Stephen King could have been God
(if he'd been born 6,000 years earlier)
ONE MINUTE SITE TOUR
"Nobody gets out of here alive."
-- Jim Morrison of the band The Doors
Somewhere among the ancestors of human beings there apparently existed the first animal to truly comprehend its own mortality.
This realization probably accompanied the newly emerging ability to think and plan ahead.
For sooner or later, thinking ahead brought you smack up against the fact you might personally get eaten by a saber tooth tiger, just like aunt Cecilia.
Eventually this new skill (and sobering realization) became a readily accessed blessing (or curse) to just about every human being on the planet.
Today, just as back then, mostly people try to use the thinking part without acknowledging their personal end scenario which must ultimately punctuate all their actions on Earth.
But sometimes it can be awfully hard to ignore that final exit door at the end of our journey.
The actual mother of invention
So eventually our ancestors came up with a neat solution: they decided to pit their newfound thinking skills against their end scenarios themselves. To fight fire with fire. Use the very thing which enabled us to understand our end was inevitable, to come up with creative ways to either avoid it, delay it, or at least dress it up to look nicer.
And the art of invention was born. Invention of ways to put off or deny death, by cleverly eradicating (or rendering less likely) possible causes of same. Or make death itself less scary in general.
We invented weapons that helped in two ways: one, to defend us from the wolves, lions, tigers, bears, etc., etc., that were eating us. And two, to help us eat other animals who were now less scary than a man with a club or a spear.
The weapons were a fantastic way to stave off death-- at least until we began using them on each other too. Ouch!
But we continued to invent new ways of cheating or delaying death. As well as making life (and death) more comfortable in general.
Unfortunately, despite all our best efforts over millions of years, our inventions basically did no better than raise our average life expectancy at birth to maybe two or three times what it was when we first awoke to thinking in the first place. Damn it!
Plus, we discovered we were prone to all sorts of new and unexpected ailments after the age of 25 or so. Which created the need for a whole new set of inventions!
The original S.W.A.G.s (super-wild-assed-guesses)
This frustrating lack of progress (compared to our hopes) was of course obvious to our ancestors long, long ago. So maybe as far back as a million years BC, they started a separate imaginative track from the invention course (but parallel to it), regarding everything outside the realm of existing knowledge and therefore inventive potential.
The second track was the metaphysical. Or spiritual. Or supernatural.
Basically the unknown, and maybe ever unknowable.
This second track was at once easier and harder than the invention one. For unlike inventions, metaphysical ideas didn't have to actually work, or accomplish anything more than intrigue or entertain your fellow tribesman.
Tall tales are born
And so the best story tellers rose to prominence among humanity. Amazingly enough, usually beating in local popularity and support all the members who actually did the work (and faced the dangers) required to feed and protect the tribe!
Eventually the story tellers' family lines became known as shamans or witch doctors, and their tribes turned to them for just about everything outside the realm of the known and invented. Which-- of course-- meant just about everything, from advice regarding toe nail fungus, up through whether they should kill their neighbor or not (and how).
Camp fire politics preceded office politics
Early shamans and witch doctors tended to cater to relatively small groups or tribes. But over time the total human population grew ever larger, and people traveled more, and the tales of story tellers from different regions came to be compared and contrasted among their respective flocks.
This led to increasing competition between story tellers. One of the ways they competed was by literal self-promotion. That is, they would give themselves grand new titles, which they said were higher ranked than the previous labels of shaman or witch-doctor.
The new titles included terms like priests, or prophets or seers. There were almost as many different new titles as there were story tellers, back then. But today we know only of the titles which won the competition in those early times.
Usually the storyteller with the most appealing and popular stories won the contest. Truth and accuracy were much less important than entertainment and novelty. Just as is so today.1
However, those story tellers who amassed sufficient wealth or power through their tales could dispense with creativity in story telling thereafter, and simply drive off, conquer, or kill rivals, as well as their rivals' followers.
The invention of writing helps reduce the competition (as literacy is a rare commodity in the early days)
And that's when lots of the old stories were lost forever, while the 'winners' were enshrined as religious gospels or forms of government (kingdoms and empires) for various peoples around the world.
My title is better than your title
Some of the most powerful early storytellers dropped the act entirely, and started a new one: claiming 'royal' bloodlines (the 'royal' title of course was simply yet another ratcheting up of the original new title contest). That is, they proclaimed themselves kings or queens or emperors, and their children to be the rightful heirs to everything which the new kings/queens/emperors had seized from others, in their rise to occupy newly built, fancy-made furniture they now referred to as 'thrones'.
Yes: by this point even inanimate furniture was beginning to get grandiose titles of its own.
Not all story tellers anointed themselves as royalty, however. For the title contest was still raging, and it was unclear which titles which end up being the most valuable.
A whole other group of world conquering hopefuls stuck with the original metaphysical theme of storytelling, now re-branding their accounts as "religious", and straight from the mouths of strange, usually omnipotent beings, beyond mortal ken5. These guys are the ones who created "churches" of various names: each meant to sound more important than all the others.
Yeah: it was basically a huge spitting contest which lasted thousands of years (and still goes on today). Unfortunately, way too many people take it all way too seriously, and actually kill others over details in the stories-- and even different interpretations of the same stories!
Yes. Even the original winning stories from centuries ago have today been splintered into a multiplicity of interpretations: or stories about stories-- about stories.
The most glaring example? All the different denominations (or churches) of Christianity. There may be an entirely new one formed about once a week now.
But anyway--- !
Humanity went to a huge amount of trouble to create two major but highly separate ways to imaginatively deal with death and dying. Tools invention, and story-telling.
The tools invention seemed to stall out at extending our average life expectancies at birth by around 300% from the natural one of 'tooth and claw'.
The story-telling policy always seemed better than the invention path for many of us-- but for reasons we could never quite define in logical or reasonable detail. Ergo, the reason that today that path is often referred to as 'blind faith'.2
Time, money, and fine-tuning breeds misplaced reverence
Unfortunately, as mentioned before, as time passed the original stories seemed to take on ever more weight and reverence among their adherents. Basically because the later followers were so far removed from personal familiarity with the original story tellers, who close friends knew for a fact had been absolutely no better or worse or smarter or holier than most anyone else around at the time: they'd simply been decent story-tellers (or liars, as is also an accurate synonym for such folks-- wherever they claim a story is true when it isn't; and most did just that; for the competition could be fierce, remember!).
Over time, those original story tellers took on a mythical, or even magical status with new generations of fans of their works. And their stories began to be taken far more seriously than they had ever been in their own lifetimes (something like how the works of certain long dead 'starving' artists fetch fortunes today).
And I mean deadly serious. As decades and centuries passed, more and more people came to be killed over the stories themselves. Until at some point the stories ended up at least neutralizing the life extension or enhancement advantages conveyed by inventions-- if not rolling them back outright.
For if you compare the toll of death and suffering stemming from the stories to the life extension gains from invention, it may be we've actually begun losing ground overall, by the dawn of the 21st century.
But all that's a secular perspective on the past and present tangible aspects of the storytellers' legacy. What about the stories themselves? Regarding death and the afterlife? Their first and main reason for being made up in the first place. Isn't there anything useful there?
If nothing else, the stories do offer up a wide and creative variety of possible explanations of death and any possible afterlife.
Especially if you examine all the surviving stories, and not just the handful which have come to dominate the modern world.
Indeed, the more obscure and lesser known tales are often more engrossing than their better-known counterparts, these days. For the mainstream tales have gradually been pruned and revised by later editors to better suit their own preferences as time passed.
So this makes it a shame that we lost so many other stories from those times entirely.
Today's astonishing territorial struggle between the powers of invention and story-telling (science versus religion versus business versus government)
On the other hand, the art of invention (or science) has in some ways come along far enough by now to give the original story tellers a run for their money.
That is, science is getting ever closer to explaining so much of the world in a comprehensible way, that the great unknowns once the exclusive territory of the story tellers is now shrinking fast.
And of course, with shrinking territory comes more frequent and more violent territorial spats. Partly between science and religion. But also between science and business. And science and governments. And between religions themselves.
SETI results indicate storytellers usually come out on top-- and civilization collapses
It's hard to predict which faction will ultimately come out on top-- as humanity has shown a propensity to go backwards about as often as it has to move forward. And the absence of any signs of other civilizations in the void so far may indicate most cultures eventually turn their backs entirely upon science and curiosity and exploration-- and simply go extinct.3
For people can't live by stories alone. No matter what some extremists claim.
One thing science has on its side is that it works. Pit science against plain old stories in the real world-- like using well-established farming practices to grow food, versus praying for manna from Heaven-- and science will virtually always win.
It's people's love of stories-- no matter their veracity or real world usefulness-- which may forever represent the greatest threat to reason, science, logic-- and so world peace and prosperity too.
For lies are often far more attractive than the truth.4 Especially to the ignorant, the prejudiced-- or sophisticated thieves or plain old hate mongers in search of a victim.
For millions of years the primary ways we got to live better and longer came solely from invention-- not the tall tales of our storytellers. No matter how pretty they painted their fictions, or how much faith we wanted to place in them.
An actual fire (one of our earliest inventions or scientific discoveries) wards off predators, lights our way, and warms us against the cold. A story about the fiercest, most powerful, and most magical fire imaginable only leaves us in the dark, defenseless, and cold.
Below is a list of links I'm compiling about the science and stories of death, dying, and the afterlife. I hope you will find it BOTH useful and entertaining!
For those who like what they've already read on this page, I'll start off the catalog with my own related story list and links:
"Genetic samples and recent comprehensive scans (regularly made) can now be used to reconstruct people (with original personalities and memories intact) of whom nothing else remains."
-- 99 +% recovery/reconstitution from fatal accidents, and more; 2273 AD-2350 AD Many now live in floating sky homes; death becomes obsolete; a second wave of deep space exploration begins; perfect nanotechnology bodies are created
"Perhaps to the astonishment of many sober 20th century minds, the seemingly outlandish concepts of the 20th century tome 'The Omega Point' are actually brought to fruition after a fashion, by one group of physicals of this time.
Specifically, the vast archives of historic DNA data and other information from millennia past are used to generate yet another variation on Old Earth, whereby every possible human being that could ever have lived is brought back to life again.
Actually, this project results in not only the effective simulated reincarnation of almost every physical human being who ever lived, but also many billions who didn't. ALL possible permutations of all the known human DNA matrices with nominal or better chances for sustained survival are generated in this project."
-- The Omegans, the dead returned to life, and those that never were, are; Post-Reconvergence: 3000- 3450 AD; differing paths for physicals and virtuals (another way we might all eventually be brought back to life by future beings)
Fance and the Wilds; Reference Notes about the Sol pertaining to 2601 and beyond (Fance is a possible future virtual reality in which one might live forever, with none of the problems or limitations of a flesh and blood body)
Our ultimate coporeal form (possible physical forms of the future which could make their wearers almost impossible to kill-- and therefore effectively immortal)
The Chance of a Realtime (online novel about what happens when a programmer creates an immortal artificial intelligence instructed to return via time travel to rescue him from death once the technology is available-- no matter how long it takes)
To Treat the Dead The new science of resuscitation is changing the way doctors think about heart attacks—and death itself. By Jerry Adler Newsweek May 7, 2007
Back From the Dead Doctors are reinventing how they treat sudden cardiac arrest, which is fatal 95 percent of the time. A report from the border between life and death.By Jerry Adler Newsweek July 23, 2007 issue
MORE COMING SOON!
-- Shaky details? Come up with a good story and people might not notice; 12-Feb-2007; Contact: Suzanne Wu firstname.lastname@example.org 773-834-0386 University of Chicago Press Journals
-- Blind Faith - Americans believe in religion -- but know little about it Reviewed by Susan Jacoby; March 4, 2007; Page BW03
"Blind faith in bad leaders is not patriotism"
-- Challenging the Culture of Obedience by ROSS C. ANDERSON; [posted online on September 1, 2006]
-- God help us when faith silences reason By ROBYN BLUMNER; January 7, 2007
-- Confronting the Challenges of Social Evolution and Dangers of Technology to Reach an Ultimate Destiny of Transcendence, Decay, or Extinction from The Rise and Fall of Star Faring Civilizations in Our Own Galaxy
-- The Disrespect for Truth has Brought a New Dark Age by Paul Craig Roberts; December 29, 2006
"What matters most in politics - facts and logic, or stories and feelings? Drew Westen says it's emotion that counts - and shows how Bill Clinton and George W Bush understood this, while John Kerry and Al Gore never got it."
-- Voting with their hearts; August 8, 2007; guardian.co.uk
"The past 30 years or so have been an age of endarkenment. It has been a period in which truth ceased to matter very much, and dogma and irrationality became once more respectable. This matters when people delude themselves into believing that we could be endangered at 45 minutes' notice by non-existent weapons of mass destruction.
It matters when reputable accountants delude themselves into thinking that Enron-style accounting is acceptable. It matters when people are deluded into thinking that they will be rewarded in paradise for killing themselves and others. It matters when bishops attribute floods to a deity whose evident vengefulness and malevolence leave one reeling. And it matters when science teachers start to believe that the Earth was created 6,000 years ago."
-- The age of endarkenment
-- Why is no one questioning the rise of new-age nonsense in the name of science, asks David Colquhoun; August 15 2007; The UK Guardian
-- Ambivalent about who to vote for? You're more likely to be persuaded by a disreputable source; 12-Feb-2007; Contact: Suzanne Wu email@example.com 773-834-0386 University of Chicago Press Journals
-- How Man Created God By JOHN ELSON; Sep. 27, 1993; TIME
Copyright © 2009 by J.R. Mooneyham. All rights reserved.