Posts Tagged ‘Brian Greene’

bodies R us

November 3, 2011

As noted the other day, I think Jennifer Hecht is right and Descartes was wrong: you are not in your body, you are your body. So it really matters what you put into it, how much you work it and with what frequency, and with whom you allow it to mingle… (continued)

More on JMH on bodies and happiness in a bit, but I want to begin out-of-body.

This body spent an instructive evening plopped in front of  PBS last night, with important (if somewhat elusive) implications for our discussion of what it can mean to be an embodied intelligence in the cosmos. First Brian Greene explored the mysteries of “dark energy” and space-time. We’re not in our bodies, nor are we in a void or a vacuum. There’s a there there, and 70% of the dark stuff remains uncharted. Does it harbor the secret of life, the universe, and everything? At a minimum it harbors a challenge to our smug certainties  and reminds us that whatever bodies are and whatever space is, they’re cut from the same fabric. And, for all we know, we might be holograms. Oh, Doctor.

Then, NOVA tackled the legacy of Steve Jobs. It ran an old clip of the young, bearded Jobs noting that most of what we call “life” was contrived by men and women mostly no smarter than you and me. For him that insight was an irresistible invitation to create something new under the sun, to make a contribution, to add his own intelligence and  ambition to the mix. That’s a much more profound secret than the oonception-production order of the iPad.

The documentary made clear that this remarkable man could be remarkably difficult, unreasonable, even cruel to associates. He was not a saint. But what a contribution he made, what “insanely crazy” transformative waves of happiness he created. His biggest secret: set goals every day, and work for them like there’s no tomorrow. One day you’ll be right.

The moral? An emphatic answer to Prufrock: Yes! Dare to disturb the universe. How should you presume? How can you not? Space and time can sometimes be made to bend to the will of a happy man or woman who sees things differently. They’re the ones who change the world.

Now, back to JMH. She’s another insanely crazy (in a good way) original thinker, philosopher, poet, historian, culture critic, wit… but I couldn’t disagree more with her stance on exercise. She notes but looks askance at a claim I can confirm at first hand, emphatically:

the effect of regular exercise can be as dramatic as the effect of taking antidepressant drugs.

There’s a well-kept secret for you, thanks to the culture of pharmaceuticals and its cozy relationship with medical science. It works, it’s proven, it doesn’t require an expensive gym membership.

Yes, exercise strains the body. But, “damages the heart and increases anxiety” too, for most of us? She’ll need to be more specific to persuade me. My hour a day on the hoof (and just occasionally in the gym) has only strengthened my heart muscle, and given heart in all the good figurative ways too. It’s what holds anxiety at bay, lets me eat stress for lunch, allows me to function more or less like a semi-competent human being. 100-Up

But ok, that’s me. We’re all different, we’re all individuals. Got it. I still think she’s off-base.

Exercise can make some people feel good, and it makes some people blissfully happy. Yet, on a daily basis, many of us make ourselves happy by not exercising.

We all have our days, but those who make a habit of not exercising are experiencing a fool’s happiness. IMHO. But I’ve been reading Sarah Bakewell’s Montaigne too. Que sais-je?

As for sex, The Art of Massage is not really about happiness, with all its precise and clinical manual/digital instructions. Pleasure, maybe. Sometimes. But external views of sexuality– porn, we call that– aren’t usually sexy. In matters promiscuous and casual, I for one am glad the Woodstock generation grew up. And I would say that even if AIDS and STDs were entirely eliminated. But I wouldn’t want to be “heavy-handed” or impose my own “beliefs about what we ought to be doing.”

Maybe our relatively more buttoned-down, post-Woodstock era does “allow more room” for happy sex.  But maybe, too,  you do just have to try some insanely crazy things, if you really want to make a difference.

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“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.