Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Riding the arrowhead

I believe in a Creator. I don't know how the monarch butterfly navigates, as well I don't know how a Creator purposely (or not) caused the monarch butterfly to evolve in a way that navigation is part of the tiny package. But I think that that Creator has allowed my brain to evolve to a point that that brain became a mind, a tool of reflection and reason and imagination -- I can wonder, I can observe, I can experiment, I can do them all -- and reach an ever increasing understand of the truth of the monarch butterfly. Of course some can do all the same as well as deny a Creator. But for me I belief that a Creator made something out of nothing, made here and now out of never was -- that is the forever mystery. And all the nuts and bolts of evolution, the mechanics and laws of nature, and the timeline that I find myself riding the arrowhead of, all this the human mind is free to contemplate and observe and touch and even understand with infinite curiosity, for in this realm explanations abound. And if nothing else, the human mind hungers for explanations. And yet for some, the mind hungers for something more -- meaning.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Some Musings on a Darwinian World

I would think on a micro scale, when one's livelihood or life or home/land or lifestyle/tradition or beliefs are threatened with an "either/or" and nothing in between, then one either hightails to safer grounds, or stands one's grounds. And as history forever notes, the "either/or" choice quickly transforms into a "life/death" choice, for to give up ones "all of the above" is the same as death for many, so fight or war suddenly becomes that which even intelligent beings think the final hope of retaining one's life/livelihood/home/land/lifestyle/tradition/ beliefs. And our forever dilemma is that our imaginations can think a better peaceful way, yet our observations of nature reveals a frightening truth -- the banality of evil -- fight and warfare as natural as the tactics of the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. And still, our minds rebel against the obvious.

And the obvious, that competition is the natural evolved survival strategy in all life-forms and warfare the social evolution of competition in humans as a survival strategy.

(Darwin, Descent of Man, 1871) “It must not be forgotten that although a high standard of morality gives but a slight or no advantage to each individual man and his children over the other men of the same tribe, yet that an increase in the number of well-endowed men and an advancement in the standard of morality will certainly give an immense advantage to one tribe over another. A tribe including many members who, from possessing in a high degree the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy, were always ready to aid one another, and to sacrifice themselves for the common good, would be victorious over most other tribes; and this would be natural selection.”

So I think that "warfare" stripped to its bareness is any struggle between competing entities. When a virus invades the human body, warfare ensues. From the human perspective the virus "violates" the body, and we consider any violation as an infringement, and when done with aggression, we call it violence. If one could take the perspective of the virus, then I suppose one could think of it as a mere attempt at survival. And as far as I know, the only realized potential of a virus is simple survival, for without a reproduction system, the virus must "violate" a living cell, or in this case, a human cell. 

Moving up the ladder a bit, we come to bacteria, which do have a method of reproduction, so when a bacteria invades a human, it is simple using the human host as a suitable environment to carry on its life cycle. From the human perspective, if the bacteria is destructive, such as some strains of e. coli are, then I think we can agree that "we" have been invaded, and warfare does ensue when the immune system detects the invader. 

Taking another leap, a big one, we come to Africa and a pride of lions stalking a herd of Cape buffalo. With stealth they seek out a likely candidate and when the fight ensues the herd fights back. But usually in the end a few lions are injured and one buffalo becomes their meal, a victim to the "struggle between competing entities." In this case the lions sought food for their survival, while the buffalo sought peace and to be left alone. 

And again, Darwin's statement, "A tribe including many members who, from possessing in a high degree the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy, were always ready to aid one another, and to sacrifice themselves for the common good, would be victorious over most other tribes; and this would be natural selection.”

I can image in this illustration a peaceful tribe, as peaceful as the Cape buffalo, being preyed upon by a not so peaceful tribe, and for whatever reason or ambitions of the hostile tribe, the peaceful tribe can face the "struggle between competing entities" in various ways. They could scatter and run and leave behind their tribal land and possessions to the invaders. Or they could, as Darwin points out, rally those of the tribe possessing all that it would take to repel the invaders, and these courageous ones, would challenge the invaders, and even "sacrifice themselves for the common good" by fighting the invaders. And how would this bit of warfare change the gene pool? I would think natural selection would be in full force during and after the struggle. For during the fight those with the least fighting skills would be killed, while those with the most fighting skills would survive. Not only survive, but when the fight was over they would be the ones adulated by the surviving tribe, and most likely the ones passing on their genes to the next generation. 

Darwin thought the moral traits of those with "patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy" are too carried on to the next generation. So you could say that Darwin is using warfare as the mechanism of moral evolution. Hmm ... now that's a provocative thought.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Hand print on rock

Interesting, hand prints and hand stencils are among the oldest and most numerous intentional "signatures" and marks left by individual humans, they are found the world over, in the American Southwest are numerous examples of the "stencilled hand" created by placing hand on rock then filling mouth with colored pigment and either sprayed through pressed lips, or more creatively, using a reed as a straw, or "spray paint nozzle", and the pigment spraying controlled around the hand pressed to the rock. In South America are examples of hand prints, where the individual covers the hand with pigment and then presses the hand to the stone for the impression. And in Africa and Asia and Australia and of course the many famous European caves. And don't forget all those countless "hand prints" paintings found in nearly every kindergarten classroom the world over. I've always thought of these hand prints as the precursor to graffiti, the want (or need?) of some (or all?) individuals to leave some mark on the world, and for the powerless, it is this seemingly insignificant and anonymous, yet really most powerful and most personal statement, "I was here! -- I too once a living being that dwelled in and was part of this creation."

Monday, April 14, 2008

The problem with seeing is believing

The problem with Materialism is the problem with matter is the problem that physicists spend lifetimes musing and tinkering with, for the solidity isn't there, and the there sometimes absent too, when one can by the E=mc2 of Einstein interchange matter with energy, we come to see that what we grasp in our hands is but the form of matter that our senses can sense, and that what we can't sense does not deny the non-sensed, it just exposes our sensibilities, which are limited indeed, to a mere blink of the what really is.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A voice in the desert

Funny how I can imagine the workings of evolution, yet find it nearly impossible to imagine a Creator-less unguided evolution, or the natural evolution that some think not only possible when given eons of time for environment shaping factors plus the countless chances over that long span of time for positive mutations to occur, but find natural evolution a certainty. Today as I was hiking I was delighted to hear the sounds of many song birds, and that got me to thinking about humans and their vocal cords. I recall reading that the vocal cords in birds are entirely different than the "voice box" in humans, so I brought this up later with Bro. Clarence.

He said that the "voice box" is first seen in homo erectus about a million years ago. So I replied, that seems a long enough time for those forces of environment and mutation to go to work in producing a real, usable voice box. To that he only smiled. Then he took a forefinger and thumb and touched his throat and said, "If only evolution took place here, then an easy trick it would be." By my quizzical expression, he resumed, "The blueprints. Change must take place in the blueprints for the physical change to occur ... DNA, your genes!" And then as though speaking to a child, he began gesturing with his hands, like painting the picture in the air so that I would get the point. "The FoxP2 gene is called the 'language gene' because when there is a defect in this gene, then a child will not develop vocalization, even though the child has a perfect set of vocal cords. So you have this complex system of interaction between brain and all the parts of the voice box that originate in the genetic blueprint. So when you think evolution, you must understand that the blueprint, the DNA, must be mutated in a way that the pre-homo erectus throat suddenly finds a growth that isn't simply a tumor, but a structure with potential, a structure that will benefit this new baby that has the mutated gene. And further, you must understand the complexity of the voice box or larynx, the orchestration of all the components, from lung that provides wind, to tongue that provide articulation, and all the 'mutated' pieces -- vocal cords and the various muscles that provide the intricate movements of the cords. But then we have to figure out how that primitive voice box provided any useful function while it was developing into a useful organ of language expression."

He paused while I marveled at the complexity of it all. Hurriedly I scribbled more notes while thinking that even when given eons of time, I just couldn't grasp it all working out so precisely without a guiding Creator. Again I tried to imagine how simple unguided natural evolution could orchestrate the sub-microscopic changes in the DNA along with the developing circuitry of the brain along with the flesh and muscle construction taking place in the throat and a host of other "things" that had to move into place to make this "voice box" not only successful, but useful, things like self-awareness and the "need" to communicate abstract thoughts to fellow beings. I could only blurt out, "Wow!"

With that Bro. Clarence rose from his seat and said he had to get back to work (as he always says when he realizes that a dialogue has become his monologue), but before departing he left me with this, "The universe is creative and the laws of nature guide matter and energy to organize, self-organize, to grow from simple to complex, all the way to here (he tapped his head with his forefinger), complexity to the point of life and consciousness. In the beginning God created ... created a creative universe!" And with a cheshire smile, he headed straight for the trail into the desert. I remained under the cottonwood tree, still seated on my favorite wicker chair with pencil trying to make sense of it all on the blank pages of my journal.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Thank God for fanciful thoughts

I suppose the most troubling aspect of life is that fight, kill, struggle, are as common and ordinary in life forms as violent transformational change is the commonness of the inorganic universe. And here we are, self-aware being with minds that can imagine a nonviolent world, yet forever floundering until foundered when attempting to create this imagined world. Yet we try, as "good wars" can attest, and using the commonness of the universe is always the luring tool, violence against the "evil" seems the expeditious means, whether Nazis or a disease of the body. More often than not "killing" the cancer is the only choice, other than submission to the cancer. The last of the strategies for an imagined nonviolent world is the practice of nonviolence. Turning the other cheek has always been a tough concept to imagine practicing in anything other than personal affairs. Possibly in a somewhat civilized world a Gandhi turns the other cheek to the "civilized" British and makes it work, but as history knows it is certain death in those times and places of uncivilized brutishness when humans are but human in appearance -- how many Jews turned the other cheek to a Nazi at Auschwitz? If there ever was an image of peaceful sheep going to slaughter, it is those newsreels of box cars arriving at the death camps, and out come the peaceful sheep: old men, young men, old women, young women, and all the children, and all the babies. Now if only those Nazis were human, and could see, and recognize the holiness of all those precious sheep. So what a conundrum we live in, the exterior world where violence is but a paper-thin distance away, the skin our shield from the abrasions that every child knows so well -- the hard world skins our knee -- yet within the skin, and even deeper within, in that mysterious interior of the brain, the mind, fanciful thoughts of peace and nonviolence are as common as our next breath.