Are We Having Fun Yet?

I sit here in the wee hours of Saturday morning, worrying about my wife. She is back in her home stomping grounds of New Jersey, visiting family, in particular her mother, who is recovering from a bad fall. Apparently Sharon had a toxic encounter with some crab cakes, and got sick enough to call an ambulance last night. I’m sure she’ll be okay, but I’m waiting for her to wake up, just to tell me that she is indeed okay. We’ve all been there.

Thus begins the cascade that leads to this entry in my rambling, unorganized blog. To occupy myself, one of many current projects is to resurrect her aging laptop from the pits of Windows slowdown. I doubled the memory and am working on replacing the hard drive with an SSD, which by the way is the best way to make an old computer feel new again. Judging by the ominous squeaking from the old hard drive, this is an even better idea. This process involves a lot a backing up, cleaning, and other tasks that – on this creaky old drive – take a lot of time. All of which leaves me here trying to engage my mind on something, anything, to avoid the helpless circular worry cycle of knowing that I can’t help my very favorite person.

And that’s where I made my mistake… I looked at the news. Looking at the news these days is a lot like swirling down the toilet bowl of outrage. For some people, the outrage is one sided. For me, it is more the outrage of the loss of critical thought in our culture. If you have a strong enough opinion, it turns into belief, which is not subject to easy revision. Collect a few people with the same belief and suddenly you have a religion. I suspect that there was once a time when looking at the news was clarifying for most people. Walter Cronkite had a gift for boiling it down into a single evening broadcast that managed to at least appear as if it didn’t have an agenda attached. Nowadays, and I don’t care which side of the great ideological divide you call home, every single voice leads with the agenda and distorts the story to make it fit. That’s like a boxer leading with his face.

Here’s the problem. I care about something called The Truth. In seeking that evasive rascal, I have a process of looking at multiple sides of the news. The left, the right, the subversive, anything that starts with alt, and so on. I shouldn’t need to do that. I should be able to rely on someone to stand up in front of a camera and throw the facts my way without a narrative attached. In this day and age, that is simply not possible. In the synthesis of all these sources, I should be able to approach something more akin to the truth, but that’s not really possible either. In the final analysis, there is never enough time to do more than scan through a bunch of crap, attach as much weight of objectivity as possible, and hope that I come up with something worth thinking. Unfortunately, I’m not any more capable of true objectivity than anyone else. My beliefs, my ethics, and my experiences attach automatically, just like they do for everyone else.

To illustrate my display my complete, mindless subjectivity, and thus disarming any authority I may have to write this entire post*, let me use a sports analogy. I hate the Atlanta Falcons because I hate the city of Atlanta. I hate the city of Atlanta for a variety of reasons that probably boil down to my father’s incessant complaining about traffic when I was a kid in the back-facing seat in our family station wagon. He managed to transmit all that stress to us kids in a way that survives to this day. Does it make sense? Nope. I further hate football teams from Miami, Tampa, New Orleans, and possibly Arizona, LA, and San Diego, because I associate football with the crisp Fall weather that I enjoyed as a player, and obviously these cities can’t possibly experience the right weather for football, right? Well, no. It’s completely stupid. I know it’s completely stupid, but that doesn’t stop me from hating football teams from hot, steamy, or downright tropical places. I hate the Patriots because Tom Brady. Either you get this or you don’t. Yet, I love the Gronk. Go figure. Being a Tennessean at heart , I would like to love the NC Panthers, but Cam Newton prevents me.  Despite the evidence that he is actually a decent human being, I can’t get past his style, his arrogant demeanor, and my completely unfounded belief that he will end up on the wrong end of inappropriate allegations at some point in the future. At the same time, I love teams for equally stupid reasons. The Seahawks because I live here. I miss Marshawn Lynch and actually grieve the injuries in the Legion of Boom. I rail at the offensive play calling and wish for a good enough offensive line to keep Russell Wilson from doing his best work in the realm of miracles. I love the Eagles because that’s where Sharon grew up, and this year I feel unaccountable joy that they are a great team. I loved the Broncos for Peyton and hate them for Talib. I love the Packers because they are the greater-than-the-sum result of the working class and the fact that they can inspire people to wear giant wedges of fake cheese on their heads. Yes. None of this makes any sense at all. Yet, it’s a pretty good expression of the human condition.

So throwing aside the so called professional reporters, there is another obnoxious arbiter of reality known as social media. Aka, us. I’ve seen the value of Twitter this year, not as a source of truth, but as a way of taking the pulse of reaction to whatever news story is clogging up the pipes at any given moment. In some cases, it’s also a better and faster source of breaking news than any official source. But, even a glimpse at the trending tags on Twitter is like sticking my head out the car window while going twice the national speed limit. Sure, at 30 mph, the occasional “make like a dog” act is fun and refreshing. Apparently, there are thrillseekers that are happy face-surfing the slipstream at 60 mph and can happily spend vast swathes of time on Twitter, making sure that their every idiotic, devoid-of-logic thought is recorded for posterity and the NSA. But at 120mph, in case you’ve never tried it, you’d better be wearing a helmet and googles. Otherwise it’s nothing but pain and tears.

Clearly, we need some method of vast simplification just to cope with the information and value feed. Our vast system of defining everything, including right and wrong, on other derived definitions is a huge problem. It means that I can’t espouse any kind of opinion without defining the framework that led me to that thought without being accused of some subhuman characteristic. In other words, we live in a world of swirling circular non-logic. Based on this week, we can’t even convict a man who admitted to killing someone for killing that someone. Based on the past month, there are an incredible (although not surprising) number of men who managed to redefine reality into a version that allowed them to project women into consequence-free toys for their own entertainment. Imagine their surprise when the consequences began to rain from the sky. Imagine my own regret that I can’t live in this world without being painted with the same broad brush as these complete dirtbags. Imagine the extent of our moral relativism when their ongoing apologies contain more words about their own feelings than actual expressions of apology to their victims, apologies which are entirely inadequate in the first place. Although I cannot dismiss the ongoing possibility of untrue accusations, it is pretty clear that the vast majority of allegations are well supported, and I shake my head in disgust. But I’m only talking about the symptoms of the deeper systemic disease…

At this point, I could branch off into about 50 directions to pin this idea down. I could head into things that are quantifiable and therefore measurable. For example, I’m currently putting insulation into my shop/office/garage. The hope is that I can heat it through the winter without tripling our power bill and/or tripping breakers with multiple electric heaters. This is a terrible task because it is clearly illustrating how badly I need to get a gym membership, but it’s a great task because it is entirely measurable. As long as I can work a measuring tape and a staple gun without falling off a step ladder, I’m good. I know the outcome. How can you apply that to another human being, much less any group of people? Beyond a certain point, you can’t measure reality. Ask today’s leading quantum physicist about the nature of reality and you will get something that basically amounts to opinions with supporting math. What happens to a square meter of forest if the neighboring tree grows just enough to cast 30 minutes more shade on that patch of the landscape? The answer is an informed guess. Don’t get me wrong. Human beings are very good at navigating existence through guesswork. One could argue that the fact that we all guess a little differently adds up to a self balancing system of survival.

Rather than delve into the other 49 branches of this argument, let me throw the flag of human nature onto the field. Just like the court system of replay-driven due process that has become professional football, let me disclaim the following by saying that I am speaking in observations. As far as I’m concerned, yours are as valid as mine, and I welcome your observations to the discussion. The only real difference is that I am writing mine here and now, in my typically wordy fashion, and attaching my name to them. That out of the way, human nature is our ultimate double edged sword. It is the source of our supremacy on this planet and the biggest problem we face. What is knowable about human nature? One is that it expresses itself in individuals in a myriad of ways, but in the aggregate, it resolves into patterns that we can observe. Take any group of people across any arbitrary division and given enough people, you will see every trait that human nature has to offer. Generosity, selfishness, peace, violence, productivity, laziness, honesty, deceit, codependent neuroses, bug nuts predatory insanity. These things and all the others always appear. Two is that sex is inextricable from human nature. Despite our best efforts to neutralize gender roles of late, it is simply not possible to ignore the fact that we are here because of sexual reproduction, and that makes sex a survival trait. The minute we lose our survival traits, some other species takes over. In the here and now, that means that we can’t wish it away. Sex plays a role no matter whether we notice it or not, or whether we wish it were true or not.  Sorry. This reality has consequences. Some male dirtbag will always try to take advantage of it through situational power, some woman will always find a way to use it to her advantage, and some homosexual couple will always have to contend with the opinions of others, even if they are trying to adopt a child that will be far better off in their care than it would be in some hellhole adoption pit somewhere in the world.  Personally, I would wish those children into any caring home. Three, it is the nature of humanity that every last one of us is riddled with our failings and blind spots. Of the two, blind spots are the worst because they prevent us from seeing what we are doing to ourselves and those around us. The constant lack of ability to step back from ourselves and ask the basic questions is probably the biggest problem with human nature, and we all fail that test almost every day.

At the same time, that exact same failing can be a strength that keeps us going when there are no good options in life. Holding up the old left hand – right hand scale, is the lack of perspective a strength or weakness? I’ve just said it was both, in true gray-area fashion. In most of the world, it’s probably a huge strength. People live in conditions that would make those of us with time to blog collapse in despair at the broad picture of our lives. We could easily end up talking to a rotten head of cabbage named Wilson. But here in America, the by-and-large land of comfort and convenience, failing to see the forest for the trees is a gaping hole of weakness. We could easily end up talking to a Costco-sized cupcake that we have decided to name Cupcake. Given all these systems and conditions of plenitude, we should have time to see the big picture. Again, sorry, but what heck are we doing? By sticking my head out the car window, I can see that we have abused our power by taking the microscopic and making it into the whole of existence, and that’s why we live in a society of complete relativism that somehow manages to become utterly absolute in a heartbeat.

We live in a system, us Americans. That system is supposed to do certain things. Keep us safe, guarantee a rule by law rather than the whim of a monarch, allow us a level of freedom and independence, and perhaps most importantly, give us a choice in our own future. In order for any of that to work, we are expected to have an informed voice in a very large, impactful discussion. That voice is expected to be passed along to our representatives in government, who are supposed to represent us on the larger stage. If that representative fails to support our views, we are expected to vote that person out of office at the earliest opportunity. Yes, I know. It’s all Civics 101, but we seem to have lost track of this basic chain of accountability. Even worse, our so-called leadership appears to have lost sight of the fact that they work for us (in theory) and typically try to run up a hill under the banner of their own advantage (in power, money, favor, what have you…) and forget who put them office. Yes, our one… er, two party machine serves as the banking system for their rise to power, but you and I are the currency. Like all good banks, the party system is far more capable of enforcing allegiance that any dollar bill in a wallet. Any of our vaunted leaders who read this (I suspect the number is zero) would ruffle up in indignance. It might be true indignance because they are actually trying to represent us, or in far more dramatic faux-indignance because they don’t want to be caught out, lining their own power pockets and failing to serve the needs of their constituency. Aka, us. You and me, the ones who find out that our tax dollars are going to pay off sexual harassment suits, the ones who fill out all the forms every year to discover that our government keeps treating it as their money rather than ours.

The extreme voices say that the only peaceful recourse is to reconfigure your life to pay as few tax dollars as possible, thus controlling the government through sheer cashflow desperation. They say that your failure to cry out loud at every failure of accountability is your failure, rather than the fault of those who wake up every day with a new scheme to abuse the system you support. In other words, they say the mess is your fault. I’d say up to a point, they are right. In the same breath, I’d say those extreme voices are wrong. What are we supposed to do with a self-serving system that uses us as money batteries to finance abuse that falls right back on our shoulders? All of the logical answers will never happen. In pure logic terms, we should demand term limits at a minimum. Experience in lawmaking can quickly turn from disconnect from real existence to disdain for the problems of normal Americans. Some politicians seem so disconnected from our reality that they need a brutal punch to the face to remind them that their rhetorical reality is not the final arbiter of actual American reality. Term limits put a cap on how far their perception can stray from the concerns of the rest of us. The argument that experience counts in Congress is the same as saying that experience counts in mob style protection money. If you can break my knees, will that make it more likely that I will be able to pay the bill at the end of the week?

The most extreme voices say that we should either fall off the grid and disconnect ourselves from our government, or rise in armed conflict to the government. You may get away with the former if you are willing to experience discomfort and inconvenience, but we have a whole set of examples to remind you that you won’t get away with the latter. We’ve had governments in my lifetime that would put up with all manner of sins, but not a direct ideological conflict. The real problem with most of the ultra-extreme views is that it comes with baggage that has nothing to do with a system of America that actually works. If you are preaching white nationalism in the woods somewhere, you’re missing the point. If you are anti-any-culture or racist group, you are again missing the point. At various points of history, there has been extreme resistance to different cultural groups of immigrants. Most of them considered completely white,  I might add. Odds are that if you are preaching some form of hatred, you are talking about your own ancestors. The people to whom you owe your very existence…

On the other side, if you are screeching labels at people like the pod people in Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, then your extremism is equally to blame. And by equal, I mean you could reread the previous paragraph with your own views inserted. I don’t care who you hate, sooner or later someone in that group will do something that bursts your bubble of belief. You could take note of that when it happens and adjust your reality a bit, or you can stick your fingers in your ears, close your eyes, and say, “Lalalalalalalalalalalala!” In a system where we have no connection between our reality and the noise that pumps out of the collective Americana, this is actually a reasonable response.

Where does that leave us in world where we are subjected to pointless identity politics from all sides and talking heads telling us how much rampant racism and oppression still exists, to the point where people feel entitled to take up sniper positions and gun down police? I’m not saying that these things don’t exist, just that they are not the all-encompassing plague that drives news cycles. At any rate, I could argue that facts all day and fail to convert anyone.

Let me use the Big Rewind to explain. There was a time, a very long time, in which we didn’t have the luxury of any of these debates. We had life, and we had death. We had survival. If you lived in a tribe that spent its entire day roaming far and wide to find enough food to keep living, I don’t think I need to explain that any stranger presented a threat to survival. Even today you can find stats on how much land it takes for any animal population to survive. This tribalism became the same as racism. You were either a part of the system of the world or you were “Other.” Perhaps the stranger became more valuable to the tribe than the resources he or she consumed and became part of the tribe. Perhaps the stranger stayed separate and simply consumed food within the territory of the tribe. They stayed “Other” and thus needed to be eliminated to improve the odds of tribal survival. This was life or death after all. Part of human nature is this legacy. Within every one of us is that seed of racism in the form of “Other.” We can overcome it, but we can’t ignore it. It was handed down to us from hundreds of generations for whom it was not an intellectual debate. It was pure survival that resulted in us. Is it not illogical that human nature contains a racist component that must be overcome through conscious thought.

The problem we face is that the real conflicts do not exist between groups like white people and black people, American citizens and illegal immigrants, Christians versus Muslims -insert your conflict here; it is the conflict among the expressions of human nature. Human nature is largely innate and subconscious and very few of us have the time or energy to examine it. I examine it continuously, like a weird hobby, through myself and others. Here’s what I have found, on top of a relatively racist upbringing in the South. If I personally meet someone of something other than my profoundly white Western European ancestry, I don’t even consider race. Do I like this person? That’s it. Some people I like instantly; some people annoy me before they even open their mouth. Regardless of race, and for reasons I may never really understand. If my simple notice of their ethnicity makes me racist, then I am racist. Perhaps I’m tribalist, but I doubt it. I tend to think more in terms of family, which I extend to include anyone important in my life. Perhaps I’m just applying an organizational tag like human metadata. If you can meet someone without the moment of noticing physical characteristics, then you are far more enlightened than I. Personally, I think everyone notices, in the exact same way that people notice someone they find attractive. In an instant, before any thought or cultural/sexual ideology even begins to kick in. It takes practice to observe this progression, even in ourselves, because it happens blindingly fast. Speed is of the essence in survival traits. We shouldn’t have time to decide.

The instantaneous is not the point. It may save us from the hubcap flying at our windshield, but it doesn’t define us. What does define us is what happens when that instant passes and we begin to apply all the rest of our thinking to the equation. That’s where the beauty and ugliness of human nature expresses itself. It can go either way because we made it to the top of the food chain with our adaptiveness. A professional baseball player can train himself to react to a pitch that goes by at speeds that may as well be a bullet for the rest of us. A marathon runner can rewrite their entire metabolic system to deliver a superhuman result. A biathlete in the winter Olympics can go from all out aerobic effort to the utter calm of high levels of marksmanship in seconds. The body control this requires is also superhuman. Presumably, every highly trained soldier on the planet can do the same thing. All of this is built on a physical foundation, but it’s control of the mental process that makes it happen. You can prove it in the storied 4-minute mile. It was impossible until it was done, and then the mental wall was destroyed and it went from impossible to expected in a historic blink of the eye. You can even see it on TV today. I present American Ninja Warrior, a cartoonish athletic competition that may as well be superhero training for the likelihood of any of us doing what those people do as routine. At some point, there is always an obstacle that takes out everyone, until a metaphorical Spiderman shows up and beats it. Then it becomes possible, and the top third beat the same obstacle shortly thereafter. It really makes you wonder; what are our actual limits?

On the other side of the coin, you may use the same sublime human capacity to take the instantaneous reaction and turn it into something grotesque. I’ve said it for years. The measure of a man is not in the reaction; it’s in what he does with it. I meet an attractive woman who was attractive before I could even notice my reaction. It’s built in. I say to myself, “She’s attractive,” and that’s it. I do not translate her attractiveness into any course of action or assumption of conferred rights to the direction of her life or my access to her body. I think this is fairly typical. On the other end of the spectrum, I may have Zeus-like control of Hollywood and decide that makes every young actress a toy that I can use as I see fit. I may be a Congressman who sees every photograph as an opportunity to grab a female posterior and then explain it away as, “I take thousands of photographs. I can’t remember every ass I’ve grabbed.” I may scheme to the point of actually installing a door locking button under my desk so that my bag of sex toys can be forcibly sold to a woman who is suddenly faced with more existential dilemmas than a cat in a dog kennel. In more mundane circumstances, I may translate friendliness into sexual intent and take up stalking as a hobby. I may use that imagined intent to create an imagined rejection and the whole situation could become obsessive and violent. But I don’t. Why?

My fifty-year collection of upbringing, training, inculturation, experience, and good old trial and error didn’t turn out that way. Lucky me. Life is a collection of experiences and relationships. Thanks to our highly adaptable brains, we can interpret all of these things in any number of ways. You may hear the same commercial three times in a row and think, sign from God. I may hear it and think somebody’s getting fired. Everything we encounter is subject to our mental game. If I meet a person, a potential relationship, with the notion that I am somehow superior in the grand scheme, I’m probably making a huge mistake. If I view another person as some kind of target that could be used to fulfill some need I have, and I’m referring to deep personal need here, not, “Will this lightbulb work?” then I am probably making a huge mistake. On the other hand, if I meet every person with the attitude that there is some value, something worthy of respect, some beauty of human nature waiting to be encountered, then all those initial reactions disappear as fast as they occurred.

It’s a great idea that plenty of people make impossible. All the best intentions disappear in the second instant when we encounter someone who is pointing those same mistakes in our direction, and we are forced to put up some kind of defense. People can be hostile, tired, judgmental in a way that may be aimed at you specifically, one of the groups you happen to inhabit, or literally everyone they meet. You have no way of knowing, but you still need to react. Then human interaction devolves into a messy interplay of actions, reactions, and overlain thoughts that usually become judgments. If we can get past that, then maybe a relationship occurs. Maybe we walk out with the appropriate lightbulb, maybe we earn a new drinking buddy, or maybe we find the love of our lives. Usually the lightbulb is good enough.

My point is that human existence is difficult. There are potentially no boundaries to what that means, which requires us to apply some meaning to it. Every day, every moment, we are forced to ask ourselves what we know. What do we actually know? What can be determined to be true with no prerequisites needed? In isolation, the answer is virtually nothing. The truth is that we only determine truth together. Without others, we can only know hunger, fear, pain, discomfort or the lack of those things. We might not even be able to determine the simple awareness of existence without someone else to serve as an example. Love? God? Creation? Law? World? Purpose? We determine truth together, and right now, we’re really bad at it.

 

 

*If you’ve spent any time on this blog, you know that I like to destroy my own credibility as a reminder to both of us that we all are all limited in ways that we may not see. Just like you, I am simultaneously a valid and invalid voice. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling you something you probably don’t want.

____________________________________________

24 hours later, Sharon is feeling much better. Only 38 hours until she gets home! Her laptop is finally fixed without a complete re-installation of Windows, and it runs better than new. As a geek, I’ll admit, I’ve lost a few steps, but I can still pull it off. And yes, I got the old drive copied before it disappeared in a puff of smoke. Small victories…

Intertwinement

Being 50 is interesting.

At this point in my human timeline, there are a lot of things to look back upon, a staggering number of ways to frame the observations of a half century. Yet, there are an infinite number (infinite trumping staggering) of ways to look forward, ways to distill what I have learned into a useful pile of thought, all of which I may use, ignore, or take as a life-level lesson on how to proceed. How would I even begin to categorize either side of the equation?

The answer is: we can’t. We cannot take the experiences of life and reduce them to a simple set of rules. Yet, we do, constantly. I even number mine for fun at boring parties. This is the nature and success of humanity. We take the indefinable, the infinite, and reduce it to something we can handle. It doesn’t need to be accurate or all-encompassing; it merely needs to be something we can hold in our minds and act upon. Does our reductive process pass the sniff test of objectivity? Who cares? Our truth is our truth. The scientists are busily working on the grander problem of truths within a peer reviewed schema of quasi-objectivity, and they are running into roadblocks at every step. Some of the most popular theories of life, the universe, and everything simply cannot be tested. Not only that, the folks who think this stuff up fully admit that they can never be tested, and further, that they cannot imagine a future scenario in which these kinds of theories can be proven through the scientific method. That could be a problem. I wonder if the deep theorists ever stand at the top of a cliff and throw a pebble just for the reassurance that gravity still works even though we don’t really know what it is.

Will we ever be able to say, “This is how reality works.” Probably not. The whole question runs at the limits of our raw ability to question and answer our own observations. Those observations become more refined as we move along, but they simply do not reduce the answers to anything approaching an unqualified definition of reality. I always tell my wife, “Did I qualify my answer? Then I know.” From a spiritual aspect, maybe it was was never intended for us to know the grand truth. From a pure science, data-crunching perspective, maybe we are simply not smart enough, and we should spend our time teaching our machine overlords to answer the questions for us. While we live in the ill-defined, popcorn bursting chaos of human mind function, some muddy blend of logical thought and pure intuition, we should possibly rely upon the hard quantifiable machine languages to test our wildest theories. There two big problems with this approach. One is that even very simple computer code gives rise to emergent, unpredictable behavior. Usually this behavior can be traced back to a source during the process of debugging, but as our code becomes more complex and layered upon other systems and code written by other people, it becomes more likely that the actual bug crawls away unseen. The second problem is that we may never trust any grand answers from a machine, and maybe that’s a good thing. My smartphone seems to have its own opinion about whose notifications get through. Needless to say, I don’t trust the little monster.

Equally so, perhaps we should invite the idea that there is no ultimate truth, that belief is as powerful in reality as peer review, or from quantum physics, that reality as a measurable state does not exist without observation, and that observation does not exist without a prior set of beliefs and expectations. Only at the most fundamental levels do the unbreakable rules emerge. Of course, the argument about what constitutes the foundation of reality is far from over. It has barely begun. It doesn’t help that the scientific debate is chock full of opinions based on belief, and that the politics of science are as nasty and messy as a 24-hour news cycle.

So, there is no ultimate answer. There may never be an ultimate answer. There may be no 42. Here and now, your view is equally as valid as mine. Maybe that is the ultimate answer. The answer is just as valid from our own subjective viewpoint as it is from any notion of objective reality. That certainly answers the concept of free will, that our reality is our own. What if the key to the universe is that each of us has the free will to view it as we see fit? Doesn’t that invite total chaos?

It would seem so. But what if an underlying grammar serves as a set of unbreakable rules for how the universe defines itself? What if all of our minds, by genetic gift, or even deeper structure, speak this language and share these rules in instantaneous real-time? That would certainly explain how we could stand in the same room and agree on what we see in the room. It would also explain how we could all read an article on cosmology and understand a similar view on the structure of our entire universe. But, is that an objective agreement on reality, or a subjective agreement among nodal points in the true fabric of reality? Wait… What?

Let’s say you and I walk into an empty room in a beautiful old house. The room has lovely hardwood floors and Victorian detail in the millwork. The ceilings are high and daylight pours through tall windows. The room is painted a vivid shade of yellow. Our subjective selves may react differently to this room.  For you, it may be bright and cheerful, and for me it may feel like I was swallowed whole by a giant tulip. You and I may focus on different details in the room. I always pay attention to construction details because that kind of thing is important to me. You may be thinking about what kind of furniture would fit and how it should be arranged. These variations are completely subjective, our own patterns of thought, experiences, and opinions all coming to the fore.

But, the objective human truth of this room is not in dispute. Without saying a word to each other, you and I are seeing the same room. If we were to whip out a clipboard and point to every detail of the room, listing the items on the page, we may disagree on the merits, but we absolutely agree on the content of the room. If I were to call up a friend on my untrustworthy smartphone and say, “Hey, man! You have to get over here and see this room.” I gave my friend literally no information about the room. He doesn’t even know about the terrifying yellow walls. What is he picturing in his head as he drives over to see this room? It doesn’t matter. The second he walks in the door, he is seeing the same room you and I are seeing. He could look at our clipboard and nod his head through the entire list, even if his particular focus on the room is the costs of building one like it. All three of us are now sharing an objective view of this room – at least on the human scale of objectivity.

Our human view is based on our senses and how our brain processes what we sense. Our eyes have limits, while narrow in what we understand of the electromagnetic spectrum, those limits are certainly good enough to distinguish millions of values and hues. Our ears can pick the oboe parts out of a symphony and catch the scratching of the mice living in those yellow walls. The point is that the parameters of human sensory organs are well understood and don’t vary too much from one person to the next.

The big variable is our brain. We all accept that brains are flexible in function, plastic in recovery of certain losses and devastating in others. I can use my brain to walk across town, avoid idiot drivers, make dinner, play a guitar, or write this piece. Anything you do with your brain will result in major improvements in that ability, just like a whole lot of running will tune your entire body to run more efficiently. If you sustain a major brain injury, there is at least a decent chance that your brain will find a way to rewire itself and recover over time. Brains are pretty cool, although not attractive when removed from their nests.

Back in our yellow room, it turns out that you are a hyper genius, and instead of basking in the warm glow of the room, you are actually mapping the entire thing in terms of geometry and mathematical relationships. Suddenly, our human objectivity begins to slip. Our clipboard exercise goes from one list to two. We may agree on the basics, but our description of the room is diverging rapidly. Then it turns out the friend I called has a secret power known as x-ray vision. Shhh! I told him I wouldn’t tell. Apparently it was all caused by an angry cow hoof to the head as a child. The cow was delicious. Now, I’m looking at architectural detail, you’re mapping the math, and my friend is watching a mouse busily chewing through the antique wiring in the walls and completely ignoring all the mouse corpses piled around him. All that mouse thinks is that cotton insulation makes for a nice nest. My friend cannot look around without seeing a thousand details I cannot see. He sees the framework with its heavy nails. He sees plumbing runs and leaks. He sees that mice have removed most of the insulation and can’t help but wonder how long before the house bursts into flames. So we try the list exercise again, and it turns into a college textbook. All of our objective truth has disappeared into different minds and senses. Yet, we all knew how to walk into that room and we all know how to walk back out.

How did that happen? Not the x-ray vision part, the part where three people with entirely different instruments to view the world can have any agreement on objective reality at all.

It’s hard to argue that we are dealing with a learned response, and that our basest points of agreement come from shared experience. I would not experience your effortless mastery of math, and neither of us could begin to touch x-ray vision, no matter how many times we were kicked by cows as children. My friend would have grown up in an entirely different world, and yours would be akin to that weird effect of looking at a map on your (hopefully trustworthy) phone and then showing up at your destination to discover the place looks nothing like you thought it would. I would be the shy kid who touched the hot stove about twice more than necessary to get the point. If our language of human objectivity is learned from a blank slate at birth, I see two implications. The first is a question: How blank is the slate? If it were as blank as the popular premise states, then we would never survive. As soon as the auto-feeder was cut, we would starve to death. The second problem is that if you grew up in some deep jungle in South America where you knew every plant and animal species like the back of your hand, you would still have no way to cope with something new, like the film crew from the Discovery Channel who just crashed your party.

It’s a little easier to argue the instinctive model – hundreds (or thousands, depending on your worldview) of generations of people that somehow passed an in-built set of instructions on how to deal with the world, and blank slate theorists aside, this idea makes a lot more sense. If our language of interpreting reality is instinctive, or genetic, and is the result of fine tuning to such a degree that it can assure a common human experience in any given place, yet spawn the occasional Einstein to push the limits, well then let’s just say our code is well written. This applies whether you believe the code came from natural selection or from God. If human instinct or simply good genetic programming is real, then our same jungle dwelling friend already knows how to deal with situations completely outside of his experience. You could put him on a plane and take him to Los Angeles. At first, he would be in shock and awe, just like we all were the first time we encountered something grand and new. Soon enough, he would make sense of it all and gain at least some understanding of the rules of a concrete jungle. Eventually, he would grow bored enough to ask the really important questions like, “Why are all the women so tall?”

For the record, I think the blank slate theory is completely ridiculous and serves as a pseudo-scientific prop for pushing the limits of political correctness beyond any comfort or practicality. Thus, I clearly buy into human instinct, human nature, and being born with a slew of instructions and some particular leanings, most of mine being benign forms of OCD. Thanks, Dad! However, good programming only gets us so far and tends to break down as we look at the details.

In our yellow room, we’ve looked at the space. We’ve changed the rules of sensory input to see how well human objectivity holds together. We did not talk about time, and time is the piece that calls for something beyond learned behavior, instinct, or genetics. The key to shared human experience happens in a very small slice of time, possibly in no time at all.

Instead of an empty yellow room, let’s walk into a store. It doesn’t matter what kind of store, except that the doors need to be wide enough for both of us to enter simultaneously. We walk into the store, take our first glance and… Freeze. If we could literally stop time at that moment and compare notes, I suspect we would agree on the broad strokes of the store we just entered. We could probably talk about it for quite a while. Push the play button, and we walk up to the first bold sale table inside the door. We haven’t read the sign yet, but we are both aware of the 30% OFF because we have a learned response to sale signs. We pick up the first t-shirt from underneath because we’ve also learned what happens with cloth if it’s not supported. We get overexcited by the sweet deals, and I accidentally knock the sign off the table. We both jump back without thinking because we instinctively know that fast falling objects can hurt. We get into an argument about whether that was an instinctive or learned response, but both of us can recall babies reacting to fast movements before anything worse than a dirty diaper had happened to them. Good programming. Then, we realize that everyone is staring at us and we feel the learned response of embarrassment. The point is that human experience brings it all into play, and it’s all valuable, but the shared experience we are having is an exchange of information occurring much faster than we can explain within the speed limits of the human nervous system.

We constantly intend some action before we are even aware of it. This comes in handy if a hungry lion jumps out of the bushes. By the time we put conscious thought to it, we’ve probably used up the tiny slice of time that would have saved us. Something below thought takes over, and it’s fast. Somehow, we can recognize the source of danger, the fact that it is indeed dangerous, and begin to move before any of those conscious thoughts actually occur to us.

At the same time, you and I can sort through the sale table and see the exact same items. We’re sharing views that match almost exactly, and never once do we actually think about it until a higher level decision is made, such as when you point out that the red t-shirt would really emphasize my man-boobs. If information was not being exchanged in real-time, somehow, we would spend every second of every shared experience saying things like, “I see the sale table. It has a sign on it. The sign says 30% off. The table is piled with t-shirts. The shirts come in many colors. I’m picking up this shirt, and I’m holding it carefully so that it doesn’t unfold, because I hate folding clothes.” At a shopping pace, we could easily argue that all we have to do is watch each other and get the same information, but the fact is that we don’t do that. I might glance your way every few moments to see if you’ve found something better than I have, but in general, we are each doing our own exploration of a stack of t-shirts. We are aware of the stacks on the table, the store around us that we would both describe in similar fashion, people that pass by, sounds from the registers, everything is common to both of us, even if we are not looking and not listening. How much information is being exchanged, and how is it being exchanged fast enough for us to have the same basic experience no matter where we go or what we do?

I suggest intertwinement. I spent all that time getting to the title of this little rant, because frankly, the implications can be uncomfortable.

In quantum physics, there is a thing known as entanglement. Two particles are entangled if they are sharing information with no time delay, no matter how far apart they may be. If you paid attention to your Einstein, you know that he claims the speed of light is the ultimate limit of our universe. Quantum entanglement throws that out like an obnoxious bar patron tangling with a bouncer. Unlike much of modern physics, entanglement is an effect that can be tested and apparently does occur. This is hard to test, even with a single pair of particles. What I’m suggesting would take the basic effect and apply it to the complexity of a human mind, which would multiply the effect of entanglement by roughly 30 gazillion. Gazillion in this case refers to any number that is incomprehensibly large but still finite. This level of information exchange would suggest that some kind of entanglement is incredibly reliable in our universe, and that the NSA is using it to make my phone untrustworthy.

The concept also has another startling slice for those of us who grew up believing that the brain was the entire machine of thought. Intertwinement demands that our brains are capable of directly accessing something outside of our heads. We don’t share our lives by plugging a CAT-5 cable into our skulls right after we say hello, although some may argue that sharing cat photos on our phones comes mighty close. Besides, my guess is that we share enough information with the world around us that a CAT-5 cable would melt in the first second.

That much information doesn’t read like WiFi or Bluetooth, both nice wireless serial data connections that can stream a season of Fargo. It reads of vast parallelism, not unlike our brains themselves. This means that we are surrounded by something more akin to a field of information than a pipeline. A field of information is not a new idea; it is a common way of dealing with things like quantum entanglement or gravity, or quantum gravity for that matter. Theoretical physics seems to be trundling in the direction of information exchange as the true currency of everything. It’s not even a new idea when related to the mind. It’s just that you don’t generally find someone discussing a field-of-mind concept anywhere near polite mainstream science.

My well-read pile of observations and conjecture on the subject is highly unscientific. It is almost purely anecdotal, based on a lifetime of observing and thinking too much. Sure, I can throw in all kinds of science, but the ugly truth is that just like everything else with humans involved, science itself loses authority at certain points. Not to mention that science creates more questions than it solves. It has been that way for a long, long time. A good example is global warming. You can, right now, be living with the absolute certainty that climate change is real and that we are absolutely the cause of it. Then you can start digging through the science on both sides of the argument, and you are almost guaranteed to find that science will shake your convictions as much or more than it will support them. That’s assuming you are willing to give both sides a fair hearing, of course. Being human, that’s the tricky part.

I had to get the disclaimer out there. Please don’t read me for any claim of authority on anything. Read me as food for thought, ideas that you may want to explore.

To continue our string of assumptions, if the mind needs external communication for shared experience, and the amount of information in play is huge, then we can assume that our brains are quite good at this trick of thinking outside the box, so to speak. That leads to next idea, which is that the brain is not the entirety of the mind. Some of the mind lives in the old brain pan and some exists in this hypothetical field of information. Where the balance lies is interesting in itself. Our brain could be doing the vast majority of our thinking and only communicate outside when there is a reason. Or, our brain could merely be the maintenance manager for our bodies and a sophisticated interface to the field of the mind that surrounds us. Some elements in favor of the second concept are there for the viewing, low hanging fruit if you care to pick it. The measure of how fast nerve signals travel is well known. It’s also known that reflex actions of the body can outpace the speed of nerve impulses, which suggests that intelligence is distributed through the body (in a way we can’t find) or has some other shortcut such as a zero-time connection to our toes. At the same time, the brain as our entire engine of thought has some holes in it. Ask a neuroscientist where memories are stored and see what you can find.

If you’ve followed me this far, let me ask the next set of questions. If this field of the mind exists, and handles at least some of our mindfulness, where does my field stop and yours begin? Does the communication between us imply that we are all sharing the same field? If so, does the part that is “me” have definite boundaries or am I just followed around by my school of mind fish that swim with yours from time to time? Am I a capsule of Jim-ishness, or am I just a thickening in the exact same field you are using? If it’s a definite and isolated field, then I can assure you my cats know exactly where it ends. They definitely know something I don’t. I can’t even figure out why they like me. If we are all sharing the same field, then the metaphysical and spiritual implications pop up like weeds.

In another kind of disclaimer, let me say before I launch into spiritual issues that I am a believer in a higher power. If you are not, that’s fine by me. The very nature of faith demands that I live without proof. I can claim a 50-year span of experiences that strengthen my own version of belief, and I can consider those things as evidence from my point of view. You may not be convinced by anything I would call as evidence to a higher power, and that’s fine. I think the first rule of belief is that we have no way of knowing whose beliefs are the best, the most useful, the most heartening, or the closest to any kind of truth. The only place I draw the line is if you buy into some version of faith that preaches harm to others. I find it hard to accept that a God of all creation would expect anything other than our best creative effort in return. Preaching destruction is like gardening with a packet of seeds in one hand and a spray bottle of vegetation killer in the other.

Let’s begin our shared field exploration at the humanist level. “We are all one.” Could be same kind of paradox as Schrodinger’s cat or the holy trinity… It could be that we are equally individual and collective, simultaneously, all the time. “The harm you do to others is the harm you do to yourself.” Or, “Karma’s a bitch.” Or, from a bit more established source, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” If we all share the same fluid of experience, these quotes and parables make a lot of sense. We all have those places we do not want to be. Maybe it’s sitting across a desk from your boss, who has yet to acknowledge anything good from your efforts. Maybe it’s a home that is steeped in the tragedy of a cancer victim and incidentally smells strongly of vegetable soup from a can. Maybe it’s Costco, a place that I swear has the most negative vibe in our first-world existence. You’d think with the products offered in pallet-sized lots that people could just relax and mosey on over to the 20-pack of light bulbs, but nooooooo! It’s a pushy anxiety fest that strains good marriages to the verge of divorce on a daily basis. I spend 45 minutes in that place and I’m ready for a three-hour nap. If we are sharing a field, then we are sharing emotions too, like it or not.

Expanding the metaphor a bit, if we are sharing a field as people, who’s to say it’s only limited to human beings? Again, certainly not a new idea. People throughout history have ascribed similar and even greater potency of non-human contributors to our existence. This could describe everything from our relationship with sand on the beach, to our relationships with plants and animals, and onto the Gaia concept that the world is one single organism of which we are small parts, hopefully playing our roles and not screwing up her environment. If you believe in certain religions today, you are accepting the multiple overlapping roles of an entire pantheon of deities, even as most of the world has moved to a monotheistic model of a single universal God. You may consider the notion that your pantheon is simply different aspects of the same thing, or that there is actually a roomful of gods that meet up to drink wine and argue about how stupid we are. In the Christian model, there are far more sermons spoken about the Trinitarian nature of God than there are people who can explain what it means. Growing up in the Bible Belt has given me no greater understanding of this concept than anyone else. The only assertion I am comfortable making is that we don’t know, we will never know in this lifetime, and therefore we fall back to subjective belief, but now the question is about whether it’s really subjective in a universe where we all share the same field of information. Perhaps the connections are really there, the understanding is available, but we don’t know how to access it. Maybe that’s no failure on our part, but simply part of a grand design by whatever we think runs this show, on the basis of something like, “It’s too dangerous for the meat puppets to know too much. Look what they did with gunpowder.”

On the positive side, it’s a pleasant thought to believe that the plants in our garden do respond to our care and intentions of good health. We’ve probably all encountered the studies that showed that plants react to human intention, music, and other human generated input. Many of us have stood in the grandeur of nature and have seen the hand of a Creator, even if we are the type of person who could equally say that our positive response is the result of evolving into the environment before us, and why wouldn’t it feel good? Perhaps we are the kind of person who thanks the animal who gave its life for the plastic wrapped pound of ground beef in our spaghetti and feel a ping of positive acknowledgement in return. Perhaps we go into church on Sunday morning and revel in the ephemeral filling of a God-shaped hole in our chests, the feeling of connection to something loving and larger than ourselves. Perhaps, like me, you live with rescue dogs and cats and observe them closely enough to know that they know things that cannot be explained by our five senses, or even by their far sharper versions of the same sensory inputs.

On the negative side, everything I just wrote, and a million other examples, could simply be stories we tell ourselves to reinforce our human feelings. It could just be simple testament for our minds’ ability to drive hormonal responses that feel like what I have described but have no other genesis than self-gratification.

I tend to find pets as good tests for a myriad of human behavior, because they know us well enough to understand what we want, but they don’t have the layers of social filters standing in the way of the momentary response. Take our smartest dogs, the ones who can easily plan 5 steps in advance to reach a goal, and show them their favorite toy. The whole 5-step plan is out the window in favor of a momentary response to the joy of playing with that toy. I see it every day in Luna, our Australian Shepherd who is running a continual plan for domination as Queen of the Lunaverse. Her mental gears are always turning. Show her a toy, and she drops the whole plan for a few rounds of play, and then picks up her plan right where she left off. Luna is deaf. She was born deaf, but speaks our version of sign language with ease. In the realm of five senses, let me offer an almost daily scenario. We are watching TV. She is asleep under the dining room table. She may even be facing away from the living room, but if a commercial featuring a dog comes on, she is up immediately, running to the magic window to growl at the critter that she believes will jump out of the TV at any moment to pose a threat to her royal court. How does she do it? If we are all sharing a field of information, then she can apparently read that field well enough to look through our eyes and know without her classic senses that a dog is on TV. Another example: My wife texts me that she is getting ready to leave her office and come home. The entire pack of animals gets restless and migrates towards the front door. After being quiet all afternoon, they are suddenly barking at every wayward sound. I guarantee that if the text said she was three blocks way, this could be explained by their ability to hear the car at the other end of the neighborhood, but the trigger is Sharon’s intention to come home, not something that can be explained by dog-sharp hearing. If we are all sharing a field of information, this makes sense. The only other option to consider is whether they are responding to my reaction to the text, and that’s entirely possible. I am usually excited when Sharon comes home.

Earlier I referred to my cats’ desire to be in “my” space. If I sit down anywhere in their territory, they will arrange themselves around me in an orderly fashion that respects cat rules of space but is primarily about the relationship to me. If I am calm, they tend to lie down facing me to bask in my semi-cat-godly glow. If I am stressed out, they tend to face the outside of their circle, as if to guard me from something. One of the big differences between dogs and cats is that given the choice, dogs will go for physical contact every time. Cats are just as likely to be content close but not touching as long as they get petted when they want it. My anecdotal evidence for some form of ongoing subliminal communication works like this. I have learned that I can have my eyes closed and turn my attention to a cat and the cat will respond. Donner the fat orange kitty will purr almost at my whim. I simply need to think loving thoughts about him, and he starts up like an Evinrude motor. Scalzi is more physical in his affection. I can send him the same thoughts and he will climb on the nearest, most convenient part of my anatomy, purring in his much quieter way. Lucinda had a hard early life and is much more cautious about people, but she loves her morning massage. I send kind thoughts her way and she will respond by throwing herself against me until I give her a carefully balanced massage, nothing that makes her feel trapped but otherwise aggressively affectionate. She likes the rough stuff. If we are presuming a shared field of information, all of these things make sense. If we don’t, then cats are magic, and we’ll leave it at that.

If I want to talk about God, what is this field? Is it God, or is God simply the central hub of all information in the field? I tend to roll with a “God is infinite and everything” concept, and the biggest problem with religion is that the first thing any religion does is to try to prescribe the limits of God. That’s understandable since infinity is really hard to explain, much less try to explain and then send around a collection plate. If I tell you that that God is infinite and that means he can be infinitely aware of everything and still infinitely aware of his relationship with you, then a church has a hard time of making the argument for dealing with God through them. It’s far easier and more profitable for anyone describing us as the children of God to treat us like children and to reduce the explanations to something a child could understand. As adults, we could spend our days finding holes in the arguments, but as a rule we don’t. For a child, a simple set of rules and boundaries is exactly the same as security. You tell me I should follow the Ten Commandments and all will be well, and even as a child, ten rules are easy. You tell me the Sermon on the Mount is a more nuanced version of a simple set of rules, and I agree because even with the nuances, the rules are finite and understandable. But what if any understanding of our reality requires a brush with the infinite, the unknowable, and the fact that God is also infinite and unknowable. What if the whole thing about “made in my own image” has nothing to do with a bearded white guy surrounded by clouds but instead is about this hypothetical shared field of information in which we have real-time access to God?

What if our souls, which presumably have far greater understanding of reality than we do here in our limited human existence, sit on the shelf of a library of souls, in which we have some access, knowing the rightness or wrongness of any situation, but cannot fully access within the limits of our meatbag interface of a brain? What if dreams are the caveat, providing us with insight that we cannot handle through our limited connection to divine all-knowingness? I frequently dream up entire novels, but only rarely have the discipline to write them down before I begin to speak, which is the threshold at which dreams are lost. What if the soul is nothing more than the part of us that exists in the field of information?

And finally, what if the field of information is only incidentally related to us. What if the same field contains the information about every fundamental particle in the universe? In that context, maybe we, and all life, are only marginally more organized sets of particles in a stupendous, yet not infinite, collection of other particles, all interacting and sharing information on an instantaneous basis? What if the same thing that lets you know someone is looking at the back of your head also lets your brake pads know to heat up under hard braking? Among other things, it would probably simplify the equations for those theorists trying so hard to tie it all together. What if the moon’s orbit is merely an artifact of an instantaneous calculation among information sharing forces? That would help explain why the orbit is so suspiciously perfect among a solar system full of wayward moons.

As usual, computer code gives us hints. A racing simulation is measured by how much detail is involved in its calculations. An arcade racer may consider acceleration, mass, and several stages of grip. A serious simulation may extend into calculations based on tire deformation, rubber temperature and compound, and the actual physics of the suspension system in action. These are all approximations, by the definition of computational power limits available. Smart software assesses your hardware and makes choices about how far the detail can be pushed. Universe Sandbox 2 is a physics simulator for celestial bodies. As much fun as it is dropping a rogue planetoid on Mars, the whole thing is an approximation. It’s a compromise between idealized math and what your computer can handle. I use these and other software to game out writing scenarios, but that’s another article. The point is that if this field of information exists, and it contains every interaction in an entire universe of physics, what is the computational hardware running it? If you were designing a state of the art website today, you would be doing everything in your power to separate content from presentation. The engine of your website would take your content, filter it through the rules of your presentation, and your users would see the result as a blended whole.

Let’s imagine the entire universe as a computational engine for a moment. God or natural selection invented it. In the latter case, random attempts were made until the code of the universe ran without critical errors. In the former case, it was designed to run with every implication of this article woven into the threads of reality. Or something like that… One could argue in favor of God in the simple fact that stumbling upon a working universal solution could take literally forever. That’s okay, because no theoretical physicist would argue that our particular universe was the beginning or ending without at least acknowledging the caveats that we may not live in the only universe. In fact, there is a large school of thought that says that every branching point spawns a new universe. Since my teenage years, I’ve had this notion of Godlike beings presenting our entire universe as a science fair project. Maybe our universe got a blue ribbon, maybe a red one, but the fact is that it works. The results of our reality are consistent enough that we can indeed predict the outcome of any classical physics interaction. The fact that we can’t reach down to the limits of our theory and make it mathematically consistent with our largest cosmology is irrelevant. Here on our human scale, we know how it works.

What if that confidence is surprisingly abridged? What if our solar system has rules we understand, but we move over to Proxima Centauri and their rules are different? What if a few light years away, the Planck constant is three times larger and Pi is no longer an irrational number, but instead equal to exactly 3.14. Would we be able to see it from here? What if life exists there and has three times the genetic information we carry? What if the black hole we believe exists at the heart of the galaxy is actually just the equivalent of a cosmic scale sprinkler? It takes in mass, spews out energy, and then throws mass to where stars are being born to help fuel the process. What if every theory of how the universe is formed and how it will die is subverted by the fact that God wants it to renew forever just to remind him (or her) of his blue ribbon in the trans-universal science fair. Yes, I’m speaking tongue in cheek, but the truth is that we have no way to eliminate the possibility that I just spoke the closest approximation to the truth.

What do we have left? Human subjectivity. Let’s use it to the best of our ability, because it may be the only grand truth we ever get.