Thursday, June 4, 2020

Biblical Insights for Rebooting Your Life after Corona Lockdown

“A lion has roared; who will not fear?” (Amos 3:8)
“Go into your houses, my people, and lock your door behind you; hide for just a moment until the wrath has passed.” (Isaiah 26:20)

Close your door, but open a window to the world.  While the frightening coronavirus pandemic requires that you hide in physical isolation away from everyone, the virtual world of smartphones and social media invites you to come out of hiding and connect to anyone. 

Lockdown confines you to a bizarre way of life that you could have never have imagined. Confined to your home, you are suddenly offered a quite pool of time to rethink your pre-corona life. A miniscule virus invading plant Earth has set up a situation for creatively envisioning a postCOVID-19 life with greater meaning, deeper satisfaction, and spiritual significance than your daily routine before the plague.   

The novel coronavirus has turned life topsy-turvy in our age of new media. Instead of parents urging their smartphone addicted children to talk face to face with friends in physical space they are suddenly being required to limit their interaction with friends to virtual space.

What Was is Not What Will Be

To use lockdown time to creatively rethink what your life could be after the pandemic ends, take into consideration that the world will not return to what it was. Everything will be different.

An online panel of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv explored how the world will inevitably reboot itself after corona. The INSS director Amos Yadlin said, “What was is not what will be.  We will return to a different world, where the corona impact will be on everything.”

The world has seen an altered world order emerge after key events in the 20th century: World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, the fall of the Iron Curtain, and 9/11.  Each of these events triggered worldwide changes that created new situations whereby the world everyone returned to after the formative event was not the world they knew before it.  

Reboot your life after the plague has passed

“The dove came back to him in the evening with a freshly plucked olive leaf in its bill. Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth.” (Genesis 8:11)
“Although you intended to harm me, God intended it for good.” (Genesis 50: 20)

“Reboot” is a word first used in the 1970’s “to shut down and restart a computer” that evolved in the 1980’s to mean “to start anew: to make a fresh start” according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary.  The Cambridge Dictionary adds to make a fresh start “in a way that is new and interesting.”

I use “reboot” in both the context of living in a ubiquitous digital culture and of starting life anew in fresh and interesting ways after we win the world war against the coronavirus that is not even a living organism, but a minuscule DNA protein molecule that can invade our bodies and kill us.

The two biblical verses above offer insights for rebooting your life by pondering how after the pandemic has receded from the earth that it may have been for the good. The second verse are the words of Joseph to his brothers who had sold him into slavery. His rise to become the ruler over all of Egypt gave him the opportunity to save the lives of multitudes including his family.

Biblical values offers solace when things do not go the way we want. It invites us to accept life’s difficulties by transforming them into opportunities. We learn from a story told almost two millennia ago about what happened to Rabbi Akiva on one of his journeys.  

He was traveling to a far-away place together with a donkey, a rooster, and a lantern.  As evening approached, he stopped in an inn.  When he asked to rent a room for the night, he was told that all the rooms had already been rented.  Since there were no other inns in the town, he continued down the road and camped in the woods when a gust of wind blew out the flame in his lantern.  As he was falling asleep, he was startled by the shriek of his rooster as a fox ran off with it.  His second attempt at sleeping was brutally interrupted by the horrific scream of his donkey being killed by a lion. 

As he began to doze off again, he heard the hooves of horses racing down the road.  When he awoke in the morning and proceeded down the road, he heard that a band of robbers had killed the people staying at the inn.  He realized that the crowing of his rooster, the braying of his donkey, and the light from his lantern would have given him away as the robbers galloped down the road.  His response was, “This too is for the good.  Everything that happens has a reason.”

A common expression heard is Israel is “gam zu l’tova” (“This too is for the good”) when things seem to go wrong.

In the Beginning God Created Media Systems

“In the network of all networks, God created media systems for creating heaven and for creating earth.  (Genesis 1: 1)

Instead of the common English translation of the first verse of the Bible “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth,I rebooted my mindset to think in the language of the digital age as I translate from Hebrew, the original language of the Bible in which I teach and speak to my grandchildren in Israel where I live.  

This translation was a creative leap from the biblical past into a new medium future. It draws from my teaching design of natural systems as a professor at Columbia University, creativity for the electronic age at MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies, and Jewish thought and education at Ariel and Bar-Ilan universities in Israel.

“In the beginning” in Hebrew is read as B’resheet. In the world of science and technology, we are invited to read it as B’reshet, meaning “in the network.” The first word of the Bible, some 4,000 years old, is reframed as the living network of networks, the cloud of Internets blanketing our planet.

In Hebrew, a two-letter word spelled alef-tav, the first and last letters of the alphabet (like A-Z in English) appears before “heaven” and again before “earth.” Alef-tav is pronounced ET.  The first words of the Bible are read as: “In the beginning God created ET the heaven and ET the earth.” Since English has no equivalent for the word ET that links a verb to a noun, it drops out in translations.

ET is God’s first creation before heaven. Spanning the full set of 22 Hebrew letters, ET that appears before “heaven” symbolizes a spiritual media system. The ancient Hebrew alphabet is a prototype of media systems for creating spiritual systems like the Bible itself.

The second ET before “earth” encompasses digital media systems. The digital media system is a binary system of 1-0, on-off, light-darkness. “God separated between the light and darkness.” (Genesis 1: 4)  All that we experience in the virtual world is written with an alphabet of just two letters, 1 and 0. Every photo, text, song, website, blog, and video that you access through your computer or smartphone is written with the binary system of the first day of Creation.

Breaking Out of the Frame: Inside/Outside: Panim/P’nim

“The Lord would speak to Moses face to face as one speaks to a friend.” (Exodus 33:11)

I extended my linguistic reboot translating the first verse of the Bible into the language of the new media age, to using linguistic playfulness to create Inside/Outside: Panim/P’nim, a bioimaging system for live self-portrait generation. It breaks out of the golden frames that have surrounded portraits painted on canvas for centuries by creating a live real-time dialogic portrait.

I designed it in my studio/lab at MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies for the LightsOROT: Spiritual Dimensions of the Electronic Age exhibition at Yeshiva University Museum in New York. My bioimaging system integrates real-time computer graphics with biofeedback. 

The starting point for this artwork is the fact that the Hebrew words for “face” panim and for “inside” p’nim are written with the same four letters. I explored creating a digital portrait in which outside flows from inside and inside flows from outside in a continuously flowing feedback loop.

I developed a system using biofeedback from brain waves sensed by electrodes connecting the participant’s head to an electroencephalograph.  For the museum, however, difficulty placing electrodes on people’s heads required that I redesign the system.  I built a console in which a participant seated in front of a monitor would place a finger in a plethysmograph, which measures internal body states by monitoring blood flow, while under the gaze of a video camera.

A feedback loop is created in which changes in one’s internal mind/body state changes a video image of one’s external self.  It is a video/computer graphics self-portrait painted by the dialogue between one’s inner body processes and one’s virtual image. 

A person sits before a video camera.  Her body is connected to a biofeedback sensor.  She watches a real-time naturalistic image of herself on the video monitor.  Information about her internal mind/body processes is digitized and conveyed to the central processing unit of the computer system.  The video image is modified by a specially designed software package that I created with my MIT graduate students. 

It can be modified by changing color or size, by stretching, elongating, extending, rotating, replicating, superimposition or by other computer graphics effects.  For example, the participant sees herself turn green and is shocked by the sight.  The shock, in turn, changes the biofeedback information causing the computer to modify her self-portrait again.  Her green face now becomes elongated. Changes in body processes affect changes in the video image.  The perceived video image, in turn, stimulates the mind/body changes, and so on in a continuous feedback loop like the unending flow of a Torah scroll.

Through a Bible Lens: Biblical Insights for Smartphones and Social Media

“Awake and shout for joy” (Isaiah 26:19) when the curtain comes down at the end of the plague.
My latest book Through a Bible Lens: Biblical Insights for Smartphone Photography and Social Media, although published shortly before the coronavirus pandemic erupted, seems to have anticipated the need for biblical insights for coping with the radical changes in our lives in physical isolation while demonstrating how new media can connect us in virtual space.    
These insights can open opportunities for creatively rethinking and reshaping your life for the better. When you shout for joy that the plague has passed, you will have had a time confined at home to explore alternative ways to enrich your future.

The book demonstrates to people of all faiths how biblical insights can transform life, in good times and bad, into imaginative ways of seeing spirituality in all that we do.
The spiritual power of digital culture in shaping the future was recognized early on by the Lubavicher Rebbe, the 20th century’s great Jewish leader who was educated as a scientist. He wrote:

“The Divine purpose of the present information revolution, which gives an individual unprecedented power and opportunity, is to allow us to share knowledge – spiritual knowledge – with each other, empowering and unifying individuals everywhere. We need to use today’s interactive technology not just for business or leisure but to interlink as people – to create a welcome environment for the interaction of our souls, our hearts, our visions.”

This article was published in The Times of Israel, March 31, 2020

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