Monthly Archives: October 2012

For the Love of Earth

In which we experiment with thought in the genre of science fiction…

“The essence of art, no less than of science, is synecdoche.  A carefully chosen part serves for the whole.”
-Edward O. Wilson, Biophilia

Imagine a world, a best possible world in all possible worlds, which is quite unlike Leibniz’s (or Voltaire’s “Dr. Pangloss”).  It looks and behaves similarly to what it is like now except that humans are slightly different.  They are all biophiles at their core.  This loving ethic for biological inter-relatedness has evolved over thousands of years, and is now as instinctual as the aversion to falling and the desire to reproduce.

In this globalized society, each of its members, from very early on, is obligated to care for and protect a particular species: plant, animal, bacteria, or whatever needs extra attention and study.  No one person begrudges this obligation because it is an encoded outcome of being human.  In other words, it’s just the way we live.

Because this is just the way we are, and because we also have excellent organizational capacity, each member begins with a species to protect and goes through a series of graduations or rites-of-passage so that they might be involved in the protection of more particular species over time.  Maybe a father has his species for a given time, and once it is well-situated, he can give it to his son while facilitating an apprenticeship.

This father might then take on a more challenging species while he aids the continued study and protection of the one bequeathed to his apprentice who has begun with a less threatened species as an elementary lesson in care and protection.  We are thinking of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development:  a child is seen to need some learning just a bit past his development level to strive toward.  So does, we’ll suppose, the adult.  By the time a person reaches, say, sixty, they might have had five or six species they were “in charge of” and have helped thrive in harmony with other organisms.

Now, obviously, there are at least two ways to care for a species: in a lab such as a zoo, or in its natural habitat.  Obviously, in this best possible world, we disparage the former, except in extreme circumstances of species decline, and do everything we can to ensure the latter, knowing a species must live in its best possible world also.

This is why we have organizational bodies called “governments.”  They run the logistics of necessaries like providing transportation to other comparable habitats where a species lives.  They facilitate the best possible education of our novices and experts so they may know as much as they can in order to help each particular organism being protected.  These governmental people are made up of the privileged and powerful class.

This  elite class of people is determined by results.  A leader of this sort has protected seriously endangered species in Nobel prize worthy ways, utilizing both ingenuity and superior knowledge, and has been rewarded with a high office, thus more responsibility.  These people fully expect to be surpassed in rank, and do what they must to make sure this happens.  They understand that they will need to be replaced, eventually.  That is just the way we live.

And, naturally, saving a species or six in a lifetime, involves greater things.  One important feature we have already mentioned: the habitats where a species lives.  The people assigned to this habitat will eventually be teaming up with others assigned other species which coexist with theirs.  Understanding the ecosystem also involves non-living elements, like the elements.  People working together on a particular habitat begin to see the necessity of really working hard together.  They assist where they can and are unable to take full, individualized  credit for their results.  They depend both on their species, other peoples’ species, and the help of other protectors to get the job done.

Meanwhile, back at home, the child and the father enjoy their time away from this work.  They, and their neighbors, have plenty to eat, are in good health, use free time to create and develop other interests, and they aren’t even worried about the rest of humanity.  They know each is doing his or her small part to socially protect the biospherical whole that keeps us alive.

By Carrie Anne Ebner

The Kissing Continuum

In which Carrie brainstorms for a Language Acquisition Autobiography due next week…

When I was in high school I heard a teacher tell some of my classmates that “the only use for mathematics is for balancing your checkbook.”  Hmm…

Now, I’m sure if I had then the current intellectual chutzpah I have now I would have asked this teacher what they meant.  I would have listened closely to their reasoning, certainly literal not figurative, for such an astounding overview of the importance of math.  My guess is that this “well-balanced checkbook” premise wouldn’t have gotten off the ground, especially if I had finally, after hours and hours of philosophical discourse, revealed to her, Nuh uh!  Mathematics makes you a better kisser.  Such would be the concluding proof of our conversation.

Sadly, I didn’t take math too seriously back then, and now it is one of the major political emphases of modern education.  Mathematical literacy ranks as high as English proficiency, or at least some kind of ability to read, write, listen, think, and make meaning of a survival-inspired written and spoken symbolic language   All of this has given much to consider regarding my own personal language acquisition, especially in light of other languages I have learned in my plus 12 years of schooling.  Why is this important anyway?  Shouldn’t we be focusing on, say, teaching our children the language of kindness, as a friend of mine suggests in his working notes on how to learn and practice kindness?

I was reminded of this quotable moment from my teacher when I noticed a complex mathematical proof of Problem 39 in my inbox this morning.  It was sent to two literate “math people” and myself, a “literature people.”  Presumably it was sent to me…who has no hope of understanding the proof on its own terms (weird symbols)…because the sender gathered that I’m fascinated by mysteries.  But the mental tickle which mysteries provide are not without discomfort too.  I wonder at how much I am missing when I survey my illiteracy.  And this naturally brings me to the topic of justice.

In rare, isolated moments I have come across times when I could not communicate with speakers of other languages.  Nobody died as a result. But I start to wonder what it would be like to live in a country where I couldn’t defend my rights as a human being, simply because my language skill was so low.  I may be capable of intuiting that an action done on me isn’t fair…I might get a gut feeling that a person might be trying to  exploit my lack of literacy…but I’d still feel pretty sad or upset by the actions of another taking advantage of my ignorance.

My Lifehacks friend often poses an interesting conjecture as to why those of us living today managed to be here.  It puzzles me each time he brings it up but interests me nonetheless:

Men and women choose spouses/partners differently.  Men choose for beauty in various forms.  Women choose based on the kindness and caring which her potential mate exhibits.  If females down through our ancestral history had not chosen mates founded on their mental make up involving their willingness to protect and give and have compassion for other members of his species, we would not be here today.

I’m still working out this Darwinian explanation, but I think what my friend is trying to say is that in order to survive, we need to be thoughtful of others.  I’ll add that our chances increase with the ability to understand the way the world works in a multiplicity of language structures.  Balancing my checkbook is a start.  Understanding misinformed statistics by a potential leader of my country is another.  To grasp that this universe runs on laws well above my instinct further improves my understanding.  But grasping the meaning of Cantor’s claim that “some infinities are larger than other infinities” is just plain sexy.

So, I think what I mean in my imagined rebuttal to my former teacher’s claim  is that literacy of all types help our survivability, our ability to kiss, and the outcome of that equation.

Further notes, literacy I have explored, but not mastered: geology, ceramics, botany  ornithology, horse, philosophy, Japanese, German, Spanish, English, poetry, technology, linguistics, theater, science inquiry, pedagogy.