February 3rd, 2016

Today in 2016, what might we humans do to make our world more safe?

 I first considered this question in a series of articles, first  I published in 2002, I re-published them next in 2004. I occasionally re-post this series in whole or part, including this current re-posting. …

What follows is the sixth and final installment from my 2002-4 SafeEARTH series. See: 1) Beyond Crime and Punishment  2) What Hitler didn’t Know 3) Synergic Containment: Protecting Children 4) Synergic Containment: Science & Rationale 5) Synergic Containment: Protecting Community.


Synergic Disarmament

Timothy Wilken, MD

Writing in 2002: Interestingly, the recent advent of the Washington D.C. area sniper has brought renewed interest in the subject of weapons and their role in our present society. We are reminded that today, weapons are very easily available to just about anyone that wants them. And, while the technology to track these weapons and even the ammunition used within them is easily possible, we don’t do it, since this might infringe on the American citizen’s Right to bear Arms.

In a synergic society there is no need to be armed. Even within our present adversary-neutral society, weapons in the hands of law abiding “good” citizens seem to bring society little benefit. And certainly, weapons in the hands of criminals and predators bring great harm to the public. Any scientific analysis of the role of weapons in modern America would reveal that weapons are not only plentiful and easily available, but that they are also very powerful.

One gift of  human intelligence is that it allows humanity to create knowing without limit. Every generation knows more than the previous generation. When humans incorporate their knowing into artifacts, they are called tools. Unlimited knowing produces unlimited tools. Every generation has more powerful tools than the previous one.
 
As I have explained elsewhere, we humans always have three options in relating to others. We can help each other, we can ignore each other, or we can hurt each other. When tools are used to hurt others, we are call them weapons.
Now humans have been making weapons for a long time. Weapons are tools designed to hurt or kill others. As our human knowing has grown, we have always quickly incorporated that knowing into our new weapons. And as a result, weapons have and continue to grow evermore powerful.
 
Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman writing in the Evolution of Weaponry explains:

Humans have proven themselves to be infinitely ingenious at creating and using devices to overcome their limitations. From one perspective human history can be seen as a series of ever-more-efficient devices to help humans communicate, travel, trade, work, and even to think. Similarly, the history of violence, peace, and conflict can be seen as the history, or the evolution, of a series of ever-more-efficient devices to enable humans to kill and dominate their fellow human beings.

The concept of an “evolution” of weaponry is very appropriate, since the battlefield is the ultimate realm of Darwinian natural selection. With few exceptions, any weapon or system that survives for any length of time does so because of its utility. Nothing survives for long on the battlefield simply because of superstition. Anything that is effective is copied and perpetuated, anything ineffective results in death, defeat, and extinction. There are fads and remnants (the military equivalent of the appendix), but over the long run, everything happens for a reason, and a valid theory of weapons evolution must make these reasons clear, explaining all extinctions and all survivals. …

Weapons’ lethality (in peace and war) is a factor of the effectiveness of the weapons used to kill and of the ability of available medical technology to save lives. Thus, weapons’ lethality can be thought of as a contest between weapons’ effectiveness (the state of technology trying to kill you) and medical effectiveness (the state of technology trying to save you). Like weapons’ lethality, the difference between murder (killing someone) and aggravated assault (trying to kill someone) is also largely a factor of the effectiveness of available weapons vs. the effectiveness of available medical life-saving technology.

Throughout most of human history the effectiveness of weapons available for domestic violence was basically stable, a relative constant. The relative effectiveness of swords, axes, and blunt objects has been basically unchanged, and killing (as an act of passion vs. a pre-meditated act like poisoning or leaving a bomb) was only possible at close-range by stabbing, hacking, and beating.

Bows were kept unstrung, not in a state of readiness for an act of passion. It required premeditation plus training plus strength to kill with a bow. Early, muzzle-loading gunpowder weapons were also often not kept in a state of readiness. It required time, training, and premeditation to load and shoot such a weapon. Once loaded, the humidity in the air could seep into the gunpowder and the load could become unreliable. Only in the late 19th century, with widespread introduction of breech-loading, brass cartridges was a true act of passion possible with state-of-the-art weapons technology. Powerful weapons could now be kept in state of readiness (i.e., loaded), and they now required minimal strength or training to use.

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ca. 1700 B.C. Chariots provide key form of mobility advantage in ancient warfare
ca. 400 B.C. Greek phalanx slows the chariots, since horses consistently refuse to hurl themselves into a hedge of sharp projecting spears
ca. 100 B.C. Roman system (pilum, swords, training, professionalism, leadership)
ca. 900 A.D. Mounted knight (stirrup greatly enhances utility of mounted warfare)
ca. 1350 Gunpowder (cannon) in warfare (Battle of Crecy, 1346)
ca. 1400 Widespread application of long bow defeats mounted knights ( Battle of Agincourt, 1415)
ca. 1600 Gunpowder (small arms) in warfare, defeats aIl body armor (30 Years War & English Civil War)
ca. 1800 Shrapnel (exploding artillery shells), ultimately creates renewed need for helmets (ca. 1915)
ca. 1850 Percussion caps permit all-weather use of small arms
ca. 1870 Breech loading, cartridge firing rifles, and pistols™
ca. 1915 Machine gun
ca. 1915 Gas warfare
ca. 1915 Tanks
ca. 1915 Aircraft
ca. 1915 Self-loading (automatic) rifles and pistols
ca. 1940 Strategic bombing of population centers
ca. 1945 Nuclear weapons
ca. 1960 Large scale introduction of operant conditioning in training to enable killing in soldiers
ca. 1970 Precision guided munitions
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This then is what Combat Soldier Dave Grossman is telling us. Our real problem is that weapons in our modern society are not only too plentiful and too easily available, but they are also way too powerful and easy to use.
 
In 2002, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said:
“Looking at what was overwhelming force a decade or two decades ago, today you can have overwhelming force, conceivably, with lesser numbers because the lethality is equal to or greater than before,” he said. It has been a mistake, he added, to measure the quantity of forces required for a mission and “fail to look at lethality, where you end up with precision-guided munitions which can give you 10 times the lethality that a dumb weapon might, as an example.”

Wisdom, they shouldn’t have!

Timothy Wilken, MD
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Writing in 2002: One of my areas of interest and study is human intelligence science. The reason human intelligence is so powerful is because of the synergic relationship between two powerful minds—the space mind and the time mind. This “dual mind” intelligence is capable of generating four distinct levels of knowingInformation, Knowledge, Wisdom, and Oneness. I am currently completing a new book on Understanding Human Intelligence which will explain the Dual Mind and the four levels of knowing which it produces.

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A simple metaphor for these four levels of knowing are:
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Information is KnowWhere. Where do I go in space to survive. Where do I get water, food, shelter? A human with information would know they should avoid a nuclear explosion. Where can I go to be safe.

Knowledge is KnowWhen
. When do I act in time to encourage or stop a sequence of events. A human with knowledge could learn to detonate a nuclear weapon. When to a push the button and in what sequence to trigger the bomb.

Wisdom is KnowHow
. How do many different temporal sequences fit together to create spatial complexity, and finally. A person with wisdom could invent and design a nuclear weapon. How do the laws of physics work together and what temporal sequences must I create to allow nuclear fission or fusion to occur.

Oneness is KnowWhy. Why do things happen the way they do? What is the consequence of complexity? A person with oneness, would know that nuclear weapons should never be invented or manufactured. What are the consequences of using nuclear power as weapons? What happens when such weapons are common? What happens if they fall into the hands of those dominated anger and ignorance. Why would it be a bad idea to create nuclear weapons?
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With our new understanding of human intelligence, it will soon be possible for many humans to learn to understand their minds and began accessing the higher levels of knowing. As they do they will gain increasing understanding of sequence and consequence. But, today most humans live their lives in the level of Information with only occasional visits to the level of  Knowledge. Educated people with high literacy, good understanding of mathematics and science may live their lives equally in the levels of Information and Knowledge with occasional flashes of genius in the level of Wisdom. Inventors, innovators, and what we commonly call creative geniuses live in Information and Knowledge, but have learned to easily visit the level of Wisdom. But, so far only a handful of human geniuses have learned to access Oneness.
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Tools Contain Embedded Knowing
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Recall from the introduction, that tools are artifacts made from matter-energy that contain embedded knowing. And, as there is no limit to human knowing, there is also no limit to the amount of knowing that can be embedded in an artifact. That is why we have such powerful tools. Today’s tools commonly contain embedded information, knowledge and wisdom.
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Think of the power of the tools we humans use everyday—a Boeing 747 airplane, our automobiles, the internet, computers, cell phones, televisions, household appliances, the tools in our garages and at our places of work. The knowing in these tools multiply our human power by orders of magnitude. They allow us to do what was considered impossible just a few years ago. It is the power of the knowing embedded in these tools that give them their power.
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Using Tools without Understanding
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You don’t have to be wise to use a tool full of wisdom. You don’t even have to be knowledgeable to use such a tool. Many of our fast food restaurants, use picture icons of the food and drinks on the buttons of the check out computers, so that the illiterate and innumerate humans working there can operate the computers without reading, adding or subtracting. The computer even tells the operator the correct amount of change to return to the customer.
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However, there is risk in using tools you don’t understand. Remember, “a little knowing can be a dangerous thing.” Today, we commonly put enormously powerful tools into the hands of those who do not understand them. This means the risk of these tools being used in an unsafe manner is high.
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And since weapons are just tools that are specifically designed to hurt or kill, they are among the most dangerous tools  in our present world. Today, weapons are easily available to anyone who desires them. They can be purchased legally by any adult who passes a background check for a criminal record. If you are not a convicted felon, you can legally purchase all the weapons and ammunition you desire. You are not legally required to be literate, numerate, or have any knowledge of science or physics.
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You are not required to demonstrate any knowledge of weapons or the consequence of their use or misuse, before becoming armed. And of course, there is no psychological screening to determine if you are stable and responsible.
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As to felons, minors, or non-citizens—anyone wishing to avoid the background check of legal purchase—they can easily purchase weapons  illegally in almost any town in America.
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Why are weapons  so easily available ?
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We don’t let just anyone operate a nuclear powerplant, a 767 Boeing Airliner, or for that matter an automobile, without some training, education and testing. But we will sell a gun to anyone who can afford it. After all we just want to make money. And, of course every American possesses the Right to Bear Arms. The second amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” (1791)
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The result of America’s policy of easy availability of weapons is reflected in these grim statistics from the CDC:
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The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control reported that in 1999, there were 28,874 firearm-related deaths in the United States. By contrast, there were only 19 firearm-related deaths in Japan in 1998. Gun possession is prohibited in Japan.
Rates of homicide among American youths 15-19 years of age reached record-high levels in the latter half of the 1980s and continue to be among the highest ever recorded in the US for this age group. Between 1985 and 1991, annual homicide rates among males 15-19 years old increased 154 percent.
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In 2001, homicide was still the second leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds overall. In this age group, it is the leading cause of death for African Americans, the second leading cause of death for Hispanic Americans, and the third leading cause of death for Native Americans (CDC 2001).
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In 1999, 4,998 youths ages 15 to 24 were murdered – an average of 14 per day (CDC 2001).
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Guns are a factor in most youth homicides. In 1999, 81% of homicide victims ages 15 to 24 were killed with firearms (CDC 2001).
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I hope it is now obvious to the reader, that the manufacturing of unlimited weapons, and then placing them in the hands of ignorance is foolish.
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Humanity as Community
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Synergic society seeks to protect humanity as community and humanity as individuals. No responsible parent would allow a four year old child to use a blow torch, a power saw, or a nail gun unsupervised. No responsible parent would allow a ten year old to drive the family car on the interstate highway.
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Why not? Because these tools are just too powerful to be used without adequate knowledge, education and training.
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Wisdom, they shouldn’t have.
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This is our problem today. People have wisdom, they shouldn’t have. They have access to enormously powerful tools and weapons—tools and weapons containing embedded wisdom—that they are shouldn’t have access too.
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The Saudi terrorists that attacked America on  September 11, were not geniuses. None of them could have invented a Boeing 767 or even a cell phone. None of them could have even explained how these tools even worked. However, they were allowed to use deceit, and threat of force to gain control of these enormously powerful tools, and then use these tools as weapons to bring down the World Trade Towers and damage the Pentagon.
By embedding wisdom into tools and then selling those tools to anyone with money, we endanger humanity as individuals and humanity as community.
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Today, we need a higher standard. Most advanced tools today contain embedded wisdom. This is powerful KnowHow. Those who use such tools need to well trained and intelligent enough to understand the consequence of using such powerful tools. Access to powerful tools (tools leveraged with wisdom) that could potentially harm others must be controlled. Only those humans who demonstrate: 1) the knowledge for the safe use of the tool, 2) an understanding of consequence of that tool’s use and misuse, and 3) a history of responsibility, should be allowed access to them. 
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Iraq & Saddam Hussein
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How many Nobel Prizes have been awarded to Iraq in science, physics, biology, or medicine? How many for Peace?
Did Iraqi scientists invent the automobile? The airplane? The telephone? The radio? The television? The computer? If they don’t have the intelligence to invent or even manufacture any of these tools, how did they get them?
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They bought them with money. 
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Where did they get the money? They got it by selling the oil discovered under the desert they live on. Did they discover the oil themselves? No it was discovered by engineers from the West. What makes this oil even theirs? An accident of birth and the mistaken belief that oil is property.
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As I have discussed elsewhere, the land and natural resources are wealth provided to us by God and Nature. The sunshine, air, water, land, minerals, and the earth itself all come to us freely. The Earth’s land and natural resources are not products of the human mind or body. They existed long before life and humankind even emerged on our planet. There exists no moral or rational basis for any individual to claim them as Property. If a claim of ownership can be made at all, it must be a claim on behalf of all humanity both the living and those yet unborn.The Iraqis have no moral or rational basis to even claim ownership of the oil. It is only our mistaken belief that oil is property, and specifically the property of those who happen to be living over the deposit that allows this fiction to fly.
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Did the Iraqis invent and manufacture oil drilling and refining technology? No, they bought this technology with money loaned to them by Western banks based on future repayment once the oil was extracted.
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If you take away the oil money, and limit them to those tools invented and manufactured in Iraq, there would be no danger to anyone. Saddam Hussein would have been impaled on a sharp stick long ago.
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We Americans must recogize that we have flooded the world with billions of high powered tools and weapons in order to make money. All the great democracies are guilty. But, the biggest exporter of tools and weapons in the history of the planet is the United States. We Americans are the most guilty. We have basically sold these tools and weapons to anyone with the money to buy them. That has been our only criteria.
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Now let us look once again at the second amendment to the U.S. Constitution, it reads: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Somehow, we have focused on the right of the people to keep and bear arms, but have overlooked the founding fathers purpose in writing the second amendment: that of insuring “a well-regulated Militia“. A mob with guns is not a “well-regulated Militia.”
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Public Safety requires responsible use of powerful tools and weapons. We need to recognize the potential danger in the use of tools and weapons in our present society. We must establish some standard of knowledge, training, and responsibility as a prerequisite to gaining access to these tools and weapons.
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Protecting Us from the Police
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Some will argue that we need a private right to weapons to protect us from the police. This argument misses the point. In an earlier article of this SafeEARTH series, I introduced the concept of the Life Trust Guardians and their enforcement arm the Synergic Containment Officers.
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Life Trust Guardians and Synergic Containment Officers are not the police, they are synergists. They will be well educated and trained. They will understand the powerful tools they use and the consequence of both the use and missuse of those tools. Remember, synergists believe that we should work together and act responsibly to make the world work for everyone. Synergy means working together—operating together as in Co-Operation— laboring together as in Co-Laboration—acting together as in Co-Action. The goal of synergic union is to accomplish a larger or more difficult task than can be accomplished by individuals working separately. Synergists are committed to a world where I win, you win, others win and the Earth wins. Win-Win-Win-Win.
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Best of the Best
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Synergic Containment Officers are Life Trust Guardians. The Life Trust will seek to attract the best of the best as candidates for Trust Guardianship. Once selected these Trust Guardians would have greater trusteeship privileges with concomitant authority and responsibilities for and to the Life Trust.
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Trust Guardian Candidates should have repeatedly demonstrated both personal and public honesty, and should have a history demonstrating synergic morality and behavior. In the future, Universities will offer degrees in Trustegrity and Guardian Science to prepare those young humans to desire to serve Humanity as Community. A careful selection process will be developed to select the very best which could include Trust Guardian Academies.
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It is apparent that the responsibilities of Trust Guardians will be great. They of course are not allowed to hurt anyone through their control of the Synergic Trusts. But in addition they are required to protect and conserve the Synergic Trusts. Further, they are required to help others and to insure that all humans have the basic needs of life —both survival and meaning. This is a binding obligation. Failure to meet these obligations results in the immediate loss of Synergic Trustee privileges. The Life Trust Guardians will be charged with protecting Humanity as Community, and Humanity as Individuals.
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Public safety is paramount. No human has the right to injure another human with an adversary action. Once such an event has occurred, those responsible will be contained, they will be monitored and their freedom restricted until such time as the Life Trust Guardians have determined that they are safe without monitoring or restriction. This process is described more completely in Synergic Containment: Science & Rationale and Synergic Containment: Branch Davidian Compound, Waco, TX.
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If the Life Trust Guardians release them from monitoring or restrictions, and they hurt someone else with another adversary action, then the Life Trust Guardians involved in their release will share responsibility with them for that adversary event. Life Trust Guardians are held accountable for failure to protect the public. This is a much higher standard then offered by today’s criminal injustice system.
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No Knives, No Guns, No Killing!
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One hundred and twenty years ago the American West was a vast, open area brimming with natural resources and opportunity. Cow towns and mining camps sprung up across the landscape. From around the world, millions of people flocked to the Western territories with the hope of making a better life for themselves. Many came to find gold or silver. Others came to open saloons, general stores, and other small businesses. And still others came to steal from the productive members of the west.
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It was in such a setting that Wyatt Earp lived and worked. Like many of his time, he skipped from one boom town to another, always optimistic that his fortune awaited at the end of another long, dusty ride. And in nearly every town he invariably found himself called upon to bring law and order to what was previously anarchy. Earp’s exploits in taming lawless cow towns and mining camps and his bravery in facing ruthless killers—particularly at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona—make him one of the great figures of the American West. While the movies make much of the gunfights and use of intimidation in the streets of Dodge City. Earp’s greatest tool was the prohibition of weapons within the city limits. His rule was simple: “no knives, no guns, no killings.”
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The history of the American West, is in large part the struggle to overcome  adversity. Earp’s discovery of a mechanism to insure public safety spread. By the summer of 1876, Denver was slightly larger than Dallas, although not a mite different as far as being fronted by the inevitable plankwalks and halter-polished hitch rails. A sign posted at the edge of town warned: “No guns in town.” This law was strictly enforced.
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Zone of Safety
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What Wyatt Earp achieved with his “No Guns in Town” law was the creation of a zone of safety. Within city limits there could be no guns. Apparently Earp understood that “guns do kill people.” Guns are weapons. By excluding them from the town, he was using a principle of synergic containment and disarmament.
We need to create a zone of safety. And, then we can begin to extend that zone. We need to protect those within the zone and isolate those outside the zone. This is how the immune system in our body works. The skin is the boundary for the body. Its job is to isolate all adversity from the interior. We need to create a skin around our safety zone. That isolates all adversity from the interior.
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Within the safety zone, there should be no tolerance of adversity. None!
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No violence would be allowed. No weapons would be allowed. Violation would result in expulsion from the safety zone. Committed Adversaries would be expelled from synergic community. They would be expelled from the zone of safety. And that zone of safety is not anonymous. Everyone is the zone is know. The immune system of our bodies knows every cell. Unknowns are presumed to be adversaries until proven otherwise. Freedom and privacy is available to all who do not hurt others. Injure someone and forfeit both.
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It is time to put away the adversary way. There is no need for weapons in the zone of safety. In civilized community, the simple possession of a weapon is an adversary act. It must be surrendered immediately and voluntarily, or you leave the zone of safety.
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Living in the zone of safety is not a right, it is a privilege available to civilized humanity. Civilized humans do not want or need weapons.
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I believe it is time to create and then extend zones of safety. This is the only way the Israelis can make their people safe. No knives, no guns, no killings! None. The same is true for all nations. Except for small arms in the hands of Synergic Containment Officers charged with protecting both Humanity as Individuals and Humanity as Community, it is time to put away all weapons.
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Pandora’s Box
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What do we do now? Now that these powerful tools and weapons are in the hands of ignorance and anger, how do we get them back.
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We must begin by regaining control of all those tools and weapons that threaten humanity. Our message to Saddam Hussein, and all who would act to harm humanity. If you want peace lay down your weapons. All of them. This must be our message to all those who are armed.
It is time for a complete and total disarmament. Within the human body reside 40 trillion individual cells, none are armed except the immune cells. Within a synergic organization which could reside all of humanity presently 6.3 billion humans. None would be armed except Synergic Containment Officers.
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Universal Disarmament
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During a period of moratorium, all humans would be expected to surrender all weapons into the custody of the Life Trust Guardians. A few of these weapons would go into museums, some would be be made available to the public within Earth Trust hunting parks and designated sport weapons clubs. Humans who desire to use weapons to hunt and kill animals may do so only within designated hunting parks managed by the Earth Trust Guardians and regulated by the Synergic Containment Officers.
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Those humans who desire to use weapons for sport shooting may do so only through designated sport weapon clubs which are regulated and monitored by the Synergic Containment Officers. All weapons must be kept on the premises of the sports clubs, or within the grounds of the hunting parks. These weapons will be monitored and accounted for under strict Life Trust Guardian guidelines.
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However, the vast majority of weapons would be destroyed and scraped. Once the moratorium expires, the possession of a weapon outside of a permitted location is prohibited, and is by definition an adversary event. The Life Trust Guardians will dispense Containment Officers to confiscate the weapon or weapons and take those responsible into custody. Those individuals found responsible for weapons possession would be subject to the same public safety process as any other human found responsible for an adversary event including rehabilitation, education, restitution, and prevention of future adversary events.
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How dangerous would the Washington D.C. sniper be without a gun and ammunition? How dangerous would Saddam Hussein be without his weapons? 
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Read more by Timothy Wilken: 1) A Synergic Future 2) Protecting Humanity 3) Beyond War

Read Lt. Col. Dave Grossman’s: 1) Aggression and Violence 2) Evolution of Weaponry  3) Psychological Effects of Combat.

December 26th, 2015

I hope that you, your family and friends are having a lovely week. … As a synergic scientist, I have a great respect for the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Most of his teachings are in alignment with the principles of synergic science. Please enjoy! –Timothy Wilken

Re-posted from the Future Positive Archives.


Happy Jesus of Nazareth Week!

Go Be Reconciled With Thy Brother


The Golden Rule

Timothy Wilken, MD

Edward Haskell, a pioneer of synergic science, explained:

“The first formulation of the MORAL LAW for a non-human “kingdom” of Universe was Dimitri Mendeleev’s discovery of the Periodic Law in 1869. “The properties of the chemical elements are functions of their atomic weights.”

“What Mendeleev’s discovery states for Atoms is that “As ye sow, so shall ye reap,” where “reaping” is the properties of the chemical elements and “sowing” is the co-Action between the atom’s two components ­ its vast, light, electron cloud, and its tiny, massive nucleus.”

Haskell’s analysis of the Atomic elements showed that these two components ­ the electron cloud and the massive nucleus related in only three ways ­ positive, neutral, or negative. Haskell called this the Moral Law of Unified Science.

For humans, the earliest formulation of the Moral Law of Unified Science appeared 3500 years ago as the doctrine of karma.

“Hinduism began in India about 1500 BC. The belief in rebirth, or samsara, as a potentially endless series of worldly existences in which every being is caught up was associated with the doctrine of karma (Sanskrit: karman; literally “act,” or “deed”). According to the doctrine of karma, good conduct brings a pleasant and happy result and creates a tendency toward similar good acts, while bad conduct brings an evil result and creates a tendency toward repeated evil actions. This furnishes the basic context for the moral life of the individual.”

The doctrine of karma was accepted by Buddha ~500 BC and is incorporated in modern Buddhism today. It appeared in western thought ~300 BC, in the Old Testament of the Bible as the phrase:

“As ye sow, so shall ye reap.”

Two thousand years ago Jesus of Nazareth stated this law this way:

“Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.“

Recall Universe is now understood to be process. Reality is a happening. Many things are going on all at once. Living systems ­the plants, animals, and we humans all live within the EVENT paradigm. Buckminster Fuller defined an event to be a triad of related phenomena­ action, reaction, resultant.

The dynamics of all behavior can be understood using these three concepts. Fuller discovered for every action there is a reaction, and a precessional resultant.

I can decide on an action. I can then implement my action. The environment including all life forms react to my action, the vector sum of the two (my action and the world’s reaction) produce a resultant. I act, the rest of the world reacts, and when it all settles down the change made by the interaction of the action and reaction is the resultant.

Now reformulating Haskell’s The Moral Law of Unified Science to include Fuller’s Principle of Action­-Reaction­-Resultant, we get:

Adversary action tends to provoke adversary reaction ending in an adversary resultant.

Neutral action tends to provoke neutral reaction ending in a neutral resultant.

And synergic action tends to provoke synergic reaction ending in a synergic resultant.

“As ye sow, so shall ye reap.”

We humans have three choices. We can sow adversary actions and reap adversary resultants. We can sow neutral actions and reap neutral resultants. Or we can sow synergic actions and reap synergic resultants.

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The First Synergic Scientist

The first formulation of the synergic corollary of the Moral Law of Unified Science was:

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

This formulation is credited to Jesus of Nazareth who intuitively discovered the synergic way 2000 years ago. He gave us the rules for synergic relationship in his sermon on the mount.

 “You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you. … Go be reconciled with thy brother.”

But, can we modern humans do this? Can North American whites love the South American browns? Can the Jews love the Arabs? Can the Northern Irish love the English? Can the Bosnians love the Serbs? Can the South African whites love the South African blacks?

Are we humans better able to love today? Have we learned enough in 2000 years—“To reconcile with our brother”?

Jesus of Nazareth may have been the first human to embrace synergy. His words seem to capture the very essence of synergic morality. Synergic morality is more than not hurting other, it requires helping other. Jesus was the first human to state the fundamental law of synergic relationship. It is known as the Golden Rule:

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law.”

What would you have others do to you? The best one word answer I can find for this question is help. “Help others as you would have them help you.” Synergic morality is helping.

Andrew J. Galambos, in his lectures describing Moral Capitalism, often quoted the negative version of the Golden Rule:

“Do not do to others what you would have them not do to you.”

What would you have others not do to you?

Here the best one word answer is hurt. “Do not hurt others as you would have them not hurt you.”

The negative version of the Golden Rule is true and correct as far as it goes. In fact, it is the underlying premise for the Neutral Morality found in the western world today. But, Synergic Morality requires more of us than simply not hurting. It requires more of us than simply ignoring others. It requires us to help others ­ to help each other.

Jesus of Nazareth understood this on the deepest of levels. He called for more than a prohibition against hurting others. He asked all humans to help each other.

Synergic Morality is more than the absence of hurting. It is the presence of helping. Synergic Morality rests then on the premise­ that when you help others, you will find yourself helped in return.

So whether you believe Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ foretold in the Old Testament, or just a man, his words bring wisdom to all of humanity.


Read What’s wrong with Merry Christmas?

December 18th, 2015

This is the fifth in a series of articles explaining Synergic Containment originally published in 2002. These articles were again published in 2004. The names of the adversaries had changed, but the principles were the same. In 2004, we were losing the peace in Iraq. Today, we are losing the peace to ISIS.

Why? The answer is answered in this series of articles. This article was the fifth in the SafeEARTH series from the Archives. See: 1) Beyond Crime and Punishment  2) What Hitler didn’t Know 3) Synergic Containment: Protecting Children 4) Synergic Containment: Science & Rationale.


Synergic Containment

Protecting Community

Timothy Wilken, MD

Synergic Containment Officers are responsible for containment of adversary events.

AdvEv:  

Their first task will be to contain the adversary event, and prevent the event from spreading further into community and involving new victims. 

ContainedEvent:  

Containment is about protecting both the victim and the aggressor. Synergic society does not view the perpetrators as bad or criminal. However, they certainly recognize that they are dangerous. Recall from our initial discussion of using synergic containment to protect children, we are seeking to contain and protect all the individuals caught up in an adversary event—both victims and perpetrators.

Synergic Rescue 

Once the adversary event has been contained, the second task of the Synergic Containment Officers becomes to safely rescue all of the individuals caught up in the event. This rescue is prioritized. First to be rescued are victims at greatest risk for further harm, then victims at lower risk. Once the victims are safe, the synergic containment officers will begin their rescue of the perpetrators.

 Synergic Disarmament

If those perpetrating the adversary event have weapons, they must be disarmed. Today, the danger of adversary events is greatly magnified by access to weapons. We humans are Time-binders. That means as a species we can create knowledge without limit. When we incorporate knowledge into matter-energy it is called a tool. Because knowledge can grow without limit, tools can also grow without limit. When tools are used to hurt others, they are called weapons. In our modern world, we have created ever more powerful weapons. These weapons are not safe in the hands of ignorance.

Once the perpetrators of an adversary event are contained, their victims rescued, then they will be disarmed, this must be effected before they can be rescued.

How would this work in the real world?  Let us examine a real situation.

The Adversary Containment of the Branch Davidian Church, Waco, TX

Most Americans recall this incident from 1993. The following are the facts as reported by PBS:FRONTLINE:

Sunday, February 28, 1993: At about 9:30 a.m. agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms attempt to execute arrest and search warrants against David KORESH and the Branch Davidian compound as part of an investigation into illegal possession of firearms and explosives there. Gunfire erupts. Four ATF agents are killed and 16 are wounded. An undetermined number of Davidians are killed and injured. Within a few hours, the FBI becomes the lead agency for resolving the standoff.

The FBI would institute a siege of the compound that would last 51 days.

After 51 days of standoff, Attorney General Janet Reno authorized a tear gas attack. Reno has cited a number of factors to explain why she endorsed the tear-gas plan. She has said that she had concluded that negotiations with the Branch Davidians were indefinitely stalemated, that the FBI’s hostage rescue team on duty at Waco was becoming fatigued, that the security perimeter established by the FBI around the compound was endangered and that the children inside the compound were at risk because of deteriorating sanitary conditions and the potential for sexual and physical abuse.

Monday, April 19, 1993: At 6:02 a.m., two FBI combat engineering vehicles, or CEVs, begin inserting gas into the compound through spray nozzles attached to a boom. At 6:04 a.m., the Davidians start shooting, and the FBI begin deploying Bradley vehicles to insert ferret rounds through the windows. At 6:31, the HRT reports that the entire building is being gassed. At about 7 a.m., RENO and senior advisors go to the FBI situation room. At 7:30, a CEV breaches the front side of the building on the first floor as it injects gas, and at 7:58 a.m., gas is inserted in the second floor of the back-right corner of the building. The FBI calls for more gas from outside Waco, and at 9:20 a.m., 48 more ferret rounds arrive from Houston.

At 11:40 a.m., the last ferret rounds are delivered. At 11:45 a.m., a wall on the right-rear side of the building collapses. At 12:07 p.m., There is the start of “simultaneous fires at three or more different locations within the compound.” Fire quickly consumes the compound.

TanksWaco:

According to medical examiners who performed the autopsies, CS gas did not directly kill any of the more than 80 Branch Davidians, including 22 children, who died in the fire on April 19. … Other experts have told FRONTLINE that CS gas may have totally incapacitated the children and others so that when the fire occurred, it would have rendered them incapable of escape. (4)

Synergic Containment of the Branch Davidian Church

This is not a criticism of the federal officers who were involved in the Adversary Containment at the Branch Davidian Church (BDC). Clearly the members of that church were heavily armed and dangerous. Four Federal ATF officers lost their lives and 16 were wounded in the first encounter on February 28. I would suggest that the mechanism of adversary containment is more dangerous for both the containment officers and for those being contained.

As a thought experiment, how would synergic containment work differently than adversary containment?

Remember, the goal of synergic containment is the protection of both humanity as community, and humanity as individuals. This goal could best be achieved by isolation of the BDC members and then disarming them. Once they were disarmed they would be taken into protective custody. All custody by Synergic Containment Officers is protective. Their mission is protection.

It was strongly suspected and later confirmed that the Branch Davidian members were heavily armed and dangerous. A Synergic Containment Force would act cautiously. They would encircle and establish a strong perimeter completely surrounding the compound. This perimeter would well back from the compound outside of rifle range. 

ContBDC:  

Remember the three tasks of the Synergic Containment Officers–contain, rescue, disarm.

Once the perimeter is contained the next step is the creation of one or more rescue corridors. These are protected passages to points as close to the center of the adversary event as possible to facilitate the rescue of individuals caught up in the event.

RescueCorridor:  

In addition to observation from the perimeter and rescue corridor, the compound under be put under continuous observation from closer, but well protected observation sites, and communication established with the Church members. The church members would be unable to militarily engage the Containment Force without leaving the protection of their compound.

Those within the compound would then be ordered to put down their weapons and move out to the perimeter to voluntarily enter into protective custody. Those being contained would have a short time to voluntarily surrender. If there was no response, or a hostile response, the Synergic Containment Force would begin Containment Isolation of  the compound.

Once Containment Isolation is implemented, nothing goes in. Access to electricity, television, telephone, water, food and all outside supplies are a privilege to members of community in good standing. That privilege is suspended. Nothing goes in. Every thing would stop! Then the Containment Force would sit back and wait for them to come out.

Any unarmed member of the church could leave anytime by simply presenting to the rescue corridor for safe escort to the perimeter where they could voluntarily enter protective custody. Once out, no one goes back in unless and until Synergic Containment is lifted.

The compound would not be stormed or attacked in anyway. No barrage of noise, loud music, or teargas. They would be left to themselves without phones, television, newspapers, mail, electricity, water, etc.etc.. They are not being punished. The benefits of community are being suspended until they cease all adversity. I expect that most of the members would have come out and surrendered. Perhaps not all.

Once each day, the containment force would explicitly communicate with the contained adversaries, reminding them that safety, food, water, shelter and medical care wait for them at the perimeter. It would be made clear that to exit the containment zone, they need only put down their weapons and present to the rescue corridor, or perimeter. Any individual—adult or child—that did so would be given protection including water, food, medical care and shelter.

Why would they give up?

In today’s world, criminals that have been adversarily contained by the police feel they have nothing to lose. They may be surrounded by heavily armed swat teams looking to take them out with a long range shot. If they survive capture, they face trial, imprisonment, and sentences range from a few years to life in prison and can even be put to death by the state for a capital crime. This leads to an environment where trapped criminals may feel they have nothing to lose by shooting it out with the police.

Within Synergic Society, the Life Trust Guardians Division of Public Safety works differently. Once those caught up in an adversary event are contained and are in protective custody, the rest of the public safety process unfolds:


Scientific Investigation and Analysis of the Adversary Event

The Life Trust Guardians will assign public safety scientists to investigate and scientifically analyze the adversary event. These Science Officers are responsible for determining the true facts of the adversary event.

Remember mistakes are caused by ignorance, even those mistakes that injure people and seem deliberate. Science Officers will seek to determine what were the causes of the mistakes that led to the adversary event, and what specifically needs to be learned by the responsible parties to prevent further adversary events.

It is also their mission to determine who were the individuals responsible for the event. Those individuals who freely admit their responsibility for an adversary event will enter directly into the Education and Restitution phase. Those individuals accused of adversary action claiming innocence are entitled to a responsibility hearing.

Responsibility Hearing

Conducted by Hearing Officers, this is an evidentiary process which includes the scientific interrogation of both the alleged adversaries and the victims of the adversary event. The responsibility hearing differs from a criminal trial in significant ways. First, the end result of the responsibility hearing does not lead to punishment, it leads to education, rehabilitation, and restitution. Secondly, it is not an adversarial procedure. There is no prosecutor and no defense. No one is trying to hurt anyone in this process. The Responsibility Hearing is to determine the truth.

The needs and the safety of humanity as community takes precedent over the needs and safety of humanity as individuals. Truth has a higher value then fairness. Since no one is going to be punished, all parties are required to tell the truth. No human has the right to hurt another human. Public safety is paramount, and the truth will be the determining factor.

All parties may be interrogated by the Life Trust Guardians’ Hearing Officers utilizing any scientific techniques that are safe and effective. This could include hypnosis, lie detector technology, drug augmented interrogation, and new technologies and techniques not yet invented. In a synergic culture, you can be required to testify against yourself, or your spouse. There are no privileged conversations between lawyers and clients because there are no lawyers and clients. The truth will out. The purpose of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the American Constitution were to protect Free and Independent Citizens from an Adversary State. It was thought that if you could be made to testify against yourself, you could be tortured to confess to crimes you did not commit. This of course was true in an Adversary world with an Adversary State.

In a synergic culture, all Synergic Trust Guardians are held to the highest standards — they cannot hurt others, and in fact must help others. This standard applies as well to the Life Trust Guardians’ Containment, Science, and Hearing Officers.

If the officers of the Life Trust Guardians injure others in the course of their duties, they are subject to the same rules of public safety and are 100% responsible for their actions. They cannot torture anyone. They are also required to tell the truth and are also subject to scientific interrogation if accused of hurting others.

This commitment to the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth eliminates all of today’s legal loop holes that allows dangerous committed criminals to be released back to the public streets and have access to new victims. Once the Responsibility Hearing has been concluded and it has been determined who was responsible, the next phase of the process can begin.

Rehabilitation and Education of those Responsible 

Within a synergic society, Rehabilitation Officers are responsible for this phase. These Officers include Physicians, Psychiatrists, Psychologists and Teachers. Adversary behavior in a synergic culture is viewed as a psychiatric disease or adversary mental illness. Those responsible for dangerous and/or severe adversary events would be required to undergo extensive psychiatric and psychological evaluation to determine the extent of their adversary mental illness. They would then enter into a comprehensive treatment program.

If they were deemed a continuing public safety risk, they would surrender their freedom during treatment. No human has the right to hurt another human. They would remain incarcerated until they were cured. If they were never cured, they would never be released. As our knowledge of adversary mental disorders improved and as new techniques and therapies were created, we would gain in our ability to successfully treat and cure these disorders.

Once their adversary illnesses, were deemed cured, they would move forward to the educational program. Here they would join other individuals found free of adversary mental illness. In this educational phase, all individuals deemed responsible for an adversary event would undergo a program specifically designed for them to correct the errors and mistakes that led to their specific adversary event.  Once they completed their educational phase they would be  tested.

Rehabilitation Testing of those Responsible

These tests are to verify that those responsible have learned how to avoid future Adversary Events. Once the Rehabilitation Officers find an individual has fully recovered and is no longer a threat to the public safety. Once they have completed the program and demonstrated the understanding and knowledge necessary to avoid such events in the future, they would move on to the restitution phase.

Restitution Agreements by those Responsible

In a synergic culture where not hurting others is required, and helping others is highly encouraged, restitution will be an important and common phenomena. Most of the time injuries to others will be accidental. All humans will make mistakes and often those mistakes will hurt others. Restitution is the mechanism of repair. We can’t always fix things, but we can always sincerely apologize and offer restitution.

The Life Trust Guardianship only gets involved when the injuries are deliberately caused by adversary actions. Following successful rehabilitation and education, documented with successful testing, then monitored restitution is mandatory.

Prevention of Future Adversary Events

Public safety is paramount. No human has the right to injure another human with an adversary action. Once such an event has occurred and you are found responsible you may be monitored and your freedom restricted until such time as the Life Trust Guardians have determined that you are safe without monitoring or restriction.

If the Life Trust Guardians release you from monitoring or restrictions and you hurt someone else in the future with another adversary action, then the Life Trust Guardians and the specific Officers involved in your release share responsibility with you for the adversary event. They are held accountable for failure to protect the public. This is a much higher standard then offered by today’s criminal justice system.

Prevention Agreements for Future Monitoring and Restrictions

Here, Rehabilitation Officers in co-laboration with the Prevention Officers will work together to determine what specific level of monitoring, surveillance, and personal freedom restrictions are necessary for the public safety. Because these officers share responsibility for future events with the perpetrators it is in their best interest to get it right. All terms and conditions will be negotiated in this phase. The responsible adversaries will take an active role in this negotiation. They will voluntarily enter into the Prevention Agreements as a condition for restoration of community privileges.  Periodically, reviews would occur and terms and conditions modified as appropriate. 

Future Monitoring

The final phase of the Rule of Public Safety is the responsibility of the Prevention Officers. In a synergic culture, humans found responsible for adversary actions even terrible adversary actions are not criminals. They are not felons. They are not punished. But they are contained. Life Trust Guardians will utilize the most advanced containment technology available — this could include implanted transponders and continuous monitoring systems.Whenever possible the responsible adversaries will be allowed to return to their lives and families. Even when incarcerated to the extent possible their lives will be normalized. This is discussed further in Protecting Humanity.


waco:  

But, what about those members of the Branch Davidian Church who refuse to surrender? What if they don’t give up? Will Synergic Containment Officers ever storm such a compound?

The situation that faced the Federal Officers of the ATF and FBI in Waco Texas in 1993, was very dangerous. In the first encounter the ATF lost 4 officers dead and 16 wounded.
Many of the male members of BDC were military trained and all were  heavily armed. Most were barricaded inside a steel reinforced concrete bunker with high powered weapons and lots of ammunition. Dr. Rodney Crow, Chief of Identification Service who surveyed the killing field after the fire in 1993 said:

There were weapons everywhere. I don’t remember moving a body that didn’t have a gun melted to it, intertwined with it, between the legs, under the arm or in close proximity. … The women were probably more immersed in the weapons than anyone else, because there was so much weaponry inside the bunker. It was like sea shells on a beach, but they were spent casings and spent bullets. If you had rubber gloves and tried to smooth it away, you’d tear your gloves away from the bullet points that are unexploded, or unspent ammunition. Then as you went through layer after layer, you came upon weapons that were totally burned. Until we got down to the floor, and it was mint condition ammunition there. Ammunition boxes not even singed. … They stored the weapons in the safest place. Then on top of the bunker is where the 50-caliber was found.(5)

As those who have participated in WAR know, storming a well fortified bunker is very dangerous. Would Synergic Containment Officers ever storm such a bunker. I don’t know, but I hope not. 

The Texas Rangers who collected the weapons after the fire reported that in addition to the 50-caliber machine gun, they found  60 M-16 machine guns, 60 AK-47 assault rifles, about 30 AR-15 assault rifles, several .50-caliber sniper rifles and dozens of pistols.

Perhaps a better question is, Why were the members of this church allowed to buy hundreds of military weapons and such enormous quantities of military grade ammunition?

As you sow, so shall you reap.

Now certainly, the 22 children who died at Waco were innocent, and their deaths were tragic. I can’t imagine how they could have been protected by assaulting the compound with more high powered weapons. Even today, there remains much controversy as to whether the FBI’s actions of pushing the assault may have contributed to the children’s deaths. We may never know, but I don’t think that would be the case with Synergic Containment. A synergic force would have simply waited them out. As they got more and more hungry, thirsty and weaker, I expect most of them would have come out.

Would Synergic Containment prevent the leaders of the Branch Davidian Church from killing all the members and then committing suicide as  happened in Jonestown?

No! Not as I have described synergic containment here.

The purpose of Synergic Containment is the protection of Humanity as Community and Humanity as Individuals. When those two goals conflict, then the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.

Sometimes Containment Officers will risk their lives to rescue victims or hostages, but they will always do it cautiously and with great care. They will do it when they believe success if possible.

As for the children in Waco, unfortunately, their mothers and fathers failed to protect them. And, the ATF and FBI failed to protect them. That is indeed sad. I would hope that we could learn something from the mistakes that were made.

Synergic Containment of Iraq

You can’t cure adversity with adversity. As we watch the night and day ‘mares’ that serves as daily life for the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, we must see that “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” does not work.

I agree with President Bush that Saddam Hussein is a dangerous man. I agree that he must be contained and rendered impotent—incapable of hurting others. But, I differ with Bush on the method.

ConIraq:  

How would one Synergically Contain a rogue nation? For now, I leave that as a mental exercise for the reader.

November 28th, 2015

From the 2002 SynEarth Archives. This is the next in our series of articles on a new mechanism for the synergic containment of adversary events. In 2002, the main villain was the Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.  In 2015, the faces of the villains have changed. Today we worry about the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. Apparently “degrading and killing your enemies” does not really contain the threat of adversary events or make us safe.

This new tool from synergic science is premised on the understanding that all mistakes are caused by ignorance. We have previously discussed how that premise leads to new ways of dealing with mistakes, even when those mistakes hurt people. This morning, I will explain how synergic containment can be used to used to contain any adversary event, and eventually even villains like  Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi or Bashar al-Assad.

Our last article dealt with how to safely contain the adversary actions of our children. Now we need to expand this concept so we can use it for people we don’t know or even for our enemies. When we understand that the cause of all mistakes is ignorance, then even the mistake of adversarity is caused by ignorance.

As we move towards a positive future, we must take the lead in giving up the adversary way. This is the fourth in the SafeEARTH series from the Archives. See: 1) Beyond Crime and Punishment  2) What Hitler didn’t Know 3) Synergic Containment: Protecting Children.


Synergic Containment

Science and Rationale

Timothy Wilken, MD

Synergy at its most basic simply means “working together.” Synergic science is then the study of “working together.” As science has progressed in helping us understand the human condition, it is now clear that we are an interdependent species. Sometimes I depend on others, and sometimes others depend on me. Another important fact of being in interdependent species is we share the same environment—the same reality.

Shared Reality

At home, we share the same living space with friends or family. If I turn the heater thermostat up, the room will become warmer for everyone. Control of that reality is shared. If I start yelling and screaming, things will get much noisier for everyone. Control of that reality is shared. If I make a mess or don’t clean up the kitchen, then we are all living in that mess.

This is just as true in the workplace, our neighborhoods, our communities, and in fact in the whole world. We live on a single planet, we all share the same water, the same air and the same resources of the single small planet.

Because control of reality is shared, if I foul the water or air, I foul your water and your air. Whatever I do, will effect you. Whatever you do, will effect me. If we work together and act responsibly, we can minimize the harm we do each other, and maximize the benefits of solving our problems together.

Freedom of action in a shared environment is a privilege, not a right. When we use Synergic Containment to protect a child, we are teaching the child that in a shared environment, he is free to act as long as those actions do not hurt others. We are teaching him to work together and act responsibly.

Synergic containment is probably most attractive to parents because it is a technique to control adversary behavior when you love and care about the individual behaving adversarily. Most parents love and care about their children. Containment is about protecting both the victim and the aggressor. It does this by stopping adversary behavior. Now synergic containment could be used just as effectively outside the family.

Community Use of Synergic Containment 

Throughout the long history of humanity, the primary mechanism for controlling adversary behavior has been adversary punishment. In the short term, adversary punishment seems successful in controlling adversary behavior, but punishment always hurts and injures the one being controlled. This injury tends to breed anger and resentment in the one being punished. Of course the effect is longer if you kill the aggressor, at least until their children grow up.

Now, outside the family, we often do not know or care about the individual being controlled with adversary punishment. So we are less disturbed that they are being injured and hurt. In fact we often identify with the victim, and feel it is only fair that they suffer for their crimes. It is an “eye for an eye,” and a “tooth for a tooth.” It is our very definition of justice.

What we are missing here, is that adversary punishment fails to stop adversary behavior in the long run. Punishment breeds hostility, hatred and eventually revenge. The Israelis and Palestinians have been punishing each other for decades, with no sign that the mutual adversary behavior in their communities is stopping or even slowing. “As you sow, so shall you reap!” You can’t stop adversity with adversity.

We have been adversarily punishing serious crimes in the United States for over 200 years. As the FBI reported in 1998: Despite the fact that as of “midyear 1998, the United States’ prisons and jails incarcerated an estimated 1,802,496 criminals”, in the year 1997, “the number of violent crimes—murder, manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault —and property crimes—burglary, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft —reported to the police departments in the United States totaled 13,175,070.”

Community’s Right of Synergic Containment

In Gene Roddenberry’s original Star Trek,  Mr. Spock, the Vulcan Science Officer from a race ruled by logic, would remind his shipmates that: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or of the one.”

spock:  

The human body is a community of 40 trillion individual cells. The individual cells are organized synergically to be interdependent upon each other. They cannot separate themselves from the body as community. The survival of the cells depends on the survival of the body. The needs and safety of the body precedes the needs and safety of the individual cells. Sometimes individual cells are injured or even sacrificed to protect and insure the survival of the body as a whole. The needs and safety of the community of cells takes precedence over the needs and safety of the cells as individuals.

The Needs of the Many

Which is more important? The individual’s right to freedom of action or community’s right to public safety? We can now see that this is a silly and false argument. Community is simply “many” individuals. My freedom of action stops at the boundary of another individual’s personal space and safety.

America has long been the champion of the individual’s right to freedom of action. In fact, our American criminal justice system is so paralyzed by the need to protect the rights of the individual, that our streets are full of criminals, and our e-mail boxes are full of unsolicited junk mail and garbage including pornography and fraudulent offers. Why do we tolerate this? Isn’t it time to grow up? Aren’t we smart enough to create a society that values both an individual’s right to freedom of action and the community’s right to public safety.

With the discovery that humanity is an interdependent species comes the realization that we humans can no longer separate ourselves from community. Humanity as community is larger and contains humanity as individuals. The needs and safety of humanity as community must precede the needs and safety of humanity as individuals.

Community’s Right to Synergic Containment rests on the premise that if you deliberately harm other members of community, you will lose freedom of action within that community. If I harm others in a shared environment, I should expect community to contain my behavior—I should expect community to restrict my  freedom of action.

The Rule of Public Safety is that no human should be allowed to deliberately injure another human—that all adversary actions should ideally be prevented and when not prevented quickly contained.

Our present culture based on the false premise of human independence often places individual needs and safety over community needs and safety. This will shift dramatically in a synergic culture. If we humans choose a positive future, we would want a system that provides both for the protection and safety of humanity as community and humanity as individual.

Life Trust Guardians

This future system might well be modeled after the most successful systems on the planet—the living systems. Your body has a powerful immune system which protects the organism as individual cells and the organism as a whole.

In my proposal for protecting humanity, I have defined those who would assume this role as Life Trust Guardians. Their mission would be the protection of both humanity as community and humanity as individuals. They are bound by two laws.

The Code of the Life Trust Guardians

1) A Life Trust Guardian may not injure humanity or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.

2) A Life Trust Guardian may not injure an individual human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm, except where that would conflict with the First Law.  

The first law of the of the Code commits to protect Humanity as Community. The second law commits to protect Humanity as Individuals. This represents a major shift in human values from today’s focus with the individual as primary to tomorrow’s focus with community as primary.

While Life Trust Guardians are responsible for the safety of both humanity as community and humanity as individuals, the needs and safety of community take precedent over the needs and safety of individuals.

This does not suggest a casual attitude toward the rights of individuals. Life Trust Guardians may not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm, except where that would cause injury to humanity as a whole — except where that would cause injury to humanity as community. When an adversary event presents no risk to humanity as community then the Synergic Containment Officer’s first responsibility is to the safety of the individual. (1)

Protecting the Public

The Life Trust Guardians (LTG) as described in A Synergic Future have large responsibilities. Here we will only address their role in protecting public safety.

The Public Safety Division of the LTG would be entrusted with protecting the public safety by containment and prevention of adversary events. They will utilize synergic mechanism based on synergic morality to insure freedom from crime. This synergic organization will act more like our body’s immune system, than the law enforcement agencies we are familiar with today. Life Trust Guardians accept the premise that adversary behavior is caused by ignorance and not badness. This is discussed at length elsewhere in Beyond Crime and Punishment. Life Trust Guardians are synergists. They operate in the synergic paradigm.

1

Adversary

Synergic

MISTAKES = Badness MISTAKES = Ignorance
INVESTIGATE ANALYZE
ACCUSE & BLAME DETERMINE RESPONSIBILITY
PUNISH

—> self-punish

EDUCATE

—> self-educate

“Guilt”   

  “Learn”   

regret->

RESTITUTION

Life Trust Guardians accept as their responsibility the protection of humanity as community as well as humanity as individuals.

The Rule of Public Safety is that no human should be allowed to deliberately injure another human— that all adversary actions should ideally be prevented and when not prevented quickly contained.

The Public Safety Division of the Life Trust Guardians accomplish the rule of public safety by:

1) Seeking the Containment of all adversary events,
>

2) Performing Scientific analysis and investigation of all adversary events to determine the causes and parties responsible,
>

3) Holding Responsibility Hearings when those suspected of adversary actions claim innocence,
>

4) Providing Rehabilitation of those responsible for serious and dangerous adversary events up to and including incarceration for long term psychiatric and psychological treatment until they are found to be fully recovered and no longer a threat to the public safety
>

5) Providing Education of those responsible for adversary events until they possess the understanding and knowledge necessary to avoid such events in the future,
>

6) Seeking Restitution from the responsible parties to repair to extent possible the injuries that their adversary actions have caused, and
>

7) And, always working toward Prevention of future adversary events, by monitoring and/or restricting personal freedom as appropriate to protect the public.
>

The Public Safety Division is composed various pubic safety specialists. These include: Synergic Containment OfficersScience Officers, Hearing Officers, Rehabilitation Officers, and Prevention Officers.

Let us examine the process in more detail. When an adversary event occurs and an injury is reported to the Life Trust Guardians, they will dispense Containment Officers to the scene of the injury to analyze the adversary event, and if further risk to body or life exists, contain it.

Principles of Synergic Containment

1) Protection and safety of Humanity as Community.

2) Protection and safety of Humanity as Individual

3) When in conflict, the protection and safety of Community takes precedence over the protection and safety of the Individual.  “The needs of the many outweighs the needs of the few or of the one.” A community is a collection of many individuals.

4) The force of Synergic Containment is overwhelmingly powerful. The power of community is much much greater than the power of any individual or group of individuals. The power of the many outweighs the power of the few or of the one.

5) The force of Synergic Containment is never applied to punish others for wrongdoing. It is applied only to protect. The goal is to protect the largest number of individuals possible. Because this force is so powerful it must be applied carefully. It is always applied with love and compassion. It is always applied thoughtfully, carefully, intelligently, cautiously, and calmly. Ideally, individuals win, community wins, Life wins and the Earth wins. If some must lose, all efforts will be made to minimize that loss.

Depending on the nature and severity of the adversary event, Containment Officers have the authority to take those suspected of adversary actions into custody. Public safety is paramount. Suspects are required to cooperate with the Containment Officers, and if asked to enter into custody to do so voluntarily.

Containment of adversary events is the prime responsibility of the Synergic Containment Officers. They are required to protect themselves and the public. If a suspect resists being taken into custody, the Containment Officers will utilize the most advanced containment technology in every effort to avoid injury to the suspects, but if the suspects resist, Containment Officers are authorized to use whatever level of force necessary to insure public safety. This includes authorization to use deadly force.

When a synergist is containing an adversary, he must speak the language they understand—the language of force.

While our immune system lacks any ability to repair or rehabilitate cancer cells, the Life Trust Guardians should have much greater success rehabilitating and educating adversarily behaving humans. In a synergic future, all Physicians, Psychiatrists and Psychologists will be Life Trust Guardians. As humanity becomes more synergic and our knowledge of human psychology becomes greater, the need for deadly force should diminish.

In a moment we will examine how this might work in the real world, but first we need to define what it means to be “hurt”. Recall, when an adversary event occurs and an injury is reported to the Life Trust Guardians, they will dispense Containment Officers to the scene of the injury to analyze the adversary event.

Today, if you have a house fire you call the fire department. If you have home accident with personal injury, you call an ambulance. Now within synergic society all of these problems would be reported to and handled by the Life Trust Guardians, but Synergic Containment Officers would only respond to reports of adversary events.

An adversary event involves the intentionally injuring or threatening to injure other individuals–fighting and flighting–pain and dying. This is where we find conflict–the struggle to avoid losing–the struggle to avoid being hurt or killed. These are the events that our police forces respond to today.

Synergic Containment

Synergic Containment Officers are only responsible for containment of adversary events.

AdvEv:  

Their first task will be to contain the adversary event, and prevent the event from spreading further into community and involving new victims. 

ContainedEvent:  

Synergic society does not view the perpetrators as bad or criminal. However, they certainly recognize that they are dangerous. Recall in our initial discussion of using synergic containment to protect children, we are seeking to contain and protect all the individuals caught up in an adversary event—both victims and perpetrators. Containment is about protecting both the victim and the aggressor.

Synergic Rescue 

Once the adversary event has been contained, the second task becomes to safely rescue all of the individuals caught up in the event. This rescue is prioritized. First to be rescued are victims at greatest risk for further harm, then victims at lower risk. Once the victims are safe, the synergic containment officers will begin their rescue of the perpetrators.

 Synergic Disarmament

If those perpetrating the adversary event have weapons, they must be disarmed. Today, the danger of adversary events is greatly magnified by access to weapons. We humans are Time-binders. That means as a species we can create knowledge without limit. When we incorporate knowledge into matter-energy it is called a tool. Because knowledge can grow without limit, tools can also grow without limit. When tools are used to hurt others, they are called weapons. In our modern world, we have created ever more powerful weapons. These weapons are not safe in the hands of ignorance.

Once the perpetrators of an adversary event are contained, their victims rescued, then they will be disarmed, this must be effected before they can be rescued.

October 1st, 2014

From the 2002 SynEarth Archives. This is the second of a series of articles on a new mechanism for the synergic containment of adversary events. In 2002, the main villain was the Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.  In 2014, the faces of the villains have changed. Today we worry about the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. Apparently “degrading and killing your enemies” does not really contain the threat of adversary events or make us safe.

This new tool from synergic science is premised on the understanding that all mistakes are caused by ignorance. We have previously discussed how that premise leads to new ways of dealing with mistakes, even when those mistakes hurt people. This morning I introduce the mechanism of synergic containment as a method of protecting children. In later articles, I will explain how it can be used to contain villains like  Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi or Bashar al-Assad.

Writing in 2002:


 Synergic Containment

Begin by Protecting Children

Timothy Wilken, MD

Today our world is a dangerous place, and growing ever more dangerous. Everyday, humans are hurting and killing other humans. Mothers and fathers are beating their children. Husbands are beating and killing their wives. Rouge men are abducting and killing children. Teenage and young adult men are killing each other over the color of their clothes or the brand of shoes they wear. Life threatening violence is erupting over any act of supposed DISrespect.

Children are strapping high explosives to their bodies and detonating them in public places in desperate acts of suicide-homicide. In April of 2002, President George W. Bush said, “When an 18 year old Palestinian girl is induced to blow herself up, and in the process kills a 17 year old Israeli girl, the future, itself, is dying.

And then of course there are the armed conflicts, Peter Wallensteen of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reports :

In 2001, there were 24 major armed conflicts in 22 locations. … Africa continued to be the region with the greatest number of conflicts. Worldwide, there were approximately equal numbers of contests for control of government and for territory.

In the 12-year post-cold war period 1990–2001 there were 57 different major armed conflicts in 45 different locations. … All but 3 of the major armed conflicts registered for 1990–2001 were internal—the issue concerned control over the government or territory of one state. The 3 interstate conflicts in this period were Iraq versus Kuwait, India versus Pakistan and Eritrea versus Ethiopia.

… The year 2001 was overshadowed in September by one new major conflict with qualitatively different, global characteristics which have so far proved difficult to categorize.

And now we have the War on Terrorism, the War on Afghanistan, the impending War on Iraq, and then what? The War on Iran? The War on North Korea? The War on the Philippines? The War on China? Etc.? Etc.? 

Something is very wrong in our world.

Synergic Science

As a synergic scientist, I believe that we must learn to work together. This means we must become synergic humans. Synergy means working together—operating together as in Co-Operation— laboring together as in Co-Laboration—acting together as in Co-Action. The goal of synergic union is to accomplish a larger or more difficult task than can be accomplished by individuals working separately. We are committed to a world where I win, you win, community wins and the Earth wins. Win-Win-Win-Win.
Synergic science finds there are three types of humans in our present world. Which type you are depends on what you believe about how the world works.

Adversaries believe there is not enough for everyone and only the physically strong will survive. They believe humans are coercively dependent on others, and they best understand the language of force.

Neutralists believe there is enough for everyone, if only you work hard enough and take care of yourself. They believe humans are financially independent and should be self-sufficient unless they are too lazy or defective. They best understand the language of money.

And, finally a new type of human is still emerging. Synergists believe there is enough for everyone but only if we work together and act responsibly. They believe humans are interdependent and can only obtain sufficiency by working together as community. Synergists best understand the language of love.

But, to be successful in our present world, the synergist must understand all three languages and know when to use them. Synergists must sometimes use the language of force, and sometimes the language of money, it depends on whom they are talking to. However, when synergists are seeking allies—when synergists are seeking to build community—they must speak the language of love.

We believe that you should, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”What is it that most of us want others to do unto us? Synergic scientists answer this question as follows: Help and support others as you would wish them to help and support you.  Or, more simply, “Treat others the way they want to be treated.”

When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. And that’s my religion.” —Abraham Lincoln  

Synergists are trying to heal the wounds inflicted by those who don’t understand how the world could work. This then is the essential challenge to the synergists. Can we work together and act responsibly in time to save our ourselves on this planet? … Only by helping each other. If humanity were to achieve synergy, we would have a peaceful world, but how do we get there?

As a young father, I wanted to do the best job of parenting I could. With the birth of our first daughter in 1980, I began reading the then current literature on parenting. After a few months I settled on the parenting style proposed by Dr. Thomas Gordon in his book Parent Effectiveness Training. It was a win-win approach that did not support punishment or conflict. But Gordon realized that permissiveness, and letting children run wild would create its own set of problems. Parent enforced discipline was a win/lose game that the parent always won. Permissiveness was a win/lose game that the child always won. Neither method was good for children or families. Gordon explained how we could improve our communication with others at any age. How to work together for solutions where both parent and child could win.

What he did was provide parents with a specific set of communication and problem-solving skills, as well as a means for knowing when and how to use them. These skills (Active Listening, No-Lose Conflict Resolution, and the I-Message) changed the way many parents communicate with their children. The Gordon Method has proved just as valuable for improving communication in the workplace and in our schools. His books have been published in 28 languages and over 6 million copies have been sold worldwide.

However, there was one situation that Gordon did not address. Children through immaturity and ignorance sometimes engage in  dangerous  behavior. The danger may be to themselves or to others. Often this begins before they are able to understand the consequence of their behavior, or to be reasoned with. How do you stop them without resorting to adversity and punishment?

We have all seen parents slap a small child’s hand, when their child reaches for something hot or sharp. The child immediately cries and often runs away, but what has the child learned? Gordon would argue that physically striking the child sends only one message, “You are bad!” And, while the child will withdraw, it is not because they understand that they were in danger, but simply because they fear the parent will strike them again. Now parents often feel that striking the child was necessary to protect the child, but is this really true?

I remember one winter, a heavy storm knocked out the electrical power to our home for almost a week. I hurriedly purchased a portable kerosene heater for warmth and cooking. It was an amazing device, but it was also dangerously hot. My three year old daughter Reason had never seen such a thing in our modern all electrical home and watched with fascination as I set it up. As I watched the sparkle in her eye, I realized the damage she might sustain from touching the top or sides of the heater.

heater:

I asked by wife to hold her well within her arms while I set up the heater.Once it was lit, it soon became hot and began to glow. I told my daughter that it was very hot. I placed a small piece of paper on top which soon burst into flames. I poured a few drops of water on the surface that flashed into steam. All this time her mother advised her, that the heater was very hot and she should not touch it. She stood back and I watched her eyes growing large in amazement. Later her mother went to attend her baby sister Serene, and when I turned, Reason was approaching the heater.

I moved quickly squatted down and contained her loosely in my arms. Gently preventing her from getting closer than two feet. Then to my delight, she told me that the stove was HOT! And that I was NOT to touch it.

Later that evening, I would hear Reason carefully instructing her baby sister that the heater was very HOT, and that Serene should NOT touch it. This was quite unlikely since Serene was only nine months old. However, she seemed to listen carefully as she sucked her bottle. Over the next seven days, Reason never ventured closer than two feet to the heater, and watched it with great respect. Then, electrical power was restored and we put away the kerosene heater.

At this same time, I was studying human behavior. I was aware of the three ways we humans could relate to each other—adversarily, neutrally, or synergically—also called The Relationship Continuum.

Striking the hand of a child reaching for something hot or sharp was an example of adversary punishment.Later as I thought back on how I had protected my daughter, I decided to call this technique synergic containment. At this time, I was practicing Stress Medicine. I often worked with young parents and would always tell them about Gordon’s Parent Effectiveness Training. And, include a description of the mechanism of synergic containment. I thought of the technique as protective, and in some cases even a rescue from danger. I advised them to apply it with love and compassion. Certainly, my child had a very positive experience in learning about the danger of HOT!

Synergic Containment of an Aggressive Child

One of parents came to me with a concern about their large and unusually strong two year old. He was into the full fury of the terrible twos, and he had taken to occasionally hitting his baby sister. It seemed to happen when he got angry. His parents had physically spanked him several times, but the behavior continued. They were genuinely afraid for both the aggressive child and the baby.

I advised them to use the mechanism of synergic containment as follows: Ideally, when a potentially dangerous adversary event occurs both parents would be present. Then one of the parents could contain the aggressor, while the other one attends to the baby. But if there is only one parent present, then the most important thing is to contain the aggressor. The baby may cry, but she is safe once the aggressor is contained.

Whenever you see your two year old son striking the baby, pick him up immediately and remove him from striking distance of his sister, then sit down and hold him on your lap. Wrap your arms around his shoulders, but no tighter than necessary to physically restrain him. Do not raise your voice or berate the child in any way. Do not strike him or inflict pain in any way.

You must contain him. You must absolutely stop him from getting down off your lap. If he struggles, increase the physical restraint of your embrace. Your son may struggle and cry, but this should not win his release. You will have to hold him until he quiets down. This may take a while. Be patient. You cannot successfully talk with him until he is calm.

Your goal is to restrain the child, but not send the message, “You are bad!” You want him to understand that you are afraid for the baby. You want him to understand that hitting the baby is dangerous. Once he is calm, in simple language express your fear for the baby. If another parent or adult is there ask them to attend the baby with create concern. Once the baby is calm, have them pantomime, raising one hand into a position as if they might strike the baby, but then deliberately grabbing their raised hand with their other hand and pulling it down. Repeatedly stating in a calm voice. “I am afraid for the baby.” “Don’t hit the baby.”

This is not a technique to be used lightly. It is serious medicine. Children should be allowed to get angry. Containment is not to be used to control anger. Containment is not to be used to stop evenly matched boys from wrestling or rough housing. Containment is to stop DANGEROUS behavior. Containment of an aggressive child should only occur if the child himself or someone else is in danger.

KidsFight:  

When you use containment, you are limiting your child’s freedom of action. The child may process this as if they are being punished. They may misunderstand the act of containment as punishment. This is why it must be done with love and compassion. Certainly, the parents love their child. They just don’t like his dangerous behavior. The goal is to make that behavior less likely to occur in the future. Synergic containment must do more than stop the dangerous behavior, it must educate the aggressor.

Most adults can easily contain a two year old child. Once your son quiets down and becomes calm, and this might take 15 to 20 minutes. You would then try to communicate with him that hitting his baby sister is prohibited. His ability to understand of course would be limited by his age and level of maturity. The human mind develops during childhood. The ability to understand consequence does not develop until about age four. You don’t over explain or discuss your concerns, you just state them in the way that you feel your child will best understand. Simpler is always better. “I am afraid for the baby!” “Don’t hit the baby!” With very small children, use pantomime when possible.

At this point, you let the child down from your lap to return to his activities. You immediately attend the baby. Showing him your concern. You try to enlist his help in comforting the baby, and in demonstrating love and caring for his sister.You don’t insist that he help, but you let him see your concern.

Synergic containment only occurs to stop dangerous behavior. If the adversary act recurs, the synergic containment recurs.

Every episode of synergic containment is an opportunity to communicate with your child. As the child grows, his ability to reason and to understand consequence grows. Since all humans do not like being on the receiving end of adversary acts, they soon learn that adversity is an inappropriate behavior. Teach them that they need to work together and act responsibly to be successful within the family.

Allowing children of any age to profit from adversary behavior is a mistake. Ideally, the use of synergic containment begins early. A single parent can contain a small child. It may take two parents to contain a 10 year old. It may take three or four adults to contain a 14 year old. And, it may take a SWAT team to contain an armed 18 year old.

August 17th, 2014

As the 2014 summer of chaos and disorder draws towards an end. It appears time for we humans to change our ways. … The motto of this website is: “Always tell only the truth, and all the truth, and do so promptly – right now.” This statement by Buckminster Fuller cannot be emphasized too much. I will attempt to live up to that motto in today’s essay.

The following article is from the 2002 SynEARTH Archives. It was the first in a series on synergic containment and synergic disarmament. Synergic containment and synergic disarmament are powerful mechanisms for containing adversary behavior. They will be developed as the series is presented. We start off by making the case for a paradigm shift that can move us Beyond Crime and Punishment. Only then will we find the mechanisms to end the insanity of war.


Beyond Crime and Punishment

Timothy Wilken, MD

In our present world, it is widely believed that mistakes are the result of badness. So when mistakes occur, we investigate, blame and punish. This belief has resulted in a world where violence, hate and judgment are common.

Synergic science reveals that mistakes are in fact the result of ignorance. If we understand this, then when a mistake occurs, we would analyze, determine responsibility, and educate. This could soon lead to a world where public safety, love and compassion are common.

The Uncertainty of Human Knowing

We can never know all there is to know about anything — this is a fundamental ‘law’ of Nature. This is in fact is the only cause of mistakes.

Ignorance is the word that best describes the human condition. Alfred Korzybskiexplained this condition scientifically as the Principle of Non-Allness. By this he meant that we humans make all of our decisions with incomplete and imperfect knowing. We make every choice without all the information. All humans live and act in state of ignorance. Korzybski felt that developing an awareness of this ‘law’ of Nature was so fundamentally important to all humans, that he developed a lesson especially for children. Korzybski would explain:

“Children, today we want to learn ALL about the apple.”

IMAGE UCS2-51.jpg

He would place an apple in view of the children, “Do you children know about the apple?”

“I do!”, “I do!”, “Yes, I know about apples!”

“Good” Korzybski moved to the blackboard. , “Come, tell me about the apple?”

“The Apple is a fruit.”, “The apple is red.”, “The apple grows on a tree.”

Korzybski would begin to list the characteristics described by the children on the blackboard.

The children continued, “An apple a day keeps the Doctor away.”

Korzybski continued listing the children’s answers until they run out of ideas, then he would ask, “Is that all we can say about the apple?

When the children answered in the affirmative, Korzybski would remove his pocket-knife and cut the apple in half, passing the parts among the children.

“Now, children can we say more about the apple?

“The apple smells good.” “The juices are sweet.” “The apple has seeds.” “Its pulp is white.” “Mother makes apple pie.

Finally when the children had again run out of answers, Korzybski would ask, “Now, is that all-we can say about the apple?” When the children agreed that it was all that could be said, he would again go into his pocket only this time he removed a ten power magnifying lens and passed it to the children. The children would examine the apple, and again respond:

“The apple pulp has a pattern and a structure.” “The skin of the apple has pores.” “The leaves have fuzz on them.” “The seeds have coats.”

Thus Korzybski would teach the children the lesson of Non-ALLness.

Now we could continue to examine the apple—with a light microscope, x-ray crystallography, and eventually the electron microscope. We would continue to discover more to say about the apple. However, we can never know ALL there is to know about anything in Nature. We humans have the power to know about Nature, but not to know ALL.

Knowing is without limit, but knowing is not total. Universe is our human model of Nature. Our ‘knowing’ can grow evermore complete. It can grow closer and closer to the ‘Truth’, but it cannot equal the ‘Truth’. It must always be incomplete. We are not ‘GOD’. We cannot see and know ALL.

Jacob Bronowski speaking in 1976 his famous public television series the Ascent of Man said:

“One aim of the physical sciences has been to give an exact picture of the material world. One achievement of physics in the Twentieth Century has been to prove that that aim is unattainable. There is no absolute knowledge and those who claim it, whether they are scientists or dogmatists, open the door to tragedy. All information is imperfect. We have to treat it with humility. This is the human condition; and that is what Quantum Physics says. I mean that literally.

“Let us examine an object with the best tool we have today, the electron microscope, where the rays are so concentrated that we no longer know whether to call them waves or particles. Electrons are fired at an object, and they trace its outline like a knife-thrower at a fair. The smallest object that has ever been seen is a single atom of thorium. It is spectacular.

And yet the soft image confirms that, like the knives that graze the girl at the fair, even the hardest electrons do not give a hard outline. The perfect image is still as remote as the distant stars.

“We are here face to face with the crucial paradox of knowledge. Year by year we devise more precise instruments with which to observe nature with more fineness and when we look at the observations, we are discomfited to see that they are still fuzzy, and we feel that we are as uncertain as ever.

“We seem to be running after a goal which lurches away from us to infinity every time we come within sight of it.

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“The paradox of knowledge is not confined to the small, atomic scale; on the contrary, it is as cogent on the scale of man, and even of the stars.

“Let me put it in the context of an astronomical observatory. Karl Freidrich Gauss’ observatory at Gˆttingen was built about 1807. Throughout his life and ever since (the best part of 200 years) astronomical instruments have been improved.

“We look at the position of a star as it was determined then and now, and it seems to us that we are closer and closer to finding it precisely. But when we actually compare our individual observations today, we are astonished and chagrined to find them as scattered within themselves as ever.

“We had hoped that the human errors would disappear, and that we would ourselves have God’s view. But it turns out that the errors cannot be taken out of the observations. And that is true of stars, or atoms, or just looking at somebody’s picture, or hearing the report of somebody’s speech.”

Incomplete and imperfect knowing means that every human belief is an assumption. We can never know for sure. We can never know ALL.

As you sit in your chair reading these words, you assumed the chair would hold you. You did not check under the chair to see if it had broken since its last use. When you ate lunch at your favorite restaurant last week, you assumed the waitress had washed her hands. You assumed the cook did not have hepatitis. If you had assumed otherwise, you would not have walked into that restaurant. You would not have eaten your lunch. We humans assume. Herein lies our uncertainty — that’s all we humans can do. There is nothing wrong in our assuming, we are simply obeying a fundamental ‘law’ of Nature.

We humans have always believed that mistakes are bad. We have always believed that those who make mistakes are bad. They are stupid or careless — lazy or incompetent — just no damn good. If they were good, they wouldn’t make mistakes. Everyone knows that. Decent people don’t make mistakes. This is nearly a universal belief.

Mistakes = Badness

Korzybski coined the word space-binding to describe the world of the animal. In the world of the animal, cause and effect can not be distinguished from each other. They are the same — they equal each other — they are identical. If the effect of a mistake is bad, then the cause of a mistake is also bad. Human intelligence is build on animal intelligence. All humans have a space-mind. It is a powerful and often dominant part of our human intelligence. As children the space-mind is primary. The uniquely human mind creates what Korzybski called the world of Time-binding. The time-mind doesn’t even begin to become operational in children until they reach the age of four.

So our human belief that mistakes are ‘bad’ is legitimate. Most of us learn about mistakes as small children. If I stumble while running, I get hurt and that is bad. If an animal is running for its life and stumbles, it dies and that is bad. For space-binders, mistakes are a part of bad space.

In the world of space-binding, a mistake can cost not only the life of the individual space-binder, but also the lives of others in the group — pack, pride, herd, or troop. Therefore the result of a mistake was often bad, and not just for the individual, but for others in the group as well. Since 99.9% of all human history has been adversary — 99.9% of our history dominated by space-binding, it is no wonder that we humans have believed for countless centuries that mistakes are bad.

The belief in the badness of mistakes was further reinforced and given Divine sanction by our human religions. God is good. God is omniscience — ALL knowing. God makes no mistakes. He is perfect. We humans are admonished to be as God-like as possible. If making no mistakes is ‘good’, then obviously making mistakes is ‘bad’. Our religions institutionalized the adversary processing of mistakes — Sin, Hellfire, and Damnation.

Science has also added credence to the ‘badness’ of mistakes. The world view created by the ‘objective science’ of Galileo, Kepler, Hooke, and Newton was a ‘perfect’ Universe. Newton’s System of the Worlds described a precision clockwork perfection that controlled all in Universe. If the Universe is perfect, then humans too must evolve towards perfection.

Dealing with Badness

Since mistakes are bad, when one occurs, we investigate to determine who is at fault. Who made the mistake? Once that is determined, we blame those responsible. Following blame, we are ready to punish. More pain and suffering has been inflicted on humankind for making mistakes than for any other cause. This should not surprise us.

Punishment is the proper way to deal with ‘badness’. And,if we are anything, we are fair. So when we are the one who made the mistake, we self-punish. Self-punishment is called “guilt”. Humans are the only class of living systems that feels guilty. The only class of living systems that teaches their pets to feel guilty.

MISTAKES = Badness
INVESTIGATE
BLAME
PUNISH —> self punish
“Guilt”

Korzybski’s Error of Identity

When humans rely only on their spacial intelligence, they see cause as being identical to effect. They are in essence time-blind, and so they confuse cause with effect.

Korzybski explained that when humans see things as being identical that are not identical, they are making an identification that is false to facts. Korzybski called this the Error of Identity.

When we confuse cause with effect, we are making the error of identity. Today most humans make this error. We assume without analysis that cause and effect are the same — that they are equal — that they are identical. If the effect of a mistake is bad then the cause of that mistake must also be bad.

We don’t analyze the event for sequence. We don’t use our time-binding power to understand. And so,we act without hesitation, without doubt on our belief. We act in certainty. And, certainty as explained earlier by Korzybski, Heisenberg, Eddington and Bronowski is not possible, because knowing is uncertain.

Certainty

We humans always act without all the information. We humans are always assuming. If we are unaware that we are assuming, then we are ignorant of our ignorance. Certainty means that we don’t know that we don’t know. We cannot seek knowing when we believe our ignorance is knowing. Ignorance of ignorance is leveraged ignorance — ignorance masquerading as knowledge. Ignorance of ignorance is certainty.

When we are certain, we are surprised and disheartened by our mistakes. This attitude toward human error is the most damaging of human ignorances. We humans make mistakes because, we make all our decisions without ALL the information. This is a major point that all humans must understand. The only cause of mistakes is ignorance.

We humans must become aware of our ignorance. When we humans have knowledge of our ignorance, we can learn from our mistakes and protect ourselves in the future. When an individual knows he doesn’t know, he is wise. Wisdom is the opposite of certainty. The knowledge of our ignorance is wisdom.

To error is the human condition

This truth, whether we call it the Principle of Non-Allness, the Principle of Uncertainty, the Principle of Indeterminacy, or the Principle of Tolerance, leads us to the conclusion that to error is human, and there is no need too ask forgiveness. All mistakes are innocent.

Universe is not certain — it is not structured as we humans have believed for countless centuries. Religion and the objective scientists were wrong. The physics of relativity and quantum mechanics describe a Universe in which things are not and cannot be perfect. A Universe in which, we humans are constrained to make all our choices without ALL the information. Mistakes are simply holes or gaps in our knowing — lapses in our understanding.

I am often asked, “But, what if I knew better?” If I knew better and then make a mistake. Isn’t that the result of stupidity. If I knew better, but still made an error, then surely that is my fault and not the result of ignorance.

What if I knew better?

I recall a young women I once treated. She had opened her hotel room door to a man claiming to be a maintenance worker, who then attacked and raped her. The attacker has stolen a hotel uniform from a laundry hamper and so seemed legitimate. However, something about his appearance disturbed her, but on second thought, she assumed she was just being silly and so unlocked her door. When I saw her several months later she was still struggling with guilt.

“Doctor, it was my own fault. I was so stupid. I shouldn’t have opened the door. I knew something was wrong. I was so stupid. I knew better, but I opened the door anyway.”

I responded, “You weren’t stupid. You were only ignorant.”

She replied, “No, Dr. Wilken, I knew better, I should never have opened the door, I was just so stupid.”

“NO!”, I told her, “You weren’t stupid, you were only ignorant and I can prove it with one simple question. She looked deep into my eyes desperate to know what I meant.

I asked: “If you had known that the man behind the door intended to rape you, would you have opened it?”

“No, of course not.”

No of course not. None of us would make a mistake if we knew we were about to make a mistake. Even when we humans repeat our mistakes, it is because we assume the mistake will not happen this time. We are ignorant of what will happen this time. As I have stated, the only cause of human error — the only cause of human mistakes is ignorance.

Scientists as well as non-scientists who seek to know must therefore embrace humility when we stand before the totality of Nature.

The Principle of Non-Allness is a fundamental law of Nature. And the first corollary to the Principle of Non-Allness is what I call the Principle of Innocence.

Principle of Innocence

All actions occur in ignorance. All human actions and all human choices are made without all the information. We are always acting and choosing without ALL the information. What we don’t know we must ignore and what we ignore may hurt us. Therefore all errors and and all mistakes are made in innocence.

Good news

I don’t mean that mistakes are good things or that getting hurt is a good thing. I mean that since the cause of mistakes is ignorance and the proper response to ignorance is education, then we can learn from our mistakes.

We can acknowledge the mistakes of history and those that are occurring in our present world and work to correct them. This is good news. It will make it infinitely easier to build a better world.

When we understand the truth of “to error is human”, we can then begin to process our mistakes in a synergic manner. The human who understands that mistakes are a natural part of life does not investigate the mistakes like a detective, he analyzes the mistake as a scientist. He does not blame when a mistake occurs, he seeks to learn from the mistake and to learn he must accept responsibility and seek responsibility in others for their mistakes. Once he knows who is responsible for the mistake he educates.

IMAGE ProtectingHumanity11.jpg

Education is the proper response to ignorance. Education and learning is the synergic alternative to adversary punishment and guilt. However there is something in guilt worth keeping. It is certainly not the badness, it is certainly not the blame, and of course it is not the punishment.

Guilt also contains regret and this is worth keeping. When a mistake happens there is always regret. In the adversary world where there is blame and punishment of course I might regret being blamed and punished. I also might regret being considered bad by those who are blaming and punishing me. But there is almost always another component of regret. When I make a mistake that hurts someone else, I regret that as well. This is the regret worth keeping.

And, this is often why we humans tend to hang onto our guilt feelings when we make a mistake. We regret injuring others. We can solve this dilemma by moving regret over into the synergic processing of mistakes, where it is called restitution. Restitution means to restore, to repair the damage caused by the ignorance of our behavior.

The synergist does not feel guilty when he makes a mistake, but he is sorry if his ignorance injured other. As a synergist, he will freely try to repair things. He will freely offer restitution.

 

Adversary

Synergic

MISTAKES = Badness MISTAKES = Ignorance
INVESTIGATE ANALYZE
ACCUSE & BLAME DETERMINE RESPONSIBILITY
PUNISH

—> self-punish

EDUCATE

—> self-educate

“Guilt”

  “Learn”

regret->

RESTITUTION

 

We humans have a choice as to how to deal with mistakes. If we process our mistakes adversarily we get pain and no learning. If we process our mistakes synergically, we get learning and no pain.
In fact, you cannot learn when you adversarily process mistakes. We humans cannot tolerate the pain of blame, punishment, and guilt. We will deny that we make a mistake. We will project the blame for the mistake onto others. “I didn’t do it.” — “It wasn’t my fault.” — “And, if it isn’t my fault, why should I have to learn anything.”

In fact, if I am to learn from a mistake, I must first admit it was my fault. This is the real force behind what I call the “anti-learning barrier”. If I am to learn from my mistake I am trapped into accepting responsibility for my error. If I am adversarily processing the mistake, I cannot accept responsibility without feeling guilty. To avoid guilt I must deny responsibility. And if I wasn’t responsible then I have nothing to learn.

The “anti-learning barrier”

This barrier became evident to me by another one of my patients. I once had the occasion to treat a young woman in the early stages of her fifth pregnancy. She informed me she had had four abortions previously and was pregnant and planning to abort this pregnancy as well. I thought to myself, why can’t she learn to use birth control?

If we examine her situation in light of our new understanding, we see that for her to use birth control, she would have to admit that it is her responsibility to prevent unwanted pregnancies. That admission would lead her to the further conclusion that she was then also responsible for her previous unwanted pregnancies and their abortions.

This young woman was a Catholic and to admit responsibility for unwanted pregnancies and abortions were far too painful for her. She opted to deny any responsibility. “My boy friend got me drunk, and made me pregnant. It wasn’t my fault, so I don’t need to take birth control. Besides using birth control is a sin, I would never do that.”

The human brain is the most powerfully precise computer in the Universe. If we program it to believe mistakes are bad, it will function to prove it does not make mistakes. The human brain rebels at the idea that mistakes are bad. It will defend itself in any way possible, it will defend itself by lying. When I am accused of badness, I must lie to protect myself — to protect myself from blame and punishment — to protect myself from guilt. Confronted with an adversary reality that we live with today, it is rational to lie. Lying leads to distrust — “I assume you are my enemy”. Thus, the processing of mistakes as bad always leads to conflict and adversary behavior.

If on the other hand, I process my mistakes in a more scientific manner — as simply ignorant — choices made without all the information, then I must tell the truth to protect myself — to protect myself from repeating the mistake — to protect myself and others from further injury — to protect myself from paying unnecessary restitution.

Telling the truth leads to trust — “I assume you are my friend”. Processing mistakes as ignorance leads to co-Operation and synergic behavior.

 

Adversary

Synergic

MISTAKES = Badness MISTAKES = Ignorance
INVESTIGATE ANALYZE
ACCUSE & BLAME DETERMINE RESPONSIBILITY
PUNISH

—> self-punish

EDUCATE

—> self-educate

“Guilt”   

  “Learn”   

regret->

RESTITUTION

I must lie to protect myself.

I must tell the truth to protect myself.

I assume you are my enemy.

I assume you are my friend.

Distrust

Trust

Conflict

Co-Operation

 

Scientists and all humans who seek to know must embrace humility when they stand before the totality of Nature. The principle of Non-Allness is a fundamental law of nature.

The fact that all actions occur in ignorance is a fundamental ‘knowing’ derived from the Principle of Non-Allness.

And the first corollary of that principle — the Principle of Innocence is an even more important extension of our human ‘knowing’. If we understand that all errors are committed in innocence, then how we treat those who err will change forever.

What about Bin Laden ?

How could the attack on the World Trade Towers have resulted from ignorance. How could those behind the murder of 3000+ thousand innocents themselves be innocent?

What don’t they know?

They don’t know that “As you sow, so shall you reap”. They don’t know that:

Adversary action usually provokes adversary reaction ending in an adversary resultant or loss.

They don’t know how powerful the United States really is. They have forgotten the lessons learned by Japan and Germany by the end of World War II. They to have wakened the sleeping Giant. Their acts will not make the world better and safer for themselves or for those they claim to represent. They don’t know that the end never justifies the means. In fact, the means always end up becoming the ends.

They don’t know that there is no heaven for murderers. They don’t know that an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, ends up with no winners only losers in a modern world with high technology and knowledge.

They don’t know that:

Progress + Warfare = Human Extinction

We humans are Time-binders, we have the power to create knowledge without limit. When knowledge is incorporated into matter-energy, it becomes a tool. As Andrew J. Galambos explained:

“Humans develop evermore powerful knowledge and therefore evermore powerful tools. When tools are used to harm other humans they are called weapons. Since human knowledge can grow without limit then tools themselves can be made without limit. And limitless tools can will produce limitless weapons.”

And, limitless weapons (progress) combined with leveraged adversity (warfare) must by all definitions and understanding of science produce human extinction.

All of today’s law enforcement agencies use adversary processing in an attempt to protect the public safety. Unfortunately, adversary processing results only in pain and no learning. The war on crime has been lost and always will be lost. Adversary behavior cannot be stopped with adversary behavior. The means always become the ends. The abolition of crime will require the abolition of punishment.

Only then can we move towards a world where, love, wisdom and compassion will replace hate, ignorance and judgment. Only then can we move beyond crime and punishment.



Read Timothy Wilken’s A Limit to Knowing. Read Timothy Wilken’s Protecting Humanity.

June 18th, 2014

Whether serendipity or synchronicity, I happened on to the writings of today’s author with a single click. … I am so glad I did. I have sampled only a few of this wise man’s thoughts, but those few samples have been delicious. Enjoy!


An Open Letter to GAIA

Serge Kahili King

Dear Gaia,

Thank you for your last communication. The birdsongs were delightful, the sunrise was spectacular, and the scent of plumeria carried into my room by your trade winds was a very nice touch. I certainly admire your mastery of the sensory medium.

But this is more than just a letter of praise, much as you deserve it. It’s a plea for assistance in the survival of our species.

Oh, I know that many humans (one of your more rambunctious, prolific and mischievous group of apes, in case you aren’t familiar with the term we apply to ourselves) are very concerned about your survival, but they don’t know you as well as some of us . Those of us around the world who communicate with you on a regular basis know that your survival is not at stake. You would still be you whether you were a parched desert, a landless ocean, a ball of ice, a globe of lava or even a radioactive mass. And I’ve no doubt that you are creative enough to come up with some form of life under any conditions, since that’s one of your specialties.

No, Gaia, the problem is us humans, the apes with imagination. Not only have we put ourselves in danger, but we are endangering a lot of your other species in the plant and animal realms. Of course, I realize that we may not be high on your priority list. We are fairly numerous, but we don’t come anywhere near matching the numbers of your plants, insects, fishes, rodents and birds, even though we’ve tried pretty hard to diminish them. And I know we haven’t been around as long as some of the ones I’ve just mentioned. And I also know that your natural forces have wiped out considerable numbers of species over the eons. So why am I writing in hopes that you’ll help us?

Well, I think we’ve evolved some pretty unique qualities and habits that can serve you well if we can stay around long enough to develop them. What are they? I think they are love, creativity and communication.

Okay, okay, it seems like we’re pretty violent and destructive, even toward each other. But that’s not natural, it’s an effect of stress and fear. The great majority of humans are quite a peaceful bunch. We like our fun and excitement, we love to play, and we can be quite aggressive when it comes to protecting ourselves. Violence, however, is an aberration, like a sickness, and more and more of us are actively seeking ways and means to cure it. If it were natural we wouldn’t bother doing that. When we are not under severe stress and in states of fear our natural inclination is to help each other, to teach each other, and to care for each other. That’s why we have so many individuals and organizations doing those things. A lot of humans don’t realize it themselves, but there are far more people organized to help other people than there are that are organized to fight each other. And you won’t find another species anywhere with as much concern for the survival and well-being of species other than our own. Sure, I admit that you won’t find another species anywhere that destroys as many other species as we do, either, but we are trying to do better. We are trying harder than ever before in our entire existence. Check it out. Meanwhile, please help us to find a proper dynamic balance between competition and cooperation.

There’s another aspect of our love, too. Remember that sunset I mentioned at the beginning? Well it’s only beautiful if a human is looking at it. Otherwise it’s just a lot of clouds and the sun at the end of another day. You won’t find any other species gathering around to ooh and ahh at it, making up clever ways to duplicate it so others can see it who weren’t there, writing poetry and singing songs about it. This love thing of ours includes an appreciation of beauty, an appreciation of you, that’s different from anything you’ll get from your other children. Inspire us, I ask you, to be even more aware and appreciative of your wild and complex magnificence.

Creativity I said. That imagination of ours has gotten us into a whole lot of trouble, and has hurt a lot of other species, but it has its positive side. I’m not sure how strongly you feel about preserving particular species, but the same abilities that we use to wipe out a lot of them are being used to save and protect many others, sometimes even from your destruction. And using your basic materials we’ve even managed to copy some of your techniques (we say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery) and produce new kinds of beings like the many varieties of bananas, wheat, rice, horses, dogs and cats. Yes, we are messy, and some of our unhealthiest messes are probably going to be around for a very long time. That’s a very unpleasant side effect of our creativity, to be sure. All I can say is that there are a lot more of us keeping a close watch on that and trying to stop it and invent ways to correct it. With our creativity we have the potential for making life on the planet much more fun for everything and everyone. We just need more time. So please be patient and imagine (for if we can imagine you must be able to do so as well) all the wonderful things we can do together.

In the area of communication we really shine. Boy can we talk. We make sounds, of course, to exchange information with each other just like a lot of other animals. And we sing, like some other animals, and we dance, like some other animals, but we do special things that none of your other animals do. For one thing, we make pictures in our heads and then reproduce those pictures in all kinds of ways so that other humans can see them and learn from them. As a shaman it still amazes me that a young human can watch one of these moving pictures and and in one hour can learn more about some of your most interesting creatures than a fellow shaman could learn by spending five years in the bush. Of course it might have taken a bunch of humans five years to put that picture together, but it’s the ability to share the experience that’s so unique.

Maybe you’ve noticed that we’ve also been able to tap some of your energy so we can communicate with each other across vast distances, sometimes using physical pathways made from your minerals and plants, but more and more often using invisible waves that we’ve modified from your bounty. By combining our communication and our creativity we’ve even linked you up to your partner the Moon and all your neighbor planets, in other ways than your existing links of light and gravity, that is.

We also communicate in subtler ways, somewhat like most of your other species, but perhaps with more energetic effect. We shamans are familiar with holding conversations with winds and seas and rocks, with animals and plants. We also know that everyone can do the same thing and that through their thoughts and feelings they do so without realizing it, often inadvertently causing droughts and storms as well as healing rains and bumper crops. Teach us, then, to communicate with you more directly, more clearly, and more effectively.

We could really serve you well, if you’d let us. We can appreciate you, we can work with you creatively to help keep your natural processes in harmony, and we can act as your eyes and ears and voice both here and across the reaches of space. Whatever our spiritual origin, we are formed of your stuff, conditioned to your environment, endowed with skills and abilities born out of your potentials. We are pretty adaptable critters, but we need your help so we can adapt even better. How can you help us? Inspire us, Gaia. With dreams, insights, awareness, respect and hope. Talk to more of us in all your myriad ways, in ways like those described by the poet Alfred Street:

(Gaia) is man’s teacher. She unfolds her treasures to his search, unseals his eyes, illumines his mind, and purifies his heart; an influence breathes from all the sights and sounds of her existence.

Thank you, Gaia, for listening, through the eyes and ears of all who read or hear this letter.

Me ke aloha pumehana,

Serge
Kauai, Hawaii


More  writings by Serge Kahili King

April 28th, 2014

I first read this essay in the November/December 2012 issue of Orion Magazine. This essay was a finalist for a 2013 National Magazine Award in the Essay category. I reposted it on CommUnity of Minds in November 2012, and was reminded of it again today. It was and is well worth revisiting.


State of the Species

Charles C. Mann

THE PROBLEM WITH environmentalists, Lynn Margulis used to say, is that they think conservation has something to do with biological reality. A researcher who specialized in cells and microorganisms, Margulis was one of the most important biologists in the last half century—she literally helped to reorder the tree of life, convincing her colleagues that it did not consist of two kingdoms (plants and animals), but five or even six (plants, animals, fungi, protists, and two types of bacteria).

Until Margulis’s death last year, she lived in my town, and I would bump into her on the street from time to time. She knew I was interested in ecology, and she liked to needle me. Hey, Charles, she would call out, are you still all worked up about protecting endangered species?

Margulis was no apologist for unthinking destruction. Still, she couldn’t help regarding conservationists’ preoccupation with the fate of birds, mammals, and plants as evidence of their ignorance about the greatest source of evolutionary creativity: the microworld of bacteria, fungi, and protists. More than 90 percent of the living matter on earth consists of microorganisms and viruses, she liked to point out. Heck, the number of bacterial cells in our body is ten times more than the number of human cells!

Bacteria and protists can do things undreamed of by clumsy mammals like us: form giant supercolonies, reproduce either asexually or by swapping genes with others, routinely incorporate DNA from entirely unrelated species, merge into symbiotic beings—the list is as endless as it is amazing. Microorganisms have changed the face of the earth, crumbling stone and even giving rise to the oxygen we breathe. Compared to this power and diversity, Margulis liked to tell me, pandas and polar bears were biological epiphenomena—interesting and fun, perhaps, but not actually significant.

Does that apply to human beings, too? I once asked her, feeling like someone whining to Copernicus about why he couldn’t move the earth a little closer to the center of the universe. Aren’t we special at all?

This was just chitchat on the street, so I didn’t write anything down. But as I recall it, she answered that Homo sapiens actually might be interesting—for a mammal, anyway. For one thing, she said, we’re unusually successful.

Seeing my face brighten, she added: Of course, the fate of every successful species is to wipe itself out.

OF LICE AND MEN

Why and how did humankind become “unusually successful”? And what, to an evolutionary biologist, does “success” mean, if self-destruction is part of the definition? Does that self-destruction include the rest of the biosphere? What are human beings in the grand scheme of things anyway, and where are we headed? What is human nature, if there is such a thing, and how did we acquire it? What does that nature portend for our interactions with the environment? With 7 billion of us crowding the planet, it’s hard to imagine more vital questions.

One way to begin answering them came to Mark Stoneking in 1999, when he received a notice from his son’s school warning of a potential lice outbreak in the classroom. Stoneking is a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Leipzig, Germany. He didn’t know much about lice. As a biologist, it was natural for him to noodle around for information about them. The most common louse found on human bodies, he discovered, is Pediculus humanus. P. humanus has two subspecies: P. humanus capitis—head lice, which feed and live on the scalp—and P. humanus corporis—body lice, which feed on skin but live in clothing. In fact, Stoneking learned, body lice are so dependent on the protection of clothing that they cannot survive more than a few hours away from it.

It occurred to him that the two louse subspecies could be used as an evolutionary probe. P. humanus capitis, the head louse, could be an ancient annoyance, because human beings have always had hair for it to infest. But P. humanus corporis, the body louse, must not be especially old, because its need for clothing meant that it could not have existed while humans went naked. Humankind’s great coverup had created a new ecological niche, and some head lice had rushed to fill it. Evolution then worked its magic; a new subspecies, P. humanus corporis, arose. Stoneking couldn’t be sure that this scenario had taken place, though it seemed likely. But if his idea were correct, discovering when the body louse diverged from the head louse would provide a rough date for when people first invented and wore clothing.

The subject was anything but frivolous: donning a garment is a complicated act. Clothing has practical uses—warming the body in cold places, shielding it from the sun in hot places—but it also transforms the appearance of the wearer, something that has proven to be of inescapable interest to Homo sapiens. Clothing is ornament and emblem; it separates human beings from their earlier, un-self-conscious state. (Animals run, swim, and fly without clothing, but only people can be naked.) The invention of clothing was a sign that a mental shift had occurred. The human world had become a realm of complex, symbolic artifacts.

With two colleagues, Stoneking measured the difference between snippets of DNA in the two louse subspecies. Because DNA is thought to pick up small, random mutations at a roughly constant rate, scientists use the number of differences between two populations to tell how long ago they diverged from a common ancestor—the greater the number of differences, the longer the separation. In this case, the body louse had separated from the head louse about 70,000 years ago. Which meant, Stoneking hypothesized, that clothing also dated from about 70,000 years ago.

And not just clothing. As scientists have established, a host of remarkable things occurred to our species at about that time. It marked a dividing line in our history, one that made us who we are, and pointed us, for better and worse, toward the world we now have created for ourselves.

Homo sapiens emerged on the planet about 200,000 years ago, researchers believe. From the beginning, our species looked much as it does today. If some of those long-ago people walked by us on the street now, we would think they looked and acted somewhat oddly, but not that they weren’t people. But those anatomically modern humans were not, as anthropologists say, behaviorally modern. Those first people had no language, no clothing, no art, no religion, nothing but the simplest, unspecialized tools. They were little more advanced, technologically speaking, than their predecessors—or, for that matter, modern chimpanzees. (The big exception was fire, but that was first controlled by Homo erectus, one of our ancestors, a million years ago or more.) Our species had so little capacity for innovation that archaeologists have found almost no evidence of cultural or social change during our first 100,000 years of existence. Equally important, for almost all that time these early humans were confined to a single, small area in the hot, dry savanna of East Africa (and possibly a second, still smaller area in southern Africa).

But now jump forward 50,000 years. East Africa looks much the same. So do the humans in it—but suddenly they are drawing and carving images, weaving ropes and baskets, shaping and wielding specialized tools, burying the dead in formal ceremonies, and perhaps worshipping supernatural beings. They are wearing clothes—lice-filled clothes, to be sure, but clothes nonetheless. Momentously, they are using language. And they are dramatically increasing their range. Homo sapiens is exploding across the planet.

What caused this remarkable change? By geologists’ standards, 50,000 years is an instant, a finger snap, a rounding error. Nonetheless, most researchers believe that in that flicker of time, favorable mutations swept through our species, transforming anatomically modern humans into behaviorally modern humans. The idea is not absurd: in the last 400 years, dog breeders converted village dogs into creatures that act as differently as foxhounds, border collies, and Labrador retrievers. Fifty millennia, researchers say, is more than enough to make over a species.

Homo sapiens lacks claws, fangs, or exoskeletal plates. Rather, our unique survival skill is our ability to innovate, which originates with our species’ singular brain—a three-pound universe of hyperconnected neural tissue, constantly aswirl with schemes and notions. Hence every hypothesized cause for the transformation of humankind from anatomically modern to behaviorally modern involves a physical alteration of the wet gray matter within our skulls. One candidate explanation is that in this period people developed hybrid mental abilities by interbreeding with Neanderthals. (Some Neanderthal genes indeed appear to be in our genome, though nobody is yet certain of their function.) Another putative cause is symbolic language—an invention that may have tapped latent creativity and aggressiveness in our species. A third is that a mutation might have enabled our brains to alternate between spacing out on imaginative chains of association and focusing our attention narrowly on the physical world around us. The former, in this view, allows us to come up with creative new strategies to achieve a goal, whereas the latter enables us to execute the concrete tactics required by those strategies.

Each of these ideas is fervently advocated by some researchers and fervently attacked by others. What is clear is that something made over our species between 100,000 and 50,000 years ago—and right in the middle of that period was Toba.

CHILDREN OF TOBA

About 75,000 years ago, a huge volcano exploded on the island of Sumatra. The biggest blast for several million years, the eruption created Lake Toba, the world’s biggest crater lake, and ejected the equivalent of as much as 3,000 cubic kilometers of rock, enough to cover the District of Columbia in a layer of magma and ash that would reach to the stratosphere. A gigantic plume spread west, enveloping southern Asia in tephra (rock, ash, and dust). Drifts in Pakistan and India reached as high as six meters. Smaller tephra beds blanketed the Middle East and East Africa. Great rafts of pumice filled the sea and drifted almost to Antarctica.

In the long run, the eruption raised Asian soil fertility. In the short term, it was catastrophic. Dust hid the sun for as much as a decade, plunging the earth into a years-long winter accompanied by widespread drought. A vegetation collapse was followed by a collapse in the species that depended on vegetation, followed by a collapse in the species that depended on the species that depended on vegetation. Temperatures may have remained colder than normal for a thousand years. Orangutans, tigers, chimpanzees, cheetahs—all were pushed to the verge of extinction.

At about this time, many geneticists believe, Homo sapiens’ numbers shrank dramatically, perhaps to a few thousand people—the size of a big urban high school. The clearest evidence of this bottleneck is also its main legacy: humankind’s remarkable genetic uniformity. Countless people have viewed the differences between races as worth killing for, but compared to other primates—even compared to most other mammals—human beings are almost indistinguishable, genetically speaking. DNA is made from exceedingly long chains of “bases.” Typically, about one out of every 2,000 of these “bases” differs between one person and the next. The equivalent figure from two E. coli (human gut bacteria) might be about one out of twenty. The bacteria in our intestines, that is, have a hundredfold more innate variability than their hosts—evidence, researchers say, that our species is descended from a small group of founders.

Uniformity is hardly the only effect of a bottleneck. When a species shrinks in number, mutations can spread through the entire population with astonishing rapidity. Or genetic variants that may have already been in existence—arrays of genes that confer better planning skills, for example—can suddenly become more common, effectively reshaping the species within a few generations as once-unusual traits become widespread.

Did Toba, as theorists like Richard Dawkins have argued, cause an evolutionary bottleneck that set off the creation of behaviorally modern people, perhaps by helping previously rare genes—Neanderthal DNA or an opportune mutation—spread through our species? Or did the volcanic blast simply clear away other human species that had previously blocked H. sapiens’ expansion? Or was the volcano irrelevant to the deeper story of human change?

For now, the answers are the subject of careful back-and-forth in refereed journals and heated argument in faculty lounges. All that is clear is that about the time of Toba, new, behaviorally modern people charged so fast into the tephra that human footprints appeared in Australia within as few as 10,000 years, perhaps within 4,000 or 5,000. Stay-at-home Homo sapiens 1.0, a wallflower that would never have interested Lynn Margulis, had been replaced by aggressively expansive Homo sapiens 2.0. Something happened, for better and worse, and we were born.

One way to illustrate what this upgrade looked like is to consider Solenopsis invicta, the red imported fire ant. Geneticists believe that S. invicta originated in northern Argentina, an area with many rivers and frequent floods. The floods wipe out ant nests. Over the millennia, these small, furiously active creatures have acquired the ability to respond to rising water by coalescing into huge, floating, pullulating balls—workers on the outside, queen in the center—that drift to the edge of the flood. Once the waters recede, colonies swarm back into previously flooded land so rapidly that S. invicta actually can use the devastation to increase its range.

In the 1930s, Solenopsis invicta was transported to the United States, probably in ship ballast, which often consists of haphazardly loaded soil and gravel. As a teenaged bug enthusiast, Edward O. Wilson, the famed biologist, spotted the first colonies in the port of Mobile, Alabama. He saw some very happy fire ants. From the ant’s point of view, it had been dumped into an empty, recently flooded expanse. S. invicta took off, never looking back.

The initial incursion watched by Wilson was likely just a few thousand individuals—a number small enough to suggest that random, bottleneck-style genetic change played a role in the species’ subsequent history in this country. In their Argentine birthplace, fire-ant colonies constantly fight each other, reducing their numbers and creating space for other types of ant. In the United States, by contrast, the species forms cooperative supercolonies, linked clusters of nests that can spread for hundreds of miles. Systematically exploiting the landscape, these supercolonies monopolize every useful resource, wiping out other ant species along the way—models of zeal and rapacity. Transformed by chance and opportunity, new-model S. invictus needed just a few decades to conquer most of the southern United States.

Homo sapiens did something similar in the wake of Toba. For hundreds of thousands of years, our species had been restricted to East Africa (and, possibly, a similar area in the south). Now, abruptly, new-model Homo sapiens were racing across the continents like so many imported fire ants. The difference between humans and fire ants is that fire ants specialize in disturbed habitats. Humans, too, specialize in disturbed habitats—but we do the disturbing.

THE WORLD IS A PETRI DISH

As a student at the University of Moscow in the 1920s, Georgii Gause spent years trying—and failing—to drum up support from the Rockefeller Foundation, then the most prominent funding source for non-American scientists who wished to work in the United States. Hoping to dazzle the foundation, Gause decided to perform some nifty experiments and describe the results in his grant application.

By today’s standards, his methodology was simplicity itself. Gause placed half a gram of oatmeal in one hundred cubic centimeters of water, boiled the results for ten minutes to create a broth, strained the liquid portion of the broth into a container, diluted the mixture by adding water, and then decanted the contents into small, flat-bottomed test tubes. Into each he dripped five Paramecium caudatum or Stylonychia mytilus, both single-celled protozoans, one species per tube. Each of Gause’s test tubes was a pocket ecosystem, a food web with a single node. He stored the tubes in warm places for a week and observed the results. He set down his conclusions in a 163-page book, The Struggle for Existence, published in 1934.

Today The Struggle for Existence is recognized as a scientific landmark, one of the first successful marriages of theory and experiment in ecology. But the book was not enough to get Gause a fellowship; the Rockefeller Foundation turned down the twenty-four-year-old Soviet student as insufficiently eminent. Gause could not visit the United States for another twenty years, by which time he had indeed become eminent, but as an antibiotics researcher.

What Gause saw in his test tubes is often depicted in a graph, time on the horizontal axis, the number of protozoa on the vertical. The line on the graph is a distorted bell curve, with its left side twisted and stretched into a kind of flattened S. At first the number of protozoans grows slowly, and the graph line slowly ascends to the right. But then the line hits an inflection point, and suddenly rockets upward—a frenzy of exponential growth. The mad rise continues until the organism begins to run out of food, at which point there is a second inflection point, and the growth curve levels off again as bacteria begin to die. Eventually the line descends, and the population falls toward zero.

Years ago I watched Lynn Margulis, one of Gause’s successors, demonstrate these conclusions to a class at the University of Massachusetts with a time-lapse video of Proteus vulgaris, a bacterium that lives in the gastrointestinal tract. To humans, she said, P. vulgaris is mainly notable as a cause of urinary-tract infections. Left alone, it divides about every fifteen minutes. Margulis switched on the projector. Onscreen was a small, wobbly bubble—P. vulgaris—in a shallow, circular glass container: a petri dish. The class gasped. The cells in the time-lapse video seemed to shiver and boil, doubling in number every few seconds, colonies exploding out until the mass of bacteria filled the screen. In just thirty-six hours, she said, this single bacterium could cover the entire planet in a foot-deep layer of single-celled ooze. Twelve hours after that, it would create a living ball of bacteria the size of the earth.

Such a calamity never happens, because competing organisms and lack of resources prevent the overwhelming majority of P. vulgaris from reproducing. This, Margulis said, is natural selection, Darwin’s great insight. All living creatures have the same purpose: to make more of themselves, ensuring their biological future by the only means available. Natural selection stands in the way of this goal. It prunes back almost all species, restricting their numbers and confining their range. In the human body, P. vulgaris is checked by the size of its habitat (portions of the human gut), the limits to its supply of nourishment (food proteins), and other, competing organisms. Thus constrained, its population remains roughly steady.

In the petri dish, by contrast, competition is absent; nutrients and habitat seem limitless, at least at first. The bacterium hits the first inflection point and rockets up the left side of the curve, swamping the petri dish in a reproductive frenzy. But then its colonies slam into the second inflection point: the edge of the dish. When the dish’s nutrient supply is exhausted, P. vulgaris experiences a miniapocalypse.

By luck or superior adaptation, a few species manage to escape their limits, at least for a while. Nature’s success stories, they are like Gause’s protozoans; the world is their petri dish. Their populations grow exponentially; they take over large areas, overwhelming their environment as if no force opposed them. Then they annihilate themselves, drowning in their own wastes or starving from lack of food.

To someone like Margulis, Homo sapiens looks like one of these briefly fortunate species.

THE WHIP HAND

No more than a few hundred people initially migrated from Africa, if geneticists are correct. But they emerged into landscapes that by today’s standards were as rich as Eden. Cool mountains, tropical wetlands, lush forests—all were teeming with food. Fish in the sea, birds in the air, fruit on the trees: breakfast was everywhere. People moved in.

Despite our territorial expansion, though, humans were still only in the initial stages of Gause’s oddly shaped curve. Ten thousand years ago, most demographers believe, we numbered barely 5 million, about one human being for every hundred square kilometers of the earth’s land surface. Homo sapiens was a scarcely noticeable dusting on the surface of a planet dominated by microbes. Nevertheless, at about this time—10,000 years ago, give or take a millennium—humankind finally began to approach the first inflection point. Our species was inventing agriculture.

The wild ancestors of cereal crops like wheat, barley, rice, and sorghum have been part of the human diet for almost as long as there have been humans to eat them. (The earliest evidence comes from Mozambique, where researchers found tiny bits of 105,000-year-old sorghum on ancient scrapers and grinders.) In some cases people may have watched over patches of wild grain, returning to them year after year. Yet despite the effort and care the plants were not domesticated. As botanists say, wild cereals “shatter”—individual grain kernels fall off as they ripen, scattering grain haphazardly, making it impossible to harvest the plants systematically. Only when unknown geniuses discovered naturally mutated grain plants that did not shatter—and purposefully selected, protected, and cultivated them—did true agriculture begin. Planting great expanses of those mutated crops, first in southern Turkey, later in half a dozen other places, early farmers created landscapes that, so to speak, waited for hands to harvest them.

Farming converted most of the habitable world into a petri dish. Foragers manipulated their environment with fire, burning areas to kill insects and encourage the growth of useful species—plants we liked to eat, plants that attracted the other creatures we liked to eat. Nonetheless, their diets were largely restricted to what nature happened to provide in any given time and season. Agriculture gave humanity the whip hand. Instead of natural ecosystems with their haphazard mix of species (so many useless organisms guzzling up resources!), farms are taut, disciplined communities conceived and dedicated to the maintenance of a single species: us.

Before agriculture, the Ukraine, American Midwest, and lower Yangzi were barely hospitable food deserts, sparsely inhabited landscapes of insects and grass; they became breadbaskets as people scythed away suites of species that used soil and water we wanted to dominate and replaced them with wheat, rice, and maize (corn). To one of Margulis’s beloved bacteria, a petri dish is a uniform expanse of nutrients, all of which it can seize and consume. For Homo sapiens, agriculture transformed the planet into something similar.

As in a time-lapse movie, we divided and multiplied across the newly opened land. It had taken Homo sapiens 2.0, behaviorally modern humans, not even 50,000 years to reach the farthest corners of the globe. Homo sapiens 2.0.A—A for agriculture—took a tenth of that time to conquer the planet.

As any biologist would predict, success led to an increase in human numbers. Homo sapiens rocketed around the elbow of the first inflection point in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when American crops like potatoes, sweet potatoes, and maize were introduced to the rest of the world. Traditional Eurasian and African cereals—wheat, rice, millet, and sorghum, for example—produce their grain atop thin stalks. Basic physics suggests that plants with this design will fatally topple if the grain gets too heavy, which means that farmers can actually be punished if they have an extra-bounteous harvest. By contrast, potatoes and sweet potatoes grow underground, which means that yields are not limited by the plant’s architecture. Wheat farmers in Edinburgh and rice farmers in Edo alike discovered they could harvest four times as much dry food matter from an acre of tubers than they could from an acre of cereals. Maize, too, was a winner. Compared to other cereals, it has an extra-thick stalk and a different, more productive type of photosynthesis. Taken together, these immigrant crops vastly increased the food supply in Europe, Asia, and Africa, which in turn helped increase the supply of Europeans, Asians, and Africans. The population boom had begun.

Numbers kept rising in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, after a German chemist, Justus von Liebig, discovered that plant growth was limited by the supply of nitrogen. Without nitrogen, neither plants nor the mammals that eat plants can create proteins, or for that matter the DNA and RNA that direct their production. Pure nitrogen gas (N2) is plentiful in the air but plants are unable to absorb it, because the two nitrogen atoms in N2 are welded so tightly together that plants cannot split them apart for use. Instead, plants take in nitrogen only when it is combined with hydrogen, oxygen, and other elements. To restore exhausted soil, traditional farmers grew peas, beans, lentils, and other pulses. (They never knew why these “green manures” replenished the land. Today we know that their roots contain special bacteria that convert useless N2 into “bio-available” nitrogen compounds.) After Liebig, European and American growers replaced those crops with high-intensity fertilizer—nitrogen-rich guano from Peru at first, then nitrates from mines in Chile. Yields soared. But supplies were much more limited than farmers liked. So intense was the competition for fertilizer that a guano war erupted in 1879, engulfing much of western South America. Almost 3,000 people died.

Two more German chemists, Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch, came to the rescue, discovering the key steps to making synthetic fertilizer from fossil fuels. (The process involves combining nitrogen gas and hydrogen from natural gas into ammonia, which is then used to create nitrogenous compounds usable by plants.) Haber and Bosch are not nearly as well known as they should be; their discovery, the Haber-Bosch process, has literally changed the chemical composition of the earth, a feat previously reserved for microorganisms. Farmers have injected so much synthetic fertilizer into the soil that soil and groundwater nitrogen levels have risen worldwide. Today, roughly a third of all the protein (animal and vegetable) consumed by humankind is derived from synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. Another way of putting this is to say that Haber and Bosch enabled Homo sapiens to extract about 2 billion people’s worth of food from the same amount of available land.

The improved wheat, rice, and (to a lesser extent) maize varieties developed by plant breeders in the 1950s and 1960s are often said to have prevented another billion deaths. Antibiotics, vaccines, and water-treatment plants also saved lives by pushing back humankind’s bacterial, viral, and fungal enemies. With almost no surviving biological competition, humankind had ever more unhindered access to the planetary petri dish: in the past two hundred years, the number of humans walking the planet ballooned from 1 to 7 billion, with a few billion more expected in coming decades.

Rocketing up the growth curve, human beings “now appropriate nearly 40% . . . of potential terrestrial productivity.” This figure dates from 1986—a famous estimate by a team of Stanford biologists. Ten years later, a second Stanford team calculated that the “fraction of the land’s biological production that is used or dominated” by our species had risen to as much as 50 percent. In 2000, the chemist Paul Crutzen gave a name to our time: the “Anthropocene,” the era in which Homo sapiens became a force operating on a planetary scale. That year, half of the world’s accessible fresh water was consumed by human beings.

Lynn Margulis, it seems safe to say, would have scoffed at these assessments of human domination over the natural world, which, in every case I know of, do not take into account the enormous impact of the microworld. But she would not have disputed the central idea: Homo sapiens has become a successful species, and is growing accordingly.

If we follow Gause’s pattern, growth will continue at a delirious speed until we hit the second inflection point. At that time we will have exhausted the resources of the global petri dish, or effectively made the atmosphere toxic with our carbon-dioxide waste, or both. After that, human life will be, briefly, a Hobbesian nightmare, the living overwhelmed by the dead. When the king falls, so do his minions; it is possible that our fall might also take down most mammals and many plants. Possibly sooner, quite likely later, in this scenario, the earth will again be a choir of bacteria, fungi, and insects, as it has been through most of its history.

It would be foolish to expect anything else, Margulis thought. More than that, it would be unnatural.

AS PLASTIC AS CANBY

In The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster’s classic, pun-filled adventure tale, the young Milo and his faithful companions unexpectedly find themselves transported to a bleak, mysterious island. Encountering a man in a tweed jacket and beanie, Milo asks him where they are. The man replies by asking if they know who he is—the man is, apparently, confused on the subject. Milo and his friends confer, then ask if he can describe himself.

“Yes, indeed,” the man replied happily. “I’m as tall as can be”—and he grew straight up until all that could be seen of him were his shoes and stockings—“and I’m as short as can be”—and he shrank down to the size of a pebble. “I’m as generous as can be,” he said, handing each of them a large red apple, “and I’m as selfish as can be,” he snarled, grabbing them back again.

In short order, the companions learn that the man is as strong as can be, weak as can be, smart as can be, stupid as can be, graceful as can be, clumsy as—you get the picture. “Is that any help to you?” he asks. Again, Milo and his friends confer, and realize that the answer is actually quite simple:

“Without a doubt,” Milo concluded brightly, “you must be Canby.”

“Of course, yes, of course,” the man shouted. “Why didn’t I think of that? I’m as happy as can be.”

With Canby, Juster presumably meant to mock a certain kind of babyish, uncommitted man-child. But I can’t help thinking of poor old Canby as exemplifying one of humankind’s greatest attributes: behavioral plasticity. The term was coined in 1890 by the pioneering psychologist William James, who defined it as “the possession of a structure weak enough to yield to an influence, but strong enough not to yield all at once.” Behavioral plasticity, a defining feature of Homo sapiens’ big brain, means that humans can change their habits; almost as a matter of course, people change careers, quit smoking or take up vegetarianism, convert to new religions, and migrate to distant lands where they must learn strange languages. This plasticity, this Canby-hood, is the hallmark of our transformation from anatomically modern Homo sapiens to behaviorally modern Homo sapiens—and the reason, perhaps, we were able to survive when Toba reconfigured the landscape.

Other creatures are much less flexible. Like apartment-dwelling cats that compulsively hide in the closet when visitors arrive, they have limited capacity to welcome new phenomena and change in response. Human beings, by contrast, are so exceptionally plastic that vast swaths of neuroscience are devoted to trying to explain how this could come about. (Nobody knows for certain, but some researchers now think that particular genes give their possessors a heightened, inborn awareness of their environment, which can lead both to useless, neurotic sensitivity and greater ability to detect and adapt to new situations.)

Plasticity in individuals is mirrored by plasticity on a societal level. The caste system in social species like honeybees is elaborate and finely tuned but fixed, as if in amber, in the loops of their DNA. Some leafcutter ants are said to have, next to human beings, the biggest and most complex societies on earth, with elaborately coded behavior that reaches from disposal of the dead to complex agricultural systems. Housing millions of individuals in inconceivably ramose subterranean networks, leafcutter colonies are “Earth’s ultimate superorganisms,” Edward O. Wilson has written. But they are incapable of fundamental change. The centrality and authority of the queen cannot be challenged; the tiny minority of males, used only to inseminate queens, will never acquire new responsibilities.

Human societies are far more varied than their insect cousins, of course. But the true difference is their plasticity. It is why humankind, a species of Canbys, has been able to move into every corner of the earth, and to control what we find there. Our ability to change ourselves to extract resources from our surroundings with ever-increasing efficiency is what has made Homo sapiens a successful species. It is our greatest blessing.

Or was our greatest blessing, anyway.

DISCOUNT RATES

By 2050, demographers predict, as many as 10 billion human beings will walk the earth, 3 billion more than today. Not only will more people exist than ever before, they will be richer than ever before. In the last three decades hundreds of millions in China, India, and other formerly poor places have lifted themselves from destitution—arguably the most important, and certainly the most heartening, accomplishment of our time. Yet, like all human enterprises, this great success will pose great difficulties.

In the past, rising incomes have invariably prompted rising demand for goods and services. Billions more jobs, homes, cars, fancy electronics—these are things the newly prosperous will want. (Why shouldn’t they?) But the greatest challenge may be the most basic of all: feeding these extra mouths. To agronomists, the prospect is sobering. The newly affluent will not want their ancestors’ gruel. Instead they will ask for pork and beef and lamb. Salmon will sizzle on their outdoor grills. In winter, they will want strawberries, like people in New York and London, and clean bibb lettuce from hydroponic gardens.

All of these, each and every one, require vastly more resources to produce than simple peasant agriculture. Already 35 percent of the world’s grain harvest is used to feed livestock. The process is terribly inefficient: between seven and ten kilograms of grain are required to produce one kilogram of beef. Not only will the world’s farmers have to produce enough wheat and maize to feed 3 billion more people, they will have to produce enough to give them all hamburgers and steaks. Given present patterns of food consumption, economists believe, we will need to produce about 40 percent more grain in 2050 than we do today.

How can we provide these things for all these new people? That is only part of the question. The full question is: How can we provide them without wrecking the natural systems on which all depend?

Scientists, activists, and politicians have proposed many solutions, each from a different ideological and moral perspective. Some argue that we must drastically throttle industrial civilization. (Stop energy-intensive, chemical-based farming today! Eliminate fossil fuels to halt climate change!) Others claim that only intense exploitation of scientific knowledge can save us. (Plant super-productive, genetically modified crops now! Switch to nuclear power to halt climate change!) No matter which course is chosen, though, it will require radical, large-scale transformations in the human enterprise—a daunting, hideously expensive task.

Worse, the ship is too large to turn quickly. The world’s food supply cannot be decoupled rapidly from industrial agriculture, if that is seen as the answer. Aquifers cannot be recharged with a snap of the fingers. If the high-tech route is chosen, genetically modified crops cannot be bred and tested overnight. Similarly, carbon-sequestration techniques and nuclear power plants cannot be deployed instantly. Changes must be planned and executed decades in advance of the usual signals of crisis, but that’s like asking healthy, happy sixteen-year-olds to write living wills.

Not only is the task daunting, it’s strange. In the name of nature, we are asking human beings to do something deeply unnatural, something no other species has ever done or could ever do: constrain its own growth (at least in some ways). Zebra mussels in the Great Lakes, brown tree snakes in Guam, water hyacinth in African rivers, gypsy moths in the northeastern U.S., rabbits in Australia, Burmese pythons in Florida—all these successful species have overrun their environments, heedlessly wiping out other creatures. Like Gause’s protozoans, they are racing to find the edges of their petri dish. Not one has voluntarily turned back. Now we are asking Homo sapiens to fence itself in.

What a peculiar thing to ask! Economists like to talk about the “discount rate,” which is their term for preferring a bird in hand today over two in the bush tomorrow. The term sums up part of our human nature as well. Evolving in small, constantly moving bands, we are as hard-wired to focus on the immediate and local over the long-term and faraway as we are to prefer parklike savannas to deep dark forests. Thus, we care more about the broken stoplight up the street today than conditions next year in Croatia, Cambodia, or the Congo. Rightly so, evolutionists point out: Americans are far more likely to be killed at that stoplight today than in the Congo next year. Yet here we are asking governments to focus on potential planetary boundaries that may not be reached for decades. Given the discount rate, nothing could be more understandable than the U.S. Congress’s failure to grapple with, say, climate change. From this perspective, is there any reason to imagine that Homo sapiens, unlike mussels, snakes, and moths, can exempt itself from the natural fate of all successful species?

To biologists like Margulis, who spend their careers arguing that humans are simply part of the natural order, the answer should be clear. All life is similar at base. All species seek without pause to make more of themselves—that is their goal. By multiplying till we reach our maximum possible numbers, even as we take out much of the planet, we are fulfilling our destiny.

From this vantage, the answer to the question whether we are doomed to destroy ourselves is yes. It should be obvious.

Should be—but perhaps is not.

HARA HACHI BU

When I imagine the profound social transformation necessary to avoid calamity, I think about Robinson Crusoe, hero of Daniel Defoe’s famous novel. Defoe clearly intended his hero to be an exemplary man. Shipwrecked on an uninhabited island off Venezuela in 1659, Crusoe is an impressive example of behavioral plasticity. During his twenty-seven-year exile he learns to catch fish, hunt rabbits and turtles, tame and pasture island goats, prune and support local citrus trees, and create “plantations” of barley and rice from seeds that he salvaged from the wreck. (Defoe apparently didn’t know that citrus and goats were not native to the Americas and thus Crusoe probably wouldn’t have found them there.) Rescue comes at last in the form of a shipful of ragged mutineers, who plan to maroon their captain on the supposedly empty island. Crusoe helps the captain recapture his ship and offers the defeated mutineers a choice: trial in England or permanent banishment to the island. All choose the latter. Crusoe has harnessed so much of the island’s productive power to human use that even a gaggle of inept seamen can survive there in comfort.

To get Crusoe on his unlucky voyage, Defoe made him an officer on a slave ship, transporting captured Africans to South America. Today, no writer would make a slave seller the admirable hero of a novel. But in 1720, when Defoe published Robinson Crusoe, no readers said boo about Crusoe’s occupation, because slavery was the norm from one end of the world to another. Rules and names differed from place to place, but coerced labor was everywhere, building roads, serving aristocrats, and fighting wars. Slaves teemed in the Ottoman Empire, Mughal India, and Ming China. Unfree hands were less common in continental Europe, but Portugal, Spain, France, England, and the Netherlands happily exploited slaves by the million in their American colonies. Few protests were heard; slavery had been part of the fabric of life since the code of Hammurabi.

Then, in the space of a few decades in the nineteenth century, slavery, one of humankind’s most enduring institutions, almost vanished.

The sheer implausibility of this change is staggering. In 1860, slaves were, collectively, the single most valuable economic asset in the United States, worth an estimated $3 billion, a vast sum in those days (and about $10 trillion in today’s money). Rather than investing in factories like northern entrepreneurs, southern businessmen had sunk their capital into slaves. And from their perspective, correctly so—masses of enchained men and women had made the region politically powerful, and gave social status to an entire class of poor whites. Slavery was the foundation of the social order. It was, thundered John C. Calhoun, a former senator, secretary of state, and vice president, “instead of an evil, a good—a positive good.” Yet just a few years after Calhoun spoke, part of the United States set out to destroy this institution, wrecking much of the national economy and killing half a million citizens along the way.

Incredibly, the turn against slavery was as universal as slavery itself. Great Britain, the world’s biggest human trafficker, closed down its slave operations in 1808, though they were among the nation’s most profitable industries. The Netherlands, France, Spain, and Portugal soon followed. Like stars winking out at the approach of dawn, cultures across the globe removed themselves from the previously universal exchange of human cargo. Slavery still exists here and there, but in no society anywhere is it formally accepted as part of the social fabric.

Historians have provided many reasons for this extraordinary transition. But one of the most important is that abolitionists had convinced huge numbers of ordinary people around the world that slavery was a moral disaster. An institution fundamental to human society for millennia was swiftly dismantled by ideas and a call to action, loudly repeated.

In the last few centuries, such profound changes have occurred repeatedly. Since the beginning of our species, for instance, every known society has been based on the domination of women by men. (Rumors of past matriarchal societies abound, but few archaeologists believe them.) In the long view, women’s lack of liberty has been as central to the human enterprise as gravitation is to the celestial order. The degree of suppression varied from time to time and place to place, but women never had an equal voice; indeed, some evidence exists that the penalty for possession of two X chromosomes increased with technological progress. Even as the industrial North and agricultural South warred over the treatment of Africans, they regarded women identically: in neither half of the nation could they attend college, have a bank account, or own property. Equally confining were women’s lives in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Nowadays women are the majority of U.S. college students, the majority of the workforce, and the majority of voters. Again, historians assign multiple causes to this shift in the human condition, rapid in time, staggering in scope. But one of the most important was the power of ideas—the voices, actions, and examples of suffragists, who through decades of ridicule and harassment pressed their case. In recent years something similar seems to have occurred with gay rights: first a few lonely advocates, censured and mocked; then victories in the social and legal sphere; finally, perhaps, a slow movement to equality.

Less well known, but equally profound: the decline in violence. Foraging societies waged war less brutally than industrial societies, but more frequently. Typically, archaeologists believe, about a quarter of all hunters and gatherers were killed by their fellows. Violence declined somewhat as humans gathered themselves into states and empires, but was still a constant presence. When Athens was at its height in the fourth and fifth centuries BC, it was ever at war: against Sparta (First and Second Peloponnesian Wars, Corinthian War); against Persia (Greco-Persian Wars, Wars of the Delian League); against Aegina (Aeginetan War); against Macedon (Olynthian War); against Samos (Samian War); against Chios, Rhodes, and Cos (Social War).

In this respect, classical Greece was nothing special—look at the ghastly histories of China, sub-Saharan Africa, or Mesoamerica. Similarly, early modern Europe’s wars were so fast and furious that historians simply gather them into catchall titles like the Hundred Years’ War, followed by the shorter but even more destructive Thirty Years’ War. And even as Europeans and their descendants paved the way toward today’s concept of universal human rights by creating documents like the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, Europe remained so mired in combat that it fought two conflicts of such massive scale and reach they became known as “world” wars.

Since the Second World War, however, rates of violent death have fallen to the lowest levels in known history. Today, the average person is far less likely to be slain by another member of the species than ever before—an extraordinary transformation that has occurred, almost unheralded, in the lifetime of many of the people reading this article. As the political scientist Joshua Goldstein has written, “we are winning the war on war.” Again, there are multiple causes. But Goldstein, probably the leading scholar in this field, argues that the most important is the emergence of the United Nations and other transnational bodies, an expression of the ideas of peace activists earlier in the last century.

As a relatively young species, we have an adolescent propensity to make a mess: we pollute the air we breathe and the water we drink, and appear stalled in an age of carbon dumping and nuclear experimentation that is putting countless species at risk including our own. But we are making undeniable progress nonetheless. No European in 1800 could have imagined that in 2000 Europe would have no legal slavery, women would be able to vote, and gay people would be able to marry. No one could have guessed a continent that had been tearing itself apart for centuries would be free of armed conflict, even amid terrible economic times. Given this record, even Lynn Margulis might pause (maybe).

Preventing Homo sapiens from destroying itself à la Gause would require a still greater transformation—behavioral plasticity of the highest order—because we would be pushing against biological nature itself. The Japanese have an expression, hara hachi bu, which means, roughly speaking, “belly 80 percent full.” Hara hachi bu is shorthand for an ancient injunction to stop eating before feeling full. Nutritionally, the command makes a great deal of sense. When people eat, their stomachs produce peptides that signal fullness to the nervous system. Unfortunately, the mechanism is so slow that eaters frequently perceive satiety only after they have consumed too much—hence the all-too-common condition of feeling bloated or sick from overeating. Japan—actually, the Japanese island of Okinawa—is the only place on earth where large numbers of people are known to restrict their own calorie intake systematically and routinely. Some researchers claim that hara hachi bu is responsible for Okinawans’ notoriously long life spans. But I think of it as a metaphor for stopping before the second inflection point, voluntarily forswearing short-term consumption to obtain a long-term benefit.

Evolutionarily speaking, a species-wide adoption of hara hachi bu would be unprecedented. Thinking about it, I can picture Lynn Margulis rolling her eyes. But is it so unlikely that our species, Canbys one and all, would be able to do exactly that before we round that fateful curve of the second inflection point and nature does it for us?

I can imagine Margulis’s response: You’re imagining our species as some sort of big-brained, hyperrational, benefit-cost-calculating computer! A better analogy is the bacteria at our feet! Still, Margulis would be the first to agree that removing the shackles from women and slaves has begun to unleash the suppressed talents of two-thirds of the human race. Drastically reducing violence has prevented the waste of countless lives and staggering amounts of resources. Is it really impossible to believe that we wouldn’t use those talents and those resources to draw back before the abyss?

Our record of success is not that long. In any case, past successes are no guarantee of the future. But it is terrible to suppose that we could get so many other things right and get this one wrong. To have the imagination to see our potential end, but not have the imagination to avoid it. To send humankind to the moon but fail to pay attention to the earth. To have the potential but to be unable to use it—to be, in the end, no different from the protozoa in the petri dish. It would be evidence that Lynn Margulis’s most dismissive beliefs had been right after all. For all our speed and voraciousness, our changeable sparkle and flash, we would be, at last count, not an especially interesting species.


CHARLES C. MANN’s most recent book, 1491, won the U.S. National Academy of Sciences’ Keck award for the best book of the year. A Correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly, Science, and Wired, he has covered the intersection of science, technology, and commerce for many newspapers and magazines here and abroad, including BioScience, The Boston Globe, Fortune, Geo (Germany), The New York Times (magazine, op-ed, book review), Panorama (Italy), Paris-Match (France), Quark (Japan), Smithsonian, Der Stern (Germany), Technology Review, Vanity Fair and The Washington Post (magazine, op-ed, book review). 

Interview with Charles C. Mann — More about Charles C. Mann — More at Orion Magazine.

January 20th, 2014

The first step in solving a problem is knowing that you have a problem. Scientist David Suzuki tries to help us understand exponential growth and overpopulation with a 3.5 minute story from the laboratory. …  This problem cannot be solved by any one individual. It will require us all working together.


September 2nd, 2013

Wisdom is where you find it. …  This morning’s article was originally published in the magazine Common Ground in 2004.


Is the Universe friendly?

Geoff Olson

Albert Einstein once said the most important question a human being can ask is “Is the universe friendly?”

Think of that for a moment. How would you answer? If you think the universe is truly friendly and supportive of you, this obviously has a huge effect on your perceptions and behaviour. The same applies if you think cosmos is hostile – or just indifferent to your fate.

On a first reading, Einstein’s question is trivially true. If you’ve decided, consciously or unconsciously, that the universe is friendly, your positive outlook is likely to be mirrored by positive responses from others, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy about your world being fundamentally good. You are likely to have more friends, job offers, etc. Conversely, if you are suspicious by nature, or walk around with a cloud over your head, you’re not likely to be much fun at parties, although you may win nodding approval from fellow grumps. At the very least your life is likely to seem a series of disappointments. This is pretty self-evident stuff. From Ralph Waldo Emerson to Dale Carnegie to Wayne Dyer, most of us have heard the drill: life is what you make it.

But if it’s Einstein talking, there’s a good chance there’s more to it than this. Spend a bit of time on it, and you realize the question’s depth. This goes far beyond the soothing homilies about high self-esteem, or the pieties of religious dogmatism. This is about whether universe is friendly (unifiable, consoling) or unfriendly (neutral, fragmented, hostile, “other”). From the choice you make, you can extrapolate the direction of subsequent life decisions. Your state of being could evolve from the answer to that one all-important question. But bear with me; because it’s a big topic and this essay is all over the map, from childhood psychology to the pest problems of a Hollywood star author, to the paradoxes of cosmology and quantum physics, to the “angel” in the library.

The choice to believe in a friendly or unfriendly universe undoubtedly begins in our early years. It may well be that people who are preternaturally content, seemingly at peace with themselves and the world, were introduced to “a friendly universe” through proper nurturing as infants. Their early experiences became the foundation for their psychic life. The results of less desirable childhood beginnings are also obvious. If a child suffers a traumatic birth, and/or their parents abuse their natural trust, that individual may grow up extrapolating their experience to the whole of existence, always suspecting the worst and failing to trust in others.

Rev. Gerard Pantin is the founder of Service Volunteered for All (SERVOL) in Trinidad and Tobago. In a speech he gave in 2000, he noted how the Yequana Indians of Brazil make sure that their babies are in physical contact with the skin of another human being 24 hours a day for the first two years. “These children grow up without that emptiness that we modern people spend our lives trying to heal or cope with. A lot of our modern preoccupation with ‘feeling good’ through sex and drugs dates back to the fact that the way in which we were brought up didn’t give us the opportunity of feeling good about our infant bodies.”

Citing Einstein’s famous line, Pantin adds that “Yequana children, because of close bodily contact, not only see the universe as friendly but feel it to be loving.” Beginning with a bodily, visceral sense of an all-embracing love, the Yequena don’t intellectualize over whether the universe is friendly or not; they carry within themselves the felt conviction that they are loved beings.

That’s all well and good, a skeptic may say, but we live in a modern, fast-paced world where such bonding is difficult with our busy schedules. We have to “compete in the market,” after all. Besides, what real difference does how we feel about the universe actually make to how it really is?

Well, as they like to say in political circles, perception is reality. Sometimes we need reminding how much our expectations drive what we experience. Sci-fi author Michael Crichton supplies an amusing example in his 1988 memoir Travels. In the early seventies, flush with success from spinning his novel The Andromeda Strain into a critically and commercially acclaimed film, he bought a home in the hills of Los Angeles. A friend asked him if he was afraid of the snakes. “What snakes?” the author asked. The rattlesnakes, of course, which his friend told him, come out in force during the dry season.

Crichton returned to his magnificent new home in a complete funk and didn’t have any fun at all. He just looked for snakes. “I worried that snakes were sneaking into my bedroom, so I locked all the doors every night to keep the snakes out. I thought snakes might come to the swimming pool to drink the water, so I avoided the swimming pool, particularly in the heat of the day, because the snakes were probably sunning on my deck. I never walked around my property, because I was sure there were snakes in the bushes. I walked only on the little path on the side of the house, and I peered around every corner before I turned it. But, increasingly, I didn’t like to go outside at all. I became a prisoner in my own house. I had altered my entire behaviour and my emotional state purely on the basis of something I had been told. I still hadn’t seen any snakes. But I was now afraid.”

One day he saw his gardener tramping fearlessly around the property. The author asked if there were any rattlers in the area. Sure, his gardener replied, especially in the dry season. Wasn’t he worried? The gardener shrugged and said he’d only seen a rattler once in over six years. He simply went and got a shovel and killed it. Only one snake in six years? Crichton’s mood brightened. In rational terms, there was really nothing to be worried about. He sat by the pool for the rest of the day. As the gardener was leaving, he told the author he could be sure there were no snakes on the property, because Crichton had so many gophers.

Gophers! The very critters that the recent homeowner had spent weeks setting traps for, trying to poison, and taking potshots at with his air rifle. All to no effect whatever. “Each morning fresh gopher burrows crisscrossed my lawn. It was extremely frustrating. My house looked like National Gopher Park.” Crichton began to rethink how to deal with the tunneling terrors, and eventually the gophers’ mortal enemies came to mind. “Was there anything I could do to attract rattlesnakes to my house? Put out some favourite rattlesnake food, or some dishes of water?”

Thinking back on his conceptual gymnastics over pest problems, Crichton realized he went through a whole series of changes without ever actually seeing a snake. “I felt different only because I had shifted perspectives,” he noted, at one moment hating gophers, the next fearing snakes, the next hating gophers even more and wishing for more snakes. “Each shift in perspective was accompanied by a total change in my attitudes, the physiology, my behaviour, my emotions. I was immediately and wholly modified by each new perspective that I adopted.”

If a person can change their mind-body state that radically over something as mundane as snakes and gophers, imagine what choosing between a friendly or unfriendly universe might mean to their state of being.

Westerners aren’t like the Yequana; we demand empirical evidence for one point of view or the other. And there’s certainly no shortage of confirmation for an unfriendly universe – or unfriendly planet, at least. All you have to do is to pick up a daily paper. The universe doesn’t seem to have been too friendly recently to the women and children in Sudan, or the rest of Africa for that matter. And that’s just the cruelty humans regularly visit upon fellow humans; earthquakes, floods, volcanoes and other natural disasters dispatch thousands yearly. Randomness reigns. If there’s anything friendly here, it seems to have the same sense of humour as Mike Tyson.

And as far as mainstream science goes, some intellectuals insist it promote the idea of cosmic indifference, which is pretty much the same thing as unfriendliness from a human point of view. One of the central concepts of orthodox evolutionary theory is that humans are the products of blind chance and selection. Like all other creatures, we’re Darwin’s wind-up toys, entropically rolling around in a meaningless cosmos, duking it out for resources and mates. In this view, our purpose is no more than biological: eat, breed, and die. If you can call that purpose.

As cosmologist Steven Weinberg famously concluded in his book The First Three Minutes, “The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also
seems pointless.” Yet this scientific-materialist philosophy doesn’t have to necessarily result in despair over our apparent lack of purpose here. Some intellectuals exult in the freedom this philosophy offers from the strictures of organized religion and other apparent superstitions. But others aren’t so sanguine. As physicist Nick Herbert put it in a bit of doggerel:

Some suffer from a bone-deep fear
That matter’s all that matters here
That love and hate and pretty faces
Are naught but atoms changing places.

But is modern science really so unambiguous in its assessment of a lack of purpose for sentient beings? Astronomers now tell that the fundamental constants of the universe (for example, the electron’s charge or the rest mass of the proton) are precisely set at just the right values to allow the emergence of life. This so-called “anthropic principle” has been endlessly debated by academics. Some physicists see it as evidence that, as Princeton University’s Freeman Dyson has it, “the universe must know in some sense that we were coming.” Others say the anthropic principle is no more than a tautology – a universe hostile to observers wouldn’t have anyone sitting around wondering about such things. A trendy new theory in cosmology is that we live in a fathomless “multiverse,” with universes popping into being all the time, and we just happen to be – we can only be – in one of the lucky ones.

Try as you might, it seems damnably impossible to settle Einstein’s question about a friendly universe with absolute finality, at least in any intellectual sense. If you believe that this plane of existence is all there is, and that death rings down the curtain for your little playlet, you might have some difficulty believing this universe is anything other than indifferent. Philosopher Bertrand Russell once said our knowledge must “build upon the solid bedrock of uncompromising despair,” but does this represent the heroism of unflinching realism, or an existential seed program for psychic and cultural implosion?

Either way, the unfriendly proponents can trot out innumerable historical anecdotes to make their case, from the fall of Greece to the rise of Nazi Germany. When whole societies decline, faith doesn’t necessarily protect the faithful. In fact, it’s often the faithful who are the problem, with “God’s children” killing God’s children.

This is bigger than a simple question of religious belief (after all, there are plenty of fear-driven fundamentalists who believe in an unfriendly universe presided over by a smite-happy deity). Ultimately, it seems to come down to taking a leap of faith, and choosing to buy into one universe or the other. Einstein didn’t say the universe was or wasn’t friendly; he said it was the most important question a human being can ask. It is what you choose to believe that is critical. And here’s where things get really interesting, because choice has a very, very, interesting relationship to the quantum world.

A fundamental experiment in quantum physics involves shining a beam of light at a barrier with two open slits. Some of the light gets through the barrier, forming an interference pattern on a screen. This indicates light has the property of a wave. Yet if you close one slit, leaving the other open, the light appears as just a single shaft of light built up photon by photon on the screen, which indicates that light has a particle property.

Forget for a moment that no one has ever truly figured out how light can be both a particle and a wave at the same time, things which are as different as baseballs and Bach fugues. The critical part is that how it behaves depends upon the experimental setup. Ask nature a question a certain way, and you get a certain answer. (According to quantum physicist Werner Heisenberg, “What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.”) Recent variations on this experiment, where scientists try to “trick” light by changing the testing apparatus while the photons are in flight, have only led to the spooky conclusion that the light behaves as if it knows what the experimenters are up to. That seems like a pretty nutty interpretation. The one marginally less nutty alternative, favoured by most quantum physicists is that our intentions seem to drive, in large part, how certain physical phenomenon manifest to our consciousness.

In other words, the nature of the question determines the reality you perceive. Our choice plays a critical role in determining the outcome of a situation in our local space-time – at least for experiments with photons. If our choices have this kind of dynamic going with the quantum world, the question then becomes how deep does this craziness run? Scientists insist such paradoxical phenomena are limited to the nano-world of the quantum. At larger scales, they are smudged out by the cancellation of a huge number of differing quantum states. It’s called “decoherence,” and it prevents the Alice in Wonderland weirdness of quantum physics from erupting into the kitchen, boardroom, or lab. Yet with the discovery of “microtubules” in human neurons, there is some evidence that the human brain may actually process some information on a quantum level, which may or may not reopen this whole can of worms for the macro level of reality.

So what does this all mean? Is the universe the ultimate Rorschach blot, with the meaning only what we read into it? Or is there something even more interesting than this going on?

From “many worlds” interpretation of quantum mechanics to the research into parapsychology at Princeton and other universities, it is apparent that the simple push-pull, subject-object model of reality is no longer tenable. What we are discovering is that sentient beings bring a profound level of participation to the construction of reality. Of course, the create-our-own-reality idea has been around for some time, but the situation may be more subtle, and even stranger, than we think.

How far does consciousness go in determining the reality we experience? Earlier, I remarked on some remarkable experiments in physics that demonstrate the bizarre role played by the observer/experimenter, and how the nature of their inquiry conditions the answer received. In a 1978 lecture, author John Michell took this idea one step further, describing what he saw as the universe’s habit “of reflecting back ideas projected onto it, of seeming to provide positive evidence for any theory that can possibly be formulated.” He claimed you could test it for yourself. “Take the wildest idea imaginable, commit yourself to believing it, become obsessed with it, and you’ll soon find all kinds of evidence turning up as confirmation of it.”

“This same risk is notoriously inherent in all occult studies. If one is studying a subject intensely, particularly if writing about it, ideas on that subject from unknown sources flood into the mind, and phenomena connected with it may even intrude into one’s life, as the raven of Edgar Allen Poe intruded upon the midnight scholar.”

According to Michell, this phenomenon infects scientific research. “The great Charles Fort gave several humorous instances of the same experiment yielding two different results, each one gratifying the experimenter.” Recently, the same problem has been noted in parapsychology investigations into the “sense of being stared at.” PhD psychologist Dean Radin notes the hair-raising possibility that the scientific world picture may be in large part an extremely robust consensual hallucination, cobbled together by the participatory nature of our collective consciousness with the physical world.

“The universe is so generous that it gives to anyone, crank, scientist or religious believer, the evidence which confirms his particular belief or theory,” wrote Michell.

If there is any merit to this meta-mad idea – and it may be worthwhile to entertain it for a while before you choose to discard it for its crazy consequences – it means we need to be very choosy about what we believe in. There is more at stake than just our choice of words; it means we can power our delusions and fantasies far more than we previously thought. That sounds like the royal road to the loony bin – the old line that “neurotics build castles in the sky, but psychotics live in them” – but according to Michell there is more to this than just the “delusory tendencies in the universal feedback effect.”

“I now come to the interesting part, the way in which the effect can be used creatively,” he said. “Study a subject, allow it to obsess you, ask questions of it, and next time you visit a library, a bookstore or a friend’ s house, you may pick up the one book in the world which gives the answer you were looking for. Coincidences can be invoked. I have asked many writers about this, and nearly all of them were able to give striking personal examples of being helped by this useful aspect of the feedback effect which Arthur Koestler attributes to library angels.”

After reading through a score of library cases, wrote the late Arthur Koestler, “one is tempted to think of library angels in charge of providing cross-references.” Koestler was the one who put the seraphic spin on this particular species of good fortune. His library angel will be no stranger to many writers, readers and researchers. Whether she’s sister to serendipity, or just cousin to dumb luck, she seems to make her appearance at the moment when your guard is down. You’re either idly seeking some piece of trivia, or giving up on some search through the stacks, when suddenly the right book or magazine falls at your feet open at the right passage. The sign of a friendly universe, or just a playful one? Or just a misinterpretation of chance events?

In Notes From a Small Island, travel writer Bill Bryson tells of his own encounter with the library angel, after pitching a story to a travel magazine on, of all things, extraordinary coincidences.

“When I came to write the article,” Bryson writes, “I realized that, although I had plenty of information about scientific studies into the probability of coincidence, I didn’t have nearly enough examples of remarkable coincidences themselves…” After writing a letter to the magazine saying he wouldn’t be able to deliver, Bryson “left the letter on top of his typewriter to post the next day,” and drove off to his job at The Times of London. Here he saw a notice on the door of an elevator, altering staff to the literary editor’s annual sale of review copies sent to The Times. “The place was full of mingling people. I stepped into the melee and what should be the very first book my eyes fell on but a paperback called Remarkable True Coincidences. How’s that for a remarkable true coincidence? But here’s the uncanny thing. I opened it up and found that the very first coincidence it discussed concerned a man named Bryson.”

Of course, given the millions, if not billions, of variables that interact throughout the course of the day, it’s impossible for there not to be the occasional coincidences, which are no more than that. But every once in a while some whopper drops on your head that gives you doubts. When a highly unlikely textual coincidence occurred to astrophysicist Jacques Vallee during a Los Angeles cab ride, he was inspired to consider the nature of chance. Pondering the equivalence of energy and information, Vallee decided “we live in the associative universe of the software scientist rather than the sequential universe of the space-time physicist.” Which means our focus on a given idea or emotion may be like performing a cosmic file request.

The library angel and related phenomenon suggest something like a Google-search aspect to existence, or, to use a different metaphor, that the universe occasionally behaves the way an author does with the characters in his or her novel. This brings us back to Michell, and what he concluded from all “the hermetic quality of the universe, the way it will respond to desires implanted in it and reflect back images projected onto it.” Michell said that “we are all, individually and collectively, responsible for the world as it really is, which is how we experience it.”

“In terms of objective fact there is little to choose between any cosmology, traditional or scientific,” he insisted, a claim that is even more radical than the postmodernist deconstruction of truth, and one that I have some problem with myself. But this doesn’t have to lead to a nightmare of relativism, because reality construction is a largely a collective act, according to the author. Since we get back what we project, why not believe in the best option? (Paranoia is the belief that the world is out to get you. Pronoia is the suspicion the universe is a conspiracy on your behalf. )

“Evidently therefore it is to our advantage to regard this best of all possible universes, this fascinating organism of which we are part, with the most high-minded expectations in the knowledge that as we imagine this world and our relationship to it, so it will become.”

A good argument for believing the universe is friendly rather than unfriendly? You may not be convinced, but then, neither am I (If the reader has doubts, that goes double for this writer). But considering the potential return, I’m willing to go with it, even if Michell’s idea seems somewhat Pollyanish – the “best of all possible worlds” lampooned by Voltaire in his novel Candide. It’s also an idea fundamentally alien to the materialism of Western thought. In any case, the straightforward idea that our thoughts have consequences in the world we live in is beyond argument. Whether it’s a cantata or a cruise missile, every cultural artifact we humans have conjured into physical existence began as a dream in someone’s head.

But how do we jibe Michell’s sentiments with declining living standards, species decline, resource wars, and environmental breakdown? It appears Homo sap is in for a serious ass kicking from an episode of When Good Biospheres Go Bad. If conscious intent plays this much a role in the universe we live in, we’ve apparently been thinking some very bad thoughts for quite some time.

This brings us to the nature of the world we’ve created, which some would cite as evidence for an unfriendly universe. But who imagined it into being? From the feudal-era heathen-beating by the Holy Roman Empire to the structural adjustment programs of the International Monetary Fund, westerners have built their lifestyles to an great degree on the suffering of others. The Christian God, the first deity we conquered under, was imagined by believers as alternately beneficent and wrathful. The second god, capital, has its own bipolar disorder.

In the 1920s, German sociologist Walter Benjamin recognized the religious dimensions to the worship of money. “It (capitalism) is a religion because it is based on faith – untested and unproven by the individual acolyte – in materialism and rationalism. It is a passive worldview, a negative theology,” he wrote. (We can replace the neoMarxist scholar’s “capitalism” with “crony corporatism” if we like.)

Although he wasn’t directly addressing the topic of belief in a friendly/unfriendly universe, it lies at the heart of his thesis. “Disbelief in any spiritual reality is also a belief system,” he noted. “The capitalist mind perceives the world purely in terms of material resources to be used for its benefit, to increase productivity and profit without thought of long-term consequence. If there is still a vague and oppressive sense of guilt, of wrongness and imbalance, this gnawing guilt spurs capitalism on to greater acts of consumption, more violent attempts to subjugate nature, more totalizing efforts to create distractions. To the “rational materialist” mind, death is the end of everything, and this thought feeds its rage against nature, which has placed it in this position of despair. The destruction of the world is revenge against a vanished God, and a drastic attempt to invoke the spiritual powers.”

“Capitalism is probably the first instance of a cult that creates guilt, not atonement … The nature of the religious movement which is capitalism entails the endurance right to the end, to the point where God, too, finally takes on the entire burden of guilt, to the point where the universe has been taken over by that despair which is actually its secret hope. Capitalism is entirely without precedent, in that it is a religion, which offers not the reform of existence but its complete destruction. It is the expansion of despair, until despair becomes a religious state of the world in the hope that this will lead to salvation.”

Decades before the resource wars of the present day, Benjamin insisted “the destruction of the world as the real goal of world capitalism – its systemic hope and transcendent ideal.”

That may seem more than a bit extreme, but these musings may have even greater resonance now than they did in Benjamin’s time. We seemed to have reached a spiritual brick wall in our secular ways of thinking and feeling. The ads don’t deliver, the politics don’t heal, and the science doesn’t connect. We know all too well the damage that organized religion can do, but we’re also beginning to understanding the destructiveness of our financial – corporate networks and the military-industrial complex that protect their interests. It’s not that there are no options – it’s that the marginalization of these options fuels a profound despair, along with a growing sense that we have passed beyond the point of no return. Ironically, this despair is likely to feed the addictions, violence, clinical depression, endless distraction, and retail therapy that is already ingrained in North American culture, encouraging further its monstrous
consumption of resources and human potential.

This is the true horror of the world we have imagined into being. If children are not nurtured properly in homes where true love prevails, and are raised in a culture endorsing deceit and a Darwinian competition for jobs and resources, a “friendly universe,” one they could have otherwise internalized as emotionally real for themselves, may elude them all their lives.

In the so-called First World, we seem to have dug ourselves into a God-sized hole. But the First Law of Holes is to stop digging. If there is some vast consciousness that dreamed this whole shebang into existence, one thing we embody from Him/Her/Whatever is a spark from the fire of creation: the power to choose, to imagine, and to dream new worlds into being.

But remember the quantum experiments I cited earlier, and the lesson from light: often, the way in which we ask a question is inextricably bound to the reality we will be answered with. At the end of her book on remote viewing experimentation, Multidimensional Mind, Dr. Jean Millay summed up how consciousness can become an active partner with the world we inhabit. The final sentence of the book is highlighted in script, so the reader recognizes its importance: “Real magic can be created by maintaining a steady focus of intention through an appropriate belief system.” Don’t believe it? Consider that a single shlumpy guy in a baseball cap may help swing the next US election, through a documentary that was released domestically against all odds. If Michael Moore’s not one person creating magic, I don’t know what is.

The universe manifests in many forms, from sunsets to soccer hooligans, seemingly supplying us with abundant reason to decide either which way. The answer we decide, ultimately, is intimately connected to our own deepest level of being. According to the scientific picture of the world, the very chemical elements of our bodies were cooked up in the hearts of supernovae; we have a certain identity with the universe itself. And throughout history, in certain “occult” branches of mainstream religions – Kabala, Sufism, and neoPlatonic traditions – there is the radical idea that our existence is neither accidental nor alienated from its source. In these traditions, the immense variety of creation is simply an itemized efflorescence of the divine. At bottom, there is no otherness to the foundation of being – although we have the free will to think or believe otherwise.

I suspect our answer to Einstein’s question involves nothing less than the universe answering itself, through the agency of the human heart and mind. Will our decision, yes or no, mean we will receive the kind of subtle verification Michell speaks of? This isn’t an experiment for the Royal Society or the National Research Council; it’s a subjective test each person must perform on their own.

But it’s a tricky question. There is a line from transcendentalists like Walt Whitman and Emerson to the practitioners of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People to the “looking out for number one” ethos of self-advancement, which has created a philosophy of winning at all costs. The results are obvious. The problem is that conflating the ego, rather than the self, with a rewarding god or universe has mostly been a recipe for disaster.

Albert Einstein is not on record as saying the universe is actually friendly or not; he concerned himself with the importance of asking the question. As in the theory of relativity, the position of the observer is fundamental.

Einstein was as much a philosopher as he was a scientist, and he was more interested in the meaningful answers than cold abstractions. His desire for an ultimate unification of knowledge included life, human nature, human intelligence and human personality. As author Charles Hansen pointed out in The Technology of Love, the question Einstein posed was deceptively simple, “but it becomes the most profound of questions, for it has no meaning outside of human observation, of all that humans are, and all that we might become.”

The storm that brews on the horizon, the flag that whips in the breeze, the hand outstretched by a stranger, the gaze of a lover; whether we’ve projected our self into the skies or onto our nation, or through the pupils of a fellow human being, the same question brews for all of us: are you friendly or not? Storms occasionally destroy property, friends sometimes betray us, and government doesn’t always have our best interests at heart. But what if you add it all together and ask the universe as a whole? Perhaps the answer depends on the way you put the question.


Geoff Olson is a Vancouver writer and political cartoonist, you can visit his website here.