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Posts Tagged ‘evolution’

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Some legends of the exodus tell us it took place only a few hundred years ago, others that it was a thousand. I think it was nearer a few hundred, but we can’t say with any certainty because of the darkness that followed, a time when not even the sun would rise to be counted. And the archives tell us that long before then, the earth had begun a period of change, one that rendered the complexity of machine-life difficult. So, our ancestors built the last of their great machines, and rode them to the stars.

But the learned teach us a star is like the sun, and very far away, too far for machines to reach, at least within the lifetime of a man. It was to somewhere closer, then, we believe, most probably one of the wandering stars, they went, and which are not stars, but more like the earth, only barren, and where, without machines, a man could not survive at all. Such stories would remain stories, always out of reach of what is true, except sometimes the departed return, and because the stories have a power to them, we persist in calling them star-men.

They don’t come very often, though their frequency is observed to be increasing. The manner of their coming is always foreshadowed by the dark of the moon, so we are watchful at such times, watching for their machines as they streak across the sky. The machines are often left broken and burned, leading us to believe the star-men do not come of their own choice, that they are sent as exiles from their world, that indeed their survival on arrival here is far from certain.

Thanks to the archives, we understand much of the times before the exodus, but of course we know nothing of what happened to the star-men afterwards, whether they thrived in their new world, or found things hard. It seems foolish to us that you would sooner risk a barren place, than adapt to the changes of the earth, or seek to ameliorate those changes by such skill with machines as our ancestors clearly possessed. But the records also tell us there were terrible periods of instability, that in the decades leading up to the exodus many creatures and food-crops perished. And of the billions of mankind who once walked the earth, it is estimated only ten thousand souls survived the upheavals. Those who joined the exodus then had good reason to believe they were preserving man’s very existence. It was a rational decision, though one enacted at the expense of everyone left behind, who we presume were expected to perish.

All we know of them now is that they resemble us, as men I mean, though of those we have seen, in whole or part, they have grown taller, but much weaker than we are, and they are slower on the ground. Their world has changed them in other ways too, for they are also of such a violent nature, even to their own kind, we counsel they must be avoided at all costs, and not engaged with the limited arms, such as we possess.

Their armaments are powerful, warlike, unnecessarily destructive, and terrible in the wounds they inflict. The elders say it is our good fortune the star-men do not survive long, that it is sufficient for us to evade them, while we let the microbia of the earth – to which we are immune – do their work. It is fortunate, too, their weapons fade in potency to nothing over time, rendering them useless. Those we have recovered are dismantled by our craftsmen, and their materials either re-purposed, or destroyed.

There are no records of any interaction between us, other than of the violent kind. Indeed, it is believed civilised dialogue is impossible, and that all attempts are ill-advised. Certainly the archives bear this out in the accounts of those of our kind who have been lost to the star-men’s aggression. It is better, then, to observe, and evade util such a time as the microbia have felled them for us. But it does not stop one from wondering about their reasoning, for they are a cunning species, though they appear to lack the moral consciousness they must surely once have possessed when they walked among us as brothers. One wonders too about the reasoning of those who send them, and of course about the nature of their machine-world, which must by now be beyond all imagining.

The learned tell of how, before the exodus, our ancestors first used machines to explore these distant worlds. One wonders, then, why the star-men do not do the same thing, if they wish to know the earth once more, and how it fares. This rather supports the conclusion curiosity is not their intent, that these are men who have been banished, and perhaps are not typical of their kind. But if so, why inflict upon them a certain death, after the trouble of delivering them here at the expense of valuable materials, when a more efficient death could surely be arranged in their own world?

And so it is, news reaches us by breathless runner, of another machine observed coming down with great violence, in the mountains, to the north. There is word of burning, and of the forest peoples who live there, scattering in fear. It frustrates us we cannot ask the star-men what they want, and what they mean by these absurd incursions.

Riding out, we meet people on the trails. They speak of fire raining down, and setting the forest alight. The wise man, who rides with us, assures us it is the impact of the machine that has caused the fires, that we need not fear any new and fiendish weaponry. But he has the inner sight, this man, and tells us also that though he senses no living star-men will be found, there is still something of an ill omen about the fear in the eyes of those running towards us. We proceed cautiously, therefore, while remaining faithful in the knowledge our horses can scent a star-man from afar, and with greater ease than they can a bear, that they can differentiate even between the scent of living or dead.

So it’s strange when the horses are undisturbed, even when we ride them up to the crater’s edge. There are only small pieces of the machine remaining, and a scent of burning, though by now the fires have died out to a low fog of smouldering. Even under such cataclysmic circumstances, there are normally remains to be found, but after searching in a wide circle for many days, we conclude nothing living rode this machine to earth. We turn then to seeing what materials we might salvage.

It is the wise man then who begins to find particular pieces of machine, and uses his insight to bring them together in such a way as to reveal a truth that leaves us cold. He finds a torso, a limb, a hand, then a skull, but none of it is flesh or bone. All of it machine, fashioned in the human form. We count several such forms who have ridden in place of star-men, and this perplexes us deeply, but the wise man most of all. The departed, he tells us, have diverged so far from us in kind, that in their machine world, they have themselves now become,… machines.

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Dreaming. 1860. J. Israels

You’re out driving, and there’s a cop car at the side of the road. He’s pulled someone over and is serving them a ticket. You cruise past, glance through your passenger window, and the scene triggers a flash-back to last night’s dream – the same type of cop car, glimpsed through the passenger side window. So you think: that’s a neat coincidence. Right?

It wasn’t exactly the same situation. In the dream, you were parked, and the cop car pulled alongside, and the cop said: “You don’t mind if I park here, do you, sir?” But you were definitely looking at this same kind of cop car, through the passenger side window. And if things had happened the other way around, say you’d seen the cop car, and then the next night it had popped up in your dreams, you’d know where the dream had borrowed it from. But as things stand, it was just a coincidence. Anything else, and the dream had seen your future. And that’s not possible. Is it?

So then, some nights later, you dream you’re out in a part of the countryside you’ve not been to for years. It’s not an extraordinary dream – just your usual muddle of inside out and back to front stuff, the one thing bleeding into the other, and no particularly coherent narrative. Then you wake, and you reach for the phone, and you read the blogs you follow, and a guy has posted a piece on that same part of the countryside, which triggers the memory of the dream, and you think: that’s odd. Another coincidence? Sure. Or maybe you caught a glimpse of that blog before you slept, and you just forgot. Because anything else is impossible. Right?

So then you dream you’re talking to a notorious world leader in your back garden – like you do – but you’re struggling to understand what he’s saying, and you’re worried he’ll think you’re a bit numb, but you can’t help it because he’s contorting the upper left side of his lip in the most peculiar way, which distorts his speech. The next evening you decide to check out a film on Netflix, in which it turns out the lead man is portrayed with a hair lip, which has the same way of moving as in the dream. It breaks the dream, so to speak, brings back the memory of it. Another coincidence? Startling one too, this. Or maybe you caught a trailer for the film before you slept, and you just forgot.

These are all dreams I’ve collected over the last few weeks. And the question arises: how many dreams like that does it take, before the only reasonable conclusion you can come to is that your dreams are indeed previsioning little bits of your future? The thing to note is the banal nature of the images, and the fact we’re seeing in the dream what we will see, ourselves, at a point in our own future. We’re not talking about any dramatic premonition of calamity. Nor are we claiming any paranormal faculty. It seems to be the normal way the mind – any mind, your mind, my mind – Hoovers up observed events and regurgitates them in distorted form, in dreams. It’s just that the dreams seem to have access to events you haven’t observed yet. Only by habitual observation of the visual details of your dreams do you realise it. And who’s crazy enough to do that?

Isolated instances can perhaps be dismissed as coincidence, but the longer we pay attention to our dreams, and the more hits we score, the less likely coincidence becomes. Of course, if you’re of a materialist, reductionist mindset, no matter how many dreams you have, you’ll still call it a coincidence, or you’ll swerve your dreams altogether, believing them to be nonsense anyway, so the problem will not arise for you.

Others have written at length on this phenomenon, namely J W Dunne, J B Priestly and more recently Gary Lachman. Tentative explanations involve additional levels of consciousness, each with its own time reference. I can’t say for sure if this is right, but it does make a kind of sense. Let’s say, as a working hypothesis, it’s plausible, but it also strikes me that, even when science means well by the unknown, it comes across as being somewhat primitive in its toolkit.

So if we are indeed opening a crack in time by paying attention to our dreams, we have to accept there are no definitive explanations about what’s going on. There are only more questions. What draws us forward are the tantalising hints at unexplored human potential. We’ve been a long time evolving, but there’s nothing to say we’re yet done adapting to our environment, even as we shape it. In this light, precognitive dreaming might be a thing we’re evolving towards, an evolutionary mutation still looking for an advantage in the world we’re creating. Or maybe such precognition was an advantage in our hunter-gatherer past, say, warning of the bear we were to encounter in the woods next day, and which risked killing us. But now it’s a faculty that’s atrophied for want of use, like one’s appendix, or coccyx. Still, there are plenty of dangers facing us in the contemporary world, yet my dreams seem more concerned with quirky art-house details than risks to life and limb – so maybe that’s not its function at all. I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

Philosophers paint such a gloomy picture of the human condition, the existentialists having concluded we’re just an accident of nature, and better off adjusting to that fact, than hanging on for something transcendent, or for hints of meaning in an otherwise meaningless universe. Given the history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, one can hardly blame them for reaching such a bleak conclusion. Nor is the twenty-first shaping up to be any better. But I think nature has left enough clues in the shadows to hint at a path, which has the potential to lead us from the dark forest the philosophers have abandoned us in. I am confident we are more than we seem, and that there is more to the world, to its space and time.

Then again, before we set foot down this path, we must be sure what beckons is not simply a will-o’-the-wisp, leading us to drown in a bog of groundless speculation. Maybe there is a rational explanation for that cop car, the country roads, and the hare lip, one that doesn’t sound even more far-fetched than the suggestion we sometimes see our future. Selective bias and coincidence are the usual explainaways. Belief in the paranormal is another, as it’s highly correlated with a propensity towards selective bias and outright self-delusion. Still, none of these ring true to me, in this insance, but then I suppose they wouldn’t. From your own perspective, of course, the obvious explainaway is that Dunne, Priestly, Lachman, and me, we’re all making it up, that we story tellers are simply looking for attention, or to fill column space on an otherwise dull day.

That’s fine, until you have such a dream yourself, and then you cannot help but wonder.

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We all know the meaning of life, the universe and everything is Forty Two, at least according to Douglas Adams’ super computer “Deep Thought” in his fictional trilogy: the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s the existential question and the absurd answer, reflecting only our arrogance that we think we might be capable even of understanding the question, let alone the answer. Or do we underestimate ourselves?

What is the meaning of a spoon or a shoe? Unless they are to be considered merely decorative, their meaning lies in their purpose. On this basis then, the purpose of a human life is no more than the reproduction of its own kind to add to future generations of the evolutionary milieu. Doesn’t sound that great, does it? But if we want more than that, the meaning of life must be explored in more philosophical, dare we even say even “spiritual” terms? But since such things cannot be defined as objects, can they be said to exist at all, and should we not discount them as unreliable, and a bit airy fairy?

Well we might – indeed many people do – except, evolution has risen us up from the swamp to an extent that we are asking such questions, so is it wise we should silence the asking? Because if the questions are meaningless, and evolution is as successful at eradicating the meaningless, the superfluous and the degenerate as it’s supposed to be, then why are we still asking those questions?

Could it be it’s correct we consider ourselves to be more than objects? Okay, let’s try that. It isn’t too difficult since we’re obviously also possessed of a mind-realm, home to thought and memory and dreaming, which are at least something even though we cannot define the shape of them. And even though we cannot define them at all it turns out we derive our sense of self from them anyway, which is weird, isn’t it?

Well, not really.

But there’s more. If we withdraw sufficiently inside our heads from the noise of the physical world, it’s possible to arrive at the fact our identity lies, actually, not so much in thought or memory or dreaming, but in a state of disembodied awareness without whose presence memory or thought or dreaming cannot arise in the first place. And that’s a very strange thought indeed.

Stranger still, if we can fully enter into that state, there comes the startling revelation of a rapturous, effortless awareness, and the realisation this is more who we truly are than who we actually think we are. And if that were not enough there also comes the certain knowledge there is nothing “out there” at all, that “we” and “it” are the same thing, that all objects are pure invention, that all there is is a kind of mind-stuff.

This is a bit of a leap, I know. Indeed, it’s counter-intuitive, a hard thing to swallow for anyone still possessed of a rock solid ego, but it’s a state none-the-less many human beings have experienced. And if it’s so, then perhaps our purpose in life is to work towards achieving an awakening to that awareness, which seems to involve dissolving those aspects of the personality that prevent it. Purpose then becomes our graduation from the university of life by the dispossession of destructive personality traits, and it is in this psychological process we find our purpose.

Of course it’s not certain any of this is true. All it tells us for sure is there is no meaning to be found in the material things of life itself, in the objects, in the world of thought and thinking, nor even in all the fine things we have built and worked to artistic effect. They’re simply there, and we can enjoy them for a time, but they’re transient as dust. What life does provide us with now and then are clues to the existence of a side to ourselves that transcends the physical, and it gives us ample opportunity to allow ourselves to be drawn in that direction, the direction of our true identity, and the source of all our existential longings.

Or we could apply our efforts instead to working out how to get rich at the expense of others. We might succeed in that, or we might waste our lives trying, corrupting also the lives of everyone we encounter along the way. I don’t advise it, because then all we’ll ever be is an object with as much meaning as a spoon or a shoe.

 

 

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