In Rod Serling’s “A Penny For Your Thoughts” (Twilight Zone episode 52, February 3, 1961) Twilight Zone resident Hector B. Poole, an easily identified with everyman, is given the ability to hear other people’s thoughts. This ability is bestowed when a coin toss results in the “freakish chance of a million” of the coin landing on its edge. Mr. Poole soon unhappily learns about the dissonance between people's thoughts and their behavior. Poole’s confusion and anxiety is optimistically relieved when, at episodes end, the ability to read other people’s thoughts is lost as he upends the still edge standing coin.
I would respectfully submit for your consideration that today we are all Twilight Zone residents. Social media has given us the ability to experience the thoughts and perspectives of others. Consequently we are also unhappily learning more than we ever wanted to know about the dissonance between people's thoughts and their behavior. Like Poole, our subsequent confusion and anxiety can only be optimistically relieved when we “upend the coin” of social media by disconnecting.
- theGUDA -
"It is hard to believe nowadays that people could ever have been as brilliantly duplicitous as James Wait-until I remind myself that just about every adult human being back then had a brain weighing about three kilograms!
There was no end to the evil schemes that a thought machine that oversized couldn’t imagine and execute.
So I raise this question, although there is nobody around to answer it: Can it be doubted that three-kilogram brains were once nearly fatal defects in the evolution of the human race?
A second query: What source was there back then, save for our overelaborate nervous circuitry, for the evils we were seeing or hearing about simply everywhere?
My answer: There was no other source. This was a very innocent planet, except for those great big brains."
- Kurt Vonnegut, Galapagos -
"It isn't what we don't know that gives trouble, it's what we do know that ain't so."
- Will Rogers -
But such is the treacherous way of Fate: we are doomed not by our own fault, and sometimes without our even perceiving a connection; we are doomed by the blind rage of a stranger with whose story we are unfamiliar, to whose misfortunes we are unconnected, and with whose opinions we are even in agreement. He and no other is the instrument in the casually devastating hand of Destiny.
- Joseph Roth, Rebellion -
I believe there is one story in the world, and only one, that has frightened and inspired us, so that we live in a Pearl White serial of continuing thought and wonder. Humans are caught - in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too - in a net of good and evil. I think this is the only story we have and that it occurs on all levels of feeling and intelligence. Virtue and vice were warp and woof of our first consciousness, and they will be the fabric of our last, and this despite any changes we may impose on field and river and mountain, on economy and manners. There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well - or ill?
- John Steinbeck, East of Eden -
"It was like coming this close to your dreams and then watching them brush past you like a stranger in a crowd. At the time, you don't think much of it. You know, we just don't recognize the most significant moments of our lives while they're happening. Back then I thought there'll be other days. I didn't realize that was the only day."
- Moonlight Graham, Field of Dreams -
"A second with you is like a year with an angry mob."
- Maurice "Buddy" Sorrell -
A song went around from fiddler to fiddler and each one added something and took something away so that in time the song became a different thing from what it had been, barely recognizable in either tune or lyric. But you could not say the song had been improved, for as was true of all human effort, there was never advancement. Everything added meant something lost, and about as often as not the thing lost was preferable to the thing gained, so that over time we'd be lucky if we just broke even. Any thought otherwise was empty pride.
- Charles Frazier, Cold Mountain -
For the longest time I thought Vonnegut and his depiction of humanity as an evolutionary experiment in big brains, or it’s corollary argument of big brains with opposable thumbs, to be most likely. Now I tend to agree more with Mr. Spock and his Vulcan kin. Humanity, as an evolutionary experiment, is best defined as an experiment in emotion and impulse.
- theGUDA -
“Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.”
- George Orwell, 1984 -
In Pierre’s relations with Villarsky, with his cousin, with the doctor, and with all the people he met now, there was a new feature that gained him the good-will of all. That was the recognition of the freedom of every man to think, to feel, and to look at things in his own way; the recognition of the impossibility of altering a man’s convictions by words. This legitimate individuality of every man’s views, which in old days troubled and irritated Pierre, now formed the basis of the sympathetic interest he felt in people. The inconsistency, sometimes the complete antagonism of men’s views with their own lives or with one another, delighted Pierre, and drew from him a gentle and making smile.
- Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace -
The evil that is in the world always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence, if they lack understanding. On the whole men are more good than bad; that, however, isn't the real point. But they are more or less ignorant, and it is this that we call vice or virtue; the most incorrigible vice being that of an ignorance that fancies it knows everything and therefore claims for itself the right to kill. The soul of the murderer is blind; and there can be no true goodness or love without the utmost clear-sightednesss.
- Albert Camus, The Plague -
In other words, just as we have abstracted time and God, we have abstracted place. This Cartesian view, in which we move between fixed, objective points, underlies modern science and has led to breathtaking technological advances. The charts and instruments used by European explorers allowed their ships to conquer the Earth. We’ve since taken that approach to exquisite heights. We use ever more sophisticated technology to navigate not just over the ocean but across the solar system, while fleets of artificial satellites (fitted with atomic clocks) have replaced the stars, allowing us to track positions on Earth to within a few feet. With GPS information now routinely beamed to cars and phones, we can find our location without even looking out the window, let alone up at the sky.
But there has been a price to pay. Psychologists and neuroscientists warn that when we rely on technology to perform our tasks such as navigation for us, our awareness of our physical environment fades as we become immersed instead in an abstract, computerized world. Studies show that we tend to place too much faith in the accuracy of information from computer monitors, and to ignore or discount information from our own eyes and ears, an effect that has caused pilots to crash planes and GPS-following tourists to drive into the sea. A team led by the British neuroscientist Hugo Spiers found in 2017 that areas of the brain normally involved in navigation just don’t engage when people use GPS. "When we have technology telling us which way to go," said Spiers, "these parts of the brain simply don’t respond to the street network. In that sense our brain has switched off its interest in the streets around us."
Others studies have shown that people who regularly use GPS become less able to find their way without it, a phenomenon thought to be caused by structural changes in the brain as underused regions start to shrink. Just as sedentary lifestyles weaken us physically, over-reliance on technologies to perform sensory or intellectual tasks appears to dull us mentally, and might even make us more prone to neurodegenerative conditions such as dementia. The more we rely on computers instead of our physical experience, the more we erode our awareness and skills.
In one sense, then, those invisible lines of longitude and latitude have connected us to the universe in a way that early societies couldn’t have imagined. Like moorings or guide ropes, they gave us a frame of reference, enabling breathtaking insights and abilities and allowing us to fix our position not just on the ocean but with respect to the planet, solar system and farther stars. But at the same time, the invention of abstract space was one more step in our journey from a subjective view of the universe to an objective one; from being inextricably entwined with—even creators of—the cosmos to becoming recorder and observers of an independently existing reality.
Tupaia’s story throws into relief the choices we’ve made. Our view of space—as of time—now feels so self-evident, it’s hard to see any alternative. It’s easy to assume that a mathematical, objective approach is the best—if not the only—way to learn about the ‘real’ physical world. Yet instead of discarding their experience of the cosmos, Polynesian navigators maximized its potential in order to explore millions of square miles of ocean. A mix of stories and songs, senses and instinct, enabled them to achieve—without technology—feats of navigation that as westerners we can barely imagine.
- Jo Marchant, The Human Cosmos -
“Everything will be denied. Everything will become a creed. It is a reasonable position to deny the stones in the street; it will be a religious dogma to assert them. Fires will be kindled to testify that two and two make four. Swords will be drawn to prove that leaves are green in summer. We shall be left defending, not only the incredible virtues and sanities of human life, but something more incredible still, this huge impossible universe which stares us in the face.”
The knowledge counts for nothing if it can be touched with a word but not experienced. One can experience only a microscopic droplet out of the sea of human destinies that surround us. In this respect a human being is not unlike an amoeba swimming in a drop of water, whose boundaries seem to be the boundaries of the world. The main difference, I would say, is not our intellectual superiority to the protozoon but the latter’s immortality: instead of dying it divides, thereby becoming its own, increasingly numerous family.
- Stanislaw Lem, One Human Minute -
He tried, but in such despair! -the utter darkness does not present any point of departure, contains no beginning, and no end-to rediscover, and, as it were, to trap and hold tightly in the palm of his hand, the moment preceding his fall, his change. But that moment was also locked in darkness, was wordless, and would not come forth.
- James Baldwin, Go Tell It On The Mountain -
Destiny. My destiny! Droll thing life is—that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself— that comes too late— a crop of inextinguishable regrets. I have wrestled with death. It is the most unexciting contest you can imagine. It takes place in an impalpable grayness, with nothing underfoot, with nothing around, without spectators, without glamour, without glory, without the great desire of victory, without the great fear of defeat, in a sickly atmosphere of tepid skepticism, without much belief in your own right, and still less in that of your adversary. If such is the form of ultimate wisdom, than life is a greater riddle than some of us think it to be. I was in a hair-breadth of the last opportunity for pronouncement, and I found with humiliation that probably I would have nothing to say. This is the reason why I affirm that Kurtz was a remarkable man. He has something to say. He said it.
- Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness -
A rascal does not laugh in the same manner as a honest man nor does a hypocrite shed tears in the same way as a man of good faith. All false hood is a mask which, however well fashioned, reveals its shams upon close inspection.
- Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers -
It is the end of a family-when they begin to sell the land, he said brokenly. Out of the land we came and into it we must go-and if you will hold your land you can live- no one can rob you of land-
And the old man let his scanty tears dry upon his cheeks and they made salty stains there. And he stooped and took up a handful of soil and he held it and he muttered, If you sell the land, it is the end.
- Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth -
But about death - no one who came back from it could tell you anything, because we don't realize it. We come out of the dark and go into the dark again, and in between lie the experiences of our life. But the beginning and the end, birth and death, we do not experience; they have no subjective character, they fall entirely in the category of objective events, and that's that.
- Thomas Mann, Magic Mountain -
“What then is truth? A movable host of metaphors, metonymies, and anthropomorphisms: in short, a sum of human relations which have been poetically and rhetorically intensified, transferred, and embellished, and which, after long usage, seem to a people to be fixed, canonical, and binding. Truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions — they are metaphors that have become worn out and have been drained of sensuous force.”
- Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche -
“Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don't mean to do harm; but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.”
- T. S. Eliot -
Today we are as ready to judge as we are to fornicate. With this difference, that there are no inadequacies to fear. - Albert Camus, The Fall -
The end of man is knowledge, but there is one thing he can’t know. He can’t know whether knowledge will save him or kill him. He will be killed, all right, but he can’t know whether he is killed because of the knowledge which he has got or because of the knowledge which he hasn’t got and which if he had it, would save him.
- Robert Penn Warren, All The King’s Men -
There is no denying that death wisdom generates beautiful things that add value (and meaning) to the human condition. But it is precisely our faith in the importance of our cultural immortality projects and their absolute central role in our feelings of worth that brings out the worst in human behavior.
- Justin Gregg, If Nietzsche Were A Narwhal -
Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?
- Gordon Lightfoot, The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald -
As we survey the competition between global civilizations in the multipolar world we now inhabit, we see that the West is challenged as it hasn’t been in centuries. It’s axiomatic that a rising China and perhaps other powers look like formidable contenders for global leadership—with implications for our own security and prosperity.
But if we are losing that struggle, it isn’t because of the superiority of authoritarian, communist or autocratic systems. We know that liberal capitalism has done more for human prosperity, health and freedom than any other economic or political system.
If we are losing, it is because we are losing our soul, our sense of purpose as a society, our identity as a civilization. We in the West are in the grip of an ideology that disowns our genius, denounces our success, disdains merit, elevates victimhood, embraces societal self-loathing and enforces it all in a web of exclusionary and authoritarian rules, large and small.”
- Gerard Baker, If Western Civilization Dies, Put It
Down as a Suicide. - WSJ Opinion 4/18/23