This One Time, 76

This one time I was on the sofa in my pajamas — if that’s what you want to call what I was wearing — and trying to decide how to kill the time until it was no longer too early to go to bed. Over in the 55-gallon in the corner the albino reticulateds were apparently having sex. That didn’t much seem like an option to me. I debated throwing a towel over the tank so they could have their privacy, but I had to acknowledge that they, much like my college roommate and whoever it was she chose for any three-week span, didn’t seem to care if anyone was watching. Maybe it would be fairer to throw the towel over my own head and acknowledge where the problem lay.

The water dragon didn’t care. The veiled chameleons didn’t care — and since I was trying to breed them, I was hoping they would get inspired anyway. I gave a few minutes to considering what would count as porn to chameleons. Toward the end I got lost in a mental image of how it would be for a chameleon to roll its eyes up into its head, and whether both eyes would roll up together or one at a time. I think I laughed out loud about that, and it felt good. It had been a while.

Reptile minds are intriguing. I often thought about what we’re told about them, and how, at the very core of our own minds, we have the same structures, the same way of thinking, the same basic patience when there’s nothing to do and the same basic urges when it’s time to do something. The same need for a comfortable place to rest and be safe, the same needs for food and water and sex and the occasional scratch where we can’t reach. In our own heads, on layers that wrap around that, we have the mammalian programming for social hierarchies, for domination and submission, for families and rearing children. And wrapped around that, the layer that imagines and remembers, that plays back scenarios and makes guesses, that talks to us and criticizes and cajoles and convinces and, as needed, shouts to get our attention.

It really is like three brains in one skull, a loose alliance of creatures with different goals. You can look at a person and see that the snake is really strong in one, with the other two brains riding on it as passengers, holding on for dear life, while another person might have a really weak reptile core that the mammalian structure bullies and hounds while the thin human layer scurries around after them both, making lame excuses to anyone who is watching. And some people just live in that outer layer, never in the present moment, paralyzed by all the choices they see and think they have to make, reliving the past with such intensity because they’re sure that’s what it takes to keep from reliving it in actuality in the future — when the truth is that your inner lizard can’t tell the difference between actual experiences and the replay. For the lizard, the misery of imagining and remembering is just as real as the experience.

Freud was really close with his id, ego, and superego model. He was close on a lot of things despite his obsessions with sex. But what can you expect from a man who must have known that his name basically translated as “Mr. Happy”?

Sometimes I wonder what society would be like if we were all just reptiles to the core. And that was where I went in my head when I was sitting on the sofa killing time. Assuming they found some way to rear and educate children as life got more complex, some way to divide labor to provide the functioning tissues a society needs, some way to record and relay knowledge too big to fit in one head, they could make it. And it would probably look a lot like ours.

But I wondered if they would make the same mistakes we do, hearing the voices in our heads and mistaking the voice of the spokesman as the voice of the decision-maker, or worse, as the voice of God.

Consensus in the science world says they had their chance and our way works better. I say they could have been so much more, but creatures with smaller stomachs and better body temperature regulation were better cut out to survive after the climate changes brought on by the cataclysm manhandled the food web.

How long can we last as the reigning giants that walk the earth? What grub or morsel will ascend to replace us when we’re gone, believing themselves to be superior to us in every way?


March 17, 2011 · by xalieri · Posted in This One Time  


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