Autism spectrum/A few impertinent questions/Consciousness and free-will may be defining characteristics of all life, but do we have much understanding of what they actually are?
From Thailand I flew to Nepal, a tiny kingdom in the Himalayas. It was the dry season and everything was brown and dusty. I’d planned to join an overland bus tour to England in Kathmandu, and had a reservation at the hotel from which the tour was to start. I shared a taxi from the airport with some young Australians. It was a rusty old vehicle of Indian make, the stuffing bulging out of the seats. The starter didn't work, and two drivers were required, one to steer and another to push. We would drive a few blocks. Then they would cut the motor and coast, keeping both drivers busy. The Nepalese were under the impression this method of driving conserved petrol. At the hotel I learned my room wouldn't be available until the next day. For that first night, I was assigned to the dormitory, a sort of penthouse on the roof. Cots were lined up next to each other, and I’d never slept in a room full of strangers like this. Most of them were young Western tourists. In my traveling-on-the-cheap I would usually find myself with young people, and they never appeared to see anything unusual about finding a woman of my age among them. I was grateful for their acceptance. We were warned to keep the windows closed to prevent monkeys from stealing our belongings. Finally I'd arrived in a country so exotic that monkeys ran wild.
The next morning a dozen brown monkeys scampered away as we came out onto the roof. More played on the brown, dusty roofs around us. I looked out over the quiet little mountain Capital. It was not really a city; just a little rural town. I explored Kathmandu and the countryside on foot - or rode a rickshaw, a cart pulled by a boy on a bicycle. Amid chickens, geese, goats and cows, I saw Mongolian-looking, mountain people in colorful costumes and furs, holy men wearing nothing but a dingy cloth around their loins, women in bright silk saris, and brown children wearing only a skimpy shirt - or nothing. Western or Japanese mountain climbers in heavy boots were occasionally seen among the natives. On "Freak Street" Western hippies were allowed to indulge in drugs without interference from the Nepalese government, and had become a tourist sight. I skipped that one. Imagine traveling half way around the world to look at American drug addicts!
While planning my trip during the past year, I had tried to read something about the places I would visit. For centuries the kings of Nepal had married two queens in one ceremony. This bizarre custom caused endless palace intrigue, as both queens and their assorted offspring vied for power. A particularly bloody episode occurred at the middle of the nineteenth century, when half the nobility of Nepal was massacred. A young army officer seized power and declared himself to be Prime Minister. He and his descendants ruled Nepal for the next century, keeping the royal family captive in the palace. All Westerners were excluded from the little country, and radios and newspapers were banned. In the 1950's the young captive king escaped to India. Organizing a successful revolt, he returned to rule his country, overthrowing the Prime Minister and keeping him and his family prisoner. This new king accepted Western financial aid and built the first road into the little capital. Until then everyone had arrived in Kathmandu on foot. A funky rope-pulley arrangement had hauled freight over the mountains into the little city. Because of the rugged terrain and Nepal's long isolation from Western civilization, the tribes of the little kingdom remained separate, each with its own language and customs. I'd read that among some mountain people, a woman could have two husbands - if they were brothers. Among some jungle tribes near the Indian border, a man was supposed to only marry a woman from a tribe to the east of his village. The fate of the men in the eastern-most village was not mentioned.
"We seem to have our own private rickshaw," a New Zealand couple at my hotel commented with amusement. "A Nepalese driver is apparently devoting his services exclusively to us. Every morning we find him waiting outside the hotel gate. As we shop or walk around town, he follows us until we are ready to return to the hotel."
When the New Zealand couple left Nepal, to my surprise, I seemed to inherit their rickshaw driver, a friendly young man with a fun-loving sparkle in his big brown eyes. When I tried to walk he would pedal persistently along beside me, good-naturally extolling how cheap it would be to ride. Sometimes I resisted, enjoying the walk, but I would eventually succumb to his persuasion and climb up into his rickshaw. The driver called me Grandmother, under the impression this was a flattering term for a woman of my age. I could have explained that most Western women in their late fifties would not feel flattered at being called “grandmother”, but it was merely his respectful term for any mature woman, and I didn’t correct him. After a few days I began to understand my rickshaw driver's dogged devotion to one tourist at a time. He had once worked as a Sherpa on a mountain-climbing expedition. Someone in the group became fond of him and flew him to California for a backpacking trip in the Sierras. It had been a fabulous adventure for a Nepalese boy, and I'm sure he hoped something equally wonderful might happen again.
I loved riding the rickshaw. When we went downhill, I clutched the sides with both hands. We careened wildly along, dodging chickens, dogs, goats, cows and naked children. The horn honked constantly, as both the driver and I laughed with delight. When we went uphill I felt sorry for him and got out and walked. In fact, on very steep hills I got behind and pushed. I realized I might look a little ridiculous pushing a rickshaw, but I was having such fun, and no one seemed to pay any attention as "Grandmother" pushed that rickshaw up the dusty, narrow, crooked streets of Kathmandu. Perhaps in my beautiful, Chinese-style, straw hat, I was mistaken for some kind of a native.
The rickshaw driver would call happily over his shoulder, "See Grandmother, this very bad road. Maybe you give me extra rupee this time?"
He saw no reason why Grandmother shouldn't help push the rickshaw, and even pay extra for the privilege. I gave him several extra rupees. When traveling with family and friends one observes the world from the comfortable position of a tourist. Traveling alone allows one to experience cultures a little more deeply, finding differences, but also discovering shared feelings and thoughts. I was fortunate to be able do a little of it during that short window of time when it was relatively safe for lone tourists in that part of the world. Mostly we have to accept other people’s descriptions of our world, or how it was in the past. But nothing can equal first-hand experience.
- The original images may be found on this pdf copy of the book.
Current page: Consciousness and free-will may be defining characteristics of all life, but do we have much understanding of what they actually are?
- Wouldn’t volition be an essential aspect of creativity?
- Could an inherently creative universe, a living universe, ever be defined by mathematical formulas?
- How did the laws of nature originate?
- Are some scientific concepts too sacred to be debated?
- Are intelligence and creativity two separate and distinct processes?
- Are psychoanalytic theories profound? Or just convoluted?
- If purposeful creativity exists as an aspect of reality, why should we assume it is a process unique to human consciousness?
- Can the value of scientific knowledge ever justify enrolling people in research projects without their knowledge or consent?
- Exactly what technical knowledge enables psychiatrists to manipulate ids, egos and psyches?
- Should "normal" be equated with average?
- What technical knowledge enables psychologists to declare people emotionally abnormal?
- Are psychologists able to scientifically measure parental love? Or its lack?
- Is the universe, including life, an automatic, mechanical process, driven by nothing but the laws of physics and chemistry (the materialist position)? Or do other forces play a role, such as mind, consciousness, judgment and volition - most of which we presently have only have limited understanding?
- Should doctors and scientists refrain from expressing skepticism about theories of colleagues in other fields?
- Do people generally choose the challenges which force them to grow?
- How can we claim to scientifically manipulate thoughts and emotions if we don't even understand how such elusive phenomena relate to physical reality?
- What is faith? If belief that God organized the universe is a matter of faith, why isn't the materialist belief that the universe came together by some accidental, mechanical process also a matter of faith? (Or, the Buddhist belief in self-organization.)
- Are living creatures constantly evolving as they strive to grow and adapt? Or must evolutionary adaptations passively wait around for a random mutation to accidentally pop up in someone's genome?
- Should we have official committees to define scientific knowledge? Or is an ever-changing, constantly-challenged, general consensus our best way to keep our understanding of reality vibrant?
- Could lying on a couch and obsessing over a traumatic childhood ever be therapeutic?
- Would it even be possible to conduct a scientific study to determine whether psychological treatments are effective?
- What is racism?
- Does free-will exist?
- Would obsessing over a traumatic event ever cure any mental illness?
- Could a creative intelligence be an innate aspect of all Nature?
- What would define economic theories as materialistic or non-materialistic?
- Is intolerance often the result of personal insecurity?
- Consciousness and free-will may be defining characteristics of all life, but do we have much understanding of what they actually are?
- Can we do other people's growing for them?
- Are Western democracies civilization’s ultimate achievement?
- Which would produce the most psychologically stunted individuals? Being emotionally challenged? Or never encountering any challenges?
- Could the purpose of life be to participate in the growth of the universe?
- Can science investigate and attempt to describe a non-materialistic version of the universe?
- Current page: Consciousness and free-will may be defining characteristics of all life, but do we have much understanding of what they actually are?