Photographs from the 1862 book Mécanisme de la Physionomie Humaine by Guillaume Duchenne. Through electric stimulation, Duchenne determined which muscles were responsible for different facial expressions. Charles Darwin would later republish some of these photographs in his own work on the subject, which compared facial expressions in humans to those in animals. (From Wikipedia).
"Smile!" That's what a woman said to me yesterday while I was walking back to my car after a morning meeting. I smiled. "That's better," she said.
I was really struck by this woman's gesture. By a lot of conventional standards you'd think she had less to smile about than I did. We were in a "rougher" part of town and at least from a socio-economic perspective, this woman appeared to be what some would call, "down and out." Clearly she wasn't, and if anything, with pressing thoughts and artificial stresses, I was the one who was down and out.
The whole exchange, especially her generosity of spirit got me thinking again about the ecology of ideas, and even of emotion. It's the same thought I had when I watched video of a Haitian woman being pulled from rubble six days after the earthquake and the first thing she did was sing a joyous song about overcoming adversity. It makes you question your own ecology of ideas and emotion...the way of interpreting the world that was no doubt planted by upbringing and circumstance, but that is also tended and nurtured by you. If you can become aware of your own thought processes, it's possible to plant new stories and mental frames, a personal terministic screen to borrow roughly from Burke. A terministic screen is, "...a set of symbols that becomes a kind of screen or grid of intelligibility through which the world makes sense to us." (Wikipedia). If your terministic screen means that you smile less often, or end up living a story that's different than the one you want to live, why not blow it up? Remake it, reshape it, tune it up. To a large extent you're gardener of your little piece of consciousness, your chunk of reality.
Anyhow, more on mental gardening in the not too distant future. I just ordered three books from Barnes and Noble (gift card): Steps to an Ecology of Mind, A Thousand Years of Non-Linear History, and The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. We'll see what new ideas they conjure up for remaking one's terministic screen. In the meantime, here's one of a fascinating series of videos I've been enjoying on YouTube...these folks, the Kombai, have a much different terministic screen than ours and it's refreshing to watch: