Ask, “What’s Really Happening?” [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Lately I’ve been mourning the loss of Occam’s Razor, you know, that simple but useful little principle that, in the presence of two explanations that account for facts, the simplest explanation is most likely to be correct. In our current national spin, the corrosive and stupidly-complex justifications are overrunning the simple explanation every time. For instance, is it more likely that the “Democrat” leaders are conspiring to inflate the pandemic numbers in a worldwide conspiracy (yes, 195 countries that rarely agree on anything are united in collusion with the American Democratic party!) to bring down the president – or – did the man botch the job and that’s why our numbers are so high? I’m going with botched job since I still have sight of Occam with plenty of data sharpening that simple razor.

Sometimes when I am sifting my too-many-thoughts-for-a-post I’ll jump into the Google pool in the hope that I’ll hit my head on a Google rock and clarity or at least some sense will come. Today I typed in a question: what conspiracy theories helped bring down the Roman Empire? There’s plenty to read if the fall of Rome is on your mind. I went down the rabbit hole and bumbled upon this fun phrase embedded in the List Of Conspiracy Theories page on Wikipedia [sidebar: there are more inane conspiracy theories than you might imagine and most find their place on the “What were we thinking” shelf-of-shame after a year or two passes. We can only hope that the good folks at Q or the pandemic deniers take their place high on the shelf before too long and too many people are hurt or killed from their delusion. Occam would cut them to ribbons if he weren’t laughing/crying so hard].

I digress. Here’s the phrase: Psychologists attribute finding a conspiracy theory where there is none to a mental illness called illusory pattern perception. Illusory Pattern Perception. It’s a “phenomenon in which observers see patterns that do not exist.” The epicenter of the illness that drives folks to see what is not there: lack of control. It’s existential, this American decline.

We are rapidly becoming the poster child for “a nation divided cannot stand.” As a lover of pattern, perception, and metaphor I find it profoundly sad that our latest chapter of lack of control has led us to division and mental illness. Seeing patterns where none exist. Making up horror stories about each other rather than letting Occam’s razor slice away the absurd and elucidate some simple truth.

Lack of control, as we know from the stories we just shared about 9/11, can also unite us. Lack of control can clarify us. It can inspire us to run into burning buildings, link arms with fellow passengers to rush a cockpit – knowing full well your action will bring a plane down and your life to an end – and do it anyway because your action will save the lives of people you’ll never meet or know. The lack of control can inspire us to stand in the hot fires of injustice (injustice is a control mechanism) and declare it wrong.

Unity, goodness, self-sacrifice – all of these virtues are exposed – or can be – in moments when control abandons us. Our path need not be ugly, vicious, divisive, or inhumane. The mental illness that blinds us is not natural to this nation – or to humanity. It’s what happens when frightened people, feeling out of control, meet a salesman of snake-oil solutions, a weaver of dark places in the public mind, rather than link arms and ask, “What’s really happening?”

read Kerri’s blog post about AMERICAN DECLINE

De-Compress [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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I had no intention of writing about white rot fungi. I never imagined myself in the course of my lifetime writing or even being interested in white rot fungi. In fact, in scholarly terms, I have no business writing about it. But, here I am. White. Rot. Fungi.

I live in the age of the internet and Google. I remember the moment in the mid 1990’s that I realized the world had changed! I was doing research for a play about Joan of Arc and, instead of using the card catalogue and spending days in the library scouring the stacks, I was trying this new thing called ‘the internet.’ In a matter of moments, I found the complete transcript of Joan’s trial. The actual notes from the actual scribe that sat in the room in the 15th century during that very political/religious trial! The scribe’s notes were typed for my consumption, digitized, and available for my 20th century eyes. Information-gathering was suddenly so easy! Then, I discovered the notes for the 2nd trial! Ten years after burning Joan at the stake they reconsidered their decision and admitted a mistake. It was also, no doubt, a very political/religious trial; the making of a saint! Days of dedicated research compressed into a few hours of poking around. It was a kind of miracle. I reached through time and a scribe handed me his meticulous notes. “Do not judge us,” he whispered.

And, so, white rot fungi. Kerri shot this gorgeous photograph (she calls it ‘nature’s stripes’) and we chose it as a prompt for our studio melange. This morning, wondering what to write about nature’s stripes, I asked myself, “What’s all over that nurse log?” In less time than it took to find Joan’s second trial I had my answer. It digests dead wood.

The name, white rot fungi, a collection of words, does not do poetic justice to this species. It is the vital middle stage in a snapshot of the life cycle. On the left, the vibrant green shoots of new life, spring. The middle: a nurse log, a fallen tree, providing food for the fungi. And on the right, the brittle brown leaves returning to the soil, nutrient for the next new growth. A hundred year cycle captured in a single image.

This photograph is also a compression, making it possible for me to easily see an unimaginable life cycle. Yet another miracle. Yet another way to reach through time and see.

I forgot how difficult it once was. Finding facts. Blowing dust from pages made it somehow more important to check the data. Reaching through time to a reader in the 25th century, I whisper, “Don’t judge us. It happened so fast, this enamoring of the easy, this nonchalance of meaning, this indifference to information”.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about NATURE’S STRIPES

read Kerri’s blog post about White Rot Fungi

 

megaphones website box copy

 

pray now/john’s secret ©️ 2010 david robinson

Consider Context [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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It’s an idiom. A turn of phrase. When push comes to shove. The moment when a decision must be made. Look it up and you’ll read that the expression carries a connotation of escalation. Shoving is more aggressive than pushing.

A moment of decision. On the threshold of escalation.

Like all idioms (or all words, for that matter) context is everything. We saw this phrase on a billboard. It is a campaign promoting civility at a time when civility seems in short supply. We liked it and thought it would be a good quote for Merely-A-Thought-Monday. Context: Civility.

Google the phrase and you’ll discover the disease that plagues us. Namely, the lack of capacity to consider context. Or, perhaps, no capacity to recognize context. Or, perhaps, no capacity to consider a context that differs from one’s own. The top of your Google search will reveal a rage of opposition to the billboard promoting civility.  Shove harder. “…so basically they’re telling you let the son of a b$&@? push you around…”

Wow. It’s an idiom. Context: Civility.

To be fair, a scroll down the Google chain includes motivational stories, a dance piece by Twyla Tharp, more links to PassItOn.com images and tv spots, a song by The Grateful Dead, a lyric by Rascal Flatts. A festival of differing contexts and usages of this phrase when push comes to shove.

Here are a few other idioms: where the rubber meets the road. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. When the chips are down…, When the dust settles…, When in Rome…

A moment of decision. On the threshold of escalation. Context matters.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CIVILITY

 

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Wait [on DR Thursday]

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morsel of the painting They Wait

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” – Aristotle

My studio often serves as a retreat, a place to escape the noise and nonsense-of-the-day. It is a quiet place. A sanctuary. I recoup perspective when I step into it.

Lately, when I am painting, I find myself pondering the paradox of living in the time of Google. I rarely have a conversation these days that doesn’t include a quick dip into Google to check a fact, pull up a statistic, check spelling or a date or data. We rely on it. We can investigate or verify anything in an instant. Yet – and here’s the paradox – no amount of data or information seems to put a dent in people’s beliefs. In fact, we’ve learned, that confronting a belief with data that contradicts it will serve only to reinforce the belief. Information threatens, and so, is useless.

My dad once told me in a fit of frustration that I had educated myself into stupidity. I question everything. He grew up in a simpler time, in a smaller town. I understand the opposite to be true, the path out of stupidity IS education. The capacity to question, to doubt, to consider, to compare what is said with what is provable, is what makes us powerful. Propaganda is only useful in a society that does not or will not question what it is being told.

Collaboration, cooperation, the capacity to organize, to contemplate and pursue possibilities, to unify disparate points of view is only possible in a mind that doesn’t fear being wrong – in a mind that opens (chooses to open) and isn’t constrained by fear of what it doesn’t understand. Fear makes us stupid. To be educated doesn’t mean to be rigid or buried in knowledge. It means the willingness to question, the ability to look, experience, to see, to reach. To learn.  Fear blinds. Curiosity illuminates.

This painting tumbled out of my Google meditation. It is a sketch, a quick gesture. I used to tell my students that daydreaming was an essential skill. Looking out the window and pondering, imagining,…daydreaming is the first step of invention. Waiting, too, is also an essential skill. It is invaluable when entertaining a thought….

 

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THEY WAIT

 

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they wait ©️ 2018 david robinson & kerri sherwood

Live Without Fear [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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Last week we met my niece and her husband in Lake Geneva for a glass of wine. They’ve been living overseas and were gobsmacked at the recent changes in our nation. “How do you have conversations?” she asked, adding, “Everyone is so angry. It’s impossible to talk about anything important. It’s impossible to discuss or debate ideas or points of view.”

“It’s a minefield,” I said, not really knowing what else to say. There is so much anger which can only mean there is so much fear. The only thing that makes sense to me is that our nation, an ongoing experiment, is cutting through the weeds of our central question: can people of diverse backgrounds come together and live united in a single narrative? If the past two years was your only evidence the answer would be a resounding NO. Thankfully, there is a broader sample. We are a work in progress.

No one can see clearly the times in which they live. And, since the conversation last week has been much on my mind, and an answer to the pervasive fear is no where to be found [and would be a ruse at best], for insight I can only offer A Two Artist Tuesday Quote Collision:

“The trouble with the world is not that people know too little, but that they know so many things that aren’t so.” ~ Mark Twain

“The idea of a causal universe and a social order built on universal moral laws is toppled by the uncertainty principle. The absolute is replaced by the relative…. Reality becomes a matter of highly variable conventions, rather than a set of fixed and eternal facts.”  ~Jamake Highwater [Jamake gets the award for consecutive quotes. He also made an appearance yesterday!]

“A lot of lip service gets paid to being honest, but no one really wants to hear it unless what’s being said is the party line.”~ Colin Quinn

It is not an accident that our science, our art, and our politics are roiling in relativity. It IS our current common narrative. Contemporary art, like modern science, began with breaking down the idea of absolutes. Politics and public opinion do not lead but they follow.

The experiment is no longer confined to our shores: in a global economy, in the age of 24 hour news cycles, Facebook, Twitter and Google, in our age-and-stage of relativity, can people of diverse backgrounds come together and live united in a single narrative called relativity? Can we transcend our fear of otherness and step outside of our echo chambers? Can we listen as passionately as we proclaim? It seems that it will require a great deal of respect for otherness with a high degree of empathy and low investment in self-righteousness.

Well, we’ll see.

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read Kerri’s blog post about LIVING WITHOUT FEAR

 

www.kerrianddavid.com

 

living without fear ©️ 2006/2018 kerri sherwood & david robinson