We were hiking in the woods when they circled around us. I thought it was a couple of deer at first, or maybe a bobcat, at worst, from the weight of the steps; but definitely not a band of wild monkeys. This isn’t even the right ecosystem for them. But there they were, springing out from behind the bushes, four or five of them.
They didn’t touch us, but they were screaming, trying to intimidate us, hitting the ground and breaking sticks. I always thought of apes being mostly vegetarian, with square teeth for grinding and chewing bark and leaves, but they all had really nasty, sharp teeth, bones in triangles and rhombuses, glistening with drool and spit.
There was one off to the side. I didn’t see it at first amidst the haze of the onslaught, but at some point I became aware of him sitting just slightly off in the distance, sharpening a rock. His dispassionate gaze reminded me of a yakuza in a Takeshi Kitano film just before something horrible happens.
So that’s where it comes from, I remember thinking.
I don’t know how long we were standing there, but eventually they became quiet and one of them jumped in front of us, and started walking off the trail, the rest forming a half-ring behind, herding us. The one with the rock stayed a farther distance off to the side, just barely in view.
I started to think about Planet of the Apes, and Charlton Heston, and then of course, the NRA–Why had I never learned to shoot a gun? Why didn’t I have a gun with me? There was no alternative now; it was too late to run or fight.
We walked for maybe an hour, through thick vegetation, some of which seemed liked poison ivy (or was it poison oak?) Sure enough, soon after we got to “camp,” we both started to itch terribly, and rashes had started to form all over our bodies. It was pretty creepy there because there were quite a few of them, and it was clear that the group that had captured us was merely a thin reconnaissance unit. Did they know we were there or were they just looking? I’m not sure.
We weren’t put in a cage or anything; they just dumped us off on a patch of fallen leaves and went back to doing other things like it wasn’t unusual. None of them really made much of an effort to interact with us, but it was clear enough that we weren’t free to go. They seemed to just watch us, periodically. “Pet” isn’t the right word, but neither is “equal.”
I felt like they were waiting for us to do something, but it’s not like they were giving us commands or requests. There wasn’t any evidence to suggest that they were anything other than a variety of chimpanzees, but they had somehow developed enough structure to decide we would be held captive. I couldn’t figure out why they weren’t in their proper environment, and had never heard a single report of any person in the area seeing a single ape, monkey, chimpanzee, or any other non-human primate. That really bothered me.
Food was brought to us, thankfully. They had gotten hold of some fruit from somewhere—sometimes they’d bring peaches, banana, oranges—I swear I recognized a persimmon once as being the exact variety that this one bearded-mystic guy at the farmers’ market sold, and that made me really upset, broke my spirit. I wanted to cry, but couldn’t, so Mary did instead, and I tried to console her, even though I was the one who had explained it to her. This was after about a week.
We ate bugs as well. Neither of us were too eager about that decision, but we were both losing weight and feeling hungry most of the time–the fruit wasn’t enough—we had to more fully adapt to the chimps’ lifestyle. Like everyone says, it’s not so bad once you get used to it. You can get used to anything.
It was the same for sleeping and warmth. It would get really cold and we’d be shivering, and huddling together for warmth—couldn’t they see that we didn’t have fur like them? A few of them would come over and brush their hands over my arm, the hairs of which must have seemed so sparse compared to their own, lush coats. They especially liked Mary’s hair, which they’d play with. She really didn’t like that, but we weren’t in a position to protest. I don’t think they were malevolent, just ignorant–curious.
Our clothes were totally filthy by this point, so we discarded them. We had gotten used to the weather and it had stopped feeling so cold. Obviously, we didn’t have any extra garments, so this marked the conclusion of our Return to Nature. It was a little odd, but not all that alarming after what we’d already been through. After awhile the whole idea of wearing clothes started to feel silly and extraneous.
Mary still had a rash that was bothering her. Mine was mostly gone, but I had developed some sort of ear infection that impaired my hearing and made it feel like I was underwater. I missed playing music. I would get fragments of songs stuck in my head for days at a time, unable to remember the endings. An inner tension gnawed at me. One time I got that one Smiths song stuck in my head,
“Why, do I give valuable time, to people who don’t care if I live or die.”
That got me thinking about all the people we had “left behind,” because they must have thought we were dead. Where were the search parties, the helicopters? Had they even tried?
After years of neglecting my voice in favor of my instrumental skills, I got really good at singing. Mary and I would sing for hours at a time, trading harmonies, switching keys, just because we’d had plenty of time to figure it all out. That was a lot of fun. I could tell the monkeys really enjoyed it, too. They would stop what they were doing and listen to us. I’ve rarely had a more captive audience.
We even got up to doing more complicated works, everything from delving into polyphony to Miles. Personally, I think In a Silent Way was our greatest accomplishment of that period, although there was some confusion as to whether were aping (no pun intended) the Miles Davis classic, or the original piece as envisioned by Joe Zawinul. Now that I think about it, Jaco Pastorious comes off as a rather ape-like creature. I think he would have handled this ordeal all right. I’m not sure about Miles, though.
Sometimes we would do yoga for exercise, and of course, we got really good at that also. I think we may have even invented some new poses. The monkeys didn’t seem too interested.
At other times we would just watch the rain come down for hours. I got the sense that our little masters didn’t care for it much more than us, though it did provide us with ample drinking water. It turns out if you watch the motion of raindrops long enough, a lot of features about the principles of fluid dynamics start making more sense, something my engineering instructors never mentioned during the endless integrals.
One day, one of the chimps slipped us a flyer. That was an odd enough event in itself. He/She then quickly walked away. None of the others seemed to have noticed. It read:
A Harmonious Gathering of the Two Species.
There were some crude instructions printed on the back of it. We really didn’t have much to go on, and in retrospect, it might have been foolhardy to risk capture or injury from something that looked like it was out of an adolescent-constructed ‘zine, but that just shows you how desperate we were.
One night, when it seemed like no one was watching, we followed a path off to the side, orange paper in hand. They had gotten used to us being there. We hadn’t made a move. That’s why it was so important to go for it when we finally decided to do it.
We followed the directions to the letter and arrived at an encampment with some markings that showed the presence of others. Around a fire we were welcomed by a host of both humans and apes. It was astonishing, but before we were able to process any of that, we were overcome by joy and deprivation. They all had different stories about how they had ended up there, and though the mix was odd, somehow it worked.
As we got used to life there (and at that point, returning to “civilization” seemed even too distant to contemplate), it began to grate on us. Even though our previous confinement couldn’t be described as pleasant, the freedom from time and rules provided us a certain expanse of liberation. Xenia, while a self-professed vesicle of liberation (with us, as the proteins being gobbled and transformed, as one follower put it), had certain cultish tendencies, and too many simple-minded followers (to say nothing of the chimps), and we started to contemplate other options. Not to mention, the rigor of our own regimens was at odds with their rather loose sense of discipline.
Just as we were hatching our plans, everything came tumbling down—two park rangers flew in one night (and where the hell had they been up until now?) and started smashing things up, just like that, and it was over. Monkeys were screaming, people were yelling, pissing everywhere, while the mustachioed rangers shot tranquilizer darts and the apes came out swinging. Suddenly we didn’t even know whose side to take. I didn’t, anyways. I saw Mary just standing there, dazed, and I realized she was looking at me with the same expression, just because it seemed like the only reasonable thing to do in such an unreasonable situation, even though reason didn’t really play any part in it.
A few weeks after readjusting to some semblance of a regular life, the doorbell rang and there was an official-looking character with an upright posture and a masculine mustache, standing too close to the entrance.
“Hello sir, do you remember me?”
I did—he had been one of the rangers that had interrogated me, but had been pretty understanding about it, considering the circumstances; then again, we had probably been a joy to deal with compared to some other members of the “family.”
“Well, you see, in the raid, we discovered something that only became clear later,” he vaguely explained.
He motioned towards the car, and I saw something that looking like one of the apes, but not exactly, sitting calmly next to another man.
“My partner,” he said, noticing my gaze, without addressing the whole picture.
“Well, and you can see..at first we thought this was,”
He thoughtfully paused, trying to consider my position and his predicament,
“One of the other species, but it soon became clear to us, with the help of the proper scientific and medical personnel,”
He stopped again, seeming to be in mid-recall,
“Well, it was determined that this..being you see there, was judged to be a hybrid.”
My eyes must have really splintered, because he continued,
“Yeah, I know, it’s..unusual.”
“So you mean at some point the apes and the people..?”
“As best as we can figure.”
“But isn’t that biologically impossible?”
“I sure as hell thought so,” he shot back, grinning slightly.
“So,” he intoned, returning to his sober tone of protocol,
“Basically, sir, I am here to discuss certain options with you regarding the care of this child, which, due to your unique experiences, have been judged to be of particular value.”
I started to see what he was getting at, and immediately resented his presence.
“Hey, what? Do you think that it’s mine? Is that why you’re here?? Whoa, nothing like that ever happened!”
“Now, wait, hold up, I did not insinuate that, sir.”
Pause for time. Fiddling with his mustache.
“What I am saying is simply that, because of your experiences, as you conveyed to us, prior to your time spent with the group in question, and your mental faculties, relative to..some of the individuals we have taken in,”
Scratching his chin,
“–That can talk, you understand—well, we have not been able to determine the parents of this hybrid juvenile, and the relevant authorities have decided that a more normal introduction into human life may be more suitable than a clinical facility, for the time being.”
“It’s a child? And…what, you want to know if I would..take him in? Is that it?”
“Well, in a manner of speaking, yes.”
He flashed a toothless smile, looking back at the car.
“This isn’t something you’d have to do alone. There’d be visits, with various professionals. We’d want you to bring him in from time to time to assess progress, analyze the state of things..of course, all necessary funds would be provided for, we’re not asking for charity.”
And we were silent. The kid was looking peacefully around the car, gnawing on what looked to be a tennis ball. Huh.
“We think he’s about 5,” the ranger seemed to whisper.
“I understand if you need time to think about it, but the sooner we can start the bonding, the better.”
“Could I just meet him? Get a little closer?”
“Sure, no problem. That’s why we’re here.”
We walked the 15 or so steps to the car, slowly, sensory details of fading events flooding back to me, and the ranger slowly opened the backseat door. In his best kid-voice, he spoke to the half-chimp, half-human,
“Hey there, how you doing? You want to meet someone? He’s real nice, he just wants to say hi.”
The boy-chimp stared out, didn’t say anything, but cautiously nodded his head. He looked like a 5-year old boy, but his jaw-line was much more pronounced, and a ring of fur already spun itself around his head like the protagonist of a cheesy werewolf movie, mid-transformation. He had normal child clothes on, but no shoes, and I couldn’t help but think of The Hobbit when I noticed his feet, shouting at myself from the inside not to be making comparisons like that at a time like this, at a real moment. He came up to maybe my knees.
“Hi, hello there,” I finally said, instinctively reaching out my hand.
He looked at me, and my outstretched hand, and parted his lips slightly, to reveal a slight smile and three, jagged teeth. The inner part of his palm, away from the fur, was almost the same color as my own hands. A vision of sitting in a forest listening to Bill Evans suddenly came to me, and I smiled back.
This is a famous quote from Einstein, which has since been turned into countless GIFs, JPEGs, and before that, posters, t-shirts, and so on. I’ve seen such posters on the walls of people whom I wouldn’t describe as particularly scientific. My sense is that many such people tend to interpret this statement as, “imagining various things (preferably, exciting/odd/cool) is more worthwhile than knowing facts about how motion works or some formula I don’t care about.”
Of course, like many quotations taken out of context, I don’t think that’s entirely what Einstein intended. Looking at the full original quote (according to wikiquote), we get a slightly different picture:
Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution. It is, strictly speaking, a real factor in scientific research.
Having only just re-read the full quote, this is pretty much what I inferred Einstein meant from the more well-known first sentence. Namely, when we say “knowledge,” what we basically mean is “things which we’re fairly sure about up until this point in time.” Where does such knowledge come from? Well, in the case of science, and basically any other human endeavor, knowledge is only a product of experience–experimentation, observation, conclusions–that’s the scientific method, as is commonly taught.
Still, how does the ball get rolling in the first place? We can observe various things that happen in front of us, but to set up experiments, to probe phenomena that causes other chains of thoughts, questions and future tinkering that is a consequence of some initial or previous observations, we need to have some sort of idea or hypothesis. And that’s the problem with the scientific method, at least as is usually taught. There’s no nice 1-2-3 logic in how you get to that first step or series of steps that sets the whole thing in motion that eventually gives you this nice tidy piece of “knowledge.” Cognition of this gap in the scientific process really started to kick in when I read Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance at the age of 20. Another vivid, related memory, came during my sophomore year at Harvey Mudd, while taking a required course in electricity and magnetism.
“But why are Maxwell’s Equations true?” I asked a physics professor.
He simply looked at me blankly, and said, “Well, that’s just how they are.”
There is no answer to some questions. That’s another lesson about the limits of knowledge.
But, the source of all this stuff called knowledge may very well be put under the umbrella of “imagination,” for what else is it? I believe that’s exactly what Einstein meant by imagination “stimulating progress,” and “giving birth to evolution,” not to mention, the definitive sounding, “a real factor in scientific research.”
I believe that Einstein was not saying that imagination is a separate thread apart from knowledge and that one trumps the other, but rather, that the real epistemological roots of knowledge are, if you will, imagination. There’s other words or descriptors he could have used: vision, creativity, fascination. Intuition. The source. These things will result in knowledge, but the reverse isn’t necessarily true, though I do believe knowledge is complementary and necessary to achieve certain heights and progressive steps of the imaginative/creative process.
If you accept this, then you have to accept that the truest form of knowledge is through direct experience. I would go so far as to say that the only kind of real knowledge worth having is that which develops intuition for a particular subject. Until you see and do science, or martial arts, or music (to use a few examples of things I’ve spent a fair chunk of my life doing), in the same way that you breathe, or eat, or know how to intuitively walk along different grades and uneven surfaces, then you don’t really understand them at their full depth. Blasphemous as it may be for me, as a teacher, to say this, but the longer I’ve taught, the more I become convinced you can’t really teach anyone anything; all you can do is serve as a kind of human pinball machine, bumping them towards more correct paths and away from less correct ones, as they attempt to develop some degree of intuition.
It takes a damn long time to develop this kind of intuition. As famous as Einstein’s referenced quotation, is Malcolm Gladwell’s much more recent claim that it takes approximately 10,000 hours of time in a skill to become a master of it. One will start to see the natural, extreme restrictions inherent to classroom settings, particularly when it comes to the sciences, if the goal is to develop scientific intuition in the same way one develops intuition for riding a bicycle. For this to really be achieved, the entire structure of most science classes would have to be shelved. We would have to give up on teaching the vast majority of information that is required for a given course, and instead spend almost all the time in lab activities. Even though this would require major effort and overhaul, I believe the results would likely bear fruit.
Understandably, particularly in the modern, instantaneous-information age, we want to be kept current on all the advances that have been made up to the present so that we’re not starting with the same knowledge base as in Plato’s time. That’s a perfectly reasonable assumption. And that’s where conceptualization comes in. This is a type of imagining. If we can not get direct experience–which the truest forms of real knowledge derives from–then the best we can do is to look closely at what others who have directly discovered and then conceptualize their findings and the ideas they have come to.
Of course, direct experience will naturally lead one to conceptualization, which itself, spurs on further experimentation, and this is true in every possible endeavor, in my experience. Since it isn’t reasonable to repeat every experiment that’s ever been done from first principles, we have to acknowledge that the ability to conceptualize, to imagine, becomes extremely important–essential, really–towards understanding, particularly within the sophisticated realm of studying the sciences.
Thus, the scientific method, could really be restated as:
1) Direct Experience (observations, experiments, findings), 2) Imagination/Conceptualization (which both precedes and follows (1) ).
And there’s always pithy t-shirts.
Recently, me and one of my best friends were discussing some of the reasons why interacting with most people is pointless. This case study of a random (?) sample of individuals on BART tonight should give some insight to this shared conclusion:
A young, attractive, well-coiffed woman was talking to a middle-aged gay guy (I surmised from their conversation) about Los Angeles. It seems she was preparing to move there. He was reaping reluctant praise on certain neighborhoods while simultaneously telling her to prepare for spending 3+ hours driving per day. So far so good. In a pleasant mood and unable to resist my contrarian impulses, I smiled and leaned over,
“Excuse me, I heard you were talking about L.A. and just wanted to say: as an L.A. native…I hate L.A.”
Woman, meekly: It has good weather, it’s sunny.
Translation: Superficial concerns, like one place being slightly sunnier and warmer than a place that is already sunnier and warmer than most places, is of importance to me.
Me: It’s a desert. All of California is a desert, mostly.
Her: I like it for networking.
Translation: Bullshit concepts like “networking” are of great importance to my life.
Guy: (to her quietly, at first) He’s nice (motioning to me).
Guy (smiling at me): You’re a nice young man.
Translation: I am overtly checking you out, because that’s what middle-aged gay guys do.
Then, one stop before I was preparing to disembark, a “crew” of ragged youths crowded into the middle of the train, flipped on a portable speaker that started blaring hip-hop, and made an announcement that they were about to start dancing, and can you please put your hands together, and give something besides applause if you like it, etc.
I have seen these same young men, and others like them, often on such late night trains, doing the same moves to similar music. They flip around on the floors, hang from handle bars, and take up the space and attention of other passengers. It was 9:30 PM, and the train was still relatively packed.
“Could you please move,”
one of the youths said to me, more as a statement than a question, as I stood there, standing on an area of a train that was designed for people to stand on while they wait for their destinations.
I leaned over to him, and over the music, said,
“You don’t have a right to play your music and dance in a place that is for people riding the train.”
“I said please,”
he half-whimpered, half-menaced.
Translation: I believe I have a God-given right to play my music, dance, promote myself, and hopefully earn money wherever the F*ck I please, even if it infringes on the rights of fare-paying passengers who are using this service as intended, unlike us, who use it to capture an audience literally unable to leave.
And here’s something I made!
Something that conjures up a man in a pin-striped suit crashing a funky party and dancing manically, perhaps.
“Why did Miles love Europe so much? Because people recognized him for who he was—a great, great artist, not just a great musician. But traditionally Europe supports culture—jazz or pop or fusion or other alternative forms of music are accepted as valid cultural currencies and are supported as such by the state, by the city, by the governments. Which is something that never really happened in the US. Even the symphony orchestras were supported to a large extent by GM or Ford, but there are quite a number of symphony orchestras that have gone bankrupt over the past fifteen to twenty years. The US government, in particular, does not deem it relevant to support cultural aspects, which I think is an error. But it’s like every country, there’s good and bad, you just have to go with the flow.”
Based on often-nearly-true-imagined events.
I ran down the street slapping smart phones out of people’s hands.
And impact. Most people’s grips are surprisingly weak. A flick of the wrist is all it takes, a simple but effective technique. Then a wobble, occasionally a bounce, against the sidewalk, sometimes accompanied by shattering, but just as often, internal damage without significant external change—after all, real change can only come from within.
Many of the devices would survive, (for the purpose of the actions was not destruction of circuits, but a shattering of minds); and besides, most of the young women already had splintered screens, in the first place. Some people had more careful dispositions, but that just meant deliverance would be more dramatic. Like a Zen monk stepping in singular lines through the meditation hall with his keisaku in hand, delivering blows of awakeness on the shoulder to his disciples, I am a beacon of mindfulness that the receiver should be grateful for; only, they don’t know it yet. But they will. I’m a patient man.
“Awaken to reality!”
I proclaimed to a couple wearing nauseatingly color-coordinated outfits, hitting an iPhone 5 at a 45-degree trajectory into the air. It sailed into the distance, a solid 2nd-base hit for sure, landing between a blackened garbage can and a frizzled mutterer. Their collective gaze met the sky like a blind dog staring into once-familiar shoes. And good morning to you!
Shock is the response of many, while others go on exactly as they are, oblivious to the severing of their lifelines, so formed are they by the habitual connection. I actually felt it was a positive sign when I turned my head and could see a visibly distraught young businessman or a woman with bright lipstick falling to her knees in tears. Creative destruction, the facilitation of new beginnings—is this art, I’ve sometimes wondered? Oh, but that is beside the point, a selfish response to a selfless endeavor.
The immediate, instinctual response is almost never anger—contrary to what you might expect—and rarely does the combination of lucidity and loss manifest to give chase (although, perhaps that means they’ve really awakened). But I was faster.
While the sybaritic masses were typing away in ergonomic chairs and paying $150 per month to lift rectangular objects over smoothed floors, I was running in the mountains and eating berries, kicking snakes, and cooking them. It’s imperative that I’m not caught, not because I fear retribution, but because I don’t want to endanger my mission.
On this particular day, as I was completing my target circuit, I kept running (per protocol) up a hill and into Chinatown. There was a pretty scary looking guy who was following me, but he was wasting energy by yelling.
“You fucking ass! Hey! What the fuck! Hey, come here! Hey, hey!!”
I weaved through the crowded streets of Chinatown and a quick glance revealed he was already becoming disoriented by the visceral smells of fish past their prime and over-ripe produce, tripping over thousands of pounds of soggy, cheap cardboard pushed aside and trampled by hurried grandmothers with aluminum-gauge carts in tow.
I ducked inside a café filled with the chatter of aged-Cantonese and not a single presence on Yelp, thus ensuring my anonymity. Once I felt confident I had lost my pursuer, I ordered a plate of luo bo gao–turnip cake, and black sesame tang yuan—sticky soup dumplings. While waiting, I pulled out a sheet and wrote down my totals for the day.
iPhone: 7, Samsung: 2, Android: 3, LG: 2, Blackberry: 1, Other: 3, Unknown: 4.
My food came. The turnip cake was a bit on the greasy side, but not enough to deter my appetite. Everyone was shouting, the TV was shouting, about news only because it was new.
A hand touched me on my back and a bored-looking waitress in a faded yellow shirt turned around with a late-model mini-keyboard Verizon.
“Call, for you.”
I glanced at the background screen, a 140X140 resolution picture of a picture of a child, and let the whole thing drop into a plate of congealed pork fat.
Bled a voice through dried shrimp, pork fat, rice flour, and turnips.
As I paid the bill, I could see the sun just beyond the horizon, and people walking with great abandon towards nowhere in particular. The waitress was still standing next to my table, in shock, her mouth askew.
It’s going to be a good day.
Today I spotted an article about a local wine seller of considerable reputation.
I’m hardly the first person to point out the parallels between the tea and wine world (though I think the former tends to be far more aware of making the connection to the latter than vice versa, especially as the latter has tended to be almost entirely Euro and Western-centric), but I thought there were some interesting words in here that are fairly applicable to the tea savant. Namely,
It amuses Lynch that, for instance, he has been pegged as a proponent of so-called natural wines. In his new epilogue, he suggests that such wines’ proponents “in their zeal leave their palates behind.”
“People don’t realize that I made it a point not to have a philosophy, but to first consider the wine in the glass,” he says. “To sit around, arguing it like religion, doesn’t interest me at all.”
He prefers to frame his work differently. Having fallen in love with European wine during his 1970s travels, he wondered why so many Americans who made similar journeys would return and wonder why the wines they swooned over abroad didn’t taste as good back home.
“A lot of my career,” he says, “has been figuring out why it doesn’t taste the same.”
Should ring a few bells for anyone who has thought about storage w/r/t to puer. Most pertinently, from a separate article I came across,
“So many people say, ‘I’d love to put some wines away to age, but I don’t have the money for those types of wines.’ You don’t need to be buying expensive wines to age!” He contends that there are plenty of very affordable wines (as in, under $20) that would absolutely benefit from aging.