Our doubts are traitors,
and make us lose the good we oft might win,
by fearing to attempt.
Measure for Measure
Let us plan your extra-dimensional vacation.
Three seekers blog thoughts, stories, humor, poetry, science, technology, music, artwork and the esoteric.
Our doubts are traitors,
and make us lose the good we oft might win,
by fearing to attempt.
Measure for Measure
So the question in this spiel has to do with extra sensory abilities, should such a thing exist. This, apparently and according to some scientists, does have scientific merit in a world where such ideas are considered nonsense. To a logical mind, yes, absolutely, such a thing is indeed bullshit and silly and something only a child or psychopath would deem worthy of any real consideration. Let's step into our child/psychotic minds and roll with it just for a few minutes. Allow me to move on, assuming that this is a real and common thing, as it very well may be.
The Question of God or divinity is apparent in all of us. The concept itself exists not just because we were taught as children that such a thing exists. The idea of something larger, something omnipresent, something powerful and beyond our bodies, exists. Fantasy and horror writers speak of ghosts and goblins and creatures from beyond, and we can all relate to it in some way, either as a joke or as a way to escape what surrounds. The fantastic is real in our minds and not at all a foreign thing.
Allow me to tie these together.
Let's take the concept of god and the infinite and tie it into ourselves and our beings. We know fundamentally, if not subconsciously, that something exists beyond our bodies in whatever form our conscious minds can conceive. Is this psychosis inherit in all of us? The mind does seem rather eager to see things that don't exist and to hear the words of the dead. There is a heaven just a side-step away and through the little door in the attic that holds the monsters from childhood. Some claim to be able to and possibly can hear others' thoughts, feel others' emotions, see the future, talk to the dead, know things they can't possibly know. Does the monster under the bed grant these abilities? Yes, it does, because the monster under the bed is me and you and the kid down the street whose chain fell off his bike, and the sky, and unity of the belief of something out there that is more than taste and touch and smell and seeing and hearing. Maybe we're all monsters of creation with powers unbelievable even to ourselves and our primitive brains. Hiding beyond our senses may be the world of our fantasies where the Mutants beyond perception roam around and experience the world in a language no one can speak and in thoughts beyond the mind.
That's crazy though, isn't it? I mean, if our brains and perceptions therein hold us from the infinite, then why would they exist? Consider the opposite of psychosis, and stop and think if maybe we don't have things ass backwards when considering madness. I can't taste colors because that's crazy. But I do have a feeling that colors have flavors, only when I'm in a more lucid place than the madness of reason.
Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?
Although there is still so much we have to learn about the human brain, we obviously know that the neurological structure is very complex, and it processes information in such a way that I believe it is fair to argue that a human's mind is a computer. With that being said, I don't think humans are fully pre-programmed at birth. There is some genetic predisposition that influences behavior, but what is experienced, learned, extrapolated, and internalized also contributes to how we behave. So, we have some programming at birth, and additional programming is overlaid as a result of our environment.
I heard a story on the most recent Radiolab program entitled "Blame" about a man who had a seizure condition for which he had brain surgery, and after his surgery he apparently became obsessed with child pornography and was charged for his crimes. His doctor spoke on his behalf in court, asserting that this type of impact to the brain after surgery (namely the inability to suppress and control primal urges) was a known and in this case a treatable condition. The man spent some time in prison, but he was treated and essentially recovered. I have heard other stories of people having traumatic brain injuries and having their personalities change completely. And other stories of people developing brain tumors and becoming pedophiles where this desire wasn't present prior to the tumor. And yet other stories about how some people are genetically predisposed to becoming psychopaths, and how vital their environmental development is in determining whether or not that will happen. So, are humans responsible for their actions, and do we have free will? I honestly find myself questioning this, knowing how delicate the structures of the brain are in shaping our behaviors, and knowing that we could all be just one molestation or auto accident or neoplasm away from someone who engages in horrible and ethically deplorable behavior.
As a matter of fact, in that very same episode of Radiolab, neuroscientist David Eagleman argues that our current justice system of blame is unsound for those very reasons, and that we may be better off as a society if we assign punishment based on recidivism--or determining based on data whether or not a person will engage in future behavior that is detrimental to society. It's nice to think that we have free will and that the world is our oyster, that we can all rise to the occasion and stand on a mountaintop with our fist in the air and choose whatever wonderful thing we ever want. But if that's so, why aren't we all doing it? Why do we choose to debase ourselves? Can we learn to be better? Can we even help it?
I don't mean to sound like a deterministic a-hole, because in reality, I don't have an answer as to whether or not anyone or no one is completely responsible for any one thing in particular. But in spite of my philosophical musings, I do think programmers have a responsibility to make ethical decisions in their work, and I also believe that when there are negative outcomes as a result of a computer's actions, that we should investigate the intent of the programmer, if that is even possible. But I suspect a day will come when technology becomes as complex as the human brain, and when we witness machines doing things we never could have imagined in ways we never would have dreamed. When that time arrives, I think we will find it just as difficult as we do (or as we should) now to assign blame unequivocally.
Sometimes my existential musings lead me down a rabbit hole so twisted and strange I struggle to recover from it. For this reason I've always tended toward the side of science when interpreting my reality. A younger version of me has fought tirelessly to apply her powers of deduction and reasoning in even the most trivial of observations. But I found as I approached the wise old age of early 30s that my feverish need to comprehend my place in the universe had prevented me from experiencing it. It's always seemed like the people around me 'get it'. They go about their daily lives, unconcerned with the nature of reality; building careers, taking up hobbies, branching out socially. They seem to have a balanced and digestible perception of trees to forest ratios.
I've never been good at blending in. As most who know me can tell you, I've always been a bit odd. I've come to terms with that at this point, so I'll save you the false diffidence. I find it extremely odd that we're not all freaking out right now. Seriously, why aren't we screaming, running through the streets and tearing our eyes out? I mean, really.... what the actual fuck is going on? There are too many completely horrifying, astonishing, mind-blowing concepts to be considered and pondered. It's possible to get so lost in the woods you can't find a tree.
I don't think I'm alone, even if a bit lonely, for my tendency to cry while watching Through The Worm Hole With Morgan Freeman. I may be in the minority for my need to consider all possibilities. And I'm sure I seem like a contradiction for embracing the cognitive dissonance of science and religion. But I refuse to believe there exists a stone not worth turning. Even though the incomprehensible immensity of infinity does cause me heart pounding anxiety, this uncanny curiosity is coiled so tight around my perception I've lost sight of where it ends and I begin. Perhaps it is madness by most standards, though neuroscientists, like David Eagleman, are re-writing society's definition of 'crazy' as we speak.
Growing up my obsession with the meaning of existence brought me nothing but discomfort. And the worst part was that answers never brought me any relief. Settling on the label "atheist" for most of my life, I felt an emptiness. Answers. Absolutes. They're all just shadows on a cave wall. Crude grunts we use to assemble crude representations of what we really mean. Learning how to ask new questions has always been much more fulfilling. And now that I'm a big grown-up adult it seems easier to exist in the presence of 'the question' without fidgeting impatiently for someone to bring it up. I welcome it now in all forms. Is there a God? Was there a creator? Am I God? Does God get mad when I curse? What's gravity? Are we living in a virtual reality? Is the Universe Infinite? Does God watch me poop? Does God poop?
It seems almost silly to me now to have believed so staunchly in the absence of a Creator, since conceptually, the absence of something still validates its existence. Now I realize the real problem is words. Call it what you want, God, Jesus, Buddha, Yahweh, dark matter, infinity, us, love, the singularity, the collective conscience, chaos, or the weirdest, most meaningless accident in the history of the universe. We're all talking about the same thing. And I feel like more of us are coming to that understanding. As technology and the limits of human achievement expand exponentially, we're awakening to a new perception of reality.
So shout out to all the Existentially Anxious out there. There's a place for us in the future, in that uncanny valley where science and spirit meet.
I love this embedded Radiolab episode. When I first heard it, I had already been thinking about the curiosity of language and meaning, and I felt it encapsulated what it is about language that makes me suffer. Concepts that exist don't exist to us until they have a name and a purpose. And then they only exist for each of us within the limited realm of that name and meaning and purpose, and within the context of our unique awareness and understanding of their definitions. We didn't see blue until it was somehow defined and internalized, morphing into the hue that we all seem to know today--the color of the sea and the sky, a part of violet and of green, the shade of my long-longing eyes, and the break of my winter heart.
Our world is only as big as our capacity for language, and a very limited language at that. What else am I looking upon but not seeing, and what lost words have you expressed with meanings that I didn't understand?
I said, "I don't know. I'm not inside you." He said, "maybe that's the problem."
Sometimes, when a combination of internal and external forces intermingle in a perfect storm within your psyche and your life, you end up attending a week-long church camp for 8 summers in a row during the course of your youth. For me, church camp was always an interesting social experience wherein there was much praise and worship, some exceptionally boring devotional time, ministries meant to appeal to your emotions and subsequently your parents' pocketbooks, fun games, some very questionable leadership, and some good old-fashioned, complicated adolescent relational scenarios.
Right now you're definitely thinking, let's hear more about these fun games, and of course I have no choice but to acquiesce. Here's a list of very important team-building exercises executed at church camp:
Before I mislead you into thinking I was only in attendance for the games, I acknowledge that I spent most of my adolescence as a child of faith. I praised, I worshiped, I experienced devotion, I cried at every vesper moment that was orchestrated for such an outpouring, I accepted Jesus into my heart, I was baptized, I prayed without ceasing, and I marveled at the wonder of it all. But I would be lying to you if I said I was so comfortable with my spiritual leanings. I hadn't felt compelled to ask too many questions yet, as questions to a Christian are often inherently intermingled with fear and guilt. But I did feel a constant undercurrent of disconcertion at so much forced, superficial piety. So, it wasn't all about the fun and games, but that was the most welcome aspect of church camp for me, because in addition to being so enjoyable, it seemed to place us all--youths and leaders alike--into the sort of freewheeling, honest spiritual accord that I longed for.
The last time I attended church camp, prior to entering 9th grade, I was subjected to a game that left me no choice but to face the questions I had been suppressing up to that point in my life, the consequences of which were profound, albeit likely unintended by the game's creators. The day in question began with fake cash money. Every camper received the same amount and was instructed that this money could be used at stations throughout the camp, which included: swimming, canoeing, gambling, volleyball tournaments, treats, various contests, a cult (yes, a cult), and many other options that were available to simulate life as superficially as possible, including, of course, church. This was a no-brainer. Clearly there was going to be some great reward at the end of this day for attending fake church, and I'm nothing if not a pleasure-delayer, so I convinced a couple of friends that our time (and fake cash) was best spent in religious prostration. Basically, it seemed like the right thing to do. Without speculating much beyond that point, we passed the day reading from bibles, volunteering to clear the camp of debris, tithing pretend money, getting pretend baptized, witnessing to pretend gamblers and cultists, and so on. At dinner, some of the individuals who had won contests were rewarded with t-shirts, and leadership announced that the game was complete. I was somehow perturbed, having spent the day watching others doing activities that I would have preferred to be doing, all for the sake of a reward that didn't exist. My sacrifice hadn't been worthwhile, and I wondered what the point of the exercise could have been, since this was church camp.*
That evening we were advised that our fake lives were over, and we were to be judged by Almighty God. The population of campers was corralled into a long, snaking, uncomfortably quiet line underneath the stars on such a humid, earthy night. I watched as my peers were ushered one-by-one through the front doors of a rickety chapel and then out by a side door thirty seconds later--usually greeted by an unfortunately-clad demon. At my turn, I entered the wooden exoskeleton of the place where God dwells, stood before a light so bright that my vision was obscured, and a booming voice declared I would proceed to heaven where I would then abide for eternity. I was led out of the side door and met by a camp leader who hugged me as I sobbed uncontrollably for reasons I didn't understand. Then I was led to the recreation hall, where I was served sheet cake and invited to dance to ska music. Ultimately, 7 out of approximately 100 campers made the trip to heaven, a fortuitous biblical number. I remember thinking that the cake was much larger than the seven of us could possibly consume. I implored a leader that I trusted to explain to me why this was considered an apt representation of heaven, since I was so irreconcilably upset. I was told that we couldn't know what the experience of heaven would actually be like. But this heaven didn't feel very heavenly at all, and--although I did not deign to argue that I could inhabit the mind of God, at the time--I couldn't imagine any circumstance where I could maintain my corporeal consciousness and my current presence of mind, while held in eternal peace, and simultaneously accept that almost everyone I knew and cared for was burning in hell--in this case a dark, cobwebby basement under the mess hall, filled with innumerable campers and daddies long-legged, along with pious camp counselors posing as demons.
Looking back, I have to appreciate the message, because I was forced to have an experience that--in summation with the rest of my days--resulted in the grit to tolerate introspective questions that, though they remain unanswered, must be asked.
Every rung goes higher, higher.
* You feel me, Pete Holmes.
Schizophrenic vibrate and awake.
Weirdo translations of sound waves, course in a disaster across the mediocre membranes and forgiven lobes.
Eyes in their being are vivid video screens, depicting scenes of animal mutilation and maggots turned to gods, in the pink bellies of the color purple.
Playing with runes writ on the cancerous stones and murdered eyeballs of a Dodo bird. It's beak being used for other magical happenings performed by a flash of sorcerer's wit.
This yellow morning seems, and in it, that feeling is cursed to little scrutiny and no more thought than the feather gives the flesh.
Trek as a god journeys faith.
My hair is foul and breathes of nicotine and radioactive ozone like the fallen earths of a Martian's history bible.
Laugh in the face of hollow psycho facelifts, intended for a child's birthing ceremony.
I walk outside and gas has lit the air.
I walk through red clouds in red altars of sky.
I summon a gesture which is incantation.
I make the moon folklore and cherish the poison winds.
Downstairs the gnomes have gotten all the apple cores, and the feast is discarded. The party remains to pray to misunderstood deities who favor greater Gods which worship the fabric of water.