The Verbalist

Aldous Huxley was highly educated, at Oxford –  in history, religion, the classics,  literature and philosophy.  His brother Julian was a renowned biologist, his grandfather, Thomas Huxley, was the famous defender of Charles Darwin.

Aldous Huxley came  to call  himself a ‘verbalist’,  someone who, he came to realize, did too much thinking, with words, and not enough perceiving  –  experiencing things as they really are –  with his senses.  He was a very successful ‘verbalist’, a world renowned writer of fiction and non-fiction, and all of his privileged, upper class friends were also successful ‘verbalists’.  He found himself, however, unhappy, and came to see, in his friends and in himself, a distressing obsessiveness,  egotism, and alcoholism.

In a world where education is predominantly verbal, highly educated people find it all but impossible to pay serious attention to anything but words and notions.”

He sought to try to stop being a verbalist.  He studied mystical religion, and decided to try LSD.  H was hoping for . . .something.

And he got it.  LSD gave an experience of intense perception, a profound awakening of his senses.

A large pale blue automobile was standing at the curb.  At the sight of it, I was suddenly overcome by enormous merriment.  What complacency, what an absurd self-satisfaction beamed from this bulging surface of glossiest enamel!”

“. . .the percept had swallowed up the concept.  I was so completely absorbed in looking, so thunderstruck by what I actually saw, that I could not be aware of anything else.. . interest in space is diminished and interest in time fell almost to zero.”

He found wonder and awe, and a newfound reverence for the non-verbal  – “the glory and the power of pure existence belongs to another order, beyond the power of even the highest art to express. . . an impeccable sense of gratitude for the privilege of being born into this universe.”

In Brave New World, his most famous novel, he presents a world where words of propaganda control a society that values rational ‘stability’ above all else.  It is a verbalist society.  Living there requires soma, a state supplied tranquilizer.

Huxley discovers that we must be what he calls ‘amphibians‘ –  alive in both the worlds of perception and of thought.

We must have “education both in facts and in values, and in the abuses as well as the uses of language”,  and to oppose verbal tyranny, we must have “smaller, more autonomous units of government – ‘self-governing, voluntarily co-operating groups.

In his last novel, The Island, a utopian answer to Brave New World, he writes of a ceremonial ‘Island Service’ of death in which the experience is fully embraced, with no sedation.

Aldous Huxley died of throat cancer, in 1963, on the same day John F. Kennedy was assassinated.  In his final moments, his wife gave him IV LSD . . . as he requested.

 

Natural Born

They were originally Siberian nomads. Some 8 thousand years ago, they  crossed the Bering Strait into North America. The Nemeruh – “the people” – came to live a primitive hunting and gathering life in eastern Wyoming .  They had no pottery, no farming, no priests.  They were Stone Age hunters.

In the early 1600’s, Spaniards from Mexico brought Arabian-bred desert horses to the Americas. . . Mustangs.  Some of them got away.  Within a few decades there were . . .millions. . . wild, roaming the plains and canyons of western North America, all the way into Canada.

In those times, on the Great Plains, buffalo herds as large as 4 million strong grazed the rolling fields of grass, in groups as large as 50 miles long and 25 miles wide.

The Nemeruh became highly skilled horsemen.  Horses greatly empowered hunting, but also war, territorial war between the native peoples.  The Nemeruh relentlessly fought their way south, displacing the Apache’s, the Ute’s and others, and conquered the greatest buffalo country of all, the Llano Estanto – the lands of northern Texas and Oklahoma.

They became known as the Comanches, so named by the Ute’s as “those who are always against us”.

“A Comanche brave who captured a live Ute would torture him to death without question.  A Comanche captured by a Ute would expect to receive exactly the same treatment.

The Nemeruh, and all the Plains peoples, lived ”immersed in the elemental world” of the “endless, trackless, and mostly waterless expanse of undulating grass” – the “oceanic” plains that were filled with natural fires, sudden storms, blizzards, venomous snakes, and ravenous predator beasts.

Their life was “ceaseless toil, hunger, constant war, and early death”, but also PURE MAGIC, with “spirits everywhere, in rocks, trees, and in animals” and nights filled with dancing and singing.  The raw liver of a freshly killed buffalo was a delicacy, as was the curdled milk form the stomach of a still nursing bison calf.  They never ate the buffalo heart.  They lived intensely alive.

”virtually all the Indian tribes waged war against their neighbors and practiced deeply sickening torture. Prisoners who weren’t tomahawked on the spot could expect to be disemboweled and tied to a tree with their own intestines, roasted to death over a slow fire, or simply hacked to pieces and fed alive to the dogs.”

Once, they captured and adopted Daniel Boone’s grand daughter. but after a raid against them by settlers, they tied her high in a tree, alive, and shot her full of  arrows.

The Comanches . . . ‘stopped cold’  . . . the northern advance of the Spaniards and the western advance of the Americans. . .  for 150 years.  They were the very last holdout of native people against the tide of settlers in North America.  Only the deliberate slaughter of the buffalo could bring them to submission.

The strength of their attachment to each other, and the demonstration they gave of the same, even to the dividing of the last morsel with each other upon the point of starvation, might put any professed Christians to blush!  But they were just the reverse of all this to all the world outside.”

General Lee

General Robert E. Lee married Mary Custis, grand step-daughter of George Washington.  Thru this marriage he acquired slaves.  He freed them by 1862, following the instructions of his father-in-law’s will.

Lee did not find slavery completely without justification.  [it was] “a greater evil to the white man than to the black race. . . blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially and physically.  The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, and I hope will prepare and lead them to better things.”

Loyal to Virginia, he sided with the Confederates.  “How can I draw my sword upon Virginia, my native state?”

He fought for the confederate cause. . . relentlessly. . . and. . . with relish . . .to the very end.

At Mule Shoe,  when all was nearly hopeless, he tried to break out of Grant’s encirclement, to try to hold out in the hills of Tennessee or Georgia.  In these last days of the war, he sacrificed many thousands of his men.  Few of those men  owned slaves.

“. . he rode Traveller hastily toward the fighting.  He encountered terrified soldiers, streaking back in chaotic flight [from counterattacking union forces], “Hold on!” Lee shouted, seeking to stem the rout,  “Your comrades need your services,” The terrified men refused to heed his admonition, “Shame on you men, shame on you!”  Ron Chernow.

He would not negotiate release of captured Negro Union soldiers who had been southern slaves.

Lee was West Point and studied Napoleon. He was successful on defense, on his home turf – at Bull Run, at Fredericksburg, at Chancellorsville – but not so effective on offense, on unfamiliar ground, outside of Virginia, such as at Antietam or Gettysburg.

Strong on tactics, not so much on strategy.

While Lee attacked the front porch, Grant would attack the kitchen and bedroom“.  William T. Sherman.

He had Grant’s respect, but not his awe.  “After I crossed the James, the holding of Richmond was a mistake. . if he left Richmond when Sherman invaded Georgia, it would have given us another year of war“.

At Appomattox, Lee dressed. . .  like a victor . . . in his very finest silver grey.

I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.”  Ulysses S. Grant

Following Lincoln, and ‘malice toward none‘, Grant refused Lee’s sword, and sent him freely off .  Only five days later, Lincoln was assassinated.

Lee’s stature in the South has been mythic, both then and. . . to this day.  His equestrian statue in Lee Park, Charlottesville, is . . .26 feet . . .high.  For Robert E. Lee, and for most southerners. . . to this day, something northerners don’t understand. . . to this day . . .is that homeland freedom, not slavery, was the great issue of the Civil War.  As in all eons past, when your land is all you have, you defend it with your life.

The best Union General, General Lee?  ” McClellan, by all odds“. . .!!

 

Tyrant Lizard King

600 million years ago, in the Burgess Shale fossils of Canada, one can see dramatic changes happening in evolution.  Life is exploding in form and diversity.  Nature is experimenting wildly, with body shapes, body parts, eyes, and heads, fossils that look like Pixar animation.  We aren’t sure why, but at that time, animals started eating other animals . . .alive.  The dance of predator and prey, it seems, was creating an evolutionary storm

It is one thing for life to learn to survive in the elements, to be able to find and digest food, reproduce and survive the weather.  It is another to survive the attacks of other living beings, to outsmart other beings that are trying to outsmart you.  A spiral of deceit and evasion and ferocity develops.  Both predator and prey push each other to get bigger, and quicker, and meaner, and smarter . . . fast.  

Forward 350 million years, as the great single-continent land mass, PANGEA, is splitting apart,  causing a hell-fire holocaust of volcanic eruption called the Permian Extinction, predator and prey evolution culminates in the age of the dinosaurs.

as the world was going to hell, dinosaurs were thriving, somehow taking advantage of the chaos around them”  The Rise and Fall of Dinosaurs,  Steve Brusatte.

Prey became bigger and more herd-like, utilizing defense in numbers and size, and more and more armored with horns and plates of skin. The Sauropods, like Argentinosauris – the largest animal ever on land on Earth –  were four London buses long and five stories tall.

Predators became more and more cunning and vicious killing machines.   Initially it was the crocodile, Archosauros, that ruled the killer world. Then came the Allosauros, the “butcher of the Jurassic”.  Finally came the  most ferocious hunter and killer of our planet’s history. . . Tyrannosaurus Rex.  

Movie maker Steven Spielberg, did not have to exaggerate the evil, monstrous nature of Tyrannosaurus Rex.

T. Rex appears, almost exclusively in North America, 85 million years ago.  He was 35-40 feet long, could weigh up to 7 tons, had teeth the size of bananas, 58 of them, the head the size of a car, and massive, bone crushing jaws capable of 3000 pounds of pressure, the strongest bite of any known animal on earth. His skull was built like an airplane fuselage, to withstand the forces of his bite.  All his action was in his head.  He didn’t chew. . .he ripped and crushed.  He bit deeply and. . . pulled.    

T. Rex hunted in packs. He had exceptional low frequency hearing.  Like a seismometer, he would know, from far away, where you were.  His camera eyes were the size of grapefruits.  He had satanic horns for eyelashes.   He was covered in scales and feathers like some freakish Mardi Gras nightmare.

 T. Rex was the largest predator that has ever lived on land in the 4.5 billion years of life’s history on Earth.  This meat lusting monster travelled in packs!  He had bird’s lungs, and could breath in his bones.  He could run 25 miles per hour.  He was as smart as a chimpanzee. . the animal today that is thought to most closely rival human intelligence!  He had very good smell.  His only ‘weakness’ – he couldn’t turn well.  

Empathy was not much in the T Rex brain.  Young T. Rex may have wanted to get away from Momma T. Rex as soon as possible.

To this day, there is no fossil evidence of T. Rex eggs. . . .

Triceratops seems to have eventually been his main prey, a 40 ton gargantuan – the size of 5 elephants – with very thick scale and a giant, goring central unicorn horn. He was hard to bite without getting pierced.  

 T. Rex was just so good that his success was likely spelling his own doom, as he would eventually kill himself out of food.  Before that, only God, it seems, could stop this Devil on Earth, and it seems God actually did. 

Tyrannosaurus Rex and Triceratops were present on the Day of the  Chicxulub asteroid impact 65 million years ago, the great inferno that brought to an end the Age of Dinosaurs, and T. Rex, and the spiraling horror show of predator and prey.    

Birds are the only surviving dinosaurs today.

Nature it seems, for a long time was better at making killers than cooperators.  Only small, nocturnal, rodent mammals, running under foot, at night, could co-exist in the Tyrannosaurus heyday, too small to bother with for T. Rex.  Only after the asteroid impact could gentler predators, and greater cooperation. . .the age of mammals. . . flourish.  

Eventually came Humans, as good at cooperation as T. Rex was at killing. They may be next to put themselves out of business. . .  if God doesn’t.   

 

Alien

A fish won’t stare at you, but an octopus will.  They watch you, with their human-like camera eyes, as much as you watch them. They are the smartest animal that has stayed in the sea, the only invertebrate – animals with no backbone – with a large brain.   Though as primitive as shell fish, they have as many neurons as a dog.

Octopus are hunters and predators, but with no physical defense.  Unlike their ancestors, they did not retain their shells.  They can ink the water to escape, and do instantaneous camouflage, and a few are poisonous, but mostly they are mobile, and smart. . . brains over braun.  Two thirds of their brain cells are in their eight arms.  They can squeeze thru an opening as small as one of their eyes.

They are minds that swim.

Their squishy bodies, with no hard parts, are pure tasty, and quick, digestible meat.  They are hunted by all the predators of the sea.  Their life span is short, they die shortly after breeding just once.  Life is risky, they go for broke.

They are ingenious at escape, and always try.  They have been known to open a jar . . . from the inside . . . to get free.  They seem able to recognize particular individual humans.  When they escape, they are uncanny at picking the moment you aren’t watching them.

When you work with fish, they have no idea they are in a tank, somewhere unnatural.  With octopuses it is totally different.  They know they are inside this special place, and you are outside it. All their behaviors are affected by their awareness of captivity.”  Peter Godfrey-Smith

They have been found to have perceptual constancy –  they understand an object is the same object, from different points of view.  They have comparative memory analysis – they can bring past experiences to bear on present situations and decisions .  They have curiosity.  They will interact with something, even when they know they can’t eat it.  They do step by step action, like other animals with consciousness, they can navigate mazes.

They are not considered to be social, but divers have known then to ‘high five’ each other . . . !

They have three hearts and blue-green blood.

We humans are not just conscious, but also are self-conscious, we have awareness of ourselves along with our awareness of the world, an eerie sense of two-ness that haunts us, and we sense that the octopus has that too.

Meeting an octopus, is, in many ways, the closest we are likely to get to meeting an intelligent alien.” Peter Godfrey-Smith 

They may BE alien.  Scientists have very recently decided that since their genetics and intelligence are so much a leap from their origins that some of their DNA, literally, may have come from outer space, carried in the spray of meteors from outer space.

the genome of the Octopus shows a staggering level of complexity, with 33,000 protein-coding genes more than is present in Homo Sapiens. . . the possibility that cryopreserved octopus eggs arrived in icy bolides [in meteors] several hundred million years ago should not be discounted, as that would be a parsimonious cosmic explanation for the Octopus’ sudden emergence on Earth circa 270 million years ago.”   Steele, et. al.  Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology, March 2018.

Chicxulub

Across the land, turbulent air flowing from the chilly north encounters the breezes of the hot south.  As the two fight it out over the plains, tornadoes are spawned.  Ninety percent of the worlds tornadoes occur in North America.”   The Eternal Frontier,  Tim Flannery,  2001.

Long before it became the first global human empire, North America was a climatic dynamo affecting the entire earth.

Unlike any other continent, it is a giant “inverted wedge”, 4000 miles across the in the sub-arctic north, sixty miles across in the south,  with the Appalachian Mountains to the east and the Rockies Mountains to the west.  This wedge is a giant. . . carburetor. . . funneling super-chilled Canadian air southward in winter, and warm Gulf air northward in summer, generating explosive storms, torrential rains, giant lakes, thunderous rivers, and intense seasons that have fueled an evolutionary combustion of plants, reptiles and mammals.  This includes the great forests of deciduous trees that shed their nutrient-drained colorful leaves in winter , when the sunlight is low, and reabsorb their fertilizer energy in the spring when the sun is bright.  And not only leaves, seedlings too, including nutritious, soft-shelled nuts that entice small mammals to carry them away and bury them.  North America invented squirrels.  Native american societies, too, thrived on the gathering and storing of nuts. Only in North America did inland complex societies arise that were not based on farming.

Sixty five million years ago, North America was  two continents separated by a shallow sea, the BearPaw Sea, covering what is now the great plains.

And. . .then. . . a renegade Manhattan-sized meteor from a broken asteroid escaped the gravity of the asteroid belt, and found its way toward Earth.  It lunged in from the southeast and across the equator and crashed into what is now the town of Chicxulub, on the Yucatan peninsula. It struck with a glancing blow “like a giant golf chip shot“, at a speed of 54,000 miles per hour, digging a celestial divot straight up into the BearPaw seaway, with a collision blast of a 100 million megatons of TNT, 2 million times greater than the largest nuclear bomb ever made, exploding a hole 3 miles deep and 100 miles wide, and creating a tsunami wave . . . one-half mile high. . . that smashed the whole world.  With heat one thousand times that of the surface of the sun, the entire North American forest was ‘carbonized’ – incinerated – all the way to the Red Deer River valley in northern  Canada, and even across the Pacific Ocean to Hokkaido island of northern Japan. Fourteen genera of dinosaurs immediately became extinct. The Age of Giant Reptiles cataclysmally ended.  The lee of the mountain ranges of the Appalachians and of the Sierra Nevada and inside the Arctic Circle were the only areas of sanctuary for life.

For many, many years, debri, dust, and smoke blocked out the sun, freezing the land, and poisoning the atmosphere with sulfur and acid rain.  This was “Impact winter”,  the long “polar night”. . .that starved planetary life.

It would be centuries before the charred North America would turn green again, slowly rejuvenated by a. . . fern, Stenochlaena.

 

Natural Civilization

Fourteen thousand years ago, Siberian and Mongolian people crossed the Bering land bridge into North America. Following the ice-free coastline, they eventually found the Andes mountains, the longest linear stretch of mountains in the world.  There, unaffected by Rome or Greece, or Moses, or Plato, or Aristotle, or by any of the rest of world history, they . . . naturally . . . became the Inca civilization, the largest, most sophisticated civilization of the New World.   One hundred thousand elites controlled 10 million peasants, unified by a religion of sun worship, ruled by an emperor who was “the king, the pope, and Jesus Christ all rolled into one.” All land was state owned, peasants were granted rights to till communal lands. Taxes were paid with labor, which created surpluses of food, tools, and weapons, which were stored along the Inca road network, and which were used for times of want, for war, and for patronage.  The few ruled the many.  Natural civilization.

In 1528, Francisco Pizarro found a Bronze Age society, 2,500 years back in time. The Incas did not have writing, or money, but they had deadly slingshots, and clubs, and vast armies. The Spaniards, though, had steel swords, armor, and horses, and like tank warfare against foot soldiers, 168 Spanish horsemen conquered 10 million Incan foot soldiers.

History has been the story of men killing other men, and so also in the New World.  The Incas had been fighting a gruesome civil war for many years, ever since their great Inca chief was killed by another old world weapon – small pox.  His sons fought to the death for the throne. Atahualpa had just conquered brother Huascar and executed his entire family, and was on his victory trip to Cuzco, to be crowned Sun King, when strange boats appeared off the coast. At Cajamarca, Atahualpa crossed Pizarro’s path. He promptly executed any of his men that showed any fear of the strange horse beasts.

The Incas, it seems, did not know the plight of Montezuma and the Aztecs. They were self-sufficient mountain people, not traders with the larger world. Pizarro had been with Cortes. He enticed Atahualpa into a courtyard, and in a bloody ambush, captured him.

For ransom, Atahualpa filled the Cajamarca courtyard with gold.  Pizarro executed him anyway.  His wife became Pizarro’s mistress, and bore him two sons.

To subdue a civilization, dethrone its religion.

The last Inca Emperor, Tupac Amaru, in Cuzco before his execution, tells his people that their religion has been false.

Lords, . . . Let it be known that I am a Christian, and they have baptized me and I wish to die under the law of God – and I have to die.  And that everything that my ancestors, the Incas, and I have told you up until now – that you should worship the sun god, Punchao, the shrines, idols, stones, rivers, mountains, and sacred things – is a lie and completely false.  When we used to tell you that we were entering [a temple] to speak to the sun, when we told you what it said and that it spoke – this was a lie.

The Last Days of the Incas,  Kim MacQuarrie, 2007.

Swerve

Quantum theory predicts that the vacuum of space is a roiling bath of virtual particles that continuously appear and disappear.  These vacuum fluctuations produce measurable phenomena, such as the Casimir effect, which arises from the pressure the virtual photons exert on stationary bodies.  In 1970, Gerald Moore theorized that bodies in accelerated motion would produce real photons out of quantum vacuum fluctuation . . . Accelerated bodies modify quantum vacuum fluctuations, causing emission of photon pairs from the vacuum and dissipation of the bodies’ motional energy.  The power dissipated in the motion of the body is equal to the total radiated electromagnetic power, as expected according to the law of energy conservation.”  Nature,  November, 17, 2011.

Acceleration of matter in vacuum space creates photons, particles of light.  Acceleration of spin creates magnetism.  Acceleration of mass creates gravity.  There. . is. . something. . about. . acceleration.  It is a form of change, of variation, in our universe, a special form, it is change of change – change squared. And it is the essence of  gravity, matter, and light.

It is mysterious that light has the same velocity for all observers, but it does.  To be so, it must be something like infinite acceleration, each point of light being infinitely close to being instanteously brief, but infinitely accelerated from the previous point, infinitely close to reaching an asymptotic limit of velocity that is, weirdly, infinitely close to being constant and therefore . . .finite. Einstein realized that light, then, being infinite acceleration that  paradoxically achieves finite and constant velocity, is the universal invariant. It can be relative or variable to no other position or movement.  Curiously, although matter and energy are interchangeable, only energy – electromagnetic radiation – can travel at the speed of light, matter cannot.

The Roman poet, Lucretius, in his famous poem:  On the Nature of Things, introduced to the Roman world, the philosophy of the pre-Socratic Greeks of 300 B. C.  These thinkers had deduced that the building blocks of reality – atoms – were infinitely small, infinite-in-number entities that repell and attract each other such as to create all things and events. These ancient Greeks saw, long before Darwin and Einstein and quantum physics, that the fundamental units must have . . . what Lucretius called: swerve  – an irreducible, varying indeterminancy in their behavior so as to make for the change with variation that is necessary for the evolutionary processes that manifest all things and events, inorganic and organic. The most basic units of reality, they realized must be, themselves, units of variation, units of change.

If all the individual particles, in their infinite numbers, fell through the void in straight lines, pulled down by their own weight like raindrops, nothing would ever exist.  But the particles do not move lockstep in a preordained single direction.  Instead, “at absolutely unpredictable times and places they deflect slightly from their straight course, to a degree thqt could be described as no more than a shift of movement” (2.218-20 Lucretius, On the Nature of Things),   Swerve, Stephen Greenblatt, pg.188.

Even if cooled to a temperature of absolute zero, all objects will retain a fundamental jitter in their physical positions due to quantum ‘zero-point’ fluctuations.”  Painter, et. al, Phys. Rev. Lett. 108, 033602, 2012

 

 

Zero Empathy

Gestapo Chief Rudolph Diels:  “The infliction of physical punishment is not every man’s job, and naturally we were only too glad to recruit men who were prepared to show no squeamishness at their task.  Unfortunately, we knew nothing about the Freudian side of the business, and it was only after a number of instances of unnecessary flogging and meaningless cruelty that I tumbled to the fact that my organization had been attracting all the sadists in Germany and Austria without my knowledge for some time past.  It had also been attracting unconscious sadists, i.e. men who did not know themselves that they had sadist leanings until they took part in a flogging.  And finally it had been actually creating sadists.  For it seems that corporal chastisement ultimately arouses sadistic leanings in apparently normal men and women.  Freud might explain it.” In the Garden of Beasts, Erik Larson, 2011.

For Boethius, the 400 AD Roman philosopher, evil is US – we all have capacity for evil, and therefore to combat evil we must look to ourselves and cultivate our goodness. Evil is the absence of good. “We must break the ‘cycle of violence‘. This is the modern view, the enlightenment view, the christian view.

That evil is OTHER, that there is a distinct dualism of good and evil, this is the premodern view, the Manichaean view,  the view of Mani, the early 250 A.D. Persian mystic whose ideas rivaled and threatened Roman paganism, and then christianity.  Evil is a force to be opposed, to be conquered.

In Science of Evil, psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen finds that evil is a disorder of empathy. We all vary in our ’empathy quotient’. There are those with the ‘continuous, unstoppable drive to empathize‘, and those with lesser empathy.  There are components of empathy – recognition and response, feeling and understanding, action and inaction. Failure to act is as significant as not feeling.  There is transient empathy erosion, from fatigue, or drugs and alcohol, or depression. There is Groupthink evil, empathy that is over-powered by enthusiasm and solidarity. Nazi gatherings were organized pageants of celebration.

Lack of empathy can be a failure to be good, but it also can be something else. There are those with no empathy. . . at all, zero empathy.   For them, lack of empathy is . . . .enjoyment. Serial killers relish their deceit and the knowing terror in their victim’s eyes. Stalin’s greatest joy was to go to sleep knowing that his plans for revenge were unfolding. Nazi evil was beyond efficiency. The Nazi’s precisely engineered emotional as well as physical suffering, over and above the murdering.  They practiced this with a sickening aesthetic, an almost artistic intensity.

Empathy by definition is seeing one’s self in others. Those with strong empathy just aren’t likely to perceive, aren’t likely to “empathize” – with the lack of empathy others may have. This asymmetry of awareness empowers those with no empathy to use charm, and to thrive, and the rest is human history.

In Explaining Hitler, 1998, Ron Rosenbaum, in his survey of theories of Hitler, found every reason considered but that Hitler wanted to be evil and do evil things.

“Man is Wolf to Man.”

 

Koolaid Consciousness

Pain really does hurt, but what is it that hurts?  In consciousness, the subjective and objective are mysteriously unified. I am unmistakably corporeal, and yet also, unmistakably, immaterial.  I have diverse sensations and thoughts, yet I am unitary. I unconsciously act and feel, and yet have agency and free will. I daydream and sleep, and yet have continuity. I am both me and I refer to ‘me’. I am self-disclosing.

Our experience of consciousness is outside of normal mental categorization. We experience ourselves as ineffable.

No currently available concept of induction is applicable to it.” Thomas Nagel, philosopher.

We are the singular of which the plural is unknown.” Erwin Schroedinger, physicist.

“I AM THAT I AM”.  God, to Moses at the burning bush.

Most experiences are made sense of in relation to other types of experience. . . Any experience immune to all this will be a mystery to its subject. There is only one experience for which that is completely true:  phenomenal consciousness.” Natika Newton, Journal of Consciousness Studies, 2001.

What we can’t say, we can’t say, and we can’t whistle it either“.  A. S. Ramsey, philosopher.

In Soul Dust, for psychologist Nicolas Humphrey consciousness is a sensation. Whatever sensation is, consciousness is. A reaction to stimuli is always an action. No sentience, no brain phenomenon is passive.  All mentation is behavior. Responses to the outer world get internally registered, and they become representations. These representations then also become aspects of our further experience. Conscious beings become dual processors, they process outer world experience simultaneously with inner world representations of current and past outer world experience. An ever expanding loop of internal and external responses, and responses to responses, reverberates into a self-sustaining loop of memory, thinking, and feeling. . . and this is what we call CONSCIOUSNESS.

Because our present experience includes at least two distinct times, it is experienced not as an instantaneous slice of time, but as a extended time, containing elements of both ‘now’ and ‘not now’, in a unified, immediate representation.

This thickened time of consciousness, this cinema of consciousness, creates an artificially robust illusion of willful power and sense of the future. It enables us to imagine possible futures, design behavior strategies, plan and seek goals.  This inner theatre gives us a sense of creative agency that drives us to endure.

But it is an illusion. We are all drinking the koolaid.

And there is a cost, for with our inner extended time, we can sense that we aren’t significant, we can know that we are going to die. We can try to find meaning, we can try to escape.  We are seek intoxicated, altered states. These can be enlightening, they can illuminate the distortions of our normal consciousness, but they can also deepen our confusion, and worsen our dread. Many of us can’t manage consciousness, despair is not uncommon, suicide is not rare.

With our consciousness we transform the earth, with ever-increasing risk and reward, the genie out of the bottle.