The Broadcast (A Quantum Bedtime Story)

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Part I

It was October 3, 1954.  Yu Nguyen had just arrived at the Dumont Network headquarters in New York for his overnight shift as an unpaid intern.  It was 11:45 pm and the control room console was alight with The John Hopkins Science Review which was currently boring the hell out of approximately 30 insomniac viewers across the Tri-State area.  This was always, somewhat fittingly, the final broadcast of the night before the network signed off.

Yu Nguyen was feeling mischievous.  This may have been a trait inherited from his parents, Vietnamese immigrants and physics researchers whose whip-smart wit often failed to penetrate the dense minds of their new American colleagues and acquaintances. The pronunciation of their son’s name was a bilingual pun that invariably went right over the heads of Americans who insisted on addressing him as “Yoo Nah-Goy-Een”.

In less than 15 minutes, the closing credits of The Review would give way to a ghostly image of the Stars and Stripes billowing in a slo-mo breeze to a blaring brass band rendition of the National Anthem.  Then a test pattern would appear accompanied by a sustained high-pitched tone.  On most nights, it was Yu’s job to sit in a chair and watch the test pattern, seemingly to ensure that it remained appropriately dull and pointless until programming resumed at 6:00 am.  But tonight, he had tasked himself with something far more stimulating.

He reached into the pocket of his long peacoat and retrieved a pair of scissors.  Then he stood up and sifted through a shelf of film reels until he found the one containing last night’s episode of Captain Video and His Video Rangers.  Finally, he fished a small cigarette lighter from his breast pocket.  With all the necessary tools now at hand, Yu set to work snipping, splicing and fusing until he’d successfully created 10 seconds of celluloid-borne live action so cryptic that it would nearly drive the entire species insane.  But that turn of events would have to wait a full century before coming to fruition.  Tonight, Yu’s subversive handiwork would manage to mildly confuse precisely one person: William Blotnick, an out-of-work CPA who was staring at a TV in the Bellevue drunk tank at the onset of the worst case of delirium tremens he had ever experienced.

Over the course of that interminable night, William saw all kinds of horrifying things.  He saw spiders marching in lockstep up and down his forearms.  He saw winged bedpans and snarling, angry thermometers.  And when he glanced up at the television that was bolted to the wall across from where he lay, he saw the test pattern suddenly transform itself into an image of terrible actor Al Hodge in the role of Captain Video speaking to a younger terrible actor named Don Hastings.  Here’s the dialogue that accompanied the unexpected scene:

Hodge:  The fate of the galaxy depends on your completion of this most vital mission.

Hastings:  But Captain, why have everyone’s faces disappeared?  Where have they gone?

Hodge:  It’s too late for them, Ranger.  Dark matter swallows every face in its path.

Hastings:  I want them to come back!  Where are my parents?

Hodge:  In the universe just over there, Ranger.  If you reach them, the price of your reunion will be the annihilation of the galaxy.  Forget about them.  Forget about everyone!  Now go!  Your very life, as well as your pudgy little face depend on how well you balance yourself at the edge of the Event Horizon.

Then, just like that, William found himself staring at the static image of a test pattern again.  The whole interlude had been so unexpected that even the flying bedpans and threatening thermometers had paused to take it in.

In less than a year, William Blotnick would die of kidney failure.  Yu’s little prank would have no further effect upon anyone for the next hundred years.

On October 3, 2054, Susan Biers-Cohen was taking a midnight jog along the exercise trail that surrounded the sleepy condominium community in which she lived.  She was about to have a most bizarre and inexplicable experience triggered by subtle subatomic processes that had occurred over the course of the past century.

Back in 1954, at the conclusion of the surgically spliced scene from Captain Video, the photons of light that had danced together to form those 10 curious seconds of television became entangled.  Invisibly and outside of experiential space-time, the scene played over and over, theoretical only for lack of an observer but as real as the tree that falls in the forest unwitnessed.  New episodes of Captain Video and The Science Review and The Morey Amsterdam Show were shown every night, followed by the National Anthem and six hours of a static black and white test pattern.  This daily sequence of events continued until the entire network went under in 1956 and all of it receded into obscure pop culture history.  Except for 10 inexplicable seconds that refused to be forgotten.  They were now poised to change the course of Susan Biers-Cohen’s life before going on to change the course of history.  And with the benefit of hindsight, it’s rather incredible to note that back on October 3, 1954, Yu Nguyen had found his own sly trickery worth no bigger a reaction than a quick, self-satisfied chuckle.

 

Barking In Tongues

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Echolocation, also called bio sonar, is the biological sonar used by several kinds of animals. Echolocating animals emit calls out to the environment and listen to the echoes of those calls that return from various objects near them. They use these echoes to locate and identify the objects. – from Wikipedia

“Hey, Tim. How was your weekend?”

“Good!  Too short!”

“Ha ha!  I hear ya!”

How many times on an average day would you guess that you engage in seemingly obligatory but wholly pointless noise making similar to the hypothetical exchange above?

The opening question masquerades as genuine interest in the specifics of Tim’s weekend.  It is actually an example of human echolocation – releasing sound into the atmosphere in the hopes that it might find a recipient who will confirm the questioner’s existence by replying to the rhetorical query.  Tim’s reply, which consisted of a nondescript monosyllabic answer, followed by the most stereotypical and painfully un-funny verbal garnish he could possibly have pulled from his ass, served two purposes: 1) maintaining his social status by reacting to speech with speech, as is culturally expected; and 2) seizing on an opportunity for Tim to perform his own act of echolocation which was successful immediately upon his acquaintance’s insincere laughter reaching his ears.  Not a whit of useful information – or any information, for that matter – was exchanged in the brief conversation, but its real motivation was fulfilled.  Two insecure people just reinforced their own sense of self by using each other as literal sounding boards.  If you’ve ever been awoken in the middle of the night by the incessant barking of several neighborhood dogs, then you’ve witnessed the exact same behavior from our canine friends.  If a dog bark can be translated into English, I suspect the closest word we possess to convey its meaning is “hey!”  For whatever reason, dog #1 shouts “hey!” into the night air and quickly receives a response from the dog next door.  “Hey!” says the dog next door, causing the dog three doors down to assert its own existence: “Hey!”  Before you know it, a canine cacophony befalls the neighborhood and your sleep is ruined.  So you grab your phone, call a friend and say, “Hey.”

One might reasonably suspect by now that I harbor an out-sized distaste for most human communication.  And that person would be right.  But my real inspiration for writing about this topic with such frequency is not simply to express my feelings about it – or perform typewritten feats of curiously verbose echolocation, if you will – but to hopefully make the reader take a microscope to their own utilization of speech (or text) as an ego reinforcement tool.

Despite the increased levels of noise that we make, I’ve noticed that what can actually be called “conversation” is a rarity to hear.  We utilize language to compose self-serving monologues that we speak to each other ignorant of the fact that our dueling cross-purposes make it impossible for either person to hear the other.  When there is no one present at whom we can speak, our internal monologues kick in.  Digitally, we increasingly search for the perfect “meme” to send to everyone in our contacts list so that we can continue to assert our existence without having to say anything at all.  “Look at this funny thing that someone else wrote!  Ha ha – doesn’t that just perfectly describe ME?”  Unless the meme addresses a pathetic lack of originality and creativity, the answer to that question is no.  But I digress.

On the surface, this human tendency towards pointless loquacity might seem somewhat innocuous.   In truth, it is the very thing that keeps our species mired in ignorance of its true nature and interdependent relation to everyone and everything that exists.

If humanity were to have a sudden collective epiphany about the ways it refuses to face reality through verbal distraction, the first important steps toward the eradication of war, injustice, poverty and hatred will have been taken.  Did that sound over the top?  Melodramatic?  Hopelessly simplistic?  If so, that’s just because you haven’t been listening.  Behind these words is a profound silence, something that my typewritten communication is woefully inadequate to impart.   Simultaneous internal and external silence is the only state in which one can hear another.   Our increasing refusal to cease expressing ourselves even for an instant ensures that we no longer internalize the suffering or joy of anyone else.  Our capacity for empathy is diminished with every needless sound that we make.  A lack of empathy is synonymous with a lack of humanity.  War, injustice, poverty and hatred can only exist when sufficiently nourished by inhumanity.

Becoming intimately and fearlessly acquainted with one’s own mind is only daunting because it demands an unforgiving silencing of your ego voice – the voice that constantly expresses the belief in its own intrinsic worth and indispensability.  I assure you – you will not disappear if you release your iron grip on identity and control.  But you might just learn that your identity is false and you never had any control over anything in the first place, at which time, you will be on the doorstep to freedom.

I do not have any instruction to impart.  Instruction is the purview of belief systems and belief systems are just another example of our imagined importance or even imagined fucking divinity.  When no two people share the exact same views or experience of phenomenality, how can a preconceived, self-conscious system of beliefs possibly apply to anyone, let alone everyone?  As soon as you grace an idea with the suffix “ism”, it becomes its own imagined authority that will allow for no deviation from its stated doctrine.  And yet no two people think alike, even if their self-expression is nearly identical.  There are as many conceptions of Christ as there are Christians.  As many of Buddha as there are Buddhists.  And to make things even more convoluted, no one has yet provided irrefutable proof of the existence of either of those alleged men of old other than as central figures in scriptural prose.   If you have the courage, abandon adopted views and beliefs by simply understanding them as such.  Take an honest assessment of the things you hold dear and ask yourself why without fearing the answer you may receive.  You might just find (god forbid!) that you can think of almost no activity as motherfucking self-consciously arrogant and proudly boring as meditation.  Or that you’ve been secretly aware, all along, that formal prayer is the spiritual equivalent of talking to the toaster.  Admittedly, these realizations are initially scary.  But if you can manage to sit with them long enough without struggle, you might just find that they are the very stuff of liberation.  Enlightenment.  Holiness.  Divinity.  Whatever your preferred “ism” mistakenly calls that ineffable thing constituting our true nature-less nature.  But be very, very still.  You can only hear it in utter silence.

Shhhh.

Born – Married – Dead

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Dubiously celebrated pop-artist Andy Warhol famously opined, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”.  In this age of viral flashes-in-the-pan, it’s tempting to attribute impressive prescience to Mr. Warhol for having made this prediction several decades prior to the dawn of the internet.  But in doing so, one would need to square that suspicion of genius with Warhol’s curiously soup can-heavy body of visual art, not to mention countless cinematic nightmares that collectively served as a platform for Divine to somehow make transvestism even campier than it already was.

It seems more reasonable to believe that the very definition of fame has changed immeasurably since the days when one actually had to sing or act or invent or win Super Bowls or commit mass murder if he or she desired renown beyond their small circle of acquaintance.  Since “fame” is such an amorphous term that self-adjusts to the times, let’s generously call a “fame-worthy” event something that at least merits a mention in the local paper.  If you’re Ariana Grande, that event might be an unexpected sneeze or a new ass-cheek tattoo.  But for most of us, there are only three events that our culture considers important enough to report in the press: birth, marriage and death.  Two of these events are universally inevitable, of course, which leaves only one wild card – marriage – to potentially set one apart from every past, present and future member of the species.  And yet more than half of the earth’s population enters into this meaningless love contract at some point, so everyone feels that their particular ritual must stand apart from the rest.  In the US, this usually translates to celebrating the monumental event by inviting friends and family to a big hall where they eat, drink and perform the Chicken Dance.

So you were born a number of years ago and you recently invited a bunch of your family and friends to a big hall to eat, drink and perform the Chicken Dance.  What’s left?  That’s right.  The day you begin the slow transformation into a pile of mulch.

Where does this leave those of us who have already exited a vagina and opted, for whatever reason, to eschew the sacrament of marriage?  It may seem hopelessly bleak, at least in the minds of people who estimate their life’s value by the number of “major events” it has thus far contained.  The entire template of the popular version of a life worth living is precisely what keeps us so miserable.  And if we’re not exactly miserable, then we’re anxious to the point of distraction at the prospect of losing the fruits of our accomplishments.

Everything is relative, and to what you choose to relate is your only real freedom of choice.  If you choose to compare your experience to the current cultural image of a successful life, you are doomed to disappointment sooner or later.  You may fail to live up to such an image or the image itself might just change into something completely incompatible with your past ideas of success and happiness.  But what if you instead chose reality itself as the constant against which you compare your experience?

Reality is flux.  It is perpetual interdependent change as viewed through a perpetually changing mindset.  There are as many experiences of reality as there are lifeforms on the planet.  In other words, reality is personal rather than static and definable.  A primitive method of utilizing this knowledge is to buy into a religious tradition with an attractive afterlife cosmology.  This time-honored tradition continues to imbue countless people with an undeserved sense of eternal importance, but it demands more than a little subconscious suspension of disbelief.  Incidentally, that’s also what’s needed to sustain a good case of paranoid schizophrenia.

In case you didn’t notice, I just extracted all tangibility from the term “reality”.  The reason you’d be hard-pressed to find just two scientists or theologians in agreement as to its real nature is because it is nothing more than a will-o-the-wisp.  Its very emptiness is what enables us to personalize it in any way we wish.

For the purposes of this post, let’s agree that the undefinable, ineffable nature of reality renders it essentially meaningless.  Or we can just say that something so open to eternal debate without hope of a logical consensus is, quite literally, nothing.  No-thing.  This is precisely why it is the ideal concept to use as the fulcrum in your own experience of relativity.  Compare your life, your actions, your words and feelings to this grandiose no-thing called reality.  Since a thing cannot be meaningfully compared or related to a no-thing, doing so might just be the very definition of freedom.  There is nothing in the Universe that can render your life good or bad, worthy or unworthy, meaningful or meaningless, including you.  Once this sinks in, you will inevitably stop indulging in such self-important mythology and learn to simply live.  Experience.  Explore.  Laugh, cry, yell and scream while understanding the utter frivolity of it all.  Get married.  Get a tattoo on your ass cheek.  Adopt a lemur.  Move to Scranton.  Become a Scientologist.  Eat a tennis ball.  Whatever the fuck you want to experience, go ahead and experience it.  And remember that it means absolutely nothing because you mean absolutely nothing because the Universe has given us all the priceless gift of experiencing what it’s like to be thinking, feeling, conscious beings that came from, are composed of, and will return to absolutely nothing.

Carpe diem.

 

Missionary Position

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On November 17, 2018, John Allen Chau, the genius whose mug adorns this post, was killed by the indigenous inhabitants of North Sentinel in the Andaman Islands off the coast of India. His demise was caused by a combination of puncture wounds inflicted by bow and arrow and his own abysmal stupidity.

Mr. Chau was a Christian missionary working under the auspices of All Nations in Kansas City, MO, an evangelical missionary group whose statement of purpose reads: “All Nations aspires to see disciple making movements in every people group of the world so that Jesus may be worshipped by every tongue, tribe and nation”.

I wonder if the surviving members of All Nations understand how invasive and annoying a “people group” they constitute.

Before arriving at a point loftier than fish-in-a-barrel mockery, I hope you’ll indulge a bit more of that in the form of a few pointed facts I gathered from articles about the murder act of self-defense that took Mr. Chau’s life. As is the case with most “humble” servants of Christ, Mr. Chau seemed to have a confoundingly high opinion of himself. A journal entry logged shortly before he reached the island declared that “Jesus bestowed me with the strength to go to the most forbidden places on Earth.” You see, Mr. Chau had convinced himself that an eccentric Jew from Nazareth who may or may not have actually lived over 2,000 years ago was somehow able to shield his bumbling disciple from harm while spreading “His” message to people who are, at best, profoundly disinterested in hearing such foreign-tongued nonsense. Immediately upon reaching the island, our intrepid buffoon found himself face to face with weapon-wielding tribesmen. Like most people under the influence of such acute Jesus intoxication, he greeted them by bellowing, “MY NAME IS JOHN! I LOVE YOU AND JESUS LOVES YOU!” I have to assume that his view changed abruptly just before he met his fitting end at the hands of these unassuming natives. Finally understanding the inevitable results of his own folly yet still refusing to cop to it, his final journal entry contained the following course-correction: “Lord, is this island Satan’s last stronghold where none have heard or even had the chance to hear your name?” The fatal arrow shot served as a perfect answer to this ridiculous theological-rhetorical query. (“YES,” said god).

Mr. Chau’s family has since released a statement declaring that they “forgive” the tribesmen, something that I’m sure elicited a resounding sigh of relief from all 50 members of this isolated band of people who are perhaps the last on Earth that understand the importance of minding their own fucking business.

A dissection of the specific dogmatic beliefs of psychotically enthusiastic Christian missionaries could fill a library, so in the interest of brevity, I’d just like to expose the real self-conscious motivation behind the act of uninvited proselytizing. Of course, those prone to such viewpoint assaults aren’t confined to the realm of deistic religion. Anything will do, really. Those who expend such futile effort in the attempt to convert others to their point of view are almost always looking for two things: 1) Validation of said views to bolster one’s own confidence in the specific religion, political movement, etc.; and 2) praise from like-minded others. Regardless of the content of the proselytizer’s speech, God or communism or veganism or Buddhism or Antidisestablishmentarianism have nothing to do with the decision to bloviate so shamelessly. A desire to be recognized, vindicated and praised is the sole cause of such audacious verbal coercion.

A truly humble individual does not proselytize. Attempting to enforce one’s own paradigm onto a group of people who are perfectly happy with their own is an act of emotional violence. On the rare occasion that I meet a self-professed Christian who actually seems to embody the ideals of humility, compassion and charity, I have to check my own broad-brush judgment of people I do not know. This is a healthy thing to do and I encourage everyone to turn their focus inward and root out this latent hypocrisy that we all harbor to varying degrees. But only if you want to, of course.

It bothers me that there are still people out there who do not understand the existential danger posed by the moronic authoritarian in the White House. It also bothers me that there are still people out there who honestly believe that one’s complexion says anything at all about one’s worth. And yes, it bothers the living shit out of me that, according to a recent poll, over 65% of Americans indicated that they believe in “the devil”. But all of that botheration is on me, not the Trumpies or the bigots or the bogeyman battlers. It’s a pretty safe bet that if I truly embraced the radical live and let live viewpoint that I espouse, I’d have precious little about which to ponitificate on this page. But that would be a very small price to pay and it might even make me a welcome visitor should I ever find myself washed ashore on a remote island inhabited by people who have had no contact with the modern world.

There’s a case to be made for devout agnosticism.  It’s a shame I couldn’t share it with John Allen Chau.

Stupid Questions

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A few moments ago, I gave my dog a bath.  I’d been unconsciously stroking his head as I sat out on the balcony and noticed he’d accumulated quite a bit of grime since his last ablutions.  It seemed as though he’d been washed very recently although in reality, I’d neglected that chore for over a month and a half.  “How did you get so filthy already?” I asked my non-conceptual, non-verbal pet.  Quickly understanding the silliness of posing such a question, I tried again: “How did a month and a half go by so fast?”  Strike two.

Two weeks ago today, I was on an airplane on my way to New Jersey to attend my mother’s funeral.  The preponderance of emotion inherent in that situation ensured that it left a greater imprint on my psyche than did the occasion of the last time I bathed the dog.  Though the images in my memory from that weekend are considerably more vivid than those I retain of routine daily events, they seem distant, as if my mother’s death and its immediate aftermath happened years ago.   As it is a human tendency to take refuge in the mundane and the familiar, when life’s unforeseen but inevitable upheavals occur, our minds are forced — usually under considerable duress — to immerse themselves fully in the situation at hand lest we risk unskillful negotiation of a delicate situation.  We say that we “rise to the occasion” or other self-congratulatory platitudes because this reminds us that the person enduring the unexpected event is the same person who engages in comfortably predictable day-to-day activities most of the time.  But is it the same person?  Right now, I feel like a guy who just gave his dog a bath and then for some unfathomable reason, decided to sit down and write about it.  I do not feel like a guy who recently flew home to bury his mother.  Who am I?

That simple existential question, “who am I?” is the key to understanding our glaring misunderstandings about our lives and the meaning we apply to them.  But if the question is posed with attachment to the ostensible subject of the query, it can also become the root cause of our suffering.  In other words, “I” should be understood as a feeling, not a concrete phenomenon and “who” should be understood as a verbal convention that merely posits the inquisitor as a consciousness as opposed to a teacup.  The question is only useful if it calls our sense of self into doubt because this solidification of fluid process into static entity is humanity’s first, biggest and only significant mistake.  (Rabbit Hole aside: can anyone actually make a “mistake”? Who decides that an action is wrong and by what inherent standards?  Are there any inherent standards?)

The Buddhists instruct us to do it like this, in a series of maddeningly specific queries designed to elicit a clear understanding of what we’re not: “Am I my body?  Am I my mind?  What is my mind?  Am I my thoughts?  Am I my beliefs?  If I am my body, then what is my elbow?  If I am my mind, then why has this allegedly static entity “changed its mind” about so many things over the years?  Am I a soul?  If so, where is that located?  Is mind a less mystical sounding word for soul?  If I am the soul and the soul is eternal, then I am eternal – so why am I afraid of dying?”  And so on.  Taken to its logical conclusion, this line of inquiry should result in the complete disappearance of the greatest adversary you’ve ever known: “your” Self.

When you stop viewing yourself as solid and eternal, unfettered life can begin.  Interconnection isn’t just a spiritual idea but the true nature of all phenomena.  All of us are closed-ended processes that constitute mere droplets in each generational wave of our species.  Our species is a closed-ended process that constitutes a mere droplet in the current transformational wave of the phenomenal Universe.  The moment you are born, the life-long death process begins, just as the dissolution of the Universe began at the moment of the Big Bang.  But since every back must have a front, the birth process is also inherent in death.  Existence implies non-existence and vice-versa.  Eternity is a compelling chimera and it only seems attractive to us because we’ve never really taken the time to think it through.  Those who would live forever should expect to find themselves devoid of values or even basic meaning were their wishes to come to fruition.  An eternal organism can have no identity because in infinite time, such an organism would do, say, think, and be everything that can possibly be done, said, thought and classified infinite times over.  Do you really want to experience what it’s like to be Donald Trump?  Or a leper on the streets of Mumbai?  Or JoJo Siwa?

Eternal life – a wishful notion that is the same as an endless spiritual existence in an afterlife of perpetual joy or suffering (which also serves to solidify the abstract notion of justice, another of the imaginary meanings we append to our lives) – is patently illogical.  “Eternal paradise” would not be experienced as such.  Without the relativity of opposites, the paradisiacal aspects of such an existence would go unnoticed.  I would not have noticed that my dog was dirty this morning, had I not been familiar with the characteristics of a clean dog.  My mother’s passing would have had no impact upon anyone had she not lived, nor could she have lived without the inevitability of her death.  There is no back without a front, no darkness without light, no pleasure without pain.  Duality guides our thoughts and emotions, while unity is the universal law.  No amount of wishful thinking can change this, but such thinking does make the experience far more difficult than it needs to be.

Because we refuse to analyze the soundness of our ideals and the reality of our beautiful mortality, we continue to ask moronic questions with the real expectation of receiving sensible answers.  I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt to anyone reading this that you understand why such unsophisticated theological queries as “why does god let bad things happen?” are replete with naive assumptions.  But what about, “how can people treat each other so badly?”  Is that any more sensible?  The good needs the bad and the bad needs the good and no other species insists on classifying things with such egotistical judgment as we do.  World events, no matter how seemingly cataclysmic, are nothing more than the ebb and flow of light and dark.  Were either of these forces to become dominant, what we call “progress” would stagnate.

A world of perpetual joy is a catacomb.  Shedding ideals and imagined meaning is the path to freedom.  I miss my mom, but my dog is clean.  And thus, everything is perfect.

Your Guide is a Gorilla

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I will be writing stuff on this blog that may very well infuriate you.  I say that because as this is my first post, I don’t know who you are and am therefore unfamiliar with the kind of things you find infuriating.  But since it’s a near certainty that, like me, you belong to the primate species homo sapiens, it is also a near certainty that you allow all sorts of trivial nonsense to raise your hackles.

When a gorilla finds itself in such a state of agitation, it pounds its chest with its fists generating a sound that can carry over a mile through dense forest.  Consider this blog just one more example of primate chest thumping.

We share 98% of our DNA with our closest primate cousins.  It is this mere 2% differential that allows us to pass individual learning on to the next generation of our species.  This is why we have smart phones and iPads and space stations while gorillas are content with a nice bunch of bananas.

So please, pull up a chair, grab a banana and ask yourself: which is the superior species?  I’ll be analyzing this and other questions in much greater detail in future posts and if you happen to be a fan of entropy, impermanence, chaos and quantum uncertainty, perhaps you’ll pop in from time to time to share an idea…or a banana.