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Travels with Diesel Gallery of Images

The entries under the Gallery Index at the right will take you to galleries of images from my early travels in the late 1970's through my annual galleries in my post retirement years.

As a result of accumulated quantum accidents I was born on the WW II blacked out night of January 7, 1943 in a galaxy called the Milky Way, on the third planet from a star, in a northern hemisphere country called the USA, in an administrative district called Pennsylvania, in a town called Canton, on a street named Clinton. Like all other life on this planet and perhaps any planet, I am composed of genes, made up of nucleotides derived from a double helix of four chemical components: adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine, which served as a 2D blueprint for my instantiation and delivery into the quasiclassical domain of ordinary experience which serves as a garden of forking probability paths like those referenced in Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken".

Main Steet in Canton

The Transhumanist's Birthplace

As I set out to become the hero of my own life, I was initially handicapped by inadequate understanding and a limited ability to calculate. I was taken aback by the scarcity of rhyme or reason and so like everybody else I tried to impose on that disorder of random facts and chance phenomena some sort of artificial order based on false principles of causation. With the limited input of my parents, I comforted myself with religion and its illusions of predictability and even of mastery. I had hopes of being able to manipulate the disorderly world around me by appealing to the imaginary forces that had been invented by my ancestors. Raised until the age of six by my maternal grandmother, I was shocked so greatly by her death that I fell prey to the soothing hope of seeing her again in the afterlife promised by Christianity.

From the age of two, I had been diagnosed with pitted and wrinkled corneas which I somehow had acquired before birth or shortly afterward. This diagnosis had been reported to my family, or reinterpreted by them, as very likely to result in my early blindness, so I was probably managed and loved in the way that a handicapped child receives special attention. This need for special attention probably also led to me being reared as a sort of only child by my grandparents even after my mother and father returned from Texas after leaving me with my grandparents during the time when my father was stationed in Corpus Christi. I was just one year old when my mother left me in Canton to return in the fall of 1944 with my oldest sister Barbara (6/21/44) who was then perhaps five months old. After a short time living together with my grandparents, my "family" moved to a nearby house from which my mother could make daily visits as "their" family continued to grow with the addition of my sisters Emily (4/8/46) and Linda (12/21/47). Just before the birth of my brother John (7/5/49) my grandmother had grown ill from what the others were calling "yellow jaundice" and eventually had to go to the hospital from which she never returned. After being informed of her death, I was taken to the funeral home where the sight of her jaundiced darkened face haunted me well into my adult years.

Next came the trauma of an only child being "adopted" by my own large family who lived in "rural" East Canton. I wanted to love my new "father" but he had often been held in some contempt by my "surrogate parents" for his tendency toward emotional explosiveness, self-saving evasiveness and also called "Swearing Willie" for his coarse language. He was somewhat over compensatory for his smallness in stature and thoroughly consumed by making a few bucks a week to make sure that we were fed, educated, and provided with a doctor when necessary. My deficient eyes added to the healthcare expenses and I quite quickly developed the idea that I added to the new family's burdens while making little contribution to the positive side of the ledger.

I tried to make quality observations as quickly as possible so that I could begin to reduce the discrepancy between my internal information about the world and the information that existed around me. In concordance with the second law of thermodynamics, I paid for this increase in order and complexity by aging. In a way I had sort of arrived in the middle of my own life movie and needed to catch up with the plot lines as quickly as possible, but there were so many sub-plots going on. I was assigned to my own room but as I needed to go back and forth to the bathroom I had to make my way in the dark through the bedroom of my aunt and uncle who were in the process of mourning the still-born death of their son Patrick. I remember them interrupting their grief to muse on how well I was able to "see" in the dark and concluded that my success was due to the continuous practice of the skill during the "daylight" experience that properly seeing people enjoyed.

In retrospect, I think that this pseudo-adoption might have been the beginning of my travel bug as I had the first of many opportunities to try and develop a sense of other people's selves--their disposition, character, "way of being in the world"--as opposed to knowing about them --where they grew up, how many siblings they have, what they majored in, where they work etc. I had a sense of my own material body, my flesh and bone, but I had never known a lack of clothes to wear and possessions to own so I didn't have much of an impulse to seek these things. Beyond this anything to which I had devoted time, effort or resources seemed also part of what I might have called myself. Later I discovered that a person’s social self is a culmination of the recognition he receives from others. We seem to have some sort of innate propensity to get ourselves noticed, and each of us has as many different social selves as there are social groups of persons about whose opinion we care. I started getting a sense of self as a person’s inner subjective being, his psychic faculty or dispositions, reactions of others to my behavior, welcoming or opposing, appropriating or disowning, yes or no etc. Well into adulthood I struggled with the "one vs. many selves" problem as it seemed that each survival stage that I passed through in moving to a new school, becoming a member of the military, attending college and law school, and arriving at new levels of job responsibility caused my chameleon skin to change and challenged my sense of an ongoing self.

I started school in the fall of 1949 as the only first grade student in the East Canton one room elementary school. My father lost one of his jobs as a tenant farmer for the person who owned our house and we then moved to a house on Doty Hill near Fassett, PA where my mother's older sister Laura and her husband owned a general store. I rode the school bus each day to Gillett Elementary School for my second and third grade years while my father worked in a steel factory in Elmira, NY. On January 27, 1951 my youngest brother Carl was born to complete a wondrous emotional coalition that persisted intact until 2001 when we lost our youngest member to cancer. We continued to live on "Walton Mountain" (Goodnight John-Boy) until I had finished sixth grade in 1955 then moved to Alba, PA for my seventh and eighth grade bus rides to Troy High School.

The Reynolds Family

The Transhumanist's Family

Back to Canton for three years starting in 1958 to graduate from Canton High School in the spring of 1961; then came the Berlin Crisis in the fall, and John Glenn orbited the earth as I changed my name to US52560820 on February 20, 1962 and headed to Ft. Gordon, GA for basic training.

US Army

The Basic Training of a Transhumanist

With a vast increase in my pool of observations, an honorable discharge, and a GI Bill in my pocket; I attended Mansfield State College for one year before transferring my credits to the Pennsylvania State University in the fall of 1965 to major in International Politics with a Russian Area Study in the hope of joining the US Department of State.

Mansfield State College

Advanced Training at Mansfield State College

Penn State

The Pennsylvania State University

In my physics classes I was somewhat troubled to learn that according to quantum mechanics, wave function collapse (also called collapse of the state vector or reduction of the wave packet) is the phenomenon in which a wave function—initially in a superposition of several different possible eigenstates (quantum entanglement)—appears to reduce to a single one of those states after interaction with an observer. In simplified terms, it is the reduction of the physical possibilities into a single possibility as seen by an observer. The image below of a Static Probability Cloud presents a time snapshot location of the one electron that is in a hydrogen atom. An electron is a point particle, and in the picture it is in the n = 14 energy level, and it has 7 units of angular momentum. The quantity plotted is the probability that you will find the electron, should you measure at that location. Note the many islands that are surrounded by zero probability! (Axes are labeled in units of the Bohr radius, 0.53 Å). This knowledge vastly reduced the certainty of my previously acquired knowledge.

Static Probability Cloud

Static Probability Cloud

The best known measurement experiment is the "paradox" of Schrödinger's cat: a cat is apparently evolving into a linear superposition of basis vectors that can be characterized as an "alive cat" and states that can be described as a "dead cat". Each of these possibilities is associated with a specific non-zero probability amplitude; the cat seems to be in a "mixed" state. However, a single, particular observation of the cat does not measure the probabilities: it always finds either a living cat, or a dead cat. After the measurement the cat is definitively alive or dead. The question is: How are the probabilities converted into an actual, sharply well-defined outcome? Eugene Wigner reformulated the "Schrödinger's cat" thought experiment as "Wigner's friend" and proposed that the consciousness of an observer is the demarcation line which precipitates collapse of the wave function, independent of any realist interpretation. Commonly known as "consciousness causes collapse", this interpretation of quantum mechanics states that observation by a conscious observer is what makes the wave function collapse. It seems I am creating all of this stuff as I go along.

When I was not invited to join the State Department upon graduation in the spring of 1968, I accepted a scholarship to the Villanova School of Law and attended for one year before losing my zeal for that profession in the fall of 1969. During this time I began also to reduce my opinion of the American bourgeoisie. It was not that I despised luxury itself, but I began to despise those who were preoccupied with it. I looked at what they called their pleasures and it just seemed so miserably senseless to me. I would attend wonderful receptions for us future members of the wealthy club where people would be trembling in awe before their own lovely china and glittering crystal goblets, as if their dining room was the master and they were just objects serving it, objects created by their diamond shirt studs and necklaces, and not the other way around. I would look at the dim sculptured beauty of the room and at the people who sat at the tables. They sat in the manner of self-conscious display, as if the enormous cost of their clothes and the enormous care of their grooming should have fused into splendor, but didn't. Their faces had the look of rancorous anxiety.

Villanova University

Villanova University

Hi ho, hi ho, its off to Prudential I go from the fall of 1969 to the spring of 1977. Living small in an apartment in the Fernrock section of Philadelphia, I was able to accumulate funds for future observational adventures while enhancing my treasure trove of observational measurements through my interaction with the social, business, and technical communities centered on the Central Atlantic Home Office (CAHO). It was probably there that I became subjectively conscious of my consciousness. I more or less knew when I was conscious and I began to suspect that other people experience something corresponding to what I experience. To be conscious I seem to need to be conscious of something (focused), perhaps a sensation such as pain or warmth or a colorful scene or musical sound; or I may be conscious of a feeling such as puzzlement, despair, or happiness; or I might be conscious of the memory of some past experience, or of coming to an understanding of what someone else is saying, or a new idea of my own; or I may be consciously intending to speak or to take some other action such as get up from my seat. I might also 'step back' and be conscious of such intentions or of my feeling of pain or my experience of a memory or of my coming to an understanding or I might even be conscious of my own consciousness. I might be asleep and still be conscious to some degree, provided that I was consciously influencing the direction of that dream.

I read about and prepared for the possibility that consciousness is a matter of degree and not simply something that is either there or not there. I thought of consciousness as essentially synonomous with 'awareness', whereas 'mind' and 'soul' have further connotations that are a good deal less definable. I next began to struggle with the question of whether there was any distinction between something that is conscious and something that is not. Would consciousness in some object always reveal its presence? In reading Julian Jaynes, I learned that consciousness might not have even existed in human beings before about 1000 BCE, and that it may be absent today in people who have not bothered to load themselves with a certain threshold of metaphors. Somehow Darwinism had chosen to favor sentient beings like us, rather than to remain content with creatures that might carry on under the direction of totally unconscious control mechanisms, but I still could not quite escape the idea that the universe was objectively out there waiting for conscious beings to arrive with their measuring devices. It was only after reading of the Penrose-Hameroff model with its idea of decoherence at the neuron level, that its relevance in terms of modern quantum consciousness became clear to me and I could construct this post-modern "Cosmology for Dummies."

Mother Pru

The Prudential

When I am asked point-blank whether I believe in God I usually ask for some definition of the God that my interrogator has in mind. If the intervening personal God is proclaimed, I will quickly make good my Socratic escape by stating that I am only using this questioning technique to develop my comprehension of this powerful set of beliefs and moral guidelines that has made its way into the consciousness of so many human populations. I will probably agree in parting that the mythology has apparently been of some positive purpose as it is used by so many different types of governments to assist the police force in enabling domestic social control and to assist the military in girding their loins for battle with opposing nation state doctrines.

If I get a more serious definition I would probably reveal that I find it impossible to subscribe to monotheistic religion because I cannot believe that human beings were born, struggled, and expired for something like 150,000 years; often dying in childhood or for want of elementary nurture, and with a life expectancy of three decades at most. Add to these factors the turf wars between the descrepant groups and tribes, alarming outbreaks of disease, which had no germ theory to explain them let alone palliate them, and associated natural disasters and human tragedies. And yet, for all these millenia, God watched with indifference and then--and only in the last six thousand years at the very least--decided that it was time to intervene as well as redeem. And God would only intervene and redeem in remote areas of the Middle East, thus ensuring that many more generations would expire before the news could begin to spread. I am asked to believe that finally God had enough of the horror and sent a voice to Sinai and cement a pact with just one tribe of dogged and greedy yokels. Let me lend a son to be torn to pieces because he is misunderstood....Let me tell the angel Gabriel to prompt an illiterate and uncultured merchant into rhetorical flights and into signing up for a Procreation Management Plan to the beneifit only of his Arabic and Israeli sons and grandsons. At last the darkness previously enabled will lift. Somewhere I had to stop entertaining such elaborately mad ideas and to stop suspending disbelief in order to assign credibility to an incomprehensible set of magic tricks.

Not to get worked up, but monotheism also involved ignoring or explaining away the many religious beliefs that antedated Abraham. Our primeval ancestors were by no means atheistic: they raised beautiful temples and altars and offered the requisite terrified obsequies and sacrifices. Their religion was man-made, like all the others. There was a time when Greek thinkers denounced Christians and Zoroastrians denounced Muslims as "atheists" for their destruction of old sites and the prohibition of ancient rituals. The source of desecration and profanity is religious, as we can see from the way that today's believers violate the sanctity of each other's temples from Belfast to Baghdad and beyond. Richard Dawkins may have phrased it most pungently when he argued that everybody is an atheist in saying that there is a god--from Ra to Shiva--in which he does not believe. All that the serious and objective atheist does is to take the next step and to say that there is just one more god to disbelieve in. Human solipsism can generally be counted on to become enraged and to maintain that this least discountable god must not be the one in which the believer himself has invested so much credence. So on it goes with belief systems which have served to organize mankind into groups that are internally cohesive, but sometimes intensely competitive with one another, often to the point of conflict or persecution, sometimes accompanied by massive violence. But the man-made character of religion, from which monotheism swore to deliver us at least in its pagan form, persists in a terrifying shape in our own time, as believers fight each other over the correct interpretation and even kill members of their own faith in battles over doctrine. Civilization has been immensely retarded by such arcane interfaith quarrels and could now be totally destroyed by their modern versions.

We seem unlikely to cease making gods or inventing ceremonies to please or placate them for as long as we are afraid of death, or of the dark, and for as long as we persist in self-centeredness. That could be a lengthy stretch of time. However, it is just as certain that some of us shall cast a skeptical and perhaps ironic or even a witty eye on what we have ourselves invented. If religion is innate in us, then so is our doubt of it and our contempt for our own weakness.

An Alternative View

 

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