A New Stratum

The planet Earth has many layers of rock that have accumulated over eons of time. Each new layer sits atop an older layer. One layer is called a stratum. We who live on the surface are not aware of the many strata that hold our land masses together. We simply know what we see at the surface and form expectations about the surface environment. Ideas have strata, too. Over human history many layers of ideas have formed and together support our expectations in this present time.

A stratum lies beneath and supports our expectations about fairness, our expectations about equality, and our expectations about justice. We expect American society to have a set of scruples and we expect, without explicit definition, everyone to live by these scruples. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution plus the Bill of Rights promote scruples and guarantee a system of jurisprudence that assures a set of scruples. The stratum that lies beneath our sense of fairness, equality, justice and cultural scruples has a name: meritocracy. In the current meritocracy, all citizens have the opportunity to be recognized and advanced in proportion to their abilities and accomplishments. But meritocracy is subject to reinterpretation.

Words like freedom, liberty, pursuit of happiness, be all you can be, anyone can be President – all are expressions supported by meritocracy. When we look back to the thirties and forties, when the Great Depression, World War II and the years that followed established the current definition of meritocracy, we realize that a new stratum is forming; a new layer that will support a different set of expectations about the scruples of our society. Aware that a new definition is forming raises serious questions. How will existing scruples, fairness, etc., be reinterpreted? Will a new meritocracy support the ‘opportunity to be recognized and advanced in proportion to their abilities and accomplishments’? Importantly, “What will happen to me?”

Meritocracy is very malleable. Meritocracy is the flour in baked goods of every type, flavor and texture. The analogy of flour is apropos even to the event of having to rise; just because meritocracy is proclaimed, as in the Declaration of Independence, doesn’t mean it exists. Unlike baked goods, there is no given recipe – spices and additives are endless and often do not bake well.

In a final colorful analogy, meritocracy is like a toy top spinning on the floor. Spinning is wobbly and unstable in its direction but the fact that it seems to defy imbalance and stay spinning provides a good feeling and provides a sensation of success. This analogy is apropos of any ideal. Ideals by their very nature are unachievable; once fallen, ideals must be rewound and thrown again – and again. Each new definition of meritocracy is a new stratum in history; meritocracy is the flour of society; meritocracy, in the end, never will be permanent.

– – – –

What follows are general waypoints in the emergence, practice and transition of meritocracy.

What do Caligula, Henry VIII, Harold Hardrada, Napoleon, Hitler, Yeltsin, Erdogan, and Donald have in common?

Each of them, more by the power of their personality disorders than anything else, are the final blow that brought an end to an old stratum; government and culture were weak; mores, scruples and social expectations were in disarray. External status quo, that is, the world in general had changed but old internal assumptions held on until international conflict occurred and provoked the rise of new sources of power through overthrow of government, populism, or in some cases, war.

What do rice, wheat, corn, barley, and potatoes have in common?

The first significant shift in meritocracy was when early man discovered farming. Each of these crops in their own circumstances around the world created a totally new social order. Any significant change in economy or how economy works will trigger a new stratum – a new definition of human rights. The same can be said for inventions, communication, chemical advances and, especially until the entire world was mapped, exploration. Expectations about economic fairness, opportunity and confidence are life-changing in any regard and dissatisfaction quickly will challenge current perceptions of meritocracy.

What do Confucius, Buddha, Jesus, Moses and Muhammad have in common?

Obviously, each is the spiritual center of a major religion. Philosophical and theological contributions by each established codes of behavior and expectations which influenced all aspects of culture – even economics. Each religion straddles many strata and is an active force in changing the definition of meritocracy. Today, the impact of global economy, instant global information, and worldwide instant communication has brought various religions into conflict because global standardization does not mix well with the idiosyncrasies of different religious principles. This conflict in itself suggests a new definition of meritocracy is emerging.

Transition from one definition of human rights to another is messy and must pass through a hodgepodge of events and probabilities. No one can actually predict turns of events if one is living in the midst of stratum change. Below are some contemporary existential phenomena.

֎ Remember when . . . name any subject. If things are different today than they were a decade or two ago, meritocracy is undergoing redefinition.

֎ The economy is out of balance to the point that citizens are not sharing in the profits (remember the Luddites?). As alluded to earlier, nothing jumpstarts a new stratum like economic dissatisfaction.

֎ Populism emerges as a potent political force. The 2016 election was clear evidence that government was not meeting meritocracy’s expectations.

֎ New technology modifies cultural values and behavior. This began to accelerate when an individual could buy one’s own computer; then amplified by cellular phones and now aggravated by smartphones and social media to the point that normal interpersonal behavior is a matter of electronic potential instead of human potential. Need a spouse? Find them on the Internet; who wants to bother with socializing and honing one’s interpersonal skills?

֎ Those in power show signs of abuse when dealing with due process. We in the US certainly suffer this but virtually the whole of South America suffers big time.

֎ Allegiance to a common value disintegrates into partisan bickering; the big issue today is the one Russia is manipulating; Americans are not united in their expectations; the stratum of meritocracy is unstable.

֎ Compound all this by our knowledge that another significant change lies just a few years down the calendar: artificial intelligence. We have no idea what that will do to our human rights, our definition of meritocracy, our new stratum.

The point of all this is that we are living lives of unusual stress because our expectations about our role in society, our sense of fairness, our sense of protection, our sense of justice – all are without a stable foundation. Meritocracy, the foundation concept that provides order for these issues, is shifting.

One last analogy: we are sailing in stormy seas. We must take control of the helm to assure that what we still think is fair, equal and just will guide our course.

Ancient Mariner

 

On Being a Shut-in – 2

 

Mariner thanks readers who responded with replies and emails. All were supportive. One reader suggested ‘shut-out’ would be a better term because the fact is there is no room for mariner in the state of the world. That term certainly has merit. There are many readers, also who are shut out; they know it and strive anyway at moving the world along by continuing their obligations as a member of a democratic nation.

Shut-in and shut-out both work. It may be the perspective of each individual that determines which term is appropriate. Mariner has focused on the shut-in experience. How does a shut-in adapt to a constrained reality? Each of us experiences an individualized slice of reality. If one had a job, family, and recreational activities, still that would be a narrow slice of reality at large. Could one ask, “Is Donald’s faithful base experiencing the life of a shut-in – constrained within a walled reality where changing economy, population and culture raise fears about the outside world? Is the life of a person of color a constrained reality that is just a shut-in version of greater reality? Could each of us, however liberated we may feel, be limited to a shut-in version of general reality?

Enough. Mariner ponders too much. Mariner is curious about how a shut-in adapts to the reality that is available. His personal experience suggests that all of us, shut-in, shut-out or otherwise, make adjustments to sustain an even, acceptable keel in our daily life however constrained. Not being God, the ultimate reality, all of us must find a balance that, if nothing else, allows us to wake up the next day and carry on.

It is difficult for physically and emotionally limited individuals. How does one find self-worth when one cannot participate in normal society? How does one pass a long, uneventful day? Mariner, having a very small and not discomforting challenge, found that filling the day requires deep emotional and intellectual thought. Depression is a constant threat; boredom is a sledgehammer disrupting problem-solving thought; time moves in slow motion making the day longer. Mariner quickly learned that, if each of us were to make a better world, it would be making a true, physically constrained shut-in have a better day.

Most of us, of course, are not physically or emotionally constrained. Still, we are shut-in, not allowing us to experience the full rainbow of life and, existentially, true reality. For the moment, mariner feels that constraint forces each of us to invent meaningful reality – a reality that provides personal worth and accomplishment as a human being. This can be holistic and gratifying or it can be disruptive, warlike and destructive. Whatever the outcome, we are challenged by being shut-ins.

Ancient Mariner

 

On Being a Shut-in

Each of us knows at least one person who is a shut-in. There are different reasons for being a shut-in. If one is infirm, disabled, or functionally incompetent, obviously one has no choice but to live in the small, contained space of their home, which may be limited to one small room.

Another reason to become a shut-in is fear; the outside world has become too onerous. One fears one’s own incompetence. The home is a safe haven requiring no responsibility or accountability to the outside world.

Another reason, the reason mariner chose, is disgust and helplessness. It’s not so much he chose to become physically contained but that he has shut off news of the world – entirely. Not even reading websites of excellent repute. Mariner subscribes to a few top-tier magazines that lie on the table largely unread.

Mariner has lamented countless times about an electorate he perceives to be absent of any intellect whatsoever, any tiniest bit of compassion or integrity, and chooses to dwell in a land of misinformation, prejudice based on nothing, and accepts as true only those opinions and facts that fit the needs of one’s personal hippocampus.

Then there is the feeling of helplessness. Mariner is an old sailor that has lived a lifetime tilting at windmills no one else felt were important. The presence of Donald and dysfunctional legislatures across the land have induced great frustration and anger in mariner. He lives in a nation that shot dead the leaders of unified government, the Great Society and Civil Rights yet today would rather believe religiously in unfounded, false information and support only the most base interpretation of human rights and dignity. All the while, a kleptocratic President feeds the oligarchical power of an economy that does not include 99% of the electorate.

Having become a shut-in is clearly a different experience. The days are pleasant and mild; one notices how well the lilies bloomed this year; one putters in the workshop learning new woodworking techniques; one follows with little interruption the progress of tennis tournaments.

True, a feeling of uselessness pops up once in a while. In a relatively short amount of time mariner has retired from his job, divested real estate holdings, sold the farm, and is aware that grandparenthood, however pleasant, means one is not on the first team anymore. But mariner’s frustration and anger subside. It is possible to feel ‘normal.’

Do not feel obligated to draw mariner back into the real world run by the electorate; no matter the result of any election or legislative act, it still will be the world that frustrates and angers mariner. Being a shut-in can be quite palliative.

Ancient Mariner

 

 

Environment as a Change Agent

65 million years ago during the early Paleocene, the first primate-like creature evolved from the family Plesiadaptis. It was a small tree-climbing mammal that looked more like an insect-eating tree shrew. It was the beginning of the great age of primates and especially the branch of evolution that led to Homo sapiens – us.

This isn’t so long ago, actually. The dinosaurs existed for 230 million years until the biosphere was rudely interrupted by a meteor strike and to a lesser degree by some growing genetic deficiencies. Even so, such long timelines expose the role of the biosphere as a major player in evolution. Humans would not have been happy living during an earlier era of Earth’s history; the continents would have to spread out a bit to permit acceptable weather patterns and ocean currents; a few intense ice ages would be required to transition to fresh water so land creatures could evolve.

The reader is aware of the old, trite puzzle, ‘what came first the chicken or the egg?’ The puzzle hangs around because there are two logical answers: immediately, the answer is the first chicken hen must exist before there can be the first chicken egg; the other path of reasoning is that the genome of the chicken first occurred within the egg – a composite of several generations of genetic shifts. But another question precedes: What came first the chicken or the environment? Inevitably, the environment must be suitable for chickens in general to exist.

Environments normally change slower than creature evolution. Still, creatures have no choice except to adapt or disappear. On the other hand, creatures will modify the environment to fit their needs. For example, ahermatypic coral draw calcium from their environment to build homes for themselves; the beaver rearranges trees and leaves to build a dam which makes a pond, which enables a home safe from predators by placing the home in the middle of the pond. Neither creature has created a new biosphere but has rearranged a few conditions to better fit their needs.

So it is with humans. What humans sense about the environment is that it does not guarantee safety or longevity. In the great migration of pioneers across the western US, the environment was a threat, not a means of sustenance; the great gardens of the British Isles and Europe which require constant maintenance and an appearance of tight control also stems from an innate sense that the environment is not necessarily man’s best friend and must be mastered. One can imagine that the whole science of astrology is an effort to place meaning into an indifferent cosmos.

Innately, humans have sought to make life better and more secure by rearranging the environment. It started in earnest by collecting iron, copper, coal, nickel and other minerals; humans have always been aware of magnetic resonance in some fashion (electric charges in fish were documented in 2750 BC) but did not begin to extract magnetic forces until 1600 when William Gilbert identified the phenomenon and coined the word ‘electricus.’ Throughout the next 300+ years, humans were able to organize electrical resources to make life easier with motors, tools, light and energy in many forms. In the early 1900’s, Einstein and Fermi expanded electrical knowledge by entering the world of nuclear physics and quantum theory – the very building blocks of the biosphere and the Universe itself.

Humans are rearranging the biosphere to fit their species’ needs – nothing more than super intelligent beavers. But there is a difference. The human brain is a genuine mutation. A new branch of evolution’s tree is emerging. It is a species that will survive as the planet’s environment experiences significant changes.

One marvels at the synchrony between environment and evolution. We humans live lives and have known families in just a hundred years or so; written history goes back only a few thousand years. Modern Homo sapiens has existed only about 90,000 years. Our scale of change isn’t worth the blink of an eye. On the planetary scale, environment and evolution are changing every moment but at such an insignificant pace that it takes eons to notice.

Serendipitously, we live at a time where both the environment and the world’s specie profile are changing more rapidly than usual. The question to ponder is how much change is forced by our beaver habits and how much is caused by planetary shifts and cycles? Mariner suggests the combination is algebraic, changing more rapidly and more drastically than a normal curve of change would suggest.

Speaking in broad terms, it appears the human brain prefers the world of artificial intelligence, that is, an environment less dependent on mammalian characteristics and more dependent on an environment of electromagnetic existence. As our brains wrestle with this odd transition, the mammalian behaviors still hold on to make life awkward; sort of having one foot in and one foot out, so to speak. CBS news covered the fact that electronic giants like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs limit the use of smart phones by their children; just one small incident of struggle between the mammalian instincts and the brain’s preference for electronic communication.

We have pondered the end of the Earth and Sun since primitive times. The idea of Armageddon and the idea that we can escape to a heaven reflect our awareness that the mammalian age will not last forever. Will a life of artificial intelligence enable survival for a longer time as the Earth moves through ages of growing disruption to the mammalian environment? Perhaps the forces of environmental balance push species survival – invoking evolution one day at a time.

Ancient Mariner

 

God’s Christmas Garden

There is a strain of theology that suggests the phenomenon we call history is evidence of a God who is not necessarily a god of intercession but who has set certain conditions in place that cause reaction and compensation to occur. This is true of the stars, planets and other astronomic phenomena as well as the conditions of living things – including living things on Planet Earth. This strain of theology is a subset of pantheism; the difference is that God didn’t create everything and just walk away; before departing, God set a timer of sorts to avoid a static, unchanging universe. We perceive this timer as history – the ongoing reaction to and compensation for events. Mariner’s more colorful analogy is when he sets up the garden under the Christmas tree the last thing is to plug in electricity. Lo and behold! Immediately mariner must react to and compensate for unexpected conditions. There is an eventful history in mariner’s Christmas gardens.

So it is that humans continuously and unconditionally react to the vagaries of God’s timer. Humans devised a concept of God in such a way that a relationship could exist between humanness and Godliness. On the other hand, some suggest that being superior and distinct is self-serving and grandiose; that in truth Homo sapiens is nothing more than a smart gorilla. This dichotomy may be the essence of human life on earth and perhaps provides the electricity that creates history in our Christmas garden: we are hedonistic idealists.

So much for theology. Let’s move to dogma. For clarity in our metaphor the smart gorilla will be divided into two separate persons: Smart and Gorilla.

Gorilla is a product of evolution, of the laws of creation set in place before God left. Gorilla is no different than any other mammal insofar as the need for safety, nutrition, sex and comfort. Frankly, this is as far as dogma goes for Gorilla: pursue safety, be sated, have sex, and be comfortable while performing these acts. Provide a male Gorilla with a handful of gorilla maidens and existence is complete. Should any of these requirements be challenged in some way by another gorilla or any other beast in creation, Gorilla becomes Mighty Joe Young and will defeat any challenge. This aggressive behavior is more a ritual than a dogma; it will be addressed later.

Gorilla had been around for millions and millions of years before Smart came along. Evolution has positioned Smart as the junior partner, a Charles Darwin type of experimental mutation. Like many other unnecessary mutations, Smart is a troublemaker because Smart turns out to be an abuser of Gorilla’s environment and has an unbearable ego. Smart’s egotistic tendencies lead to the importance of sanctification, validation, modification and self-promotion; a set of terms that are Smart’s dogma.

Now Smart and Gorilla will be rejoined to live in one brain. Because Gorilla is the dominant self, Smart does not often get a chance to express independent behavior. In fact, Smart in many ways uses Gorilla’s behavior to a level that damages Gorilla’s environment and causes unnecessary fights with other Gorilla families. Survival of the fittest is now laced with survival of the most vain. Still, all in all, evolution’s law that the fittest will survive is in play. In the Christmas garden analogy, vanity may be electricity – the active ingredient for further evolutionary history.

Stay with mariner here – mariner decides to have an interview with Smart:

“How are you and Gorilla getting along?” he asked Smart.

“Being a mutant is not an enjoyable experience,” Smart replied. “I’ve been living in an old fashioned gorilla body for a long time; seems it’s about time I took charge of this new branch of evolution’s tree.”

Mariner was puzzled. “What do you have in mind?”

“I’ve started making changes where I can,” Smart said. “The planet has adapted to electricity; then I started introducing devices like the telephone, radio and television. That moved faster than I thought it would and already has become integrated with gorilla physiology.”

“What do you mean integrated?” mariner asked.

“If I am ever to take charge of my own being, I have to swap out parts of Gorilla’s body for parts that fit my own nature. The medical field has made the most advances by using electronic replacements. Think about Gorilla’s sense of hearing – Gorilla couldn’t hear more than one hundred yards away until I introduced the telephone. Now Gorilla can hear around the world. Or should I say Smart can hear around the world. For that matter, hearing aids let Smart hear even when Gorilla can’t.”

Mariner was intrigued. “You’re suggesting that your body is quite different than Gorilla’s body. Is there any part of your body in common with Gorilla’s body?”

Smart paused for a moment. “I am alive just like Gorilla but even that requires redefinition. What is ‘alive’ made of? Is the Sun alive? It has a lifespan; what is the definition of life – not by defining parts but by defining function?”

Mariner responded. “You are a new branch of a tree that contains carbon-based life forms. Whatever the definition of life’s functions, Smart still will need a body of some sort.”

“That assumption is spoken like a true carbon-based creature” Smart retorted. Look around at the new devices that are moving Smart to the edge of Gorilla’s capabilities: Remember that old movie ‘The Stepford Wives’? They exist today and are sold as sex toys; there are robots that can carry a real conversation with humans; there are robots that can learn a thousand times faster than humans; for the first time intelligent electronic devices don’t have to look like humans – consider Alexa, Google, Cortana, Siri and the like.”

Mariner commented, “These are excellent electronic devices that foretell the promise of Artificial Intelligence but I don’t see the connection with your statement about replacing Gorilla parts.”

“I don’t use the term ‘artificial.’ Intelligence is intelligence. Pay particular attention to advances in brain-related technology. Did you know mental imaging can be captured in an electronic device? Did you know that for some time now the brain can actually command dexterity in artificial limbs without an electronic box? Did you know that recently electronics were able to replicate human thought outside the brain? Do you see what Smart is doing?” Smart paused.

Not really sure,” mariner said.

“The time is rapidly approaching when I will exist in an electronic state and no longer require Gorilla’s mammalian body.” Smart went on, enjoying the vision of a new state of being. “I am making rapid progress now. It won’t be too many decades before human lower court judges will be replaced with Smart – sans the gorilla suit, of course.”

What will a Smart lower court judge look like?” mariner asked.

“In the beginning, androids may be necessary but all one needs is my brain linked to a data source. Eventually, perhaps a small box attached to the global network. My brain will be integrated with external intelligence devices providing a unified super intelligence.” Smart stopped.

Mariner mused a bit. “That sounds like using a virtual reality mask.”

“Now you’re getting the drift of things – just remove Gorilla.”

Mariner opened a new direction. “How does Smart eat without a body? Is exercise important?”

“Nutrition is chemically based; I will eat through tubes. My body is still evolving; my existence will be a combination of network integration and mobility of some mechanical sort. Have you ever watched the show ‘Battlebots’? It’s truly primitive but the technology is solving issues around mobility. I’ll need some type of mobility. I like the idea of multiple bodies at once; something the Battlebots have introduced with their second and third attack aides.”

“So all you will keep is the brain you and Gorilla share?”

“Yes. Likely the physiological support will fade away over time.”

Mariner closed the interview. There was the whole issue of society, politics and freedom but mariner had to give more thought to that before he could talk to Smart again.

Ancient Mariner

 

 

Another Animal at the Zoo

In an effort to remain sane and to maintain rational emotional feelings, for several weeks mariner has avoided American news programming, tolerating only BBC, CGTN (China), selected CSPAN and, with the aid of the fast forward button, The Eleventh Hour on MSNBC. For years mariner has been saturated by the home and do-it-yourself networks. He tends not to watch fictional programming.

What is left? Science channels (seen all the programs), geological and environmental programming (been everywhere, travelled through time and space, seen all the conditions); mariner knows how to be a junk dealer, bootlegger, hotrod mechanic, gardener, and furniture maker. Scrounging about for anything, mariner uncovered the veterinary shows. There are several series. The theme is that animals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish of all kinds are brought to a vet’s clinic having all kinds of maladies.

Mariner suffered a binge watch the other night. He had enlightenment. As he watched the animals, he wondered how they dealt with human creatures while not knowing the intellectual dimensions, knowledge and cause and effect processes that are foisted upon them. In most cases the patients had learned to tolerate humans, even accepting dependence for comfort and care. But intellectually, there had to be an immense gap between patient reality and human reality. When they were healed, did they have a causal awareness between newfound health and the creatures wearing masks and poking with needles?

Then mariner had his burst of insight. In 150 years, when artificial intelligence has been thoroughly ensconced in human culture, humans will have the exact intellectual experience as the animals. There will be no way to link human consciousness with the surreal reasoning of a robot. This insight applies not only to visiting our electronic vets but also our electronic government, our electronic softball game versus robots and (one wonders) our spousal relationships.

We will be no more than a baby opossum experiencing the AI world in complete ignorance; tolerating them and even accepting dependence for comfort and care. There’s always a concern that AI vets will, just as human vets, decide to have us put down.

Ancient Mariner

 

Philosophy Recipe: Stir and Bake a Long Time

Philosophers are underappreciated. To most of us, embroiled in the intense competitions of the present to make a living, raise children, and root for the Chicago Bears, philosophers are too droll, write boring stuff and write in a dense, laborious style. However, it is philosophers who set the stage for what we believe, what is moral, what the value of life is, and invent the glue that makes sense of human culture. As a new era of history begins, it is philosophers that set the compass.

If one went to college or had an excellent history class in high school, one is aware of the Age of Enlightenment. References set the dates of enlightenment between 1650 and 1800 AD. Notable names of the era, philosophers all, are Bacon, Descartes, Hume, Voltaire, Grotius, Rousseau, Spinoza, Hobbes, Newton, and many more; check Wikipedia or your library for detailed contributions.

We should note that the philosophical burst previous to the Age of Enlightenment lasted over 700 years from about 650 BC to the time of Christ and included Xenophanes, Socrates, Plato, Euclid, Aristotle and others; again reference Wikipedia for more detail. From the time of Christ until about 1500, authoritarians, pragmatists and utilitarians took over to form the Holy Roman Empire and the Dark Ages. The philosophical growth during this time leaned more to the standardization of religious philosophy and practice. Little profound technical or economical change occurred except for mechanical improvements to daily life such as improved water and sewage and the beginning of practical medicine.

As mentioned, religious practices also are cyclic. Comparing historical cycles, Saint Augustine and the Nicene Council occurred in the third century AD; the Holy Roman Empire was established in 800, the Reformation began to emerge in 1500 and today religion worldwide of every spiritual inclination is under duress as pantheism grows in popularity.

Back to the Age of Enlightenment, toward the end of that Age, the Industrial Revolution emerged, throwing labor-based economics to the wind. Needless to say today in similar times, the underlying progress of science, technology, communication, relatively improved education and a newly discovered spherical world led to a hodge-podge of government theories, economic models and disruption in social class stability that cyclically reoccurs across all of human history.

Assuming a harmonic cycle of history, lasting about 600 years give or take, history indeed repeats itself. Comparing cycles (the last one started around 1550-1600), we today are at the point of the Luddite labor rebellion in 1811, the food shortage/population explosion during the Napoleonic wars in 1803-1815, and the Civil War in 1860. In other words, there is cultural turmoil among the masses. Old values, particularly related to human values versus economics, have shifted sufficiently that previous behaviors seem unproductive.

It often is difficult to make sense of the evolution of cultural value because we can’t see the forest for the trees. Events occur every day around the world that shift philosophy, religion and culture tiny bit by tiny bit. A simple example is moving from marriages arranged by families to sacramental marriages to freewill marriages to homosexual marriages to increasing numbers of legally-based marriages sanctioned by the State. Shifts occur event by event, conflict by conflict, official recognition by official recognition. Change is not a consistent path: there are ups and downs, movement is forward and backward.

With a little distance in time, however, one can identify the evolving harmonic cycle. Today, it may be difficult to identify the current harmonic cycle because of all the trees but there are signs – as confusing to us as signs for early H. sapiens during the Iron Age, Baal worshipers 600 years before Christ, Dark Age serfs, the Luddites, and the Reaganites.

Further, there are many similarities between recent lifestyle improvements and those lifestyle improvements that occurred during the Roman Empire. It may be an intellectual reach but in terms of improved daily life, radio, television, air conditioning, plastic and the invention of the combustion engine may be comparable to an easier life in Roman times. Also similar is the lack of a tour de force of philosophers during the Roman era. Noted a few paragraphs ago, the occurrence of a philosophical era did not happen from the time of Christ until the Age of Enlightenment. Daily comfort easily displaces the need for a new philosophy of life. Fortunately, cage boxing, baseball and curling have replaced savage entertainment at the Coliseum.

Will we, in this modern cycle without a philosophical era, suffer the lack of philosophic discipline? As we shift from technical reality to Artificial Intelligence as reality, will we have a new philosophy to hold together unfamiliar ethics, economies, human values and a new harmonic cycle?

Understand that futurists are not philosophers. Futurists predict events and conditions; philosophers interpret and create ideas. Lacking a philosophical groundswell to guide us in this harmonic cycle, will we suffer corporations as we suffered the authoritative behavior of the Holy Roman Church? Will we be forgotten like serfs during the Dark Ages? Many educated and respected futurists, including the renown Yuval Noah Harari, fear that as corporatism separates from humanism as a reason to sustain profits, the wellbeing of ‘useless’ humans will suffer simply because they aren’t needed. Sadly, this is normal behavior throughout history. Today, marketing to more humans means more profits. In the future, it is likely that profit will be built into the corporate model because corporations will control human value without human preferences.

So it is, without a bond of philosophic interpretation, that our next generations must deal with rootless perceptions of what is right, what is moral, what is just. It is the wild, wild west all over again. Oh, for a philosopher’s recipe.

Ancient Mariner

 

 

Did it ever occur to the reader

Did it ever occur to the reader that analog clocks with moving hands and digital clocks with numbers tell different times? Mariner is old enough to remember when only analog clocks existed. Consequently, like everyone else, he grew up reading the whole face of the clock, not time-specific minute markers. If you would like to have the reading experience of an Evelyn Wood speed reader, quickly look at an analog clock for just a tenth of a second. Two things occurred: First, you did not subvocalize the minute marks, which is what speed reading is like; your brain took a picture of the whole face.

Second, your brain immediately perceives values on the clock face to be behavioral rather than temporal. For example, if one is preparing to leave the house for an appointment, the time on the clock face says, “Wow, I’d better get ready to go, it’s almost ten!” Almost ten is purely relative to the viewer’s situation and has nothing to do with finite measurement.

On the other hand, a digital clock zeroes in on the minute as the primary information. Again, the brain takes a picture of stationary digits but another mental step is required to convert the digital picture into a behavioral response. Because the brain perceives the digits as digital value alone, it is possible to look at a digital clock solely to know what minute it is without having a behavioral response. This effect actually is handy for people who don’t sleep well; they can check a digital clock throughout the night and avoid having to deal with behavioral responses.

Being the old generation yet again, with a digital clock mariner must momentarily search to construct meaningful human context for a digital value. Using an analog clock, however, he automatically has a human response. In his house, there are many analog clocks.

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Did it ever occur to the reader that our relationship with numbers – no matter why we use them from telling time to building pyramids to astrophysics – is the same as our reading of a digital clock? Our brains need human comprehension of value before numbers have meaning. For example, on sequential days Betty bought 7+4+19 = 30. Thirty what? If we say elephants, that’s a lot of elephants; if we say penny candies, that has a different behavioral response – either example is a response meaningful to humans – a value that numbers alone don’t possess.

When Albert Einstein wrote his “Special Theory of Relativity” in 1905 (he was 26), he had to devise demonstrations that made his theories understandable. He could have shown his mathematical formulas all day to no avail. However, by cleverly relating the special theory to a behavioral experience, people at least had an inkling of what Albert was talking about. One of his famous demonstrations was the elevator thought experiment. To view an entertaining reproduction with a quadcopter in an elevator, see: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=albert+einstein+elevator+theory&&view=detail&mid=5DCA66974B5DEE42C8CD5DCA66974B5DEE42C8CD&&FORM=VRDGAR

The moral of this epistle is that as humans we are bound to a human view of reality. How much more is there to the Universe, the flower garden, the weather, even of ourselves that we cannot see or experience? What is the Universe really like beyond our senses?

Ancient Mariner

Quietude

First, let’s set the situation. Mariner and his wife don’t watch television much – maybe some taped British stuff and tennis if the men aren’t castrating themselves by wearing their billcap backwards. Especially we don’t watch news programs. We don’t use social media for the reasons that are currently in the news (Zuckerberg and Cambridge Analytica). We still have flip phones rather than smartphones for reasons similar to the issues with social media. Finally, as if to put a point on it all, we won’t send our spittle to DNA mappers because that data, too, will find its way into data mining corporations.

Mind you, we keep abreast of important news around the world and in our own bailiwick by reading quality magazines, targeted non-fiction books and websites of proven quality.

So it’s quiet around the house.

The first sensation is how quiet it is. Mariner went so far as to play a few oldies on the boom box. But quietness quickly normalizes. It isn’t long before one starts to putter about – like mariner’s recent post about his home office, which had not been straightened in his lifetime. It is amazing how strong the urge is to accomplish something; mariner is fortunate that garden season is approaching. Still, he has dusted off the woodshop tools and has a few projects going. The reader must take note of the dreaded influence of constant television: lethargy.

The difficult part of the day is the evening unless perhaps one watches daytime entertainment that often is tailored for female viewers. In the evening, the television programmers really taunt us with interesting trailers and human interest sitcoms – or cops and monsters, whichever. Even the special subject channels like Science, National Geographic and Bloomberg mix in low quality programs. We’ve remodeled enough HGTV homes. Finally, for those who don’t suffer from attention deficit syndrome, there are the movie channels. One may say, “Let’s watch Sound of Music again; that was a good movie,” or “Isn’t that Katherine Hepburn? Boy she looks young!”

Unless one already is a reader, it takes a bit of commitment to replace the television with reading. Commit to reading an entire book and finish it before you cave in to TV. If reading isn’t your talent, look for a hobby. Four nights a week at the fitness center may change your entire life. Want to meditate and escape for a while? Knitting, crocheting, artwork, woodcarving and cabinetry are excellent. It is amazing how many folks do jigsaw puzzles; that hobby requires staying power! Card playing is still a good pastime. You get the drift.

But now we turn to the most evil distraction from normal life: the smartphone. Fortunately, mariner and his wife don’t have them but we see the strong distraction in others and fear what effect it may have on our relationships. You have heard all the silly examples but here’s one or two: children talking to each other in the same room using their smartphones instead of simply talking face-to-face. How about wandering around the neighborhood looking like a broken steering wheel looking for unknown objects? How about those ‘free’ download games that keep your thumbs in top condition and impose irreversible Pavlovian Syndrome such that you become a hermit in the middle of a crowded downtown street or during your great-grandmother’s 110th birthday; “Oh, has everyone left?”

Mariner admits to prejudice primarily because the data mining corporations deliberately impose smartphone addiction then try to redirect one’s life to some corporation’s advantage (Ever search for furniture online and suffer the furniture popups ad infinitum?). Prejudiced or not, he has learned the value of quietude. Quietude means the brain is off the leash of constant distraction. Once the frontal lobes and the amygdala are free to experience what’s real rather than experiencing manufactured reality, quietude becomes a pleasant experience unavailable in the telecommunications world. Let’s not lose the joy of speaking face-to-face.

Ancient Mariner

 

Mariner’s Wife

Poets have their unique qualities. Edgar Allen Poe carried an overarching mood in his poems; examples are “The Raven,” “Annabellee,” and “Al Aaraaf.” Billy Collins wrote with a light touch; for example, “Man Listening to Disc.” And the injection of the self into the poems of Robert Frost was unique; for example, “The Road not Taken.”

Mariner’s wife is a serious and talented poet. She has won contests, writes about every aspect of life and, with seeming ease, can create poetry from events anyone else would dismiss without a thought. She, too, has a unique quality in her poems. She injects a twist of thought in her poems. It’s a twist the rest of us would not imagine yet we are forced to take note of it. In the following poem, his wife addresses the relationship of humanity with their God. As we relate to the human condition, we are led to a heavenly twist:

                         At the Gathering of the Great Congregation

At the gathering of the great congregation,

The Lord made his way down the aisle,

Shaking hands, smiling, nodding,

Reaching out to touch a shoulder

Tousling the heads of the infants

Catching the eye of everyone—

Amazing how he acknowledged

Each of us individually.

 

He mounted the steps

Paused briefly before the altar

Then moved over to the pulpit.

There was a great hush

As at the beginning of the world.

Now at last,

At long last,

The meaning of life would be revealed

And the purpose of our deaths.

 

The Lord said, “In the beginning…”

And paused.

A ripple of laughter spread through the congregation.

“Well,” he said with a smile,

“How did you expect me to begin?

In the beginning, I started a story.

It started with light and stars, and galaxies,

And earth and animals and a garden.

And you.

It was a story and you were part of it.”

 

A murmur of puzzlement arose from the congregation

As they turned to each other in dismay.

A hand went up.

The Lord acknowledged a young man.

 

“Is that it? It was all just a story?

We were just characters in a cosmic play?”

 

The Lord smiled. “Just a story. Yes.

But what more could there be?”

 

Voices, questions began to emerge

From the murmuring congregation.

 

“You put us through birth and death and suffering,

Through war and disease

And fear and pain

For a story?”

 

The Lord said,

“Things happen in a story.

If you want to keep it going,

Things have to keep happening.”

 

“But why,” the young man persisted,

“Did you make us suffer?”

 

The Lord replied,

“It was a big story. It had to contain everything.

Worlds, even.”

He paused and added quietly,

“I suffered, too.”

 

Now there was anger as the questions jabbed out.

“You suffered? Give me a break! It was your story,

You started it. You could have made it better.

We didn’t have to die.

We could have lived forever in the garden.”

 

The Lord was patient and kind. He said,

“One of you could have lived in the garden, perhaps,

But not two. Two is conflict and conflict is lack of peace,

It is pain—and it is also story.   Once there were two

The story spun out inevitably.”

 

An older man interjected,

“Are you saying you had no control of it?”

 

The Lord turned toward him and said,

“I could have wrapped it sooner.

At any point I could have said

‘And they lived Happily Ever After.’

But you do understand, don’t you,

That that would have been the end of the story.

Is that what you wanted—the end of the story?”

 

Someone asked, “Is the story over now?”

 

The Lord laughed. “It doesn’t seem to be.

Wherever two or more are gathered in my name

The conflict—the story—continues!

But that is not a bad thing, is it?

It fills up the universe, and our lives

Yours and mine

With joy and glory, companionship,

Fulfillment and love—yes,

It is true that part of it is also doubt

And hardship, pain and grief.”

 

A young woman stood up and said,

“Let me get this straight.

If there were peace on earth

And the brotherhood of man

Lived in right relations with each other—

Are you saying that would be the end of the world?

The end of the story?”

 

The Lord said,

“Yes. A story can’t continue if nothing happens.”

 

“So our choice is—live in conflict or not at all?”

 

The Lord said, “If you live, there will be conflict.”

 

“So what is the point,” came the plaintive cry

From somewhere within the great congregation.

“It seems like bad people advance the plot

Better than good people. You must really

Love the villains.”

 

“Oh, I do, I do,” the Lord said.

“I love them all. I love you all.

The point is—it is a story.

Be glad you were in it.

I’m glad you were in it.

“Oh, my questioning children—be at peace.

Your part of the story is over.

I thank you for the part you played

And for the indelible contribution

You made to the unfolding story of life on earth.”

The Lord raised his hands in benediction,

Turned and paused at the altar

And walked back down the center aisle

Through the quiet congregation

That was silent in his passing.

 

After he left the sanctuary

There was a brief pause before the murmuring began.

It grew louder and more insistent,

With cries of “It’s not fair!”

“He didn’t tell us anything!”

And, “I don’t believe any of it!”

 

And the Lord smiled,

Knowing that his will would be done in heaven

As surely as it was on earth.

 

MKM

June, 2014—after Annual Conference