Big Bang Theory vs. Kubrick’s “The Shining”

BIG BANG THEORY

The Big Bang Theory is the current, widely-accepted model of the birth of our universe. It was formulated in the early 20th century and refined to the present by progressive theory and experiment. The Big Bang is based on observations of redshifts in distant stars (meaning the stars are getting further from us), background radiation, and other conditions observed in our universe, and the scientific majority agrees that the universe is expanding from its origin as a singularity. The model explains many questions about why our universe is the way it is. Ongoing reiteration and support from the scientific community has made worldwide scientific hegemony of the matter despite that common sense tells us it’s impossible.

The Big Bang Theory is not a scientific fact. It is a theory. It states that our whole universe exploded out of a singularity almost infinitely dense and almost infinitely small. But how can we believe, based on observation (i.e. scientifically), that our whole universe with it’s mind-boggling mass and size can fit into a point smaller than an electron? Common sense and experiential evidence tells us this is ridiculous, but expert testimony and high science support it as true. Counter arguments are generally dismissed by the scientific community and rarely make it to major media. Granted, physical and theoretical experiments have been carried out by “experts” to corroborate this majority opinion, but these experiments cannot prove The Big Bang Theory true in a way that is scientifically valid. The progress of this theory reminds me of the Vatican’s discussions about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. At best The Big Bang Theory is a good speculation which can help further exploration.

Stephen Hawking, Michio Kaku, and other pop scientists in contemporary physics seem to agree, though they might differ on the finer points of the theory. While selling this line on a television program, Hawking went so far as to declare that there is no God, but offered up a cosmology just as miraculous – that the Big Bang just happened. They seem to miss the point that the role of a scientist is to observe and to postulate, not to declare completely unprovable opinions. There is no such thing as holy fiat in science, and it seems to me that these declarations hurt future science because they narrow the aperture with which coming generations will view the universe.

Of course we need scientists to operate at all levels of intelligence, and the smartest will likely be unintelligible to the majority of the world. Specialized science pushes the boundaries of knowledge omni-directionally, expanding our understanding at increasing rates. But because the average person cannot understand quantum physics or super string theory, scientists are forced to dumb down their message, forcing people to accept certain assumptions without question, and this leads away from the spirit of science.

Initiates into scientific mysteries speak their own language, a jargon developed throughout history. The Vatican is likewise initiated into its own specialized explanations of mysteries. The cosmological explanations of the Dark Ages made some sort of sense to people of the time, even if they sound absurd from a secular, contemporary point-of-view. But look past the God question and ask if there are things in religion that improve humanity. Cultivation of morality, relief from personal suffering, and religious experiences are real effects that can be explained with the models put forth by the church. To that end, debating the fate of souls has some relevance, even if is clothed in bizarre cultural symbols. We should assume current theories will seem equally absurd in the future.

It is not my intent to say whether The Big Bang Theory is true or false. Obviously I don’t know. My complaint is the dogmatic approach modern popular science takes. Dogma caused the Dark Ages. If the theory explains the universe in a way you find personally useful, then by all means use the theory. But if you have a hard time believing that the whole universe can be contained in a space of virtually zero volume, then you shouldn’t just accept the theory because specialists in scientific jargon say it’s true.

THE SHINING

In the novel The Shining by Stephen King, a hotel caretaker is haunted by ghosts. These ghosts, who inhabit The Overlook Hotel, possess Jack Torrence, driving him to murder his child Danny. These ghosts have many magical capabilities, including the animation of lions made of shrubbery. Fortunately, Danny has a magical friend Tony to look out for him and keep him safe. The novel left me unsatisfied, and part of this is because I can’t comprehend the scope of the forces at work. There is so much magic happening that as a reader I’m forced to suspend my disbelief throughout. Even if I stay with the story to the end, I understand that nothing real is at stake.

But most people would agree there are no such things as ghosts, no such thing as magical fairies from the future who can tell you where to hide, and no such things as hedges that can bite your face off. Most people today are much too rational for beliefs like this. And this is why the film adaptation of The Shining by Stanley Kubrick is a far superior work of art.

In the film, the antagonism is believable. People understand that the mind is a fragile thing. It is able to bend and warp into psychosis and we understand this because we see it every day in the news. People do go on murderous rampages. Bushes do not attack people. Kubrick eliminated the hedge lions completely and focused the malevolent forces within the psychology of Jack Torrence. Instead of suspending disbelief, the audience is able to fully engage with the descent into madness of an alcoholic with cabin fever and the sympathetic intuitions of his young son.

The film version of The Shining is simply more honest. For most of us, possession by ghosts sounds impossible unless it is explained by way of psychology. The film trumps the novel every time because a) it is perfectly executed, and b) it is based on something society can observe and understand, as opposed to the Big Bang.

Art is about showing truth. Science is about finding truth. Speculation is a good starting point for both, but only as a spring-board to truth. In the end, truth should trump speculation every time. Therefore the winner in this week’s Battle Of Unrelated Things is Kubrick’s The Shining.

Free Music

In my post The Sound of Confusion I gave a brief history of my development as a musician. In lieu of written thoughts this week I decided to add a Music page to my site where I’ll host a variety of my own recordings through SoundCloud. There you’ll find Bloemfontein tracks and various collaborative and solo recordings and I hope to add to it periodically.  Please check it out and let me know what you think.

Transvaluate the Negative

19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was highly controversial due to his outspoken disdain for Christianity, which he felt glorified the meek over the strong, death (and the lie of an afterlife) over life itself, and self-restraint over natural, ineluctable human impulses. He also believed traditional Christian morality was a type of propaganda meant to imprison the masses inside a false idea of “good”, stifling the vitality and will of individuals to ensure a complacent, easily dominated and controllable herd. He probably would have gotten along with Ayn Rand if he didn’t also disdain women.

But Nietzsche felt he could wake people from their religious trance to the true power of their intellect and will. Among his philosophic legacies is the “transvaluation of values”, which he espoused through his professional life, particularly in his book The Antichrist. The goal of the “transvaluation of values” is to abolish dogma and stagnant thinking in favour of evaluating ideas with fresh, modern thinking. The idea is that people shouldn’t act a certain way simply because they’ve always acted that way. People should question accepted ideologies to ensure they remain relevant. Though Nietzsche has obvious flaws as a man, I find his writing inspiring, extremely intelligent, and I think the “transvaluation of values” is a potent concept that becomes more important as time goes by.

Though the idea of the “transvaluation of values” is attributed to Nietzsche, it has periodically sprung up through history, many times altering the world. After Rome conquered Greece and renamed their gods, Julius Caesar reconsidered the god-concept and decided he was a god. He did this while moving nations with his will, shaping civilization forever. Jesus Christ transvaluated the values of Judaism, triggering the worldwide Christianity (or versions of Christianity) we know today. The Prophet Mohammed later offered a slightly different version.

And we see this in art throughout history. Whether it’s the surrealism of Salvador Dali or the cubism of Pablo Picasso, the mythologized documentaries of Werner Herzog or the depth psychology of Carl Jung, sea change in culture is caused by a breakthrough in thinking, and the breaking down of previous forms. Because Everything is subject to change, the transvaluation of values allows for constant feedback, for adapting to the flow of things physical and psychical.

I previously said that George R. R. Martin’s success with A Game of Thrones is primarily commercial and not an artistic breakthrough. In reevaluating my opinion I asked myself why his work is so commercially successful. I believe it’s because he has transvaluated the form of the traditional epic hero quest. Using the form of the epic fantasy novel, he has posited a new value that might reflect a more current vision of ourselves. Many would say his work offers a more pessimistic vision of society.

[The following contains spoilers for A Game of Thrones. Be warned. Spoilers in red.] The main character of the first book is Ned Stark, father of the Stark family, Lord in the North, and a shining example of integrity. He has so much integrity that the audience forgives him for killing his daughter’s pet dire wolf, an innocent animal, because he acts out of duty. Most popular writers would avoid having their main protagonist and focus of empathy murder an animal – people sometimes are more willing to accept the murder of another human than an innocent animal. But this hero breaks the taboo. So what?

I’ll tell you so what. This action is a signpost, foreshadowing the author’s own willingness to do the unthinkable in an epic fantasy: at the climax of the novel, the innocent Ned Stark is beheaded in front of his daughter. Killing off the main character and primary protagonist in the first book of a lengthy series shows us George R. R. Martin’s opinion of the epic fantasy, in contrast to Tolkien. The epic fantasy is stunted when tethered to one character. The idea of an epic is that it should span a vast world over a vast amount of time. Killing the main character tells us in no uncertain terms that A Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire is much more than the story of one man, more than the story of one family. It is a story of whole world, and each book broadens the readers’ horizons, deepening their connection to the work as a whole.

These days our culture seems to be attracted to pessimistic world views. There are many examples of this kind of transvaluation – consider that every new superhero franchise tries to offer a grittier, darker version of essentially childish fantasies. This could be a simple reflection of the pessimistic worldviews held by society, but it could also be a reflection of people’s resilience. Despite the lunacy of the world, we carry on. Life is compromise and people are willing to take the good with the bad.

A potent method of spreading a meme is to transvaulate an old symbol. It’s best if the symbol is simple and well defined. Satanists turned the crucifix upside down. Nazi’s appropriated the swastika which was originally a Hindu symbol. Nixon used Churchill’s “V” for Victory. And more recently, The Watchmen by Alan Moore takes the ubiquitous yellow happy face and adds a drop of blood to it. What this means is clear in the opening chapter of the book as the “hero” Rorschach stands above a city telling us that one day the people will ask to be saved, and he will tell them “no”.

Whatever our opinion of society’s current state of values, “transvaluation of values” ensures that over time these values will change just like the world around us. And periodic reassessments give us opportunities to create our own set of values that will make us happier and let us grow. Even as Nietzsche said “God is dead,” he delivered the concept of the self-made Superman. Whatever your opinions on Nietzsche, the idea of liberating the latent faculties of every individual is one of the most positive messages in history.

 

 

My Triumverate of Games

The word “game” can mean a lot of things. Rugby, Settlers of Catan, Halo 4, Bakugan, Pinball, Pin the Tail on the Donkey, Ping Pong, Pong, Pogs, and Plinko all fit the category and cover such a wide range of physical and mental activity one might be tempted to expand the definition and say even life is a game. In a Darwinian sense there’s always competition, and there are definitely people that believe whoever dies with the most money wins.

Games have certainly been a big part of my life. As a kid I had a long hockey engagement, a shorter one in baseball, a brief dip into lacrosse and soccer, frequent rounds of Monopoly and Scrabble, hiding and seeking, regular nine-ball, way too many rounds of Mortal Kombat on Sega Genesis, Gangbusters and Ghostbusters for the Commodore 64, encounters with Dungeons & Dragons, millions of casualties between Axis and Allies and a single round of beer pong. The only time I want a ping pong ball in my beer is when it’s one of those floating widgets. Even then…

So I’ve had my fair share. The following are my favorite three right now (not necessarily in this order) and I’ll explain why. Because all these games take place sitting down you might think I’m lazy, but I like to think of myself as an Athlete of the Relaxed.

Chess

Chess is the most elegant intellectual game I’m familiar with. The board is a self-contained arena for pure mental battle. The rules are easy to learn and stress logical ability, spatial perception, and forethought. Strategy exists on many levels, and there is no way to win except to out-perform your opponent. And if you lose, it’s on you. There is absolutely no luck involved, and I believe that with no stochastic variables, chess is one of the most honest intellectual competitions.

However, it’s hard to say with any certainty that the skills of a great chess player extend beyond the board into the life of the player. Being a good chess player doesn’t mean you’re smart, it just means your good at chess. And like many things, often the best players are simply the most dedicated players, or the ones who sink the most time into it. And being a two player game, chess players are less engaged with the world around them than, say, a linebacker.

Scrabble

Scrabble is the ultimate game for logophiles (people who like words). There are strong strategic elements like word placement and rack management, but the random element (the drawing of tiles) ensures that each player has a chance to win, like a sport, and each player has to adapt to circumstance, to roll with the punches and always play their best game.

Of course knowledge of words is crucial, and learning to find those words takes practice, but these skills do extend into our world through our communication. Naturally the larger our vocabulary the more we can express with language. Even better if we know how to spell correctly. But to be fair, when good players compete, so many words are played on the board that neither would ever use in conversation.

Poker

Poker is competition on two distinct levels. There’s a very heavy stochastic element to it, giving advantage to the mathematically-inclined even as it draws all types of players. Because cash games of poker have no set time limit, players get to set their mathematical skill against waves of probability hand after hand. The gambling aspect is easily extrapolated into the world because people with mathematical skill are more likely to succeed at trading stocks, real estate, or any business venture.

The other interesting facet of poker is that it’s a form of psychological warfare, much more so than chess or Scrabble. To get an edge players try to excel at emotional control, empathy, anticipation, and mind-reading. And in poker, the bottom line is money, which extends directly into society. The plusses and minuses in posterity are nothing compared to the financial reality. Poker is a popular occupation these days – in fact more people play poker now than ever before. And one certainty in poker is that the person with the most money at the end wins.

 

Addiction vs. Inspiration

Addiction

Addiction describes a pattern of behavior that we judge negatively. Once behaviors are learned, they can become routine and continue with relative ease. In some cases we might say the behavior is involuntary. If we don’t want to judge the behavior negatively, we call it a habit. A habit can carry a negative connotation too, but it’s not as extreme a connotation as the word “addiction”.

Naturally when people think about addiction they think about drugs, cigarettes, gambling, and apparently now sex. But the whole idea of addiction is that there is enough force compelling one to continue with the behavior that withdrawal causes some unpleasantness. In cases of extreme drug addiction (heavy heroin users, for example), withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous. But outside of that example, none of the other behaviors cause any sort of trauma when we quit them.

Media companies and the Surgeon General tell us that cigarettes are addictive. This is supposed to scare us away from ever starting. But cigarette companies benefit from smokers who believe they’re addicted. If I believe that I can’t control myself, then I don’t think about smoking, I just buy another pack. So what actually happens when people quit smoking? They have cravings, maybe compensate by eating, gain a bit of weight, notice themselves more nervous…in other words nothing too bad really happens. The word addiction gives people an excuse to act like it’s not their fault that they’re smoking. If you’re going to smoke, enjoy it. The only smokers I needle are the ones who smoke and act guilty. “I know I should be doing this but…”

Damn it, don’t complain about your own conscious behavior.

The minor psychological discomfort of quitting cigarettes isn’t truly harmful. Nor is withdrawal from gambling or sex dangerous. As a society we call these vices “addictions” to let people know we don’t agree with the behaviors. Unless we’re joking, we never talk of someone being addicted to exercise or meditation, both of which cause big chemical changes within the body and can be extremely habit-forming.

Habits can range from a set wake-up time to crack addiction, or they can be ways of thinking or behaving, like crossing the right leg over the left, or always holding the phone to the same side of one’s head. Much of our behavior is carried out through unconscious habits. I could argue that my heart is addicted to circulating blood through my body, thankfully. And I rarely need to think about breathing.

When meditating gained enough momentum for me it just became a perpetual activity in my life. I never worry if I’ll do it, I only consider the best way to do it in my environment. It’s always best when there’s nothing new to think about. Being aware of some anomaly in the pattern is like being made conscious of digestion – you only notice it when something isn’t right. Under normal circumstances, sitting down to meditation is something I do thoughtlessly, like eating breakfast. A perfectly learned habit is one you can do unconsciously, with no thought. It’s Subconscious Autopilot.

Inspiration

Inspiration rarely comes when I ask it to. In fact, the most fertile activities for summoning inspiration are activities that I do mindlessly, some task like cleaning. As the word implies, inspiration is like an inward breath – we receive an idea. It helps if the mind is somewhat passive and isn’t chattering away. You can’t really work on inspiration, but you can make yourself ready to catch it. I’m sure everyone feels some kind of inspiration in their lives, but anybody pursuing any kind of creative life can become a slave to inspiration.

I used to write when I was inspired. If an idea came I could get excited and then be very productive in a short time. The thought of writing something uninspired was repulsive to me. Why fill pages if they’re not filled with beauty or wisdom? The bottom line on that score is that I wasn’t practicing the craft of writing (or music, or whatever) every day. As with everything in life, it gets easier the more I do it.

Inspiration, whether it’s a new melody or a novel connection between two ideas, is very uplifting. Spiritually and intellectually there are few things more exhilarating than being gifted something new like that. Being ready, and using the momentum that inspiration brings is crucial.

When a person’s inspiration is monumental, and their voice is unique, masterpieces are made. James Joyce only wrote three novels and Stanley Kubrick made only about a dozen films, but they are elevated so high above the average works that these men go down in history as geniuses. If they shared some technique for calling down ideas, we’ll never hear about it…because the Secret Chiefs will never let us hear about it…

But think about all the ideas that come to all the people who don’t follow through. Inspiration is way more useful in someone who knows how to do the work required to carry out the idea.

So…

It’s been six months since I began this blog. Though there’s admittedly been little inspiration in it, blogging is an addiction I’m happy to take part in. I think being able to form new habits is an important skill and I wish it was easier. Ideally blogging will become so old-hat that I will be able to do it like any other chore. Then maybe I’ll catch more inspiration.

Inspiration and habit are two things that should work hand in hand. Inspiration should bring new life to old patterns, while habit or addiction is an effortless commitment. Though you might think I’d be all over inspiration for this Battle Of Unrelated Things, I’m going to overlook the negative connotations and choose Addiction as the winner.

We live in a world where media and ideas flow at such an astronomical rate I have a hard time imagining any singular work of art stopping everybody dead in their tracks. You might say that George R. R. Martin or Stieg Larsson have done this but I would argue that their successes are mostly commercial and don’t herald any novel triumph of artistic spirit the way that Mozart or Citizen Kane did. What survives today is work, and a solid output of consistent quality is the benchmark of successful artists. Take Werner Herzog, for example.

Inspired artists will always rise to the top, unless they’re not putting in the work to make themselves competitive with uninspired artists. Fortunately, work ethic can be learned, mastered, and turned into an addiction.