Jun 30, 2009

Shared life: When we began to change our social gifts

Our culture changed fundamentally when we started to mate for life. I haven't read any dating of this but, I'll guess mating for life started around the time of art, spirituality, language and larger groups (150-200 adult individuals or more) cooperating. I'll also guess that the true shared life is only possible when, to paraphrase Rilke, "we become the guardian of each other's solitude." 

To put this period in perspective, I'll guess it started to emerge from the large brained creature living between 200, 000 and 70,000  years ago. I think mimicry had had its effect on our brains. I think the corpus collosum was sufficiently developed and sexually dimorphous that our social needs met our phenotype needs to push us to mate-for-life scenarios. (it would be interesting to study brains of other mate-for-life creatures and compare them to us alongside our fidelity rates could make a really interesting graphic.) In short, I believe that we learned to live with another for life over an evolutionarily brief period starting about 200,000 years ago lasting to about 70,000 years ago.

I believe we learned our amazing ability to "see the world thru others eyes" during this critical period. Two solid ice ages put us in the mood to mate for life. And, why not? It's an easy way to make and care for offspring that you're "sure or pretty sure are yours." This is also the beginning of our top notch empathy skills (I wrote about empathy in May) Our shared life is our interconnected life. We become dependent and humans are no longer solely individuals. We cannot really be evaluated or judged without consideration for our place in society. 

Sharing life with others is truly a gift we must always give and give well!

Jun 29, 2009

Forgiveness: A gift requiring foresight

When we forgive we must be able to see into the future to a time when our anger or disappointment will subside and our friendship will again very important to us. When we forgive we must see into the mind of the other and understand the foibles, the weakness and the goodness that is in each creature of our planet. From fungi to fern, from tree to mammal, from bacteria to mole, from virus to gene, and from reptile to person: all creatures have goodness in them for life is good. 

Forgiveness: a gift when given, a gift when received. A measure of humanity.

Jun 20, 2009

Accounting: Using numbers to plan

One of our great advances is our ability to plan. In some cases we plan microseconds into the future. In others we plan days, weeks, even years ahead. How do we do this? If you think about it, being able to imagine a future state for ourselves or objects under our control is an amazing skill. It requires a good sense of self, a good ability to project that self into other circumstances, and an ability to manipulate events. Wow! 

When societies rationed, saved for seed and for bad years, they used accounting to help their plans. Planners had to know: how much grain the population used each year, how much the population grew each year, what the farmer could harvest each year, how much the grain silos could hold, and so on. These numbers were used to  determine what was needed to smooth out the ups and downs of the drought cycle.

In a future post I might talk about microplanning, the calculations a quarterback makes to throw a football to a streaking wide receiver or when we toss keys to our mate over the car at our summer cabin. Accounting scale planning is longer term. We can track things over years and plan years & decades in advance. We use a type of accounting to plan rocket launches, trips to distant planets, and collection of data that will require years of observation to create a useful data set.

As a young child I loved looking at my grandfather's accounting materials. Spreadsheet books, forms that allowed for daily, weekly, monthly and annual entries into journals, sales reports, and other simple records. He entered his clients information with fine mechanical pencils on smooth green tinted pages filled with entries in column and row! I now know that each client used Papa's work to plan, to determine what to buy, whether or not to borrow, when to hire, etc.

As I've gotten older I can see many reasons for accounting even as I try to avoid needing it in my life. I work hard to make a routine that doesn't need records, doesn't need plans, doesn't go past simple, daily acts like: reading, exercising, singing, merry making, bathing, art, and music.

Jun 17, 2009

What about talking? Gifts in story.

I talked in my St Pat's Day post about Language. Now I've been learning some things about communications that lead me to think the gift of story goes back further. 

Primates of many types understand and respond to language in amazing ways. Many mammals can learn to respond to aural stimuli but some chimps gather the meaning of numerous words and are able to understand them even when they're put together in unique, new ways! Watching a chimp carry a TV out of the enclosure to the prompt, "Can you bring the TV outside?" was instructional. We know that birds understand words and learn to create unique sequences. We know that recent experiments have placed the gene for language into mice. We know that most mammals experience emotions, some as complex as human emotions. So, when are we going to let them vote?

People turned this ability for language into an entirely new thing. I can relate a story or idea to you in a few words and if you grasp the concepts behind the story, you can repeat the story without remembering or even using any of my words. If you know more than one language you most likely can translate my story. This is how human culture has created a new life form on earth. Society. Human society exists as a living organism separate from the individuals that make it up. We've created a monster be allowing a new replicator -like genes- to participate in our culture. The meme builds languages to allow for easier replication of these conceptual life forms.

Wow, we've really got it good don't we?

Jun 10, 2009

Dance: The movement of rhythm

I love to dance. I dance everyday. I like to dance with music playing and I like to dance in silence. I dance on foot, I dance on skates, I dance with a partner, I dance alone. The main focus of my dance is movement. I like to envision my body moving in certain way. Then I try to make it happen in real life. Sometimes I see pictures of dances in the NY times and try to imagine making those moves. Always this movement has a rhythm. A flow. Even if my dance is on;y fingers on computer keys.

Everyone should dance, everyday!

Jun 1, 2009

Faith: A gift with unintended consequences

Today I heard about a man, Dr. George Tiller, a medical doctor, shot and killed while he volunteered as an usher in his church in Wichita, KS. This story is based on the story of Dr. Tiller. but the facts are made up by me to illustrate how a gift can backfire.

Our faith is often nurtured by our family and the leaders of our church from a time when we are very young. Faith is first placed in myths, like Santa Claus, the Easter Rabbit and Tooth Fairy. As we grow in our understanding of religion our faith is supposed to transferred to God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and in his Only Begotten Son Jesus! We're not told that GOD created hell too and despite Commandments like Thou Shall Not Kill! Ol' God spends a lot of time smiting people, cities, and whole populations. Today we'd call it genocide but in the Old Testament its called God's Will.

I'm really not down with this.  I never was down with this even as a young Lutheran. Now we have this story. I imagine a 51 year old guy, spends his whole life wanting to be a dad but he's anti-social, he plays with guns, he's indignant that someone might take away his right to protect himself. He's also indignant that while he can't attract a woman to bear him children, there's a doctor in Wichita performing abortions! He's going save those pre-born lives in self defense he walks into a church, the so called House of God, and using his government given right to bear munitions, shoots to death a man married for 45 years, father of four, grandfather of ten. 

This is how Pro-Life looks. This is Scott Roeder's, the presumed killer, idea of justice. 

I heard a woman speaking at a memorial service for Dr. Tiller. She said, 
"I had been abused, mistreated, and violated. Dr. Tiller helped me. Thank God for that." 
I understand her feeling, but I have to say, 
"No! Thank science for Dr. Tiller. Thank God for Scott Roeder, the killer, and for many others like him who think they are called to impose their faith on other people." 
I say,
"Thank God for the crazed, faith addled killers everywhere who fight in the name of the Lord."

The gift of faith, our society's fall from grace if we do not also use our critical thinking faculties.

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