Monday, July 31, 2006

On Evolution

OK, now here's an interesting article. Perhaps you read about this in the New York Times. A PhD student is breeding a bunch of mean rats (and nice ones too), to see what he can learn.

I really wish I had taken more biology in school. Back then, it was just a little too squishy for me. I needed harder sciences and math -- you know, the ones with right and wrong answers. I couldn't handle the ambiguity of it all. If only I had understood this would be an essential life skill.

I find particularly interesting the reference to humans. And the notion we may well be effecting our evolution through societal norms that punish those that do not conform. Of course, in the good ole days we really were thorough in our punishment, and so you could see how this would directly effect the gene pool; now we are somewhat kinder and gentler, so it is not as clear. But I guess when you are in jail, you are not procreating.

You can see where this leads, however. We fought a world war over this (at least in part), didn't we?

And what about selective societies. That share common beliefs (let's say in deep spiritual matters), and only let others join the community that share these beliefs and practice their rites (meditation, etc.). And banish those that stray off the path, and therefore, relieve the (local) gene pool of that potential progenitor. Is there any genetic trait -- a "God gene" if you will -- that has ever been seen manifest in the resultant generations? Are the progeny more likely to attain enlightenment? Or talk to God? Surely someone has studied this. Any pointers?

I ask this not just because of the article. But also because of a teaching I attended by Andrew Cohen a while back. He would have us believe that we are now at that point in evolution where as beings aware of our own consciousness, we can participate in the evolutionary process of consciousness itself. I'm still trying to wrestle with that. And I keep coming back to some tiny bits and pieces of biological evolution -- that process of modifying our genetic makeup -- to really "participate" in the evolutionary process.

Social constructs, higher awareness, greater tolerance do not seem to really affect consciousness on an evolutionary scale, at least to me. I wrote about this elsewhere, and haven't gotten past this point. But this article did intrigue me. The notion that we are (as societies) participating in our own domestication -- helping us all to "play nice", at least within our own society. Alas, we see how poorly this works across societies at present. (Upon reflection, it ain't working so well within societies either. But I suspect that depends on the reference point.)

Anyways, that would seem to lead one to believe we just need to "up" the level of society to a "world view". Many have made that point. I wonder if that would have the intended effect given our pluralistic attitudes that are de rigueur. Remember, "domestication" was enabled through societies weeding out traits they found unacceptable. If we "accept everything", without judgment, then nothing is weeded out (except those that are unwilling to accept everything). Interesting.

Here's an interesting extract from the article:
When dogs were developed from wolves, selection against fear and aggression "may have been sufficient to produce the unusual ability of dogs to use human communicative gestures," Dr. Hare wrote last year in the journal Current Biology.

Dr. Hare believes that wolves probably have the same cognitive powers as dogs, but their ability to solve social problems, like picking up human cues to hidden food, is masked by their fear. Dogs, after their fear is removed by domestication, see humans as potential social partners, not as predators, and are ready to interact with them.
Selection against fear and aggression. What a concept (especially the fear aspect, which does not seem so obvious, and yet we know fear motivates many undesirable behaviors). Anyway, I'm glad someone is doing this research. And I welcome inputs, comments, and pointers from those that have some basic education or serious summer-time reading under their belt to help me better understand evolution, and specifically, the concept of evolution of consciousness.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Are You The One and/or Are We All One?

I’ve been having some interesting conversations with a couple of people I met through my blogs. Just visitors, that left a comment, and that I replied to, and now we have a conversation ongoing. Fascinating individuals.

And after these conversations, we come to the question: What should we do? Yes there is injustice, religious intolerance, corrupt businesses, pandering politicians, out of control media ... So what should we do? One answer is to work on ourselves. Another answer is to hold fast to our beliefs, because they are right. And yet another is to stop bitchin’ and start a revolution.

So how do you see it? And what are we to do?

I saw an interesting movie on the plane over to Japan. It is called “V for Vendetta”. (And yes, it is based on a comic book, but don’t let that influence you.) It is about a government (in this case Britain, but that’s not the point) that has become Big Brother, and ultimately has become the problem (the connections to Iraq snd America are not so subtle, but don’t let that bother you either). And about one man who has harbored legitimate grievances for 20 years, and is now carrying out his Vendetta. And about one innocent civilian – also touched by the injustice — carrying on his crusade (probably a bad choice of words). It is about your role as a member of that society, and whether you would stand up against such injustice. It is about fear, and about transcending it. About death, and no longer fearing it. It’s a bit over the top as a movie, but I think that is OK (after all, it’s based on a comic book ;-). It wants you to ask — just who is the terrorist, anyway?

So whatever your grievance, your concern, your favorite injustice, the question remains ... Just what are we to do?

I came across this quote recently, and I offer it as at least one possible reaction. But I’d welcome hearing about yours. Please feel free to comment.

Let us be One

May all humanity be one, and we be one with them. And may we feel our kinship now with all living things, as well: with the creatures of the land and sea and sky, and feel our common bond with our Mother, the Earth we share together.

O Creative Spirit of Life, whom the people of the world call by many true names, we give thanks this day for the wonder that is all around us: for the human quest for meaning; for the poetry and myth of the human imagination; for the bright stars in the night; for the joyful sound of voices uplifted in song; for the company of friends; for the bonds of those we love.

We would be mindful, especially now, of the great pain still within our world: the loneliness, the poverty, the hunger, the disease, the injustice that yet remain. Just as in the solstice season, our globe swung back toward the light of longer days, so, too, we pray, may human history once again swing out of darkness and toward the light -- toward the light of peace and justice, reason and compassion.

We join now in the hope that in the midst of all that besets us and our world, we can yet be faithful to Life, and faithful to one another. The spirit of all the celebrations we have commemorated this season-- and other celebrations the world's people observe-- is the spirit of faith in the amazing possibilities that Life always offers unto us: possibilities of new light, new life, new freedom, new hope. May we plant the seeds of this hope deep within our souls this day. And through the winter yet before us, may we tend to these seeds, and nurture them, and care for them -- so that they, too, may come to flower like the spring that already beckons -- come to flower in those blessings we offer back to Life.

Rev. Jeffrey Symynkywicz

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

On Change and Conflict

On this Independence Day, I'm thinking of the birth of our nation. Not a peaceful enterprise. So what?

We were having a nice conversation -- you know -- the kind that stimulate thinking, beget opinions and reactions, and possibly even amplify voices. As my father once asked of my mother and me, "would you please stop arguing?"; to which we both replied in unison, "we're NOT arguing!" Anyway ...

So my brother-in-law posited that increased global communications would inherently bring about greater conflict. I challenged by suggesting the opposite -- increased multi-cultural exchange of views, presented by the people rather than by institutions, could actually reduce conflict by wearing-down our parent's (and societies') stereotypes and prejudices.

Upon reflection, I believe it was only a semantic argument. And here is why. What the internet brings to the 21st century seems to me to be as influential as oceanic steam ships and intercontinental jet planes to world travel; as revolutionary as Johannes Gutenberg's printing press to mass communication; and as transformational as the transistor and ultimately the PC on which you are reading this blog. What that translates into is Change, with a capitol "C". The internet provides the means (which of course can be exploited or denied) to give voice to individuals all over the globe. True, it represents only the developed, interconnected world, but surely this is orders of magnitudes larger than each of us practically had available before hand. And an extremely diverse set at that. And those nations, tribes, peoples that do not have access, will likely be given at least an occasional voice, or at least a distant whisper, by those that do.

So what of change and conflict? Charles Darwin said,
"It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change."
It seems to me that what the internet, and global communications in general, really brings to our species in the 21st century is Change. And taking the long view, evolution's "interest" in this change is our adaptability. If we adapt to this change, we may survive to evolve further. If we do not, we may extinguish this flame. But my point is not apocalyptic.

I believe there will be increased understanding, and the growth that naturally follows from exposure to different ideas and new information. AND, I think there will be conflict from those that cannot -- or really choose not -- to adapt, and try with all of their might to interrupt our slow, steady, increased planetary integration. Because that is what is really underway, is it not? The world is getting smaller and smaller by all measures. Fewer resources (and more people). Exposure to cultural differences developed over millennia -- instantaneously. And in some, perhaps very few, a growing awareness of the only constant when seen from above (or within): Change.

So will there be conflict? Yes, indeed there will be. Because some of us will choose to embrace this change, and others will (literally) choose to fight it. Is that good/bad, right/wrong, just/unfair? You know -- it is none of those judgments. It just is.

So expect (continued) conflict as the world adapts (or not) to the continual change, amplified by noteworthy advancements like the internet. You may be asked (or feel the need) to take up arms (physically or mentally) to defend this new reality from forces that wish to deny it. Can conflict be avoided all together? I doubt it. I think that is Life. I think that is Evolution. I think that is Reality.

Is there another way? I think there are many ways -- Christ showed one, Gandhi showed another, as did MLK. You cannot deny there was conflict there -- but that does not imply that violence is the only answer. However, do not be too sanguine -- consider their personal outcomes. And of course there was Buddha and Lao Tzu. So beliefs and behavior in the face of change have been modeled for or explained to us.

So what of this reflection on change and conflict? Only this: that both will surely continue. The more we take advantage of this change (global communications), the more we can adapt as a species to a more integral view of life. In the end that may reduce conflict, but that will require that we take the long view. In the mean-time, do not be discouraged by conflict. Accept it as reality, and decide how you will deal with it. Wishing it away will not help. Believing it can be forever avoided, or willed away, will only result in a fool's paradise. So embrace the change, and begin to adapt.