Tag Archives: philosophy

Astrology and the Cycles of Time

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Sample natal horoscopes, from “The Circle Book of Charts,” compiled by Stephen Erlewine, 1972

On Monday, November 11, the planet Mercury will pass in front of the sun, beginning at 7:35 AM EST and lasting five-and-a-half hours.  It will be visible during daylight hours throughout the Americas and seen as a small dot on the sun’s surface, with viewing through solar-filtered telescopes and binoculars recommended.*

Meanwhile, the October 28, 2019 issue of The New Yorker magazine includes an article about the resurgence of interest in astrology.  Titled “Starstruck:  Why we’re crazy for astrology,” by Christine Smallwood, the article claims that interest in this ancient discipline petered out after the 1970s but has made a comeback in recent years, especially among millennials. The current trend employs all the panache of modern technology, from pod-casts to computer apps and on-line chat rooms.  There are on-line classes.  There are zodiac-themed products like clothes and lingerie.  It has become a booming business, complete with all the glitz of modern commercialization.

The astrologers interviewed in the article highlight astrology’s ability to describe character in non-judgmental terms.  They downplay predictions, and emphasize timing.  In short, it appears that this new appreciation reaches a deeper level than I remember from the 1970s and 1980s.

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Ephemeris tables of planetary positions for November and December, 2019, “The American Ephemeris for the 21st Century,” Neil F. Michelsen, 1992

I have studied astrology for over 35 years, and still keep an ephemeris (a table of planetary movements) beside my reading chair.  I still have the tape recording from my introductory horoscope reading.  I was so impressed with the astrologer’s ability to “see my soul,” that I bought the classic beginner’s guide, Isabel Hickey’s Astrology: a Cosmic Science, that day.  For several years, I was possibly obsessed and collected two full notebooks of horoscopes on everyone I met.  I joined the American Federation of Astrologers, attended conferences, hobnobbed with other astrologers, and shared the language, which sounds like a secret code to the uninitiated.

I soon learned to downplay my interest, and finally, not to mention it, because people were simply not interested, scornful, or even threatened.  But I found the astrological approach consistently provides a comprehensive framework for understanding human character.  My natal chart highlighted potentials that soon prompted me to take the science pre-requisites to enter, then attend, medical school.  I followed up with a psychiatry residency but was astonished to learn that astrology far surpassed psychiatry in its grasp of the totality of the human psyche.

Fundamentally, psychiatry—and possibly all Western medicine—focuses only on the negative, on abnormalities, disorders, or illnesses.  Astrology offers balance.

There are many ideas about whether, why, or how astrology works.  After all these years, I’m still skeptical, even though it has greatly contributed to my philosophy of life.  In the early days, I felt in touch with the ages, knowing I was studying a system that in one form or another has evolved over 6000 years (at least), in every known culture.  It corresponds to the “archetypes” that Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung described.  Jung himself was a student of astrology and alchemy, for their spiritual aspects.

Fundamentally, it is based on geometry and is the parent of astronomy.  Long before we had religions or governments, we had the sun, moon, and stars.  Early man looked to the heavenly bodies for guidance and learned to predict the coming of the seasons by the gradual lengthening and shortening of days.  The moon’s cycles, too, became associated with certain kinds of earthly events.  Over time, and over cultures, the visible planets (“planet” means “wanderer”) were noted to move against a background of stars that formed patterns of constellations in a ring around the earth.  In Western astrology, some of these patterns became the twelve constellations of the zodiac.

It’s important to note that a horoscope is completely impersonal in that it is a symbolic map of of the skies as seen at a specific moment in a specific place.  That’s why an astrologer can cast a horoscope for anything, such as the time a question is asked (horary astrology), the signing of a contract, or the birth of a nation.  The natal horoscope, then, pinpoints a time and place, and an individual’s birth is an event that occurs then and there.  The individual then embodies all the potential of the moment.  As the child grows, the moment becomes personified through the individual’s experiences, choices, and reactions.

Given that we are, so far, earthbound beings, it’s understandable that astrology would take a geocentric perspective.  At birth, the individual is stamped with the cosmic pattern of that time and place.  I like to think in terms of electromagnetic frequencies, with each planet (as well as the sun and moon) having its own electromagnetic character.  As they move through time in their various cycles, and with respect to each other, the patterns change, as with a kaleidoscope, and either influence or reflect the meaning behind happenings in an individual’s life.

To understand the concept behind astrology, it’s convenient to think of a natal horoscope as a coded depiction of that person’s life drama.  The individual is the star of her own play.  In Western astrology, the planets–with the personalities of the Roman gods for which they are named–are the supporting actors; the signs are the filters or lights that they operate through; and the houses the props and stage.

As the sun, moon, and planets continue their cycles through a person’s life, they make angles (called “aspects”) to their natal positions, with each moving at its own pace.

Common questions about astrology have to do with whether it is presumed to “control” people’s lives.  My answer is a different question.  “Does the clock control your life?”  No, but it makes sense to go to the grocery store when it is open, if you want to buy food.

“Shouldn’t a life be timed from the moment of conception?” is another common question.  I respond that until birth, by whatever means, an infant is shielded from external cosmic influences by its mother’s protective vibrational field.

I once asked a fellow astrologer what she valued most about the study of astrology.  “Tolerance,” she said.  I had reached the same understanding on my own, and I still find that to be the case.  There are no “good” or “bad” moments, and each moment is unique in its opportunities and challenges.  Considering the infinite possibilities inherent under the cosmic clock that astrology reveals, the potential to deepen and bring that moment to fruition in a “meaningful” life becomes a horoscope’s greatest gift and challenge.

*For the astrologically literate, on November 11, Mercury will be retrograde and conjunct the sun at 18-19 degrees of Scorpio.  This conjunction will square my natal Mercury in Leo from 2nd to 9th houses, perhaps inspiring this blog post.**

**Added November 13, 2019:  Haha.  The joke’s on me.  I was doing something else when I suddenly realized the conjunction noted above occurred in Scorpio, not Sagittarius, thus squaring my natal Mercury in Leo and triggering my grand square in fixed signs.  The full moon in Taurus on the next day (November 12) was involved, too, with the moon conjunct my natal Jupiter at 19 degrees Taurus that day.   This is an embarrassing error, but is consistent with other features of my horoscope that indicate public embarrassment.  It challenges me to admit error, and apologize to anyone I might have led astray.

 

Adventures in Living: Mr. Trumplikin

Thursday, October 3, 2019—At Starbucks yesterday, I sat next to a 60ish age white blowhard, a “Trumplikin” who exuded anger through all his pores.  He started by telling me how the Dems had fixated on yet another bogus issue with which to crucify Trump.  In an hour-plus rant, he regurgitated TV issues, but with the Trump camp’s slant.  He raged over the wall, Kavanaugh, China’s “theft” of intellectual property, the Confederate statues, Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, and probably other things that I’ve forgotten.  Oh.  Capital punishment:  kill them fast and make it hurt a little.

He is in manufacturing, has been to China twelve times.  His company makes hydrophilic sponges, I think he said, such as for applying make-up.  I guess the Chinese government restrains waste of chemicals, for instance, by making companies account for everything they use and taxing heavily their excesses.  It was hard to get a clear picture of what he meant, but it sounded like that system works differently (and perhaps better) than the EPA.  He thinks it’s fine that Chinese workers live in dormitories, work 18 hours/day, six days a week for $1/hour.  It saves so much money that it’s worth it to ship the product across the world for sale.  He could not understand that US employers in the US might want to hire illegals here, since that way they can also pay low wages without responsibility.  The only difference is that the Chinese government allows these manufacturers to do it legally.

No one but me sees a middle ground.  I wouldn’t want to be an employer in the US or China, because both exploit their citizens, but in different ways.  I’m surprised at all the costs government imposes—both regulatory and actual—on employers here.  The GM strike, which involves 45,000 workers, is for faster wage increases for new hires, better health care benefits, and to keep some plants open that are slated for closure.  This in the face of declining sales worldwide.

Never mind that I think the industry itself is too big.  “That’s capitalism,” the saying goes.  In the current definition of “capitalism” the do-nothings profit from others’ toil, so I don’t blame the toilers for resenting it.

Mr. Trumplikin can rant at Starbucks, but I rant in my journal.  The system itself creates people like him, so there is no reasoning with him about justice and fair play.  When he claimed he has nothing against immigrants, just go through the proper channels, and I suggested even US citizens are living under bridges and in the streets, so there’s no intrinsic advantage to being a citizen, his response was something to the effect of “create jobs.”  This from a man whose company moved to China to exploit labor, because they can’t do it here and churn stock on Wall Street at the same time.  Oh . . . and we don’t approve of athletes who beat their wives and other women.  Nor do we approve of actresses who bribe college officials to admit their children on athletic scholarships.

I contributed nothing to this monologue, except an occasional “Er . . .” or “But . . .” and allowed Mr. Trumplikin to exorcise his demons, as I monitored my internal blood pressure gauge and tried to deflect the negativity.  He doesn’t like the federal government but didn’t go into specifics.  He agreed with me that (other) Americans are too intolerant.  He thinks video games and social media are responsible for mass shootings.  He conceded the media focus encourages would-be shooters with the fantasy of instant fame.  He conceded that the controversy over Trump is stimulating conversation about politics like never before, even though he thinks Trump should desist from overuse of Twitter.  But Trump says what he thinks, by golly.  You know where he stands.

I left wondering how to reason with people like that.  He has no insight into how heavily he is influenced by the mind control exerted through television, yet he also ranted about “fake news.”

Mr. Trumplikin’s intolerance stands at the opposite pole from my brother-in-law’s intolerance, yet they together personify the “polarization” the media exacerbates by emphasizing and lamenting it.  Last night, S. said he watched three hours or so of the House of Representative’s “discussion” about impeachment.  S. watches Trump’s long speeches (two hours) and I should  too.  That way, I can pick the best candidate in elections.  I said I prefer a two-minute summary, that my opinion doesn’t matter to them.  They are going to do what they are going to do.  My perpetual “None of the above” is never on the ballot, so it translates into my not wasting time at the voting booth.  S. gives the standard response that if I don’t vote, I have no right to complain.  I said I no longer complain, and I don’t.  Complaining does no more good than voting.

Best to do “Process Commentary,” as my blog claims and as I was trained to do as a group therapist.  The process behind the intolerance intrigues me.  I relate intolerance to insecurity, the self-doubt that comes with ambivalence over beliefs.

Both Mr. Trumplikin and my brother-in-law believe in government over the people, just as many people believe in organized religion.  They need that structure to feel safe, the reassurance that someone or something more powerful than the individual cares and is acting in their best interests.  They presume the focus is on the “higher good,” but they are willing to overlook the fact that a different set of rules apply to the “out group,” as Joseph Campbell might claim.  Exploiting Chinese workers is okay, but it’s not okay to exploit illegals in the US.  They should go back to Guatemala to be exploited.  It’s harder to exploit US citizens, so we leave them under bridges and take our jobs to China.

Mr. Trumplikin insisted everything comes down to money.  It’s so trite, yet if everyone believes it, and the system itself is predicated on commerce, money becomes its heart and soul.  This leads to my single biggest contention with the system’s claim to legitimacy.

Mark Twain’s “The Mysterious Stranger”: Commentary

bkstwainmyst1916 I recently read Mark Twain’s The Mysterious Stranger.  This 90-page novella was Twain’s last fictional work (with the presumed final chapter found in his papers after his death in 1910).  The book was first published in 1916.  For its insight into human foibles, it could have been written today.

The introduction and afterword say Twain (Samuel Clemens) achieved early and enduring fame, married well, and was accepted by the social elite in the Northeast.  However, toward the end of his life, he suffered repeated hardship, with the successive deaths a number of people close to him, including a favorite daughter and his wife.  He was a victim of embezzlement and had to go back on the lecture circuit to pay debts.  His writing became increasingly bitter and cynical.

I did not see The Mysterious Stranger as bitter and cynical, unless I am.  It seemed realistic, and while I don’t believe in pre-destination, I can relate to much of Twain’s philosophy about the Moral Sense, war, and the value of humor, as well as the illusory nature of time and the dream-like quality of life.  The final message, to “dream better!” offered hope.

The story is set in an idyllic hamlet in Eseldorf [Jackassville], Austria in 1590.  Three boys, best friends from the cradle, meet a stranger on a woody hilltop, where they have gone to have a smoke.  They’ve discovered they don’t have the flint and steel needed to light their tobacco, but the stranger blows on their pipes and lights them.

He tells the boys–Theodur, the narrator, Nikolaus, and Seppi–that his name is Satan, not “the” Satan, but a favored nephew.  He has superhuman powers but is incapable of sin, because he has not been cursed with a Moral Sense.  He is vivacious and charming, can perform wonderful tricks, and demonstrates by creating a tiny village with living miniature people, then crushes them all without a sign of remorse.  He says they are nothing to him, that he can make anything out of thin air.  Human beings are paltry, pitiful creatures.  Animals, which have no Moral Sense, are far superior.

As the story unfolds, the boys witness the marvelous but disturbing breadth and depth of Satan’s talents, including reading minds, predicting the future, changing destinies by changing simple acts, like having Nikolaus get up to close a window during a storm, thus changing his entire future.  Instead of the long, miserable life he would have lived, that act would lead to his drowning in twelve days.  Satan claimed this was merciful.

He bestows seeming gifts that bring ultimate despair to those so favored, like placing over 1,100 gold ducats in Father Peter’s lost wallet.  Father Peter was then jailed as a thief when the town astrologer claimed the priest stole the money from him.  Satan said Father Peter would be acquitted, but he would never know his name was cleared.  Still, he would be happy the rest of his life

Throughout, Satan is contemptuous of the human race.  He claims wars are never started for any clean purpose.  “’You perceive,’ he said, ‘that you have made continual progress.  Cain did his murder with a club; the Hebrews did their murders with javelins and swords; the Greeks and Romans added protective armor and the fine arts of military organization and generalship; the Christian has added guns and gunpowder; a few centuries from now he will have so greatly improved the deadly effectiveness of his weapons of slaughter that all men will confess that without Christian civilization war must have remained a poor and trifling thing to the end of time’

“Then he began to laugh in the most unfeeling way, and made fun of the human race, although he knew that what he had been saying shamed us and wounded us.  No one but an angel could have acted so; but suffering is nothing to them; they do not know what it is, except by hearsay.”

And “It was wonderful, the mastery Satan had over time and distance.  For him they did not exist.  He called them human inventions, and said they were artificialities.”

Father Peter went mad in his jail cell before learning he had been exonerated.  He imagined he was an emperor.  Satan told Theodur that only mad people can be happy.  “I have taken from this man that trumpery thing which the race regards as Mind . . .”

Theodur comments Satan “didn’t seem to know any way to do a persona a favor except by killing him or making a lunatic out of him.  I apologized, as well as I could; but privately I did not think much of his processes—at that time.”

Satan continues to denounce man’s failings, claiming man prides himself on fine qualities he does not possess.  His only saving grace is a sense of humor, which he doesn’t really have but only a mongrel notion of it.  The human race has only one effective weapon—laughter.  “Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.”

Eventually, Satan comes to bid Theodur goodbye.  He has been called to another corner of the universe.   “Life itself is only a vision, a dream,” he says.  ”And you are not you—you have no body, no blood, you are but a thought . . . you will remain a thought, the only existent thought, and by your nature indistinguishable, indestructible.  But I, your poor servant, have revealed you to yourself and set you free.  Dream other dreams, and better!”

“He vanished, and left me appalled, for I knew, and realized, that all he had said was true.”

I wondered why this book made such a strong impression on me.  Maybe, with all the dystopic visions clouding today’s events, The Mysterious Stranger offered some hope of a reprieve, by dreaming “other dreams, and better!”

 

 

Who’s Crazy Now?

 

munchscream

“The Scream,” Edvard Munch

 

The following story has been rejected by both Analog and Asimov’s science fiction and fantasy magazines, so I’ve reverted to my most reliable publisher, myself, to give a wider audience a chance to reject it, too.  I think it’s amusing and somewhat reflective of my philosophy of life, such as it is.  If there is a target of the satire, it would be The System as it exists today, one that creates mental illness by feeding it through an interconnected web of perverse incentives.

 

 

I am a visitor from a different future.  They label me schizophrenic, not the paranoid type.  My official diagnosis in 21st century mythology, is “disorganized schizophrenia.”  In the past, this form was known as “hebephrenic,” from the Greek, meaning “youthful mind.”  In real life, it means I laugh a lot, for no apparent reason.

I have been hospitalized, this time, because I went to the emergency room on a cold rainy night and told them I wanted to kill myself.  Everyone in the ER knows me.  They ask my name anyway.  This time I say “Gunga Din.”

They write “Charlie Appleton” on their clipboards.  If they already know, why do they ask?  I play along.  I practice my postures in the hall. The ballerina pose.  The dog pose.  The boxer pose.  It makes them smile.  I talk back to my voices and laugh at their jokes.

When I laugh too loudly, they usually give me a shot of haloperidol, an anti-psychotic.  This makes my body slow but my feet restless, so I dance to music played by my friends in our shared future, music only I can hear.

If I’m lucky, they give me another shot, this time of lorazepam, a benzodiazepine and addictive relaxant, but on days Nurse Bully Bozo (not his real name) works, he substitutes diphenhydramine, a sinus and allergy medicine, for the lorazepam.  He gives himself the feel-good shot in the medical supply room.

I know this because I see it in his aura.  Where I come from, we all read auras, only we call these “energy fields.”  They are as visible to everyone as the clothes they wear. It’s impossible to keep a secret, so no one tries.  We could see through clothes, too, if we wanted, but nobody bothers. The clothes are more attractive than the flesh.

I’ve attempted to explain all this to the hospital staff, but there are no words in any Earth speech to describe unimaginable concepts, like alternate futures.  They write on their clipboards that I’m “delusional.”  It helps them sleep better at night.

When I threatened to tell Nurse Bully Bozo’s supervisor that he was giving himself the feel-good stuff, he hit me, then told everyone I’d run into a door.  I tried to tell them the gash on my temple came from his ring, but no one believed me. He has an evil-looking ring with spikes on it, but he hid it after the incident.  When I started screaming that the ring was in his pocket, they strapped me to a table for a full day to keep me safe.

I’ve quit telling people I see their secrets.  I merely laugh when the psychiatrist’s deceased mother carps at him during his interviews with me.  She is too, too funny.  She wanted him to be a surgeon, instead of a psychiatrist. She nags him and gives him no peace. “Psychiatrists aren’t real doctors,” she says.  “I knew you would never amount to anything.  Just like your good-for-nothing father.”

I almost feel sorry for him, having a mother like that.  No wonder he became a psychiatrist.  The more she harasses him, the angrier he gets.  His face gets red, his jaw sets, his knuckles holding his pen turn white, and his hand begins to quiver.  I know he can hear her, but he pretends otherwise.  I’m supposed to be the crazy one, in this past Earth I’m visiting.

“Where did I go wrong?” Dr. Gunn’s mama moans, winking at me.  I try hard not to laugh–he thinks I’m laughing at him and ups the dose of my medications.

“Do you still feel like killing yourself?” he asks.

“I’m already dead,” I reply, and laugh again.  Now his deceased father has joined his mother in his energy field, and they are arguing.  They are blaming each other for the fact that their son is a loser.  “He wouldn’t be an alcoholic if you weren’t,” his mother says.

“He might have a family by now if you hadn’t soured him on women.”

They are bickering so much that I have a hard time hearing his next question.

“Do you hear voices?”  Dr. Gunn asks.

“Everyone hears voices,” I say.  “Voices, choices, they make noises,” I chant, trying to drown out Dr. Gunn’s parents.  “I hear your voice right now.”  I dare not tell him what else I’m hearing.  His mother is mad with him because he blew his inheritance on a floozy, who ran off with his best friend.  His father holds a grudge for the time Dr. Gunn had him arrested for slugging his mother.

I hate seeing secrets nobody else sees.  If they only knew what a burden it is, to carry all that baggage.  At least Dr. Gunn is trying.  He understands how widespread these secrets are.  He knows his upbringing was pretty normal, in this past Earth’s time.

“Please, stop,” I tell his parents.  I cover my ears.  Dr. Gunn thinks these are my voices.  He’s so used to hearing his parents bicker that he doesn’t even notice anymore.  It runs in the background, like machine noise, but it drives him to drink after work.

“Stop what?” the doctor asks me.

I try to distract Dr. Gunn from his parents’ argument.  When he’s angry or hung over, he takes it out on me, the staff, and whoever is closest.  At the moment, I’m the closest, and I’ve already had enough feel-bad drugs to knock me bonkers.

“Stop de wop de boppedy bop,” I say, getting up, twirling and chanting.  Dr. Gunn’s parents stop yelling at each other and watch me.  They start to smile, so I whirl faster, then invite his mother to dance with me.  When I slip up and call her by name, Dr. G freaks out and calls security.  They haul me to a padded cell, my favorite place in the hospital.  They watch through a thick, plexi-glass window as my movements slow, and I fall down.  I drift off into my alternate future, where my friends laugh and applaud.

We gather around the instrument panel that monitors my past Earth body and discuss the effects of feel-bad psych meds on it.  We analyze the past Earth energy field and how it affects the hospital staff.  We pass the Spirits around and congratulate each other on having made the right choice in the Earth-split.

My best buddy, Henry, winces as he scrutinizes the scanning monitor and looks admiringly at me.

“They sure walloped you this time,” Henry says.

“This assignment is harder than you let on,” I reply.  “Those people are crazy.”

“That’s why you’re there.  They are suicidal, determined to annihilate the Earth and everything on it, to prove their prophets right.”

“I know, I know.  I’m supposed to prepare them for the coming Earth-split, when probable futures split off like sparks from a cherry bomb.  Different people ride into different futures, depending on their beliefs.”

“They believe in evil,” says Henry.  “At least some of them do.”

“So do I, after what Nurse Bully Bozo did to me.”

“It didn’t hurt.  You have evolved beyond pain,”

At the moment, Henry is beginning to look like Dr. Gunn, only uglier.  He sees my thought and smiles.

“You don’t feel my pain,” I reply, almost smiling, but not quite.  I have a slight crush on one of the other nurses, Nurse Bleeding Heart (not her real name).  She claims to feel my pain.  Her breasts graze my arm as she changes the bandages on my temple.  The cut, which required three stitches, isn’t healing as quickly as they want.  I gouge at the stitches when I get the chance, claiming they are worms eating through my brain.  No one has noticed I only do that on Nurse Bleeding Heart’s shift.

“I don’t feel your pleasure, either, Lover Boy,” Henry says.  “So quit whining and pass the Spirits.”  I give up the bottle, reluctantly.  It’s a great antidote for the anti-psychotic.  It allows me to communicate with my future home and future friends when I’m operating in the Earth past before the split.

We turn away from the instrument panel and sit down to a lively dinner.  I eat like I’m starving, because I am.  That past Earth food is more poisonous than the drugs, so I’ve been refusing it.  White bread.  Soda pop.  Baloney.  Limp lettuce.  Bottled dressing.  Ugh.  We discuss my work assignment for the next day.  Rather, the others talk while I eat.

In the future Earth I inhabit—when I’m not on assignment to the past—everything is free, and money doesn’t exist.  People work because they like it.  They gravitate to areas of special interest or ability naturally and slip into their niches, like so many jigsaw pieces in a puzzle.  Each is unique but integral to the whole.  There is no competition and no overlap.

My future friends voted unanimously to place me in this assignment.  I was the most evolved, they said.  I was normal enough to pass for crazy.  If I couldn’t bring the alternate future to the past, no one could.  The integrity of the Earth split depended on me.

I look suspiciously at them.  I decide they tricked me, set me up, and are having a whale of a time at my expense.  Henry sees my thought and grins.

“You are the most evolved, you know,” he says now.  “I couldn’t do what you’re doing.”

“I agree.  You’re not smart enough to play dumb.”  I know Henry has doubts about his intelligence, but I’m lonely on this assignment.

“I could use some help,” I say now.  Henry passes the Spirits back to me.  I take the bottle.

“Thanks for the uplifting Spirits,” I say, “but I’m talking about companionship.  When I’m strapped down, or in a strait jacket, I have to do therapy on myself.  ‘It really is them,’ I say.  ‘It really is them.’”

“We know,” Henry replies.  “We hear you.  We’re there for you, just not physically.”

“Don’t I know it.”  By now, the past body is waking up and I know time is short.  I must return soon, lest they decide I’m catatonic and use shock therapy to jolt me into consciousness.

“You nag all day long, all of you at the same time.  It’s enough to drive a past person crazy.  There’s so much static in my brain I’m surprised other people don’t hear it.

“They do hear it, but they pretend not to.  You push the envelope on crazy, so that they feel normal.”

I look skeptical, so Henry continues.  “We’re all very grateful to you, you know.  If you weren’t there then, we wouldn’t be here now.”

 

 

Addiction to Prediction

When you don’t have a television, friends, or family, you have lots of time to read.  At least I do, and lately, I’ve been reading about science and philosophy.

I’ve been trying to understand from a scientific point of view the apparently universal addiction to predictions.  Albert Einstein believed it is the goal of science to predict, as did Isaac Newton.  They believed the laws of the universe could be apprehended and codified mathematically.  This was the basis of Einstein’s discomfort with quantum physics.  That events could not be definitely predicted–only their relative probabilities–led him to insist the theory was “incomplete.”

It could be said the future is incomplete, too, that science and the future will never be finished.  The ancients (and moderns) have a similar argument about God.  If God is perfect, the mover that doesn’t move, as Aristotle believed, or if God is done, complete, finished, and all life is moving toward that ideal, it does imply an end point.

It intrigues me that science has taken on the soothsayer’s cloak, seemingly without awareness that this is the stuff of superstition and mythology.  What’s this preoccupation with the future?  Is the present not good enough?

Quantum mechanics takes a leap by challenging the assumption of predictability.  It also challenges the mechanistic tradition that ousted God or other life force from the cosmos.  It supports my contention that there is no objective reality standing apart and uninvolved.  The experiment is a creation of the experimenter.

The most significant distinction, here, to me, is that quantum mechanics turns conventional views of science’s predictive aspirations upside down.  The cosmos is unpredictable.  We are floating in an ocean of probabilities punctuated with unlikely events.

We can predict with relative certainty that all our bodies are going to die, but no one can predict how or when.  Those who commit suicide may on some level want to decide the method and timing.  Those who “live dangerously” increase the probability that the how and when will occur dramatically and sooner rather than later.

Psychologically, the admission by scientists and mathematicians that life is unpredictable, that nature, the universe, and even electrons pulsate to their own rhythms–despite the rules mankind wants to impose on them–rattles the cages of the concrete thinkers who believe reality consists of rules.  It’s possible that the theologically inclined and the philosophers are more mentally nimble with respect to probabilities, possibilities, and the unexpected.  The people who believe miracles are possible, that prayer works, that all is not what it seems, might delight in the idea of a probable universe of infinite variability.

It seems science has painted itself into a corner by creating a construct that has little relevance to life.  Will Durant, in The Story of Philosophy, looks to Francis Bacon–who wanted to compile all human knowledge and saw science as the guiding light of the future–as a kind of messenger.  Durant praises Bacon’s vision but notes Bacon was not familiar with the scientists of his own time, like Kepler and Harvey.  His enthusiasm was ideological, not practical.  But Durant also suggests the idea of world rule by scientists instead of politicians is laudable.  According to me, Durant is idealistic himself.  Scientists in politics become politicians, as indicated by the current controversy over global warming or “climate change.”  According to the media-digested and regurgitated “statistics” or “evidence,” scientists speak with one voice.  Dissenters are ignored, discredited, or otherwise cast into the dustbin of irrational heretics.

My point, which I keep skirting, is that today’s science is not my version of “science,” so maybe I should respect Socrates’ insistence on strict definitions.  In our world, scientists as a group are accorded the awe and respect formerly reserved for gods, but who can define what “science” or “a scientist” is?

The Latin root for “science,” is “sciere,” or “to know,” so it presumes nothing about forecasts.  Aristotle made observations and used inductive reasoning to synthesize what he observed into an organized framework.

My dictionary says science is “knowledge obtained by study and practice.”  It also refers to systematized knowledge and classification.  By that definition, any organized body of knowledge could be a “science.”  The dictionary refers to the “science of boxing.”

Also by that definition, anyone who studies and uses a certain skill or set of skills can call himself a scientist.  The science of carpentry, the science of advertising, and of course, political science.  The “scientific method” need not apply.

My definition starts with the scientific method, which uses deductive reasoning to establish a hypothesis and seek evidence pro and con.  To establish cause and effect in a controlled experiment, the variables must be artificially reduced to one.  There is a “study” group and a “control” group, with the numbers in each group great enough to produce statistically significant differences between the groups, should differences exist.  So “scientific research,” at least in modern terms, only seeks to predict probabilities, like quantum physics does.

I have oft-expressed doubts about whether the scientific method is valid for obtaining knowledge that can be generalized outside the experiment, but this is the method used in medical research, at least.  The idea of causation, the motivation to prove or disprove a hypothesis, and the factors that might affect the outcome are arbitrarily chosen.

Does any effect have a single cause?  Here I have perhaps a broader view than most, yet I’m subject to “because” thinking, myself.  I figure it’s so much a part of traditional Western thought processes that many are not even aware of its subliminal effect on how we structure reality.  As I read the ideas of philosophers through time, I see they, too, sought causes for the effects they observed.  This correlated with beliefs in God, or nature worship, or superstitions and mythology.  The idea of an unseen hand directing the forces of nature and thereby life on earth, reveals the human desire to understand.

Quantum mechanics and the Oriental pattern-based approach to understanding shakes the cause-and-effect pedestal.  It no longer reigns absolute in a world in which correlations are given at least as much intellectual weight as presumed causes.

I wonder about such taken-for-granted notions as the speed of light.  How do they know it travels at 186,000 miles/second?  Who discovered that and how was it proved?  How does anyone know that’s the absolute speed limit of the cosmos?

It’s hard to know where hypothesis or mathematical conjecture ends and proof or answers begin.  So much is assumed to be true, until it no longer is, like the world is flat or evolution is a fact.

Are concepts of space and time even legitimate when considering the scope of the universe?  I wonder if any answer will satisfy the questioners.  Aren’t answers just the flip sides of the next questions, or series of questions?

Another serious limitation of the scientific method, especially as it’s applied to natural phenomena or human activity, is that you can’t know what might have been.  There are no alternative scenarios with which to judge and compare.  This is my dilemma with historical trends and concepts like man-made climate change.

Ex-post facto justification for historical events—like dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan—rely on the propaganda generated by “our side” about what might have happened instead.  “The Japanese would never have capitulated,” or “We saved thousands of American lives” are excuses I’ve heard numerous times.  Fact is, nobody knows what might have happened.  It is not given to us to know the results of unrealized action.

The disconnect between science and life also bugs me.  Thomas Hobbes tried to apply scientific principles to human behavior for a model of government.  I suppose the “behavioral sciences” also strive to fit human behavior into scientific models.  This seems backwards.  The deductive method tries to exclude too much and risks being blind-sided by factors it chooses not to see.

My study of astrology made me wary of predictions long ago.  People want and crave predictions, but “good” or “bad” forecasts both put binders on the future and restrict imagination regarding alternative possibilities.  “Science” might be more useful to humanity by broadcasting its knowledge of the present and leaving predictions to the fortune tellers.

What If?

What if time and space really are illusions?  To imagine such a possibility requires suspending conventional views of heaven and hell, and unconventional views about reincarnation.  It necessitates considering the “spacious present” as containing an infinite variety of probable pasts and futures.

In such a scenario, what we perceive as immortality is a given, with no beginnings, no endings, and no ultimate answers or conclusions, just a perpetual state of becoming.  In the world of the spacious present, time is not a line, and space is not measured in distances.  Immortality is a state of being, with varying focus creating the experience we call life.  We do not move through time or space; they move through us.  In considering this concept, the question becomes one of how a person might change his/her approach to life if he/she believes there is no final escape and no final reward, just a continuation of challenges and abilities encountered in this existence.

Mystics throughout the ages emphasize varying versions of “Be here now,” which gives the present its due.  Quantum physics is verging on the same understanding of time as a matter of perception.

The idea of timelessness subtends the premise of my novel, in which an immortal being from a seven-dimensional universe becomes stuck in space-time.  He hopes to save himself by saving the Earth from itself.  Unfortunately for Beon, he has contracted the disease of solipsism, which convinces him he’s the center of the universe, and everything outside himself is a figment of his imagination.

This excerpt from the chapter that introduces Beon describes his disease.  It seems relevant in light of our current Earthly challenges.

* * * * *

From “Beon’s Disease” chapter:

Suddenly, the word “solipsism,” caught his attention.  He looked past Bud’s throne to the far wall, where the large screen Interdimensional-Intergalactic Internet and High-Vibe TV transmitted news and programming from 7-D, Beon’s home universe, the one he escaped forever ago, in a moment of weakness.

“Solipsism has reached epidemic proportions in 7-D,” the newscaster was saying.  “Mutant life forms from the destroyed planets Reshiba, Charam, and Binorem are stalking the universes, desperately seeking vitality, spreading solipsism wherever they go.”

The announcer continued.  “We are honored to have as our guest Dr. Robert Strand, medical director for the famous Solipsism Treatment Center.  Dr. Strand is here to tell us about this virulent disease and how to protect yourself from it.”  He turned to face his guest.

“Hello, Dr. Strand,” he said.  “Thank you for joining us.  First, would you explain what solipsism is and why it is so dangerous?”

The camera zoomed in on the doctor’s haggard face.  Beon raised the volume and exclaimed, “Look, Bud.  It’s Doctor Stand.  He diagnosed me, remember?” Bud opened his eyes, yawned, and closed them again.

“Certainly,” Dr. Strand replied, “but I need to supply some background.  As many of you know, in 7-D, everyone is immortal, so life is measured in units of vitality rather than time.  It can flow strong or weak, but it never stops.  For us, time is a minor dimension, subservient to vitality levels.  We can past and future fish, changing the past and the future with our focused intent.  Our vitality levels determine the pasts and futures we reel in.  We know that peaceful living enhances vitality.  Conflict depletes it.”

The interviewer interrupted, his voice nervous.  “If what you’re saying is true, then our universe is severely vitality-depleted.  War and conflict have become the norm, and few remember peaceful times.”

“That’s correct,” said Dr. Strand.  “It’s the major manifestation of a solipsism epidemic.  It’s important to understand that solipsists deny any reality other than their own.  For instance, if I stopped taking my medication, I would begin to view you as a figment of my imagination, to be controlled or extinguished as I see fit.  I could deny your existence or sap your vitality by provoking you into a rage, or by manipulating you in other ways.”

“You are a solipsist?” the interviewer asked.  “I thought admitting you have it is proof that you don’t.”

“And denying you have it is proof that you do,” replied Dr. Strand, with a wry grin.  “There’s some truth to that, but primarily the disease is characterized by the pain you cause others.  Others are forced to catch it in self-defense.

“Solipsists drain others’ vitality to feed their own.  Working with solipsists would have sapped my vitality to the vegetable point if I hadn’t put myself on medication.”  The doctor paused.  The camera shifted to a group of various life forms in a large room.

Dr. Strand’s voice continued.  “This video clip shows a typical meeting of solipsists at the Solipsism Treatment Center.  I called the meeting for new patients to meet and set the day’s priorities, then I left the room.”

Suddenly, sounds of pandemonium blasted from Beon’s speakers.  Everyone was talking and no one was listening.  There was no moderator.  Beon felt his vitality levels decreasing, sucked across the dimensions into the vortex of the solipsistic gathering.

Beon winced and muted the sound.  He shifted his gaze and spoke to the cat.  “Do you remember Dr. Strand, Bud?  He said I was a textbook case of solipsism, the worst he’d ever seen.  He put me on medication after I caused the Triple-Big Accident that destroyed those three planets.  He said my chest pain resulted from toxic buildup of stolen vitality.”

Bud winked, or appeared to wink.  Beon couldn’t be sure.  His eyes drifted back to the High-Vibe screen, where the meeting continued.  “No solipsist considers anyone else wise enough to moderate a meeting or impartial enough to make a decision.  The meeting will continue indefinitely, with attendance waxing and waning, and no resolution possible.”

When the camera cut back to the interview, Beon turned the sound back up.  “How do you replenish vitality?” the interviewer asked.

“No one knows for sure,” Dr. Strand replied, “because no one knows where vitality comes from.  If we knew that, we might find a cure for solipsism, by providing pure sources of vitality for depleted individuals.”

“I know!” Beon almost screamed at the screen.  “I know how to harness pure sources.”

He knew attempting to communicate through the Triple-In was futile.  He could receive but not transmit, ever since he plunged the Cosmo Cruiser through that black hole forever ago.  From a 7-D perspective, Beon had ceased to exist, or so it seemed.

“I was once a hero, but now I’m not even a villain, even though I’m responsible for infecting all of 7-D.  I don’t get credit or blame, because solipsists don’t recognize specialness outside themselves.  They don’t even notice I’m gone.”

Beon muted the High-Vibe TV and jumped up from his chair.  He started orbiting Bud’s throne, a habit he’d developed since his ill-fated suicide attempt, the one that trapped him in this space-time prison.  He circled counter-clockwise, as if to recapture the lost past, with all the choice points that had landed him in this fix.  As he walked, he talked.

“For me, solipsism is a disease, but for you, it’s an art form, isn’t it, Bud?” he said.  “You are the center of the Cosmos, and life serves you.  Maybe I’m a figment of your imagination, conjured just to feed you, invent vitality-enhancing thrones for you, and build robots like Alfred to change your litter box.”

As Bud started purring, his throne responded to the change in vibrations, with its energy field brightening and sparkling. The musical tones quickened, and Beon’s pace kept the beat, stepping lively now, in his circuit around the throne.  The worry lines between his eyes relaxed.

Like a Sphere in Flatland

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A man in my e-mail group asked to be excluded from my responses.  He said I was “negative” and “liberal.”  I had merely mentioned I don’t believe in war, that it is barbaric, institutionalized murder.  I said I don’t believe in standing armies, either.

It really hurt my feelings that he called me “liberal.”  Liberals don’t like me, either.  In fact, on the political continuum from the various “ism’s” at the extremes and including “liberal” and “conservative,” I don’t fit anywhere.  I feel like a sphere in Flatland.

For those who haven’t read this charming classic satire, Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, by Edwin A. Abbott (1884), it is well worth reading, and only 160 pages.   In it, narrator A. Square describes a planar world in which the social hierarchy is determined by how many angles you have.  When Lord Sphere makes himself known to A. Square, he is incredulous until taken on a visit to “Spaceland.”  His attempts to convince his fellow Flatlanders of the existence of a third dimension only gets him in trouble, and he ends up in jail for his lunacy.

Another image, maybe more appropriate to the linear liberal-conservative standard and its limitations, is of trying to assess the validity of a book by the scientific method.  The scientific method is the holy grail of modern scientific dogma, but it is limited by its linear approach. Scientists believe this makes it superior to other methods of assessing truth.

The scientific method presumes cause and effect, yes-and-no, good and bad, right and wrong.  It sneers at extraneous information, abstractions, symbols, and patterns. Logic is linear:  words must come out in sequential fashion.  Those who relate this to the left brain–the seat of verbal thinking and expression in most people–claim superiority of this hemisphere because of its lock-step method of reasoning.  The right brain is associated with symbols, patterns, dreams, and appreciation for art and music.

However, the brain is wired such that incoming sensory information travels through the thalamus, the pain center, then through the limbic system, the emotional center, before it reaches left or right brain.  In other words, every thought is colored by physical and emotional input before it becomes conscious.  Even the most logical and rational analysis is founded on emotional bias.

The scientific, linear mode presumes to be objective, insofar as is humanly possible, yet the choice of study subject is based on emotional factors.  The idea that artificial intelligence, with its binary code, can eventually surpass the human brain’s abilities discounts the spontaneous creativity of the right brain and its symbolic language of patterns and associations.

The recent preoccupation with what’s called “fake news” shows how easy it is to confuse the “rational” mind.  Misinformation, propaganda, distortions, opinion, gossip, libel, and slander have always been around.  Assumptions presumed to be factual have fallen apart over and over in light of new evidence.  The earth used to be flat, remember, and the sun revolved around it.  Now there’s a widespread concern that people don’t know whom or what to trust, with “trust” seemingly synonymous with blind faith in the source.

What is truth, after all, and does it matter?  If this trend leads to a greater tendency to question authority or formerly trusted sources, or to more critical thinking, it might result in the revolution in consciousness that some people imagine.  We will not achieve it through the scientific method, which requires an artificial situation that attempts to reduce variables to one.  In life there is always infinitely more than one variable to consider.  Thus, trying to place anyone on a linear political scale reduces her dimensionality to a pitiful caricature, but we see it all the time:  the blacks, the women, the illegals, the racists, the poor, the 0.1 percent, and on and on.  The so-called advocates, whether members of the identified group or not, posture themselves as knowing the condition, needs, and wants of the group.

Labeling of groups dehumanizes them, clumps them into an agglutinated mass of undifferentiated genetic material that serves only to concentrate emotion into an identifiable target for support or attack.  Advocates tend to use that emotionally laden grouping to promote their agendas, which may be personal or may be backed by yet other groups.

I can only know my own truth, and even that changes moment to moment or as soon as I turn my head.  Truth is a slippery little rascal.  Like a sphere in Flatland, or a book whose value defies the scientific method, I can see from above or below the plane, or even with the plane, but at least I know the difference between a line and a circle.  The scientific method might judge based on emotionally based standards of comparison, but patterns make no judgments and have no beginnings or ends, no cause-and-effect, and reveal no ultimate truth.

My dislike for war, and for fighting, compels me to avoid arguing, recognizing as I do that my choice is emotional, as is my detractor’s.  Energy goes out of me when I’m drawn into conflictual situations.  I believe this happens with others, too, but I could be wrong.  The relentless focus on competition and struggle, on differences cemented by stifling labels, only feeds the problems, generating parallel, linear, universes with no spherical perspective.

Thoughts on Utopia

I picked up Thomas More’s classic book, Utopia, the other day.  Publsished in 1516, the book describes what More conceived of as an ideal place.  The word “utopia” is derived from the Greek, and means “no place.”

Thomas More was trained as a lawyer and worked in government service under King Henry VIII of England.  As most people know, King Henry was desperate for an heir to the throne, and his wife, Spanish Catherine of Aragon, was barren.  King Henry wanted an annulment, but this was denied by the Roman pope.  To obtain his desire, King Henry had Parliament pass a law in 1534 declaring King Henry the supreme head of the Church in England.  This eventually became the Anglican Church..

Thomas More was a devout Catholic and refused to accept King Henry as the head of the church.  For this treason, he was imprisoned and ultimately beheaded by the king in 1535.

The book, Utopia, opens with More involved in a conversation with one Peter Giles, and a traveler, Raphael.  At the time, More is on the king’s business in Antwerp.  Raphael proves to be well travelled, having visited many known and unknown kingdoms and other territories.  He shows a familiarity with many forms of government and impresses More and Giles with his comprehensive knowledge and understanding.  Giles naturally asks him why he does not enter the service of some king, as an advisor, as he could be quite useful.

Raphael refuses to consider the idea.  He says kings have advisors who are jealous of each other and of new information.  Also, kings want wars to expand their power and influence.  Working in the service of a king would amount to slavery, and Raphael prefers his freedom.

The subject of thieves comes up, and Giles notes that thieves are being hanged on a regular basis, yet there is no reduction in stealing.  Raphael says hanging for thievery is unjust, a punishment far in excess of the crime, and that the plague of thievery is created by society.  He notes that wars, for one thing, produce a multitude of maimed and mutilated former soldiers who are unable to work and have no other means of supporting themselves.  Wealthy landowners, who keep many idle hangers on, only like the healthy ones.  When their lackeys become sick, they are tossed out, with no place to go.  Add to this the fact that kings keep standing armies, even in times of peace, in order to keep prepared for eventual war.  These soldiers are not trained in any other livelihood so are without recourse should anything happen to interrupt their military careers.

Raphael goes on to say that the problem is rendered worse in England, where the wealthy have commandeered large tracts of land for the grazing of sheep.  Formerly agricultural land is fenced off, with whole towns being displaced from their former livelihoods involved in agriculture.  These people have no place to go and no alternative sources of income, so they are forced into thievery to survive.

This is prelude to the rest of the story, about the ideal civilization of Utopia, but what strikes me is how little has changed in 500 years.  Wars and displacement continue to be the primary causes of poverty, with the corporations and governments commandeering large tracts of land for such things as dams, airports, and power stations.

Ongoing discussions about the increasing disparity between rich and poor neglect to consider the most fundamental, root cause of poverty, as prominent today as in Thomas More’s time.  War and displacement debilitate the most vulnerable members of society and lead, ultimately, to the crime and violence we see in the US today.  While we don’t have actual war on our turf, we are involved in wars around the globe, to expand our US economic empire, while neglecting problems at home that are destroying the fabric of the society in which we live.

One would think we would have learned something in the past 500 years.  At least we don’t hang people for thievery, which may be a step in the right direction.  Should we begin applying our vast resources to constructive rather than destructive activity, we may begin to revitalize our debilitated national spirit and make a justifiable claim to being a civilized society.

What is Truth? What is Real?

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Climate change?  Does it matter?   The storm surge from Hurricane Irma flooded my crawl space, water heater, and outside air conditioner, and I’m still cleaning up the debris.  kco091117 

Information.  Misinformation.  Disinformation.  News.  Fake News.  Opinion.  Generalization.  Prediction.   Propaganda.  Lies.  Advertising.  Gossip.  Second guesses. Stereotypes.  Assumptions.

I feel overwhelmed by the glut of demands on attention and allegiance.  What to believe?  What not to believe?   To believe everything and nothing at the same time?  To trust my own judgment or to doubt?  I long for escape, to screen it all out, to hear only the sounds of birds and wind through the trees, to see only the clouds floating by or the filigree of Spanish moss.  Nature speaks her own language, full of mystery, but without hypocrisy.

Consensual science says the climate is changing, and it’s man’s fault.  “Climate deniers,” some with the same education and backgrounds, say the whole idea is a hoax.

The public and the media seem obsessed with the president of the United States, as if he alone has the power to bring on the Apocalypse.

I look at my immediate, media-avoidant home and see the reality of today’s chores awaiting me. The frenzy that has gripped the world in fear of terrorism, Congressional bickering, North Korea, “climate change,” the latest hurricane, and what gaffe the “Orange Tweet” has committed now. . . all seem far away, surreal, and not my concern.

My “scientific inquiry” has a more practical bent.  How to repair the broken handle on my favorite plastic thermal mug, so that it will hold.  Scientific experiment number one only worked a few days.  Scientific experiment number two added rubber bands to hold the handle while epoxy dried.

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The word “science” comes from the Latin, “sciere,” “to know,”  but I contend knowledge is forever evolving and changing, based on new data, new perspectives. Lately, I’ve had to accept that much of what I thought I knew no longer applies.  Not only that, I’ve found those who speak with the most authority often believe they know more than they do.  Are they lying?  Not if they believe they know.  Who knows?

They say “knowledge is power.”  I’ve found knowledge also brings the responsibility for decisions about what to do with it.  Each action or non-action leads to unforeseen probabilities.  We can never know the paths not taken.

Lately, I’ve had to question everything I’ve been taught, especially within the field of medicine, but also regarding history and politics.  While they may seem to be different areas of concern, they have merged as two inextricably linked paradigms regarding the human body and mind, as they relate to the greater social family of humanity.

I feel a greater need to understand than to know.  To understand is eventually to love, according to one of my favorite philosophers.  To believe I “know” is an exercise in hubris, maybe, and this is where official “science” and I part ways.  How do you know you know?

Maybe I’m psychic.  Maybe I’m psychotic.  Maybe there’s no difference, from an internal perspective.  I’ve always relied on what I call a “vibrational perception” that tries to attune to “energy fields” of emotion:  the frenetic human angst in the city, the mood of a room, the quality of the sounds in the atmosphere, the body language of someone I’ve unwittingly offended.  I feel things I can’t verify.  I dream of things—usually minor things—before they happen.  I believe I live many lives, not in a sequential way, but in a group of parallel lives in a “spacious present” where “bleed throughs” regularly occur.  I believe time is an illusion, so we are all essentially immortal, thrust together in multiple contexts until we figure out how to get along.  I believe ghosts talk to me, although I’ve never seen one.  I feel them in my “vibe space.”  They like to mess with me.

I can’t “prove” any of this, nor do I care to try. Maybe it’s imagination, but imagination gives things their own validity. I still have a physical body in the physical world we breathing human beings agree exists, the “reality” that depends on physical senses for information.

I contend there is no objective reality, that we are all subjective, with unique perspectives, experiences, orientations.  I believe life is universal and provides the energy of the cosmos.  Some people call it god.  Some call it “qi.”  Some may not think of it at all.

I read today that many people feel a strong need to be “right.”  They screen out conflicting evidence and dig their heels into defending ossified conclusions.  That was my father’s way.  He was a proud “rational scientist,” scornful of the “emotional irrationality” of women, generally, and my mother, specifically.  To be wrong around him was a character flaw, never to be lived down, so it became an exercise in pride never to admit error.  Ghosts don’t exist, he claimed, until he became one, witnessed by a friend of science, after he died.

So who really knows?  Maybe we’re in the throes of a massive paradigm shift, in which the desire to understand begins to surpass the futile attempt to know.  I don’t believe the future is fixed or predictable.  There are many probable futures, I hope, but the present is a good place to start.

It’s About Time: Bud, Beon, and the Bots

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Sunday, July 2, 2017—This is a scene from my novel, a decades-old perpetual work in progress.  Superficially sci-fi, it is based on a philosophy that life is immortal, everything has consciousness, and everything runs its course then evolves into something else.  Time and space are illusions within a “spacious present.”  Death is like a phase change–like water converting to steam–while retaining the essential qualities of water.  From this perspective, there is no end point, and the process is the goal.

The purpose of the novel is to make you smile.  Let me know if you want more.

CHAPTER 4

CAUSE AND EFFECT

The sun, shining through dingy, crocheted curtains, cast a mosaic of light and shadow across the worn rug. By the angle of the light and content of the shadows, Joe knew it was at least 11 AM.

His head throbbed with an intensity of 200 on a one-to-ten scale.  The light hurt his eyes, but he didn’t have the courage to move.  He remained curled stiff, eyes clenched shut, until his bladder forced him to attempt the impossible and get out of bed.

He moaned, then winced.  He eased to a slouching position at the edge of the bed, resting his aching forehead between tender hands.  Slowly, ever so slowly, he stood and staggered to the bathroom, carefully shielding his eyes from the light.  He downed two aspirin and then a third, to abort the stroke he must be having.  It was at least a stroke. Maybe an aneurysm had burst.  He stared into the mirror.  Images of his certain, agonizing, and imminent death spread like acrid black goo across his quivering brain.

“I’m dying,” he told his haggard face. It stared back at him—coldly critical, his appearance substandard today, even for him.  He and his reflection eyed each other.  He noted the dark eye sockets, red eyes, fuzzy vision, chin stubble, wrinkles, and greasy hair.  He didn’t smell too good, either.  Let the embalmer handle it, he decided.  That’s what he’s paid for.

He trod a wobbly path through the living room to the kitchen, where the percolator was full of yesterday’s grounds.  His stomach wasn’t feeling much like coffee, but his head told him he was in caffeine withdrawal.  He cursed Marian for getting him so drunk that he forgot to prepare the coffee pot.  He imagined her boiling in a vat of coffee, begging for mercy.

Suddenly, Beon’s face loomed across Joe’s inner screens.  The balding, round visage grinned like the Buddha, his eyes innocuous, his portent ominous.  Joe’s head pounded harder, and his knees felt weak.  An image of lab rats, pinned to boards and randomly shocked, blotted out Beon’s face.  Then, the lab rats became little Joes, with Beon delivering the shocks.

Joe listed the objective, measurable reasons for his agony.  Unendurable pain. Undetectable caffeine levels. Betrayal by his only friend.  Violation of sacred coffee ritual, and death without absolution.  Beon.  He threw fresh coffee in the pot, spilling half the grounds on the counter, creating yet another reason to feel miserable.

Percolator finally started, Joe turned to face new trouble.  He opened the freezer and scowled at empty ice trays.  The little Joes in his head jumped and slumped.

He dragged his failing carcass to the couch. He imagined the pain in his head could power a small city, if he could figure out how to harness the energy.  Not today, though.  And tomorrow wasn’t looking too good, either.

Beon’s face returned, and with it, thoughts of the healing machine.  Joe wondered if it could cure his headache.  “Yes,” said Beon’s image.

“Who asked you?”  Joe demanded, not realizing he spoke out loud.

“You did.”  Joe decided he was going crazy, too.  “DALE,” said the face.  “Diet-Associated Life Enhancer.”

Joe covered his ears, but it did no good.  Beon’s image swelled in his head, and dream pictures bombarded his brain, rocking his scientific foundations.  The throbbing and pounding got louder, clanging against his skull.  Joe closed his eyes and waited to die.  Through it all, Beon’s face smirked, as if he enjoyed Joe’s suffering.

But death defied him, and Beon continued to grin.  Joe glanced around the room.  A single picture, hung askew, showed a listing clipper ship, an artifact left by the previous tenant.  George White left a few pieces of tired furniture, too, good enough for Joe.  His mailbox in the foyer downstairs still bore White’s name.  When neighbors called him “George,” Joe didn’t bother to correct them.  It was as good a name as “Joe.”

Now Joe wondered for the first time what happened to George White.  His couch may not look great, but it had personality.  It was warm, comfortable, inviting.  It was friendly.  It was taking care of him, helping him feel better, as a friend would do.

“I have tangible evidence that you existed,” he told the former tenant, “even if we’ve never met.  I still get your mail.  Beon is only imaginary, but he’s torturing me, and I can’t get away from him.”

Joe’s eyes began to blur.  His stomach felt queasy.  Vague terrors swept over him, and sweat poured from his upper body.  He wiped his face with a dirty napkin and dropped it on the floor.  “This is only a hangover.  It clouds my perspective, makes me think crazy thoughts.  It was only a dream.  A machine like that is impossible, and Beon doesn’t exist.”