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.
Malcolm Gladwell speaks of innovators, people who are always different. They wear odd clothes, and in ways that others don’t and wouldn’t. They start fads, but they don’t follow them. They never follow anything. Whatever it is that makes most people want to be like others, and join in with others, they don’t have. It is a life strategy. Think about it. Always being different avoids comparison. You can win when only you are playing.
“What others think about me, or feel about me, that’s so irrelevant. Anymore than it is for me, when I go see a movie, say Wuthering Heights or something, and have to wonder what Lawrence Olivier is really like.”
This is Nobel Laureate, Bob Dylan. He insists on being him, whether you like it or not. With a born focus on his own, inner experience, with his trained skills of melody and lyric, he expresses what he finds there. He wants no contrivance, no preconceived, or planned song. And he doesn’t want us to understand him. He doesn’t think we should try to understand him.
“It’s all in the songs.” Be open to what a song does for you, not what you are told to think it means, or what you think it is supposed to mean. Rather than think the song. . .feel it.
“If a song moves, you, that’s all that’s important. I don’t have to know what a song means. I’ve written all kinds of things into my songs. And I’m not going to worry about it – what it all means.”
Hey Mr. Tambourine man/ Play a song for me/Take me on a trip upon your magic swirlin’ ship/My senses have been stripped/My hands can’t feel to grip/My toes too numb to step/wait only for my boot heels to be wandering/I’m ready to go anywhere/ I’m ready for to fade/Into my own parade/Cast your dancing spell my way/I promise to go under it.
“I can write a song in a crowded room. Inspiration can hit you anywhere. It’s magic. It really is beyond me.”
“My songs are personal music, they’re not communal. I wouldn’t want people singing along with me. It would sound funny. I’m not playing campfire meetings.”
My hearts in the highlands with the horses and hounds/Way up in the border country far from the towns/With the twang of the arrow and the snap of the bow/My heart’s in the highlands, can’t see any other way to go
“John Donne, the poet-priest who lived in the time of Shakespeare, wrote these words, ‘the Sestos and Abydos of her breasts. Not of two lovers, but two loves, the nests’. I don’t know what it means, either. But it sounds good. And you want your songs to sound good.” Nobel Lecture, 2017.
“I’m no poet. Poets drown in lakes.”
“I don’t really know what the interior of anybody else is like – I often feel very fragmented, and as if I have a symphony of different voices, and voice overs, and factoids, going on all the time, and digressions on digressions…” David Foster Wallace
David Foster Wallace was always Meta-thinking – thinking about thinking. He could be insightful, and engaging, and interesting, but get lost in recursions and riddles of semantics, and in puzzles of grammar.
He lived inside his head.
He would talk about the “special sort of buzz” logical thinking could give him.
“a gorgeously simple solution to a problem you suddenly see, after half a notebook with gnarly attempted solutions, you about hear a . . .click“.
Boredom was terrifying. He suffered severe writer’s block. There was this constant, oppressive feeling of something not feeling right, that he wasn’t really, somehow. . . him. He felt a menacing sense of disconnection with himself.
Being a person was like being a ghost.
Substance use gave him great relief, it helped him feel whole. He became addicted with a natural ease.
At a Kenyon College commencement, speaking to an audience of avid readers and writers, he tried to warn them about the dangers of the mental life: be careful! mentation isn’t all it is cracked up to be! you can be a fish swimming in water, and not know what water is. Stay grounded in simple truths, he said, somehow they are really true.
” The word despair is overused and banalized now but it’s a serious word, and I’m using it seriously. It’s close to what people call dread or angst, but it’s not these things, quite it’s more like wanting to die in order to escape the unbearable sadness of knowing I’m small and selfish and going, without a doubt, to die. It’s wanting to jump overboard.”
Julian Jaynes famously noted that the mind of Achilles, in the Iliad – a mind solely and completely in the present – is very different from the mind of Odysseus, in the Odyssey – a mind scheming to manipulate appearance and orchestrate the future. Sometime in antiquity, between the Iliad and the Odyssey, Jaynes thought, the human mind had changed. Perhaps it was the advent of writing, and the emergence of the reading mind. Reading ignites the imagination.
With people like David Foster Wallace, reading can take the imagination too far.
With endless digressions, and foot notes to foot notes, the writing of David Foster Wallace is more a psychiatric exposition than it is literature. He conveys for us his lost, unmoored, and painful experience of being. That is his sad contribution.
“He waited two more days for an opportunity. In the early evening on Friday, September 12, Wallace suggested that his wife go out to prepare for an opening…After she left, he went into the garage and turned on the lights. He wrote her a two page note. Then he crossed through the house to the patio, where he climbed onto a chair and hanged himself.”