Critical Paradox

[Part 1 of Two]

At ninety, I think of this article as virtually posthumous. You see, I have a compulsion to convey my life experience to the young as rapidly and as much as dwindling time will allow. So, I’d better hurry.

But first, lest I be accused of being ‘retro’ just because I’m a nonagenarian, I unequivocally regard the Internet as at least momentous as the advent of the printing press. Instant electronic communication combined with absolute freedom of speech and global online availability have revolutionized the methodology and dispersal of information. Great!

That being said, I’d like to share my perspective on two Internet pitfalls to which its users are subjected…that is, if they allow themselves to be subjected.

The Minor Pitfall

When I initially click online, I feel assaulted by the instant appearance of an unsolicited and automated ‘slide’ show under the banner of AOL News. The general pattern of each slide’s ‘layout’ is the same. There is a headline at the top, followed by four or five brief sentences that lead to but almost always avoid specifics of the slide’s content unless the unwary user clicks for the continuance of the opening text by clicking onto a briefly paused slide. If he does that, he often is ambushed into an advertisement!

With my tongue firmly tucked in cheek, I can’t resist whimsically maligning the AOL feature in and by itself with my own made-up headlines followed by a few comments.  As I’m sure you’ve noticed, sometimes actual examples are better than imagined ones. Accordingly, I’ve identified and underlined a segment below as Imagined Headlines, the other as Actual Headlines. All headlines are in italicized bold type.

Imagined Headlines

A New Perspective on Reality. In anticipation of a philosophic piece, a user clicks for the substance of the fleeting headline. Suddenly, she finds herself ambushed into an advertisement for eyeglasses. Roseanne Reveals Her Terrible Secret. The article is a ploy to keep Rosanne visible. ∙Five Foods that Will Kill You. I’ve eaten at least one of those ‘deadly’ foods on a daily basis since I was a child and my longevity has reached its ninth decade. Food headlines are virtually a daily staple in slide headlines that are often designed to peddle a book, doctor, or dietician∙ Stephen Hawking Warns of Alien Global Genocide. From time to time, we hear from the brilliant cosmologist who has a penchant for keeping himself visible in a competitive world. There have been several grim warnings from him about the end of the human race.

Actual Headlines

Before beginning this article, I had listed those imagined headlines (above) as typical examples of ‘shell game’ slides. However, I always make strong efforts to be as accurate as possible before I submit an article. To that end and after I had listed my headlines and comments, I searched for an actual headline on AOL News.  As I expected, I found one in a few minutes. That headline was, “Biggest Event in Human History” Immanent. But there is a catch! Note that the word “Immanent” appears  after the word “History” and after the closing quotation mark. That is not a typographical or printing error. It is, however, a deliberate deception by the advertiser to avoid libel. In the body of the copy, the word “Immanent” is not included at all. Instead, the “biggest event in human history” [not capitalized] is represented as a Stephen Hawking quote (and implied endorsement) for Tier Zero, whatever that is!

Einstein Was Wrong (or its literal equivalent) is a frequent headline on the Internet and on the slide show. I’ve come across dozens of websites in search engines written by aspiring cosmologists who hope to rival Einstein’s fame by disclaiming his incomparable discovery of Specific and General Relativity, those twin phenomenon (still referred to as ‘theories’!) which have been repeatedly proved for more than a century. Hypotheses can be proved wrong, but proved theories cannot be ‘unproved.

Another of my favorite real headlines is The Universe is a Hologram! Yeah, and reindeer fly.

Clicking for random, unrelated, and misleading headlines under the banner of “news” is a form of surfing the net. On the other hand, browsing the net, the kind of search that is based on specific user goals, provides significant information for the user without playing the ‘shell game’ of misleading headlines. The only time I use the AOL slide feature is when I see only a tiny fragment of a news item on TV that seems important enough to research.  But even then, entering a key word search is at least as productive as the cumbersome AOL News feature.

A long time ago and shortly after my first full exploration of an AOL slide show, I learned to resist the temptation to click onto that first unsolicited slide no matter how sensational its headline. Now, I directly enter a key word for a search even if the first AOL headline tells me that beginning at 5:22 a.m. next Tuesday the world will end. No problem: I’ll sleep through the global event or, better yet, set the alarm to watch it.

The Major Pitfall

The AOL News feature is a whisper lost in the Internet’s roar. In itself, that feature is a microcosmic model of the Internet. But the Internet is a colossus. It has no beginning or end. Its ‘form’ is formless. It has no preconceived order. And that is as it should be.

The Internet exerts an undefinable yet immense impact on human behavior, especially as it relates to an unprecedented generational gap that exponentially exceeds any other rift in the history of humankind. This gap is like no other before it.  Past gaps were resolved by an amalgamation of tradition and innovation. That is no longer true.

In the past, despite disparate lifestyles, people at different ages from grandparents to grandchildren developed common ground to stand on for mutually beneficial relationships. As a positive result, the gap shrunk as they learned from each other. Tragically, that has not happened since the beginning of the 21st century.

Crown jewel of the Information Age, the Internet throbs with an incomparably vast source of information. Obviously, it is also saturated with incorrect, false, or even deliberately misleading information on a grand scale. Perhaps what I’ve learned about the search for truth on this side of my life cycle, combined with my experience through three generation gaps, will be of use to you.

[To be continued in Part 2 of Two, titled The Great Disconnect]



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Endangered Sound

Lest you misunderstand me to be a misogynist, allow me to state at the beginning that this article is prompted by esthetics not anger.

Dear Ladies:

On September 22, 2014, I posted an article titled, Ladies…please…! In it, I grumbled about the widespread vocal affectation that has swept across America’s women with the intensity of an out-of-control viral epidemic. “Vocal Fry,” is the ill-conceived notion that women need to distort whatever natural voice they’re born with to the sound of a pneumatic drill blasting through granite in order to acquire an authoritative sound. That sound is an assault on the human ear.

Two years later, the drill relentlessly goes on. The number of its practitioners is now well over two-thirds of female celebrities, particularly newscasters, political pundits, politicians, and weatherwomen. [Note: In stark contrast to the overwhelming number of vocal fry speakers, Janice Huff (NBC, Channel 4, 11 o’clock News) is a meteorologist whose natural voice is so beautiful that I often switch to that channel not necessarily to watch a weather report, but just to hear her speak! Her voice is like honey to the tongue and music to the ear. I’ve been in love with her rich, mellow sound for decades. In stark contrast to vocal fry practitioners, she provides therapeutic relief for those of us who are badgered by vocal fry. In addition to her professional clarity, Ms. Huff consistently enhances her day-after-day performances with a freshness of style unique in the weather forecasting field.]

Vocal Fry is forever imbedded in many films. The period of some films can be identified by the incidence of vocal fry actors. I literally cannot listen to their sound. I’m often compelled to change television channels to avoid exposure to the intensely irritating sound of vocal fry. I often find myself switching away from a film because the fry sizzles in more than one actress. If the leading lady is a vocal fryer, I’m unable to endure the granite drill no matter how fine the film  may be otherwise.

Very often, there are as many vocal fry speakers as there are women on a TV talk show! Close your eyes while they are speaking and you will find that you can’t tell which of the women is speaking. They all sound alike. The sound is similar to that of someone afflicted with a severe respiratory problem like laryngitis (inflamed voice box). Although laryngitis is a natural biological anomaly, the raspy, gravelly sound of vocal fry is an affectation deliberately created by squeezing the larynx thereby allowing air to haphazardly flap vocal chords. Social motivations for this affectation are discussed in the article cited above.

Very much less practiced by professional males, vocal fry is an affectation overwhelmingly practiced by women. When a man creates that sound it is not quite as affected as that of a woman because his vocal range is usually naturally lower than that of a woman and the contrast between his natural voice and his occasionally fried words is not quite as jarring as that of a woman. For example, when the newscaster and commentator, Shepard Smith, speaks the word “world” he invariably fries the letters “orld.” On the other hand, when women fry their words the sound is blatantly ugly. For example, Kim Kardashian’s  fluent vocal fry is incomparably ugly. I don’t know why she’s famous, except that role models are not necessarily special. Someday, and only by chance, I may see what it is that she does to make her famous, but judging by her vocal affectation, there’s no point in checking her resumé.

What concerns me most, ladies, is that unlike virtually all ill-conceived cultural fads, this one threatens to affect children. They are the best of mimics, especially when learning a language. To exacerbate matters, this cultural phenomenon is easy to emulate. It is now in its second generation. Time is running out. Please restore your naturally varied voices as soon as possible. Don’t allow this cultural nightmare to affect our language permanently. Don’t allow “feminism” to diminish your femininity.

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“Words, words, words”


My previous article posted October 10, 2016 and titled A Plague on Both Your Houses was generated by my revulsion to a vicious lie. I specifically dealt with only one of the two presidential candidates because the lie was beyond politics as usual. But in terms of the other candidate, the title of that article speaks for itself.

Now I’d like to reveal another kind of lie. This time it is about our Fourth Estate. This time it is about the abuse of free speech. This time it is about subtext that is deliberately designed to trick a reader into thinking what he is reading means something other than the actual text. This time the lie is the “smoke and mirrors” of dishonest wordsmiths. A not so subtle but perfect example of their dishonesty follows.

On October 23 AOL writes: Among Democrats and Democrat-leaning likely voters, 88 percent said that Clinton won the (third) debate. An overwhelming majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning likely voters, 77 percent said that Trump won the (third) debate. [underlines mine]

My question: Why is 77 percent overwhelming while 88 percent is not!

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A Plague on Both Your Houses


For obvious reasons I have no intention of voting for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. I don’t feel guilty about not voting because New York is not a swing state, so my single vote is of no consequence.

I’m also aware that conflicting political lies are (as always) rampant on both sides of the aisle, and that in the long-run they are a wash. But through the many decades that I’ve heard all kinds of political lies from partisan advocates, those that are most disturbing to me are vicious lies. Clinton is guilty of such a lie.

If you are a voter in a swing state and pondering on whether or not Clinton is trustworthy, this commentary will provide you with a definitive “no” in answer to that question. Of course knowing for certain that she is not trustworthy does not necessarily disqualify her from your vote. You may decide to vote for her because you prefer her over Trump whether she’s trustworthy or not, even if only because you believe she is the “lesser of two evils,” a common reason that millions of people vote for one candidate or the other.

The press and most social media have largely underplayed Clinton’s incredibly unfair lie. Although I’m not a political partisan, I’m compelled to provide you with the following information in the event that you are not aware of it.

A day or so ago, most media claimed that Donald Trump said veterans who suffer from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are weak (!). I thought, “That doesn’t sound right. Trump knows a statement like that would guarantee that he’d lose the election.” Later in the week, my speculation about the mainstream media’s deceiving claim was confirmed by two video clips I saw on TV.

The first video clip shows us what Trump actually said. (I would like to quote his words verbatim and entirely but could not find either clip online.) In response to a question he was asked about aid for veterans who suffer from PTSD as a result of their war experiences, Trump was unmistakably sympathetic to their suffering. Part of his response was that while some people “in this room” (a press session?) may not necessarily be mentally injured by PTSD resulting from war experiences, other people (veterans) may suffer from PTSD and that those disabled veterans should receive aid. His message was absolutely clear. It was unequivocally sympathetic to and in favor of helping PTSD veterans. Explicitly or implicitly, Trump absolutely did not call PTSD veterans “weak.” Nevertheless, “Weak” was the media’s spun buzz word.

The second clip was that of Clinton who, along with much of the media, blatantly distorted what Trump said. Clinton didn’t simply ‘imply’ that Trump’s full statement was one of indifference to those disabled veterans. Nor did she simply misunderstand Trump’s position on aiding them. She deliberately lied by distorting Trump’s words beyond recognition and spun them into the opposite of Trump’s actual statement. The tone of her voice was one of deep indignation, a lie in and of itself. That lie is not just run-of-the-mill politics. It’s an unforgivable kind of lie.

[Note: While watching the second presidential debate, I noticed that in her list of reasons for Trump’s unfitness to be president she included his ‘indifference’ to “the disabled,” By avoiding the word “veterans” she safely removed any reference to the real veterans’ incident and at the same time shrewdly implied that she was referring to all the disabled. That is the act of an expert liar.]

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Tinkering with Reality


In quantum physics, the very act of observing an electron affects the results: we can observe the velocity or position of an electron, but not both at the same time. An analogy to this is that the presence of news media changes an event being reported because people behave differently when they know they are being observed.

In 1971 there was an experiment designed and supervised by a psychologist, Dr. Zimbardo. The subjects of that experiment were university students. Forty-Four years later the event was replicated in a 2015 film. Both events are titled The Stanford Prisoner Experiment; both events are reviewed and discussed extensively in books, essays, school classrooms, and online. But I think—and hope—that this article provides an additional and fresh perspective of that experiment.


Theater is an art. It slips in and out of reality with the exquisite agility of a chameleon. In the performing arts, reality and fantasy are blended by collaborative artists.

Audiences also collaborate with artists. When viewing a film, an audience allows itself to suspend its sense of reality. It ignores the fact that the actor’s words are scripted, that the director directed the film as a whole, and that actors do more than just speak their lines.

Early in the film, we are shown a staged ‘arrest’ of a student. Like that student, we are already fully aware that his arrest is staged. (In the original 1971 experiment, although students had been previously vetted and selected for the experiment, they did not expect ‘police’ to arrest them! I read somewhere that the policeman was real.) In the film, the student openly flashes knowing smiles and chuckles as he is frisked, handcuffed, blindfolded, and led into a real police car.

The film cuts to a simulated ‘prison,’ a hallway in the basement of Stanford University that includes a row of offices which are made to look like barred prison cells. Like his fellow student ‘prisoners,’ he has his blindfold removed and is deloused by students who play ‘prison guards.’ For a few minutes into an orientation session, the jocular tone set at the arrest scene continues.

But the fun is short-lived. One of the guards implicitly but firmly asserts guard leadership and establishes an abusive tone beginning midway during the orientation session and becoming increasingly sadistic through the rest of the experiment.

Fast Forward: A moment after the body of the film ends in Black Screen, there is a tag of four or five clips beginning with the actor who played Dr. Zimbardo. Still playing the doctor, he delivers a brief monologue in which he states that the results of the experiment surpassed his expectations. I assume that his words, if not literally those of the real Dr. Zimbardo, are paraphrases of his words.

Incongruously, whereas the actor sits behind his desk and speaks directly to the audience still in character, all the other actors except two appear in neutral sets (curtains) and without a hint of their film characters, speak directly to the audience as themselves.

Their identities as ‘self’ rather than ‘character’ is clear when one of them tells the audience, “The person I knew as ‘Tom’ was disappearing.” Another unmistakable indication that they are speaking for themselves is that the actor who played the leader of the guards in the film drops his southern accent in the clip he shares with a prisoner. Like all the others, these two actors are no longer in costume.

In what is the last and most notable clip in the tag, these two actors speak to each other. The guard’s tone is detached and calm as it mostly is in the body of the film; the prisoner’s tone is accusative and angry as if he had ‘lived’ his role. During their confrontational dialogue (not necessarily in this order) the prisoner berates the guard with “You’re a nice guy…I know you’re a nice guy” but bitterly accuses him of over-the-top cruelty. Whereupon, the guard coolly asks the prisoner, “What would you have done in my position?” The prisoner angrily responds, “I don’t know…I wasn’t…I don’t know what I would do.” Referring to the guard’s portrayal of cruelty, the prisoner sarcastically commends the guard for his “masterpiece” performance and that he could not possibly match it. He also compliments the guard for his sadistic “inventiveness.”

Inventiveness? Whoa! The film is scripted! Yet, we are expected to believe that the guard invented lines and actions while the cameras rolled! The prisoner’s reference to the guard’s ‘inventiveness’ is blatantly incompatible with the film’s otherwise straightforward screenplay. But I found no criticism of that incompatibility in any of the many articles I read about the film.

I think I know why I found no mention of that incompatibility. One of the original prisoners in the 1971 experiment was an amateur actor! His name was Eshelman. He apparently slipped under the radar when he was vetted and accepted as a subject for the experiment. During the entire experiment, Eshelman unilaterally chose to play his role as a sadistic guard. As is often cited, Eshelman modeled his character after Strother Martin’s portrayal in Cool Hand Luke (1967). I haven’t seen that film but from what I’ve read, the 2015 film actor played his guard modeled after that of Strother Martin. Perhaps he chose to play a copy of a copy or he may have been obliged to do that. Either way that is a trivial matter.

However, what is of consequence is Mr. Eshelman’s real performance in the 1971 experiment. It was not exactly what it seemed to be. He didn’t play an ordinary guard as he had been chosen to do. Instead, he unilaterally and secretly set out to see how far his sadistic words and actions would take him before the prisoners would tell him to curtail his cruelty. That is exactly what the 2015 film’s guard tells the prisoner in their confrontational clip, much to the prisoner’s chagrin.

In that clip, those two actors speak as themselves but not really for themselves even though the scene is ostensibly played as an extemporaneous encounter session. The clip does not conform to the pattern established by the three or four other clips. The inconsistency may be 1) an artistic oversight or 2) an attempt to compensate for the absence of the Eshelman factor in the film’s narrative or 3) a powerful revelation of the lingering harmful effects that a negative environment can inflict on an individual even though he is an actor who not only knows that the situation is simulated but that the situation is in and of itself similar to his make believe profession!

Item 1, although possible, is extremely unlikely. Item 2 is possible because a) it helps support the documentary aspects of the original experiment and b) because it satisfies those who are familiar with the underlying Eshelman factor, a story within a story which would add time to the film and complicate its basic message. Item 3 is not credible. Harmful effects have been reported by laymen subjects who have subjected themselves to situational behavior experiments. I take them at their word. But the experiment’s subjects in the film are professional actors. Tom’s description of his ‘disappearing’ self is not credible. Statements of other prisoners with similar descriptions of their experience are also not credible. The same is so of our furious prisoner. There are several reasons why many actors give credence to the notion of ‘living the role,’ the main one of which is that it makes good copy. But good actors are too busy practicing their acting craft to get ‘lost in the role,’ A Double Life (1948) notwithstanding.

The clip is strategically placed at the very end of the film’s tag. That placement is not a matter of chance. It is placed there as the main feature of what is basically an epilogue. I also think that the actors were in the awkward position of having to glance for a prompt or two, especially at the end of their scene when the guard seemed to question someone ‘out there’ with his eyes as to whether he should go on with the scene or end it. This is not at all to say that the scene isn’t done well. On a personal note, I congratulate the screenwriter, director, actors, and technicians for the creation of a good film despite the challenges and ambiguity of its subject matter.

According to Dr. Zimbardo, actors who applied for participation in the experiment were assigned roles as guards or prisoners by the flip of a coin. It follows that the flip of a coin determined the specific results of that particular experiment. But Eshelman’s real performance heavily determined the experiment’s results.

What if the coin flip had designated Eshelman as a prisoner instead of a guard!

Flipping a coin implies that human behavior is universally uniform. Dr. Zimbardo’s experiment ‘begs the question’ at its conception. Psycosociological experiments invariably do that. That does not happen with illusive electrons. Even if we discount the doctor’s premises, subjectivity, and experimental interventions and the students’ knowledge that they are being observed as subjects in an experiment, it and all others like it are fatally flawed by the scientifically mandatory exclusion of moral issues, the very essence of what is being studied!


“Choice is a corollary of free will. Neither can exist without the other.”

In other words, moral judgment is obviated when an individual finds himself at the receiving end of a bullet.

Although psychosocial and clinical therapy can be very helpful to us, the essence of human behavior is better described by fine artists. They are much better at it. For example, the films Schindler’s List, Sophie’s Choice, and Judgment at Nuremberg have much more to say about human behavior than any experiment possibly can. Sophie did what she had to do; Schindler was compassionately compelled to do what he did under great risk to himself; and moral judgment is a profoundly personal matter for millions of anonymous people in darkened theaters throughout the world.

Rewind: The purpose of the experiment and several similar experiments worldwide before, during, and after the Stanford experiment reenacted in the 2015 film, was and remains an attempt to determine whether people are wired to alter their moral behavior under duress or maintain immutable moral standards whatever the situation. That is part of the centuries-old philosophic headings like Nature vs. Nurture, more recently packaged as Genes vs. Environment or Person vs. Situation and the granddaddy of them all: Free Will vs. Determinism.

The Stanton prison experiment wobbles on intellectual quicksand. For example, there is a scene in which a prisoner asks for a parole in what we know to be a staged ‘parole hearing.’ The bogus ‘Parole Board’ consists of Dr. Zimbardo, a few assistants, and the doctor’s girlfriend who volunteered to be part of the simulated board. Given the opening dialogue for that scene there is nothing to indicate whether the prisoner plays along with the elaborately staged hearing because he believes he must do so or because he believes that his imprisonment is real after all.

In either case, as the scene progresses the prisoner desperately pleads for a parole: this time unquestionably for real. In response to his desperate pleas for a parole, one of the doctor’s assistants coldly ‘reads’ aloud a list of the prisoner’s bogus criminal charges. The prisoner remains silent even though he, like all the other students, had no criminal records whatever. In the middle of the assistant’s recitation of charges, the volunteer surreptitiously glances over the assistant’s shoulder and notices that he is ‘reading’ fake charges from a blank sheet of paper.

The actress plays that moment as though her suspicions are aroused. As a viewer, I thought, “Had Dr. Zimbardo neglected to tell her that none of the students ever had real criminal charges against them?” Despite more pleading, the prisoner is denied parole and is on his way out of the room under guard custody when she interrupts their exit and asks the prisoner if he would forfeit his pay in exchange for a parole. He definitively says he would, and he and the guard exit. There follows a dramatic and meaningful series of glances amongst the remaining ‘board’ that projects serious ethical concerns about what has just happened.

If the scene reflects an incident that occurred in the real 1971 experiment, as I believe it does, it raises questions about the validity of the experiment itself. Even if the student in the original experiment (and on film) believed that his imprisonment was somehow real, it would have taken nothing short of a lobotomy for him to have forgotten his alleged charges, let alone the stipulation in his contract that he could quit the experiment at any time.

All he had to do at the hearing was demand to be released all together!

In both the film and its tag, when the actor who plays Dr. Zimbardo speaks of the results of the experiment, he speaks of them as though they are amazing. I too am amazed, but for reasons radically different than those of the doctor. I am amazed by the real doctor Zimbardo’s naïve notion that human behavior can be accurately analyzed when the ‘subjects’ know that they are being observed. I am amazed that psychologists—of all people—accept roleplaying as evidentiary for real-life prison behavior, especially since the students have no prison records or criminal charges and that their source for information about prison life is the movies! The students do not live prison life, they act it. For example, all the students are told that the guards would run the prison and dictate all prison rules but they must not physically harm the prisoners.

Where does that happen in real prisons!

I am also amazed by Dr. Zimbardo’s words:

Essentially I was the pilot of the movie and then I was the researcher and unfortunately the superintendent who got sucked into the situation…I was thinking like a prison superintendent rather than research psychologist.

What happened to the inviable ‘independent variable’ principle for all scientific experiments! When that question is asked of the doctor, he rudely cuts the questioner off with, “Are you questioning my authority?”

But what mostly amazes me about human behavioral experiments is that anyone—let alone a psychologist—believes that experiments are necessary to demonstrate that there are no limits to negative ‘situational behavior.’ History and current events are packed with real examples of negative situational behavior. The same is true of heroic behavior, although that reality is generally understated in most reports of situational behavior.

Largely of interest to prison administrators, the results of the Stanford prison experiment told us what we already knew before Day One of the experiment. They add nothing to the body of knowledge gathered from the most infamous events in recorded history such as the Nazi Holocaust. It doesn’t take a certified psychologist to know that Nazi occupied Europe, including Germany, was a huge outdoor prison run by leaders who were morally destitute. Add to that the carefully selected sadistic commandants who ran the concentration camps within that outdoor prison and you have the ultimate examples of ‘situational behavior.’ The films cited above amply and brilliantly deal with real life human behavior. Going a step further, I posit that our behavior is a complex phenomenon that simultaneously and continuously combines both internal and external factors.

I hope I do not offend holocaust victims and their loved ones when I cite those unspeakable situations in the same article that discusses pointless experiments. I do that only because both subjects refer to the same issue.

With tongue in cheek, I suggest that if the students’ simulated prison had consisted of luxurious rooms in a posh hotel with exquisite dinners served on demand, the results of the experiment would be essentially the same: the students would be ‘at each other’ shortly after they met. Dr. Zimbardo did not account for testosterone taking its natural course.

Would testosterone alone have generated the student and guard negative behavior? You bet it would. Men have killed each other because of fender-benders. When probing human behavior, the possible factors required to almost fully understand it is staggering. Wouldn’t the prisoners act as they did because they knew the guards would not physically harm them with their strictly decorative nightsticks? Wouldn’t the guards or prisoners ignore their moral principles because they were just acting? Actors do that all the time. If they didn’t we’d have run out of Desdemona’s long ago. I silently asked myself hundreds of mostly rhetorical questions as I watched the film. I’m sure lots of us do.

For all we know, the amateur actor who played the main guard in the original experiment may have indulged in an autoerotic S&M fantasy, especially when he invented the Frankenstein and Camel tasks for the prisoners. Had he tried that with real prisoners they would have assaulted him on the spot with the intent to kill. There is no question about that!

The film’s tag includes a huge table around which are gathered the film’s ensemble of artists. I see that tableau as a sort of curtain call. No one speaks. As an ensemble, the actors project a subtext of reflection. Although also pensive, the actor who played the sadistic guard arrogantly puffs a cigarette and skillfully exhales perfect smoke-rings. Like the character he played, he had his own agenda. Actors always know they are being observed.


For centuries, ethics has held its place as a major branch of philosophy. When I was a teenager, I became aware of the concept of the Nature vs. Nurture argument. I thought—and still think—that nature and nurture are the palette from which our individual brush mixes, matches, and creates the colors that build our character, a function of our will. Unlike the illusive electron, we have the free will within us to behave negatively or positively whether we are observed or not. By that, I don’t mean as subjects of an experiment. So called ‘results’ of situational and/or genetic behavior tell us very little about an individual’s ethics.

Ethical standards are not necessarily religious or measurable by secular group conformity. They are not contingent upon an individual’s intelligence. They are not (as is often supposed) one kind of ethics (say, in business or medicine) and another kind of ethics in some other profession. They are not contingent to extraordinary circumstances or genetic composition. Rather, they are self-evident and quietly practiced on a daily basis. They are also not predetermined. They are a matter of choice.

Who we want to be is the most important choice of our lives.

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A Short Fiction, Soon to be Real

By Mario Martone


Called the Gist Generation, the group consisted of individuals who required a booster for their Virtual Human Thought (VHT) cranial implant. The booster is mandatory before the age of twenty-one. A couple in the group, distinguished by their in vivo conception, a rare biological phenomenon since the beginning of the 22nd century, is included in the otherwise in vitro group. He is nineteen, she is seventeen.

In vivo conception is widely regarded as vulgar. To prevent social censure and under the legal protection of doctor-patient confidentiality, virtually all parents conceal the genesis of an in vivo child. Only medical records identify in vivo children as ‘hybreeds,’ a euphemism for the word ‘hybrids.’ There are no observable physical or mental distinctions between in vivo and in vitro individuals.

The topic of conception is publically muted. Just as countless generations before them had done when all births were in vivo, parents still avoid telling their children how they were conceived. If and when an in vivo conception is eventually revealed to a child, he usually continues to keep his genesis secret.

This morning the under-twenty-one group’s tension is palpable. David is far more apprehensive than Alma about the procedure about to begin. He is concerned about the impact the booster might have on their relationship. “Will I see her differently? Will her scent lose its exquisite effect on me?” Most terrifying of all: “Will the VHT booster in any way alter our…our…our…” He cannot find the word ‘love,’ a word long since buried deep into his subconscious. David had heard the word ‘love’ only during his infancy when his mother cradled him in her arms and whispered, “I love you, David.”

The VHT is designed to delete words of personal endearment from human consciousness. Of course ‘love’ is one of those unapproved words. In the hundreds of languages interactively available on the electronic Global Dictionary that word is not included.

Ancient English is a dying language. No longer written or read, it is now exclusively a spoken language: DigiTalk. Most of its words are abbreviations of Ancient English. In effect DigiTalk is a dialect of Ancient English. Abbreviations inherently create problems. ‘Cat’ might mean the ‘animal’ or ‘category’ or ‘catastrophe’ or ‘catatonic’ depending on content. Definitions are given in order of the frequency of ‘hits.’ The user repeats the word ‘cat’ until he hears the most likely definition. In conversation, a fluent DigiTalker has several options. She might use sign-language for any of those words or say ‘feline’ if she means the animal, or simply say ‘meow.’

The Global Dictionary is often referred to as the Talkie. When seeking a definition, the dictionary’s user speaks a word into the dictionary’s microphone. Since DigiTalk is exclusively a spoken language, its dictionary provides spoken definitions. In the event that an unapproved word is spoken into the dictionary’s microphone, the screen glows red and blinks rapidly as a voice repeatedly exclaims, “no longer in use!” The dictionary’s content is constantly updated along with its visual, spoken, and musical commercials which flash on and off the screen whenever the dictionary is activated.

There is a repository for written ancient languages as they existed in the late 21st century. A single copy of each of their dictionaries is kept in a high security vault titled, the Hush-Hush room.

Today’s allegedly routine VHT booster is titled A New Adventure. The group suspects it is an illegal experiment as well as a booster. Their fear has been aroused by a leak from the local government’s Panic Control Center. The group fears that the administrators’ hidden agenda is to attempt penetration into and alteration of the subconscious, that enigmatic realm of thought.

[Editor’s note: In Ancient English the word ‘history’ was derived from an even more ancient Greek word, ‘historia,’ which means ‘learning through research.’ In both Greek and English the word has nothing whatever to do with gender. However, because of declining scholarship combined with a fervent effort to purge sexist words from the English language, an overwhelming majority in the late 20th century thought that ‘history’ was a composite of two words, ‘his story.’ DigiTalk has long since replaced the word ‘history’ with ‘hearsay’ in order to maintain societal correctness.]

Although the word for ‘history’ is now ‘hearsay,’ there are some events referred to as ‘facts,’ a rarely used word in DigiTalk. But today, the buzz in the laboratory is hot and heavy with a terrifying narrative which the group believes to be a fact. The best account follows.

As the story goes, in the very early 22nd century, human experiments were immediately banned after an experiment similar to this one resulted in the death of 100 young individuals. The slogan for that alleged booster was Let’s Go for Broke, now better known as The Great Goof.
That procedure’s administrators were engaged in seven multitasks while tinkering with the subconscious. Overtasked, they overlooked the obvious. They failed to consider the automatic respiration factor during sleep, a vital function of the subconscious.

Believing that the procedure had been a success, the administrators immediately announced a global FlashFlash onto millions of worldwide TalkTalk loudspeakers. In DigiTalk it said: “The 100 are the first truly liberated human beings in the hearsay of humankind!” The 100 went directly from the laboratory to a victory parade on the streets of Panhattan, a city renamed when the world’s entire population was officially declared united.

Unfortunately, the neglected respiratory factor took its grim toll that night: the 100 died of asphyxiation within the first 3 minutes of sleep.

Once again, today’s goal is to obtain permanent subconscious oblivion. The group suspects as much and is terrified. The sound of music provided by their VHTs is overwhelmed by their chatter. Neither music nor games are able to dispel their growing fears.

At precisely 8:00 A.M., the group’s cranial Music & Games (M&G) implants are remotely cut off by the medics. There follows an announcement that there will be 10 seconds of silence. The clock runs. After 4 seconds of silence, the tension is almost life-threatening: since conception, the in vitro group’s VHT implants had provided them with the continuous sound of music even during sleep. Now, for the first time in their lives, they experience silence. They are devastated. Some of them think they are in a nightmare. Others think they are dead. Indeed, their anguish is great enough to literally kill them before 10 seconds of silence might pass!

At precisely 08:00:05 A.M., three victims of silence scream in pain. That fifth second broke them. The experiment is stopped. The M&G implant automatically restores music to the entire group. However, the resumption of music backfires for the three victims. Their EMS and M&G implants are custom made to suit their specific musical preferences. While waiting for additional, hands-on treatment, one of the three victims is treated by the sound of hard rock, now the equivalent of ancient chamber music; another is treated by flute solos; the third victim’s automated musical selection is Gotterdammerung, hardly a suitable medical countermeasure to severe stress. Apparently, the implant designers overlooked the great risk of providing a severe stress victim with Wagner’s Immolation Scene. Or, perhaps they had logged-in lots of Wagner without carefully reading the ancient label warnings about drugs, alcohol, and opera. Still in excruciating mental anguish, the victims are carried out of the laboratory for intensive care, if indeed they would not be DOA.

During the commotion, David turns to his partner and whispers, “Alma—“

She cuts him off. “You mustn’t call me that here.” It is considered sexist to call your lover by her birth name in public. Speaking her name in public is tantamount to talking dirty. The Pin Number for her name is 11325.

“I’m sorry, 11325…I just want to know—“

He is cut off again. This time by the VHT, which repeats the original ten-second announcement. Again, the clock is running. The group is now convinced that the word ‘booster’ is a euphemism for ‘experiment.’ Fearing another commotion might lead to another interruption and, in turn, yet another dreaded ten-second run of silence, the group is resolutely silent.

This time, two victims are stricken by silence, one at the 7th and the other at the 9th second of silence. One of them faints because of aggravated ennui during her seventh second of silence, the other goes over the edge because he is addicted to the ancient form of music called Heavy Metal, the antithesis of silence.

Alma focuses on David’s face. His lips are tight. His eyes burn with anger. His anger is exacerbated by the knowledge that in addition to being illegal, this experiment is extremely dangerous. Probing the subconscious had proved lethal for the 100, why not again! Was this group to be the next 100?

A talking hologram appears. It is an image representing the Universal Human: multi-colored hair, skin, and eyes, and an androgynous body. With soothing music under its words and a mellifluous voice the hologram speaks DigiTalk: “WelNewVentupVHT.” (“Welcome to A New Adventure, a booster designed to update your VHT.”) The hologram then accelerates the pace of its speech in order to deliberately obfuscate the legally required medical description of the implant.

The ploy fails. The heightened suspicions of the group are confirmed. Despite the hologram’s rapid speech, the group surmises the booster carries a hidden factor. “No wonder we were subjected to that horrible ten-second silence. This is an experiment!” And, judging by what the Universal Human tells them, the experiment will focus on the medulla oblongada, the brain’s alarm clock that wakes us from sleep with that primordial shot of adrenalin! Wasn’t the failure of that autonomic sub-conscious function the cause of death for the 100!

David and Alma never subscribed to the centuries-old ultimate contradiction in terms, “Relativism is the only Absolute,” or to its implied corollary, “Reality is subordinate to Virtual Reality.” Unfortunately, this grisly experiment confirms the fact that virtual reality doesn’t quite measure up to reality. In this case, facing immanent death is certainly not virtual, it is real. Early in life and separately, Alma and David rejected society’s overwhelmingly accepted notion that there are no absolutes. They know that they are facing an absolute, death, right here and now.

Our couple met at a pics ‘n’ flicks, DigiTalk for ‘museum.’ Dabbles is DigiTalk for ‘paintings,’ which had long ago lost their frames and were no longer one-dimensional. They had long since been converted to holograms activated by sensors that detect a viewer standing before them. Alma was standing before one of them called ‘Moaning Lisa.’ (Misnomers were a common occurrence in a language that no longer had a written lexicon.)

David enters the centerpiece of the pics ‘n’ flicks, the Dabble Hut, and spots Alma. He makes no attempt to pretend that he is interested in the hologram she had activated. Instead, he walks directly to the hologram within earshot of the hologram’s ‘voice’ and stands only a meter away from Alma. Mona speaks to her visitors.

In DigiTalk, herein translated to English, Mona says, “I’m so glad you came to visit me. I want you to hear from my own lips why my facial expression is enigmatic. Yes, I’m speaking about the smile that made me famous. You see, passerby, when you focus on my mouth’s fine detail you see me as reserved, but when you look at my eyes, I look cheerful! Perhaps Leo deliberately meant to create that effect, perhaps he did it subconsciously or, for that matter, just by chance.”

Her voice then lowers to a whisper. “And while I have you here let me clear that bit of gossip about my gender. Gossip has it that the model for me was Leo’s male lover. If that were so I would look like this…” The hologram morphs from La Giaconda to Giacomo.

Directed to Alma, David angrily whispers, “Bullshit!”

“Do you mean that Leonardo da Vinci was not homosexual?”

“No. I couldn’t care less about that.”

He hesitates for a moment while his mind races for a way to ask Alma a question to which her answer would determine whether or not he should continue. Giacomo, now the male La Gioconda, provides David with an opportunity to ask Alma his critical question when, with a deep baritone voice, ‘Giacomo/La Giaconda’ claims, “I am Leo’s model for the Moaning Lisa.”

“That’s what I mean! I know bullshit when I smell it! Morphing is a parlor game. Hologramizing dabbles is vandalism. Tell me, are you okay with that?”

“Not one bit. Neither am I okay with the words ‘babble’ and ‘dabble.’ Grandma remembers a time when the titles for those arts were ‘literature’ and ‘painting’ and when chip ‘n’ chisel was called ‘sculpture,’ and math was not a matter of opinion.”

As Alma speaks, Mona morphs from Japanese to Egyptian to American, and so on. The hologram begins with Mona’s biographical message (described above) every time a new viewer stands before her. If the viewer remains in place after Mona’s initial biography, Mona continues morphing. At the same time, she serves as spokesperson for commercial sponsors, currently a cosmetic firm and a gift shop. As an additional attraction, she appears in full-length and in different clothes that include the latest fashions as she demonstrates cosmetic and jewelry applications.

The global entertainment planners maintain that the conversion of one-dimensional paintings to morphing holograms is the only remaining factor that attracts visitors to pics ‘n’ flicks in a society that cannot bear paintings that don’t move or films that are one-dimensional. They claim that without commercials to fund them, pics ‘n’ flicks would disappear altogether. They point to the unfinished painting of an ancient general crossing an icy river. “In addition to the motion of an icy river, that pic is especially valuable because its unfinished status makes it a very pliable candidate for multiple changes by would-be dabblers who, for a fee, are given permission to finish the painting, at least until the next dabbler comes along. Dabblers feel they’ve taken part in the original dabbler’s creation. Movement is money. Keep them moving: Moving water, moving horses, moving clouds are what brings in the bread!”

David steps out of the hologram’s periphery. Alma follows. Silence. David and Alma are the only two people left in the Dabble Hut. After Alma responds to David’s question, “Are you okay with that?,“ the tone of his voice changes from angry to intimate: “What’s your name?”

David and Alma had a lonely life until the day they met at the dreary pics ‘n’ flicks. Their loneliness was caused not only because of that poignant longing for romantic love that nature compels us to feel, but also because they differ so fundamentally from their contemporaries. They tolerate the perpetual music from the VHT implant, but never access its mind games. They much prefer talking to each other.

“Alma is a beautiful name. Does it have a meaning?”

“Yes, but I won’t tell you its meaning unless you promise not to laugh.”

“I promise.”


“I’m impressed…and it’s so much better than 11325.”

Their laughter fades and slips into an embrace and a silence that is almost solemn.

David breaks the silence, “This is an absolute, isn’t it.”

“Yes, David…It’s forever.”

From time to time, Alma’s grandmother spoke to Alma in American. David ‘picked-up’ some American from his parents. Like many bilingual speakers, Alma and David sometimes switch languages in mid-sentence.

“U r so flu in Amer/ican that I can hardly keep up with all the new words you’ve taught me in the past two years.”

“I don’t know about that.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, take the first word you’ve ever said to me.”

“Oh?…What was that?”


He blushes, “Oh… that…”

“Yes, that…”


“Don’t be. If you hadn’t spoken to me we probably would have never met.”

“Not exactly. I have a confession to make. I was on my way home when I spotted you walking into the pics ‘n’ flicks. I followed you there just to talk to you.”

“So, you didn’t stand next to Mona and me just by chance.”

“No. I stalked you.” David was a closet romantic. He warmly continued, “Best move I ever made.”

We ever made. I wasn’t about to move away from Mona until you spoke to me.”

Alma and David discussed everything from the pros and cons of innie and outie bellybuttons to the birth of the universe.

“Alma, my grandfather told me that when his grandfather went to pics ‘n’ flicks, pics were in one dimension, hung on walls, and didn’t move.

“Grandma told me that ‘mythology’ was once called ‘philosophy’… and I think she said philosophy had five major branches. I don’t remember what those branches were called, but I remember she said that someday all five would be combined as a single study called ‘mythology.”’

“What does that mean?”

“The Global Dictionary told me it means ‘toe.’”

“Toe? The mystery deepens.”

“Well, when I asked the dictionary what ‘toe’ means, it gave me two definitions. The first one was, ‘Any of the five digits of the human foot.’ The second was, the ‘Theory of Everything,’ and it added, ‘archaic.’ It also said that the synonym for ‘toe’ is ‘mythology.’ When I asked the dictionary for the definition of ‘mythology,’ it said, ‘Toe.’ Anyway, grandma was right! But what bothers me most, David, is the mythological paste that entangles science and religion, fact and opinion, and fantasy and reality.”

Reality? Watch your tongue, Alma! Ours is the Gist Generation. Reality and fantasy are one. Remember your first math class? Our professors taught us the axiom, ‘One plus one is virtually two, nothing is self-evident,’ and that ‘not even that axiom in-and-of-itself is self-evident.’ How dare they dismiss logic!”

“Yes, and deface art. Grandma told me that advanced holographic technology made it possible for flick classics to be converted to life-size copies with different characters, settings, dialogues, and even story lines. She said, ‘I don’t mean remakes. Classics are not necessarily the first of their kind. Classics are classics because they are definitive. Although it may seem so, a masterpiece is not improved because of advanced technology. It’s a masterpiece because it is definitive.”’

“Yeah…Poor Mona would attest to that.”

“Would you believe that MyFlicks is offering menus with choices for several different synopses that alter a HoloFlick to your liking! You can place an order to have the hero live instead of die at the end of the flick. Or, you can call-in and record a synopsis for your original HoloFlick. I heard their commercial when I asked the dictionary for the definition of ‘celebrity.’ The commercial said, ‘You too can be famous! Call…Wait for the beep…and record your synopsis for an original flick! Delivery of your flick in just one day!”’

“With grand music under the commercial, of course…”

“Of course…Sung by the Heavenly Choir.”

The global Absolute Equality Commission’s motto is “If you think it, you are it.” The fervent efforts of the commission leave no stone unturned to achieve its goal for global equality. For example, the painting of that obscure general crossing the icy river provides the perfect opportunity for an amateur to replace the original artist’s incorrect flag with the correct one. If he has no talent whatever, he is provided a device that enables him to paint by numbers. For a small extra fee, all he has to do is jiggle tiny levers on a tablet until he has deleted the original painter’s incorrect flag and replaced it with the correct one. At last he too is a dabbler!

Chips ‘n’ flicks exhibit holographic sculpture and film in the arts formerly called ‘sculpture’ and ‘film.’ Already in three dimensions, chips are more easily processed than their one-dimensional counterparts, painting and filmic art. Since chips are originally in stone, the most effective process for their transformation to holograms is a precise replica of the original piece. As for films, advanced holographic technology has broken the bond between moving images and one-dimensional film. Most ancient classic films are now available in holographic format.

Like paintings, holographic sculptures morph and speak. For example, Michelangelo’s holographic Moses reads the Ten Commandments. His David flexes his muscles, does push-ups, and gives visitors body-building tips.

In holographic replicas of Michelangelo’s masterpiece, David modestly wears briefs. Like paintings, non-holographic sculptures draw few visitors. In stark contrast, their underworld pornographic counterparts in MyLust porn shops are jammed with visitors, especially on Saturday nights. For a fee, visitors view holograms of nude art as it was originally painted or sculptured but is now ‘enhanced’ with action.

For example, at MyLust porn shops, David’s hologram can be accessed privately by only one visitor at a time. Unlike the original sculpture, David’s hologram initially wears a jockstrap. When a private visitor enters the hologram’s restricted booth, David greets him. “Hi, my name is David.” Pointing to three buttons as he speaks, David tells the visitor, “Please listen to the following menu: If you would like me to be silent, press 1. If you would like me to moan and groan, press 2. If you would like me to talk dirty, press 3 and say, ‘Light’ or ‘Medium’ or ‘Heavy’ dirty talk. To repeat this message, say yes.” When the visitor has made his selections, David removes his jockstrap and masturbates.

Although this exhibit is very expensive, it draws long lines at the MyLust chain of holographic porn shops. On the other hand, David’s hologram at the decaying chips ‘n’ flicks is rarely visited even though David moves and talks about the chip’s creator, “My buddy, Mike.”

The commission does not limit its efforts to art venues and it ‘looks the other way’ in terms of underground venues. Its mission is reflected in every public event, especially sports. Before a sport event, spectators are given a card at the entrance gate. The cards are either all white or the color of the day. At intervals through the game, several players are exchanged between teams depending on who is winning or losing. This tactic is designed to help equalize the score so that no players or spectators have their feelings hurt.

Viewers at home who watch a close facsimile of the game have a more sophisticated view of it. In addition to the life-size holograms in their living rooms called Zoomers, the viewer can access many enhanced features on an accessory to their standard HoloSport appliance with a Personal Companion (PC) attachment that provides a soft and friendly version of the sport event.

The viewer may choose to watch a mock game with selected excerpts from the real game so that his team of the day appears to win even though it actually lost that day. All he has to do is press a graphic depicting the menu of the day. Of course the menu has no words, but it is formatted in cartoon style that features a cute animal who presents options that convey a guaranteed win for the viewer’s team. The talking bunny or adult Bengal Tiger presents icons that ask the viewer, “Do you want the game to be easy or tight, a cliffhanger or a blowout? “

If the viewer’s team really did win on the field that day, she has the option of watching the game as it was actually played or, if she prefers, as it should have been played. Advanced options include doctored scoreboards, pre-recorded sound effects that blast spectator cheers and jeers, and sport announcers who are exclusively on the viewer’s side throughout the game. There too, there are options: “Do you want your sport announcer to be male or female? Should the announcer report the game politely or with expletives?” If the viewer selects the latter, his options are, ‘Light’ or ‘Medium,’ or ‘Heavy’ expletives.

The commission maintains that midgame player exchanges help eliminate rival tensions and provide a sense of equality for players and spectators alike. They say, “If the home view is not an exact replica of the game, it is close enough to it. Everyone is happy.” Medics agree, “Best thing that’s happened since the close of the Information Age.”

Hearsayers also agree. They trace the evolution of Fair and Courteous Games to ancient times. “In the twentieth century, sport fans were frustrated by games that were out of their control. By the millions they turned to interactive video games. Those games relieved their frustrations. They gave players a sense of control. They provided them with temporary omnipotence. It also relieved them from the tyranny of so-called facts over fiction. Now we can log-in a Grand Slam Homerun or Touchdown or Trifecta or even a Perfecta or a Hole-in-One whenever we need one!” And what of the field spectators? Well, if their team loses, they get their money back and a cheerfully sung gift certificate to any one of three nearby restaurants.

David and Alma shared a strong interest in cosmology, now called Stars ‘n’ Things. The brilliant burst of cosmology that began in the early 20th century has lost its luster. Alma and David attribute that loss to a plethora of speculative theories that eclipse verifiable metaphysics.

“…but that was before a ‘multiverse’ was declared a fact, Alma. I can understand speculation, but to declare as fact something that can never be proved and is logically invalid is an affront to science. And this in a society that rarely uses the word ‘fact!’ These are the same people who claim that existence doesn’t exist. That really bothers me.”

“Me too, David. The hologram thing bothers me even more. They chatter about us being holograms in a holographic universe but deny the existence of facts!”
David realizes that she is visibly upset. “Hey, don’t knock holograms! Where would we be if Mona, you, and I had not met in the Dabble Hut?”

She takes a breath to respond but cannot help laughing instead. “Oh, David, you always know how to break a bad mood.” Their laughter fades as an ominous feeling about the medical procedure takes hold of them. Their silence speaks louder than words.

At 8:15 A.M., the dangerous experiment enters its critical stage. Ostensibly, a non-invasive procedure, the alleged booster mainly consists of a series of gasses that are to be inhaled through the nose. The Chief Surgeon, titled The Big Guy, has assigned unseen medical personnel to administer the various gasses at specific intervals throughout the procedure. In a highly automated society, the Big Guy’s failsafe hands-on measure is in force to override automation if and when it becomes necessary. This experiment must not prove lethal.

With cheerful music under an announcement, the group is deceitfully told: “The VHT is best boosted through your nasal passages. In a moment, you will be provided with an attachment that you will place onto your upper breathing portal.” (Over the years, the word ‘nose’ had been deleted from DigiTalk along with many other ancient words for body parts that are now thought to be vulgar.)

Attendants cheerful distribute the attachments. When all the attachments are in place, the voice musically adds, “Breathe normally.” More than one individual in the group cannot help but think, “Breathe normally? Isn’t that what flight attendants tell us when the aircraft is about to crash!”

Under the skin of each individual’s forehead there is a custom-made device called the What’s Doing? band. Thin as a human hair, it monitors hundreds of physical and mental events including the burst of a microcosmic pimple.

When overall bodily and mental activities are normal, the band is invisible. At a significant level of disturbance, the band emits a green glow; a more serious disturbance is indicated by a yellow glow; a blinking yellow glow indicates a life-threatening event; a red glow warns: Organic Failure Immanent.
At 8:16 A.M., a soothing voice informs the group, “You will feel no pain at any time and there are no side effects other than a barely perceptible feeling of drowsiness.” …Uh oh…

The ultimate test of love is when someone feels more concern about the other than she feels about herself. That is exactly what Alma feels as she helplessly focuses on David’s green-glowing band. Although she tries to conceal her concern, David knows that his band is glowing green because of its built-in sound system: David’s What’s Doing? band hums a soft warning. Forcing a smile, Alma flashes a ‘thumbs-up’ to encourage him. He doubles the gesture with two thumbs-up to encourage her. He too, smiles, but his eyes betray confusion.

A moment later, the green glow shifts to yellow. The VHT delivers a personal message: ”David, you are resisting intervention…relax…” David’s reaction to the VHT’s counterfeit inner voice is defiant. When he hears the word ‘relax’ an expletive crosses his birth mind and he overrides his VHT by increasing his resistance. The yellow band goes from steady to pulsating yellow and the warning sound is louder. With a touch of condescension: “David you must stop resisting!”

David is struggling for survival. Despite the ‘barely perceptible feeling of drowsiness’ promised to the group, David feels that he is severely distressed. His EMS implant activates. Unfortunately, the Big Guy had overlooked the contingency of mutually counteracting forces. David’s instinctive flow of adrenaline is in contradiction to one of the experimental gasses. He is now in multiple jeopardy.

At 8:17 Alma is terrified by David’s continuing pulsating yellow glow. How can she stop this rapid deterioration of David’s overall condition? What’s wrong? How can she keep the band from glowing red? “I know David. He’s rebelling against more than just this experiment. What can I do to help him?” She recalls their brief talk the night before the procedure.

“David, I know how you feel about tomorrow morning’s booster—“

Experiment, Alma…”

“Okay, ‘experiment.’ But you’re angry.”

“You bet I am.”

“That’s what I’m worried about, David. For your safety tomorrow morning, just this once, let it all go.”

“I’ll try, Alma…I’ll try.” He hugs her and kisses a tear. “We better get some sleep. Good night.”

“Good night.”

At 8:18 A.M., David’s What’s Doing? band glows red. David is aware of this because the warning sound rises to a screech, a precautionary measure designed for patients who might not hear softer warnings while asleep. Once again, as was the case of the 100, an elementary fact had been overlooked: the adrenaline and tranquilizing gas are at odds. David cannot control his anger. His vital signs are off the charts. The oversight is not quite as potentially lethal as the disabled medulla oblongada had been for the 100, but David is critically ill.

Both David and Alma are fighting drowsiness: he in defiance, she to remain conscious for David’s sake. Her mind races for some solution to David’s crisis. He begins to slip in and out of consciousness. David’s stream of consciousness slips into the subconscious, that world where time does not exist and reality is suspended, where landscapes transform in an instant, where everyday objects are distorted, where thirst cannot be quenched nor food tasted, where our inner sight oscillates from grotesque irrationality to piercing clarity, and where, like a camera gone wild, that inner sight rack focusses from one extreme to the other.

A medic examines David’s eyes with his light scope. David imagines a blinding bright sky and an unstable sun, pulsating and larger than usual. He thinks, “…end of the world.” He tries to shade his eyes but realizes he cannot move any part of his body, nor can he speak. Large picture frames hang from grotesquely gnarled trees. All the frames are empty except one. Mona is in a dusty old frame hanging on a musty wall filled with jagged cracks. As neither a man nor a child, David senses himself and his parents at the Louvre, now a shabby old curiosity with very few visitors and only a custodian or two guarding it from vandalism. Mona speaks to him: “This is where I belong, David. Be well, David, be well.”

David’s band rapidly pulsates red. Seeing this, Alma’s drowsiness is instantly dispelled by a burst of adrenaline combined with the force of free will, a phenomenon that VHT designers have never been able to fully disable. Scientists are still unable to adequately define or understand free will, let alone neutralize it.

Addicted to multitasking, the Big Guy hadn’t noticed until this morning that he had a scheduling conflict! He is unable to dedicate his attention to this emergency because he is busy multitasking on three separate Skypes. Without a written language all medical training and practice is now restricted to intuition and word-of-mouth, literally. He is engaged in three ChatChats with three separate chief surgeons, one of whom is doing brain surgery in Bangladesh, the other in Portugal, and the third in Tajikistan. Without the Big Guy’s hands-on oral guidance they would have to significantly rely on iffy intuition, not exactly a reliable tool for brain surgery.

When Alma sees David’s pulsing red band, she impulsively detaches her nasal device and runs to David to detach his. When the assigned specialists see Alma rush to him, no one knows what to do. No one is in charge. All sorts of alarms are sounded. The medical personnel goes wild. There begins a cacophony of orders: “Abort!,” “Continue!,” “Release Gas 4,” “Hold off Gas 4.”

David’s band transmits its message to the laboratory’s loudspeaker: “Organic Failure Immanent!”

“11325, you are out of order! Return to your place immediately!”

“Not on your life!”

“Organic Failure Immanent!”

“Return to your place!”

“You heard me, not on your life!”

“Organic Failure Immanent!”

“David…David…please come back!…come back David!…come back…come back…come back!…

David thinks it is Mona saying that, but he sees that her lips are still. Her enigmatic smile does not change. She is motionless now, as she had been for centuries. He sees her in the Dabble Hut. He senses that Alma is also there. With intense emotion, he thinks the three of them are together again. He also dreams that this is the end of a visit to the pics ‘n’ flicks and that Mona is inviting them to come back.

“Come back…come back…come back…”

“Organic Failure Immanent!”

Alma unclasps David’s nasal device. She takes David into her arms. “David…David…Please…please come back…come back…come back…”

Apnea overtakes David. He stops breathing. As if our instinct to survive gives us a second chance to start breathing again, when we are in the grip of apnea our inability to move is countered with an exceptionally sharp and clear sense of exactly where we are and that we must wake up if we are to go on living. We hang in a dual state in which we are physically immobile but mentally urging ourselves to wake up.

So it is with David. He is aware that Alma is calling him but at the same time his body tempts him to let go. “I must not relax…not for an instant…I must fight to wake up…I must go back and tell Alma that their experiment has failed…that my subconscious has not been obliterated. Instead, my subconscious whispered something to me that I must share with Alma.”

He feels Alma cradling him in her arms. His memory flashes to that trip in Italy with his parents when he saw Michelangelo’s original Pieta. “I must tell her…I must tell her…”

Suddenly, like a drowning man who finally breaks through the water’s surface, he is conscious…


“Alma… I…I…”

Through her joyful tears, “Yes, David…yes, David…yes…”

“…We are one… and…I remember the word for it…“I love you.”

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Following is the Preface to a book I wrote almost a decade ago titled, The Handyman’s Handbook on Cosmology.

I was born in May, 1927. Apart from a few family members, especially mom and dad, the event was barely noticed.

But there were several events that were widely noticed that year. That is the year in which Lindbergh was first to fly across the Atlantic, a widely noted event occurring during the same month and year of my birthday. In the fall of 1927, Quantum Theory was formally introduced to the world of science, an event that shook the foundations of classical science.

In that same year, there was another event widely noted: Edwin Hubble announced that ours is not the only galaxy. Suddenly, there was a universe. Prior to that time, the Milky Way was thought of as the whole universe.

I grew up in a Brooklyn neighborhood. It wasn’t exactly Our Town. It was more like Our Ghetto. But life was good. Certainly it was simple. Most of us on the ‘block’ were of Italian descent. Each of us was sure that mamma made the best sauce and, in defiance of the law of non-contradiction, each of us believed that the supremacy of mamma’s sauce was an absolute. Yes, Italian-Americans had a quantum view of sauce, logic notwithstanding. We still do.

There was so much to love in my childhood-the smell of the obligatory Italian backyard garden of tomatoes; the sweetness of its ripe figs (especially the white ones) that I could pluck off my grandfather’s lush fig trees dripping with nectar all through late summer and early fall; the fragrance of fresh garden flowers; the aroma of an exquisite dinner being prepared by mom and grandma.

Yet, despite that celebration of life, at nine or ten years old, I found myself pausing for moments of intense feeling about the world. That feeling might best be described as a tragic sense of life-not only, as might be expected, a feeling about my life, but for all humanity. I vividly remember the first moment I was fully conscious of that feeling. I was shaken by it. I knew it would never be cured. The wisdom of age has since deepened that sense. But I can handle it much better now.

At twelve I decided to become omniscient. Well, not exactly that. But it occurred to me that I wanted to know as much as possible about the world. Since knowledge very slowly trickled down to my neighborhood, and because I thought schoolteachers and my parents were not exactly leveling with me about life, I decided to educate myself-a process that continues to this day.

I began my study with astronomy. I enjoyed reading about the solar system and made frequent visits to the New York Museum of Natural History in New York City. It was especially exciting to visit the Planetarium’s breathtaking sky shows and to stand on each of the scales designed to show how much I would weigh on each of the planets from Mercury to Saturn, and the moon.

One otherwise dull day, alone in a tiny alcove of a neighborhood library, I was astonished when I read that our galaxy was not the universe. That was just 12 years after Hubble announced that momentous discovery. I remember reading that passage over and over again. At twelve years old, the impact of that information was tremendous. I was hooked on the new science of modern cosmology. I still am.

Another experience that made a lasting impression occurred while I was gathering information about the solar system. The facts about Pluto were interesting enough, but none of them was as significant as how Pluto was discovered.

Percival Lowell had predicted Pluto’s existence when he observed a perturbation between Uranus and Neptune that could be explained only by the existence of an unknown planet. He searched for ‘Planet X,’ for years but died in 1916, never having found the planet he knew must exist. Following Lowell’s footsteps, Clyde Tombaugh found ‘Planet X,’ Pluto in 1930. That story introduced me to inference, a major tool in the study of cosmology.

At that time, astronomical facts were clean-cut gems: “The sun is a star; nine planets revolve around it; they have specific periods of rotation and revolution; their diameters, moons, and relative distances are known to be…,” and so on.

For most of us in the ‘40s, time and space remained solid concepts despite Einstein’s theories of Special and General Relativity. To whatever extent we understood them, they were within the bounds of reason even when contrary to intuition. The curvature of space and relativity of time (space/time) did not jolt us from our rational perception of the universe. For me, that is still so.

Uranus is still there, having churned along its orbit for little more than one revolution around the sun since I was born eighty-eight years ago. In this last stage of my life, astronomy and cosmology continue to fascinate me and I am still spellbound by the incomparable and overwhelming physical beauty of the universe.

Science and art blend well on the palette of my life. For example, Greek mythology permeates the nomenclature of constellations, stars, planets, and their moons. There is an appealing tradition that assigns Roman names to planets and Greek names to their moons. The two moons orbiting Mars, the Roman God of War, have Greek mythological names, Phobos and Deimos (fear and terror). About a dozen of Jupiter’s moons are assigned names that correspond to Greek mythological figures associated with Zeus, the Greek equivalent for the Roman Jupiter. Many names for the moons of Uranus are drawn from a source other than the Greco-Roman classical period. But much of the names of solar system bodies remain elegant. Several Uranian moons are named after Shakespearean characters. The name of one of those moons, Sycorax, is justified by the mere mention of the name of Caliban’s mother in Shakespeare’s The Tempest!

When I was twenty-one (1948), this classic nomenclature tradition continued with the discovery of Miranda (Shakespeare’s The Tempest). When I was fifty-eight (1985), an additional Uranian moon was revealed by Voyager 2 and named Puck from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The tradition of naming Uranus’ moons after the names of Shakespearian characters appears to be alive and well. I like that.

Charts of stars often include constellations, giving us Orion, Cassiopeia, and Hercules. Greco-Roman mythology and Shakespeare’s plays have been a significant source of artistic inspiration in the art of Western Civilization. Even our twin galaxy, Andromeda, owes its name to classical mythology.

At the beginning of this century there began a redefinition of the solar system occasioned by the discovery of “exo planets,” i.e., planetoids similar to Pluto in size and other characteristics (e.g., an exclusive ellipsoidal or circular orbit around the sun). The redefinition determined that Pluto would no longer be classified as a planet, but as one of hundreds (and potentially thousands) of TNOs (Trans-Neptunian Objects). However, in sentimental homage to Pluto, formerly considered the planet at the edge of our solar system, the planetoids are also known as Plutoids.

Inuit mythology has been added as a source for naming some of these recent discoveries, e.g., the plutoids, Sedna (goddess of the sea) and Quaoar, (a transformer of chaos to order). The blend of art, culture, and cosmology is exquisite. In addition, the images of the Hubble telescope are an art form in itself.

Of course the rapid discovery of dozens of moons in our solar system has made it impossible to thoroughly continue the nomenclature traditions of the past. Alphanumerical labels for heavenly objects are becoming the rule as the rapid proliferation of new discoveries continues at an ever-increasing rate. But then, that is true of so much of life now. Most of us have become just numbers in a world that crunches individuals into anonymous computerized beings.

I enjoy the casual terms created by the men and women who are professional nuclear physicists and cosmologists. As you have probably noticed, scientists have largely dropped the tradition of assigning profound titles to discoveries and theories. The frantically sought ‘Theory of Everything’ (TOE) is ponderous compared to much of the jargon of the current scientific community. For example, gluons are quantum particles that ‘glue’ quarks together. The word, quark, is from James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. Even the well-known term, black hole, is a simplistic description for an entity that is often referred to as a ‘rip’ in the fabric of the universe. Following their example, I’ve privately come to think of a ‘rip’ as ‘Rest In Peace.’ I think that is apt for a star that has disappeared into a black hole. And how about WIMPs for Weakly Interacting Massive Particles, or GUT for Grand Unified Theory, or MACHOs for Massive Compact Halo Objects.

About four decades ago I read about the term, GOOGOL. That term was coined by a nine-year-old nephew of an American mathematician who asked the boy what he would call a very large number (100100). The child answered, ‘A googol.’ The term entered the sophisticated world of mathematics. I suppose I might have titled this book SLAM, for Small, Large, and Medium, size being a highly significant factor when discussing fundamental physical reality.

“We are stardust,” is an excellent metaphor that encapsulates a profound literal truth, genomes notwithstanding. But, I feel. I think. Stardust does not do that-at least, not without me, albeit that my brain and heart are made of stardust. But, unlike stardust, I am animate. Unfortunately, many people believe that what we call ‘life’ is an illusion. “An ‘illusion’ of what?,” I ask them. They have no answer. Or, they claim that we are part of a hologram, an illusion. But an illusion is something of which it is an illusion. So, I ask them, “A hologram of what?” Their answers are less substantive than the shadows in Plato’s cave. To deny existence and the consciousness that perceives it is in and of itself an unequivocal confirmation that thought and life are real.

We are somewhere between ignorance and omniscience. We are compelled to seek an ‘explanation’ for the universe and the existence of life. For those who are deterministic, the ‘explanation’ is simple: “The earth is in a Goldilock Zone, a zone that is within the bounds required for atoms to link into complex molecules for life to form.” That concept is sound, of course, but it just tells us where life can exist, not why we are the progeny of bubbling amino acids.

There is a theory that posits the universe is trying to ‘understand itself’ through the use of genomes which are currently in an evolutionary stage that includes humans as vehicles toward that end. It strikes me that this premise basically suggests ‘something’ other than human is on a cosmological trip towards omniscience.

As you know, many scientists of all stripes genuinely believe that the line between life and matter is fuzzy at best. Artists know better. So do people who think as artists and not as genetic automatons. I neither am nor have ever aspired to be a scientist, but I know that although our physical beings came with the primordial package we attribute to the Big Bang, there is a profound difference between inanimate matter and life. The division between them sharply differs in kind, not merely degree. It seems to me that among other things, life is a counterforce to universal entropy.

Yes, out of the stars came physical life. But Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Michelangelo’s Pietà, and Einstein’s equation E=MC2 came from them-not ‘randomly’ or by ‘predetermination,’ but from ineffable creativity. “Ah,” one might say, “I thought you said that artists ‘know better’…Einstein was not an artist!” To them I reply, “Yes he was!” Science at Einstein’s level is an art. All creative thought is art as distinguished from sheer instinct. It comes from us, not the stars. Life itself is an art open to anyone who desires and strives to practice it.

To paraphrase Charlie Chapman, “All the stars do is sit on their axis.” Of course this book is testimony to the fact that stars do much more than that, but they don’t laugh, make music, or love. Humor, art, and love are not-as scientists might put it-’properties’ of hot stars or cold stones or neurological systems. It takes a sculptor to transform stone into a masterpiece like Michelangelo’s David. And our unrequited love for the stars is in itself testimony that animated stardust fundamentally differs from its physical genesis. When I contemplate the origin of the universe and life, life is the greater mystery of the two. I love cosmology, but I don’t look to the stars to understand life.

I have learned to weave the absolute, the relative, and the speculative into a tapestry free of contradictions. It’s not too difficult to distinguish which of those three possibilities is applicable to a specific cosmological issue. Mastering that technique has enabled me to enjoy cosmology as a whole and not be confused by the oscillation amongst absolute precision, militant relativism, and irrational speculation.

In that spirit, this book has been designed merely to whet your appetite for cosmology. I hope it will make you more aware that the universe is happening in your living room 24/7.

The universe is often depicted as violent. The Hubble telescope has shown us that it is also breathtakingly beautiful. When I gaze at the Hubble photo of the “Ultra-Deep Field” the stars and galaxies look like brilliant gems set in rich black velvet: Beautiful! Beautiful! Beautiful!

And now an apology. Being a part of what is euphemistically described as ‘the lower middle class,’ I do my own marketing, housekeeping, and put out my refuse. In addition, keeping pace with bills and alternate side of the street parking doesn’t leave much time for impeccable research. Besides, cosmology is a study that is rapidly updated and is filled with contradictory data and theories. Accordingly, and as I’ve occasionally explained in my book when necessary, a part of the book’s content is not-and may never be-precise anyway. But the book’s primary purpose is to whet your appetite for cosmology. I hope I have succeeded in doing that.

But I must stop now-I have to do my laundry.

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