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Alaska 2006
  • Territory: Washington State, British Columbia, Alaska
  • Time: April - August 2006, 6000 miles traveled
  • Vessel: "Teacup", Nordic Tug 37
  • Primary Activity: List things to be repaired when back in civilization. :)

Copyright © 2006, P. Lutus. All rights reserved.

(double-click any word to see its definition)

In the Company of Bears
Bear Buffet
Salmon, Bear, Tapeworms
Bear Whiz Kid
Thoughtful Bear
I am not sure I know how to express this. Okay, imagine you can visit an alien society, a society so alien that you have no common language, or passions, or much of anything else. The alien society's events are fascinating to the degree that they are distant from your own life and its concerns.

There are other, similar experiences. One of them is reading the history of a distant time and place, so that you can immerse yourself in events that have no element of uncertainly — dramatic set-pieces, written as though each event speaks some universal truth.

When I sit in my kayak in Geographic Harbor, or wander around in bear terrain, or visit an organized bear viewing area, I watch the unfolding of events in just such an alien society, a society completely removed from my own, but a society of intelligent creatures with their own struggles and passions.

As to why I do this, year after year, well, the list of reasons is long and distinguished. One I dwell on regularly is that the existence of bear society means we humans haven't completely ruined the planet. Bears have their own land and their own rules. We are visitors, the bears tolerate our being there, but that tolerance has limits.

Another is that I get to see the workings of a society in which, unlike my own, individuals aren't constantly lying to each other. It's hard to sustain falsehood among individuals guided by highly sensitive noses — if something stinks, it stinks, and no one can put a spin on stench.

Look at the picture of the tapeworm-infested bear on this page1. This poor bear drags those long tapeworms through the brush as she moves around, sometimes even getting tangled up. What a burden. On the other hand, she doesn't have to put up with taxes, HMOs and insurance salesmen. If you think this comparison is silly, perhaps you haven't met enough insurance salesmen.

Scholars reading this page will likely recognize this position as an update of Rousseau's "Noble Savage", and there's some truth to that comparison. I admit there is a certain amount of empty romanticism in my view of the bears, and it's true their lives are, as the saying goes, red in tooth and claw. But in the plus column, they don't make pointless trouble for themselves as we do, by, for example, inventing imaginary superbeings, and then murdering each other over whether my imaginary superbeing is better than your imaginary superbeing.

I'm going to say something controversial here2. I personally think religious belief is a transitional phase in human biological development. I think it represents a temporary adjustment to having a forebrain. Our forebrains are such powerful processors that, at the moment, we are unable to distinguish them from a separate personality, a separate voice if you will. So we created the God-myth to explain how we can have thoughts "higher" than what to eat next. We perceive those thoughts as emanating from a separate entity, a separate voice ... not us.

I think in the future, we will finally adjust to being able to think about things in the abstract, we will own our thoughts, and the God-myth will evaporate. What I am saying is that the forebrain exists, it functions as it should, but it is not yet integrated. That's the next phase of human evolution.

Just my opinion.

By the way. Did I say there's no God? No, I didn't. But I will say there's no God that tells you to kill your neighbor because his God is different. For that, you have to accept personal responsibility, a development for which I won't hold my breath.

You have to respect the wisdom of bears. If we were visited by aliens with mysterious, powerful weapons, we might think of them as Gods. But when I visit the bears, they think of me as lunch. I can see it in their eyes.

1. Bears get tapeworms from salmon. No salmon, no tapeworms. I haven't figured out how to tell the bears.

2. I might save space by instead announcing I'm going to say something that isn't controversial.


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