Author: Bob Adamcik

I’m reading “Straw Dogs,” by John Gray…

…and he is describing the fiction of the self, the fictive self. He posits that life is really only a series of discreet but connected perceptions tied together by the capacity for reflection we call consciousness. The crux of his view is that the self I think of as me does not exist. It is an illusion. Instead, I am only a series of analog moments that came about through subconscious stimulus-response reactions. What we attribute to decisions, whether the habitual decisions of living day-to-day or ethical decisions based on some moral code, are really responses to ingrained genetic, biological and cultural programming. Nor do I remember more than a nanoscopic (my word) subset of the responses I have made. Indeed, those conscious moments I have assembled into a “self” are only the few I actually recall, whether by choice or otherwise. As such, this illusory self has neither a future nor a past (as we tend to think of these), and never has had. Instead, we exist (we, that is, as in our thoughts, not our physical bodies) only moment to moment. Our construction of those moments into a past, like our projection of them into a future, is only an unconscious intellectual exercise.  [Note: Gray does not say this (maybe because he didn’t think if it), but he makes me think of Alzheimer’s patients…of whom we often...

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I’m reading “Straw Dogs,” by John Gray…

…and he is describing the fiction of the self, the fictive self. He posits that life is really only a series of discreet but connected perceptions tied together by the capacity for reflection we call consciousness. The crux of his view is that the free-willed self I think of as me does not exist. It is an illusion, perhaps a defensive one. Instead, I am only a series of analog moments that came about through subconscious stimulus-response reactions. What we attribute to decisions of free will are more often than not the result of ingrained genetic, biological and cultural programming. Nor do I remember more than a nanoscopic (my word) subset of the responses I have made. Indeed, those conscious moments I have assembled into a “self” are only the few I actually recall, whether by choice or otherwise. As such, this illusory self has neither a future nor a past (as we tend to think of these), and never has had. Instead, we exist only moment to moment. Our construction of those moments into a past, like our projection of them into a future, is only an unconscious intellectual exercise. Gray’s point is that we think we are free-willed and sentient beings consciously choosing our paths. But to him, free will is a chimera. Our actions are programmed by eons of prehuman and human evolution to react to...

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On significance (or lack thereof)…

Remember Genesis 1:28? “…God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.'” As I write, the remnants of Harvey continue to wreak havoc in southeast Texas. Even as I sympathize, I remember the adage, “There but for chance…”.  My own home on a hill won’t flood, and we don’t get hurricanes in Tennessee. But tornados? Hail storms? Fire and lightning? As a certain ex-governor would say, “You betcha!” Harvey reminds us how wrong-headed we are about nature. Consciously or not, Genesis 1:28 still holds sway in Judeo-Christian and related cultures. But thinking we are in charge of anything is laughable. The lessons just keep coming: Chinese floods, 1931: 3.7 million to 4 million dead. Galveston Hurricane, 1900: 6,000-12,000 dead. Spanish influenza, 1918-1920: 50 to 100 million dead. Bhola Cyclone, modern Bangladesh, 1970: 500,000 dead. Indian Ocean tsunami, 2004: 230,000 dead. Haiti earthquake, 2010: 50,000 to 200,000 dead, depending on sources. Hurricane Katrina, 2005: $108B damages. Tōhuko earthquake and tsunami (i.e., Fukushima), 2011: $300B in damages. Superstorm Sandy, 2012: $75B damages. Hurricane Harvey, 2017: possibly $190B, per USA Today And what’s on the horizon? In the U. S. alone, we’ve yet to flood Biloxi or Miami or...

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Review of “the soul to the marionette: a short inquiry into human freedom,” by John gray

Uber-marionettes do not have to wait until they can fly before they can be free. Not looking to ascend into the heavens, they can find freedom in falling to earth. — John Gray, in “The Soul of the Marionette: A Short Inquiry Into Human Freedom.” (Farrah, Straus and Giroux, New York. 2015) From the title, one might expect Gray’s book to explore the concept of free will. But it does not, at least not directly. It is much more than that. Instead, the author explores a central premise of all modern religions: the idea that we can know who we are, from whence we come, the meaning of life and death. Or that, not knowing, we can somehow find out. His backdrop for the inquiry is the current secular faith in knowledge and science, which he interprets as the modern incarnation of ancient Gnosticism. In essence we either put our faith in the mythologies of religion, or in the equally groundless belief that we can rise above our limitations through knowledge.   Gray neither affirms nor denies arguments for either side. Rather, he simply explores how civilizations both ancient and modern have approached them. The breadth of his sources is intimidating, and his style can be oblique to the point of obfuscation. But to the curious, he is eminently readable. You stay with him because you have to wonder...

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Thinking and drinking…

In today’s world, critical thinking can get you branded as “elitist.”  A bit of irony, that, as thinking critically is the only way one could understand what a silly idea that is.  But one thing is certain, truly critical thinking will set you up for being alone, at least existentially.  At the very least, it can lead to desperation at times as you cast about for someone to understand you.  And it will certainly limit the satisfying conversation you can have over a bottle of whiskey....

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Reflections on “The Gnostic Gospels,” by Elaine Pagels 

I’ve long wondered about gnostics and gnosticism, an early rival movement to Orthodox Christianity. Numerous passages in the New Testament epistles refer to it obliquely (and condemn it harshly). So I sought out Pagels’ books, as well as other sources, to understand the controversy, and to understand Gnosticism. This post is the state of my (possibly flawed) understanding at this point. A more thorough and academic (though biased) treatment is found here. —————————————————— How many Christians today know their own religion’s early history, that beyond the apostolic acts and the persecution of converts? It’s a fascinating and complex story. Christ brought about a seismic shift in human culture. But people reacted as people do in such movements once their leader is gone: with competing ideas and interpretations and directions, and with arguments and infighting and denunciations. So, the first four centuries of Christianity were marked by dispute, power struggles, and political intrigue. In effect, the new movement struggled on two fronts. Externally, the Roman government distrusted Christians and used them as scapegoats and diversions for various political ends. It’s largely from this that we get the persecution stories of the early saints. But the early Church faced an internal struggle as well, as converts fragmented into hundreds of competing sects, each derived from a particular interpretation of Christ’s message, many producing their own sacred texts and narratives. Had it...

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The good and the bad…

“When I tried day after day to do good and to relieve the suffering of my patients, I was myself. And when I let myself go and plunged into shameful activities, I was also myself. My scientific studies forced me to the following truth–man is not truly one person, but actually two.” –Dr. Henry Jekyll, in “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” by Robert Louis Stevenson (various publishers). Thinking about human cruelty these past few weeks, I found myself reading Stevenson’s classic allegory of good and evil, the tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Like many, I suspect, I knew something of the story but had never actually read it. Doing so after the last two posts was discomfiting. “Jekyll and Hyde” is an allusion to the very things we’ve been considering. In a sense it’s a parable, because of its implicit warning. Jekyll is a respected, upper class physician with a bent towards tinkering. He’d always lived within cultural norms. But, having long sensed his personal darkness, he wondered how it would feel to indulge it. So he developed a potion to allow himself to do that. The heart of the story is that his dark side proved stronger than his good. Eventually it began to take him over without the potion. The more it indulged itself, the greater became it’s greed and disregard...

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The eternal struggle…

Of all the animals, man is the only one that is cruel. He is the only one that inflicts pain for the pleasure of doing it. It is a trait that is not known to the higher animals. –Mark Twain, “The Lowest Animal,” (an essay). Those ideals and convictions which resulted from historical experience, from the craving for beauty and harmony, have been readily accepted in theory by man — and at all times, have been trampled upon by the same people under the pressure of their animal instincts. –Albert Einstein (“Ideas and Opinions,” Broadway Books, reprint edition 1995. A friend read my last post and pointed me to Mark Twain’s essay, “The Lowest Animal.”  It’s a commentary on Man’s singular penchant among other animals for cruelty greed, rapaciousness, and other uniquely human hobbies. Twain pushed me to consider this further. Somewhere in our evolutionary ascent (or, per Twain, descent) humans seem to have gone over the edge.  We changed from instinctual automatons to objective, sentient beings who can consciously participate in overt acts of extreme selfishness, regardless of their effects on others.  Recognition of this penchant for personal excess predates, or at least coincides with, the origins of Judaism. The modern western idea of good and evil probably originated in ancient Zoroastrian dualism, around Persia, some three thousand years ago. Original Sin, a Christian invention, was the early...

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