Row, row, row your boson…

September 8, 2009

Gowland Harbour

The universe is nothing more than the dreams of the matter that lives in it.

 I will endeavor to explain why I believe this is so. I ask that you stick with me as I wade through some serious scientific concepts. The words may sometimes be big and unfamiliar but I will try to keep explanations of the concepts as simple as possible.

 Albert Einstein attempted to describe the nature of the universe mathematically. While he failed in his effort to arrive at the “Theory of Everything”, he is credited with what may be the most well known formula in the modern vernacular.

 Let’s have a peek at the formula E=mc² from a layman’s standpoint, shall we?

 It has three components – E – energy, m – mass and c – the speed of light. So just what are these things really?

 Wikipedia describes energy as “a scalar physical quantity that describes the amount of work that can be performed by a force” Work is nothing more than force multiplied by displacement of an object, or the quantity of energy transferred from one system to another. “Different forms of energy include kinetic, potential, thermal, gravitational, sound, light, elastic, and electromagnetic energy.” These forms of energy can all transform from one to another but when the amount of “work” each describes is factored, the amount of energy is the same. Often, two of these energy types can be linked together as a single entity. Electromagnetic radiation is energy propagated as electric and magnetic fields which vary over time.

According to the Georgia State University Department of Physics and Astronomy “the mass of an object is a fundamental property of the object; a numerical measure of its inertia (the tendency of a body to resist acceleration; the tendency of a body at rest to remain at rest or of a body in straight line motion to stay in motion in a straight line unless acted on by an outside force); a fundamental measure of the amount of matter in the object”. Matter is anything which occupies space and has mass. While the layman may believe that mass is an unchanging property of an object, at speeds approaching the speed of light one must consider the increase in the relativistic mass. Relativistic mass is simply the change that happens to mass as it approaches the speed of light. According to current theory, mass increases as speed increases until at the speed of light, mass is infinite.

The speed of light is the speed at which electromagnetic waves propagate (move) in a vacuum and is observed to be exactly 299,792,458 meters per second. It is theoretically presumed to be the fastest speed at which matter can travel. This theory is not applicable, however, to the quantum universe. Photons, which are the particles we observe as light, have been seen in experiments to actually travel faster than “the speed of light”. Confused yet? We will get to this in time.

So, we have looked at all three components in Einstein’s famous equation and time is an integral part of each. It is not mentioned directly in the equation. Time is also just a concept. While we can measure it in microscopic fractions with tools like atomic clocks, if we were able to put a clock on every discreet bit of matter, it would actually be different for each and every one if they were moving in relation to another. While relativistic differences are too small to be noticed by things moving at low speeds in relation to each other – such as two people moving toward or away from each other here on earth, those relativistic differences do exist and we can, in fact, measure them.

So, to briefly review, energy is a force doing work. Mass is a numerical measure of inertia – matter resisting changes in motion. The speed of light is how fast certain forms of energy travel in a pure vacuum. So far what we have are a bunch of concepts – force, work, speed, relativity, motion, time. Our universe is defined by concepts rather than by objects.

“But wait!” you say. “What about matter?” “It is not a concept! It actually occupies space. I can touch it and feel it. It affects me and I have an effect on it”.

I don’t think it is a fluke that matter is something defined by the concepts of mass and inertia. If we actually look at what we know about matter, it may just be conceptual too. Remember mass is the tendency of an “object” to resist changes in motion. The object – matter – has more mass the faster it goes so matter is not an unchanging thing. We just happen to live in a time and place in the universe where energy levels are fairly stable and so matter is fairly stable as well. Looking out at the universe we are able to see places (and times) where energy levels are not stable and so mass and matter are not either. We could likely not exist in our current form in much of the earlier universe – which we can see with powerful telescopes. We are also lucky we do not live near an unstable star where matter changes from one form to another and energy levels can and do fluctuate radically.

It is also not an accident that to really see what matter actually looks and behaves like we need to build gigantic and expensive particle accelerators and other experimental apparatus. These machines may also tell us that there are forms of matter which we cannot currently perceive (and which theoretically exists) but which actually make up a good part of the universe. This is really a clue as to how blind we really are from a human perspective. We are capable of sensing only a narrow view of the true universe and require technology to even begin to perceive the true fullness and beauty of “creation”. We are further limited by theoretical dogma and our perception of the universe is often based on outdated or flawed ideas.

On the surface and when looked at with human eyes, matter can be everything from opaque to invisible and exists in a number of states with which we are familiar. I refer to solids, liquids and gases. These forms of matter have everything to do with density and that has a lot to do with energy levels. Matter at a lower energy level will tend to be more solid and as energy levels rise it becomes liquid and then gaseous. There is also a fourth form of matter which in truth makes up most of the universe with which we are currently familiar. Plasma is matter which is gaseous and has been ripped apart into ions (atoms which have lost or gained electrons) and electrons. Our sun and all the other stars in the universe and a lot of the matter blown out by them is made of plasma. We are not done. Here things get strange to us. In reality, there are at least six forms of matter. The next two only exist at energy levels which are rare in our corner of reality. They are Bose-Einstein condensates (BECs) and fermionic condensates. To understand these we need to be familiar with basic matter smaller than protons, neutrons and electrons.

In grade school science we learn that atoms are particles which have a nucleus of protons and neutrons with electrons in orbit around this core. We have all seen pictures taken by our most powerful x-ray microscopes and atoms look like nothing more than a grainy black and white photo of bubble pack. Molecules are just bunches of atoms stuck together. High school and university science tells us that protons, neutrons and electrons are also made up of three basic building blocks – quarks, leptons and bosons. The way these particles interact with each other determines what the form of matter will be. Break it down a bit further and we find quarks and leptons are made up of particles called fermions. There are a fairly large number of sub-atomic particles which have been discovered but for the purposes of our discussion, they are not important. They are simply particles which are combinations of fermions or bosons. If we are describing particles which do not have internal structure, that is they are not made up of any other particles, we are, by definition, discussing elementary particles. Current theory and physical observation show us that all matter in the universe is made up of fermions or bosons. We are not currently aware of anything smaller than these two elementary particles.

It has been possible, by cooling bosons and fermions to temperatures a few hundred billionths of a degree above absolute zero (the temperature at which ALL atomic movement stops, -273.15 C and theoretically not reachable by any means natural or experimental) to create Bose-Einstein condensates and fermionic condensates.

At this temperature (a microbe fart of a degree C above absolute zero) bosons can combine into an unstable superparticle called a Bose-Einstein condensate. This particle is a very strange speck of matter in a number of ways. Put two of these particles together and they merge. They behave as a single particle – not like a bunch of atoms stuck together, but as a single particle. They are not solid or a gas or a vapor but a new state of matter altogether. BECs can only be made from normal atoms where the number of protons, neutrons and electrons added together is an even number – sodium or rubidium for example. Try to make them from normal atoms with an odd number of protons, neutrons and electrons and nothing happens.

A fermionic condensate is produced in a similar manner, using potassium-40 atoms. Potassium-40 just so happens to have an odd number of protons, neutrons and electrons. Fermions do not appreciate being forced to clump together so a much different experimental technique and apparatus is required than that used in producing BECs. Fermionic condensates are even stranger and at this point in time less well understood. To even begin to appreciate what these particles are, scientists turn to quantum physics.

Very discreet statistical differences in conditions in the experimental apparatus result in very different particle behavior. Described mathematically, this behavior becomes a probability. This probability is further described as a quantum state. The quantum state of a particle gives some indication as to whether it will act like a particle or a wave.

A truly strange thing about these two forms of matter is that when two or more BECs or fermionic condensate particles interact they do not just join like atoms do. Atoms hook on to each other by linking electron clouds. Their nuclei tend to remain unchanged. These new forms of matter actually merge to become a single particle. One of the behaviors scientists have found is that where the parts of BECs or fermionic condensate particles overlap when merging, sometimes the “atoms” (the individual bosons or fermions) in this new particle DO behave like waves on a pond and cancel each other out. These “atoms” do not blow up, they just disappear. They are not destroyed. They simply show up instantaneously elsewhere at a point where two “waves” add up together to make a bigger “wave”. It is here that “matter” truly becomes a matter of probability. Particles appear and disappear without energy being lost or gained and those particles might seem to move quite large atomic distances instantaneously. We have no way of labeling individual particles which are so small, so we cannot be certain that it is a specific particle which moves from one place to another, but regardless, the speed of light becomes meaningless.

Let’s get back to the point now shall we. We have come to understand that the existence of the basic building blocks of matter is just mathematical probability.

 When we view the universe through the lens of quantum physics everything becomes a probability. Matter and time become mutable things. It is not just weird thoughts racing through the confused minds of nutty professors either. Actual experiments have shown matter appearing and disappearing. Photons have been noted to travel faster than light. The deeper we peer into the atomic universe, the less likely it seems we will actually “see” atomic sized particles. We observe the effect particles have on the space and other matter around them but actually see more space in between those particles rather than the particles themselves. It seems more and more likely that matter is really just probable rather than certain. So where does that leave us?

 Let’s draw another simple comparison shall we? Human thought is physically seen to be nothing more than nerve impulses firing in the brain – nothing more than chemical reactions causing electrons to move from one place to another. From that simple biological basis arise memory and emotion, creativity and planning, dreams and godhead. How can all these infinitely complex things come from a simple chemical reaction in a biological matrix?

 Human perception is nothing more than the interaction of atomic particles. As far as we know, when those interactions cease, perception ceases. We label it death.

 It is only human hubris which presumes that other organized forms of matter are without perception. We have become aware that life forms similar to us are capable of perceptually experiencing those things humans are able to do – all but thoughts of god – and that may be simply because we do not understand the language of that life form. If that is so, it becomes possible to believe that simpler life forms might have simpler forms of memory and creativity and even of godhead.

 As we expand our knowledge of the universe we must also expand our understanding of consciousness.

 Particles seem behave in certain and specific ways both when alone and when in bunches but when we peer deeper into the atomic world particles become more of a probability and less of a certainty. They have causative behavior if they are acting as elementary particles combining to make a proton or as neurons firing in a human brain or as one galaxy colliding with another.

 In point of fact, while we are theoretically aware of the existence of certain particles, we have yet to be able to confirm that existence through “direct” observation. Big on the list for particles for which scientists would like confirmation are gravitons, Higgs bosons and a whole raft of charged particles such as neutralinos, charginos, squarks and others (all “superpartners” of known and as of yet theoretical particles). Small and fleeting as they are, they may actually end up being the bulk of the “physical” universe until we come up with a new physical model. Our understanding of our place in the universe must necessarily change if we find that it is much different than what we currently believe.

 The point is that the more we know the less we know. Particle interaction can result in consciousness and yet we have yet to actually “see” a particle. What we do know is that as far as we know matter is energy. Without energy there is no consciousness. There, I said it. We can describe particles and the effect they have on the universe around them but all we are really measuring is energy.

 The contention of this essay is that the universe exists only in the consciousness of the energy within it and that universe is as simple or as complex as the amount of energy involved. I am of the opinion that every individual exchange of energy creates its own universe and while we as humans may think we agree on the nature and existence of a single universe, in fact we all perceive something unique to ourselves. EVERY view of the universe is unique no matter how complex the descriptive framework may be on which we agree. It may be that the more we learn about the universe, the closer we will come to understanding this argument. Until then I suppose we will bumble around making presumptions (as I just have) based on incomplete hypotheses. It is the human way. It is also totally entertaining.

Oh, and one more thing. Before you take this argument to heart and try walking through a wall, remember, you will need to convince the consciousness of the energy which makes up the atoms of the wall, that your perception is in fact the true one and that each of those atoms needs to let you pass because you believe they must. Otherwise you will just bump your nose.

Advertisements

I’ve got rhythm, I’ve got music…

July 15, 2009

Rhythm may be one of the most recognizable behaviors of matter in the universe as we currently know it. Atoms of all kinds vibrate at specific rhythms depending on their temperature and structure. Pulsars beat with a specific time signature which seems unchanging – at least as long as we have been able to observe them. Moons cycle through phases as do seasons.

All life also has intrinsic rhythm. From the simplest bacteria where cellular function operates with a specific pulse to the heartbeats of more complex animals, rhythm is embedded in life.

Music is a particularly human blend of melody and rhythm. In the animal kingdom one or the other can (almost) be found. Music is created when phrases of notes (which are themselves just unique wavelengths vibrating through some medium – in our case primarily air or water) are combined into melodies, then themes and finally variations. Humpback whales seem to be able to creatively develop phrases into variations over a span of time but don’t really have rhythm. A particular species of gibbon in Sumatra has what is arguably a rhythmical call but it is not “perfectly” repeatable in timing from one call to the next. Animals such as parrots, which can mimic human music, do so without rhythm.

One of the deepest seated behaviors in humans is music and with it, creative rhythm. This behavior often survives even profound strokes where melody is lost. It easily survives even when language, which seems to be one of the first casualties of stroke, is lost or damaged.

Creative rhythm can only be found in mankind – it is yet to be found in any other animal species. Even other higher mammals such as apes, which are proven to have displacement and rudimentary language skills (in the human purview anyway) do not express rhythm. Other animals which we suspect have languages (dolphins and whales for instance) have complex and repetitive expression but without repeatedly “perfect” rhythm.

Even our search for life on other worlds is essentially a search for signals from space which have a “creative” rhythm.

It appears rhythm is somehow tied to the level complexity of the organisms discussed so far. The more complex the interaction of matter, the more complex the ability to affect rhythm seems to be. Viewed from the top down, it becomes apparent then, that some level of consciousness is required for even the most discreet atomic structures to behave rhythmically.

At the root of all this interaction of matter is energy. Einstein’s equation describing that energy is mass times the speed of light squared shows that relationship. What the speed of light squared is, we have difficulty wrapping our minds around so let us just accept that energy and mass accelerated to enormous speeds are congruent.

We are able to see with the use of electronic tools that energy behaves rhythmically too. From the longest wavelengths to the shortest, we can perceive just that – energy waves. Waves by their very nature are rhythmical and they are also pure energy. If we apply the understanding that rhythm is somehow tied to the level of consciousness can we then stretch that understanding just one step further and find that even pure energy itself has some level of consciousness? If so, how might that consciousness be described? Is ALL the energy in the universe as we know it tied together as a single consciousness – the capital E in E=MC²? Are we then defining a god mind?

I find it very interesting that even with the limited perception that we have as humans, we are able to creatively play with rhythm. So far, we are unable to find that creativity ANYWHERE else. It is possible that as living humans we will never be able to access the possible consciousness of simple matter or energy. But is it also possible that the god mind has evolved us to finally have a way to express rhythm intellectually – one step removed from matter? What a lovely thought.

In the stillness at the door of death there is no rhythm. I have been there. I have come to realize however, that what I perceived as absolute and utter stillness was just my own inability to perceive the rhythm of pure energy. I now find myself beginning to believe that since I did not cross the threshold into death, my all too human perception was unable to connect with the rhythm of pure energy and therefore the consciousness of the universal god mind.

I have no expectation that the relatively minute amount of energy which describes my human body will be of any impact to the total energy which makes up the “god mind” when I die, but I also do not know whether the energy which describes me will simply be completely absorbed or whether I will continue to exist in some discreet way. That is the great mystery of death.

Many say that we do continue to exist after death. Ghosts and angels are common themes in the human mythology as is resurrection. We cannot know however, if these things are constructs of the human mind or if, as I have inquired, we continue as discreet “bundles” of energy after death. Maybe the creative rhythm continues on.

It is becoming obvious that we only perceive a small part of even the total matter which exists in the universe. So called dark matter and dark energy make up the bulk of the universe. They are not things far away in intergalactic space. We are surrounded and imbued with these particles and energies. It is simply that we currently have no way of perceiving them. I believe that until we can perceive them – and maybe not even then, we will not have a hope of understanding from where our true consciousness springs.

Maybe when we can really see the totality of the universe (or universes) in which we exist might we have a better hope of grappling with the true root of consciousness. Until then, death will likely remain a mystery to the living. Until then belief will have to be a sorry second option to truly knowing anything and we all know what belief gets us – the rhythm method…..

Fundamentally Transforming Our Society to Confront Climate Change

June 6, 2009

The current governmental (mental being the key component of the word) focus is to funnel taxpayer money towards global businesses which develop energy mega-projects. These projects not only concentrate OUR money into business concerns which are already making millions or billions of dollars in profits and taking those profits out of country, but use our tax dollars to purchase goods and services which are not Canadian. These corporations then apply those foreign goods and services to energy mega-projects in Canada. As a by-product, some jobs and some products are created in-country and the political will is satisfied.

The flaw in this process is that the energy status quo can actively and successfully resist change. We as citizens are still faced with increasing energy costs, profound environmental impact due to the size and scope of energy mega-projects and increased government debt.

Politicians argue that energy mega-projects are the only effective way of generating enough power (or energy-related products) to satisfy demand and generate profits – which are taxable. Historically, freeing taxation dollars for grass-roots ventures has resulted in much too high failure rates, much too low production and significant loss of funds to fraud or miss-use. This attitude is not a result of lack of good intent, Politicians are terribly gun shy. Exposure by the media of funds inappropriately used is a political death sentence. Lack of proper oversight and even greater lack of insight into what kind of approach might actually work, disables political will. The only fallback position is to accept what is offered by lobbyists.

Enormous quantities of tax dollars are currently being funneled towards nuclear power plants, hydro-electric projects and petroleum or coal based technologies. In the mean time, funding for wind, solar and tide based technologies is almost non-existent by comparison. Even more importantly, red-tape for companies working with these “green” technologies is endless. In 2004 there were exactly ZERO companies producing solar panels for the commercial marketplace in Canada. Those Canadian companies were not non-existent, but instead building plants or producing solar panels in other counties because they could not get ANY support to do so in Canada. Companies working in tidal and other emerging power generation technologies report the same problems.

Governments seem frozen by past failures to find successful solutions in the triad of job creation, technology growth and oversight of funding on a more granular level. Seemingly endless demands from companies exploring “new” technologies only deepen this political indecision. Unwillingness to repeat past mistakes is to our benefit. Inability to move forward is not. So how do we move forward? The path seems hopelessly complex when the political risks of failure are so high and the very structure of our governments and the laws they create is so resistant to change. It need not be so. We, as a society can successfully find solutions which do work within the current framework. It only takes a LITTLE vision.

Other countries, notably a number in Europe, have embraced “green” technologies applied at the microscopic level. Our challenge in Canada is to do the same. We now have successful examples to follow.

We must begin by providing tax dollars (at levels which will still be insignificant when compared to those provided to mega-projects) to alternative energy micro-projects for individual homes and the upgrades which allow utilization of energy from those technologies. Since we already have individual “accounts” as citizens and small businesses with ALL levels of government, administration of such funds should be within easy reach of government management and control. The immediate impact would be a reduction of demand on the current energy infrastructure and an over-all reduction of energy costs where micro-projects were installed. Secondarily, energy costs would be reduced at the individual taxpayer level, freeing those who installed the systems to spend those energy savings in their communities.

Government attention must also be refocused on providing a business environment where Canadian companies which produce products for green micro-projects can exist and thrive. This will have an initial impact of providing jobs and creating an increased tax base within the country and have a secondary result of generating potential sales of products in the international marketplace. Our government, at all levels, must also re-evaluate how they deal with small power producers in emerging technologies. Current support for small tidal, wind and solar producers is almost non-existent and the laws which impact these technologies are hopelessly out of date. Small companies in this arena also face impossible odds because mega-corporations are in bed with government. As such, lobbyists from these corporations are capable of directing politicians and the laws they oversee and create, therefore maintaining a political environment where only large corporations can survive. This political behavior must change because it is fundamentally wrong on so many levels. Corporate profits leave the country and therefore the pockets of the individual citizen. The mega-projects which are created also arguably have a mega-impact on the environment although scientists working for these corporations can successfully argue that the over-all effect is small.

So, start small. Provide funds to the individual taxpayer earmarked specifically (for example) to solar panel installation on individual homes and upgrades to electrical and water systems in those homes so that those panels might be used effectively. Require that the funds be used for NEW energy production and do not allow them to be lost in the morass of renovation for improved energy efficiency (while this initiative might also be re-evaluated and better managed). Require receipts. NO, do not provide this funding in the form of a tax benefit. Too many people are living paycheque to paycheque to avail themselves of a tax benefit. Such funding is only for people who already have the money and can afford to wait for a refund. Initially, most “green technology” products will need to be purchased from outside Canada but as political support and corporate investment increase, more and more of our tax dollars will be spent in this country.

An immediate result of grass roots energy production will be reduced demand on use of petroleum, atomic, hydro-electric and coal based power infrastructure. Local jobs will be created to install these systems. If our government, at every level, will support the creation of small and medium sized businesses to develop and produce products for “home” energy production (which can also be used at the community level) we are well on the way to a new paradigm for energy production and use.

Instead of trying to plant an entire crop all at once, governments at every level should begin by encouraging every taxpayer to plant an individual seed. The most certain way to involve every taxpaying citizen is to give that citizen some of the money already collected in taxes in the form of a cheque to be put towards alternative energy production. The result will be a greener energy infrastructure which is more diverse, more resistant to failure and ultimately more productive than the one which currently exists.

Only when the populace is intimately involved in green energy will we be successful in moving toward a greener energy future. Any other course and any other outcome are unacceptable.

Breathe…

May 9, 2009

There is a long pause between the insistent frog calls in the soft darkness of the spring night and the frenzy of birdsong as the sky begins to lighten – when the forest seems to pause for a breath.

In that quiet, timeless moment, I can hear the earth inhale on the whisper of owl’s wings and exhale with the sigh of fresh leaves shivering on the willows. Her heartbeat is the sweet tumble of water burbling down the mossy creek nearby.

Everything is resting but for me and my mind is racing as I try to absorb the long wave energy with the hope it will fortify me for the coming frenetic day.

Dancing in the streets

May 6, 2009

The world is filled with trouble and human misery, but for every troubled human there is a person or family or group of some sort willing to try to lessen that misery – both for other individuals and for themselves. That is what makes humans so extraordinary.

In the course of my illness I have been the beneficiary of such extraordinary effort from people I have been lucky enough to know or cross paths with.

My family and friends have been the rock to which I anchor myself. Without them I would have been adrift and would have drowned in the tidal wave of circumstance. The volunteers who have selflessly donated their time have kept open the course which I travel to all those who are there to meet my medical needs. Many of those have reached beyond their education and experience to help me survive when all around me with the same medical challenges have failed to make it.

I am blessed to live on a rock. It may be inhabited by tall trees, wonderful forest mammals and an extraordinary diversity of birds but it is that rock where I am anchored and it is as much people as it is forest and that makes it even more beautiful and comforting to me. I feel insulated in a womb of caring and comfort and forest. Then, something happens which intrudes into this pleasant dream which is so unexpected and wonderful, that I cannot breath for a moment and I cannot help but wonder at the thoughts and intentions of others outside my peaceful place.

The most recent example of this came from a group of individuals I have never met and whom I do not know. They are electronic friends of Julia, my eldest daughter and she has met none of them in person either. She is friends with them because they have much in common and communicate regularly via the net. What is SO extraordinary about this is that as a group they came to understand that my health was fragile and Julia was financially incapable of affording a trip to see me. They took it upon themselves to find a way to raise the funds for a ticket from Quebec to Vancouver Island and back with enough left over for expenses. To me, this was beyond amazing. After all, these are not huggable neighbors or school chums, they are people on the internet, living in places far way – meeting only through their words and pictures.

While I should – and could – write this thank you to many people, this note is directed at them. I wish each one of you to be aware of the treasure you have gifted to me.

Beyond meeting my youngest grandchild (for which there are no words to express the impact on my heart and mind) I have been able to reconnect with Julia in a way that can only be accomplished by sharing eye contact and hugs and words not hidden by distance or pressed for time by long distance charges or the needs of other children needing attention. Just sharing the same space carries that same wordless dialogue which I share with the forest when I sit relaxing on my deck. It is only at these times I feel really connected and all of you who brought her here have given this to me.

While, for some funny reason, we have never been very good at communicating with words, Julia and I love each other as only a daughter and father can. When we are together, words are just like clouds above the land – required and beautiful and powerful but only clouds. The touch and the look and the unspoken language of sharing the same space are priceless. These things make that connection strong.

While time and distance can blur even the tightest family bonds, if they are really so, time together sharpens them from the moment of the first hug hello. In this particular instance (and speaking only for myself you understand) not only did I reconnect with Julia but came to see and love her in completely new ways. This would have been impossible without having her sitting in the rocker in my room or sharing the sun on the deck. I see her now not only as my daughter but a gifted mother and a brilliant adult and human being in her own right. I saw those things in her over the years but seeing them in person brought them home to me and made them real and forever in my life.

Thank you all. You simply cannot know what you have done. I do and am grateful beyond what I could possibly write here.

This Magic Moment

March 11, 2009

I woke at 4:30 A.M. and went out onto the deck to greet the morning. I could not help but be overwhelmed by my incredible luck to be here at this time in my life. The full moon hung in the western sky, lighting the garden and forest beyond. The only sounds were the burbling of Harmony Creek behind me, the occasional croak of the grey owls in the forest and the pulse of my heartbeat in my ears.

 

I was taken by how surrounded I was by beauty and the love of the people who care for me. Marie and the girls make certain I am comfortable, fed and happy. My family who live away give all they can or are asked without question or failure. I am surrounded by friends who could be family but for an accident of birth and a community who insures we are able to manage.

 

My life, at this moment, when compared to that of the rest of the world is quite extraordinary. People the world over aspire to the peace, happiness and comfort that I have at this very instant in time and yet, here I am.

 

I need nothing more except more of this.

How much is that dogma in the window?

November 23, 2008
Royalty

Royalty

 

By popular definition, dogma is a doctrine or code of beliefs accepted as authoritative. The contention of this essay is that if we explore the meaning of: “authoritative” we will find that dogma is a great deal more than generally accepted. Dogma is that which provides the framework within which humanity tries to come to terms with how the universe operates. By further extension, it is the way all life and all matter frames interaction.

 

Dogma is a term generally applied to human belief and is usually perceived in a negative light. At its worst it has been responsible for more violent human death than acts of nature or disease combined. At its best, dogma has given humanity the ability to formulate ideas which promote tolerance and understanding. Humans have the distinction of combining the best and the worst in a single creed. Religion is the most obvious, but by no means the only example.

 

Life is complex and humanity has always tended to take the easy path and follow ideas which are organized in a culturally understandable and acceptable format. It should be no mystery why this is so. To begin with, man is only one intellectual step removed from other higher mammals and all of those other species are behaviorally disposed to accept leadership from dominant individuals. In humans, dominance has been refined to include the power of ideas. People are only too ready to abrogate responsibility to popes, politicians, shamans, seers, royalty, chieftains and generals. Often their power over us is in their ability to convince us that their ideas are “right”, based on evidence which we as a cultural group find adequate. Convince a few big, ugly and mean people that one should be heeded and it isn’t long before those goons encourage everyone within reach to fall into line, but the power of organized ideas alone is often enough to guarantee sway over a group. The reason dogma is so very effective for religion and politics in particular, is that these two credos deal with both ideas and ideals and so by definition are free from having to be proven as factual and true – instead depending purely on the power of belief.

 

Dogma is a term applied to primarily to theology, but in fact any idea which is codified is, by definition, dogmatic. Science has a long history of developing new understandings and then refusing to accept breakthroughs until either the old guard is dead or new evidence is so overwhelming as to be irrefutable. There are still people who believe the earth is flat; that man has never been to the moon; that fossils are recently created. Many individual scientists invest so much time and energy developing their own ideas that when evidence shows their work to be misguided or wrong, they are unable to accept or integrate that new evidence and speak out against it.

 

Engineering and architecture are by their very nature dogmatic and necessarily so. If engineers had to reinvent the wheel every time they designed a car, nothing would ever be accomplished. We are forced, just for practicality to make assumptions that what has worked in the past will work in the present.

 

That is the crux of the problem – if we presume that dogma is problematic.

 

In our personal lives, dogma is the lynchpin which anchors our grasp with reality. We are required by sheer expediency to defer to preconceived notions, first impressions, popular opinion and ideas or concepts qualified by other people’s beliefs, but which we respect at some level or another. Living completely in the moment is all well and good but is functionally impossible if we are to interact with a world where assumption is the glue which holds reality together. We make tacit agreements with the world around us all the time and in all things. Cultural, community, family and personal rules allow us to focus on more immediate concerns of daily living. These rules are only reevaluated by us when we decide that some balance is unacceptably out of whack. When we broaden our concepts to include new ideas we may pat ourselves on the back but by necessity those new ideas immediately become dogma until re-examined.

 

We depend on memory to provide the majority of our world view but new studies have shown that the very act of recollection changes those memories and the more we “remember” something, the more our current recollection diverges from the original. These studies show that we need to either record events in some way or accept that the more we recall our past experiences the less “true” they will be.

 

On a more granular level, we construct dogmatic viewpoints when creating literature, art and music. In fact, all our perceptions are frozen by the act of recording them. Language may be the most obvious way of organizing perceptions but it is by no means the only device. However, until we find some way to record the fullness of individual experience though all the senses and perceptual modes, it is the most immediate and available means. Sadly it is like trying to prune a rose bush with an atomic bomb.

 

Much of our interaction with the world is based on subconscious dogma. “Looks like rain”, “Wolves are dangerous”, “Classical music sucks” and uncountable other statements or thoughts – even when unspoken or not consciously expressed – are representative of just how much we are willing to accept that what once was so will always be so. As often as not we may be wrong, misguided or uninformed and either ignore that fact or when in some way proven wrong, simply adjust our view without being aware we have done so. The vast majority of our moment to moment existence is predicated on the assumption that what has been true will always be true until shown otherwise. The definition of proof is different for every individual too. Assumption is dogmatic by definition.

 

Time for the inevitable perceptual stretch.

 

I think it is obvious that humanity uses dogma as a tool to successfully cooperate as a race and in very real terms to interact with the universe. We presume, wrongly I believe, that human awareness is required to formulate conventions which allow cooperation with reality.

 

Mention was made earlier in this essay about other mammalian species, a few of which we now know have consciousness similar to humans. For the purposes of this discussion that is not as important as is recognition that all animals, (including man) and in fact all life must make assumptions – at some level – about their interactions with the world around them. These assumptions, which all other life makes, are every bit as powerful as humanity’s conscious, subconscious and unconscious assumptions and have just as profound an effect on their interactions with reality. Bears hibernate when day length, temperature and food supplies reach certain levels – even in an El Nino year where they may wake up unexpectedly. Whales migrate to locations where ocean currents concentrate food, even if those currents have temporarily changed and the food source is no longer there. Black spruce trees grow in bogs even as they and other plants deposit biomatter which will turn the swamp into grassland more suitable for aspens. Although to human eyes, the world is a pretty stable place, the interaction of life with the world can never be presumed to be static. Life and living it change the world. Life forms which are capable of adjusting will endure but most life depends on the changes being small enough to tolerate. However, we have a propensity to forget that life tends to exist at the mercy of majority consensus.

 

DNA is a genetic “alphabet” which records the language of life. Life forms evolve in various ways to effectively fit into certain niches and once successful, are predisposed to greatly reduce their rate of change or stop evolving altogether. With few exceptions, changes are small and slow. When we draw a parallel with human languages, DNA is simply life’s dogmatic way to manage interaction with reality.

 

While consciousness in the traditional human sense is not involved in genetic variation, awareness is. Without awareness of the environment, DNA would not be able to respond to better interact with that environment.

 

Awareness absolutely relies on stability. This is as true for you and me as it is for all living things – including the genetic components which define life. If every moment were unique, there would be no way for life to identify structure or organize intellect. Dogma provides opportunity for change without demanding it.

 

In a very real sense, consciousness can be even further qualified. Granted, we are not always able to apply the traditional “I think, therefore I am” precept to all forms of consciousness, but frankly, if original thought is a benchmark for perception, most humans would fail to measure up to the standard. We do, however, function very well – brilliantly even – with the “chemical” consciousness all life exhibits. Taking this idea one step further, I think it can be argued that awareness need not spring from things which are “alive” in the traditional sense, for dogmatic principles to apply.

 

All matter has some level of awareness with the reality around it. Atomic structures tend to move toward stable configurations in much the same way traditionally recognized life forms (including humans, as a thinking life form) do It is a good thing too. If atomic structures were inherently unstable, the universe and life as we know it would be impossible. Atoms have enough awareness to “know” which ones can combine into molecules that are stable enough to exist. Once stable, it takes significant external force of some kind to change that configuration. It is really no different except in scale to what happens in human ‘belief” where we seek a stable physical, emotional and intellectual comfort zone until forced to re-evaluate our position. Just as with all other life and by extension all matter, outside forces can not only make us change our way of thinking but our very physical existence.

 

Taken one small step further, the little bits which combine to make up atoms also have not just simple awareness but a basic sense of self-identity. Protons and neutrons (and the even smaller components which make them up) only interact in particular ways with each other and with other atomic and sub-atomic particles. In a very real way they are self-aware. Granted, their dogmatic behavior is limited to interactions at the same scale but neutrons “know” how to be neutral. Electrons and protons are always attracted to each other. Unless convinced otherwise by external forces, they group into stable configurations and stay that way.

 

My contention is that the popular definition of “doctrine” is far too limited. It must be expanded to include non-conscious methods of communication. If we are able to get our minds around that concept we will see that dogma is neither good nor bad but simply the way that this reality manages complex interactions. The curse and the blessing of humanity is that we are able to effect change based on the power of thought alone. Examining interactions allows us to find new ways to influence them and in that way, physically change our reality.

 

I “believe” we will eventually find that thought and awareness are far more powerful and complex than we currently imagine and much more entangled in the creation of reality than we ever “believed” possible. In that sense, dogma is simply a tool. No, dogma is THE tool with which the framework of this reality is built.

 

If one is interested in creating or shaping one’s own reality, one simply needs to learn how to use the tool.

If I could save time in a (magnetic) bottle…

October 30, 2008

 

 

 

The question for this essay is – what is time – really?

 

Albert Einstein opened wider the mathematical door to understanding time more completely and yet he commented that time is what you measure with a clock. He showed mathematically, that even with perfectly synchronized clocks, time is totally subjective and is completely related to movement. That is a terribly important concept. Take two clocks in perfect sync. If one remains stationary and the other begins to move away from it, they will no longer measure the same passage of time in relation to each other. The moving clock will actually seem to run more slowly than the stationary clock. The faster the moving clock is in relation to the stationary clock, the slower time for the moving clock will seem to the stationary clock. See the relationship? The higher the speed differential, the slower the speeding clock will seem to be. There is a balance in mathematical terms. The beauty is that subjectively, time is the same for both clocks. Objectively (that is MEASURABLY) the two clocks will not agree as to the passage of time. The fast moving clock will seem to be operating normally from its own viewpoint and by comparison, the stationary clock will seem to be running more quickly. So how can this be?

 

Is it not a similar subjective movement of time we feel when waiting FOREVER in the doctor’s office? There is no easy answer but there is a surprising one. The subjectivity of time passing between an impatient patient and one engrossed in a good book will be entirely different but if those patients had perfectly synced clocks, those clocks would remain more or less synced. So it seems we have a second kind of subjectivity. The beauty is that while subjective time for the individuals involved is different, clock time remains the same – so we still have balance. This balance is similar to the previous example where the clocks are moving in relation to each other but time seems to be passing at the same rate for each individual clock – just not in relation to each other. There is a balance in both examples but in the first case the physical relationship between the clocks is in flux while in the second the perception of time is in flux.

 

So, we are back to the same question – kind of. Maybe the question should be – is time real? By that I mean does time exist without mathematics to define it or movement, equipment and intellect to objectify it? Even if we apply all four of these things to time, each can give us a different subjective result.

 

Long before the advent of mechanical devices to measure time, mankind measured time in the passage of seasons. As our conceptual abilities expanded we began recording the passage of moon phases and days. As our ability to record the passage of time improved, our ability to further refine time into smaller bits continually improved. What began as a stick in the ground measuring the movement of a shadow has now become a cesium atomic clock cooled to within a few millionths of a degree of absolute zero (the conceptual point where all atomic movement stops). It now turns out that absolute zero is a concept too. The closer we get to it the slower atoms move but really, scientists have now come to believe atoms will never freeze to a stop completely – ever. This means as our ability to cool atoms further improves, we might eventually chop time into infinitely smaller bits but are we any further ahead than when we measured time as spring or fall?

 

Atomic clocks are so accurate today we can easily measure the difference in synchronicity between a stationary clock and one moving even slowly in relation to it. Our ability to measure time reinforces Einstein’s theory that the closer to the speed of light a clock approaches, the slower the moving clock will appear in relation to a syncronized but stationary one. At the speed of light, time on the moving clock will appear to stop in relation to time on the stationary clock.

 

We have also observed that photons, the particles of which light is composed and which we know can be either particles or waves, can appear to travel faster than light. In the new world of quantum physics, we can show that a photon which is behaving as a particle can “tunnel” through a quantum barrier and appear on the other side of that barrier instantaneously – apparently traveling faster than light. We have also observed that two photons from the same source but which are distant from each other can influence one another’s behavior in a manner which can be described as instantaneous and therefore faster than light. It’s beginning to look like time is a bit more complex than looking at our watches.

 

Then we have theoretical evidence of the existence of particles called tachyons which can move faster than light. In our search for these and other esoteric particles we have built larger and ever more powerful machines called colliders. The current king of colliders is the Large Hadron Collider in Europe and the initial goal of this machine is to find the only particle in the Standard Model (describing the basic building blocks of our universe) which we have yet to find. That particle is the Higgs boson. One of my favorite people and one of the brightest I know (although a bit of a Ludite) despairs over “watching the boffins do jigs over giant machines” while people are starving in Africa. She is right of course but if the boffins are successful we might find that our perception (there is that word again) of the universe is so limited as to be almost blind to reality. We might compare it to the difference between what our eyes are capable of seeing and what is truly visible if we are capable of viewing the universe in all wavelengths (such as infrared, x-ray and microwave radiation). So why should we care if our perception is limited?

 

The simple answer is that just as we first poked a stick in the ground to get a better idea of the passage of time, we need to continue to build on our understanding of the universe. Finding this final particle in the standard model will show us that we are not completely full of crap so far as current theory goes and that we are on the right track to better understanding “the way things work”. It may also show us an entirely new way of seeing our universe. There is a suggestion that if we can find the elusive Higgs boson, we will also find that we live in an ocean of bosons in which we move like a spaceship would move in intergalactic space – that is to say in a vast emptiness where the nearest stars are millions of light years away but in a universe where there are uncountable stars. In fact, if Higgs bosons are shown to exist, we are likely to find that bosons are the REAL bulk of matter in the universe. Theorists postulate the density of Higgs bosons is actually so great that for every particle of matter we can perceive, there are uncountable billions or trillions or more of Higgs bosons, although we currently have no way of perceiving them. So, WHY SHOULD WE CARE you ask again? Well it turns out that the Higgs boson is theoretically related to an effect called the Higgs field which is in turn responsible for an effect which imparts mass to otherwise massless particles and these particles – once they have mass imparted to them become photons, quarks, gluons, leptons and (W+, W-, Z) bosons which are the basic building blocks of all matter.

 

So why did we end up here? Were we not discussing time? Well, it turns out we still are discussing time. If we live in a universe where the vast majority of particles are currently invisible to us no wonder time is confusing. This is even truer if these currently invisible particles are intimately related to an effect which allows time to exist by giving otherwise massless (therefore predictably faster than light) and hence timeless particles the ability to take on mass and then form into clumps of things we can perceive in both time and space. If you didn’t get that, read it again, it’s important.

 

If large numbers of particles in the universe can exist in a massless and timeless state no wonder time is subjective to us. We might be trying to understand reality from the same standpoint as a bacterium trying to read and understand Homer’s Iliad.

 

OK, here is the kicker. If we exist in a largely invisible (to us) universe, is it not possible that our very awareness as humans springs from this invisible universe? It might explain a great deal. Since the human race became capable of stringing two thoughts together we have created a mythology of life after (and sometimes before) death. If our consciousness is rooted outside time and space then we really are immortal in the truest sense and when our physical bodies die, we simply ditch the part which is limited by time and space.  

 

WAIT A MINUTE! How do we get to the point where consciousness is outside time and space? Well, does consciousness have mass? Do we not – each and every one of us – experience timelessness every night when we sleep? Do we not have a racial mythos of life after death and a huge body of near-death and return-from-death tales? Can we not have effect on our time sense through meditation or drug use or mood or attitude? Never mind the damned atomic clocks which we know will never perfectly agree with each other.

 

And don’t get me started on memory or dreams!

 

All these things are possible if our consciousness is structured by and rooted in particles which we assume exist outside “normal” time and space. A structure of tachyons is an interesting possibility but the Higgs boson is looking like a better bet in the short term.

 

Unless we continue to expand our understanding of how the universe really works we are just wandering around in the dark. It has been a fun trip for the human race so far but I believe we are trying to formulate opinions without enough information. I am not certain finding the Higgs boson will give us a better understanding of consciousness but it is a lead pipe cinch it will not make us more ignorant and maybe, just maybe, will take us further down the road to figuring out who we really are and why we experience the universe the way we do. Possibly, it will give us a much better understanding of time and if it really has any importance in our existence. We may just find that time is a construct which allows us to objectify mass and therefore create our own reality.

 

I have personally found myself standing at the door to timeless existence and while I do not feel able to explain what I experienced, one thing has become perfectly clear. One does not need ANY particular belief to experience that which I experienced. One simply needs to be capable of experiencing without prejudice. Time may currently be a mystery but that is not to say it will always be so. We may very soon discover that time is no more mysterious than heat from a fire. We just have yet to see the fire.

 

 

 

 

The time has come the walrus said…

October 16, 2008

 

 

Since mankind first began to form logical thought, we, as a race, have speculated about the nature of dying and death. Uncountable numbers of people have related their experiences with near death. What follows are mine.

 

Allow me to begin by removing some of the mystery surrounding bone marrow transplants as the transplant both saved me from imminent death and provided the framework for what I am about to relate.

 

The process begins by determining if the patient will actually survive the procedure. In my case this involved a couple of weeks of almost daily trips to what became nearly every hospital in the lower mainland and during which every major organ was evaluated. Once the transplant team felt there was a chance they would not be the primary instrument of my death, I was put on hormones which greatly increased the production of T-cells by my own bone marrow. A few weeks later these cells were filtered out in a process which involved a tube in each arm – one removing blood which passed through a refrigerator sized machine, the other putting the filtered blood back in. The result, after five or six hours was a bag of pink, creamy looking fluid which contained enough cells for two transplants. When a bed finally came free in the VGH transplant ward and I was admitted, we met with the lead doctor and he warned that my chance for survival was very low but without the procedure it was zero. I chose the transplant. Two days later in the mid-afternoon, I was administered an innocuous looking bag of clear liquid via my Hickman line (a multi-headed tube entering my upper chest and threaded into my heart). The following day, another bag, this one containing a cup or two of T-cells was dripped in the same way. Things gradually deteriorated after that. It was not sudden, as I had expected it to be.

 

My first real experience with personal death was a non-event, or rather a series of non-events beginning three days after the marrow killing chemo. It was thankfully hidden in the miasma of morphine and while I am quite certain I experienced something, it is lost in the mists. I now understand why that might be so, having had a couple more experiences later in the process of this illness which were very clear.

 

One of the side effects of chemo is a deeply depressed immune system. Infections of almost any kind can lead to fevers and a condition called rigors (pronounced rye-gores) – uncontrollable shivering. Rigors is a signal that things are quickly about to go very wrong and requires immediate application of fever reduction drugs and antibiotics to control the causative infection. The first few weeks in the transplant isolation ward were a constant series of rigors events followed by a crowd of caregivers administering intravenous antibiotics and morphine and doing whatever was required to control my vital organ functions and body temperature within a safe range. In my weakened and drugged condition I did not appreciate the frantic activity or the severity of the situation. In fact, I was finally put on constant IV antibiotics and given morphine on demand, supplied through a pump driven by a button pinned to my clothing. It was a very dreamy time. Food was supplied through the tube in my chest as were all drugs, blood products and fluids. At the time and given the high levels of morphine in my system and the generally poor condition of my health, I did not appreciate how many times I actually had to be rescued – and that was the term the staff used – it is not mine..

 

The chemo drugs were so toxic that my body wastes were considered to be a biohazard and while the hospital staff dressed appropriately to protect me, they were also very careful to protect themselves from the toxic effects of the drugs I had been given. Six weeks later, when I was finally able to begin eating and drinking normally (as opposed to through a tube) and fevers were not common events, I was punted from the ward and released to the care of family in Richmond. Following that I traveled to VGH three days a week for blood transfusions of various sorts and supportive medications. Three months after that I came home needing only weekly trips to my family doctor and the hospital in Campbell River.

 

I was warned to watch for fevers and given copious amounts of high grade codeine to control pain, digestive difficulties and fever spikes as well as sixteen or so other drugs to manage other things. I was also supplied with oral antibiotics which I was directed to take in the event of any infection which might lead to a fever. What I did not understand at the time is that oral antibiotics are a stopgap only until intravenous antibiotics can be administered – so the onset of rigors means an immediate trip to the hospital is required. To streamline this process, I was given a letter from the transplant unit at Vancouver General Hospital, printed on red paper, which allows me to bypass the emergency room process and as quickly as possible get into isolation and receive supportive care.

 

While this is all fine and good, one must realize that hospitalization is absolutely necessary and be prepared to go to the hospital at any time. It also assumes the patient will not be reluctant to go – as I was.

 

My first rigors event at home came late one night. I woke up to uncontrollable shaking and immediately took the maximum amount of codeine allowed and a double dose of oral antibiotics. I bundled up in a layer of blankets and sank into a drug-induced daze which thankfully led to sleep. What I did not appreciate at the time was that I very nearly did not survive the night. What I do remember before succumbing to sleep was a feeling of being completely disconnected from the world around me, becoming a small bubble of Mike in an empty universe. It was a very lonely feeling but not frightening. There was no tunnel with a bright light at the end – only a little bubble of me and infinity.

 

After later reporting the rigors event to my doctors, it was made very clear to me that the next one might be my last and I must get to the hospital as soon as possible in the event of another. Some time later that event came to pass. Again, I tried to control it at home but failed. What immediately followed was almost more memorable than the near-death experience itself.

 

The red letter did its job. I did not have to sit in the emergency waiting room. It was clear to the staff at the Campbell River Hospital that I needed to be in isolation so given no notice, the best they could do was put me in a supply room until a better space could be readied. While the thought was good, the supply room was in fact heavily used by emergency personnel and I spent the next five hours sitting in a chair – occasionally visited by doctors and nurses trying to stabilize my condition while the rest of the staff bustled through in search of supplies needed in their emergency facility.

 

My next stop was a private room all right, but because it was the best they could do on such short notice, was the TV room on the inpatient ward which had been hastily cleaned and had a bed wheeled into it. The nurses were masked and gowned however and I was given their undivided attention. Shortly thereafter and in spite of intravenous fluids, medications and blood products, the wheels fell off. My fever climbed out of control and my vital signs began to flag.

 

I remember stillness. It was not the quiet of the house at night but much, much more profound. As I unknowingly became more critically ill, my self-awareness actually sharpened but in a very strange way. The internal conversation we always have with ourselves started to fade away. The outside world became more like a paper cutout and I was a cutout within it. I could feel my body at an almost cellular level but the sicker I became, the slower the movement of the cells and the atoms which make up my body became. In an undefined amount of time (which had ceased to exist) everything stopped. I was whole but frozen in a singularity of silence, complete but trapped in timelessness within a frozen univese. In the normal world everything moves. We can even, in some small way, feel the hum and vibration of atoms. There was none of that. Nothing moved – not light, nor sound nor thought nor time. Had I been able to think or react I would have screamed just to shatter the absolute quiet and stillness. While I still had some sense of self, I was more connected to the universe than ever before, much like the cutout within the cutout – without internal conversation I became completely embedded in the reality in which I existed.The only way I can relate to it from a living viewpoint is to ask you to imagine your life as a movie and the film at the movie theatre breaks leaving the image on the screen frozen forever. You are in the shot and a part of it but not as a seperate individual. There is no way to remove or seperate yourself from the total image – you are just a part of it with no more ability to think or move than the image of yourself on the screen. It was that and so much more – or so much less.

 

It must have been shortly after some fairly aggressive medical intervention that I felt a few stray thoughts begin to move through my mind and they were that I was not ready to accept such a fate. I was not ready to be frozen in a single moment with no change ever possible again. While I was not really afraid, I was profoundly disturbed by the experience and totally unwilling to give up on the busy brilliance of human existence. Shortly thereafter in a strange time-warped way, that little bubble of Mike burbled out of the morass and rose like an air bubble from a diver’s breath to the surface of our shared universe.

 

I fully awakened in a third room, once a double ward room, then an office – now cleared and literally hosed down and disinfected with a single hospital bed in it and me in the bed – no furniture, no curtains and no exit. Given the very public spaces I had been in just previously, the isolation was almost funny. The staff were so very intent on maintaining that isolation. They entered only one at a time and only if completely masked and gowned and I was forbidden to leave. Meals were specially prepared, extraordinarily bland and sealed until opened in my room. Even toilet paper was missing – being replaced with sterile cloths which were removed as required. Thankfully, my recovery was swift and a few days later I was on my way home again.

 

It was only some weeks after that I was well enough again to realize what I had experienced. I am still trying to understand it today – almost two years later.

 

I am not yet ready to stop. There is too much joy in change and confusion. There is too much sweetness in the laughter of my children. There is too much sparkle in the sun on the leaves and too much pleasure in the aroma of a turkey in the oven. The very malleability of our living existence is like a drug I cannot give up.

 

One day I will give up – as will we all. I only hope it is a complete surprise because it looks to me like death means no more surprises.

Speak softly…..

October 9, 2008

 

Animal whisperers seem to communicate on a special level with the species they love. Whisperers work primarily with higher mammals and they all have a number of things in common, regardless of the species with which they work.

 

Probably the most common trait all whisperers share is that they work in the “now”. They recognize that one cannot change the past or own the future so the only successful strategy is to deal with every issue and every behavior in the moment. Higher emotions such as guilt, pity and fear have no place in the instinctual vocabulary dealing as they do with past events or future possibilities. These emotions and others like them can only be owned by the human and the dysfunction they cause in the human is transferred to the animal. In many cases, this is the singular cause of inappropriate behavior in that animal. Living the relationship in the moment removes complexity, disallows mirroring of dysfunctional emotions and allows interaction on a purely instinctual level.

 

The second trait they share is that they work exclusively from a calm, assertive centre. Regardless of the behavior of the animal they never lose their focus on being calm and assertive.

 

The third trait they all share is that they prioritize by starting at the most basic levels and then moving to those which are more complex. In an animal this translates to first addressing the animal, then the species, next the breed and finally the individual. The importance of this approach is that they begin at the simplest level and in doing so need look only at instinctual behavior, initially ignoring the complexities they will deal with later. By beginning at the simplest level they are able to immediately establish trust because the only complexity at this level is instinct. The task is to establish their dominance as a leader in a calm, assertive way and nothing more. Trust is a natural outcome from this approach.

 

Once that basic trust is established (usually very quickly) they begin relating to the species. It is only at this point that psychology begins to come into play. Some species are herd or pack animals; some are not and understanding how particular animals relate to each other within each species begins to be important as it determines how whisperers will tailor their approach to behavior modification. Animals which operate in groups are easier to manage as they more readily accept leadership from a dominant individual.

 

The next level of complexity is breed and of course each breed will have a unique imperative. Horses are bred to pull, jump, run or cut. Dogs are bred for sport, herding, hounding, working or other tasks. Understanding what drives the animal’s behavior (good or bad) becomes very important as fulfilling that imperative is the simplest way to initiate a trend toward balanced behavior. It is also the starting point for determining which kind of physical and mental challenge will most readily fulfill the imperative and in doing so most easily disrupt inappropriate behavior without needing to resort to or depend upon discipline.

 

Only when these three levels are dealt with does the whisperer begin to deal with the individual personality.  While people tend to humanize animals – and in doing so give this level of interaction the greatest weight, it is in fact the least important in whispering. A successful whisperer uses an animal’s “name” only to trigger specific, trained behaviors. Included in this level are the other forms of communication which might involve verbal commands, hand signals and sounds. It must be recognized, however, that without first establishing trust, asserting dominance and exercising an animal in a breed appropriate way, trained behaviors are not easily accomplished or consistently achieved.

 

Another common understanding among all true whisperers is that they appreciate the hierarchy of exercise, discipline and affection. While these simple terms can carry a universe of complexity, they can also be taken at face value and still work effectively in behavior modification.

 

Exercise can be just that but it can mean so much more. Any animal which is neurotic, aggressive, excited or nervous cannot maintain that state if exercised until tired. An animal which is being challenged in an appropriate way will tend to break from its unstable state and revert to a baseline instinctual behavior. In that state it is much more malleable and accepting of behavior modification. Exercise is the most basic of challenges and has good success in behavior modification because of that. It is also fairly easily understood and implemented in species and breed appropriate ways.

 

Discipline is critical but it is important to recognize that it is not punishment. Discipline is really only expecting proper behavior without negotiating, commanding or asking. It is comprised of addressing the problem and then following through with the expectation of proper behavior. The nature of the discipline depends entirely on the species. Discipline for a dog is simply a firm touch in the neck or haunch. The purpose is ONLY to break the animal from its unstable state without hurting it or fostering distrust. Instead, one is simply setting rules, boundaries and limitations and consistently following through in a calm assertive manner.  Punishment almost always springs from anger, excitement or fear and only serves to translate those emotions back to the animal. This transference will reinforce or escalate the animal’s dysfunctional state.

 

Finally, only when the animal is in the desired state can affection be appropriate. It is the reward for desired behavior. One can love an animal but should only show affection as the reward for desired behavior. Affection at any other time only serves to reinforce the behavior prevalent at that time and so is totally counterproductive.

 

There is often no quick fix for profoundly dysfunctional behavior so patience is often required. Tension in the relationship will be picked up by the animal so staying in the moment with a calm, balanced and assertive attitude is critical.

 

This is all fine and good but for one more thing. Whisperers do not try, they do. Successful singers don’t try to sing. They sing. Famous actors don’t try to act. They act. Gold medal swimmers don’t try to swim. They swim. The common thread is that to be successful, one needs to DO. It helps to be centered, calm and confident. Success will follow. Response from the subject is purely a reflection of the whisperer so half-hearted commitment will result in flawed results.

 

Before we move on, remember this is only the barest summary of whispering and while it covers the main points is by no means the totality of the subject.

 

Here is the twist.

 

Man is an animal and a higher mammal and really not so different from other higher mammals. Until fairly recently it was commonly believed that what separated us from all other animals was our ability to displace. However, we now know at least one other species exhibits displacement and a number of other mammalian species are proven to have complex “languages” which we are not yet capable of deciphering. Certainly mankind has raised the bar when it comes to achievement but our roots are closer to the surface than many are willing to admit and so the tenets of “whispering” should apply just as well to man as to any other animal. It certainly removes much of the complexity from the search for appropriate treatment for dysfunction. It would not apply of course to psychiatric disorders or behaviors triggered from purely health related problems which are better treated through medical intervention.

 

Let’s apply the basic tenets of whispering to humans who might be maladjusted but otherwise whole. As a human whisperer we must be calm and assertive at all times and never lose our patience. The primary goal is to never intensify a bad situation with inappropriate behavior on our part. We must live in the now and refuse to allow guilt, pity, anger or any other strong emotion which might be present due to past interactions. We cannot fear for the future as we can transfer that personal imbalance to the person with whom we are interacting. If nothing else, removing these destructive emotions from the equation is profoundly self-empowering and sets a brilliant example for the person on whom we wish to have effect.

 

We begin then by gaining the trust of our subject on the instinctual level by first being completely consistent in our calm, assertive behavior and secondly by responding to the most basic needs of the subject. These needs are food and shelter – which are provided without conditions attached and without reservation. There are no exceptions to this rule. Basics do not include Nintendo, motorbikes or iPods. These are rewards for appropriate behavior. When an individual escapes into gaming, music or other secondary pursuits in place of respectful interaction with the family unit, those behaviors need to be controlled and access to them treated as rewards. They can be given as rewards for good behavior at any time but in appropriate amounts.

 

The species in this scenario is human. We are a pack (tribal) animal and so the whisperer must take the role of pack leader and be calm and assertive. Pack leaders expect calm, submissive behavior from the pack and NEVER back down in the face of inappropriate behavior. They also never lose their calm, assertive centre. There is an expectation that everyone in the group will work to the benefit of the group to the best of their ability in an age appropriate way. An absolute expectation of respect is a good starting point.

 

Breed can translate in humans to culture. Culture is an enormously strong imperative and can become a very complex issue particularly when dealing with mixed cultures (such as Indo-Canadian) but for our purposes we will keep it simple. In our case, culture addresses functioning within a family unit and expecting behaviors which are appropriate within a family. Those might include bathing, respectful behavior, completion of duties which support the family and other such things which are required by law such as attending school. Again, these behaviors are non-negotiable and by creating challenges which are sex and age appropriate we are more likely to break an individual from disruptive or destructive behavior and find success in achieving balance. The greatest hurdle for the whisperer is to use the environment to arrive at creative solutions which provide those challenges. We need to remember that a thoroughly challenged individual cannot easily maintain a dysfunctional attitude.

 

Finally, we can begin to deal with the individual as an individual. If we have been calm, assertive, patient and consistent in our own behavior our likelihood of a favorable outcome is greatly increased. It is only once we have succeeded with the previous steps that we can with all fairness expect such things as better marks in school, practicing the trombone without being asked and vacuuming just because it looked like it needed doing. For some funny reason, humans are motivated by positive feedback and it is at this point that rewards become more appropriate. Rewards can and maybe should be offered for all appropriate behavior – even very early in the process, but should be tailored to the situation. One does not reward taking out the garbage without being asked by buying a gift which reinforces undesirable behavior (such as a computer game for a game addict). It is also important to understand the difference between love and affection. Unconditional love is almost better expressed with calm, non-judgmental, supportive behavior on the part of the whisperer while affection is expressed through rewards.

 

When we overlay the trilogy of exercise, discipline and affection (all of which have been mentioned previously) our ability to have a positive impact on a relationship improves even more.

 

Choosing breed appropriate exercise for a dog is relatively easy. Choosing age and sex appropriate exercise for a human is somewhat more complex. Issues such as interests, abilities, costs and time constraints need to be considered but this should not be a stumbling block for the human whisperer if failure is not an option. It simply becomes a matter of deciding what is possible and appropriate and making it happen. The reward for both the subject and the whisperer is a fulfilled, tired and pliant subject.

 

Discipline might on the surface seem to be an even more slippery slope but if considered first from the viewpoint of self-discipline becomes somewhat more decipherable. Successful self-discipline is a matter of deciding what behavior is appropriate and then following through with it. Discipline is simply a matter of transferring that concept to another individual. Again, discipline must not be mistaken for punishment. It is simply a matter of setting rules, boundaries and limitations and then sticking to those guidelines without exception. The guidelines need to be as achievable in an age and sex appropriate way for the subject to fulfill as they are for the whisperer to enforce. Starting with simple expectations might be smart but the framework really must be tailored to the individual and the situation.

 

Affection is the easiest to give and the most difficult to give appropriately. We must remember that affection is not love. Instead, if we correlate affection with reward we are closer to meeting the standard for whispering. Small rewards are given for small successes, big rewards for big successes. Since this issue was discussed previously in this essay, no more needs to be said at this time.

 

The final word is a simple reminder. Any imbalance or strong emotion in the whisperer will be reflected and magnified in the subject so remaining calm, centered and assertive is beyond critical. A whisperer must work in the moment. Fears of failure in the future or guilt from failure in the past are destructive for this process. Whispering and judgment are mutually exclusive. Being judgmental requires living in the past. Love is always and forever required but affection is given for appropriate behavior. Last, but not least, patience and repetition are both sides of the same coin but repetition without patience will not work. Impatience foments tension and is counterproductive. If a whisperer is truly functioning in the now, patience is a given.

 

A successful whisperer is successful not because his or her subjects are fixable but because the whisperer is confident, centered and calm.

 

Speak softly and there is no need for a stick.