October 26, 2008 In Brevard, North Carolina USA *Burl Grey Talk.

Good Morning.....

First of all... I thank everyone for the privilege of making a few remarks from this platform.
I feel so blessed and happy to see all your bright faces this morning.
My name... is Burl Grey...

First, I want to clarify a possible misunderstand that's important to me...
in last Sunday's announcement of my appearance here today... It said that my religion is science...
I want to be clear about this....

Science is NOT my religion!

Indeed... Such a belief would confound or contradict too much of what I believe today!

.

Now let me start with a hopeful joke:
”I've heard that with age........comes wisdom....
Well.............I'm eighty five.... and I'm waiting.......... [look up and around... WHENCE???]

The truth is.... if I live another 15 years I'll be one hundred years old.... ....and the way I'm going....
I will need more time... to work all the details out....

This morning.... I wish to explore the question.....

“WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE HUMAN?"
I find at least two vital aspects in this question...

First I see a simple metaphor as our guide

................*Everyone is a Composer*................

In every moment of our lives... we are constantly changing...
from embryo.... to eternity..       There is no choice in this... we must keep moving on the evolving chessboards of life...

In 500 BC the philosopher Heraclitus had a metaphor        “the inflowing river.... into which we cannot step twice”

We all find ourselves making little choices........within the larger choices we made earlier ......... Things as simple as constant adjustments of the steering wheel as we drive.
   And if we analyze what we are doing......we may find we are working within the constraints.... of choices made years.... or decades ago!

..... This can be a dangerous thing... that could result in our personal tapestry looking either rich or threadbare!

I think my interest in this..... is that there can be a richness in being fully present.........all the time....
.......... so our perspective might yield greater insight with felicitous outcomes.

I had my vasectomy in 1951 after avoiding a trap.
Of course a famous aphorism can always be invoked. Finding one's self with a lemon...
we invent a new drink that makes us rich.

....... If my girl in 1951 actually made a baby...... today it may have been a fifty seven year old hedge find manager!

..... One of the problems with life as a composition is that we don't get a blank slate and pigment with infinite colors
..........and all the other instruments we may imagine.
We start with only one of over six thousand languages and the concomitant cultural values as a kind of package.
    As we begin to feel some sense of who we are.......       we find ourselves with special roles and capacities.
Imagine the range.... from a sick and poor three foot pygmy speaking Swahili..... to a rich six foot two gorgeous twenty four year old brilliant Swedish model speaking American with an English accent!

And like I said, when we attend ever more carefully to being comfortable in every moment...
   our minds are just complicated and flexible enough to always find a deeper and more satisfying place to compose.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

...........Like Chinese boxes within boxes...... we can place our individual creative efforts within family....
....then family within our local community... which is within still larger social groupings.... to the globe!

I think of each of these levels as systems of greater and greater size and complexity.
......... A system being defined as some set of interacting parts we select for study and can conceive of as a whole...

.

.........Anticipating the second part of my cut of human meaning...
The idea of systems thinking is vital to distinguish different levels in our technological age.
......Only about sixty years ago did it start invading the academy... with people like Margaret Mead and the Macy conferences..........

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Back to composition for a moment......
.....Now it's a platitude to say we can only use the materials we have available for our compositions.
I believe we all possess much deeper and richer materials.....
.......than we ordinarily conceive....... in the ongoing rush....... of composing our lives....
........feeling the pressure of time........ can evoke habit rather than creativity...

This is why I suggest the exercise of seeing yourself as a subtle and creative composer....
.... always alert to welcome the novel and unexpected interruption....

.....these inevitable surprises are always opportunities....

Of course we could remain mindful.... that someone does not point us out and comment:

“Now there's a piece of work!”......

Consider... what the British psychiatrist R.D. Laing... proposed about families...
that a dysfunction within a family is best handled by creating a larger, more inclusive conception
or definition of the family... rather than punishing or rejecting which damages everyone to some extent.

I love the little aphorism here.... Experiencing Resentment and Anger toward others...
is like taking poison... and waiting for the other person to die.

Our immune systems are poisoned when we are consumed with resentment and anger.

In the 1950's Hans Selye wrote about his animal studies where stress damaged the same internal organs
as actual poison injected. They both killed the animals!
He called it GAS or General Adaptation Syndrome.

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I read an anthropologist who asked a person in a South Sea Island, about their art. They said “We don't have art here, we just do everything as well as we can.”

.....I believe the art of living... is the greatest aesthetic endeavor a person can pursue.


If our activity of living life is not an art...
.....then nothing is worth composing!

One more comment on composing...
I want to acknowledge an even broader base for human compositions...
when some people wake up in the morning...they find a completed work of art in their mind....
composed while they slept... and dreamed...

The British magazine New Scientist in issue 22 February 2007 says:
“Ever wondered why sleeping on a problem works? It seems that as well as strengthening our memories, sleep also helps us to extract themes and rules from the masses of information we soak up during the day.”

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Now let me try again........ In the first instance...

..... “What it means to be human” .....
is to have the capacity to learn the local language and customs as they mutually reinforce each other as a package.

To generate a world view consistent with that package.......
...........an identity......... a meaningful life....
.... And within that frame to compose endless variations........ While maintaining that identity....
...... at all costs - - - - - - - logic... education.... notwithstanding!!!

As I said earlier.... any human baby can learn any of the over six thousand languages and adapt to that culture....
This awesome capacity and flexibility remains
a mystery to science...... defying adequate explanation.

*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+

Now I offer a deeper perspective within which we all perform at height........ our compositions.

..I believe the human species has evolved under strong selection pressure
to excel at solving ** short term problems**
think food... reproduction... predators...
Since language was always part of this... it would tend to serve.....and reinforce short term thinking processes.
So here we have both language and cultural practice emphasizing short term adaptive thinking and method.

.....And we are entirely embedded and utterly dependent...............on very long term ecological processes.

Here we have a tragic mismatch between

**human short term**............. and
**ecological long term**............ adaptive processes.

With six billion heading for twelve billion people and with heavy industry spreading to most of the world...
...........the scale of human activity can now be measured in tectonic terms.

A formula for true apocalypse!

So we... and our ancestors were all born into language communities that worked beautifully
..... for technological civilization to arise.

.......Like an undiagnosed disease...
human technological social structure has evolved faster
...... than our understanding of what it means to be human.

The explosive rate of technical advance is so great... I believe nobody either knows enough
nor has the resources or time to generate a countervailing culture large and powerful enough to make a difference.

It's a question of the ecology of ideas where the dominant incentive structure in business and the academy
is biased against thinking that does not have short term payoff.
.Of course there are a few foundations and individuals that try.
    but the larger growth oriented short term ideology is too strong and pervasive.

I believe it's too late to avoid catastrophes of increasing scale and pernicious sublety and persistence.

We of the first world can probably avoid the extreme.....
social problems for some years...
      but our high flying...days of the world's most powerful country are over.

..........I believe I have located language and systems theoretic models that, in principle could mitigate
and slowly reverse the planetary ecological trends that so threaten the biosphere.
I doubt we have time to find enough consensus on human meaning to make a difference...

So enjoy your compositions.... and love each other.....

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...........Instead of a summary... I prefer to try winterizing my comments..........You know.....
. against the cold harsh but possibly valid critique?

While I'm devoid of academic credentials... nevertheless I do belong to the American Society for Cybernetics.

I've slipped into countless gatherings of global scholars and they ultimate fail just like me and some others.
I offer a single example: This year we had a conference on Cybernetics in Chicago...
and I watched an exchange between two of the top players...... I metaphorically jumped on the back
of a European Scholar and without asking..... got the agreement from several top players that I was correct.
.........Here is the essence.........I told Dr. X that he does not get the central idea upon which we have a serious consensus.
He believes he does and has just published a new book with that confusion... intact.

..........My point here is simple........ When the highest qualified players in a scientific society dedicated to understanding...
cannot understand each other... I claim we are all on our own out here
and can only do our best to be kind to each other in a world of exploding complexity and uncertainty.

That's why I'm a Radical Constructivist who talks in sometimes incomprehensible phrases.....
.... but I love you all and know you are also doing your very best...

Now, if I don't stumble... a poem by Dylan Thomas...

In my craft or sullen art
Exercised in the still night
When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms,
I labor by singing light
Not for ambition or bread
Or the strut and trade of charms
On the ivory stages
But for the common wages
Of their most secret heart.
Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I write
On these spindrift pages
Not for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms
But for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of the ages,
Who pay no praise or wages
Nor heed my craft or art.
** THANK YOU**

*Total words=1930.... At two per second=965/60=16 minutes of uneven ideas.... delivered October 26 in the UU Church - Brevard, NC USA

www.burlgrey.com -------------------------- www.humanetworks.org