Category Archives: convivial

another Convivial question

An all too well-known doofus put it thus:

If we stop testing right now, we’d have very few cases if any…

That evoked a derisive snort, but I didn’t stop to think why it seemed so preposterous, I just knew that it was. A blog post this morning enlightened me:

[the all too well-known doofus] made an elementary error known from quantum physics,
of suggesting that the state of the world is determined by our perception of it.

It’s no surprise, indeed it is fundamental, that we are I-centered, and that’s not good//bad so much as BASIC (unlike ants, or mycelia, or rocks, whose consciousness is collective…). We look out at the physical world through two eyes (and ears and nostrils…) and interpret what we sense in the context of a lifetime of seeing and processing and linguistic construction. Imagination, illusion, Maya—but our own, continuously updated and elaborated and refined. The complications of Id, Ego, and SuperEgo as components of the I are a whole other subject.

I woke up with the realization that sometimes a book or a piece of art or music, a movie or video series, or a photograph can shanghai your life, such that you live in and through it for a while. It becomes an obsession, a preferred reality, a personal refuge. I look back on a very long series of such engagements, each foundational in my evolving sense of what matters and how to interpret the world around me. Some seem trivial to others but loom large in personal retrospect, like the novels of RF Delderfield and Nevil Shute and Jan de Hartog, the fictional worlds of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, the Okefenokee Swamp of Walt Kelly, the travel writings of Patrick Leigh Fermor, the mystery stories of Manning Coles, Eric Ambler, Margery Allingham, Dorothy Sayers and Arthur Conan Doyle, the hobbitry of JRR Tolkien, the sci-fi of William Gibson and John Brunner, to name just a few things I’ve binged upon over the years (and happily return to, repeatedly). Their contribution to my Present burgeons as I consider further and dig down into Implications. The same journey could be undertaken in music, in imagery, in culinary experience.

And it’s clear that books (and other media) speak to each other in surprising ways, as I’ve been recognizing via an ongoing project of library reorganization: pretty much every book connects to (enlivens, illuminates) others, and all of that territory could be mapped, literally or figuratively. It’s informative, even heuristic, to consider the contingencies, the hops from one enthusiasm or infatuation to another, that consititute one’s history as a reader, viewer, listener, gastronome.

So the Question is, once again, an open-ended invitation to

reflect on the mapping of
one’s own history and trajectory
in the construction of Self
via encounters with significant influences of the Past

Convivial Question

What are the Questions that puzzle and inspire?

This doesn’t need an answer so much as it focuses one’s attention on what the Mind is doing, is working upon in the background of consciousness. Thus, it makes a good Question for each of us to consider and perhaps respond to in the familiar idiosyncratic and free-associative fashion. Consciousness is always busy processing sensory input, appreciating the seen and heard and felt and tasted. But what’s going on beneath? Are the three wonderments described below the SAME in some sense? Are they all entangled in the perennial Question of how complexity and dynamical systems work, perhaps? We are clearly off the fairway, into the weeds, the rough, the unknown. Where I love to be wandering, if the truth be told.

So here’s a sketch of my own current state, made up of Questions emerging from the stimuli that have drifted across the bow in the last few days. We can begin with the observation of many many thousands of tiny orange ants in the soil I’ve been sifting from the sod that was stripped from the garden space. What, we wonder, are they doing? Where do they fit in? Is there some mutualism with the co-occurring worms, and/or with unseen other somethings? How could we learn more? [partial answer: a soon-to-arrive Field Guide to the Ants of New England].

A second element is this video of “7 levels of jazz harmony”:

which may at first blush seem to have nothing to do with orange ants, but addresses elegantly and most provocatively a [very] long-running puzzlement over just what happens in jazz, and spawns various hatchings of plans to explore further.

And a third element in temporal conjunction with the two above is the just-published and just-arrived (via Kindle and Audible) Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake [who is, remarkably and synchronistically enough, the son of Rupert Sheldrake, of Morphic Resonance fame], which I started to read this morning.

Here are the passages I highlighted as I read the Introduction, to illustrate my habitual process of collecting bits of aide mémoire, breadcrumbs along the pathway:

Introduction: What Is It Like to Be a Fungus?

Page 10
…[mycelia] weave themselves through the gaps between plant cells in an intimate brocade and help to defend plants against disease .

Page 11
Mushrooms are a fungus’s way to entreat the more-than-fungal world, from wind to squirrel, to assist with the dispersal of spores, or to prevent it from interfering with this process.

Page 12
Mycelium describes the most common of fungal habits, better thought of not as a thing but as a process: an exploratory, irregular tendency.

Page 14
Unsustainable agricultural practices reduce the ability of plants to form relationships with the beneficial fungi on which they depend. The widespread use of antifungal chemicals has led to an unprecedented rise in new fungal superbugs that threaten both human and plant health. As humans disperse disease-causing fungi , we create new opportunities for their evolution.

Page 18
…many fungi can live within the roots of a single plant, and many plants can connect with a single fungal network. In this way a variety of substances , from nutrients to signaling compounds, can pass between plants via fungal connections.

Page 20
Tricked out of our expectations, we fall back on our senses. What’s astonishing is the gulf between what we expect to find and what we find when we actually look.

Page 23
Many scientific concepts—from time to chemical bonds to genes to species—lack stable definitions but remain helpful categories to think with.

Page 25
There was something embarrassing about admitting that the tangle of our unfounded conjectures, fantasies, and metaphors might have helped shape our research. Regardless, imagination forms part of the everyday business of inquiring.

Page 27
…wondered what it was like to be a fungus. I found myself underground, surrounded by growing tips surging across one another. Schools of globular animals grazing—plant roots and their hustle—the Wild West of the soil—all those bandits, brigands, loners, crapshooters. The soil was a horizonless external gut—digestion and salvage everywhere—flocks of bacteria surfing on waves of electrical charge—chemical weather systems—subterranean highways—slimy infective embrace—seething intimate contact on all sides.

I’ll also point to an article in this week’s New Yorker, The Secret Lives of Fungi by Hua Hsu, which references Sheldrake and also Anna Haupt Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, which I read with great pleasure last summer.