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Mankind

Consciousness, Sentience, Reciprocity, Science
Westerlund 2 — Hubble’s 25th anniversary image

                                                       The Orion Nebula (NASA)

The answer to the mystery of mankind does not exist. For every writer I have read, from any time in history, something is missing.

Authors from before the 20th centery had not heard of the Grand Singularity, the evolution of the univerise, the four forces that Einstein was attempting to unite. Quantum mechanics and entanglement. An ever expending universe and a hundred other concepts. Is there an answer among all this? No. All of the psychology of humanity and the mind of the brain are never mentioned by the great science writers (at least the ones I know.) Stephen Hawking in "A Brief History of Time" does not mention emotion.

The scripture writers were working with none of the knowlege and creativitity and tragedy that followed.

But beyond knowledge is the ancient question of what does it mean to be human. I named my collection of photography The Hidden World of the Nearby and it has struck me that the closer we get to who we are, the less we know and the two closest are sentience and consciousness.

Consciosnesss we all have a sense of, but science does not have a clue for there is not known path from neurons, axons, sinapsis and such to being conscious, aware, thinking, concieving.

Measuring gravity waves, the greatest experiment in scientific history (and dubbed impossible by Einstein) took 50 years and 1000 scientists, but the process was always there, you just had to do a few thousand very difficult things. And be a bit luckly.


The other half of the essence of existence is sentience, the process of experiencing.

I sit at my kitchen table and "see" four of my photographs: large, 40" x 50", a georgeous grand piano, windows and trees. Yet the meystery of how two tiny images on my two retinas (one would be a good approximation) ane ane I see in color and three dimensions, constantly changing yet I know how that piano feels when I touch it. I constnatly know where I am.

But just as with consciousness there is no path to explain the process and it is so nearby that nearly everyone just accepts it without question.

The complement of seeing is hearing. Sitting 10 feet from a superb string quartet and with the first note of Mozart I thought I had gone to heaven.

That note and a million experiences is life. Life is experience and the application of consciousness to the sentience. That is it. Except for what we do with it.

And what we do with it leads us to the most important word in life that is never used: reciprocity.It has been pounded out of existence by the opposite: individuality. Can you live along? It is strange that it raises its ugly head in the most unexpected places: at the feet of

We are at the greatet juncture in history, with the planet on the line and we have neglected to teach each other consciousness and sentience and science and the big bang and the wonder of all this, and the joy of creating and understanding. Instead we have elected a king that knowss nothing but thinks he knows everything. A more anthethesis to meaning I have never known.

All this has just now become possible and I read the IPCC report and the United States report on the environment and my heart sinks. I do not feel the great force of humanity comprehending what is happening and reacting with the full poweer of their mind's capabilities.

Is it the end or just a horrendously difficult transition or perhaps a redemtion. My mind trembles all the time.

And perhaps we have overlooked reciprocity, the one concept that could overcome the separations that haunt our existence.

It is why I have been writing this website for the past year and learning a great deal. It is why I write now, at 2:43 am, on the 27th of November 2018, in my 78th year, and wonder what I will do and experience in the time I have left.

As I have grown older, the missing links in why humanity behaves as it does, and more profoundly why there is a humanity (and a universe, for that matter) have occupied my thinking more and more. I have been interested in cosmology and the "why" of things since I was 11 or so.

A few years ago I came upon a book by Jim Holt "Why Does the World Exist" but it was a part of the prologue that stuck in my mind: "Why is there something rather than nothing?" This sort of thought can lead to anything (and everything) but what it led to was a book I had read years ago, "Transformations" by Karen Armstrong.

The part that stayed in my mind was the concept of reciprocity, which is a more formal expression of the golden rule. This quote is from the Wikipedia article. (Click "reciprocity" above.)

"Reciprocity makes it possible to build continuing relationships and exchanges. Fukiyama [2] states that “If the institutions of democracy and capitalism are to work properly, they must coexist within certain premodern cultural habits that ensure their proper functioning” (p. 11). He goes on to say “Law, contract, and economic rationality and prosperity…. must as well be leavened with reciprocity, moral obligation, duty toward community, and trust…. The latter are not anachronisms in a modern society but rather the sine qua non of the latter’s success” (p. 11) According to the sociologist Alvin Gouldner (1960), this norm is nearly universal, and only a few members of society—the very young, the sick, or the old—are exempt from it.[3]"

The seeming "long jump" from existence to reciprocity has to do with an image of "mind" that keeps coming to mind as I read of the good and bad (in my view) of civilization.

The bad always strikes me as a consequence of not using portions of one's mind, either because the environment has turned it off (being born into a white supremist household, for example), or it has simply not been turned on by, for example an education in science and/or reasoning. Or likely more commonly, being born into or captured by a religion of a cultish nature, namely that the wisdom of a "wise one" comes to dominate comes to dominate or control one's thinking

I had what I think is a not unusual experience this thanksgiving where in the absence of any other discussion topic, I started my rant about my amazment of the discovery of gravity waves. My friend, who is in my mind a fundamentalist in his religion, had no reaction whatsoever as if (I conjectured) his religion;s view of the cosmos dismissed any other view. So there was not even a politie "that's amazing."

My premise is that however I got this brain, by accident or from god or from some as yet unknown property of the cosmos, that I should use it, intelligently. Namely, use my reasoning ability to connect whatever new I have heard to everything relsative I can think of and decide whether this is something new worth considering all within the understanding that science is as limited in religion in answering the most basic "why" questions.

Reciprocity seems a bit of a mystery, yet its logic is inescapable. It is written about intelligently yet its association with the"golden rule" seems to relegate it to a role in bedtime stories. Yet in quick succession this reference from MIT: The Power of Reciprocity: Fairness, reciproccity, and stakes in variants of the dictator game, by Andreas Diekmann of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology appeared in a search followed by an e-mail from the New Yorker.

The New Yorker story about Ron Shaich, founder of Panera Bread, is a very old story to me, but may be the most relevant of all at this time in our history. I quote one paragraph:

"Over the last few years, however, Shaich has come to believe that the current business environment is far less amenable to the process of building companies like his. Wall Street has embraced the idea that companies exist solely to serve the holders of their stock. Under this way of thinking, managers of companies should focus their actions on driving short-term value for their shareholders, and should pay far less (or no) regard to other constituents who may have a stake in the business, such as employees, customers, or members of the community. Shaich partly blames activist hedge funds, many of which buy shares in companies with the aim of pushing their management to make decisions that drive their stock prices up within a few months. According to Shaich, this makes it more difficult to invest in long-term projects, and create sustainable jobs."

The modern economics Shaich speaks of is "shareholder value." I have had two intimate experiences with shareholder value.

The latter one was in the 1990s when my tiny fine art photography company, Photographic Arts LLC, was purchased by a group of angle investors who had started a fine art photography printing company called EverColor. It was based on a process from Agfa of Belgium called Agfa proof. Its methods lent themselves to extraorder print quality and lightfastness, both very desirable and necessary as photographic printing was going digital. The senior investor became aware of my work and offered me the pocition of CEO. I accepted despite it being a compasny near Sacramento and my not willing to relocate.

The short version of the story is we relocated the company to Worcester, massachusetts, Agfa found their Agfa proof business becoming obsolite due to digital and they ceased making the special materials we needed.

However, in the few years that we strugg;ed to make a go of it, the chairman of the inventors informed me that the only thing that mattered was "sharholder vale. In the end that simply meant that when the materials stopped coming EverColor Fine Art (as it was then known) simply declared bankruptcy and skipped town, with no concern for unpaid bills, which ould have been easily paid."

The earlier expereience beginning in 1959, was the more important.

My first course in electrical engineering was taught by Professor Amar Bose and was the first course that he taught at MIT. He was most impressive and when I decided that my master's work in solid state physics was not for me, I had the ephiphany of pursuing my first love, reproduced sound and music, and so I knocked Prof. Bose's door since he was the only faculty to my knowleddge working in sound. That was 1964. I joined his group, he became my faculty advisor and when I opted out of doing a dissertation fo finish my PhD he took all of 20 seconds to offer me a job, as the 5th employee of Bose Corporation. I sayed for 23 years before going on to photogrphy.

We had countless discussions over public vs private companys and the focus of shareholders of of public companies on shareholder profits and this was the 1970s and the consequent loss of control in making products that did not ppay back quickly. The salient example being the Bose custom car stereo systems. Bose Corporation is still privately held.

The expeerience for me was straighforard: make the best product you can within a broad range and then we will price it. Halaluya! We did good work and it because crystal clear to me that making a quarterly profit rather than shooting for long term success was a stupid as anything could be. When I left in 1990 the company's sales were in the $5 billion dollar range.

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