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The Total Library
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"We are a way for the cosmos to know itself." —Carl Sagan
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    Where forward thinking terrestrials share ideas and information about the state of the species, their planet and the universe, living the lives of science fiction. Introduction
    Featuring Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames, based on an idea by Kees Boeke.
    From Apollo's personal cargo

    The Dream of the Ants
    Project: The Total Library
    (The following is an excerpt from 'Contact' by Carl Sagan)

    “Do Buddhists believe in God, or not?” Ellie asked on their way to have dinner with the Abbot.
    “Their position seems to be,” Vaygay replied dryly, “that their God is so great he doesn’t even have to exist.”
    As they sped through the countryside, they talked about Utsumi, the Abbot of the most famous Zen Buddhist monastery in Japan. A few years before, at ceremonies marking the fiftieth anniversary of the destruction of Hiroshima, Utsumi had delivered a speech that commanded worldwide attention. He was well connected in Japanese political life and served as a kind of spiritual adviser to the ruling political party, but he spent most of his time in monastic and devotional activities.
    “His father was also the Abbot of a Buddhist monastery,” Sukhavati mentioned.
    Ellie raised her eyebrows.
    “Don’t look so surprised. Marriage was permitted to them, like the Russian Orthodox clergy. Isn’t that right, Vaygay?”
    “That was before my time,” he said, a little distractedly.
    The restaurant was set in a grove of bamboo and was called Ungetsu—the Clouded Moon; and indeed there was a clouded moon in the early evening sky. Their Japanese hosts had arranged that there be no other guests. Ellie and her companions removed their shoes and, padding in their stocking feet, entered a small dining room which looked out on stalks of bamboo.
    The Abbot’s head was shaved, his garment a robe of black and silver. He greeted them in perfect colloquial English, and his Chinese, Xi later told her, turned out to be passable as well. The surroundings were restful, the conversation lighthearted. Each course was a small work of art, edible jewels. She understood how nouvelle cuisine had its origins in the Japanese culinary tradition. If the custom were to eat the food blindfolded, she would have been content. If, instead, the delicacies were brought out only to be admired and never to be eaten, she would also have been content. To look and eat both was an intimation of heaven.
    Ellie was seated across from the Abbot and next to Lunacharsky. Others inquired about the species—or at least the kingdom—of this or that morsel. Between the sushi and the gingko nuts, the conversation turned, after a fashion, to the mission.
    “But why do we communicate?” the Abbot asked.
    “To exchange information,” replied Lunacharsky, seemingly devoting full attention to his recalcitrant chopsticks.
    “But why do we wish to exchange information?”
    “Because we feed on information. Information is necessary for our survival. Without information we die.”
    Lunarcharsky was intent on a ginkgo nut that slipped off his chopsticks each time he attempted to raise it to his mouth. He lowered his head to meet the chopsticks half-way.
    “I believe,” continued the Abbot, “that we communicate out of love or compassion.” He reached with his fingers for one of his own ginkgo nuts and placed it squarely in his mouth.
    “Then you think, she asked, “that the Machine is an instrument of compassion? You think there is no risk?”
    “I can communicate with a flower,” he went on as if in response. “I can talk to a stone. You would have no difficulty understanding the beings—that is the proper word?—of some other world.”
    “I am perfectly prepared to believe that the stone communicates to you,” Lunacharsky said, chewing on the ginkgo nut. He had followed the Abbot’s example. “But I wonder about you communicating to the stone. How would you convince us that you can communicate with a stone? The world is full of error. How do you know you are not deceiving yourself?”
    “Ah, scientific scepticism.” The Abbot flashed a smile that Ellie found absolutely winning; it was innocent, almost childlike.
    “To communicate with a stone, you must become much less… preoccupied. You must not do so much thinking, so much talking. When I say I communicate with a stone, I am not talking about words. The Christians say, ‘In the beginning was the Word.’ But I am talking about a communication much earlier, much more fundamental than that.”
    “It’s only the Gospel of Saint John that talks about the Word,” Ellie commented—a little pedantically, she thought as soon as the words were out of her mouth. “The earlier Synoptic Gospels say nothing about it. It’s really an accretion from Greek philosophy. What kind of preverbal communication do you mean?”
    “Your question is made of words. You ask me to use words to describe what has nothing to do with words. Let me see. There is a Japanese story called ‘The Dream of the Ants.” It is set in the Kingdom of the Ants. It is a long story, and I will not tell it to you now. But the point of the story is this: To understand the language of the ants, you must become an ant.”
    “The language of the ants is in fact a chemical language,” said Lunacharsky, eyeing the Abbot keenly. “They lay down specific molecular traces to indicate the path they have taken to find food. To understand the language of the ants, I need a gas chromatograph, or a mass spectrometer. I do not need to become an ant.”
    “Probably, that is the only way you know to become an ant,” returned the Abbot, looking to no one in particular. “Tell me, why do people study the signs left by ants?”
    “Well,” Ellie offered, “I guess an entomologist would say it’s to understand the ants and ant society. Scientists take pleasure in understanding.”
    “That is another way of saying that they love the ants.”
    She suppressed a small shudder.
    “Yes, but those who fund the entomologists say something else. They say it’s to control the behaviour of ants, to make them leave a house they’ve infested, say, or to understand the biology of soil for agriculture. It might provide an alternative to pesticides. I guess you could say there’s some love of the ants in hat,” Ellie mused.
    “But it’s also in our self-interest,” said Lunacharsky.
    “The pesticides are poisonous to us as well.”
    “Why are you talking about pesticides in the midst of such a dinner?” shot Sukhavati from across the table.
    “We will dream the dream of the ants another time,” the Abbot said softly to Ellie, flashing again that perfect, untroubled smile.
    Reshod with the aid of meter-long shoehorns, they approached their small fleet of automobiles, while the serving women and proprietress smiled and bowed ceremoniously. Ellie and Xi watched the Abbot enter a limousine with some of their Japanese hosts.
    “I asked him, If he could talk with a stone, could he communicate with the dead?” Xi told her.
    “And what did he say?”
    “He said the dead were easy. His difficulties were with the living.”

    Mon, Mar 28, 2011  Permanent link
    Categories: Books, Carl Sagan, excerpts
    Sent to project: The Total Library
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    nagash     Tue, Apr 5, 2011  Permanent link
    I really have to read that book
    Apollo     Sat, Apr 9, 2011  Permanent link
    You should! I can virtually guarantee that you would love it (no pun intended).
    BenRayfield     Sun, Apr 10, 2011  Permanent link
    He says to communicate with stones, you must first be like a stone, like it helps to to be like an ant to communicate in their chemical language.

    What was your experience of being your teeth just before you read this sentence? Teeth are close enough to stones. We feel like we are our teeth, but except for the nerves, teeth aren't alive. The biggest part of teeth is like stone, and it feels nothing. Only the nerves can feel a dentist drill vibrating through the stone. If we are our teeth, then we could just as easily be a stone outside our bodies if such stone was cut into the shape of a replacement tooth and inserted by a dentist. Dentists use more advanced materials than stone, but the same idea applies to whatever they put in your tooth. For the same reason you feel like a tooth is part of you, whatever nonliving material a dentist puts in your tooth will feel like part of you. How can location, in your mouth or on a dentist's table, determine if something is part of you or not, when your experience of that thing does not change?

    If you experience being your brain the same way you experience being your teeth or a stone-like replacement for your tooth, then you will understand the experience of being a stone.

    We know the small part of the universe we've observed works in certain statistical patterns we call the laws of physics, but laws-of-physics leave a lot of possibilities that do not contradict the laws-of-physics. Thats where the other patterns fit into our reality. Example: While driving I asked a question to whoever or whatever may be listening, and a very specific answer came on the license plate of the next car that passed me. By itself I could call that a coincidence, but similar things happen so often to me that I'm not surprised by them anymore. Communicating with a stone is similar to communicating with a license plate... very indirect and connected to other things that appear unrelated.
    syncopath     Fri, Apr 15, 2011  Permanent link
    a great book and a lovely thought provoking movie. 10x for reminding us -)

    "I'll tell you one thing about the universe, though. The universe is a pretty big place. It's bigger than anything anyone has ever dreamed of before. So if it's just us... seems like an awful waste of space. Right? " (Ellie Arroway, Contact)
    Autotelic     Fri, Apr 15, 2011  Permanent link
    why are we trying to send humans through space when we should be literally littering the universe with human DNA instead.... we dont have to "personally" spread for our species to spread. It would be interesting to see how our species would adapt without any interference from our planet and see what kind civilization they come up with, if any? would natural human evolution lead to computing technology a second time under different circumstances? lets locate earthlike planets in habitable zones and purposely "contaminate" them with whatever would most likely spur on life.... we have the tools to locate such places, so why not try and think of other ways for humans to "spread" out? we'll figure out how to communicate with them later, they will need time to 'grow' first
    Sterling Crispin     Thu, Sep 22, 2011  Permanent link
    @autotelic thats a good argument for earth itself to be seeded from some alien/extra terrestrial source