Chalk One Up for Viral Life

I’ve been reading about how, as the hunter/gatherer of our pre-historic past transformed through domestication of plants and animals into sedentary farmer, became an unwilling host for viruses carried by animals. The enterprising virus found fertile ground to breed and grow and very little resistance to his (or her, who can tell with viruses) incursions into the human blood stream.

The results of this viral attack were massive die-offs of all but a small percentage of people who were fortunate enough to have a natural or cultivated resistance. These survivors passed their genetic wherewithal to their progeny and from there on to future generations, who would over time encounter new and exotic viruses they had never before encountered that would attack the unsuspecting and appetizing innocents and the cycle would begin again.

Civilizations evolved, became more complex and medical science made amazing advances. Hubris and inattention led to the belief we had won the battle with invasive viral infection.

I guess we have to chalk one up for the viruses.

The Luxury Trap

As we humans we have striven over the years to improve our quality of life by developing innovative technologies that have provided everything from central heating to voice controlled communication devices, we have at the same time made life more complex, in some ways more frenzied.

I’ve been reading about early forager tribes living in the fertile Crescent of western Asia. This particular area was at the time rich in what turned out to be domesticable plants and animals. The foragers, over time, learned to harvest and plant wild wheat signaling the beginnings of the agricultural revolution.

I guess becoming farmers must have seemed a great idea. Having a reliable food source without having to forage everyday meant having a surplus and a sedentary lifestyle. As it turned out, though, after not so considerable a time (relatively, anyway) our early ancestors ended up working harder, eating a less varied diet, contracting unheard of diseases and, all in all, living shorter lives than they had enjoyed in their now long forgotten foraging days.

And so it goes, we as a species strive to produce innovations meant to improve our quality of life that all to often have produced negative effects like obesity, alienation and lives devoid of time for contemplative reflection.

Not that I’m a luddite or anything. I do love my various devices, easy access to friends and family miles away, ready availability of the arts I love. I just need to exert a bit more self-discipline, shut down the devices and get face to face with real-life on occasion.

Embodied Souls

I’ve been reading, lately, that there is reason to believe that the earliest notions of the existence of God, entertained by our primeval ancestors, may have been the result of an idea of an inhabiting soul; something existing within that transcends physical existence. I have to wonder, if my scholarly source is accurate, how such a belief came about.

The idea that a serendipitous organization of protrusions and gaps in an old gnarled tree might take on the appearance of a human face would reasonably, I suppose, lead to anthropomorphizing, to the idea of Being within, spirit even, a belief that might grow with the enthusiastic agreement of one’s cave cousins. The tree could be thought to be of a special sort, sacred even, and if ‘spirit’ existed in certain trees it reasonably follows that the same would be true of animated nature.

From such ruminations, I can’t doubt, the realization of a super-natural spirit could fairly easily grow into a hierarchical spirit world with a God in charge. The real magic in all this, it seems to me, is the wondrous imagination of the human animal.

 

Outside the Envelope

I’ve been thinking, lately, about the idea of the inter-connectedness of all things and events. I get it in an abstract sense, from the standpoint of particle physics, you know, sub-atomic particles in constant flux moving between solid objects and the ethereal. But, from a pragmatic point of view, the idea is contrary to my ingrained perspective of linearity, one thing following another in straight forward cause and effect.

I’m beginning to see, though, that sometimes seemingly inconsequential occurrences can have wide-spread ramifications affecting a multitude of subsequent events. And, inclined as I am to dismiss as ludicrous the realm of the extra-sensory I’m beginning to think there may be something to the notion that the subtlest of actions, an intense thought, even, might alter the behavior of animate beings as well as affect the very structure of the physical world.

This line of thought may be due, I realize, to the existential discomfort of the changing seasons, the slumber onto death of on-coming winter, but, on the positive side I’m finding a new focus for a time, a new way of thinking outside of the envelope of logic and rationality. Maybe I’ll come up with some great new ideas before I retreat back into my rational world, which, I’m pretty sure I will do.

I Think the World is a Pretty Good Place for the Most Part

I happened upon a commentary the other day about perspectives: how we as individuals see our world(s) as inherently good places or as bad and getting worse. The suggestion the psychologist author offers, in the end, is that our world view(s) are less about the world than about certain primal beliefs we harbor. To emphasize her thesis the author provides access to an on-line questionnaire whereby the reader might find out why, exactly, he or she wakes up in the morning enthusiastic and ready to face the new day or in a funk.

I couldn’t resist. I answered the 20 or so questions designed to determine to what degree I saw the world as safe, enticing and alive fairly quickly and was then presented with bar graphs ranking my responses with those of other survey takers. According to the results I found that my world view is pretty positive; a safe and enticing place (for the most part) inviting enthusiastic exploration, rife with opportunities to earn and grow and populated with mostly warm and supportive people.

When it came to the ‘alive ‘ part I didn’t fair so well, ranking down in the 20-30 percentile, which meant, I guess, that I couldn’t come to grips with the idea worldly events happen for a purpose which was how the questions were posed. But then I got to thinking about the idea of synchronicity, the idea that coincidences of time and place occur too frequently to be, well, coincidences: like thinking of an old friend one day and then hearing from him the next. And then there’s chaos theory, you know, like the butterfly effect where a small inconsequential occurrence begins a chain of events that snowball into a happening of enormous consequence, like the meteor sited by the Emperor Constantine providing the impetus for the rise of Christianity.

So, it has become clear to me that the world is a living, dynamic albeit chaotic place. I retook the test and did much better on the ‘alive’ part. So, I guess I see the world as a pretty good place. Well, mostly anyway.

(If you’re curious about your own perspectives take the survey at myprimals.com)

 

 

What’s Art got to do with It?

I’ve been reading that our brains evolved over the millennia to serve pragmatic purpose, you know, solve basic problems of survival: how to fend off dangers, procure nourishment and such. I have to wonder, if this is indeed the case, how and why, exactly, a pleasure center that responds to something as trivial as art evolved. It seems reasonable that our primeval ancestor was happy to experience a sharp and clear visual image as it would certainly be advantageous in hunting, foraging and warding off dangers, but at what point and for what reasons did our minds evolve to include the concept of beauty?

I can only imagine that at some point our primordial hunter may have been walking along a beach when his eye caught an unusually shaped piece of driftwood. Thinking about the bison pursued in the morning hunt he came to the stunning realization that this broken shard of willow resembled, quite accurately really, a large running animal. In this instant of cognitive brilliance we must assume the beginnings not only of animistic spirituality but the birth of art as well.

It all snowballed from there, I guess.

In the Blink of an Eye

I’ve been reading that neuroscience has made significant inroads toward determining how exactly the brain makes possible our biological existence. Apparently, the mind can be thought of as a neural computer comprised of modules, each with specific tasks, that respond to the input of information that arrives through the senses. Within the brain, billions of neurons make up various organs that control everything from toe wiggling to eye blinking.

I find it all pretty hard to picture but maybe it can be thought of as a sort of ‘light show’, neurons sending electric pulses down a line to a ‘blink center’ (in the case of eye blinking) which converts the pulse to a chemical which is sent to nerves in the eye lid and blinking happens.

As I think about it, I suppose there must be another organ with it’s contingent of neurons that keep the lungs inflating and deflating, another one that processes the oxygen and delivers it to the blood cells and yet another that maintains blood flow to the extremities and on and on; and all of this brain activity happening just to keep us animated and more or less cogent.

In the light of such knowledge one might not be surprised, I guess, if mental lapses are experienced occasionally.

Our Primitive Brain

I’ve been reading about parallels between biological evolution and cultural progression over the years. Biologically humankind has evolved over the millennia to produce, over thousands of generations, a fitter specimen, better able to sustain and thrive in a sometimes hostile natural world.

Similarly, I’m led to understand, ideas arise, catch on for their beauty and usefulness, spread from brain to brain and sometimes mutate into more useful variations. These ‘memes’ will evolve to become part of our common knowledge and humankind’s cultural sophistication grows accordingly.

Problems occur when our biological selves which are pretty much now what they were 50,000 years ago must reconcile our primitive brains with a rapidly evolving culture. Our essentially tribal inclinations tend to interfere with our ability to assimilate the pluralism our intellects assure us is a reasonable way to coexist in our culturally shrinking world, which, I guess, somewhat explains the populism rampant in today’s politics.

It’s one thing, though, to understand all of this, something else to have to live through it.

Science and the Humanities

I’ve been reading, lately, about the distrust science elicits these days from diverse segments of the populace. Apparently, the condemnation isn’t coming only from the religious right who might, I suppose, have a problem with the dismissal of dogmatic beliefs toward which empirical investigation tends to lead, but also from certain intellectuals who see science as reductive explanation for the complexities of our world.

I must admit this second concern resonates with me being inclined as I am to wonder in awe at the mysteries of nature. My reading has awakened me to the realization that science offers deeper, richer investigation of the wonders I find so compelling to contemplate. The mysteries of consciousness, addressed with such magic by the Surrealists, becomes even more intriguing when considered in the light of neuroscientific studies on the human brain. Art can be appreciated in greater depth when historical context, provided through historical and archaeological investigation and the psychology of aesthetic response is considered.

I’ll keep this in mind, well, at least be peripherally aware of the contribution science might play in my daily aesthetic experiences even though I find it hard to put language to the ephemeral.

 

 

Natural Selection

I’ve been reading that evolutionary progress will proceed through natural selection. Generational changes to an organism, occurring as the demands of existential pressures require, upgrade survival abilities; which suggests, I guess, that those beings that evolve with the fittest genetic make-up will be the ones that thrive and reproduce, passing on their fitness to their offspring. But I’m led to understand, the system isn’t fool proof; occasionally a glitch in the system will cause unfavorable genetic mutations to be passed on which results in less than desirable progeny.

One does have to wonder sometimes at the actions and decisions some people choose; maybe it’s the ‘choice gene’ that has mutated or perhaps it’s missing altogether in those folks who seem to proceed through life in a more or less spontaneous and thoughtless manner. These unfortunates may find themselves making bad life choices that result in a failure to mate and reproduce or prematurely exit existence, which I suppose, is how nature cleans up the gene pool.