Be Prepared!

by James W. Harris, 5/18/22

Back in November, I had to jump-start my truck the old fashion way with cables off my wife’s car. It was tricky getting her car into position so my cables could reach. After that, I started parking my truck facing out in case it happened again. But I had also heard about these portable chargers and I got on Amazon and ordered a DBPOWER 1000A Portable Car Jump Starter (pictured above).

When it came in I couldn’t believe how small it was. It comes in a nice case, but the actual charger is about the size of a paperback book. I charged it up on 11/6/21 and stuck it under my truck seat. Today, I went out and discovered I had done the same dumb thing again – which is to not shut my passenger door tight after getting groceries out. I know, I’m a dumbass.

I immediately remembered the DP1000 and wondered if it was still charged up. It was. So it holds a charge for at least six months. It was damn simple to use. You plug in a small set of cables, connect red to positive, black to negative, turn it on the DP1000, and start the truck. It started instantly. I was so impressed. I’m going to get one for my wife’s car now.

I’m not advocating the model of device I got is the best. It says it was good for up to a 7.0L gas engine or 5.5L diesel. There’s a huge variety of them to choose from, even some that are combined with an air compressor. I already had one of those.

I was mightily impressed with this little device. I’ve helped jump other people’s cars with my cables and it hasn’t always been convenient to align the vehicles. This is the solution.

JWH

Why Do We Keep Repeating History When We Know We’re Repeating History?

by James Wallace Harris, 5/16/22

I’m listening to and reading Forgotten Peoples of the Ancient World by Philip Maryazak. It’s a quick overview of 40 civilizations of early history beginning with the Akkadians and ending with the Hephthalites. To be honest, I had only heard of less than half of these civilizations, mostly because of references in the Bible or from Greek and Roman history.

I’ve never studied ancient history much but I’ve recently gotten hooked on it, especially after reading The Horse The Wheel and Language by David W. Anthony, The Dawn of Everything by David Graeber and David Wengrow, and The Writing of the Gods by Edward Dolnick. The first two were a slog to get through but I still admired them. The Writing of the Gods was sheer fun and would probably appeal to many readers. Forgotten People of the Ancient World is a breezy summary, which I’m thoroughly enjoying, but it doesn’t go too deep. Perfect for me right now, but I’ll want to know more later. Actually, the entries on Wikipedia cover more for each civilization than Matyszak’s chapters, but his book integrates a digestible narrative with inspiring photos and maps making it easier to read.

When you read/listen to one summary of a civilization after another, it’s pretty damn obvious that humankind is on repeat mode. Humanity is Phil Connors in Groundhog Day, but we never learn how to break the cycle. You’d think with all this history we’d figure it out the secret.

Some cycles are obvious, like the rise of powerful leaders. Why do we call Alexander III of Macedon the Great? Sure, he conquered a lot of territories but he also killed, destroyed, and plundered. We hate Putin today for what he’s doing in Ukraine, but how was Alexander III of Macedon any different? We really should call Alexander, Napoleon, Hitler, Putin, and every other empire builder the monsters of history.

That’s the number one cycle we keep doing over and over, which is to allow egomaniacs to become rulers. We’ve tried to avoid that by creating democracy, but as you can see from recent times that doesn’t always succeed at controlling men who want more. And even then democracies sometimes go around and destroy other countries too, just like would-be emperors. Humans have this thing about destroying their enemies and expanding their territory. Like Rodney King, I must ask, “Can’t we all just get along?”

A less obvious cycle we repeat is the reverberation between big government and small government. All the successful civilizations grew, needing central control to keep things organized. The central government of the Akkadians had to build vast irrigation systems which required taxes and governmental infrastructure. There are always people who resent that. They rebel and undermine the central government and civilization erodes and eventually collapses. Why can’t we find a balance between secure political structures and personal freedoms?

We fail to be good stewards of the Earth and overtax Mother Nature with our endless growth and consumption. Nor do we save for the future to withstand random destructive acts of nature. Humanity is no Boy Scout, it’s never prepared.

Another hit on the Top Repeat list is ignoring reality. We feed our hatreds and greed with crazy ideas and justifications. We’re always our own worst enemy.

I feel like we’re living in end-of-civilization times. Reading about history is somewhat soothing but for a strange reason. It promotes stoical thinking.

Here’s a neat video on YouTube about how chaos theory predictions patterns of disorder in ordered systems. We live with entropy, and civilization is anti-entropic. It helps to understand both chaos and complexity theory. It won’t help the world to know this, but at least it explains some things.

JWH

Why Did I Dream About the Dead Woman?

by James Wallace Harris, 5/15/22

A vivid emotional dream woke me. The dream was short, but it gave off an intensity. I was in a room, but I don’t think it was me. I was watching two men struggle with a dead woman trying to lay her body out straight. She wasn’t fat, but she was somewhat big, maybe tall, and around 160-170 pounds. There was a short man at her head and a taller man at her feet. I never saw their faces. The woman had died in a fetal position, tangled up in a quilt. The two men were lifting her up to stretch her out on her back. My impression was they were going to take her away, so maybe they were funeral people. I apologized to them for not helping, but I didn’t tell them I was afraid to get too close to the dead woman. I felt that strongly. I don’t know if we were related, but she was in her forties, much younger than me, but then who I was in the dream was younger too.

The woman was bald, and when they got on her back and arms folded on her chest, they stood up. The woman’s head then quickly sprouted short dark hair and she turned her head towards me and gave a beautiful smile. Shocked, I pointed exclaiming, “Look, she’s alive!” But when they looked down again, she was dead like before.

That was the end of my dream.

I’ve been reading books and watching documentaries about ancient Egypt and I wondered how ancient people would have interpreted this dream. Ancient Egyptians were obsessed with the underworld. All through history people have tried to make dreams meaningful. I wonder if this dream was supposed to be a message to me? I didn’t know the woman. And I’ve never believed in dream interpretation, yet I wondered why I dreamed this dream. Was it only my unconscious mind sorting information?

At 70, I’ve known a lot of people who are no longer with us. And since my body is obviously in decline, I don’t think I’ll be around for many more years. A dream about death seems important. When I woke up I wasn’t frightened. It wasn’t a nightmare. But I was puzzled.

Since I’m an atheist I don’t think we exist after death. But what if I’m wrong? Lately, there are been a lot of speculation about this universe being a simulation. What if I died and came to in another existence, and then realized I had been in some kind of virtual reality, wouldn’t that be weird? But then, what happens when I die in that reality?

I am amazed at my dreams for another reason. How does my brain generate images? Or construct stories? Often my dreams feel like productions equal to short movies. If I have a speech center of the brain, where is the movie studio center? What’s weird is I have that condition, aphantasia, that keeps me from visualizing imagery in my waking life. Yet, I have no trouble generating imagery in my sleep. I used to generate imagery when I was high, but that’s been half a century ago.

By the way, do we really see movies in our dreams? Sometimes I think dreams are a series of images, each one triggering an emotion, giving the illusion of movement.

I can easily understand how primitive people could believe what they did about dreams – they seem so real. The more I read about consciousness the more I believe my perceptions are very limited. And the more I read, the less I feel like I know anything.

I’m always amazed at people who are so confident in their beliefs. I’m sorry, but I assume you’re delusional. I know I am. The more I read, the more ways I’ve come across in which we fool ourselves. I guess you think I read too much.

Most of my dreams are about desperately searching for a bathroom and I wake up needing to pee. You may laugh at that, but isn’t it rather straightforward. Isn’t my unconscious mind just saying, “Wake up and go pee!” If it can be so direct about something so basic, what is my unconscious mind telling me when it shows me a smiling dead woman?

JWH

Just Who Slept With the Pods?

by James Wallace Harris, 5/14/22

In the 1956 film, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Dr. Miles Bennel (Kevin McCarthy) realizes his friends and neighbors are changing. One by one they all start thinking alike and that worries him. If you haven’t seen this famous film about the pod people you should. It’s based on a 1954 Collier’s serial by Jack Finney called The Body Snatchers, which was then published as a book in 1955.

The story is about an invasion of pods from outer space that transform people if they sleep in the same room with one. Back in the 1950s, the story was seen as an allegory about communism. Finney has said he didn’t target communism specifically when he wrote the book, but most readers and moviegoers did back then.

In 1951, Robert Heinlein had published a similarly themed novel called The Puppet Masters. In that story, flying saucers land with creatures that attach to our backs, and take over our bodies and minds. Heinlein was an arch anti-communist, and his story was intended to imply the evils of a commie takeover.

In 1953 Robert Sheckley’s story, “Keep Your Shape” reflected a liberal’s paranoia. It appeared in the November issue of Galaxy Science Fiction. Sheckley rewrote the story for his collection Untouched by Human Hands and gave the story a much more elegant ending and a different title, “Shape.” It’s a humorous story told from the aliens’ point of view, about how they invaded the Earth twenty-something times and always failed. The aliens come from a rigid society of shape-shifting creatures whose God dictates that everyone has to maintain a certain shape. On Earth, the aliens are corrupted by our freedom when they see that we take so many different shapes. Sheckley’s story was anti-establishment and anti-conforming.

My point in mentioning all these stories is I feel like the conservatives have been sleeping with pods or have an alien riding on their backs. I feel this because they all seem to speak the same way. It’s kind of creepy to see political ads for Republicans because they all claim to toe the party line better than any other Republican. They all claim to hold the same beliefs. And their followers all repeat the same soundbites. I’m sure conservatives feel the same way about us liberals.

A couple days ago The New York Times ran a book review called “Where Have All the Liberals Gone?” The conservatives have made the term liberal such a dirty word that liberals are now calling themselves progressives. Conservatives have aligned themselves so tightly with Donald Trump that it reminds me of the fanatics who follow Putin and everything he says.

It makes me feel like the Kevin McCarthy character wondering when I will fall asleep and wake up a pod person. I no longer think of communism when I watch Invasion of the Body Snatchers, I think of everyone following one leader, one strong man’s view. If you look at history, the dangerous horrors of the past didn’t come from ideologies, but from single men pushing their view of reality onto everyone else.

I no longer understand what conservative or liberal philosophies means, even if they ever had a consistent description of their goals. I’m now thinking it’s always been individual men pushing their own philosophy onto other people. (I use the word men because I can’t think of any women dictators in history. I hope women won’t mind me being sexist in this instance.) That’s why Trump is so popular – people resonate and relate to him. He is their political philosophy, no matter how you label it.

I want a true democracy. But I don’t think it will ever work when winning is defined as a 50% majority. I think it needs to be at least 60%, and better yet, a winning majority should be defined at 75%. I want to live in a society where we work to compromise and create laws that attempt to make 100% of the population happy. It will always fail to reach 100% agreement, but if we could work out compromises where 60-75% of the population come to some kind of agreement, then I think we could escape our never-ending political polarization.

Right now we vote for our self-interests. And we vote for candidates that come closest to those self-interests. I have to accept that Trump is a beacon shining on what a lot of people want. But as long as half the country wants something different we’re going to have a miserable society.

When 50% is the finish line for any political agenda, we’re going to be ruled by pod people. I think real democracy begins when 75% of the population hammers out good compromises. I don’t think one politician with one point of view could ever find that many followers. Maybe we should move away from politicians and have referendums on everything. If we can’t find ways to get three-fourths of us to agree, then we should do anything.

It doesn’t matter which side of the political spectrum you live on, if we have minority rule, or even 50% majority rule, half the country will always feel they are living with pod people.

JWH

Subjective Time

by James Wallace Harris, 5/11/22

I’m in a short story club where today’s discussion story is “Common Time” by James Blish from 1953. This blog will be my comment to the group, but I feel my insight is personal enough for this blog.

“Common Time” is about an astronaut in an experimental spaceship traveling at twenty-two times the speed of light. When the astronaut regains consciousness after launch he can’t move and it takes forever to open his eyes. He discovers that time is moving very slowly. He is able to count to 7,200 between each tick of the second hand on his clock. Eventually, his perspective speeds up until the hour hand is flashing around. The story is about how this astronaut reacts to the different perspectives of time.

I think time is a fascinating topic. I use the picture of a hummingbird above to illustrate subjective time. To a hummingbird, a human appears like a statue, frozen in time. I’ve often wondered how an intelligent robot will perceive time. The clock speed of computer chips is currently in the gigahertz range – that’s billions of cycles per second. Will AI minds even notice us? Of course, their bodies won’t be able to move a billion times faster than ours.

I also like to think about the concept of now. Is there a universal now everywhere? Now exists without clocks. Now can exist without even the concept of time. If we had a smartphone connection to a planet 1,000 light-years away that had an instant speed of communication we could talk to our alien friends in the now. Is that true for the whole universe? Or do different locations experience different nows? What about the multiverse? Is there one moment of now everywhere? Or many?

How long is the moment of now to a hummingbird or future robot?

Yesterday I woke up feeling better than I have in years. I noticed this when I was planning my day. I felt good enough to plan to work on a long-term project. Lately, I haven’t been feeling good, and the only things I wanted to do were those activities that focus on the moment. I was disappointed yesterday when less than two hours later after my aches and pains returned I only felt like reading, watching TV, or listening to music. I loved that feeling I had more time.

I can remember being young and feeling like I had all the time in the world to do everything I ever wanted to do. I’m writing this essay early in the morning because I feel like I have enough time to finish it. I won’t feel like that in a little while.

Jim Harris

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