Finding Authenticity in an Ersatz Reality

A friend recently sent me an article about our culture’s obsession with authenticity. My first thought was that the Western world doesn’t actually strike me as that authentic: we live pretty leisurely lives and we tend to justify what we like without figuring out what is actually real or pure in a world where what we think about something matters more than the thing itself.

Campbell's Soup Cans by Andy Warhol, 1962. Dis...

As I kept reading, I found a key idea buried about halfway down the article: that “we can no longer perceive what we claim to value.” Authenticity could be staring us in the face, but if we recognize it at all we are left with only a vague idea that we’re missing something we desperately wanted and needed. We understand, unconsciously, in some dark part of our souls, that we can’t be certain of our own individual or collective authenticity of being or purpose.

It’s not a question of art. It’s a question of who we are.

In other words, this new wave of criticism and desperate searching for authenticity reflected in art and entertainment culture is symptomatic of and merely a modern manifestation of the gap between what we know and the fact of our existing, a gap which necessitates an infinite gulf of knowledge and meaning we kind of know we can never swim through.

I think art and life are the same things, really, just that art is a single moment stolen out of life and time. I also think that life imitates art far more than art imitates life. Not in the sense of a conventional chicken and egg dilemma, of which comes first, but in the sense that life is never understood by multiple people to be exactly the same thing. It’s beautiful to some, stupid to others, gratifying to many, and how you live it is often a matter of taste and privilege.

In reference to this article, life and art are intertwined throughout the pages of human history. Moving through the realism and purity of renaissance art, through the impressionism of the 1700s and 1800s, into the surrealism and now “modern art” which is more often than not a conglomeration of abstract shapes and lines, art reflects the tide of human belief as a whole.

Abstract and modern art is consistent with the postmodern and existential schools of thought currently dominating the Western world. They say we know only what we know, empirically, or what we can prove by watching the process from beginning to end and then repeating it exactly.

Something that looks like nothing is just as authentic and valuable today as something that depicts reality exactly…as long as it was supposed to look like nothing, and in its nothingness makes us think of something. Because atheism, humanism, existentialism, etc., any acceptance of a sort of infinite nothing beyond what may have temporal value, leaves us without any sort of ultimate standard by which to judge authenticity: in our selves, our lives, our art, or our coffee shops. Without a standard by which to judge authenticity, how can we possibly discover a true identity? How can we know who we are? That’s why we criticize what we deem inauthentic, what we fear might be cheap mockery. The idea that life might imitate this inauthentic art is far too terrifying to behold.

We are hungry for authenticity. It is at heart a hunger for meaning, for there to be something beyond the sum total of human struggle and triumph.

Check out the original article here:

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Say Yes to Yoga

I do yoga almost every day.

I’m convinced that these 50 minutes of Zen prevent panic attacks, muscle stiffness, irritability and other symptoms I generally associate with family reunions. Something about communicating with my body and pushing myself without pain makes me feel like life may not actually be so hard.

Thanks to the lovely folks at Forbes, I now have the science to understand why. Yoga has virtually infinite impact on a practitioner’s physiology. It impacts the body’s regulation of cortisol, endorphins and serotonin—all those nifty chemicals in your brain that can either make you happy or screw you over completely.

I’m for the first option. Practicing yoga regularly changes the body’s sympathetic nervous system  (this is the system in charge of our stress response). Because of whacked out modern schedules that often tamper with our bodies’ natural rhythms, the stress response can stay in the “on” position for hours at a time. Yoga helps your body realizes that there is still peace to be found. It can also keep the parasympathetic nervous system in tip-top shape, which means that your body will absorb nutrients better, eliminate more toxins and improve circulation.

And thus Western science proves what Eastern medicine has known for thousands of years. Do yourself a favor. Do some yoga.

If you are so inspired, consider running a free yoga clinic for battered women and children in your area. I did this several years ago and the results were life-changing for me as well as the participants. For people who have experienced far too much stress and pain to even comprehend, yoga can provide a physical, mental and emotional healing unsurpassed even by medicine and counseling. Give peace by putting the restorative power of yoga in someone’s own hands.

EXTRA EXTRA READ ALL ABOUT IT:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2011/06/16/penetrating-postures-the-science-of-yoga/

Electric Skin?

The Chemical and Engineering Journal recently published an expose about a subject straight out of science fiction novels: electronic skin.

A team at the University of Illinois has produced what they call “epidermal electronics,” postage stamp-sized temporary tattoos riddled with silicon and gallium arsenide nanomembranes. This makes no sense to me either, but the coolness of the project is undeniable.

John A. Rogers, the professor in charge of the research, describes it in simpler terms. The new skin is essentially a “spider web mesh of electronics” with limitless potential to revolutionize life as we know it. The patch can monitor any activity within the wearer’s body, transmit voice commands electronically to a remote receptor, and potentially even control the wearer. Repeat: a remote could control the wearer.

This brings up the frightening, if far-off, possibility of a select few people or autonomous machines rising to violent dominion over all of mankind (see the Matrix 1, 2 and 3). Yes, the science is amazing…but so is the human capacity for evil. Electronic skin technology opens up whole new avenues for dastardly deeds like mind control and manipulation. I am forcibly reminded of J.K. Rowling’s Imperius Curse.

Of course, the potential for these half-electric-half-biological tats to heal diseases and save lives also knows no bounds. It’s my guess that one day electronic skin will be available at every hospital…and maybe even that skanky tattoo parlor down the street.

EXTRA EXTRA READ ALL ABOUT IT:

http://cen.acs.org/articles/89/i34/Electronic-Skin.html

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Why Dill Pickles Deserve Some Respect

When I was a kid, my parents used dill pickles as punishment.

I gave my little sister one of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans. Pepper, to be precise. Two tantrums and a lecture later, I was sitting at the kitchen table, staring down a single pickle served to me on the bitter plate of punishment.

It was touch-and-go for awhile. But I survived, and I stand before you now as a pickle aficionado of epic proportions.
The elite among us understand the singular succulence of a fresh dill spear. But I just stumbled across (not upon) something even cooler: the Dil Pickle Club.

Far from simply extolling the virtues of the vegetable, however, it represented a countercultural wave of freethinkers “swimming upstream” in Depression-era Chicago. The Dil Pickle was known as a speakeasycabaret and theatre, highly influential during the Chicago Renaissance.

In 1914, John “Jack” Jones, a former organizer for the Wobblies (Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)) started several weekly forums at the Radical Book Shop on North Clark Street in Chicago. The forums discussed labor issues along with social concerns of the day. Soon, in early 1915, Jones needed a new venue as the capacity was exceeded at the forum.

Jones found a decrepit barn on Tooker Alley, off of Dearborn Street in downtown Chicago that he would name the Dil Pickle Club. Jim Larkin joined Jones, along with the “hobo doctor” and anarchist Ben Reitman. Reitman would be instrumental in getting regular news coverage of the Pickle in the Chicago Daily News and Chicago Tribune.

By 1917, Jones created the Dil Pickle Artisans by officially incorporating it as a non-profit in Illinois for its promotion of arts, crafts, science and literature.

According to Jones: The Dil Pickles was founded by several groups of people who were convinced that they, nor for that matter no other person or group knew all there was to be known about art, literature, drama, music, science, social or political economy or any other problems confronting or bothering the human race. The various groups responsible for the formation had one idea in mind: the thought that there should be some center where any idea or work would be given a respectful hearing and brought before the public, which in the last analysis are the best judges of what they want.

The club’s legacy has seen several reincarnations, including the revived Chicago Dil Pickle Clubthe Dill Pickle Food Co-opDil Pickle Press, and the Dill Pickle Club of Portland, OR, “an experimental forum for critiquing contemporary culture, politics and humanities.”

Their old slogan is my favorite part: ‘Step high, stoop low, and leave your dignity outside.”

Pretty cool to think a humble pickle inspired an intellectual movement of this size and staying power.

Yes, it’s a yodeling pickle.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

EAT some pickles, for the love of God

CONSIDER what hidden potential consumer goods may be concealing

IMPROVE your sandwiches with the easy addition of dill

TRY dill pickles with weird foods and be surprised