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whatsthatsound On April - 23 - 2011

After the Big Bang came the Great Darkness. In indescribable darkness, matter raced away from itself in all directions, pushing space into being as it did so. Darkly, it spun and coalesced, exploded and merged, exploded again, grew heavier, impossibly; formed stars that lived billions of years, died, and in that dying gave rise to new stars, stars that spun off particles that, trapped in orbit, coalesced into planets. Galaxies, containing billions of stars, expanding, moving away from each other, pushing at the frontiers where What Is Not yielded to What Is. Unfathomably, Improbably. And all in total darkness.

Because no one was there to see it. A spectacle of unimaginable beauty, resplendent with colors beyond our own limitations of red at one end and violet at the other, played out over billions of years, and yet this spectacle was for not. As bland as a painting of a snowflake floating in a glass of milk, or an inkblot on a lump of coal. For, for only a brief period of the many billion year history of the universe has anything been seen, anywhere, and only as the result of a chance occurrence. On our planet, and perhaps others, matter formed itself into something that could sense light, and by gradual modifications these light sensing mechanisms became more sophisticated, up to and including our own wonderful eyes. And these modifications; did they occur so that the beauty of the universe could be beheld and appreciated? No. Every modification, from the simplest eyes to the most complex, merely helped an organism secure food. Or not become food. Or perhaps a combination of the two.

Think about that for a moment. Do a gut check. Does it seem credible? That except for on our planet, and perhaps other planets similar to ours, and only in a relatively brief period of this and similar planets’ histories, has the grand spectacle of the universe been even partially visible to itself? And only through the vulgar mechanism of keeping one step ahead of a mouth or a grabbing appendage? That up until the time that these modifications came about, on perhaps this planet exclusively, even though it is made up of light and its very mechanisms are circumscribed by the speed of light, the universe was completely and utterly blind?

Such a scenario lacks poetry, to say the least. That a cosmos could be at once so dazzling and yet completely invisible to itself for such a long time, only to finally become visible through the merest chance on an inconsequential rock – somehow seems decidedly unsatisfying to my poetic nature. There, where my mind is free to wander and extend beyond what is rational and explained, the above scenario seems to me to have it all backwards. Eyes, my poetic mind persuades me, do not make sight possible. On the contrary, it is sight that makes eyes possible! Eyes did not develop because, for some odd reason, in a universe that up until then had been completely blind, there was suddenly some reproductive advantage to sensing light (imagine what an extraordinary moment that must have been, and yet so under-appreciated by its experiencer. Hey, now this is interesting. Munch munch).

Rather, eyes are a (but one, I dare say) manifestation of vision. It was not mindless food-seeking that brought them into being. Vision gave them birth, no less so than a painter’s vision gives birth to a masterpiece, and an inventor’s vision gives birth to a flying machine. Speaking of “flying machines”, in the same vein I posit that birds did not develop wings because there were things to eat up there. Birds rose to fill the sky because the sky, because flight, summoned them.

Viewed through the lens of reason, such notions are risible and wholly passe. Where is the evidence to support such outlandish claims? Where do these bizarre notions of vision and flight come from? Obviously, they don’t come from a scientific theory or an experiment, or from an objective, wholly rational observation of naturally occurring phenomena. Rather, they come from an area of human consciousness which science knee-jerkedly meets with cool skepticism, if not outright disgust: intuition, subjective feelings, and our mysterious human quality of looking for meaning in the cosmos.

Yet, how firm is the ground upon which science so confidently, even arrogantly, dismisses such rival attributes of human nature? For someone who is convinced that science is man’s greatest achievement, and moreover is our greatest hope for improving our condition in the future, the very question probably sounds preposterous, perhaps even insane. Nevertheless, I will dare to ask: as reason and intuition are both essential aspects of a fully human mind, can one arrogate to itself an exclusive “rightness” from which to dismiss the properties the other might bring toward understanding the universe which we inhabit, and our relationship to it?

Science, as we have come to define it, has a very brief history. For all practical purposes, it begins in ancient Greece, notably with Socrates, and his method of questioning hypotheses. From there we move to Aristotle, who applied the Socratic Method, with his own modifications, to a variety of fields such as ethics, poetry, politics, etc., and most famously, science. The derivation of the word is perhaps related to cutting, or more accurately, separating. The Greeks, with Aristotle first among them, learned about their world by dissecting and examining it, reducing it to its parts, separating what could be determined to that point, and then investigating more fully into those “parts” which remained mysterious. Aristotle applied this method to zoology, anatomy, botany, and pretty much all aspects of the physical world. What he accomplished, with his stellar intellect and unquenchable curiosity, is mind boggling.

Aristotle’s discoveries and theories went on to fuel scientific inquiry for centuries. His vast achievements functioned as a template for the Renaissance. The great Arab scientist Alhazen refined the scientific method into its current form roughly a thousand years ago. It came into its fullest expression through the Italian super-genius Galileo in the early seventeenth century. Completing the process, the great inventions, such as the telescope and the microscope, along with the higher mathematics of Newton, arrived on the scene in the century after Galileo’s achievements, giving birth to the era that we live in now, the Scientific Age. That’s pretty much the extent of it. The entire history of science (as we think of it), subtracting its fallow period in the Dark Ages, is less than two thousand years, roughly one percent of the history of our species. The duration that it has been the dominant way of seeing the world is much shorter, perhaps no more than three hundred years.

Given such a short history, we can only conclude that science, according to science, was not selected for in the human species. One must keep in mind that according to our present understanding of how natural selection works, traits only pass the test of selectivity if they help the extant, hosting organism to survive. Ask any biological scientist, and he or she will hasten to assure you that evolution doesn’t know what it is doing. It has no grand plan, no concept of a future, no notion of how newly acquired traits may spread among the entire species; no such scheme. Rather, it plays out one groping, clawing, devouring organism at a time.

Our large, multifaceted brains were selected for, most certainly. The knowledge we needed to explore caves, to use weapons, to hunt, to organize against stronger predators, was provided by those brains. The human resourcefulness and inventiveness that our brains made possible was selected for along the strict and narrow rules of natural selection. But science wasn’t. Remember, for only the last three hundred years or so has there been any demonstrable survival advantage to having scientific knowledge, most obviously in terms of decreasing infant mortality, and extending the average human life span by several decades. For the vast preponderance of the history of the species homo sapiens, approximately 200,000 years, the scientific method provided mankind with no survivability value whatsoever, proved by the obvious fact that we survived without it. In purest evolutionary terms, it is nothing more than a “lucky accident”, an ancillary feature of our large brains (which developed, remember, solely to help us secure food and avoid becoming food), that didn’t even begin to reveal its usefulness until twenty millennia after our brains’ development had made it possible! How utterly insignificant the very feature of human consciousness that devised the theory of evolution is, from the perspective of that very theory!

And yet the champions of science hold it up as a paragon against which all other features of human consciousness cannot even hope to compare. Did intuition and hunches help our species survive before science? Assuredly so. Did poetic and spiritual insights provide strength and succor to our lowly and set-upon species, huddled together in small tribes against a world vastly more threatening than the one we inhabit today? Bet on it. Without them, would we even be here? That I very much doubt. That science, coming along so late in the game, should nevertheless hoist itself to such a lofty and judgmental position seems rather presumptuous to me.

Imagine a basketball team that plays well enough in the regular season to earn a playoff berth. The team advances, all the way to the last few minutes of the championship game. A talented rookie comes off the bench, and makes a few clutch shots. A star is born! But no, because this rookie then kicks everyone else on his team off the court. He’s decided they’ve outlived their usefulness, and that he alone is the only hope the team has of winning the game. Every error his teammates have made throughout the season that he didn’t play in proves to him their unworthiness to even be on the same court as him. Their mere presence weakens his chance of bringing home the trophy. Well, I think we can all imagine how that would turn out! And yet that is basically the arrogant stance that science’s staunchest champions take. Any talk of hunches, intuition, to say nothing of spirituality and supernatural phenomena, is met with the same level of disdain our imaginary rookie shows to the very teammates whose efforts have made his appearance on the court possible. Religion? They are convinced that it has been nothing other than an unmitigated disaster for mankind.

Science is so convinced of its own superiority that it uses itself, its own methods, to judge the validity of those concepts that arise from other areas of human consciousness. If something can’t be tested in its laboratories, and proven according to its rules and methodologies, then it becomes fair game to be scoffed at and labeled woo woo. This strikes me as absurd. Imagine a chocolate lover telling you that chocolate is the only legitimate sweet. You proffer a banana. “What is this ridiculous object? It isn’t even black! It fails!” He dismisses it without even tasting it. Dutifully, you come back with a black banana. The chocolate lover puts it in its mouth and instantly spits it out, disgusted (understandably). The banana lover is in a hopeless situation. Playing by the rules the chocolate lover has set up, is it any wonder that chocolate always wins?

Don’t get me wrong; I love science. It is scientific triumphalism that I take issue with. What we have today is perhaps less true science than a raging tyranny of the left hemisphere of the brain over the right, and the consequences scream out at us. On the one hand, scientific experiments have improved medicine and lengthened our life spans, and technological advancement has improved the quality of human life. On the other hand, science has damaged the environment to the point where our very survival is threatened. Factory farmed, steroid injected animals harm our health. Acid rain weakens our forests (the very “lungs” of our planet). Oil spills and nuclear disasters point out the price we pay for our brave new technological world. Beyond all that lurks the mother of all environmental threats, catastrophic climate change. That we could have placed ourselves in such a dangerous predicament a mere three centuries into the Scientific Age should clue us that we should be going about things differently.

To me, the Great Lesson of our time is not that the ascension of science over the last few centuries is a harbinger of a new age of enlightenment, if we can just hold on and solve our current existential threats. It is that our survival depends upon striking a balance between the wonderful possibilities that science brings about and the poetic, intuitive, meaning seeking portion of our consciousness centered in the other hemisphere of our magnificent brains. If that balance cannot be reached, I for one have very little hope that mankind will escape destroying itself. We will,rather, hasten our return to the Great Darkness, clinging to our belief in an unconscious universe that is completely blind to our existence, and never even returned the favor of seeing us.

Written by whatsthatsound

Writer, Illustrator, Curmudgeon. Ferret Owner. Tokyoite, formerly Ohioan. Much nicer in person.

144 Responses so far.

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  1. Questinia says:

    I’ve read this twice, I really like it and as usual it is fertile for many discussions! You have a knack for spurring conversation. You’d be great at a dinner party

    • whatsthatsound says:

      Thanks, Q! Actually, I’m kind of a clutz at dinner parties. I’m good at public speaking, and at one on one conversations, but somehow that middle area, sitting around among a group, and my eloquence heads out to the nearest pizza delivery joint! :(

    • AdLib says:

      Now there’s an idea, PlanetPOV Dinner Parties.

      The only question would be whether we’d be able to squeeze in any eating amongst all the engaging conversations.

    • chazmania says:

      Kurt is brilliant..i love the guy and sad he is gone.he is not im sure.. a friend did a record using his tock tick in it and worked with him before he died..
      What really disturbed me is his prediction of our future because i think he is spot on. Humans are killing the earth and don’t seem to care. Like the collective human species is a spiraling down heroin addict bent on self destruction.

      • KillgoreTrout says:

        It says a lot to me considering that Kurt is a scientist, in regards to his college education. And he has great respect for scientists, yet he readily admits that science is not going to “save us.” His honesty is one of the things I really like about him and his novels.

    • whatsthatsound says:

      Hi KT,

      Thanks for this; I look at it and it’s 38 minutes, so I go “Wooaahh!” and think of all the other things I have to do. I’ll make sure to watch it at some point, but is there anything that KV says in the interview that pertains to this topic? I imagine there is, but if you could just toss out a few gems to get me (us) started, I’d really appreciate it. Either way, I look forward to watching. It’s actually my first experience with “Second Life”.

      • KillgoreTrout says:

        Well wts, I suppose this video could belong on several of the threads we’ve had in the last few weeks. I put it here because Vonnegut talks about science and technology, religion, and has some pretty good arguments against the triumph of science folks. And he even touches on our possible, maybe inevitable return to darkness.

  2. KQuark says:

    Science may not solve all our problems but I certainly know the anti-science approach most American people are embracing today will end in another 1000 year Dark Ages like we had after the fall of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance.

    There is also a big difference between science and technology. Science is way ahead of technology (it usually is) when it comes to the advancement of our species. But five technologies are more critical than others when talking about advancing civilization communication, energy, medical, sustainability (manufacturing and feeding ourselves cleanly) and propulsion. In three our of five of those technologies humanity is woefully behind. For energy and sustainability because of the choices we made for the most part. Face it with propulsion all important speed records were made in the 1960’s. Based on life expectancy in “civilized” countries you really can say technology has kept up in most cases.

    We are there technologically speaking with communication as well but with a very undesirable unintended effect. The thought was when the internet was created it would expand human knowledge but unfortunately the internet and media age more frequently spreads the stupid that much faster.

    If you ask me the only real important science we need right now is social science because the cumulative behavior I see in society is that of a spoiled child.

    • whatsthatsound says:

      Hi KQ,

      It is definitely true that science and technology are not the same, and that science is ahead of technology in terms of advancing our species.

      But in a nearly parallel way, the same comparison can be made between spirituality and religious practice, but this is something the “scientific triumphalists” such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris fail to acknowledge, although the readily play the “you can’t blame science for technology’s harm” card.

      In short,
      A.) There is no technology such as we have today without science underpinning it.
      There is no religious practice such as we have had for millennia without spirituality underpinning and grounding it.

      B.) Technology can be used for both good and ill. At its most destructive, it is VERY harmful to our species, and our world.
      Religious practice can be used for both good and ill. At its most destructive (i.e. intolerant fundamentalism) it is VERY harmful to our species.

      Anyone on the “science side” who wishes to conflate religious fundamentalism with spirituality and ultimately lay the blame with the latter (as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens do), should, in fairness, also conflate harmful technology with scientific experimentation as its root cause, and thus find it culpable.
      Otherwise, you’re not being fair, which is true of Dawkins and those who think like him.

      But the point is, why set up these antagonistic positions to begin with? It can only add to the reaction you refer to, the “anti-science” attitude that we are seeing today in large sections of America. If you think of science as the thing that attacks and belittles your holy book, you tend to get a bit ticked off.

      This is why loudmouths like Dawkins and Hitchens, who really know nothing about spirituality (as evidenced by their writing) should not become spokespersons for Science. Science does not benefit. Rational and tolerant scientists like yourself should denounce them as vociferously as rational spiritual persons should denounce intolerant religious “leaders”. Look around on the Planet. You will see that very thing happening.(Shout out to Kalima, Kes, Cher, Kilgore, etc.!)

  3. PocketWatch says:

    Another little item that is food for thought…

    One man’s science is another man’s magic.

    How many of you can explain correctly how a radio works, in detail? Or a TV, or a computer, or a car, for that matter? How many know that quantum physics is integral to GPS technology or the hard drive you use every day? Can you explain it to someone that’s never heard of or seen such a thing?

    Most people can’t. To most people, these things are simply modern magic. We just call it science.

    Back in the day, combining elements to create other things was called magic. We call it chemistry. Predicting the weather? Meteorology, not witchcraft. And so on and so on.

    The human mind is limited by the senses and the imagination, and those things are colored by our experiences. A simple Coke bottle dropped from a passing plane can be magic to a nomadic tribesman that has no experience to base his assessment on (there’s a very funny movie about this very thing).

    In 500 years, what will be magic and what will be technology? What we call wondrous and magical now may be explained, but will that make it any less wondrous and magical? Knowing how something works does not make it any less impressive.

    I know why a sunset becomes really colorful, yet that doesn’t make it any less beautiful. I know how a TV and a radio works, but that knowing doesn’t make those things any less impressive to me… magnetic vibrations sensed over thousands of miles by a rod of aluminum? Really? How cool is THAT?

    • whatsthatsound says:

      It’s true, PW. We lose our sense of wonder so easily. I like Skyping with my over-eighty mom, because she has that sense of wonder. She can’t get over the fact that she can have a face to face conversation, from her home in Columbus, OH, with her son who is all the way on the other side of the world. We can tell jokes without time lags, amazing. She reminds me that it IS amazing!

      When my mom was born, the world was basically the same as the one painted in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. In her lifetime (and of course a few decades before), we have gone from letters that took a long time to reach the other shore, to phone calls (international phone calls were a clunky, annoying thing when I first moved to Tokyo -- lots of time lag) to smooth phone transmission, to Skype.

      Even with phones, all we do is punch in numbers, and then somebody in another country picks up the phone and talks to us. How cool is that? Seven billion people in the world, but as long as we push the right numbers every time, we get the exactly right person!

      It IS magic!

  4. PocketWatch says:

    I’ve gotta weigh in on this one…

    I rarely get into my metaphysical beliefs, but I am this time.

    I believe that the concept of “god” as a singular entity is wrong. The universe is “god” IMO. We are a part of it, probably one of millions of species throughout the universe that are self-aware.

    Therefore, we are the conscious thoughts of “god.” When we damage any part of the universe, our world, we literally damage ourselves. When we weep for others, we weep for ourselves, whether we realize it or not.

    “God” notices every sparrow that falls, because “god” IS the sparrow, the grass, the fish, and US, as well. Our disconnect with “nature” (god) is artificial.

    There is actually scientific evidence that all the elements and atoms throughout the universe are interconnected, and I believe that to be true. I also think the only way out of our delusions about species superiority and “managing” nature (god) is to stop working against it and start working with it, therefore working with ourselves. I don’t know what form that will take, or even if it will happen, but that’s what I believe.

    • chazmania says:

      I just Loved what you said……….and agree….

    • Thefoxislaur says:

      Good morning my friend. How’s the packing and what’s the move date? I’ll call later, I was banned again from HP and truly have no idea why, my last post was on Friday, I worked all weekend so I didn’t post anything out of line the past few days. Dad is in the hospital, unexpected triple by-pass surgery yesterday, it went well for an 85 year old man. I’m offering to move in with him for awhile to help out once he gets back home if he, his doctors, and my siblings think it’s needed and wanted, to be determined. Good to see you here.

      Spot on post, it’s been awhile since I’ve been here, damn you kids on here are smart and thought provoking.

      • whatsthatsound says:

        Very happy to see you here, thefoxislaur. Thanks for the lovely comment, and I’m glad you stopped by!

        My prayers are with your father.

      • PocketWatch says:

        Hi fox! Hope your dad’s ok… Say hi for me.

        Packing’s moving along… it’s a misery, though. My lower back is killing me. Ibuprophen and a shiatsu massage pad is saving me, though. I have one closet, the kitchen, and the porch to do yet, and should be all done by tomorrow or the next day at the latest. Lots of sorting and tossing away going on. The 90 degree heat and high humidity doesn’t help either… Maggie’s a little lost, though. She doesn’t know what’s going on, so she’s been a little clingy. I’m trying to keep her reassured.

        I’m picking up the UHaul on the 29th (this Friday) and we should be done with loading by noon on Saturday. I’m hoping to make Little Rock by late Saturday night, and maybe stay with my nephew in Fish Creek on Sunday night, arriving sometime Monday. Then it’s unloading into a storage place and getting the truck and trailer dropped off. THEN I can relax a bit.

    • whatsthatsound says:

      Thanks, PW. That’s how I see it too.

    • Khirad says:

      That’s Hinduism, or at least pantheism, my friend. :-)

      • PocketWatch says:

        Khirad -- I add the science part, because it’s actual evidence of the “reality” of that outlook.

        Consider…

        Take a photon and split it. You end up with two electrons. Each electron is the reverse twin of the other, with opposite properties, spin, direction of travel, etc.

        The interesting thing about that is that if you manage to change something about one of these twins, say direction, the other one changes as well, just in the opposite way. Even more interesting… no time lag. The speed of light is not a factor.

        Now, consider that all electrons are one of a pair that exists SOMEWHERE. What are the ramifications of that? Some part of my body may have a link to some part of yours in this way (and who knows how many other ways?).

        Isn’t that exactly what is meant in various religions when it is said “We are all one” or words to that effect?

        • KillgoreTrout says:

          PW, I don’t know about religions espousing that we are all one, but that is definitely a major necessity in spirituality.
          We are made of the same stuff. The stuff of stars. Individuals are parts of a larger whole. That “whole,” being Nature.

          • whatsthatsound says:

            PW, KT, one of the cruel ironies of religious history is that the principle of reciprocity was not applied to persons of other faiths.
            For example, why not, “Do unto Muslims as you would have them do unto you”, etc.?

            That so often religious leaders have sunk into tribalism rather than rising to the highest teachings of their faith.

          • PocketWatch says:

            KT -- Consider the Golden Rule… a near-universal moral code among major religions.

            If we hurt someone else, we are hurting ourselves. I’m sure that is meant in an emotional context.

            Science seems to be saying that could literally be true in a physical sense.

            Or, at the very least, we are literally connected to everything that exists in a real and physical way.

            I find the intersection of religion and science in this way to be very, very interesting.

            • KillgoreTrout says:

              I do too PW. I don’t find it surprising, but it is interesting that there is a basis for it in science.
              The Golden Rule is a very old maxim. It goes back at least to Zoroaster. The rule of reciprocity. It is inevitably good for the whole, while at the same time being good for individuals.
              Siblings usually learn it at a very young age. Like a boy hitting his sister on the head with a toy, and the girl hits him back in the same manner. One child will yell to a parent, Cathy hit me, and the parent will say, well, you hit her first. That’s not really a case of two wrongs making a right, but it is a moment for the parent to teach, very simply, reciprocity.

    • escribacat says:

      PW — I agree. That’s how I see it as well.

    • jkkFL says:

      PW, your input is very thoughtful. Mirrors my thoughts to a degree.
      Are you and HRHMsMaggie abandoning TX?
      WI has ugly winters, remember?
      HRH will NOT be amused by snow and ice!! :)

      • PocketWatch says:

        jkk -- yeah, I’m headed home… I’ve missed it, and it’s time. I imagine the Princess will have issues, but she’s a savvy beast, and I’m sure will deal with it. She’s sooooo laid back now that she’s experienced all sorts of things on our walks. Very little phases her. I’ll be interested to see how she handles 2 or three days in a big UHaul truck.

        • jkkFL says:

          PW- I’m sure she has already spoken to you about the ”savvy beast’ comment… :)
          Cats and cars are adversaries!
          Cats and UHaul trucks.. I shudder to think..
          Best wishes my friend- I hope HRHMsMaggie doesn’t commit mayhem on the way! :)

          • PocketWatch says:

            jkk -- Actually, Maggie doesn’t mind riding in the car… I have taken her around town now and again when the weather was cool… she’s just fine.

            In fact, the day I brought her home, she escaped from the box they gave me and sat up front, no problem.

            She’s just unusual, I guess.

            I deal with her the same way I dealt with dogs and kids…. expect something as a matter of course, and you generally get the reaction you want. Don’t make a big deal about it… Works sometimes, too!!!

    • KillgoreTrout says:

      Well said PW. I couldn’t agree more. Our separation from Nature is the cause of many of our ills. I don’t mean we humans are separate from Nature, only that we foolishly believe that we have somehow surpassed Nature or “risen above.” What a stupid and arrogant way of thinking.

      • PocketWatch says:

        KT --

        When most folks talk about or think about “nature,” they tend to think and talk about it as a thing separate from people. I never understood that.

        • KillgoreTrout says:

          PW, I suspect that western religion may be lurking around that particular corner. mankind was booted out of the “Garden.”

          • PocketWatch says:

            KT -- That old “Tree of Knowledge” and its fruit is self awareness… something I believe is more common than we imagine. Anyone that’s had dogs or cats around knows that they have SOME awareness of themselves, their surroundings, and what the immediate future holds, depending on what’s happening at the moment.

            This whole notion that animals are merely collections of conditioned responses is nonsense, IMO.

            • jkkFL says:

              I don’t need a weatherman in my house.
              When FL has one of it’s famous thunderstorms moving in, I know about half an hour before. Both cats calmly disappear into the bathroom and don’t come out until it’s over. :)

            • whatsthatsound says:

              Absolutely!

            • KillgoreTrout says:

              I thought after I wrote that comment, that I might draw a little fire for it. You are correct, there is no “probably,” about cats.
              Mark Twain once said that by holding a cat by it’s tail is a way of learning something that can’t be learned in any other way. 😉 I agree.

            • jkkFL says:

              @KT- and ‘Probably cats’, too??
              KT- Don’t Ever piss a cat off- they will give you a whole new definition of ‘Don’t get mad- get even’!!!!!

            • jkkFL says:

              Oh Yeah, PW!
              They can read you like a book.
              There are stories of ‘cancer-sniffing’ dogs,, and cats who sense death in nursing home, and refuse to leave the patient.
              The world is filled with wonder.

            • KillgoreTrout says:

              I think dolphins and dogs are great examples of that. Probably cats too.

  5. KillgoreTrout says:

    Diminishing embers escape

    Into smaller worlds,

    Leaving etchings of time gone by.

    Deep within the sculptor’s stone

    Lies the object of mysterious vision.

    Rock becomes anything;

    Old men paint youthful poems,

    Young men write timeless themes.

    Life is creation’s chisel.

  6. jkkFL says:

    wts- keep forgetting to tell you I Love the illustration!
    The post is so engaging, I think it gets overshadowed.

  7. KillgoreTrout says:

    It’s very unfortunate that technology has far surpassed sociology and our understanding of the human heart. Socially, we haven’t really advanced much further than our early ancestors. National borders and “tribalism,” continue to spur us on to war.
    In our present day universities, too many go for MBAs and too few for the study of the Humanities.

    • whatsthatsound says:

      Or they study engineering, which in itself can be a good thing. But so many are lured into the weapons industry in this country. In other countries, they go into industries like telecommunications and manufacturing, only to make the world more confusing than it already is! :)

      • PocketWatch says:

        I read something once that makes total sense but is astonishing…

        150 years ago, people had to learn maybe one new thing a day to keep up with their society and culture. Today, that’s maybe 500-fold.

        We are not adapted emotionally to run at that fast pace. We can, but the stress induced by “having” to adjust to 500 new facts EVERY DAY leads to the emotional issues most people have.

        Maybe it’s best if we regress a bit to a more leisurely lifestyle.

        • whatsthatsound says:

          SO agree! I think that fact, plus the way we have distanced ourselves from other animals, can probably account for a good deal of mental illness. We feel isolated and overwhelmed. People go whole days only thinking about members of their own species. What other animal lives like that? Most of them wake up in the morning to a world that is FILLED with other kinds of creatures. Granted, much of their energy is devoted to sorting out predator/prey/nothing to be concerned about -- but still there is that natural awareness of being in community. We have lost that.
          Then, as you point out, our society continually piles on things we “have” to learn. It’s a wonder we aren’t all raving lunatics. Sometimes I wonder if perhaps we are……

    • jkkFL says:

      KT, when people regain value, perhaps Humanities will enjoy a resurgence as well. The current socio-political climate does nothing to foster interest in anything ‘human’.

  8. foxisms says:

    Check out the small book by Russ Kick, “100 things you’re not supposed to know.” Kick was (is?) editor of the website The Memory Hole and editor at large for disinfo.com.
    “Item #61 ~ Aristotle Set Back Science For Around 2,000 Years.”
    He footnotes his sources.
    Sumpin’ to think about.

    • whatsthatsound says:

      Wow, that’s interesting. I doubt it’s true, though.

      • whatsthatsound says:

        I just read it. I think the title should be, “Dogmatic Failure to Question Aristotle’s Assumptions Set Back Science For Around 2,000 Years”, but that isn’t as “sexy”, and wouldn’t allow a cheeky writer who probably has about a third of Aristotle’s intellect to pronounce that the great Greek “didn’t know squat about science”.

  9. AdLib says:

    WTS, once again you’ve crafted a fascinating and superbly written exploration of existence. And that ain’t easy! Well done!

    I am fascinated by epistemology. There is “what is” in existence and the universe then there are the vehicles we create to try and learn the fraction of that which we can comprehend.

    I do think some people can become too focused on the vehicle than the destination one is supposed to be using that vehicle to get to.

    That which fuels one particular vehicle may be incompatible with another. Science is fueled by the tangible, that which can be quantified and validated through a process. Spirituality is fueled by the intangible, belief in something beyond the world of the physical.

    Though many are comfortable in both, there are those who identify who they are with only one of them. The issue that can arise then is a sort of provincialism, a need to protect one’s raison d’etre from being pulled out from under oneself.

    This happens on both sides, those who view their belief in science as the only path to truth and those who view their belief in religion as the only path to truth.

    There are fundamentalists on both sides who, instead of spending their lives seeking truth, focus on justifying their choice of vehicles to get to the truth and attacking those on the other side.

    This is how I see the case with those you describe who disrespect people for having spiritual beliefs and of course, religious fundamentalists who show disdain for science and those who support it.

    If we look at the quest to understand existence as something intrinsic to human beings alone, no other living thing on this planet appears to share that trait, then perhaps there are both scientific and spiritual reasons for that. Alone, neither may hold all the answers, together, they may bring a unique and more encompassing enlightenment.

    • whatsthatsound says:

      Great comments, Adlib, and let me chime in that I very much agree that there is snobbism on the other side as well. I think we all know both types. I have no doubt that the eponymous Storm of Minchin’s poem/rant was obnoxious, as I know many a person like her. What I find so amusing is how little he seems to recognize how much he has in common with her. :)

    • jkkFL says:

      “Alone, neither may hold all the answers, together, they may bring a unique and more encompassing enlightenment.”
      The ‘meaning of life’ in one sentence?

  10. KillgoreTrout says:

    wts, your atricle, or should I say your conclusion in that article is downright Taoist in nature. Western thought is dominantly objective. We view the world around us through the observation of objects. Taoism and other Eastern forms of thought are more subjective and allow for intuition and, “gut feelings.”
    Your metaphor of right/left brain hemispheres is a good one. Eastern and western thought are indeed like opposing hemispheres of our brains.
    Of course, the East has been westernized to a large extent over the last 500 years, or so. And maybe that’s as it should be. Not total objectivism, but a balance between objectivism and subjectivism. Diminishing the line between the subject/object split between eastern and western thought.

    • whatsthatsound says:

      Yes, KT! Have you read “The Island”, the Aldous Huxley book I refer to below? In it you will find the philosophy that east and west should synthesize expounded upon all the way toward imagining a society ( a small nation state) where that has taken place.

      • KillgoreTrout says:

        wts, I’ll have to locate it and read it. The only books by Huxley that I have read are Brave New World, Ape and Essence and the famous Doors of Perception. Also Brave New World Revisited. (That one scared the crap out of me)

  11. whatsthatsound says:

    btw, here’s the Tim Minchin clip that more or less inspired this article. Cher posted it on TOOT a week or so ago. Although it’s entertaining, it really got under my skin. THIS is the triumphalist attitude that I find so distasteful.


    • KillgoreTrout says:

      Wasn’t it mystery that gave us science in the first place? It is mystery that spurs advancement, or sometimes, SEEMING advancement. Some of our advancements are actually quite detrimental in the long range. The combustion engine for example.

      • whatsthatsound says:

        Exactly! And I hate the sentiment that those of us who have spiritual views do so because we are looking for something more, that the mechanistic view of the universe DOESN’T give us a “hard on” so we SEEK for something more.

        It never occurs to poor Tim (the putz!) that maybe we have actually FOUND something that he can’t understand, and we use our minds, including our rational minds, to help us accommodate these things that we have FOUND, and he hasn’t, so he assumes they aren’t there.

        • kesmarn says:

          One of the ickiest phrases I know of, WTS, is that spirituality is a “crutch.” How can something that provides so much delight be equated with a “crutch”? Ewww. Talk about incomprehension.

          • whatsthatsound says:

            I dislike that too, Kes. It just shows how little the person saying it knows about what they are talking about. (didn’t stop Richard Dawkins from writing a WHOLE BOOK on the subject, though……..putz……)

  12. jkkFL says:

    Interesting stuff from my fb page-( I’m fascinated by Dr. Michio Kaku )
    new book: Physics of the Future
    http://conversationcrossroad.com/?p=1183

  13. kesmarn says:

    And by the way…!

    I was talking to my son about this article, WTS, and he mentioned the name of the famous German mathematician, David Hilbert. He taught at the University of Goettingen and had a number of students who became famous mathematicians themselves. In reading up on him I came across this wonderful quotation:

    “Good, he did not have enough imagination to become a mathematician”.
    —Hilbert’s response upon hearing that one of his students had dropped out to study poetry.

    This brilliant scientist’s way of recognizing that something more than mere scientific ability was needed to succeed in his field.

    • escribacat says:

      Interesting quote, kes. He recognizes that it requires imagination to be a mathematician but takes a snipe at poetry! Hehe. Advanced math is a complete mystery to me but the truly great poets were/are plugged into some other realm that most of us have no clue how to access. Or, they know how to recognize what’s right in front of all of us but most of us can’t see. It’s more recognition than imagination.

      • kesmarn says:

        Yes, e’cat, I like the quote but I hope he was joking about the poetry part of it. Because I love poetry!

        I like the way you use the word “recognition” regarding the poet’s art. I never thought of that, but it really resonates. That’s the delight of poetry — when you read a few verses and have that “Oh! Yeah!” reaction. The poet sees something that was there all along but went unnoticed or unwritten until he/she unlocked it.

        • escribacat says:

          Kes, I love that sense of recognition too. I find a lot of poetry absolutely inexplicable — which usually frustrates me, and I see it as a fault with the poet (ie, there’s a lot of bad poetry out there in my opinion). But when you see that phrase or line or an entire piece that resonates, as you say (the key word there: “resonates”), you know there’s some magic going on!

        • whatsthatsound says:

          If he wasn’t joking, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least. It’s reflective of that triumphalist attitude I refer to in my essay.

          If he was joking, well, good on him, as the Aussies say.

          • kesmarn says:

            I wish I knew, WTS! I think I took it as a wry statement that you need a poet’s imagination and then some to be able to take the “leaps” (beyond logic) involved in higher math.

            But I don’t know enough about Hilbert to know whether he had that sort of sense of humor or was being a show-off!

        • KillgoreTrout says:

          A poet is a mirror walking down a crowded avenue. I forget who said that, but I always thought it was a wonderful statement. Because a poet is so adept at reflecting the world around him/her.

          • kesmarn says:

            Yes, KT. Reflecting and yet somehow interpreting it for us, too, with their own unique vision. It’s really a gift, don’t you think?

            • kesmarn says:

              A lot of artists have described that feeling, KT. The one of being merely a channel for the characters in the book or the painting to be allowed to “come alive.” The processes involved in creativity itself fascinate me.

            • KillgoreTrout says:

              Kes, yes, I do. Where does a poem come from? I think those that create, whether it is poetry, painting, sculpting and other forms of creation, somehow have a conduit to the divine. I use the word divine because I don’t really know what else to call it. I don’t necessarily mean a god, but the true source of all creation. I suppose I could call it the Tao.

          • whatsthatsound says:

            That’s a great quote, KT!

            • KillgoreTrout says:

              I wish I could remember who said it. I’m thinking either William Blake or T.S. Elliot.

    • whatsthatsound says:

      Great quote! And thanks for showing my article to your son. Let me know any comments he made about it, pls!

      • kesmarn says:

        Will do, WTS. He’s in his room now grappling with topology, but I will try to get his thoughts when he emerges from the Math Lair. 😉


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