The Measure of the Times


Rousseau walks on trumpet paths. Joni Mitchell, “The Jungle Line” in Hissing of Summer Lawns.

I always wondered what Joni meant in that line from the “Jungle Line.” At first I thought she meant Jean-Jaques Rousseau, the philosopher of Confessions and The Social Contract fame. In college I read the former and only remember the book as a journal of the man’s affairs, extra marital and political, and wondered why he ranked as an important philsopher since the content seemed trivial. I later revised my opinion after reading The Social Contract, the underpinning of early social justice and democratic government theories. 

I once searched for a Rousseau painting with trumpet paths when I realized she referenced the painter not the philosopher/author. I had never seen nor recalled seeing a Rousseau painting and the internet was not at my disposal then. The Hissing of Summer Lawns album came out in 1975. I checked books and found Rousseau’s work, which I found pleasing, colorful and fun. The man appeared to have a sense of humor, squeezed joy from days. Unfortunately, I broke the limited art world I knew then at the ripe old age of 16 as serious and unserious art, Rousseau deemed too childlike to be serious.

Today I read the following:

With a kind of perverse timing, the child’s paradigm emerged in art at just the moment when Newton’s mechanical view of reality was most triumphant. The Chinese yin and yang symbol is a graphic representation of this relationship between opposing principles. The rival viewpoint makes its first tentative appearance at the height of the power of its complementary obverse.

How very appropriate that just before Einstein’s discovery, a na├»ve artist like Rousseau, whose paintings could be the settings for fairy tales and who routinely distorted forms, would be hailed as one whose view of the world was a valuable contribution! It is an amusing exercise for anyone to specualate upon the reception Rousseau’s work would have received at the court of Lorenzo de’ Medici. Then the Humanists were proclaiming that man was the measure of all things. For a long time, children were not to be trusted to measure anything. Leonard Shlain, Art & Physics

At the tender young age of 55, I understand Rousseau with his child-vision. The world he paints for his audience is important to see, again and again, not just as counterbalance to the cynical, practical world of the adult in politics, technology, science and economics, for instance. But to remember the special conception of space and time that children hold. They experience lengthened time and unconfined space compared to their parents’ lived time-space. Children know the science of happiness instinctively.

Earlier in class, before I read the above Shlain excerpt, I reminded students about child time vs. adult time, temporal elasticity, and technology’s time effects. Hopefully, my stories illustrated time’s illusion, for example experiencing child time as a dragged-along, unwilling captive of Mom’s department store shopping as a 7 year old or an 18 year old sitting in a two-hour lecture course at 7:20 a.m. (mine) as opposed to sleeping or playing/partying with friends for the equivalent time. Time slows or speeds accordingly even as time ticks unceasingly in even increments.

I was not much younger than my students now when I first heard Joni’s lyric and then went searching for Rousseau. And it was only a matter of hours between narrating child-like time visions in the classroom and reading Shlain’s commentary on Rousseau’s yin to Newton’s yang or vice versa, the innocent artist and sophisticated astronomer, ending with the situationally ironic children as the measure of nothing.

I love that the world and mine are round.


Quotes from Readings of the Week

My readings have brought me these impressive quotations this week that emphasize keen observable presence in the art of creation, whether in relationships, literature, science or art:

“You need to get a long ways away from people before you can learn to listen properly.” Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man’s Fear.

“People want to weep. Pathos in the form of a narrative does not wear out.” Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others.

“Metaphor is a property of language that gives boundaries to worlds and helps scientists using real languages to push against these bounds.” Donna Jeanne Haraway, Crystal, Fabrics, and Field: Metaphors that Shape Embryos.

“Monet, a simple man with a child’s outlook on life, and no formal academic training, had seized upon a great truth about time before anyone else: An object must have duration besides three extensions in space. Monet did not write down any theories or express one as an equation; rather he illuminated this truth in the limpid colors of his silent images.” Leonard Shlain, Art & Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time, and Light.


I don’t believe everything happens for a reason. I subscribe to chaos. I believe in the randomness of the universe as movement, collision, coincidence and correspondence. I believe in an ontology of chance. Cause-and-effect is real, but we humans are not always accurate tracers of chains. We are a lazy species, thus the teleology of throwing-up-our-arms-at-space with a surrendering shake of the head and declaring that the proof of the universe’s supporting life lies in our being here–the best science has to offer after unsuccessfully tracing the mathematical and natural laws to their inevitable ends in hopes of figuring out everything, just everything. We theorize origins and evolutions. We interpret from variables of experience, anatomy, observation and subjectivity. I do not trust absolutes. I believe in intention and will, though not necessarily in intended results. Thus speaks the rational mind of me.

The smoke and whispers, the mystery of which intuition is born, lean into those uninformed leaps of faith inside an unthinking gut and take me in another direction: a life unfolds according to its makeup, an already-has composition that merely needs room to spread out and manifest. Choices come from inherent brain patterns in conjunction with pathways generated in reaction to lived experience. This orchestrated tapestry of evolving human is the carpet unrolling from birth to death, a definitive starting and ending point that always ever was because of whom I was born, when and where. In that way, choices logical and whimsical alike, are prefigured, patterns predetermined even in their ensuing alterations and modifications. A determinism I am not comfortable with somehow associates the mystery of the inexplicable to me–my fuzzy teleology.

The Science of Happiness


The expanse between the question mark and the period
impossibly prolonged contains the secrets of all seekers. 

The distance run between confusion and understanding
measures the precise extent of pleasure in our pursuits.

The conquest of cause and effect links us to the principle
the paradox of seeking, knowing and adapting to facticity.

And once we find it, the answer, solution, and knowledge,
our joy ends, for the tickle of the quest vibrates happiness.  


Comet Love


What’s it like to land on a comet with its flaming tail at the speed of night? The fantastical imaginary of the ordinary citizen can only know a breath of it. If only such a landed probe could take pictures of all of the people looking up in awe and wonderment at its passing. That would be the ideal outcome, to capture the best of the human spirit as it is not in the human capacity to reach beyond our galaxy as we sit on the earth now, but it is in our capacity to dream and imagine and reach with our minds.

Perhaps that is what space travel will be eventually, a cosmic astral projection of minds to other minds in distant galaxies and that the stuff of television shows and NASA or other space agency attempts are mere clumsy limitations of the mind. The physical transport is an outdated mis-read of where humans should be directing their efforts–not at transporting the body to other galaxies with improved technology for craft life but transporting the mind through developed improvements in using more of the human brain, much more than the ten percent we do. If scientists can figure out the workings of the brain and how to use more of it, we would go farther in all of our feeble attempts, due to lack of imagination and physical ability, to space travel the verses–uni or multi. That’s my dark matter hope. As grand as our meager steps are in proportion to who we are, I can only speculate that more brain is better for bigger steps toward human survival–if that is even worth it. My limited brain cannot imagine what could be more important.

Philae successfully landed on Comet 67P. The scientists in news-flash photos, mostly men, and I seem to be the only ones excited about that. Though the landing did not go entirely to plan, that didn’t dent the jubilation of the paunchy breath-holding middle aged scientists who hopped, jumped and hugged in high-five glee and release at its touchdown. The love and pride for their cyber child was bounded only by the liquid vision of the for-once unshielded tears of these utilitarian fathers of the brave foundling. One of her thrusters did not thrust, but she is safe and is useful nevertheless. If she does what she is programmed to do, take pictures and collect other data, she will bless her human makers with information unknown about the travels of a lone comet that circles the sun of its destruction, succumbing to the irresistible force of suicide, desire and heat.

So long as there is an infinite unknown, I anthropomorphically will it to be so: that she brings back an ancient love story beyond comprehension for its pre-dating and surpassing human imagination. That way we can continue to wonder and strive, which is the best humans have to offer.

She will give us imagery to parse and dream about, analyze the pre-solar system traces so that we may sniff the scent of our own origins–even just a hint. The human mind will take it from there. And if those paunchy old and young science-saddled men and women get nothing more than a glimpse into the relationship of a comet with a blustery sun that blasts and winds like the litany of a curmudgeon whose cranky rant on a rainy arthritic day thunders and grates, then humans will be that much more edified. They only need new clues to edge ever nearer to the ever elusive answers to the age old questions that echo in the ignorant blackness of the deep-of-darkness matter: How did we come to be? Are we alone? Why does that even matter?

Sex and Shame, How Hot is That?

Felix Clay of Cracked writes “5 Bizarre Ways the Brain Links Sex With Shame” more to amuse than inform, and I was amused. He has the art of entertainment writing, spinning facts through his own voice and vision to create something fun, kind of like the way Bill Nye the Science Guy made science fun, or David Eagleman makes theoretical science entertaining or Carl Sagan made the cosmos an approachable mystery.

Nothing earth shatteringly revelatory about this article, but the writer really is funny. In light of the article I previously posted about public humiliation, violence and revenge of the mob wives/girlfriends publicly beating and stripping the mistress, the reminder of the close relationship between shame and arousal, sprinkled with lightly touched upon biological origins, gives one pause to question whether this seemingly newly-arisen form of justice in China (merely re-fashioned stockades and pillories) is just an orgy of masquerading arousal. Maybe it’s time we bring back drawing and quartering for some real group sexual participatory fantasizing.