Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Wofe and Gazzaniga: freewill: language and God: is all art/life about status?

Excerpts from the   chapter in "Science is Culture" (HT, and complete transcript here) by  Tom Wolfe + Michael Gazzaniga   (and related video below)

Excerpts from the   chapter in "Science and Culture" (HT, and complete transcript here) by  Tom Wolfe + Michael Gazzaniga :

TW: I think all this excitement has spawned a replacement for Freudian psychologists. They’ve been replaced by the evolutionary psychologists, whose main interest seems to be to retrofit the theory of evolution on whatever ended up happening. I read an example in your new book of a woman who’s come up with an elaborate theory that music has a survival benefit in the evolutionary sense because it increases the social cohesiveness of populations. I would love for her to read a piece that appeared recently in the New Yorker about a tribe, the Pirahã in the Maici River, a little tributary of the Amazon. This tribe, it turns out, has a language with eight consonants and three vowels. I think they have a sum total of 52 words or something like that. As a result, they have little art, they have no music, no dance, and no religion. They’re usually cited because they seem to be a terrible exception to Noam Chomsky’s rule that all people are born with a structure that enables them to put words in a grammatical form. Not the Pirahã! And they’re not stupid or retarded in any sense. They just had never increased their language abilities — and they don’t want to....

...MG: Do you think all art is about status?
TW: Well, certainly not music. Dance, maybe yes, maybe no. But literature and movies, yes. To me the crucial point is something, which I don’t think even Chomsky understands, about speech and language. Chomsky and many other people are wonderful at telling us how language works, and about differences in languages and the historical progression of languages across the face of the Earth. But I seem to be the one person who realizes the properties of speech. Speech is an artifact. It’s not a natural progression of intelligence, in my opinion — we have to look only at the Pirahã for that. It’s a code. You’re inventing a code for all the objects in the world and then establishing relationships between those objects. And speech has fundamentally transformed human beings.
MG: By speech I assume you mean language and not the actual act of speaking?
TW: To me, it’s the same, speech and talking.
MG: Okay, so what do you think language and speech are for? I mean, it’s probably an adaptation. We’re big animals, and that’s one of the goodies that we got.
TW: I think speech is entirely different from other survival benefits. Only with speech can you ask the question, “Why?”
MG: Right.
TW: Animals cannot ask why. In one way or another, they can ask what, where, and when. But they cannot ask why. I’ve never seen an animal shrug. When you shrug, you’re trying to say, “I don’t know why.” And they also can’t ask how.
MG: Yeah.
TW: With language you can ask that question. I think it’s at that point where religion starts.
MG: Right.
TW: Humans got language and they were suddenly able to say, “Hey, why is all this here? Who put it here?” And my assumption is that they said, “There must be somebody like us but much bigger, much more powerful, that could make all these trees, the streams. God must be really something, and you’d better not get on the wrong side of him.” I think that’s the way it started...

...TW: Every time we go into a room with other people, it’s as if we have a teleprompter in front of us and it’s telling us the history of ourselves versus these people. We can’t even think of thinking without this huge library of good information and bad information.
MG: That’s why the great psycholinguist George Miller, whom we shared a dinner with once, called us the “informavores.” That’s how he wanted to cast us.
When you get up in the morning, you do not think about triangles and squares and these similes that psychologists have been using for the past 100 years.   You think about status. You think about where you are in relation to your peers. You’re thinking about your spouse, about your kids, about your boss. Ninety-nine percent of your time is spent thinking about other people’s thoughts about you, their intentions, and all this kind of stuff. So sorting all that out, how we navigate this complex social world, there’s going to be a neuroscience to it, and I think it’s going to be very powerful....

...MG: Well, I think we’re saying the same thing. There is a very clever little experiment that you would be amused by, run by my colleague Jonathan Schooler. He has a bunch of students read a paragraph or two from the Francis Crick book, Astonishing Hypothesis, which is very deterministic in tone and intent. And then he has another group of students reading an inspirational book about how we make our own decisions and determine our own path. He then lets each group play a videogame in which you’re free to cheat. So guess who cheats? The people who have just read that it’s all determined cheat their pants off.
I think people who try to find personal responsibility in the brain are wrongheaded. Think of it this way: If you’re the only person in the world, you live alone on an island, there’s no concept of personal responsibility. Who are you being personally responsible to? If somebody shows up on the island though —
TW: — Friday was his name.
MG: Yeah, exactly. Then you’ve got a social group. And the group starts to make rules; that’s the only way they’re going to function. Out of those rules comes responsibility. So responsibilities are to the relationships within the social groups, and when someone breaks a rule, they’re breaking a social rule. So don’t look for where in their brain something went wrong; look at the fact that they broke a rule, which they could have followed. I’m actually kind of hard-nosed about this. I think people should be held accountable for lots of stuff.
TW: No, I would certainly agree with that. In fact, my theory of status is that all of us live by a set of values that, if written in stone, would make not me but my group superior in some way. I think there are just so many kinds of status layers due solely to likeness. You can always find a group that seems to justify whatever you’re doing.
MG: Our species seems brilliant at forming groups — indeed support groups — for almost anything. And no matter what the group is about, no matter what its character, it becomes advocatory.   complete transcript here

"Bursts" video :Albert László Barabási

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Prodial Son updated: four videos

At the Sierra Christian Ashram camp this summer, both  the  (delightful) Bible Teacher Susan Tucker and I faciltated conversations on the parables of Jesus.

Just as we do in a Fresno Pacific University class on Jesus,  I had  four small groups (see this classic: Prodigal Son..retold in rap and mime)
 act out modern day versions of The Prodigal Son. I love all of these, bit taks special pride in #2, as my kids (the prodigal's dad and the "older sister") are in that one!  Regular readers here may note Keltic Ken in #1.


grammar of simplicity

 "At times we lose people because they don't understand what we are saying, because we have forgotten the language of simplicity and import an intellectualism foreign to our people. Without the grammar of simplicity, the church loses the very conditions which make it possible to 'fish for' God in the deep waters of his mystery."  -Pope Francis

prayers for each Myers-Briggs type

Click to view my Personality Profile page
Biscoe Peters (HT Len)  offers prayers for each Myers-Briggs type. I've included only two (my wife's and mine). Click  for the rest:

ESTJ: God, help me to not try to RUN everything. But, if You need some help, just ask.

INFP: God, help me to finish everything I sta

Chiasms on the Brain?

Chiasms on the Brain?By James M. Hamilton

I was recently asked some questions about chiasms: Are biblical scholars just bored and seeing things? Would ancient audiences have picked up on them? Is this a widely attested ancient Near Eastern device? Do lay Bible readers have any hope of seeing them or must they consult commentaries?These are good questions. There are biblical scholars who are very suspicious of chiasms, especially of larger proposals that stretch over whole sections of texts or even whole books. I come down with those who see chiasms as a key structuring device in ancient literature. I would add that it’s not just ancient literature. I think it was a prof I had in college, Skip Hays, who suggested that The Great Gatsby has a paneled structure that is basically chiastic. There are plenty of examples of balanced structures in the world’s literature. Think of the Divine Comedy . . .Anyway, in a world that didn’t use chapters, chapter titles (the chapter and verse numbers in the Bible were added later–they don’t come from the biblical authors), bold subheadings, and italics, authors seem to have employed chiastic structures, inclusios, and other devices that rely on the repetition of key words, phrases, or thematic concepts to structure their material.There is evidence that early on the biblical texts were widely memorized, as well as evidence that they were regularly read aloud. I think it plausible that authors expected their audiences to recognize chiastic structures and inclusios formed by  continued

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Philemon and Onesimus as literal brothers

So glad Tim Gombis (fantastic writer)  posted this series on Philemon.  Most folks have never even heard the interpretation that Philemon and Onesimus are literal bothers, even though   "this is the most natural reading"  (Gonbis):

Related: see posts tagged "Philemon" below

Pope Francis: "get rid of clericalism..take to the streets and make a mess..I want trouble in the dioceses!"

 From Religion News:

 ....Pope Francis  gave some 10,000 young Argentine pilgrims explicit instructions to take to the streets to “make a mess,” and “cause confusion and disorder.”
“I want to tell you what I expect as a consequence of World Youth Day,” he said. “I want to see the church get closer to the people. I want to get rid of clericalism, the mundane, this closing ourselves off within ourselves in our parishes, schools or structures. I want a mess…I want trouble in the dioceses!”
            He warned that if the church doesn’t go out and spread the faith it would become an observer rather             than a doer.
Young people who flocked to audiences, seemed genuinely moved.Possibly realizing the alarm his words are likely to cause among traditionalists, Francis apologized in advance to bishops worldwide for the defiance he is instigating. 
“I couldn´t stop crying after I heard what he wants us to do,” said Maria Ines Panuziou, a 31 year old Argentine. “It is so different and exciting.”  link

Friday, July 19, 2013

towels and keys

Why would I hang towels and cardboard keys over my diplomas?

I bring these items into class when I teach on leadership, and the way Jesus calls us to lead out of an Upside Down Kingdom kenosis.

Towel story first:

One of my professors (Bob Lyon of Asbury Theological Seminary) washed each of our feet in a moving foot- washing service. And as he wiped our feet each with an individual towel that he would later give to us as a reminder to…well, “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit”….he spoke prophetic words over each of us. To me he said: “God has given you great compassion, Let it grow.“ I have not done well living out that word. But if I learned compassion at all the next seven years. it was from Carla. Sure, for all my years here at the church, I had that towel hanging over my diploma to remind me of what was really important in ministry. But I didn’t need that towel in my office when I could walk to the next office in see Carla Menagh, who lived out that word. I eventually lost that towel. link

I also tell more of that story in this video (from a speech to graduating nurses at Fresno Pacific University).  See 8:52ff: 

Video of the first 15 minutes.. (pics of the rest of it were taken by staff, should be up soon). Words of Greeting:...

Posted by Dave Wainscott on Friday, December 13, 2013
The  keys story? When I was ordained in the United Methodist Church (by the Bishop Kevin Clancey...that's another story), they had rehearased this production where the retiring pastors all had a key, and they were to walk from stage left to hand a key to a new pastor stage right. They spent some time making sure there was one key per person. Dick Bayard, who may not remember this, but he pointed at me during the rehearsal to say "you get my key.' But somehow when it was all over, I got three ke ys...and everyone else just got one. What is the moral of the story? Obviously, it is NOT that I am three times more holy than the others...three times as needy, maybe..(:
Like · · Unfollow Post · Share · Edit · Promote · August 1, 2012

I am just trying to learn the balance of leadership:
radical, foot-washing servanthood
                                            using the Kingdom keys.

Maybe the only way to even use them is to wash feet.
You can have more degrees than a summer day in Fresno, and still know nothing about servant-leadership.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

"Genesis the Movie" -Capon video

Capon's non-universalist universalism

Capon: (HT and post title Johnny Parker)
"I am and I am not a universalist. I am one if you are talking about what God in Christ has done to save the world. The Lamb of God has not taken away the sins of some — of only the good, or the cooperative, or the select few who can manage to get their act together and die as perfect peaches. He has taken away the sins of the world — of every last being in it — and he has dropped them down the black hole of Jesus’ death. On the cross, he has shut up forever on the subject of guilt: “There is therefore now no condemnation. . . . All human beings, at all times and places, are home free whether they know it or not, feel it or not, believe it or not.

But I am not a universalist if you are talking about what people may do about accepting that happy-go-lucky gift of God’s grace. I take with utter seriousness everything that Jesus had to say about hell, including the eternal torment that such a foolish non-acceptance of his already-given acceptance must entail. All theologians who hold Scripture to be the Word of God must inevitably include in their work a tractate on hell. But I will not — because Jesus did not — locate hell outside the realm of grace. Grace is forever sovereign, even in Jesus’ parables of judgment. No one is ever kicked out at the end of those parables who wasn’t included in at the beginning."  link

Geffrey Kelly: The Costly Grace of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Geffrey Kelly: The Costly Grace of Dietrich Bonhoeffer from Chautauqua Institution on

Amy-Jill Levine: Dangers on the Road to Jericho

Amy-Jill Levine: Dangers on the Road to Jericho from Chautauqua Institution on

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

How other people stereotype your denomination


How other people stereotype your denomination

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