Sunday, February 27, 2011

Just a Little Something New...

I must take the time now to sincerely express my utmost gratitude to all of you miraculous people who have taken the time out of your busy lives to take a gander at the philosophical ranterings of an unknown teenage philosopher. You really have no idea how much I appreciate it. But on that note, I imagine that this blog is getting a bit preditable for the majority of it's readers; every week a new analysis of a piece of literature and how it connects to modern life... The absolute last thing that I desire to execute, and trust me on this, is to make the American period of being even more cumbersome. The aforementioned statement and the fact that I imagine reading about my life so much can get rather exasperating (this is the part where you bashfully shake your head saying, "Of course not" while all your mental script consists of is "Wow, he finally figured that out")  have caused me to "kick it up a notch", as the exquisite chef Emril Lagasse says. Meditations of a Teenage Philosopher  will now include a section where I post a piece of my creative writing each month for your personal reading please. The name of such a feature? "A Monthly Slice of Creative Writing." So now in addition to reading the posts, you may click on the page tab labeled "Who Wants a Slice?" and see what piece of original literature has been composed from the haphazard contents of my mind. You can eye this month's slice right here.
     You now may have noticed that this post does not beckon the substantial sum of pondering that all writings on this weblog do; well, as you may have guessed I cannot permit you to leave that easily. So as to prepare for my next post that should be published some time before next weekend, I have a question for you: What is sacrifice? 
     Think, my good friends, or even comment if you wish, because your thoughts can save the world.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Odysseus, Meet Leonardo DiCaprio

So following Lady Gaga's domination of the Grammies with her eggxuberantly (get it?) unique arrival, the next imperative award ceremony is quickly approaching us: the prestigious Oscars. Every year, I attempt to see one movie that is nominated by the Academy (or at least a commercial for one,) but this year I had the audacity to take the complexity of my cinematic pallet into my own hands by inviting all of my friends over for a viewing of The Social Network. However, my fellows decided against this because they possessed the notion that this film would be excessively boring-go figure. But there was one Oscar-nominated movie that they all agreed to experience, and that was Christopher Nolan's psychological thriller Inception....and I must say that at the culmination of this film, I felt just as I did when I completed Mockingjay (you remember...) No film had ever taken me on the mental uphill march that this one had with its intricate quilt that interweaved complex plot and blatant, raw emotion; it was extremely evident that each moment was infused with a more-than-significant amount of thought. I am just giving you a warning: if you are planning on seeing Inception soon and do not wish to know how the yarn culminates, do not read on since I am about to spoil the entire movie within this composition. But once you are finished, my words in the post will be more than happy to greet your eyes. 
     Inception follows the adventures of extractors, or people who enter one's dream so that they can extract some piece of significant information that is hidden within his mind. The method by which the extractors perform this feat is by inserting themselves into the human subconscious constant cycle of creation that occurs repetitively when  humans  are dreaming. This allows them to actually create the dream, therefore determining the dreamer's place within it and allowing themselves to steal that imperative information from the dreamer's mind. Walter Cobb and his fellows are the most proficient people in the art of extraction, but Mr. Cobb has a secret that only a new architect (the part of the extraction team that forges the dream) that he takes under his wing discovers, a secret that can put any person who enters a dream with Cobb in immediate danger. This secret plays an enormous part in Cobb's decision to undertake a new case in which extraction is not what is desired; instead, the client in question desires the action of inception to be performed. Inception is the planting of a notion within some one's mind, a notion that can be so rudimentary yet simultaneously so powerful that it can have the potential to completely alter the course of a person's life. The way inception is executed is by planting stimuli within dreams so that the subject person will formulate the idea himself; the notion will not have any effect on the subject's mind if the subject is not the person who discovers it. This requires multiple layers of dreaming-dreams within dreams-and in order for this phenomenon to occur, the architect must design multiple dreams. So, you may ask curiously, what is Cobb's secret? I will unfortunately have to be the idiot who keeps you perched on the edge of your seat while I talk about...
     The Odyssey.  Yes, that beloved epic poem composed by a blind Greek bard whose wordcraft that was utilized thousands of years ago is still taught to every freshman in America today. Through its pages, we learn about what transpires when our favorite war hero, Odysseus, does not thank the Greek god of the sea ,Poseidon, for his work in helping Odysseus win the Trojan War for the Greeks. Therefore, Poseidon and his gargantuan ego decide to make Odysseus's journey back to his homeland, the Greek city-state of Ithaka, as miserable and long as possible. In the end, it takes the man ten heart-wrenching years to reach Ithaka, where he finds that a horde of men have come into his royal palace to court his wife while ignoring the true heir to the Ithakan throne: Odysseus's son Telemakhos. Through this prolonged journey, however, Odysseus comes into contact with a very unique figure: the breathtaking sea nymph Kalypso, who holds  Odysseus captive on her tropical island paradise of an island for seven years. She is saturated with ardent lust for the man and poses a very enticing offer to him as well: immortality in her tropical paradise with constant sexual attention. Odysseus, however, knows through a prophecy told to him before this life-altering moment about the horrible state that has possessed his wife and son and therefore refuses Kalypso's offer. But his decision to leave the divine paradise and attempt to reach Ithaka by boat again instead has numerous consequences, these including the endurance of another excruciating storm sent by Poseidon and the difficulty he will face in removing the suitors from the royal palace back in Ithaka. Is it then worth it for Odysseus to give up a life where his desires are constantly entertained and not a single issue troubles him except the distant thought of the family he left behind? Even this thought would be gone, since Odysseus would have to make himself completely ignorant to all memories of Ithaka if he planned to reside on the island with Kalypso forever. The real question that faces Odysseus is really if it is worth accepting ignorant bliss when an ocean of horror lies behind that veil of ignorance? Would he rather live with the knowledge that the horror lies there, or meet the horror in hopes of eradicating it? Is it better for him to live a life that gives him every pleasure in the world but one, or dedicate his life to attaining one pleasure?
     The most encompassing skeleton that lies in Cobb's closet turns out to be that he has been charged with the murder of his wife, Mal, and therefore cannot return to the United States until one of his clients in able to pay the government enough money to free him of all charges. He actually did not commit the crime, but his secret lies in the fact that he might as well have. You see, the reason why Cobb knows that inception can occur is that he performed it on his wife, and the idea that he planted within her mind grew to be so powerful that it convinced her to commit suicide and blame her husband for the death. Why did Cobb perform inception on Mal? Well, it is revealed that Mal was also an extractor who was just about as excellent as her spouse, and one day the two of them decided to experiment with the idea of multiple layers of dreaming. What they discovered was that there can only be so many dreams within dreams; after delving into so many layers, one finds himself on the shores of his own subconscious, a limbo between the worlds of dreams and reality. Hours feel as if years in this place, and the couple finds that they are forced to remain in the limbo until waking up is feasible. What Cobb and Mal execute to pass the time is create a world for themselves, a bustling city with skyscrapers and any possession that the two of them could ever desire including replications of each of their childhood homes. However, Mal eventually finds herself convinced that this world is indeed reality after living in it for so long and locks this conviction deep inside of her mind; therefore when Cobb and Mal  discover that they can leave the shores of subconsciousness for reality, Mal is left thinking that the shores actually are reality. Cobb's solution to this conflict is inception, the idea being inserted into Mal's mind being that her reality is not reality and everything in what she reasons is the real world is just a projection (a reflection of the human subconscious that takes the form of a person or object of some significance to the human). The way to wake oneself up from a dream is to commit suicide within that dream, and that is what Mal and Cobb then do to return to reality. There is another problem, though, when the couple wakes up: Mal finds herself in what she thinks is the real world while still being possessed by the notion that the real world is just a dream. This sinister thought makes the woman convinced of two facts: that she must commit suicide in order to reach what is truly reality, and that her husband must accompany her in this martyrdom for her idea. In order to act on the aforementioned thoughts, Mal decides on the night of her wedding anniversary to jump from a window across from the hotel room where she and Cobb usually spend the evening and to leave a note back at the couple's house that frames Cobb as Mal's killer so that he can join her in suicide. But Cobb refuses to jump, and from the dead body of Mal rises the phoenix of guilt within Mr. Cobb stemming from his thought that he was the person gave Mal the idea that murdered her.
      The dilemma Walter Cobb faces could have been avoided; if he had simply accepted the shores of subconscious as reality just as his wife did, then the two of them would have lived long and pleasant lives within their own escapist universe. But would the mirth he would have received from that life outweigh the horror that would have been generated at the thought that while they two of them are living happily in the world of dreams, everybody who depended on Mr. and Mrs. Cobb in the real world are in a state of panic?  Odysseus is in a similar situation: he can live a wondrous eternity saturated with pleasures galore alongside Kalypso, but with the acceptance of this life would come the realization that Odysseus's wife and son would never receive the help from the man that they so desperately need. Forget that-Penelope and Telemakhos wouldn't even be able to experience the joy of seeing the man again, plus Odysseus would also love to undergo the pleasure of seeing the two of them again once more.
      So is living one's life in escapism truly better than facing reality? Well, my answer is...partly. Escapism is a marvelous method through which to contemplate reality because an escapist world is separate from reality. We each can therefore learn more about our own worlds through contemplation within an escapist world and use the thoughts generated during this experience to live better lives once we emerge from the mysterious depths of our personal universe-however, that is the most imperative component. When one submerges herself into an escapist world, she must insure that she will exit from it before the removal from reality negatively affects her actual life. NEVER can one accept an escapist universe as reality as Mal did since that can actually harm one's life, which is the inverse to what the effect of escapist contemplation should be upon a person. The rule that I established in the Super Sad True Love Story post indisputably applies here: an excess amount of a positive phenomenon is utterly and completely negative.
       What are some forms of escapism that one can use to contemplate the world, you may ask? The answer is any activity that makes you feel as if you are somewhat disconnected from the preoccupations customarily generated in your life. I have recently observed that the arts and exercise are two  forms that are particularly successful in achieving this escapist aura. For me, being the psychotic maniac I am, the path to the greatest escapist contemplation is the composition of the words you are reading at this very moment.

Monday, February 7, 2011

What I Wish They'd Teach Me in Science

 Now, I have never in my joyful years of living even read the exposition of a nonfiction book-when I go shopping in the local bookstore, I dart right to the Fiction/Literature Section right along the side wall and ignore anything that lies in my path. I didn't possess the knowledge of where the Nonfiction sections were until very recently, very recently being about last September. It was then very much to my surprise when I found that I was extremely eager to read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot's debut about the women whose cells launched a phenomenon in the world of science. So what did I do? I embarked on an endeavor to the local library to retrieve said book, an experience that additionally taught me where the Biography section was in the library (the last three weeks were saturated with education.) And do you know what?
     I'm loving it.
Here are the basics: Henrietta Lacks was an African American woman who hailed from Clover,a diminutive town in Southern Virginia where her ancestors once worked as slaves. She married her cousin, Day Lacks, and had given birth to a few children when she moved to Baltimore so that Day could work at a flourishing steel manufacturing plant called Sparrow's Point.  It was during the time that she was in Baltimore that Henrietta took her first trip to Johns Hopkins gynecology clinic to have the doctors investigate the pungent pain she had been feeling in her lower belly for more than a year. The "knot" inside of her, as she described it, turned out to be a malignant tumor growing on her cervix that possessed the potential to kill her. Now, at the time when this all occurred, there was a man named Dr. Richard Wesley TeLinde who was highly revered in the field of gynecology and was trying to make a huge impact on the way that cervical cancer was treated. So here's my attempt at an explanation of the exuberantly scientific-sounding theory that TeLinde was attempting to prove: Cervical cancer begins with the formation of a carcinoma, which grows on the cells that protect the surface of the cervix from potential threats. There are two types of carcinomas: ones that have gone through the outer wall of the cervix  and into  it (invasive carcinomas), and ones that have not (noninvasive carcinomas). Doctors at that time believed that it was a waste of time to treat noninvasive carcinomas because they thought they would not spread, while they treated invasive carcinomas vivaciously. What TeLinde wanted to do was to prove that doctors should in fact treat noninvasive carcinomas because he believed that they lead to the formation of invasive carcinomas. In order to prove this through experimentation, however, he needed cells that were extracted from and would continue to live and divide outside of a human body. Actually, many experiments that scientists of that day wanted to perform required the use of "immortal" cells, so to speak. For such specimens, TeLinde called on Dr. George Gey (and it's pronounced "Guy," for all you sixth-graders), who had been trying to find such immortal cells for some time. TeLinde began having the doctors at Johns Hopkins collect tissue samples from the cervixes of women who they treated, Henrietta being one of these women, to help Dr. Gey in his quest. Most cells died and many of people working in the Gey laboratory lost hope that these "immortal" cells would ever be found-until, of course, they saw the cells collected from Henrietta's cancer-riddled cervix. As long as they were given nutrition through a culture medium, Henrietta's cells continued to divide into a glorious infinity. Dr. Gey thought the phenomenon a miracle, and soon the cells-HeLa Cells, as they were named-began to be produced in factories around the country. One of these factories that was located an the Tuskegee institute began to ship HeLa cells to numerous scientists from all over the world for experimentation. Those cells were used for numerous advances in science throughout the years that would follow their creation, especially the revolutionary polio vaccine that saved millions of lives...Yes, everything was great and wonderful, except for one phenomenon: You see, while HeLa cells are living to this day and have existed throughout a great amount of history, the person who they were extracted from was not so fortunate.
       Henrietta Lacks perished on October 4, 1951, leaving all of her children, her husband, and her family without the woman who they all depended on so immensely. She spent her last days enveloped in excruciating pain because of the influx of tumors that began to grow all over her body as her closest cousins, Margaret and Sadie, watched in horror. To add to this heartbreak, there was another aspect of this saga that was very controversial-not one person ever asked Henrietta if they could take a culture cells. Not one nurse, doctor, or even secretary murmured an iota of knowledge except for Dr. Gey, who conducted  a short conversation with her that occurred near her death. 
   This practice demonstrates what I think is a very unfortunate habit among the human race-to use trickery in order to achieve our ambitions. Technically, the doctors at the time could use the argument that Henrietta did not say that they couldn't take a culture of her cells and use it for scientific research. However, despite its technical legality at the time, I think you could probably explain Henrietta's situation to any person in Baltimore and that person would reason that the action was not righteous in the least. A large part of my life  I have refrained from telling all you about until the present moment is my interest in instrumental music. I am not the kind of musician that spends three hours a day practicing , but I still am one who loves the art form dearly and even keeps a miniature version of his instrument on his nightstand so he can see it every night before he retires (and I know how psychotic that is.) Oh, how I digress...anyway, my teacher has recently been instructing me on how to play a solo for this year's county music competition. Throughout the experience, she's always telling me to insert crescendos (a marking that indicates that one should increase in volume) or decrescendos (a marking that indicates that one should decrease in volume) into places where they are not written in the piece. She either has one of two excuses for these actions: it's either because "You're  the artist," or "He [the composer] didn't say not to". I, of course being the diligent student (a.k.a. goody-goody-too-shoes) that I am, do not interrupt. In my head, though, I am think that if the composer did not write the marking, then obviously he did not want it inserted into that spot. This fact comes through common sense, right? He thought that the piece sounded perfect without the markings, so why not just leave the piece be since it was written by that man after all. But I just play the solo with all of these manufactured markings of contemporary times, hoping to get a perfect, impeccable score on my evaluation from a judge who doesn't fill out my scoring sheet in Hieroglyphics. Is that half of the problem-that we permit this deceitful manipulation to occur because it is not persecuted and ultimately aids us in achieving our ambitions? What if the composer was resurrected and saw what I was doing to his original piece? How would I feel? How would he feel? And even after writing this, do you know what's queer?
      I will walk into that evaluation room on the day of the competition and still manipulate that solo so it will benefit my flawed, philosophical self.