Interview One with Jacob Haqq-Misra:
Into the Planetary Messenger
by Willi Paul
“We are but a single member of a cosmic community whose extent reaches farther than imagination.” What is farther than our imaginations, Jacob? Have you been there?
No matter how much we explore, no matter how much we learn, theorize, and describe, and no matter how much we imagine beyond the observed, we will never have all the answers. Beyond the limits of our imagination we might comprehend the significance of the cosmos–or come to realize its insignificance–or we might discover a supernatural mode of operation. But no matter where we are as individuals, a species, or a population, the inherent limits of our ability to observe and explore means that the universe will always be more than we can ever comprehend.
Does there have to be another planet like Earth out there? Why or why not?
There is probably no other planet _exactly_ like Earth in that it contains trees, grass, lions, elephants, and people. From an evolutionary point of view, the probability of humans (or tigers, or any particular creature) evolving twice on different planets is so small it is essentially zero. On the other hand, we have found over 300 planets around other stars to date and continue to find new ones every week. Large planets are easier to find, but we are slowly discovering smaller and smaller planets, some of which are rocky like our Earth. Given the 100 billion stars in our galaxy, it seems likely that Earth-sized planets should exist around other stars as well.
And following this logic, it also seems likely that at least some of these Earth-sized planets would also be the right distance from their star to support liquid water on the surface. Again, this doesn’t mean the planet is identical to Earth in every way, but it would be the closest Earth-like planet we’ve found yet. The galaxy is a huge place, and so it may be presumptuous to think ours is the only planet capable of sustaining oceans, climate, and perhaps life.
Please define and discuss: belief vs. proof; religion vs. spirituality. Fear vs. hope. God vs. Mother.
Proof implies a logical conclusion for accepting a statement, whereas belief is the acceptance of a statement without necessarily requiring observable demonstration of the statement’s truth. Proof is often sloppily used in science, as it is nearly impossible to “prove” a statement to be true 100% of the time. In reality, we have statements that are accepted as the most accurate description based on what we know now.
The theory of evolution is accepted by most scientists because it fits biological and geological observations better than any competing idea, but it is not a belief. Religious zealots believe in a personal God even in the absence of logical demonstration, which does not equate to a proof of God.
Any form of expression that purports to connect known human activity with the unknown supernatural realm (beyond imagination) is spiritual expression. This can be as simple as solitary music listening or as complex as a wedding ritual. Religion enters the picture when spiritual expression becomes part of cultural tradition, usually including some standardization of myth and organizational hierarchy. Spirituality is necessary for religion, but the reverse is not necessarily true. On the other hand, religion can be useful because it uniformly engages human populations on a spiritual level. In spite of all the historical atrocities of religion, it is interesting to note that even today religious organizations rank among the highest of those who provide charitable and humanitarian aid to those in need.
How should we quantity cosmic significance.
I think this has more to do with human ego. Nothing we could possibly do will ever have significance on a cosmic scale. Even if we somehow manage to colonize all 100 billion stars in our galaxy, there are as many galaxies in the universe! Astronomy humbles even the proudest among us, and so trying to measure our importance on a cosmic scale misses the mark and leads to delusions of grandeur.
Why can’t dolphins be the aliens? What can’t the Sea be the altUniverse many seek?
If we’re looking for other communicating intelligent creatures, then dolphins are certainly a good candidate! And yes, the oceans have many undiscovered secrets that will certainly illuminate our attempts to understand the phenomenon of life on this planet. However, it seems likely that us and dolphins share a common genetic ancestor about 450 million years ago, so we both originated on Earth and we both are related. Any truly extraterrestrial form of life must have formed at a different time and place than the origin of life on Earth around four billion years ago.
‘Every experience impacts you’ … we are a library of experiences.’ How does this work in your life?
There are friends I’ve had for years who have impacted me less than an evening’s encounter with a homeless man on the streets. We can’t undo an experience once it happens, nor can we selectively forget experiences. When I read a book the knowledge and argument of the book enters my library of experiences, whether or not I like it, and thereby shapes my future thoughts and opinions. Books and movies are more obvious examples of this, but really any experience–whether a conversation, a sight, or a sound–can leave a lasting impression.
Is technology and the web teaching us to collaborate or just to fight smarter for self-interest with expensive tools?
Technology certainly helps collaboration and cross-disciplinary learning, though it also helps us find new ways to compete. In the end, while technology can provide us with useful tools I do not think technology itself has the capability to save us. Many people are optimistic that any problems we may cause, such as climate change or overpopulation, will be remedied by matching advances in technology. However, I remain skeptical that the problems of exponential growth will be matched by exponential increases in technology. Our inventions certainly have an important role to play in our future, but technology must also be developed and managed with wisdom.
How are we going to “get past” religion (i.e. dominion) and survive in the Sustainability Age?
This is the challenge I leave with religion in my book. If we don’t get past the notion of dominion, then our exponential consumption will eventually be the end of us all. Conversely, if we transition to sustainable development, then we will necessarily have rid ourselves of this notion of dominion. This is because we will have learned to think of ourselves in a new way, not as the masters of the world but instead as part of the world. As far as religion goes, any religion that maintains a theology of dominion must change or die. In the Sustainability Age, a religion of dominion will be obsolete, and so any surviving religions will necessarily reinforce concepts of human unity with the planet. Religion may lag behind society and ultimately become obsolete, but religion also has the chance to grab the reins and take the lead in ensuring our long-term survival.
“We must remember that we are not special.” Who are you talking to, Jacob?
This applies to all of us who at one time or another have lived according to the belief in human entitlement, that everything in the world should be useful for humans. In a sense, this includes all of us who are part of the global human civilization because at least some of our food and energy is produced at the expense of others. At the same time, many people are increasingly becoming aware of these issues and are realizing our connection, instead of our dominion, to this planet.
How would you make evolution less threatening?
Evolutionary education still perpetuates misconceptions about the theory of evolution. For example, a classic image shows human evolution as a progression of ape-like creatures that slowly gain upright posture until homo sapiens arrive on the scene. The problem with such an image is that it portrays evolution as a linear process by which a certain species (humans) eventually arise. Evolution, however, is non-directional and operates on _populations_, not species. Humans were not intended by evolution nor are we an end point of any sort. Evolution is simply a mechanism by which the gene pools of populations can change over time. In some ways evolution might be less threatening if it is not used to reinforce the mantra of human dominion, where homo sapiens represent the apex of evolution. If we instead focus on how evolution develops diverse ecosystems to ensure long-term survival, then perhaps it will be less threatening to some.
Is the Soul unique to humans? Is this the same source as what you label “universal essence?”
I use the term “soul” interchangeably with “divine essence” and “universal essence”, and it could equally be applied to the term “mind” or “spirit”. In effect, I mean to indicate the part of us that exists beyond the material (atoms and molecules); it is the part of us (if any) that persists beyond physical death in an afterlife. In my book I argue that it is extremely difficult to maintain that only humans have this soul. To be self-consistent with what we know about evolutionary theory, either everything living must have a soul or else nothing does.
First Person Bio:
The world is a place of great wonder and profundity. My pursuit of science continually shows me the immense complexities in the biosphere alone, and set in the context of such a vast and expansive universe it seems incredible that we know anything at all.
I currently live in State College, Pennsylvania where I pursue my Ph.D. in meteorology and astrobiology and perform as a percussionist in the local music scene. I spend every night in the fantastic world of dreams.
Currently I am a PhD candidate at Penn State University in the Department of Meteorology and the Astrobiology Research Center working with Jim Kasting and Sukyoung Lee. My research interests are broad, including planetary habitability, climate dynamics, global warming, early Earth, early Mars, extrasolar planets, biosignatures, extraterrestrial life, religion and society, and the philosophy of science.
I also participate in the central Pennsylvania music scene, performing primarily as a percussionist. I specialize in jazz drums, vibraphone, and congas though I also play keyboard and compose. My musical experience thus far includes jazz combos, wind ensembles, pit orchestra, jam bands, cover bands, and bluegrass.
I am always interested in meeting new friends, collaborators, musicians, writers, thinkers, and other like-minded individuals, so feel free to get in touch with me!
Email: Jacob at haqqmisra dot net
His PhD research includes climate change, extrasolar planets, and extraterrestrial life. Interview Two with Jacob Haqq-Misra:
Beyond the Intersection of Art and Sustainability
by Willi Paul
”Don’t the hours grow shorter as the days go by
You never get to stop and open our eyes
One minute you’re waiting for the sky to fall
The next you’re dazzled by the beauty of it all
Lovers in a dangerous time…
These fragile bodies of touch and taste
This fragrant skin this hair like lace
Spirits open to the thrust of grace
Never a breath you can afford to waste…
Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight
Got to kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight”
Lovers in a dangerous time
Stealing Fire, Bruce Cockburn
Robyn Hitchcock told me that music is a form of alchemy – perhaps an invisible attempt to alter people’s moods. Your reactions?
Music certainly has the ability to alter a person’s mood, induce emotion, and even lower inhibitions. Some music, like classical symphonies or Pink Floyd studio albums, take the listener on a journey and tend to emphasize lyrical elements and emotional motifs. Other forms of music, such as jazz and its derivatives, are more groove-based and emphasize movement and dance as an expression of participation. One way of identifying a culture, subculture, or counterculture is to observe the types of music that are used to form social cohesion. That is, groups tend to rally around certain behaviors and ideals that are typified in certain types of music.
Hero. Define yours? Are you a hero?
Heroes are the champions that rescue us from peril that we could not have escaped otherwise. Some people have heroes, but I suspect many more people have role models instead. Heroes tend to be idolized, whereas role models provide examples to live a fulfilled life. My role models include Desmond Morris, Joseph Campbell, Jesus of Nazareth, David Byrne, Carl Sagan, and many, many others. To my knowledge I am not a hero to anyone, though I try to constantly be a role model to others.
What are the sounds from pre-history? Do you sample nature? The City?
Music is everywhere, and I typically leave the iPod at home when walking around outside. Cities sound different from lakes and forests, all of which are bustling with sound when we take the time to listen. It’s becoming increasingly rare, though, to experience a sound scape devoid of human-build machinery. Even at a remote campsite you can often hear the quiet yet distinct hum of the electric generator! I’ve noticed that the quieter an environment I create, the more easily I can hear the soft electric murmurs that I typically ignore. I don’t sample many sounds at all, as I play most of my music acoustically.
Is the era of sustainability a form of religion? The end of a world? What’s next?
In short, if humans want to live for long periods of time (tens of millions of years), then we must transition to sustainable development. If we decide this isn’t important, then that’s fine, too; Earth will continue just fine without us. Getting people to think on longer timescales is the tricky part, and I do think this crosses into the realm of religion. Sustainability itself is not a religion, but achieving sustainable development will require world religion to adopt a view that is compatible with sustainable living.
What effects does commercial music and television have on our well-being?
Commercial music and television serve two primary functions:
1) entertainment and
2) marketing. Both of these goals are achieved at low-cost in order to maximize profits, without necessarily considering artistic merit. As a result, a radio or television consumer is constantly updated with products, events, ideas, and other forms of cultural identity. This media mythology becomes a part of the consumer’s knowledge and inevitably affects their view of the world.
Do you know any angels? Can I meet them?
I haven’t met any so far.
What are some of the initiations that you went thru? Still working on?
Writing my book was a form of initiation. I’m still working on my educational initiation, just about a year away from my PhD! I never took a break from school, so I’m looking forward to the culmination of my 20+ year scientific initiation.
What is Gaia? Where can we see / hear this force?
Gaia is the Earth system, the super organism in a sense that results from the interactions of life, climate, and geologic processes. We see and hear this force everywhere we look and listen, for every species and every ecosystem is necessarily a part of Gaia.
What is Tao? How does your music work with the mind – body – spirit triad?
Music can induce dance, create thought, or provide mystic enlightenment. In many cases, music finds the performer or listener to provide what is needed at the time.
How are you a Shaman? Is this a title that you apply to yourself or one that others have given you? How would know if I am one?
If a Shaman is one who seeks after spiritual knowledge, then I could be counted as one. That said, I never apply the title of Shaman to myself. Many people interested in psychedelic substances will validate their experiments by pointing to tribal shaman leaders who also used psychedelic drugs. I think this comparison is often misguided, though, for the tribal shaman was probably the only member of the entire tribe privileged to commune with the divine in this way.
Indeed, I’d be willing to venture that the societal structure of tribes based around psychoactive plants resulted as a need to keep the power of the plants from abuse by the common folk. A shaman who carefully prepares to enter the unknown can then take the mysterious knowledge of the plant drug and pass it on in a useful form to the rest of the tribe. In today’s culture, though, we assert that everyone can be a shaman. I agree that everyone can (and should) explore their own spirituality, but I would consider a shaman to be a protector of a divine mystery for the sake of a community.
When are dreams not just “9-5” dreams but messages from another energy source? How do you incorporate scenes and beings from your dreams in to your waking hours?
All dreams provide an insight to our unconscious minds. Some dreams may be rote and boring while others are frightening or adventurous, but all dreams give us a look at how our minds are preparing for the coming days. In this sense, any dream we remember is potentially useful in waking life.
Do you write music based on your dreams?
I haven’t yet written dream-based music. The character Greta in my book is based on one of my dream characters, though.
How do you think women’s reverence for the sacred differs from men’s?
In my observation, women tend to value the expression of the sacred differently than men. Men tend to be the pastors and clergy of a religious organization, but it is the women who make a point of bringing their children and families to worship. Some women also seem to have an easier time moving past any logical objections to religious or spiritual pursuit.
Define myth. What myths are critical to your spirit these days?
A myth is any story that explains any aspect of what it means to be human. A myth is a vehicle for communicating an idea without any regard to its historicity, plausibility, predictability, or factual truth. David & Goliath, King Arthur, the Big Bang, and the Industrial Revolution are all mythological because they are all stories that address the purpose and meaning of human life.
Personally, I find myself returning to the New Testament gospels in terms of a religious text. Through my studies I am steeped in scientific myth, which I find tremendously valuable, and for comic myth I find myself attracted to the South Park animated series these days.
What are your three favorite sci-fi movies?
• The Matrix
Your posted song, Grapesmoke (hallucination) on PlanetShifter.com, http://www.planetshifter.com/node/1260, is a hybrid of emotions. Nicely layered. How does it make you feel?
For me it is important that music induces movement. The layered rhythms underlying this song persist even through changes so that a dancer is kept up and moving the entire song. Even with aggressive drums, this song makes me sit on the edge of my chair, head bobbing, alert yet relaxed. It’s good music for a drive.