Thursday, March 11, 2010

513. Revisiting Theme of Winter Quarter: Is Life, Space, and Time a Cyclical or a Spiral? A Belljar or an Hourglass? Vic's Crusade to Break Repetition



Oh dear, here we go again... Victoria getting all "deep" on people.... Oh dear, but oh it's what she does.... So, yes, what is the nature of reality? Space and time? Past, present and future?

Is it a circle or a spiral?
Like the Third Law of Dialectics?
Is it a Closed or Open System?
Is it Linear or Non-linear?
Is it a Myth of Sisyphus
Part 1 or Part 2?

B roll or A roll?
Is it endlessly repetitive
or patterns with outgrowths
of novelty and innovation?
As a fisherman says,
"Everyday's different,
and today's no different.
It's a variation of
similar themes."
Couldn't life just be
a nonlinear ferris wheel?


This theme keeps coming back to haunt me, and I'm just trying to let all these random data points of experience in my life just aggregate right here.

Take for example, a conversation with a UC Irvine computer science major, Matt Olsowski (mispelled?). He argued that everything in the universe is to some degree pre-determined given that we have a fixed amount of materials--A FIXED PALATE--at hand as to which the universe was made of. But the question is, do we actually have a finite set of materials? A finite, fixed periodic table of elements with fixed properties? A fixed set of laws of physics? A fixed compendium of organisms on planet Earth? Uh, NO! We are still discovering the elements of the PALATE that would allow humans to paint and repaint an individual and collective reality. Given the unknown and open-endedness of things, pre-destination is not a possible view of life.

I started off my Winter Quarter in lively conversation with Dr. Art Sylvester (Geologist at UC Santa Barbara), and we ended up discussing issues in science communication. He told me that every day he checks out the news headlines and 90-something percent of the time he is not surprised or amused.... The topics are redundant, repetitive.... If people had any form of long-term memory, they would know that the new news is recycling old news. But every once in a while, Dr. Sylvester finds an article that is unexpected and unusual. He showed me some really cool articles on (1) why students in grade school are no longer learning cursive and nice hand writing and (2) an unusual study showing how hospitals that don't overuse antibiotics have less incidents of the staff bacteria when more sanitized hospitals have higher incidents of staff. Which is weird to wrap my head around, as it seems to be some form of arms race between the bacterial and the presence of medicine. Staffilococus is a bacteria that we are always exposed to and the body is most of the time able to keep under complete control, and every once in a while, especially when the patient's immune system is really low, then a bloom of staff may happen in your body, and my friend Ben survived being a month in the hospital because staff actually got into his heart. It's amazing to see he is alive! Shannon and Ben are going to Mammoth this weekend! How fun!

I then told Dr. Sylvester how I received a tour from my friend Oscar Flores of the KEYT newsroom and underground workflow operation and I was personally shocked by two elements (1) the incredible speed and deadline-oriented environment of live broadcasted news and (2) how most of the room was filled with B-roll and a small fragment of the tapes was A-roll. I moaned to Dr. Sylvester, "It's so horrible! Does life mostly consist of repetition, with only slight sprits and slivers of true novelty?" He ended up laughing.... But no, I'm serious. I became very depressed... thinking that this might be the case. At least 2/3 of my life is repetitive and 1/3 is open to novelty (a rough estimate of course).

The circle and the spiral also became a crucial topic in my Environmental History course with Dr. Peter Alagona. In retrospect, I was addicted to the environmental history course. I said in the end of the class, "This course was great because it's nice to find citations for a bunch of things that I already thought about in my own terms. Now I can cite my independently evolved head." It's true that our class had the opportunity to discuss issues that I usually fancied over with a few existentialist buddies over the years, philosophisizing over beer and coffee or something... but to think that now this was front-table discussion in a class? Yes, it's a dream!


The first book we read Something New Under the Sun started with a biblical quote (and this is the second time I am using a quote from the Bible or from a religious source, taken to be applied in secular meaning, the first quote being the Serenity Prayer):

What has been is what will be,
and what is done is what will be done;
and there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
"See, this is new?"
It has been already in the ages before us.
There is no remembrance of former things,
nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to happen.
(Ecclestiastes 1:9-11)


This quote assumes there's NOTHING new under the sun and that people will endlessly repeat their mistakes because they have forgotten their history (hence, an appreciation for the SHIFTING BASELINE SYNDROME in BIBLICAL TIMES), but the author argued in his book that the novelty of today is the SCALE-MAGNITUDE of HUMAN IMPACT on BIOTIC and ABIOTIC SPHERES of Planet Earth. This quote above also made me think of one of the lyrics of Nick Drake in his song "Things Behind the Sun." At one point, Drake makes us wonder whether it's worth singing or doing anything because everything's already been done, everything's already been said. My father was appalled by the idea--it's depressing, but overall partly TRUE. As I griped to him for two weeks how I was pissed off writing my scholarly paper on marine environmental history because in order to get to my three new ideas I have to recycle 99 other ideas about "what everyone else already said." Which is partly unfulfilling, because now I think scholarly writing is largely a game of he-said-she-said-and-you-have-to-honor-what-they-said-to-join-the-club-unless-the-dude-you-cite-is-dead. Scholarly work is a cross-generational gossip mill, attempting to find your own twist to it.

Here's a segment of Nick Drake's Things Behind the Sun:

Open up the broken cup
Let goodly sin and sunshine in
Yes that's today.
And open wide the hymns you hide
Youn find reknown while people frown
At the things you say
But say what you'll say
About the farmers and the fun
And the things behind the sun
And the people round your head
Who say everything's been said
And the movement in your brain
Send you out into the rain.

In the context of environmental history, upon reading Cronon's 1993 article on the role of narrative in environmental history, the question came up: "What is history? An endless cycle of repetitive themes, or novel variations of existing themes? Novelty feeding off of repetitive, staple, biological material?"

Of course, history is nonlinear with backbones of similar themes. My father at one point claimed that ecology was endlessly spinning in a fashion show of ideas. After reading Worster's Economy of Nature (1994), I had come to realize that the fashion parade is not exactly true. Granted there are cycles of reductionism and synthesis, but each round, new ideas come up and there is a higher resolution of knowledge and understanding, which fades out mythos, religion, into more secular views of the environment.

In the middle of the quarter, I had a civil debate with my roomie Jay about the concept of repetition and novelty in life, presenting the case with my friend Oscar's extensive collection of editorial B-roll. Jay was being a devil's advocate with me, stating most of life was repetitive, after all "humans are creatures of habit," but those repetitive elements are driven forward through innovation. I told Jay I can't work at Del Taco for longer than a month unless I want to kill myself. Repetition can kill me, mentally and physically. I told him after these initial McDonald's hamburger flipping jobs, whether Del Taco or the Ivory Towers, that my whole crusade in life was to avoid, escape, and break all seemingly endless patterns of repetition, always escape and expand the box that I am presently in. Because if I don't, I'm bound to self-destruct.

What is Stravinski's Rite of Spring all about anyway? How does he tell a dramatic story through music? It's all about establishing patterns, in beat and melody, and then breaking them, establishing new patterns, and breaking those... then more patterns, but it's the cumulative making breaking and remaking of patterns that generates the dramatic build up of a Rite of Spring story!

Jay and I elaborated on the job as editorial for a television news crew. I said I couldn't do it because the pace of workflow would not allow me to dig deep to any story in particular, and see the uniqueness of a story, and that life would be one repetitive, homogenous blur of the same headlines that Dr. Art Sylvester was complaining about. Same thing when you have a job where you fly all over the world doing jobs, the whole world may seem like a blur through this repetitive motion. I am trying to prevent that from happening to me. I need to experience life in a state of consciousness. On the other hand, Jay said it would be a challenging job.... Yes, it would be a challenging job for a while... but once the learning curve is over... then... my brain starts to go crazy... because I took control of that rock... and then after that... the rock started to take control over me.... Jay was a good devil's advocate, but I don't buy his point of view. The internal wiring of my mind doesn't allow it. Allow repetition... I already know I'm very prone to OCD, obsessive-compulsive disorder.

And so now... I'm in the business of drawing cartoons... the quest of Terra and Buz to always escape repetition, run with themselves by running away from themselves....

I'm sure I'll find more metaphors for this circle-spiral perception....

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