Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Meaning of Life

At some point or other, many people ponder the meaning of life … you know, why do we live? Why do we die? Why are some people more or less fortunate than others? Why do men have nipples?

Many of us spend a good deal of time considering such questions. It’s a very engaging way to pass an afternoon when there’s nothing on TV. In fact, philosophers have been contemplating these issues for thousands of years, and much has been written about them, though I have yet to hear of anything that qualifies as The Answer.

Meaning, of course, is a pretty tough nut in itself. What is the meaning of meaning? Isn’t meaning different to all people? If we were somehow to figure out the meaning of life, how would we know it? Would heavenly hosts descend, trumpets blaring and bright lights shining, belting out a chorus of “Ah-ha!” Or would it be a more quiet moment, perhaps just ourselves thinking “Oh!”

Back in the 1970’s, a book called Watership Down, by Richard Adams, told the story of a group of rabbits whose home is threatened, and who go off in search of a new, safer place to settle, led by Fiver and Hazel. They have many adventures, and at one point, take up with a friendly warren of rabbits at the invitation of Cowslip.

Cowslip’s warren all appear well-fed and healthy. Moreover, they have an extraordinary (for rabbits, I suppose) talent for the arts. Their poetry and songs are more passionate and moving than those of the Fiver’s and Hazel’s group. They even create mosaics with stones pressed into the walls of their chambers.

It turns out that Cowslip’s warren is protected by a farmer, who provides them plenty of food and protection against predators. However, the farmer himself occasionally uses snares to catch the rabbits for meat and skins. Despite their apparent comfort, the rabbits live in constant peril and fear.

And that is the source of their art. Their very mortality, and the uncertainty of life, is the inspiration. In fact, death is the meaning of life.

Death itself became necessary early in the evolution of life on earth. Simple one-celled organisms reproduced by cell division, so each offspring cell had the original genetics, and the same actual material as the original cell. But for more complex organisms to exist, and to be able to adapt to changing environments, it was necessary for sexual reproduction, with distinct parent and child organisms, to develop. This allowed genetic hybrids, so simpler life forms could spawn more complex ones.

It also meant that parent cells would eventually die, leaving room and resources for future generations. And this, itself, is the beauty, the tragedy, the irony and the meaning of life.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Gift of Prophecy

The gift of prophecy is the power to see when and how you will die. It is a fearsome and terrible gift, as it robs us of our most precious possession ... delusion.

Without delusions, we are not successful. We are not talented or brilliant or beautiful. Worse, we are all the same ... mere organisms crawling on an overcrowded planet, trying to claim a little hill or space for ourselves.

Without delusions, we are just our bare selves. It's an idea almost too frightening to live with. So we build cities and cars and phones and whole lives to prove to ourselves that we are real ... that we matter. There are over seven billion of us, each trying to matter.

But there is a way to survive and to live gloriously in the world without illusions. We can recognize that we are all the same, that we face the same struggles against the same impossible odds. That although we all die somehow sometime, we can be not mere humans, but humanity.

We can love.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Change of Address

Just a quick bit of business ... the URL of this blog is changing. The new URL is:

At some point, the URL my go away, but this one should continue to work.

Please update your bookmarks and links.

Thank you.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Next Step

Early in human history, people developed beliefs and values based on what they could directly observe. Some of the things we now scoff at (well, some of us, anyway) seemed stunningly obvious. Obviously the world was flat. We were at the center of things, with everything rotating around us. Any inconsistencies or mysteries could be explained by adding some new gods to the pantheon.

Slowly, over thousands of years, we evolved from paganism to monotheism and eventually, to science. we still based our beliefs on what we observed, but the range of what we could observe, from the microscopic to the astronomic, was greatly expanded by new tools … lenses, magnification, amplification, and eventually even recording and photography.

Now, however, people are engulfed from infancy in a torrent of information that washes over us, filling all our perceptual orafices with colors and sound, some of which form intelligible concepts. But these concepts reach us unfiltered and unedited. We have no basis for selecting reasonable or valid ideas from pure drivel. We simply pick and choose whatever appeals.

And this appears to be the next phase of evolution. We moved from the age of mythology to the age of enlightenment, and now to the age of … what? … uncritical stupidity?