Interpretations of the “Monolith” (2001: A Space Odyssey)

The marbled monolith represented exactly what it was — a massive slab of obviousness.  It was something that could not be ignored if one was consciously present within the room.  However, it represented something more.  It hypothetically put forward how we evolved from apes to humans, as despite it being so obvious, one does have to be consciously aware to detect a change in one’s environment — to detect a spontaneous black slab that appears out of nowhere.  What I think Kubrick may have been illustrating was how we transitioned from a lesser state of awareness and into something more.  The apes saw the world from a primal and survival-based intelligence level.  Then, one day, they saw something in a way which they could not describe.  It captivated them in a manner which superseded all that in the background.  The apes had their first intelligently conscious moment.  The black slab was so sudden and so out-of-nowhere, that there was no way to not perceive it with intense reactional response, elevating one’s self from a lower conscious level to ultimately realize human potential.  The apes realize that one can use objects as weapons and begin to interact with the world in an evolutionary manner.  Kubrick was describing the birth of conscious intelligent life.

Just as the apes, the bones-as-a-weapon realization and the rocky, wild and unconquered landscape acted as an allegory for where conscious awareness found itself, the ending “room” is the same.  We see a fully civilized, cultured man surrounded by a pleasant bright white light in an ordered and structured room.   Whereas before the sun was the only source of light, now the source is fluorescent and man-made.  The world in which the apes found themselves was completely out of their control and foreign, whereas the room the ‘futureman’ finds himself within is completely of his (in the species sense) own creation and understanding.

Just as before, this man sees a black slab appear out of nowhere.  He chases it around the room and finds himself getting older and older in the very process.  As with the apes (‘dawn of man’), the black slab represents something in which to call attention to and inspire evolutionary reaction.  However, as a being already evolved, it is perplexing to understand its context in this room.  The man is chasing the meaning to his own human life, representing the human species as a whole.  His drive and inspiration is personified as a cold, impersonal metallic slab.  The futureman is chasing this until he dies, but with every realization, he finds himself ending up at a goal, with no memory of how he got there.  His only memory is standing at his previous position, looking out at the end-goal.  He then finds himself at the end-goal, only to not have actually ended anything.  Ironically, he finds himself once again on the chase, immediately focusing on the end-goal, until his physical body runs out of life — the entire process fueled by the monolith.  Yet even on his deathbed, at the very last moment, with his very last ounce of strength, the futureman sees this black slab once more and MUST reach out to it.  He is determined despite knowing that there’s no way he can possibly do such a thing, as he is confined to his bed and limited by his old age.  However, he must reach the end-goal and is always searching for an answer that simply cannot be reached.

This man represents what we are as a human species at the present moment — 1% away from complete control but somehow we still find ourselves unable to reach this remaining percentage.  Kubrick’s only explanation is indirect, as he eventually zooms into the black slab and transitions into space.  We live on earth and we look at space, a massive beautiful black slab, and it drives us.  Space isn’t the actual root drive of humanity; it just represents something that makes us realize our own subjectivity and scale.  It represents something so massive and so incomprehensible — its existence is a symbol for human ambition.  Like the black slab, space is unexplainable, yet we must understand and decode its mystery.  As illustrated in the final room, though, we see how the pursuit will kill us.  It is only in our last moment in which we will ever feel complete, as death is the only end-goal that can be reached with complete satisfaction.  Upon death, we go once again back into the chaotic world which we so often, in life, pretended did not exist.  We are so afraid of the unknown, that just to live we have to build white rooms of cutting edge architecture to hide us from the scary black space.  This space, like the monolith, represents the majority of existence which we do not have wrapped around our finger.  We hide from chaos and disorder, but it always exists.  Death exists, space exists and everything beyond our perspective exists and it is out of our control.  As the apes did in the beginning of the film, we go insane at these realizations — just as the futureman drove himself to death in pursuit of an explanation for what is inherently unexplainable and chaotic.  All perceived order is nothing but one flower in a field of trillions of weeds which are slowly creeping in on our shell of artificial order.

An Alternative Interpretation

The final scene could also be viewed as Kubrick’s interpretation of death, post-existence and post-humanity.  The starchild symbolizes the final peaceful understanding felt just before passing after a lifetime of seemingly futile pursuit.  The last scene shows this starchild looking over the earth and it is here where the individual starchild transitions into a metaphor for the human species.  We see the starchild looking over the earth in a contemplative and honorable manner.  If you could replace the earth with “a lifetime of personal memories” and the starchild with “someone passing away”, the intention would be exactly the same.  Instead, the final scene depicts the personification of the perfect human looking back upon the earth and thinking upon how far man has come.  In this state, one can only observe in reserved tranquility rather than act.  For a perfect, fully-realized species, this is the ultimate heaven — to look back on the source of our life, the earth, and marvel at how far we have come.  In this light, the ending is a love letter for the human species of the future.  We see a peaceful, beautiful, golden and intelligent fetus rather than something wrought with flaws.  Despite the journey, despite the chaos that once so defined humanity and the desire to understand everything, we float in peace at the finish line with nothing to do but bask in the odyssey of our achievement.

The “Messiah” Complex

With enough self-confidence, we all begin to view ourselves, in some degree, as “messiahs” in our own respective fields and in our minds.  Why would you not base your actions around your ideal life philosophy?  The “Messiah” complex — the notion that “I believe, despite subjective nature of my rationality, that I am RIGHT and that you should trust my judgment.”  We base everything, from positive and negative interactions, around this belief — until it changes and we become empathetic to the grander and more selfless ideas based in love.

But do we, really?  Frankly, the ones who continue being right continue to do so due to a combination of having a sense for what the whole is thinking, at least in their particular location on the planet, and being charismatic enough to convince everyone of their own reality.  The thing about conscious awareness is that we are always trying to get the most out of every situation, simply because we are aware of choice.  Additionally, we at least have some idea of what would be a better outcome relative to our own personal tastes and personality/mindset.  Thus, every action, in our own minds and at said moment, is the right one to take.

Think about how you rationalize your choices at their core — “Because I like it”, because you believe it is ‘right’, the only natural option of the moment, the only embraceable decision.  If your chosen action is proven to not be as perfect as your perceptions allow, be prepared to show the world your negative side.  Selflessness allows you to see past this, but only to a certain point.  The more you break down your actions, what you are doing, the more likely deep, core motives are actually contradicting what you would perceive to be selflessness.

If you are helping people because that genuinely makes you happy, then are you helping people to help people?  Is it possible that because your experiences with helping people have been positive ones, that the feeling is what you seek — not the charity itself?  True selflessness is not even acknowledging favors or kind acts you are doing for another — it’s considering these actions STANDARD — the DEFAULT.  To never expect a “thank you”, because anything other than selflessness is derived pervertedly from your default “HELP ALL HUMANS” outlook.

In other words, the messiah complex is an oxymoron.  Those who are genuinely selfless would never acknowledge such a thing.  Those who acknowledge their charitable actions in a manner which encourages an ego or elevates their being above the rest of the world are clearly not selfless.  There can never again be a true messiah, as if he/she exists, we would never hear from him/her.  The minute you hear of a messiah’s existence, you know it to be false, because true godliness (my definition of godliness = striving to operate at peak human potential) understands that living up to your potential is what should be expected, not something that is beyond the norm or deserves compensation.

Defining Music

Before you press play and long after the song has ended, sound can still be heard.  Whether it’s the background noise of a bus or the sound of headphones being removed from the ear — we continuously hear sound each day.  Listening to the sounds of birds in the morning in combination with the natural sounds of the outdoor environment can sooth and perhaps even allow us to hear patterns of melody in the noisy nothingness.  A woodpecker tapping on a tree might match nicely with the sound of the rain – it is in this context in which the listener has transformed what was at first noise, into music.

Music is what we are presently hearing, but only if it is realized to be so.  Turning on an album and then focusing upon another activity – is the album still considered music, or has it become background noise?  The artist may have intended for it to have been heard as music, but when placed in a context where music is unwanted, it is simply one more layer of noise to tune out.  Therefore, music is not a theoretical record yet to have been played, nor is it the next thirty seconds approaching in the song – music is now.  If you consider it to be music, you are actively listening to it in the present moment.

Music is response-oriented – focusing upon the listener’s reaction, rather than the music itself.  Music is not a pop melody unless you recognize it to be one.  It is based on the listener’s state-of-mind and intention.  The sounds we hear are either aimless, formless noise or they are cohesive, consciously crafted statements of creativity made solely for our enlightenment.   At any given moment, we make the decision on how to classify receptive sound.

Thus, focus is the determining factor in musical preference.  Beyond the simple notion of “paying attention” to sound intended (and hoping-to-be-realized) as music, there is the ability to comprehend music at greater levels of clarity.  Simply paying attention in greater detail can allow for an increase in musical understanding.  Imagine a song you strongly detest, regardless of genre.  What caused the discomfort you feel?  Was it the sound itself, or was it the fact that the sound conflicted with a personalized mental attachment to what you consider “music”?  What happens when someone listens to the same song, but this person finds immense enjoyment in the material?  The song matches with their ideal for what can be considered music.  Music is completely response-oriented, and thus, all sound can be potentially experienced as music with a broad enough personal standard.  This standard adjusts at whim.  If you find yourself meditating on a mountaintop, you may find yourself at peace, and all is music.  If you find yourself in a traffic jam, limited patience will limit this standard, etc.

Conscious awareness of the fact that sound exists allows us to perceive sound in a way which goes beyond noise.  Music is sound which, through personalized context, sparks inspiration within the listener.

A Tragic Dilemma

Lately I’ve been seeing rather frequent headlines for plane crashes with many fatalities. The nature of this news and it’s morbid presence amongst the rest of the news inspired the following write-up.

Background:

Every day, people die. Despite the obvious, it would seem that we view death with a rare and uncommon eye — but the advent of unprecedented connectedness throughout the world allows us to see otherwise. Many choose to ignore these headlines, primarily under the logic that dwelling on such a thing is only sure to generate negative and depressing thoughts and attitudes. What many fail to realize is that to hide such information is to delude reality. You cannot simply pretend that these horrible events do not happen, despite how hard it is to empathize with that which seems impossible to one’s own lifestyle. News-based media reports on tragedy for that reason, as it generates attention because I think, deep down, that we all wish we could make our peace with the very simple fact: “You will die.”

A Tragic Dilemma:

  1. Not everyone wants to read about death in the first moments of their mornings.
  2. However, you cannot exclude tragedy, because above everything else it’s inhumane not to, at the least, acknowledge the existence of the suffering of fellow human beings.

The Solution:

Offer a website devoted to tragedy, thus implying that other media outlets should perhaps devote a portion of their own medium to tragedy. Create an outlet that consistently reports on tragedy, as to allow news to cater to things that affect the reader on a more localized level (and in the year 2011, localized means everything and anything anywhere on the globe that either impacts or interests you). Having a separate medium ENTIRELY for tragedy would have the potential to increase overall empathy to humans in other parts of the world, without adding a deathly slant to what’s immediately relevant to your day. This is why I’d love to see someone start a project of this nature, or at the least see news websites move tragedy to it’s own section. Such a project could easily come to life online, posting links to various tragedies currently generating discussion throughout the global community. Ideally the aim would be to provide an archive of relatively significant tragedies available to the general internet public, while being self-aware of how taboo the concept is viewed when facing such an open audience.

Organizing The Taboo:

The question is, how Meta do you take such a concept? I believe that is possible to allow for a rating system prioritizing certain tragedies over others if we are not looking at such a thing in a personal manner. If you step back and realize that death is a very common concept that seems to have been tucked away into taboo discussion, it quickly also becomes apparent that there are non(/hardly)-preventable, uncommon deaths that generate a higher interest level simply due to their uncommon nature. Why not categorize? Why not make the navigation of an archival of such events easier? It is in this light a rating system comes off less amoral and more logical. This hypothetical website could present this medium with a slight hint of self-awareness, as if to say the events reported upon the website are clearly excellent examples of unexpected tragedy that remind us of that very fact — you, will, die.

Profit:

The only way the website would be able to maintain a sense of moral standing is if all future (if any) successful profit from ad revenue would be given to a reputable charity (which genuinely gives all of its money to those in need). If there is to be any profit off a website which maintains its existence by reporting upon loss & injury, it should go directly into the pockets of the victims in need. This is why to report upon death in such a way and not donate at least a portion of one’s profits to charity is absolutely amoral.

Conclusion:

Why share this idea?  Why not simply start the website on my own?  To truly make this a successful project, one would have dedicated a significant amount of time each day to aggregating tragic news, sorting through what is most significant.  I feel that such a task would be too depressing to come back to day-after-day.  However I throw it out into the open because I believe that if someone with a decent moral standing were to undertake this idea, the end result could potentially benefit charitable organizations and thus those whom these tragedies directly affect.  Additionally, the initial observation itself (“A Tragic Dilemma”) which inspired the idea for the website is worth pondering.

Existence as system-like whole

Imagine a relationship between two concepts:

  1. The essence of existence as a functional, system-like whole, and…
  2. The perspective of one functioning part in that existence (this being realized through conscious awareness).

Macro:Micro. Creator:Creation. The “creator” is the designer, the architect, but will never be able to enjoy it’s own creation, for that is reserved for the inhabitants within said creation. Being that the universe is here and we presently find ourselves within it’s confines, it makes logical and rational sense that we use our conscious awareness to develop our sense of what’s positive and what’s negative.  This allows us to perfect the filtering of the negative to enhance our overall experience in this existence. The premise being that “The Creator” is simply existence itself, and that we can choose to see any aspect of it in any life imaginable, because the endless nature of existence allows for this creativity/freedom.

In the metaphorical sense, it makes sense for the creations of “The Creator” to enjoy that which has been created solely for unlimited experience. Suffering is undergone and enjoyment is undertaken, but clearly both are the resulting choices of each individual creation, particularly for conscious humans, as we experiment with the endless situational and reactional possibilities.

From The Creator’s perspective, it’s entertaining to witness all the variety, but to see creations so happy with the creation no doubt encourages The Creator positively. This metaphor allows us to grasp the notion that perhaps existence itself is conscious in some abstract manner which we as individual parts of a grander system could never truly understand (much like cells, bacteria, insects, and other smaller lifeforms than ourselves all either form larger life or contribute to a  grander ecosystem).

Essentially, Earth happens to be a place in the universe where everything lined up just right and existence finally had a chance to experience itself consciously (through human awareness).  There are smaller worlds within our Earth, just as we are but one small portion of life upon our planet, as it is one portion of our solar system, which is one small part of our galaxy, etc — but none of this takes away the significance of conscious existence.  From our vantage-point, it does seem as if we are in the exact middle of a scale where the smallest and largest components of our universe are similar in measurable extremes.

This is a fallacy of conscious awareness, however, as regardless where we find ourselves on “the cosmic scale”, if conscious, we would likely perceive the smaller degrees and the larger degrees of life in relatively equal proportion. Technology naturally allows us to see to our absolute limits, but this will always be seen in a relatively “even” light.  Why would we be able to traverse to the edge of the universe but find ourselves unable to zoom in beyond bacteria, or vice versa?

The underlying point here is that because of this fallacy, regardless how primitive or advanced we actually are as a global community, our existence is profound.  It is profound because without our awareness, the universe would continue to exist with all it’s mystery and absolutely no one to soak in the experience of it all.  We’re aware, and regardless how limited of an awareness, it is still very much an awareness.

Boredom & Purpose

We’re bored. Collectively. It is a nice thing to be conscious, because we can be aware of this boredom, and furthermore correct it. The awareness that “nothing is being done which resonates with me as an individual” — we cannot stand this. Typically, we turn to family, friends, culture, sex, entertainment or whatever it is that satisfies this individual boredom. Some may turn to work, some may turn to creative endeavors, some may converse and some may internally meditate. All temporary answers to a very real question — we are conscious, and thus, bored.

There is a desire, it would seem then, to alleviate this boredom. During peak experiences in your life, boredom is the farthest thing from your mind, and this is because in these moments, you are fulfilling a purpose. Purpose is the antidote to boredom, and excitement stems from a fulfilling of said purpose. We’re bored, because we are conscious that we have unrealized potential that could be channeled towards a purpose.

However, just as boredom comes and goes so does that which alleviates it. You can play a videogame and enter a world where your purpose becomes scaled down to singular objectives and tasks. You can work in a career with stepping stones and promotions and an entire system suggesting a greater purpose. You can write the great American Novel, every chapter, every sentence, every word defining a thought — each seemingly reaching a greater plane. Something beyond.

All these things are temporary solutions. All fades. Purpose can be realized. The problem is not with boredom — the problem is with purpose. Boredom is completely natural, and is an instant reality check into one’s personal situation — a mental inventory for one’s greater well-being. Boredom is alleviated through purpose, and purpose is defined through the individual.

Purpose is not an infinite concept, and is very much defined through human perception. This limitation suggests that there will always be an end to your chosen purpose, and thus, a point where you find yourself bored once more. The moment you become boss, the moment you finish directing your debut feature film — all of these are but peaks upon an ever-rising mountain-range of illusionary achievement. We fulfill our boredom by creating systems of purpose which we can dedicate ourselves towards, and we care not if these purposes can be fulfilled in our lifetime. In fact, we strive to find purposes that can be completed before our death, and this explains why we so frequently run into boredom.

“The meaning of life”, is almost entirely subjective. There is, however, one objective aspect that anyone can observe, and that is whether one is bored or engaged in purpose. Someone can dictate their meaning for life, but in those quieter moments of contemplation, in the midst of exciting personal success, there are certainly moments of “blah” suggesting something lacking.

This is the ultimate guilt of conscious awareness. The minute we achieve something is the same minute we find ourselves in the same place we were prior to said achievement — once more with unrealized potential, bored and lost in the in-betweens of our lives. Instinctually, it would seem that the only lasting, eternal purpose would be that which is dedicated to the human species as a whole — this is where the concept of a family comes into play as being the only thing that can ever truly matter to us as bored, individual, conscious humans.

While it is nice to conceptualize the idea of grand human progression through microcosmic action, it is not enough to satisfy the immediate ego. The individual ego is always bored unless it is engaged in distinctive, macrocosmic purpose. Just as the greatest philosophers live by example, the greatest humans live through their succeeding sons and daughters. Those who struggle for the human collective and greater good are doing so for future generations — to provide a safe zone for the youth to contemplate the absolute nothing.

There is never an answer to boredom. To be completely free from such a thing is to be dead. Purpose drives us each and every single day, to the point where we as a species can sit around the collective fire, contemplating life and all within. Contemplating our actions, reflecting upon mistakes, attempting to allow our future selves (our children) to be gifted with the wisdom of said mistakes — and maybe someday we’ll get to a place where all that wisdom is truly, genuinely applied. This is the only eternal purpose we should strive for — that day during which, after a long day’s work, our children look up to the stars, speechless as their boredom has long-since been replaced by awesome purpose. Each star, reflecting a possibility. This is all that will ever relieve our inherent boredom — the idea that tomorrow, there will be a world, and that in that world our children will flourish and prosper. Each child — a complete realization of human achievement.

“Love Of Money Is The Root Of All Evil”

“Money” is an illusionary concept. As wealth accumulates, it is only inevitable that one will begin to mentally prioritize this illusion above all else. Materialism can create a heaven on earth, sure, but only upon the surface — past the novelty, money is lifeless and by itself cannot create or seriously maintain any emotion – let alone happiness. Enjoyment from life stems from one’s mindset, and when this mindset is shaken from illusion, it creates behaviors which many would refer to as “evil”. The statement could perhaps be rephrased, “Money is illusionary, and man’s repeated tendency to attach himself to this illusion fuels the evil of this world.”

(It is possible to have a large sum of money while still maintaining one’s core principles/self/character, but after a certain point your entire world becomes that of an illusion. Fame, success, connections and praise can be experienced in varying degrees, whether through a thankful smile or outright Beatlemania. Money is certainly a temptation, and thus the root of illusionary indulgence — but the individual is the resistance.)