Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Curser and the Seer

Amazing anthropologist and author, Joseph Sheppherd has given me permission to post this here for you, dear reader. I referred to this piece in a previous post, "Perplexing Perspective". Enjoy!

Excerpt from Sheppherd's book, "The Curser and the Seer"

“What was the other dream about?” asked Elisha.
“It was about commonality and differences in perceptions,” answered Inaiduli.
Inaiduli described how the dream began with a series of questions. What if it were possible to bring together expert representatives from a wide diversity of cultures from around the world, people who were completely fluent in their own languages and equally conversant in some widely-spoken, international auxiliary language, like English for instance? And what if because they were fully bilingual they could easily describe the intricacies and nuances of their cultural perceptions and beliefs to others? What if a group of ten of these, and a moderator, were placed in front of an audience of academics and willing to answer any question asked of them? There were two conditions. The first was that the members of the audience could only ask one question, and each of the representatives would have the opportunity to answer the same question. The second condition was that everyone in the audience had to agree on what the one question should be. In the dream, the academics began to propose difficult long-winded and complex questions, and it soon became obvious that they would never achieve a unanimous agreement on the choice of the one question. In the end, the moderator had to pick the one question that could reveal the most about the commonality and diversity of human experience and perception. The moderator swept aside all the questions proposed and chose a simpler one. He asked, "How many people are in this room?" The audience erupted in protest at the uselessness of the question. It was infantile and the answer was apparent to everyone. Nothing new could be derived from such a question. Nevertheless the moderator’s choice prevailed. He turned, restated the question and gave the floor to the first cultural representative.
A first man pointed his finger at each person in the room as he began to count. After a few moments, he responded, "59” explaining that there were the ten on the stage, the moderator, and the forty-eight in the audience, exactly fifty-nine people.
The second one answered, as if correcting the first, “58,” explaining that in his culture it was improper to count oneself, that the counter was never included in the count, just as the observer stood apart from the things observed, just as the Creator was not part of the Creation.
The third one said, “70 and 2” and explained that this traditional number could be translated as “many” or “some undefined number” in English, and that after a certain point in counting large numbers of things, an exact figure becomes irrelevant.
The fourth responded with the word, “myriad”, not the original Greek definition of “ten thousand”, but rather, the more mystical and philosophical characterization of “an indefinitely great number”, “innumerable”, “countless”, “boundless”, “infinite”, “untold”. He explained that everyone is the summation of what had gone before, the culmination point of all the generations of the those who preceded him. Each one represented metaphorically a myriad of ancestors present in the existence of their progeny.
The fifth one looked around the room, and announced, “4”, explaining that only four of those present were truly “people”, full-blooded members of aboriginal tribes like his. All the rest were referred to in his culture as “non-people” and that in his language, “people” basically meant “us”, and all the rest were subsequently classified as “them”.
The sixth one had to use a calculator. He said, “45.5”, explaining that there were thirty-two men and twenty-seven women present, and that in his culture, when serving as a legal witnesses, a woman was counted as half of that of a man. An audience was a legal witness.
The seventh one agreed with the first, but admitted that he only did so because every time he counted the room he got a different number. He said that he didn't know if “59” was correct, but that it was a better number because the average of his counts was “59.8”. People were integers and not averages.
The eighth one described his culture and language as profoundly pedantic and in the end couldn’t answer the question because no one defined what the “in” in “in the room” meant.
The ninth one smiled and answered, "1”, explaining that metaphysically all of humankind should be regarded as many bodies sharing the same soul, and therefore there was only one soul present.
All during these answers and explanations the last one in line was looking carefully around the room, and squinting into the farthest corners. When it was his turn he said “178”, explaining that he had counted and recounted several times and that he was fairly certain that the present number assembled was a hundred and seventy-eight. He commented that no one new had arrived in the last few minutes. He described the occupants of the room as he saw them. Sitting and standing among them, unseen by most, was a host of spirits of ancestors, and that in his culture every presence was counted, both the living and the departed. He explained that spirits were always around, providing assistance and inspiration to even those who could not see them. His tribe, however, had evolved to level where they could perceive and interact with beings which could only be called celestial.
“At this point the dream ended,” said Inaiduli.
Elisha sat in her hammock transfixed, envious to her core of the depth of meaning in Inaiduli’s dreams.
“You truly are a seer,” sighed Elisha.


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