Reflections: Participation in Group Events and the Competition for Your Beliefs

We participate in the ongoing streams of group perception.  We add our thoughts and experience.   But we are not contributing to a vacuum.  Contributing viewpoints merge and collide. There is a competition for the weight of your mind. Gather a group consensus, and the fabric of perceived reality can be altered – perhaps even reality itself.  You can see why established views will vie for your attention.

Consider a malleable crustacean: the Heike crab. Which came first, the samurai or the crab?

The Heike crab, also known as the samurai crab, lives exclusively in the Sea of Japan.  The story of the samurai crab was originally communicated to American audiences in 1952 by Aldous Huxley, and popularized by Carl Sagan with his 1970s PBS series and subsequent book, COSMOS.

The legend of the samurai crab is based on historical fact.  In the year 1185 there was a large-scale naval battle in the small bay of Dan-no-ura, in the Sea of Japan.  The seven-year-old emperor of the Heike Clan, who was aboard one of the Heike ships, died on that day, along with the entire samurai army of the Heike Clan.  They were wiped out, either killed in combat or committed suicide by drowning when the outcome of the battle was obvious.  The battle marked the rise of military leaders, or shoguns, in Japan.  The crabs that live in the bay became legendary.

Samurai crabs became legendary because the shells on the crab’s back look very much like the face of a samurai warrior.  Legend holds that the crabs are the ghosts of the deceased Heike warriors.  That’s one view.  Another view suggests that enough people have participated in that legend to actually alter reality, allowing the psychic residue from that fateful day to manifest onto the carapace of the crabs with the face of a scowling samurai.  In yet another sympathetic view, the legend may have its source in the personal experience of those individuals who were impacted by their encounter with the samurai crab – personal synchronicities with genuine meaning that pooled and fueled a shared legend.

Carl Sagan had another view.  He chose this story as an illustration of artificial selection – like natural selection except the process was artificially created by humans.  He states that the crab’s unusual appearance was created by fisherman who selectively threw back crabs they had caught that may have had a slight resemblance to a samurai face.  This process favored survival of crabs that, over time, more and more resembled the samurai crab we know today.  This, Sagan concludes, is how natural selection works in nature. According to Charles Darwin, natural selection is key mechanism of evolution.  Sagan’s view is that the crabs are a good teaching story for natural selection.

Enter a more modern view.  According to evolutionary biologist Joel Martin, Carl Sagan was wrong.  For starters, there are several related crab species around the world with shells that bear a resemblance to the human face.  (I think it’s worth noting that these crabs also play into the local lore, representing ghosts or sacred representations of ancestors.)  Second, and more important, the samurai crab is only 1.2 inches across its back, too small to eat.  Too small, even, to bother with removing from the nets.  In other words, local fishermen either threw back or ignored all the crabs, whether they had a samurai face or not.

Refuting Sagan’s view does nothing to refute natural selection.  Darwin pretty much proved natural selection with his Galapagos finches.  But creationists took this as a vital blow against evolution. What strikes me as odd about this reaction is that religious authorities of Darwin’s time were willing to concede natural selection from an original stock of animals created by God.  But I shouldn’t be surprised.  Such reaction draws from the streaming of creationist’s perception – the sum perception of the participants fueling this viewpoint.

And let’s not forget atheists, who point to the evolving story as evidence of a random universe.  After all, if the famed Carl Sagan could not assign some level of causality to the samurai crab, then surely their unusual form occurred randomly.  For participants of this view, things like samurai crabs happen for no reason, and are thus evidence there is no God.  It’s rather like Douglas Adams in the HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY.  In that comically fantastic universe, Adams places the Babel fish, a parasite that lives in the ear canal of humanoids.  The Babel fish feeds on the sound waves of incoming language, and excretes sound waves into the inner ear of the recipient in a language they can understand. The Babel fish becomes a universal translator.  Adams uses the Babel fish as a tongue in cheek, or fish in ear, argument against the existence of God.

GOD: I refuse to prove that I exist, for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.
MAN: But, the Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t.
GOD: Oh dear, I hadn’t thought of that.  (And God promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.)

(By the way, Adams was an atheist, so his mock conversation with God participates in the atheist view.)

Anyone wondering in objective evidence?  The evolutionary biologist Joel Martin believes that the samurai crab in its present day samurai form probably existed prior to the 1185 sea battle and the death of the Heike samurai, but no one knows for sure.  In other words, there is no objective evidence.  But enough attention has been placed onto the samurai crab so that biologists have granted relevance: the Heike crab has earned its very own taxonomic category separate from its wannabe crab cousins.

Anomalies like the samurai crab can be threatening. If the samurai crab carapace was created either by the participation of strongly held beliefs or by the actual spirits of dead samurai, that opens the door to alternative avenues of creation.  Perception of the everyday world might shift.  That can be de-stabilizing to those not prepared to embrace the shift.  That’s why people prefer to defend their view, throwing unwanted crabs back into the ocean.  It’s a form of artificial view-making.  Most people prefer to reinforce their own belief system and leave threatening beliefs at the bottom of the ocean.

We perceive the reality that our perception streams. The Heike crab was a completely local phenomenon that was exposed to the world through globalization. When the samurai crab sheds its local carapace and exposes itself to the variation of worldwide belief, of course it’s bound to get tangled in the nets of separate views.  It’s up to us to employ open-minded discrimination, to decide what to keep and what to throw back.

This process is worth paying attention to, because we participate in the unfolding of perceived reality.  Interacting belief systems can either be destabilizing or creative – depending on the strength of will and integration of the individual making observation.   Future streams of perception develop in proportion to the strength of our combined intentions and the increasing mass of our group memberships.  Ultimately, we have an ability to perceive ever-larger aspects of Universe as realized groups, or as an evolving species.

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