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Weekly Commentary - november 30, 2020

Have we human reached our maximum bandwidth capacity? Yes, it seems

Spanish philosopher Marina Garcés maintains, and with good reason, that we humans have renounced (abdicated, I would say) our responsibility to be and become better. In other words, we have renounced to the future, or, if you prefer, we no longer seek to expand our consciousness or our experiences.

Having given up being better and precisely because of having done so, the future has become a perpetual repetition of the present (that is, a constant nightmare and punishment) or a grim apocalypse that can only be avoided by returning to the past. In this way, "salvation", however it is understood, is no longer connected with a future hope.

In other words, we live without living, trapped in an uncertain present that, by constantly changing, never changes, longing for a past to which we will never return no matter how hard we try and unable to access a future that, regardless, it presents itself as threatening and destructive.

In a few words: we are zombies, the living dead who roam the world disconnected from the world, walking without going anywhere, looking for what they cannot find, irrational and incorrigible, without consciousness of their own or of others. 

We are, as Garcés says, posthumous. We abandoned the narrative of history as constant progress, but with nothing to replace it. No history and no future for us. 

But how and why have we reached that sorry state in which neither the future of the planet nor the future of humanity moves us enough to assume or resume our responsibility of being better? How and why do we prefer to live in a world of fantasy, fiction, and trivia rather than living in a world of responsible adult humans?

One possible answer, which has been offered hundreds of times over the past two decades, is that humans have surpassed our ability to process stimuli, data, and information. The "bandwith" of human perception has limits and we have exceeded them, overwhelming both our brain and our mind, now unable to understand the world and reality.

Many experts claim that modern technology and specifically smartphones (in fact, portable microcomputers) are responsible for having pushed us to the limits of our ability to process data because we now literally have more information in our hands than we need or that we can access.

It could be said that technology has trapped (almost) all of us within an immense virtual enclosure similar to those well-known casinos in Las Vegas where the senses are constantly stimulated to the maximum, to the point that people lose track of place, day, and time.

Or, in other words, we are inside the Platonic cavern, although with more lights and with a better show. Also, physical chains were replaced by wireless connections. But the result is the same: we have so zombified and infantilized ourselves that we have forgotten who we are or can be.

As Garcés says, the answer is to reactivate our critical thinking, a challenging, difficult task in today's world.

Time to give thanks to our fate, and not for our friends?

The famous Thanksgiving Day is celebrated this week in the United States and, leaving aside any explanation about its origins and customs, it is clear that this year an element of that celebration has changed: Latinos no longer give thanks to God or for their friends. Actually, they do, but not at the same level as before.

According to a recent national survey published by LifeWay Research, Latinos in the United States are the group that is least grateful for their friends. Only slightly more than half of Latinos express that appreciation, compared to three out of four people in other groups who are grateful for their friends.

But perhaps the most important change compared to previous years is that Latinos are the group most likely to thank fate, and not God or family, for what happens to them or for what they have accomplished.

In fact, on a general level (regardless of the group in question), the family has displaced God from the first place on the list of whom one is grateful. In the context of the current pandemic and after a long stay-at-home time, it makes sense to feel closer to family members. 

But among a significant number of Latinos, and more so than in any other group, neither family nor God tops that list, but fate.

That choice of who (or what) to be grateful to in the first place and above any other person or entity could be analyzed and explained in numerous ways, obviously including the well-known fatalism that has been a part of mindset, actions, and decisions of Latinos for centuries throughout the Americas.

It could also be said that the decision in 2020 to thank fate arises from the arrival of a pandemic that seems to arise and arrive almost on a whim and impersonally, that is, in the same way in which, it is believed, fate acts. In other words, we are where we are because fate wanted it, even if fate cannot really want anything.

But there is another possible explanation: understanding "fate" in the sense of one of the constitutive pillars of Western culture (if there is a “Western culture”) that now, feeling that culture is collapsing, seeks to recover to give it back. solidity to something that staggers and is about to fall.

Two and half millennia ago, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus taught that, "for the human beings, their character is their fate." Here, "character" is "ethos," the Greek word that later gives us "ethics." And fate is "daimon", which has nothing to do with the demon, means the "true self" or the "higher self".

For Heraclitus, therefore, the most human “thing” about human beings (anthropos) is to establish a way of life, a dwelling (ethos) that allows us to connect with our true selves (daimon) and live according to that connection. In other words, our "fate" is to become what we already are.

Perhaps that is why we should give thanks for those who still thank fate.

“You are a legend in this city”, they told me. They are wrong.

Recently, at the end of a presentation on community issues, a participant told me: "You are a legend in this city." Although I appreciate the kind words of that participant, the error of that appreciation is not only obvious, but serious: I am not a legend, nor do I pretend to be it. But that sentence got me thinking.

If I understand "legend" in the sense of someone famous, known, or prominent (for example, of "a sports legend"), I certainly am not and will never qualify for that category.

But if "legend" is understood in a more literal way, that is, returning to its etymological meaning, it could then be said that we are all a "legend" or we are invited to be it, because "legend" comes from Latin and means something like “Things that can or should be read”. Now, we are not talking about reading books, but about another type of reading.

"Legere" in Latin does not mean "read" in the usual sense of that word, but rather "collect." In fact, “collect” is related to “lecture”. The root “lec” means something like “to gather in such a way that what is gathered can be understood and interpreted”. In turn, "lec" is connected with the Greek root "log", as in "lógos".

In this context, "legend" refers to those elements of reality, material or immaterial, real or imaginary, that have been gathered and connected in some way that become intelligible, or at least that is how we perceive them.

This interconnection between the different elements of existence is not immediately evident or patent, that is, it must be “read between the lines”. And that ability to read (legere) between (inter) lines is what we call “intelligence” (inter-legere). The connection between "legend" and "intelligence" is clear.

The legend, then, is the result of having read the reality between the lines until it is comprehensible and, in order to share that reality, the “reading” thus done becomes a narrative, a story. When that story is repeated from generation to generation and, therefore, guides people's lives and decisions, it becomes "legend", or mythos in Greek.

In other words, the legend, when we analyze it in some depth, is not a story of the past without any basis or a lie repeated throughout history. Nor is it just a cloak of fame or popularity that everyone talks about. “Legend” is having “read reality” until finding its interconnections and making a story out of that reading.

Perhaps because of my work as a journalist or as an educator (that is, because of my storytelling work) someone, with the best of intentions, has assumed that what I do is “legendary”, and to some extent it is, if we understand it as find and share those connections that only exist “between the lines”. But I am not a legend.

One thing is certain: as an old man once taught me. one begins by reading books and ends by reading people. In that sense, we are all legend.

“You can only see the moon at night” and other falsehoods I learned as a child

As a child I learned that, just as the sun is only seen during the day, the moon is only seen at night. Until one day when I went to the backyard to enjoy the sunshine and, when I looked up, I saw the moon. What I had been taught (even unintentionally) was patently false, but that was not my first thought.

When I saw the moon by day, I first thought that I was seeing wrong. Maybe it wasn't the moon. Maybe it was something else: a reflection in the sky, a kite, a plastic bag, or a balloon carried by the wind.

As Mark Twain said: “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes? " My eyes were lying to me, I thought. There could be no other explanation: trusted adults taught me the moon could not be seen during the day and therefore, contrary to what my eyes showed me, what I saw could not be the moon.

But that there was nothing wrong with my eyes and that the object that I saw was the moon. So, I had to look for an even more "catastrophic" explanation to reconcile what I was seeing with my beliefs: something was wrong with the universe.

Perhaps the moon had gone out of its orbit. Or the earth had stopped rotating. Perhaps there would be a collision between the moon and the earth. Something in the heavens had stopped working overnight and now, as my eyes confirmed, the moon was visible by day and we were all in danger.

But if that were so, how could it be that everyone around me was so calm? And why were the media not talking about the impending catastrophe? For a moment I thought that I was the only one, or at least the first one, to see the danger. But I soon discarded that hypothesis, because it made no sense to think that I was the only one looking at the sky that day.

Then there was only one option: that teaching that the moon was only seen at night was false. But it was very difficult to accept that option because then it would be necessary to admit that those same adults who had taught me that the moon was only seen at night could also have taught me other falsehoods.

Over the years, I finally accepted that indeed that was what had happened: relatives, teachers, religious leaders, counselors and many others, with or without the desire to deceive me, in any cases, they had deceived me into believing that what they said it was true, when in fact it was not.

Getting rid of that past of obvious (and not so obvious) false teachings, acquired from others or by myself, was not an easy task and, in fact, it still continues because I still do not know how many other beliefs that I previously accepted as true will change next time I look up to the sky.

Maria walked 2700 miles through four countries. But that’s not the story

Maria (the name and the story are real) worked her entire life as a teacher in her native Central America. But work did not generate the minimum income to meet the basic needs of life. So, one day, she decided to do the unthinkable: walk from her city to the United States. But that's not the story.

María is one of those people who dared to walk 2700 miles and on that road she faced numerous dangers, slept next to rivers or under trees, ate every other day, and had no clothes to change or a place to wash herself. Eating fresh food was clean hands was a luxury. 

But that's not the story either.

On the way, María suffered all kinds of circumstances, excluding physical assault, but including the theft of her few belongings, extortion to cross certain places, persecution by immigration and law enforcement officer and by gang members, and many moments without knowing if she would have the necessary mental and physical strength to live one more day.

But that's not the story either.

At the border with the United States, María managed to show that her family was waiting for her in this country and, therefore, she was able to enter legally. Maria then traveled, also on foot, the distance from the border to the home of her relatives. Once there, her own relatives told her to leave and María was literally left on the street. She was homeless for a year.

But that's not the story either.

During her time experiencing homelessness, with no other available resource but her determination, Maria visited numerous community centers, charities, churches, and pro-immigrant groups to ask for help. And in all cases, reasons were given not to help her. María, legally in the United States and in a major American city, continued to live by rivers and under trees.

But that's not the story either.

What then is then the story of a woman who walks thousands of miles in some of the most dangerous places in the world, and who is betrayed by her family and rejected by those who are supposedly dedicated to helping people like her?

The story is that Maria made all that long six-month walking journey and experienced that long year of helplessness with her severely disabled 20-year-old son Ruben. Maria made the dangerous journey to give Ruben a better future.

Recently, just before a snowstorm with historically unprecedented low temperatures arrived, Maria found a place to stay and a group of people who are helping her and her son in different ways. She is no longer living on the streets, but she and Ruben still face many challenges before achieving a minimum of stability and independence. 

Maria has long since stopped praying to God, but she never stopped crying for her son. As a mother, she intuitively knows what the Talmud teaches: the gates of heaven are sometimes closed to prayers but are always open to tears. And that is the true story.

The information is there, but perhaps it is at a different level

Recently, at sunset, a long-winged bird flew over my garden heading west, creating an attractive image of outstretched wings against a blue sky with a hint of orange. I always have a camera on hand, so I immediately took a picture.

But there was a problem: although I was sure I had captured the bird's flyby, it was not visible in the image. I thought I had already lost a good opportunity to have a nice photograph, but then I thought something else: the image was there, but I didn't see it.

I transferred the photograph to my computer and using the appropriate program I began to enlarge the image and go through each sector. In no time, I found the bird. The camera had captured its spread wings in undeniable contrast to the sky, but not to the size I had anticipated. I cropped the image appropriately and the photo was ready for sharing.

Something similar happens when we look for information: it is there, but we do not see it because it is not at the same level that we look for it, or that we anticipate, or believe it will be. But that does not mean that it is not there, only that we look for it where it is not.

The situation is exemplified in that old story of a man who, in the middle of the night, is under a lamppost looking at the ground from here to there. Another man comes in and asks “What's wrong?”. "I lost my keys," says the first. Together they search for the keys for some time, but without finding them.

Then, the one who arrived later asks: "Where did you lose the keys? And the other responds: "In the other corner, but I look for them here because light is better here."

Honestly, we do the same: we look for what we lost or what we have not yet found not where we lost it, but where we think it will be easy to find it. And in that futile search, we often involve others.

We do not realize that the information (or the ideas, or the solution) is already there, but not necessarily in an obvious way or at the level that we are looking for it. Sometimes we have to "enlarge the image" to find what we want. Or, in other words, we have to expand our consciousness.

Unfortunately, we live in a time of closed consciousness, of reduced (and even minimal) psychological capacity, and of hedonistic and short-term priorities.

If I do not find what I want when I want (that is, immediately), where I want and how I want it, and if that does not give me pleasure, then "that" (whatever it is) either does not exist or does not serve me, and I look then who to blame.

That “mental skating” (as Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset used to say) has little to do with life, with thinking, and with the future.

Sometimes, we need to go back and recover what we mistakenly left in the past

An old myth says that when the Greeks went to Troy to fight the famous war, one of them, Philoctetes, was abandoned by his companions on a desert island because, after being bitten by a snake, his screams and his stench became intolerable for the other soldiers. But that's not the end of the story.

According to mythology, the Greeks would only win the war only if, in battles, they used the bow that Hercules himself had once used. But there was a problem: the one who had that bow and the only one who knew how to use it was Philoctetes, who had been abandoned and left for dead, but now needed more than ever. So, they went to the island to get him. 

Anyone who wants to find out all the tricks that Odysseus and other characters had to use to win back Philoctetes' trust and get the eminent archer to join the war can read the tragedy that Sophocles wrote on the subject. 

Like all myths, this one also has an undeniable psychological level that, although covered with unusual names for us and within the framework of a legend (although the Trojan War was real), is still valid in our time and for us. After all, many times we discard something in our life and later we understand that it was a mistake.

Sometimes, as in the case of Philoctetes, we dismiss the people we meet just because there is something we dislike of them, or because it is inconvenient to be with them or, even worse, simply because we do not we want to share their suffering. But when we suddenly need those people, there we go to look for them.

Sometimes, there are ideas or teachings that we have learned and that, at a certain point, we believe they no longer serve us and we abandon them with the same ease that we get rid of those clothes that became too small or that became old-fashioned. But then something happens, and it turns out that those teachings take on a new value and we go back to them.

And sometimes we get rid of things which we consider useless not because there is nothing wrong with them, but because the market floods us with newer objects. But "new" does not mean "better", and then when the new thing fails, we resort to what we considered obsolete to solve the problem.

As my grandmother used to say: "He who keeps, always has."

But, beyond what we discard, wisdom consists in accepting, when the time comes, that it was a mistake to discard it and that we must recover it, even if that means returning to the place or moment when we discarded it and looking for a reunion that allows correcting the mistake and continue together into the future.

Knowing what to take with us into the future is as important as knowing what to leave in the past and what to receive from the future.

 

Our universe is not the first one, the only one, or the last one

Recently, the scientist Roger Penrose, winner of a Nobel Prize, indicated that our universe arose from a previous universe and that some of the "ruins" of that other universe still exist in ours. In other words, our universe is neither the first nor the only one, nor will it be the last.

Almost immediately all sorts criticism emerged against Penrose, telling him how wrong he was since, according to other scientists, there is no evidence for a universe before ours, nor would there be evidence that a new universe will emerge after the universe ends in the that we now live in, nor are there parallel universes.

Obviously, I do not have even the most minimal knowledge related to cosmology to begin to understand who is right, if Penrose, who maintains that our universe is only one in a circle, or his opponents, who maintain that our universe is the only one that exists.

But I can say the following: all novel scientific ideas (and the same could be said for philosophical, artistic, and spiritual ideas) were initially rejected by the "experts" of the time when those ideas were presented. Also, we humans have always liked being the only ones and being at the center of the universe.

When several centuries before the beginning of our era Aristarchus proposed that the earth revolved around the sun and at about the same time Eratosthenes measured the circumference of the Earth, neither the heliocentric theory nor the roundness of the Earth were accepted. In fact, it took two millennia before heliocentrism was accepted.

And then for centuries and centuries the Milky Way (our galaxy) was considered to be the entire universe. In fact, it was only in the 20th century that Andromeda was determined to be another galaxy. Still, it was said that there were no planets in other stars, until exoplanets began to be discovered. They said the Earth was the best planet for life, which is no longer the case.

Time and again humans look for excuses to place ourselves "in the center" or to be "unique", perhaps to satisfy our irrational need to believe ourselves special or to believe that we have a special place in the cosmos. And now we believe that our universe is the only one, when it possibly is not.

But, just as the idea of cyclical universes is now rejected (a widely accepted idea in ancient times), at the time the idea that germs caused disease, or that washing hands helped prevent contagion, or something else was denied. heavy that the air could fly, or the idea of continental drift. 

In other words, we live addicted to what we know, and we cling with all our strength to a fictional place of humanity in the cosmos. But the more we know, the more aware we become of our own littleness.

We are so small that it seems the only thing we can leave to the next universe is the ruins of the current one.

Do “coincidences” reveal new knowledge if properly understood?

Recently, through social networks, I received a video sent by someone I do not know, indicating that the topic would be of interest to me. Basically, it was a recording made 15 years ago in Peru in which a "prophetess" explained that at this time a "great disease" would begin in the world's water.

I must confess that, out of curiosity, I watched a few minutes of the video before interrupting it (neither the quality of the images nor the content were good), but that time was enough to understand that the woman in question had had a dream in which she was told him that the world's water would be polluted and that the problem would originate in the United States.

I stopped watching and placed the video on the same bag with so many other videos and posts that run on social media requiring a high level of credulity to give them the slightest bit of attention. So, I went to the post office to get my mail and, among the letters, there was one from the city where I live saying that the reservoir used for the city's water was contaminated.

The letter from the local municipality did not give details of the reasons for the contamination, although it explained that it was serious enough for all human activities to be prohibited in that place, including swimming, fishing, boating, and even walking around the area. The notice did not say anything about when the contaminated water reservoir would reopen.

The situation bothered me: minutes after I saw a video recorded in Peru a decade and a half ago about contaminated water in the United States, I receive an official notification from the city where I reside informing me of contaminated water. Mere coincidence? Message from the universe? I do not know. But it did really happen.

And the following also happened. A few days ago, driving home from work at the office, I heard on the radio that commercial airplanes will begin flying in formation, as do birds and military aircrafts, as a way to reduce the cost of those. air travel.

For about 25 years I have lived close to an international airport and I often see several planes landing almost simultaneously. But I never saw them flying in formation. After hearing the news, I was left thinking that one day I would like to see in real life a formation of eight to ten commercial airplanes, as they were described on the radio.

A few minutes later, that's exactly what I saw: eight planes from different airlines (because of their colors) flying close enough to each other to see them all at once, and obviously far enough to avoid any danger. Another simple coincidence? Another message from the universe?

These experiences are difficult for me to accept because, among other reasons, the transformation from what is news or story one moment to a personal experience the next moment oscillates between the interesting and the terrifying.

Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist

At two months of birth, babies can only see up to 10 inches in front of their eyes and still cannot focus on objects or distinguish colors. They instinctively recognize their mother's face and not much else. But that doesn’t mean that there is no world beyond what babies can see.

By six months, babies can see up 18 and can focus on objects and recognize colors. They have made only 8 inches of progress in their experience of the world around them. Their perception of space has grown, but it will take many years before they begin to understand time.

Children have a hard time understanding the concept of the “past” and are surprised to discover that their parents were once children too. The idea of a distant past already gone and a future yet to come is beyond them. In fact, they won't fully understand it until they become adults (if they ever do).

But that doesn’t mean that there was no past that preceded them or that (most likely) there will be a future without them.

If we move from individual babies to humanity as a whole, we must recognize that there was a similar time in human history, when the city in which one lived was considered the center of the universe and the horizon of what one could see marked the limits of reality.

It is said that the ancient Greeks believed that the distance between the surface of the earth and the limit of the universe was only 20 miles. And a similar belief, that the earth is a few thousand years old, is well known. In both cases, the attitude is the same: what we cannot see (whether in time or space) doesn’t exist. But that belief paid no attention to the babies’ experiences.

Just because something is not part of our spatio-temporal perception, it does not mean that this "something" doesn’t exist. It only means we simply don’t perceive it. Without the help of suitable instruments, we cannot see infrared or ultraviolet light. But that doesn't mean those lights don't exist.

At the cosmic level, our instruments allow us to see up to 14 billion light years away, close to the Big Bang that gave rise to the universe. Everything that is beyond that space-time distance is outside our perception, but it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

In a sense, although it is difficult for us to recognize it, we are still just cosmic babies, with such a small consciousness that we only see what we see and, even worse, we believe that this is the whole of reality. 

In the current planetary context of a techno-scientific globalization narrated by the social networks of capitalism, our consciousness is even smaller because it is limited to what “they” let us see.

Therefore, many people cannot see the future. But that doesn't mean that the future doesn't exist. It means we have not developed yet a new organ of perception to see it. 

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