Tuesday, January 26, 2021
Saturday, January 23, 2021
It is always a cheery thing to reflect on the fact that humans are not currently fitted with shock collars.
As a crowd masses at an international border, pressing up against the gateway to a purportedly safer country, held at bay by armed guards, yet another stream of refugees fleeing from some armed conflict over differing versions of reality, a hawk flies over the crowd and enters the airspace of the safe country. It has violated the airspace, yet no passport was presented, no fighter jets scrambled, no shots were fired, and nobody was led away in leg irons to a holding cell. The hawk disappears over the ridge. Say goodbye.
Zoologists will fit animals with radio collars to monitor their movements. Pet owners will fit dogs with shock collars to prevent them from traveling into a restricted area, like the neighbor's garbage can. Police will fit errant humans with ankle bracelets to monitor their movements and prevent them from traveling into a restricted area, like Shorty's Tavern. Yet, we see no herds of migrating humans outfitted with shock collars.
Incidentally, despite the short step from ankle bracelet to shock collar, most humans willingly fit themselves with cellular phones that monitor their movements. While our data is liberated from our accounts and pored over by men in trenchcoats with thick accents, we are deterred from entering actual locations and relationships. Don't walk on the neighbor's grass. Don't talk to the person next to you on the bus. Keep focused on the flat screen. Something follows this. We have all found out that the buzzing in the coat pocket often precedes an intense episode of humiliating interrogation by some older relative or salesperson. This is called conditioning. Do not imagine what is next.
Now, as noted, the restricted areas are often imaginary lines, ones invisible to sentient beings, with the clear exception of us wayward humans, who have the unique ability to perceive things that don't really exist and to wage war with those who perceive a conflicting unreality. This battle over unrealities is called the March of History. It is the unenviable load of historians to attempt to describe what is not actually there in such a way that the reader segregates it from fiction. This is unsustainable. This is why most history books are ephemeral, like a shimmering mirage in Death Valley, filled with the bones of millions of men and women who crawled across the sand convinced that it was a real freshwater lake filled with real schools of promise. Enter the next dynasty, the one with a conflicting version of unreality, and the books are revised, banned, or burned. A new mirage appears and another crowd forms on the imaginary shoreline.
The fences in the field create fences in the mind. Thoughts in isolation do not thrive; this is not an original thought. It's like the ghost image of our schoolteacher that appeared when we closed our eyes after staring at her standing in front of a black chalkboard for 20 minutes. Life reproduces phantom life in the mind.
Here is a paradox: inbreeding depression is the effect seen when a population becomes isolated and breeds with closely related individuals. They become unfit, less likely to survive. Thus, if children had been segregated according to hair color, while we would experience no suprise if blondes were to wage war with brunettes in the near term, in the long term, after several generations of blondes interbreeding with blondes and brunettes interbreeding with brunettes, we would expect bad traits to arise, an upwelling of deleterious characteristics. Sloped foreheads, brow ridges, palm hair, whippy little tails, and a host of deleted or duplicated parts like extra sets of legs, cartoon hands, or the proverbial Third Eye.
Dagnabbit, this keyboard is too small for all these fingers.
At the same time, isolation of populations is said to drive what is called speciation, the creation of new species, which develop traits and reproductive behavior that renders them incompatible with their parent population. Think leopards and jaguars, dingos and coyotes.
Don't get too excited. Looming over all of this is the March of Science, in which the scientific method seeks to establish a more perfect conception of reality. Michaelangelo once stated, "The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material." That is art, that is science. The hard truth at the center may be: we are still in the quarrying phase.
Despite the provisional status of ideologies, angry crowds full of assumption push to the front of the line. If variety arises from isolation while isolation creates unfit varieties, the question arises, What happens to us? Better check your watch. There is a huge mob forming at every international border and each side perceives the other side to have deleterious characteristics - their shape, color, language, gestures, height, weight, the way they laugh, the way they greet, the way they think.
Militias arrive with truckloads of shock collars. Say goodbye.
Friday, January 15, 2021
There is no doubt that the author of the book, The Ecology of Sasquatch, does not exist.
It is a fact, the evidence of the author is scant and what little is produced has been misidentified. Most experts believe he is a storefront mannequin, a shaved ape, a manatee, or a man-shaped balloon from the 1928 Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade that came unmoored and drifted away, landing in Tercentary Theater at Harvard University where it was awarded an honorary degree in Hyperbole. That is not an exaggeration.
There is a lot of wind in his book, enough, it is said, to power 1,600 wind generators, enough to power all the homes in the city of Denver, Colorado. Not only that, the wind is strong enough to force the winds coming out of Canada right back up into the Arctic, where it compresses and warms, adding to the catastrophic melting of permafrost. Global warming is caused by hot human breath!
This just has to be true because one can read it right here right now and this was passed along by 453 virtual friends - they could be if they were. This is the definitive description of nothingness, the absence of something.
Looking to fill the void, one fires up the television machine, leans forward, and squints at the grainy, minute-long film of a man in a rabbit-fur suit, look, the zipper is visible in the front. There he is again, the ape-like creature, swinging his arms, punching Gorosaurus, Tyrannosaurus, Gigantophis, Pterodactylus, sea serpents, and Godzilla. The imagery is high definition, the sound is stereophonic, and the subwoofer shakes the living room floor as he roars and stomps across the land. Our hands sweat, our heart pounds.
The problem is, studies have shown that actors can actually get lost in a role, like that circus clown in the corner booth at the cafe who sprays the waitress with his lapel flower and eats his hat. A 2019 study concluded, "portraying a character through acting seems to be a deactivation-driven process, perhaps representing a 'loss of self.'" Another study from the same year observed, "simulating others changed self-knowledge, such that the self becomes more similar to the simulated other." Uh oh.
There are two sides to this story. The man in the rabbit-fur suit made our palms sweat and heart pound. He transformed our perception of the world around us. This becomes clear after one has watched the ape-man terrorize members of the actors guild and the theater audience for two hours and then steps outside into the dark night. The shadows between the buildings, the rooftops beyond the streetlight, the dark, empty space between the parked cars, the back seat in our automobile, each has taken on a threatening aspect, has become less secure, less devoid of danger.
The problem is, we have learned that Godzilla, King Kong, Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah are not real, no more than the lonely, impotent Mr. Sasquatch. A few miles down the highway, listening to elevator music, our mind ejects the ape-man in the back seat. He flies off into space. Our hands dry off, our heart settles down.
In the 1940s there were newsreels that showed images of carpet bombing in Europe. In the 1960s, the nightly news showed identical images, in color, of carpet bombing in Southeast Asia. Acres of pockmarks, like ground acne, a moonscape right here on earth, air force lakes, Swiss Cheese School of Landscaping, just like Bonny and Clyde's bullet-riddled gangster car. Today, the nightly news shows images of a scarred earth, with roadside bombs, melting Greenland, oil spills in the Niger Delta, coral bleaching, mounds of plastic garbage on remote beaches, and the daily street battles between opposing ideologues pitching tear gas canisters at each other.
One sits back and turns off the imagery. After a few miles, a few kitten videos, a few minutes of elevator music, his hands stop sweating and his heart settles down. He has recovered his self-knowledge. The monster is ejected into outer space again as he drives away.
Brown Steven, Cockett Peter and Yuan Ye 2019. The neuroscience of Romeo and Juliet: an fMRI study of actingR. Soc. open sci.6181908. http://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.181908
Meyer ML, Zhao Z, Tamir DI. Simulating other people changes the self. J Exp Psychol Gen. 2019 Nov;148(11):1898-1913. doi: 10.1037/xge0000565. Epub 2019 Apr 29. PMID: 31033322.
Monday, January 11, 2021
Languages die. Or it is has been said.
When a language falls into disuse, when the last native speaker has uttered his dying word, when there is no society to carry it, the language has become dead. Any interest beyond that is academic, like archeologists digging in a graveyard exposed during the construction of a museum. But deadness is highly prized, like cadaver teeth to a Civil War dentist. Dead things don't move, aren't subject to change, thus, a dead language is a very useful container for those who would want the linguistic meaning of their work to be stable.
Latin is a dead language, having fallen out of use centuries ago - with the exception of quaint Latin Clubs and the Latin Church, whose leaders bemazed onlookers with a theatrical display of it until the 1960s. That's the reason scientists selected Latin as the language to name and describe living things, geologic formations, and scientific processes. These words would be fixed and stable for all time. Yes, our name is Homo sapiens, and we are stuck with it until we de-evolve into simple primates. Comparatively, the English word "human" is subject to change. At this point in history, the meaning of that word has mutated under tremendous selective social pressure and it bears little resemblance to what it meant just a few decades ago. Just look around.
Memories evolve. Or so we think. Cornell University published a study in 2002 in which they showed participants an advertisement describing Bugs Bunny at Disneyworld. Bugs was called "an impossible character" because there is no Bugs at Disneyworld. Bugs is under contract with Warner Brothers, not with Disney. Were he to be spotted, he would be escorted from the premises, face legal action, and his stuffing would be found floating in a canal south of Lake Okeechobee - blown to bits by a cartoon bomb. Authorities said that this was the fate of Bug's older brother, Fritz, whose dismembered foot was found in San Francisco bay - attached to a chain. His movies were destroyed in the 1934 fire at the Burbank studio, destroying valuable evidence. Only some original production drawings remain.
By the way, after viewing the phony advertisement, thirty percent of the participants said they recalled meeting Bugs at Disneyworld as a child. The suggestion of an impossible event, bolstered by fabricated evidence produced a false memory.
To be a memory is to know war. From conception until death, memories are under fierce selective pressure. Only the fittest memory is able to survive REM sleep, the dark hours when the mind stalks and preys upon the daily storylines, purging the weak, culling the herd, a brutal nightly assault that makes us toss and turn, grind our teeth, and jolt up straight in bed, screaming at the shadow suspended in midair above our bed. In the morning, we don't remember a thing, but we have a slight headache. That's the hole where reality was. In the mind's war between reality and desire, the difference is what is recalled.
So we put our words in Latin, hoping to fix and stabilize the ideas, but Latin does not determine the nature of the idea. We only imagine that reality does not die. "Reality" is a word that has mutated under intense selective social pressure. At this point in history, the meaning of that word bears little resemblance to what it meant just a, well, a few nights ago. Just look around.
As we indulge our desires, knowing what we wish to know, sinking deeper into a post-truth world, where outlying data is given equal weight to the preponderance of data, where science is believed to be opinion, where the loudest voice is equal to truth, where two plus two equals five and it's that cabal of billionaire mathematicians just trying to control our minds, we are heading toward one massive headache.
So, as the reality of real reality escapes us like a madman twisting out of the grasp of hospital orderlies, running into the street, screaming, we imagine that he has lost his mind, but he is just trying to get away from us.
Friday, December 18, 2020
There was a paved road that plunged into a black prairie pothole lake northwest of Colgan, intent on rising up on the other shore, but the other shore was a shimmering heat wave that looked like a shore. On some days in January, it looked like a granite monument floating in the air, a disembodied mountain riding the thermals, or like that white figure standing above Butte, sixteen-gauge steel arms unable to embrace anything at all, not even the murder of confabbing crows that land on her head or the child in agony at her feet. The road never found an opposite shore. Everybody looked, even the divers, but they could never find it. This is hard for almost everyone to understand but I swear I saw it happen.
And then there was a town at the bottom of the reservoir, Forest City, I think, with clapboard siding and red brick chimneys standing proud in the yellow-green algal atmosphere, haunted by five-foot-long pallid sturgeon, and a front door swinging slowly in the currents, left ajar by someone who forgot to close it on his way to higher ground. He never made it; his grave lies beneath seventy feet of water, down there somewhere. What was his name? I can hear his voice, gasping for air.
That railroad went right by the house in Stamford near the Granger Hotel, and it would make the canned goods dance right off the shelf if they weren't put right, right on the spot where she got off and turned and looked at me and threw her shiny black hair back with one hand, you can't forget things like that, and the way she moved and the five bundles she carried on her hips. One day she ran up the hillsides, like an antelope slashing through fragrant silverleaf bushes, kicking up puffs of yellow pollen in the ground juniper. Then one day she ran into the growing shadows between the hills and it was late before I knew it and she was gone and I was only able to catch a glimpse of her lit by the setting sun, a flash of her smile, running over the hill for the last time. I tossed a penny into the dark lake and it sank out of sight and all I heard was the wind in the grass, no voices, no song, nothing. It was late fall. The sun was low, the cold air crept down the draws and pooled in the valley where I sat on my tractor and watched the day slipping out of my hands. I couldn't hold it anymore.
Saturday, December 12, 2020
"Where. Where were we last night?"
"Home, what do you think?"
He looked down at the sheets."The moon. This is where I am?" He pulled at the sheets with his right hand. "But New York was burning."
"What? You okay?"
He paused. "I don't know. Something isn't." He looked through the window at the orange lights in the valley. A siren sounded in the distance. He pulled the curtains shut.
Annette rolled over and faced the wall. "Amen."
"No, this was different." He looked at her back in the flickering light coming through the cracks in the curtain. "It was like a photo bulb flashing. It rose suddenly and it flashed an orange light across the city. Shadows moved from north to south. Then everything went black again, it was night."
Annette didn't move.
Monday, November 18, 2019
We have spent most of the past year working on our companion blog, that of biological surveys, of semi-professional, near reality quality.
That blog has been compiled into a book, How the Earth Was Lost. It has most of the essays that appeared there, plus new essays, illustrations, and photographs; 25 chapters in all, plus an introduction. It even has footnotes and an ISBN. That is more reading than doctors advise in a day.
This may or may not be good news.
We hope to create more blogs on the gyrating world of ecology, but that depends. If the public outcry is too severe, we will hang it up.
In the meantime, you can find it at Amazon. It is in print format but we hope to have an ebook version out shortly, once formatting is approved.
Tuesday, March 19, 2019
Sunday, December 10, 2006
Sully, from Arcadia, asks, "What makes a plant rare?"
I am glad you asked that question, Sully. This reminds me of the words of Pierre Loupgarou, the acclaimed botanist from Mendication University in Skandia. In his classic work, The Growth and Management of Dreams, he wrote: "Rarity is not a condition but a perception that progresses until one is unable to identify anything at all." I would have to agree, although lately, I am not so sure. Have you noticed how the plants in the guidebooks don't always look like the one you have in your hand? Have you noticed that the phenomenon increases as the years go by? There is a simple, elegant explanation. It is your evolutionary process hard at work in the academic community! Yes, although once shielded from the forces of natural selection and genetic drift by a system of entitlements, professional societies, tenure, grants, and mutualism, academia is now rife with adaptations. Like a flood of Norway rats spilling over the gunwale of the Mayflower and swimming toward shore, evolution has invaded the community, resulting in a massive speciation and extinction. Eusocialty, theory diversity, and critical resistance is on the rise. Trophic cascade has impacted pensions, internships, research, funding, staffing, office furniture, even publications. So, it is no surprise to find studies showing that, while plants in the field will stay morphologically and functionally equivalent over time, plants in the professional journals will exhibit gradual changes in morphology over the same period, particularly in reproductive structures. Current theory holds that the rapidly changing conditions now found on campus are a prime factor. Many new species are appearing in the journals; some report as many as one an hour. As a result, it is inevitable that a species will become completely unrecognizable. So take heart, you are not seeing things, in fact, you are not seeing anything at all.
Friday, December 8, 2006
Nary a day passes by without someone asking me if I know Ogelia Schmoller, the fabled naturalist, and if I hear that question one more time I will file charges against her estate for professional harassment. Ah, Ogelia. She was born in Miles City, Montana in 1883 to immigrant parents, raised on a homestead, and educated at a one-room schoolhouse. When her parents froze to death in the blizzard of 1888, her aunt took over her rearing until she dropped out of secondary school, hopped onto a boxcar, and followed her dreams to Butte, Montana. There she settled down in an upstairs flat on Caledonia Street, found a job at the opera house, and established a life rooted in her hometown values of indulgence, insolence, indolence, and, in the end, indigence. She was found by street sweepers, face down in a gutter, hand on a bottle, having lived her dream to the full. Sure, Ogelia was fabled as a naturalist. I can heartily agree with that - she was a natural liar and everything said about her was pure fable. She was gifted. Well, OK, I take that back, it is true - she was a naturalist. She knew all she needed to know about hops and barley and malt and the interaction of microbes with each, and I suppose that makes her a naturalist in some corner of the world and I guess that means my village is full of naturalists, since there is a stream of them pouring out of that bar right now and heading to their cars because it is two in the morning and the joints are closing up for the night so the barmaids can clean up their hypothesis and postulation. Judging by the size of the crowd, there must have been a lot of scientific method going on behind those swinging doors tonight.
Theory: If my wife does not see me drink, does that mean I am sober?
Test: Call the wife and see what she says.
Results: Blame the wife for my problems and go to another bar so she can’t find me.
This is rigorous scientific inquiry by active minds, some of the finest in the land. The potential makes my head swim! Think of it: If this community could be enlisted to tackle the big problems facing mankind, who knows what we could accomplish? Problems like destruction of the rain forest, the melting of polar ice caps, the overharvesting of the oceans could be eliminated. We could find solutions to them all. I get numb all over thinking about it.
Rain forest: Borrow trees from some other country. When they ask for you to pay up, just make empty promises, and be sure to not pay the tab. When they run out of trees, borrow from another country. Repeat the process. There are plenty of countries to go around.
Polar Ice Caps: When someone expresses alarm, tell them that there is a simple explanation, that the earth simply has the flu and is running a little temperature. It will be feeling better in a day or two. No need to worry. Everything will be OK. If they mention the problem again, tell them the same thing. If it is repeated enough times, it becomes common. If it becomes common, it is normal. If it is normal, what is everybody worried about? Somebody is overreacting here and it is not me.
Oceans: This is not our problem. Someone else caused us to do it, and they better get their act together because they have a real problem with overconsumption and I can tell by the way you are talking that you are in denial. You need help.
Come back, Ogelia, come back.