A Capacity for Intelligence

According to Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, intelligence is defined as:

noun
1. capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and similar forms of mental activity; aptitude in grasping truths, relationships, facts, meanings, etc.
2. manifestation of a high mental capacity: “He writes with intelligence and wit.”

In a recent study conducted at the University of Western Ontario, researchers acknowledged the limitations of current scientific research, but offered a basis for suggesting factors to consider. They “looked into the brain areas that are activated by tasks that are typically used to test for intelligence,” and reported their results–

“…based on the set of brain areas that might contribute to those tasks. However don’t get too excited, the methods used have severe limitations and we are still only at the hypothesis level. We do not know how these areas contribute to performance in intelligence tests and we do not know why they are activated and how they interact together to create the behavior.”

http://blog.brainfacts.org/

According to a recently published neuroscientific paper, “a broader definition was agreed to by 52 prominent researchers on intelligence:”

“Intelligence is a very general capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. It is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test‑taking smarts. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings—‘catching on’, ‘making sense’ of things, or ‘figuring out’ what to do. Intelligence, so defined, can be measured, and intelligence tests measure it well.”

Reviewing the many related brain structures involved in cognitive functioning, researchers concluded that:

“…variations in these structures and functions may be “endophenotypes” for intelligence — that is, they might be intermediate physiological markers that contribute directly to intelligence. Therefore, genes involved in intelligence might be more closely linked to these variations in brain structure and function than to intelligence itself. In fact, in all studies to date, the genetic influences on these structures and functions were highly correlated with those on general intelligence.”

–excerpts from “The Neuroscience of Human Intelligence Differences,” by Ian J.Deary, Lars Penke and Wendy Johnson

There are a number of individuals today who are beginning to make associations between the technological advances of modern science and some of the ancient esoteric traditions like yoga, in an attempt to explain our subjective experience of consciousness:

“If hypothetical machinery inside neurons fails to explain qualia, (the ‘what-it’s-like’ quality of experience) must we then consider the molecules that make up the neuronal machinery, or the atoms inside the molecules, or the subatomic particles inside the atoms? Where is the difference that causes the qualia of subjective experience? A less problematic explanation is possible. German scientist, Gottfried Leibniz, postulated irreducible quanta of consciousness he termed ‘monads.’ Matter does not create consciousness. Instead, matter is animated by monads. It seems hardly a coincidence that Leibniz’ monads would perfectly fit between the moments of time that lead to Kaivalya, (Yoga term for enlightenment or nirvana.)

Ultimately, Kaivalya is an ineffable experience. But the claim of yoga is that it provides means to experience what is outside of the individualized mind. The experience of going through the center of consciousness and emerging, as it were, on the other side is very much one of turning inside out. In our ordinary consciousness we are turned outwards towards the world-image which we externalized around us.

In going through our consciousness the entire process is reversed, we experience an inversion…that which was without becomes within. In fact, when we succeed in going through our center of consciousness and emerge on the other side, we do not so much realize a new world around us as a new world within us. We seem to be on the surface of a sphere having all within ourselves and yet to be at each point of it simultaneously…the outstanding reality of our experience…is the amazing fact that nothing is outside us.”

–excerpts from article by DONALD J. DEGRACIA, Associate Professor of Physiology at the Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, in EDGESCIENCE MAGAZINE #16 • NOVEMBER 2013

artificial-intelligence-8-638

Recent research in artificial intelligence has begun to approach what might be described as a kind of tipping point, where the lines will likely begin to blur between what is clearly a type of machine intelligence, like the current offerings in robotics and self-driving cars, to something more akin to the kind of intelligence that talks back to you or responds in a more conversational manner like Apple’s “Siri,” and the Windows 10 offering of a personal assistant application called “Cortana.” Many of these innovations are built upon interest in the idea of eventually being able to develop the technologies surrounding A.I. to the point where they will function so much like the human brain, that communicating with them will be virtually indistinguishable from doing so with another live human person.

While this is an enormously appealing concept to our modern sensibilities, and currently fueling a huge amount of research in the industry, even supposing that it might be possible to produce a device or platform commensurate with the trillions of connections between neurons in the human brain, characterizing any resulting machine as either “intelligent” or “conscious,” requires us to re-examine what it means to be intelligent and conscious. Our current understanding of these terms, even as they apply to humans, is still not especially comprehensive or complete, and looking at the development of “human” or “biological” intelligence through the millennia, demonstrates a key component of the challenge in creating an artificial version that might qualify as equivalent.

artificial Human-Evolution1

Early humans and their fellow primates and mammals, along with all the various species endowed with sufficiently complex neural structures and central nervous systems, at some point, eventually possessed a brain or other neural configuration of adequate strength, size, and architecture, which allowed for the retention of memories, and for processing the sensory data gleaned through the available senses. These structures, from the most primitive to the most sophisticated, at some point provided the necessary support for adaptive learning or for acquiring a sufficient degree of species-specific abilities, in order for the organism to make efficient use of that information, and to produce a range of results, commensurate with their species-specific capacities and habitation, which enhanced their survival in their respective environments.

Once our ancient ancestors reached a certain level of development, through the integration of incremental evolutionary changes, they achieved a nominal degree of enhanced cognitive talents, attaining a sufficient capacity for what we describe as “human intelligence,” which eventually led to the ability to reason and plan well enough to override emotional distractions, needs and desires, and to awaken to a penetrating level of subjective self-awareness. As any parent of a healthy child can tell you, intelligence does not appear immediately even in modern human children. In spite of advantageous circumstances and environments in which these amazing cognitive human creatures develop, it still requires a minimal degree of relevant experience in the world to accumulate a useful and functional knowledge base, to hone learning skills, and to be able to draw on a collection of memories, which enhance whatever cognitive, genetic, and other physiological resources they might bring to the process.

As a consequence of the random combinations of chromosomes in the human reproductive process, there is a sufficient degree of diversity in the general distribution of combinations available to the human genome, so that each human child has a relatively unique set of circumstances genetically. This diversity is necessary for the health of our species, and as a result, we observe a full range of endowment, which can result in bestowing our descendents with a general baseline capacity for the development of cognitive efficiency, or at the other end of the spectrum, a potential for an enhanced intellectual development, right from the start. A vast array of cultural and environmental variables can either promote or inhibit whatever potential is present, and throughout human history, we have observed how a viable or disadvantageous environment, as well as individual initiative or apathy, can alter the equation in either direction.

It seems likely, in view of these mitigating factors, that it is through a combination of innate cognitive talent, genetic endowment, and environmental conditions that we see contributions to the general flow of intelligence either making a significant appearance, or faltering and struggling to gain ground, in much the same way as it has been since the earliest neural structures appeared in whatever creatures are still existent today. In every case, whatever degree of potential existed within a particular species, it was either successfully developed and exploited for survival, or ended up being thwarted by circumstances from developing successfully enough to sustain a niche for a particular species, resulting in their extinction.

artificial33

Our challenge in the 21st century is finding a way to determine which contributing factors for increasing intelligence can be safely selected by humans for the most productive incorporation into what we are currently describing as “artificial intelligence,” or “machine intelligence.” Unfortunately, no matter what we are ultimately able to do, in my view, we won’t be able to incorporate our humanity fully into machines, nor will we be able to artificially endow them with the experience of “being human.” In order for us to be aware of our experience of existing as a human being, while clearly requiring a variety of nominally functional, finely-tuned, and integrated biological systems, each of which are essential currently, because there is so much more to being a subjectively aware human person, there must be something that it is like to be human, which cannot be precisely replicated by any technological advancement or created through sheer engineering genius. The subjective experience of human consciousness utilizes our very human capacity for intelligence, as well as our access to a penetrating awareness provided by an astonishing array of electrochemical processes in our miraculous brains, but what we are accessing is not PRODUCED by the brain, but rather it is PERCEIVED by it.

It’s interesting to me how some scientists and thinkers in all the various fields of investigation into artificial intelligence believe that it is simply a matter of achieving a sufficient degree of complexity in the structures we devise for the processing of the voluminous data necessary to be equivalent to the human brain, constructing a sufficiently pliable, flexible, and interactive software, driven by the necessary algorithms, and we will eventually produce a sentient, intelligent, and conscious machine.

In his fascinating and expansive book entitled, “The Universe in a Nutshell,” Stephen Hawking posits that if “very complicated chemical molecules can operate in humans to make them intelligent,” it should follow that “equally complicated electronic circuits can also make computers act in an intelligent way.” He goes on to say that electronic circuits have the same problem as our chemical processes in the brain, which is to process data at a useful speed. He also rightly points out that computers currently have less computational power than “a humble earthworm,” and while they “have the advantage of speed…they show no sign of intelligence.” He also reminds us that even with our capacity for what we call intelligence, that “the human race does not have a very good record of intelligent behavior.”

2 brains

The possession of a capacity for intelligence of any sort, artificial or otherwise, is clearly not a “stand-alone” feature that is sufficient to sustain any species in and of itself. As we have observed throughout the evolutionary history of the natural world, constructing and sustaining a successful organism requires the development of a range of compensatory and complimentary abilities and potentials, commensurate with the designs and functions of a particular species, in order to achieve a requisite degree of balance.

In the case of Homo sapiens, our particular brand of human intelligence, as we currently understand it, appears to be primarily the result of human evolution and progress throughout our history as upright, bipedal, and increasingly cognitive beings. As a result, our species is apparently uniquely well-suited for our evolutionary niche, and dominates currently among the other living organisms, mostly for this very reason. While we share much in common with our primate and mammalian family of creatures, and bearing in mind that we are equally indebted to all living things and to the Earth itself for our continued ability to sustain ourselves, intelligence appears to exist in remarkably adaptive and unique ways in each of the various evolutionary paths for each family of species that coexist with us today.

It would be arrogant to suggest that our variety of intelligence is in any way superior to that enjoyed by other organisms on our planet, except in the context of its usefulness to our specific nature as humans. Our own highly-adaptive nature is fairly well-suited generally to the requirements of our species, and while one might reasonably argue that our inclinations and intelligence are lacking in one way or another, for the most part, even considering our limitations, foibles, and perceived deficits, human intelligence has managed to keep pace with the unfolding of our continued evolution thus far, and providing that we persist in developing and adapting to our ever-changing circumstances, there is cause for optimism in my view.

What we tend to miss in most of our estimations of what sort of artificial intelligence might emerge from our efforts to produce it, is that no matter what results are forthcoming, it will very likely be profoundly different than our own ultimately, in spite of how specifically we aim to recreate the mental processes and physiological structures of our own exquisitely adaptive brains.

The Light We Leave Behind

“Were a star quenched on high,

For ages would its light,

Still travelling downward from the sky,

Shine on our mortal sight.

So when a great man dies,

For years beyond our ken,

The light he leaves behind him lies

Upon the paths of men.”

–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow from his poem,

“Ode to Charles Sumner”

While recently reviewing an speech written by the famous orator, Daniel Webster, entitled, “The Seventh of March Speech—The Constitution and the Union,” delivered to the Senate of the United States on March 7, 1850, I was completely surprised by the power and the tone of the speech, which should clearly be recited once again in the United States Senate.

Daniel Webster was the Senator from Massachusetts at the time, and he was making a case against the institution of slavery.  Tensions were high in the United States at that time, and the competing views of what to do about the future of our country were front and center.  What he said in that speech could easily be a description of our current circumstances:

“It is not to be denied that we live in the midst of strong agitations, and are surrounded by very considerable dangers to our institutions and government. The imprisoned winds are let loose.”

Recognizing the parallels to our modern day circumstances, which seem no less worrisome to the American people now, I thought to write about those parallels for this post, and decided to search for an image of Daniel Webster to include with my commentary. Upon conducting that search, I came across a website with an image of a more recent individual named Daniel Webster that struck me as being even more relevant to my efforts here, and felt compelled to share it with my readers.

One of the most startling aspects of the website posting was the image of the man himself.  He appeared in every way to be a kindred spirit.  His face radiated what must have been a joyful, living soul, and as I began to read further, it quickly became apparent that the parallels between my own life and his were just too strong to be simply a coincidence.

It was unfortunately an obituary of a man who lost his life one year ago today, after a long battle with cancer. The loss of any life for any reason is cause for us to pause and reflect, but in this case, the description of his life, combined with the image, really struck a chord within me.

He was “…An accomplished guitarist, pianist, singer and songwriter, in the mid-1970s he performed at clubs in the Boulder area, once opening for Tom Waits. Later performing and recording several albums under the stage name Dan Oakenhead, he continued to write, perform, and record his music until the last months of his life… His love of travel frequently found him and (his wife) Margaret in mountains and canyons around the world… Dan’s other great passion was his lifelong study of philosophy, Yogic teachings and Tibetan Buddhism. For many years he was an active member of the Eldorado Mountain Yoga Ashram, where he was known as Tukaram.”

His devotion to the spiritual aspects of his existence were central to his life endeavors, and combined with the particulars of his life, his devotion to his family, and to the creative arts, just seemed too much of a coincidence to skip over.

He was described also as “…a wonderful and caring husband and father, sharing his love of music and nature, and his curiosity.”

The fact that he passed away at the age of 68, the age at which I will also arrive this summer, also rendered the encounter with a kind of purposeful meaning that felt important to consider.  While my own accomplishments were clearly of a different sort and which, by comparison, resulted in far less notoriety, I couldn’t help but notice how closely our lives could be measured in a number of strikingly similar ways.  The important differences really didn’t seem all that different, and the similarities seemed significantly important as I read about his life.

In many ways, his life seemed enviable and wonderful, and his efforts to make a life for himself that had meaning and purpose were not all that different from my own efforts in the same way.  I do not suppose that either one of us would necessarily want a different life than the one we experienced up to this point.  No one wants to have cancer or to depart from this life prematurely, but our lives are what they are and we must live them as best we can, while striving for whatever goals seem right for us as individuals and as members of a family and as a larger community of people.

The poem by Longfellow expressed the sentiments I was feeling as I contemplated the parallels and the differences in our two lives, and the thoughts expressed by the original Daniel Webster, himself a notable figure in the history of our country, all show unequivocally the importance of every life, regardless of the status achieved or the accomplishments accumulated.

In his conclusion to the speech on March 7, 1850, Daniel Webster wrote:

“Let us make our generation one of the strongest and brightest links in that golden chain, which is destined, I fondly believe, to grapple the people of all the states to this Constitution for ages to come.”

Both of the men named Daniel Webster lived important lives that “left a light behind them, which lies upon the paths of men.”

I can only hope that my own life will have some portion of light that will be left in a similar manner.

Our Most Important Task

Since the very first behaviorally modern humans walked the Earth some 50,000 years ago, there has been an enhanced sophistication in their cognitive talents and an expansion of brainpower brought about by a gradually increased utilization of the human brain’s extraordinary architecture.  Fossil evidence of significantly more creative activities, like making tools out of bones, or markings and decorations on stones, which indicate a greater self-awareness and a capacity for symbolic thinking, began to appear at about that time, but there are competing ideas and sporadic finds that suggest it may have been possible even many years before that time.   

In any event, once the capacity was reached it eventually began to appear more widely in the regional human populations, and advanced rapidly after that point.  Considering the hundreds of thousands of years which it took for Homo sapiens to reach this point, it only took about 40,000 years after that early epoch to land a man on the moon.  This rapid acceleration, comparatively speaking, includes an extraordinary development in syntactically grammatical language and abstract or symbolic thinking, and with thousands of years of experience to build upon, humans have made exponential progress in scientific technologies, as well as achieving a greater understanding of the Universe in which it all takes place.

Sadly, it seems we still have a great deal of work to do in bringing all the diverse cultures and human populations up to speed on how best to proceed along the lines of modernity.

Part of the reason for the disparity in advancement for every human population can be attributed to regional differences in cultural priorities and beliefs, a variety of socio-economic conditions, as well as a lack of resources or an imbalance in the availability of opportunities that exist worldwide.

However, the limiting factors in these examples alone are not sufficient to explain the lack of advancement in the wide range of humanity.  Economic standards can be improved eventually with appropriate investment and attention to correcting whatever imbalances exist in the many regions that have them, and with a dedication to improving education and investment in forward-looking endeavors, we can help to provide the next generations with the tools they require to improve the status of whatever regions need it.   

Beyond these material or phenomenal concerns, though, is the urgent need to understand and appreciate our responsibilities as the species that can alter the future for the better, or risk failing to do so through ignorance or apathy.  We all have a part to play in the unfolding drama of life on Earth, and in order to promote a better future for all, we must be willing to do what is necessary to ensure that future generations are equipped to meet the challenges they will likely face.

Coming to terms with our true nature as evolved human beings, in my view, now requires a degree of attention to our “inner evolution.” With the rapid pace of the last 40,000 years as a guide, it seems clear that we have accomplished much in the phenomenal world of science and technology, and made great strides in coming to terms with our fellow humans, in spite of all the competition and adversarial relationships that exist among the countries of the world.  The same cannot be said of our progress in understanding ourselves. 

The broad range of human interactions these days includes just about every variety of cooperation and conflict that one could imagine.  There are no limits, it seems, to what might possibly develop in both the promise and the peril represented by today’s modern humans.  A significant factor in this uncertainty is the apparent lack of attention to our inner lives—what one might wish to describe as our truest selves.  We spend so much time concerned about the events in the wider world of human society, and yet we often neglect to consider sufficiently the most important influential factor in all of human life—our own subjective experience of consciousness. 

It may seem to us as though our own experience of our existence is less concerning than the events of the wider world, until we realize that every single event in the wider world is populated with each of us.  Every participant in world events, from the lowliest individual to the heads of state and the most famous and celebrated individuals involved—each of us has only the same singular experience of our existence.

Even though our individual experience is only one of many, the ripples of consequences of the collective experiences of all, combine in every case to influence events in one way or another.  Many times throughout human history, while the famous and celebrated have garnered much attention for their actions, and in many cases, rightfully so, none of those actions could have come to fruition without the participation of every individual involved.

Whether we are the leader of the free world or the least well-known and unrecognized participant in a crowd of thousands, each individual contributes a portion to every moment in the larger range of world events.  We may never learn of the contributions of every individual in these events, but rest assured, if the majority of unknown spirits participating in an event can alter the outcome, as we see many times in large scale events, it is only possible with the combined strength of each individual.

How important it is then to bring to each endeavor we undertake the most aware and considered self that we can be!  This then becomes our most important task, regardless of what our social status or prominence in the world might be.

The Greens and Colors of Hope Return

The view out of my office window

Spring has been fully underway since mid-April on the Eastern seaboard in America, but it’s taken these past few weeks to really blossom into the spectacular array of greens and colors that we’ve come to expect during this time. The contrast in the character of the currently available scenery is illuminating when compared to that of the winter views like the one below here out of the same window last winter.

Whenever we consider the state of our personal reality, it’s important to maintain a degree of perspective in both cases. During the winter, the natural course of the season includes the loss of leaves on most trees, fewer sunny days and fewer hours of daylight, and the eventual absence of most colors provided by the plants and trees in our local region. Once the winter season begins to wane, the natural progression toward the spring begins, the renewal of every living thing becomes a much anticipated event that provides an astonishing array of scenes, even just in the modest confines of the property surrounding our humble home.

The greens are the first and most noticeable colors to appear.

Prior to the arrival of spring, the backyard looked particularly devoid of color, and looking up into the trees had little to appeal to the eyes, except perhaps as a contrast of black and white limbs against a grey sky.

Once the spring gets fully underway, the contrast and the vivid colors among the leaves is quite a sight!

The green leaves are really starting to fill out now.

But in order to truly feel the full effect of the change of seasons, I usually have to wait until the last week of April and the first week of May, when all around the house bursts of color explode!

Pink Azaleas
purple flowers and hyacinth
traditional daffodils
yellow azaleas
Hard as I try, I can’t seem to stop the relentless crawling of the ivy in the yard.
Flowers out in the front yard.
Tulips are usually the last to show up.

With all of the chaos and isolation of the past year, almost everyone has held out hope that by the summer or early fall we might be able to emerge from the social distancing, and most everywhere you go, the conversations surround the attainment of both doses of the covid 19 vaccine. Up until recently, finding a spot on a list was a daunting task, and most often, unless you had some particular condition or were of a certain age, the wait was indefinite. In my case, as a part-time “essential worker,” I was fortunate enough to qualify through my employer to receive the opportunity a few weeks ago. I had to travel over fifty-two miles to a large site operated by the National Guard and wait in line with hundreds of other individuals to attend a drive-thru inoculation.

Winding my way through the lines of cars waiting to get the vaccine.
After about an hour in line, I finally approached the vaccine distribution tent.

After the long winter in isolation, other than for the most essential tasks, we are finally beginning to see the gradual lessening of restrictions, and as someone fully vaccinated, I can be less concerned about my own health regarding the virus, and can look forward to being together with my other family members who are also vaccinated. The return to even a modicum of normalcy feels very much like the arrival of spring, with the renewal of life and the return of the vibrant colors in the yard, matching up quite well with the hopeful anticipation of a season of living and renewal long awaited this year, perhaps more than ever before.

While there is still much to do to recover and to move forward across the globe, the greens and colors of hope available in my own yard are encouraging to me personally, and I am hopeful that with time, the rest of the world will catch up also, and that the terrible lessons we had to learn over the past year or so will provide us all with an incentive to renew our hope, and increase our determination to make the best of our individual circumstances, as we navigate the years ahead.

An Extraordinary Life

“See, hear, learn, and understand; and write when there is something that you know; and not before; and not too damned much after.” –Ernest Hemingway

It’s good advice to use your experience of life, to take in what you perceive in the interest of a better understanding of life, and then to write when you feel a degree of confidence in what you think you know.  There still may be a bit more to add based on what you think you know, but it’s probably a good idea to limit your conclusions afterwards.  Don’t take too much for granted.

I have a vivid memory of typing on my father’s manual typewriter as a very young person.  I do not remember being very serious about it, nor having any concept of what I might put on the paper of any significance. The keys required a fair amount of pressure to make their marks, and the ribbons were always so overused and threadbare by the time I would be able to have my turn at it that there wasn’t much point in being serious in the first place. Seeing the close-ups of those keys in the PBS series, “Hemingway,” brought the memory of that childhood experience vividly back to life as I watched.

Seeing Ernest as a young boy with his mother made my own image at the same age seem ordinary by comparison.  We all start out in life in whatever circumstance we are born into without any say in the matter, and those circumstances can be formative in one way or another, but can also be compensated for in a number of ways later on if we have the right approach and enough encouragement from those around us.  

I was not especially serious as a student in my early education, and didn’t respond especially well to the environment in which I found myself, but I did love books and reading when the choice of subject was my own. I remember resisting the choices that were forced upon me in this regard all throughout my formal education, and was also very interested in writing by the time I arrived in high school.  Courses in English grammar and spelling were my favorites, and the requirements of courses in reading comprehension only worked well for me when the selections were appealing to me in some way.  I contributed to the school papers and was the editor of our literary magazine, but I enjoyed much more creating and organizing my own writing projects along the way.

I was an enthusiastic student at Temple University in Philadelphia, and accepted an invitation to participate in an honors seminar program at the ripe old age of eighteen. I also very much enjoyed all of the resources made available to me as a student in that program, but it seems I was ill-prepared for the wide range of opportunities which existed outside of the classroom. After two years of mixed results both inside and outside of the course work, I left the university to enlist in the military. There can be little doubt that the adventures which followed were well beyond anything I would have likely encountered otherwise, and while there wasn’t any way I could have known that at the time, it felt completely right to make that choice, even though I knew virtually nothing about the world when I made it.

 

As a young boy, Hemingway’s room was on the third floor of the family home, the same as it was for me in our family home, and I remember retreating there often when I felt troubled or lonely or ill. You never pay very close attention to those things when you are a young person, but reflecting on those days now I can get a very clear sense of what it felt like to be in that room and some of my memories of being there are so vivid, that the mention of it in the series stood out to me.

At one point in the program, upon receiving a letter informing Ernest of the decision to marry another man by a woman he had very much wanted to marry, I was struck by the coincidence of having experienced the same dilemma as a young soldier, and it struck such a familiar chord within me at that point in the film that I felt the sting of the words from the letter I received all over again.  The letter from his mother telling him to move on and make something of himself also had a ring of familiarity to it, enhanced by the date at the top of the page, July 24th, 1920, thirty-three years to the day before I would make my first appearance in the world.

The image of Hemingway as young man at the beginning of his life as a writer is startling and evocative of an intensity that I recall having myself as a young man; only I wasn’t courageous enough to make the same kind of choices that he made along the way. For some, the pursuit of fame and fortune holds a particular appeal that I never really understood completely. Our modern society seems to promote it at nearly every turn, in spite of the many lessons of human history, which have often demonstrated just how fleeting and unpredictable it usually is or can be.

It seems I was destined to suffer a degree of obscurity that he would not have been able to tolerate.  At the same time, his struggles and tragic events far exceeded any that I encountered, and while my life could not compare in any number of ways, it also held much less tragedy and destructive power. What made Hemingway’s writing so compelling had less to do with his personal strengths and failings and had much more to do with his creative talent, unique style, prolific output, and dogged determination to produce reliable results as a writer.

While his fame was reaching its zenith, his personal life was slowly unraveling and devolving into a destructive pattern that eventually led to his decision to end his life by his own hand.  The trail of disappointment and disrupted and diminished lives he left behind does little to recommend such a life as the one Hemingway lived, but it clearly provided a great deal of resource material for him to incorporate into his stories and novels. 

While I would not generally wish to describe my own life as being “ordinary,” at least not in retrospect, especially considering the extraordinary nature of some parts of my life’s experiences, viewing the PBS series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick gives one pause to consider the price of fame, and I highly recommend the program for anyone interested in a better understanding of a writer’s life, and of how fortunes can change, even for those lives which seem privileged and enviable.

The True Spiritual Path

I am continually searching for my own personal and spiritual place; for a return to the path of the spirit.  I feel strongly that all of my efforts generally find me heading in that direction, but I can’t honestly say I know for certain, at least not at all times, just which direction I should take.  While I am on the path, I get glimpses of a possible future; I get glimpses of what truly matters. They are images conjured by my mindful attention to what may be possible; a future that I might envision for myself.

I deliberately remain open to connecting with others, especially those who, for a number of reasons, I believe may hold a piece of the puzzle, and I try to engage them in a way that will reveal this puzzle piece, without intruding, and allow these others to decide whether or not to share if they are so inclined.  I know that by my embrace of this approach, extending myself, my spirit, to others—in doing that—I often come across these pieces and they help me to find my way.  I don’t know yet, in a comprehensive way, what that way is precisely, but I do know that the way of the spirit is my way—the way I must go. 

As it is described in the Terrence Malick film, “The Tree of Life,” my way is the way of grace.  I want nothing for myself, I only wish for grace to carry me forward—to open me.  I am not of this world completely.  I am in this world, but I am not of this world only.  I arrived on this planet over six decades ago, and for as long as I can remember, I’ve been searching and struggling, trying to understand.  I have written so many words along the way, and in recent years, I have tried to faithfully articulate the experiences I have encountered on my journey.  I have done all that I can to build a foundation of the spirit in my life.

I have had some marvelous periods of construction, as well as periods of seemingly long gaps in my understanding.  Yet, I continue. I push forward. I strive continually, not only to reach the spirit, but also to embrace the spirit within me—to identify completely with my human spirit, my soul. 

Nearly every adventure I’ve had and each deliberate choice I’ve made on this journey has been in the service of my search. Not everything has been viewed by others I’ve encountered in the temporal world as being particularly useful.  At times, they have questioned my judgement.  I cannot claim that I have made the right choice at every moment.  Some of my choices have been destructive and not constructive. When I have been all the way down, scraping the bottom, I’ve often had to fight my way back, claw my way back; stretch and reach; paddle furiously in the waters of uncertainty and mystery.

At the end of it all, I frequently seemed to understand better; to have a small incremental moment of progress, and it has helped me to continue.  I did not always suppose during those times that I would have the courage to make the choices I have made, and even now, I hesitate to move past some of those experiences, but I must move forward—and so I have.

When I withdraw within, I can sometimes feel the changes that are coming. I sense them. When I am alone and communing with myself, my spirit, my inner world—when I go there—there is the bright light of the spirit.  I quickly realize when I look into the eyes of one who is, in some way, one with me, that I am seeing myself mirrored in that spirit, because when it comes right down to it, we are all one with the spirit, and so long as there is an opening given, I know that I am on some part of the spiritual path.

The path is me.  I always thought I was seeking the path, to find it, to exist within it.  In all my searching, I never truly realized that the searching itself was the path.  Now, as I approach the “autumn of my years,” I sense not just the beauty, the vibrant colors, the release from the steam and heat of the summer, which my life has been for some time, but I also now sense the gradual conversion from the greenness of the summer of my life, to those brilliant, colorful, extraordinary, and spiritual times that await.  It is my hope that the transition within me endures a great deal longer than what the autumn appears to endure here in the temporal plane.  I don’t wish for a brief autumn, or a late autumn, or even an extended autumn.  I want a nice, slow, gradual embrace; a relief from the stifling temperatures of the past; an education in life that comes with the transition between seasons; the uplifting of my spirit that I experience every year as this season approaches in the temporal plane. The only way to make full use of it is to dive headlong into it.  As glorious and beautiful and colorful and sensual and extraordinary as I know this autumn within will be, there still remains some lingering anxiety that I feel as I think about what is to come, and how all the signs portend the arrival of winter, when all things begin to recycle.

On the true spiritual path, one may find oneself, in some form or another, floating, descending, flying, returning, and becoming.  All of these things are contained in and manifested within this very moment.  I have spoken often of my experiences in the past, about being in some field somewhere, perhaps long distant in time in the past or in a world that is yet to come, and about finding myself in a clearing.  I see it.  I step out into it.  The sun is shining.  It’s mild, but warm. There is a gentle breeze. I look out across the clearing, and I see only the world.  As I slowly advance into the clearing, my hands touch the tips of the tall grass. I feel a sense of pleasure—a sense of contentment.  I know that all is well without knowing exactly how I know, but I believe it.  My steps become deliberate.  I look down; I look up. I see a beautiful blue sky with puffy white clouds flitting by.  The clearing is quite grand.  At the edge of the forest, the mountains rise in the distance.

Suddenly, the sun goes behind the clouds briefly.  I look at the edge of the forest in the distance.  There is some sort of disturbance along that edge, but I can’t quite make it out from this distance, so I start to walk towards it, and very quickly my heart starts to race a bit.  I’m not sure if it’s anxiety or anticipation. My steps quicken. It starts to become clearer what is in front of me.  The sun peeks out again from behind the clouds.  My pace slows.  In the distance, it can be nothing else.  It’s not a hallucination, it’s not a wish.  It is a moment of recognition of something already known. As the world becomes clearer, my heart rises, my spirit rises, and my body becomes alive.  As I approach, and am close enough to see, I feel my spirit rise even higher. A bright light at the center of the disturbance feels like the presence of another spirit. It feels like a conglomeration of possibilities.  Had I not already made the decision to accept the risk of pursuing those potentials before I arrived, the anxiety I experienced would not have been so strongly felt.

Without the courage to pursue it, I would be lost. I find myself to be curiously hopeful that acceptance of the path will lead to opportunity—a prelude to some good end.  

Blue Skies and Biocentrism

 

Brilliantly blue sunlit skies combined with especially brisk winter temperatures this morning, and presented me with two seemingly contradictory experiences simultaneously.  As I sat alone at my desk, sunlight streamed through the windows of my home office, and I could feel the warmth of its rays on my hand as the pen I was using glided across the page.

 

 

Wherever the shafts of light penetrated the room, objects in its path were gradually caught in the glow, and almost appeared to be lit from within.

 

 

In spite of this celebration of illumination, the room itself is usually on the chilly side this time of year, and when I briefly opened the window to investigate a problem with a recently installed fifty-foot Ethernet cable, I encountered a surprisingly robust degree of damage to the screens, apparently caused by one of the neighborhood squirrels. 

 

 

Sure enough, not only had the animal penetrated the screens, but for some reason it decided to make a meal out of the wire which ran over the window sill.

 

 

It’s no wonder that there wasn’t any signal getting through, but even holding the window open for just those few moments reminded me that no matter how warm the sun appears and feels inside, winter currently reigns supreme in the world outside. It took me a few minutes to warm back up at my desk, and as I contemplated continuing with my work, I took notice of how the sunlit scene in the room had changed in just those few moments. The movement of the light throughout the day is subtle; even watching at length, I could not detect any motion at all. Only when I turned my attention temporarily elsewhere and then once again returned for another look, could I see how the area of light had shifted along the floor.

 

 

All of this activity resulted in prompting me to consider my recent review of three books by Dr. Robert Lanza, in which he describes at length his theory of Biocentrism.   It’s fascinating reading if you are interested in human nature as well as the nature of the reality within which we exist.  Since these subjects are both central to my own deliberations, I’ve taken a keen interest in exploring them. 

 

 

Of particular note is the third book in the series entitled, “The Grand Biocentric Design.”  The subject itself is quite complex and requires some appreciation for quantum theory and modern theoretical physics, but Dr. Lanza takes great pains to describe his ideas fully and his explanations are clearly written to reach a broad range of readers.

 

In chapter nine, Dr. Lanza gives a number of detailed and plainly written examples of how our perceptions of phenomenal events are not always revealing of the true nature of those events, and when I encountered the phrase, “If a tree falls in a forest,” I knew I was about to encounter ideas that would alter my own.  He makes a reasonable case to reconsider the nature of sound, and points out that while sound waves created by a tree falling travel through the air, they are only “rapid, complex pulsations in air pressure,” and are “in and of themselves…silent.” Our brains respond to the vibrations of our tympanic membranes and convert those signals into specific sounds. 

 

 

He rightly points out that “all sensory data is processed in the brain,” and even extends this idea to conclude that “time and space are projections created inside the mind.” He points out that we humans often “place ourselves in a radio-static mode, attuned to no sense whatsoever, lost in the internal world of our thoughts,” and concludes that:

 

“As far as we know, humans are the only animals who cease attending to their external awareness in this way, attending instead to our own thinking—or even, as you’ve done while reading this book—thinking about thinking.”

 

 

“…a part of us is connected to the dandelion, the loon, and the fish in the pond.  It is the part that experiences consciousness, not our external embodiments but our inner being. According to biocentrism, our individual separateness is an illusion. Everything you experience is a whirl of information arising in your brain. Space and time are simply the mind’s tools for putting it all together.”

 

Indeed, the conclusions he puts forth give a great deal of weight to our experience of consciousness as being central to our very existence in the first place. 

 

 

It has been a long and oftentimes tumultuous road from my beginnings as a human person, when I first realized that I could think and therefore know that I exist. In retrospect, as is often the case, I can see much more clearly how convoluted my path has been, and, in a way, how all the twists, turns, reversals, and leaps forward contributed to my current arrangement of predicaments and advantages.  The tide has ever-so-slowly turned toward a modest increase in advantage, and away from the firestorm of predicaments which often characterized my youth.

 

 

As a mature person now, approaching my seventh decade of life, it seems that my fortunes have finally started to settle down a bit, and while opportunities for chaos still exist in some ways, my footing is far less precarious.  I tend to consider alternatives more frequently now, looking ahead further than only a few feet in front of me, when it comes to choosing my actions.

 

What is still unchanged, after all this time, is my insatiable curiosity about the nature of my personal reality, and how it relates to the larger reality of both humanity and the cosmos itself.  My intense interest in these ideas is a direct result of my desire to understand myself and the experiences of my personal life, which have been frequently inexplicable to me, or which presented me with profound questions regarding the cause and purpose of having them in the first place.

 

In the past months of isolation and distancing, I have spent a great deal of time considering the work I have already done and also contemplating the work I still have yet to do.  In the months to come, I hope to share as much as possible with those who visit here and to encourage everyone to give some attention to their own individual experience of consciousness.

 

 

With apologies to Sir Joseph Banks…

A Writer’s Dilemma

MIDWAY upon the journey of our life

I found myself within a forest dark,

For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

 

Ah me! How hard a thing it is to say

What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,

Which in the very thought renews the fear.

 

So bitter is it, death is little more;

But of the good to treat, which there I found,

Speak will I of the other things I saw there.

 

I cannot well repeat how there I entered,

So full was I of slumber at the moment

In which I had abandoned the true way.

 

But after I had reached a mountain’s foot,

At that point where the valley terminated,

Which had with consternation pierced my heart,

 

Upward I looked, and I beheld its shoulders

Vested already with (the sun’s) rays

Which leadeth others right by every road.

 

Then was the fear a little quieted

That in my heart’s lake had endured throughout

The night, which I had passed so piteously.

 

And even as he, who, with distressful breath,

Forth issued from the sea upon the shore,

Turns to the water perilous and gazes;

 

So did my soul, that still was fleeing onward,

Turn itself back to re-behold the pass

Which never yet a living person left.

 

Dante Alighieri – excerpt from Canto I – Inferno

Translation by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Illustration by Paul Gustave Doré

 

 

It is often true for me, and I suppose for most other writers as well, that it is sometimes difficult to settle down enough at my writing desk or at the keyboard to give sufficient consideration to my thoughts, and so several years ago, I began to record myself dictating them into an audio device, which produced results in a way that writing with a pen or typing on the keyboard had been occasionally less effective at capturing.  The problem soon became that I had recorded so many episodes and created so many sound recordings, without taking into consideration that I would eventually want to sort them according to the subject.  Certain ones were used quickly for one reason or another and that works out when it happens, but now there are so many, I felt the need to begin to review them and figure out a way to categorize them.

 

Some of them are just rambling thoughts, some are about subjects that are not precisely within the framework of my current writing and are less useful in that way, but every once in a while something appears that astonishes me, or by some coincidence, fits perfectly within that framework and in that sense alone it has made it worthwhile to use this method.  I think it’s interesting that many of the recordings are personal and are either reminiscing or pondering “what-ifs,” or just ideas for what might become content that I could use for some future fiction project. 

 

 

I’ve written chapters with my voice that are completely a fabrication of my wandering mind or maybe a reflection on an actual memory in the bare essence of the experience, which I then embellish or expand upon, sometimes as a means of indulging my creative urgings, sometimes as a way of expressing what MIGHT have happened had I gone down a different path.  Once the juices start flowing, it’s hard to turn them off. I have a fairly active imagination and I have plenty of vivid memories of past events; I can remember the way it felt to be in those moments very well and sometimes I am surprised when I read what I wrote later.  The level of detail is occasionally stunning to me.

 

In the process of a recent review effort, I came across a particularly surprising account, recorded while I was engaged in a long distance conversation which included the opening lines to Dante’s poem, “Inferno.” The poem itself is a huge endeavor that encompasses a wide range of ideas, and which offers the reader the opportunity to explore many different aspects of the human condition, but for me, the opening was a suggestion of how purposeful reflection can illuminate potential solutions for even the most daunting of challenges.

 

 

Over the years I have accumulated a number of extraordinary experiences which took place within remote areas of forests, while exploring pathways across mountains, and in various nature preserves, many of which became openings to the ineffable world within. Dante’s references to the “forest dark,” the “things I saw there,” the “mountains foot,” and the “heart’s lake,” all leading up to “my soul, that still was fleeing onward,” resulted in the following record of reverie, recorded one night by the fire, while inhabiting the “forest, savage, rough, and stern.”

 

 

“I completely opened myself and listened. I could feel the very essence of your emotion. There wasn’t much time left to linger, and I wanted to embrace you—to reassure you.  It seemed you had sensed this and stepped toward me deliberately.  Without saying a word, I gestured with my arms my openness to such a suggestion, which you accepted without hesitation. 

 

As I held you close, I whispered words of comfort and had already determined that the embrace would continue for as long as you wanted.  Without warning, a sense of astonishment overtook me as your inner world collided with mine.  I unambiguously sensed the presence of your spirit clearly as mine opened immediately to welcome you there. It almost felt like a blending of the two—our souls were touching.  For those few brief moments, I experienced what I could only describe as the feeling of bliss.  Our embrace was warm and firm—offered and accepted equally without condition. 

 

 

After what felt like a sufficient duration to impart a sense of comfort, we both loosened our grasp just enough to pull slightly away. I still had my arms around your waist and your hands were resting gently on my arms, as our eyes met.  I felt a truly visceral connection between us.  Our faces were briefly only inches apart. I stared directly at you for maybe thirty seconds and I did not want to turn away.  Even though words probably weren’t necessary, I still somehow felt the urge to express a willingness to be available whenever the need might arise for such an exchange in the future.  You grinned widely in gratitude, and I sensed a lessening of the sadness which brought us into that moment in time.  

 

I could barely bring myself to leave you.  I stood nearby for several minutes, almost unable to move. I had trouble focusing.  At the last possible minute, as I pushed open the door and waved, I hoped that you could feel intuitively what was in my heart at that moment—I don’t want to go!  We only came together briefly in each other’s arms. The moment was fleeting, to be sure, but all the more precious because of that. 

 

 

There is more between us than what meets the eye. We have both traveled through the ages—through the eons of time—in order to meet here in this time.  We agreed before we abandoned our previous lives that we would be together in this life.  The connection is undeniable.  The years it has taken to come to fruition, the profound sense of connection which occurred immediately upon our appearance, and the subsequent recognition of love as a grace or gift, are impossible to deny.  When my heart rises, I know that it is you.  I gaze intently into your eyes. The mere sight of you raises me up and I find myself once again.

 

You used to sing to me.  You knew I would recognize that voice when I heard it.  That would be the sign that you were here.  I never could have known how challenging the future would be, nor how complicated my temporal life would be.  Somehow you knew that I would find a way to you, no matter how long it took—no matter what sacrifice was required.”

 

 

These words strike at the very heart of the river of consciousness, and it is almost painful to acknowledge the power of these sentiments as I recorded them, but they ring so true that I cannot help but do so.

 

Recognizing that love is a “grace or gift,” and not a natural entitlement of our humanity is urgently needed in our modern society. Understanding that we must somehow find a way to yield to our most urgent longings, even recognizing that they may be neither ultimately fruitful nor fully possessed, is a truth rarely emphasized in the general population these days. We routinely see individuals desperately trying to possess them, and refusing to submit to them, often with tragic results. We are flawed beings, we humans, and often refuse to acknowledge what is patently obvious, but this brief expression of longing forced me to confront this truth.

 

 

While the sense world alerts us to the visceral embodiment of love through our intense desires, the sense world only points to something far grander and more vital in our experience of life. Even just the emotional power of the grace which inhabits these experiences, points to the spirit which is foundational to that grace, and the ebb and flow of life and love, is fundamentally a result of the same rhythms which point to the foundations of formulating the meaning and purpose they serve.

 

We must have some reinforcement or confirmation in our lives in order to appreciate that even the deficits and struggles of life must be included in order to arrive at the affirmation that it is “an incomprehensible gift just to be alive.” Such a conclusion may be much more challenging to someone deprived of basic needs or afflicted by some of life’s more daunting challenges, but it is the same struggle we all have based on the myriad possibilities for each life.

Ten Years of Blogging

 

The New Year has unfolded in an especially tumultuous way so far, and the tides of wellness and illness in our country seem to be fluctuating wildly as the pandemic rages and the new American presidency gets underway, but underneath it all, in several important ways, there is a continuity of sorts that we can tap into if we simply take a few deep breaths and step back away from the extremes that have characterized the past few months.

 

 

No one could have known what would occur when the unwitting travelers carrying the deadly virus eventually started arriving in America and infecting others to such a widespread degree, spreading out eventually across the world.  We can analyze the various responses to the virus in retrospect now, but ultimately, we have to deal with the circumstances as they exist presently.  It seems, at least for now, that we know what we must do, and concrete steps to combat the virus are being taken.

 

 

The circumstances leading up to the violence in our nation’s capitol in early January are being thoroughly examined and analyzed, and although the reckoning with tracking down those responsible is underway, the indications are, from our national response to it all, that it will need to be addressed in a number of different ways, not just by seeking justice against those who carried out the violence. 

 

Underneath it all are urgent matters which must also be addressed, not the least of which is the relentless barrage of misinformation that stoked the flames of outrage, as well as the extremists at the heart of the attack, who up until recently had been mostly an underground fringe element.  However one wishes to parse the conversation surrounding who is to blame, it will be even more urgent to expose the root causes and take steps to reverse whatever maladaptation resulted when these components exploded into violence.

 

Regardless of whatever your political inclinations might be, and no matter what we determine in the process of investigating and responding to these urgent matters, we must resolve to make whatever course corrections are necessary and possible.

 

In my previous posting, I was trying to come to terms with the “daunting difficulties” and “serial struggles,” represented by the awful events of last year, before I knew about the uprising in January. The bitterness and division of the last months of last year, spilled over into the beginning of this year, but this past week, we began to see a whole new direction for new possibilities being shown by our new American administration.  While we know that the climb back to a condition of constructive progress will be steep at first, in the long run, we have cause for optimism, and we can remain hopeful if we are determined to bring about a hopeful resolution. 

 

 

Now more than ever, it also feels very important for me to continue my own efforts here in exploring and expanding our understanding of our true nature, as well as encouraging everyone who visits here to reconsider any limiting or narrow view of what may be possible in our efforts to enrich that understanding.

 

We can only make constructive progress in our society by being more inclusive with regard to our approach to differing viewpoints, and we can only expand our understanding of our true nature by deepening our awareness of what lies within us, and to explore our “inner evolution,” as I have described it, with an open heart and mind. It’s clear that our societal challenges have become of more immediate concern to us all, and must be dealt with urgently now, but it is equally important to attend to our inner life, and to connect to the core of our individual and collective being.

 

 

Within the context of world events, which includes the recent chaos and division within our own country and elsewhere, we are reminded how the full scope of those events can affect us, even if we don’t participate in them directly.  This effect can also be felt when we seriously consider the events and discoveries throughout human history.

 

With the Ship of the Imagination hovering close by, host Neil deGrasse Tyson walks along the beach – a landscape which will one day surrender to the churning cycles of birth, destruction, and rebirth mandated by the laws of nature. COSMOS: POSSIBLE WORLDS on National Geographic. (Cosmos Studios)

 

I recently began reviewing the National Geographic series, “Cosmos: Possible Worlds,” the second edition of the original series, hosted once again by Neil deGrasse Tyson, telling the stories surrounding our current scientific worldview.  I’ve taken great interest in the subject matter, which is often reflective of the vitally important events of history, and how they shaped our current level of understanding of the sciences. Much of what has occurred in the past has a direct bearing on our world today, and it is clear that without the efforts of those who came before us, our world might be dramatically different, and far less advanced in the degree of knowledge and wisdom available at the touch of a button, or the swipe of a screen.  

 

In a review of the series by Steve Greene on Indiewire.com, he makes a keen observation about the importance of the contributions by our predecessors:

“Many of the individuals and groups that challenged and then shaped our perception of nature were rebels in their day, fighting against a majority that either distrusted them or were threatened by the lessons they sought to spread. “Cosmos: Possible Worlds” doesn’t pursue explicit parallels within our modern relationship to scientific ideas, but it nevertheless warns of the perils of both gradual and concentrated attacks on those who’ve dedicated their life to understanding the workings of the natural world.”

 

 

Here at John’s Consciousness, I sometimes feel as though I am also “fighting against a majority,” when it comes to the ideas I’ve expressed and the stories that I tell as I explore my own “inner evolution.” Over the last ten years, beginning in earnest in January 2011, I have documented the results of both my personal experiences and dedicated research related to those experiences and I have endeavored to formulate a coherent narrative that illustrates the combined efforts of more than thirty years of writing on the subjective experience of human consciousness.

 

After decades of research, study, and contemplation and having expended an enormous amount of effort and energy in the process of discerning what might possibly be behind our extraordinary human subjective awareness of existing as a physical entity in the physical universe, for me personally, as well as for many prominent thinkers throughout human history, the reality is that while our subjective experience of being alive requires the cooperation and integration of physical systems in order for our temporal existence to register with sentient creatures such as ourselves, it is NOT…and I repeat…NOT in any way certain, by any criteria or judgmental standard, that those physical systems are the absolute SOURCE and PRIMAL DRIVING FORCE responsible for that experience in the first place.

 

It is much more likely, in my view, that our physical existence is founded upon and derives its significance from a source as yet to be established with certainty, which may very likely require an extraordinary stretching of our intellectual and psychological capacities for establishing even the beginnings of a rational or empirical proof. Our current inability to demonstrate or define categorically the source of all Life and Consciousness does nothing to negate the possibility, whatever it is that defines it or explains it, that there may still be an ineffable and non-material source that produced all that we perceive with our senses, and all that we observe in the vast universe beyond the Earth.

 

 

In order to begin to understand how our subjective experience of being alive is even possible in the first place, we clearly do need to consider the gradual development of the complex macro-structure of the brain by examining the various stages of mammalian, primate, and hominid evolution, each of which contributed essential individual brain components, and how that development over millions of years facilitated the gradual sophistication of cognition and higher order thinking.

 

However, once these complex structures and extraordinary cognitive talents were sufficiently developed, it might also be possible to accept intuitively, that it then became possible to utilize them in accessing a much broader intellectual and psychological plateau, and to establish a connection to what we describe as human consciousness or “the subjective experiential awareness of being alive.”

 

This then allows us to hypothesize about the important contributions of specific emergent properties which are a consequence of the evolution and structural hierarchy of the network of various brain regions, while still allowing for the interaction with what C.G. Jung described as “the transcendent function,” or “non-physical substrates,” rather than characterizing the results as simply the “emergence of life and mind from matter.”

 

 

Beyond the decade of attending to these important areas of study and contemplation, I have also been fortunate to participate in a richly rewarding and mutually beneficial role as a grandfather to eight wonderful grandchildren, whose ages range from twenty years to two years along.  In each of their lives, I have been present from their first few days of life, and in some cases, in the very first hours of their existence.  A few of them spent their early years in our home, as their parents worked to establish their own homes.  

 

 

Family life within the confines of my own dwelling are more or less routine and predictable, and the aspects which I find most often helpful usually occur in solitude, when I am purposefully choosing the activities for the day.  Most recently though, I have enjoyed even more the privilege of being an occasional caretaker for the youngest of them all, a lovely young lady named Juliette.  Given the circumstances in the world presently it seems impossible to feel anything but gratitude for the opportunity to do so.  There is a kind of wisdom built into the human life cycle that brings grandparents together with their grandchildren, as they will inevitably become instructive to each other, in ways that might never be anticipated.

 

In spite of the fact that I am a little more than thirty times further along in age than her, it is clear that she has much to teach me. While I have already received much instruction from raising six children to adulthood myself, the dynamics of “grand” parenting are quite different generally, but I have been humbled by the astonishing and effortless power she has to inspire and delight. 

 

My subjective experience while in her presence is so clearly demonstrative of the existence of Jung’s “transcendent function,” as well as the invisible bonds that support all life on this planet, and it gives me great encouragement to suppose that I am on the right path with my writing work.

 

 

In the months to come, I hope to expand on the ideas and previous efforts here in a way that will contribute in a positive way to my own understanding, and I invite my readers and subscribers to follow along as I navigate forward.

Finding Our Way Forward

                                                         

 

 

Even though the world seems to be under a cloud of serial struggles and daunting difficulties presently, there is still good cause to be hopeful that we will find our way through whatever comes.  It’s not because we can just wish it all away, or because we can delude ourselves with confabulated stories about what is actually taking place in the world.  It’s because we humans have, over the millennia, consistently demonstrated the capability to repair what we’ve done or begun in the wrong way, and to turn the challenges we face into opportunities, by deliberately and purposefully working toward those aims with hope and determination to make them a reality.

 

We sometimes lose sight of our history as human beings.  Our focus is too often narrowly confined to recent history, and only to the events of our collective recent memory.  Thirty or forty years ago, none of us who are old enough to remember well the state of the world back then had any idea what the state of the world would become in 2020.  Young people who weren’t even born yet in the 1980’s and 1990’s have only a very short span of history to draw upon for viewing the events taking place now, and unless those of us who can remember those times have some sense of the history of humanity, it may not be possible to have sufficient perspective to conclude that we have endured through times that contained much greater peril and challenges for the world.

 

 

This is not to say that we shouldn’t be concerned or that the difficulties we face currently are any less urgent to address.  It’s not simply a matter of the degree of peril that informs the times we live in; it is the need for us to bring a degree of perspective to these times informed by our mutual history. 

 

We are capable of fixing what’s wrong and we can educate ourselves to better understand what it is that is needed to put us back on the road to progress, but the way to start back in that direction requires us to step back a bit first, and at least look at what led us to be in these circumstances, aside from the most recent news reports on television and the internet.  We don’t really have to go back that far to see the difference between the way things are now and the way they used to be before the technological explosion brought the invention of digital devices and instant communication of events from all over the world. 

 

A good illustration of how life has changed over the years can be found in my experience of responding to a recent column by Marc Fisher of the Washington Post, which expressed sadness about the loss of the neighborhood bookstores to the much more economical and less complicated practice of ordering books online at places like Barnes and Noble.com or Amazon.com. In much the same frame of mind as many of us who cherish the experience of walking amongst the rows of freshly printed pages and browsing our favorite sections, inhaling the scent of new books and cappuccinos, and thumbing through our cherished, secret, and silent worlds, Mr. Fisher’s lament struck such a chord with me that I emailed him expressing my empathy and agreement.

 

 

Not even thirty years before that, I wrote a letter to a well-known columnist, Darryl Sifford of the Philadelphia Inquirer, about a column he wrote. I typed my message on a manual typewriter, neatly folded the single sheet of paper upon which I typed, stuck it in an envelope with a stamp on it, and mailed it. A week later, he responded with a nice note, which he also typed on a manual typewriter, and mailed to me. I sent my email to Marc Fisher by clicking “send” on my Hotmail account with my “mouse” at 5:58 PM and received his response at 6:04 PM, just six minutes later!

 

 

Going back a bit further in time, the presence of televisions in homes across the USA only became commonplace in the 1950’s, and was, at that time, the primary medium for influencing public opinion, with newspapers a close second.  Prior to WWII, the invention and usage of the telegraph took place in the 1830’s and 1840’s, and radio communications came later in the 1890’s.  These inventions revolutionized long-distance communications of the day, which previously took place over much longer periods of time.

 

 

Within the time frame of the establishment of the independence of what would become the “United States of America,” writing letters or conducting any sort of regular correspondence between individuals took weeks or months to send, be received, and for the recipient to respond.  Communicating with individuals overseas in England or France was only possible by placing your correspondence on a boat heading that way, and news of any kind was painfully slow in arriving and being dispersed out into the world-at-large.

 

 

There was no formal highway or railway system. You rode a horse or hired a carriage to travel whatever distance you needed to go.  At Monticello, the famous home of Thomas Jefferson, when anyone was invited or expected to visit, they had to plan weeks in advance, and no guest could be expected to stay less than a week or so. Travel was an onerous endeavor for anyone needing to arrive anywhere with any urgency.

 

 

Imagine the logistical challenge faced by both the British and the American militaries to marshal their forces for battle, slogging their way through largely unchartered terrain, with no well-established roadways or knowledge of which route might best be chosen. It’s a wonder at all that our country was able to get itself off the ground under such daunting conditions, and other urgent matters like healthcare, education, commerce, social interactions, and the necessity of conducting the foundational financial operations of such a large organization must have been exponentially more difficult given the state of the world at that time.

 

 

We take so much for granted these days as we travel with relative ease, flying large distances to nearly any destination in a matter of hours; driving our cars and assorted other vehicles to places even hundreds of miles away in a day or two.  I can communicate with anyone interested in receiving such communication instantly just about anywhere in the world. 

 

 

I can speak to and see each of my family members simultaneously, regardless of their location, as long as they have internet access, and before long, depending on the affordability and widespread availability of recent technological innovations, it’s likely we may eventually be able to enjoy a virtual reality experience of sitting next to them in real time.

 

 

There are a number of options in this regard which exist already that are not widely available, but which can mostly be accessed by those with sufficient resources and relevant knowledge of how to access them.  Eventually, it will likely be as common to possess such technology in the future as owning a cell phone is today, and people may one day look back at our options for communication in our “modern” society in the 21st century and muse about how quaint it was to push buttons and swipe screens on one of those “old-fashioned communicators.”

 

 

As always, the future holds enormous promise and potential for both progress and difficulty, and it is really up to us which option holds sway in the main.  I suspect that the choices we make in the near future will have lasting effects that may be even more difficult to mitigate unless we begin to take the time to consider the broad scope of ideas and efforts made by our ancestors to resolve and build upon, what were for them, serial struggles and daunting difficulties.

 

With best wishes for a prosperous and healthy new year to all my subscribers and readers…John H.