Science informed by feeling: Hope Jahren’s “Lab Girl”

I ran across an old email from a friend, who is in a scientific field, ranting about the admonition to “trust in science,” as if it were an actual thing with power, rather than a rational method for taking data into consideration and making new discoveries. She references C.S. Lewis, who said that the “scientific habit of mind” is a truncated one that developed “during the same period men of science were coming to be metaphysically and theologically uneducated.”

My friend takes this meaning from Lewis: “Science is a wonderful discipline to describe what we observe, but many treat science as the actual power that caused the phenomenon it merely describes. Science describes ‘how’ but not ‘why’, and unless the ‘why’ is being contemplated, thought is truncated.” We have, she observes, “a wealth of knowledge and a poverty of wisdom.” Continue reading

Rx for a rotting foundation

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” ~ Abraham Lincoln, June 18, 1858

In a speech at the Illinois Republican convention in Springfield, IL, Lincoln kicked off his bid for U.S. Senate. He paraphrased the New Testament to comment on the recent Dred Scott decision of the Supreme Court that he believed would effectively legalize slavery in all states. I assume he meant “house” metaphorically, as in household or institution—or country. But today, on Independence Day 2017, I choose to take the liberty of reading this literally. And to add my own paraphrase:

A house built on a rotting foundation cannot stand.

Continue reading

Dystopia reconsidered: from post-apocalyse to pre-apocalypse

Twitter feeds and mainstream media home pages have started to read like teasers for the latest post-apocalyptic Netflix series. No wonder there is a glut of fiction with themes of disruption, chaos and war brought on by unruly, destructive weather, fires and flooding; epidemics; economic collapse; civil wars; displaced populations; oppression; or [fill in the blank]. To explain this trend, as well as its appeal, literary critics have had to come up with some glib theories.

The latest comes from Sam Sacks, writing in the Wall Street Journal’s “Books” section for April 8-9, 2017. He assures readers that “vogues for dystopian literature are usually a sign of national health.” As evidence, he cites the mid-20th-century anxiety about nuclear weapons and the Cold War that produced works like “On the Beach,” and says “they were also the fruits of widespread prosperity.” He wraps up his argument with two neat aphorisms:

“The more people have, the more frightened they are of losing it all.”
“These novels are what happens when a comfortable culture has a midlife crisis.”

This is a shallow, unimaginative diagnosis. It’s like a doctor recommending NyQuil as a treatment for lung cancer. Continue reading

Between the devil and the Deepwater Horizon

“Jose Arcadio Buendia dreamed that night that right there a noisy city with houses having mirror walls rose up. He asked what city it was and they answered him with a name that he had never heard, that had no meaning at all, but that had a supernatural echo in his dream: Macondo.” ~ Gabriel Barcia Marquez, “One Hundred Years of Solitude”

Today is the 7th anniversary of the inferno that destroyed the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig and unleashed the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. In an interesting coincidence, a BP well on Alaska’s North Slope leaked oil and vented natural gas for four days last weekend, until the “Unified Command achieved source control and killed the well.” (Don’t you just love the military language of oil drilling?)

Here are a few facts about the Deepwater spill taken from Wikipedia, that—for me, at least—do little to put it in proper perspective: Continue reading

Get into the red convertible; you know you want to

There’s been so much written and said about the “inner child” in the last couple of decades that any mention of it is likely to bring on an eye roll. This morning, though, I was visited by a memory that gave me a whole new view of it (or, in my case, her). I’ve had a lifelong love-hate relationship with the creative, childlike part of me. Okay, mostly hate. And shame. Today, I have a new understanding of how unnecessary that has been. And a glimpse of the sweet freedom that’s available with just a small shift.

About ten years ago, I was at a weeklong program at Integral on Sustainability. Among the many fabulous experiences we had was a guided practice called “Big Mind.” This is a combination of Buddhist and modern Western psychological thought developed by Dennis Genpo Merzel to not only “get in touch” with inner voices, but to embody and integrate them. To feel whole. When he invoked the inner child, I became sad and forlorn. Later, I was surprised when everyone else said their inner child was carefree and playful and joyful. Continue reading

In praise of the power of love and human intention to solve problems

Modern civilization faces many intractable and seemingly unsolvable problems. We can be beguiled by simplistic, flashy, one-off moves like building walls or issuing Executive Orders to keep so-called “undesirables” out. But humans have proven again and again that clear thinking, creativity, and cooperation can work wonders. How else could we have landed a man on the moon? Or invented the iPhone? Or stopped spewing ozone-depleting chemicals into the air?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the power of intention. I’m not talking about films like “The Secret” and “What the Bleep Do We Know,” although I confess to being fascinated by the idea that this whole thing we call life is a game that we are literally making up moment by moment as we play. Today’s stories will not require a mystical acceptance of alternative realities. (You can find explorations of those in other posts here, here, and here.) Continue reading

#whyimarch in celebration and support of the whole community of Life

I was glad to see that the organizers of the Women’s March have issued a position paper. It’s good to have a better sense of the energy bubbling up within and around this event. If the bus parking applications are any indication, this is going to be big. It’s fair to assume that people are coming for many, many personal reasons. The position paper helps us to recognize a shared purpose. And from there, who knows what’s possible?

So it was with a growing feeling of unease that I read down the four PDF pages, point by point, wondering when—and then if—the environment would get a mention. Here we have gender justice, freedom from violence against our bodies, an end to—and accountability for—police brutality, and the end of racial profiling. Here we have dismantling gender and racial inequities within the criminal justice system, Reproductive Freedom, Gender Justice, LGBTQIA rights, and a fair, secure, equitable economy. Here we have equal pay for equal work, the dignity and fair treatment of care workers, the right to organize, the living wage, Civil Rights as birthright, passing the ERA, and immigrant and refugee dignity and rights.

Finally, the last point at the end of page 4, is this: Continue reading

Asking WHY is my superpower

A wise friend taught me something yesterday that is so profound, simple, and fun that I couldn’t wait to share it. Her lesson came in two parts. First, we each have a superpower. This is a talent or predilection that comes so effortlessly, we might overlook it, or assume that everyone has the same ability. It’s a familiar idea. Michael Meade, for example, calls this our genius, that spark inside that each of us is born with. It fuels our work and allows us to offer our gifts to the world.

What my friend said next surprised and delighted me. She said, think of when you were a kid and you kept doing that thing that you couldn’t help doing, to the point of driving everyone around you crazy. Your most annoying habit. Your mom, dad, siblings, and peers would tell you—beg you—to stop. But you couldn’t help yourself. That’s your superpower. Continue reading

A year to nourish, show up, and connect

Despite its obvious downsides, 2016 had some good moments, too. I made a list of them on New Year’s Day and was surprised to note so many highlights. The exercise filled me with gratitude and appreciation for great friendships, abundant love, a healthy family, robust community, interesting work, modest successes, and many material comforts. It was a good frame of mind to receive the words that will guide me in 2017.

This year, a friend helped me to consult Tarot cards. I am new to this method; it offers a view that is simultaneously retrospective, introspective and speculative. It’s like hiking up a long hill with a sweeping vista on the other side. Each card is a picture story, and together they form a linked story that twists and turns, confirming what is known and revealing what is hidden. It’s like hiking up a long hill with a sweeping vista on the other side.

I enjoy the mix of intuition and rationality involved in reading the cards and interpreting them. As part of a skeptical culture that dismisses the language of symbols, a suspension of disbelief is necessary. And the payoff for such trust is insight, surprise, and a fair bit of having one’s complacency shaken up. Continue reading

Let’s build something worthy of us for a change

I’ve written before about the play between mythos and logos, particularly the impoverishment of our lives from the elevation of logos—reason, facts—over its partner mythos—meaning, context. Logos alone sends us looking for truth in news items, not in fairy tales. At least until recently. The very crisis of the so-called “fact-free” world we woke up to post-election points to the inadequacy of logos alone to make sense of the world. And we’ve gone so long without mythos; it’s hard to visualize its relevance anymore. Or what it even looks like in the physical world.

In the first century BCE, back when mythos and logos still enjoyed equal billing, a Roman architect and engineer called Vitruvius wrote an architectural treatise called The Ten Books on Architecture. It’s actually an interesting read. The most quoted principles from it are the triumvirate: firmitas, utilitas, and venustas, or “firmness, commodity, and delight.” Vitruvius argued that architecture must be structurally sound, functional, and beautiful—all three. It must serve its purpose economically and spiritually. Though human cultures and their architectural styles have taken many different forms over the centuries, these underlying principles have generally held. When logos was promoted over mythos, the unraveling began. Continue reading