Bite Sized Philosophy, 16 July 2015: Happiness

A subject about which I know very little, but as an American, I’m perfectly comfortable discussing shit I don’t quite understand.

How brief our joy, how long our sorrows. Today I’ll be discussing something I know very little about: celebration and happiness.

Happiness is the moment, or a series of moments, punctuated, for me, by longer, more boring stretches of reality, when there are no story arcs, no great movements or performances, no lasting impact or appreciation. For me, the moments of happiness that I’ve had have been mostly of the chemically induced variety. But I’d like to think I get it. I’ve been happy before. I’m sure of that. We have this abstract idea in our minds that happiness is an insoluable mystery, something that can’t really be quantified or labeled with precision. Maybe it can’t. Maybe it’s like love, and like love it does more to service fountains of bad poetry and song than anything, but we celebrate our happiness because of its brevity, because it strips away the bars of our civilization and lets us return to a more innocent time, a time where we didn’t have a multitude of different threads going on in our heads, when we didn’t have schedules and due dates and deadlines, when the moment was all there was and, for what we knew, the moment was all there’d be. I’m sure I thought that once, that what I felt like in the moment could somehow be preserved, either by continuing in the indulgence that brought the feeling to me, by loving and feeling loved in return, by making music and sharing it with friends, making love and sharing it with friends. By writing stories, a long and arduous process, and sharing it with friends.

To me, the happiest moments of my life have been moments shared, since they, in their rarity, are made more punctuated by that novelty, the novelty of unfamiliarity. What becomes the every day, the common, the grind, whenever something you love to do turns into that, a common drudgery, it loses the spark of the moment, the happy isolation in a self-deceived state of well-being. If you have sorrow in your heart and on your mind, it tends to embue everything you touch. It is a type of muck, a slime that clings to the ink of the stained person whose imagination calls it out. And the words of happy people are trembling and ecstatic, embodying the moments, celebrating their brevity, and when we read of these moments, of any moments of intensity, whether sorrowful or happy, when we reflect on them, when we think about how large they loom in mind after years and years have passed, there is a diminishment of the melancholy they might have held, and a celebration to be sure that, for one moment, we were together, and in that moment together, we were, if briefly, happy, whatever it meant, if it meant nothing, we could say, as Eric Idle sang in The Life of Brian: Life’s a piece of shit, when you look at it. Life’s a laugh and death’s a joke, it’s true. You’ll see it’s all a show, keep ’em laughing as you go, just remember that the last laugh is on you.

The Structure of Living Systems

A zygote is a diploid cell that fuses haploid gametes into a fertilized ovum. The question for our purpose is how the fertilized egg develops from a single cell into a living organism. As castles are made of brick and stone, organisms are constructed by cells. The animal can be unicellular (one cell) or multicellular (many cells.) In addition to the two types of cells, there are two types of organisms. There are the ancient prokaryotes and the (relatively) new eukaryotic organisms. I’d like to take a moment to note the differences between the two fundamental cells of living systems. I’ll start where nature started–with the prokaryotes… Continue reading

Brandon K Nobles, Legend of the Chameleon Mirror, (3rd draft, 30 May 2015)

1

An Italian princess, noble born, some years before Napoleon, born blind but beautiful; cheerful and sweet and loved. She could not see but wasn’t bothered: as sound and touch were good enough. She had a happy childhood ideal; full of love. One day she woke to find a candle, with a rather large flame on her bedside table, too close; and she watched the dancing fire – a strange dance, almost alive: orange and red and blue and white. Her father was talking but it seemed as though the flame was speaking to her:

“She’s in the country…”

She finally realized she could see and panicked. She screamed. Her father turned round and looked, “Hey!”

She looked at her father’s face. For the first time and, somehow, she knew his voice by heart and habit. And yet each time he spoke, how strange! she could only think about the flame.
She leapt from her bed and fled the room. She didn’t know where she was going but kept on running. Each new corridor rose out of mist, a blackness she didn’t understand. Guards both young and old looked on confused, servants, butlers, cooks; they all moved in and out of long hallways through different paths. The story of her flight reached the groundskeepers and the horses were brought round. Her father and the yardworkers and gardeners set out to find her before dark. It got cold in the hills at night.

Everything was frightening to her new eyes, the sun more so than all; so terrific and overwhelming, a spirit made of force and fire, the largest, most beautiful of candlelights.

“She’s in the country…”

Nothing shook the feeling that the world was somehow wrong, the colors off; she tried to squint to take it in, subdue the light, to conquer it, to shut it off, hoping she could tame the sun, make it relent. And she came upon a mirror. It was her, she knew by instinct, as she had known her father’s face, despite never having seen it. But everything was wrong in the reflection: the eyes and hair and her complexion, chestnut colored eyes, a lovely brown, dark hair still curled – as her maid had no chance to have pressed it. She began to think – how strange! her eyes could lie, how strange a thought.

“She’s in the country…”

She heard the distant murmurs of approaching horses, her father calling out:

“Alissa!” he called. And others with him: “Signorina Alissa! Signorina!”

The retinue of men, in strange dress and manner, approached her, slowing down. The horses, what a sight! for new eyes beyond belief, such strange machines, covered in hair, larger than she’d have thought. Her father dismounted and ran up to her, pulled her into his arms and turned to walk away. He saw the mirror and turned around. He said: “So what did you think? Aren’t you the prettiest little girl in the world?”

No, she thought – she didn’t say it – she’d never thought of such a thing, a mirror that is – why would she, how? How could she have been told, and why tell the blind that such a device existed, knowing they’d never see themselves? He told her what it was, a mirror. She was intrigued and asked. “Papa,” she said, “Are there other mirrors? Better mirrors? I don’t believe it worked, the one I saw.”

“Of course,” he said. He dismissed the other men, helped her onto the horse. He made sure she was secured and mounted the horse in front of her.

“Hold on!” he said.

She wrapped her arms around him as the horse broke into a gallop. The sky she’d often heard was full of clouds and birds was empty then and barren, an ocean she had thought, an ocean without end. And the moon hung like a thumbnail above the treetops in the distance. They rode toward the castle and must have taken a more scenic route. She saw such things beyond belief: birds in flight, rolling hills and vineyards, bright and strange. Back in the castle she felt lost; She’d made her way around for many years without help. She held her fathers hand and he led her to a washroom. Another mirror, oblong with a gold frame above the wash-basin. Something was off; It was wrong as well. She looked away. In her father’s bed chamber she found another, a smaller vanity mirror, wrong again and so on: mirror after lying mirror; she didn’t trust the glass. They stopped for a moment in a gallery, a well-appointed, spacious room, comfortable chairs and divans.

Each picture, each painting, she thought was an honest mirror, mirrors she could love. He introduced her to the family; his father then his uncle, distant relatives, the rest, and then her among so many, how few with that same hair and eyes, no other was a true brunette. The painting had it right, she thought, and each mirror had been wrong, imperfect glass that lied or changed to spite her. She said as much, asking her father, “Could you show me a better mirror?”

“A better mirror?” he asked.

“Yes,” Alissa said. “The best! Only the best. One that is as accurate as this.” She indicated the painting and smiled.

“I will in the morning, sweetheart.”

“You promise?” she asked. She took his hand and swung it back and forth. “Do you promise? Do you? Do you?”

“Yes dear,” he said. He smiled. “There is someone I can see. I promise.”

He never lied to her, and a promise she could count on, unlike her mother.

“She’s in the country…”

They were quiet at the dinner table. It was too long, she thought. The table, feeling lonely, a new feeling for the dinner table, a feeling she had not felt before. Two men in uniform stood on opposite sides of the dining table with white kerchiefs draped over their wrists, on call. She finished her meal, they took it away, and her father finished, and the table was cleared.

“Are you ready for bed?” he asked.

“Not yet,” she said. “I want to see the prettiest thing you have.”

He took walked toward her, took her hand, and said, “It’s not in the castle. But I’ll show you. You’ll love it.”

2

The night had crept up on them quietly, bathing the now dim dining hall, its candles blown out and left smoking. That candle light, those flames still seemed so personal, like living things. And she liked to watch them as her father spoke, to relive that moment when she first awoke again.

He led her from the dining hall through winding corridors with torches hanging on the walls. The shadows thrown, such strange patterns, with light and darkness split by lanterns.The castle doors came slowly slowly down and moaned. Everything seemed to make some sound or sounds, as if they spoke, not as a consequence of movement, not for her, but from personality; the doors were old and groaned but did their duty still; they had purpose, as all things did, all personable and alive. Soon they were in the courtyard, and under the canopy of distant lights, the stars! There they were, scattered in that endless ocean, stretching on and on forever, without end. A black ocean full of fire, anglerfish with entranced planets, hypnotized and trapped by its spell.

So much to take in, so very much! So much she knew she’d never know, never could know, never hear of all of them nor their names, and silent all of them, so far away like all of space and quiet, She fell asleep underneath the constellations as her father spoke, imagining those distant fires as candlelights themselves, with the same voice.

“And that is Ariene, and Toros, and Pesci there, and my sign Acquario, your mothers there, Gemelli, and yours..,”

Alissa was fast asleep. Dreaming in color, too; she was a fire like the rest; and spoke to kids as that same flame that managed to light her life, bring her the stars; among them now and uncontained by mirrors or frames unbound by math just change; never stopping endless never still. Breathing and stretching in such freedom with such relish, a longing she had never known and it went on. Sparks struck into flame and swelled orange at first then red, then white and finally blue and bright bright beyond compare it flashed and ebbed away. One after another flaring into flame and life just to subside as had all others growing faint, growing dim each light, each point she had just slept under in such peace. Each point followed in its fashion, some larger and some brighter yet none of them were lasting; finally they were far away, as far as they had been when she had listened to her father. She heard him speaking, voice of the last stars each fading, ever darker, ever gray. She woke in the comfort of her bed. She could hear father talking to someone, a woman; the voice was familiar.

Alissa heard her father say, “Whatever you ask,” he said. “It’s yours.”

The woman walked into the room. Alissa’s father followed close behind, “I have something for you…”

The woman held an object, egg-shaped on one end , straight on the other; cased in black satin, tied at the hilt with a golden tassel.

“This,” said she, “is very special, a magical object. Your father said you wanted the best of all the mirrors, best in the whole wide world, is that right?”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Alissa.

“Well,” she said, “look at this!”

The velvet sheet fell to the floor as a glittering object, mostly silver, slid from it into one hand, then to both. The glass was more liquid than solid, unusual and restless; the mirror moved—the mirror moved! Changing shapes and changing colors always shifting restless, so it seemed. The woman said, “This is a very special mirror. This mirror tells only truth, while other mirrors only show what’s real. This will show your true face no matter what, whether you wish to see it or not. It is a camaleonte, alive… Do you know that is?”

“It is a lizard,” said the princess. “A chameleon.”

“Yes,” the lady said. “This is the Chameleon Mirror.”

3

The young girl nodded.

“But,” she said, “Pardon, ma’am. Could I see it work before I try it?”

“How clever!” said the lady. She had a toothy smile. “Do you still have your dolly?”

Alissa looked around. She hadn’t thought of toys, not since she woke at least. She didn’t know how to find them, not with her eyes. She lay back as if to sleep, pretending for a moment, and replayed her usual routine. She sat up with her eyes closed then felt her way around, out of the bed across the carpet, onto the wooden floor, then to the corner. Her old toy-chest, made of soft-wood, had a cold, metallic switch and buckle. She groped about until she found a wooden doll, a dairy-made she’d never seen. She opened her eyes to finally see. The shirt was white and bilious, the dress was red and wrinkled; her shoes were black, her stockings white. Alissa walked across the room and sat down again. The lady smiled. She took the doll and said: “My daughter had one of these!”

She placed the doll in front of the mirror and – the mirror moved! The mirror moves, Alissa thought. it changed from an amorphous shade of neutral grey and blank and bit by bit became defined; sketchy at first then color sprang into life coloring the face. It looked different immediately, but Alissa didn’t know exactly why or how. There was a discomfort in the face, an emotion, a pained expression somehow. Alissa looked at the doll in the mirror, then to the real doll; at first glance they seemed the same, but the mirror gave it personality; it told the truth by some strange voodoo that the real doll for some reason could not manage. The reflection in the mirror was more true than the milk-maid’s face.

“Well?” the lady interrupted. “Would you like to see it work on you?”

Alissa thought for a moment, wondering truly, wondering what question she wanted answered; none, she thought, had troubled her before she woke to find the speaking candlelight.

“I want you to look!”

The lady’s smile faltered a bit but did not fail. She said, “Of course.”

She turned the mirror to her face. It sprung to life again, shifted from a settled palette, undefined, and bursting colors sprung from beneath the liquid surface and hurried into place, each more definitive, putting the face together bit by bit as she looked on. A lively woman appeared, not unkind nor kind, came together dot by dot, color by color until the surface settled into a stern, more wistful countenance. The face was younger, much younger, but the eyes were older, weary and tired but sharp, acute and penetrating. She became beautiful through that same magic. And Alissa took the handle but the lady grabbed her hand.

“Are you sure you want to see?” she asked. “If you look, you can’t take it back.”

And without thinking she said yes, compelled and egged on by that magic. Alissa took the handle into her hands and held it up to her face and focused. Colors rushed from the lining silver toward the center, dark colors first, the outline in dark colors then new colors softer, beige and lesser brown, each softer, more subtle shades all  marching towards a growing image. And the face with currents shifting settling, colors barging into one another, merging, and finally settled. She looked into the eyes on the mirror’s face, her face. It was … was it? Was it?

“Take it away!” she screamed. “Take it away!”

4

Alissa pushed the mirror away and covered her face, holding her eyes shut tightly. Her father sat beside her. The lady – she could tell through each small sound, still at strange heights – began to redress the magic mirror. She couldn’t shake the image bu she tried, for hours hoping, praying, begging, wishing that when she slept she’d lose the image, the whole thing would go away, like a memory from childhood of a small moment, a moment no one notices or remembers; filling a bird-feed, changing the hay for the horses, something routine, something ordinary.

Her father stayed with her until the sun went down. She felt her father’s heartbeat against her shoulder, tender and supportive. She felt silly and opened her eyes. His eyes were closed, but he seemed calm. Calm enough, at least. And he put his head on her shoulder, looking, she knew, for some sort of support from her.

And she said, “I’m sorry.”

He laughed and asked:

“What did you see?”

“The painting,” the princess said. “It just didn’t seem like me.”

“It’s okay,” he said. “It’s okay.”

She’d find out later to her shame the kind of fee her father paid for a mirror, for such magic.  The price for her to get to see had cost her father’s sight. She thought back to that night with him, leading him outside into the courtyard and then on the hill under the black velvet blank full of stars. He got comfortable on his back. She wanted to show him she remembered, the stars from the night before.  She put her finger on his stomach first, “I remember,” she said. She pressed into his stomach, “Here is Ariete,” she moved onward, sideways, “And Leone right here,” she kept on drawing. “Pesci of course and your sign Acquario, that’s yours and mama’s sign is here, Gemelli…”

“Wait!” she cried. “Where is mom?

“She’s in the country,” he said. She didn’t ask again. The night went on, moon rising slowly. She continued mapping out the stars there with her father, bringing them to earth for him, for a mirror she gifted the stars. She thought he was asleep and, forgetful and tired, she could not remember her own sign.

“You forgot yourself,” he said. He guided her hand onto his chest, above his heart. “Here,” he said. He mumbered in his sleep;

“Toro.”

“I remember,” she pressed into his stomach, “here is Ariete,” she moved to the side, “and Leone here,” she continued drawing the constellation, “Pesci, your sign, Acquario that’s yours, and mother’s there, Gemelli…”

“Wait!” she said. “Where is mother?”

“She’s in the country,” he said. He repeated a few more times and stopped, realizing she finally understood, and she did. So the night went on and laying there, she continued drawing constellations on his stomach, on his chest, thinking she had them all and, giving up, roused her father from his light nap.

She understood and never asked again. She continued with the constellations on his stomach, on his chest. And when she stopped, he said: “You forgot yourself.”

He pulled her hand onto his chest, above his heart, “Here,” he said. He murmured in his sleep;
“Toro.” above his heart and said, “Right here.”

She felt his heartbeat, “There,” it slowed; muscles calming now, his expression mos serHis heart beat slowed, his muscles calmed. He murmured in his sleep:

“Toro.”

An Italian princess, noble born, some years before Napoleon, born blind but beautiful; cheerful and sweet and loved. She could not see but wasn’t bothered: as sound and touch were good enough. She had a happy childhood ideal; full of love. One day she woke to find a candle, with a rather large flame on her bedstand, too close; and she watched the dancing fire – a strange dance, almost alive: orange and red and blue and white. Her father was talking but it seemed as though the flame was speaking to her:

“She’s in the country…”

She finally realized she could see and panicked. She screamed. Her father turned round and looked, “Hey!”

She looked at her father’s face. For the first time and, somehow, she knew his voice by heart and habit. And yet each time he spoke, how strange! she could only think about the flame.
She leapt from her bed and fled the room. She didn’t know where she was going but kept on running. Each new corridor rose out of mist, a blackness she didn’t understand. Guards both young and old looked on confused, servants, butlers, cooks; they all moved in and in and out of long hallways through different paths. The story of her flight reached the groundskeepers and the horses were brought round. Her father and the yardworkers and gardeners set out to find her before dark. It got cold in the hills at night.

Everything was frightening to her new eyes, the sun more so than all; so terrific and overwhelming, a spirit made of force and fire, the largest, most beautiful of candlelights.

“She’s in the country…”

Nothing shook the feeling that the world was somehow wrong, the colors off; she tried to squint to take it in, subdue the light, to conquer it, to shut it off, hoping she could tame the sun, make it relent. And she came upon a mirror. It was her, she knew by instinct, as she had known her father’s face, despite never having seen it. But everything was wrong in the reflection: the eyes and hair and her complexion, chestnut colored eyes, a lovely brown, dark hair still curled – as her maid had no chance to have pressed it. She began to think – how strange! her eyes could lie, how strange a thought.

“She’s in the country…”

She heard the distant murmurs of approaching horses, her father calling out:

“Alissa!” he called. And others with him: “Signorina Alissa! Signorina!”

The retinue of men, in strange dress and manner, approached her, slowing down. The horses, what a sight! for new eyes beyond belief, such strange machines, covered in hair, larger than she’d have thought. Her father dismounted and ran up to her, pulled her into his arms and turned to walk away. He saw the mirror and turned around. He said: “So what did you think? Aren’t you the prettiest little girl in the world?”

No, she thought – she didn’t say it – she’d never thought of such a thing, a mirror that is – why would she, how? How could she have been told, and why tell the blind that such a device existed, knowing they’d never see themselves? He told her what it was, a mirror. She was intrigued and asked. “Papa,” she said, “Are there other mirrors? Better mirrors? I don’t believe it worked, the one I saw.”
“Of course,” he said. He dismissed the other men, helped her onto the horse. He made sure she was secured and hopped in front of her. .

“Hold on!” he said. She wrapped her arms around him as the horse broke into a gallop. The sky she’d often heard was full of clouds and birds was empty then and barren, an ocean she had thought, an ocean without end. And the moon hung like a thumbnail above distant treetop. They rode toward the castle and must have taken a more scenic route. She saw such things beyond belief: birds in flight, rolling hills and vineyards, bright and strange. Back in the castle she felt lost; She’d made her way around for many years without help. She held her fathers hand and he led her to a washroom. Another mirror, oblong with a gold frame above the wash-basin. Something was off; It was wrong as well. She looked away. In her father’s bed chamber she found another, a smaller vanity mirror, wrong again and so on: mirror after lying mirror; she didn’t trust the glass. They stopped for a moment in a gallery, a well-appointed, spacious room, comfortable chairs and divans.

Each picture, each painting, she thought was an honest mirror, mirrors she could loved. He introduced her to the family; his father then his uncle, distant relatives, the rest, and then her among so many, how few with that same hair and eyes, no other was a true brunette. The painting had it right, she thought, and each mirror had been wrong, imperfect glass that lied or changed to spite her. She said as much, asking her father, “Could you show me a better mirror?”

“A better mirror?” he asked.

“Yes,” Alissa said. “The best! Only the best. One that is as accurate as this.” She indicated the painting and smiled.

“I will in the morning, sweetheart.”

“You promise?” she asked. She took his hand and swung it back and forth. “Do you promise? Do you? Do you?”

“Yes dear,” he said. He smiled. “There is someone I can see. I promise.”

He never lied to her, and a promise she could count on, unlike her mother.

“She’s in the country…”

They were quiet at the dinner table. It was too long, she thought. The table, feeling lonely, a new feeling for the dinner table, a feeling she had not felt before. Two men in uniform stood on opposite sides of the dining table with white kerchiefs draped over their wrists, on call. She finished her meal, they took it away, and her father finished, and the table was cleared.

“Are you ready for bed?” he asked.

“Not yet,” she said. “I want to see the prettiest thing you have.”

He took walked toward her, took her hand, and said, “It’s not in the castle. But I’ll show you. You’ll love it.”

2

The night had crept up on them quietly, bathing the now dim dining hall, its candles blown out and left smoking. That candle light, those flames still seemed so personal, like living things. And she liked to watch them as her father spoke, to relive that moment when she first awoke again.

He led her from the dining hall through winding corridors with torches hanging on the walls. The shadows thrown, such strange patterns, with light and darkness split by lanterns.The castle doors came slowly slowly down and moaned. Everything seemed to make some sound or sounds, as if they spoke, not as a consequence of movement, not for her, but from personality; the doors were old and groaned but did their duty still; they had purpose, as all things did, all personable and alive. Soon they were in the courtyard, and under the canopy of distant lights, the stars! There they were, scattered in that endless ocean, stretching on and on forever, without end. A black ocean full of fire, anglerfish with entranced planets, hypnotized and trapped by its spell.

So much to take in, so very much! So much she knew she’d never know, never could know, never hear of all of them nor their names, and silent all of them, so far away like all of space and quiet, She fell asleep underneath the constellations as her father spoke, imagining those distant fires as candlelights themselves, with the same voice.

“And that is Ariene, and Toros, and Pesci there, and my sign Acquario, your mothers there, Gemelli, and yours..,”

Alissa was fast asleep. Dreaming in color, too; she was a fire like the rest; and spoke to kids as that same flame that managed to light her life, bring her the stars; among them now and uncontained by mirrors or frames unbound by math just change; never stopping endless never still. Breathing and stretching in such freedom with such relish, a longing she had never known and it went on. Sparks struck into flame and swelled orange at first then red, then white and finally blue and bright bright beyond compare it flashed and ebbed away. One after another flaring into flame and life just to subside as had all others growing faint, growing dim each light, each point she had just slept under in such peace. Each point followed in its fashion, some larger and some brighter yet none of them were lasting; finally they were far away, as far as they had been when she had listened to her father. She heard him speaking, voice of the last stars each fading, ever darker, ever gray. She woke in the comfort of her bed. She could hear father talking to someone, a woman; the voice was familiar.

Alissa heard her father say, “Whatever you ask,” he said. “It’s yours.”

The woman walked into the room. Alissa’s father followed close behind, “I have something for you…”

The woman held an object, egg-shaped on one end , straight on the other; cased in black satin, tied at the hilt with a golden tassel.

“This,” said she, “is very special, a magical object. Your father said you wanted the best of all the mirrors, best in the whole wide world, is that right?”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Alissa.

“Well,” she said, “look at this!”

The velvet sheet fell to the floor as a glittering object, mostly silver, slid from it into one hand, then to both. The glass was more liquid than solid, unusual and restless; the mirror moved—the mirror moved! Changing shapes and changing colors always shifting restless, so it seemed. The woman said, “This is a very special mirror. This mirror tells only truth, while other mirrors only show what’s real. This will show your true face no matter what, whether you wish to see it or not. It is a camaleonte, alive… Do you know that is?”

“It is a lizard,” said the princess. “A chameleon.”

“Yes,” the lady said. “This is the Chameleon Mirror.”

3

The young girl nodded.

“But,” she said, “Pardon, ma’am. Could I see it work before I try it?”

“How clever!” said the lady. She had a toothy smile. “Do you still have your dolly?”

Alissa looked around. She hadn’t thought of toys, not since she woke at least. She didn’t know how to find them, not with her eyes. She lay back as if to sleep, pretending for a moment, and replayed her usual routine. She sat up with her eyes closed then felt her way around, out of the bed across the carpet, onto the wooden floor, then to the corner. Her old toy-chest, made of soft-wood, had a cold, metallic switch and buckle. She groped about until she found a wooden doll, a dairy-made she’d never seen. She opened her eyes to finally see. The shirt was white and bilious, the dress was red and wrinkled; her shoes were black, her stockings white. Alissa walked across the room and sat down again. The lady smiled. She took the doll and said: “My daughter had one of these!”

She placed the doll in front of the mirror and – the mirror moved! The mirror moves, Alissa thought. it changed from an amorphous shade of neutral grey and blank and bit by bit became defined; sketchy at first then color sprang into life coloring the face. It looked different immediately, but Alissa didn’t know exactly why or how. There was a discomfort in the face, an emotion, a pained expression somehow. Alissa looked at the doll in the mirror, then to the real doll; at first glance they seemed the same, but the mirror gave it personality; it told the truth by some strange voodoo that the real doll for some reason could not manage. The reflection in the mirror was more true than the milk-maid’s face.

“Well?” the lady interrupted. “Would you like to see it work on you?”

Alissa thought for a moment, wondering truly, wondering what question she wanted answered; none, she thought, had troubled her before she woke to find the speaking candlelight.

“I want you to look!”

The lady’s smile faltered a bit but did not fail. She said, “Of course.”

She turned the mirror to her face. It sprung to life again, shifted from a settled palette, undefined, and bursting colors sprung from beneath the liquid surface and hurried into place, each more definitive, putting the face together bit by bit as she looked on. A lively woman appeared, not unkind nor kind, came together dot by dot, color by color until the surface settled into a stern, more wistful countenance. The face was younger, much younger, but the eyes were older, weary and tired but sharp, acute and penetrating. She became beautiful through that same magic. And Alissa took the handle but the lady grabbed her hand.

“Are you sure you want to see?” she asked. “If you look, you can’t take it back.”

And without thinking she said yes, compelled and egged on by that magic. Alissa took the handle into her hands and held it up to her face and focused. Colors rushed from the lining silver toward the center, dark colors first, the outline in dark colors then new colors softer, beige and lesser brown, each softer, more subtle shades all  marching towards a growing image. And the face with currents shifting settling, colors barging into one another, merging, and finally settled. She looked into the eyes on the mirror’s face, her face. It was … was it? Was it?

“Take it away!” she screamed. “Take it away!”

4

Alissa pushed the mirror away and covered her face, holding her eyes shut tightly. Her father sat beside her. The lady – she could tell through each small sound, still at strange heights – began to redress the magic mirror. She couldn’t shake the image bu she tried, for hours hoping, praying, begging, wishing that when she slept she’d lose the image, the whole thing would go away, like a memory from childhood of a small moment, a moment no one notices or remembers; filling a bird-feed, changing the hay for the horses, something routine, something ordinary.

Her father stayed with her until the sun went down. She felt her father’s heartbeat against her shoulder, tender and supportive. She felt silly and opened her eyes. His eyes were closed, but he seemed calm. Calm enough, at least. And he put his head on her shoulder, looking, she knew, for some sort of support from her.

And she said, “I’m sorry.”

He laughed and asked:

“What did you see?”

“The painting,” the princess said. “It just didn’t seem like me.”

“It’s okay,” he said. “It’s okay.”

She’d find out later to her shame the kind of fee her father paid for a mirror, for such magic.  The price for her to get to see had cost her father’s sight. She thought back to that night with him, leading him outside into the courtyard and then on the hill under the black velvet blank full of stars. He got comfortable on his back. She wanted to show him she remembered, the stars from the night before.  She put her finger on his stomach first, “I remember,” she said. She pressed into his stomach, “Here is Ariete,” she moved onward, sideways, “And Leone right here,” she kept on drawing. “Pesci of course and your sign Acquario, that’s yours and mama’s sign is here, Gemelli…”

“Wait!” she cried. “Where is my mother?”

“She’s in the country…” he said. She would not ask again.

So the night went on as all nights do, a slow moon rising. She continued mapping out the stars there with her father, bringing them to earth for him, for a mirror and the glance, she gifted him the stars, bringing Sirius and Betelgeuse into his lap. She thought he was asleep and forgetful, tired, quit before she finished.

“You forgot yourself,” he said. He guided her hand onto his chest, above his heart. “Here,” he said. He mumbered in his sleep;

“Toro.”

Nothing else.

The Eukaryotic Idea

LITERATURE, IN EVOLUTIONARY TERMS, BEGINS and ends with the idea. Even if the idea is unconsciously expressed, it is behind the conveyance of all forms of information. Because of this, the idea is behind the edifice of standardized language. Language is a recent development; the end product of intermediate stages that have been changed throughout history. To show the developmental stages of narrative is necessary when looking to the future. Before we look at variations between languages, I’d like to present a more natural way of looking at language and what language represents.

Human beings aren’t the only animals that use language, nor are they the only animals to use language to describe objects and other individuals within their species and environments. Dolphins are well known for their intelligence and have names for one another; they have names for objects and places. It was recently discovered that crows pass information and habits to offspring through language, and, as it is with humans, these animals have different, colloquial accents; and, when conditioned to respond negatively to certain masks and faces, crows will not only continue to respond negatively and attack the same mask years after their conditioning, their offspring will inherit these prejudices. That’s right; racism is hereditary.

Literature is not only the chronicle of life or ideas; a book is a haunted house, a haunted house that scares the shit out of complacent, naïve people. To start with the first organized story using structured language would be to exclude 97% of our history. So, we have to use the 3% of our history we have to account for the rest. The best way to do this is to look at literature in biological and genetic terms. What follows this is a eukaryotic idea: when new information becomes available, this idea will have to be revised. Dismissing reality to keep an idea alive is more often than not what kills it.

Based on the information we have available, what we know as life began in more basic and simple terms and remained that way for the greater majority of biological history. The birth of conveying ideas began in prokaryotic fashion, as life began as prokaryotic in nature. To say that ideas were originally prokaryotic is to say that the replica was idealistically without variation from the replicator. This is the stage in literary evolution when the idea and the representation were the same: images of cows, fish, and people, were what they conveyed; cows, fish, and people. This was the first form of idea, the prokaryotic idea.

The eukaryotic idea became possible with the disconnect between idea and representation. Without abstraction we would be without the majority of literary devices we so often use such as analogy, simile, metaphor, parody, satire, equivocation. At this stage, a cow can be an obese person; taken further, the obese person can be gluttony; gluttony can be insatiable desire, a sin, and a hobby. At the deepest level of meaning, meaning becomes a choice on behalf of the reader.

One of the most famous works of English literature, The Old Man and the Sea, which won Ernest Hemingway the Nobel Prize for literature, was about a man going fishing. The reason it won is not because the board of voters is particularly good in judging English literature. There was a mystical, archetypal sense about the famous short story. I think something with that kind of simplicity and clarity in storytelling is startling. It is presented as idea without equivocation. What makes good literature resonate is literature that doesn’t think for the reader. It presents a story without obvious answers and this is what compels us to project onto it our own ideas and theories.

The Old Man and the Sea is not specifically about how we are defined by our struggles; the kind of struggle which always demands one more effort, one more pull, forever and ever. It’s not about climbing to the top of a mountain to discover it’s a sand-dune. It’s not about how even when we achieve our goal it comes to nothing, as only the bones of the great fish remain when the man returns to port. It is not about the fight between two aspects of nature. It’s about an old man and the sea, an old man who dreams of lions when he sleeps. What is the fish and what is the man? They are the same thing: organisms fighting for their continued survival. The struggle portrayed in literary terms resonates in biological terms. The reason the book is so meaningful is because it is not intended to be meaningful.

The most important difference in the prokaryotic cell and the eukaryotic cell is that the eukaryotic cells has a nucleus bound membrane which allows for the passing of genetic information from one generation to another. In eukaryotic ideas, information is being passed and replicated imperfectly. The imperfection is its greatest attribute because it allows for improvement. The only reason evolution is possible is because DNA is not always perfectly copied, and sometimes variations have better chances of surviving than a genetic replica would have.

Change happens during replication, during chromosomal encoding as each gene, in competition with an alternate gene, an allele, takes place along each slot, each locus, at each of the mother’s 23 chromosomes and the father’s 23 chromosomes. Adaptation, on the genetic level, doesn’t happen within an organism’s lifetime.  Its ability to adapt is dependent on its genetic endowment. There are selection pressures amongst varying ideas, and it is most often cultural, subjected to changing intellectual climates and competition with other competing philosophies. Eukaryotic ideas are different than prokaryotic ideas because there is deviation in replication that allows for difference to enter into the dreampool. The difference between the biological and literary eukaryote is that an idea can change and adapt after birth. This is what makes the evolution of ideas and information possible and this is how knowledge can be improved upon.

As we’ve seen, ideas are inherited. The success of an idea is largely dependent on the environment in which it emerges. Its success among competing ideas within that culture. Genes operate under the same principle and those which allow the organism to survive aren’t selected in the human sense, and perhaps ideas aren’t either.

The cave paintings in Chauvet, France can be considered the archetypal prokaryotic idea: it is both idea and representation and does not deviate in replications.

Considering fire in biological terms can illustrate this point. Fire breathes; it excretes; it consumes and produces energy; it gives birth to daughter fires; you can smother it by cutting off its oxygen, drown it in water, but fire doesn’t pass on genetic information, even though it makes copies of itself, even though there are different varieties of fire. Some spit, some crackle, some hiss; but they are biologically not alive, although they share these traits with living organisms. The difference between fire and eukaryotic organisms is the passing of genetic information through DNA.

Tone is the gateway to understanding modern language, as domesticated animals can usually understand commands given based on their tone, volume, and rapidity. The point of tone is to convey the idea, but tone is predated by pictorial literature wherein symbols are used to represent something they aren’t, the combination of different symbols to reference other ideas.

The way we begin to understand language in our native environment is not through form and definition. We begin to understand words by the tone and volume of the sound, in concert with posturing, facial expression, and other such things that children understand more thoroughly than adults. Parents, or more precisely, mothers, will tell you that a child can mean a lot without using descriptive language. A mother can differentiate happiness, grumpiness, anger, and contentment (silence) in terms of tone. Even when a tone is no different to the ear of a casual listener, a child crying because of hunger and a child crying because of being sleepy can be understood biologically by mothers. This is found in other species as well, as tone can extend and manipulate the genes of other animals at a distance.

There are two examples I can use to illustrate this principle. Cuckoos never raise their own children. Female cuckoos parasitize the nests of other birds, such as the common reed warbler. When it becomes obvious to the diminutive reed warbler that what she’s feeding may not be, in fact, a reed warbler, considering that it is larger than the rest of the chicks, and her, the cuckoo is capable of making a noise that mitigates this factor.

The noise produced by a cuckoo chick is an expression of its genes, an extended phenotype; it can be said to control the way the reed warbler thinks, as the sound a cuckoo makes acts on the mind of the reed warbler. The sound made by the obviously fraudulent cuckoo is enough to change the reed warbler’s ability to realize that whatever is making that sound probably isn’t a reed warbler, or any other kind of warbler. This is not the only instance in which a phenotype is extended.

There is a species of cricket in which the male uses very specific and intentional sounds to manipulate the ovulation of female crickets at a distance. The general concept is synonymous to that of the reed warbler; as a part of our natural inheritance, we can use sound and tone to convey basic needs.

As animals born into environments in which their immediate ancestors were, genetic information that gives the resultant organism its tenacity and survival probability comes from an organism that relied on its genetic information to survive in the same environment. To illustrate this in terms that apply to ideas, an idea which allows for an organism to maximize its utility within its environment is, although not always consciously, selected.

The information carried in DNA makes up the chromosome of every animal on Earth, all of which have phenotypic traits encoded by four letters: T, U, G, and A. Every animal you see in the wild is just a different assemblage of those four letters of DNA, collectively representing an animal’s genome. Similarly, each book is a different animal. In English, each of those animals are just different arrangements of twenty-six letters. Different languages, obviously, have different letters and alphabets. Considering the English alphabet only, all of the Encyclopedia Britannica, the collected works of Dickens and Shakespeare—all being different only in its arrangement of the same twenty-six letters.

The most common selection pressures are the environment (culture) predators (competing, contrary ideas,) and, in the idea’s case, adaptability. A rigid idea, which does not adapt, is prokaryotic; this means that while there may be individuals who try to adapt it, the adaptation process is an unnatural one: when the terms we use to evaluate nature are altered to adapt the idea to new cultures, this is the reversal of ideal evolution. It is preservation, but it is stasis. Isaac Newton’s theory of gravitation has been modified to more accurately describe nature and it took 300 years for it to become a closer representation of what nature reveals to us.

The interpretation of nature hasn’t been changed to give more authority to Newton’s theory of gravitation. When someone distorts information provided by nature to fit an idea, this is the death of the idea as a viable, adaptable organism, and this process is what assigns prokaryotic attributes to the idea, because once an idea is no longer subject to revision based on better understandings of nature, and objective data provided by observations of nature, it can only survive through prokaryotic replication. The conceit that an imperfect being can have a perfect idea, an idea that overreaches future, contradictory discoveries, is unhealthy, and leads to stagnation.

These ideas may be dead on a biological level, but survive as the literary equivalent of a living fossil. Living fossils are extremely successful species that can survive without significant change for millions of years. They are perfectly adapted to their environment, are either without predation or the apex predator, and lack competition for food and mates within its species and among cohabiting species.

Prokaryotic living fossils in literature aren’t successful because they are perfectly adapted to the environment. Adaptation to an environment means, in literary terms, that the preserved product was molded and shaped by the culture. This is how more vibrant and adaptable eukaryotic ideas survive; they are updated to fit the environment as it changes. Prokaryotic, living fossil ideas are so successful because they were created for the environment, and then the environment was adapted to the idea.

These ideas are successful enough without the intellectual sculpting and cultural evaluation and revision that makes eukaryotic ideas successful, viable organisms. Even though they compete through people, by proxy, only the ideas are at war. Through people, ideas make war with other ideas, which happen to be in other people. An idea is what wins a war, never a person. The winner of a war is never a person, it is the idea. People never survive a war, they die—for what survives is no longer a person.

With few exceptions, such as humans, other primates, and dolphins, when an animal kills another animal there is no need for justification. Need is the justification. In natural conditions, animals kill other animals to survive, for food, to prolong their lives. Animals such as the big cats (tigers, lions, cheetahs, jaguars) teach their offspring how to kill, admittedly, but it is not about philosophy. Cheetahs don’t chase down antelopes and kill them because they disagree. In more intelligent animals, where there is killing for sport, for thrills, for ideas, the idea itself is, to some degree, symbiotic; it is using the organism to transmit itself to other hosts. It is a virus, a disease—Marco Polio.

Prokaryotic ideas survive at the expense of people; eukaryotic ideas survive because people, culturally and collectively, keep them alive to better the culture and the collective.

Methodology and evolutionary history has shown how harmful it can be to introduce a foreign species to an isolated, stable ecosystem. A prominent example is the dodo, a flightless bird not unlike the common pigeon, which once inhabited the island of Mauritius. The species’ that inhabit an island are a snapshot of a different evolutionary era and have selection pressures that are favored only there, pressures which haven’t yet prepared them for something like a dog, a cat, or a drunk sailor.

Importing living fossil ideas and introducing them to indigenous ideas is the first symptom that hints at the real relationship between idea and host: this is a symbiotic relationship with the carrier species, podochus ennoia; from the Greek for ‘idea holder,’ and a prokaryotic idea that can only make replicas. It’s a perfect word: a dying idea uses a host to escape, to survive, to maximize the survivability of its genes.

The success of the prokaryotic idea is dependent on p. ennoia to propagate and survive, since it has lost its ability to change to suit environments, environments are changed by p. ennoia to accommodate the idea. Superficial changes are made to make it successful for different potential carriers. In this case, the language of the prokaryotic idea behaves like DNA, as it rewrites an organism’s thought, and inoculates them against attempts at further cultural and intellectual adaptation.

The analogy can be extended, biologically, because when an idea requires a host organism, a carrier species, to survive, it doesn’t simplify and adapt itself; it simplifies and degrades the carrier.

The ennoia begin as objective idea evaluators, where ideas are given value based on accuracy in description and economy of explanation. To become a pod, an idea host, it is usually the mistake made by someone mistaking a virus as the cure for a deeper sickness. When a superficial, mass-market idea kicks into gear, hosts are immunized by the symbiotic life-form against attempts at objective evaluation and become permanently prokaryotic, ideas whose survival is dependent on the ennoia’s success in adapting new environments, which includes new carriers, for the idea.

This type of reverse-engineering takes place within the dreampool with disturbing regularity. Eukaryotic ideas, ideas which evolve to best represent nature in natural philosophy, are rarely changed by individuals, but by collections of individuals within scholastic traditions. Einstein’s gravitational constant was phased out, because it was incorrect. As it was eukaryotic in nature, it allowed for after-birth evolution to take place, and when errors were found within the idea, an attempt to revise it to keep it alive was made. When revision couldn’t save it, and nothing but opinion could support it, it was phased out of the dreampool. A prokaryotic idea resists adjustment. Before Charles Darwin and Watson and Crick and Mendel, different versions of these ideas were in the dreampool.

Lamarcke was a French biologist who had an epigenetic centered view that revolved around the error in supposing that if you learned to speak other languages during your lifetime, your genetic code would be rewritten and your children would inherit the ability to speak these languages. Lamarcke’s idea of evolution was phased out because it was wrong. Objective idea-evaluators know what can prove them wrong, and in most cases, are not extremely keen in putting forth the effort required to be considered right.

The Evolving Window: the Past Through Different Eyes

FOR 97% OF OUR SPECIES’ TIME ON THIS PLANET WE have no stories or documents. We can only conjecture and infer and speculate and imagine as to how our earliest ancestors lived. It is possible, even likely, that stories were being written much further into the past than the oldest stories we have, but if there are such stories, they are not extant and not to be found in the historical record… Continue reading

A Brief History of History

Note: this is the Forward ‘A Brief History of History’ from my 2014 non-fiction textbook Undressing Gaia – a History of Nature’s Law; it is an in depth look at some of the most important ideas and names in classical physics, covers the evolution of ideas towards what we think of them today, and looks at some of the men and women we have to thank for dedicating their lives to this age-old pursuit of knowing. It covers the development of physics over the course of 2000 years and ends with the discovery of quantum mechanics at the turn of the 20th century, as to be help us  

For the first 97% of our time on this planet, it doesn’t seem like we asked too many questions. It seems that we have inherited the God’s of old. For most of the history of our species, regardless of where we are born and live, we’re introduced to varying explanations of what was the reason or force behind the existence of the universe. These explanations make up the folklore that is found around the world. It is an established notion that wherever there is a group of people, living in isolation and autonomous amongst themselves, they will have a creation myth… Continue reading