Structural Integrity

We often judge how effective a structure is by how long it lasts; how it weathers storms and stands the test of time. In this sense, the good structure must maintain its solidity; must remain what it is. If this is the underlying decree of the structure - survival before all else - then it will necessarily abandon anything else it may stand for in order to uphold this imperative.

So whilst a structure like a "newspaper" may claim its primary purpose is the communication of truths, if, in doing so, it risks its own survival, then it will necessarily abandon this purpose - perhaps even directly contradict it - in order to uphold the purpose that lies beneath; its fundamental imperative of "survival above (or beneath) all else."

In assessing how serious a structure is about its purposes we must then ask; what lies at the bottom of this structure? What is the fundamental imperative upon which it is built? What is most important to it?

We can also view people as structures and can ask the same questions about them. Jesus presents us with an interesting example. He represents an archetypal structure, one which does not - unlike most - have "survival ahead of all else" at its roots. Perhaps one of the reasons why Jesus is important to us is for this very reason; that, if we unearth his deepest imperative we will not find it to be "survival" - a fact that is illustrated by his death. He was prepared to disregard "survival" in favour of something deeper. Digging down to his foundations we might find something like "Truth," a cause for which all else is abandoned. His structure came crumbling down in order for Truth to go on living. His example is an outstanding one because few structures will risk their own survival for something deeper.

This is why most structures are inherently compromised; because they are things, and they want to go on being these things. And this is why the ultimate sacrifice for any structure is always death.

Death needn't mean literal death. It could mean the death of a certain way of doing things, or of the current status quo. An example of this is the person who quits their job because they cannot, for a reason of conscience, continue to do it; and especially so in the case of the person who really cannot afford to make such a sacrifice, yet does so anyway, risking a potentially great upheaval - a descent into the unknown. The status quo crumbles so that something greater may live.

Most structures must be willing to shape-shift slightly in order to adapt to changing circumstances; indeed, whilst a sign of the strong structure may be its permanence, to endure in a world of change it must also have a critical amount of malleability. The question then, is how much change can a structure incorporate before it stops being what it is?

For a structure to remain fundamentally what it is, it must stay true to a certain amount of descriptive statements. If it does not then it will shift and slide into something else. So whilst a newspaper and a blog may have many similarities, there are also a critical amount of differences between them; and it is these differences that define each as separate from the other, allowing us to differentiate between the two and apply the relevant labels. If we imagine a structure as consisting of two circles, one contained within the other: the smaller circle represents the critical descriptive statements that the structure must uphold in order to remain what it is. In terms of a "newspaper" these could be things like "must be tangible", "must have pages" and so on. Outside of the smaller circle are contained all of those statements that can be subject to change. These could be things like "size must be broadsheet", "must contain x amount of pages" and so on. All of these latter statements can be abandoned without the structure risking its fundamental integrity, without it becoming something other than what it is (without "newspaper" becoming "blog").

So when we talk about the survival of a structure it is probably this inner circle - the core descriptive statements - to which we are referring. As long as these remain true then "survival" continues; but if any one of these statements is contradicted then "survival" is threatened. Death, in this sense, is always followed by immediate rebirth; the structure stops being one thing and becomes another.

So to place a value like "Truth" beneath "survival" may mean that we are willing to reform our structure - to become liquid, dissolve and reform - if, and when, we need to. We shed our skin - death to the old - so that we may become something else; all in service to this deeper purpose.

What, then, can we say about those structures which have "survival" as their fundamental imperative? When and why might this be a problem?

We've already mentioned newspapers, but charities also provide us with interesting case studies. Let's look at Oxfam. Its purpose - its reason for being - is to "fight global poverty." An organization was formed, a structure built for a purpose, and global poverty is, we can presume, best fought through this structure. "Oxfam" was, then, birthed from this imperative; and it would not be unreasonable of us to assume that to "fight global poverty" remains its foundational decree. We must then ask; what if it was found that, in existing the way it does, as a structure, "Oxfam" is, in the long run, contributing towards the continuance of global poverty? What if we were to find, through wide scale systemic analysis, that "Oxfam" was part of the problem it hoped to eradicate? The true test for Oxfam at this point would be whether, in knowing this, it was willing to sacrifice its own existence in order to serve the "fight against global poverty."

With structures like Oxfam - those that claim to have a specific mission that runs deeper than their own survival - we must always ask what lies down there at the bottom. Is it "fight global poverty"? Or is it "survival"? If Oxfam was to blink out of existence, thousands of people would be without jobs. We must also ask; what runs deeper for these people; "fight global poverty" or "survival (of the current way of things)."

When a structure with the foundational imperative of "survival" claims to be motivated by some other root-purpose then we can rightly describe it as playing games. It is not, in the strictest sense of the word, serious about its stated purposes; and it cannot be until it is willing to unearth "survival" and place these purposes beneath it. This may seem a lot to ask, and indeed for most structures it is far too much; but this is one of the great ethical lessons that archetypes like Jesus offer us. He was serious. Deadly serious. And this is what he, and all others like him, ask of us.

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harvardAristotle often evaluated a thing with respect to its “telos” – its purpose, end, or goal.

The telos of a knife is to cut. The telos of a physician is health or healing. What is the telos of university?

The most obvious answer is “truth” –- the word appears on so many university crests. But increasingly, many of America’s top universities are embracing social justice as their telos, or as a second and equal telos. But can any institution or profession have two teloses (or teloi)? What happens if they conflict?

[Jonathan Haidt]
'Why Universities Must Choose One Telos: Truth or Social Justice


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Related posts:-
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A Tough Act to Follow
Playing the Art Game: Fetishism
Only Playing
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[Anonymous]
Small Mind/Large Mind
Status Quo 
You or The Work
A Higher Power
The Role of Charities 
The Game Goes On

The Importance of Rituals

I had the opportunity, recently, to hear a sermon from Rob Bell of Mars Hill Bible Church. He addressed the importance of rituals in our lives and how they serve as a reminder for us as to what is most important.

Rituals should be seen as a "sacred holy task" that focuses you on what is most important. In his example, Rob discussed his morning ritual of making lunches and taking his boys to school. This ritual serves as a reminder of his calling to take care of his boys.

What is it that is most important to you?

Do your "rituals" reflect what is most important to you through your actions?

We need to constantly be checking ourselves and the rituals that we participate in, to make sure we are focused on the most worthy pursuits.

[David Korff]
Found at Thinking about things blog (now dead)

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I recently read an article about a paramedic who created a ritual to help him separate from all the things he had seen during the day and create a space for being with his family.

Everyday when he got home, he would imagine hanging all the troubles of the work day on the tree next to his back door. As he entered the house he would touch the tree and walk into the house, leaving the work day behind–a simple ritual to help his subconscious mind to know that it was time to focus on his family.

Rituals of Transition

The paramedic touching the tree and setting the intention of being fully present for his family is an example of a transition ritual. Another example that most of us are familiar with is bedtime rituals which help children settle down for the night. The more consistent the story time and lights out, the more the child becomes to depend on the ritual and can make the transition from busy day to restful night.

Rituals of transition help us move from one area of our lives to another.  

We can make use of this idea of rituals to help us be in the moment and make the transition from one area of focus to another, e.g., work to home, creating space to focus on a project, bedtime, etc. The elements important to creating a ritual is setting an intention, performing the action and making the action a regular occurrence so that it becomes a habit.

Rituals of Relaxation and Focus

Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, authors of the book The Power of Full Engagement, maintain that we do not need to manage our time, we need to manage our energy, and that we have to balance energy expenditure with intermittent energy renewal.

Loehr and Schwartz worked for years with top athletes, and noticed that they were able to reset their bodies and minds in little time, with highly practiced, repeated - scheduled - actions (i.e., rituals.)

Watch a basketball player at the free throw line or a tennis player before they serve. Many have a little routine that they do each time before they take a shot or serve. It may be the number of times they bounce the ball or how they touch their body.

You can use this idea to create small rituals of relaxation and focus and repeat them regularly throughout your day. You can tie these rituals to specific events in your day.

[Carol Woodliff]
The Importance of Rituals, found at WMV Group

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[...] I attribute a positive value to all religions. In their symbolism I recognize those figures which I have met with in the dreams and fantasies of my patients.

In their moral teaching I see efforts that are the same as or similar to those made by my patients, when, guided by their own insight or inspiration, they seek the right way of dealing with the forces of the inner life.

Ceremonial, ritual, initiation rites and ascetic practices, in all their forms and variations, interest me profoundly as so many techniques for bringing about a proper relation to these [inner] forces.

[C.G. Jung]
Modern Man In Search Of A Soul ('Freud and Jung'), p.121, 122


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The game and the creation of the game must be seen as a single phenomenon, and indeed, it is subjectively plausible to say that the sequence is really playable only so long as it retains some elements of the creative and unexpected.

If the sequence is totally known, it is ritual, although perhaps still character forming.

If we define play as the establishment and exploration of relationship, then greeting and ritual are the affirmation of relationship. But obviously mixtures of affirmation and exploration are common.

[Gregory Bateson]
Mind and Nature, p. 150-1


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"Ritual is poetry in the world of acts."

In this way of thinking, the performance of ritual has no special power of its own. Its power comes from the effects that it, like poetry, has on the people who take part in and experience it. Just as a well-written poem can reshape the awareness of its reader or hearer, revealing connections that might otherwise go unnoticed and highlighting neglected meanings, a well-performed ritual can do the same for those who take part in it.

Thus, celebrating the stations of the year isn't a mere formality. It focuses the experience of time and the seasons, lifting participants out of the limited consciousness of passing days into a wider awareness of the turning wheel of the year. It reminds them that their lives take place in a larger context, one in which living beings and spiritual powers also have a place. It restores meaning to a world in which meaning often seems in short supply.

The mind also has unrecognized potentials that can be awakened through the redefining power of ritual. Thus ritual has effects that go well beyond the realm of psychology, and into subtler realms little understood by modern ways of approaching the world.

[...] ritual is empty only when it's misused or ineptly performed. Done with skill and a grasp of basic principles, it can be full to bursting with meaning and can communicate that fulness to our everyday lives.

Whatever else can be said about it, ritual is a performing art related to drama, storytelling, and poetry recitation [...] For this reason, the regular practice of ritual is the most important step in walking the Sun Path. By performing and experiencing rituals, novice ritualists learn from personal experience what works and what doesn't, and rehearse the skills required until they can do an effective ritual working at a moments notice.

[John Michael Greer]
The Druidry Handbook,  p. 170-1


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Lost Tribe

We need tribe. We need to belong. This is hard-wired into us. And in modern life, there is a disconnect.

We live in little fenced-in square shelters, not only isolated from the collective shadow -- the murderers and rapists, but also the desirable parts of community -- the sense of tribe, belonging and a collective purpose. The more docile among us attempt to satiate this need to belong by staying in and locking our houses and communing with our television alone, watching episodes of Seinfeld and Friends. Or maybe we keep up with the latest Hollywood love trysts as if Angelinia Jolie is our B.F.F.

I'm finding that many of us have been on a long quest to find and co-create a deep community -- a tribe -- somewhere to belong. 

 The modern experience tends toward isolation and loneliness. Alone in offices, we peer through windows of pixels to connect to one another via Facebook. We drop our kids off at daycare to drive to work alone in a metal box. Then we work in that cubicle for eight to ten hours a day, come home, flop on the couch and crank the volume on the TV. We glean meaning from sitcoms and myth systems from film. We are desperate for meaning -- and tribe.

Our desire for tribe has been hijacked by Hollywood and I've often wondered if we would be less apathetic and more involved with local community if TV had never been invented.

Worse than that isolation, perhaps, are the generations born into this isolation, latchkey kids so desperate to feel alive, and to fill that essential need for rights of passage and belonging to tribe, that they join violent gangs and act out their projected rage upon one another and the neighborhoods where they live..

Many primordial languages in the Americas had no words for guilt or shame.

  For example, the Apaches say those words were developed by white men to control one another. Actions that we think of as unforgivable actions were considered by many native cultures as mistakes which created opportunities to discover more about themselves and growth toward deeper wisdom.

Anthropologist Rupert Ross said that primordial languages often center on the use of verbs rather than nouns. Native Americans for example, tend not to label individuals, but look at people as a process rather than a static thing. Ross says, "When we apply such labels to real people, however, they tend to stick. And when they stick, they cause us to start denying the complexity and wholeness of the human beings we are speaking of."

The belief that we create our lives (as masters of our own fate) rather than being the victims of events which happen to us involves overcoming guilt and shame and speaking our own truth. The meaning, and therefore our reality, created by us through our actions fills us with a sense of purpose and self-actualization. But creating reality from within a framework of shame or guilt stunts growth. Shame combined with lack of opportunity can lead to social apathy at best and violence at worst. We are social, story-telling organisms, propelled by an archetypal drive to create tribes and community.

Tribes are bonded through a sense of meaning.

When living close to nature, everything is in a constant flux of change. Nothing stays good or bad forever. Judgment and expectation get us in trouble. They become shorthand for a dead-end label that some thing or some one is good or bad.

Each of us individually struggles with the paradox of good and evil within, but a tribe creates a container that holds these disparate elements.

Tribalism is a perennial archetype that re-emerges whenever it is absent in the dominant culture. In our decidedly non-tribal culture, the archetype may appear as belonging to a gang, being a Dead-Head, or talking about what Jerry Seinfeld did in last night's episode with the coworker in the next cubicle. In all these cases, the tribe creates a feeling of belonging through unified meaning. This meaning, implicit or explicit, becomes the group's mission statement and raison d'etre. And the mission statement can be anywhere along a spectrum of possibilities. They can be syntropic, healthy, and positive or destructive, dystopic and entropic.

In creating meaning, and thus reality, our internal compass of morality guides our choices, rather than an externally imposed didactic moral code.

To clarify this internal morality, we need to experience our edges. We need to be pushed in experiences and mirrored in that journey.

This is why rites of passage like the sweat lodge or peyote vision quest are essential to realigning the compass of those who have lost their way -- whether in gang life, addiction, or just on the day-to-day journey of life in American culture.

For ex-con Joshua, participating in sweat lodges, exploring rites of passage facilitated by a medicine man fills his need to belong to something with a higher purpose. He told me later that the sense of belonging he feels in the sweat lodge tribe creates a container for him to explore honesty, vulnerability, and personal responsibility.

As with tribes, rites of passage must be activated by a sense of meaning, and that meaning travels along a spectrum of possibilities. Childbirth and prison tattoos seem to have no similarities, but both are rites of passage. Getting jumped into a gang, peyote vision quests, running a marathon, Bar Mitzvahs -- these are all archetypal rites of passage. One primary rite of passage is the boy's journey into manhood. A medicine woman once explained it to me this way:

A woman's vision quest is always childbirth... there is no other vision quest for men or women as powerful as childbirth. But for men, it is different. The vision quest is the sacred sweat lodge. Vision quest is suffering. It brings you to your knees. No more lies. I don't care how old you are. You are not a man until you go on your vision quest.

The remaining essential factor in creating and sustaining a functional tribe is mirroring by elders.

Without the witness of someone who has been on the path, the meaning and the importance of ritual are lost. The psyche acts out the rite of passage in endless repetition until it is witnessed. For example, in the rave, participants seek ritual ecstasy through ingesting "X" (Ecstasy or MDMA), which produces a cathartic merging and sense of belonging. This emulates a rite of passage, but often the meaning is lost when the psychedelic pilgrim sobers up because no shaman witnessed, digested and reflected the meaning for the seeker. The same is true for gangs. Drive-by shootings, hazings, school yard bullying -- all these acts are repeated and escalated until someone takes notice. Elders and mentors are essential to de-escalating violence. For troubled youth one of the most important ways through which to receive that guidance and wisdom is a caring and capable adult. Many kids just need someone to guide their journey toward responsible manhood and illuminate them to the fact that each of them has a unique gift to give the world.

Creating intentional tribes and rites of passage can restore a sense of purpose, belonging, respect, and morality. Regardless of the method, the ultimate success depends on whether the tribal morality can inspire. Then it may be assimilated and accommodated into the psyche, to emanate from within to create a lasting frame of relevance for the individual's gifts. The tribal morality must be able to allow and integrate the intrinsic diversity of personalities and how they react to the stages and challenges of the life journey.

[Sunny Strasburg]
'Violence and the Need for Tribalism', found at Reality Sandwich

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Positive Space
Rights and Responsibilities
Entitlement and Accountability
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Projecting a Shadow
Evil and Us
Imperfect Relationships
You laugh at my back, and I'll laugh at yours
Contain Conflict
Standing the Strain
My Advice? No Advice!
Empty Container
Silence
Touch Societies
Alone Together
Rooted in blood and soil
Still Waters
The Importance of Rituals  
A Circle of Gifts

Mind Your Language

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Noun                     -                    Verb
Being                    -                    Becoming
Solid                     -                    Liquid
Goal                      -                    Process
Rational                -                    Empirical


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And so castles made of sand,
fall in the sea,
eventually.

[Jimi Hendrix]


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[...] language tends to divide our experience into segments that have the appearance of objects.

[Denis Donoghue]
The Arts Without Mystery, p. 87-8


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If our language tends to foster the delusion of misplaced concreteness, it is particularly nouns - substantives - that get in the way of our being able to clearly see the flux and interconnectedness of our world.

Yet the problem is not so much words per se as our relationship with them.

"Language [...] is a remarkable servant and a lousy master."

And there exists something called poetry, which is the practice of using words to say what cannot be said in words.

Language labels things for us. Jean Piaget wrote: "Intelligence organizes the world by organizing itself." The problem with language is that it turns the world into things. Because of the incredible convenience of language, we hypnotize ourselves into believing the reality of linguistic symbols, especially nouns.

Gregory Bateson, following the inspiration of Anatol Holt, used to say that he wanted to get a bumper sticker that would say, "Stamp out Nouns."

Nouns, representing so-called persons, places, things, and ideas, are a marvelous convenience to allow us to get up and to move our mouth parts at each other and communicate, but they don't represent anything except for a very provisional and temporary kind of reality.

[Stephen Nachmanovitch]
'Old Men Ought to be Explorers', p.10-11
'Improvisation as a Tool for Investigating Reality', found here.


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Anthropologist Rupert Ross said that primordial languages often center on the use of verbs rather than nouns.

Native Americans for example, tend not to label individuals, but look at people as a process rather than a static thing.

Ross says, "When we apply such labels to real people, however, they tend to stick. And when they stick, they cause us to start denying the complexity and wholeness of the human beings we are speaking of."

Many primordial languages in the Americas had no words for guilt or shame. For example, the Apaches say those words were developed by white men to control one another. Actions that we think of as unforgivable actions were considered by many native cultures as mistakes which created opportunities to discover more about themselves and growth toward deeper wisdom.

When living close to nature, everything is in a constant flux of change. Nothing stays good or bad forever. Judgment and expectation get us in trouble. They become shorthand for a dead-end label that some thing or some one is good or bad.

[Sunny Strasburg]
'Violence and the Need for Tribalism', found at Reality Sandwich


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The physicist David Bohm argued that quantum reality is so very different from our everyday large scale experience that it requires a new language for its discussion.

Our Indo-European languages are strongly noun based and subject-object structured. For Bohm they represent a barrier to deeper understanding. The essence of the quantum world is flux, movement, transformation, symmetry and relationship rather than individual objects in interaction.

For Bohm the essence of such a reality requires a verb-based, process-based language - probably one very close to that still spoken by the Blackfoot.

[F. David Peat]
'Creativity: The Meeting of Apollo and Dionysus'


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He: But aren't you supposed to be inside? My interior person?

Chest-Voice: You are stuck in words. Interior simply means deeper. Going inward simply means going more deeply into things, into their heart and soul.

Interior is a sense of inward chambers, the hollow in the chest that resounds. It isn't a place to go and it doesn't mean all those things you've learned and taken so literalistically: introverting, introspecting, internalizing.

[James Hillman]
Healing Fiction, p.122


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Unlike Westerners, Ladakhis never express themselves with certitude about something they have not experienced. Any event in which they have not personally participated will be described using verbs that reflect the limitations of their knowledge: "It is said that ...,""It appears that ...,""It is probable that ..." If I ask someone, "Is it a big house?" he or she will be likely to answer, "It seemed big to me."

Even when people have personal experience, they are far more reluctant than we are to categorize and judge. Good and bad, fast and slow, here and there; these are not sharply different qualities. In the same way, Ladakhis will not think in terms of fundamental opposition, for instance, between mind and body or reason and intuition.

Ladakhis experience the world through what they call their semba, best translated as a cross between "heart" and "mind." This reflects the Buddhist insistence that Wisdom and Compassion are inseparable.

[Helena Norberg-Hodge]
Ancient Futures: Learning From Ladakh, p.82


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While rationality can explain much, there are limits to human capabilities of understanding. The English language is structured to account for cause and effect. For example, English speakers say, "It is raining," with the implication that there is a cause "it" that leads to rain.

Many Indian languages, on the other hand, merely note what is most accurately translated as "raining" as an observable fact. Such an approach brings a freedom to stop worrying about causes of things, and merely to relax and accept that our human insights can only go so far.

By not taking ourselves too seriously, or overinflating human importance, we can get beyond the logical world.

[Walter L. Williams]
The Spirit and the Flesh, p.20-1


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"From West to East" is a commonplace journalistic structure for an article. "From West to Female" is more like poetry. By jumping from one criterion, one binary, to another, it represents a real difference rather than the staged differences of the binary. It's fresh!  

[language becomes] mere texture when dichotomy ends.

What the remapping of the binaries produces, I think, is something irrational: beauty. 

It also produces a sort of self-knowledge; the realisation that all truths are provisional, contextual, consensual, habitual. It's therefore good to break one's habits from time to time -- to "binary hop".

[Momus]
'Binary hopping'


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Montaigne's thinking baffles our most common categories. The vision of an ever-changing world that he developed threatens the being of all things. ‘We have no communication with being’.

We wrongly take that which appears for that which is, and we indulge in a dogmatic, deceptive language that is cut off from an ever-changing reality. We ought to be more careful with our use of language. 

Montaigne would prefer that children be taught other ways of speaking, more appropriate to the nature of human inquiry, such as ‘What does that mean ?’, ‘I do not understand it’, ‘This might be’, ‘Is it true?’

Montaigne himself is fond of ‘these formulas that soften the boldness of our propositions’: “perhaps”, “to some extent”, “they say”, “I think”, and the like.

“I can see why the Pyrrhonian philosophers cannot express their general conception in any manner of speaking ; for they would need a new language. Ours is wholly formed of affirmative propositions….”

'Michel de Montaigne'


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Saussure pointed out that the association of a given sound, or signifier, with a given concept, or signified, is arbitrary - there’s nothing natural, simple, or permanent about it. Saussure wrote, “the arbitrary nature of the sign … dominates all the linguistics of language; its consequences are numberless.”

[The arbitrary association between signifier/signified] suggested an uncertainty, or slippage, in language, that would become a key tenet of poststructuralism.

How does that slippage arise? In place of the idea that signified and signifier were closely tied to one another, Saussure observed that each term is defined in relation to other, similar, terms nearby. For example, the sound of the word ‘horse’ differs only slightly from ‘horn’ and ‘hearse.’ Saussure pointed out that the concept, the signified, was also defined differentially, in the same way. Defining meaning not positively, but negatively, as a gap between adjacent terms, also contributed to this sense of slippage […]

Saussure had another diagram to express the blurry boundaries between terms - he redrew the series of signifiers [and signifieds] as a continuum. It’s language’s role to delineate units of meaning, and map between these two streams.

“It is mysterious that language works out its units while taking shape between two shapeless masses.”

[Christopher Bolton]
Animating Poststructuralism



Saussure's radical observation that signifieds are linked only arbitrarily to signifiers, defined by the structure of a given language system, led him also to notice that the signified is not stable, but the signified slides under the signifier because that signifier requires other signifiers to define the original arbitrary one (e.g., "deciduous broad-leafed trees of the genus Quercus or Lithocarpus").

Each of those signifiers ("deciduous" and "broad-leafed" and "trees" and, yes, even "of") yield signifieds which are themselves caught up in the slippage under their signifieds, a process that could possibly slide all the way to pure meaninglessness.

One of Derrida's unlikely allies, Jaques Lacan, a French Freudian psychoanalyst, gave a series of lectures in which he reapplied Saussurian linguistics to Freud and launched a new theory of personality.

In Lacan's appropriation of Deconstruction, we are "normal" (i.e., merely neurotic) because our minds refuse to notice most of the slippage Derrida insisted was going on. 

Those who could not resist seeing the slippage fell into psychosis, which presents verbal symptoms known, for instance, as "word salad," "clang associations," "knight's move" thinking, "neologism" (coining new words), etc.. Thus, language's identity-structuring power could be used to explain losses of structure, as well. 

'Slippage of the Signified Under the Signifier: Unstable Identity in Language'


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Hegel deals with a sequence of logical categories: being, becoming, one, many, essence, existence, cause, effect, universal, mechanism, and "life". Each is examined in turn and made to reveal its own inadequacies and internal tensions. Each category is made to generate another more promising one which in its turn will be subject to the same kind of scrutiny.

Hegel calls this dynamic aspect of his thinking the power of "negation".

It is by means of this "negativity" of thought that the static (or habitual) becomes discarded or dissolved, made fluid and adaptable, and recovers its eagerness to push on towards "the whole".

Dialectical thinking derives its dynamic of negation from its ability to reveal "contradictions" within almost any category or identity.

Hegel's "contradiction" does not simply mean a mechanical denial or opposition. Indeed, he challenges the classical notion of static self-identity, A = A, or A = non-A.

By negation or contradiction, Hegel means a wide variety of relations - difference, opposition, reflection or relation. It can indicate the mere insufficiency of a category or its incoherence. Most dramatically, categories are sometimes shown to be self-contradictory.

[Lloyd Spencer]
Introducing Hegel: A Graphic Guide


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[...] Popper condemns 'what is?' questions generally [...] Their quasi-magical attempt to capture the essence of reality in a definition has led Popper to brand the use of such questions as 'essentialism.'

In politics the essentialist approach leads almost naturally to Utopianism and doctrinal conflict. Genuinely important questions are more like 'What should we do in these circumstances? What are your proposals?' [...]

Because authoritarian structures incorporate the same mistaken notions of certainty, and the same mistaken assumptions about method, as does the traditional view of science, the arguments underlying Popper's criticism of the view that in politics we can, let alone should aim to, establish and preserve a certain state of society are in point after point the same of those underlying his criticism of the view that science can, let alone should aim to, establish and preserve certain knowledge.

[Bryan Magee]
Popper, p. 106-7


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Related posts:-
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All is Change
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Are You Sure?
Where language ends and art begins
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This, Not That
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The Eternal Ideas
The Right Distance

Re-birth

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Representation                     -                      Will
Earthly                                 -                       Transcendent
Desires                                 -                       No desires
Individual                             -                      Universal

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Beneath our individual characters there is a universal character - the 'same will in all' as Schopenhauer puts it. This common character is always speaking, but not often heard. If we are able to quiet our will - our various earthly desires - then we are more able to hear its voice.

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[...] so long as the knowledge is only that which is involved in the principium individuationis, and which positively follows the principle of sufficient reason, the power of the motives is irresistible.

But when the principium individuationis is seen through, when the Ideas, and indeed the inner nature of the thing-in-itself, are immediately recognized as the same will in all, and the result of this knowledge is a universal quieter of willing, then the individual motives become ineffective, because the kind of knowledge that corresponds to them is obscured and pushed into the background by knowledge of quite a different kind.

[...] the character can never partially change, but must, with the consistency of a law of nature, realize in the particular individual the will whose phenomena it is in general and as a whole. But this whole, the character itself, can be entirely eliminated by the above mentioned change of knowledge.

It is this elimination or suppression at which Asmus marvels, as said above, and which he describes as the "catholic, transcendental change." It is also that which in the Christian Church is very appropriately called new birth or regeneration, and the knowledge from which it springs, the effect of divine grace.

Therefore, it is not a question of change, but of an entire suppression of the character;

and so it happens that, however different the characters that arrived at that suppression were before it, they nevertheless show after it a great similarity in their mode of conduct, although each speaks very differently according to his concepts and dogmas.

[Arthur Schopenhauer]
The World as Will and Representation, p.403

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Living Things and Dead Things


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Concept                     -                  Idea
Man                           -                  God
Closed                       -                  Open
Limited                      -                  Unlimited
Conscious                  -                  Unconscious
Known                       -                  Unknown
Intentional                 -                  Accidental
Left hemisphere        -                  Right hemisphere


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Concepts are devices with which we hold the world still. They are structures that we stand upon and live within; and when viewed from 'Middle World' they seem solid enough.

However, walk a little further out, or dig a little deeper, and their supposed solidity is thrown into question. When viewed from outside Middle World our structures are not as consistent, or as solid, as they first appear.

By believing in our structures - that they are solid, real - we are able to create grand illusions: vast organisations, towering buildings, complex bureaucracies. It is through putting our faith in the idea of permanence - through taking our games seriously, and our stories literally - that we have been able to construct the monumental edifice of Western society, with its many boons.

Perhaps this is one reason why traditional societies, like the Blackfoot - who were less inclined to view things as static, or solid - did not build such edifices. They did not take things seriously enough.


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The Idea is the unity that has fallen into plurality by virtue of the temporal and spatial form of our intuitive apprehension.

The concept, on the other hand, is the unity once more produced out of plurality by means of abstraction through our faculty of reason;

the latter can be described as unitas post rem, and the former as unitas ante rem.

Finally we can express the distinction between concept and Idea figuratively, by saying that the concept is like a dead receptacle in which whatever has been put actually lies side by side, but from which no more can be taken out (by analytical judgements) than has been put in (by synthetical reflection).

The Idea, on the other hand, develops in him who has grasped it representations that are new as regards the concept of the same name; it is like a living organism, developing itself and endowed with generative force, which brings forth that which was not previously put into it.

Now it follows from all that has been said that the concept, useful as it is in life, serviceable, necessary, and productive as it is in science, is eternally barren and unproductive in art. The apprehended Idea, on the contrary, is the true and only source of every genuine work of art.

The generation, in other words the dull multitude of any time, itself knows only concepts and sticks to them; it therefore accepts mannered works with ready and loud applause. After a few years, however, these works become unpalatable, because the spirit of the times, in other words the prevailing concepts, in which alone those works could take root, has changed.

Only the genuine works that are drawn directly from nature and life remain eternally young and strong, like nature and life itself. For they belong to no age, but to mankind; and for this reason they are received with indifference by their own age to which they distained to conform; and because they indirectly and negatively exposed the errors of the age, they were recognized tardily and reluctantly.

Now, if the purpose of all art is the communication of the apprehended Idea, this Idea is then grasped by the man of weaker susceptibility and no productive capacity through the medium of the artist's mind, in which it appears isolated and purged of everything foreign;

further, if starting from the concept is objectionable in art, then we shall not be able to approve, when a work of art is intentionally and avowedly chosen to express a concept; this is the case in allegory.

An allegory is a work of art signifying something different from what it depicts. But that which is perceptive, and consequently the Idea as well, expresses itself immediately and completely, and does not require the medium of another thing through which it is outlined or suggested. Therefore that which is suggested and represented in this way by something quite different is always a concept, because it cannot itself be brought before perception.

Hence through the allegory a concept is always to be signified, and consequently the mind of the beholder has to be turned aside from the depicted representation of perception to one that is quite different, abstract, and not perceptive, and lies entirely outside the work of art. Here, therefore, the picture or statue is supposed to achieve what a written work achieves far more perfectly.

[...] certainly no great perfection in the work of art is demanded for what is here intended; on the contrary, it is enough if we see what the thing is supposed to be; for as soon as this is found, the end is reached, and the mind is then led on to quite a different kind of representation, to an abstract concept which was the end in view.

If in plastic and pictorial art we are led from what is immediately given to something else, this must always be a concept, because here only the abstract cannot be immediately given. But a concept can never be the source, and its communication can never be the aim, of a work of art. On the other hand, in poetry the concept is the material, the immediately given, and we can therefore very well leave it, in order to bring about something perceptive which is entirely different, and in which the end is attained.

[Arthur Schopenhauer]
The World as Will and Representation, p.234-7, 240


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We continue the iconoclast habit and destroy images in religion and literature through allegory and in psychology through conceptual interpretation. (This kitten in your dream is your feeling function; this dog, your sexual desire; this great snake coiled in the corner is your unconscious, or mother, or anxiety.)

The image is slain and stuffed with concepts or vanishes into an abstraction.

[James Hillman]
Healing Fiction, p.70-1


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I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. 

I much prefer history – true or feigned– with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse applicability with allegory, but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.

[J.R.R. Tolkien]


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Calling a story an allegory is intellectually lazy, unless the author intended it to be so. It tricks people into forcing themselves to accept one possible explanation for any story, if it has a "lesson." 

 On some level it is also insulting to an author to suggest that their entire work is a one-to-one substitution to an actual event, unless it is strictly intended. Calling an Onion article an allegory wouldn't be insulting, as each article specifically tackles an issue of choice; it is a lampooning of one aspect of modern culture per article, and the whole production of works is great, because of the format. But it is intended.

LotR is often considered an allegory to WWII, and the Ring has been compared to nuclear weaponry or even nationalism. I personally don't find any of those interpretations to hold much merit, as they lack any of the metaphysical aspects of the object in question.

I mean, really, it's magic.

Some allegories really are timeless lessons in philosophy and folk wisdom and should not be discounted. No one argues the conversation that can result from discussing the Allegory of the Cave or any of the Parables.

However, these allegories all have an intended purpose and point to them, as well as a specific audience that is intended to hear them. To reduce the entirety of the story of LotR into one lesson or one point is reductive.

[Tavrobel]
'Why did Tolkien hate allegory?' 


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[...] men, that is to say, are now writing only with the male side of their brains [...] It is the power of suggestion that one most misses, I thought, taking Mr B the critic in my hand and reading, very carefully and very dutifully, his remarks upon the art of poetry.

Very able they were, acute and full of learning; but the trouble was that his feelings no longer communicated; his mind seemed separated into different chambers; not a sound carried from one to the other.

Thus, when one takes a sentence of Mr B into the mind it falls plump to the ground - dead; but when one takes a sentence of Coleridge into the mind, it explodes and gives birth to all kinds of other ideas, and that is the only sort of writing of which one can say that it has the secret of perpetual life.

[Virginia Woolf]
A Room of One's Own, p.117


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Critics who want to escape from the mysteriousness of the work try to replace it by the intention they ascribe to the artist.

A few years ago, Robert Klein argued that it is no longer possible to judge a painting or sculpture without knowing who made it and in what spirit. When we look at a contemporary painting in a gallery, we search for the artist’s name and the title of the painting, if it has one. We do this not out of mere helplessness or curiosity but in the hope of seeing the work as the fulfilment of an intention.

What Klein meant, I think, was that the work of art now persists chiefly as an indication of an intention; it is as an embodied intention that it can best be studied. It is comforting to be in the presence of intentions we understand because the considerations of psychology and economics aren’t at all mysterious—discussion of them is easy.

You’ll recall the incident, a few years ago, when the Tate Gallery paid good domestic cash for a work called 'Equivalent VIII', a load of bricks laid on the floor by the artist Carl Andre. Andre’s intention was far more interesting than the bricks or the order in which he assembled them.

'I sever matter from depiction,’ he said, ‘I am the Turner of matter’. He meant that in choosing bricks, metal plates, or bales of hay, he chooses things that are associated with particular uses, and he diverts them from those uses so that he can give them intrinsic existence.

(Andre's materials have not already become what their manufacturer wanted them finally to be: as, for instance, a car-mirror (Joseph Bueys) or a lavatory seat (Duchamp).)

Normally we look at things mainly for their use; we deal with them as we deal with the wallpaper in our rooms, we would notice it only if it was gone, torn or daubed with black paint.

Carl Andre wants much the same result. Looking at his bricks, we see them as such, as objects: the artist has forced us to pay attention. He doesn’t claim that there is anything sacred in the bricks themselves, or even in his way of disposing them.

Andre regards the artistic event as a combination of the artist’s intention and our way of receiving it. Is there anything against this? No, except that art in this sense can have no history other than that of its intention.

Once we have taken the point and resolved to amend our lives accordingly, there is nothing more to do. Like any one of Andy Warhol’s films, it is not necessary to see it, it’s enough to understand that it is there, and why.

[Denis Donoghue]
The Arts Without Mystery, p. 36


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The way I think about making exhibitions is less about having an argument I’m trying to prove to the world - that this is the right way to think, or to see - it’s more a hypothetical story that I’m trying to tell.

I’m trying to keep it as open as possible, to provide lots of different entry points for different audiences. I’m not interested in trying to hammer away at people's perceptions to make sure they only see it one way.

I do an exhibition because I want to know what the show is about, and if I already did know what it was about then I would not find much interest in doing the show, because it just becomes an exercise in illustrating an argument I’ve already figured out.

For me its more exciting, and more alive, to [not know what it’s about].

[Anthony Huberman]
'Anthony Huberman on For the Blind Man…' 
 

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While the Western world, and particularly Western science, converts the world into a series of concepts that can then be manipulated in the mind, such concepts do not come so easily in the Blackfoot language.

Their philosophy deals with relationships to individual things rather than to collections of similar objects, or ideas into fixed concepts.

Likewise names of things are not fixed. A person's name will change several times during his or her lifetime and to reflect particular deeds and attitudes. Neither is there a fixed concept of personality.

Indeed, while we find multiple personality to be a mental aberration, the Blackfoot would view someone who believed they had only a single self, more or less fixed for life, as missing out on the richness of life's possibilities.

In place of fixed laws and organizations the Blackfoot have networks of relationships with all living things, including rocks and trees, as well as compacts that were negotiated by their ancestors with the spirits and energies of the cosmos. In a world of flux each person has an obligation to renew these relationships and compacts.

And so the Blackfoot world is one of ceremony and responsibility and the recognition of life's basic impermanence. How different their vision of reality is from that which has created our vast organizations, multinationals, and government bureaucracies.

As yet the deeper meaning of quantum theory and process reality has not permeated into our general culture. However, the world of the Blackfoot does show that a society can function in a world of process.

[F. David Peat]
From Certainty to Uncertainty, p. 69-70


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The contextual versus abstract distinction is illustrated by the different use of symbols by each hemisphere.

In one sense of the word, a symbol such as the rose is the focus or centre of an endless network of connotations which ramify through our physical and mental, personal and cultural, experience in life, literature and art: the strength of the symbol is in direct proportion to the power it has to convey an array of implicit meanings, which need to remain implicit to be powerful.

In this it is like a joke that has several layers of meaning - explaining them destroys its power.

The other sort of symbol could be exemplified by the red traffic light: its power lies in its use, and its use depends on a 1:1 mapping of the command 'stop' onto the colour red, which precludes ambiguity and has to be explicit.

This sort of symbolic function is in the realm of the left hemisphere, while the first type belongs to the realm of the right.

[Iain McGilchrist]
The Master and His Emissary, p. 51


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Walk a Straight Line


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With a sigh, Knecht shook of this notion. He himself had gone another way, or rather been led, and what counted was to pursue his assigned way straightforwardly and faithfully, not to compare it with the ways of others.

[...] More and more he had to bid farewell to the dream, the feeling and the pleasure of infinite possibilities, of a multiplicity of futures.

[Hermann Hesse]
The Glass Bead Game, p. 248, 471


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[...] although a man is always the same, he does not always understand himself, but often fails to recognize himself until he has acquired some degree of real self-knowledge.

He finds in himself the tendencies to all the various human aspirations and abilities, but the different degrees of these in his individuality do not become clear to him without experience.

Now if he resorts to those pursuits that alone conform to his character, he feels, especially at particular moments and in particular moods, the impulse to the very opposite pursuits that are incompatible with them; and if he wishes to follow the former pursuits undisturbed, the latter must be entirely suppressed.

For, as our physical path on earth is always a line and not a surface, we must in life, if we wish to grasp and possess one thing, renounce and leave aside innumerable others that lie to the right and to the left.

If we cannot decide to do this, but, like children at a fair, snatch at everything that fascinates us in passing, this is the perverted attempt to change the line of our path into a surface. We then run a zigzag path, wander like a will-o'-the-wisp, and arrive at nothing.

Or, to use another comparison, according to Hobbe's doctrine of law, everyone originally has a right to everything, but an exclusive right to nothing;

but he can obtain an exclusive right to individual things by renouncing his right to all the rest, while the others do the same with regard to what was chosen by him. 

It is precisely the same in life, where we can follow some definite pursuit, whether it be of pleasure, honour, wealth, science, art, or virtue, seriously and successfully only when we give up all claims foreign to it, and renounce everything else.

Therefore mere willing and mere ability to do are not enough of themselves, but a man must also know what he wills, and know what he can do. Only thus will he display character, and only then can he achieve anything solid. Until he reaches this, he is still without character, in spite of the natural consistency of the empirical character.  

Although, on the whole, he must remain true to himself and run his course drawn by his daemon, he will not describe a straight line, but a wavering and uneven one.

[...] We must first learn from experience what we will and what we can do; till then we do not know this, are without character, and must often be driven back on to our own path by hard blows from outside.

But if we have finally learnt it, we have then obtained what in the world is called character, the acquired character, which, accordingly, is nothing but the most complete possible knowledge of our own individuality.

It is the abstract, and consequently distinct, knowledge of the unalterable qualities of our own empirical character, and of the measure and direction of our mental and bodily powers, and so of the whole strength and weakness of our own individuality.

This puts us in a position to carry out, deliberately and methodically, the unalterable role of our own person, and to fill up the gaps caused in it by whims or weaknesses, under the guidance of fixed concepts.

[...] In accordance with these, we carry it out as deliberately as though it were one that had been learnt, without ever being led astray by the fleeting influence of the mood or impression of the present moment, without being checked by the bitterness or sweetness of a particular thing we meet with on the way, without wavering, without hesitation, without inconsistencies.

[...] [We] will then often partake of the pleasure of feeling [our] strength, and will rarely experience the pain of being reminded of [our] weaknesses.

[...] For as the whole man is only the phenomenon of his will, nothing can be more absurd than for him, starting from reflection, to want to be something different from what he is; for this is an immediate contradiction of the will itself.

Imitating the qualities of others is much more outrageous than wearing others' clothes, for it is the judgement we ourselves pronounce on our own worthlessness. 

Knowledge of our own mind and of our capabilities of every kind, and of their unalterable limits, is in this respect the surest way to the attainment of the greatest possible contentment with ourselves.

[Arthur Schopenhauer]
The World as Will and Representation, p.303-6


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(Anonymous): I wonder if there's a Cocker backlash in the wings.

There's a generation who see him as a guy who crops up to comment on stuff although he (himself) hasn't had a hit for years, so he's a kind of half-cocked national treasure (when everyone seems to be a national treasure), possibly compounded with "death-by-Guardian" a ubiquitousness meaning that you tick all the boxes for production assistants and editors, out of proportion with any public fervour.

imomus
: Celebrity and backlash are absolutely inextricable, for the reasons we were discussing the other day:  

as soon as you make a clear unequivocal statement (and what is a celeb if not a "cultural statement"?) doubts rush in, and the opposite begins to seem appealing.

Slebs can only avoid this by becoming reclusive, ie silent as mimes. Like the Queen, or David Bowie. (Anyone know what he thought of the death of Michael, the Iraq war, the Obama victory? Of course not; he's a mime.)

milky_eyes: ah, I think bowie avoided this by keeping or try to keep his whole 'thing' ie image, statements, music... increasingly more abstract, or postmodern...
 
I dont think you ever got a consistent 'straight' statement out of him... I think in his early years, he'd say stuff, but then one gets tired of always having to backtrack and apologize, etc... so one talks more and more in non-committal statements.

but geez, I'd get tired of always 'airing' 'MY" opinion of this or that.... tired pompous situation.

Conversation from Click Opera, see here.


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I'm told so many things. I've had someone on the phone trying to tell me what the sixth sense is, and I said, I've got a sixth sense, its a fucking sense of humour!

Everything to me is logical and practical, its in my face, its there. I can't distract from it, because the second I distract from it I do lose my way and I have to stay the way that I am, and thats why I have to be non-effected by anything that I listen to, or hear, or see.

[John Harris]
Interviewed on tnsradio


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Amish women adopted quilt styles from the larger society but made them in strong, unprinted colours of their own clothing.

Quilts are emblems of affection. They symbolize a message of warmth. They are an extension of parental affection to the family, the kin group, and to the wider world. Quilts underscore the importance of the transgenerational family.

The patterns, colours, and fabrics are the result of firm boundaries, strong identity, and decisiveness. Inside those boundaries there is warmth and caring. 

[John A. Hostetler]
Amish Society, p. 166


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As we get older, the brain’s synapses—the connections between neurons—start to change.

The young brain is very “plastic,” as neuroscientists say: Between birth and about age 5, the brain easily makes new connections. A preschooler’s brain has many more synapses than an adult brain. 

Then comes a kind of tipping point.

Some connections, especially the ones that are used a lot, become longer, stronger and more efficient. But many other connections disappear—they are “pruned.”

[Alison Gopnik]
'For Babies, Life May Be a Trip'


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