Friday, November 17, 2006

Just now, trying to reach a work-related (though public-facing) web page of little to no interest to anyone that isn't me, I was mysteriously redirected to this Wikipedia page:

Anno Domini

Am I meant here to infer some kind of mysterious transformation that has taken place in my life? Yes, I was sick yesterday with lymph nodes swollen from here to tomorrow, but, although I am now restored and rested, I just do not feel divinely reconstituted. Perhaps fate is saying otherwise?

Or perhaps fate is saying that my imagination is incredibly overactive? There is a theory (much espoused by Dave of late) that human beings in 1200 B.C. and earlier did not possess selfhood, were not conscious in the way that people are now. Those humans were said to have a "bicameral mind," that is, a mind with a portion that caused schizophrenia-like hallucinations that they associated with a god or authority figure telling them what to do.

I find this theory both compelling and disturbing: it's partially based on literature from that which, evidently, does not contain many (if any) human beings acting of their own accord. Rather, it's all literature of a Divine Mover. I'm not certain that that is evidence enough of a huge psychological shift: couldn't it just be evidence of a huge rift in our and their storytelling?

Are people greedier now?
More self-motivated?
Certainly we have a culture that puts much more importance on the concept of "I" than have existed in times past. People now are more prone to view themselves or their children as pinpoint centers of the universe, as uniquely capable, as important to the world by dint of their very existence. But then again, it isn't as if cultural difference weren't still rampant: In America (land of, believably enough, the American Dream) parents tell their children from day one how special they are, how they can do anything they want, and how the world had better watch out. In Russia on the other hand, although children are still loved and spoiled, there's less of a sense of Original Entitlement. A parent whose child wants to go immediately from high school into the highest reaches of the government might say: "What, you're too good to start at McDonald's like everybody else?"

So those are some of my doubts. But they don't really take into account that psychologist Julian Jaynes, who originally presented the theory of the bicameral mind, has actual psychological and physiological evidence for his theory too.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

As we sit and wait for the election results to come in, a lot of people are wondering: are we going to get a Democratically-controlled House? It's something we haven't seen in a long time and I, for one (yeah, yeah, among many) am pulling for it. I'm even wearing my little "I Voted!" sticker, with all its patriotic optimism.

So, in the spirit of things that we do not see very often, I'd like to present two more, which I encountered this weekend.

Enigmatic Object #1:

Mountain View is a town surprisingly full of cultural diversity - sort of. In a lot of ways all the sushi restaurants and the Asian grocery store where I buy sake just make it seem all the more like the Disneyland of mostly white, highly American, i-pod liberals.

But in some ways that's unfair. I've met a great deal of Russian immigrants since coming here, for example; there are so many, in fact, that they do not share my enthusiasm at what I perceive as a shared linguistic exoticism. To them, Russian is the absolutely normal language for a Russian person to speak (well, obviously), and since there are a ton of Russians around, they figure that since I talk the talk I simply must be one of them. So I am boring. And a little weird for my eagerness.

Also, this past weekend Dave and I were walking downtown, and we saw a Muslim man and woman - seemed to be husband and wife - walking in the opposite direction. I've known several Muslim girls in my lifetime, most of whom have worn a khimār, but I've never seen a woman in full hijab (I am only hoping to be getting terminology right here). And it struck me as so odd; I'm not bothered by it, but I was certainly struck by it. I experienced a very starry-eyed-little-girl desire to run up to the woman and have her explain her beliefs to me. But saying to someone "I don't understand your kind of modesty - can you please explain it to me?" just doesn't sound innocent, so of course, I didn't.

I would still be interested in talking to someone about it though; it's such a bold and visible difference from the life I was raised in. A little girl walking down the street with her father seemed curious about just the same thing; I heard him explaining, as they passed, "Well, it involves their doctrines of belief, and..."

Enigmatic Object #2:

I like to watch nature videos a lot, especially if they star David Attenborough, the charmingly poncy BBC explorer. Dave and I have been receiving - through delightful, delightful Netflix - Mr. Attenborough's Life of Birds DVDs, and we watched one on Sunday night.

And here's the amazing thing: there were a few protracted shots of songbirds in Britain, early in the morning, which were described on the show as, at that dawn hour, having "nothing to do but sing." And so they were singing. But the thing that got me, the thing I'd never seen before, were the tiny puffs of air coming out of the birds' mouths as they sang.

Blowing clouds of mist on a cold day is something that, logically I suppose, any warm-blooded animal should be able to do. But have you ever seen it? A tiny bird, the smallest robin, sitting on a tree branch as the sun comes up, miniscule and emitting clouds.