Mind Magic

Please take a moment to share my work on social media. Agree or disagree, the more who read this the bigger the opportunity to share with others and promote meaningful dialog. It would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

As a writer, words carry a special significance for me. I collect unusual ones, appreciate it when someone writes something that strikes a chord, and take pleasure in crafting a piece of work that entertains, enlightens, or challenges others.

But is it really the words, letters, or grammatical markings that make the magic? Or does magic really happen in the brain?

I just finished a book called The First Signs by Genevieve von Petzinger. The premise of the book is essentially that the symbols, i.e. letters etc., are meaningless. It is our understanding of those symbols that give them meaning. Without the context of understanding what the symbols represent, there is no meaning.

old cave drawing made with paint
Photo by ArtHouse Studio on Pexels.com

For example, if an English-speaking person were to read the following, they might think it beautifully written, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…” But if we changed the symbols out for, say, Chinese, it might appear as just gibberish 我如何愛你? 讓我來計算一下 to us.

There is no meaning without a fundamental understanding of the symbolic nature of the lines and squiggles; a b c to our English speaker and 在一開 to our Chinese speaker.

The symbols merely trigger brain processes, they have no innate meaning. The meaning lies not in the symbols themselves but in the magic of the mind’s ability to transform them into thoughts. And our thoughts are conversations with ourselves. (I often listen to the voices, don’t you?)

Written language is a consensus where we reach a collective understanding to use symbols to trigger the shared meaning of concepts found only in our minds.

The magic of everything we see, hear, or feel happens only in our minds. Everything outside is without meaning or form without the magic in our brain. It is merely light reflected off the surface of an object and translated into concepts within our minds. Thus Plato’s allegory of the cave, questioning the need for the real world.

Reality happens when we think it into existence. Beyond a matrix. Beyond any imaginary concepts. The quantum reality of existence. Symbols, be they letters or glyphs, are just that without the magic.

A clever way to think of this is the Babblefish from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe. (Please tell me you read this—the movie didn’t do it justice.) For those of you who may have missed the story, a babblefish is a creature capable of translating any language into one understood by the person equipped with such a companion. It is inserted in the ear where the babblefish leads a happy and useful life translating many languages. But what it really does is understand the universal concepts and questions,

Where is the Restaurant at the End of the Universe?

Where can I get something to eat?

How much for a vodka martini?

Where is the bathroom?

Thus it would seem while humanity has made great strides in populating the earth, it is still in the dark ages when it comes to a common language and system of writing. This, like all things, will change eventually. Even the doomed concept of Esperanto had its moments. It turned out to be the Beta tapes of language (look it up if you must) but it did spark some discussion.

To illustrate how things are constantly changing, think about the balance between spoken and written communication. In our earliest history primitive humans—Sapiens, Neanderthal, Heidelbergensis—developed language, simple yet effective as it was, to communicate information.

Where the Aurochs were. How far to water. Etc.

As human communication progressed, people developed written symbols (painted, etched, or carved into stone) to provide a more permanent “data storage” solution. A way to “record” their voice. But for the first millennia of human communication, it was almost exclusively spoken.

We lost these communications in the mists of history.

All through my generation on the earth, almost all of my communication with others was verbal. Of course, there are letters, notes, and other paper remnants of things we wrote , but we lost the majority to time.

Today, that balance between words spoken and written is changing. Social media has diminished the use of speaking to each other in favor of text, snapchats, and social media postings. I dare say that as the efficiency, reach, and speed of such systems increases, we may lose our ability for conversation.

Almost every conversation I had with friends and family growing up is forever lost to the past, inevitably altered by the fluidity of memory. In the case of today’s generation, there are petabytes (one thousand terabytes) of data storage with almost everything they’ve ever “said” online preserved for posterity.

Imagine everything you’ve ever said being available to recall and view all over again. I don’t know about you but the concept is chilling. While I’ve said some things I’m very proud of, there are an equal if greater amount better lost forever.

I couldn’t write things for people to read if there was no way to put it in front of them, be it on a screen or in a printed book. But conversation is an art. It is something intimate to be shared with our fellow humans, either a casual conversation with fellow traveler on a plane or in a coffee shop or with a child, lover, or friend.

Universities give out honorary degrees to people of note. They often entitled the degrees Doctor of Humane Letters. This is a formal way of saying a person whose words, actions, and/or writings have affected people and history.

What the title really implies is someone who has spoken to his fellow humans in the most profound way. It is the epitome of being human. It is the ultimate form of caring about your fellow beings. To spend time in conversation is to share one’s fundamental humanity.

Language lets us enter into another person’s thoughts and share the experience; We can never replace it with a symbol no matter how beautifully written. When you learned to speak, then read, then write, there was a reason speech had to come first. It is the foundation of all communication. Everything else is just a method of transmission.

It can never be the message itself.  That requires magic.    

JEBWizard Publishing (www.jebwizardpublishing.com) is a hybrid publishing company focusing on new and emerging authors. We offer a full range of customized publishing services. Everyone has a story to tell, let us help you share it with the world. We turn publishing dreams into a reality. For more information and manuscript submission guidelines contact us at info@jebwizardpublishing.com or 401-533-3988.

A Message to Nike: Sell the Damn Sneakers

First, Happy 4th of July 2019 the 243rd Birthday of this American Experiment!

More than a symbol

The controversy over the original flag and its symbolic relationship to slavery and racism does nothing to further the discussion on racism in the United States.

While I disagree with his methods, Colin Kaepernick does demonstrate the courage of his convictions. However, he misses the point with such meaningless protests toward Nike and their Betsy Ross sneakers.

Slave labor built much of early America. Of that, there is no dispute. Slaveholders provided much of the labor which drove America’s rise in global trade. When slavery ended, inequitable treatment of minorities offered a slightly more expensive but still bargain price for labor.

It is one of the strangest dichotomies of the rise of the United States from the bonds of British tyranny. The founding fathers joined to fight for their independence from a Royal Government which trampled their rights. This same Royal Government recognized the inhumanity and inherent injustice of holding a fellow human in slavery and banned the practice.

It underscores the point that no government, no society, no people are perfect. They have their brief shining moments, rising to greatness as shown by documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and their failures by killing over seven hundred thousand of their fellow Americans to end slavery in the “land of the free.”

However, symbols are often never single-purpose. While the original flag may well have flown over institutions or government organizations which supported slavery, it also flew over many that did not.

History is not a moment in time. If that were the case, we would be right to argue the genocide of Native Americans, where both pre- and post- Civil War American Soldiers slaughtered tens of thousands and displaced millions, is worse than slavery.

Quantifying such atrocities is an exercise in futility.

Nothing can ever undo the tarnish of the practice of slavery in the US, nor the ever-present racism which permeates much of our culture to this day. However, to isolate one symbol and demand its removal from the public discourse without recognizing the multiple manifestations of its symbolism is disingenuous.

I would argue the effort to remove such a symbol amounts to placing an unfair comparative standard on items with little connection to the reality of the times.

Americans stole slaves from their homeland, brought them to America, and bred and traded them like cattle. The ships bringing slaves to America flew the same American flag.

Americans, by declaration not birth, stole a country from Native Americans and destroyed their entire culture. The soldiers who imposed the policies against these Native Americans followed that same flag into battle.

These are America’s darkest chapters.

There are brighter chapters written by the American people.

That same flag led Americans into battles at Belleau Woods, Marne, Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Iwo Jima, Normandy, Chosin Reservoir, Hue. Places where Americans died to save others from tyranny.

That same flag flew in planes that airlifted food to Berlin, brought aid around the world, and offered reassurance just by its mere presence throughout the world.

That same flag flies on the surface of the moon and on the Voyager spacecraft which left the solar system and now travels in interstellar space.

One cannot take a symbol from one moment in history and equate it to the practices, beliefs, or actions of an entire nation. We cannot eliminate racism by attacking the past. We can eliminate racism by learning from the mistakes, and the triumphs, of the past to change the future.

Nike, sell the damn sneakers. Americans died to ensure freedom of speech and the flag represents that more so than reflects racial bias or support for slavery.