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eric gunther « Plebian Design: Blog

Archive for the ‘eric gunther’ Category

What Moves You?

Monday, February 15th, 2010

I have been informally taking note of what things make my body react and what things don’t. It is often an eclectic collection of things that a particular body reacts to. Some, like startling noises, are obvious, along with their expected reactions. Still, the range of reactions we have to these surprising stimuli is as varied as the range of reactions we have to a standup comedian. Some things make some people jump. Some don’t. Other things are hardly obvious, like songs that make some people cry and others snore.
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Thoughts on the Evolution of Dance for Me and My Species

Friday, June 12th, 2009

My relationship with dancing has gone through a series of deaths and rebirths. Always on the move. Now that I think about it, my earliest memory of dance is watching my brother dancing around to a Peter, Paul, and Mary record at a relative’s apartment. We were probably five years old. And I remember the sound of her sing-song-proper voice telling my mom, “What a wonderful dancer Michael was.” He was half joking around, but he was definitely feeling it. (more…)

Church is Our Classroom Part VIII: Abundant Life Church

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

Abundant Life Church
Pentecostal
May 31, 2009
http://alccambridge.org/

It was a perfect Sunday morning. I had gotten there first and was definitely nervous opening the door. Based on the website, out of all the churches we’d been so far, I knew that our outsider status would be most obvious here. The second I stepped inside, a man greeted me with a firm handshake and a “Good morning, brother.” And then another past the vestibule. As I went to sit somewhere near the back, a woman gently ushered me up the aisle, inviting me to get closer. (more…)

A Center-Centric—Centered Blogpost about Centerness

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

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Several weeks ago, we paid the Central Square Theater a visit to see The Life of Galileo, a readaptation of Berthold Brecht’s play. For the most part, this particular piece of theater fell short of emotionally penetrating me. In the second half, though, it’s ordered turbulence did trigger a series of bifurcations in my musings. Amid all this talk of heliocentrism and geocentricism, the question hit me, What’s so great about being in the center? People were burned at the stake for saying that man was not at the center of the solar system. It feels like a great place to be, but why? We feel important there, but why? (more…)

Science is My Life Coach

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

Conversations about science and religion often begin with the statement that science doesn’t provide us with ways of and codes for living. That is the role of religion. The falsity of this statement grows by the day for me. Science can - and does - provide us with ways of living. Science provides us with the seeds of cultural elaboration and the shared myths by which we live our lives. We can and do grow the tissues of experiential existence on the reductionist ribs of science.

The scientific and technological models of the era always have a way of shaping the societies’ collective models for the world. This is demonstrated by our changing models of human anatomy through the stages of industrialization and modernization. From the mechanical to the hydraulic to the electric to the digital \ computational, etc. It is what Ken Wilber gets at in his four quadrant model as the evolution of worldviews. From physical to protoplasmic to vegetative to locomotive to uroboric to typhonic to archaic to magic to mythic to rational to centauric and so on…
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Bias Blind Spots

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

A list is a powerful thing. Wikipedia is full of them. I am working on a poster version of this one. These are cognitive biases, some crucial characteristics of what we might call human nature. Imagine how self-aware we could become if we internalized this list?

In these modern times of political correctness, peace, and unity, the word bias has gotten a bad rap. As you read this list though, keep in mind that at some point in our evolution each of these biases was most likely an adaptation of some kind that conferred survival advantages to those who displayed it. Inhabiting organismic time and space, we had (and have) to make quick decisions. These tendencies allow us to make such on-the-spot decisions. We are heuristic beasts.
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Plebian Book Club: An Ecopoetics of Beauty and Meaning

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

Turner, Frederick. “An Ecopoetics of Beauty and Meaning” Excerpted from Brette Cooke & Frederick Turner, ed., Biopoetics: Evolutionary Explanations in the Arts (Lexington, Kentucky: ICUS, 1999), 119-138.

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What follows is a relatively unedited stream of direct quotations and paraphrases most salient to me while reading this essay.
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Frights and Flights of the Imagination

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

We all have fears. Some are raw and strike us as obvious—heights, lions, tigers, bears, dark places. Others are strange and entangled with threads upon threads of culture. We can all literally scare the shit out of ourselves, with a little help from our imaginations. I would like to share two fear inducing flights of the imagination that, to this day, make my whole body tense up. In fact they do so on a regular basis. Let’s call the first one the pool shark, and the second one, the dark-basement grandpa.
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There’s a Zoo in Us

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

I recently came across this old Sesame Street cartoon. I wonder if the writers knew the real depth of what they were saying with this.

What better way to get kids pumped on evolution? There’s a zoo in us! We are full of animals. Through the cumulative processes of evolution, we became who were are. There were many steps along the way, which we can see, somewhat frozen in time, at the zoo. It is hard for some to admit, but if we allow ourselves to look in the mirror that is the zoo, so many of the behaviors we see are ours. In most cases they have been elaborated upon by our imaginative minds and through the cumulative feedback loops of culture. So many of these emotions and behaviors continue to operate in us, animating and guiding the acquisition of this culture.
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Church is Our Classroom, Part VI Church of Latter Day Saints

Monday, May 18th, 2009

Church of Latter Day Saints
Mormon
May 17, 2009
Website

There was a light rain as we ascended the the stairs into the Church. Jeff noted that the building looked more like a school than a Church. It did, with its solid white Jeffersonian columns. Inside the pews were packed. We did not know at the time, but today was a special event. Almost four hundred people were there to participate in a thirty-four state wide conference being simulcast from Utah. We grabbed the last row in the balcony section.

Their mastery of technology was impressive; the live media show was carried out with precision. A small digital clock counted down on the projection screen as a Church official carried on with public thanks and votes of hands. There was much talk of brothers, wards, high priests, and voting on various offices. When the clock hit 00:00, Bruce D Porter of the Seventy took the podium onscreen and began his speech, all the way from Utah.
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Kinesthetic Sculpture

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

I like standing in subway trains. One day in March, as I was subway surfing, I allowed myself to observe my body as it reacted to the train’s unpredictable, yet periodic movements. Next time you are on a subway train, I encourage you to try this experiment; really let your body do its thing and watch from the inside. In my mind, the relationship was suddenly reversed and I realized that the subway was putting movement into my body. This led me to ask the question: Can we create machines that put choreographed movements directly into the body? Machines that move you and move with you.
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Church is Our Classroom: Part V Harvard-Epworth United Methodist Church

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

Harvard-Epworth United Methodist Church
http://www.gbgm-umc.org/harepumc/
May 10, 2009 (Mother’s Day)

Looking at the small cavern above the altar for the organ player, it occurred to me that organists were some of the original DJs. Up there in their little chamber, fingers jamming on the keys, looking out over the crowd, putting the pedals to the metal, dropping bass lines.

Jeff couldn’t make it this week, so initially I thought I’d skip Church. But I actually wanted to go. I’m noticing that it is becoming less of burden to wake up on Sunday for church. I was looking forward to this structured time set aside to think about things. What new connections would I make? What previously recorded material would be accessed, unhinged, and layed down anew in my brain?
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Church is Our Classroom: Part IV Christ the King

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

May 3, 2009
11AM Mass
Christ the King
Presbyterian Church

This is a roughly chronological transcription of my thoughts during mass. Some are more fleshed out than others. Where not marked as otherwise, words in quotes are from the sermon. I’ve done my best to accurately transcribe the sermon. My hand was a drunk fish at that hour.
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Reductionism: Breaking it Down in the Name of Beauty

Monday, May 4th, 2009

Over the last few months, we at Plebian have been (as DP would say) drinking the Kool-Aid of science. In the process of discovering what science has to say about religious experience, we’ve found ourselves awash in the beauty of the physical universe as seen through science. You might say we are born-again scientists. It continues to be a trip.

Thinking explicitly about exactly where in the process this sense of beauty arises from, we realized that it is often in the aftermath of reduction; the piecing back together of parts to arrive back at the current complexity of things. It is the sheer magnitude of this scientific synthesis—in time, space, and multiplicity—that induces religious feelings. In our minds, we play out these kind of Yoko Ono like scientific instruction paintings and bask in their invisible canvases.

Reductionism has a bad rap and is in need of a public relations makeover. (more…)

Mirror Neurons Part I: Watching is Moving

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

A mirror neuron is a neuron which fires when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another animal, especially of like species. They have been observed in primates and most probably exist in humans. I’ve known about mirror neurons for some time now, but have only recently been hit over the head with the scientific, artistic, and personal significance of their discovery.

They form a deeply beautiful network of silent movement among living creatures. They presence implies that, even in stillness, we move with the living world around us. They make us living seismographs on which the moving animal world perpetually and silently plays itself out. We move with those around us, not merely seeing others doing, but essentially doing with them. We move in synchronicity, dancing our own internal interpretation of a common dance.

The processes of evolution has tangled and cross-wired our sensory systems; mirror neurons are yet another piece of evidence pointing toward our inherent metaphorical nature. Watching another move means moving with another. Sight as movement.

A set of very distinct human feelings likely arise from this automatic neural transcription. Gallese, a co-discoverer of mirror neurons, has proposed a theory of embodied simulation, wherein mirror neurons form the bases for empathetic experience. We know what it feels like to be someone else in a deeper sense than we could have ever imagined. Every day, we are constantly putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes; in fact we putting ourselves in their entire bodies.

(I can’t help thinking about every time I’ve ever cringed watching a groin shot on America’s Funniest Home Videos.)

Despite the lack of evidence, I am intrigued with Ramachandran’s speculation that mirror neurons were responsible for the great leap in technological sophistication that occurred around 40 thousand years ago. He proposes that they could have allowed accidental cultural mutations to spread quickly through the population by facilitating imitation learning. He speaks of mirror neurons allowing us to read and understand another’s intentions, thus developing a sophisticated theory of other minds.

Rizzolati, a co-discoverer of mirror neurons, talks about them enabling humans to mime—and possibly understand—the lip and tongue movements of others, which could provide a means for language to evolve. There is a linguistic theory that posits the evolution of language from isomorphisms where, for example, the sounds created by upward placement of the tongue correspond to words with upward connotations. I could imagine mirror neurons being responsible for the initial mappings of such movements from the world onto the musculature of our mouths.

The operation of mirror neurons in our experience presents an entirely new kind of understanding of interpersonal relationships, one to which the entire body—not just the mind— is an integral part. Theories of consciousness that forgo mind/body dualities begin to make much more sense to me in light of mirror neurons. The body becomes a vital stage in our interpersonal experience.

The concept of mirror neurons provides a real physiological basis for the metaphor of resonance between individuals. As early as the 1933, dance critic John Martin proposed a theory of muscular sympathy or metakinesis in which audience members played the movements of the dancers out in their musculature. It turns out that this phenomenon is probably real.

Perhaps one day mirror neurons will receive sensory status; a sixth sense of movement perception among living creatures.