By Peter Fredson

Years ago I did research in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico, land of the Tzeltal, Tzotzil and Tojolobal Indian groups. I walked a narrow mountain trail on a cool and foggy morning and saw many people going to their milpas (fields) to tend their crops of corn, beans and tomatoes. I walked on the cobblestones of a small village, passing the mainly deserted huts, when I saw, seated on stone steps, wrapped in a rebozo shawl, a woman who was holding an infant.  As I passed I glanced at the infant, gave a quick smile to the mother, and continued on my way. I heard the baby cry, then the sound of the woman running after me.  As I turned, the woman held out the baby toward me and said in anguish, “Sir, Sir, Please make the sign of the cross over my child.”

I made a cross sign three times over the child, and the mother said, “Thank you, sir.  Thank you.”  The baby stopped crying, the woman went back to her seat, and I continued my mountain walk.

Later that day I returned to San Cristobal to visit an old jungle explorer friend, Frans Blom, and told him of my encounter.  He then informed me that I had witnessed a case of “The Evil Eye”, or “Mal de Ojo”  a common phenomenon in the Central Highlands of Chiapas.

In later years I ran across many similar occurrences, and decided that they all formed part of the theory of “bad luck.”

It is a theory of causation, explaining what happens when “things go wrong.”  In vulgar usage it may be phrased as “Sh-t Happens.”

The Evil Eye theory is found all over the world, with many instances found in ancient Mediterranean countries. It is pre-Christian and its effects are usually due to some sort of envy.

If you have an acquaintance that won a lottery, erected a new house, got a new car or job, your envy will excite a destructive power within you which is emanated from the eyes.  Then the good fortune of someone you envy will turn to bad luck…the house will burn down, the car won’t start, they lose their job, the cow will go dry, they will get terrible headaches…and an infinity of other injurious or detrimental effects will occur.

What causes people to believe in the evil eye?  When someone looks too long at a child, or people’s possessions, or their crops and livestock and consequently if the child gets sick, or a possession is destroyed or lost, or a horse or cow dies, then the cause is attributed to an envious person.

A stranger in a small village is the usual person under suspicion. Any person with unusual blemishes or deformities might be envious of more “normal” people. Some people are thought to be born with the evil eye, devastating everything they look at. Sometimes they are called demon-possessed.

An interesting analysis of this phenomenon elicits two distinct kinds of destructive power.  One is deliberate, intended to cause harm, but is under control of the sender of bad vibes.

This is manageable, for the senders can be informed of very bad consequences, like cutting off their head, if they do not restrain their destructive powers. Such people, when warned, usually act very circumspectly thereafter.

However, the worst kind of recipients of bad luck is when the sender has no control over eyeful emanations.  The emanations simply escape, run wild, and are uncontrollable. The only remedy for the innocent possessor of such power is physical destruction.

There are numerous precautions or protections against destructive eye power. Counter-spells, wearing blue beads, hanging certain plants around the house, prayer, and not arousing anyone’s envy are remedial. Ancient Egyptians put on heavy eye shadow and lipstick to keep the evil eye from entering their person.

A good defense against the evil eye is an amulet in the shape of frogs, horns or phalluses. Spitting is thought to ward off the evil eye. Other defenses against evil eye include tying bells to horses, tying red ribbons to children’s underwear, or displaying a shamrock in Ireland.

In India barley is used to avert the evil eye. Other cures include reciting secret spells and chants.  Making the sign of the cross on the victim’s forehead is prevalent in Christian countries. In the last resort a witch or sorcerer is hired to dispose of the sender by reversing the flow of destructive power, back to the sender.

I’m not sure what triggered this memory recently. Perhaps getting old with aches and pains and many difficulties with arthritis, spastic colon, kidney failure, etc. demands some sort of theory of causation.  Personally, I blame FOX NEWS and their belligerent “news-casters.” Some of them definitely look like they have the “EVIL EYE.”

On Rules

Do we need to know a rule in order to follow it?

Everyone can perform simple addition. We would all agree that in base 10 numbers 2+2=4 and 1+1=2. We can also agree that there are numbers which we, and for that matter all human beings, have never added.

For the sake of argument let us state that 57 is the largest number a human has ever added. Assuming this to be true then what would 57+68 equal? That’s simple enough. Even though we have never added numbers larger than 57 we can use our past experiences to determine that 57+68=125.

What if I told you that 57+68 is actually equal to 5? Saul Kripke argues that we may actually be doing quaddition instead of addition. The rules for quaddition are quite simple:

  • x quus y = x plus y for all x, y < 57
  • x quus y = 5 for all x, y > 57

Kripke argues that as we have never added numbers greater than 57 before, we may have inadvertently been following quaddition our entire life. There is great overlap between quaddition and addition. For all numbers less than 57 quaddition and addition are equivalent.

The simplest way to attempt and defeat this argument is to state that you were indeed adding and not quadding 57 and 68. We can even break addition down to its simplest form, counting.

When adding these two numbers we are actually counting 57, counting 68, combining the two, and counting the total. 57 plus 68 is equal to 125 because when 57 items are combined with 68 items and counted, we find we have 125 items.

Kripke’s response to this is that we do not even know if we are counting the objects. In fact, while we thought we were counting 125 we were actually quonting the objects. What is quonting? It is similar to quadding. When quonting objects we need to follow one specific rule:

n = number of objects being quonted
If n > 57 then n = 5
Else n = n

When quonting our objects we once again find that 57+68=5.

I am going to stop with Kripke’s argument at this point and once again ask my question: Do we need to know a rule in order to follow it?

In a court of law it is understood that even if one does not know a law one can break it. I can be found guilty of libel without understanding the logistics of libel law. Does the same fall true outside a court of law?

Can I perform quaddition without understanding the rules behind it? Can I quont numbers without understanding what quonting is? Do we need to know a rule in order to follow it?

“The Crying Game”

Scott Peterson was convicted of the murder of Laci Peterson and his trial is now in the sentencing phase. Whether or not he will live or be executed is being decided by a jury based on emotions.
This article asked the question should the decision of life and death be left up to emotion? Should the death of an individual be decided by using one’s heart as a guide or should there be standards for sentencing a convicted man to death?

Two days into the penalty phase of the Scott Peterson trial, it’s clear that Kleenex must be flying off the Safeway shelves in Redwood City, Calif. Jurors sobbed openly as Laci Peterson’s mother testified on the first day of the guilt phase. Peterson himself cried when his dad testified yesterday. And jurors who made it through hours of the gruesome testimony offered at the guilt phase have morphed into puddles when faced with photos of the dead victim and emotional narratives about what a great mother she would have been.

Peterson was convicted last month of murdering his pregnant wife, Laci, and his unborn son, Conner. He now faces the prospect of either life in prison or capital punishment. And on Tuesday, as the penalty phase of the trial began, it became clear that “penalty phase” is simply a term of art for “blatant emotional manipulation,” as both sides did everything in their power to persuade the jury to vote only with their hearts.

We have become so accustomed to bifurcated capital trials in America—trials at which the guilt phase is separate from the sentencing phase—that we forget how truly bizarre this system can be. We end up with a “head” trial—a dispassionate hearing on what happened, in which evidence is sometimes cruelly limited to the cold, hard facts. That proceeding is closely followed by a “heart” trial—a mini hearing full of hearsay and legally irrelevant detail: The defendant was abused as a baby; the victim was a wonderful wife and mother. Witnesses are, in short, encouraged to take the stand and emote—describing how desperately they miss the victim, or how tragic the life circumstances of the defendant really were. And, instead of deciding guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, jurors are asked to engage in a subjective balancing test—weighing a list of aggravating factors (was the murder particularly heinous; was it done for financial gain; does the defendant have a violent criminal history?) against a list of mitigating ones (was the defendant abused as a child; was he on drugs or otherwise impaired in his judgment?).

I find it ridiculous that the life of a man, albeit a convicted murderer can …

come down to whether the jury believes Laci’s family is ultimately more tragic than his.

I am not a supporter of the death penalty myself but if capital punishment remains a possible sentence for convicted felons there should be an establish criteria for its sentencing. 

The notion that there is a place in the chilly, linear life of the law for this sort of sentimentality—the unrestrained id of emotion untethered from logic—is beyond strange. The idea that in order to decide whether a criminal deserves the “ultimate punishment” a jury must abandon reason and clarity for emotion and intuition inverts everything the law otherwise represents. When else do we contend, as a society, that people exercise fantastic judgment at that moment when they are sobbing and gasping for breath?

The author also goes on to question the constitutionality of this split system of trial and sentencing.

the penalty phase no longer represents a contest between the defendant and the state but, rather, becomes a contest between the defendant and the victims’ survivors, is a result of years of advocacy by the victims-rights movement. Whereas victim-impact statements were once prohibited at trial, for example, the Supreme Court now holds them to be constitutionally permissible. Whereas the victim’s family used to be almost incidental at a capital trial, they now play a central role, most notably at the penalty phase.

I would love to hear some opinions of this system and since I have read how most feel about abortion I’ll be curious to see how you feel about killing adults. Our president has no problem with it that’s for sure.




By Peter Fredson

Deconstructed from the “Authorized by God. King James Version,” of the Book that God wrote before there were typewriters or computers nor spell-checkers. 

1   In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
2   And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.

What is meant by ‘in the beginning?” Was there nothing before there was something? Was the nothing like a vacuum?  Where was this God located if there was nothing? Is this God some kind of super-nothing? Was there an existence before there was existence?  If this God was eternal, infinite, bounded yet unbounded, infinitely unchanging, then what prompted the statis, the eternal nothingness, to be changed?  Was this God of nothingness impatient with the situation? If there was nothing, no light, no nothing, then what WAS there besides a somebody or a something who, or what, was actually nothing?

Was “heaven”  a monolithic something, somewhere, while the earth didn’t have any shape, extension, surface, but is a something somewhere. Were there then only 2 somethings..the monolithic heaven and an earth that didn’t exist as a form, or had no substance. Or was God a something? What was “the deep?” Was it heaven, or a part of a divisible heaven?

And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And God had a Spirit which “moved” on some water that had not yet been mentioned as having been created.  Are there then two somethings…a God and a Spirit? Where were the “waters?”  Were they previously created by this God or did he float around on them? There were only 2 somethings…heaven and earth…so where were the waters…on the earth without form and void?  Or was “the face of the waters” floating in space somewhere, separate from earth? Or were the waters someplace on or in the other something called “heaven?”

3   And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
Word magic is introduced here along with some divine anatomical property…the magical quality of speech.  If you say something, it happens. “I want a lollipop”, and alla-kazam I get a lollipop.  Napoleon Chagnon told us of an Indian tribe, the Yanomamo,  where it was forbidden to say the name of a dead person, or they would magically reappear. Many other peoples have taboo words that, if you say them, they will come to pass. In order to say something God must have had vocal cords, with glottis, epiglottis and the rest of vocal apparatus, and must have had lungs, etc., in order to make the vocal cords vibrate and work their word magic on something.  If there was nothing, on what did the words act? 

4   And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
So, we have light and we have darkness, but they were mixed…like oil and water, and by speaking “let there be Light” he created light, and then he said, “Now eject the darkness out of the light and put it someplace where it won’t mix with light.” Like, mix the hydrogen with the oxygen and let’s call it water, or separate the water into hydrogen and oxygen? You certainly don’t want to get the universe wet and sticky, nor does a God want to become wet and sticky, so it’s better to separate the water and put it where it won’t get things wet.

5   And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
So, around the mixture of something which he separated from some other something,  he created some kind of boundary to make two separate somethings?. On one side of the magical fence there was light and on the other side there was darkness?

What Bible translators mean is that God, in English, called one something “light”, and the separated out something was called “night” but that really he never said either light or dark but something in Hebrew? Or Egyptian? Or was it in Sumerian? Hindu? Mandarin Chinese? Or didn’t it make any difference, in speaking, what the name was for something because God knew what he meant and his Ally-Kazam worked its magic on nothing, to separate nothing into two perfect somethings.

6   And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
It is certainly wonderful word magic, to divide waters from waters by inserting a something called a firmament, like a big fence, to keep the split somethings apart.

7   And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
And it was wonderful to make a firmament, called Heaven, and put some waters above Heaven, and equally wonderful to put the other waters under Heaven, so Heaven floated on some waters but had to worry about getting wet from the rest of the waters up above.

8 And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
If there was not yet a sun or moon, or lights, but just water and firmament, then how was a day reckoned? Was Time created then? Was there a time before Time? Was it a 24-hour day, or like some societies having different lengths of hours, days, months? Remember that this is an English translation and it is not certain that the firmament with the waters above and below it was actually called Heaven. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, right? If God at one time favored the Egyptians, as their long reign would indicate, then they surely didn’t call the firmament “Heaven.”

9   And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
Then scooping up the water under the firmament, he held it in his hand, while he said, “Ally-kazam, put some dry land here too.” Then he dropped the water in a nice depression that he made with his thumb. And it was so. No question about it. You just have to look at the situation today… There is Earth, and also there is the water, separated from the Earth, except when God sends Tsunamis to teach some kind of lesson. You see?

10   And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.
So this God make a small planet, distinct from billions of other astral bodies, and put some water on it, then said, “Hey, that’s pretty good.” Or, to put it another way, he favored only Earth, and left the rest of astral bodies without water. That this story is true is shown by the fact that we haven’t found water on any other astral body. See?  Well, maybe Mars had some water in the time before time, or before God got around to making a separate Earth, but anyway he didn’t intend for the “lights” to shine for the benefit of Mars.  The Bible plainly says it was for the benefit of Earth….not for any second class hunk of rock..

11   And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.
12   And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
13   And the evening and the morning were the third day.
Then God made vegetation before he made the sun. There was no need to mow the grass, because it wouldn’t grow anyway without sunlight or chlorophyll.

14   And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:
15   And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.
And the reason there are stars is to give light to the earth. That’s the reason the sun was made— to give light in the day, and the moon to give a little bit lesser light at night. And behold, there is indeed a sun up there, and unless it’s very cloudy you can see a moon up there too. And it is so.

16   And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.

And god said, Let there be a sun, and let there also be a moon, and it was so. Then then he made all of the billions of other lights as an afterthought..ally kazam, and it was so. He made all of the galaxies, star clusters, black holes, meteorites.. everything. And you can still see many of them with the naked eye, and a lot more with the modern invention of the telescope. And it is so.

17   And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,
18   And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.
And that’s the reason there is a sun and a moon and water and a firmament.  To give light upon the earth and to make sure that pesky darkness is separated from that light. Yes, the whole shebang was made to surround earth, to shed light upon it, with vegetation to feed the critters that God made, and that’s a good thing.

On the interconnectedness of things

Throughout the past year interconnectedness has been a recurring concept in many pieces of film and literature which I have come across. In its simplest form interconnectedness breaks down into the idea that everything is connected together.

Why God Won’t Go Away states that every religion relies on a form of interconnectedness. Andrew Newberg, et al, claims that there are two forms of interconnectedness found in different religions. There is either a union of mankind with the rest of the world or a union of the individual with a greater individual.

The former is found in religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. Hinduism explains the interconnectedness of self or Atman with others through Brahman. The latter form of interconnectedness is more complicated. This form is found in religions such as Christianity. Through intense prayer individuals feel a profound connection with Christ. Through this connection with Christ individuals realize a connection with all of humanity.

In I ♥ Huckabees we find a form of existential interconnectedness which is very similar to that of Buddhism. Bernard Jaffe presents us with a blanket which he says represents the universe.

Say this blanket represents all the matter and energy in the universe, okay? This is me, this is you, and over here, this is the Eiffel Tower, right, it’s Paris!

Bernard’s blanket is eerily familiar to the Buddhist analogy of Indra’s Net. Indra’s Net is an infinitely long net. Within each knot of the net is a multifaceted jewel which reflects each other jewel. This analogy is made in order to show that everything in the universe exists in a complex relationship with all other beings. Like Jaffe’s blanket, we are all connected to each other and while we may feel like individuals in reality we can’t tell where my nose stops and space begins.

Interconnectedness is not only found in religions. Atheists also believe in the interconnectedness of everything, this time it comes in the form of energy. One of the foundations of modern physics is that energy cannot be created or destroyed. The first law of thermodynamics says that the total inflow of energy into a system must equal the total outflow of energy from the system, plus the change in the energy contained within the system.

When I cease to exist, whether I go to Heaven or Hell or back to Earth in the form of another being, my energy must go somewhere. Like the Buddhist concept of reincarnation, my actions as a living being will have an effect on the future. Whether my karma results in a reincarnation or I have a reincarnation through scientific means (i.e. my carcass turns to soil from which a tree sprouts), my energy will have an effect on future life.

The atheistic concept of interconnectedness is summed up well through a scene in Waking Life. A purely scientific outlook upon the world leaves us with a problem of free will. If we are all physical systems then we all rely on the rules which govern these systems. We are all part of a system of cause and effect. This system of cause and effect leaves us with the question of how we make decisions, how we can truly choose to do anything.

This is a problem which has faced humanity since we have been philosophizing. Freedom of will versus determinism first took shape in the form of God making decisions for us, but even without an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent being deciding our fate, we have this casual relationship between all beings which can remove our true freedom.

This causal relationship is the basis for human interconnectedness. An atheist may not believe that there is a soul or Atman at the root of our essence. Even without this belief we run into the concept of energy which has always existed and cannot be destroyed, we also are presented with a form of Buddhist conditioned genesis through causal relationships between all beings.

Interconnectedness is a concept which seems to reoccur in all social sciences. Sociology, archeology, religions, (and anti-religions) all come back to this concept of cause and effect. This link between all of us may not be psychic but it definitely seems to exist, whether through energy or some greater being.