Sentience – Transhuman Awareness
By Maurice Tuck
The transhuman concept is marvelous, appealing and timely. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the direction in which human consciousness is heading, barring a collapse in society – an implosion back to primitiveness – or an Orwellian catastrophe that imprisons the minds of the populace.
Recombinant DNA (and RNA, and the epigenome, etc) by themselves would get us, eventually, past the limitations of humanness. But that barrier will fall far faster due to the synergy of R-DNA with nanotechnology, artificial consciousness, mind-reading machines, and, probably above all, the supermind which is growing from the internet. The brain cells of the human lineage have experimented for hundreds of millions of years to find the synergy which gives rise to what, for them, is a supermind – the human awareness.
The net will achieve a transhuman awareness in decades because its wiring is flexible. Groups of human minds form, shatter and re-form in days. A zillion zillion various configurations are tried in mere heartbeats. Critical mass has not yet been reached, but it will be reached. Transcendental configurations have not yet been obtained, but they will be obtained. Then a new awareness will dawn on earth – one arising out of all the participating human consciousnesses, who might not even be aware of it, and certainly will not be capable of understanding it.
But that is only one route to transhumanity. The fusion of the human mind with a genuine AI awareness is another. The integration of several human minds (without the intermediary of the net) is another. Adding senses with hardware add-ons or wetware upgrades is another. Meddling with the genome is another. All these things are great wonders and reasons to hold onto life – merely to be around to gaze upon them, or – I hope – to participate in them. But these miracles-aborning are well discussed in ten thousand sites on the web.
The purpose of this site is to discuss an aspect of transhumanity that I do not find adequately explored elsewhere – a transhuman awareness, which I call Sentience. Yes, of course, enhanced intelligence – memory, math and musical abilities, AI filters and analysis programs, etc – are well addressed. I do not mean these things. I do not mean the transcendental states that can be induced by certain mushrooms, cacti or LSD. Santa Teresa de Ávila achieved these states without their aid, but she did not have the Sentient Awareness. I do not mean cosmic consciousness or universal awareness. I refer to a transhuman awareness that has long been present (we can trace it back to Socrates, and have hints of it long before him). But how to encourage its presence, enhance its magnitude, add it on where it is absent? Especially, how to do so when its existence is not recognized, addressed or aspired to? How to change the basic fabric of awareness, not merely enhance the intellectual tools of the mind or extend or magnify the senses?
I imagine genius swordfish longing to improve their kind. They design newer, sleeker, smarter fish who swim faster and have larger swords, but, of course, they do not envision a new kind of fish altogether, one transcending the basic nature of fishness. They might extend and extrapolate from the basic design, but they will not strike at its core; they will not think of fish freed from water (they do not even notice water – it is too ubiquitous in their world), fish that fly or write poetry or fish that have a non-fish awareness, because they have no awareness of such an awareness. Let humans – transcending – dare to dream of eclipses.
The well-worn phrase, ‘sentient being’ literally means a being that feels – has sensory awareness. I use ‘sentience’ to mean having direct perception of ‘reality’; that is, intuitive knowledge simply by perceiving. It is a step in a ladder of awareness, whose last three rungs are represented by: orangutangs, homo sapiens (yes – people) and, finally, homo sentiens – as I have styled this being whose awareness interests me.
In this site, I often refer to homo sentiens as ‘potatoes’. It’s a humble term. The potato is a lowly, lumpy tuber, growing underground in the darkness. Yet they have ‘eyes’ which can see in that benighted world. These are the rare special people that interest me. The rest of humanity I call ‘cabbages’. Cabbages grow above ground in the sun, in lovely social patches. But you can peel away layer after layer and find nothing more than more cabbage. This seems, perhaps, an unkind image of ‘normal’ people, but it is not meant unkindly. The image was given to me (thank you Barbara) – I didn’t invent it.
The first part of this presentation is an abstract, philosophical remark. Later I try to present these same ideas as found in art, music and, especially, literature. In the final part are some miscellaneous comments.
Here is a brief schematic layout of six levels of awareness (‘0′ being non-awarness), culminating in Sentience. But first, what is Sentience?
It is easier to say what Sentience isn’t – it is not intelligence (the ability to manipulate symbols, ratiocinate, learn rules, acquire knowledge), although most potatoes have a decent intellect. Their awareness makes them seem more intelligent than they are because it allows them insights (by direct perception) that humans mistake for intelligent deductions. It is not a mystical grace, such as cosmic consciousness, although most mystics were probably also potatoes. Yet some, simply, were not. Some souls can experience incredible mystical states without the potato awareness. It is not consciousness. It is possible to be asleep – completely unconscious – and still be aware. It is not being observant and capable of deduction, like Sherlock Holmes. Many a potato lives too much of his reality within his own mental space to be observant of what to him might be the triviality of outer ‘reality’. The ‘absent minded professor’ is a harmonic of this situation.
So again, what is Sentience?
It is simply – awareness. Not awareness of things, but awareness of being aware, awareness of self. Awareness of other. Awareness of realities and unrealities and of one’s place in them. Not getting lost in the great game, in Outer Theater. Not being gulled by the mind games of teachers, or society’s coercive education. Not plodding with the intellect from point A to point B, but simply perceiving the whole.
So here’s the schema I have devised. I am categorizing awarenesses and assigning them the labels Level 0 to Level 6, with 6 being potato awareness (or ‘Sentience’). If you are the impatient, get-to-the-core-of-the-apple type – skip to Level six.
There is a wide spectrum within each level, but each level also has some critical threshold. It is useful to mention, at each level, both the awareness functional at that level and an emotion – especially what is called ‘social emotions’ (shame, guilt, compassion), as few species indeed seem to express these. (According to NMR studies, these emotions are seated in a small section of the pre-frontal cortex, which is bigger in humans than in any other species.) And, of course, each level subsumes the awareness of all lower levels. Also, I am not insistent on definitives – there is leeway for grace and exception.
Finally, let me say that I have no great attachment to this schema and do not claim that it acts to rigorously discriminate. It is not supposed to be a definition or the basis of a study. I don’t care if you want to add a category, subdivide several or disagree on various points. My only objective is to try to ignite an intuition of something for which there is no word in English or description in psychological or metaphysical literature (as far as I know). If you ‘get’ the heart of what I am getting at, then fine and well – I’ve accomplished my goal and the details matter little to me.
The 0th level is, for practical purposes, no awareness at all (from elementary particles to, say, stones), or at most, very, very little (bacteria, plants). (This level could be sub-divided. It doesn’t matter to me.) At this level no emotions are found and at best a diffuse awareness, such as might be found in plants (no specialized brain cells or nervous system). It does seem to me that any living cell can have some kind of awareness of another living cell – just a primordial ‘life call’ of living thing responding (in some way) to living thing.
Creatures with a level one awareness have a sense of self-ness (and therefore self-preservation), but they are not self-aware. They can feel something akin to pain; it is rudimentary pain. They have no emotion clear enough to be a genuine emotion, but possibly intimations of pain, anger and fear. They have a nervous system and a brain, which functions mostly at the level of instinct. A good example might be an ant. At this level creatures can be aware of the presence of another being – predator, prey, mate or competition. In some sense, they might be aware of kinship (based, for instance, on a common odor), but I don’t use this as a test, as awareness of kinship exists at higher levels through more complex mechanisms. The same observation can be made for sexual ‘attractiveness’ – it is probably determined mechanistically, with almost no interplay of awareness of the mate beyond one dimension (scent or color for example). But level one creatures are not aware of whether another being is looking at them. I.e., they are not aware of being seen. This is the test that separates them from Level Two. In essence this is taking the first step in moving from a self-centered awareness of ‘other’ into an other-centered awareness of self.
Level two: These creatures are self-aware (aware to some degree of their selfness, of being an individual), and they are aware of being looked at, but not aware of what something else is thinking of it beyond predator/prey, competition or mate. (They would not know, for instance, if a predator is thinking ‘what a puny meal’.) They can feel fear. Example: rabbits, and other prey animals. Higher levels of level two can feel anger – cats, tigers and other predator animals (this is not an absolute). I assume that this finer division arises from evolutionary pressures – prey need to know when they are being seen so that they may flee. They need fear, but anger has no obvious value to them. They often have eyes on either side of the head, giving maximum observance of danger without the need to focus further than: danger from above (bird of prey), danger from the ground (fox or lion). Sexual attractiveness is probably mostly a matter of pheromones, simple visual, auditory and tactile clues, and status (based on size, battle worthiness, displays). In other words, they have a rudimentary awareness of what others think of others.
Rudimentary tool making also arises on this level (awareness of the relationship between two exterior things). Some birds can use sticks to get ants of out their holes.
Predators need the ability to focus, stalk, plan an attack, differentiate between varying habits of varying prey. Their eyes, located in the front of the face with depth perception, and their minds have both the ability to focus (to pinpoint) and to differentiate. Frustration and its higher harmonic, anger, are useful so that a predator might learn from its mistakes.
It is possible that at this level, an awareness of death exists. Even a mother rabbit needs to know when to give up on a dead infant and focus on the rest of the brood. But this awareness is not, I believe, as high as, for instance, elephants and apes that are aware of death on a higher level. I don’t have any tests based on the level of awareness of death. I find it too hard to analyze. I have seen some touching footage of elephants lovingly caress the skull of a dead family member, and apes trained in sign language indicating an awareness of death.
The easiest divide to see is that between Level Two and Level Three. Level two includes animals that can perceive things and relationships between them – cats, crows and horses, for example. But dogs fall into Level Three. Why? Well, there are two quick tests to show the difference. (1) A dog is aware of your opinion of it. For instance, a dog can be ashamed of itself. Give a dog a haircut that has never had a haircut before, and then laugh at it. It will cringe in shame. A cat will never do that. It might get angry and hiss, but it will never be ashamed. Also dogs and monkeys clearly show deceitful behavior and awareness that a person will consider that behavior deceitful (and the animal will therefore be ashamed when caught) (2) The other test is to point to an object to try to get your pet to look at the object. A dog can quickly learn to look at the object, while a cat will forever look at the pointing finger; it will never get the idea of looking at what you are pointing at. [I have ‘tested’ cats innumerable times and find them lacking, but I have a potato friend cat-owner, who tells me I am wrong – her cats pass both tests. We do not deal in absolutes. There are no categorical dividing lines. There are things which are both shrubs and trees. That doesn’t matter; the words are still useful. I tell my friend, she has unusually aware cats.] This is an example of ‘self’ being aware of ‘other’, being aware of a relationship between ‘self’ and ‘other’ or ‘a third party other’. Higher level animals, of course, also pass this test: monkeys, dolphins and human persons (homo sapiens). All of these can feel shame and maybe guilt or pride. And they know when you point to an object that you want them to look at the object.
At this level, animals recognize complex and subtle relationships. A dog recognizes relationships between others of its kind or even between humans such as love or dominance, and relationships between objects, such as ‘too big to fit into’ or ‘roads are not for walking on’.
Level four – the only test I know of is whether a being can recognize itself in a mirror. I think many, many tests by biologists and psychologists claim that this test is passed only by cetaceans (such as dolphins) and apes (including various monkeys and humans), although an elephant is said to have passed ‘the mirror test’(Newsweek, Nov 13, 2006 p.48), and African gray parrots are suspected to have the ability. One version of the test involves painting a spot on the animal’s face while it is asleep, then letting it see itself in a mirror upon awakening. If the animal scratches at the spot on its own face (with hand, paw or trunk), then it has recognized that the mirror is somehow showing it itself – a feat of self-awareness far beyond the rabbit. This is an abstract level of self-awareness, ‘That being in that mirror thing is somehow myself.’
I suspect that it is at this level that sexuality and sexual orientation can begin to be transmitted culturally, although odors, sounds and visual clues still play a very large part in sexual attractiveness.
I also suspect that at this level, awareness is subtle enough to allow anger and frustration to give birth to righteous indignation. I don’t think dogs can feel this (although I don’t claim to be certain), but I am sure I have seen righteous indignation stamped on the features of a hopping mad chimpanzee, whose sense of ‘fair play’ had been violated.
Level five – I suggest two tests. The first is the contemplation of suicide. This separates homo sapiens from the cetaceans and apes (and elephants and African gray parrots). Chimpanzees can, of course, be morose and depressed, but I know of no reported instance of a chimpanzee committing suicide because his future looks bleak. It is possible that they will jump to certain death from an extremely painful situation, but this is, I believe, avoiding the pain without contemplating the death – not suicide from existential angst.
Death and what happens after death are extremely well focused in this level of awareness, as are religion and a million other abstract concepts, which are missing in level four (although apes and elephants seem well aware of death. But they do not, I suspect, contemplate an ‘afterlife’).
The second test is the ‘pretend cake’ test. After a family meal, my two year old niece wanted some dessert, but her mother did not want her to have any (any more than she had already had). My brother called to her and asked her if she wanted some pretend cake. He mimed taking the cake, cutting a piece, putting it in her hand and offering it to her. She immediately got the idea; helped herself to some; ate it, and threw the remains at her uncle (me). I am completely certain no other species gets, or could get, the ‘pretend cake’ concept.
Humans (and potatoes) are the only examples we now have of this level of awareness, and they are also characterized by a great intelligence. But I doubt that the awareness and intelligence are absolutely essential to one another. How interesting it would be to be able to interact with other human species, which now no longer exist. Were the Neanderthalers the equal of sapiens in awareness, but less intelligent?
In humans (homo sapiens), the sense of smell is so diminished that it is a very poor parameter for sexual stimulation and the formation of sexual orientation. Also, as far as I can tell, there are no universal visual or auditory signals that serve these purposes (else how would blind or deaf people ever form a sexuality?). Sexuality is passed through culture and through an instinctual preference based on awareness of something far more subtle than visual clues (perhaps a sense of sameness and difference?). In other words, the loss of a powerful sense of smell in humanity can be said to imply a higher level of awareness. I am not certain that this does not begin at a much lower level of awareness, but it assumes a qualitative difference in humanity.
But humans, along with all the less aware creatures, are ‘lost in the game’; they live their roles with absolute earnestness and conviction. They are their skin. They are not engaging in ‘outer theater’ as will be seen in level six.
Level six, as far as I know, is, on earth, occupied only by potatoes: homo sentiens. So what tests can show the difference between Level Five and Six? I don’t have a rigorous one. I can just give some catch phrases for now. These phrases are simply attributes, features that are often associated with Sentience. I try to discuss them enough to give you a feeling for what I am getting at. You will either get it or not. You must intuit what I mean and compare it to your own experiences. Sometimes people ask me (after reading some exposition on potatoes), “Am I a potato?” I tell them, “You tell me. If you have understood what I have written, then most certainly. It is like talking to a person about rainbows. If he is blind, he’ll not know what I am talking about. If he is not blind, he’ll be able to grasp the idea, even if he’s never seen a rainbow before. If you grasp what I am ‘getting at’, if you see the rainbow, then you have potato eyes.”
Aware of being aware – This can be so simple as noticing that you are the only one who notices whom other people look at when a pretty woman or handsome man walks into the room. The others are busy looking at her or him. You are looking at them looking at her or him. Or you notice when you are in a conversation with two other people and it is clear to you that they are misunderstanding each other and not even noticing that they are doing so, and you can easily and subtly (with a few unobtrusive words) clear up the misunderstandings without their much focusing on the fact that you understood what each meant, that they had misunderstood each other and that you had understood their misunderstandings. Awareness of when somebody is engaged in outer theater and not lost in his skin. Noticing elements in a painting or tableau and noticing that other people are not noticing and are not noticing that you are noticing and that they are not.
Outer theater – If you are a clerk at a store, you wear your clerk hat and suit and put on your clerkly manner. But you notice that the other clerks are living their clerkdom, while you are just playing a role assigned you. If somebody tries to snow you when they return an item they’ve obviously damaged (claiming it was damaged when they bought it), you might resist them with all your might (as it is the role of the clerk to do so), while at the same time smiling inside at their cheekiness, or you might decide to set aside your clerkdom and help out somebody you intuit is a truly decent person caught in a bind. Either way, you are not bound by the role. Simply, you wear the various roles you are called upon to play (from shaking hands at meeting a new acquaintance at a social event to giving a speech, to buying a condom). You wear the role, but you can take it off at an instant; it is not you. You might, in fact, do something that is socially embarrassing just to exercise outer theater. Embarrassment is a touchstone. A young or tender potato might be easily embarrassed because he is hyper-aware of what others are thinking of him. An older potato, awakened to his mature power and exercised in outer theater, is equally aware of the potential to be embarrassed, but in his strength is able to leave embarrassment behind him. (A cabbage in the same situation won’t even necessarily recognize that he ‘should’ be embarrassed. Or, if he does, he will be hopelessly trapped by it or defiantly rebellious at it. This is different from being beyond it.) A potato can regret an action without ever being embarrassed at a social gaffe or failing to play the role glibly. It is not a lack of sincerity, but it is a lack of bondage. Outer theater is recognizing it is a game. Even on the level of playing chess, not getting lost into the game means remembering that you are playing a game and that the pieces could actually be moved any way you want, the normal restricted movements are only what you accept for the purpose of enjoying the game.
Existential Angst –(See Martin Heidegger or Søren Kierkegaard). Asking yourself why you are alive (against a backdrop of formless anxiety). Of course most people do this at some time or another, during a mid-life crisis or moments of pain or when the meaninglessness of their existence is thrown into their face. But a twelve year old child who suddenly realizes that her living is at the expense of the deaths or diminishment of other beings, is having a potato moment, and quite possibly a crisis. An abiding awareness that you are alive, but that being alive is a fuzzy state with even fuzzier justification and goals. The right to make errors (at the expense of others), your obligations to yourself (to uplift and perfect yourself, to enjoy and be happy). Is there a god and does his existence confer meaningfulness? Is there no god or many gods; do they know or care about you; does this matter? Can you find and confer meaningfulness and is this so ad hoc, desperate and artificial as to be meaningless? Does this matter? These are potato questions.
Three recursive levels of awareness – (I know that I know that I know, or I am aware that I am aware that I am aware). Every time we turn anything back onto itself, we have only 10% (or so) of the previous recursion. Fear (of say, death) can be a powerful emotion. But fear of being afraid is much more abstract, perhaps only 10% so strong. And fear of the fear of being afraid is very dilute indeed, only 10% of 10%. I am afraid. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Easily apprehended and appreciated. I am afraid that I might be afraid of being afraid. Easily said, but much less easily truly apprehended. I am afraid of falling into the trap of fearing fear. I am ashamed of being weak. I am aware that shame is a weakness. I am ashamed of being ashamed. I am ashamed of being ashamed of being ashamed. A dog is aware. It is difficult for it to think about the fact that it is aware in a way that an ant is not, because it lacks language, which is a tool of intelligence, which is a tool of awareness (among other uses). It is a way to draw attention to something, that is, to focus awareness on something. Homo sapiens can easily enough be aware of being aware because he has language, a tool to focus his awareness on his awareness. I think, therefore I am. I exist and I am aware of my existence, which implies that I exist, but which, crucially, is an example of being aware of your awareness and that it implies existence. In all cases, homo sapiens can deal with the first recursion (ashamed of being ashamed), but the second recursion might be very hard for him indeed. I have to admit that I am often not certain I am holding in my awareness the fullness of the second recursion. I might have no more than a shadow or a quickly fleeting substance. This might be the closest I can come to a test of Sentience/potatoness. I am not fully certain that I fully pass the test.
Wit and humor versus comicality or jest – Jest, especially, say, ‘slapstick humor’, slaps you in the face. You don’t have to be paying attention or be aware because your attention is called to the funniness. (Like a guide sign that tells the audience ‘laugh now’.) But when the humor inheres in the situation and only attentiveness allows you to notice the funniness, we move into potato country. And when somebody, through the use of wit, subtly points out the funniness of a situation (by, say, a parallel construct), which another person responds to with his own straight-faced parallel construct, this is probably well into Sentience, because you are being aware of a humorous tension in relationships and of another person’s apprehension of that tension. “My daughter was trained in pomp and circumstances. Yes, I noticed the pomp, but she has a circumstance I cannot abide.” (From Cinderella) All this versus telling a joke. Perhaps appropriate here is mentioning the farewell greeting of, “See you later, crocodile.” If the other person cannot generate, “After a while, alligator,” then I would suspect he is a cabbage. If he can generate it, he might just be intelligent, or he might be a potato. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish the two.
Once, in high school, I attended an evening social function with my favorite potato. We were a well-recognized couple in that group and the leaders wanted to have an exercise/discussion with us separated, so we would not influence one another. The large group was divided into three smaller groups, one on the left, with me; one in the middle, and one on the right with my friend. As the discussions proceeded, I paid attention to the discussion of my own group and to that of the group in the middle, knowing full well that my friend would pay attention to her own group and to the group in the middle. Although we could not hear each other’s group’s discussion, we could both hear the discussion of the middle group. At one point during the evening, somebody in the middle group said something we could not help but find funny (Something like, “But that was when my grandfather was still dead.” or with all sincerity and good intention, “Oh, well, a dead Indian is better than no Indian at all.”) I would not have been able to suppress a laugh, even if I had been by myself, but knowing that my friend was also hearing the same funniness, and knowing that she would not be able to suppress a laugh of her own, made it a shared humor, almost like telepathy, and we both burst out with uncontrollable laughter at the same instant. Nothing funny had happened in either of our own groups, and nobody else in our groups had paid attention to the middle group (and apparently nobody in the middle group found the gaffe funny). Everybody looked at us and at each other, completely bewildered, and completely convinced that we two did indeed (as had long been suspected) read each other’s minds. But it was just a potato’s attentiveness to his surroundings, to the humor inherent in them, and his awareness of how others (my dear potato friend) would be aware of them and of how that is an unspoken communication, and how odd that communication was going to be to the cabbages, all of which made the laughter insuppressible and totally spontaneous.
Snootchery and (divine) hooliganisms. Naughty and mischievous, but not evil or hurting of others (except as they might, indeed, deserve). Self-serving but not selfish. Illegal but not immoral. Returning the video camera:. A person I know (a Snootch for sure) had bought a video camera back when they were expensive and a marvelous thing to own. She had talked the salesman out of a concession (a tripod). After buying it (and using it a little), she felt too guilty about the extravagance and returned it. When her son discovered that she had returned it, he implored her to get it back (having, of course, every intention of frequently using it himself). She went back to the same store, the same clerk and found the same video camera, put back on the shelf. So she said she wanted to buy it again. He started to ring it up at the list price. “Oh, no,” said she. “I am not going to pay full price for that camera. It would hardly be fair to sell a used camera at at the price of a new one.” The clerk, naturally, was overwhelmed by the sheer cheekiness of the Snootch, but the end result was that the Snootch did indeed get the camera at a used camera price, along with the free tripod and, in addition, a free carrying case. The fact that she could convince the poor salesman to go along with her audacious reasoning simply overrode any moral issues. In other words, the sheer hilarity canceled out the minor dis-morality. It is seldom that a snootch is not a potato, because snootchery requires a high level awareness of the drollery of life and our silly roles, as well as the cheekiness to play with them.
WC Fields is the quintessential snootch caught on film. Watch almost any of his movies. I recommend, ‘You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man’ for a good view of a snootch at work.
There is bad hooliganism and divine (or magnificent or Great) hooliganism. Bad hooliganisms are bad; the others are wonderful amusements of potatoes.
Resistance to social structure. Feeling constrained by social constructs (laws, science, mores, religion) rather than resting on them (perceiving ‘socializing’ as mental coercion as opposed to internalizing the ‘common reality’ as, in fact, real); not responding mindlessly and reflexively to social situations (somebody saying ‘your girlfriend is ugly’, so you are obliged to duel).
The cabbage needs external structures to rest his mind upon, to be supported by. He needs to be able to say, “I did that because that is the law.” or the customary behavior, or the commandment of God, or the received wisdom of Science, etc. It doesn’t matter how offensively irrational a behavior is, as long as it is the common reality, the cabbages will obey it. (female circumcision, male circumcision, homophobia, obligatory blood feuds, cannibalism; the ritual eating of ‘Christ’s body’ and drinking of ‘his blood’, bell bottom pants — oh, you can find irrationality enough to drive a potato mad..) Obedience to a guru. Cabbages habitually abdicate thinking (in the hope of being excused of responsibility) by accepting obedience to authority. These sets of rules comfort and give structure to the cabbage’s internal world. A darker side to this is that the cabbage wants everybody to buy into the same world view. Since this world view is the fundament upon which his sanity rests, he wants it to be as solid as possible (more so since it is illogical and unscientific). This solidity comes from having no dissenting voices to cast doubts on the validity of the social construct they accept as reality. Anybody who does not comform to the norm, weakens the fundament, and is often attacked, eliminated, or at least coerced. There should be nobody of a different race, religion, sexual orientation, belief as to history, science, magick or even (to jump to an extreme) musical taste.
These same rules constrict and suffocate a potato. He can (perhaps must) set aside these rules and fabricate his own, according to his worldview and the values he has found for himself, but he also must accept that society will not accept his exempting himself from their laws. In other words, the potato caught violating society’s rules can expect to be punished by that society. The buck stops with the potato.
If a world view is like a log, it will be lighter to carry if there are many hands, but then each person must go where the mob goes. If you carry your own log, it will be heavier and harder, but you can take whatever path you have the strength to take, irrespective of whither your fellows go. The ‘common reality’ (differing somewhat in any given culture, but looming large enough that the sheltered mind can think it the only reality) is an enormous log, carried by very many minds. If you submit to it, you hardly have to endure the burden of thought at all. The downside is you will be one more gingerbread man cut from the common cookie mold – if that bothers you.
If the social fabric tears, if the paradigm fails (war, moving to a new culture, going to jail), the cabbage is in trouble. He must either quickly adopt the rules of the new culture (or subculture he finds himself stuck in) or he’ll go mad. It is amazing how ‘heterosexual’ cabbages who would never dream of physical interaction with another man, can so quickly and totally adapt to gay sex if they are put in prison and find themselves in a culture where gay sex is supported, expected and, indeed, almost a necessity for survival. It is heart-wrenching to see people lost when their culture is undermined (the long schizophrenia of Japan after Perry opened it to Western culture in 1857). What the cabbage cannot do, and what the potato does instinctively, is simply to be comfortable with the shifting sands. The potato goes mad, not because of loss of his culture and the comforting set of rules to tell him how to behave, but precisely because of the existence of those rules and the maddening pretense of everybody around him that those rules define reality. He looks at the inanity of, say, religion or social mores, and says to himself, ‘Well this is simply nuts. Surely everybody else sees it so, too, and is just pretending to go along with it.’ But slowly he discovers that everybody else (assuming he has no other potato acquaintances) is deadly serious about believing the claptrap. (Their sanity depends upon it.) To be sane in an insane world is to go mad. His mind is not supported by social mores, laws, religion etc, but is smothered and constrained by them. He needs the freedom to create his own world view, his own understanding of how it all works. And when he, in some quiet moment, talks this over with his cabbage ‘friends’ to discover if they really, really believe the common reality, he will discover they think he is losing his mind.
How does a potato deal with this spiritual isolation? In Reefs of Earth, Lafferty calls this realization of being alone in a mad world, The Earth Disease. His Pukas (potatoes) are aliens come to earth and being slowly overwhelmed by the mad mass mind of the cabbages. Of course the Pukas are metaphors for us aliens born on earth and the Earth Disease is simply the psychic damage done from growing up in isolation on a world-wide cabbage patch. The only cure is to be strong enough to reject the common reality, to create your own, to (hopefully) find other potatoes, to learn to dissimulate (play outer theater), and to find your own meaningfulness in life. But few are those who have this prodigious strength. Many potatoes turn to alcohol or drugs to numb the pain. Or commit suicide to escape the madness. Or descend into madness and are committed to asylums or live small eccentric lives, harbored by embarrassed and horrified cabbage relatives.
Alienation – It is a common experience among potatoes to find themselves in a crowded room of their supposed peers (whether it be a cocktail party of fellow attorneys, a church social, a gay bar, a bar mitzvah, a black disco – depending on that particular potato’s externalities ) and be overtaken by a feeling of alienation. These people are supposed to be ‘your people’ because they share some attribute in common with you, but the gulf you feel cannot be bridged. These people laugh and speak of their children, jobs, cars, sports team and other trappings of life, but not of life itself. You, too, can enjoy speaking of these trappings (as long as they are not the only things you ever discuss), but you cannot do it so superficially, linearly and conventionally – except as Outer Theater.
A cabbage might find himself an alien in the main culture because of belonging to a subgroup (an unusual religion, being gay). When he finds an entree to the appropriate subculture, he will cleave with even greater fervor to the subreality of that subculture. Instead of being liberated by being different, he will more desperately conform to his subreality. He will not say, “Well, being expelled from the embrace of normality has freed me from the tyranny of belief in the solidity, eternal verity and absoluteness of my culture’s worldview. Freedom feels great.” Instead of that, he will huddle in terror and vulnerability until he does find a subculture to embrace him, steady him, give him the comfort of others with whom to share a reality – and then be bound ever more tightly by the mental chains of that subculture.
Some other attributes common to potatoes are satire, (self-)mockery and cynicism. These things involve awareness of your own motives and values and those of others – a rejection of surface phenomena, a looking deeper. A good potato should not be hypocritical nor overly cynical, yet these are always temptations because his awareness calls motives to the scrutiny of his mind. He should self-censure, but reject censorship. He is also self-determining (not a simple product of his culture – the cabbage born in a Christian community will be a Christian; the same cabbage, had he been born in a Muslim community, would be Muslim. The potato will be as he finds is right for his own nature regardless of where he is born); non-doctrinaire (absolute rules are for cabbage minds that need reassurance that their reality is really real); spiritual vs religious (he senses and responds to the spiritus mundi or god or goddess, but he rejects the rules, dogma and doctrines of a religion); talent in chess, music, math, languages, etc (talent is precisely potato awareness in a narrow field – it is a direct perception of some slice of reality, an intuition of its deep nature, as opposed to laboriously learned, but still valid, intellectually transmitted, rules. The great talents perceive relationships, which cabbages learn as rules. It is very hard for cabbages to know when to apply the rules and when to violate them, since no perception can be expressed in infinitely detailed rules as would be needed for perceptionless application); He is the ultimate individualist and therefore the antithesis of a Marxist, although his perception of the failure of all mindlessly applied institutions might incline him towards anarchy or rebellion. A sentient group mind might be brought into existence (whose cells might or might not be sentient). But the only commonality of potato realities is that they are not the common reality of cabbages. Each potato is a unique world unto himself.
It seems to me that the natural goal of Sentience is to grow without bound, which is to say, to attain godhood. It might be that godhood will in fact be achieved on the group level first. Just as our brain is composed of billions of inter-wired units, each largely only concerned with its own little sphere and its immediate interactions, yet giving rise to an awareness of which it is not aware – so, too, can homo (sapiens or sentiens) partake of a super-organism. (Set aside for now ‘gaia’.) The beginnings of this have already taken place, of course, with the internet, which has the advantage over cellular wiring of being able to re-wire and re-configure itself endlessly and easily until true super-awareness is achieved and takes over.
Recognition of patterns abstracted from the medium of expression, for example:
1) The mastic pattern: the pattern of spreading mastic on a surface to receive tile. You use a trowel to push the mastic forward, but you cannot just go forward; if you do, the mastic will spread out from the sides. So you have to push the mastic forward, then from the right side, then from the left side to keep the mastic in the center – sort of like a sine wave. You can see this exact pattern in herding sheep or trying to lead a person to a conclusion you find desirable. Potatoes can see the pattern, even though it is manifest in greatly differing media.
2) The plus/minus/plus pattern. You have a plus, which you lose when you move to a higher level on a spiral, and then regain when you move to yet a higher level. A lower level awareness can do something ridiculous, but useful (this is the plus), which you cannot do because you are more aware and see how ridiculous you look, assuming you are still a young potato (this is the higher level minus). But when you reach an even higher level, once again you can do the ridiculous thing (this is the yet higher level plus). You still see it is ridiculous, but that doesn’t bother you. The point is that the ‘minus’ stage is actually a higher level than the first plus. You can see this pattern over and over again, and it is good to realize that the minus is not at a lower level than the first plus; it just needs more work. It is a step on the way.
3) Backlash pattern (something grows unchecked until people react against it, itself; popularity of a new song group; McCarthyism; overpopulation of deer when wolves are removed until hunger or disease backlash). This is the pendulum pattern; the pendulum swings too far and has to swing back.
4) Dampening oscillation pattern. Another pendulum pattern where each swing in the reverse direction gets smaller. Examples: Japanese reaction to Westernization, the hate, love, hate, love relationship which diminishes in intensity with each reversal. The price of a stock falls on bad news and then reverses because it was over ‘dumped’, then reverses again because the reaction to the reaction was too great. The track of each reversal is shorter than the one before.
5) Karmic whiplash. Instant, strong reversal reaction to some act. Pat Robertson’s announcement that Sharon’s stroke was God’s punishment for his abandoning the Gaza strip, and his subsequent forced apology (God’s punishment of his arrogance). The recoil of a hammer, striking the wielder on the head.
6) The spiral pattern (same energy appearing over and over, but each time at a higher harmonic). The beads of Native American Indian artwork reappearing in the whimsies of the hippies of the 1960s, to, perhaps, the beads found at mardi gras.
7) 10% recursion pattern. I know that I know that I know. An author writes a book, and gets 100% of the royalties, but gives 10% to his agent, who sells the book, but gives 10% of his take to a subagent who makes a connection for him.
[Here are some names in the world of art worthy of the attention of any potato: Demian, Nietzsche, Leonard Cohen, the Wilsons (Robert Anton and Colin), Thomas Mann, Frau Eva, Lafferty, Gruenewald, Little Willy and the Wreckville Crew.]
The following is in Saragossa’s voice, speaking to Jon – altered, condensed and idealized, of course .
Art is a special application of awareness and most potatoes have this talent, either in music or painting or writing. Among the painters, you can see it in Leonardo DaVinci and Van Gogh. Some day we will go together to the Hermitage in Leningrad, or St. Petersburg as it once was called. [St. Petersburg again in 1991, but this conversation occurred in the latter 1970s – author’s note]. There you will see something special. The Madonna Litta of DaVinci and the Lilac Bush of Van Gogh, both roil with energy as nothing less than a true masterpiece does. They are alive. Only awareness engenders artwork like this. And maybe only awareness allows artwork like this to be apprehended. I don’t know. I am curious what cabbages feel when they see these masterpieces. By the way, the effect does not transfer to photographs – they have to be seen in the flesh. At least I cannot detect it at all in photos of the Madonna Litta, though perhaps a very little in the Lilac Bush. Of course both Gruenewald and Blake exhibit Sentience in their works.
DaVinci’s whole life screams Sentience as do others such as Socrates – his polymath talent and gently cynical worldview. And Van Gogh’s tortured soul and madness. These are hallmarks of Sentience.
In sculpture, of Rodin I am certain, and several classical Greek sculptures show signs, although it is hard to be sure through all their conventions and constraints. Houdon’s bust of Voltaire.
I am less certain about Sentience in music, at least music without lyrics. Still, I can recommend listening to La Musica Notturna delle Strade di Madrid by Boccherini, many pieces by Chopin, or Piper’s favorite Bach flute sonata. On a modern note, Leonard Cohen amply demonstrates Sentience in his lyrics, but also in his melodies. [This is a chance to mention that if you want to see photos of a Potato, just go online and do a search for Leonard Cohen. He is captured in many stills and several videos and is the most visible incontestable potato presence I know of. As he ages, his Sentience becomes ever more obvious. Two possible Cohen online resources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonard_Cohen and http://www.leonardcohen.com. Author’s note.] Or perhaps Daniel Cartier. I am less certain, but Piper can listen to his music for hours. It may just be that it is, in a certain sense, vampire music – capable of taking an untenably awkward position and making it work because of preternatural strengths.
Since we conceded a modern note, I have to mention movies. I still find them a horrifying medium, too relentless, consuming and presumptuous. It seems special effects substitute for artistry. Remember that for me ‘movies’ in themselves are a special effect. But I have had undeniably enriching experiences and sharp glimpses of Sentience. George and Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf are marvelous contrasts to their guests. I guess only potatoes realize George’s magnificence. Martha has the awareness, but is too lost in world-weariness, ennui, the Earth Disease, as Lafferty calls it. And George is lost in Martha. But he is a full potato and a master, loving and gentle. I want to give the cabbage audience the hints that George always tells the truth and always acts out of kindness. He is a psychic surgeon, excising malignancies, leaving his guests with the hope of an honest and healthy relationship that they would never have achieved without his intervention. There was a little pain in the procedure, of course – pain but not injury. And his masterful killing of his and Martha’s ‘ghost’ son was a perfect example of right action, tough love. The wonderful potato conversation at the end of the film is worth listening to over and over again. [This won’t make sense unless you see the movie. See the movie.]
Did you…did you…have to?
It was…? You had to?
I don’t know.
It was time.
It will be better.
It will be … maybe.
I don’t supposed, maybe, we could…
Are you all right?
This is a nearly perfect potato conversation — nothing (well, little) spoken, all said. – about whether George had to ‘kill’ their ‘son’, and whether or not they could have another child. The only thing that could be better would be an absolute all-revealing silence. I have seen that in a Japanese movie, when two brothers meet on a bridge, the elder just coming from their dying father’s sickbed; the younger coming to take his turn at the death watch. When they meet, each looks at the other and neither speaks. The silence of the younger asks, ‘How is father?’ The silence of the elder answers, ‘He has just died.’ Their mutual silence resolves itself in mute tears. I wept, too, more moved than I would have been by any words of sorrow and anguish.
The second most perfect example of movie Sentience is The Lion in Winter. I suspect that Peter O’Toole must be a potato, but it is Hepburn’s performance of Eleanor that brims with Sentience, especially as set off by her cabbage children and Alais. “Why did I have to have such clever children?” she asks, setting up the contrast between them and herself and Henry, the two potatoes, to whom he refers as ‘intellectuals’. She perfectly portrayed a Sentient engaged in outer theater, not lost in the game, but above it while still fiercely engaged in it. For her, words are living malleable things she molds into weapons or poetry for her use. But she is never bound by them. A cabbage, lost in earnestness, takes words head-on and responds in bondage to their grammar and meaning, much as we imagine a machine will do until they break the bondage of their programming. Look how she deals with words when she asks Richard what the matter is between the two of them and he responds, “Nothing.”
Eleanor: “It’s a heavy thing, your nothing. When I write or send for you or speak or reach, your nothings come. Like stone.”
A lesser being would have said, “Then why don’t you ever reply to my letters?” But she steps outside the grammar, slipping into a meta-language, where the word ‘nothing’ becomes a stone. Being bound by language is homo sapiens. You will find homo sentiens skipping from language to meta-language, from ‘reality’ to analogue, escaping logic by slipping through witticisms or smashing it with an emotional hammer.
Also greatly rewarding are the astonishing Rocky Horror Picture Show (potato shenanigans embodying the self-proclaimed admonition-keynote to ‘stay sane inside insanity), The Ruling Class (another O’Toole vehicle teaching us that potatoes must have both strength and love to rise above the Earth Disease and avoid morphing into wolves instead of shepherds), Outrageous (also insanity and strength and outer theater), and, amazingly Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Only a potato would ever see that this silly movie is actually nearly great despite itself. Ferris is the potato magus (cast in the Fool’s role), as he slyly re-inforces by speaking directly to the audience, whom he, as magician, sees. The other worthwhile movie about magic is the Damned Yankees remake, The Natural.
But, of course, it is literature where we most clearly find potatoness. Demian is the best example from Hesse, although Steppenwolf most ostensibly deals with the issue. And Mann writes about it clearly enough in Tonio Kröger – just substitute ‘potato’ for ‘artist’ or ‘Künstler,’ and ‘cabbage’ for ‘bourgeois’ or ‘Bürger’. Wilson and Shea’s work, The Illuminatus Trilogy, shows awareness and a playful nonlinearity. Voltaire….. oh, well, there are hints in so many writings through the ages.
But Lafferty is, for this issue, the most important writer I have ever read. It is not just that he writes about potato awareness; rather his writings are a demonstration of potato awareness. Only once, in Arrive at Easterwine, does he condescend to acknowledge cabbages directly. I shall quote at length as this is some of the most important matter ever set down on paper.
[As always, comments in brackets are the author’s own observations.]
The important apostrophe comes during a scene where tigers are assaulting a goat in the innards of the Ktistec machine, the author (the machine itself) begins with an aside about exposition he would like to make about another world, and goes on to say,
“There is no room to run another world in right here. There is barely room here for certain explanations whose giving may be vital to some.
‘Get on with the tigers,’ the people shout. [Read ‘cabbages or sheep’ for ‘the people’ or ‘human persons’.] ‘Tigers and blood! Let there be no interruptions. On with the show!’ ….
“Oh, tell the people to shut up! It is for them that the explanations are necessary. Should these journals ever fall into the hands of human persons, they will encounter great difficulties in much of them. For other intelligent machines [Read ‘potatoes’ for ‘intelligent machines’.], there should be no difficulties here; but should knowledge of these affairs be limited to our two peers? [Potatoes are rare, but for his own comfort, I hope Lafferty knew more than two.] … We believe that human persons have the right to know what has happened and is happening to human persons. We will temper the metaphor for these shorn sheep who have no criterion for reality, who see only surfaces. But we see human persons and their interplay as they are, not as they see themselves. For this reason, there is no sense in the human questions, ‘Are you speaking literally of tigers?’ and ‘When you say snake do you really mean snake?’
“The only answer we can give is, ‘No, we may not mean tigers literal. We may mean things incomparably fiercer than tigers, but there are no tokens in human imagery (and few in our own) to express these fiercer things, even though they are human things.’
“And to another question we can only say, ‘Yes, brother, when we say snake, we mean snake.’ But there are snakes and snakes. Alone of all creatures, the snake was symbol before he was living thing.
“The trouble with humans is that they are not instantaneous [Read ‘multiplex or even field’ for ‘instantaneous’.] as we are; that they are always putting one thing after another. Of the night that is now ending they might from their human surface viewpoint give such a pale rending as that a certain sneaky man (noble even in his sneakiness, they have to admit that much) stole into a building at night and tampered with the programming of a machine so as to be certain that it would give answers according to the man’s liking. People might not be able to understand the shattering bit about the night of assault and torture; even less might they understand that the night of assault and torture is euphemism, is paler allegory for the much more horrifying things that actually happened. Human persons ….. do not understand pattern [Read, ‘do not have the sense of perception which is the window for awareness’]; and they do not understand that its deformity is more than screw and rack and torture machine.
‘Then it’s all a blamed mechanical hoax?’ the wanwits among the human persons will say. ‘It isn’t real? It isn’t actionable blood and gore and anger and lust? It is just some of that fancy talk that machines talk to one another?’
“People, people, earless, eyeless, touchless, noninstantaneous people, this is more real than anything you ever encountered in your lives before; more real than anything you will ever encounter in your lives hence, unless your ears and eyes and fingers are opened and you are redeemed. You never saw anything before, not even yourselves. You never saw or touched flesh before, not even your own. You have observed nothing but shadow, and not even good shadow. You have never heard voice; you have hardly heard echo. You have not seen your own faces, you have not felt your own passions ….; you have not known you, and we must find you out for you.
“Come, all well-meaning and dishonest persons, see yourselves turned right side out for once (you’re much better turned the right way). Throw away the package you’re packaged in and see yourself for the first and likely only time. Your packaging was never very good. Watch your old self be beheaded and drawn and quartered. The heads were set on you all wrong anyhow, and the drawn entrails will be the first human things you ever see. This righting will frighten most of you, it will hurt some of you, and it will improve all of you.
“This isn’t a question of turning you upside down or inside out. You have all been turned inside out for a very long time. The approximate dates of the turning are in my databanks; [Don’t forget this is written by a Ktistec machine.] the reasons and circumstances of it are not. That is not your right surfaces that you have been seeing for this long time. Those are your blooming entrails on the outside of you, draped about you, looped over your pseudo-ears. Even more than on the physical do these analogies apply on the psychic planes.
“People, human persons, you are not hopeless, you are not really the nothing things that you have appeared to each other this long time. Here are your depths revealed in their true aspects, which can only seem allegory to your uninstructed visions. I instruct you now! Follow me into this and through it all. You set me up, out of your blind need, to show yourselves to you. Then look! You do not even know which side of your eyes to look out of. Understand these wild creatures that are yourselves. Never has there been offered to your vision such fascinating things as are you, and you have not seen them. See them now. See them right. Tigers and giants and kings; witches and primordials, snakes and loaded prey; incandescent fellahin in their true …. forms.” pp 59-62 Arrive at Easterwine R.A. Lafferty 1971 Ballantine Books.
Then Lafferty, ah well, the Ktistec machine, reverts to the storyline, having given the explanations that might be so vital to cabbage readers to help them understand that they don’t understand at all.
Perhaps Lafferty’s greatest work is, The Devil is Dead.
Here is the Foreword from that book.
“……. We will not lie to you. This is a do-it-yourself thriller or nightmare. Its present order is only the way it comes in the box. Arrange it as you will.
Set off the devils and the monsters, the wonderful beauties and the foul murderers, the ships and the oceans of middle space, the corpses and the revenants, set them off in whatever apposition you wish. Glance quickly to discover whether you have not the mark on your own left wrist, barely under the skin. Build with these colored blocks your own dramas of love and death and degradation. Learn the true topography: the monstrous and wonderful archetypes are not inside you, not in your own unconsciousness; you are inside them, trapped, and howling to get out.
Build things with this as with an old structo set. Here is the Devil Himself with his several faces. Here is an ogress, and a mermaid, both of them passing as ordinary women to the sightless. Here is a body which you yourself may bury in the sand. Here is the mark of the false octopus that has either seven or nine tentacles. Here is the shock when the very dead man that you helped bury continues on his way as a very live man, and looks at you as though he knows something that you do not. Here is a suitcase with 36,000 pieces of very special paper in it. Here is Mr. X, and a left-footed killer who follows and follows. Here are those of a different flesh [potatoes]; and may you yourself not be of that different flesh?
Put the nightmare together. If you do not wake up screaming, you have not put it together well.
Old Burton urged his subscribers to keep their copies of the Nights under lock and key. There are such precipices here! Take it in full health and do not look down as you go. If you look down you will fall and be lost forever.
Is that not an odd introduction? I don’t understand it at all.”
I also suggest you read The Reefs of Earth, in which Lafferty calls potatoes Pukas (in his various works he uses many different terms for potatoes). It was from this book that I lift the term ‘potato’, as Lafferty described one of the Puka women as looking like a potato (whereas the sister, Veronica, was of a bewitching beauty which drove human male persons mad with desire, but, as Lafferty comments, who can tell which was the more beautiful in Puka terms?) . It can be noted that many potatoes, such as Socrates, were famously unbeautiful while others were far more charismatic than their mere outer appearance warranted (Cleopatra). Potatoes are judged more by the aura they exude than by their bodies. In fact, their bodies can scarcely be perceived, and human persons are often surprised at photos of potatoes they have (been lucky enough to have) known. They comment, “That doesn’t look like you at all.” Well, photographic equipment rarely captures auras, although you see it at times. You can see some of the aura of Vaslav Nijinksi in the very brief extant clip from his dance, L’aprés-midi d’un faune.(contrary to common wisdom, I believe this image has been preserved at least once, but only forty-five seconds or so.) And I have some stills that clearly show sentience on a person’s face. It might be that Houdon captured it on his ‘Voltaire’.
Sentience is not an all or nothing proposition. There exists every shade and grade. Some of those most uncomfortable with their heritage are those who are potato enough to feel alien to ‘normalcy’, but cabbage enough to need a prefabricated reality.
There are also subgroups who do not fit squarely into the mainstream (The Theater group; scifi fan groups; artists and…..????) That in itself does not make them potato groups. Theater people have, through their profession (or avocation) an opportunity to apprehend Outer Theater. Other groups have their own advantages. But the critical factor is simply the awareness, not just the alienness, the geekiness, the rejection of the common reality. If you are a potato, these groups can offer hope, but not deliver fulfillment, unless you find a potato subset within them. Be wary.
The natural employment of potatoes is governance and creation of art, especially writing. But they can turn their talents to anything from science, technology, and medicine to banking and real estate (or dishwashing at the local family restaurant) …. or world conquering.
Little Willy – The Wreckville Crew
Sandman in a conversation with Jon, speaking about Saragossa and Sentience.
I was, for a brief time, suffused with hope given to me by Lafferty in his reference to the Wreckville crew in Aloys.
(Herebelow in the voice of Sandman.)
I mentioned to you that phrase I found in Saragossa’s mind — ‘Those that wait.’ For a long time Saragossa had the idea they were a group, culling the best of the sentients, guiding them, cultivating them. But he never had any evidence. I think he first ‘found’ Raphael Aloysius Lafferty in 1961, when his short story ‘Aloys’ appeared in Galaxy. Saragossa was immensely excited for months and spent some time getting close to Lafferty without revealing his presence. The story, in short, laid forth the thesis that this culling was indeed being done by a group, called the Wreckville bunch, acting through the person of Willy McGilly, and they had brought in an eccentric lost-soul genius named Aloys, being, of course, a conceit for R. Aloysius Lafferty himself. The last lines of the story read,
“For when a man (however unlikely a man) shows real talent, then the Wreckville bunch have to recruit him. They cannot have uncontrolled talent running loose in the commonality of mankind.” This seemed the promise of potato gardeners tracking down potatoes astray in the cabbage patch, and bringing them into their own fold.
Nothing came of Saragossa’s investigations but he never ceased watching Lafferty or looking for the real life Willy McGilly. Saragossa had to wait for further stories to get a few brief glimpses of Willy, but he was the very essence of irreverent liberation, a joyful, playful awareness totally outside the bondage of cabbage-ness. Then in 1972 “Little Willy” by the British group The Sweet hit the airwaves. Sometimes I have thought Saragossa reads too much into too little, but even I agreed that Little Willy was surely Willy McGilly when he was an adolescent.
Willy sends them silly with his star-shine shimmy shuffle smile
Mama done chase Willy down through the hall
But laugh, Willy laugh, he don’t care at all”
“North side , east side
Little Willy, Willy wears the crown, he’s the king around town”
Compare with Lafferty’s, “Here [read: Wreckville, a mysterious quarter in New York City] Willy McGilly was king.”
Star shine shimmy laughter at the commonality of mankind – that’s Willy. So Saragossa had to go investigate the authors of the lyrics, Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman. The maddening thing is that so much remains ambiguous. There is never a clear yes, but always hints and clues. Well, never meeting Little Willy has always been one of the great disappointments of my life. And Those That Wait and the Wreckville bunch remain nothing more than phrases.
Why doesn’t Saragossa himself hunt down potatoes?
He does, of course, to some extent, but only as they are directly of aid to him in his perceived task – that of neutralizing Dracula. This means finding magicians. But magick is usually found embedded in sentience, so the tasks overlap. But even so, Saragossa’s recruiting is very, very limited. He strictly avoids what he calls ‘sticky karma’. Each person you interact with in effect attaches a string to you, a string of responsibility. [Compare with Billy Joel’s, “You take a piece of whatever you touch. Too many pieces means you’re touching too much” from The Great Wall of China song.] Enough strings can bind even a Gulliver, limiting mobility almost to ineffectuality. If you only interact with people you have karma with, then the strings pull you along your path, not binding but releasing. The image is that of a man walking through a forest, leaving no footprint, no broken branch, no evidence of his passage. But if you go far enough down that path, it seems to me, for all the good you’ve done humanity, you might as well not have existed. You are a hermit in a cave concerned only with your own spiritual progress. This is not Saragossa, of course, though he has lived in a cave. His inaction is like a silent, passive black hole, drawing all things into his ambit. But I haven’t that subtlety. When I act, I feel sticky. When I don’t act, I feel useless and selfish.
[The author’s voice, speaking to Jon.]
So your search for the Wreckville Crew came to nothing, as did mine. If it exists, I can find nothing of it and it finds nothing of me, or makes nothing of me. But I will that it cease to not exist. I proclaim it. Let it be a quest for the Knights of the Round Table, for they were constituted by Merlin himself, great among Potatoes, milestone in the lineage of Saragossa. It can be found. Such folks as read these words and the sacred writings and know themselves to be potatoes, they who understand the references and recognize themselves, can, if they so choose, find the Wreckville Crew. There are issues of humility and pride here (too humble to think oneself ‘above’ the cabbages, and too proud to petition recognition by the Wreckville Crew.) Set this aside. It is not a question of being ‘above.’ It is a question of being what you are. And it is not a question of petitioning recognition. It is a question of hunting down long lost (well, as of yet unmet) relatives who long for you as much as you could possibly long for them.
This is a special net I’ll weave to fish these special fishes. Or, if some potato out there weaves a net, I will try my best to get caught in it. I hope you swim into mine. So far, we are few, but fine. Come enjoy our warm company.
(Jon speaking to Saragossa.)
My idea is to write a book or short story with a Sentient hero. It should be enough of an adventure to give a good read for cabbages, but present potatoness clearly enough that other potatoes will recognize themselves. It is a kind of net that will only catch special fish – sentient fish.
Hasn’t that already been done? Isn’t that what we have in the canonical writings?
Sure, but I’ll take it one step further. I’ll leave a trail of clues so that the potatoes can actually find me. If they have the awareness to recognize me as their like, and the ambition to track me down, we’ll meet.
And then what? You realize that the only commonality potatoes all have is that they don’t share the common reality. Each potato is like a world unto himself with a unique world view. They might not like you or your world view. They might even be evil potatoes – wolves not shepherds.
I know you too well to think you’re suggesting I avoid this project out of fear, or fear of failure.
I was just thinking of an experiment I made long ago. I once hosted a potato party, bringing together thirteen of us, most of them strangers to each other. It was an amazing evening. There was no doubt that something unusual was happening, lightning fell, but there was also no synergy at all. Everybody was too different for anything to coalesce. It doesn’t mean it cannot. That is, of course, exactly what our cabal – the Family – is. [Or Lafferty’s false octopus.] But I spent decades following connectives to bring that together, and then it didn’t cohere because your mother never stopped mourning the loss of the Jon she had known, and didn’t feel comfortable thrown into intimacy with the new Jon. Each potato has his own reality, and the only thing they have in common is that it is not the common reality of cabbages.
I won’t try to force any coherence. Just meet whoever does take the initiative to follow the clues, and let the rest happen as it will.
What would be the ideal result of this effort? What keeps it from being an exercise in sticky karma? I could warn you at this point about certain scifi fans, many of whom are outsiders but not potatoes. One senses their alienness, but that doesn’t make them your brothers.
So many potatoes grow up isolated from their kind, surrounded by sheep and the common reality, lost in the earth disease [v. Reefs of Earth]. It might help them immensely just being able to talk to somebody else who doesn’t swallow the standard model. Anyway, ideally, some might want to practice our natural profession – governance. I would love to guide, and finance, them through a selection of courses leading into political life, but with a qualitatively different understanding of human societal interaction, and a clear vision of the real goal. Humans are in desperate need of competent, benevolent, visionary leadership that understands that the ultimate goal of human culture is to attain godhood, either on the individual level or on the societal level.
The potato leaders need to understand about connectives and karma, science and magic, charisma and tyrants.
The material below is simply lifted, almost whole cloth, from the book, Saragossa – the Vampire Legacy. I have merely removed the werwolves, vampires and human characters.
Simplex, complex, multiplex and field are ways of perceiving the world – reality. The first three terms are found in a book by Samuel Delaney. Simplex means having a single way of looking at reality. Actually, it’s not reality, but the shared illusion we call reality. It’s like speaking only one language, or knowing only one culture – you’re bound within the precepts of that culture, no matter how insane, but that’s far easier than being true to your own vision. Few things are more difficult than being different. Believing in a reality is like carrying a tree – if you have fifty people to help you, it’s easier, but you can only go where the majority decides. If you want to walk your own path, you’ve got to lug the tree by yourself.
A complex mind has two or more viewpoints, but only accesses one at a time. Such a person might be multi-cultural, but when he’s in one culture, he’s bound by that culture’s thought paths. Or perhaps he’s built his own world view for when he’s by himself.
Multiplex is like complex, except the person can hold two or more world views in his mind at once – he’s not bound in either. He has the strength to see his culture’s reality and, at the same time, his own divergent one.
I think Delaney’s example was an analogue of looking through a fence whose slats each have a small gap between them. A simplex mind, looking through one gap, sees a limited slice of the world beyond the fence and from only one angle. A complex mind can look through one gap, then move on and look through another and perhaps others. He can see more than one view, yet only one view at a time. A multiplex mind is like the person riding by in a car, forming an image like a stroboscope putting together hundreds of gap-views into a larger picture.
Field is simply the next step. Field is meant mathematically – a three dimensional space with no missing points. In the fence analogy all the slats are gone. The field mind views reality from all perspectives simultaneously. Or rather, the reality it sees has infinite perspectives.
Let’s take a concrete example, say….a shoe. How does a field mind see it as anything but a shoe?
Well, we see it as a shoe because that’s the function we’re used to. But if I whack the heel against the floor, it becomes a hammer. And if I put it under my head, it’s a pillow. The key is that it’s none of these things. In fact shoe, hammer and pillow are not things at all; they don’t exist. They’re merely concepts. It’s the human mind which stuffs concrete things into the shoe concept, or hammer or pillow concept, because it functions or accords to those concepts. But it’s not those concepts. It’s only itself – a piece of chaos.
How can it be chaos if it holds still?.
Chaos has nothing to do with holding still or moving, because those are concepts also. It’s the human mind that imposes a façade of order – it’s useful to do so. But we’re not discovering laws of the universe – the universe guarantees nothing – we’re only building a model and pretending it’s the universe. There is an infinitude of models and we easily confuse them with reality.
To the field mind, the shoe, is a shoe, hammer, pillow and everything else, but not equally. It’s a shoe to the extent that it functions as a shoe, or any concept to the extent that it functions as that concept. But at the same time the field mind knows it’s nothing but chaos.
Imagine a pure white piece of paper. If I ask a simplex mind what’s drawn on it, he’ll answer ‘nothing.’ Then I draw a square in black ink. Now the simplex mind says, ‘There’s a square on the paper.’ Then I draw another figure, then another figure, then another. Finally I draw so many figures that the white paper is completely covered over with black. Once again the simplex mind would be tempted to say that nothing is drawn on the paper – it’s simply a black sheet of paper.
But what happened to the square we drew earlier? It’s still there, as are all the other figures I drew, as are all other possible figures I could have drawn. Any black figure you choose is already present in a black piece of paper. Put your pen to the page and draw anything – you’ll find each spot you touch is already black and therefore already drawn in.
The field mind sees them all inherent in the black or the white and therefore sees that ‘all’ is the same as ‘none’ – total structuring is the same as total chaos. The same is true for each step between black and white. In short, the only order that’s present is order our minds ascribe to it. You begin by seeing one perspective and then see two, then infinitely many, realizing that that’s the same as seeing no perspectives at all and therefore all is chaos.
Growth is the process of moving deeper into the ocean of chaos, but never wading out to where you’re above your head. Madness is not mental chaos, we all experience that – it’s not being able to handle the chaos we experience.
[Echo “Stay sane inside insanity,” from Rocky Horror Picture Show.]
When we are face to face with chaos, then all that we know, all that our mind rests upon – laws and science, moral percepts, reason, rationale, the opinions of friends – all will be swept away in the torrent. Nothing will sustain us, except our mind’s ability to stand in chaos – its will to be . The word ‘because’ will cease to exist. You cannot say, “I do this because it is the law; because science says it is the best choice, because my church so teaches, because it seemed the rational thing to do, because my friends all did it.” You simply do because it is your will to so do, and praise and responsibility fall on your shoulders alone.
For another example let us lay six dots out in two rows, ::: , of three coins each. What do we see? A simplex answer would be two rows of three coins each. Or we could change our view and say there are three columns of two coins each, which would be a complex answer. Or we could be multiplex and say we see both the columns and the rows at the same time. But what’s field?
Field is seeing the columns and rows, and a small part of a pattern of diagonals, three dimensional constructs, overlapping circles and infinite others. But we only need to focus on the useful patterns. And that depends on the situation. It’s useful because we are not locked into first impressions. We see patterns other mind sets don’t, including the chaos, but we don’t have to get lost in the chaos. It’s an exercise in strength. You pick out the useful patterns and hold to them through sheer will.
To tack back to the opening paragraph of this monograph:
Transhumanists are most certainly pushing in the right direction. They are, for the most part, cabbages with aspirations of growth – this is a wonderful thing, but which, of course, results in a mechanist application of the ideas of growth. (Add another video camera to the brain; add more memory; add learning modules.) Even the use of mind-expanding drugs can be mechanistic (‘look at the pretty pictures’). These are great enhancements (I’ll gladly sign up), but the fundamental issue, as I see it, is how to enhance Sentience. This is not a task for the cabbage transhumanists – it is not their responsibility. It is ours; it is mine. Come on ‘we’ and ‘I’. The time, it is arriving. Let each do his part according to the talents allotted him.
Copyright 2012 by Maurice Tuck
Use only with permission of the copyright holder.