Monday, November 27, 2006

Commissurotomy: A Separation of Thought

Right-brained and Left-brained. Science and Myth. Logic and Emotion. Creation and Destruction. Male and Female. Specialization and Generalization. Wisdom and Ignorance. Order and Chaos. Analysis and Synthesis. Pairs of words that represent a way of thinking. This way of thinking sees the world through a perpetual state of double vision: although the way of thinking is single, the views produced are double. It is a world that can see only one side of any coin, where each person must choose her side. And, though she knows the other side exists, it is difficult, perhaps nearly impossible, to see both sides at the same time.

It seems the United States (and likely most other “Western” nations, by which I mean nations whose primary political and social structure is founded on pillars of belief that arose during the Enlightenment) are suffering from social commissurotomy. We do not know how to communicate between our two selves. Engineers and artists cannot understand each other, though they aim for the same societal goals. It can be argued that any group of constructive peoples would work towards improvement – of society, culture, the environment, etc. It would be illogical to assume otherwise. Is it not, however, illogical to believe there is only one means to reach those ends? This is precisely what society seems to be saying. Each school of thought seems to believe their methods, their goals to be the Truth, the only truth.

This separation of schools of thought leads to a disjointed worldview, which does not allow the natural healing between differences to take place. One problem with modern science is it hyper-focused, fragmentary appraoch to the world. This does not imply, not in the least, that specialization is not an important part of modern science. It does, however, imply that even the most advanced specialist needs to be open to other worldviews, other cultures, other approaches, and allow them to exist on their own, in peace.

"Western science has evolved a cosmovision very different from all other human cultures, though it has now become the one most influential in the entire world. Its most obvious divergences from other cosmovisions lie in its seeing life and consciousness only in Earth's biological creatures, and in its narrowing of 'reality' to what can be tested and measured scientifically. This excludes from its reality gods, soul, spirit, dream experience, thoughts, feelings, values, passions, enlightenment experiences, and many other aspects of consciousness beyond their physiological correlates." (Sahtouris, Elisabet. When Worlds Converge. 2002.)

Here we see how this narrow-minded kind of specialization can become unhealthy when it begins to push out of the range of vision the possibilities of other beliefs. It is not to suggest that each realm of study is not important in itself. Artists would not be able to create beauty or inspire social change if their works were not refined and powerful. Doctors would not be able to produce healthy bodies through surgery if they were not highly trained in their skill. Pharmacists would not be able to heal the sick if they did not understand the chemistry of their trade. Architects would not be able to create beautiful and functional buildings and structures if they did not understand the dynamics of design and the importance of urban landscape. Still, the problems arise when one group in society gains an extreme amount of power and influence over other aspects of any particular society and over other societies in entirety. This is the point in which a worldview becomes dangerous, when it has the power and momentum to obliterate all other worldviews. The Greek concept that what is good is beautiful and what is beautiful is true sets an example that may help to ease the division in ways of thinking. This alignment of good, which can be equated with morality, beauty, which can be equated with art, and truth, which can be equated with science, allows to see a world in which science and art are both true.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Seville is a yellow city.

Seville is a Yellow City. I don’t know what that means exactly, but it keep popping into my head, exactly that way, “Seville is a Yellow City. Seville Amarilla.” Of course the exterior meaning is obvious, and that’s why I had the thought in the first place. The buildings are yellow. Not all, of course, but the majority. If they’re not actually yellow, then they have yellow trim, or yellow tile. Even the whites here are slightly yellow. And it’s not a dirty yellow. It’s not a city that’s gone yellow. This city is intentionally yellow. Even the sunsets are yellow. The pinks and reds are confined to a very small part of the sky, way off on the horizon. But above the city, as the sun is going down, the sky turns yellow, bright and yellow. This is reflected in the river, and on everyone’s faces. There is a happy glow at sun down, relief as the sun disappears and the heat can slowly dissipate.

Seville has a special light that has inspired artists of all kinds for centuries. Hemingway, Wells, and Rillke all vacation here annually. This special light is both literal and figurative, and it touches people in different ways. For me, it has carried me out of my United States reality into a land of golden things like sunshine and olive oil. This light has turned my days here into an odd thing, strings of moments like a golden necklace. I sit on my bed in the apartment I have rented for just one month, and the late afternoon sun flickers off an on against the wall – the setting sun is being covered and uncovered by sheets hanging up to dry on the building across the narrow street.

After dark, the lampposts glow yellow. This is common, as cities try to reduce light pollution and allow people and telescopes to see the stars above. But in some cities the light is a harsh yellow, almost orange. Take San Diego for example. It’s a dangerous yellow that turns on at sun down. The yellow is the same yellow as the stoplight yellow. I’ve always wondered how this doesn’t cause more accidents. But in Seville, it’s a soft and warm yellow, reflecting (or reminding one of) the summer night air.

After dark, the city comes alive. I can’t speak for the winter. I haven’t lived a whole cycle here. But it’s September, and while it should be fall by now, global warming has allowed summer to linger a bit longer than normal, and I’ve been able to know the Seville summer nights. During the day, the streets are quiet. Even during the morning rush, the siesta rushes, and the evening rush, it’s a quiet and slow rush. The heat drains us all, and while we are happy, we exert no energy beyond the basics. This all changes when the sun starts to bring the yellow sparkle into the sky. As the lampposts flicker on across the city, people begin to emerge form their homes, refreshed, breathing a sigh of relief from the days heat. And as the night spreads open, the city and it’s streets wake up. All hours of the night are safe, as people of all ages, young and old surprisingly included for my American mind. Soccer games in plazas and people helping their abuelos down he curbs surround bars and restaurants as families and friends enjoy their greatest meal of the day.

Seville reminds me of Austin, also. It’s about the same size, a little under a million in the city proper, a little over a million with the surrounds (the suburbs, in American). The river flows through the middle of town. The trees drop yellow flower petals and leaves that have dried up into yellow crisps from the heat and drought. People like to exercise here. Its possible, in fact unavoidable, to sweat, and one feels cleansed from it. They take strolls along the riverbank, they are out in the river in kayaks and canoes and crews. Unlike much of Europe, people go running in Spain and Seville. They exercise for their health and for fun. They exercise in the yellow days and the yellow nights.

On my way to and from Spanish class each day I pass by a milliner’s shop that I have never once seen open and a post office that still maintains records in large logbooks that are stacked three deep and to the ceiling along a wall.

Of course not everything is a happy yellow. On my daily walk I also pass a woman who lives, during the day, next to the door to the social security building, and at night she lives on the doorstep, under the eave of the door to the social security building. She has two very large suitcases wrapped in cardboard, and two very, very large black umbrellas. She sits on more cardboard between the boxes, and hides behind the black umbrellas. She must stay this way all night. During the day, when the social security building is open to the public, to serve the people, this woman left behind moves her huge boxes and umbrellas about 15 feet to the north, just out of the way of the door. During the day, she alternates between sitting behind and between her belongings and standing next to them fanning herself in the heat. She wears the same sky blue dress with Seville yellow flowers printed on it, and a simple gold wedding band.

My dreams are yellow here as well, when I can dream. The nights are a bit hot, especially without a fan, but I am a passer through, and they don’t have cheap things in Spain like we do in the USA. The cheapest fan I’ve come across is thirty Euros (about forty US Dollars). For really just a few hours of use, I have decided I would rather sweat it out. I have a threesome every night – I snuggle up with two gallon-sized bottles of frozen water. Even then I can’t sleep the night through. I wake up from the heat nearly every hour, preventing me from dreaming. But sometimes I’ll sleep a dream length stretch, and my dreams are yellow when I have them. Soft and warm and slow, where normal things unfold like feathers falling from the sky and I feel clean and I forget the ghosts of the city, or perhaps join them. I catch up on sleep in the afternoons. I’m not sure why I can sleep for three hours straight in the heat of the afternoon, but not in the night. It is a strange thing about hot nights.

Eventually I have gotten used to the heat, and I am able to dream again. And the yellow light permeates my other world, seeping through the open window, shining on me like a sunray, brighter than the moon, which appears white compared to the yellow nights.

And even, finally, summer seems to be relenting, letting go a month later than usual, and while the days are still bright hot yellow, the nights are transforming into a cool yellow. Lightening can be seen on the horizon, yellow, of course, and the slight breezes sometimes make it through the winding streets and up into my window at night, and my dreams of ghosts and home and yellow flowers are kissed with the relief of fall, and I imagine the leaves of the trees turning a lovely shade of yellow as the city moves into it’s next phase and I dream of returning to my own co