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Embroideries on a big canvas

In the animal and in the vegetable world between the generator and the generated, on the canvas which the ancestor passes on, and which his descendants possess in common, each puts his own original embroidery.
- From Creative Evolution by Henri Bergson

Several weeks ago, I imposed a lot of reading assignments on myself, which included Henri Bergson's Time and Free Will and Creative Evolution, and Rupert Sheldrake's The Presence of the Past, along with some auxiliary materials such as the websites of Dave McGowan and UNESCO.

To me, reading books involves an excruciatingly painful work both physically and mentally. On the one hand my eyesight still keeps deteriorating, and on the other, I've been blogging for so long that now I can only think a little better than an ape. I don't know exactly why, then, I resumed reading. Maybe that's because I don't want to outlive my alertness as my father did in the last years of his life. And perhaps more importantly, I felt I still have something to learn about life before wrapping mine up.

Also, it would have constituted too much financial burden because these days I couldn't afford to buy a single book. Two men helped me in that respect. The Japanese man I mentioned in my post about the difference between art and crap had sent me 2,000 yen-worth gift certificates in return for what I did to him as a self-styled shrink. That enabled me to buy the Japanese version of Bergson's books one of which I read some 60 years ago. Only after I used the gift certificates, I found websites that give the full English texts of the two books all for free. But it helped me in understanding Bergsonian terminology to crosscheck the Japanese translation and English translation of French words against each other.

As to The Presence of the Past, I could locate the dogeared copy buried deep in my bookcase. Some two years ago, one of my American friends strongly recommended I read it. At first, I told him I wasn't really interested in knowing whether there is the presence of the past, and that I couldn't afford to buy a copy of the book which would cost me more than $30 including shipping charge. Then my friend was kind enough to send me his copy secondhand. This is how I found out that the hypothesis about "formative causation" and "morphic resonance" is not yet another cheap determinism.

On this occasion, I'd like to express my gratitude once again to the two gentlemen.

I knew it would be unrealistically ambitious for a retired businessman in senility to challenge Bergson's interpretation of Darwinism and other forms of transformism, or Sheldrake's take on it. But that's not the purpose of my exercise.

Man is an unmanipulatable creature

According to Dave McGowan, sometime around 1964, hippies were summoned by conspirators to Laurel Canyon to "give the anti-war movement a face that would be completely unacceptable to mainstream America." I don't know if he is telling the truth. Neither do I want to know if that was the case because either way it has nothing to do with the intellectual decline of the American people. The basic premise on which he bases his allegation is that human beings are more or less manipulatable. But almost by definition, man can't be conditioned the way the ape or the dog is. If ever the conspirators look to have succeeded, that should simply mean they conducted the experiment on apes, not humans. Although it doesn't look to have crossed his mind for a split second, McGowan, himself, is an ape totally mind-controlled by the conspirators. Worse yet, I even suspect the guy is actually playing a pivotal role as an accomplice in the conspiracy. In all likelihood, he is on the payroll of the cabal of the conspirators. That is why he untiringly keeps inventing entertaining stories such as what allegedly happened in Laurel Canyon a half century ago, in Nazareth 2 millenniums ago, or in New York 12 years ago, so "mainstream America" fails to see the wood for the trees.

As Voltaire is often quoted as saying, what makes you a human being is your ability to identify what is really at issue for humanity, not your ability to answer it. But there's more to it. Although what Sheldrake conjectures about formative causation and morphic resonance remains a hypothesis, the notion about the presence of the past is an axiom. If you are determined only to believe what you see first-hand with your own eyes, every question you ask takes the past perfect subjunctive mood, such as what if what didn't happen had happened before, or what if what happened hadn't happened before. So even if you still remain a conspiracy theorist, it makes your life much easier because you won't have to try so hard to substantiate what may or may not have happened in the past, by giving us one piece of evidence after another as if it weren't a piece of cake to fabricate them with today's state-of-the-art image-processing technologies.

If I were a conspiracy theorist myself, I wouldn't do it on the web, in the first place, when I disseminate my theories because I know the Internet is at the core of all these conspiracies. One of the few questions I would ask without depending too much on the Internet is what if the communications protocol called TCP/IP hadn't enabled the World Wide Web in the late 1980s. Only then, I would come up with a valid proposition to effectively counter the Internet conspiracy because now I know exactly how the minds of these Netizens have actually been controlled in the last quarter century.

UNESCO Conspiracy

Another large-scale conspiracy I would attempt to reveal as a conspiracy theorist is the malicious plot launched ten years ago by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage sponsored by UNESCO defines its mission like this:

"Intangible Cultural Heritage means the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artifacts and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage. This intangible cultural heritage, transmitted from generation to generation, is constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history, and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity."

This is a motherhood statement. No one dares to say he finds it objectionable. But actually there's something fishy in the advocacy of preservation of traditions just for preservation's sake. I suspect someone behind the scenes has intended to manipulate the hearts and minds of billions of people living on Planet Earth so they all take it for granted the status quo under Pax Americana is a permanent state of things. Needless to say, entries from Japan by far outnumber those from other countries except China. It's as though they think exotic art pieces from Japan should be treasured more dearly than, say, Baroque music and Bach's counterpoint methods or equal temperament scales.

Evidently, it's a conspiracy to contain man's spontaneity and creativity, which are exactly what separate us from apes. By doing so, UNESCO intends, on behalf of the U.S. government, to perpetuate the Asiatic backwardness and all the sufferings inflicted on African and Arab countries, along with the entire post-WWII regime represented by the United Nations.

Handing down the legacy via education

According to Sheldrake, what you can pass down to posterity via your genes is quite limited. The biochemist basically subscribes to the idea of Jean Baptiste Lamarck that acquired characteristics are also transmitted from a generation to the next. So he does talk a little about education, though in the narrow context of his proprietary hypothesis about formative causation and morphic resonance. He writes:

"On the present hypothesis, skills such as reading, writing, and arithmetical calculation depend on the ordering and patterning activity of morphic fields, just as physical skills and the speaking and understanding of languages do. The learning of reading, writing and arithmetic should be facilitated by morphic resonance from those who have practiced them before us."

Quite naturally, though, Sheldrake stops short of talking about whether, and how, spontaneity and creativity can be transmitted to our descendants.

My father was a born educator, for better or for worse. He applied an abnormally intransigent method to educate his elder son, that I was. As a university professor and fellow researcher in aeronautics, he also used the same method. As a result, he was hated or even feared by his students and assistants. I don't think, though, any one of them hated him more than I did. Not that he was a perfectionist. Actually, he was an ordinary person who was as far from perfection as one can be in his private life. I don't know whether his contempt toward mediocrity and conformism was passed down to me via morphic resonance. But as a matter of fact, I have also been a demanding teacher throughout my adulthood.

As I wrote in this post, parental education of my biological sons is where I miserably failed. Despite my effort to help them grow into mature men, they ended up as typical Japanese who are mentally neotenized. For one thing, my elder son, who plays the baritone sax in an amateur band he has organized himself, does what he thinks is jazz in order to bring band members together, rather than the other way around. And now it's too late for me to make him realize that this inversion of the end and the means has taken a fatal toll on the quality of music they do. He is just following the norm which is deep-rooted in this cultural wasteland. He thinks it's not him, but his dad, who deviates from the norm. Time and again, I have told him to weed out all these impurities from his music, sometimes even referring to Wynton Marsalis. Quite predictably he seems to have hit the wall lately. Most recently I sent him the links to some of the videos of The Hot Club of Cowtown as good examples of impurity-free music. But he wouldn't listen. He just said, "I have inherited this stubbornness from you."

Likewise, my effort to educate young people in the workplace has seldom paid off. Sometimes it was appreciated when I gave them knowledge and skills they couldn't live without, such as how to use the newly implemented computer system. But that's not what I wanted to pass down. The last thing they would understand was that there is no professionalism where there is no spontaneity and creativity, especially in an uncertain world like this one. For several years after retirement, I taught a dozen young ladies how to use the personal computer and how to read and write English. But that didn't last long, because I did it all for free, and more importantly, my students wanted to learn how to use the PC or the language while I wanted to teach them what to use them for.

In the last one and a half years, I gave a lot of free lectures, mostly ad hoc but sometimes prepared, to the people at the Tax-Collecting department of the Yokohama City Hall. Early on I tried to make it understood that the reciprocity principle is what the Constitution is all about. To that end, I told them, over and over again, that I have no reason to pay the income-unrelated Citizen Taxes when my constitutional rights are in jeopardy. When I realized it was like "urinating on the face of a frog," I switched the subject to Pacioli's double-entry accounting method which is expected to be introduced in government entities in the not-too-distant future.

A couple of months ago, my last class took place in a tiny cubicle which wasn't equipped with any audio-visual device on which to show PowerPoint slides. I asked them to bring in the General Affairs manager who is concurrently in charge of Konpuraiansu (legal compliance) and risk management. When I delivered my punch line which went, "You can't have a negative amount of money in your pocket," the manager of the Tax-Collecting department grinned at me. Obviously, he took it as a witty joke. When I was heading for the elevator hall after the class, he chased after me to say, "Do you have an extra copy of the material you used to explain to us the situation in the U.S. and the U.K.?" I handed him my own copy, saying, "Keep this." He said: "It's very nice of you. I'll study it closely." He may have studied it, but that didn't stop him from continuing the robbery of the "delinquent" taxes from my pension. Once again my effort to educate these zombies failed. But what else could I have done?

Only at times, I felt rewarded for my effort like when I took care of the young intern from France, mainly on the job, and when I taught foreign students at an MBA class of International University of Japan. My interpretation of the fact that I have only succeeded when it came to the education of young people from the West is that some, if not all, of them were not as mentally inert as their Japanese counterparts were.

Sheldrake's dilemma

In the last chapter titled "Creativity within a Living World," the author of The Presence of the Past writes:

"Creativity is a profound mystery precisely because it involves the appearance of patterns that have never existed before. Our usual way of explaining things is in terms of pre-existing causes: the cause somehow contains the effect; the effect follows from the cause. If we apply this way of thinking to the creation of a new form of life, a new work of art, or a new scientific theory, we are led to the conclusion that in some sense the new pattern of organization was already present: it was a latent possibility."

These self-contradictory words fail to unravel the mystery about man's creativity and spontaneity.

As Sheldrake admits in the book which was published in 1988, his thoughts about formative causation and morphic resonance are nothing but a hypothesis. I suspect it will most probably remain so until a more provable hypothesis comes up to supersede it. In the interim, however, he shouldn't have tried to defend his hypothesis by adding hypothesis on hypothesis. But that's exactly what he did in the final chapter.

To that end, he selectively turns to Bergson. For one thing, the English biochemist quotes the French philosopher as saying, "The possible would have been there from all time, a phantom awaiting its hour; it would therefore become reality by the addition of something, by some transfusion of blood or life." Sheldrake goes as far as to say that Bergson admitted that this dilemma is "inherent in the traditional European philosophies."

It's no accident that the biochemist opts not to touch on Bergson's observation of nothingness. The author of Creative Evolution writes:

"Existence appears to me like a conquest over nought. I say to myself that there might be, that indeed there ought to be, nothing, and I then wonder that there is something. Or I represent all reality extended on nothing as on a carpet: at first was nothing, and being has come by superaddition to it. Or, yet again, if something has always existed, nothing must always have served as its substratum or receptacle, and is therefore eternally prior. A glass may have always been full, but the liquid it contains nevertheless fills a void. In the same way, being may have always been there, but the nought which is filled, and, as it were, stopped up by it, pre-exists for it nonetheless, if not in fact at least in right."

Another example of Sheldrake's tactic is his tricky words "creative adaptability." But in his Creative Evolution, Bergson observes:

"If I pour into the same glass, by turns, water and wine, the two liquids will take the same form, and the sameness in form will be due to the sameness in adaptation of content to container. Adaptation, here, really means mechanical adjustment. The reason is that the form to which the matter has adapted itself was there, ready-made, and has forced its own shape on the matter. But, in the adaptation of an organism to the circumstances it has to live in, where is the pre-existing form awaiting its matter? The circumstances are not a mold into which life is inserted and whose form life adopts: this is indeed to be fooled by a metaphor. There is no form yet, and the life must create a form for itself, suited to the circumstances which are made for it."

If I were Sheldrake, I might simply say: "We call it a creation when what might have appeared but actually failed to appear in the past is appearing now." It would be just glossing over the dilemma inherent to his way of thinking. But after all, this is his hypothesis, not mine.

The big canvas of cultural traditions

Actually, I think my teaching and learning experience has given me a clue to possibly solving the problem facing Sheldrake. Whenever I succeeded to instill in young people from the West the awareness that nothing is more important than creativity and spontaneity, I noticed that I could learn from my students as much as they could learn from me. If I'm not mistaken, we can get a creative idea only through dialectical interaction, which is essentially the same thing as Jean-Paul Sartre's "totalizing activity" of dialectical reason. It never emerges just out of nowhere, let alone from the mystery zone that Sheldrake calls "creative morphic fields."

It is widely known that the starting point of Bergson's philosophy was his denial of the rationalism of Immanuel Kant. He always based his epistemology on his intuition. That is why his theses and philosophical essays were filled with exquisite analogies. Especially I like his metaphor of the individual embroidery put on the shared canvas. It best explains his idea about creation.

I am of the opinion that when you talk about creation, it is crucially important to have the ability to analogize, in a very creative and imaginative way, abstract ideas such as "Élan vital" (vital impetus,) the words which Bergson seems to have substituted for "nothingness." Think about this: do you believe someone who isn't good at artistic expression himself can tell where to find the source of man's creativity? On the other hand, Sheldrake's expertise lies in biochemistry. Small wonder the only words he came up with to describe the driving force of evolution are "morphic fields" which don't help us visualize what he claims to be seeing.

The Japanese don't have a canvas woven for shared use. All they have, instead, is a dirty rag which is moth-eaten all over. On the contrary, if you look closely at the videos embedded below, you will see a big canvas unfolded between Elana James, the younger fiddler, and Johnny Gimble, the older one. This is exactly what differentiates them from these noble savages that have swarmed since the 1960s. For your reference, James was born almost a decade after the "Laurel Canyon conspiracy," and Gimble, one of her idols, more than 35 years before it. To all these musicians, traditions are not for preservation in nursing homes or museums, let alone by UNESCO conspirators.


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Embroideries on a big canvas
Authored by: samwidge on Thursday, May 16 2013 @ 10:59 AM JST

Mr. Yamamoto,

It has always intrigued me that you are so deeply interested in things American but at the same time you are extremely critical of us. Both of these things are good.

You said, "... there's something fishy in the advocacy of preservation of traditions just for preservation's sake." True. We find ourselves asking young people to join us in preservation and set them to work without having the chance to learn just why preservation may be of value to them.

I will be attending the Historic Wallace Accordion Festival in August. It is an attempt at demonstrating the value of old music forms. Outside observers casually presume that the event only tries to restore old values.

You and I know better. Such talented people demand much of themselves in seeking new ways to do things with their resources. With so odd an instrument as an accordion, they always find that seeking to be joy.

Matter of fact, I will be taking an accordion and a concertina to the festival. I am not talented enough to give a show there. Instead, I shall play the instruments while strolling the small town's streets as I did two years ago. I will talk to old friends and make new friends. I shall find new ways of thinking.

I will hear the voices of people discussing things far beyond music. Wallace is a mining town (silver, lead and zinc). Two years ago, I spent several hours talking with some of the American state of Idaho's most wealthy industrialists. We discussed how to give jobs to people who lack the skills to start their own companies. This year I hope to learn the newest techniques for extracting metal granules from rocks. Hint: it involves impregnating the rock with liquid and applying electricity as with an automobile battery. The voltages involved are expected to be lower than three volts.

Music will always be more than music. Preservation will always bring innovation in something.

"... to perpetuate the Asiatic backwardness..."? You so easily give me opportunities to disagree and you always forgive. Thanks for that.

So here goes; I was a guest years ago at San Francisco's Jack Tar Hotel. I wandered the huge building and encountered 50 Japanese men hanging together while a leader took them to some meeting. Each was attentive to the leader and not to surroundings. Every one was neatly set up with good haircuts, shaved faces and identical black suits. As individuals, each looked excellent. As a group, they looked like children in bubbles, isolated wherever they went.

It would have been easy to disdain these people but I discovered that their surprising behavior allowed them to concentrate when they needed and to observe and to learn separately as they saw fit. They deviate from the norm when they need to and don't when they don't need.

Difference is good.

You have explained that you are elderly, frail and poor. There is a lot of that going around these days.

If you do not have an organ, piano, organ or concertina, you certainly can find a comb and a piece of paper to stretch across the comb. Hum into this and hear the buzz. Make the buzz into jazz. Your own creativity is the most important of all creativities.
Embroideries on a big canvas
Authored by: Y.Yamamoto on Thursday, May 16 2013 @ 01:03 PM JST

Welcome back, Samwidge, to the deserted site. As to the cultural decline in America and the rest of the world, your view may be miles apart from mine, but that doesn’t matter. Talking to people is much better than talking to the wall.

You always wonder what makes me “so deeply interested in things American.” Actually there are only three factors behind it: 1. American music, 2. the security treaty, and 3. the computer.

I was a 9-year-old kid when I first heard American songs such as Sentimental Journey amid the ruins of what had been my hometown. That's how American music at the height of the big band era has left an unerasable imprint on me.

I was a senior at my alma mater when the undercover CIA agent, the grandfather of the current prime minister, was forced by Eisenhower to sign the revision of the security treaty. Not a few of my friends got arrested and/or injured in conflict with the riot police.

50 years ago, I fell in love with the computer which happened to be an invention by American scientists.

There’s nothing else that has made me study your country so hard. In the last seven decades, America has changed because it has tried too hard to remain unchanged. On the other hand, I remain essentially unchanged because I have tried too hard to change. I call it a dialectic irony.

Yu Yamamoto
Embroideries on a big canvas
Authored by: Y.Yamamoto on Saturday, May 18 2013 @ 09:24 PM JST

Let me add a couple of things to my previous reply. It just slipped my mind to touch on these points, but I think they are simply too important to leave there unsaid.

You wrote: "Preservation will always bring innovation in something."

But again, let me borrow the words of Wynton Marsalis: If preservation will always bring innovation, "why then should anyone subject himself to the pain of study?" As the jazz critic goes on to say, this way of thinking "in effect shows
contempt for the basic values of the music and our society."

As for the 50 men from AKB48 you encountered in San Francisco, you wrote: "Difference is good." But again, if you "profess an openness to everything" here, I opt not to differ from Marsalis. He says this kind of openness always amounts to contempt for mankind. This is where arrogant advocates of affirmative action have all ended up.

Also, you were kind enough to suggest I "find a comb and a piece of paper to stretch across the comb, hum into this, hear the buzz, and make the buzz into jazz." Thanks for the suggestion. But I don't think I'll heed your advice. Believe it or not, I am
a mature human being, not a kid or a bumblebee. Music is something for me to share with other adults I respect, or love, or even loved, and for these people to share with me..

I wrote the last three essays to say that spontaneity is what music is all about. But I didn't forget to add that without "subjecting" yourself "to the pain of study," you can't create anything more than these noble savages do. .

Yu Yamamoto