Earthpages.ca

Think Free


Leave a comment

Phrenology – A case of science overextending itself

Self-portrait as phrenology illustration

Self-portrait as phrenology illustration by obscure allusion / Jason Priem

Phrenology is a word popularized by Johann Caspar Spurzheim (1776-1832) to describe a pseudo-scientific theory developed by Franz Joseph Gall (1758-1828).

Gall hypothesized that different brain regions are responsible for specific functions. Today, the details are debated but this model is generally accepted.¹

So for Gall, a stronger trait or ability allegedly corresponded with more developed brain regions, while weaker traits or abilities coincided with less developed brain regions.

From there, he proposed that different abilities and tendencies are linked to the size and shape of the human skull.

Gall believed the skull would exhibit measurable bumps over larger, well developed brain regions, making his theory not only scientific but practical. Heads can be measured. And from those measurements, different treatments could be implemented.

This theory fell into disrepute around the 1900’s. Contemporary researchers highlight the importance of learning, stimulation, nutrition, attitudes, beliefs, as well as the density and differentiation of neural pathways in relation to brain performance and abilities.


Colour etching by W Taylor satirising the work of Franz Joseph Gall and Johann Spurzheim, proponents of phrenology, showing a doctor examining a patient’s head, whilst other patients with variously-shaped craniums await inspection.

Much like modern computer processors, bulk size doesn’t necessarily matter. Complexity does. Also, recent concepts like plasticity and epigenetics further discredit older, fully deterministic brain theories. In other words, genes matter but other factors come into play.

Perhaps because phrenology could easily be abused, it’s not well-known today. Hitler and the Nazis, for instance, used something similar to phrenology to try to separate Jews from non-Jews.²

Today, phrenology is sometimes upheld by sociologists and historians as an example of all that can go wrong when scientism (pseudoscience) masquerades as science.

“Raoul Hausmann was one of the leading members of the Berlin Dada movement… [his] most well known [work} is Spirit of Our Time. Finished in 1921.” – via Utopia/Dystopia

Wikipedia puts it well:

Phrenology is…based on the concept that the brain is the organ of the mind, and that certain brain areas have localized, specific functions or modules. Although both of those ideas have a basis in reality, phrenology extrapolated beyond empirical knowledge in a way that departed from science.

Some writers at web sites like Mad In America zealously argue that all of contemporary psychiatry is pseudoscience and profit mongering. I think this is an extreme, polarizing view and not really helpful toward better integrating good science and good spirituality.

Quick Historical Outline

_____

Among the first to identify the brain as the major controlling center for the body were Hippocrates and his followers, inaugurating a major change in thinking from Egyptian, biblical and early Greek views, which based bodily primacy of control on the heart.

_____

This belief was supported by the Greek physician Galen, who concluded that mental activity occurred in the brain rather than the heart, contending that the brain, a cold, moist organ formed of sperm, was the seat of the animal soul—one of three “souls” found in the body, each associated with a principal organ.

_____

Phrenology came about at a time when scientific procedures and standards for acceptable evidence were still being codified. In the context of Victorian society, phrenology was a respectable scientific theory.

_____

Phrenology was mostly discredited as a scientific theory by the 1840s.

_____

In Belgium, Paul Bouts (1900–1999) began studying phrenology from a pedagogical background, using the phrenological analysis to define an individual pedagogy. Combining phrenology with typology and graphology, he coined a global approach known as psychognomy. Bouts, a Roman Catholic priest, became the main promoter of renewed 20th-century interest in phrenology and psychognomy in Belgium.

_____

During the 1930s Belgian colonial authorities in Rwanda used phrenology to explain the so-called superiority of Tutsis over Hutus.

_____

Phrenology was one of the first to bring about the idea of rehabilitation of criminals instead of vindictive punishments…

_____

In psychiatry phrenology was proposed as a viable model in order to reform the disciplinary field.

¹ Neurologists differ on how:

  • different combinations of the brain occur and affect functioning
  • much of the brain we use
  • the brain is linked to the rest of the nervous system, surrounding organs and microorganisms (e.g. bacteria).
  • sex differences affect brain functioning

² Josef Mengele, a sadistic and cruel doctor at Auschwitz, wrote a dissertation on “differing Lower Jaw formations and Racial differences.” See http://www.shoaheducation.judahsglory.com/philosophies.html.

Related » Face Reading, Social Darwinism

 Russia’s Duma Begs TV Stations Not To Encourage End of the World Hysteria (davidicke.com)

 From the Bookshelves: States of Delinquency: Race and Science in the Making of California’s Juvenile Justice System by Miroslava Chávez-García (lawprofessors.typepad.com)

 The Many Ways Science Has (Wrongly) Assessed Your Personality (io9.com)

 Use your head when buying a conversation piece (observer-reporter.com)

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Phenomenology – Mystical or mystifying?

Day 302. Phenomenology. David Mulder via Flickr

Phenomenology is one of those words that crops up in undergrad sociology and philosophy courses. Whenever I heard it I felt sort of dumb, like when you hear a big word and don’t know what it means. And I think some people just used it to appear smart.

Academe games…

Edmund Husserl 1910s via Wikipedia

So early on I made a quick fix. Phenomenology is about personal experience. How a person sees it, I told myself, burning that simple definition into memory so I wouldn’t be caught off guard in seminars and the like. (Sometimes those seminars were really nasty).

When I need to force myself to remember something with a little trick, it usually means the concept doesn’t resonate with me.

I know pretty much all of Freud and especially Jung’s concepts by heart because they seem to have more relevance and richness than the simple, slightly mystifying word phenomenology.

But that’s just me. I’m sure many philosophy majors would love that word, which opens many doors for them.

Turns out the term is a bit more complicated and varied than my youthful quick fix would suggest (the top image is only one of many meanings). But that fix did get me through school okay. I never pursued the term much further because, as I say, it just didn’t personally connect.

Philosophers tend to get tangled up in their own concepts. Many seem to lack genuine insight and miss their own blind spots.

That’s how I see it. A huge generalization, it’s true. But overall, I much preferred the depth psychologists and mystics (I say preferred past tense because I’m always moving into new areas).

Edmund Husserl is usually mentioned when the word phenomenology comes up. Husserl wanted to study ‘structures’ of consciousness (whatever that means) and also phenomena that come into consciousness. At least, that’s how I understand it.

The history of the word is fairly interesting. I’ve used Highly highlighter to outline part of a Wikipedia summary. I could have rewritten this, but as I say, it’s not really my direct interest:

So looking at the above it seems that Kant believes there is a unknowable aspect to reality, whereas Hegel believes we can gradually come to know spiritual truth.

The problem with this Wikipedia comparison, as I see it, is that knowing (or not knowing) the “thing-in-itself” aspect of an object (noumena) is not the same as learning about spiritual presences (numinous).¹ The above quote doesn’t recognize the difference. But elsewhere Wikipedia does recognize it:

Numinous is an English adjective, derived in the 17th century from the Latin numen, that is (especially in ancient Roman religion) a “deity or spirit presiding over a thing or space”. Meaning “denoting or relating to a numen”, it describes the power or presence or realisation of a divinity. It is etymologically unrelated to Immanuel Kant’s noumenon, a Greek term referring to an unknowable reality underlying all things [emphasis added].²

Bottom line?

Don’t read anything uncritically. Even the venerable Wikipedia can be misleading if you don’t do a little digging.

PortalPhilosophers

PortalPhilosophers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

¹ A similar distinction can be made, I think, between matter/energy on the one hand, and spirit, on the other hand. Some New Age writers confuse these two ideas, which to me says they don’t know what they’re talking about. Or to put it more nicely, they’re sort of like newborns who have yet to learn how to differentiate among different types of spiritual experience.

² https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Numinous

Related » David Hume, Science


Leave a comment

Philia – One of many loves

Brotherly Love Series via Wikipedia

Philia is a Greek term usually translated as brotherly or friendly love.

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle says there are three types of philia:

  1. Love for what is of practical use
  2. Love for what is pleasing
  3. Love for the good

Aristotle is a powerful thinker but, unlike Plato, not a mystical one. And he himself realizes that his three types of philia are not watertight categories.

Believing that good relationships are important to the development of virtue, Aristotle says we get something from our friends, and vice versa. Friends please each other and if they are excellent friends, they mutually help one other to grow toward the good.

Aristotle by F. Hayez via Wikipedia

So Aristotle’s view of philia could mean that by helping and enjoying others, we help ourselves. Superior friendships maximize the good, contributing to a win-win situation. And this, one could argue, approximates the idea of agape.

Again, Aristotle was not a mystic and some believe that mystical experience is essential to learning about love.

Although upheld as one of the great thinkers in the Western tradition, Aristotle doesn’t appreciate how some saints, Christian and otherwise, have no need for human friendship.¹ Saints of the highest order say they are completely fulfilled by God, making other people mere distractions or burdens to intercede for.

Sweet Solitude by E. B. Leighton via Wikipedia

This is exceptional but there are first hand accounts. These narratives are often overlooked or trivialized by materialists yet they are worth considering. So much emphasis today is placed on being “social.” If someone prefers solitude over society they’re usually regarded with suspicion, or worse. Emily Dickinson, who lived a life of solitude, put it this way:

MUCH madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye;
Much sense the starkest madness.
‘T is the majority
In this, as all, prevails.
Assent, and you are sane;
Demur,-you’re straightway dangerous,
And handled with a chain.²

Emily Dickinson – Sharon Brogan via Flickr

The term philia is sometimes interpreted by Christian theologians to mean a superficial, transitory and contingent kind of love (I have also heard a priest in homily extol the virtues of brotherly love as found in the New Testament).

Likewise, Catholics give secondary status to eros, or romantic love, especially when taking place outside of marriage.

Similar to Aristotle’s merging of different types of philia, however, Christian theologians also believe the Holy Spirit strengthens married couples so as to properly align their physical and emotional desires (eros) with agape.

For most Christians, the sacrificial love of agape stands above all as the permanent, noblest and highest type of love. Perhaps some of us only discover agape after journeying through many relationships filled with the pleasures of philia and drama of eros.

Jim Forest via Flickr

Surprising enough, or maybe not surprisingly, the popular Catholic monk Thomas Merton, whom some see as a great mystic, had a romantic relationship with a student nurse whom he met while in the hospital, away from his monastery.³ Ultimately Merton came to reject the relationship, seeing it as a temptation that obscured his higher purpose and fulfillment.

That is, Merton let go of philia and eros in favor of agape. For most of us, however, it’s a mix. And to pretend otherwise when one isn’t really “there” is, I think, unwise.

¹ Some Christians might say, well yeah… Aristotle lived before Christ. But Catholics claim that Christ exists through all time, making it conceivable that some knew him intimately before his earthly appearance.

² Emily Dickinson, The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, Part 1: Life (XI), Boston: Little, Brown, 1924; Bartleby.com, 2000.

³ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Merton I don’t think Merton was a great mystic but I do see him as a sincere seeker. See http://wp.me/p5W8j-7Yq

 Obasanjo says Jesus is coming, end of the world near (vanguardngr.com)

 His art is a way of ‘meeting with the divine,’ iconographer says (thegazette.com)


2 Comments

Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie – Eccentric, Genius, Innovator

Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie (1853-1942) was a groundbreaking archaeologist. He was the first to precisely measure the Egyptian pyramids.

Pink Tutu by Chris Millett via Flickr

Historians love telling the fact that he wore a pink ballerina’s tutu while surveying the Great Pyramid. Some say he donned the tutu to avoid being stoned by “local religious fanatics.”¹

Appearing insane might have put the hostiles off guard. Others think he might have been a little bit touched.

There is no record of Petrie being gay so it seems dubious that he was trying to come out.²

In the Holy Land Petrie recognized the significance of earthen mounds which, due to his work, are now known as tells.

Unlike his plodding contemporaries, Petrie saw the mounds as records of successive settlements because each layer contained a distinctive style of ceramics.

Other conventional archaeologists had assumed the tells were natural phenomena.

From his keen observations Petrie developed a method of historical dating called sequence dating. The method is to dig down into layers of earth, thus reconstructing ancient chronology not from fable and abstracted history but from hands-on evidence.

This new dating technique earned him the title ‘Father’ of Palestinian archaeology.

Petrie’s unusual story doesn’t end with his wearing a pink tutu at the job site. He clearly had a very positive self-image. He arranged to have his head removed at death, hoping that his brain and all that it contained would be inherited by posterity.

Apparently the head was preserved in a jar and stored in a basement at the Royal College of Surgeons of London. The jar’s label fell off during WW-II, making it anonymous for a while. Later the head was identified and is currently stored but not on display at the Royal College.³

English: Flinders Petrie and Hilda Petrie in 1...

Flinders Petrie and Hilda Petrie in 1903 via Wikipedia

While his preserved brain might not be his most important legacy, Petrie trained a whole generation of “new style” archaeologists, to include Howard Carter. And his son went on to become a remarkable mathematician, discovering the Petrie Polygon.

Bottom line?

Sometimes genius and eccentricity go hand in hand.

¹ 1.1. Introduction to Anthropology, University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), 2007.

² Also: https://www.google.ca/search?q=petrie+pink+tutu&oq=petrie+pink+tutu&aqs=chrome..69i57.2660j0j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

³ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flinders_Petrie

 Egypt archaeologists unearth 3,500-year-old tomb in Luxor(telegraph.co.uk)

 Well-Aged: Oldest Traces of Italian Wine Discovered(livescience.com)

 A student found an ancient Canadian village that’s 10,000 years older than the Pyramids(businessinsider.com)

 Henry VIII’s lost palace found (foxnews.com)

 Egypt announces discovery of 3,500-years old tomb in Luxor (stripes.com)

 Turkey bones may help trace fate of ancient cliff dwellers (bostonherald.com)

 Finally, a tantalising YA book (for adults too) that uses archaeology to recount Indian history (scroll.in)

 Italians Have Been Getting Blitzed on Wine for a Very Long Time (gizmodo.co.uk)

 Egyptologists go high tech to unlock ancient mysteries (rappler.com)

 Stone Age Cannibals Decorated Human Bones While Butchering Them (ibtimes.com)


Leave a comment

Peter, Paul and Women – Another look at the Early Church

Among Christians, St. Peter is often compared to St. Paul.

Peter is seen as the rule man. Paul, the innovator. Together, they are usually cited as the two most important early Christians after Jesus Christ, himself.

Peter and Paul by El Greco via Wikipedia

Women in Early Christianity

Feminists say the primacy of Peter and Paul is a male take on early Christianity. A male take in a male world—in New Testament times and, to some degree, now.

Women, in fact, performed essential work among the early Christians. Food preparation, laundry and other domestic chores were not accomplished through miracles. And there’s no New Testament record of manna falling from heaven. No, women usually took up these necessary duties.

Scholars also realize that women played key inspirational, pastoral and organizational roles within the early Church.¹

Who was Peter?

In the New Testament St. Peter was a 1st century fisherman living in the village of Capernaum. He went by the name of Simeon, Shimon or Simon bar Jonah.

This simple fisherman was chosen or, depending on your perspective, asked by Jesus Christ to follow him and ultimately to become one of the twelve Apostles.

Jesus … told Simon, “Row the boat out into the deep water and let your nets down to catch some fish.”

“Master,” Simon answered, “we have worked hard all night long and have not caught a thing. But if you tell me to, I will let the nets down.” They did it and caught so many fish that their nets began ripping apart. Then they signaled for their partners in the other boat to come and help them. The men came, and together they filled the two boats so full that they both began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this happen, he knelt down in front of Jesus and said, “Lord, don’t come near me! I am a sinner.” Peter and everyone with him were completely surprised at all the fish they had caught. His partners James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were surprised too.

Jesus told Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you will bring in people instead of fish.” The men pulled their boats up on the shore. Then they left everything and went with Jesus.²

Peter and Paul Fresco Mary Evraida Church via Wikipedia

Simon was renamed Cephas. In Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, Cephas means “rock.” In Greek, the language of the New Testament, Petros also translates to “rock.” Hence the modern term, petroglyphs.

Peter (from Petros) went on to do great things, but it wasn’t always a smooth ride. All four canonical gospels tell how Jesus accurately predicted Peter betraying him three times before the cock crowed.

After Christ’s resurrection, Peter is the first to enter the empty tomb but not to see the risen Christ. Women and an unknown “beloved disciple” had that honor.

Catholics

Always mentioned in the gospels as the first of the Twelve Apostles, Early Church tradition – not the Bible – says Peter was the founder of the Church in Rome, along with Paul. There he was the first bishop, wrote two epistles, and was martyred along with Paul.

For Roman Catholics, Peter is the first Pope. Catholics support their beliefs about Peter with two essential scriptural passages:

Feed my lambs… feed my lambs… feed my sheep. (John 21:15–17)

and

I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18–19)

However, “Pope” is something of a retroactive title. In his lifetime Peter was never called “Pope” or “Vicar of Christ.” But Catholics believe their tradition and scripture are equally valid. So if Catholic authorities can retroactively discern that a marriage never existed (annulment), they also believe they understand how God saw things before mankind came to that realization.

Catholic Tradition also maintains that Peter was crucified upside down on the same day Paul was beheaded, just outside of Rome.

St Peter’s Anglican Church via Wikipedia

Protestants

Not everyone agrees with the Catholic legitimization of the Papacy. Protestants tend see the office as an example of arrogant self-aggrandizement. For Protestants, Peter did crucial missionary work in Rome and for the Eastern Orthodox Church, he holds a “primacy of honor.” But he is not Pope as understood by Catholics.

Neither Eastern Orthodox nor Protestant Christians formally recognize any Pope. Although Catholic-Protestant relations seem to be warming among some denominations. What motivates this is hard to say.

In popular culture St. Peter guards the “pearly gates” of heaven, allowing good souls to enter while rejecting evil doers. This allusion no doubt premised on Matthew 16:19.

Muslims

Shia Muslims draw a parallel between Peter and the “Ali” of Muhammad’s time. Ali was the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam. Ali was the fourth caliph (656-661 CE) and first Imam of the Shia (632-661 CE).³

Peter and Paul

The contrast between Peter and Paul often crops up in Catholic homilies. Paul’s Letter to the Romans breaks new ground by claiming that salvation through Christ is not just for a select few but for all—Gentiles, Jews and anyone who lives in Christ. For Paul, living by the spirit of the Mosaic law trumps outwardly following the letter of the law.

But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. (Romans 7:6)

So Paul is portrayed as the living, dynamic breath of God within humanity. Peter, on the other hand, represents Catholic Church rules, regulations and its hierarchical structure.

For me, both are important. It’s a kind of balancing act among trying to do God’s will, being respectful and yet tailoring my understanding and experience of the rules to my God-given individuality. Also, Catholic rules and regulations have morphed over the centuries. So one must keep an eye to the future and not get too fixated on current conventions.

I remember a long time ago when converting to the Catholic faith. Back then, a monsignor whom I respected once spoke in homily, “God gave us intelligence. We have to use it.”

St. Peter’s Basilica via Wikipedia

¹ See http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-17/neglected-history-of-women-in-early-church.html Volunteer work by contemporary Catholic women seems largely unrecognized. I have never heard a word of thanks in homilies.

² https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+5%3A1-11&version=CEV 

³ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ali

Related » Bible, Gospel of Mark, Joachim of Fiore, Rome, Thiering (Barbara)


Leave a comment

Politics, Political and Politically Correct

Politics

According to the Oxford English Dictionary the first English use of the word politics can be traced back to 1450:

Aristotle..componede..the book of Etiques and of Polettiques.

A distinction is often made between small-p and large-p politics.

Small-p politics is about competitive human interactions in the workplace, organization or home.

Large-p politics refers to dynamics within a government system—municipal, provincial, state, federal, hemispherical (NATO, NORAD) or global (UN).

Also, large-p politics usually influence small-p politics. In turn, small-p politics cooperates, develops or resists large-p politics.

Another distinction could be made concerning the ethics of politics. We have honorable and dishonorable politics, fair and unfair play, human decency and indecency.

With so many news articles cropping up about corruption, it’s hard to overlook this possibility in any kind of politics.

Political

When we say something is “political,” what are we really saying?

The dictionary says that political is an adjective meaning anything related to politics, but that doesn’t tell us much.

Theorists like Michael Parenti argue that the word political has become a euphemism. It obscures human choices that influence or determine outcomes in struggles for control, command or jurisdiction.

For Parenti, the term political often hides human indecencies appearing in competitive organizational behavior.

Similar power theorists say that political choices are rationalized as “unavoidable” in light of existing policies and the pursuit of the greater good.

However, policy is not always in the public interest. Policies may be created to ‘legitimize’ systems of exploitation, fear and totalitarian control. Adolf Hitler used this strategy when writing laws to ‘justify’ the cruel and barbaric actions of the Nazis during WW-II. And while politicians and their underlings may believe they act in accord with policy and for the greater good, sometimes policies are seen as dead wrong. Accordingly, their chief authors may be peacefully removed or violently deposed.

In our aggressive, competitive world, with so much to gain and to lose, using the word ‘political’ in everyday speech is a political act in itself. ‘Politics’ and ‘political’ can be euphemisms for all sorts of crimes and terrors that might go unnoticed by the public.

Corruption and bribery are relatively soft terms. Harder, organized crime stories do appear in the news but are often minimized – sometimes almost humorously – by countries wishing to appear squeaky clean. In Canadian news it’s always bikers like Hells Angels who profit from organized crime, not the ‘decent,’ white collar folks living in middle to upper-middle class neighborhoods.

To my mind this might be a form of scapegoating and an extension of the age-old class war.

Image via Vimeo

Image via Vimeo

Plain and simple, the upper classes – law abiding or not – tend to demonize, blame and punish the lower classes to a greater degree than those in their own social position. Thus it is hardly surprising that the lower classes tend to resent the upper classes.

Such a dysfunctional dynamic hardly makes for a better society or religious organization, no matter what the politicians or pastors preach.

So saying that a social environment is political can be a way of implying something quite different from mere politics. It might be a way of talking about the underbelly of 21st century society without really going there. In fact, it’s hard to know what people are really saying when they use the word ‘political.’ And that’s probably why it is so popular. Ambiguity is safe. After all, parents have kids to feed, mortgages to pay, dream vacations to pursue.

Browsing through visitor comments on major US and Canadian news sites shows that some pessimists hate politics because they believe it is hopelessly inefficient and corrupt.

Sometimes I feel that. Good examples in Canada would be the CBC News app or our Canada Revenue web site. One gets the impression that coders not good enough for genuine market competition get hired by government. Even when these online services work, they are mediocre at best. By way of contrast, the Best Buy (US tech company based in Minnesota) web site updates several times a week and is always fully functional. Capitalism either works or it doesn’t. No taxpayer supported gravy train to ride in business.

So that’s the pessimistic view. But one could also argue that politicians are just people, doing their best to make positive changes in a wildly imperfect world. I recall a former Toronto police chief once saying that he had to answer to the entire spectrum of humanity. In other words, one must be political if one wants to get anything done. This is an interesting perspective. Certainly not one for idealists.

Political Correctness is...

Political Correctness is… by Dave Kleinschmidt

Politically Correct

Using the phrase politically correct is one way of being political.

An idea or action is politically correct if believed to be true or acceptable because the majority – or a highly visible group – in a given society see it that way.

Political correctness can be a good thing. PC can protect the vulnerable, the marginalized and those who are simply different.

However, some might merely pretend to believe in PC ideas for fear of repercussions. What would happen if dissenters were to voice their politically incorrect beliefs?

Some dissenters do voice their opinions, of course—especially in the US which has always championed free speech. This can lead to thorny debates and violent clashes about free speech vs. political correctness.

The U of T academic Jordan Peterson, whom some applaud and others see as a rigid, old-school dinosaur, is catalyzing this discussion on a global scale. If he were a minor academic, chances are he would have lost his job a long time ago. But because he’s fairly well-read and articulate, Peterson hangs on, saying that he’s prepared to be fired at any moment.

Related » Corruption, The SystemPolitically Correct, Nineteen Eighty-Four


1 Comment

Persona – Age old concept with a whole new twist

Roots of Persona

The idea of the persona has been around for ages, with roots stemming back to ancient Greek and Estruscan civilizations. Over the centuries the use of the term has shifted, evolved and, in response to new technologies, taken on new meanings.

The most common contemporary meaning of the persona is a role played by an actor. This developed from the original Latin meaning of “theatrical mask.”

In ancient Greece the persona (prósōpon) was a mask put on by stage actors, signifying either a character or a social role.¹ The masking effect was created by rubbing clay or dyes on the face or by wearing masks made of bark or similar natural elements.

Persona in Literature

The New Latin term dramatas personae refers to characters listed at the top of a play.

In literary theory the persona is the alter ego or alternate “I” who speaks in a poem or novel, often when some kind of issue is worked out through the narrative. This also happens in movies a lot, which of course, are based on a written script.

Persona in Religion and Society

David and Goliath (1919) via Wikipedia

Persona later referred to “person,” as in persona non grata (Latin: “person not appreciated”). This diplomatic usage means persons not wanted in a country. That is, bad apples.

This kind of persona is arguably semantically related to the New Testament phrase, “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34). That is, bad persons.

Theologians maintain that God wishes us to cooperate with the divine will. So striking out on our own, based on a personality fragment, whim or selfish desire, is not necessarily in line with God’s will.

“Person” in this theological sense means those whose thoughts, feelings and actions are based on self-centered personality traits instead arising from a living relationship with God.

The many psychological, sociological and spiritual applications of the term persona are often nuanced to fit various theories and agendas. Related ideas like Bad Faith, False Consciousness and The Divided Self run through the humanities and social sciences, with endless discussion and elaborations by different schools and their offshoots (e.g. existentialism, humanism, Marxism, neo-Marxism, postmodernism).

Persona and Carl Jung

For the Swiss psychiatrist C. G. Jung, the persona is a necessary social identity. Jung says the persona is a convenient or appropriate face we display to the outer world. The Jungian persona is not the true self nor the ego but it serves a crucial role in facilitating social interaction.

Jung and Jungians also say there is a danger in identifying with the persona after a social performance is over. This not only happens with ordinary people but sometimes with actual actors. Recall the tragedy of Heath Ledger (1979–2008), who apparently was haunted by the demonic Joker after completing the The Dark Night film.

The Jungian Shadow by Steve Jurvetson via Flickr

Aside from this, Jung makes a general distinction between the healthy and unhealthy persona. The healthy persona is connected with deeper aspects of the self and acts as a conduit for archetypal energy. The unhealthy persona is constricted or cut off from the self.

On this point Jung arguably doesn’t appreciate that a tight-fitting persona may be temporarily necessary for some religious people who normally enjoy the more expansive worldview that comes through a relationship with God.

Doing the right thing doesn’t always feel good or reap outwardly visible rewards, as Jung’s model seems to advocate. Jung’s outlook is probably based on his own experience, which sometimes seems like that of a kindergarten mystic. He’s had some basic interior experience but nothing profound nor advanced.

Jung’s theory advocates a “doctrine of [psychological] integration,” as I’ve put it elsewhere, so Jung seems to devalue – or not fully understand² – anything that favors the afterlife over this world.

For Jung and many Jungians, being spiritual is tantamount to having a meaningful, productive and creative life. A worldly life informed by the archetypes. These folks may paint, dance, sculpt or even talk about ESP in dreams. But they tend to be somewhat indifferent to the idea of prayerful or contemplative intercession. Intercession involves upward mobility, as it were; whereas Jung’s theory is stuck on the ground.

Jungians would probably see personas displayed and sacrifices made for the attainment of heaven – instead of for visible, worldly achievements – as skewed, fake, or even pathological.³ That’s partly why I don’t spend much time with Jungians. It is also why not a few religious persons tend to view Jung’s work with suspicion.

Persona and Proselytizing 

Image via Wikipedia

Some uphold the persona to convey a particular belief system held dear. Missionary Christians, for instance, apply personas not just for social convenience, but to try to “fish” for souls—that is, to lead others to a spiritual relationship with Christ.

As a tool for facilitating religious conversion, the persona becomes a kind of well-intentioned lure. After all, the New Testament Christ says his disciples will become “fishers of persons” (Matthew 4:19).

Persona in Music

In music, performers weave entire identities and motifs into songs or albums. This is common in pop and seems to be creeping into classical performances, where performer and performed are a cohesive package. Nigel Kennedy comes to mind. Charlotte Church. And more subtly, Joshua Bell and Angela Hewitt, whose sublimated sensuality pervades their performances.

Some cynically say that pop and classical personas are just glib attempts to boost sales. But I think they are part of parcel of the entire message. Would Ziggy Stardust have been a hit if David Bowie did not dress in costume during live performance? And going back even further, would Sgt. Pepper’s have been a landmark if the Beatles hadn’t dressed up and played the roles on the album cover?

In pop music the persona is also a device where lyrics are spoken or rapped over music.

Frank Zappa, Ekeberghallen, Oslo, Norway

Frank Zappa, Ekeberghallen, Oslo, Norway (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Examples are in Robbie Robertson’s song “Somewhere Down The Crazy River” and Frank Zappa’s “Camirillo Brillo”:

Is that a Mexican poncho or is that a Sears poncho?

Hiphop, rap and acid jazz stars like Galliano, Guru, Kanye West and Drake make almost continuous use of this kind of persona.

Drake especially seems to effortlessly blend song and talk, so it’s hard to tell where the talking ends and the singing starts.

in Jazzmatazz Vol. 2 Guru raps in “Living in this World”:

What’s happening… check it out
It’s critical the situation is pitiful
Bear in mind you gotta find somethin spiritual
We never gain cause we blame it on the system
You oughta listen whether Muslim or Christian
or any other type religion or creed

Persona and Social Media

Social media gives us a whole new context for the persona. Also known as the avatar, gravatar, or buddy icon, the internet persona allows users to post with some degree of anonymity and creativity.5

This can be used for good or ill, depending on the user and arguably as legally construed by a host country. Spend some time in another country and you’ll soon find out that what is okay in one place is not necessarily okay in another—hopefully before you go to jail.

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persona

² Jung says that Origen castrated himself to immerse himself in his gnostic spirituality. But I find this odd. Most mystics assert that the retention – not the elimination – of seed (a poetic way of saying semen and sperm) is vital to spiritual functioning and wellness. Sperm is manufactured in the testes.

³ I’ve encountered some Christians who are pretty clumsy at this. One guy on a bus bent my ear for over an hour, trying to convert me without realizing that I had already chosen Christ.  He was a non-denominational or Protestant Christian – I can’t remember – but I’ve witnessed the same kind of clunky and irritating “fishing” among Catholics playing a self-aggrandized role of do-gooder or holy person instead of focusing on their own self-knowledge and ethical behavior.

A good discussion about the persona, personality and labels: https://upsidedownchronicles.com/2013/07/04/who-am-i-personality-vs-persona/ 

5 Because users have an identifiable IP address, they are not fully anonymous.

 The Greatest Quest: The Search for Meaning & Finding our Calling. (elephantjournal.com)

 As God Promised (1) – Muoka Lazarus (vanguardngr.com)

 Embracing darkness and shadow that we might also be light and joy (beyondmeds.com)

 15 Shocking Things You Didn’t Know About The Dark Knight Trilogy (screenrant.com)

 New Ken artist John Dorinsky bringing dreams to life (triblive.com)

 “May the Road Rise Up to Meet You” the story behind the traditional Irish blessing (irishcentral.com)

 Ethics & Religion Talk: Is torture OK?Should religious buildings be places of refuge? (mlive.com)

 Watch: Mumbai celebrates the birthday of Hindu God Krishna with human pyramids (telegraph.co.uk)

 Another church attack in Anambra (sundiatapost.com)

 CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD to Open on Broadway This Spring (broadwayworld.com)

 Anti-Trump website host rings “alarm bells” over U.S. demand for 1.3 million visitor IP addresses (fastcompany.com)