Monday, December 17

When you're out of sight

Under this national rain cloud
I'm getting soaked to the skin
Trying to find my umbrella
But I don't know where to begin

And it's simply irrational weather
Can't even hear myself think
Constantly bailing out water
But still feel like I'm gonna sink

'Cause I'm under the weather
Just like the world
And I need somebody to hold
When I turn out the light
You're out of sight
Although I know that I'm not alone
Feels like home

- "Under the Weather", KT Tunstall

This song reminds me of those days that are tough without a reason. Days during which I feel a little sad, a bit insecure, somewhat 'under the weather' - emotionally speaking. I take it we all have days like that. Personally I've noticed this feeling is often accompanied by a rather desperate need of acknowledgement and attention. I know there are plenty of people who are there for me, but I'd just like a little proof - right at that very moment.

But when I'm feeling down it's hard to chase off the sense of loneliness. Nobody starts a conversation with me. I look at my phone but I can't make it ring. People's replies seem short-spoken somehow. Are they starting to dislike me? Have they noticed how I need their kindness and care, how pathetic I really am? I can't help but to think it.

"Hey, d'you still like me a bit?"

Of course the last thing you should do is beg for it. But an itch demands a scratch. "Why wouldn't I?", he asks. As casually as possible I reply I'm just checking. The concise judgement; "Well, I still like you."

Right. Let me explain, men and other rational creatures, what the secret message behind the phrase "Just checking" is in this particular situation. It means, I need you to tell me that you miss me, that you wish I was in love with you, that I'm important to you, that you want to cuddle me, and that I have no reason whatsoever to doubt that you will always be there for me. Something heartwarming. It has all been said before, but I need to hear it now.

Friends, suitors, drinking buddy with your flattering text messages in the middle of your drunken night... will you be merciful and give me a kind word today?


Friday, November 23

Butterflies

Sometimes when you look back on a situation, you realize it wasn't all you thought it was. A beautiful girl walked into your life. You fell in love. Or did you? Maybe it was only a childish infatuation, or maybe just a brief moment of vanity. - Henry Bromell

The butterflies of infatuation can be deceiving little rascals. I am tempted to believe it is the only way I've known them so far. If love is blind, having a crush on someone is losing your senses completely - making me feel very much impressed about someone who's really not that wonderful at all, but actually rather plain, or worse. And I can only see it afterwards, at which point I thank the heavens above for being completely unable to seduce men at the snap of my fingers.

I dislike being unsettled in such a way. To me, this thing we call 'falling in love' (for lack of a better expression) is meaningless and silly, consumes all my attention, and always seems to be heading for disappointment. At one point I just had enough. Well, it wasn't the first time I realized that, but suddenly something odd happened. It stopped.

I have to admit that being in control of my butterflies is great in many respects. But it also gives rise to a somewhat peculiar situation; feeling deep affection for someone but not being 'in love'. Everything is like it's supposed to be, but the feeling is different. Not less than what it should be, just different. Why don't I just fall in love, you ask. And I wish I could be completely deluded, as blind as a bat again.

Wednesday, November 21

Nothing beats losing

Often it's hard to fully realize what you have until you lose it. As long as life is going smoothly you're never forced to stop and think about it, but when life gets tough you remember how easy it used to be. I try to realize how lucky I am, though, to appreciate the good things that come across my path. But nothing beats losing.

Something good was there for the taking, but I was not quite sure if I wanted it. So I doubted, and postponed making a decision. But right after the very moment I did decide to go for the gold, it all started to fall apart. I did decide, didn't I, or is that just what it seems like in retrospective? At times I only want something when I am about to lose the possibility of gaining it, as I see the last bit of light peeping through the closing door.What is beyond my reach attracts me more; the pattern repeats itself.

Life can be unyielding. You struggle with it, you try to bend it your way, but it just won't. As if everything is conspiring against you. Some believe that when you really want something, life will help you get it. At the moment it feels like the opposite is true.

I can't have it, so I want it back. Maybe that doesn't classify as real desire.

Saturday, November 10

An open book

A few days ago I met a man who knew all kinds of things about me. We had never talked before, but simply by interpreting my body language he was able to pinpoint my key character traits. I knew myself quite well, he said. If I tried my best I could really get somewhere. Then he pointed to some boys and a young woman near by and told me what the differences were between myself and those people. "You are happier than most people here in this pub," he said, "why is that?"

The whole conversation was quite remarkable, and it would have been creepy if I wouldn't have felt like I'd known him for ages. This man wasn't some obscure oddball. In fact, he was a rather imposing big black man who'd been a high-up in some company, before quiting his job eight months ago to become a stay-at-home dad. "Reading" people had been very important in his former function, he explained. I was amazed all the same.

Perhaps we are less mysterious to the outside world than we tend to think; we communicate subconsciously by sending out all sorts of non-verbal signals. But few of us are able to pick up these signs in such an effective manner.

Saturday, November 3

The evolution of consciousness

Usually, though not always, complex things develop out of simple things. Some branches of life developed a nervous system, then a brain, and at some point some brains were complex enough to develop the notion of an inner world. They were able to process more information than necessary for their survival. The increased chance of survival would have been the cause for their increased brain capacity. To be able to answer the question “How do I get my next meal?” in the best way possible is very useful in surviving. And surviving means that the genes responsible for those superb problem-solving skills have a chance to be passed on to the next generation.

But being able to ask yourself “Who am I?” and “What is this consciousness thing anyway?” does not increase your chance of survival. Seen from the perspective of evolution, this form of reflective thought is an utterly useless byproduct of the complex brain. Yet we cannot help but to seek answers to our questions. To solve problems is in our genes, it has always been rewarded. In need of answers, we developed our philosophies, religions, and indeed science. I am not trying to say that these, and many other products of the human mind - tradition, art, modern society - are meaningless or redundant. They are unique and valuable. What we tend to forget is that worth is a subjective, human notion.


Evolution is just simple logic; the organisms best fit for survival and reproduction pass on the genes that made them that way. There is nothing valuable about natural selection, no good or bad results, no direction. Just logic. Therefore, I will not assert that finding your next meal is more important than finding the answer to the question of what consciousness is all about. Just that the success rate is higher.

Friday, November 2

Buddha and Dylan

According to an important Buddhist scripure, the Dhammapada, on one occasion the Buddha spoke: "Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think."

Twenty-five hundred years later, in a 2005 interview on US newsmagazine 60 Minutes, Bob Dylan said: "The picture you have in your mind of what you're about, will come true."

In many ways, people from different countries, cultures, and times think very much alike.

Saturday, October 27

Blog no. 2

As from today, Silence has a baby sister. This doesn't mean that Silence is coming to an end of course, there is simply a difference in the style and choice of subjects between the two blogs. Getjilp ('chirping') will be less philosophical, more down-to-earth - hence the grass - and written in Dutch. Anyone is welcome to read and comment.

Wednesday, October 24

Waves

The last few months I have been following my first philosophy class, on theories of consciousness in Eastern and Western thought. In order to define the essence of consciousness, many questions need answering, such as:

  • What is the relationship of consciousness to thought?
  • Can consciousness itself ever be known?
  • Does consciousness mirror reality, or does it create reality?
  • Where and how does consciousness arise?
  • What is a person, how is the self related to consciousness?

At the end of the course I wrote an essay regarding my own point of view on the subject. The thing is, I have only a very vague opinion about the subject, and personally I don't mind keeping it that way. My answer to the questions above have little meaning, since there are numerous other explanations as valid as mine. But as I was writing the essay, I did form a theory about consciousness and the self. I used the metaphor of an ocean to describe what consciousness might be like (it was only afterwards that I stumbled on similar, though not identical metaphors on the internet) and I noticed that this image gave rise to some interesting ideas. Just a little thought experiment - the following is an excerpt from my essay.

What is the relationship of consciousness to thought? Descartes and others thought that consciousness underlies thought, as if it is the stage on which plays are performed. But perhaps thought does not need to occur on a substrate. I am more inclined to agree with the so-called mosaic model, the view that consciousness does not differ from thought, but instead is built up of thought. Without thought, there would be no consciousness at all. I must add, however, that I do believe one can be conscious without consciously thinking - the concept of consciousness must include a state of no-thought. In such a state, there is no complete absence of thought, but one would not experience actual individual ideas and emotions. Thought would be undifferentiated and calm, as an ocean without waves.

In investigating the true nature of consciousness, one of the first questions that should be posed is whether it is even possible to succeed in this aim or not - a question related to the one I have brought up in the introduction of this paper. If consciousness underlies thought, how can one know it? Knowing is an ability of the mind, which would be absent during the state of pure consciousness. The stage would be empty, the actors no longer present to contemplate what is beneath their feet. However, if we assume that consciousness is the sum of all thoughts (conscious and subconscious), the question is wether or not knowing can know itself. I will not set this possibility aside, but it would require thought to be like the still ocean. As there would be no active thoughts one could only know one’s pure consciousness subconsciously. When we think about ourselves, we think about the waves breaking on the shore. This is only a small part of our self, of the consciousness that we are, but it is the only part that we consciously know.

In this metaphor of consciousness, conscious thought is symbolized by waves breaking on the shore. Reality itself is the cause of these waves at the edge of our consciousness, and influences their behavior. One could say that this narrow strip of active consciousness mirrors reality, but it does not directly observe it. Reality stretches out far beyond the coast, to lands the ocean will never be able to conquer.

Sunday, October 21

I don't need anyone, part 2

We are lucky in many ways, and we know it. Of course we know it. But isn't it hard to really feel it? The gratitude. In the words of Aldous Huxley, most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted. Most of us have never been crippled, or blind, or deaf. When we were young our parents told us to clean our plates, because "the poor orphans in Africa have nothing to eat at all". Broccoli! Spinach! They'd be over the moon.

On the one hand one could say we don't compare ourselves to other people enough because in general we don't seem to realize how lucky we are. On the other hand we compare ourselves to others way too much. Often I feel it's not enough to be good. If I would get, say, a 60% score on a test, the score of the other participants would matter to me. If everybody else fails with very low scores I'd feel lucky to have passed. If the majority gets much higher scores than me, I'd feel dissapointed. I don't just want to be good enough. I want to be better. Why?

I've also noticed that whatever is beyond my reach attracts me more. For some reason, sometimes it's not enough to have one good thing if the next thing is out of reach. Sometimes it even feels bad if I can't have something I don't want in the first place. Sometimes I just want to have what they have. To have something that satisfies their standards, not just mine. Sometimes I want to impress people who's opinion doesn't really matter. And sometimes I'm just jealous. I am deeply ashamed to admit it, but those are my weaknesses. Hold it against me if you want.

I see what I have. I see which choices are right for me and what I ought to want. I know it... but sometimes I just don't feel it. I guess I do have my disadvantages after all.

I don't need anyone, part 1

Ernst van der Pasch is a Dutch cabaret artist. The following lyrics are his - the song is called 'Ik Heb Niemand Nodig' and can be downloaded here. It's not very amusing (I like Ernst's show although I do not find it very humorous) but rather very serious and profound. I'd like to use this song as an introduction to my next post, and I'd also like to recommend the other work of Ernst van der Pasch to any Dutch visitors.

Ik heb geen manke nodig om te weten dat ik kan lopen
Geen blinde om te weten dat ik kan zien
Zonder hopeloze kan ik hopen
Ik heb niemand nodig
Hooguit jou misschien


I don't need a cripple to know that I can walk
Don't need a blind man to know I can see
Without someone hopeless I can hope
I don't need anyone
You at most, perhaps

Een dove man verstaat me niet
Een vrijgezel verlaat me niet
En door een gek weet ik nog niet meer dan ik weet
Een zwerver maakt mijn huis niet groot
Een dode vriend laat mij de dood niet beter begrijpen dan ik zonder hem al deed


A deaf man doesn't hear me
A single won't leave me
I do not know more than I know because of a madman
I don't have a big house because of a homeless person
Because of a death friend I do not understand death better than I already did

Ik heb geen zin meer om te kijken naar de zwakken
Om te zien hoe goed het met me gaat
Waarom zou ik mij nog laten zakken
Waarom zou ik als nu blijkt
Dat er niets boven me meer staat

I don't feel like looking at the weak anymore
Just to see how well I'm doing
Why would I lower myself any longer
Why would I when it turns out
That there is nothing above me anymore

Sunday, October 14

Bright world

A delicate autumn day in October. In the afternoon, some sunshine started to break through the clouds above south Amsterdam. Very modestly, as befits autumn sunshine. The avenue that connects the university grounds to the student district was lying peacefully beneath four rows of impressively large trees, dropping their leaves one by one. No hurries. Metro trains whooshed by every few minutes, but in a very modest way.

Somewhere along the east side of this avenue we found a park of humble proportions. I would say it was about 600 metres in length, fit for a short stroll. At the other end we sat ourselves down on a bench, next to a fairly unmoving and old lady, and discussed the many great and small questions of life. Where cinnamon comes from. How Bonobos solve all their problems. Why big birds tend to be mean. How ethical it would be to name your child after a Sesame Street character. You see, Big Bird is not only light blue in the Netherlands, he's also called Pino. And no, that wouldn't be very ethical.

I picked up one of the hundreds of fallen leaves lying at our feet and held it to the sunlight. A thin leaf with a fine network of veins and an incredibly warm tone of orange brown, perhaps only hours away from curling up and shriveling. And we just looked at that little leaf together, amazed about the arrangement of veins nature had been able to design. Millions of years of evolution, of trial and error, of natural selection on tens of thousands of generations, resulting in the pattern on this unassuming little leaf. Nature may never before have found such an efficient way to distribute plant juices evenly across a flat surface.

Many things need time to fully blossom. Plants need sunlight, water, nutrients. Some things feel right from the start. But perhaps it'll only get better.


Tuesday, September 25

Cogito ergo sum

Meditation II: On the Nature of the Human Mind is part of Meditations on First Philosophy, a philosophical treatise by René Descartes published in 1641. I read this short text a few days ago because I am participating in a philosophy course about the subject of consciousness. After reading some extensive and, to my humble eye, rather vague discussions regarding Vedic philosophies of Hinduism - not my piece of cake - I was struck by the clarity of Descartes' writing. Some excerpts.

"I suppose, accordingly, that all the things which I see are false (fictitious); I believe that none of those objects which my fallacious memory represents ever existed; I suppose that I possess no senses; I believe that body, figure, extension, motion, and place are merely fictions of my mind. What is there, then, that can be esteemed true ? Perhaps this only, that there is absolutely nothing certain."

"But [as to myself, what can I now say that I am], since I suppose there exists an extremely powerful, and, if I may so speak, malignant being, whose whole endeavors are directed toward deceiving me ? Can I affirm that I possess any one of all those attributes of which I have lately spoken as belonging to the nature of body ? After attentively considering them in my own mind, I find none of them that can properly be said to belong to myself. To recount them were idle and tedious. Let us pass, then, to the attributes of the soul. The first mentioned were the powers of nutrition and walking; but, if it be true that I have no body, it is true likewise that I am capable neither of walking nor of being nourished. Perception is another attribute of the soul; but perception too is impossible without the body; besides, I have frequently, during sleep, believed that I perceived objects which I afterward observed I did not in reality perceive. Thinking is another attribute of the soul; and here I discover what properly belongs to myself. This alone is inseparable from me. I am--I exist: this is certain; but how often? As often as I think; for perhaps it would even happen, if I should wholly cease to think, that I should at the same time altogether cease to be. I now admit nothing that is not necessarily true. I am therefore, precisely speaking, only a thinking thing, that is, a mind (mens sive animus), understanding, or reason, terms whose signification was before unknown to me. I am, however, a real thing, and really existent; but what thing? The answer was, a thinking thing."

And the Wachowski brothers were inspired. Strikingly, at one point Descartes even writes, "and yet what do I see from the window beyond hats and cloaks that might cover artificial machines, whose motions might be determined by springs?" And indeed, what do we see? What do we really know? The question and its answer are simple and clear, but nevertheless 'greatly disconcerting' - or at least, that is how the great philosopher felt.

Read the whole Meditation here.

Saturday, September 22

A common identity


I fell in love with the sweet sensation
I gave my heart to a simple chord
I gave my soul to a new religion
Whatever happened to you?
- "Whatever Happened to My Rock 'n Roll?", Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

For centuries, the identity developed by adolescents was solely influenced by their families and the communities they lived in. Their values - their entire life - was shaped by their family's class, religion and age-old culture. Children were tought to be like their parents. It was really not that long ago that young people started to share their beliefs and ideals with other young people. Social movements became the new ideologies and defined new cultures. Flower power, Generation X. You name them.

Let's take a look at Western society today. How can we define the current youth culture? When I discussed this subject with some fellow students, somebody suggested that we would only be able to say afterwards - because we do not have any references for comparison. But on the other hand, other generations do. Our philosophy teacher grew up in the sixties and was happy to give her opinion. She says (and I agree with her) that she doesn't recognize any common identity in today's young people. This in contrast to the time when she was our age.

If there was one common characteristic I had to attribute to 'my generation', it would be individualism. Its not just that we're all very much concerned with ourselves (as are most people), we also search for answers by ourselves. We construct our own ideologies, values and religions, combining whatever fits us best. At the same time, there does seem to be a desire to share our identity with others, to be part of a group. But apparently this desire is not strong enough to produce more than small-scale, temporary hypes. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't go as far as to say identity has become subject to fashion. If Buddhism or youth churches gain popularity, the idea obviously reaches more people, who might 'try it out'. But how often do we find what we're looking for, and stick to it?

Most of us - not just young people, but a very large group of people of all ages today - will probably never completely call off the search. We have become seekers. Maybe that's the defining common factor. We are free to choose, but can't seem to find the right choice. We are all essentially looking for the same thing, but our search is nevertheless a lonely one.

"Do you think the time of massive social movements will ever come back?", one of her students asks. She shakes her head and smiles. "No", she says. "It'll never be like the sixties again."

Wednesday, September 5

A tree and a human mind



Ever since man learned to see more than his eyes perceived, he has given sacred meanings to natural phenomena. This tree in the Tsavo National Park in Kenya - the so-called Tree of Life - is a beautiful example. In a forest of a thousand trees, none seems particularly significant. But one solitary tree surviving on a dry African plain becomes a symbol. Of persistence and strength, of merciful shade in the midst of a sundrenched world, and any other meaning you may wish to give it. The symbolism is not so much about the tree as it is about the human mind. I see a tree, but I can also see a connection between earth and sky, between being firmly rooted and reaching for the heavens at the same time. I can see an organism that is part of something bigger, of a whole ecosystem. It breathes out what we breathe in. Something as complex and inspiring as it is common. A place to sit for the birds.

Thursday, August 23

As good as it gets

In a bus shelter on a Wednesday morning, 2 a.m.

Tell me something. We never really talk about anything.
- What do you want to know?
Well, I don't mean... facts or anything.
- You mean, like, feelings?
Yeah.
- Well, I guess that lately I've been feeling that my life doesn't serve much of a purpose. It's just not going anywhere at the moment. Nothing matters. And maybe that's a good thing, if nothing matters it doesn't matter, but...
I think it's a bad thing. You don't seem too happy with it.
- It's just not going anywhere.
But that's just in your head, right?
- ...
You can't just sit around waiting for something to come into your life and make it better, make you happy. It's in your head. You change it. Right?

By that time, my brain refused to cooperate any further. I spend minutes waiting for it to produce another thought, any thought, but there was only the vague longing for a warm bed. I went home and eleven hours of blissful sleep later, it occurred to me what I was trying to say.

Boy, you're waisting your time.

You're, say, twenty years old? A young man who doesn't look too bad, with a strong and healthy body, not missing any essential limbs or anything. Not missing any limbs whatsoever, actually. Obviously your brain works just fine too, you're studying, thinking of your future, getting somewhere. You have friends and family to support you. You're not an orphan. You're not poor. You live in one of the most prosperous and stable countries in the world. Public health care and all that. You don't have to fight, you don't have to live in fear, you never have to feel hungry. You're not blind or deaf or illiterate. You have talents and you have been given the opportunity to use and develop them. Are you getting my drift? Because I could go on like this for hours.

That's you. That's both of us. How many of those 6.6 billion other people are as lucky as we are? Not that much. Millions of people wish they were in our shoes. For us it's just everyday life. We don't think about our luck. We're not as happy as we should be.

And you might not like to hear this, but this may be as good as it'll ever get in your life. I know you want tomorrow to be even better, which is a good thing to strive for, but you don't know what is going to happen tomorrow. Even if you know exactly what you are waiting for - I doubt you do - and even if this thing is certain to make a substantial difference in your life - it probably won't - you're still waisting your time. Tomorrow, a truck driver might ignore a red traffic light and splatter your brains all over the asphalt. Crude, but true.

Your life may never get any better than it is right now. Just stop and think about that for a second.

Or you might die seventy years from now, and your life may get better and better all the time. But still, you can live every day only once. The seconds are seeping away right now, you'll never get them back. So it might be a good idea to ask yourself what you really want to do today. And more importantly, how you want to feel today.

It's all in your head.

Thursday, August 9

Paper cut-out people

On how many pictures taken by strangers do you occur, accidentally, a passer-by? How many thoughts have been thought about you, concerning you specifically, by people that do not know you? How many of them have cursed you, admired you, laughed at you? How many glances have you missed, how many stares have you failed to notice?

Every day you leave your home, you appear in the background of the lives of hundreds of people, for just a short moment of time. They notice you - only seconds before they forget you again.

The fact that I exist in other people's lives and thoughts is something I have never truly realized. Seen from the centre of the world, strangers are no more than paper cut-outs, their minds silent, disappearing as soon as they're out of our sight. And me? In the eyes of millions, I am just another stranger.

Friday, July 20

Funny, Dark, Iconoclastic

Coparck is a Dutch rock band from Amsterdam. I don't know if you can get a hold of their music, but it's worth the try. The lyrics sound like poetry. The following is an excerpt from one of my favorites, a song called 'Funny, Dark, Iconoclastic.' Also check out the official website here - it contains some soundclips, too, and superb videoclips.

Funny, dark, iconoclastic / Gain the world but loose the soul / Accurate forecasts, he wore a shirt with / Nostradamus says, hell / I told you / ... / so/

Glowing, gleaming, awesome splendour/I guess it's time to let things go/In former years I used to be quite indecisive but now/I'm not so/.../sure/

Saturday, July 14

Needs and wants

Needs are simple. Fulfill them and you're alright. Fail in doing so, and you're toast. Either it's good or it isn't.

Dreams, wishes, desires - funny things. It's funny how we need them to give us meaning, goals, motivation, hope, something to be obsessed with. It's funny how we keep believing that achieving them brings satisfaction. We can't help ourselves, even though life proves us wrong time and again. And again. And again. Think of everything you wanted, and got eventually - wether it involved hard work, luck, or a bit of both. The exams you passed. The iPod you bought. Attention. Everything that has been a step in the right direction, the direction you want. With every achievement and every stroke of luck, we should be feeling happier. If only just a little bit. But do you really feel the difference?

People who win millions of dollars in the lottery do not get happier. They experience what we all experience when we get what we want - joy. The funny thing about joy is that it doesn't last. People who win the lottery may feel great for a week or two, but in the long term they become less happy than they were before they won their prize - in spite of all the iPods, cars and private islands they buy. You want it, you get it, you have it. There's no challenge.

It's funny how we need desires, to want what we don't have, or can't get. Because if there's nothing left to wish for anymore, we might as well give up. That's why we keep fooling ourselves, I guess. We need to be able to strive for more, however unhappy it makes us.

Friday, July 6

Something, anything

A riddle. You could settle for something good, and get it right now, guaranteed. Or you could wait for something that might be better, although there is a very real possibility you might not get it at all. You can't look into the future, and you don't experience any gut feeling whatsoever. Which is the better option?

People and making decisions, it seems to be a love-hate relationship. Choice isn't just about freedom and getting what you want; by making a decision you always miss out on something. You gain, you lose. Your money or your life.You enjoy the apple pie, but don't get to taste the blueberry cake. Regret may accompany every choice, if only because you can't help but wondering how the other option might have turned out. On the other hand, not deciding gets you nothing. And if every option is an improvement, shouldn't you be glad for having a choice in the first place? No, of course not. We don't just want something better, we want the best we can get.

Decisions are vital in life. To change it, to grow in it, to make it yours. This is what I do know. Choose something, anything. You might choose wrongly, but at least you made a choice.

Here comes the long shot.

Sunday, July 1

Input, output

'Black box' is technical jargon for a device or system or object when it is viewed primarily in terms of its input and output characteristics. - Wikipedia.org

In biology classes I took some years ago, one of the most important ideas of ethology - the study of animal behavior - was to think of an animal as a black box. The stimuli that go in and the responses that come out are the only things you can observe directly; what happens inside the 'box' has to be deduced from that. In psychology, the idea is the same. You can't see into someone's head, but you can usually get a pretty good picture anyway, just by observing someone's reaction. If I'd ask someone out to dinner, I can at least think of a number of reasons for any reaction given to that question. If he says yes, I may assume he likes my company. If he says no, maybe he doesn't like me. I wouldn't be sure, but I wouldn't be completely in the dark either.

I don't think anybody is able to show their true character to others. It's just impossible to get everything that's in, out, without being influenced by the people you're with. We want them to have certain ideas about who we are, what we are like, and as a result we show only the thoughts and feelings that agree with those ideas. At least, we try. But at the same time I think many people value expressing themselves the way they are, without holding back in fear of being disliked. It's also much easier not to pretend. To be much different from your true personality all the time wears us out quickly, I suspect.

When I think of the people I know, they don't seem to be keeping up appearances to any great extent. Undoubtedly they all have their secrets and thoughts they do not express, but I don't believe there is a gaping abyss or a towering wall between what's on the inside and what they show to others. Though there is one person I know that does appear to be very different from what he pretends to be. He perfected his act with such skill that its shallowness is hardly noticed. Believing that I'd witnessed a few rare moments in which he dropped his guard, I was both irritated and fascinated by him. I wanted to know what was behind it all.

The people around me are black boxes. Usually I can imagine what their motivations must be. But sometimes, someone can turn out to be a mystery, and I have found this makes it nearly impossible to communicate in any normal way. I cannot interpret his reactions, I cannot see why things have changed so much. I've stopped trying, and I tell myself I might have only been mistaken in those few moments.

Most people are not that much like black boxes at all, really. I want to be anything but a black box. I want to have the courage to be honest at moments in which it is least expected. I asked someone out to dinner, and as we were sitting in front of the café, enjoying the last warm breezes of a long Spanish day, I was absolutely truthful about my motives. In return, I got trust and sincerity, and all the answers I was looking for.

Monday, May 28

Falling

Someone told me that swallows are as good as dead once they end up on the ground, because their wings are too long to be flapped sufficiently to take off again. Swallows always have to let themselves fall down from a high point before they can fly independently. It's like experiencing the very first flight over and over again. I don't know if it's a true story, but somehow it struck me as meaningful.

Likewise, the human way of walking through life is to literally let oneself fall from one foot whilst swinging the other foot forward to catch the fall. A controlled falling motion, repeated over and over again.

I´m in Spain doing geological fieldwork right now, and it´s tiring in a physical, mental and emotional way. I feel like falling every day, from one mood to the next. There´s the mood in which I feel like flying, in which nobody matters but me. Then there´s the bittersweet sadness, loneliness that is bareable in some beautiful way. Right now I feel friendly and caring towards everyone, even though some do not return that kindness - it is like my silent protest. But I fear the mood that comes when I get tired, because it makes me see everything different, and the sadness really hurts at those moments. I know that I´ll catch my fall again, though. Over and over again.

Someone told me it makes you stronger. Someone told me we are all on our own, and that we should therefore care about little else than ourselves. But I can´t, and I do not want to be that person all the time, even though the fall is tough. At least I have my high points to fall from.

See no evil

Most people like to see themselves as individuals with a good sense of morality. They have a list of do's and don'ts and they try to live by it. Some things are just wrong. Thou shalt not murder, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not steal. Not just because the Bible says so, but because it hurts others unjustfully. I think a big part of our moral standards is based on empathy, on our ability to put ourselves in someone elses shoes. It's called the ethic of reciprocity, and it tells us to treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. If you can imagine how the other person would feel, you are automatically inclined to do the right thing. It seems easy when you put it like that.

In a perfect world, like the one that is portrayed in Hollywood blockbusters, good people make all the right choices. Bad people behave selfishly - and of course their actions turn against them in the end. But sadly, life is not a movie, and the line is never clear. Sometimes I cannot see what is right and what is wrong. Sometimes I do not want to see. The sole purpose of moral and conscience is to regulate one of our strongest urges; to act selfishly. It can and has been argued that even when we behave altruistically, we do it for the sake of feeling better about ourselves, to avoid guilt feelings, or simply because we have been told throughout our lives that it is the right thing to do. I am not saying morality is nonsense, on the contrary, it is essential. Life would be a mess without it. But far from being sacral, inviolable laws, morals are rough guesses and basically inventions of the human mind.

Some things are just wrong. But what if the person that you treat unjustfully will never know that you did, and will not have to face any consequences of your actions? What if you find you cannot empathize with a stranger? And what if you realize that because of this, you will not hesitate to behave selfishly and have no sense of guilt about it whatsoever? Does that make you a bad person? Or does it make you human?

Ultimate integrity is making personal sacrifices to do the right thing, even though it makes no difference at all. Such morality sounds very beautiful indeed, but I am not an angel. I am a human who generally cares a great deal about other people, but I have my faults. Ashamed as I am to admit it, when it comes to this particular situation I have been confronted with, I cannot resist. I will see no evil.

Monday, May 21

After the calm, after the storm

When you love what you do, it's not all that bad to work your fingers to the bone for a short period of time. You really feel you're getting somewhere, enthusiasm drives you. You don't even have time or energy to think, which is absolutely wonderful at first. Work, eat, sleep. Work, eat, sleep. All quite easy. Who needs those silent ponderings at the end of the day, working out how we feel about certain issues? Well, I do for one.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if there really was a secret to success, that golden and glittering concept? I often call to mind what the French philosopher Albert Schweitzer had to say about the subject. A great secret of success is to go through life as a man who never gets used up, he believed. If we would just be able to go on without losing our motivation, confidence, passion and optimism, we would be able to go on forever. Little people seem to live in such a state continuously, though, and I suspect even the seemingly tireless people amongst us spend a substantial amount of time faking it. Everyone needs some time off on a regular basis, a chance for the mind to process life. Or else the mess just gets bigger and bigger until the last drop... And we break down. I do.

Going on a two-week field trip is rather backbreaking in every aspect; physically, mentally, socially. Drilling holes in the ground is hard work, certainly in stormy weather. In the woods, in the fields, all day long. Other people are around all the time, which means non-stop communication - there are no breaks from that, we were even talking in our sleep. Dreaming out loud, subconsciously processing the events of the day. But it wasn't enough to keep me 'fresh and fruity', as I call my good moods.

The last evening, only eight o'clock. On a swing, a beer in my hand, feeling more alone by the minute. It throws me right off my feet. Rock bottom, down the dumps, a sinking ship. What I perceived to be a laid-back evening in fairly good company turns into a stretch of endless and empty minutes. The mental games I play become contests which I'm about to lose. What they have suddenly brings my attention to what I lack. Sitting on my bed, my face wet with tears. I want to do something, go somewhere, run away. I want someone to notice because I feel so forgotten. Where's a shoulder to cry on when you need one?

It took half an hour, or perhaps just ten minutes. In his kindest voice (although I must say that all his voices are kind, regardless of the words he speaks) he asked me what was wrong and he sat beside me to hear my stammering answer in between the sobbing. Throughout the week he'd recognized many of my semi-breakdown periods (you know, the quiet hours somewhere around five in the afternoon) and he'd said the same on every occasion. "You look so angry." And then, "It's okay, everything is going to be alright." With that roguish smile on his face and that twinkle in his eyes - have you ever met anyone with an actual twinkle in their eyes? He does it all the time.

He smiled and twinkled. "Why don't you tell yourself what I always tell you?"

I never knew I look angry when I'm tired.

Thursday, May 3

Fieldwork in Brabant

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding

As from next monday I will be away on fieldwork in Brabant, a southern province of the Netherlands. At about the 2oth of this month I'll be back and posting again. Make it a great two weeks, I'll try to do the same!

Saturday, April 28

Carla Bruni

I have recently been enjoying the music of Carla Bruni, an Italian songwriter and singer (and former model). She has released two albums so far, which are quite different from one another. Her debut album Quelqu'un m'a dit ('Someone told me') is composed of soft French chansons, simple and pure. 'On me dit que nos vies ne valent pas grand chose, elles passent en un instant comme fanent les roses,' are the first words sung on the album. Someone told me that our lives aren't worth a thing, they pass by in an instant, like roses wilting. Curiously, Bruni's music seems to suit every occasion, type of weather, and state of mind.

All tracks on the second album, No promises, are adapted by Bruni from English poems by authors such as W. B. Yeats and Emily Dickinson. My favorite is Promises Like Pie-Crust, originally written by Christina Rossetti (1830-1894). Bruni makes it seem as if the author truly meant this poem to be sung. After hearing the song, feeling the rhythm of the words whilst reading it is marvellous.

Promise me no promises,
So will I not promise you:
Keep we both our liberties,
Never false and never true:
Let us hold the die uncast,
Free to come as free to go:
For I cannot know your past,
And of mine what can you know?

You, so warm, may once have been
Warmer towards another one:
I, so cold, may once have seen
Sunlight, once have felt the sun:
Who shall show us if it was
Thus indeed in time of old?
Fades the image from the glass,
And the fortune is not told.

If you promised, you might grieve
For lost liberty again:
If I promised, I believe
I should fret to break the chain.
Let us be the friends we were,
Nothing more but nothing less:
Many thrive on frugal fare
Who would perish of excess.

Thursday, April 19

The art of inaction

It is harder than it seems; doing nothing at all. Even when 'doing' excludes thinking and observing. If you really want to do it the Buddhist way, you should eliminate the first one and completely bend your mind to the second. That's really not much action at all, but very difficult to sustain. I'm not necessarily talking about not thinking though. It doesn't have to be silent in your head.

In the company of others I often actually feel the need to do something just to look occupied, as if it's socially unacceptable to dream away. Travelling by train daily, I read every newspaper I can find, or at least listen to some music. Many people start playing with their cellphone once they get bored, sending text messages or browsing through the settings. For some reason it's always very obvious that they're bored.

But why would inaction imply weariness? You're not boring yourself, are you? That can't be right. Just let your thoughts off the chain! I feel it's actually very productive to do nothing at all - not all of the time of course, but in moderation it's quite valuable. Just to relax and think about what's going on, what happens next. Perhaps developing a few ideas. Or just enjoying the sunshine. I wouldn't be able to come up with much ideas to write about on this blog if I were focussing on other stuff all the time. Even music, because listening to lyrics can be quite distracting. For me personally it's a challenge too. But if doing nothing is done right, it's very satisfying. Who knows where you might end up?

Thursday, April 12

The Earth from above

These pictures made by the French photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand are truly inspiring. You can find more of his work here and here, along with detailed descriptions. Some of Arthus-Bertrand's work can also be downloaded in poster size at the French website Le Développement Durable.



Sunday, April 8

It's in the little things

A guy in Brittain, whom I've never met, is behind is computer right now playing songs for me on his guitar, even singing occasionally.

Need I say more? It's just one of those things.

Thursday, April 5

The greener grass

Every now and then, it seems as if the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. There's you on one side, and pretty much all of them on the other side - and they all seem to have what you desire. Lots of friends. A place in the city. A fuller, more interesting, better life in general. There's no logic to this thought, of course.

First of all, when you think back, you'll probably realize you were just fine with your life a couple of days ago. It's a phase, it came and it'll go away again. Why you feel you're missing out in the first place is a matter for debate (tough luck, chemical imbalance) but we all have our bad days. Nothing to do about that. We know it.

Secondly, deep inside we also know we won't really be happier people when we would be living like others. Because that's the whole point - it's not just the desire for greener grass, it's having a lawn as nice as other people seem to have. We all have our personal goals and dreams, and most of the time the fact that we haven't accomplished them doesn't bother us. We place them in our future, "that period of time in which our affairs prosper, our friends are true and our happiness is assured," as Ambrose Bierce put it. We tell ourselves those days'll come, sometime. The Greener Grass Syndrome comes with a very different set of desires; they are based on comparison with people that are quite like us and have a life we feel we are supposed to live - right at this very moment. The desires, therefore, are not our own. Most of the time I'm an independent thinker, doing my own thing. And then suddenly, conflicting with all my principles, I feel I really just want to be like everybody else. Which is nonsense - I know that. "Jealousy," Erica Jong wrote in her first novel, "is all the fun you think they had."

The grass isn't greener. Not for us, anyway. Did your parents used to tell you how little orphans in Africa would do anything for a bite of that broccoli (spinach, sprouts, goulash) you would refuse to eat? Mine did, and of course they were quite right. People in Third World countries would risk everything for a life like ours. The chance to dream about a better future, like we do. And they do risk everything, putting their lifes in the hands of people smugglers, setting out in their rickety little boats. It's not just the green broccoli. Whatever happens to us, to them we are and will always remain the greener grass. I know this, I deliberately think about it and tell myself I'm just being silly. But to be honest, it doesn't feel that way at all.

I 've been imagining seeing greener grass on all the other lawns. Not being able to resist ruminating about it constantly, all this logic has passed my mind. You see, it really feels like I will surely come to a reasonable conclusion if I think about it a little longer. That all of a sudden, I'll be capable of sane reasoning again. But that's just another delusion, because all the logic in the world is not going to change how I feel. In these sort of situations it never does. It's a matter of waiting until I come to my senses again.

Sunday, April 1

I can't get no

A reasonably intelligent animal - such as a dog - can be taught tricks, because it can learn and remember the connection between a situation, its appropriate action, and the reward that is given when it undertakes this action. You can get your pup to recognize the word 'sit' and know what is expected. Most of the time it'll actually sit down because it has learned the reward for this behaviour is a dog cookie. Dog cookies make dogs happy.

The same thing works for us - reasonably intelligent - humans. We want to be happy, and this urge drives us to undertake certain actions of which we have learned they are usually rewarded with satisfaction. Why did our anchestors hunt and why do we spend our money in supermarkets? Because we need food to survive, of course. But we don't actually set out to buy dinner supplies because 'we die if we don't', do we? We can go without food for weeks. But hunger is a state of dissatisfaction, and we don't like being dissatisfied. Satisfaction is the ultimate reward for anything we do. If you take care of your needs and wishes, your brain releases some pleasant neurotransmitters, and you think "hey, I should do this more often." Of course you and your brain are the same. No matter what the initial reward is (money, appreciation, cookies) and how you got it, in the end you're rewarding yourself. But if you are able to do that, then why don't you do it all the time? Why doesn't your brain keep pumping itself full of dopamine?

"Dopamine is commonly associated with the pleasure system of the brain, providing feelings of enjoyment and reinforcement to motivate a person proactively to perform certain activities. Dopamine is released by naturally rewarding experiences such as food, sex, use of certain drugs and neutral stimuli that become associated with them." - Wikipedia.org/Dopamine

In nature, things work the way they do for a reason. Mechanisms without a function disappear. We experience a difference between satisfaction and dissatisfaction because it motivates us. Nature rewards actions that contribute to our survival and procreation. In the course of evolution, animals that did not experience the fact that there is a better and a worse state of being - and that they were able to influence this with their own actions - would have been utterly unsuccessful. We do not descend from any of them. We are never fully satisfied because it is not in our genes, because it is essential for our survival to know what it is like to be unhappy.

Imagine a time thousands of years ago, where a small and primitive tribe of Homo Sapiens lives in the woods. They hunt for deer and search for shelter every night because they know they feel uncomfortable if they are hungry and cold. Mothers take care of their babies. And on one starry evening a most remarkable child is born, a child that is always perfectly satisfied. He grows up with a peaceful smile on his face, never really doing anything in particular. If his parents would have ever heard of Buddha they'd notice the resemblance. The boy is taken good care of by fellow tribe members. He eats when they feed him. He drinks when they put a cup of water to his lips. When they're moving to a new place they take him by the hand, because he'll just stand still if they don't. He doesn't care if he's left behind. He wouldn't mind his father getting angry with him for not obeying. The boy reaches an age at which he is expected to support himself. He is expected to leave the tribe. Considering the nature of the boy, the tribe ends up leaving him - well supplied with everything he'll need to survive.

The boy just stands there, until he falls to the ground. He lies on the damp grass, the sun warming his tired body. He enjoys himself , but not because of the sensation of warmth or grass tickling his feet. He always enjoys himself. Hours become days. He keeps lying there. His throat dries to sandpaper, his stomach rumbles in dismay. His internal organs start to shut down. The boy feels satisfied. Then he dies.

What a wonderful life, lived in complete vain.

Wednesday, March 28

More than this

"More than this, there is nothing." - Norah Jones

"Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb." - Churchill

A mid-life crisis is described as an emotional state of doubt and anxiety in which a person becomes uncomfortable with the realization that life is halfway over. There has to be something more, they feel, more than this. Amongst the various characteristics of people experiencing a mid-life crisis, Wikipedia lists 'a deep sense of remorse for goals not accomplished' and 'search of an undefined dream or goal.'

I wonder if this isn't really an underlying issue for all of us. It may not always be obviously present or recognizable in our minds, but the urge of making some sort of progress in our lives has been instilled in all of us. In modern societies this often comes down to getting a proper education, building a career and settling down - but the need to develop our lives is universal and concerns everything we do. We want to learn more, create more, have more, so we can prove ourselves and everyone else that we do not live in vain. As Muhammed Ali once said, "A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life." Stagnation is waste.

I suppose that most people, at any age, from time to time, stop and wonder what they are doing with their life. Not just if they're happy with it, but also if it is really going somewhere. Because in the distance, we already see the end coming, well before we're halfway. The trick, I think, is to enjoy today consciously and not to care about your image too much. There will always be people more successful and gifted than you. Why compare, or care if others do? And if you really want to accomplish something big, don't hesitate to try. Regret for the things we don't do is the worst kind. Try and it'll be more, it might be great. Or perhaps that is only what that nagging feeling tries to make you believe.

Isn't that an interesting paradox? Progress seems to be an essential ingredient for a satisfying life, but at the same time we can't reach that happiness unless we realize it is found today - not at the next stroke or luck or major achievement, not in the distant future, but right now.

Friday, March 23

Sing, Goddess

Sing, Goddess, sing of the rage of Achilles, son of Peleus—
that murderous anger which condemned Achaeans
to countless agonies and threw many warrior souls
deep into Hades, leaving their dead bodies
carrion food for dogs and birds—
all in fulfillment of the will of Zeus.
- Homer, The Iliad

Homer's Iliad and Odyssey are considered to be the oldest literature in the Greek language; most scholars date the two epics back to the 6th or 7th century BC. Can you imagine, we can still read stories written thousands of years ago. Well, I mean, some people can. Personally I have no other choice but to read the english translation. I think the translation of the Iliad I'm currently reading is a pretty good one, though. The translator - Ian Johnston - released it into the public domain and made it available for downloading here, along with the Oddyssey.

Reading the whole thing of my screen is not very comfortable. So I asked for a Word-document of the epics to be sent to my email address, downsized the text to a tiny Garamond 8 and put it in two columns. Removing all the line references took me quite some time, but it's worth it. I haven't printed it all yet but I think I should be able to get the Iliad on about 70 double-sided pages.

Although Homer wrote these stories at least 26 centuries ago, they're still very readable (in translation) - compelling and even comical at times. Tales of a time when men were heroes, and Gods quarreled amongst themselves much like is done in soap operas these days. I'm very impressed.

Sunday, March 18

A place I know

There's a place that I know where the sycamores grow, and daffodils have their fun, where the cares of the day seems to slowly fade away, and the glow of the evening sun. Peace when the day is done.

If I go there real late, let my mind meditate on everything to be done, if I search deep inside, let my conscience be my guide, then the answers are sure to come. Don't have to worry none.

When you find a piece of mind, leave you worries behind. Don't say that it can't be done. With a new point of view, life's true meaning comes to you, and the freedom you seek is one. Peace is for everyone.

- Norah Jones, "Peace"

In my last year of highschool, my grades for mathematics dropped dramatically. At every test, I would panic and forget everything I'd learned. My teacher enrolled me on a anxiety management course for pre-exam pupils. Amongst other things, I learnt to picture a brook alongside a peaceful meadow. I learnt to feel the grass under my feet and the sun on my head. I heard the birds sing in the trees. Water rushing past my ankles. It was a wonderful experience, feeling almost as real as dreams can feel.

I should visit that place again, sometime.

Tuesday, March 13

Simplify

When you gonna realise, that you don't even have to try any longer?
Do what you want to.

- 'Put Your Records On', Corinne Bailey Rae


Anti-smoking guru Allen Carr claimed that escaping an addiction is only difficult when you believe it is. The problem is mainly in your head, he said. I feel it often is, in all sorts of situations. Why is it that sometimes it is so tempting to keep analyzing and worrying over something that you can't change? It's only your own way of thinking you can change; and with it, the way you feel. Why don't we?

Maybe that's easier said than done. But maybe it is still easier done than we tend to think. We often know the answer to our problems, we just need to accept it. Then it all gets much easier - you wonder why you made such a fuss about it in the first place. I know I do, every once in a while. Why do we keep putting ourselves through that pointless process? Some things have the potential to be exactly what we want them to be, not because we can change them, but because we can change the way we deal with them. There's no reason why that should be so hard to realise. Feel how you want to feel. Do what you want to. It would be so easy.

Friday, March 9

Cloud

As you might know I'm not very fond of labels. I don't like categorising if it's not necessary. Yet I've been labeling all my previous posts (over 200) this week, because I found the most lovely 'Label Cloud' code right here. And here's the result, at your right. It's not perfect yet, but it will be better soon. I'd like to think of these labels as very vague and broad indications as to the nature of the posts - as opposed to actual categories. 'Truth' for instance applies to posts about reality, objectivity and subjectivity, honesty and everything else that has a vague connection to the word. It's interesting to see what it is that I'm writing about though.

One of the main reasons for installing the cloud is that it allows you to easily browse through Silence posts that you might be interested in; virtually all the topics are untied to current (past) affairs and such, so that won't be a problem. Give it a try!

By the way, I don't think I've mentioned that I am now writing at this lovely teamblog about childhood memories. It's a whole new experience, I'm very excited about it.

Monday, March 5

Here be dragons

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear. And the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. - H. P. Lovecraft (1890 - 1937)

The byproducts of a large, complex brain are the questions it asks - the ones that go beyond the essential questions one needs to ask to survive ("Where can I find food?" "What are the chances that I am about to be ripped to pieces?"). Like a child that keeps asking "Why?" time and again, we can’t help but wonder. In the history of mankind the world never ceased to impress us as a mysterious and often frightful place. Upon not finding a satisfying logical explanation for a number of phenomenons, man started to make up his own answers. Anything is better than to stare right into the deep gorge of the unknown. And so it came that an unusually large snake shook the Earth, and thunder gods never made it to an anger management course. But I guess we were never completely satisfied with our own myths.

So we set out to explore, to find some better answers using philosophy and science. Brave men set out to sail the seas and find the edge of the world – It is somewhat ironical that one of the most important discoveries lay in failing to find it. But the explorers made other discoveries, they found the many fascinating and seemingly endless riches of the world. Places beyond their wildest dreams. The Orient, the New World of America, the cold continent of Terra Incognita in the south. Cartographers gradually filled in the blank spaces on their maps, leaving less and less space in the world for dragons, griffins, chimeras and all the other fantastic but fearsome creatures imagined there.

Today the world is said to be a global village. We can all explore it, but sometimes it feels like there is nothing left to discover. What wonders of the world are yet to be uncovered? Where be the dragons? We might not be able to sail a ship to a coast unknown to civilization. We might look at our globe full of colourful patches and placenames – and the billions of books and webpages filled with a vast amount of knowledge - feeling there is nothing left to discover for us. But we would be mistaken. The world will never cease to surprise, it should make little difference that you are not the first to be surprised by it.

The unknown is a pretty big place, and sometimes it can be a frightening place. But we keep on filling in the blanks – personally and as a species - because it is part of our human identity. It is part of the success story of mankind. It is not our physical strength or toughness, but our craving for knowledge that has increased our survival rate in such an extraordinary way. We slay the dragons whilst uncovering the wonders.

Wednesday, February 28

Sunshine

The sunshine makes everything look beautiful.

Tuesday, February 27

The bigger picture

As many people will have noticed over the years, there is some difference between knowing and understanding. Knowledge proceeds in a straight line, one step forward for every piece of information acquired. The kind of thing they make you learn by heart. Understanding is a whole new level that you may be propelled to if you take all you know and light it with insight. The higher you get, the more you see. The bigger picture - how everything is connected to everything else.

This is what attracted me to the subject I study every day, Earth Sciences. Every process on Earth is very much connected to everything else, forming these amazing cycles of cause and consequence. In fact, the first course I took was entitled System Earth, giving an introduction to the whole thing. Ice caps, climate, tectonics, life - whatever happens on this planet will affect pretty much everything else. During the next years of the studies, you're zooming in on all these individual processes (which are miniature systems in themselves) but at the same time you're zooming out. Jumping up and down until you get to the next level. And there is always an even bigger picture. These are the words Carl Sagan wrote about the picture at the top of this post;

"Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam."

When we look at something from a distance, we are not able to see the details anymore. They are of little importance. When they merge into that tiny little dot know you have reached the point on which you understand them most. You realize you've stopped jumping and started flying.

Sunday, February 25

Script three

Stockholm Unlike A Man of Good Taste, this film is mainly shot in cool, bluish colours. A young woman - Cate Blanchett would be good - talks to her psychiatrist, an older woman who talks in a reassuring but vaguely irritating tone of voice. The camera alternates between three views. Showing them in in one shot, with a big desk between them. The young woman (let's call her Sophie) sitting on a chair or sofa, with her knees together, in a summer dress, like a girl. And close-up shots of her face, slightly unsteady. She smiles softly, looks away, tries to explain, her lips trembling. She has been through a traumatic experience, but most of the time she isn't very emotional about it. She does frown sometimes, remembering new details, she seems to be suprised about them. She tries to make sense of it all. In flashbacks (the main part of the film, really) we see what has happened to her.

The environment is even 'colder' in these memories, awfully clean and stripped down. We are in a modern corporate building - where all is glass, steel and marble. And one palm in a cilindrical pot of brushed stainless steel to contrast with its lifeless surroundings. We find out that she was in a hostage situation which lasted for several weeks. She is scared but not hysterical. She tries to talk to the hostage takers reasonably, one in particular (Colin Farrell, though he will have to work very hard for this role), but both of them are so emotionally unstable and confused that it is impossible for her to change their situation. But looking back on these events, Sophie feels that they had a bond, something special. She's very confused by this, obviously. Her psychiatrist insists that she is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, in which the hostage has feelings of loyalty (or even love) to the hostage taker. Sophie does not reject this explanation, but she keeps wondering if that is the only possible explanation. The challenge with this film would be to keep the audience in doubt as well. The flashbacks shows images of subtle affection between them, whispered conversations and honest confessions. But they also show the same man behaving violently, threatening her with a gun and physically abusing her and other hostages. He does not protect her from the other hostage takers either.

In the end, Sophie decides to find him. He has managed to escape after the hostage situation. After a long search, which the film doesn't show to great extent, she ends up at a cabin on a lakeshore, somewhere in Canada perhaps. The colours are no longer bluish and cool, instead there's a lot of lush green vegetation and the sun shines in bright yellow. This is where he has been hiding. In the cabin, she looks at the books he has lying around, a cup of cold tea he hasn't finished, some pine cones he has picked up and put next to the sink. Her hostage taker as a person. Then he walks in. Both caught by surprise, but not utterly shocked, they look at each other. Recognize each other. Time seems to slow down. Sophie opens her mouth to say something, but she's not sure what she should say. All of a sudden, she does look shocked. Doubt and confusion are in her eyes. Those eyes... Blue as the sky. She collapses on the floor, and her blond hair turns red. He speeds to her, picks her up, trembles as the life within her slips away. She doesn't see him anymore.

We don't see the police officers coming in, only seconds later, the people that she unintentionally led to him. We don't see the sharpshooter that missed him and hit her instead. We only see two people, and what they shared. Fear, confusion, doubt. And against all odds, an endless fascination for each other.

Friday, February 23

Script two

A Man of Good Taste Jude Law is a blind connoisseur of wine in this surreal film shot with a yellow filter - showing the audience a 'sun-drenched' California. The nameless protagonist is not just gifted when it comes to tasting wine, his description of this alcoholic substance - and his presence in general - is also considered highly entertaining. The rich invite him to the exclusive parties they give in their Mediterranean-style villas amidst fields full of vines, using him as a status symbol but admiring him deeply. This is a man with refined social skills, but at the same time he always remains a complete mystery. Perhaps even a dark mystery. The people he surrounds himself with do not care; they are too shallow to see that there is much more beneath the surface, hidden. Throughout the film, our main character remains a stranger - and a little strange - only giving away a few hints as to his background and thoughts. I am not sure about the actual storyline, it will not bear a particular message but be rather puzzling and leave you with questions, and a lot of room for interpreting the events yourself. What you will be seeing is a mosaic of a rose on the floor of a swimming pool, and the main character driving off in a red Porsche cabrio. Which is odd, since he's blind.

Wednesday, February 21

Script one

So much for films from renowned producers, directors, scriptwrites and actors. What if we were given the chance to make a professional film with a few million dollars to spend? Haven't you ever thought 'hey, that's a pretty neat storyline I've just coughed up'? If only we had the budget to make these films. About what subject would you like to make a film?

Borders The year is 2035. The International Agency of Space Exploration has been preparing a manned mission to Mars for years. From around the world, a large team of experts has been selected and trained to make this great journey. People from all over the world seem to be united in the prospect of this epic mission. After all, seen from Mars we are all only citizens of Earth. But only months before the launch, the international political community announces their plan to divide the surface of Mars amongst the countries of the world. One of the scientists in the Mars team is outraged by this pointless act and boldly decides she will participate in no such thing. On the eve of the most amazing achievement in her life, the fulfillment of her greatest dream, one woman risks it all because she refuses to abandon her principles. With eight billion people closely following the mission, all the officials can do is let her speak and hope she will make a fundamental mistake, one that will allow them to remove her from the team. The actual space mission is not covered by the film, so it isn't much of a science fiction film. Instead, it is a moving drama about borders - borders between territories, countries, cultures, people and visions - and one woman who dares to break them.

Sunday, February 18

Soon

There is something about trailers, that makes me feel I just can't wait to see the actual film. These are some films that are coming up - with their US release dates, which means I'll have to wait even longer. If these films are ever going to get in cinemas here, in the Netherlands. But I have hope.

Amazing Grace (feb 23) About the campaign against the slave trade in 19th century Britain, led by famous abolitionist William Wilberforce, who was responsible for steering anti-slave trade legislation through the British parliament. "Behind the song you love is a story you will never forget." That is amongst the most dreadful tag lines I've ever seen, and I hope the film itself is totally unlike it... But at least I'll love the costumes.

The Astronaut Farmer (feb 23) NASA austronaut Charlie Farmer (Billy Bob Thornton) gives up his dream job to try and save his home. Missing his former profession, he begins to construct a rocket that will actually be able to leave the earth’s atmosphere. His neighbours assume he's crazy, the media begins covering his progress, and the government considers him a potential threat that may need to be stopped. Government official: "Mr. Farmer, how do we know you are not constructing a WMD?" Charlie Farmer, very seriously: "Because if I was building a Weapon of Mass Destruction, you wouldn't be able to find it." Alright, I know it's a lame joke. But I think the film is going to be better than will be expected - given that it's about, well, an amateur astronaut.

Pride (somewhere in march) A film based on true events. In the 1970s, struggling to find employement, former competitive swimmer Jim Ellis founds an African-American swim team in one of Philadelphia’s roughest neighborhoods. He hopes to help them become successful at swimming and in all aspects of their lives. With Terence Howard and Bernie Mac.