Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: freedom
Thursday, 24 May 2012 17:00

From Animal to Man


Porous frontiers

The death, on October 30, 2007 at the age of 42, of Washoe, a female chimpanzee who became famous for having learned to use several hundreds signs from the American sign language and who had taught part of it, without human help, to her adopted son Loulis, made the headlines worldwide. This story reminds us how much contemporary research disturbs our ancestral certainties about the difference between man and animals. Could it be the harbinger of its imminent dissolution?

Darwin already pointed out in The Descent of Man (1871) that monkeys were able to crack nuts with a stone. Since the work of Jane Goodall in Gombe (Tanzania) in the sixties, we know that chimpanzees can make tools to catch termites in their nest. And from the end of the seventies, we noticed in chimpanzees and bonobos the behavior of self-medication by plants in case of intestinal diseases. More recently, in 2005-2006, some researchers observed several times the making of weapons (spears) by chimpanzees in order to kill prosimians in Senegal. Man is no longer be the only weapon manufacturer. All cognitive and technical boundaries which separate him from the rest of the animal kingdom do seem to have lost their firmness and sharpness.

Of course, no one will deny that there is a “plus” in the human language, in the human self-consciousness, as well as in the human technology and pharmacology. However, human exclusivity of these features seems to have become completely obsolete.

WashoeAnimal Cultures?

Regarding social abilities, the situation does not seem more favorable to the human being. Cooperation is widespread in the animal kingdom, through various cases of mutual help between fellow creatures, when handicapped for example. Thus, Mozu, a macaque female in Japan, was born without hands and feet and she managed not only to survive but also to raise five babies with the help of her fellow monkeys.

Cases of appeasement after a conflict, named “reconciliations” by Frans de Waal, are well proven although there are still debates about the exact motivation of this behaviour: is it the desire to reestablish a relationship or is it the desire to alleviate one’s stress? The difficulty for the human species to understand the unconscious or final reasons of reconciliation behaviour also casts a doubt on our interpreting other primates’ motivations.

Furthermore, the monitoring of chimpanzees communities during more than 40 years in various African countries showed local variations in the use of tools such as the catching of termites with bits of barks, or in certain gestures such as the handgrip above the head during the mutual grooming using the other hand, or yet in some behaviours such as dancing under the rain during a storm.

In 1999, one article mentioned the “animal cultures”1 while referring to 151 years of cumulated observations in primatology. Other primatologists would rather say “ animal traditions” to indicate that they are still far from the richness of human culture. Yet, even there, the human exclusiveness tends to fade: the transmitting of customs inherent to a group within a same species is no longer the prerogative of the Homo Sapiens.

Objections

Supporters of the insurmountable gaps between man and animal show concern towards these studies which are often accused of anthropomorphism. They point out to what extent the descriptions of animal customs use expressions and words created first for human behaviours such as reconciliation, empathic help or political alliances.

Yet these behaviours are not invented by researchers and they can be quantified: one would talk of a reconciliation when an appeasement contact occurs 15 minutes after an attack. One could invent completely new and ‘non-human’ words to describe these acts in other species, but would it not be anthropomorphism again? This would need the creation of a dictionary in order to translate the new language of primatologists into our natural languages. Furthermore, one would have to denounce as well all the whiffs of anthropomorphism when man talks about God, with the risk of muting the dogmatic theology. Thomas Aquinas was more optimistic regarding the value of analogies.

Another way to discredit these studies is to say that animals are only driven by their instinct while men are free beings. No need to start a complicated debate on human freedom and determinism to notice that the word ‘instinct‘ is a catch-all expression. Are we talking about parental instincts, self-preservation instinct, migration, etc.?

Again, field observations lead to us clarifying the extensions of the word ‘instinct’. For example, great apes are able to adapt to peculiar situations. They wouldn’t punish a Down syndrome baby monkey if the latter jumps on the head of the alpha male whereas any other baby would be severely scolded. Some chimpanzees seem to make very fine distinctions between human intentions: for example between someone who would be kept from feeding them by a physical obstacle and someone who would pretend to give them food when not really willing to do it. Also, one would need to question the uses of the word ‘instinct’ in the human species when one talks about maternal or survival instinct.

What about language?

Then it must be more relevant to differentiate the “poor in world” animal and the “world-forming” man (Martin Heidegger). The animal can live in the world when man can live face to the world. The articulate language would be the archetypal vehicle for this distancing of the world in which humans live.

Along the same lines, one might stress human temporality, including the conceptof boredom in Heidegger’s while the animal is subjected to time. This difference regarding articulate language seems to be based on a variation of the Foxp2 gene possessed by man - and probably also by the Neanderthal after some results from 20072 - whereas great apes do not have it and thus their larynx handicaps them,preventing them from emitting varied sounds. This would also explain the strong “ratchet effect”3 which appears in human cultures thanks to oral and written transmission.

However, the difference conveniently made between animal communication related to emotions and human communication related to a semantic content, is no longer able to exist either. Animal vocalizations are not only emotionally induced, such as for example fear in front of a predator, but they are also likely to carry a semantic content.4 Thus vervet monkeys not only have differentiated vocalisations depending on the predator being a leopard or an eagle, but also take into account the temporal context of the vocalization emission. Two identical cries referred to the presence of one same predator and emitted five minutes apart, lead to distinct behaviours. In the first case, the alert is transmitted and a self-protective behaviour occurs while in the second case, the vervet monkey does nothing.

chimpanzee_v3

Even though the range of vocalisations does not seem quite flexible for the non-human primates, one can observe flexibility in the use or the non-use of these vocalisations according to the context. Then, one is led to explore the notion of animal thought without a syntactic language.

This contemporary researche may seem to destabilise human identity and man’s characteristics as defined in terms of unique faculties or a human nature absolutely separate from the animal kingdom. Yet, they show that human specificity may lie in the more, in the excess of language or in human sociability.

“Ultrasociability” of man

More than all other animal species, man is capable of a great variety of sounds. And more than other vertebrates, he can live in very big groups. As a member of an “ultra-social” species, like the ant and bee colonies but with the difference that his relations are not controlled by pheromones (fragrant secretions), man finds in the development of language the assurance of others’ reliability, the possibility of cooperating with others to achieve common goals, of organising group life and sharing tasks.

The improvement of human language and its ratchet effect on the evolution of human culture are part of what is peculiar to the human species, if we mean what is proper to man. Human language can verily become reason, in the critical distance to the world where we live.

However, this does not mean that we should deny any dimension of reason to animals: the ability to read intentions, to consider other living beings as centres of action and to hold different positions in a coordinated hunt, already indicate a march towards reason in others species than ours. Contemporary studies on animal domestication also show how rare it is among species. Still, ants can domesticate aphids but through using chemicals. Whereas man is able of living daily in contact with animals who are also able of it in return. That means a remarkable capacity to read human intentions, as farmers often emphasize in their stories.

One of the peculiar characteristics of man has been to be able to broaden his ability to feel for his fellows beyond the human circle so as to include some animals in his habitat. As Darwin wrote:” Sympathy beyond the confines of man, that is humanity to the lower animals, seems to be one of the latest moral acquisitions. It is apparently unfelt by savages, except towards their pets. How little the old Romans knew of it is shown by their abhorrent gladiatorial exhibitions.” 5

The point is not to enter too quickly into a concordism between christian faith and science, but one can note that these studies in zoology and primatology illustrate well two aspects that are often underestimated regarding the imago Dei: the coevolution between man and animals as well as the divine ultra-sociality.

colonie_de_fourmis_v2

One can find that coevolution of the man-animal relation resonates deeply with the prophecies that mention the Kingdom of God in terms of a peaceful coexistence between animals and man. It is a shame that factory farming widely destroys this dimension of coevolution by objectifying domestic animals. In fact, humans do not treat their fellows any better in many political regimes and contemporary genocides. Far from excluding each other, benevolence to animals and mutual respect between humans go together.

In the same way, human ultra-sociality, as emphasized by the zoologists’ works, calls for us to put back the divine ultra-sociality in the first position instead of the representations of God as reason only. The imago Dei is first to be searched in a Trinity-God, himself a relation who directs the living towards ultra-sociality. More generally, the porosity of frontiers in the definition of the human characteristic, emphasizes man’s evolutional roots into the living world. Then, should we question certain traditional views that assert the difference in nature between man and animals so as to resolutely choose a straight difference of degree as Darwin did in his time?

The possible freedom

Bergson in The Creative Evolution (1907) observed the strong propinquity between man and animals, especially in their ability - even limited - of invention, but he also maintained the rupture, the difference of nature between both: from animal to man, we go from the limited to the unlimited, from the closed to the opened, from conscience enclosed in its automatisms to freedom. However, one can remark that man also goes through a long way to freedom in his development to adulthood, as freedom is not innate to birth. It needs an important work of education. Thus this possible freedom always remains fragile in the practice of human existence. Man goes back easily to his routines, his automatisms, his closed morals.

As to animals, they are limited in their march towards freedom by their elementary and not cumulative enough culture. But is it definitive? Nobody knows because the evolution and the transforming of the living is far from finished.

 

First published in Choisir, June 2008

Translated from the French by Cerise Phiv with further editing by Daniel Pagan Murphy, illustrations by Marie Baron.

 


1 Andrew Whiten et aI., " Cultures in chimpanzees ", in Revue Nature, n' 399, 17.0

6.1999, pp. 682-685.

2 Krause et al.. « The derived Foxp2 variant of modern humans was shared with Neanderthals ", in Current Biology, vol. 17, 6.11.2007, pp. 1-5.

3 Cf. Michael Tomasello, Aux origines de la cognition humaine, Retz, Paris 2004, p. 19.

4 Dorothy Cheney et Robert Seyfarth, Baboon metaphysics, University of Chicago Press, Chicago 2007, pp. 233-247.

5 http://darwin-online.org.uk/content/frameset?viewtype=side&itemID=F937.1&pageseq=114

 


Friday, 13 January 2012 12:23

University Life: Freedom or Responsibility?

University students Lisa Lo and Yu-Tang Hou (侯昱堂) tell us about their feelings and impressions on university life in the following two videos. They represent the youth of Taiwan, and have both had very different university experiences, but both agree that university is a place where one can simultaneously feel more mature but still enjoy the carefree hapiness of youth.

Lisa is a student of Graphic Communication at National Taiwan Normal University. She comes from Taipei and has found in university a sense of freedom and emancipation, in addition to an opportunity to meet lots of new people from all walks of lfe, which had previously been difficult due to her all-girls school upbringing.


Wednesday, 23 March 2011 00:00

Dreams, Creativity and Intuition

A Time of Dizzying Change

We’re rushing up the ever-steeper incline of an exponential explosion in technological innovation that is leaving not a single aspect of our lives unaffected.  Our economies, our jobs, our environments, our illnesses, the nations we live in, their forms of government – nothing has escaped change, nothing remains unaffected.  If we turn around from where we are today and look back, we catch a breath-taking sweep of the past, so high have we gotten on the upward sweep of this powerful curve.  In some crucial areas, the last year has seen more change than the last ten years, the last ten have seen more change than the last hundred, and the last hundred have seen more than the last thousand.  The exhilarating prospect sweeps far, far back into the past where, compared to our frenzied and fascinating pace of change today, nothing much seemed to have altered for the longest stretches.  Into the distant past the curve looks from where we stand like a flat line.  Those times are gone by, the long boring tail of the exponential curve that got us to this explosion of newness we know today.  Filled with anticipation of all that is yet to come in our own lifetimes, we turn eagerly around to continue our ascent – only to find a few paces ahead the curve shoots almost straight up as far as we can see.

Daunting as it is, this two-dimensional representation does scant justice to our real situation – because it makes it look as though we know in what direction we are headed.  In truth, nobody today can be sure what new discovery will pop us off in a different direction entirely – not just in a hundred years, or ten years, or one year; but next week, tomorrow.  What’s more, no place is immune anymore from what happens next door or on the other side of the world.  In an important sense the concept of place, which reigned supreme in the human mind for millennia, is faltering.  Increasingly, any place is more and more like everywhere, and every place is more and more like anywhere.  Will our sense of time be next to go?  Nobody knows what’s going next, or what’s coming.

To survive in China, to survive in the West, or to survive anywhere, we’re called upon like never before to re-invent what we do, to re-invent how we do it – and even to re-invent who we are.  Not once, not twice – but on an ongoing basis.  This is true for countries, it is true for industries, and it is true for individuals.  Innovators like Google’s Sergey Brin, and Apple Computer’s Steve Job are the dazzling stars of our time.  The country or industry that can produce more of this kind of man will own the future.

Who Will Own The Future?

How to train people to be innovative, to be creative, and to succeed in a world so unpredictable?  Universities around the world, purporting to train students to meet the future, are schooling them in ways that no longer even fit the present.   It isn’t enough today to be intelligent and to be stuffed with the necessary knowledge.  Those who go out to succeed in today’s world already need to hone their abilities to deal with the unknown.  More and more in the future they will certainly need to deal with the unknowable.  To do this what they will need is intuition, creativity, and faith.  Of the three, faith is most important because it leads to the other two.  Faith doesn’t mean they have to gulp some outdated dogma down whole and for the rest of their lives resist any impulse from their heart or soul to chuck it up and be rid of it.  Faith means to have been given a way to find out for themselves there is that within them that knows better than they can, loves deeper than they know how, and is more true than they can ever be – and if they only move their own petty ideas aside and listen to it, they will acquire, not from an outside source, but from inside their own deepest nature, all the intuition and creativity they will ever need in their lives.

In Taiwan for these past years my wife and I have, each in our own way, been implementing a method of instruction that accomplishes these aims.  It requires no advanced expertise or expensive equipment to implement, utilizes existing facilities and staff, and is as practicable in the poorest most undeveloped areas of the world today as in the richest most developed ones.  It’s a simple course in dreams.  Not a course about dreams.  The course isn’t based on lectures, it doesn’t involve studying some textbook or outside material, and the students aren’t tested with exams.  In this course the students discover faith in themselves and learn to bring out and hone their own innate intuitive and creative capabilities by working in class on their own dreams and those of their classmates using the Montague Ullman experiential dream group method.  Of the methods I know for working with dreams, this one alone is safe, fun, and exciting for graduate students and undergraduates alike. (For a description of the method, see http://www.billstimson.com/writing/The_Process.htm).

The course is a boon to the professor because it involves no arduous preparation of lectures, no tedious grading of papers or exams, and mostly because in the Ullman process the professor, as leader of the group, is not the one in control (the dreamer is in control) but merely another group member – who obtains from each and every class the same benefits as the students.  The course is a boon for the students because it’s the first time in their lives that most of them ever experienced real education.  In the words of one student:

This course woke me up.  I can’t pretend anymore I enjoy my Ph.D. training.  I need something more enlightening in the way of education or I’ll wither.

Or, as another put it:

Except for knowledge from books, I don’t know what else I got in my other classes.  Maybe I learned to understand what people were talking about, but none of it touched my heart.  Now I don’t know how much of all that is real and how much I should believe.  By working with dreams in this class I got inside my own heart and I also got a chance to look deep inside the hearts of others.

The way the Montague Ullman experiential dream group process works is as follows.  The dreamer tells the group a dream she had that to her looks strange and nonsensical.  It doesn’t seem to have any relation to her life.  As the group goes through the various stages of the Ullman process it begins to become clear that from the perspective of the dream it is the waking life that is nonsensical, because it ignores certain important feelings in the dreamer’s heart.  The dreamer comes to appreciate how accurately the dream really represents her life as she begins to discover those exact same feelings in recent walking-life events.  When these “missing” or “underrepresented” feelings emerge to the fore, the waking life of the dreamer takes on a different shape and becomes more authentic.  Subsequent dreams carry the dreamer forward, rounding her life out more and more and making her more and more of a whole person.

The way all this relates to a real life situation at work is as follows.  Let’s say two individuals try out for the same job.  The job has several aspects.  The individual who has not worked with her dreams and who has not become more of a full person may be lacking in one or more of the personal aspects required by the job.  A zone of professional incompetence may mar her work.   But the individual who has worked with her dreams and gotten more in touch with all her feelings and various inner talents will more likely have the subtler aspects of the skill set the job requires.  Her performance will display no zone of incompetence.  She will approach everything she does with her whole self, like an artist.

This all seems very hypothetical.  It is not.  M.I.T. researcher Donald A. Schön conducted research on the way professionals in quite a number of different fields approached their work.  In one after another, he found that best-of-their-class professionals in essence invented their approach to each project much in the way an artist does.  Each job taught these superior professionals how to approach that particular job.  They learned by doing (Schön called this the epistemology of reflective practice).  In contrast, the mediocre professionals applied to every different job the method or methods they’d been trained in (Schön called this the epistemology of technical rationality).  They learned, and then they went out to do, in every situation they met, what they’d been trained to do.  The difference between these two ways of working is that the one is intuitive and creative, the other is neither.  An issue among educators since Schön published his findings has been how to arrive at a method of teaching that could make professionals into “reflective practitioners.”  What my wife and I have discovered in Taiwan these past years is that the Montague Ullman experiential dream group is the perfect method.

Schön’s discoveries are terribly important today.  Yesterday an engineer could be an engineer and get away with it, a scientist could be a scientist and escape scot free, without censure.  Not today.  Not just the engineer, not just the scientist – but every kind of professional needs to approach his work also as an art.  There is an art to dentistry, as anybody knows who has sat in a dentist’s chair.  There is an art to teaching, as anyone knows who’s sat in a classroom.  And there is an art to computer science – as Steve Jobs has shown us all, becoming in the process one of the richest men around.

How do you train a software engineer to approach what he does as an art?  Give him classes in oil painting?  No.  Abraham Maslow studied may different individuals and found, overall, that those who practiced their work as an art had more of a tendency to be whole people than those whose approach to their work was less enlightened, more rote.  This is why dreams can figure so importantly in training such individuals.  Working like an artist enables one to do fuller justice to the demands of a job because it involves more fully all the aspects of the self.  Apple computer had many competitors.  Steve Jobs always won out because the solution he came up with always did more justice to the product. Thus the product was more satisfying to consumers.

Most people laugh dreams off as impractical or whimsical.  Academics, even in the university where I work, tend to be averse to having a dream course in the curriculum.  They feel it is unprofessional and lowers the standards.  They ask how I grade the students.  They don’t seem to care about what the students learn, perhaps because they assume the students learn nothing.  When I invite them to come participate in the dream group to see for themselves, they decline.  These are individuals whose training blinds them to the connection in any field, and in every field, between professional excellence and authenticity.  Every one of them, though, would love to be a Steve Jobs and make the money he does.  But let’s look at what Steve Jobs tells us is behind his success:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Steve Jobs faced the computer industry.  He changed the computer industry.  He faced the music industry.  He changed the music industry.  He faced the telecommunications industry.  He changed the telecommunications industry.  Though he’s now ill, some think he might already have changed the book publishing industry, and who knows how many others.  He could have told us so much about innovation, about technology, about strategy.  We would have perched on the edge of our seats to grab every hint he cared to throw out at us.  Instead, he turns around 180° and points into the distant past.  It was Socrates, back down that long, flat tail of our exponential curve, who some 2,500 years ago in ancient Greece, gave the advice Steve Jobs gives us today, “Know thyself” and it was Lao Tzu in ancient China who around the same time hinted why this is so important, “At the center of your being you have the answer; you know.” Some five hundred years after these sages passed from the scene, the Gospel of Thomas quotes Jesus as saying, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.  If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” Today every nation is frantic to put more math, science, and engineering into their schools so they can follow China’s lead into the future.  Steven Jobs instead sides with Socrates, Lao Tzu, and Jesus – schools aren’t the issue:  what we need is already inside us.  Our task is to access it.  The value of dreams is that they give us the freedom to do this.

(Photo: Jim Hansen)


 

hartwig_dreams_value_stimson

The Value of Dreams

The surprising thing about so many of us is the extent we’ve let others decide for us what we believe, what we want, what we feel, and even who we are.  Dreams arise from a part of ourselves that might listen to all that rubbish too, if only it didn’t know better.  It knows better because it was more fully present than we were every time throughout the long course of our life we ever felt a true love, were moved by a real passion, every time there welled up within us the recognition of an authentic worship.  More often than not we allowed ourselves to get distracted by what doesn’t matter and were not even aware of these powerful transformative moments – the real treasures of our life.  Hidden away inside us though, out of our sight, it did register them and it glowed stronger and stronger with inner enlightenment.  Where in us did it hide away these treasures?

In our hands and in our arms, in our legs and in our feet, in our organs and in our immune system, in our skin and in our blood, in our chest and in our gut, in our brain and in our genitals – it tucked them away wherever it could find to tuck them away, and with them it tucked itself away, quietly, inside us, the real person that we are, and the real knowledge of who that is, the truth at the center of a web of lies, the purity of the lotus flower rising up out of the muddy pond to open its unsullied blossom.  The moment we fall asleep it unfurls itself into the rich play of dreams.  Like a child inventing a story, or a Shakespeare penning a masterpiece, it fills out its creation with an appropriate cast of characters and settings.  Each is who it is.  None are all it is.  They may recombine and reconfigure from dream to dream.  The story told is always the same truth; yet always it takes a completely new form.  The creativity, the inventiveness of a Steve Jobs is not at all rare or special, or hard to find.  In our dreams we all have it.  It’s spontaneous.  It’s natural.  It happens the moment we relax control.

A problem most of us have is that we don’t readily understand its language.  It doesn’t much care to bother with ours, or try to compete with the cacophony of our outside world.  Yet it never stops whispering to us in a deeper, quicker idiom that came before that, a dialect of immediate knowing – a language of the senses, the emotions, the intuitions; one that, like the scientist sticking to his data, never strays far from its pictures.  These are, every one of them, complex and rich metaphors, and each has meaning on many levels.  They speak the way poets do, artists, and those whose lives have been brushed by the sacred.  They speak of things that cannot be told otherwise than the way they tell them.

It’s not a mode of expression that can be translated into words.  We attend to it, and if we attend closely we might just possibly translate it into being.  Dreams can change our lives.  They do that, quite simply, by showing us who we are.  To them this is nothing.  It comes easy to them, just as it comes easy to a mirror to reflect our image.  But to us what a dream reflects back to us can come as a big surprise, so far does our self-concept tend to stray from the truth.

Do dreams arise from some supposed “unconscious?”  Those who meditate become somewhat more conscious of the part of themselves that dreams arise from, as do those who work in Ullman dream groups.  Yes, there is the greater part of us that we are not conscious of at any given time.  But the problem with us is really that generally we are too insensitive, or distracted by the plodding mechanisms of thought, to register the quicker, more subtle awareness impinging on us in the moment.  So we miss the present, and incarcerate ourselves in the past.  What we call “unconscious” is really the part of us that, instant by instant, does register the complete truth each second of our lives.  Usually we don’t listen to that part.  To work with a dream in an Ullman group is to listen.  The value of listening to dreams, and working with them, which means listening to them even more deeply, is that they contain important information we otherwise miss.

But that’s not all.  The Ullman dream group process, by which we get that information from dreams, changes us in important ways.  Because this information is so vital, sometimes devilishly scandalous, usually deeply intimate, frequently profoundly touching, and always innocent, beautiful and pure – like the heart of a child or the wisdom of a saint – it really is exceedingly interesting.  Each member of the dream group gets deeply involved with the most intimate life of the dreamer, like some Sherlock Holmes with his magnifying glass.  Getting close to the dream like that, and staying close to it for so long, each person finds that some of the dream’s qualities rub off on him, like magnetism can rub off on a piece of iron from a magnet.  The group members, and of course the dreamer too, walk away from the process each time a bit more intuitive, a bit more creative, a bit more truthful to themselves, a bit more connected to and concerned with others and the environment, and a bit closer to the inwardly enlightened part of themselves.  They come away with faith in themselves because they know themselves a little better.  That faith can spill over into a faith in others and in everything.  This empowers them to engage meaningfully and to bring the deepest parts of themselves into whatever they do.

(Photo: Hartwig HKD)


seth_anderson_dreams_free

The Future Belongs to The Free And The Creatively Alive

In 1845 Elias Howe struggled unsuccessfully to invent a machine that could sew.  Then one day, exhausted, he dozed off at his workbench and dreamed he was in the African jungle, captured by cannibals.  They put him in a big cooking pot, filled it with water, lit a fire under it, and stood around pointing their spears at him so he couldn’t escape.  He awoke in alarm.  The image from the dream that lingered in his mind and struck him as odd was that the blades of the spears the cannibals pointed at him were all pierced by holes near the tip.  It suddenly dawned on him that what had been holding him back in his invention was the set idea in his mind that the needle in his machine needed to have the hole for the thread at the opposite end from its pointy tip, like a conventional sewing needle did.  He saw that if he put the hole instead at the tip of the needle he could immediately envision a mechanism for his machine to sew.  That very year he came forth with the world’s first sewing machine.

The power of dreams is their ability to democratize information and free us from what we think we know.  What we most need to learn isn’t something we don’t already know, like people assume.  Rather it’s something we do know, but know wrong.  The insidious hold that indoctrination, censorship, dogma, and ideology has over an entire culture and every individual in that culture – and also the insidious hold that even our own personal experience and common sense can have over us – is that they establish as unquestionable what in fact is very questionable.  Elias Howe awake would never think to question that the eye of a needle had to be at the opposite end from its sharp point.  This had been the case through the entire course of human history, since the first cavewomen carved from some bone the first sewing needle.  But for Howe to invent the sewing machine he had to be able to envision that this didn’t necessarily always have to be the case.  Awake, he lacked the capacity.  Few of us have the kind of intuition, creativity, or freedom of mind to question what we assume, or have been taught, is unquestionable.  But all of us, in our dreams, do have this ability – just as Howe did.

To be able to bring out and put to effective use what we know, even before we are able, or have the time, to go back and figure out exactly by what logical pathway we arrived at that knowledge – this is the faultless intuition of a Steve Jobs.  Who can guess by what means men such as him developed this ability.  But by using dreams all of us can do the same.  The feeling it gives when it starts to make itself felt in our life is positively uncanny.  The depth psychologist C. G. Jung developed the concept of synchronicity to explore the way in which a completely new sense of things can come about in our awareness when this happens.  We notice what we otherwise wouldn’t.  We see things others don’t.  The connections between things jump out at us, even though we don’t at first know exactly why.  Working with dreams gives us what it takes to recognize those instances when waking reality isn’t, after all, that terribly different from what we experience in dreams.  By working with dreams we develop the talent to navigate those moments in reality that to others and to ourselves are seemingly inexplicable and unknowable.  Others get stopped dead in their tracks.  From what we learned in the dream group we somehow muddle our way through to a path that gives to the situation an explanation and makes it knowable in an entirely unsuspected way.

The Culture of Freedom

Those who get stopped dead in their tracks and turn back to take refuge in the ways of tradition live in and perpetuate a culture that is dead, bygone, and stagnant.  But the ones who feel inwardly impelled to muddle their way through confusion, failure, loss, and censure somehow manage to rekindle out of that same dead and stagnant culture one that is free, vibrant, and alive.  They are the real artists of a culture, whether laborers, shopkeepers, or housewives.  By re-inventing themselves and re-inventing whatever work they do, they reinvent their culture.  The new free culture they invent, though, is not in fact different from the old stagnant one.  It’s the same living culture as has always hidden latent in the ossified conventional one.  Only now, each time it resuscitates an artist – in the form of any ordinary person capable of approaching their life and work in a creative and intuitive way – it is given new life.

A dying culture is one that can no longer mediate this re-creation of the whole of itself and instead devolves into a sad caricature of its more undeveloped aspect – imposed by authoritarian rule from above.  A living culture is one that can still facilitate the breakthrough of the individual to the culture’s flip, or creative and regenerative, side.  In this flip side, the culture and the creative individual become, in a sense, indistinguishable. They form one fused and vibrant living entity.  Thus the culture keeps re-creating individuals capable of re-creating the culture.  It’s like boiling water.  The bubbles come up from below.  They’re not imposed from above.

In these basic essentials, the Chinese individual and culture in Taiwan certainly do not differ from individuals and cultures the world over.  Thus there is no reason to suppose that the experiment my wife and I have begun in a Taiwanese university of using dreams to bring alive intuitive and creative individuals isn’t as relevant in every culture as it is in this one.

(Photo: Seth Anderson)

William R. Stimson, Ph.D. trained for many years under Montague Ullman, M.D.  who originated the Ullman experiential dream group process.  Besides his dream group at the university, he leads monthly Saturday dream groups (in English) in Taipei, Taichung, and Kaohsiung.  There is no charge for these dream groups.  For locations and schedules:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Read more on dreams and their interpretation:
Stimson, William R. (2009) Using dreams to train the reflective practitioner: the Ullman dream group in social work education, Reflective Practice Vol. 10, No. 5, 577–587
Stimson, William R. (2010) The hidden dimension of Chinese culture as seen in the dream of a Taiwanese woman, Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 13: 5, 485 — 512
Ullman, M. (1996). Appreciating dreams — a group approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Wang, Shuyuan (2007) Chinese translation of Montague Ullman’s Appreciating dreams – a group approach.  Psychological Publishing Co., Ltd. Taipei, Taiwan

 


Friday, 24 September 2010 19:13

Lord of Universe Church - from China to Taiwan and back again

Stacey Hsieh is a member of the Lord of Universe Church (天帝教, Tiandijiao), which as one of its key tenets, aims to reunite China and Taiwan.  Here Stacey discusses the church's relationship with China and some of its experiences there.
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Stacey also introduces the church here and discusses the time she has spent on long-term retreat.

Friday, 24 September 2010 19:09

An introduction to the Lord of Universe Church

Stacey Hsieh is a member of the Lord of Universe Church (天帝教, Tiandijiao).  Here she introduces the origins and beliefs of the church.

Stacey also discusses her long-term retreats and the church's experience in China.


Friday, 24 September 2010 00:00

Traditional Chinese religiosity repackaged and exported... to China: How Huang Ting Chan does it

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Based in the mountains south of Taipei, Huang Ting Chan is now regularly conducting workshops in cities on the Chinese mainland.  Here Huang Ting Chan's founder, Mr Zhang, provides some insight into how his Taiwan-based philosophy/psychology group is able to operate in China.

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For an introduction to Huang Ting Chan and the concept of huang ting, please watch this video.


Wednesday, 28 July 2010 22:04

The new frontier in abolishing the death penalty

In the second half of the 20th century, there were many changes in death penalty policy worldwide. After the end of World War II and its atrocities, an abolitionist movement started in Western Europe. The first countries to abolish were Italy, Austria and Germany. They were later followed by Great Britain, Spain and France. After the last major power in Western Europe had abolished the death penalty, in 1981, the issue shifted from a question of criminal justice to a question of human rights and limits on government.

Since then, the number, scope and implementation strategies of international human rights treaties and conventions has increased. Among those treaties and conventions lies the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which prohibits the use of capital punishment, and the UN moratorium on death penalty, a nonbinding resolution reached in 2007 which calls for a general suspension of the death penalty. In addition to these resolutions, INGOs such as Amnesty International have been launching worldwide campaigns to abolish capital punishment.

In 2009, 95 countries had abolished the death penalty, while only 18 of the 58 retentionist countries are known to have carried out executions in the same year. However, despite a decline in Asia’s overall number of executions, the continent still accounted for 90 percent of the world’s execution in 2009, the majority having been carried out in China, although Bangladesh, Japan, North Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam also carried out executions.

Nevertheless, there are many reasons to believe that Asia is the new frontier in the movement to abolish the death penalty. First, many countries are already abolitionist or de facto abolitionist. In 1989, Cambodia abolished death penalty, and then Macao, Hong Kong and more recently the Philippines followed suit, while South Korea has not carried out an execution since December 1997. Second, there is ambivalence in other Asian countries that still practice death penalty, as is the case in Taiwan.

In 1987 the Republic of China (Taiwan) emerged from 40 years of an oppressive regime under martial law, where people could be punished by death, secretly and on a whim. As Chiang Ching-Kuo opened up the country economically and began the democratisation process, Taiwan's institutions were still partly in the hands of the system which had allowed for the White Terror and other miscarriages of social justice. A key component of the democratisation process is transitional justice. The term refers to a complete set of policies in order to transform a society and overcome its past of human rights abuses, authoritarianism and societal traumas to a peaceful and more certain future. For some, this 'transition' is still in progress today.

After some controversial cases during the 1990s such as the Hsichih trio case, the number of executions carried out in Taiwan decreased and a change of attitude towards the death penalty began to emerge. Between 2006 and 2009, no executions were carried out, and Taiwan seemed to be moving gradually toward abolition…

In March 2010, a controversy emerged over the death penalty issue when former Minister of Justice Wang Ching-feng (王清峰) announced her position in favour of abolishing the death penalty adding that she would not step down over the row about enforcing death penalty. Her announcement led to public protests led by victims’ relatives, such as Pai Ping-Ping, a media personality whose daughter was kidnapped and murdered in 1997. On March 11th, Wang Ching-feng resigned after the Presidential Office stated that the death penalties handed down must be carried out and that any suspension of executions must follow the law.

On April 30th 2010, executions in Taiwan were resumed after a 4-year moratorium on the death penalty, as four men were executed by shooting. Human rights organizations as well as representatives of the international community deplored the executions and asked for the immediate reestablishment of a moratorium.

(Image by Ash Ka)

 

 


Friday, 20 February 2009 20:48

Language, a tool for freedom

Renlai and Taipei county government have started a cooperation so as to reflect together on the local implementation of global challenges: water management; sustainable farming; ecotourism; integration of migrants within the community; lowering carbon emissions... In the Chinese issue of Renlai (and on the companion Chinese pages of this website) the topic treated in March is "language education", be it education to mother tongue or foreign language education. County governments in Taiwan are in charge of primary education. In Taipei county, new textbooks have been recently edited, aimed at developing children’s reading and thinking abilities. An opportunity for pondering anew the rationale behind language education.

Studying one’s mother tongue and learning other languages are interdependent experiences: it is only if you know your own language well that you can enter into the intricacies of a foreign language. And, reciprocally, studying a foreign language gives you a distance vis-à-vis your mother tongue that helps you to appreciate and understand it into a new light.

Actually, learning languages is what makes you able to learn all other disciplines. What is even more important, it is by learning languages that you are able to understand yourself, to understand the others, to develop your freedom and creativity, and to work fruitfully with others. Let us take these four dimensions one after another:

-Understanding yourself: learning a language will provide you with words through which you are able to express your identity, your true feelings, to channel your self and thus to understand it. It is by saying whom you are that you truly understand who is this “I’ who is speaking. Furthermore, by connecting you with your cultural past, by understanding how your mother tongue is connected with a cultural history, with a world vision, you understand yourself as being in solidarity with a history and a community - even if you use this language for challenging the values that are the ones of this community. Also, mastering a language amounts to know the words that describes all the facets of feelings, miseries and desires in the human soul, and thus to know better one’s own “light” and “darkness”, thus being able maybe to accept whom we are, with our contradictions.

-Understanding the others: listening what the others say in your own tongue, being able to discern in the words they use the subtleties of their feelings and thoughts is already a way of understanding Otherness. Of course, this becomes even truer when you learn foreign languages: you learn not to take for granted values and categories that seem to be “basic’ in your own language, you learn to see the world through another prism so to speak.

-Developing your creativity: words and syntax are the tools we use for conceiving and expressing new ideas. Mastering languages helps you to find newness by creatively assembling these tools. Furthermore, educating a child to adequately express what he thinks throughout the study of language amounts to educate him to freedom of thought and creative thinking. Once can say that teaching a language to someone (when you do not nourish him only with proverbs and stock sentences) is to educate him to freedom: he is able afterwards to think and say whatever he wants in this language!

-And finally, if you understand quite well who you are, if you are able to understand the others, and if you are able to think freely and creatively, then you are also truly able to work and invent within a group. Language remains the basic tool that helps a human community to stand together, to communicate, to debate, and, ultimately, by creating and progressing, to perpetually re-invent itself.
So, when teaching a child his or her mother tongue and foreign languages you are doing much, much more than preparing him to succeed in exams. You are providing him with the tools that are necessary for being truly human. He will do whatever he wants with the formidable tools you are equipping him with – for language is a weapon that can be used for the best and the worst. But, by showing him that language is meant for freedom and creativity, you can bet that he will more and more understand and gratefully appreciate the wonderful gift that is thus given to him.

Saturday, 28 October 2006 02:47

The wondrous knife of inner freedom

Growing in inner freedom is a continuous, organic process. For inner freedom is akin to our humaneness itself. A human being who is aware of her/his weaknesses, and yet trusts in the ability to transcend these limitations in such a way as to give depth, taste and meaning to life, a human being able to renounce what is possessed if doing so means living in a fuller way – such a human being, I say, is indeed someone well embarked on the road to inner freedom.

Inner freedom does not consist in the mere ability to make choices. It is rather a capacity to live at a level that gives you an insight into the risks to be undertaken so as to let humaneness grow inside of you through the labors of love, paternity or motherhood, social commitment and spiritual quest.

Freedom is not a torch for reading the road signs that should supposedly be there for you to follow. Freedom (or real spiritual discernment) acts rather like a knife that helps you to cut across the weeds and clear a road. A knife also enters the stone as it carves the tools that you need or the statue that you dream of. And a knife is also used for severing the umbilical cord. For anyone who strives towards inner freedom must be begotten in a new world: the world where everyday realities carry the weight of eternity, where your “mission” is not just some tasks allotted to you once and for all but rather something that comes as a fruit, as the product of maturation and exploration; the world in which even failure, decay and death are venues where freedom carries on its search and its works.

Inner freedom is never gained and stored. The possession of this knife is your stakes in the game of life. To win the game, there is only one rule: just trust in the strength you know to be yours when armed with the wondrous knife of inner freedom. And then the knife is yours.



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