Theater: Reality, Rituals, and the Human Imagination

Altamira, Spain – Before the Common Era

Perched high on the edge of the cave wall, small reddish-brown bird watches with curiosity from its nest and observes the outline of twelve silhouettes huddled around a smoky but tender fire.  The smoke from the fire rises, softens the angular light of the sun setting in the distance, as the intense, and vibrant color of the sunlight mixes with light from the fire, exposing the inside of the cave walls, illuminating with animal drawings of rich ochre yellows, burnt reds, charcoal black lines, and carefully articulated shapes.

Slowly, the group of twelve congregates in half circle in front of their sacred wall of animal drawings, and unlike the static pictures, the evening barn swallows fly in a swirling spiral column in and out of the cave’s opening, filling the cavern with echoes of their songs.  Two of the members of the group begin to animate their arms, body movements, modulate their vocalization, and include the animal drawings into the theater of their making.  Here, at this moment, humans refer to the reality of their experiences to form a ritual of an instinctive and intuitive nature to explore the unknown world of the human imagination.

History: The Second Sibling of Reality

Our human DNA has a long memory, rich in ritual experience.  The most important rituals are from the historical records of classical Western civilization where the ritual experience merged into what was the early Greek ritual-theater.  The ritual-theatrical experience was stable discourse, and embraced as a tradition in ancient Greek society, as participation was an essential part of citizenship of the city-state.

The nature of the classical Greek theater included many types of social threads and could be festive, religious, political, musical, poetic, athletic, marriages or funerals.  The theater was part of everyday ancient Greek society’s communion with life, as they understood it.  The Hellenization of the theater, and of culture, has had an indelible mark over the ages as the theater has since transmuted into rivers and tributaries of imaginative works about the ritual experience, defining the human story, changing cultures, religions, and politics.

In Aristotle’s literary work of Poetics, dramatic theory expanded and defined the theater to include spectator participation in contrast to the rituals of the sacred mysteries.  In Poetics, Aristotle sets the rules, similarities, and limitations for comedy, tragedy, satyr plays, poetry, and epic poetry.  The Greeks believed that the similarities between the ritual and theater, both brought purification and healing to spectators employing an imaginative experience.  The Greek poet, Arion, transformed the Greek theater or the dithyramb with the use of the literary composition to incorporate the beauty of words into the performance which gave sophistication to the ritual nature of the theater.

Arion, best remembered for his ability to play the kithara, and as legend has it, kidnapped by pirates for his prize money.  The pirates gave Arion two options, to commit suicide, and have a proper burial on land or tossed out into the sea to perish.  Arion gave the pirates offer some thought, so he stalled by playing his kithara, and began singing praises to Apollo, the god of poetry.  The singing attracted many dolphins to the ship, and at the end of his song; Arion threw himself off the boat into the sea rather than to face the certainty of death at the hands of the pirates.  One of the dolphins came up to Arion and carried him to safety to the sanctuary of Poseidon at Cape Tainaron. At the end of the heroic journey the dolphin sadly expired and died, but Apollo the god of poetry did not forget the dolphin’s heroic kindness and gave the dolphin a place in the stars.  Delphinus is a constellation in the northern sky, close to the celestial equator.

Spiritualism or Contempt of Reality

The story of Arion is a myth, but yet historically part of the fabric of the human narrative in that many of the elements of the story are not impossible or out of the mathematical probability of occurring.   But here in the story of Arion, as like all imaginative narratives the lines between reality and imagination start to blur, the relationships of fact and the ritual descriptions as interpreted by the human imagination then become synonymous when presented to the recipient through the lens of the past, present, and future tenses.

As humans, we are curious by nature, and our imagination may be analytical, convergent, deductive, divergent, destructive or purposeful, and allows humans to deviate from the sphere of the real or empirical worlds into the field of the imaginable, in which all things are possible.  The long twisting road of human history is one of many inhumane, cruel, and barbaric episodes; yet, we as humans manage to find opportunities in struggles, and conflicts, to imagine new patterns of human migration, and culturalization that sometimes produces seeds of important ideas throughout the human narrative.  Out of conflicts and struggle, the human imagination can overcome the obstacles hindering humans from being free, productive, and contributing to the betterment of all humanity.

Such was the case in the Elizabethan period in which the human imagination produced the power of words capable of painting images.  The distinguished historian Simon Schama cites the birth of the Protestant Reformation and the changes it brought to Great Britain in the 1500s. The visual imagery and vestiges of Catholicism whitewashed away with the Protestant Reformation transforming the Catholic ritual use of visual imagery into the sacrosanctity of the word, the absolute word of the scriptures.

The human imagination looked for new venues to fulfill the gaps of the missing rich imagery of the Catholic ritual experience with what it knows best, sensory perception, and representation, restrained during the reformation’s engagement and the institution of the Protestant ritual.  As a result, the Elizabethan Catholic ritual experience of representation transmutes into the development of a new theater of a secular nature, such as the birth of the modern theater.  From this theater, the literary works of Greene, Kyd, Marlowe, and Shakespeare came to life into the flesh invoking images, emotions, and thoughts into our collective imagination, and beyond the world of the theater, forevermore.

Religious rituals and theater of the secular are one of the same when it comes to appropriation of believers and spectators alike in that each shares more similarities than differences in the art of theatrics but depart, and divide sharply in cultural purposes.  As religion is about socialization, fraternalism, and spiritual order of the individual, where the theater of the secular is more a fleeting, and poetic space, emulating life, and the nature of human character to tell a narrative about human follies or consequences, in rare instances, may reach the level of high art of significant socialization, and cultural change.  Works of Shakespeare and Cervantes are easy reaches.

Yet, the theaters of religion, and of the secular, must both seek an audience for validation; both must compete for their audience’s minds and imaginations.  Here in this reclamation of the spectator’s imagination, the theater in all its all forms, social, political, religious, poetic, and literary uses all the faculties of persuasion at its control to suspend the spectator’s moment of reality with vignettes, sketches, manipulations, replications or retreaded realities.  The human mind knows the differences between real, and what is not but can accept that both can coexist for what they are; which is the mechanism that allows ritual and secular narratives to be plausible, part of the fabric of culture, where one requires faith, while the other requires suspension of reality, or sometimes both.

The mingling of factual circumstances and imaginable intent can distort the optics of reality, and we can observe it as in social-political propaganda, mass media, television, movies, books, and so on.  The effects can either have calculated risks or unintended consequences, seeping into societies or cultures, mutating the perception of social values, critical thinking, and emotional acumen.  The outcomes can be contemptuous of reality, dangerous, misleading, hurtful, deadly, or life-embracing, celebratory, spiritual, heroic, or reciprocal of the entire spectrum of the human imagination in a world that evolves into light and darkness among the heavens and constellations.


The Theater of Machine and Artificial Intelligence

The theater and evolution of technological history are like a red wing blackbird flying over the long line of fence posts that run across a pasture with each post representing a new milestone of technological change then disappearing out of view into the distance of the horizon line.
With history at our side, we know technological changes will happen, but we do not know when and how technological change will emerge, and what the ethical, and legal ramifications of humanity are.

Today, at least six countries are at the crossroads of significant technological change in the theater of machine and artificial intelligence.  The impact on the rest of the modern and emerging countries alike will be of a sea change that the world has never witnessed historically.  Machine and artificial intelligence will influence every institution from physical and digital infrastructures like manufacturing, banking, medicine, military, aerospace, and mass media.  The human imagination resides in all tenses, past, present, and the future but the most intriguing are the imaginative sensibilities that lie in the future tense.

Autonomous not Anonymous  

Everybody wants to rule the future but let us hope Google (Alphabet) lives up to its unofficial motto, ‘don’t be evil’ as one of, if not the most technologically powerful entities shaping the future.  Google is spending its billions on the theater of the future; putting its money to work from gathering social data to the machine and artificial intelligence to deep learning, through tactical triangulation, and Return on the Future to define their stake, and place forward.  The road forward so far with Google’s investment in autonomous automobiles is led by Sebastian Thrun, former director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.  This is the start of the next technological revolution but not be fooled, it is not so much about Google’s Chauffeur future concept car but the rich intellectual capital of patents of machine source codes and algorithms.

The predictive data suggest that autonomous technology introduced into the markets will evolve more quickly as more players such as Apple, Google, Tesla, and Uber, enter the machine and artificial intelligence space.  This is more than just another trend in that some of the brightest artificial intelligence talents have migrated to the private sector as the likes of Regina Dugan of Google, and Gill Pratt of Toyota with the ambitions to continue the development of the theater of machine and artificial intelligence.  The largest automobile maker, Toyota has recently announced U.S. $50 million R&D Artificial Intelligence collaboration with Stanford and MIT.  It is true that some polls portray a skeptical public, and outlook about autonomous technology with some research suggesting that about twenty percent of the population in the U.S. is fearful of artificial intelligence.

Nonetheless, autonomous technology and automobiles will happen.  The first phase will not be fully autonomous but most industry experts agree in building a safety framework around autonomous machines and artificial intelligence to augment enhanced automobile safety will be the first required step forward.  This safety framework will be the key for obvious reasons, in that new federal and state regulations must be developed, and rendered to necessitate a regulatory foundation on behalf of the autonomous industry, and the public trust.  California has already begun autonomous machine legislation, and most likely will serve as the model of such legislative framework for the rest of the nation.  There is still the unfinished business of early adopter’s acceptance, product liability, and risks assessments requirements before autonomous automobiles can go to market, but nonetheless, your children’s children will inherit an autonomous future only now imaginable.

The Theater of Warfare

The first shot of the electronic technological war was not a weapon but an artificial satellite named Sputnik.  In 1958, President Eisenhower created DARPA, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, with the purpose of expanding the frontiers of technology, and science.  DARPA has a more serious role in the Artificial Intelligence with security, defense, and warfare in mind.  So serious in fact are the efforts, and scientific accomplishments, it has prompted the likes of Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Steve Wozniak, in signing an open letter calling for a ban on offensive autonomous weapons.  Warfare and intelligence gathering will never be the same again, more computational, and predictive then logistical.  The Pentagon has a long historical involvement with advanced technology and is no stranger to the digital age.

Earlier this year, CIA Director John Brennan, announced a major reorganization to embrace the digital age.  Brennan is creating a fifth directorate, the Directorate of Digital Innovation, which will focus on the new world of computer networks.  Now changing the way in which intelligence gathering is conducted with digital sensing, staging, and appropriation.

Imagine digital teams having the ability disrupt both digital, and physical infrastructures, creating selective disinformation, accessing, and tagging targets, using disruptive bots, viruses, micro-robotics, performing digital swarming, creating honeypots, using both digital and physical brute force strategies, and all augmented programmatically by source code as cyber warfare.  Warfare has, and will always include human side of diplomacy but staging in the future warfare will be programmatic, computational, still thematic, but scalable, then logistical, with concepts like supercomputing analyses, behavioral science, deep learning, and digital delivery with little human intervention, other than specialization.

The Terminator concept is not far from becoming a reality in the theater of warfare; expect to see more highly advanced propelled stealth robotics that can quickly take an offensive position, and easily adapt by air, sea, and rough terrain, remotely programmable controlled with precision in neutralizing targets while keeping soldiers and civilians safer. Research and development platforms are currently investigating both source code, and electro-mechanical engineering to develop robotic that can learn, and understand behavior science.  Concurrently, there is research to investigate if artificial intelligent machines/networks programmed to protect it from being deprogrammed, can indeed be deprogrammed.

DARPA is intellectually rich and with a deep portfolio.  Here are few of the publicly known projects; Atlas Project-Humanoid, Remote-Controlled Insects, Mind’s Eye Project, and there are many more technologically advanced systems to numerous to list but point made.  Here is our future tense, where the human imagination forges a path with the most eloquent technology of demise will evolve into the ritual and theater of warfare.  Only in the human imagination, can such eloquent, and deadly machines evolve and transpire in a way that only Leonardo da Vinci could appreciate, and Francisco Goya could despise as historical references of the collective consciousness of the technology of warfare, and humanity.

The Theater of Healing and Medicine

The theater of healing arts has a long path back in the human story.  The human imagination has almost been fascinated with the nature of healing as long as human’s fascination with the supernatural, spiritual, and afterlife, as such power to heal, resolve or manage diseases, injuries, wounds, dislocations, tumors, and perform surgeries are gifts unparalleled, and extraordinary acts of the human imagination.  To make a comparative contrast between the theater of healing and medicine it is important to make the distinction of healing as pseudoscientific, and medicine as scientific, as this epilogue will survey the past as it relates to future of the theater of medicine.  The oldest cultures to delve into the ritual of healing began with the early Egyptians, Babylonians, Indians (India), Chinese, and Greeks, here in the past tense lays our basis, history, and imagination of the healing.

The Egyptians introduced healing as a practical art as early as 3000 BCE.   The earliest recorded surgery was in 2750 BCE.   Most of the information we know about the Egyptian’s knowledge about healing comes from the medical treatise known as the Edwin Smith Papyrus, named after the antiquity dealer who bought the Egyptian artifact.  The document describes the details of 48 cases of injuries, fractures, wounds, dislocations, tumors, and surgeries.  Mainly focuses on surgery and trauma detailing patient’s cases with the type of the injury, examination of the patient, diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment.  The Kahun Gynaecological Papyrus is the oldest medical description of any kind, and specifically focusing on women’s medical complaints and treatments.

The oldest Babylonian texts on healing date back to the first half of the second millennium BCE.  The most extensive Babylonian medical text is the Diagnostic Handbook written by the ummânū, who was the chief scholar of the Babylonian King Adad apla iddina between 1069–1046 BCE.  The Babylonians, as the Egyptians used the same logical approach to healing as they too, practice of use of diagnosis, prognosis, physical examination, and remedies.  The Diagnostic Handbook was an in-depth logical set of clinical rules and assumptions based on the patient examination and inspection as they relate to the patient’s complaints.

The Indian tradition of early healing practices can be characterized using empirical thought, and along with imagination in that early Indian healing, concepts dealt with both logical observations and magic. The Susruta Samhita, written by Sushruta, and dates back to the period of 6th century BCE.  This text is distinguished for describing procedures on various forms of surgery, and procedures.  Notable for scientific classification as the medical treatise consists of 184 chapters, 1,120 conditions, including injuries, illnesses relating to aging, and mental illness.  The Sushruta Samhita describes 125 surgical instruments, 300 surgical procedures, and classifies human surgery in eight categories.  It is one of the foundational texts of Ayurveda healing along with its eight branches.

Traditional Chinese medicine consists of a broad range of healing practices developed over 2,000 years ago, with various forms of herbal medicine, acupuncture, massage, exercise, and dietary therapies.  The historical traces of therapeutic activities in China date from the Shang dynasty during the 11th and 14th centuries BCE.  Many of the traditional Chinese healing concepts are imagination based such as the concept of vital energy channeled through meridians, which is not proven by logical observations or scientific methods but philosophical in approach.  There was not much emphasis placed on the anatomical structures but on breathing, digestion, and aging.  Traditional Chinese approach would measure the pulse, inspection of tongue, skin, and eyes.  Investigate the eating and sleeping habits of the patient, and look for attributes of disharmony.

The European Western tradition of healing like theater traces back to early Greeks.  An early account of the theater of healing comes from the ancient epic Greek poem by Homer, The Iliad, where Eurypylus asks Patroclus,“to cut out this arrow from my thigh, wash off the blood with warm water, and spread soothing ointment on the wound.”  The Greeks created temples of healing, and as such were dedicated to the healer-god Asclepius.  These healing temples known as Asclepieia, became centers of medical advice, prognosis, and healing for the early Greeks.  Patients seeking treatment would be induced into a sleep-like state by sleep-inducing substances.  Patients would ask for help from their deity or if required have surgery in the Asclepieia while in a dream-like state.

In the Asclepieion of Epidaurus, preserved are the names, case histories, complaints, and cures of patients.  Surgical details are at the opening of an abdominal abscess or the removal of traumatic foreign material date back to 350 BCE.  The first known Greek medical school opened in Cnidus in 700 BCE.  The theater of the healing would not be complete without Hippocrates of Kos, considered the father of Western medicine, and the first to describe many diseases such as lung and heart diseases with their symptoms.  Hippocrates also created much of the terminology or language around illnesses such as acute, chronic, endemic, epidemic, exacerbation, relapse, resolution, crisis, paroxysm, peak, and convalescence.  Many of the findings of Hippocrates are still valid today from pulmonary medicine to surgery to the Hippocratic Oath.

Throughout the ages, the theater of healing has progressed tremendously and has transformed into the science of medicine in all its forms such as in investigations, classifications, and implementations of managing diseases, illnesses, and trauma.   The future of the theater of medicine will transition from human-based findings of science to the technological-based science of precision medicine.   From all the lessons of the past, the future of the theater of medicine will accumulate the physical, material, and biological sciences with the computer sciences as never before outcomes such as of advanced rDNA technology, 3-D Bio Printing, transfer, and surgical precision implants on a cellular, molecular scale.

To gain a glimpse of the future theater of medicine, the work of Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, the Los Angeles based surgeon, physician, medical researcher, and business executive is one of medicine’s leading innovators, at best, his work is a vignette of the future.  To get an idea of Soon-Shiong penchant for innovation, Soon-Shiong performed the world’s first full pancreas transplant in 1987.  He invented the nation’s first FDA approved protein nanoparticle delivery technology for the treatment of metastatic breast cancer, improving the patients’ response rate.

His resources to innovate come from in that he has successfully developed, and sold two multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical companies, American Pharma Partners and Abraxis BioScience.  Soon-Shiong’s current companies are NantHealth and NantWorks, started in 2007 and 2011. Both companies utilize a number of IT technologies such as fiber-optic, cloud-based data infrastructure to share healthcare information.  Three years ago, Soon- Shiong announced NantHealth’s supercomputer-based system, and a network is able to analyze the genetic data from tumor samplings.

The intent of developing such infrastructure and digital technologies are to share the genomic information among sequencing centers, medical research hubs, hospitals, and advanced cancer research.  Soon-Shiong had Blackberry build the first DNA browser based on his design and data requirements.

Expect in the future advanced DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) and rDNA (recombinant Deoxyribonucleic acid) technology to help augment patient’s family histories of diseases, and most important help determine the most effective use of pharma therapy to treat diseases.  Today pharmaceutical companies are working closely with DNA,  rDNA, and 3-D Bio Printing research companies to beta test drugs, and pharmaceutical efficacy.  The goal is to determine the effectiveness of drugs, the patient’s response to drug therapy based on specific discrete DNA sequencing, and mutations.

Mutations or SNPs are in essence, signatures or fingerprints of who we are, and such mutation markers become created along the way during our historic lineage over time.  The patient’s genome map will help determine what drugs to use with more precision based on such research, and this type outcome becomes paramount with the population of patients with very short cycle times with terminal diseases.

The theater of medicine will become synonymous with input, signal processing, and output as time goes on.  The medical establishment will transition to more centralized hubs and spokes, to embrace the technological and economic change of advanced medical input capture technology, signal analytics, and precision output plans with the outcome of the next stage of medicine, the technological science of predictive health.

Imaginable Rituals

Although as humans, we cannot escape our ritual past or counteract the future, like our ancient ancestors of the past, we embrace our collective imagination to create and live in the theaters of our making.  Now in this age and time, we as humans refer to the reality of our experiences to form a technological ritual of an instinctive and intuitive nature to explore the unknown world of the human imagination, such an earthly sphere of luminous light amongst veiled shadows of human capacity.


All Rights Reserved, Theater: Reality, Rituals, and the Human Imagination ©  Richard Anthony Peña 2015

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