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Filtering by Tag: Art

Freedom Through Limits: The Art and Story of Linnea Gabriella Spransy

James

I've written about Linnea's art here before.  Her method for creating paintings is replete with philosophical and theological parallels and implications - it speaks to everything from creation to free will.  And with painting titles such as "Planck's Mechanical Gut," and "Bacteriophage," people with an interest in the area of science and religion will find her artwork especially intriguing!  Now you can hear more of her remarkable story through this fantastic documentary short film LINNEA: Freedom Through Limits - directed by my very talented brother-in-law, Sam Sullivant, and produced and edited by Justin Goll.  Check out the trailer below:



LINNEA: Freedom Through Limits - Trailer from Sam Sullivant on Vimeo.


For more information about Linnea and her art, visit her website here.  For more information on the film, including how to purchase a copy, visit www.linneamovie.com.  To see more of Sam's work, visit his website here.

*If you like this article, please consider supporting my writing by becoming a patron, and get cool rewards in return.

Chesterton Academy: An Inspiring Example of Holistic Education

James

As a teacher of junior and senior high school students, I get an intimate look into the lives of teenagers on a daily basis.  One thing that concerns me is teenagers' general inability to connect particular things they've learned in one subject with things they've learned in another subject.  They have difficulty unifying and integrating concepts into a holistic framework.  This is not their fault, mind you.  They've never been given a holistic framework to integrate things into.  That's why I'm excited about schools like Chesterton Academy in Minnesota.  They are doing something different.  It's not just classical education.  It's holistic classical education based on the philosophy of one of my favorite authors - G.K. Chesterton.

Our culture does not think holistically.  We think in fragments, quips, and sounds bytes.  As my artist friend Danny recently put it, in our culture "everything is a la carte."  We don't have the patience to contextualize and integrate - to hear an argument all the way through, or see how the parts fit into a whole.  That takes too much time, too much effort.  And perhaps this is because many of us doubt there is even a paradigmatic "whole" in which the parts can fit.

Sadly, teenagers are often victims of this kind of mindset.  Being in education, I see increasing evidence of this on a regular basis.  I observe how teenagers (and adults) are lulled into a semi-vegetative state by the flashing images on their smart phone; how their humor becomes more random, pointless, and sarcastic; and how they so quickly and easily grow impatient and bored when something requires their mental focus.  It seems our society is cultivating an ADD, "twitterized" generation whose interest does not reach past a flashy 140 characters.

I don't want to sound too negative here.  I love technology (yes, even Twitter), and the students that I have the privilege of teaching everyday are a smart bunch of kids with great hearts.  The majority of them are not as bad as my description above.  But I teach in a private Christian school - one with loving supportive families, and faculty that are taking great steps to instill holistic thinking in our students.  Public schools, too often, don't have that.  And as a consequence, the "twitterization" is usually worse there.

Yet, even for a private Christian school, I think Chesterton Academy is ahead of the curve.  Check out the video below and tell me you don't feel a little jealous of the education these kids are getting!  A quick glance at their curriculum reveals they read more philosophy, literature and, yes, Chesterton! than most college students; not to mention being required a generous dose of art, theater, logic, and debate.  For them, there is a deep connection between the arts and sciences.

Chesterton wrote, "The one thing that is never taught by any chance in the atmosphere of public schools is this: that there is a whole truth of things, and that in knowing it and speaking it we are happy."  Judging from this video, the students of Chesterton Academy seem very happy indeed!

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Buried Treasure in an "A La Carte" World: The Art of Danny Joe Gibson

James

Danny stumbled out of the garage with red spray-paint smeared on his cheek and coming out of his nostrils.  "Almost done!" he said with a smile.  "Only 150 more to go!"  He quickly opened the kitchen cabinet and began rummaging through its contents.  A moment later he found his prize - undoubtedly a treasure for any young, hungry bachelor: it was a box of saltine crackers and a handful of salsa packets from Taco Bell.  He looked up and grinned.  "Dinner," he giggled.  He casually turned around and sauntered back into the garage, nursing his crackers and humming a happy tune.


The year was 2002, and Elevator Division (the band I was in at the time) was preparing to release a new five song CD.  Danny had designed a beautiful cardboard packaging for it (which he cut from boxes that were being thrown away at his work) and he was personally spray-painting each one by hand; about three hundred of them, if memory serves correctly.  I had never seen anything so cool!

Danny Joe Gibson is one of the most prolific, hardworking artists I know.  He is also one of the most kind-hearted and genuine people I know.  He lives and breathes compassion and creativity.  I guess you could say he has it coming out of his......nostrils.

For the past 10 years, Danny-the-artist has gone under the alias "DJG Design."  And he has built quite a reputation for himself under that name.  After moving to Kansas City in 2001, he quickly became known in the local music scene for making unique and eye-catching band posters and album covers.  Unfortunately, fledgling indie bands don't pay very well.  So, Danny has always had to work hard at a "day job" (something I admire about him).  And work hard he has.  He's done everything from janitorial work, to grounds keeping, to data entry (he even did some brief work in TV repair).  And he's never let his job get in the way of his art.  In fact, Danny is a creative machine.  He puts out more high quality art than most artists I've known who don't work a regular job at all, supposedly because they're so "devoted" to their craft.  Despite the fact that Danny's art has never earned him much money, his hard work has paid off in other, more meaningful ways.

Outside of Kansas City Danny has received all kinds of recognition and accolades for his designs; from international print magazines to art expos.  There have even been a couple of occasions when entire university design departments (students and faculty) have traveled from other states to see the DJG Design "firm" - which basically consisted of the apartment Danny was living in at the time.  After one such visit, a couple of female design students asked if they could live with him and do an "internship."  He kindly replied, "I don't think my girlfriend would be up for that" (that girlfriend is now his wife).  People all over the world are noticing the unique and beautiful artwork of Danny Joe Gibson.

Danny is going through a big transition right now as an artist.  I recently got together with him - my old friend and roommate - to talk about it over coffee.  Danny is entering a new season of life and art, and he feels his former alias, DJG Design, may not represent him as well anymore.  You see, Danny no longer feels like a "graphic designer."  Actually, he never really felt like one.  I can see why.  His art transcends the category of "graphic design."  He incorporates all kinds of tangible, gritty items into his designs, which he often arranges by hand first.  That's very different from simply manipulating images on a computer screen.  So, I've always viewed him as an artist.  But he's not entirely comfortable with that title either.  He'd rather just be known as Danny Joe Gibson, a guy who likes to create beautiful things.

When we spoke, I asked Danny if there was a theme running through all his artwork.  Here's what he had to say:
I grew up in rural Missouri.  Animals were at my feet.  Living in a big American city, it's nice to get this when I can and mostly with squirrels playing, butterflies flapping and the occasional praying mantis buzzing by or quietly creeping.  Walking to work is a big plus for book-ending my day job life stuck inside artificial air.  I'm thankful for the shelter, but I just can't help but think it wasn't meant to be this way... I like to notice squirrels and butterflies - these little worlds that are buried beneath all our junk.  That's a theme in my art - the human element buried in 'junk' - found objects that others have thrown away.

(Danny once kept a dead bird he found in a Tupperware container in our fridge.  It was in there for months.  He later incorporated it into one of his designs.  See more of his "Found Art" here.)  Danny continues:

It amazes me what we pass by every second, even in our own homes.  There is so much to our daily landscapes, inside and out.  There is so much buried on top of each other and many different worlds interacting and conversating.  I feed off much of this junk (natural and man-made) and try to tap into it as much as I can on my journeys or while in the act of making art. 

I don't really consider myself a political or "message" artist by putting the amount of found objects and trash into my work like I do to prove a point.  I just see the potential or beauty in something and run with it.  Naturally, I miss being a janitor because I got paid to rummage physically and mentally.  Our things are our souvenirs.
Because Danny finds beauty in so many things, he tends to be a collector.  As his former roommate, I can attest to this.  His workroom was filled, from ceiling to floor, with little knickknacks and souvenirs, many of which found their way into his art.  At times, Danny has described himself as a "pack-rat."  While some people may see that as a problem, Danny sees value in collecting things:
Our collections help us see our own timeline of growth and development.  We don't have that with the Internet.  Everything is electronic-instant-throw away.  Everything is "a la carte."  Maybe that's good for the environment, but it's bad in another way.  I can see positive aspects in technology with the hunting and gathering of culture.  Blogs and online areas of round-up are like lockers of curing meats.  But, I'm so thankful to grow up when I did as kids growing up right now don't know a life without the internet or instant gratification or instant audiences.

I'm slowly warming up to the idea of music floating in space, the mp3.  Though, I still don't find a connection to it like I do with something in my hand, with art accompanying...the total package and the intent of the artists who made it.  There is something special about that.  I like that there is more access to music that I may not have heard otherwise, but after a while it becomes too much of a good thing.  I listen to something and then forget about it because I've got so much to eat.
Danny shared many more fascinating thoughts with me during our time together.  I don't have time or space to write them all, but there is one more statement that stood out to me as particularly inspiring.  When speaking on art in general, Danny admitted the following:
I'm a believer in God, and I have faith through Him.  If anyone is creating, they've gotta believe there's something bigger than all this, whether they believe it's God or not.  I've always liked the idea of finding God through childlike eyes, and that I can tap into that through art and discovery.
I wish all of you reading this could know Danny as I do.  He's truly a fascinating and inspiring individual.  Perhaps the best way to get to know him would be to see his artwork in person (and meet him).  If you live in the Kansas City area, you have a great opportunity to do that very soon.

This year is the 10th anniversary of DJG Design, and many of us are celebrating in a big way.  On Friday September 2nd, Danny will be exhibiting all the band posters he's made in the last decade.  To help promote his art show, all the bands he's helped over the years have contributed songs for a compilation album, titled DJG Was Here, available for free download.  There are 35 songs total, including a new, previously unreleased Elevator Division song from yours truly.  My current musical endeavor, Pro & Contra, also makes an appearance.

To learn more about Danny and his art click here.  For more info on Danny's upcoming show and the musical project associated with it click here.  If you're in the Kansas City area, it will be an event you won't want to miss; truly a historical experience.  If you can't make it, then at least download the album.  It's free.  In the meantime, remember Danny's advice: take the time to look for buried treasure - beauty lost under the rubble in our a la carte world of disposable commodities.

Danny eventually finished spray-painting the remaining CD jackets and washed the paint off his face.  Sadly, we could never pay Danny what he deserved for all the time, creative energy, and hard work he put in to them.  We may have bought him some burritos to go with his Taco Bell salsa.  That made him happy.  A year later, in 2003, Danny won two awards for the CD design.

*If you like this article, please consider supporting my writing by becoming a patron, and get cool rewards in return.

INCEPTION and the Philosophy of Mind

James

Inception (Music From The Motion Picture)Christopher Nolan is one of my favorite directors.  So naturally, I saw Inception opening night.  Apart from its visually stunning effects and complex storyline, I was excited by some of the ideas presented in the film, and their relevance to the philosophy of mind.  In fact, I think Inception may unwittingly provide some naive answers to one of the major problems I've been researching - mental causation.

In the philosophy of mind, a major topic of debate is how the mind - something that is popularly thought to be immaterial - can cause effects in the physical world.  That is, how can a person's mental states (i.e. beliefs, desires, etc.) lead to physical events (e.g. raising one's arm)?  Beliefs and desires aren't physical things, are they?  How much do your beliefs weigh?  What is the volume in cubic centimeters of your desires?  If mental sates aren't physical, then how can they "cause" physical events?  This is commonly referred to as the problem of mental causation

Dualists (of which there are a great variety) suppose that mind and matter are two ontologically distinct entities.  In other words, dualists believe the mind (including its mental states) is real, even though it is immaterial.  Physicalists on the other hand deny this, and instead claim that there is no "mind" in the immaterial sense, only the brain.  This is because physicalists deny that anything non-physical exists.  Thus, it is no surprise that dualists and physicalists offer different solutions to the problem of mental causation.

One obvious way physicalists try to get around the problem is by denying that mental states are non-physical.  They would apparently do this by defining a "mental state" as a particular configuration of brain chemistry at a given time.  So, my "desire" to drink some water is really nothing more than my neuro-chemistry being in a dehydrated state, which leads to me pouring myself a glass (this is an extreme simplification, but you get the idea).  As I see it however, the physicalist position has a major problem; a problem that Inception will help to illustrate.

The goal of the main characters in the film Inception is to implant an idea in a person's mind (don't worry, I'm not giving away the plot), in the hopes that the idea will eventually grow and cause the person to act how they want.  It's not exactly brain-washing, but sort of.  Through the use of ideas, you're causing a person to think and act a certain way, while making them believe it was their own choice, so to speak.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character illustrates this concept in the film by telling someone, "Don't think of pink elephants."  Inevitably, the person ends up thinking of pink elephants, and the cause of him thinking it was the verbal command not to!  Thus, Levitt's character successfully implanted the idea of pink elephants in the man's mind.  In my view, this concept provides an entertaining illustration of why the physicalist position on mental causation fails.  Here's why:

In order to deny that mental states are immaterial, physicalists appeal to something called the "Completeness Principle."  According to this principle, every physical effect must have a sufficient physical cause.  In other words, if an effect is physical, then it can always be traced back to an initiating cause that is also physical.  The causal chain is "complete" in its physicality.  Any appeal to a non-physical cause is superfluous.  Physicalists boast that the completeness principle enjoys centuries of empirical support through science.  Even so, I think the principle is, well, incomplete.

As Inception illustrated, our communication through language often results in physical effects.  The verbal command, "Don't think of pink elephants" causes a person to think of pink elephants.  Likewise, the command, "Please pass the salt," results in the physical action of someone raising their arm, grasping the salt, and handing it to you.  Let's do a little experiment.  If you're reading this right now, raise your right arm over your head and then put it back down again.  Did you do it?  C'mon, humor me a little.  Okay, if you did it, what was ultimately the cause of you raising your arm?  If we could trace the chain of causation back, where would it start?  Can we agree that the initiating cause of you raising your arm was my suggesting it?  If so, was that a physical cause?  I don't see how it could be.  Can we measure my suggestion?  Does it have a weight or volume?  No, it does not.  If we can "send" ideas through language, and ideas are immaterial, and those ideas cause physical events, then the completeness principle is false.  It follows that physicalism is false.

At this point a physicalist may interject and deny that ideas are immaterial things, because they are always in material form.  Have you ever experienced an idea separated from matter?  Probably not.  You hear ideas through sound waves - material particles vibrating at particular frequencies.  You see ideas through print - ink on a page, pixels on a screen.  You even think about your own ideas with the use of your brain - a labyrinthine amalgam of chemicals, tissue, and electricity.  Ideas cannot be separated from matter.  The physicalist is right about this.  However, it does not follow that ideas and matter are the same thing.  The simple fact that the same idea can be communicated through a variety of different material mediums shows that the idea is not the same thing as the matter which expresses it.  The ideas that I'm expressing to you right now are not merely pixels on a screen.  The ideas are the meaning those pixels happen to represent, not the pixels themselves.  We could change the pixels without changing the meaning (ideas).  And in the case of one's brain, ideas can actually change the physical medium.[1]

We may summarize the argument thus far.  Call it "A Naive Argument Against Physicalism:"

1.  If physicalism is true, then the completeness principle is true.
2.  The completeness principle is false.
3.  Therefore, physicalism is false.

Since this argument is a work in progress, I welcome suggestions, comments, and criticisms.

*If you like this article, please consider supporting my writing by becoming a patron, and get cool rewards in return.



Endnotes


1.  Read a little about "neuroplasticity."  Thinking certain ideas can actually change the physical structure of your brain.

Plato's Secret Music: Science and the Divine

James

According to a recent NPR report, historian and philosopher of science Jay Kennedy has discovered a hidden musical code embedded in the writings of Plato.  NPR is not the only news organization to report on Kennedy's findings.  However, the report concludes with some interesting comments from Kennedy, on what he thinks the implications are for science and religion.

In his research, Kennedy discovered there was a reference to music every twelfth line of Plato's manuscripts.  He also knew that ancient Greek music was based on a twelve-note scale, instead of the eight-note scale we use today.  Thus, he reasoned that the pattern found in Plato's writings was not merely a coincidence.  Rather, it was put there deliberately.

Music is mysterious and beautiful; it is also mathematical.  The Pythagoreans - followers of the philosopher-mystic-mathematician Pythagoras - believed math, and consequently music, held divine status.  They literally worshiped numbers.  Kennedy proposes that Plato was a closet Pythagorean, and that he wanted to convey this divine message to discerning readers by embedding a secret code in his writings.

The idea that math holds divine status is still around today.  Recall the comments from Stephen Hawking, discussed in my previous post, when he said, "What could define God [is thinking of God] as the embodiment of the laws of nature" (i.e. the mathematical laws of physics).  Judging from his comments, I suspect Hawking may be a modern day Pythagorean.  In fact, this view seems increasingly popular among those who want to reconcile science and religion, without allowing room for belief in a personal God.  Hence, Kennedy's remarks:
'Plato's philosophy shows us one way to combine science and religion,' Kennedy says.  'The culture wars we're having today — about evolution for example — see science and religion as two polarized opposites.  Plato's hidden philosophy shows us that he combined an emphasis on mathematics with an emphasis upon beauty, music, art and divinity.  The founder of western culture, in fact wanted us to combine science and religion.'
Kennedy sounds hopeful that promoting the Pythagorean view might help calm the war between evolutionists and creationists.  Given the politicized nature of the debate however, I can't see many creationists being soothed by the suggestion that God is simply a math equation.  Nevertheless, Kennedy's research touches on a larger body of historical facts, which, if taken seriously, could change the way we think about the relationship between science and religion.

*If you like this article, please consider supporting my writing by becoming a patron, and get cool rewards in return.

Rock 'n' Roll, Rebellion, and Religion

James

Rock and Roll music has always carried with it connotations of rebellion. One could even say that rock music is a form of rebellion. But the kind of rebellion that gave birth to rock and roll is a far cry from the rebellion we see associated with it today.

For much of its history, rock music has acted as the soundtrack for generation upon generation of angst-ridden white, middle-class teenagers. From Elvis to Everclear, rock and roll has been an outlet for young people to express their dissent from the moral and religious traditions imposed on them by society, to attack the abuses of the government and various other institutions, and to denounce injustice in general. What resulted in the 60s was a revolution of free loving, authority disrespecting youth. And this trend has continued to our present day. While it has done a lot of good (like co-opting with the civil rights movement), it has also degenerated into a less authentic form of rebellion.

Some of the hippest and most “avant garde” rock music has actually been quite despairing, thoroughly postmodern, and ultimately nihilistic – even when it sounds light hearted. Whether it be the quirky and psychedelic sound of The BeatlesSgt. Pepper’s,” the sullen melodies of Joy Division’sCloser,” or the angry pounding of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (three bands I love, by the way), a lot of critically acclaimed rock music seems to share a common perspective – that existence is absurd.

The existentialist philosopher Albert Camus is probably the best known proponent of the “theory of the absurd.” For Camus, the universe is irrational and meaningless, yet he recognized that humans desire rationality and meaning. According to Camus, these two “facts” create the tension and angst that humans feel, and this led him to the conclusion that “existence is absurd.” A lot of rock music shares his perspective. It expresses the joys and pains of human existence divorced from any overarching purpose or meaning. And despite all its optimistic associations (i.e. world peace, free love, etc.) a lot of rock music has at its heart a completely pessimistic view of the world. This is the condition of many of our modern rebel rockstars.

When we take a closer historical look at the cultural perspective that gave birth to rock and roll however, we see something completely different than we see today. In many ways, we see something more authentic. The early rockstars, or pre-rockstars I should say, had several characteristics that our modern rockstars are lacking.

First, they were truly oppressed. The first rock note ever sung did not come from the throat of an angst-ridden, existentialist white kid in a beatnik coffee house somewhere in affluent San Francisco. It most probably bellowed out of the gut of a poor and oppressed African-American in a rural chapel somewhere in the obscure South. Rock and roll started as a hybrid of blues, gospel, and country. Both blues and gospel music are very much the creations of African-American culture, which grew out of slave culture. A fellow by the name of David Townsend is working on a (as yet unpublished) manuscript on the historical origins of rock and roll. He has made the same observation as I have. He writes:
Rock ‘n’ roll is an African-American hybrid, but its strongest root is the very suffering, and survival, of generations of slaves, who learned how music could help a man to transcend earthly pain for awhile….It’s also easy to understand the strong bonds between the Blues (and later R&B and rock ‘n’ roll) and Gospel music: from a secular point of view, singing about the Lord lifting you up and singing about the Blues fallin’ down like rain are spiritually equivalent acts.
These people truly had something to lament about; something to cry out in opposition against. The comfortable, middle-class white kids on the other hand, not so much. What? They suffered because the cultural norms prevented them from sleeping around and experimenting with drugs? I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t move my heart quite the same way.

Secondly, as Townsend so astutely points out, the pre-rockstars had faith. The African-American culture of the pre-rock era was very spiritual, and specifically Christian. Gospel music is the sound of a soul crying out to her Creator. Many of the modern rock counterparts on the other hand do not believe in a Creator to cry out to; they deny any objective purpose or meaning in life. They believe only in a cold and indifferent universe. The pre-rockstars’ religious beliefs informed them that the world is meaningful and life has purpose, and this belief helped give birth to an exciting and ground breaking new musical style. Many modern rockstars on the other hand believe life is absurd, and they sneer and mock religious beliefs in general.

Lastly, the pre-rockstars believed in moral ideals. One of the beliefs informing the African-Americans’ conviction that the oppression they were suffering was wrong, was the belief in an actual right and wrong! It is certainly difficult to denounce anything as evil if you believe that good and evil are superstitious concepts and that right and wrong are nothing more than cultural conventions. This is the point were the skepticism of the modern rockstar undercuts his authenticity. G.K. Chesterton articulates the problem better than anyone in his book Orthodoxy:
But the new rebel is a sceptic, and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore he can never be really a revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it….Thus…As a politician, he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is a waste of time….He calls a flag a bauble, and then blames the oppressors of Poland or Ireland because they take away that bauble….In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.
Chesterton was writing in England in 1908. But his point is still timely and relevant today. We could update his argument a bit as follows: The modern rebel rockstar has no loyalty; therefore he can never really be a revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern rockstar doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it. Thus, he plays at a political rally where he cries out that war is a waste of life, and then sings a song about how all life is a waste of time. He claims that national sovereignty isn’t important, and then he disparages the U.S. for invading a sovereign country. When he plays at “Rock the Vote,” he attacks politicians for trampling on morality; when he plays at the University, he attacks morality for trampling on the youth. Therefore the modern rockstar in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything. His rebellion has become a gimmick.

A lot of this may not sit well with some of you. Something may not quite make sense yet. After all, isn’t religion opposed to rebellion? That depends on what you mean by “religion.” If you mean a rigid dogma, then yes. If you mean faith in a Creator, or higher purpose, then no. The pre-rockstars were true rebels. Their rebellion was that stubborn refusal to give up hope that we call faith. In the face of injustice and oppression, the pre-rockstars refused to take on a pessimistic view of the world, despite their suffering. They defied the temptation to succumb to defeat – to believe in nothing. They lamented and despaired at times, yes. But, like the Biblical psalmist, their lamentations were an expression of their faith, not a denial of it. They never gave up the hope in a higher purpose. They never gave up hope in real goodness and justice and retribution. They never gave up hope in God. And they did all this in the midst of true suffering.

In stark contrast, the modern rockstar has resigned himself to a pessimistic defeat. He mocks faith. He sneers at morality. He sees existence as absurd. He believes only in a meaningless and indifferent world. His rebellious exterior is nothing but a facade. He is merely thrashing at the wind. For, deep down he has no real reason to fight; he has defeated himself. And his rebellion does not come from a place of true suffering. It comes from a place of ennui; in the midst of comfort and luxury. Faith amidst suffering is the most authentic form of rebellion. Pessimistic ennui is just a poser.

Let me be clear. I am not arguing that a rockstar must be an oppressed Christian to make good music. Most of the Christian rock music I’ve heard sucks, in my opinion. And I love all the bands I’ve mentioned or implicated in this article so far, not many of which were/are Christians to my knowledge.  Actually, I’m not arguing for what makes good music at all.  I’m only arguing for what makes authentic rebellion.  Nor have I claimed that all secular rockstars, including the ones previously mentioned, are complete nihilists (even Camus was opposed to nihilism). I’m making a generalization based on observation and my personal experience in the music industry. My intention with this article is really to point out the contrast between the cultural perspective that gave birth to rock and roll, and how far we have drifted from that perspective. We have forgotten our roots; no, we have even come to resent our roots. And that’s unfortunate. Furthermore, I am arguing that the original perspective which gave birth to rock and roll is much more authentic and genuine than its modern counterpart, for the reasons I mentioned above.

That is why someone like Johny Cash – who lived through the Depression in the poverty stricken South, exercised his demons, and then later found his faith and made peace with God – can take a song like Trent Reznor’s “Hurt” and make it even more powerful, with nothing but an acoustic guitar, a piano, and his voice. I like both versions, personally. But there is certainly something different, more subtle and pure, and – dare I say, real - about Cash’s version. Reznor’s original version is powerful in itself. Trent makes you believe that he really believes what he is singing, and that’s one of the marks of a great artist. However, somewhere, in the very back of the mind is a nagging doubt. It is the subconcious and almost invisible feeling that, despite the beautiful melancholy of the song, it just isn’t true. Because, “by rebelling against everything, he has lost his right to rebel against anything.”

*If you like this article, please consider supporting my writing by becoming a patron, and get cool rewards in return.

* P.S. *

If you enjoyed this article, you might find the following blog article interesting:

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/08/an_atheist_rock_genre.php#comments

It’s a blog frequented mostly by atheists, anti-theists, and other kinds of “free-thinkers.” I primarily want to draw your attention to the comments of people listing bands whose music they think could be categorized as “atheist-rock.” The Beatles, Nirvana, and Nine Inch Nails are mentioned numerous times; as well as Muse.

Here’s an excerpt from comment #4:

“I think if I could be said to have any religion, it would be rock ‘n’ roll. Rock and various other popular musical genres have been sort of elbowing religion out of its former privileged places in culture, and that’s fine with me. I say we just declare rock ‘n’ roll to be atheist music…”

Oh ye of little faith.  ;-) 

Linnea Gabriella Spransy: Of Fractals and Free Will

James

Linnea Spransy is a painter of a different kind. When I first saw one of Linnea’s paintings, I was amazed. At first glance, it didn’t look like a painting to me. I could have easily mistaken it for a microscopic image of an organic molecule (click on the image to the left for a closer look). The thing that amazed me the most was the surprising “coincidence” that Linnea’s method of painting would give rise to something so natural looking – something so organic and beautiful. You see, Linnea uses the mathematical fractal as a parallel for how she creates her artwork.

Linnea's paintings are all composed of basic lines. She gives her self simple “rules” by which to steer these lines. The lines accumulate until (in her words) “unanticipated articulations begin to emerge.” The result is surprising and beautiful. Linnea literally doesn’t know what her paintings will look like until she’s done with them. Cool, huh?

Linnea was nice enough to share more of her thoughts with me through email. I will quote her at length:
To me, fractals are an interesting visual parallel of the nature of life – how firm boundaries and rules still give rise to variety and surprise. These are surprises that are self-similar and unending, even so, in fractals, they are endlessly unique. Life is similarly composed of many regulations. Admitting this, many people slip into grim fatalism, yet, in my view, regulation isn’t cause for resentment. Far from it! Rules are inherently creative, and, perhaps counter-intuitively, absolute freedom is chaotic and paralyzing. This, I believe, extends into matters of will. We are free to choose, but boundaries which are outside of our control often determine what category of opportunity within which we are free to exercise our will. Yet, limited will is, in my experience, a mercy – and a great one at that. Limits may be the greatest mercy of all and the true guardian of freedom.
Linnea correctly points out that absolute freedom is chaos. This is not only true sociologically – a society with no rules would be anarchy – but it is also true of the universe itself. The world in which we live works according to finely tuned rules, or laws. Those laws are what make our existence possible. Laws, by their very nature, exclude certain possibilities. But this exclusion is not something to resent. It is a reason to rejoice. It is good that we are bound by the law of gravity. If it did not exist, neither would we. There were a lot of possibilities that were excluded in the forming of our world – a lot of potentialities were “ruled out.” And it is because the universe is so exclusive in nature that we can even be here.

For some people however, just being here isn’t enough. They want to be able to do whatever they want. And they consider any limits put on them as an offense. As silly and narcissistic as that may sound, it is unfortunately true for a number of people. I once had someone tell me that we are not truly free if there is anything limiting or even influencing our decisions. By “decisions” the person really meant “options.” Not only do I disagree with that definition of freedom, but I reject that outlook on life as one of a self-imposed impotence.

Take marriage for example. Many people today view marriage as a prison. They see it as a constraint – something that takes away their freedom. Instead, the modern trend is to “keep your options open.” But the true joy of having options comes the moment you commit to one of them and eliminate all the rest. This is not only true of lovers but of anything! The whole point of having 31 flavors of ice cream is to choose one of them! If you never “limit” yourself by making a choice – if you never commit yourself to something or someone, thereby excluding other choices – then all those “options” are for nill. The person who demands “absolute freedom” paralyzes himself, and is therefore the least free person of all. The man who insists on always keeping his options open is practically no different than the man with no options.

This brings us to another point which Linnea touched on. It is the temptation to slip into “grim fatalism.” While the egoists are busy whining over the fact that limits exist, some people are going the other way and touting the limits (the laws of Nature) as the explanation for everything! If all that exists is matter and energy and the laws of Nature, then it follows that there can be no free will. Any action I may “choose” to do can be explained as the necessary effect of some prior cause – be it my genes, my appetite, or whatever. My main problem with this view is that it doesn’t leave much room for……..well, me! The traditional view has been that humans are agents of change. We are “self-movers.” If we so desire, we can introduce new lines of causation into the world with no prior determining cause. In other words, we have free will.

But the traditional understanding of humans as agents has been under attack as of late. Philosophical materialists prefer to define human beings as bags of competing impulses – the strongest impulse wins. Unfortunately for the materialists, there is new evidence that even fruit flies exhibit a kind of agency that can not be explained by internal competing impulses, nor by blind external causes. If there is true freedom at the level of a fruit fly, then I think it is safe to assume there is true freedom at the level of humans. It seems we may be free after all.

What makes the fruit fly study even more interesting, and appropriate for our present discussion, is the scientists discovered that the behavior of the fruit fly exhibits what they call a “fractal order.” I think Linnea is on to something with this whole fractal thing! A relationship that she discovered through art seems to hold true for science as well.

If you’d like to know what freedom looks like, Linnea Spransy’s paintings may give you a good idea. Check out her website here and enjoy the surprise! If you are a philosophical materialist, you may still enjoy it, even though you have no choice in the matter.

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