Parsing Strangers

For some odd reason today I was reminded of a young nephew by marriage in Solomon Islands. For a long time I knew him as Lotion, which admittedly is an odd name. That’s what everyone called him and that’s what he answered to.

I imagined it must be a nickname and he probably earned it when he was young after an unseemly spill of insect repellent lotion or some similar story. That story pleased me because he was a pleasant young man and I could imagine him as a really cute funny toddler. All the toddlers I met in the villages were totally adorable. Pampered and loved, but somehow never spoilt, they were eager little puppies, keen to please and help in any way they could. They never complained if given a grown up task to do and would labour away while everyone laughed lovingly at their struggle.

But I digress.

One day I had to help Lotion fill out a form for school. He had to write his name and for the first time I saw it written in English. Lawson.

“So thats how you spell your name”I said.

“Yes, L A W S O N. Lotion”.

“In English we say that ‘Lawson'”

“Yes, that’s right, “Lotion”.

It didn’t matter how I pronounced it, Lotion heard his name. That was an insight to me, but I am still trying to figure out to what.

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Climate Change Threatens the World’s Food Supply, United Nations Warns

Land and water resources around the globe are being exploited at “unprecedented rates,” a new United Nations report warns, threatening the ability of humanity to feed itself.

The report warns that climate change will exacerbate the dangers, as extreme weather threatens to disrupt and shrink the global food supply.

Food shortages could also increase a flow of immigration that is already redefining politics in North America, Europe and other regions. From 2010 to 2015, the number of migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras who traveled to the U.S. increased fivefold, coinciding with an unusually dry period that left many without enough food.

The world’s land and water resources are being exploited at “unprecedented rates,” a new United Nations report warns, which combined with climate change is putting dire pressure on the ability of humanity to feed itself.

The report, prepared by more than 100 experts from 52 countries and released in summary form in Geneva on Thursday, found that the window to address the threat is closing rapidly. A half-billion people already live in places turning into desert, and soil is being lost between 10 and 100 times faster than it is forming, according to the report.

Wisdom

Wisdom

When I have ceased to break my wings 
Against the faultiness of things, 
And learned that compromises wait 
Behind each hardly opened gate, 
When I can look Life in the eyes, 
Grown calm and very coldly wise, 
Life will have given me the Truth, 
And taken in exchange — my youth.

 Sara Teasdale, Love Songs)

Changes.

At the end of the 1960s, and the mystical hippie dawning of the Aquarius age, we were all Still searching for meaning.

The big four philosophers when I was 18 were Hesse, Vonnegut, Brautigan and Tolkien.

Of course I read other influential writers, but at the time I really believed everything I needed to know about being a decent human being was in the works of those four, though it took me another 50 years to really begin to understand why.

There was another influential book I encountered.

In the course of exploring the world I came upon the I Ching. inevitably. It had a great deal of credibility amongst the hippies of my generation. Of course I looked into it. I still have, in my lock-up in New Zealand, a beautiful translation from Chinese through German to English, of the I Ching by Richard Wilhelm.

Yarrow sticks were hard to come by where I grew up, but I was a numismatist, and had in my collection several of those fascinating old Chinese coins with square holes. It seemed appropriate to use them. Having designated which side was heads and which was tails, I had a culturally acceptable method of obtaining a randomly generated hexagram, in accordance with the instructions accompanying the book.

My youthful, hopeful self was quite surprised to find how seemingly accurate and appropriate was the advice I gleaned from the wise words of the Tao. The last remnants of my Roman Catholic superstition we’re slowly fading at the time (now only the guilt remains) and I could possibly have easily fallen into the woo mentally of believing some spiritual power, something beyond myself, was guiding me, through the words of the book.

But I read something – I don’t recall exactly where – some scientific article, perhaps, that said our brains were hard-wired to look for patterns. We look for visual patterns, such as potentially threatening animal or human shapes hiding in the trees, and we look for patterns of events and try to make some sense, often wrong, of the coincidences and causality.

The evolutionary advantage of this pattern recognition behaviour is in the significance of the value of the false positive over the false negative.

If I see what looks like a lion lurking in the bushes, and run, the likelihood of staying alive is increased, whether it is a real or imagined lion. If I decide it’s a trick of the light, and ignore it, my chances of survival are decreased if I am wrong.

The same principle applies if we recognise a pattern of events that seem to coincide. Should it rain enough times after we ask nature politely for a shower to water the crop, we may come to believe that asking causes rain.

The downside of this, is that as there is, or was, an evolutionary advantage to being superstitious. We suffered from pareidolia. It became an affliction. We came to see those shapes and faces in the bark of trees, as beings, and ascribed to them powers and motives. We recognised patterns of events, some like the celestial movements, or the seasons, quite real. Then some smart arse recognised the patterns of our own behaviour, saw an opportunity for power and put himself forward as an intermediary between the common people and the spiritual world. And we got religion.

But I digress. I was speaking of the I Ching. I recognised that my brain was looking for patterns in the events of my own life. I was taking the words from an ancient book written in Chinese, translate first to German then to English, and gleaning valuable meaning from them. But this was not superstition. The advice the book was giving me was good. Why? Because it was written in such a way that it was inevitable that the reader would apply the general advice in such a way that it would most benefit him. Because the Tau was the way of the upright, it had to be good advice. For a few formative years the I Ching helped me make decisions that brought me to where I am now. I have few regrets.

These musings were inspired by coming upon this following little piece in one of the philosophical emails that turn up in my in-box from time to time.

After a few more hours swimming up and down the Bribie Island pool, I may have more to write on the subject.

The following is borrowed from Psychology Today.

Impact of the I Ching on Carl G. Jung & its implications

Jung, Taoist psychology, and cross-cultural communications

Posted Mar 01, 2017 

Although research has examined how world cultures (e.g., independent vs. interdependent ones) each uniquely shaped psychological experiences, few investigations focus on how cultures influence one another in the psychological domains. This issue is important, because cross-cultural information and knowledge exchange, contacts, and influences, though moderate in the past, have transformed all cultures, including the field of psychology. For example, Taoist psychology is one of the main cultural inspirations for Jungian psychology.

In May 1930, Jung gave the Eulogy at a memorial service in Munich for Richard Wilhelm. Jung integrated the Eastern philosophy into his principles of psychotherapy and human psyche through his study of Richard Wilhelm’s translations of I Ching (The Book of Changes), The Secret of the Golden Flower, and their frequent interactions that lasted from the early 1920’s until Wilhelm’s death in 1930 (Goulding, 2015; Karcher, 1999; Stein, 2005).

Jung said that Wilhelm “inoculated us with the living germ of the Chinese spirit and we found ourselves partaking of the spirit of the East as we experience the living power of the I Ching. It is capable of working a profound transformation of our thought.” Jung said that Wilhelm’s work was of such immense importance to him because it confirmed what he had been seeking in his efforts to alleviate the psychic suffering of Europeans. The book was both a carrier of human experience and a door to the energy of the archetypes. “I heard from him in clear language the things I had dimly divined in the confusion of the European subconscious. I received more from him than from any other man” (cited in Karcher, 1999; also see Goulding, 2015; Stein, 2005).

Jung expressed his deep gratitude for what he received from Wilhelm, because through his translations and teaching, Taoist psychology influenced Jung’s theoretical frameworks by facilitating the formation of his chief conceptions: synchronicity and individuation, in addition to confirming his views about the unconscious and nonlinear or circular psychological development for adult (Goulding, 2015; Karcher, 1999; Stein, 2005).

Jung’s comprehension of Tao is much deeper than the conventional translation “the way.” As he commented, Tao is the interaction between the mind and reality. The essential Taoist idea in I Ching suggests that all of the ingredients make up the observed moment. Understanding human experiences involves recognizing a special interdependence of objective events among themselves, as well as with the subjective (psychic) states of the observer or observers (Jung, 1967). In other words, according to I Ching, psychological experiences are determined by the interaction of the mind, time, space, situations, and action or non-action. The mind and reality interaction, rather than being an isolated or independent event, symbolically represents the person’s dialogue with a broad reality transcending a specific moment and space. It is the interactions that serve as the parameter for deciphering psychological experiences.

In short, Jung’s achievements in integrating the East and West demonstrate that psychological phenomena and principles are both cultural and universal.

References:

Goulding, J. (2015). The forgotten Frankfurt school: Richard Wilhelm’s China Institute. Journal of Chinese Philosophy 41:1-2 (March–June 2014) 170–186

Jung, C. G. (1967). Foreword. In The I Ching or Book of changes (C. F. Baynes, Trans.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Karcher, S. (1999). Jung, the Tao and the Classic of Change. Journal of Religion and Health, 38, 287-304.

Stein, M. (2005). Some reflections on the influence of Chinese thought on Jung and his  psychological theory. The Journal of Analytical Psychology, 50(2), 209-222. doi:10.1111/j.0021-8774.2005.00524

It Doesn’t Really Matter Any More

I’m resigned to a lot of things, many of which I could never come to terms with before.

It has been hard letting things go. Letting people go.

But when the world as I know it is coming to an end,

and those who can do something about it won’t;

Nothing really matters.

Jungle Urban Legend

I came upon a short article about the “urban myth” of the lost, or relic, Japanese soldier who fought on alone long after the end of WWI.

It seems the story’s spread was due more to an episode of Gilligan’s Island than to the facts about Lt Onoda, who was finally found and repatriated from the Philippines in 1974.

In 1984 I was building small village water supplies in Western Province of Solomon Islands. In the jungle on the island of Vella Lavella I found plasticised paper notes in Japanese.

Come Home. The War is Over.

These had been dropped a few years before to convince one such soldier, believed at the time to be on Vella Lavella, to surrender himself.    
It turned out there had been a local legend of a lost soldier on the island, but I could not establish for certain how long the story had existed 
My enquiries and conversations with local people and expats who had lived there for a long time finally led me to believe that the claims of his existence may have been made up, probably after the news of Lt Onoda being found in the Philippines.  Someone saw the business opportunity, perhaps.
What is certainly true is that quite a lot of money was spent locally hiring guides for, and accommodating  search parties to look for the lost soldier and for the airdrops of leaflets that were made.
No one was ever found.  Nor, as far as I am aware was any evidence of his existence.

Bloody Hydrangeas

I haven’t seen many hydrangeas since I was in Australia. I came upon a bush the other day while exploring the area around Toorbul. I immediately had a distinct feeling of dislike and anger. I was repulsed by this innocent and seemingly attractive flower that changes colour with the pH of the soil in which it grows.

I had almost completely forgotten how my self-esteem had been smashed by a hydrangea way back in 1959. We then lived in Palmerston North, in New Zealand, and I attended Westend Primary School. In those days the school fair was a popular annual event. Bring and buy, cake stalls, funfair activities, and art and craft competitions for the pupils.

It was decided that my class would participate in a flower arranging competition. On the Friday before the fair we were to bring flowers to school and arrange them artistically in a saucer of wet sand. These would be judged at the fair the next day and the best three would win a prize. I told mum and we went out looking for flowers around the block of flats where we lived. We found a few dandelions and a hydrangea bush. That was it.

By the time I got to school the dandelions had wilted. I threw them away. That left me with a couple of hydrangea inflorescences. I picked apart the individual flowers and florets and arranged them in an artistic spiral with the colour graduating from the palest on the outside to the deepest blue in the centre. When it was done, I did not think much of it, and I knew it would not win a prize, but it was the best I could do.

Next day, with a shilling in my pocket to spend on anything I liked, I went to the fair. In our classroom on a trestle table I found the flower arrangements, arranged in order from best to least favoured. As I expected mine was not amongst the top choices. I went to the other end of the table and was surprised to see it was not there either. Maybe it was better than I thought. I searched along the table to find it, and see exactly where it fit into the scale of artistic expression. After several passes, I could not see it anywhere. I was perplexed. Where was it?

Then with a sinking feeling in my stomach and a sense of foreboding far more serious than the occasion warranted, I spotted the rubbish bin beside the teacher’s desk and went over to look inside. There, inside was a pile of sand, and my hydrangea arrangement, now tumbled in disarray. I saw the saucer on the teacher’s desk.

I still cannot express how very devastated I was, not that my flower arrangement was not any good, but that it was not even considered worthy enough to be put on display with the other failures. It was the utterest of utter failures.

And therefore so was I.

I still fuckin’ hate hydrangeas.

Many years later…