Posts Tagged ‘Consciousness’


January 20, 2011

I’ve been holding back from saying anything about the shooting in Tucson, waiting for more facts to emerge. But that may take awhile, and I’ve had some thoughts running around my skull that I want to get out.

First of all, I don’t buy the idea that the shooter wouldn’t have been influenced by the current heatwave of angry politics. It seems to me that most of the people who think this way (a majority of the country according to one poll) have a superficial understanding of the mind. Someone once described the common American way of looking at the mind as this: We believe that each of us lives in a completely isolated shell and the only communication that takes place is when someone writes a note on a piece of paper, ties the note to a rock, throws the rock at someone else, and the someone else reads it. It’s a materialistic idea of the mind—and a shallow one, even for a materialist. Whether anyone believe it exists or not, there is a commonly shared pool of consciousness. What we think and say matters.

But what I suspect is even more influential in the Tucson event is the urban/suburban environment we’ve created—the world of shopping malls, tract housing, and freeways. When I was touring the country behind the book and film I was able to see just how far it has spread. It is so vacuous and so soulless, and it’s everywhere now. I would look at these places and wonder about the young people who are growing up in them and never see anything else. Try standing in a mall parking lot at night under the stark lighting and take in that reality. It has no heart. It sucks the life out of you. I believe it’s driving people crazy. I first started seeing this world when I was 14, and it drove me to the brink of tears one day. I’ve spent the rest of my life trying to stay as far away from it as possible. If you’re a little lonely and a little off kilter while growing up in a place like that, there is no clearly true ethical or moral system that will support you. Life looks like a long bleak plain. Within the system we’ve created the only thing that really matters is that you find some job to carry you through until the day you die so that you don’t be a burden to anybody. What kind of job hardly matters. I seldom hear anybody talk about this, but I think it’s a vital aspect of what’s going on in the national psyche. I’m writing this in a bit of a hurry. I’m getting ready to leave town for a week. But I can’t imagine that even those who might disagree with me won’t understand what I’m trying to describe.

Love That Robot

November 25, 2008

Ten years ago, I was deep into a study of consciousness in animals. (To see my conclusions, read the chapter called “Consciousness Explained” in my book The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.) I was especially curious to know what scientists thought. One thing I found was a near constant frustration with what they saw as “anthropomorphism” in lay people.

One day, during my period of greatest preoccupation with the issue, I was listening to the radio and heard a scientist announce the “death” of the two Mars probes Pathfinder and Sojourner. I think it was someone from JPL. It had been a highly successful mission, and the scientist ended the announcement by saying in a voice that was drenched with exaggerated solemnity, “So, from all of us here at NASA to Pathfinder and Sojourner: Thank you…”