Connect 4

Once upon a time, back when TLC actually was about LEARNING stuff (rather than ‘reality’ programming focused on people who are willing to live their lives in front of the camera and/or shows that follow women as they buy wedding dresses and plan ostentatious parties) there used to be this show…

Connections² and Connections³ were shown on TLC in North America in 1994 and 1997, based on the original 1978 series from the BBC.  The Man Who Makes the Connections is James Burke.

He.  Is.  Awesome.

As a science historian and broadcaster he linked science and world events and demonstrated the continuity and development of humans and all those cool things that we’ve managed to create.  All these things are interconnected, and through historical reenactments, working models and James’ inimitable and enthusiastic delivery every episode both illuminated and reassured.

James maintained that the world as we now know it is a web of interconnected events that drive history and innovation.  These seemingly, at first glance, isolated events- that happened for reasons of religion, curiosity, profit or power- led us to where we are now, with the technology we have and the promise of more to come in the future.

His examples demonstrated that those who started the chain- with the singular event enacted for their particular benefit- could not possibly have seen forward to the place where a simple act might lead.  Time and progress work in inexplicable ways.  In demonstrating this, James suggested that we, likewise, have no real way of predicting where technology might end up.  There are many possible factors- shifts, synergistic interactions and random innovations- as we move through the loops and whorls of time.

As history progresses the potential for connections increases, which causes the processes of innovation to accelerate.  New technology comes at us faster and faster- becoming de rigueur for a moment and then rapidly thrown into obsolescence.  It’s hard for the regular people (people who aren’t James Burke) to keep up.  Which is why we need to be as awake and aware of the connections and the changes as we can- or risk being left far behind.

I love James Burke.  He’s a man after my own heart (I tend to see links between things that may be less than obvious).  All is connected- no vacuums hereabouts- and our history, scientific and otherwise, is what has led us to this very point in time and space.  The whole ‘science historian’ thing is very groovy.  My youthful love affair with science sort of petered out after my OSCOTT club days at the Science Centre.  James revivified it.  And reminded us that human history is the story of our creativity (not always good creative- but creative nonetheless)- in the arts and the sciences.

Between the original Connections and Connections², he presented another series- The Day the Universe Changed (1985), which focused on the philosophical reactions to scientific change in western civilization. The perfect melding of the scientific and the metaphysical innovations of the western world.

At the end of that series he postulated that computer technology and innovations in communication would permit the instantaneous exchange of ideas.  As I write this on my laptop after finishing the day’s email replies and having had a chat with a friend on the Facebook, I have to admit that he was pretty bang on predicting the trajectory of computer innovations and their effect on the way we interact with one another.

He’s spooky.  Spooky smart and spooky engaging.  You can find him on YouTube.  Watch him.

Anyhoo.

I got all reminisce-y about my old buddy James because I’ve had ‘connections’ on the brain this week.  Since I haven’t yet succumbed to the lure of Doktor Snake in the whole job searching thing (but only just barely), I’ve been attempting to ‘work my networks’ and search for ways of maximizing existing connections.

It really is a small world- and a small town (largest city in Canada notwithstanding- it’s really a village)- so I’ve been attempting to get into the six degrees of Kevin Bacon frame of mind in an attempt to find referrals and leads.

Connections.

And synergy.  From the Greek for ‘working together’.

Hoping that some solid synergy will lead to some synchronicity.  I’ll take all the meaningful, if seemingly unrelated, connectivity I can get at this point.

A connecting principle,
Linked to the invisible
Almost imperceptible
Something inexpressible.
Science insusceptible
Logic so inflexible
Causally connectible
Yet nothing is invincible.

I am a Police fan from waaaaay back. Been there, still have the cheesy buttons/tour t-shirts.  They were my favourite band for many moons and still rank way up there among the oft-repeated tunes on the Shuffle Daemon.  Even the huge egos and childish spats didn’t detract from their greatness.

I rarely travel far for concerts anymore, but the reunion tour a few years back more than warranted the road trip to Montreal.  (Especially since Sting’s kid’s band opened the show- Fiction Plane.  Solid band)  They rocked.  Hard.  And Sting didn’t even bring out the damn mandolin.

My love and hero worship of the band aside, they have a couple of songs that are all about the connections- random or orchestrated- that have been on my mind lately.

The album Synchronicity was bittersweet.  It was the brilliant swansong that marked the end of the Police.  It is one of those albums that I listened to all the way through.  Repeatedly.  It wasn’t a concept album, but the songs/stories remain linked in my memories and the two Synchronicitys (Synchronicities?) made an impact long before I really understood the complexities of the word.

Years of study- that included Jungian theories about religion- and the definition as it appears in the Wikipedia (‘the experience of two or more events as meaningfully related, whereas they are unlikely to be causally related. The subject sees it as a meaningful coincidence, although the events need not be exactly simultaneous in time. The concept does not question, or compete with, the notion of causality.  Instead, it maintains that just as events may be connected by a causal line, they may also be connected by meaning. A grouping of events by meaning need not have an explanation in terms of cause and effect’)– clarified the subject somewhat.

S1 describes it as a ‘connecting principle’.

(This is good.  Need the connecting right about now.  And there have been subtle connections happening- like the correspondence/collision of two of my recent posts the other day).

S1 also references Spiritus Mundi– W.B. Yeats’ ‘spirit of the world’- the belief that all human minds are linked to a single vast intelligence that causes universal symbols to pop up in each individual’s consciousness (also very gnostic and very Jungian- Bythos and archetypes- loving these connections).

Yeats mentions this prophecy-providing principle in The Second Coming, his post-WW1 poem that uses imagery of the Christian Apocalypse to describe the confusion of the years following the War.  The vision he experienced was not one of comfort- not the ‘second coming’ of Christ in glory, but a ‘rough beast’ slouching ‘toward Bethlehem to be born.’

As things fall apart (‘the centre cannot hold’), the beast awakens after a 2000 year slumber and returns to a world that has lost its innocence.

I love Yeats.  I’ve mentioned that a couple of times before.  His words, like James Burke’s, remain timeless and uncannily prophetic- based as they were in a particular context of time and place. 

(Not unlike the biblical prophets- who spoke about their own times in the same way- but that’s a discussion for another day)

That which has been done- and learned and employed- cannot be undone.  The lost innocence of which Yeats spoke included the advent of such things as chemical warfare- something that proved increasingly ineffectual over the course of WW1 as soldiers were schooled to carry gas masks- and so became a weapon that was later used against civilian populations.  This lead to the establishment of the Geneva Protocol which banned the use (but not the stockpiling) of chemical weapons.  And that little bit of history served as the justification/imperative that almost lead to an American retaliatory attack in Syria a few weeks back.

Connections.

S1 and S2 are linked by this Yeats-based idea of synchronicity- the concept that the events in one part of the world (Europe) set in motion events that are happening elsewhere (the second coming/reckoning with the beast).

S2- my personal fave- suggests that the mundanity and daily drudgery of the suburban life is somehow connected with a disturbance in ‘a dark Scottish loch’.  The realities of life (in the 80s) causes the Loch Ness Monster to rise from the lake and creep up to that unsuspecting cottage on the shore.

Yeats spoke about the chaos after a war unlike any other in history.  S2 told of social anomie in the pursuit of the material at the expense of things of substance and real import.

Can’t say that the Police (or Sting, anyway) aren’t book smart.

The connections are there.  All around us.  We may not see the causality yet we can sense the synchronicity.

James Burke knows.  Yeats knew.  The Police definitely are aware.  Even I can feel it in the air this week.

Gotta get it working for me, is all.

But right now I really have to get back to the packing.

Happy weekend everyone.

Nessie found a new vocation- surely I can too…

Contrary (to popular belief)

Ever have one of those days?

It seems as though EVERYone I encountered today has been all about the argument.  (Interestingly this phenomenon of contrariness is confined to the real world.  The interworld has been a kinder, gentler place today- LOVING my interworld peeps extra-specially hard today).

If I say ‘up’ it is, in all actuality, ‘down’- or so I’ve been told.  Black?  Nope.  Gotta be white.  Happy becomes miserable.  The good is really the bad.

So let’s go with that last one shall we?  If I’m to be contrary, let’s go all out.

In my continuing defence of all things Devil-ish, let’s flip that dichotomy on its head and view that contrary-ist of all contrary creatures from a slightly different mythological perspective.

If you’ve seen television shows set in NYC or holiday photos on Instagram, chances are you’re familiar with this sculpture that graces Rockefeller Centre:

Paul Manship’s gilded bronze portrayal of Prometheus giving fire to humanity is pretty recognizable as an icon of Americana and the American Spirit.

On the wall behind the fountain is a quotation from Aeschylus:

Prometheus, teacher in every art, brought the fire that hath proved to mortals a means to mighty ends.”

I spoke briefly about the Watchers of the pseudipigraphal biblical literary tradition as one of the major influences on the development of the mythology of the fallen angels/Satan/demons and their leader.  I noted then that Azazel shared common traits and actions with the Greek Titan Prometheus.

The biblical Azazel and his followers were vilified and accused of negatively influencing humanity and setting us all up for eternal damnation since we accepted the gifts of science and learning the Watchers offered us.

Bad Azazel, and bad us- for taking those things that would help us out, keep us warm and fed, and drive us to discover more and more about this here world we live in- and the universe beyond.

Yet the Greek Prometheus has long been viewed as an archetypal hero and trickster figure.  He was responsible for the creation of humanity to begin with, and, in an effort to protect his creation, he disobeys the will of the leader of the Olympian gods (Zeus) and returns/gives the gift of fire to humanity.

As Aeschylus noted, Prometheus was responsible for teaching humanity the arts, science, technology… all those things that freed us from the servitude that Zeus would have had us labour under indefinitely.  Assuming we survived without fire.

For this protection and enhancement of the human condition, Prometheus was eternally punished.

Why was Prometheus punished?  The same reason that Azazel  (as Satan/Lucifer/Mephistopheles) came to be Evil Incarnate.

They disobeyed the dude in power- Zeus or Yahweh- take your pick.  They represented human development and learning- which was threatening to those in power.  Such knowledge and violation of the social order threatened the very fabric of the society.

So: Prometheus condemned to eternal suffering.

So: Science/technology/progressiveness=evil.

Still, according to Aeschylus in Prometheus Bound (and in contrast to Hesiod’s earlier Theogony in which he is more of a trickster figure than a hero, while Zeus is the wise and just ruler of the universe), Prometheus is the benefactor of humanity helping us to stand against the tyranny of the King of the Olympians.

Like Enki in the Mesopotamian creation epic Enuma Elish, Prometheus created humanity from clay (the same stuff that Yahweh used, incidentally) and continued to look out for our well-being- even in the face of opposition from other, often more powerful, gods.

Part of this care included providing us with technology and the civilizing arts so that we could better defend ourselves against the onslaught of divine interference and inexplicable- and frequently petulant- punishment that was wont to come our way on any given godly whim.

The motif of Prometheus as patron of humanity and the symbol of our ongoing search for knowledge was a favourite of the Romantic era, appearing in literature, art and music.  To the Romantics (not the band, the movement) he was the rebel who defied the institutional and religious oppression of scientific exploration and intellectual development.

That other rebel with a cause, Satan of Milton’s Paradise Lost, has much in common with Prometheus, and Shelley and Byron (to name but two) immortalized the Titan as a benefactor and champion of the human over the divine- and the divinity’s associated institutions- church, state, patriarchy…

Sure, there are warnings about the potential dangers his influence might cause.  Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus chillingly illustrates the risk of delving into the unknown and remains a cautionary tale that has become a descriptor for anything that eludes our current understanding and for science that has misfired through human hubris.

Seriously, who hasn’t heard of Frankenstein and his monster?  The concept is ubiquitous in popular culture (I saw Young Frankenstein on tv a couple of weeks ago.  Remains classic, and, for all its humour and silliness, retains the overarching tension between progress and the threat of going too far) and is still used by those who would criticize the advances of science and knowledge as ‘ungodly’.

Hey!  Prometheus should be the official mascot of the New Atheists!  I should suggest it to them…  But I digress.  More about those guys later.

Bumbling created monsters aside, the Titan himself remains referenced all over the place: in the recent prequel of the Alien franchise (a film about exploration and science- and the potential pitfalls of both), an episode of Supernatural (‘Remember the Titans’), and as the name for the first interstellar spacecraft on the show Stargate: SG-1 (which was created using technology stolen from a race of aliens who enslaved humanity by posing as gods…).

Prometheus:  Not just for sculpture anymore.

But getting back to the Prometheus/Devil correspondence for a second, there were gnostics (my very favourite heretics) who identified Lucifer- ‘the Light Bearer’- with the Greek Prometheus.  I’ll explore that little morsel in detail after talking more about the biblically-based Devil Dude, but it is in equations such as these that we have the origin of Jungian-based examinations of this particular archetype.

R.J. Zwi Werblowsky’s 1952 work, Lucifer and Prometheus, delves into concepts of sin (bible) vs. hubris (Greek), and the ‘attractiveness’ of Milton’s Satan.  Werblowsky points out the negative and positive attributes that are embodied in the character, and the overall ambiguity of Prometheus, Christ and Satan in the development of Christian mythology.

This duality is oh-so-very gnostic and oh-so-very out of keeping with the strict dichotomy of good and evil that is usually bandied about in discussions re. God vs. the Devil.  We like Milton’s Satan.  We are drawn to him and his other incarnations (like Alan Cumming’s characterization in God, the Devil and Bob).

Why?  Because, to paraphrase Werblowsky, Prometheus and the Devil represent both the short-comings of the world and humanity and our eternal drive to make sense of and make better (to civilize) our confusing, tragic, complicated and all too frequently un-civilized universe.

How is that EVIL and something from which we should be dissuaded by threats of hellfire, brimstone and eternal damnation?!?!?

Don’t get it.

Unless calling that impulse EVIL and vilifying all those who stand in opposition to the institutions (political and/or religious) and their ideas of GOOD is nothing more than blatant manipulation for the express purpose of maintaining power and control over the huddled masses…?

But then,who listens to me?

Apparently, I’m contrary.

*P.S. Science vs. belief showdown on the telly last night: A show I hadn’t seen before- ‘Body of Proof’- with Brad from ‘Boston Legal’, Seven of Nine and Dana Delany. 

Evidently it’s been cancelled. 

Anyway, the episode in question was about a supposed ‘demonic possession’.  That whole idea pisses me off (unless it’s ‘The Exorcist’- that film is CLASSIC).  While there are certainly more things, Horatio, and all that, this continuing perpetuation of the suggestion of externalized evil…. aaargh.   

I thought that the show did a good job dispelling the superstition as a medical (pharmaceutical, actually) source for the behaviour was found.  But then it ended with a nod- however much in passing- to the existence of the external force again.  Disappointing.  Science had won the day- and then the writers brought the supernatural back into it. 

Poor Prometheus.  Once again, his sacrifice is squandered.  Sigh.