Thursday, December 18, 2014

Time & Consciousness

Some scientists have said that human consciousness is perhaps biggest unsolved scientific mystery of today. I would not disagree. 

While I do not pretend to understand the latest findings from brain studies, I do believe human consciousness must involve language plus a sense of time. The combination of these two things allows humans to create a virtual world in their minds, a virtual world of meta-time and meta-space -- which I have written about before. See my blog on Virtual Human Meta-Time.

To test this idea, it would be helpful to find a person who had not been conscious but who then suddenly became conscious. If we could find such a person, we could examine their experience and the transition they went through. Like the studies of left brain and right brain activity that looked at people whose brains had been damaged and the effects this had on language, could we find a person whose affliction would highlight aspects of consciousness?

It turns out there was such a person -- and she was thoughtful, intelligent and articulate. I am speaking of the famous deafblind Helen Keller who went from not knowing any words to mastering a complex vocabulary. After her breakthrough she became the first deafblind person to obtain a college degree graduating from Radcliffe with honors. She was also the first deafblind person to write a book and she went on to write 14 books.


Helen with her teacher, Anne Sullivan, and her doll. (commons.wikimedia.org)
Anne Sullivan ... began to teach Helen [ED: at age 6] to communicate by spelling words into her hand, beginning with "d-o-l-l" for the doll that she had brought Keller as a present. Keller was frustrated, at first, because she did not understand that every object had a word uniquely identifying it....Keller became so frustrated she broke the doll.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helen_Keller
The following is what Helen Keller herself had to say about her discovery of language. NOTE: I have taken a number of sentences from Helen Keller's various works and arranged them to focus on the aspect of her sudden consciousness of time. http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Helen_Keller 



Once I knew only darkness and stillness.

My inner life, then, was a blank without past, present, or future [ED: my emphasis] 

It was not night—it was not day. .      .      .      .      . 
But vacancy absorbing space, 
And fixedness, without a place; 
There were no stars—no earth—no time— [ED: my emphasis] 

Since I had no power of thought, I did not compare one mental state with another. So I was not conscious of any change or process going on [ED: another aspect of time]

But a little word from the fingers of another fell into my hand that clutched at emptiness, and my heart leaped to the rapture of living. Night fled before the day of thought,

With the first word I used intelligently, I learned to live, to think, to hope. Darkness cannot shut me in again. 

When I learned the meaning of "I" and "me" and found that I was something, I began to think. Then consciousness first existed for me.


The famous moment when she became conscious is well known and depicted in the play/movie The Miracle Worker. Here is Helen's description of that pivotal moment:
Some one was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness...and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that "w-a-t-e-r" meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free!
The Story of My Life by Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan
We can assume from her earlier comments that this awakening of her soul now included a sense of past, present and future -- which she did not have before that moment.


Helen 'feeling' the words from the mouth 
of Mrs. Calvin Coolidge, wife of the president. (commons.wikimedia.org)

I find it quite significant she emphasized time did not exist before language. Once she had grasped the meaning of words as symbols -- that they represented things and concepts -- her world opened up and an understanding of time was a direct result. 


Helen in her graduation outfit. (commons.wikimedia.org)
Thought made me conscious of love, joy, and all the emotions. I was eager to know, then to understand, afterward to reflect on what I knew and understood, and the blind impetus, which had before driven me hither and thither at the dictates of my sensations, vanished forever.
The World I Live In by Helen Keller
(this book goes into a detailed description of her transition)
NOTE: You can get a free copy of this book on Gutenberg.org in a variety of formats: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/27683 


Helen's signature after she learned to write. (commons.wikimedia.org)
As I have written, I believe humans have a unique sense of time -- we are the only animal who understands and can place moments in time on a timeline and who can communicate the concept of 'when' in the past, present and in the future. And we can do this because of language. See my blog: Animal Senses Compared to the Human Sense of Time .

 As reported next in an article from the American Association For The Advancement Of Science,  recent studies have shown that other animals may actually be quicker and more skilled at momentary tasks. Yet as the following quote suggests this may because of "a tradeoff between memory and language" in the human brain.
It would be extremely rare to find a human with the “extraordinary working memory” of a chimpanzee...but the reasons for this may stem from a tradeoff between memory and language. Human language makes memory portable over time and space, making it less essential for us to hold items in mind at a precise moment.“Chimps are living in the world of here and now,” Matsuzawa said. “We [ED: humans] are living in the world, thinking about the past, thinking about the future, trying to understand the meaning of what we see, and bringing the information back to friends and families and colleagues to share the experience.” http://www.aaas.org/news/releases/2013/0214_primate_cognition.shtml  
So this scientist is making the point that a sense of time -- past and future -- is an essential part of the human psyche and that this sense is intertwined with language. This unique sense of time combined with language creates its own virtual world, the world of human meta-time and the world of human consciousness.

 (commons.wikimedia.org)


Saturday, November 29, 2014

School's Most Important Subject: Time

What did you learn in school today? 
Most of us believe in the words of the old song:

School days, school days
Dear old Golden Rule days
'Reading and 'riting and 'rithmetic
"School Days"
by Gus Edwards and Will D. Cobb (1907)


While the subjects taught in school such as reading and writing are essential for functioning in the modern world,  education from the first grade teaches an even more critical subject -- the subject of time.

Who does not jump -- even years after graduation -- when they hear a school's clanging bell? Who does not feel a bit of anxiety when they hear a sound like a buzzer that signaled the beginning of a class period?

The bell tower that chimes the hours can be seen throughout 
the campus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill -- my alma mater. (commons.wikimedia.org)

And what young person does not chaff under the yoke of the relentless time demands required by the society?

My eyes are burning, bells are ringing in my ears
Alarm clocks wailing, class bells screaming, I can't hear
A text book mad-house, twelve years I'm here in a rage
A juveniles jail, And I'm here locked up in their cage
...School Daze, school daze, I'm here doin' time
"School Daze"
by W.A.S.P.


The fact that students must spend a minimum of 12 years in school emphasizes how much is required to instill a civilized sense of time. This does not come naturally but must be drilled in day after day, year after year over more than a decade -- starting at a very early age.

As students progress from one grade to another, the demands of time and time management increase. Be slightly late and you may be penalized. In some schools being seconds late three times is the same as missing an entire class.

Give me a minute, ohhhhh I can't be tardy
My class is already started, they told my mom I'm retarded
"14,400 Minutes"
Chance The Rapper


Being on time is only one aspect. Homework, for example, does not have to be done at a certain time. You can do your homework on your own schedule, BUT it needs to be completed before the class meets.


A typical homework schedule, that does not need to list specific times 
like a class schedule, but indicates when homework must be completed. (commons.wikimedia.org)



While the school will have a variety of clocks, each student is expected to own an accurate watch and to keep a close eye on his/her personal time.



In addition students are taught a number of things about the nature of time: organize your time, don't waste time, time is money, time flies, make the best use of your time. Time management is often taught as the key to success in school. In the west this constant message from teachers, parents, businesses and institutions instills the idea that time is a commodity -- a resource -- that you can use or squander.  See my blog about time as a commodity.


Time flies. (commons.wikimedia.org)

With each higher grade there is more homework, more preparation, more deadlines, more planning. In high school and college there will be papers due that become increasingly long and require more research and that must be submitted by specific deadlines. The more advanced your studies, the more demands will be made on your time.

And there are other aspects of time as well. From the moment a student walks into school he/she is taught to conceptualize and visualize time. For example, classes are divided into blocks -- there is even the expression "a block of time." A school day is often pictured in schedules as actual blocks on a day calendar. Blocks are a useful metaphor and symbol since most children have played with blocks early in childhood.

A high school class schedule that divides time into blocks. (commons.wikimedia.org)


And school, of course, tests your memory -- a major component of understanding time. Learning is basically knowing how to store information along with the ability to reproduce it and put it to use. But, as most of us know, few can remember many of the subjects we learned in school. What we did learn was how to memorize for a short period and then to take tests. After that what we had remembered could be forgotten.



What does a flush course teach?
Certainly not the subject matter.
When I was teaching at a community college, students said that many of their courses were 'flush courses'. I had never heard that term so I asked them what it meant. It meant they did the work, read the books, passed the tests, and then promptly forgot the subject matter covered in the course. They just flushed the knowledge down the toilet. So they did not really learn a subject but they did learn to do their work on time and to memorize as required to meet the demands of the school.


The constant repetition over a decade or more of class periods, deadlines, assignments, tests and long term projects plus a universal message from a variety of teachers and authorities leads to an acceptance of how time is handled within a culture. It also establishes time habits that become second nature and ingrained when a student graduates and goes into the workforce.

After attending school, graduates have learned 'job time' and 'corporate time' -- a principal skill when they enter the workforce. So when a company hires a worker, it is assumed that he/she knows about time and will be 'on time' for job requirements.


A sophisticated business chart with target dates on the left and the work 
that must be completed on the right. This was used in a construction project. (commons.wikimedia.org)


Please Note: I am not against these notions of time. However, I think it is important we are aware that school does not just teach subjects, but a cultural understanding of time itself. Yet this is only one way to think about time. To be healthy human beings, we need to know how to function when 'on the clock' and how to relax and enjoy life when 'off the clock'. See one of my blogs about this aspect of time: A Revolution in Time.

These pressure cooker time requirements are a heavy burden. Young people chafe under the shackles of time constraints -- as this does not come naturally and has to be learned in each culture. This teen-angst is expressed in Chuck Berry's song, School Days. The rigid logical time requirements of school need to be shaken off at the end of the day, with a different kind of time -- the natural rhythms of human beings.

Up in the mornin' and out to school...
Ring ring goes the bell...
Soon as three o'clock rolls around
You finally lay your burden down
Drop the coin right into the slot
You gotta hear something that's really hot
Long live rock'n'roll
The beat of the drum is loud and bold
Rock rock rock'n'roll
The feelin' is there body and soul

"School Days" Chuck Berry




Time is initially presented to children in a friendly almost playful manner. (commons.wikimedia.org)



Later the ever present clock becomes a major presence in children's lives. 
(commons.wikimedia.org)


 As they grow up, children are taught the more severe and unforgiving aspects of time. (commons.wikimedia.org)



By adulthood workers are expected to have a sophisticated sense of time. 
This not only involves the hours of the day 
but also an understanding of how their work each day 
relates to their weekly and monthly schedules. 
(commons.wikimedia.org)



Saturday, September 27, 2014

Now Available 2nd Edition eBook: Deconstructing Time, 2nd Edition: Illustrated Essay-Blogs About the Human Experience of Time



I have put together all of the blogs from the first and second years of Deconstructing Time into one eBook. I have also made two versions of this eBook: a standard eBook (epub) which requires an eReader (see links to free eReaders below) and looks like a real book OR a PDF version which you can download and read in Adobe Acrobat or even online on some websites where I have made it available.

I have also posted much of my work at the excellent Academia.edu site where you can find both copies of this eBook along with many other articles and eBooks that I have authored.



So here are the links to this new eBook 
and also my work on Academia.edu


Click to go to the general page for 

Rick Doble's academic work
with this address



To read and/or download the PDF version of my eBook, 
click on this link:



To read and/or download the EPUB version of my eBook, 
click on this link: 



To download a 
free eReader for an epub eBook,
click on this link




Saturday, August 9, 2014

Animal Senses Compared to the Human Sense of Time


New findings about animal senses are being announced in the scientific media on a regular basis. In only the last month, for example, it was reported in National Geographic that: Elephants Have 2,000 Genes for Smell, Most Ever Found and Bats Set Their Internal Compass at Dusk, A First Among Mammals. In addition, about a year ago, National Geographic reported that Dung Beetles Navigate Via the Milky Way, First Known in Animal Kingdom

In all three reports the findings were groundbreaking with phrases like "first known" and "most ever."

The range and sensitivity of senses and the different information being sensed -- in all of the animal kingdom -- is mind boggling and goes far beyond the traditional five human senses of taste, touch, smell, hearing and sight. National Geographic, for example, wrote, "Greater mouse-eared bats set their internal magnetic compass using the pattern of light polarization -- light that vibrates in one direction." 

Human ears (left) with stereo capability can hear a broad range of sound but other animals have more complex and sensitive ears and can hear a wider or different range of frequencies. This young antelope (middle) has large ears which it can move to focus sounds. Bats (right) depend on their antennae-like ears to determine distances using echolocation, i.e. bouncing changing sounds off of objects.
 (commons.wikimedia.org)

But understanding animal senses does not stop with the raw data that is sensed. Often this data is processed by the animal's brain, making it much more sensitive. So while a dog has 300 million smell sensors vs. 6 million for humans (a factor of 50), it also has proportionally 40 times more of its brain devoted to analyzing smell than human beings. This means that a dog is 10,000 times more sensitive to smell than humans according to the latest research reported by NOVA on PBS.


Human smell (left) is one of our weakest senses, far surpassed by dogs (middle) who are 10,000 times more sensitive and bears (right) whose ability to smell is 7 times more sensitive than dogs.
 (commons.wikimedia.org)

Senses are also used in combination with other abilities of an animal, such as the duck-billed platypus who can sense tiny electric impulses in its prey -- and then can zero in on the location by moving its bill in a sweeping manner.


"The platypus can determine the direction of an electric source, perhaps by comparing differences in signal strength across the sheet of electroreceptors. This would explain the characteristic side-to-side motion of the animal's head while hunting." (commons.wikimedia.org)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Platypus
But defining and describing animal senses is only part of how senses operate in a living organism, which brings us to the classic subjective/objective debate. While the stimuli that a sense perceives is clearly outside the organism, the way that the stimuli is interpreted and acted on is determined by the animal, i.e. it is subjective.

With human eyes for example:
"Almost all higher order features of vision are influenced by expectations based on past experience. This characteristic extends to color and form perception...to face and object recognition...and to motion and spatial awareness..." http://www.brainhq.com/brain-resources/brain-facts-myths/how-vision-works

Eyesight is probably the strongest human sense (left) with full color stereoscopic vision and a remarkable ability for edge detection. But other animals such as eagles (middle) have 3.6 times the human visual acuity. Some insects (right) have a compound eye with a fisheye view (180 degrees) of the world that can see objects in focus both near and far at the same time.
 (commons.wikimedia.org)

In addition, many parts of the brain are often involved in processing the data that is sensed. With face recognition, for example. 
"Until now, scientists believed that only a couple of brain areas mediate facial recognition. However scientists have discovered that an entire network of cortical areas work together to identify faces.'This research will change the types of questions asked going forward because we are not just looking at one area of the brain," said Nestor...lead author of the study. "Now, scientists will have to account for the system as a whole...:" http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110531121319.htm
This means a sound that is objectively 261.6 Hz and 70 decibels will have a different meaning for a human than for a mouse, for example. This sound is middle C or a musical note played at the normal volume on a radio. To a human being it would carry a musical meaning, perhaps reminding him or her of a sweet song but to a mouse it might be a warning that a human was nearby.

And what is my point in this blog about the human experience of time? 

I believe that humans have a unique sense, a sense of time that only we possess. And given the wide range of animal senses, it should not be surprising that we might have a sense that other animals do not have. In addition we have the largest brain relative to our body size, a brain which we now know is quite flexible (neuroplasticity). It is capable of storing memories, imagining future events and learning and working with concepts such as long term time both past and future. I believe that this unique sense of time is the principle reason we have become the dominant species on the planet. 



SCIENTIFIC FINDINGS ABOUT THE HUMAN PERCEPTION OF TIME

Scientific findings have confirmed that there are unique parts of the human brain that deal with time.
"This ability to hold on to a piece of information temporarily in order to complete a task is specifically human. [ED: my emphasis] It causes certain regions of the brain to become very active, in particular the pre-frontal lobe. This region, at the very front of the brain, is highly developed in humans. It is the reason that we have such high, upright foreheads, compared with the receding foreheads of our cousins the apes. Hence it is no surprise that the part of the brain that seems most active during one of the most human of activities [ED: short term memory] is located precisely in this prefrontal region that is well developed only in human beings."Perhaps the most extreme example of short-term memory is a chess master who can explore several possible solutions mentally before choosing the one that will lead to checkmate."  SHORT-TERM MEMORY': McGill University, Montreal, Canada

(commons.wikimedia.org)


I think it is quite possible that the human brain's unique ability to consider future actions in the short term became a model for time itself. This short term understanding of time could have been developed and expanded through language and symbolism to include time in the long term. So the skill of considering whether to go right or left in the heat of a hunt could -- over thousands of years -- be extended to considering whether to go to the river or the mountains by the next full moon. 

The problem with complex, sophisticated time perception in humans is that it is not based on a specific sensory organ. Moreover, it is inextricably tied to language and symbols which have given us the tools to conceptualize time and to work with time. 


MRI of human brain. (commons.wikimedia.org)
QUOTE FROM WIKIPEDIA ABOUT HUMAN SENSES
Perception not based on a specific sensory organ

Time
Chronoception refers to how the passage of time is perceived and experienced. Although the sense of time is not associated with a specific sensory system, the work of psychologists and neuroscientists indicates that human brains do have a system governing the perception of time, composed of a highly distributed system involving the cerebral cortex, cerebellum and basal ganglia.
NOTE: It is quite significant that the most used noun in the English language is *time* according to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, with the words year, day and life not far behind. While I can document this for English, I don't have the resources to document this in other languages -- but I assume that time is the most used noun in other languages as well.
While we cannot go back tens of thousands of years to reconstruct how a long term sense of time came about, there is perhaps another way to understand how it developed. When our children are young, they only live in the moment, but over years, especially as a result of education, they learn a long term sense of time. This process occurs starting with childhood, continues until adulthood and can be observed and studied.
Childhood
Measures of performance on tests of working memory increase continuously between early childhood and adolescence; theorists have argued that the growth of working-memory capacity is a major driving force of cognitive development.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Working_memory#Childhood

School Teaches Cultural Assumptions About Time

During the twenty year 'long childhood' of humans, young people learn their culture's expectations about time. While I will write a full blog about this, suffice it to say students in school learn about time more than any other subject. They learn to arrive on time, to not be late to each of their classes and to manage time such as doing their homework or studying for a final exam. These time demands become more stringent as a student gets older.



WHAT IS OUR UNIQUE SENSE OF TIME? 


So what exactly is this different sense of time, you might ask? Well, it turns out it is quite simple. We are the only animal that understands 'when'. 

But don't take my word for it, read the detailed article, Are Animals Stuck in Time?, that compares the animal sense of time to the human sense of time. The article concludes that in fact animals are stuck in time whereas we humans can work with and manipulate time. 

Humans are not 'stuck in time' because understanding 'when' allows us to time-travel back to our past and also to an imagined future. It allows us remember our personal story and to shape ourselves and our civilization. Furthermore it allows us to take control, to plan for the future based on our knowledge of the past. 


The TARDIS time machine from the science fiction TV show, Dr. Who
(commons.wikimedia.org)
"People can time-travel cognitively because they can remember events having occurred at particular times in the past (episodic memory) [ED: e.g. the sense of when] and because they can anticipate new events occurring at particular times in the future. The ability to assign points in time to events arises from human development of a sense of time and its accompanying time-keeping technology." William RobertsAre Animals Stuck in Time?
As we go though our lives, we order and organize what we do with a sense of 'when':  when in the past, when in the present and when in the future.
Take, for example, this very simple sentence that anyone of us might say -- yet which is extremely sophisticated:
"When I finish this job in about an hour, I will be done for the day."
This sentence which includes past, present, future and future perfect (a past that is in the future at the present time but will be past at a future point), is something we humans understand, but cannot be understood by any other animal.
However, I believe that we have made a critical mistake in our thinking. Most people -- in fact virtually all people I have talked to -- think of time as an objective condition that exists independently.

While time does exist objectively -- the sun will rise every morning no matter what we do -- our sense of time is particularly and perhaps peculiarly human. The way that we work with time, remember time, conceive of time is related to the way that our brains function. 

Therefore while the objective nature of time can be sensed, humans deal with it in a subjective manner. For example, as I have pointed out in my blog about 'human meta-time', we humans have the unique ability to move in a virtual world of space and time at warp speed. We can travel in our minds from past and current events and past and current houses, schools and jobs to places and activities we imagine we will do soon in the present and in the future.

And although civilization has developed a highly sophisticated way of marking and telling time such as clocks and calendars, when people remember the past it is rare that they can give dates. Instead they relate the past to things that happened before and after, i.e. when something occurred in their personal history. So our personal memory is not tied to the artificial time-telling and timekeeping devices of our cultures but rather the natural human sense of memory. See William Roberts, Are Animals Stuck in Time?
While we have all learned to live with clocks and show up on time, our personal sense of 'when' is not tied to man-made artificial timekeeping.
My point is that our inborn human sense of 'when' is separate from the man-made clocks and calendars that rule our workaday lives. Understanding when is a major part of being human. 'When' is our own personal story, knowing 'when' and how things happened in the past is how we became what we are, and thinking about 'when' in the future maps out who we hope to be.


CONCLUSION


The concept of 'when' adds a new dimension to time. Time is not just one dimensional, i.e. always in the moment or subject to an immediate need, or two dimensional, i.e. cyclical such as breakfast and dinner, night and day, and yearly migrations -- which are the way time is perceived by all the other animals. Instead 'when' adds a third dimension to time, a linear dimension of past, present and future.  We are the only animal that perceives and uses this dimension of time.

Data that is sensed is often multidimensional but not every animal can detect all of the dimensions. Sharks not only have a far better sense of smell which can detect a small amount of blood in the ocean 1/3 of a mile away but also a more dimensional sense of smell than humans have. Once having sensed the presence of blood, for example, they can locate the direction of the source of the blood with their two nares (snouts) in much the same way that our two ears are used to locate the source of a sound.
"Sharks smell through a pair of nostril-like holes, called nares...When its olfactory sensors detect the odor of a potential catch, the shark will turn into the current that is carrying the chemical. In addition, a shark's olfactory talents are so refined that it can often tell which of its nares is getting the stronger scent signal, guiding it even more precisely toward its prey."  http://www.pbs.org/kqed/oceanadventures/episodes/sharks/indepth-senses.html
 (commons.wikimedia.org)

As I pointed out in my blogs about moderncentric thinking (the often superior attitude modern people have about historic cultures), we humans are also guilty of humancentric thinking. We, unknowingly, have assumed that animals possess the same basic senses we have -- only with some changes. Yet if we want to really understand how animals sense, we need to see the world from their point of view. For example, how does a dolphin perceive its world? I won't say 'see' because even though sight may be involved, the echolocation ability of dolphins goes far beyond anything we have experienced either as humans or in our labs and perhaps beyond anything we can yet imagine.


 (commons.wikimedia.org)
"A recent discovery we made is that dolphins appear capable of directly perceiving the shapes of objects through echolocation. Prior to this finding, it had been generally assumed that dolphins learned to identify and recognize objects through echolocation by a process of associative learning -- by comparing the echoes returning from targets with the visual appearance of those targets."
"The sounds they [ED: dolphins] hear create a kind of holographic image in their minds...they perceive echoes as 3-D shapes and textures...Their ultrasonic clicks penetrate flesh, giving them an X-ray view of your bones and innards."
http://www.cracked.com/article_19952_the-6-most-mind-blowing-animal-senses_p2.html#ixzz38QE2EboO




Understanding other types of animal senses has led to major scientific breakthroughs in the past, such as the development of radar which came about in part due to the study of how bats navigated in the dark and which also led to the development of sonar and ultrasound technology. (commons.wikimedia.org)

And once we can see the world from the point of view of a different species, we may begin to understand our own world better. This is because the particular senses we humans possess have led us to build this world that we live in.

Because humans have hands that are free along with good vision, 
eye-hand skills have been critical to the creation of civilization. (commons.wikimedia.org)


Because of our intelligence, we have been able to enhance our ability to sense through our technology. In this photo from the 1920's, a man is listening to the radio 
through ear phones, listening to music that is being played hundreds of miles away. (commons.wikimedia.org)


AFTERWORD


The incredibly intuitive ancient Greeks said most of what I have written about the human sense of time through their mythology. 


Detail: "The creation of man by Prometheus. Marble relief, Italy, 3rd century CE." Louvre Museum, Paris, France. (commons.wikimedia.org) 

THE CREATION OF HUMANS AND THE ANIMALS


"Prometheus was said to be wise and possessed the gift of foresight and often considered what would be needed several years in the future." 

The brother of Prometheus, Epimetheus, who was rash and impulsive, was given the job of creating the animals, fishes and birds. Prometheus, a god who was wise and had the power of foresight, took his time making man out of clay. Yet when it came to giving man attributes, it turned out that this brother of Prometheus had already given most qualities away. 

 "Epimetheus began by giving the best traits to the animals — swiftness, courage, cunning, stealth, and the like — and he wound up with nothing to give to man. So Prometheus took the matter in hand and gave man an upright posture like the gods."
http://www.cliffsnotes.com/literature/m/mythology/summary-and-analysis-greek-mythology/the-beginnings-8212-prometheus-and-man-and-the-five-ages-of-man-and-the-flood

Yet since the natural qualities of fur, flight and strength etc. and had been taken, Prometheus went a step further to help mankind. He famously stole fire from the gods.

"Fire was bestowed upon mankind by Prometheus and with it came the beginning of civilization. Prometheus taught man how to craft tools from iron ore. He showed them how to plant crops and live through agriculture. Man learnt to craft weapons to defend themselves from wild animals. With fire they learnt to survive cold winters and defy the seasons. With fire man began to thrive and became superior to the animals of the wild."
http://classicalwisdom.com/prometheus-the-creation-of-man/

In stealing fire from the gods, Prometheus also taught humans how to think ahead because starting a fire, keeping a fire going, cutting wood for the winter -- all took forethought, the skill needed to master time.

By stealing fire from the gods, teaching men crafts and agriculture, Prometheus, the god of forethought, gave man the gift of long term time, a quality more powerful than claws and sharp teeth. He taught humans about planning, about steps in a process, about the concept of 'when'. So only humans were given the ability to understand this dimension of time -- something the creatures impulsively made by his brother, Epimetheus, did not have.





Thursday, July 24, 2014

70th Birthday: Ashes and Diamonds


Today I turn 70. It is a milestone -- a point of no return. Clearly I have fewer miles ahead than I have behind. Which, of course, sets me to thinking about what I have done with my life.

The Polish movie Ashes and Diamonds makes the point that we never know whether our contributions will turn to ashes or be recovered by others as shining diamonds. 

For most of my life I have tried to add to the human dialogue. I believe I have a number of things to say with a unique perspective. I would like to think that I have made some important points in this blog of 42 in-depth postings and also in my other publications and eBooks.

But I will never know if my work is seen as a diamond or is lost in the dust and ashes of time. Nevertheless, if there is a chance that this could add to the human pool of knowledge, the human discussion, it is well worth the trouble. 

I do know this: If I do not put my ideas out, my thoughts will never have a chance of being heard. It's sort of a lottery of ideas. As a lottery player says, "I probably won't win, but I have absolutely no chance if I don't buy a ticket."

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(commons.wikimedia.org)


ASHES AND DIAMONDS
So often you are as a blazing torch,
With flames of burning rags 
Falling about you -- 
Consuming all that you cherish.

You do not know if these flames
Will bring freedom or death.

Yet as your ashes fall into the abyss,
Could there be buried under the dirt 
The glory of a starlit diamond? 
-- A morning star --
The dawning of an everlasting triumph?
Cyprian Norwid (1821-1883)
NOTE: I did not like the translations of this poem in English, so with apologies to Cyprian Norwid -- since I write poetry myself and have translated poems in French and Spanish -- I freely improvised taking the best lines/words from four different English translations, then added my own ideas and made my own English version. Here are the links to the various English translations that I found plus the original poem in Polish.[1] [2] [3] [4] [5 -- the original Polish]
Cyprian Kamil Norwid (1821-1883), Daguerreotype
(commons.wikimedia.org)

In a positive irony, Cyprian Norwid and his work suffered the same fate as he described in his now famous poem. Ignored during his lifetime, almost forgotten for seventy years after his death, his work and this poem were rediscovered in the 20th century. This particular poem resurfaced to be the inspiration for a Polish novel and then a Polish movie made in 1958 -- when Poland was under Soviet domination. The movie, Ashes and Diamonds, spoke to the soul of the Polish nation and is now considered, by some, to be one of the best films ever made.

MEANING 

My interpretation: 
In the end the only freedom is to act and in this action to find meaning -- and by acting I include writing and ideas. No one will ever know the ripple effect of their actions far into the future. But acting with the best of intentions is the most today, in the present, that we can offer and expect.

I am a great believer in the power of art as a positive force. As we know many artists have spoken to future generations without being acknowledged during their own time. For example, JS Bach's compositions were not well admired during his lifetime and after his death his music was considered old fashioned -- so much of it was lost. Yet today he is considered one of the greatest composers of all time. I think an artist does not always create for the present, often he/she creates for a future audience the artist will never know.
The gravestone of the beloved actor Zbigniew Cybulski, the Polish James Dean, who played the lead in Ashes and Diamonds and who died tragically in 1967 at the age of 39. (commons.wikimedia.org)


ABOUT POLAND AND ART


Allegory of the First Partition of Poland in 1772.
(commons.wikimedia.org)

Perhaps better than any nation in Europe, the Poles understand uncertainty and oppression. Starting in 1772 they were partitioned by the more powerful adjacent countries of Germany and Russia (and also Austria). In WW II Poland was conquered by Nazi Germany and then Stalinist Russia who held Poland under its control until the collapse of the Soviet Empire in 1989. Except for a brief period after WW I when Poland was free, the Poles have been fighting for their independence for almost 200 years. Nevertheless they have kept their identity and their sense of who they are intact -- which includes one of the first societies to tolerate different religious beliefs and also different ethnic groups. Now today they are free and independent -- after numerous uprisings against their oppressors that in the past had only led to defeat. However, throughout this history their faith in art and creation seemed to sustain them with artists like Chopin -- along with an 800 year-old literary tradition. The movie Ashes and Diamonds was filmed while under Soviet domination. Will the Poles continue to remain free or be oppressed again? Ashes or diamonds?
"Wajda [ED: director of Ashes and Diamonds] has frequently remarked upon the special role of the artist in Polish culture: the political conscience of a nation during long periods when politics could not be openly and honestly discussed. He has also noted that Polish artists have fulfilled themselves not only in their art but in their participation in history. [ED: such as Paderewski, a famous pianist, who also became prime minister]."http://www.ucis.pitt.edu/eehistory/H200Readings/Topic3-R4.html
Civilian killed by the Nazi Luftwaffe during the invasion of Poland in 1939.  (commons.wikimedia.org)



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I have also written:

== A print book on Experimental Digital Photography (Sterling Publishing, 2010, New York/London).
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== An original website about coping with abusive relationships