The goggles I wore displayed the view from a camera pointing at my back. Ehrsson tapped my chest with one plastic rod while using a second one to synchronously prod at the camera. I saw and felt my chest being prodded at the same time as I saw a picture of myself from behind. Within ten seconds, I felt as if I was being pulled out of my real body and was floating several feet behind it.A year after removing his subjects from their own bodies, Ehrsson learned how to trick them into acquiring new ones. This time, the volunteers’ goggles showed them the view from a camera on the head of a mannequin looking at its own plastic torso. Simultaneously poking the arm or stomach of the mannequin and the volunteer a few times was enough to convince the subjects that they were the dummy. They could even stare at their old bodies from their new ones and shake hands with their old self, all without breaking the spell. “It really is very intense and incredibly fast,” says Mark Hallett, a neurologist from the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, who experienced it first hand.In his latest trick, published in May, Ehrsson convinced people that they had jumped into a tiny Barbie doll. When he prodded the doll’s legs, the volunteers thought they were being prodded by giant objects. And when Ehrsson tested the illusion on himself and a colleague touched his cheek, he says, he looked up and “felt as if I was back in my childhood and looking at my mother”.…He also occasionally gets angry letters from people who have had out-of-body experiences themselves. “They believe that their souls have left their bodies, and they feel threatened that a similar experience can be induced in a lab,” says Ehrsson. He offers a diplomatic response, saying that he has “no way of disproving their ideas”. Metzinger is more forthright. “Henrik’s work speaks to the idea that there is no such thing as a soul or a self that’s independent of the brain,” he says.
Reviewing familiar principles and maxims in the face of mortal illness, Christopher Hitchens has found one of them increasingly ridiculous: “Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” Oh, really? Take the case of the philosopher to whom that line is usually attributed, Friedrich Nietzsche, who lost his mind to what was probably syphilis. Or America’s homegrown philosopher Sidney Hook, who survived a stroke and wished he hadn’t. Or, indeed, the author, viciously weakened by the very medicine that is keeping him alive.
Or, as George Carlin said, much more succinctly:
Here’s more middlebrow bullshit philosophy. “That which does not kill me makes me stronger.” I’ve got something more realistic: “That which does not kill me may sever my spinal cord, crush my rib cage, cave in my skull and leave me helpless and paralyzed, soaking in a puddle of my own waste.” Put that in your T-shirt, touchy feely New Age asshole!
Yeah, it’s a bit of a shame that of all the things Nietzsche wrote, this should be possibly the bite-sized quotation that’s become part of the collective consciousness. He wrote much more profound stuff, really! But I think Hitchens is right in saying that all he really meant by it was to attempt to affirm the few periods of pain-free existence he had as he aged, in keeping with his thoughts on the eternal recurrence and all that. And the romantic in me can sympathize with the proud, defiant gesture of it. Like the eternal recurrence, treat it as a thought experiment rather than a factual statement, a brave attempt to hold on to all that gives your life meaning even when facing unbearable suffering, and I think it sounds a lot less facile.
…adding, this is just fucking stupid. Of course it’s not “true”. Is logical positivism suddenly back in vogue? What simpleton ever took the phrase literally in the first place? And what is this “atheist list” of maxims from which it must be scratched? We have our own official list of U.S.D.A. certified godless aphorisms now? Is it a list of sayings by atheists, for atheists, or both? What are the penalties for quoting unapproved sources?
Pinker recognizes World Wars I and II as big problems for his thesis that modernity lessens violence. Though far from the only mass atrocities in human history, these conflicts entail some of the most densely violent years in the annals of bloodshed. Pinker asserts that despite this, the détente that occurred afterwards was more durable: The “enduring moral trend of the [20th] century was a violence-averse humanism that originated in the Enlightenment, became overshadowed by counter-Enlightenment ideologies wedded to agents of growing destructive power, and regained momentum in the wake of World War II.”
Epstein finds these stories irresistible, as he phrases it, “A man or woman without any interest in gossip may be impressive in his or her restraint, but also wanting in curiosity, uninterested in the variousness of human nature, dead to the wildly abundant oddity of life, and thereby, in some central way, deficient.”
Deficient, huh? Well, this is where I just like to invoke the vague autism-spectrum thing to explain my failure to evince interest in the salacious details of other people’s peccadilloes. But in fairness, when I read that, it occurred to me that perhaps this also applies to my lack of interest in reading fiction. Seriously, I’m the most fiction-deficient person you know. I hardly have any novels on my shelves, except for escapist Forgotten Realms fantasy stuff. I’m intensely interested in issues and ideas, especially in philosophy and history and psychology, but not so much in particular individual characters. Interesting.
But yeah, gossip per se doesn’t hold any attraction for me. It was strange over Thanksgiving, not having seen my family much for several months, to notice how jarring it felt to hear my mom and brother indulging in petty, somewhat mean-spirited gossip about people we knew. I didn’t realize how little I missed being around it. My brother told me something about a former co-worker of ours, who he claimed was having some sort of trouble in his twenty-year relationship. I found myself both embarrassed and irritated at even having to listen to it. And that makes me wonder about the accuracy of Epstein’s description — doesn’t it take a more nuanced, experienced understanding of human nature to hear a rumor like that and immediately think, yeah, well, maybe his wife is cheating on him, and he’s always seemed like a super-swell guy, but what the hell do I know about what their relationship has been like for almost two decades? There’s always more to the story than what you first hear. People change and grow apart, interpreting the same situations differently until one day they suddenly realize that a hairline crack in their shared experience has widened into a unbridgeable chasm. It doesn’t always lend itself well to the gossipy tendency to paint a heroes-and-villains kind of story.
The thing I associate most with gossip isn’t being titillated by dirty little secrets; after all, a lot of gossip is benign, just a way to fill the air with words and create some sort of common bond. It’s what most people would think of as the mindset of a small town, where everybody knows everybody else, and more importantly, seems to take it for granted that they have a right to be in everyone else’s business. My family is very small and I only have two living relatives outside of the area; we’ve never been very tight-knit. But my ex had a larger extended family, and it was always expected that you would put in regular appearances, especially at holidays, and there was something unsavory about you if you didn’t. I could never get over my instinctive revulsion at the presumption, the expectation that I was obliged to keep everyone informed about what I was doing, and again, the embarrassment at having to hear about whatshisname’s gambling problem and so-and-so’s mental illness.
I wish we had an acceptable social category that encompassed the feeling of “You’re a pleasant enough person, but we’re only associating through external circumstance, we really don’t have anything in common, and we should just be adults and accept that we don’t want to spend any time around each other without anyone feeling insulted.” Maybe the Germans or the Japanese have a word for that.
Midtown is not exactly a hotbed of tattoo activity at any time of day, let alone at 11 p.m. on a Tuesday, but that turned out to be the saving grace that prevented me from becoming a hypocrite. As I accidentally discovered online a few days later, getting a tattoo can be about as vegan as having a rib-eye sewn to your arm. The ink and processes at your average shop contain a veritable buffet of animal detritus: charred bones of dead animals in the ink, fat from once-living things in the glycerin that serves as a carrying agent, enzymes taken from caged sheep that go into making the care products.
…”I’ve never found anything that works as well,” said Karr, who dabbles in ink-making himself. “It sucks that you can’t live your life completely vegan. Where do you draw the line? It’s really difficult to remove all the elements from your life.”
In times of ethical crisis like this I turn to my friend J.P. Piteo, a coworker and compendium of cruelty-free esoterica. In addition to being the longest tenured vegan in my quiver (13 years), she’s tattooed from ear to ankle. She didn’t learn about the ink issue until five years after her first tattoo and well into her vegan career.
“In the moment you are permanently decorating yourself with a tattoo, you can also choose how you make an impact on the environment,” she told me. “And we all know how pollution works and how it’s largely irreversible, just like your new tattoo. That’s supposed to be a part of what veganism is about, that big picture.”
It’s funny how those who are most likely to espouse platitudes about everything being connected, all being one in the circle of life, never seem to firmly grasp just how true that really is, and how devastating it is to our egocentric experience of the world.
Aiming to minimize needless suffering is a great thing, of course. Doing your best to be aware and compassionate is a commendable thing. But you see it in descriptors like “hypocritical” — this is where veganism as an ideology is just one more ego bath, taking overweening pride in abstractions like consistency and rationality, nowhere near as radical as its proponents like to style themselves.
It’s simply impossible to remove yourself from samsara so that you are not contributing a single molecule in thought or deed to perpetuating suffering. I don’t care who told you otherwise; Buddha, Jesus, whoever, they were flat-out lying through their yellow teeth. It’s a delusion to insist on seeing suffering as an unfortunate side effect that can be prevented with enough diligent maintenance like a homeowner keeping the cedar siding from getting warped and mildewed, rather than a fundamental attribute of life. Even the purest vegan body is going to replenish the soil which will nourish the plants which will be eaten by the herbivores who will fall prey to the carnivores who will feed the worms and insects who will be snapped up by the birds and lizards and on and on as it’s always gone, as it always will even once we are gone (thanks to Shanna for the recommendation; that is indeed a fascinating book), until the Sun vaporizes the Earth and all of this sound and fury turns back into basic atoms scattered across endless space. And that’s the crux of it — veganism as an ideology is just one more way of desperately trying to convince ourselves that we ultimately matter, that we’re special, that through our self-centered willpower, we can save and be saved.
Religious people distrust the world’s estimated 500 million atheists as much as rapists, a study found Friday in the wake of a poll that said less than half of Americans would vote for an atheist president.“Where there are religious majorities — that is, in most of the world — atheists are among the least trusted people,” said lead author Will Gervais, a doctoral student in psychology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.…“While atheists may see their disbelief as a private matter on a metaphysical issue, believers may consider atheists’ absence of belief as a public threat to cooperation and honesty.”
Part of the allure of reading is finding fictional worlds more interesting than the predictable day-to-day of real life. But books haven’t simply offered escape. They have given me depth, they have given me perspective, the sense that my days and nights have expanded, opened out.…The fact is that at the age of forty-three years and twenty-eight days I have a room that can rightly, justifiably be called a library. It’s a physical thing as much as a brain and heart thing; it’s a space, a place, a room all of my own, in every possible way. It is without question my favorite room in the house, the most important room, as archaic as that sounds, as archaic as it probably is, but I really don’t care. My library is my anchor, it’s my look-out, it’s my lighthouse.