Archive for October 7th, 2010

Project Noah

| October 7, 2010 | Reply
Project Noah

Check out Project Noah: According to Jill Priluck’s article in Slate, it is “a database of spottings, a field guide, and a repository for ecology surveys.” You could spend all day viewing the massive collections.

Project NOAH has found the sweet spot between professional scientists and casual naturalists. It began as an app for people to share their nature sightings but has evolved into a scientific and culturally relevant tool for both the masses and the experts. Project NOAH functions as a kind of Foursquare for flora and fauna, a way for amateur nature spotters to record the bugs, leaves, and birds they’ve found. Those data, in turn, have become a valuable tool for professional researchers.

The good news? “The platform is about to go global with a cross-media blitz, in hopes of turning wildlife spotting into a cultural sport.”

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We’re all gonna die

| October 7, 2010 | Reply
We’re all gonna die

Here’s an exquisitely compelling photo project that is also cleverly thought-provoking. It’s a project created by Simon Hogsberg and it is called “We’re all Gonna Die – 100 meters of existence.” Hogsberg took the photos making up this long collage on a Berlin bridge over a 20-day period in 2007. I found myself moving the cursor slightly off-center so that I could sit back and slowly pan from left to right, a bittersweet journey of several minutes.

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What it means to be human

| October 7, 2010 | Reply
What it means to be human

What is a human animal? If you were a Martian anthropologist, you would probably want to supplement your field studies (at grocery stores, sports events and tupperware parties) with a visit to this website of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. It is not highly technical, so those of you with children might want to share this site with them. What it lacks in technical information, it makes up for with a rich collection of videos, images and illustrations of artifacts, behavior and environments. Lots to click on here!

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Is the Supreme Court biased towards corporations?

| October 7, 2010 | 2 Replies
Is the Supreme Court biased towards corporations?

I wrote last week about the plutocracy or corporatocracy which has emerged as the dominant force in American politics. Today, Bloomberg News has a teaser article up featuring an interview with Justice Stephen Breyer, who was appointed to the court by Bill Clinton in 1994. Before I get into the substance of the post, permit me to point out that Bloomberg News is a subsidiary of Bloomberg L.P., a company with revenues in the billions of dollars, and owned by Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City and America’s 10th richest person. See how money, the media and politics all work together? And I’m sure this was entirely coincidental, but Bloomberg TV was severely reprimanded a few years ago in the United Kingdom for breaching British rules on broadcasts before elections. It seems that Bloomberg covered the Labour Party’s “Business Manifesto”, but failed to provide equal coverage to the Conservative or Liberal Democratic parties.

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On the power of television

| October 7, 2010 | Reply
On the power of television

Today, I ran into one of my favorite quotes:

Television is more interesting than people. If it were not, we would have people standing in the corners of our rooms.

Alan Corenk

Here’s another good quote by Corenk:

Democracy consists of choosing your dictators, after they’ve told you what you think it is you want to hear.

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Culture as a collective fabrication facilitating our quest for immortality

| October 7, 2010 | 3 Replies
Culture as a collective fabrication facilitating our quest for immortality

I often wonder how people are capable of simply going about their business, chatting about last night’s sporting event, working on crossword puzzles or thinking about buying a new car, despite the fact that they will be dead someday, maybe even someday soon. And for those with children, their children will also be dead a few decades later. How can we possibly live with those dreaded thoughts hanging over us? In fact, every person now living will likely be dead in 150 years. How can we engage in mundane things like gossiping, consuming, traveling and amusing ourselves when every person on the planet is facing annihilation? How do we put death out of our minds so easily?

Ernest Becker would suggest that I have it all backwards. According to Becker, people intensely amuse and distract themselves, and immerse themselves in culture, because they are anxious about death. They are not necessarily consciously aware of their impending deaths, but they feel it deeply, and their minds grind and sputter on this topic, under the surface, unconsciously.

We do the best we can to deal with this terrifying thought that we will all be dead, and the best we can think of doing is to distract ourselves with the many bright and shiny bigger-than-us, bigger-than-life things offered by culture. We put these things on a pedestal and then we cling to them as if they were life preservers. We embellish our cultural treasures with accolades recognizing their “eternal” significance. “Strawberry Fields Forever,” Babe Ruth, stamp collections, being a trivia pursuit star, triathlons, Michelangelo’s David. And for some of us, Jesus Christ loves us and He will let us live with him forever in heaven. According to Becker, these cultural mainstays are important for keeping us steady, even while death (and the threat of death) lurks around every corner.

I recently had the opportunity to watch the highly acclaimed low-budget 90-minute 2005 documentary titled “Flight from Death: the Quest for Immortality,” produced by Patrick Shen and Greg Bennick. The film is based on the works of Ernest Becker’s “terror management theory,” (TMT) on which I’ve written several times (see here and here). Even though I was well acquainted with the works of Becker prior to viewing this video, I found the film to be transformative, in that it offers a schematic of underlying “hydraulics” that help us to understand many things that otherwise seem so puzzling about culture. I’d highly recommend “Flight from Death” whether or not you sometimes find it stunning that you live on a planet where mobile intestinal tracks scurry about, drive buses and even serve you meals at your local restaurant. Here’s the trailer.

Even though I was already familiar with Becker’s theory and many of the experiments substantiating Becker’s theory, I found the film illuminating. “Flight From Death” includes well-chosen imagery and music to accompany the interviews with thoughtful and eccentric people from a wide variety of backgrounds (including psychologist Sheldon Soloman and writer Sam Keen, among others).

[More . . . ]

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