Blog powered by Typepad

« Undertow | Main | Reconstructing the Green Book »


I probably should have mentioned that the link between morals and religion may have originated earlier in Egypt than in some other cultures. A crucial moment in an Egyptian's postmortem journey was the ritual of the weighing of the heart. The deceased's heart, considered the seat of the soul, was weighed against a feather signifying maat. If the heart outweighed the feather, indicating that the person had transgressed against the social and moral order, the heart was devoured by the hippo-crocodile hybrid Ammut. This represented the obliteration of the soul.

The trouble with making a definitive statement about the moral import of this ritual is that it’s not clear (to me, at least) how much of it involved actual wrongdoing and how much was merely a test of a magical formula. Certainly, part of the Egyptian's ordeal involved reciting elaborate, memorized prayers before the gods who oversaw the ceremony. It’s possible that in the early phase of Egyptian religious belief, the weighing ritual involved no more than this. Say the words right and you’re saved; botch them and you’re doomed. In that case, the whole thing would boil down to a magical incantation rather than a serious moral test.

At some point, actual moral misconduct such lying, stealing, and making false accusations did become a large part of what was weighed in the balance. But I can’t say how early this development came about.

Sometimes I wonder if the afterlife really was dreary and unpleasant as described in ancient texts and then gradually began to improve as humans began to focus on higher potentials as expressed in Christianity, some sects of Buddhism and other more elevated belief systems.

This is premised on my idea that we are ultimately creating our own realities - especially in dream states and disembodied states - based on our thoughts, feelings and what "vibrations" we attune to.

I think ethics/morality play a role in this loftier focus. They may be somewhat superficial prescriptions, but, even so, they cause even more moderately thoughtful people to pause and consider why the ethic is valued.

As I've said many times in discussions here, I think modern people like to romanticize life in ancient and primitive times. Actually, life and people were quite brutal back then. Killing other humans over slight perceived infractions of codes of social behavior or honor was the norm. Sacrificing humans to blood thirsty gods was normal - what kind of god is that? What kind of afterlife would you expect with such a god?

I believe that most religions (maybe all) probably evolved from mystical and transcendental experiences like NDEs, deathbed visions, mystical and transcendental experiences, and naturally occuring drugs like peyote, psilocybin, mushrooms, ayahuasca, etc. I have mentioned before that it is pretty obvious to me that Christianity at its very heart is a near death experience religion. When read the New Testament it just jumps out at me.

Thanks for this intriguing post, Michael. Much to ponder here!

Of particular interest to me is your mention of the Eleusinian Mysteries. It seems clear that the essential insights produced by those initiations are duplicated in the revelations of NDErs. And the Mysteries bring to mind also the spirit—and even the method—of the psychedelic renaissance. As you probably know, it’s widely believed that the kykeon ingested during those ceremonies contained ergot, a psychoactive fungus akin to LSD.

Art said:

“I believe that most religions (maybe all) probably evolved from mystical and transcendental experiences like NDEs, deathbed visions, mystical and transcendental experiences, and naturally occuring drugs like peyote, psilocybin, mushrooms, ayahuasca, etc.”

I think you’re right, Art.

Very good study, Michael.

Yes, atheists often accuse believers of wishful thinking with respect to the Afterlife, but it's hard to see Sheol and Hades as any kind of wishful thinking. Oblivion is probably preferable to such a terrible yet eternal existence.

My only quibble is with this: ||Greco-Roman paganism never embraced morality in any serious way; the gods themselves were notoriously promiscuous, deceitful, and unjust.||

(I was a Latin major for a bit and have read a good deal about Roman society but am by no means a scholar...)

The first book of "Meditations" of Marcus Aurelius starts off:

"From my grandfather Verus I learned good morals and the government of my temper.

From the reputation and remembrance of my father, modesty and a manly character.

From my mother, piety and beneficence, and abstinence, not only from evil deeds, but even from evil thoughts; and further, simplicity in my way of living, far removed from the habits of the rich."

And if you read Roman authors a bit, this is how they talk. Although we may think of Roman society as being lax and libertine, it was actually rather prudish and tended to emphasize morals and piety.

A later quote in the same book: "Further, I am thankful to the gods that I was not longer brought up with my grandfather's concubine, and that I preserved the flower of my youth, and that I did not make proof of my virility before the proper season, but even deferred the time..."

Etc. etc. Although the gods had some stories that were individually ribald and whatnot, as a group they were seen as upholding social and sexual morality that in many respects would seem rather familiar and conservative today. (Other things, however, such as dividing people into classes worthy of fundamentally different levels of respect and vastly different rights, would seem extremely foreign and repugnant to us.)

Now the above was written in 167 C.E. Would things have been much different before then? Not according to my (admittedly limited) studies.

I think a look at ancient China would reveal a similar level of sexual and moral conservatism.

Matt, I didn’t mean to say that the Romans didn’t care about morality. I just don’t think their religion had much to do with their ethics. Aurelius was a Stoic, influenced by Epictetus. Others followed the more hedonistic teachings of Epicurus. Cicero, as I recall, took his ideas on ethics largely from Plato. These were all secular philosophies. I don’t see much moral or ethical content in Greco-Roman religion. The gods behaved childishly at best, and educated people of that era don’t seem to have believed in them, though they recognized the social utility of performing the expected rituals.

The Chinese (about whom I know very little) seem to have derived much of their ethical teaching from Confucianism, which is also a secular philosophy. I believe Chinese religion centers on ancestor worship, but I can’t speak to its moral content (if any).

\\"I believe Chinese religion centers on ancestor worship, but I can’t speak to its moral content (if any)." - Michael Prescott//

I talk to my deceased loved ones quite a bit, especially my mom and my dad. I think they can hear me? I'm not sure whether they can have much influence on what happens here in this dimension? I have read NDEs where people have said they saw their deceased mother or father (angel like beings from the other side) interfering in some surgery that their body (down on the operating table) was undergoing at the time? That leads me to believe that beings from the other side can affect what happens here? As to how much? ... I don't know?

I am deeply suspicious of free will and lean heavily towards fate and predestination but I'm not real confident on that either? Most people believe in free will and all the major western religions are based on the notion that we have free will. A lot of stuff I've read though leads me to believe that may be an illusion. I have had some dreams that I'm pretty sure were precognitive and if we have free will then how was I able to see things which happened a week or two into the future?

Fate and predestination sort of fit with my idea about this Earth life being a school, like a teacher with a lesson plan with a clearly stated objective at the top, but my beliefs on that are flexible and I live my life as if I have free will but philosophically I lean towards predestination... but as to whether I'm right or not... I don't know? I'll have to wait till I get to the other side to find out for sure?

I don't know if it's worth pointing out, since you seem to be only looking at the origins in one time in one place in the world, but you haven't really looked at the afterlife until you've studied (extensively, hopefully) Spiritualism in the US and Englan starting in the mid-1800s through early 1900s. Most notable are the scientific studies carried on by scientific luminaries of the day, along with the many transcribed communications from the other side (too many to even begin to enumerate, all telling pretty much the same story.)

Might have been worth mentioning that Aristotle said the soul dies with the body.

“The situation is different when we look at early literate societies, where religious beliefs are preserved in writing. Here we can see for ourselves what the priests and mythmakers really thought.”

That’s true, but they may give us no idea whatsoever as to what pre-literate peoples thought. Because the very act of acquiring literacy may have changed us in ways that drastically affected what we believed about the afterlife:

“In his book The Alphabet Versus the Goddess, Leonard Shlain proposes that the invention of writing rewired the human brain, reinforcing the linear, abstract, predominantly masculine left hemisphere at the expense of the holistic, iconic feminine right side.”

This makes good sense to me. I’m in the midst of reading the powerful Chalice and the Blade, which claims that before 4000 BC, humans worshipped the Goddess rather than a male God. Judging from archaeological finds, these pre-patriarchal societies were neither warlike nor hierarchical, and lived in what Eisler calls partnership—as opposed to dominator—mode.

Her argument is long, detailed, and, to me at least, utterly convincing. And it has given me a completely different impression of pre-Biblical times, and how very much we changed as the balance between male and female shifted drastically around the same time that we became literate.

Because of that, I’m skeptical that those first writers you allude to can give us an accurate picture of what was in the minds and hearts of those who preceded them. In essential ways, our beliefs and attitudes became the reverse of what they had been prior to the patriarchal revolution, and the same would likely have been true of our afterlife beliefs.

Though it doesn’t discuss the afterlife, here’s a good online introduction to some of these issues:

Bruce, I’ve read those books, but my impression is that both fall into the same niche as Jaynes's "The Origin of Consciousness," i.e., books that are interesting and provocative but probably not true. Eisler in particular has been criticized for her idiosyncratic interpretations of the evidence. The idea that prehistoric societies were edenic and "woke" seems more like wishful thinking than reality. I’m inclined to agree with Hobbes (the author, not the tiger) that life in the wild is nasty, brutish, and short. To the extent that we can reconstruct Stone Age lifestyles, especially in the hunter-gatherer stage, we probably should look at other primates, like chimps. Chimps are intelligent, social animals with a clear social hierarchy. They are also very savage, being known to bite off each other's faces, fingers, and genitals, not only when at war with rival bands, but in intra-family power struggles.

I agree, however, that ultimately we cannot know what preliterate societies thought. Any attempt at divining their religious creeds (if any) can only be guesswork, colored by our preconceptions. In Eisler's case, the preconception is a brand of radical feminism that wants to believe in a goddess/earth mother religion, female-centered societies, etc. The physical evidence, which is all we have, is open to almost any interpretation. For instance, Neolithic Venuses may have been nothing more than fertility idols used by women in the hope of getting pregnant and having a successful delivery. They need not represent a powerful mother goddess figure; they may only be fetishes of the type seen in sympathetic magic. I'm not sure there’s any clearcut evidence that Neolithic communities had even developed the concept of gods and goddesses.

Michael D - if you check out at the categories listed on the left side of the page, I think you’ll see that Spiritualism and related issues have been covered. The majority of my blog posts have dealt with evidence for life after death.

J Menadue - I wasn’t aware of Aristotle's view on the subject, although I think Plato was much more influential in the ancient world. Another ancient philosopher who denied any possibility of an afterlife was Epicurus, a staunch materialist who advocated the pursuit of pleasure.

This Wikipedia entry suggests that Aristotle's view of the immortality of the soul was somewhat ambiguous:

The ambiguity doesn’t surprise me, since the Aristotelian corpus is generally believed to consist of lecture notes written by students at his academy, and in some cases the notes may even reflect lectures by other teachers at the same school. As a result, it can be hard to pinpoint what Aristotle himself actually said.

“Eisler in particular has been criticized for her idiosyncratic interpretations of the evidence.”

Yes, the (male) dominator mentality is quick to defend its turf, its way of being.

“I’m inclined to agree with Hobbes (the author, not the tiger) that life in the wild is nasty, brutish, and short.”

We’ve discussed this at length before, and we disagree. I think we tend to project our insecurities and emotional baggage onto prehistoric humans, as well as onto the animal kingdom.

“[Chimps] are also very savage . . .”

I’m confident that Jane Goodall, who spent years living with them, would heartily object to that blanket characterization. Mightn’t it be more accurate to say that chimps *can behave* savagely at times?

“In Eisler's case, the preconception is a brand of radical feminism that wants to believe in a goddess/earth mother religion, female-centered societies, etc.”

She’s far from a radical. It’s important to understand that nowhere does she advocate female-dominated societies, or even suggest that the evidence points to their existence in prehistory. She stresses a return to *balance*, what she calls the partnership model.

The ancients worshipped the Goddess not because they saw men as inferior, but because they analogized that just as woman gives birth to each of us individually, a Great Mother must give rise to all things collectively.

Instead of saying Jane Goodall spent years living with chimps, I should have phrased that: "spent years enjoying their company." Because that's the fact, and (following your comment) it's worth emphasizing.

I'm betting that preliterate hunter gatherer societies had deathbed visions, occasional near death experiences, and mystical and transcendental experiences just like we do. Their brains were just as big and developed as ours are and thirty to forty thousand years is a drop in the bucket in evolutionary time. It is not enough time to make any major biological changes. The only difference between us and them is that we imagine ourselves to be more sophisticated and literate than they were.

But I agree with Michael and Hobbes that their lives probably were much more nasty, brutish, and short than ours simply because they lacked modern medicine and the knowledge we have access to. But for all intents and purposes biologically they were us and we are them. If we could go back in time and kidnap an early stone age homo sapien child and raise it here it would be just like us.

From an interview in Scientific American:

Q: Do chimps in captivity show more aggressive behavior than those in the wild?

A: In the wild they're pretty aggressive. They have warfare among groups, where males kill other males, and they have been known to commit infanticide. Aggression is a common part of the chimpanzee behavior, whether it's between or within groups. They can show tremendous mutilation. They go for the face; they go for the hands and feet; they go for the testicles. To outsiders, they have very nasty behaviors.

Jane Goodall doubtless enjoys the chimps' company, but she also documented a war between rival chimpanzee bands, which resulted in the killing of all the males on the losing side. From this she theorized that human warfare has its roots in primate behavior.

There are many accounts of chimpanzee violence online. Of course, we don’t know if prehistoric humans behaved like chimps or perhaps like bonobos, which are mostly nonviolent. As Art says, Homo sapiens had the same cranial capacity as modern humans. But their cultural context was totally different. My guess is that some tribes were more peaceful and others were more violent. But in the case of a clash, I'd put my money on the violent tribe. Which is why, over time, violent societies tend to dominate.

Eisler may have received criticism because of sexist attitudes; there’s a lot of sexism in science. On the other hand, she may have been criticized because her theories are overly speculative. Here’s part of a critique by Christine Hoff Kraemer (a woman, so presumably not a male dominator type):

//Although Eisler’s goals are admirable, her assertion that history provides the proof for her arguments is dangerous due to the poor quality of her scholarship. Much of the archeology that she relies on for her argument has been discredited by later scholars, particularly the work of Marija Gimbutas. Even in the case of Crete where the material evidence is suggestive of an egalitarian society, Eisler’s claims are grossly overstated. She makes far-reaching statements about social structure, the nature of Minoan religion, and the relations between the sexes essentially on the basis of a limited set of paintings, buildings, and figurines. In contrast to most contemporary archaeologists, who are hesitant to make any certain claims about the Neolithic due to limited data, here the speculations of a few now-discredited archaeologists are reported as proven fact. The lack of illustrations in The Chalice and the Blade prevents the reader from coming to her own conclusions about the artifacts on which so much of Eisler’s argument rests. Further, Eisler’s cultural history is both oversimplified and full of minor errors ...//

I’ve read Maria Gimbutas and have to agree that her conclusions and interpretations are dubious at best. As I recall, she interprets a common prehistoric design as a butterfly, when virtually all other authorities see it as a double-bladed axe (a weapon of war).

Still, it’s possible that the feminist-egalitarian view of prehistory is correct. Unless we invent a time machine, we really can’t know.

[T]he idea of an afterlife for the average person — one that's actually worth looking forward to — took a very long time to develop, as did monotheism and religiously grounded ethics. In historical terms, "going into the light" and finding heaven is not a primitive idea, but the result of a lengthy process of intellectual and spiritual evolution – a process that most likely is not finished, even today.

Today, we received the news that Max von Sydow had died. Tortured by the dissonance of simultaneously having the feeling that I've known him since early childhood, as well as that I've never really known him, I resorted to a youtube search... Result: in the very first short video, von Sydow speaks of his own evolution of views regarding afterlife:

Michael, I did some more reading about chimps, and I admit to being surprised at how violent they can be. The article about Goodall’s study of the chimp war, and how it affected and disturbed her, is striking.

But I still have a problem with your statement that “life in the wild is nasty, brutish, and short.” By “life in the wild” you’re logically referring to 99.9% of all life on this planet, as it has existed for millions of years. And as I see it, to characterize it in those terms is wildly one-sided.

Instead, I would suggest: ecstatic, agonizing, triumphant, failed, glorious, demeaning, thrilling, boring, exquisite, hideous . . . and so on.

For wouldn’t it be more meaningful to point out a balance? Or do you really think that for the entire succession of living forms up to us—i.e. all life excluding “civilized” humans of the last few thousand years—the bad outweighed the good? The suffering outweighed the joy?

As to Eisler, her book rings true to me for many reasons. Whether or not there was ever a Golden Age of equality between the sexes, she tells a stunning tale of the ways in which the feminine is repressed in our culture, and how tragic the consequences are for all of us. Sentence after sentence makes me feel: “Of course! Why haven’t I seen that before? Why hasn’t that affected me more deeply?”

I checked out what my favorite historian has to say on the subject, and here it is. The deeper underpinnings of the matter:

Didn't the American Indians, or some of them, have an idea of a happy hunting ground after death?

Bruce, I think Hobbes was talking about *human* life in the wild. He was countering the romanticized image of "the noble savage" popularized by Rousseau.

Even leaving aside man’s inhumanity to man, prehistoric humans must have lived miserable lives, plagued by dysentery, cholera, hookworms, lice, respiratory diseases, rotting teeth and gums, etc. Even in later periods this was life for pretty much everybody. Kara Cooney goes into depressing detail about this in her book on Hapshepsut, titled "The Woman Who Would Be King." Royalty and nobility weren’t exempt from these hazards. There’s a reason that a majority of children died in infancy, and that the average lifespan was 25-35 years.

Nasty and short, certainly. Brutish would depend on the culture, but given the proclivity of ancient peoples to perform human sacrifice and torture (the Hittites and Assyrians enjoyed impaling people on sharpened stakes inserted through the anus; hey, everybody needs a hobby), I would guess brutality played a pretty big role.

Actually you don’t have to go back that far to find shocking instances of brutality accepted as business as usual. In Elizabethan England, the era of Spenser and Shakespeare, a popular form of entertainment was the public execution. The hangman was the star of the show. He didn’t just hang the victim, though. What fun is that? The victim was hanged by the neck only until he was choked half conscious. Then he was cut down, still alive, and eviscerated for the enjoyment of the crowd, who applauded as the fellow's entrails were unpacked and held up before his goggled eyes. The show ended with the guy losing his head (it could take several whacks). The head was then mounted on a spike along one of the bridges over the River Thames, for the edification of passersby. The head stayed there, being eaten by crows, until it eventually disintegrated and was replaced by another. There was never a shortage.

If no executions were playing, people could amuse themselves at the bear-baiting pit, where a chained-up bear was set upon by dogs. How many of the dogs' skulls would be crushed before the bear expired? People wagered on it.

The most feared name in England was Topcliffe, Her Majesty's official torturer. Yes, torture was so widely practiced that it was the equivalent of a cabinet position, sort of like having a Ministry of Pain and Suffering.

Merrie olde England!

Daniel Mannix, a pulp writer whose last name was the inspiration for the old TV show "Mannix," wrote an interesting book called "The History of Torture" that’s chock full of fun facts like this.

As you can see, I have a low view of human nature. I doubt we were any better in 10,000 BC, though it would be nice to think so.

"prehistoric humans must have lived miserable lives"

I won’t say that prehistoric times were better, because it seems likely to me that as we change over the millennia, Joni Mitchell’s lyric is apt: something’s lost but something’s gained. But I’m startled by your absolute certainty, over the years I’ve known you, that overall, technological man has simply *improved* the human experience.

To characterize without hesitation the lives of our human ancestors for hundreds of thousands years as “miserable” . . . Wow.

If your thinking is true, it would put us, in 2020, in an enviable position indeed with respect to the entire history of life on this planet. But I think you’re blind to the joys, advantages, and freedoms we’ve lost along the way.

In any transformation, both sides of the equation must be addressed. Is the adult’s life better than the child’s? Is a human’s experience better than a dolphin’s?

Something’s gained, absolutely. But something equally important is lost.

I think a lot of comes down to survival was so perilous in those societies. When people feel endangered they respond brutally to all that is around them.

Why assume the Venus figurines were even supposed to be spiritual at all? For all we know they were the prehistoric equivalent of doodling genitals on a toilet stall wall, albeit more time-consuming. I'm not a fan of the whole "women ruled in peace and harmony but everything changed when the Men Nation attacked" idea anyway; if the female-ruled society was as perfect as its proponents would have us believe, how and why was it overthrown?

"If your thinking is true, it would put us, in 2020, in an enviable position indeed with respect to the entire history of life on this planet."

Exactly. We're the most fortunate generation in history by a wide margin.

"Why assume the Venus figurines were even supposed to be spiritual at all?"

No one knows, but given how ubiquitous they are, they probably served some occult function. My guess (which is no better than anyone else's) is that they were fertility fetish objects.

The link between sex and spirituality was pretty strong in the ancient world. The Romans, for instance, had stylized carvings of penises erected (so to speak) all over their cities. Defacing or damaging one of the statues incurred the most serious penalties.

You don't need to look back to previous centuries to find incredibly brutal behavior. It occurs in this day and age quite commonly. Look at the torture inflicted by some Sunni/Shia in Iraq and Syria, which in some cases matches uncannily the torture techniques of their genetic & geographical forebears, the Assyrians, as depicted on ancient wall art. Read up on the atrocities inflicted by Isis, or by the Serbs in the 1990s Balkans.

And don't even get me started on the unbelievably inhumane treatment of animals, and the sexual/physical abuse of children, both of which are still regarded as "not a big deal" in some societies. I remember reading how a little girl in Afghanistan(?) was raped, which damaged her insides so badly that she was hospitalized...and the parents were outside the hospital angling to have the girl released so they could kill her and restore their family honor...because rape implies sexual immorality and dishonors the family. Whew...

And I still shudder when I think of how in some primitive African societies, appendages of a cow are simply cut off to eat, leaving the animal to suffer alive...until another piece is cut off. I suppose it makes sense from the perspective of a society that lacks both refrigeration and any degree of empathy toward animals.

The world is still filled with brutality, it's not merely a product of bygone times. People are just more secretive about it now IMO.

For many people, whom one empathizes with is a conscious choice and is often limited to close family members. For others it's an unconscious reaction toward literally all living things. But empathy...and sympathy...seems to be the way out of brutality. Teaching it and modeling it.

My opinion only.

“Say the words right and you’re saved; botch them and you’re doomed. In that case, the whole thing would boil down to a magical incantation rather than a serious moral test.” -MP

This is very much aligned with large portions of popular evangelical Protestant practice as well, with salvation through faith by grace coming immediately to mind. There’s a verse, I believe by St. Paul, that says that nobody can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Spirit. I’ve encountered many who claim in theory and practice that saying this alone is enough to be saved. No morality necessary in that case, either.

"Why assume the Venus figurines were even supposed to be spiritual at all?"

Maybe they were just primitive porn

The following quote rings true to me:

"History is a wonderful place to visit, but would have been a terrible place to live in."
Dr. Adelyn L. M. Wilson (University of Aberdeen)

Not sure I completely agree with you Michael.

I think things have been pretty turbulent since 1914.

We have had two World Wars.



Cold War

Radical Islam

It certainly seems the period of say 1815-1913 was far calmer for the planet.

I think we face a post Christianity West and the rest of the world is slowly bridging the gap in technology and industry that has so allowed the West to dominate. I do not see this being a calm period.

“And don't even get me started on the unbelievably inhumane treatment of animals”

Let’s be clear about this, Ro. If you look at the FULL history of man’s behavior towards animals, it is unquestionably today’s version of our species that is cruelest and least sensitive. For most of our time on this planet—hundreds of thousands of years—we either left animals alone, or hunted them for food. Animals lived freely, with dignity, in the wild.

And when we did hunt them: “Indigenous hunter-gatherer societies treat other animals as fully sentient beings which have equal status to humans, and must be shown respect even when they are hunted.”

It is only in the last 10,000 years that we began systematically altering animals’ lives for our benefit. Now, on any given day, countless animals under our control are raised *solely to be slaughtered*.

Is this something to feel good about? I think not, and it’s an example of what I mean by something being lost as something is gained. It is the sort of profound compromise required to make us, in Michael’s words, “the most fortunate generation in history by a wide margin.”

For more on our history with animals:

"For most of our time on this planet—hundreds of thousands of years—we either left animals alone, or hunted them for food. Animals lived freely, with dignity, in the wild."

We don’t really know, do we? Those preliterate societies left no records. We can look at hunter-gatherer societies in the modern world, but they may not live the same way their distant ancestors did.

I believe there is some evidence that early hunters would stampede mammoths and (later) bison off cliffs into deep ravines, wiping out whole herds. The small tribes couldn’t possibly have made use of the large number of animals killed at one time. This would suggest that early humans didn't always kill sparingly.

To the extent that they did leave animals alone, it may have had less to do with respecting their dignity than with being unable to successfully compete with them. Primates shy away from lions because the lions will eat them, not because they have a mystical reverence for lions.

I suspect that carvings and cave paintings of animals, which are sometimes cited as evidence that early humans revered nature, may have been attempts to impose magical control over certain animals and assure success in the hunt. The same could be true of shamanic rituals in which humans donned animal skins.

But again, we can never really know. It’s all conjecture. The modern popular tendency is to see Stone Age societies through the lens of "Clan of the Cave Bear," while in previous eras, people tended to equate the Stone Age with savagery and brutality (see the stereotyped depictions of "ape-men" in movies like the 1925 version of "The Lost World" or in the lurid commercial artwork of that period). .

I tend to agree with most of your comments. I generally agree generally!

I think that if one acknowledges that all living things have a consciousness then it is very difficult to treat so-called ‘animals’ as substantively different from humans. Only the form is different. The enlivening consciousnesses are of similar substance. I won’t say they are the same because I think there is evolution in the spiritual realm as there is in the physical realm and that there may be a hierarchy of spirits and that some are more advanced than others---and they all inhabit a form that reflects their spiritual identity.

I enter on dangerous ground when I apply that concept to humans, namely that not all human spirits are identically evolved. That is, it may be that not all men (humans) are created equal.

At Thanksgiving dinner I have often thought that we should offer a prayer of thanks to the turkey for giving its life that we might live. - AOD

"I think that if one acknowledges that all living things have a consciousness then it is very difficult to treat so-called ‘animals’ as substantively different from humans. Only the form is different."

Thanks, Amos. Glad to know I'm not alone here in feeling this way!

Someday people will look back on our callousness towards the animals we raise to be slaughtered, with the same sort of horror we now regard our former acceptance of slavery.

"At Thanksgiving dinner I have often thought that we should offer a prayer of thanks to the turkey for giving its life that we might live."

Which is precisely the attitude we see among the indigenous, such as Native Americans in colonial times. And yes, Michael, notwithstanding outlier activities like buffalo jumps (which were real and done for good reason), most anthropologists would agree that the respect and even reverence towards prey we see amongst the living "primitive" cultures we’ve been able to study, do give us important clues to past attitudes.

MP: "Bruce, I think Hobbes was talking about *human* life in the wild. He was countering the romanticized image of "the noble savage" popularized by Rousseau."

Hobbes died 23 years before Rousseau was born.

MP: "The Romans, for instance, had stylized carvings of penises erected (so to speak) all over their cities. Defacing or damaging one of the statues incurred the most serious penalties."

The Athenians too. Alcibiades knocked off a bunch of them the night before he decamped for Sparta. (He was already under a cloud for consuming out-of-official-control the beverage drunk in the Mysteries.)

MP: "He didn’t just hang the victim, though. What fun is that? The victim was hanged by the neck only until he was choked half conscious."

There are two forms of hhanging to death. The more recent form involve a big hangman's knot alongside the victims face and a long drop. At the end of the drop the knot snapped sideways and broke the neck, instant death resulting. The older form gradually choked the victim to death over a period as long as 30 minutes. In the old west, this was the most common form, used when dealing with rustlers, etc.

"Hobbes died 23 years before Rousseau was born."

Huh. Well, then, I guess he wasn’t countering Rousseau! But in modern times, it’s become common to contrast Rousseau's "noble savage" with Hobbes's "nasty, brutish, and short." I am a Hobbes man myself.

As a dualist, I think we do have a soul, but it’s grafted rather awkwardly onto our chattering murderous primate brains. I sometimes think the Earth must be an especially challenging place to incarnate for this reason. Happily, it appears we shed most of our lower, instinctive qualities when we cross over.

The ego, itself reflective of our animal origins, also seems to play a greatly reduced role in the next phase of existence. (But people who get stuck in an earthbound state seem to retain both ego and instincts; perhaps it’s their reluctance to let go of these properties that causes them to get stuck in the first place).

Perhaps the largest 'tallywacker' in the world ---ever--- is the Washington Monument in America. (I know, I know there are some who think there is another 'tallywacker' in Washington D.C. but I just couldn't resist the urge to use the word 'tallywacker') . - AOD

Bruce L. Siegel:

I'm an animal lover and long-time vegetarian. I don't wear leather...and I catch bugs and put them outside. This has nothing to do with "karma" or feeling like I'll be punished for hurting animals or whatever. I simply feel for the poor things and sense their inherent vulnerability.

All living things have their place in the big scheme. It's called Trophic Cascade: Remove the mosquitoes...or the cockroaches...and it throws everything out of whack. Every creature is important...just as important as I am, the way I see it.

It is disturbing how, over time, hunting to survive moved into animal husbandry, which devolved into the slaughterhouses and absolute commodification of animals that we see today. It's horrifying: an absolute shit show. I don't understand it. And I don't like seeing footage or talking about it because I turn into a blubbering mess.

I am skeptical of any absolute statements about how animals were treated in times past because humans have always been brutal and cunning, and a great many still are. But I will say that one good thing about the times we live in is that vegetarianism is going strong, and growing, and compassion for animals is a subject that is at least a part of the dialectic in our times. And with the introduction of the recent "Impossible Whopper" (Burger King's vegetarian burger option), it's being made easier for people to go meatless...or at least consider it and to think about the advantages of doing so, which includes health, environmental, and ethical considerations. So there is a strong and vocal counterpoint to the meat industry in modern times, which did not exist in centuries past.

I am very hopeful that in the next 100 to 500 years, meat eating will be reduced to a thing of the past. It is happening, but slowly.

On the other hand, if a large number of people became vegetarian, what would happen to the animals on the meat farms? They would not be set free to roam at will. They would be sold for other glue, dog & cat food, etc. So it's not like it would be beneficial for the raised-for-meat animals if everyone suddenly became vegetarian, unless there was a billionaire who created a reserve the size of Oklahoma to allow the animals to roam free and graze blissfully...which is what I personally would love their fate to be.

Anyway, I've rambled again. Time to sign off. ;-)

You can already on the small scale simply clone specific parts of animal. That would in the long run be far more resource friendly and less wasteful. So eventually we will simply grow meat in factories and simply "harvest" it when is ready. Now this would replace the need to kill animals while still allowing people to eat meat. I suspect this is more likely than some sport of all vegetarian future.

"Every creature is important...just as important as I am, the way I see it."

Thanks, Ro! As William Blake put it:

Little fly,
Thy summer's play
My thoughtless hand
Has brushed away

Am not I
A fly like thee?
Or art not thou
A man like me?

"I catch bugs and put them outside."

Me too! Except, I confess, there are certain bugs, under certain circumstances, that I kill. And I apologize to them every time. Not ideal, but there it is.

Like you, I’m a vegetarian. I stopped eating meat many years ago after watching a PBS documentary with graphic images of cattle slaughtering. I kept eating chicken and fish, though, because it seemed that I needed some flesh to feel strong.

Then after the onset of heart problems 4 years ago, I discovered the Ornish diet, and shifted to veganism, plus one egg, and a half cup of non-fat yogurt per day. Now I'm down to just the yogurt. I LOVE my diet, feel great, and enjoy eating immensely, though I admit to fantasizing now and then about pizza, salmon, and cheescake.

Now let's see if I survive the coronavirus adventure. Have to make a decision about whether to see my piano students via Skype—one has proactively chosen to go that route.

It’s not an easy decision! As I single guy, I would greatly miss the physical contact I receive while seeing my (mostly adult) students in person.

Well, I’m rambling . . .

\\"As a dualist, I think we do have a soul, but it’s grafted rather awkwardly onto our chattering murderous primate brains." - Michael Prescott//

Or everything is happening exactly the way it is supposed to and life isn't supposed to be fun and happy and wonderful all the time? That it is through the difficulties and trials of this life that we learn what we came here to learn? Perhaps the Creator of the Universe is way smarter than what we give Him/Her/It for being and figured out a way for us to learn the things we came here to learn (otherwise what is the point of being here in the first place?) and this life is in actuality "Maya or illusion" (Eastern religions) or "a dream in itself" to quote Michelle M's NDE description?

And after we shed our physical bodies and our consciousness or soul transitions to the "other side" or "Heaven" where it realizes that this side was just a place we come to for a little while to learn something important that can't be learned in heaven due to the difference between the physics of where we are versus the physics of where we are going?

"I felt an understanding about life, what it was, is. As if, it was a dream in itself. It's so very hard to explain this part. I'll try, but my words limit the fullness of it. I don't have the words here, but I understood that it really didn't matter what happened in the life experience. I knew/understood that it was intense, brief, but when we were in it, it seemed like forever. I understood that whatever happened in life, I was okay, and so were the others here." Excerpt from Michelle M's NDE description,

and from Roger Ebert's final moments with his wife, "But the day before he passed away, he wrote me a note: "This is all an elaborate hoax." I asked him, "What's a hoax?" And he was talking about this world, this place. He said it was all an illusion."

And the more emotion these experiences evoke the more we remember them, and they need to be the way they are so that we don't forget the things we came here to learn like what it was like to experience duality and separation so we could learn what it means and how it feels to be separate, and what it was like to be in a body and be limited by that body and the parameters of the body? What "out there" looks and feels like, what time and space looks and feels like, and make memories of what it was like to live in a 3 dimensional + 1 time Universe?

Emotions make the memories last,

The physics of heaven is very different from the physics of where we are now. "There is no distance here. So time does not exist." Excerpt from Mark H's NDE (who is NOT the same person as Mark Horton's NDE!).

I am primarily a poltritarian/pescatarian but occasionally I do eat meat. I would like to eliminate meat (beef and pork) but there are times when I think I feel better if I eat a little red meat. If vegetarians can remain healthy and prevent disease on a vegetable diet then more power to them.

I too catch insects in the house and take them outside and when I catch mice alive, I also take them outside as far away from the house as I can. If I don’t take them far enough they come back into the house. Mice are filthy destructive animals in the house and they can do a lot of damage to drawers and clothing as well as contaminate food and eating utensils. I am not happy about killing them in a mouse trap but it seems to be necessary in order for me to live in a clean disease-free house. I bought a ‘live trap’ but after I caught several mice in it apparently the word got around and the other mice avoided it after that.

I have a fox living underneath the back porch and a groundhog which I would like to get rid of living underneath the side porch, I can hear the groundhog chewing on the joists under my bedroom and I fear falling through the floor someday but I don’t want to trap either the fox or the groundhog and kill them but really, there is a time and place for every creature and the time and place is not in my house when I am living in it. - AOD

“there is a time and place for every creature and the time and place is not in my house when I am living in it.”

Amos, your comment reminds me of something I once wrote on the subject of home invaders. I’ve started several blogs in the past, each time coming to the conclusion that writing posts on a regular basis is not something I really want to do. Here’s a post from my second blog:

// Many years ago I had a blog called My Earth Adventure. This is a short post I wrote for it. It shows a side of me that may surprise some of you.

I only hope that this particular subject is not too off-putting for my new readers. But life is not all sunshine and roses, and I have no regrets for my actions.


The gun I bought online just arrived. I ordered it last week from an affiliate, and when I checked the mail this morning, there it was—sitting on the porch in a standard USPS package.

Ain’t the internet grand?

This isn’t the kind of stuff I planned to talk about here. But it wouldn’t surprise me if some of you were thinking about taking a similar step. All I can say is, given what’s been happening in my neighborhood recently, I expect to sleep more soundly tonight.

Anyway, this thing is even more powerful than I thought. After reading the instructions, I loaded it carefully and squeezed the trigger for the first time. WOW. Water must have squirted at least fifteen feet! Which should be more than adequate for chasing away the possum that rummages outside my window, keeping me awake night after night. I can’t wait to see that sucker again. //

Good one, Bruce! Several years ago I used to squirt water at the squirrels eating all the bird seed from my bird feeder. The birds stay away when the squirrels are on the feeding platform. After a while it just because a game between the squirrels and me. I eventually got tired of it and quit, but the squirrels loved it and never stopped eating all of the bird seed. I still fight with them today.

Seriously though about 40 years ago I had a mentally-ill man stalking and threatening me. In order to protect myself I bought a real hand gun from K-mart I think. But---I never bought any bullets though so, I never fired it. Years later my wife found it in my bedside drawer and because she looks out for my mental health, she hid it from me. I still don't know where it is. - AOD


Great link to the Max video!

"I eventually got tired of it and quit, but the squirrels loved it and never stopped eating all of the bird seed."

Yes, I learned long ago not to feed the squirrels in my yard. Because when I used to years ago, they began climbing/damaging the window screen, begging for food. Those guys don't take no for an answer.

Bruce: Love that poem! Yes, I eat a lot of eggs too, because I get really sore tendons in my arms, and increasing my egg-consumption helps a lot. High quality protein and all that jazz...
Glad to see there's another animal lover vegetarian on here who can relate to how I feel. :-)

AOD: You probably have a much less idealistic view of animals than I do, as you mentioned living in a pretty wild area of Illinois...Whereas, if I'm honest with myself, I probably do tend to anthropomorphize animals a bit.

I recently went for a short walk on a nature path -- just for a few minutes -- and on my way back there was a big nest sitting smack dab in the middle of the path. I could swear it wasn't there just a few minutes before. But it was unusual in that it was cone or funnel shaped. I picked it up and looked inside it...and two black eyes and twitching whiskers greeted me from the depths of the nest. There was a rat inside! The nest must have fallen down a tree or rolled down an embankment. I had a full-blown 'Wind in the Willows' moment and I almost said, "Well hullo, Rat!" But I controlled myself. lol. I just spoke really softly and tenderly to it, and placed it in a safe spot under a bush. I'm sure the poor rat inside was scared to death. It's sad that a lot of people would have just killed the poor thing because they're "pests" or "nuisances" or "they carry diseases"...but I just can't imagine ever doing something like that.

I hope you don't kill the fox or hedgehog. Please research alternative methods of trapping & relocating them before you take their lives. They don't know they're doing anything "wrong" or "bad." :-))

I don't think it is a good idea to anthropomorphize other creatures on this planet. It never occurs to me to do that. I do however regard each living creation, including plants with respect. I acknowledge that, in the case of most animals, they have a consciousness, especially in the more developed ones (including insects) not that different from mine but that their physical form and environments in which they live require them to tend to certain priorities unique to them as well as to develop environmentally adapted behaviors. Those priorities are not the same as mine as a human being. With plants, I really don't think that they have a consciousness anything like mine but then again, it may be that they are aware of what is going on around them in some way. They certainly respond to various things in their environment and perhaps are aware at a cellular level. Micro-organisms may just be the first step in the evolutionary development of consciousness.

Once one accepts that animals have a consciousness and are aware of things in their environment and yes, have emotions, then there is no need to 'anthropomorphize' them. They are what they are and I respect that, each on its spiritual evolutionary pathway. One gets into trouble when one expects animals to behave and react in a way similar to the way humans act and behave. That is bad for the animal and can be disastrous for the human being. But regardless of behaviors, the consciousnesses are very, very similar.

I do think it is important to talk to animals as one would talk to other humans knowing that in some way they really may understand you, perhaps on a telepathic level. I have found that they do not respond well to yelling or shouting but seem to be more inclined to listen if I whisper to them. (Except for the squirrels who are not receptive to any form of reasoning.)

I don't think I will be killing the groundhog or the fox. In spite of the damage they may do to my house I actually enjoy seeing them and if I am lucky there will be some little foxes this year as there were last year. - AOD

\\"I picked it up and looked inside it...and two black eyes and twitching whiskers greeted me from the depths of the nest. There was a rat inside!" - Ro//

Are you sure it wasn't a baby squirrel in the nest? Usually though there are 4 or 5 babies in the nest? Rats live in nests underground or in pipes and things like that and squirrels live in nests in trees. A squirrel nest could possibly fall out of a tree but I don't see how a rat's nest could just appear on a path in a park?

I worked my entire life working with animals at the University of Tennessee of College of Veterinary Medicine and the Uni. of GA school of pharmacy and have a degree in Animal Science with 75 semester hours of biology and zoology courses.

AOD: Yes, just because an animal can't balance a checkbook doesn't mean they aren't deserving of respect. It's clear that animals do have feelings, that they experience stress, panic, joy, etc. And I'd like to think that the "ingrained instincts" to care for their young is the thing that we call "love" when applied to humans. Many animals show clear signs of sadness/mourning when a companion dies or disappears. So I'm baffled when people treat animals like inanimate objects, unworthy of even the most basic consideration.

I'm happy to hear you decided not to kill your little intruders.

Art: It was not at a park, it was a small path surrounded by trees, leading up to an old greenhouse near Kapalua resort. I live in Hawaii. And yes, it was indeed a rat. Some rats do make nests in trees, it was most likely a roof rat.

Rats and mice breed year-round in Hawai’i. The most common rat species associated with complaints in Hawaii are the roof rat (Rattus rattus) and the Norway Rat (Rattus norvegicus). The roof rat is an excellent climber and is found inhabiting trees, roof spaces and attics."


Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)