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About Hope

November 7, 2014

During my active time as a musician I was often faced with the problem of not being able to make an instant reliable assessment / judgement about the quality and the creative value of a recording and the included musical ideas. I had to wait a few days before listening to the recordings again to properly rate them. Quit often it turned out that what I had thought to be a great idea and an inspirational moment was just another mediocre variation of the same old worn-out stuff that I had ruminated about endlessly since years.

I’m facing the same problem with blog texts. Here is an example:

When “the audacity of hope” morphed into “the illusion of hope”, were we then still left with a glimmer of hope, comforted by the solace of hope and able to enjoy the gift of hope, or was the “power of hope” finally broken?

Were we still visiting the cities of hope and going to the places of hope to rest at the cornerstones of hope? Were we still on a mission of hope, on a journey of hope, walking the walk of hope, guided by the beacon of hope and the star of hope? Were we still listening to the “voices of hope” and looking out for traces of hope and signs of hope? 

Will the hopeless ever be hopeful again when their hopes were dashed so many times before? Can we keep our hope alive?

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Friends asked me, why I don’t promote my blog.

I would like and hope to have a few more readers, but in this limited life and in the limited time that I have I’m only able to either write posts or promote the blog. I cannot do both. If I would only promote the blog and spend all availlable time looking for readers and subscribers, people would visit this site and would find nothing there. It is logical that I have to opt for writing posts, a solution which at least gives me hope, that some web surfers accidentally will reach this website and read my elaborations.

I could of course make a compromise and write a little bit plus promote a little bit, but this would satisfy nobody, because the posts would be mediocre, poorly researched and carelessly written, and the readers would be disappointed and would blame me for wasting their time by luring them to this page.

I don’t want to waste anybodies time, I also don’t want to waste my own time. I have so many other things to do, like: playing music, working in the garden, walking with the cat family in the forest. I would not miss writing, I would not be bored.

I write when I feel that I have something to tell. Before I write anything, I first try to filter, sort, and process the zillions of bits and pieces of information that constantly pour down on me, and I only start writing when I am able to make out some coherent patterns that lead to a solid understanding of an issue and the underlying systemic structures.

I need my time for writing, the texts come not easy. My fingers are pretty fast and I’m perfect in touch typing, after all, I was working as a journalist. This was in German though, English is not my native tongue and I’m not at all talented in languages. My vocabulary is tiny, my spelling and my grammar are terrible, I have to fight my way from paragraph to paragraph searching for the proper terms and phrases.

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A rudimentary and superficial, yet nonetheless surprisingly useful insight into neurology is the tool that helps me to put this blog texts together and make them somehow understandable for the reader. Writing text is always an exciting expedition into my brain and I made many stunning and fascinating discoveries on this exploratory journeys.

Most texts are consequently in addition to the included information an invitation, an incitement of the readers for undertaking similar expeditions into their own brains and making similar intriguing and fascinating discoveries there.

As mentioned before, I have to fight for the right terms and phrases. Sometimes it is necessary to look at a special word more carefully and to study, analyze, and examine the meaning, possible usages, applications and correlations in phrases and sentences. I avoid the term “semantics” at this point of the text because semantics itself is such a complex word with various meanings and far reaching implications that it would need a lengthy and elaborate tractate about linguistics to acceptably and correctly employ it.

As I went to bed yesterday, just before falling asleep the word “hope” came to my mind and I decided to have a closer look and try to find out what “hope” really means. My interest in the term “hope” was probably stimulated by an article of Patrick Boylan in Pressenza with the title Is there still hope for peace in Ukraine?

The article was well researched and informative, but its sober assessments didn’t induce much hope.

A piece by Rebecca Solnit in 2011 with the title “Doom Is Not Inevitable: Hope Is Out There, We Just Have to Work For It,” fared better in this respect. The article was not outstanding but it projected hope and was nice to read. Rebecca Solnit is the author of the acclaimed book “Hope in the Dark,” and has for sure some experience in propagating hope. She unfortunately dashed the hopes of most of her readers and lost any credibility when she acted as a cheerleader for Barack Obamas reelection campaign in 2012.

What is Hope?

Hope, like all other words which cannot be clearly defined by science, has no universal agreed definitions and properties. Spelling and writing may be identical for users of the same language, but associated episodic memories will be different and emotional responses will vary depending on character, values, and personal experiences. Our personal interpretation of the word Hope can be similar, analogous, comparable, and complementary to the interpretations of other persons, but it will not be identical.

Like its close relative Love, and together with the associated synonyms and translations, Hope is one of the most misused, abused, desecrated, depraved, beaten up, and corrupted words in human language. Evoking Hope has won elections and the word is successfully used in advertising as well as in corporate and government propaganda. The term Hope is also misused for creating brand loyalty, constructing a corporate identity, for marketing, for creating hypes and hysterias. Together with teasers, rubber bullets, water cannons, and tear gas, Hope is also successful used for crowd control.

Equipped with life experience and common sense it is fortunately not too difficult to expose and denounce the false prophets of Hope and to make out the real teachers and prophets among the hordes of fakers, charlatans, and imposters. This is nevertheless a tedious task, because the mass media corporations are drowning us in piles of useless and misleading information, hoping that one day, overwhelmed and exhausted by the information deluge, we will capitulate, surrender, concede, and swallow everything what we are force-fed via print, cable, or air waves.

We all watched at the beginning of US President Obamas reign with disgust and in dismay how “the audacity of hope” became “the illusion of hope”. This was (and still is) a shameful and disgusting spectacle, a painful disappointment, and a sobering experience. It is only natural that in the wake of this and similar experiences we have become numb to the hollow catch phrases of politicians who use Hope as a common ingredient in their speeches in the same way a chef uses salt, basil, ginger, jasmine, lavender, mint, and other culinary herbs and spices to make his / her cuisine more tasty.

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We are numbed by the cynical and inflationary use of the word Hope and nevertheless it still has an impact, it still arouses positive feelings, it still warms our heart and calms our mind.

To better understand the meaning of Hope in a social context it may help to know what famous writers, philosophers, thinkers, and teachers thought about it.

Definition by quote:  

We judge of man’s wisdom by his hope
Ralph Waldo Emerson

One lives in the hope of becoming a memory.
Antonio Porchia

If it were not for hopes, the heart would break.
Thomas Fuller 

Hope arouses, as nothing else can arouse, a passion for the possible.
William Sloan Coffin

A man begins to die when he ceases to expect anything from tomorrow.
Abraham Miller

Work without hope draws nectar in a sieve, and hope without an object cannot live.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances which we know to be desperate.
G. K. Chesterton

Prosperity is not without many fears and distastes, and adversity is not without comforts and hopes.
Francis Bacon

Hope is tenacious. It goes on living and working when science has dealt it what should be its deathblow.
Paul Laurence Dunbar

There is nothing so well known as that we should not expect something for nothing, but we all do, and call it hope.
Edgar Watson Howe

The grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.
Allan K. Chalmers

Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.
Albert Einstein

There is no act too small, no act too bold. The history of social change is the history of millions of actions, small and large, coming together at points in history and creating a power that governments cannot suppress.
Howard Zinn

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. And so today I still have a dream.
Martin Luther King, Jr

Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.
Desmond Tutu

My great hope is to laugh as much as I cry; to get my work done and try to love somebody and have the courage to accept the love in return.
Maya Angelou

Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.
Thich Nhat Hanh

I find hope in the darkest of days, and focus in the brightest. I do not judge the universe.
Dalai Lama

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There is no medicine like hope, no incentive so great, and no tonic so powerful as expectation of something tomorrow.
Orison Swett Marden

It has never been, and never will be, easy work! But the road that is built in hope is more pleasant to the traveler than the road built in despair, even though they both lead to the same destination.
Marion Zimmer Bradley

Hope is itself a species of happiness, and, perhaps, the chief happiness which this world affords: but, like all other pleasures immoderately enjoyed, the excesses of hope must be expiated by pain; and expectations improperly indulged must end in disappointment.
Samuel Johnson

You know nothing about Hope, that immortal, delicious maiden forever courted forever propitious, whom fools have called deceitful, as if it were Hope that carried the cup of disappointment, whereas it is her deadly enemy, Certainty, whom she only escapes by transformation.
George Eliot

Hope, whose whisper would have given
Balm to all my frenzied pain
Stretched her wings, and soared to heaven
Went, and never returned again
Emily Bronte

Definition by example:

Hope is when marigold, pumpkins, and strawberries still bloom at the start of November.

Hope is, when the tiny tree seedling, trampled on by careless humans, tormented by heavy weather, decimated by caterpillars, plant lice, and snails, still gets new leaves and branches to become a huge tree one day.

Hope is, when the cats in the morning gather in the kitchen, look at the food cups and wait, that I open a can.

Hope is, when one of the cats at 3 AM scratches at the bedroom door for minutes, till I finally go up and let her in.

Hope is, when my dear little friend Wendy, who is a wonderful and lovely cat and the nearest resemblance of any living creature to a teddy bear, approaches one of her fellow cats and tries to make friends despite the fact, that she was rebuffed so many times before. Cats are normally solitary creatures, they are loners, and my poor Wendy with her atypical social character has a hard time to find real close cat friends, though she is accepted and well liked by the other members of the cat family.

Hope is, when the hares cuddle together in their hideout under the bushes in a bitter cold and chilling winter night, waiting for the spring.

Hope is, when the nestling in spring staggers into a dangerous and cruel world.

Hope is, when the tadpoles try to escape the ferocious dragonfly nymphs in the garden pond.

Hope is, when the birds start singing in the morning, waiting for a mate to hear their calls.

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Hope is, when an ugly and penniless men thinks he can win the heart of a beautiful woman.

Hope is, when a single mother works in two or three jobs to earn enough money to pay the rent and some food, wishing, that her child will be doing fine even without her attention and care.

Hope is, when a blogger writes about social injustice and inequality and about the general foolishness and indifference of humans, assuming, that the denunciations and blistering condemnations will be heard in the cacophony of internet chatter and will change someones mind.

Hope is, when industry and industrial agriculture disperse more and more synthetic substances into the ecosphere, taking for granted, that plants, animals, and humans themselves will not be negatively affected by these strange agents.

Hope is, when we dream about sitting on a quiet little creek, watching the crystal clear water sparkling and the lizard sitting on a stone.

Hope is, when we assume that there will be no further oils spills killing wild life in oceans and rivers and making water undrinkable.

Hope is, when we dream that oil one day will run out and all that terrible noise from various machines will stop.

Hope is when Palestinian refugees keep the keys to the houses which were left behind, when Jewish terror gangs drove their parents out of Palestine in 1948.

Hope is, when protesters in Jerusalem, Hebron, Bethlehem, Ramallah go on undeterred despite facing teargas, rubber bullets, beatings, detentions, and deadly gunfire by the IDF.

Hope is, when the prisoners indefinitely detained by the USA at Baghram Air Base, Guantanamo, on Navy vessels, and “black sites” or by Israel at Ketziot, Megiddo, Telmond, and Al Naqab Desert prison wait to be released or at least face trial one day.

Hope is, when peace protesters in Washington DC chain themselves to the White House fence.

Hope is, when the wrongfully convicted prisoner on death row appeals for a stay of execution and for a retrial.

Hope is, when Kurds, Syrians, Lebanese, Iraqis continue to fight against well funded Islamic terrorists.

Hope is, when the illegal immigrant who has collapsed in the middle of the desert is crawling forward meter by meter.

Hope is, when the miner, trapped in a collapsed shaft, holds on in darkness and waits for the rescue crews to pull him out before the oxygen is used up.

Hope is, when the passenger in a capsizing ship tries to reach the upper deck while the water is gushing in.

Hope is, when the cancer patient waits for the metastatic tumors to be reduced by a new experimental drug.

Hope is, when the African mother carries her dying child to the next hospital many miles away.

Hope is, when we expect that Chernobyl and Fukushima will be the last nuclear disasters.

Hope is, when we assume that not even one of the estimated 21,000 existing nuclear bombs (4,160 of them operational and ready to be fired in a moment) will ever be detonated and Hiroshima and Nagasaki will remain the only cities ever obliterated in a nuclear firestorm.

Definition by meaning (semantics):

Hope is a feeling, a state of mind, a mood. Hope is the wish for a positive outcome. Hope is the wish that circumstances in the future will be better. Hope is not prediction or anticipation or expectation (though this is often stated in popular definitions). Hope is not necessarily based on optimism, pessimists can be hopeful too. Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, it is rather the certainty that it makes sense to continue with ones effort.

All this is debatable and may or may not match the individual meaning that Hope has for the reader. 

A religious person will associate hope with praying and the belief in god and an afterlife.

Hope can be associated with the words: belief, faith, confidence.
Hope can also be associated with the words: longing, desiring, dreaming.
Hope can be associated with the words: peace, happiness, calmness.
Hope can be closely related with the word Love.

Antonyms: despair, hopelessness, depression, desperation, forlornness, gloom, anguish, distress.

A few translations: l’espoir, esperanza, hoffnung, remeny, lootus.

The equivalent of Hope in foreign languages can come in distinct flavors, depending on cultural peculiarities. Interpreters and translators will often have a hard time to correctly transport the meaning from one language to another.

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Something personal:

Hope is a purring cat.

He that lives upon hope will die in peace.
Mato

And a little song rhyme:

What hope means

Hope is the dream of a better tomorrow
Hope is a shelter from trouble and sorrow
Hope is the gentle breeze on a hot day
Hope is the light that keeps darkness away

Hope is the wish that our minds will be freed
Hope is the knowledge that love will succeed
Hope is a wonderful, special sensation
Hope is peace, love, grace, kindness, liberation

Hope is the memory which never dies
Hope is the light and the tears in your eyes
Hope is the dream that we will be together
Hope is as light as a little birds feather

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Definition by scientific explanation (for the hardcore science nerds):

The word Hope is a memory pattern in our cerebral cortex which consists of various connections / links to other memory patters and receptive cell clusters in other locations of the brain. One connection leads to a memory pattern in the auditory cortex which is the coding of the sound bite “hope”. Another connection leads to the visual cortex in the back of our head.

The visual representation of HOPE / Hope / hope consists of the four letters H O P E. These letters have all their separate representation in the visual cortex of the brain and can be recognized one by one and combined into a word by the central executive ( = working memory = consciousness) in the frontal cortex. As humans see the word Hope more and more often during their childhood, the various visual appearances will get their own closely associated patterns in the visual cortex and the central executive can be bypassed and is only needed, when the writing is uncommon, blurred, sloppy, and not recognizable at a first glance.

The probably strongest connection leads from the main memory pattern to the amygdala deep inside the medial temporal lobes. The amygdala is a part of the brain which organizes the formation and storage of memories associated with emotional events. From here many neurotransmitter producing cells, muscle contractions and relaxations, the sympathetic nervous system and via hypothalamus metabolic processes and activities of the autonomic nervous system are influenced.

One connection leads to the movement / motor / muscle memory area, which is not consciously accessible (at least not without systematic mental training). Though we normally are not aware of our movement memory, this area of our brain is nevertheless of huge importance. Humans are movement animals, every aspect of our life is connected to gesture / motion / movement. Hope is seemingly related to walking, moving on. This is the big difference between Hope and its close relative Love. Love is associated with motor memory patterns like embracing / hugging, gently touching, caressing, fondling. We Love with our hands, but we Hope with our feet.

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There are many additional connections of the main memory pattern to other memory patterns in the cerebral cortex which can be either episodic memories (experiences in our life that we associate with the term hope), other words (mainly the ones that were mentioned in “definition by meaning”), or patterns representing actions / reactions.

One crucial connection leads to the central executive, also called working memory, which is together with the ventral tegmental area and the claustrum region the basis of our consciousness. The working memory is a group of highly interconnected brain areas with nearly “random access,” consisting of a self organizing network structure that can be best described as a low resolution map representation of all memory patterns. Hope has its representation here and that allows us to consciously consider / contemplate the notion of Hope and use it in logical conclusions and in creative ideas.

Most neural connections are two way, which means that any part of the neural network can activate any other part. The amygdala for instance can send signals back to the memory patterns in the cerebral cortex or the visual cortex and the visual cortex can send signals to the eye and activate cells in the retina. When images appear in our mind, they will often be shady and grey, sometimes with a beige or yellow hue. These images come from the retina, stimulated by signals from the virtual cortex and reported back. Images in our mind that are colorful come directly from codes in memory patterns of the virtual cortex.

When we walk, the concerned movement / motor / muscle memory pattern will send signals back to the memory pattern in the cerebral cortex which represents Hope, and from there the amygdala and all other connected parts of the brain will be informed. Walking can be very calming and uplifting!

As long as we continue walking our hope will not die.

One has to keep in mind, that the amygdala and the central executive and many other parts exist in the left as well as in the right hemisphere of the brain and that all mentioned memory patterns and brain regions are not only connected to the main pattern which represents Hope but also connected with each other, though these connections may be less strong. The resonating of the visual pattern for instance will be reported not only to the main pattern in the cerebral cortex but also directly to the amygdala and therefore it can happen that our body reacts to a visual input without us being consciously aware of it (subliminal messages).

When through a sensory input or through a chain of free flowing associations the main memory pattern for Hope becomes activated, it will send signals to the amygdalas and the body will experience certain changes like: increasing or balancing of the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, norepinephrine, and GABA, muscle relaxation, and calming of the whole nervous system.

Roundup and Epilog

Even if one doesn’t dismiss religion and other unscientific beliefs outright, the frequently iterated assertion that only religion can provide hope cannot be held up. Hope that is based on superstition, religion, or ideology is certainly less durable than hope based on a solid scientific understanding of the world. The belief based kind of Hope will be dashed easily by negative outcomes and not even the most intense indoctrination will prevent it from being lost and replaced by despair.

Hope can be trained with meditation and other mind body interventions or simply by mental discipline. As mentioned before, Hope is not necessarily based on optimism, pessimists can be hopeful too.

When we feel hope, we feel easy, we feel well and calm, composed and relaxed. Pulse and breathing are slow and constant. Feeling hope is not much different from feeling love, and it is not much different from meditating. When we feel hope we may feel our spine, our navel, our whole body. The continuous associations in our brain will slowly fizzle out and fade away and it will becomes perfectly quiet inside our head.

Hope is soothing, comforting, energizing. Hope may be addictive but it has no side effects and is cheaper than Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa, and other anti-depressants.

One would be a fool not to be hopeful, one would be a fool to miss out on this most wonderful experience!

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Just writing about hope made me feel good. This was all what I needed to overcome my annual autumn depression. Hope is such a powerful emotion. Hope is joy, delight, elation, bliss. Hope is healing.

I’m walking again in the forest, accompanied by the cat family. Do they realize, how much I enjoy their company?

I am just watching my breath, I am listening to the whispering of the leaves.

Hope is magic!