Choice and Consequence Part 2: Prelude to a Story

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Course Ideas / Reflections

Part 1 of this series is here.

I think I was a twinge unclear last time, so let me begin with a slight reset. We are each absolutely and without doubt unique. The network of capabilities, talents, inclinations, perspectives, beliefs, desires and experiences that make each of us who we are exist in no one else but us. This is so. What I’d hoped to convey is not that the possibilities for individual expression are constrained, but that the very root of any thought system—though the flowering of it may indeed be unique—can only and ever be one of two things. Ever.

(Period.)

(Full stop.)

The root of self-expression and perceptual processing is either reality or image.

Now, before attempting to unpack this in detail, let me assert one corollary: Ultimately—no if’s, and’s or but’s about it—there is only reality at the root of who we are, and there is nothing we can do about that. No choice, no thought, no action of ours can ever change our given nature, and this is the source of both our freedom and our eternal protection. We are free to imagine (and experience the consequences of) alternatives, but every alternative to the truth and reality of who we are is but an image. From this perspective there’s just one alternative—image—which can assume quite a varied array of forms.

So yes, choice is at the root of all that we experience, but this is not the sort of “conscious” choice we make every day, like the choice of what toppings to have on our pizza, or what clothes to wear, or what field of study to explore, or who to work for, or who to vote for, or any of the myriad other choices we generally think we’re making. The choice at the root of our experience is a very deep choice, an old choice, and I would like to suggest—at some level, even—an inherited choice. It is a choice most of us may never actually make unless we work with deliberate, truly conscious attention and heartfelt desire—both together—to make anew.

It’s almost time, now, for a story. Before I begin, though, let me clarify one point. I suggested last time that it’s simply not possible to have a neutral view on consciousness—a view without consequences—and by extension, I should add that it’s not possible to come to a view on consciousness “after the fact.” We can’t bring consciousness to bear on the set of facts we’ve assembled (through the vehicle of consciousness) to then make an objective determination of what consciousness is. It’s just not possible to make a study of consciousness that excludes the choice about what consciousness is at the outset, and I’m okay with this. It is simply our lot. We have to pick one: consciousness is the root of reality, or it isn’t.

There will not be much, if anything, that is truly new in this series of posts, except for the fact that what is said will be offered through the unique proposition that is me. As a result, it will be said in a unique way, and by extension, it may be heard in a unique way. This is my hope. I want us to be honest when we discuss these topics, because like I said last time, “the content of our consciousness is the single most decisive factor in the trajectory of human events, the conditions of the non-human world (at least presently), [and] the quality of life generally on this planet.” This stuff absolutely matters. And so before I tell a story that’s already been told (in my own way), I’d like to be frank about one more point: I have a goal in writing this series of posts. I do. I have a bias, a desire, a longing, a hope, and yes, a need.

I know that not everyone views themselves and the world the way that I do. At the level of “conscious” choices we make about food, capitalism, airlines, immigration, sexual orientation, entertainment, relationships, etc., I believe respect for all creeds and pathways is paramount. Along these lines, when it comes to the topic of consciousness, I would like us to admit one thing to one another: at the present time, with current knowledge, there is no objectively correct answer to the question of what consciousness is or how it originated. On the level of intellectual reasoning and phenomenological evidence alone there is no definitively provable “fact of the matter” about what consciousness is or how it began.

This isn’t to say there isn’t a reality of the matter. It’s just to say there isn’t an externally conveyable fact of the matter. To the point at the outset of this post: we have the freedom to experience what is not so, not the freedom to determine what is so. From here, in the next post, I am going to (re)tell a story—based on the notion that consciousness is the root of reality—about how we got into the predicament we’re in, and how we can move past it. This story will illumine the distinction between reality and illusion that I introduced above, and relate it to this notion of consciousness, and will introduce notions about free will and physical determinism that I think will clarify how both can be “true” together.

34 Comments

  1. As I was reading Part 2 of Explorations in Authenticity the image of a very slow Dance of the Seven Veils came to mind. Though I suspect that it may well be a Dance of the Fourteen Veils, with a very slow final reveal of the underlying truth of the matter: you’re such a tease Michael!

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    • Haha. Hilarious, Don! Well, the apparent world is, in a sense, a dance of Seven Veils, so I suppose I’m not doing too badly… I’m trying to build one step at a time and I confess it’s not easy. Knowledge is a circle, and writing is a straight line, and it’s sometimes hard to map one onto the other. But we’ll get there, I promise!

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  2. I’m going have to wait to see where you go with this “reality or image” thing, because at first blush it seems the choice between understanding what the world really is versus what we only imagine it is. I have a strong inclination to view only the former as sanity, so I’m not sure how well I can follow you down the path I suspect you’re taking but speak on McDuff! 🙂

    Totally agree we don’t understand how consciousness arises, though.

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    • Almost there, and perhaps surely to disappoint. But before I do let me say I greatly appreciate your patience and readership. To your point above, you’ll see I’m using the terms a little differently than I think you are, but only in the sense that my starting point is that consciousness is fundamental. (We’ve all got to make a choice as I’ve tried say, and I’ve also tried to say that on the level of logic alone, it remains a preference and not a conveyable, meaning objectively provable, truth.) Having made my choice, the terms “reality” and “image” take on a different meaning than they do if one makes another choice (about consciousness). This is the thing: this one choice colors everything and creates a circular system of logic. We’re all abiding in echo chambers of our fundamental choice on this topic. But more to follow, Wyrd!

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      • Certainly much rides on how you define “image” — I’m looking forward to your detailing that. I also see consciousness as fundamental, but we might need to unpack the word “fundamental” a bit. It can mean “basic” or “core” or not irreducible to parts (or, for some, adhering to the letter of their dogma).

        A bit of synchronicity: I realized a month or two ago (and was so amused I wrote it down) that I could be called an “epistemic fundamentalist” — doubly so. Firstly, I think it’s important to know the basics, the fundamentals, of how life works. “The more you know,…” as the saying goes. The fundamentals provide a good groundwork that makes it harder for the deceitful world to trick you with lies. Secondly (and perhaps relevant here), I’m a bit of an old-fashioned fundamentalist about basic facts and “science” (by which I just mean the study of our reality). I lean towards trusting facts that have both historic and evidential weight. (Which doesn’t necessarily confine itself to laboratories.) Anyway, it all shows ta go ya that “fundamental” can mean a few different things! 🙂

        FWIW, sudden topic shift, I have a long-standing debate with others about just how trapped we really are in our, as you say, echo chambers. I’ve long believed that rational thought and the dialectic offer at least a window, if not a door.

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        • Going straight to the topic shift, Wyrd, what comes to mind is that I agree with you, but only in certain situations. And understanding what situations are even possible gets back to the root assertion I’ve been talking about. Let me try to explain with simple examples.

          For a great many things, rational thought and dialectic offer a means to test and evaluate our positions. Perhaps the best example of this I can think of is something like forensics. Through rational thought (and some knowledge of physics) we might be able to rule out various theories about how a crime occurred. We may, for instance, be able to show that a particular hypothesis about a murder is incorrect because the physics of a bullet’s path contained in the hypothesis just doesn’t work…

          We also could use rational thought to observe, in the area of public policy for instance, that views we don’t particularly like may (or may not) have some logical basis. We might discover our view is a little limited, and that in light of the additional information and logical argument our friend just dosed us with, it makes sense to concede the issue is more complicated than we thought.

          One thing I don’t think logic can be used to do is determine if the root assertion we espouse–the thought at the very foundation of our thought system–is correct or not. Meaning, we cannot use logic alone to determine if our core understanding of ourselves and the world is in accord with reality or is based on an image. And the reason is we can find evidence for both, and construct a logically consistent thought system out of either starting point… So something else is required and I hope to get to that, too, in a bit!

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          • The way I see it, the main thing about rational analysis is the search for contradiction. The Popper view of science says that a theory must be falsifiable. Extending that, a truth must be free of contradiction. It’s almost impossible to prove something is true, but it is possible to prove something contradicts itself. Your forensics example is an illustration. (Of course, contradiction can still be a fundamental truth &mash; that’s part of Yin-Yang.)

            Even in pure math there are suspected truths that cannot be proved. But neither can they be disproved, so it remains to intuition to decide. They aren’t common, though. I think life has rare unproveable truths, too, but looking for contradiction is often a pretty good razor.

            That debate I mentioned is, at root, about the modern view that logic is so very in service to our emotions and axioms. There is certainly truth to that, but I think it often gets used as an excuse to disdain logic. I am not a fan of the modern view that elevates feelings over logic (often discarding the latter). I agree logic isn’t perfect and can lead to error, but feelings are far more prone to lead to error and by a huge margin. To paraphrase Churchill about democracy, logic is the worst possible way of thinking… except for all others. Although I put feelings as second by a hair. Yin-Yang. My motto is The heart pushes, but the head steers.

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          • It might be worth mentioning a distinction between logical thought and rational thought. Logic is a form of math, so logic is a calculation. Logic concerns itself with the form of the argument, its syntax. As with any computation, GIGO. Rational thought considers the semantics and ineffable aspects. For example, compassion can be part of rational thought even if it’s not always logical. (The Spock character on the old Star Trek series illustrated this distinction, the episode The “Galileo” Seven in particular. 🖖🏼)

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            • Wyrd,

              You wrote, That debate I mentioned is, at root, about the modern view that logic is so very in service to our emotions and axioms. There is certainly truth to that, but I think it often gets used as an excuse to disdain logic. I am not a fan of the modern view that elevates feelings over logic (often discarding the latter).

              It’s interesting our perspectives, as I wouldn’t say feelings are particularly elevated over logic. But it may just depend on the point of view. I know some/many would emphasize feelings, but I’ve often felt that was a response to the modern view that so greatly marginalized them. It’s not enough to say that one feels strongly about protecting the environment, or that we need to make some changes as a society about how we treat various groups–feelings alone are discounted…

              But let me back up before we get too far down an unnecessary tangent: I think rational thought and the intuitive-feeling aspects of ourselves must work together as equals in a sense. I’ll get to this more in this series, further down the road a bit. But I wouldn’t say one is better or worse or more important than the other: we need healthy versions of each in the wholeness that we are.

              So, logic being employed in service to one’s feelings and/or vice versa doesn’t really bother me much. I’d say what we ultimately need is the condition of a happy marriage between the two, because each in isolation will lead us astray…

              Michael

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            • I hope you will forgive my rambling on. Sometimes I can’t help myselft…

              You may know by now that notions of Yin-Yang are cornerstones of my worldview, so we’re absolutely in sync about the need for a happy marriage between rational thought and emotion. OTOH, three score years of observation and thought convince me they are not equals. I have to stand by what I said above about the head steering.

              You’d face a challenge dissuading me our cultural mood hasn’t focused more on feelings and experiences than on rational thought and nuanced analysis. The latter are a lot harder and more demanding, and another modern ethic is ease. I do perceive a gradual long-term modern trend away from the ethics that drove the scientific revolution. For a time, we revered knowledge and learning. The deconstruction that began in the 1960s became part of our ethic, too. We’ve declared everything sucks, lets tear it all down. But since everything sucks, we don’t know what to build in its place. Deconstruction is a perilous rabbit hole. If one isn’t careful, one finds sucky turtles all the way down.

              I’ll offer some exhibits: Back in the days of broadcast and basic cable, ‘member the Science, Discovery, Learning, and other such channels? They all withered and died from lack of interest. The balance of the kinds of magazines that are popular also shifted; so did the focus of even the more technical ones. Now we have Me, Us, and We, magazines. We understand the need to exercise our bodies, but to what extent do we exercise and challenge our minds? Or even see the need to? As a final exhibit: POTUS 45. A triumph of emotion over not just intellect but common sense.

              Certainly, intellect can lead astray, but I think it makes far fewer mistakes than emotion does. From loving someone clearly unhealthy for you to electing a madman because you hate the other side so much, our emotions can more easily blind us. True, as you pointed out, we often bend logic to accommodate what we already feel (but that bending is often detectable in the bright light of fact and reflection).

              We don’t lack for feelings. Being too rational has never been our problem. Emotions are a deep part of us. We inherit them from our animal ancestors — who have feelings, too. We’re all sentient. It’s our sapience that makes us so different (the “Sebald Gap” after the W.G. Sebald quote, “Men and animals regard each other across a gulf of mutual incomprehension.”).

              Ultimately, while I agree about the happy marriage, I give intellect the edge in credence. I trust it more than I do emotions. (Have you never had a “3 AM moment” when you hate yourself and the world and think, screw it, I’m outta here, but then immediately rethink, no, wait, on balance life is okay, I should stick around and see what happens next? That was your head steering your heart. Your heart mighta walked off a cliff.)

              Which may all be tangential to your point (and overly long, but we do that). Your razor may not cut between rational and emotional thought. It appears we see both as parts of a whole. We might differ slightly in their equality. 🙂

              Perhaps your razor cuts more between monistic materialism and some form of dualism. I eagerly await your definitions of consciousness (and how it’s fundamental in this) as well as of image (and reality) and what choice we make. You’ve framed it nicely; I’m looking forward to your filling in the picture!

              Liked by 1 person

            • I don’t think we see this as differently as it may seem, but I do think there’s quite a lot to unpack here and that at times we’re talking on different planes of experience and/or with respect to different situations we have in mind. I take your point about perceiving a movement away from a respect for deeper understanding, knowledge, learning, etc. I think maybe that particular situation has a stronger meaning or emotional charge for you than for me. But I do see it. There’s also what seems to be a shift in some quarters from the need and desire to achieve within a certain model of the individual that has devolve into doing only what is sufficient to get by. It seems to be okay with more and more people to prioritize “getting the sticker” or “passing the certification” or whatever it is, than obtaining real mastery of various topics.

              Politics feels like such an “emotional hi-jacking” of our emotional bodies and nervous systems I don’t know what to make of it. I can readily agree applying the lens of thought to some of this would be helpful. On both sides… If you’re thinking too many people are just spouting off based on how they feel in a given moment without giving any real consideration of how the information might be perceived differently, then YES, I agree. Some rational circumspection is called for.

              But I’m also thinking about different planes or realms entirely, I guess. Like, some people may feel very strongly about preserving our remaining wilderness, and they may not have a great deal of “facts of the matter.” Too often this is dismissed as sentimentality in my opinion. There’s been over time I think a de-valuation of caring (as in nursing, or raising children), of placing heartfelt value on the environment or other creatures of this world, of using global data to dismiss the feelings of an individual or of the particular. There’s an emphasis on usefulness, productivity, efficiency, and earning and voices to the contrary, often based on appeals to the heart–valid in my opinion–are sort of run over. For this reason and others related, as well as the power of feeling to heal and nurture and create anew, I would maintain (for myself) an equality to this marriage. In truth, it’s more than an equality. You can have 50/50 and be at loggerheads. And you can have two equal partners working in tandem. And it is the latter that I’m really after.

              All of these things (these different points of entry to the conversation and different phenomena related to feelings and thoughts) are true in their respective places I think. I’ll have to keep going here to get to some better explanations, but I also should say I don’t equate all emotions. Not all emotion comes from the heart, or what I would call the heart, and there are differences in the perspectives that our emotions arise to defend or support. This will be a future post. But just as we can be irrational, and act upon poorly-founded logic, so we can act upon poorly-founded emotions… There is quite a range in the cultivation of feeling as well as the sensitivity to feeling and intuition that I think people possess and can develop. One individual’s experience may not remotely compute for another, and there are as many subtleties to feeling as there are to thought.

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            • Ha! Oh, it has very strong meaning for me. It’s been a key blog topic for a decade (and a personal rant going back to the 1970s). I see it, some of it, as backsliding into the Dark Ages — the very thing the age of rational thought climbed out of. It means we’ll never go to the stars.

              The infamous Ancient Greeks — and many other civilizations — revered and pursued rational thought, but those emotional Barbarians were always pounding at the gate. Another reason I accord more to the intellectual than the emotional is that it’s more fragile. As with all forms of higher structure, that structure is more easily disrupted. Emotions tend to be robust. Like tanks or bridge footings. 🙂

              The whole “getting by” thing is the result of that deconstruction I mentioned. What’s the point of striving when everything sucks, there’s no Heaven (because we deconstructed God and didn’t replace Him), and life has no meaning? Combine that with an ethic that prioritizes self and experience (and personal sovereignty), and folks just wanna hang out and have a good time. Chill, bro, ‘sall good.

              Very much down with you on “the New Cruelty” (but it’s an emotion, too). Except it’s not new anymore. It was new-ish back in 1991 when Steve Martin made L.A. Story, one of my all-time favorite movies (in my top five). There’s a Chevy Chase cameo, and he has a line about “the New Cruelty” (he’s being seated by the kitchen because he’s not A-list). It’s a cogent and prescient observation about exactly what you mentioned: our prioritizing maximizing return on investment (it’s all about the ROI). Because we deconstructed meaning, there isn’t any anymore, so all that’s left is getting the best possible ride out of life.

              Which was always true! Another favorite quote: “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a Ride!'” I’ve structured large parts of my life on that premise… 😀

              But what I think may have changed is what we look for in that ride.

              That aside, I agree we’re much on the same wavelength. I suspect we’re both dualists. Certainly in the Yin-Yang sense of embracing physical fact and the ineffable, in find beauty in both. I await your further posts to see how dual you are in other ways! 😉

              One final thought, you wrote: “”Not all emotion comes from the heart, or what I would call the heart,… In part a terminology thing, I use “heart” as shorthand or metaphor for emotions, so for me, all emotions come from the heart. But to your point, that heart can be loving or evil, balanced or not, ignorant or wise. And in the end, “heart” is just that id-like side of our minds. It all comes from our brains, of course! In any event, I not only agree, it aligns with my point. I’m saying it’s far easier for the “heart” to be misled than the “mind” (although both can be tricked, no question; as you suggest, it depends on having good priors).

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            • Wyrd, I think I’ll pick up the thread on emotions, heart and mind, and how I think about these things in a future installment. It’s important for a variety of reasons including some I haven’t touched on just yet, but I want to come back to it. For instance, I don’t necessarily agree the heart can be evil, but that doesn’t mean I don’t understand what you’re saying. There is a level where I agree with you. It’s just hard for me to explain what I think is going on there in a comment and there are some other ideas to develop. I also don’t think it all comes from our brains, and that may be a place where we see things differently. But there’s more ideas to develop a little more methodically before I think we can get into the subtleties of how we each view things without talking past each other.

              I haven’t seen LA Story but it sounds great. I’ll check it out soon!

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    • Lee Roetcisoender says

      Just a quick note here: I think it’s completely off base to make any type of correlation with the intellect and emotions because they are not the same; not even close. The intellect is the adjudicator of all types of data and emotions are just another form of data. What we currently do not understand within a hierarchy is that even though the intellect is the adjudicator of all data be it good bad or indifferent, the intellect is not the final arbiter. The data is the final arbiter; and that data “is” the reality. Whereas the adjudication process of the data by the intellect, be it emotions or point particles is interpreted by the intellect; if that interpretation does not align with or correspond to the sovereignty of that data, then our intellect has effectively created an image.

      Great thoughts folks….

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      • I’m not sure I understood all those big words, but if I did, I think you’re agreeing with at least some of what I’ve been saying? That intellect and emotion are Yin-Yang, that sanity is a measure of how well our mental model (our only “reality”) matches the real-world data we receive through our senses, and that intellect steers the ship?

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    • Mike, thanks for reading and responding. I appreciate it. I appreciate the diversity of views to be honest, and hope you will continue. This is an effort to make some of the things I think and feel a little more plain than can occur in a comment here and there. Though none of what comes may surprise you–I get that.

      But I’m curious, what is it in the last paragraph that soured you? Just the notion that consciousness is fundamental? If so, I know we see that differently. We’ve simply made a different choice. I accept that and it’s all good from my perspective. I respect your own feelings/thoughts on this one. I just wish to explain what I think is at stake in this decision (from my perspective). At the very least I hope it conveys a little fuller picture of how I think and why.

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      • Michael, actually, we diverged with, “This isn’t to say there isn’t a reality of the matter.” Remember, I’m the “consciousness is in the eye of the beholder” guy, who pulls out functional and perceptual hierarchies whenever a discussion comes up about what consciousness is. It’s just where my own investigations have taken me.

        On explaining your perspective, absolutely! I definitely didn’t mean in any way to imply you shouldn’t. I’m reading to understand that perspective better.

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        • Ahhh, I follow. It’s an interesting point that I think goes to how difficult it is–impossible I’m arguing–to begin without a starting point that contains a fundamental assertion to which what follows generally remains loyal. In this case I think of your functional and perceptual hierarchies as very astute observations about the consciousness of organisms. I didn’t think about this perspective though, so have been using the term “consciousness” in these posts so far in a pretty ambiguous way from your perspective. At any rate, there is no doubt such hierarchies obtain in the natural world, but questions remain of course about they come to be, and this is where we get to the assertion at the root.

          I tend to view these as intersections–meaning that as the varying physical capabilities that manifest as organisms intersect with “pure being” (I’ll use a different word than consciousness), these functional and perceptual hierarchies result. But that’s because I admit of the possibility of pure being, a purely abstract form of awareness one might say, that is instantiated as and in relationship to all that arises in material form, but ultimately has no form or dimension. That is part of my root assertion. If I had a different root assertion, I’d perceive the hierarchies as the only forms of consciousness, (except for what may come through continued evolution and development, or through some artificial means).

          At any rate, it’s an important clarification. Thanks for the reminder!

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  3. Lee Roetcisoender says

    I will take the liberty to add that being trapped in our own “echo chambers” is an artifact of physical determinism. But in agreement with Michael, I also believe that freewill and physical determinism do coexist and both can be “true” together. In regards to freewill; the only limitations to that freedom are those impinged upon us by our biology, the limits we place upon ourselves (knowingly or unknowingly) and those imposed upon us by society at large.

    Good luck Michael, looking forward to your continuing story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Lee! It’s an interesting process to actually try and explain one’s view–as you know from your own writing. I don’t have the benefit of a completed draft before these musings are posted, so we’ll see if I make it through without a few contradictions… 🙂 Not sure yet! If I do go in circles, hopefully I’ll learn something!

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      • Lee Roetcisoender says

        The old saying is that the pen is mightier than the sword right? Well, my motto is that the pencil is mightier than the pen because it has an eraser. I’ve modified my own vocabulary many times over the last five years or so. Intrinsically knowing something and the ability to craft an articulation to reflect that knowledge are not necessarily the same thing. Vocabulary is hard, but the only way to improve is to put the pencil to the paper and make those mistakes…… so keep that eraser handy my friend.

        Peace

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  4. Hi Michael 🙂 I was so happy to see you in my email. Sending lots of love and light and hope that the new year came in with loads of good things for you and your family. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Lorrie. Sending the same back at you! Nice to see your face again as well! Hope you’re enjoying the New Year, too and finding ways to navigate all the goings-on with well being and joy.

      Peace
      Michael

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  5. I mentioned Spock… As a (hopefully) fun aside, an image I made years ago for my blog. I’ve always known wise leader Kirk was the intersection of logical Spock and emotional McCoy:

    It’s one of my favorite metaphors, plus it’s a geeky Venn diagram joke. Double win! 😀

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      • Thank you! I spent a long time looking for ones that looked just right. My only complaint is that I wish Kirk was looking more towards the camera. Bones looks a bit inwards; Spock looks a bit outwards (and I made him a little more distant). I just wish Kirk was looking us in the eye.

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  6. Pingback: Choice and Consequence Part 3: Reality vs Image – Embracing Forever

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