Monday, 22 December 2014

Season's greetings

The Mountain Exhaled
 A winter cloud sweeps over the Victoria Glacier at Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada.
photo: Laszlo-photo

Have a happy and safe holiday and I will be back with more on the current series in early January.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Mythology — part six: personal mythologies

Piegan Medicine Bags
While the movies and other fictional media can provide us with our need for mythology by allowing us to identify with the hero and find other parallels to our own life, we also have a habit in collecting what we call "souvenirs". These can be something to remind us of a vacation or any other special moment, place or person. We don't think of such things as sacred objects, but they are the sort of thing that the Plains Indian shaman would include in their medicine bags or bundles.

In primitive societies there is no "separation of Church and State" and all things have their connections to the sacred. The feelings we have about special things are no different from what the shaman saves for the medicine bundle, they are just given another name.

As we grow older, our lives gain a meaning that is personal to us. We can call that a personal mythology. There are stages to a life well-lived. Joseph Campbell says that as soon as the movie hero wins the battle and gets the girl, the credits roll. In mythology, however, the hero's role continues past the movie endings. He returns to his people to act as elder and mentor. We tend to forget about this stage of life and Hollywood rarely acknowledges what we forget. I am sure that you have encountered many people who have become stuck in their ways and try to relive, instead, previous times of victories and personal satisfaction. Perhaps you should ask such people what the young can learn from their experiences — try to move them along a little bit. Perhaps all they need is a medicine bundle.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Mythology — part five: inspiration

Jean-Honoré Fragonard, 1769
Being married to a poet for twenty years can teach you a lot about inspiration. The first thing I noticed was that my wife included a number of archetypal and mythological images in her poems without ever having studied Jungian psychology or mythology. Although I already knew that writing poetry often presented such images to the poet and there was something about poetic forms that could contact the unconscious, watching the actual practice of poetry gave me a number of ideas about how and why this happens. My wife used both formal and free verse but the latter was frequently obsessive verse. She would spend most of her time editing her poetry and sometimes she would work on a poem for many years to get it just right: she would repeat the lines over and over to hear and note how they scanned. The rhythm was almost everything.

I saw that there was little difference between the shaman beating a drum and the poet reciting the work in progress. Both would experience the rhythm presenting an idea, most often as a single word, which would be imbued with feelings of numinosity. In transcendental meditation, the order is different: It starts with a highly charged word or sound given as the mantra and the repetition of that word delivers the formerly unconscious material surrounding it. Maslow called such incidents "peak experiences". After many years of writing poetry, my wife gained an ability to detect such peak experiences in what others wrote or spoke about and was thus able to translate other people's experiences into poetic forms. She describes this process in her account of what inspired her poem Anne. A friend of Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote to her after its publication to say that she had read the poem to Anne while its subject was on her death bed, further confirming that she "had got it right".

What inspiration provides is maintained by evolution: the story teller keeps to mnemonic rhythms and sounds and the repetition delivers the suitably imbued material which will then resonate with the same material in the collective unconsciousness of the listener. The poem survives by delivering its numinosity and being remembered and repeated, thus. It becomes a meme. I don't think that the stories came out of religious beliefs, I think that the religious beliefs evolved from the stories and they gained their power from that numinosity that surrounds, and makes significant, certain parts of the unconscious.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Mythology — part four: historicity

Apart from indulging in trivia, about the most useless question you can ask about a story from mythology or religion is whether a particular event actually happened, or on what historical event the story is based. For critical purposes, such a question would be like critiquing the playwright over the quality of the sets at a performance of the play. The events are just the props, the play's the thing. The story-teller, after noticing too many blank stares at the mention of the name of a long-dead historical figure, starts to use someone similar from popular history. A shaman might start the proceedings with a couple of stage tricks, not to attempt to prove anything, but just to set the mood  — like lighting incense, or hearing dramatic music start to play in the movie as the heroine asks "Is there anybody there?". No one at the movies storms out yelling "dramatic music never starts whenever I'm in danger!" What works best is what works for tonight's audience, not for one fifty years ago.

In the beginning was the spoken word. Then we started writing everything down and writers gained a sort of immortality by insisting that their words be quoted as "Smith says...", instead of "Smith said...", even though Smith might have been dead for centuries. As religious texts came into being, in a different reality, they also became historical texts. The historian is always interested in the time that the text was written, even if the text is on a historical subject. The history is the answer to questions that were meaningful to people contemporary to the historian. So the historian would judge a religious text by how its lessons were received by the people at the time it was penned. From this information (as far as it is possible to discover), the historian can then translate the metaphors and idioms that would be too stale to be fully understood today into new forms that preserve the intent of the original author to be understood by the audience of the original time and place.

While finding religious texts so translated is not that easy, you can compare very different translations of Aristophanes' comedies: a strict word for word translation will not allow you to experience the play as if you were at its premier. It's comedy value depended on being just on the "'naughty" side of acceptable to the audience at the time, so certain things were said as euphemisms. A translation using modern idioms and, again, just on the "naughty" side of acceptable can still deliver the sort of audience response that Aristophanes wanted. To understand the religious texts, look for the metaphors in the events that are described, the historical is just set design and need only be judged against the understanding of its original audience. The truth that is written about is pretty well always given in metaphor. How could it be otherwise?

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Mythology — part three: truth

Jules Joseph Lefebvre. 1870
Whenever you watch actors in a movie you know you are not watching reality, but if you focus too much on that fact, you won't enjoy the movie much. We suspend our disbelief and react as if we are seeing reality. Our enjoyment of the movie is enhanced if we can identify with any of the characters, or see familiar behavior or personalities. If we are watching a historical drama and see some anachronism, it annoys us not because it is a false detail, but because it takes us out of the imagined time. A drama is appreciated more if the problems of the characters would be problems for us, too; we like to see our own hopes portrayed on the screen; what would we do in that situation?. Yet, we also like to see what is alien to our experience in science fiction or movies set in distant cultures where people have values different from our own. Even here, though, there can be identification or comparison with ourselves.

Children can reach a stage where they can both believe and not believe in such things as Santa Claus at the same time, but they also have the idea that adults only indulge in a single reality and don't imagine that theatres can be full of adults "pretending" that what they are seeing is real, or that it is both real and unreal to them at the same time.

The good storyteller, in ancient societies, knew what their audience liked and believed and would include these things in their performance, just as Bob Hope would do when on tour: the audience would hear pithy comments about some local event they had heard talk of at the office that day. Even in literate societies, there were many people who could neither read nor write and the storyteller and priest, both, were the source of cultural knowledge for such people. The priest would also adapt to the congregation in the manner of the story teller. I am sure that societies have existed where we would have difficulties in deciding whether a particular person was a priest, elder, or a storyteller.

Syncretism is a term used by mythologists to describe how beliefs can undergo modifications to better fit into prior beliefs, and myths and stories pick up local flavors as they spread. In, largely, non-literate societies, religious belief never strayed far from the common experience and folk belief and it was thoroughly integrated into every aspect of daily life.

The Greek Mystery cults like Dionysianism, and Orphism, and related philosophies such as that of Pythagoras and the druids forbad the use of writing, not just for stated reasons such as that writing makes the mind lazy, or so that the mysteries can be preserved at increasingly more elite levels but also, I am sure, that beliefs or truths could continue to be current.

Whenever religious information is put into texts, this information becomes frozen in time and also becomes history. As such, it can then become treated as any historical text: some might say a particular text is accurate, others might disagree. The body of evidence is all texts. Some religions might restrict certain texts from their official canon according to prevailing beliefs at the time and label them as heresy. The historian compares these events and changes in texts relative to their time and place as recorded in other sorts of texts. The historian knows that history is not what happened, but what was written about what happened. Truth is relative to circumstances and the truth owes as much to the human question as is does to its answer.

So where did all of those people go who saw their story teller's work ripped from experience and pasted into a book? They had lost their mythological space where everything could be both right and wrong at the same time; the space where they could see their own lives, loves and aspirations projected into multiple futures; a place where higher, poetic, and metaphorical truths were all that mattered. I think we all went to the movies.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Mythology — part two: stories

Exciting stories
Carl Gessler, 1866
Long before writing was invented people told stories and those stories evolved over time. The characters in the story might change as new heroes emerged and old heros were forgotten. Not only did details of the story change over time, but what was mostly remembered and passed along was that which resonated with something in the collective unconscious. If a story element happened to contact a very highly charged part of that unconsciousness, then the effect could be rather dramatic: at the very least, a feeling of numinosity could ensue and at the extreme, that numinosity could trigger synchronicity whereby contact with an archetype is reflected by a incident experienced in reality.

After writing was invented or adopted by people, some of these stories were written down and became frozen in time. Only in fairly recent history were old written stories modernized, and then, it was a conscious act to do so. The changes were more likely to omit archetypes than to provide more because the changes were conscious decisions.

Over time, the storyteller might use verse, repeated phrases, and alliteration to act both as mnemonic devices and to provide "rest points" whereby the story can continue while the storyteller thinks of what will come next.

The stories that lasted longest were full of archetypal imagery and created many feelings of numinosity. It was these stories that brought about myths that were finally incorporated into religious stories because of that numinosity.

Nowadays, many people believe that the most archetypally loaded stories (almost always very old and evolved stories) told of historical truth while other people who might either have experienced alternative versions applied to different histories or might have the sort of personality type that avoids the inward-looking contact with the archetypes will call them "fiction" or attribute to them efforts to understand reality. So what went wrong and how bad was it? We will look into that tomorrow.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Mythology — part one: introduction

As I did not have an idea for today's topic this morning, I decided to start the day relaxing in a hot bath with a book. I find that doing such always gives me ideas. Perhaps it is an effect of the hot water, or perhaps my mind associates taking a bath with Archimedes famous "eureka!" moment. I don't know. It always works, though.

For the book, I picked a series of essays by the British physicist, David Bohm published posthumously as On Creativity by Routledge. I had not even finished reading the preface when the idea for this series hit me. The preface was written by a fellow Albertan, Leroy Little Bear (a Blackfoot from Lethbridge). As luck would have it, the preface to that edition (in part) is supplied on the publisher's website. So if you are curious as to why a Blackfoot Indian would be chosen to write the preface to essays by a physicist, you can find out for yourself and I don't have to explain it at all.

I frequently spend a lot of time picking Wikimedia images for my blog posts, especially when the subject matter is somewhat abstract. Not finding anything I thought suitable, I decided to create my own out of two public domain source images: a human eye and a NASA view of the western hemisphere from space. I could have used a companion view of the eastern hemisphere but Eastern thought has a better grasp on mythology than the West. I find that western ideas about mythology are both narrow and (mostly) wrong — at least when it comes to the popular views. That a definition of "myth" extends to "misconception" shows (if you understand the subject) how far from any real understanding we have sunken. Almost as bad is the notion that myths explained the natural world. If I was a teacher, I would not accept that definition from anyone older than seven.

In the popular mind, mythology is often associated with "other people's religions", but dictionary definitions of religion, too, can include extraneous material that actually eliminates a few religions, the definition: a particular system of faith and worship is not too bad, but would be better if the "worship" part was dropped as it is not common to all religions. Faith, on the other hand, pretty well sums it up for all religions, even Atheism, which is as much a faith as any other other religion. I could have called this series "Religion" and would not have had to change anything at all, but "Mythology" is safer because it can be seen as less personal from the outset.

In this series, an encyclopedic view of mythology strewn with all sorts of examples is not what I am aiming for. Rather, I want to "get under the hood", so to speak; I want to deal with the engine that drives it all as an important part of the psyche. As I do not belong to any organized religion and find good and bad in all of them, I think I might be less subjective as a result of this but, as you will find out later, objectivity is an impossible goal. I plan also to give you an experiment or two that you can try out for yourself. Nothing too difficult, though, just the basic changing the universe to your will.

We will get started on Monday.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

A Jungian morning

Emma Jung at 29
Most discoveries are far from earth-shattering. This morning, I became aware of (and rectified) the fact that I have never created a Google News Alert for "Carl Jung". That he died in 1961 is no excuse, although some psychology students might think so as a number of university programs try to make a virtue out of necessity by labelling his work "historical". While wading through a news search I came across a press release about a recent biography of Jung's wife, Emma: Love and Sacrifice: The Life of Emma Jung, and added it to my "must buy" list. Emma was both wife and colleague to Carl Jung, a sort of relationship I had shared with my own wife. She was also interested in the Celts, mainly through later legends and The Grail Legend was the fruit of that research. Her husband avoided the subject of the grail and the Celts in general in deference to his wife's interest, even though he found it all fascinating. I often wonder what he might have made of Jacobsthal's corpus of Early Celtic Art and I often write of Celtic design from a Jungian viewpoint.

As I was unfamiliar with the publisher of the biography (Chiron Publications), I clicked on the "about" link and was pleasantly surprised to read:
"Chiron Publications was founded in 1983. Our initial publications were in “The Chiron Clinical Series,” originating in seminars given at the “Ghost Ranch Conference” in New Mexico. These focused upon the intersection of Jungian and other psychoanalytic approaches to clinical practice. This link between different ways of viewing psychic life — hence the name “Chiron, the centaur who bridges different orders of existence — was extended to our ongoing series of books that emphasize Jungian approaches to mythology, literature, clinical practice, religion, feminism, literature, fairy tales, and gender issues."

So for about thirty years this company has been able to survive selling works about a psychological subject that many gullible students are being taught is only of historical interest. If something is too difficult, or unsuitable for younger university subjects, one business-solution would be to say that it is irrelevant.

I added another title to my "must buy" list: Jung and the Outside World, and I suspect that list will get longer today.

Finally, I found a poem on the site: Confessions of a Reluctant Jungian, an adaption by Len Cruz of the work of another poet about a different subject altogether, and which really struck a chord with me.

Even the most mundane discovery should lead to further questions. This time, there was just one. Where am I going to put all of these books? My current book shelves are overflowing with books piled on their side on top of properly shelved books, a few piles on the floor of my bedroom and virtually no space for more bookcases unless I find somewhere else for a large painting or the dog's dishes.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Bridging the gap

Scientists whom I see bridging the gap between mythos and logos interest me. The intuitive personality types are not commonly associated with the sciences, but whenever they show up there, remarkable connections can take place.

A couple of days ago, I came across the website of William A. Tiller's Institute for Psychoenergetic Science and I am finding it fascinating. In fact it has explained a strange phenomenon I experienced over forty years ago and had never quite understood. If it had happened only to myself, I might not have found is so strange but it also happened to a friend I was with at the same time. We were trying to directly contact something in the collective unconscious and, in retrospect, it was really not a good plan. Suddenly, time seemed to be moving intolerably slow. It was an extremely unpleasant experience for both of us. Forgive me if I do not go into any details of the question that immediately caused the phenomenon.

Professor Emeritus William A. Tiller's biography can be found here. The topic of mythos/logos is covered in his white paper: It Is Time for a Consciousness-Inclusive Science (PDF). Check out the premier issue of his Science and Spirit Magazine, too.

Here is a video interview which will also explain much:

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Doom and gloom

Tiresias, the blind prophet, appears to Ulysses.
Johann Heinrich Füssli (1741-1825)
There is always something about the end of the year which inspires predictions. The National Post has just published How will the world end? From ‘demonic’ AI to nuclear war — seven scenarios that could end human race. The good thing about making these predictions is that no one is going to be able to prove any of them wrong.

I was most interested in what Stephen Hawking had to say about artificial intelligence, and while I agree on the potential dangers of such automated systems, I think that "artificial intelligence" is a poor choice of terminology. Perhaps something like "intelligence simulation" might be a better term. After all "simulated orange flavour" has no connection to orange trees at all other than through a sense perception that is not that convincing, anyway. For those who still think that "artificial intelligence" is an accurate term, I would be most interested in hearing how they would design the (compensatory) unconscious mind.

Monday, 8 December 2014

The thrill of the hunt: addendum

In a comment to Friday's post, John Howland mentioned some topics That I felt would be better discussed as an addendum rather than just a response to the comment. He wondered if the delays in producing archaeological excavation reports could be connected to cultural lag. While I think it might have a minor effect, I believe that such delays mainly point to the extent of "the thrill of the hunt" and indicates that archaeologists are just as susceptible to that phenomenon as anyone else.  There is more enthusiasm to dig than to report. If an archaeologist excavates a site with the hope of uncovering not just remains of the past, but of discovering something new about that past, and that hope is fully realized, then it seems likely to me that the archaeologist would pursue publishing that information with great enthusiasm. It might be for reasons of professional advancement, or it might be to share that knowledge with the world. Imagine, though, if the archaeologist's hopes become dashed and the site did not live up to its expectations. Having to write up what might be seen as a disappointment is likely to lead to delays at the very least.  If, however, the site does lead to important new information about the time, then the archaeologist's enthusiasm can sometimes be so great that details are published before enough study is done. Amateur studies have no time limitations and it took me a number of years to find the last piece of evidence I needed to write up my discovery of the design of Alexander the Great's seal. There is a huge difference in what I produce as an alla prima hypothesis about something thought up the very morning I write the blog entry, and a series of blog entries summing up months or even years of work.

I maintain that there is no such thing as an archaeological record. There is only archaeological evidence and that evidence is not just fragmentary but it really depends on the archaeologists' beliefs and interests as to what attention is given to what details of that evidence. Here is a (1999) Britarch post that sums up the problems quite well. The writer refers to online discussion groups to sort out problems. Britarch has since had a number of such discussions about various questions and various collector/metal detecting groups do the same sort of thing, only far more frequently. Perhaps there is something to what the the writer says in his last sentence. I also think that the value of archaeological context is greatly exaggerated. While the connections between parts of the site might yield very valuable information, such potential information is only rarely realized. It has become a mythology and this can contribute to publication delays because expectations can be so easily dashed if one holds on to that mythology. We also see it touted by anti-collecting bloggers who seem to be trying to get across an idea that just below the depth of the plough lies intact and complete remains that are going to explain much about the time. Most often, information from archaeological sites is valuable only in a cumulative manner: many similar sites adding to the evidence of the single site.

I picked the gear animation at the top pf the page to express what I think about the nature of cultural lag. Imagine an individual idea as the small cogwheel and the discipline as the large cogwheel. It takes a few revolutions of the small wheel to get much movement in the larger wheel. I came about this example after seeing how Coriosolite coin design elements and motifs reflected far earlier examples from Saarland, Germany, while the workshops in the main centres of Celtic art evolved their designs far more rapidly. Generally, Armorican design elements were longer lasting, but used in different ways (to affect a Greek/Celtic fusion necessary for the coin design to act as a symbol). In the Armorican hinterland, there were very few "small cogwheels" contributing, and the big wheel moved very slowly. In important centres and along busy trade routes, communication is faster and new ideas are encountered more frequently. Evolution is driven by change and events.

The individual, thus, often has little effect on large and rigid systems, but it usually an individual or a very small group of individuals (such as Crick, Watson, Wilkins, and Franklin) who come up with almost all, if not all, of our most important discoveries. Furthermore, such discoveries are pretty well all made because of the researcher's personal passions and not because of funding or assigned projects. All of the big discoveries have essentially been made by amateurs.

So when you see criticism of the amateur by the professional, just ask yourself what that particular professional has discovered and published. If the answer is "nothing" then thoughts about conservatism, sour grapes and even jealousy should enter the picture, even if the example is not typical of the "group think" of the academy where the wheel is so large that individuals can have little effect on it in the short term. Remember, too, that the "academy" consist mostly of followers. The people at the top of the "academy" are usually amateurs in the true sense of the word who have risen to the point of being able to express the same autonomy enjoyed by the humblest hobbyist and whenever they see the same sort of passion, they see like minds who have just chosen a different route.

I am not convinced that any better performance in publishing archaeological reports could be achieved through any sort of force. There might be more reports, but their quality would be poorer and the archaeologist's own passion for the subject might diminish, too. It's all a bit of a "Catch 22".

Friday, 5 December 2014

The thrill of the hunt

A place where many discoveries go.
photo: Edward
We frequently see news reports about some member of the public discovering that an object they have either owned for years or have recently discovered is something unexpectedly old and rare. Almost always, the discoverer ends up with a large sum of money. We also see reports about metal detectorists making the find of a lifetime, but because they were actually looking for things, such discoveries are not as newsworthy unless the value is extremely high. People like to hear most about accidental finds.

While members of the public always seem to make discoveries, about 4% of archaeologists "stumble upon" such things (worked out from Google searches for the phrases: "archaeologists discover" and "archaeologists stumble". Unfortunately, no one has constructed an N-gram to find out if incidents of awkward walking among archaeologists is on the rise or in decline. From the news reports, however, it is mostly only physical discoveries that are made by archaeologists and not intellectual discoveries. So perhaps they have as much trouble thinking as they they do walking (one imagines that thinking and walking at the same time would be especially difficult for them). Actually, archaeologists make all sorts of intellectual discoveries, but because of cultural lag, such discoveries can take many decades to be accepted as fact. By then, it is not usually "newsworthy" anyway.

Some archaeologists claim that people collect for enjoyment and profit. While this might be true, the statement is always disingenuous because it gives the impression that the motives of archaeologists are different from that. I once asked a very independent-minded history professor why we do what we do. He replied: "To exercise the mind, and to delight the senses". It strikes me that these motives, besides being honestly stated, are very survival-oriented and have been that way since we were all hunter-gatherers. Later on, people started to specialize more and live in cities thus becoming "civilized". The only problem being that the city dwellers were generally less healthy and less adaptive. Many civilizations have fallen because the people could not adapt to changing conditions.

I suppose that some archaeologists seriously believe that their motives are for the public good and that people can learn from history in sociologically valuable applications. I suspect, too, that these are the same archaeologists who have difficulties walking and thinking at the same time. When civilizations fall, it always seems to be a surprise to everyone at the time.

So what, then, is the sociological purpose of archaeology? If we measure this by the amount of energy used then the purpose is political. It serves nationalistic interests and cultures are recognized far less than nations. Far less energy is devoted to the use of archaeological sites as sources of income for tourism, and that is often somewhat illusory: while the management of the site might profit, the local infrastructure often has to spend more to support the traffic. A good study on the political use of archaeology is Archaeology Under Dictatorship and the editors explain that the use of archaeology by dictatorships is just an extreme end of other nationalistic interests served by archaeology. We also have to remember that archaeologists often excavate outside of their own nation and that permits to do so would be less commonly given to archaeologists who would go against the interests of these nations.

The best archaeologists (and historians) would agree with my history professor friend about their motives being for enjoyment and profit. It is almost axiomatic that the best work in any endeavor is accomplished by those who have a passion for it. It is pure pleasure, and pleasure is nature's reward for survival-oriented activities. The profit comes from recognition (although often slow arriving) and the ability to benefit from such recognition whether through book sales, paid lectures, academic advancement, or the realization of a life well spent.

Have an enjoyable and profitable weekend (however you define such qualities).

Thursday, 4 December 2014

CO2: too little gas in the greenhouse

Autumn red peaches
The term greenhouse gas is a strange one for gardeners and horticulturists because plants absorb CO2 and dispel oxygen. Thus a big problem with greenhouses is that there is too little CO2 and too much oxygen. Does this mean that shoppers at commercial greenhouses are more likely to buy things? Probably not. There is even an urban myth that claims that casino owners pump oxygen inside their establishments.

A Chinese study has shown how increasing CO2 inside greenhouses used to grow peach trees in China has greatly increased the quality of the fruit.

Of course, while CO2 is great for plants, it's not so great for humans. We think that CO2 is bad and oxygen is good. In fact, there is quite the market for oxygen for human-use. But oxygen is not as benign as you might think. We need a certain amount of oxygen, but not too much.

Compare the figures given in the above links to the amounts of CO2 in earth's atmosphere over time. I suppose the lesson should be "everything in moderation".

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Archaeologists and authority in the digital world

Facebook Man
graphic by Maxo
The current issue of Internet Archaeology includes Understanding Archaeological Authority in a Digital Context by Lorna-Jane Richardson:

"This article considers the issues of archaeological authority, expertise and organisational reputation in the UK from an online perspective, and questions whether the participatory promise of social media technologies can, and should, challenge archaeological authority. .."

Are we being presented with a true (and useful) dichotomy? You be the judge.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Window shopping

photo by Emil Mayer
Over the last year on this blog I have posted three new additions to my collection of Celtic La Tène decoration. Since becoming so specialized in my collecting choices, finding three objects in a single year is unprecedented. I usually feel lucky if I find only one. It started with an unusually nice strap junction posted a year ago today. This was followed by an Iceni crescentic terret fragment in March, and a British Celtic horse-brooch fragment in April.

What with retiring this year and facing delays on some of my pensions/benefits, I had not been actively looking for new things to buy, but a few days ago I was curious about what I might have been missing and decided to risk any potential disappointment by doing a few web searches. I started with the 900+ listings for "Celtic" in the antiquities heading on Ebay (that's always the safest place to start if you are worried about being disappointed about not being able to afford to buy).

As I suspected, most things in the listing were not even Celtic. What few things that might have been used by Celts had very little, if any, La Tène decoration and what there was was later than my collecting interests. It seemed as if I was looking at a few things owned by people who were as poor as I was feeling at the time. Searching further afield, I found a few more examples of Celtic antiquities but nothing that interested me, and with very little decoration.

Sometimes, a good day's window shopping consists of not finding anything interesting. It's a glass half-full sort of thing.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Darwin Correspondence Project

Charles Darwin in 1869
This weekend, I enjoyed searching through Cambridge University's Darwin Correspondence Project. the site offers the full text of more than 7,500 letters to and from Charles Darwin with details of an additional 7,500. The archive covers documents dated up to 1869. You can look at a number of existing projects or create your own by searching for the names of correspondents or by entering a date range or keywords on the advanced search form.

I have always been fascinated by nineteenth century scholarship which was, largely, far more independent than today's scholarship and was thus a time of many great discoveries. Perhaps the main factor in these discoveries was the independence of many of the scholars of that time who were either already wealthy enough to spend the time, or who married into wealth. Another important factor, though, was that such people were driven by their passions far more than the modern university concerns of getting a well paid job.

The style of letter writing is quite different from the style of email inquiries. I still keep a file of letters from before the computer age when you had to wait at least two weeks for a reply. I suppose that in the future, there will be web archives of notable researcher's email messages, but what about tweets? Do researchers actually tweet? More importantly, as the medium is the message, will future archives exist for such things as "Tweets from Simon Cowell"? Perhaps I'll stick with Darwin, Evans, Burton...

Friday, 28 November 2014

Spirit of Samhain

About a month late, but this Irish film, Spirit of Samhain is well worth sharing. It is bilingual with sub-titles. Have a great weekend.

Spiorad na Samhna -- Origins of Halloween from Dessie Baker on Vimeo.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Vanity press, academic style

Hans Memling ca. 1433-1494
Pay for publishing vanity presses have been around for a long time, but when I saw that some journals had started charging their authors several hundred dollars just to see their paper published, I started to wonder about the quality of their publications. Perhaps a better paper on some subject might have written by someone who did not want to pay any such fees. Now it seems that some published papers are not even read and the "peer-review process" consists, at the most, of a machine reading to see if the paper just looks like a real paper in its format.

Nearly twenty years ago, a machine generated academic paper was published as a hoax. You can read all about it here, and find an unending supply of other such fantasy papers here.

Fortunately for the public, a safeguard is in place so that no one will unwittingly find such faked papers. While the title will be advertised, there will be a fee (usually around $40) to actually read it. Of course, being slightly curious about something rarely justifies spending $40 so no great harm is done to the public at all.

News writers discovered long ago that all that the public really requires is something like "experts say that..." without having to give any explanation for their opinion. Of course, no income is generated by this process, and "publish or perish" still exists so vanity publishers need not worry too much.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014


Now I remember why I don't like December: it's still November and I'm already drowning in paperwork. Every December I have to fill out a couple of annual reports but with my retirement this year and its unexpected complications I have a stack of forms and requests for information on my desk that is much higher than other Decembers.

It's not just the forms that bothers me although I really dislike filling out any forms, it's that I have to get copies of various things, do photocopying, arrange for printing (I have not even owned a printer for years), and worse of all, I will undoubtedly have to explain (in person as well as by letter) why everything is complicated this year and what the loans from the Provincial government are all about.

Despite being distracted by all of this, there has been a little relief in the confusion: two days ago, a new form arrived for me to fill out. It was not anything difficult, but there was no reply envelope enclosed and I thought I would have to go downtown to buy envelopes and stamps (I try to do most things on line, by phone or email). Then yesterday, I came home from rushing about to find a follow-up letter saying I could fill out an online report instead. One regular form is asking for less information than usual. Is this streamlining or did someone forget something? The last time that happened it was because of the latter and I barely made the deadline because of the oversight. I suppose I'll have to phone them (and navigate through the button-pushing of their automated message system before being put on hold listening to annoyingly chirpy Christmas music for half an hour).

Christmas! Right, I'm behind in my Christmas planning/shopping too. I really don't like December.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Pedigreed "Abrincatui" stater on Triton sale

A very rare type Xn (formerly Abrincatui) Armorican billon stater is listed in the January, 2015 Triton Auction in New York.
Series Xn coins have a wild set of die links and this very early obverse is paired with a reverse die by another hand and probably about a year later. It is most likely the finest example of its type known.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Good news from the scriptorium

The processing of my retirement pension forms continues slowly. Apparently, all the information about people my age has yet to be computerized and thus has to be handled the old way, so of course the vellum has to be prepared and the quill pens have to be kept sharp. My daughter tells me that they have discovered that I was eligible for a benefit that expired when I became sixty-five, but it will be paid to me retroactively in a lump sum. I don't yet know if this will mean thousands of extra dollars or just enough for lunch.

Meanwhile (the faster) Provincial government is loaning me enough to keep me going while the Federal government monks continue to labour away in the old wing of the scriptorium. So it's good news all round.

Friday, 21 November 2014


CFL bulb
photo: PiccoloNamek
Fluorescent lighting. It makes you look and feel your worst; it can flicker and make annoying noises, and if that is not enough, it can add mercury to landfill sites. But using it will save a small amount on your electrical bill. Most importantly, you can feel good about conserving energy, so you won't have to feel bad about your half-empty deep-freeze, your electrical tools, sound system, buying a new car every two years and keeping up with fashions.

Of course, there is information out there that says things are not that bad. For example, there is only about four milligrams of mercury in a CFL bulb. There are a million people in my city and if everyone used up just two bulbs each year that would mean that only four kilos of mercury will enter the landfill sites each year. What harm could four kilos of mercury do, or even forty over ten years?

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Alternative realities

Which direction to take?
Photo: Fredlyfish4
Continuing with ideas that connect to such things as the Zeitgeist movement and the Venus project, it occurs to me that such alternative realities are like destinations written on a sign post at a junction of hiking trails. We might have set out for a particular destination and then just followed the signposts at each junction or we might have had no destination in mind at the start but then followed a trail toward something that seems interesting. We might also start with the first and then change our minds and follow the second. If we see a destination that looks interesting but is 20km away, we might wonder if the hike will be worth such a long walk. The terrain will also play an important role. A trail might be steeper than we thought, or it might enter a waterlogged section, then the decision whether to continue or not will be based. also, on how far we have already come.

More serious thought is given to the paths we take in life and most people have the idea that their future should be planned out far more carefully than a day's hike. Still, though, we encounter interesting signposts along the path. One person might get a good job at a company and decide to stay with it because of the security it gives, while someone else will use it as a stepping stone and take a number of jobs over their life. Most often, the latter person does much better. It has happened that the first sort of person finds that their company downsizes or even goes bankrupt late in their career. This is usually a disaster for them: they don't look terribly ambitious to a potential new employer, rather they look stuck in their ways. Why would an employer keep offering raises to a person unlikely to quit for any reason? The person that can flit from one company to another is always looking for reasons for change and for new opportunities, but the other person is hoping that nothing changes and probably will not pick up on bad indicators for their company.

Having a utopia as a goal is even more dramatic than a mere career: it involves a vast number of people; it will take much longer (likely longer than a single life), and it will cost an almost unimaginable amount of money. Changing one's direction after twenty years or so of following a utopian idea is not just difficult for one's future but it will most likely result in "withdrawal symptoms" from leaving a way of life. This is the fate of many people who leave cults.

Evolution favors adaptability through frequent small changes over time in the environment and in the organism. Massive extinctions are the usually the result of a cataclysmic change in the environment affecting organisms who have no history of that sort of change. If it had happened before, the organism would have been killed. There can be no adjustments made for a novel event; no epigenetic switches created to be triggered by such an event.

It strikes me that if your ultimate goal is to build cities with modular residences and offices and sophisticated transportation and communication systems to link everything together, then perhaps first try selling a few of these modules that can be set up within any current system. Perhaps people will like them, perhaps they will not. If the modular city presents few attractive places for people to congregate, and going for an evening walk offers no interesting destinations; if life becomes an endless stream of functionality with little joy, then your city will be a failure. Then what are you going to do?

Tomorrow, panaceas for urges to advance. 

Wednesday, 19 November 2014


Ask anyone who was the most notable painter of the Italian Renaissance and the chances are the reply will be "Leonardo da Vinci". Why would this be? Is it because of Mona Lisa's smile or because of the inventions and anatomical studies in his notebooks? I think mainly the latter, but that's just a personal opinion. As painters go, his production was minimal. His methods were sometimes more than just questionable and his attempted mural of the Battle of Anghiari was a complete disaster. Inventive? Absolutely!
Technical ability? Well... . On the mythos-logos scale he was further toward mythos than his contemporary artists.

I think that much of Leonardo's current popularity is due to his presentation of various mechanical inventions because we live in an age of technology and when we see such inventions in the past, it plays into some neo-Darwinist ideas about us being "on the right track". Science, of course, is also the pampered pet of the modernist who does not want to hear too much about the dreams, intuition and hunches of the really great scientists who can be just as eccentric as many artists. The modernist has his nose pressed firmly against the window-pane of science and logos.

My favorite Renaissance painter is Raphael, who not only produced an enormous amount of work during his short life, but who was also a great technician. He was also appointed as the Inspector of Antiquities in Rome, so his interests also leaned toward archaeology. I have noticed that a number of Raphael paintings have been rediscovered and after removing centuries of grime and bad varnishing, they seem to be in very good condition. Although I did not know about his appointment when I first decided that he was my favorite, his interests in the past and in architecture certainly added to my appreciation of him.

Our views of the past are considerably influenced by our attitudes in the present, and our interests are shaped by our personality types. The extravert is drawn toward archaeology because it mostly deals in material remains and being a materialist, that is the sort of evidence that is most trusted. Many archaeologists believe in the existence of an archaeological record, because they cannot find value in viewpoints too different from their materialistic views of existence. Introverts feel more comfortable with the idea of archaeological evidence because they are more likely to understand the values of different viewpoints. Viewpoints are of the psyche, and the extravert knows very little about that subject, so the idea of an archaeological record is not just comfortable but is projected because it fits in with their ideas about reality. Those archaeologists who are introverts are more likely to be critical of modernism and some have rebelled against the views of the modernists and have taken a postmodern viewpoint.

I became a postmodernist after reclassifying Coriosolite coins (staters). It did not take me long to discover that there was something seriously wrong with classification, itself. Reading Foucault's The Order of Things: an archaeology of the human sciences enabled me to understand my misgivings, but I was already heading in that direction since I read David Bohm's Wholeness and the Implicate Order. In his introduction, Bohm says:
"I would say that in my scientific and philosophical work, my main concern has been with understanding the nature of reality in general and of consciousness in particular as a coherent whole, which is never static or complete, but which is in an unending process of movement and unfoldment."
One hears some archaeologists talk about how when an object is apart from its archaeological context, it loses 90% of its information. This idea is not science, it is scientism. No one can determine a percentage of something unless the whole is already understood, and what constitutes knowledge is dependent on viewpoints too. It also reveals that their idea of what constitutes context is severely limited. Such people have accused me of being interested only in objects as they obviously have never read Bohm, either, and believe that an object holds a discrete position in reality rather than just being anything that we can name. An archaeological site is as much an object as a coin.

Modernist ideas of utopia are really just for modernists. Like their city Brasilia, it's not really for everyone. But they do like to project.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

One size does not fit all

Any individual, society or belief occupies a point on the above scale at any time. That point is never static but the speed of its motion is faster toward the centre. Think of it like a metronome or like trying to balance the end of a pole on one finger: providing minor adjustments are continuously made then a person or society is "well balanced". Within a society, individuals will be positioned in various places on the scale and together they will form a bell-curve. I tried to represent this idea in the diagram by using the tonal gradation. If minor adjustments are not continuously made, however, the drift will continue in the same direction until there is a wild swing, at some point, in the opposite direction.

If an individual is positioned too far toward the mythos end then the society will view them as a psychopath who has little grounding in reality. In the extreme, such people will have no contact with reality at all and will not be able to function in the society. If they are somewhere between the mythos end and the centre, most people will see them as "creatively eccentric":  the "crazy artist", "outsider" or "absent-minded professor" etc. If they are positioned too far toward the logos end, most people will see them as the sociopath or dictator, but if somewhere between the logos end and the centre, they could be a lawmaker or a technologist of some sort ― anything that would require a greater sense of order.

How accurately society perceives people on the edges depends on the position of the society, itself. In a shamanistic society, a person might be seen as having been given a spiritual gift while in an urban society, that same person might be seen as "crazy". each society will have its own way of dealing with such people.

As we cannot see far into the future, we can only accurately predict things fairly close to us in time. So if a society or some aspect of it is too far toward either mythos or logos, its inevitable swing toward its opposite state will come as a surprise: a "black swan event".

If the state of a society is way too far toward one end, its swing to its opposite might never happen because the society might not survive to see it.

Think about these things for a while and ponder the word "utopia", and I will elaborate with examples tomorrow.

Monday, 17 November 2014


"The intellect has little to do on the road to discovery. There comes a leap in consciousness, call it Intuition or what you will, the solution comes to you and you don't know how or why".

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

"The only real valuable thing is intuition."

Albert Einstein

It's always gratifying to discover that Albert Einstein is on your side, but it's not too remarkable if the subject is intuition and you are an Introverted Intuitive type. Einstein was an INTP and I'm an INFJ. However, once you go past the Introverted iNtuitive stages of problem-solving, the two types have little in common. Also, these are somewhat approximate, or perhaps average, traits that are recorded in these definitions. There are 16 personality types in the Myers-Briggs typology and billions of separate personalities in the world. For example, the linked INFJ definition opines: "No other personality type is better suited to create a movement to right a wrong, no matter how big or small".

I can't really imagine myself creating a movement to right some wrong although I have supported (but not joined) such movements in the past. My intuition tells me that while movements can do great things, whenever they get too large there is a tendency for them to divide into factions and then spend more time arguing or even fighting over things than actually doing anything.

When the movement is of a type where the individual can have little influence, my interest wanes. When Wayne Sayles invited me to handle the public side of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild, I gave it serious thought before I agreed, but then set about things with enthusiasm. After helping to get overwhelming public support against U.S. import restrictions on ancient coins, I discovered that the public opinion process was just a sham and was categorically ignored by the U.S. government. Even worse, I realized that the U.S. government's aim in these procedures was not to protect "cultural heritage" but to obtain concessions from various countries by doing so, These concessions were secret and even the court system did nothing to bring them before public scrutiny. People were "buying a pig in a poke", but to add insult to injury, it was a forced sale.  I realized that my task was redundant and I resigned. It seemed to me that the legal route at least had some chance of success, but minority groups are mere cannon-fodder for political/economic purposes. Our opposition, though, was even worse off because they thought that they were being given greater credit. Sooner or later, their own interests will be squashed in the same manner for some other political/economic gain.

The Zeitgeist Movement and the Venus Project have split. Various reasons have been offered but I tend to think that this is evolutionary. Such splitting is quite common in belief systems and thus organized religions are the commonest expression of that. The degree of agreement between two sects of the same religion acts as the fuel for hostilities and religious wars are most noticed between beliefs that share more things. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (chronologically sorted) not only share certain beliefs, prophets etc, but are often in close geographical proximity, so mutual distrust is combined with the opportunity for conflict between the great religions and between various sects of such and nationalism is always there to fan the flames by adding xenophobia to the mix.

Unlike Einstein, Wolfgang Pauli was an extravert, and he had a big problem with "natural selection" as the numbers did not work out. Christian Creationists have used this to further their own ideas about intelligent design, but now epigenetics has resolved Pauli's problem. Dr. Bruce Lipton has a very interesting take on that subject. I suspect that Dr. Lipton, too, is one of the intuitive types.

More tomorrow.