Justin Gray Morgan is an art director, designer and illustrator living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Almost three years ago the film crew flew out to Oakland, California to film what was initially, an experimental short film. Justin lives on Portal street which was fitting, and the two hour conversation at his home turned out to be utterly fascinating, proving a key turning point in Jennifer’s quest for answers and compelling enough to inspire the filmmakers to make a feature documentary film.
As part of an on-going series of blog posts on the co-creators in the forthcoming film, Time is Art, we put together some compelling questions so you can learn more about them. Enjoy Justin’s fascinating answers.
Has a dream you had ever come true?
I have dreams or elements from my dreams that come true or appear in my waking life on a regular basis. I dream every night and usually remember at least some part of my dreams the following morning. On one level just given how often I dream I inevitably encounter some of the things or aspects of the dreams I dreamt the night before during my waking life the next day.
At other times I’ve had truths or things I hadn’t yet consciously recognized, reveal themselves in dreams before I had realized them in my waking life. This is usually in regard to people, situations or problems in my life but sometimes occurs in other ways. An interesting example is once I was trying to memorize a long passage. I practiced it for several days but never quite got it. That night while I was sleeping I recited the passage perfectly for the first time during my dream and when I woke up the next morning I was able to recite it fully.
But then there still have been a few occasions where I had a dream a series of events that almost exactly played out the same way the next day that I really have no logical way of explaining. Though this is not something I necessarily believe, I think its an interesting idea that just as we can dream about the events of the previous day, maybe we could live the events we dreamt of at night the following day. I think it would be an interesting subject for a sci-fi movie or novel that our dreams are us downloading the reality we are going to experience the next day.
What’s your most memorable synchronicity?
One of my favorite books is The Secret Teachings of all Ages by Manly P Hall. A few years ago I was showing it to my parents when I happened to flip open to a page showing an illustration of a masonic apron. My mother’s face lit up and she exclaimed “Oh my! Well maybe you will know what this is!” She went up into the attic and after a time returned with a framed hand painted masonic apron. She told me that it belonged to my great grandfather. They had found it among my grandfather’s belongings while cleaning out his house after he passed away. They didn’t know what it was but kept it assuming it was some sort of painting. It had been in the attic for many years and if I hadn’t happened to randomly flipped open to that page it would still be hidden away up in the attic today.
Furthering the synchronicity, I am the first born of all the grand children in my family and I was born on my great grandfather’s birthday. Also the first-born female of all the grand children was born on my great grandmothers birthday. Though I never met my great grandfather, I find it meaningful that I’m interested in some of the same subject matter he was into and I’m glad that my grandfather and parents kept his apron safe all these years. Although it is not uncommon for Americans to find out that someone in their family was a Freemason and many joined strictly for fraternal or social reasons instead of an interest in the esoteric, I feel a strong connection to this synchronicity.
Do you believe in the afterlife?
On the most basic level there is the somewhat overused reference to the Law of Conservation of Energy saying that energy cannot be created or destroyed, so the energy that we are as living beings will continue to exist after we die in some form or another. While I would like and in a way hope that we carry on some kind of personal existence as an individual through many lifetimes or in an afterlife I sometimes think that is a selfish way to look at life and whatever may come after it. In my opinion, much like our body returns to the earth, decomposes and finds new life in various plants and animals I believe our spirit or energy returns to a great sea of energy, is reabsorbed and finds new life in various other beings. While this idea in a way seems threatening because it suggests the annihilation of our personal self, I think there is a deeper meaning that we can find comfort in. While we presently identify as the “drop” which makes up our spirit as an individual our true identity is that vast infinite timeless ocean itself. While we are alive we are living a temporary and limited temporal existence. When we are no longer alive we become infinite.
I think this also could speak to the process in which something that is truly infinite would create. By being infinite it would be impossible for it to add to itself by addition. When children are first introduced to the idea of infinity some will inevitably make a remark about “infinity plus one” or “infinity times infinity”, but the truly infinite remains unchanged no matter what is added or multiplied to it. Considering this dilemma the only way for the infinite to create or change is by subtraction. I believe this is why the limited self emerges from the infinite, although a part of this larger whole, the limited nature allows it to work within a set of boundaries giving rise to new experiences, exploring forms and a unique process of creation within a given set of constraints.
While I tend to favor the more mystics outlooks in regard to life and death I think it is also worth considering that there may in fact be nothing after we die. Maybe like a battery we have a charge while we are here that we hold for a while and output our energy into the world, in hopefully worthwhile pursuits. Then one day our physical form is no longer able to hold the charge and we burn out. But even in this somewhat negative outlook we still live on in a way through our actions and impact we have had on the lives of others and the world around us.
Either way the fact that I am alive at all in the first place amazes me everyday. While I hope to live a long life, even to be alive for one day is so incredible I don’t ask for anything after this life, though I imagine what may come next will be so incredible it defies all comprehension.
Would you like to know about all your previous lifetimes so you can learn from your mistakes?
As I mention above I’m not entirely sure I buy into a personal individualized reincarnation, but I do think the idea of genetic or ancestral memory is powerful. On a mystic level if we were to look at life outside of time, life as a whole and the process of evolution would look like a great tree. The winding “branch” that is our life would connect to our Mother’s branch and our immediate family and eventually back to all life on earth. In a mystic take on reality I think it is possible that there is some level of communication or passing of information, memories experiences or knowledge down through this tree and we could learn from it in some way. Im many cultures honoring and communicating with the ancestors played a central role in their societies.
On the more basic level there is a direct passing on from generation to generation of behaviors, attitudes and traits. We mirror our parents from an early age and pick up things that they picked up from their parents which they picked up from their parents and so on. There is also the genetic level where genes play an important role in all aspects of our lives. While I don’t believe we are entirely bound to our genetics, their affect on us is undeniable. Both in terms of behavior and genetics it is important to recognize how in additional to positive aspects these passed on behaviors include mistakes, errors and dysfunction. So in a way, learning from these “past lives” involves learning how to overcome these mistakes or limitations to the best of our abilities. If we are successful at all in doing this we are not just learning from but correcting the mistakes that were made in previous lifetimes.
If I could full learn from all the many, many mistakes I’ve made in just this lifetime I would be pretty well off. A big part of my good fortune in life is that I’ve taken a lot of risks, failed often, learned from it and moved ahead. But despite its importance one of the lessons I’ve had to learn is not to dwell on the past. I often dwell on past mistakes and failures and agonize on the things I wish I had done. I’ve found in thinking back on my life that I usually either think of times I felt or thought I was amazing, giving rise to a grandiose sense of self, or times of pain and failure which leads to a greatly depreciated sense of self. Though I still do both of these things, I try to remind myself the truth lies somewhere in between and things weren’t really as bad or as good as I think they were. If you have ever return to a place that you only experienced as a child you will realize things aren’t exactly dramatic as you remembered them to be. The giant tree you used to climb isn’t as tall as it seemed in your memory and in the same way the mistakes aren’t really as big as we sometimes choose to remember them.
While this is a natural part of life, I try to balance time for reflection with living in the moment so I can make new mistakes and hopefully experience new successes.
How would you describe ‘freedom’ in your own words?
The freest I have ever felt is during timeless moments while working on art or out in nature on a perfect day under the sun or stars. Often times these moments occur when I am by myself or with a small group of people, but I also have to consider freedom within the larger context of living in a society and operating within a system.
Along with art and design one of the most rewarding things I study are the 7 classical liberal arts consisting of the Trivium – Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric and the Quadrivum – Arithmetic (symbolic number) , Geometry, Music and Astronomy (Physics). On one level these were the subjects that free men had the luxury of studying, but the deeper meaning is that the study of the liberal arts formed the basis of true freedom.
The somewhat lost idea behind the Classical Trivium is a method of thinking. Grammar answers the questions who, what, when and where, Logic roots out contradictory or erroneous information and Rhetoric is the process of then forming your argument, opinion or plan. It is important to consider this as a whole and not skip over parts of the process or your will end up with errors in your thinking or form a false opinion.
This way of thinking is important because unfortunately the main threat to personal freedom in our world is individuals or groups that wish to control others for their personal gain. Although there is certainly an element of physical control present in our reality this is done largely through deception and the manipulation of information. Even just a brief study of the Trivium, especially of logic will make your head spin next time you hear a politician, new age guru or used car salesman speak. While I place high value on emotion, intuition and feeling, these must be guarded and are easily manipulated to control and enslave. Believing something to be true only by what feels right or wrong and not based on any facts can easily cause one to be lead astray. While there is certainly an illusion of freedom that goes along with doing whatever you want based on how you feel, this is really a form of ignorance and not true freedom. Even more importantly this method of thinking can allow you to find errors in your own thinking and understand the ways in which we deceive ourselves because often times it is ourselves who keeps us captive more than any outside force ever could.
I’ve found that using this method of thinking provides the best means of defending against this kind of manipulation from others or ourselves and gives us the ability to exercise our true freedom based on knowledge wisdom and understanding. It’s not a coincidence that Liberty and Liberal (arts) share the same root.
What makes a person beautiful?
I find a lot of meaning in the idea of existing as a limited piece of a greater whole. I think it is the unique set of limitations that give rise to our personal voice and when a genuine effort is put for to express ones self these limitations make the person unique and beautiful in a totally unique way.
A problem I struggle with especially in regard to creativity is trying to be a perfectionist. I think sometimes this is done out of fear and the hope that if I can create something that is perfect it will be immune from criticism or that others will automatically love my work. I’ve had to learn to embrace the imperfections in my work and realize that it is the flaws that give character and style to a piece. In the same way I find that beauty in a person usually arise from the unique and sometimes flawed aspects of them. It is not to say that one shouldn’t strive to overcome limitations, work to better themselves or foster growth in meaningful ways, but that its little imperfections make them who they are.
In contrast I think it is interesting to consider that most people are ugly in the same way. We all have a shadow side and while we may be unique in what triggers our darker nature, I find that people’s shadows are very similar. On the extreme side most brutal dictators act and even often look the same. Most serial killers have much more in common than they are different. The kids who have done the all the recent school shootings all seem eerily similarly. I believe this hints at evil being more of an archetypal aspect of our nature and therefore somewhat impersonal. It’s not to say that the shadow should be entirely disowned but by depersonalizing any evil aspect of it, it loses some of the power and control it has over our lives.
What do you think about when you lie awake in bed?
If there was ever such a thing as nothing or non-existence how did the universe come into existence? Or if there never was such a thing as nothing how has the universe always existed?
What artistic medium do you use to express yourself?
Though I spend a lot of time working in various design programs on the computer I value the connection to a piece that occurs from working with my hands. I grew up drawing so a pencil and paper hold a special place in my heart. I also use a compass and square for creating geometric work. Recently I’ve been spending a lot of time painting. Each medium has its inherent qualities and I enjoy working with it and experimenting to learn what the medium wants to do and how it behaves. Usually I discover something from working with a new medium in a new way that influences my work across the board.
Who or what is the greatest enemy of mankind?
Besides the obvious threats of a virus, asteroid or that mankind itself is its own worst enemy, I’m interested in how something abstract like ideas or information can present the greatest danger to mankind and the rest of life on Earth. Over the past centuries information systems like religion, language and politics carved the earth into various territories and shaped the globe. Though we don’t fully realize it presently, in the coming years we will begin to recognize that the primary thing shaping our world are these somewhat abstract equations, algorithms and mathematical information systems. I saw an interesting ted talk (http://www.ted.com/talks/kevin_slavin_how_algorithms_shape_our_world) that explains how these algorithms are literal transforming and terraforming the earth, overlaying this abstract space onto the physical world. What I see could be a threat is that these algorithms are now run at such incredible speed, sometimes even close to the speed of light that they have far exceeded the comprehension or control of humans. These processes are in a way so far removed from the natural reality they could “behave” in ways that have no regard for human life or the ecosystem. On a mythological level I think these algorithmic information systems could be viewed as demonic in that they are supernatural because they literally operate outside of the forces of nature. There are countless myths and fairly tales about people serving demonic forces because of the promise of great riches and power or of a scientist or magician whose creation has become out of control, like Dr. Frankenstein’s monster.
Although there are many negative possibilities I don’t hold a bleak outlook for the future of mankind. I think despite our many problems what we are experiencing are growing pains. I believe we are really still in our infancy as a species and despite all our shortcomings there is a bright future ahead for mankind.