It is difficult to appreciate the profound difference between offense and defense in the game of baseball. From the batter’s point of view as he awaits the pitch, he is almost rooted in the ground like a tree, unmoving, watching for signs that will tell him whether or not to swing.

When the pitch comes, again from the batter’s point of view, the ball quickly grows larger and larger, not by any doing of the watchful batter, but seemingly on its own, like an asteroid bearing down on the Earth.

Before he swings, if he does, the batter’s eyes are the only eyes in the stadium that look from that exact perspective, so exist in time, wholly removed from the approaching ball that grows larger in his eyes as it subtends an increasingly wider arc on his retina due to no effort on his part. Just as we all observe the sun moving though the sky due to no effort of our own, its motion serving as the very standard of uncaused movement by which we gauge time itself, and set our timepieces accordingly.

But if the batter swings against the oncoming ball, his personal actions shift him from an orientation in time to an orientation in space within which he is accountable for his movements if he is to keep his bearings, the smack of the ball against the swinging bat being a consummation of his framework of time turning abruptly into a framework of space, requiring him to compensate for his motions if he is to keep a clear head, because now the ball’s decreasing size is the batter’s doing, and he owns it by watching the struck ball fly out over the field of play as fielders jockey to be in the right place to catch that very ball when it returns to Earth. While he, meantime, picks up speed on his run to first base, no longer watching and waiting as time passes, but now on the go along one leg of the diamond, moving, shifting his position in space with all the speed he can muster.

I first became aware of watching and listening in time and acting in space during the opening minute of the film, Lawrence of Arabia, a sequence in which the figure of a distant camel (viewed through layers of desert air shimmering with heat waves) looms larger, ever larger, as I, the stationary viewer in my theater seat, experienced a sense of change over time because I was just sitting there, doing nothing to affect the illusion that the camel was growing larger by moving toward me on its own without any help from me.

Sitting still watching the opening of the movie, I had no need to compensate for any effect I might have had on the camel, so the change in size came to me gratis, on its own, much as the sun and moon apparently move through the sky without any help from me (though secretly powered by Earth’s rotation, which, unappreciated, dips the horizon of my silent chariot, creating the illusion that time is passing before my eyes).

That scene with the looming camel opened the eyes of my understanding, giving me a Eureka! moment in which I grasped in a new way something I had never doubted before. We still talk of “sunsets” and “moonrises,” when in both cases we should admit to witnessing Earth rises and Earth falls or turnings.

The preceding excursion may sound like nonsense to you, but it is the kind of nonsense that when ignored, lets us think of time and space as properties of the universe when, in truth, change may be such a property, but calibrated changes in the case of time and space are properties of human discernment that we unwittingly project onto the universe, while they are truly our own doing because representing different ways of our engaging the world.

Without situated or moving observers being present to impose a calibrated framework on change, there would be no sense of time or space, only change, uncalibrated change in appearance without reference to standardized units of measurement

As Immanuel Kant maintained, time and space exist in our perspectives before we cast those perspectives onto events in the world. In his terminology, time and space exist a priori in our minds and ways of perceiving. We bring them with us as our frames of reference for judging changing events we may come across; they are not inherent properties of the universe.

Or of, since this post deals with baseball, baseball itself. Time and space are inherent properties of the way pitchers, batters, catchers, and fielders see the world around them. Depending on whether or not they are moving or stationary in their points of view, which travel with them wherever they go.

In Baseball, I think we sense the difference between the viewpoints of opposing teams at any given moment, depending on whether they are scattered around the spacious green field of play, or stand in serial order still and alone at the plate awaiting the pitch that is about to come, and so must decide how to respond to that pitch.

That is, players’ perspectives are determined by whether they are moving about the field under their own motive power—and so constantly compensating for their ever-shifting positions and changes in perspective—or they are still-as-a-post, alert, yet poised, waiting for the ball to appear due to no effort on their part, so requiring no compensation, but expecting the ball to appear as propelled by the pitcher’s motive force. To hit the ball where they want it to go, batters have to begin their swings at just the right moment in time. Fielders, to catch a fly ball, have to be in the right position in space.

Hitting pitched balls hurtling toward you and catching balls having trajectories in space are two entirely different skills. Some players can do both, others can do one or the other, still others can do neither very well (but they can steal bases, say, or pitch screwballs). Not everyone makes a great baseball player. As it is, players vary tremendously in their skillsets, some being able to play every position, others being specialists in doing one thing exceedingly well. It takes all sorts of players to complete a team.

Having here raised the issue of time and space as aspects of baseball, I will continue and conclude the discussion in my next two posts (Nos. 463 & 464).

 

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(Copyright © 2010)

When I drive my car, I watch out for bicyclists and pedestrians.

When I bike, I fear I am invisible to drivers and walkers alike.

When I walk, both cars and bikes are spawn of the devil.

I am one person with, in these examples, three different outlooks, depending on my mode of travel. I feel like the same person, only different somehow. My perspective changes, my expectancy changes, my sense of danger changes. Who I curse under my breath and yell at out loud changes. It’s as if I had three different personalities that shift in and out according to how I get around. In a very real sense, I seem to sort other travelers into social bins according to which bin I place myself in at the time.

Perspectives govern how we categorize our worlds of experience, depending on how we perceive our current situation in the world. During the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, Saddam Hussein was a friend of the U.S. When, confident of our friendship, he subsequently invaded and occupied Kuwait, he became our enemy, so in the 1991 Gulf War we drove him back into his cage. Then in 2003, bent on regime change, we invaded Iraq, captured Saddam, tried him, and put him to death. All according to how we saw and categorized him at the time. He was still the same man; we kept revising how we looked at and categorized him.

Closer to home, at the recent Rockweed Research Priorities Symposium (see Reflection 184: Consciousness Speaks), I handed around a table outlining nine different perspectives on the harvesting of rockweed. Here is a list of assumptions and goals I associated with the several perspectives:

Perspective

Assumptions

Goals

Economic Everyone has a right to make a living. Sustainable harvests, income, and sales are a must.
Managerial

Regulation and enforcement are necessary to main-tain the resource.

The aim is sustainable productivity, habitats, and harvests over the long term.
Political Strike a balance between jobs & the environment. My vote is for equal opportunity, fairness, sustainability.
Historical Today is rooted in yesterday; tomorrow will be rooted in today. We know more than we did, but not enough to guarantee we do no harm.
Legal Harvesting in the intertidal zone is based on Colonial Ordinances of 1641-1643 in Mass. Bay. Private property, as well as public interest, safety, rights, & wellbeing, are to be preserved.
Cultural Different groups see and do things from different perspec-tives, and speak different languages. Common concerns help different groups work together toward shared goals. A sense of humor also helps.
Scientific Statistical analyses based on adequate data speak louder than words. Sustainable harvest practices are best based on sound science.
Ethical No special interest is to have unfair advantage. Stewardship by all parties is key to a workable mgt. plan.
Aesthetic If it looks good, it is good. Natural beauty is to be preserved at all costs.
All of the Above Be clear, listen well. Stewardship promotes sustainable habitats & harvests alike.

The common denominator allowing all perspectives to work together combines sustainability of habitats and food production with sustainable rockweed harvests in a given location. That is, achieving a fair balance between harvest goals and ecological understanding offers hope that all perspectives can contribute to and agree on a workable and enforceable resource management plan. The aim then becomes to set a level of harvest that would sustain both rockweed production and habitats through a regime of stewardship by all parties.

Which does not solve the problem inherent in each perspective using a variety of terms to characterize rockweed from its particular point of view. “Biomass,” “standing crop,” “marine resource,” “primary producer,” and “public-trust resource” have different meanings to different people in different contexts. A common terminology does not yet exist to enable all perspectives to share a universal view of reality. Common understanding is based on common experiences interpreted in similar ways. Adherents to the separate perspectives seldom share anything close to a common interpretation of the facts. The terms they employ may sound familiar, but the underlying attitudes and experiences are bound to differ in minds trained along different lines of experience.

So perspectives entail personal attitudes, assumptions, interpretations, training, experience, language, and judgments—some conscious, others unconscious. All shaped by, and relevant to, a particular issue or situation as colored by the goals and interests of the parties involved. In the driving-biking-walking example I started with, my common interests include staying safe while inflicting no harm on others. Which translate as different behaviors depending on the horsepower under my control, relative speeds of those involved, spatial relationships, margins of error and safety, reaction times, and level of vigilance—as well as weather and time of day. All subservient to the errand I am intent on accomplishing in good order.

Perspectives, then, are not simple placements in the scheme of things such as the term “viewpoint” might suggest, but are highly complex resolutions of a great many mental factors bearing on a given situation as personally understood or interpreted at the time. Such understanding or interpretation is the basis for how the evolving scene is categorized respectively by the different parties involved. There’s my take, your take, his take, and her take—all on what appears to be the same set of circumstances—but as seen differently by every one of us.

Which dramatizes the fact that we all live in different worlds all the time, depending on how we invest ourselves according to our personal experience, motivation, and level of discernment. Put that way, it is a wonder how any two people might agree on anything. A sense of humor surely helps. Which requires we look down on ourselves dispassionately from above as we struggle to make sense of a particular situation—seeing how everyone is playing the one game by different rules. Getting a detached sense of perspective on ourselves, we can appreciate the humor in our coming at a common issue from different directions. Laughter eases the tension, helping us see ourselves in the heat of engagement, allowing us to ease off and compare notes about why we characterize what’s happening as we do. Getting a fresh perspective on our perspectives, we see where the problem lies, allowing us to back off and make a new start.

Night-before-last I woke at 4:00 in the morning, got up, and wrote down the following:

Perspectives are projections or characterizations reflecting an attitude of expectancy that events in the world will answer to our personal needs and desires. We seem to be engaging situations in that world in the here and now, but are more likely coming from the there and then of our formative years when those attitudes of expectancy were laid down as electro-chemical connections in our brains.

Where we’re coming from, then, is not necessarily where we are now, but where we were in a largely-forgotten former life having nothing to do with our current situation—but everything to do with how we view and engage it.

Despite our credentials, resumes, and experience, we are often not who we seem in making ourselves happen on the world stage. We are that naive and confused kid blindly making his way in light of overwhelming ignorance combined with an understanding based on memorable events during her formative years. In truth, we are winging it more often than not on what we loosely call intuition.

Having written those words, I am transported to the summer day Everett Baldwin and I were tooling around Hamilton on our bikes—which in those days had only one speed—and found ourselves peddling up hill and down to Syracuse some 20 or 25 miles away. I remember being disappointed in Syracuse, expecting more the Emerald City. We stopped at a dingy lunch counter under some railroad tracks, where I asked for a glass of water because I was thirsty. Seeing a clock, I suddenly realized how late it was, and how far we had to go. We got on our bikes and rode home, late for supper again.

That is how perspectives are formed, by randomly defining our home territories, as Thoreau spent a lifetime exploring Concord within ten-mile walking distance of his doorway. That way we find out who we are in the world, and set our expectations accordingly. Literally, by mapping our homeland onto our brains to serve as a reference ever after. When, later, we categorize situations, it is that reference we fall back on—and those early hikes and bicycle trips that made us then who we still are at heart. When we assimilate new experience, those early maps provide the schemas that we assimilate to. And if we experience dissonance in trying to do that, we can either reject the new experience as invalid, or stretch our maps to fit an expanded territory, creating an atlas with separate pages based on different locales. Education, too, and job training get their own pages in that atlas, as do the hard knocks of living a life.

Where we’re coming from is none other than the life we have led up till now. The message is clear: since we’ve survived this far, more of the same is all we need to get ahead of where we are. That is the practical wisdom of perspectives. If more of the same doesn’t work, then retreat, expand your horizons, or try something new. It’s that simple and, upon realizing all that’s involved, that difficult. Our looping engagements with world situations—from biological values laid upon maps in our brains to help us decide how to plan and act on a particular occasion, informed by feedback from what actually happens—are primarily governed by the perspectives we have acquired over years of planning and doing. We each have a repertoire of perspectives appropriate to different sorts of situations, and judgment enabling us to choose which to try first, and which to fall back on when that fails to get us where we want to go.

Overall, conceptual (abstract) and episodic (concrete) memories serve as our personal guides to the future by recommending what to do now in sizing up a situation as an opportunity for getting ahead. The now is a pattern made meaningful by mapping relevant aspects of memory onto it in the most economical way. If that doesn’t work, then we have to do our homework in coming up with a more effortful plan to find meaning in preparing ourselves for effective action. All influenced by cultural norms of what people are likely to do in such situations. And what our mother says we should do, as well as word from our spouses, children, colleagues, and daily horoscope. In general, we achieve clarity by applying tried-and-true perspectives to familiar situations, leading to easy categorizations depicting the nature of reality as we can safely assume it is. Or not, as the case may be.

I often try to diagram these various aspects of perspectivity in relation one to another, and quickly get in over my head because there isn’t room enough on the page to fit all the relevant details. The result is pretty much of a clutter. But that does at least provide some sense of how complex perspectives are—and how miraculous it is that—for good or ill—they inform everything we do. Here is what I’ve come up with for this post.

Where I'm Coming From

We all wear many hats, and change them as often as our situation changes and a new outlook is called for. Everybody in Boston wears a Red Sox cap. Moving to San Diego, they’d have to buy a new hat—that is, learn to love a new team by learning its history and attending a lot of games. Such a radical change in perspective may not be humanly possible. It takes a huge effort even to try to adjust to a new setting with strange cultural norms. No wonder we get stuck in our ways. But just to keep up with changing events, we have to keep trying to avoid falling behind the times. Which catches us in a time lag, like just every pundit who’s trying to go back to the old days when he knew who he was and what was happening.

A lot of people these days are out of sorts because their perspectives are obsolete and they won’t admit it. They’d rather go back than move ahead. But in truth the secret of success in life is not to be found in the Qur’an, the sayings of Ronald Reagan or Confucius. Rather, it is in staying abreast with the times as they are, not as we would have them be. Nothing dates faster than a childhood take on events. Putting our trust in how things used to be may have worked once when the pace of change was slow, but in the twenty-first century, we have no alternative but to try to keep up. If we are not perpetual learners, our destiny is to become obsolete. No one knows when the next earthquake will change everything we now take for granted.

Red Sox Perspective

(Copyright © 2010)

There is more to rockweed than meets the eye. This is because we regard it, for the sake of clarity, from highly selective perspectives. To see anything at all clearly, we screen out much of everything else that gets in the way of what we’re trying to see from our point of view.

In the case of rockweed harvesting along the Maine coast, the two chief perspectives look at rockweed from opposite directions, from the economic-industrial side, and the research-ecological side. From a management perspective, the challenge is to find a sustainable balance between the two sides.

You can tell immediately which side people are on by the terms they use to discuss rockweed. If you hear “biomass,” “wet tons,” “weed,” “standing crop,” or “jobs,” you know you are listening to the industrial side of the discussion. On the other hand, words such as “habitat,” “primary producer,” “refuge,” “ecosystem,” or Ascophyllum nodosum (the Latin binomial by which the desirable species of rockweed is known), you are hearing the ecological side.

Rockweed harvesters dwell in the space where the two perspectives meet. Their motive for being there is primarily economic—to make a living—but to do so in that particular way they also must develop a professional understanding of what it is they are converting from a nurturing and protective habitat (as seen by one side) to so many wet tons of biomass (as seen by the other). Generally not scientists themselves, they pick up enough ecosystem talk to carry on a conversation with landowners and anyone else who engages them. But they fall short of acquiring an informed ecological perspective; their allegiance is to the industry, not the ecosystem. By way of compromise, they develop a rationale for taking so much from a given bed of rockweed—often cited as 17% of the “standing crop,” deliberately leaving the rest to carry on its ecological function. Their ultimate goal, however, is to deliver so many wet tons of biomass to a dealer at dockside.

The lobster industry in Maine is a notable example of harvesters regulating themselves to assure the sustainability of their fishery. They gave up dragging for lobsters in the 1940s, and now V-notch egg-bearing females, impose upper and lower size limits on the allowable catch, put escape vents in their parlors for undersize lobsters, limit their strings of traps, set up an apprenticeship system for those wanting to learn the craft, and generally conduct themselves in a responsible and professional manner for the sake of long-term job security. That is, beyond being harvesters, they have trained themselves to be stewards as well. Even to the point of feeding their catch by reliably filling their bait bags, which brings the wild fishery to the verge of an aquaculture operation.

The questions faced by the rockweed industry and ecologists alike include: 1) How much rockweed can be taken without disrupting the long-term structure and productivity of the ecosystems within which it function?; 2) Where can it be so taken?; 3) By what methods?; 4) At what intervals?; and 5) By harvesters with what experience and training? The challenge I see in such questions is that of asking rockweed harvesters to act as good stewards of the resource they depend on for a living. Which comes down to the issue of whose standards are they to meet—those set by the industry, or by impartial ecologists?

Harvest standards set by ecologists consider not only the biomass of the rockweed taken, but the function of that biomass if left in place. As a primary food producer—along with kelp, eelgrass, low marsh grass, and phytoplankton, among others—on which marine ecosystems depend, rockweed supports the survival of the living coast that complements upland forests in giving Maine its character and identity as a human habitat.

How does that work? Rockweed constantly feeds energy derived from photosynthesis into coastal waters from branches breaking off through wear and tear from constant motion imparted by tides and waves. As free-floating wrack, that organic material rides up and down on local currents, providing a surface habitat for amphipods and other life forms, which in turn attract birds like Bonaparte’s gulls and various species of terns—direct beneficiaries of the energy stored in bits and pieces of rockweed. That wrack either exits the bay to feed a variety of species farther along the coast or out in the Gulf of Maine. Or is perhaps deposited at the high tide line along the shore, where it provides habitat and food for shoreline scavengers—sandpipers, song sparrows, thrushes, gulls, crows, schools of small fish, among other wildlife species.

Broken into ever-finer particles, rockweed eventually decays, becomes colonized by protein-rich bacteria, and assumes a new identity as energy-rich detritus, food for filter-feeding mussels, scallops, oysters, barnacles, juvenile lobsters, and early life stages of a great many marine creatures both vertebrate and invertebrate. Because of the nutritional boost from nitrogen-rich bacteria, detritus is a value-added form of the rockweed and other primary food producers from which it derives. In supporting entire marine and estuarine ecosystems, a ton of rockweed in the form of detritus is worth far more than the $40 the rockweed harvester gets paid by the ton. In fact its value is inestimable. What is the going price of a breath of fresh air, a glimpse of sunlight, or a raindrop falling from the sky? Coastal Maine and its gulf run largely on detritus. What is that worth to a fox, eagle, harbor seal, or to you? What is the value of Cobscook Bay, Taunton Bay, or the Gulf of Maine?

The history of Maine fisheries is a tale of descent lower and lower on the food web, until now even primary producers such as rockweed and kelp have a certain market price—not as value-added detritus, but as materials in the raw. Which is the highest and best use of rockweed?—detritus to feed the entire coast, or a commodity sold as fertilizer or an additive for commercial foods and cosmetics. Perspectives have implications and ramifications which, like by-catch, often go unrecognized.

To end up, I will shift from the food-web to the habitat aspect of rockweed. Whether providing shelter; opportunity for grazing, foraging, reproducing, refuge from predation; or otherwise essential habitat, rockweed invites life to the intertidal zone, a hardscrabble habitat of extremes if ever there was one. Yet by expanding and collapsing as driven by its highly variable circumstances, rockweed offers its services to all comers with great efficiency, tide after tide, season after season, year after year. Again, what are those services worth to alewives, eels, periwinkles, crabs, copepods, amphipods, crangon shrimp, eiders, black ducks, loons, herons, kingfishers, and the likes whose lives depend on them? What are they worth to you in comparison to having a tub of industrial-grade ice cream in the freezer, or a creamy cosmetic on your lips?

The essential question is: At what harvest level do the ecological and industrial values of rockweed come into conflict so that opting for one penalizes the other? The rockweed industry aims to convert 17% of select beds of rockweed to biomass. That figure assumes a great deal about the continued functioning of local ecosystems after those beds are cut, their structure radically altered, their biomass removed.

Since the energy stored in rockweed fuels much of the Maine coast, it strikes me that removal of even 17% of select areas is excessive. Given that 100% of rockweed energy turns over every two years, distributing its wealth as wrack and detritus among species such as I have mentioned, a 17% cut on top of 50% annual turnover sounds to me more like a 34% reduction of the “standing crop” on which that natural distribution of food energy depends in the following year. In light of the habitat and energy reductions implied by that level of rockweed harvest, I propose that a 5% cut seems eminently more reasonable.

At the February 10 Rockweed Research Priorities Symposium at the University of Maine in Orono, Sea Grant joined with the Department of Marine Resources in initiating a process of discovery to find out what gaps still exist in our understanding of the ecological consequences of rockweed harvesting. On February 17, current findings were relayed to the Joint Legislative Committee on Marine Resources, which considers last year’s legislation regarding the harvest level in Cobscook Bay a done deal. That is, the state sides with industry recommendations. Which makes it all the more likely that the 17% level of harvest will spread to the rest of the coast.

It is up to resource managers in Maine to decide whether to take a short-term view for the sake of feeding biomass to the industry, or a long-term view including habitat considerations and the gradual distribution of rockweed energy as viewed from an ecological perspective. Stakes are high: Nothing less than the continued productivity and viability of the Maine coast is at issue. I have testified before the Marine Resources Committee that I consider a 17% rockweed cut to be unsustainable. From my perspective, a less risky harvest might be as high as 5% every third year in the same bed if closely monitored.

Seal Pup Amid Rockweed

(Copyright © 2010)

I posted Reflection 180: Rockweed Consciousness to set my mind straight before attending the Feb. 10 Rockweed Research Priorities Symposium at the University of Maine. I also made up a handout on species utilizing rockweed as habitat one way or another, the different perspectives I thought might be represented at the symposium, and, yes, a list of terms I thought attendees might use in categorizing rockweed from their different perspectives. Forty-five people showed up, representing harvesters and industrial processors, resource managers, teachers and researchers, and interested members of the public.

No one spoke of rockweed as a commodity, but the other 14 terms I expected to hear all came up at one time or another: rockweed, Ascophyllum nodosum, seaweed, seawrack, wrack, marine resource, public-trust resource, marine or estuarine habitat, primary producer, fishery, property, private property, alga or algae, and biomass. The first talk was called “Biomass Assessment,” the second “Ecology and Habitat” (my italics).

The biomass speaker added a few broad terms I hadn’t anticipated: weed, beds, stock. The habitat man made a great many distinctions, including energy production; carbon sequestration; refuge, feeding, foraging, and nursery areas; predation; structural terms including architecture, assemblages, and communities; and specifically pointed to spatial and temporal scales of observation, as well as particular species utilizing rockweed one way or another.

The biomass man effectively lumped all organic matter into one one pot of gunk or goo, ignoring structural and functional considerations entirely. I didn’t hear the word “ecosystem” ever crossing his lips. The habitat man refined that matter into specific regions providing a wide variety of functions within a living estuarine community and the larger ecosystem beyond. He asked “How much habitat loss is too much?” (turning the biomass perspective on its head by seeing it in terms of habitat reduction), raising the issue of habitat restoration after harvesting reduces habitat to so many tons of biomass. 

The two speakers were both educators, one from a marine resource perspective, the other from an ecological perspective. What you learn as a student depends on where you go to school, the classes you take, the teachers you engage. Very likely, it is the attitude you have toward the subject that decides which path you follow. And that attitude goes back to the orthodox perspective you acquired during childhood as connections between nerve cells were either strengthened or weakened in response to the behaviors, speech patterns, and attitudes of your formative caregivers.

The after-lunch talk was on “Effects of Harvesting.” Following a brief detour to ecologyland, we were home again in the realm of biomass. But from a more nuanced perspective that combined aspects of both earlier talks. This was the issue many of us had come to consider—not where the rubber meets the road, but cutting blades meet lively habitats. The harvesting metaphor led to talk of rockweed as a “standing crop,” which was acceptable to many as a variant form of agriculture—sea farming without plowing furrows or planting seeds. Nowhere is consciousness more evident than in categorizing one thing as something else entirely for the sake of effect—to make a new recipe, idea, or practice “palatable” as an acquired taste (or unpalatable, as when Rush Limbaugh characterizes President Obama as a foreign-born, Islamic terrorist).

If compromise is to be reached, the issue must be framed in terms equally acceptable to both sides. In this case, the biomass people and the habitat people have to agree to categorize or conceptualize the issue in such a way that both retain their integrity on a playing field they see as level. The people who perform this service are called educators. They are the ones who train us to direct our expectations in such a way to be mutually agreeable to as large a population as possible by selecting an appropriate level of discourse. That is, society at large is invested in minimizing its internal differences to enable a wide a range of social needs to be met on an everyday basis. Since each person is unique, this can only be done by convincing a majority of people to adopt a common perspective for looking at things in such a way that their differences become invisible.

Framing the rockweed symposium as biomass people vs. habitat people would lead to open conflict. The art of compromise demands the conversation be conducted on a higher level of discourse to avoid concrete disagreements between the parties affected. The more familiar and acceptable the level, the better to restore order. Which is precisely what the harvesting metaphor provides. We all have to make a living, we all have to eat, we all want to go about our business without criticism, undue regulation, and harassment. The farmer and cowman can be friends if they look at each other the right way. Arranged marriages throughout history have turned competing tribes and kingdoms into extended families, transforming warring states into good neighbors through vows of eternal fidelity.

Sports, money, law, and religion are a few common currencies of social compromise, enabling many to live side-by-side in relative peace and harmony. Any Red Sox fan is a friend of mine; My vote goes to the highest bidder; I present the image of a law-abiding citizen; Jihad in the name of God is man’s highest calling. No wonder sports is the most prominent section in the paper; the economy is always newsworthy; law, order, and military might are esteemed virtues; religions offer comfort to all who humble themselves before a supreme being. Social  orthodoxy is a means of compromise that requires individuals to surrender their particular take on events by subscribing to a higher order (or even absolute) level of generality. Toeing the company or party line replaces personal consciousness with a particular brand of cultural consciousness for the sake of taking unified action on an issue.

The rockweed symposium did not end on a wholly orthodox note. Rather, it asked attenders to identify gaps in our scientific grasp of the issue. The idea being to stimulate research aimed at filling those gaps. This is the stage before orthodoxy can be achieved. Science is another currency of social compromise. It is conducted at such a high level of certainty as to be almost divorced from personal experience, statistical-derived concepts wholly substituting for immediate engagement with the world. The very methods of science are methods of high-level, peer-reviewed compromise, enabled by statistical analysis if not immediate personal knowledge.

The current industry standard governing how much weed can be cut in a given bed is a target of 17% of extant rockweed biomass. The idea is that cutting too low on the axis diminishes regrowth, so cutting should be restricted to the upper 50% of the “plant” (really an alga). And cutting too broad a swath also diminishes regrowth, so harvesters allow themselves to cut only a third as much—33% of the upper 50%—or 17% of the “standing crop.”

The question is, what are the ecological implications of that 17% loss of estuarine habitat? As for natural mortality aside from any harvest, to cite a study conducted in Cobscook Bay, Maine,* “The proportion of Ascophyllum standing biomass lost annually and expressed as turnover rates, ranged from 29 to 71%,” with a mean turnover of roughly 51%. This is no standing crop, it is a fleeing crop, its so-called biomass turning over every two years. It strikes me that if the 17% is removed from the 50% likely to survive the normal turnover to detritus, it makes the harvest more like 34% of the surviving crop rather than the guideline of 17% of the standing crop might suggest. This would appear to double the impact on habitat over what the industry now claims is the case. Until we grapple with percentages seemingly plucked from a hat, and come to agreement on whether, say, 5% harvest might be more reasonable from a scientifically-grounded perspective, then natural-resource managers in Maine won’t be able to adopt a statewide (that is, orthodox) standard for allowable cutting of rockweed.

Where else in the blogosphere can you find such practical considerations to emerge from the study of human consciousness? Track these posts for updates on how mind affects the varied facets of the material universe.

__________

* Robert L. Vadas, et al., “Biomass and Productivity of Intertidal Biomass,” in Peter F. Larsen, Ed., Ecosystem Modeling in Cobscook Bay, Maine, (Northeastern Naturalist, Volume 11, Special Issue 2, 2004, page 136).

Seal mother & nursing pup on rockweed

 

 

(Copyright © 2009)

Because each person on Earth is inherently unique, the landscapes we live in depend on where we are situated in our heads. Self-centered perspectivity is the tragic flaw we all share in common. The human predicament is to be one-of-a-kind—yet to act as if we each set the norm. Unrelentingly, we mistake our personal views for the way things are, confounding our limited personal grasp of affairs with universal truth. We are so full of ourselves, we often foist our personal brand of consciousness onto those around us, who, if we are tough enough with them, bow to our shows of conviction as signs of wisdom and power. To wit: patriarchies, chains of command, pecking orders, management and labor. Day after day, we bull our way through one situation after another, or submit and get out of the way.

Our uniqueness is not a matter of degree; it is absolute. Each of us may boast some 23 thousand genes, but they are wholly inadequate when it comes to specifying the one million billion (1 followed by 15 zeroes) synaptic connections between brain cells in our cerebral cortices. During development in the womb and through strong experience, we forge those connections on our own—or don’t if we fail to exercise them actively during infancy, childhood, and thereafter. As Gerald Edelman summarizes the underpinnings of consciousness (“Building a Picture of the Brain,” in Edelman and Changeux, The Brain, Transaction Publishers, 2001):

At the finest scale, no two brains are identical, not even those of identical twins. Furthermore, at any two moments, connections in the same brain are not likely to remain exactly the same. Some cells will have retracted their processes, others will have extended new ones, and certain other cells will have died. . . . There are no absolutely specific point-to-point connections in the brain. The microscopic variability of the brain at the finest ramifications of its neurons is enormous, making each brain unique. (Pages 38-39.)

In managing personal consciousness, each of us is on her own. Our brains are unique, our minds are unique, the worlds we create for ourselves are unique. Quite literally, reality is beyond our reach because we live in our bodies by interpreting signals from some outer world of which we can only dimly and partly be aware. Conjure that world as we may, the results bear our personal signatures for, as projections outward from our perspectives, they are largely our own doing instead of a welcoming of the world as it is. We each place ourselves at the center of our worlds, creating a multiverse of which we are but one facet among seven billion.

Yet hour by hour we rise on our soap boxes and proclaim or act out the truth as we see it—as if it were the only truth there is or could possibly be. If that isn’t a travesty, then it is a tragedy which we enact every every day without questioning whether or not we know what we do, or appreciate the impact we have on those around us or on Earth itself, the planet that has supported us up till now no matter how badly we have treated it.

Which raises an obvious question: Who am I to defy the very point I am trying to make by daring to break out of the fortress of my subjective outlook in this blog? Surely, I am no less tragic a figure than any other. All I can say is: I write for myself and you read for yourself. Perhaps our worlds overlap to some degree. In which case I could claim to be a columnist like Alexander Cockburn, say, who writes in The Nation (October 5, 2009):

Was there ever a society so saturated with lunacy as ours? One expects modulated nuttiness from the better element, particularly those inhabiting the corporate and legislative spheres. But these days insanity is pervasive, spreading through all classes and walks of life.

Or for another example, like Daniel Lyons in Newsweek (September 28, 2009):

[M]ost of what streams across Twitter is junk. One recent study concluded that 40 percent of the messages are “pointless babble.”. . . Then again look at TV: fat people dancing, talentless people singing, Glenn Beck slinging lunatic conspiracy theories. Stupid stuff sells. The genius of Twitter is that it manages to be even stupider than TV. It’s so stupid that it’s brilliant. No person with an IQ above 100 could possibly care what Ashton Kutcher or Ashlee Simpson has to say about anything. But Kutcher has 3.5 million Twitter followers, and Simpson has 1.5 million.

Insanity and stupidity are pandemic. They’re finally getting across as our preferred way of life. We are conjurors all, flaunting vanities from our secret worlds. Whatever became of modesty, humility, judgment, and respect? We’re making a killing by foisting subjective views on a public starved for outrage and comic relief. Think of those trillions of synapses going to waste, now disconnected and lost for good. And we can’t stop ourselves from putting witlessness on display any more than Republicans can stop trying to kick Obama’s chair out from under him so they can smirk when he falls.

The take-home message? If you’re not good at building a better world through discipline and hard work, trash the one you’ve got just for laughs. That’s what we’re doing with our unique set of gifts instead of contributing to the greater good. The tragedy is that in trashing the world, we’re trashing ourselves. Playing our foibles before the crowd, we appeal to the least of our possibilities instead of showing our stuff in meeting the defining challenges of our times. It is we who choose how to make ourselves happen during our brief stay on this Earth. If life turns out a tragedy, so be it: the name on the script is our own.

NASA-Earth-2

 

(Copyright © 2009)

Hand motions are planned in the pre-motor areas of the brain, so in a very personal sense such motions represent activity in those areas. As such, they can be seen to map out neural activity in the brain that planned and executed them. As an example, I offer this score by Johan Sebastian Bach as a map of neural activity at the focus of his conscious attention.

  Bach

On any given staff, pitch is told by the vertical placement of notes, development of tonal relationships in time by the sequence of notes along the horizontal dimension. We think of Bach as composing music, but another way of looking at him is as a mapper of his own mind in two dimensions—in sound first, then notation used to represent the original as a basis for subsequent performances. Whatever their medium, creative people give us representations of their conscious neural activity. Art in that sense is more revealing than we often suppose. Can anything be more intimate than the mental processes of a particular man or woman focused on a project of importance in personal awareness?

For another example, take this schematic diagram of a football play Coach asks his players to learn by tomorrow’s practice. Based on his personal experience, it comes straight off the top of his brain.

Football Play Diagram-72

Another diagram, another series of gestures, another map of someone’s mind. It isn’t just artists who turn themselves inside-out in performing their duties. Everyone does it. When Mom cooks dinner or bakes a cake, her brain tells her how to do it. The tasty results are as much a map of her mind as Bach’s scores are of his. Maybe she followed a recipe in cooking from scratch; maybe she opened a package of cake mix. However she did it, it was her brain that told her how to proceed. Even the historian reconstructing the battle of Marathon represents the understanding of his mind, mapping his neural workings in the process. If he gets it right, it is his brain that approves and tells him so.

Battle_of_Marathon_72

When the Persians (red) moved in from the coast where they landed, Greek forces (blue) lined up in opposition. As the Persians attacked, the Greeks boxed them in on three sides, leaving escape to the rear as an option to their bold pincer formation. The Greek center fell back, but the flanking forces moved in. Crunch. The Persians lost 6,400 men, the Greeks 192. Olympic runner Pheidippides raced from Marathon to Athens with news of the Greek victory: “Rejoice, we conquer!” he gasped, then fell dead in a dramatic conclusion to the first marathon. The map above is a schematic representation of Persian and Greek minds engaging on the plain at Marathon.

Below is an intimate portrait of my own mind in charting results of a study of breeding horseshoe crabs in 2007. My hunch from earlier seasons was that water temperature exerts a strong influence on horseshoe crab mating behavior. Wanting to find out how true that was, I plotted the number of crabs that showed up (colored bars) along with shoreline water temperature (purple line) each day through the breeding season. I counted the crabs and read the thermometer for thirty-eight days in a row, so my brain was very much involved in the project.

HSC-Egypt-72

Results showed that for the first half of the breeding season, the number of crabs correlates closely with water temperature, but after that, the temperature becomes irrelevant. By the time the correlation breaks down, nest-digging and egg-laying are effectively done for the year. After that, water temperature doesn’t make any difference as far as the crabs are concerned. When it begins to cool in September and October, they retreat to deeper water and prepare to hibernate from November through the winter. The above chart shows actual mating horseshoe crabs and water temperatures reduced to data in my mind, then plotted to reveal the pattern of relationship between them I was looking for. Greetings from my mind to your mind.

My last map is a self-portrait of my own mind contemplating itself in December 2005. The red vertical line on the left side represents the motor (muscle movement) or output pole of my mental being; the blue vertical line on the right represents the perceptual or input pole. My purpose in making the map was to show various parallel loops connecting the two poles to make a whole person. The vertical arrows (4.) on the right suggest the relationship between mental effort and mental economy on different levels of mental activity. Full consciousness at the bottom requires greater mental effort than the reflex arc near the top.

On Level 1. I act in the mysterious world and receive feedback from that world—but nowhere am I aware of goings-on in that world in or of themselves. Level 2. shows five internal connections (dashed blue arrows) between the two poles as they complete the loop of experience, but below the threshold of awareness. Level 3. illustrates various possibilities for linking perception to action via the many aspects of consciousness (yellow area), only a selection of which are apt to be in play at any one time. The Hat Switch on the right side of Level 3. represents the choice of perspectives I have available in responding to my self-placement in different situations. 

4_loops_and_levels_72

Imagine a mind that can schematically conceive and depict itself! Not in any external world familiar in being what it is but an internal world that imparts a familiar feel to the world it devises on the basis of feedback it gets when it directs gestures toward the outside mystery and interprets the signals that come back. Here is the only world that can be called real, on the inside, as perceived, made meaningful through interpretation, and then acted upon to maintain the flow through the loop of experience in a state of alertness and vigilance.

To update this 2005 map I would add another dashed line on Level 2. to represent the mirror neuron system which allows me to mimic the actions of others. I would also play up the role of feelings in affecting every aspect of experience. But as a gross simplification of one mind’s relationship to the universe, I offer this version as background to my general approach in consciously coming to grips with my own mind.

Everything we do is an outward and visible-audible-tangible sign of coordinated neural activity in the brain and other parts of the body, some accessible to consciousness, some not. We already sense that when we look deep into someone’s eyes and find them looking back into our own. But by relying overmuch on language as we do in everyday life, we sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that words can say it all—and so belittle everything else as an avenue of interpersonal connection. By attending to every gesture, every nonverbal utterance, every change of posture and expression, and every artifact as I am suggesting here, we can boost our looping connection with other beings by opening ourselves to more extensive feedback and engagement with worlds far different from our own.

heron-stalking_10-84

 

 

 

(Copyright © 2008)

A funny thing happened on the way to the blogosphere:

 

Clarity (topic of my previous blog) jumped right out of my head and ran away from me out into the wide open Internet. Leaving me, its master who created it, unclear yet again. Thankless wretch! As if it had a mind of its own and was not my. . . my. . . intellectual property. My creature. My own flesh and blood. Here I slave over a persnickety computer for hours at a time, trying to get down the workings of my mind as seen from the inside. Trying to get my blog finished in time to post it before the next installment starts bawling for my attention. That’s how it is with consciousness, one thing after another. Without letup. I tell you, there’s no end to it.

 

Whenever I get clear on something, I want it to stay clear so I can spread the word. Not just act for myself, but get others to see things as I do, and act the same way. I want it to get around that I have hit upon not just a truth for me, but a Great Truth that’s true for Everybodee. If everybody looks at the world as I do, then things will be O.K. Keep looking on your own as you do now and, Brother, that’ll be the end of civilization as we know it. We can’t let that happen. I’ve done the hard part, getting to clarity, to Truth. I’ve had a Vision with a capital V, you might say. All you have to do is hop on board and subscribe to my vision. That’s right, just sign your name here. Friend, I extend my hand in welcome. Thanks for joining this growing band of right-thinking patriots who know a Great Truth when they see it.

 

O.K., so it’s a caricature, but the lampoon artist who wrote it is hidden in the wings of my consciousness, ever-ready to cry the merits of seeing the world my way, which (truth be told) is always a distortion. Clarity of vision and understanding comes from emphasizing one perspective over its rivals in consciousness. To achieve it, we do violence to alternative claims in the act of suppressing them. When we act on the basis of personal clarity, we often do violence to those who are equally clear from perspectives that don’t jibe with our own because their life experiences are different from ours. That’s where gang wars come from, like mice squiggling from piles of old rags.

 

In projecting our clarity outward, we are right in acting for ourselves—but only for ourselves. We do well to respect others who act in the light of their clear convictions, which are often not easy for us to appreciate. They may be similar to ours; they may be radically different. Right to life or right to choose, which is it to be? The two sides have taken divergent routes in achieving personal clarity. Is one right and one wrong? Is one absolute and the other misguided?

 

The respective positions have been hard-won in dealing with life situations as viewed from the depths of personal experience. The respective clarity gained is always personal clarity, relevant to the experience of a single individual in the flow of a single stream of consciousness, which is unique by definition. The one thing we know about each other is I am not you and you are not me. There is a gulf of experience between us. So what seems wise to me may seem stupid or immoral to you, and vice versa. Which is not only to be expected, but is perfectly O.K.

 

The challenge is not for one party to dominate the other by projecting its clarity outward and imposing its will on others by law or by force. No, the challenge is for both parties to get together and talk over coffee (or yak’s blood tea, whatever the beverage of choice). The truly interesting thing about us is how we come to clarity on the views that govern our lives and behaviors. That is the stuff about which books are written. Our stories are all different. Claiming that one book has it right and all others are wrong is absurd. We all need to stay open and keep talking, reading—living and learning.

 

Political smear campaigns attempt to heighten the contrast between candidates in the minds of the electorate. They make it appear that one side is righteous and the other weak and perverted. Fingering Barack Obama as an associate of known criminals and terrorists is such an obvious distortion of the facts (we are all within six degrees of connection to the worst of such people) that the claim backfired in reflecting poorly on the judgment of the accuser. Those who can’t think for themselves might be swayed, but most people, most of the time, are skilled in evaluating the worth of such accusations.

 

Too, most of us get so used to false or exaggerated advertising claims that we ignore them entirely, or regard them cynically as a form of entertainment. We can tell when someone is trying to manipulate us, whether boasting the virtues of a car or a candidate. We have no trouble spotting the contortions behind an ad pretending to make one thing perfectly clear. If it’s that clear, it’s probably a lie. One of the great joys of life is puncturing others’ false claims to clarity.

 

The most blatant ad I ever saw was a Disney short made in 1942, which won the 1943 Oscar for best animated cartoon. I was embarrassed by it’s heavy-handed propaganda even then when I was eleven years old. In the short, Donald Duck dreams of working a forty-eight-hour shift in a German munitions plant, to the accompaniment of Spike Jones’ rendition of “Der Fuehrer’s Face.” The film was meant to whip the public into a patriotic frenzy for the war effort. When Donald wakes from his dream, he hugs a replica of the Statue of Liberty.

 

A similar spirit pervaded the anti-communist hearings chaired by Senator Joseph McCarthy starting in 1950. He claimed in a speech that communists ran a spy ring among employees of the State Department. He spent much of his life projecting his personally clear convictions onto the Truman administration, the Army, the entertainment industry, and college teachers throughout the U.S. Signing loyalty oaths became a condition of employment in many institutions at the time. McCarthy blasted accusations of communist sympathy as if with a shotgun, but his pellets always fell short of the mark. He did manage to whip up a general anti-communist fervor that ruined the careers of some he dubbed commie pinkos. The fear of communist sympathies and sympathizers persisted through the Cold War, finally dying out after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

 

John B. Watson, first graduate of the psychology department set up by John Dewey at the University of Chicago, invented behaviorism, a field of psychology bent on showing that all animal and human behavior would become clear if looked at in terms of punishments and rewards. Behaviorists pushed that idea as far as it would go, and then some. I am pleased to have survived the heyday of behaviorism, and to have lived long enough to write a blog about human consciousness as viewed from the perspective of one mind in particular (namely, my own—the one which is me).

 

Watson’s convictions led him to publish his views on child rearing in 1928 (Psychological Care of Infant and Child, W.W. Norton). I give a few samples of his advice here as examples of the clarity of his thought:

 

Mothers just don’t know, when they kiss their children and pick them up and rock them, caress them and jiggle them upon their knee, that they are slowly building up a human being totally unable to cope with the world it must later live in. (Page 44.)

 

There is a sensible way of treating children. Treat them as though they were young adults. Dress them, bathe them with care and circumspection. Let your behavior always be objective and kindly firm. Never hug and kiss them, never let them sit in your lap. If you must, kiss them once on the forehead when they say good night. Shake hands with them in the morning. Give them a pat on the head if they have made an extraordinarily good job of a difficult task. Try it out. In a week’s time you will find how easy it is to be perfectly objective with your child and at the same time kindly. You will be utterly ashamed of the mawkish, sentimental way you have been handling it. (Pages 81-82.)

 

In conclusion won’t you then remember when you are tempted to pet your child that mother love is a dangerous instrument? An instrument which may inflict a never healing wound, a wound which may make infancy unhappy, adolescence a nightmare, an instrument which may wreck your adult son or daughter’s vocational future and their chances for marital happiness. (Page 87.)

 

This book had an appeal among those who respected academic research and opinion. Those, that is, likely to be academics themselves. Raising children as if they were lab rats may not have seemed outlandish to them at the time. Both my parents were academics, and one distinctive characteristic of my childhood was the shaking of hands. I saw my father hold my mother only once: when she slipped on a waxed floor and fell, he helped her up. Watson issued his book in 1928, the same year Anne Sexton was born. I was born four years later. Sylvia Plath was born 23 days after I was, to an academic family. I have often wondered about how we were raised as children in those heady days. Sexton and Plath were both poets. Both had unhappy lives and died by suicide—Plath by putting her head in a gas oven in 1963, Sexton by carbon monoxide poisoning in a closed garage in 1974.

 

Clarity is always something to wonder about. I think we all have a responsibility to be clear with ourselves about how we came to clarity in our personal convictions and experience. When it comes to imposing our hard-won clarity of vision on others, I think we should pause and ask ourselves if it might not be better to encourage those others to come to clarity on their own by the light of their personal consciousness and experience. When one person’s clarity becomes dogma for a group of others, we are left to wonder what those others might have discovered for themselves.

 

Happy Thanksgiving.

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Reflection 21: Mind to Mind

November 10, 2008

(Copyright © 2008)

Do we all live in the same world? Or, put differently: Does anybody live in my world besides me?

 

I have evidence suggesting my two eyes live in different worlds, so even “I” don’t live in one world. Used to be, when I looked through my left eye (the good one), the scene before me was brighter than when I looked through my right eye (which I never thought of as bad, even though it rendered everything darker and greener). Having had the cataract in my right eye removed two weeks ago, I now find the vision in that eye much brighter, and the vision in my left eye to be green and comparatively dim.

 

So the worlds rendered by my two eyes are not the same. Just as the worlds rendered by my right and left hands are not the same. I carry buckets, open jars, bail boats with my left hand; I write with my right hand. The muscles and sensory apparatus on the two sides of my body are not symmetrical, as if each side lived in its own world. Which, as far as I know, and operationally, is true.

 

Those with cataracts see the world differently than those without. Which is also true of the colorblind and those with vision impairments of any kind. Think of veterans with amputated arms and/or legs. Even with high-tech prostheses, they may still receive sensations as if relayed from the missing part, as in the phantom limb effect. The leg is missing, but at the same time seems to be there. It is hard to imagine the worlds of the wounded, and hard for the wounded to imagine the worlds of the whole. Without doubt, their life worlds are specific to their conditions. As are the life worlds of those with Alzheimer’s disease, brain injuries, unusual genetic make-ups, and all the other conditions that vary person-to-person, causing us to differ at the core of our being. To adopt unique perspectives. And, yes, projected outward, to live in life worlds of our own.

 

Even if apparently whole and sound, each of us—because of our genetic make-up, rearing, education, training, and life experience—is not only distinct but unique. On the inside as well as the outside. Not only physically, but perceptually and conceptually. So from Stephen Hawking to Mohammed Ali, Helen Keller to Hillary Clinton—we live different lives in different life worlds. My body is not your body. If I had your body, I’d be you. Thinking your thoughts, looking through your eyes.

 

Where is the real world scientists purport to study? Not out there waiting for them, ever the same, but in their heads as their methods and traditions have fashioned it over the years. The “real world” is a statistical concoction made by a great number of observers over time. That world smoothes out the differences between observers—the personal equations—by resorting to mathematical conceptualizations that make particularities and irregularities vanish, leaving only such vague generalities as survive the process of thinking about the world while not actually living in it. Scientists go home to dinner like the rest of us, leaving their mental worlds at the lab.

 

Which is why scientists have such a devilish time telling the rest of us what it is, exactly, that they do. Nothing is more difficult than translating the details of one world into perceptual language that others can understand. Like the truck driver without his truck, like the pilot without his airplane, the MRI technician without her machine cannot exist. They all depend on the perspective their apparatus gives them to be who they are. Which is no different from those of us who depend on our unique sensory equipment to be who we are in the life worlds we have fashioned for ourselves.

 

Scientists keep trying to reduce the world to its essential equations and numbers, when the world itself exists beyond such realms as mathematics and physics. The world is the world, unknown and mysterious. The mathematical formulations scientists come up with say more about themselves and the positivistic assumptions they started out with than about the world they seek to describe. In every case, the world is what we make it out to be. We, the assorted perceivers and thinkers of the world, fashion our respective worlds with our personal perspectives at the core, building worlds around our experience, not the other way around. When we are gone, the world will go on without us—without numbers, words, concepts, which belong to us, not the world.

 

Going blind, we ask for more light. Becoming deaf, we tell others to speak louder. Breathing oxygen from a green bottle, we have windows opened to let in more air. Consciousness factors out its own workings as if it gave upon a world incorporating such failings on its own without us. If we have a million dollars in the bank, we sincerely believe that sum is not sufficient to meet our needs, so find ways to manipulate the world into doubling our worth. There is no limit to how consciousness can distort our life situations, always with sound justification.

 

Just as for decades Congress has been lax in exercising its oversight responsibilities over the Judicial and Executive branches of government as spelled out in the Constitution, consciousness cannot recognize its own flaws and deceptions. Blame is always cast outward onto someone else. I am the last person to remove the wax from my own ears, my dog from my neighbor’s garden, my thumb from the scales weighing my just deserts. It is as hard for the obese to stop eating as for the anorectic to eat more. We, personally, are never the problem. Except we are always the problem and can’t see it.

 

To set a limit is to challenge all comers to do better. Witness The Guinness Book of World Records. Slower growth is a crime against the economy. We have to have more, and more after that. Consciousness can never be satisfied. It is calibrated in relative terms, not absolutes. The grass is always greener somewhere else. Someone else’s wife is more desirable than my own. What, me write the foregoing sentence? I never did. Except I did. Consciousness is restless, always searching, scheming, striving to get ahead.

 

Do we all live in the same world? Not very likely. Consciousness is a process, a way of seizing the unknown, which is a myriad of processes in itself. With consciousness, everything is on the move, like a juggler’s Indian clubs. Consciousness never rests. Today is day one of the life of the mind. We are born again every hour, every minute. On the lookout for personal advantage, we look at the world from our shifting perspective. When conditions are right, we make our move. Then shift to the next situation, and start again from there.

 

Does anybody live in my world besides me? Does anyone share my outlook or consciousness? No, we are on our own. Not mothers or daughters, fathers or sons. Certainly not husbands, wives, partners, lovers, colleagues, neighbors, or anyone else. Those you know most intimately you don’t know at all because you aren’t in their heads. Intersubjectivity is a fancy word for the dream that we all share the one world. With that myth—that fallacy—as a basic assumption, then we end up with the world we have built for ourselves because we are constitutionally unable to manage and take responsibility for our personal outlooks and actions. I cite the perennial differences between Shiites and Sunnis, Palestinians and Israelis, Hindus and Muslims, Hutu and Tutsi, Serb and Albanian. Think tribal warfare on every continent, rich and poor, native and immigrant, young and old, and on and on.

 

In brief, we will never be able to come together across the gulf of our differences until we confront the uniqueness of our respective minds and the worlds they give us. Only then can we make concerted efforts to span that gulf with bridges anchored firmly on both sides, so allowing meaningful engagement between us.

 

The irony of consciousness is that to come together, we must go our own way. We must learn to take our differences into account in order to grow close enough to understand one another. You must be yourself, I must be myself, if you and I are to grow into us. We are seldom taught that, but the wise among us acknowledge it. Which requires sustained effort on all sides, mutual feedback, caring for one another, and willingness to put nurture and cooperation in place of dominance and surrender.

 

Can we imagine such a life, much less bring it about? I think the answer requires us to take a hard look at the world we have made for ourselves—the world we actually live in, separate and alone. Is this the best we can do? More of the same will not help. What we need is a revolution in consciousness based on the gifts we have to offer one another from our separate perspectives, not on the wealth and ecstasy we see others denying us, practically daring us to have our way with them by force.

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