Monday, April 19, 2010

Ghost Hunting

I guess ghost hunting is a "real" activity, indulged by folks who are skeptical of skepticism. It seems kind of silly to me on the face of it. I'm sure that people do actually "see" ghosts, but people also hallucinate and misinterpret data all the time. Well, more likely they impose familiar and conclusive "shapes" on things they just don't understand.

Advertising takes advantage of this, as does the newly faddish preoccupation with "gaming" (as in gambling folks). It really bothers me that our government is falling into this cesspool of immorality; almost as much as it does that Native Americans find it OK to pander (payback's a bitch). People simply don't have the basic math to understand what's going on. If they did, they'd be clamoring for "socialized" medicine, but I won't get into that just yet.

I think there are lots of basic science experiments that can prove how easily crowds of people can be induced to "see" the same nonentity. The other day at a "paranormalist" discussion, the leader played this old parlor trick: "How do you spell 'silk'?" which is a really hard word to hear. So people strain and try out S.I.L.K., and then the question is asked, "so, what do cows drink?" and almost everyone spontaneously answers "milk!" which is or course wrong, but just goes to show the power of suggestion.

So, in a given context, creepy surroundings, a certain kind of weather maybe; whatever it takes to lead people to the edge of what they feel solid about, a certain percentage will undoubtedly "see" something and even claim it has an objective existence, quite apart from their seeing it. Take God for instance. People are quite willing to kill or be killed over their certainty about the reality of this reified construct of so many people's lively imagination. Short of the kill or be killed part, I'm fine with the notion that God is real. But you have to stay well short of believing in ghosts to keep me with you.

Surely we all know the experience of something out of the corner of our eyes. Sometimes it turns out to be a mouse or a rat, which is upsetting enough. But sometimes - like the other day when I felt that I stepped on a soft spot in the floor of the movie rental place - it's a bit more disconcerting. I couldn't find the soft spot again, and so I was left with a kind of creepie sense that I had entered the bozone. There was lots of noise from the movie trailers being played overhead. I was contemplating what fantasy projection to rent. These things happen. But it leaves you shaky for a moment.

Plus, I have actually had the real-life experience of losing my mind, which, believe me, is plenty disconcerting. Good thing no-one around me was encouraging me in that particular direction, or I might never have come back. And I know for a fact that oftentimes the inteventions of medical professionals can push people who have lost their mind right over the edge into permanent oblivion. It's not something we know a lot about still, and it's usually our certainties that do the most damage. Like bleeding people for illness.

One of the things which it is my particular burden to be clear about is that right at that same fringe where God becomes real, there is another phenomenon in the realm of science proper (as opposed, for instance to the provabilty of God's existence, which will forever be outside of the scientific method, by its very definition, and thank God for that!) where it is impossible to tell even in principle if what is perceived is projected from ones mind or extant apart from it, so to speak "objectively."

It has become familiar to equate these realms with the supposed strangeness of quantum physics. Metaphorically at least, I would have to agree that it is true that the territory where the proper boundary between mind and matter really exists is as fringey as that of quantum physics. In other words, it just simply doesn't make much difference at the level where our existence gets carried on. Or any difference at all, really.

But of course I maintain that it does make a difference. Quantum reality is no different from what we mean by "random" in the course of daily living. Quantum physics simply explores the realm in physical reality beyond which it becomes impossible even in principle to make predictions or to locate things with any certainty. It's cool stuff.

Of course, a lot of what people think of as random is anything but random. We all know the uncomfortable feeling of watching someone we love do things which tip the scale away from good health and prosperity. (It's always harder to see these things in oneself, ho ho). It would be like watching someone stroke a rabbit's foot while wanking a one armed bandit at some state-sponsored monopoly gambling emporium. Sad.

But how come, while relatively unware of the volcano eruption in Iceland, I end up renting a movie made in Iceland about a kid who survives an avalanche by crawling into his personal grave after being released from a prison confinement which was plainly terrorizing to witness up on the screen? Sure, I must have been subliminally aware of the nearness of Iceland to everyone's life just now; that place where the iceflows are melting prematurely and now where the volcanic ash will cool the earth back down even as it gathers in more snow melting sun to the glaciers.

I don't really care. Subliminal just simply means beyond the pale of my control. And most of us accept that there's lots of stuff beyond that pale. The roll of dice if nothing else.

We just don't have good and clear language for these things is all. Or, well, the language we have has grown not just obsolete, but downright scary. It's the religious language which was functional back before the age of scientific reason. And these days it seems only to lead to idiocy in the place of leadership. In that, I'm glad to be near ground zero for skeptical humanism. Albeit in the thick of the most religious communitiy on earth, as documented somewhere . . .

It is my particular burden to propose that language; the proper language for our post-modern existence. No scientist, no philosopher, no master of letters. I simply find that I have crossed enough intellectual boundaries in the course of my lengthening life to believe that language as we use it has become dysfunctional. Like a crazy person who's lost his bearings, it no longer makes any referential sense.

The proposal I make is as game changing as the one Einstein made from the perspective of physics and math. And consider that in 30 short years or so, his reformulation would lead as if inexorably to the possibility and then almost immediately the reality of The Bomb.

I take this historical fact as the basis for my newfound and extravagant hope for humanity on the planet. (I've never lost hope for the planet, since she will surely survive our plague upon her, the old girl. She's survived worse!)

Humanity on the planet is, as everyone who's not nuts knows, very near its brink. Beyond that pale, who knows? Goddists everywhere think that they do, but in reality (ho ho ho ho ho squared) they are only reciting the patriarchal leavings of those who, like the first Emperor of the Qin dynasty, namesake of China, have a hard time with their own mortality.

Yes indeedy, I'm suggesting that all we need is a bit of linguistic shiftyness and we'll have a shot at survival. Extravagant? Well, compared to all the incredible engineering we've done, I hardly think so. And I'm not one to disparage the pleasures of our engineering. Take Windows 7 for instance . . . (I hope you appreciate the incredible discipline I'm showing here, not to digress too much along my way!!)

Or how about travelling to the moon, or jet planes or skyscrapers or all sorts of things which have become more, well, ahem, grounded lately.


I simply observe that the random happenings which impinge on a person's life do indeed engender an emotional response. Try though we might to remain impassive against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, very few of us are as accomplished as that grasshopper character David Karradine once portrayed, and look what happened to the real man! Tempting fate for a bit of temporal pleasure is not exactly the kind of impassivity that's meant by accomplishment in martial arts.

Anyhow, these emotional responses "in" us might as well be ascribed to reality "out there." We might as well call them real, and not just the projection of our fevered imaginations.

It's this boundary which interests me. If you are an astute reader (and you'd almost have to be to get this far) you will have noticed that this is the very same boundary which describes the existence or non-existence of things like God or ghosts or, you know, paranormal stuff. Well, consider how paranormal our very existence is in the first place, and you'll get an idea of what I think about that silly term. Sheesh!

So these emotional responses to random-seeming events, they're perfectly predictable. How many times lately have you heard the term "he'd have to have a heart of stone" not to be moved. Most recently, I heard this said regarding the Pope listening to the victims of sexual abuse as perpetrated by officers of his Church.

But then you'd have to have a heart of stone to be in any position of leadership, right? Since you would be, by definition, in some position to relieve lots of misery, but you'd still have to pick and choose. I heard dear Madeleine Albright the other day disavowing any knoweldge of the genocide in Rwanda which was occurring under her watch, which was pretty disingenuous of her on the face of it. Will Sarah Palin also disavow the horrors wrought by her cheerleading fanning of flames after it predictably occurs? I'm guessing the answer to that is obvious in advance.

So, the proportion among us of people who simply don't feel pain and suffering or joy or rapture when it occurs in the world around them is likely very similar to the proportion who sees ghosts. These people may be the only ones paying attention, or they may be nuts, or they may be the only ones to harden their perceptive or emotional faculties against the obvious. But to maintain a strict dividing line between what is real and what is in the mind and therefore not real would be the very pinnacle of idiocy.

Which is precisely where, collectively, we all live now. At the pinnacle of idiocy, no different, really, from that spot in a lifeboat all alone with screaming drowning people all around and you just can't save them all. You can't feed everyone out the back door of your mansion. So what, you should just do nothing at all? Blame the stupid people for not knowing how to swim? (OK, sorry about breaking that promise again, not to digress too much)

I'm a happy guy right at the moment. I just clicked a couple of buttons to buy some stuff off the Internet for less than the price of a cup of coffee at Starbucks. I ended thereby my internal battle (tie me to the mast!!) about holding back from spending maybe $40 bucks for these same devices over the counter, which is like real money when you're unemployed. It's like I didn't even have to make a decision. Chump change. Cool! Someday, I'll give you a quick digression about what this episode and more like it mean for our "economy." I promise.

A quick change of mind is all we need to change the world. Stop speaking as though emotions were not real. What was it I saw on the special about the terrible state of Detroit last night? Up in the court room where those guilty serially of growing up black were being brought for arraignment? "Justice is reason overcoming passion." Some silly claptrap like that.

Hello! That's simply not true. Half the time when reason overcomes passion, it's the cause of the apathy that's the cause of the cause for people acting beastly.

I'm just tired of the presumption that there's only one world, one truth, one reality. There are at least as many as there are people, and when people start interrelating, the math goes critical really really fast. Which makes change trivial. But it won't happen for so long as we think we're in charge of everything.

Now, excuse me a bit. I found an idea on the internet about how I might be able get heat going again in my car. It's probably a pipe-dream representation, having nothing at all to do with reality (or the dealer, who said I need a heater core, which is really expensive to install). But the author of this tip says the dealers always say that and that they're almost always wrong. It's not that they are trying to rip you off - hell, at my place there was only one mechanic even willing to take on the project to remove my dashboard - it's just that they all get on the same bandwagon. The more certainty there is the more certain people get. You know how that goes.

Anyhow, next time, I promise, I'll just go ahead and post the ghost story that I'm going to read at the Spirit Way Project conference coming up in a few days. See you there!!

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