Black holes of the mind

dedicated to Matthew Lee Knowles Laonikos Psimikakis–Chalkokondylis
7 Aug 2013

www.laonikos.com

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PART 1 – BEGINNING To begin again from the beginning. How does one begin? Is it important? Do you know how long this performance will be? Does it matter how long it is? What if it's ten minutes? What if it’s finished already? What if it's one hour? two hours? four hours? eight hours? John Cage said that if something sounds boring, trying doing it for double the time. If it still sounds boring, do it for four times the length, then eight, then sixteen. Then it starts becoming interesting. What if I start repeating myself? What if I start repeating myself? Is that too cliché and predictable? Would you get bored? Are you in a hurry? Are you bored?

PART 1 – BEGINNING Is this the right context for this performance? Are you in the right mindset for this context? Do you think this is too many questions? Would that be like imitating John Cage too much? Would you mind if I only asked questions? I do. But would you mind if you don't get any answers out of this performance? Do you like answers? Or do you prefer questions? To begin again from the beginning.

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PART 8 – FINAL PART There are only eight parts to this discourse.

PART 1 – BEGINNING To begin again from the beginning. What is happening right now? What are you thinking? Are you thinking? Are you just enjoying your time?

PART 6 – OTHER I was hitchhiking once and a leadership trainer picked me up. After a long discussion he said his one line of advice to anyone would be "dare to live." Do you think you've dared to live? Or is there some daring still to do?

PART 3 – FREEDOM Noam Chomsky said that we are only responsible for the predictable outcome of our behaviour, and we are not responsible for the predictable outcome of other people’s behaviour. That’s something to agree with. Or not?

PART 1 – BEGINNING As I am writing this I am fying 35,000 feet above ground, somewhere over the Balkans, listening to music online. For tens of thousands of years, humanity’s poets and

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shamans must have looked up to the sky wishing they could go beyond the clouds. And here we are, and everyone is playing angry birds, or updating Facebook. Or writing a talk.

PART 7 – WHO The shadow belongs to the realm of the unconscious, and therefore it is not subject to the rationality and predictability of the conscious. Is it a scary thought, that most of what consists of the universe is dark matter, matter which we don't quite understand and certainly cannot perceive? That all that is perceivable, everything we can observe is merely a 5% of the whole stuf that makes the universe? Would it be scary to think that our personal shadows take up an equally important and large part of our being? Of our identity? Why does it feel uncomfortable to admit there's a large part of us that's uncontrollable? Do you like control? Who is it who likes control? Jung even said that “in spite of its function as a reservoir for human darkness –or perhaps because of this– the shadow is the seat of creativity.” The question is – how does Jung know?

PART 4 – INCONSISTENCIES Is it annoying that you can only hear this and we cannot have a dialogue? What if you disagree with everything I’m saying? Luckily you have people next to you you can argue with. But you’d be better of ignoring them. Who knows what might come out of two strangers communicating meaningfully? Aren’t you wasting merely valuable shopping time? You haven’t paid to be here, you are not contributing to the economy, this should all be illegal. Art doesn't help the economy get back on its feet. This is serious. But is it sincere?

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PART 7 – WHO Who is it who knows who you are? And who is it that you are? Are they separate? What are your deepest secrets? What are your deepest desires? Do you think you are in control of your desires? Is attraction a choice?

PART 6 – OTHER Can you trust anybody to operate without scrutiny or criticism? Can others trust you to scrutinise and criticise their actions so they can best behave? How honest is too honest? Is there a point in being honest, just not all the time? I had a wank this morning. Is that too honest? I feel a bit silly writing this. I want to impress you with my honesty and I want you to think I’m cool and go check my website so I can then see how many page-views I have and feel better for myself. I’ve seen better days, though. I wanted to write something long, because it feels if something’s too short it’s easier to overlook. Then again, haiku are not overlooked. Perhaps I should have written a haiku. Is this long enough? I don’t know. Sometimes it’s OK not to know.

PART 2 – LONELINESS Can you understand and live life at the same time? Is life a preparation? Or is it the thing itself? Is it a rehearsal? For what?

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PART 7 – WHO “ 'What makes the desert beautiful,' said the little prince, 'is that somewhere it hides a well...' ” (from The Little Prince) If our being is the universe, then our consciousness –the earth– is not the centre of it. Our consciousness is but a speck on the side, just barely glimpsing at what's happening. The more light we try to shed on the black hole, the more it absorbs it. It's not something to be understood, but something to be accepted, appreciated. Can you get angry at yourself? Who is angry, and who is this person angry towards?

PART 6 – OTHER A beautiful sunset, geese fying over a lake. How effortlessly the lake refects the geese.

PART 5 – NOTHING Antonio Porchia, "Nothing is not only nothing. It is our prison."

PART 3 – FREEDOM "The problem with introspection is that it has no end." – Philip K. Dick Should that stop us from looking inwards?

PART 3 – FREEDOM Life isn't safe. From the moment we are born life is risky, whether we like to admit it or not.

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Life isn't safe for anyone. Everyone ever alive has been sick at least once. Every human ever lived on this planet has died or will die. Do you think about death often? How much does death afect your every day decisions? If you knew you would die sometime within the next week, how would that afect your choices today? If you knew you would die sometime within the next month, how would that afect your choices today? If you knew you would die sometime within the next year, how would that afect your choices today? If you knew you would die sometime within the next ten years, how would that afect your choices today? If you knew you would die sometime within the next hundred years, how would that afect your choices today? You will die. It doesn't matter how or when, but it's a fact of life that everybody hearing this today will die. Is that too serious? Or is it merely sincere?

PART 6 – OTHER Almost sunrise.. two people dancing like one, bodies mixing with the music and feet chained to the rhythms of a salsa band. Smiling, firting, dancing away the things that can’t be said. What are we doing here?

PART 8 – FINAL PART “I know there is no straight road No straight road in this world Only a giant labyrinth Of intersecting crossroads.” – Federico García Lorca

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PART 4 – INCONSISTENCIES “Words are all we have.” – Samuel Beckett This bit and the next bit – what do they have to do with each other?

PART 2 – LONELINESS Someone bumps into another person while coming out of the tube. Could we perhaps try that again? Like the characters in Linklater's "Waking Life", tired of pretend banalities which fill our every waking moment, perhaps what we need is to be a little more human, to be treated as such. To break the thin veil of loneliness by ever-so-slight an efort as to feel another's need to be human, to be listened to, to be understood, to be smiled at. How would you behave if you knew this was just a dream – would you talk to more people around you? Would you like it if an interesting stranger started a conversation with you? Do you find yourself interesting? Why don’t you start a conversation? “The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” – Carl Jung

PART 5 – NOTHING Samuel Beckett: “Here's my life, why not, it is one, if you like, if you must, I don't say no, this evening. There has to be one, it seems, once there is speech, no need of a story, a story is not compulsory, just a life, that's the mistake I made, one of the mistakes, to have wanted a story for myself, whereas life alone is enough." Do you want a life, or do you want a story?

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PART 4 – INCONSISTENCIES Is this art? What if I say it isn’t? Does what I say afect whether you think this is art or not? Do you like art? What is art? Can art be fun? Can art be boring? Rothko said that “Art to me is an anecdote of the spirit, and the only means of making concrete the purpose of its varied quickness and stillness.” Perhaps then Robert Pirsig repairing his motorcycle is art? What if art is merely a human activity which allows a) the experiencer the achieve a state of being in which he transcends a sense of self, and b) the audience experiencing the performance, or result thereof, are able to tap into that state of being themselves. That state of being would be equal to “seeing the pattern that connects.”

PART 7 – WHO Is it scary that the largest part of who we are is the autopilot, the unconscious, that black hole in our mind that we simply can never look into? Carl Jung said "In each of us there is another whom we do not know." Pink Floyd were spot on when they sang "There's someone in my head, but it's not me." Back to Jung. He spent some of his life exploring that black hole. He called it the shadow. The shadow can be considered as the entirety of the unconscious. But more interestingly, the shadow can be the unconscious part of someone's personality which that person does not recognise as themselves. "Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes)" – Walt Whitman Does that scare you? Uncertainty, does that scare you? As it happens, the things we are most unaware of about ourselves are the things we least like about ourselves. The things which for various reasons we find unacceptable to

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think, express, say, do, be. That becomes part of the shadow. The shadow is something that is only visible as it is projected onto something else. Are you aware of your shadow?

PART 2 – LONELINESS Somewhere on this planet, someone is making dildos. Does that thought bother you? Does it entertain you? Maybe they hate their job. Maybe they love it. Maybe they sell discounted sex toys to their friends and family. Somewhere on this planet, someone is attempting to commit suicide because of the terrible working conditions in the factories iPhones are made. Do you think about that when you look at your iPhone? They are someone’s daughter or son, and possibly someone’s mother or father.

PART 1 – BEGINNING How much do we take for granted? How much are you grateful for? Are you here? Are you physically here, but mentally somewhere else? Does it matter? Are you listening? Perhaps you're having a cofee. Perhaps you're curious. Are you curious? I am. Children are. Children ask a lot of questions. Do you ask a lot of questions?

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Do you ever wonder why you don't ask a lot of questions? Do you ever think about it? What sort of things do you think about? What does it mean to think? What does it mean to be human? How do we interact with each other? How do you interact with the people you know? Do you ask a lot of questions? Have you made eye contact with somebody in this room already? Does it feel strange? Should it? Do you think this discourse is getting a bit serious? Perhaps it isn't. Perhaps this is just sincere. Should we treat life seriously? Or sincerely? What does it mean to be human? Do you think you know who you are?

PART 8 – FINAL PART Would you rather live a life which is fawless? Or a life which is fun? Would you like everyone agree with your opinions? Or would you prefer to have interesting and meaningful conversations? Perhaps life's imperfections are what make it worth living. Perhaps humanity's imperfections are what make it worth being. Perhaps we should stop striving to be perfect. “It is perfectly obvious that the whole world is going to hell. The only possible chance that it might not is that we do not attempt to prevent it from doing so.” – Robert Oppenheimer I like using quotes. They make me feel smarter and superior, though I’m mostly just copying them from Wikipedia.

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PART 6 – OTHER Birds, when they fy, leave no footprints behind. What if we were to live like birds? No path to follow or have followed, the exuberance of dealing with the uncertain and the beauty in gliding earthwards, an inner grounding in the wilderness within.

PART 2 – LONELINESS The likelihood that in a room of twenty people, two people have the same birthday is almost 50%. In a room with sixty people, the chance that two people have the same birthday is virtually 100%. The chance that in a group of twenty, your birthday is within the same week as somebody else’s is 50%. Does that make you feel less lonely? Here’s a human universal: everybody farts. You, me, the person next to you. The person you will catch eye contact with in a minute, they fart too. Jessica Alba, alQaeda militants, the circle line tube operator, Queen Elizabeth, the people who make sandwiches at EAT, Julian Assange, the Barbican staf – they all give out approximately half a litre of gases a day, in an average of fourteen so-called 'episodes'. That’s a biological fact that no crown can hide. Does that make you feel less lonely?

PART 3 – FREEDOM Is there free will? Well, is there any way to test it? If there is no way to test free will, then what does it matter if it exists or not? Things are the way they are – so what? If there is no way to test God, then what does it matter if God exists or not? I remember Wittgenstein now, who said that asking the question “Where is the universe?” is a non–question. By definition the universe is all that exists, therefore it cannot be somewhere, because being somewhere means that there is something that

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isn’t included in the universe. Perhaps asking what’s the meaning of life is a similar question? That is, trying to find a meaning in life other than life itself is pointless.

PART 8 – FINAL PART What is the point of this discourse? Does it need one? Would it make your listening more worthwhile if there was a meaning? Perhaps the point is merely to explore, to play. "The goal of life is to die young, as late as possible." – Ashley Montague

PART 3 – FREEDOM Would you rather know when you die, but die five years earlier, or not know when you're going to die?

PART 7 – WHO Far more people than chance allows have partners whose name starts with the same letter or letters. A certain James dates Jackie, Dave is with Daisy, Lewis is married to Laura. This efect is called Implicit egotism – we tend to project positive feelings towards things that resemble us. Hence, in an experiment carried out recently, Jackie would prefer a tea called Jamali to a tea called Balawi, though the two teas were identical in taste. Are we aware of that? How does it afect our lives? Is it scary that such a big decision is afected by our unconscious’ need of approval?

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PART 5 – NOTHING What does it matter what reality is? it is what it is, whatever that is, and whether we can perceive it as it is is also part of the reality that is, so can't we just let it be as it is and be as we are?

PART 9 – THE NON-PART This is not part of the performance. It doesn’t have a place here and it will soon be over. Any moment now.

PART 2 – LONELINESS Butterfy dreaming.

PART 5 – NOTHING St. Augustine: "I cannot grasp all that I am."

PART 6 – OTHER Hysterical paralysis, paranoia, phobia, anxieties, stress, complexes, traumatic experiences, problems, ageism, aggression, aversion, obsession, manic episodes, delusions, schizophrenia, resistance, stigma, panic disorder, narcolepsy, insanity, impulse, extinction, design, equity theory, echoic memory, dream analysis, context of justification, cognition. Here’s a random quote from a book I just picked up. “Zen never explains but indicates, it does not appeal to circumlocution, nor does it generalise. It always deals with facts, concrete and tangible. Logically considered, it may be full of contradiction and repetitions. But as it stands above all things, it goes serenely on its own way.”

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How about you, do you go serenely on your own way?

PART 3 – FREEDOM If God is omniscient, then he must know all that has happened and all that will happen. Does he have free will if he knows how he will act in the future? If he doesn't have free will, is he omnipotent if he cannot change his future? Are those questions worth asking? Someone presents you with a choice – for the rest of your life, whenever you toast a piece of bread it will always be either slightly less toasted than your ideal toasted bread, or slight more toasted than your ideally–toasted bread. Which one would you choose? Is this a playful question? Perhaps asking what is the meaning of life is a playful question. Perhaps if we take it too seriously we miss the point. Like swimming – if you try to behave in the water as you behave on land, you'd drown. You need to let go, relax, and you'll foat. Perhaps all we're doing when we take life too seriously is trying to walk in the water, and we feel like we're drowning.

PART 5 – NOTHING Samuel Beckett wrote “Nothing is more real than nothing."

PART 3 – FREEDOM Whatever you do has an impact on the world, materially and physically, of course, and also in terms of other people, by being an example.

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PART 2 – LONELINESS Have you behaved in ways that you couldn't quite understand? Where does our understanding of the world come from? If we are a part of this universe, can we ever fully understand it? Like Gregory Bateson, who said that as we understand more and more about how our brain works, our brain itself grows and expands through this understanding, so we will never be able to fully comprehend it as there will always be more to comprehend. Maybe it's the same with the universe? Accepting the fact that we are a limb of this universe (Marcus Aurelius preferred the word “limb” over “part” as “part” implies a mechanistic view of the universe, whereas he thought our relationship to the cosmos is more organic), can we ever fully understand it? Perhaps it will always remain meaningless. And yet, in spite of that meaninglessness –or perhaps because of it– we can be creative. How does beauty fit in our lives? Do we have time for it? Is it something we save for later? Replication, experimentation, recombination – these are mechanisms which have formed galaxies, atoms, amoebas, and humans. Imagine if the first amoeba said “Oh no – I’ll copyright this, nobody else copy me without my permission.” What a lonely world. Copyright treats creativity as a scarcity, a commodified resource available only to few. No wonder we have wars.

PART 2 – LONELINESS The fear of loneliness, does that afect your life? Do you fear being lonely? What does it mean to be lonely? Can you be lonely in a crowd of people? Are you lonely in this crowd of people? How does a fear of loneliness define the course you take in your life? The people you hang out with? The place where you live? Fear of never being loved.

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The fear of having never fully lived. The feeling that something is missing. Maybe it's not so much that something is actually missing that is determining our lives, but the feeling that something is missing, or the fear of it. If something was missing and we didn’t resist or fear it, would it still afect us as much?

PART 3 – FREEDOM Freedom is not something that can be found in legislation. It is something that people have to be enabled to explore. Freedom of speech is in law. But how about the things we don't say because of fear of loneliness? Because of fear we won’t be understood?

PART 4 – INCONSISTENCIES Hating racists is still hating. An old Greek guy in the old city centre. A monologue, “damn all those people complaining about their lives, they should do something not just complain!” He complains about people complaining. If he really thought the world would be a better place if fewer people complained, he should start by not complaining himself first. Like Gregory Bateson and meta-communication. There are two (at least) levels of communication – what is communicated, and what is meta-communicated. What is communicated might be the same, but the meta–communication might make all the diference in the world in its interpretation. Which is why it's harder to be sarcastic/ironic when we are communicating with text, than when we are talking to someone face-to-face. Therefore, although the text might be diferent (hating people of a particular race, versus hating racists), the meta-communication remains the same (hating someone who isn't me). Bateson also said that when a mother tells her child “You must love me,” this puts a double bind on the child – because the child knows that love is not something you can force, but then its mother requires that the child loves her.

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Is it possible that our society at large is facing a double bind? What would that be?

PART 2 – LONELINESS When Gregory Bateson was asked what is beauty, he replied “Seeing the pattern that connects.” So that explains why we can find beauty in a sunset, a kiss, a relationship, a book, a piece of music, somebody fixing their bike, meditation, or a painting. But why does seeing the pattern that connects matter? Because we are part of the pattern that connects. And it's like being able to be who we really are. But if our thoughts of what we think we are are part of who we are, then aren't we fine just being who we think we are? Yes, absolutely. As long as we are aware we are doing so, we are still part of the pattern that connects. Like the student of buddhism who said “When I was a buddhist, I had a lot of confict about my beliefs with my friends and family. But when I was buddha, nobody seemed to be bothered.” Do you understand this statement? Perhaps it’s a bit too Zen. Let’s move on.

PART 1 – BEGINNING How much of what we think we are in control are we actually in control of? Do you think you are in control of you life? Are you in control of what happens to you? Or are you merely in control of how you react to it? How do you react to the world around you? Are you curious? Children are. They ask a lot of questions. Do you think you ask enough questions? Who are you?

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PART 6 – OTHER Communication, conversation, intimacy, people, markets, secrets, strippers, retirement accounts, tax evaders, criminals, artists, people with terminal diseases, Ulysses, drunkards, stroke victims, gamblers, nurses, actors, religion apologetics, activists, athletes, volunteers, blood–hounds, racists, lovers, me, you, the person serving you cofee, the taxi driver around the corner. Us.

PART 4 – INCONSISTENCIES Most of what we experience and can perceive cannot be expressed in words. Words are useful, but they can only point to what really is. The feeling that we have successfully communicated with another human being – perhaps that’s what we are living for. "What words say does not last. Because words last, but what they say is never the same." – Antonio Porchia

PART 7 – WHO Alan Watts said it beautifully in a limerick. “There once was a man who said though, it seems that I know that I know, What I'd like to see is the I that knows me, When I know, that I know, that I know.”

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PART 6 – OTHER It's rapture, feeting emotions. The spark in the air when two people firt. Dreams are real, only as long as they last – couldn't you say the same about life? How much dancing is there left to do? Whatever you do, don't be bored. This is the most possibly exciting time of our lives.

PART 8 – FINAL PART Philip Guston said: “Human consciousness moves, but it is not a leap: it is one inch. One inch is a small jump, but that jump is everything. You can go way out, and then you have to come back – to see if you can move that inch.” Perhaps this is the goal of life. To keep coming back and see if we moved an inch. Have you moved an inch? Do you mind not knowing when this performance will come to an end? This is not the end of the performance. It's just a long silence before the next bit. Are you in a hurry for the next bit, or are you bored already? As Rothko said, “Silence is so accurate.”

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