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HOW PHILOSOPHY COULD SAVE THE WORLD Diaspora, Self-sufficiency, Person-hood

Our Situation:

Why My School Bus Mission Failed, Why it Matters and What's Next

Human being have been around for at least 300,000 years. We rarely think about this. We think life worth talking about started when hunters and gatherers took up farming 10,000 years ago. Since we prefer more manageable intervals, the Gregorian calendar starts with the birth of Christ. On this reckoning, we are barely into the 3rd millennium.

North Koreans start their count with Kim Il-sung's birthday April 15, 1912. 

No matter what calendar is used, human beings have been  busy: The Anthropocene - a single species precipitating a global epoch - is now talked about: the world is heating up, burning down or flooding. Economies are self-destructing.

What would it take to get us talking about these problems?  I once thought communication shortfalls involved failures of clarity or literacy and could be overcome.

How Children Become Adults:

It took a half-century for a better explanation  to cross my mind. Now  that I glimpse why  children turn into mutually-hostile adults, clues seem to be everywhere. Adults are uninterested in what other adults think because being an adult involves knowing what good and bad look like. Adults need to feel  competent about every issue.  He or she who hesitates or consults is lost. Gossiping is acceptable however. Gossiping confirms that nothing urgent is happening. Adults who do not understand these rules of engagement rarely get invited out.

The Arc of Conversing:

Children soak up information from families and communities until they reach puberty. At this point, interest in familiar people drops off. Interests, values, biases and vocations are now pursued with single-minded intensity.

Adults  have one eye on their accomplishments—no bragging opportunity or mirror goes unrequited. The other eye is on the look out for breeding opportunities and profitable  strangers.

Until a few hundred years ago, these were excellent strategies. With few technological or cultural assets, children needed to make the best possible use of local people and resources. Adults needed to make the best possible use of whatever they learned before puberty closed their minds.

Think about it! Birth events are trivial compared to the metamorphosis occurring when  children transform into adults.

What’s not to like? If families and communities have done their job, nothing remains to be discussed.  If they  failed in this regard, there is nothing to talk about.

My name is Vernon Molloy

If you are reading this, you also have a name. Reading and writing are impossible unless newborns are named and lots of other cultural stuff occurs.

This is a wonderful and perilous circumstance.Trillions of creatures pass through existence every second without noticing that they are alive.

How did human beings get so lucky? As we often remind ourselves, we have Big Brains. What we usually overlook is that Big Brains are necessary for subjective lives. They are not necessary and sufficient. Ten, twenty, thirty thousand years ago, our ancestors started naming objects, animals and children. They started making sure that children understood that those sounds were their names.

Big brains made languages possible. Languages and big brains led to  music, mathematics, sciences ... . Economies and populations flourished. These successes spawned dangerous conceits. We talk about God incarnating human beings for Divine purposes. We talk about evolution with human beings at the top of the ladder.

No matter which fantasy we indulge - some manage both - notions of supremacy and entitlement remain insatiable.

This arrogance may be short-lived. Convinced that God or evolution fashioned persons - and not creatures capable of becoming persons - we think we deserve everything we see. We speak of leaving something for future generations, but insist upon getting our hands on it first so it can be properly directed.

The Calculus

Notions of objects, entities and persons are like taking derivatives in calculus.  They involve vanishing instants wherein pasts become futures and chickens and eggs take turns being first. The Irish philosopher Bishop Berkeley referred to derivatives as the 'ghosts of departed quantities'.

There are other challenges:

  • We  are only aware of a few of the events constituting our lives.  Unless we talk to one another, we have no idea what is going on in one another's lives - and a correspondingly impoverished sense of an actual world. 
  • Even if an actual world existed, we could not have real-time relationships with objects and entities. Although they seem real, objects and entities are images of historical events. Some intervals involved can be expressed in picoseconds, some are incomprehensibly long. Sunshine comes  into existence 8 minutes and 20 seconds before your and my enjoyment is possible. Light from Alpha Centauri - the closest star in the Milky Way galaxy - started our way 4.5 years ago.

Since human beings remember experiences, but not intervals separating them, awareness's and memories hang together seamlessly. Every morning my life picks up where it left off the night before. This sets the stage for realism - the idea of an actual, external world -  and the narratives we think of as our lives. (I owe this understanding to Derek Parfit: Reasons and Persons, Oxford Paperbacks, 1984.)

Here is what I think  is going on:

  • Each person dreams a world into existence and  imagines herself inhabiting it.
  • You have your world.  I have mine. There are as many imaginary worlds as there are people.
  • There is no corresponding actual world. There is, of course, the Universal Event and more local events than can be contemplated.
  • Some local events have become self-aware and are naming one another. This is great fun and wonderfully useful

Why do these  imaginary worlds and named events seem so real? They are distilled out of experiences, and they make successful responses and subjective lives possible.


I have an example of how this works. If you look at Jastrow the duck/rabbit for a few seconds, you will see it change from one image to another.  Clearly, consciousness has nothing to do with the timing and content of these changes. In arguments below, I suggest why this  means that the conclusions, decisions, choices ... human beings make cannot be conscious achievements either. 

The fact that intervals between events and awareness's are usually small does not matter either. All any creature can do is respond to what is going on.

Human beings have figured out ways to take and compare notes and make sustained responses. This is a big deal, but not big enough to make us supernatural.

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  1. just a thought ,but if we slowly remove the subliminal messages we are drowning in every where we look “YOU NEED THIS PRODUCT, This life Style , This unrelenting torrent of instant fix drugs etc. Lets do what the Germans did in the 50’s. T.V.Commercials were limited to one time slot of 10 minutes per hour on one channel only. Lets ban money for 3 days per month , During these 3 days tax free barter in manditory , gradually increase the number of days per month.
    just an observation . By the way article is well done.

  2. How are you Vern. I like your writing. Maybe we can get together one day for coffee. Spend lot of time going to the YMCA in Trenton for swimming and Sauna. We even could meet there as you like the Sauna and I can go swimming. Please let me know or give me a call. Home 613-962-5030 Cell 613-848-5930

  3. Hi Vernon,

    Your name was passed on to mme by B Dollan. For your records I to am a landloard with tenant issues and would like to have acces and nominate individuals. My email address Thanks in advance.


  4. How refreshing to read what I suppose might be called `real’ thinking, as opposed to the magical thinking that possesses most of us – and not the other way around.
    Being born the same year as you, I would agree that the `War Babies’ might be the last to know what a `normal’ human being might be like. I would define `normal’ in this sense as being a member of the human species who understands that our `mission’ is to protect and maintain our species, as it is with all species. I often used this cohort in my work when I wanted to model requirements for future generations, particularly the aging Boomers.
    I think, though, that coming from what sounds to me like a traditional farming family has been a blessing. Being out in the real world of living and growing (or not) gives one perspective. Living in neat rows of houses in a concrete world with gardens that are manufactured or in pods that give one no opportunity to experience Earth provides, instead, a sense of the world and living that is severely circumscribed and prone to developing a view that we are somehow `in control’.
    Humans have always lived on the edge of the abyss, it seems to me. We certainly are the edge of one now.
    Thank you for this website. We need thinkers.

  5. If you really start to think about, it must be the vegetarians and vegans that are running this world into the ground. And if it is not them, they must be running a close second. Think of all the prairies that have disappeared, turned into waste lands, the rainforests turned into soybean and corn fields. Wherever you see the ‘amber waves of grain’, you must think of the destruction, the havoc this has wreaked. And Monsanto and Cargill are only too eager to perpetuate this nightmare. Even our own institutions are aiding and abetting by promoting the “healthy” diets heavily favouring carbohydrate based products and thus creating generation upon generation of diabetics, heart and cancer patients., and a whole array of other diseases and health problems.
    But then….do we not have to sustain ourselves with this carb based toxic brew in order to have enough to survive on for all of us? Could we , could our world, survive on an animal based (not industrially farmed) diet? I don’t think so and there you have it. We can shoot the crap all we want, we’re on a float shooting for the rapids. You can steer a bit one way, or you can try to delay by dragging your feet through the water, you can throw momma overboard and drag her beyond the float to slow it down. In the end you” hit the rapids and whatever you did, it was all for naught. So why not just keep on shooting the crap and keep on partying until it is all over. By the way you’ll have lot more fun with steaks than tofu.

  6. The Vegetarians and Vegans are a relief to the overburdened food system that struggles to support the meat consumption of the ‘developed’ world. The rainforests being demolished to grow soy and corn are being sacrificed to provide feed for the factories of production-line animals being raised in an artificial and suffering based way to provide cheap meat to indulge this fraction of the world’s population. Those that live in the developing world where meat consumption is much less have a significantly smaller footprint.

    Tofu is only a small aspect of a meatless diet. You have to be more adept at cooking, however, to enjoy a healthy vegetarian/vegan diet. The solution to our large footprint could be to open these killing fields (abatoirs) to the public. That yummy steak might become repulsive if this happened.

    For those who cannot give up meat, perhaps they could pay more (the artificially low price of meat is due to the unacceptable way animals are raised) to buy meat from animals that have been raised in a more natural way. That is: free-ranging, humane, free of steroids to make them grow abnormally fast, free of antibiotics to keep them from getting sick in the disgusting conditions of confined animal feed operations.
    Consequently, people would consume less meat thereby reducing their footprint. They would live healthier and longer as well as greatly reduce their impact on our healthcare system. Less suffering everywhere. Win-win.

  7. Maybe we need to look at ourselves as a resource. Or as a virus.
    We WILL eventually exhaust the resources available and then cease to exist.
    This is inevitable. So lets just carry on and the sooner WE are gone the better off other species will be.

  8. Unfortunately, this is more likely to end our rampage on the planet. Common sense is too inconvenient. Still, we owe it to the next generations to pull our heads out of the sand and stop being oblivious to what matters.

  9. We can argue the details of many issues to our hearts content. We are the problem…if we can convince 2 people to have only one child and slowly reduce the population we’ll have a chance to realize less, perhaps is more.

  10. Your opening synopsis sounds a bit like Werner Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. I do however agree with your statement that suggests “If we lived in smaller, more self-reliant communities……..”. Unfortunately, the fly in the ointment is that Globalization has taken us to far down the “I gotta have it now” road, for any viable alternative to have even a glimmer of hope.
    As always you make compelling and thought provoking arguments, I just don’t believe that they are in practice, possible.
    P.S. Mike makes a scary yet bona fide comment.

  11. Certainly Heisenberg had an important insight when he demonstrated that it is impossible to know both the exact position and the exact momentum or velocity of a sub atomic particle. Part of his argument turns on the problem that observing a particle can only happen by bouncing a photon of light (or some other particle) and measuring the result. The problem is that this bouncing affects the object being measured and it remains impossible to know what was going on before the measuring occurred.

    The uncertainty difficulty is compounded when quantum uncertainty is added to the mix, because then the act of measuring must be seen as collapsing the probability wave packet into a particular outcome and so one never knows what the measurement would have yielded had a different probability been collapsed.

    What I think Heisenberg brings to the event model is an ironic realization that his clarifying work would not have been necessary had we not fallen into the conceit and confusion of fashioning events into images and then started asking where and when these images occurred and how fast they are travelling. I suggest that images do not have velocity or momentum. Images of velocity or momentum are second order fantasies constructed on top of, or derived from, original images.

    Much the same can be said of quantum theory. It is not the case that quantum theory is an inexplicable twist at the very heart of matter. Matter, substances, elements, things, entities … are images distilled from inexorably proceeding events.

    Finally, as regards your ‘no glimmer of hope’ prognosis, it has been my experience that people are optimistic or pessimistic about such matters based on first-hand experience. If an individual has not given up, has a personal history of pushing back, … then they are likely to have a more optimistic sense of possibility than if they had lived their lives as either subjugated victims or more or less willing accomplices.

    Let me point out the irony of such a posture. It leaves open the possibility that the world could be full of cynical idealists, each willing to spring into action as soon as one or a few of their acquaintances gave them reason to believe they would not be acting alone!

    Why not lead off? What do you have to lose? This would be way better than just being able to say “I told you so!”

  12. Good point, although I don’t consider myself a pessimist, more of a realist would be closer to the heart of the matter. It’s been close to 40 years now since you first put forth your strategies for a better and more sustainable planet; ie “Five Acre Neighbours” & “The Matrix” and though we’ve had many animated discussions on the subject I have always been a supporter of your theories. I have also practiced what you preached (to an almost exhaustive level). The problems I have experienced trying to live within this model are simply this. I help build a house, yet build mine alone, I lend my back to friends, then end up in the hospital after no-one shows up to help with the docks, I rally the troops against an injustice, then stand alone at a village council meeting. The apathy of the population is at best staggering. As for myself, I still do what I can, when I can, but for the most part I feel beat down and slowly being forced into line with the rest of the sheep. Sad, Sad, Sad.

    P.S. Your understanding of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle far exceeds mine and your comments as always enlighten. As for quantum theory……. well….. maybe later.
    Cheers Old friend

  13. Hi Vern!
    I’m just starting to check out your site. Haven’t read too far into it but your writing is amazing! I can’t wait to read more! See you at the gym!

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