- Gusty winds rushed a line of ink-dark ominous clouds across the sky, ripping leaves, whipping whitecaps, threatening rain which never fell. In minutes, weather cleared. A portent such as ancient astronomers would perceive in comets staining their heavens.
- Our first grandchild is to be born today. Coincidentally, we are also to attend the wake of one of our most long-term neighbors. There are no stronger symbols than birth and death, except that birth and death render all symbolism trivial.
A baby is born
A cute little gem
Hard to believe
I was once just like them
How could I teach him
Of hassles and strife
All the decades it took me
To understand life
A child of our child
On that same crazy slope
Exactly that cycle
Of worries and hope
And will he remember
Or reflect, moving on
Of pasts or of ancestors
Once we gone
A baby is born
Such a common event
Such a miracle moment
Such a wishful advent
- Half a century ago, everything was simple. The body was a machine to be disassembled and repaired. Evolution proved the “fittest” survived. Genes were all that mattered, and once they were reproduced in the next generation, any individual’s biologic function was complete. Neat, complete, and totally wrong.
- Our body is a community organism. Humans are a social species _ like bees _ where the genetics of individual fitness hardly matter compared to what an organism can contribute to group survival. We are only gradually realizing that, to some extent, what all our ancestors knew _ before the rise of prim and hubris-laden mathematical science _ is in some ways far more relevant to our actual lives and meaning than any grand recent discoveries. Such as understanding that another human consciousness in this universe should always begin with celebration.
John sits morosely staring into space when I intrude into his vision and shake his hand. Big smile on my face.
“You on drugs or something?” he asks sarcastically.
“Beautiful day,” I reply. “And our first grandchild arrived this week.”
“Oh,” he shrugs. “Well, guess that could make you happy.”
“Me a little,” I admit. “The parents a lot. My wife ecstatic. Happy wife, happy me.”
“Well me, I wouldn’t want to be born today,” he rumbles along. “Too much falling apart, too many bad things happening, the future looks pretty awful from what I see. Crazy nasty times.”
“Always like that,” I challenge. “Always. For every bad thing you could pick out I could find something grand. Matching until we were hoarse. Half full, half empty. Me, I’m the optimist.”
“I know,” he answers. “Usually annoyingly so. Congratulations, I guess. I reserve the right to my dim perspective. Cold realism.”
“Cold, for sure.” I fake a shiver. “I’ve always thought of life as an adventure. I think challenges remain opportunities. Life now is the same as always. I admit, however, that the challenges are worldwide and immense.”
“Glad you retain a little sanity after all ….”
“But so are the opportunities. Anyway, I’m not sure that vast picture matters anyway.”
“Sounds stupid. Why?”
“All our lives are localized. Anything beyond our immediate control and perception is in some sense not real. Being born here today is still pretty good compared to any other time in history.”
“Would you trade your life?” he asks, raising an eyebrow.
“Nah, I’ve been really happy with how mine worked out. I just don’t think the next generation will be as grim as you think.”
“We’ll see,” he mutters.
“No, we won’t. But that’s ok. See you around.” Refusing to be deflated, I continue my idiotically happy mood and smile my way down the sunlit sidewalk grateful for the times and the morning.
- Flush times for birds. Lots of weeds, lots of fish. Time to stock up and put on some fat for the coming seasons. They are surely unaware of why they are hungrier, but that does not matter. Were they able to think, they might reason that their increased consumption is because of shorter nights or the cooler days. Reason often rushes to answer questions with any explanation it finds convenient.
- I like to feel superior, but I am no different. I like to think I know why I feel as I do, on any given day, for any given feeling. But in fact I often do not. The usual cure for me is, curiously, simply to find something _ anything _ to laugh or smile about. Not unlike locating those tiny little fishes in the shallows, or delicious roots easily pulled from the mud.
- As I watched my son holding his day-old son gently and protectively, as I saw the joy my wife felt also cradling the child, later as I sat outside in the warm September sun, I realized anew how much closer we are to other mammals than we are to machines. Only recently has consciousness been scientifically explored in dogs and elephants and apes. I have certain reservations on exactly what consciousness may be among other species _ humans are unique in so very many qualitative and quantitative ways that we are practically supernatural _ but I am sure of one thing: it would be much easier to transfer whatever is “me” to some being based on a dolphin or giraffe than it would ever be to do so into infinite transistors.
- Reason is an extremely useful tool of our consciousness. But it is by no means most of our consciousness, and the logic woven by our brains is well-separated even from reason itself. We are complex, and that complexity resides in body and tissue and hormone and symbiont and trillions of non-neuronic cells as fully as it does in our magnificently wired, rewired, and overwired brains. Whatever comes from artificial intelligence of machines may well be dangerous, might destroy us all, but can never replace or replicate the incredible illuminated wonders that we provide to our cold and forlorn universes.
- Part of our being is that we need to consider ourselves immortal and important _ part of some grander purpose, able to further a perceived design. Our reason coldly informs us we should know better _ and we respect our reason. To an extent. Then we have another bite of dinner, or feel a soft breeze, or catch the eyes of a lover, and reason flees back to its tool shed. The cause of that is simple _ without such innate beliefs and drives _ and in fact there must have been many failures extinguished for lack of them over billions of years of life evolution _ an organism cannot struggle on, and contribute to the continuation of its species. Those beliefs are not merely built in, they are necessary.
- Babies should remind us of that. Babies are hardly tiny little computers, but they are fully wondrous consciousnesses. Our technologic scientific intellectuals should spend more time contemplating that.
- Earth continued its busy way all week, humans adding mischief. Typhoons, hurricanes, huge fires, floods around the world. Nuclear testing, ongoing war, civil strife, political chaos. Everybody has reason to be cosmically worried about just about everything. Although, to be honest, for many all these usually distant disasters are more entertainment than impact.
- Meanwhile people like us discovered how quickly focus can shift from the far to the near. Some folks received unhappy news, or endured loss or sickness. We were most fortunate in welcoming a healthy new baby, which will undoubtedly shake up our routines for a while. We are told to keep perspective, but perspective is actually an ever-shifting reality, depending on what our mercurial minds decide is the central factor.