Thursday, August 19, 2010

awakening to clarity

I don't know whether others have the same forms of awakening from dreams experiences as I. Being one who works at least part time in the concrete rather than abstract, being involved in shaping real physical forms from wood there are nights from which I awaken to a clarity about how some particular thing I am intending to do is to be done. This morning's epiphany is an extremely simple technique I demonstrate in the photos above and below... a technique to taper the edge of a board through an extremely simple and precise method. I had been thinking of more complex techniques occasionally for days and now having had my awakening, my epiphany, I get to demonstrate simplicity so that others can see, (and do) as well. The boards will be glued back together as shown but because of the taper in towards the center, as they are tapered upward on the outside edges, the thickness of the edge will gradually diminish toward the top... a subtle visual effect, but one that I believe will be worth the small amount of effort at the start.

Many of my artist friends tell me that they think in images rather than in words. How about you? For many non artists, the rush of dream images in the night may be their clearest engagement in non-discursive reality. They may awakened fearful of what they find.

Can you see how becoming a society of makers again might bring full intelligence to greater life? To become a maker is to awaken from a dream to full capacity. Lao Tzu wondered whether he dreamed he was a butterfly or was a butterfly dreaming his human form. Here I am at the edge of things... attempting to suggest greater meaning from dreaming and from making. And if I tell you that making is an essential human trait, that the integration of consciousness is dependent upon it, can you understand what I am dreaming/talking about? A picture is worth a thousand word, but words have a tendency to lock us in position and lock our intelligence within bounds. Break free. Make! Create! Use your hands to engage your full human intellectual capacity.

Mario, in a comment to this post mentions Jorge Luis Borge, Argentinian poet and writer. From Wikipedia:
Scholars have suggested that Borges's progressive blindness helped him to create innovative literary symbols through imagination. Borges commented "poets, like the blind, can see in the dark". Borges wrote: "When I think of what I've lost, I ask, 'Who knows themselves better than the blind?' - for every thought becomes a tool."
Thank you Mario for the introduction.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Are you here now?

You can think and speculate til the cows come home, but everything you actually do can be the source of wisdom. Sometimes the wisdom is hard earned and downright painful, and sometimes you can go through the painful lessons without actually learning anything. It all boils down to attention. "Are you here now?" And to what do you pay attention?

I just came in from mowing the grass and was using the exercise to explore a few connected concepts. There is a squeeze bar on my mower that is intended to let the machine know the operator is no longer in control. This device was mandated by the Consumer Products Safety Administration, and some would regard it angrily as a government mandated inconvenience. But there are real idiots out there, like the MD who disabled the squeeze bar so he could lift his mower in both hands and use it as a hedge trimmer. He picked it up and immediately cut the tips from his fingers. I suspect he learned a few things from his experience... lessons that the CPSA hoped he might avoid.

So, I am grateful for a bit of government regulation. As we know less and less from our own personal experience, there become more and more things from which we will need to be protected.

Do you know how much money BP spent in lobbying efforts to avoid government regulation of oil drilling in the gulf? I consider it the teenage-boy-thing, trying to get away with things when the grownups aren't watching. You think you know lots better about things, even though your cerebral cortex is not fully developed. BP, showing obvious signs of corporate immaturity, tried to skirt the regulation, took risks equivalent to the redneck teen jumping head first in shallow water crying as his last words on earth, "Hey watch this!"

Regulation is a good thing. I draw a comparison with my writing. A good editor makes me a better writer. Good regulators would have saved BP over a billion dollars, and saved the Gulf environment, and millions of people tremendous heart-ache.

Yesterday we had a shooting incident in Arkansas where two men, stoked toward violence by anti-government rhetoric on Fox News and the internet, killed police officers. Do you see the pattern? I hope so.

I can tell you a few interesting things about work. Work in the real world, doing hand work or hard work or both work can be one of two things depending on your attitude. You work with joy toward personal fulfillment and expression of care, or you do not. One path leads to wisdom, the other does not. As we work, dependent on that choice, we either stew in things and grow angry or we become expansive in our thinking of things we might contribute toward the greater good.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Moral implications of craftsmanship

We tend to think of organized religions as the source of human morality, and yet, the crafting of an object is an expression of moral structure that likely predates any commandment or moral precept. Objects are made with care or they are not. Objects are made with an eye toward useful beauty, or they are not. Objects are made to last, or they are not. If we were truly concerned about building a society in which people care for each other, there is no better way than to engage our children in craftsmanship.

I have been reading Fred Taylor's book How to be a Furniture Detective, and find it to be a useful tool for anyone wishing to begin an in depth examination of the objects in their own home. You may find that some things were made with real integrity, and by examining them, you may discover the moral implications of craftsmanship. Some people really do care about themselves, and others, that care being expressed through their own hands.

In the photo above, you see the box I've been working on for burial of my mother's ashes. In the photo below, the box is assembled and ready for finish. A plywood bottom will be screwed in place, sealing it after the box of ashes is installed within.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

What if we're not as smart as we think we are?

Human intelligence, how to measure it, how to reward it, and how to advance it, is not an easy thing to understand. What if, instead of being as has always presumed, it actually lies in the situation, distributed in the relationship between the person, the tools, and his understanding of their use, and amongst one's peers? Actually, none of this is a new notion except amongst those who have been completely out of touch, trudging the halls of academia. The paper I referred to yesterday is available as a .pdf download: Partners in Cognition: Extending Human Intelligence with Intelligent Technologies, Salomon, Perkins and Globerson. You might enjoy the article's discussion of mindfulness in tool use. As the article points out:
Given sufficient mindful engagement in the partnership, strong effects of working with an intelligent partnership can be expected. However, such partnerships challenge our traditional notions about ability. Usually we view ability, regardless of definition, as the potential of a person's mind, the property of that individual. But, once we couple intelligent technologies with a person's ability, the emphasis might shift to examining the joint system. After all, the system, not the individual alone, carries out the intellectual task.

Such a reconceptualization of human ability appears at first to be quite novel. But closer examination reveals that we have implicitly accepted it all along. As Olsen* points out, "Almost any form of human cognition requires one to deal productively and imaginatively with some technology. To attempt to characterize intelligence independently of those technologies seems to be a fundamental error." For example, we would not think of testing people's artistic abilities without the use of some medium such as brush and paint. As Pea has recently pointed out, once appropriate intellectual tools are employed, ability becomes distributed by "off-loading" some of the mental operations required unto the artefactual environment.
I would add to this discussion the notion that all tools are intended toward the same effect... that of "off-loading" necessary skill, required intellect and attention, distributing these things onto the artefactual environment.

*Olsen, D.R. (1986)Intelligence and Literacy: The relationships between intelligence and the technologies of representation and communication.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Domesticated Theology

I'm finding Jeremy Kidwell's Domesticated Theology discussion of Christian carpentry and Paul's tent making to be very interesting. I think that certain core human values become lacking when we fail to be engaged in creative manual labor. To make something is an essentially moral act. It is done with care and attention to beauty and utility, or it is not. It is done with care for its ultimate user or it is not. There was a long history of Christian monks offering up their work to God... another fruitful area for theological review in that from a more selfless perspective, many believed that all being God deserved nothing less than one's best work, most prudent and honorable use of the materials at hand and that work and worship were a single expression of enlightened humanity.

Finnish brain researcher, Matti Bergström, working from a non-theological perspective describes a condition he calls finger blindness. In essence, while the physically blind cannot see the outlines of the object, the finger blind, those who have not learned in childhood to create with their own hands, cannot perceive the object's intrinsic values. He says they are "values damaged". Instead of perceiving the broad range of values that a reasonable and soulful society projects, their range of perceived values becomes severely retarded. Instead of seeing an object of art and marveling at the miracle expressed by its maker, they see it only in terms of market value and price

Matti's concept goes a long way in describing the true sources of our current economic crisis. But a review of early Christian practices, and giving credence to our children's capacities and inherent needs to create, would go a long ways to restoring greater meaning to many lives.