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Elements of prophecy – reflections and new directions

The Sibyl (1891), Paul Ranson via Tumblr

Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi film Minority Report (2002) is soon to be re-imagined as a TV series by Fox.

In the original Minority Report three clairvoyants called Precogs (precognitives) spend their days in deep meditation, afloat in water. Their job is to predict murders that could take place in the future. Tom Cruise, a good and honest cop, relies on the Precogs to arrest would-be criminals just before they commit a homicide.

Minority Report puts an interesting twist on the idea of precognition because, in real life, individuals claiming to possess this ability are often treated with suspicion, even derision. But the Precogs’ abilities are highly valued and they are given a kind of eerie reverence.

True and False

As the administrator of Earthpages.org, I’ve met many complex and fascinating seekers, on and offline. Some claim that spirit beings appear or speak to them. Others believe they have seen objects, places or souls during their astral travels. Several allegedly read minds; and some say they’ve had a vision of Christ or the Holy Trinity. And like the PreCogs, others claim to foresee the future.

Dealing with alleged psychics and mind-readers is both rewarding and challenging. If psychic abilities are real, it seems there’s no guarantee they’ll be applied ethically. For instance, those who haven’t dealt with personal pain could take a compensatory turn toward self-aggrandizement.¹

Clearly, some folks do take a wrong turn in the spiritual life, and a few might be repeatedly deceived and paranoid. Interior perception is an exacting process and not everyone does it well.

Leading writers on mysticism like Evelyn Underhill say that sincere mystics strive to be humble and analytical in order to avoid deception by the imagination or by negative spiritual influences (traditionally viewed as “demons,” “tramp souls” and “ghosts”).

St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274), the eponym ...

St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274), the eponym of Thomism. Picture by Fra Angelico (c. 1395-1455). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But this is the ideal. In reality, many alleged psychics and prophets seem pretty out to lunch. They speak in such roundabout terms that their predictions could mean a thousand different things. And when flat wrong, some of them just fudge it. False prophecies are quickly swept under the rug or recast as “symbolic” predictions.

Philosophers call this the ad hoc hypothesis or possibly ex post facto reasoning. Rather than openly admitting mistakes (as an honest researcher would) sham mystics do their best to cover them up.

Christian Response

Christian theologians say that genuine prophecy is revealed or infused from a supernatural source. They also tend to believe that God is omnipotent. This means God could use weak and sinful personalities for genuine prophecy, even for a short while. According to this view, one doesn’t have to be a holy guru to be a prophet. For Christians, no one is perfect. And to claim otherwise is misguided.

In Catholicism, personal revelations are called private revelations. Private revelations occurring after the time of Christ are said to add nothing to the faith as defined by the Church. But private revelations declared authentic may have inspirational or cultural value.

Throughout the ages, there have been so-called “private” revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history. Guided by the magisterium of the Church, the sensus fidelium knows how to discern and welcome in these revelations whatever constitutes an authentic call of Christ or his saints to the Church. Christian faith cannot accept “revelations” that claim to surpass or correct the revelation of which Christ is the fulfillment, as is the case in certain non-Christian religions and also in certain recent sects which base themselves on such “revelations”²

New Directions

Of course, many modern people question the authority of a traditional religious body that, in he past, has proved to be just as susceptible to temptation and error as anyone else. Historically, the Catholic Church has made gruesome mistakes, only to apologize hundreds of years later.

It’s also entirely possible that even the best of prophets distort their revelations through their unique personalities. That is, they interpret according to who they are at a given moment in history. According to the view, much of the Bible is laced with cultural bias and political infighting. That hardly sounds like the “Word” of God.

Guercino, The Persian Sibyl, 1647-48 via Tumblr

So where does this leave us? And by what standard do sincere seekers judge interior perceptions?

I think the answer might be found in a cross fertilization of psychology and spirituality. Einstein once said “science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”³  Perhaps we could adapt that to something like, “psychology without spirituality is superficial, spirituality without psychology is questionable.”

Only then can we move forward to a spirituality suitable for the 21st century and beyond.


¹ Many saints say that vanity and jealousy figure prominently in the spiritual life. The more we open to spiritual realities, the more vulnerable we are to temptation and deception.

² Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 67. Catholic theology looks at prophecy in its own unique way. St. Thomas Aquinas is often cited in Catholic discussions about prophecy. But we’d do well to remember that after having a direct encounter with God, toward the end of his life, Aquinas apparently said his writings were like a “house of straw.”

³ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_views_of_Albert_Einstein

Copyright © Michael W. Clark 2014


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Her – Review by MC

Fair Use/Dealing rationale for image from Her http://www.herthemovie.com/ - low res image for review and educational purposes

Fair Use/Dealing rationale for image from Her http://www.herthemovie.com/ – low res image for review and educational purposes

I watched Spike Jonze’s film, Her, the other night. A few more points came to mind that weren’t covered here, mostly about different types of love (eros, agape, and so on). But this was my first shot at audio reviewing, so I was lucky to get as much in as I did. No notes or excessive thinking beforehand. Just first impressions…

I should add that I was somewhat inspired by the New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham, who takes fashion photos on the streets of New York and talks about them every week at The Times’ website. If the documentary about Cunningham is accurate, it seems that he takes a quick look at his pics on a storyboard before taping his weekly commentary. I like that spontaneity, and tried to emulate it here.

Maybe with practice I’ll be half as good at this as he is!


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Science And Ethics: Will They Clash Violently Again?

Image via Tumblr

By Robert Preto

“Watching a living likeness of yourself instantly materialize in front of your own eyes is an emotional mind-altering experience. At first it feels like an eerie dream or a drug induced hallucination as you view this replicate of yourself.” (Hulagu’s Web, p. 101)

What we can visualize soon becomes reality. Jules Verne is a favorite example of a writer that was able to describe events and things in his fiction, which materialized decades later as events and objects of reality. We can observe the same phenomenon today over and over again in many fields. Something is written about in some fictional piece and a few years later the process or thing becomes a reality, that can help or change mankind. Shelly wrote about the creation of man, and now about a century later, we are on the threshold of doing just that. The emerging science of cloning is now a force that is already capable of creating life. Some scientists even claim that humans have already been cloned. These clones are not the fictional adversarial type that are found in tales such as, “Star Wars, Episode II- Attack of the Clones“ by George Lucas, but humans that could discreetly live among us without any outward sign of having been created by the technology and perseverance of a scientist.

Cloning of humans is a terribly controversial subject. On Feb. 18, 2005 the 191 countries of the United Nations call on its member nations to ban all forms of human cloning, which were incompatible with human dignity and the protection of human life. Only 106 of the member nations voted on the issue, 71 for the ban and 35 voted against it. Currently all bills that are being passed on the subject address biological cloning, but another type of cloning, called quantum cloning, is slowly being developed. This type of cloning will most likely be even more controversial, because not only will life be created, but memories of the cloned human will be transferred flawlessly. In the book “ Hulagu’s Web” by David Hearne, this phenomenon is explored when a character in the novel discovers that she is in fact a clone. “Realizing that even her memories were not hers but those of Senator Laforge made her feel acutely lonely because she felt her mind had nothing in it that was hers.” ( Hulagu’s Web chapter 6)

Some far-sighted scientists have been investigating the problems of quantum cloning for many decades. The work of P. Benioff, R. Feynman, D. Deutsch and C. Bennett in the 80’s was the origin of this research. This area of quantum physics has become one of the most exciting and intriguing of our time. Almost perfect copies of isolated photons have been fabricated for the first time in history. Science has just begun to explore the potential of this technical innovation, and it will surely find further applications in more complex quantum procedures.

The physicist Heisenberg theorized that sub-atomic particles could never be created totally identical. If this rule of physics (the uncertainty principle) can never be surmounted, our macro world will never be able to produce clones of absolute perfection. But for the cloning of humans, this particular law of physics does not greatly interfere with the similarities of the specimen to be cloned. At this level, discrepancies are acceptable and in fact in the book “ Hulagu’s Web” the author takes us to a world where science uses this phenomenon to control the longevity of the clone. In his story, a clandestine CIA laboratory in Lumberton, TX, just 90 miles from NASA’s Houston headquarters, a group of physicists work diligently to create the first human clone. They succeed in creating an identical clone of a popular senator who is running for president. The clone, however, only has a lifespan of 72 hours.

Are we prepared to share our identity with another entity that constitutes our memorexed version of ourselves? How we function and perceive ourselves is based on our memories and experiences. In the case of a quantum clone, memories that are provided from the host define its identity. “Memory in a very real sense is reality. What the brain’s limbic system decides to “see” and store away, becomes the life we have lived. It is the smells, the music, the pain, the loves, the places you have been and all the experiences that were recorded by the brain.” (Hulagu’s Web, 105). The clone has never really experienced these pleasures or grieves. It was always a memory for their use, since their very first second of creation. These vivid memories seem real to the clone, as real as they seem to the person who lived and experienced the original memories. This knowledge becomes the clones education and experiences that they use to function with, from the time of their creation till the time they die.

From a social perspective, we should also consider that many of the institutions of modern society are based, in one way or another, on the expectation that we all eventually die. If we could be recreated as an exact copy, what would be the meaning of terms like ‘married for life’, ‘30 year imprisonment’ or ‘death-penalty’? Would we apply the ‘death-penalty’ several times to cloned individuals? Would be afraid of this ‘death’? “It is ironic that in Islam it is destined that non-believers will not die. They will not be allowed to die or live, but like Hulagu will be locked in a revolving existence of life and death over and over. “ (Hulagu’s Web, 104).

Religion teaches us to adore the creator, respect our parents, and treat other human-beings, as we desire to be treated. How would these clones, and mankind in general, apply these beliefs in the assimilation of clones into our society? Would the scientists who create a clone be like a god or parent to the clone? Would the clone perceive the scientist as a god? And would the person who was cloned, be like a sister, brother or a parent to the new entity? How will cloning of humans effect the beliefs and views we possess on our own creation and in religion in general? Would a clone have a soul? All of these questions are too complex to be answered in advance, but we must consider them and surmise their implications. Until clones are a real part of our society, none of these questions will find definitive answers. We won’t know the true ramification of quantum cloning until the first one of them walks among us.

Robert Preto is a graduate of Science for Education from the University of Edinburgh. In the 4 years after graduation, Robert has being working training mature students to finish school and go to college. Concurrent with teaching, Robert develops games and writes tutorials.
Robert lives in London with his wife and two daughters.

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Review – Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)

The Genetic opera - original photo by Victor de la Fuente

Repo: The Genetic opera – original photo by Victor de la Fuente

It’s the new year and we’re going through some old stuff, weeding out articles that didn’t really go anywhere or which are no longer relevant. This review, however, still seems pretty fresh. First published on 11/27/2008, we thought we’d re-post it with a few stylistic updates.

Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Writers: Darren Smith (screenplay), Terrance Zdunich (screenplay)
Stars: Paul Sorvino, Anthony Head and Alexa Vega
Full Cast and Crew at IMDb.com

Repo! The Genetic Opera draws on films like Blade Runner, Rocky Horror Picture Show and Phantom of the Paradise but carves out – no pun intended – its own unique, freakish landscape.

Basically we have a creepy, ethically infected future where a corporate giant, GenCo, does organ transplants for a price. Customers unable to pay the full markup go on an installment plan. And if they miss a payment, enter the Repo Man–a legal assassin who repossesses unpaid organs.The Repo Man isn’t a nice guy. He doesn’t even use anesthetic. He rips out guts in public or private.

But the film isn’t quite that simple. As dark, bloody and grotesque as it is, Repo! touches on several intelligent themes that demand attention in the 21st century.

The top Repo Man, expertly played by Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Anthony Stewart Head, is sort of a Jekyll and Hyde character. To his sheltered 17 year old daughter, Shilo, he’s a kind dad and family doctor. But donning his Repo headgear, he secretly transforms into a Nazi-like maniac.

To make matters worse, Shilo gets suspicious. She begins to see more to life than what dad tells her. But as a seemingly respectable doctor, the Repo Dad medicates her well and tells her she’s just “imagining things.”

The plot then gets increasingly complicated and cartoon panels flesh out the main characters to help keep things clear.

Repo Promoting in downtown Berkeley by shellEProductions

Repo Promoting in downtown Berkeley by shellEProductions

Building steadily to the grand finale of the Genetic Opera, here operagoers watch on-stage gore as Shilo chooses between killing her dad – she now knows everything – or the madman behind GeneCo, Rotti Largo, who first sent the Repo Man down the path of destruction.

Meanwhile, the film audience watches the watchers and the operatic gore (some of the Toronto audience got up and danced), which gives this movie a kind of triangular feel, a point that I imagine postmodern intellectuals could belabor for hours.

Musically, the film is fabulous. The score swings from Pavarotti-like arias to strains reminiscent of Jesus Christ Superstar, driven by throbbing Alice In Chains style guitars. Better yet, the lyrics are well enunciated, so one doesn’t have to try to guess what’s happening.

Chances are you’ll either despise or enjoy this film. Whatever the case may be, Repo! is an important social commentary just as Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange was once deemed edgy and monstrous but also respected by mature moviegoers.

In short, Repo! is a cult classic with something to say.

–MC

Cast:

Condensed from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Repo!_The_Genetic_Opera


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Sci-fi, Myth and Many Possible Worlds

Dr. No and other videos by MC via Flickr

Dr. No and other videos by MC via Flickr

Science fiction is still frowned on in some literary circles but that perception is quickly changing.

Back in high school, when writing about Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, I still bought into the notion that sci-fi is less worthy than the so-called classics.

Luckily I had an English teacher who saw things differently.

Mr. X, as I’ll call him, was a bit of an outsider with the rest of the English department. His eclectic  interests would have him critiquing the newspaper like a university professor might or, perhaps, telling us how to get a date with an absolute stranger.

I think the principal even had some auditor sit in his class to check him out. (This was the late 70s to early 80s and my memory is a bit fuzzy). I do know that he didn’t stay at that high school very long. But in retrospect, he proved to be far more influential than most other teachers.

One day Mr. X noticed that I had a copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, and I made some joke about ice-nine. We then got onto Frank Herbert’s Dune, which he handily summed up with a glint in his eye. The idea of spice mining and subterranean sand worms seemed to point to something important, something just beyond my adolescent awareness.  Later, I learned about Carl Jung’s collective unconscious, but that wasn’t until age 19, when the river of my teens began to flow into the numinous sea of adulthood.

Over the years, not all of my teachers were quite as open-minded as Mr X. Some have been quite hostile to sci-fi, as if pedantic NeoMarxism or, perhaps, esoteric Old Testament studies represented the ultimate in intellectual activity.

Ouch.

Sci-fi and I go back a long way. Childhood summers at Georgian Bay afforded endless hours to read, surrounded by the sights and sounds of nature. Austin Hall and Homer Eon Flint’s The Blind Spot, Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land and characters like Alfred Bester’s time-traveling Gully Foyle captured my imagination every bit as much as the natural beauty around me.

I still watch a little bit of sci-fi TV and movies. Admittedly, sci-fi characters can sometimes come off a bit thin. But any weak character development is usually counterbalanced by an exceedingly rich cosmology. Where else can you time travel, walk through walls, battle cybernetic stooges, talk to aliens, juggle parallel universes and throw lightning bolts from your fingertips?

In contrast, the cosmologies of many so-called literary classics pale in comparison. Mystique aside, Shakespeare’s Macbeth (“Fair is foul, and foul is fair”),† Dante’s Inferno (which sent several Popes to hell) and Spenser’s The Faerie Queene seem almost banal when compared to the far-flung worlds of sci-fi.

And more recent TV shows like the Reimagined Battlestar Galactica make it increasingly difficult to say that sci-fi lacks character development. BSG is almost entirely about character development, be it human or Cylon.

Historically, a great deal of ancient mythologies more closely resemble sci-fi than do the bulk of Middle Ages and Renaissance literature (with notable exceptions). The Hindu god Siva, for instance, emits a burning death ray from his third eye, not unlike the phaser beams of Star Trek. And classical Greek myths tell of equally formidable powers, where weapon and tool technologies like Thor’s hammer and Athena’s shield take center stage.

Granted, neoclassical artists recast ancient Greek, Roman, Hebraic and Christian themes. But I think it’s fair to say that, on the whole, they were more interested in creating detailed masterpieces instead of developing the ancient cosmologies that they drew upon.

Did ancient mythology serve a similar psychosocial need as today’s sci-fi? The scholar of religion and myth, Joseph Campbell, thought so. He notes that the box office smash Star Wars follows the mythic cycle of the hero. George Lucas (Star Wars‘ creator) actually consulted with Campbell to ensure that the movie would resonate with established mythic patterns.

However, there are obvious differences between the ancients and civilized mankind. This is especially so when we consider the social and political involvement of the average citizen. In ancient Rome, for example, not paying homage to a deity might cost you your life. And 21st century technologies combined with our increasingly sophisticated thoughts have taken today’s sci-fi narratives to a whole new level.

Sci-fi arguably has another advantage over other art forms. Its apparent distance from everyday life allows for meaningful political critiques. Here, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and the hideous Borg collective of Star Trek come to mind.

For some, sci-fi might seem like so much fodder for the geek squad. But no matter how hard one tries to stick their head in the sand, movies like Star Trek, Avatar and Super 8 still gross more at the box office than other, so-called ‘cultured’ films.

So what, exactly, is this telling us?

—MC

——

The Tempest, however, reveals that Shakespeare can, in fact, deal with extremely subtle fantasy. But this isn’t surprising, considering that most consider him the best writer, ever.


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Super 8… Stupor 8?

Super 8mm film cartridge film. Kodak Eastman E...

Super 8mm film cartridge film. Kodak Eastman via Wikipedia

Yes, I saw it. And although I’m glad I did, Super 8 turned out to be a bit boring and disappointing.

The young actors were good, sometimes great (except for one who really didn’t cut it). And come to think of it, most of the adult lead actors were above average too. But oh, what cinematic cliches and obvious lead-ins to the many impending disasters.

(I’m keeping it general to avoid a spoiler).

I loved the TV show Alias. And the new Star Trek film wasn’t that bad either. But super-producer J. J. Abrams, IMHO, didn’t really come up with anything too memorable here.

The 70s scenes were unbelievable. Not good unbelievable. Just unbelievable. Sure they got the cars, clothes and hairstyles right. And that old electronic football game — I had one — looked and sounded just like the real thing. But the lingo was almost all 2011. (Also, Willow Tree figures were in the film, which weren’t around back then).

If you think I’m just being picky, well maybe I am. Or maybe this film is for the younger gen. To its credit, Super 8‘s special effects were impressive. And its treatment of young love was, well, adequate. But I found a complete lack of credibility in the plot line. I wasn’t expecting a comic book story. Had I known beforehand that all reasonable attempts to make this a convincing movie would be lacking, I might have enjoyed it more.

2½ stars outta 5.

—MC


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Review – Sunshine (DVD)

The other day I happened to notice Sunshine in the video section of the local library. I’d never heard of this film but being something of a sci-fi buff, was willing to give it a try.

Glad I did.

Blending the genres of action thriller and psychodrama, Sunshine boasts an international cast with recognizable influences from several sci-fi classics, such as Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris, and Douglas Trumbull’s Silent Running, to name a few.

Without this being a spoiler, let’s just say that a group of astronauts are sent on a follow-up mission in a spaceship, Icarus II, to save the Earth from its dying sun. The first Icarus mission failed. And the second team’s job is to seed the failing sun – our sun – with an atomic bomb that hopefully will jump start a new star within it.

Not being a physicist, I wondered about the math behind this. But that didn’t really matter. What makes this film well worth watching is its solid cast, whose characters are a bit different from the usual sci-fi template, but not too different.

In addition, Sunshine’s special effects are certainly up to scratch. No jerky starfields, overdone spacecraft shadows, or obvious cutouts here.

The paradoxical closeness and distance of Sunshine to so many other sci-fi films and TV shows makes it a bit elusive—but in a good way. Maybe dreamlike would be a better word. The sets and action scenes are familiar, but not quite like anything else we’ve seen.

All in all, an engaging, enchanting film. Possibly not a timeless classic. But sci-fi fans should definitely take a look at this unique mix of action and introspection.

–MC

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