Posts Tagged Koans

Judas Priest To Join A Judas Priest Cover Band Or…A Judas Priest Of The Mind

In a move that has left many industry insiders scratching their heads, the remaining members of the band Judas Priest have left the band and joined a Judas Priest cover band called Nightcrawler.  The band, whose members have agreed to step aside and instead handle Judas Priest’s touring responsibilities, have been a staple of the greater Villa Rica, Georgia metal scene for the past fifteen years.  Rob Halford and the boys plan on taking over Nightcrawlers’ regular Sunday night gig at Joe Don’s House of Beer as well as occasionally traveling to Macon and Atlanta for gigs.

This began as another satire article, but I’m afraid it will not make it.  Instead, I believe the philosophical dimensions of this story are far more interesting.  Who are Judas Priest?  A collection of specific musicians who play a certain number of songs they have written in the past.  Maybe.  Think of Priest like your body.  If your body doesn’t have all of its limbs it is still your body.  If Al Atkins or Rob Halford or KK Downing leave the band, they are still technically Judas Priest, as we have seen.  While many fans would argue that the band changed greatly when Ripper Owens was the singer, you can’t really argue they weren’t Judas Priest.  After all, they put out two albums under the name Judas Priest.  You can go look on my mantle; they are filed under “J”.

Under what circumstances is Judas Priest not Judas Priest or, even more interestingly, under what circumstances would you no longer be you?  Lets say all the members of Judas Priest left and another group of musicians came in and played the same songs, would that still be Priest?  The band Yes has transitioned through new scores of new members at every instrument and they still are known as Yes (although their was some legal wrangling to determine whether that was true). 

Similarly, if all of your limbs were removed, then all of your organs except for the brain, you’d still be you, right?  In fact, no one would have a kidney removed and say “I’m no longer me anymore”. You might not even need stop at the brain.  Take away the parts that control motor function and coordination and you are still you.  Really, what you are is that small section of the brain that contains memories and the idea of who you are.  You may argue that there is a soul, but until you show me one with a tag on it saying “Exhibit A”, I cannot enter it as evidence.

Back to our Judas Priest problem.  If Judas Priest left, but became a Judas Priest cover band, I’d have a difficult time figuring out who the real Priest is, but I’d probably eventually settle on the idea that the band playing that the members of Judas Priest joined was the real Priest.  After all, the audience might identify with the name Priest, but most people derive the identity of the band from their memories of what the band was and meant.  The meaning is not solely attached to the name, but the collection of memories that follow the band and some of the identifying, tangible characteristics.  However, if all the members left and started a mariachi band, that would not be Judas Priest.  They need to be playing the same songs, doing the same stage show, etc. in order to still qualify as the real Priest.  Some form of the identity must be the same. 

Here’s where it gets tricky.  If Judas Priest’s members didn’t leave the band and kept the name, but chose to all of a sudden play mariachi songs and change their stage show, they would still be Priest, just not if they left and did the same thing.  Just like if you changed careers or got remarried or became a professional baseball player, you’d still be considered you.  So, the name Judas Priest does have value in terms of an identity marker for fans, but it is not the only characteristic that makes up identity and, as we will see, it is not always necessary.

If your brain were pulled out and put into another body, let’s say Lemmy’s body, I believe the person who had Lemmy’s body would be you.  Therefore, while people would call you Lemmy, you would still be you, just in Lemmy’s body.  As noted philosopher Shelley Kagan once said when presented with a similar problem “follow the brain”.  However, here’s where identity gets messy, most people would find it difficult to believe you if you were walking around in Lemmy’s body claiming to be you unless they knew about this brain transplant.  They’d believe you were Lemmy, even if you knew things Lemmy couldn’t possibly know about you.  

It is safe to claim that what you perceive to be you is far different than what others perceive to be you.  Your internal identity does not match the identity the world has for you.  Let’s say that for years, all the members of the band were gone and replaced with lookalikes.  Unless you had some knowledge of this, you’d assume you were watching Judas Priest when you saw them in concert.  In our example, however, the audience was made aware of the shift, so the identity of the band would stay with Halford and the guys.  Had they not been and had the cover band from Villa Rica been convincing lookalikes, people would have been none the wiser.

The point is, we think we know what a band is, based on our memories and recollections, but really we only know our created image of the band.  The difference between the internal perceptions of the band and the external ideas are miles apart.  Our image of the band has some similarities to the views of others and a few similarities to how the band views itself, but for the most part there is no common relationship except for a few markers here and there.

This is also the great problem of personal identity.  How are we meant to function in a world where we see ourselves as one thing, but the world sees us as something else?  Sure, there are some meeting points, but overall we have no clue how they see us.  We are left to play a perpetual guessing game where we will never find the answer.

Who are Judas Priest?  I’m not really sure.  I know I have my version, you have yours and they have theirs.  The places where we meet are certainly Judas Priest, but the places where we don’t are also Judas Priest.   We know enough to know and agree that the band that left Judas Priest in our story is Judas Priest, but we lack enough evidence to understand what Judas Priest is in its totality. 

We filter Judas Priest through our own minds and have an image completely exclusive to us.  Judas Priest is our Judas Priest, a Judas Priest of the mind.  We are forever stuck trying to reconcile that image with the image of those around us and failing miserably at the task.  Such is the lot of humans when searching for truth.  Stuck looking at one tiny, infinitesimal section of the map while trying desperately to figure out where everything is.

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To Be And Not To Be

Sometimes simple written juxtapositions can simply shutdown the inner workings of one’s mind.  Zen Buddhism uses koans for this exact purpose.  Mediating on the sound of one hand clapping or why Joshu would bother cutting a cat in half with a pair of shoes on his head are the psychological equivalent of throwing the emergency brake on a Ford Escort while doing 110 miles per hour on the Santa Monica Freeway.  If a person pays attention and is tuned into the general weirdness of the universe it becomes apparent that these bizarre feats of language are everywhere.

This evening I found one such “accidental” koan on Yahoo Sports. It managed to make all of the synapses in my brain stop dead in their tracks.  The current sports media obsession revolves around the potential trade of basketball star Carmelo Anthony to the New Jersey Nets.  About an hour ago, I read a headline that said “Anthony To Meet With Nets”. Below it was a headline that said, with equal certainty, “Nets Not Meeting With Anthony”.

SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEECH!!!!!!!

If these two headlines are read together they can cause severe damage to one’s cerebellum.  How can Carmelo Anthony meet with the Nets while the Nets are not meeting with him?  Does this mean that Anthony is in the room with members of Nets management who are spontaneously ignoring him?  The Nets are trying to trade for him….why would they be so outwardly hostile towards him?  Imagine Carmelo busting into a hotel room filled with Nets brass watching the All-Star 3-point shooting contest.  At first, Carmelo talks softly, then he shouts and screams, but the Nets front office simply sits silently avoiding whatever Carmelo does.  They shun him.  Carmelo jumps in front of the television, he begins to sing the theme song from “Green Acres”, he pulls his liver out of his body and begins chewing on it….no response.  What am I to make of these conflicting headlines?!?!?!

I need to know how this is possible.  Maybe the two things ARE happening at the same time.  Carmelo is in an alternate universe discussing his plans to go to New Jersey while in another dimension the Nets refuse to meet with him.  Maybe there are two Carmelo Anthonys in this world and two sets of different Nets.  Carmelo A is meeting with Nets A while Carmelo B and Nets B avoid each other.  What if these two dimensions simultaneously converged upon on another and Anthony was traded to the Nets while he remained untraded?  The Nets of the Nether Dimension would have added a 20 point per game scorer while the Nets of our current universe would still be stuck with Devin Harris and a bunch of guys in the witness protection program.  What if the Nether Dimension Nets played the Carmeloless real world Nets?  Who would win?  If Carmelo scores 22 points in the Nether Dimension and 20 in the real universe, does it mean he’s scored 42 points?  How would the NBA possibly track these statistics? Wouldn’t he have an advantage over, say,  Kobe Bryant who is currently only allowed to play in one dimension?

What if the Nets got crafty and traded for BOTH Carmelo Anthonys?  This would probably kill their salary cap number but they would have added two All-Star caliber players.  I wonder if the two could co-exist?  Is there room in New Jersey for one Carmelo Anthony?  How about two?  If the Nets learn to master the art of dimensional travel it is entirely possible that they could assemble a team of all Carmelo Anthonys.  Twelve 20 point per game scorers on one team!?!?!  They’d average 240 points per game!!!!  They’d win the NBA title four or five times possibly in the same year.  What if other teams caught on to their multi-dimensional strategy?  LeBron James’ PR image issue would be gone.  He could simply sign with EVERY team in the NBA.  They’d love him again…EVERYWHERE!  In other sports this could be huge.  The Yankees would certainly go out and sign Albert Pujols 47 times.  They’d have Albert Pujols selling tickets, serving hotdogs, playing first base, exterminating bugs, and on and on and on.

Eventually, it is possible to create a worldwide army of Carmelo’s marching towards endless victory. Millions upon millions of Carmelos pulled from millions of different dimensions.  Imagine an enemy army trying to hold a city when thousands of 6’9 small forwards come racing over a wall.  Who could stop them?  They could forever change the world balance of power.  What if a foreign government got their hands on a Carmelo dimensional prototype?  They could create a nation of anti-American Carmelo Anthonys.  The thought is terrifying.

Maybe I’ve taken this too far.  I’m no longer sure of anything. I was having a perfectly normal night trying to find You Tube clips of professional boxers fighting kangaroos when this madness seeped into my brain.  Yahoo owes me a basic explanation as to how a man can be doing something and not doing it at the same time.  I will not rest until I’ve gotten one.

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