Charles Darwin paid his own way as a natural historian and companion to the captain on the five year
circumnavigation of HMS Beagle, where he amassed a large collection of fossils, stones, and plants, and wrote an
extensive journal of his findings. Returning to England, he observed the behavior of orangutans at the London
zoo, studied Malthusian theories on the struggle for existence, and attended lectures on the emerging field of
natural law. Putting all this disparate information together, he produced a book—On the Origin of Species—that
transformed our understanding of the world.
He’d have a hard time doing that today, because by present criteria, Darwin was an amateur. He could hardly
expect to pass off a travelogue of a five-year sailing vacation as serious scientific thought. A book of random
observations, synthetic ideas, and common sense has nothing to add to the current debate in science, which has
traveled somewhere far away from Darwin’s place and time. But why not? Gaged against the infinity of our
ignorance, the sum of our knowledge is about the same now as it was back then.
We know a lot, it’s true. But there’s a lot we don’t know: after four centuries of hegemony, for example,
science still cannot account for consciousness. We don’t know what the mind is: scientists call it ‘the hard
problem’ now. It clearly is a problem; it’s even a crisis. Because the mind is life itself.
According to science the world is material, but according to our own experience the mind is not. The world
is thus either divided between mind and matter, as Descartes reluctantly left it, or matter is itself infused with
awareness, with consciousness, with mind. By rejecting the duality of the first solution and the purported
mysticism of the second, we’ve left ourselves stumped with a hard problem. We don’t know the source of
our own cogitations.
Maybe it’s time for the amateurs to weigh in again. Why not approach the issue using Darwin’s method of
direct observation and analysis of the phenomena of consciousness itself?
My own life, like many others, has been marked by a number of psychic experiences which, while hardly comprehensive,
do suggest the breadth and variety of consciousness. Why not describe these events, analyze them in the context of an ongoing
life, and see if their cumulative weight suggests any new ideas about the nature of the mind? The professionals can always mop up afterwards.
A Blanket of Dust
On the morning of 11 September 2001, Diana Crane, the daughter of a ranking US Senator, receives a phone call from her husband, who is eating breakfast in the World Trade Center in New York City. Something has just happened to the building, and he hopes that she can help him find out what. She turns on her television just as a second plane strikes the twin tower beside him. An hour of fear and chaos follows; then the towers fall. Diana rushes to New York to try to find her husband in the rubble. She doesn’t find him, though, because he isn’t there. He’s been blown to dust, and scattered all over the city.
The following day the perpetrators of the attack that killed her husband are identified, and their method of attack revealed. But the explanations proffered by the government have no correlation to the scene she witnessed herself the day before. And the repeated invocation of her husband’s name to justify an endless global war begins to drive her mad with anger.
A Blanket of Dust is the story of a woman who struggles with facts that her government, its media, her family and her countrymen deny--facts about torture, murder, fraud, and imperial travesties. A story about the people she meets and the group they form to oppose state crimes against democracy, whose perpetrators stand at the highest levels of government and society. A story about justice and popular sovereignty.
Determined to assert their popular sovereignty in a country that has utterly lost its bearings, they decide upon radical action: to immolate themselves before the White House and the Capitol.
Are they patriots? Traitors? Misguided fools, or selfless heroes?