Archive for March, 2011

“The worst is yet to come.” Schopenhauer

March 31, 2011

We’ll talk a little Schopenhauer before today’s Intro exam, just to get everyone in the mood.

Arthur Schopenhauer was one of the most entertaining philosophical misanthropes ever, “the original pessimistic western intellectual” who borrowed extensively from the east, sought his own nirvana in the extinguishing of “Will,” and thought the termination of existence could be its only point. He  also said:

  • Almost all of our sorrows spring out of our relations with other people.
  • A man can do what he wills, but not will what he wills.
  • A man’s delight in looking forward to and hoping for some particular satisfaction is a part of the pleasure flowing out of it, enjoyed in advance. But this is afterward deducted, for the more we look forward to anything the less we enjoy it when it comes.
  • Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.
  • There is no absurdity so palpable but that it may be firmly planted in the human head if you only begin to inculcate it before the age of five, by constantly repeating it with an air of great solemnity.
  • There is no doubt that life is given us, not to be enjoyed, but to be overcome; to be got over.
  • We forfeit three-quarters of ourselves in order to be like other people.

[Schopenhauer on PhilosophyTalk... The Schopenhauer Cure... SEP... Self-help for Pessimists...]

Next week, STUDENTS: O 115-137 on Tuesday and PW 101-108 on Thursday (Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Mill, Darwin…)

And Happy Opening Day! Speaking of which, tomorrow (Friday) is the big annual “Baseball & Literature” conference hosted by MTSU, featuring scholars from around the world and (ahem) down the hall. (I won’t be asking the Dean to fund this trip.) It’s extra credit if I see you there.

growing old with Gaia

March 30, 2011

Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, The last of life, for which the first was made…

Finally we’ll finish midterm presentations in NW today, before a quick & easy exam on Nature’s Way (just the closing chapters) and Native Science– both of which I enjoyed a great deal.  I feel like I’ve really had my sympathy for the native American sensibility (if there is such a singular thing) stretched.

We’ll pick Lovelock’s Vanishing Face of Gaia up again on Monday. Meanwhile, consider this self-referential passage from ch.3:

Because I am old, I often think of Gaia as if she were an old lady of about my age… since she is now 3.5 billion years old she has already lived nearly 88 percent of her life [leaving about 500 million years]. If I can reach one hundred then, intriguingly, at 89 as I write [he's up to 91 now], I am now the same relative age as Gaia.

Why do so many images depict her as a jeune fille?  I still prefer Terry Gilliam’s animated version of Mother Cosmos, in Eric Idle’s accompanying Galaxy Song. That’s what has to come of a Big Bang. Whatever her age, as Carl Sagan suggested in Varieties of Scientific Experience, Mother Earth is just too small for such an amazing and expanding cosmos. “The God portrayed is too small. It is a god of a tiny world and not a god of a galaxy, much less of a universe.”

But I think Lovelock’s “Pecksniffian colleagues” are right, he really is engaging in some sentimental anthropomorphizing here. Maybe that’s good, in the same way some native creation myths are constructive: they deepen our respect for the old girl, and encourage us to lighten our step.

Our obligation as an intelligent species is to survive; and if we can evolve to become an integrated intelligence within Gaia, then together we could survive longer.

Sounds like a plan. When can we see the details? Or have we already? Time for that exam.


One more thing, STUDENTS: if you submitted an essay electronically I have to ask you to re-submit, in hard copy this time. Thanks again, Hacker.

Kant to Schopenhauer

March 29, 2011
Immanuel Kant was a real pissant who was very rarely stable.”*
No, he wasn’t. Not at all. But  that’s still the first thought that ever pops into my head when I hear his name, thanks to the Bruces.* (The second involves my old Kantian professor from grad school, whose Brooklyn accent made semi-shocking his story of “how I met my wife.” But never mind.)
Kant was actually the most soberly stable and fastidious of men. They “set their watches by him as he went on his daily walk” in 18th-century Konigsberg, Prussia. That’s probably the thing about him I like most. He well knew the truth of William James’s  later observation that steady habits are our greatest productive ally. Kant was as productive as he was un-flashy.
“Awakened from his dogmatic slumbers” and his romantic dalliance with Rousseau and  Leibniz by David Hume’s dash of cold water skepticism, he assigned appearance and reality to the phenomenal and noumenal worlds, respectively. He didn’t mean that phenomena are unreal or unknowable, just that we know them through the categorical spectacles of our projective understanding. We don’t know them “in themselves,” the “ding-an-sich” is a non-starter.
But Kant knew what he knew. The stars are awesome, and so is a dutifulconscience (“the moral law within”). Fealty to the latter led him to his “Categorical Imperative” and its “silly” obsession with inflexibly rational consistency.
Kant. Obsessive, punctual of habit, semi-gregarious, a mouth-breather, fond of Cicero, and also a philosophical walker (but with a weird aversion to sweat). Famous last  word: “Sufficit.” Enough. (I like his countryman Goethe’s better: “Mehr licht.” More light. (Or was it “Mehr nicht,” No more?) Famous living words: “Sapere aude.” Have the courage to think.
Hegel said “the real is the rational & the rational is real,” implying a tightly-interlocked jigsaw of spirit, nature, and mind unfolding progressively over time. The zeitgeists of successive eras reflect “the march of reason.”
The end-point of all that marching: the “Absolute,” when nature finally comes to know itself through the self-consciousness of rational agents like, well, like Hegel himself. Seems a bit self-indulgent, doesn’t it? Schopenhauer (“Hegel is a stupid and clumsy charlatan”) and Kierkegaard definitely thought so. They objected to his turgid, convoluted style as well as his project of reducing all to Reason.

Hume snapped Kant out of his early infatuation with Leibniz and Rousseau, led him to draw a line between phenomenal knowledge and noumenal speculation, and (ironically) cracked the door just enough to imply the possibility of a rational faith. That’s a lot of philosophical heavy (though inadvertent) lifting, for a skeptic. [Kant's answer... bbc]

Kant said we constitute (kant-stitute, if you please) the objects of our experience, so we don’t have to infer or prove their  reality. Convenient, and revolutionary in a Copernican sort of way.

Copernicus recognized that the movement of the stars cannot be explained by making them revolve around the observer; it is the observer that must be revolving. Analogously, Kant argued that we must reformulate the way we think about our relationship to objects. It is the mind itself which gives objects at least some of their characteristics because they must conform to its structure and conceptual capacities. Thus, the mind’s active role in helping to create a world that is experiencable must put it at the center of our philosophical investigations. The appropriate starting place for any philosophical inquiry into knowledge, Kant decides, is with the mind that can have that knowledge.

As for Descartes’ res cogitans? Kant said it’s not yours or mine, it’s ours in the most inclusive/collective sense imaginable.  The ubiquitous transcendental ego knows all… except what it kant.

Kant said freedom’s what you get when you suppress inclination and do your duty, as per the Categorical Imperative. But “categorical” means no exceptions, so there doesn’t seem to be much real wiggle room for an ethical Kantian.

Kant said “without faith, our experiences of injustice are bound to discourage us away from morality.” I haven’t found that to be the case at all, myself. Injustice is discouraging, but moral rectitude is strong in those who affirm it on any  grounds. That goes for theists, agnostics, humanists, secularists, naturalists, and atheists. Morality is multi-cultural and resolute.

The concept of a world-historical individual is bracing, even if you’re not Napoleon (or Hegel). Who wouldn’t want to  contribute to the material unfolding of philosophy’s and life’s final goal? But is there such a thing?

Spirit” is bigger than any of us. But so is time, so is history, so is generational succession in general. “The things in civilization we most prize are not of ourselves…” Is it a coincidence that Dewey began as a Hegelian? And is it a big surprise that such a cosmic optimist would eventually fall to earth with the retrospective “Owl of Minerva“? (Marx disagreed, saying the point is to change.)

Old Hegel was pessimistic when pessimism wasn’t cool, but Schopenhauer [squashed] came along just in time to become the romantic pessimists’ rock star. Kant’s thing-in-itself became his voracious Will. He seemed to enjoy it. Jennifer Hecht says he got off the funniest statement in the history of doubt, saying of believers:

For if we could guarantee them their dogma of immortality in some other way, the lively ardor for their gods would at once cool; and… if continued existence after death could be proved to be incompatible with the existence of gods… they would soon sacrifice these gods to their own immortality, and be hot for atheism.

[more reality...Germans (mostly)...  Kant to Marx...sourpuss...]

NOTE TO STUDENTS: I have good news and bad. Most of the midterm essays are graded, most are good, but some– specifically, those submitted via email– apparently are casualties of yesterday’s hacking incident. Please re-submit, if you can.


March 28, 2011

Apparently my gmail account was hacked this morning, and an imposter claimed he– I– was stranded in London needing $$$. Alas, I’m still here in middle Tennessee without access to my email, and only relatively busted. (But if you want to send $$$ that’ll be fine.)

Thanks to all who’ve notified me that you received that silly email. I’m working on the situation.

If this has happened to you, and you can offer constructive suggestions for what I should do next (beyond filling in Google’s form and trying to reset my password), I’ll be grateful. Just use the comments space here, or my backup yahoo email if you have it.

Isn’t modern communications technology terrific?


POSTSCRIPT: OK, it’s several hours of lost time later… I think I’m back from “London” to email land, sans contacts and folders. What a hassle. Thanks a lot, Mr./Ms. Hacker from somewhere (apparently) in California. I hope it happens to you.

“Enjoy it while you can”: Lovelock

March 28, 2011

So we’re shifting gears in NW, saving Stewart Brand’s eco-pragmatism for later and turning today instead to James Lovelock’s dire forecast that it’s too late for us to save the planet. We shouldn’t end our course on that note, though we definitely need to consider it. Let’s consider it now.

Gaia and Whole Earth are expressions of the holistic, indigenous POV we’ve been encountering in the course so far with Wildcat, Eagle Man, Cajete and others. But I wonder if they’re not as uncomfortable as Brand and I with his idea that our jig is about up.

Supposedly,  the nonagenerian godfather of “Gaia” has lately moderated his pessimism a bit. But he told Bob Edwards that

it’s already far too late to stop global warming… we should be committing our resources to surviving in the new hotter world to come instead of trying to stop it.

And less than a year ago he was still sounding pretty fatalistic.

The Vanishing Face of Gaia is subtitled “A Final Warning,” but he says that wasn’t his first choice. He wanted it to read: “Enjoy It While You Can.” That’s generally good advice, especially in one’s 10th decade on the planet, but it’s a bit resigned. As a Jamesian I’m sure it would be better for us to believe that we still have a chance to swerve from the worst imaginable collision with consequences, if we’re prepared to act on that belief and Lovelock’s “warning.”

Lovelock’s “Gaia hypothesis” co-founder was Lynn Margulis, once married to Carl Sagan, with whom Lovelock worked at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena. Carl would undoubtedly be delighted, and envious, to learn of Lovelock’s plans to travel into space (courtesy of Richard Branson) and see Mother Earth entire. He’s hoping to enjoy a transcendent moment while he can.

What most of us don’t get, he says, is our deeply transient nature as a transitional species on a planet we can never own or manage. We’re full of hubris about this.

Lovelock’s view, he concedes, is unpopular. Most climate scientists dispute his “procedure” but not the facts. What we must proceed to do immediately, he says, is get to higher ground and haul out the lifeboats. Our loving mother will kill us in an instant without batting an eyelash. So, climb on up. Or, if you’re already in one of the relatively few temperate or high-altitude, high-latitude places, close the gate.

Bucky Fuller notwithstanding, Earth is not our spaceship but more the incubator of our successors. Is that hopeful enough for you? For us? Well, it’s apparently more hopeful than the green dream of safe and renewable energy for the 7th generation.

Near the end of this clip he explains how he thinks Richard Dawkins and other critics have misunderstood his Gaia thesis. (“Gaia is a tough bitch,” indeed.) Then he says: “I speak for Gaia much more than I speak for people.” Hmmm.

["Daisy World and Nuclear Energy: Two Sides of Gaia"]

Lovelock’s “Gaia” before Brand’s “Whole Earth”

March 27, 2011

A note to NW STUDENTS:

On further consideration, I’ve decided it would make more sense– chronologically, thematically, hopefully– to read and discuss James Lovelock’s Vanishing Face of Gaia next, ahead of Steward Brand’s Whole Earth DisciplineBut neither will be on the Wednesday exam. Go ahead and begin reading Lovelock. Tomorrow’s main biz will be to review the earlier March material and get on with our interminable (but always enlightening) midterm presentations.

Hume’s pricked finger, & other outrages

March 24, 2011

The classic Rationalists (Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza) were pretty confident they could get to the metaphysical bottom of things by shutting out ordinary worldly distractions and sensory confusions, thinking hard, and coming up with the foundational (“substantial”) First Principles of everything.

The Empiricists answered with a classic triumvirate of their own: Locke, Berkeley, and Hume. They were sure we would need some data, built of sensations and subsequent reflection thereupon, to have any shot at all at knowledge.

That approach led John Locke (no, not that John Locke) to his tabula rasa, Bishop George Berkeley to his “esse ist percipi” slogan and his “don’t blink” philosophy of divine oversight, and David Hume (not Desmond*) to his billiard table and the conclusion that philosophy is a good pastime but ought not be allowed to ruin anybody’s day.

Our text mentions unicorns as an example of an idea Locke would say is drawn from experience, though the beast is mythical. They devoted a whole program on the BBC to unicorns, in case you ever wanted to know all about them.

Hume was the freest free-thinker of the bunch, but Locke the Deist said to improve life, do not ask God for help. He also said that everything the churches had added to the claim that there was a creator God is “bunk.”

Locke also inspired Jefferson and Paine et al. That might explain why he snipped the Bible, to get the bunk out.

Jesus would reject all Christianity. Abstracting what is really his from the rubbish in which it is buried was Jefferson’s attempt, when he took scissors to the Bible. The resulting  Jefferson Bible, he intended, would reflect “the most sublime and benevolent [and humane and natural] code of morals” yet devised by mortal man, and it would nestle safely behind the sacred wall so many of our self-righteous contemporaries have been so eager to tear down. That’s one founder’s “original intent” they consistently ignore.  He was a Deist, but considered that his personal business and none of the state’s. (Check out Maira Kalman’s tribute to the Sage of Monticello.)

Jennifer Hecht is especially helpful on Hume, noting his debt to Cicero, recounting his remarkable trip to Paris in 1763 (where he met the leading lights of the French Enlightenment, Diderot, d’Holbach et al), and citing his inversion of the usual wisdom concerning morality. Doing good brings you peace of mind and praise from others and doing evil brings rejection and sorrow, so

We don’t need religion for morality, and what is more: religion itself got its morality from everyday morality in the first place.

So, he agrees with the DalaiLama:

I am convinced that everyone can develop a good heart and a sense of universal responsibility with or without religion.

Hume’s “ought/is” distinction was in service of moral skepticism, but not an attempt to de-nature our ascriptions of value. He thought Ben Franklin was our first world-class philosopher, btw. Maybe it’s time to trot out again old Ben’s proposal for a new political party, our old ones haven’t worked well together for a very long time. A United Party for Virtue, composed of excellence-seekers “acting only with a view to the good of mankind,” is a pretty dream. (Maira Kalman is a fan, too. And of Jefferson.)

Hume also said:

  • A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence.
  • Be a philosopher but, amid all your philosophy be still a man.
  • Custom is the great guide to human life.

Hume’s famous reiteration of “Epicurus’s old questions“:

Whence, then, is evil?

Hume’s pal was Adam Smith, usually cited (praised or excoriated) for his mysterious  ”invisible hand” and his seeming apologia for acquisitive  selfishness. But Smith actually was  a Humean about morality and politics:

Smith believed that people are not essentailly selfish or self-interested but are essentially social creatures who act out of sympathy and fellow-feeling for the good of society as a whole. A decent free-enterprise system would only be possible in the context of such a society. PW

Thomas Hobbes didn’t call himself an atheist but his Leviathan state was widely perceived to be a God substitute, an authority to keep us all in awe. Hell, he said, was just a fantasy to control people. Foolish people, “they that make little or no enquiry into the natural causes of things…”

Voltaire, a Deist who found no grounds for believing in a worship-worthy Creator, probably inspired more people to reject their childhood religion than anyone else at that time… “Ecrasez l’infame!”

Hume in 3 minutes:

& Locke, & Descartes… Voltaire… Jean-Jacques Rousseauand his dog… “Great Minds Behaving Badly“…show me… Lost*… body language… rationalists & empiricists R.I.P.

My view is that the classic empiricists fail, for not being “radical” enough. More on that when we come to William James‘s “radical empiricism.” Suffice for now to invoke the spirit of Emerson, which is to my mind the quintessential spirit of empiricism (nothwithstanding his having called himself a Kantian transcendentalist):

Meek young men grow up in libraries, believing it their duty to accept the views, which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon, have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only young men in libraries, when they wrote those books.

NEXT WEEK: O 98-114 & PW 89-101, from Kant to Schopenhauer. Exam #2 is Thursday, so bring your review questions Tuesday.

“We are all kernels on the same corncob”

March 23, 2011

Wrapping up Native Science today, if we can.

Western science needs Native science to examine its prevailing worldview and culture. Western science has often been caught up in an almost fanatic drive to objectify and fragment all of human experience so that it could somehow be better or more clearly understood  or controlled. But these methodologies often forget to recontextualize data bits, or to recycle that knowledge into a meaningful expression for human life and human situations. Indigenous science is a process of thinking and relating that refuses to decontextualize.

Point taken: the reductive analyses of scientific inquiry are useful tools, but their greatest use lies in reconstruction at the level of life as it is actually lived, in real places, by real people.  Science is an observational discipline whose discoveries must be integrated with the observers’ own lifeworlds, to have their appropriate impact in building relationships between persons and nature.

After all: “we are all kernels on the same corncob.”

POSTSCRIPT: In the spirit of bridge-building between native and mainstream western science, Gregory Cajete was interviewed prior to an appearance at NASA a couple of years ago:

The air that we breathe and that is finite we share with each other right now and eventually we will be breathing those same argon atoms again. The idea is that air is shared by all living, breathing entities and through that physical process we become related to each other. It is using those kinds of ways to describe the fact that physically, socially, even spiritually there is this interconnection and interrelatedness that human beings share with each other and that is referred to by saying we are all related. Mitakuye oyasin is the Lakota way of expressing that idea and that reality. There are words in other Indigenous languages that describe the same thing, that we are all related. We use a term in my language, because corn is kind of our sacramental plant, a staple of our traditional diet, we say we are all kernels on the same corn cob.

Earthzine: You write, “We are Earth becoming conscious of itself, and collectively, humans are the Earth’s most highly developed sense organ.” NASA just celebrated its 50th anniversary. Images of Earth from space have transformed the way we view the world. How have images of the Earth, our planetary siblings, our Sun, neighboring nebulae and distant galaxies affected native science?

Cajete: In many ways it helps us to visualize what native science has always been, in one way or another, trying to define, first of all that we are all interrelated, we all breathe the same air, we are made of the same elements of the earth, we are conveyors of the sun’s fire, we are participants in the activities of the biosphere no matter where we are and so this idea of the photographs of Earth, especially the newer technologies that allow us to see the Earth as it is evolving its processes, its weather patterns help us to visualize a living, breathing, active planet processes, the life process of the planet itself. And so those images and ways of understanding ourselves, really do add to the conceptions and perspectives of native science. A metaphor that is sometimes used in native science is “we are all members of Turtle Island”. This is an idea that has been popularized by the Iroquois Confederacy but it is really a notion or an idea that is held by all native tribes. The metaphor describes Earth as a living, breathing, super organism and that we as human beings ride the turtle’s back. The thoughts that we think, the actions that we perform, the understandings and the insights that we gain, the celebrations as well as the sadness that we feel are all registered on the Great Mother of the turtles’ back. And so, we affect the consciousness of the Earth as she affects ours. This idea of the super organism which is the planet Earth has been held by every Indigenous culture that I can remember ever studying and can be said to be the prime philosophy of native peoples. It is the understanding that one comes to naturally; if you are a good observer you can begin to see how life forces interact on the Earth or just in the place in which you live, and you begin to have a sense that there is this greater organism, this greater process that is a part of life.

And so, let’s turn to the founder of Whole Earth and Long Now, the man who wanted to know why we hadn’t yet seen an image of Mother Earth in all her majestic entirety, even deep into the manned space program of the sixties.

Stewart Brand has always had a sense of the “greater organism.” Lately he’s also articulated his own version of “eco-pragmatism.” How well do they mesh? Do we really need dense cities, nuclear power, transgenic crops, and geoengineering? What would Wildcat, Eagle Man, and Greg Cajete say? We’ll try to find out as we commence reading Whole Earth Discipline.

Spinoza & Leibniz (& Einstein)

March 22, 2011

Don’t like Descartes‘ metaphysical dualism? The other options on today’s menu are one substance or infinitely many. (“None”  is not an option for these two, but you could go back and warm up some leftover Montaigne if that’s your preference.)

Baruch Spinoza(1632-1677) thought everything was part of one universal reality (or metaphysical substance). He was a pantheist, holding that god is present in all of nature instead of transcending and creating it. English Deist John Toland may have coined the term originally. [JMH]

We’ve noted that Einstein was a fan: “I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of all that exists, but not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.” It may well be that “Spinoza’s God” continues to capture more scientific respect than any more traditional alternative.

Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (1646-1716), aka “Dr. Pangloss” in Voltaire’s Candide, thought reality was almost  infinitely various, but also boxed and sealed. We are “monads,” self-contained substances (not unlike Neo, pre-Morpheus) experiencing a pre-arranged harmony of perceptions orchestrated by a very controlling Master Monad. We have “no windows.”

The Einstein/Spinoza view of time & space is subtle and strange. It has tempted some to make more  of it than seems sensible [rebooted] but Spinoza clearly found his “bliss” in it. If we’re part of something practically eternal, from a finite point of view, does that lend us a share of immortality? With this perspective are we back, in roundabout fashion, to the Tao?

Or at least to the author of Walden, maybe? Asked if he had made his peace with God, Thoreau replied, “I did not know we had ever quarreled.” His God, with whom he communed daily on his saunters in and around Concord, MA, appears to have had much in common with Spinoza’s and Einstein’s.

Uncle Albert was not a New Atheist, nor quite an old one. He also said:

I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility… I cannot believe that God plays dice with the cosmos.

I always like to let Einstein give the benediction in my Intro classes, stay tuned for that. [parting wisdom...squashed Einstein... cosmic religion... Sagan's hero...]

I could go on, but Marcel Marceau was right: “It’s good to shut up sometimes.”

Next time, STUDENTS: read to PW 88.

“I could turn and live with animals…”

March 21, 2011

Chapters 5 & 6 in Native Science are about animals and place, respectively, so that calls for a reiteration of the link to Michael Pollan’s “An Animal’s Place,” mentioned the other day. (Summary)

Pollan’s influential essay was all about how humans can best express and sustain a healthy respect for animals, especially those destined to end up on our plates. He thinks people like Joel Salatin, at Polyface Farm in Virginia, are onto something important. Could be.

Native peoples, we read, have traditionally perceived animals as co-creators of life, in many ways our betters and (as Eagle Man already taught us) our teachers. But of course, indigenous peoples have always eaten animals. Respectfully, gratefully… humanely and ethically too? Or is eating animals wrong, period?

Well, what would Walt Whitman say?

I think I could turn and live with animals, they’re so placid and self contain’d, I stand and look at them long and long.They do not sweat and whine about their condition, They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins, They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God, Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things, Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago, Not one is respectable or unhappy over the earth.

There are non-consumptive, non-exploitative forms of participation in animals’ lives. Telling stories featuring animal heroes is an example, especially those calling us back to the more elemental and instinctual parts of ourselves.  But we’re more comfortable with the Disney version, projecting anthropomorphic stories onto Simba and Mickey and Baloo et al. Great entertainment, but do we ever outgrow the patronizing, sentimentalizing propaganda?

What we’ve really got a case of, apparently, even if biophilia reigns at the deepest instinctual levels, is bio-phobia. We resist the “natural orientation”that would draw all life into our circle of empathy. The Shaman, again, runs interference in “establishing and maintaining a direct relationship between human beings and the animals and plants.” (Remember Ed with his hand in the ground?)

Another of my favorite topics is raised here, the question of how “meaning passes from generation to generation,” crucially distinguished among indigenous peoples by their inherited oral and hunting traditions. Do those of us whose stories are more encrypted, and who do not trap, wrestle, or otherwise subdue our own sustenance directly, have a harder time “coming into being” (i.e., becoming educated about our natural relations)?

Coyote stealing fire from the shamans” will remind many of us of Prometheus, and the Great Turtle myth of the Iroquois of Gaia. Stay tuned, Stewart Brand and James Lovelock are on deck and in the hole. (Lovelock may actually be in his bunker humming Carole King.)

I’ve mentioned Aldo Leopold‘s “Land Ethic” before, but Cajete reminds us again. It carries a strong indigenous current I hadn’t thought about much: “We can be ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love, or otherwise have faith in.” Is that true?

“Multiverse” is a term William James liked, and lately Brian Greene and other astrophysicists, but for neither of them does the term quite mean “multiple realities of which the reality experienced by our five senses is only one of many possibilities,” and in which direct communion with animals and plants might result in knowledge discoverable in no other way. James would have been sympathetic, though, especially if the nitrous was strong.

Do animals have “rights,” beyond interests, even if they cannot defend them discursively or juridically? Peter Singer

The Navajo concept of ho’zho was engagingly discussed by Chris Phillips

Ancient indigenous paths and roads are everywhere, even where their traces are hard to spot. But I’ve been motoring up and down one of them for many years to visit my in-laws who live down “the Trace.” Sometimes I park, get out, lace up my Nikes, and participate in a locomotive ritual that owes more than most realize to native design genius in the matter of moccassins.

Finally, and not just because we’re just back from gorgeous Fall Creek Falls: springs and waterfalls are wonderful symbols of healing and purification. They’re powerful, beautiful, inspiring, “memorable.” I don’t think “western science” would or could ever remove its spiritual impact on any honest observer.


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