Saturday, November 18, 2006

The reason one or two particular versions of early Christianity has some appeal to me

But not enough realism, for the most part, to be usable

Whether or not there even was a Jesus of history, one of the earliest Christianities, and the first to impute words to a historical Jesus, was the Cynic-shaped “Galilean Christianity.”

Combining the maxims and convention-rejecting emphasis of Cynicism with the prophetic preaching of late-Israelite proto-Judaism was a potent mix. For a person wanting a foundation for personal and spiritual growth that transcended the materialism of its day just as much as ours, why wouldn’t a quasi-idealist like me be attracted?

And, speaking of idealism …

The middle Platonism of the early Christian philosophers has some appeal. Defining a heaven or afterlife as a progression into a Platonic ideal self and locale, without the mysticism or worse of later Neoplatonism has some appeal, especially if one does so with a non-Greek emphasis on a physical, yet somehow Paulist spiritual, body, and rejects the existence of an immaterial soul.

Of course, that’s not a key tenet of Platonism.

As for the other aspects of Christianity in its development, the jealous tribal God Yahweh of the Torah and Former Prophets has zero appeal. Neither does the dripping vengeance of Iranian apocalyptic dualism, wedded and welded to Judaism beginning with Daniel. Certainly the religious mysticism and the philosophical mumbo-jumbo of Paul’s adaptation of eastern Mediterranean mystery religions doesn’t, either.

Alas, though, there’s no indication of a divinity of any sort, let alone one powerful enough to recreate physical bodies into some Platonic ideal.

As for Cynic maxims and Israelite outcries, well I can, and hope I continue to, get better and living that from a secular background.

Monday, November 06, 2006

A “shocking” way to think yourself smarter

German scientists have found that stimulating the sleeping brain with light electric current boosts memory.

The current was applied during the slow-wave oscillation of early sleep, before the onset of the first REM stage. The scientists claimed an eight percent boost was demonstrated, which would be significant indeed.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

November: A time for poignancy

From my Nov. 2 newspaper column:

This time of year is always poignant for me.

We are full-blown into fall now, even in north Texas, let alone places either further north or at higher elevations where I have lived elsewhere in my life. With the change in seasons comes not just cooler weather, but more clouds, more rain, more fog.

The days have already been shortening, and the change in the length of the daytime speeds up the more we get into fall. The increase in cloudy days means less sunlight yet.

And then, sharply, comes this change back to Standard Time from Daylight Saving Time. No transitions, like moving time back 15 minutes each of four Sundays. The full hour of earlier eventide hits at once.

Again, the effect is even sharper further north, where the day has been ending earlier than this far south, and fall is often cloudier, if you go far enough north.

Poignant? Yes. Philosophical, pensive, reflective, even.

First, I think of the ludicrousness of the idea that we are actually controlling time, let alone "saving" any time or daylight as the phrase "Daylight Saving Time" would have us believe. (Someone like a dairy farmer would probably say we're actually losing, not saving, anything.)

But, if we recognize time as an elemental dimension, part of the fabric of our world that Albert Einstein identified as space-time, the idea of saving or controlling it really sounds ludicrous, or hubristic.

Do we change the defined length of a foot or meter in summer because objects expand in hot weather? Of course not.

Now, especially as a night owl, I will say I appreciate our collective action of Daylight Saving Time, even if based on a fiction.

Besides, the measuring units of time in hours, minutes and seconds, outside of daytime and nighttime, are arbitrary anyway. As I wrote in a poem:

"What was saved or conserved these last months, really,

When divisions, boundaries, and placements of time

Are all arbitrary? ...

Nothing is saved;

Rather, the human mind is slaved,

Enslaved to the idea that an elemental dimension

Can somehow be tweaked and bent to our convenience

And put to work, like a six-month summer CD, to earn interest."

But, I started this column about the feeling, the emotion, of poignancy, not as a disquisition on either philosophy or Einsteinian relativity.

First, just what is poignancy? Here's how I defined it, in another poem:

"Poignancy is

A gentle sadness tingeing life

A gentle, tender, humble sadness

One that does not diminish joys when they come

But knows that every joy has seeds of pain

Of limitation, of human frailty."

I went on to tie it to seasonal changes and nature:

"I am poignant

Upon seeing near-bare trees

Of late fall, or

Pale, thin sunsets

In February."

Some people have seasonally-affected depression. For these people, the production of, or sensitivity to, brain neurotransmitters like serotonin, is affected by the shorter, cloudier days. Some people actually need to have expensive "full spectrum" artificial lighting around them as part of their treatment for this.

That's not what I'm talking about. Rather, it's a being in touch with, and appreciation of, the changes in nature and the finiteness of life they indicate.

At the same time, those shorter days, cloudier skies and de-greening trees show that beauty can come out of change, even decay.

And this year may be a good one.

Earlier this year, I was worried that summer drought might mean a drab fall. But, early signs indicate that may not be the case.

Pecans and other early turners don't look too affected as they have started showing their colors. But, those aren't the big fall trees for us.

The various species of red oaks, offset by bur oaks and any other white oaks around, key our fall, since we are conspicuously short on northeastern maples and high-country aspen. Early signs indicate they may have some colors besides various shades of brown in their palettes, too.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Memory experts: even the best are fallible

Inaccuracy of memory expert Elizabeth Loftus will not be an expert witness at Scooter Libby’s trial over the Valerie Plame CIA leak.

Why? In part because Judge Reggie Walton ruled that jurors should be able to decide for themselves on the reliability of a particular person’s memory without Scooter using Loftus as an expert witness precisely to make himself look more fallible.

But, during a hearing before Walton’s ruling, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald gave Loftus a once, and twice over.

And? He “picked apart the psychologist's testimony until she acknowledged errors and misstatements in her findings.”

That included admitting that some of her own findings were unscientific. Specifically:
Fitzgerald got Loftus to acknowledge that the methodology she had used at times in her long academic career was not that scientific, that her conclusions about memory were conflicting, and that she had exaggerated a figure and a statement from her survey of D.C. jurors that favored the defense.

Now, I don’t view this as a sudden victory for touters of repressed memories. I do see it as a caveat that EVERY expert in the social sciences may be whistling in the dark at times.

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A music-shopping fool am I

As some of you may know, Tower Records is going out of business. Well, tonight, I finally got to the Dallas Tower for the first time since the company officially announced its pending demise. With everything 30 percent off, I finally forced myself to the sales counter after more than an hour and 22 CDs (16 classical) of shopping. I guess it’s a moral frugality victory to have spent less than $200.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Superheroes, Jesus and infancy gospels

What do they have in common? Well, a writer in my office was mentioning childhood “miracles” of Superman. Sounds similar to how the “authentic/canonical” gospels’ material developed into infancy gospels of Boy Wonder Jesus.