Thursday, January 14, 2021

King of the Beasts

There is no doubt that the author of the book, The Ecology of Sasquatch, does not exist.

It is a fact, the evidence of the author is scant and what little is produced has been misidentified. Most experts believe he is a storefront mannequin, a shaved ape, a manatee, or a man-shaped balloon from the 1928 Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade that came unmoored and drifted away, landing in Tercentary Theater at Harvard University where it was awarded an honorary degree in Hyperbole. That is not an exaggeration. 

There is a lot of wind in his book, enough, it is said, to power 1,600 wind generators, enough to power all the homes in the city of Denver, Colorado. Not only that, the wind is strong enough to force the winds coming out of Canada right back up into the Arctic, where it compresses and warms, adding to the catastrophic melting of permafrost. Global warming is caused by hot human breath!

This just has to be true because one can read it right here right now and this was passed along by 453 virtual friends - they could be if they were. This is the definitive description of nothingness, the absence of something.  

Looking to fill the void, one fires up the television machine, leans forward, and squints at the grainy, minute-long film of a man in a rabbit-fur suit, look, the zipper is visible in the front. There he is again, the ape-like creature, swinging his arms, punching Gorosaurus, Tyrannosaurus, Gigantophis, Pterodactylus, sea serpents, and Godzilla. The imagery is high definition, the sound is stereophonic, and the subwoofer shakes the living room floor as he roars and stomps across the land. Our hands sweat, our heart pounds. 

The problem is, studies have shown that actors can actually get lost in a role, like that circus clown in the corner booth at the cafe who sprays the waitress with his lapel flower and eats his hat. A 2019 study concluded, "portraying a character through acting seems to be a deactivation-driven process, perhaps representing a 'loss of self.'" Another study from the same year observed, "simulating others changed self-knowledge, such that the self becomes more similar to the simulated other." Uh oh. 

There are two sides to this story. The man in the rabbit-fur suit made our palms sweat and heart pound. He transformed our perception of the world around us. This becomes clear after one has watched the ape-man terrorize members of the actors guild and the theater audience for two hours and then steps outside into the dark night. The shadows between the buildings, the rooftops beyond the streetlight, the dark, empty space between the parked cars, the back seat in our automobile, each has taken on a threatening aspect, has become less secure, less devoid of danger.

The problem is, we have learned that Godzilla, King Kong, Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah are not real, no more than the lonely, impotent Mr. Sasquatch. A few miles down the highway, listening to elevator music, our mind ejects the ape-man in the back seat. He flies off into space. Our hands dry off, our heart settles down. 

In the 1940s there were newsreels that showed images of carpet bombing in Europe. In the 1960s, the nightly news showed identical images, in color, of carpet bombing in Southeast Asia. Acres of pockmarks, like ground acne, a moonscape right here on earth, air force lakes, Swiss Cheese School of Landscaping, just like Bonny and Clyde's bullet-riddled gangster car. Today, the nightly news shows images of a scarred earth, with roadside bombs, melting Greenland, oil spills in the Niger Delta, coral bleaching, mounds of plastic garbage on remote beaches, and the daily street battles between opposing ideologues pitching tear gas canisters at each other. 

One sits back and turns off the imagery. After a few miles, a few kitten videos, a few minutes of elevator music, his hands stop sweating and his heart settles down. He has recovered his self-knowledge. The monster is ejected into outer space again as he drives away. 


Brown Steven, Cockett Peter and Yuan Ye 2019. The neuroscience of Romeo and Juliet: an fMRI study of actingR. Soc. open sci.6181908. http://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.181908

Meyer ML, Zhao Z, Tamir DI. Simulating other people changes the self. J Exp Psychol Gen. 2019 Nov;148(11):1898-1913. doi: 10.1037/xge0000565. Epub 2019 Apr 29. PMID: 31033322.


Sunday, January 10, 2021

Status Migrainosus

Languages die. Or it is has been said.

When a language falls into disuse, when the last native speaker has uttered his dying word, when there is no society to carry it, the language has become dead. Any interest beyond that is academic, like archeologists digging in a graveyard exposed during the construction of a museum. But deadness is highly prized, like cadaver teeth to a Civil War dentist. Dead things don't move, aren't subject to change, thus, a dead language is a very useful container for those who would want the linguistic meaning of their work to be stable.

Latin is a dead language, having fallen out of use centuries ago - with the exception of quaint Latin Clubs and the Latin Church, whose leaders bemazed onlookers with a theatrical display of it until the 1960s. That's the reason scientists selected Latin as the language to name and describe living things, geologic formations, and scientific processes. These words would be fixed and stable for all time. Yes, our name is Homo sapiens, and we are stuck with it until we de-evolve into simple primates. Comparatively, the English word "human" is subject to change. At this point in history, the meaning of that word has mutated under tremendous selective social pressure and it bears little resemblance to what it meant just a few decades ago. Just look around.

Memories evolve. Or so we think. Cornell University published a study in 2002 in which they showed participants an advertisement describing Bugs Bunny at Disneyworld. Bugs was called "an impossible character" because there is no Bugs at Disneyworld. Bugs is under contract with Warner Brothers, not with Disney. Were he to be spotted, he would be escorted from the premises, face legal action, and his stuffing would be found floating in a canal south of Lake Okeechobee - blown to bits by a cartoon bomb. Authorities said that this was the fate of Bug's older brother, Fritz, whose dismembered foot was found in San Francisco bay - attached to a chain. His movies were destroyed in the 1934 fire at the Burbank studio, destroying valuable evidence. Only some original production drawings remain.

By the way, after viewing the phony advertisement, thirty percent of the participants said they recalled meeting Bugs at Disneyworld as a child. The suggestion of an impossible event, bolstered by fabricated evidence produced a false memory.

To be a memory is to know war. From conception until death, memories are under fierce selective pressure. Only the fittest memory is able to survive REM sleep, the dark hours when the mind stalks and preys upon the daily storylines, purging the weak, culling the herd, a brutal nightly assault that makes us toss and turn, grind our teeth, and jolt up straight in bed, screaming at the shadow suspended in midair above our bed. In the morning, we don't remember a thing, but we have a slight headache. That's the hole where reality was. In the mind's war between reality and desire, the difference is what is recalled.

So we put our words in Latin, hoping to fix and stabilize the ideas, but Latin does not determine the nature of the idea. We only imagine that reality does not die. "Reality" is a word that has mutated under intense selective social pressure. At this point in history, the meaning of that word bears little resemblance to what it meant just a, well, a few nights ago. Just look around.

As we indulge our desires, knowing what we wish to know, sinking deeper into a post-truth world, where outlying data is given equal weight to the preponderance of data, where science is believed to be opinion, where the loudest voice is equal to truth, where two plus two equals five and it's that cabal of billionaire mathematicians just trying to control our minds, we are heading toward one massive headache.

So, as the reality of real reality escapes us like a madman twisting out of the grasp of hospital orderlies, running into the street, screaming, we imagine that he has lost his mind, but he is just trying to get away from us.

Friday, January 01, 2021

Vacation Getaway!

Well, the numbers are in and the winner is. 

There continues to be talk about a manned mission to Mars. It's been in the planning stage since about 1877. That's when Giovanni Schiaparelli described canali, or waterways on the Martian surface. In 1892, Camille Flammarion ran with that idea and described an entire race of superior beings. In 1950, Ray Bradbury chronicled his tours of the Martian cities. Over the years, various motion pictures were made on location. Many motion picture stars died in horrific battles on Martian soil and in the Martian skies. Alas. Today, millions of the faithful travel to Area 51 in hopes of spotting one of the reclusive aliens that inhabit the region, and if not, they may see a dead singer or two not far away in Las Vegas. 

Meanwhile, Venus goes unnoticed. Mars is half the size of the earth, further away from the sun, covered with red dust, no surface water, with an atmosphere about 100 times thinner than the Earth's, composed almost entirely of CO2, with an average temperature of minus 60 celsius. Still, there are thousands of people camped outside of the launch pad gates, hoping to be some of the first in line to buy tickets to fly to the Red Planet. Vacation in the red rocks, lose pounds instantly, get a tan, feel the stress melt away.

Venus, on the other hand, has a similar mass, radius, density, composition, gravity, year, and day as the earth. It is about 2/3 the distance to the sun. Leave the crowds on Mars - picture yourself out on your deck, cold drink in hand, basking in the Venusian sun. This could be you! 

We need to work out a few ergonomic issues with Venusian travel, however. The surface temperature averages 465 degrees celsius, the air pressure is 90 times that of Earth, the sky is obscured by clouds of sulfuric acid, and the windstorms are legendary, at least as bad as those in Livingston, Montana where it can blow 90 miles an hour on a clear day, and perhaps as bad as those in North Dakota, but we are not so sure since communication there has not advanced much beyond the telegraph - the singing wire! - and all accounts seem to have been inflated by at least as much wind as was said to be in the storms. We have heard that a North Dakota man lost his hat in one storm coming hard out of Canada, which blew his hat straight to the south. It went clear out of sight. He stood there and looked at his watch. A minute later he turned around, faced into the wind, and caught his hat blowing right at him from the north.

Anyhow, life on Venus is not. 

Returning to earth, where the aliens landed, apparently in search of oxygen and a spot of shade - and, we might add, apparently victims of species profiling because all humans seem to think that all aliens have teardrop-shaped heads, large glowing eyes, small mouths, wasting musculature, holes where there were once ears, and they whisper and point at everything - here, back on this climate-controlled earth, we find that our air conditioning has seized up and is pouring out smoke. 

The numbers are in for 2020: 

Total acres burned in the United States: 10,274,679. This beats the modern-day, Smokey-The-Bear-Era record set in 2015. And that's just the US. This year produced some grim satellite imagery of the earth on fire, from the Amazon to Siberia to Austraila and North America. 

I think I saw one of those aliens in that line at the launch pad. 

https://nyti.ms/2L0F2Cs