Category Archives: Feature

A Higher Education – The Humanity!

It is always interesting when your past meets up with your present. Chris has just resurfaced after many long travels. This isn’t the Chris who is struggling with a sense of personal honor in relation to identity. This is the Chris who found it, probably by losing himself through the shedding of prior definitions, then reconstituted in his own truer terms.

Anyone who has traveled and had the courage to step out of their protective cultural bubble is forever transformed in inexplicable ways. It is the difference between a traveler and a tourist. A tourist merely looks, from an abstract distance, at the animals in the zoo, while keeping themselves safely separated behind the glass walls that define them. On the other hand, the traveler jumps right in. The traveler may not be fearless, but no one can say that the traveler is not courageous. It is not easy, letting many of our internal definitions slip away. But it is the only way to truly understand other people, as any modern anthropologist will tell you. And in return, it really is the only way we can better understand ourselves.

bkbldIt is said that through formal education people are also transformed. This is true, to varying degrees. Mathematics and the various sciences, through their rigidly narrow focus, provide some hint of transformation. But they are better equipped to provide logical obsessions to the reasoning area of the mind. And these obsessions can easily distract us from our own humanity, and the humanity of others. But there also exists within academia the study of Humanities. Nearly all science and business students groan at the prospect of having to take even a few Humanities courses as general university requirements. Because, if it were not for those educational requirements, they would rather not learn any more about humanity. After all, they are human, yes? What else is there to know? Just a bunch of crazy gobbly-gook?

What does it say about us, when we are unwilling to explore the incredible diversity inherent in humanity? In a culture where we are increasingly encouraged to find our small niche, or our well-defined cubicle, what place is there for humanity? Everything becomes oriented and limited to our function, rather than our experience of what it is, to be alive. In fact, if we happen to have flashes of self-insight, or question the function we have adopted and defined for ourself, many people are left in a near state of anxiety or panic. The study of Humanities does not exclude function. It embraces function. But Humanities takes it even further. Humanities embraces everything we can possibly conceive or experience, whether it appears reasonable or not. Humanities says, we’re all just human, and we’re all fundamentally different, and we’re all so very similar. Humanities says, sunshine, don’t worry (or do) — it’s okay. Let’s just look at this. Maybe we’ll learn something. And be better off for it.

It should be no surprise that as students increasingly devote their lives to business, humanities dwindle. Business and money are what draws people’s attention, while their their own nature as a human, and their fellow human beings, are less a concern. Of course you can rationalize that students enter into studying disciplines mostly devoid of humanity, with only the best intentions toward some indefinable humanity, and the positive role they might play, in the long run. Just remember that education is, indeed, transformational. Even business education.

Last month Chris Hedges wrote an excellent article called Higher Education Gone Wrong: Universities Are Turning into Corporate Drone Factories. Don’t let the somewhat cynical title put you off. It is worth a read. He is completely correct. I’ll take his piece a little further:

Academia is, indeed, still teaching critical thinking. However, critical thinking is no longer as much about truth as it is about “winning”. Even in the sciences, where truth remains mostly necessary, the motivation is more about the ego of the individual “winning” that truth, than it is about truth in and of itself. Students, and by degrees our society, are loosing the ability to think critically except within the terms that can somehow benefit themselves in some self-interested way.

This also is not very surprising, considering the enormous increase in corporate sponsorship of university schools and research. Public funding of universities and research comes with few strings attached, and as such, truth can be the primary concern. However, public funding of education has been drastically reduced, and in these economic conditions where even states are desperate for money, universities and education will only increasingly rely on private parties for their funding.

secrets_beyondAs I mentioned a few months ago in another piece related to education, there is a very small, yet interesting, trend happening in the humanities. Even as the number of people who devote themselves to the humanities declines, the number of people devoting themselves to philosophical inquiry is slowly, yet steadily increasing, though nothing as fast as business. Nevertheless, this is a hopeful sign. It means that more people are questioning the very foundations of their lives and their culture. It also means that more people are interested in what truly is right and wrong, independent of what any arbitrary religion or culture might espouse.

In philosophy, the study of what is right and wrong is called “ethics”. It is also no surprise that most students view philosophy students as freaks who are best at chasing their own tails. There is some truth in that preconception. But leaving it at that is a grave mistake. The study of philosophy is no simple task. It is as much about disciplining the mind with the clarity of reason than it is about any historical study of human thought. It is about applying reason to all things, not just the measurable. And to those people unaccustomed to reason truly being applied to their lives, the philosopher might come off looking like a lunatic, or an ass. But trust me, and you will have to, if you have not immersed yourself within philosophical inquiry — the clarity of reason applied to us, in all our many facets, causes most people to run away screaming in fear. Philosophy is the the root and foundation of all science. It is the root and foundation of our ability to understand ourselves and our world, even beyond the merely empirical. And when you apply this rigorous discipline to notions of right and wrong, through the study of ethics, even religion is left far behind in the dust and our lives, through our decisions, and the subsequent manifestation of a greater culture and society, are revealed in vividly naked splendor, both in its magnificence and its hideousness.

It is no wonder that corporate and money interests, and in turn, most students, de-emphasize the importance of philosophical inquiry. It is dismissed as impractical, at least when they are feeling nice. And it is dismissed as subversive, when they are feeling threatened.

Philosophical inquiry is the process of bringing truth, which is often obscured or hidden, out into the light of day. But truth threatens many people. One of the most effective ways of achieving any selfish end is through hiding truth. And in a culture which idolizes the self and the self’s greatness above all else, much truth must be hidden. Then, when lies are revealed or deceptions are unmasked, the perpetrator usually will not confront the truth or even admit any wrongdoing. They just simply, and predictably, attempt to obscure and hide the truth further, a little like a bug trying to hide in plain sight by hoping the colors of its shell blends well enough with the background noise. And, if cornered, the bug attacks.

So, you might ask, why have we given all this money to the people who have just taken all our jobs and money and homes? And who, exactly, are these people? And why does our government have to funnel money through AIG before it reaches the banks, rather than giving the money directly to the banks? And why are these banks, who are receiving our money, not lending the money back to us, but are instead, buying up smaller banks? And why is Obama disregarding the law by not taking these banks from their owners and restructuring them? And why is our Treasury Secretary Geithner saying that banks will need several trillion dollars more before the “toxic” mortgage problem is fixed, when we could just as easily pay off the bad mortgages so that people can remain in a home, and hence eliminate the toxic items?

Selling homes that have been repossessed is a booming business right now, if you have the money to buy them. Banks are selling people’s houses left and right, and the bottom feeder realtors are in a frenzy. Just recently I was asked to do a programming job for a small realty company that sought a better way to make repossessed homes more easily searchable, while at the same time, making people think that those repossessed homes were available only through that realty company. Thankfully the computer store owner who brought me the job, lied about the terms the contract while trying to lock me into other terms, and I could gracefully back out. But I was going to do the work for these carrion eaters, because the owner of the computer store was giving me a gift, and I liked him. And as such, I could rationalize helping these bottom feeders. But my rationalizations were weak, and I knew it. Yet I was going to do it anyway. It is a strange thing being happy that someone you like has lied to you.

Just as I was willing to do, too much evil is assisted and committed by people who rationalize that they are “just doing their job”, or who say “it’s just business”. Neither one of those statements satisfies even the most basic ethical criteria. Such sayings really mean, I know what I am doing is wrong, but I am going to do it anyway, only with a candy coating. Mathematics doesn’t cover this. Business school doesn’t cover this, except as to further business. The humanities do. And philosophy, in particular, covers it completely. That entire enterprise, from the bottom feeders and those who assist them, up to the original instigators, is a giant wad of ethical evil, where a great number of people continue to suffer while a very few people reap the benefits from this suffering, and all the while, the carrion eaters circle to grab what pieces of flesh they can, falling from the carnage. I was so happy when Zane told me he purposefully stayed away from repossessed properties when he bought his house, so many months ago. When I asked him, I expected him to answer that he did buy a repo. He didn’t. Cheers for Zane!

The same weak rationalizations are also used by people to invade other countries. Here, the carrion feeders are the military service industry and the reconstruction industry, both of which, involve Cheney in a prominent position — just like Geithner held a prominent financial position in the banking industry, as did his predecessor, Paulson. We see this, and we are aware of this. Yet somehow, we lack any outrage. We expect that our government will give our money to the bankers. We carrier to noise ratioexpect that our government will claim that we have no money left to help normal people. The essence here is, there is a massive shift of wealth heading up, yet again, to even a smaller few people, and our government is doing all that it can to make certain those few people remain in tact, even though, economically, there is no reason to do so, and every reason to destroy this “too big to fail” mentality.

If we can employ critical thinking, we can see our situation more clearly. Unfortunately, critical thinking is no longer considered useful, or even desirable by many, including universities. For the most part, universities teach facts and methodologies oriented toward specific purposes that align with business. Even in science. Without an ability to critically think and form questions, people are vulnerable to spin and hyperbole. And that is precisely all we get from what few corporate news sources that are left to us. Journalism is dead in the corporate media. What remains is merely propaganda, in the service of the very people who continue to take all they can, in whatever way they can, without a concern for ethics, and often without even a concern for law. And after propaganda comes sensationalism. This is our current American society, even with the harbinger of change in place.

Without an ability to critically reason, our population is left with two choices. Believe what is said through the media outlets, or simply ignore any larger concerns. The majority seems to ignore larger concerns. But either way, those who lack the ability to critically reason will focus almost exclusively upon immediate tasks which are in their own self-interest. From the perspective of the “power elite”, who possess a sea of people lacking the capacity to critically think, and who are well-trained in narrow skills, this is a harvest boon. They can easily hide from anyone those things they do not wish known, while offering up rationales and distractions to keep their machinations hidden. As was mentioned in the previous business ethics pieces, this behavior is similarly and readily adopted by even small business owners. Our culture is no longer an ethical one. It is all about who can get what for themselves. In other words, we have a hard time blaming the bad guys, because more than likely we’re bad ourselves.

But change is here now, right? We should not be looking at what was done in the past, but should instead stay positive and look toward the future. These are even Obama’s words. They are also the words of any business person, or person in power, who wishes to get away with something, and carry on business as usual. Unfailingly. It is a simple, yet effective, semantic trick. After all, who doesn’t want to be positive? Only assholes and crazy people, of course. Well, there you have it. Don’t look. Just keep going. Don’t rock the boat, and don’t be an ass.

As we lose more and more of the incalculable benefits of the Humanities, we find ourselves growing into an increasingly mechanistic lifestyle. This is also excellent news for the corporate state, for we are a vast army of well-trained cogs, gearing up for the battlefield of the newest millennium: the global economy. The war is between the US, Southeast Asia and soon the European Union. We are becoming a world of multiple poles. The Middle East is a strategic resource. Wars of one type or another are always necessary to keep power in place. Of course, we must keep the military/industrial complex happy as well, so really, killing wars will not entirely end.

It is also no surprise that with the blurring between government and business, private military armies are on the rise. Even in the Obama administration. Corporate armies have no allegiance to countries. They have an allegiance to money. And they have the added benefit that they are not bound by a country’s military laws or treaties, which also means that private armies can be deployed on US soil.

It is perfectly clear to even the non-critical observer that our government no longer functions in the interests of its citizenry. Obama has made no real change. He has strengthened our occupation of Afghanistan, he is taking military action within the boarders of Pakistan, he completely supports the suspension of habeus corpus for anyone he deems a terrorists or “enemy combatant”, he continues the Bush Administration’s declaration of a national emergency which grants his office sweeping powers and clouds of secrecy (with Congress’ blessings), he refuses to investigate or prosecute our country’s torturers, nor will he investigate or prosecute the CIA people who illegally destroyed the torture videos in their possession, and he is doing absolutely nothing to prosecute, investigate, or even bring to light any of the wrongdoings committed by the previous administration.  He has, however, invited a boatload of celebrity performers to the White House, including a special performance by Stevie Wonder, who was the reason, he says, that he and his wife were married.

Meanwhile, because some cultures on the planet are not quite as brain and heart-dead as our own, rioting is on the rise. The few media outlets who cover this, label it “class wars”. But the class wars were already fought. The poor and middle-class lost. Now, with their bottomless hunger still unsatisfied, the dominant players in world finance continue to squeeze for more, as people from all classes, except the very few at the top, become even poorer. This is why you see such large police forces in every city, wearing riot gear, and an increase in training academies for them, and consistent technical advances in non-lethal weaponry for crowd control, and body protection for these forces. It is well known that rioting will continue to increase. It is planned for.

But only as a last resort. Until people start rioting, we can expect things like the re-branding of issues that make us furious. After all, for people who don’t think critically, a re-branding will just slide right in unnoticed into happy land. For example, the private military contractor Blackwater has changed their name to Xe. Obama has renamed the war on terror to “overseas contingency operations”. He’s also changed the economic crisis into the bank stabilization plan, while making toxic assets into “legacy” assets — in word, at least, a thing of the past. Let’s just keep positive and look to the future, instead of the past. Never mind who’s getting the money for those “legacy” assets, or why those assets even exist. Never mind that the banks get payments for those mortgages from we people, and they get the properties from us when we can’t pay, and they get the money from selling those properties again with even more mortgages, and they get the bailout money from us, because they over-valued all those houses and assets to begin with, and are now insolvent as a result. Oh, and never mind that the Obama administration is breaking the law by not forcibly restructuring these banks. And yes, those banks are using the money to buy up all the smaller banks that might one day compete with them, and who would benefit from their demise. Change we can believe in. Riots in London at the G20 economic conference. 30,000 protesters in Europe near the German-French border at the recent NATO meeting, with three burning buildings left behind and almost 400 people jailed. Nearly all of Greece in turmoil, near the breaking point. And don’t forget the pirates! Mmm. Pirates.

But is re-branding bad? Looking at re-branding from an ethical standpoint requires that we look at more that just the act of re-branding, which is ethically neutral. We must ask, why is he re-branding? If it is an attempt to clarify issues, then it is ethically good. If it is an attempt to obfuscate issues, then it is ethically bad. If it is an attempt to disassociate himself from the previous administration’s policies, while still adhering to their core, that is simply a re-wrapping; an obfuscation, and that is bad. From an ethical perspective, this re-branding is a very bad thing, indeed.

All this amounts to one inevitable conclusion. Humanity is not as important as business. Is it surprising that students enroll far more in business than in the humanities?

Within the US right now, 1 out of 10 people are on food stamps. They need help from the government just to eat. More than double this number of people have no health insurance. This means that if you get sick, and could be treated, you will be left instead to die because you cannot pay (unless the illness is immediately life threatening). Even if you have money to pay a health insurance premium, but have even some small condition, it is very likely you will not be able to find a policy, unless you are working for a corporation that has an arrangement with a health care provider where they are required to accept you. And right now, we are also approaching 1 out of 10 people being unemployed. However, this is a little deceptive. The figure relies upon people who have been actively seeking employment. The real figure is between 30-40%. Yes, the math in these figures do not really make all that much sense. It’s best that way.

Perhaps our evolution into a corporate government is inevitable. After all, we provide details on all our friends and acquaintances on Facebook, and we even sign over the rights to everything we write, post or send through Facebook, to Facebook. Our personal statistics are analyzed, stored and marketed. We entrust all our personal and business email, and all our curiosities to Google, who similarly analyzes, stores and markets our identity. We allow our government to listen to all our telephone and email communications. And I assure you this is no joke, we even carry around our own government listening “bugs” with us at all times — our cell phone, which the government can turn on to listen at any time, as well as track our whereabouts. The FBI, even under FOIA will provide no details.

Technological developments such as cloud computing further centralize our information and dependence upon singular, larger corporations. Small agricultural farms are practically non-existent, while large, corporate farms grow our crops and livestock with close contractual ties to chemical and genetic companies like Monsanto who also control nearly all seeds. Public utilities such as power and water are being sold to private investment companies. So are our roads.

Many years ago, perhaps more than ten now, Battelle Memorial Institute did their best to convince me to join their ranks as an employee, rather than as contractor. I loved working with Battelle. Their slogan was, “Science in the service of humanity”, and for all that I saw, they meant it. For years they attempted to shed the label of being a “think tank”. They are a non-profit organization that offered a sort of refuge to some of the greatest minds in science, to come together, in a multi-disciplinary setting. However, they also we responsible for running a handful of our national laboratories, and relied heavily upon government funding. As such, before they would hire me, they wanted to sample my urine.

I had no real reason to keep my urine to myself, other than an ethical one. Should a company be able to sample our body’s makeup, or our genetic information, before hiring us? The question is not an easy one to answer. I leaned toward “no”. They ought not to be able to require me to pee for them. But I decided to leave it somewhat up to them. I told the director who wanted to hire me, and the director and staff of human resources that I would give them my pee, but only if they agreed to come out in the courtyard to watch me pee for them. If they could bring themselves to actually face what they were asking another to do, and the humiliation, then I would consider their job offer worthy enough to compromise myself. Needless to say, they would not agree, and I even received a couple unofficial apologies for the requirement. It is certain my life would be very different now, had I compromised my ethics at the time. I do not know how different it would be.

Ethics guides my life, in most respects. It is why I will not help some companies, or people, and it is why I will help others. It is why I try to be honest, even when honesty is not the easiest course. Adhering to ethics sometimes makes me seem like an ass. And sometimes it makes me seem like someone who just can’t leave well enough alone. And sometimes I fail. Other times, I manage to set an example. Almost always, I seem the lunatic.

Most people never bother to ask the foundational questions that arise from what they are confronted with. They simply do what will be best for them at the moment, in those given circumstances. Scientists like to believe they can think critically, but usually their perspective and the scope of their vision is severely curtailed by the edicts of natural law, which are wholly inadequate to critically engage the human and cultural condition. This is why I am encouraged by the slight rise in students pursuing the philosophical disciplines. These students will learn to think. They will learn to see. They will learn how and why and where they should question, and that is everywhere. And most of all, they will learn that few things are just givens, and rarely are things as they appear on the surface.

Ah, the games we play. The beliefs from which we cannot see beyond. And the mazes that contain us. Our hearts, that seek, feel and experience. This is the purview of the Humanities. This is what we must not forget. Because in the end, we always come back to it, if only in our quietest of times, when we are alone. But how much more majestic when we are together? How different would it be, exploring our humanity together, rather than just seeing who can manage to get what from whom? Humanity. Or who can get what from whom?

At the end of the day, our education is unavoidable, one way or another.

I’m ok, You’re ok

hangedIt’s never easy penetrating a person’s thick head. Especially when they have their jaw muscles gripped tightly down on something they refuse to let go. Because at that point, nothing matters. They’re just going to keep that ball firmly in their teeth no matter what. Science is thrown out the window. Reason is trampled down and warped. And our old more pagan, animal nature, rooted in aggression and superstition, rises up to dominate.

This is exactly how a scientist can believe that something which exists within the universe is unnatural. And it is how any of us can continue holding on to beliefs or feelings despite the evidence of our senses that point undeniably to the contrary. It is how we people, who otherwise hold truth in high regard, can be led into deception, both of others and, by the very fact that we purposefully ignore our own true sensibilities, deception of ourselves.

There are many reasons for doing such things to ourselves and to others, but most of them are weak, and most of those, downright pathetic. But that’s alright. Everyone has weaknesses, and everyone has screw-ups. It is what we choose to do after knowing about them that shapes and defines us. It is our ticket out, or our ticket home. And the cost can be steep, or completely free. But the trip is always worth it. These are usually our most important life lessons to be learned. And they’re a bitch. And a blessing.

I spend a lot of time talking about science and how it can produce a somewhat dehumanizing effect upon us by narrowing our field of vision to only the empirical. But here is an example where science can accomplish the opposite effect, by cutting through the obfuscating clouds we create for ourselves, for whatever individually mad reasons, and instead bringing light to an exceedingly messy human thing.

We care about other people. We care about other people to different degrees and for various reasons, and sometimes, perhaps, for no reasons at all. What an astonishing reality it is, when we can step back and look at it, that other human life; that their very existence matters to us. Sometimes that other being matters simply because it is another being, as alive in this strange reality we inhabit, as we are ourselves. But sometimes another being matters much more to us than any other. Sometimes that being matters as much to us as ourselves. Or even more. This is insanity. It is also, perhaps, our greatest and most profound strength as a species.

We like to enjoy ourselves and to feel good. After all, we enjoy ourselves when we enjoy ourselves, and it feels good to feel good. And how good do we feel when someone we care about is near to us, and a part of our lives? What profound interactions of growth and mutual support are possible? And not only that, it also feels very nice just knowing that someone else cares about you. Someone that you can count on, despite anything.

Now don’t let any irrational notions of propriety throw off your thinking here. We’re scientists right now. Humans have bodies with nerves and muscles, and we’re just all fleshy and gooey. We enjoy feeling pleasure. We like sexual stimulation, with other beings, or even just by ourselves, however we might. This isn’t caring. This is an enjoyment of our physicality. It’s good fun.

Sex is not a mystical and special thing. It is our love and trust in another person that is a mystical and special thing. When that love and trust is broken by the one we care about, that is what hurts. That is what matters. It could be them having sex with another person. It could be them kissing another. It could be them spending too much time with another. It could be simply that they told us a lie. Certainly sex can help people become more intimate with each other, but it is that intimacy and trust that is the big thing, not the sex.

Sex is not spiritual. It is biological. Pleasuring yourself is great. So is pleasuring another, and it can also lead to greater intimacy between you. That intimacy and trust, whether it comes through sex or not, is the more spiritual thing. It is the truly important bit.

Unfortunately, many people consider sex itself to be something spiritual, except, of course, when “cheating” is involved, in which case, they consider the sex, or whatever betrayal, to be nothing meaningful all of a sudden, instead. It meant nothing, right? Well, to the one feeling the pain of betrayal, it meant something significant. But it’s not the physical act that causes the pain. It’s the betrayal of the spiritual “contract” between you. This contract can also be broken without any sex being involved.

This contract, however, means different things to different people. I suppose that is why communication is important. For example, some few people like any contract to mean complete and utter ownership over another, or their own feeling of being completely owned. Others may have more lax contracts, where each can spend time doing whatever they like, within reason. The contracts vary wildly from person to person, and usually they are never communicated. Some people will even feel betrayed by their object of love spending time at work, or having a very close friend. And this is a betrayal to them as certainly as any other, even sexual.

It is also possible, when people are willing to discuss exactly what the spiritual contract between them represents, to reach other more broadly defined constraints, which work in the interests of everyone to keep any betrayal from happening. Perhaps it’s okay to spend two nights a week out with your best friend, and the person who loves you will not feel like you are being taken from them. Or, perhaps it’s okay for you to kiss someone else from time to time, since you are particularly physical and affectionate. Or maybe you can have sex with someone else, as long as your partner meets them first and knows about everything, and you will always come home at night to sleep. These are the details people can work out together, if they are willing to communicate and be honest and accommodating.

Personally, I adhere to one person when I care. I think it because I very much enjoy exploring the intimacy and trust possible between people. I look at all this other wandering around that some people do as distractions – an attempt to make up for something that they do not find with each other. Perhaps they will find it. Perhaps they will find a way to live happily enough with each other, never having found it. I don’t know. I may be prejudiced.

But the interesting thing is that these qualities exist between people regardless of their race, their gender or their purported sexual identity. These same things are true whether you are straight, gay or bisexual. The sexual act does not matter. It is the human intimacy and trust that is the more important and spiritual aspect. It is that closeness, that kinship, and that knowing that someone is there for you, that can be felt between beings, that matters. It is probably the most beautiful and powerful thing we all have. It can make our lives worth living. It helps us create a better world for all.

Sadly, there are still people, even in our younger generations, who still believe sex is what is important and defines us, and not our capacity to love. There are still people who believe that physical pleasure can be wrong and represent a diseased mind or body, even when nobody else is hurt, and even when other people are helped or made to feel happier. There are still scientists who believe that something can exist which is not natural.

Invariably, these beliefs which fly in the face of reason, are usually founded in uninformed religious teaching, and certainly not science. It can take a very long time for people to become more fully aware of the reality they inhabit, particularly when that reality is not the reality portrayed to them by their parents, friends and their society at large. It can take a very long time for people to accept truth, despite science. Even though we live in what we consider a more “modern” and “enlightened” world.

Science tells us that homosexuality and bisexuality are not, in any way, disorders. Nor are they, in any way, aberrant. Nor are they even “unhealthy”. No mainstream scientific organization or studies support this thinking. In fact, they support the contrary. The American Psychological Association has this to say:

“Both heterosexual behavior and homosexual behavior are normal aspects of human sexuality. Both have been documented in many different cultures and historical eras. Despite the persistence of stereotypes that portray lesbian, gay, and bisexual people as disturbed, several decades of research and clinical experience have led all mainstream medical and mental health organizations in this country to conclude that these orientations represent normal forms of human experience. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual relationships are normal forms of human bonding. Therefore, these mainstream organizations long ago abandoned classifications of homosexuality as a mental disorder.”

Considering the incredible mysteries of human bonding, the persistence of such unfounded stereotypes is strange, indeed. It points to something deeper. Let’s see if we might shed some light upon what might be behind this inexplicable persistence.

First, we must accept that our sexuality is more fluid than we might be comfortable admitting. This discomfort itself is something telling. However, as Lisa Diamond discovered in her 10-year longitudinal study, “some people believe that sexual orientation is innate and fixed; however, sexual orientation develops across a person’s lifetime. Individuals may become aware at different points in their lives that they are heterosexual, gay, lesbian, or bisexual.” Again, it is the personally intimate nature we can experience with another being that is the truly important thing, and this experience between beings is not limited by gender or race. Our ability to know each other, feel kinship for each other, and to love each other, is far greater. Our feelings of sexual attraction that often accompany this must be accepted, or harm will most certainly result, both to the person that matters, and to ourselves. And any tragic circumstance of non-acceptance will only help those stereotypes persist.

The profoundly unreasonable belief permeating our culture would have us feel that homosexuality and bisexuality is wrong. Thankfully it is on the decline. It would have us feel wrong, even when we might be reasonable enough to think that homosexuality is, perhaps, okay for other people. It would have us feel wrong in that any feelings for someone of our same gender is certainly not okay for us. This creates a great deal of inner conflict within most of us when we must confront our larger nature, for our larger nature encompasses many things. Those whose sexuality leans more toward homosexuality can often overcome these unfounded biases. However, those whose sexuality leans more toward bisexuality, which is the vast majority, usually never overcome these unfounded biases. For them, it is a relatively simple matter just to choose to label themselves completely heterosexual.

This does not fix their perceived problems, however. Inevitably, we are confronted with issues of our sexuality throughout our lives. What is unresolved or repressed is destined to surface again, and often in increasingly bizarre and destructive ways.

It is no accident that the people who most adamantly consider homosexuality an aberration, abomination or a disease are the same people who struggle with those same issues within themselves. The psychological term is disassociation, and these people go to great lengths to disassociate themselves with homosexuality both internally to themselves and externally, as proof to others of their disease-free state.

Sullivan’s 1956 theories on disassociation demonstrate how our sexuality can be made completely separate and other from our own sense of our personality. For example, as Jack Drescher says:

“[…] selective inattention is a common, non-pathological process, akin to tuning out the background noise on a busy street. In more intense dissociative mechanisms, double lives are lived yet not acknowledged. One sees clinical presentations of closeted gay people lying somewhere between selective inattention, most commonly seen in the case of homosexually self-aware patients thinking about “the possibility” that they might be gay, to more severe dissociation – in which any hit of same-sex feelings resides out of conscious awareness.”

This disassociation, where the feelings are actually moved outside of conscious awareness, is recognized to be very similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And this, actually, is the real disease, not any homosexual feelings.

Vivienne Cass’s famous 1979 Homosexuality Identity Formation Model also recognizes these characteristics within the first stage of people coming to terms with the fact that they may have some homosexual feelings. This stage is called identity confusion, and it is often quite volatile. As paraphrased by Joe Kort:

“Those who begin to acknowledge their attraction to other members of the same sex may not see themselves as even remotely gay. This isn’t pretending; they still honestly identify themselves as heterosexual. At this stage, their homosexual feelings are completely unacceptable to them. They are looking for anyone who might tell them they are not gay.

Once individuals recognize that a homosexual nature does exist within them, they often become very sensitive, highly anxious, and self-conscious. This is the beginning of re-experiencing their PTSD symptoms. Pushing them too far in this stage can cause too much psychological discomfort and potentially keep them from moving on to the next stage.

They are also vulnerable to getting married heterosexually, genuinely hoping for the best.”

The disassociation exhibited by people who unreasonably rail against the homosexual nature that nearly all of us embody is glaringly obvious to those people who have come to terms with the more fluid nature of their own sexuality. Look at our Senators and religious leaders who rabidly fight for legislation that condemns homosexuality, while at the same time have clandestine homosexual rendezvous. They condemn homosexual feelings to others in a cowardly attempt to disassociate themselves from their own homosexual feelings. It is the same with straight boys in a crowd.

This also is confirmed by science, through many studies. There is even a 1996 empirical study by Henry Adams where he measured the arousal level of straight men being shown images of men and women, where one group of men were homophobic and the other group of men was not. The study demonstrated that the homophobic men were almost always sexually aroused by images of men, while the non-homophobic men were not. Both were equally aroused by women and lesbian images, which supports the case for bisexual identity repression. But the homophobic men got excited.

Drescher, amongst a great preponderance of psychologists and psychiatrists, also confirms this. “Interpersonally, strong anti-homosexual feelings may represent an effort to control perceptions of a [man’s] own sexual identity. If they attack gay people, others will not think of them as gay.” Even those psychiatrists following a psychoanalytic approach agree. “Various psychoanalytic theories explain homophobia as a threat to an individual’s own same-sex impulses, whether those impulses are imminent or merely hypothetical. This threat causes repression, denial or reaction formation.” (DJ West, 1977).

Want some Wikipedia? How about “by distancing themselves from gay people, they are reaffirming their role as a heterosexual in a heteronormative culture, thereby attempting to prevent themselves from being labeled and treated as a gay person.”

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Hopefully, this will help clear the air a little on our sexuality, and people’s reactions to the subject matter of sexuality. But clearing the air only allows us to see more clearly. It does not help us to live our lives any better.

Even when we can accept a certain degree of homosexuality within ourselves, that does not mean everything is great. However, it is far better than before! Oftentimes people who manage to get past complete disassociation settle upon compartmentalization instead. As Kort and Cass say:

“Some clients may accept their behavior as gay or bisexual while still rejecting homosexuality as their core identity. Or they might accept a homosexual identity but, paradoxically, inhibit their gay behavior by, for example, deciding to heterosexually marry and have anonymous “no strings” sexual hookups. Of course, this kind of compartmentalization – a fracturing of behavior and identity – leads to problems later on.

Some lesbian and gay clients may attempt to embrace a heterosexual identity out of internalized shame and guilt. These clients are particularly vulnerable to the promises of reparative therapy. Because of their self-hate and hope for a “cure,” they are eager to be rid of these unwelcome thoughts and feelings.”

But honestly, there is nothing to repair. We’re crazy creatures, remember? We’re wide and wonderful. There is no mainstream discipline or organization that supports any “repair” of our sexuality. In fact, they all condemn such things as harmful. Even the US Surgeon General David Satcher, a military man, officially stated “there is no valid scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed” in a letter to the US Department of Health and Human Services in 2001. My God! We’re stuck with each other! In all our wild diversity, our beautiful human surprises, and the all wonders of impossible places…

If you fight against these scientific truths, invariably you will harm other people, and you will harm yourself. You will also be a force within the world that strengthens the very stereotypes that we cannot believe still exist. If you fight against these truths, it can cause all manner of harm, in all manner of seemingly unrelated directions. This is true for kids, adults both young and old, parents, teachers, clergy, lawmakers, and you. We really need to find some bravery and stand up, and get past this nonsense. We have to make it so that young men struggling with these issues are not 13 times more likely to kill themselves. We have to do this by making the issue become a non-issue, for all of us.

What these studies do not go into is the acts of deception, both outwardly and inwardly, that people struggling with sexuality exhibit. In order to disassociate, deception is the key. And this begins to permeate deeper within them, even to unrelated areas, and it begins to permeate outwardly into the world. Sexuality is a fundamental force within us all – it is very powerful and it drives us almost always, even subtly. When we mix in deception at this core level, it is a mixture that can lead to truly terrible things in time. We can become adept at deception of all type because, with our practice over time, every day, we become masterful, and deception becomes second-nature to us.

But it’s a whole different view from above it all. From above, you will notice the guys who you see getting excited around you, then have to run off to call their girlfriends or wives, or if they have none, go watch some lesbian pornography or guy/girl porn, but no looking at penises. It is the poor man’s version of reparative therapy. Also, you can watch them turn their sexuality instead into aggression so they might feel reassured by some masculine identity that somehow arises from fear. You can watch them, when you push them to the limit, if you’re lucky, break down and tell you it’s something they’ve always hated about themselves, then deny they ever said it. Yes, you can watch all manner of people struggle with themselves, from on high. For years and years, until you wonder how it is that people can be so deceptive and destructive over such simple, unimportant things. These facts exist, whether or not you have ever met a gay or bisexual person before (which you most certainly have). They also exist despite any beliefs you might hold. It is a great truth that we are just starting to come to terms with.

But what we do physically with our bodies is not important. It is how we honor that incredibly beautiful accident that is another human being. It is how we offer ourselves truly to another, in trust, in admiration, in honesty, and in our commitment to their, and our, mutual well-being. And in this, the religious people have much to learn. They should stop harming people. Especially their children, if nobody else.

“Sexual orientation is not synonymous with sexual activity.

The idea that homosexuality is a mental disorder or that the emergence of same-sex attraction and orientation is in any way abnormal or mentally unhealthy has no support among any mainstream health and mental health professional organizations.” (APA)

Now, go suck on that!

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My Head, the Universe – Is It All Good?

That last piece on the nature of consciousness provoked some interesting responses. It makes me wonder why the philosophy departments are always so small. Probably because we feel more comfortable being error-prone lunatics, like unfastening the top button on the jeans after a big meal. I wonder what that says about people who always wear sweats?

Here’s a reminder, too. I was criminally negligent in supporting the positions for those three main views of consciousness in the last piece, Am I Alive? I am working under the assumption there is a reason philosophy departments are small. Very intricate and in-depth discussions for each of those positions exist, and are easily accessible if you have an interest in the detail. Even more importantly, distilling those arguments into quick examples lets me be lazy, too.

In addition to being told definitively what consciousness actually was, I was also pointed to a fascinating project within IBM’s Cognitive Computing group. This project just received $5 million in funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the same agency that funded the creation of the Internet, and many other incredible (and dubious) things.

The award funds IBM’s proposal, “Cognitive Computing via Synaptronics and Supercomputing (C2S2)”, which will be the first step in fulfilling DARPA’s “Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics (SyNAPSE)” initiative. Another company, HRL Laboratories, which is owned by Boeing and General Motors received three times this amount. HRL Laboratories is also involved in DARPA’s Cognitive Technology Threat Warning System, and their Urban Reasoning and Geospatial Exploitation Technology (URGENT) program, which wants to revolutionize urban combat using three-dimensional object recognition.

Anyway, IBM has built a rat brain. Well, not really. They’re simulating one on a supercomputer. Neural networks were long considered the most promising path toward simulating cognitive functions with computational devices. That approach focuses upon the role of neurons in the brain. However, neurons actually account for a very small fraction of the brain’s circuitry. Most of the circuitry are synapses, which connect the neurons together. Many synapses are connected to a single neuron. In fact, IBM’s rat brain has 55 million neurons and 442 billion synapses. That’s pretty much the same as a real rat brain. In comparison, a human cortex has around 22 billion neurons and 176 trillion synapses.

The IBM rat brain is somewhat larger than a rat, though. Their rat brain requires a 32,768 processor supercomputer with 8 trillion bytes of memory. It consumes more energy than 1,000 typical households. That is one fat rat.

And alas, it will probably never be on par with a real rat. Real rat brains, like our own, operate asynchronously, with variable timing (frequencies) and ooze chemicals as well as electricity. Being biological, they are also adaptable and fault tolerant. And most importantly, memory is not so separate from the processing. Traditional computers always keep memory separate from the processor. Then again, rat brains don’t run Linux.

But the IBM folks are well aware of their limitations. This is an incubation project. Cognitive Computing differs significantly from traditional artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence identifies problems, then comes up with ways to address those problems programmatically. On the other hand, cognitive computing does the engineering first (by reverse-engineering the brain) and worries about the more programmatic problems later.

The supercomputer is used only as a simulation. The intention is to build chips and electronics with a similar structure like a brain. They then plan to ram it full of sensory input from sensors all over the world, to create a “world brain”. I tell ya, these military guys are crazy. The idea is actually to overload this brain with sensory input. Part of me is suspicious, thinking these guys are hoping to create a physical structure modeled after a brain, and then by flooding it with sensory data, it might just burst into life with some ability to perform cognitive functions on that data. Or maybe even come alive… No, they would never say that.

What they do not intend to create is an actual rat brain, or human brain. At least that’s what they are saying. But you know mad scientists, particularly when they’re working for the military. They want to create computers that can get closer to the efficiency and power of biological brains, and this is, to them, in large part a structural issue.

What is interesting, philosophically, is suppose they do create a synthetic human brain. Would any mind, or consciousness, that arose from this brain also be synthetic? Or, for that matter, what exactly does synthetic mean? If souls exist, what is mind without a soul? If mind, or consciousness, is simply an illusion, is there anything wrong with just shutting it off and dismantling it, after we turn it on? Or if consciousness is only an illusion, is there anything wrong with just “turning off” a person’s mind?

Before we can deal with any of these questions we must define, if only in very broad terms, a nature of consciousness. Consciousness is something more than illusion. It may be an aggregate of biochemical processes, or it may be something related more closely to a notion of spirit. But to say that consciousness, which we all seem to experience, is merely illusion is to side step, in the name of convenience, the very basis of our ability to reason and perform science. Consciousness must exist or there is no context in which we might ask questions, formulate answers, be curious about matters, or feel anything at all. If consciousness is illusion, what is being tricked, if not consciousness itself? Consciousness precedes itself, when examining itself.

However, to say that consciousness exists is not to say that spirit exists. It may very well be that consciousness cannot exist independently of some physical substance. It is to say, however, that consciousness currently appears to be a more abstract quality than something wholly physical. That is, though consciousness may be dependent upon the physical, consciousness itself may not physical, any more than the processes of mathematics is physical. In fact, it is metaphysical (devoid of the pedestrian connotations).

I cannot touch my consciousness, or the consciousness of another person, nor can I smell it, see it, or measure it. This is does mean that consciousness is an illusion. Consciousness must exist before I carry out any processes of science. In order for me to see, taste, smell or feel, or on higher orders, evaluate, determine and hypothesize, I must have a consciousness. Whether or not this consciousness is dependent upon the physical, I am stuck with its necessity. Even though considering the consciousness illusory may help win some arguments, the problems created by such a proposition far outweigh any gains. Consciousness does exist and it is something metaphysical. It might even remain metaphysical, even if the bridging problem between physical, biochemical processes and the manifestation of consciousness are eventually solved.

This admission should not, in any way, fly in the face of science. Many abstract, not altogether tangible things exist that are, for some reason, wholly accepted by science. One of these things is mathematics. Another is the laws of physics themselves. Scientists have no problem accepting that some abstract laws exist that somehow determine the behaviour of everything physical. The question here is, what holds these laws? Why is there an electromagnetically negative charge and a positive charge, and only those two? What determines the probabilities associated with quantum mechanics? In science’s inference of multiple universes, where even the laws of physics can be utterly different in different universes, how are those laws of physics imprinted into that particular nature of reality? Perhaps consciousness is something abstractly structural like this. But it is abstract, similarly, beyond any given physical system. But again, that is not to say that it is not dependent upon a given physical system.

And now to the meat of things, the reason for this piece, which continues after the last one that left us questioning whether consciousness even exists, as most of us assume it must. For if we are questioning the epistemology of consciousness itself, where does that leave us when we consider other people, or other beings, or things, besides ourself? If we question the very possibility of consciousness, what possible hope is there for any sense of ethics or morality – of right or wrong?

First, I want to distinguish between ethics and morality. Here, ethics will mean something we can think about and discuss to reach conclusions. Morality will mean something that we learn through tradition, or are told. This being said, morality will be left out of the discussion altogether. This is done in the interest of expediency, since morality does not lend itself well to any reasonable discussion. Its basis sits in absolute notions that are generally entrenched and immobile. I leave it for people to shout about on the back porch between beer drinking and farts, until they reach their conclusions through a wrestling match, or a bloody club.

If a scientist or philosopher is of the ilk to question the existence of actual consciousness, it is altogether likely they are also of the ilk to question the existence of a basis for any ethics, let alone good or evil.

When you consider consciousness an illusion it is very difficult to reasonably consider ethics. Ethics seems intrinsically oriented toward life, and becomes more relevant the higher you go up on the complexity of life scale. If there is no consciousness, any notion of a higher order of life scale is arbitrary at best. Would you consider applying ethics to the way a physical cluster operates as individual components? How can mechanical operations be ethical or unethical if no consciousness guides them? Without consciousness, things function as they do. Ethics is replaced by gross domination through a preponderance of purpose, or just simply strength.

However, since we can more sanely say that consciousness is something more than illusion, we can also find a place for ethics. Perhaps not for good and evil, but ethics, most certainly. Here the question becomes, is there such a thing as right and wrong, or good and bad, that exists, similar to consciousness, or the laws of physics, in its own true abstraction? Stay with me scientists…

The question of ethics is a very old one; ancient even. Right now we are looking at these questions of ethics and consciousness, framed by a backdrop of new technologies, during a period increasingly dominated by scientific thinking. It is important to keep in mind that rational thinking is timeless, though not all rational positions remain rational over time. The questions of ethics are richly discussed in texts throughout many centuries, distinct from religion. My one selection here, for your consideration is this:

Let’s say that a dog exists. It’s a good dog, but occasionally bad, as dogs are. There is plenty of food for the dog, and the dog will not harm its environment. It will not overly reproduce. In fact, let’s assume there are no ill effects whatsoever from this dog existing, and there never will be. The question is, is it better that the dog lives or dies?

You would be an unusual person indeed if you claim the dog ought to die, when there are no bad effects from it living. If you just hate dogs, substitute a cat, or a monkey, or better yet, yourself. Particularly when you substitute yourself, even saying that it makes no difference whether you live or die rings a little untrue. Most people would agree that, all things being equal, it is better the dog, or you, should live, rather than die. But what makes it better? This is certainly not something purely mechanical.

Interestingly, you can take this even further back, to address concerns about the origin of the universe. Why does the universe exist? Why did it come into being? Well, is it better that the universe came into being, than if it did not? This is the exact line of reasoning early philosophers used to posit the existence of an ethical universe. Personally, I have a hard time accepting that the universe sprang into being because it was supposed to, along with all its physical laws. Nevertheless, there is something to be said about a natural state of ethics, alongside our conscious determination and use of the natural laws of nature.

It will be interesting, if we manage to create a synthetic, or even “real” consciousness – will that consciousness have a similar sense of the inherently ethical? Will it know that being alive is better than being dead? Will it know that promoting non-truths is bad? Or does it require emotion for such determinations? Does consciousness itself require emotion?

But I think the important thing for us to realize is that science and rational thinking does not require us to throw out any value we place upon life, nor to give up on what we know to be ethical choices. Science is still entrenched in its long war against the domination of religious thought. Unfortunately, it runs the risk of creating a narrow dominion of thought all its own, in the process. If we are to have truly open minds, our thoughts and perspectives must be willing to travel beyond their comfortable and familiar contexts, if only just to take a quick peek.

For all the dogma and doctrine out there, the important thing is that we are all alive, participating in, and affected by what each of us embrace, promote, or even just participate within. Life has intrinsic value that is greater than any equation or any religion. Life’s value is greater than any system of government, economy or social tradition.

It is a quality of life that it must grow. Consciousness must grow. However, reductionism and normalization should only be considered a fertilizer for the soil, and not the cage. Otherwise, we run the risk of scientific oppression that would make religious oppression pale in comparison.

Am I Alive?

Here is a simple question. Is your consciousness solely a by-product of biochemical processes?

In other words, is your awareness of the world and who you are, simply a condition of electrical and chemical interactions between cells?

This is a very simple question. It’s the simple answer that reveals enormous problems. Yes, or no.

My consciousness is considering the ramifications of either answer right now. Don’t mind me. It’s just some chemicals sloshing about. But consider – the answer, yes or no, is important. If known with certainty, the answer to this simple question would topple many fundamental assumptions we currently entertain. Either way it goes. And most of these fundamental assumptions we do not consider. In grossly simplistic terms, do we have a spirit? What does it mean to be conscious?

If our consciousness is a by-product of chemical interactions, there are few compelling reasons that we should also have a spirit. If I feel joy as a result of something I hear, it’s just chemicals flowing around in one area, which trigger a blob of chemicals in another area which creates a “sensation” (whatever that is) of joy, which in turn triggers more blobs of chemicals in another place which may bring back memories to my consciousness of similar joyful things, in whatever region of the mass of neurons in which the consciousness actually manifests.

However, if our consciousness is spiritual in nature, how do we explain the oftentimes profound alteration of our conscious state through brain injury, biological diseases, or chemical alterations? If we have a spirit, how can our personalities be so radically altered by physical changes to a materialistic brain?

These issues may seem purely academic, with little importance in our daily lives. But the issue is significant. Both science and religion exert tremendous force upon our lives. When considering the nature of consciousness, each “team” plays by a completely different rule book, and their game effects us all both directly and profoundly.

For example, brain drugs are now prescribed to people of all ages, even children, with alarming frequency. These drugs represent a major portion of pharmaceutical profits. They are backed by science and the belief that consciousness is, at least, in large part a materialistic process. But if we believe our consciousness is purely biochemical, why not throw chemicals at our biology? Doing so, we can alter our state of mind to happily accommodate any feelings or perceptions we have of the world, or ourselves. We can alter our consciousness to be content with any stimulus or situation. In essence, we can engineer a paradise for ourselves that is completely independent of anyone or anything in the external world. If we are simply biochemical, why not have this bliss?

Well, for one, the people handing out the drugs could get away with murder. But so what? Isn’t some notion of morality and ethics dangerously close to spiritual considerations? I admit there are possible reasons why not, that do not require us to have a spirit. For example, if we all were engineered happy and content regardless of our environment, we might find ourselves soon extinct as a species. Why does it matter that a plague kills everyone? We are happy. Perhaps there is some biologically hard-coded imperative for survival. If we have engineered ourselves into happiness, have we engineered out this imperative? This could be a valid reason to avoid engineering our biochemical consciousness that is not dependent upon having a spirit.

But even this raises a question toward the spiritual. Is our biological imperative toward survival an imperative for only our own survival, and not necessarily the survival of other people? It would seem so. If many other people were to die, there is less competition for food, for mates, and less chance that I will be killed by someone else. Though rational, this is not how most people think. For some reason we find it important that other people should live, instead of die, even when they are not part of our “pack”. Perhaps we feel this way because mirror neurons in our brain somehow allow our consciousness, whatever that is, to place ourselves in the position of others. And because we can imagine ourselves in another person’s shoes, we choose to want them to live, rather than die. Of course, this argument skips the whole problem that we simultaneously know that we are not that person, yet still choose that they should live. That argument relies upon us having, at minimum, empathy. Who knows what combination of cell types and chemicals would cause our consciousness, in whatever grouping of cells it lives, to experience empathy. But maybe empathy isn’t a feeling. Maybe it’s a purely mathematical phenomenon.

One of the largest problems science faces when trying to explain consciousness is providing an account for consciousness in the first place. Is consciousness inside our brain? Where is it? Does it simply manifest itself somehow as a combination of all biochemical processes which occur in the brain? Would our consciousness exist if we had no body, other than a brain, nor external senses? You see, it is one thing for us to affect consciousness in some physical way, but it is quite another to actually pin it down.

The prevailing wisdom of science says that consciousness does not exist, in and of itself, but is rather an illusory result of electrical and biochemical processes that occur within the brain. What we consider our self, or our consciousness, is really an illusion. Our consciousness is just a systematic and recursive material, or mechanical, process that results in some meta-state that we imagine we experience, which we call consciousness. But really, this consciousness is nothing more than a plethora of mechanical processes occurring, which give us the illusion.

To some, believing this explanation turns us into little more than zombies who wander about doing our mechanistic things. You might appear conscious to me, but really you are a mass of predictable mechanics. I must confess there are times when this seems true. But is it the whole picture?

In the West we have a long history of separating the mind from the body. Our thoughts, and therefore our ability to reason, are dependent upon our ability to sense and observe the world. Our mind, which most agree is the seat of our consciousness, is dependent upon our body to provide the sensory input we use to consider the questions of science, and even questions of our own consciousness.

One of the first questions we must ask is, why would this mechanical process have a curiosity about its own consciousness? Is it another biological imperative related to survival that has trickled up over centuries of evolution, that makes us curious in growingly abstract ways, as our brain power develops? I wonder, also, at what point during our evolution, did consciousness, or our illusion of it, spring into being? Are dogs and cats conscious? It is evident to me that they do, at least, have something equivalent to mirror neurons. Or are they just different models of a machine?

But if we believe that consciousness is an illusion, then what, exactly, is being tricked? Is it an illusion that fools itself?

Something rationally critical breaks when we say that consciousness is an illusion that rises up from materialistic processes. But we can fix that. If we say that consciousness does, in fact, exist, and that it is not an illusion, but is solely dependent upon materialistic biochemical processes in the brain — that works. In this sense, consciousness really does exist, but not without our physical gray matter.

This seems far more likely to me than consciousness being an illusion. But it does little to explain how our consciousness comes into being from these material processes. The best explanation I have heard claims that the brain operates in an electro-chemical “loop”. When it operates above a certain frequency, we have consciousness. Below that frequency, we do not. Perhaps it is just a matter of putting all the materialistic pieces together, and eventually we will have our answer about the nature of consciousness. Or, it may be that we are only side-stepping and delaying the inevitable problem: trying to tie the metaphysical to the physical.

But what is metaphysical about having consciousness arise from something material? The same question confronts the science of artificial intelligence. How can something intangible and unphysical, like consciousness, be created from a machine? Their answer? Well, we find ourselves back to the original, predominant scientific position: that there really is no such thing as consciousness — it is mere illusion. By saying this, science does not have to confront any questions about the metaphysics of consciousness. Consciousness just doesn’t exist. Our sense that we are conscious is an illusion. Then here I am again, fooling myself. Or my consciousness. Or whatever. Brainsss!!

Another way to consider the problem is to return to Descartes. The one thing I can say with certainty is that I have consciousness. Anything I learn beyond this comes to me through my senses which may be wholly inadequate to determine any true reality. In this scenario, our consciousness becomes the most fundamental thing in the universe, while all other things are speculative. There is something comfy in this manner of thinking, but it is also an isolating and wholly inadequate position to explain consciousness.

In a similar vein, we might say that consciousness is our spirit which inhabits a materialistic body. In this, we are back to dualism, and we also cannot easily explain why our consciousness is altered by physical changes to our brains. It just doesn’t work.

So, if we look at big score board so far, it appears the spiritualists lag far behind the materialists — yet of the materialists, the ones supporting a true existence of consciousness, rather than some illusion of consciousness, are ahead. OK. Now let’s give the spiritualists some game.

Let’s think of our life, clear back to childhood. Remember how different you were back then? Imagine how different you were, all along the way of your life, up until where you find yourself right now. Some people can’t believe the things they used to believe. It’s almost as if you were another person. But you weren’t another person. You were you, all along the way. It still is you. But you’ve changed. Your consciousness has changed. It’s evolved. You perceive things differently, yet still the “essence” of what makes you, you — it’s still there. And it’s the same. This is one quality of our observed experience of consciousness that materialists will have a difficult time resolving satisfactorily. Not only do we have a current sense of self, but we also have the sense of a meta-self that has always remained in place throughout our life’s experiences.

In many ways, the older civilizations of the world, such as India, have dealt with the concepts of the spirit in relation to science for far longer than the West. Their philosophical works are an interesting read. Interestingly, a good deal of their philosophy deals with an integration of the mind and body, including through such practices as yoga. Yoga seeks to bring the mind and body into a harmony. It does not treat the mind separately from the body — they are one organism, and that organism is you. They take it even further, though. The mind may have many thoughts and ideas running around within it. The practice of yoga seeks to still that chaos in the conscious mind. In their terms, the content of the mind is constantly changing. However, the context of the mind is unchanging. This contextual representation of consciousness is what we might call a spirit, and it sits beyond both the mind and the body. In this way, if the mind or body is damaged, the spirit remains, while life remains. This is true, even when our mental consciousness appears radically altered — the content of the mind can change, but the context of the mind does not.

In this way, the essence of who we are, or our spirit, escapes the logical problem associated with having a notion of spirit in the event of brain damage. In other words, just because our behaviour or personality changes after physical brain damage does not mean that the essence of our spirit is changed. It is only the mental processes that are changed, much like a broken bone. This escape trick is no worse than the escape trick of saying that consciousness is only an illusion. It also explains how we maintain an abstract sense of self despite radical changes to our consciousness over time, even though the natural acts of learning.

If we can look internally, which is, of itself, another argument against illusion, we can actually get a hint of the difference between the content of our thoughts, and the context in which those thoughts occur. Similarly, most people in the world believe in reincarnation, where after death, and before we were born, we were someone else, or even something else. We might have been male or female. We might have been a dog, or a spider. In each of these, the content of our minds would change. However, the context would always be us.

As rigorously as many scientists rail against any notion of spirit, claiming access to tangibly provable and all-encompassing knowledge, it is somewhat ironic to hear, so often coming from them, this notion that we humans are “star stuff”, and, in essence, the universe trying to understand itself. Perhaps they mean this purely mechanistically. Why would the universe seek to understand itself? Is that mechanical?

Who knows? I like the idea, though. Unless I just seem to like it. But maybe that’s enough. It certainly isn’t going to keep from exploring more. And it’s certainly not going to cause me to just patently accept all sorts of things that stem from people believing one way or another on these issues. Perhaps that makes me a squeaky cog in the great cosmic zombie machine. Perhaps it damns me. I just want it to be an honest game. And this game is far from over.

So Simple

Epiphany: a word I never knew until my mid-twenties. Perhaps your whole life is one big epiphany until you reach your twenties.

Sudden realizations of a profound truth, triggered by something commonplace we notice, where some simple, even unrelated thing, sparks an inner revelation. A startling truth, so obvious by its nature, that it is difficult believing you never realized it before, until the moment of that epiphany.

I think a lot of us are having those lately. DJ explained epiphanies to me, many years ago. Before that, I know I had them, but never knew it.

An epiphany doesn’t have to be spiritual. You can have an epiphany in science, as surely as science can lead to an epiphany.

Epiphanies are usually very personal experiences. It is never talked about, but I think whole societies can have epiphanies together, as a social unit with each other, too.

Once you have one, you can never go back to seeing things the way you once did. It is another bite of that apple. Paradise is lost, yet another paradise appears, up ahead. There are all kinds of paradises.

We have personal paradises, and we have collective ones. Sometimes they are at odds with each other. That is where leaders and followers play out their games. Perhaps if this is considered fully, it will be an epiphany for some.

Life moves toward the wider – the more all-encompassing. Is that my life, your life, or our life?

This is where the leaders and followers play out their games, in a hierarchy of unexamined pragmatism. Where doctrines are followed without understanding the origins upon which they stand, or even if they stand upon anything solid. The game field, where penetrating questions are dismissed as useless or naïve, and so never addressed. So often we find that even following epiphanies, everything remains the same.

But does it truly remain the same? When you have an epiphany about the world, or your life, your foundations change. You become fundamentally altered, even when your routines might continue unaltered. But when those routines are at odds with the revelation, friction and disharmony results. And when this happens, it is routine that inevitably must break. Theories must be altered. Prevailing wisdom must be rewritten for all our collective future. Somehow, our nature compels us to regain a harmony between what we have become, and what we continue to do.

This is the game, with all the leaders and the followers. It is being worked out. Everything is important. Especially life. All of it. More than anything. There is no higher ground, and we each stand upon that same ground. This is worth far more money than we could ever fabricate.

Who can say otherwise? Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?

The demons sought to destroy everything good, to rule and dominate all things. The gods, as aspects of the nature of existence, fought against the legion of demons. The gods prevailed against all but one, the great demon Raktabija.

From each drop of Raktabija’s blood spilled in the battle, a thousand new demons sprung. It was not long before the gods were overwhelmed.

In desperation, the gods appeal to Ishvara, the embodiment of the principle of the universe. From his and her third eye, the goddess Kali is born, a whirling multi-limbed dance of death and destruction who rips through the demons, destroying them all and drinking their blood so that no more spring forth.

This leaves Raktabija powerless and his assult is defeated. But Kali, mindless in her dance of destruction and fueled by the blood of demons continues shredding all in her path, across all worlds, even the gods.

Seeing this, the god Shiva, the embodiment of the universe, lays down in the path of Kali. As Kali steps upon the chest of Shiva, which is the container of the spirit, the realization through the embodiment of the universe, of all existence bursts into her mind.

The enormity of this epiphany causes her eyes to go wide and her tongue stick out, and she stops her maddened and destructive dance. Some claim she transformed into a child to weep.