Thursday, September 23, 2010

God = x

I recently got involved briefly in another of those interminable ‘how many angels can dance on the head of a pin’ type of futile argument/discussions…about whether atheists using the word ‘probably’ in their slogans sounds like a stupid attempt at placating those they actually hope to ‘convert’ or ‘debrief’.

There probably is no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.

I remain a hard-liner in that I have no need of the concept of a Creator, but I don’t feel like a zealot. I have no desire to stop people believing nonsense, if it keeps them happy (although I do quibble about it when it seems to make them miserable, scared, vicious, etc).

foma - harmless untruths; lies that, if used correctly, can be useful. Bokononism.

"Live by the foma that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy."

I, however, prefer a sublime indifference to beliefs I don’t even begin to understand.

Julie mentioned the other day that most of the disagreements disappear if you replace the word ‘God’ with the word ‘Nature’, and I know what she means, but it doesn’t completely work for me. I have felt the same way since when I first came across Taoism (in my teens) and finally thought I had come across a group of people who saw things the same way as myself – describing that final ‘unity’ as a mystery, not only that can never be described except with inadequate labels, but never truly ‘known’.

The Tao that can be described in words is not the true Tao.

Only later did I discover in the Western tradition that several Gnostic sects had taken the same approach – that any attempt to describe or understand the source or ground of being appears doomed to failure. ‘God’ as remote and ineffable. The Unknown God.

I acknowledge one great invisible God, unrevealable, unmarked, ageless and unproclaimable

And in fact if everyone used the word to mean that, then I wouldn’t see any problem with it. Unfortunately, it is what Korzybski called a multi-ordinal (word with multiple meanings) which can lead to all kinds of misunderstandings.

I can never even work out whether people who use the word imply ‘God is love’ (trust that a benign higher being has a plan and a purpose for you) or ‘God is very strict – a firm but fair father’ (the god-fearing person as the ideal human), etc.

The Church of God the Utterly Indifferent appears in Vonnegut’s Sirens of Titan.

And why a father and not a mother?

So anyway. Many of these discussions would vanish if we simply used the word to mean the completely unknowable, rather than assuming some kind of conscious being can ever be found or contacted. It would then seem obvious why religious people think of much science as somehow blasphemous or pointless - trying to explain the ultimately (by definition) unexplainable.

God moves in mysterious ways

If we treat the word ‘God’ as just a marker for something we don’t know at the moment, as in algebra we use ‘x’, then we leave it open that we may ‘solve’ the equation at some point, although it seems likely that we may end up with the kind of odd results that led mathematicians to have to describe and accept ‘imaginary numbers’, ‘irrational numbers’, and other curious outcomes.

Accept the Mystery

I doubt that we can ever ‘solve’ what people mean by God to some simple answer, especially if we use the label to describe the Great Unknown – Tao – Process – Nature.

Update: Friday 24th September - the influence of my Theosophical father must not be ignored, so I guess it might intrigue you to read this lecture from Stephan Hoeller, from 2003, which clarifies the Gnostic belief system, and myths as educational tools, and much more (including, perhaps, my own antagonism to the established church). I mentioned a lot of this (and more) in a post to this blog, from 2004, called Follow Your Bliss.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Leaving no trace

I am amused to find how many people want to make a mark on the world.

“…some are building monuments, others are jotting down notes…”
Quinn the Eskimo/Dylan

From when I was quite young I hoped to slip through this life unnoticed, leaving no trace. I certainly don't understand the modern desire to 'be famous' (in the spotlight the whole time). I didn’t find much support for this atitude until I came across Buddhism, and especially the Zen version of that ‘belief system’ or ‘approach to life’.

"When you do something, you should burn yourself completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself."
---Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (1970)

Even better than that advice about immersion into the present moment, and current activity, I liked the fact that Zen practitioners seemed to perceive the whole of life as ephemeral:

To what shall I compare this life of ours?
Even before I can say
it is like a lightning flash or a dewdrop
it is no more.

- Sengai

It even seemed that both the conscious mind and the perceived world might not only disappear, but perhaps were ‘never here at all’ as separate entities (and other such tricky ideas).

True dhyana is to realize that one's own nature is like space, and that thoughts and sensations come and go in the 'original mind' like birds through the sky, leaving no trace.

This calls to mind the famous, beautiful couplet from the Zenrin:

The wild geese do not intend to cast their reflection;
The water has no mind to receive their image.

Watts, Alan. The Way of Zen. New York: Pantheon, 1957 pp 93-4)

So I find the urge to write a book rather like trying to write my name on the surface of a pool of water. But I guess the image of a life as a series of waves after a pebble gets thrown in, rippling out to the edge of the pond and back towards the source (creating complex interference patterns of overlapping waves), and finally settling down (leaving no trace) always appealed to me.

Even when we do leave a physical mark like a book or a piece of art, a building, a wall, a map or a drinking well, it probably still has a finite life span before it becomes lost or forgotten or simply falls into disuse.

And in this particular life I mostly worked as a performer in live events, passing shows which linger only in the minds of the audience, for a while. The ephemeral arts.

It feels strange to realise that I have now left performances on film, which will get copied forward into new media, and possibly not fade for a very long time…I feel pleased that they are not images of me, though, but of a fully-realised character, who can live on without further input from me.

Leaving no trace, or making your mark, both work on many levels. You may not be credited with some changes you made, which nevertheless continue to influence others. You may have no idea about your descendants, and what they might achieve.

And on a daily basis, we have campaigners who want us to go out and enjoy nature, to escape from the city, but to attempt to leave no trace of our passing…while others prefer to erect signs, create trails, and otherwise help others who come behind them. Neither path seems like the whole truth.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Oh no, I may be going viral...

Although a couple of people shoved microphones at me, when I was in Orlando, I never expect such moments to be anything much more than a local radio station, or a fan website, etc.

Great fun, but I never assume anyone outside the fan base (however large that is) will come across it.

This anecdote (and I hope Carrie Fisher doesn't pop up and tell me I got it wrong all these years - which could happen, because the story is actually about how little we could see, and how little we knew about what was going on. If I had been invited to see the rushes I could probably tell you what actually happened...) ahem, anyway, this anecdote seems to have caught the ear of an editor somewhere, and after appearing on the Moviefone site it has migrated to the AOL/Video page, where it is apparently getting lots of hits!

The Man Who Licked Princess Leia: An Interview With Jabba the Hutt Puppeteer Toby Philpott

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Here, there, but not everywhere

I don't understand quite what the changes at FB involve, but don't want to lose this map, so have exported it. I have got about a bit, which is surprising with no money to speak of, but have never been south of the equator (for instance) or to India or Africa (a couple of big continents you might think it hard to miss). Hey ho.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Turn your blog into a book

It still strikes me as funny that people keep predicting the end of 'the book' as a tangible, portable object - and yet the new print-on-demand technology means we can print off short runs (just as many people still print out emails to read, etc).

And now blogs can be reproduced as books (it's another form of storage after all, for when we run out of oil/electricity/internet).

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