What Makes Humans Human?

Little, today, is as it was.

Anatomically modern humans have existed for about 200,000 years, but only since the end of the eighteenth century has artificial lighting been widely used. Gas lamps were introduced in European cities about that time, and electric lights came into use only in the twentieth century.

In other words, for most of human history, when night fell, it fell hard. Things got really, really dark,

and people gathered under the stars, which they could actually see, in those days before nighttime light pollution,

and under those stars, they told stories.

In EVERY culture around the globe, storytelling, in the form of narrative poetry, existed LONG before the invention of writing. We know this because the earliest manuscripts that we have from every culture record stories that were already ancient when they were finally written down. One of the earliest texts in English is that of the poem Beowulf. It reworks and retells, in a much distorted manner, much, much older stories—ones that predate the emergence of English as a distinct language. Stith Thompson, the great folklorist, did the literary world an enormous favor by compiling a massive index, today known as the Arne-Thompson Index, of motifs of ancient folktales worldwide. Name a story motif—three wishes, talking animals, the grateful dead, cruel stepsisters, golden apples, dragons, the fairy or demon lover, the instrument that plays itself –and you will find that the motif has an ancient pedigree and was already spread about the world long before historical times.

English is a Germanic language. All ancient Germanic societies had official storytellers whose job it was to entertain people in those days before modern entertainments like television and movies and the Internet and drones with laser-guided Hellfire missiles. In ancient Denmark, the storyteller was called a skaald. In Anglo-Saxon England, the storyteller was a scop (pronounced like MnE “shop”). The scop accompanied his stories on the Anglo-Saxon harp, a kind of lyre.

Of course, the telling of stories wasn’t the only entertainment around campfires. In most cultures, people danced and chanted and sang as well, and sometimes stories were told by the dancers or singers or chanters. All this was part of acting out the stories. (Want to know where the Christian devil, with his red body and horns, comes from? Well, in ancient Europe, people worshiped an Earth Mother and her consort, a Lord of the Forest, and they told stories of the hunt. When they acted these out around campfires, they held up to their heads animal horns, or branches in the shape of horns, and that’s how they pictured their Lord of the Forest, as a therianthrope, red from the campfire, with horns. When the Christians spread North across Europe, they made the god of the Old Religion into The Adversary. Grendel’s mother, the monster from the bog in Beowulf, is a demonized version, in a Christian story, of the ancient Anglo-Saxon fertility goddess Nerthus, to whom sacrifices were made by binding people, cutting their throats, and throwing them into a bog. You can see an ancient bas relief of the Lord of the Forest, btw, on the Gundestrup cauldron dating from 150 to 1 BCE. See the accompanying illustration.)

But where does this storytelling urge among humans come from, and why is it universal? Storytelling takes energy. And it doesn’t produce tangible results. It doesn’t mend bones or build houses or plant crops. So, why would it survive and be found among every people on Earth from the earliest times onward?

Contemporary cognitive scientists have learned that storytelling is an essential, built-in part of the human psyche, involved in every aspect of our lives, including our dreams, memories, and beliefs about ourselves and the world. Storytelling turns out to be one of the fundamental ways in which our brains are organized to make sense of our experience. Only in very recent years have we come to understand this. We are ESSENTIALLY storytelling creatures, in the Aristotelian sense of essentially. That is, it’s our storytelling that defines us. If that sounds like an overstatement, attend to what I am about to tell you. It’s amazing, and it may make you rethink a LOT of what you think you know.

At the back of each of your eyes are retinas containing rods and cones. These take in visual information from your environment. In each retina, there is a place where the optic nerve breaks through it. This is the nerve that carries visual signals to your brain. Because of this interruption of the retinas, there is a blind spot in each where NO INFORMATION AT ALL IS AVAILABLE. If what you saw was based on what signals actually hit your retina at a given moment, you would have two big black spots in your field of vision. Instead, you see a continuous visual field. Why? Because your brain automatically fills in the missing information for you, based on what was there when your eye saccaded over it a bit earlier. In other words, your brain makes up a story about what’s there. Spend some time studying optical illusions, and you will learn that this is only one example of many ways in which you don’t see the world as it is but, rather, as the story concocted by your brain says it is.

This sort of filling in of missing pieces also happens with our memories. Scientists have discovered that at any given moment, people attend to at most about seven bits of information from their immediate environment. There’s a well-known limitation of short-term memory to about seven items, give or take two, and that’s why telephone numbers are seven digits long. So, at any given moment, you are attending to only about seven items from, potentially, billions in your environment. When you remember an event, your brain FILLS IN WHAT YOU WERE NOT ATTENDING TO AT THE TIME based on general information you’ve gathered, on its predispositions, and on general beliefs that you have about the world. In short, based on very partial information, your brain makes up and tells you a STORY about that past time, and that is what you “see” in memory in your “mind’s eye.”

So, people tend to have a LOT of false memories because the brain CONFABULATES—it makes up a complete, whole story about what was PROBABLY the case and presents that whole memory to you, with the gaps filled in, for your conscious inspection. In short, memory is very, very, very faulty and is based upon the storytelling functions of the brain!!!! (And what are we except our memories? I am that boy in the Dr. Dentons, in my memory, sitting before the TV with the rabbit ears; I am that teenager in the car at the Drive-in with the girl whom I never thought in a million years would actually go out with me. But I’m getting ahead of myself.)

You can also see this storytelling function of the brain at work in dreaming. Years ago, I had a dream that I was flying into the island of Cuba on a little prop plane. Through the window, I could see the island below the plane. It looked like a big, white sheet cake, floating in an emerald sea. Next to me on the airplane sat a big, red orangutan smoking a cigar.

Weird, huh? So why did I have that dream? Well, in the days preceding the dream I had read a newspaper story about the Fidel Castro, the leader of Cuba, being ill; I had flown on a small prop plane; I had attended a wedding where there was a big, white sheet cake; I had been to the zoo with my grandson, where we saw an orangutan; and I had played golf with some friends, and we had smoked cigars.

The neural circuits in my brain that had recorded these bits and pieces were firing randomly in my sleeping brain, and the part of the brain that does storytelling was working hard, trying to piece these random fragments together into a coherent, unified story. That’s the most plausible current explanation of why most dreams occur. The storytelling parts of the brain are responding to random inputs and tying them together—making sense of this random input by making a plausible story of them. This is akin to the process, pareidolia, that leads people see angels in cloud formations and pictures of Jesus on their toast.

So, those are three important reasons why the brain is set up as a storytelling device. Storytelling allows us to see a complete visual field; creates for us, from incomplete data, coherent memories; and ties together random neural firings in our brains to into the wholes that we call dreams.
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But that’s not all that storytelling does for us. Storytelling about the future allows us to look ahead—for example, to determine what another creature is going to do. We often play scenarios in our minds that involve possible futures. What will she say if I ask her to the prom? What will the boss say if I ask for a raise? How will that go down? In other words, storytelling provides us with a THEORY OF MIND for predicting others’ behavior.

Stories also help people to connect to one another. When we tell others a story, we literally attune to them. We actually get “on the same wavelengths.” Uri Hasson, a neuroscientist at Princeton, recorded the brainwaves of people during rest and while listening to a story. During rest, their waves were all over the place. While listening to the same story, even at different times and places, those people had brainwaves that were in synch.

Storytelling also provides a mechanism for exploring and attempting to understand others generally. Our basic situation in life is that your mind is over there and mine is over here. We’re different, and we have to try to figure each other out—to have a theory of other people’s minds. By telling myself a story about you, I can attempt to bridge that ontological gap. Unfortunately, the stories we tell ourselves about others tend to be fairly unidimensional. You are simply this or that. I, on the other hand, am an international man of mystery. This is a tendency we need to guard against.

We also tell stories in order to influence others’ behavior–to get them to adopt the story we’re telling as their own. This is how advertising works, for example. The advertiser gets you to believe a story about how you will be sexier or smarter or prettier or more successful or of higher status if you just buy the product with the new, fresh lemony scent. And it’s not just advertisers who do this. Donald Trump sold working class Americans a fiction about how he could strike deals that would make America great again because he was such a great businessman, one who started with nothing and made billions. The coach tells a story in which her team envisions itself as the winners of the Big Game. The woo-er tells the woo-ee the story of the great life they will have together (“Come live with me and be my love/And we shall all the pleasures prove”). And so on. Successful cult leaders, coaches, lovers, entrepreneurs, attorneys, politicians, religious leaders, marketers, etc., all share this is common: they know that persuasion is storytelling. The best of them also understand that the most successful stories, in the long run, are ones that are true, even if they are fictional.

When we tell stories, we spin possible futures—we try things on, hypothetically. And that helps us to develop ideas about who we want to be and what we want to do. Gee, if I travel down that road, I may end up in this better place.

And that observation leads to one final, supremely important function of storytelling: Who you are—your very SELF—is a story that you tell yourself about yourself and your history and your relations to others—a story with you as the main character. The stories you tell yourself about yourself become the person you are. The word person, by the way, comes from the Latin persona, for a mask worn by an actor in the Roman theatre.

So, our very idea of ourselves, of our own personal identity, is dependent upon this storytelling capacity of the human brain, which takes place, for the most part, automatically. There is even a new form of psychotherapy called cognitive narrative therapy that is all about teaching people to tell themselves more life-enhancing, affirmative stories about themselves, about who they are.

Telling yourself the right kinds of stories about yourself and others can unlock your creative potential, improve your relationships, and help you to self create—to be the person you want to be.

So, to recapitulate, storytelling . . .

helps us to fill in the gaps so that we have coherent memories,

ties together random firings in the brain into coherent dreams,

enables us to sort and make sense of past experience,

gives us theories of what others think and how they will behave,

enables us to influence others’ behavior,

enables us to try on various futures, and

helps us to form a personal identity, a sense of who were are.

Kinda important, all that!

Storytelling, in fact, is key to being human. It’s our defining characteristic. It’s deeply embedded in our brains. It runs through every aspect of our lives. It makes us who we are.

It’s no wonder then, that people throughout history have told stories. People are made to construct stories—plausible and engaging accounts of things—the way a stapler is made to staple and a hammer is made to hammer. We are Homo relator, man the storyteller.

(BTW, the root *man, meaning “human being” in general, without a specific gender reference, is ancient. It goes all the way back to Proto-Indo-European, but there’s still good reason, today, to seek out gender-neutral alternatives, when possible, of course.)

Copyright 2015. Robert D. Shepherd. All rights reserved.

Art: Detail from the Gundestrup Cauldron. Nationalmuseet [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)]

 

For more pieces by Bob Shepherd on the topic of Education “Reform,” go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/ed-reform/

For more pieces on the teaching of literature and writing, go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/teaching-literature-and-writing/

Posted in Short Stories, Teaching Literature and Writing, Uncategorized | 17 Comments

It’s about Time (a Catena)

creation-web-version

  

A brief tour of fascinating (and lunatic) notions that philosophers (and a few poets) have had about time. 

The Mystery of Time

“What then is time? If no one asks me, I know; if I wish to explain it to one who asks, I know not.”

–St. Augustine (345–430 CE), Confessions

PART 1: What Is Time? Types of Time

Albert_Einstein_at_the_age_of_three_(1882)Absolute or Scientific Newtonian Time

“Absolute, true and mathematical time, of itself, and from its own nature flows equably without regard to anything external, and by another name is called duration.”

–Sir Isaac Newton (1643–1727), Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy)

The Specious (Nonexistent) Present

“The relation of experience to time has not been profoundly studied. Its objects are given as being of the present, but the part of time referred to by the datum is a very different thing from the conterminous of the past and future which philosophy denotes by the name Present. The present to which the datum refers is really a part of the past — a recent past — delusively given as being a time that intervenes between the past and the future. Let it be named the specious present, and let the past, that is given as being the past, be known as the obvious past. [Each of] all the notes of a bar of a song seem to the listener to be contained in the [specious] present. [Each of] all the changes of place of a meteor seem to the beholder to be contained in the [specious] present. At the instant of the termination of [each element in] such series, no part of the time measured by them seems to be [an obvious] past. Time, then, considered relatively to human apprehension, consists of four parts, viz., the obvious past, the specious present, the real present, and the future. Omitting the specious present, it consists of three . . . nonentities — the [obvious] past, which does not [really] exist, the future, which does not [yet] exist, and their conterminous, the [specious] present; the faculty from which it proceeds lies to us in the fiction of the specious present.”

–E. Robert Kelley, from The Alternative, a Study in Psychology (1882). Kelley’s concept of the specious present has been extremely influential in both Continental and Anglo-American philosophy despite the fact that Kelley was not a professional philosopher.

Albert_Einstein_as_a_childSubjective Time

“Oh, yeah. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. I never finished it, though I did spent about a year with it one evening.”

Experienced Time: The “Wide” Present

“In short, the practically cognized present is no knife-edge, but a saddle-back, with a certain breadth of its own on which we sit perched, and from which we look in two directions into time. The unit of composition of our perception of time is a duration, with a bow and a stern, as it were—a rearward- and a forward-looking end. It is only as parts of this duration-block that the relation or succession of one end to the other is perceived. We do not first feel one end and then feel the other after it, and forming the perception of the succession infer an interval of time between, but we seem to feel the interval of time as a whole, with its two ends embedded in it.”

–William James, “The Perception of Time,” from The Principles of Psychology, Book I

459px-Einstein_patentofficeA, B, and C Series Time (Three Ways of Looking at Time)

  • The A Series: Time as Past, Present, and Future
  • The B Series: Time as Earlier, Simultaneous, and Later
  • The C Series: Time as an Ordered Relation of Events (with the direction being irrelevant)

Influential distinctions made by John Ellis McTaggart in “The Unreality of Time.” Mind 17 (1908): 456-476. The three types are much discussed by philosophers in the Anglo-American analytic tradition.

See also The Unreality of Time 2: Block Time, below

PART 2: Does Time Exist?

No, It Doesn’t: Change Is a Self-Contradictory Idea

“For this view can never predominate, that that which IS NOT exists. You must debar your thought from this way of search. . . .There is only one other description of the way remaining, namely, that what IS, is. To this way there are very many signposts: that Being has no coming-into-being . . . . Nor shall I allow you to speak or think of it as springing from not-being; for it is neither expressive nor thinkable that what-is-not is. . . . How could Being perish? How could it come into being? If it came into being, it is not; and so too if it is about-to-be at some future time. . . .For nothing else either is or shall be except Being, since Fate has tied it down to be a whole and motionless; therefore all things that mortals have established, believing in their truth, are just a name: Becoming and Perishing, Being and Not-Being, and Change of position, and alteration of bright color.”

–Parmenides of Elea (c. 475 BCE), fragment from The Way of Truth, in Ancilla to the PreSocratic Philosophers, ed. Kathleen Freeman

Albert_Einstein_(Nobel)“Does the arrow move when the archer shoots it at the target? If there is a reality of space, the arrow must at all times occupy a particular position in space on its way to the target. But for an arrow to occupy a position in space that is equal to its length is precisely what is meant when one says that the arrow is at rest. Since the arrow must always occupy such a position on its trajectory which is equal to its length, the arrow must be always at rest. Therefore, motion is an illusion.”

–Zeno of Elea (c. 450 BCE), fragment from Epicheriemata (Attacks), in Ancilla to the PreSocratic Philosophers, ed. Kathleen Freeman

“One part of time has been [the past] and is not, while the other is going to be and is not yet [the future]. Yet time, both infinite time and any time you care to take, is made up of these. One would naturally suppose that what is made up of things which do not exist could have no share in reality.”

–Aristotle (384–322 BCE), Physics, IV, 10–14. 217b-244a.

462px-Einstein-formal_portrait-35Yes, It Does: Change Is the Fundamental Reality of Our Lives

“It is not possible to step twice into the same river.”

–Heraclitus, (c. 475 BCE), fragment from unnamed book, in Ancilla to the PreSocratic Philosophers, ed. Kathleen Freeman

[Heraclitus seems to have held this fact to be one of many indications of the essential unworthiness/irredeemability of this life; the other fragments of his writings that have survived suggest that Heraclitus was a kind of 5th century fundamentalist preacher, upset about the moral decay around him, who viewed the world as synonymous with decay, and who wanted to point his readers, instead, toward the eternal Logos. Plato inherited this view; the Christian church inherited Plato’s. Such contemptu mundi (contempt for the world) is often, in that tradition, expressed as contempt for that which exists “in time” and is not eternal.]

“Time is nature’s way of keeping everything from happening at once.”

–Woody Allen (1935–      )

Albert_Einstein_Head

No, It Doesn’t: Time is an Illusion Due to Vantage Point in an Eternal Space Time (the “Block Time” Hypothesis):

“Now Besso has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing, for we physicists believe the separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one.”

–Albert Einstein (1879­–1955), in a letter written to the family of Michele Besso, on Besso’s death

“All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I’ve said before, bugs in amber.”

462px-Einstein-formal_portrait-35–Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1922–2007), who is in heaven now, Slaughterhouse Five

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.

–T.S. Eliot (1888–1965), “Burt Norton,” from Four Quartets

No, It Doesn’t: The Now as Consequence of the Blindness of the Brain to Its Own Processing of Temporal Data (the “Blind Brain” Hypothesis)

“Nothing, I think, illustrates this forced magic quite like the experiential present, the Now. Recall what we discussed earlier regarding the visual field. Although it’s true that you can never explicitly ‘see the limits of seeing’–no matter how fast you move your head–those limits are nonetheless a central structural feature of seeing. The way your visual field simply ‘runs out’ without edge or demarcation is implicit in all seeing–and, I suspect, without the benefit of any ‘visual run off’ circuits. Your field of vision simply hangs in a kind of blindness you cannot see.

“This, the Blind Brain Hypothesis suggests, is what the now is: a temporal analogue to the edgelessness of vision, an implicit structural artifact of the way our ‘temporal field’–what James called the ‘specious present’–hangs in a kind temporal hyper-blindness. Time passes in experience, sure, but thanks to the information horizon of the thalamocortical system, experience itself stands still, and with nary a neural circuit to send a Christmas card to. There is time in experience, but no time of experience. The same way seeing relies on secondary systems to stitch our keyhole glimpses into a visual world, timing relies on things like narrative and long term memory to situate our present within a greater temporal context.

“Given the Blind Brain Hypothesis, you would expect the thalamocortical system to track time against a background of temporal oblivion. You would expect something like the Now. Perhaps this is why, no matter where we find ourselves on the line of history, we always stand at the beginning. Thus the paradoxical structure of sayings like, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” We’re not simply running on hamster wheels, we are hamster wheels, traveling lifetimes without moving at all.

“Which is to say that the Blind Brain Hypothesis offers possible theoretical purchase on the apparent absurdity of conscious existence, the way a life of differences can be crammed into a singular moment.”

–Scott Bakker, “The End of the World As We Knew It: Neuroscience and the Semantic Apocalypse”

PART 3: What Contemplation of Time Teaches Us about Living

Carpe Diem

“Such,” he said, “O King, seems to me the present life of men on Earth, in comparison with that time which to us is uncertain, as if when on a winter’s night, you sit feasting . . . and a simple sparrow should fly into the hall, and coming in at one door, instantly fly out through another. In that time in which it is indoors it is indeed not touched by the fury of winter; but yet, this smallest space of calmness being passed almost in a flash, from winter going into winter again, it is lost to our eyes.

“Something like this appears the life of man, but of what follows or what went before, we are utterly ignorant.”

–The Venerable Bede (c. 672–735), Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Book II

Albert_Einstein_(Nobel)

“Seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the future.”

–Horace (65–8 BCE), Odes 1.11

Oh, come with old Khayyam, and leave the Wise
To talk; one thing is certain, that Life flies;
One thing is certain, and the Rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.

Omar Khayyám (1048–1131), “Rubiyat,” trans. Edward FitzGerald

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may
Old time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.

–Robert Herrick (1591–1674), “To the Virgins, to Make Use of Time”

459px-Einstein_patentofficeBut at my back I alwaies hear
Times winged Charriot hurrying near:
And yonder all before us lye
Desarts of vast Eternity.
Thy Beauty shall no more be found;
Nor, in thy marble Vault, shall sound
My ecchoing Song: then Worms shall try
That long preserv’d Virginity:
And your quaint Honour turn to durst;
And into ashes all my Lust.
The Grave’s a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.
Now therefore, while the youthful hew
Sits on thy skin like morning glew,
And while thy willing Soul transpires
At every pore with instant Fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like am’rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our Time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapt pow’r.
Let us roll all our Strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one Ball:
And tear our Pleasures with rough strife,
Thorough the Iron gates of Life.
Thus, though we cannot make our Sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

–Andrew Marvell (1621–1678), “To His Coy Mistress”

“Get it while you can.
Don’t you turn your back on love.”

–The American philosopher Janis Joplin (1943–1970)

Albert_Einstein_as_a_childGive Up/It’s All Futile Anyway

“A man finds himself, to his great astonishment, suddenly existing, after thousands of years of nonexistence: he lives for a little while; and then, again, comes an equally long period when he must exist no more. The heart rebels against this, and feels that it cannot be true.

“Of every event in our life we can say only for one moment that it is; for ever after, that it was. Every evening we are poorer by a day. It might, perhaps, make us mad to see how rapidly our short span of time ebbs away; if it were not that in the furthest depths of our being we are secretly conscious of our share in the exhaustible spring of eternity, so that we can always hope to find life in it again.

“Consideration of the kind, touched on above, might, indeed, lead us to embrace the belief that the greatest wisdom is to make the enjoyment of the present the supreme object of life; because that is the only reality, all else being merely the play of thought. On the other hand, such a course might just as well be called the greatest folly: for that which in the next moment exists no more, and vanishes utterly, like a dream, can never be worth a serious effort.”

–The ever-cheerful Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860), “The Vanity of Existence,” from Studies in Pessimism

Three Phenomenologist/Existentialist Views of Time

NB: the following are NOT quotations. I’ve summarized material that appears in much longer works. You’re welcome. I have included Husserl in this section, even though his work is just an attempted explanation of time, because the other two philosophers treated here are reacting to Husserl’s ideas.

Albert_Einstein_at_the_age_of_three_(1882)Husserl (very bright dude, this one): All our ideas about time spring from our conscious experience of the present. That experience is characterized by being intentional, by being toward something. We typically recognize three kinds of time: 1. scientific, objective, Newtonian time, which we think of as being independent of ourselves and as independently verifiable; 2. subjective time, in which events seem to move slower or faster; and 3. phenomenological or intentional time, which is the fundamental experience on which the other concepts of time are based, from which the other concepts derive because the phenomenological present includes not only awareness of present phenomena (the present), but retention (awareness of that which is not present because it no longer is—the past), and protention (awareness of that which is not present because it is about to be). The present is intentionality toward phenomena before us here, now. The past is present intentionality toward phenomena that are not present but are with us and so must be past (that’s where the definition of past comes from). The future is present intentionality toward phenomena that also are present but are not with us (as the past is) and so must be the future, which will be (that’s where the definition of future comes from). Therefore, in their origins in our phenomenological experiences, the future and the past are parts of the present, conceptual phenomena held in the present, alongside actual phenomena, as phenomena no longer present and not yet present.

Albert_Einstein_as_a_childHeidegger: Husserl had it all wrong. It’s the future, not the present, that is fundamental. We are future-oriented temporalities by nature, essentially so. Our particular type of being, Dasein, or being-there, is characterized by having care (about its projects, its current conditions, about other beings)—about matters as they relate to those projects. Our being is characterized by understanding, thrownness, and fallenness. Understanding, is the most fundamental of the three. It is projection toward the future, comportment toward the possibilities that present themselves, potentiality for being. Our understanding seizes upon projects, projecting itself on various possibilities. In its thrownness, Dasein always finds itself in a certain spiritual and material, historically conditioned environment that limits the space of those possibilities. As fallenness, Dasein finds itself among other beings, some of which are also Dasein and some of which (e.g., rocks) are not Dasein, and it has, generally respectively, “being-with” them or “being alongside” them, and these help to define what possibilities there are.  “Our sort of being (Dasein) is being for which being is an issue.” Why is it an issue? Well, we are finite. We know that we are going to die. This is the undercurrent that informs our essential being, which is care, concern. We are projections toward the future because undertaking these projects is an attempt, however quixotic, to distract ourselves from or even to cheat death. We care about our projects because, at some level, we care about not dying, having this projection toward the future for which we are living.

459px-Einstein_patentofficeSartre: The world is divided into two kinds of being: being-for-itself (the kind of being that you and I have) and being-in-itself (the kind of being that a rock or a refrigerator has). Let’s think a bit about our kind of being. Take away your perceptions, your body, your thoughts. Strip everything away, and you still have pure being, the being of the being-for-itself, but it is a being that is also nothing. (The Buddha thought this, too). Being-for-itself has intentional objects, but itself is no object (there’s no there there) and so is nothing, a nothingness. Time is like being in that respect. It consists entirely of the past (which doesn’t exist) and the future (which doesn’t exist) and the present (which is infinitesimally small and so doesn’t exist). So time, like being, is a nothingness. This being-for-itself is not just nothingness, however; it has some other bizarre, contradictory characteristics: Its being, though nothing, allows a world to be manifest (how this is so is unclear), a world that includes all this stuff, including others, for example, who want to objectify the being-for-itself, to make it into a something, a thing, a being-in-itself, like a rock. (“Oh, I know you. I’m wise to you. You’re . . . .” whatever.) The being-for-itself also has a present past (in Husserl’s sense) and is subject to certain conditions of material construction (the body) and material conditions (in an environment of things), and all these givens—the body, the environment, one’s own past, and other people seen from the outside in their thinginess—make up the being-for-itself’s facticity. The being-for-itself wants to be SOMETHING, and so lies to itself. It acts in bad faith, playing various roles (playing at being a waiter, for example) and creating for itself an ego (via self-deceptive, magical thinking). But in fact, being in reality nothing, being-for-itself (each of us) knows that that’s all a lie. We transcend our facticity and can be anything whatsoever, act in any way whatsoever. In other words, we are absolutely free and therefore absolutely responsible. This responsibility is absurd, because there is no reason for being/doing any particular thing. “Man is a meaningless passion.” But the absolute freedom that derives from our essential nothingness also allows for action to be truly authentic (as opposed to the play-acting) in addition to being responsible. Only in death does the being-for-itself succeed in becoming a being-in-itself, a completed thing, and then only if and in the manner in which he or she is remembered by others. A person who is not remembered never existed. Death is a time stamp or, if we are not remembered, an expiration date.

Albert_Einstein_(Nobel)The Eternal Return and the Weight of Being

“341. The Greatest Weight. What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence—even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!’

“Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: “You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.” If this thought gained possession of you, it would change you as you are or perhaps crush you. The question in each and every thing, “Do you desire this once more and innumerable times more?” would lie upon your actions as the greatest weight. Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?”

–Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), The Gay Science

462px-Einstein-formal_portrait-35The Fleeting One-Offness of Everything and the Resulting Unbearable Lightness of Being

“But Nietzsche’s demon is, of course, wrong. There is no eternal return. Where does that leave us? Isn’t life ALWAYS a matter of I should have’s and I would have’s and if I had only knowns? “[W]hat happens but once, might as well not have happened at all. If we have only one life to live, we might as well not have lived at all. . . .

“The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man’s body. The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?”

–Milan Kundera (1929­–     ), contra Nietzsche, from The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Albert_Einstein_HeadCopyright 2010, Robert D. Shepherd. All rights reserved.

Posted in Existentialism, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Philosophy of Mind, Time | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

A Question of Character

In 2001, Donald Trump changed his party affiliation to Democratic. In 2009, he changed it to Republican. In 2011, he changed it to Independent. In 2012, he changed it back to Republican. Between 1989 and 2015, he made $694,750 in contributions to Democratic candidates, including Charlie Rangel, Chuck Schumer, Hillary Clinton, Harry Reid, John Kerry, Anthony Weiner, and Joe Biden. His largest contributions to any Republican running at the federal level were $10,600 to John McCain. Prior to 2011, he gave more to Democrats than he did to Republicans, and he never gave much, given his net worth. He is whatever the exact opposite of a generous spirit is. He BRAGGED to an interviewer that he gave some money, on both sides of the aisle, hoping to buy influence.

Trump, of course, is a racist and a con man who suffers from the pathology known as Malignant Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The man (using the term loosely) who took out a full-page ad in the New York Times calling for the execution of the Central Park 5 (proved by DNA evidence to be innocent), was horrified at the election of Barack Obama and became the leading proponent of the utterly unfounded, wacko birtherism conspiracy theory about our first African-American president. Having so committed himself on that extreme side of the aisle, this serial grifter with no actual principles or beliefs except his love of self, lust for money by any criminal means, hatred of perceived enemies, racism, sexism, and utter contempt for anyone not rich, saw an opportunity to feed his desperate need for adulation when Bannon, Sessions, and Miller, noting his birtherism, approached him to run for President and carry their white supremacist agenda forward.

So, he promptly threw over his previously often expressed views—support for women’s right to choose, an opposition to guns and hunting—and made himself over (with lots of coaching) as an UberRepublican Nationalist. In a different world, he could have ended up running as a Democrat, for he has no actual values, Democratic or Republican, and could have gone in any direction that he thought the wind was blowing. In private, he ridicules the folks who support him, expressing, often, his contempt for Evangelical Christians, for example. And because he has no editor, no filter, his private contempt sometimes spills over in public, as when he makes nasty comments about the venues he is speaking at (Erie, Dalton), tells his mostly poor, working class audiences that he likes rich people, says that he really likes uneducated people (because they vote for him), says that the yokels in his base would vote for him if he committed murder in broad daylight, and passes a tax cut and then goes to Mar-a-Lago and tells his rich pals at dinner that he just gave them a big Christmas present. So, not a Christian. Not an actual populist champion of the working class.

And the man who evaded the draft, called our fallen soldiers “losers,” ridiculed John McCain for being captured and held prisoner, sold out to Putin, and incited insurrection against the government of the United States is no American patriot, however much he hugs flags. Far from it. He traffics in sedition and treason and has done so throughout his term in office.

Trump has one religion and one political affiliation, both of which are Donald Trump (though he also worships Mammon).

Because he cares only about himself, he demands absolute loyalty (loyalty oaths!!!) but has NONE in return. Example: has there ever been a more abjectly kow-towing, toadying sycophant than Mike Pence has been to the Orange Idiot? But look how Trump repays such groveling. Trump loves the groveling but has contempt for the groveler (most of us share this second trait).

Trump’s a completely unprincipled man and capable of ANYTHING, such as traitorously cozying up to dictators; abandoning a) our allies the Kurds, b) the Ukrainians at war with Russia, and c) the freaking Europeans, for heaven’s sake; and fomenting insurrection not once but over and over and over and over again (Don’t let them take our beautiful monuments! BLM is Antifa! Liberate Michigan! Stop the Steal! Fight! You will never take back the country with weakness!). He is utterly amoral. But, ofc, we knew that a long, long time ago:

“I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.”

“If Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her dating her.”

“I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ‘em by the p****y.”

He is a vile, ignorant, lazy, criminal, predatory, treasonous, utterly amoral and unprincipled con man and creep driven solely by greed, vindictiveness, and a need for continual praise.

He has the moral compass of parasitic wasp larvae.

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Why Trump and His Co-Conspirators Must Face Consequences

It’s extremely important that the impeachment and conviction of Trump be carried out. If it isn’t, he will receive, for life, money from the taxpayers of the country that he betrayed, including funds for setting up an office and paying a staff. Should the taxpayers really be providing the funds for Trump to establish an office and pay some slimeball like Stephen “Goebbels” Miller to write Trump’s Mein Kampf? the book to come after Trump’s failed Beer Hall Putsch? Should taxpayers provide the funds for Trump to CONTINUE the crazy, baseless, incitement that led

to the death in Charlottesville (Trump: They want to destroy your monuments, erase our history. They hate America. Good people on both sides.)?

to the murderous attacks on synagogues (Trump: A caravan of rapists and murderers organized by George Soros!),

to the deaths during the anti-BLM confrontations (Trump: BLM is Antifa. They’re Socialists! Take back your country. Liberate Ohio! Liberate Michigan!),

to the deaths at the Capitol (Trump: Stop the steal! Fight! You don’t take back your country with weakness! Patriots, we love you!)?

This is a pattern of dangerous, seditious, criminally treasonous behavior.

Do we, the taxpayers, fund a further forum for this wannabe Fuhrer to use to carry out his parting promise to his ignorant, murderous, white supremacist, insurrectionist mob (Trump: I know you’re disappointed, but this is only the beginning)?

And then there is what comes after all this. The only way to prevent what I am calling The Trumpling Scenario–the emergence of a younger, smarter, more charismatic, more knowledgeable, more articulate, more competent fascist who will assume the Orange mantle; pick up Trump’s moronic and extremely base base; expand that base; assume power; and put in place toadies at the heads of all instruments of state power to end our democratic system of government for good–is to prosecute Trump and the co-inciters of this insurrection, such as Cruz and Hawley, to the fullest extent possible. Impeachment, conviction in the Senate, and then criminal indictment for Trump. Expulsion for Cruz and Hawley, preventing them from ever again holding an office of public trust. Anything short of these responses will be a rubber stamp on the ugly events of January 6 and will embolden those, more competent than Trump ever was, who would destroy democracy.

Some have chosen to look away again and again. See where that got us?

Never again.

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from Field Notes: Jabba idiota orangii

It is sometimes claimed that, as with Yeti or Bigfoot, there is but one Donald Jabba the Trump. Such cannot be the case, however, for how would such species persist across time? While Jabba idiota orangii is a monotypic taxon, the Jabba Donald, infamous worldwide for its peculiar behaviors, is no endling, or terminarch, to use the technical terms for the last representative of a species.

In fact, Jabba Donald has spawned numerous times. The offspring, while bearing some resemblance to their sire (e.g., they lack moral compasses and higher-level cognitive functioning), nonetheless also present a scientific puzzle, for they are missing numerous morphological features distinctive to and definitive of this species, such as the troll-doll blonde hair; the thick profile; the tiny, grasping, groping paws; and the complete cell phone symbiosis.

Jabbas, or at least the one extensively studied by naturalists like me, have yet another means of propagation available to them, for they can parasitically commandeer other minds in the manner of the fungus Ophiocordyceps camponoti-floridani (not to be confused with Flor-uh-duh Man) that parasitizes and renders zombielike certain ants. See the well-documented and tragic cases known in the scientific literature as Lady G. and Ghouliani. In at least one case, the parasitization seems to have turned the nocturnal infected host, one Tucker (sometimes spelled with an f) Carlson, the Jabba’s distinctive orange color, with white circles around its eyes. Creatures that engage in Jabba-mimicry for the perceived benefits to themselves–the Hawleys, Cruzes, DeSatans, Gaetzes, Tubervilles, and so on–are as numerous as larvae on woodland carrion.

It is widely believed that this dangerous, predatory, generally sluglike but suddenly aggressive lower lifeform can be controlled by limiting its communications (it tweets, like a bird), but actual mitigation can only be accomplished by trained professionals, such as state Attorneys General, who can try, convict, and imprison the Jabba for one or more of its quite serious crimes. Until this is done, it will carry about doing what it always does–doubling down.

–The Armchair Naturalist’s Guide to Toxic, Venomous, and Otherwise Dangerous American Species, by R. Shepenborough

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The Devil Went Down to Georgia, aka Bad Angels in America, a Screenplay | Bob Shepherd

[“Bohemian Rhapsody,” by Queen, crescendos, then fades over voice of Announcer.]

ANNOUNCER: Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States.

JABBA THE TRUMP: Good evening, GEEOR-JUH! So here we are. What’s this place? Dalton? Dalton, Geeorjuh. You gotta be kidding, right? What the heck am I doing here? They said to me, ‘Sir. You have to go to Dalton, Geeorjuh.”

“No way, I said.”

“But, Sir,” they said, “if you don’t go, the Republicans down there, they lose.” Pitiful, am I right? But it’s true. It’s true. Carpets, right? You make carpets here in Dalton, Geeorjuh. So, here I am. And I’m not even on the ticket. Not something I want to do, believe me. But they need me. Republicans, without me, they never win another election.

So, we love the great state of Geeorjuh. I had this guy, Jeff Sessions. Wanted to be Attorney General. He was from Geeorgia or someplace in the South. I know. Hayseeds, right? A long way from New York, I’m telling you. Terrible. Worst Attorney General ever. Worse than Barr, even. Barr couldn’t do the most simple thing I asked him. Send in the military around the country–the Army, the Air Force, the Marines, the Space Force. Trump’s military. Get the Communist Democrats, Antifa, the News Media. Look at them back there. The Media. What a joke, right? Just wait. Tomorrow, they’ll say, he attacked the media. So, Sessions. Wouldn’t fire Mueller during the fake Russia investigation. So, I said, Jeff, you’re fired. And then he tried to run for office. And he lost. Lost terribly. That’s what happens. Trump’s not behind you, you lose.

Because I’m a winner. Won this election you wouldn’t believe how much—millions and millions of votes. But they got dead people voting. Illegals. Democrats. Can you believe that? They’re allowing Democrats to vote. Crazy, believe me. 11,000 votes. That’s all I needed. It’s Tuesday night. I’m well ahead. Ahead everywhere. And then at the last minute they bring in all these boxes and boxes of votes—millions of them—all Biden. By dead people and Democrats. Biden. I know. The worst. He’ll take your jobs. Your cows. He wants the country to be Venezuela. Terrible. But that’s the radical Democrat Communist agenda, folks. I was saying to Ivanka—where is Ivanka? Ivanka, come up here and say something.

IVANKA: Hello, Georgia. I’m not going to say much because Daddy would get mad and I don’t have a brain anyway, but thank you. Thank you for coming out tonight and showing that you want to draw the line in the sand. That you are going to support David Doodoo and Kelly Loofa because the president has their backs. The greatest president in the history of our country, my father, Guardian of the Galaxy, Donald J. Trump.

JABBA THE TRUMP: Thank you, Ivanka. Nice legs on her, huh? I always say, if she weren’t my daughter, I’d be dating her. So, they’re trying to steal the election. Rename your military bases where so many heroes fought and died, named after great hero slave owners and rebels against your country. Nobody knows the military like Trump. You got, what? What’s that? Fort Benning? I don’t know. Maybe they could call it Fort Trump. I’d be OK with that.

But we won. We won by a lot. They call me up and they say, Sir, I can’t believe how they’re trying to steal it from you. It’s a statistical impossibility. Biden got more votes than there were people in the whole history of the country. Cause they got these machines. Need votes? Just print them up. Millions and millions of votes. Oh, this is a vote for TRUMP? Throw that one out.

The two worst events in the history of our country. First the fake Russia investigation. Then they try to steal the election. I don’t know. Not since the Continental Army had to fight off the Communist invasion from CHAIY-nuh was it so bad. Touch and go. Touch and go. That’s how it will be for Republicans if the Supremes—I’m not very happy with them right now—don’t step up and fix this thing. You know, I flew down here on a great helicopter—Marine One—great helicopter. Not as good as the Trump helicopter. Not by a long shot. But good. Like those stealth planes. Since I rebuilt the military. Terrible. It was in terrible shape, and I rebuilt it. They got these stealth planes, they’re actually invisible. You could be standing right next to it, and they would say, what do you think of the plane? And you would say, What plane? Because you couldn’t see it. Incredible. Incredible. So, I flew down on Marine One. And it’s like touch and go. Touch and go. Like my connection to reality.

But you’ll see. We won the election. We’re still going to win. Just wait. You’ll see. Big things happening. And any Senator goes against me, like your Governor here in Georgia, I’ll be campaigning against them. I can promise you that. You’re done. Finished.

OK. Well, that’s about it. Just wait and see the next couple days. You’ll see. Going to be wild out there. Good night, Geeorgia. Now, get me the hell out of here.

[JABBA exits to music of “YMCA” by The Village People. Satan and the ghost of Roy Cohn dance onstage to the music. Crowd in MAGA hats–Moscow’s Asset Governing America–mills around aimlessly, like zombies in The Walking Dead, trying to remember what day it is, their own names, and where the exits are located.]

Copyright 2021. Robert D. Shepherd. All rights reserved. This post may be reprinted if it is reprinted in its entirety, with proper attribution. For other piece by Bob Shepherd about Don the Con and the Trump maladministration, go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/trump-don-the-con/

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Fact Check | Bob Shepherd


The fact that you even have to say
that Black Lives Matter
and the fact that you do–you do have to say it.


The fact that Donald Trump


The fact that if you tell people
it’s about their freedom,
it’s about their jobs,
it’s about home, sweet home


The fact that Jesus on a plate
holding an AR-15 at the fireworks concession


The fact that I’m so good at facing facts
they should name a recovery center after me
or one of Bill Barr’s firing squads


The fact that the Mystic Massacre


The fact that men in three-cornered hats told other men
that it was about THEIR freedom,
that it was about THEIR equality,
when it was really about (their, shh) not paying (their, shh) taxes


The fact that same as the old boss


The fact that the Fort Pillow Massacre


The fact that you could go on all day like that


The fact that you learned the facts of life
but don’t even want to know the facts of death


The fact that if you are brown in America
someone else’s de jure
is your de facto


And the fact that that’s a fact


The fact that if you’re poor,
fact finding is easy because
there’s always a fact of the day
and if you’re not,
then you are an accessory
before, during, and after the fact


The fact that all markets look pretty free
if you’re rich and spending some poor person’s labor

The fact that everybody wants their Mama
and no one wants to admit that
is two facts

The fact that 27,375 days


The fact that Jimmy Carter said
he had sinned against Rosalynn in his mind,
which was so JC of him,
I wanted to kiss him on the peanut.

Copyright 2020, Robert D. Shepherd. All rights reserved. This poem may be freely distributed as long as it is distributed in its entirety and this notice is retained.

For more poetry by Bob Shepherd and more about reading and writing poems, go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/poetry/

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King Donald the Wurst

Dumb Donald Trump
sat on his rump,
eating cheeseburgers all day.
He called for his Miller
and brownshirted killers
and hypocrite fundies to pray.

He called for his Barr
to make him a czar
and all rule of law to allay.
And to meet his requirement
that it trash the environment,
he neutered the EPA.

“To switch out democracy
for rank kakistocrasy,
I had but to bellow and bray.
I’ve drawn to my Trump
many millions of chumps
and given sweet Vlad complete sway.”

“I’ll call it a day,” the con man did say,
“Though I’m still president anyway.”
Then he farted and stood
and called it all good,
and went to a golf course to play.

Posted in Trump (Don the Con) | 9 Comments

Bye, bye, poor, sad Orange Clown Man

To the tune of “O Danny Boy”

O Donnie boy, your cuckoo coup has faltered.
Time runs away, like dye down Rudy’s cheek.
What’s done is done. The vote count can’t be altered.
You’ll soon be jailed. Your prospects sure look bleak.

Will you come back, when Biden’s term is over?
Will Princess Sparkle run then in your stead?
Will your scam businesses roll then in clover?
Well those cloud castles, Donnie boy, are made of lead.

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Donnie: Thanks for the Memories!

Imagine that someone, back in 2010, had written a novel that told exactly the story of the Presidency of one Donald Chump. Imagine that it was set in the near future: 2015-2020. Imagine that this was the plot outline:

Three right-wing White Supremacist political operators finger a pampered rich boy, a pathologically narcissistic, would-be playboy, con-man charlatan businessman with racist views to run for president on a populist, nationalist message rooted in racism. It’s full of zany, only in America stuff: the guy agreeing to do this because he thinks he can get a lot of press that will build his brand and help him put up a tower in Moscow, the grab ’em by the ***** conversation, the all-out campaign by the Russians to put this guy in office, the comments about “rapists and murders” coming across the border, the rallies with thousands and thousands of crazies from Podunk, the bikers for Chump, the political hack who comes up with the idea of the border wall to get the fool to stay on topic in his campaign speeches, the “Lock ‘er up” chants, the narrowly won election, the horror and disbelief of the candidate himself and those closest to him about actually having won, the lie about the inauguration crowd, the placement in every high position in the government of someone with no experience intent on destroying the agency or department he or she leads, the affair with the porn star, the affair with the Playboy bunny, the Slovene wife who hates f**king Christmas, the laying on of hands by evangelical crazies in the Oval Office, the trashing of alliances, the private conversations about getting out of NATO, the Toddler English, the insane policy making about extraordinarily serious matters by tweet and 2:00 in the morning, the cheeseburger lunches for White House visitors, the initiative to buy Greenland from Denmark, the talk about sending astronauts to the sun and stealth planes being actually invisible, the cozying up with murderous dictators, the quid pro quo demand that an ally at war find dirt on a political opponent in exchange for military aid, the nepotism (and the insipid, pampered beasties benefiting from that–Princess Sparkle and Slender Man), the “good people on both sides,” the abandonment of allies to be slaughtered, the Lena Riefenstahl-style fascist Convention, the orange clown makeup, the circus of continual lying, the utter denial of a global pandemic, the circus of the pandemic press conferences being turned into the Me Me Me comedy hour, the campaign against wearing masks, the Bible upside down at the church photo-op, the comment about the Two Corinthians, the sneering at Evangelical hucksters behind their back to aides, the tear gassing of Moms in yellow shirts by unidentified brownshirts, the turning of a handful of white boys in Neo from the Matrix outfits into an imagined massive uprising of Antifa terrorists, the labeling of protestors against systemic racism as terrorists, the parade of toadies and sycophants, the absolute capitulation of an entire political party and the Russian intelligence blackmailing of Senators behind that, the comments about shining light into your orifices and injecting disinfectant, the White House and campaign superspreader events, the The First Lady in the I Don’t Care and Russian military outfits, the press conference at Four Seasons Landscaping held by the ghoulish and bizarre bat-villain attorney, the claims of a stolen election, the hair dye running down the bat-villain’s face as he describes how Hugo Chavez engineered the election theft, the attempt to get states to ignore their election results and appoint Chump electors.

This would have been one dark, disturbing, crazy, but wildly unrealistic farce of a novel, wouldn’t it? Absurdist comic book supervillain fiction.

And here’s the really crazy part: toward the end, 47 percent of the electorate say, Oh, yeah, he’s my guy!

If, back in 2010, I had had these ideas for a novel, I would have rejected them as just too unbelievable.

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Bob’s Basic Bread: Most Recent Recipe


I’ve been baking for quite a while and have lots and lots of recipes I’ve developed for lots and lots of baked good
s, but this is my most BASIC recipe for sourdough bread–the one I use now most often. I developed this recipe by trial and error over a number of years. Note that I have given the measurements in grams. Bread baking is pretty precise, and I’ve found that measuring by weight, in grams, is best. You can purchase a good digital kitchen scale quite cheaply. If you don’t have a digital scale yet, I’ve provided rough equivalents using standard measurements. Note that differing ingredients weigh more or less than one another per teaspoon or cup, so a conversion for water will not be the same as a conversion for flour is.

Water, 143 grams (a tad more than 2/3rds of a cup)

Yeast, 7 grams (2 1/4 teaspoons, or one package)

Sugar, 4 grams (a little more than a teaspoon)

Salt, 11 grams (about 2 teaspoons; I like a lot of salt. If you want, cut this down.)

Sourdough starter, 231 grams (about 1 cup)

Don’t have a sourdough starter? Make one. It’s really easy to do. Here’s how: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/2020/03/30/a-starter-is-born-making-your-own-sourdough-starter-from-scratch/

Bread flour, 340 grams (divided into 2)


Optional Day-Before Activity to Get Your Starter Pumped for the Big Game

Take your starter out of the fridge, feed him or her, and leave him or her sit out on the counter overnight.

Activating the Yeast

Combine water, yeast, sugar, and sourdough starter. Let sit about 15 minutes, until a little bubbly.

Creating the Sponge

Add 170 grams of the bread flour. Stir to combine, about 1 minute. Let sit for 15 minutes. For a more sour-doughy bread, let sit for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Creating the Dough and Autolyzing

Add the other 170 grams of bread flour. Knead for 2 minutes in stand mixer on setting 3, using dough hook. You can do this kneading by hand, but it will take five times as long. Let sit for 20 minutes for the flour to soak up the water and start forming gluten strands. This autolyzing step will vastly improve your final product.

Kneading

Knead on setting 3 for 8 minutes. I usually do this for 4, turn the mixer off to let it cool, wait a few minutes, and then do 4 more. This will prolong the life of the mixer. Again, if kneading by hand, work for five times as long. Your dough should be quite wet and sticky. To handle it, you will have to flour your hands and the surface you are working the dough on, if doing the kneading by hand. Wetter (highly hydrated) dough will produce a more open crumb, which is desirable.

First Rise

Flour a bowl or pan small enough to fit into your microwave oven. Flour your hands. Lift the dough, form it into a ball by folding it under, until the top of the ball is quite tight. Transfer the dough into your floured pan. Cover with a tea towel. Place pan in microwave oven with a tall glass or mug of VERY hot water. What you are doing is creating a make-shift proofing box. Do not turn on the microwave, ofc. Let the dough rise in the microwave, with the hot water, to heat the air in the microwave, until doubled, about 40 minutes.

Second Rise, If You Are Making a Boule

Flour your hands. Transfer the dough to a floured baking dish (a large cast iron skillet or a Dutch oven works very well). Punch down slightly. Allow to rise, covered with a tea towel, for 40 minutes. For the second half of the rising time, place the skillet on the top of your stove as you preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

Second rise, If You Are Making French Bread or Sandwich Loaves

Flour your hands. Transfer dough to a cutting board. Cut into two pieces with a dough scraper or a very large chef’s knife. If you are making French Bread, tuck the ends of the two pieces under. Then roll each piece out to create a log-like shape, about 1 ¼ inches in diameter. If you are making sandwich loaves, simply tuck each end under and shape into a loaf shape. If making French bread, place the two dough logs on a sheet pan covered with parchment paper. If you are making sandwich loaves, place the two dough loaves into greased loaf pans. Allow to rise, covered with a tea towel, for 40 minutes. For the second half of the rising time, place the sheet pan or the loaf pans on the top of your stove as you preheat your oven to 350 degrees. The warmth of the stove will assist the rising.

Baking: Boule

Place a cast iron skillet or a cake pan, filled with water, into the oven, lower rack. Place your boule on the upper rack. Slash the top of the bread with a lame or a very sharp knife, about 1/4-inch deep. The pattern is up to you–a cross, radial lines, or parallel slashes are common. A couple of these slashes will do. Lightly sift a little flour on top, creating a snowflake effect. This will make the bread look quite nice when its done. Bake for 30 minutes at 450 degrees. Lower temperature to 325 degrees, remove the water pan, and bake until center of bread, measured with a thermometer, reaches 195 degrees.

Baking: French Bread or Sandwich Loaves

Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Check temperature to see if center has reached 195 degrees. If not, continue baking, checking every few minutes to see if it has.

Yummy Option

Halfway through baking, remove bread from oven, spray the top with olive oil, and sprinkle top with sesame seeds or everything bagel seasoning mix. The oil will make the seeds or mix stick.

Yummy Option 2

Sprinkle semolina onto the bottom of the baking dish or pan before placing dough on it for the second rise. The semolina will give the bottom of the bread a nice added crunch.

Posted in Art, Food | 1 Comment

A Dummies’-Style Guide to Becoming a Cult Leader


These guidelines will help people to recognize such scam artists when encountering them. Just about all cults include most or all of these elements.

Make a Promise that gets at something people really want and don’t have, such as community, wealth, happiness, sex, or freedom from anxiety or worry.

Explain that The Promise will be realized in a Transformation into a Higher State of Being or a Return to a Mythical Golden Age.

Create an Impending Calamity or Apocalypse (the End of the World has typically been the staple here) that can be avoided through membership in the group, achievement of The Promise, and possession of The Secret Knowledge. The supposed Secret Knowledge can be simply a mash-up of pop psychobabble or pseudoscience or political ideology or New Age nonsense or traditional religious ideas or some combination of these, augmented by Guided Apophenia–encouraging Disciples to perceive patterns in the world (in popular culture, for example) that aren’t really there, especially patterns involving the Adversary (see below).

Make use of Normalizing Disciples and their Testimonies.

Create and present, optionally in some Sacred Text, a Backstory of a Revelation of The Secret Knowledge or Hidden or Esoteric Teachings being communicated by A Messenger to The Great Leader (that would be you), who becomes the embodiment of The Secret Knowledge on Earth.

Create Stages of Development toward acquisition of The Secret Knowledge, aka, The Path, and Testimonials from Normalizing Disciples further along The Path toward Mastery of The Secret Knowledge. Name these stages, creating ranks within the group of Disciples. Charge people increasing amounts of money (and/or other services) for training to reach these ranks.

Create an Other–an Enemy or Adversary–that wishes to destroy the group, and include among these anyone from outside the group (e.g., friends or family members) who might attempt to get the Disciples from drinking the Kool-Aid. Isolate Disciples as much as possible from competing ideas and from the society at large.

Create community-binding Rituals involving Sacred Objects or Talismans, and Symbols or Icons, including both Bonding Rituals (to the leader and to other members of the group) and Private Rituals (to carry the activities of the cult into the disciple’s private life).

Build community and immunity within the cult by warning Disciples on The Path that exposure to the ideas of those outside the cult, such as other belief systems, can prevent acquisition of The Secret Knowledge and bring about The Calamity.

Engage group members in Proselytizing and Recruitment.

Copyright 2020, Robert D. Shepherd. All rights reserved. This material may be shared if this notice is retained and the material is shared in unedited and complete form.

Posted in Epistemology, Philosophy, Religion, Uncategorized | 2 Comments