Early Morning Morbid Musing in Response to a Post by Pauline

March 11, 2008

Pauline has her own blog. I don’t know if many of my readers read her blog. I started to post the following as a comment in her blog, but then decided to post it here. There are many strange overlaps in our histories, though we are also quite different in many ways.

This is a comment on her post minds and machines.

As a child and young adult, I read a great deal of science fiction, though as I grew older I lost interest in it. For one thing, the science fiction I read when younger seems to be coming true. The experience comes across to me like watching a horror move and then realizing I am living in the horror movie.

My father (with whom I didn’t get along very well) apparently felt that he had psychic powers and psychic experiences. He died of a heart attack in his forties a day after we had a fight. (it was the first time I had stood up to him.) Several times during my life, mental health professionals have said to me, after hearing this story, “Don’t blame yourself for his death.”

I don’t. But I don’t feel good about the experience either.

Years after his death, one of my aunts said that at one point he had a great “mystical” experience.

He rented an apartment with a “spirit guide” (female) who guided him through a mystical experience where he went into some sort of trance and communed with the infinite or some such.

I regard this report with some skepticism and cynicism. I have my doubts that he was faithful to my mother, so I wonder if this supposed experience was an excuse to be off with another woman.

However, I do know from books around the house when I was young that both my parents were very interested in spiritual phenomena. I have a deep resistance to belief in both religious and spiritual assertions about a reality that transcends scientific knowledge.

My father was a very angry and unhappy man. I suspect both he and my mother suffered from clinical depression (an affliction I have experienced). If my father did have such a mystical experience by which he had contact with another realm of reality, I doubt that it did him much good or made him very happy, so what was the point?

When I did read science fiction, I was rather impressed by two books by Alfred Bester, one of the better science fiction writers of the time. His novel The Demolished Man is considered one of the seminal treatments of telepathy. As your post describes, we are creeping up on something that might simulate telepathy. His other most important novel, The Stars My Destination, envisioned a world where teleportation functions for personal transportation. I consider this method of transportation very unlikely to occur.

Probably the aspect of science fiction that seems to be coming true in a way that most horrifies me is genetic engineering. I know many (if not all) evangelical Christians do not believe in the theory of evolution, at least to the extent that it claims to account for the origin of humans (as derived from pre-ape ancestors) and to account for the origin of species. To be blunt, I consider the Garden of Eden a myth and the theory of evolution a much more likely explanation. The evangelical web site worldmagblog (where you and I first encountered each other in “cyberspace”–another part of science fiction coming true) seems to have a flame war about evolution vs. the Garden of Eden, etc. about once a week.

In any case, whether or not the theory of evolution is true in our history, humans have reached the point where we will start tinkering with our own genes and trying to drive our own evolution. I doubt much good will come of this mad science, though some genetic diseases will be cured. However, human beings never know when to stop.

Although I decry the coming world of science fiction, I am a person who in a small way has helped drive those changes. As you know, my family is very odd in traditional terms. My daughter has a female partner. Her partner bore a child by artificial insemination from a gay man they went to school with. The child, whose exploits I document in my blog under the moniker “Random Granddaughter” (RG for short) just celebrated her fourth birthday as a child with two moms. She knows her “sperm donor” father, who plays a role in her life much like an uncle who visits once in a while. She figured out that he is her “dad” when she was three years old.

Science fiction not only speculated on the scientific and technological changes taking place (from space travel to genetic engineering) but also the social and behavioral changes. Writers such as Theodore Sturgeon, Harlan Ellison, and the “dystopian” Philip K. Dick predicted a society where family and social values would change drastically. Although I decry science fiction coming true, as the tolerant and loving grandfather to my “science fiction” style family, I am one of those people who are helping this to take place. My bad or my good…your mileage may vary, as I often say.

My final comment on science fiction is that I think the human race will destroy itself by the end of the century. We are like a small child playing in an attic full of loaded guns and it’s only a matter of time before we pull one of the triggers. In my more optimistic moments, I think humans will “merely” sink to “Mad Max” style barbarism by the end of the century. (You can see a “preview” in locations such as Sudan and Somalia.)

As I am 64 years old, and come from a family where some of the men suffer heart attacks and some of the women drift into Alzheimer’s disease, I suspect that one of those two afflictions may be the death of me. As a person who grew up in a depressed and dysfunctional family, it is hard for me to love. I probably only have enough love for my wife, my daughter, her partner, and my granddaughter.

Although I am fairly functional at the moment, and do several hours on the treadmill each week, and spend time at the gym with the Nautilus machines, and grow and eat mostly organic food, and am gradually (like you) losing some of my excessive weight, I think I am now fairly resigned and accepting that my life will probably end sooner than later. As I am pessimistic about the future of our species, and do not believe in religion or an afterlife, I am (I think) working to prepare myself for the end of my life with I hope is mellow resignation and acceptance. “Stoic” is the word that comes to mind. I am just as glad that I won’t live to see the dystopian future I am fairly certain awaits our species.

I do fear a bit for my granddaughter. I mull over leaving money in my will for her to learn martial arts (which my niece teaches) and for her to learn how to handle and use weapons and to learn to use other “survivalist” skills. I think she is going to grow up in a world that will require such skills. It amazes me that so few people realize this is likely to be our future.

My wife and daughter and her partner are not amused by my gloomy thoughts and would not appreciate discovering such a clause in my will.

In any case, I last made a will about 45 years ago, and it is totally out of date. I do need to update my will. After I finish my taxes, that is a top priority for my immediate “to do” list.

I haven’t yet decided whether to act on these morbid thoughts in regard to my will.

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15 Responses to “Early Morning Morbid Musing in Response to a Post by Pauline”

  1. pandemonic Says:

    You must redo your will. I’m trying to get my husband to do it, but he’s been putting it off for years. If something happens to him, I know I will want to kill him again for the mess that he’ll leave me. (Just kidding, of course.)

  2. Pauline Says:

    Random,
    I don’t know whether my mother had any “mystical” experiences herself, but a “pyschic” did tell her that there were three female spirits who accompanied her, so she concluded that they were her mother and her two miscarriges. She also believed many if not most of the stories she heard about people using psychic powers, and considered the death of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 of the New Testament to be an example of those powers used in a bad way (she believed that Peter had killed them).

    I hadn’t heard of Alfred Bester – I’ll have to look for his books. Anne McCaffrey, whom I mentioned in my post, is the sci-fi writer I’m most familiar with who envisions a universe where psychic powers play such an important role – including transportation. I’ve read books on the science of science fiction, and they pretty much rule out that scenario (the teleportation aspect) based on the laws of physics. Movement of thoughts themselves by psychic powers wouldn’t be subject to those constraints, so telepathy seems somewhat more plausible.

    Part of what I find fascinating in science fiction is comparing its “predictions” with how things have actually turned out, so far. In some areas, there are authors who seem to have been very prescient. Of course it’s also amusing to see where they are far off. I’ve read a little by Sturgeon, Ellison, and possibly Dick, but didn’t care much for any of them – not sure how much is was their pessimistic view of society.

    You’ve mentioned that thought about your will a number of times – I always wonder whether you’re serious or not. Martial arts would be good training regardless of whether she needs other “survivalist” skills. I sure would have been better off twenty years ago if I could have given the scumball who broke into my apartment at night a few quick kicks that either sent him running or knocked him out until the police arrived.

  3. modestypress Says:

    Thinking about it a bit, I am inclined not to put such a provision in my will. I think it’s a mistake to try and “micromanage” other people by provisions such as terms in wills. As a parent, we tried to prepare our daughter to be a constructive, functioning human being. She seems to be doing fine in that regard. She has made mistakes (with the best of intentions), such as her first effort at graduate school. She still has handled herself in a responsible, ethical, and sensible way. That is more important than that she made the “right choice” right from the start. As I get older and my daughter gets older, I think it’s more appropriate to maintain a caring relationship than to keep trying to be the same kind of parent I was when she was younger.

    I suspect the “folk wisdom” about how grandparents should conduct themselves in terms of providing genuine and loving relationships and behaving in age-appropriate ways (well, silly in my case, I admit) and avoid conducting themselves as parents trying to micromange their children as parents contains a lot of genuine wisdom. My wife and I left California in part because we resented our parents trying too hard to influence how we acted as parents. We strive not to irritate our child in the same way. So far so good. I’m going to let the will provisions go.

    However, I do agree it is good for people to learn to defend themselves. When my daughter was a college student studying in London during her senior year, she was attacked by a man on the street. She was able to break free and escape. She told her mother but not me. (I am not sure why–perhaps she thought I was going to invade England single-handedly). My wife has taken self-defense classes, though fortunately she has not had to use the techniques she learned. Again, however, it is the responsibility of Mommy and Mama to make such decisions about RG’s education.

  4. modestypress Says:

    I will write a little more about science fiction, but not for a bit. I have things I am supposed to do at the moment, so I will concentrate on those tasks for a while.

  5. Vicky Says:

    “The evangelical web site worldmagblog… seems to have a flame war about evolution vs. the Garden of Eden, etc. about once a week.”

    A bit of an exaggeration Random.

    And then you say…

    “I think it’s a mistake to try and “micromanage” other people…”

    I agree, but understand the strong temptation to do so with adult children and grandchildren. Sometimes we just have to consciously tell ourselves “NO!” and back off.

    Interesting post.

  6. modestypress Says:

    Vicky,

    I stand corrected and apologize for exaggerating the number of flame wars about evolution at worldmagblog.

    I think your point about the temptations and difficulties for parents in dealing with adult children and grandchildren is well taken. Every day I think with appreciation about how lucky my wife and I have been with our daughter and her partner. It’s easy for me to be smug when I have been so fortunate.

    OK. That’s it. That’s all the humble pie I will consume this morning.

  7. Pete Says:

    WOW! Where to start? A very interesting post, Random. Lets start with the WMB jab (Disclaimer…I read the blog for years but generally don’t anymore, largely because of the flamewars you have referened) I would say the number of flamewars regarding evolution are about equal with the number of WMB jabs you post on your page! (This is not a character assault on you, just on observation!)

    What’s next… I find it interesting that as humans, we think we know everything, and make some mighty bold assertions of what is “fact.” Yet much of the “Fact” we establish was deemed false or impossible just a generation or two ago. Were we wrong then? Are we wrong now? This has been going on forever it seems, and I find it difficult to establish many things stated by scientists, as absolute, and history is part of the reason why. So apply this to sci fi. What we deem as impossible today may be comonplace tomorrow. Secular scientists have indicated as many as 10 dimensions, and we know, and can define, three (Or four, depending on who you listen to.) Who knows who is out there…sucking the thoughts out of a dogs brain and sticking them in humans!!

    Regaring telepathy, I am confinced I had that power as a teenager, when I was 18 and 19. Between four and ten times per day, I would think the exact thought that someone around me was thinking, and they would say what I was thinking about. I would even test it and think really obscure thoughts, and other people would say those things! It was freakish, not to mention a little scary. When I tried to harness and develop that ability, it went away. And no, Mr. Random, this is not another one of Pete’s exaggerated stories!

    And Random, I’m reading between the lines that you might be a little depressed these days, maybe because of the flogging you got from your employer. There was quite a bit of doom and gloom in this post, though I have to admit I agree with a lot of it. The difference is that, while we would both be rather surprised if mankind survives this century, my Christian faith gives me much hope and reassurance about that. It will be really ugly, uglier than any of us can imagine, but the end result will be nothing less than perfect. And even if I am dead wrong (Pun intended) we would both go through the same end-of-the-world hell but with completely opposite attitudes. I’d rather be at peace! Just the same, I’d go ahead and update that will, and the martial arts is a great idea. I just don’t think I would mandate it in a will!

    Respectfully…

  8. modestypress Says:

    Pete,

    I will say (as I’ve said before) that I appreciate your posts and your participation on my blog. As I bumble along in my clumsy way, I try to work out a system of values and ethics that works for me, and hope that others find it at least stimulating and interesting, if not necessarily completely enlightening. For example, I strive to behave in a way I consider “decent.” It’s decent not to kill other people unless there is a really good reason for doing so. Self-defense against someone attacking me is the most likely reason. I’ve never had to kill anyone (and probably would have difficulty actually doing so), but it’s not impossible that I might be in such a situation.

    Another example would be tolerance. On more than one occasion I have been in a room with a group of people who included atheists and Christians and Muslims and Hindus (and perhaps members of a few other more obscure faiths). Often these people included members of different ethnic groups and speakers of different languages, though usually most or all spoke some English. I did not feel any danger or concern; yet at many times and places such interactions have led to violence. As I have mentioned, one of my wife’s best friends grew up in Sri Lanka and as a child saw people burned to death in mob violence (the victims including both Hindus and Buddhists). I spoke once with a Vietnamese woman who fled South Vietnam (twice) on boats and saw people die on those trips. I am currently reading a book on the history of genocide, which has been a frequent occurence in human history. Often the people perpretating genocide thought of themselves as “good” people. Perps have included Christians (Catholics and Protestants) atheists, Buddhists, and probably any other group you can think of.

    Yet here in America (and many other places) people from different groups co-exist perfectly amiably. I call values of tolerating each other despite basic disagreements: “meta values” Waving a white flag as a signal to refrain from histilities is a widely (though not univesally) accepted meta value.

    I will reply to your post in detail. I have assigned a number to each of your paragraphs.

    1)Obviously, I jab at wmb. I have been keeping my pledge not to post their for six months, but I do read from time to time and release a little steam in my own blog. My bad. 😉

    2) In paragraph #2 you almost sound like an agnostic. I won’t label you as anything but a “low agnostic”: a person who strives for logic, respects facts, and uses common sense and reasonable skepticism. Low agnosticism is not incompatible with religious belief (in my strange system of nomenclature).

    Pauline accepts my applying that label to her; I hope you are comfortable with it also.

    #3 If unusual powers such as telepathy and clairavoyance exist, they seem to be so uncertain and variable that they can’t be pinned down by the scientific method. My father claimed that as a teenager he had a vision of a house on fire and then learned that a house of a friend had indeed burned down about that time. I am resistant to such reports, but I acknowledge that such phenomena may exist but not be “provable” by the science we have. So I don’t label your story as “exaggerated,” though I do regard it as something that if true can’t be harnessed or controlled.

    #4 I am a little depressed, and some of it has to do with my job. Like many people (especially men) I have for many years defined myself in terms of my jobs. Even though I’ve never been really happy or comfortable in any of them, still it’s been a constant feature of my mental landscape. As I approach retirement, I have to re-define myself.

    Our retirement will be a tight one as far as finances. My wife and I will have to re-define our relationship and our interactions. Although we are both fairly healthy and mobile at the moment, we will have to adjust as our capabilities fade and our health faces inevitable challenges. I think it’s fairly constant in human nature to hang on to what we’re used to and to resist embracing change.

    Spring is creeping in and the slugs are crawling and the bunnies are running across the road. Time for me to get down the air rifle and load a pellet. Rabbits:…I’m sorry…but you may suffer because of my angst.

    I also define myself as a spouse

  9. modestypress Says:

    Oops. Submitted too soon. I also define myself as a spouse and as a parent and as a grandparent. These have been more comfortable roles for me, though I am not an grade A-1 spouse. I have been immensely fortunate to be married to an A-1 spouse who makes the best of the hand she was dealt. RG, however, is still mulling whether Grandpa is a keeper.

  10. vroni1208 Says:

    I’m still waiting for the teleportation thing. I don’t like long flights, and neither does my bottom. My fav sci-fi writer was Harry Harrison, who wrote The Stainless Steel Rat books. While my age difference is about 30 years from your own, I read a lot. And you’re right, a lot of the things I read about years ago are happening now and it does seem more like horror. I imagine horror writers are having more difficulty coming up with new ideas to scare people.

    I often wonder what will happen to all the folks that are left behind after I’m gone. It’s like a line from a song by the The Flaming Lips that they play on that car commercial:

    “Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die?
    And instead of saying all of your goodbyes – let them know
    You realize that life goes fast
    It’s hard to make the good things last
    You realize the sun doesn’t go down
    It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round…”

    Always makes me feel melancholy.

  11. modestypress Says:

    I have read Harry Harrison. He was good, though his writing did not grip me firmly.

    Pauline, I would not expect you to like Ellison or Dick. This is not a criticism of you. I think Sturgeon might be worth giving him more of a chance.

    Two writers you might consider looking at Pauline, (if not already familiar with them) are Clifford Simak and Cordwainer Smith.

    Simak expresses a positive attitude toward human nature (though not in a soupy way). There are few Christian writers in sf (besides C. S. Lewis who is not generally regarded as an sf writer). Smith is one of the few. Also, his writing integrates his religious beliefs smoothly and subtly instead of declaiming them clumsily.

    There are a number of interesting women science fiction writers, some of whom published under male names. “James Tiptree” is one of the best known. C. J. Cherryh is another. Ursula Le Guin never pretended to be a man, but it an interesting author and one of my daughter’s favorite writers. I had a friend who knew the Le Guins. I asked what Ursula was like, but all she could reply was about what a hunk Mr. Le Guin was, so her comments were useless, as perhaps this comment is.

  12. modestypress Says:

    vroni wrote: I imagine horror writers are having more difficulty coming up with new ideas to scare people.

    That’s a creepy comment. There might be a good post-modern horror story hidden in it.

  13. Pete Says:

    I do hope you didn’t feel I was critcizing you Random, it was all just observation. And I EXPECT you to jab WMB! Again it was (To me) a humourous observation (And a poke, not a jab!)

    And you can label me whatever you like, but I personally can’t see agnostic. Science, facts and faith can and do coexist quite nicely, contrary to very popular belief.

    And especially know I was in no way mocking your anxiety/depression, and I am more concerned for you than anything!

    Hugs!

  14. modestypress Says:

    Pete,

    Thanks for your reply. Tone is tricky when communicating by email, but I trust that you communicate toward me with good nature and good intent, so I am much more likely to interpret a message that you send me as coming with affectionate good humor than with malice.

    I won’t use the scarlet A word with you again (Agnostic).

    I am not depressed at the moment. There is an interesting book which my psychiatrist suggested I read about male depression, which is different than female depression. (Sorry, girls, you have to stop listening right now, as Pete and I are having a “guy” talk.)

    Men tend to express depression as anger. Many wife beaters are really depressed. When my father got really angry at me, he was really depressed about me.

    The other thing is that when I was being treated for depression, I had a really funny experience involving my treatment. I just haven’t written a blog post about it.

    So I am not even a really normal male depressed person. When I get depressed, I get funny.

    Is that sick or what?


  15. So I am not even a really normal male depressed person. When I get depressed, I get funny.

    So do I. I actually know I’m getting dangerously close to the edge when the people around me are laughing all the time.


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