Archive for ‘Philosophy’

Impermanence

I shot this photo with an old Nikon pocket camera after slinking into an abandoned building in New York.

When the camera went click, I wondered:

Who stood where I was standing? What kind of work did they do?  What was the dresser for?

Silence was the only reply.

I stopped my breathing and tried to hear the past.

Conversations only the decaying ceiling remembers.

Locked behind us all in memories forgotten.

Reminding us all that the future is just a vision.

And all that is true reality is the now.

I smiled at how to capture such a precious thing,

Just as the camera went click.

 

Photograph and Prose copyright Mike Yost 2017

Rivers beneath the Sky

Rivers beneath the sky
Spill over the cloudy banks
Crashing into formless rocks
Splashing into space itself

Into that vast void
Flows time into timelessness
Only the now exists

Light streaming simultaneous
Hidden throughout

The undercurrent swells
Rising out of blackness
Breaking through the surface to breathe

Reflecting off cloudy banks
Reflecting off the eye
Reflecting off the mind

Pulled out from under an endless river
That flows gently beneath the sky

Photograph and Prose copyright Mike Yost 2017

Black Box

And this powerful mind
Framed within a black box of our own creation
Reflecting only upon all that exists outside a glass canopy
Never turning that attention inward

Behind the glass

Behind the engine of consciousness
To dwell on the absurdity of a thought
A memory without weight
Pulling ideas through time

To be aware of such mental machinations
To be bewildered at the awe of thinking itself

Gossamer strings vibrating memories into existence
Vibrating me into existence
Out of vacuity
The very idea of self, emerges

All locked behind our weary eyes
Sunk deep into a black box
Of our own creation

Photograph and Prose copyright Mike Yost 2017

Mirage

“All this pain is an illusion,” Maynard sings
I slam my head back and forth
Desperately hammering those words into my skull
As pain sinks its sharp teeth deeper into my chest

It’s all a lie

I hear

Even the truth is a lie
No way to really know
We float helplessly in nothingness
Embracing lies to survive

Teeth and claws break apart my rib cage
The loud crack smacking my ears
I watch my heart, torn away in an arc of liquid red
Now pounding within its jaws, dripping
I bleed eternally into the thirsty dust

The illusion feels too real tonight
To cope
To see the truth of my existence

Swallowed by suffering
I see eyes glowing yellow in the dark
Hovering just above a wide, red smile

Keeping Time Timeless

Painted Sky

“Don’t you see?  We’re the clouds, man.”

“I see you’re stoned.”

“Flung into the sky only to be pushed and bullied around by the wind, eventually burned away by the sun.  Nebulous.  Transitory.”

“And full of moisture.”

“Yeah, man.  Spilling our tears onto the thirsty earth.  Striking the ground with brief bouts of rage that echo for miles and then fade into deafening silence.”

. . .

“Pass the joint, dude.”

. . .

. . .

. . .

“So, then what are the mountains?

. . .

“Time, man.”

“Time?”

“And we’re floating just above time, hanging just above those jagged, sawtooth peaks that have been there for centuries.  Fixed.  Steadfast.”

“And full of Quartz.”

. . .

. . .

. . .

“Then what?”

. . .

“We glide over the mountains—”

“Over time.”

“Yeah, man.  Glide gracefully, or not so gracefully.  And only for a few, fleeting moments.  That’s all we get before being blown over the horizon, eaten up by the teeth of those mountains.”

“The teeth of time.”

“Exactly, man.”

. . .

“Sounds like a bad band name.”

. . .

. . .

. . .

“Then what?”

“What do you mean, man?”

“After we’re gobbled up by the teeth of time, then what?”

. . .

“Nothing, man.  Clouds just evaporate.  Soon forgotten.”

. . .

. . .

. . .

“Then why?”

. . .

“Maybe there is no why, man.  We just are, and then we’re not.”

“Like the clouds.”

“Yeah, man.  Like the clouds.”

. . .

. . .

. . .

“Or maybe . . .”

. . .

“Maybe what, man?”

“Maybe we’re here to collect experiences, you know?  Like clouds collecting moisture.”

“I follow, man.  Billowing up with experiences.”

“Stretching high into the atmosphere.”

“Exploding into the stratosphere.”

“Until we’re so rich and heavy with experiences that they violently pour out of our lives in sheets of rain and cracks of lightning and gusts of wind.”

“Sheets of experiences cascading from the heavens.”

“Giving life to the trees that cover the mountains below.  Our experiences watering time.”

“Cultivating time, man.”

“Sustaining time.”

. . .

“We’re here to experience experiences, man.”

“And keep time timeless.”

. . .

. . .

. . .

“This is some really good pot.”

“Yeah, man.”

Photograph and prose copyright Mike Yost 2016

The Unknown

cave_wall

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear. And the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”

—H.P. Lovecraft

Photograph copyright Mike Yost 2015

Afterthought

Flesh

“At that moment I felt that I had my whole life in front of me and I thought, “It’s a damned lie.”  It was worth nothing because it was finished . . . I wanted to tell myself, this is a beautiful life.  But I couldn’t pass judgment on it; it was only a sketch; I had spent my time counterfeiting eternity, I had understood nothing.  I missed nothing: there were so many things I could have missed, the taste of manzanilla or the baths I took in summer in a little creek near Cadiz; but death had disenchanted everything.”

— Jean-Paul Sartre, The Wall

A face gazing at you from the past. I took this photo at the Musée Fragonard d’Alfort in France. The body was prepared by Honoré Fragonard, a French anatomist who was eventually labeled a madman for the creation of his écorchés (flayed figures).

Photograph copyright Mike Yost 2015

Duality

“Why do you have to listen to it loudly?” my partner yelled, looking at me from the passenger seat, his face twisted into a tight knot.  I didn’t respond right away as the speakers in my truck pummeled out some random metal lunacy.  “I can’t hear myself think!” he pleaded.

“That’s the point!” I yelled back with a smile.  He didn’t he return the grin.  I then had to choose between turning the music down or sleeping in my truck.  It’s a good thing I keep a pillow in the cab.

But that really is the point.   Sometimes I just want to shut my mind off, and drinking a bottle of whiskey every day isn’t really an option (though I sometimes wish it were).

It’s metal that keeps me (somewhat) sane.  It certainly keeps me from lighting the mall on fire, laughing manically while I pour kerosene on my head in front of a burning Abercrombie & Fitch store surrounded by screaming shoppers choking on smoke and the smell of burnt flesh.

axeAnd when I worked customer service to put myself through college, metal kept me from bringing an axe to work and lopping off the heads of all those condescending customers—laughing manically while I did it, of course.

Metal is a bastion when you lose your job and find yourself selling your plasma to buy groceries.  It’s the grotto you climb into when you discover your girlfriend/boyfriend moved out, taking the computer and the dog.  Metal is what you listen to right before every family christmas dinner.

It’s something my partner (who listens to nothing but jazz and classical music) will never get.  Which is fine, as long as I keep a pillow in my truck.

And that’s not to say all metal is just one-dimensional  pulp vomited into your ears to drown  out your own depressing, strangling thoughts.  On the contrary, engaging lyrics can rip you out of your own stolid perspective.  Just read the lyrics to almost any Agalloch song.  And the samples in “Faustian Echoes” are wonderfully though provoking.

ImageFaust: “So, still I seek the force, the reason governing life’s flow and not just its external show.”
Mephistopheles: “The governing force? The reason? Some things cannot be known.  They are beyond your reach even when shown.”
Faust: “Why should that be so?”
Mephistopheles: “They lie outside the boundaries that words can address, and man can only grasp those thoughts which language can express.”
Faust: “What? Do you mean that words are greater yet than man?”
Mephistopheles: “Indeed they are.”
Faust: “Then what of longing? Affection?  Pain or grief? I can’t describe these, yet I know they are in my breast.  What are they?”
Mephistopheles: “Without substance, as mist is.”
Faust: “In that case man is only air as well!”

Metal isn’t afraid to claw away at that comfortable social veneer most people saturate themselves in—to reveal the horror of an unexamined life.

So, here are a few of my favorite metal songs that explore this duality.  They run the gamut from poetic music inspired by John Milton to raw animosity.  Listen as loud as possible.

Dying Fetus “Second Skin”  [intelligent growls]

“Gracious second skin
Courteous facade accepted
The cultured do not harm
Fitting in amongst the sheeple”

Hevein “Last Drop of Innocence” [the death of childhood with a cello and a violin]

Draconian “Expostulation / Heaven Laid in Tears”  [Paradise Lost as metal]

Agalloch “Not Unlike the Waves” [astronomy as metal]

The Dancing Dead in Denver

The Dancing Dead in Denver

After a 16 year hiatus, the talented and diverse group of musicians known as Dead Can Dance (DCD) returned with a much anticipated album entitled Anastasis, followed by a world tour.  On August 19, they played to a packed Buell Theater at the Denver Performing Arts Center.

ImageLead vocalists Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry formed the band thirty-one years ago in Melbourne, Australia.  Incorporating instruments from all over the world, the duo have crafted a plethora of albums that run the gamut of musical influences from Ireland to Africa to the Mediterranean to China.

But the real power behind DCD comes from the vocals of the duo.  Gerrard is renowned for singing in Glossolalia, an evocative expression of emotion through voice that has no defined language.  Gerrard has stated in interviews she feels language to be too restrictive, and Glossolalia to be a more authentic expression that communicates to all who listen, regardless of language or culture.  Her songs are ephemeral, haunting, and painfully beautiful.

Perry grounds DCD with his solemn vocals and introspective lyrics. Many of his songs originate from centuries-old ballads, reliving the struggles humans have endured in love, loss and that ceaseless search for meaning and purpose. “We are ancient, as ancient as the sun.  We came from the ocean, once our ancestral home,” sings Perry in one of their latest songs, “Children of the Sun.”

The show opened with DCD percussionist David Kuckhermann sitting alone on stage.  On his lap was a mysterious-looking instrument called a hang.  Created in Bern, Switzerland, the instrument consists of two large metal bowls sealed together.  Kuckhermann would strike the top side with his hand, producing different tones depending on where he hit the pitted surface.  The hang was tuned to a specific eight-tone scale.  The audience grew overwhelmingly quiet as he played, the single percussion instrument filling the entire auditorium with eerie, otherworldly music.

Soon the entire band took to the stage and the crowd was on their feet, cheering before the first note was played.  DCD opened with songs from their latest album, Perry’s voice booming through the theater just as strong and stirring as it was thirty-one years ago.

The energy of the fans (mostly the older fans) swelled when DCD began playing pieces from their previous albums.  The celebrated song “Rakim” began with Gerrard playing the yang-ch’in: a stringed instrument of Chinese origin in which padded bamboo sticks are used to strike a series of strings corresponding to specific scales.  Perry accompanied the yang-ch’in with his own Glossolalia.

As the concert moved forward, the music stirred many audience members out of their seats, several finding their way to the back of the auditorium to dance.  Others leaned forward in their chairs, closing their eyes and allowing the music to saturate the senses.  A few even wiped away lingering tears from wet cheeks.

The Latin phrase Tempus Fugit (time flies) was analogous to the audience’s experience.  Almost too quickly the entire theater stood and applauded as the band left the stage.  But as the auditorium remained dark, the adoration only grew louder and more intense.  Soon DCD returned, Perry signing a fan favorite, “The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove” with the sound of sitars weaving through his dynamic vocals.   Still, the crowd was insatiable and cheered after another exit of the band.  And then another, Gerrard returning for the third encore with her mesmerizing voice accompanied only by a keyboard player.

At the end of the concert, though Gerrard’s voice could carve canyons with its intensity and precision, she quietly leaned forward into the microphone, whispering a thank you to the audience, followed by “you are all beautiful.”

ImageAnastasis is fitting lexicon not just for the new album but for the entire concert experience.  Coming from the Greek word meaning resurrection, DCD brought to life long forgotten music and ancient instruments from all over the world, bringing with them the spirits of those musicians who lived and died centuries before Denver was even a city.

And in the back of the Buell Theater, where audience members stood and sang and danced, you could see the dead dancing right along with them.

Things Most Gay Men Don’t Like: Metal

Mastodon finishes shredding the frenzied crowd.  The drummer tosses his sticks into the throng.  The lights go up.

It’s between sets, so I sit with my back against a metal barrier that separates me from the larger crowd below.  I shove in a pair of earbuds, turning up “Black Rose Immortal.”  A twenty-minute Opeth piece of metal magnificence and mayhem that chokes out the white noise of conversations around me.

There’s something about heavy metal that’s primal. Cathartic.  A juxtaposition of raw, exposed animosity eviscerated and dismembered by beauty herself, left on the dusty ground in a pool of blood to die—with a smile.

The lights drop, and I jump to my feet.  I yank out the earbuds.  The crowd stirs.  The only illumination comes from the Fillmore Theater chandeliers hanging from the ceiling—glowing purple.  Movement on the stage.  The crowd starts yelling in anticipation.  I join in.  Blue lights grow bright to illuminate that signature O.  Mikael Akerfeldt walks onto the stage.  Metal ensues.

Opeth starts with their progressive rock from Heritage, Akerfeldt singing God is Dead!—the chorus from “The Devil’s Orchard.”  Between songs, Akerfeldt comments that he loves Denver because the thin air makes him feel drunk without having a single beer.  Someone from the crowd yells, play some fucking metal!  “Patience,” Akerfeldt replies. “Or I’ll play the song ‘Patience.’”

Soon we are all rewarded for our patience, and the intro to “Demon of the Fall” begins.  Angry growling death metal ensues.

Slamming my head forward with everyone else, punching the air above me with the traditional devil horns, I realize there’s another important characteristic to metal—solidarity.

Metal is about getting lost in the futile anger, disappointment and frustration of life, drowning out your problems for three hours.  Finding absolution, and knowing it’s only temporary.  Then slamming your head even harder, growling with everyone around you to each line of the song as your throat blisters and you start to gargle on your own blood.

Young or old.  Bald or hair hanging below your ass.  Straight or gay.  During a metal concert, these trite distinctions just don’t matter.

Outside of a concert, when people find out I’m gay, they usually respond with, “you don’t act like it.”

Which is true:  I don’t watch musicals.  I loathe the music of Lady Gaga.  I was dragged into a Banana Republic once.  I wanted to light the entire building on fire.

I do own about a hundred band t-shirts—from Dead Can Dance to Agalloch to Velvet Acid Christ to Opeth.  I drive a Dodge Ram (the lesbo-mobile, it’s been fondly called).  I’m not offended (nor do I care) when someone around me uses the word gay to describe something stupid.  And I fucking love metal.

Most of the music I hear in gay bars and on the radio lacks depth.  Feels synthesized and forced.  The songs have shitty lyrics.  In a word—kitsch.

Nietzsche wrote that art made for the masses is valueless.  Conversely, he added, music made for the sake of making music “at every moment make[s] life worth living at all, and prompt[s] the desire to live in order to experience the next moment.”

The concert ends with “The Grand Conjuration.”  Opeth takes a few bows before leaving the stage.  My shirt is plastered to my back with sweat.  A woman I’ve never met before smiles, “that was fucking awesome!”  Adrenaline still saturating my veins, I can barely stand still as I wait in line to buy (yet another) t-shirt.  A guy in his fifties with a big, gray bushy beard and a tie-dye t-shirt stands next to me.  Words like concert, kick-ass, epic, intense, and fucking are being thrown around—though not in that order.

And this moment is about sharing the experience of being pummeled by head-stomping riffs, double bass fills, and Akerfeldt’s demon-like growls.  It’s about no one giving a shit I’m gay.

The sidewalk carries me away.  Denver’s Fillmore Theater is swallowed up behind me.  The traffic on Colfax Avenue saturates my senses.

I stick the earbuds back in.  Take my time as I walk back to my truck, finishing “Black Rose Immortal.”  Those pesky problems I forgot about are still lurking at the periphery, waiting patiently to rise blindingly with the sun.

But the rest of the night belongs to the fans.  This moment belongs to metal.

521

“You wouldn’t have known me a year ago,” I pleaded.

“And I wouldn’t have cared, though I would have recognized,” he replied.

He added that I would have been the same person then and still am now and how do you stop being you and when are you ever not?  I didn’t respond and my shoulder bled and the asphalt burned against my left cheek as my right eye glared at the failing sun but I didn’t blink nor attempt to rise so I told him that people change all the time.  He arched his back as he laughed and his large buckle blazed in the sunlight just before he spat and told me that a being who changes is still the same being who was changed and he held the black canvas bag open to the wind and money fluttered and tumbled like green butterflies ascending until the sun was blotted out by his large silhouette as he leaned down with the barrel hovering just above my temple.  He began to speak.

“An individual only stops being once that person can no longer choose.”  I could smell tobacco as the barrel ran against my skull and the metal was warm against cold skin littered with marbles of sweat.  “Choices that lead to a future self are actualized from the consciousness,” he continued, “and the physical wiring of brain itself, along with the circumstances that surround it, do not solely define that being. “  He took a deep breath and smiled warmly.  “The essence of a being is a process, a process of choice within the confines of immoveable facts.”  He stroked my hair then stood and broken glass scraped against his soles as he walked behind me with sirens growing in the distance and I closed my eyes and told him about my dead wife and my lost job and my sick daughter and I had no choice and there are no choices and choice is a cruel and unforgiving delusion sent to torture and he yelled the words to the sky choosing not to choose is still being.

“It is time that is a construct applied through reason—it is what is illusory,” he said as he pulled the slide back and locked it in place and checked the chamber before he added, “the you that you were a year ago could easily be known today or in the future or in the past for the being that is you is immutable except in the vacuousness of death.”  I rolled onto my back and held my shoulder as thin streams of red rushed between my fingers and he released the slide and it snapped forward with an echo and he placed the gun on my chest and the barrel glared in my eyes and with sirens were now growing louder as he towered at my feet and added, “as long as there is being there is choice and to believe otherwise is to subvert the will, your future self—to deceive the self.”  I watched myself as I pushed the barrel past my lips and felt my teeth scrape against metal and I pulled the trigger and the gun whispered click.  

My eyes snapped open and my daughter was calling me out of the darkness, arms outstretched and suspended by small plastic tubes that ran to bags of clear liquid.  I jerked out of the chair and tripped over a stuffed bear that sat askew on the linoleum floor next to the heart monitor.  An ambulance pulled to a stop three floors down, its siren still blaring.  The rain beat the window panes until dawn and I held my daughter tight as she vomited and shook and wept and clinched her stomach, all while black glass eyes watched from the floor without blinking.

To Die Soon

It was Hemingway who wrote: “Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.” This, before he swallowed a round from a shotgun.  Virginia Woolf stuffed rocks into her pockets and walked into the Ouse River.  Sylvia Plath stuck her head in a gas oven with her children sleeping in the next room.  Kurt Vonnegut populated his novels with a recurring character named Kilgore Trout, who frequently stated that “life is a crock of shit!”  Even the Bible declares the following: “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity . . . one generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth forever.”  When the author of Ecclesiastes needs a prescription for Prozac and maybe a hug, something must be terribly wrong.

Silenus imbibing wine.

Nietzsche wrote in The Birth of Tragedy about King Midas, who captured the demigod Silenus and demanded the most desirable thing for man.  Silenus remained silent before belting out a sardonic laugh, answering: “Oh wretched ephemeral race, children of chance and misery, why do you compel me to tell you what it would be most expedient for you not to hear?  What is best of all is utterly beyond your reach: not to be born, not to be, to be nothing.  But the second best for you is—to die soon.” Perhaps Kind Midas should have stayed in his kingdom turning things (and his daughter) into gold.

Nietzsche replies to Silenus’ charge by explicating the duality of our existence.  One side of this dichotomy is emotion, personified as Dionysus; the other side is reason, personified as Apollo.  (Think Kirk and Spock.)  Dionysus is nature; euphoria by getting drunk with wine and having frenzied sex orgies in the open fields of Greece (yes, this happened).  But Dionysus also represents the brutal truth of nature: suffering, pain, agony, and progress through death and life—the lion consuming its prey to live.  Apollo, on the other hand, represents the individual who acquires knowledge and the wisdom to rise above nature and subvert its vicious tendencies.  However, according to Nietzsche, the Apollinian perspective is ultimately an illusion to conceal the Dionysian truth.  How does one overcome this problem of existence? (Excluding Hemingway’s solution, of course.)

Apollo and Dionysus collide, raze, and rebuild each other.  Nietzsche uses the term nausea to associate the hopelessness when the illusion of Apollo succumbs completely to Dionysus.  Man realizes he is merely an unimportant part of nature—soon swallowed up by the Earth.  Pushing up daisies.  Worm food.  “Knowledge kills action; action requires the veils of illusion,” Nietzsche writes.  All effort to project a future self seems vain, revealing the “horror or absurdity of existence.” Indeed, Silenus’ solution seems more sensible—to die soon!  But this is not the overly dramatic solution Nietzsche would encourage.  He argues the Apollinian civilization is, yes, illusory—but necessary.  Necessary to live, to experience this dance between of Apollo and Dionysus.  And what do they dance to?  “Here, when the danger to his will is greatest, art approaches as a saving sorceress . . . she alone knows how to turn these nauseous thoughts about the horror or absurdity of existence into notions with which one can live.”  Embrace creativity like Hemingway, Wolfe, and Plath (just keep away from guns, rivers and gas ovens).  Write, paint, play music not for the masses (for Nietzsche considered art for the masses to be worthless) but for yourself.  Use art to show that life may at times be a crock of shit, but it’s worth enduring—to die later!

Merry Mythmas

No, I’m not at war with Christmas.

I use to write X-mas merely as shorthand.  On box lids.  In emails. On greeting cards.
Then the war started.  I don’t remember when it began. The body count hasn’t risen above zero since it started.  But I’m being told that little baby Jesus is being maliciously attacked every year by laser-guided uranium-tipped lexicon missiles.

Since when did Christ (and more specifically the arbitrary date of his birth) need all this defending?  If I saw Jesus on the street and wished him Happy Holidays, would he really smite me with a bolt of lighting that zigzagged down from the clouds, burning my soulless, heathen body to a crisp?  Aren’t there more important things to worry about?  Helping the needy.  Fighting the AIDS epidemic.  Getting our troops home safely.

If I’m at war with anything, it’s with conspicuous consumerism, pepper spraying people in the face to get a kid’s toy, saying Christmas belongs to Christ while maxing out credit cards.  Disney on Ice.

Now days, I don’t wish people Merry Christmas, or Merry X-mas, or Happy Holidays, or Happy Kwanza, or Good Yule, or Happy Chanukah.  I wish people Merry Mythmas (thank you, Bill Maher).  For the myth that buying things for your loved ones is the measure of how much you care.  For the myth that a tree decorated with small lights and cheap, plastic ornaments is somehow a Christian tradition.  For the myth of a virgin birth.

I say Merry Mythmas for the mythical war on Christmas—we have enough real wars with real body counts already.

Of Aliens, Transmissions, and Violins.

So, we found a new planet 600 light years away, one of 713 confirmed exoplanets discovered so far—Kepler-22b.  It’s more than twice the size of Earth, takes 290 days to orbit its sun, and it sits in the Goldilocks zone—not too close to its parent star, and not too far away.  This means that if there is water on the planet’s surface, it’s in liquid form.    On Earth, where there’s water, even in extreme conditions, there’s usually life.

Soon, SETI will be pointing their satellites in the direction of Kepler-22b to listen for signs of life.

A plethora of assumptions:  Assuming there is life on that planet, and assuming this life is more advanced than our own, and assuming they transmitted radio signals at least six hundred years ago, we should be receiving their first transmissions any day now.

I wonder what those Imagetransmissions would be?  Perhaps a short question:  “Is anyone out there?”  Maybe someone ranting about their political climate, or about religious and civic strife, or about a massive economic crisis.  Maybe a TV show.  Maybe a bad TV show.  Maybe a reality TV show.  I hate to think what an alien species would think of Earthlings if all they had to judge us on was Survivor.

The first Earthly radio broadcast was on Christmas Eve in 1906.  Reginald Fessenden read the Christmas story from the Bible and played “O Holy Night” with on a violin.  This means in roughly 500 years, our potential alien friends will be serenaded by a violin and the story of Jesus’ birth.

A bit unsettling.   One of the greatest scientific accomplishments at the time, accompanied by a song calling for all to prostrate themselves before a child born of a virgin.  At the very least, our alien friends will be confused, perhaps a bit curious.  “Who is this Jesus, this Savior?” they might ask.  “Is he your leader?  Can we speak with him?”

Plenty of Earthlings would tell them who their “savior” is.  Many of those answers will contradict.  Arguing will ensue.  Fights will break out.  Perhaps another war.  While we are battling for ideas, our alien friends will quietly point their own SETI satellites in another direction.  “Give them a few more centuries,” an alien astronomer might say, “just until they stop arguing over whose god is greater.”

Of course, all of this is also assuming aliens from another planet can understand English in the first place—which is a pretty big assumption (and very arrogant for us to think so).

What would be worse is if their own religions, ethics, and philosophies mirrored our own.   In the words of Neil DeGrasse Tyson, “If aliens are like us, then they should be feared.”

Indeed.  But if we did hear from Kepler-22b, what would we want to hear?

Duality

I love imagining what it would be like to live on other planets.  What if the Orion Nebula filled the sky each night—a giant specter spreading its gossamer wings over our heads?  Imagine if rings of fragmented rock tens of thousands of miles wide encircled the planet, rings that could be clearly seen during the day splitting the sky in half, ice crystals in the rings refracting the light in a beautiful spectrum of colors.  Or what if our planet orbited two stars?  How would that affect our mythos?  Our philosophies?  Our religions?  How would we define ourselves differently?

The latter cosmic phenomenon we don’t have to imagine anymore.  The Kepler probe discovered a planet (called Kepler-16b) that is part of a binary solar system.  This is the first empirical proof of a planetary body orbiting two stars.  Though only a gas giant (which makes watching a dual sunset from its surface a bit difficult), 16b brings up a host of possibilities—with intriguing implications.  Civilizations use physical environment to define their societies.  The Egyptians worshiped the sun god Ra.  On planet 16b, Ra would have a younger brother.  They would battle daily for supremacy of the sky, one occasionally eclipsing the other.  Moral lessons would perhaps be drawn from their cosmic duel:  “Though the two brothers fought throughout the day, in the evening they both came to rest on the same horizon.”  Monotheism would perhaps be an entirely alien concept (pun intended).
There are biological implications as well.  Life forms on that planet would probably be less sensitive to light, and be able to endure our hottest days of the year without any complaint.  And if a planet found itself orbiting between the two stars, there would be no night.  Eyes would never evolve to see in the dark (except for cave dwelling animals or creatures that lived underwater).

This is all speculation, of course.  But it emphasizes how physical circumstances play a large role in how not only our species evolves, but how our philosophies and religions evolve.  If I follow that line of logic long enough, I could argue that physical circumstances define purpose.  Meaning is a construct created as our experiences wind their way through physical circumstances.  The objects that surround us are more than just inanimate objects (what Jean-Paul Sartre called the thing-in-itself) existing solely outside of our consciousness.  They become part of us as we interact with them.  Existence is a duality between the mind and external objects.
I could stare at the concept images of 16b all day, imagining how different my life and our civilization would be if Earth orbited two stars.  I’m cynical enough to declare that our more malevolent behaviors would never be truncated by a change in scenery.  But I’m optimistic enough to concede that possibilities, future possibilities of individuals and of societies, can be created and destroyed by mere objects shifting our perspectives and playing a dynamic part in how we define ourselves.

Check out the NASA article about Kepler-16b: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/kepler/news/kepler-16b.html