Monthly Archives: October 2015

Review ~ Where did it Begin?

Origins, A Skeptic’s Guide to the Creation of Life on Earth by Robert Shapiro, less than $10

Origins

Science: knowledge about or study of the natural world based on facts learned through experiments and observation. (Merriam Webster)

Seems simple enough. The field of science is something that we know and learn through watching and testing. Predicting things that should happen and then running experiments to see if that is, indeed, what happens. This is why, even though science has its own battles with dogma and conflicting theories, there comes a time when it self-corrects. When the data and the predictability come together and we have what we can call knowledge.

And I love to watch that process. Some of my heroes are physicists, well, maybe a lot of them. People like Michio Kaku, Sean Carrol, Brian Greene, Steven Hawking and so many others that look at the universe as a great big romper room waiting to be discovered. Some evidence hints of faith, some shake their heads with a shrug and a whatever. But they all pursue truth as best they can wherever it leads them. And they don’t get in a twist when questioned. They operate in a field where everything they know may be turned on its head with the next discovery so they research and build and test with whatever tools they have. I have longed for the same kind of dialog in the biological sciences.

One of the reasons I chose this book was because I wanted to know just where we were in the field of evolutionary biology. The book is dated. Copyrighted in 1986 it lacks the progress made for nearly 30 years and that is a lot of time in science. There are many lines of inquiry presented in the book that I would (and probably will) follow up on in order to see what progress we have made. For instance, in 2009 John Sutherland and his team at the University of Manchester were able to synthesize the basic ingredients of RNA. Whether or not the process followed could occur naturally is still, of course, being researched.

The point is that there are as many unsolved issues in the field of evolutionary biology as there are in physics. Maybe more. Who’s to know? The frustrating thing is that questions about this science are often met with derision and comments about myths vs. science. But that isn’t the reason I’m asking.

I liked this book because Shapiro walks through the science of where we have been and where we were as of that time and why some of the things appeared to work and some were, well, just not getting us there. Just to be clear, we do know a great deal about how lifeforms change and modify based on the environment and the needs of everything from climate to culture. We can show how some things evolve and we are deep into research about the story our DNA tells about the past. No, we don’t have all the answers and that’s the point, isn’t it? Science is science when the same, predictable result can be duplicated by someone else with consistency. Self-correcting.

Shapiro steps through the history of our search for that spark that started non-organic chemicals down the path to life. Yes, he discusses the history of conflicts between Creationism and Science on the issue but he does not do it in a manner to disparage faith. He only wants to present what makes science and what is required to test a theory. He was, actually, not all that sold on the ruling paradigm at the time the book was written, leaning more in the direction of a minority opinion on what started the engine. It certainly was interesting reading a text that was looking forward to some of the advances we have made in the past 30 years by visiting Mars with the rovers, as well as the moons of Jupiter and Saturn with our probes.

Is it important that we one day find the scientific roots of our creation? I actually do believe so. Ever since man could think he has sought knowledge about the whys and hows of his existence. He has wondered about his place in the universe from both an egocentric and an insignificant-mite point of view. We are creatures, creations, of reason. Capable of looking out at the place we find ourselves and wondering. There must be a reason, from somewhere or someone, we became so. If you are a believer, in something or someone, most of the ancient scriptures I have seen admonish the faithful to seek knowledge, to learn, to observe the place in which we find ourselves and to grow in wisdom.

Check out Mr. Shapiro. He is not afraid to challenge the science of the day or to ask questions about what we know and why. He may help you put some of those pieces in place.

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Filed under My Bookshelf ~ Current times, Natural Sciences from the Observation Deck

Reviews – or is it a reflection? Pleasantville and Nietzsche

Pleasantville (1998). A classic example of metaphor in art. The standard interpretation of the piece written, produced and directed by Gary Ross is that it was a metaphor of the sixties. America was leaving behind the Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver paradigms of the 50s and launching full speed ahead into the sexual revolution and peacenik philosophy of the 60s crowned by such shows as Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. Okay, I get that. After all, I was there. It was a time when we transitioned from collectively looking the other way when Marilyn Monroe sang happy birthday to the President (May of 1962) to the cultural “freedom” of opening our homes and our bedrooms, to public view – and criticism. Happy Days and Opie consigned to the archives and re-run channels; enter South Park.

There are also the more personal interpretations. Moments of personal change such as when Betty Parker (the quintessential 50s mom) makes the decision to stop hiding the fact she is now in full Technicolor and refuses to use her grayscale makeup to hide it. Or when Mr. Daniels discovers color as an art form and refuses to give it up, even in the face of town statutes. The struggle to seek personal integrity even in the face of prejudice, conflict, and self-doubt.

Watching the movie for the first time in recent weeks, I saw these interpretations; and much more. To me this film was a kaleidoscope of thought provoking moments that went far beyond the superficial presentation of “sexual freedom” and “civil disobedience.” This was most evident in the change brought about in Jennifer/Mary Sue. The most promiscuous individual in the whole story remains stubbornly grayscale until she finds her real passion, literature. Her conversion takes place as she reads from D. H. Lawrence. An author who was considered controversial in the 50s as he confronted many of the underlying themes in the movie. She becomes so impassioned she remains in the Pleasantville universe to attend college. Or, David/Bud remaining grayscale until he ends up in a fight protecting his “mother” from harassment.  It was not all about free sex, free speech, and open rebellion. It was about finding that thing which filled the individual with enough passion to become the deliberate vehicle of change.

How then does all of that relate to Nietzsche?

Because Nietzsche had this thing about suffering. Grant it, his view was elitist. He was quite certain that suffering only made sense for those already strong and healthy and was little more than a deep abyss for those who were not. On this I disagree. For a moment, let’s paint Pleasantville with a different brush, one from Nietzsche’s studio.

Pleasantville was the perfect place to live. The greatest emergency was a cat stuck in a tree and no one ever showed up late for dinner or work. The basketball team never lost. No one was jealous, felt left out or failed at school. It was, quite frankly, what many of us pray for. Unrelenting peace and serenity, no challenges, losses or regrets. The inhabitants lived in a world so protected that they could not even imagine the thought of “somewhere else.” A condition many practice in real life even if they choose not to admit it. Segue to Nietzsche.

Within a number of Nietzsche’s writings we are introduced to his idea of suffering and what it means in the context of being human. In his view mankind, most particularly those of Christian Europe towards the end of the 19th century, was a mass of sickly worms with visions of greatness, but no capacity to reach it. Though he is saddled with the misnomer of being the father of Nazi philosophy, he would have abhorred the result. In Genealogy of Morals he states, “Do we really need to see in him ‘the spawn of an insane hatred of knowledge, mind and sensuality’ (as someone once argued against me)? A curse on the senses and the mind in one breath of hate?” Although not particularly enamored of the “masses,” he was a man that would have fought against any force that selectively suppressed knowledge, passion, and intellectual freedom on any level.

Shall we return to Pleasantville, the land of the perfect and home of the – uninspired? Nietzsche is not, of course, the first philosopher that reserves the true intellectual advance of mankind to some elite group. It is an all too common point of view. In my research for my manuscript on the book of Job I have found many and will, most likely find more. There is, however, a fundamental truth to his perspective.  Again from Genealogy of Morals, “but suffering itself was not [man’s] problem, but the fact that there was no answer to the question he screamed, ‘Suffering for what?” We are not afraid of suffering, we are afraid there is no reason.

The lesson of Pleasantville as I see it is that we can choose to paint our lives, our world, and our universe, with the grayscale-brush of protected perfection. Resting in the assurance that the mystery of the why and wherefore is not for us to understand, but to endure. Except – well – we live in a Technicolor universe. If we are to be all that we can be as individuals, as a race, as a representative of what the creative power of life itself can accomplish – we have to accept the consequences of passion. We must embrace the reality of the ever-changing relationship between what was, what is and what will be. Suffering is every bit a part of being human. An essential part that makes us the creators we are.

Some of the bits that inspired this post.

https://orwell1627.wordpress.com/2015/01/10/nietzsche-on-suffering-analysis/

http://www.valueofsuffering.co.uk/nietzsche-on-suffering/

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Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Bookshelf ~ Current times, My Journey with Job

Cuddles at Midnight

The fate of an author. Finding that place between tooting your own horn and blatant self-aggrandizement. In this case I get to use the platform to introduce folks to a wonderful publication. One I am quite honored to be a part of.

My creative non-fiction essay, Cuddles at Midnight, was published in the Eastern Iowa Review. I’ve read the entire issue and found a thought-provoking, fun, and evocative group of authors.  It is a publication that looks for “good spaces” in whatever the circumstances may be, something that is right up my alley.

Please check it out, including a sampling of the works included.

http://www.portyonderpress.com/issue-1—2015.html

EIJ

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Filed under Authored Works, Caregiving Backstage

Reflections ~ Beating the Woodpile

I had an agenda this weekend. Three uninterrupted days of homeowner bliss and a long list of to dos. Along with catching up on several bookkeeping and research chores for my various extracurricular activities, house cleaning (yes really) and errands, I had determined that I should work on my woodpile. No chopping required – just moving. Seems easy, right?

There is a story to my small mountain of wood. During December of 2007 a gale blew through Aberdeen, Washington which was made up of three powerful Pacific storms. It produced hurricane force winds and blew a bunch of things all over the place. It knocked a number of trees down in my neighborhood, some of which caused damage to the homes. Not mine, but near neighbors.

The fellow that owned my home at the time was elderly and a teeny bit paranoid. Although storms such as this would tend to challenge most anyone’s sense of security. In an effort to protect life, limb and property, he had every tree on the property over 20 feet tall chopped down. I still have lots and lots of trees around me, but the only tree of any height on the property is the perfect 20 foot (give or take) Christmas tree in front of my patio door. Such an effort produces wood. Lots of it.

Wood chopping

There is a wood stove in the home, a big one. It is evident that even after eight years of “chipping away” at the wood pile, well, there was still a great deal left. Enter me, spring of 2015. It would take me ten years to use the wood piled under the lean-to, so I sold it, turning the cash into something else the house needed. It took a number of trips for the grateful new owners to carry off their prize. A lot of trips.

Part two. I have a lovely garden shed. It has room for mowers and wheelbarrows and all sorts of things that help the inspired homeowner induce order on their own tiny piece of the globe. Except for one thing. It’s full of wood. Lots of wood. Thus the wood moving project. My goal is to empty the garden shed into the lean-to so that garden things can be moved out of the garage. Then the garage will be more available for garage things – likes tons of paper I need to go through, sort, destroy, burn, whatever. There is only one tiny little problem – focus.

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While I was loading up my wheelbarrow and transferring several loads of wood (yes really – lot more work than it looks like) from one place to the other today, and racking my brain for bloggy inspiration, focus came to mind. The ability to come up with a plan and move it forward without getting unnecessarily distracted. Note the unnecessarily.

As mentioned more than once in my writings, I am bipolar. Left to my own devices I would have several dozen projects going all at once, running from one to the other, doing bits here and there, and then falling into deep depression because, well, “nothing ever gets done!” You rarely have that satisfaction of accomplishing something, of seeing something completed successfully, because you are so busy “doing” you never “finish.” At least not to your satisfaction.

One of the tricks my husband taught me that controls this wild ride was to develop focus. Set priorities and work toward specific goals. I’m accountant. This should be easy, right? Yes with numbers. Not with life. But I have been learning, and I am beginning to see many applications requiring that same discipline of setting priorities. Attainable priorities. Then working to stick to a plan unless absolutely necessary to do something different (like emergency plumbing repairs). My “throttle” is no longer with me, but his teachings remain.

Sounds simple, right? Not necessarily. I think in this constantly-connected, always busy, always doing world of ours we all could use some practice developing focus. Not just slightly unbalanced people such as myself. As a director for a publishing company I know that we are constantly trying to do everything at once. The result of which is that nothing gets done. Someone has to decide what comes first, then the rest follows in a predetermined order and everyone, including yourself, begins to know what to expect when. But it sure isn’t easy when all those voices start saying, “Me, me, please do my stuff!” Or, “Wouldn’t it be great to start that project, it shouldn’t take more than, oh a day or two, or three…?”

My guess is it will take me a while to move my wood from point A to point B, but that’s okay. The needed work on my flower beds has advanced to the current level for the last 5 years (give or take) and it will not get materially worse while my garden shed is made operational. I will also be patient and refuse to dabble in the painting of my kitchen cabinets until my dining room set is completely refinished. One indoor project, one outdoor project. Both of which can be managed well within the day to day requirements of working for a living and keeping a house functional, clean and maintained.

No, it’s not easy and sometimes I have to remind myself almost daily, “Wait. You will get to that.” But the result is that now I often get to enjoy the feeling of reaching the finish. Of having accomplished something, and to have done it to the best of my ability. I’ll see you at the woodshed.

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Filed under Personal Journeys