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Interpreting Another Earth

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*Warning. Major Spoilers Ahead*

Another Earth (2011) is a beautiful indie film that is an elegant emotional exploration of our longing for redemption and second chances. The sci-fi elements serve, for the most part, as background ploy for bringing to life that possibility of meeting another you who might not have made the same mistakes that you did. (The scientific basis of another completely identical Earth appearing and moving in the manner shown in the film is extremely sloppy, which can be a turn-off for many.) The way film ends leaves much to think about, not just in terms of emotional processing, but also because several interpretations are possible. Below I'll try to outline some of the explanations that seem plausible to me. One crucial element regarding the different interpretations is deciding at what exact point the synchronicity between the two storylines is broken.
* The accident never happened on Earth 2, probably because Rhonda 2 looked at the sky towards Earth 1 in …

Pragmatism

"Pragmatism is a matter of human needs; and one of the first of human needs is to be something more than a pragmatist."
G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Law of Immiseration

Law of Immiseration by Dr Colin Brewer (with reference to Psychiatry): misery increases to meet the means available for its alleviation.
I have been unable to find a direct source for this, but it has been quoted in twoarticles.

A Strange Madness of Sorts: European Imperialism and Science

Coursera: A Brief History of Humankind by Dr. Yuval Noah Harari
Personal Lecture Notes from Lesson #11 and #12: The Discovery of Ignorance & The Marriage of Science and Empire
(These are personal summaries and paraphrasings of some of the major points of the lectures that I felt to be important. They are not meant to be comprehensive records nor intended to be reproductions of copyright materials. I encourage you to participate in the course for better understanding. All ideas and examples are by Dr. Harari.)
The scientific revolution was not the result of scientific research alone. Scientific research can flourish only in an alliance with an ideology or a political force which justifies the cost of research. The ideology determines the scientific agenda and determines how its discoveries and inventions will be utilized. The two most important political and economic forces that have shaped modern science are European imperialism and capitalism. 
This lesson is on the relationship b…

The Lovely Accident of Relationship

Some Trees
"These are amazing: each  Joining a neighbor, as though speech  Were a still performance.  Arranging by chance
To meet as far this morning  From the world as agreeing  With it, you and I  Are suddenly what the trees try
To tell us we are:  That their merely being there  Means something; that soon  We may touch, love, explain."
from Some Trees, John Ashbery
Al Filreis: "I think this poem is a love poem, but I also think it's a poem about a higher order than love, if that's possible, which is relation. Meaning is made by relation, meaning never happens in isolation. One needs juxtaposition. Here you have the juxtaposition of these two people who don't really know each other, who are arranged by chance to meet. Standing under a model for accidental relationship. And the trees are saying, "All you need to do is be here." It's not a nature poem. It could read as a nature poem. This poem has been read at weddings for instance, about relatio…

The New York School Poets

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[A group photo containing some members of the New York School poets. John Ashbery (standing right), Frank O’Hara (seated left), Kenneth Koch (seated right). Frank O’Hara’s loft, 1964. Photograph: Mario Schifano.]
Reading the New York School poets reminds me of what Gabriel Garcia Marquez said about Kafka: 'I didn’t know anyone was allowed to write things like that.'
Read the poem 'What is Poetry' by John Ashbery, and then read this imitative response by a student which humorously spells out the central idea of the poem.

Russell: Religion and Personal Experience

'[Bertrand Russell's] autobiography occasionally reveals a more complex and ambivalent relationship to religion. In particular, he relates an episode in 1901 when he witnessed the wife of his Cambridge colleague Alfred Whitehead suffer intense pain due to heart problems, causing Russell to have what can only be described as a spiritual insight. "The ground seemed to give way beneath me and I found myself in quite another region," he writes. "Within five minutes I went through such reflections as the following: the loneliness of the human soul is unendurable; nothing can penetrate it except the highest intensity of the sort of love that religious teachers have preached; whatever does not spring from this motive is harmful, or at best useless; it follows that war is wrong, that a public school education is abominable, that the use of force is to be deprecated, and that in human relations one should penetrate to the core of loneliness in each person and speak to t…

Silliness

In a culture of sombre oppression, silliness assumes a radical significance.

The Page

"... what happened to poetry in the twentieth century was that it began to be written for the page."
James Fenton, The Paris Review Interview

Power Relations - I

Power Relations - I: Advice of an old-school psychiatrist to a young trainee on managing a domineering drug-seeker as Foucault frowns from heaven
Awais Aftab

till he knows who is in charge."
restrain and medicate,
restrain and medicate,
A hint of any more trouble:
Give him a taste of humiliation
You have to take control

How obnoxious is he!
Manipulating other patients into giving him their meds
Shouting at nurses and doctors
The benzos and the opiates
And make us prescribe what he wants
"He thinks he can raise a storm

pastime

pastime
Awais Aftab

shredding lines;
waiting for poetry
to happen

The Absurd, The Revolt, and Love

"By the mid-1940s Camus had begun to speak about his books as being organized according to different "stages" (étages) or "cycles" (cycles). The first draft of that organization appears in his notebooks in 1946, just shortly after the publication of The Plague. Camus continued to refine and nuance its formulation well into the fifties. The last version we have occurs in Carnets III and was written in 1955. The version to which most commentators refer when discussing this aspect of Camus' work is usually a synthesis of two separate versions. The 1950 version found in Notebooks, 1942-1951 uses a familiar triptych of Greek myths as its organizing principle. "I. The Myth of Sisyphus (absurd) — II. The Myth of Prometheus (revolt) — III. The Myth of Nemesis. 1951." The final 1955 version does not change this one substantially. Rather it completes it by supplying the governing theme missing from the Nemesis cycle—love..."
Ronald Srigley, Albert Cam…

Camus beyond the Absurd

"In one of his most revealing essays, ‘The Enigma’ (1950), Camus expressed his annoyance at being constantly associated with the philosophy of the absurd. He had only explored a topic much in the air. His analysis of absurdity was always meant to be a starting point, nothing more. It is neither possible nor consistent, he asserted, to “limit oneself to the idea that nothing has meaning and we must despair of everything… As soon as we say that all is nonsense we express something that has sense.” Denying that the world has meaning involves “suppressing all value judgments.” However, living is in itself “a value judgment.”
This essay spoke directly to the contrasting strains in Camus’ thought: the cold materialism of contemporary philosophy, and the warm joy of lived experience. The road beyond absurdity lay close at hand. It had nothing to do with embracing transcendence or abstract absolutes, it was rather a confidence in directly savored experience. He described this path as an…

Pseudo-intellectual as a necessary stage

"Reading through the odds and ends that have been published since [Susan Sontag's] death almost 10 years ago—the two volumes of her journals, in particular—you get the sense of a person who was always working toward an ideal version of herself. The ideal changed in its particulars over time, but the ideal of change remained constant. She’s often a reassuringly pretentious figure in the early diaries, which are themselves a useful reminder that being a pseudo-intellectual is a necessary stage on the way to being a nonpseudo-intellectual, and that the two classifications aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Being an intellectual is often, after all, a matter of getting away with trying to be seen as one."
Mark O'Connell, The Intellectual, review of Susan Sontag: The Complete Rolling Stone Interview by Jonathan Cott.

Moral Psychology and Philosophy

Thomas Nagel reviews Moral Tribes by Joshua Greene, on what moral psychology has to offer to moral philosophy.

Religion through History

Coursera: A Brief History of Humankind by Dr. Yuval Noah Harari
Personal Lecture Notes from Lesson #10: The Law of Religion
(These are personal summaries and paraphrasings of some of the major points of the lectures that I felt to be important. They are not meant to be comprehensive records nor intended to be reproductions of copyright materials. I encourage you to participate in the course for better understanding. All ideas and examples are by Dr. Harari.)
For Dr Harari, a belief system has to fulfil two criteria for it to be called a religion:
1) Religion must believe in a superhuman (not necessarily supernatural) order 2) Religion establishes norms and values which are derived from the superhuman order
Some religions have argued for a universal order, a set of norms and values which everybody everywhere must follow, but not all religions have made this claim. Universal and missionary religions, in this sense, appeared in the first millennium BC. (It is the third force that contribut…

The Imperial Legacy

Coursera: A Brief History of Humankind  by Dr. Yuval Noah Harari
Personal Lecture Notes from Lesson #9: Imperial Visions
(These are personal summaries and paraphrasings of some of the major points of the lectures that I felt to be important. They are not meant to be comprehensive records nor intended to be reproductions of copyright materials. I encourage you to participate in the course for better understanding. All ideas and examples are by Dr. Harari.)
In last lecture it was discussed that three orders contributed to the historical trend towards global unification: 1) Economic order, 2) Political (Imperial) order, and 3) Religious order. This lecture is about the political order.
Dr Harari defines empires as having two primary characteristics:
1) Cultural diversity: Empires rule over a number of different groups of people with different cultural identities. 2) Flexible borders and an appetite for potentially unlimited growth and expansion.
Crucially, empires are not defined by the sy…

Much Ado About Nothing

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Screenshot from Joss Whedon's 2012 adaptation of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing

Flaws

Often we are too eager to accept our flaws as permanent character traits because it absolves us of the responsibility to change.

The Invention of Money

Coursera: A Brief History of Humankind  by Dr. Yuval Noah Harari
Personal Lecture Notes from Lesson #8: The Direction of History 
(These are personal summaries and paraphrasings of some of the major points of the lectures that I felt to be important. They are not meant to be comprehensive records nor intended to be reproductions of copyright materials. I encourage you to participate in the course for better understanding. All ideas and examples are by Dr. Harari.)
If we see the over-all trend in human history, we can see that it has been heading in the direction of global unification. The prospects of such unification emerge for the first time in the first millennium BC with 3 potentially universal orders:
1) Economic order 2) Political (Imperial) order 3) Religious order
This lecture is about the emergence of the economic order, or the invention of money.
In hunter-gatherer societies and agricultural societies, humans lived in economically self-contained units with some barter exhange …

Nameless Fears

"... you can provide the relief that comes from giving a name to nameless fears."

Abraham Nussbaum, The Pocket Guide to the DSM 5 Diagnostic Exam

The Eyes of Van Gogh

The eyes of Vincent van Gogh: Self Portraits, 1886 - 1889.

Religion Without God: Dworkin on religious atheists, cosmic beauty, religious freedom and immortality

Ronald Dworkin was a professor of law and philosophy at New York University. I happened to read Religion Without God last week, his short, stimulating book, based on his 2011 Einstein lectures, and one which I can relate to in many ways. Dworkin's central task is disengaging the religious attitude from theistic attitude and linking it instead to the domain of objective values, making it possible for atheists to have a religious attitude as well. This is how Dworkin describes the religious atheists:
"The familiar stark divide between people of religion and without religion is too crude. Many millions of people who count themselves atheists have convictions and experiences very like and just as profound as those that believers count as religious. They say that though they do not believe in a “personal” god, they nevertheless believe in a “force” in the universe “greater than we are.” They feel an inescapable responsibility to live their lives well, with due respect for the liv…

The Tired Sunsets

"the tired sunsets and the tired
people -
it takes a lifetime to die and
no time at
all."

Charles Bukowski

Art and Life

"Why is art beautiful? Because it's useless. Why is life ugly? Because it's all ends and purposes and intentions."
Fernando PessoaThe Book of Disquiet

Separation

"Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color."

W. S. Merwin, Separation

(via Proustitute)

Understanding Wisdom

"Wisdom is different from intelligence. Intelligence seeks knowledge and seeks to eliminate ambiguity. Wisdom on the other hand, resists automatic thinking, seeks to understand ambiguity better, to grasp the deeper meaning of what is known and to understand the limits of knowledge. (Sternberg). Monika Ardelt is a modern wisdom researcher who has put all of these into a 3 dimensional model of wisdom: cognitive, reflective and affective. The cognitive dimension includes the desire to deeply know and understand things, including the limits of our knowing. The reflective dimension represents the capacity for self-reflection, and the capacity to see things from many perspectives. The affective dimension of wisdom is empathy and compassion. So, a wise person is one who desires to deeply understand things, who is humble and aware of the limitations of knowing, who can see things from many perspectives and avoids black and white thinking, and who radiates compassion. [...]
If no one can…

The Imagists and WCW

In week 3 of Modern & Contemporary American Poetry by Al Filreis, we discuss the poetic movement of Imagism and William Carlos Williams. 
Imagism was the first organized movement in modern American poetry and it advocated the use of sharp, clear language to vividly depict an image, much like a painter or a sculptor. It aimed to render language like a clear glass through which a precise visual image can be conveyed without distortion. Especially, it stressed to use ‘the exact word, not the nearly-exact, nor the merely decorative word’ and to ‘render particulars exactly’. Here is a brief description, along with principles from Imagist manifesto.
The quintessential imagist poem is Ezra Pound's In a Station of the Metro. He tried to capture a moment he experienced in the underground metro station; the original poem he wrote had 30 lines, which he eventually condensed into a final poem of merely 14 words:
In a Station of the Metro

The apparition       of these faces       in the cr…

Imagined Hierarchies

In  Lesson #7: There is No Justice in History of the course A Brief History of Humankind, Dr. Yuval Noah Harari discusses how imagined realities create hierarchies that are unfair. 
Hierarchies serve an important social function: they make it possible for a person to know how to treat a complete stranger without expending any time and energy that is needed to become personally acquainted.
All societies have imagined hierarchies of some sort, but they are different in different societies. For instance, traditional Hindu society had a hierarchy based on caste system while in modern American society the hierarchy is based on race and wealth. On analysis it turns out that it is mere accidental historical circumstances that underlie why a particular society develops a particular hierarchy. For example, the Indian caste system was created after Central Asians invaded India and divided the society into castes to maintain their own privilege (and convinced everyone that it reflected some kin…

Hysteria

Hysteria

Awais Aftab

(after an incident in the hospital)

Three buxom nurses
wrestled
and I struggled, befuddled You, who held on to my white-coat
as if your life depends on it You frail little thing,
what tenacity you have in your fingers what vacuous desire in your eyes

Two Poems, Two Amatory Encounters

The Encounter

Ezra Pound

All the while they were talking the new morality
Her eyes explored me.
And when I rose to go
Her fingers were like the tissue
Of a Japanese paper napkin.

Gray Room

Wallace Stevens

Although you sit in a room that is gray,
Except for the silver
Of the straw-paper,
And pick
At your pale white gown;
Or lift one of the green beads
Of your necklace,
To let it fall;
Or gaze at your green fan
Printed with the red branches of a red willow;
Or, with one finger,
Move the leaf in the bowl--
The leaf that has fallen from the branches of the forsythia
Beside you...
What is all this?
I know how furiously your heart is beating.

(via Modern & Contemporary American Poetry by Al Filreis)

The Morality of Going Halfway

*Spoiler alert from Lincoln... well, kinda.*
Thaddeus Stevens: When the war ends, I intend to push for full equality, the Negro vote and much more. [...] We'll build up a land down there of free men and free women and free women and free children and freedom. The nation needs to know that we have such plans. Abraham Lincoln: That's the untempered version of reconstruction. It's not... It's not exactly what I intend, but we shall oppose one another in the course of time. Now we're working together, and I'm asking you— Thaddeus Stevens: For patience, I expect. Abraham Lincoln: When the people disagree, bringing them together requires going slow till they're ready to make up— Thaddeus Stevens: Ah, shit on the people and what they want and what they're ready for! I don't give a goddamn about the people and what they want! This is the face of someone who has fought long and hard for the good of the people without caring much for any of 'em. [...] Abraham L…

Imagined Realities

Coursera: A Brief History of Humankind  by Dr. Yuval Noah Harari
Personal Lecture Notes from Lesson #6: Building Pyramids
(These are personal summaries and paraphrasings of some of the major points of the lectures that I felt to be important. They are not meant to be comprehensive records nor intended to be reproductions of copyright materials. I encourage you to participate in the course for better understanding. All ideas and examples are by Dr. Harari.)
Homo sapiens have no natural instincts for cooperating with large numbers of strangers. Humans evolved for millions of years living in small bands. Consequently, there are no instincts for mass social cooperation. To make up for that, humans have to rely on all kinds of imagined realities that regulate cooperation on such a huge scale. The human empires are based on shared common beliefs, social and legal norms that sustain them. The stability of the complex societies is not based on natural instinct or on personal acquaintance, but o…

Some Whitmanians and Dickinsonians

In week 2 of Modern & Contemporary American Poetry by Al Filreis we explore some of the modern poets who have worked in Whitmanian and Dickinsonian modes of poetry. All the poems discussed are somewhat difficult in the sense that they don't open up to the reader immediately. All of them require some deliberation (to a varying degree) on the reader's part for their meanings and themes to come out, but ultimately the reward of comprehension is worth the effort.
Given that I cannot replicate the extensive discussions, and the nature of the discussions makes it almost impossible even if I had the time and energy, I can offer but small hints of guidance for readers who may be interested in reading and figuring out these poems on their own. It would also be worthwhile listening to poets recite their own poems in the links given.
Whitmanians
William Carlos Williams's "Smell!"
Consider a playful sexual interpretation... what can a nose serve as an innuendo for?
Willi…

Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville

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Robert Doisneau Le baiser de l'hôtel de ville (Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville), 1950 Became a recognized symbol of young love, preserved for times to come; the relationship between the couple photographed, however, went on only for 9 months.

Lifting the Veil

"The reasons for wearing the veil are manifold, ranging from liberative to oppressive, and they co-exist. This does not warrant immunity, but a more sophistication of critique."
My article on the Muslim practice of veil published at The Friday Times Blogs.

Weaving Relationships

The sixth and final week of Social Psychology course by Prof. Scott Plous deals with empathy, happiness and relationships.
The lectures featured an animated video on empathy by Roman Krznaric titled 'The Power of Outrospection'. It is also available on youtube here. Another featured video was 'Understanding Happiness' from Dan Gilbert's series This Emotional Life. That video is not available online for free but the upshot of it is that you can't be happy alone: happiness comes from satisfying social relationships.
The most interesting part of this week's materials for me was the discussion on factors leading to close relationships in general and romantic relationships in particular. I'll just mention the conclusions here without citing the research studies supporting them.
Proximity: Geographical nearness, and more accurately 'functional distance' (how often people’s paths cross), is a powerful predictor of liking. It is no surprise that most pe…

The Bystander Effect

Week 5 of Social Psychology course deals with conflict, peacemaking and interventions. I wouldn't cover this material, but there was one important phenomenon discussed in the lectures which I'd like to mention. It is the bystander effect. It refers to situations in which people do not offer any help to a victim who is being victimized or is suffering in front of their eyes. Studies have shown that the probability of people offering to help is inversely related to the number of bystanders. Wikipedia has a good entry on this topic, and I'll refer the readers to that.

Agricultural Revolution: The Great Misstep of Humanity

Coursera: A Brief History of Humankind  by Dr. Yuval Noah Harari
Personal Lecture Notes from Lesson #5: History’s Biggest Fraud
(These are personal summaries and paraphrasings of some of the major points of the lectures that I felt to be important. They are not meant to be comprehensive records nor intended to be reproductions of copyright materials. I encourage you to participate in the course for better understanding.)
In this lecture Dr Harari makes the contentious claim that agricultural revolution is 'the biggest fraud in history'.
Contrary to several myths about agricultural revolution, * Agricultural revolution was not due to increase in human intelligence * It did not raise standards of living for humans. Agricultural revolution increased the sum total of food, but it did not lead to a better diet or better life. What it did result in was a demographic explosion and the rise of nobility, kings and elites who took major share of the food. * It did not make work easier. Av…