Proof that you Exist
Friday, May 2, 1997 by Dave Winer.
Check out the May 1997 Esquire, cover story. An amazingly personal pair of essays. "Divorce is good for you" says the husband. "No it's not," says the wife. They're going thru a divorce. On the cover of Esquire!
We reveal a lot about who we are thru writing. The facts hardly matter, it's how one parses them that reveals so much. A divorce is a way of speaking about yourself. So is a platform war. Who cares what the names are, it's the themes that are interesting.
Last Saturday I did a talk at BMUG's MacFest in Berkeley, CA. The usual thing, I get up and talk for a bit, set some groundrules, and then we have a discussion. I encourage frankness. I accept other points of view, as much as I can, and state my own, as clearly as I can.
After we finish, a few people come up to share things they didn't want to say to the whole group. Last Saturday a man with bright eyes, really bright eyes, thanked me for a piece I wrote about the divorce of a friend.
I didn't remember writing the piece! So when I got home, I did a search, and there it is. The Perfect Parent, 4/9/96.
Re-reading this piece took me to some interesting places.
Life is so short. I remember when my parents were younger than I am now. As we grow older do our spirits get older too? I wondered then, but now I think not.
I think each of us has a kernel, under all the layers of experience and pain, that's ageless and perfect. Some people call this a heart, the organ that pumps blood thru our bodies. Others call it a spirit, the essence of the person.
Whatever you call it, it's there, and you can easily find it.
Look at all the things that, when combined, equal you.
You're the sum of experience, intellect, emotions, a physical body and the space on earth that it occupies. An intellectual body, an emotional body, a physical and a spatial body. There are other bodies too -- recently we've created all-electronic bodies called websites. I'm sure we'll invent others as we evolve.
How do you know you have each of these bodies? Because you can experience them. Be a scientist, conduct an experiment. If you touch your body, can you feel it? If you have a thought do you realize it? If you feel anger or sadness or joy, can experience that too?
But, is that the totality of what makes up a human being? No.
The proof that you exist... Who's doing all that experiencing?
I believe that I am a point located, most of the time, about three inches behind my eyes and centered between my ears. The point is backed up by a powerful computer and memory system.
This computer has some influence over what the body does, and I have some influence over the computer. Right now it's pushing pieces of plastic down, and then letting up, at a very high rate. These quick plastic-pushes create visual images that stimulate emotional and intellectual responses in me and, in a few minutes, you.
The computer also has functions that are automatic that I can't directly control. I understand that it keeps my "liver" and "spleen" functioning. I believe both these things are inside the body, even though I have no direct proof that they exist.
My body has so many other features! It's cooool. For example, the same things that push the plastic down, fingers, can touch other things and other people in many different ways. And that's just the beginning. Breathing, eating, walking, swimming, flying -- my body can do all these things.
Most of the time the point is behind my eyes -- when I'm being visual. Yesterday I put my fingers on the tummy of a baby and lightly moved them around. Half a tickle, half caress. As I did that, the point moved from my eyes into my fingers!
Then in an instant, as I connected to the eyes of the baby, the point moved back behind my eyes. I could feel them getting brighter! A connection was made, because the bright eyes showed up in the baby. Our spirits connected, we both laughed.
You can connect to the spirit of a dog the same way. Or to the spirit of a sixty year old person.
Satisfaction, pleasure, joy can come from touching your own point. Ecstasy, the most wonderful human state, comes from touching points with another.
Joy is possible on your own. Heaven is when you connect with another.
Getting to that place, being in that place, comes from contact, not from being good or rich or successful.
Even so, we believe in houses, cars, clothes, mates, money and fame, even though they can take us far from our points. It's a tragedy that we give these beliefs to children by attaching value to them. When we do that we're passing on the pain, down thru the generations, one more time thru the loop.
However, because of a major change, thirty years ago, our race now has the opportunity to wake up from this bad dream.
My parents' generation and all generations before, were different from us. They had children early in life because there was no effective birth control. There was no question whether you'd have babies or not. If you had sex, and your bodies were fertile (most are) you had kids.
Our ancestors moved directly from their parent's house into a new house containing two strangers and a kid. They hadn't completed growing up when they had their kids. If they had spent a few years living on their own, if they had had a life independent of their parents, they would have had a chance to define themselves before defining a new human being and passing on, unprocessed, what was given to them.
Could they have done it any differently? They couldn't have.
Our bodies grow older, every day there's more experience, more burdens to carry, more to overcome. But there's also an opportunity to send it all away, to let it go, and as it goes, to let go of other stuff too.
Life can make you lighter if you let it. When your body dies you're going to let go of everything. Wheee! Can we have fun now? It's easy... Just forget something. After that, forget something else!
Our race has taken some wrong turns, I think. But so far, except for minor rebellions, we continue on the course set by previous generations, repeating the loops over and over, and because bodies grow old and die so quickly, it can be hard to even see the loop, much less understand how to break out of it.
Look at how powerful the previous generations are! My generation didn't invent cars or televisions or skyscrapers, planes or trains or telephones, we didn't even invent computers or software. Yet these concepts consume much of our attention, leaving little room for other experiences.
These are powerful distractions, but we can be powerful too. Our parents can be forgiven for trying to make sense of our lives in terms of their own, even though there had been a tremendous change. We can be forgiven too, for doing the same. Now, can we stop doing it?
I want to keep my house and my car and my computer and my friends. I don't want to give them up. But I also want to stay centered on what's important and has lasting value. I'll take a hint from whoever created us this way -- go for the joy and ecstasy, and try to let go of the experience and the pain.
Have a grrreat weekend!
PS: In the earlier days of DaveNet I did more pieces like this one than I do in 1997. Many of them are linked into The Best of DaveNet page, accessible thru the link-bar at the top of each piece on the website.