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May « 2009 « Plebian Design: Blog

Archive for May, 2009

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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The word God

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

Main Entry: God
Pronunciation: \ˈgäd also ˈgȯd\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Old English; akin to Old High German got god
Date: before 12th century

1 capitalized : the supreme or ultimate reality: as a: the Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshipped as creator and ruler of the universe bChristian Science : the incorporeal divine Principle ruling over all as eternal Spirit : infinite Mind 2: a being or object believed to have more than natural attributes and powers and to require human worship ; specifically : one controlling a particular aspect or part of reality3: a person or thing of supreme value 4: a powerful ruler

This NPR “This I Believe” entry is one of the first things I posted to my facebook page, an essay from Penn Gillette on being an atheist. I really enjoy this piece a lot, it struck me.
I posted it and several other atheist writings to my facebook page and got some interesting discussions with religious friends. It was the first time I really felt like facebook delivered something valuable to me. A truly different opinion than I was used to getting from people in cambridge or nyc…

But lately I would say I do believe in God. It’s not a statement I would have imagined myself making but it’s true, I do believe in a supreme or ultimate reality. A being or a principle seem to be the same thing to me in this area.

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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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Tribes and Fear

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

As always, everything here is an opinion, one that I feel strongly but am ready to drop immediately based on any alternative thinking. This is based on lauren’s comment to the previous entry about our church visit last week. It centers around two themes: the notion of fear and anxiety as a driving force, and the notion of religious (and tribal) exclusivity.

fear

Fear is considered one of the most basic, primeval emotions we possess, so leveraging fear seems to be one of the most utilitarian ways to go if you want to get someone’s attention. But to be a little more specific, I would say it’s anxiety, not fear, and there seems to be a distinction.

I’ll paraphrase my currently favorite explanation for the evolution of religion: (more…)

What are your metrics for success? Or how do you get everyone to join a band?

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

What are you metrics for success?
Is it money? Or prizes? Or accolades? Or how hot your significant other is? Or is it personal satisfaction?
How do you know if you have got something real? How can you know if you are headed in the direction of GM, AIG, lehman brothers, the bush administration, etc?

As of this post, this video has >700,000 views. (more…)

Church is our Classroom - Part IV.2 Christ the King

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

Christ the King Presbyterian Church
Sunday, May 3, 2009

(I am writing this deliberately without referencing or reading Eric’s post about the same church, hopefully we offer different viewpoints).
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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…)

Church is our Classroom: Part III Faith Lutheran Church

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

April 19, 2009
Faith Lutheran Church, Cambridge, MA
Lutheran

After Easter Sunday we were looking for a smaller, more intimate, but still very feelgood/positive environment [I've heard a lot about some stern services and really am working my way into that]. The point here is that they’ve all got different methods of creating a viable meme, so how do we look into the details and figure out what they’ve got right? How do we design something based on these inherent attractions people have to certain rational or emotional responses? They have already studied this for 5,000 years, with the advantage of only the most basic scientific method [trial and error] and have come up with some very useful rules of thumb, however implicit.

Science has the potential to lift our spirits as well; as Carl Sagan said:

“In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe. How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed”? Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.” A religion old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.”
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