Something is happening — It is amazing

[I wrote this essay one evening in 1998. There were no blogs then. So, I am publishing it in January 2014. I cannot resist making a few comments; so they will appear in square brackets, like this. The essay explores the way we reduce the wonderful to something boring and normal. It then anticipates the amazing future. It recognizes the power of envisioning. Why this synopsis at the beginning? As I write, it is believed that search engines pay more attention to first paragraphs than conclusions at the end of a post.]

For most of my youth I was presented with such incredible novelty every day that I thought that novelty was normal.

Schooling seems to teach from the point of view that everything is normal. The fact that we can know things must mean that the world/universe is basically normal

So, if you show a little child something astounding–unless it is something novel in his/her day-to-day life–they kid will see it as just another incomprehensible thing in an incomprehensible world.

Then, after a few years of schooling the universe is reduced to math, science, economics, poetry, or some other field of boring study.

Faraday had to write his Chemical History of a Candle to remind us that if you look closely at anything, you see the whole universe… and it is amazing.

People love to say, “there is nothing new under the sun.” “What goes around, comes around”… and other notions that suggest that everything is basically normal.

Our science is built on a foundation of laws. I hear people state that “Even nature must obey these laws.” [I think that is an arrogant way of describing the reliability of the Universe.]

My first concern about this arose when I realized that the so-called laws were valid only as far as they go. I can make a good case for calling them pretty good generalizations, instead of laws. [That is another essay.]

Somewhere along the line, I learned that the world and the Universe are evolving and changing. The sense of a basic normalcy comes from the brevity of an individual’s life compared to this incarnation of the Universe—the time after The Big Bang. In the 4.5 billion year age of the Earth, my whole experience of awareness is as fleeting as the illumination of a strobe flash.

From our understanding of the physics of time, the arrow-of-time points only forward.

In the past–nearer to the time of the Big Bang–the Universe was very different from today. Looking into the distant future, it will be very different from our experience. Once the Earth was a barren rock. Today you might almost describe the Earth itself as alive.

What changes have happened to life on Earth? The fossil record provides clues to a process of evolution. There is also the story of drifting and colliding continents, of ice ages, of magnetic reversal, of the Sun’s Maunder Minimum. Surely, there have been a host of events and influences about which we will never know.

So, what is normal? Change is normal. Okay, that is not a new observation. We expect change in our lives, but what about change in the story-of-everything?

As people attempt to understand the world around us, there is a basic assumption that we are trying to understand something that is constant. In fact, we are all part of an evolving story.

The term, evolving story, suggests that many changes may be so gradual as to be imperceptible.

When we ask, “what is going on here?” Maybe we should be looking to see what part of the story is happening now.

In the past couple of generations, life-on-Earth has changed, perhaps as dramatically as in the aftermath of the great asteroid that hit the Earth 65 million years ago.

Our political leaders, and the whole systems that support them, are completely inept when it comes to managing the human planetary condition.

As an environmentalist, I am aware that the current philosophies of economics require measurement of many of the wrong things. “If you cannot measure it, it does not exist.”

Our intellectual community and our scientists can see some of the changes, but no one seems to have a valid and compelling vision of where we are going as a species… or how the Earth will behave as it gradually awakens.

Soon we will have 6 billion people living on this planet. Then more! Amazingly, I think that the Earth will be able to support them. [As I write in 2014, one estimate of the current population is 7,207,967,035 — the last digits changing as I watch.]

Soon the planets and the asteroids of the solar system will be part of our dominion. It is only a matter of time–and I suspect a short time–before a star travel is an option.

Global communication is rapidly changing the way we use information and the way we communicate. I suspect that it will change our perception of borders and the way we, as a species, think and behave.

The asteroid has hit.

The genie is out of the bottle.

Why does everyone think that everything is normal?

It is becoming clear to me that vast changes in the nature of being a human will occur during the next couple of generations. Maybe faster.

How the changes manifest themselves will be the consequence of two factors. The first is the list of developments, such as those described above. The second–and I think probably more profoundly–will be the vision as it is articulated by someone or some group.

When that person (or group, or organization) says the words that billions of people recognize as being true, the words will resonate and effortlessly make it happen. [The discussion of the power of a good idea and the means to communicate it is another essay.]

It does not seem to be human nature for everyone to agree on anything. Therefore, probably there will be several, incompatible, visions competing for supremacy.

This is a story. With the best stories, you can expect the unexpected. I am looking forward to being surprised [I hope not horrified] by developments.

1998 October 7, 11:42 PM

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What Matters

For a long time, I felt that I would live this life, and never get it, never really understand what was happening, never feel that I knew what really mattered. That at the end, I would still be wondering, “What was that all about?”

As I write, I cannot decide if the title, What Matters, should have a question mark or not. Without it, it suggests that I know the answer. But, one of my discoveries is that I do not know anything. Life is not about knowing (that’s another discussion). But, if I put in the mark it sounds as if I am wondering. And the reason that I am writing is that I think I have found a useful perspective about this subject.

An important clue seemed to arise from the use of words such as important and significant. Long ago I realized that nothing was intrinsically important or significant — even though people would use those words that way. To be important, someone or something had to bestow it with that value. In other words, it had to be important to someone or something. I didn’t think that this was an important truth, just good grammar. Now, I sense that this is more than syntax.

As soon as we awake in this world, we are surrounded by caring people for whom so many things matter. Those adults are attending to debt, or property, or jobs, or friends, or improving the world, and so on. And, if we were lucky, we matter to those grownups.

By the time we are four or five, we are packed off to school to learn things that our community thinks matter. And education matters because we need to learn how to cope with society, and someday we will need to be able to get a job to be able to support ourselves. We discover that our culture and its history matter. Maybe we learn that having friends and a network matters. We find that there are activities, and skills, and hobbies, that we like (or learn we don’t like) and these things all begin to matter to us.

Eventually, we think things matter because we feel those things matter. If a project that I care about is failing, I am truly upset. That project matters (to me). If someone I care about has a great success, I am filled with joy because that person matters (to me). As I write, my life is filled with people and projects and activities that are truly commanding my time and attention. I don’t feel that ignoring them is an option. They all matter!

Some things matter more than others. Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs suggest that there might be a way of prioritizing what matters. It is clear that some things matter a lot, and others are trivial matters. I don’t think it is useful to explore greater and lesser matters in an attempt to discover what really matters.

One day it occurred to me: nothing matters.

It didn’t seem like a great truth. Probably it arrived in my head as an extension of the concept of what was important. Just a grammatical concept. But once I had said it, and believed it, the idea began chewing away at everything. Nothing that seemed to matter could survive the understanding that that was simply not true. The whole huge catalogue of things that mattered was, page by page, rendered blank.

Even now, armed with this concept, my appointment book is filled with events that matter. I have obligations, and they all matter. I am surrounded by people who are depending on me. And they matter. If nothing matters, surely I could just walk away from all of that. Well, I cannot, because all of those things matter.

Those things and people matter to me.

The important concept is not that things matter, but that they matter to me. What I realized is that mattering was a quality or value that I, or someone, bestows on something.

If you like to put labels on things, you might say that I stumbled into a line of thought that has been explored by the existentialists, Pascal, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche and so on. I find that my understanding has not lead to what has been termed the existential attitude. I certainly don’t see the world as meaningless or absurd, and this concept has not led to any disorientation or confusion. On the contrary.

Once I could accept that nothing matters, and that mattering was something each of us chooses layer over things and people, I realized that there was some power in that choice. Well, that is the ideal. Truthfully, I am emotionally required to accept that there are many things that feel as if they matter, and I may try to decided that they do not matter, but that feeling will not go away.

This is not the end of the discussion on this topic, but it is the end of this article. I may (or may not) write about all the ways that this perspective changes the way I look at the Universe, life on Earth, and my own affairs. I find that there is comfort in feeling that what matters is a matter of my choice.

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Blog as archive

This is a short post to establish this new blog. Over the years I’ve written essays and tiny snippets that have helped me to to understand something about what it means to be alive and sentient. There are also some observations that simply rattle around in my head — but inform my thinking. One of the advantages of computers, and online data, is that it’s simple to search for everything that has been cataloged by the search engines. So, by filing this material online, I can search it for myself. I will also be sharing it with anyone who guesses the magic search terms.

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A Participating Civilization

I am coming to the conclusion that there is the real and achievable possibility for this to be a much happier world of people. I suspect that barriers are our existing cultures and economic systems, the way we have been taught to interpret problems, and our personal focus on the few levers of power that seem to be available to each of us. Here I want to focus on what is possible — not on the barriers, or the existing (specious) lists of solutions.

In different discussions, with people with different points of view, I’ve found there are a number of ways to approach this subject. Here is mine: for most of the nearly 7 billion people alive on the Earth, their life is about survival. For a few, there is a sense that the individual has achieved some degree of self-actualization.

My approach to this (and I am discovering that there are other approaches) was my opinion that the more people there are who are feeling in charge of their own lives, the larger the stage for me and my adventures. It is to our own advantage that others are achieving self-actualization.

Although there is a great concern about environmental issues and global warming, and there is also a huge population who will not be adequately fed today — right now, if we choose, there is more than enough for everybody. I know that as I write this, readers will see this as a distribution of wealth discussion, or the haves vs. the have-nots, or a north-south matter, etc. But I consider all of those discussions to be distractions and the associated thinking causes avenues of thought that lead to dead ends.

Here, then, is the vision.

The assumption in this thesis is that the left-out population of the world impoverishes each of us; and that when everyone can achieve his or her personal actualization it will improve the possibilities and opportunities for all of us.

The essay form that I was taught would require me to state my thesis and summary arguments, and then embellish those arguments until, in the final paragraphs, I would draw the conclusion. What I realize is that this concept is embryonic, and it is not about drawing a conclusion. I sense that the thesis is almost axiomatic. If the reader agrees with it, my hope is that it then opens the door to a world of new possibilities.

Since I see this as the beginning of an exploration, I have found that the best way to express it is as a visual Mind Map. In this form it suggests a multitude of avenues for future exploration, and it is open to whole new streams of concepts. It is, therefore, far from drawing conclusions. The map becomes a multitude of threads, each of which suggests a world of new directions (and not conclusions).

Please click this link for the Mind Map of the Participating Civilization.

The image should open in a new window or tab. You may have to click the image to see it full-size. The diagram seems easiest to read starting at the top and reading clockwise around.

Note: I first wrote about this in May of 2006 — and that is the date on this post. It is being added to this new blog on Jan 21, 2012, when there are now over 7 billion inhabitants of our world.

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Who or what am I?

Moments ago my youngest daughter (age 3-1/2) brought me a family photo album with a page showing pictures of her and her older sister. She teased me saying that a picture of her was of her sister. When I said that that was not her sister, and asked who it was, she pointed to herself.

“That’s a picture. And you are not a picture.” I said.

“I know,” she told me.

“What are you?”

“A C_,” she declared using her first name.

“What is a C_?”

“I don’t know.” She said.

This from a note that I made on Sunday, 1991 November 2 at 4:40 pm.

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The energy of war

I am impressed by the energy of support for the War In The Gulf. Under the banner of ‘supporting the troops’ many people are heard to put aside their disapproval of war and support the activity. Support for President Bush is running about 91%. Even Jean Chrétien, the opposition leader in Canada, has flip-flopped on this issue.

The tragedy is that this energy is directed towards a destructive activity. The question (in my mind) is how to harness the same kind of will for more productive projects. I think that war is a popular activity among those who are powerless. Even here, in North America, most people do not feel in control of their destiny. There is, at least, a thrill of power to see our side smashing the forces of evil.

These are childish concepts — and our civilization is still in its infancy.

When I try to think of constructive uses of that energy — even now it could be directed  — it is a matter for our leaders to see a need, and pursue reaching that goal with similar vigour. A coalition of countries could declare war on (pick one): hunger, a disease, an environmental issue. Structure the war as a campaign  — an all-out international effort. Then have a decisive victory. Declare an international holiday to celebrate. As more victories occur add more events to that day so that Victory Day becomes an annual event.

The thought occurred to me because I was feeling somewhat depressed. I’ve been here since 1943 and I was wondering in what ways the world is better for my time. It was a low score. In other things that I’ve written, I have commented that real adventure happens when people work together, when they want the same thing. How, then, are these wants orchestrated? Now I am wondering if our political systems are the places where I will find solutions. Or, do they have to evolve, or be superseded?

– From a handwritten note scrawled on Feb 5, 1991, 2:36 PM.

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Prediction – Does speaking about the future actually create it?

I wrote this back in August of 1982. It has also appeared at my personal and business web site for some time. It was penned at a time when I was feeling very positive about inventing and created the future. At the time, I was directing a planetarium… and that is the business of mounting shows in a theatre. Our shows began with a dream and a proposal. Some time later, maybe as much as  two years later, we had to turn that into an event that would be seen by the whole community. As a practical matter: it had to be delivered on time and on budget. It meant that, for a couple of decades, I was in the business of imagining a future and then working to cause that to materialize.  This introduction is written on 2012 January 21.

Without meaning to, I have developed a superstition. By making a prediction – certainly stating it aloud, but also by simply feeling it – one has contributed to making it come true. As a result, I prefer a positive forecast or at least an intelligent one based on what I really know.

What interests me, and the reason that I am writing, is the possible process of cause-and-effect. Is this a superstition, or is it a real phenomenon?

“Be careful what you wish for, you may get it.” I am convinced that by deciding that someone wants something (not, “wouldn’t it be nice if I had…” but, “I want…”) a person is more than half way to getting it.

Because of a friend’s connection with est (a human potential organization which uses group encounter techniques to train people), I once pointed out to him that part of the est system produces an easy victory. At the outset of the training they ask the trainees to write down what they want to achieve by taking est. Without the time to think about it – without even realizing it – these people make a firm declaration. What a powerful commitment that becomes. It is not surprising that such goals are often quickly achieved.

There is a piece of popular wisdom that extols the virtue of being a pessimist. “The pessimist never expects much so s/he is always pleasantly surprised when something turns out well, and is not disappointed when it does not.” Almost everyone has heard that line; and I suspect that a majority subscribe to it. It is an easy position to take, and one feels as if one is playing-it-safe. The problem is that the pessimist is declaring that this or that will turn out badly.

To what extent do declarations about the future (good or bad) influence the course of events? Can any of the process of influence be recognized?

It is my experience that the most powerful force available to humans is a good idea combined with the means to communicate that idea. In this context, a good idea is simply one that is practical and can be easily communicated to others. I would like to think that, generally speaking, a positive, creative idea is stronger that a negative, destructive one.

There are two ways that someone’s idea about something is communicated. First, the initiator uses some medium to express it. Secondly, others discuss it. They also discuss the initiator. Whether the discussion is by a prestigious columnist, or a labourer at coffee break, it is all gossip. This gossip contains more than a transfer of information; it includes the attitude of the person talking, a degree of evaluation, and opinion. There is a strong element of judgement – of both the idea and the initiator.

Through gossip the idea grows as it develops adherents – or withers as the idea or the initiator is rejected…because during gossip, the gossipers usually inject their personal opinions, and by doing so are declaring whether they want the idea to succeed.

We are often taught that gossip is bad. It may not be bad; it may be part of the way that a community accepts or rejects what it wants to do as a community. It is the way that it becomes a community instead of a merely group of people.

How often, in private conversation, do we sit in judgement of others and their aspirations? “There is no way that I would vote for someone like that.” “I really think that so-and-so deserves to get the job.” “Did you know that Jennifer was really impressed by Frank’s proposal?” “The guy’s a joke, how can you take him seriously?”

It is seldom that the object of such gossip finds out what is said – or when it it is discussed with him/her the comments are often tailored to the be acceptable to the person. It takes a very sensitive person to be able to read in people’s eyes what is really being said.

The point that is obvious, and is often overlooked, is that people are always gossiping. If someone has an idea, a hope, or an ambition that requires the participation of others in order to come to fruition, those others will discuss it. The bigger the concept the more the gossip. And everyone who has an opinion – whether they are involved or not – will be free to comment.

There is energy here. If the gossipers feel positive about a person, and they want the concept to succeed, the concept can develop a life of its own. Barriers to success vanish as if by magic. Other people will want to strengthen the concept with their support, additional good ideas, and assistance.

The reverse is also true. We all have seen ideas that may be technically all right, but try as the individual might, nothing seems to happen. It is no coincidence that this person is often heard complaining that it did not work because so-and-so was against the idea, or somebody let him/her down by not holding up their end of the bargain.

The success of a project, hope, or ambition relies upon the positive attitude of the initiator – in all endeavours, and the viability of the concept. The process – the source of energy – involves the tacit approval of the community, which is generated by gossip.

This part of the process is obvious because everyone participates consciously and we can often see it work. Sometimes it can be manipulated; by being aware of it, by word-of-mouth campaigns, etc.

I suspect that the process is even more subtle and powerful than simple gossip would provide.

An experiment carried out in the United States showed that in that country of two hundred million people, no one was more that five handshakes away from knowing anyone else. This leads me to believe that the consciousness of the whole community is far more extensive, and can be influenced far more simply, than any individual can imagine.

Is my fear of negative predictions really a superstition, or is it an unconscious recognition of the power of the prediction itself: that the declaration of the nature of the future can create a lot of pressure to fulfill the prophecy?

My observations suggest that predictions based on a desired future, rather than the real belief of future possibilities, does not work. It simply destroys the person’s credibility.

The words energy and power have been used in this discussion. A good idea, and the means to communicate it, can develop its own power of human inertia to make almost anything happen.

We are accustomed to seeing most individuals move in their own small world, often having little to do with the great projects of the day. However, by adding their negative voice to a million other dissatisfied voters they can stymie the plans of an unpopular political leader. Like a molecule in a wave, they are part of all the great events around them: with their positive resonance the size of the wave grows, and by being negative it diminishes.

I think that when a community moves in concert the result is very powerful. If the whole of humanity could ever want the same thing the result would be magical.

Knowing how to sense these waves, how to influence this energy (I do not think that it can be seriously manipulated) can give one access to the greatest power available to humans. There is nothing that cannot be accomplished.

This leads to a formula for success. Begin with a good and positive idea; then find the means to communicate the idea. Remember that communication goes on all the time; that you radiate the potential success or failure of the idea even when you are not thinking of it. (I am convinced that the idea, and its success must be more important than historical credit.) If it is really a good idea others will want to contribute and be a part of it – and a part of a million associated aspects of the idea. Let them. Encourage them. Expect that a million seemingly unrelated events contribute to the energy. Provide positive resonance to things that you sense are positive – it all contributes to the success of your project, and all other good projects.

All of the foregoing is so obvious, and demonstrable that I might not have used the term superstition. But it goes further. To me, it is not clear that future predictions lead to simple human activities where cause-and-effect can be observed. “I’ll bet it will rain this afternoon.” “The stock market is due for a significant drop.” “These are hard economic times.” “Well, we won’t have many tourists visiting our city this year.” If I were concerned about the consequences of any of these, probably I would not make these statements unless I thought that these predictions were absolutely inevitable. Instead I would say what I really know. For example: “Those clouds seem to be piling up. They could become thunderclouds.” I have imparted my knowledge more accurately and I am not committed to having it rain.

Does the process and the energy extend itself to affect the weather, the stock market, tourism, etc? Of course I do not know. The market and tourism have to do with human activity and one can imagine an influence here. To assume control over changes in the natural elements is probably mystical. But it takes no extra mental effort, and, since I believe that the process is powerful and usually operates unseen to the initiator of an idea, I include these areas as well. Frankly, it is so difficult to develop an attitude of positive resonance – it is so easy to be negative – that an evaluation of each situation seems impossible, and might be counterproductive.

Finally, the strongest incentive to maintain the attitudes suggested here is that it seems to work. Projects seem to happen, and ideas flourish. And – nothing gives me more confidence that this – my predictions seem to be improving in accuracy. I cannot say whether this is because the predictions are based on knowledge (even if scanty) and not a careless suggestion, and are believed to be possible (not merely a hoped for consequence); or if it is that the predictions contribute to producing future events. Maybe both.

© 1982 August 19, Robert J. Ballantyne
All rights to this essay are reserved.

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