Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Unpacking Deepak's Mess: The Solution

Note: This concludes my three-part essay critiquing Deepak Chopra's view of reality and consciousness. In this part, I attempt to articulate my personal views on the subject.

“For we move – each – in two worlds: the inward of our own awareness, and an outward of participation in the history of our time and place. The scientist and the historian serve the latter: the world, that is to say, of things ‘out there,’ where people are interchangeable and language serves to communicate information and commands. Creative artists, on the other hand, are mankind’s wakeners to recollection: summoners of our outward mind to conscious contact with ourselves, not as participants in this or that morsel of history, but as spirit, in the consciousness of being.  Their task, therefore, is to communicate directly from one inward world to another, in such a way that an actual shock of experience will have been rendered: not a mere statement for the information or persuasion of the brain, but an effective communication across the void of space and time from one center of consciousness to another.” (Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology, pp. 92-93)

Campbell rightly points toward the opposite of Chopra’s “tipping point of consciousness” prediction.  On the contrary, according to Campbell the “zone” of inspiration and motivation in human consciousness has dramatically shrunk since ancient times.  “All such codes today are in dissolution; and, given the miscellaneous composition of our present social bodies and the fact, furthermore, that in our world there exist no more closed horizons within the bounds of which an enclave of shared experience might become established, we can no longer look to communities for the generation of myth.

“The mythogenetic zone today is the individual in contact with his own interior life, communicating through his art with those ‘out there.’” (Campbell, page 93, his emphasis)

I contend that the fact that “there exist no more closed horizons within the bounds of which an enclave of shared experience might become established” is precisely because such “enclaves” have become indigenous to the decentered reality of human consciousness as I demonstrated in the first two parts of this essay.  Relevancy, borrowing from Campbell’s excellent perspective, must come from the discovery of our unique individual “zone” of creative myth and communicating that into the reality of “history,” and, I would add, a vast indifferent reality of space.  Throughout his work, Campbell encourages us to “follow our bliss” but that “bliss” is contextualized within “present social bodies” and, once more, the vastness of space.

Simultaneously, however, the social aspect of human consciousness is sophisticated, abundant, transferable, wondrous in its power to experience a liberating and authentic basis for human consciousness, expression, and existence – our Being.  So, while the expression of Campbell’s social (cultural and linguistic actually) constructs are in “dissolution” (the relevant human reality), the great power in myth remains part of the fabric of our Being, of who we are and what we can become.  The key is to not focus so much on myths that lead to subtle-arrogance, but rather upon those which are truly authentic as “participants in this or that morsel of history.”  The experience and articulation of authentic myth presents “an actual shock of experience”, “an effective communication across the void of space and time from one center of consciousness to another.”  This is the meaning of “spirit” to Campbell and one I can fully respect.

That communication and the underlying experience of having something to communicate is, for Campbell and Nietzsche and many other diverse geniuses, a basis for creative wonder. Relevant Being is based upon two things: a shock of experience and communicating to another’s center of consciousness.  Of course, this can manifest itself in innumerable ways within humanity.  This great diversity validates our sense of wonder within relevant Being.  I said that consciousness is "not vast" and called it a "mundane" thing in the previous parts of this essay.  That is not completely true.  Now that we have shifted to a relevant perspective we can open ourselves to the splendorous beauty and monstrosity that humanity is cable of, perhaps best articulated as Campbell and Nietzsche prescribe, through a creative process of mythic discovery and communication.

This process is exemplified by Flow, an experience which enriches my life.  When I am researching or writing or working outside on my property or listening to Mahler or playing a wargame or practicing yoga I often become “lost” in time, so enjoyable is the experience of what I am doing in that moment.  These instances of clearing the mind, and fully experiencing the activity of the moment, particularly mundane creative activities like gardening or mowing or making furniture, are reason enough for inspired living. Through creative acts (obviously being "artistic" in the broadest possible sense, beyond the arts themselves) we discover how to nurture ourselves in highly relevant and meaningful ways that can be communicated to other consciousnesses and thus provide tangible social benefit.

Our human experience is rich and apparently infinite in variety.  We are artists and teachers and businessmen and builders and planters and practitioners of paths into our consciousness.  Our consciousness is no less marvelous because it isn’t the most important thing in the universe. It remains richly wondrous in its manifestations on this Earth with creativity and love and anger and desire and violence and sickness and enlightenment and numerous other ways of human Being.  Nietzsche requires the overman to “be true to the Earth.”  This is the path to relevance. 

The Sistine Chapel is no less magnificent because asteroids don’t give a shit whether they destroy the Earth or not.  The fact that boundless superclusters amalgamate in ropy splatterings of innumerable solar systems does not make my enjoyment of Tolkien’s writings or the sound of meadowlarks or the beaches and lakes and mountains of this existence any less wonderful.  All that stuff out there is not as important to us as humans as is effectively discovering our unique and varied capacities for creativity and sharing that in diverse and meaningful ways.  The fact that the grand, cosmic meaning we have tried to assign ourselves does not exist should not mean my meaning should not be not important to me. You know your meaning is important to you, unless occurrences like anxiety and depression or neural disorders seem to lessen the act of living in your experience. I love my meaning, the fact my meaning has no infinite nature is simply not a basis for my love of it.   

The question is not how to make our existence universal.  It is how to make our existence an affirmation of the art of living, despite universal indifference.  The art of living can be so inspiring to a degree that, for me and possibly you, the vast unsympathetic world and universe is a mere fact, unnecessary to my meaningful life.  I strive to live with intimate passion within an ultimate insignificance.  That is the only firm basis for authentic human living in reality.  By seeing the mediocrity of consciousness, its finite limits nailed to the biological Earth, we see that consciousness itself is not as important as is a sense of wonder founded in the experience of artist and creator, among our most human traits. 

When I run my 3-mile course I am running on a surface that is spinning at 1,040 miles per hour. Moreover, I am revolving around the Sun at an astonishing 18.5 miles per second. The Sun, in turn, is moving towards Lambda Herculis at about 12 miles per second.  All this speed and movement "frames" my human body even though I don't experience the reality of any of it.  All I experience is the stride of my running, my elevated heart rate, my rhythm of breathing, my scattered thoughts coming and going. A car may pass me as I run along the road. It too is fixed within my "frame" of Earthly, Solar, and planetary system movement. This moment of me running and the car passing me is a microscopic speck within the vastness of the Milky Way, which is being pulled through relatively empty space toward an unknown force at about 14.5 million mph.  All this is reality.

But that rational framing of my run is outside of my direct experience.  It can only be grasped intellectually and not emotionally or physically at all.  This occurrence has nothing to do with our Being. When I am running, for me, nothing is moving at all except me, the birds I see overhead, and the passing of that car.  But I can recall things I have read, art I have seen, music I have heard, family stories I have lived, internal strife over the demands of work, my relationship with Jennifer, all this stuff (and much more) swims around in my brain, coming and going, shifting from memory to urgency to anxiety to nostalgia to calm. That is consciousness and it is my reality.

Being artful and creative should be applied to the act of living itself.  This is one of the fundamental tenets of Nietzsche’s philosophy as reviewed by Zachary Simpson.  He begins by quoting Nietzsche’s The Gay Science: “’One thing is needful – To give ‘style’ to one’s character – a great and rare art!’” (page 49, Nietzsche’s emphasis)

Then Simpson explains: “Like a poet, one lives by whittling and refining the elements of one’s life according to an artistic blueprint.  Science is introduced as an element of constraint, art as an element of illusion and affirmation, a new art, the art of living, as an element of synthesis, and creation of a process of birthing and fashioning. The ideal life in Nietzsche’s middle works becomes defined by the art of living, where one creatively and experimentally chooses those elements which are to be intensified, those which are to be eliminated, and those which are passed over in silence.” (Simpson, page 49) 

Simpson goes on to show how Nietzsche’s idea of “life as art” evolved in his later works: “Art and its power of production, creativity, and self-illusion are called forth in the imaginative process of psychological production.  In order to realize the ideal life, one must be willing to pass through multiple identities and ways of being in order to refine oneself as a total work.  Self-poiesis is contingent upon acts of constant identity formation, experimentation, and revision.

“The task of living, creating, and thinking, then, is to order one’s existence, down to finest detail, according to one’s affirmative ideal. Even, the ‘small things’ of ‘nutrition, place, climate, recreation, the whole casuistry of selfishness – are inconceivably more important than everything one has taken to be important so far.’ Nothing is to elude the task of self-creation and perfection.” (Simpson, page 53) To this, I would substitute the word “optimization” - as in optimal living – for “perfection” but either word is close to the mark of what I am presenting.

So it is a relevant understanding of the imaginative process that is at stake here.  Chopra wishes to extend the imagination into a belief system about consciousness.  As does Nietzsche whose belief system involves obvious validation by the fact you can live life as an artistic manifestation on the Earth.  Chopra wishes we had no Earthly bounds. But we have already dealt with that mistake. Nietzsche shows the more relevant path of giving ‘style’ to our lives on this Earth in this vast indifferent space.  Dancing on the abyss, so to speak.  This is the source of inward strength and resilience.  Create yourself.  Why need there be any more than that to life?

But Campbell challenges all of us to not become so fixated on our personal artistic quests that we forget to communicate with others and take our place, generally as trivial as it might be, in the making of history. (This is a weak aspect in Nietzsche's self-centered approach when compared with Campbell.) Human Being is remarkably social. We gravitate toward one another in diverse ways, opposites attract, soul mates are discovered, the possible depth of human intimacy is wondrous and without match within animal consciousness. 

Of course social communication is more complex today than ever before in human history.  This is a source of anxiety, to be sure, but it also offers remarkable opportunities to interact in meaningful ways on multiple levels and to share one creatively meaningful life with another.  Of course, human beings don’t get along with each other and there is plenty of strife and arguments and disagreements and hatred to contend with as well.  

But for those select humans that understand the insignificance of what everyone hates (or loves) in the grand scheme of things, an authentic life remains more than just possible. Such a life can thrive in creativity and joy and indeed thrive in the face of chaos that is the validation of its relevance, elevated by the fact Campbell wants us to use “effective communication across the void of space and time from one center of consciousness to another.”  And how are we to communicate?  “..not as participants in this or that morsel of history, but as spirit, in the consciousness of being.”  Why should there be more to human life than that splendorous fact?

The basic expression of human spirituality and well-being manifests (among other ways) as a sense of wonder. Historically, the presence of a sense of wonder in human beings was based upon either the experience of mystery or the experience of possibility.  Both science and religion are affected by these flavors of wonder in their expressed perspective about reality.  There is mystery in both, though religion tends more toward mystery.  There is possibility in both, though science tends toward the possible.  This is how science and religion are interrelated in a classic yin-yang disposition. 

Generally speaking, relevant modern living is not mystery-based. Mystery is the more primitive of the two aspects of wonder. Though early humans saw the possibility of making language and tools, they were more enraptured with the mystery of what they felt but did not know and the rituals surrounding that mystery. Whereas modern humanity is possibility driven, our natural love is for technology over magic, technique (sports, business) over divining.  Possibility is where motivation comes from. Proactive attitudes are manifest by possibility. The alleged battle between science and religion is really about the diminishment of mystery in our world and the increase of possibility.

Two examples should help validate what I am attempting to point out.  The first is a New York Times op-ed piece entitled “God is a Question, Not an Answer.”  By making god a question, a mystery, there is revealed a symptom of social nostalgia for mystery, simultaneously indicating both the need for it and its diminishment, the shrinkage, as Campbell pointed out above in the “mythogenetic zone.”

Secondly, a blog post in Brain Pickings uses different terms but is articulating close to the same thing I mean regarding two sources for a sense of wonder, and hence for sufficient, relevant justification for life.  In that post, what I mean by mystery is referred to as “wonder” and what I mean by possibility as “curiosity.”  As such it is a perfect exposition for the two key concepts I am attempting to articulate. 

The fact is the ridiculous attempts by humanity to value consciousness as something universal, as proof there is something for you and I beyond this physical life, is not only subtle-arrogance but it is completely unnecessary to living a meaningful life. Maybe there is a heaven, maybe reincarnation happens, maybe there is a cosmic mind humans can learn to plug into, but so what?  To live your life as if any of these are important to the here and now is childish (reward and punishment) and must be outgrown if we wish to have an authentic and relative basis for existence.

There is plenty of meaning to be found in life without invoking the mystery of the beyond.  Two excellent examples of meaningful consciousness can be found in developing an “artistic” approach to life as advocated by Nietzsche or a “creative” approach as advocated by the psychologist who first articulated the experience of “flow.”  We should not (childishly) need the promise of an afterlife or recurring lives to motivate anything we do. Fear of hell or belief that you will be reborn to continue to improve your karma or any other emotional attachment to whatever humans imagine religiously is not an authentic reason for behavior or for well-being.  That resides firmly on this earth, within biology, and it leads to living each day for reasons other than an account of human experience from the mysterious beyond.  Instead there is the (wondrous) possibility for cures of diseases, for technological splendor, for the beauty of nature and intimacy and animal instinct and art and play and thousands of other things that have nothing at all to do with the beyond.

It is time to stop behaving like we need more than what is here and now for life to have meaning.  We don’t.  And we don’t have a clue what happens outside of the tangibility of biology and universal space, everything about that is speculative. 

So why invent a bunch of unverifiable bullshit and base your “faith” on that? It is fun and even therapeutic to theorize and to project the experience of meaning in fantastic ways, but life is enough. This life is enough and some of us (at least Nietzsche’s “free spirit” and “Ubermensch”) embrace our mythic and material reality by dancing within it.  The dance matters most to us, the crushing inevitability of universal space is a sideshow to those of us who dance. Most likely, the dancing of humanity, like Chopra’s view of consciousness, has a genetic basis.

Science has given us an understanding of the profound power of genetics over human experience and consciousness. Nurture is tremendously important to human behavior, maybe even the most important influence, but genetics is at the root of an enormous amount of things about us. You cannot say genetics is irrelevant to your life, you cannot visit a place within yourself that is free of genetics. The specifics of how fundamental genetics actually is are unimportant to me. We know for a tangible fact that profound experience can affect DNA and be passed on genetically to future generations.

There are monarch butterflies who still migrate south around a mountain that has not existed for thousands of years. This is a fact.  The sense of smell in humanity as a whole has a specifically genetic basis.  The DNA of children conceived of parents who survived the Nazi Jewish Genocide victims is genetically the nature of how things actually work (without speculation) within human consciousness. It is possible to say that if each of us develops the capacity to profoundly experience life in certain ways then that collective experience can change our DNA. Genetic memory is probably one way consciousness works beyond our lifetimes, connecting us with the past and future lives of other human beings.  

So, the errors upon which Chopra founds his conclusions about consciousness can nevertheless have an impact on our collective consciousness if enough people experience his understanding deeply within themselves and then procreate children who will pass along that profundity when they, in their turn, procreate.  The cumulative effect of when this sort of thing happens is a primary influence in the evolution of humanity.  Ironically, that might be the most wonderful thing in the universe, humanely speaking.

Most studies on genetic memory focus on some sort of traumatic event that is transferred from one generation to the next.  But I wonder about ordinary experience.  If the mass genetic pool of humanity experiences, say, intense love and desire through the diversity of mundane human lives, would that not in some way be passed along through generations and ultimately affect human consciousness just as much as a significant traumatic event? Perhaps the genetic "imprinting" takes longer but these loves and desires would be consistently there through generations of biological reproduction.  

The answer to this question lies outside the scope of this post. But, the workings of experience and genetics upon consciousness strikes me as a worthy consideration compared with Chopra's approach. Perhaps there is not so much a "tipping point" for consciousness as there is an evolving well-spring of collective experience. Jung's concept of the collective unconscious also comes to mind in this regard.

For his part, Chopra represents Nietzsche’s and Campbell’s “creative artist” who communicates from one consciousness to another consciousness. The power of myth gets transferred that way through tangible human history, as Campbell suggests.  But, at the genetic level, if you happen to experience something profound like trauma or nirvana or whatever then that experience is often passed on through procreation.  If that transference of genetics is possible then meaningful change can take place within what might be called the deep affects of human wisdom.

Late Note: This article on how meditation can change your DNA shows that more than just traumatic events can have an impact on the genetics of our species on Earth.  I believe that possibly every human experience can impact DNA if it is profound enough and experienced prior to procreation. Further, it seems to me that love and hate and fear and several other expressions are particularly pervasive through daily human life in vast numbers and probably affect DNA as well. This, I think, is similar to Nietzsche's concept of "drives" which I have mentioned in my blog on his life and philosophy. 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Mozart Oboe Quartet and More

Proof of purchase.
Since my Wolfgang Rihm foray a couple of years ago, my classical music acquisitions have been sparse.  I feel my collection is fairly complete according to my tastes and will likely only add sporadically to it in the coming years.  I made one recent purchase, however, that shows how you can never really cease to fine-tune your music collection if you take such things genuinely.

Before now I did not possess any oboe quartets in my collection of hundreds of classical CDs. The oboe competes with the clarinet as my favorite classical wind instrument.  I own a few excellent oboe concertos by various composers as diverse as Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Rihm.  The oboe shines in a few scattered compositions, such as Mozart’s brilliant Serenade for 12 wind instruments (1781).  George Fredric Handel also composed three wonderful sonatas for oboe (from around 1710) which I own.

But the oboe quartet has gone unrepresented in my collection until now.  I suppose the juxtaposition of a string trio (violin, viola, and cello) with an oboe to form a quartet is historically more of an academic exercise than a requested, commissioned work of music.   But, for many years now, I have heard Mozart’s Oboe Quartet (also from 1781) over classical radio stations.  I finally decided to purchase this lively, splendid work on a CD dating from 2005 by the Christy Oboe Quartet.

Being specialists (obviously) in the field of oboe chamber music, the Christy Quartet presents on this CD an marvelous evolution of the art form from its baroque beginnings to a 21st century composition.  The four composers featured on this CD are Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johann Christian Bach (the 11th son of the great Johann Sebastian), Benjamin Britten, and contemporary composer James Stephenson.  

Mozart’s quartet came in the middle of his short but prolific life, at age 25. J.C. Bach composed his quartet in 1772 at age 37, though it is marked as Opus 8 in his body of work, indicating that it is a relatively early piece, it might have been composed years before it was published.  Britten’s composition was in 1932, very early in his successful career, designated Opus 2 when he was only 19.  Finally, Stephenson’s quartet dates from 2003 when was 34.  In other words, rare as they are, oboe quartets seem generally written either as early experiments or as the middle fleshing out of musical style, at least as presented on this CD.

As I said, the Mozart quartet is a treat I have enjoyed for many years without owning it.  It is the only three-movement piece on the CD lasting collectively a little over 14 minutes. This music is smart and lively and optimistic.  The Allegro is very ear-catching to me and one reason the quartet has been recognized as a favorite for so long now. The Adagio is uninteresting but pensive enough.  The Rondeau: Allegro begins as a formal dance soon transformed into sultry, wonderful touch of the mysterious then back to formality with folk music this time.  As a whole, a favored piece of classical music.  Now part of my collection.

There is another Mozart moment on the CD. Between the Britten piece and the Stephenson there is an posthumously discovered unfinished fragment of music by Mozart, an Adagio, but this time more interesting than the one in the quartet. It is pastoral, comfortable, easy.  So light and delicate, even unfinished it runs well over six minutes of wonderful composition.  A real treat for me on this CD.

J.C. Bach actually tutored young Wolfgang when the student was eight years old.  Bach’s two-movement piece Opus 8 quartet is interesting. The splendid Largo is in lush baroque style. Yet, the Allegro con spirito, rounding out this 10-pulse minute piece, sounds more romantic than baroque and is an example of how advanced J.C. Bach became in a compositional style transcending his father’s and his own baroque tradition.

The Britten Phantasy Quartet, Opus 2, represents the young artist experimenting with simple juxtapositions. It is thoroughly modern and a striking contrast to the other music so far mentioned.  This is more brooding and seriously contemplative music with sharp, sometimes anxious, sometimes fantastic undertones. The oboe is powerful and easily contains the trio in alternating contemporary, driving discord with strong dance type music. The strings are often plucked through the beginning of the quartet. Then there is a slow portion to this 13 and a half minute continuous movement which is highly romantic without sentimentality, featuring various wonderful solos by all four instruments in turn. The fantasy ends with a kind of proud march which gradually falls apart in pacing and ultimately isolates the instruments in moments of silence and soft playing which gradually fades away. Really a fine listening experience.

I have never heard of James Stephenson until this record. His 13 and a half minute Oboe Quartet is distinctively contemporary but without dissonance, just sophisticated, at times melodic, at times urgent. His slow building use of the string trio in the beginning reminds me of Bela Bartok’s string compositions.  This composition, which really features the string trio while casting the oboe in a solid, supporting role. At times there is an outlandish, macabre feel to this movement.  He tacks on a brief finale to give the piece a formal conclusion and is more interesting than the 10-minute theme and variations movement.  This is highly accessible modern music, competent but not particularly remarkable.

I am very pleased with this CD.  I have listened to it several times in the past few weeks and it holds up well.  There is so much musical expertise and variety of style on this unique record that it seems almost essential to any classical music collection.