The stars that we are born to in the twenty-first century are not that different from the stars our ancestors have been born to for hundreds of generations. But the cultural setting within which we view those stars today is entirely new in the history of the Earth.

Both our perception of the stars and the ways we think of them within our various fields of understanding—astrology, astronomy, astrophysics, theology, mysticism, art, and so on—vary from place to place, time to time, so that stars have a very human history culminating in the mind of each person living today.

Consciousness is as much a matter of cumulative life experience as it is of perception and memory. Our personal experience is influenced by our natural experience, as well as our cultural, communal, and familial experience.

Van Gogh’s Starry Night conveys some small part of his personal experience of the stars. NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope details other aspects of the stars that most of us have never personally experienced or imagined. Perspectives available to us today simply did not exist only a few decades ago.

Yet we are the progeny of stars themselves, and cannot be anatomically, physiologically, or psychologically separated from their influence on our innermost mental and physical being. We are born of the stars as well as to them. In a very real sense, the stars ‘R us. We are star stuff up and walking around, ogling our extended family spread through the universe.

That is no poetic dream. The atoms we are made of were forged in supernova explosions that cast those atoms into space, where gravity took over and condensed those same atoms into a mass so dense that they ignited to form a new stellar system, together with a retinue of planets that included what we now call Earth, our home in space for all the days of our lives.

It is fitting that throughout history every tribe and people has paid homage to the stars. The Sumerians did it according to their lights in Mesopotamia, Plato did it his way in Greece, the Neoplatonists in Alexandria, and now NASA, a governmental agency, spends billions of dollars in paying homage to the stars, planets, asteroids, comets, and meteors of today.

The meaning that every generation projects onto the stars is a salute to our origins as couched in the meaningful terms of the day. The stars have always had place on the leading edge of human understanding. The stars have not changed all that much, but our understanding is now undergoing an exponential growth spurt that leaves our past understanding lagging far behind.

We used to put haloes around the heads of our saints to signal their divinity (connection to the stars). We built Gothic cathedrals to seat our bishops that had stained-glass windows dedicated to the zodiac, and mechanical clocks with rotating symbols of the twelve zodiacal houses, again to show honor to the stars as we interpreted them in Mediaeval times. Those cathedrals served as models of the supposed celestial hierarchy worked in stone, with their vaults shining down on the seat of the bishop below, and those assembled around him, as if that seat were the throne of reason, order, harmony, truth, and beauty on Earth.

As Chartres Cathedral was abuilding in the thirteenth century, Thomas Aquinas wrote (in Latin) of the stars: “Nothing can move itself; there must be a first mover. The first mover is called God.” The prime mover that drove the universe was as alive in our formative era as it had been in the days of Pseudo-Dionysius, Ptolemy, Aristotle, Plato and, before him, the Sumerians.

What all that effort achieved, rather than making a place for humanity in the stars’ cosmic scheme, was assign them their place in our psychic scheme, so having us ride our own coattails round and round, as if tied to a peg driven into the ground, setting us back for well over five thousand years in solving the world puzzle from inside our respective black boxes.

But that peg in the ground has been yanked up by a succession of new thinkers: Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Galileo, Kepler, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Gregor Mendel, Einstein, and many others who have built the new cosmology of today that recognizes the stars for what they are in themselves and not merely the due we thrust upon them out of our own needs.

The idea of binding our lives back to the orderly motion of the stars is one of the most profound realizations that the human mind has ever entertained. We have evolved to appreciate the patterns, brightness, and motions of the stars at night; that should suffice. We need not look for a message coming from them any more than we look to a mockingbird or giraffe for truth. If we truly honored the stars, we would celebrate their gift of light and energy, so receiving them as they give themselves to us without overlaying our psychic needs on their radiance.

We don’t look for messages from baseball or Roget’s Thesaurus, yet we freely engage with them as valuable aspects of our experience. Why impose such a burden on the stars in order to fit them into our scheme of things? Instead, we should do everything we can to live in harmony with the natural world, of which stars are one of the highest and most eminent expressions.

At this point I can hear my Quaker friend Ken Doyle stepping in to tell his joke about the three baseball umpires being interviewed by a reporter after the big game. How do they go about making such difficult and often controversial calls as their duties require them to?

The first umpire says, “I calls ‘em as I sees ‘em.” The second says, “I calls ‘em as they are.” The third umpire says, “They ain’t nothin’ till I calls ‘em.”

Each umpire does the job his own way in light of his personal belief, as each player plays, and each fan roots, everyone in the stadium giving as he or she is able to give, and receiving a like gift from everyone else.

Like the three umpires, artists, scientists, and theologians see with different eyes. As do the young, the mature, and the elderly. The Sumerians saw the stars their way, Plato saw them his way, Pseudo-Dionysius his way. It is unrealistic to sort through them in trying to decide which is right. They are all right and all wrong in some respects.

But under the circumstances, they each were true to their perceptions, judgments, actions, and life engagements—to their minds and personal experience. Our predecessors have borne witness to the stars as only they could at that time in that place. What more could we ask? It is now our turn to see them through our own eyes. That, now, is something to celebrate. As well as an obligation to right the wrongs of the past.

Tomorrow: photos of the heavens from our modern point of view, so ending this review of human engagements with baseball, Roget’s Thesaurus, and most recently, the stars.

Advertisements

In training, individual players build their respective skills on one level, and practice working together as a team on another. There may be individual heroes in baseball, but it takes heroic effort by all concerned to build a team that can face every possible situation with shared skill and confidence.

Each player must stand ready to play his part without advanced notice. Each is playing an inner game of expectancy before a play even starts to unfold. As is each watcher in the stands, stadium, or living room. In that sense, players and fans are engaged for the duration of the game, however long it takes for one side to win.

Baseball is all about arousal, anticipation, seeing what happens, recognizing what that means from a personal perspective. Then, of all possible responses, seizing instantly on the one judged most effective, and following through on plays that have been practiced in countless situations under a variety of different conditions.

Anything can happen, and what actually does happen comes as a spontaneous show of coordinated (or not) team skill, strength, speed, effort, and accuracy.

Baseball gives fans an endless flow of opportunities to be personally conscious. Each witnesses the game with her own eyes and ears, own sense of anticipation, own flow of perceptual, meaningful, and active engagements.

Being there at the game is like inventing yourself on the spot, again and again as situations come, evolve, and lead on to the next. This is what fans live for. If baseball didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it as a rule-governed alternative to the horrors of war, revolution, strife, violence, genocide, and mass murder.

Civilized nations rely on games to ward off the inevitable slippage into violence and chaos resulting from friction between factions having different perspectives on the world. Harnessing such perspectives in orderly pursuits such as baseball, soccer, basketball, and tennis makes the world safe for civil governance that actually serves to keep people meaningfully occupied and productive.

Baseball is no frill; it is a civil necessity—along with art, music, dance, Earthcare, full employment, and a fair distribution of wealth—to maintain a healthy state of mind among peoples accustomed to different ways of engaging one another in their separate worlds. Or worse, as in boredom, not engaging at all.

 

434. Cultural Inertia

February 16, 2015

We are born to cultures centered on worship and religion as fixtures of daily life. When I was growing up in Hamilton, New York, in the 1930s, buildings with spires were landmarks in my young eyes, conspicuous curiosities I passed in my roaming about town, but had little to do with. What is it about churches-mosques-synagogues-temples that they should occupy such prominent positions in our lives?

In one form or another, they’ve been around a long time. Recent excavations in Göbekli Tepe in Turkey have uncovered impressive sanctuaries 11,600 years old. On the estuary of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, Sumerians built ziggurats in 3,200 BCE where priests worshipped gods in their starry heavens. A big part of Sumerian belief focused on the correspondence between the sun’s position in the zodiac and the seasonal labors of people on Earth.

During grape harvesting and pressing, for example, the same constellations of stars were visible overhead each year. That fact was summed in the religious teaching, “On Earth as it is in heaven.” The prime-mover God was sending us signs to make sure we coordinated our practices with his teachings. The priestly class emerged as mediators between the will of God above and dutiful humanity below.

About the same time, the first stage of what we call Stonehenge was erected on Salisbury Plain. During their Babylonian captivity, ancient Hebrews came across what they called the Tower of Babel, a religious structure built by a culture whose speech they found incomprehensible.

In his dialogue the Timaeus, Plato mused about the origin of religion in the seemingly orderly, harmonious, and rational motions of the stars about the celestial pole. Plato’s most famous student, Aristotle, passed his mentor’s teachings on to the Middle Ages. Latin translation of part of the Timaeus reached Neoplatonist philosophers in Alexandria, who relayed a good part of Plato’s thinking into the new religion, Christianity, given the recognition and blessing of Constantine, last Roman Emperor.

From the beginning, Christianity’s central theme was the death and rebirth of Jesus, echoing the ancient belief in the miracle of planting a seed in the ground and its sprouting three days later. Jesus was one among a number of vegetation gods (Attis, Adonis, Tammuz, Dumuzi, Osiris) who, as exemplary humans or demigods, personified the same cyclical fate that crops do in their annual plantings (death) and sproutings (rebirth).

Chartres Cathedral, built in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, emphasized not only the link between zodiacal constellations in the sky and the labors of humanity on Earth, but, too, the symbolic cycle of death and rebirth in its zodiacal stained-glass window and clock that still tracks the seasons as gauged by the stars overhead. The cathedral stands as a monument to those longstanding ancient traditions.

Ptolemy in the second century had pictured the motions of the stars as centered on the Earth, and that notion persisted for fourteen hundred years until Copernicus in the sixteenth century discovered Earth to be a planet orbiting around the sun. The stars, it seems, do not move; it is our home planet that is responsible for their orderly march day-by-day, year-after-year through the heavens. Tycho, Galileo, Kepler, and Newton refined the Copernican idea, fixing it in human understanding of the universe.

As late as the thirteenth century, Thomas Aquinas stated: Nothing can move itself; there must be a first mover. The first mover is called God. That is a restatement of Plato’s belief as expressed in the Timaeus. But it is not the stars that move, it is Earth revolving about its axis that makes the stars only seem to move. As it is Earth’s orbiting about the sun that powers the progression of zodiacal constellations repeatedly through the seasons of the year.

But despite the enlightened cosmology put forward during the European renaissance in a new understanding that put Earth as a minor planet orbiting a typical sun in the outer reaches of the Milky Way galaxy, western religious culture did not update its primitive belief in the orderly and rational motions of a universe for which only a God as prime mover was deemed responsible.

Religion, which means binding (Latin, re-ligare) humanity to the apparent motion of the stars at the will of a prime mover, was too invested in its traditional ideas to change, so kept on as before, exposing its asserted beliefs as a matter of unsupported faith, so reducing church doctrine to the level of mythology.

Then Charles Darwin came along and provided compendious evidence that humans are descended from an ancient lineage of animal life, making it impossible to believe that we were created by God in his image. Without ceremony, Adam and Eve in their happy garden became merely a myth. Yet when I was born, all those steeple houses stood on the main streets of Hamilton, pointing skyward, just as the columns at Göbekli Tepe did 11,600 years ago in the mountains that fed melting snow into the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates.

Strange business. My culture today sends me mixed and incompatible messages about the universe. Science says one thing based on corroborated evidence; the church says something entirely other on the basis of its longstanding faith. A faith that still erects spires pointing to the heavens.

How am I to engage such a culture so divided between passionate faith and demonstrable evidence? That’s easy. Evidence trumps faith every time. I go with the facts supporting our modern cosmology (just think of the evidence provided by the Hubble Space Telescope alone) over Plato’s ideals of order, harmony, and reason—which gave us a picture of the universe as he wished it were, not as we now know it to be.

Much of the turmoil in the world today stems from armed conflicts between different systems of faith. We keep lugging past ideas around with us as if they were as relevant to our time on Earth as they were 1,800 years ago, 2,700 years ago, or even 11,600 years ago. Once cultural memes get planted, they go on forever and never die off. We won’t let them die off. Out of sentiment, we are dedicated to preserving every thought anybody ever had, no matter how feeble or erroneous.

Consciousness is the medium that preserves those outdated ideas. We resurrect them because we somehow find them comforting as reminders of childhood. So our intelligence is split between faith and fact, tradition and the latest breakthrough. And for some reason we cannot tell the difference. Between what is relevant to our lives and what is superfluous. We know better yet seem not to know better at the same time. This is the conundrum at the core of our everyday culture. Due to trusting memory more than perception, the familiar past more than the now.

That was the conundrum I experienced growing up as a kid, and still find within me even though I have gained so much vital experience between then and now. Humanity suffers from cultural inertia in not being able to let go of outdated ideas. That is, from couching those ancient ideas as honored faiths and mythologies which, in all innocence, keep us chained to our primal ignorance and mistaken beliefs.

Even the word “universe” itself is a misnomer because it means one-turning, as a hidden reference to the impossible-to-believe-in prime mover behind what we used to think of as the motion of the heavens, but now understand as a reflection of the motions of our home planet.

So much to wrap our minds around, so little time. How do we know what to take off the shelf of our culture, and what to shun like the plague?

Discrimination is the secret, not personal preference, not tradition, not habit. Exercising the gifts we are born with in reaching out to the universe around us, not accepting it on anyone’s terms but our own. Seeing with our own eyes. But that is hard work. Requiring us to be on the forefront of our own minds at all times, defining the leading edge of our human understanding as we go.

That, I think, is the responsibility we owe to our ancestors, to transcend their faulty cultural beliefs by advancing with the experiences available to us that they never knew. That is the essence of engagement. Keeping up with what’s happening around us in our own times. Not living in the past, but shifting with every new day into the now. Going beyond old notions and ideas. Faith is a lazy way of avoiding the hard work being asked of us as we evolve with the life around us. Keeping up with the times. Looking to the future, not the past.

The culture we are born to is the challenge we must accept in growing into our new selves every day. We must make our efforts part of that culture, and so move it ahead with us. The risk if we don’t is to become imprisoned by the past. Is that why we’re here, to be stuck in the mire of ancient ideas?

I will conclude this section on cultural engagements with twelve examples of my personal cultural engagements divided among my next four posts.

Copyright 2012 by Steve Perrin.

I wasn’t there ten-to-five-thousand years ago, but my ancestors were, and so were yours. All looking up, following the sky drama at night, much as some of us today follow the soaps on daytime TV. The serial motions and relationships between sun, moon, stars, planets, meteors, comets and other celestial lights above the local horizon fascinated the eyes of ancient peoples wherever they stood in awe looking up at the glory of the heavens, wanting to know how it would all turn out and how it might affect the affairs of those in the audience down below.

The procession and wandering of those heavenly lights made a strong impression on everyone who watched them. Patterns were there, and deviations, and thrills, shocks, surprises, and discoveries. Eclipses of sun and moon! Shooting stars! Comets from nowhere that seemed so foreboding! Pure salience without substance, notable, yet beyond human influence. Surely they were signs meant for human appreciation—why else would they be so conspicuous at night when people couldn’t work? They were telling us something, if only we could make out what it was.

What a situation to be in! To be gripped by such a show for hours on end without having any idea what it meant. It was all so glorious and compelling, so secret and mysterious. We—our ancestors—were hooked, engaged by the wheeling display of sensory impressions, yet were stymied in having our yearning to be in on the program rebuffed, our desire to understand unrequited.

Which was a setup for us to stretch our imaginations skyward in scripting a plot that would answer every point of curiosity by creating a situation we would be familiar with in meeting our desire to understand what it all meant to us in daily life.

It was like translating a text in an unknown language by writing down what we wished it would say. We just made the whole thing up, projecting our scenario onto the cosmos, having it say what we would say for ourselves, and calling it the order of the universe. Over thousands of years, we leapt from understanding nothing to “understanding” everything, and called our insights the truth. In the process, we deputized a priesthood to administer the details of such a grand undertaking, and paid them with the firstlings of our fruits and flocks.

Our word divinity (along with Zeus, god, sky, and day) stems from the ancient root dyeu, meaning shining—the primary attribute of each member of the starry procession. To be divine (godly) is to radiate light into our minds so that we abruptly understand on faith what cannot be grasped through observation or experience. Which is what religion claims to do for those with feet of clay and eyes looking skyward. Think haloed saints and starry-eyed celebrities.

Since no culture can bear to discard an idea once entertained by one of its members, we now have any number of tax-free religions and political parties coexisting with astrology, astronomy, astrophysics, and cosmology, all such faiths and disciplines accounting for the human predicament of truly understanding very little with a variety of incompatible methods, terms, and institutions, the entire enterprise of culture vastly confusing the awful simplicity with which our ancestors gazed at the luminous wonders of the night sky.

So does it come to pass that ideas and situations in our minds come to dominate our engagements with one another and with our fragile and susceptible planet, which is why I keep posting to this blog on consciousness in hopes that, eventually, humanity will take collective responsibility for the mess it keeps making of its everyday affairs by looking inward to make sure it is on solid ground before acting in a world it cannot see clearly nor understand very well.

Yes, this is me talking. Y’rs as always, —Steve from Planet Earth

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin.

In my last 20 posts I have included 138 photographs illustrating the wildness of some of my engagements this past summer. But my engagements come in many different types and styles, wildness being only one of them. In round after round of engagement, I have interacted with people (from family, friends, and relatives, to casual acquaintances, and total strangers); with a variety of locales in coastal Hancock County, Maine; and with a great many engagement accessories (tools) including my toothbrush, 18-year-old car, PC, iPad, favorite mug, books on my shelves, cribbage board, pencil now lost, rowboat, and Super Sky Hawk airplane. Without any one of those engagements with people, places, things, my life would have turned out differently than it did.

Life for all of us is a whirlwind of engagements, some pleasant, some less so. Our minds drive us to interact with one person-place-thing after another in never ending succession. Finish one, move on to the next. Even when asleep, we engage with our dreams. Even when bored, we are engaged with our boredom, driving ourselves to distraction. We take all this for granted as just how it is—how we are and how life is. But seldom do we contemplate the miracle of the whirlwind that is ourselves as powered by our spinning, conscious and unconscious minds.

Introspection is a sort of time-and-motion study of one human mind. When you start to think about thinking, there is so much happening and so much material to include that it’s far easier to go watch YouTube videos for an hour than reflect on your own inner workings. But my many bouts of self-reflection over a thirty-year period have revealed to me that my engagements are what I am all about. I am built as an engager, and operate as one every day of my life. If I weren’t and I didn’t, I’d be dead. In truth, engagements are the stuff life is made of. They are the meaning of life itself—what we do in interacting with the world around us, coupled to what the world does with us in return. Life is one spinning engagement without end until our minds give out and we realize there really is an end after all; but till then, we deny any such thing, and have our daily engagements to prove it.

Though I am sometimes uncomfortable in the face of events, I can’t recall ever being bored. The power of the mind is rooted in the ability to pay attention, and in every situation there is always something to notice and attend to, even if it is the state of one’s mind at the time. But then I’ve never been in solitary confinement for a month, or deprived of sensory impressions for even a minute (except when asleep). In my case, to live is to be awake and attentive to whatever catches my ear, nose, eye, or mind. To live is to engage; to engage is to be active; to be active is to be mindful and alert. Partly in order to survive, partly to be productive, partly to be fulfilled, partly to integrate into and get along with the rest of the world.

Engagement is no special moment and no frill. It is life itself. It is what we do with our two fundamental sources of energy, ambient sensory energy from our surroundings and bodily energy from the food we eat combined with the air we breathe. The point of our personal combustion (metabolism) is to get engaged and stay engaged. To be part of the scene around us. To be somebody. Which we do in many ways—the particular ways (types, styles) of engagement that determine our distinctive personalities.

We engage the world by acting out of the situations we get ourselves into by making ourselves happen as we do. The meaning of our actions flow from those situations as seen from our personal perspective. We aren’t engaging the world so much as engaging our view of the world—the world as it seems to us. Our preferred styles of interaction—our personalities—reflect our outlooks on specific situations as seen inside-out in creating a reality for ourselves that springs from the unique set of life conditions we have become used to and cannot imagine otherwise.

Common types or styles of engagement might be suggested by clusters of terms such as:

  • assertive, dominant, aggressive, authoritarian
  • accepting, submissive, peaceful, tolerant
  • playful, lighthearted, open, humorous, joyful
  • rigid, set, closed, unyielding, fearful
  • loving, caring, compassionate, generous
  • hostile, callous, unforgiving, self-serving
  • adventurous, risky, courageous, creative
  • collaborative, collegial, cooperative, friendly
  • competitive, self-centered, grudging, conflictive
  • composed, orderly, organized, constructive, concerted
  • wild, unruly, careless, unthinking, haphazard
  • and so on.

By my way of thinking, two of the most prominent engagement styles reflect minds that are either open or closed to discovery. That is, minds either looking for answers or set upon imposing preconceived solutions. Here is a sample of what I have written in contrasting the two styles:

The hallowed field of education is based on assumptions concerning the nature of learning, teaching, knowing, truth, inquiry, experiment, language, and other fundamental matters of great importance. In some quarters, questions are regarded as tokens of heresy, so education is reduced to rote memorization of orthodox texts, accurate recitation being taken as proof of wisdom and understanding. With a quotation at hand for every issue, the truth becomes self-evident to all who have undergone proper indoctrination. Again, answers are known before any questions are asked. Reciting the words of ancient masters, pupils build a future for themselves that is meant to be a replica of the distant past. Back to the future; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. (Consciousness: The Book, page 239.)

Voices rising from Wall Street insist that there is no need for more vigilant governmental oversight—even as those same speakers inflict yet another economic calamity on the nation—while a chorus in Washington insists that government, taxes, and entitlements need to be abolished as evils in themselves. Self-serving opinion is rampant in today’s media, while knowledge won through practical and costly experience is dismissed as a fascist, communist, or Islamic terrorist plot, whichever is the flavor of the day. The conflict is not about preserving the primacy of Western-Capitalist Civilization but is an example of warfare between minds—open on one side and closed on the other, or worse—closed on both sides.

Military conflicts arise from failed engagements between minds that have been reared-taught-trained and armed by members of different cultures and belief systems. Wars are never solutions to world problems because they inevitably spawn further problems that are even worse when the next generation comes to face them. On the intercultural scene, passionate speeches in different languages are no substitute for the experience of actually getting together in an atmosphere of mutual respect while working things out—of actively engaging to a common purpose.

I offer loops of engagement as a means for implementing the golden rule because such loops bring up both the self and the other for due consideration at the same time. It’s not one “me” against the other, but start to finish a consorting “we.” In a world of over seven billion unique individuals, styles of engagement make all the difference in getting along as good neighbors. How we reach out to one another determines the responses we get back. Blame becomes obsolete because it only widens the gap between us when what we need is an effectively united humanity that can relieve the pain we are inflicting on our ourselves and on the natural world we claim to praise while mindlessly rendering uninhabitable.

That is my message for today and forever. Y’s truly, ––Steve from Planet Earth

Copyright 2012 by Steve Perrin.

Wildness is a quality of felt situations that arouses curiosity (What have we here?) and invites further attention and exploration as guides to appropriate action (What are we going to do about it?).

The examples of wildness I have illustrated (Reflections 301–313)—tree bark, lichens, crab remains, Indian pipes, fungi seen from above and below, flowers, shore life at low tide, fallen trees, standing trees, ground webs, old man’s beard—show wildness in the form of noticeable features and curiosities met in a forever-wild sanctuary on an island in Maine.

Wildness in that sense means existing in a natural state, not groomed, tamed, or cultivated. Existing where? In the mind of one particular person, namely me, Steve from Planet Earth. Wildness is a quality of my personal awareness of a situation I am in at the time. This is not wildness in the world so much as a sense of wildness from inside looking out through these eyes. Wildness, that is, as an aspect of mind, of personal conscious experience. I am writing about wildness as being subjective or phenomenological, wildness as a property of consciousness, and of my consciousness in particular.

I am not concerned with civilized wildness here, with warfare, cruelty, greed, or abuse. I am more interested in wildness that admits to mystery and wonder and unending engagement. Wildness we can build a life around without destroying other lives. Wildlife that opens onto a landscape we want to learn about, to wrestle with so we can feel, grasp, and understand it. This kind of wildness promotes engagement enabling us to grow into the landscapes of our own minds.

I am interested in wildness that leads us to appreciate other cultures, make voyages of discovery, visit national parks, and explore our surroundings and native habitats with curiosity, awe, and respect. This wildness expands our mental horizons so our minds have no choice but to expand instead of shrink as self-satisfied minds often do.

The way to build such a wild kind of life is to pay attention to the details of sensory impressions that attract and draw you in, not take them for granted as features of a conceptual and conventional existence. To savor where you are in your own mind, and want to reach beyond your current self to the self you will become in the future. That inner sense of wildness will lead you to a life of mental adventure, exploration, and discovery. You build yourself inside-out. You don’t set out to be a nurse or policeman so much as see how far you can get on what you’ve got right where you are.

That’s where your mind will take you if you give it free rein to live out its own wildness in making yourself happen according to your untamed insides.

That’s what I’ve been trying to say in my last thirteen posts. As ever, —Steve from Planet Earth

Copyright 2012 by Steve Perrin.

My interest in this blog is personal judgment as practiced by individuals in deciding what to do on their own, not the collective judgment exercised by decision-making groups of one sort or another following a set procedure for charting corporate behavior by considering and weighing individual recommendations.

Collective judgment is derived from treatment of personal judgments in a prescribed manner (parliamentary debate, legal proceedings, meetings run according to by-laws, polling, etc.). For me, here, the issue is how we can tell if our personal judgment is sound and reliable so it can be trusted in everyday practice to include all the evidence pro and con for believing our situation is what we think it is.

That is, is human judgment an actual capability rather than just another ruse for waylaying the gullible, whether on their their dream journey down the primrose path or in their daily struggle for survival?

What we make of our situation depends on the breadth and depth of our personal experience, on what we have been told and taught by others having sway over us, on our attitude and persistence, on what’s at stake, among a host of factors that might influence our judgment at the time. In other words, judgment is as much an art as a disciplined method for deciding what to do on any given occasion.

People decide what to do for all sorts of reasons, some wise, some risky, some foolish. Before we do anything, we can consult our bookie or astrologer, for instance, or find where we are in the sunspot cycle, or even follow the herd in doing what everyone else is doing.

Perhaps the best system is to read up on the issue; make a list of pros and cons; talk things over with friends, family, or a trusted advisor; sleep on it; and then see where we come out when we wake up after a good night’s sleep. It would be tedious of me to pretend that we can do better than that.

As unique individuals, it’s OK to act as we are led without trying to please everyone who has an opinion on the matter. Why else do we have minds of our own if not to apply them in advancing from one situation to another? That way we are bound to make mistakes, but they will be our personal mistakes, so we can learn from them how to do better next time if we get the chance.

The prevailing alternative is a top-down, authoritarian system where judgments are made by those we submit to because they have power over us according to the dictates of the culture we are born to, or the culture that happens to claim jurisdiction over our personal behavior.

My stance here is always to please myself (yourself) first because in the end, each of us is responsible for making ourselves happen as we do. That is precisely why we have a mind of our own, not to submit, but to be ourselves (which may very well include submitting to those whose judgment we respect more than our own).

One last word. It’s OK to be inconsistent by acting in some cases on the spur of the moment, while in others only after due deliberation and seeking advice from others. Nowhere is it written that there is a right way to decide how to be you.

My suggestion is to check your bearings often enough so that misjudgment won’t send you so far off course that you can’t find your way back again. At a minimum, I check myself every morning when my mind is fresh before being distracted by daily events. Consulting myself by that schedule keeps me on course so that I know who I am as I make myself happen as I do.

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

I am a creature of the territory I inhabit that provides me with what I need to be me—that is, to be familiar to myself as a particular character walking the world stage. The furnishings of my apartment include three computers, 170 notebooks containing the remnants of projects I have worked on, five books I have written, the food I eat three times a day, a bed to sleep on, clothes to wear, and so on. Without the territory I truck around with me everywhere I go, I would not be me. I am master of all I survey; without that survey—without my special props—I would cease to exist as myself.

When I think of the options I have for becoming someone other than my current self, I am overwhelmed by the possible identities I could take on if I wore different clothes, worked on different projects, had different files on my computers, spoke a different language, listened to different music, read different books than those I have read in the past thirty years. I could make myself anew by stepping outside my conventional, habit-driven life so ruled by the possessions I have accrued over those years of living precisely as I have lived for so long.

I am a self-made man because I have built up this specific collection of stuff I carry on my back. Because I have done what I’ve done and dreamed what I’ve dreamed. Do dreams make the man, or does man make the dreams? Looking in the mirror, I find that I resemble a sort of great ape. How do great apes get to be great apes and live the lives that they do?

My thoughts about great apes stem from a film I saw years back among those shown at the Banff Film Festival when it circulated to the Grand Theater in Ellsworth, Maine. Clever photographers and ethologists had gained access to a band of mountain gorillas in Eastern Congo by acting submissively so not to threaten the alpha male who dominated one particular harem with its females, children, and fringe of restless adolescents. I still count that film as one of the most telling documentaries I have seen in my life because it told not only about one band of gorillas, but because it spoke to me in a language I could recognize as being about humans as great apes.

The silverback ruled his band through domination and threat of violent retribution for wayward behavior. As the alpha male, he surrounded himself with lesser (weaker) beings—females and children. His job was to make sure that those children were his children. Domestic bliss lasted as long as the band was subservient to his wishes.

When adolescent males were old enough to be potential rivals to the old silverback, he drove them into the surrounding bush, where they hung around, torn between a yen for freedom and the prospect of immediate comfort and sexual gratification within the home band. Growing up within the band, they knew the rules. So they grew cagey, figuring how they might beat the old man at his game through playful deception and submission. Their tricks seldom worked, so in the end they wandered deeper into the forest on the chance they might affiliate with a band ruled by a weaker patriarch where they might have a chance at alphadom themselves.

The alpha male gorilla ruled not only by sexual domination but by leading his harem to food. A well-fed harem is a happy harem, and a happy harem is a complacent harem. I can’t recall what happened to adolescent female gorillas, but I believe they were absorbed into the existing social structure maintained by their male parent and tolerated by their respective female parents in exchange for domestic tranquility.

In practical terms, old alpha saw his wives as his “possessions” in that he could engage with them and not with females in other bands of gorillas. The food he provided was also “his” in that he found it and did what he wanted to with it—that is, keep his band groomed, well-fed, and happy. Which made him happy. Shooing his own male children away also made him happy because he no longer had to deal with them as potential rivals to his comfortable alphadom.

The mountain gorilla film made clear that alpha had his place, his wives had their places, his children theirs, and his male descendents theirs—which was to go away. Everything was clear and aboveboard, even the shenanigans of the youthful males, which were essential to their making the transition from sexual immaturity to learning how to take responsibility for supporting a band of their own. Owner-ship is the essence of a well-run social order, that is, being clear on who engages with whom, and how they are to manage their interactions.

Our nation was founded by young innovators who were kept down in their homelands because theirs was not the tradition of their elders. Like so many adolescent apes, they escaped into the hinterlands with hopes of becoming themselves by joining bands of like-minded individuals where they could find peace in a new brand of conformity. That is what my Huguenot ancestors sought in moving from France, to Holland, to England, then to colonies on this side of the Atlantic.

The Banff Festival film provided a glimpse into the history of our own culture where that same dynamic is still evident. Who were Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jeff Bezos but young males feeling the bite of competition with their elders entrenched in the status quo? Instead of going off into the woods in search of their fortune, they went into their garages where they built systems that would leapfrog over the existing order, giving them a shot at an alphadom never dreamt of. What is Facebook but a non-threatening way of hooking up with desirable mates and companions? Bezos single-handedly destroyed the august publishing industry that held budding authors at bay. What is the Occupy Movement but unwelcome youth becoming a force in the world by confronting those who have locked down the positions they want to occupy on their own?

Alphadom, not cash, is the issue. Money merely stands for whatever possessions and territory we desire. It is a wherewithal, not the end in itself. Money is a new home, a trip abroad, a girlfriend, eating out, having a bed to sleep in. Money is influence, position, and security. Money is the power to survive in today’s world as who you want to be within your chosen mythology.

From an adolescent’s point of view, what is growing up but a figment from mythology? It is something you dream and scheme about, but nothing you can own. It is always beyond reach, in the clutches of others who are older than you. As you grow older, they grow older, always maintaining their lead. So adolescence is the time to develop new ideas where you can be alpha on your own terms, and force your elders to approach you for favors or grant grudging praise. That tremendously forceful realization is the impetus behind revolution, innovation, and social change. Beware the power of those you render helpless because they need dignity and self-respect as much as you do to survive and get ahead. That is, to become alphas in their own right.

Which is as true for alpha females as it is for alpha males. Alphadom means you can make it on your own terms, taking your family and friends along with you. Every political, industrial, corporate, or religious leader is an alpha amid his or her alpha cohort whom he or she serves. Alphadom is a way of life based on being king or queen of the mountain. The dignity of being a judge on the Supreme Court or a single mom stems from being on top, whether you want to be there or not, and facing into that challenge where everything depends on you.

Alphadom is the hidden flaw in democracy, because we all strive to become our own boss, putting down others in the process of creating a system based on inequality—as gorilla wives and children are not the equal of alpha. To achieve alphadom, Jeff Bezos eliminates bookstores, publishers, agents, and anyone who might rival or impede his personal mythology of being the alpha of all alphas. Not just in publishing but in selling any goods the public desires.

As long as there are sellers and buyers, owners and workers, inequality will rule. Democracy is a mass myth clung to by underlings as they work their way into positions of power. Our “representatives” in Congress are Exhibit A of what happens when they attain positions of absolute power, discover what those positions actually cost, and switch their allegiance from the power of the people to the power of me and those who fund and support me.

The formula was worked out by great apes long ago. If they didn’t discover it, they put their energy into perfecting it. We have evolved to believe that survival depends on being selected by our environments, but there is no doubt that we use the system to make sure we have a good chance of surviving in light of our personal mythology. Alphadom and democracy go together as complementary strategies of survival. Yes, we are born equal, but I’m going to make sure I’m more equal than the next guy. Look around and tell me that’s not what you see.

Great ape power is not the power of the people. It is a balance between individual lusts for power and security against a tolerance for not fulfilling that lust as of yet. Hence our talk about growth, of being in the pipeline, as adolescents are engaged in the process of becoming grand silverbacks in their own right. We forget that society is a process at our peril. Everything is up for grabs all the time. What you count on today will be gone tomorrow. All you can do is heed your personal values at each moment, and do your best to achieve them, in the process seeing yourself getting worn down.

At least that way you stand for something, even though you know you’ll never achieve it in this or any other life. Or if you do bring your myth into being, you know it will be only temporary, and others’ myths will succeed yours.

So it goes, this life of us great apes. We make ourselves happen as best we can, as everyone around us is doing in their own way. The resulting amalgam is what we call civilization, to which there exists no solution. The wise among us work hard and enjoy the fray.

That’s it for today. I remain y’r fellow great ape, –Steve

(Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

Does a printing press know what it is printing? Does a projector know what it is showing? Does a sewing machine know what it is stitching? Does a computer know what it is computing? Does a brain know what it is thinking?

In each case I would say, no. Brains are an organic apparatus for doing a job, but that doesn’t mean they know what that job is. Brains are necessary, certainly, to getting a job—any job—done, but just as presses require ink and paper, and projectors require light sources and film, brains require patterned sensory stimulation in a context or situation in order to do whatever it is they do.

What is it, exactly, that brains do? They enable pattern recognition through comparison of sensory impressions against patterns fixed in memory, and use the degree of recognition to govern behavior within situations constructed on the spot from whatever clues are available.

The autonomic nervous system works below the threshold of awareness in performing its job of regulating bodily functions. The rote, habitual, or ideological nervous system works like a kind of automatic pilot programmed to recognize and respond to particular sensory events and situations. The conscious nervous system adapts behavior to sensory impressions, understandings, feelings, values, and memories as interpreted in light of the current situation as intuitively construed.

So it is that we make ourselves happen in the world in a variety of ways: unconsciously, consciously but almost automatically, or consciously and inventively to suit a given occasion as we can best make it out.

All the while, we are creatures of the cultures we are embedded in, and perform dutifully (or in reaction against) what we have learned in those settings. We are duly indoctrinated (calibrated) by our birth-family culture, community culture, school culture, work culture, sex and reproductive culture, political culture, arts culture, military culture, mythological (and theological) culture, and so on. We often do unto our neighbors as we have been done unto in the past.

We are not taking in “information” all the while, but patterns of energy in the form of sensory stimulation which we interpret (give meaning to) in light of situations we believe ourselves to be in at the time, or structure according to prior experience. Our brains alone are not up to regulating our behavior. It takes experience established in the past. It takes an autonomic nervous system to keep us going under a variety of conditions. It takes acculturation to possible ways we might respond. And it takes the raw energy impinging on our senses at any given moment, stimulation that we interpret as best we can under the circumstances—all taken together generating behavior more-or-less appropriate to the situations we find ourselves or judge ourselves to be in.

The sensory space in which we are conscious is a synthesis of a great many dimensions, which include expectancies, sensory impressions, feelings, values, prior experiences, interpretations, understandings, skills (including language), judgments, decisions, projects and relationships, all leading to action more-or-less appropriate to our sense of the situation we are in, and apart from us, to our physical and energy-rich surroundings.

And so it goes, this life we are living. Yes, it takes a brain to coordinate our experience, but also the environs and cultures in which we live, the energy our sensory receptors/transducers receive, our physical bodies, our history of comparable occasions, as well as those alongside us who share in our current predicament. Which together constitute the mythology by which we act. Not the information, not the facts, not the background, not the history—the mythology that informs our synthesis at the time so we make what we judge to be a fitting response.

Mythology is our rationale for living as we do. For being true and proper members of our families and cultures. For being upstanding citizens of nations, true believers of one faith or another, exemplars for others to follow, correct thinkers, members of the proper political party, wise and experienced beings who claim to know what is good not only for ourselves but for others as well. With our neighbors of various persuasions treating us likewise.

All the while, we are playing out the roles we learned as children in our formative years within our families and communities—prankster, nurse, defender, finder of misplaced objects, lover, master, servant, helpless child, Mister Fixit, dancer, princess, troublemaker—acting in ways that got us the attention we wanted then, and we have been looking for ever since.

We make ourselves happen in the world as we invented ourselves in the beginning days of our personal infancy and youth. Had we been born to the family next door, or even in a different slot in the birth order within our own family, we would have turned out very differently. If only father hadn’t been away at the war, or at work. If only mother hadn’t had other children to care for. If only we had lived across town, or in a different culture. If only, if only. That’s how we excuse ourselves for being the fallible, raw, subdued, or aggressive creatures we know ourselves to be.

My interest is in who we are as revealed by how we act, not who we might have been under different circumstances. And by the tools and props we use to stay familiar to ourselves. Humphrey Bogart needed fedora hats, cigarettes, bow ties, leather jackets, trench coats, a scowl, and Lauren Bacall to be the person he wanted to play in his mythology. Barak Obama needs to come across as the wise decider who has considered every option in coming up with a plan of action fair to all. Republicans come across as barking dogs warning of threats to the mythological homeland they have sworn to defend. The whole Republican primary has been a tournament between rival mythologies dressed for public consumption by that great abstraction, “the American people.”

Religion comes down to being a tax-exempt mythology or mystery play some believe in but no one understands. Imagine Joseph Ratzinger (a.k.a. Pope Benedict XVI) without his miter, robes, rituals, holy writ, and Curia—without all the mythological dressing that makes him appear larger than life—and he would turn out every bit as fallible as the rest of us. At base, being Pope is a living based on the illusion and pretense of a costume drama as if he were some manner of extraterrestrial being.

All of us are playing roles we picked up in childhood, and have come to believe in. Which, because it dimly remembers, our brain makes possible, so through practice we get good at recreating the illusion that we are who we claim to be. Every day, through standardized rituals, props, recitations, and actions, we live out our mythologies as if they were reality itself.

Under the cloak of mythology lie the energy patterns we interpret in accord with our fears and desires. The neurons in our brains know nothing of this imaginative superstructure we build on the substrate they provide, abetted by the substrate provided by the energetic material world that feeds our senses. Together, brain and ambient energy build a fantasy life based on our mythology of choice and personal experience.

Our conscious selves arise from the engagement between our individual brains and the energies in our physical surroundings. We earnestly believe we live in the real world, but it is a world of our own making and construal, i.e. a mythology. We are the people who developed the atomic bomb to save the world from destruction; who armed the mujahadin, then fought against them; went to war against the Vietnamese and the Iraqis for reasons we invented; who think it OK for us to send armed drones over other lands, but will be outraged when they return the favor; who cover the losses of scheming banks who brought those losses on themselves; who think the sky is blue in itself, leaves are green, blood is red.

Which brings me to the question of how great ape descendants manage to think and act like this, topic of my next blog.

From my myth to yours, I remain y’r friend, –Steve

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

The thrust of consciousness is action in keeping with our personal memories, feelings, values, and concerns.        –myndloop.com

Consciousness is given us to achieve actions in the world that are appropriate to the situation we are in at the time, which we then adjust to the time after that, and the one after that, . . . after that. Which is far more complicated than simultaneous hand-eye coordination in being sequential for the duration of our individual lives. Consciousness evolves from one stage to the next, which points to the key role that memory plays as the platform on which each successive moment of consciousness is based—producing our respective streams of consciousness.

Without having a ready reference to each preceding moment, we could not enjoy the benefits of building a future for ourselves because we would forget where we were in the process and where we were heading. Resulting in the end of consciousness as we know it.

Yesterday I spent time on an island on the coast of Maine where I engaged with loons (which I both saw and heard), hermit thrushes and song sparrows (which I heard only), and an immature bald eagle (which I saw only). I say I engaged with these birds because my separate moments of attention built instant-by-instant across spans of up to thirty minutes. Without memory, I would never have achieved such enduring levels of engaged consciousness.

These engagements included not only the sensory impressions I formed one after another as the loons—there were five of them—called and moved about, but my interpretations of those sensory images as well, along with my understanding of loon behavior, the feelings aroused by that behavior, and my actions in raising, lowering, focusing, and sharing my binoculars with my companion.

I watched two loons circling each other, then diving, while a third loon farther off hooted, then ran across the water (I could hear the pat-pat-pat) leaving a wake of white splashes behind it for several hundred feet. A fourth loon called in the distance, and somewhat later a fifth loon surfaced after a long dive. All on an incoming tide bringing herring and other delectables into the bay. I’d say a good time was had by the parties engaged, including me. Which applies equally to the separate incidents with song sparrow, hermit thrush, and eagle.

Consciousness results from the application of personal attention to these kinds of events over time. Each incident flows from a commitment of attention for the duration of a particular engage-ment. This happens, then this, and then this. So consciousness emerges as a succession of memorable moments. Or, put differently, without memory we would dwell in a fog of disjointed events vanishing into emptiness inhabited only by simultaneous yearning and profound sense of loss, though we’ll never recall what it was that we lost.

All of which leads up to the dream I woke up from this morning. The imagery was not of birds but of some kind of performance I was involved in. A group of us was to deliver a recitation before a dignified audience in what seemed to be a structure such as a church or library. The issue being that I hadn’t memorized my part, and wasn’t sure if I could find it written out somewhere, though I suspected the best place to look for it would be in my room. Which I thought was in a large brick building, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. I wasn’t dressed for the presentation, so was wandering along city streets, trying to get a glimpse of where I lived. I wanted to tell the man in charge of the performance that I was not prepared because I couldn’t find my script or my clothes, but I couldn’t find him. In the dream I was in that stupor resulting from not being engaged with anything. All I had were yearnings I could not direct or fulfill.

Lying in bed, I thought this is what H.M. must have felt like because his anterograde amnesia deprived him of the ability to form new memories after a brain operation to lessen the effect of severe epileptic fits. He was much researched and written-up in the second half of the twentieth century, and you couldn’t study psychology without coming across the story of H.M. He retained memories from before the operation, but was unable to form new memories after that event. He’d go out for a walk, and couldn’t remember where he was going, or where “back” was where he’d started out from.

That was my situation in my dream. I’d lost the ability to form new memories, so wafted about in a fog of uncertain yearnings, feeling terrible the whole time because I knew I was supposed to be doing something but wasn’t sure what it was or how to do it. If being crazy means losing your mind, I was dream crazy in having no way to find the mind and sense of engagement I once possessed but had no way to retrieve. Leaving me wandering around feeling awful among others who seemed filled with purpose.

That’s what my unconscious mind does with my preoccupation with loops of engagement as the source of conscious meaning in my life. The dream was apparently based on my participation in two evenings of PetchaKutcha at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. That’s the connection I made when I woke up. PetchaKutcha (meaning “blink of an eye” in Japanese) consist of twenty slides, each on the screen for twenty seconds, amounting to a presentation lasting six minutes and forty seconds. End of show; on to the next.

On the island surrounded by loons, I’d tried to download a video of my performance in Waterville a year ago onto my iPad, but could only get the twenty slides I showed without the track of what I’d said. That disjointed engagement fed into my growing understanding of how loops of engagement give birth to consciousness, providing a classic illustration of the chaos resulting from not being able to remember, forestalling the possibility of engagement.

The loons, download attempt, PetchaKucha, and concern with conscious engagements all blended into a nightmare in which I lived the agony of being in a coma incapable of sustaining consciousness, along with a pinch of dread at the fear of dying before I finish my work. That is the space in which I live these days, the space into which loons and PetchaKutcha emerge as milestones marking the winding-down of a life devoted to understanding consciousness through self-reflection.

Does it matter? It does to me. I believe that loops of conscious engagement offer a way of understanding why our relationships get so garbled as they often do, leading to conflict and often violent reactions.

America’s disastrous military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, for instance, stem from our then leaders’ loops of engagement with what they dubbed “terrorists”—as if a roving band of disgruntled youths sprang up from nowhere like so many mice from old rags with the aim of bringing our civilization down without cause. Indeed, there was cause, but we could not entertain it because we exhibited no curiosity in resorting to blaming that band and their leaders as the original cause of our troubles without seeking out the underlying cause that motivated them. Which in fact extends back to the conduct of American military and industrial personnel in Saudi Arabia, personnel lacking the sensitivity and imagination to anticipate the effect of their carefree dress and behavior on people of another civilization centered on modesty and mutual respect.

The error on both sides was in resorting to violence, which we should know by now is never a solution. Leaving us living in our dreams, disgruntled, frustrated, looking for ways to destroy the other for their presumptions. So it goes, loops of hurt and fury instead of understanding and engagement. Instead of learning from our experience, we perpetrate further damage on our enemies as if they were always wrong and we always right instead of taking responsibility for engaging as equals out of mutual respect.

That, in short, is what I’m up to—trying to promote effective engagements appropriate to our true situation on a planet with low tolerance for chaos, aggression, and unexamined awareness.

The way out of this endless cycle? Checking on our engagements through careful scrutiny of our personal motivations and behaviors. It’s up to each of us individually lest our leaders betray us on their own authority and botch the engagements we carefully build up over a lifetime.

That’s where I’m at; where are you? Y’r friend, –Steve