A swishing noise behind me becomes a woooosh-THUNK and I damn near knock over the camera, tripod and all. A coconut fell somewhere in the plantation. It sounded close. But sounds are funny at night.
"What about that, Richard, my man?" I say right out loud in a normal speaking voice. "If a coconut falls in the plantation and there is nobody here, is there any sound?" I smile in the darkness of the shadows of the coconut trees. Nobody can see my smile or hear my voice. So perhaps I'm not smiling or really speaking.
"Bishop Berkeley's fatuous philosophic riddle is a mismatch of logical classes," I lecture the coconut trees. "When a coconut falls and nobody is there, is there a sound? What is a sound? What is nobody? How do these two classes relate to each other? This is where the answer lies."
"When a coconut falls, does its impact with the ground create compression waves in the atmosphere?" My class of coconut trees is rigidly attentive. "Yes," one of them nods a frond gently in the wind.
"When the compression waves impact the tympanic membrane of a hominid, is there a series of neural signals associated with the mental model of a coconut impacting the ground?" I pause, but the trees are silent, unsure about human mental models.
"Only if a hominid is within a certain range of the point of impact." I answer for my students and wander down the beach, my arms waving as I discuss all this with the trees, the ants, a couple of mosquitoes, and anybody who might possibly be crazy enough to sit listening to this, hiding in the plantation.
"Suppose we put a video camera with a microphone in the plantation. The coconut falls and the camera records both the image and the sonic compression waves of the impact. There is nobody there. Is there a sound? Is there a sound when later I view the video and hear the thunk? The thunk I hear is not the coconut falling, it is a magnetic pattern on a moving tape translated into an electronic signal and then into a vibrating paper speaker membrane, relayed by the atmosphere to my tympanic membrane and so becomes part of my mental system and associated with the concept of coconut falling in plantation, dynamically illustrated by the video image. So, unless we include the video camera as a somebody, the video evidence shows the good Bishop was wrong. There is a sound in the forest even if nobody is there to hear it." I'm unreasonably pleased with this line of thought although it would probably impossible to actually get a video of a coconut falling.
"We get into logical trouble when we go on beams ends, sliding to one side or the other of a relationship. The sound is not all in the head of the observer. The context, the viewpoint, the perspective, the neuron signal model are all in the head of the observer. But the coconut is not. If a coconut falls on someone's head and the person is immediately knocked out, is there a sound?" Ye Gods! When I think of all the insane patterns of ideas formatting the minds of hominids today it seems a totally impossible task to change them.
Quietly, I walk through the shadows of the coconut trees along the beach, glimpsing the full moon rising higher and higher as the planet spins. I'll get a clear view of it from the end of the beach.
The maps we make of the world are always incorrect to some extent to start with, but when hominid populations latch onto a map as "significant" they invariably forget the original relationships of map and terrain and focus on one end of the pattern or the other.
From then on, the map, the model of the world, becomes the excuse for anything and everything they can manage to cram onto the coordinates of the map. Everyone using the map behaves as if the pattern is true and this, of course, makes it more true.
"Like what?" I ask out loud, "Like The Bible. Self-fulfilling prophesies. Astrology. I am an Aries. According to the accepted map of astrology, Aries are stubborn. Therefore I'm going to be stubborn and people will expect me to be, will invite me to be, because I'm an Aries. Does Astrology exist? Is it Real? Yes, of course it exists. Of course it's real. It has definable, provable relationships with the real world.
"If I had a newspaper here - even the Fiji Sun - it would have a horoscope in it. There are thousands of books on the subject. Astrology is a word defined in the dictionary. The belief patterns associated with Astrology have modified the behavior patterns of millions of hominids on the planet for thousands of years. Astrologists have often steered the course of human history.
"No matter how fantastic, no matter how distant from the actual relationships between the physical arrangements of planets and the shaping of human events on the planet, the involved and complex communication network associated with Astrology is propagated by the social media of the world and Astrology continues to influence the behavior of human civilizations." My coconut students are watching the moon, whispering frondly to each other.
Same thing with the Bible, although I don't say this out loud. I clear the end of the beach and join the coconut trees, looking up at the full moon. Magnificent. I can see the sweep of Sea off to the North, the beaches, the ebbing tide, the coconut plantations, the dark islands, simply magnificent.
"In the beginning there was the Word and the word was God." For the hominid control systems of planet Earth there can be no truer statement. God's message to Jesus and Mohammed stressed the absolute importance of language. Nearly all hominid behavior is mapped onto the words and pronouncements of one view or another of God. All these pronouncements are words.
Words dictate the behavior of hominids. Human behavior is the warp and words are the woof weaving hominid social networks. Belief patterns woven into the Bible/Koran have modified the behavior of billions of hominids on the planet for thousands of years, the Clergy at the helm of human history. Ordained by God to shape the course of destiny.
Basic social behavior patterns of hominids interlock. So, for example, Astrology and Christianity have a set, written relationship. So do the Rules of War, the System of Justice, the Morality of Politics, the Commission of Economics, and on and on. These written guides integrate into the manifestation of an emerging, evolving network of being: Mankind. The interlocked network of guides direct hommind behavior to foster their own survival, feeding on the lives of hominids, breathing their minds, pissing on the environment.
I stroll back to the camera site, scuffing the cool, moist sand with my bare feet, continuing my discourse to the trees in a loud, bold voice.
"Within this framework, the question about the coconut falling has a different context. When it falls and no part of the 'system' is there to 'record' it, the falling coconut sound does not exist. If nobody finds the coconut, the coconut does not exist. It has no 'meaning' to the great march of humanity. Any argument to the contrary is disregarded because Bishop Berkeley already wrote the rules concerning the non-existence of noises in forests where nobody is listening. To violate this established network of belief is dangerous. It is social sedition, leading to loose threads, misconception, misinterpretations, and finally breaking right down into anarchy, chaos, bedlam, confusion, where all behavior is helter-skelter."
"But out here, on this beach, far away from anyone, who is to know if we risk a peep into chaos to catch a glimpse at the forbidden relationship of relationships?"
"Hello, Richard," I nearly jump out of my skin. It is one of the Fijian guys from Plantation. He is standing on the beach in the moonlight, looking at me. Further down the beach I see five or six other people. Two are women. They are sitting down on the beach. It is nearly midnight and the tide is low. I guess they have just finished work at the nightclub and are on their way home.
"Good evening," I shape the words to ask 'What can I do for you?' a little embarrassed to have my nocturnal classroom interrupted. I wonder what they made out of peeping into chaos to catch a glimpse at the forbidden relationship of relationships?
"It's me, John," he says softly. Fiji John, they call him.
He looks a little uncomfortable. No doubt he's wondering what I'm doing out here all alone discoursing to the coconut trees. The sooner I explain, the sooner they'll go. "I'm taking photographs of the tide."
He absorbs this for a beat and asks, "How can you take a photograph of the tide?" Sensible question.
"Well, you take a series of photographs every four minutes and when you play them back quickly you see a movie of the tide coming in and going out." The Olympus accentuates the reality of this by going 'Click'. Fiji John turns to look at it.
He squats down on his haunches (temporary stay) about two meters away from me. The others are all watching from down the beach. "But there is no flash. No light." he whispers.
"The camera is still open. It opens to let in the light and stays open almost 4 minutes. The moonlight goes into the camera and makes the picture but it takes a long time." Actually I wish I could keep it open about 8 minutes.
"Where is Freddy?" He means, am I alone? And if so, who was I talking to just now?
"On the boat, asleep." I am alone. He nods his head, the big white smile is gone. He gets up and walks back down to his friends. Great.
Let's see. Perspective. Relationships. Now I'm getting there.
This reminds me of the teak square in the head. John Linsey and his girl friend came to stay with us on Moira when we were in Sydney. They took a shower together and while apparently involved in some kind of sudsy athletic activity in there, John busted off the shower head from the white Formica bulkhead. I covered the broken Formica with a little square of teak.
Is the teak square there right now, with nobody looking at it? Sure it is. If I was aboard, sitting at the dinette, I could lean over and peer into the head and look at the wall and what would I see? A teak square? No. I'd see a teak rectangle, because I would be looking at the piece of teak from a side angle. Would the teak then become a rectangle because this was the way I viewed it? No. Because I could get up and take another look from directly in front of the teak block and it would, from that angle, be a square.
Oh no! The whole group is coming down the beach. I ignore them.
This is about patterns and how information develops when viewed from different angles and intervals. The information in my notebook is redundant because this is the way mind works. It looks at a problem from many sides, from different times, until it arrives at a conclusion.
They hesitate about 4 meters away. I have not invited them to sit by me. A severe breech of Fijian etiquette. They mill around, uncertain. I hear the girls murmuring to the men.
The solution to the mystery of the rainbow and the moon river is in this line of thinking. The moon river follows me, moves from the horizon directly to my eye. To each eye. To each person. I can photograph it. But if I look away from Sea, there IS no moon river. It does not exist. Isn't this the same problem as the sound of the falling coconut? The shift from a rectangular to a square point of view?
A model of reality, a view, is not obtained by a single data point. It is improved and broadened by many data points. The moon river is actually a flow of information from Sun to Moon to Sea to Me. The pathway is created by ripples on the sea scattering the light. On a perfectly calm sea I'd see a round moon reflected, not a river. If all of us here on the beach looked at the reflection, we would all see the same moon reflected on the same Sea, but it would not be the same reflection because each person would see the reflection off a different portion of Sea's surface. The moon river is significant because it is the interaction of my perspective with the environment at one interval of awareness.
But what is really being modeled are aspects of the reflectivity of Sea. It takes more than one point of view and one look at Sea to understand what is being observed. Reflectivity is Moon River. Sea is reflective if I look at it or not.
A rainbow is about refraction of sunlight through droplets of water. It is in a different place for each viewer. It is not there if nobody looks. The rainbow is like the moon river. It is an interaction, an information flow between sun, rain, and mind. A condition, a process, a pathway, a flow of information, a part of perception. And therefore a long standing mystic symbol. Catch on to the meaning of the rainbow and you get a pot of philosophic gold.
They are all sitting down on the beach about three meters away. One woman and one man have left, walking into the Sealess pass, heading home. Why are the others still here? I can't really ignore them. Even if I don't look at them, I know they are there. I also know they are aware of me. Are here because of me. And I suppose I actually know why, too.
Here in the islands you hardly ever see anyone alone. And never for long. Good, bad, or indifferent, everybody must have somebody else near at all times. Especially at night. Who knows what their mind map is, why this is so? But it seems these people have decided I need to have someone with me. Even if I am a prick and didn't ask them to sit with me. They talk ever so softly, touching hands now and then. Not looking directly at me, just being here for me.
I get up to change the film in the camera. Damn! The batteries are dead in the camera. I guess keeping the electronic shutter open for a few hours has drained them. OK, no problem, I have a spare set. I manage to get them in and the camera back on the tripod and reaimed before the next click. It's hard to be sure I've aimed it right because the moonlight is just barely bright enough for me to see the tree on the hillside.
My movement has generated a lot of interest in my babysitters. John comes over and asks, "You going home now?" in a voice that rings with hope.
"No, but John, really, you and your friends do not have to stay with me, I'll be fine all by myself. I like being here by myself. Really."
"It's alright," he mumbles and heads back to his group. They just sit there. Well, I can't MAKE them go. Maybe they know something I don't. Maybe there is a group of drunks headed this way who would, perhaps, thrash the ass of someone out here all alone. What the hell, I'll go sit with them.
No reaction when I sit down with them. Two of the men are talking in Fijian and there is no pause, no hesitation in their soft conversation. After awhile everyone is quiet. I stare out over the moonlit pass, the gleaming white sand. They stare into nothing, their eyes resting wherever their face happens to be pointed. About thirty minutes after I sit down John asks, "Will fire hurt photographs?"
"No, not at all, might give them a nice color, but it has to be out of the direct field of view. Right here where we are sitting is fine." Everyone gets up and goes out to gather wood for a fire. I gather some coconut husks to get the fire going and soon a friendly little flame is dancing away, lightening the mood. I pick up my other camera and walk out into the pass to take a shot of the flames warming the coconut trees from underneath while the moon frosts the leaves from above.
Then I wander out over the flats with a little flashlight, looking into the tide pools.
John and friends light up their fire and settle down, the light reflecting beautifully off the stems of the coconut trees. The moon backlighting the scene.
I walk all the way to the edge of the reef and look down. The light attracts thousands of tiny zooplankters - like insects swarming around a porch light. I wonder how much life is in the clear sea water between the coral branches. I remember reading one ounce of healthy soil contains about one million algal cells, 30 million protozoans, 50 million fungi, and 150 million bacteria making up some 231 million organisms per ounce. Maybe the same relative numbers of microbes are in an ounce of Sea.
This gets me back on track. Where I've been mentally headed all day long. The delicate, difficult question, Is Sea Alive? And the same question applied to beaches, soil, cities, planets and stars.
The Planet Earth is Alive! Is it? Naw. Of course not. Not according to the interlocked web of social belief systems of the planet. The Bible does not even consider such a preposterous idea. Many (most) primitive people considered Earth (soil, islands) alive. But the Christian religion actively poo poos the idea of a living Earth, linking the Goddess of the Earth with all the other primitive gods and goddesses that had to be thrown out. There is no God but God. Can't have a riff raff of gods cluttering up the social network or we'll bungle the big being. Get stuck into bewildering questions about body and spirit. About individuals and communities. All those sorts of questions the Church settled for the Western Mind ages ago. Might even touch on taboo subjects like Diva and all the other non-Christian Pagan hocus pocus.
Really, the problem is (as usual) in the way the question is asked. My light finds a tide pool filled with little delicate corals. There is a butterfly fish, a yellow one with a black spot, asleep in the bottom of the tide pool. My light wakes it and it starts to swim, bumps into a coral, stops, and just quivers there, illuminated by the blinding miracle of my quartz-halogen light.
It's dumb to ask, "is that fish alive?" "Is that coral alive?" "Is the sand, made from the efforts of life, alive?" As if life was a thing, an aspect of the fish, the coral, or the sand. Or even something in the fish. "There's life in the old boy yet!" The use of the word and the questions are logical errors in the same way the riddle of the rainbow is a logical mistake.
It's like asking is this tire an automobile? The correct question, easily answered, is, "Is this tire - when in place and inflated to the proper pressure - a part of a machine whose function is to move from one place to another at the hands of a human being?"
Try the question this way,"Is Sea part of a living system?"
Maybe we need another word here. Life, like God, is one of those amorphous but valuable control signals. My Webster defines Life as a noun. A person, place or thing. Wrong. Life is none of these. Anyway, the word comes from an Indo-European base leip- to stick to, adhere. And before that, the Greek leipein to leave, remain, in the sense of development, as what remains (after eating, drinking, breathing). That property of plants and animals which makes it possible for them to take in food, get energy from it, grow, adapt themselves to their surroundings, and reproduce their kind.
Life is not a property. One does not own life. Or have a life. One is a part of life.
Life is a flowing process of perception, memory, response. Not a thing but a web of communications, a system of behavior. Life is the flow of information through a network of layers of beings. Is Sea a part of the network of layers of beings? Yes, indeed. Is it part of the flow of information? Of course. Is Planet Earth part of a living system? Yes.
Maybe "what remains" isn't such a bad word after all. Life is the ongoing appearance of beings and concepts as sunlight is transformed by the behavior of Earth atoms involved in the process of mind.
We are life, and life is thought made visible.
I turn off my light. In the moonlight, in the pass, I reverberate with the words,
"We are life, and life is thought made visible".
It is like some deep inner spiritual bell being rung, the tones sweeping through interacting harmonics of perception, memory, reaction. One of those powerful, emotional moments where a newly born thought pattern sweeps the relationships into a new, fresh uncluttered map of the rest of the world. The actual relationships generating the word pattern retreat into This Magic Sea from where such notions bob up every once and a while.
I stand in the night, my feet on the cool wet sand, Sea softly murmuring in the tropical breeze. I hear the creatures of Sea as they speak. They say:
|We are the thread of awareness in chaos|
flows through the lens of mind
We are life
and life is thought made visible
I take three deep breaths and as the air moves into, becomes me, Sea continues,
I take three steps towards the shore and Sea calls,