Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Early Laments of 2019

Tofler and McLuhan brought us to the Future in our heads, before we could embody its experience. Naisbitt evaluated Megatrends, some of which came astoundingly true. One could well claim those views were biased in a US perspective. In India, terms like MN Srinivas' Sanskritization were more confined to intellectually charged academic environs. In the early 1990s when YD Phadke spoke of the criminalization of politics and politicization of criminals of Indian contexts, there was a more subterranean nexus in mass media of the day. That was what Sainath then identified in international media as the militarization of civil terms and the civilization of military words. The 'smart' bomb; the Daisy Cutter, and the semantic reduction of non-humanistic intent to a point of normalization. As would Chomsky term of imperfect democracies -manufacturing consent - in such nexus between war, commerce and the economy.

Today the blurring between news, content, entertainment and views makes for a cognitive challenge that even critical thinking training may find a challenge to help us with. Then an oversimplification of groups and identities leads to destructive stereotypes and loss of empathy with the human condition. There is a simultaneous opacity between civil liberties, ballots, and governments in power. Media hold up a pretense of forces of control when collision occurs between profiteering or greedy media and the covert government. Yet, those hungry for office will need to port images of chaos to lay claim to the office they adulate. So designer crimes, famine and economic warfare will have a share of time on news we pay for. Yes, we even pay for the decay of our state of affairs.

Beyond mediated images, the few who find solace in the human conditions are those who embrace the severity of the slide, and like a persistent desert shrub show up to offer life, as like the arteries in our bodies purifying blood. They, I would assume clamor no prime time, nor brook contempt, and walk their paths with footwear at most, while others claim to carpet the earth.

Even if more die on parched land that was once arable, than in flying coffins with wings, sorrow is also socialized in proportion to the financial estimate or loss of investment. The human race (if that were the term) has to come to terms with more existential questions. Is there an answer to Death? What is that phenomenon? What's Ethics got to do with the living? What's Courage got to do with Greatness? What's Reality got to do with Visioning?

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Between 12s and 13s

I gladly accepted two invitations, one each for 12th and 13th January 2019. As you may have guessed both were to events in Bangalore. On 12th January, the Mother Tekhla auditorium on Brunton Road hosted a physicist Arthur Esienkraft from Boston, in India as the guest of the Azim Premji University. His talk was on the Light at the end of the Tunnel. Quite like Carl Sagan, who popularized science through his passion for astrophysics; Arthur took on the task of making the mystery behind light as a phenomenon accessible to citizens at large. 

By the end of his 60 minutes talk, he was not only sure he had primed his audience for their questions; he had also moved from the phenomenon to models and their predictive nature, looping the predictions all the way back to phenomena with the help of the fuzziness of quotations from Archimedes to Asimov.

If Archimedes said Eureka, it gives the science the character of having arrived at truth. Asimov preferred to be stumped on a phenomenal experience and face it with two words “That’s strange”. Between these polar opposites of concrete reality and works of science fiction, the premises of science spread from observation to the quest to explain relationship between objects in the real world.

So what did Arthur begin with? “Only 6 phyla of 21 known to humankind have eyes”. Now, that speaks to something that Nature or ecology represents in evolutionary terms. But it piques our conditioned perceptual anchors to vision and sight. And while our visual cortex are expected to be different from other species, to know that anamorphic art began contemporaneous with understanding of light traveling the shortest distance in a straight line.

When Roemer uncovered an inter-planetary observation in conjunction with earth’s opposition to Jupiter, by timing the eclipses of the Jupiter moon Io, Rømer estimated that light would take about 22 minutes to travel a distance equal to the diameter of Earth's orbit around the Sun. This would give light a velocity of about 220,000 kilometres per second, about 26% lower than the true value of 299,792 km/s

Thereon, the evolution of physics itself seems like between the observation of ‘strange’ phenomena, and holding forth models that could predict them. There have been struggles between those who knew math and those who did not even receive formal education. It was news to me that Michael Faraday was a mere book binder who sketched visions of magnetism from reading and reflecting through titles he bound.  It took the math from Maxwell to find relevance to Faraday's concepts of magneto-electric fields. 
There seems at least three axes between electricity, magnetism and direction, for example that several people pursued between precept and observation. The dance between theorists and mathematicians as like Fresnel- Poisson (the Arago white spot), Faraday-Maxwell prompted at least one teacher of Physics to ask the speaker, if history of Physics were taught as an evolution of such ‘seeking’; would not the love for science among students be more wholesome? That’s when Arthur’s recipe of 7 Es sounded right – Engage, Elicit, Explore, Explain, Elaborate and Extend.
Well, for one Arthur stressed that time and space are not what we perceive it to be. That reminded me of the recent assertion by behavioral economist Daniel Kanheman “It’s an empirical matter. It’s not amatter of thinking”. The progress of science rested more on how may we know that which we label as ‘strange’ today? Had it not been for Feynman who explained that the blue and orange wavelengths cancel each other out in a straight line, we would be at a loss to explain light’s travel.
A schoolgirl of standard 5 in the audience took her opportunity to ask as to why if light had no mass, would it not be able to travel through a black hole? Her prompt came from the mentions of the speaker, that light may not be as much a particle but a wave. I was instantly reminded of how Leonard Cohen weaved this mind bending phenomenon into his lyric “Show me the place”.

“The troubles came I saved what I could save
A thread of light, a particle, a wave

But there were chains, so I hastened to behave
There were chains, so I loved you like a slave
Show me the place where you want your slave to go
Show me the place I've forgotten I don't know
Show me the place where my head is bendin' low
Show me the place where you want your slave to go

My second invitation was to a memorial service on Sunday, January 13, 2019. It was an alumni gathering and remembrance of a man who delighted at a child’s wonder on seeing a light bulb come alive with electricity itself. That was primal joy for him in Chaibasa, Bihar. The man in remembrance was Rev. Richard (Dick) McHugh SJ, who after spirited initiation from Tony D'mello SJ at the Jesuits' Sadhana Institute, Lonavla, went on to study the NLP masters at work before he integrated Vipassana like mindfulness to sensory acuity of the human body. His book Mind with a Heart a touchstone of experientially decoded processes of neuro-linguistic programming, was his start-point of well deserved fame.  
Born in Scranton, PA on 11th March 1930, he passed away 27th June 2018 in Baltimore, USA. This memorial service was at the Ashirwad Jesuit Residence and retreat center off St Mark’s Road. The Rev. Stanislaus D’souza, SJ who conducted the Mass reminded us of his pastoral meaning of the day – the commemoration of John the Baptist ordaining Christ Jesus himself in the river Jordan. That reminded me of John the Baptist surviving on locusts and honey in the wild, and John the apostle. Dick McHugh would quote Richard Rohr of the movement in gender in each of us as between the deep masculine of the wild journeying and the deep feminine caress of the gospel – in keeping with being the message and the messenger too. Dick had much in him that he attributed to his spiritual master Tony D'mello. Might I add here that Tony D'mello was himself a prolific contributor to counseling and therapy. Another life gone swift and brightly. 
Dick was a rebel with a cause in the Jesuit Society himself. His adornment of the Lacoste style T-shirt as unmistakably characteristic chemise with a pajamas strewn from the Jesuit cassock was a strange ensemble. They bore an unlikely raiment for a spiritual grandeur within him. To reframe from experience the Biblical weight on “Love thy neighbor as Thyself” is an uncommon wisdom that priests and nuns would find as a pivot in self-awareness. The psychological significance of his take was – how could a person love another – without loving one’s own self? Even Osho said, that it may be logically possible, but psychologically impossible. To love another without making peace within one’s own self is a sign of poor self-awareness. And an incongruent other awareness often the consequence. That’s when dysfunctionality begins. Mind, body and emotional integrity in the self leads to larger ecological consciousness with others.

In my own sharing at the event, I emphasized that Dick’s life was a testimony to knowledge being an embodiment of this integration, as an inward journeying -a spiritual process in itself. In hindsight, and on return from the event, I recalled another expression that Dick often used.  “If anyone would ask, what’s the goal of awareness? Nothing”. Pithiness in his wit came through in what one of his oldest students in class had to say. Sr Maria recalled her class in 1977 asking Dick to close with a parting statement. “Chew what you eat” is what he said.

For this life well lived, people traveled in from Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai too to celebrate his work with us. In the words of Dr Stephen Titus, Math professor, any transformation should have evidence for “What did you see? What did you hear? What did you feel? How does that make for observation of transformation?” Perhaps, we owe a debt to the evolutionary spirals of NLP too. Robert Dilts built on Bateson's work on levels of learning in systems. And Nora Bateson on her father's and grandfather's!

Perhaps, the evidence of clarity comes through most in Sr Cynthia Gonslaves, FMM and one of Dick McHugh's longest collaborators in NLP process work. "Dick had his flaws too, like any other human being. But he was genuinely uplifting and caring. His parting words after any major interaction would be 'All the Best'. " Leo Lobo revealed how he found nature's metaphor from the farms of his childhood near Mangalore come through in the work of Dick. We were all plants whose seeds were sown to be bright and healthy beings with a potency unique and nourishing to be part of our ecosystem. 

Unlike Eisenkraft’s light at the end of the tunnel, life’s always strange, and not merely when a scientist stumbles upon a dis-confirming pattern. Or a grammarian’s calling out of a violation of speech in language. Never mind that the mathematicians caught up with the visionaries in the physical and metaphysical worlds.

It’s indeed great to have been between twelves and thirteens this January than to be at sixes and sevens. 

What an interesting start to 2019. All the very best to you, dear reader.