Do you have a Head?
Monday, May 5, 1997 by Dave Winer.
Another experiment. Gather a group of ten children in a circle. Ask them to put their feet in the center of the circle. Ask one of the children to count the feet. One, two, three, four... nineteen, twenty. No problem.
OK. Ask the same child to count the heads. One, two, three, four... nine.
Huh? To you, it seems there are ten children, therefore ten heads. But the child did what you asked. Be careful not to say that nine is the wrong answer. Why? Because it's the right answer!
This story comes from "On Having No Head" by Douglas Harding. It's a study in the scientific method, as applied to human perception.
Oh it's so easy to let what we've learned interfere with what we can observe. Our spatial body determines so much of what we experience. There are nine heads but we see ten. What other basic things are we missing?
Ask yourself to find the center of the universe. I know where it seems to be, it's in my point, the space three inches behind my eyes and centered between my ears. It's only on faith that I assume that there are other centers of the universe. The only one I can really perceive, with my limited sensor devices, is the one that's me.
Carl Sagan, in his stirring PBS series Cosmos, tells a great story about perceptions. A picture of earth from space. It fills the entire screen. It looks big and blue and beautiful. So much poetry has been written about the beauty of our planet! In a way that only Carl Sagan can, he speaks a poem -- it makes my heart beat faster, makes my eyes swell. Man I love this planet!
Step back, now you can see the whole disk. Step back again, and again. We're on our moon now, and Earth looms large, but you can see the Sun and stars. Step back to Mars, and our planet is just a star. A few more steps and the unaided eye can't even perceive the planet. It isn't even there!
Pause. Appreciate that. Now...
Everyone you've ever known or heard of, everything that's ever been invented, every story or song that's been sung, everyone you've every loved, everyone who anyone has loved, came from that imperceivable dot that your unaided eye can't even see.
And we just started the trip! Invoke Sagan's cliche: billions and billions of solar systems, and that's just in this galaxy! Oh man.
The paradox of life. Go inward and there's an infinite amount to perceive, and no time to perceive it. Go outward and the local infinity seems insignificant. It's impossible for our biological computers to grok the enormity of it.
Churches and programming languages hide the real issues. We struggle to get rich and famous, and this masks the real question, who are we and why are we here?
My belief, which comes thru extrapolation, an induction on the joy we can experience as individuals, is that yes, there is a planetary consciousness, and its purpose is to connect with others. We can wake up from our dream and discover that there are other collections of consciousnesses called planets. And we can experience ecstasy first, in perceiving them, and then connecting with them.
What's the take-away message? Let's look for science we can do together. The purpose? To connect with other races of beings-in-bodies. Let's create a point out of humanity, and connect points with other beings in other places.
I think we were meant to explore and develop space. The designer of the universe placed the moon so close to our planet so we could go somewhere at this point in our technologic evolution. We can get to the moon, we can survive there, and it costs a small fraction of what we create to do that.
In the 1960s we rushed to the moon. Let's go back with an intention to stay. I believe that we are not alone. We will continue to evolve. The next step is on our satellite. It's there, it's close, and we can go.
Let's send scientists with open minds to the moon. We can alter our perceptions, and in that alteration I'm sure we can learn much more about who we are and why we're here. I want a web-cam on the moon. I want to move my point out there, so I can get a better look at us. I've never seen a terrestrial eclipse. I've never looked at the universe from anywhere but this place.
PS: For another perception experiment that you can perform yourself, check out Don's Amazing Puzzle, 2/28/97.
PPS: On Having No Head -- at www.amazon.com, ISBN 0140190430.