Monthly Archives: July 2007

collaborative thought project

In this piece, I present the quotation below and ask you to post, as a comment, your interpretation of what it means to you.______________________________”The sweetest pleasures are those which do not exhaust hope.”Author unknown Sometimes attributed to Francois Gaston de Levis

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ART on ART

(double-click arrow to play video)ART on ART – Part 1ART on ART – Part 2ART on ART – Part 3*Videos courtesy of Ron Schira’s YouTube Site

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Perfect Happens – The Biscuit Burners Bluegrass Band

The foothills of the mountain that rise through my city are midsummer green. Overhead, a waxing crescent moon echoes the pastel arcs of the bandshell before me. I am transfixed. I am moved. An elegant ecstasy of sound surrounds me. I sense I am experiencing rare moments of perfection.Artists endeavor to transcend themselves and in so doing to inspire others toward a transcendence of their own. This is the beginning and end of it. And it happens sometimes. It is always an astonishment when it does.*Friday night was one stunner of a summer evening at our nonpareil venue for listening to music – Reading’s City Park Bandshell. My old friend “East Side” Dave Kline sang and stomped and picked and yee-hawed a snazzy song about a bear and a man to warm us up for the headline band. I’ve always taken Dave at his word, period. But his introductory description of The Biscuit Burners seemed so highly complimentary that I must admit I did wonder – just for a moment – if this group of bluegrass musicians could actually be as all-around excellent as Dave claimed.And as true as you’re sitting there reading this – it’s true. The Biscuit Burners are that good!*I don’t see a strong reason to restate or to put my own spin on all the great things that have already been said about this band. Instead, I urge you to check out their web site, read the press kit, visit the band’s myspace pages, and listen to their songs.I suggest you considerably improve the quality of your life by purchasing a cd or two? I have. And I’m a better man for having done it.*If you haven’t been following Bluegrass music lately, it has evolved far beyond its traditional roots. These days, there are even a few new names to describe it. But because they are newer, because they are younger, and because they are simply so aesthetically advanced, The Biscuit Burners’ music is beyond pre-existing categories.*There’s one thing though. To get to where they’re going, they will have to transcend the limitations of their name. I have a feeling they may accomplish this as thoroughly and convincingly as did one other quite perfect band with a barely adequate name -The Beatles. History doesn’t just happen. People have to make it. The Biscuit Burners are making musical history right now. I know because I heard them do it – just last night. *Image: The Biscuit Burners at Merlefest 2006 by Coke Whitworth

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Natureless – No Child Left Outside

Human beings are an integral part of the natural world. We arise from it, we are composed of it, nourished and sustained by it, and to the natural world we return.Within nature, we create culture – a class of artificial environments – both material and mental – and we spend much of our time living within them. Over the millennia we have become accustomed to the myriad interrelationships between nature, of which we are composed and culture, which we create. At the present time however, it seems we are arriving at a threshold. One might describe this eventuality as a sort of theoretical point of no return between nature and culture.It’s a bit science-fiction, I suppose. I offer it as a point of aesthetic/philosophical consideration. What would happen to us if we reared an entire generation of human beings whose only necessary connections to the world were connections to culture and not to nature?We can speculate how it might be in our homes if our children were to consume only artificial things; and if they were in constant contact with electronic media.” This generation – whose lives would be composed entirely of culturally-mediated experience – what tenuous connections would they have to the natural world? Would they know of it? Would they understand that they are a defining part of it? Would they fear it for all its unpredictable qualities?*These perceptions are echoed and charted in Dave Pollard’s environmental philosophy blog, How to Save the World. “The physical theory, espoused by anthropologists and environmentalists, is that we fear nature because we’ve been physically separated from it for so long that we’ve become ignorant of its beauty and grace and peacefulness, and prone to believe the sensationalist nonsense of nature being cruel and savage.”Pollard’s Chart:*There is a considerable volume of research and exposition on subjects related to the kinds of scenarios I have related above. Journalist Richard Louv coined the term “Nature-Deficit Disorder,” in his book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder. The list of those who are noticing and commenting upon the problem of a nature-deprived generation is already alarmingly long. *I often find myself driving through American middle-class neighborhoods, asking myself, “Where are the children?” *digital mashup: TFD, 2007

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The Free Will Illusion

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My concept work currently involves conveying experience that reveals the absence of conscious will as it relates to our actions and behaviors. While this may seem a preposterous position – even aesthetically, I wouldn’t propose it unless I could demonstrate interesting and entertaining ways in which one may have first-hand experience of this mysterious phenomenon.* To preface this specific thought experiment, I offer a quote from Albert Einstein on the subject at hand. In a speech given in 1932 Einstein stated his unequivocal disbelief in free will:“I don’t believe in the freedom of the will. Schopenhauer’s saying, that a human can very well do what he wants, but cannot will what he wants, accompanies me in all of life’s circumstances and reconciles me with the actions of humans, even when they are truly distressing. This knowledge of the non-freedom of the will protects me from losing my good humor and taking much too seriously myself and my fellow humans as acting and judging individuals.”(Albert Einstein (1932). Einstein’s Credo. Courtesy of the Albert Einstein Archives, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel.)*Recent studies by neuroscientists on the subject of free will are summarized by the following statement from Scientific American Online. “Most of us have a sense that our everyday actions are controlled by an intention that precedes the action: I decide to turn on the light, and then flip the switch. But experiments don’t consistently support this notion. Some psychologists believe that our sense of intention and purpose is constructed by the brain after the action takes place.”

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Laboratory experiments by Benjamin Libet and others and interpreted theoretically in the work of Daniel Wegner lead to one of the more paradigm-shattering conceptions I have experienced in quite some time.

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*Libet’s experiment – Demostrating that we are only aware that we have made a decision AFTER the movement has been initiated.

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There is an abundant amount of research results in recent scientific literature that points quite clearly to the notion that we think about what we are intending to do AFTER we do it – not before.

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The theoretical work of Daniel Wegner goes a long way toward synthesizing the history of counterintuitive findings that seem to prove our conscious minds are something like backward-looking monkeys riding stumbling tigers through a perilous present holding steering wheels connected to absolutely nothing.*Again, however, as my work consists of conceptual art projects, it is not dependent upon second-hand sources, such as the results of scientific research. Rather, I prefer to directly communicate experiences to others who may have an interest in my work and/or its implications. Here is a thought experiment anyone can do at any time in which it becomes increasingly clear that one of the most complex, crucial, survival-oriented, high-level, human-specific behaviors is executed automatically and without being preceded by volitional thought.The next time you find yourself talking to someone, note that you do not think the words you will say before you say them. We speak automatically and then reflect upon what we have just said. And all the while, of course, we continue to speak.This experiment demonstrates the strong case that we execute complex and survival-critical behaviors without thinking of the exact behaviors until after we have executed them.A few secondary principles must be experienced in order to answer without personal doubt that we do indeed act BEFORE we think about the exact nature of an executed act – its moment, manner, specific content, trajectory, and intended consequence.The first objection deals with a reductio ad absurdum argument regarding time. One may say that one has pre-planned the action (raising one’s hand for example) and therefore it matters not that the exact moment of action may not be immediately preceded by the conscious thought to execute the action. However, any measurable time value between the thought and the action does not demonstrate that the act was pre-planned and therefore executed by virtue of a conscious thought. Notice that even though you may have a general idea about raising your hand, the exact moment, manner, and context in which it is raised is executed spontaneously – without the intervention of conscious will.By extension it makes no difference if we make a plan to say something specific to someone the next time we meet them. When that meeting takes place, we may observe ourselves speaking automatically as it were – guided only vaguely by our pre-planned speech. The exact moment, the exact words, and the exact intonations are executed physically (by our bodies) without being pre-formed in the mind.The findings of neuroscience (especially by Libet and Wegner) are fascinating – and can be used to buttress the positions I take above. But to my aesthetic mind, it is more astonishing that we may directly observe the absence of preformed thought preceding words, sentences, and paragraphs during the actual process of speaking!The implications of these thought experiments are truly mind-boggling. We act before we think – even in the most crucial and survival-focused activities of our lives. Our mind – our consciousness – is at best a record keeper attempting to catch up, keep track, and make fine adjustments to the ongoing stream of our words, actions, and behaviors after they have been executed by our bodies without the intervention or guidance of conscious thought or volition.

*images: 1: http://www.jrosen.org/2: http://www.jolyon.co.uk/illustrations/consciousnessvsi/jpg_6.2_Libet’s_Experiment.htm3: http://www.tbm.tudelft.nl/webstaf/gertjanl/grindlokhorst2.gif4: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/~uctytho/fig1.jpg5: from The Mind’s Best Trick:How We Experience Conscious Will by Daniel Wegner (original pre-publication transcript – published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences, February, 2003*Additional Resources:http://www.consciousentities.com/experiments.htmhttp://www.hist-analytic.org/Wegner.htm

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Virginville Film Festival – it's an easy subculture

This past weekend, I had the unique pleasure of attending the early summer 2007 version of the Virginville Film Festival.. By happenstance it was held on a fabulous evening in June – June 30 to be exact – the evening of the month’s second full moon – a blue moon.The film fest is held outdoors in a verdant valley surrounded by lush farmland and surrounding a lovely green pond at its nadir. Started three years ago by Eric de Jesus, his collaborative art partner Elizabeth Duby, and Wayne Miller, the festival is centered upon a community of local, regional, and international artists. It is about making and distributing radically independent cinema. What I like most about this group of artists is that they often operate anonymously in various collaborative and individual projects; they use pseudonyms; and they front a multifaceted Internet presence that bridges much of the traditional web with the social-networking interconnectedness of web 2.0. In a general way, aesthetic anarchy and political libertarianism, inform their collective presentations. The artists are more than anything else, individualists in thought and action.The movies on view ranged from introspective cinematic imagery to zany country-boy humor. Filmakers brother JT, shellito, nagle, miller, de Jesus, duby, reed, rosario, spore, mcnally, kresge, et. al. animated the big screen in ways that ranged from politically provacative and psychologically incisive to more introverted expositions defining inner spaces of consciousness. A few of the pieces were absolutely funny. In fact, when it comes to alternative culture – I’m all in favor of funny.Elizabeth Duby’s Hexenwolf II is a drum-tight piece of creepy hilarity. Done in a send-up style oddly reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project, Duby’s followup to last year’s initial Hexenwolf installment is a complete and total howl – in the best lunatic baying-at the moon sense of the word. Actually, it’s funnier than that. You’ve got to see it. Fortunately, you can catch Duby’s first installment of the Hexenwolf saga by following one of her numerous web links, such as this one.From my perspective, the most significant piece of cinematography was Eric de Jesus’ My Heart and I Agree. An intercontinental traveler, de Jesus fills his work with shattered, splintered, reshaped, spliced slices of trans-global vision. Often urban, underground, techno imagery is interspersed with natural form, human utterance, and harsh or ethereal sound. His work is best described as multilayered – visually, aurally, and conceptually. The fact that these good people eschew wealth and fame in favor of more personal aesthetic experience could very well be their most significant contribution to our culture. Many of the artists and their works are available and accessible by simply clicking links among their various interconnected web sites. Eric de Jesus has hinted that there may be a late-summer or early fall festival this year. How about urging him to do so? Check out the sites I linked up above and also http://www.easysubculture.com. I have a feeling that if we make an effort to contact de Jesus and his collaboratrors, we may be able to cast decisive votes on whether or not he holds a fall 2007 festival. BTW, this is the kind of loosely knit community arts group that we should be supporting with our contributions of love and money.*images by easysubculture

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