Thursday, July 22, 2010

Not As Lazy As Other RADIO

The other night, The Dead Guy and I were watching Pump Up The Volume when the idea struck to start a radio station. Tonight, 7/22/10, The Dead Guy will have the first official broadcast at 10pm EST. I have no idea what he's going to play, but I would imagine it will be very good, as long as he doesn't sing....

Tune in at:

And let us know what you think.

-Shannon (Who likes to kick out the jams motherfucker)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Is Consensus Reality A War Of Ideas And Concepts? Or How The Religious/Scientific Dogfight Is Perpetuating A False Dichotomy

What is consensus reality? Historically it has been the attempt by humanity, especially philosophers, to answer the question “what is real?”. Materialism is a philosophy that contends that the only thing that exists is matter, or more precisely the material world. Materialism had developed, seemingly simultaneously, in several geographical regions of Eurasia during the Axial Age (800B.C.E. – 200 B.C.E.). First, in India by philosophers such as Ajita Kesakambali and later in Greece with Democritus' theory of Atomism. Materialism began to gain ground in Greece amongst philosophers such as Thales, Parmenides, and Anaxagoras, but hit a wall when it was thoroughly rejected by the more esoteric ideas of Plato and Aristotle. Subsequently, 300 years later, materialism would seemingly be conquered by a Jewish rabbi in the Middle East who, “triumphed over death and had risen after three days in the tomb.” As a result of this “momentous occasion”, materialism would flutter during the Common Era, only popping up sporadically in places like Jayaraashi Bhatta's work Tattvopaplavasimha ("The Upsetting of All Principles"), or in the Middle East with Ibn Tufail's Philosophus Autodidactus. It wouldn't be until much later, say 1500 years to be exact, that materialism would finally be resurrected during the Renaissance. Fueled by the cultural and educational reforms of Humanism, and the scientific world's ability to combine Plato's deductive reasoning with the the empiricism of Aristotle, to give us the Scientific Method.

Since the subsequent Age of Reason, materialism has dominated science and the western idea of what we call “Consensus Reality”. Science has tirelessly tried to extrapolate every bit of empirical data out of the material world in order to provide humanity with a tidy and logical interpretation of reality. Most scientists are materialists who believe in the existence and the exploration of an “objective reality”. To achieve this, scientists follow the scientific method in order to be as objective as possible. More importantly one must also accept that there is an objective world, a world that exists in the absence of subjective experience and which is measurable and explainable. Anything that cannot be measured or explained empirically, for example: language, emotions, virtue, philosophy, faith or art, are not worthy of scientific exploration and should be left to the humanities department. This presents us with a metaphysical problem. First of all, even if there was an objective reality that exists independent of the mind which perceives it, we could never truly know of it. This is due to the fact that pure objectivity does not exist because all scientific methods and measurements are based on human tools and ideas. Scientific knowledge, according to Emanuel Kant, is systematic knowledge of the nature of things as they appear to us subjects rather than as they are in and of themselves. In other words, we could never experience pure objectivity because all human observation is subject to subjective prejudices. So inevitably what we are left with can be more accurately described as a collective subjectivity, or a consensus reality.

The rationalism of science seems to be obsessed with disproving or dismissing what they see as the irrationality of religion. Scientists make claims regarding the irrational impossibilities of religious texts. For instance that Noah's flood has never presented itself in any geological record, the immaculate conception is biologically unsound, and talking animals are just crazy. I agree that those who believe the bible to be the literal word of God fail to recognize not only the scientific inaccuracies, but also the contradictions within the texts which suggest that it is not the product of an infallible entity. These two extreme ways of thinking both overlook the real benefit of the allegories within all religious text. I have always firmly believed that it is not important whether a story is true or fictional, what is important is the quality of the message within the story. But I guess the reason science has such a problem with religious text is that some people, mainly fundamentalists, try to present them as nonfictional. You never hear of scientists pointing out the impossibilities within traditional fictional literature. That is why I also find it odd that you would find religious books like the Torah, New Testament and the Qur'an in the non fiction section of any public library.

Some scientists, such as Sam Harris, believe that religion serves no useful purpose to humanity. Overlooking the charitable good that religious organizations do for their community and focusing on how religious ideologies have impended the exploration of areas such as stem cell research, Harris also seems to overlook the discoveries in the fields of anthropology and sociology which indicate that without religion, and more importantly without cults, we would not have culture. Russell Kirk pointed this out in his essay “Civilization Without Religion?”, when he stated, “From what source did humankind’s many cultures arise? Why, from cults. A cult is a joining together for worship-that is, the attempt of people to commune with a transcendent power. It is from association in the cult, the body of worshippers, that human community grows. This basic truth has been expounded in recent decades by such eminent historians as Christopher Dawson, Eric Voegelin, and Arnold Toynbee.”
Science and Religion are both products of the human mind. They are expressions of how the two hemispheres of the brain differ in perceiving the world around us. And as a result they are also subjected to the limitations of humanity. This means that neither on their own, no matter how hard they try, can explain how the world or how the universe works. By demanding that we dwell in one side or the other, science and religion, are doing a great disservice to humanity. Science can examine and try to understand the nature of the external material world, but inevitably will offer no insight about how the external world influences our inner experiences. In other words, it has yet to offer us insight into how matter and consciousness interact. I think that Terence Mckenna's idea that the world is made of language is very profound and gives us more insight into how the consciousness of human beings differs in complexity from other animals in nature. On that line, one could posit that the development of language was the fueling factor in the development of culture and cultural organization, which inevitably began to express these two cultures of thought, the humanities and science, outwardly from the two hemispheres of the brain.

Scientists such as Harris lament that the religious proclamation of faith is dogmatic and irrational, but fail to see that areas of scientific inquiry, such as sub atomic particles and antimatter, to also be faith based since they cannot be measured or observed. It is much like when the pious exclaim that there is a god, in essence both parties are saying the same thing, “it's there. Take our word for it.”

In a debate on ABC, Harris told Deepak Chopra to “show more humility in what he may not understand.” I think this is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Chopra went on to say that there are three ways of attaining knowledge. “One way is through empirical observation, what we call through the eyes of the flesh. Then, there is a deeper knowing, coming from the eye of the mind, for example, when I want to understand the theorem of Pythagoras, and then there is a deeper knowing, the eyes of the soul.” Deepak went on to quote William Blake by saying,

“We are led to believe a lie
When we see not thro' the eye,
Which was born in a night to perish in a night,
When the soul slept in beams of light”.

Chopra then indicated that this quote called for people to combine these three ways of attaining knowledge into what he called “a synthesis of knowing”. To which Harris responded, “That's why William Blake wasn't a great scientist.” Obviously, Harris was aware that William Blake, being a Romantic, was a poet known for his rebellion against the accepted norms by the Age of Enlightenment, and that the Romantics where a reaction against the scientific rationalization of nature. Chopra was actually making the point that historically speaking, as soon as science thinks they have, through empiricism and classification, explained the nature of the world, no sooner will nature present us with a scientific anomaly like the UFO, out of body experiences or the duck-billed Platypus. It's almost as if the cosmos was keeping humanity in check by doing what it could to throw a monkey wrench into the theory that science, on it's own, can explain the nature of the world. This is obviously flame throwing on Harris's part, but this time, it caused a great debater to go down in flames. Chopra ostensibly made the better argument by displaying humility (whether Harris believes it or not), and not being dismissive of what the other side was saying. Chopra made a concession earlier in the debate when Harris made a good point, but Harris was quick to be dismissive of anything Chopra had to say. Especially the idea that we could, and probably should have, a synthesis of knowledge. The Blake quote sealed the deal, because it was an open plea for humility in the scientific world. Chopra was looking for a understanding, or consensus, between the two schools of thought, while Harris seemed like all he was looking for another notch in his debate belt.

I agree that religion should not be held off the table of rational criticism, but I think we also owe it to our species to examine the possibility that religion could be an evolutionary adaptation. Or perhaps, as Carl Jung did so often, we could examine the universal reoccurring parables throughout the religious world. This approach may provide us with a deeper understanding of religious symbolism, the evolution of culture, of metaphor (especially within religious text) and the anthropomorphism of nature with deities. I myself find it quite easy to view the idea of God as a personification synonymous with nature. One will definitely make a better argument against a secular scientist by defining the term god to be synonymous with nature. I also think that within this debate that the individuals who take a more moderate stance, such as Chopra, stand to make the most progress for humanity by promoting a unification of thought, and thus transforming the debate into a more civilized discussion, rather then the my side vs. your side debate.

Noted Neurologist V.S Ramaschanran who has made leaps and bounds in the field neuroscience. Gave a presentation on mirror neurons at a TED talk, which had just been recently discovered by Giacomo Rizzolatti and his colleagues in Italy. Ramachandran explained that the biological development of a sophisticated mirror neuron system in humans gave us the ability to empathize, imitate and emulate complex social behaviors and may have laid the foundation for human civilization as we know it. Ramachandran concluded that “For the longest time people have regarded science and humanities as being distinct. C.P. Snow spoke of the two cultures: science on the one hand, humanities on the other; never the twain shall meet. What I'm saying is the mirror neuron system underlies the interface.”, which could possibly help in uniting both cultures. Ramachandran also is know for his research of split brain patients. In one study he asked each hemisphere the same question, “Do you believe in god?” the left hemisphere said no, while the right hemisphere said yes.

This scientific finding is mind boggling and presents us with a whole new set of religious and scientific inquiries. I think that it also suggests that science and religion should work together to dissolve this false dichotomy that has been erected between these two schools of thought and, hopefully, help in assisting the world as a whole to stop dismissing the claims of religion or science, and encourage people to hold the dogmatic doctrines within both fields up to scrutiny in an attempt to promote tolerance, understanding and further development. If modern atheists continue to perpetuate a crusade against religion under the flag of science, especially when religious figures like Chopra extend an olive branch, then we will inevitably be left with this shrill and interminable debate that will continue to get us nowhere.

-The Dead Guy

Olivia Munn's T & A Problem. Or How Feminist Bloggers and Commenters Have Shown Me That My Entire Personality Is A Sham.

I have a confession to make. I have been living a lie. Well, at least, I now know I have been living a lie. Thanks to the writers and commenters at Jezebel and other feminist sites, I am now aware of the fact that my previous self understanding was wrong and that I am not as dynamic as I once thought I was.
You see, until feminist blog Jezebel skewered The Daily Show over their choice of Olivia Munn as the next female correspondent, and the so called blogosphere lit up like a christmas tree, I thought that it was entirely possible for me to be sexy, funny, geeky and smart all at the same time.

For those of you who are unaware, The Daily Show has been hosting a search for their next female correspondent. In their search, they hired former Attack of The Show host and Playboy and Maxim cover girl Olivia Munn. This choice led Jezebel columnist Irin Carmon to publish an article titled “The Daily Show's Woman Problem”, in which she lambasted the show for hiring too few woman and interviewed former female employees of the show who indicated that host John Stewart is sexist and given to fits of rage. In response, the women who work for the show published an open letter proclaiming that Stewart is not, as he joked in reaction to the article “a sexist prick”, but a fair and decent boss. Fair enough, right?

Apparently not. Once the reaction to the initial article was published on the site, commenters quickly popped up to explain that the real problem is not that the Daily Show may be sexist in their hiring practices, but that Munn herself could not possibly be a good fit for a smartly funny TV show. The reason? Because she is sexy, and flaunts it. Munn's sex appeal, and her willingness to play it up on the covers of Maxim and Playboy as well as in her role on Attack of The Show, evidently, indicate that she is incapable of delivering smart and satirical comedy on late nite TV. She is especially not capable of doing so in a setting that is geared toward political and social satire and any claim she makes toward her own abilities, her own geekiness or her own sense of humor are lies which are in place to cover up the fact that she is nothing but boy bait.

Leaving aside the fact that this sort of characterization of a successful woman is totally counter to what I understood feminism to be after, this revelation, that being sexy means one cannot be anything but sexy, puts me in quite a personal bind. As I stated above, I was previously given to thinking of myself as being sexy, smart, geeky and funny. I obviously can't be all four, if you believe those feminist bloggers, so lets look at each one in turn and see how they all don't work together.

Sexy- I need to first say that I am in no way attempting to indicate that I am as sexy as Munn. No one from Playboy is banging down my door to get me in a bikini by any stretch of the imagination. However, in the real world, I am often told that I am sexy, and I often play that up as much as possible. I have never jumped into a cream pie in a maid outfit, but I have worn a pinup costume and reveled in the attention it brought. I have never eaten a hotdog on a string on live television, but I have been given to amusing myself and others with fellatio jokes. I think it is hilarious when my boobs jiggle and someone points them out, and I love to wiggle my ass. I do this because, frankly, it feels good to get attention. What I was previously unaware of is the fact that enjoying this attention means that any other attention I get is just bullshit. Fortunately, in explaining how Munn's physical assets cancel out her other ones, the sweet darlings of the feminist blog world have also shown me how they cancel out mine.

Sexy VS Smart- Prior to being enlightened, I assumed that, somewhere in her audition process, Munn would have had to read a Daily Show script in a manner that showed her intellectual prowess. Apparently, not so. To those who are attacking her, it is blindingly obvious that Munn's achievement (and becoming the second ever female correspondent is an achievement!) was delivered to her on a silver platter by a group of sex hungry men who wanted to inject some eye candy into their lives. It could not possibly be because she showed some proficiency or intelligence in an interview or audition. This makes me wonder if my high GPA, delivered by mostly male professors, was earned by wearing low cut blouses and very high heals. Well, if you follow the hidden logic of Jezebel et al, it obviously was. It's a shame that no one clued me in, because I would have spent a lot less nights in front of my computer screen working though papers and a lot more planning outfits. Not to worry though, this lesson has been learned. I don't need to be smart, because I am sexy.

Sexy VS Geeky- This is my favorite of the issues. You see, Munn often talks up her own geekiness, especially in the context of her prior G4 network show. This is unsurprising, since G4 is a video game themed channel and, I assume is watched by a lot of geeks. Munn also does things like attend comic conventions in costume. This seems pretty geeky to me. But wait! She attended one in a Princess Leia “slave costume”. You know, the infamous gold bikini from Return of The Jedi? Well, evidently, this costume is sexy. Too sexy for a geek. I suppose that, if Munn had gone in a long robe and was still dressed as Leia, she might not be called out on the carpet as a fake geek, but I can't be sure. As it stands, she was obviously just there, to paraphrase one commenter, to taunt the geeks, who must be sex starved, with her sexiness. Now, aside from the fact that I own a gold bikini, which I purchased because it reminded me of ROTJ, I have also done things like spend weeks researching and sewing a Poison Ivy costume. Why did I choose Ivy? Because she is the sexiest of the Batman villains and I wanted to look hot at a Halloween party. The fact that I chose this particular costume, and made it as boobilicious as possible, obviously cancels out any actual geekiness I might have. The comic collection? The sci-fi addiction? The gaming? They're all, on the feminist line, obviously just there to lure sex starved boy geeks into paying attention to me. So, if we, once again, follow the logic here, I should sell the comics and not bother with the movies, books or games anymore because I couldn't possibly have come to my own appreciation of them. Check. (Also, as a side note to any boy geeks who might be reading this, I am very sorry to inform you that you must be horribly open to manipulation by sexy women because you can't get one yourself.)

Sexy VS Funny- After the hubbub started, some well meaning yet clearly misinformed, and probably male, commenters came to Munn's defense by saying “oh hey, you know she might actually be really funny if she's given the chance.” Obviously, this is impossible. You see, Munn thinks boobs and farts are funny. She also thinks it's funny to jump into a giant cream pie. This splits into two issues for the aforementioned bloggers. On the one hand, Munn probably doesn't even really think this is funny. She probably just says that because she knows that men, who can never progress past 3rd grade in the humor department, like it. On the other, if Munn does think these things are funny, then it indicates that she cannot possibly grasp a more complex humor. This dichotomy confuses me as I imagine it would be quite fun to jump into a giant pie, and I love a good boob gag as much as the next guy. However, I also used to think I was pretty witty with the satire. I even once read Parker, and understood her, or so I thought. In fact, my 80 year old grandmother is often yelling at me for being funny, because boys don't like it. I never realized that she might be halfway right before, but now I see the light. I can not be funny if I am sexy, because “sexy” humor is sophomoric and silly, and that means that I can not grasp anything more complex. Lesson learned. Goodbye Parker, hello Peter Griffin.

So, readers, given what I have learned from all this controversy, I suppose I now have a choice to make. I must choose between sexy and everything else. Well, if Jezebel et al are correct, then being sexy means I really don't need to bother with anything else. Obviously, choosing sexy is the right thing to do. I mean, why would I want to put myself in position where I actually had to try? I suppose that if I wanted to hold on to my other assets, I could accept a demotion down to merely “cute”, as some commenters have posited is the case with the other Daily Show correspondent Sam Bee and other funny women such as Tina Fey, but why would I want to do that when being sexy makes things so much easier for me? In this case, I am opting for sexy. My life will be much more simple from here on out!

But wait! Won't that be boring? What is there was another way? What if Munn is funny and Fey and Bee are sexy? I know it may seem like a stretch, but maybe we can just pretend, for a while, that we live in a slightly evolved culture where a woman can have more than one asset. Say, one where women once fought for the right to be seen as something more than just one thing. If only such a reality existed, what a fun world it would be.

You can watch Munn's first solo correspondent clip here:

-Shannon (Who Shakes It Like Polaroid Picture)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

All We Have Is Now. Or How The Flaming Lips Offer A Massive Attitude Adjustment On The Nation's Birthday

This is not a review. At least, it's not a review in the traditional sense. There will be no set list, no critique of the band's musicianship, and no criticism at all, really. There are several reasons for this. First and foremost, The Flaming Lips are, for me, one of those bands who just can't do much wrong. I am so blinded by love for the band that anything I write about their performance on July 4th would be as skewed as if I was Wayne Coyne's mother and I was reviewing his second grade play. Secondly, part of the fun of seeing this band is that you never really know what they are going to do ahead of time, with the exception of a few common knowledge tropes. Knowing that, it would be mean to spoil all the surprises. Finally, for all of the showmanship that is evident at any Lips show, it never feels like you are sitting in a crowd, waiting to be entertained. It feels like you have been invited to the best surprise party you could imagine, only to show up and find out that the party is in your honor, and the people throwing it love you and want to see you live a great life. While reviewing such a party would be tacky and pointless, writing a heartfelt thank you letter never is. And, since I was raised with manners, what follows is a sort of love letter to the Flaming Lips in general and Wayne Coyne in particular.

For many people I have spoken to, seeing the Flaming Lips live is unlike anything else one could experience in their adult lives, and last night's show was no exception. For me, summer holidays have always reminded me of the best part of being a kid. In the summertime, the rules were looser, there was swimming and junk food and giggling and running around like maniacs in the heat and humidity of July nights with out a shred of the self conscious editing and posturing that would come with adolescence and adulthood. It seemed like every summer from ages to 5 to 12 was just one long giggling, singing, spinning freak out and I often miss those days intensely, as I'm sure most adults do. It often feels like every year that passes takes us further and further away from that feeling of freedom as we become more bitter, more aware and more tired. We try to recapture some of that every time we see a show, or meet with friends, or meditate or create, but it can be difficult tune out the interference of our adult consciousness and fully be in any given moment. Even on this July 4th, at the sea shore no less, the general sense in the air was not one of celebration and freedom. A sense of foreboding hung in the air around the boardwalk. The casinos and amusement piers seemed to house thousands of people who were just not smiling as they wandered from distraction to distraction. This was not the case inside the House of Blues.

Inside the venue last night, two floors above what was once a mecca of innocent summer excitement, the mood was more enthusiastic and carnival like than on any pier below as thousands of fans gathered to wait for the Flaming Lips to take the stage. People milled around in summer clothes and elaborate costumes, ranging from an angel with light up hair to Captain America in knee high boots. I shuffled nervously from foot to foot, hugged my boyfriend, grinned at him and squeaked with excitement. Around us, people were doing exactly the same. There was no uncomfortable pre-show posturing, or extensive shows of coolness. The mood was simply gleefull and anticipatory. It was a lot like waiting all those years ago for the neighborhood fireworks to begin.

Once the house lights finally went down, and the stage was filled with orange clad roadies and dancers, that buzz because something akin to a high pitched wail. Once the background film began to play and the band began to emerge, that wail took on what seemed like a life of it's own. Finally, once Wayne Coyne himself appeared, inside his famed hamster ball and counted to three before hurling himself off the stage and onto the crowd, there was an all out explosion of screams. The hamster ball is something I have experienced before, but, at 5'4, I have always been too short to really get near it. This time, however, there was one brief moment where I looked up and there he was, inside a giant bubble and laughing hysterically while looking down at me. This is the exact moment that I actually regressed several years into a screaming, jumping, giggling 12 year old. I would stay like this for the next 2 hours as it rained confetti on my head while The Lips played everything I wanted to hear.

Without giving away the set list or revealing too many of the surprises in the show, I will say that this band is a master of the roller coaster ride set. The songs go from mellow to wild, serious to silly and angry to gleeful over and over again. What is amazing about this is that the show never looses its air of whimsical excitement or frenzied happiness. Even when he is singing about death, Coyne makes you feel like you are celebrating life. And he does so by inviting you to relive the feeling of the best parts of life. In fact, if he gets the sense that the crowd is holding back for whatever reason, he will not hesitate to stop singing, jump up and down and laughingly implore the crowd with a hearty “come on motherfuckers, come on!” The effect of this is that one feels, while participating in the show, as though they really are partying with their closest friends, and that this party is exactly the sort of night one lives for.

This feeling of closeness is compounded by Coyne's speeches, which he sprinkles liberally throughout the set. Ranging in main topic from political hope to war torn sadness, to the beauty of “Mr. Tuna”'s costume, these speeches serve to remind us all that this band isn't just running through a prepackaged and overly rehearsed set and their elaborate props and lighting shows are not their to marginalize their fans. Quite the opposite is true. From inflatable robots to confetti filled balloons and giant hamster balls, the Flaming Lips use their props as if they were gifts to the crowd who then, as Coyne pointed out “act like they are magic balls...and diamonds shot from the ass of a dragon.” According to Coyne, this is what it is all about. An invitation to a silly party where everyone is finding the magic in everyday shit. A balloon is just a balloon and confetti is just shredded paper, but when 1,000 people all agree to get really excited about them, they become something much more than that. They, and all of the Lips live show, are a reminder that the world could end in a minute, death is imminent for everyone and things are totally fucked up everywhere, but we have the power to transcend our fears and anxieties, if only just for a while, and reclaim our freedom to freak out, have fun, squeal and giggle and sing along with strangers.

It is this sort of reminder, and the feeling of freedom that comes along with it, that everyone deserves on the 4th of July (or any day really). The reminder that ideological clashes and political strife may have removed us from the knowledge that we are free to pursue happiness, and that we may be older, more aware, and no longer so willing to just let go in the summertime heat, but that we can reclaim that on an individual basis. We have the freedom to all be rambunctious little freaks and when we do so, and invite others along with us, we are truly living in the face of death. That, motherfuckers, is the best kind of freedom of all, and I am eternally grateful to have experienced it.

-Shannon (Who Won't Let Those Robots Eat You)