Monday, October 17, 2016

Light Pollution

I've read of certain songwriters who always have their ears open for snippets of conversation they can incorporate into lyrics, or which can sometimes inspire a whole song. Smokey Robinson did that a lot -- he overheard someone say "I second that emotion," and the song wrote itself. Similarly, John Lennon turned a couple of Ringo-isms into songs, "Tomorrow Never Knows" and "A Hard Day's Night."

So, I was at the seminar last Friday when the presenter made an offhand reference to "light pollution." He was talking about how many more stars are visible in the desert, away from all the light pollution of the city. It immediately occurred to me that there is a post hidden in that term -- either that or a hit song.

Our ancient furbears wouldn't have comprehended the idea. For them there was light and darkness, the former an unambiguously good thing, the latter a dangerous -- and even dark! -- quality. You couldn't have too much light. But you could certainly have too much darkness. Remember, before the invention of electric light in the 19th century, darkness was total. Nowadays we rarely encounter anything like it, even, say, while camping. That's only pretend darkness.

It is important to bear this in mind whenever we encounter the symbolism of dark and light in premodern literature -- for example, "the Light shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it," or "I am the light of the world." Those were very bold and vivid statements in a world that couldn't just flip a switch to illuminate their space.

From the earliest times, it seems that light and thought have been equated. To prove that claim, I'm looking in the index of my Familiar Quotations, but the references are too numerous. Too much light! Here's a line by Paul from 1 Timothy: "Ye are all the children of light, and the children of day: we are not of the night, nor of the darkness." Here's one from Ecclesiastes: "Wisdom exceeds folly, as far as light exceeds darkness." And from 1 John: "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all."

Interesting. The 18th century poet Thomas Gray writes of the possibility of too much light, or at least more than we can handle: He saw; but blasted with excess of light, / Closed his eyes in endless night. And Matthew Arnold makes reference to Light half-believers of our casual creeds, / Who never deeply felt, nor clearly willed...

Here's a crack by Goethe: Someday perhaps the inner light will shine forth from us, and then we shall need no other light. Ah. Here's a good one from Theodor Roethke: Who rise from flesh to spirit know the fall: / The word outleaps the world, and light is all.

Here is a cosmic -- if somewhat pantheistic sounding -- sentiment expressed by Jean Toomer : Beyond plants are animals, / Beyond animals is man, / Beyond man is the universe, / The Big Light, / Let the Big Light in!

Ooh. This was still the common sentiment when I began attending college: "A university should be a place of light, of liberty, and of learning" (Disraeli). It has since become a place of darkness, thought control, and indoctrination.

There are obviously many more, but let's move on.

I'm thinking of the Upanishads, which often symbolize God as the sun and Light as wisdom or liberation. The Isha Upanishad says Worlds there are without suns, covered up with darkness. To these after death go the ignorant.

Well, not anymore. Now you can just go to college. Progress!

To darkness are they doomed who worship only the body, and to a greater darkness they who worship only the spirit. What is the solution to this conundrum? Incarnation. You know, the Light becomes darkness that the darkness may become Light.

It seems that there was once a recognition that all light was of the Light. For this reason, you wouldn't confuse a candle with the sun, nor would you utilize a flashlight to try to locate it. Which is why you don't go searching after God with just the light of (lower case r) reason. Rather, reason itself is a reflection of the Light you seek.

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad lays out the Whole Point of it all: Lead me from the unreal to the real, / Lead me from darkness to light / Lead me from death to immortality.

Now, light pollution. What could that be? Think of standing in the middle of the Las Vegas strip. Plenty of light there. But try seeing the stars. There won't be any. Except the living dead ones on stage.

I would say that for human light to be functional, it must be a prolongation of the divine light. Or at least it cannot presume to exist independently without taking on a kind of darkness. In other words, knowledge must be illuminated by wisdom. Scientism, or positivism, or pragmatism, for example, are knowledge without light. And for certain souls, they can become so bright that they obscure the very Light from which they emanate.

But the liberal media are the quintessential case of light pollution. Being in and of that world is analogous to standing on the Vegas strip and seeing nothing beyond it. Academia is only slightly better. Or worse. I can't make up my mind. Consider:

"32 Percent of Millennials Believe George W. Bush Killed More People Than Stalin." Whose fault is this? Is it the fault of the light pollution of the media? Or the propagation of darkness by academia?

I reject this false alternative. It's both.


julie said...

I reject this false alternative. It's both.

Or as the kids today like to say, embrace the healing power of "and".

Light is wonderful. The only way to know it's there (when not looking directly at the source) is that it bounces off of most things. Literally every thing we see is illuminated. Space isn't dark, it only looks that way because it's mostly empty.

Conversely, for true darkness you have to be enclosed within something the light can't penetrate. For instance, a head and heart of stone.

julie said...

Speaking of the propagation of darkness by academia, in South Africa college students are literally flinging poo to protest against science. Not feminist "science" or "climate science" or some other error-ridden branch of the STEM tree, but just basic, plain old Newtonian physics.

julie said...

As a followup, I can't help wondering just how long it will take for feminists here in the US to start flinging feminine products for much the same reason.

Gagdad Bob said...

Here they don't literally fling poo. Rather, figuratively. It is an open question as to which is worse.

mushroom said...

Light pollution -- this is a good reminder.

Paul warned me about it: And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).

I really like the idea of looking for the sun with a flashlight.

mushroom said...

Regarding the poo-flinging and related subjects -- These days I often hang out with members of a cover band. The lead guitarist is around 50, a really nice guy, but hopelessly leftist. The bass player is an old hillbilly like me. The lead singer is a younger guy in his thirties, and he surprised me the other day. It had to do with which pronouns to use or something. He remarked that those who were concerned about stuff like that didn't have enough real problems.

Pretty soon we are all likely to be worrying more about solving third-world problems than first-world problems.

ge said...
above link is to Light is a Living Spirit
by old fave teacher who was light-centred/filled to overflowing
if interested

Gagdad Bob said...
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Gagdad Bob said...

No time for a post this morning.

I relate to much of what this guy says in his "Dear Progressives: My Path From Left To Right," his naturalism notwithstanding:

"But as time went on, the left progressively, spectacularly, went straight into the loony bin."

And then,

"What I found astonished me. It turned out that conservatives weren’t the evil monsters that liberals had painted them. It’s embarrassing to reflect on how naive I was but it was a shock to me to discover just how badly the left misrepresented the views of the right.... To discover that the right actually had reasoned positions and that the left was just out-and-out lying about what the right believed shattered my illusions."

Anonymous said...

Jeb, Laura and Barbara are out. McCain and Romney are out. Wolfowitz and Poderhertz and Boot are out. Kristol and Krauthammer (another law firm) are unsure if they’re out, but it doesn't look good. Erick Erickson is out (apparently a God-firster there). Sam Sheperd is out (but that’s a different kind of out). Is teh liberal winning? We must bring these outies here, to learn of Davila, Schuon and Bob.

julie said...

Anon, it's hard to tell what your point is exactly, but here is a pretty good summary of the election thus far. At least that one provides some humor.

Vanderleun has a rather more somber take.

Anonymous said...

We have to send that link to Jeb, Laura, Barbara, McCain, Romney, Wolfowitz, Poderhertz, Boot, Kristol, Krauthammer, Erick Erickson and any other fools looking to jump the Trump ship. Then have them come here for the rest of the story!

Jason T. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mushroom said...

By the way, Vanderleun is on Gab now.

Scott Adams, too.

Rick said...

I've seen this "both candidates are equally terrible" trial balloon floated here and there and on The Face. I'm sure the purpose is: to suppress a particular kind of voter's itchy trigger finger; from jumping the Hillary wreck by either staying home or double-worse: voting for that other guy.