Author Archives: periscopedepth

About periscopedepth

Born in Florida. Raised in three different religions. Escaped religion with reason. Former submariner and Reactor Operator. ET2(SS) USN 1983-1989

Stalkers revisited.

So recently this happened. I thought this line of thinking had been totally discredited, but apparently not in some circles.

Then this morning this happened.

Sigh, okay one final (hopefully) explanation.

Imagine two people are at their own soapboxes in Speaker’s Corner, both talking to whoever shows up to listen. One of these people stops talking to walk around and listen to the other speakers. They overhear part of a conversation or message from the first speaker and initiate communication with the one still on the soapbox.

The communication gets heated and the one who did not initiate the contact records the conversation for posterity and later plays the recording from another soapbox.

The one recorded then claims being “stalked” by the recorder, likely because of the stupid things they said now being on full display for any passersby.

This is not stalking, people. Twitter is a public forum…a virtual Speaker’s Corner where everyone can talk. If you don’t want to participate in the public discussion, there are settings you can use to have private ones. What you cannot do is claim that contact initiated by you and recorded in your own words is stalking!!

I’ve covered the argument of general Storification in a previous post, so I’m not rehashing it here. Suffice to say, some folks aren’t cut out for public speaking.

 

“Daddy, why are you crying?”

I will ask the three or four readers of this blog to forgive this indulgence into the realm of the personal. This is a true story.

When my son was born, he was probably the ugliest baby I had ever seen. I know that sounds terrible, but it’s true. Still, I was very happy about his arrival and participated in his feeding, changing, bathing, and play time. I was working 40-45 hours a week in a field service industry. I traveled from location to location performing maintenance and repairs on equipment.

I would get home and participate in my son’s evening activities. My wife at the time had another child from a previous (but very brief) marriage. My son’s half-sister is only 2 years older than my son, and so I had previous “baby experience”. Both children enjoyed “daddy time” rolling around on the living room floor, watching “A Nightmare Before Christmas” several dozens of times (on VHS by the way), and having me read to them in the recliner. It was exhausting but very satisfying as I’m sure many parents can attest.

Before my son turned two my work and then marital situation began to deteriorate. Sometimes things happen where a company isn’t performing well in the market and needs to “downsize”. This is exactly what happened in my case. I was “let go”. Along with the loss of the job came a loss of the company vehicle which I had been using (as allowed at the time) for personal errands. It was also the only vehicle we had at that time. I picked up a fairly cheap used vehicle and found a new job at a single facility about 25 miles from the house, but making less than I was before. With a family to support, I had to take what I could get.

The reduced income caused some friction in my marital life as I’m sure anyone who has gone through a familial fiscal crisis can tell you.

Sometimes when things begin to go wrong, they only continue to do so until a minimum energy is reached. It’s as if once the boulder atop the mountain starts falling, the only thing that can stop it is for it to reach the ground. My car broke down. It was not a minor issue like a belt or an alternator; it was a transmission. My job was roughly 25 miles from home and my car was now wheels-up. I managed to catch a ride with another employee of that facility who lived near me for about two weeks. Unfortunately, they moved to be closer to work. With no way to get to work (not even bus service) I lost my second job.

A few months later and savings were all used up with no job and no car. We decided (more accurately my then wife decided) that we would move across the state to live with her parents since the house payments were now seriously in arrears. The bank foreclosed and I lost my house. Within a fortnight of moving in with her parents, I was told by my son’s mother that she wanted a divorce and that I had to leave.

I still remember the feelings of helplessness and despair as I realized that my stepdaughter and I would be forever estranged and that I would miss out on a good deal of my son’s life. As I wept, my stepdaughter came to me, held my face in her tiny hands and asked, “Daddy, why are you crying?” Even just typing that sentence caused tears to stream down my face again.

My son was two days shy of his 2nd birthday and so didn’t understand what was happening. I wept again when my aunt graciously came out to pick me up. She had a spare bedroom and would allow me to stay with her until I got back on my feet. She had talked to the manager of the only commercial enterprise within walking distance of her rural home (a convenience store) to set me up with an application/interview. I was grateful.

I walked the half mile to the convenience store on odd shifts, weird hours and seldom reaching 40 hours per week (usually 34-38) for a mere $5.25 per hour. This was in the late 1990′s, so that’s not a lot of money. Still, I paid for my own food and also paid $50 per week as child support to my ex wife. She allowed me to see my son every other Sunday, since I worked Saturdays. My aunt was kind enough to drive me to the “half way” point to facilitate my visitation.

Slowly I built up some cash reserves and my aunt offered to sell me her old car, since she was getting a new one. I made monthly payments to her on the amount she would have gotten for it as a trade in. Once I had wheels again, it was a fast track to getting a better paying job and eventually my own apartment. I hate to think what would have happened to me if my aunt hadn’t helped me then.

While I was still working at the convenience store, the soon to be ex-wife had been living with a local pot dealer near her parents house. Sometime before I got my aunt’s car,  the ex left the pot dealer for another guy. I’m going to have to start naming these folks just for convenience. Let’s call the new guy Zack.

Zack wanted to marry my ex. The problem with that was no divorce had been applied for, much less granted. Shortly after I got my wheels, but before I found my first better paying job, I was handed paperwork to sign. Documents written by a paralegal, for an uncontested divorce.  I was very nearly broke, just getting back on my feet. I had no money for lawyers to fight any of the conditions of the agreement. It was all fairly standard stuff: joint custody with the mother being the primary custodial parent, alternate weekend visitation for the father. Joint custody means simply that both parents have the authority to make decisions about their child; school decisions or medical decisions. It does not mean equal time with the child. I signed, what else could I do?

My son was 2 and a half when the divorce finalized. It was very rapid because there were no marital assets and both parties had signed an agreement which included child support. Fortunately, I managed to avoid the type of child support payments that had to be overseen by the state. I had kept receipts of all the money I had given since the separation. I continued to keep the receipts throughout.

Thus began the cycle of alternate weekend visitation. Once I was working a Monday-Friday job, I had the full 47 hours every other week to see my child. His new stepfather could see and interact with my son 6 times more than I could. Zack and my ex moved even further away from her parents (and me) for his job. While still within driving distance, It was nearly an hour away.

The artificial nature of this visitation arrangement made it difficult to have any meaningful impact on the direction of my son’s life, or the forming of his character. There were times when he would misbehave at mom’s house and I would hear about it from her when it was my weekend. Needless to say, disciplining my son for something I didn’t witness during my precious time with him was not high on my to do list. I spoke to him on the phone when he got older, but phone conversations with a 3-5 year old are…well, limited in scope.

The limited contact also made me want to do something fun and interesting when I did get to see him. Who wants to punish their child or waste time just hanging out at the apartment during the 14.3% of the child’s life they get to participate in?

I was going to use the phrase Disney dad here but the connotations are decidedly anti-father. Take a look for yourself.

I had no choice in where they moved. I had a better job than convenience store clerk, but was also now paying my own rent, electric, and food bills along with an increase in child support amount. Hiring an attorney was simply not an option.

So the years pass and the pain has become routine.  Years and years of seeing my son grow up in stroboscopic bursts of time. Years of trying hard not to weep in the car on the trip home from dropping him off at his mother’s, so that I wouldn’t crash my car. Years of sitting home on my non-visitation weekends trying to fill the time. Sometimes there were women I was dating, sometimes not. The not times sucked.

Every so often Zack would move again, but never any closer to me. Eventually the same forces which caused my downward spiral began working on Zack. He lost a job, got another one, had car troubles, had strained finances, and moved… a lot.

Well, I got stable in a job, and with a wonderful woman. We began living together and things got a lot better for me and for my relationship with my son. Since he was older now, we could talk on the phone more often and about significant things. Little did I know that things always seem brightest just before they completely fall apart.

I got a panicked call from my ex one day while I was at work. Zack had been arrested for molesting my son’s half sister. My ex had never worked and was about to be forced to move back in with her parents again. She offered me the chance to be the custodial parent. I jumped at it. I told my boss I was leaving for the day. I called my significant other. I wrote up an informal modification to the custody arrangement which included the fact that I was current on child support and relieving my ex from ever having to pay me child support. I drove to where I was to pick up my son. I took him with me for the final 5 years of his childhood.

Needless to say, that was an emotional day. I got my son enrolled in school in the district I lived in. I had to take a few days off of work to get everything done. Fortunately, my boss and company were very supportive. Things began to settle in a bit in our new routine. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t last.

My son had been witness to the molestation of his sister. He had also been physically (but not sexually) abused by Zack. I made had a point of asking him if Zack treated him well, and my son had always assured me that he did. Children sometimes have to hide the truth due to fear. I never saw any marks on my son, that would lead me to think physical abuse was occurring. It came as a complete surprise to me.

My son had some problems dealing with his feelings about his own and his sister’s abuse. I got him counseling sessions to help. I talked to him about it. We both cried and hugged and forgave each other for our parts in the events.

My son is now a student at university, though he doesn’t know what he wants to do after school. He still has some issues with the psychological trauma of his life with Zack, but they’re becoming fewer and fewer. He’s healing. We stay in touch. I love him very much.

**************************************************************************

 

I’m a man of somewhat mathematical bent so I did some simple calculations that may surprise you:

Every year that I was the non-custodial parent I was able to spend about 58-59 days with my son. Less than 60 days out of every 365. Zack was able to spend over 300 with my son.

In the 11 years that I was the non-custodial parent I was with my son for just under 2 of them. I lost 9 years of his life. He lost 9 years of my contact.

That’s half of his life to this point.

We lost half of his life.

This is why I have a problem when people tell me I’m “privileged” just by virtue of my being a male.

Get some time.

 

 

Guest Post – @Satanskeptic

 What follows is the unedited text of what materialized in my e-mail inbox (presumably) from this entity. I make no claims for the validity of the material. After all, he is the “father of lies”. – PD

Greetings humans.

Many of you think you know me, but what you were taught in Sunday school or church is very like the end result of a game of “Chinese whispers”.

I was there as the big G created this universe. It was almost a non-event though as it wasn’t the first or the last. Many universes exist and each of them have different inhabitants. You humans think you are so special. It amuses me.

My role in the grand scheme of things? This may be difficult for you to accept, but I am not the accuser or G’s enemy. I offer a sounding board to his ideas. I’m the Riker to his Picard if you will.  We have a sound working relationship.
“Wait, isn’t God omniscient?”, you ask. “Why would he need a sounding board?” Nothing is omniscient. That isn’t possible. I’ll let you in on anther secret: the G isn’t omnipotent either.
Oh sure he’s very powerful, but he has limits just like everything else.

The G tends to be a bit of a dreamer; a wild eyed optimist in a perverse universe. He also tends to not think through the consequences of his grandiose plans. That’s where I come in. I try to provide a reasoned response to his creative nature. My only real “power” is reason. My only “magic” is rhetoric. I’m the governor on the G’s high output engine. I’m not always successful in restraining his enthusiastic idealism.

Let’s look at a few of the stories you may be familiar with from religious myth… and I’ll tell you how it really happened. First up: Job.

Job was a devout follower and worshiper of the G and had an excellent lifestyle for the time. The G says to me, “Consider my servant, Job.”  I said, “Yes, he’s an idiot. He is so enamored of you that even if you take away all of his privileges and curse him as no man has been cursed before, he will still remain faithful.” The G didn’t think so. He thought that Job worshiped him and was pious due to wisdom. Job suffered immensely so that I could demonstrate the vapidity of blind faith to the G. Sadly, he missed the point of that exercise.

Then there’s the incident with Jesus. Honestly, I wasn’t tempting him. I was trying to talk him out of his plan to have himself nailed to wood and killed. I thought I could persuade him to abandon his plan of “salvation” for a much simpler plan of just forgiving everyone. Think about it: trying to temp the G incarnate with physical items would have been like trying to talk down a suicide bomber.  His statement, ” Get thee behind me Satan” was actually his plea for me to support (get behind) his plan.  We all know how that turned out.

Perhaps you’re wondering why I didn’t relate the true account of the Genesis story of the tree and the serpent. The truth is, it never happened. The evolutionary process took billions of your years. There was no garden, no Adam, no Eve, no tree, and no serpent. The fact is, it’s just another creation myth.

In fact everything I wrote above the last paragraph is untrue. The fact is I was born when the first homo sapiens ascribed agency to an “evil” event. I am not the Father of Evil, I am very much a child of man.

 

 

 

 

Thought Experiment 2

“Through pride we are ever deceiving ourselves. But deep down below the surface of the average conscience a still, small voice says to us, something is out of tune. ”

― C.G. Jung

For the sake of this post I’m using my authorial power to grant (for sake of discussion) the existence of God. God created the universe ex nihilo and used directed evolution to produce the huge variety and abundance of life here on Earth.

“Wow”, you may say, “that’s a huge concession for an atheist to make. What’s the payoff?”

Patience, my friends.

The dinosaurs were the dominant terrestrial life forms on this planet for ~135 million years. Humans have been in existence for around 200 thousand years. That’s roughly 0.15% of the time that the entire dinosaur clade was dominant. We’re newcomers to this planet in geological time, which coincidentally is also God time. To wait over 13 billion years for a creature that is capable of knowing you exist shows almost infinite patience.

Now the typical theist believes that man is the end point of the entire 13.7 billion years of the universe’s existence and 3 billion years of evolution of life on Earth. The creationist believes that the conditions of life on Earth are pretty much as they were at creation (with the exception of all the extinct creatures killed by the great flood.) They have to believe as they do, because without that belief, the possibility described in the next sentence, is real.

Why would we assume that a patient creator god has humans as its end goal?

The theists will tell you that the holy text of their particular brand of theism says that man is special; that the creator god wants a “relationship” with humans. Some even say the creator god wants our fealty, submission, and worship.
God didn’t seem to want worshipers for over 13 billion years, but now it does?

What if the contradictory holy texts are simply man made?

What if humans are no more important to God’s goal than the dinosaurs were?

What if we’re not as special as we like to think?

What if humans have to go the way of the dodo for God’s actual goal of evolution to arise?

Obviously I don’t believe any of the above post with respect to God is true, but the theist must actively deny these thoughts as part of their daily cognitive dissonance dance.

Some of these thoughts occurred to me on my path from theist to agnostic to atheist. My hope is that someone else will read and it may give them extra fuel to put down their childhood belief system and embrace reality.

Get some time.

Thought Experiment 1

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” – Arthur C. Clarke 

Let’s imagine:

A very powerful being in another part of the multiverse. This being is a physical being with supremely advanced technology. Among the proposed technological capabilities of this being are : Tuning and creating new universes in the multiverse, remote (distant) genetic manipulation with precision, cloaking itself from being detected, FTL travel, weather and climate manipulation, highly accurate predictions of future outcomes ( using a computer for example), time dilation or manipulation of some sort,  manipulation of matter and energy on a colossal scale, and possibly others not yet enumerated.

This being (let’s give it a name for easy reference…how about Zoe?) Zoe decides to tune and create a universe with a goal. Part of Zoe’s goal is to make the new universe capable of sustaining life. Zoe creates the universe, and waits until a suitable solar system arises. Perhaps Zoe even has a hand in directing the formation of the proper solar system and target planet. Zoe arranges the proper conditions for abiogenesis to occur on this planet.

Zoe watches and directs the progress of the life forms on this planet, shaping the path of the life forms with geography, climate, and the occasional mass extinction. Eventually, an intelligent species arises and is cultivated, directed towards some Zoeian goal. Zoe can even structure the social framework of the intelligent creatures by a number of means.

You may think that I’m describing the Earth and humans, but that is where I insert the inevitable twist ending. You see, the planet I’m describing is in a nearby galaxy, or a distant galaxy, or on the other side of the Milky Way. It’s the alien species that Zoe has created this universe for. Perhaps Zoe is trying to create a species that will eventually duplicate its own feat, who knows? Zoe works in mysterious ways.

My argument is this: to that alien species, Zoe is another word for God. In fact, Zoe could even be called God on this planet, if we knew of Zoe’s existence.

Here’s the thing that really interests me about this thought experiment: suppose further that life on earth and humanity has evolved entirely without any intervention from Zoe. We are just an accident of Zoe’s tuned universe. Zoe may not even be aware of our existence. Let’s examine two scenarios.

Scenario 1: Zoe is unaware of our existence.

Human evolution and society have arisen through natural means, exactly as the atheist proposes, even though the atheist is properly wrong about the existence of a god, er rather a Zoe. True that though Zoe is not in actuality a “spiritual” being, to the alien species Zoe might appear that way. Zoe can be perfectly cloaked, can hear their supplications and respond. Zoe can appear to walk among them (indeed perhaps it has done so in their past to establish what Zoe/God looks like) and disappear back to pure spirit, from their perspective.

The “supernatural” component of our definition for God is actually met by substitution using Clarke’s axiom at the top of this post.

The atheist and the theist are both right from some perspective. While individual religions are wrong in their precise beliefs about Zoe, Zoe actually exists.

Scenario 2: Zoe is aware of humanity.

In this argument I say Zoe has no moral obligation to humans. Zoe is not an omni-being. By that I mean the Zoe does not possess the typical attributes of God assumed by many apologists. Omniscience, omnipotence, omnibenevolence, omnipresence etc. Zoe is just another being. Humans have no part in the Zoe plan.

Let’s further assume that Zoe has a prediction that at some point in the future, humans will interact with the alien species in a way that hinders Zoe’s plans for that species. To prevent that interaction, Zoe causes disasters or wars here on Earth to distract the humans from space exploration. Perhaps Zoe even plants the seeds of religion here knowing that it will retard humanity in the sciences for at least 1,000 years. In other words, to humans Zoe is more of a “devil”.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my little thought experiment, one in which atheist and theist (or at the very least deists) are largely correct. Comments and criticisms are welcome.

I, for one, welcome our Zoe overlord.

What kind of atheist are you?

I recently revisited the strong atheism/”lack of belief” atheism question in some conversations on twitter. I wanted to put some of my thoughts down “on paper” (does anyone write on paper anymore?).

I am an atheist. I don’t believe that any of the deities that I’ve ever heard of or read about exist. Could there possibly be a deity that does? Well, I suppose that depends on how one defines ‘deity’, doesn’t it.

God (or god) as defined in definitions 1 or 2 cannot exist in my opinion. This makes being an atheist somewhat of a tautology: “I don’t believe in the existence of things which cannot exist”.

However there could exist entities, real physical beings, which could seem to be gods to us humans. Anyone familiar with the Star Trek franchise will undoubtedly remember the entity “Q”, from ST:TNG.

If such an entity with apparent omnipotence were to demonstrate its abilities to humans, would it be considered a “god”? Even as recently as 100 years ago, the answer to that question would likely be: yes. It would meet almost anyone’s expectations of a god: seemingly unlimited power from just its own will, extraordinary knowledge of the universe, and an ability to be corporeal or not.

In another example from Star Trek (yes I’m a geek, sue me) the “god” Apollo was discovered by Kirk on an far away planet. The entity in that episode was not a god as defined in definitions 1 or 2 in the previous link, but was called a god by the ancients. Indeed, such a creature would seem to earlier man as exactly what a god would be. Remember from mythology that the Greeks didn’t consider their gods omnipotent, or omniscient. Indeed, their gods were capable of being fooled or deceived and thwarted in their goals.

So, I believe it is possible for beings to exist that humans would have classified (or still might) as gods. If the multiverse theories of reality are true, it is possible that some extra-universal being caused the formation of our universe. Such a feat may have even been intended. That being would then have to be called the “creator of the universe”. While such a title or feat is not mentioned in the definition provided, it is still something that many people today claim as one of the ‘properties’ of God.

So instead of saying I don’t believe any gods exist, I say I don’t believe any of the gods that have been proposed to me so far exist. In fact the definition of God as an omnipotent, omniscient, hyper-eternal, omnipresent, omnibenevolent, intangible being is one that I believe cannot exist.

It seems odd to me that the more fallible gods of antiquity are the ones that are logically possible; and the more recent formulations of God are entirely implausible, if not impossible.

Comments welcome and ‘Get some time’.

 

Of Golf and Science

I have no personal experience with golf. I want to state that at the outset.

I have family members and friends who are avid golfers. The amount of energy and time they devote to their hobby rivals that of hardcore gamers. They’re constantly talking about the latest “breakthrough” products, be they clubs, club faces, balls, or even tees. They get magazine subscriptions that rate every new product, method, and grip; all in an effort to improve their game.

There has been a lot of internet hoopla surrounding the Dr. V and her “magical” putter story and the suicide of the mysterious “Dr. V”. The social justice warriors are up in arms over the supposed causal effect of the story’s release to her suicide. Since no note was left, the direct cause of Dr. V’s suicide may never be known. It’s entirely possible it was exclusively because she was going to be “outed” as a person who was born biologically male. It’s also possible that the suicide was directly related to the fraudulent claims of degrees held and familial ties made by Dr. V being revealed.

I’m not a physicist. I’m not an aerospace engineer. I have taken several physics courses though and I do have functional eyes. The function of a putter in golf is fairly basic. It is an instrument to transfer kinetic energy from the player to to golf ball. Practically any object long enough to reach the ground can accomplish that function. Almost all putters in golf have a flat striking surface which helps to have a more controlled direction of travel for the ball.

Some of the latest and newest putters also have most of the mass of the putter head behind the striking surface.

Some also have the mass behind the face of the putter connected at the poles of the club head.

Some have all of the above features plus the head of the putter is designed to allow the player to remove the ball from the cup without bending over.

Take a look through some of the sleek and interesting designs of various putters here.

Now, let’s take a look at the putter designed by (as far as we know) an auto mechanic who claimed to be an aerospace engineer.

Is it any better than some of the other ones seen above? I don’t know. I can say that several of the putters above have similar characteristics (mass behind face, connection at the poles, ball removal) as the Dr. V “Yar” putter and just to my untrained eye a lot of them look better than the Yar, too.

Let’s see how the Yar putter was promoted:

Yay science.

 

Quick edit. Damion has pointed out that I neglected the “near zero moment of inertia” claim for the putter. If that were true, the putter would have near zero resistance to twisting along its axis (where the shaft attaches). See this video for a demonstration.

The Atheist Serum – a short story.

This idea was proposed in rough outline to several friends on Twitter who decided to write stories based on it. I will link the other author’s pieces as they become available at the bottom of this page.

————————————–

The Atheist Serum

The first time the right answer was voiced, it was dismissed  with hardly any fanfare. “No, it has to be selective memory targeting”, Dr. Kinsler said.

“But…” Dr. Alhman tried to interject in defense of her hypothesis.  Kinsler had already begun speaking and didn’t hear her objection, so she cut herself off to listen. She looked up from her notes to face him now.

Dr. Thomas Kinsler was not tall, nor particularly attractive. He had a rather pale complexion and sandy brown wavy hair. Streaks of silver had begun their invasion of his locks, and one could tell they would rapidly win the battle.  His narrow shoulders rested above a slight paunch that he was struggling to control. What he lacked in physical gifts he more than made up for with his mind. Truly brilliant, his research into cognitive function had made headlines once. He both relished and abhorred the fame it had brought.

“My serum was designed to target memory, it is logical to assume that the adverse effects have to do with that process, no?”, he paused to look at Dr. Alhman.

Sarah Alhman was pretty but not beautiful. Rich coffee colored skin and deep black eyes were her predominant features. Her straight black hair, which she kept in a short bob cut, shined with the light from the overhead LED’s. Approaching 30, she had impressed Kinsler with her theories of mind, particularly in the formation of belief. He had made her his assistant as soon as she had gotten her PhD. He suspected  now, that she was simply seeing this serum problem through the lens of her own specialty.

“Yes?”, he said rather than asked.

Sarah sighed and nodded.  “It’s possible, but…”, she tried again to advocate her hypothesis, and was again cut off.
“Let’s review the entire experiment.” Kinsler lectured. “One, the patient was suffering from schizophrenia with delusions. Two, the serum was designed to interrupt memory formation of the hallucinations.”

Kinsler paused  for effect and bit his lower lip for a second before resuming, “ Now, within hours of the serum administration, the patient,  reminded of his delusion, denies having it. He is then asked a series of questions. Factual questions which most 5th grade students could answer, yet he claims not to know. To me it is clear the problem is memory interruption or loss of memory location.”

Sarah was still unconvinced but knew the senior Kinsler would not be swayed by mere rhetoric. Still, she had  to try, “Why then are the basic memories intact? He still knows his name, gender, age and primary self identification data.”

“Right now, I’m operating on the assumption that there is a temporal connection.” Kinsler interjected. “ Older more primal memories are unaffected”

Sarah sighed softly and thought about Kinsler’s assumption.  He’s forgetting  basic scientific methods. He’s begun adding assumptions to support his theory. He’s not being objective anymore.  The pressure to produce this serum for HyDrex is getting to him.

Sarah scooped up her notes, arranging them into a cohesive stack  by tapping them on the table. “I’m going to check on our patient”, she informed Kinsler, “Why don’t you get some rest , and  some food. You’ve been pushing yourself on this project.”

Kinsler nodded and shooed her away in silence, his eyes scanning the reports and medical charts.

Sarah lingered for a moment before turning and walking into the corridor. As she made her way toward the patient rooms, she reviewed the data in her mind.

Six years before when Sarah joined the project, she was fully supportive of Kinsler’s method and goals. The goal was simple to state, even  the non scientists of the HyDrex Corporation could grasp it readily. Such a simple proposal: cure mental illness.  The method was glossed over and sweetened for the corporate suits to make it more palatable. It involved genetic engineering of a parasite commonly referred to as the brain eating amoeba Naegleria fowleri. That part had not been revealed to the corporate backers.

She knew it had been withheld from the suits because she had given the proposal. Dr. Kinsler was brilliant, but had the social graces of a man clipping his toenails…at the dinner table. She had carefully chosen her words and steered the proposal into much safer territory whenever she felt the questions were too pointed.

Looking around she was surprised to find herself in front of the patient ward. She swiped her security badge and the industrial electronic lock clicked loudly. She walked the much shorter corridor inside the ward to the first patient room. The only occupied patient room, thank God.

The patient room was unlocked, as their volunteer patient was never a danger to himself or others. He had the entire ward to himself including the recreation room. Sarah sometimes found some of the support staff playing Xbox games with the patient in the evenings. Only before the serum, though. I haven’t seen him play since. Well, it’s only been 36 hours, perhaps he hasn’t felt like playing.  She opened the door to find him sitting in his recliner style chair, gazing at the painting on the wall. She glanced at it, noting only that it was an average mountainscape.

“Hello Mark, how are you tonight?”, she probed.

“I…I’m not sure.” the patient replied. He turned to look at Sarah, deep uncertainty etched on his face. His straight brown bangs fell in front of his left eye and remained there as if unnoticed. He was an thin man of 24 years, though his face and eyes seemed to Sarah to be those of a man who has seen too much of life.

“You were staring at the painting when I came in, do you like it?”, she asked.

“ I’m not certain. I think I may have been trying to decide that very thing. Do I like this painting?”, he said slowly. It was as if the words had to struggle to reach the surface or so Sarah thought. She decided to change the subject, “ Have you been playing video games lately?”

“I can’t say”, he ponderously said. He put his head in his hands and drew a deep breath, held it for a heartbeat and released it.

Sarah, thought, he doesn’t initiate conversation. Is that significant?

Sarah suppressed a yawn as best she could before addressing the patient again. She was tired. She realized.

I should follow my own advice to Dr.Kinsler.

“I’ll be back to check on you in the morning, Mark. Try to get some sleep.”, she said in that false cheery voice professionals sometimes use.

“Will you?”, he asked. To Sarah it seemed to be a question of deep significance to him, as if it came directly from his soul.

“Of course I will”, she reassured him, “ Now, get some rest.” She said a quick and silent prayer for his recovery as she left the room.

On the drive in to the facility the following morning, Sarah’s mind was again focused on Marks’s condition. She began reviewing the entire scenario.

The patient had presented with a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia with auditory hallucinations. He claimed to hear the voice of God telling him things about the government spy networks and their use of integrated circuit chips implanted by dentists into the teeth of the populace. Traditional medical treatments with anti-psychotics muted the symptoms but didn’t remove them. His delusions were believed in even under the drugs, though the hallucinations stopped.

Kinsler’s serum was originally designed to target memory due to the different area of research he was working on at the time. The original serum was an unquestionable failure in treating Alzheimer’s. In fact, it seemed to erase existing memories, exactly opposite of Kinsler’s intent. He modified the serum again.

Two days ago the modified serum was ready to test on volunteers, it was determined to use just the one subject, due to the nature of the potential failure for the type of illness they were treating now. A hundred murderous schizophrenics as a result of trials would almost certainly end Kinsler’s career.

Mark was injected. Within eight hours the serum began to affect his brain. At first it seemed to be a rousing success. Mark denied having delusions, denied the dental chip plot and seemed to have been cured. As the serum took hold though, Mark began to show other symptoms which Kinsler felt were memory related. He couldn’t answer questions about arithmetic or history that he had answered correctly prior to the serum. He seemed unable to know his own opinions about value judgements, as with the painting.

Sarah, in disagreement with Kinsler, thought the symptoms were due to Mark being unable to form beliefs. Indeed, she also thought that the serum had “wiped out” some of Mark’s higher order beliefs. Beliefs that required more processing power from the brain to hold.

The car ring tone alert snapped Sarah from her reverie. She pressed the steering wheel button to take the call.

“Hello?” Sarah chimed.

“Sarah, are you alright? We missed you at church yesterday.”

“Hi mom. I’m fine, just very busy. We’re at a critical point in the research project.”

“ I know you’re busy, but make sure you save some time for God, hon.”

“I will mom, I have to go now, I’m parking at work right now. I’ll call you later, okay? I love you.”, Sarah promised.

She hit the end call button and parked in her reserved spot. Sarah walked to the entrance swiped her card and entered the building.

“Dr.  Alhman! You’re needed immediately in Patient Ward! There’s been…an incident.”, the security officer who was at the front desk said nervously.

“What do you mean by ‘an incident’?”, she chirped back at him.

“I was told to send you there straight away. I don’t really know, ma’am.”, the officer told her.

Sarah began to make her way to the patient ward, her pace quickening as her mind conjured up scenario after scenario of catastrophe. Her hand shook as she tried swiping her security card, but she heard the familiar beep of the reader and the metallic thunk of the lock. She shoved the door open and darted toward Mark’s room. The day nurse saw her and beckoned Sarah with her arms. Sarah arrived in the doorway to the rec room where the nurse had been standing.

“Dr.  Alhman, the patient is dead and…”

Just then Kinsler came out of the rec room into the hall.

“Dead?”, Sarah asked. “What happened?!”

“We’re not sure why, but the patient has apparently committed suicide, Sarah”, Kinsler informed her. “He was found here less than an hour ago by the nurse on her rounds. I didn’t see a note. No one from the night shift reported anything unusual. You spoke to him last night, yes? Did he give any indication…?”

“Nothing. He just didn’t believe I would return.”, Sarah interjected.

Kinsler turned to the nurse and began giving orders., “Get security in here. Have them take the body to the lab. I want posthumous blood and tissue samples of his brain. Tell the lab techs to get moving on the analysis. No one breathes a word of this until I say so. Is that clear?”

The nurse seemed shaken, but nodded her understanding. Kinsler turned to Sarah, “I’ll need to speak with you privately. Meet me in my office in 10 minutes. I have something else I  must do first.”

Sarah nodded and began praying silently as she walked towards the ward entrance, at least she thought she was silent.

“That’s enough of that, Sarah”, Kinsler barked. “We’ll not be getting divine assistance on this! We have to get through this ourselves.”

Sarah cringed at the rebuffing but kept moving and praying, this time completely in silence.

Sarah sat uneasily in the visitor’s chair in Kinsler’s office. What could have set Mark on a path to take his own life? It was the serum.

Was it? Let’s not jump to conclusions Sarah.

Kinsler threw open the door, turned and closed it deliberately behind him. He marched slowly to his chair, turned to face Sarah and sat down. “With only a week left before the Hydrex visit, I can’t afford to not know what happened here. Do you understand?”

Sarah started to speak but Kinsler held up his hand and she stopped the words just inside her lips.

Kinsler continued, “We know from Norway rats and rhesus trials that the serum is not fatal in and of itself, yes? We know that. What happened to our patient was due to his distorted reality. It was a crack in his mind’s foundation. He was somehow unable to cope with his loss of delusion so quickly. I have to know what the mental mechanism is that dissolved his delusions. Are you following me, Sarah?” Kinsler only paused for a moment, not really looking for an answer to his question, “That is why I have taken the serum myself. I need to understand the process to refine it. Is it memory or some other mechanism that cured him of his delusion? I’ll need you to monitor me and make sure I come back. The serum should be flushed out of my system within 36-48 hours, but I need your help, Sarah.”

Kinsler paused this time expectantly, almost beseechingly, waiting for her reply.

“You…you injected yourself with the serum? Are you mad? What possible good can come from this?”, Sarah shouted at Kinsler.

“Sarah”, Kinsler said softly,  “ I need your help. It’s already done. I just need you to monitor and test me. To document the results. You can do this. You must.”

Sarah’s curiosity was aroused. She knew Kinsler was right about the serum being non fatal, and he was already injected. He should begin showing the effects within a few hours. Her desire to care for Kinsler was also stoked. He was in trouble, and would be hard pressed to perform the tests on his own, especially if memory was affected. She nodded to Kinsler, sighed, and said, “ Let’s get started.”

The next 48 hours were hectic, to say the least. Sarah kept a few changes of clothes at the facility, as she had stayed overnight a few times. Her office had a Murphy bed and a small shower. The cafeteria was fully functional, serving 20 or so people each day. Her life became a routine of testing Kinsler, eating, sleeping and praying.

The test results were an exact match to Mark’s except that Kinsler had no psychotic delusion to disavow. He was unable to answer factual questions. He wouldn’t initiate conversation. He seemed incapable of value judgments. He often sat fixated on ordinary items in his room, a patient room that Sarah insisted he use. He seemed willingly compliant with her requests.

When Sarah awoke on the cusp of the 48 hour point for the serum’s introduction to Kinsler, she was excited and anxious. She prayed that God would return Kinsler undamaged and with the explanation.

As Sarah walked down the short corridor of the patient ward, she heard Kinsler crying out, “Is that you Sarah?”
She picked up her pace a bit to reach the door to Kinsler’s patient room. The unsolicited communication from Kinsler was a good sign. She threw open the door and said, “Dr. Kinsler, how are you this morning?”

Kinsler beamed a huge grin at Sarah, “I’m well, Sarah. I think I have the answer! I want to shower and eat breakfast first though. Will you wait and have breakfast with me?”

“Of course, Thomas”, she replied, unable to stop her own smile from spreading across her face.

In the cafeteria, Kinsler seemed ravenous. He wolfed down two helpings of eggs and hash browns. He also had coffee and bacon. As he swallowed the last of his eggs and wiped his mouth, it was clear that he was ready to talk. “I have it. You were absolutely right, Sarah. The serum targets higher order beliefs.”, Kinsler explained.

“How can you be sure? What was going on in your mind?”, Sarah asked.

“I knew the answers to all the questions. That is to say the information was there, I simply didn’t trust it. It felt like every piece of information I had learned was a lie. Well, perhaps not a lie, but suspect. It was very odd.”, Kinsler paused and looked at Sarah. “I was absolutely impartial”, he continued.

“But what about now? How do you feel now?”, Sarah demanded.

“Well, I’m a bit tired but altogether I’d say I’m fine.”, Kinsler seemed thoughtful for a moment, then continued. “ Hmmm, that’s odd. I didn’t have an opinion (or a belief) about my condition until you asked. I had to weigh the sensations from my body and make a determination. I wonder…”

Sarah took in the report of Kinsler’s mental experience before asking the obvious question, “Wonder what?”

“ I need more data. Ask me belief questions. Ask me things about my beliefs!” Kinsler said excitedly.

Sarah scrambled for a topic. She knew that in the past Kinsler had been in favor of gun control legislation, so that seemed a good place to start, “Do you believe in gun control?”

“Hmm”, Kinsler stroked his chin in thought . “I remember being in favor of gun control, but I’m experiencing difficulty justifying that former belief with data. I simply do not have enough information to decide this! Isn’t that wonderful?! Ask me something else! Go on!.” Kinsler seemed to be getting more and more excited.

Sarah paused, bit her lip, and then said, “Do you believe in God?” Kinsler had been something of a deist with regard to the God question, he believed that a deity had created the cosmos, but that it had pretty much let the universe run without interference since.

“I remember believing in a God.”, Kinsler whispered. “I have no data that would support such a conclusion. The evidence is quite clear that everything could have come about without such a being. I…I don’t believe in a God.” Kinsler smiled then and stood. He turned to face Sarah . He was beaming. “Do you realize what this serum is?”, he thundered. “It would make critical thinkers of all of mankind. Every belief would need to be justified! Think of the progress humanity could make without the shackles of blind faith!”

Sarah had been listening with ever growing unease as Kinsler prattled on. She felt like a knife had been plunged into her very soul. “ But, what of faith and humility before God?”, she managed to say.

Kinsler was already in his own thoughts. He voiced them as they came to his mind, as he so often had done when engrossed by a particular problem. “ I could mass produce the serum. It could be altered to be ingested rather than injected. Yes, I think that’s entirely possible. How best to market it or should it even be a product? If I could get it into a major water supply, or better still the water cycle of the entire planet! Hmmm, how could that be accomplished? Would need to encapsulate the enzyme responsible in hydrophillic proteins”.

In Kinsler’s excited and totally absorbed state, he failed to notice Sarah approach him with the syringe. Darkness overtook him.

The Hydrex representative was nondescript, just another suit in a seemingly endless line of suits. Still, he had raised a question and was looking expectantly for an answer.

“Yes, we are going to transfer him to a psychiatric hospital very soon. We aren’t too hopeful for his recovery, but I’m praying for him”, Sarah said with great enthusiasm.

The Hydrex employee took another look through the door glass at Kinsler. He was bound on a gurney in leather restraints. He was fighting the restraints and shouting something over and over .

“God no!”

Or was it “No God”?

———————————————————————————————————————–

Believe” by John Bullock (@beagrie)

Trying my hand at creative writing

As sometimes happens in a human being’s brain, a thought will coalesce. One such thought crossed my consciousness in a unique way recently. This thought was simple in how it could be stated, but like a nice loam was richer and deeper than I first suspected.

Now, from time to time I get ideas for stories. Movies, novels, or short stories that I toy with in my head for a bit and then discard. Perhaps you do the same. This thought was unique in that for the first time since my teen years, it spurred me to actually try to write it down.

I broached the main concept on Twitter, and suggested to my friend (an author himself) John Bullock, that it would be interesting if he also wrote a story based on the idea. We could exchange manuscripts and see what the other did with the concept.

Several others on Twitter also expressed an interest to write that story. When we all have completed them, I will post links to the ones whose authors allow their stories to be public.

Oh, the idea?

What if there were a serum that could temporarily remove the capacity for belief in humans?

Slaying the SubMan in the Spirit

I wanted for God to “have a relationship” with me.  As a child and early teen, I sought that feeling other people were telling me about. That feeling of joy “when Jesus enters your heart and your life”. The problem I think I had in finding it was simple. I was looking for something outside myself.

So having been indoctrinated by Baptist, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Episcopalian faiths at various times in my childhood, I came to spend summer with my Catholic great aunt (via marriage).

She was a huge woman in her mid 50′s. Loud in an “I’m from New York” kind of way, she believed in chiropractic healing, and attending morning mass every day. She also was involved with the Catholic Church’s “Charismatic Movement“. She believed in speaking in tongues, the gift of prophesy, and being slain in the spirit.

The charismatic services were a whole lot cooler than masses. They had guitar music, and people having fun, It was far more interesting than the stoic sit, kneel, stand, reply, services in the church proper. I wasn’t required to be dressed up either, which was a plus. I saw a person speak in tongues, and another person “translated” the gibberish. These were “gifts of the spirit” and the words were said to flow directly from God. Everyone was promised one of these “gifts“. They sounded like Godly superpowers to me in my preteen mind.

I don’t remember the prelude to the event, whether I had to study or have special classes, but I remember the evening I was “slain”. They had some songs , some prayers, and when everyone was sufficiently aroused in a “spiritual” way, they called for people to accept their gift. I was not the first one up, and I had seen the way others before this night had reacted to the prayers. Some were dumbstruck, others cried, most though seemed to fall down as if struck by a powerful unseen bolt.

Then it was my turn. They began praying. I kept expecting some inner lightning bolt to drain my legs of strength, or to jolt me to tears, but nothing did. I knew I was expected to react in some fashion, so I fell backwards to the floor. The only thought I remember was “Is this it?” Where was the instantaneous jolt or feeling of peace I was told to expect?

I lay there on the small dais, waiting for the power of God to reveal itself. Apparently I waited too long to get back up, because the adults came to me and got me back to my seat. They voiced concern that I was “out longer than anyone”. I’m sure they meant well.

Less than a week after that experience (or non-experience if you will) I still had no gift superpowers and decided that maybe that was due to my own questioning attitude about the process. I felt there was something wrong with me since God didn’t see fit to reveal himself to me. This was not a pleasant feeling, I assure you.

Within about a month, I declared myself an agnostic.