I have an artist friend (we’ll call him Ted to protect his or her identity) who recently challenged me to a creative game of seeing what’s not there. I know what he was alluding to since I’ve played that game before.
Anyway, Ted suggested I use my camera to capture faces in natural objects like rocks and trees. I asked why, and Ted said, “I’ll tell you when you get back.”
Above is one of the images I captured and when I showed it to Ted he asked if the tree had said anything to me.
Now Ted has a history of mind altering drug use, so I wasn’t really surprised when he asked me that. And I was further unruffled when he told me that he had had a very interesting talk with a tree recently. With no prodding from me, Ted proceeded to offer a pretty much verbatim history of that discussion which I’ve done my best to record here.
Ted: Who’s there?
Traveler: You can call me Traveler– I’ve come a long way in time and space. Don’t be alarmed.
Ted: I’m not. Just that you’re a face on a tree who’s talking but there’s no sound or lip movement. And why are you talking to me? And in a strong upper class British accent?
Traveler: One question at a time. As to why you, I know you’re an artist and it’s been our experience that artists are far better at trying to comprehend the incomprehensible. And I know you artists sometimes use natural substances to get yourself closer to a clearer view of reality. You appreciate logic, and evidence that can be measured, repeated, etc. You also know that so called objective data can present a very narrow view, and as an artist you aren’t slavishly encumbered by all that. Further, scientists – your scientists – while they’re pretty good at understanding the homegrown rules of math, chemistry and physics, they also can get quite boxed in by them.
Ted: I lost you there.
Traveler: Well, the parochial view on your planet is that life has to be carbon based, needs oxygen and water, etc. Why would those systems have to be universal? Why would intelligence need a base housing structure at all? And wouldn’t it be a bit short-sighted to put intelligence in a physical container that would wear out and eventually decompose?
Traveler: And the accent just gives me a little more credibility I suspect. English erudition, no?
Ted: And taking the identity of tree with a face?
Traveler: Better than your hearing voices and wondering if you’re going quite mad?
Ted: OK, so where are you from and what do you want?
Traveler: To the first question, let’s just say it is inexplicable at this time. As to the second, the best analogy I can think of is – think of me as a kind of anthropologist, an astro-anthropologist.
Ted: You’re an extraterrestial here to study our way of life?
Traveler: Well, more than that, quite a lot more. This may be a bit of a shock for you, but I’m here to study how the uh, well – how the experiment is faring, and then report back …
Ted: The experiment? Report back to whom?
Traveler: Well, perhaps I’ve said too much already. Let’s go back to basics: the ultimate purpose for any life form is to continue itself and manage the resources that support its continuation. Right?
Ted: I’m with you so far.
Traveler: And such a process would have to have some set of principles behind it, some rules of order to promote success, or if not followed, failure. Again, to use a rudimentary analogy, consider a program with built in flexibility to deal with unexpected or unpredictable situations, like almost infinite subroutines. But of course, there would have to be some limits, obligatory loops back to the main program – else you’d have eventual entropy. All the ‘d’ words: Deterioration, degeneration, decline, degradation, decomposition.
Ted: Ok, ok I get it. But you don’t have to beat a dead horse.
Traveler: I would never hurt such a perfect creature. Indeed! We never intervene, well almost never.
Ted: So, you’re saying you’ve programmed us – our human species to do …
Traveler: Well its far more complicated than that of course, and you’re making the usual mistake of putting your species at the center of everything. And at the endpoint of everything. Relatively speaking, wasn’t it only a blink of an eye ago when you thought your sun revolved around you? Your scientists are just beginning to get it right, estimating the number of solar systems like yours, how many galaxies there are, the size of the universe. But they’re far too conservative in their numbers – even the concept of multiverses doesn’t measure up, so to speak …
Ted: I’m starting to feel a little small and inconsequential.
Traveler: Small is an appropriate feeling, but you’re certainly not inconsequential. Extending the programming analogy we discussed before – if we posit a 0 to 100 dial on the number and nature of subroutines and we put your planet at 99 (100 being entropy) your journey becomes quite important to watch.
Ted: There you go again. If we’re an experiment, how’re we doing?
Traveler: Well, the jury’s still out, isn’t it? On the 24-hour clock of your planet’s history, your species in its current stage has only been around for the last minute and 15 seconds. But in that short time, as many of us have hypothesized, with so much potential for adaptation (remember those subroutines) you’ve shown enormous variation in interacting with your world, currently and historically. One thing we really don’t understand though: in the spiritual realm, you humans have shown an incredible intolerance for the different ways of approaching what is unknowable.
Ted: Not a very definitive answer.
Traveler: On the positive side you have produced a wide variety of effective religious and political leaders. On the other hand, in terms of your adaptation, we are very concerned about your history of killing almost unimaginable numbers of your own species in service to economic, political, and even spiritual, goals. We don’t keep count, but your own record keepers say over a hundred million deaths in your twentieth century alone, and maybe even as high as a billion tracking all your wars.
Ted: Wow. Didn’t know that.
Traveler: And now you’re gaining growing capabilities to leave your planet – so ultimately understanding what’s going to happen with you becomes more vital to us. Especially given that we’ve set your potentials with almost limitless possibilities.
Ted: Is there a time limit to these studies, as you call it?
Traveler: Well we are up against a resource problem of our own. In the areas under our dominion, those who control the “purse strings,” if you will, are beginning to question the relative value of these studies. There’s a possibility that all aspects of them could be discontinued?
Ted: What exactly does that mean?
Traveler: I’ve probably said way too much but it’s been a good conversation – you’ve been very open in your thinking, showing a deep awareness and appreciation of reality.
Ted: Just one more question. I know you know that I sometimes use altered states of consciousness to increase my awareness. But how do I know whether talking to you is real, or just some drug induced neurological scrambling?
Ted: Traveler. Traveler?