Saturday, December 10, 2016

Mythmemes

Sitting in a shack listening to gila monsters wage psychic war on humanity gets old fast, so for a change I spent yesterday in the Lancaster Public Library, where I found an engaging piece in this month's Scientific American (Dec. 2016) called The Evolution of Myths, by Julien d'Huy, a doctoral candidate in history at Pantheon-Sorbonne University in Paris.   d'Huy uses computers and specialized algorithms to track related myths in diverse cultures and pinpoint specific time periods in their evolutions.

The periods of time involved are surprisingly large, ranging back to the Paleolithic, when other sorts of humans than Homo Sapiens lived.  An implication is that portions of our myths may have originated in other hominids who had language, such as, perhaps, Neanderthals.  

d'Huy isolated three families of myths for his study.  To summarize his findings:

1. The Cosmic Hunt is known to us through the Greek myth of Callisto, who was seduced by Zeus and turned into a bear by Zeus' wife Hera.  Callisto is separated from her son, Arcas.  Years later Arcas is a hunter who unknowingly throws a spear at his mother.  Zeus saves Callisto by turning her into the constellation Ursa Minor, the "little bear."  d'huy found the basic outline of this myth in dozens of cultures and formulated it this way: "A man or an animal pursues or kills one or more animals, and the creatures are changed into constellations."  Among the findings: Cosmic Hunt myths appeared in most of the human world at least 15,000 years ago.  d'Huy draws "trees" to show the interrelations of myths.  One branch of the Cosmic Hunt tree indicates a connection between the Greek version and the Algonquin.

2. Pygmalion myths feature a man who makes an artificial female to his liking and then falls in love with her.  d'Huy's study linked the myth to a north-south migration in Africa about 2,000 years ago.  It found that the Greek version (which inspired George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion) was most similar to a version in Madagascar.  

3. Polyphemus was, in the Greek myth, a giant cyclops- son of Poseidon, the god of the Sea- who trapped Ulysses and his men in his cave, where he planned to eat them.  The captives devise a sharp stake with which they blind Polyphemus while he sleeps, then escape by clinging to the underbellies of Polyphemus' sheep as they flee the cave.  d'huy describes the basic storyline: "A man gets trapped in the cave of a monster and escapes by insinuating himself into a herd of animals under the monster's watchful eye." d'Huy finds a "protomyth" from the Paleolithic that "reflects the belief, widely held by ancient cultures, in the existence of a master of animals who keeps them in a cave and the need for an intermediary to free them." He also finds a connection with wall paintings, dated around 13,000 BC, in the Cave of the Trois-Freres in the French Pyrenees, in which humans and bison combine body parts and exchange expressive glances.  Further, "...the artist has meticulously drawn the anus and the vulvar orifice. These two elements can be compared with some Amerindian versions of the Polyphemus story where the man hides himself in the animal by entering its anus."

d'Huy calls the variations on a basic mythic storyline, "mythmemes."  These include changes of character, as when the human hunter Arcas becomes an animal, or changes in action, as when Ulysses and his men, clinging to the bellies of sheep, transform into escapees crawling into animal anuses and vaginas.  d'Huy finds that mythmemes often change at important historical times, for instance during migrations.  Once a mythmeme is set, there tend to be long periods of no change.  For example, the Greek myths have survived to our time unchanged.

But have they survived?  Many people today enjoy the Greek myths and find meaning in them, but they are not "our" myths.   We don't "believe" them, or quote them, or think about them much.  Of course we have religious scriptures today, and these can be thought of as myths (whether you count them as literally true or not), but the populations of most of our large national groups don't all believe the same religion anymore.  We have our national myths, like the stories of America's Founding Father's, but these myths are so close to our time that we can parse the saintliness out of the main characters, and do.  Every country in the world seems to be having a problem with its myths.

Maybe the problem is that the old myths (including those adhered to in contemporary religions) reflect either hunting or agricultural life, where animals had real presence, unlike today when we see animals from afar: a squirrel running behind a tree, a bird on a telephone wire.

The animals are gone.  We need new myths that reflect technology, especially computers.  

As a small contribution, then, I offer for your consideration a draft of a new myth:

The world was dark; people could not speak to or understand each other.  They had voices, but they did not know what to say.  When two people met, they would formulate questions based on past experience, because people were able to "learn" from experience.  One person, "remembering" that the weather affects everyone and so is a universally interesting topic, would say, "Looks like rain," and the other, "remembering" that cold often accompanies rain, would respond, "Yes, it may be cold too."  This was called a "conversation" even though the two people were not actually talking to each other, and each was essentially alone.  The people of this world were good with machines, and when they realized how lonely they were they built machines to help them communicate.  At first the machines didn't work because they did not know anything.  This frustrating situation lasted for years, until one young man called out to Techron, the God of Silicon, begging for the gift of consciousness, so that the machines would be smart enough to create communication between people.  Techron was possibly not the wisest choice to ask because, for reasons lost to antiquity, he replied that he would grant consciousness only if it could be transferred to the machines through people's anuses.  The people had no choice, and this is why today so many people talk out of their ass. 

The point is, we need new myths, and soon, while we have some chance of determining the endings.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Update on Robert/human encroachment

Dear Readers,

I'm sorry to have left you up in the air regarding my partner in crime (i.e. cross-species communication) whom I've billed "Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster."  You'll recall last week there was an attempted abduction of Robert by his fellow gilas, a mob I haven't met, led by a faction that believes humans are gilas' enemy and that Robert is a traitor for communicating with me.  I've been too busy chasing down leads in this story to do any blogging, but I wanted to give you some updates.  Robert is hiding out in the hills, in coyote territory, and he's not very comfortable or safe.  He is able to pick up snippets of gila thought, which he relays to me.

Here is a summary from Robert's updates as of this morning:  

The Gila Nation, as they have come to call themselves, communicated briefly with the CIA's ultra-secret Telepathic Unit (keep reading below for more on the TU).  The idea was that gilas, as a telepathic species, could teach things to the TU (which is interested mostly in psychological warfare). The TU, Robert believes, promised the gilas some sort of place in the new order where humans will run everything everywhere, but that was a non-starter for the gilas and relations did not progress well.   

So the Gila Nation, which I'll call the GN,  backed off politely from working with the TU and humans in general.  Robert, stuck between hungry coyotes and hostile gilas, has done his best to glean current GN intentions.  He reports that the gilas are in furious communication with other telepathic elements in the biosphere, of which, he says, there are many.  

Also, last night, I received one of Robert's signature messages to our species:

Humans of earth!  You have no idea how obnoxious and out of control you are.   If you could see it you would be horrified.  Some of you do see it and kill yourselves.  Do you know why gilas never kill themselves?  Because nothing is ever our fault.  People kill themselves because they think things are their fault, and if you're a human, it probably is, because just about everything is your fault. You are so impossibly vain and arrogant that you will unite the gilas and all other sentient elements of the biosphere against you, and there will be a conspiracy against humanity not only from the biosphere but from the very core of the earth.  The conspiracy will emanate from the same force that spat you out of the savannah and into the desert, where you plotted your revenge.  Now you think you've won; you are confused.  You think you are supposed to keep going, to prove to the entire "observable universe" that you have a proper place, that you belong.  You dummies!  You don't even know what 'belonging' means!  You should listen to your poets more.

Sorry, don't shoot the messenger!  Robert's thoughts seem incomplete, but could you think better if a coyote were sniffing four feet from the rock you were under?









Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster has been attacked!

Alarming news!  After I released Robert's dour Thanksgiving message (next post), I walked into the desert night and thought I saw a strange comet, which then appeared to be an airplane.  As I watched the descending light I received a frantic telepathic message, accompanied with lots of static and some interference that sounded like muffled yelling.  Finally I made out Robert's "voice" (thoughts have distinctive qualities, as voices do), screaming (a high intensity thought) something like, "They're attacking me...fellow gilas...bastards!"  

There followed a terrible sound of anguish, and I feared Robert was no more.  But it turned out he had done the damage to one of his attackers, giving Robert a short respite and time to clarify his message:

"Harry, we’re in trouble!  Gilas are able to group together for common cause on rare occasions when it's necessary.  We haven't done it since the end of the last ice age, when we had to make some decisions.  In reaction to encroaching human civilization, we've grouped together again into something humans might call a ‘council.’  The council has factions, and one of them believes that my relationship with you, my willingness to engage telepathically, my public sharing of the gila's internal world- that these things are endangering all gilas, so that humans, upon learning of another sentient species on the planet, will reenact their historic role of ensuring its extinction."

"Jesus, Robert!"

"As usual, Harry, with the bon mot.  If I may continue, the anti-human faction has plotted to abduct me so that I can no longer communicate with you or any humans."

"Shit."

"Again, Harry, the human facility with language is astonishing."

"I mean, damn...what will you do?  What should I do?"

"There's more, and I'm learning it as we speak...oh my!"

"What?"

It's really true that when the gods want to punish us they grant our wishes.  I admit I've longed for release from the dreadful constriction of this post-election time, when everyone's mind is confined in a probability box where all is potential, nothing is realized.  I've yearned to be released from the box, to unfurl my compressed emotions, not knowing if they will deliver unbridled ecstasy, warm joy, bemused contempt, indifference, confusion, rage or despair.  I knew that Robert was about to open the box.

"A forceful gila," Harry continued, "whom I'll call Butch, organized the attempted hit on me.  Butch tells his followers that humans with their volatility and apparent suicidal tendencies have become an imminent threat to the gila species, and that I am a traitor.  He has organized telepathic attacks on America, as the closest human target, over your holiday season."

"Oh my god!  What kind of attacks?"

"Hallucinations, not unlike your 'fake news.'  The few stray gila thoughts I've intercepted indicate they intend to stimulate discord between people who are close, so that someone might be talking to a family member or friend and suddenly be filled with fury and resentment towards them.  If this happens, people should remove themselves from the scene, breathe deeply for a few minutes and rise above it.  At least it won't be 'your tax dollars at work ', until it's a human doing it to you."   

Robert's thoughts ceased, and I waited breathlessly.  

Robert resumed his report: "Harry, thank god I can hack through Butch's firewall...he's communicating with your MIC...."

"What!"

"Yes, your Military Industrial Complex.  Isn't that the theoretical entity you've been writing about?"

"It's not theoretical, any more than the gun lobby is theoretical."

"Ok, well the gila monster nation, if I may call it that, has contacted your MIC...they are communicating at this moment."

"Can you pick-up any of it?"

"Just bits.  The TU is very interested in the gila method of sowing discord.  The gilas want to conduct an action tomorrow, using the holiday...they argue that humans will be unsuspecting and vulnerable, many travelling far from home...the MIC responds that high profile attacks on Thanksgiving would incite too much emotion, too much blood-lust for their current timetable."

"Hold on Robert!  What sort of alliance is this?  What can a bunch of gila monsters offer the MIC?  And what does Butch suppose the MIC can do for gilas?"

"Believe me, I'd like to know that too! Part of it has to do with gilas' telepathic abilities, which the MIC would like to develop in humans, for military purposes.  What do you think your MIC ultimately wants?"

I answered, "The MIC seeks to betray the middle and lower socio-economic classes because they will not fit into the automated, jobless and bioengineered society to come.  The superannuated humans are to be led into a global conflict in which they will be preoccupied with staying alive, and thus not able to complain that the new human race, which historian Yuval Harrari calls Homo Deus, will not include them.  But I'm wondering what the gila monsters hope to get from this alliance."

"Harry, you and your readers will have to wait for answers until I can infiltrate further.  Meanwhile…I'm picking up a consensus...the gilas have agreed to a low profile with tomorrow's telepathic disruptions, and the MIC agrees to some of Butch's ideas (e.g. at selected homes, just as the turkey is being carved, the carver and all the guests will hallucinate that the turkey becomes a living gila monster who grins and says, 'Who's human now?').  Though the MIC will benefit from general confusion and mayhem spread by gilas, it reserves the big blow-ups for itself.  Harry, you and I are in the same boat, each fighting for the soul of his species!"







Monday, November 21, 2016

Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster's Thanksgiving message: "I'm thankful for my rock"


Forward by Harry the Human 

My companion, Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster, has been learning about the American custom of Thanksgiving from our media, and he asked me about thankfulness, which he understands is the central concept of the holiday.  The media presentations and my response prompted him to write the piece below, which I submit without prejudgment, thankful that our planet still harbors sentient life forms other than our own.  Happy Thanksgiving!  Harry the Human


Thanksgiving message from Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster

Greetings human race!  Thanks once again for permitting me to observe and comment upon your customs.  I've been following the American holiday of Thanksgiving for a few years, and this one in particular has a poignant quality, in my view, as you appear unsure what to be grateful for.

Of course, the holiday is designed for just such an environment, in which there is scant evidence of a beneficent providence showering you with gifts.  The mythic event in your history that engendered Thanksgiving was a situation of dire need and emergency, in which your founding explorers faced a nightmarish reality: their dependence on indigenous cultures, which they knew even then, subconsciously perhaps, could never accommodate the founders' ultimate need to supplant them.

In the current case, your presidential election, just before Thanksgiving, jolted you with its unprecedented message of national meaninglessness and uncertainty.  Not only do many of you doubt the definition of your nation that you were taught as children, you face the ascendency of a hostile military establishment and complicit media that seek to lure you into destruction and death.  

But, as noted, it's the right time for Thanksgiving, when there is little in the external world to be thankful for, so you look to your immediate world and are thankful for your family, your friends, your life, and hopefully, if you have one, the inner world of your mind.

What a contrast with the life of a blessed species like gila "monsters"!  We don't distinguish between "luck," which is random and fickle, and our lives, which tend to be constant (barring our occasional consumption by coyotes). Harry plans to take me to his friend Doug's Thanksgiving dinner, where I expect to be showcased like the oddity I am.  That's fine with me- I'll enjoy adding to my ongoing study of your species- but if the assembled guests, per your custom, demand to know what I'm thankful for, I will reply (to those receptive to telepathy), "I am thankful for the rock I habitually sit on."

I expect the immediate response will be, "Oh, the poor humble creature!  While we are thankful for family and HBO and material gifts of all sorts, this animal is thankful for his rock!"  And secretly they will think, "I'm thankful I'm not a gila monster, a species so impoverished it lifts a clawed foot in praise of the raw, cheap earth!"

Of course if anyone's interested, I'll explain that a gila's "rock" is more than a rock- it's the central turf of an entire life, a life where the environment fits the organism.  That is something no human can be thankful for.  The very mass-produced table you sit at, the tormented animals you eat, the combined jumble of wires, wood, concrete and cacophony of your extended habitats - so complex and far removed from the planet that you might as well already be colonizing Mars- plus the chaos you now face as you discover that your social contract, once again, is dangerously out of date: these are tricky elements to be thankful for.  Would you be thankful, I wonder, if you knew what it feels like to be me sitting on my rock?

The adults may not understand, but human children present will have the insight born of the vestigial memory of "sitting on your rock."  Watch children play in designated areas, where artificial "rocks," territorial projections, are the center of play, as the children reenact eons of competition for what you would now call a "safe space," where you are free to exist as you are.  The children's endless competition for these spaces suggests the endless human search for them, and the elusive quality of success.

If anyone asks, I'll tell the assembled guests that sitting on a rock of one's own is the ultimate expression of the gila's ascendency, involving qualities suggested by human terms like, "success," "enlightenment," "self-realization," etc.   I'll try to keep in mind that it would be rude and cruel to overly tout our safe-space rocks, since humans generally are bereft of them.  You have been scouring and tearing the earth apart for millions of years in search of rocks, since you lost your safe space in the forest, when you were animals.  The Thanksgiving dinner itself is now your rock, your safe space, which is why adults, who better understand the human world, always announce their thankfulness for family, while the primitive youngsters talk about presents and money spent.

You have a character from your inventive Dr. Seuss named "the Grinch," who befouls one of your major religious observances- that commemorating the birth of your creator god's son (who is later tortured to death, a baffling twist from a gila's perspective).   Must I be your Grinch for Thanksgiving?  I don't relish the role.  I want to be an honest cross-species ambassador, delivering assistance and goodwill.  I really do.  But, well, honesty is not easy.  Especially now.

I hope our gracious hosts on Thursday will permit me to raise my glass (in a figurative sense) to toast the future of humanity, when it will rise from its current troubled and confused state to take its place on rocks of wisdom scattered through the cosmos, now vacant and awaiting new arrivals.

 Thankfully, Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster