We are Ghosts. This is Hades. – by J.F. Martel


This piece really captures the alienation of modern life. I especially like Martel’s comments about the depersonalization we experience in airports and other “non places”. Doctors’ offices come to mind. He goes on to say, " In the popular consciousness, this means atoms replacing things, brains replacing souls, genes replacing will, and the block universe replacing space and time as lived dimensions of the given world. These entities—atoms, brains, genes, the spacetime continuum—are not things but images". So much of our perceptions are projections which prevent us from having genuine experiences. In these moments, we are indeed like ghosts. Well done!


A topic near and dear to my heart. I’ve been returning to my attempt to fictionalize some of these ideas recently… But I find the hard part is really in the “to complete this would double the length” – because those of eyes with our eyes open might diagnose where we are. The first apocalypse: revelation of the situation we find ourselves in. Say the period between the atom bomb and the cascading effects of climate change.

But beyond that? I’m not sure how well any of us can diagnose the “… and then what happens?”, not because of the limits of human imagination, but because it calls to the sort of transcendence we’ve only ever managed to fictionalize.


How much of this do you think is about human agency—and how much is out of our hands? Or in the hands of massive human constructs (e.g., industries, governments) that are themselves being driven by larger forces?

And can our fictionalizing (or myth-making) be effective, to the degree that we transcend the present, or does it amount to mere appearances to captivate our attention while the inevitable unfolds?

Given: the above questions (or their answers) might better be framed in terms of both/and and/or neither/nor

We might also ask: What does it mean to wake up in the dream?


Well, I know how Sapolsky would answer some of those questions.

I think agency fundamentally hinges on the range of an agent’s possible actions – as the saying goes “the rich don’t make better choices, they have better choices”.

But that still doesn’t mean the choices they make aren’t mostly contingent on factors beyond their control.

So, to cut ahead a bit… and avoid getting stuck in the kind of tedious ‘free will’ semantic loop… I think there’s a certain inevitability to our actions and choices, but our participation is also already factored into that inevitability. Of course, quoth the sage (Geddy Lee): “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” :wink:

Really what gets me though is that whenever any of us gets to the end of our “dream”, it’s still in the middle for everyone and everything else.

Maybe some of the lure of the apocalyptic is simply the narrative closure of all walking out of the theater together. “We saw it to the end, and missed nothing that followed”.

Sapolsky seems to miss the fact that the totality of conditions which might determine one’s choices is infinite and unbounded. Sure, there are many biological, social, and historical factors we can identify that make it more probable that we end up acting in one way rather than another. But how could we possibly know or account for them all?

If we have some degree of agency, it is not because we as individuals are self-determining but because the cosmos itself is an engine of novelty (and is arguably driven to freedom) through us. At least, that would be my preferred metaphysics, since there’s no logical way to resolve the antinomy.

Sounds like FOMO all the way down! But the big problem for ghosts, the longing infusing the haunting, is how to inhabit a tangible reality, how to be in a body, how to experience pleasure and pain, how to feel real. Normally, historically, this shouldn’t be problem—we’d actually welcome a less sordid, fleshy, and mortal existence—but as J.F. points out, something about modernity, industrialization, digital media, and especially the internet, has dissociated our minds from our bodies.

Our representations have overtaken our presence. We can’t help but see ourselves through the grave.

Speaking for myself, I am finding that the internal energy arts—QiGong specifically—can serve as an antidote to the spectral condition. These, and relating more deeply to the earth, being outdoors, hiking, camping, things like that; and also vocal work, poetry, singing; and being in relationship and friendship with women—these make me feel a lot more like a flesh and blood human being; less concerned with how it all ends, more invested in keeping it all going—dreaming on…