The Magic Mirror

Montreal October 29, 1998

Out of the darkness, in the roadway immediately in front of him, loomed a face whitened as much by fear as by the harsh light of highbeam headlights. Rubber screamed as the driver, startled out of a drunken drowse, jerked the wheel hard to the right. As the four-wheel drive responded, he watched in disbelief as the frightened woman ran for her life, ... to the right, ... directly into his altered path. As if in slow motion he heard, felt and watched her body become airborn and fly back toward him. As the spirit-like form rose up and and began to fly over his still speeding vehicle, he prayed for her safe passage, but the dull and heavy thud of her head against the windshield cornerpost filled the driver with nausea and brought his hand quickly to his mouth.

As he and his companion leaned over the sprawled form searching in vain for any sign of pulse or breathing, they were struck by the lack of evidence of any injury on the young woman's body, other than the small bloodied abrasion on her forehead. Within the space of a few minutes, the journey of these two young men had resumed, this time with a third passenger occupying the back seat. The eyes of their new and silent companion looked steadfastly out and upwards through a side window, as if enraptured by imaginings of some new world which lived amid the canopy of stars, dazzlingly brilliant against the matte-black backdrop of this crisp mountain night.

The passive reaction of the now sobering youths to this human tragedy drew more from a newborn fatalism than any lack of humanity, for it was past mid-January in the year 2000, and the times were truly 'out-of-joint'. The 'Year Two Thousand' problem, or Y2K problem as it had become known as, had come in like a lamb in the first hours of the third millenium. January 1st and 2nd came and went by without major catastrophe, accompanied only by a plethora of minor glitches which struck everyone, in their state of relief and in the aftermath of the gloomiest Christmas on record, as hysterically funny, and the newspapers were filled with cartoons and 'I told you so' stories.

But January 3rd marked a turning point in the fortunes of third millenia homo sapiens, and a rash of tragedies announced themselves like the roar of an angry lion; Y2K computer malfunctions gave rise to mixed assignments of drugs and bloodtypes as medical programs keyed to long-obsolete records, and like delayed fuse timebombs, the problems were only coming to light as people became ill or died from the complications, .... planes crashed, not from the obvious Y2K exposures, but for more obscure reasons, such as autopilots putting westward flights onto eastbound flightpath altitudes, designations which had been reversed more than a decade previously, and financial trading systems were in havoc after programmed trading triggers began to fire randomly and prematurely like packets of poorly made fireworks, with the result that trading had been suspended in many markets and currencies were tumbling in value. Suicides, drunkenness, violence, mental breakdowns and civil disorder were all rampant, .... the world was in pandemonium, not because of the Y2K failures per se, but because of the mental tensions from the ominous and threatening latencies accompanying this turn-of-the-millenium, ... from a not-knowing of where, how and if, these occult potentialities would emerge and claim you as a victim. A three thousand year old illusion had collapsed and within two weeks many had already gone through the terror of loss and were entering a state of 'nothingness', having let go of the old, but not yet in possession of a purpose-giving new vision.

It was in the midst of this null zone, on January sixteenth of the year two thousand that Laura's greatest insight came to her, and she reflected on Dickens' opening lines to 'Tale of Two Cities';. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way--"

Laura knew she was blessed because the very problems that the world was currently undergoing were providing her with evidence of a vital missing link in the biochemical understanding of man which had the potential to unravel the mystery of human evolution and furnish a new worldview. With her Ph.D. program a scant few years behind her, Laura had already achieved worldwide renown for her work on neuropeptide receptors, which showed how these micro-organic forms worked together with brain, glands and immune system to form a 'psychosomatic network', the biochemical substrate which gives rise to emotions.

Laura worked out of her home-office-come-laboratory in the hills just north of Sante Fe, a few miles from the Santa Fe Institute, where researchers from all over the world came to share their findings on 'emergent behavior' and such other phenomena as were studied under the rubric of 'the sciences of complexity'. She was just putting the finishing touches on a presentation to the Institute which would devastate the existing scientific perspective on biochemistry and evolution. Carefully, she recycled through her series of slides labelled "Christmas, 1999", her deep familiarity with the slide sequence allowing her to position each slide on the microscope dias in its optimum orientation and to deftly adjust the binocular focus so as to most clearly expose the key bits of evidence supporting her hypothesis, ... biochemical evidence which would change the way science conceived of evolution, and evidence which could only have been observed and monitored in real time, during a collective emotional crisis such as the world was now going through.

She mused about how she would finish her paradigm-breaking presentation, .... she would have to allow the warmth that was always in her heart to flow through her voice and words, modulating the acute precision of her scientific thought and articulation. Her mind drifted into how she might accomplish this; "... I'd like to conclude my presentation with my final slide, that of a single-celled animal, the tetrahymena. This is a creature so widely studied in basic science laboratories that it has earned the title of 'the workhorse of biology". What is truly amazing is that this primitive unicellular animal makes many of the same peptides, including insulin and the endorphins , that we humans do. On its surface are receptors just like the ones in our brains. These same basic building blocks are found in the earliest and simplest forms of life as well as in the most complex ones. Think about what it means that the same basic informational network found in the tetrahymena is still to be found in us."

Once her audience was brought into this 'spatially connective' frame of mind, she would go into the heart of her discovery by showing her slide sequence, a view of evolution in the making, with biochemical and physical processes revealed in full frontal exposure, .... a living textbook on the origin and nature of homosapiens with implications on all natural forms of life. And then, in her closing, she would share with them the Zen-like imagery which brought the joy of living flooding into her own heart and life. She knew that this sharing could only be conveyed by latencies which enveloped her words and she knew that when the time came, she must allow her words orchestrate themselves, but she continued to imagine how they might come out;

".... to me, this is a stunning demonstration of the unity of all life. As humans, we share a common living heritage in the form of molecular organisms constituted by the most modest and oldest of microscopic creatures, which enable us to become strands on an all-connecting, unifying web, the web of the psychosomatic collective we call nature."

Laura's thoughts were inspiring her with dreams of a new and far more loving world, ... a world which would emerge in affirmation of new modes of perception which she felt were beginning to rise up and come to blossom in this passage into the new millenium. As Dickens words had suggested, metamorphosis was always Janus-faced, the upwelling of the new was made possible by the subducting of the old. One could look at oneself and at one's culture, either in the tragic mirror of the subducting past, or in the magic mirror of the emergent future, the choice was always there, both for the individual and for the collective.

. . .

In another region of space-time, a Hopi elder sat atop a mesa watching the canopy of stars which mapped the skies of her homeland. For her, the turn of the millenia was a date which would pass like a small whisper in the much larger story of creation. She considered the prophecy of her people and the epic story of their migrations through many worlds. The memory of the Hopi prophecies wrapped around her like a shawl and her place in time was firmly grounded by the unfolding of her people's wisdom.

She turned, and moved to join the festivities, now entering their third week, of the coming of the new year, .... the coming of a renewal which, while no more than a whisper in the story of creation, constituted a deeply emotional experience for those who were presently 'of this world'. She stopped at the periphery of the bonfire, immersed in the hypnotic resonances of chanting and tam-tams, to glance at another, parallel ritual which was taking place, the laying out according to Hopi tradition of a deceased young woman, ... a fair-skinned woman whose only blemish was a small abrasion on her forehead. She noted the two young braves who stood tall and erect but moist-eyed as they participated from a short distance away, by the side of their land cruiser. The elder looked down upon the youthful and attractive body, the finely shaped breasts and smooth brown nipples informing her that the young woman had not known the joy of birthing, of the raising of her own children. She responded to the magnetic pull of the silent form, leaning over almost to the point of touching lips, ...resting her warm hand on the icy breast of she-who-had-been-taken-so-soon, as if to infuse her flesh with new life and movement. Vapor from a fallen tear rose up as if to conclude her silent prayer to the Creator, Wakon Tonka. She had prayed that the spiritual meaning in the young woman's brief story would live on to foster kindness and strength amongst those who would follow her in the never-ending oneness of creation.

The elder opened the young woman's hand which had continued to clutch at some no-longer-needed possession, and removed a small plastic box. As she rejoined the drumming and chanting which fringed the fire, she cast the container into the blaze. The scripted label "Christmas 1999" incandesced and reversed in polarity, .. then disappeared into the shifting embers.. .

* * *

(biochemical phraseology after Candace Pert's 'Molecule's of Emotion' and Hopi 'sky-map' imagery paraphrased from David La Chapelle)


Epilogue to 'The Magic Mirror'

November 3, 1998

A Telling Story

While crudely crafted, 'The Magic Mirror' is a story which strives to bring out the battle between being 'true to our ontogeny' versus being 'politically correct'. These two opposites are geometric archetypes which emerge time and again, and are described by Kepler in terms of 'harmony and structure' in his masterwork 'Harmonice Mundi'.

Political Correctness: Where the rationalism of the social collective specifies those behaviors which can 'make us over' into the image the culture expects of us; i.e. where generalized tangible (structural) specifications define a generalized imaginary state.

Ontogenetic Realness: Where the imagination of the social collective inspires in us those behaviors which help us to become the individual we were meant to become; i.e. where unique intangible (harmonic) specifications define a unique tangible state.

When our time comes and we rejoin the earth, the measure by which our story has captured the imagination of the culture governs the sense of tragedy, while the fullness with which we have embraced the reality of our own ontogeny governs the sense of joy.

* * *

The above 'archetypical' geometries are often obscured to us, because our culture has all but banished the notion of the 'imaginary'. To understand what this does to our thought process is to give us a more comprehensive view of 'stories', and particularly of our own life story.

To begin to see the geometries more clearly, we need to remind ourselves that there is a large difference between a 'word' and an 'act'. While the former is 'imaginary', the latter is 'real' or 'tangible'.

We tend to forget that words are just empty containers for the 'imaginary' and start to build on them such concepts of 'choice' and 'decision' and 'progress' which are merely artifacts of the mind.

How does this house-of-cards construction proceed?

While a word has no 'meaning-in-itself' and garners meaning as we associate it with various experiences, through the tautological-relational mechanism of language (e.g. See Spot run etc.), we tend to fall into the trap of believing that words do indeed have 'meaning-in-themselves'.

e.g. the 'state' of 'marriage'.

Now 'marriage', like all words, is innately blurry. And tangible ensemble of behaviors we call 'marriage' have become blurrier and blurrier in the modern era. Why is this? It's because in a connected world, no 'thing' stands alone and detached. 'Things' cannot be defined in themselves, but only through their engagement with what is around them. In terms of appearances, 'beauty' or 'evil' is in the eye of the beholder, and in terms of acts', one cannot see any 'thing' in action unless it moves 'relative' to something else, and that something else, participates in the defining of the act.

Words are what we imagine them to be, and if they did have meaning-in-themselves, we would be able to speak all the languages of the world without having to 'learn' them.

This rather precarious status of words raises some rather basic questions about the notion of 'choice' and 'decision'.

That is, if all word-states are imaginary, then what does it mean to say that we have a 'choice' and that we are confronted with a 'decision'? For instance, what does it mean to say, 'I decided to get married?'

Apparently, there was a choice of 'marriage' (an imagined state) and 'not marriage' an inverse imaginary state, and we opted for the imagined state. To be sure, there is usually some ritual associated with going into such states, the exchanging of a ring, the lifting of the veil for groom to kiss bride, the wedding night etc. None of this clashes with the fact that 'marriage' is an imaginary state, which we try to ground in tangible acts, according to our personal imaginings as to how it 'should' be.

Imagine the pre-historic peoples who had no language but only tangible acts. Did they 'decide' to get 'married'? or did they 'just do it'? Without the formalized conceptualization of language, no discrete states exist to choose between. 'Choice' in that kind of environment relates directly to 'tangible acts' as opposed to squeaky-clean notional 'choices' of the mind. In other words, the belief in 'choice' collapses with the belief in 'action'. As Wittgenstein pointed out, with respect to the structure of 'decisions' and 'choice', logic is tautology, it is simply the provision of artificial boxes which we can load up with some imaginary stuff and perform imaginary transactions on. In the end, it's what we 'do' that counts.

The above is not to suggest that logic and language are not wonderfully useful tools, it is only to suggest that they are in the domain of the 'imaginary' and are not basic to the living of our lives (people and animals lived before logic, language, 'choice' and 'decisions', ... these are just ways to simply the conceptualization and to enable the sharing of our sensory-perception based experiencing of reality.).

The culmination of our tendency to believe that choices and decisions are 'real' rather than imaginary, is in the notion of 'causal progression'. Causality is another 'imaginary' notion, wherein we relate one event (the 'effect') to one which immediately preceded it, 'the cause', in 'linear time' (chronological time). Of course, we do this as if both the entities and behaviors constituting 'cause' and the entities and behaviors constituting 'effect' existed in a void, ... as if their surrounding environment was 100% irrelevant to the 'causal' transaction. This does not jive with our common sense (nor modern physics), however, because 'cause', if it were to truly exist, could not emerge out of thin air, but would come into play due to a confluence of movements in the enveloping space-time flow; ... a confluence which is subject to 'sensitive dependence on initial conditions or 'deterministic chaos' and therefore unpredictable. Meanwhile, 'effect' is kind of a snapshot view before the wavefront of repercussions has fanned out across the enveloping space-time region. Once again, cause is an 'imaginary' notion, .... a useful tool, but innately imaginary. Cause is often said to be the 'footprint' of purpose, since ongoing space-time flow is coherent and swirls around as if pulled by 'attractors'. As Nietzsche noted, the notion in physics of 'attraction' suggests 'purpose', and the belief in cause collapses with the belief in 'purpose' (aka 'attractors').

As for 'progress', in an evolutionary flow, such as modern physics informs us characterizes our world, there is no such thing as 'progress'. Reality is, instead, more like a garden where things can 'upwell' and 'subduct' in cycles of transformation or 'metamorphosis'. Sure we can 'imagine' that 'man evolved from the apes' but as Stephen Jay Gould has spent his career trying to tell us, this is not a 'progression' (an innately linear term), .... there is no such thing as 'evolutionary progress', ... it is like plate tectonics, things get more and more complicated, to be sure, as they continuously subduct, metamorphose, re-upwell, causing mountainous folds and erosion and all that, in the case of continental matter and landform. But the path from the simpler to the more complex is in no way a 'progression'. Laura was not lying when she said that humans biochemical structures contained some of the same organismic forms which have been around since the beginning of life on earth. Homo Sapiens is more like a garden, which contains colonies of bacteria and ancient organisms, some of which have become subsystems within larger systems, just as the prokaryotic cells were encapsulated in the eukaryotic cells billions of years ago. This is not the linear geometry of 'progress'. The linear notion of 'progress' is inadequate for addressing nonlinear processes involving spatial enfoldment, systems swallowing other systems to become new and more complex systems, etc.

The fundamental problem here with all of these 'euclidian' notions; i.e. 'words', 'choices', 'decisions', 'cause', 'progress', is that they are 'positive space' notions which ignore the surrounding 'negative space' (the containing environment). However, our common sense, supported by modern physics says that things cannot truly be 'detached' from the overall space-time flowfield which contains them and which they are a part of.

Nevertheless, it is our proclivity, in the west, to 'pretend' that 'positive space' causal progressions, with their apparent chain of 'decisions' and 'choices' are 'really' the way things work. Perhaps because this can bolster our ego and make us look cool. The problem is when we start believing in our own bull.

Teacher: Fred, thanks for coming to give us a 'show-and-tell'. I'd like you to write a short personal bio which we can share with the grade one pupils, since your name and family are familiar to all of us in the community.'

Fred: 'No problem'. Very early in my schooling I decided to choose art as a vocation, but by the time I got to Junior high, I developed a compelling interest in zoology and got a part time job in a pet shop. When I graduated from high school, I felt inclined to serve my country before entering into a career so I decided to join the navy. By the time I got out of the service, I had made my decision to go to medical school and become an MD. Bernice and I met while in college and we decided to get married and have a family. And that's basically the happy progression that has made me a successful and influential member of this community."

A very neat and respectable 'causal progression', right? But Fred could also add in some of the environmental contingencies ('negative space influences') as well. If it is our own 'public' story, because of political correctness pressures, we may have been rather selective on the 'positive space' front and the negative space contingencies which generally are the bigger influences on the evolutionary flow, may not be quite so lily white.

Teacher: Would you mind expanding on that a wee bit, Fred?

Fred; 'Ouch, what was that? .... what's sodium pentathol? Ok, then, would you believe that .... Very early In my schooling I decided to choose art as a vocation (I was flunking everything else), but by the time I got to Junior high, I developed a compelling interest in zoology (my artwork was crap) and got a part time job in a pet shop (my old man forced me to take the job to work off his gambling debts with the shop owner). When I graduated from high school, I felt inclined to serve my country before entering into a career so I decided to join the navy (no wars on the horizon and the uniform plus a few packs of marlboro could buy you all the sex you could handle in third world ports). By the time I got out of the service, I had made my decision to go to medical school and become an MD (doctor's incomes were at an alltime high and I was obsessed with getting seriously rich). While I was in college Bernice and I met and we decided to get married and have a family (she refused to get an abortion and before I could extract myself from a shotgun wedding situation, her hoodlum brothers made me a deal I couldn't refuse.). And that's basically the happy progression that has made me a successful and influential member of this community (I have a big house, drive a BMW and am screwing the mayor's wife).

The emphasis on the 'rational' (exclusionary 'positive-space' snapshots) and de-emphasis on the 'imaginary' (inclusionary space-time dynamical patterns) is a choice of our western culture. Other cultures, such as the traditional aboriginal culture (now a small proportion of aboriginal ethnics) put the imaginary in a primacy over the rational; e.g. they stress the imaginary teachings of 'honesty', 'kindness', 'sharing' and 'strength', advocating that these should guide one's tangible behaviors. Of course, in the western culture, we start with generalized tangibles (a 'good' person does such and such) and build towards the 'imaginary'. I.e. our culture would have us use tangible specifications and rules to 'image-manage' ourselves and leave the 'real people' aspect as a secondary objective, while the aboriginal culture would have their people use myth, imagination and ritual to evolve 'real people' as a first priority and let the 'image' aspect come as it may.

As indicated at the beginning of this epilogue, when people die, there is a sense of tragedy associated the collapse of the 'image' and a sense of joy associated with the ongoing knowledge of the person having become who he or she was meant to become. This is an archetype for life in general, ... whenever we do something in public which diminishes our image or makes us look foolish, we feel a strong pang of loss, but whenever we do something in public which is truly 'from our ontogenetic center', there is no way to lose, and however ridiculous it may look to others, it brings us joy in knowing that we have embraced our own unique ontogeny.

The tragedy of Princess Diana was that she died frantically pursuing her 'image', the image that was expected of her by loving millions. She was unable to do a 'John Lennon' and simply embrace her own ontogeny, and thus her death brought us in touch with a massive disproportion on the 'image' side of things, relative to the 'ontogenetic center' side, and this contributed to the huge sense of tragedy. But while Diana was jet-setting around, giving speeches and talking to terminally ill children and victims of landmines, just as we expected her to, Mother Theresa was using her imagination (tapping into the collective unconscious aka collective imagination) to determine her 'acts', and she 'just did it', whatever felt in tune with her ontogeny, and though it angered her peers and the Pope on several occasions, she was impervious to it.

Words are imaginary, acts are real, .... 'images' are high overhead and non-sustainable and their ultimate collapse gives a sense of tragedy, ... 'real ontogenetic behaviors' are low overhead and uncollapsable and give a sustained sense of joy even beyond death.

Which brings this epilogue back around to the topic of 'story-telling'. The same archetypes apply as in the above discussion. If we construct a story from generalized tangible behaviors, we are in effect, developing 'characters-as-images' in a 'politically correct' story which stresses 'positive space'. The story is 'politically correct' because it fits into the expectation of the culture. This is the 'market' that films like 'Diehard', 'Terminator' and the bulk of Hollywood film-stories cater to.

The extent to which the story is steeped in character-images (western positive space myth) rather than ontogenetic reality can be assessed by the degree to which it inspires one to 'real' action after leaving the movie theater; i.e. the degree to which it influences the viewer's own forward actions or forward intents.

If we 'choreograph' a story by bringing a number of unique intangible patterns into confluence, we can in effect, developing 'characters-as-real-people' in an 'ontogentically' faithful story. The intangible patterns can be those of the aboriginal teachings, for example, honesty, kindness, sharing and strength. If we watch the film, 'Windwalker' with Trevor Howard, we will see such a story, and though the words are all in a foreign language (Navajo), the characterization quickly becomes very strong and we are looking at 'real people' who reach out to embrace their own ontogeny. At the end of the film as the protagonist dies, there is a feeling of joy rather than tragedy, ... joy in the fullness and richness of the protagonist's embrace of his unique ontogeny, and this fills one with energy for acting in the same truthful-to-self manner. That being said, I very much doubt whether this film-story was a box office hit, perhaps because it did not come up to needed level of artistry, but perhaps moreso, because it did not satisfy cultural correctness and build 'image-people', the people of the western positive space myth, and therein lies the tragedy.

In any case, we can compare the two types of stories (real behaviors building characters-as-myth-images, and intangible (imagined) patterns building characters-as-real-people), if we examine the so-called 'gap' approach of Mckee more closely ('Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting'). The gap approach builds the character by taking him through a causal progression of crises and decisions. In our competition-based culture, what seems to matter most is 'winning' rather than what the particular issue is. So if we take our character through a purely random suite of crises, having him win each time, in the end, we get the pure 'terminator' type, we don't have a clue what he stands for (he just fights against whatever opposing force he is thrust up against.). He is the ultimate 'winner' in a competitive society, a totally'hollow man', but the best damn 'warrior' money can buy.

Now we can moderate the ensemble of crises we put the character through, and now we are manipulating the 'negative space' around him and that is giving him some 'inner substance' as well, because we can begin to detect a pattern which is beyond the simple desire to 'make the right decision on an issue-by-issue basis' and to 'win'.

But it is clear that to fully define his internal 'purpose', we need to run him up against a great many different crises and decisions to give him a particular and unique character, and this amounts to painting the desired pattern in negative space. But what is 'this pattern'? .... it is his 'negative space attractor', ... his 'ontogenetic purpose'. And once we can see this, our belief in the notion of some kind of causal progression of crises and decisions dissolves in our mind, because what is far more substantial than the apparent causal 'footprints' our character has been taking, is the intangible, intuited attractor-purpose. This attractor-purpose is pure geometry and cannot be articulated in words, even though if the writer is sufficiently skilled (don't look at me), he can stimulate the reader into re-inventing this geometry in his mind. Now once the geometry is in place, the character's response will not be 'predictable' as it is in the case of the 'terminator' character, but it will be 'known when the reader experiences it', just as you know how to ride a bicycle when you actually do it, but can't describe or predict your moves in advance.

Unpredictability is associated with 'co-resonance' or harmony of the part with the whole. What the character does cannot be specified without first specifying what everything in the space-time region around him is doing. Thus, when what he does is done in such a way as to be consistent with his ontogenetic purpose-attractor, this is not definable in terms of the artificial notions of 'choice' or 'decision' or 'crisis' which are all culturally defined generalizations applied on a single-issue (linear) basis. What he will do, if he is faithful to his ontogeny, can only be determined by intuitive feel. This is like musical harmony, one only 'knows' it is harmony by how one 'feels', and no manner of 'specification' can determine this for you.

So when a film develops a crisis, as in McKee's description of George Lucas' 'The Empire Strikes Back', the viewer may be being fed a reduced (linear) set of options; ... e.g. when Luke Skywalker hits the crisis point; "Face to face with Darth Vader, Luke is met by a Crisis of courage. Irreconcilable goods: He could attack and kill Vader and be killed, or he could flee and save his life, making him a coward and betraying his friends."

Where were we? 'Hero' and 'Coward' are simply imaginary notions, cultural constructs, and thus his choice and decision are pure fabrications of his imagination. The problem with Luke, and the rest of us, is that we have become bewitched by language, ... been enslaved by a struggle against the negative end of 'someone else's' desire, but whose, ... the faceless collective of the culture whose dyfunction we are feeding?

McKee doesn't mention Luke's other option, ... L:uke could say, 'piss off Vader, I'm captain of my own ship and I've got my own purpose to pursue. You're not going to mesmerize me into becoming a pawn of the negative end of your purpose. I'm herewith exposing this crisis, with its pseudo choice and decision for what it is, ... pure bullshit. So long, Vader, and so long to you too Lucas, because your linear storyline is just not big enough for my purpose. I'm going to find a 'real' story, something I can dive into and swim around in.

* * *

Return to '98 Update Page and Index of Essays