Archive for February, 2010
In the spirit of evolution…
From the White House blog:
The President met this morning at the White House with His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama. The President stated his strong support for the preservation of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural and linguistic identity and the protection of human rights for Tibetans in the People’s Republic of China. The President commended the Dalai Lama’s “Middle Way” approach, his commitment to nonviolence and his pursuit of dialogue with the Chinese government.
More can be found here.
From NY Times (2006):
Subtle Math Turns Songs of Whales Into Kaleidoscopic Images
What do whale songs and wavelets have in common? Quite a bit, and the wavelets have nothing to do with water.
In a Northern California studio, Mark Fischer, an engineer by training, uses wavelets — a technique for processing digital signals — to transform the haunting calls of ocean mammals into movies that visually represent the songs and still images that look like electronic mandalas. (His art can be found at aguasonic.com.)
Mr. Fischer learned about acoustics by developing software for Navy sonar and the telecommunications industry. Years later, a serendipitous brush with whale researchers in Baja California led him to take a closer look at whales and the diversity of their intricate underwater communication. “I don’t think anyone has ever spent even a little time around a whale and not been amazed by it,” Mr. Fischer said in an interview.
Mr. Fischer creates visual art from sound using wavelets. Once relatively obscure, wavelets are being used in applications as diverse as JPEG image compression, high definition television and earthquake research, said Gilbert Strang, a math professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an expert on wavelets.
They are popular now in part because they can capture intricate detail without losing the bigger picture, and when presented in circular form (using a cylindrical coordinate system), repeated patterns are even more evident. By stringing successive images together, Mr. Fischer transforms still images into animated audio files that bring the sound to life.
Among whales, certain sounds and patterns are unique to different species, and even individuals in a group — something like an auditory fingerprint, Mr. Fischer said. “To anyone who doesn’t listen to it on a regular basis it sounds like a bunch of clicks,” he said. “But if you’re a whale — or someone who studies whales — it becomes clear that they have their own dialects.”
Wavelets are capable of picking up those distinctions, Mr. Fischer said, nuances that may be missed by the human ear or less detailed visualization methods. “You can pick out any one of those movies and I’ll tell you what it is without hearing a thing,” he said. “The differences are that dramatic.” He envisions a day when researchers may be able to use images generated using wavelets to identify and track individual whales.
Peter Tyack agrees that the technique has potential not only as art, but as a scientific research tool. A senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Dr. Tyack studies the way humpback whales communicate, trying to show that the repetitions in whale songs follow grammatical rules similar to those of human language.
“Looking at those figures, it looked like you could see a lot of repeated units,” Dr. Tyack said of the images. “It looks like he’s visualizing some of the points that we made in the paper about humpback song.”
Despite having analyzed recordings from at least 16 species of whales, Mr. Fischer said he had just scratched the surface. “It’s still a wide-open world out there,” he said. “You think you’re in the 21st century and we have the means to get anything, but when it concerns the deep ocean there is still quite a bit of mystery.”
In the meantime, Mr. Fischer hopes that by merging science and art, he will inspire a greater appreciation of whales among both marine biologists and the public, as he gives many people a glimpse of a world they would otherwise never experience.
“It’s a very rare opportunity to be in the water listening to a whale,” he said. A picture, on the other hand, is something you can hang on your wall and look at every day.
“When you see what whales are doing with sound, or begin to see what they are capable of, it is clear that humans are not the only artists on the planet,” he said.
A friend sent this video over, and it’s too good not to share.
TED talk from anthropologist and National Geographic Explorer Wade Davis on the ethnosphere, the cultural and spiritual web of life of the planet; “the sum total of all thoughts, and dreams, myths, ideas, inspirations, intuitions brought into being by the human imagination since the dawn of consciousness…humanity’s great legacy,” and why protecting its diversity is so critical.
Recently, a friend of mine handed me a book by scholar Chang-Hee Son entitled,”Haan of Minjung Theology and Han of Han Philosophy: In the Paradigm of Process Philosophy and Metaphysics of Relatedness.”
This book has shifted the course of my research in the most profound of ways. I came here to investigate what I initially referred to as the “national Korean psyche.” I was fascinated by the dissonance between what is known as North and what is known as South, how these articulations of Koreanness were embodied and expressed through traditional (read: pre-division) music and dance forms, how they diverged and converged and what this all meant in terms of prospects for national unification. This is all still in the mix of things. But upon further research and in the time that I have spent living here (6 months now), my search for understanding has made it clear that one cannot truly understand the ‘psyche’ in nationalistic or otherwise political terms. At least not only in these terms, and certainly not as a preliminary notion. To understand the psyche - or the soul, mind, and spirit – of the Korean people, one needs to look more deeply, expansively, and metaphysically. This is what I have been getting at all along, but my particular lens has just been adjusted so that I may see in deeper vision, and more particularly, in stereoscopic vision, which I will explain here.
Haan and Han are two aspects and levels of the Korean psyche that can be understood to be articulations of the Korean pathos and ethos, respectively. The former is psychological in nature. It is most often understood as suffering, loss and unrequited longing, resentment for injustices one has had to endure. Though it should be noted that there are several different forms and gradations of haan, not all of them dark, or negative. The dark haan of longing, resentment, or grief can be transformed into positive energy and action, as in Minjung (roughly translates as “the people” in a socio-cultural and spiritual sense) movement and Minjung Theology. The latter is an indigenous philosophy of unity and harmony, and has lived in the Korean mind, forming Korean identity, since virtually the inception of civilization on this particular piece of Eastern land. Philosophical Han speaks to unifying humankind and the universe, and tracing the articulations of man living in harmony with nature and the cosmos through the balance of Yin and Yang, as well as the Five Elements (metal, wood, water, fire and earth) and the five directions (East, West, North, South, and Center). It is the essence of the Korean mind and identity, whereas Haan is the expression of the Korean heart. Both of these phenomena have different manifestations within Korean culture, and hold within them different understandings of the psyche and meanings embedded within sociocultural phenomena.
I have referenced haan before on this blog, and intend to clarify the differences between it and the philosophical Han, for they are spelled the same in hangeul, but are very different entities. I take the spellings from Son’s book, as it helps to clarify between the two.
Psychological haan could be thought of as akin to the blues in Black America. (And actually, Kim San mentions in “Song of Ariran” how the independence fighters during occupation had a fondness for the music of American blues musicians as well as Black Christian hymnals.) Haan can be experienced on the individual and collective level, the latter being the result of political and social injustices imposed upon a group of people, which was widely felt under the various postwar regimes of south Korea. Psychological haan is hardship and suffering that accumulates over time, and is felt in a world of separations and dualisms. It is a state of disunity, opposition, and the longing to overcome such disparities. This collective suffering found hope in what is known as Minjung Theology – an integration of Christianity into the Korean context. The belief in Christ gave hope that there could be resolution to one’s haan, and so it gave meaning to one’s suffering. It has given Korean a collective voice from which to form solidarity amongst the socially and economically oppressed, and practical means by which to attain resolution. It can be argued how successful this has been, but regardless, it has been an empowering and organizing force amongst Korea’s Minjung. (Minjung can be applied to any group of people, anywhere in the world, that suffers hardships from unjust political, social, and economic rule.)
Philosophical Han, on the other hand, is characterized by nonorientability, or a lack of boundaries and dualisms. As can be understood in the Korean language, Koreans do not differentiate between ‘you’ and ‘me.’ Instead it’s ‘us’ and ‘we.’ The immediate separations between ‘self’ and ‘other’ the Westerners take for granted, is not the natural state of relationship in the Korean mind. There is a familial connotation in all of this that I really love and appreciate.
Further, in Son’s treatise, Han can be understood as another articulation of process philosophy, or the ontology of becoming, which in essence states that the nature of being is change and transformation. Everything is always in the process of becoming. To better define this in terms of philosophical Han, we can think of the idea of concrescence, which has both biological and philosophical meanings, but essentially is a concept of novel togetherness; that disparate things can join together and begin a new process of growth and becoming. (Indeed this can also be thought of in terms of process philosophy. I am concurrently wondering about the potentialities of Deleuzian applications to Han philosophy within the particular context of my work.) Philosophical Han looks to overcome dualisms, and to unify and harmonize all the elements of the Universe to grow in a dynamic process of change and transformation. Pretty great, huh?
So what does this mean for Korea?
In my previous post I wrote of colonization, one of the major upheavals within Korea in its modern history. This period of strife was followed by national division and civil war, and since then Korea has never been the same. Indeed, Son worded it in terms of haan and han: that after national division, there was “no more han, only haan.” National unity was lost to ideological battles, torn between north and south, self/other, you/me, us/them, etc. Son and other scholars go on to argue that in tandem with this, the embrace of Christianity for the Minjung Theologians, though empowering and organizing, has also worked to the disadvantage of the cause of national unity, as it usurps the indigenous way of thinking (Han) and gives primary acknowledgement to the perception of the world through the dualistic view of Western thought. (BTW, this is not to discredit Christianity in any way, and Son himself is a devout Christian. This view is a critical statement of Western society’s dualistic thinking that has trumped indigenous Korean thought, which is oriented toward nondualism and unity.)
Sang-Yil Kim, Han scholar wrote:
Both forms of Han come from the native Korean mind, but the Haan of Minjung Theology is created from dualistic disharmonious feelings, whereas the Han of Hanism promotes the nondualistic harmonious feelings. It is my understanding that the former Haan entails unresolved resentment while the latter Han entails resolved love. So Haan can be resolved through Han: Haan and Han should be united together.
Indeed, Koreans have the philosophical and spiritual tools needed to rethink the division between north and south. Clearly there are very real issues concerning the economic, social and political difficulties a unified Korean nation would hypothetically face, and yet wouldn’t it be valuable to be able to understand these issues in terms of the spiritual?
Can we understand unification within the context of humanity in a dynamic process of becoming, a concrescense of change and transformation?
Are we, particularly those in power, capable as human beings to do this yet?
A new set of questions as I continue my work…
Recently was talking to a friend in the US about Korea and global political history, or something along these lines. I was a bit surprised when, in passing, said friend mentioned, among other things, Korea’s role as colonizer in the context of historical global relations.
Surely, I did not just hear that, I thought. Surely, this person doesn’t believe Korea, of all the countries of East Asia, once colonized some other country? And if so, what country would that have been?? In my remote and lurking Korean (American) national pride, it was kind of like a little bit of salt on my race’s historical wounds (I realize I am conflating nation and race here, but that’s how insidiously unconscious this stuff can be). I was sadly reminded of how so many people in the West — and a lot of people I know — actually don’t really know very much about Korea and its history. And what they do know is abstract, vague, generalized at best.
And I guess, why should they? Much of Korean historical scholarship is written and consumed by those with a particular specialization in Korea or East Asian Studies, Korea has traditionally not been perceived as a major global power nation, and because of Korea’s history of invasions from outside forces, as well as a period of incredibly brutal colonization by the Japanese – Korea has been just a little bit protectionist, and also because of these factors, so much of written Korean history has been lost; documents pillaged and records destroyed (or stolen, see below), not to mention the systematic cultural and religious oppression by Japanese colonizers in forbidding the study of Korean history, art, and language, as well as making worship at Shinto shrines compulsory.
This is really Korean History 101. Pick up any book on the subject and one of the first things it will talk about is Korea’s unfortunate geographic location and the subsequent history of foreign invasion that’s descended upon “the Land of the Morning Calm.” Of course, much more could and should be said about this, but for now what I wanted to share was this opinion article from the Joong-Ang Daily: “Winning Back Stolen Culture”.
Case in point, this article states:
According to a recent survey by the Cultural Heritage Administration, a total of 107,857 Korean historic properties are scattered over 18 countries. Japan holds the largest number with 61,409 items, followed by the United States with 27,726 items. Some items, such as Uigwe, were confiscated by foreign invaders while others fell into the hands of collectors through trade.
France, Japan, the US — all have historical and cultural artifacts that were stolen during invasions and occupation currently displayed in their own libraries and museums. Koreans want them back. Why can’t these people return what is not rightly theirs? (This is all really working up my haan.)
Righting the wrongs of history in Korea has undoubtedly been an ongoing and deeply-rooted psychological, cultural, and emotional process that plays out on so many levels – from reclaiming stolen cultural artifacts, to former comfort women protesting every Wednesday in Seoul, to trying to correct the misconceptions of the outside world. Every nation has its own demons to exorcise, its own psychological and collective healing it must do. These are just a few examples of contemporary (south) Korea’s particular situation, and this is something that Koreans themselves will continue to negotiate and work through for a long time coming…