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March 06, 2012


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This post brings back so many memories...I almost died outside Lamayuru, 20 years ago, under the most beautiful full moon of my life. Leh in 1989 exposed to me a world of magic.

"Science or Star trek can cause as much wonder as religion." As a former physics major I see science (physics) as applied math: certainly a source of wonder, but essentially devoid of deeper meaning. Star Trek is B-grade drama, to be experienced passively via an essentially passive medium: the only "wonder" is that I wonder how people can watch this stuff.
One experiences enchantment in situations like your post's example of Mahbub Ali, or generally in the arts (or religion): but it requires direct engagement with the art, and engagement with the entire culture(s) from which it was born.
Paradoxically, direct engagement is only possible when balanced with deep introspection, and there is not much room for introspection while the mental wallpaper of our everyday existence ensures that such urges remain covered, or at least hidden.

I do think our culture is more noisy than most others in this respect.

Denske, I am so glad you left a comment! First, I was glad to hear from you again. But, also, I was actually worried whether after writing this long post that what I was trying to say was being communicated whatsoever... I was therefore relieved to hear from you too!

And, yes, that is just how I feel-- that what sather and lander were talking about, that while yes, I can imagine and even agree that there is certainly awe and wonder to startrek, science and virtual "2nd life" that this is in fact not the real issue when it comes to imagination as wonder and meaning-giving. Which is to say that I completely agree with you that our noisy lives full of a "calendar of amusements" is in fact making it hard to have any kind of imaginal engagement with life, with art, with people.

So, I guess we have more than just Hong Kong in common. I am almost positive that I took this trip in 1989.. wouldn't that be something if we were on the road at the same time? I am going to go back and try and find out but I am thinking 1989 late June....And guess what else? I also got really sick outside Lamayuru.

Very, very bad asthma. Maybe from the altitude, but it was a bizarre thing and I really really could not breath. (I had asthma as a child but it had basically gone away). Anyway, there was no hospital-- as you know-- till Leh and so it was a rough night for me. My lungs ached terribly for days after that. It is just too high I guess.

How about you? There are so many ways a person can get into trouble on that road-- bus accident, rock slide, altitude...

You know though, if I could take my son anywhere in the world, it would either be Leh or Venice.

It was really great hearing from you.

Hi Peony,
Although I had mild altitude sickness (purple fingers, headaches), the reason for almost dying was, believe it or not, an attempted robbery while trying to return to Leh after being stuck in a heavy storm on that pass for several days. I was there autumn 1988. Like I said, it was a magical journey, and I also have some vivid memories of the people I met on that road, including one of the purest monks I will ever meet.

This one about Ladakh: A Shining City on a Hill


Nice! Ladakh is one of the few regions in India I have not visited. My sister is currently visiting and from the trickle of reports from her, she is utterly in awe of its beauty. The final leg of her journey is the Leh-Srinagar highway.

I like how you see modern-day imagination as the tool it has become, "ready to hand". I couldn't agree more. I do think that you went a wee bit overboard in granting science (and Star Trek?!) the power to give meaning to our lives. :-)

I dunno, it would seem some people find meaning in Star Trek, and worse. But yes, I do have to wonder about the present, let alone the future, of imagination, given a mixture of recent events and blog posts I have read and as quickly forgotten of late. How can people feel enchantment or enthrallment when our media is filled with little more than cheap and tawdry spectacle? How can we imagine when we are so divorced from nature that anti-bacterial soaps are marketed as a necessity? There is no art anymore. Poets and rock stars who could move our innermost spirits have been replaced with wankers who can fancily arrange big words and mass produced shite. The possibility of what magic could be produced has been replaced with the calculation of what will sell.

Forgive me, I don't know what mood I'm in, but this has been brewing over the three days since I first read this post. You hit a nerve that I can't quite express. Perhaps it's my long-repressed desire to head to the higher parts of this world, places I dare not go because of my asthma. Leh, Ladakh, Sikkim, Mustang, and similar places have always haunted my imagination since I first read about them. The same applies to the deepest parts of the world, except that I fear their crushing pressure and darkness. And the stars...

The night sky has always enchanted, and perhaps it's the last part of our existence that can still enchant. A starlit sky on a clear night viewed from anywhere rural or wild (in other words, from just about anywhere in New Zealand) will still blow a sane person's mind far more than any chemical or any pointless and brainless television show. All we need is the balls to go out there and look up.

Trouble is we still live in an age of bread and circuses. Any real enchantment or imagination any of us may have will immediately be shot down as the ravings of a nutjob. Only the shallow, pathetic ramblings offered up by Hollywood and what passes for modern art will be allowed. And is there any literature any more? Where is the poetry?

Forgive me my overly-cliched ranting. I don't know what has come over me, only that I despair for the future of imagination.

Great to hear from you Namit!! I am not sure I was actually giving science the power to give meaning to all of our lives as I was merely granting the possibility that science or star trek or whatever really could give meaning to a person's life; could stimulate wonder in the way Sather and Lander were suggesting. They had a Niels Bohr quote about physics which went something like, "if it doesn't blow your mind, then you don't really understand it!"

What I was actually trying to say was that the issue was not what things are able to enchant us but rather if we are even able to feel true enchantment with anything anymore? I was trying to do much the same thing in my Hongkong post

One of my facebook associates posted this this morning-- it made me realize the possibilities for making fun of Californians going for sushi are just ripe for the picking!

The entitled opinions show with Lander and Sather was very well done. I collected all my entitled opinion-related blog posts above in the Our Man in Stanford Category :)

Goodness Gracious, "Indians go out for an English"

Chris, we are definitely on the same page. Not only that but recently a friend told me that I do a good imitation of a nut. And guess what? I took it as a great compliment. Indeed, I plan to bring up my nut imitation skills a notch. Why not? It's better than the opposite, right?

An era of bread and circuses...

Namit, by the way, linked to another great article by Dreyfus about the virtual world second life.

I'd love to think about this subject in relation to his other article, "Kierkegaard and the Internet" (which is linked above in my articles sidebar) but am not sure where to start thinking about it all...

For a future post, I am trying to think about imagination in terms of Dreyfus' articles (both the one linked above about 2nd life) and the Kierkegaard article. All of this inspired by Namit's recent article on 3Quarks

For those interested, I have been enjoying talking about Confucius and the Environment over on the Gialbo's blog-- see Saving the Planet

Chris you might like the discussion.

While I agree that imagination is less emphasized in culture, I believe that imagination is expressed for human beings differently. In other words, to imagine, to wonder, to realize - those all happen still, they have to as they're intrinsic to being human, the degree to which may have changed a bit, but it also might be that they're manifest in new ways. ;-)

What to say? Well, regardless of how it is manifested, I guess in the same way that some cultures and times prioritized sports and athletic beauty in men (ancient Spartan) and some didn't as much (pre-modern Chinese), imagination/heart is-- I believe--- not prioritzed in our place and time.

Kierkegaard and Goethe both posed philistinism as the opposite of the imaginative. Because they suggested (and I agree) that Philistines lack imagination and seem to be taken up with practical matters. It doesn't mean imagination disappears but like anything else different things are stressed in different places (like I do not feel that efficiency is given quite the same emphasis here as it is there, for example).

I am not hopeful or optimistic on this matter... am as gloomy as the gloomy Dane, in fact:

and so if I should fall from grace

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