Monday, July 11, 2005

Bleeping Right Along!

After seeing "What the BLEEP Do We Know?!" yet again, this virtual conversation came up with friend Susan, tidied a bit here for clarity. Susan got her degree in philosophy, but she's really more of an 'on the ground,' practical, hands on naturalist at heart and day to day. By design and because of her sentiments for animals and plants, she treads pretty darned lightly.

SUSAN: Being of a more philosophical bent...

LAWRENCE: Whoa! What is that? More than what? More than who? And what does that really mean, eh?

SUSAN: Uh, hmmm, well the Oxford defines "philosophic" as "calmly reasonable, bearing unavoidable misfortune unemotionally." I like that. How's that? Maybe it's just that I'm being contrarian - or just contradictory? Anyway, I find the heat of the conversation that "What the Bleep!?" stirs up interesting - how each of us was hit somewhere in the brain or solarplexus with a 'bleep.'

LAWRENCE: I admire the film for it's ability to cause engaging conversations. i'm having a bunch related to the movie, and that has to be good - better "Bleep" be popular than "War of the Worlds" be so damned popular. I'd rather be challenged by goofy ideas than by carnivorous aliens. I'll take the flakey Ramtha as savior over flakey Tom Cruise as savior any day!

SUSAN: SO, why did the movie hit such a nerve (among us or the general public), inspire (to arouse, or cause, guide, communite or motivate; to affect; to prompt) discussion and cause folks to rush out and buy the talking heads' books, or join workshops to learn about Ramtha? And what caused them to be disillusioned - the fact that in the end they still had a lot of questions but a lot less money?

LAWRENCE: Well, as one person I read said, it's not the worst way to spend $8 - or rent it for $2. But that is the poetry of the film, that bullshit or not, we are on this quest to feel life. As the John Heard poet in "Mindwalk" says, "Life feels itself." It feels compelled to go for certain feelings and sentiments - some in "Bleep" would say we are "addicted" to these feelings, our emotions, our behavioral patterns. Our reactions are often crude reflexes, engrained in the cerebral habits of the animal. We want to feel connected, significant, mysterious, complicated, chosen, special. And those desires, those questions remain. Nothing has come along yet good enough, complete enough to absolve us of our desires to ask and know more, to feel better, to find - or I should say FEEL - salvation or bliss.

SUSAN: Well, that hunger for the quest is what inspires me about such books/movies. What are people looking for that they aren't finding in the "real" world?

LAWRENCE: Well, I'd say "Bleep" and "War of the Worlds" are both very much products of the Real World. It's all "REAL," it's just that it's not all in our own homes or in our own thoughts when we wake up in the morning or as we piddle the day away. A lot of life seems ordinary, and some things, good or bad, seem extraordinary, and it's those things which tend to engage us, wake us up, unsettle us, even threaten us. But we're addicted to wanting to feel threatened. The human animal needs its little kicks of danger and not too infrequently. Just witness how many versions of "Law and Order" there are on TV these days.

SUSAN: Or do we find or want more validation? Mostly it is the answers to the questions popped in the movie by the priest: why are we here and what are we supposed to be doing? And where do we go, be it under anesethesia or after death? And what the hell is out THERE? Who is observing and making sense of the world, our brains or our hearts?

LAWRENCE: Well, to be clear, the impressions of your "heart" are ALL inside your brain, just attached to a different array of peptides and neural nets, Candice PErt's so-called "molecules of emotion," as mentioned in "Bleep." And as for those questions, I think the answers offered in the film weren't flakey. Indeed, they were right on: we are here to try, to strive to endure, to survive, to learn, to create, to create things and ideas, to consider mysteries, to solve problems, to become satisfied with life and successful at living in the here and now. Religion is mentioned in the film, but its crux and its perspective are secular. It's about now, living well in the here and now.

SUSAN: Maybe stuff like this (the New Agey stuff) inspire a sense of control that science doesn't.

LAWRENCE: And religion doesn't successfully either these days. Control, yeah, but also AWE. Remember, people are addicted to awe and mystery and desire as well as to control.

SUSAN: But back to science. In the everyday world, only the scientists seem to "see" how it works, how things work, how it all works whereas to me, I don't see gravity, I don't see the laws of thermodynamics. I see the effects of them and only know that the laws exist because someone else told me that they do. And trying to wrap my head around black holes gives me the willies!

LAWRENCE: Well that would give you the willies! But as the film said, we usually "see" how things work when they bump up against something else, so you "see" in that way too, as a naturalist attuned to looking at relationships - no mystery there, really. You see nature and relationships in nature, micro and macro - bats and bees pollinating, certain birds attracted to certain plants - and on the macro scale, you see whole ecosystems, even global warming. And you see relationships in human nature and in social interactions. That's not heresay. In fact, making direct observations is what supposedly gives us common since - wish more of us had some - and wisdom - never enough of that to go around!

And Susan, you see? You're having a response to awe and poetry - the sentiment that we matter, which "Bleep" is really all about, "at heart." So give yourself a little more credit, eh?

SUSAN: But on a day to day basis, how does the big bang apply to me? And not all scientists are in agreement about the various "theories."

LAWRENCE: That's why they're called "theories." That's what theories are - a lack of focus in the facts gathered thus far, lack of agreement, the inability to conclude. It's agreement that changes theories into answers, however audacious or misguided. The better science gets, the more "right" we'll be. And believe you me, we are only at the very dawn of the time when science begins to shape the values and views of the masses, only the very beginning, and progress toward secular, rational knowledge will be surprisingly slow, especially to those who think we are already there or should have arrived by now.

SUSAN: So who do I believe since I'm not a scientist in that field? I've been reading a lot about the early days of science, and no one had an instant following because they had the "answer." Even Einstein is still being debated.

LAWRENCE: Well, as with quantum physics, our answers, even our best answers, are "tendencies." As [our friends] Raul and Sandy were compelled to point out, quantum theory is about potentialities, probabilities, "not possibilities," and they're right. But to that, in the context of "Bleep," I would say that human curiosity, which includes fantastical notions as well as scientific hypotheses and experiments, IS about possibilities, running the whole gamut - ALL possibilities, not just probabilities. That's why some of these notions and gray areas and fantasies seem so flakey, whether some aspects of "What the Bleep!?" or "War of the Worlds." It's just that I'd rather deal with the aspirations of "Bleep" much more than I would the gratuitous antagonism and animosity of "War."

SUSAN: OK, but in the end I suspect we pick things to believe that "seem" right whether it feels right in our gut or makes sense in our head.

AGAIN: Again, I'd have to say that all thinking takes place inside that cranium of yours. It's emotions that make some thoughts feel so different from other thoughts, a point made significantly though perhaps vaguely in "Bleep." The idea, in the beginning and especially toward the end, is to be smart enough, educated enough and "clear-headed" enough to make rational, reasonable choices as to what to believe - or think. But our beliefs must be open and pliable enough to evolve along with new theories, new discoveries, new "facts"/knowledge - and recognize but not necessarily demonize the multi-faceted frontiers of human curiosity and fantasy. We'd be negating human nature if we did that too stubbornly or stridently. We've got to dance with the better angels of our nature.

SUSAN: Unfortunately, we live in a world of filtered information: I didn't discover gravity, I was taught it by a teacher, who was taught it by someone else.

LAWRENCE: Well, you didn't discover dish soap, either, but it comes in handy, and you use it. You can see the results, whether it's soap or gravity. And hey, I find it FORTUNATE that our world has been "filtered" by some wise and ingenious people like Socrates, Newton, Copernicus, Ben Franklin, Henry Thoreau, Bertrand Russell, C.S. Lewis, Charles Dickens, Rachel Carson, Jane Goodall, Gandhi, Joseph Campbell and Mr. Einstein himself - and all of his descendents, who are debating and tweeking his ideas and "laws" as they should.

SUSAN: But my point is, in school, for example, or watching a film, we didn't perform or witness all of the experiments ourselves, and yet we judge and "believe." Are we "trusting" someone else to tell us what to see? What to think? What to believe? And how is that different from religion? We're still trusting someone else to give us the "truth."

LAWRENCE: I guess it goes back to education and intelligence, though as one guy in "Bleep" said early on, "You're responsible. You're old enough to figure it out for yourself." And that's what we have to do, more and more of us. Not all first hand but with our brains, these minds of ours that can think very well, extrapolate information, remember a million things and assess probably consequences. So Susan, unless this is just a rhetorical stance, give your brain - and your ability to observe and assess - some more credit.

I think our task - the essence of higher and higher wisdom - is to reconcile what we can prove - the "truth" as we see it or "know" it now - with a healthy skepticism so that we continue to test the limits and yet, at the same time, come up with new ideas and new experiments. We don't want to be too flakey, but as Einstein said in several different ways, poetically, playing to our sentiments (wise man), "Imagination is more important than knowledge." What we know and what we don't know keeps us going.

SUSAN: Oh, I'm just stirring things up.

LAWRENCE: Yes, you are, and good for you. My old 'thinking-cosmically' mentor Charlie Ogilive would be glad to know that we are at play, questing, trying to articulate - if you can't dance or refuse to, you're stuck, too decided for any prescient artist or ambitious/wise scientist. To paraphrase another mentor hero of mine, H. L. Mencken, 'We are here, and it is now. All else is mere moonshine."

Susan, as you so often say, play is good. We need more play. Well, this is life as play and experiment. Thinking is a struggle and a quest. And sometimes, we make up some of the grace to counteract the grief.

So everybody: go out and have a day with some grace in it. Grace that's real.


Post a Comment

<< Home