Francis Crick lays out the pathway to explore our Consciousness


The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul – Francis Crick (1994)

            The title of his book is a bit misleading.  Francis Crick, one of the group of scientists responsible for our current knowledge about DNA, its structure, and how it works in living plants and animals, is not discussing what theology and religion call a “soul.”  What he seeks is the means and methods by which humans can empirically study consciousness/awareness itself.

            Consciousness is a very tricky subject for everyone involved.  Research scientists rarely explore consciousness itself, instead seeking to understand the physical workings of the brain.  Philosophers explore consciousness and awareness but do not use the knowledge derived from the decades of work done on physical brain structure, and the function of the many neurons in our brain.  This creates a vast gap of knowledge.  We know mostly how individual neurons work, and roughly how many areas of the brain correspond to different functions and cognitive abilities.  What we do not know includes what parts of the brain control or experience consciousness, exactly how we create and store memories, both short term and long term, and how we manage to process the myriad sensory inputs we constantly receive.  This book is Francis Crick’s attempt to survey the current state of things (as of 1994) while shining a light on many areas of research that could lead to fruitful answers, focusing mainly on visual Neuroscience.

            The “Amazing Hypothesis” in question is the proposition that what we call consciousness, and some call a “soul,” is a product of the way the brain’s neurons function, specifically the complex human brain, and that through empirical experimental methods we should be able to discover and understand the actual structure that brings about consciousness.  As the brain and all of human experience constitutes an exceedingly complex and varied system, it is best to try to study one specific aspect, hoping it sheds some light on the bigger picture.  Mr. Crick decides, based on the then-current state of scholarship, to focus on the specific ways we see, and how our brains process what we see.

            While many of the sciences have spent the past 100 years discovering deep truths about the world around us, this has not happened in the study of the human brain.  There are several reasons for this.  Firstly, it is considered unethical to conduct brain experiments on humans unless they have already suffered some sort of trauma/damage to their brain and willfully allow a scientist to experiment.  Secondly, the study of consciousness has been relegated to philosophers and theologians, most of whom know very little about the actual structure and function of the brain and its constituent parts.  This means that their explorations are more guesswork than deduction.  Thirdly, while we can study the brains of cats, rats, monkeys, or other lab animals, this does not necessarily translate to the human brain.  While a human being can be certain that they themselves are conscious, and be fairly certain that other humans around us are conscious, it is a much bigger jump to assume that other primates and animals share the same consciousness that we do.  A monkey is taught/trained to do certain tasks while their brain is monitored, but they cannot provide actual feedback like a human could.  Many scientists end up focusing solely on structure and the electrochemical reactions in the brain and not on what they mean for the study of consciousness.

            Francis Crick decides that in order to pick a specific area to research that is likely to provide the best answers to the consciousness question it is best to focus on sight.  How do we see?  How do our eyes, nerves, and brain work together to understand what is being seen?  This seems like a promising point of departure in the search for our consciousness.  Crick spends the first part of this book detailing the then-current state of scientific knowledge, exploring everything from studies on the eye’s retina, to the structure of neurons, to the many ways they communicate both within and without themselves.  One item that surprised me was the knowledge that many of the neurons that help the retina function act as a processing center, before the information reaches the brain itself.  In fact, the nerves that feed what your eyes see to the brain are part of the brain itself, not just a connection. It is as if neurons from the developing embryo brain reach out to connect to the developing eyes. Quite cool stuff.  What is also evident in the background info Mr. Crick provides is the vast amount we do not know.  We have very rough guesses as to what regions of the brain handle specific tasks.  We still do not know how exactly the brain regulates the massive sensory input it receives every moment of every day.  We have no idea how or where memories are stored.  This vast ignorance is actually a great thing for neuroscientists, as it helps guide them to new experiments and areas of research.

            The latter part of the book details many possible areas and studies that could be done to try and find the answers Mr. Crick looks for. Over a century ago it was common for educated people to believe that a Life Force flowed through living beings, separating them from the inanimate objects around them.  No other way could be imagined for the growth of the young, the way offspring look like their parents, etc.  Once we understood the cardiovascular system, the pulmonary system, and finally the structure, function, and purpose of DNA, the idea of a Life Force dissipated and was dropped by humanity as a whole.  Francis Crick thinks that is where we are at today in regards to the human “soul.”  Many blindly accept that it exists, especially in the forms that theologians and philosophers feel it does, but this could change were we to understand the workings of our brain.  We may find that consciousness is a direct result of life itself.  We may find that what we call consciousness is a trait shared by any and every creature with a neuronal brain, or we may find that only the human brain possesses the required structure to function as an individual consciousness.  The field is wide open and I cannot wait to read more.  It is nearly 30 years later and we still do not have answers to most of Francis Crick’s questions. 


Humanity Creates Gods and Demons Alike


Demonology and Devil-Lore – Moncure Daniel Conway (1879)


            For someone like me who loves to read older books the Project Gutenberg website is a gold mine.  It allows me to discover thinkers and writers otherwise lost to me.  Sometimes I have heard mention of the authors or their works.  Oftentimes I have not.  Either way I love digging through their archives.  This is how I came across Moncure Daniel Conway’s “Demonology and Devil-Lore,” an amazingly rich book that has captured my mind for the past weeks.  This book traces the development of the demons and devils that have plagued human religious thought since before the advent of writing.  In doing so, it explores much of our past, our collective fears, and the many ways that gods become demons as one culture/religion usurps another.

            Initially, humanity feared everything.  Mother Nature was brutal, harsh, unsparing, and sought to destroy early man at every turn.  Humanity sought to placate Nature, even before we invented gods.  The tribe reinforced personal rites and superstitions.  In this ancient estimation of Nature, there was no “Good” or “Evil” as we think of them today.  The earliest revelation of humanity was the knowledge that to stay alive means killing other living things.  Primitive man saw evidence of this constantly.  There was no favored species.  All things suffered the wrath of a hurricane, or a wildfire, or a volcano's eruption.  All creatures had to kill to stay alive.  Conway shows how this initial metaphysical idea is found in the early passages of Genesis, in the parable of man gaining the knowledge of Good and Evil.  Before humans had that knowledge, they existed in the state I described above.  It was a huge metaphysical leap for early humans to understand that some things can be seen as only Good and some seen as only Evil.  From there, it was a small step to imagine that offerings or sacrifices would appease the Evil and please the Good.  It was in this stage of humanity that we began to codify specific things as Demons.

            Conway describes Demons as initially being personifications of destructive force in the world around us.  They were the flip-side of the wonder that humans felt when they looked at the beautiful Earth and the heavens above.  The very earliest religious texts we have, the Vedas of Southeast Asia, speak in simple terms of how the Creator brought forth all that is good and all that is evil.  The Creator brought forth all that is joyful as well as all that is painful.  It took a long time, and a period of intellectual maturation, for humanity to split evil from the Creator, and to assign the source of evil to an entirely malicious entity.  Zoroastrian belief, a very ancient religion, shows the next step.  In Zoroastrian thought, there are two equal and opposing forces created at the beginning of time.  Light eternally battles Darkness.  Good eternally battles Evil.  Only later did these personifications receive proper names, and humans given their role in the entire process, which is to strive for Good to defeat eventually the forces of Evil in the world, creating everlasting peace and harmony.  This is the next level of theological thought humans achieved.

            Once humans saw the Universe around them as a battleground between the forces of Light and the forces of Darkness, as stated in the text by Conway, “Man found that in the earth good things came with difficulty, while thorns and weeds sprang up everywhere.  The Evil powers seemed to be the strongest.”  Even the greatest deity, the Sun itself, could burn you, kill you, and wither your life away.  The whole world was divided into realms controlled by individual malicious entities, whence came storm gods, water gods, mountain gods, etc.  Early sacrifices and offerings were not given to the “good” spirits” but to the “bad” ones.  It was the bad spirits that needed placating, whether this was in the form of an offering meant to keep evil away, or a sacrifice intended to send evil to an enemy instead of one’s family/tribe.  One tribe’s gods became another tribe’s demons.  This has continued until the present day.

            For example, one of the earliest names for the glory of the Sun was Baal.  Once sun-worship became outdated, and prayers to the Sun forbidden, the god Baal was converted into the demon Baal-zebub, a personification of the power of the Sun to rot things, and bring forth clouds of maggots and flies.  In the interim, Baal-zebub combined both of these traits.   As most old religions, including the Hebrew faith, did not have a need for an Evil One, their gods embodied both Good and Evil traits, such as the Jehovah of the Old Testament who not only saves the Jews, but kills thousands of first-born children, drowns Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea, destroys whole cities (Sodom, Gomorrah), etc. The Hebrew Jehovah is an old god, raised to primacy by the Hebrews from a pantheon of pre-existing deities.

            Conway discusses how early humans saw the world as haunted by demons way before they assigned specific moral qualities to those very demons.  Early demons behaved like a ravenous tiger, who kills and eats because it is in his nature, not because he is “bad.”  They were not judged in the manner that modern Christians seek to judge what they see as demons.  Instead, these demons were appeased, praised, and sacrificed to but never ignored.  The history of humanity shows evidence that one generation’s gods become degraded until they are seen as the next generation’s demons. 

            For example, In the Old Testament the Hebrews are spoken of as setting an offering to a deity named Azazel (meaning “Strength of God”) as well as to Jehovah.  Jehovah was just one of a pantheon of gods back then.  Only through endless repetition and the “refinement” of religion by priests did Jehovah become THE GOD, the one and only that exists (at least for the Hebrews.)  As time passed, Azazel was seen as a powerful Demon, an enemy of Jehovah.  In fact, the Hebrew myths mention four arch-demons, Azazel, Samael, Asael, and Maccathiel, which originally represented four aspects of the divine Creator.  As stated above, Azazel was the “strength of god,” Samael meant “the left hand of god,” Asael was god’s reproductive force, and Maccathiel was god’s retributive power.   For the past few thousand years, these four have been seen as some of the mightiest of demons.  This is how gods, or the personifications of a god, degrade and eventually turn into demons.

            Conway explores so much that it is difficult to discuss it all.  One of the critical points he makes is the difference between the idea of Demons, and the idea of a Devil.  Demons are the personification of malevolent forces that assail humans and animals alike.  They are not moral, and they are countered by proper sacrifice or incantation.  Conway details the earliest demons, those of Hunger, Heat, Cold, the Elements, and Animals, as those were the very first deep fears in early man.  As we developed socially and intellectually, the demons became more specific, such as those of Illusion, Darkness, Disease, and Death itself.  Conway explores each type and their development in their own chapter.  Very cool.

The Devil however, is a much later development in the theological life of humanity.  The Devil is specifically an adversary to the Creator, who actively seeks to undermine and destroy the Creator’s good work (i.e. the divine soul of humans).  In many cases, humans ascribe the Devil more power than that of the Creator, at least on Earth itself.  Once the idea of a Devil was loosed upon the world, humans began to imagine the world itself as a fully evil, sinful, corrupt place.  The Earth and everything on it, ruled by the Devil himself, exists solely to test whether humans can survive with their divine souls intact.  If successful, when they die, they end up joining all that is good in heaven and leaving behind the carnal, sinful world of flesh and bone.  Many humans today live in this theological world.  From this came the idea that detachment from worldly pleasures is a good thing, instead of worldly pleasures being something gifted to us by the Creator.  All the good and beautiful in the world, from food to sex to beauty itself, is a temptation used by the devil to corrupt our souls.  Once the Devil was in charge of the Earth, his powers grew exponentially, until every manner of bad luck and evil was blamed on Satan himself.

            Moncure Daniel Conway details everything he discusses.  He delves into the way that spiritual/religious beliefs of the populace tend to help everyone get along, and provide them with purpose and meaning, until a priest/sacerdotal group decides to take over and dictate what the tribe/group is supposed to believe.  This has occurred through all of our time on this planet.  Whether it was the shaman who relied on handouts from the village to procure his services, the rabbi who dictated who was Hebrew and worthy of Jehovah and who was not, or the priest that “explained” exactly what the Bible stated whether or not the congregation felt or believed otherwise.  Those same people gained incredible power, luxury, and prestige from their subjugation of our collective human beliefs.  They still sit in the lap of luxury, castigating us for being sinners; all the while, they commit the most heinous acts of torture, sexual abuse, outright theft, and moral degradation imaginable.  They claim to know who the demons and the Devils are, always hiding their own flawed humanity behind the veil of organized religion.  Conway hated those bastards so much.  I am eternally thankful that I found this book and this author, another intellectual hero to add to my ever-growing list.  I highly recommend this book to anyone seeking to understand how humans have created their gods and demons, and how we continue to do so today.

(This book can be downloaded here: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/40686 )


A Deep Dive Into Humanity's Progress Towards Freedom of Thought and True Liberty


A History of Freedom of Thought – J.B. Bury (1914)

            Sometimes a book magically appears to feed your mind.  This is one such book.  After absorbing the latest entry off of Sun Ra’s Reading List (The Loom of Language – Frederick Bodmer) I found this comprehensive yet succinct treatise on the history of humanity’s desire for freedom of thought, where it arose, and the many ways that our societies and governments have tolerated or crushed those seeking the right to believe and discuss what they want.  J.B. Bury’s book should be required reading in any High School history classroom.

As with many of the ideas we consider modern, the acceptance of freedom of thought and speech began in the ancient city-states that eventually coalesced into what we today call Greece.  There are several reasons why this area of the world was conducive to the exploration of ideas and the questioning of established thought.  One of the most important is that the people of Greece did not answer to an unimpeachable higher authority.  Greece did not have a “bible” that purported to be the very word of their gods.  Instead, they understood, as a culture and society, that religious thoughts and ideas are both personal and ever-changing.  The rise of Philosophy and Science (Natural Philosophy) in Greece resulted from this openness to ideas.  As the Greeks did not have to force their views and experiences to match what some holy book said, they were free to explore both the internal nature of humanity and the external natural world around them.  This freedom came at a price, for while the powerful in Greece did not punish blasphemy or heresy, they did punish anyone who they felt was “corrupting” the minds of others, especially young people.  Instead of punishing someone for blasphemy, they instead punished him or her for impiety (meaning they were rude to the religious thoughts that the State considered correct).  In this manner they railroaded Socrates.  Socrates crime was that he asked too many questions, not only about religion, but also about how religion is used by the state to enforce its own agendas.  They executed this great man for a purely bullshit crime, that of “failing to acknowledge the gods that the city acknowledges" and "introducing new deities.”  Pathetic.

Even through suppression, the ideals of Greece and freedom of thought continued in Rome, which sought to base its better qualities on the previous Greek civilization they so admired.  Rome was a different monster though.  The powerful in Rome were mostly irreligious but they would display outward signs of piety in order to rise in their respective fields.  They saw religion as mainly a means of controlling the subordinate population, who they believed too dumb to be good, moral people without the guidance of religion and priests.  Because of this, they allowed free speech and free thought, as long as it did not impede with the powerful Roman’s control of their compatriots.  The moment anyone sought to teach the so-called ignorant masses about this, they were suppressed.  A great example of this is the rise of the Christian church.

People forget that, for the first hundred or so years, the Jewish sect called Christianity was strictly an apocalyptic cult. They saw the world as ending imminently and that Jesus would be back to whup that sinner ass.  While there were many such end-times cults around the Roman Empire, the reason the Christian cult was perceived as a threat was that they were the first to proselytize widely.  While the Hebrew religion also taught that there was one god, and that other gods were false, they did not seek to spread their religion.  Hebrews were born to other Hebrews.  They did not seek to convert anyone.  This reduced the level of threat felt by the Romans, as they knew they could out-breed anyone.  However, the Christian sect that spawned off Judaism actively sought converts of all types, both Jewish and gentile.  (This is one of the reasons that Jesus was killed by the tag-team of Roman government and rabbinical leadership.  Romans did not like that Jesus preached ending subservience to the state, and the rabbis did not appreciate that Jesus taught non-Jews what was seen as purely Jewish wisdom.  Neither liked that Jesus preached that loyalty to state and family and established religion was a sin if it came between one’s loyalties to god.- RXTT)

So, Jesus was executed.  For the next few hundred years there was very little persecution of Christians, until a Roman emperor sought to make an example of them as he tried to force the old Roman religion down everyone’s throats as the officially sanctioned state religion.  Just a century later, a Roman emperor proclaimed himself a Christian, ending the persecutions, but beginning the rise of state-sanctioned Christianity, and the Holy Roman Catholic Church.  In what seems ironic, but is merely stupid, the very same Christianity became the state’s tool by which to control the populace, and bring to an almost complete halt the advancement of freethought, science, and philosophy.  For hundreds and hundreds of years, much of Europe became a stagnant, ignorant cesspool of political/religious tyranny.  Any idea or thought that seemed to contradict the supposedly correct and inviolable contents of the Bible was suppressed in the most violent manner.  Christian states and the Roman Catholic Church murdered and tortured hundreds of thousands of people in the name of their religion.  The Holy Inquisition, which took place throughout Europe, even though we are taught it was a Spanish thing, brought the most gruesome and sadistic terror that the world had yet to see.  Not only were non-believers targeted but anyone who espoused Christian beliefs different from what Rome proclaimed as true was at risk.  Whole populations of people were exterminated because the local leaders had different views on the “truths” forced upon them by the Roman Catholic Church.  It was genocide on a continental level.

Luckily the Greek ideals of freethought and philosophy were kept alive in the Ottoman empire.  The modern world owes so much to the Muslims that preserved the Greek writers and continued to advance the sciences of Astronomy, Mathematics, and Philosophy.  It was their translations that made their way into Europe in the mid 1400’s and sparked up the rebirth of rationalism and enlightenment we now call the Renaissance.  The inevitable breakup of monolithic Catholicism during the Reformation helped a bit, but mainly just ushered a new era where Protestant Christians murdered and brutalized Catholic Christians, just as they had been brutalized initially.  Shit don’t change.  It stays shit.  People were now executed for being Papists.  When a Catholic took over a country, like what happened in England under Bloody Mary, the persecutions and murder of Protestants began again.

            J.B. Bury wrote this small book in the first decade of the 20th century, ahead of the rise of fascist totalitarian states in Europe.  These states, such as Germany, had initially provided so many of the eminent thinkers that espoused freethought, and the Liberty which is to be gained by all of us for allowing all people the right to think and voice their opinions without threat of blasphemy or sedition.  J.B. Bury warned that, although Enlightenment ideals and rational thought had become the norm in Europe in the late 1800’s, it was a tentative victory, for tyrants and idiots everywhere will always seek to shut down voices and ideas they feel are detrimental to their own personal and political agendas.  I wonder how Mr. Bury, who passed away in 1927, would have reacted to the rise of totalitarian states in Germany, Spain, Italy, Romania, etc.  I believe his heart would have broken to see humanity take such a step backwards, and to see the horrors wrought by these fascist assholes upon the world.

Nothing enrages me as much as willful ignorance.  The worst type of willful ignorance is when freedom of speech is denied in order to protect a state-sanctioned religion, for this affects everyone.  For your “beliefs” to be so fragile that you must suppress opposing views shows how truly baseless your “beliefs” are.  It also shows exactly why those “beliefs” exist, namely, for use in controlling or subjugating any and every person who chooses to believe otherwise.  This is the way of the world.  It is plain to see for anyone who chooses to study history and the rise and fall of states, religious beliefs, and state-sanctioned religions.  Anyone seeking to assert the human right of Freethought is an enemy to tyrannical states. (A minor example- this very book review blog was blocked in China about 3 months into its existence.  China does not like giving their citizens freedom to read what they want - RXTT) 

I feel this book is even more valuable today as state-sanctioned totalitarianism and tyranny are on the rise in supposedly progressive and freedom-loving nations such as the UK and the USA.  Instead of a secular government set up to protect and nourish its citizenry, allowing them to choose whatever religion they feel is right for them, or no religion if they so choose, we are sliding into quasi-religious government inflicting their personal beliefs on the entire population, regardless of personal choice.  The only way to fight this is with education, which is why the ignorant tyrants seek to control state school boards all over the United States.  When beliefs instead of facts direct the path of government, we end up eroding Liberty at its core. This is the main reason freedom of thought, and everything that comes with it, is the most important human right.

(This book can be read/downloaded for free: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/10684 )


What are Words for when no one listens anymore?


The Loom of Language: An Approach to the Mastery of Many Languages – Frederick Bodmer (1914)

SUN RA Reading List


            The great Sun Ra has yet to let me down.  Previously, I ran across an article listing some of Sun Ra’s favorite books, or at least books that he felt were important to read.  The first two I read were amazing.  The first, Alexander Hislop’s TheTwo Babylons, explored the ways in which organized Christianity (the Catholic church specifically) merely redressed Babylonian “pagan” religion into a new outfit, presenting it as new and couching it in the ideas of Jesus of Nazareth. The second book I read from Sun Ra’s list was P.D. Ouspensky’s A New Model of the Universe: Principles ofthe Psychological Method in its Application to Problems of Science, Religion,and Art.  This book was even denser than the previous, as Mr. Ouspensky explored the ways in which humanity has sought to understand, and disseminate, what many see as eternal wisdoms, using modern science and psychology to dissect the paths to wisdom offered by churches, esoteric mystics, and occult organizations throughout human history.

            In many ways, this current book, The Loom of Language, is equally as broad, for it seeks to not only describe the evolution of written and spoken Language, but it also hopes to educate the reader in how best to learn foreign languages. As a bi-lingual person (Spanish / English) I know the amazing benefits of speaking/reading/writing more than one language.  Mr. Bodmer, writing in the early 1900’s, also saw this benefit.  In this attempt to create a new method of language instruction, he saw international communication as the driving force for learning new languages. Ahead of the horrors of totalitarian Europe in the 30’s and 40’s Bodmer saw the correlation between a populace that does not expose itself to its neighbors or their language, and the slide into jingoism and deluded nationalism. This is what is happening in the USA currently, where anyone speaking Spanish, a language spoken in 90% of all New World countries, is assumed by ignorant people to be a criminal, “illegal alien” or poor and uneducated.  This leads to the worst kinds of overt racism.  It is even worse for the many Americans who hail from nations other than Latin America.

            Too many people see Language as a static creation, when in fact it is an ever-evolving set of ideas.  Mr. Bodmer discusses the difference between a written language and a spoken language and how this affects how language is passed on to succeeding generations.  For example, in the Roman Empire there existed at the least two separate Latin languages.  One was the formal, codified, rigid Latin of the ruling class, religion, and the highly educated.  The other was an informal, spoken Latin, used by the masses in their day-to-day lives.  It was this informal spoken Latin that slowly morphed through time and distance into what are called the Romance Languages (Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian).  Meanwhile, the Church, education, science, utilized the rigid formal Latin and politics for centuries after Rome fell.  In many parts of Europe, until the late 1800’s, university education was conducted in Latin.  Today many Roman Catholic Church services still hold Mass in Latin. (Funny aside, no one really knows how to pronounce anything in Latin, as it has been a dead language for centuries.  Even so, priests continue to vocalize what they feel is Latin-sounding pronunciations of their Mass.)

            Mr. Bodmer not only does an amazing job of describing how languages morph and evolve, he constantly provides examples and word lists to detail how linguists came to know what they know, how they connected languages that seem disparate but come from common sources, and how they are able to explore seemingly dead languages by comparison to living ones.  This is just the beginning, for the bulk of the book deals with learning the actual languages, or at least learning the tools by which a reader can begin to explore new languages.  Long chapters provide detail on the grammar of Anglo-American English.  English as we know it today is very far removed from its Teutonic roots, having absorbed words and phrases from so many languages.  French, Spanish, and Greek are among the many languages that have found their place in the English vocabulary. 

Bodmer details the many prefixes and suffixes found in English describing which ones are from what root tongue.  This mish-mash of language makes English a bit complex, as words that sound the same in the ear may mean completely different things, based on the source language.  For example, the Latin phrase “ante” means “before,” as in the words anteroom, antecedent, etc.  The Greek phrase “anti,” pronounced exactly as the Latin “ante,” means “against/not,” as in the words antipodes, antifascist, antagonist, etc.  While this makes English a tough language for a non-speaker to master, it allows an English speaker to understand foreign words much more quickly.  This may be why English has spread throughout the world as the unofficial language of international business.

The evolution of Teutonic and Romance languages is thoroughly explored.  At all turns Mr. Bodmer reiterates the need for an international language, capable of fostering communications between the people of the world.  This was his lofty goal.  It is scary to think that, just a few years later the horrors of totalitarianism, nationalism, and bigotry would turn much of the world into a war zone.  It would probably make Mr. Bodmer sick to know that, decades after surviving the cataclysm, our “leaders” continue to push our nations into authoritarian, jingoistic, nationalistic fervors.  “Us” versus “Them” is a pointless exercise, meant only to divide the people while those in power maintain their death grip on us.  Just like all human beings, all human languages, when traced back, come from the same place.  We are all together in this world, and languages add to that beauty.  It is upon each of us to try to learn more than one language, and by extension, to understand each other better.  I can see why a visionary like Sun Ra would recommend this book.  Anyone seeking to learn new languages would be well-off reading this.  We must continue to fight the good fight against willfully proud ignorance and intellectual blindness.

(This book can be read/downloaded here: https://s3.amazonaws.com/arena-attachments/255464/07f8d71c7c840bec709cf5a38e7da300.pdf )


Over 100 years ago, Dr. Otto Rank explored the commonalities found in the world's Hero myths


The Myth of the Birth of the Hero: A Psychological Interpretation of Mythology – Dr. Otto Rank (1914)

            When looking at the list of books I have read and reviewed here on the Intellectual Journey, I find that many of them deal with the topics of Myth and the influence of these myths on human culture through the ages.  This is a topic that has always fascinated me, but which requires extensive background reading.  Comparative Religion studies is a relatively new area of research, having only truly begun in the last 150 years or so.  Before then, the idea of studying religions and myths to see the similarities and common sources for both was heretical, and all people who sought to study this field were dissuaded from it by the church on penalty of blasphemy.  (This makes me wonder how many amazing works of world literature, history and myth sit locked away in the Vatican archives, solely to keep the knowledge from disturbing their very elaborate and lucrative pyramid scheme.)

            In 1914, Otto Rank published a monograph where he explored the specific sources and intent of the Hero myth common to all cultures.  Specifically, Dr. Rank focuses on the parts of the Hero myths that detail the Hero’s birth.  From Sargon and Oedipus to Hercules and Jesus, Dr. Rank details their specific birth myths, working from the most ancient antiquity forwards.  In his introduction, Dr. Rank describes how “prominent civilized nations…all began at an early age to glorify their heroes, mythical princes and kings, founders of religions, dynasties, empires or cities…in a number of poetic tales and legends.”  Initially based on actual events, these stories were embellished and invested with fantastic features as they were passed on from generation to generation.  What struck Dr. Rank, and many others who study such things, is the improbable similarities that arose in each of these Hero’s birth stories.  It is these similarities, analyzed with a psychological view in mind, which Otto Rank explores in this monograph.

            Dr. Otto Rank details the three separate theories that researchers of his time offered to explain why there are so many similarities in the various civilization’s Hero birth myths.  One was the theory that there exists elementary thoughts, universally sourced from our human brain, which manifest themselves as details of our Hero myths.  A second was that of original community, meaning that one ancient civilization first created the details that have become universal, purely through the influence of the civilizations that arose from the initial one.  The third explanation offered, migration, expands on the second one, stating that an original civilization created the myths, and then when they expanded their territory, their myths were adopted by the people with whom they came into close contact.  Dr. Rank disagrees with these theories.  Using psychology, specifically the work of Dr.’s Freud and Jung, he proposes that the source of these myths lays in the human mind and it’s psychological constructs, specifically those that relate to our own birth and the processes of growth into adulthood.  As we are all humans with human psychology, it makes sense that our myths would seem to be of a similar character with similar details.

            It is not possible to go into everything that Dr. Rank discusses, but one detail in particular stands out.  In most of the classic Hero myths, the birth of the hero is followed by the abandonment/exposure of the baby hero in order that it may die, so as not to fulfil prophecy.  Invariably, the hero is placed in a container, which is then put into a river or body of water.  Fortunately, the child is rescued by someone who then raises him or her to adulthood.  Dr. Rank provides ample evidence that these various water stories are actually mythological descriptions of the Hero’s birth.  This is especially evident in the fact that in most of these myths the Hero is born of royalty or a god, and then after being ditched, is raised by simple folk such as shepherds, wet-nurses, slaves, etc.  The second birth helps separate the Hero from his true family and his true societal obligations.  This is necessary as it allows the Hero to seek the Hero’s path, eventually to usurp or replace his original royal parent.

            The creation of myths by humanity is an on-going process.  One of the founding heroes of the United States is the first President, George Washington, who as a General led the forces that defeated the British in the New World.  It has been almost 250 years since that time.  Already, a vast catalogue of fabrications exists that seek to portray President Washington in the heroic light that myth does.  The biggest one is the story where Washington cut down a tree, and when confronted about it, told his parents “I cannot tell a lie.”  This small, apocryphal story has gone on to become the basis of most everyone’s idea about George Washington.  It remains to be seen whether his myth tale will continue to grow.   I think Dr. Otto Rank may be correct in stating that the sources of Myth lie in our very own subconscious minds.  The stories that move us as human have not really changed since the dawn of history.  We all love a Hero.  We all love a story about someone who was taken from lofty heights, brought down to the lowliest of lows, and then re-emerges, like the Phoenix, to greater glory that ever before.  It is truly our human nature.

(This book can be read or downloaded here:  https://ia802205.us.archive.org/12/items/mythofbirthofher1914rank/mythofbirthofher1914rank_bw.pdf )


Alan Moore Took Swamp Thing Where It Needed To Go


Swamp Thing: Issues #21-64 – Alan Moore, writer (1982-1987)

            In my youth, I was always on the hunt for new and interesting comic books.  I was very fortunate, as the 1980’s were a great time for innovative storytelling and many comic book creators took the art form to new heights of intensity, storytelling, and beauty.  One of the premier writers in comic books at the time was Alan Moore.  His epic story, The Watchmen, is one of my all-time favorites.  An early work that Alan Moore devoted years to in the 1980’s was the comic book Swamp Thing.  After decades, I was finally able to sit and absorb the full run of Alan Moore penned Swamp Thing stories.  They were even better than I expected.

            Swamp Thing has always been a “horror” comic book.  It sprung forth as a monster feature, and was not too popular with readers.  Headed for cancellation, Alan Moore was brought in to breathe new life into the book, and he did so full bore!  Alan Moore retconned the origin story of Swamp Thing.  Originally, Swamp Thing was a man who, after being doused with experimental fertilizer of some sort, found his way to a nearby swamp where he was turned into the Swamp Thing.  Alan Moore changed that up.  Instead of a man becoming Swamp Thing, an earth elemental spirit took on the human shape of the scientist.  Swamp Thing is tasked with protecting the Green, which is in fact, all plant life on the planet.  The horror comes in the many ways humans treat nature and the revenge that Swamp Thing enacts in the name of The Green.

            Alan Moore never shied away from showing the ugly, evil sides of human nature in his work.  With Swamp Thing he was able to explore ideas and topics that in other mainstream or superhero comics of the time would have been taboo.  Alan Moore shows us true evil, true monsters who look human and nice and normal, but who are ugly and sick inside, as opposed to the Swamp Thing, who is a monstrosity that has a hero’s soul inside.  Seeing as how good “spirits” like Swamp Thing exist in this comic book world, it is evident that a lot of evil would exist for Swamp Thing to fight.

            The horrors and monsters that Swamp Thing battles are just one aspect of the comic book.  Just as important is the internal life of Swamp Thing.  Alan Moore’s genius lies in exploring the true self of his characters.  Swamp Thing is conflicted.  He falls in love.  He feels deep sorrow and pain at the way humans treat Mother Nature.  He seeks to understand his place in the cosmos and why he’s tasked with protecting the Green.  The humans and monsters he fights are the opposite, seeking to either destroy nature or to corral it and wield it like a weapon.  I can see why many superhero comic fans did not appreciate this series.  It is too complex and disturbing for someone that just wishes to see didactic good and evil fighting.  What was more surprising to me was how sad, how deeply mournful Swamp Thing is as a book.  Alan Moore’s fears for what the modern world has done to our Mother Nature are evident.

            While much of the Swamp Thing saga is grim and monumental, Alan Moore also finds joy and humor in Swamp Thing and his life.  One of the most interesting issues is a one-off that explores what happens when a tiny ship filled with cute alien beings lands in the Swamp.  They have travelled for centuries seeking a new, lush, green home after their home was destroyed.  Told in a light-hearted and humorous manner, this story nevertheless becomes one of deep sadness and pathos as the small aliens discover the damage that humans have done to the Earth, and decide to leave in search of another home, one that will not soon be damaged irreparably by its inhabitants.  Heavy stuff for a “comic book.”

            I must mention the artwork of Stephen Bissette and John Totleben.  For a horror comic book, the artwork must not only be appropriately scary, but it should lend a specific visual language to the book.  The naturalistic drawing and minimal inking of the artwork used in these comics speak to the content within.  It is a perfect match.  The visuals of Swamp Thing are some of the best of the era, able to portray not only the physical battles that Swamp Thing engages in, but also the psychic and ethereal battles fought on the Astral Plane.  Comic Books are, when done right, a perfect combination of story, words, and images.  This is one of those successes.

            I highly recommend finding and reading the run of Swamp Thing issues that Alan Moore wrote.  If you are already a fan of his, you will get to experience his early work.  If you are not yet a fan of Alan Moore then this is a good place to start as nearly all of the work he has produced since the 80’s contains many of the elements he first explored in Swamp Thing.  From explorations on the metaphysical and mythic nature of existence, to the re-introduction of nearly-forgotten characters from the history of comic books and much more, Swamp Thing is definitely an early Alan Moore triumph.