THE SACRED AND THE PROFANE & SUPERNORMAL STIMULI: STREAMING MAKES ME WANNA SMOKE CRACK
MUSIC IN PHASE SPACE EPISODE 36
One does not go to the theater to escape from himself, but to reestablish contact with the mystery that we all are.
Alejandro Jodorowsky, Psicomagia
MTV makes me wanna smoke crack
Fall out of the window and I’m never comin’ back
MTV makes me wanna get high
Can’t get a ride no matter how I try
And everything’s perfect and everything’s bright
And everyone’s perky and everyone’s uptight
I love those videos I watch ’em all day…….
Put a mirror on the side of a beta fighting fish’s aquarium and a male will beat itself against the glass attacking the perceived intruder. A hen lays eggs day after day as a farmer removes them for human breakfasts — 30,000 in a lifetime without one chick hatching but she never gives up trying.
Nobel laureate Niko Tinbergen studied birds that lay small, pale blue eggs speckled with grey. He constructed plaster eggs to see which a bird preferred to sit on, finding that they would select those that were larger, had more defined markings, or more saturated color over the bird’s own pale, dappled eggs. The essence of the supernormal stimulus is that the imitation can exert a stronger pull than the real thing.
He found that territorial male stickleback fish would attack a wooden fish model more vigorously than a real male if its underside was redder. The healthiest, largest male chickadees have the highest crests on their heads and they are sought after as mates. When researchers outfit runt males with little pointed caps females line up to mate with them, forsaking the naturally fitter, hatless males.
Tinbergen was able to influence the behavior of these animals with a new “super” stimulus that was a detriment to their livelihood because they simply couldn’t say no to the fake stimulus. Much of Tinbergen’s work is beautifully captured by Harvard psychologist Deirdre Barrett in the book Supernormal Stimuli.
There’s a jolt of recognition: just how different are our endless wars, our modern health woes, our melodramatic romantic and sexual lives candy, pornography, huge-eyed stuffed animals, diatribes about menacing enemies.
Human instincts were designed for hunting and gathering on the savannahs of Africa 10,000 years ago. Our present world is incompatible with these instincts because of radical increases in population densities, technological inventions, and pollution. Instincts arose to call our attention to rare necessities but now we use them to produce ubiquitous attention-grabbers.
Humans have a giant brain capable of overriding simpler instincts when they lead us astray. Evolution’s inability to keep pace with such rapid change plays a role in most of our modern problems. But we must recognize and understand what is going on before we will make this crucial switch in strategy
It could be argued that for a large span of time humans had a relatively stable palette. A candy bar matches taste buds that evolved in a hunter-gatherer environment, but it matches those taste buds much more strongly than anything that actually existed in the hunter-gatherer environment. The signal that once reliably correlated to healthy food has been hijacked. Tastiness, formerly representing the evolutionarily identified correlates of healthiness, has been reverse-engineered and perfectly matched with an artificial substance.
The problem with junk food is due to the fact that it is a “super stimulating” version of a natural reward we are supposed to pursue. the reason we are drawn to sickly desserts is because they are sweeter than any naturally-occurring fruit.
Some studies have suggested that foods like processed grain came about far too quickly and are doing quite a number on your mind and body. Junk food is addictive. Food is being engineered specifically to be more appealing than its natural counterparts.
HYPERREALITY: TV & video games
Awareness that watching television activates the primitive ‘orienting response’, keeping our eyes drawn to the moving pictures as if it were predator or prey. Awareness that liking ‘cute’ characters comes from a biological urge to protect and nurture our young
If people have the right to play video games — and it’s hard to imagine a more fundamental right — then the market is going to respond by supplying the most engaging video games that can be sold.
and if you can make your game 5% more hypereal, you may be able to steal 50% of your competitor’s customers. You can see how this problem could get a lot worse. A video game can be so much more engaging than mere reality. Challenges poised at the critical point between ease and impossibility, intermittent reinforcement, feedback showing an ever-increasing score, social involvement in massively multiplayer games.
Is there a limit to the market incentive to make video games more engaging? You might hope there’d be no incentive past the point where the players lose their jobs; after all, they must be able to pay their subscription fee. This would imply a “sweet spot” for the addictiveness of games, where the mode of the bell curve is having fun.
There’s a passage from a Kurt Vonnegut novel where a man shows another man a photograph of a woman in a bikini and asks, “Like that Harry? That girl there.” The man’s response is, “That’s not a girl. That’s a piece of paper.” Those who warn of porn’s addictive nature always emphasize that it is not a sexual addiction, it’s a technological one.
It’s been suggested that pornography messes up the “reward circuitry” in human sexuality — why bother trying to pursue and impress a potential mate if you can just go home and look at porn? Novelty is always a click a way, and novelty is closely tied to the highly addictive nature of dopamine.
the neurotransmitter dopamine does not cause people to experience pleasure, but rather causes a seeking behavior. want, desire, seek search,” she wrote. It is the opioid system that causes one to feel pleasure. Yet, “the dopamine system is stronger than the opioid system. We seekmore than we are saare satisfied
Actual women are killing themselves (e.g. supermodels using cocaine to keep their weight down) in the construction of another superstimulus transformed by makeup, careful photography, and finally extensive Photoshopping, into a billboard model — a beauty impossible, unmatchable by human women in the unretouched real world.
The Internet & Fomo
Social media has been shown to make some people depressed — they see the highlight reel of others, and may feel worse about their own life. These pruned and often misleading looks into others lives was never available before the web. In spite of this, people can’t stop checking them, thinking that they might be missing out on something.
The quick bursts of entertainment that the internet provides, and the fact that information is always a click away, may cause a decrease in conceptual and critical thinking as well as chronic distraction that slowly eats away at your patience and ability to think and work on things for extended periods of time.
What should you do? Deciding what’s normal
Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is.
Evolution seems to have struck a compromise, or perhaps just aggregated new systems on top of old. Homo sapiens are still tempted by food, but our oversized prefrontal cortices give us a limited ability to resist temptation. Not unlimited ability — our ancestors with too much willpower probably starved themselves to sacrifice to the gods, or failed to commit adultery one too many times.
Our limited willpower evolved to deal with ancestral temptations; it may not operate well against enticements beyond anything known to hunter-gatherers. Even where we successfully resist a superstimulus, it seems plausible that the effort required would deplete willpower much faster than resisting ancestral temptations.
When I am listening to certain pieces of music I feel a reverence creeping over me, an awe that has a spiritual quality. I do not see any contradiction between my agnosticism and my emotional reverence. I am a biological being subject to the same emotions and affinities as others
When I listen to music Something else happens. In the deep logic of the music, I sense a presence. My brain generates a mind state, a persona, and attributes it to the music. Not the mind of Mozart the man, but a kind of soul that invests that particular piece. The piece has a persona. It has a palpable spirit, and I feel as though I can have a personal relationship to that spirit.
The social, interpersonal, emotional machinery of my brain has been recruited. My brain is treating the music like a universe of complexity and investing that universe with its own deity, for whom I feel some measure of awe and reverence. My relationship to the music is, in the most fundamental sense, the same as a religious relationship to the real world.
In complexity, the human brain tends to see intentionality. We are after all social animals. We evolved to be social beings — to look at the complex pattern of behavior of others and infer a mind state, a personality, a persona. When we encounter complexity, the social machinery in the brain is engaged. It generates hypothetical mind states and intentions and attributes them to the complex entity. It is an automatic reaction. We can’t help the impulse.
MUSIC AND SHAMANISM
One of the most common shamanistic themes is the shaman’s supposed death and resurrection. This occurs in particular during his initiation. Often, the procedure is supposed to be performed by spirits who dismember the shaman and strip the flesh from his bones, then put him back together and revive him. In more than one way, this death and resurrection represents the shaman’s elevation above human nature.
First, the shaman dies so that he can rise above human nature on a quite literal level. After he has been dismembered by the initiatory spirits, they often replace his old organs with new, magical ones (the shaman dies to his profane self so that he can rise again as a new, sanctified, being). Second, by being reduced to his bones, the shaman experiences rebirth on a more symbolic level: in many hunting and herding societies, the bone represents the source of life, so reduction to a skeleton “is equivalent to re-entering the womb of this primordial life, that is, to a complete renewal, a mystical rebirth”.
Third, the shamanistic phenomenon of repeated death and resurrection also represents a transfiguration in other ways. The shaman dies not once but many times: having died during initiation and risen again with new powers, the shaman can send his spirit out of his body on errands; thus, his whole career consists of repeated deaths and resurrections. The shaman’s new ability to die and return to life shows that he is no longer bound by the laws of the super stimulus , particularly the law of death: “the ability to ‘die’ and come to life again […] denotes that [the shaman] has surpassed the human condition”.
Having risen above the human condition, the shaman is not bound by the flow of history. Therefore, he enjoys the conditions of the mythical age. In many myths, humans can speak with animals; and, after their initiations, many shamans claim to be able to communicate with animals. According to Eliade, this is one manifestation of the shaman’s return to “the illud tempus described to us by the paradisiac myths”. The shaman can descend to the underworld or ascend to heaven, often by climbing the World Tree, the cosmic pillar, the sacred ladder, or some other form of the axis mundi.
Often, the shaman will ascend to heaven to speak with the High God. Because the gods (particularly the High God, according to Eliade’s deus otiosus concept) were closer to humans during the mythical age, the shaman’s easy communication with the High God represents an abolition of history and a return to the mythical age . Because of his ability to communicate with the gods and descend to the land of the dead, the shaman frequently functions as a psychopomp and a medicine man.
The general nature of religion
Eliade is known for his attempt to find broad, cross-cultural parallels and unities in religion, particularly in myths.
In his discussion of sacred space, the author notes that sacred space is always considered the “really” real part of the universe, while non-sacred space is ambiguous and without structure. That is to say, the sacred is the solid, fixed point from which all else is oriented, while the non-sacred is a formless expanse without essence.
Given these descriptions, super stimulus is unlivable. It does not provide a context within which anything can be accomplished, because, as Eliade rightly notes, “
Nothing can begin, nothing can be done, without a previous orientation — and any orientation implies a fixed point”. As such, one never finds man living a completely existence only with superstimuli
The ephemeral super stimulus does not encompass and account for the totality of phase space. On the other hand the eternal can encompass and account for the superstimuli. If ultimate reality (the “really real” part of our existence) is sacred, it makes sense that profane aspects could also exist.
Eliade shows that sacred space is understood as a place where the eternal meets the temporal, where the divine dwells with the merely human.
Rather, sacred spaces are built on the model of the gods. In building a sacred place, man is emulated the creation of the world by the divine. This act is motivated by a desire to “take up his bode in objective reality” and escape the illusion and relativity of profane life.
Mankind is not making up creation stories with the construction of sacred spaces, we are emulating creation stories. In other words, our creation myths do not present a god who is the result of time and space; rather time and space are the result of creation. “The sacred reveals absolute reality and at the same time makes orientation possible; hence it founds the world in the sense that it fixes the limits and establishes the order of the world.” The profane simply cannot do this.
The sacred does not provide an escape from reality; it provides a return to reality. It is a door to the beginning of time, when man and gods lived together in peace and perfection. In entering the sacred, man longs to recover “the strong, fresh, pure world that existed in illo tempore” .
This existence is the really real and everything since the fall from the state has lacked its substance. We now live in the shadowlands, to quote Lewis again. As such, religious devotion is not an escape or an avoidance of reality, as Kant would have us believe, but rather the bold acceptance of reality. To enter into the sacred is to face the facts as they are. On the other hand, to try to live as if the world is only profane can much more rightly be called an avoidance of reality. It is the man who refuses to face the sacred who is the one trying to escape from what is really real.
Origin myths and sacred time: THE DREAMTiME
Eternal return and “Terror of history”
Eliade argues that traditional man attributes no value to the linear march of historical events: only the events of the mythical age have value. To give his own life value, traditional man performs myths and rituals. Because the Sacred’s essence lies only in the mythical age, only in the Sacred’s first appearance, any later appearance is actually the first appearance; by recounting or re-enacting mythical events, myths and rituals “re-actualize” those events. Eliade often uses the term “archetypes” to refer to the mythical models established by the Sacred, although Eliade’s use of the term should be distinguished from the use of the term in Jungian psychology.
Thus, argues Eliade, religious behavior does not only commemorate, but also participates in, sacred events:
In imitating the exemplary acts of a god or of a mythical hero, or simply by recounting their adventures, the man of an archaic society detaches himself from profane time and magically re-enters the Great Time, the sacred time.
TURN ME ON I’M A RADIO: RESONANCe
Music often transport us to where we first heard them or to a phase of life when they held an important place. Old feelings, old relationships, old situations are resurrected and made present through sound. As long as we continue to hear those songs — and each time we do — that bygone period is restored to vibrant immediacy.
music also serves as an intergenerational pathway, promoting a real or imagined sense of continuity between past and present. Songs known (or thought) to be deeply woven into the societal fabric bring us face to face with long-dead ancestors and with a world we did not inhabit but feel viscerally connected to.
And it bears reiterating that these musical sensations are not experienced simply as emotional memories, but as the past made present once more. On a practical level, this explains the regularity with which recurring repertoires are affixed to communal rituals, both religious and secular. Such music helps tie participants to the activity itself and to the flow of history in which similar activities have already occurred and will occur again.
Although this discussion of return implies endlessness, it is not a static process. As we have learned from countless time travel tales of popular fiction, inserting ourselves into events that have already taken place invariably introduces new elements and causes new variations, subtle and not-so-subtle. So it is with time relived on the pages of comic books, retold in rituals and contained in repeated songs. Each of us is a constantly changing accumulation of thoughts, feelings and experiences, and every time we return to the familiar — the eternal — we approach it from a different vantage point.
Far from discrediting the notion of timelessness, the changes precipitated when our current selves encounter the perpetual past can be understood as the dynamic anatomy of eternity. Without this potential for freshness, the eternal return would hardly be longed for.