Posts tagged ‘philosophy’

October 13, 2017

“JUST” Words?

by lisa st john

“Language exerts hidden power, like the moon on the tides.” Rita Mae Brown

 

Poetry especially could have a “hidden” power. But just like the moon, we know how it works. It all starts with gravity

 

“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.” Ludwig Wittgenstein

 

If I have no name for snow, does that mean it doesn’t exist? Of course not. But if I have no word for freedom, that could be a problem. Although, the word freedom has multiple meanings in different contexts for different people. 

The language we use certainly does affect the way we think.

Everything from neuroscience to linguistics points to this. Language affects our perception of the world, not the world itself.

Philosophically, we could argue that our perception IS the world, but that’s another debate.

When our Secretary of Education has no background in education,
when our Federal Communications Commission wants to get rid of net neutrality ,
when the term for lying becomes alternative fact,
is it time to get scared?

Before I decide we are truly living an Orwellian nightmare, I have to think about …thought. Thought and language.

Words shape thought.

Watch this amazing talk on sexual violence and language (or, if you are pressed for time, scroll to 2:35 for his sentence structure example from Julia Penelope). 

Language matters.

“For a long time, the idea that language might shape thought was considered at best untestable and more often simply wrong. What we have learned [however] is that people who speak different languages do indeed think differently … Appreciating its role in constructing our mental lives brings us one step closer to understanding the very nature of humanity.” -Boroditsky from EDGE (an amazingly fabulous website).

What language are we speaking? That’s it’s okay for a man to grab a woman’s pussy? Our children are listening.

“New brain research by USC scientists shows that reading stories is a universal experience that may result in people feeling greater empathy for each other, regardless of cultural origins and differences.” (“Something universal occurs in the brain when it processes stories, regardless of language” Science Daily)

empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

 

“The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words.” Philip K. Dick

 

 

Those who speak and write and make art have the power. For now.

 

 

 

September 8, 2017

What is There to Know?

by lisa st john

There is no other system that responds to aerodynamics and fluid dynamics quite like shifting sand.

Physicists have formulae for the behavior of solids, liquids, and gases but do not have an adequate scientific description of granular motion. Granular behavior doesn’t fit neatly into a single physical theory.

 

Long Beach Island

Why do you like games so much?

Because when I’m playing Bocce or Canasta or Scrabble I know there are rules, and if I play by these rules, with a little luck there is a chance I can win. Unlike real life, where you can do everything right and still get screwed.

 

Scrabble tile lost to the bushes

Games have a science behind them. They are analytical and organized, unlike shifting sand. But the beauty of science is that just because something doesn’t fit into a neat little theory is not to say that we know nothing about it. Knowing is not the same as universal truth. Science is based on change. Did the Sun and planets all revolve around the Earth back in Ptolemy’s time? Of course not. But was it “true” (scientifically) back then? Sure.

As artist Tim Minchin says, “Science adjusts it’s views based on what’s observed/Faith is the denial of observation so that Belief can be preserved./If you show me/ That, say, homeopathy works, Then I will change my mind” (Storm).

I do not mean to discount belief. We must believe that sand moves in mysterious ways in order for us to know it as a fact. We can’t know something and not believe it. Aside from Gettier, knowledge must be justified, true AND believable. This is the logical analysis of knowledge.

Logic is important to me because without it, all we have is guesswork and belief. Logic isn’t always easy though. Take the Gambler’s Fallacy. If I throw two dice ten times and I don’t get a 7 then I am “due” to get a 7 soon, right? Wrong. The dice do not know (or remember) what the previous throws were. Every time you throw it will still be  6/36 chance that you will roll a 7. We tend to believe that we are “due” to get a 7 because it’s instinctual; it’s intuitive. Why do we believe weird things? Watch this 14 minute fun video:

Why am I going on about all of this? Because of fake news and social media and a HUGE lack of scientific, logical thought in our world today. We need sites like Snopes (no, we are not putting Robert E. Lee on the $20 bill) and Politifact (no, Katy Perry did not convince ISIS to lay down their guns) because we aren’t taught to think critically, and it’s a critical time to start.

We need knowledge.

We also need belief.

Crash Davis does not, “believe in Quantum Physics when it comes to matters of the heart,” nor should he. What does he believe in, you ask?

“Well, I believe in the soul, the cock, the pussy, the small of a woman’s back, the hangin’ curveball, high fiber, good Scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, over-rated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there oughta be a constitutional amendment outlawing AstroTurf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve. And I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days” (Bull Durham).

It’s a great writing/mindfulness exercise. Rewrite Crash’s speech for yourself. I tried it. Here it is:

http://bovano.com/

I believe in double rainbows, the cock, the cunt, the wonder of the universe, the buzz of hummingbirds, real ice cream, red wine, that the poetry of my teenage years was angst-ridden garbage. I believe that Trump did “grab pussy.” I believe there should be a constitutional amendment making rape a high crime like treason and punishable by death. I believe in true love, soulmates, fuck-buddies and that only christians should celebrate Christmas. And I believe in the power of art.

What if we balanced every minute of mainstream media watching with an equal amount of poetry reading?

What if we didn’t comment on social media as much as we danced in our kitchens?

I would like to know.

 

Buy my poetry chapbook, Ponderings, HERE.

July 31, 2017

Art is My Religion

by lisa st john

Art is our new religion and museums our cathedrals.” Theodore Zeldin

Art is everywhere.

This is not a new idea. Alain de Botton’s beautiful talk “Art as Therapy” expands on Zeldin’s idea. He says that art’s function is in “giving us hope.” It reminds us that we are “not alone in our suffering.” Sounds theological doesn’t it? Recently, I realized I have a religion after all: art.

I got a last minute invitation to an event by The Secret City (“Sincere and fabulous community celebrations of the everyday creative life. With outfits”) recently, and it was nothing less than … spiritual. Artists getting together and

Chris Wells

sharing what they do with the rest of us, but also engaging us, inviting us to join them.

 

This interactive event included music by the Secret City Band, dance by Energy Dance Company, guided breathing, a shared ice cream treat by Cashewtopia, an amazing musical interaction by Sxip Shirey, a powerful a cappella protest song by Prana, fabulous memoir excerpt reading by Chris Wells, the most wondrous “Ukulele Anthem” by Amanda Palmer, and visual art provided by Martyn Thompson: meditation, music, singing, mingling, recitation…sounds like

 

AFP

church. It felt much better than any church-going I have ever experienced. It was a truly joyful celebration. We weren’t celebrating our union with a separate-from-us god; we were celebrating art and artists and the harmony that our union with them can provide. We need this. We need to connect with art so we know there are others like us. We are not alone.

 

“In times of dread, artists must never choose to remain silent.” –Toni Morrison

 

This brings me to how we connect to the arts. What can we do to promote and enjoy and partake in the magical making of things? One way is Patreon. We do not have to be insanely rich Medicis to support the arts. With crowdsourcing and gofundme and kickstarter, indiegogo, et cetera, we can all make a difference in the world; we can all be patrons. I give a little + you give a little + someone else gives a little = an artist has the money to record an album. That’s about as mathematical as I get, so … .

Let’s be kind.

Let’s share art,

and let’s be fucking joyful.

July 23, 2016

Mystery and Majesty

by lisa st john

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There are horrors all over the world. It’s as if the news just smells of death. Part of me wants to delete my AP News app. Part of me knows I need it to … just know. But knowing doesn’t mean bowing down. Knowing doesn’t mean giving in to only a small part of the reality we share.

Sometimes knowing means cathartic, empathetic crying. Sometimes knowing means sending supplies, or helping a crowd funder, or signing a petition, or starting a petition, or fighting back. Knowing also means not forgetting.

If I forget to run outside at the possibility of a rainbow after a summer storm, what am I knowing then? If I forget to smile at sun-blonded boys diving in the sand to make the catch, or to laugh as a puppy braves the waves in sheer puppy-joy excitement, then what do I know?

The poetry of the Counting Crows says it well. Sometimes there is, “…the feeling that it’s all a lot of oysters but no pearls/All at once you look across a crowded room/To see the way that light attaches to a girl… .”

“Survival is insufficient”

(“Survival Instinct Star Trek: Voyager qtd. Station Eleven).

Jack and Amanda Palmer with Thor and Friends put on a fabulous show at Le Poisson Rouge Wednesday night. In answer to her unspoken questions, all I can say is that we need to keep making art. Without art, what’s the point?

Remember the animal cracker scene from Armageddonanimal_cracker

Grace Stamper: Baby, do you think it’s possible that anyone else in the world is doing this very same thing at this very same moment?

AJ: I hope so, otherwise what the hell are we trying to save? (Armageddon)

We need to remember things like:
-The majesty of whales right beneath the boat who come up to breathe with us.
-inevitable sunrises
-soft breezes
-libraries
Modigliani

Beauty is here–maybe not on the surface all the time, but it’s here. Babies are being born and people are still falling in love. Life is a lot like whale watching. You look out at the sea waiting for a glimpse of the magic and your heart knows it’s always there but we don’t always see it because we don’t take the time to look.

May 30, 2016

Some Things I Know

by lisa st john

 

I may not know the difference between a rosebush and raspberries, admittedly. But there are some things I do know.

DSCF1086

I know rain at an outdoor celebration staved off by kindness.
I know the universal joy of sharing a meal with the blurred line of friends and family.

I may not know why Pi can do what it does, or why ferns speak fractals and they, in turn, speak chaos.

But I know the blissful tears of the father and the harmonious tears of the mother. I know that the tenuous strands of young love spin and weave, creating the strength of an unbreakable union.

With the multitude of horrible things in this world—things I do not want to know—I am indebted to the goddess of perspective for allowing me to also see the first hummingbird of the season, and to hear the “wild rumpus” of worshipped children.

And if there is a secular word for “blessed” then please, someone tell me. Because I am.

I know pain, but also gracious healing. I know fear, but also comfort. I know the darker side of turmoil and the gentle light of peace. And right now, in this moment, I am alive with all I know.

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Ponderings is available at Finishinglinepress or you can get a signed copy from me directly 15.00. paypal.me/lisastjohn

February 6, 2016

What’s Wrong with My Head?

by lisa st john

“You live too much in your own head,” she said.

I am still trying to understand what that means. Where else do I have to go?

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Ken Robinson explains that university professors, “look upon their body as a form of transport for their heads.” Why is that so bad?

I like the inside of my head—my mind. It’s safe there. I have friends there.

When I had my first kiss at age12 (yuck), I could go and complain to Meg. Any girl who can travel through wrinkles in time would understand.

When I had an abortion at age 16 I could go to Narnia and snuggle deep into Aslan’s fur. I had nowhere else to go.

My mind let’s me remember swimming in Isla Mujeres or walking through Central Park or rocking in my hammock. But spaces are not places and inside spaces are more difficult to navigate than outside spaces. So it’s not about where I am, it’s about where my mind is.

I can walk and walk and be back in Guanajuato when I was twenty-something traveling with the love of my life. And he was/is alive.

But it’s not just about confusion or comfort or memory. Isn’t it just one more place to travel? Not only can I go to the past, I can go to the future. Like AFP’s song, “In My Mind,” I can circle around to the almost-or-will-be places. Why not? I can spend a few hours visiting Future Lisa as she finally writes that novel or goes dogsledding in Alaska or becomes a grandmother or buys a house in Mexico. But after those couple of hours, I cannot tell you whom (who sounds better) Present Lisa was sitting next to on the train. Is that so bad?

I will never truly understand the phrase, “I’m bored.” I have never been bored. I don’t know what that means. Of course, I can define the word bored (lacking interest in a current activity? unoccupied?). But I am too busy wondering:

  • If Lolita came to life and wrote an answer to Nabokov, would it be as an adult looking back or in the voice of her child-self?
  • If we kept cats awake, would anything about them change other than their grumpiness?
  • Who is really the closest to my version of Sherlock Holmes? Benedict Cumberbatch, Johnny Lee Miller or Robert Downey?
  • If I could go into the world of American Gods, would I want to be Shadow or be his mate?

 

All I know right now is that when I Google the phrase, “too much in your own head” I get over 80,000 hits and too many of them are self-help garbage sites. I haven’t yet figured out what’s wrong with living in my head. Maybe I will walk some more and ponder the movement of light. IMG_3958

 

 

 

“Our minds are all we have. They are all we’ve ever had. And they are all we can offer others.” Sam Harris 

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You can visit my author page at Amazon HERE.

You can also buy by book of poetry, Ponderings, from Finishing Line Press.

February 22, 2015

The Satire Paradox: Part One

by lisa st john

tree

 

Tis strange – but true; for truth is always strange;
Stranger than fiction; if it could be told,
How much would novels gain by the exchange!
How differently the world would men behold!
How oft would vice and virtue places change!

Lord Byron‘s Don Juan

It is truly strange—that nano-moment between sleep and awake when illusion and reality look face to face. Like the lovely movie Ladyhawke where the lovers are doomed to never meet in person again. Rutget Hauer is a wolf at night when Michelle Pfeiffer is a human and she turns into a hawk during the day when he turns back to human. Helluva curse. I wish it wasn’t real. My mind teased me this morning in that nano-moment; Kent wasn’t gone, and I wasn’t a widow and then–

But that’s what makes us human, right? Caring? Suffering? Therein lies the paradox (and is the joke ever on us): we live to love and be hurt so we know what love is and what it means to hurt so we know what life is. Humph. Or is it all a big satire created to change us into better humans? Better humans. Not sure what that means. I don’t want to go all singularity right now. Better ponder that another time.

“So…ha ha, just kidding about that scotch making you feel better,” said morning head apologizing to nighttime head. But it did. But it doesn’t. Does it feel good to write a blog because of the guilt, knowing I should be grading papers instead, or in spite of it?

Truth really is stranger than fiction. Otherwise no one would believe either. It’s like Tim O’Brien so eloquently states in The Things They Carried, “That’s what stories are for. Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are… Often the crazy stuff is true and the normal stuff isn’t, because the normal stuff is necessary to make you believe the truly incredible craziness.”

It’s why there are no decent shows or movies about teaching high school because no one would believe them. Do you know how many times I have uttered the phrase, “STOP touching each other!” or “Where is the rest of your skirt?!” or “Stop fucking swearing or I’m going to fucking call your mother and fucking see how she fucking likes to hear it.” They don’t like that, the students. Teachers aren’t supposed to swear. It does, however, take the shock factor out of it for them. Hee.

It makes the teacher human, being sarcastically inhumane. Are You Human? is the poignant TED Talk by Ze Frank that is worth every one of the 4 minutes and 34 seconds it will take to watch. Go ahead. I’ll be right here.

His compelling lines echoed for me this morning: Have you ever woken up blissfully and suddenly been flooded by the awful remembrance that someone had left you? Have you ever lost the ability to imagine a future without a person that no longer was in your life? Have you ever looked back on that event with the sad smile of autumn and the realization that futures will happen regardless?”

This morning he wasn’t gone, he just was… almost here.

Bad Religion says it best in their song, Stranger than Fiction. “Life is the crummiest book I’ve ever read.” And yet—that’s exactly what makes it so damn fabulous!

Maybe that is Art’s purpose. To show us the possibility of the extraordinary.

August 8, 2014

Silly Answers to Important Questions and Important Questions to Silly Answers: Part One

by lisa st john

“The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen all at once.” Einstein

dali

Where does the time go?” A simple idiom, but the answer is never simple.

It goes into the past.”

Isn’t the past part of time?”

Yes, but… .”

If we want to understand the ontology of time (if such a thing exists) philosophers fall short and science fiction wins. How many online discussions of the movie Lucy are happening right now?

Language is not immune to time either. Prose falls short and poetry wins. Apparently, both the words “space” and “moment” are synonyms for time. A moment of space, please, while I gather my thoughts.

Knowing is easier than being.

I know, for example, that it has been 625 days (also known as 900,000 minutes) since Kent died. Apparently, time passes. That does not make it any easier to BE in the so-called present. Sorry. Wish I could say it gets easier. It doesn’t. It just gets…just gets on being.

I know, getting back to Lucy, that the human brain uses far more than 10% of its capacity, despite the premise of the film. But science-fiction raises great questions. It is the perfect medium for critical thinking. In addition to suppositional thinking, (“Wow. IF we only use 10%…”) people should leave the movie also wondering, “Wow. What does the REAL science say about brain theory?” The art asks the question. How we answer it is another thing altogether.

“In the movie Lucy, the entire assumption that humans only use 10 percent of the brain is misleading. The correction is this fact: it’s not that we use only 10 percent of our brains, rather it’s that we only understand about 10 percent of how it functions.” Olympia LePoint (She really is a rocket scientist. How cool is THAT?)

There is a huge distinction between “using” and “understanding.”

“Another mystery hidden within our crinkled cortices is that out of all the brain’s cells, only 10 percent are neurons; the other 90 percent are glial cells, which encapsulate and support neurons, but whose function remains largely unknown.” Boyd, Scientific American

There is also a huge distinction between “mystery” and “unknown.” The first connotes secrecy, the second implies an inevitable answer. It’s “unknown” for now.

But the character of Lucy knows. She says something along the lines of, “Time is the only true unit of measure, it gives proof to the existence of matter, without time, we don’t exist.”

Without time we don’t exist.” I need to wrap my brain around that idea. Is it because at the atomic level there is only frequency and no “time”? But we put a bunch of atoms together and we get time because we can measure decay? So…”we” don’t exist at the sub-atomic level, but the stuff that makes us (also known as matter) does. Okay. Back to time.

The time it takes for weeds to grow in the flower bed is directly proportionate to the time it takes to weed the other flower bed.

The real Lucy is over three million years old.

I want to believe that the anecdote of how the scientific Lucy got her name is true.

The time I spend reading on the beach is much shorter than the time I spend in meetings, regardless of the fact that they are both measured by, let’s say, 60 minutes.

We can measure by how many treatments are left or by days of sobriety. We can measure by the arrival of hummingbirds or the departure of the sun over the horizon.

We measure by moments. The poets know this.

 

You’ve asked me what the lobster is weaving there with
his golden feet?
I reply, the ocean knows this.
You say, what is the ascidia waiting for in its transparent
bell? What is it waiting for?
I tell you it is waiting for time, like you.” Pablo Neruda “Enigmas

July 7, 2014

“To Develop” Sounds Like Too Much Work

by lisa st john

de·vel·op : verb\di-ˈvel-əp, dē-\

: to cause (something) to grow or become bigger or more advanced
: to create (something) over a period of time
: to work out the possibilities of <
develop an idea>

My frustration with the writing process mounts. I need a little brain stretch break.

Me: “How does my character develop? What is her journey? What will happen to her?”

Gertrude Stein: “There ain’t no answer. There ain’t gonna be any answer. There never has been an answer. That’s the answer.”

 

I just realized what I want to be when I grow up (I know I am already a teacher, and I know I love my job, but let’s just say I had another life to fill up). Then I want to be Gertrude Stein. I want to be alone all day and write (except for the occasional cafe lunch) and then just have people over almost every night. We will drink and talk and smoke cigars and play Cards Against Humanity. We will ask metaphysical questions and come up with drunken ideas half-formed by moonlight.

 

We will bow to the power of repetition and we will argue until the moonlight is gone. Wait. Does this mean I need an Alice? Will I have to write her autobiography?

 

I prefer Stein’s portraits. I used to try and write them back in the day, but it just wasn’t my style. Her poem, “If I Told Him,” about Picasso tickles my brain nicely. And a tickle develops into a tangent who introduces her to an idiom. Then she starts running around with some nasty verb, and before I know it a damn plot is born.

 

Develop. Sigh. I guess it IS a verb after all.

 

I want to gently submerge the blank page into a tray of Dektol. I will make sure the red light is on. I will rock the page in the tray until the page is covered evenly. I will watch the page and reduce its ephemeral salty thoughts until only the metallic words are left. Just like magic. But magic takes work. Clarke’s Third Law says so. So. I will stop whining and wishing and keep working and see what happens. I just wish Hemingway would stop by.

Here is to having the eggs to “caress and address” our muse.

When I said. A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose. And then later made that into a ring I made poetry and what did I do I caressed completely caressed and addressed a noun.”
–Stein, “Poetry and Grammar,” Lectures in America

 

 

 

July 1, 2014

No Time for Advertisements

by lisa st john

daisy

 

Have you not done tormenting me with your accursed time! It’s abominable! When! When! One day, is that not enough for you, one day he went dumb, one day I went blind, one day we’ll go deaf, one day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second, is that not enough for you?”

Samuel Beckett Waiting for Godot

 

Dear Reader (Wait. Weird how Jane Austen that sounded.):

I promise to never put floating hypertext ads on my blog. If you click on one of my links it’s because, like me, you are interested in tangents and are willing to play in the world of hypertext reading theory.

Delany and Landow define hypertext as, “the use of the computer to transcend the linear, bounded and fixed qualities of the traditional written text.” Wow. I like the hyperbole of “transcending” anything linear. Anyway…

 

Time. How to act for the next few weeks when my world is not measured by the clock? I look at the LED and 8:30 seems a reasonable time to get up. I switch the coffee maker from Auto-On to Brew. She’ll stay that way for awhile. I’ll check the weather. Humid. Yeah, well, it is June in upstate New York. Sun and clouds. Really? They are both going to be up there today. Okay. In Arizona, I rarely checked the weather. How many synonyms are there for hot, really hot, and treacherously hot?

 

So. I will check my email. Yawn. I could pay some bills. Yuck. The computer tells me it is 8:56, but the numbers have lost their meaning.

 

I gave the kids a ten minute warning.”

But…”

It’s okay. They have no idea how long ten minutes is. It could be five minutes or half an hour.”

 

Ten minutes waiting for a bus in the rain is a long ten minutes. Ten minutes before the betting windows close is a just-enough ten minutes. Ten minutes of lounging in the sand watching the waves is far too short.

 

But if Einstein is right, why can’t I play with time dilation; why can’t I choose to see the future rather than the past?

 

Kindergarteners learn to “tell” time (much too early in my humble opinion). The only way to explain time to my son when he was five was to tell him that time wasn’t real. Then he got it. “Philosophers like McTaggart who claim that time is unreal are aware of the seemingly paradoxical nature of their claim. They generally take the line that all appearances suggesting that there is a temporal order to things are somehow illusory.” What’s wrong with a little paradox?

 

Composer Jonathan Berger claims that music can, “hijack our perception of time.” Schubert knew, before science did, that time is based on perception. The logical conclusion here is that artists like Schubert can manipulate time. So what time is it?

 

Wait. There’s a cat, a hammock, and a book. That’s three. The time is three today.

 

Always in motion is the future.”

Yoda, Star Wars Episode V:The Empire Strikes Back

 

 

 

 

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