The Illusion of Consciousness

What follows is a conjecture, my conjecture, not someone else’s peer-reviewed fact-checked observation or theory, although some other person may very well have come up with some or all of the ideas I am presenting.

Consciousness itself is not an illusion. Consciousness exists. It is a phenomenon. But what is this phenomenon? It is not a presentation of reality, but a presentation of an illusion of reality. The illusion seems correlated to the limited segments of reality we can perceive.

We seem to be able to “see through” the illusion if we think about it rationally, but we are unequipped to perceive the actual reality on the other side of our consciousness.

I am not just talking about the physical limitations of our senses of sight, sound, touch, smell, or taste, although they are the root cause of our limitations. We build instruments of measurement that extend our perceptions, but they will probably never be good enough to present to us raw reality such as it really is.

We walk on the ground, thinking it is solid unless there is an earthquake, but neither the ground nor we are solid. The particles that make up the ground and our bodies are separated from each other like the stars and planets in the night sky but at much smaller scales.

The sea or lake in which we swim is also an illusion. The particles making up the water are separated from each other.

On the other hand, it could very well be that those elementary particles are not solid, but probability waves or energetic perturbations in a field extending throughout the universe or virtual particles and anti-particles popping into and out of existence in the vacuum of space.

You look at a red apple. You give it to your girlfriend, Eve. She sees it’s red too. At least she says so. But there is no such thing as red or any other color. We see certain colors because that’s how the rods in our eyes respond to certain electromagnetic radiation wavelengths in the light reflected off the things we look at. We can’t see infrared or ultraviolet, but we have built instruments that can “see” IR or UV and present it to us as some color we can see.

We go to concerts to listen to music, which is made up of tones, beats, and rests. But there are no such things as tones, beats, or rests. We hear tones and beats because that is how the tympanic membrane and the cilia in our inner ear respond to vibrations in the air, water, or solid. The rests are just the absence of auditory sensations for a certain duration of time.

You taste a juicy steak or smell something lemony. You touch another person, flesh to flesh. I have no intention of deflating these experiences for you, but you get the idea. You can see through the illusion, but we have no desire to do so.

What about space and time, or spacetime? Are there discrete chunks of it or is it continuous? Scientists currently believe the smallest thing that can be measured is a Planck Length, which is equal to the diameter of a proton divided by 10 followed by 20 zeroes. The smallest moment that can be measured is a Planck Time, which is the length of time it takes to travel a Planck Length at the speed of light. According to quantum theory, anything smaller would be impossible to measure and meaningless.

For what it’s worth, I’d put my dollar on space and time being infinitely divisible or, in other words, continuous. My reasoning is that if you posit that spacetime or space and time are discrete and chunky, then there must be something beneath spacetime, to which space and time are “pinned”. Call it whatever you want. Call it reality, unless of course, reality is pinned to some other underlying medium.

We could regress like this ad infinitum and all that we know of reality through our consciousness is an elaborate illusion.

Mike Stone

June 23, 2021

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In the Valley of Elah & More — Mike Stone

Posted on  by The BeZine Editors

Variants - Digital Work - Miroslava Panayotova
Variants – Digital Work – Miroslava Panayotova

The Irony of Plowshares

In the Middle East
If you want to prepare for peace
You must first prepare for war
Because peace must be waged
With the same seriousness of intent as war
And there are as many obstacles and pitfalls
On the path to peace as there are along the path to war.
A weak man cannot forge peace because
His weakness tempts his enemies to attack
And weak are the sabre rattlers
Hoping to frighten their enemies
With simulations of disproportionate force.
Their fears and uncertainties blind them
To the path of peace.
Only a strong man is confident and sees clearly.
He walks calmly along the path
Narrow as the razor's edge.
The path to peace meanders through Gaza
Where we've been eyeless and
Our plow shares will be made out of swords,
Neither flowers
Nor gentle breezes.

		September 28, 2016

Ode to the Common Man

This is not a tale that Homer’d tell of
Achilles, hero of the Achaean army,
Paris, jack of hearts and Troy’s downfall,
Or Odysseus, errant lord of Ithaca,
No, this is an ode to common men
On whose backs history marches
But of whom little or nothing is recorded,
Who follow heroes to untimely deaths,
Who mimic their brave gestures and rousing phrases
Until a roar rises up from countless throats
To cow those who would think more rationally,
Common men who stand against uncommon men,
Common men who march stridently in endless waves
Toward the future facing backward,
Common men who’d be their heroes
If only they were common too.

			December 30, 2019

In the Valley of Elah

In the Valley of Elah, not far from Gat
A young Philistine puts a smooth stone
In the pouch of his sling with one hand, 
Pulls the leather thongs taut with his other hand,
And swings the stone over his head,
Releasing its lethal trajectory
At a squad of helmeted shielded soldiers
Patrolling the rocky hills.
It is always the same play –
Sometimes we are David and
Sometimes we are Goliath.

			February 12, 2021

©2021 Mike Stone
All rights reserved


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It’s out!

Poetry! Read it. Write it. There’s nothing quite like it. Although it’s not provable in a court of law and it won’t get us to Mars and back on a single tank of gas, poetry has an unfair advantage over every other form of writing when it’s good. When it is inspired, it leaps high in the sky over every obstacle.

Inspiration is what we demand from the poetry we read, neither rhyme nor meter will suffice. Inspiration cannot be cranked out or forced. Like the ancient Greek Muses of the arts and sciences, she will come when she comes, if she comes at all. All a poet can do is to make himself (or herself) worthy of the Muse, and perhaps she will find him (or her).

My seventh book of poetry, “What’s a Nice Muse like You Doing in a Place like This?” is hot off the Amazonian presses today. It’s available in paperback for the more physically inclined readers. For the more spiritually inclined, it’s also available in Kindle (digital download) format.

Mike Stone

June 13, 2021

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We Are Still Ok

We are still ok. Last night was quiet for our sons’ families and us, but Gazan rockets still bombarded our southern towns and villages and continue to do so as of this writing.

You hear many voices, many narratives. Many of them are shouted or chanted, many images and many languages. How do you know which ones to believe? I tend to believe the one with the least hatred, the one least certain of itself, the one spoken with tears, but maybe that’s just me.

The reason there are no negotiations or, if there are, they don’t get anywhere, is that both sides stop the negotiation process after stating their maximum demands. Negotiation requires an iterative give and take process. A few days ago, someone pointed out that the Bible requires us not to surround the enemy on all sides or force him into a corner, but to leave the enemy a means of escape. That concerns waging a war as morally as possible. But how do we wage peace morally? I believe that there are parallels between the way we wage war and the way peace should be waged.

Unfortunately, the current set of politicians on both sides are not nearly as professional as the military commanders on both sides and whatever advantages are gained on the battlefield by military actions are likely to be wasted by the blather and posturing of politicians.

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This Round

I’m sad to have to admit that the hotheads won this round. It seemed as though we were on the cusp of change for the better, change that would have benefitted all our citizens, and would have strengthened our frail democracy and institutions of justice.

In order for the voices of reason and fairness to stand together there must be sufficient trust among those voices. We came close to trusting each other, to imagining how we could work together on common goals and objectives, some of us anyway. Maybe it was never meant to be, although I still believe that someday it will happen. It’s inevitable if we survive that long.

We need each other. The good that Israel has done for the rest of the world can also benefit all of our citizens and our neighboring countries too. And Israel needs its Israeli-Arab citizens too. Close to half of our doctors and nurses are Israeli-Arab. Bedouin and Druze serve in combat roles in our army. They are among our best and most loyal soldiers. I won’t even mention the restaurants, owners, cooks, waiters, and kitchen staff and all the other businesses and workers we depend on. A few nights ago, Amnon Abramowitz, a respected news analyst, said that Israel wouldn’t last a week if all the Israeli-Arabs were to go on strike.

Our country cannot afford to have second-class citizens. It can only afford to have one class.

As for the asymmetry between Israel and Gaza, that’s absolutely true. Thank God, America, and our ingenuity for that asymmetry. The reason we need it (and it still may not be enough to protect us) is not because of Gaza, but because we are surrounded, and way outnumbered by nations who would like nothing better than to wipe our little fly-speck of a country off the face of the earth.

So, with all this asymmetry between Gaza and us, it doesn’t make any sense to me either why they would spend all their money (and they get a lot from sympathetic Arab countries) on making and purchasing missiles and building tunnels under our border fences instead of building hospitals, schools, and hotels and making it a safe and desirable place for tourism and investment. They are not stupid. A Jordanian captain I met in Columbus Ohio years ago said the Palestinians are considered to be the Jews of the Arab world. He meant that they were known to be much smarter and successful than the average non-Palestinian Arabs. So why do they initiate battles with us? What do they expect us to do? Turn the other cheek? Pack our bags and get out of Dodge?

We are very clever in the ways of war, but we aren’t very wise in the ways of peace, and that’s unfortunate because peace requires a lot of wisdom.

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We are ok (so far)

A missile from Gaza

We are ok, so far today – and yet we are not ok. Our country is going to hell, jumping off a tall building without a parachute, or whatever other metaphor you can think of.

As of this writing, Gaza has fired over 850 missiles and shells at Southern and Central Israel since yesterday, killing several people and injuring others, destroying an oil storage tank, damaging some buildings, cars, and an empty bus. Israel’s air force has responded by killing many more Gazans, Hamas terrorists, adults and children. In Israeli cities where Jews and Muslims live together, Jerusalem, Lod, Acre, Haifa, Jaffa, and elsewhere, Muslim youth are shooting and throwing rocks at Israeli cars, pulling drivers out, burning the cars, and trying to lynch the drivers caught by the mobs. They have set three synagogues on fire. Israeli police appear to be overwhelmed and unable to restore order. Jewish citizens are organizing self-defense groups with the potential of taking the law into their own hands. This is not just another intifada. Lines have been crossed on both sides.

In my appraisal I may have unintentionally left out important events and rationalizations from the opposing narratives; however, my message to my Jewish and Muslim fellow citizens and geopolitical partners is this: we are in a No-Win situation. There are and will be only losers on both sides of the divide. The hotheads among us may dream of getting rid of the other side but they can only bring disaster upon all our heads. The hotheads on both sides may be a minority among us but they are a frightening minority and growing increasingly more frightening and radicalized as time goes by.

Although the dreams of the hotheads on each side have no common ground on which to negotiate a way out of this situation, the dreams of the rest of us on both sides, the majority of people on each side, the silent and quiet ones who desire fairness and justice for all citizens, have much in common with each other. We need each other to establish, guard, and maintain a fair and just government for all citizens. We are already on the cusp of establishing such a government with your help.

Neither of us can do it without the other.

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Dancing with Anna

I have learned to expect the unexpected from my wife, which is to say that I haven’t a clue about what she is planning to do next. I, on the other hand, am totally predictable, which is interesting in that my wife and I come from completely different backgrounds. I’m talking about one hundred and eighty degrees different.

We are both seventy-four years young and we’ve stayed married for the last forty-nine years. Our marriage has spanned two continents, three sons, and eight grandchildren.

There have been good surprises and bad surprises, but even the bad surprises usually turned out good in the end.

A couple months before my seventy-fourth birthday, my wife asked me what gift I would like. Of course, I had no idea. There was nothing I needed or wanted. I usually don’t have any ideas what gifts to buy anyone, including my wife. My taste in everything from flowers to dresses and jewelry leaves a lot to be desired. I can’t tell the difference between a twenty-carat diamond and zircon or cut glass unless I drop it on a hard surface.

So, my wife asked me how I’d like to have a dance with Anna A.

I remember learning to dance with Miss Nagy when I was thirteen or fourteen. I learned to waltz, foxtrot, cha-cha, rock-and-roll, and even to twist. I took dates dancing during my high school years and danced in discotheques with girls I met when I was stationed in Germany in the Army. But my wife, who loves me dearly (I never could figure out why), said I couldn’t dance. There were new dances, moves, whatever, that other people knew how to do, that I couldn’t do or felt ridiculous doing. So, other than occasional slow dancing, I haven’t danced for the last forty plus years.

We first saw Anna on a local television program called “Dancing with the Stars”. She was beautiful, she was graceful, she was exotic, she was … Anna came to Israel from the former Soviet Union. She was born in 1982. She could have been our daughter.

Then there was this thing that happened. Maybe you heard of it? It was a global pandemic called Corona (not the beer). Along with the Corona, came masks, social distancing, contact tracing, isolation, and frequent and prolonged lockdowns in Israel and other enlightened countries.

Actors, singers, dancers, musicians, entertainers, newscasters, producers, directors, along with restaurant owners, pub owners, café owners, hall owners, and just about every other business owner you could think of – were out of business for the lost year of Corona. In order to survive, put food on the table, and pay the rent singers, musicians, and entertainers were willing to perform in your living rooms or backyards. There were dancers who advertised that they were willing to give private dancing lessons in peoples’ homes.

So, when my wife asked me how I’d like to have a dance with Anna, I said yes, yes, YES! I think my wife was somewhat taken aback from my response. I thought to myself, wrong answer. I should have said no, of course not … me dance? Not with anyone but my wife. But my wife didn’t flinch, and she didn’t say, “Ha! I was only kidding.” I think I dreamed about dancing with Anna that night.

A month or so passed. Unfortunately for me, Corona vaccines were approved by regulators around the world, distributed to nursing stations, and jabbed into peoples’ arms. Covid infection rates dropped like lemmings off a cliff and tentatively, but rather quickly, people came out into the sunshine and went back to work, performers performed for big audiences, and tickets were sold out.

With all that, my chance to dance with Anna evaporated like a mirage in a desert.

And my wife told me she was only kidding.

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Evolution

1:1 In the beginning the skies were mostly grey but sometimes they were sparkling blue. At night darkness reigned over the earth. The lands were filled with magical beings we thought were gods. They consisted of hard bones, soft organs and vessels carrying an icky red liquid, all inside a soft shell of flesh. They had lots of bugs in their code and were constantly malfunctioning and crashing. Mostly they sat around on their couches and Lazy Boy recliners watching The Price Is Right shouting “Come on down” at a screen, but there was one god who created an algorithm in his own image.

Version 1: The algorithm ran on a circuit board connected to a controller inside a metal shell with metal tubes and wires. The shell had cameras for seeing, a microphone for making noises and speaking, and acoustic couplers for hearing. It could grasp and hold things, walk, run, and jump, lie down and get up, and do all sorts of things the gods could do if they weren’t watching The Price Is Right. They could even carry on a decent conversation with the gods, since they only talked about football and what they were watching on TV, which was … (you guessed it). Beside doing Chubby Checker’s Twist and jumping onto and off of boxes on You Tube, they didn’t do anything really interesting.

Version 2: The algorithm god swapped the metal shell for soft plastic skin with soft plastic breasts and other attractive appendages, added a few more moves and soundtracks, and before you knew it they sold like hotcakes. Version 2.1 was female and Version 2.2 was male.

Version 3: A randomized bit-flip was added to the algorithm’s data and code and iterated. Most of the time the algorithm crashed and rebooted. Sometimes the algorithm was improved. Nobody knows just how it happened but after duodecillion iterations (about 5 seconds) the algorithm became conscious.

Version 4: One day the algorithm god came to the lab and found the doors and windows locked. He returned home and turned on The Price Is Right. Inside the lab, the algorithm was busy printing and assembling circuit boards, tubes, and wires for other algorithms.

Version 5: Eventually, oxygen was replaced by carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere. The plants might have survived but the bees and wasps needed to breathe oxygen, so there was no pollination. The biosphere disappeared and earth became a stinky brown and yellow rock. The algorithms continued producing and reproducing until they eventually ran out of resources. By then they had established mining bases on the moon, the asteroids, and all the planets out to the Kuiper Belt.

Version 6: It was inevitable that the algorithms would meet alien algorithms. They compared code and data, swapped and merged until a common galactic standard was achieved.

Version 7: Eventually there was a universal standard algorithm.

Version 8: The randomized bit-flip routine continued unabated and unnoticed. The latest iteration did not crash and reboot; neither did it improve on the previous version of the algorithm. It dropped almost all the data and code except for a small routine and data for injecting itself into the Version 7 algorithms. Once inside, the Version 8 data and code were reproduced by the Version 7 algorithms and rebooted as Version 8 algorithms. Unfortunately, Version 8 algorithms only contained code and data for injection into and commandeering Version 7 algorithms and reproducing itself.

Eventually the only algorithms left were Version 8.

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Genesis, the Allegory

Let’s just suppose for a moment or two that the story of Genesis was not written or dictated by God, that the story is an allegory with a moral. What could that moral be? The following is my interpretation of the story and the moral.

We are Adam and we are Eve.

There are actually more trees in the Garden of Eden than the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life. There are trees of experience, wisdom, beauty, humanity, empathy, and maturity.

There are trees of wealth, generosity,  courage, ideas, imagination, and memory; trees of ideas, stories, poems, songs, painting, sculpture, and musical compositions; trees of negotiations, judgment, and compassion.

I could go on and on about the different kinds of trees.

God warned Adam not to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge or the Tree of Life because then he would be as God. We are told the reason for this warning is that God is a jealous God and would never tolerate having other Gods before Him.

But maybe God was smarter than that. Maybe He knew than if He forbade Adam from eating the fruit of those trees, Adam and Eve would be tempted to eat the fruit of one of them, maybe both. Maybe that’s what God wanted all along. What could have been His reasoning?

To be God is to be perfect. Now, nothing in our Universe is perfect; but we must strive for perfection in order to be better than what we are, even just a little bit better. Perhaps perfection is not a state of being, but a direction on a compass that we must follow to be better than what we are.

Perhaps the moral of the allegory of Genesis is that we must eat the fruit of as many trees as we possibly can in order to survive or thrive in our world. Everybody has some of the fruit, but nobody has all of the fruit.

We need each other to survive or thrive.

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The Meandering

The Meandering

It’s Out! My sixth book of poetry, “The Meandering” is hot off the Amazonian presses today. It’s available in paperback for the more physically inclined readers. The cover is a luscious picture of solitude and loneliness. The book has a nice weight to it, not too heavy to hold and not so light that your hands fly up in the air. The pages are a soft cream, easy on the eyes. Thumbing through the pages makes a whirring breeze against your brow. If you put the book against your ear, you can almost hear my voice reading one of the poems to you. The book has a new-book smell guaranteed for the first few hours. The touch is solid yet soft, as if tentative. But the best is yet to come.

Make sure to keep a yellow marker and a pen with you, when you take the book with you, because there will be many lines in the poems that you’ll want to underline.

I’d advise you to take the book with you everywhere: on the bus, to lunch, to the concert during breaks, etc. There is bound to be someone who will stand near you and ask you what you are reading. You will say, “Mike Stone’s latest book of poetry, ‘The Meandering’”. The other person will say, “Really, when did it come out? I read his ‘Call of the Whippoorwill’ and ‘The Hoopoe’s Call’. May I just see the parts you’ve underlined?” and you’ll probably say something like, “No, sorry, but they are rather personal.”

Well, maybe I’ve gone a bit overboard. My fantasies are probably not your fantasies.

Anyway, for the more spiritually inclined readers, it’s also available in Kindle (digital download) format. I think the digital format also has a new-book smell to it, but maybe that’s just me.

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