Monday, April 28, 2008

Sunset in the Distance

So, I was talking with the head of the Philosophy Club, and the philosophy advisor at our school. The president of the club, a graduating senior, is stepping down with nobody to replace him. I offered to take over and reboot the philosophy club. If I have time today, I'll meet with him and our advisor to see what we can do. If this is approved, we'll have an awesome kick-start to next semester. Having started philosophy club in my previous school, this is nothing short of exciting. Weekly meetings where tutoring, discussion topics and much more will be offered. Plus, since these are relatively basic events, we will have plenty of time for Kosmos. Adding to that, people who join the club will be welcome to write for Kosmos, our cross-disciplinary magazine. More on this later...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sinking Clouds= Thesis?

The future of sociology will not just be juggling complex theoretical differences and political strife, but also understanding the underlying causes behind our suffering, so that we may at last transcend it. Sociology will offer us a more inclusive picture of humanity, rather than a fragmented one.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Introducing the Ion Engine

This new "electric propulsion system" enables long distance space travel by harnessing the power of the sun to charge its ion engines. This sci-fi looking ship is being developed by the European Space Program to map out the gravity of Earth, but the hype right now is all about it's potential for true space travel without the need of fossil fuels. I found this at work this morning, and I couldn't help but have a huge grin on my face. The ion engine will be tested first with the GOCE spacecraft, seen on the left.

30 years in the making, the new ion engine may just open up the doors to the frontier of space travel, making manned missions to distant worlds a reality for the next few generations (Perhaps even our own, if you're thinking Mars).

The technology is complicated, yet elegant. The BBC article explains,
"These are the xenon pumps and these are cooled down by the helium compressors to approximately 20 degrees Kelvin," he explains.
"So any gas atoms that strike those panels, they freeze. After you've been running the engines for a number of hours you can see a frost - it looks like snow - which is actually frozen air and xenon."
During testing, the engine fires ions towards the opposite end of the chamber, which has a protective coating of graphite.
"The ions are travelling very fast, at approximately 50km a second," he says.
"When they strike the other end of the chamber, they actually knock atoms off the surfaces they strike; it's analogous to sand-blasting on an atomic level."
Imagine the vastness between the planets, where worlds are but dots in the distance. The only thing you can see is the exhaust from ion engines- pale blue streams dispelling into the darkness, like comet tails. With a closer look, you can see fleets of ships powered by ion engines, traveling to a new colony on Mars, or even Titan or Europa.

If humanity survives this century, we may see such sights more commonly.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Brainstorms and Tsunamis

I've been asked to write a paper for the upcoming philosophy journal. I really have no idea what to write. One thing that is missing often from universities (and beyond I'm sure) is eastern philosophy- but that doesn't mean I'd have to write something. Even so, it's still a passion of mine. [Pondering] I suppose I could go with openly exploring the common assumptions that dwell within the Plato Cave of our Philosophy Department, 9th floor. Or better yet, continue to write about those foggy forests (images of zen paintings come to mind, with simple black strokes elegantly swooped over white backgrounds- those white clouds). Or in other words, perspective. We all have differing ones, so if I play around with the notion that perspective only goes so far- could I possibly introduce the potential of silence? It helps us listen, it helps us see. When we can see that our minds, so busy constructing master defenses for our viewpoints, are actually narrowing themselves- if we see that the effort in a greater, deeper sense is futile (But not pointless), could we then for a moment embrace silence?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sinking Clouds

It's so natural for us to see only through our own point of view. While expressing one attitude or another, we tend to find things that naturally reinforce it. "Oh, yes, see? That makes such sense." We sort of let it sink into our minds, sharpening its talons so that it may defend its truth. I can't help but see this happen in myself and others. They are so much like clouds that sink to the tips of the trees, and only allow us to see so far. No matter how we fight them, we won't be able to 'push' them away. The very way the world looks is through the fog. So then I can't help but to begin to question the importance of viewpoints. If the clouds have sunk into our eyes, we will not see anything more. To recognize this fog is more important. No more shining lights into a haze, if the haze is just going to reflect back our light.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Imperial Guilt

In the U.S.- those who are aware of the hegemony we wield over the world are often encouraged to feel a sense of guilt. In academic circles, this at times arises as: Shame on you, citizens of an empire! Feel the guilt and then make change for the better!

I'm not sure if this is a very constructive way of taking responsibility. Pluralism and post-modernism, once again, is notorious for its system-busting characteristics. They're very good at deconstructing cultural myths, naivety and bias. That being said, politics and power in the US has been torn into shreds by most academic circles. Political scientists, sociologists and many other thinkers have been very critical of the US political activity in the past century. For good reason.

Yet I think I am resonating with Jim Garrison in Holons News' latest article. He writes,

Republics' imply single nations, democratically governed—which is what America was founded to be. The very essence of 'empire' is the control of one nation over other nations. While America remains a republic within its own borders, it has become an empire in relationship to the rest of the world."

"The central question before America, therefore, is what it should do with all the power that it has—how should it assert its authority, and for what end? This means that America should acknowledge—even celebrate—its transition to empire and acquisition of global mastery...."

~Jim Garrison, America as Empire

Could not have said it better myself. Although I'm not sure I'd go very far with celebrating our empire- I'll go as far to say that I'm grateful for living in a nation with so many benefits. The power we hold has much potential, and it can be used to build up or ravage the rest of the world.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Relatively Speaking

I've been having a dialogue with a professor of mine. Sort of. It's almost a debate. I don't want to focus so much on our personal clashes as much as the mental-scapes in which we differ. This teacher of mine is intelligent, young, charismatic and whole-heartedly passionate about teaching sociology. Yet, some of the views that often come up in class can at times frustrate me. We'll call her professor M, and for the sake of anonymity I'll turn this into a creative dialogue that sums up our differences, and helps me explore the perspectives.

At any rate, the discussion went like this:

Student Z: Professor, I'd like to show you this interesting philosophy. It's called Integral, or a "theory of everything." What it basically means is a comprehensive map of all of our perspectives, theories and schools- an attempt to see the bigger picture from a wider perspective, without losing any important revelations from each level.

Professor M: [While looking over a few charts in Brief History of Everything]. Sounds really interesting!

Student Z: Yeah, it's actually amazing how it summarizes so much.

M: There's a danger in that, though. You see, I am very critical of any map or system, because a map or system is never going to be able to size up to the human being. We're too complex and organic. A system is a stagnant thing. You might end up marginalizing someone by categorizing them.

Z: Oh, you're totally right. That is, I get where you're coming from. But this is... different. In fact, it even mentions your criticism.

M: Really? [Looking at AQAL] Wow. That's so intricate.

Z: Yes. Basically the difference is: Instead of marginalizing, Integral maps try to be holarchical, not hierarchical. That is, they embrace and transcend. Consider them maps of the mental sphere that reveal that, much like planets are included in solar systems, not rejected, so too are different levels of human thinking included into newer ones. We're layered, complex, dynamic. Though only a map, its a nifty one. It helps point the way to real depth of the human being. This is the big difference between these systems and the oppressive systems of the past.

M: You'll have to excuse me, but I am quite skeptical of something like this. After so many years of heirarchical oppression, the last thing we need is a philosophy that has the potential to be abused.

Z: True. I see your point. I just feel that at this moment in time, more and more people are appreciating evolutionary development. If we keep things entirely complex, continuously more intricate, what do we do?

M: It's really a duty of mine, I feel. To help my students enrich their knowledge, to complicate their thinking, to question aspects of culture and society that are often left untouched. This sort of system isn't something that I feel will help that. In fact, it may over-simplify, or generalize the very things I'm trying to complexify.

Z: Yes, that's true. But what about the people who, like yourself, have broken up the systems. The system busters shatter norms, explore taboos and question our own way of living. But what's next? Or are we to forever wade in a sea of complex theories? Isn't there a big picture to it all?

M: I can't see a bigger picture than that. To see how complex and non-heirarchical our life is on earth is something I value greatly.

This is basically as far as we get. I totally get her rationality. In fact, I deeply appreciate it. But this complication- if that's the great answer, then why do I still feel a yearning? Why is there still a quest in myself for a bigger picture? I feel it's deeper than that. I feel that it's possible to rise up from all of these theories, as Wilber calls "the flatland," and see how it all fits- or if it even fits. If we don't bother to entertain the notion of a bigger picture, how is it that post-modernism can help us? It was born as a system breaker, and now it seems it is bent on destroying all systems, past and future. In essence, it has become a suppressor, destroying the one seed in the garden that will transform our flat earth into a lush and organic forest, let alone universe.

I feel this is why it has been so hard to get ourselves working together. For the first time in history, we are able to communicate instantly, yet we feel so alone. We seek escapes, we yearn for outlets. If anything, more flatland is not going to solve the riddle. Nothing will. But if you want to fly, if you want to touch the stars, you'll need to use structures- at least a little.

Quick Updates...

Kosmos Magazine is almost at the printers! For better or worse, the large majority of our submissions are creative writing and visual arts. There is a lack of much scientific, religious and spiritually grown work, but I am quite happy with this. Its design has come out great. We'll be sure to get more funding next semester, and there are a number of wonderful projects we have in store. More on this later.

For now, I plan on holding a small event that is open for the school to attend: Zen 101. We were unable to get a speaker in on the day, so we'll be playing Alan Watts and serving snacks, followed by discussion. Looking forward to it!

If you've been orbiting around this blog, or at least beaming in once in a while- thankyou. You've been patient. There's more coming! Promise!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Beyond Sensitivity - New paper, first draft.

For the first time in history, the whole of our planet is open to exploration. Every crevice, corner, color and creed of the world has for the most part, been touched. We are as diverse as the constellations, our DNA perhaps even more so. As technology and transportation has shrunk our world, we have been forced to greet our neighbors once protected by mountains, oceans and deserts. As civilization has expanded, both our greatest potentials and our darkest evils have come to light. In modern times, a new and particular attitude has developed, allowing us to appreciate our differences. Ideas such as equality, justice, sensitivity and oppression have arisen strongly in the last 200 years, coming to a developed sociological and humanistic point of view in the last century. Suffrage, cultural awareness and cultural relativity are only three out of many more historical precedents.

This new mode of thinking often labeled cultural pluralism, cultural awareness and sensitivity- has offered us freedom from bondage and oppression. No way is the wrong way, no way is the right way. Who is to say one lifestyle is better than another? While revealing a point that can't be ignored, there is a danger that has also arisen. My belief is that "cultural sensitivity" is a doubled edged blade that ends up cutting itself, and defeating its own purpose. 

The first issue is the most glaring for me, as I hope I will be able to show you. The second issue is a deep-rooted psychological problem that arises with the pluralist mentality. But, first thing is first.

Foucault, Sartre and many others who orbit around the more existentialist/relativistic viewpoints argued that there are no absolutes. In fact, society itself is a construct of the mind. Morality, religion, justice, law - these old age pillars of past civilizations, present and future are merely abstract creations we attempt to follow. They are diverse and relative, yet all the while artificial. They form the glue that holds cultures together, yet they are also responsible for dividing one society from another.

These ideas have been strongly woven into the founding concepts in pluralism. Yet, the philosophy has seemed to have forgotten something important along the way. In many universities it has been important to explore our cultures, to share them and expose them. It has been important to point out bias and shun it, both in gender and skin color. In some places, programs are instituted to "teach" sensitivity. I can't help but to point out that one cannot force another to be sensitive, anymore than you can help your neighbor learn to care by beating him with a brick. If culture is a social construct, where abstract differences are the only divisive problem, why do we reinforce them? In other words, skin color is a surface difference, underneath  which we are all very much brothers and sisters. Yet, it is often the role in sensitivity to embed the individual in his or her own "lifestyle," ethnic background and racial differences. They merely switch of the negative attitude and make it positive. You're differences are no longer rejected, your differences are now embraced. But, you're still focusing on the differences, is there not something beyond these? As important as they are to many of us, to claim our sole or main identity is our skin color and ethnic background is to contradict pluralism.

To summarize, we reinforce our differences, and have not yet come to the point where we can explore our common grounds. Imagine a classroom where students learn about the diversity of humanity through our unity. Unity does not mean all the same, but altogether. For instance, can we pretend for a moment that a teacher stands up before his or her class and says:

We are all human of course, no matter what color our skin is, what we believe and where we are from. There are so many people on earth, each is quite unique, and each culture has its own features. Yet, there are many things that make us the same. Throughout history, we have made mistakes, sought control and power, and feared the unknown. Therefore it is not 'white' oppression, it is not just religious wars - it is a war of ideas, it is the struggle against our own fears and our own groping for certainty, control and mere subsistence. We fight and survive through our ideas, and this lifestyle has let us up to some pretty horrible points. World wars, genocides and the rest - no matter what color we are, we are each capable of these horrors. Yet, at the same time, we are each capable of every wonder in the world. Of love, compassion and understanding, of scientific triumph and spiritual epiphany. This is our story. We are both the oppressors and the oppressed. If we see humanity this way, we can hopefully begin to see the world as a place where we may yet have true change, and true evolution. We may be able to stand beyond the primal war of ethnic backgrounds and control. If we are no longer lost in a myriad of surface features, which are both beautiful and horrid, we may at last see a truth in humanity that lies beyond its past, and is at last recognized in the present.

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