Matthew Modine and Studying Human Consciousness

Question: What types are stories are you interested in telling?\r\n\r\nModine: Well, you know, as I said, I hate to keep going back to introducing myself as a human being, but I’m really curious about consciousness, you know? How did we become conscious of our consciousness? I think it’s hugely arrogant of man to think that he’s the only species that has consciousness. I mean, surely a fish, when it’s born, knows to run from fish that are bigger than it, you know, to hide from things that pursue them. That’s a consciousness. If a dog is struck, you know, kicked in the ass and then runs from the person next time he comes in the room, isn’t that awareness, a kind of consciousness to run from those things that are violent, that pursue you. So I’ve always been curious about consciousness, and I think that when I read scripts and I’m curious about films and things, like, to try to understand who we are and how we’ve come to be what we are. I’ve done a lot of films about war, and I’m very fascinated by war because there seems to be a terrible love of it. You know, that whenever push comes to shove, we shove. We don’t often sit down and have discussions about how to solve a problem, to be able to reach across the table and embrace another person and say let’s make this work, you know? Let’s not kill each other’s children. Let’s not pollute the land with atomic warfare and chemical warfare and, you know, nuclear-tipped warheads. We just don’t seem to do that, and that’s really fascinating to me, why we’re so cruel to each other. I think that there is evil in the world. There are people that just hate, and they’re angry and want to destroy things, and, you know, unfortunately we have to use force against those kind of people. But, more often than not, we use violence toward each other. And this may have come from my childhood, where I moved all the time. My father was a drive-in theater manager and we were constantly moving from house to house to house, and when you’re a new student in school, you find yourself fighting people all the time, you know, having to defend yourself. You know, you look across the lunch room and there’s some guy staring at you and, you know, if you look away, that’s… Like, he’d just beat you up, and if you look back at him, and then he says, you know, “What are you looking at? Huh? What are you looking at?” And it turns into two gorillas, and… So I fought my whole childhood. So maybe this curiosity about fighting and consciousness comes from just a childhood of encountering bullies, you know, that I’d have to fight and kick their asses. \r\n\r\nQuestion: Are previously untold stories coming to life through advancements in video technology?\r\n\r\nModine: The thing that’s really interesting about the directors that I’ve worked with, the really great ones, is that they came from a history of more of the reading stories, reading stories and experiencing life, you know. Going out into the world and seeing how the world impacted them personally, and then using a motion picture camera to tell that story about something that they’ve read or something that they’ve experienced in their life. And what’s happened today is you have people who were growing up, having watched things that those people created with their cameras, filming something. So they grow up watching television, and then they grow up watching films, and then most of them are going to film school and regurgitating the things they’ve learned, you know, the visual story telling. And so, it’s like when you get a mirror and a mirror and you face a mirror to a mirror and you get a reflection of a reflection of a reflection of a reflection of a reflection of a reflection, that they’re not telling you a story about something that they experienced in their life, of what something smells like, what something tastes like. They’re regurgitating a story that was regurgitated from somebody else and their perspective in life, of what it felt like. You know, what it felt like to be slapped in the face. What it felt like to eat something. What it felt like to fall in love and have the girl tear your heart out and break your heart. That’s because they experienced it, you know? They weren’t telling a story about a visual story that they’d seen in another movie. They were telling you the story about how their life was crushed by this human being, about a war that they had gone through and about, you know, their experience in battle. And we’d just gotten into this thing of a snake swallowing its tail, you know. It’s just a reflection of a reflection of a reflection, and… I mean, I think that if I wanted to be a director today or if I was speaking to students that wanted to be directors today, I would tell them to, you know, certainly learn the technical aspects of film making, but go out in the world, man. Go out and experience what life feels like. Feel like, you know, what it feels like to be cold and hot, and travel around the world and hear other people’s stories. It’s not a mistake, not a coincidence that the most interesting films that are being made in the world today are coming from Latin American countries or from corners of the world that, where people are using the camera to tell a story.

Matthew Modine is interested in making films that explore what makes people tick.

Politics & Current Affairs

Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence
to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.


Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like
violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students
do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones,
speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment
to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on
controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
    Patriotic.

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.


Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.

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