I just saw the moving and profound documentary “No Place on Earth.” It tells the story of caving enthusiast Chris Nicola 1993 visit to Ukraine to explore the Verteba and Priest’s Grotto Caves. There he found evidence that they had recently been inhabited by Jews escaping The Holocaust. He then embarked on a decade-long quest to find survivors. The film features interviews with survivors and their descendants, now living mainly in New York City and Montreal. At the end of the film, Tobias brings some of the survivors, now in their 80s and 90s back to the caves.
It is an incredible story of human survival which really makes your typical first-world troubles trivial in comparison. But it also reminds us how terrible life is, how filled it is with suffering, and how we are all obligated to make a heaven of our universe—the only real place such a heaven could ever exist.
My friend Lawrence Rifkin published another great piece the other day in the Huffington Post “Transcendence for Realists.” His basic point is that transcendent experiences—by which he means experiences beyond the ordinary—don’t need to be interpreted as supernatural. He concludes:
Those having such experiences need not discount reason, and need not interpret a profound experience or emotion as being part of a supernatural explanation. Numinous is not synonymous with miraculous. Transcendence properly understood—a naturalistic transcendence—embraces the non-rational, not the irrational. Non-rational transcendent emotions are harmonious with reason, evidence, and naturalism. They can be cherished as supreme human experiences.
As usual, I agree with my friend. One need not, and should not, posit supernatural explanations for anything, as the supernatural is just the imaginary and irrational. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t non-rational experiences. Being moved by Beethoven is neither irrational or supernatural, but listening might evoke an experience of non-rational transcendence.
Painting of seven-year-old Charles Darwin in 1816.
My friend Lawrence Rifkin published a nice piece in the Huffington Post the other day “Was Darwin Really A Genius.” I read the piece with great interest, as Darwin in one of my intellectual heroes, and I love to read anything about him. As I said before, I was intellectually asleep before I really encountered Darwin, and there is no way to have a comprehensive view of human life without understanding the concept of evolution. Here is Larry’s conclusion:
Darwin possessed no single talent of creative genius that cannot be found commonly in others. Therefore many people could compete with Darwin on specific, isolated abilities. But the collection of his talents and character put together in one individual is extraordinary – the combined sum of all that made Darwin Darwin. That, along with the level of his accomplishments, qualifies him as an exceptional genius, on par with geniuses with off-the-charts specific talents. And if you, very intelligent reader, were on the Beagle, I do not believe you would have achieved Darwin’s level of ideas and evidence. For these reasons, I would argue that Charles Darwin was a rare genius.
I think this is about right. Of course there has been a lot written about the idea of genius lately. Some say that geniuses are made not born, and that devoting enough time to a pursuit from a young age essentially defines what we call genius. Others argue that genius is more nature than nurture, mostly a case of inborn ability. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. What we call genius is a combination of native talent, the right environment, the drive to succeed, and more. So if you or had hit golf balls or played piano or studied from the age of two, we would be better golfers, pianists, or physicists. But we probably wouldn’t be Tiger woods, Mozart, or Newton because we don’t possess their natural athletic or musical or mathematical abilities. So geniuses are those with the natural talent and who had the right environment, disposition, etc.
If forced to guess though, I’d say that tenacity and other personal traits are probably more important than native ability. So I agree that reasonably intelligent people who put forth the effort can achieve great things. Which is what Larry said at the end of his piece. Perhaps then I might find the meaning of life with enough effort.
I’ve noticed another phenomenon of not writing a post for almost two weeks now. Not only is playing good for you, as I mentioned in my last post, but I find that various ideas simmer in my head even when I’m not writing about them. I so often respond to thoughts and events by writing about them, that not writing provides a different experience. Ideas not immediately expressed simmer in the mind and slowly mix with others. Perhaps this will lead to some breakthrough or, if not, to a renewed energy to find a breakthrough.
Perhaps all this is just an excuse for not working. Still it takes time to assimilate and coordinate new thoughts. What I do know is this. The weather is beautiful here in Seattle, and it is hard to sit in front of my computer when the sunshine and the mountains and ocean call. And I know that life is too short to spend all of one’s time thinking about life.
Playfulness by Paul Manship
My June 10, 2015 post marked the 193rd consecutive day I had written a post. And then 3 days without a post. What’s up with that? Well to tell the truth I wanted a break. Moreover, I had just finished my book, Who Are We?: Religious, Philosophical, Scientific and Transhumanist Theories Of Human Nature, so I decided to take a few days off.
So playing—hiking, urban trekking and babysitting my granddaughter—have taken center stage in the last few weeks. When the weather is beautiful I just get the urge to be outside. And by the way, play is good for you; it is part of a meaningful life. A life without the joy of play is a diminished life. So here’s to just playing.