The caves of Lascaux, temples of natural splendor, marked by the hands of ancient man, leaving an existence branching
far beyond their creator's last breaths. They are approachable in their simplicity, both visually and conceptually.
While the intention is still a discussion, these paintings are more than merely a human history, they serve as a
forensic mark about the nature of humanity all those years ago. The shapes painted are clearly crude and expressive, but
why? Many would simply assume that this prehistoric bluntness was the consequence of a lack of observation of the
subjects, many of which would have been quick moving and dangerous, not to mention remote from the place of the
paintings. Others would include that these were paintings made of a free-spirited, creative humanity, unpretentious and
perhaps blind to the outcomes of their marks.
While I do not contest any of these points, I think the essence of the
crudeness rides deeper than these comparably surface diagnoses. In history, it is far too easy to find forms that seem
unmoving, monolithic and axiomatic. Humanity is one such form that can be easy to feel this way towards. Even within the
community of evolution, in moments of thoughtlessness, it can be simple to intuit that ancient humanity would not have
been too far from us. After all, it sure feels like a human is a human, simple as day. Heidegger might call
this correct, but that does not make it true. Much of the work of Julian Jaynes, in fact, paints a portrait of a
still-evolving humanity even as recently as antiquity. The Bicameral Mind, in which all pieces are present in the mind,
but not so linked as they are now or, at least, linked differently. And those links create a humanity that exists in a
very different world than we live in today, a world, quite literally, of gods and supernatural forces. These forces were
so perceptually pertinent and ubiquitous that they verged on the borders of truth.
It's tempting to call these visions
delusions, schizoid visages of simpler minds, but, it's hard to dismiss the feeling that such so-called delusions might
still linger in us today. Perhaps they are different in form, but their impact could be just as serious. A delusion is
simply a narrative feature that two agents disagree upon, but what is a delusion when all agents are in agreement? The
art painted on the cave wall is a look into some of this.
I am not proposing that the bison were bigger and the stags had
antlers like trees, but, if all of humanity saw it as such, who is to say, at the time, that this was not the case? The
crude nature of the wall paintings was derived from the crude nature of thought and perception, more so than material or
intention. These paintings serve as portals, not only into a primitiveness of culture, but, a primitive shape of
perception as well.
Far from the fashion and fervor of France, Liam Rathie lived in a forgotten two-bedroom apartment
with his mother and two older brothers. It seemed inconceivable that much would ever come of the old trade town of El
Portal, California, much less since it's trade utility dried up decades ago. Barely a town in the late 1800's, El Portal
had only further lost it's narrative by the early 1970s, when a young Liam was coming up. Most of the area was hostels
and hotels, temporary housing for those on their venture to the heart of Yosemite. It was this vicinity to Yosemite that
inspired a spirit of adventure in the young Rathie boys. Their mother or nearby families would take ventures to Yosemite
on a regular basis, taking hikes around the grounds and regularly camping out. As the boys got older and could travel by
themselves, they would pack up the oldest brother Randy's pickup and spend most weekends in the park exploring, painting
and, often drinking.
It was one of these summer excursions that led Liam to his fame. In August of 1988, the boys were
out for a long weekend from Friday to Tuesday. While the brothers were out on a hike they noticed ominous looking clouds
rolling in overhead. They attempted to make it back to camp, but the system was fast moving, so they looked for whatever
natural shelter they could find. As luck would have it, the three young men happened upon a cave opening after about a
mile back toward camp. The three huddled up in the little cave, attempting to wait out the storm. It was then that Liam
noticed something strange about the coloring on the cave walls. At first he'd just assumed it was the type of rock, but
the more he looked, the more the patterns on the cave walls appeared human, intentional. Straight lines marked in
strange networks. Liam grabbed one of the flashlights and shone it around the cave, discovering a complex tapestry these
shapes. The domed ceiling of the main basin of the cave was absolutely covered in what Liam would later coin a
he brothers were bewildered as they were enchanted by what they were seeing and the more they
explored, the more they discovered. All told, they found 2 miles of cave passages with three distinct areas they
referred to as The Chapel, The Library and The Source.
The Chapel was the domed area, barely a few yards within the
cave. Here the patterns took on an ornamental appearance, more akin to hieroglyphics of Egypt than to the paintings of
Lascaux, but they still had a representational tilt to them. Deeper in the system, about a third of a mile in was a much
larger, more treacherous network of rooms and cave corridors that the brothers called the Library in 1991, when they
hired a linguist, Johan Marihaus, who recognized this area as a Rosetta's Stone of this strange new language. This
strange dictionary was written around the stalagmite and stalactite structures in the small network of caves.
is a small well in the north-most caves. At a nearly 50 foot drop and only wide enough for, at most, two people, this
area was a treacherous venture. It was actually several weeks later when the boys returned with the proper exploration
equipment that they discovered this drop.
In the depths of the Source there was another divergent collection of images on
the walls. It was Liam that dubbed this the Source, feeling that there was something more essential, historical, almost
transcendent about this room. While the components of these glyphs branched between the areas, the symbols in the Source
were, admittedly, simper, more raw, almost organic. They felt less like the hieroglyphics of the other two areas and
more akin to components of what would later be deciphered as the letter forms of this ancient language.
It was a pleasure
in 1994 when I got to see the caves in person. I was privileged to enter the Source, an honor few had the chance to
experience in the few years the caves were open to the public. Liam himself lowered me foot-by-foot into the
Source. A robust smell found me as I reached near the bottom, a murky baptism awaiting me. I clicked the light on,
revealing the markings on the wall and the dead, black water that stood nearly to my knees. Source felt like the right
name for this area. The forms that sparsely lined the crags, creases and caverns around me were less refined than the
other areas, smaller markings that slowly built together as they climbed above slightly above my head, as though they
were, themselves, bacteria, clawing upward from this stagnate broth I stood in. I reached my arms above my head,
noticing how the markings extended barely beyond my own reach.
fter nearly an hour of taking impressions, photographs
and notes, I was lifted from the well, a strange transmigration having overwhelmed me in this experience. I was not sure
if it was the solitude, the danger or the markings themselves, but, I felt renewed, excited to pore over my notes,
exploring this brand new world. It felt so unlike anything I'd ever researched before and, yet, somehow powerfully
2 years later I was still making sense of everything I had seen. At that point I had been working for a year
with the esteemed linguist Eric Stanover at Harvard University. We spent nearly every day together working on this
strange finding and, at the time, we were far from the only ones. We had peers in nearly a dozen cities around the world
looking over this work in between their professional pursuits. It was that Spring that the whispers that had played in
each of our minds started to gain traction. There was an increasing opinion, helmed by Edmund Strausse, that the caves
were not discovered, but fabricated.
The entire claim, initially, was assembled on the precept of a single piece of
paper, supposedly found at the cave site. Allegedly this paper held notes about the cave. Little more was known at the
time, which made the whole claim problematic, at best. Even if you believed that the paper existed (which many of us,
myself included, refused to take at face value), 'notes about the cave' was a vague claim. Without the paper, most of my
colleagues dismissed it all as brutally unsubstantiated. And yet, the anxiety certainly visited me as I worked.
Cognitive dissonance deafened me to the call, but increasingly the strangeness of this language seemed more like the
fault of fabrication, rather than historical novelty. But, we persisted, like troops in a battle we did not yet know we
he page surfaced. We argued forgery. DNA was lifted from the paper. We claimed conspiracy. Liam made an
official announcement, admitting the lie. We claimed social pressure. For almost another year, we did everything in our
power to deny what we were hearing. Eric, myself and our little collective didn't want to believe that we'd been fooled.
Worse than that, we didn't want to believe that we'd lost two years of our lives to this lie. Two years of guerrilla
research efforts, resources and capital. It was unbelievable to us. No. Worse. It was unacceptable.
At the turn of the
new year, 1998, I finally got in touch with Liam. It had been hard enough for me to decide to reach out to the young man
and once I made efforts to reach him, he was remarkably hard to get in touch with. A speckling of remote emails finally
led me to a phone call on one of the coldest January days of my life.
Liam was cordial and calm when he answered the
phone. He didn't seem even remotely interested in discussing the caves and at first I was feeling too courteous to bring
them up. So, we spent the first hour just checking in, talking about families and careers, research and the like. But,
inevitably, one of these conversational branches reached too close within the vicinity of the caves to be ignored.
the caves, then..." I nudged, hoping that it would be enough to catch the conversation I had been hoping for this whole
time. He let out a sigh that expelled air from his body like a punctured lung. I could hear just from that single breath
that the light had completely changed for him. He responded with a hollow, knowing "Yeah..." and that was all I had to
I'm still torn on how I should have responded, but I'm not sure how I felt at that moment, even now. I remember
feeling overwhelmed by some inarticulate cloud of emotion, nothing pleasant within and all its contents unnamable. It
felt sad and still, angry and spurious. But I took a deep breath and settled for a question.
"Why?" it was as much a
reprimand as it was an inquiry. 'Why' as in 'Why did you do it', but also 'Why' as in 'Why would you do such a
He spent the next half hour walking me meticulously through how the brothers found the cave initially. They
discovered the cave years before the date they documented. It was on one of their trips to Yosemite that they happened
upon the cave, no storm, no real accident. The first visit was just a spelunking trip, where they discovered the various
portions of the cave. It wasn't until Liam descended into what would become the Source that he discovered a series of
etchings that inspired him.
"There was something so essential about the experience", he explained, "I always felt like the
acrid water down there was the 'primordial goo' they were always talking about in high school". But, though I tried, when
the conversation came to a close an hour or so later, I could no longer believe any of it. I went to bed with the idea
in my head that it was all a lie, even the essential experience he'd had in the stony well. As I drifted off to sleep, I
realized that he never answered my question either. He had no prescription on the why of his endeavor. He was
comprehensive on every other vector of the question, denoting the linguistics research he and his brothers performed,
the arduous planning they underwent for a few years, meticulously figuring out how to keep the cave a secret while they
worked on their masterpiece as he called it. Ruse, if you asked me.
The trouble with realizing that the emperor is naked
is that you no longer care what his purported clothes are made of, the patterning and the mythical stitch work. Even as
a methodical exegesis is laid before you, it can be difficult to listen with enough intent to decipher meaning. What
you're left with isn't nothing, though. What I was left with, at least, was that single question: Why?
It's evasive in a
way that the other interrogative words are not. Who, what, where, when and how lack the inquisitive solubility and
opacity that why does. A case can be made that what is closer on the gradient of opacity to Why than it is to the other,
but why has a particular unknowability surrounding it. Uncertainty on 'what' tends to be a lexical disagreement, where
'why' is hard to feel solid about in any capacity.
What did the dog do?
Where there may be disagreements on the event outcomes
created by the dog, but there is certainly a consensus that could be found, a quantifiable sum to be parsed. If there is
opacity to the situation, it is a lack of information or a differing on the meaning of words. To discuss, for instance,
what the dog is, certainly is a complicated problem, but it is one of that at very least can be drilled down to
taxonomy. Even if the answer is unclear, what we are exploring, at least in kind, is somewhat clear.
Why did the dog do
Where is a sort of lexicality to the nature of "why" conjectures. Certainly a disagreement in why boils down to a
disagreement in the building blocks of cause, intention and behavior, a syntax of causality, if you will. But, the why
is very difficult to verify, to sum out as right or wrong. Even fundamentally, Why do opposite magnetic forces attract?.
There are temptations on why, but typically they come in the form of answers of how.
Why does the sky appear blue? There
are any number of physical, biological and psychological answers that sufficiently satisfy a question that is a lot like
this question. To say that they sky appears blue because of the wavelength of blue light is to answer How is it that the
sky appears blue?. How is a question of mechanics, and when we ask why the sky is blue, we typically mean what mechanism
makes the sky appear blue?. To ask why the sky is blue is to question the intention of the blueness of the sky.
Brutus, Cassius, Ligarious, Metallus, Casca, Trebonius and Cinna murder Julius Caesar?
It's tempting to answer "To cease
the concerted attempts at power consolidation by the dictator Julius Caesar and ease the tensions stirring between him
and the Senate". While this answer somehow feels 'correct', I worry that it's not necessarily 'true'. These were the
reasons given, this is what made sense from the angle of game theory, but certainly other methods could have been used.
He could have been banished. He could have been stripped of the title and left destitute. There is something far deeper
in the why when you consider that he was murdered and deeper still when you consider that he was stabbed. 23 times. Why
did Brutus plot to stab Caesar? That is a deeper and a deeper question the closer you get to it.
So, why did Liam Rathie
and his brothers seek to desecrate a national park and claim they'd discovered a new anthropological museum? And, ever
more harrowing in my mind even to this day, why were my colleagues and myself so ready to believe them? Why did it take
a phone conversation to confirm facts the rest of the culture had come to so readily months or, even, years prior? It
leaves me feeling memetically vulnerable even to this day, that my cognitive immune system is not so robust to protect
me from deception, that there are ideas that so subvert my protective skepticism and can overwhelm my very existence so
fundamentally, despite being objectively wrong. It makes my mind feel porous and ideas seem liquid, invasive unstoppable
things, like disease. The best you can do is insulate yourself and hope that none of your vulnerabilities come your way.
It begins to beg the question of how much of my cognitive existence is just macro ideoisms, memetic bacteria
architecture taking the shape of ideas, meaning, belief, intentions and behaviors.
Whatever his cognitive build up, Liam
was convicted of Destruction of Property. Normally the maximum fine for this is a couple hundred dollars, with many
criminals getting off for less, but there seemed to be more here than just a criminal case. He was also slated with
Fraud charges for the years of business he conducted on the spine of his lie. By the end of the trial, even with a plea
deal, he ended up with a little more than 10 years in jail. The community largely felt that, if anything, this was
unfairly lenient. I don't know that I have an opinion one way or another.
At the end of the day, the best that I've been
able to make of this is a sort of synthetic catharsis, likely driven by the infinite grace of cognitive dissonance. The
why of my willingness to believe Liam at all is the impact of the work that Liam created and the beautiful mythology he
sculpted, laying out a world that I desperately wanted to live in. Frankly, a world I still wish I lived in. My
willingness to believe was predicated on the impact the work had on me, an impact and a meaning I will still stand
behind today. I am not here to endorse fraud or manipulation. Or, for that matter, to endorse willful delusion. There is
a fundamental difference between the story in which I took the conversation with Liam and decided, still, to believe
that the markings were real and the decision that I made. Once provided proper evidence, it is responsible to
incorporate that information and continue forward, seeking out what is true. That said, the lie was not empty. It was
merely false. The emperor may be naked, but what of his lavish clothes?
////Bernard currently works out of El Portal,
California where he continues the work of Liam Rathie within the safe confines of art and fiction, particularly in
his illustrated manuscript THE HOLOCENE EXPLOSION