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The Situation:

How my School Bus duties became a mission statement

Human beings just like you and I 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 are even more precisely located. They start their count on Kim Il-sung's birthday April 15, 1912. 

No matter what calendar is used, we 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, literacy or opportunity and could theoretically 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 a second time.

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 locked them down into rigid understandings and group allegiances.

This is why it makes sense to say that we are born at puberty! 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 have failed, 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'.

Other challenges confront commonsense views of the world and persons:

  • 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 make sustained, often timely responses to current events. This is a big deal, but not enough to make us supernatural.