Friday, December 19, 2014

"Never Be Ashamed..."

"Tell Them..."

 "Then tell them we've all got some meanness in us...
but tell them that we have some good in us, too.
And the only thing worth living for is the good. 
That’s why we’ve got to make sure we pass it on." 
- Billie Letts

"3 Questions To Ask Before You Die"

"3 Questions To Ask Before You Die"
by Yurianddinna

"The unexamined life is not worth living: Socrates once said that the unexamined life is not worth living. I grieve at the grim reality that most of us live such “unexamined” lives and then we die. Inside your head is one of the most irreducibly complex wonders of the universe, and you are afraid to use it for more than a game of Angry Birds. Around you is a world filled to the brim with miracles, marvels, manifestations that shout questions at you, but you prefer to focus all your attention onto the lives of the Kardashians. One of the greatest mysteries in all of the known universe stares back at you in the mirror, but your greatest concern is how to style your hair.

The silent procession to nowhere: And all the while, life is fleeing. Its reminiscent of a candle, bright and full of motion when lit, a small flicker later there is only a short puff of smoke, and then empty darkness. In that short span, from cradle to grave, most of us are stuck in a dreamlike state, dumbed down by the narcotics of trifle amusements and selfish aspirations. I imagine a long line of human beings, stretching from eternity past, to the far reaches of the future. We march along in this silent procession, always keeping our eyes down, too busy to look up and see where we are or where we are going. Always fixated on minor details, on the “what I should eat or wear.” And when someone raises their voice and shows the futility of this march, he is quickly scorned, rejected, or crucified. And the mass of humanity continues, never asking where we are going or why.

The questions that need answers: A few days ago, I read a few Facebook posts about a young guy who recently died in an accident. I was shocked to see his profile, a day before, was filled with life, football games, a new condo, and a recent wedding. And without any warning, the scissors of fate cut off his life. He was gone. A day later I felt faint and nearly passed out a few times. It caught me by surprise, and jolted me with a reminder about the unpredictability of life, and the closeness of death to each of us. For a few minutes I wondered, “am I dying?” I asked myself “is this it? Did I live 26 years, to this moment, and it all ends here?” Obviously it didn’t, but it will. I don’t know where or how, but I know it will. For many of us, it’s only in that final moment we begin to really think. It’s when our heart, the closest of companions, gives up its unappreciated toils; it’s when our possessions and positions are grasped from our cold hands that we realize the nature of existence. I urge you, before that happens, ask yourself these questions:

1. Why am I me? (Your Identity): Where did you come from? We know you came from a tiny sperm and egg within your parents, but is that it? You are the result of a millions of lines of DNA programming? Can you really believe that? Why are you the person that you are? Why are you male/female, white/black, skilled or talented in certain things? What makes this important for you to be this? Why don’t you change and be completely different? Why?

2. Why is this world like this? (Universal Meaning): Where did everything come from? The bees, trees, mathematics, stars, oceans, and wars? Where did it come from and why is it here? Why are there atoms and cells? Why are there sounds, sights, and smells? Why is there pain, suffering, sickness, and death? Why do our bodies age? Why have all humans, just like you and I, died? Where have they gone? Why?

3. Why am I here? (Personal Purpose): Please, I beg you, ask this. Why the bloody heck are you here? You only do things because they have a purpose, you eat when hungry, drink when thirsty, read when seeking to learn, work to get paid, and etc. Everything has a purpose or a reason. So why do you live? All of us humans are thrown into this big pot called life, and we never ask why? Why not? This is the biggest question in your whole existence, and its implications are of infinite importance! Why in the world are you here? If there is no purpose to anything, than why do you live? If there is a purpose, what is it? Are you searching for it? Why?”

"Questions..."

 "You have been given questions to which you cannot be given answers.
You will have to live them out - perhaps a little at a time."
"And how long is that going to take?" 
"I don't know. As long as you live, perhaps."
"That could be a long time."
"I will tell you a further mystery," he said. "It may take longer."
— Wendell Berry, "Jayber Crow"

"What Lies Beyond the Edge of the Universe?”

 "What Lies Beyond the Edge of the Universe?”
by Andrew Moseman

“The visible edge of the universe is, by definition, the most distant thing that we can see. That does not mean it is the most distant thing we can feel, however. According to astrophysicist Alexander Kashlinsky of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, something from way beyond the edge seems to be pulling powerfully on galaxies in our universe, yanking them along in a motion he calls “dark flow.” Kashlinsky and his team noticed this phenomenon while studying the cosmic microwave background, radiation left over from just after the Big Bang. Giant clusters of galaxies scatter the radiation in a way that makes it possible to determine how each cluster is moving.

When Kashlinsky plotted those motions, he determined that the galaxies seem to be racing in a particular direction, roughly aligned with the constellation Centaurus. The phenomenon was so unexpected that he conducted an expanded survey, looking at more and brighter galaxy clusters. The results, released on March,  2010, not only confirm the dark flow but extend its known reach. “This motion persists as far as we can see,” Kashlinsky says.

Nothing in the known universe can account for the dark flow phenomenon. So Kashlinsky thinks the galaxies are responding to the pull of matter and energy lying beyond our cosmic horizon. That unseen stuff could be at least a thousand times farther out than the horizon and cause “a slight tilt to our universe,” he theorizes. Kashlinsky plans to use the European Space Agency’s new Planck spacecraft to make refined measurements of the dark flow to better understand what is causing it.”

Musical Interlude: 2002, "Starwalkers"

2002, "Starwalkers"

"A Look to the Heavens"

 “Shiny NGC 253 is one of the brightest spiral galaxies visible, and also one of the dustiest. Some call it the Silver Dollar Galaxy for its appearance in small telescopes, or just the Sculptor Galaxy for its location within the boundaries of the southern constellation Sculptor. First swept up in 1783 by mathematician and astronomer Caroline Herschel, the dusty island universe lies a mere 10 million light-years away. 
Click image for larger size.
About 70 thousand light-years across, NGC 253 is the largest member of the Sculptor Group of Galaxies, the nearest to our own Local Group of Galaxies. In addition to its spiral dust lanes, tendrils of dust seem to be rising from a galactic disk laced with young star clusters and star forming regions in this sharp color image. The high dust content accompanies frantic star formation, earning NGC 253 the designation of a starburst galaxy. NGC 253 is also known to be a strong source of high-energy x-rays and gamma rays, likely due to massive black holes near the galaxy's center.”

Chet Raymo, “The Eternal Silence of Infinite Spaces...”

“The Eternal Silence of Infinite Spaces...”
by Chet Raymo

“The little book, British psychologist Nicholas Humphrey's “Leaps of Faith,” published in 1995, may have been the first (and best?) shot in the current brouhaha of science and faith. I've been reading again my copy, and recognize my debt to his trenchant analysis. I seem to recall quoting him in my own “Skeptics and True Believers” (1998).

He poses his theme with this statement: "All great supernatural belief systems- indeed, all philosophical systems, up till now- have catered to two central human needs: the need for a rational understanding of the surrounding world, and the need for emotional security within it."

The first need has been answered by the various cosmologies that humans have used to explain the origin and working of the world. For most humans, in all places at all times, the second need has been met by the belief that a supernatural being attends lovingly (or at least justly) to our needs, and that the self will survive the death of the body.

The dual assumptions of godly attention and personal immortality have been discredited by science, Humphrey contends. Science has provided a dazzlingly successful rational understanding of the world, but it has not found the slightest evidence that a divine being intrudes into the workings of nature, or that a human self will survive the death of the body.

Psychologist that he is, Humphrey surveys the sources and symptoms of our existential angst, and prescribes a remedy: "Instead of pining for our lost souls and absent psychic powers [prayer, the paranormal, etc.], we shall have to begin to take pride and pleasure in the facts of our embodiedness, our mortality and individuality." Individuality and mortality are the driving forces of evolution, "the elements on which life has taken wing...on which all things bright and beautiful- natural and cultural- have relied for their creative energy." It is not just that we have no need for the hypotheses of a watchful divinity and personal immortality, says Humphrey; we would not be here if those hypotheses were true.”
- http://blog.sciencemusings.com/

"The eternal silence of infinite spaces..."
Vangelis, "Cosmos, A Tour of the Universe"

And in all the utterly inconceivable reaches of the cosmos,
 estimated to be 73 billion light years in diameter... us.

 "Letters From the Earth", Excerpt
by Mark Twain

"This is a strange place, an extraordinary place, and interesting. There is nothing resembling it at home. The people are all insane, the other animals are all insane, the earth is insane, Nature itself is insane. Man is a marvelous curiosity. When he is at his very very best he is a sort of low grade nickel-plated angel; at is worst he is unspeakable, unimaginable; and first and last and all the time he is a sarcasm. Yet he blandly and in all sincerity calls himself the "noblest work of God." This is the truth I am telling you. And this is not a new idea with him, he has talked it through all the ages, and believed it. Believed it, and found nobody among all his race to laugh at it.

Moreover - if I may put another strain upon you - he thinks he is the Creator's pet. He believes the Creator is proud of him; he even believes the Creator loves him; has a passion for him; sits up nights to admire him; yes, and watch over him and keep him out of trouble. He prays to Him, and thinks He listens. Isn't it a quaint idea? Fills his prayers with crude and bald and florid flatteries of Him, and thinks He sits and purrs over these extravagancies and enjoys them. He prays for help, and favor, and protection, every day; and does it with hopefulness and confidence, too, although no prayer of his has ever been answered. The daily affront, the daily defeat, do not discourage him, he goes on praying just the same. There is something almost fine about this perseverance. I must put one more strain upon you: he thinks he is going to heaven!"
Complete "Letters From the Earth" is here: http://www.classicreader.com/book/1930/

"Tips For Dealing With Sadness and Depression"

"Tips For Dealing With Sadness and Depression"
by Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

“Depression with its characteristic sad face, stooped posture, and slow movements is universal; it is found not only in humans in all cultures, but even in animals, notably, monkeys, chimpanzees, and dogs. In the English language, we have even invented a metaphor to describe a sad face, the "hang dog" appearance. Everyone now and then feels sad, unhappy or disappointed because of a thought, memory, behavior or spoken words. But then such feelings are cleared up in just a few hours and we get back to our normal mood. We refer to it "occasional sadness or blues. " In many cases, the sadness or depressed mood may last for not just hours but days and weeks, and may accompany problems, such as, loss of appetite, overeating, sleeplessness, excessive sleeping, lack of energy and drive, loss of interest and joy, etc.

Unlike the occasional sadness, it is referred to as, "depression." Forty percent of the population reported occasional sadness or blues last year, out of which about nine percent (21 million) people experienced mild, moderate, or severe depression. Far more people, especially, of the younger generation, report being depressed today, than they did twenty, ten, or even five years ago. Our lives are inevitably touched by depression; a friend, relative, family member, or we personally will experience depression sometime in life.

Here are a few "self help" tips to cope with occasional sadness and mild depression. Be aware these are not a substitute for treatment:

1. Take up a physical, repetitive action such as, skipping rope, bouncing a ball, jogging, housecleaning, yard work, gardening, etc. Take up anything in which you can gradually build up your ability to move your body for 20 to 30 minutes. In the beginning, your body may not want to move at all. You may have to start with a light physical action for just a few minutes. Don't compare what you can do now with that "vigorous work out" you could do in the pre-depressed state. That will only depress you further. Just whatever you can do deserves your praise. If you want to compare what you are able to accomplish now with what you could do in the pre-depressed period, factor in the " 100 lb. formula. "Imagine that you have an invisible weight of 100 lb. tied to your back, legs, and arms. If you factor that in, you will have a correct appreciation of your performance in the depressed state.
2. Learn to divert yourself from the depressed mood by a) describing in minute detail the physical environment of a chosen area, such as the furniture, lights, fixtures, etc. b) expanding your awareness of the environment by seeing, hearing, feeling everything, relevant or irrelevant. c) engaging in an activity, such as, walking, reading, phone conversation, etc.
3. Resume activities that you have enjoyed in the past. A depressed person is likely to give up the activities that provided pleasure and enjoyment.
4. Imagine pleasant and relaxing experiences: Imagine scenes and situations that are pleasant and enjoyable to you, such as, playing golf, winning a lottery, basking in the sun on a sandy beach, etc. You can imagine a scene of the past , such as a vacation you had, or a happy event that is occurring in the future. The more details you can imagine, the less depressed you are likely to feel. Note, if you start picturing a negative, unpleasant experience in your mind, stop, get up, and do some activity or divert yourself.
5. Look for the humor or irony in a situation that makes you sad.
6. Pretend being back in time when you were not depressed. Start with 15 or 30 minutes and gradually increase the duration. Look at the pictures, slides, or movies of yourself of happy times so you can exactly copy the facial expressions, body posture, talk, voice, etc.
7. Assign a "depression time" for yourself, for example, "5.00 to 6.00 p.m.," when you allow yourself to feel as depressed as you really are. At other times, try to involve yourself more fully in performing various tasks and achieving set goals. Whenever you feel the depressed mood coming on, remind yourself as to when you will let the depression have its time.
8. View depression as a "nuisance" and not as a "catastrophe." Instead of telling yourself, "I can't stand this!" say, "I am strong enough to take this on" or "I will time it how long I can stand this. " This way you can avoid being anxious about depressed mood.
9. Eschew self criticism. Compliment yourself for coping with depression.

Get a professional evaluation to check your progress and need for treatment. These ideas can be used along with treatment.”

The Daily "Near You?"

Vitrolles, Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur, France
Thanks for stopping by.

“The Day Einstein Feared Has Arrived”

“The Day Einstein Feared Has Arrived”
by Administrator

"The day Albert Einstein feared may finally have arrived..."
Click image for larger size.

Satire: "Rubio Vows to Block Twenty-First Century"

"Rubio Vows to Block Twenty-First Century"
by Andy Borowitz

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)— "Seizing upon an issue that could become the cornerstone of a possible 2016 Presidential campaign, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said on Thursday that he would do everything in his power to block the twenty-first century. “A lot of folks in Washington believe that the twenty-first century is a forgone conclusion, and that there’s nothing we can do about it,” Rubio said. “I say, ‘Not on my watch.’ ”

Explaining his strategy, Rubio said that he and fellow Republicans were exploring ways to stop funding any items in the federal budget that pertain to the current century. “We cannot stop time, perhaps, but we can defund it,” he said. In a blistering attack, he laid blame for the twenty-first century squarely on the shoulders of someone he accused of “using every trick in the book to make it happen”: President Obama. “Much like Obamacare, the twenty-first century is something that the American people never asked for and do not want,” Rubio said."

"How It Really Is"

“Habitual Anger: Unblocking the Ally”

“Habitual Anger: Unblocking the Ally”
by Madisyn Taylor, The DailyOM

“Anger can easily become our go-to emotion; to remedy, start noticing when and why you get angry. Sometimes when we feel anger, it is coming from a deep place that demands acknowledgment and expression. At these times, it is important that we find healthy ways to honor our anger, remembering how dangerous it is to repress it. However, anger can also become a habit, our go-to emotion whenever things go wrong. Often this is because, for whatever reason, we feel more comfortable expressing anger than we do other emotions, like sadness. It can also be that getting angry gives us the impression that we’ve done something about our problem. In these cases, our habitual anger is inhibiting both our ability to express our other emotions and to take action in our lives.

If it’s true that anger is functioning this way in your life, the first thing you might want to try is to notice when you get angry. You might begin to see a pattern of some kind. For example, you could notice that it is always your first response or that it comes up a lot in one particular situation. If the pattern doesn’t become clear right away, you could try keeping a journal about when you get angry and see if you can find any underlying meaning. The good thing about keeping a journal is that you can explore your anger more deeply in it—from examining who in your family of origin expressed a lot of anger to how you feel when you encounter anger in others. This kind of awareness can be a formidable agent of transformation.

Anger can be a powerful ally, since it is filled with energy that we can harness and use to create change in the world. It is one of the most cathartic emotions, and it can also be a very effective cleanser of the emotional system. However, when it becomes a habit, it actually loses its power to transform and becomes an obstacle to growth. Identifying the role anger plays in your life and restoring it to its proper function can bring new energy and expansiveness to your emotional life.”

Greg Hunter, “Weekly News Wrap-Up, Friday 12.19.14”

 “Weekly News Wrap-Up, Friday 12.19.14”
By Greg Hunter’s USAWatchdog.com

“My top story is the economy, and I think the Fed and Congress just signaled that something is seriously wrong, and it’s going to get worse. First off, the Federal Reserve just came out and said that it was going to be “patient” when normalizing the monetary policy. I know Wall Street is jubilant and the stock market spiked on the news, but I think this is really ominous, and it is nothing to be celebrated. To me, that means don’t expect the Fed to raise interest rates anytime soon because the economy is much worse than what they are telling you. Why else would Fed Head Janet Yellen come out and say the Fed was going to keep the easy money policies for a “considerable time.” If we did have a so called “recovery,” wouldn’t you be raising rates and pulling back on the juice? I think the Fed knows the economy will continue to sink, and if it lets off the money printing gasoline, the whole thing tanks. Economist John Williams says, “The great dollar calamity nears.” We are constantly told that the economy is in a so-called “recovery,” and yet, a large percentage of young people in their 20’s and 30’s are forced to live at home. Also, you don’t have a strong economy with nearly 93 million no longer counted in the work force. I think the Fed is scared and also knows the Christmas spending numbers are going to be the first big sign that the U.S. economy has a big problem.

The second big warning sign came from Congress, last week, in the form of gutting the Dodd-Frank law that restricted derivative trading and the use of depositor money for Wall Street gamblers.  Now, bankers can use depositor money and if or when it blows up, depositors and taxpayers will be on the hook for billions or even trillions of bad bets by the big banks. Former Assistant Treasury Secretary Paul Craig Roberts was on this week, and he thinks the trouble may come from the oil derivatives. You know you got a problem when the main stream media highlights bonds taking a hit because of a plunge in oil prices. You know there is massive leverage in the oil shale sector, and bonds backing that industry are tanking. They are not coming back until the price of oil comes back up. Why else would big banks like JP Morgan and Citigroup be pushing this bailout to Congress? The big banks likely have some very bad bets and are going to need another massive bailout. I think Congress gave a big tipoff by packing this depositor and taxpayer rip-off in the spending bill that President Obama just signed into law. You know it was a bad deal for Main Street when Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren votes against it with the likes of Republican Senator Ted Cruz. They are polar opposites, but not on this issue. About 40 Senators voted against it from both parties, but it was not enough.

Falling oil prices may be a joy at the pump here, but for Russia it is a nightmare. There is talk of China bailing out Russia.  There are rumors of bank runs in Russia despite a new 17% interest rate. Russia’s currency, the ruble, has had its buying power cut in half in a matter of months. It is crystal clear the U.S. and Russia are at economic war, and Vladimir Putin gave a speech this week to essentially say the Russian Bear is not going to roll over. There is talk of increased sanctions on Russia by the United States, but an unintended consequence is the sanctions that are hurting Russia are also hurting Europe. This adds to the economic volatility and probability of a black swan that could come out of Europe in the form of an economic calamity. It they go down, we will too. The U.S. Congress has also just voted to send weapons to Ukraine. They are calling it “lethal aid,” and it may be lethal to Ukrainians as this is going to further ratchet up the conflict in that part of the world.  It looks like the next move will be Russia’s, and who knows what a not-so-wounded bear will do.  The U.S. should expect some payback and it might wreck an already teetering economy here in the U.S.

I don’t have much on the internet hack of Sony. I think it is a side story, and it may be a test of how weak the internet security really is here in America. I also think reopening relations with Cuba was a very bad deal because the U.S. did not get much in return. Democrats like Senator Robert Menendez say it “vindicates the brutal behavior” of the Cuban government. Republican Senator Marco Rubio says President Obama “betrayed” Cubans fighting for freedom. Maybe President Obama did this to break up the relationship Cuba has with Russia. Who knows, but the two Cuban Americans in the Senate from both sides of the aisle think it was a bad deal for a variety of reasons.

Join Greg Hunter as he analyzes these stories and more in the Weekly News Wrap-Up.”

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Musical Interlude: Enya, "Watermark", "A Day Without Rain"

Enya, "Watermark" 

"A Look to the Heavens"

“The bright clusters and nebulae of planet Earth's night sky are often named for flowers or insects, and NGC 6302 is no exception. With an estimated surface temperature of about 250,000 degrees C, the central star of this particular planetary nebula is exceptionally hot though- shining brightly in ultraviolet light but hidden from direct view by a dense torus of dust. 
 Click image for larger size.
This dramatically detailed close-up of the dying star's nebula was recorded by the upgraded Hubble Space Telescope. Cutting across a bright cavity of ionized gas, the dust torus surrounding the central star is near the center of this view, almost edge-on to the line-of-sight. Molecular hydrogen has been detected in the hot star's dusty cosmic shroud. NGC 6302 lies about 4,000 light-years away in the arachnologically correct constellation Scorpius.”

"I Soon Found Out..."

"I soon found out you can't change the world. 
The best you can do is to learn to live with it."
- Henry Miller

Paulo Coelho, “Change and Renewal”

“Change and Renewal”
by Paulo Coelho

“When winter arrives, the trees must sigh in sadness as they see their leaves falling. They say: ‘We will never be like we were before.’ Of course. Or still, what is the meaning of renewing oneself? The next leaves will have their own nature, they pertain to a new summer that approaches and which will never be like the one that passed.

Living means changing– and the seasons repeat these lessons to us every year. Changing means going through a period of depression: we still don’t know the new and we have to forget everything we used to know. But if we are a little patient, spring ends up arriving and we forget the winter of our hopelessness. Change and renewal are the laws of life. It is best to get used to them and not suffer about things that only exist to bring us joy.”

"Always Been Sane..."

"As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity.
 Indigenous humans have always been sane because they have always been mystic. 
They permit the twilight."
- G. K. Chesterton

“6 Steps to Release Your Fear and Feel Peaceful”

“6 Steps to Release Your Fear and Feel Peaceful”
by Nicolas Perrin

“We are not what we know but what we are willing to learn.”
 ~ Mary Catherine Bateson

“It was a balmy spring morning and I started my day as per usual, but I soon realized that my mind was entertaining fearful thoughts about my financial insecurity. With many new ventures within the seedling stage, my income flow was erratic and unpredictable, while my financial responsibilities were consistent and guaranteed. At the time I ignored these thoughts as “petty,” like a parent dismissing a crying child after a mild fall on the pavement.

What I didn’t realize was that my mind wanted to entertain these fear-based thoughts like a Hollywood blockbuster, and as you may know, what you focus on expands. Before I knew it, my body was in a state of complete anxiety and fear. I literally felt my cognitive and creative centers shutting down. I felt completely powerless, a hostage to my own mind. My body felt paralyzed, and I felt disconnected from my talents and gifts. I felt separate, isolated, and vulnerable. I became a victim of the fear. In this moment I realized the powerful impact thoughts can have on how we feel, mentally and physically. Here is what unfolded through me, and the lessons I treasured from this experience.

Fear is a closed energy, referred to as inverted faith. Fear exists when we do not trust our connection to the infinite part of who we are and buy into a story about what’s unfolding in our life. The emotions we feel are created from the thoughts that we choose to focus on, consciously or unconsciously. The emotions act as markers to let us know if we are focusing on expansive, empowering thoughts or fearful, limiting thoughts.

If I were to relate this in a story, it may be like a pilot believing he no longer had any guidance or support from the airport control tower in a large storm, and no instruments on board to detect if he was on a collision course with another airplane. If the control tower represents the infinite part of who we are, which always knows what’s best for us, it can be understandable why the pilot with no other guidance except for his own eye sight would be fearful of the situation at hand. An alarm on the plane beeping at the pilot would represent the emotions. The alarm’s purpose is to get the attention of the pilot so he can focus and realize he is off the path. Once our emotions start to take a grip of our physical body, what can we do to move from a state of limitation and fear into an open, tranquil, peaceful state?
1. Come back to the present moment. The first step is to bring your awareness to the present moment. To do this, take three deep breaths through your nose and exhale through your mouth. After the air has filled your lungs and you’ve felt your stomach rise, exhale through your mouth by forcing the air through your teeth, as if you were hissing out loud. This detoxifies your body from the heavy emotions you’re experiencing and brings you back into the present moment. When I do this, I place my awareness into my feet so I am in a feeling space within my body, rather than being in my mind, entertaining the stories that swirl around with vigor, like a dangerous hurricane. Imagine that all your emotions are in a large sludge bucket. This breathing technique will empty the bucket out so you are empty and free.
․ 
2. Put things in perspective. Now that you are present, acknowledge the experience and ask yourself this question: “What is the worst case scenario that can happen to me?” Once we can accept this and realize we will be okay if that happens, we are free from the fear. When I realized I’d blown things out of proportion with my fears, I was able to detach from the story and put things into perspective. I like to imagine that in every moment I have two wolves I can feed (per the Native American myth): the fear wolf or the love wolf. The one that gets stronger and wins is the one I feed.
3. Become an observer of your thoughts.  What has served me well in moments like this is to say, “I’m not these thoughts. I’m not these emotions. I’m not this body. I’m an infinite being having a human experience.” In saying this, we immediately detach from the story and allow ourselves the choice of suffering or to become the observer. Imagine that your life is represented in a book, and the story you are living out comes from the words on the page. We can change the words of the story at any point in time.
4. Change your experience. The fourth step is to place your awareness and your right hand on the heart center, which is located near the sternum. Close your eyes, take three deep breaths, and make the following command: “I am now connected to the infinite part of who I am, which already knows how to be whole and complete. I take full responsibility and accountability for this creation, I recognize how it has served me, and I am now ready to let it go. I command that the fear energy be transmuted into unconditional love now. Thank you. It is now done.” This process is incredibly empowering. We allow ourselves the opportunity to experience being our own inner master and a co-creator of our reality.

5. Prevent your mind from sabotaging you. Visualize a stone being thrown into a pond. Observe the ripples it creates when it enters the water. This is to simply distract your mind and allow the process to unfold without doubt or self-sabotage. It is only our mind that can interfere with our own healing.
6. Be grateful. Express gratitude and appreciation for the integration and healing you have received.

The key to happiness is awareness. When we become aware that our mind is wandering, we can gently bring it back to the present moment. It’s only in the present moment that we are empowered and can consciously choose the thoughts we engage with. The thoughts we focus on will determine where our energy flows, and thus what is created in our life. Each thought has a vibration, which is reflected by the feeling we experience in our body. To be able to move from a fear-based experience to an open, peaceful experience we must first take full responsibility and accountability that on some level we created the experience, and nobody else is to blame. The choice is truly ours. Do we choose to experience a fearful, limited life or do we choose a happy joyful life?"
- http://tinybuddha.com/

The Daily "Near You?"

Jonquière, Quebec, Canada. Thanks for stopping by.

"Human Destiny- the Grace of the Present Moment"

"Human Destiny- the Grace of the Present Moment"
by Michael Dowd

"Our present situation, I think, can be summarized by the following three sentences: 1. The glory of the human has become the desolation of the Earth. 2. The desolation of the Earth is becoming the destiny of the human. 3. Therefore, all human activities, professions, programs and institutions must henceforth be judged primarily by the extent to which they inhibit, ignore or foster a mutually enhancing human/Earth relationship." — Thomas Berry

"A thing is right when it tends to preserve the diversity, stability, and beauty of the life community. It is wrong when it tends to do otherwise." — Aldo Leopold

"In this last day that the Universe has reflected on itself in and through Homo sapiens, for nearly 23 and a half of the past 24 hours we were in the tribal-shamanic period of Earth's cultural development; as hunter-gatherers. This is also known as the paleolithic era or Stone Age. From 11:20pm to 11:40pm, we went through the neolithic village era. Writing developed at the end of this period and, with it, the beginnings of "recorded history." The next nineteen minutes, to 11:59pm, is the period of the classical civilizations, or the age of the classical religious cultures. For the last sixty seconds we have been in the scientific-technological-industrial period. During this last minute we have toxified the air, water and soil upon which all life depends to such a degree that we are now faced with the possibility of a collapse of the planetary life-support systems, or ecocide.

The human is an expression of Earth. We are totally dependent upon the health of the community of Life for our own health. Our own healing and destiny, as individuals or as a species, depends entirely upon our relationship to the land, air, water and life of Earth. What we do to the planet, we do to our self.

It is, of course, possible that the destiny of Life may not include a human expression much longer. This will certainly be so if the destiny of the human becomes the desolation of the Earth. But whether or not our species survives, Earth will continue to evolve, eventually healing the damage done by us. The Milky Way galaxy will continue to spiral, with countless new solar systems being born, living and dying. And the Universe will continue to expand and grow more complex for billions of years after our solar system is but a distant cosmic memory. We are part of an awesome and divine Universe. We are also only a very small part of it. We must keep this perspective in mind when discussing "human destiny." Humility may be the single most important attitude of the heart we will need if we are to continue into the future. Humility and survival go hand in hand. Pride goes before a fall.

We are now at what may be the most significant turning point in the Sacred Story of Life since the 185 million year Mesozoic era, the age of the dinosaurs, came crashing to a close some 65 million years ago. That was when the dinosaurs all died out. The last 65 million years have been called the Cenozoic era, the age of the mammals and the flowering plants. As a direct result of human activity over the past two hundred years, we are now bringing to an end this 65 million year age! It is important to see things from this larger perspective.

Today, species are being eliminated at a rate faster than perhaps any other time in history. Biologist Norman Myers, a specialist in the rain forests and vegetation of the world, says that we are bringing about an "extinction spasm" that is likely to produce "the greatest setback to life's abundance and diversity since the first flickerings of life almost four billion years ago." Thanks to our addictive industrial culture, we are altering the geological structure, the chemistry, and the biological systems of the planet on a scale that would normally have taken millions of years. Yet we are accomplishing this feat in a few short decades.

As the Cenozoic era collapses around us, the logical question becomes, "What's next?" Geologian Thomas Berry suggests two possibilities. The first possibility he calls the Technozoic era. In the Technozoic, humanity would continue to understand "progress" in terms of increasing mechanistic control over the forces of nature for its own superficial, short-term benefit. Through continued scientific innovation and technological cunning, we could create delimited artificial environments to "protect" us in isolation from our despoiled and dying world. The Technozoic would be an isolated hell of existence. Humanity would become ever more alienated from the rest of Life. In the long run, of course, it could not even hope to last. Without spirit, matter decays. The Technozoic could never be sustainable.

Another possibility, perhaps the only viable option for humans, is what Berry calls the Ecozoic era. The primary aspect of the Ecozoic would be the deep somatic awareness of the natural world as our larger body, as our larger self. All species would be granted their habitat, their freedom, and their range of life expression. The Ecozoic would further be characterized by our harmonious alignment with, rather than domination over, the biological processes of the planet. This would require abandoning many of our destructive mechanistic technologies. The natural world itself would be taken as the primary referent for all that we do, and the primary model for all our technologies. In the Ecozoic, all of our activities, professions, programs, and institutions will be judged primarily by the extent to which they inhibit, ignore or foster a mutually enhancing human/Earth relationship. This is the way of human destiny!

When we see things from a larger perspective, it becomes clear that something more is needed to "save the Earth" than recycling our paper and glass, not using styrofoam, and driving our cars less. Specifically, two things are absolutely necessary if the human expression of Earth is to continue into the future.

As a species, we must make a profound shift in consciousness in the direction of deep ecology if we are to survive. We must grow from seeing ourselves as discrete, separate beings that walk around on Earth, to feeling and knowing ourselves as an expression of Earth. Our thinking and behavior must align with, and flow out of, the reality of our situation: the planet is our larger body, our larger self. We are dependent upon the community of life, air, water and soil in every conceivable way. Unless we make this shift in conscoiusness, we will continue to be a "cancer," a parasite, consuming its own host environment. We will survive only with the spiritual guidance and awareness of the body of Life as a whole with its billions of years of evolutionary wisdom.

The second thing necessary for the human expression of Earth to survive is for human beings to live in ecologically sustainable communities. We must live our lives in deep communion with each other and with our bioregion: sharing possessions and dwelling space, growing food together in a way that enhances our lives and the soil; laughing, working, playing and celebrating together; and, in short, living in love with each other and with all of Life. We must create ecological communities where we can be most truly ourselves, where we can experience loving physical touch, where we can share our finitude and brokenness and feel loved unconditionally, and where we are both supported and challenged to be all that we can be, especially for future generations.

None of us asked to be alive at this moment in Earth's history. We did not choose to be born at this juncture in the Story. We were chosen. Each of us has been chosen by Life to be alive and to participate in the most significant geological and biological transformation in 65 million years. This is a fact! Can you feel the sense of personal destiny, or a sense of mission or purpose, that such an awareness awakens within you? (If you want to, take a few moments and allow yourself to feel your connectedness to the larger body of Life, and your place in the Sacred Story of Life.) Thomas Berry calls this awareness "the grace of the present moment."

The degree that we live the values of the Ecozoic era now will be the degree to which we participate in its inauguration. Love and Truth must be our guiding realities. As we love Life with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, we will quite naturally love our human and non-human neighbor, and our planet, as our self. That is the true state of affairs. Living the values of the Ecozoic requires being lovingly truthful and gently honest with ourselves and with each other. It means being real and open with the Life that is our Source, Body, and Destiny.

We are all stories within stories within stories, as we discussed at the start. The Great Sacred Story of Life is the biggest story. This story, the Universe story, provides the context for, adds meaning to, and affects the destiny of every other story in existence. That is why everything in human affairs must now be seen in light of this "big picture" in order to have any lasting meaning for present and future generations."

"For peoples, generally, their story of the universe and the human role within the universe is their primary source of intelligibility and value. Only through this story of how the universe came to be in the beginning and how it came to be as it is does a person come to appreciate the meaning of life or to derive the psychic energy needed to deal effectively with those crisis moments that occur in the life of the individual and in the life of the society. Such a story communicates the most sacred of mysteries... and not only interprets the past, it also guides and inspires our shaping of the future." — Thomas Berry

The Poet: Fernando Pessoa, "Follow Your Destiny"

 
"Follow Your Destiny"

"Follow your destiny,
Water your plants,
Love your roses.
The rest is shadow
Of unknown trees.

Reality is always
More or less
Than what we want.
Only we are always
Equal to ourselves.

It’s good to live alone,
And noble and great
Always to live simply.
Leave pain on the altar
As an offering to the gods.

See life from a distance.
Never question it.
There’s nothing it can
Tell you. The answer
Lies beyond the Gods.

But quietly imitate
Olympus in your heart.
The gods are gods
Because they don’t think
About what they are."

- Fernando Pessoa

Chet Raymo, "Tenderness and Silence"

 
"Tenderness and Silence"
 by Chet Raymo

“It's been a long, long time since I read “Justine”, the first volume in Lawrence Durrell's “Alexandrian Quartet”, but one phrase sticks in my mind. As I recall, Justine, the woman with whom the narrator is having an affair, is questioning him as to why he doesn't take seriously their friends' philosophical conversations. You always sit there smiling, she chides, or something to that effect. He tells her that anyone who takes really seriously the inextricable tangle of human thought can only respond with "ironic tenderness and silence." What she took as condescension or disinterest was actually bemused detachment.

The more passionately the friends debated politics, religion, human relationships, the meaning of it all, the more they became attached to fragments of the whole. The more they saw clarity, the more they missed nuance. The more they corralled truth into mutually exclusive categories, the more the oneness of things escaped their grasp. I didn't sufficiently appreciate this thought when I was a young man. Perhaps I still don't. The fact that I am writing these posts is an offense against silence, but hopefully they embrace a certain ironic tenderness.”

"What Will Your Verse Be?"

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, "O me! O life! of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless- of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life? Answer. That you are here - that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse." That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”
- "Dead Poets Society"

"How It Really Is"

"Things..."

"Eyes blinded by the fog of Things
 cannot see Truth.
Ears deafened by the din of Things
 cannot hear Truth.
Brains bewildered by the whirl of Things
 cannot think Truth.
Hearts deadened by the weight of Things
 cannot feel Truth.
 Throats choked by the dust of Things
cannot speak Truth."

- Harald Bell Wright, “The Uncrowned King”
*
And so it goes...

The Economy: "A Crash Course in Money (Part IV)"

"A Crash Course in Money (Part IV)"
by Bill Bonner

"The Dow rose 288 points yesterday, or 1.7%. Gold was flat, despite further dithering from the Fed on when it will raise interest rates. Last night, we dined with the head of the SEC. Actually, Ms. White dined at the table next to us. But it made us feel as though we were among the movers and shakers in the zombie capital. The Occidental Grill & Seafood is a landmark restaurant in D.C. For about $120, you can eat reasonably well and spot the powers that be in the room. 

Off the Record: The following morning, we joined a meeting of some of the city's leading conservative activists.  "Everything is off the record," warned an earnest young woman. Among the things off the record was an insight into college campus rape. "These are much less common than you think. I'm not saying it's not a bad thing. It's a terrible crime. It's just not that common. The left is just using this as another way to push its agenda on college campuses." 

This was just one of many skirmishes the conservatives are fighting. Another activist offered a comment on the "CRomnibus" bill – the pork-laden $1.1 trillion budget bill Congress approved at 1 a.m. on Saturday morning. "We have to give our colleagues credit. There were about 50 different things in there that were good for our side." What they were, he didn't say. And no one asked. But when you spend a trillion dollars in the dark of night there are bound to be a few presents under the tree. 

At least one speaker was eager to "get the word out" about the CIA's enhanced interrogation program: "Torture is defined as inflicting pain. Waterboarding is not painful. So, it's not torture. Our own soldiers undergo this as part of their training." Another speaker wanted to let us know that there would be a major gathering of "our side" coming up. The conservative movement sponsors a large convention each year, he explained. "This will give us a chance to tell people what we believe..." What do you really believe? was the question we didn't ask. Many at the meeting seemed ready to believe anything. Were these men and women brave zombie fighters... or zombies in disguise? We weren't quite sure.

Capitalism Without Capital: But we need to move on – back to our crash course in money. Today... the fourth installment on macroeconomics: the big picture in all its splendor. When we left you on Monday we had just laid the keel. Today, we put on the sides and see if this baby will float. 

In 1950, Diners Club introduced its first credit card (or "charge card," as it was known then). Eight years later, American Express launched its own credit card network. Aided and abetted by the new fiat money system that followed the "Nixon Shock" in 1971, other credit innovations followed: low-doc mortgages, mortgage-backed securities, subprime energy debt, "nothing down" auto finance... and so on. 

This produced an entirely new monetary system: capitalism without capital! You no longer needed real money. You could live... invest... do business... all on credit. And without any anchor to gold, the amount of credit banks could create was infinite (in theory at least). There was about $1 trillion of credit outstanding in the US in the late 1960s. By 2010, the country had about $59 trillion in credit. Of this, about $33 trillion was "excess." 

Why excess? Because if the ratio of debt to GDP had remained at 1.4 – its average for the first seven decades of the last century – there would be only $26 trillion in debt. Never before in the history of money had so much spending power come from nowhere. Since the advent of a pure fiat money system in 1971, money no longer has to be earned... or saved. Now, banks can create credit (money) at will. When your monetary system is backed by gold, the money supply is limited; there's only so much gold. When you abandon gold backing, the sky is the limit. 

The problem this presents is obvious: The more credit, the more debt. And the more debt there is, the more claims you have on the output of the economy. This is as true for individuals as for economies. They both reach a point where they can't afford any more debt. They just don't have the earnings to support it.

Kick the Can: This point came for Americans in 2008. Households had too much debt – in particular, too much mortgage debt. When house prices fell, the value of borrowers' collateral fell too. This put the entire mortgage finance industry in jeopardy. This was a correction. The excesses of the housing bubble were being corrected in the classic way. Bubble gave way to bust. But instead of allowing the correction to take its course, the US government and its central bank, the Federal Reserve, stepped in. They were determined to stop the contraction in the only way they could: by sponsoring further credit expansion. 

Readers may raise their eyebrows and clear their throats. Can you really fix a debt problem with more debt? It won't do you any good to wonder. Part of the mythomania of modern economists is that every slowdown reflects a lack of demand and that demand can be stimulated with more credit. It's a long, boring discussion. Let's skip over it. The essential point is that the feds are hell-bent on keeping the supply of credit growing. 

They believe – correctly – that a credit contraction would be devastating. Whether or not they believe they can hold off a contraction forever, we don't know. But we have no doubt they think they can kick the can far enough down the road that it will be someone else's problem. 

The open questions are: When will we come upon the can? And then what will happen? 

We can reduce the macroeconomic situation to the following: After 60 years of credit expansion, we now have too much debt (too many claims on output). The natural, market reaction is a credit contraction. But the feds resist. Like "rectal feeding" of a fat man, central bankers are making a grotesque situation worse. This puts you as an investor in a difficult position. You face the irresistible force of a credit market deflation on one side... and the immovable object of central bank credit inflation on the other. So what's ahead? Inflation? Deflation? A catastrophic collision? More to come... “

Musical Interlude: Native American, "Power Drums - Spirit Pride"

Native American, "Power Drums - Spirit Pride"

"How It Really Should Have Been"

"Sea Pirates...

"Teachers of children in the United States of America wrote this date on blackboards again and again, and asked the children to memorize it with pride and joy: 1492. The teachers told the children that this was when their continent was discovered by human beings. Actually, millions of human beings were already living full and imaginative lives on the continent in 1492. That was simply the year in which sea pirates began to cheat and rob and kill them. The chief weapon of sea pirates, however, was their capacity to astonish. Nobody else could believe, until it was too late, how heartless and greedy they were.”
- Kurt Vonnegut
Related:
"The 1491 Census: Native Creates Tribal Nations Map of Turtle Island"

“1491: In 1491 More People Lived in the Americas than in Europe”

“1491: 
In 1491 More People Lived in the Americas than in Europe”
bu Charles C. Mann

“The plane took off in weather that was surprisingly cool for north-central Bolivia and flew east, toward the Brazilian border. In a few minutes the roads and houses disappeared, and the only evidence of human settlement was the cattle scattered over the savannah like jimmies on ice cream. Then they, too, disappeared. By that time the archaeologists had their cameras out and were clicking away in delight.

Below us was the Beni, a Bolivian province about the size of Illinois and Indiana put together, and nearly as flat. For almost half the year rain and snowmelt from the mountains to the south and west cover the land with an irregular, slowly moving skin of water that eventually ends up in the province's northern rivers, which are sub-subtributaries of the Amazon. The rest of the year the water dries up and the bright-green vastness turns into something that resembles a desert. This peculiar, remote, watery plain was what had drawn the researchers' attention, and not just because it was one of the few places on earth inhabited by people who might never have seen Westerners with cameras.

Clark Erickson and William Balée, the archaeologists, sat up front. Erickson is based at the University of Pennsylvania; he works in concert with a Bolivian archaeologist, whose seat in the plane I usurped that day. Balée is at Tulane University, in New Orleans. He is actually an anthropologist, but as native peoples have vanished, the distinction between anthropologists and archaeologists has blurred. The two men differ in build, temperament, and scholarly proclivity, but they pressed their faces to the windows with identical enthusiasm.

Dappled across the grasslands below was an archipelago of forest islands, many of them startlingly round and hundreds of acres across. Each island rose ten or thirty or sixty feet above the floodplain, allowing trees to grow that would otherwise never survive the water. The forests were linked by raised berms, as straight as a rifle shot and up to three miles long. It is Erickson's belief that this entire landscape—30,000 square miles of forest mounds surrounded by raised fields and linked by causeways—was constructed by a complex, populous society more than 2,000 years ago. Balée, newer to the Beni, leaned toward this view but was not yet ready to commit himself.

Erickson and Balée belong to a cohort of scholars that has radically challenged conventional notions of what the Western Hemisphere was like before Columbus. When I went to high school, in the 1970s, I was taught that Indians came to the Americas across the Bering Strait about 12,000 years ago, that they lived for the most part in small, isolated groups, and that they had so little impact on their environment that even after millennia of habitation it remained mostly wilderness. My son picked up the same ideas at his schools. One way to summarize the views of people like Erickson and Balée would be to say that in their opinion this picture of Indian life is wrong in almost every aspect. Indians were here far longer than previously thought, these researchers believe, and in much greater numbers. And they were so successful at imposing their will on the landscape that in 1492 Columbus set foot in a hemisphere thoroughly dominated by humankind.

Given the charged relations between white societies and native peoples, inquiry into Indian culture and history is inevitably contentious. But the recent scholarship is especially controversial. To begin with, some researchers—many but not all from an older generation—deride the new theories as fantasies arising from an almost willful misinterpretation of data and a perverse kind of political correctness. "I have seen no evidence that large numbers of people ever lived in the Beni," says Betty J. Meggers, of the Smithsonian Institution. "Claiming otherwise is just wishful thinking." Similar criticisms apply to many of the new scholarly claims about Indians, according to Dean R. Snow, an anthropologist at Pennsylvania State University. The problem is that "you can make the meager evidence from the ethnohistorical record tell you anything you want," he says. "It's really easy to kid yourself."

More important are the implications of the new theories for today's ecological battles. Much of the environmental movement is animated, consciously or not, by what William Denevan, a geographer at the University of Wisconsin, calls, polemically, "the pristine myth"—the belief that the Americas in 1491 were an almost unmarked, even Edenic land, "untrammeled by man," in the words of the Wilderness Act of 1964, one of the nation's first and most important environmental laws. As the University of Wisconsin historian William Cronon has written, restoring this long-ago, putatively natural state is, in the view of environmentalists, a task that society is morally bound to undertake. Yet if the new view is correct and the work of humankind was pervasive, where does that leave efforts to restore nature?

The Beni is a case in point. In addition to building up the Beni mounds for houses and gardens, Erickson says, the Indians trapped fish in the seasonally flooded grassland. Indeed, he says, they fashioned dense zigzagging networks of earthen fish weirs between the causeways. To keep the habitat clear of unwanted trees and undergrowth, they regularly set huge areas on fire. Over the centuries the burning created an intricate ecosystem of fire-adapted plant species dependent on native pyrophilia. The current inhabitants of the Beni still burn, although now it is to maintain the savannah for cattle. When we flew over the area, the dry season had just begun, but mile-long lines of flame were already on the march. In the charred areas behind the fires were the blackened spikes of trees—many of them, one assumes, of the varieties that activists fight to save in other parts of Amazonia.

After we landed, I asked Balée, Should we let people keep burning the Beni? Or should we let the trees invade and create a verdant tropical forest in the grasslands, even if one had not existed here for millennia? Balée laughed. "You're trying to trap me, aren't you?" he said.

Like a Club Between the Eyes: According to family lore, my great-grandmother's great-grandmother's great-grandfather was the first white person hanged in America. His name was John Billington. He came on the Mayflower, which anchored off the coast of Massachusetts on November 9, 1620. Billington was not a Puritan; within six months of arrival he also became the first white person in America to be tried for complaining about the police. "He is a knave," William Bradford, the colony's governor, wrote of Billington, "and so will live and die." What one historian called Billington's "troublesome career" ended in 1630, when he was hanged for murder. My family has always said that he was framed—but we would say that, wouldn't we?

A few years ago it occurred to me that my ancestor and everyone else in the colony had voluntarily enlisted in a venture that brought them to New England without food or shelter six weeks before winter. Half the 102 people on the Mayflower made it through to spring, which to me was amazing. How, I wondered, did they survive?

In his history of Plymouth Colony, Bradford provided the answer: by robbing Indian houses and graves. The Mayflower first hove to at Cape Cod. An armed company staggered out. Eventually it found a recently deserted Indian settlement. The newcomers—hungry, cold, sick—dug up graves and ransacked houses, looking for underground stashes of corn. "And sure it was God's good providence that we found this corn," Bradford wrote, "for else we know not how we should have done." (He felt uneasy about the thievery, though.) When the colonists came to Plymouth, a month later, they set up shop in another deserted Indian village. All through the coastal forest the Indians had "died on heapes, as they lay in their houses," the English trader Thomas Morton noted. "And the bones and skulls upon the severall places of their habitations made such a spectacle" that to Morton the Massachusetts woods seemed to be "a new found Golgotha"—the hill of executions in Roman Jerusalem.

To the Pilgrims' astonishment, one of the corpses they exhumed on Cape Cod had blond hair. A French ship had been wrecked there several years earlier. The Patuxet Indians imprisoned a few survivors. One of them supposedly learned enough of the local language to inform his captors that God would destroy them for their misdeeds. The Patuxet scoffed at the threat. But the Europeans carried a disease, and they bequeathed it to their jailers. The epidemic (probably of viral hepatitis, according to a study by Arthur E. Spiess, an archaeologist at the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, and Bruce D. Spiess, the director of clinical research at the Medical College of Virginia) took years to exhaust itself and may have killed 90 percent of the people in coastal New England. It made a huge difference to American history. "The good hand of God favored our beginnings," Bradford mused, by "sweeping away great multitudes of the natives ... that he might make room for us."

By the time my ancestor set sail on the Mayflower, Europeans had been visiting New England for more than a hundred years. English, French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese mariners regularly plied the coastline, trading what they could, occasionally kidnapping the inhabitants for slaves. New England, the Europeans saw, was thickly settled and well defended. In 1605 and 1606 Samuel de Champlain visited Cape Cod, hoping to establish a French base. He abandoned the idea. Too many people already lived there. A year later Sir Ferdinando Gorges—British despite his name—tried to establish an English community in southern Maine. It had more founders than Plymouth and seems to have been better organized. Confronted by numerous well-armed local Indians, the settlers abandoned the project within months. The Indians at Plymouth would surely have been an equal obstacle to my ancestor and his ramshackle expedition had disease not intervened.

Faced with such stories, historians have long wondered how many people lived in the Americas at the time of contact. "Debated since Columbus attempted a partial census on Hispaniola in 1496," William Denevan has written, this "remains one of the great inquiries of history." (In 1976 Denevan assembled and edited an entire book on the subject, "The Native Population of the Americas in 1492.") The first scholarly estimate of the indigenous population was made in 1910 by James Mooney, a distinguished ethnographer at the Smithsonian Institution. Combing through old documents, he concluded that in 1491 North America had 1.15 million inhabitants. Mooney's glittering reputation ensured that most subsequent researchers accepted his figure uncritically.

That changed in 1966, when Henry F. Dobyns published "Estimating Aboriginal American Population: An Appraisal of Techniques With a New Hemispheric Estimate," in the journal Current Anthropology. Despite the carefully neutral title, his argument was thunderous, its impact long-lasting. In the view of James Wilson, the author of "The Earth Shall Weep" (1998), a history of indigenous Americans, Dobyns's colleagues "are still struggling to get out of the crater that paper left in anthropology." Not only anthropologists were affected. Dobyns's estimate proved to be one of the opening rounds in today's culture wars.

Dobyns began his exploration of pre-Columbian Indian demography in the early 1950s, when he was a graduate student. At the invitation of a friend, he spent a few months in northern Mexico, which is full of Spanish-era missions. There he poked through the crumbling leather-bound ledgers in which Jesuits recorded local births and deaths. Right away he noticed how many more deaths there were. The Spaniards arrived, and then Indians died—in huge numbers, at incredible rates. It hit him, Dobyns told me recently, "like a club right between the eyes."

It took Dobyns eleven years to obtain his Ph.D. Along the way he joined a rural-development project in Peru, which until colonial times was the seat of the Incan empire. Remembering what he had seen at the northern fringe of the Spanish conquest, Dobyns decided to compare it with figures for the south. He burrowed into the papers of the Lima cathedral and read apologetic Spanish histories. The Indians in Peru, Dobyns concluded, had faced plagues from the day the conquistadors showed up—in fact, before then: smallpox arrived around 1525, seven years ahead of the Spanish. Brought to Mexico apparently by a single sick Spaniard, it swept south and eliminated more than half the population of the Incan empire. Smallpox claimed the Incan dictator Huayna Capac and much of his family, setting off a calamitous war of succession. So complete was the chaos that Francisco Pizarro was able to seize an empire the size of Spain and Italy combined with a force of 168 men.

Smallpox was only the first epidemic. Typhus (probably) in 1546, influenza and smallpox together in 1558, smallpox again in 1589, diphtheria in 1614, measles in 1618—all ravaged the remains of Incan culture. Dobyns was the first social scientist to piece together this awful picture, and he naturally rushed his findings into print. Hardly anyone paid attention. But Dobyns was already working on a second, related question: If all those people died, how many had been living there to begin with? Before Columbus, Dobyns calculated, the Western Hemisphere held ninety to 112 million people. Another way of saying this is that in 1491 more people lived in the Americas than in Europe.

His argument was simple but horrific. It is well known that Native Americans had no experience with many European diseases and were therefore immunologically unprepared—"virgin soil," in the metaphor of epidemiologists. What Dobyns realized was that such diseases could have swept from the coastlines initially visited by Europeans to inland areas controlled by Indians who had never seen a white person. The first whites to explore many parts of the Americas may therefore have encountered places that were already depopulated. Indeed, Dobyns argued, they must have done so.

Peru was one example, the Pacific Northwest another. In 1792 the British navigator George Vancouver led the first European expedition to survey Puget Sound. He found a vast charnel house: human remains "promiscuously scattered about the beach, in great numbers." Smallpox, Vancouver's crew discovered, had preceded them. Its few survivors, second lieutenant Peter Puget noted, were "most terribly pitted ... indeed many have lost their Eyes." In Pox Americana, (2001), Elizabeth Fenn, a historian at George Washington University, contends that the disaster on the northwest coast was but a small part of a continental pandemic that erupted near Boston in 1774 and cut down Indians from Mexico to Alaska.

Because smallpox was not endemic in the Americas, colonials, too, had not acquired any immunity. The virus, an equal-opportunity killer, swept through the Continental Army and stopped the drive into Quebec. The American Revolution would be lost, Washington and other rebel leaders feared, if the contagion did to the colonists what it had done to the Indians. "The small Pox! The small Pox!" John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail. "What shall We do with it?" In retrospect, Fenn says, "One of George Washington's most brilliant moves was to inoculate the army against smallpox during the Valley Forge winter of '78." Without inoculation smallpox could easily have given the United States back to the British.

So many epidemics occurred in the Americas, Dobyns argued, that the old data used by Mooney and his successors represented population nadirs. From the few cases in which before-and-after totals are known with relative certainty, Dobyns estimated that in the first 130 years of contact about 95 percent of the people in the Americas died—the worst demographic calamity in recorded history.

Dobyns's ideas were quickly attacked as politically motivated, a push from the hate-America crowd to inflate the toll of imperialism. The attacks continue to this day. "No question about it, some people want those higher numbers," says Shepard Krech III, a Brown University anthropologist who is the author of "The Ecological Indian" (1999). These people, he says, were thrilled when Dobyns revisited the subject in a book, Their Numbers Become Thinned (1983)—and revised his own estimates upward. Perhaps Dobyns's most vehement critic is David Henige, a bibliographer of Africana at the University of Wisconsin, whose "Numbers From Nowhere" (1998) is a landmark in the literature of demographic fulmination. "Suspect in 1966, it is no less suspect nowadays," Henige wrote of Dobyns's work. "If anything, it is worse."

When Henige wrote "Numbers From Nowhere", the fight about pre-Columbian populations had already consumed forests' worth of trees; his bibliography is ninety pages long. And the dispute shows no sign of abating. More and more people have jumped in. This is partly because the subject is inherently fascinating. But more likely the increased interest in the debate is due to the growing realization of the high political and ecological stakes.

Inventing by the Millions: On May 30, 1539, Hernando de Soto landed his private army near Tampa Bay, in Florida. Soto, as he was called, was a novel figure: half warrior, half venture capitalist. He had grown very rich very young by becoming a market leader in the nascent trade for Indian slaves. The profits had helped to fund Pizarro's seizure of the Incan empire, which had made Soto wealthier still. Looking quite literally for new worlds to conquer, he persuaded the Spanish Crown to let him loose in North America. He spent one fortune to make another. He came to Florida with 200 horses, 600 soldiers, and 300 pigs.

From today's perspective, it is difficult to imagine the ethical system that would justify Soto's actions. For four years his force, looking for gold, wandered through what is now Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Texas, wrecking almost everything it touched. The inhabitants often fought back vigorously, but they had never before encountered an army with horses and guns. Soto died of fever with his expedition in ruins; along the way his men had managed to rape, torture, enslave, and kill countless Indians. But the worst thing the Spaniards did, some researchers say, was entirely without malice—bring the pigs.

According to Charles Hudson, an anthropologist at the University of Georgia who spent fifteen years reconstructing the path of the expedition, Soto crossed the Mississippi a few miles downstream from the present site of Memphis. It was a nervous passage: the Spaniards were watched by several thousand Indian warriors. Utterly without fear, Soto brushed past the Indian force into what is now eastern Arkansas, through thickly settled land—"very well peopled with large towns," one of his men later recalled, "two or three of which were to be seen from one town." Eventually the Spaniards approached a cluster of small cities, each protected by earthen walls, sizeable moats, and deadeye archers. In his usual fashion, Soto brazenly marched in, stole food, and marched out.

After Soto left, no Europeans visited this part of the Mississippi Valley for more than a century. Early in 1682 whites appeared again, this time Frenchmen in canoes. One of them was Réné-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle. The French passed through the area where Soto had found cities cheek by jowl. It was deserted—La Salle didn't see an Indian village for 200 miles. About fifty settlements existed in this strip of the Mississippi when Soto showed up, according to Anne Ramenofsky, an anthropologist at the University of New Mexico. By La Salle's time the number had shrunk to perhaps ten, some probably inhabited by recent immigrants. Soto "had a privileged glimpse" of an Indian world, Hudson says. "The window opened and slammed shut. When the French came in and the record opened up again, it was a transformed reality. A civilization crumbled. The question is, how did this happen?"

The question is even more complex than it may seem. Disaster of this magnitude suggests epidemic disease. In the view of Ramenofsky and Patricia Galloway, an anthropologist at the University of Texas, the source of the contagion was very likely not Soto's army but its ambulatory meat locker: his 300 pigs. Soto's force itself was too small to be an effective biological weapon. Sicknesses like measles and smallpox would have burned through his 600 soldiers long before they reached the Mississippi. But the same would not have held true for the pigs, which multiplied rapidly and were able to transmit their diseases to wildlife in the surrounding forest. When human beings and domesticated animals live close together, they trade microbes with abandon. Over time mutation spawns new diseases: avian influenza becomes human influenza, bovine rinderpest becomes measles. Unlike Europeans, Indians did not live in close quarters with animals—they domesticated only the dog, the llama, the alpaca, the guinea pig, and, here and there, the turkey and the Muscovy duck. In some ways this is not surprising: the New World had fewer animal candidates for taming than the Old. Moreover, few Indians carry the gene that permits adults to digest lactose, a form of sugar abundant in milk. Non-milk-drinkers, one imagines, would be less likely to work at domesticating milk-giving animals. But this is guesswork. The fact is that what scientists call zoonotic disease was little known in the Americas. Swine alone can disseminate anthrax, brucellosis, leptospirosis, taeniasis, trichinosis, and tuberculosis. Pigs breed exuberantly and can transmit diseases to deer and turkeys. Only a few of Soto's pigs would have had to wander off to infect the forest.

Indeed, the calamity wrought by Soto apparently extended across the whole Southeast. The Coosa city-states, in western Georgia, and the Caddoan-speaking civilization, centered on the Texas-Arkansas border, disintegrated soon after Soto appeared. The Caddo had had a taste for monumental architecture: public plazas, ceremonial platforms, mausoleums. After Soto's army left, notes Timothy K. Perttula, an archaeological consultant in Austin, Texas, the Caddo stopped building community centers and began digging community cemeteries. Between Soto's and La Salle's visits, Perttula believes, the Caddoan population fell from about 200,000 to about 8,500—a drop of nearly 96 percent. In the eighteenth century the tally shrank further, to 1,400. An equivalent loss today in the population of New York City would reduce it to 56,000—not enough to fill Yankee Stadium. "That's one reason whites think of Indians as nomadic hunters," says Russell Thornton, an anthropologist at the University of California at Los Angeles. "Everything else—all the heavily populated urbanized societies—was wiped out."

Could a few pigs truly wreak this much destruction? Such apocalyptic scenarios invite skepticism. As a rule, viruses, microbes, and parasites are rarely lethal on so wide a scale—a pest that wipes out its host species does not have a bright evolutionary future. In its worst outbreak, from 1347 to 1351, the European Black Death claimed only a third of its victims. (The rest survived, though they were often disfigured or crippled by its effects.) The Indians in Soto's path, if Dobyns, Ramenofsky, and Perttula are correct, endured losses that were incomprehensibly greater.

One reason is that Indians were fresh territory for many plagues, not just one. Smallpox, typhoid, bubonic plague, influenza, mumps, measles, whooping cough—all rained down on the Americas in the century after Columbus. (Cholera, malaria, and scarlet fever came later.) Having little experience with epidemic diseases, Indians had no knowledge of how to combat them. In contrast, Europeans were well versed in the brutal logic of quarantine. They boarded up houses in which plague appeared and fled to the countryside. In Indian New England, Neal Salisbury, a historian at Smith College, wrote in Manitou and Providence (1982), family and friends gathered with the shaman at the sufferer's bedside to wait out the illness—a practice that "could only have served to spread the disease more rapidly."

Indigenous biochemistry may also have played a role. The immune system constantly scans the body for molecules that it can recognize as foreign—molecules belonging to an invading virus, for instance. No one's immune system can identify all foreign presences. Roughly speaking, an individual's set of defensive tools is known as his MHC type. Because many bacteria and viruses mutate easily, they usually attack in the form of several slightly different strains. Pathogens win when MHC types miss some of the strains and the immune system is not stimulated to act. Most human groups contain many MHC types; a strain that slips by one person's defenses will be nailed by the defenses of the next. But, according to Francis L. Black, an epidemiologist at Yale University, Indians are characterized by unusually homogenous MHC types. One out of three South American Indians have similar MHC types; among Africans the corresponding figure is one in 200. The cause is a matter for Darwinian speculation, the effects less so.

In 1966 Dobyns's insistence on the role of disease was a shock to his colleagues. Today the impact of European pathogens on the New World is almost undisputed. Nonetheless, the fight over Indian numbers continues with undiminished fervor. Estimates of the population of North America in 1491 disagree by an order of magnitude—from 18 million, Dobyns's revised figure, to 1.8 million, calculated by Douglas H. Ubelaker, an anthropologist at the Smithsonian. To some "high counters," as David Henige calls them, the low counters' refusal to relinquish the vision of an empty continent is irrational or worse. "Non-Indian 'experts' always want to minimize the size of aboriginal populations," says Lenore Stiffarm, a Native American-education specialist at the University of Saskatchewan. The smaller the numbers of Indians, she believes, the easier it is to regard the continent as having been up for grabs. "It's perfectly acceptable to move into unoccupied land," Stiffarm says. "And land with only a few 'savages' is the next best thing."

"Most of the arguments for the very large numbers have been theoretical," Ubelaker says in defense of low counters. "When you try to marry the theoretical arguments to the data that are available on individual groups in different regions, it's hard to find support for those numbers." Archaeologists, he says, keep searching for the settlements in which those millions of people supposedly lived, with little success. "As more and more excavation is done, one would expect to see more evidence for dense populations than has thus far emerged." Dean Snow, the Pennsylvania State anthropologist, examined Colonial-era Mohawk Iroquois sites and found "no support for the notion that ubiquitous pandemics swept the region." In his view, asserting that the continent was filled with people who left no trace is like looking at an empty bank account and claiming that it must once have held millions of dollars.

The low counters are also troubled by the Dobynsian procedure for recovering original population numbers: applying an assumed death rate, usually 95 percent, to the observed population nadir. Ubelaker believes that the lowest point for Indians in North America was around 1900, when their numbers fell to about half a million. Assuming a 95 percent death rate, the pre-contact population would have been 10 million. Go up one percent, to a 96 percent death rate, and the figure jumps to 12.5 million—arithmetically creating more than two million people from a tiny increase in mortality rates. At 98 percent the number bounds to 25 million. Minute changes in baseline assumptions produce wildly different results.

"It's an absolutely unanswerable question on which tens of thousands of words have been spent to no purpose," Henige says. In 1976 he sat in on a seminar by William Denevan, the Wisconsin geographer. An "epiphanic moment" occurred when he read shortly afterward that scholars had "uncovered" the existence of eight million people in Hispaniola. Can you just invent millions of people? he wondered. "We can make of the historical record that there was depopulation and movement of people from internecine warfare and diseases," he says. "But as for how much, who knows? When we start putting numbers to something like that—applying large figures like ninety-five percent—we're saying things we shouldn't say. The number implies a level of knowledge that's impossible."

Nonetheless, one must try—or so Denevan believes. In his estimation the high counters (though not the highest counters) seem to be winning the argument, at least for now. No definitive data exist, he says, but the majority of the extant evidentiary scraps support their side. Even Henige is no low counter. When I asked him what he thought the population of the Americas was before Columbus, he insisted that any answer would be speculation and made me promise not to print what he was going to say next. Then he named a figure that forty years ago would have caused a commotion.

To Elizabeth Fenn, the smallpox historian, the squabble over numbers obscures a central fact. Whether one million or 10 million or 100 million died, she believes, the pall of sorrow that engulfed the hemisphere was immeasurable. Languages, prayers, hopes, habits, and dreams—entire ways of life hissed away like steam. The Spanish and the Portuguese lacked the germ theory of disease and could not explain what was happening (let alone stop it). Nor can we explain it; the ruin was too long ago and too all-encompassing. In the long run, Fenn says, the consequential finding is not that many people died but that many people once lived. The Americas were filled with a stunningly diverse assortment of peoples who had knocked about the continents for millennia. "You have to wonder," Fenn says. "What were all those people up to in all that time?"

Buffalo Farm: In 1810 Henry Brackenridge came to Cahokia, in what is now southwest Illinois, just across the Mississippi from St. Louis. Born close to the frontier, Brackenridge was a budding adventure writer; his "Views of Louisiana", published three years later, was a kind of nineteenth-century Into Thin Air, with terrific adventure but without tragedy. Brackenridge had an eye for archaeology, and he had heard that Cahokia was worth a visit. When he got there, trudging along the desolate Cahokia River, he was "struck with a degree of astonishment." Rising from the muddy bottomland was a "stupendous pile of earth," vaster than the Great Pyramid at Giza. Around it were more than a hundred smaller mounds, covering an area of five square miles. At the time, the area was almost uninhabited. One can only imagine what passed through Brackenridge's mind as he walked alone to the ruins of the biggest Indian city north of the Rio Grande.

To Brackenridge, it seemed clear that Cahokia and the many other ruins in the Midwest had been constructed by Indians. It was not so clear to everyone else. Nineteenth-century writers attributed them to, among others, the Vikings, the Chinese, the "Hindoos," the ancient Greeks, the ancient Egyptians, lost tribes of Israelites, and even straying bands of Welsh. (This last claim was surprisingly widespread; when Lewis and Clark surveyed the Missouri, Jefferson told them to keep an eye out for errant bands of Welsh-speaking white Indians.) The historian George Bancroft, dean of his profession, was a dissenter: the earthworks, he wrote in 1840, were purely natural formations.

Bancroft changed his mind about Cahokia, but not about Indians. To the end of his days he regarded them as "feeble barbarians, destitute of commerce and of political connection." His characterization lasted, largely unchanged, for more than a century. Samuel Eliot Morison, the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, closed his monumental "European Discovery of America" (1974) with the observation that Native Americans expected only "short and brutish lives, void of hope for any future." As late as 1987 "American History: A Survey", a standard high school textbook by three well-known historians, described the Americas before Columbus as "empty of mankind and its works." The story of Europeans in the New World, the book explained, "is the story of the creation of a civilization where none existed."

Alfred Crosby, a historian at the University of Texas, came to other conclusions. Crosby's "The Columbian Exchange: Biological Consequences of 1492" caused almost as much of a stir when it was published, in 1972, as Henry Dobyns's calculation of Indian numbers six years earlier, though in different circles. Crosby was a standard names-and-battles historian who became frustrated by the random contingency of political events. "Some trivial thing happens and you have this guy winning the presidency instead of that guy," he says. He decided to go deeper. After he finished his manuscript, it sat on his shelf—he couldn't find a publisher willing to be associated with his new ideas. It took him three years to persuade a small editorial house to put it out. The Columbian Exchange has been in print ever since; a companion, "Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe", 900-1900, appeared in 1986.

Human history, in Crosby's interpretation, is marked by two world-altering centers of invention: the Middle East and central Mexico, where Indian groups independently created nearly all of the Neolithic innovations, writing included. The Neolithic Revolution began in the Middle East about 10,000 years ago. In the next few millennia humankind invented the wheel, the metal tool, and agriculture. The Sumerians eventually put these inventions together, added writing, and became the world's first civilization. Afterward Sumeria's heirs in Europe and Asia frantically copied one another's happiest discoveries; innovations ricocheted from one corner of Eurasia to another, stimulating technological progress. Native Americans, who had crossed to Alaska before Sumeria, missed out on the bounty. "They had to do everything on their own," Crosby says. Remarkably, they succeeded.

When Columbus appeared in the Caribbean, the descendants of the world's two Neolithic civilizations collided, with overwhelming consequences for both. American Neolithic development occurred later than that of the Middle East, possibly because the Indians needed more time to build up the requisite population density. Without beasts of burden they could not capitalize on the wheel (for individual workers on uneven terrain skids are nearly as effective as carts for hauling), and they never developed steel. But in agriculture they handily outstripped the children of Sumeria. Every tomato in Italy, every potato in Ireland, and every hot pepper in Thailand came from this hemisphere. Worldwide, more than half the crops grown today were initially developed in the Americas.

Maize, as corn is called in the rest of the world, was a triumph with global implications. Indians developed an extraordinary number of maize varieties for different growing conditions, which meant that the crop could and did spread throughout the planet. Central and Southern Europeans became particularly dependent on it; maize was the staple of Serbia, Romania, and Moldavia by the nineteenth century. Indian crops dramatically reduced hunger, Crosby says, which led to an Old World population boom.

Along with peanuts and manioc, maize came to Africa and transformed agriculture there, too. "The probability is that the population of Africa was greatly increased because of maize and other American Indian crops," Crosby says. "Those extra people helped make the slave trade possible." Maize conquered Africa at the time when introduced diseases were leveling Indian societies. The Spanish, the Portuguese, and the British were alarmed by the death rate among Indians, because they wanted to exploit them as workers. Faced with a labor shortage, the Europeans turned their eyes to Africa. The continent's quarrelsome societies helped slave traders to siphon off millions of people. The maize-fed population boom, Crosby believes, let the awful trade continue without pumping the well dry.

Back home in the Americas, Indian agriculture long sustained some of the world's largest cities. The Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán dazzled Hernán Cortés in 1519; it was bigger than Paris, Europe's greatest metropolis. The Spaniards gawped like hayseeds at the wide streets, ornately carved buildings, and markets bright with goods from hundreds of miles away. They had never before seen a city with botanical gardens, for the excellent reason that none existed in Europe. The same novelty attended the force of a thousand men that kept the crowded streets immaculate. (Streets that weren't ankle-deep in sewage! The conquistadors had never heard of such a thing.) Central America was not the only locus of prosperity. Thousands of miles north, John Smith, of Pocahontas fame, visited Massachusetts in 1614, before it was emptied by disease, and declared that the land was "so planted with Gardens and Corne fields, and so well inhabited with a goodly, strong and well proportioned people ... [that] I would rather live here than any where."

Smith was promoting colonization, and so had reason to exaggerate. But he also knew the hunger, sickness, and oppression of European life. France—"by any standards a privileged country," according to its great historian, Fernand Braudel—experienced seven nationwide famines in the fifteenth century and thirteen in the sixteenth. Disease was hunger's constant companion. During epidemics in London the dead were heaped onto carts "like common dung" (the simile is Daniel Defoe's) and trundled through the streets. The infant death rate in London orphanages, according to one contemporary source, was 88 percent. Governments were harsh, the rule of law arbitrary. The gibbets poking up in the background of so many old paintings were, Braudel observed, "merely a realistic detail."

"The Earth Shall Weep," James Wilson's history of Indian America, puts the comparison bluntly: "the western hemisphere was larger, richer, and more populous than Europe." Much of it was freer, too. Europeans, accustomed to the serfdom that thrived from Naples to the Baltic Sea, were puzzled and alarmed by the democratic spirit and respect for human rights in many Indian societies, especially those in North America. In theory, the sachems of New England Indian groups were absolute monarchs. In practice, the colonial leader Roger Williams wrote, "they will not conclude of ought ... unto which the people are averse."

Pre-1492 America wasn't a disease-free paradise, Dobyns says, although in his "exuberance as a writer," he told me recently, he once made that claim. Indians had ailments of their own, notably parasites, tuberculosis, and anemia. The daily grind was wearing; life-spans in America were only as long as or a little longer than those in Europe, if the evidence of indigenous graveyards is to be believed. Nor was it a political utopia—the Inca, for instance, invented refinements to totalitarian rule that would have intrigued Stalin. Inveterate practitioners of what the historian Francis Jennings described as "state terrorism practiced horrifically on a huge scale," the Inca ruled so cruelly that one can speculate that their surviving subjects might actually have been better off under Spanish rule.

I asked seven anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians if they would rather have been a typical Indian or a typical European in 1491. None was delighted by the question, because it required judging the past by the standards of today—a fallacy disparaged as "presentism" by social scientists. But every one chose to be an Indian. Some early colonists gave the same answer. Horrifying the leaders of Jamestown and Plymouth, scores of English ran off to live with the Indians. My ancestor shared their desire, which is what led to the trumped-up murder charges against him—or that's what my grandfather told me, anyway.

As for the Indians, evidence suggests that they often viewed Europeans with disdain. The Hurons, a chagrined missionary reported, thought the French possessed "little intelligence in comparison to themselves." Europeans, Indians said, were physically weak, sexually untrustworthy, atrociously ugly, and just plain dirty. (Spaniards, who seldom if ever bathed, were amazed by the Aztec desire for personal cleanliness.) A Jesuit reported that the "Savages" were disgusted by handkerchiefs: "They say, we place what is unclean in a fine white piece of linen, and put it away in our pockets as something very precious, while they throw it upon the ground." The Micmac scoffed at the notion of French superiority. If Christian civilization was so wonderful, why were its inhabitants leaving?

Like people everywhere, Indians survived by cleverly exploiting their environment. Europeans tended to manage land by breaking it into fragments for farmers and herders. Indians often worked on such a grand scale that the scope of their ambition can be hard to grasp. They created small plots, as Europeans did (about 1.5 million acres of terraces still exist in the Peruvian Andes), but they also reshaped entire landscapes to suit their purposes. A principal tool was fire, used to keep down underbrush and create the open, grassy conditions favorable for game. Rather than domesticating animals for meat, Indians retooled whole ecosystems to grow bumper crops of elk, deer, and bison. The first white settlers in Ohio found forests as open as English parks—they could drive carriages through the woods. Along the Hudson River the annual fall burning lit up the banks for miles on end; so flashy was the show that the Dutch in New Amsterdam boated upriver to goggle at the blaze like children at fireworks. In North America, Indian torches had their biggest impact on the Midwestern prairie, much or most of which was created and maintained by fire. Millennia of exuberant burning shaped the plains into vast buffalo farms. When Indian societies disintegrated, forest invaded savannah in Wisconsin, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, and the Texas Hill Country. Is it possible that the Indians changed the Americas more than the invading Europeans did? "The answer is probably yes for most regions for the next 250 years or so" after Columbus, William Denevan wrote, "and for some regions right up to the present time."

When scholars first began increasing their estimates of the ecological impact of Indian civilization, they met with considerable resistance from anthropologists and archaeologists. Over time the consensus in the human sciences changed. Under Denevan's direction, Oxford University Press has just issued the third volume of a huge catalogue of the "cultivated landscapes" of the Americas. This sort of phrase still provokes vehement objection—but the main dissenters are now ecologists and environmentalists. The disagreement is encapsulated by Amazonia, which has become the emblem of vanishing wilderness—an admonitory image of untouched Nature. Yet recently a growing number of researchers have come to believe that Indian societies had an enormous environmental impact on the jungle. Indeed, some anthropologists have called the Amazon forest itself a cultural artifact—that is, an artificial object.

Green Prisons: Northern visitors' first reaction to the storied Amazon rain forest is often disappointment. Ecotourist brochures evoke the immensity of Amazonia but rarely dwell on its extreme flatness. In the river's first 2,900 miles the vertical drop is only 500 feet. The river oozes like a huge runnel of dirty metal through a landscape utterly devoid of the romantic crags, arroyos, and heights that signify wildness and natural spectacle to most North Americans. Even the animals are invisible, although sometimes one can hear the bellow of monkey choruses. To the untutored eye—mine, for instance—the forest seems to stretch out in a monstrous green tangle as flat and incomprehensible as a printed circuit board.

The area east of the lower-Amazon town of Santarém is an exception. A series of sandstone ridges several hundred feet high reach down from the north, halting almost at the water's edge. Their tops stand drunkenly above the jungle like old tombstones. Many of the caves in the buttes are splattered with ancient petroglyphs—renditions of hands, stars, frogs, and human figures, all reminiscent of Miró, in overlapping red and yellow and brown. In recent years one of these caves, La Caverna da Pedra Pintada (Painted Rock Cave), has drawn attention in archaeological circles.

Wide and shallow and well lit, Painted Rock Cave is less thronged with bats than some of the other caves. The arched entrance is twenty feet high and lined with rock paintings. Out front is a sunny natural patio suitable for picnicking, edged by a few big rocks. People lived in this cave more than 11,000 years ago. They had no agriculture yet, and instead ate fish and fruit and built fires. During a recent visit I ate a sandwich atop a particularly inviting rock and looked over the forest below. The first Amazonians, I thought, must have done more or less the same thing.

In college I took an introductory anthropology class in which I read "Amazonia: Man and Culture in a Counterfeit Paradise" (1971), perhaps the most influential book ever written about the Amazon, and one that deeply impressed me at the time. Written by Betty J. Meggers, the Smithsonian archaeologist, Amazonia says that the apparent lushness of the rain forest is a sham. The soils are poor and can't hold nutrients—the jungle flora exists only because it snatches up everything worthwhile before it leaches away in the rain. Agriculture, which depends on extracting the wealth of the soil, therefore faces inherent ecological limitations in the wet desert of Amazonia.

As a result, Meggers argued, Indian villages were forced to remain small—any report of "more than a few hundred" people in permanent settlements, she told me recently, "makes my alarm bells go off." Bigger, more complex societies would inevitably overtax the forest soils, laying waste to their own foundations. Beginning in 1948 Meggers and her late husband, Clifford Evans, excavated a chiefdom on Marajó, an island twice the size of New Jersey that sits like a gigantic stopper in the mouth of the Amazon. The Marajóara, they concluded, were failed offshoots of a sophisticated culture in the Andes. Transplanted to the lush trap of the Amazon, the culture choked and died.

Green activists saw the implication: development in tropical forests destroys both the forests and their developers. Meggers's account had enormous public impact—Amazonia is one of the wellsprings of the campaign to save rain forests.

Then Anna C. Roosevelt, the curator of archaeology at Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History, re-excavated Marajó. Her complete report, "Moundbuilders of the Amazon" (1991), was like the anti-matter version of Amazonia. Marajó, she argued, was "one of the outstanding indigenous cultural achievements of the New World," a powerhouse that lasted for more than a thousand years, had "possibly well over 100,000" inhabitants, and covered thousands of square miles. Rather than damaging the forest, Marajó's "earth construction" and "large, dense populations" had improved it: the most luxuriant and diverse growth was on the mounds formerly occupied by the Marajóara. "If you listened to Meggers's theory, these places should have been ruined," Roosevelt says.

Meggers scoffed at Roosevelt's "extravagant claims," "polemical tone," and "defamatory remarks." Roosevelt, Meggers argued, had committed the beginner's error of mistaking a site that had been occupied many times by small, unstable groups for a single, long-lasting society. "[Archaeological remains] build up on areas of half a kilometer or so," she told me, "because [shifting Indian groups] don't land exactly on the same spot. The decorated types of pottery don't change much over time, so you can pick up a bunch of chips and say, 'Oh, look, it was all one big site!' Unless you know what you're doing, of course." Centuries after the conquistadors, "the myth of El Dorado is being revived by archaeologists," Meggers wrote last fall in the journal "Latin American Antiquity", referring to the persistent Spanish delusion that cities of gold existed in the jungle.

The dispute grew bitter and personal; inevitable in a contemporary academic context, it has featured vituperative references to colonialism, elitism, and employment by the CIA. Meanwhile, Roosevelt's team investigated Painted Rock Cave. On the floor of the cave what looked to me like nothing in particular turned out to be an ancient midden: a refuse heap. The archaeologists slowly scraped away sediment, traveling backward in time with every inch. When the traces of human occupation vanished, they kept digging. ("You always go a meter past sterile," Roosevelt says.) A few inches below they struck the charcoal-rich dirt that signifies human habitation—a culture, Roosevelt said later, that wasn't supposed to be there.

For many millennia the cave's inhabitants hunted and gathered for food. But by about 4,000 years ago they were growing crops—perhaps as many as 140 of them, according to Charles R. Clement, an anthropological botanist at the Brazilian National Institute for Amazonian Research. Unlike Europeans, who planted mainly annual crops, the Indians, he says, centered their agriculture on the Amazon's unbelievably diverse assortment of trees: fruits, nuts, and palms. "It's tremendously difficult to clear fields with stone tools," Clement says. "If you can plant trees, you get twenty years of productivity out of your work instead of two or three."

Planting their orchards, the first Amazonians transformed large swaths of the river basin into something more pleasing to human beings. In a widely cited article from 1989, William Balée, the Tulane anthropologist, cautiously estimated that about 12 percent of the nonflooded Amazon forest was of anthropogenic origin—directly or indirectly created by human beings. In some circles this is now seen as a conservative position. "I basically think it's all human-created," Clement told me in Brazil. He argues that Indians changed the assortment and density of species throughout the region. So does Clark Erickson, the University of Pennsylvania archaeologist, who told me in Bolivia that the lowland tropical forests of South America are among the finest works of art on the planet. "Some of my colleagues would say that's pretty radical," he said, smiling mischievously. According to Peter Stahl, an anthropologist at the State University of New York at Binghamton, "lots" of botanists believe that "what the eco-imagery would like to picture as a pristine, untouched Urwelt [primeval world] in fact has been managed by people for millennia." The phrase "built environment," Erickson says, "applies to most, if not all, Neotropical landscapes."

"Landscape" in this case is meant exactly—Amazonian Indians literally created the ground beneath their feet. According to William I. Woods, a soil geographer at Southern Illinois University, ecologists' claims about terrible Amazonian land were based on very little data. In the late 1990s Woods and others began careful measurements in the lower Amazon. They indeed found lots of inhospitable terrain. But they also discovered swaths of terra preta—rich, fertile "black earth" that anthropologists increasingly believe was created by human beings.

Terra preta, Woods guesses, covers at least 10 percent of Amazonia, an area the size of France. It has amazing properties, he says. Tropical rain doesn't leach nutrients from terra preta fields; instead the soil, so to speak, fights back. Not far from Painted Rock Cave is a 300-acre area with a two-foot layer of terra preta quarried by locals for potting soil. The bottom third of the layer is never removed, workers there explain, because over time it will re-create the original soil layer in its initial thickness. The reason, scientists suspect, is that terra preta is generated by a special suite of microorganisms that resists depletion. "Apparently," Woods and the Wisconsin geographer Joseph M. McCann argued in a presentation last summer, "at some threshold level ... dark earth attains the capacity to perpetuate—even regenerate itself—thus behaving more like a living 'super'-organism than an inert material."

In as yet unpublished research the archaeologists Eduardo Neves, of the University of São Paulo; Michael Heckenberger, of the University of Florida; and their colleagues examined terra preta in the upper Xingu, a huge southern tributary of the Amazon. Not all Xingu cultures left behind this living earth, they discovered. But the ones that did generated it rapidly—suggesting to Woods that terra preta was created deliberately. In a process reminiscent of dropping microorganism-rich starter into plain dough to create sourdough bread, Amazonian peoples, he believes, inoculated bad soil with a transforming bacterial charge. Not every group of Indians there did this, but quite a few did, and over an extended period of time.

When Woods told me this, I was so amazed that I almost dropped the phone. I ceased to be articulate for a moment and said things like "wow" and "gosh." Woods chuckled at my reaction, probably because he understood what was passing through my mind. Faced with an ecological problem, I was thinking, the Indians fixed it. They were in the process of terraforming the Amazon when Columbus showed up and ruined everything.

Scientists should study the microorganisms in terra preta, Woods told me, to find out how they work. If that could be learned, maybe some version of Amazonian dark earth could be used to improve the vast expanses of bad soil that cripple agriculture in Africa—a final gift from the people who brought us tomatoes, corn, and the immense grasslands of the Great Plains.

"Betty Meggers would just die if she heard me saying this," Woods told me. "Deep down her fear is that this data will be misused." Indeed, Meggers's recent "Latin American Antiquity" article charged that archaeologists who say the Amazon can support agriculture are effectively telling "developers [that they] are entitled to operate without restraint." Resuscitating the myth of El Dorado, in her view, "makes us accomplices in the accelerating pace of environmental degradation." Doubtless there is something to this—although, as some of her critics responded in the same issue of the journal, it is difficult to imagine greedy plutocrats "perusing the pages of 'Latin American Antiquity' before deciding to rev up the chain saws." But the new picture doesn't automatically legitimize paving the forest. Instead it suggests that for a long time big chunks of Amazonia were used nondestructively by clever people who knew tricks we have yet to learn.

I visited Painted Rock Cave during the river's annual flood, when it wells up over its banks and creeps inland for miles. Farmers in the floodplain build houses and barns on stilts and watch pink dolphins sport from their doorsteps. Ecotourists take shortcuts by driving motorboats through the drowned forest. Guys in dories chase after them, trying to sell sacks of incredibly good fruit.

All of this is described as "wilderness" in the tourist brochures. It's not, if researchers like Roosevelt are correct. Indeed, they believe that fewer people may be living there now than in 1491. Yet when my boat glided into the trees, the forest shut out the sky like the closing of an umbrella. Within a few hundred yards the human presence seemed to vanish. I felt alone and small, but in a way that was curiously like feeling exalted. If that place was not wilderness, how should I think of it? Since the fate of the forest is in our hands, what should be our goal for its future?

Novel Shores: Hernando de Soto's expedition stomped through the Southeast for four years and apparently never saw bison. More than a century later, when French explorers came down the Mississippi, they saw "a solitude unrelieved by the faintest trace of man," the nineteenth-century historian Francis Parkman wrote. Instead the French encountered bison, "grazing in herds on the great prairies which then bordered the river."

To Charles Kay, the reason for the buffalo's sudden emergence is obvious. Kay is a wildlife ecologist in the political-science department at Utah State University. In ecological terms, he says, the Indians were the "keystone species" of American ecosystems. A keystone species, according to the Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson, is a species "that affects the survival and abundance of many other species." Keystone species have a disproportionate impact on their ecosystems. Removing them, Wilson adds, "results in a relatively significant shift in the composition of the [ecological] community."

When disease swept Indians from the land, Kay says, what happened was exactly that. The ecological ancien régime collapsed, and strange new phenomena emerged. In a way this is unsurprising; for better or worse, humankind is a keystone species everywhere. Among these phenomena was a population explosion in the species that the Indians had kept down by hunting. After disease killed off the Indians, Kay believes, buffalo vastly extended their range. Their numbers more than sextupled. The same occurred with elk and mule deer. "If the elk were here in great numbers all this time, the archaeological sites should be chock-full of elk bones," Kay says. "But the archaeologists will tell you the elk weren't there." On the evidence of middens the number of elk jumped about 500 years ago.

Passenger pigeons may be another example. The epitome of natural American abundance, they flew in such great masses that the first colonists were stupefied by the sight. As a boy, the explorer Henry Brackenridge saw flocks "ten miles in width, by one hundred and twenty in length." For hours the birds darkened the sky from horizon to horizon. According to Thomas Neumann, a consulting archaeologist in Lilburn, Georgia, passenger pigeons "were incredibly dumb and always roosted in vast hordes, so they were very easy to harvest." Because they were readily caught and good to eat, Neumann says, archaeological digs should find many pigeon bones in the pre-Columbian strata of Indian middens. But they aren't there. The mobs of birds in the history books, he says, were "outbreak populations—always a symptom of an extraordinarily disrupted ecological system."

Throughout eastern North America the open landscape seen by the first Europeans quickly filled in with forest. According to William Cronon, of the University of Wisconsin, later colonists began complaining about how hard it was to get around. (Eventually, of course, they stripped New England almost bare of trees.) When Europeans moved west, they were preceded by two waves: one of disease, the other of ecological disturbance. The former crested with fearsome rapidity; the latter sometimes took more than a century to quiet down. Far from destroying pristine wilderness, European settlers bloodily created it. By 1800 the hemisphere was chockablock with new wilderness. If "forest primeval" means a woodland unsullied by the human presence, William Denevan has written, there was much more of it in the late eighteenth century than in the early sixteenth.

Cronon's "Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England" (1983) belongs on the same shelf as works by Crosby and Dobyns. But it was not until one of his articles was excerpted in The New York Times in 1995 that people outside the social sciences began to understand the implications of this view of Indian history. Environmentalists and ecologists vigorously attacked the anti-wilderness scenario, which they described as infected by postmodern philosophy. A small academic brouhaha ensued, complete with hundreds of footnotes. It precipitated "Reinventing Nature?" (1995), one of the few academic critiques of postmodernist philosophy written largely by biologists. "The Great New Wilderness Debate" (1998), another lengthy book on the subject, was edited by two philosophers who earnestly identified themselves as "Euro-American men [whose] cultural legacy is patriarchal Western civilization in its current postcolonial, globally hegemonic form."

It is easy to tweak academics for opaque, self-protective language like this. Nonetheless, their concerns were quite justified. Crediting Indians with the role of keystone species has implications for the way the current Euro-American members of that keystone species manage the forests, watersheds, and endangered species of America. Because a third of the United States is owned by the federal government, the issue inevitably has political ramifications. In Amazonia, fabled storehouse of biodiversity, the stakes are global.

Guided by the pristine myth, mainstream environmentalists want to preserve as much of the world's land as possible in a putatively intact state. But "intact," if the new research is correct, means "run by human beings for human purposes." Environmentalists dislike this, because it seems to mean that anything goes. In a sense they are correct. Native Americans managed the continent as they saw fit. Modern nations must do the same. If they want to return as much of the landscape as possible to its 1491 state, they will have to find it within themselves to create the world's largest garden.”