On The Creating And Sharing Of Awe
Timothy Leary and Buckminster Fuller called themselves “performing philosophers,” using the power of media communication to spread galactic-sized ideas about the state of the species in relation to the wider universe. Leary used to say, “In the information age, you don’t teach philosophy as they did after feudalism. You perform it. If Aristotle were alive today, he’d have a talk show.” Carl Sagan is another example of the philosopher-as-media-personality, effectively hacking pop culture with his iconic Cosmos TV series and sending our collective minds reeling.
Today we need philosophy with the same existential urgency that we always have—and to effectively connect with eager audiences, I believe philosophical ideas will benefit from being “packaged” in the most compulsively watchable and infectiously shareable forms of our time. In fact, I would update what Leary said. If Aristotle were alive today, he’d be a digital nomad, spitting heady dialogue into his Flip cam or iPhone, and sharing it on YouTube, all while globetrotting the world to feed his wanderlust.
Taking advantage of the proliferation of short-form media, I’m working to put out bite-sized bursts of inspired thinking meant to “epiphanize” (or at the very least, engage and inspire). I’m interested in the audio/visual mashup as the re-organization of media bits to reveal something new.
A work of art evokes transcendence when its constituents, in dizzying congruence, somehow reveal something new and greater than the sum of its parts. This is crucial. Each part has intrinsic value of course, (and it too is a mashup of even smaller entities), but I suppose I’m most interested in the ethereal nature of what can emerge when different pieces coalesce together and birth a new, larger, all-encompassing-dot-connecting pattern/paradigm/vision/entity. For me, it’s about the bigger picture, its about the Whole.
My friend, author Sebastien Marincolo, explains how the techniques used in the film Koyaanisqatsi served a key function in expanding our awareness:
“The groundbreaking film utilized time lapse to reveal the repetitive and recurring patterns of daily life… You see for instance a bird’s eye view of a long street in Manhattan with cars going through synchronized traffic lights. What we see is a dance to some mechanized rhythm. We come to understand we are all dancing to this and other rhythms without noticing it anymore.”
He follows this explanation with perhaps the most important statement of all: “These patterns are omnipresent, but only when we see these patterns in a more compressed mode of presentation do we start to attend to them as such.”
For this reason, the tools of editing and the juxtaposition of images, sounds and scales can serve as lenses through which we may discover a pattern we’d otherwise have missed. This is pertinent today as we face radical transformation and exponential technological progress. Information technologies have become instruments of mind expansion and now, more than ever, we need to philosophize, to imaginatively interpret the implications of our co-evolution with technology. We need new ways of digesting these ideas. We must write the script for the next chapter of the Homo Sapiens Story as we transition to what Leary called Homo-Universalis and Homo-Cyberneticus.
Jason Silva is a filmmaker, producer, host, and gonzo journalist.