Photo

Photography has captured our imagination for years already. It is now a daily activity of many people to “capture their experience”, if not even their existence in some photographed way. Susan Sontag (1977) coined the phrase that photography “feels like knowledge – and, therefore, like power”. You are in a relation to the world. Taking the photograph in my view is the Mephistopheles moment. You are in control of the object taken by the camera. Arranging the scenery, waiting for the perfect moment, expression, light or colours is like mastering a situation, an atmosphere, an emotion. Photographs have the power to work as document. Editing has become easy and pervasive with digital tools. However, it was always present in the traditional technical parts of shooting and developing subsequently in the dark room. Being taken on a photograph is more like the Faustian moment of realising that you are manipulated, or at risk of being made use of for some purpose unknown to you at that moment. Beware, a photograph is always just an image of an image. The photographer is the intermediate person using a specific technology to transform his perception or vision of reality into another image of it, creating a some form of virtual reality. In addition to this twofold transformation, the third transformation is historically the technical development of the negative into the print (see below). Nowadays, this is the compression and editing into a specific format. Despite these transformations, a photograph is admitted in court cases as providing evidence of guilt or to identify an illicit act (excess of speed limit). Infringements on privacy are the rule rather than the exception. Who is that person sitting next to you and at what time of the day?
I apply photographs like note-taking for my research to capture spontaneous ideas or associations which await further interpretation or serve as inspiration. Painting has been an elitist artistic practice for many years. Taking photographs has democratised the image-taking art forms. Instead of originals we have collections of photos from museums around the world. We take photos of photos to reveal the world around us and reflect on values. The social construction of the world is directly visible through the process of taking, collecting and curating photographs. Construct your own world or the world will construct or deconstruct you instead. Politicians (e.g. Angela Merkel), John F. Kennedy or historical figures, all had their defining moment condensed into one or several photographs, paintings before. Susan Sontag wrote 50 years ago: “… a photograph can be treated as a narrowly selective transparency”. The third transformation of developing and/editing shown in the images below explain what she might be understand from this citation in a technical sense. Just as courts have to evaluate whether a proof is admittable and contributing to finding the truth. Viewing photographs is a balancing act between art and truth. “Even when photographers are most concerned with mirroring reality, they are still haunted by tacit imperatives of taste and conscience.” (Sonntag, p.6). Photographs document sequences of consumption, CO2 footprints we should frame this in the 21st century. Restricting print to a few “best of” was necessary to reduce the dirty footprint of photography, particularly since photos have become a mass media as much as the preferred media of masses. With photos we certify our own certificates for job applications or passports even. The “cosmopolitans accumulating photograph-trophies” we encounter in all instagram-able locations. Taking photos is like a “friendly imitation of work” (p.9), you do something useful in documenting the images of a world in danger of being lost. We can give importance to otherwise forgotten realities, attach importance even immortality to something or someone of our choice. We make history through it or try to make it at least. “When we are afraid, we shoot. But when we are nostalgic, we take pictures.” (p.9) Sontag defines photographs as part of the repertoire of surrealism (p.77 ff), “to finding beautiful what other people found ugly or without interest and relevance …”). We at risk to mistake photographs as reality and experience the original as “letdown” (p.147). The return to polaroid instant photography brings us back to the authenticity of the orginal, unique moment with supposingly unfiltered not-edited images. The true moment of having had fun or joint experience without photoshopping the missing member. I take photos, therefore I am, has become the mantra of modern societies. We tend to ignore that we are taken on photos a million more times than we take some ourselves. A question of power in the end. Edit yourself or you become edited.  (Prix du Tirage photographique BnF 2022 Laurent Lafolie, photo below).

Flotow Analyse

Interessant ist der Aufsatz über Flotows’ Martha, der vor einigen Jahren in einer musikwissenschaftlichen Zeitschrift erschienen ist. Anselm Gerhard ordnet die Oper unter Berücksichtigung des Werdegangs des Aristokraten Flotow dem französischen Stil der Oper zu. Das Schicksal des von Flotow war es wohl, mit seiner aristokratischen Herkunft aus Preußen, Deutschland, ein Uraufführung in Österreich, dann mit Bel Canto assoziert überwiegend auf italienisch aufgeführt zu werden (Metropolitan Opera 1914? mit Caruso), aber ein französisches Opernschema basierend auf einer irischen Volksmusik mit einer Story in England zu verbinden. Kosmopolitisch nennen wir das im 21.-ten Jahrhundert, nicht oder schwer nationalistisch verwertbar im 19. und 20.-ten Jahrhundert. Für die Handschriften ist es wohl am besten, gleich in die Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) zu fahren. Im Saal Richelieu ist das dazu passende kunstgeschichtliche Ambiente noch nachvollziehbar. Quelle:
Gerhard, A. (2004). „Tinta musicale“ Flotows „Martha“ und die Frage nach Möglichkeiten und Grenzen Musikalischer Analyse in Opern des 19. Jahrhunderts. Archiv für Musikwissenschaft, 61(1), 1–18.

Zigarre

Die Zeiten, in denen Zigarrenrauchen Schlagzeilen machten, sind eigentlich lange vorüber. Heute wundern wir uns lediglich über die Sorglosigkeit der Personen bezüblich ihrer Gesundheit. Friedrich von Flotow hat die Szene im Salon de Marquis de Custine (Paris) in seinen Erinnerungen vorzüglich beschrieben. Die Schriftstellerin George Sand hat die Gemüter mit dieser Rauchszene nachhaltig inspiriert. Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) hat an diesem Abend seiner (späteren) Mäzenin eine Ovation dargebracht. Flotow hatte sicherlich einen inspirierenden Abend verbracht. Seine unveröffentlicht gebliebenen Memoiren wurden von seiner 3. Frau publiziert. Ein Vorabdruck auf Schwedisch habe ich in der Svensk Musiktidning vom 15-8-1883 gefunden. Datiert ca 6 Monate nach seinem Tod, heute vor 140 Jahren, ist das eine Würdigung des Komponisten in Schweden und eine Anerkennung der Aufarbeitung und Verbreitung seines Werks durch seine Frau. Die Aristokraten und ihre Kreise waren Anregung für viele künstlerische Kreise. Das wohlhabende Bürgertum hat später diese Rolle übernommen. Heute brauchen wir zahlreiche öffentliche und private Stiftungen oder Crowd-Funding für diese Events und Inspirationen.
(Quelle: Flotow, Friedrich von. (1883). F. von Flotows minnen. II. En soaré hos marquis de Custine [Beskrivning av G. Sand (baronesse Dudevant) och Chopin]. Svensk musiktidning, 3(16), 121–122. )

Employment

Employment is back on top of the agenda. Not as we used to think, though. Previously unemployment had dominated societal concerns. Now it is the lack of persons seeking or available for employment. What has happened? The Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated the need of persons qualified to work in the health sector. From health care and urgency care, we are short of personnel in all these fields, everywhere. Then we discovered the role of essential services and the need to equip crucial infrastructures like ports, transport, shops, schools and ambulances with service persons resisting despite work overload. Larger cohorts leave employment to retire, some even early due to illness or burn-out. Additionally, war is back in Europe. Military personnel is in high demand again, drawing largely from younger cohorts. The need for conventional weapons. long thought to be oblivious, is forcefully back on the agenda.
Growth potentials are everywhere. However, these pre-modern facts encounter a population in the western democracies that insists on new approaches to employment. Beyond hard and soft skills, recruiters seek atypical skills, competences and trajectories. A parachute jump from an airplane, cooking and dining experiences, caring spells, periods in self-employment, all are directly or indirectly relevant for employment and teamwork. So, what is your specialty? Collecting stamps? Surely you are able to spot tiny differences in images with specific content. Fake news and fake image detection or video surveillance is in high demand, just try an application and discover the employment potential of your MAD skills. Sounds crazy? No joke. Skill needs are everywhere, just give it a start again and again. Read a serious newspaper regularly (here LeMonde 19.1.2023) for inspiration.

Relation

Several inputs from logic will assist us to establish relations between 2 objects, 2 subjects or 1 subject and 1 object as in simple relationships to form sentences. The most obvious is A = B. The most common, depending on definitions, A is not equal to B, hence A >B or B>A. Medieval logic adds the consideration of consequences and suppositions to relationships. A determines or leads B. We might suppose that A is a precondition for B.  Logical arguments often attempt to explain. Mathematical proofs chose ways to deduce or induce, whether a statement is true or false. To reduce the number of lines to explain a theorem is a mathematical virtue, just like in a game of chess to find a check and mate in fewer moves.
Leibniz increased the repertoire considerably. In geometry objects are parallel or in the infinitesimal calculus they approach each other without ever reaching each other. With the art of combinations he describes a language than contains groups and elements. The binary revolution, to express numbers, letters, images in form of pixels as multiple assemblies of 0 and 1, has revolutionized our potentials. Beyond these determined relationships there are stochastic relationships, they happen more or less likely. The centre of logic relationships remains deductability = to deduce, consistency = to consist of and completeness = to complete (Encyclopedia Universalis 14, p.653). Time adds another dimension to our concern to exemplify relations. A pre-empts B, or B follows A in time, but not in respect of deterministic logic. Additionally, locations in space of 2 objects allows us to imagine additional abstract forms of relationships, artists play around with this continuously. Some artefacts have created fantastic new ways to challenge our learned ways to consider relations. Last but not least, sound has contributed to how we perceive relations. To superpose, transpose or dissociate relations leaves different emotions. Relations are all around us. They certainly link subject and object in a sentence in multiple ways, copying or imitating nature. For further reading: HERBERT HOCHBERG; KEVIN MULLIGAN. Relations and Predicates. Frankfurt: De Gruyter, 2004. ISBN 9783110326536. Disponível em: https://search-ebscohost-com.kbr.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=603683&site=ehost-live&scope=site. Acesso em: 23 jan. 2023.

Deconstruction

Deconstruction is a powerful tool or even method. Beyond imagineering, deconstruction in the literal sense means take to pieces. In most cases a physical object consists of several objects or parts. By deconstruction we attempt to understand the whole object as the sum of its parts. Before a new product or design is created, many scientists, engineers and artists start to deconstruct existing artefacts. Understanding how the object is assembled, for example, allows you to play around with pieces and maybe come up with an alternative way of constructing the object. The architecture of “deconstructivsm” has left us fantastic buildings. In furniture design there are also nice examples of deconstruction. Paris is a good place to study deconstruction (Explained), perhaps many still read Derrida there. It is a fruitful method beyond its engineering sense for example in law, literature or many other social science disciplines. If you are not mad yet, visit the MAD in Paris to see examples of deconstruction or construct your own deconstruction. Both have a dialectic relationship to each other anyway.

 

Sound

Each society has its sound. Each person lives in her/his sound cloud or bubble. Cities are generally noisy places, Lots of traffic, mobility and moves leave sound bytes all over the place. Each city though has its own sound and spectrum of frequencies. Libraries, museums, places of worship, all build their special atmosphere due to specific sound design. The Singing Project by Ayumi Paul (Gropiusbau Berlin) created its own sound environment. Reminding us to consciously design our exposure to and experience of sound is welcome. John Cage started to build his very own language of music, similar to Schoenberg, from scratch. His writings Empty Mind explain his view and techniques a bit. Starting with silence and the time between sounds we recreate our own sound experience. Notation of it comes second in place. only for the potential to repeat the experience notation is useful. But it is only one form of conservation for posterity. Noise canceling is the amazing tool from sound physics which allows you to neutralize noise by adding specific frequencies to noise which cancel out each other. Design your personal sound experience beyond noise if you like. Nature recordings or familiar person voices allow you immersive experiences when and where we want. your home sound can be everywhere nowadays.

Action Verbs

Action words are in other words called action verbs. Each complete sentence has one. Hence, they are part and parcel of the basic construction of sentences.
“The purpose of an active verb is to create a clear, concise sentence. By using an active verb, you can eliminate unnecessary words and make your writing more direct. In addition to making your writing more concise, active verbs also add punch and clarity. They can make your writing more interesting and persuasive. Additionally, active verbs can create a sense of immediacy which is often useful in persuasive writing.  When it comes to writing, there is nothing more important than using strong, active verbs. Not only do they make your writing more interesting and engaging, but they also convey a sense of confidence and authority. In addition to being more descriptive, active verbs also add a sense of movement and action to your writing. Rather than simply stating that something exists, you can use active verbs to show how it exists. For example, rather than saying “there is a chair in the room,” you could say “the chair sits in the corner of the room.” This may seem like a small change, but it can make a big difference in how your writing comes across. Finally, active verbs can also help to set the tone of your writing. If you want to convey a sense of wit and humour, then using playful, lighthearted verbs is a great way to do so. On the other hand, if you’re aiming for a more serious tone, then using powerful, authoritative verbs will help you achieve that.”
After the 3rd sentence this blog entry (Link) has been written by the artificial intelligence app “Neuroflash”. They promise that it is not just copy and paste, but rather written following some instructions I gave like title, table of content, style and then selected among several choices. It makes sense to me, although it is just like many other textbook entries I have found on the web. It may well serve as an introduction. Lazy journalists, priests or lawyers in case they do little research will be replaced soon by AI, who else, who is next? Big brother drafts the brave new world for us already.

B for Balance

To reach a balance, to keep the balance or one’s balance, this highlights the process nature of balancing. Even the old tool of a balance (scale for weights) very much reflects the evening-out of the balancing process. It seems like a temporary balance most of the time. We might evolve from one level to another one. Especially imagining ourselves on a (body weight) balance in the morning and then throughout the year or years, this appears like a dynamic trajectory. The nature and/or nurture connection is evident. Beware to search for synonyms of “balance” on the internet. You get more than 3000 synonym (Link) meanings and 30 suggestions for definitions (Link) to contemplate on. I like the nice physical experience of balance and the simple (a bit nerdy) explanation of it. Economist get very excited about balance of payments and the ways to achieve equilibrium or equilibria. Balancing personal accounts can be a bit painful at times, but balancing in the arts gets our imagination going. Dancing is about balance most of the time. Playing with your own balance, the balance when 2 or more persons are in action, how not to be absorbed by such experiences. In music, the balance is a primary issue since Bach’s “wohltemperiertes Klavier” and balance and tension are the origin of much jazz. An image or photo might be balanced, certainly architecture is playing with or restricted by balancing acts. Herta Müller’s “Atemschaukel” has thrown us off balance for a while. History we study often with a concern for a balance of power. In peace and war times, the balance of power within and between countries or superpowers are a long-lasting research issue. At times when this balance is at risk or completely out-of-balance we are deeply concerned about the return of a balanced situation. Babies and children draw comfort from being balanced. Adults as well. Let’s try again (chanson). (balance22-venice -video).

A for Action

The A is everywhere. A is the beginning of the Alphabet, Google is our new Alphabet, we just have not realised it. A simple A-rating in investment is not good enough, AA or AAA is the goal. All this calls for ACTION. Do not be stopped in your action by reading on “Action theory” by Parsons, Rational action is the basis of most economic reasoning before the behavioural turn of economics. It is commonly acknowledged now, that rational action might not always be as rational as we want to believe it is. “Frame selection” as theory to explain our choice of action is fashionable in the social sciences. Transforming values and intentions into actions is a big challenge. Many jokes turn around this issue, like intentions to get up early in the morning. Find out whether you are an actionable leader. You should have at least a few “actionable items” on your to-do-list. Of course, Microsoft recommends actionable items to improve our productivity while spending hours on emails.
Well, early philosophers already distinguished between “vita contemplativa” and “vita activa“. A lot is about finding the right balance here and Hannah Arendt’s differentiation of active life in labor, work and action. She puts emphasis on action as a way to distinguish ourselves from others. The same thought might lead to very different actions. Hence, acting on one’s belief or values could lead to very different policies for just 2 persons. Action Artists perform even in inaction. We are back to basic questions of democratic  procedures as a form to moderate between different opinions or possible actions. Lots of other A-words come up now: ambiguity, anxiety, alienation, affirmation, affect, affection. In Greek, A might be associated with Apollo, In German with the famous “Angst”, but French is overriding all this with “Amour”.

Z for Zero

Zero is more than just a number. Originally the Zero=0 was a simple placeholder for higher order numbers. The concept of 0 is useful in calculus. The digital revolution is based on 0 – 1 systems.  Beyond this, there is a philosophical sense to it as well. Think of nothing, black holes, empty space, “ground zero“. Emptiness might not be empty at all, as for  those filling your empty space (ets) with an empty—log. In Philosophy the nihilists or nihilism reached a lot of prominence. “God is dead” leaves us with a void that asks for alternative solutions. Beware of simplistic answers. Study the origins of democracy and the need for freedom of expression as a basis for new concepts based on fundamental values.
Zero”, the group of artists in “Zero foundation” have made a significant contribution to the development of art in post-war Europe. The catalogue of the exhibition in Amsterdam and Berlin 2015 inspires imagination beyond today. Time passes on to achieve zero-emissions. Zut alors, the last Z-word to finish the countdown 3-2-1-0, I guess. (P.99 zero catalogue 2015)

W for War

In Europe many people were lucky to live without the existential threat of war for a long time now. Putin has stopped this with his land-grabbing in Ukraine. We wonder why, what, when and where? War is back in our minds again. Members of the birth cohorts of the 1920s, 30s or early 40s have direct experience our traumatic memories related to war times. Some later born cohorts suffered from various forms of deprivation . Economic reconstruction or even so-called miracles may follow and can soften the traumatic experience, often by way of focusing attention on repair and new investments.
The work by James HillmanA terrible love of war” has been a difficult read. To acknowledge that “war is normal” and our mindsets should take this into account, is hard to accept. Hillman cites Susan Sontag to state that “we cannot imagine how terrible war is – and how normal war can become”. We need a leap of imagination (p. 9) to grasp the mythical element about war which seems to be beyond the rational understanding of it. Greek tragedies told us, all along for more than 2000 years. The Romans exceled in it and German perfectionism and cold-bloodedness added the most horrible recent experience of war for millions of people. Memory and historical knowledge are important to activate recall for older and learning for younger generations. (short Video clip on war and UKR)

V for Value

 

Value in its singular form refers for most people to the value of things. Since Karl Marx we have been fighting about the surplus value of a worker’s work. Nowadays, we have to deal with speculation bubbles on the value of property or even basic elements of nutrition (Water, wheat, energy). Max Weber introduced us to the rigorous analysis of value judgements. In political science the plural “values” refers to basic human rights as fundamental values of humanity. Many other associations with the letter V pop up and arouse emotions: victory, video, view(s), vision, visit, voice, vote, vulnerability.
Creating lasting value seems to transform itself into part of our system of values later on. The longitudinal dimension of value is often neglected, particularly in the short-term focus of much of economic reasoning. Value over time, in addition to the distribution question, or as part of distribution over time, excites researchers of inequality and policy design for generations. Approaching the end of the alphabet increases the stakes of the “endgame”, it seems. Value for me, might not be of value for others. I hope you have found a person that values much of the same as you do yourself.
Interpersonal value, value exchange and intertemporal value are  own fields of research. Since the Scottish enlightenment and Adam Smith’s work on “The theory of moral sentiments (TMS)”, reciprocity in value exchange has been an issue, well before the utilitarian turn in his own writings on “The wealth of nations”. Even Adam Smith refers to happiness and interest as a kind of value and “very laudable principles of actions” (part VII.ii.3.15 in TMS).
Children learn and experience value as natural part of growing up. Material things which you valued highly as toddler, you are ready to trash or exchange a couple of years later at much lower prices. Above which monetary value are you ready to trade in your humanitarian values? Never? History and bargaining theory is full of experiments and experiences that teach us otherwise. Corruption is the prominent example of exchanging or trading material value against immaterial values. Reading Kwame Anthony Appiah on “Experiments in ethics” is highly instructive. This bring me back to the economist joke I used to tell in lectures: You know that you’re an economist, if you ask your child, whether s/he prefers 20 Euros in cash, a trip to an adventure park later, a basket ball set or a pizza party for the next birthday. Economists do all this to find out about the value of each item, the preferences, the time frame of delayed reward or discounting of value also called the net-present value. Reading up to here is equal to the value of, maybe, an online bachelor in economics or social science. In your very own life review of learnings you then can estimate the value of your readings to you, your community or humanity. Alternatively, enjoy the joy of just living in peace with optimism.

S for Society

At least since the “Greek Polis” became a subject of science, the study of society has filled libraries around the world. To catch up with the social sciences view on society, we may start with foundations based on Max Weber, Niklas Luhmann, Jürgen Habermas, Ulrich Beck to then move on to my predilection with micro-level foundation of social theory based on work from James Coleman. The history of sociological ideas runs from the protestant work ethic, autopoiesis in systems theory, ethics of discourse and communicative action, risk management to “1 to 1 relationships” as pillars of theorising about society. 10.000 pages later on, you might still ask yourself the question: what practical knowledge have I gained from this. Well let’s see. Imagine you want to learn about a friend and whether s/he is really a friend. Nowadays we would start with an online-search to find profiles of a person (facebook, Instagram, linked-in, twitter, twitch, mastodon). When the first entries pop-up, we start to learn about interests, looks, friends and preferences of the person. In which social media the person is (or not) participating tells a lot. We start to build an image of the person and her/his networks and communities. Soon we start comparing the person’s world reference framework with our set of values and characteristics. Welcome to thinking about society in small, and interactions within society or between groups of society. Adding some solid knowledge about statistics and you’re ready to start the science of society.
Yet, so many still open questions. When talking about society, we have to think about the trend of individualisation and ways to keep society together despite increasing plurality of life courses. “Solitude versus loneliness” is as much a social as it is an individual based issue. Community-building with inclusion, staying-on and exclusion processes have to be studied in detail. The whole process of civilisation or the study of suicide has been a sociological topic since its inception by Emile Durkheim. Imagineering is an additional tool to speculate in a systematic way about the past and future of society. That’s where all the arts come into the picture as well. The history of art is full of perspectives on society, its splendour, the misery of individuals, communities and societies. An emotional starting point is a very valid starting point, the science of society then moves on to abstraction and generalisations as well. The challenge is, to capture audiences emotionally, with short reflections on society.

R for Repairing

Without noticing for many people, we have shifted into the repair mode. Our planet needs repair work. Well beyond the less plastic, CO2, less oil, gaz and pollution in general, we have to actively repair what we have damaged, certainly since the industrial revolution. With nuclear waste we have entered into a phase, in which repairing is not really feasible. Areas around Tschernobyl and Fukushima speak for itself. However, we seem to leave the repairing to future generations. Whereas for us currently it is an option, later on it will be an obligation.
The bionic interest has already turned to the Axolotl and Polycarpa mytiligera. Both species can repair themselves after the loss or a malfunctioning part of their body. Rather than producing externally, growing the spare part is a promising healing device. Nature provides many fabulous insights, if we were able to preserve the biodiversity. Repairing biodiversity is difficult, impossible for lost species which we do not even really know. Start to repair and build awareness that repairing can be fun. Beyond the gender stereotypes, men repair cars, women repair clothes, we have to learn from each other how to use our repair knowledge for many other things and devises. This applies even to our social, legal or economic systems. In addition to reimagining, we need repairing everywhere. I have lots of stuff to repair at home. When do you start repairing? Welcome to the next trend: the joy to repair, repairs even joy.

P for Policy

Politics and policy are key elements of democracy. Agreeing that we might strongly disagree, is a virtue of democracy, particularly in order to avoid a confrontation using force. Dialectic thinking builds on the confrontation of opposite opinions originating even of the same factual knowledge. Based on different theories the same evidence will be interpreted differently. Hence, in the field of politics, where disagreement is part and parcel of the game to build majorities, policies will change. This then leads to the belief that we need a policy in each and every subject of the alphabetical list we are about to create.  There is a high risk, if you are not having a digital security policy, you will be at high risks that crucial infrastructure might not work in case of a major internal or external conflict. Candide in his small garden might run out of water to water the plants or climate change is threatening the species growing until recently. Young startups, just like ageing enterprises, persons or societies need a policy  to take care of survival, not only of the fittest. As the challenges and stakes of humanity rise fast, a revival of the policy sciences is dearly needed before the pervasive skill shortages creap into the fields of social sciences as well.

O for Optimism

Looking back at the end of every year to what happened in the last 12 months gives mixed feelings in annual repetition. Developments of nature and biodiversity are sometimes troublesome (variants of viruses like omicron). Despite wars and man-made disasters most people have a capacity to bolster with optimism. To view a glass as half-full rather than half-empty is a common description of two different perspectives on the same fact. Additionally from a longitudinal perspective it matters, whether you started from a full glass beforehand or from the empty glass. In experiments we would need to clarify the role of the starting point and evolution before the statement on the 50-50 state of affairs.
In the French enlightenment, represented by Voltaire‘s “Candide ou l’optimisme“, a critical view on the optimism of Leibniz is expressed. The optimistic claim of Leibniz, “we live in the best of possible worlds” is questioned by Candide who believes taking care of his own little garden is probably the best he can do to preserve nature and the world. These two apparently opposite perspectives and conclusions on the potential of human action we find reflected still nowadays in politics and world affairs. Do we stand up to defend human rights or do we believe the fight is futile? The optimism embedded in Ukranian culture, for example, demonstrates the power that might come out of optimism. It would even go as far as stating that optimism is a precondition for democracy, always striving for the improvement and spread of democratic procedures. Creating opportunities to more freedom to do something is the driving force besides ensuring to curb infringements on one’s freedom. Optimism is a close ally of imagination, imagination of all people living in peace. A nice sunset gives hope for a nice sunrise as well.

N for Nature

The first association with nature for me is the nature surrounding my childhood. Rivers, forests, vineyards, mountains. Maybe a little bit of German romanticism surrounds this. I still enjoy occasionally listening to some nature romantic songs (Lieder) from Schubert, Schumann, Flotow or Mahler. Beginning with adolescence natural sciences took over, but what does natural really mean in the natural sciences. In the “Encyclopedia Britannica” the term natural has already been dropped. What has been referred to as natural sciences is just found under the term sciences. The social sciences or psychology are not included under entry of sciences. One of the high reputation scientific journals is still named “nature”. Only a small fraction of the papers deal with what ordinary people would associate with nature. The nuclear fusion or nuclear energy research and applications in practice figures still prominently in there. Ever since Tschernobyl, Fukushima or Hiroshima, horrific  dangers are associated with nuclear energy. The power plant of Saporischschja in Putin’s war, dominates public concerns in 2022. The natural sciences frequently are certainly not researching in the interest of nature. Hence, the social sciences need to deal with the social consequences of (natural) scientific advances. Science and technology have an intrinsic link to each other.
The loss of biodiversity is the most obvious demonstration of how cruel our own species is towards any other form of live. Not only is demography reminding us that with 8 billion of us we might further contribute to our own overpopulation, we might sooner or later destroy the whole planet either slowly with polution or through weapons of mass destruction. Poor nature, instead of pure nature is our destiny. Our western lifestyle is not sustainable and  we have no right to impinge on the rights and resources of future generations of us or those who have not poluted the planet like us in other parts of the world. So, when did it all start to go wrong? Probably our creed for more of everything has been nurtured for far too long. Less is more has to replace it somehow. This is also part of our nature

M for Memory

Besides the English term memory, which refers to a huge scientific literature starting with cognitive psychology, I like the French version of “mémoire”, because it is more comprehensive with additional meanings, nicely represented by Wikipedia.org. On the German Wikipedia-page you find first the reference to the children’s game memory, turning around images and memorising where the counterpart is/was (play pairs). This diversity hints towards a cultural element in memory. There is a person’s memory or mental capacity to recall and ways to remember. The latter term refers a lot more to collective memories and becomes a more debated issue. Danny Trom uses the term “split memory” in a chapter on France and the “myths of nations” (p.129-151). In David Brook’s reader on “the social animal” he states that grandmasters in chess (p.88) were long believed to have superior memory. This is actually not true as memory experiments showed, but they rather saw formations and “internal connections forming networked chunks of information”.
“Mémoire”, on the contrary, refers also to the writing of a person’s own biography. Nowadays, book shops contain whole sections of autobiographies, the most sold appears to be the one by Michele Obama recently, if I recall correctly. Among the most scandalous is the publication of the “Journal pour Anne (Pingeot) 1964-1970” by Francois Mitterand. All the autobiographical documents make explicit major parts of what might form collective memory later on.
Memory has found its way into engineering and computing. The memory effect in batteries or being “out of memory” frightens users in computing or programming. In short, I wish you the best of memories reading this page and stimulation by visiting memorials (image: Jewish Museum in Berlin 2022, Ullmann exhibition).

L for Law

Contrary to a popular misunderstanding. Law is not boring. The history of ideas is full of exiting projects based on laws. Starting with the foundation of empiricism, i.e. the comparison of laws governing the different Greek city states pioneered by Aristotle. Considering law from the perspective of legislation gives it an actionable touch and makes it more exciting to many persons. Contrary to a static perception of law, laws can be changed and are subject to interpretation continuously by courts and judges. The fascination with law might start with the philosophers of the French enlightenment like Montesquieu. “De l’esprit des lois” – explains already the need to look behind the literal text of law. What is the spirit of law, becomes the driving question. Not only the categories of countries like republic, monarchy and despotism were argued by him, but also the separation of powers into an executive, legislative and judicial power is his original contribution. These principles govern the German “Grundgesetz” and are a common understanding of the founding states of the European Union as well as a potential breaking point.
A sociological perspective on law is formulated by Niklas Luhmann (short intro in D) and highlights the danger of laws as a self-referential system. This dominated by experts who develop the system further independent of the concerns and understandings of wider society. In order to understand this concern, it is probably useful to think of climate change as an urgent problem. Bio-diversity has for much too long not been of much relevance for legal founding principles of our constitutions. In the same vein, women judges or diversity in the legal profession is a point of concern. Majorities versus minority rights create intrinsic tensions in law, legislation, execution and interpretation. Analysing the half-life of laws is interesting, i.e. how fast do they really change or get abandoned altogether. Equality in front of the law remains a thorny issue. It is a huge issue when moving from law to justice as primary concern. The most interesting point is the view of law as a changing matter, hopefully for the better, but this is another question altogether. Reveillons-nous l’esprit des lois ! (pas seulement au Reveillon).

I for Imagination

We are all full of imagination. The human brain hardly can do without it. It could be understood as if thinking of oneself is a continuous process of imagining and reimagining oneself. We just developed or were forced to suppress imagination at various instances throughout our lives. Day dreams are rarely tolerated, starting at school, then on the job and probably for a long time also about the way we imagine our own ending or life after death. Just trying not to think, like in meditation, seems to be a very hard exercise and it demands long practice to arrive at longer durations. Abstraction is one of the ways of art to allow imagination to rule the process of creation. In view of the anniversary of Pablo Picasso in 2023, the Brussels Royal museum of fine arts is presenting a paedagogic reflection and demonstration how Picasso emerged on his way towards abstraction as his preferred way of imagination and reimagination as part of the realisation process of his art work. As part of the Cubist revolution Picasso is quoted in this exhibition on how he paints: “Je ne peins pas ce que je vois, je peins ce que je pense.” and “Chez moi, un tableau est une somme de destructions.” Nice imagination, reimagination and de-construction I would say. Like the imagination depicted above from Paul Klee reflects the accomplishment of a new form of pictural language. Try imagination, it isn’t hard to do, “John Lennon” sang once. In Brussels you can try seeing the cubist way in the Picasso exhibition, a good way to prepare yourself for the next visits of fabulous exhibitions in honor of Picasso in 2023.

H for Health

Health is not just a personal issue. Of course, in modern times most people are primarily concerned with their very own health. Particularly, if pain is involved, we tend to put ourselves first. Only various religions and ideologies put God or some other bigger thing, for example identity, in front of personal pain. This bigger thing is believed to decide wars, like Russia trying to anihilate Ukraine. Russia’s military agression stands against the fight for freedom, democracy and perpetuates corruption.
At the beginning of the Corona-Crisis most persons and societies still believed health and infections are only a very personal issue. Researchers with knowledge about “public health” knew already, viruses have accompanied humanity since its beginnings and maybe continue to do so even beyond our disappearance. Hence, addressing the topic of society and health from a public health perspective has become much more popular as prevention is key to fight pandemics as early as possible. However, for prevention to work you have to involve and rely on individual behaviour. As soon as we leave the personal issue of health, we have to address a whole set of other topics like patient – carer relationships, cooperation, interdisciplinarity, public expenditure, public-private partnerships, corruption or behaviour of large crowds.  We have developed antidotes against most difficulties, probably the strongest one is solidarity. Social systems that address inequality of provision (e.g. between regions) or inequality in access to and quality of medical services (e.g. doctors, care or pharmaceuticals) have a strong role to play. Structural, financial and political issues play a powerful role in health. As we think more about prevention and costs we start to understand that we have to start with nutrition, mobility, mortality and our western style of life in more general terms, particularly if we think about health on a global scale. There is no planet B where we could travel to, once it has become impossible to lead a healthy life on our planet. Topics of health over the life course or ageing will need a lot more attention. Findings on the risk of suicide after onset of physical health problems (Link to study) asks for fast responses. Access to digital tools might be part of the solution like “Sympatient” as well as being part of the problem like data leakage.

G for God

God is dead, wrote Nietzsche about 140 years ago. So, is he, is she, are they? The discussion is ongoing. As science has debunked the myths surrounding birth, the jury is out as humanity is claiming freedom of choice also towards the end of life. Our cathedrals of Modernity, i.e. libraries , or Tempel of knowledge, i.e. universities, offer lots of instruction and Musea artefacts or Anschauungsmaterial to answer these existential questions. Perhaps this is just a lot of noise about “rien”, “nichts” or “Much ado about nothing“.
We might have to rethink society from scratch, starting with the definition of social backround and identity , but there are plenty of good sources to build upon, starting with basic human rights and the Schuman declaration for the construction of  Europe, rising out of the ashes. Lots of hard thinking to do, Rodin thought so, too. The thinker above the “porte de l’enfer” ready for meditation in the Musée Rodin Paris 7eme arrondisement.

F for Freedom

This choice is no surprise, or is it? Who is longing the most for freedom? People in the so-called Western world are reported to score highest in the rankings of achieved levels of freedom. However, the longing for freedom often seems the strongest in countries, or regions within a country, where elements of freedom are restricted. Then fighting for freedom becomes an intense struggle, sometimes leading to outright war or fighting back like in Ukraine. Beyond the negative freedom (free from capital punishment) there is the positive freedom to express yourself freely. Both perspectives on freedom are crucial. Being free from prosecution is often only a first step towards the goal of being free to live your way of life as you feel it. It has always been a political struggle and will remain one today as well as in future. Less consensus reigns on the topic to what extent economic freedom is a constituent part of the term freedom. Far-reaching economic inequality within societies frequently limit persons at the bottom of the distribution to fully participate in society and excercise many components of freedom like decent food, housing, health and health care. All this remains the biggest challenge for humanity for years to come. We shall need a lot more heros in the name of freedom like the famous Nobel prize winners. Fighting for freedom in a peaceful way is probably the biggest challenge for humanity also in the 21 century.

E for Enterprise

There is a new start-up scene in development in Germany. Interesting to witness the new entrepreneurial spirit. Many of the youngsters grow out of their peer community, wanting to try new ways of working and living together. The new bottom-up or grassroots form of growing a business out of a subculture seems to be an adequate response to the growing diversity of societies and easier ways of community building through online social media. Name it “reach” today, it is similar to what you previously called having a customer base. The new element refers to a blending of cultures. Learning through being online connected to the world, yes, the whole world, allows wide-spread influences from other sub-cultures, be they American, Asian or African. The young are open-minded to new stimuli like “Ikigai” from Japan and, of course, the life histories of founders and individual biographies from entrepreneurs like the legend of Steve Jobs, Apple’s legendary founder. Imagineering has become part of the movie-influenced influencers. Short clips out of a longer story build communities. The witty comment, like at school, gets more attention than the long boring story of the preacher, teacher or the mansplainer. The experience of “flow” is all around these communities and this creates the specific magic of the start-up scene. They take each other to new levels, mutually, reinforcing their preferences and life-styles. They are well aware of the risks they are taking. “Keinhorn” German short for “not an Einhorn”, the one billion value threshold for super successful enterprises taught them crucial lessons. The “ecology of organisations” which I referred to in my courses at the now renamed “Constructor University” previously “International University Bremen”, then “Jacobs University”, (let’s see what comes next?) is an important complementary research tradition to assess the “survival” of enterprises. I still recommend this University, which I quit to start new endeavors. It carries in its several “names” the important message:
start, fail, change, (repeat).