Category Archives: Philosophy

Progress, Destiny, Endeavor and the Unity Module

Money. I’m sure everyone has heard by now that 1% of Americans have more money than the entire 95% of the rest of us combined. The fact seems to shock many people, but honestly, I don’t mind. As long as we are free and not torturing or killing people or things without the most ironclad justifications, and we can live a modestly comfortable life in our homes, without starving or suffering unduly from disease, I am, at least perfectly content with someone else having as much money as they want. In fact, others can have whatever fetish they feel they need.

I don’t even mind if their fetish is a notion of power instead. Sure, you go have a great time making the laws we must live by, or enforcing them, as long as you must live by them too, and they conform both in letter and spirit to the boundaries we have agreed.

I’m curious how the new Michael Moore movie will portray Capitalism. Will he demonize it, or will he educate us? With Capitalism, like all academic constructs, the reality is, they are meant to be examined and studied — learned from — and only rarely taken as absolutes. They are meant to serve and better us, as humanity, not we them.

Right now a great deal of confusion is being generated through the people and mechanisms of this self-important abstract system, called Capitalism, that we have adopted. So much confusion is generated that we are even turning on ourselves. In essence, it is a holy war we wage, caught up in our own creation, adopted within our cultural myths and beliefs. And on all sides, real human lives are sacrificed in growing numbers upon the alters of progress. But what progress, really?

Is our measure of progress and success an accumulation of numbers, like the bizarre old woman whose attic gets filled to overflowing by her obsessive accumulation of trinkets? Or is true progress and success measured differently, more acutely, as the astonishing and previously impossible undertakings we have shouldered for one another in the interest of progressing our species onward to a better life for us all?

In a very real sense, Capitalism is a primitive structure, rooted in our most primal, and even barbaric instincts: conflict, gaining advantage, greed and strict boundaries. I can imagine no quality of Capitalism that cannot be reduced to at least one of those four. It is a reflection of our current world. It is a reflection of our beliefs, a reflection of work, and a reflection of nations. For most of us, it is a reflection of ourselves, even more so than a religion will shape even the most devout among us.

So what about the big bad word used by politicians and money interests to throw the brakes on any policy, law or even idea that tries to give, even the smallest amount of our public money back to the people who need it most, the ultra poor and even the mostly poor now, middle class? That’s right, I’m talking about the “S” word; Socialism, which, through a long history of propaganda, conjures images of evil Communists, secret police with interrogation cells, constant phone taps on citizens, disappearances, torture, and the invasion of foreign countries around the world to promote their oppressive way of life. Oh, wait. Hmm. Is that us?

Of course, there will be some among us who will claim, through hopelessly wrong reasoning, that it is the few wisps of socialist thinking recently entering into our political dialogue, that is to blame for our descent into that same state we claimed was so evil – evil, that is, when it wasn’t us. But that state is us, committing wanton acts of evil, and we are not a Communist state, nor even by a long stretch, a Socialist state. States become evil when they try, at any cost, to maintain themselves, unchanged.

I am not advocating Socialism, nor any other political or economic abstraction. However, I am advocating a thorough exploration of modern ideas, as well as old ones. It is unlikely that any one system will be good. We know that reality rarely conforms to ideals. Socialism is flawed because it requires that we can genuinely trust one another to adhere to the best principles for us all, through rational means. But unfortunately, we still have far too many liars. We still have far too many people who want things for themselves alone, despite the existence of other people. As long as this is true, more modern and humane systems like Socialism will be in danger of exploitation. We must learn to be honest, and care for each other, and not just in our own self-interest. But that does not mean we should avoid taking steps in new directions. In fact, we should. How better to learn, than to explore, with both our minds and hearts set to the task?

Pure Capitalism does not fulfill our social needs.It is wholly inadequate, and its shortcomings even go a long way to fostering ill for us, socially. Good does not arise, on its own, from greed. Capitalism is not wholly evil, either. But it impact upon our social structures must be tempered by something more humane than mathematics. It must be tempered by our desire to help one another, which all of us, when we are interviewed individually, possess a strong predisposition to do. We want to help others. And there is nothing wrong with that. And there is nothing wrong with making certain that those among us, who have benefited so greatly from us, also, to some degree, return benefit to us. There is nothing wrong with saying that ethics are every bit as important as profit. Doing so is a large step up in our social evolution and is one we are beginning to understand, and believe, despite the monumental efforts of purely capital interests.

Capitalism is not freedom. Nor is Socialism freedom. In the US, our notions of freedom arise from our founding documents, from which all subsequent law must, in theory, conform. Capitalism and Socialism are abstract ideals that we can look to and study, adopting those qualities we feel are right, for a given circumstance. I have heard it said by both liberals and conservatives, that the economic bailout of Wall Street was an act of socialism for the rich. That is not Socialism. Socialism would have that money go to all of us, not the banks, to pay off the mortgages. It was, instead, an act of Capitalism, and a telling example of how Capitalism can actually undermine a democracy – just as the trends in health care reform are also currently headed: a boon for capital interests, at our expense, with possibly something beneficial for us, coming down the road.

You know, I have given up being surprised by how many things lead me back to the general exploration of our universe, beyond all these ridiculous machinations. Those of you who follow NASA are familiar with the Augustine Report, commissioned to study NASA and its programs, then report back to the government. The preliminary report suggests that NASA needs more funding. And the GAO finds that NASA has not done enough to “develop all the elements of a sound business case” for its current human space flight plans.

If we used the money we have spent on the wars, and money we spend on the military in just one year, we would fully fund NASA, and more, for over 100 years, which is twice the agency’s current age. What “sound business case” is there for these wars, let alone humanitarian justification? The justification is oil, and its impending scarcity, and subsequent rise in value, which is also at odds with alternative energy development. Capital interests should not trump humanity’s interests. The question should not be how much money can we make, but rather, how much better can we make ourselves, through our understanding of each other and the universe we inhabit?

Imagine what we might come to understand and accomplish if just some tiny fraction of money were diverted from our military industry, or we decided to transform our military industry into scientific research? If we could just change from thinking in terms of offensive capabilities, to defensive, the savings would be enormous. The resources we could devote to energy, science and exploration could begin a new renaissance in our human endeavor.

I was listening to an astronaut speak a few days ago about his first sight of the Earth during a space walk. He’s a big, goofy Italian from New York, with all the trimmings. He said, it’s one thing when you look at the Earth through the window of a spacecraft, but it’s another thing altogether when you see the Earth clearly, right before your face. This big lug said, he looked at the Earth and words can’t even describe how beautiful it is. He looked away from it and thought to himself, God didn’t mean for anyone to ever see this. Then he looked again. And he thought, this is what Heaven must look like, watery-eyed, and worried that the moisture would do bad things in his suit, and that he would be given hell by his fellow astronauts now for telling this story. And then he thought no, this is not what Heaven must look like, this is what Heaven is.

It’s time we pull our heads out of money, power and war. It’s time we pull our heads out of never-ending ideological struggles that do not elevate us. It is time we devote ourself wholly to our own betterment as a species, not just to our own betterment. It is time we evolve. It is time we remember how, to show the way, by our example.

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.

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.

The Bridge of Vibrating Objects

More often than not, there is difficulty communicating between people. We have established languages, with vocabularies representing conceptual objects that we string together in a feeble attempt to lift our consciousness from ourselves and offer it to another. Some people claim the vocabulary of our language shapes our thoughts. Others instead claim that our thoughts wrestle with the clumsy limitations of linguistic representations for expression. What we do know is that our consciousness exists as certainly as another consciousness, and the avenues between them are a wilderness of language-constrained train wrecks.

In physics, the laws governing our existence are expressed as mathematical objects. We do not question whether our existence must, necessarily, obey laws. We assume that reason exists, in at least some form, at all levels, even within chaos. We tie the concept of chaos to randomness, and by doing so, we constrain existence, at least in part, with our mathematical objects. This may be a preconceived bias which limits a broader understanding, but it does impose definitions that we can utilize and manipulate within our framework of pseudo-certainty, that is a mathematical representation.

Language is a similar construct. As creatures with unique consciousness, we vibrate the air in defined ways that represent, more or less, the consciousness we are currently experiencing and wish to communicate to another consciousness. However, each consciousness exists in relative isolation from any other, much like parallel universes could be, and any communication of information between islands is fraught with potentials for error. For example, a word might not be understood in the same way on each island, or a string of words may have differing connotations that have arisen from the other consciousness’ history or bias. An even more challenging issue is the fluidity inherent within the island of each consciousness that is, by its very isolation, patently distinct within its own experiential awareness that changes, sometimes even radically, over time.

Objects we create (words or phrases) that are meant to be shared between islands have nowhere to exist, except within whatever space it is that we might label a mutually agreed-upon landscape of language. There is no metaphysical cathedral that houses the canonical truth of each object we have created, except, indirectly, by our further mutual agreement to imbue selected people with the responsibility of maintaining them, which is itself, fraught with peril. It is something, though. And it is a wonder we can communicate at all, particularly in the more abstract.

Mathematics has an easier time, at least within its foundations. The number “2” is well understood within our intersubjective landscape. Any misunderstanding or argument between islands about the number “2” would almost certainly be specious. This is an object that can reasonably be considered safely canonical. Even though it does not exist. I have never seen a “2”, in and of itself. But I have seen the curvy numeral written down many times, and have even determined a quantity of 2 for various things. I know — I lead a wildly abandoned life. But I would be hard-pressed to actually show you a “2”. That’s because it isn’t a thing, but rather a representation of an abstract concept. It is not really physical. Addition and subtraction are also abstract concepts, applied to other abstract concepts. As we’ve discussed earlier, mathematics is an abstraction, tied to the physical in only the most tenuous of ways through the concept of quantity. This has proven to offer us great benefits, but it can also hinder us when it is believed as a canonical representation of the totality of our existence. There is no basis for such an assumption, despite stacks of mathematics on paper.

It seems the human being is prone to adopt beliefs. This is how scientists, even physicists and mathematicians, can believe in God without violating the sanctity of their disciplines: because their disciplines arise from belief, they are accustomed to belief. The only difference between religion and science is the voracity of their self-consistency and their openness to new perspectives. These are constant challenges where religion, more often than not, falls short. But so does science. And like religion, science usually falls short when the canonical caretakers of the holy objects become more interested in their own personal perpetuation than their sacred duty toward humanity and the purity of their calling.

However, these are callings that are far removed from the more humble life we each lead as we return home at the end of the day. At home our concerns turn toward foraging for food, our feelings for the people in our lives, or having a comfy, warm bed in which to dream. While mathematics is removed from us and defined with rigor, the language of our time spent more at rest is sloppier, and is often downright messy. Some would like to bring the certainties of religion or science home with them in an attempt to impose comfort upon the messiness they might otherwise experience, but these are usually vain attempts. The messiness bleeds through. Something about us is wider than any discipline can contain. We are not entirely defined by the dominance of objects created within the outside world. We are aware of our island-hood, and the world we perceive externally is not, precisely, the sum of everything that we are, or might be. Even when we try to impose its order upon ourselves, our gut knows the difference. We will go into the applicability and validity of the discipline of psychology and neuroscience in subsequent pieces.

Language, that is extended to us from our culture, is the defining bridge to the external world. Our senses are also a bridge, but they lack any objective definitions without language. Our senses merely allow us to perceive and experience the external world. Language helps define common sensual experiences between us. The difficulty arises from the fact that our awareness is separated from the awareness that exists within other beings, and the only way we have to bridge these islands is a rickety structure composed of words. This is, perhaps, part of the appeal of mathematics — it is rigidly defined with only a small propensity for misunderstanding and error. However, mathematics is incapable of representing the spectrum that is the diversity within our inner lives. Though less prone to error, its vocabulary is utterly inadequate. We appear to be stuck with the uncertainty and error of language between us. And as an interesting aside, it is also fascinating to note that our understanding of these more pristine maths are formed through the messiness of language and what those words conceptually represent. But we’ll steer clear of that messiness for now.

Our inner experience is rarely what other people perceive. The inadequacies of language are not the only cause. Because of our uniquely individual craziness, we do not always construct language that is a true representation of our inner experience. Also, sometime we hear language differently than was intended, either because of that same uniquely individual craziness within ourselves, or the clumsiness of the person constructing the language toward us. And this is with truth as the backdrop. If we bring in the possibility of deception, we bring a wrecking ball into an already precarious and delicate environment. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, this is all too common and is the source of a great deal of the confusion that permeates our society. Deception is always willful, even when it is simply a will to ignore or disregard the validity of some known or perceived truth. In many ways, this is the worst deception of all. Silence, indifference, or disregard allows deception to perpetuate and flourish. It is selfish, and almost always meant for one’s own perceived benefit.

But what is selfishness, other than a word? How is it possible to say that selfishness is bad, when each self is their own isolated island? The answer is simple when you realize that other islands exist, and are every bit as important as your own. There are lots of people like you, living on their own crazy, isolated islands. Even when they claim they are not. Particularly when they claim they are not. And in that, paradoxically, even though we are completely isolated, we are all in the same boat. If I’m not mistaken, I think that some form of love might fit in well just there. And though love can be considered selfish, it also, paradoxically, is the furthest thing from selfishness. Isolation is, intrinsically, a lonely existence. Though some religions try, they cannot command love between islands. And deception always results in isolation. If connections are to occur, each island must, through its own self-awareness, become aware of its isolation and seek to bridge that isolation in ways that are not based in deception. Or instead, remain in isolation. Anything else is a power play through manipulation.

If a sense of mutuality can exist between islands then an awareness of isolation also exists. Some means will be sought to create bridges in the interest of that mutuality. But if a keen awareness of the isolation between islands exists, how can one possibly avoid having a more passionate response that necessitates creating the most intimate connections possible? Though this situation is rare, here we must take care to balance between the negative forces that stem from desperation and panic, against the far more positive and powerful forces that such passion can engender as a motive for the fulfillment with all its benefits of unity. And even this must be balanced against the necessity of distinction, from which the true beauty and strengths of humanity’s genius emerges. This is the beautiful aspect within the darker nature of Existentialism.

It leaves me asking, as I look out upon the world, what is really important? Between each of our islands, what bridges have we built, or allowed to be connected to us? In what ways does mutuality currently manifest itself? Is it truly proven that deception results in isolation? Does it matter to our isolation if we are the ones deceiving, or the ones being deceived? And the most difficult question of all, why does this state seem to remain, in perpetuity?

I suppose that our self awareness is one thing, while our interactions with the world is another. This is inherently deceptive. Perhaps we must do, to get what we want. It is the exchange of one price, at the cost of something else. I suppose it all depends upon the value we place on one thing or another. And now, I feel like I’m caught up in the mathematics of economies. It is an intriguing symptom.

In that warm, comfy bed of mine, though messy, I had a dream the other night. Some people say I was experiencing random firings of neurons, while other say I was “sifting” through the day’s information. Nobody can say much about the particles. I only know that I had a dream. There was a large, flat landscape seen at a distance, like the world. It ground was a reddish-brown, cracked, clay desert at twilight. Lots of people were walking about in between plastic outcroppings in the plain that were shaped like rounded tombstones, but had brightly-glowing and colorful neon symbols that flowed in pleasant designs. They densely covered the plains while people walked amongst them, absently avoiding collisions with these colorful objects. All our interactions flowed through them, yet we always avoided touching them. Circles were always the most prominent design on the tombstones.

None of this was unpleasant. However, it did make me feel a little like a radio controlled robot, and I knew that everyone else was feeling the same thing. Mountains were off far along the horizon. We knew we were a colony, of sorts, and there was nowhere else to go. As Burroughs would say, “The theater is closed.”

But I woke up and decided to write this anyway. I feel compelled. It might be love. Or maybe religion. But then again, nothing is certain. Right?

Just a bunch of words, tenuously tied to the intimate experience of our unique existence. You can see such awareness in some people. Others might never get there. Still others are terrified. It’s not easy, with such awareness, being deceptive. Unless you are completely ruthless. That is effective evil. And it exists. It is a purity of self-interest.

Mutual interest does not just happen as a by-product of self-interest. Mutual interest strikes deep into the chest. It is undeniable. It is a function of awareness. And that, in my belief, is the mountain to whose heights we must aspire. Any other basis is petty and inevitably mean.