Archive for the ‘Ideas’ Category

Lazarus Corps

Monday, August 7th, 2017
Photo: John Pratt from Unsplash

Photo: John Pratt from Unsplash

The ten thousand strong crowd had been waiting nearly an hour for the show to start. Most of them were absorbed in their phones, staring vacantly at glowing screens that threw an eerie light onto their faces.

Rancid, the PR intern from the production company organising the show, was standing near the stage and looking at his own phone, monitoring the social media comments being posted by the crowd. They were using the #malariadeathring hashtag – and most of the audience were clearly becoming pissed off at the delay but were trying to be amusing about it in their comments.

The delay in the start of the show was being stage-managed. With high overheads and punitive financial penalty clauses in the venue contract should anything go awry, the entire show was designed to run like clockwork. It was Rancid’s job to gauge whether the ‘rebellious’ attitude of the tardy band was returning any dividends. A debrief after the show would discuss the efficacy of the tactic and decide whether to continue with the practice or not at future events.

Rancid checked the time on his phone, the show was going to start about…now!

The background music yielded to a swelling bass tone of menace that got louder until it was at concert hall level and reverberated in Rancid’s chest. He looked up from his phone at the vast stage, empty of people but festooned with equipment poking through the shallow layer of dry ice like skyscrapers piercing cloud cover. A column of light was falling onto the stage like a biblical portent. The audience, as one, raised their phones into the air to video the moment.

From the side of the stage emerged a lone figure walking towards the spotlight. It was a young man with long dark hair as lustrous and bountiful as a woman in the prime of her reproductive years. He was wearing a loose-fitting white poet shirt tucked into brown leather trousers that were accessorised with an ornate buckle belt – the aficionados in the audience immediately recognised it as the silver Zuni Navajo Concho belt made famous by its wearer.

The figure reached the pool of light drilling into the stage and as he stepped into its beam the audience could clearly see Jim Morrison. He stood silently for a few seconds allowing the audience to take in the extraordinary detail of his clothes, hair and belt. A huge screen above the stage relayed the live moment. Then he spoke to the crowd in a husky drawl, “Ladies and gentlemen… Malaria Death Ring” and with that he turned and walked off the stage the same way he had come.

To the cheers of the audience, the members of Malaria Death Ring emerged from the centre of the stage on a hydraulic riser. They were face-painted and costumed so exotically that they made Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band from their acid days of the ‘60s, look like a team of bank clerks on their first day at work. A distinctive intro chord was struck and the show began in earnest.

oOo

Countless months before the show, the production team had their regular meeting at the record company headquarters. They sat around the clear glass, boardroom table.

“Siobhan, who do we have introducing the band on the 5th?”

Martin asked this question while scrolling through his digital tablet. Siobhan was on the other side of the table flicking her dyed hair away from her face. The others at the table all looked at her.

“We’ve currently got the President of the United States as the introducer.”

“Which one?” asked Martin.

“Donald Trump,” answered Siobhan.

“Isn’t he getting a bit…clichéd?” interrupted Hugh, a young, handsome man sitting next to Siobhan “I mean, how often can he say ‘this is the best band, you’re going to see the best show’ before it gets too predictable? Besides, I’m reliably informed that Donald Trump is going to be introducing ‘Horse Blood’ on the same night in Birmingham. Surely we want to be a bit more exclusive than that?” He looked at Martin for support. Martin continued to peer at his tablet.

“Who told you that?” asked Martin still looking at his tablet.

“Peter Pinkjacket,” said Hugh.

“Pinkjacket! He’s a coke-head; you can’t trust anything he says!” yelled Siobhan.

Martin quickly looked up from his tablet sensing a time-wasting spat between his two team members. He addressed the five people at the table. “Reliable or not I think it’s worth looking at other options anyway. This is a big gig for Death Ring as it’s the album launch so it might be worth exploring something… unusual. Andy, do you know of anything being developed that we might be able to use?”

Andy was the technical expert with his finger on the digital pulse of innovation.

“I hear Jim Morrison is going to be available soon,” he suggested.

“Whooa! He would be cool!” said Mike, the creative executive.

“Really? Any idea how much he would be?” asked Martin.

“It wouldn’t be that much more than Donald Trump, but there would obviously be a premium for exclusivity. The downside is the quality wouldn’t be quite as good as Trump, as the archive footage is so poor. Comparatively.” Andy added.

Mike said, “But it’s been so long since anyone saw him in the flesh it wouldn’t matter. To the people in the audience he would be real enough. And, as we own The Doors back catalogue it could generate sales from curious onlookers who haven’t heard of him.”

“I’m liking the idea of Jim Morrison more than Donald Trump,” said Martin as he glanced at Siobhan, “Morrison has more…gravitas than Trump and Mike is right, we need to consider the trade off between the extra cost of the avatar and the possible revenue from fresh sales. See if you can fix that up, would you?”

Siobhan made a note on her phone.

Later, at around midnight, Siobhan made a video call to Leee from Lazarus Corporation.

“It looks like we’re going to run with Jim Morrison, Leee, do you know if the avatar will be ready for the 5th? We just need him to say ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Malaria Death Ring!’”

Leee was suitably rock ‘n roll; with a shaven head and dark glasses. He responded from his sunlit office in LA, “Yep, he’s just about ready for a trial run and he looks beautiful. We’ve rendered him in his prime at about age twenty-two. You’ll be the first to have him.”

Yeah, after some American outfit uses him first, thought Siobhan.

“Fabulous” said Siobhan “consider this confirmation. I’ll send the official request through in about fifteen minutes.”

oOo

In the old days, living celebrities would open a show for a band in person but this entailed so many problems with egos, riders, and reliability issues that an exasperated executive came up with a novel idea.

He got the idea from a development first seen at conferences. A speaker, who was many thousands of miles away, would be projected onto a stage during a live event. To the audience it looked pretty much as if this speaker was in the room, not in a studio on the other side of the world. They could even conduct a Q&A session with them and still maintain the illusion of reality.

It was only a small step to imagine a pre-recorded message given by a celebrity being projected onto a stage but this still involved getting the cooperation of the celebrity in the first place and pandering to their narcissism.

Then some digital artists armed with fast computers and lots of start-up funding took it one step further. They had seen the online videos that mocked certain politicians with mashed-up broadcast footage of their old speeches. Fast and clever editing made the politician say or sing outrageous things that the public understood to be nearer to the truth of what they meant.

What these digital artists did was to create a believable hologram of a living celebrity purely from footage that was available online. A hugely sophisticated algorithm could visualize new scenarios based on the known mannerisms of the subject. A programmer could then feed in any body movements and dialogue that they wanted into the programme to generate a convincing hologram of the celebrity on a stage at a live event. The result was the current fashion of having a big name introduce an act. The day of the indistinguishable avatar from the real celebrity (at least viewed from a distance) had arrived. Algorithms had revolutionised the entertainment industry. Real celebrities were a pain in the arse. Avatars were the future.

The celebrities on offer were growing by the month – alive or dead. However, the older the celebrity the more expensive they tended to be as the processing power needed to resurrect them was higher due to the paucity of material and the poorer quality of recordings.

Having a celebrity introduce an act with the line “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome x” was just the right length to make the process commercially viable for medium sized acts. And once they had been generated, smaller acts could purchase a licence to use the same file but with a slight alteration for whatever name they required the avatar to speak.

Of course, the first time this stunt was pulled, the celebrity in question was outraged at the appropriation and lawsuits were quickly filed but once the lawyers started to look into the case many loopholes and omissions were revealed. The technology was too new for the old law. The originators argued that they weren’t pretending that the actual celebrity was opening the show; they were completely upfront that a counterfeit was being displayed. The lawyers weren’t even sure if the image fell under the legislation designed for artworks or not, it was a lawless frontier.

Such were the vagaries of the case that it was quickly thrown out of court and the celebrities suddenly realised what it must feel like to be a production worker in a factory and witness the introduction of a tireless robot that could do your job far more efficiently. Overnight, celebrities got increasingly shy about appearing on any media that could record them walking, talking or even cutting a ribbon with a pair of scissors. Old media started to get deleted from video sites and lobby groups were putting pressure on the legislators to protect the rights of the unfortunate celebrities.

But by that time the innovators had already banked terabytes of data ready to analyse and render into their new compliant ghosts.

It wasn’t too long before filmmakers started to look at the costs of creating a full-length movie using digitally reproduced actors based on real actors – but these new actors wouldn’t throw a tantrum, get coked up in their trailers or even age over time.

Some gossip columnists enjoyed the shadenfraude of celebrities losing status and earnings due to the avatars. Writers felt especially smug; they were in a position of renewed status as the spoken lines that the avatars delivered became more important than the celebrity.

That didn’t last long however as the ‘deep learning’ algorithms managed to become creative and start churning out copy that humans found amusing, dazzling or moving based on what the audience had previously found amusing, dazzling and moving. The algorithms even learned to apply context and topicality to their output.

Then Bill Hicks got his own show. It was a brand new show and completely written by algorithms. The show even used the name of Bill Hicks as the owners of his estate realised it was useless fighting the onslaught of new technology and they might as well take a slice of the pie through licencing agreements rather than go hungry.

The show was a smash. The persona of Bill Hicks lent itself beautifully to some of the surreal imagery that the algorithm conjured up out of its mathematical processes and it even managed to come up with a routine that included some self-referential jokes about artificial intelligence being too clever by half for dumb humans.

All the creativity in the show was machine generated and the only thing left for humans to do was to market it and consume it.

Had he been alive, Bill Hicks would have got high on the irony.

Would Richard Dawkins accept a knighthood?

Saturday, January 2nd, 2016

illusion-box-religionblog

In this article, John Gray surmises that Richard Dawkins feels a knighthood is the least reward he should receive for his efforts in trying to rid the world of religion (it’s a supposition, not based on any fact). In my head I pictured Dawkins kneeling before the queen to receive the symbolic sword strokes and it was like a scene from Hell, an abomination of all reason and moral rectitude.

Why was I so appalled?

Dawkins has spent a considerable part of his life demystifying the imagined authority of a fictitious being and urged others to reject the dominion of this entity called god. His chosen method of achieving this is the encouragement of ruthless logic, empirical reasoning and the scientific method. But in this image of him kneeling in front of the queen it seems he rejects his own life’s work and submits himself to the power of someone who uses superstition to the same extent as the fanatical followers of god. Not only that, but in evolutionary terms, the organism dispensing the imagined nectar of privilege is, intellectually, far inferior to Dawkins on account of coming from a diminished gene pool due to excessive in-breeding.

The hypocrisy is surely self-evident.

Ultimately, Dawkins’ crusade against god is due to the misuse of power by His earthly representatives. The power of god (via these leaders) to create conflict in the world is at the core of his evangelical zeal; especially as he believes the ‘wisdom’ to be found at the fountainhead of most religions is man-made and false.

Whether god is real or not, the Church has enormous power, which is real. The power is derived from the willing supplication of its followers to donate their time and wealth to the sect’s existence just as in a colony of ants or bees. It is apparent that a lot of the ‘wisdom’ in religion can only be man-made (the idea of intercession in Catholicism, for example) and so some of the high priests within this religious group know that the game is actually power on earth, not in the promised after life.

A monarchy employs the same power structure as the church. The same kind of voodoo is employed too – the robes, the crowns the sceptres… they didn’t arise by chance, they are there to impress the uneducated, and to overwhelm any urge for individuality or autonomy. The monarchy has enormous power—regardless of whether the king has divine right to rule or not.

In the past, the establishment was made up of the church, the monarchy, the armed forces and the state. God was a useful cement to stop these factions from warring with each other. God was equally useful to justify wars with other nation states when it suited the leaders.

Today, this establishment structure is pretty much still intact. Here is the oath that the armed forces uses when signing up new recruits today:

“I (insert full name), do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.”

Note their promise to god is to protect the queen and her heirs, not anyone else.

These elements in the establishment are inextricably linked and they rely on subjugation to maintain their power. God acts like a mortar for the triumphal arch of the establishment over the awed and subjugated people. If you take god out of the mix, then the establishment will become unstable as the different factions seek power for themselves rather than share it.

Using ruthless reasoning, it becomes an unavoidable conclusion that the concept of god runs like an artery through the entire body of society.

Humans, by their unique evolutionary advantage of consciousness, can decide how they live unlike ants that have no choice. The structure of human society is due to choice not inevitability.

Dawkins can’t have it both ways: either we have no choice in how society is formed and run or we do have a choice and we can reject its injustices—all of them. The monarchy is only one step down from the belief in god; its rationale for existence is as shaky as gods own. It should be rejected.

How to bury a king

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

Leicester and York are arguing over who is going to have the privilege of keeping some bones of a dead human being. They have employed lawyers in fact to argue for both of them, which means that parasitic members of society will be the main beneficiaries in this stupid affair.

The human being in question is allegedly Richard III (hey, just because some authority figure tells me science has proved that the bones are ‘special’ doesn’t mean I have to believe it) so the bones are a tourist attraction and could generate quite a bit of revenue. But who has them?

Here is my win-win solution.

The inspiration for the solution is Marcel Duchamp’s Urinal. The original was lost and so several replacements were created and housed in art galleries around Europe. Which is the original? All of them.

Yep, that conceptual art business isn’t so useless after all.

Instead of only one city benefiting from the bones, why not have both of them benefiting? Have an exact copy of the bones made by highly skilled specialists (so you pay craftspeople rather than endlessly arguing parasitic lawyers) and then have the original bones and the copy involved in an elaborate randomly generated switch around (more pay to useful people for devising this).

After the switch, each city is assigned one of the packages and no one knows which one has the original bones.

The bones are then buried and tourists will have to visit both sites in order to satisfy themselves that they have definitely visited the original bones. A tourist trail could even be created by the very novelty of a deliberate duplication of artefacts, thus more revenue could be realised than was originally envisaged by having only one genuine site for the bones.

This is genius. Thank you, Marcel Duchamp.

‘Car Journey Theme Park’

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

As many family excursions mostly consist of sitting in a car watching featureless motorway go by I had an idea for a new theme park.

The theme park is actually a car park that has wrap-around screens for each parking bay. The screens show city centre car journeys of places like Paris and London for fifteen minutes. The impression then, is of a car journey but with interesting scenery. When the ‘ride’ is over the cars simply shuffle along to the next bay which shows a different location.

This would save time and pollution and make people feel comfortable in familiar surroundings. Anyone want to fund the scheme?

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” Buddha*

Saturday, March 9th, 2013

The recent death of Hugo Chavez spawned a veritable plague of news articles in the Mainstream Media about the man and his life. Most of the obituaries and reports followed predictable patterns—the capitalist press reviled the man and his reputation and the left wing press praised his humble origins and the benefits that he brought to the poor of Venezuela (I’m generalising here).

So, an unbiased member of the public being told all this has a dilemma (assuming that they access more than one news outlet)—how do they interpret such seemingly contradictory stories? Was he a good man, a despot or what?

Here’s a little true story that distils the problem.

One day at work I was looking at a book that had a picture of a lion feeding on its kill. The angle of its front leg was such that it was easy to imagine that leg as a human arm pinning down the carcass. Almost thinking out aloud I remarked to a co-worker at this similarity and extrapolated how the theory of evolution could come about. This co-worker (who I knew to be a Christian) then revealed his fundamentalism and said that actually, in the books he owned, creationism was the true explanation for the variety we see in the natural world.

As I had been educated in a secular school, science and the scientific method was my dominant frame of reference for checking the veracity of any theory. This only worked of course, if the subject matter lent itself to such a method. Even then, it appears that quantifiable results can be disputed within the scientific community. So simply quoting one book against another doesn’t really help if you’re trying to drill down to any sort of truth.

And as soon as the discussion enters a realm of subjectivity, then the fragile model of the scientific method becomes useless. Economics, for example, is often seen by most people as some kind of science due to the number of university courses available and government advisors mentioned in news reports. The reality is that economics is far closer to religion than it is to science and politicians have ‘faith’ in different belief systems whether they be the teachings of Keynes or Hayek or whoever.

Which system is best is impossible to verify due to the complexity of human society and the massive ambiguity of what ‘best’ means. But that doesn’t stop those people who benefit the most from a particular belief system from promoting that version of the religion, especially if they have the means to do so.

I have long since realised that in the game of news reporting merely deciding which story to report is a political act—one story is more important than another based on which criteria? Even a seemingly ‘neutral’ story immediately runs into trouble once the bare facts are given. The Hillsborough story for example, is that 96 football fans died in a crush. But as soon as the obvious question of “why did they die?” is asked, the propaganda begins.

Propaganda is designed to promote one idea over another and it is conducted most fiercely by those who have the most to gain (or lose) from an idea being accepted.

I said the story about my co-worker was a true one. You don’t know whether it was true or not; I know it’s true because I was there but you just read it here as a story and so if I was duplicitous for whatever reason, I could say that it was a true story even though I made it up. I would do this because it might discredit a rival idea which threatens my belief system.

Coming back to Chavez, I’m told by the media that this person used to exist (I never met him so I don’t even know that basic fact for sure). I’m also told that he believed that the moon landing never took place (what is this information supposed to tell me?). Some stories claim that he was a revolutionary who helped the poor and other stories that he wrecked the economy. Some stories claim that he brought a huge number of people out of poverty.

The one thing that I can be certain of from these stories is that someone, somewhere is frightened of what Chavez represents —and that is all that I can really divine about the man.

Ultimately, propaganda is about preserving or acquiring some kind of privilege. The media is a battle ground of ideas and, like any other human invention it is a continuum of extreme positions. Rational, unbiased reporting is simply one extreme position in the scale of things, like the ideal that everyone is born equal and has equal rights. From my personal experience, encountering extreme positions in the real world is extremely rare.

Here’s my thinking … Apparently, the unbiased news is that Venezuela has huge oil reserves (so I read). The world is addicted to oil (I know this because I have to use it myself). Having oil therefore, is a privilege for those addicted to it. Who gets that oil is down to a battle of ideas first. Then, if lobbying doesn’t work for the more powerful groups who are bidding for it, a physical battle usually comes second. My guess is that the West somehow needs to ’save’ the people of Venezuela from people like Chavez. How best to do that?

*Sounds great. If only it were true.

A universal language

Friday, September 28th, 2012

This precipitated this tweet by Jon Beech.

Beechtweet

Later, in the bath, I reflected on the implied criticism of the tweet and found myself in interesting territory. What is wrong with a universal language? If everyone has their national language but their second language is always English, what is so bad about that? You could travel to most places in the world confident that you would find someone who spoke enough English to communicate with.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not precious about the English language (although I am grateful that it is my first language which saves me the trouble of learning it) I could comfortably contemplate Mandarin as being the universal language.

A universal language has been tried before; Esperanto which tried to preserve everyone’s national pride by  bastardising most of them and in so doing pleased no one. Unfortunately it simply wasn’t useful enough in the real world.

In the global economy of today it pays to learn the languages that will give the most return on your investment. If I was to spend the time and effort in learning French I would only be able to use it productively in France (yes, yes, I know that in certain parts of Canada it would be useful). I could speculate that in ten years time Mandarin might become the global language but that predicates on so many precarious economic factors and its inability to adapt itself easily for digital use argues against it.

No, you learn the language of current global usage. If the dominant language is English then so be it, that is what you will learn. I am aware that Spanish speaking peoples outnumber English speaking people but the truth is that the spheres of influence in the world use English as the first language.

But I digress. My point is that a language is not a currency, it is not an ideology foist upon a defenceless people by some superpower. It is a tool, like an axe, which can be used for many purposes, some good, some not so good.

One of the few examples of a universal standard that I can think of is 16mm film, still in use today. This was developed by the Nazi’s to aid their propaganda machine. So successful were they in establishing the medium that at one period during the sixties and seventies, you could take a 16mm film anywhere in the world and you would be able to find a projector to show it.

But 16mm film is just a medium, it is not an ideology. Anti-fascist films can be made on it too. Language is just the same.

Incidentally we have gone backwards in the technological ease of showing moving images. There are so many formats and protocols for digital video that if you take your .MOV file burned on a dvd, chances are it won’t play on someone else’s branded laptop.

The orbit of health

Friday, September 21st, 2012

I’m going to make a prediction here which hopefully, in decades to come, some astute researcher might point to and show that I anticipated a medical breakthrough by a good slice of time.

Of course, I’m just guessing but it’s a guess based on empirical observations and extrapolation.

As far as we can tell the entire universe operates on basic laws and thus conforms to predictable behaviour. Out of these laws has resulted our solar system with many planetary bodies orbiting the sun. There are countless other such solar systems in the universe.

Here on the earth we have life forms that regulate their life cycle based on the rhythms of the moon and the orbit of the earth around the sun. On a smaller level, insects are more profoundly influenced by electromagnetic forces than gravitational ones. Gravity and electromagnetism are elemental forces that have existed since the dawn of time and indeed, possibly shape time itself.

It makes sense therefore that humans are influenced by the more subtle consequences of these forces as well as the more obvious ones. My assertion is that we are influenced by them on a much more profound level than hitherto appreciated.

I have noticed that during my years on this planet I have been visited by various minor afflictions that are cyclical in nature, seeming to flare up every few years. Naturally I tried to discover if there was a contributory factor or factors which could explain the flare up but neither me nor the doctors could find any. By improving my general health overall – by observing hygiene rules, avoiding processed food, exercising regularly etc. – I have managed to minimise the affects of these cyclical ailments. However, there are still certain subtle manifestations in my general well-being such as my mood which seem to ebb and flow in some kind of cycle irrespective of anything I do.

Unfortunately I have not kept a record of the intervals of these phenomena nor the severity of them so I can’t prove in any epidemiological way that there is a regular ‘orbit’ of them.

We are made of star stuff so it makes sense that our organisms bow to the forces of the universe. Our biorhythms might one day be as predictable as the tides of the oceans.

On the origin of gods

Friday, August 10th, 2012

Hand-print-in-cave

In The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins the question is asked ‘Where do gods come from?’ but no answer is given.

Every human society around the world has some belief about a spiritual afterlife. Why should that be the case? If it is universal then presumably it cannot be a human quirk developed by accident and dependent on some special configuration of circumstances. This suggests that we are hard wired to develop a belief system or at the very least evolutionary inclined towards adopting this strategy. Here is my attempt at an explanation.

In his book The End of Forever, Darryl Reanney suggests that a belief in an afterlife was necessary to counter the negative impact of self awareness in consciousness. As consciousness developed in our species we inevitably realised that we as individuals would die one day – using intelligence to plan strategy will inevitably pose the question “what happens to us?” No other species has this knowledge, they all live in the moment. I am confident of this assertion because of the reasoning I will give later. If you are aware of your own mortality then this can produce a profound negative feedback loop in your thinking. If you’re going to die anyway, what is the point of doing anything significant or of planning too far ahead? Evolution ‘encourages’ species to develop and adapt to the environment and to ultimately replicate themselves. If we keep reflecting on what is the purpose of it all then, there is a danger that we will find no purpose and ’shut down’ in our consciousness preventing its further evolution.

As an experiment in evolution, consciousness is a hugely dangerous adaptation. For it to develop fully it needed to have a fail-safe mechanism for avoiding the downsides of self awareness.

In mathematics, the appearance of infinity in any equation is an abomination to the mathematician as it produces unacceptable results. In human consciousness the opposite is true; the finite is unacceptable. The realisation of our own mortality is an abomination for our consciousness, therefore the concept of an afterlife has to be created to avoid this finality.

Our species can now continue with the process of procreation using the powerful advantage of higher consciousness safe in the knowledge that there is a purpose for doing so.

In my opinion, Richard Dawkins‘ exploration of a god concept missed two crucial elements to its development, namely, art and drugs (particularly hallucinogenic drugs). To a lesser degree, language is another key component in the origination of an afterlife.

It is my contention that any species that produces art will have a concept of an afterlife, this is why I am convinced that although a species such as the elephant has self awareness, it does not produce art, therefore it has not made the leap into higher consciousness that allows it to extrapolate its own inevitable demise. The footage of elephants fondling the bones of other, recently dead elephants suggests that they are on the cusp of such an awakening. Incidentally, the ‘art’ that some elephants have produced has been shown to be the result of their handlers subtle signals and not any spontaneous expression from the animal.

So what is art?

Art is the demonstration of creativity. It is the leap of consciousness from merely observing the environment to manipulating it. Art has power. It is no accident that Islam forbids the representation of humans and animals.

The cave paintings from Lascaux tell us a great deal about the significance of art and narcotics.

What is not widely known about the cave paintings is that many of the pictures are difficult to interpret because of the curious marks that accompany them; mostly dots obscuring the image beneath. There are also zigzags and semi circles. It has been suggested that these marks represent the visual effects produced by certain narcotic substances. Whether the paintings were done under the influence of these narcotics or the visions were remembered and then reproduced is unknown. But here is the holy trinity for the origination of religion: art, narcotics and language.

Art is an attempt to make a connection with that being depicted. In the case of the Lascaux painters, the beasts that they observed and hunted. Art is creating something out of ‘nothing’ – the colours come from dirt, minerals, plants, insects. The representation of the animal from these basic, fundamental ingredients is a god-like act. It is not difficult to extrapolate from that realisation to the idea that a much larger artist created the world in just such a way. Art is creation, as is god. This connection can be verified by witnessing the hand silhouettes of the artists from thousands of years ago. I find these images disturbing because the art does what it intended to do – to reach out through time in an immortal salute and to defy death. I shiver at their timeless question; who was this person?

The predominance of human and animal sacrifice in many early belief systems points to an obsession with mortality and an afterlife.

The role of narcotics in helping to develop the idea of an afterlife is equally easy to understand. Anyone who has taken any kind of drug will know of its power to provide an alternative view of reality. For a human being (and indeed many other species) this window to another reality is hugely attractive. Again, nearly all human cultures have been shown to use narcotics in one way or another. Why do humans crave an escape from the one reality that they are familiar with? Perhaps we are back to the unacceptable ‘reality’ of our own mortality. Whatever the reason, the drug experience allows us to extrapolate to the conclusion that there must be other dimensions that are yet to be discovered.

The Lascaux artists were probably viewed as shaman or interlocutors by their fellow tribespeole. Vocalised language allowed these shaman to communicate the content of their visions to others. The story of another world that exists beyond our knowledge must have been so easy to believe and the story was then  corroborated by the language of art.

The paintings themselves at Lascaux are not easily accessible for the casual observer, they are deep within a cave system. This suggests an early development of the concept of sacredness or exclusivity for the ’seeing ones’.

How does this help from an evolutionary point of view? My guess is that those tribes with a strongly developed sense of an afterlife would co-operate more with each other and have a stronger sense of community. Crucially however, it would allow the investment of resources and time for bigger projects such as stone circles, calendars and burial mounds. These would help the future generations to have a better chance of survival. Here could be the very foundation of civilisation itself. A large scale meeting of tribes would increase trade, ideas and knowledge. This would give the group a greater resilience to future hardships when compared to godless humans who operated without this network.

This gets my vote

Monday, July 4th, 2011

no-confidence

Rightly or wrongly, political cynicism prevents many people today from getting involved in the democratic process. The whole procedure has an air of hopeless inevitability about it, like applying for Olympic tickets — vote as many times as you like but the corporate sponsors always get in.

This has resulted in a huge proportion of the population — more than half — abstaining from the process and producing a result which is divisive and unsatisfactory. Inevitably, a death spiral is produced and fewer and fewer people feel their vote has any relevance at all and even if they did vote, there is very little to choose between the cloned party leaders.

Here is my solution:
At the bottom of every ballot paper is another box which the voter can put a cross in: the ‘no confidence’ box. By casting their vote in this way, the voter is making a positive statement about their disenfranchisement from the political process. It also sends an unequivocal signal to the political parties that they have lost touch with the masses. So instead of the political leaders simply shrugging their shoulders at the poor turnout for the vote and continuing with business as usual, they would have to face their humiliation if those fifty odd percent of the population who currently don’t vote, stated publicly that they had no confidence in the current crop of privileged professional politicians… Having this extra dimension to the voting system would also assuage the guilt of the many people who feel voting is a waste of time but feel duty bound to do it because of all the human sacrifices in securing their right to vote.

Of course, the fun starts when over fifty percent of the population choose to vote, ‘no confidence’ in any election. What happens then? Perhaps a new election could be run with entirely different candidates?

God is a work of art

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011
Conceptual artwork

Conceptual artwork

God, as a work of art, is unparalleled in human creativity. The breathtaking audacity of its eternal vision, of its sweep and grandeur over the face of time and space itself and its use of concepts such as hell fire, purgatory, intercession, heaven, make it the apotheosis of sublime awe. In the masterworks gallery of conceptual genius, god sits on the finest plinth in the centre of the vaulted dome that generates the purest light.

Then along comes science and declares god a fake. Science claims that the author of the work — God himself — doesn’t exist and therefore only gifted artisans could have put the piece together. The body that declares the legitimate provenance of the work – the church, maintains its position, confident that science can’t come up with the necessary evidence. The accusation divides the viewing public. Those that believe the work to be genuine, dig in and entrench themselves with the historical ‘evidence’. Those that doubt the authenticity of the work, lose interest and leave the gallery. Very few ignore the inquisition altogether and simply enjoy the spectacle for what it is.

But the conundrum remains, nothing has really changed: the artwork remains exactly the same, it is only the perception of the artwork that is altered. Any painting, looked at rationally, is just marks of coloured shit on canvas or board. It is the belief about the construction of the artwork that fires our imagination.

Whether an artwork is fake or original or machine generated should be irrelevant, the artwork is what it is, either you like the piece or you don’t. Who created the piece is of interest only to those who benefit from that knowledge – collectors, art dealers, auctioneers, and owners…

And here is the crux of the story. Ultimately, it is the market that decides. Those with a vested interest will fight the doubt at all costs. They have empires to defend, property to maintain and income to collect. Even in the face of incontrovertible evidence, the intellectual property owners have to deny the evidence because the consequences are dire — if their authority is brought into question with this one, where does it end? What else is a fake in the gallery? And if you have invested a lifetime of prayer into these works… is that lifetime wasted then?

In the market of ideas, art is a confidence trick. The same trick is played in the currency markets, in the diamond market. The god market is no different.