Author Archives: Lindsey Joost

Reality is in Perception

Zach is a double major in Industrial Engineering and Philosophy who shared with me a proverb from the 1938 book Alamut that explores complex philosophical ideas. He cited as his favorite for the manner it which it “pulls a complex idea from the esoteric, nebulous realm where philosophy lives and brings it down to a place where everyone can understand it.”



“I got a proverb. ‘Nothing is true, everything is permitted.’ The only way you interact with reality is through your perception, and it’s refreshing to remind yourself that reality.. if you remind yourself that reality is perceived you can alter the world that you choose to live in. It’s like Heidegger, the priest and the gatekeeper. You know Foucault and the panopticon? It’s actually a prison designed by some engineer in the late 18th century and it had this guard tower in center with mirrors facing up. The guard could look at any of the prisoners at any time, but no prisoner could tell if they were being watched at any given moment. If you don’t know who he’s looking at, he’s looking at you. So they self-regulate.

Other people’s power is being exerted on you through your own mind, through the perception that they have encouraged you to accept. So when you remind yourself that reality is subjective, you can step back, reexamine this reality you’ve chosen to live in, and step outside this enframement surrounding you to live a more free life.”



This short proverb is able to fully demonstrate a set of complex philosophical concepts. Behind the fascade of simple logic lies a complex rationale for a large subset of human behavior. The simple statement condenses Zach’s lengthy analysis while managing to retain its essence; if the actual words reflected the complexity of the ideas that they represent, the purpose of a proverb – to pass complex pieces of wisdom along in a palatable form – would not be achieved.


Death by Chain Mail

Lisa is a sophomore at USC who is well versed in technology and the surrounding trends. A former internet fad – the chain email – is a good example of folklore due to the multiplicity and variation inherent to the phenomena, as well as the urban-legend-esque nature of the stories contained within them.



“A pretty popular thing in middle school was that everyone would send around those stupid freaking chain emails that were like ‘IF YOU DON’T FORWARD THIS TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW BLAHBLAHBLAH EVIL SPIRIT SLASH SERIAL KILLER WILL COME SKIN YOU ALIVE AND KILL YOUR ENTIRE FAMILY.’ Put that in all caps. And then there was always some story about last person who didn’t forward it and died in some super gory way. And even if you didn’t believe it, every day you would get like twenty of them in your inbox since we were middle schoolers and didn’t have anything we actually needed to email about but yeah, even though I didn’t really believe in it I kinda started to ’cause everyone else really seemed to believe in it and I didn’t think all my friends could really be that stupid so I thought there must be something to it. After a while I started forwarding some… cause they would basically guilt you into it cause they would always be stories about like seven year old girls who went missing and died in some really gory way! Hold on let me think of one..

It would always start out like ‘don’t ignore this! This is really true!’ And go like… uhh… and it was always in really shitty English with bad grammar and abbreviations that didn’t make sense and numbers for words and all that… uhhh… okay I’m probably just making this up but here:

‘my name is katie and i am 6 yrs old and 1 ago my dad got really mad at me and slit my throat and threw me down the sewer and no one ever found out and my body is still down there. last week a girl named jenna got this email and erased it and went to bed and forgot all about me. at midnight I went into her room and slit her throat and the next morning her parents came into her room and her bed was covered in blood and jenna was gone and no one can find her still. if you don’t forward this message to 10 ppl in the next 3 hrs i will come & kill u 2!!!!!!!!’”



The phenomena of the horror-story chain email that was popularized by prepubescent girls in the early 2000s is an interesting example of folklore in the digital age. Though the content itself was less than captivating and carried little to no credibility, the internet’s efficacy at rapid dissemination of information allowed for the widespread popularity of these stories and the superstitions surrounding them. Lisa noted that although she didn’t originally buy into the superstitious emails, the fact that everyone around her did and the constant influx of them into her inbox led her to grow skeptical and eventually send the emails herself. In doing so, she became an active contributor to the continuation and increasing popularity of the phenomena.  

No Such Thing as Luck

Dasha was born and raised in Russia, moving the United States when she was sixteen. She is now a sophomore at USC but still more closely identifies with Russian culture. She shared with me a common Russian proverb that her mom often says to her (which she typed for me on her computer since I don’t speak Russian) and translated the phrase to English.



“Бо́гу моли́сь, а добра́-ума́ держи́сь. Translated literally, it means trust in God, but steer away from the rocks. Meaning, I guess, mmm…. have faith in God and pray and all that good stuff but you can’t just hope that good things will come to you and like surrender all responsibility over what happens. Ultimately, whatever happens, you’re in control.”



This proverb is very similar to a saying my mom often will tell my sisters and me. Growing up and even still, she will say, “you’re the master of your fate and the captain of your soul.” She usually tells me this when I am faced with what I believe is a seemingly impossible task to remind me that with hard work and focused effort, I can achieve anything. Other times, usually when I am complaining about a bad grade or having played poorly in a basketball game, she tells me this proverb this to remind me that in order to accomplish something, I must take the initiative and really fight for what I want, and that had I done this, the results would have turned out better.

There is a duality inherent to both of these sayings: when something goes right in life, it is because you did that led to this good fortune. Inversely, when something goes wrong, it is usually due to bad decisions or lack of effort prior to the event. While sometimes circumstances are out of your control, few things occur due to sheer luck, good or bad. Your fate is in your own hands.




I never realized until this project, but the proverb my mother often is actually almost directly taken from William Ernest Henley’s poem “Invictus.” This poem possesses many of the same themes of the proverbs discussed in the analysis above.

If it looks like paint and smells like paint..

Zach, my friend and fellow sophomore at USC, is one of the most intelligent individuals I know yet simultaneously has one of the strangest senses of humor I’ve ever come across. He introduced me to a category of humor I had never heard of: the anti-joke. When asked for his favorite, he refused to pick one, claiming “there are too many to choose one.” I chose three of my favorites from the multitudes he listed off.



Zach: “What’s red and smells like blue paint?”

Me: “What.”

Zach: “Red paint.”


Zach: “What did Batman say to Robin before they got in the car.”

Me: “What.”

Zach: “Get in the car.”


Zach: “What would George Washington do if he were alive today?”

Me: “What.”

Zach: “Scream and scratch at the top of his coffin.”




These statements are in no way humorous. Instead, the anti-joke is a type of indirect humor that involves the joke-teller delivering something which is deliberately not funny. By setting itself up in the traditional form of a joke, the anti-joke builds the audience’s expectation for a funny punchline, toys with this expectation by instead delivering the most logical answer to the original question. Without this expectation, the anti-joke would be not be a category of humor at all. Yet the irony of the answer being so obvious and not funny is what provides the comedic value.

Personally, I didn’t understand the appeal of the anti-joke or other similar alternative forms of comedy for a long time. It wasn’t funny, and that’s the point of humor, right? However, once I understood that the purpose isn’t to be funny per say, but to invert expectations and parody the traditional idea of the joke, I found myself laughing along with every single one of the jokes that Zach was rattling off for their blatant non-attempt to be funny.  

Modern-Day Rebirthing Rituals of the Ancient Maya

Lisa is a sophomore at USC who recently traveled to Mexico and took part in a Mayan ‘rebirth’ ceremony.



“When I was in Mexico my mom and I did this traditional Mayan ‘out of the womb’ rebirth ceremony thing. We started this town called Dos Palmas and hiked for a couple miles out to this remote cave and spelunked pretty far down into to a cavern where they lit a bunch of fires and somehow created this sauna, steam room type thing. Have you ever done hot yoga? Like that but hotter. People would take turns throwing – I don’t know what they actually were but everytime someone threw one in it would spark up the fire really big and cool. And as each person did it, they would face a different direction and recite a prayer to each of the four elements, you know – earth, air, water, fire; the whole thing was basically a ceremony giving thanks to the four elements and asking for blessings from the different animal spirits. I don’t really remember to be honest – it got so hot down there I literally thought I was gonna die. A few people actually passed out so I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Anyway after we roasted in the cavern for forever they led us to a different one that had natural spring and we all took turns showering in it and the water was so nice and cold, I literally felt like a new person. Then they gave us this herbal tea that was actually pretty nasty but we sat in a circle and drank it and said some more prayers asking the gods to enlighten us and give us strength and stuff. Apparently I was reborn as warrior which is cool, but I was so happy to get out of there.”





Last semester I took an anthropology course on the Mayan Civilization where I learned that in Maya cosmology, caves were considered a sacred location that they believed served both as portals to the underworld and the place of human origin. That their rebirthing ceremonies took place here is only appropriate – they believed it to be the place of both the beginning and end of human life. The fire-spark ceremony combined with the prayer to the four elements could serve as a way to ward off the evil spirits the Maya believed inhabited these caves, replacing these with the good will of the animal spirits that they attained by offering up thanks for the various blessings that the good spirits bestowed on them. The rebirth ritual was for human life but indirectly; in thanking the good spirits and fostering an appreciation for the earth and its bountiful natural resources, the ritual insured continued sustenance and agricultural fertility.


While Lisa joked that in the intense heat and steam she felt like she was going to die, that was the point of the ritual – the virtual death of mind and body in order to allow for a new vitality. She made a reference to hot yoga, a branch of hatha yoga practiced by Hindus that focuses on physical and mental strength building exercises by subjecting the participants to extreme heat and physical stress. Similarly, in the Maya ‘out of the womb’ ritual participants are put through extreme conditions that, once alleviated, make them appreciate the blessings that humans often overlook and encourage them to live life every day aware of how the earth and elements bless you.

This rebirth ritual was a practice done by ancient Mayans and is now marketed as a tourist attraction to travelers visiting Mexico and other central American countries. Is the ritual carried out in the same manner that the ancient Maya practiced it, or has it been adapted to cater to the demands of the tourists? And if it has, does that even matter, or does the intent behind the ritualistic practice carry the more significance?