Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Gifts for Hungry Ghosts

Offerings for hungry ghosts. Image Source: Hear in Taiwan.

The Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival is celebrated this year on 31 August and over the course of the following month. The Chinese calendar, a lunisolar calendar, calculates the festival to fall on the 14th or 15th night of the seventh lunar month, or Ghost Month. On the opening day of the festival, it is believed that the gates of heaven and hell open and the dead return to visit the living. Food offerings pay respects to the visitors and ease their sufferings. Laterns and small boats are floated on water to give the ghosts directions. Joss paper is used to provide dark money to the spirits, and to make effigies of worldly possessions. The paper is burned to make the transit to the realms of the dead and provide them with things they need in the afterlife. This tradition is part of Taoist and Buddhist observance, but has older roots in Chinese folk beliefs.

The Daily Undertaker: "Photographer, Kurt Tong created a series of images depicting the various paper items currently available to those who aim to provide for their dead. This series has been on display in galleries across the world, and is documented in the book In Case it Rains in Heaven." (Source of photos below.)

Conan the Barbarian's Friday Night

Promotional art by Renato Casaro for Conan the Barbarian. Image Source: Wiki.

I have discussed humankind's vast period of unrecorded history - recalled only in legend. In the 1930s, pulp writer Robert E. Howard tried to imagine that world for us with his stories of Conan the Cimmerian. He must have struck a nerve, for his stories have remained persistently popular since they were first published. For tonight, see a classic film below the jump: Conan the Barbarian (1982) a monosyllabic, entertaining gruntfest with pretensions to high philosophy (after the "what is best in life?" speech, my favourite line is "language and writing were made available"). The film was directed by John Milius and the screenplay was written by the director and a young Oliver Stone, with the lead played by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In the film, Conan spans barbarism and new technology: "the secret of steel." James Earl Jones played Conan's mirror image villain, who in the same atmosphere cultivates a religion that is not "just another snake cult"; Thulsa Doom is the sinister, ruthless bringer of infinite, abstract thought to a brutal world. Conan must use his sword to hack and slash his way through a web of bad ideas. Sandahl Bergman played Valeria, the Valkyrie thief who grapples with the gods for Conan's soul. Conan's friend, Subotai, played by Gerry Lopez, was modeled on one of Genghis Khan's actual generals, and was not on a fictional character developed in the Conan pulps by Robert E. Howard. Also the below the jump - two Conan audiobooks of original 1930s stories. The audiobooks automatically start playing when you open the page, but can be paused on the left sides of the audiobooks' control bars.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Carl Jung's Millennial Time Bomb

Image from Jung's Red Book. Image Source: Amazon.

In this post, see the founder of analytical psychology, Carl Jung, in an interview conducted in 1957 by Dr. Richard I. Evans, a Presidential Medal of Freedom nominee. Wiki on Jung:
Jung created some of the best known psychological concepts, including the archetype, the collective unconscious, the complex, and synchronicity. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a popular psychometric instruments has been developed from Jung's theories.

Jung saw the human psyche as "by nature religious". and made this religiousness the focus of his explorations. Jung is one of the best known contemporary contributors to dream analysis and symbolization.

Though he was a practicing clinician and considered himself to be a scientist, much of his life's work was spent exploring tangential areas, including Eastern and Western philosophy, alchemy, astrology, and sociology, as well as literature and the arts. His interest in philosophy and the occult led many to view him as a mystic.
These ideas reflect many aspects of the Millennial experience. Jung tried to discern the indiscernible; he sought to detect what exists in the unconscious. Jung contended that attention, concentration and memory failed at points where the unconscious was asserting itself. His hypothesis hints that ephemeral Millennial attention spans and Internet procrastination may describe the Web as a pool of the collective unconscious. In fact, many of Jung's ideas correspond to the growing divide between real life and virtual life on the Web.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Times Outside History 9: Modern Human Civilization 44,000 Years Old - and Likely Older

Early German flutes, 43,000 years old, excavated "from the site of Geißenklösterle made from mammoth ivory. (Credit: Image courtesy of Tübingen University)." Image Source: Science Daily.

The latest finds in Palaeontology, based on new technologies, keep changing the dates of Prehistory for early hominids and archaic and modern humans. It is hard for the public to keep track. The Stone Age began about 2.7 million years ago. According to current findings, Homo erectus may have begun seafaring a staggering one million years ago; and the use of fire has also recently been dated at about one million years ago (much earlier than previously believed). Archaic Homo sapiens date back to about 600,000 years ago (these are: Homo heidelbergensis, Homo rhodesiensis, Homo neanderthalensis, and may also include an earlier species, Homo antecessor). It is no wonder that some palaeontologists believe that human species are evolving in 100,000 year cycles. Researchers are currently studying DNA and computer models to simulate 500,000 years of population dynamics in order that they may better understand early hominids and humans.

The earliest sophisticated seafaring is currently theorized to have been conducted by Neanderthals around 100,000 years ago.

Now, BBC reports that modern human civilization is 44,000 years old (Hat tips: It's Okay to be Smart; Brain Picker). This date for modern human culture is older than previously expected, by about 20,000 years:
The earliest unambiguous evidence for modern human behaviour has been discovered by an international team of researchers in a South African cave.

The finds provide early evidence for the origin of modern human behaviour 44,000 years ago, over 20,000 years before other findings. The artefacts are near identical to modern-day tools of the indigenous African San bush people. The research was published yesterday in PNAS.
The artifacts include poisoned arrowheads (the development of poison is signficant), beads and beeswax.

Even so, modern human civilization may well be older than than 44,000 years old. BBC qualifies its report, noting that other, modern-styled cultural objects have been found that are 75,000 years old. But BBC takes the 44,000 year old findings as "unambiguous."

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Liminal Promise

Three-quarter moon over Logan, Utah (2009). Image © Ted Pease / Peezpix.

"According to the known laws of physics, the past and the future should be exactly the same."

"The future of the universe may be traveling back in time to meet us."

"Time may not be what we think it is. And all of eternity might already exist."
-Through the Wormhole (The Science Channel).

In storybooks and fairy-tales, myths and movies, we expect the highlights of a narrative to follow ups and downs, conflicts and catharses, resolutions and denouements. There are recognized patterns of fiction: almost every story, everywhere in the world, written in any time period, follows thirty-six models listed here. Similarly, Christopher Booker won attention in 2005 for a book entitled, The Seven Basic Plots, in which he argued that there are only seven stories: overcoming the monster; rags to riches; the quest; voyage and return; comedy; tragedy; and rebirth. These formulas imply that the human mind wants the world to follow a predetermined sequence of plot devices. In the modern myths of comic books and other story-telling media, these anticipated and often mandatory plot points are called 'beats.' These patterns are part of what the Berlin School of Experimental Psychology defined as a human urge toward completing a fragmented or fractured picture in reality, a Gestalt psychology.

When the psychological pressure of those narrative demands is applied to reality, we get into trouble. In cinema, 70 years of real life beats are routinely condensed into two fictional hours. On television, the time frame is likely 30 minutes to one hour. Maybe we can in truth only bear to have things work according to plan for short durations.

All the same, movies, television, comics, novels and other modern narrative forms have socialized the bulk of the modern public. Do people expect the beats of real life to arrive faster than they should? Or do they wrongly expect them to arrive at all? If one's life does not follow the expected 'story,' there can be tremendous pressure to make real life conform to fictional structures. When real life does not follow the prescribed story, a great deal of social anxiety and individual stress can result.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Some Relief from the Future Would Be Nice

Harvard University molecular geneticist George Church stores his latest book on encoded DNA in a vial. Image Source: Kelvin Ma for the Wall Street Journal.

Some days, I look at the news headlines, and I wish Morrissey were here to write the blog post titles. Honestly. The WSJ reports that (the ironically surnamed) Harvard Professor of Genetics George Church has vastly expanded an amazing jump from the mechanical to the biological. He has figured out how to encode computer data for his entire book into DNA. This finding, building on others' previous work over the past decade, is one of the silver bullets of the Technological Singularity.