Keynote Address by Marsha Willows

at the 125th Annual Gathering of the Terran Armchair Philosophers Society, April 2655

Good morning. It is indeed a great pleasure for me to be here in Seattle for this 125th Annual Gathering of TAPS. And may I say in what high regard TAPS is held by the people I work with every day in TIPTOE....

Excuse me?

Oh yes, thank you. And please do continue to remind me if I absentmindedly slip into terran slang now and again. "The humans I work with," I should have said, in Terran Inter-Planetary Travel and Off-World Exploration. As Ignacio Robles said in his introduction to this keynote address, we are greatly honored to have several visitors from Ykrak among the participants in this gathering, and I certainly do not want to speak in a way that might seem to marginalize or exclude them at all. I do urge you other terrans, therefore, to speak up again whenever I start talking "parochialism" instead of standard English!

[She pauses for a sip of water.]

I want to tell you a rather sad story this morning, about the recent first-meeting between terran humans and the inhabitants of the world we have named Disconsolation. After you have heard the story, there will be an opportunity for questions and discussion, and those who are interested may join me this afternoon in a workshop for further discussion about the world Disconsolation and the new perspectives it offers. I am hoping, you see, to return from this gathering to my colleagues in TIPTOE with many new insights to share. [Gratified murmur from the audience.]

Before I begin to tell you about Disconsolation, I want to say a little bit about TIPTOE and its work. It has been more than six centuries now since the beginning of the STEP -- the Second Terran Evolutionary Process -- in which we are still very much engaged. Before STEP, as you probably know, there was no interplanetary travel and, in fact, those terrans who were interested in the subject were so mixed up in their thinking that, without the transformations brought about by the STEP, they'd never have achieved inter-planetary travel in a million years. The core change from "progressive" to "positive concentropic" consciousness among the diverse transformative elements of terran society brought to the subject of interplanetary travel a whole new range of humans who, themselves transformed by the beginnings of the STEP, in turn transformed the terran way of thinking about interplanetary travel. And that, of course, is what made such travel, which for millennia had been considered a supremely difficult scientific feat, suddenly a relatively easy process to undertake.

No more huge, poison-spewing "rockets" burning holes in this beautiful planet as they strained to thrust themselves like spears into "outer space"! [Exclamations from the audience.] No more wanton dumping of hazardous and toxic wastes in the terran atmosphere or in the vast ocean of space beyond! [Further exclamations.]

Yes, friends, I know it is painful to remember those old ways -- though increasingly I find audiences incredulous rather than distressed, and I'm not sure whether that is a change entirely healthful for our world-self as a whole.

But I mustn't digress too far into terran historical reminiscence, or I will miss my chance to tell you about the world of Disconsolation!

Just one more preparatory comment, then, before I begin that story. As Ignacio mentioned, the recent visit to Disconsolation was the first contact between that world and Terra. The group that made the visit was, like all groups that originate from TIPTOE, made up of terran humans, some of us specialists in one field or another, some of us -- such as myself -- generalist medita- or media-tors. All of us, however, have spent many years in the study of positive concentropism. No doubt everyone in this room has studied positive concentropist theory also, the liberating discipline that teaches us to increase our knowledge through seeking connections rather than distinctions, to study our inner selves through connecting with the "out there" and to understand the "out there" through discoveries in the deepest centers of our selves; that tao whose guiding principle tells us "we are all part of one another." You may find it interesting to think now about how you would apply your understanding of positive concentropism to the various situations that can arise in inter-planetary travel. I hope we can discuss some of our thoughts on that subject in the workshop this afternoon, but suffice it to say for the time being, that we are particularly challenged by the fact that on many worlds the most welcoming centers of consciousness still are in the "progressive" stage of conceptualization. And that means, if you'll excuse my reminding such a thoughtful audience of such a basic fact, that they adhere to a linear, uni-directional concept of "progress" as the means of change and growth, rather than the more familiar circular, all-directional, continuous reorientation of concentropism.

I have gone back to the basics in distinguishing between the archaic "progressivism" and the current process, because I now must tell you that on the world Disconsolation we found, for the first time in TIPTOE's experience, a world where neither concept exists. [Excited reaction from audience.] Yes, I thought that would surprise you. It certainly surprised us, I can tell you that!

So. What did we find, you want to know. Well, first of all, we found, as we had expected, a world inhabited by the Disconsolation-equivalent of a terran human -- or, of course, of a Ykrakian splotz. And we found a world we could live on -- breathable atmosphere, drinkable fluids, etc. Of those basics we were assured (within a very small percentage chance of error) by TIPTOE's BVD team, the Before Visit Dream team, or the Dreamers, as we call them.

Physically, Disconsolation seems a calm, comfortable world. The extreme ranges of temperature, precipitation, elevation, and almost any other variable I can think of are narrower than those of Terra and the majority of other worlds known to TIPTOE. In other words, the range of those phenomena which we commonly call "weather" is about the same as occurs in the "temperate" areas of Terra. We began our visit in a forest -- for convenience sake, I plan to use terran-English words for equivalent forms on Disconsolation, if that's all right with you. Rather than say "forest-equivalent," "tree-equivalent," "flower-equivalent," I mean, I'll simply say "forest," "tree," "flower." All right? [Affirming response from audience.]

The eight of us, as I was saying, began from a forest, a calm place of evenly spaced trees and scattered undergrowth. The primary color of plant nature in that world is closer to Terra's blue than to our green, but all-in-all it is a world that reveals itself as not unfamiliar to a human of Terra. We dreamed and conspired together for a short time and then set off in the direction on which we agreed. Sure enough, we soon reached a settlement of small dwellings.

The first sight of a Disconsolation community would lead you -- as it led us -- to expect a spiritual thought-world of the common pre-industrial or "pagan" kind. There certainly is very little industrial development on Disconsolation, and virtually no mechanized industry. As you know, terran philosophers generally consider the historically "pagan" thought-world as the joining of the change, that is, the returning of the turning circle. We have learned to expect, therefore, that a species living through its "pagan" era will be more harmonic with us than will be a species living through any of the thought-worlds that we ourselves have passed through more recently on Terra. For example, no doubt you have all heard some reports from TIPTOE's first visits with the world of Haast. The thought-world of Haast was entirely pre-industrial and "pagan;" there had been no knowledge in Haast of any life beyond that world. And yet we were warmly received and together have developed a delightful relationship. It is to make such mutually beneficial relationships possible, by the way, that, as some wag put it many years ago, we of TIPTOE "tiptoe across the universe," never attempting to bring anything to or take anything from any world unless and until there is a mutuality of pacific intention.

On Disconsolation, however....well, what I want to do now is to list for you some of our initial experiences and observations during our visit there. After you have heard my short list, perhaps you will immediately intuit the amazing -- the shattering -- secret of Disconsolation. I must confess, however, that it took us, even though we were right there in the world, about two terran weeks to begin to believe it ourselves. Are you ready to begin? [Affirmative responses from audience.] Here goes.

One. The disconsolates (as we call the inhabitants) are generally speaking humanoid in appearance. They are bipedal and left-right symmetrical. No doubt many of the far differently organized species in the universe would have trouble distinguishing between a terran human and a disconsolate at first glance. The major difference in corporeal organization is that we and they are vertically reversed in placement of many organ/functions. In other words, whereas our "heads" are at the top of us, theirs -- their vision, scent, hearing organs and their ingestive openings -- are placed at the lower end of their body, that is, just above their lower ambulatory extremities. And so on.

Two. Our first encounter. We approached two disconsolates who were standing outside a home-structure. Following TIPTOE's standard protocol, we approached slowly, stopping frequently as soon as we realized we were within our own vision range and, when one of the disconsolates noticed us, all but two of our group ceased to advance. The remaining two terrans continued to move toward the disconsolates slowly and with frequent pauses. For several minutes, the disconsolates would glance at the terrans each time the terrans moved, but would seem to lose interest and would look away again several seconds after the terrans became motionless. This pattern continued even after the terrans were within three yards of the disconsolates. Our first impression was that the disconsolates were able to see only objects in motion. But that impression proved to be incorrect.

Three. It was extremely difficult for us to induce the disconsolates to react to us as anything but objects. As I've said, at first they seemed to have trouble seeing us. Even after we had all but forced ourselves upon their consciousness, however, they continued to have trouble seeing us as us, as living creatures like themselves. We did, I assure you, investigate the situation thoroughly enough to make sure it was not a visual difficulty. They could see us all right, in the physical sense. But...how can I help you imagine what it was like?....It was as if we were obscured from their sight by a kind of conferred invisibility.

Perhaps a specific instance will make my meaning more clear. On our third day of contact, I approached a disconsolate on my own. She was walking through the outskirts of the forest gathering deadlimbs for fuel, and I tried to initiate a relationship between us by picking up a few suitable sticks and offering them to her. Thanks to the linguist in our group, we all could speak a smattering of Disconsolation by then, and I spoke a few words to her in her own language as I held out the sticks I had gathered. She reacted initially as if the sticks I held in my hand were the living branches of a tree, and she simply walked around me, glancing this way and that as if looking for the source of the voice she clearly heard. When I circled around and approached her again from the front, waving the sticks from side to side a bit as I offered them, she immediately froze as if in terror. I immediately froze, too, of course, so as not to seem threatening, and a few seconds later she turned her back on me and went on about her business as if nothing at all had happened. Strangest of all, about half an hour later this same disconsolate actually tried to pick up my hand as if it were a piece of wood or a rock. I had sat down on the ground to observe and meditate, and when the disconsolate, in the course of her gathering activity, happened to arrive at the location occupied by my body, she reacted to my self as if she had never seen me before -- indeed, as if she continued to see not me but simply an object lying on the ground.

Four. The disconsolates have both oral and written language, and they have general knowledge of their own history going back at least several millenia. That is, they are generally aware that their species has existed on Disconsolation for that extent of time and that there have been some changes in climate and in such areas of life as agricultural methods. However, they have no myths or stories. [Exclamations from the audience.] Yes, that's right. It seems impossible, but as far as we have been able to ascertain, they have no myths or stories. And yes, that does mean they lack even a myth of creation for their own world and their own selves. As a result, their language is astonishingly sparse and undeveloped considering its age. It is a very easy language to learn, but it has no poetry.

And finally, number five: a more general observation. You may be wondering, based on my previous four points, whether the disconsolates are simply very limited in intelligence. The history of human communities on Terra includes stories of individuals from various species whose intelligence was stunted by, for example, long-term sensory deprivation. As horrible as it is to think about such a process, we know it has happened right here on Terra. Can some process like that be the cause of the extreme, population-wide rigidity of the disconsolates' consciousness? How else can we explain such a limited response range? -- a limitation lasting through millenia, if we can judge by the absence of any "in the beginning" story or myth. Well, it's true Disconsolation is the first world in which a team from TIPTOE has failed to establish a relationship during the first visit. Granted, we haven't always been overjoyed by the relationships established with certain worlds -- which shall remain nameless [chuckles from audience]. But only with Disconsolation has our visit seemed so...so unconnecting of the two worlds involved. And yet, the intelligence-stunting analogy I mentioned does not really seem to apply, does it? After all, the disconsolates are not confined away from their world. Their lack of response, their apparent inability to connect with us seemed to us, finally, to derive less from a deficient intelligence than from an overly narrow foundation of instinct -- a characteristic intimately related with the meagerness of their language and the absence of myth.

[She pauses and takes a sip of water.]

So. There you have it, friends, my little riddle for you. What is the key to this mystery? What is the one discovery about Disconsolation's world that explains all of these puzzling observations? Have you guessed it?

[Thoughtfully negative response from audience.]

Very well, I will tell you. I will tell you in a very few words the fact it took us two weeks of study and meditation to accept.

There is only one species of animal in the world named Disconsolation.

[Silence. And then a clamorous reaction. The speaker waits, head bowed, for the audience to become ready to listen again.]

Yes. I know. Believe me, at this point I know even more deeply than you do, because I have been realizing the horror of it for almost three months now. And I haven't recovered even yet from the initial soul shock -- from the realization that the "conferred invisibility" that seemed to hide us from the disconsolates was a result of their never having seen any animal species but their own. They could not see us because they could not imagine the merest possibility of our existence.

But despite the horror of it, friends, we also can learn from the world of Disconsolation, as from any other world we have the opportunity to visit. So I ask you please to try, when you are able, to imagine Disconsolation, to meditate and dream with it -- not in horror and pity, mind you, because we are not of that world and thus have no business imposing our preferences on it. We are all familiar with worlds whose bases seem unpleasant to us; the world Fragsthra, for example, where the Hrosthru seem so "human" to us and yet never, ever have physical contact with one another. We could not live in such a world and be whole. But we do not insult the Hrosthru by pitying them for what we perceive as a deficiency in the realities of their world.

Similarly, we can learn the most from the disconsolates -- and thus, in the basic cycle of existence, eventually contribute the most to them -- by trying to understand them and achieve empathy with them in acceptance of their world's realities. Some of us are most deeply intrigued by the more purely factual questions raised by the discovery of a single-species world. How did the disconsolates come to exist, how did they evolve in an ecosystem with no other animal species -- for the physical evolution specialists at TIPTOP assure us that there never has been another species in that world. Generalist meditators like myself, on the other hand, are more interested in exploring the reflections of disconsolate reality in our own and other worlds. Imagine, for example, what it means for the disconsolates to be alone in their world. And through that imagining we can understand more deeply the beauty of the cycles through which we ourselves were created, over the many millenia of Terra's living, by the species with whom we make up an element of this world and its life-dream, its history, its myth.

It is sobering -- and humbling -- to remember that a short half-millennium ago there were still species of both plants and animals being extinguished by the human population of Terra. Our forehumans called it "becoming extinct." [Incredulous murmur from the audience.] Yes, "becoming extinct," as if it were simply a passive, causeless occurrence.

We can but rejoice that the STEP began before it was too late for the approximately 100 million animal species remaining in this world at the beginning of the third millenium. Not a decade too soon considering how close Terra had come to total destruction, the then dominant system of not only humocentric but androcentric tyranny began to devolve. And only then could our species again discover the truths we had left behind in our linear progressivist march from eco-conscious "paganism" to the ethicomoral isolationism of the hyperscientotechnical era of eco-slaughter. Only then could we begin to remember the debt we owe our sister-species of Terra, the rich heritage of instincts with which they have endowed us, and the splendid history of human accomplishments based on what we have learned from our first and finest teachers: the non-human animals of Terra.

Indeed, I confess that I myself have not yet achieved the clear perspective I have urged you to adopt in thinking about Disconsolation. I find myself recalling the terran creation myth retold in the ancient religious sect book called the Torah Bible. Do you remember it? It is a story where the humans of Terra are created out of dust by a "god" -- an all-powerful spirit who did not himself live in the world. This particular "god" was said to have formed the first two humans "in his own image" -- already physically evolved humans, in other words -- and to have put them into the world alone. As the story continues, the "god" also creates other species and adds them to the world, to keep the humans company. But imagine: what if the "god" had run out of dust -- or interest -- after making those first two humans. Imagine those humans, imagine our selves, alone in this world. No lion to teach us patience. No swallow or dragonfly to teach us grace. No elephant to teach us dignity and loving vigilance for the young. No dog to teach loyalty, no cat to teach playfulness, no deer to challenge our legs, no dolphin to call us out into the waters.

Yes, I know there is a danger that love for ones own world can lead to lack of appreciation for the wisdoms and beauties of other worlds. In the workshop this afternoon I hope we will discuss Disconsolation on its own terms. But surely -- and this is the thought I want to leave with you as I close -- surely it is both universally benign and locally empowering for us to learn from other worlds not only their values but our own as well. We chose the names Disconsolation and disconsolates for the world and its species I have just described for you because the muted, mournful beauty of its blue-leaved forests bereft of animal life inspired one of us to remember the words of an ancient terran philosopher named Sealth. Who said: "If all the beasts were gone, we would die from a great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beast, happens to us. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth, befalls the children of earth."

Disconsolate means so unhappy that nothing will comfort. I am sure that all of you will join in celebrating with me now the immense comfort and joy we own in remembering that the human species of Terra chose to end our ancient addiction to genocide. And thereby we have done as much as can be done to protect ourselves and future generations of our species from that death-in-life described by the philosopher Sealth as "a great loneliness of spirit."

We humans of Terra have our problems, goodness knows. But how wonderful it is to know that, unlike our counterparts in Disconsolation, we are not alone.

Thank you.

[Those who have shared return thanks.]

Back to home.