A Journal of My First Experiences in the Israeli Army

Basic Training: 13 June to 7 July 1983

Monday, 13 June 1983

The bus took us from Tel HaShomer Hospital to the induction center. There we received our yellow cards, were photographed (front and profile), had our mouths xrayed (deep throat), were vaccinated (both arms), issued uniforms, fed, and got dental checkups. We waited around for several hours until we were told to board a bus. Nobody knew where we would be sent. On the way, it became apparent that we were going to Beer Sheva. We arrived at our base after dark, stowed our baggage in one tent, and went to the mess hall. On the way, a red haired kid asked us whether we felt we were on a holiday or the Exodus from Egypt. Somebody answered that it felt more like a holiday, so far. The Gingie (“red head” in Hebrew, pronounced “Jinjie”) swore he would make sure it would be no holiday for us. I was stuck on KP duty with Barry, a vegetarian Goliath from South Africa. We finished around 9 p.m. and rejoined our group to get our duffle bags, mattresses, and sleeping bags. We had to carry it all back to our tents. After we set up our living quarters, we stood formation and met our drill sergeants. That night I slept poorly – not more than a couple hours.

Tuesday, 14 June 1983

We got up at 5:15 a.m. to make formation at 5:30. We had to shine our boots and shave (except for those of us who had beards) before the breakfast formation at 6:25, and we had to be dressed in full battle gear for the 7:30 formation (“mishtar hashkama”). Today we received M-16 rifles. In military life the M-16 is our wife as it was in the US Army.

Thursday, 16 June 1983

We had evening exercises with Riki, a robust and not entirely unattractive young girl. We ran after her to the Eilat – Beer Sheva road and back, did sit-ups and push-ups, and ran relay races. I fell in one of the races and cut my right hand pretty badly. I had to wear a bandage for the following week. No KP.

Israeli Army Life:

People in my tent:

  • Meir – US

  • Freddy – Russian

  • Marian – Russian

  • Gerald – South African (sleeps in pajamas)

  • Michael T. – South African

  • Gavid – Iran

  • Gabi – Iran

  • Me

Other memorable people:

  • Giora (Elephant) – Rumania

  • Alex – Rumania

  • Andy – US

  • Roberto – Argentina

  • Barry – South Africa

  • Baruch – Britain

  • Michael S. – US

  • Moti – Odessa

  • Harris – US

  • Kenny – US

  • Gingie – Somalia (not really “red-headed”)

  • Sidney – India

  • Hajaj – Morocco

  • Papa – Greece and Alexandria

  • Ben Shalosh – North Africa

  • Israel – Argentina

Things I took with me:

  • Back pack

  • Underwear and cotton socks

  • Shoe shine kit

  • Soap, shampoo, tooth brush, tooth paste, baby powder, skin cream, mirror, aspirin, sewing kit, wet naps, and tissue

  • Rope, clothes pins, laundry soap

  • Flash light

  • Thongs (I think they’re called “flip-flops” elsewhere)

  • Radio

  • Stationary and envelopes

  • Diary and two books

  • Insect repellant

  • Swiss army knife

  • Two locks

  • Shorts

  • Money

Friday, 17 June 1983

I am stuck on base over the week-end. We drew lots to see which of us would get a pass. I lost and so did 17 others.

Tuesday, 21 June 1983

We were bussed to some base Lod for two days of participation in an officer training session. We had to dress up like Syrian commandos and take up positions in the hills so that the officer candidates could try to spot us from a distant hill. I carried a kalachnikov (a Soviet rifle) with Arab and Russian markings. It had been captured during one of the previous wars. The Galil (an Israeli rifle) is based on the kalchnikov. Our group was in a forward position. I had to run to the road to lay a “mine”, actually a decent-sized rock. I wonder whether they spotted us. The colonel in charge of the exercise said it was a success. The day was exceedingly hot and I could feel my brains boiling under my steel piss-pot. The colonel held us over, between the morning rehearsal and “the real thing”, to organize an exhibit of our captured weapons and uniforms after the exercise. We drove back to the mess-hall, a pretty hungry bus load. Some rasal (sergeant major) told us we had arrived too late for lunch and would not be served. We sat on the bus a half hour and our moods turned from irony to mutiny. Shaul, our captain, argued with the rasal, but to no avail. Finally he ordered the strongest among us to enter the kitchen by force and take all the food we could. We filled our stomachs and left, early that evening.

On the way back to our base, we stopped in Beer Sheva for ice cream. It was the most heavenly ice cream I ever ate. It was also the first time the army had shown a human face. This small gesture won our loyalty for Shaul and Yoram, one of our drill sergeants.

Thursday, 23 June 1983

We went into Beer Sheva again, in the evening, just to walk around. I got back to the base an hour and a half late for my guard duty, but Alex filled in for me. Beer Sheva was definitely not worth jeopardizing my week-end pass.

Just before we went into town that evening, an officer came to interview us regarding what we wanted to do in the army after basic training. I said I would be interested in communications. I thought I would be fixing broken radios and things like that. It sure beat guard duty. Little did I know.

Friday, 24 June 1983

Week-end pass: short and sweet.

Sunday, 26 June 1983

I left home early Sunday morning, dressed in my uniform and carrying my M-16 loosely from my shoulder. On the way to the bus stop, I passed an Arab gardener in our neighborhood. He had seen me many times before, but never in uniform. We had always exchanged pleasantries. “Manishma?” (“How are you?”). “Manishma” back to him. “Be healthy,” he said to me. I wonder whether it was said in irony, while thinking of his young son. I think of mine.

I returned to the base around 11:30 a.m. and learned to take apart a Galil.

Monday, 27 June 1983

While waiting for the commander to come and lecture us on grenades, one of the soldiers in my group gave an extemporaneous talk on genetic engineering, his civilian work. Then we learned the theory of grenade throwing. No lobbing. I flashed back to my days in the US Army when I really screwed that part up.

Tuesday, 28 June 1983

I fired the Galil. We were supposed to fire the Uzi and throw some inert grenades today, but that did not come to pass. Those who performed well with the M-16 and the Galil said they scarcely hit anything with the Uzi.

I became sick with stomach pains and nausea. I skipped lunch completely and ate only a plum for supper. It was a day of fasting for the religiously observant, from sun-up to sun-down, but also for the sick. Sartre would have been proud of me.

Wednesday, 29 June 1983

I relaxed in bed all day and felt kind of guilty about being sick. By evening I felt ok and was able to eat supper. Afterwards I did guard duty. Yoram walked up the road towards the gate with a pretty girl soldier at his side. I said “good evening” and he asked me how I felt. When I finished my duty I called Talma. It was good to hear her voice. She sounded so close, as though she were in the next room.

Thursday, 30 June 1983

This morning on the way to breakfast, Yoram leaned out of his doorway and asked me to bring him a sandwich, yogurt, and a canteen filled with tea. I heard a girl’s laugh behind him so I brought two sandwiches and two yogurts.

At 5:15 p.m. Shaul organized those of us who had only had one weekend at home and issued us passes. The truck waited for us. The only thing lacking was permission from the Tel Aviv command for us to leave the base. At 8:00 p.m. we were turned down.

Friday, 1 July 1983

We waited until 8 a.m. for the elusive permit to leave the base, which never came. Neither did any of our commanders. Elephant, our group leader and also a trainee like us, told us to leave one by one. It was a command I should have followed with only gladness in my heart; instead, there was uneasiness. Even that passed, by the time I arrived home. “Papa” had to stay on base and asked me to call his kibbutz and leave a message for his wife: “I miss you and love you, and I’ll miss you for Shabbat (“Sabbath”)”. Papa, Yitzhak, is a strange guy. He cannot (or will not) speak a word of Hebrew, even though he wears a kippa (skull cap) and talit (prayer shawl). He was born in Alexandria, raised in Greece, and speaks French and English fluently.

Sunday, 3 July 1983

I caught an army bus, on its way to Mitzpeh Ramon, back to my base. The bus that was supposed to pick us up at the North Tel Aviv train station never showed up. No mention was made of our leaving base without permission from Tel Aviv.

Monday, 4 July 1983

Today was no too exciting; just a lot of work: guard duty from 4:00 a.m to 7 a.m. and from 9 to 11. After lunch we were ordered to the chapel for afternoon services and a lecture on moral introspection. I understood nothing of the service1 but the lecture went at my speed. Afterwards I had kitchen duty from 1:30 p.m. to 9:00.

Tuesday, 5 July 1983

At breakfast Sidney read the names, which he had copied into English, of those of us who had been accepted for the communications course. I felt a bit surprised and disappointed when my name was not called, but I figured it was all for the best. Later in the morning, Elephant saw me and told me that I was on the Hebrew list of those to go, after all. Now our commanders are attempting to compress the remaining training into the next day and a half. We learned drill and marching, fired the Uzi and the “mag” (machine gun), and threw hand grenades.

In the Negev desert, a couple hours before sunrise, the fog rolls in so thick with dew that you can hear the plop-plop of heavy dew drops from the tree branches and roof eaves. If you stand under the tree with your mouth wide open, you will catch their taste on your tongue. It is ironic that most people stand under trees to escape the rain; not in the desert.

Wednesday, 6 July 1983

We turned in most of our gear today. After lunch we were given gamma globulin shots in the buttocks, to prevent hepatitis. In the evening we participated in the traditional swearing-in ceremony at the end of basic training. We marched 2.5 kilometers and carried two of the fattest soldiers in our plugah (company) on stretchers. When we arrived at the site of our swearing-in, impressively outlined in fiery torches, we handed our rifles to our commander. We were formed around the commander in a Het (a Hebrew letter: ח) and shouted in unison “ani nishbah” (“I swear…”). The very religious soldiers, who are forbidden from swearing before anyone but God, said instead “ani matziah” (“I propose…”). The commander gave us back our rifles and a Bible. A bus brought us back to the base, where we had a party to celebrate the last day. Victor played an accordion and some of the guys persuaded girl-soldiers, who just happened to be walking nearby, onto the dance floor. We joked around and played games. Our commanders also participated in our party and were so relaxed and friendly that it was difficult to recognize them. I pulled guard duty after the party from 1:00 a.m. to 4:00.

Thursday, 7 July 1983

We turned in the remainder of our equipment, which we had received the first night we arrived, so long ago. We were processed out of basic training and into the communications course by two officers from our next base near Tzrifin. We exchanged warm good-byes and boarded busses for home. Most of the guys who did not make the course were sent down the road to an artillery course. I felt very lucky to avoid that.

Communications Course: July 10 – 22, 1983

Friday, 22 July 19832

I finished my course on being a telephone lineman. It was fairly uneventful, except for the comical relief of Eli Aleli, Roberto, and the tragicomic outbursts from Notkin. I passed my final examination. Today I was assigned to the Central Command in Jerusalem. It sounded like a safe distance from Lebanon.

Sunday, 24 July 1983

We showed up in Tzrifin to be bussed up to Tzfat (Safed). On the way we stopped at Roberto’s kibbutz, Mishmar HaSharon, to eat lunch. I ate a gulash of hearts and kidneys. I could not tell which was which and anyway it all tasted a bit like liver. We continued on our odyssey. At one point our bus driver took a wrong turn towards Tulkarm, an Arab-Israeli town. We arrived at the Tzfat base, where we were sent into town to stay overnight at a hotel. The hotel owner removed his towels and linens before we came. Barry guided us through the old Jewish quarter and the artist quarter. We visited a 500-year old Sephardic synagogue and were treated to an interesting lecture by the ancient gabai.

Monday, 25 July 1983

I was assigned to a battalion in Aley Lebanon until the 5th of August. We were divided into three groups to be dispersed in Lebanon, except for Notkin. He was assigned to the Golan, within Israeli borders, probably because he made such a fuss about being an only son and not wanting to go to a combat zone. I do not believe any of us, except for Roberto, wanted to go to Lebanon, but we kept our feelings inside. They say that the landscape is beautiful in Lebanon. We climbed into the bus and drove down from Tzfat. We dropped off some girl-soldiers in Tiberius and continued on to Haifa to receive our duffle bags and rifles. We will sleep overnight on the grass in our sleeping bags. In the remaining light I have time to be alone with my thoughts. I do not know what will be. I am quietly apprehensive, but not yet afraid. I will deal with that later. I do not want my sons to go through what I am going through3. I feel sorry for Talma, who must be far more anxious than I. I look around me. Eli, always the funny one, has not told a single joke single joke since we got on the bus this morning.

Lebanon: 26 July – 4 August 1983

Tuesday, 26 July 1983

Last night I heard that Aley in the Shouf mountains where the Druse and Christians are constantly shooting at each other with the Israelis playing monkey in the middle. Moshe came back from the Shouf visibly shaken; shelling every night – impossible to sleep. But why write about it now, when I still know nothing about it? Soon I’ll be able to experience it for myself in the first person singular. People around me are starting to wake up after sleeping the night on the grass of the Haifa camp. Some are still sprawled on the ground, not having been bothered about the amenities of a sleeping bag stuffed in the bottom of their duffle bags. I had lain my sleeping bag over five duffle bags rolled together like a motel water-bed caught in mid-wave. Those who are up look around at the others, many of whom they had never seen before yesterday afternoon. They are sizing up the people around them. Will this one crack up? Will I be able to depend on him? This one looks like a sissy. Why is he smiling in his sleep? Probably someone is also looking at me and wondering what I am writing and what kind of person keeps a journal. Will he break? My God, I honestly don’t know.

I woke up this morning with the warm sunlight on my eyelids around 4:30 a.m. I showered and began the characteristic military behavior of waiting around. At 8:00 a.m. we left the base by bus and drove to a target range north of Akko (Acre) to check our rifles. I emptied a magazine in the general direction of the target. Then we drove to the Haifa airport to wait for our flight to Lebanon. Around noon we were bussed to Kibbutz Usha near Kiryat Ata for a very nice lunch. Afterwards we returned to the airport to wait. We finally took off in a C-130 prop at about 4 p.m. and landed in Damour at 4:30. As we ran out of the back of the plane the heat around the propellers scorched my skin and eyes. We road in a convoy of “safaris” (2.5 ton trucks – I think we called then duce-and-a-halfs in the US Army) to Aley arriving just before 7:00 p.m. On the way we saw Lebanese soldiers and a Phalange base. As we made the final turn up the winding road between Beirut and Damascus into the Israeli encampment, the guy sitting next to me said we were home now and we didn’t have to be afraid anymore. His name was Shalom and he had been here four times already. I guess I had been too dumb to be afraid along the way. We will be eating and sleeping overnight at an impressive villa taken over by the Israelis for headquarters.

Wednesday, 27 July 1983

I am writing this entry in the remaining light. Today was a day of getting to know our surroundings, getting used to things, and getting acquainted with people. Nothing much happened, thank God. We were assigned our rooms. I am next to a window with a beautiful view of Beirut and the surrounding mountains. I sat at the telephone switchboard awhile, watching the talking spaghetti. I went to the “sometimes” kiosk just outside the gate to get a Pepsi. Luckily, somebody who spoke both Hebrew and Arabic was there to translate. The price in shekels (the owner accepted Israeli money) was cheaper than at an Israeli PX. The area around our camp is totally Druse. Yesterday evening a Druse came up our steps to talk to us. He told us about the former owner of our villa, a Kuwaiti prince. Unfortunately, the Druse fellow only spoke Arabic. He was a funny character dressed in white, the loose pants with a low crotch, and a hat which was a cross between a skull cap and a fez.

Thursday, 28 July 1983

So far, today has also been rather uneventful. Several people left for a weekend at home. I called Talma. We heard some katyushas fired down the mountains. The day has been a bit cloudy and pretty cool temperature-wise. I worked on the switchboard alone for the first time. It’s not so difficult but there is a lot of pressure. In another two hours I will have guard duty on the mag (machine gun). It is true that one becomes acclimated to any situation, even on the Shouf mountains. My existence here is surreal. One can live under tension only so long and then the tension disperses. Sitting on the over-stuffed easy chair behind the mag, I watch a young shepherd boy climb up a tree to pull down pine sprigs for his sheep to eat. He could have been an enemy for all his suspicious behavior; he could have been my son. The sunset spilled a golden path over the waters igniting Beirut in a soft glow.

Friday, 29 July 1983

Boredom sets in. Soldiers look for any way to kill time. Boredom is the flip-side of anxiety. I heard that this villa had been taken over by the PLO before we got it. Many of their victims are buried in the grounds here. In the morning it was sunny and hot. Now in the afternoon the clouds roll in low and it is a bit cool.

We are forbidden from sitting at any of the kiosks near our encampment or talking to any of the local people. We are allowed to buy what we want (Soap, soft drinks, etc.) quickly and get the hell out of there. Obviously it is hard to formulate any accurate impression of these people – all Druse on our part of the mountain at least. What I can say is that they seem quite indifferent about us. Young children walk under my gun emplacement on their way to school, sachels and cream-blue jackets, without looking up. Just down the hill, a girl and her younger brothers are throwing pine cones and washing laundry with a water hose. Smiles for each other, absorbed in their play, and oblivious to me. They just don’t seem to care that we are here or maybe they feel secure.

The villa we occupy has three floors and a flat roof for sunning and taking in the view of Beirut and the sea. There are lots of rooms, each with its own toilet and bath facilities, although most of them don’t work properly. We have a corner room on the third floor with a tall ceiling and a magnificent view through the trees and down the mountain. One is impressed, not so much by what the villa is today, but what it once was: columns and porticos. Today it is filthy and run-down. Garbage piles up and overflows down the steps. The stench from the bathroom persuades us to keep its door closed. The walls and ceiling are peeling and covered with graffiti and sexy pictures. In another six weeks we will pull back to the Alwali River. I wonder who will take over our quarters? Druse, Christians, PLO, or Syrians – certainly not the Lebanese army or the Americans. Blood will fill the vacuum which we will leave. I think of those children I watched this afternoon and wonder whether they will also be indifferent to the new occupation army or whether they will survive at all.

Saturday, 30 July 1983

How easy boredom dissipates and fear becomes naked. Last night we were placed on high alert as the Syrians had begun shelling Israeli positions along the front. Our villa is about two miles from the Syrian army. We were told to sleep with our protective vests, steel helmets, and ammo pouches beside us. I was able to sleep, in spite of the heavy shelling during the night, and woke up in the morning. Today there was some light arms fire down the hill, a few canons talking to each other. Some children waved to me and smiled big smiles.

Sunday, 31 July 1983

Today I went on escort duty to help provide fire cover and protection for the regular army linesmen while they searched for the source of a problem on a phone line near the Israeli-Syrian cease-fire line. I could see the Syrian-occupied villas across the valley on the other side of the Beirut River. Our forward position didn’t look very impressive, but if it impressed the Syrians it was good enough for me. After awhile it became clear that the search for the problem would take too long, so the regulars decided to lay down new line instead. On the way back, a long cavalcade of local cars passed us and turned sharply up the hill. The cars were covered with flowers and honking constantly. Fifteen minutes later, we heard shots very close to us. I jumped for cover and took up position with my rifle pointing in the direction of the fired shots. The regulars had a good laugh at my expense. “They’re shooting! They’re shooting!” they shouted and laughed. Later I read that it is customary at Lebanese weddings to fire their weapons into the air.

Monday, 1 August 1983

We started a six-man chess tournament among the linesmen today. I traced a map of Beirut and our area in Lebanon in order to orient myself. Tonight Hanan Yuval came to our compound to sing to us. It was very nice. Three kids who belonged to the kiosk owner were standing near the improvised stage listening. One of the children asked a soldier who happened to be standing beside him whether they might be permitted to sit on one of the benches among the soldiers. The soldier nodded yes. Another soldier lifted the smallest of the children onto his lap. Later on, one of the older kids ran back to the kiosk and brought back pita-bread and Pepsi for some of the soldiers.

Tuesday, 2 August 1983

At breakfast I sat at a table between two reservists. Each one silently reached over my plate to get the salt or the tomatoes, never asking for the object of desire. I noticed the guy to my left take bread and look over at the margarine to my right, so I handed it to him quickly. To my surprise and consternation when he finished spreading the margarine he reached back over my plate to return it to its former place, his hand carelessly grazing the food on my plate.

I heard in the morning that the Phalangists are infiltrating our area in preparation for our departure. Today one of the soldiers in our area was wounded by Syrian shelling. We went to sleep on high alert tonight.

Wednesday, 3 August 1983

We received a debriefing from our commanding officer. Barring a real state of emergency, we should be homeward bound tomorrow. The Aley Linesmen Chess Championship ended in the following order: Alex, Vio, me, Roberto, Steve, and Natan. I made a gold cup out of an empty Lebanese pineapple juice can. The CO told us that our homebound odyssey will be an exact reverse of our Aley-bound odyssey.

Thursday, 4 August 1983

A little after nine in the morning, my group left Aley on the convoy for Damour. We turned slowly onto the twisting shell-pocked Beirut-Damascus road. At every point at which the road curved, an Israeli tank stood guard. Other than one explosion along the way, the trip was uneventful although silently tense. I was smart enough to be afraid this time. We rode around the outskirts of Beirut to the south. As we were passing the Beirut International Airport, I saw an American flag and the US Marine barricades across the long field. A strange feeling came over me. I wanted to stand up and shout across the field, in my most exaggerated American accent, “Hey! It’s me, a fellow American!” but they were too far away to hear and probably were watching our convoy with a mixture of suspicion and indifference. This was where the US Marine captain had run across the railroad tracks and single-handedly, with only his service pistol, stopped three Israeli tanks on patrol. I tried to look as tough as I could until we arrived at Damour for the benefit of the locals who were watching us, but if someone waved, I always smiled and waved back. We were on the fifth flight out of Damour, on a Hercules again. This time I unrolled my sleeves and put on glasses to protect my skin and eyes from the super-heated air at the rear of the plane. A half hour later we landed in Haifa and some kind people handed us popsicles as we passed through the gates. I changed my filthy sweaty uniform on the bus going back to the base in Haifa. After turning in our rifles and equipment we each boarded busses, our separate ways, home.

Friday, 5 August 1983

We had to return to Tzrifin to be released from reserve duty. We received certificates for National Insurance and were paid one shekel for each day of service. I donated my shekels to the army fund.

Saturday, 13 August 1983

My father-in-law held a Kiddush (a meal after prayer services) in honor of my safe return from Lebanon. The rabbi recited a prayer thanking God for my safe return from a dangerous trip abroad, an ancient but timely formula.


I was drafted into the Israeli Army Reserves from 1983 until 1996. I was sent to Lebanon one more time. Most of the time I drew border observation duty. In 1990 the army asked me whether I would be willing to take care of families of soldiers who had been killed in action or had died during their military service. I guess I was asked because of my BA in Psychology. I agreed and that is what I did during my reserve duty several weeks a year until I was released from the army in 1996. I continued to volunteer another two years in the same capacity.

I am sure there are as many Israeli Armies as there are Israeli soldiers. Still, having been in the fairly unique position of being in the US Army and the Israeli Army, I would say that the IDF is the most ethical army in the world, in so far as it is possible to be concerned with ethics while ducking bullets and protecting your buddies. War is not a Sunday school picnic.

1 My Hebrew was pretty basic back in 1983.

2 There was nothing of journalistic interest during the course. I learned a lot about military field telephone equipment but nothing more than that. That is why the first entry in this chapter starts with the end of the course.

3 My middle son, Ari, did time in Lebanon as a tank driver and my youngest son, Ayal, was an officer in the Combat Engineering corps in the territories. So much for a parent’s wishes…


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The Stone Conjecture

Today I was listening to my favorite Saturday morning radio broadcast, Dr. Yitzhak Noy reading and commenting on interesting newspaper articles from around the world. I had just come back from walking Daisy and tuned in to the tail end of an article he read about these strange bursts of radio energy and how some astronomers at Harvard had suggested they might be alien space travelers zipping around our galaxy at close to the speed of light.

Well, since I didn’t think Harvard was your usual source of unsubstantiated “Abducted by UFO” headlines, my curiosity was piqued and I Googled some key words and phrases I remembered from the article Dr. Noy had talked about and found Fast Radio Bursts Might Come From Nearby Stars from 2013 and then Harvard Scientists Theorize That Fast Radio Bursts Come From Alien Space Travel from a couple weeks ago (March 9, 2017).

Why was I intrigued? Although the conspiracy theories about incarcerating little green beings with elongated heads in Area 51 or UFOs coming to us from millions of light years away just to make crop circles, mess with our minds, and leave before we can talk to them may very well be true, I tend not to believe them because there seem to me to be many alternate explanations that could be offered that would be just as good if not better. Remember Occam’s Razor. The simplest explanation of those available to us is most probably the correct one. Here’s what intrigued me about the Fast Radio Bursts: since 2007 when they were first discovered by astronomers, nobody had ever come up with an explanation of how they could occur naturally. In other words, there were no other competing theories. The Harvard researchers went one step further and used currently accepted engineering principles to show how an alien technology could propel space craft weighing a million tons at 20% of the speed of light and be visible to us in the frequency and amplitude our radio telescopes recorded.

Anyway, I didn’t want to talk about this particular speculation about Fast Radio Bursts. If you want, you can read the articles yourselves. But the articles did get me thinking about what other kinds of conjectures might be made.

So, without further ado …

The Stone Conjecture:

  1. Life is probably pretty common in a mature universe. The first generation of stars after the Big Bang were made of relatively simple elements, but subsequent generations of stars were composed of increasingly heavier elements in a variety of configurations. Atoms of various elements bound together into increasingly complex molecules, giving rise to organic molecules. When the circumstances proved adequate, organic molecules combined into organelles and cellular structures igniting the engine of life. Cells differentiated into colonies of specialized organs giving rise to plants and animals on our planet to adapt to its ecosystem. When the variety and complexity of these adaptive systems reached a critical mass, consciousness arose and then self-consciousness. The same kinds of processes probably happened with other kinds of systems in other kinds of ecosystems randomly occurring around our galaxy and others throughout the universe. A system beyond a certain level of quantity, variety, and complexity would be unlikely to remain integrated in a dynamically changing ecosystem over a certain period of time without developing self-consciousness. Entropy would cause the system to break down. This is what happens when we die.
  2. Given #1, self-conscious life that developed significantly before us would possibly be significantly more advanced than us. The stars in the center of our galaxy probably gave rise to civilizations far more advanced than civilizations in our solar system located pretty far out along an arm of our galaxy. Our local star was created long after the stars clustering around our galactic center. What I’m talking about is only orthogonal to the Kardashev scale.
  3. There may be more dimensions of space than the three we perceive. Given #2, an advanced civilization might know whether there are more than three dimensions and take advantage of those dimensions in traveling from one point to another or they would perceive only the three dimensions of space that we perceive.
  4. Given #3, if space spreads out over more than the three dimensions we perceive, then an advanced alien civilization would either know the short cuts through higher dimensions from one point to another or know how to warp one of the observable dimensions to access hyperspace.
  5. As far as we can see with our telescopes pointed in every direction from the vicinity of our planet, there is something: meteors, moons, planets, stars, and galaxies. What we can’t see is probably dark matter. These are all potential obstacles for us to travel in a single vector at or near the speed of light. In other words, in order to avoid running into these obstacles we’d probably have to slow down our speed significantly and jinx up, down, left, or right, to go around.
  6. If there are only the three dimensions we perceive, then traveling through the galaxy at close to the speed of light would require tunnels of emptiness through our galaxy. Tunnels of emptiness through our galaxy or any other would not appear naturally. It might be an indication that an advanced civilization had ploughed that tunnel to allow near light speed travel. Travel between galaxies at light speed could probably be made without tunnels because the space is mostly empty. Of course there is the issue of dark matter, but current theories posit that matter does not interact with dark matter. See Why Doesn’t Dark Matter Interact with Ordinary Matter.

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Filed under Dilemmas, Essays, Essays, Dilemmas, & Philosophy

Roll Over Maslow

Some of you have heard of Maslow’s Pyramid, a diagram representing a man’s or woman’s hierarchy of needs. The pyramid is divided into five levels from the wide base to the narrow apex.

The first and lowest level at the base of the pyramid represents our Physiological needs: the physical requirements for human survival, air, water, and food. The inability to satisfy needs at this level means death for the individual.

The second level just above the first represents our Safety and Security needs: the absence of war, natural disaster, violence, abuse, and the requirements for personal security, financial security, health and well-being, and protection from the adverse impacts of accidents or illness. The inability to satisfy needs at this level can engender post-traumatic stress disorder and other extreme psychological coping mechanisms.

The third level represents our need for Love and Belonging: being part of a family, having friends, and having a significant Other with whom one can be intimate, both sexually and non-sexually. Not satisfying these needs can lead to loneliness, anxiety, or depression.

The fourth level represents our need for Esteem: status, recognition, fame, prestige, attention, strength, competence, mastery, self-confidence, independence, and freedom.

The fifth and highest level at the top of the pyramid represents our need for Self-Actualization: to become the most that one can be. Whatever one can do, one must do.

During Maslow’s final years, he posited a sixth level, above all the rest, which he called self-transcendence: giving oneself to some higher goal outside oneself, in altruism and spirituality, thinking about the ends rather than the means, to oneself, to significant Others, to all mankind, to other species, and to the Universe.

The most basic needs must be satisfied before the higher needs. Each level of needs depends on the satisfaction of the needs of the previous levels.

But then I thought about what an amazing species we really are and how there are those among us who could flip Maslow’s Pyramid over on its head, so that the highest levels become prerequisites, pre-conditions, for what were previously the lower levels, that our need for self-transcendence precedes and overrides our need for self-actualization, which overrides our need for esteem, which overrides our need for love and belonging, which overrides our need for safety and security, which overrides our physiological needs.

Yes, there are people like that.

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The War of the Wells by H. G. Worlds or The House of Mirrors

Once, a long long time ago, when the world was still pristine and a few good men and women treaded lightly on the earth, the water in the lakes and streams was crystal clear and quenched our collective thirst. Then we grew to be many. Someone found that there was also water under the ground and they built their wells to ladle up the clear fresh water to their cracked lips and parched throats, and it also quenched their thirst. The people grew around these wells. We found we could live almost anywhere as long as we could somehow stay connected to these wells and lakes and streams.

Soon there were too many of us, so we divided ourselves into us and them. We were good and true, of course, and they were bad and false. We found that we could put salt into their wells, so that they would not be able to drink and would become so weak that they would die or we could kill them. Just to make sure we had enough energy to kill them, we put sugar in our wells. Of course, they did the same to us because, for them, they were us and we were them. All the wells and lakes and streams came to be poisoned with the sugar and salt we put into them, not to speak of the constant spills from oil pipes, chemical and nuclear waste dumps, and acid rains.

Although this is really happening all around us, I intended it as an allegory about facts and factoids, fake news, spin, and such. The wells are our sources of information, be they books, newspapers, TV, radio, or Internet, the crystal clear waters are the facts and truths, and the salted, sugared, and otherwise polluted waters are the manufactured factoids, fake news, spin, and such.

A little about the alternate title of this post: we find ourselves in a house of mirrors. The mirrors don’t let us see where to go or who’s behind them. All we can see is what the mirrors reflect. All they reflect is us, whether distorted or “true”. The fake news sources are just mirrors that reflect our own beliefs, desires, and prejudices. In a house of mirrors there are no windows through which to see what’s going on in the real world outside, just mirrors that reflect your image, fat or skinny, elongated or short and squat.

After the people have quenched their thirst, filled their bellies, and satisfied their other needs for survival, they will look around for facts and truths because they can’t survive on sugar and salt alone and they can’t survive without truth and facts. A person without the capability to sense the truth in order to interact with the world will not survive.

You can go on a long time without having access to the truth, nobody knows quite how long, but eventually you’ll collide with a reality you didn’t prepare for and die.

I’m an optimist of sorts. I tend to believe people will eventually begin to thirst for “real” news and truths, not just the fake news that confirms what they already think they know or want to believe.

A healthy skepticism is in order; not the Doubting Thomas kind or the perennial Devil’s Advocate kind. It’s more like the “I’m from Missouri, show me” kind:

  1. Don’t automatically trust the snake oil salesman, or anyone else for that matter, who’s telling you something you’d like or need to be true;
  2. Check the source of the information: does it come from just one source or several? Does one of those sources include what’s been considered a reliable source for a long time, like since before the Internet?
  3. Does the source’s domain of expertise include the subject of the information? Don’t trust a scientist’s opinion on morality or ethics as being better than your own, but do trust his or her opinion on medicine, physics, geology, biology, or chemistry as better than yours. Don’t trust a priest’s, minister’s, rabbi’s, imam’s, or guru’s opinion on medicine, physics, geology, biology, or chemistry as being better than yours, but you may trust their opinions on religious commandments, rituals, and lore as better than yours.
  4. Ask yourself whether the information really makes sense to you, is it consistent with everything you know (when you are being honest with yourself), or is it something you really have to act on (or is it something you can wait on until you get more facts)? If you have to act now, then go with what you’ve got; if not, then wait until you have more facts or have to act.

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The Truth about Fiction

Animals are realists. All the species except for us. There are a couple significant differences between the rest of the animals and us that are probably related to each other.

The first difference is that animals are born with the knowledge of how to make use of all their bodily functions and how to get along in the world whereas we are born with only a partial knowledge of our bodily functions and how to get along in the world. Animal instincts are transferred and stored in their genes. Sapiens’ knowledge is acquired through our senses, stored in the brain, and transferred by means of language. Animals are capable of learning varying amounts of information but could probably get along with nothing more than their instincts for most of their lives. Sapiens have instincts too, but not enough to survive on.

The second difference is that animals have only rudimentary languages, if at all, for conveying only real concepts, commands, and warnings whereas we have highly developed languages for conveying representations of internal and external realities, as well as fictions. Fictions include assertions that may or may not be true, that haven’t been proven yet, that we’d like to be true, that we wish were true, that we want to believe are true, that we want others to believe are true, that were once thought to be true, that we are willing to accept for the moment as true, or that are patently false.

Examples of fiction include stories, myths, religious dogma, beliefs, astrology, political propaganda, rights, duties, lies, traffic lights, metaphors, hyperboles, scientific conjectures and theories, histories, nationalities, communities, races, cultures, civilizations, money, corporations, gender roles, purpose, meaning, romance, and our world views. Examples of reality might be hungry, lion, waiting, and waterhole.

I’m reading a fascinating book called “Sapiens, a Brief History of Humankind”, written by Doctor (of Philosophy) Yuval Noah Harari. One of the interesting points he makes in his book is that animal species cannot aggregate and cooperate in groups composed of more than a few hundred individuals whereas Homo Sapiens can and in many cases do aggregate and cooperate in groups numbering millions or more. Harari attributes this capacity of Sapiens to get such massive numbers of individuals to live, work, and fight together to their ability to convey fictions with their languages. Our fictions unite us, keep us together, and direct us towards common goals far more so than our reality. If a lion enters our camp, it’s every man for himself. As we say, you don’t have to run faster than the lion. You just have to run faster than the guy in front of you. If you want to kill a mastodon, you don’t need more than a hundred or so men with spears to surround it and bring it down. If you wanted to launch a Christian Crusade to take Jerusalem from the Muslims back in 1099, you’d need thousands of foot soldiers and 300 knights and if the Muslims wanted to take Jerusalem back, they’d need even more soldiers and horsemen, which they were able to muster easily. For the Christians, God was on their side, but for the Muslims their God was greater, or Allahu Akbar (الله أكبر).

Lest we conclude that civilizations would be a lot better off without their fictions, Harari goes on to point out that every social structure comprising more than a few hundred individuals would break down without the fictions that organize them. Many large groups enforce religious beliefs or official party lines, such that non-believers are subject to violence and/or death, for the groups to survive. If, however, enough members of a group stop believing the organizing fictions, that group will cease to exist, as will any benefits accrued by members of the group.

Remember Kant’s Categorical Imperative? Kant’s criterion for whether an action was moral or not was derived by asking what would happen if everybody were to perform that action. If the answer were that society would survive or even thrive, then it would be considered a moral action. If, however, the answer was that society would break down, then it would be considered an immoral action. For example, is it moral to steal from a person? No, because if everybody were to steal from each other, then society would break down. Is it moral to give charity? Yes, because if everybody gave charity, society would survive or thrive. It’s a lot more complicated than that, but you get the idea. If not, read the link above.

So the bottom line is I shouldn’t attempt to persuade people to give up their fictions. If I did, society would break down, people would stop working at their jobs, drive through red lights, crash into each other, babble meaninglessly, commit crimes, acts of violence, and suicide, starve, get sick, and die. As a matter of fact, I should probably keep my opinions to myself.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Message in a Bottle

Nothing is more desperate, more poignant, more romantic than a message in a bottle. You visualize a beautiful young woman or a handsome young man on a lost island writing a letter, possibly with a description of the constellations he sees in the night sky, tracking them in their arcs from sunset to sunrise, possibly including an inventory of the few remaining supplies, and possibly mentioning the young family waiting at home, the love that was abandoned or passed up, or the wrong which was never admitted.

You visualize these things written on a ragged scrap of parchment rolled into a cylinder, stuffed into a bottle, sealed with a cork, and cast in a long arc over the waves crashing against the beach, into waters moving in a deeper current away from the island toward someone also handsome or beautiful who will find the small bottle floating between the waves in the immenseness of the ocean stretching from horizon to horizon, someone who will be able to decipher the strange markings on the parchment, someone who will care enough to drop everything and change course, setting sail for the lost island where the desperate writer waits before it is too late.

And what is the Voyager 1 space probe, launched from Earth in 1977, reporting back to us all it sees until 2025 when it will continue its blind inertia towards the star Gliese 445 somewhere in the constellation Camelopardalis about 40,000 years from now, carrying a gold-plated audio-visual disc in the event that the spacecraft is ever found by intelligent life forms from other planetary systems, but a message in a bottle cast into the endless seas of space, even smaller and darker than a bottle floating between the waves on a moonless night?

But if it is found, the Voyager 1 that is, will the finders be smart enough to decipher our strange markings? Will they be kind enough to come rescue us from our loneliness and ourselves? Will they laugh at our primitive efforts or even recognize them as worthy of scrutiny? If they do come, will they come in peace or will they come as we do, wreaking havoc and extinction upon us? We are the most destructive species that has ever lived on our planet. Are we the norm in our galaxy or in our universe? If not, then how do we expect our alien rescuers to welcome us into the family of worlds? But if so, then we should cease shining our beacons at the stars and our explorations of distant worlds before they detect us and come to root out the risk to the universe while it is still small and confined.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Chapter 19: Journey to the Center of the Universe

Cadmus woke up twice during his first sleeping period. Lonesome raised an eyebrow but otherwise continued snoring away. He sat up in his hammock, swung his legs over the side, and slipped down onto the floor careful not to step on his sleeping dagu.

He opened his hand against the smooth wall to orient himself and followed the ambient lighting to the personal service room. He entered and slid the door shut behind him.

The first time he tried to pass water he relaxed his bladder in one dimension but the water squirted out in another dimension. Fortunately, the inside of his suit dried almost instantaneously,

The second time he tried to pass water, a couple hours later, he couldn’t figure out which dimension his bladder was in to relax and had to wait a few minutes before his bladder, his stream of water, and the toilet were dimensionally in synch.

He made his way back to his hammock somewhat proud of himself and fell back asleep.

The next waking period, after the lights made their presence felt through his eyelids and his dreams, and the smells of spiced tea wafted into the room, Cadmus looked over at Galen’s hammock and saw it was empty. Lonesome was not under his hammock either. He got out of his hammock and hobbled stiff-leggedly over to the shower room, took off his suit and googles, put them in the bin, and stepped into the shower stall.

After refreshing himself in the shower, he dried himself off, opened the bin, and found his suit and goggles good and fresh. He suited up and donned his goggles, and followed his nose to the kitchenette where Galen was putting breakfast on the table. Lonesome was eating his kibble in a bowl with gusto.

Sleeping period followed waking period, which followed sleeping period, so on and so forth until it became a routine of sorts that belied the danger and the desperation of their adventure, three insignificant microbes rushing to the defense of a dying universe.

After a while Cadmus became so proficient in the use of his suit and goggles that he became totally unaware of them. He was able to run through the halls effortlessly jinxing one way into one dimension and another way into another dimension, moving in ways he could not have imagined before. Lonesome followed along on his jogs around the ship anticipating his friend’s moves.

Galen was pleased that Cadmus was now his physical equal, and his sensory and motor skills were on a par with his own. The way Cadmus processed his sensations was the same as always though, and that also pleased Galen.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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