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                                                     THE QUICKENING




(This essay is why I have a blog. I wrote this as an imaginary response to an imaginary discussion I was having in a bar in Sonoma, California. It's long and winding, and I don't know if anyone other than my pal Craig has gotten all the way through it, but if you do- and you can find the joke- I might pay you five dollars of you find it and tell me.)

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If I was talking, I’d say I wanted to talk about evolution. Not your standard taught-in-school evolution, but what I hope will be an interesting diversion from that track. It’d be great to say, if I was talking, that is, that we were at an evolutionary crossroads, because it’s a great term and everyone seems to like it, but… no, there aren’t crossroads on this path, no two roads crossing, but we do have one road separating and going in two suddenly opposite directions, one forward and one arching backwards. What we also have will be amply demonstrated to be an ever-quickening pace that has now reached previously unknown speeds, and I think that alone would be worth consideration, were it not for the content of the change. The consequences of that divergence are what I intend to discourse upon at some vainglorious but hopefully forgivable length. To whit:  seems that there are two antithetical and constantly developing evolutionary paradigms at play at the moment that are of such enormity and impact that they affect every aspect of our lives, from our molecules and those levels even more elementary, through levels best described as ethereal. One involves our subconscious and the other our consciousness. It’s about our brains and what we’re doing with them. I think something big is going on and I don’t know of anybody talking about it, and I haven’t seen anyone writing or blogging about it. If you know of someone who is addressing this issue, let me know.
When thinking about evolution, most people focus on the adaptive physical changes in species, identifying and then explaining them. Scientists, teachers, students and thoughtful people concern themselves with the physical changes, and the people that oppose those views focus their opposition mostly on considerations of chronology, as represented by their theology. But still, considerations of the paths of these physical changes are a large part of the discussion. Today’s consideration of the evolutionary process currently in play deals with a less easily quantifiable landscape.
There must be other people interested in this, but I don’t know of any, and I don’t know what to enter at Google to find them, so for the nonce, I’ve been thinking about this in something of a vacuum. Excuse me, I’m new here. Scientists and their observations abound, and tens and more tens of thousands of doctoral presentations have been and are well researched and solidly defended. The thousands of religious fundamentalists who disagree with those scientific conclusions feel as confident of their beliefs- based on what it says in the bible- as do the scientists, teachers, students, thoughtful people, doctoral candidates and all the committees who conduct and oversee and evaluate the research on the science side. 
Fundamentalist Christians- and there a lot of them- believe that the bible is inerrant, which means that what has been printed in the Old and New Testaments are the exact thoughts and utterances of God and His representatives, and what’s in the bible is true and cannot be questioned. The people who believe this are apparently not concerned that these stories that comprise the Old and New Testaments are all descended from oral traditions, stories that were told and retold and told again and again, year after year after year, told thousands of times by thousands of different people, in hundreds of languages, through thousands of generations in thousands of tribes, nations, villages, congregations, meetings, festivals, and ceremonies, with each teller putting his spin on it, emphasizing this, changing that, altering a name or a date… telling and retelling the stories until so much time had passed until civilization became sufficiently sophisticated to develop a written language that could be taught and passed down. All these stories were written by hand, copied over hundreds or maybe thousands of times, and almost every new copy had some difference. Writing was so imprecise even in the Middle Ages that Shakespeare himself spelled his name several different ways. Documents were copied onto leather or parchment, and over a few decades, these could corrode or become fragile with handling, and if one word or even one letter was missing, it could give a whole new meaning to the passage. It’s demonstrable that the accumulated stories changed- sometimes advertently, sometimes inadvertently, sometimes by the acceptance into canon of a document of previously dubious provenance, and so it went until the invention of moveable type in the 15th century made printing cheap enough to produce books, and whose content became relatively stable, while at the same time fortuitously allowing the printed word significantly greater distribution.  
While changes to the text were made either by mistake or by design, that happened even more frequently when texts were being transcribed from various languages into others, like from Aramaic or Hebrew into Latin, then from Latin into Greek, and from Greek into other emerging, changing languages. Who hasn’t gotten a chuckle at seeing English signs posted in China? Yeah- you have, and it’s the same thing.
The biblical stories came down in much the same way as the stories that we call “folk tales.” Remember “the Boy Who Cried Wolf?” It’s what used to be called a folk tale, and we still tell that story for its moral, much in the same way that ancient cultures told those stories, and for the same reasons. We teach it to children so that they may learn that their actions have consequences, so would anyone be upset to learn that this same story has been through several changes, that maybe in Russia the wolf was a bear? That the story might have originated in Africa where the wolf was a lion or in Egypt where the wolf might have been a hyena? In Europe it would have been a wolf, and so that’s how it has come down to us. Folk tales change to accommodate the time and area where they are told, and so, I suspect, did the tales that eventually became codified as the Bible. 
Language is malleable and changes year by year, and every year new words are added to the culture, and thence to the dictionary. Consider the Pennsylvania Dutch. Everyone knows a little about the Pennsylvania Dutch- you know, Amish people and no electricity, and maybe a few other things. Did you know they’re not Dutch? They came from Germany. People in the area they settled in rejected the “oi” sound in “deutsch” and said “dutch” and there you have it- a mistake that has lasted 150 years, and it happened in one generation and continues through to today. The bible is an accumulation of stories that’ve been passed down through thousands of repetitions, and then ink and handwriting were available for hundreds or maybe thousands of years, and during that time, changes were made to every story that was ever told in the bible, and if you don’t think anyone would stoop so low as to falsify a story to promote their own agenda, I’ve got a word for you: Swiftboat.  
It does not typically register, for those who need to believe in the inerrancy of the bible, that everyone who ever played “Telephone” as a child knows that words and meanings change from one telling to the next, and by the time the story comes around to the person who started it, everyone has a good laugh at how much it’s changed from its original version in a matter of minutes. In the game, the original line is always something relatively simple, and the fun of the game is that even a simple sentence changes radically as it’s told by one person to the next, over a few minutes, so imagine what a long, complex, emotionally charged story would sound like after a hundred repetitions. And then imagine it after a few thousand repetitions over the centuries, until Gutenberg in the 15th Century. In some cases thousands of years passed between the first telling of the stories that became the Old Testament and the time that they were finally written down. Did you know there are several cultures before Jesus with legends of a savior dying and being resurrected, and they contain elements of a virgin birth, and all predate Christianity by centuries? For another easy example, look at the story of Noah, which most of us assume came from the Old Testament, but the same story appears, written in Sumerian, as the Epic of Gilgamesh, which preceded the earliest written mention of Noah by about 1,500 years. That’s at least one thousand, five hundred years of passing a story of an epic flood- and the man who God instructed to build a boat to save all the animals- along to the next storyteller before Gilgamesh became Noah, and then how much longer until someone wrote it down, and then another thousand years or so passed until moveable type became practical and printing became possible. That’s a lot of time and a lot of repetitions and a lot of room for change. Look also at the Book of Thomas, found among the Nag Hammadi Codex in Egypt in the late 1950’s, which included the Book of Thomas, which had been eliminated from the New Testament at the Council of Nicea early in the 4th Century. Here was a book that had been banned by the Church because it had Jesus advocating that people could search for God in their own way, and the Church wanted exclusive access to the wisdom of God, so they banned it. Thomas spoke of a more Buddha-like Jesus than had been formerly known, and as the Nag Hammadi texts were from the 2nd Century, the church was embarrassed by several of the changes that had been made to the text over the two centuries that the book had been extant before they took it out of circulation it in the 4th Century. And that was in just two centuries.
In fact, after two thousand years, I think it’s bloody remarkable that those stories didn’t change even more drastically than they apparently did, but I have come to bury Caesar, not to praise him, and we mustn’t lose sight of the tragic illogic that the people who believe that the bible is inerrant ignore the fact that these stories come from a time when people were so unsophisticated that they didn’t know what clouds were, they didn’t know what stars were, they didn’t know what the sun was, or where it went when it went away; and when there was a lunar eclipse, they reacted with every emotion from jubilation to terror, having no idea whatsoever what was happening or what it meant, only that it meant something… big. They relied on their religious leaders to explain it, and the religious leaders, like all leaders from the beginning of human existence until the present moment, first and foremost wanted to maintain or extend their power. They billed themselves as the only people who could explain the strange signs to their flock, and they have always used that power to keep control of their flock. Yes, that kind of flock. 
As long as we’re discussing inerrancy, if you’re interested in when and how the Pope became infallible, it happened as recently as 1869. At the time, the church had solidified from dozens of factions to three. The Roman church was one of the three, and gaining in strength and influence. When I say strength, I mean that the Pope had an army that was almost as large as the king’s. But a Pope’s influence, while hardly inconsiderable, was insufficient in Leo’s vision, so Leo IX called a meeting. He wanted to solidify the three rival church factions under his rule, but even that would not be enough. The meeting lasted two months and was making progress, and Leo was the clear front-runner when he announced his infallibility, and demanded that all present vote then and there to approve it as Church policy. As he was announcing this, Leo had his soldiers surround the delegates, to persuade them to approve the measure. Some found this to be an outrage, and were immediately and vociferously opposed to the proposal. They protested and were arrested. Others fled. When everything settled down and the remaining delegates voted, only 49% of them approved the measure, so Leo, being his irrepressible self, proclaimed the policy to the world as if it had been agreed upon, and to this day Catholics believe the Pope is infallible, and knows what God wants and speaks for God. That’s true, I swear to God.  
By the way, if Leo IX did speak for God, then I wonder what he said to God when the King of Italy got uncomfortable with anyone with that many devoted followers, an army, a lot of land, a steady stream of money, and a pissy attitude, and sent the Italian army into Rome, which was ruled by the Pope> The King took Rome away from the Pope, and then took away virtually all of his extensive landholdings all over Italy, leaving him in control only of tiny Vatican City and a castle 60 miles away. Way to go, Padre.
That power corrupts is an unchanged and inalterable fact and surprises no one, and the fact that people with power always want to maintain and extend their power is also unchanging and inalterable. We don’t have to be judgmental about it, but we do need to acknowledge it. Religion has proved to be an effective guideline when people needed one, and continues to give hope and comfort when needed, but at all times it has also served to keep people subservient, docile, and under control:

Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime. Give a man religion and he will die praying for a fish.

Getting back to a moment ago, the book, “Misquoting Jesus” traces the (ahem!) evolution of various biblical passages, demonstrating not only the mistakes, the inadvertent changes from one hand-written copy to the next, but also the changes wrought intentionally by those for whom the changes were advantageous. With some of the intentional changes, the author identifies the reason behind the change, and yes, it’s frequently nefarious. This guy, Bart D. Ehrman, studied this stuff arduously so you don’t have to; all you have to do is buy the book. It’s all documented, you can see it.  
In the 19th Century they used to say, “Never pick a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel,” which would, a thousand years ago, be ‘never pick a fight with a man who has ink and knows how to write.’ Let’s go back and consider a culture that didn’t know what clouds were, what stars were. I don’t know if it’s possible for a contemporary person to know what the thought process was like, what thinking was like a thousand years ago. We have writing and art from that time, but what we can’t know is what their thinking was like, back then. The people who thought back then- and had influence- were always a privileged minority. It was often a hereditary post, and the common folk were not part of it. Most commoners had their brains at parade rest, aware and working for all the basic functions, but not exploring any experimental mental territory. Think about it: no one knew what the stars were. Were they gods? Were they alive? Were they watching us? Guiding us? Did they want something from us? Where did they go at sunrise? It’s been postulated that: 

“any studious twelve-year-old knows unspeakably more about the biology of the human body and the workings of the cosmos than any handful of great thinkers throughout the ages.” 


So, sophisticated person that you are, we agree that it’s unreasonable to think we can understand what it would be like to have so little awareness of… everything. But try, for a moment, to place yourself in a culture with some lesser level of sophistication. Let’s stick with a thousand years. To make it easier, let’s say in England. What would your life be like, what would be your thoughts be like if a flood washed everything away; if a tornado or a hurricane suddenly and without warning tore up your village and wiped out a bunch of homes, farms, sheds, animals, crops and people, all in a matter of minutes. What would they think? Of course, just like us, first they’d think, “Holy shit!” But where did it go from there? Today, we know about microclimates and high and low pressure systems and stuff like that, and they didn’t. Today, we have weather forecasters who are extremely accurate and hardly any of us think about it, but the weather forecast is a part of our daily lives, and we see not just local, but regional, national and global weather patterns. We know about ocean temperatures and weather systems that travel down from the arctic, across our plains and into the south. We know what’s happening and what’s going to be happening around the world. Try to imagine not knowing any of that. Okay, you can’t, but it’s human nature to seek answers, and it’s this seeking that has led us to learn, to continually try to understand more and more, from the simplest realizations to the most advanced, complex theoretical postulations. We are driven to know; it is our nature. The need to know is what drives us, what impels us, and what it produces what we call progress. It started with learning about our environment, about how to predict rain, heat, plant growth patterns, what’s good to eat, animal migratory movements, etc., and that has expanded into the theoretical, but an event like a tornado or cyclone, a thousand years ago, would drive us to seek answers, to understand. And we are the same today.
It’s what we do: we look for the logic, for the reasons, for how it works. People have always tried to understand their world. A thousand years ago, whatever happened was explained as the “will of God.” If someone in your family had a cold and sneezed into his hand and then passed you the bread, no one made the connection when you got sick because they had no concept of germs. Think for a moment about how your mind must work if it functions in a primitive culture that has never heard of germs, nor imagined their existence. Wash your hands before you eat? Why? Cover your mouth and nose as you sneeze into someone else’s face? Why? Whatever happened was “the will of God,” but we’ve always kept on looking for reasons, for answers, looking over the next hill for them. We are an inquisitive species. Chimpanzees may have 98% of our DNA, but what have they done since homo sapiens came onto the ground to live and started standing up to see over the grass. Yeah, and what have the chimps been doing while we’ve changed freakin’ almost everything. Everyone knows that Edward Hillary climbed Everest ‘because it was there,’ and we’ve been to the moon and to Mars, and we’ll go further because it’s there, and we want and need to know about it. Our growth has been exponential, and our rate of growth has been getting faster and faster.
At all times, people sought meaning and understanding. Early mankind looked to the stars and saw patterns that made sense to them: they imposed recognizable figures in the stars, and gave them names and stories and histories. I assume there was comfort in those stories that made sense to them in the context of their culture, and so they were passed down through generations, and in all that, tradition helped people understand their lives. Even when- or especially when- you have no control, you look to seek the logic behind it all, and thus whole religions were invented and lives lived by those stories. People looked to the stars and saw crabs and bulls and archers and other recognizable images, which made the world a little more understandable, a little more comfortable. The stories were tailored to fit the cultures. Look at what we call “the Big Dipper.” You know the pot-and-handle shape that gives it its name, right? But if you take that cluster of stars and turn them a few degrees clockwise, imagine the two furthest points in the pot as two legs on the ground, and now look at the handle and you’ll see the perfect shape of a giraffe with its long, gently curving neck. Try it or trust me, but would early mankind in Africa know about a cooking pot with a long handle, or would they see the giraffe? In fact- I command you: Do it! It took me only one look at Ship Rock in Arizona to recognize the silhouette of a 19th Century European multi-masted boat, so you know it wasn’t the Native Americans that gave it that name. But there it is on every map: Ship Rock.
As far as figuring out the stars, our understanding is so much more advanced in this culture, so those unsophisticated- but quaint- ideations like crabs and bulls and all of them, are now relegated to those few on the fringe who study astrology. Astrology was one of our earliest sciences, and should be respected as such, but although it is poorly credited today, even astrology has become so much more sophisticated than it ever was back in the way-back days.
Besides the constellations giving perpetually regenerated meaning to so many lives, what about the galleries of deities that were serially revered by successive cultures? Did no one become suspicious when Romans were having visitations from Roman gods, who came looking like prosperous Romans and spoke their language, and that the Greeks saw Greek gods who spoke Greek, Norwegians saw Norse gods and then Christians started seeing Jesus and Mary? Didn’t anybody think that was conveniently convenient? Did anyone think that maybe it wasn’t a series of fortunate coincidences? Well, yeah, some guys thought that, and got killed for those kinds of ideas for a long time, but did we have to wait for Charlie Chan to say:

“I always suspect coincidence, same as nose always suspect ancient cheese?”  

Didn’t all those coincidences set anybody a-wonderin’? Tribes in South America still snort some plant and see their local deities, the Jaguar God or whatever, as did North American natives see the gods of their culture, each seeing images from their localized collection of deities. Same with Hindu, Muslim, Toltec, Aborigine, Masai, Polynesian, Wiccan- all of ‘em.
People are passionate about their sports teams, and the same principle applies: New Yorkers are aligned with New York teams and Philadelphians are aligned with teams from Philadelphia. People get so passionate about their teams that fights break out among fans over their teams. People get hopped up on their sports teams because that’s that old primal need to belong kicking in, but while it’s the same basic need, that’s nothing’ compared to how riled up people get over their religion. Is it a coincidence that you live in Baltimore and root for the Orioles or the Ravens? Is it a coincidence that you were born into a Catholic family and you know that the Catholic path is the only right path? That Muslims know Islam is the only true path? Jews? Mormons? Shintoists? Jainists? Hopi? Aztec? Amish?  
Do you have to be born into your faith? Not hardly, brother; ask any Raelian, Scientologist or Jew For Jesus: they are all passionately convinced of their beliefs, committed to their beliefs, and they all see the gods they need to see when they need to make sense of what they don’t understand. Everyone wants to, needs to make sense of what they see, feel, or think, and being the complex organisms that we are, we need to account for the subjective, inexpressible wanderings of our most private, inexpressible thoughts, our hopes, our fears and our dreams, in an attempt to make whatever sense we can out of a world that is a tiny, floating mote in an obscure, unremarkable spot somewhere utterly indistinguishable within the unimaginable vastness of the universe. It was true then, it’s true now.  
By present day standards, people thousands of years ago may not have had much understanding of the world, or even of their culture, but they had what they had available to them, and they needed the comfort of believing what they were told to believe. They were adrift and frightened, and the stories they were told were like a nearby raft, and to those stories they clung, uhh… religiously. And it’s still happening like that, all over the world, right now. You don’t think so? What are you, twelve? 
So now to evolution, and please- can we let go of that absurd the-earth-is-6,000-years-old thing? That is so fucking useless. Our belief in that myth came from a well-intentioned but under-informed 17th Century Irish Archbishop named James Ussher, who used (I’m pretty sure it was) Genesis 5 and 11, the chapters with all the this-one-begat-that-one, who begat the next one, who begat another one, and he basically figured out the age of an average person when they would be likely to begin producing children, and then multiplied the begats by that number, and subtracted from that day, and announced in a sermon the following Sunday that the day of creation was October 23rd, 2004 B.C. I think he said it happened in the early evening. Now- all right-thinking people know that this is absurd, of course, but his calculations were passed around and used in other cleric’s sermons until it was so widely quoted that it became a doctrine, and do you know how many people still believe it? According to a 2007 survey, 42% of Americans believe that God created the heavens and the earth, with all its people, plants and animals that live here in six days, that He did it six thousand years ago, and that every species living on the planet right now was alive at the Creation, that some have died off, but those that remain are exactly as they were the day God made them. Exactly. 
But of course any scientist or journalist knows that corroboration, back-up proof, is required before the story goes out, and that proof is also necessary to change a theory into a doctrine, and in 2 Peter 3:8, we find: "But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day," which was corroboration enough for those who agreed with Ussher, that if it took six days to create the earth, then the earth must be six thousand years old, and Jesus lived almost two thousand years ago, so ipso facto and Q.E.D.: there’s your corroboratory proof, you damned doubters! Yes- I know the premise is absurd, but what’s more absurd is how many people still believe it. Solipsism must be a solitary indulgence, but comfort can be found in numbers, and frankly, it makes me ashamed for humans. So now, if I may address those 42% of Americans: People, you need to do better!
In Glenn Gould’s appraisal of Ussher’s work, while he obviously disparaged the results of his conclusions, he defended Ussher’s motivation and scholarship as being the best available to him in his time, saying that:

He was part of a substantial research tradition, a large community of intellectuals working toward a common goal under an accepted methodology.


Which means he was among the thinking class of his time, and although not known or influential in his time, he was eventually influential in the ongoing community of thinkers whose ideas represented the contemporary cutting edge of theological thought. At the time, all the big brains agreed on this one. But as to the validity of this proposal, on which side do the big brains fall today? And who does that leave? If you’re in that group: do better!
That was almost 400 years ago, and we know a lot more now, and I think it’s a good time for everyone to catch up, hit the “Refresh” button.
As a culture and as individuals, our ability to absorb, to perceive, to understand, is commensurate with our capability to “process.” Remember the early computers? My first computer was a 286, and then the 386’s came out, then the 486’s. Each one was the newest, fastest, most powerful computer on the market, but they were so unsophisticated that none of them could get today’s emails, they had no USB ports and they had no way to burn CDs, much less DVDs; and don’t even think about wi-fi, so forget about MySpace, YouTube, Google and the rest. None of them were even up to floppy discs yet, which are now a joke from the past. 486’s would be unusable today- as in useless- and that was just a few years ago. We couldn’t use them today because they don’t have the capacity to run the programs we use today. They didn’t have the hard drive or the software. Let’s move forward a few years, and if you’re still using something as recent as Windows 95, you’ll understand. By what used to be a heartbeat in time, 1995 was yesterday, but at our current pace of technological advancement, it’s ancient history and the world has moved on from there, leaving that level of programming far, far behind. You couldn’t load XP or Vista on to a 1995 computer because it just wouldn’t have the capacity to absorb it, to process it, to use it. It would be okay for some email and word processing, but not much more; certainly not the internet. And as humans have evolved and cultural touchstones have evolved with them, human capacity- their potential consciousness- has also evolved to process, to function with all the new information, all the new input that surrounds us and affects us constantly.
For cultural touchstones, I can’t relate, much less ask you to relate, to living in a culture as primitive as, say, the Neanderthals, so let’s go back only as far as one of the first flourishing civilizations: Pharaohanic Egypt. People living in that culture believed that the Pharaoh wasn’t just the leader, not just the voice of the gods, he was one of the Gods. He was a God. Of course you can’t relate to that, but they all did, and that was only a few thousand years ago. Over the course of human evolution, a few thousand years is only a blink and a couple of breaths. The Pharaoh had priests to advise him, but he was a God, and his utterances were law. There was the Pharaoh and his family, there were the priests, and everyone else were workers or slaves. It was an inconceivably simpler time, but I’ll ask you to try to relate to the culture, anyway.
If you were a worker or a slave, your life was simple: you worked, you ate, slept, married and died and, you know- the stuff in between. No one in the worker class- who were the vast majority, of course- was a philosopher, no one composed music or created art, no one wrote a column- anything outside of whatever labor family you were born into, was the province of the privileged few. Perhaps every couple of generations a commoner showed some special skill that was allowed to develop, but overwhelmingly, on a grindingly changeless daily schedule, their lives were regimented and almost no one escaped from the predetermination that circumstances beyond their control had consigned them to.  
For the most part, the people had little to think about. Their needs were simple, the questions were simple, the answers were simple, and the answers to the questions of a thoughtful nature were either above their pay grade, or way above their pay grade, so they didn’t bicker much. The answers had to satisfy them because everyone had their families and their work and their worship, and they did what they had to do to get by, and none of it involved much thinking. Of course some would have had dreams of creating art or whatever- I’m sure there have always been exceptional people, but by and large the regular folk knew only the roles expected of them, had no expectations of changing them, and in a sense were similar to ants or bees in the thoughtless regimentation of their existence. Our lives are now incalculably more complex than those of the peasant class in Pharaohanic Egypt, so is it unreasonable to suggest that we are commensurately more complex? That our thoughts are commensurately more complex? And complexity is… varied and interesting, right? And better, right? But, like everything else, you pay a price for it. That’s important, and I’ll come back to that.  
Our brains would hurt if we tried to imagine how shocking, how confusing and difficult it must have been to be living in Egypt 4,500 years ago, when, with everything running just as it had for hundreds, maybe thousands of years- out of the blue- their Pharaoh changed fucking everything. Amenhotep IV became Pharaoh and announced that, as Ra had created all the other gods, Ra was the ultimate god, and therefore Ra was the universe, and Ra is the only god we worship now. He also announced that he had changed Ra’s name to Aten, and his name to Ahkenaten, which meant “Effective Spirit of Aten.” 
Bang! And the dude had just created the first official monotheistic religion in the world. I don’t think the word “revolutionary” does justice to the stunning shot to the cerebral cortex that must have been to a culture that for its entire history had worshipped a bountiful collection of gods. For a thousand years they’d made prayers and deals and entreaties and sacrifices to them, living with them and praying to them and dedicating themselves to them, trusting and beseeching them, asking them for favors, questioning them, trusting them and putting their lives in their hands. Then, suddenly they were gone, never to be mentioned again. I don’t think there’s a word or a phrase in our language, or a concept in our culture that would begin to describe an upheaval like that on both an individual and a cultural level, and I believe there will not be a person reading this that can understand what effect a change like that has on a person and a culture.
Such a change needs to be absorbed into the culture over great periods of time, but this upheaval had only a slim chance to take root, for as soon as Akenhaten died, his successor, boy Pharaoh Tutankhamen reinstated all of the banished Gods and restored all their temples and returned to them his people’s prayer, sacrifice and adulation. Tutankhamen eradicated all traces of Akhenaten, including his names and images from every pillar, post, document and wall where it was carved, painted or written, and things went back to normal. But what a rush that must have been! Now, even Martin Luther seems like a slacker with all that folderol about the pope- and they’re still fighting about that…
Try to imagine the chaos that came in the wake of the suspension of such a culture-wide internal compass! One God! What was inconceivable for thousands of years was suddenly the law! This bombshell was tossed into a culture that was incalculably less sophisticated than ours, and how would they have dealt with it? How would we?
Not to offend any relatives of those ancient Egyptian workers, but they were effectively drones and clearly less sophisticated neurologically than we are in our modern technologically-driven world, and I believe that something neurological has expanded, grown since then, to accommodate the new programs that we are running today.  
There was a long time when there was almost no opportunity for the son of a peasant to become a musician, or a scholar or a priest or an athlete or a playwright. If you were in a hunting or a fishing family, you were a hunter or a fisherman. Miller ran the mills and then their sons ran it. Sons rarely changed their lot, much less improved it, and daughters were married off or given to the church. Cooking, barbering, making the clothes or the beer: these things weren’t outsourced, they were made in-house, used or traded, and later in time, sold.
This restrictive predestination extended into the Middle Ages. Commoners owed allegiance to their Lords, and fought for them when called upon to do so, but they also owed a share of whatever they produced to their Lord, who owned the land and by his grace allowed them to live there and use it. When personal issues arose that needed counseling, peasants consulted their clergyman, who fed them the lines that kept the system rolling, promising them a glorious afterlife if they stayed in line with the program, and almost everyone shut up and stuck to the program. You know what they say: give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime; give a man religion and he’ll die praying for a fish.
In the Middle Ages people worked six days a week, and going to church on Sunday was mandatory. After church was the only opportunity in the week to socialize with neighbors and family and others, and relax, maybe drink a little mead, chat up a girl. So they sat through the interminable church services and paid attention to the sermon because, while it might be scary as, well… hell, they came, they listened, and they repeated what they were supposed to repeat when they were supposed to repeat it, and they got through the service, not understanding most of it, as it was in Latin, a language none of them spoke. A lot of the service was done mechanically and from memory: when to stand and when to sit and what to say in unison at the proper time, whatever it meant. What was said was a mystery to them, so they trusted the priest, and such things as reason and heaven and hell were universally understood to be beyond their ability to understand. They sat, stood and sat again, repeating mostly meaningless words, and feeling utterly powerless. They hoped, as they prayed, that what they were promised by the church was true, that their reward awaited them in heaven. You could bet that I’d be going to church and repeating the lines and hoping and praying like a son-of-a-bitch for it all to be true.
If you had some issue that needed guidance from a higher authority- and it had better be good if you were going to take up an important guy’s time- either a priest or a representative of the Lord, if you did approach them, you were probably given simple guidance to your simple problem, and you followed it or you risked either eternity in hell or expulsion from your land, depending on who you’d offended. Things were simpler then. If you had a problem, you either took it up the chain, swallowed it, or took care of it yourself, and that usually included illness or injury. You didn’t go to your child’s teacher because there were no schools. You went to bed early and you woke up early and you worked hard all day, and the bed- if you had one- was a thin layer of straw. You’ve heard “don’t let the bedbugs bite?” Yeah, it came from straw beds, wherein lived the bugs. You couldn’t go to a psychologist or a guidance counselor or an actual doctor for another six or seven hundred years, which, for any family other than the Dracula’s, was impractical.
The pronouncement from the priest or the word from the Lord’s representative was the final word, and that was that. There was little use for thinking, and no call whatsoever for creative thinking or introspection. It simply wasn’t practical to think. What good did it do? Did it get the crops in? Did it make it rain in the rainy season? Did it make a sick person well? Thinking didn’t help you get through the day or the night, so what good was it? Their thoughts back then reflected their lives, and those were quantifiably simpler than every American’s life is today. And as less complex or sophisticated as their lives were, so their capacity for thought was less complex and less sophisticated. Remember a few pages ago I referred to the early computers, and I asked you to consider that we now have- or at least utilize- a considerably more complex series of programs than we did hundreds of years ago, and there has to be a commensurately more complex infrastructure to process the additional complexity.  
Imagine a 12th Century person processing what a 21st Century person processes. I believe that as we utilize ever-increasingly complex programs to function in this increasingly complex culture, something might be changing in our neural structure to utilize the increasingly complex and sophisticated programs. Do we need a bigger hard drive to accommodate the bigger programs, or are we simply using more complex software, and utilizing more of what was already there? 
How many things do we use our computers for today that wouldn’t work with Windows 95? And Windows 95 was, like, yesterday. And then consider the impact of our inserting computers into virtually every aspect of our lives, how they run everything in our lives and in our culture, and ask what a 12th Century person’s mind would process if he were to be inserted into our culture. Two quick examples of that kinds of rapid change that we’ve adapted to: 
1)As recently as the 1850’s, with the introduction of the railroads, learned people were debating the possibility of exceeding the speed of 60 miles per hour. Many educated people thought it couldn’t be done.
2)In 1940, after viewing Disney’s “Fantasia,” legendary film maker Cecil B. DeMille declared that he couldn’t see how any film in the future could exceed “Fantasia” for its effect. Now think about what DeMille would say after seeing “The Matrix.”
How much more complex are our lives compared to those who lived in the 12th Century? And yet- 12th Century lives were how much more complex than the lives of people in Pharaohanic Egypt, 3,500 years before the 12th Century? Both cultures have left us images to study and enjoy of their art and their writing, so let’s look there for an imprint of how consciousness has changed, and think about how recently this is, relative to the entire chronologic span of humanity.  
Let’s look at Linear Perspective, which is something we take for granted today, whether we know it or not, but it was a shocking innovation when it first appeared early in the 15th Century. By “linear perspective” I mean a painting that creates the appearance of distance between images where a person or an object appears behind or in front of, or nearer or farther away, the way the viewer sees depth in real life. Filippo Brunelleschi, was an architect, but it was his paintings showing “depth” that were revolutionary. Something as simple as making an object appear to be nearer or further away from one another changed art forever. Can any of us imagine a world without linear perspective? Can any of us imagine what life was like before Brunelleschi? Of course not.  
Compared to Egyptian hieroglyphics, medieval writing and art were far more complex, as was its architecture, its music and interpersonal relationships, and by the Middle Ages, once again, it took a different sort of program to process the increased input to make sense of a more complex world. Now, compare that to the lives we live today. No, I mean it- do it. I’ll wait.


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It’s kind of a rush, I know, but I’m warming up here.
I don’t know if our neurological structure, our wiring, our nervous system, has changed physically, but there are certainly more sophisticated programs in use now than ever before. Maybe nothing has changed physically, but certainly more information is being processed, and much faster, and there has to be an infrastructure to accommodate the increased traffic. There has to be a change, and such a change has to include infrastructure to support it. But if it’s infrastructure, what is it? Maybe our brains are the same, maybe not, but we all have to admit that we are using more of them now than we used to. Has our neural system changed, or is more of it in use? Is there something accommodating that change that allows it to function? Did our brains change physically? Don’t know, don’t care. I am incapable of gauging any physical changes, but I am capable of wondering about the changes in our consciousness.
I think it is self-evident that over the millennia there has been a quantifiable, exponential difference in consciousness, and there is a direct lineage, a continuous path of consciousness expansion from earliest mankind through to today. I’d like to trace the path and it’s consequences, and I hope to have the temerity by then to know better than to speculate on the consequences of any of it for the future. The two routes that I mentioned in the first paragraph have traveled so far in alignment, but now have left their common path to become a troubling duality that has brought us to an important junction in our development, and I’d like to address that course of development by referring to Rene Descartes. It’s a big jump, I know, but he’s a big player in this. 
The 17th Century has been called the “Century of Genius,” and its central light was Rene Descartes, whose bombshell exclamation changed almost everything, and the echoes of that blast reverberate even today (and is still no better understood today than it was then), but no one so elegantly embodies the divergence to which I alluded more than Mssr. Descartes.
His bombshell? You know it. It was Descartes who said, “I think, therefore I am.” It was a 17th Century atom bomb. Of course Descartes wasn’t the only progressive thinker up until, nor of, his time, and no one would dispute Descartes’ debt to those who came before him. As nature abhors a vacuum, so there were those whose existential contemplations preceded his, and whose work became the platform from which he was able to leap into uncharted areas of thought. Groundwork must be done before you can build a bridge to somewhere else. It has always worked thusly, it always will, and when whatever is coming gets here, it’s going to twist a lot of minds, just like Descartes did.
If you have read this far, I hope I have your agreement that there has been a change in human contemplative capacity, starting with what I hope you will agree was- by our standards- a very limited consciousness of humans, way, way back in the earliest days of grouping together, and a continual increase of consciousness through to the present day.  
As we are discussing the “Century of Genius,” it’s worth noting that being a genius isn’t always about the size of the IQ, but the way it’s used. Sometimes it’s as much about the vision as about the smarts. That was Descartes’ great leap, and I apologize in advance for a brief diversion to modern times, and I’ll get right back to Descartes, but for accessible groundwork, no one recently exemplifies this distinction better than Albert Einstein, whose IQ was incontestably large, but it was his genius as a visionary that allowed him to explore an uncharted theoretical domain that has impacted us so profoundly. Work in his field preceded him, surely, and elements were already in place without which Einstein might have remained a patent clerk, but the groundwork had been laid and he struggled with the work, explored new territories of thought, and eventually it was he who put the ideas together with his visionary gift, and made a great leap forward. It was his vision, his imagination, his creativity, that allowed the ideas to feed, to grow, to mature into the cohesive thoughts that have changed all of our lives. Aristotle’s explanation of the world dominated human thought for two thousand years until Newton changed it all, and then two hundred years later Einstein changed it again and we are still in a world that derives its understanding of the universe from the mind of this man.  
I think it takes a large IQ like it takes a large hard drive, but it’s not only about the how big your hard drive is, it’s about your software and how you use it.  
We’re almost back to Descartes, but what Einstein did was visionary, and he understood it, and he explained it, but to do so, he had to perceptualize, to see something that was not capable of any physical perception or proof, it had to be perceived mentally and expressed theoretically. It was all imaginary. What he proposed wasn’t measurable or provable with any device available to him in his time, and the only things he could see physically were the chalk marks on the blackboard. Of course, previous thinking led up to Einstein- Max Planck and Nils Bohr among the most prominent- but many others created the platform from which he made his leap, and Descartes’ leap was as revolutionary as Einstein’s.
“I think, therefore I am” is, except for philosophy majors, all that most people know about Descartes, but it’s not the words that were so startling, it was the idea behind them which was revolutionary in its time, and if in modern times you don’t think “I think, therefore I am” sounds all that revolutionary, then that is the echo of Descartes you are hearing. The concept is: I think, and therefore I am. Ergo: I am as I think I am. Therefore: I can be who I want to be. Believe it or not, that was an upheaval. There were almost always independent thinkers, when allowed to blossom, and by the 17th Century, there had been a passel of them, but generally the vast majority of folks were still stuck in their age-old predetermined-by-birth social and economic positions when Descartes published his ideas.
Yes, there were exceptions and spurts of creativity, outbursts by individuals who rose above the cultural restrictions that limited their options, and still managed to create their own place in their cultures. Rare writers, musicians, philosophers, scientists who would brave swimming against the prevailing cultural current to succeed in making themselves known- they showed up in spots in history, and these adventurers moved things along, always along. Maybe not by our standards, but by the 17th Century the world had become increasingly sophisticated and complex, more so than it had ever had been before, and all manner of ideas had made their way to the surface, made their impression and helped to create the platform for the next pusher of the envelope. There has always been a continuum, a flow of ideas, from the past to the present, and by momentum, into the future. Evolution is a complex process, and please forgive me an easy analogy. Without giving credence to astrology, we all understand the idea that if we are entering the Aquarian age and leaving the Capricornian Age, no one thinks that one age ends on a particular day at midnight, and the next age begins at 12:01. Instead, there is a gradual commingling of influences within the flow of one into the other; the first signs of what’s coming can be found in what is ending and the last signs of the old can be found in the new. And so it goes with ideas. There is a continuum of ideas, and they run within the flow of consciousness. And so- what led to the Cartesian revolution was that, up until then, there was a culture-wide assumption that the path a person took was predetermined by the path of those who preceded him, and almost no one- save the very rarest- would aspire to improve their lot in life. The very concept of aspiration was missing from the programming of the general population. Aspiration was simply not on the menu for the lower classes, one of those “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it” kind of things.
This cannot be possible for a person of the 21st Century to comprehend. We are all driven by want, infused with aspiration. We all want better jobs, more money, better homes, better cars, better bodies, newer electronics, more toys, bigger careers, more vacations. We want to look better and feel better; we want more happiness, more love, more fulfillment, more prestige, more time, more everything. We urgently desire to be richer, thinner, healthier, better parents, better golfers and skiers and dancers and artists and husbands and wives. We all want… more. It is such a restless, unsatisfied world we live in that it is not possible to relate to living in a culture where aspiration was not an option. We want it all, and what did they want?
A few hundred years ago, all of the aspiration we feel today- virtually everything that we focus on- was not an option, and so it did not exist as a reality. It was certainly not a right, as many of us think today. Can you imagine living in a world like that? Of course not. I can’t relate to it, and you’re lying if you say you can. Do you know you’re lying? Get some help, pal.
Only the most driven, most talented, most obsessed would stand out, like Mozart, Michaelangelo, DaVinci, Copernicus, Galileo and precious few others.  
Nature abhors a vacuum; ergo, there is no vacuum. And all who stood above their cultures were driven by their need to know, to move on, and maybe too few struggled to create something new, and of those, too few succeeded. There absolutely was a path that led to Michaelangelo and DaVinci in the 15th Century. There was a path, a flow, to them, and the path to those two giants is traceable directly to Fillipo Brunellesci in the 14th Century. Someone had prepared a path for Brunelleschi, the platform from which he made the leap to linear perspective, and then that became the platform from which those who followed- could follow. It was a leap forward, and it is traceable and verifiable and it can be quantified.
Jumping ahead to a more recent and better known platform, look at how Elvis Presley changed so much of our culture. We can now clearly see the paths that led him to his place in the cultural revolution that followed in his wake, to the Beatles and the Monkees and Jimi and Led Zeppelin and Frank Zappa and Steely Dan, all the others that moved rock- and the culture- onward. Anyone can now see the path to Elvis and the path from Elvis, and everyone can see the things that were happening and what was waiting to happen, and did. Looking back, it is easy to see those influences forming, and when looking back at the path of consciousness in humans, we can see the path that we have taken through the sciences and through the literature and music and drawing and thought from our earliest days until now; from primitive mankind to Amenhotep IV to Aristotle to Newton to Einstein, and from Einstein to Hawking and… Imagine, if you will, how a person living 1,000 years ago would react to the film “2001”or the lyrics of Bob Dylan? The pathways we use to process this more subtle, abstract material weren’t being used then, but they are by us, their descendants. The path of consciousness, one sees, has been evolutionary.  
All along the path remain the evidence of consciousness, and these changes along the path can be tracked, studied, quantified. As fossils are physical evidence of former lives, so are the art and ideas that are left behind, and so the path of consciousness can be seen and it’s messages studied.
What Descartes did, in effect, was point out to people that they could begin to think that they could improve their lots in life. “I think, therefore I am” became ‘if I could think it, I could be it.’ The revolution was in the concept that if you could- or should- be aware that you were an individual with an individual consciousness, and the corollary of that was that it was okay to aspire- to make your life something greater than it was. This was revolutionary in a way that, again, we cannot relate to today. Aspiration itself was a revolution. It had just been a couple of centuries since the arrival of the first prosperous Middle Class, and the mood in the culture was ripe for change, by the time the concept of aspiration was trickling down to the workers, the zeitgeist was right for a culture-wide revolution, and we are still feeling the aftershocks today, except that the analogy of an aftershock falls short of the mark in that, in today’s culture, the concept of aspiration is so thoroughly integrated that the tremors are continual and perhaps more pervasive than the original quake, and we are riding its waves. Think of it as surfing on aftershocks. Xtreme sports, indeed…
What Descartes introduced into the culture has become the driving force of our culture. Self-improvement and acquisition are what drives us. Desire and dissatisfaction are the toxic waste of this energy, a poison that has grown to be endemic and epidemic in that they are a culture-wide shared cancer, and that is a world-class bummer. But what concerns me today is what is happening on our path of consciousness, from the most ancient times to the present, and even more so into the future.  
 In the present, unlike when there were few aspirants, look at how many writers and musicians there are. In this country alone, there are 100,000 CDs released each year, and 60,000 books are published. The percentage of writers who support themselves by writing is something like 3%, and I believe the same number applies to actors. How many bands will not survive to support themselves? If every artist or musician who thought-no, knew- they deserved to be successful, became successful, every coffee shop, copy shop and health food store would have to close for lack of a staff. The odds against success are enormous, and yet people dream, they aspire, they want. They are driven. It is their right, and they are exercising it.
People go to art and Yoga classes, meditation classes, language and writing classes. Ballet, Jazz, Modern Dance and exercise classes and book clubs and music lessons and seminars on business and real estate and juggling and mime and childcare and birthing and acting and piano and cooking and…
All of this is common today, but even though there were numberless contributions to the concept, the measurable beginnings of it were a revolution in their time, and therefore in consciousness. Suddenly, you could be more, there was more, and you could have it if you could think you could have it. It was a revolution in culture, and in consciousness. So let’s assume that primitive mankind had little consciousness, and that the development of civilization brought with it more development, more complexity, an expansion in consciousness. From the realization that dark clouds foretold rain, and then thousands of years to Einstein, there has been an unbroken path of increasing consciousness. As we became more complex, more of our neural pathways came online, as it were, and all along that evolutionary path, the rate of the change has increased, and continues to do so. The rate of change keeps increasing, and has been increasing until it has reached an alarming speed. I don’t know if anyone was charting the changes in consciousness as they occurred, or if anyone is charting them now, but the more we know, the faster we go. You might know the saying, As Above, So Below, and it is illustrated by the image of the increased understanding we have of the universe with the understanding that we have of ourselves. These two paths have always traveled together, but that is changing. 
As we have discovered, and we’re really sure about, the universe is expanding at an increasing rate, so that the galaxies are retreating outward from the origin of the Big Bang at ever-increasing speeds. And as we have seen, our consciousnesses have been expanding at an ever-increasing rate. It is demonstrable in both cases- both physically, and metaphorically- that the further out things go, the faster they are going. From our earliest thoughts and awareness through the Middle Ages, our consciousnesses evolved at a steady, if slightly increasing rate. Incremental changes occurred that affected overall awareness, but they came slowly, incrementally, and as with Descartes, their effects were felt in one segment of the population (in Descartes’ case, philosophers, the intelligentsia) first, and gradually spread into the popular culture over comfortable periods of time. By the time of the Industrial Revolution, so much began to change so quickly, and it’s possible that the current rate of change is perilous. So far we have managed to adapt to it. Communication, transportation and other changes are deeply embedded cultural mindsets. The introduction of computers… my God! Everything inside and outside of our lives has gotten so much more complex and become so much faster, more powerful, lighter, better, cheaper; more of this and more of that, and more, always more.
When an event happens, it’s seen all over the world in minutes. Yesterday’s news is discarded, valueless, of interest only to historians. Everything happens so fast, and then it’s gone; it’s almost as if we are in freefall.
The 286 computer was the smartest, fastest computer in the world for about half a year before the 386’s came out, and by today’s standards, they are laughably outdated and useless. Your handheld calculator now holds more computing power than the room-sized first computer, ENNIAC, in 1946, which wasn’t so long ago. And it’s not a BlackBerry I’m talking about, friends- it’s a simple calculator. The average cell phone in 2008 has more computing power than the entire Apollo 8 craft that landed on the moon in 1969. That’s a lot of change in less than 40 years.
The rate of increase is faster and faster, and it’s observable in all of our lives if we look back a bit. It wasn’t that long ago when the world was shocked to discover that matter was made up of… molecules! It took thousands of years of civilization and progress to get to that discovery, and then in increasingly rapid order, we discovered that molecules were made up of atoms, then that atoms were made up of electrons, protons and neutrons. I understood those, and then I lost track of it all when it turned out that those were made up of other, yet smaller elements like muons, photons, quarks, leptons, Higgs, W and Z bosons. We got to the point where the smallest elements we know about are theoretical because we can’t see or measure them. The big Hadron Collider took years and billions of dollars to build, and the most we can hope to get out of it is some acceptable proof that Higgs bosons exist. It took us thousands of years to get to the microscope, and now we are talking about elements so small that we can only theorize their existence because without them, nothing else makes sense. How do you think a 12th Century farmer would process the concept of atoms when he hadn’t learned of- much less understood- molecules yet? 
The speed at which these discoveries were made exactly parallels the speed at which everything is moving, and that is now staggeringly fast- and it’s driven by the marketplace, which has recently grown world-wide, and the marketplace drives it all not by what America produces, but by what America consumes. We are a nation of consumers. We are always hungrier for what’s newer, faster, lighter, more powerful. We want more megabytes, more pixels, cheaper products, less stress, more sleep, more time, more efficiency, more storage, more…
What’s interesting to me is that as we continually want more, and as we get more, then our consciousness must reflect that, too. Consider the cultural changes and the necessarily consequent changes in our consciousness. A small example is our cameras.
 Does anyone buy film any more? You’re not that old if you can remember when everyone took pictures, brought the film to a drugstore to develop and print them, and we all politely waited a week to get them back. A hundred years ago there was no film, so a guy brought in a big box and took the pictures on glass plates and went to his lab to develop them, but that was ancient history. For decades, we waited a week for our photos, until we had the option of going someplace and getting our pictures back in a day, so everyone went there. See ya, waiting a week. See ya, drugstore.  
Then the competitive nature of the marketplace moved forward again and soon waiting a whole day was no longer tolerable because somewhere else the photos came back in an hour. And now with digital cameras we don’t even wait that long, we see the shots as soon as we take them, and we go home and plug our cameras into our computers and either print them, eliminate them, store them or send them out. There is no more waiting- it’s there instantly. That change represents a culture-wide alteration in consciousness, and as small as it may seem, it has an impact. Ask Kodak or Fuji or whoever made the film no one wants anymore. Or ask Polaroid, whose then-revolutionary technology was a culture-wide sensation, just a short few decades ago, and who just went out of business.
The path of consciousness can be traced most assuredly from Ahkenaten to Socrates to Aristotle, to Descartes to Newton to Einstein and maybe to Hawking. The constant of the path throughout history has been that the rate of change gets faster, and I think we are living through a significant revolution in consciousness. The reason that the computer and the internet is more than merely convenient is because our consciousness reflects the culture in which it exists, and our culture has so completely absorbed computers and the internet into our lives, but no one is looking at the consequences of that change on any individual or cultural level. Remember that consciousness and knowledge have always traveled together, and the farther out we go, the faster we go.
If what Descartes said was revolutionary, imagine the reverberations of the culture-wide revolution that it was permissible, even desirable to become something more, perhaps a writer, a musician, a sculptor a painter, a teacher, a priest or whatever you wanted to be. Not so long ago, the introduction of these options- the very existence of these options- was revolutionary, and the idea fermented within various levels of the culture for over a hundred years before its effects were even measurable. Then think about how rapidly our brains absorbed the concept of the internet. As Brunelleschi used canvas and paint as a medium, and Descartes used words to describe his thoughts, so Einstein used theoretical mathematics for his medium. Remember McLuhan’s “the message is the medium?” The message IS the medium, and the medium IS the message, and as a medium, the internet has become an integral part of our consciousness in that we can suddenly have instant access to almost any information- any thing or idea- in the world, past or present. It’s a revolution, and I haven’t seen anyone thinking about it in terms of how it affects our consciousness. If you’re out there, writing or filming or talking about it, please get in touch.
Now, in broad strokes we can dismiss whatever is not available to us through the internet, like control of the weather, or bringing a loved one back to life, but almost any information you want is available to you. If you’re interested in a cure for a certain type of cancer, you can read all the research online. You’re hungry? You want a pizza delivered? Go online and find a pizza place near you that delivers. You want to see the weather forecast? Look at the satellite photos and find out what’s going on now and what’ll happen over the next few days, and where and when. Guns, history, recipes, statistics, amusement, games, porn, chat, info on houseplants, customers’ comments on car repair stations in your area, YouTube- name your shame. Movies, books, magazines, music, etc. etc. etc., are all instantly available, and that is also true of all manner of classes and instruction, and this is a revolution in we way we think and therefore an alteration in our consciousness to accommodate the altered input, and here is where we get to my premise, and here’s where I ask you to take two leaps of faith with me.  
As far as we have come in recent cosmological science, we have learned that there are multiple dimensions of reality. This is huge, but seems to go under-reported. I suppose it’s because no one outside of a thin aggregate of scientists knows how to talk about it. Science has, to date, recognized eleven dimensions, and as science takes us further into some understanding of the most fundamental, elementary building blocks of reality- as we form theories about that which is too basic to be seen or measured- the closer it all conforms with Buddhism. Science has gone beyond what can be contained, much less proven in a laboratory, and in doing so, it has left the physical world and begun to explore a theoretical universe. And the further out there science goes into the theoretical, the closer it all gets to Buddhism. 
Edward Hubble amazed the world when he discovered that light shifted to the red or to the blue end of the light spectrum, and proved that the universe was expanding faster and faster the further it went from the center, and as that became indisputable, physicists were able to go back further and further in time to speculate on what happened- backwards- up until the Big Bang. Much about the Big Bang is still debated, but Hubble proved that the galaxies are speeding away from the center at increasing speeds until they reach the outer edge of the universe, which is also where we reach the end of our ability to measure or calculate their outward speed, at which point the galaxies are approaching the speed of light. The consensus of opinion in the scientific community is that “matter cannot exceed the speed of light,” and they agree that that is why there is nothing out there past the last galaxies we can find. But what if the galaxies do continue to increase in speed, and they keep increasing in speed until they reach the speed of light, and then they exceed it?  
Why can’t matter exceed the speed of light? What if when it does, matter changes into something else, maybe into another dimension, and we don’t “see” it anymore because it’s in another dimension.  
Buddhists have always said that there are dimensions we can’t “see,” and science is catching up, and it’s pretty wild, right? And why is no one talking about this at the water cooler? Maybe because it challenges us to consider concepts so subtle, so deeply theoretical, that we can’t process them. For thousands of years, Buddhism has been telling us that the number of dimensions is infinite and cannot be calculated, and I don’t see why some day science won’t confirm that, as they seem to be starting to do. Science tells us that “matter cannot exceed the speed of light,” and they agree that that is why there is nothing out there past the last galaxies we can find.  
And here’s what bugs me about those eleven dimensions. If we’ve discovered eleven of those bad boys recently, isn’t the discovery of more dimensions likely? Maybe a lot more? Maybe an incalculable number, as the Buddhists have maintained for a thousand years and some cutting-edge physicists are now suggesting?  
Buddhism? Really? Okay, thanks for bearing with me with that multiple-dimensions and speed-of-light stuff, but there was a reason to bring that up. As long as we are on the subject of Buddhist teachings- and we are- I’d like to mention one that particularly interests me relative to where we are culturally. If I am right that our culture reflects our consciousness, there’s something out there you should know about.  
I’ve brought up that As Above, So Below thing before, but what interests me about that is that virtually everyone sees the universe as having three dimensions. Persons of a spiritual persuasion believe that Truth is pure, and what is true here must be true elsewhere, no matter how many freakin’ dimensions you observe or describe, that ‘Truth Abides’ is immutable. What is true “here,” is true “there.” While it may take on the distinctive characteristics of another dimension, what it is here, it is there. It’s its is-ness that abides. And imagine how advanced one’s mind must be to understand, to comprehend an “unseen” dimension. It takes a pretty big brain, I’d imagine. In fact, I’d imagine that the brain that absorbs something like that has been through some pretty rigorous training and much exercise and experience in this field, because it’s a reality that’s entirely theoretical and unimaginably complex. You’ve got to work out a lot to get to a place where you can handle that kind of load, right? But what interests me is the synchronicity of the concept that multiple versions of reality exist simultaneously. What does it say about our evolution that we have come to a place where this concept is discussed? It represents an evolutionary step, and that discussion indicates an alteration, a change of some sort in our species because a formerly unknowable level of understanding was arrived at and brought- via discussion, experimentation and publication- of something new into the world. If a culture and a consciousness reflect one another, then our understanding and acceptance of technology and the nature of reality must reflect some new level of awareness, of consciousness. And they both must co-exist simultaneously. 
Buddhists knew and have been saying for a few thousand years that there are multiple dimensions and we operate in a three-dimensional universe because that’s all we can comprehend (see 3 paragraphs down), and those few ( both scientist and spiritualist) who have come to understand the multiple-dimension thing have done so by dedicating their lives to the accumulation of this understanding. And in the “real world-” our three dimensional one- the extra-dimensional stuff is still too new and ill-understood for almost anyone to understand. But there’s a correlation between our attainment of this knowledge, our preparedness to accept it, and our ability to understand it, to relate to it. In an As Above, So Below kind of way. Now watch this: 
If there’s a correlation in the co-existence between consciousness and culture, we should be concerned about the impact of that recent alteration, and you should know about another reality- the internet- that has very, very recently manifested itself, and which, immediately subsequent to its introduction, became ever-present in every life, home, office, school and culture virtually all over the world. And if As Above, So Below applies, wouldn’t it be a trip if the internet had a version in some other dimension? Well, there is, and it’s been known for thousands of years, and hardly anyone on earth knows about it. And if that’s so, then what would that say about our consciousness?  
It might not be news to the Buddhaphiles out there, but the Buddhists have long maintained that every thought, every perception, everything that we- all of us- see, hear, feel, say or think- in the past, present and future- is recorded on an etheric medium, and they call the medium in which these impressions are stored the Akashic Record. Which also means that if everything that has ever been seen, heard, felt or thought is recorded on some medium, then it is available to be experienced by anyone who knows how to access it. 
Now consider that the Buddhists maintain, and other spiritual teachings and physicists- including Einstein- agree, that the past and present and future are all happening at the same time. So what is time? As it is explained, time is an illusion, a device by which we are able to function in our daily lives. What Thomas Huxley said in “The Doors of Perception” (from which the rock group “The Doors” took their name), was that the brain functions (much like the Central Processing Unit in our computers) to run our lives, but one of its functions is to filter out the majority of reality, as- if perceivable- any more reality would be too much reality, and would overwhelm a human and render him or her incapacitated. We function at the level of reality we are capable of relating to. Some people work to get to the higher levels, most don’t seem to care too much.  
The Buddhists aver that as we live, we are presented with experiences through which we can work out the karma we need to work out, to go through the stuff we need to go through. We are here to learn and grow, and to pay off old debts of karma, which the Buddhists maintain is the reason we’re here, and I won’t go into that now, but what is germane is that if time is an illusion, then in reality (and I’m trying to be careful with that word) there is no time. The way we relate to time infers a past, a present and a future when, according to this principle, there is no past and no future, there is only now. The past exists as influences and memory in the present, and the future exists as influences and possibilities, but again, only in the present, and it all exists now. So the past is always now and the future really is now. It’s always been, it’s always coming, and it’s always here, and it’s all happening now. And where it gets interesting, relative to our recent awareness vis-à-vis the internet, is that for untold millennia there has always been an analogue of the internet in a dimension best understood as spiritual, and it’s been there forever and it’s here now and it’ll always be. And if that ain’t As Above, So Below, then I don’t understand its meaning.  
The Buddhists believe that what we see, hear, feel, say or think registers as impressions in a medium in much the way that sound is recorded on audiotape, wherein an electronic signal is imprinted in a complex wave-like signal on tape so the charge will hold in that specific configuration on the tape, and the embedded configuration is on the tape so the specifically-shaped signal could be processed into a specifically-shaped electronic signal and sent to speakers as specifically-shaped waves of electricity, where magnets, reacting to the electric charge, move the film of the cone in the speakers in a specific way, forming specifically-shaped waves of air that then travel to our ears where they make our eardrums vibrate in specific patterns, and the vibrations in that specific pattern are converted into an electronic signal of a specific configuration, which is sent to the brain, which interprets those signals as what we call sound. Much like that, the Buddhists say that what we see, hear, feel, say or think registers as impressions, and the medium on or within which the information is stored is called the Akashic Record. Buddhism teaches us that whatever sight, sound or thought that was ever experienced, is happening now and may be viewed, heard or felt. The resultant premise is that whatever existed in the past still exists, and that everything that will exist in the future exists now, and these impressions are stored in the Akashic Record- and we have access to- it if we know how to access it. And you know if that was easy, we’d all be doing it.
And to belabor the As Above So Below thing one more time, just yesterday I read an article about Google in the San Francisco Chronicle :


 “The company has been making huge investments designed to hasten the shift from computing on desktop and laptop machines to computing in what’s being called “the cloud,” remote servers whose exact location we never know but can be accessed wherever we have an internet connection.” - Randall Stoss, 9/25/08


Google is preparing to ask people to give up all their computers, cell phones, blackberries and whatever device people are using to access the internet. Google says it has an improvement in the way we use the internet, and is preparing to introduce a central computing… complex… featuring so much computing power that it will ask subscribers to put all their information into this central system, and I’m sure they’ll ensure everyone that all of their files and information are safe from intrusion- in fact I bet they’ll guarantee it- and everyone will have whatever device they want to use- keyboard or screen or whatever comes along, and no one will have hard drives or those inconvenient towers or those clumsy laptops. Everyone will plug into their place on the web. They have an environment that will encompass everything, and they want to call it “the cloud.” The cloud? As Above, So Below. 
Yeah, it’s interesting about that Akashic thing, but just because you practice Buddhism doesn’t give you access to it. It takes years and years of discipline and will to achieve access to the Akashic Record. But just for the sake of the argument, let’s say that it exists, and that someone, somewhere, has access to it, and can experience any sight, sound or thought from any time in history. Now hold that thought.
Now let’s look at what might be the impact on our culture, when, for the first time ever there has been introduced to the general populace an awareness of an analog of the Akashic Record. For uncounted millennia a little-known concept of mystery, of speculation- available only to the most advanced adepts- has become entwined inextricably from our lives and gone worldwide and called itself the internet. For the first time ever there is a real-time equivalent of the Akashic Record that anyone with a computer can access. Part of the skill in using the Akashic Record is in learning how to ask the right questions, and anyone who has ever used Google knows the same thing. I don’t know what to make of the convergence of these two realities. I don’t know what it means, but I wish I did, because I think it’s significant. I thought I’d just throw it out there for your consideration and then get back to the stuff we can discuss without fear of making others worry about us.  
Science has struggled with the inconceivability of describing the nature of whatever it was that preceded the Big Bang, and what will happen to the universe as time unfolds. When Einstein died, what he left on his desk was his unfinished search for a way to explain- in a single theory- everything in the universe. A half- century later, there may be one, and scientists are enormously excited by it, but even they admit that it’s absolutely weird- and it absolutely makes sense of everything.  
I’m not going to go into the whole multiple-dimension thing here, and if you’re interested, go here: BBC - Science & Nature - Horizon - Parallel Universes - Transcript
But here are some highlights in which I quote several highly-regarded physicists and an un-named narrator. What you need to know is that long- by current standards- after Einstein died, still in pursuit of what was called “the Theory of Everything,” physicists came up with String Theory, which seemed to look like the long-sought Theory of Everything, but it and its five identified dimensions couldn’t explain what happened before the Big Bang, and also then scientists began to see that the unpopular “M Theory” started to make sense, but only because it co-existed perfectly with String Theory, and the two camps came to accept an 11-dimension, parallel universes theory, and you also need to know that gravity is weaker than you thought:

NARRATOR: The tiny invisible strings of String Theory was supposed to be the fundamental building blocks of all the matter in the Universe, but now, with the addition of the eleventh dimension, they changed. They stretched and they combined. The astonishing conclusion was that all the matter in the Universe was connected to one vast structure: a membrane. In effect our entire Universe is a membrane. The quest to explain everything in the Universe could begin again and at its heart would be this new theory. It was dubbed Membrane Theory, or M Theory, but so enigmatic and profound did the idea seem that some thought M should stand for other things.
MICHAEL DUFF: Where M stands for magic, mystery or membrane.
MICHIO KAKU: Maybe M stands for mother, the mother of all strings. Maybe it's magic. Maybe it's the majesty, the majesty of a comprehensive theory of the Universe.
PAUL STEINHARDT: That eleventh dimension will, at its maximum size, could be something like a trillionth of a millimeter.
LISA RANDALL: It turns out that there are very new ideas on how to explain the weakness of gravity if we have extra dimensions.
NARRATOR: When M Theory emerged, Randall and her colleagues wondered if it might provide the explanation. Could gravity be leaking from our Universe into the empty space of the eleven[th] dimension[s]?
NARRATOR: The weakness of gravity could at last be explained, but only by introducing the idea of a parallel universe. Randall's idea opened a Pandora's Box. Now suddenly physicists all over the world piled into the eleventh dimension trying to solve age-old problems and every time it seemed the perfect explanation was another parallel universe. Everywhere they looked it seemed they began to find more and more of them. From every corner of the eleventh dimension parallel universes came crawling out of the woodwork. Some took the form of three-dimensional membranes, like our own Universe. Others were merely sheets of energy. Then there were cylindrical and even looped membranes. Within no time at all the eleventh dimension seemed to be jam-packed full of membranes.
MICHIO KAKU: The latest understanding of the multiverse is that there could be an infinite number of universes each with a different law of physics. Big Bangs probably take place all the time. Our Universe co-exists with other membranes, other universes which are also in the process of expansion. Our Universe could be just one bubble floating in an ocean of other bubbles.


There are other places where both religion and science overlap. Two words: Dark Matter. No one knows what Dark Matter is, and it’s easily one of the most- if not the most- interesting subject of current research and speculation. Wait- no one yet has enough of an idea of what Dark Matter is, so there is scant research, but much speculation, about what it might be. But everyone who studies it knows that it’s the most important element (or whatever it is) in the universe, and that we could not live without it, whatever it is.
We can’t find it, we can’t see it, we can’t measure it and we can’t prove it’s there, but without it nothing makes sense. It can’t be called an element, because that word is way too unsophisticated for something like this. We’re way past words like “element” when we get to these theoretical regions. Scientists know that it was Dark Matter that caused the gaseous clouds created by the Big Bang to coalesce into galaxies and then into stars, planets, satellites, asteroids and whatever is solid out there- but they don’t know what Dark Matter is. But they know it’s incomprehensibly huge. Then it got more interesting when they discovered that there is an even larger force out there that also can’t be seen or measured and it’s called Dark Energy, and if Dark Matter is important, then Dark Energy is really important. 
Astrophysicists estimate that Dark Matter accounts for 25% of the substance of the universe, Dark Energy accounts for 70% of the universe, and all of the visible or measurable matter- all the solid or gaseous matter in the universe- accounts for 4 or 5%. In other words, all that we can see, measure or calculate is 5% (or less) of the universe. Yet no one has seen anything Dark- neither Matter nor Energy- captured on any type of film, scope or antenna; none of it has registered on any of our equipment, under any circumstances, and its very existence, due to the utter lack of any clue as to what it is, is by definition, speculation. And that’s the best we can do on the subject of the most important element in ours or any universe! 
If you’ll allow a minor digression, I’d like to point out that if you’re looking for a perfect demonstration of the microcosm/macrocosm thing, you need look no further than the human gene. If you can accept that while it’s nature and function are unknown, Dark Matter represents the vast majority of what is out there, then we look to the human gene and see that 98% of the material of the gene does not code for protein, no one knows what this matter is, only that it is as essential to the function of the gene as Dark Matter is to the universe. That is why scientists now call this unknown genetic material the Dark Matter of the genome.
For fun try striking a match one day, then holding the match upright so it will burnout rather than feed on the match stick and keep burning. Watch the match head explode, then burn out. Know also that unseen by you are thousands of tiny, unseen points of burning sulphur that have been exploded, shot into space where they will spin, burn and burn out much as stars do after a cosmic explosion. The universe and the human gene: microcosm/macrocosm in action, friends, and it’s mostly Dark Matter and no one knows what it is, and it’s beyond comprehension.  
It’s everywhere, and we can’t live without it. It literally infuses us with life, and we don’t know what it is. You tell me: you want to call it God, go right ahead. I’ll bet that’ll be a popular choice. You want to call it speculation, what can I say? I invited you to do that, so go right ahead. What else do you want to call it? If it’s speculation, then it’s a question for the mind, and if you want to deal with it in scientific terms, it’s so far past the range of our instruments that it’s also a matter for the mind, and I say: what’s the difference? I think what’s germane is that science and religion have gotten so close on this as to overlap.  
Max Planck, the founder of Quantum Theory, said: “There are realities apart from our sense perceptions.” Astrophysicist and mathematician Sir James Jeans said, “The universe appears more like a great thought than like a great machine.”
Except for what a few religions have been saying, that’s a new thought. But my concern in the wake of our increase in processing power is that this “quickening” of ideational growth in our culture is hurtling us at an now-rapidly increasing rate towards some very sobering scientific realizations, and we must have been increasing either our wiring or our utilization of our existing wiring, and it’s all heading for some very heady insights at the same time that we are, as a culture, sadly shutting down the very systems we need to understand the new paradigm.
Our brains begin to hurt when we reach the point of multiple dimensions because we cannot comprehend much of this; we just don’t have the programs to process them. Maybe we have the hard drives, but not the software. Or do we? 
Okay, so- we all know that our culture has entered a whiz-bang new era of consciousness where we are increasingly aware of higher levels of reality, and we are marching onward, faster and faster into a newer, more whiz-bang reality, and we stand at a moment where we may enter into a more exciting level of consciousness, but as exciting as that might be, it’s all happening at the same time that we live under unprecedented levels of distress, so that the level of despair hangs and wafts in the air throughout the world.
Forty-some-odd years ago a dramatic cultural revolution occurred in America, and then spread around the world. Forty-some-odd years ago, we had the confluence of post-war prosperity and a strong sense of our superiority, with the advent of the Pill and a rebellious new form of music, and American youth was ready for a massive, jolting shift towards free will. The Beatles ushered in a massive shift in thought, and their seeds were sown in fertile ground. During the Sixties, freedom became a byword in an unprecedented manner, youthful optimism gained the strength of a movement, and hope abounded. It was a lot more than the Beatles, of course, but if you’re looking for an easy answer, I like what this guy says:

Beatlemania hit the United States with full force on February 9, 1964, by way of television on the Ed Sullivan Show. For a short while, as some 72 million Americans got their first glimpse of the Beatles, with their mop-top haircuts and original music, the streets emptied and crime stopped. A cultural revolution was obviously at hand.
Elvis Presley may have been revolutionary, but there was no gender revolution until the Beatles came along. With the prominence they accorded women in their songs and the way they spoke to millions of teenaged girls about new possibilities, the Beatles eventually helped feminize the culture and led to the empowerment of young women. 
 The Beatles "presided over an epochal shift comparable in scale to that bridging Classical Antiquity and the Middle Ages," writes Professor Henry Sullivan, "or the transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance." Indeed, they played a central role in catalyzing a transition from the Modern to the post-Modern Age and unknowingly set in motion forces that made an entire era what it was and, by extension, is today. 

The Soviet authorities thought of the Beatles as a secret Cold War weapon. The kids lost their interest in all Soviet unshakable dogmas and ideals, and stopped thinking of an English-speaking person as the enemy. That's when the Communists lost two generations of young people ideologically, totally lost. That was an incredible impact.


See that? The guy was talking about an “epochal shift” comparable to the shift from the Dark Ages to the Middle Ages, or from the Middle Ages to the Rennaisance. Those significant cultural changes took place over hundreds of years, and the change that took root with Elvis in the mid-50’s, blossomed explosively in 1964, was firmly under way by 1967 and well over by 1971. Come and gone in less than 7 years. In those years the optimism blossomed and faded away, the Revolution had ceased to be a movement, but in my opinion the movement ended finally on December 8th, 1980.
My belief is that John Lennon’s death had a more profound effect on the culture than is currently understood. I think the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were horrific acts that affected the entire country- and the world- but I think that John Lennon’s death created a profounder, more personal sense of loss of a shared personal tragedy. Lennon’s senseless death was a deflation of the soul that was the final blow to the remaining counter-cultural spirit that Lennon personified. Some future Ph.D thesis will demonstrate the depth of the sense of loss that was experienced across the English-speaking world by Lennon’s death, and how his death let the air out of the sense of optimism for his generation, and this sense of loss has been reflected- unidentified- in the generation that followed, and that sense of loss has contributed to the malaise caused by the despair that is now endemic in our culture.  
The Kennedys and Dr. King were heroes for their generation, but John Lennon was of our generation. He was one of us. He was the best of us, and when he was assassinated, the best of us died a little with him. I still see the tremors caused by John’s death almost 30 years later.
With the changes brought on by the Civil Rights movement, the anti- war movement became a significant voice, and in their wake came the changes in women’s and gay rights; concerns for the environment became public domain. As we’ve seen, the rate of change may have been getting faster and faster, but the 60’s were unprecedented in the rapidity and depth of the revolutions in politics, personal power, music, thought, morals and dress. In the path of the revolution was a wave of optimism that in hindsight that might be seen as naïve, or too optimistic, which in turn, as it must, has resulted in a series of the “d-type” reactions: disappointment, distrust, depression, disillusionment and despair. The Baby Boomers were a sudden bulge in the population and they were born into a time of unprecedented prosperity, confidence and self-indulgence, and once the phenomenon of Davy Crockett and the Hula Hoop showed the business community that this group would yield bounteous profits and started catering to them, indulged as they were, they confidently dreamed big, big dreams and had high, high hopes. And all of those were either dashed or abandoned, so, one might assume, there have to be some residual effects from that. Some may think of these as aftershocks, but I like to think of them like… like ripples, man.  
In the 21st century, we have entirely absorbed computers and the internet. As it happened suddenly and across all levels of culture, this was a staggeringly life-changing development, and we have adapted to its inclusion into our lives with a staggering rapidity. The changes wrought by these devices have been instantly integrated deeply into our lives, changing our consciousness, without any of us knowing what consequences will come in the wake of so radical a change, but it must be intuitively obvious that some changes must accompany other changes. Unlike the FDA, which conducts rigorous testing to determine the impact of every medicine they allow to be dispensed, no one is testing the impact of the internet on anyone, much less on the whole freakin’ world. The introduction of the computer and all of its manifestations is so overwhelming, and yet we have, almost instantly, absorbed it into our culture, our minds, our lives. We need to see that a corollary change has to have occurred to accommodate this change, that any change will have consequences, and some more than others. Known or unknown to us, we are experiencing those consequences right now. Where it goes from here I cannot say, and I would urge you to avoid anyone who claims to know where these changes will lead, but what remains certain is that our neural processing is different now from what it was as recently as twenty years ago, and I say that those changes are significant, although I wouldn’t know how to suggest how they could be measured, much less compared. What is not certain is how these changes will affect us.
Not to throw a wet blanket over anyone’s optimism at this, but there is a dark side to consider, and it is here that the two formerly parallel evolutionary paths diverge. The evolutionary paths of consciousness and personal freedom have traveled together since ever there was a thought, but they have now begun to travel in opposing paths.
On the one hand, with human consciousness evolving, normally you would think that that would be a good thing. But what has happened is that the quickening pace of this evolution has occurred at a time of planet-wide over-population, pollution, poverty, reduced resources, the early trauma of climate change, wide disparity of wealth, and unprecedented and widespread despair. Awareness of all the reasons for all that despair is so widespread that even those only marginally affected by it are aware of the enormity of the problems. The accumulation of all these problems follows a time that has introduced all manner of technology and media into several leading cultures. What alarms me is that while the problems are acknowledged on a worldwide scale, the reaction from governments and from far too large a percentage of the population has been an increasing need to avoid the reality of so many of the things that threaten us all, and we have chosen, culture-wide, to shut down our consciousness of these distressing thoughts. What is new is that this has resulted in a reversal of thousands of years of evolution. That it’s happening for understandable reasons is scant comfort in the light of what inexorably awaits. There is so much wrong in the world, there is so much wrong in the world that’s too big and too bad to be fixed, and now, it might could be that the world is just too fucked- and it might could be that it’s too late to fix it. I think it’s understandable that anyone would want to shut down some rather than face all that; there’s just too much wrong. There’s too much that maybe can’t be fixed, and you can see where that could set anyone on the road to despair, no matter how much you have. Ah, would that that was the only weigh station on the Highway to Hell. Let’s take a look around.
Does anybody spend any time thinking about the fact that the fruit and vegetables we eat don’t taste like those we ate 50 years ago? That with modern shipping and agriculture the fruits and vegetables we eat comes from so far away that they’re picked unripe and sprayed for longevity in shipping- and don’t have the taste that they should have? I don’t even know if they have the vitamins, minerals and other life-giving nutrients they’re supposed to have…
Are you any better off now that you have your cell phone? Really? Has the computer lived up to the promises made so few years ago that so much will be done for us by computers that we’ll all have more free time to pursue our dreams, our passions, our hobbies? People work longer now for less pay and with less satisfaction.
The Industrial Revolution began a series of patterns that led to the breakdown of the family system; people are increasingly dissatisfied with their lives, doubt has been sown and faith has diminished. Fear levels have risen, distrust, discomfort and dissatisfaction are epidemic. Insecurity is rampant, and everyone wants what they do not have. Education, employment and economic levels are all down. Where does America rank in the world? We are 13th in high school graduation rates, 28th in our care of the environment, 29th in infant mortality, right behind Poland and Slovakia, 41st in maternal mortality, 36th in press freedom, 37th in health systems and 97th among peaceful nations. 
I think we have lost a part of our humanity, our souls, if you will, in the increasing preoccupation with MORE. For everything we learn and everything we earn, there is a price, a consequence. (I know no one has ever asked me, but I think the most powerful word in the English language is “consequence.” It is the most powerful single word describing the most significant concept known to us, and it is about consequences that I am alarmed.)
Aldous Huxley wrote in “The Doors of Perception” that the human brain, among its other functions, acts as a filtering device. Huxley said that that there was so much reality, so much consciousness out there that we cannot perceive, because we would be overwhelmed and unable to function in our daily lives. All that excess stuff that we don’t “need” is filtered out by the brain, Huxley maintained- as do the Buddhists- that there is so much more “out there” that we cannot access because without the filter we would be incapacitated. The incomprehensible enormity of it would overwhelm us, disable us. Few enough have been successful only after much time, rigorous effort and discipline had been spent in taking on more than what is considered normal, and process it, and then only in the gradual increments by which such knowledge is laboriously obtained. Know anyone like that? Yeah, neither do I. But it’s about all those billions of normal people, be that what it may, that I am concerned about. The normal person is pretty damned sophisticated and aware of a lot of stuff, and has a certain amount of brain at work and we always handle what we have to handle. 
We handled what we had to handle in the Egyptian era, we handled what we handled in the Middle Ages, and now there is significantly more to handle, more to process, and we have adjusted to it with astonishing rapidity. And what we are processing, and being groomed to process in the future, is exciting, but I also regret what we have lost in the process. More than ever, we have lost the exercise, the joy of free contemplative thought.  
Between our cell phones and all the channels on our satellites and cables, and our BlackBerries and iPods and email and texting and surfing the internet, who thinks anymore? Who reads any more? Book review sections in newspapers have dwindled from whole stand-alone sections reviewing dozens of books, to a page or two in the Arts section, reviewing maybe a half- dozen books. Many newspapers and magazines have dropped their book review sections altogether. The culture is market-driven, so fewer and fewer books will come out as fewer and fewer people read them. Remember the cassette? Well, the book has had a healthy run, but its primacy has passed. Audio books might be the new literacy as everyone else waits for the movie or forgets it. 
We have given ourselves to the seduction of internet surfing, or shopping or games or news or opinion or chat, or movies or television shows. If I had a dime for everyone who went to YouTube yesterday, I’d find safe place and you’d never see me again. Everyone knows that watching television puts our minds into a dream-like state, and the way some people watch television would be familiar to any opium addict who ever stared, close-eyed, watching their dreams on eyelid theater. And people watch TV for hours every day. Okay, that was harsh, but I include myself.
People rarely want to be musicians anymore, they want to be Stars! With 100,000 CDs released each year, how much music is being produced? A record label that signs a band for the music that they wrote and performed hundreds of times in rehearsals and clubs and honed into something special through years of practice and performance, and if the band is a hit, the record company demands their second and third albums before the band has time to develop new music. The quality of the music goes down and the band fades away. The market voraciously devours new product- and bands no longer have the time to create music at their own pace anymore. Some bands survive and thrive, most do not. It’s arguable that the best will survive, but who can say what has been lost when a band cannot produce an album inspired by a deadline? 
 As a people, are we any better than we were 100 years ago? Any happier? Between work and “leisure time” there is no time anymore, no time to just… think. Those people who were both allowed and encouraged to think, to be heard, have been around for a brief period of human existence, but I’m afraid the concept is in danger. I think there will be a shrinking of options, less freedom, more regimentation than there has been since before the Renaissance. It doesn’t have to be that way, and it might not, but we are poised now at a special time in human development. I think that there are changes occurring to humans that have yet to be acknowledged, much less quantified or understood at the same time that there is also a saddening proclivity to shut down our minds.  
How many people know about the freedom to think, or care to use it, and how can we afford to think when there is so much to acknowledge that is genuinely tragic and frightening? The number of serious problems, and the sheer size of any of them disinclines any but the rarest, most self-sacrificing among us from thinking about any of them, much less all of them; but we’re going to spend some time with them, even if no one really wants to. No one wants to think about the rampant, out-of-control polluting of the planet. Or about the massive deforestation of the trees that generate so much of our oxygen? Everyone knows it’s happening- today, tomorrow and the day after. Who wants to confront the myriad sources of pollution that poison our air and our water? We really can’t do anything about it, can we? Or the increasingly frightening global climate change? Or our shrinking, convulsive economy due to greed, global trade, or the loss of jobs and the loss of our dignity in this nation?  
Or who wants to think about the massive build-up of so much garbage that no one knows where to put it all, because people live everywhere now and there’s far too much garbage that nobody wants? Everyone knows about it but no one wants to think about it. Did you know that there is a Texas-sized island of trash floating on the Pacific Ocean?  

Sea of Plastic Waste Clogs Pacific Ocean, Threatens Marine Life
A huge sea of plastic -- spanning an area larger than the continental United States -- threatens aquatic life in the Pacific Ocean. The largest mass of the debris, known as the Eastern Garbage Patch, is "dramatically increasing," according to Captain Charles Moore who discovered the plastic waste during a 1997 voyage and recently returned to survey the patch between Hawaii and California. Moore has collected reams of evidence documenting how plastic wastes are consumed by unsuspecting marine animals that think they're eating plankton and other ocean food, or become entangled in the mess and drown. Plastic accounts for the deaths of more than a million seabirds and more than 100,000 marine mammals such as whales, dolphins and seals every year, according to the United Nations Environment Program.
Everyone knows that the garbage issue is a crisis, but there are so many more, uglier problems, that no one has time for the garbage issue. There are the billions of shit-filled Huggies and the 38 billion plastic water bottles that are discarded yearly and accumulate- but do not decompose- forever, and we have run out of room to put all of our trash, and that the problem grows daily, monthly, yearly. We know that batteries and other discarded objects bleed toxic chemicals into the waste piles, landfills, gutters, rivers and streams everywhere.  
The Associated Press did a study on the disposition of unused pharmaceuticals and where that waste has shown up, in what numbers, and the threat that poses. They said: 
.Few of the country's 5,700 hospitals and 45,000 long-term care homes keep data on the pharmaceutical waste they generate. Based on a small sample, though, the AP was able to project an annual national estimate of at least 250 million pounds of pharmaceuticals and contaminated packaging… affecting at least 46 million Americans.  
Researchers are finding evidence that even extremely diluted concentrations of pharmaceutical residues harm fish, frogs and other aquatic species in the wild. Also, researchers report that human cells fail to grow normally in the laboratory when exposed to trace concentrations of certain drugs.

These are cancer- and gene-mutating poisons we’re dumping into streams, rivers and oceans, and observe, from Science Daily:

(08-14-08) 18:03 PDT SAN FRANCISCO -- Dead zones where fish and most marine life can no longer survive are spreading across the continental shelves of the world's oceans at an alarming rate as oxygen vanishes from coastal waters, scientists reported Thursday.
The scientists place the problem on runoff of chemical fertilizers in rivers and fallout from burning fossil fuels, and they estimate there are now more than 400 dead zones along 95,000 square miles of the seas - an area more than half the size of California.
The number of those areas has nearly doubled every decade since the 1960s, said Robert J. Diaz, a biological oceanographer at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. "Dead zones were once rare, but now they're commonplace, and there are more of them in more places," he said.

Who is even thinking about all the non-native plants and animals- both of land and sea- that have been imported, most inadvertently, into our waters and states and- thriving, with no natural predators- take over the ecosystems that had been there for millions of years and are now fucking up the environment…? You know it’s a huge problem, don’t you, and when was the last time you thought about it, much less did anything about it? What can you do about it? There are so many other problems. And don’t even ask me about the Amazon Rain Forest. Excuse me, did I say “Amazon Rain Forest?” I meant “the Amazon.”  
  When was the last time you thought about all the nuclear weapons left in what are now insufficiently guarded former military bases in remote areas of the former Soviet Union, back when the Soviet Union had soldiers and could pay them to guard those sites? Who doesn’t know that some of the people who used to secure those nukes have families to feed, but haven’t been paid in years, and in fact are goddamned disgruntled about it? Last year there were “250 thefts of nuclear material around the world.” Now who doesn’t think that those people could be found by some other people- angry people- with a nefarious plan and enough money for one of those nukes? Or a few of them? And speaking of money, do you know anyone who has enough of it or is secure with what they have? How do the kids feel as they near college age and start thinking about careers? When I graduated from high school, optimism and fearlessness abounded. How’s that goin’ for you today, kids? Back when I finished college, no one outside of law and med students had any debt when they graduated. How’s that goin’ today, grads? Today I read:

A recent study by the Economic Opportunity Program at Demos found that the average college graduate humps $20,000 of debt around. The same study also found that earnings for college graduates ages 25 to 34 had risen by only 10 percent among women and remained flat among men between 1975 and 2005. And while only 18 percent of 25-to 34-year olds spent more than 33 percent of their pre-tax income on rent in 1970, that number rose to 43 percent by 2005.


The average American family now holds nine credit cards, has $17,000 in credit card debt and close to nothing in savings. This is the first generation in America without the confidence that their standard of living will exceed that of their parents, and d’ya think that might have some impact on the culture?  
 You might be grateful that the increasing severity of droughts, floods, tsunamis, hurricanes and tornados might not be a problem where you live, but if you can’t afford to go to the movies, if you can’t afford to go to a restaurant, if you’ve got problems paying your bills, then you’re probably not sleeping all that well, and that’s a pretty visceral reality check. But how are we at facing that? How does homelessness sound? It could happen to anyone you know, and the homeless people you see everywhere all need help. Some of them aren’t junkie/wino bums, but are regular people in terrible straights with no alternative? Could be you, could be me, could be anyone, pal. It’s a real problem, especially since all the mental health budgets were cut in the 80’s, and any state- or federally-run facility for these casualties is overwhelmed, putting helpless people on the streets, and everyone knows they can’t go hardly anywhere for help. And it could happen to anyone. But there are other problems. Would anyone feel better if we decided to speak about the obesity epidemic in America, or how that’s going to play out with insurance and medical bills as the obese kids get older? Was it good planning or necessity when we eliminated all the Phys. Ed. programs. 
Several generations have worked and paid into a fund for when they retire, and everyone knows the Social Security bank is already almost dry, and everyone knows that the massive burst in population known as the Baby Boomers are about to retire and become a massive drain on the already impoverished system. By law, those still working must continue paying into the system, and every worker who continues to pay into the system knows they are giving their money away despite the likelihood that they will never see anything back from their investment. Those damn Baby Boomers are going to bankrupt the Social Security system and everyone knows it. In politics it’s known as the “third rail” and no one wants to touch it, so no one does. Good luck getting to sleep, thinking about that.  
Political and economic unrest has grown exponentially with the inability to resolve the problems between Muslim and Christian countries. Everyone sees what they see about the issues, but no one can do anything about it. It’s too big and too complicated. It’s easily one of the biggest issues of the day, yet who wants to think about it? Who wants to think about the problems that are coming with the emergence of China and India as global economic players, and the impact that will have around the world as the competition for oil, water and food continues to intensify. And think about that in relation to their increasing economic dependence on us as consumers. Now we have less money to spend, thereby making an ever-larger portion of the population increasingly dependant on the cheapest possible prices, which invariably come from places like Wal-Mart, who get their products from China and India, thus completing a dangerous cycle. Everyone knows that Wal-Mart is killing us, but too many of us need their low prices for there to be any effective consumer reaction to change this unfortunate and inevitable course.  
Of the diminishing supplies of fuel? My God, what’s going to happen with that? Not nearly enough leaders are willing to address the impact of the diminishing supply of fossil fuel on the planet in any meaningful way. And if you think the oil shortage has been problematic of late, wait until the Water Wars start, friend, when watering lawns will be a distant memory, baths will be for the wealthy as showers get shorter and less frequent, strict conservation laws and rationing will be in effect, and parents will freak out if Junior lets the water run while washing the dishes. And forget the issue bathing and lawns if you can, when there’s no water to grow food? Will it be water or food that sends nations to war, and how soon? You know it’s already started, but who wants to think about it?  
 How about Acid Rain? No one even talks about it any more, but it hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s still a huge problem, but we have only so much capacity for sorrow and fear, so there isn’t enough time to think about Acid Rain. How many issues are there? How about what the hell do we do with all the spent nuclear material we’ve created, and which will be “hot” for another 250,000 years?  
Everyone knows there is no known safe method to store or contain nuclear materials, to keep them out of the environment, and everyone knows that that however we’ve tried to store then in the past, despite the best ideas available at the time, they either run the risk of eventually leaking into the environment or they’ve already leaked into the environment. And because everyone knows that, no one wants the stuff stored in their state. But it’s gotta go somewhere, right? It has to, and that’s something else to think about.  
Almost no one I know in San Francisco knows about this, but about twenty years ago the San Francisco Chronicle ran a series of articles about all the nuclear waste that was dumped near the Farallon Islands. It seems that between 1946 and 1970, the labs at Livermore were at the cutting edge of research into the new nuclear science, and the federal government contracted them to experiment with, and make, nuclear material for weapons and research. It was the beginning of the Atomic Age and they made a lot of nuclear material, and when they were done with it, there was a lot of nuclear waste that they didn’t know what t do with. I don’t know if it was with hope or confidence that they stored the radioactive waste in cement-lined 55-gallon drums and stored them on-site, until eventually thousands of the drums piled up and they realized that they had to do something about them. They loaded them onto boats, took them out to sea, to the Farallon Islands, where they dumped them into the ocean. Records show that there were about 50,000 of these drums, and they all wound up 26 miles outside of San Francisco’s Golden Gate, over an area of about 365 square miles, right where people from the Bay Area go fishing, and over the past few decades, those drums have been breaking open and leaking into the ocean, and there’s no way to retrieve them or clean any of it up. When the series ran, the story was old news, brought up again because they needed a good story. Everyone had forgotten about it from the last time it was news, as people will, and this story made the news again, and by now everyone who read it then has forgotten it, and no one else seems to have heard of it. The thing is, no one did anything about it, and it fell out of the public consciousness. When it came out twenty years later, it stirred everyone up for a while, but no one did anything about it again, and now no one knows about it again. But it’s there- Google it. It’s shocking and scary that they’re there, and it’s shocking and scary that no one seems to care about it. But when you go to San Francisco, don’t forget to go to Fisherman’s Wharf and get yourself some of their famous crabs or seafood, ‘cause they’re caught fresh every day, twenty-five miles or so outside the Golden Gate… 
I just saw in the news tonight: there are 3,500 dams in danger of failing and our bridges and tunnels and highways are deteriorating and showing their age by buckling, cracking or crumbling. Money, money, money, and there isn’t enough money.
How many people do you know who get enough sleep? Something as fundamental as sleep, and our culture has led us to continually deprive ourselves of it. Please agree with me that that’s a problem.  
The rise to prominence in our culture of coffee is no felicitous happenstance- it’s a direct result of people sleeping less and being more stressed and needing more energy to get through their day, to produce more, faster. Artificial energy from beverages like coffee and Red Bull and their imitators abound and are accepted, even laughed about, as simply a part of the culture, and among them I saw an ad on TV for “5-HOUR ENERGY.” The ad said it was “Not a drink- more like a sip. But you’ll feel alert and focused for hours without the crash and the jitters. Hours of energy now. No crash later.” And there are dozens of energy –enhancing drinks out there, and they almost instantly became a ubiquitous part of the culture.
  And we should be able to agree that there’s no need to bring up the pantheon of pills, powders, herbs, candles, oils and libations that are available everywhere to produce sleep. The sleep factor alone should alarm us that we have stretched our endurance. Endurance, people, is so basic a factor in our lives that no one thinks about it. Indeed, there is much that has gone wrong in the world to despair about, and then I read that: 


Yet it is the family -- and its breakdown over the past 40 years -- that has had the greatest impact on young people today. The rise of single-parent homes, the drop in marriage rates and soaring divorce rates are a testament to this breakdown. 


  Can it be true that half of every marriage fails? Half? That should be shocking- and it doesn’t seem to be. What the fuck do we want from each other, people? The effects of divorce are enormous- and they are deeply ingrained in the culture.
Then there’s the overwhelmingly excessive poverty and all the greed and distrust in our culture, and dissatisfaction and yearning, and hostility and crime and anxiety and despair and depression, and everything that infuses our culture with despair- a pervasive malaise that is embedded within and without us. We pay taxes, but there isn’t enough money to repair the highways, bridges and tunnels that are on borrowed time before they collapse. There isn’t enough money to pay our school teachers a living wage for one of the most important jobs in our culture. Deeply in our souls we are desperate for a change, and in despair because there is no way to make it better. Our lives are surrounded by the accumulated thunderous roar of every approaching crisis, and we have to block it all out or we will be overwhelmed by it. We cannot afford to let in more than a little of the noise, but there is always more noise, always more just outside, always more, clamoring for attention, for consideration, for resolution; things you know you should think about but won’t, maybe can’t, and it’s only okay because hardly anyone else does, either, but they’re all bona fide crises that genuinely need not just our attention, but also our efforts, but it’s all so overwhelming, and all it does is bring up… fear, always more fear. Overwhelming, paralyzing fear. Culture-wide, we have become a fearful people, and it is because of that that we have abdicated our right to exercise free thought, and we’ve traded it for what we thought would be security, and now that security has eroded, and as more fear becomes pervasive, we shut down whole areas of our consciousness, and thus we close ourselves off from our higher thoughts, which reverses the millennia-old continuity of opening new areas of consciousness that has prevailed until now. We’re reversing, people. 
Fear shuts down more than thought: it shuts down the concept of possibility, which drives progress, which drives the future. If the future exists now only as thought, as accumulated influences and possibilities, then we alter the future by shutting down whatever influence we have or may have, and so it is certain that we all lose something by shutting down our instinctual thought processes, which we are doing in scarily record measure. I fear we are losing what is possible by regressing in the direction of another Dark Age.
There is so much to think about that we can’t afford to think about. We all feel so overwhelmed by the enormity of all the issues that direly need attention, and yet we feel powerless because, while we know that all these issues need immediate attention, we also feel deeply that there is nothing that we can do about them. What or who would be helped by fixating on problems you cannot fix?
Just as a 12th century peasant wouldn’t think about issues above his station because he had neither understanding or control over them whatsoever, what use would contemplative, introspective thought be? What good would it do? It was certainly not encouraged back then, but in recent centuries there has been a blossoming of thought. Now again, fewer and fewer people think expansively. As if that were all:
Probably everyone has read somewhere about the alarming rate at which species are disappearing, and the figure is so scary that we can’t think about it. But think about that- whole groups of animals are disappearing so fast that we can’t face thinking about it.  
Here’s something from a 2008 article: 

Global Wildlife Populations In Steep Decline
A new analysis reveals that human activities are the main cause behind the extinction of between a quarter and a third of the world's wildlife species since 1970. Industrial pollution, large-scale agribusiness, urban sprawl and overfishing are among the chief contributors to the decline, according to the Zoological Society of London, which conducted the global wildlife assessment. The report blames governments for failing to live up to the 1992 Convention on Biodiversity, which called for a "significant reduction" in biodiversity loss by 2010. That goal is "very unlikely" to be reached, according to the new report. According to UN experts, one species disappears roughly every 20 minutes, a rate of extinction 100 to 1,000 times higher than natural rates. 

How can you even think about that? But it gets worse:
Arctic-like conditions in the Tundra have prevailed for hundreds of thousands of years and kept the ground frozen, but it is now are starting to defrost, and the methane that has been stored there in frozen, inert form all that time, is being released, and methane is 20-23 times more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide. There have also been sightings over large areas of the oceans of methane bubbling up from previously frozen land below the oceans, and being released into the atmosphere. A lot of people know about that, but what’s new that you might not have heard yet, is that they now discover that the gas used in plasma TV panels- nitrogen triflouride- has been leaking into the atmosphere, that there’s four times more of it than previously thought, and it’s 17,000 times more damaging than carbon dioxide, it stays in the atmosphere for four years, and we have just begun to ramp up production of those plasma screens and there is no sign it will end. Sleep on that, Jim.
Every ocean and millions of rivers, lakes and streams are polluted. We shouldn’t eat the fish because the poisons in the water accumulate in them as they eat other fish that have also been accumulating the poisons. The few fish in the open oceans that haven’t been poisoned yet are being over-fished into extinction, and these are the fish that have always fed a large part of the planet. We know we’re over-fishing them, but people will pay to eat them, and you can’t tell an entire industry like the fishing industry to take a few years off. We can’t put the fishermen to work anywhere else, and we can’t pay them to take a vacation for four or six or ten years. We know we should let these fish live unmolested for a decade to regenerate, but we catch them by the millions and eat them now because we need them now because there are a lot more people in the world who get hungry and have the money to buy food, so we choose to shut out the noise, to get on with our lives, and we do it by using our brains as the filtering device that Huxley described, only now it is not only filtering out the reality that is “out there,” this time we are willingly filtering out all the reality of coming disaster, and that is how we live, and that is how we get by. There will be consequences for this denial in the long term, and I shudder to think of what those will be. Everyone knows that greed has been driving us to a planetary change of epic scale, but too many people accept it- knowing that almost nothing is being done about it, and choose to believe that there is nothing they can do about it. This is why despair pervades our culture- and we are the culture that everyone else in the world envies! Except for the Muslims, of course. Everyone knows that the consequences of climate change have begun, and more will appear during the lifetimes of everyone reading this. I have almost always lived alone in my adult life, so my life was largely about me, and I remember that when I got a puppy I suddenly felt more concerned about the environment. I had this animal that I was responsible for, and suddenly I was concerned that she should have clean water and air, and then I thought, ‘If I feel this way about a dog, how do human parents feel about their children, their grandchildren, their line?’ How can we think about any of the stuff I’ve been cataloguing and still maintain our sanity? How can we do it? How can we be comfortable? How can we sleep at night? Well, we’ve covered that- we live in denial. It’s overwhelming, but what’s the use of thinking about it all, of complaining about any of it? What can we do, recycle some bottles, cans and newspapers? Everyone knows that recycling is the right thing to do, but most of the waste and the pollution come from large, insufficiently-regulated industries. Plants and factories manufacture so much dangerous material with no way to safely, economically, dispose of it, and we all know that too much of it has already soaked into the land or run off into the streams, rivers and oceans, and continues to do so daily.
Still don’t believe in global warming? Okay, call it global climate change and see if you can still run from it. Every summer sees record heat and every winter sees record cold. Record droughts here and record floods there, record numbers of tornados and hurricanes. You watch the news, you know it’s happening. You see the stories of the record heat or the record cold or the record flooding or the tsunamis. How will you feel when the last polar bear dies or the frogs disappear, as is already happening. We all know about the bees, right? Are we scared yet, sparky? 
Understandably, people are resistant to think about all these things… or, increasingly, to think at all. While in past centuries there was a sense of futility about engaging in expansive thought, now the sense of futility is more personal, more pervasive, more persuasive: this time we’re doing it by choice. All across our culture and others, there is a deep, brooding fear, a sense of dread that it will get worse, and with that dread is a sense of hopelessness that disinclines people to see, hear, feel or experience the encroaching reality of the things threatening us. This dread disinclines us from thought, from introspection. It’s all so big, it’s all too big, and so many people think we can’t do anything about it. It’s the sense of futility that rankles and frustrates the activists among us: why won’t someone in power say something we can all rally around, say something that everyone can believe? In this year of a presidential election, in the lack of clear voices of outrage we hear the mute screams that echo in our souls. I know that sounds like high school poetry, but it’s true. The problems are overwhelming, and we all know that corruption is too embedded in the system for a needed systemic overhaul, much less to allow the politics of preservation to prevail. Maybe the Borg were right- perhaps resistance is futile.  
It’s a malaise in which we all feel an individual sense of loss as well as a collective sense of helplessness, of being powerless. And the malaise is endemic to our culture, it’s part of our culture, and we in America probably have it better than anyone else out there in terms of personal freedoms, but even in America we all feel so powerless. Read this:


The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reported that the number-one contributor to well-being is not money, good looks, or popularity! No, the biggest life goodie is "autonomy," defined as "the feeling that your life--its activities and habits--are self-chosen and self-endorsed." Studies at the University of Michigan confirmed that "Having a strong sense of controlling one's life is a more dependable predictor of positive feelings of well-being than any other objective conditions of life."


There it is: Control = Happiness. Observe:


In one famous study, researchers randomly gave mice either cheese or electric shocks. The mice did everything they could to avoid the shocks and get more cheese, but when they figured out that their actions had no effect, they lapsed into a state of passive listlessness. When they were eventually given the choice (autonomy) to avoid the electric shocks or get more cheese, the mice were so bummed out they just lay there, choosing not to do anything at all!



If you can accept that the malaise is embedded in our culture and then extrapolate how that affects people all over the planet, it’s god-damn scary, and yes, I’m scared. Taj Mahal had a song about the times when “If you ain’t scared, man, you ain’t right.” Right on, Taj, and while some might accuse me of being excessively gloomy by painting so dark a picture, let me ask them: how many people are worrying about what will happen if the planet suddenly experienced an outbreak of happiness?
 Everyone knows the problems are overwhelming, and everyone knows the kind of sacrifices that need to be made. Taxes? After what we’ve been spending on wars, and the kind of credit hole we’re in, and with the kind of spending we need to do to fix our own problems like health care, infrastructure, retirement and all the others, you bet taxes would have to go up. Yet everyone knows that no presidential candidate in his or her right mind would bring up the additional taxes that any of these changes would call for, much less all of them, much less the drastic changes we’d all have to make in our lives, like no plastic containers or packaging, and desperately serious recycling, and much less meat and no wasted water, like for lawns or baths or washing your car. More trains and less trucks, wherever possible. Do you know what happened to the formerly extensive rail system in this country? In the days when the Railroads were the big players, the rail companies were given most of the land it wanted to use. But they had to pay for the materials they used as well as pay the thousands of laborers to clear and grade the land and level it, and build beds of gravel on which they had to lay the track. Having done so, and for as long as they wanted to use it, they had to pay the costs of maintaining the track, their stations, their employees and their property. But in the fifties, under Eisenhower, the U.S. government paid for a massive program of highway-building, and it was the government who built and maintained the highways, but the train owners still had to pay for the upkeep of their lines. The highway program happened at a time when America was experiencing unprecedented prosperity and people were suddenly buying cars by the thousands to put on the new highways- and Big Rail had fewer passengers using its lines, and therefore less income. 
Then, led by General Motors, the newly prosperous auto industry bought up all the municipal railway lines in over forty cities, which was most of the big ones, then they tore up the tracks and the station houses and all the maintenance gear and hauled it away and abandoned the land. They let the government build all those highways, then they replaced the trains with the buses they were building, and sold them to the cities, and they charged everyone- the government and the public, and they still do.  
We’ll need to eat healthier, using less sugar and pesticides because we can’t afford the diseases. Like that’ll happen… And that’s just in America. If we want to share our bounty with those in need elsewhere, where would we start? We still have water, and many desperate nations do not. How could we help? We’ll have wheat and rice, but should we give it away, sell it or trade it? Trade it for oil? Again, it’s overwhelming.
Now, factor in that India- and even more so, China- have exploding middle classes. Remember that the emergence of the middle class in Europe was largely responsible for the end of the Middle Ages. We know about the increasingly rapid emergence of the middle classes in India and China, and that they’re demanding their share of the already diminishing resources, and we know what that means, but we won’t let ourselves think about that, either. The demand for more meat from America as well as India and China has led to cutting down vast amounts of forest to accommodate grazing for cattle, even though it’s demonstrable that this is a disaster for the environment. But raising and selling cattle is where the money has been, so there go the forests, and more and more water is diverted to feed the grass so the cattle can eat, and the increasingly large middle classes in China and India keep getting more money, and what do they want? More meat. Say goodbye to more of the Rain Forest. And it takes eight energy units to feed the cow to return one energy unit in food.
Have you ever heard the press referred to as “the fourth estate?” Way back when, there were three classes: the nobility, the clergy, and everyone else. There was no middle class, everyone was either royalty, clergy, or a peasant who worked for the king or the Lord of the land, or as we say today, landlord. Needing to fund the Crusades, in the 12th Century the Knights Templar developed the first banking system, and in its wake, money started exchanging hands. B y the time the printing press was invented in the 15th Century, and written materials could be widely spread, other things came together, and it all aided the rise of the middle class in Europe. And Europe brought the world along, the part of it that was paying attention. Good-bye, Muslim world.
Now, if the middle class had arisen and settled in pretty well by the 15th or 16th century, when there were maybe at most a few million people in all of Europe, think about the middle class explosion in China in the 21st Century, where there are 1.3 billion people and all of them want to drive cars, eat food, heat their houses and buy stuff. Holy shit… And I’m sorry about this, but now it’s going to get a little depressing:


China can no longer feed itself largely because demand is rising sharply at a time when every last drop of water in the north of the country, its major breadbasket, is already taken. The Yellow River, which drains most of the region, now rarely reaches the sea, except for the short monsoon season.
With river water fully used, Indian farmers have been trying to increase supplies by tapping underground reserves. In the last 15 years, they have bought a staggering 20 million Yamaha pumps to suck water from beneath their fields. Water tables are plunging, and in many places water supplies are giving out.
In Egypt, where bread riots occurred this spring, the Nile River no longer reaches the sea because all its water is taken for irrigation.



Imagine the impact of that in India China and Egypt. All that deprivation and despair, and so little hope or optimism, all that we see and hear makes us tired or fearful or lazy or angry. Think of all the lethargy that that induces, implanting in the hearts each person the need for tranquility, for peace, the deprivation of which now infuses so many cultures with hopelessness, despair, malaise; I think it’s deep and widespread, and I don’t know if anyone is looking at the effects of the malaise, but it’s got to be significant.  
All that is true, right? No one is going to read any of this and disagree with it, but who would disagree that nobody’s talking about it, but that’s not the worst of it. What’s worse are two disparate emerging trends happening in human thought, in the conscious and the subconscious. Hang on, we’re going to get a bit mystical, what the Muggles call “woo- woo.” You know who you are.
Let’s say that the past few pages about humans shutting down their faculties for deep thought, and filling it with any combination of the almost limitless options for diversion are indisputably, incontrovertibly so. Thus, we tune out our sub-conscious, which is a pity because that’s the only way to the sub-sub-conscious, which is where the really interesting stuff is going on. By disallowing our connection with our subconscious thoughts, we deprive ourselves of our ability to connect with what is greater than ourselves.
As we are talking about consciousness in its most subtle manifestation, once again- as a guide- we invoke the adage As Above, So Below- a venerable adage of such importance that I invite you to Google “the golden ratio,” or you could especially look into “fractals” which actually are a visual/mathematical way to see nature writ large. Fractals are freakin’ amazing and are a sort of blueprint for nature, and I wish I knew more about them, but I’m busy writing this polemic, and some time soon both of us should poke around fractals some more ‘cause they are freakin’ amazing. But now back to seeing that what we call “deeper” (oddly, what we also call “higher”) in terms of consciousness. There are no adequate terms for this concept in our popular three-dimensional reality. Of course, as Einstein said, we live in a four-dimensional world, and the fourth dimension is time, but the point is moot as than me have tried, and it hasn’t worked.
And here’s a case of As Above, So Below: If I haven’t been successful at finding a word in the universe of language for concepts of a higher consciousness, let’s look at our place in the physical universe. Here’s Earth’s place in our galaxy:

  


 It’s estimated that there are 100 billion galaxies in the universe. I tried looking for a similar graphic to the one above about the place of the Milky Way galaxy in the universe, but all I kept finding was the phrase “no special place.” Then I found someone at least willing to say:

In this century astronomers have thoroughly mapped the stars in this part of the Milky Way galaxy. That’s how we know our sun’s location with respect to the galaxy’s center. Likewise, astronomers have plotted the Milky Way’s position with respect to the nearest galaxies – but the universe as a whole is a far bigger place than just our Local Group of galaxies. Also, the universe is constantly expanding. The galaxies are moving away from each other. So we see the galaxies where they “were,” not where they “are.” Trying to determine the Milky Way’s location would be like trying to find your way across a terrain where the landmarks aren’t really where they appear to be! 
So it’s difficult – or maybe not even possible – to talk about where the Milky Way is, with respect to the rest of the universe. Astronomers generally avoid the problem of describing where the Milky Way is by saying when it is. And when is thought to be 12 to 15 billion years after the Big Bang – believed to be the only moment in the history of the universe when all matter existed at the same place. 

  I don’t know if I had a point with all that, but I like that stuff. I like that there are concepts that are both too grand and too subtle for language. Our minds have been unable to process these concepts, and so it has been impossible to translate them into language. But that might be changing.
That’s a lot to swallow, I know, but look- have I let you down so far? Have I sounded like a lunatic yet? Well, if I did to you, then fuck you, but for the rest of us, I believe a significant number of people have undergone a significant shift in what their brains process. I think modern people have continually had their programs updated, and the former paradigm of what people understand has changed markedly. It’s been changing gradually- over millennia- at a slower, more leisurely rate, the rate at which these changes needed to be absorbed into the culture. But what’s germane is that it’s been changing- upgrading, if you will- at a much faster rate, and the rate of change has been constantly and consistently increasing into what is now a really rapid rate, perhaps perilously rapid. As above, so below, and let’s compare the movement of the universe in it’s increasing rate of speed outward until the galaxies furthest out have either reached the speed of light, or have exceeded that speed, transcending three-dimensional physical reality and are no longer in a physical reality such as ours. Picture your mind as a planet: you are the planet- with all of its physical laws and all of its quirks and details in minutiae. With all of the details and all of the complexity of each planet, we travel in constellations known as houses and cities, and we are in larger groups known as states, countries and continents, and we are governed by laws, physical, moral and judicial.  
As conscious beings, how much further and faster do we have to go before we understand the conundrum, “can anything go faster than the speed of light?” And what do we even know about light?
Light isn’t anything like we used to think it was. We kept advancing our understanding of the physical universe and determined conclusively that everything in the universe was either a particle or a wave. That was the current crowning achievement of science at the time. It took us a long time and a lot of work to get that far, and once we got sophisticated enough to verify what were formerly unimaginably, incalculably large numbers, it turns out, light isn’t a wave and it isn’t a particle, and while we thought there were only those two choices, we were wrong again, and what frustrated everyone involved was that if it wasn’t one or the other, then what third thing was it? We got smarter, and something we thought of as elementary as light turned out to be a big “what is it?” So now, what it is can’t be called a single word because we don’t have a word- not in any language- that would describe that impossible-to-comprehend concept: neither this nor that, then what? So we made up a word and used it in our most advanced mathematical calculations- and we still don’t know what the hell light is. We thought everything in the universe was either a wave or a particle. Other than theorizing about higher realities than we are capable of experiencing, what is it? And theorizing about those “higher realities” really pisses off a lot of people, so it’s chancy to go there, even as an academic.  
By the way, we think we know what light is, but we see only a small fraction of it. If the spectrum of light was a foot-long ruler, the bandwidth that we see would start at the 5-inch mark and go to 5¼ inches. That’s called the Visible Spectrum. The rest of the light spectrum is the infrared, gamma and X- rays, plus radio, micro and ultraviolet waves that surround the thin band of the spectrum that we use but cannot “see.” We use just that small part, as the rest can’t be processed by the human eye or brain, neither of which are programmed for those functions.  
Where are we as minds, as awareness, in the universe of ideas? Another eternal verity is that there can be no gain without pain, and I believe it. Therefore conversely, there must be perils if there are to be changes. Think about what’s changed over the past twenty years and think about how fast it’s changed. I remember watching a first-run “Seinfeld” episode in 1998, and in it they were flashing back to 1995. A woman was explaining the internet to an astonished Jerry, who had never heard of it, and his awed reaction was, “What are you- a scientist?” That had been only three years earlier, and so much had changed in those three years, principally the popularization of the internet.
As I have by now demonstrated (yes I have!), over the millions of years of human development (and we’re cool about that 6,000-year thing, now, right?), we have consistently and steadily increased our capacity for thought. It’s come along slowly and surely (I like the phrase, but I don’t really know if it was slow or not, or sure or not. What are the expectations? What’s the scale?), and we have advanced from when we first began to understand concepts like the weather and don’t touch the fire, to global awareness. Starting with elementary issues like where to find food, water and shelter, what’s good to eat: wasn’t that the first science? And our ability to think, our capacity to understand, has grown and deepened and we are able to understand, to process exponentially more now, and the concepts we are processing now are exponentially more subtle, deeper, and requiring greater comprehension than any that we used to process. And at every step of the way, cultures have reflected this progress in art, in literature, in philosophy, in sciences like chemistry and medicine and astronomy and mathematics and geology and…  
All of that was a reflection of the consciousness of the culture. There were no sudden explosions of understanding on a cultural level; each change took its time to be absorbed. And now we have advanced to the point where we know so much more than anyone ever has, and we now have so much information at our disposal, and we know so much, and we have absorbed the computer and all of its thousands of interactions into every aspect of our lives. Now for the first time in history, whoever has access to the internet has access to so much, so quickly, and we have adapted to this enormous change so quickly and so completely, and it has all happened in the astonishingly brief period of about twenty years, and that is a phenomenon that I’d like someone smarter and better-informed than me to weigh in on. It is a staggering, astonishing change, but who is watching the changes in the subconscious, much less the sub-subconscious? Looking at our culture, if I was speaking, I’d say ‘let’s see what’s on television to see what’s interesting to our culture.’
I think “Crossing Over” with Jonathan Edwards the psychic, is gone now, but the Fall lineup for 2008 has all kinds of shows about psychics, mediums, ghosts, guides, angels, time travelers, superheroes and people with “special abilities,” and even reality shows about ghost-hunting, and all of this means something. They don’t put this stuff on the air if too few people watches it. They test them in sample groups and focus groups, and it tests well or it doesn’t get produced. They’ll take a chance, like with the time-traveling “Journeyman,” which didn’t catch on quickly, and it was yanked. Now there’s another show about a time-traveling cop to replace it. I think “Heroes” and “Medium” remain amongst the highest rated shows. Cable and the networks are putting on the supernatural stuff because more people are seeking… more.
I think the fact that people are so shut down emotionally- and so unable to experience real feelings anymore- accounts for the popularity of things like bungee jumping, sky diving, and all the horror films that have become increasingly graphic and shocking because it is increasingly difficult for people to feel anything. Fear is a real sensation, and as more people experience life through video gaming and films, and as they become more and more acclimated to these ersatz stimuli, the stakes must be raised by way of more hideous acts and more effective filming. Our inability to connect to our feelings has consequences in divorce, envy, dissatisfaction and despair throughout all cultures. 
I think that while no one seems to be looking for it, anyone looking at the cultural zeitgeist would see the overwhelming despair that infects our culture and the planet. Despair has led to shutting down our consciousness, our ability to perceive and process the despair over the way things are, and so we are not conscious of our place in the world. 
I forget- I think it’s 44%- but it’s a surprising proportion of the American population that changes their religion in their lifetimes, either as a personal choice or by marriage or as a member of a family that changes. All that change means that more people have the freedom to look elsewhere for what comforts them. People have always looked for… more, but more are doing it now. Books on the meaning of life abound, as do classes, lectures, seminars, self-help and discussion groups and DVDs. Many are looking for answers, and I think it’s because our brains are processing more advanced programs, and with the newly developed or newly activated neural infrastructure that processes these programs, we have developed a capacity for an awareness of higher consciousness, and it is grievously unfortunate that this has happened at the same time that all the local, national and global catastrophes that are unfolding and threatening consequences so dire impels us to shut down rather than open up to the exciting levels of understanding that are recently available to us. The fact is, we all have an increased level of consciousness, we’re all processing more complex programs, we are taking in more input, but only some of it consciously. We have an increased capacity for understanding, but with conditions as they are in the world, we have largely chosen to shut down our minds, which reverses the path that we have traveled since we first thought about ourselves.  
Just as we are more able to take in the increasingly subtle concepts of reality, more people than ever are shutting down access to higher thought, and yet many of these people are seeking answers, seeking some increased understanding out of our increased capacity for comprehension. Some have responded by seeking refuge in the certainty that fundamentalist religions offer, others prefer other paths, and they are legion. But however they find what they need, I am reminded of a Buddhist saying: "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear." And that’s as true of Elvis as it is of Einstein, and before him Planck and Bohr and Curie, and before them, DaVinci and Brunelleschi and Gutenberg and Galileo and Socrates and Akenhaten and all those known and unknown.
But however widely people search for answers, or however narrowly they limit their search for understanding, sacrificing the pain of awareness for the comfort of certainty, on a culture-wide level, a lot of people today are asking questions that they haven’t asked before- ever- in the history of all the cultures that have ever existed on our planet. I wonder if the change is reflected on a physical level, but we can’t know that because while we can now examine an MRI scan of our brains, unfortunately we didn’t invent MRI’s until just the past few years. (It makes me wish those eighteenth century doctors had thought of it, so we could get a good look at Isaac Newton’s brain. But that’s just me.) 
Whether it shows up electronically or not, I say there has been a change. It might not be a physical change, like new brain tissue or more neural or arterial pathways, or it could mean that whatever paths already existed there are now being more fully utilized, handling heavier traffic than they used to, all those centuries ago. C’mon, things have changed, and there have to be changes to reflect that. As above, so below, damn it… that’s all I’m sayin’.
A culture that has so thoroughly absorbed computers has changed its consciousness in a very fundamental way. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing because I’m not saying that, but as the changes manifest on the surface, despite what everyone knows about assumptions, I’m assuming that there are commensurate consequential changes below the surface. What you call “below the surface” is up to you. And if our favorite adage (which we all know and esteem, applies, then what we have grown into technologically is finally, after thousands of centuries of evolution, a physical-world analogue of a very, very mystical thing: the Akashic Record. We now, for the first time ever, in a grand technological and cultural leap forward, co-exist physically, technologically and culturally with a “higher reality,” and that very technology, which has only recently appeared in our physical world, has been almost instantly widely understood and utilized. At the same time, we are co-existing in a world increasingly aware of multiple dimensions and fractals, and other concepts that have been hidden forever, and that’s freakin’ amazing, people, and no one I know of is talking about it. Computers are installed and instilled in our lives, and everyone knows how to use computers but nobody is studying their impact on our consciousness. As for these two simultaneously existing realities, what will happen after they have a chance to co-exist over the next twenty years? I saw on “Sixty Minutes” just last night a segment about implanting computer chips into the brains of disabled people, who were then able to communicate with a computer by thought. The quadriplegics were unable to move anything but their eyes, but with the implants, by thinking where they “wanted” the cursor to go, it went and they “clicked” on the spot mentally. They were writing letters and lectures, doing research, emailing, surfing the internet, and playing music and games. That was on last night, the first of November. Last week I saw an ad for a “cap” with several leads to areas on your scalp with high neural sensitivity. The cap itself is tiny- smaller than a yarmulke- but the flat metal leads go out like limbs from the cap, and stretch about six inches, curving over the skull. It’s only $299 and with it, you can play video games- completely mentally (go to: www.emotiv.com). What’s going to happen after a few hundred years, at the increasing rate at which human consciousness is developing? We will be taking in and processing programs that, if shown to us now, would be incomprehensible. What would someone from a hundred years ago understand about our culture? They might learn how to operate our stuff, but the change in our consciousness would be inaccessible to that person. What about a hundred years from now, or a thousand? What will that be like? Will we still be using our bodies? Will everyone be psychic? Will we overcome disease and aging and all live as long as we want to? Will we all be free? What about love? What about happiness? What about the basics: will we have enough food and clean water? Enough room to live, enough heat, or the right to vote. Can we be what we want to be? My God- what if it’s like “The Matrix?”
All that is science fiction now, but fanciful speculation aside, a simple fact remains: things always change, and they are changing more rapidly now than ever before, and it’s going to get faster. There has been a steadily increasing rate of change over the millennia, and I posit that we have come to a critical point in our evolution at which two paths have begun to diverge at a dangerous time for one of them to be going backwards. Human civilization has advanced steadily, but changes that took place over hundreds or thousands of years, have been replaced by changes that take place within a few years. The more sophisticated we became, the more complex we became, and the faster the changes have been coming, and they are coming at a rate now that is well beyond anyone’s experience. In another “Seinfeld” show from the mid-90’s, Jerry’s friends were in line at a movie theater, waiting for Jerry to show up. I was amazed that they wore the clothes we wear and spoke the way we do, so they were obviously contemporaries, and yet none of them had a cell phone. They kept asking, “Where’s Jerry?” and, “Is Jerry coming?” and inside my head I was yelling at the screen, “Call him, you idiots! Take out your fucking phones and call him!” Friends, that was only 13 years ago! There were no put-in-your-pocket cell phones. There were no iPods, no downloading, no YouTube, and no internet. The changes are pervasive and are coming so fast that the rate of culture-wide change is without precedent. Ask anyone over 50: if they hear a car horn blow two quick toots, it always meant someone was tapping their horn to get someone’s attention, maybe yours, so you looked. But anyone under 40 grew up knowing it meant someone had just armed or disarmed the theft alarm in their car. Probably most people over 50 have adapted to the change, some have not. And our neurological systems have to have changed as we absorb the technological changes, no matter how seemingly insignificant. In this case, the change wasn’t as significant as is the significance of the change. So much is changing, in varying degrees of subtlety, and I don’t know if anyone is looking into it. Christians have a name for this concept: they call it the Quickening, but I think they have it wrong: I think there’s a Quickening; I think there was always a Quickening, but it’s not about Jesus coming back. 
I think the concept of the Quickening has been with us; it’s been the Quickening since the beginning, and I think it’s been coming all along, and it’s been here all along, and it’s always going to be coming. The increasing rapidity of the changes we are experiencing- that’s the Quickening. It’s always here, it’s the past as well as the future as well as the present, and it has always been, and is always coming. I think that anyone capable of actual foresight- be they called prophets or mystics or psychics, or madmen, they’ve seen it coming, but they’ve missed thinking of what’s coming by seeing it in terms of the future. Brunelleschi, Galileo, Shakespeare- they all created the future, but they did it in the present. It’s always here and it’s always coming, but it’s coming now at a much faster pace than ever, and on a deeper level than ever, and I know we must be changing on some level to accommodate the changes in the programs that we are using, and the changes must accommodate the increasing pace of the change. I don’t know if there is equipment to detect the change. But something has to be changing; I don’t know what it is, but I know it’s happening, and it’s pretty damn exciting.
New programs open up new paths and present new opportunities, but it cannot be ignored that while these new paths are either newly created or newly utilized, we are also contending with an unprecedented sense of despair and hopelessness which plagues virtually every society in the world, and I don’t know of anyone looking at the consequences of that despair. I think it’s causing a large-scale shutting down of contemplative thought. 
Remember that all forms of life- plants, animal, whatever stuff contains life- these can only thrive when their environment nurtures them, favors them and provides them with what they need to survive. That’s why elephants live there, but not here, and grapes grow here, but not there, coconuts there but not here. We are all live at the pleasure of our environment, and our consciousness is a part of the vast admixture that is our environment. It’s almost tautological, I know, but consciousness maintains a presence in our environment, and that environment now contains a deep, penetrating component of despair. If the environment we grow in contains an atmosphere of despair, that aspect has to have an incalculable effect on how we live.
Newer, more sophisticated pathways have opened to us, and we constantly fill them with junk like television and internet surfing and video games and cell phone calls and text messaging, and iPods and… we use constant input to drown out the despair, the sense of hopelessness and powerlessness for ourselves and our children, our families, for our country and for the planet. Powerlessness leads to despair, and a downward spiral develops with the deepening despair over our lack of power to alleviate our despair. It’s understandable why people hide from painful thoughts. Except it’s not about your family or your farm or your village any more, it’s about the planet and everyone’s existence.
We feed our need to avoid all that negative, painful, insightful input with all the artificial stimulus we can afford, which means less introspection, less reflection, less awareness- of ourselves and everything else. And there are, and there will continue to be, consequences for that. It is an immutable law of existence that everything has consequences. That there is a Quickening is clear, and the quickening rate of change is of unknowable promise and unknowable tragedy, and I wonder how it will play out. What will-what could- possibly happen over the next hundred, the next thousand years? I would not care to postulate, as such endeavors are far above my pay grade, and I remind you to be wary of those who do postulate on where this is all heading. But, of course, we don’t have to worry about any of that stuff if we’re a doomed species on a doomed planet, the way it looks like it’ll happen. Yeah, it’s looking bad for the planet, but it’s looking really, really bad for the humans.  
It’s a bummer about the planet, man.