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Journalism on Solaris

If I’m capable of summoning the discipline to complete my PhD proposal and application, what I would like to do is to research ethnic and religious identity among Central Asia’s journalists, particularly how these factors shape their approach to reporting news. In my view, journalists comprise a key group of social architects in a society’s self-understanding, as it is as much through media as education, especially mass media, that a population’s self-perception is inculcated and shaped. Therefore, it is of pressing importance to understand how they construe events.

Incidentally, my time here in Kyrgyzstan has been partially spent doing preliminary “research” in the sense of conversations with various colleagues — anthropologists, activists, journalists, and friends — about my topic. Generally-speaking, there’s a lot of interest, in some cases even excitement, about my would-be project, particularly as it encompasses religious studies, regional studies, media studies, epistemology, some psychology, and anthropology. One of the cooler conversations occurred this past weekend during the Kyrgyzstan barcamp with several members and acquaintances of Internews’ Central Asian wing, in particular Nicolay Kolesnikov, a talended videographer with whom I got along very instinctively despite the language barrier (he will be good practice for my Russian once I start learning it). Nicolay was very sharp, as he immediately intuited that what I’m really exploring is whether journalists are objective.

He caught me, so to speak, red handed: when I suggested that journalists, à la Searle or Wittgenstein, are actually in the act of forging a reality out of the clash of their differing narratives, a clash that occurs ironically from their pursuit of ultimate, objective reality — indeed, they are creating an overlay of one reality over the bedrock of another, deeper one — Nicolay whipped out an analogy I didn’t see coming but which got me seriously thinking: “You know who wouldn’t need journalists? The Na’vi of James Cameron’s Avatar.” According to Nicolay, the Na’vi’s ability to interface with each other, their ecosystem, and even the souls (i.e., minds) of past generations, an ability constituting a combination of racial and geosystematic memory, rendered the problem of subjectivity moot. Theirs is a kind of collective objectivity (or objective collectivity), a unity of perspectives, perhaps in a way that is, at essence, not dissimilar from the Internet.

It was a daring argument, a challenge which, as both an Averroist and Science Fiction fan, I was more than happy to meet: I retorted with my own counter-example, that of Polish author Stanislaw Lem’s famed novel, Solaris, and it’s even more famed film version by Soviet director Andrei Tarkovsky. In other words, I upped the ante: he wanted to talk about conglomerate unities/pluralistic panpsychisms, but I went straight for the monopsychic jugular vein.

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The Transcendence has finally come

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Today is the second anniversary of my decision to join the Baha’i Faith, and to mark the occasion, Ben Harvey and I figure it’s about time that we release our long-awaited first book, The Transcendence, which you can download at directly from this post by clicking here.

The file is a simple PDF, a mere 14.8 MB in size and 60 pages long. It launches on full-screen scale when you first open it, but you can escape that if you want.

I should note that this is not the book I’ve been working on for neweurasia that was funded by the HIVOS Foundation. That’s CyberChaikhana, currently completing production at GRACO-Verlag in Berlin and set to be released later this month or in March.

Friends will recall that The Transcendence was my pet project from early 2006 through 2008. It was ambitious: combining poetry, the Rock concept album, and the manga graphic novel to tell a story of a young poet who goes on a quest for revenge against God, along the way exploring several theological, literary, and personal themes. My friend Bruce Schimmel, founder of the Philadelphia City Paper, once called the project “an old-fashioned epic poem”.

In 2007, I enlisted Ben’s talents to illustrate the manuscript, transforming the project into a co-authorship. At the time he was an intern with Studio IL (he’s since moved up the ranks), an up-and-coming artist collective in Philadelphia. Together we share the license, which by the way is a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. My poems may vary in quality, but Ben’s artwork is consistently stunning, even all these years later. I also contributed some artwork. You can view the entire gallery above.

If you’re curious to know more about the back story of The Transcendence, click “Read More” to continue. Otherwise, Ben and I hope you, our readers, find our creation an exciting and powerful experience — and that you’ll do us the big favor of passing either the PDF or this URL around!

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Quantum religion 2

Was Averroes right: do the activities of science and religion somehow ontologically resonate?  In my last post I lightly explored what this might mean for the content of scientific theory and religious belief vis-à-vis each other. Therein I tentatively proposed a “quantum religion”, which solicited responses both positive and negative, including comparisons to Deepak Chopra and Roger Penrose.  I’m taking a controversial stance for sure, but also a dangerous one.

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Quantum religion

I have previously reflected upon the possible deep ontological resonance between science and religion.  First, a remark: the idea that arbitrariness or order are just interpretations already belies the supposed neutrality of science regarding values, much less religion’s suppose responsibility to leave science alone in its own domain.  And second: if we accept this, then what to do about the content of science and religion?  Ah, this is a very difficult question.

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The Historian’s Theodicy

“The problem of evil.” Theologians and philosophers couldn’t have found a staler term to categorize the spiritual and intellectual catastrophe that is the question, “Where was God…?”

Where was God during Deir ez-Zor, Auschwitz, Darfur, and September 11th? Where is God when everyday people suffer and die from the most banal of causes. A non-stick frying pan, when scratched and heated, releases brain-damaging lethal fumes — where the hell is God in that? Imagine! The creator of the universe’s very existence challenged by kitchenware, and the best response Mankind’s thinkers can conjure is the crossword puzzle-sounding “problem of evil.”

The term I prefer is “theodicy”; the word’s Greek origin has an appropriately menacing sound. Yet, when I take a moment to examine the word’s etymology I find it nearly as insufficient as “the problem of evil.” It comes from the Greek θεός (theós, “god”) and δίκη (díkē, “justice”), meaning literally “the justice of God,” but more accurately rendered as “to justify God” or “the justification of God.” It was coined in 1710 by the German polymath Gottfried Leibniz. You may recall him as the fellow who believed ours is “the best of all possible worlds.”

The problems with theodicy are immediately apparent, loaded as it is with innumerable assumptions. One assumption is the very goodness of God; another is whether it is the divine, not humanity, who is in need of justification. And of course the most fundamental assumption is that God even exists (but that’s a topic for another reflection — for the sake of this essay, and out of respect for my own spiritual experiences, I’m going with the belief that some kind of divinity does exist). However, the most problematic assumptions are (a) that there’s a flawless divine plan, much less total divine mastery over events, and (b) that events are assailable as either “good” or “evil.” At the root of both these assumptions are the ideas of certainty and necessity, and the question of the relation between suffering and divine intention.

For these reasons I propose that the entire concept of theodicy be gutted and rebooted. How? By dropping talk of “good” and “evil,” eviscerating the gibberish of what we mean when we say “God,” and then asking a new question, one about the relation of chance and divine decisions. In other words, let’s be historians about our faith, and ask: how do we reconcile belief in God with contingency and change? The answer I propose: God is a storywriter, and we are partners in the plot. This is the core analogy of what I call “post-monotheist theodicy.”

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