Is a Picture Worth 1000 Words?


  • He has not lived in vain
    who learns to be unruffled
    by loss, by gain,
    by, joy, by pain.
  • How short our span!
    If you once realized how brief,
    you would refrain
    from causing any beast or man
    the smallest grief, the slightest pain.
  • Christ was born a man for me,
    for me he died –
    Unless I become God
    through Him,
    His birth is mocked
    His death denied
  • True prayer requires no word, no chant
    no gesture, no sound.
    It is communion, calm and still
    with our own godly Ground
  • God far exceeds all words that we can here express
    In silence He is heard, in silence worshiped best

–Johann Scheffler (1624-1677)


Shakespeare and Talmud

Both are responses to a fragmenting of an integrated whole of religious meaning; in case of Talmud destruction of the temple cult by Romans, in case of Shakespeare destruction of Catholic Church in England by reformation.  Shakespeare’s essential strategy is shamanism : death of tragic hero through taking logic of subjectivity to its limit — the individual in the theater dies so each member of the community doesn’t have to.  Talmudic strategy is communal survival through law, family and dialogue.  Both involve resacralizing a humble space: theater in one case home in the other.  Each is the others shadow, it’s unexpressed.


The Single Unspeakable Commandment

When you take an insight and put it into language you gain in portability what you lose in applicability.  When you put it in written language the portability is even greater but the applicability is much harder.

Consider a very general commandment: “You shall not steal.”  It is highly portable across kilometers centuries and situations but very difficult to apply.  What belongs to who in this situation?  A massive communal undertaking — law, education, families — is required to take the portable commandment and apply it.

The single unspeakable commandment can be approximated: right now do what you and only you are called upon to do.  Hear the call and respond to it — not by obeying it precisely but by relating to it.

This commandment is formulated in the Talmudic story of Reb Zusya who worried on his deathbed that God would ask him not –“why were you not like Moses” — but — “why were you not like Zusya?”

Yet expressed in the wrong words the insight of Zusya becomes the the cliche of Polonius: “This above all to thine own self be true”, which Shakespeare immediately mocks and cancels by adding “and you shall not be false to any man” — which is clearly false.  You can be true to yourself and for example lie.  Or break promises.  So Polonius’s smug logic is revealed as self-deceptive as you are thereby false to those you lie to and break promises to.   Assuming we know in the situation what being false, lying and breaking a promise means, which until we are true to the ultimate, unspeakable commandment we do not.  We are just playing politics.

The deepest truth of our situation becomes a self-deceptive cliche when we try to make it portable, —   that is if we try to take the unspeakable commandment and put it into words.

It doesn’t need to be portable, and it doesn’t need to be expressible, which is good, because it isn’t.  We can take the call of the moment respond to it, and move on.

Except of course that because we keep moving we are always striking camp and pitching it next morning.  So we are always tempted to take our response to the solicitations of this moment and carry them into the next.

Our pain and glory lies in the fact that as of right now it is a temptation we can never ignore and never give into.


Gently, brother!: New Frontiers in Brain Science

you don’t understand a thing until you are able to do things with it.  So we in history’s morning may have said “all is matter, stuff, material” but we did not know what we meant until the art of the potter was developed and we could shape mud and fire on the wheel.  So is it with the claim: all we are is brains.  First spoken by a philosophe in the 17th century it did not become true in our mouths until in the 23rd century the corporations offered The Salons of Brain Transformation.

I went there to talk to my father who was on the way out of a session.

“You are a bird.  I am a bird.  The sky is a bird.  Time is a bird.  Man and woman gain and loss life and death rembering and oblivion all are wings.  Of a bird.”

“I see father.  You have asked the brain molders to craft a brain for you that sees all in this avian guise.”

“No no no no no” he said.

I felt in my pants pocket for a crumpled receipt : one transformation to see my father as a bird-addled lunatic.  The signature was my own, it was my own brain the wheel had spun.

I pressed 1 on the elevator and another panel opened with decimal floors.  I pressed 1.0 and another panel opened with percentile floors.  I pressed again button after button to specify where I wanted to descend to while the floor of the machine remained still.

“For I remember stopping by the way

And saw the potter pounding his wet clay

And with its half obliterated tongue

It murmured: gently brother, gently pray.”


New Proof of Immortality

Inasmuch as we are an expression of an eternal truth that aspect of us lacks beginning and end.  So if we add one and one and make two, we are, by our action expressing or instant using an eternal truth, namely, that 1+1=2.

And yet that kind of immortality is in no way emotionally satisfying.  Why?  Because our instantiation of the eternal truth does not help the eternal truth that we manifest.  It does not matter to “1+1=2” that we instantiate it.

We want immortality that makes our mortal lives, our successes,failures and strivings, matter.


Chinese Problems 

My friend Jim heard about the population of China and when his sixth grade teacher Mrs Fuchs asked “does anybody know the population of China he raised his hand and answered “12 hundred billion!” Everybody laughed at him including Miss Fuchs and even the principal chuckled the next day — 1200 Billion?” Smirking.  The answer was 12 hundred million.

But Jim found a friend in the city with a small institute and a newsletter, the truth about Chinese demography that pushed the theory that actually in China there were 120 people, and their government overstated it for political ends.

Jim travelled to China and found : only twelve people.  As evening fell eleven went home to India.  They were tourists.  The population of China is 1. His name was Jimmy Shang.  Emperor and populace.  The unique one.

Can you explain? Asked my friend.

Meet me in the Forbidddn City by the panda bear and I tell all said Shang.

But Shang got a ticket and moved into jims house– jims mommy and daddy love him now– the answer to the question “what is the population” of China for jimmy now is given by one vertical line





The Evanescence of Meaning

Meaning is a way-station on the journey from chaos to habit.  As a consequence it is a victim of its own success and inherently is subject to trickling away into unconsciousness.  Yesterday’s insight today becomes a cliche, tomorrow a fact, and by Thursday is an invisible part of our apparatus for making our way in the world.  If you want your life to have meaning you must therefore continually make it afresh; this being a requirement not of life but of meaning.


Bartolome de Las Casas and Moral Relativism

15th century Spanish Dominican friar, probability theorist and legal scholar Bartolome de Las Casas argued that the Spanish conquest of the New World was illegal, because Mexico belonged to the native Americans.  Sometimes it seems idle to blame people from other historical epochs for having the views they have because they lived in different cultures than do we.  Father Bartolome seems to provide a counter example — his culture was pro-colonialism and he realized it was wrong, aruing for example that if Muslims decided to conquer Mexico on the theory that it was okay because the Aztecs were not Muslim it would be wrong, so it is wrong for Christians to do so.  The Casas Case suggests that we have the ability to know what´s wrong and just miss it because we are corrupted by money or afraid.  I don´t know much about him and whether or not he did at personal risk to his life, but he is a hero.


Questions for Further Study: mental illness and evolution, religion, integration and dissociation

what are the evolutionary benefits of different forms of mental illness?  Is there a sickle cell population genetics explanation whereby some bipolar genes in a population give you greater creativity?

What are the different strategies societies have for letting the psychologically abnormal interact with the psychologically normal– from venerAtion of yogis and crazy poets at one extreme to medicalization on the other?  What are the pluses and minuses of these strategies for a societies long term health?

How does dissociation work and when is it a good thing?  Is accessing different ways of coping through semi autonomous ego structures (alters) a better way to achieve success ever?  What are the pluses and minuses for different strategies of integrating and coordinating alters?

What role does religion play in a society’s cultivation of normative structures of the psyche and ways of structuring and integrating different psychological subsystems?


Our Brains are Designed to See Patterns!

no they aren’t.  They are designed to keep us alive and to reproduce and to do that requires noticing the patterns that exist.  

If there were no patterns seeing them would not accomplish anything.

If there were no patterns what sense would it be to talk about brains at all?  “Our brains are designed to do something” is recognizing a pattern while “our belly buttons recognize patterns” is not.