Thursday, May 25, 2006

Consciousness is SO yesterday.

Ooooooo....look at the pretty lights.

When I was about 13, my dad and I drove through northern Saskatchewan. I mean way up north, land-of-the-midnight-sun north. It was August, and that far north in August, the sun doesn't really set.

It was late, and we lay side by side on a picnic table and looked up at the sky. We talked about all the things you normally talk about when the full weight of the galaxy is hanging over your head.

The sky on the prairies is impossibly big. If you're from a place that has hills, you can't imagine the bigness of the prairie sky. It's so big that it plays weird tricks with perspective. Cities in the distance seem to float in midair. And when you lie on a picnic table under the crazy-big canopy of stars, talking quietly with your dad about God, you float in midair too, bobbing gently between being smaller and bigger than you really are.

The northern lights eventually came along, probably telling us to shut up and just look. They were as big as the massive prairie sky. And as we watched them fly and dance, we were that big too. Bigger and smaller than we really are.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Consciousness. And stuff.

I think about consciousness a lot.

Stay with me here for a minute.

I think about thinking, about how we do it, what it means, whether it's some kind of big waiting room with doors that open to, I don't know...planes of reality (gag). You must know what I mean. No? Me neither.

Here's a diary entry of mine, about consciousness. Read it and behold the nerdish hell that is my mind. My brain wears pocket protectors and really thick glasses... It has never known a woman's touch...It has an encyclopedic knowledge of Star Trek The Next Generation episodes:

"Do we have to build a relationship with ourselves? Maybe this is one of the missing pieces in the puzzle of consciousness. ..

Humans are relating animals. We form family units and clans and packs and nations and gangs and continents and ‘the West’ and ‘the Middle East’ and ‘the Far East.’ We grasp our universe relationally—that is, through metaphor. What is language, but the representation of a thing through another thing (a word). We are conceptual, and concepts are ideas (thoughts) about things (objects, principles). Relating is fundamental to our consciousness of the world around us, and our place in this world—and thus our consciousness of ourselves, or our self-consciousness.

[Editor's comment: Lost yet? I am. And I'm me. I can imagine this isn't easy for you either...]

We differentiate ourselves through this quality of self-consciousness. We are the animal that can wonder about the nature of its own consciousness. But how do we know that we are truly self-conscious and not just reacting instinctively to external stimuli, something even amoeba do, albeit in a relatively complex way? And if we are truly capable of self-consciousness, how far can we take it?

Having a relationship with yourself might be a key to unlocking the mystery of self-consciousness. Maybe your degree of self-consciousness is even proportionate to the quality of your relationship with yourself.

Why is it that we put so much time into building relationships with others, yet the vast majority of us put absolutely none into our dealings with ourselves? (The great irony of this is that many of our relations with others serve self-centred ends. We might be the conscious animal, but we are still as self-serving as baboons.) If I fall in love with someone, I think about him constantly. I want to be with him, talk to him, understand what he thinks, know what he’s all about. Do I ever feel this way about myself? Shouldn’t I? Maybe I need to fall in love with myself.

Does this seem like the gateway to arrogance? When I fall in love, I may believe my lover to be more than he really is. But eventually I see the warts. If the love is true, it endures the warts and I even start to enjoy them once in a while. I have this relationship with my husband. Maybe this is the kind of relationship I should also have with myself.

But my life is more than just me. It’s the others in it and the events, moment to moment, that catalyze reactions in me—internal and external, positive and negative, physical and emotional—these are the components of my life. Me, others, and events. Can my relationship with each be melded into a single entity? Would this allow me to operate from a higher level of self-consciousness?..."

And it goes on like that for some time, let me tell ya. Still, I like this idea of building a relationship with yourself. Basic as it may sound, it's not so straightforward when you try to sit down and have a chat with yourself. There's the awkward silences, the tendency to fall back on 'how about that crazy weather....'

A lot of mysticism is about forgetting yourself, or being mindful of the moment, tuning in to the physical self. It's good for chillaxin' but I'm not so sure about the idea of ignoring reality as a means of takin' it higher. This is starting to sound like a bad 80s hair-rock ballad, so I'll stop here.

This blog is dedicated to Gizzy, in the hopes that my idiocy will eliminate his fears of putting incomplete thoughts into the ether...

Friday, May 19, 2006

Friday RANT: The media, the prime time death buffet, and virginity worship

What the bloody hell is going on here, people?

We all fantasize about travelling back in time, or ahead in time (okay, maybe that's just me...). Right now, I'm having a major future-travel fantasy. I'd love to go forward about 200 years and look back on what's going on in the world right now. It's called perspective, which seems hard to get these days.

Is the chaos we see in the news each day perception, or reality?

Is it just that we have more information (thank you, Internet), and we've gone beyond our brain's capacity to assimilate it, so the world seems more disjointed?

Is the world actually just more of a mess than ever?

Is it all the media's fault?

I vote for all of the above, although I like the last explanation best, because it's fun to blame impersonal institutions like The Media and The Church.

On the media:

Here's a quote from a review of The Da Vinci Code (movie) in today's NY Times: "It seems you can't open a movie these days without provoking some kind of culture war skirmish, at least in the conflict-hungry media."

Does everyone else see the irony in this? The person commenting on the conflict-hungry media is a member of the conflict-hungry media. And they're in the very act of perpetuating conflict.

Frankly, I can't imagine a movie with less capacity for controversy than one based on a book. I mean, the book may be controversial, but once you get to the stage of turning it into a movie, the controvery's pretty much diluted by the fact that, in this case, 40 MILLION PEOPLE have read the book and know the story and the big controversy it contains. So how could this movie be controversial?

My point isn't to write the word controversy 24 times (well, okay, that was sort of a covert objective), but to rant about the crazy whirlpool of navel-gazing that is the media. The question is: is the crazy media making us crazy?

On the death buffet:

I'd also like to comment on the death buffet that is today's prime time television programming:

Why so many demons and dead bodies, Aaron Spelling? Think about the shows on at prime time--CSI x 3ish, Law & Order x 3ish, Supernatural, the Collector, etc, etc. The theme of death hangs over them like a rotting black cloak on a bloated corpse. (ha...made myself laugh there...)

If it's not a show explicitly focused on death, it's UNREALITY television pushing us into some bizarre world where the goal is to become rich and famous...or suffer death-like elimination. Those are our options today, in the world according to television: fame or annihilation.

On the worship of virgins:

Of course, I am a hypocrite. My rants are based mostly on stuff I watch on t.v. or read (voraciously) in the online media. But let's sidestep any role I may play in my own frustration, and move right into my third topic: namely, why there are people, at this very moment, pinning their self-worth on their ability to ignore their bodily functions (probably without success).

I'm talking about the virginity movement that is going on in the States, and probably here in Canada too. This is the movement where people--mostly teenagers--are going around wearing 'chastity rings' and preaching to other kids, in a disturbing evangelical kind of way, about why their bodies are hotbeds of evil.

Before you get all up in arms--yeah, I'm talkin ta you--I don't have an issue with someone making a choice not to have sex outside of marriage. That's their free choice. Actually, my problem is with the conflation of chastity and virginity and so-called 'purity', and the implication that people who, well, basically, engage in their bodies' desire for pleasure, are going to end up as demon extras on The Collector.

Speaking of time travel...One of the more disturbing aspects of this whole trend is the "ring ceremony."

From what I understand, the ring ceremony often consists of a daddy giving the ring to his little girl to wear until her wedding day. On her wedding day, she hands the ring over to her husband, the new and rightful owner of her delicate sexual flower. Take the ring, enlarge it twenty-fold, wrap it around her nether-regions, and lock it with a key, and we've walked ourselves right back to 1382.

This would be funny...
"... teens are putting purity rings on their Christmas wish lists, even above iPods." (stomach...aching...laughing...too...hard....)

If the whole thing weren't so scary...
"Ring ceremonies, once modest affairs held in people's homes or in churches, now sometimes involve hundreds of participants and laser light shows interspersed with talk of pregnancy and the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases." (NY Times, of course)

Another disturbing aspect: this whole 'abstinence is your only option' movement? Being partially funded the Bush administration:

"In May, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the federal government, challenging the legality of granting more than $1 million since 2003 to the Silver Ring Thing, which the A.C.L.U. has called an ''overtly religious abstinence-only program.''"

(Pan to image: George Bush, grotesque smirk on face, holding the master key to millions of American girls' chastity belts...swings key rogueishly on its chain...)

You may think, so what? This doesn't affect me or anyone I know, because I only associate with people of loose moral standards. But these Silver Ring Thing guys want to have 20% of the WORLD'S youth make chastity pledges by 2014. They have long-term goals, people...

Here's a final thought from some 16 year-old kid in Pennysylvania:
''It's a good tool to help you explain your decision and a reminder to you to remain pure,'' said Jonathan Wagner, 16, of Wexford, Pa., who wears a purity ring." Translation: 'maybe the painful diamond studs on this ring will stop those tingly urges that hit me twenty times a day.'

I feel for the kids. I don't think wanton sex is good for anyone, let alone still-forming human beings. But placing so much emphasis on purity is, basically, setting yourself up for miserable failure. Because the more you try to ignore that itch, the more obsessed you become with scratching it.

RANT over.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Chronic ironic

There is a very cool story in today's, written by a woman who is trying out the latest technology in chronic pain treatment. The way I understand it, they put you in an 'active' MRI machine where you watch live footage of your brain activity while you're suffering from the pain that got you there in the first place, and you basically try to consciously change those patterns.

She gets into the cool, mysterious nature of pain...or should I say of perception, because the two seem to be distinct. It seems that chronic pain is often not a reflection of actual injury in the body, but rather takes place in the brain. Your brain, at some point, fuses together a bunch of circuits that make you think that your neck always hurts, or that your elbow burns when it rains.

Oh, the cruel irony of the human brain.

But here's what blows my mind about the new MRI thing...Okay: you're looking at a live image of your brain. There are coloury blotches showing which parts of your brain are active when your left big toe aches mercilessly. At the same time, your brain is the mechanism by which you look at and understand that image. In fact, the very act of looking at the image must affect the image. In other words, you're looking at your brain looking at itself...(which begs the question, are you distinct from your brain...over to you, Superchop...)

So that's weird. But then add to that the idea of then trying to consciously adjust that image. I mean, how the hell do you do that? Do you visualize the coloured blotches on the image of your brain shifting somewhere else? Do you try to feel the shift in your brain (which has no sensory receptors, I'm told)? I mean, the effort of trying to change the pain centre must show up on the scan--how do you differentiate that blotch from the shifting pain blotch?

And if we can actually alter the chemical-electric structure of our brains by looking at a picture, does that make us telepaths? As Oprah would say, this is big, people.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Do I dare take that final step into the abyss of politics?

No, I'm not talking about my potential nomination for president of our homeowners' association (HA). But while I'm on the subject, you would not BELIEVE the bizarre e-mail battle that our homeowners association recently went through. Okay, quick background: we live on a private road. There are about 13 houses on it. The road is a big loop, a dirt road composed of massive hills that are sometimes un-possible to get up in the winter. Most of our HA meetings and conversations consist of trying to locate a guy willing to plow the 70-degree hills in the dead of January at 5 am. It's a constant struggle.

So somehow, things get really heated when the road talk starts up. I think it's directly related to the fact that we shell out for road maintenance right from our pockets. But this recent kerfuffle had nothing to do with the road. The municipality decided that they're going to pick up our garbage from our homes, instead of having us dump our garbage at a big bin at the base of the road as we've been doing for umpteen years.

When this new practice was announced by one of the homeowners via e-mail, it became clear to me that peace will never come to the Middle East. A battle of such vehemence ensued (by e-mail) that I had to avert my eyes from the screen at several points. It was an out-and-out bout of e-slapping hissy fits.

One guy practically had a seizure in his panic that our road would become a Critter Buffet (we live in a forest). What if, in the intervening moments between when he put the garbage out in the morning, and when the garbage truck came to pick it up, his precious garbage can was attacked by feral bears and racoons and coyotes and squirrels and large woodpeckers?

Then there was the guy who was mad because he hadn't been consulted (there's always one of those), and was upset on principle. And furthermore, he tried to e-mail a complaint to the municipality but his e-mail was bounced back, and he wanted to know to whom he could complain about this inability to complain.

And finally, there was the guy who started it all by having the sheer unmitigated gall to actually request door-to-door garbage pick up. He actually RESIGNED from the homeowners' association in protest! His complaint: too many complainers in the association.

So if this kind of madness can break out over garbage collection, I have absolutely no hope for the Middle East. I also feel that I understand the big fights (like the Israel/Palestine one) better because of this strange garbage battle.

Well, I was actually going to talk about the almost incomprehensible, backwards, unbelievable movement for reversal of birth control freedom in the U.S., but my fingers are tired and thinking about the garbage incident seems to have raised my blood pressure. So I'll save contraception for another day...

Friday, May 05, 2006

Friday RANT...

...seriously, how WOULD you throw out a garbage can? Because someone in our neighbourhood tried to do it the other day, and the garbage man totally didn't get it...

Now for the real rant, on this, the day of the Sens' first game against Buffalo:

This morning I was listening to the Team 1200 and I was surprised by the sexism of one of the DJs. I'm a Sens fan. I watch most of the season--not just playoffs. And I try to go to at least 1 or 2 games if I can. This dweeb is making jokes about how women should bow out during playoffs because it's 'serious hockey' and if they want to make a contribution, they should buy a man a playoff ticket. And also he referred to a woman singing a particular song as 'the chick.' Who the hell is this guy, Bulldog from Frasier?

I didn't think men like him still existed--at least not in Canada. But like a hulking caveman, he...oh, no, wait, that's right...he's not a hulking caveman, is he? He's some clean-shaven desk jockey who sits behind a mic and talks about hockey all day. Yeah, a real gladiator.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Fashion emergency: men's skinny jeans are back!

Ladies and gentlemen, we interrupt our regular blogging to bring you the following emergency announcement. Please do not panic. Remain calm and, if necessary, avert your eyes.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

If you were an alien, what would you think of lawn care?

Summer's almost here, and I'm thinking that if I were an alien and my spaceship landed in any given suburban yard on a Saturday morning, I'd be really mystified. Based on my study of Earth (known in my language as x49-3-subsector *&^^/0) and the agrarian habits of its seemingly dominant species, the hairless ape that calls itself man, I'd think people were farming grass. That's what lawn care looks like to an alien species, you know.

And here's what would really confuse me: these crazy hairless apes nurture and grow the grass, invent machines to chop and harvest the grass, and then they throw the grass away! They don't eat it, they don't feed it to their livestock (in the suburbs), they don't burn it for fuel. They just bag it and throw it in a landfill. What kind of wacked-out lawn-farmers are they? It would make no sense at all to my alien mind.

Now that's weird, if you're an alien (or the wife of an obsessed lawn-farmer). But the truth is even weirder: we grow and nurture and obsess over the lawn for absolutely no profit to ourselves. We pour pesticides and fertilizer on it, we spend hours grooming it, we use up precious resources for it, with no end result whatsoever. Except that once every few years you're lucky enough to escape the grubs or the mice and have a nice carpet-like lawn that you don't want anybody to walk on and ruin.

I guess what makes us insane (lawn care) also makes us cool, though, because really it's all about our esthetic sense, and we're pretty unique that way. I can't think of another animal that spends so much time and energy on something just to be able to later sit back and look at it (from a distance, please--stay off the lawn).