Seven Billion Earthlings Could Be Wrong
Jeffrey T. Guterman
(Revised April 19, 2017 / Original Version Published 1995)
One night in 1997, I awoke to a sharp pain in my head. When I stepped outside to get some fresh air, I couldn't believe what I saw.
A bright ball of light soared above my head. The ball expanded and a form emerged. A mass of twirling light encircled my body, and then a being came before me.
"Those piercing eyes," I gasped.
The black sky suddenly turned dark pink. I couldn't move. I couldn't speak. I could only think, "I must be dreaming because no one would believe this." And then the being spoke.
"You call yourself a mental health counselor!?"
I would have pinched myself if I could, but I was frozen.
"You're not dreaming," the being shouted.
"Who are you, then? And why are you here?," I asked.
"My name is Generica. I come from a world far away. I am quite sure that you have a lot of questions to ask of me. But we don't have time to address all of your queries right now."
It seemed as though this Generica could read my mind.
"My mission is to enlighten you," Generica told me. "I know that you have been genuinely confused about some things lately. Things that you rightly consider important. Like the nature and limits of knowledge. The question of how you build your ideas. The problem of how to judge one idea as better than another. And how all of this informs the ‘doing’ of counseling and psychotherapy. From where I come from, we are more epistemologically advanced than you. You're cutting edge is our old hat."
"Why me, then?," I asked.
"Don't think you're special!" Generica responded.
"You have been picked for various reasons. Your selection followed from a largely stochastic process. The most significant factor is that your location is most accessible at this time. Allen Ivey was doing a workshop somewhere in Europe. Bradford Keeney was in Africa studying some primitive healing system. Lois Shawver was engaging in a kind of community reflection. Joyce Carol Oates was writing a new novel. And we couldn't even locate Kenneth Gergen."
"I don't mean to suggest that you are not an epistemologically minded human," Generica went on. "But trust me, you're not special."
I suddenly felt content to remain still. But I felt moved inside as tears started to envelop in my eyes.
"Is this God?," I naively wondered.
"No!," Generica quickly replied. "I'm not God. And the domain of epistemology is not to be addressed in a teary-eyed manner."
Generica stepped back and proceeded to open up. I saw the history of human thought flash before Generica's eyes. I felt unexpectedly dizzy and overwhelmed.
"Welcome to the postmodern world!," Generica exclaimed.
Indeed, social constructionism represents the biggest bite that you humans have thus far taken from the tree of knowledge. Don't get me wrong! You have a long way to go! But you have taken a wondrous step in the right direction!"
"You now understand that human knowledge is not a reflection of nature but, rather, amounts to stories, and stories about stories, and stories about stories about stories that you humans have invented. I am pleased to learn that you have progressed to understand your understanding in terms of multiple realities and language-determined systems. I come only to encourage you and your fellow epistemologists to keep on this track."
"But I am confused," I declared.
"Good," Generica responded. "What's your confusion?"
I then related: "Bradford Keeney blew my mind when he wrote that we need to go beyond the gestalt of objectivity and subjectivity. He said that the alternative is ethics, the study of how we choose to participate."
"Yes, I know," Generica interrupted. "Your Keeney is a great thinker; for a human, that is."
I went on: "But let me share my confusion. I now see that we construct our notions of reality in social groups. As Gergen has said, our knowledge amounts to forms of negotiated intelligibility. In other words, so-called truth is arrived at through the consensus of a community of stakeholders."
"What is your confusion?," Generica interrupted.
"Well, on the basis of what criteria shall we make our choices?," I asked.
"I think you know the answer to that question," Generica said.
"But we have invented so many methods of justifying knowledge here on earth," I came back.
"Empiricism. Rationalism. Intuition. Common sense. Pragmatics. Tarot. Superstition. The word of God. Aesthetics. Need I go on?"
"Please don't!," Generica politely requested.
I continued: "I now see that this is the wrong question to ask. Instead, I have learned that there are three principal factors to consider when evaluating any given idea: location, location, and location!"
"Cute!," Generica quipped. "But don't forget that seven billion earthlings could be wrong!"
"Yes," I thought. "Seven billion earthlings could be wrong."
I continued: "Now I see. You mean like when most people thought that the earth was the center of the universe?"
"That's right," Generica responded. "Copernicus showed that the sun—not the earth—was at the center. Then Darwin improved that humans are not divine beings but, rather, they evolved from other animals."
"And finally..." I came back. "...Freud revealed that we are animals."
Generica proclaimed: "Yes! Each of these extraordinary humans challenged a time-honored view that was—and to some degree still is—upheld by a community of stakeholders. The point is that these shifts were instigated by someone who questioned taken for granted assumptions and, moreover, because a group of people were willing to listen, reconsider, and accommodate an alternative view."
"I see your point," I told Generica. "But what about some of the things that are of direct concern to me. Like the question of problems and change? How do we go about answering these questions when there are so many competing views in our field?"
"It's time for me to go now," Generica said.
"Wait!," I screamed. "Don't leave now!"
Generica's face suddenly transformed back into that mass of twirling light. It encircled my body once again. But I could still see those piercing eyes before me.
"Be open to experience..." Generica told me.
"But no one will believe this experience," I cried.
"Then make up a story!," Generica suggested. "Perhaps you can write a story.”
Generica's eyes began to fade. The twirling light unfolded into a small, luminous ball. The pink sky turned black. I instantaneously felt that sharp, pain in my head once again. The pain then disappeared as quickly as it reemerged while I stood alone in the dark.
I am afraid that I might never see those piercing eyes again. But I am certain that I'll never forget them. I have come to accept that people will probably never believe that I actually met Generica; that Generica was an epistemologically advanced being from another world; or that Generica confirmed that we are on a knowing path. I'm satisfied to simply share my experience as a story with hope for the best and for our knowledge to progress in the postmodern world.
This is a revised version of the following article published in the January 1995 issue of The Advocate:
Guterman, J. T. (1995). Five billion earthlings could be wrong. The Advocate, 18(5), 2.
Copyright © 1995 American Mental Health Counselors Association.