Wilderness In A Feather

Wilderness in a Feather

“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.”
Emily Dickinson

 

In the 1960’s, Marin County, California became a Mecca of a specialized hybrid blend of pop-psychology and the spiritual exercise of mantric meditation made popular by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The blend was named Transcendental Meditation or “TM” for short. Many psychologists eagerly embraced the new trend and added their own creativity. Clients were welcomed into candle-lit rooms that featured “New Age” mood music. Some therapists included body massage and used a variety of aromatic esters or oils, e.g., eucalyptus, camphor, lavender, and wintergreen. The degree of how much clothing clients elected to retain was privileged information, however, there was a common legend that the ultimate curative procedure involved the practitioner gently passing a peacock feather over the client’s body. Whether the experience became restorative, scintillating, titillating or erotic was, or should have been, strictly confidential. I was in my 20’s and figured that if it made people feel better about themselves, so be it.

Greg Marvin, a former art teacher/colleague, mentioned that artists see everything in Nature as either beautiful or interesting. Loren Eiseley agrees and adds that trips into the wilderness usually include seeing visions, marvels, wonders, even miracles, which “are always worth thinking about and discussing. Something funny recently happened on the BOFAW Fb page. I mentioned that I was enjoying Thor Hanson’s book, Feathers. I assumed that I was citing the title; I was not. For some unknown reason, Jane Berg also referenced the book but, included the whole title. I was surprised. She properly stated the title as, Feathers: The Evolution of a Miracle. I grabbed my copy and discovered that the last five words were not on the front cover but, nearly camouflaged on the cover spine.

I wondered if Hanson’s cover designer cryptically responded to one of the book’s themes in a Freudian manner. The book is a wonderful collection of interesting information, however, perhaps equally important, Hanson not only acknowledges that the origin of birds, feathers and flight is still not fully understood, but that feathers qualify as a legitimate miracle. We live in a society that is becoming increasingly secularized and it is possible that publishing a “scientific” book with the word “miracle” boldly printed on the cover may not meet the publisher’s plans for promoting the book.

As Roger Sperry and Loren Eiseley, etal. have pointed out, when secular scientists can not explain natural events they typically ignore them, deny them, create their own mythologies, or even distort or lie about them. Hanson wrote something both humbling and touching. He urges his readers to put his book down and take time to appreciate the miraculous nature of feathers. He did not use the word “contemplate,” however, that is the feeling he conveyed to me. Contemplate is one of those simple, yet powerful, words.

“Contemplate” derives from; con=with, temple or to make a temple with; to consider carefully and at length; meditate on or ponder. Hanson invited us to make a temple with a single feather and perhaps allow its sacred origin to permeate every one of our 150 trillion cells. He may be inferring that failure to do this may result in a sin of omission that is frequently committed by scientists and theologians alike.  Scientists who deny miracles will not experience the ecstasy of feathers. Theologians who are prone to glibly assign feathers, and other miracles, to the hackneyed, overused three-letter-concept, G-O-D, also miss out on the rapture of creation.

Timothy O’Leary and Carlos Castaneda may have recommended “dropping Acid” or smoking peyote to “groove” on feathers, Hanson recommends the safer, saner, classical method of contemplation to appreciate the ecstasy of a feather.

After all these years I am wondering if maybe the peacock feather actually has restorative properties.

 

We are spiritual beings having a human experience. de Chardin

Teilhard de Chardin wrote, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

Excerpt: BOFAW, Chap. 4, “A Class is Born.”

1. The class was not a philosophy class.

2. The class was not a religion class.

3. The class was not a spirituality class.

 

Any discoveries that may relate to these topics would be a byproduct of biological studies and not a direct focus. Typically, if I asked students how many of them had a soul, every hand shot up. It may represent foolish optimism or self-delusion, however, it may also, as Carl Jung suggested, represent a deeply imbedded intuition of man’s spiritual nature. For thousands of years indigenous people have believed in an afterlife. They may be foolish, however, they may be correct.

Tuesday, 3-26 was the Jewish Passover celebration and this Sunday will be Easter Sunday. However, these are the latest chapters of a very big book. Spirituality dimly appeared in humans 100 thousand years ago and has been evolving ever since. Alaskan tribes have been living relatively peacefully with each other (and nature) for at least 10,000 years. Their spiritual beliefs were emerging 7,000 years before Moses envisioned the Book of Genesis, and 8,000 years before the birth of Jesus. Throughout the world people were slowly becoming aware of a possible reality that exceeded the limits of human understanding. Many of these beliefs were inextricably connected to living close to Nature. I am intrigued that Lao Tse, Confucius, and Buddha were all born in Asia within 100 years of each other, circa 500 years before Christ. It was a remarkable period of spiritual stirring. None of these men claimed to be God but, offered ideas to improve human harmony and well-being. Many of these ideas proclaim the importance of being deeply rooted in Nature. Lao Tse is credited with the concept of the “Tao” which can be translated into; Nature, Natural Order, “The Way” or “The Path.”

One of the goals of Biodesign was being dedicated to, “the illimitable freedom of the human mind.” This included a holistic approach to human biology (physical, mental and spiritual) and searching for truth, beauty and goodness.

When students dangled their feet off the edge of Half Dome, or stood on the edge of Grand Canyon, or pondered the vast Pacific Ocean from the bluffs of Mendocino, the word “religion” probably never entered their minds. Spirituality was not a focus of the class, but contemplating the human brain that was capable of thinking in spiritual terms was of great interest. Those who were in tune with their ancient spiritual heritage were more likely to see in macroscopic terms that encompass all of humanity.

According to Muir, Whitman, Emerson, Thoreau (and most authors referenced in Biodesign) every day is a Holy day, whether we choose to recognize it or not.

 

 

 

An Easter Celebration with Loren Eiseley and George Fredric Handel

An Easter Celebration With Loren Eiseley and George Fredric Handel

 

 

“As a modern man, I have sat in concert halls and watched huge audiences floating dazed on the voice of a great singer. Alone in the dark box I have heard far off as if ascending out of some black stairwell the guttural whispering and bestial coughings out of which that voice arose.”

The Immense Journey, Loren Eiseley.

 

In the US, Easter is one of the holidays that spans the gamut of profound to profane.  Some celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ; some celebrate the Easter Bunny; some spend quality time with family/friends while some party featuring drugs, sex and alcohol.

 

 

Throughout human history people have strived to improve the quality of their lives and perhaps the lives of others. Anthropologists have dated the first artifacts that indicate the dawning of human spirituality circa 100,000 years ago. Eiseley does a fast-forward from guttural groans to opera diva. Any guesses as to where we are headed?

 

Emerson encouraged us to create our own Bibles and I have my own list of saints. Loren Eiseley and George F.Handel are both on that list. It has been said that great people carry torches to show others the way through darkness but, saints themselves, are living torches that guide others. Handel and Eiseley have soared higher than most could ever hope. Eiseley blended his physical, mental and spiritual writing so seamlessly, so passionately, that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Handel composed notes, to complement lyrics, infused with his spirit to create a masterpiece that moves millions of people each Easter.  In an almost frenetic pique of genius, he wrote “The Messiah” in 24 days.

Eiseley, on the other hand, took 6 years to write The Immense Journey.

Both works are brilliant beacons that will shine as long as there are people on the planet who appreciate inspirational music and holistic biological essays. Both men were dedicated to a search for truth, meaning, and a cause that far exceeded the boundaries of their solitary existence.

I did not share Handel’s piece in the Biodesign Class because of its specific religious message, but I did use non-religious arias from Beverly Sills, Alma Gluck, Anna Moffo, and the Spanish singers Plácido Domingo and José Carreras and the late Italian singer Luciano Pavarotti.

Shakespeare wrote, “Assume the virtue though you have it not,” and James Allen’s book, “As A Man Thinketh,” both claim that there is a direct correlation between the quality of a man’s thought process and his destiny. The hundreds of quotes used in Biodesign were selected in hopes that they would stretch young minds to higher levels of meaning and understanding.

 

 

Another Bird Of Paradise

Another Kind Of Bird Of Paradise

“Everything you need to know is contained within a flower.” Buddha.

 

It is often very frustrating for scientists to not be able to solve mysteries. Einstein originally found the idea of the universe with a beginning quite irritating. Carl Sagan exhibited anger by not being able to explain the origin of life. And Darwin exhibited anger and frustration from not being able to explain the emergence of the human brain or the emergence, and rapid spreading,  of the flowering plants. I suspect that he did not fully understand that the two were inextricably related. Poets, sages, philosophers and theologians often operate beyond the confines of scientific reasoning and so it is intriguing that, 2600 years ago, Buddha could have appreciated the correlation of the human brain and flowers, perhaps more completely than Darwin.

Excerpt: The Immense Journey, Loren Eiseley.

“Somewhere, just a short time before the close of the Age of Reptiles (100 million years ago) there occurred a soundless, violent explosion. It lasted millions of years, but it was an explosion, nevertheless. It marked the emergence of the angiosperms—the flowering plants. Even the great evolutionist, Charles Darwin, called them “an abominable mystery,” because they appeared so suddenly and spread so fast.”

In describing the emergence and spreading of the angiosperms, Eiseley wrote one of his most beautiful soliloquies:

“A plant, a fixed, rooted thing, immobilized in a single spot, had devised a way of propelling its offspring across open space. Immediately there passed before my eyes the million airy troopers of the milkweed pod and the clutching hooks of the sandburs. Seeds on the coyote’s tail, seeds on the hunter’s coat, thistledown mounting on the wind—all were somehow triumphing over life’s limitations. Yet the ability to do this had not been with them in the beginning. It was the product of endless effort and experiment.”

He ends his chapter with a stunning reminder of the miracle of our existence.

“Without the gift of flowers and the infinite diversity of their fruits, man and bird, if they had continued to exist at all, would be today unrecognizable. Archaeopteryx, the lizard-bird, might still be snapping at beetles on a sequoia limb; man might be still be a nocturnal insectivore gnawing a roach in the night. The weight of the petal has changed the face of the world and made it ours.”

 

 

Synchronicity

Synchronicity

Excerpt: BOFAW, Chap. 28, “Amazing faith.”Although I am intrigued with the courage it takes for men in foxholes and on pitching decks to pray to a god who mayor may not exist, I am even more intrigued with the courage it takes for men and women to make the scary leap of faith, without the threat of impending doom.

 

The Biodesign program had been growing for several years before I discovered Carl Jung’s term synchronicity; “simultaneously occurring events with no known cause.” Using his definition, the universe is one grand synchronicity; an event with no known cause. I had experienced many, probably several on each trip, but blew them off with, “so what were the odds of that happening?”

I later discovered Jung’s opinion, “we must not assume or presume that the human experience can be explained in only material terms. Jung’s ideas of psychology included the importance of the role of spirituality in harmoniously developed humans.  Sigmund Freud, on the other hand, spent most of his life warning his readers about the perils of religiously induced neurosis. Referring to the above excerpt (but not gloating) close to Freud’s death, he began to recognize the poetry and promise in religion.  This is a profound mystery and led me to believe that believing in God is like catching poison oak; some people do and some don’t. Although Freud offered important insights into the emerging science of psychology, I found many of his ideas dour, gloomy and in conflict with ideas from Erich Fromm and Carl Jung.  I am grateful for Jung’s contribution that encouraged me to look for and celebrate thousands of synchronicities. They were always mysterious and usually added fun, humor, variety, spice and untold joy.

For the sake of brevity, I did not detail the evolution of the name of the class. After Lettie’s class indicated that there may be more important “fish to fry” than memorizing all the parts of a fetal pig, the wheels of synchronicity began to turn. The new class was experimental and so we named it Bio-X. We were not sure it would last more than one year. One of our first decisions was to adopt National Geographic and Smithsonian Magazines as curriculum guides. They were not subject to the laws of separation of church and state and could include articles on all aspects of life including spirituality. During that year students were asked to help with a name other than Advanced Biology, which suggested more memorization of minutiae. After the first Yosemite trip, one of the students described Yosemite as a huge biological kaleidoscope with an infinite array of changing shapes and colors. I had read a poem that described Nature as having an infinite array of designs. One of the students blurted out, “Why not call the class “Biological Design?”  “Or,” someone added, “shorten it to “Biodesign.”  The name stuck and although the students quickly understood our aims and goals, the class was never easy to explain to others.

This year marks the 40th anniversary since the class was named and when we received the latest issue of Smithsonian Magazine, I was delighted to see one of the feature articles titled, “The Biodesign Movement: The Radical Synthesis of Art and Science.”Carl Jung would have loved the synchronicity.

Laurie and St. Valentine

Laurie and St. Valentine

 

In the fall of ’79, on the second or third day of Biodedsign, Laurie came up to me after class and whispered, “When is it OK to hug?” I gave her a puzzled look and asked what she meant.  “Well,” she said, “Last year I saw Biodesigners hugging frequently and I just wanted to k now when it was OK.” I laughed, gave her a hug and said, “Guess now is as good time as any.”  She was just a bit precocious.  The following day I read an excerpt from Ashley Montague’s book titled, “Touching;”

“The greatest sense in our body is our touch sense. It is probably the chief sense in the process of sleeping and waking; it gives us knowledge of depth or thickness and form; we feel, we love and hate, are touchy and are touched, through thetouch corpuscles of our skin.     Lionel Taylor, The Stages of Human Life.

I continued by reading a “Reader’s Digest” article titled, “Skin Hunger.”  The article noted, that like most apes, people are in need of a great deal of reassuring touching and skin contact. They cited an alarming trend that showed that for many reasons, children were not having their, “skin hunger,” satisfied.  It cited a disturbing study that showed that little boys were especially in need hugs and reassurance and that if their needs were not met they would intentionally act out, knowing that they would at least be spanked. This was a desperate and twisted method of getting the skin attention that they needed.

The article recommended lots of hugs for both kids and adults.  In order to encourage more huggers, the author identified and illustrated several non-hugs and hugs.

 

1. The 180-half-hug.  When someone is offered a hug the would-be recipient turns 180 degrees and invites a mutual arm-over-the-shoulder, semi-hug which avoids potentially embarrassing body contact.

2. A Frame Hug: When two people lean forward, touching their upper body (and maybe cheeks) but avoid embarrassing full body contact.

3 The, “burp-baby-burp hug.” Where two people hug tentatively and either or both nervously pat each other on the back.

4. The Real Deal. This is a full-body, hug where both participants welcome each other into their sacred space for mutual reassurance and validation.

5. The bear hug.  This hug is recommended only for close friends and family members and includes an enthusiastic, at times body-rocking embrace that may include lifting the hugee off the floor.

 

Typically, I would ask for volunteers and have them demonstrate the variations. It was usually quite hilarious with kids getting into the spirit. I also mentioned that hugs should be spontaneous and that they would probably feel more inclined to hug as they got to know each other better. They were reminded that hugs like these were strictly platonic and carried no sexual overtones with them.  They were also reminded to be sensitive to the fact that some people do not appreciate being hugged under any circumstances.

If hugs were sparse before the Yosemite trip, they were usually abundant after.  The challenge of getting the whole class to the top of Half Dome usually required stress, pain, sweat and sacrifice from every member.  Those who succeeded were usually rewarded with some kind of epiphany experience which commonly resulted in a massive group hug followed by many subsequent two-person hugs.

Like many of our traditions, St. Valentine’s day is a mélange of many contributing factors. One thread dates back to the February 15, pre-Roman pagan celebration of “Lupercalia,” which was suppose to rid cities of evil and guarantee fertility.  Little is known about St. Valentine except that he was a 3rd century priest serving under the Roman Emperor Claudius II. He was apparently dragged before a court and ordered to recant his Christian faith. When he refused, he was brutally beaten and subsequently beheaded. Why he became the patron saint of lovers is unclear. What is clear, however, is that he remained a rather obscure figure until the US declared its independence from England.  One of the many ideas of Benjamin Franklin was for the new government to provide postal delivery to every US citizen. An immediate golden opportunity was provided for the mass of men who were too scared or shy to tell a girl that she had attracted their interest. American ingenuity kicked in and commercial “Valentine Cards” began to be printed. This year, it is estimated that Americans will spend $14 billion on Valentine activities.

I have many wonderful memories about Laurie and the Class of ’80.  Her class got to sleep on top of Half Dome even though her boots were too small and she lost all of her toenails(ouch).  She also became one of the best huggers, a skill that she has never forgotten.

 

Jered Grummer and Dancing Frogs @ Gillwods

Jared Grummer and Dancing Frogs @ Gillwood’s

 

“And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.”

“The Prophet.” Kahlil Gibran

 

 

One of the neatest aspects of spiritual gifts is that we never know the who, what, when, where, why and how about them. Recently I experienced an “epiphany” moment (actually 2.5 hours) three days after Epiphany. I could not have imagined John Muir with a Facebook page, and was reluctant to get involved, however, the hundreds of events, secrets revealed and reconnections made have been, in a word, astounding. Having said that, there was no way I could have known that one of the mysterious events would occur in the back room at Gillwood’s Restaurant in St. Helena.

The last time I saw Jared Grummer was when he completed my biology class.  He was a bit scrawny, typically semi-interested in academia, but highly interested in nature. Nikos Kazantzakis, [ Zorba the Greek, The Last Temptation of Christ ] suggested that teachers build bridges for their students to cross over on their path to their future.  In Jared’s case, however, his mom and dad (a California State Park Ranger/naturalist) did most of the bridge building and cultured a deep love of the biological world in Jared.  I had ended the Biodesign Class before he became a senior and was therefore surprised to see his profile pop up on the BOFAW Facebook page. We exchanged brief messages with the idea that “sometime” we should get together and compare notes.  As determined by fate, karma, or any number of mysterious forces, January 9 became the meeting date.

When we met I was a bit shocked. He had grown a foot taller, filled out his upper body and was a picture of great health.  But that was just the external. Immediately after we were seated, it was obvious that his mind and spirit had also grown.  He radiated an aura of self-confidence, ease, and enthusiasm.

He gladly filled me in on his amazing journey from room 103 out into the world. He started college at Humboldt State U., picked up a B.S. degree from Cornell and earned a Masters degree at San Diego State. He was admitted into the rigorous, and prestigious, biology PhD program at the University of Washington.  But these were just the hors de oeuvres for the luncheon.

The main course proved to be a spiritual communion through sharing and exploring ideas of common interest. It was like we were playing a wonderful mental tennis match without competition or the need to win. He would serve up a concept or idea and I was obligated to respond. There were no mental or spiritual danger zones that had to be avoided.  Linnaeus, Malthus, Mendel, OK.  Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, “the universe making itself out of nothing?” No problem, maybe God did the same thing, who knows?  Darwin vs. Wallace? After many years, I finally found someone who agreed that Wallace was probably closer to the solution of the great evolution mystery.

And then something very strange and wonderful happened. Jared was not aware of it but it was a combination of a double synchronicity involving déjà vu of an event that happened over 70 years ago. It involved Loren Eiseley having a discussion, with a Dr. Albert Dryer, about amphibian evolution. Dryer was an expert on the subject and Jared has chosen to earn a PhD in amphibian evolution. The synchronicity also connected Jared to the Biodesign Class and BOFAW

Excerpt: BOFAW, “Wayne.”

“Just at that moment a strange, wonderful dignity shone out of the countenance of Albert Dryer, and I knew the man he was. He bowed and sat down, and there were no longer the barriers of age and youthful ego between us. There were just two men under a lamp and around them a great waiting silence. Out to the ends of the universe, I thought fleetingly, that’s the way with man and his lamps. One has to huddle in, there’s so little light and so much space.” Loren Eiseley (The Star Thrower)

We were not huddled under a green-shaded lamp at Gillwood’s, but the subject matter was so similar to Eiseley’s event, 70 years earlier, that it had an eerie, even slightly creepy, feeling about it. Perhaps it was due to Dr. Dryer’s midnight encounter with some “4th dimensional” dancing frogs. The story had a huge impact on many Biodesigners and prompted me include “Wayne’s Story” in BOFAW. It was the scariest and most challenging chapter to write.

The conversation was exhilarating, but there was something deeper, more subtle that remained unspoken. In a nation that has become obsessed with materialism, with many young men focused on electronic devices, money, booze and sex, Jared has chosen a life of trying to unlock some natural mysteries and hopefully make a contribution to humanity. The life of a grad a student is often not unlike that of a monk or starving artist. He could have gone to work for a pharmaceutical company and be earning a 6-digit salary. Instead he has chosen to work toward something far more altruistic. While describing his research in the great North Cascade Mts., his face lit up as he said, “It is truly the place where the mountains meet the sky.”

There is a lot of evil in the world. We are saturated with bad news every day, yet the thought of Jared, camped out in the North Cascade woods, quietly studying the evolution of amphibians, gives me pause to smile and rejoice. Jared picked up the torch of man’s quest for meaning and in so doing became the dream of every parent and teacher; to go beyond what they had accomplished to improve humanity. He is studying evolution, but the twinkle in his eyes reveals that he fully realizes that it is only one tiny piece of the cosmic puzzle. Maybe one day, Jared will actually dance with the frogs.

 

 

Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Loern Eiseley

Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Loren Eiseley

“I was like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.” Isaac Newton.

 

Darwin discovered a “prettier shell” of an idea that rocked the world.

However, in a truly quintessential irony, he was a superbly gifted scientist without a clue as to where his gift originated. Being a “pure” scientist, the worlds of symbolism and imagery were probably unknown. He willingly conceded that spiritual matters were beyond his comprehension. The story of Adam and Eve must have been mythological, unbelievable or irrelevant. This is not a bad thing. We need left-brain dominant scientists. To some modern cultural anthropologists, however, the story has extremely real, if not metaphorical, importance. It quite possibly marks the time in human evolution when a man stood proudly upright, squared his shoulders and confronted his God with the question; “If I have free will, who has the overriding controlling power, me or you?”

This theme of controlling power permeates and holds the universe together. In the 1980’s, Carl Sagan’s, explanation for the first cell was that the incompatibility of oil-soluble and water soluble molecules “drove them together” to form the first lipoproteins necessary for the first cell membrane. This involved organizing thousands of molecules (some containing hundreds of atoms) w/o DNA or any other guide or template. There was no controlling force. Even more problematic, the lipids, proteins and carbohydrates, necessary for cell structure and function, are all organic which could not have existed before there were living prokaryotes. It is truly an example of the cart before the horse. Ironically, Wallace used the opposite reasoning when he pointed out that the human brain had tripled in size, in a very brief span, with no known controlling force.

We would not likely be having this discussion w/o “pure” scientists, however, many of them readily concede that there are “great oceans of truth” lying outside their realms of expertise that should be explored. One example can be found in a wonderful book titled, “The Tao of Pooh.” Benjamin Hoff writes, “Instinct is just another word for something that we don’t understand.” Or, how many dimensions of reality and variations of “The Dancing Frogs” are we ignorant of?  In another irony, we are far more detached from the spirit world of our Native American brothers whom we still often refer to as “primitive.”They lived in balance with nature for over 10,000 years and fell victim to the law of “survival of the fittest.” However, we are approaching our 400th birthday, any bets that we will make it to 1000?

Pure scientists understandably can not assign the cause of any mysteries, marvels and wonders to a supreme being who can not be proven.  They are, therefore, duty-bound to allow that there is no controlling force behind them. On the other hand, people who have had spirit awakenings can not support the idea that the miraculous nature of the universe, and life on Earth, are the result of a random, chaotic, soulless process.

Einstein regarded Galileo and Newton as two of the world’s greatest scientists. Both men were deeply spiritual and credited their discoveries to a supreme being. Loren Eiseley not only authored 11 books on anthropology, he received world-wide acclaim and was awarded over 30 distinctive honors. One of those honors was the Pierre Lecomte du Noüy

award which is granted to scholars who have described overlying principles that unify science and religion.

Secular humanists often ridicule believers and consider them as weak and in need of a “crutch.” I wonder, however who is weaker, someone who believes in a powerless “nothing” or someone with the courage to stand on a mountain top, raise his/her arms to the heavens and ask, “If I have free will, who has the overriding controlling power, me or you?”

Newton and Eiseley made their choice known; Darwin, not so much.

 

It’s a great day to be alive!

Darwin, Lincoln, LBJ and Dr. King

Darwin, Lincoln, LBJ and Dr. King

 

 

Since Darwin published his, “Origin of Species,” we have undergone some astounding socio-cultural evolution.  We have grown because of Abraham Lincoln’s bold “Emancipation Proclamation.”  We have grown because of LBJ’s “Civil Rights Act” of 1964.  And on April 4, 1968 we witnessed the horror of Dr. Martin Luther King laying down his life attempting to promote our mental and spiritual evolution. If we accept his message, he is indeed “free at last” and his legacy and spirit live on. It seems that, for better and worse, science and religion have both improved and retarded our collective evolution; better guns and better roses; ministering to the less fortunate and pedophilic priests.  I am neither a scientific nor religious zealot and wonder who could disagree with the line from Ray Steven’s “Everything Is Beautiful;”  “red and yellow, black and white they are precious in His sight…Had Dr. King lived it may well have been his theme song.”

An animal behavioral study showed that tying a red ribbon around a seagull’s leg was tantamount to sentencing the bird to death. The other birds in the flock viciously attacked the “abnormal” bird. Remnants of that behavior can still be seen in humans. What Biodesign evolved into could (for me) be exhilarating or terrifying. The primary cause of this extreme ambivalence was the fact that the class was “different.” In the beginning I was naively unaware that I would be treated like the beribboned seagull. There was a small, perennial, group of critics, some of whom regarded the class (and me) as evil and wanted it canceled and me fired. Many times I had to pray for strength to get through the day and could not imagine how Dr. King could speak at rallies, or lead parades, knowing that his head may well have been centered in the crosshairs of the scope of a moronic assassin’s rifle.

Geoff Martin ’92 applied his editorial skills and corrected the typos made by Outskirts Press.  He was also concerned about the hypersensitivity of the race issue and suggested revising the bit about MLK. The typo corrections and revised tribute to King were the basis for the second edition. Thanks Geoff.

Excerpt: BOFAW, “The Land of Pygmies and Giants.”

As a biology teacher, I welcomed the chance to acknowledge Dr.Martin Luther King’s birthday. It was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the courage, wisdom, and color that he added to our society. The word “color” was used purposefully in a biological, literal, figurative and respectful context. Is it not our highest calling to go beyond Dr. King’s, “I Have a Dream,” speech, and see children and adults, walking hand-in-hand, not color blind, but rejoicing in their race, color, creed, ethnic and religious diversity? It would be biologically, if not, politically correct. When I shared this with students, they agreed.

Happy birthday Dr. King.

 

 

The Hegelian Dialectic Actually Works

The Hegelian Dialectic actually works.  I have been troubled by not being able to understand how Stephen Hawking could arrive at the universe making itself out of nothing, and so I had to refer to, “The Grand Design.”  I have to confess, I found much of the book fascinating.  I also have no interest in his religious belief.  I have concluded that believing in God is kinda like catching poison oak, some people do and some people don’t and religious arguments are usually a waste of time.

 

He credits “The Great Design,” (not the book) to luck, chance, and serendipity, all of which lack a “personality” (for the lack of a better term),or spiritual dimension.  He is actually proposing a “soul-less universe” which is downright frightening.  But Hawking’s greatest logical error is stated in the acknowledgements. “The universe has a design, and so does a book. But unlike the universe, a book does not appear spontaneously. A book requires a creator…”

It is not a new dilemma.  For over 200 years (?) students have been (and still are) taught that, “matter can neither be created nor destroyed.”  Apparently, Hubble’s discovery changed all of that, but we are still stuck with a universal event without a known cause.  Hawking had to either propose a cause, allow that the universe was formed by a being, power or process that defies human comprehension or claim that it made itself out of nothing.  But here’s the funny part.  Paul Tillich, and all (?) theologians, are proposing the same thing, but with one added step.  They maintain that God created himself/herself out of nothing, and then proceeded to create the universe.  Essentially, Tillich and Hawking agree with the mystery part, just not whether there is a captain on the ship or not.

This correlates to biology because we have an event (the creation of life) without a known cause.  When lightning strikes it releases a huge burst of electro-thermal energy.  Generally, it destroys all life it contacts.  Leaving God out of this, how any rational person could believe that a lightning bolt could organize ammonia molecules into the first DNA molecule is as problematic as claiming that the universe formed itself out of nothing.  Modern biologists tacitly agree with Hawking by inferring that life formed itself spontaneously.  Moreover, we have “been there and done that” and have replaced the theory of spontaneous generation with the theory of biogenesis.  Evidently we still believe in one act of spontaneous generation that led to this conversation.

Little wonder Socrates said, “The more I know, the more I don’t know.”