Borges and I

(The following story, and the story embedded within the story are both fiction.
The poem is my own          –JJM

I’ve been reading the Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation.  “Suggestive” is quite an understatement, and that’s as it should be, for such a fraught topic.  Children know details from the life of someone who died before they were born. Sometimes it was far away, in another culture speakig a different language.  The parents had no connection, no way they might have known through ordinary channels of communication. A two-year-old who broke into Spanish to describe the bayonet combat that killed her alter-ego, Miguel, in the Civil War in 1938.  A boy with nightmares about trains and a jagged birthmark on his scalp, at just the site where a small boy had suffered a fatal gash when his schoolbus was run down by a freight train in Lamont, Alberta 1960

I try to make a coherent story of reincarnation, but I can’t.  It’s not just that there are too many souls nowadays compared to all the people who have lived in the past. That problem could be remedied by animals who are promoted (?) via transmigration into our booming, rapacious species.  But most people (myself included) don’t come into the world manifestly laden with baggage from a previous life. Rather, Jung’s collective unconscious rings true for me. Just as we carry genes inherited from a thousand distinct ancestors (counting back just ten generations) it seems to me we may come into the world bearing the legacies and stories and passions of so many bygone souls.

No, I can let the Twenty Cases knock me off my chair, and still conclude that one-to-one reincarnation is the exception.  If we credit the channeled wisdom of great sages from every mystical and shamanic tradition, we will be open to the precept that our souls are buds from one Oversoul. We break off and experience the tortured life of separation for one short stint, then we return to the Oversoul.  

We come into this world awash with tears,
Mourning our incipient separation—
And soon we age and leave it, mired in fears,
So loathe to part with individuation.

The waves that crash, the foam atop the seas,
Disguise the ocean, fathomless, profound—
And when that water splinters into me’s,
Myriad ephemeral droplets abound
And frolic in a mist one glorious trice
Fall terror-bound back in the womb, coalescing,
Rejoin the life that once was all they knew…

Perhaps our fear of change provides a clue
Why human arts nor nature’s quite suffice
To sustain appreciation of our blessing.

As a logical being, as a student of the sages, I find it easy to accept this thesis.  But it flies in the face of my experience. What can it mean to combine souls? Maybe it would be easier to accept if i were schizophrenic, or if I were subject to dissociative psychology.  But as I am, I go through life thinking I’m one person, separate from you, quite separate even from my brother and my wife, and all the sages in history are hard put to convince me otherwise.  And isn’t it exactly my felt experience that this philosophical speculation is supposed to account?

I’ve read about mirror neurons, and sure, I know what empathy feels like.  When you are flailing and screaming because you stubbed your toe, an echo of your pain runs through me, but it’s pretty abstract, pretty distant compared to a stubbed toe of my own.  

“We are all one” comes from revered sources, from Lao Tsze to Jill Bolte Taylor.  It’s what I want to believe, but it seems so far away. How can I climb into this experience of wholeness and unity and dissolution individuality?  How can I make it my own?

If I were an anthropologist, maybe I would arrange to spend a year in an indigenous community where people feel closer to each other and closer to nature as a result of their cultural heritage.   If I had more faith in psychopharmacology, I might try psychedelic drugs. But I’ve had a lifelong fear of any kind of chemical meddling with my CNS. If I knew a guru who could grant me shaktipat, I wouldn’t hesitate to ask, but I am too proud to be anyone’s disciple, another soft spot in my temperament.  Meditation? I’ve been doing it for years, and swear by the gifts it has dispensed, but cosmic consciousness has not been among them (for me).  Meditation has been a rich but lonely pursuit.

I’m a writer.  Epiphany! Maybe I can find a path into merged consciousness through writing a story.  I’m thinking of Borges. He’s the one who could evoke a whole world in a 4-page tour de force of his imagination.  I’ll become Borges for the day.  I’ll channel Borges, and I’ll write a story about…about a consciousness that becomes entangled with another someone’s consciousness.

Chang Yun is a student in Tianjin’s largest public high scool.  It’s 2007, and the whole country is brimming with pride over the coming Beijing Olympics.  They see it as a rite of passage, a benchmark that says China has arrived in the developed world, with the infrastructure to host a multinational event in style.  It will be, above all, a media event that changes perceptions of China forever. Twenty years ago, China was one of the most backward countries in the world, with 95% of the population engaged in subsistence farming.  Now China is hi-tech factory to the world, exporting more manufactured goods than the next seven nations combined. The rocket fuel that has propelled China from rice paddies to Superpower Heir Apparent was individual competition.  

Yun is the fastest swimmer that any of his coaches has seen.  He is raced against tag teams of the next fastest kids just so he can be prodded forward by someone alongside him, competition to bring out his best.  In the Hebei Provincial competitions, he finishes nearly half a length ahead of his nearest competitor, and he does it in Backstroke, Breast stroke, Butterfly and Freestyle, more comfortable with any of them than the boys who specialized in one favorite stroke.

It certainly seems that the Olympics are Yun’s destiny.  No one can stop him. He is buoyed by the hope of his great nation; and, true to the stereotype, he knows how to work.  Two hours in the pool each morning, three more after school lets out before dinner. Sprints and repeated sprints. His lungs grow so large he can cover 50 meters before he has to take his first breath.  Endurance swims of 10K without a break become a routine. Lap after hypnotic lap for consistency of form. Like a Tai Ji master, or like a machine, he performs every stroke alike, photographically perfect replicates.  Exactly two breaths, four pulls from his right arm and five from his left brings him each time to approach the wall for an optimal flip turn, and he is off for the next round.

That summer, a year before the Olympics, the Central Government in Beijing dispatches China’s best coaches to Tianjin to work with him.  But he baffles them. He is a phenomenon of nature, they say. His form is already so perfect, his times so fast–and regularly chipping off a few tenths to surpass his own benchmark.  They are afraid to change anything, afraid they might derail the vehicle of China’s promise.

What can go wrong?

What can go wrong is Michael Phelps.  Training at the same 39o of latitude, 12 time zones away (in either direction), Phelps is 15 cm taller than Chang Yun.  Each of his flat, open hands pulls a column of water 225 square centimeters in cross-section, compared to Yun’s 182.  Phelps is such a natural swimmer that, as rumor has it, he can hold his edge with a mere 90 minutes workout in the pool each day.  Yun is not training to race with the boys in the Hebei Provincials. He is not training to lead the Chinese swim team. He is training to take on Michael Phelps.

Along with big business and media contracts, spying is also a part of Olympic culture.  T minus six months, and Yun’s average time for 100 m freestyle in practice is a full second behind Phelps.  Both athletes vary considerably from one trial to the next, so that Yun at his best iss faster than Phelps on an off-day.  Yun’s coach sees this as cause for hope, but it is not in his nature to leave anything to chance.

A phone call, a whisper down the chain of command, and funding comes through from Beijing to engage Franz Seidlen, to pay him whatever it might take to bring the legendary German swimming coach to Hebei for half a year.   Seidlen was an engineer before he was a coach. The subtle innovations he has introduced to competitive swimming have been recognized and adopted the world over, and the whole sport is said to be an astounding 2.4% faster than it had been with the pre-Seidlen ideals of form and technique.  Discipline is his middle name, but many coaches can be inspiring taskmasters. What sets Seidlen apart is a detailed knowledge of anatomy, and an uncanny ability to identify the individual modifications that can turn anyone’s genetic endowment to best advantage.

No one is surprised when Seidlen arrives in Tianjin carrying a life-size map of Yun’s body plan, which he has already studied in every detail.  No one is surprised when he installs underwater videography to film Yun in motion. But it raises eyebrows when Seidlen hangs a picture of Phelps on the wall next to the pool.   As time goes on, Phelps’s pictures joins Yun in the locker room, in the wallpaper of Yun’s cell phone, and finally on his bedroom wall.

T minus three months, an effigy of Phelps arrives to swim alongside Yun.  A product of Italian artists, German engineering and Chinese manufacture, this state-of-the-art robot bridges the uncanny valley, at once to frighten and inspire Yun as nothing else can.  The robot does not actually propel itself through the pool with perfectly-coordinated arm and leg motions, but it moves arms and legs in a form that is convincing enough through the splashes, and the variable-speed propeller can be programmed to anticipate Phelps’s swimming pace. Training alongside “Phelps” becomes the core of Yun’s daily routine.

T minus two months, and the pace and regimen of Yun’s training are beginning to seem inhuman.  One weekend, he attends a party with school buddies, falls ill and misses five days of practice.  Seidlen brings Yun a box of little pills. “Prolintane” does not have a translation in his English-Chinese dictionary, but all Yun’s 17 years have taught him to trust his teachers.  His strokes feel longer now, and the laps feel shorter. It is easier to swim long hours without losing concentration. It is easier to draw forth motivation for each final sprint.

He has strange dreams.  Phelps has moved into Yun’s psyche as a constant companion.  Sometimes they are buddies, riding bikes together through the Trianjin traffic.  Yun dreams he is in a boxing ring, sparring with Phelps. He lands a punch, knocks Phelps out, but it is Yun who falls unconscious to the floor.

As the summer approaches, the Olympic competition itself has begun to take on the aura of a dream. Yun no longer distinguishes his anticipation from reality, his dreams from accomplished fact.  Seidlen encourages him to repeat as a mantra, 我已经取得胜利, “I have already triumphed.”  The attention and publicity add to his sense of unreality.  Certainly, it is not he in whom these people are interested.  Yun is unmoored, carried downstream, no longer aware who he is, no longer a living agent with will of his own.  At least, it feels that way.

It is in the final runoffs of the 800-meter free-style that he is paired with Phelps in the same heat.  Michael Phelps is not a robot but a boy like himself, gawky, diffident and self-conscious when he is not in the water.  Michael looks right past him, over the top of his head. But then, a double-take. He turns to Yun and their eyes meet a long moment.  I have known you before. We have been close, perhaps in a past life.

The starting block, the gun that launches them in the water…it has all been lived already too many times to be regarded as a feature of the present. Yun is swimming the way he has always swum, every stroke a perfect clone.  He is aware only that his heart is pounding with an unusual insistence.

Then, approaching the fourth lap flip turn, something happens that shakes Yun out of his trance.  Nine strokes has always been 9 strokes. But this time, he is at the wall in 8½. This is good. He knows it means he has been swimming faster than he has ever swum in his life.  This is terrifying. The wall is too far away, and then it is too close. His legs, scrunched up against the wall, offer a slightly stronger push, but not enough to make up for the time it has taken to close that extra half meter, to dive in a way that is ever so imperceptibly unsmooth.  Precious hundredths have been lost, Yun knows. What can this do to his rhythm, his confidence, his breathing? Yes, his breathing. With the unaccustomed turn, Yun’s face is under water one full stroke longer than his perfect habit has come to expect. Oxygen efficiency is Yun’s trump card, his one advantage over Michael.  Oxygen is what Yun needs, and now his straining muscles feel the lack of oxygen like a flooded Mercedes diesel on a January morning. Yun’s discipline, earned in 100,000 laps of clockwork precision, would be the envy of any Zen master, and now his muscles are screaming for air. He focuses his intention on directing every red blood cell to those shoulder muscles that are even now issuing their non-negotiable demand.

It was in that moment that the miracle occurred, the mircale toward which this narrative has been directed, the miracle that this story’s author needs to imagine if he is to come to terms with Cosmic Consciousness and a personal understanding of transmigration of souls.    

Yun’s focus was complete.  Or maybe he lost focus. Or maybe he only dreamed because his brain lacked sufficient oxygen to support a waking self.  But as Yun related it to me more than three years after that contest, he became Michael. His awareness seemed familiar, his self undoubtably his own.  But the sensations, the nerve signals were from Phelps’s body, not his own. He swam with the same drive, the same passion, the conviction that his people had invested their dreams in this race, in his opportunity, in his destiny to stage an upset victory for the glory of all China.  His people expected him to win and it was not an option to let them down.

The pace, the glide of the water, the splash were all perfectly familiar to him.  But the race itself was now almost effortless. With this smooth-shaven, extra-long body, these extra-large hands like canoe paddles in the water, he was gliding faster than he ever knew, but there was no pain, no screaming desire to let go and rest, no struggle to suppress the desire for more air, more air, more air.  Compared to the beginning of the race–even compared to a hard sprint at the end of a training day–this was a breeze, a piece of cake. Chang/Phelps glided forward with the grace of a slalom skier.

Of course, he doubted that it was real.  The thing that convinced him–Yun spoke more slowly and deliberately when he got to this part of the story–he could see the pool wall by his right side.  He had entered the race in Lane #3, but here he was in Lane #6, Michael’s lane. Randomly he remembered that the wall itself offered a theoretical advantage of 3 miliseconds per lap, and now as Michael he was taking that advantage.

And inside all this strangeness, did it occur to Yun that he might relax just a bit and throw the race to his other self three lanes over?  Or with this body, so much longer and stronger than his own,and yet so much less accustomed to real work, real discipline, he might achieve new records?  

The last thing Yun remembers about those six minutes of merged identity was repetition of the proverb 落英缤纷, literally “flower petals fall like snowflakes”, but its meaning translates roughly as sic transit gloria mundi.  For the first time, he was allowing himself to consider that just a few years hence, both he and Michael would pass into history, their best glory behind them, while others their age were just beginning to aspire to a future of open-ended ambition.  Life is long.

Looking back in retrospect, Yun made a strange admission to me.  “It would have been very difficult to act differently from the way I did.  While I was inside Michael’s body, I had an intimate familiarity with Michael’s habits, his passions, his ways of thought.  You will want to know, did I have free will? Could I choose what to do with my limbs as I do at this moment in this body? I felt sure that yes, I could.  But the habits were stronger than I ever imagined. I had Michael’s pace and coordination, not my own. I had the thoughts that Michael thought. I saw his girlfriend, beaming with pride for me at the race’s end.  The gold medal that I saw in my future was Michael’s gold medal, not my own. In the split between body and soul, we imagine that thoughts go with the soul, but I learned that day it is not so. Except by focused and intense assertion of will, thoughts arise from the body, from which they are too often adopted without question as ‘my own’.”

I stayed awake far too long into the night, I know, propelled in an accelerating torrent of words toward this ending I had devised.  Staring at an LED screen, my eyes became bleary, but my fingers moved on. My sight became grey, but the words continued to come, each ensuing paragraph more amd more like accounts I’ve heard of automatic writing.  Mozart taking the Lord’s dictation. Jane Roberts or–dare I mention Pesoa? whose multiple personalities ought by rights to have been the souls of my story, in preference to Borges.

I stopped writing not because there was nothing more to write, but because I was startled–startled and soothed, paradoxically–as my sight gave out completely.  The light above my bed was still on. The computer screen, presumably, still displayed my story. But in my eyes there was only black. I thought it best to leave off my story and succumb to the hour.  Sleep came almost instantly.

I don’t know how long it was when I awoke from a dream.  Probably not very long, if my experience is any guide. Many of my most vivid dreams occur just minutes after dozing off.  

I was in the Library of Babel, with its endless expanse of hexagonal rooms, packed like a honeycomb in every direction.  Every book was here, every possible book, every permutation and combination of the 26 capital and small letters of the Latin alphabet plus 8 punctuations, indexed just as Kurt Gödel would have numbered them, in alphabetical sequence not by title but by their full content.  They were printed on 80# paper in Braille, titles and bindings in Braille as well, and this caused each volume to be bulkier than books of visible print. The fingers do not have so fine a resolution as the retina, but touch carries an immediate meaning, palpable, if you will, that readers of print books can never know.  An infinity of large volumes or of small, I thought, is all the same infinity.

The library contained, as I say, every possible volume, but not with a blind democracy as to importance.  Shelf upon shelf of nonsense was represented by one copy of each distinct text; but the important works of literary value were there in multiple copies, so many copies, enough copies that it was possible to locate them and single them out.  Homer and Milton and Didymus of Alexandria, Helen Keller, and then Borges himself. So few books they left to us, but so many copies of each here in “his” library.

My fingers touched and could read.  More than this, they knew the words before I touched them.  How pleasant it was to run my fingers over the bindings, reading the disparate contents of each volume.  The irresistible title, “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”. By the time I found the story called Water Torture, I retained no capacity for surprise.  Line for line, word for word, Borges had written my story before I had. This man’s intuitive imagination could gauge the future thousands of years hence; it is hardly a cause for surprise that he anticipated the Beijing Olympics by a mere half century.  No wonder it felt like “automatic writing” in my somnolent, semiconscious state. No doubt I was remembering a story lodged deep in my subconscious, which I had read exactly 50 years earlier, as a college student.

The remainder of that long night, I slept the sleep of the just, or perhaps the sleep of the dead. When day returned, I found that my eyesight had been restored.  Curiously, I had never doubted it would. But just in the waking, I recalled one more dream, one more connection to Borges. I was in his bed, drawn into sexual union with the Master.  I knew that this act of infidelity would rip apart my marriage, bring down my reputation, leave in tatters the life of integrity that I had so carefully constructed. Pulled by my body, I had no choice, but had I the will to decide in that moment, I would have judged it a fair bargain, trading all I had assembled by my staid reliability for this one orgasmic moment of union.

“Being an agnostic means all things are possible.”
— Jorge Luis Borges


The Science that Science Ignores

“The plural of anecdote is not data.”
— [source in dispute]

Science aspires to be an all-encompassing way of looking at the world.  Some scientists are Christians or Buddhists, but for many, science is their religion.  Many people who are not professional scientists have also taken the scientific worldview to heart, as an overarching paradigm of how the world works that leaves little wiggle room for an omnipotent deity to hurl his Olympian thunderbolts.  We don’t believe in miracles.

I say “we” because I am a scientist, and I number myself in this group.  Science is the foundation of my worldview, but…

But does the community of professional scientists authentically embody the scientific worldview?

But has science, as it is practiced today, retreteated from the aspiration to explain all that can be explained?

But has our common notion of the scientific worldview become identified with a kind of mechanistic reductionism, even as quantum mechanics — which is the deepest and most successful scientific theory in history — is holistic at its core?

Modern science is a career for a select few million people around the world.  To an extent we don’t like to recognize, our research projects are driven by business considerations.  Can we get funding to do this? Does our lab have the resources to address this question? Can this question be encapsulated in a project with an endpoint clear enough to make a suitable dissertation topic for a grad student?

At the center of my concerns is the computer revolution.  Computers have made possible some kinds of science that were not possible as recently as fifty years ago.  We routinely sift through vast amounts of data to find an outlier, and we imbue it with meaning. A hundred years ago, physicists focused their attention on the small subset of simple equations with analytic solutions.  When I went to school in the 1960s, there were entire courses on the tricks that could be used to solve differential equations in a long list of special cases. Now we solve systems of equations numerically and plot the results in a few minutes, not even bothering to check whether any of these tricks are applicable.  Even in pure mathematics, computers are performing proofs that involve checking out more cases and more bookkeeping and more symbolic manipulation than any mortal human could perform without succumbing to boredom and its consequence, error.

The danger now is that the tools have begun to direct the science.  We collect data not because we think it will help to answer a question of vital interest, but because we can.  We have stopped asking the questions that cannot be addressed by collecting more data.

The greatest loss, in my opinion, is that we have dismissed whole classes of observations  as “anecdotal evidence” and refused to take their message to heart. Among these stories and one-off observations, there are many that call our fundamental assumptions into question, and scientists, like most humans, become uncomfortable when it appears that their fundamental assumptions may need to change.  We are committed to our research agendas and don”t like distractions.  “Damn the torpedos — full speed ahead.” becomes “Please don’t confuse me with the facts.” We don’t want to look down to notice that the reasoning on which our science is based has cracks in the foundation.

We have become reluctant to ask the kinds of questions that computers cannot help to answer.  Too many scientists have developed a contempt for what they call “anecdotal evidence” — the compelling stories that are the driving force behind our curiosity.  The believe that sets of numerical data are the only kind of observations that science should consider.  What would they have made of the one-off observation of Michelson and Morley in 1887 that gave Einstein the idea for relativity?

Humans set our roots in stories, and these usually take their force precisely from their unique, irreproducible nature.  My first kiss. A July snowstorm during my honeymoon in the Alps. Trying to calm the tears of my younger daughter by the side of a pool, oblivious to the fact my older daughter lay unconscious at the pool bottom.  A 1979 scientific meeting at which I was taken under the wing of a Sufi master…

Many scientists and more administrators have come to believe that “if it can’t be reproduced, science can’t study it.”  Indeed, if a surprising new result is reported in a journal, other labs will try to reproduce the experiment, and if their results differ, the new result is dismissed as a mistake.  Many journal editors have the idea that it is more conservative to avoid printing something that turns out to be wrong than to allow open discussion of speculative new science. Hence, if a submitted manuscript goes against what they believe to be true, they will refuse even it the space in the journal (and the opportunity for discussion that this provides) until the result has been replicated by more than one lab.

You can’t do science if you’re afraid to be wrong.  The business model of maximizing prospects for success is fundamentally incompatible with the conduct of science.

All this is insidious because it looks from the outside as though science is thriving. It’s not just more and more articles in more and more journals.  Technological breakthroughs are coming along at a pace faster than society can accommodate them. The number of things we can do now that we couldn’t do twenty years ago is truly dizzying.

But this success at the top blinds us to a void at the bottom.  There have been no fundamental new discoveries in science since I was a child.  The first half of the 20th century brought us relativity, quantum mechanics, the new synthesis of Darwinian evolution with Mendelian genetics, the expanding universe, the double helix, the incompleteness theorem of Godel, the 3 degree microwave background and the Big Bang.  The last of these was 1964. Has there been any comparable discovery in the last fifty years?

The biggest danger is that we take this lack of fundamental new discoveries as evidence that our basic understanding is now correct, that we have discovered the large principles that govern life and the universe, and it remains for us now to build on this solid foundation and fill in the details. This attitude could spell the death of science.

So what exactly am I talking about?  Where is the glaring evidence that science is ignoring, to its peril?  Here is my list of 10 areas of reported observation that will change the face of biology once they are addressed:

  1. The origin of life: We are accustomed to think that 4 billion years ago, somewhere on earth, a set of chemicals appeared by chance that just happened to be able to create copies of itself.  But decades of trying to find such a combination points to an un-bridgeable gap between the most complex system that could have arisen by chance and the simplest system capable of auto-catalysis.
  2. The Anthropic Principle: We think of such numbers as the gravitational constant and the mass of the electron as fundamental constants of nature that just happen to be what they are.  But since the 1960s it is clear that these numbers are very special, and if any of them were just a little bit different, the universe would be a dull place indeed.
  3. Evolvability: Evolutionary biologists now accept that not just any self-reproducing system is capable of evolving.  So how did life get to be evolvable? Evolvability must have evolved, but this requires a mechanism not encompassed by “survival of the fittest”.
  4. Lamarckian Inheritance: Does the giraffe who stretches to reach the uppermost leaves have children with longer necks?  Evolutionary biologists have rejected this idea since the government-tainted “research” of Trofim Lysenko in the 1930s.  But Lamarckian epigenetic inheritance has now been well-established, and all the pieces are in place to support the plausibility of the thesis that plants and animals can alter their genetic legacy as well.
  5. Where is memory? The conventional answer is that memory dwells in the brain, specifically in synapses that connect neurons.  But one-celled ciliates demonstrate learning. Plants have memories but no neurons. Monarch butterflies somehow pass the memory of their overwinter location through six generations of offspring each summer.  And some heart transplant recipients have been reported to acquire the memories of the deceased donors.
  6. Plant communication: The forest is not just a free-for-all of individual trees each trying to outdo its neighbors in height so it can grab a bigger share of the sunlight.  Trees send pheromonal signals to warn of invading browsers and insect pests. These signals are picked up and acted upon by trees of other species and by birds.  Trees pass nutrients to each other through fungal filaments underground, and take turns nourishing one another through years of sickness.
  7. Animal migration:  A homing pigeon depends on the earth’s magnetic field for part of its navigational ability.  But a pigeon can be put in dark, magnetically-shielded box and carried a thousand miles from its home, and within minutes after its release, it will begin flying toward home.  Whales and some ocean fish navigate over thousands of miles to a specific destination, though they can’t see more than a few feet in front of them. Crabs and turtles and butterflies congregate in swarms at times and places that they are somehow able to agree upon, though they are separated by hundreds or thousands of miles.
  8. Telepathy, telekinesis and precognition: There is a credible science of parapsychology that has been pushed to the fringes by well-meaning realists whose theories have made them arrogant.  Robert Jahn, Dean Radin, Daryl Bem, Julia Mossbridge and Jessica Utts are among the most careful and meticulous of the researchers in these phenomena, and all of them have experienced ridicule and ostracism from the scientific community.
  9. The “hard problem”: What is the relationship between the brain and our consciousness?  The conventional view is that brains produce consciousness. “The mind is what the brain does.”  But already 120 years ago, William James taught us there is another alternative that is less consistent with our paradigms but more consistent with the facts.  Maybe the brain is a transmission organ that connects the world of thoughts, feelings and intentions to the material world of molecules, cells and bodies.
  10. Visitors from other worlds:  There are so many stories of sighting UFOs that these people can’t all be nuts.  In 1997 over Phoenix AZ, a hundred thousand people saw an object the size of a battleship hovering in the air for hours.  Many government insiders tell stories that the US military has been hoarding reverse-engineered alien technology since 1947, while using disinformation, ridicule and murder to keep their secret intact.


Duality Paradox

All knowledge draws from two resources,
____science and the heart.
They both speak true, but quietly,
____to those who deep attend.
To weave two tales in one design,
____philosophy and art
Pursue the sacred mystery
____in quest that knows no end.

Never count on miracles,
____but know that they are real.
Pray for aid, but not confined
____to forms you understand.
Guard your mortal body well,
____but know that you can heal;
Work as though you had no help,
____and help you’ll find, unplanned.

— Josh Mitteldorf

Duality Paradox

Never count on miracles,
but know that they are real.
Pray for aid, but not confined
to forms we understand.
Guard your mortal body well,
but know that it can heal;
Work as though we had no help,
and help we’ll find, unplanned.

Logic with empirical
support is the foundation
«Le couer a ses raisons, qu la
raison ne connait point.»
Schemes of mice and men can ne’er
suffice for our salvation
Steer from danger, then let go:
«L’on crée ce que l’on craint.»

Of all our means to know what’s true,
dear science is the best–
Yet all the answers science yields
won’t fill a thimble’s hollow.
We’ll never know the limits of
our knowledge till we test
And question, question everything–
then follow, follow, follow…

— Josh Mitteldorf


Beginning my 70th Year

At the dawn of my 7th year, I relished all things new and lustrous.  Each day, I understood something about the world that I hadn’t understood just the day before.

In my 70th year, I celebrate unlearning the things I thought I knew.  Each day, I hope to question some assumption that I have accepted for so long that I cannot imagine how my world might fit together without it.

As one piece after another falls away from what I once thought was the bedrock of reality, I find the most daunting challenge is to assemble from the new pieces some coherent whole, something with just a fraction of the satisfying integrity of the mythical picture of the world that has guided me since childhood.

Like the old peasant of Shamcher’s story, I will be given to know what I need to know, no more.  If I want to know more, then, I must throw myself into some mission that requires deep knowledge.  I ask for the guidance to tell me what that mission might be.

— Josh Mitteldorf


We know right away if someone’s inspired or merely devout—
Nor Moonies nor Marxists nor Tupperware salesmen can fool us.  
But within, institutional din, social message has power to rule us,   
And God’s whisper is drowned by the roar of their collective shout.

All wisdom and all certainty depend on this foundation
Inner light is not a luxury for rare, inspired moments—
Sanity itself is Phoenix, rising from turmoil it foments,
This collective, primal sanity may prove mankind’s salvation.

Death and Sleep are timeless portals for the music of nature’s choir;
The lost art of dreaming, our connection to the source of creation.            
Without sleep, we sink in desperate selfishness and isolation;
Without death, our souls are stalled, suspended, and can climb no higher.

Less doing, more listening—in the end we know it comes to this.
Lurking fears, the lonely quest for power—these are not things we will miss.

— Josh Mitteldorf

Ego Defense

Since childhood, I’ve responded to ostracism from family and friends with a drive to prove myself better than other people around me.  I gave up on belonging to the club, and convinced myself instead that “they’re not good enough for me.”

This was both an inner affliction and a social liability to me until at age 26, through a program of personal growth through peer counseling, I learned to transform the outward behavior while maintaining the inward aloofness.  I learned to listen empathetically, to offer kindness and generosity on the outside, while thinking secretly, “I have much to offer you, but you have little to offer me.”

This attitude has been too successful for me, because it has made it easy for me to connect socially, while hiding my scar from public view; so the scar has remained cloaked and unhealed forty years on. 

I don’t want to give up on kindness or service.  But can I devote my life to serving without feeling that I have one-upped the people I serve?  Can I live with myself if I relinquish the habit of whispering in my own ear assurances of my moral and intellectual superiority?  Can I care for another in a loving relationship without making her or him feel smaller for receiving my help? 

Futurama Fry Meme | NOT SURE IF HELPING OR PATRONIZING | image tagged in memes,futurama fry | made w/ Imgflip meme maker

As e e cummings might have said (but didn’t, quite), To feel better than others is a comfortable disease.

Caring for others helps me support the illusion that I am better than they are.  I am the helper, they are the helped. Though I keep it quietly to myself, an aura of moral superiority clouds the relationship.  I am left with something more comfortable than intimacy, but less real.

You are invited to reach within me gently or prod me violently or surprise me with humor or whatever it takes to re-open this piece of my heart.  Can you make me feel cared for while helping me to laugh at myself?

Thank you!

— Josh Mitteldorf