A less rational world:
As I sit here at my ease I reflect on how lucky I am.  Outside the window the view is pleasant.  The day is hot and muggy, but my stout if ancient air conditioner grinds out livable air at two costs; one is the bill I must pay and the other the impact on the world at large that the generation of energy requires.  The computer is stable.  The chair is quite nice.

More than these is the sense that I am reasonably secure physically.  While the Northeast was jolted by a quake not long ago and is now in the path of a serious hurricane, I believe that they will recover in due course, most of them.  Some will perish, but out of the millions at risk more will die of other things during the storm than will die of the storm.  Civil order will endure there as well as here.

There are worse places to live; there are wars, rebellions, famines, plagues and highly lethal natural disasters.  I know it.  I follow the events, read about them, see pictures, try to understand and wonder how much of this can be eliminated.  I see folly and iniquity on the part of our own leaders as well as on the part of leaders elsewhere.  I ought to be worried. 

But in my heart I simply cannot imagine it happening here.  Danger will come from within.  My health one day will fail.  Before that I may continue to make imprudent financial decisions until I am ruined.  These things I can imagine easily.  But the surroundings seem well in hand. 

I pour over available statistics and see a future wildly different from that envisioned by most people trained and paid to do just the same thing.  The numbers say to panic, flee to the ends of the earth.  Of course I have not the slightest idea what to do in a panic nor where the earth ends, but that does not trouble me because things seem so safe.

So I look for the slightest clue that something is amiss other than the hard statistics.  I do charity work so I am not insulated from those less fortunate than I am.  They do not seem to be threatening in any way.  Mostly they are only dangerous to themselves.  I get occasional rudeness of course.  A few hours ago I went into a hamburger place. I was the only customer inside although there was probably somebody at a drive up window.  There were four or five employees visible.  I stood there several minutes.  One even smiled coyly at me.  But nobody took my order.  Eventually I simply walked out.  Such slights do not shatter societies.  Yet the world is full of broken societies and the numbers say our time is coming soon.  But from where? 

Perhaps the world of entertainment has a warning.  I notice that more and more shows depend for their effect on the assumption of extreme or more commonly supernatural powers.  Maybe we are becoming less rational.  Maybe that is a step in the direction we must ultimately go. 

It used to be, it seems to me, that ghosts, vampires and werewolves dominated occult entertainment.  Each seemed to have at least a loincloth of explanation.  A ghost was a lost soul or some kind of local disembodied energy from a highly emotional event.  A vampire was some kind of demon who could recruit other demons; now it seems more to be an infectious disease.  Werewolves were less well explained, but at least they were rare.  But nowadays we have armies of zombies.  Again there is a suggestion of an infection.  But rarely is the audience invited to think: where does this come from?  Could that really happen?  The show just cuts to the action.

It turns out this is not an imposition on the audience.  They are cool with it.  There is an article (How Dead Is Dead? ECONOMIST vol. 400 no. 8747 August 20, 2011 page 73) reviewing work published in COGNITION by Kurt Gray of the University of Maryland and others who decided to find out how people regarded those who were in a profound and irreversible coma.  The team approached people in public in New York and New England, telling each person a little story.  The story involved somebody who was either dead, just fine, or in coma at the end, the ending being different on different occasions.  Then the subjects were asked whether this person could do things normally associated with a healthy person, such as remember things and influence events.  Quite strangely to me, the normal subject of the story did not receive full credit.  He scored less than 2 on a scale of 3.  And this is not just a case of Yankee pessimism.  The dead person received a score, not of minus 3, which should have been the universal choice, but of greater than minus 1.  In other words, being alive gives you some mental ability but not all that much.  And to cap it off, the dead person had more mental powers than the comatose one.

So asking an audience to say, “All right, zombies, we can go with that,” is not so much of a stretch. 

Then there is the matter of flying saucers.  I take an interest in them because I occasionally lecture to science fiction fans on exobiology, and they expect groovy pictures. 

To me the logical response is:

1. There is nothing there, so ignore them.


2. There is something there that was built by some conscious agency, who must be

a. Somebody we don’t know, in which case it really is up to them to make contact with us, so ignore them


b. Somebody we do know, which means a secret government project, which of course they have a lot of, and which it is in the presumable national interest to keep secret, so ignore them.

I suppose you could say that the government wants us to believe in them so they will be assumed to have a secret weapon that does not, in fact, exist.  That would require a degree of cleverness of the part of the government that I cannot possibly believe. 

And yet reportedly the number of flying saucer sightings has increased a lot in the past few years.  People do not want to ignore them.

But I still get no sense of danger.  I have never known a single person who had a belief in these sightings who was a danger to anybody at all.

So I remain puzzled.  A stampede is coming but I hear not a hoof beat.

(I pass over as too cheap a shot the shenanigans of our fearless government.)

There have been 21,380 visitors so far.

Home page.