Tag Archives: culture

Tom Wolfe kicked off a mainstream understanding of brain imaging that challenged faith


The recently departed writer wrote a 1996 piece for Forbes ASAP, a magazine supplement to Forbes, entitled, “Sorry, But Your Soul Just Died.”

When I read it back then, Wolfe’s reporting on the nascent field of brain imaging seemed to have big implications, which was exactly his point: “…anyone who cares to get up early and catch a truly blinding twenty–first–century dawn will want to keep an eye on it.”

Since then, “neuroscience” has exploded within something like a popular consciousness as brain-scan findings and their possible implications are served by journalists to mainstream audiences. I guess I did just that in my last post about brain scans and beliefs. (When you’re not an expert, you just quote experts.)

So I’m grateful to Vaughan Bell for writing this February 2016 piece in the Guardian, republished this week after Wolfe’s passing: “Did Tom Wolfe’s bold predictions about human nature come true?” Bell gives a quick overview and assessment of Wolfe’s 1996 predictions. I especially liked this sentence from Bell’s second paragraph:

An interest in neuroscientists—brain geeks—must have seemed like an enthusiasm for paint salesmen to much of the mid-90s public but Wolfe saw a genuine cultural subversion emerging from the field.

To what extent has “genuine cultural subversion emerg[ed] from the field”? Read all of Bell’s essay to find out.

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Consciousness, Culture, and Art: Informal Comments on an Imagist Poem by William Carlos Williams


In part of this post on William Carlos Williams’s poem “The Pot,” Thomas F. Bertonneau suggests meaning is bigger than mere associations between things, images, ideas, etc. He seems to be saying the ability to make meanings has its source in common grace. “Meaning is not only a type of synchronicity; it is a type of Grace. It takes an occasion, such as the careful composition of ‘The Pot,’ to bestow itself, although undeserved, on the percipient. A sense of this drove the humanities at their constitution, but as Western culture has gradually repudiated basic notions like the beauty that is truth lauded by Keats in his Ode, as it has expelled the supernatural, the Christianized sacred, and the pre-Christian sacred, it has impoverished itself of meaning, which it now in fact disdains, pretending to ‘deconstruct’ it. In the 1980s, when I attended graduate school in Comparative Literature at UCLA, the old guard of the professoriate still clung vestigially to the institutions of meaning; they still urged their young acolytes to acquire as much knowledge as possible so that as many things as possible might at any moment be brought into constellation by an instance of meaning.”

The Orthosphere

flowers-in-pot-01 Ou Li Da

The poem to which this essay’s subtitle refers is one of the much-excerpted and much anthologized verse-interpolations in the Menippean combination of verse and prose, Spring and All (1921), that the New Jersey poet William Carlos Williams (1883 – 1963) produced at the acme of his self-consciously Imagist phase in the years after the First World War.  The poem carries no title, but, according to the tenets of Imagism, presents itself to the reader as an instance of res ipso loquitur or “the thing speaks for itself.”  In a later phase of his insistent creativity, Williams would adopt as his poetic motto the formula, “no ideas but in things,” the implication of which is that experience is not solipsistic, nor consciousness hermetic, but that any self-aware navigation of the world presupposes an intentional relation between the navigator and the world that he navigates, which he records as…

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Peter Fonda to Portray Con-Artist Preacher


Deadline Hollywood says:

“Peter Fonda is set for a starring role in The Most Hated Woman in America, the true story of Madalyn O’Hair, an atheist who got the Supreme Court to overturn prayer in public schools. Netflix is financing the motion picture with Melissa Leo starring…

“Fonda will play Reverend Harrington, a con-artist preacher who partners with O’Hair to do a tour of revival meetings to prey on the God-fearing aspect of his followers. Leo will portray O’Hair, the outspoken and overbearing founder of American Atheists, whose eloquent, impassioned speeches in favor of separation of church and state were much at odds with her unethical business practices (the Internal Revenue Service had long-suspected that she moved the organization’s money into overseas bank accounts to avoid taxes).”

Rsad the full article.

Two easy ways to recognize social cohesion in church communities


1. A sudden shift in a newcomer’s interaction style (social insight has been conveyed to the newcomer).

2. A change in facial expressions from ministerial spouses (pillow talk about workaday aggravations).

A key to questioning the “fruits of the Spirit” and “spiritual growth” is to notice social consensus maintains a greater value than loving enemies or neighbors.

In other words, human social groups act like human social groups, regardless of the particular shibboleth.

If we are stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, then the accuracy or the particulars of the stories aren’t so important as the social consensus that carries them.

An unconventional observation brings about fear because of both its implications about the nature of the social group and its threat to acceptance by the tribe.

‘still frantically concerned…to keep thought separate from the exigencies of the flesh’


quotation by Steven Shaviro from tiredshoes.tumblr.com

from tiredshoes.tumblr.com

Compare what Shaviro says with the information on Pietro Torrigiani’s marble bust “Christ the Savior.” Consider physicality and materiality, and wonder about the default modes of anti-materiality and anti-physicality within Western culture and sub-cultures.

Movies as insight into mass fears and desires


“[Gene] Siskel described his job as ‘covering the national dream beat,’ because if you pay attention to the movies they will tell you what people desire and fear. Movies are hardly ever about what they seem to be about. Look at a movie that a lot of people love, and you will find something profound, no matter how silly the film may be.” – Roger Ebert, from an enriching gallery on the Atlantic’s site

Persuasion cannot happen without a supporting culture


This is a little dense, but read closely. The underlying point should intrigue anyone who tries to persuade others of unseen realities.

“Metaphysical questions and beliefs are technologically barren and are therefore neither part of the analytical effort nor an element of science. As an organ of culture they are an extension of the mythical core….

“Metaphyiscal questions and beliefs reveal an aspect of human existence not revealed by scientific questions and beliefs… The idea of proof, introduced into metaphysics, arises from a confusion of two different sources of energy active in man’s conscious relation to the world: the technological and the mythical….

“Myth cannot be reached by persuasion; persuasion belongs to a different area of interpersonal communication, that is, to an area in which the criteria of technological resilience of judgments have their force….

“The sense of continuity in relation to tradition may, but need not, help mythical consciousness. There is always a reason which needs to be revealed in the permanence of myths and the inertia of conservatism. Values are transmitted only through social inheritance, that is, thanks to a radiation of authoritative tradition. The inheritance of myths is the inheritance of values which myths impose….”

— Leszek Kolakowski, in The Presence of Myth