and you take their money by way of being a charlatan, you deserve all the scorn you get.

Finally (and this is my favourite entertainer), Derren Brown. He does not only know the inner workings behind all the paranormal bullshit, he reproduces them while telling us, the viewer, that it is all tricks and zero super powers. With psychology, cold reading, hypnosis, and a whole host of other skillsets, he does many things, from making a person lose sensation in their limbs, to holding a seance with a dead woman (who is actually alive), to hypnotically teaching a girl how to play masterfully at a piano recital without practising the piano. In one of his shows, he pretty much convinces paranormal practitioners that he, too, has a gift. One of my favourite parts was when he authentically reproduced the Christian ‘experience’ of what is termed ‘being slain in the Spirit’ (popularized by people like Benny Hinn), where Christians keel over backwards after being prayed for.

The moment I saw that clip, my delusions of spirituality left me.

In respective order, observe how each skeptic debunked the supernatural, in increasing order of persuasiveness:

  • By telling people about it (Penn & Teller)
  • By demonstrating that they are lies (James)
  • By imitating them perfectly, as to be indistinguishable from the ‘real thing’ (Derren)

To me, Derren’s method was by far the most effective method. He claims on his programs that he does not use actors or stooges. Assuming this is true (and it is imperative that it is), you will realize that he explains how people tend to have different levels of ‘suggestibility’. This simply is a way to describe how prone a person is to believe something that is said of him or her, consciously or unconsciously. This includes things we believe in or say to ourselves. Some argue that hypnosis is nothing but a ‘heightened state of suggestibility’, and having seen a few sessions of hypnosis it certainly seems that way. Hypnosis always works by ensuring the subject is calm, relaxed, and in a generally positive and open state of mind. Sounds a bit like the end of worship sessions in church, when people are most open to suggestions, eh?

Am I saying that you get hypnotized in church every week? Well, no. At least, not yet. What I am saying, though, is that if a magician can openly reproduce these ‘experiences’ to the point where no one can tell he is lying, who’s to say the evangelist is really calling on God, instead of playing your natural suggestibility against you?

Now if you say, “It sounds too out there, man. What are you smoking?”, I don’t blame you. It does sound very far out, and my own skepticism makes me view this with a grain of salt. How much is real (Derren’s actual abilities), and how much is reel (showmanship and camera work)? That’s an exercise I’ll leave to your own judgment.

The shows do mention, though, that he basically finds the person who is most susceptible to suggestion (or, the sucker who will fall for anything) for these things to work. I suppose once you reach a particular capacity for self-delusion, reality can quite literally bend in ways it was not supposed to.

And with that, I’ll leave you with a little gift.

Pop Them Bottles and Drink Them Up

Saturday, May 16, 2009

There is a surprising state of lucidity present when you are at a particularly exact stage of drunkenness. It abstracts higher thinking processes and makes things ‘simpler’, so to speak. It loosens your tongue, and with that allows you to verbalize what you think. When you do this with an instinctual desire as opposed to a controlled manner of expression your brain is able to work unfettered by impurities in thought.

I should start doing this more.

Either that, or I’m doing what every drunken person tends to think is a good idea (by having stupid ideas).

Protected: Hello, I Hate You.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

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Universal Meaning

Friday, May 8, 2009

If we assume there is no God or supernatural force outside of ourselves, we are faced with the idea that morality is simply a sham of human behavioural code dressed up as a higher law. What then is the goal of such subterfuge? One might be a true believer in one’s cause. Sincere, but wrong. No shame in that. One might also seek to regulate the behaviour of people. But to what end? To produce the most monogamous way to live? People have differing ideas of what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’, but this is simply presenting a false dichotomy, when everything a person values or believes in is literally their own ‘way’ in life.

Morality then becomes the debate of satisfying the most number of people at any given situation.  A mass agreement of human values. That becomes a mess of a circumstance when the group that believes in ‘might makes right’ rules the world, no? Ah, but we are speaking of actions among humans. There is no objective right and wrong, since all these values simply deal with human-to-human interaction. The popular values simply become the only values, and all else is vilified.

If you look at language and its relation to morality, we find that it is used to convey intent. Our thoughts are more shallow emanations of our reactions to feelings, which are firstly made to be fit for use in accordance with our social culture, and then formed into words which are given flight. We dress up our base thoughts into a social art form known as ‘politeness’ or ‘appropriateness’. Words themselves are able to invoke feelings and reactions, so we find that skill at words to be a desirable social trait, as we navigate the ever-dangerous landscape of human communication.

Framed against the backdrop of a vast empty space, our morality and languages carry little weight other than amongst our own kind. We mill about like ants believing we are giants, and that ours is the universe. Depressing.

Dream a Little Dream of Me

Monday, May 4, 2009

I was always at the back of the church looking to the front, looking at the faces mixing and mingling about. That’s when I saw her the first time. Her face looked vaguely familiar, but nothing stood out then.

Fast forward to the mall, where I was looking for jobs in computer security. I had seen her a few more times in that same mall earlier. I met her again as I was browsing the furniture section of some store.  She stood in front of me and gave me an expectant look, as I was lazing on a bed reading some notes. I raised my gaze to meet her eyes and I realized.. that smile. Only you had it. Some of your features looked different, like you had grown, but you still had that smile.

I asked you what you were doing here, and you said you were looking for a job. I walked with you and we saw your dad. As we sat around a table in the mall, some balding man in his fourties sat down with us and put a stack of timesheets on the table. You began to sign your name on each timesheet. It was for the hours a person was expected to work at. As you signed, you had a little ‘pft’ sound that escaped from your lips, as though with contempt. I knew you had been looking for a job for a while, so when the balding man left I congratulated you on landing your job. You smiled happily, but told me you had to keep the illusion that you weren’t actually needing the job.

You asked me what had happened to me since we parted ways. I hesitated.

‘I learnt a lot.’

You happily locked arms with me as we continued speaking about your job and the things you had been up to as well. I did not know what it meant at the time, I was just relieved to be beside you. To answer my unspoken question, your dad said, “So this is what you’re like in a relationship.”