Wednesday, April 30, 2008

What's Brown and Sticky?

Supposedly, the "funniest joke in Britain" was the title to this entry (with the answer being "a stick") one year. It didn't seem very funny to me, but the results have gotten better lately.

It is a mania shared by philosophers of all ages to deny what exists and to explain what does not exist. -- Jean Jacques Rousseau
Our friends in the neurosciences have done much. Their new machines allow them to look at brains in distress, brains at rest, and even brains conjoined in congress. They have looked at the mind of contemplative monks and nuns, they say, although they have really only seen the brain, and they have looked at the mad and bad alike. They have long known that tumors explain religious mania.

In fact, there is a sort of belief lurking in a lot of science that extraordinary spirituality must have a physical analog, at best, or an aberrant physiology to explain it, at worst. Such theories may explain Benedict Joseph Labre, but they may not, too. The few cases of documented religious visionaries who were "cured" by electro-shock therapy or surgery is just another sneaking insult woven into the discussion of religious experience. It's ok. We religious are accustomed to being suspect.

However, it seems to me that this very insult, this very flail used against religion, is a confirmation of it. If there is a part of the brain that says, "This is the voice of the divine," then doesn't that mean that the experience of the supernatural is natural? In other words, if every brain has a receptor for religious experience, doesn't that prove, for once and all, that religious experience is part of the very condition of having a human brain? Doesn't it make the people who deny any possibility of such expression or experience ... well... weird? Doesn't it make them as unnatural as a person who refuses to eat carbohydrates or protein?

Still, I don't mean to offer a lashing to those who are aspiritual. They have my peace and best wishes. I have always hoped that they would stop trying to beat me with this stick, but it's not a big deal if people want to think that my brain is disordered. It probably is.

However, here is the thing that occurred to me today, the thing that has me puzzled. If there are tumors, microadenomas, and brain injuries that can result in people having delusional experiences of the divine, then is it possible that there are similar things that can prevent people from hearing the legitimate religious stimulus? If so, why are we not studying this?

I would advocate only one thing: we change our definition of the human from a creature who apprehends and experiences only natural stimulus to a creature whose normal and healthy operation involves the real or experiential apprehension and experience of the supernatural. In other words, if we look at a person who says that he has never felt that there is anything grander or greater than the natural world and say that this is aberrant, rather than looking at the person who sees "heaven in a grain of sand" and saying that that is a malady, would we not be likely to seek out the conditions that stifle such experience? I do not say that my version of religious intuition or experience is normal, but, when I look through history and mankind from China to Peru, I see people experiencing something.

Perhaps we can turn this stick to a lever. Perhaps we can even prise open our framing metaphors for life.

Monday, April 07, 2008

What I've been doing

I owe my many readers some word of explanation about why I have been absent from these frames for so long. Part of it has been due to lassitude and inconsiderateness, for I have decided that I want my fans to anticipate and thereby enjoy the next post all the more, but part of it has been due to my overloaded extracurricular activities.

You see, I was called upon, by those whom I may not name, to infiltrate and stop a gun-running circuit operating on I-95. This involved spending considerable time drinking absinthe and mescal at The Li'l Rebel roadhouse and tavern while I gained the confidence of the one known as Big Coot. Despite his moniker, Big Coot was not, in fact, my goal, for he was a small man in a large organization of perhaps six. However, with the Big Coot in my pocket, I might be able to gain access to Gemany (pronounced "Gemini"), a two-toned blond with a checkerboard tattoo on the sole of her left foot and dagger ear rings, who was purportedly the leader and chief liaison to the higher ups.

It was as a consequence of a bottle of mescal and a discussion of low pressure weather systems and the movement of air that I found myself in a knife fight with Tim "Leadhead" Jimson, whom I called "Weed," behind the Li'l Rebel Friday night. The local police arrested all of us together, after sending several bystanders to the hospital for unrelated wounds that were discovered during processing.

This led to my needing to rely upon Juan Abigados, the noted loanshark of Blufton, South Carolina, who is deeply connected to the Paris underworld. There was no question of making the "big" with him, but the bail money sent ripples through the Parisian gangland, where my personal asset manager has been worried about my long position in Asian currency markets. He is convinced that the Chinese Communist Party is about to unpeg the Yuan and thereby allow exchange rates to lower in order to increase national market positions in manufacturing. Well, it's hardly worth mentioning how dangerous this would be to my Parisian contacts! If the Yuan falls, the Malay and Chinese gangs will be desperate for liquidity and will dump merchandise, devaluing all assets in the Parisian black economy. That, in turn, will ruin Juan Abigados, and that will make him sell information about my true identity. We can't have that.

Obviously, I had to do something drastic.

Therefore, I contacted Lady Elizabeth Cantrip, my London paramour, and I had her begin a desperate course of action. She organized a "protest" of Chinese human rights policies as the Olympic torch passed through London. This was an ruse, and my only fear was that my former colleagues in MI-5 would see through it too quickly. It was important for my agents to actually seize the torch briefly so that they could implant a small microchip with an RFID device that I had to hastily design and program over the Internet the night before.

Now, when the torch finally reaches Beijing, the Chinese finance minister will read the chip and be sure to keep the exchange rate high, thus keeping my monetary futures secure and preventing the gang warfare in Paris that would otherwise break out.

So far, all of my plans are working out, but I'm still concerned about Gemany and why she refused to go out with me.


So, that's it.

Well, either that or I've been sick and depressed. You can take your pick of which you believe to be more likely.