Posts Tagged ‘the boblog’

CARTOONS FROM THE REV

Sunday, May 27th, 2012

Build a tourist photo-op, and dinosaurs will come. At least that's been my experience.

SERMON: “It’s a Small World” by the not-so-reverend bob

Sunday, May 27th, 2012

The East Coast of the United States as seen from space. NASA photo.

I heard a commentator on Christian radio proclaim that the way in which God had “hung the stars” in so “perfect” a manner was a clear sign that behind our vast universe resides an intelligent designer.

She did not explain by what measure the stars were perfect in their arrangement, or how, precisely, said perfect arrangement necessarily required an intelligent star-hanger.  She did, however, use the ancient imagery of someone hanging stars in the heavens in the way that someone might hang ornaments upon a Christmas tree.  And in so doing I think she gave me a glimpse into the mind that finds evidence for God in the apparent organization of nature.

For doesn’t the idea of “hanging” the stars give you an immediate image of someone working on an relate-ably  human scale, only on a somewhat enlarged basis?  What do I mean:  We imagine God in a gigantic (yet) human form, with face, beard, arms and hands that are able to reach out across the night sky, literally hanging stars against the black fabric of the night (which itself implies an ancient conception of there being a sort of dome stretching out across the (flat?) earth).

Which brings me to this: the only way that the idea of God as ruler of all, creator of all, knower of all — and yet intimately involved with our individual lives down to the number of hairs on our head —  works at all is because we humans naturally think small.  It makes sense.  We have to think small, for underneath everything else about us, we remain earth-bound animals that must see to our own survival.  There is no reason for our brains to be conversant in the stretches of time or distances necessary to properly grasp the age and expanse of the universe we live in.  Of what use is any sense of time or distance beyond the span of our own life times?  Why not simply invoke “God”, “eternity”, and “infinity” to paper over this yawing conceptual void in our cognitive, imaginative abilities?  This approach — this coping mechanism — has served our species well, to be quite honest, and has only, really, been challenged in the last 150 years by the discoveries of modern science.

I am firmly convinced that the average believer in God (or the average human, as far as that goes), carries a rapidly diminishing hierarchy of other beings and concepts in their mind at any one time (I’ve checked this in myself).  We are the center of our universe (that goes without saying) so we start with a conception of ourselves in physical space and time and then move out to our immediate family, friends, those we know in our community, our collection of famous personages (that we are familiar with), a modest collection of small bands of African tribesmen (and/or Europeans or Asians), some penguins or elephants, an anthill (topped with some ants), a couple of bees, a forest, a picture of something living in the sea, the moon, some stars sparkling in the night sky and at least one image from a space probe.  Oh, and dinosaurs.  We all know about dinosaurs.

But it is the way in which we picture these things that matters here.  We almost always see them in ones, twos, threes, or small groups.  In the same way that we do not picture billions of humans living in the narrow temperate zone of an actual-sized earth, we don’t picture thousands of varieties of dinosaurs, but perhaps imagine one Tyrannosaurus chomping down on one plant-eater, not millions of them evolving, reproducing, adapting, and then going extinct of a period of 165 million years.  We see them in the numbers that almost the entire history of  our evolution has accustomed us to: small family and tribal groupings.

And we imagine the stars (if we’re honest with ourselves) as all being equidistant from where we stand as we look at them — convinced, on some level, that we could almost reach out and touch them.

And why shouldn’t we be able to touch them?  After all, we are enormous, and they are merely pinpoints of light!  We can blot them out with a fingertip held in front of our eyes!  This fact is not insignificant (and I’d love to hear about any research into how our visual perception of the world colors our cognitive organization of it).

Try this experiment:  We know that our binocular vision is only effective for a short distance, and beyond that we use inference to interpret the size of more distant objects.  What I have found is that I can disengage that part of my brain that tells me that those distant, tiny objects aren’t really tiny at all, but merely appear small because they are far away from me.  When I do that, I can actually feel like a giant — surrounded by mountains that are only a few steps away, and which I could stride over with one step.  Cars on the freeway ahead of me are suddenly the size of matchbox toys which I could pick up between two fingers (try it — it’s fun!).  It’s kind of a trip, and as disconcerting as it is entertaining, for it offers a glimpse into just how much we rely on perceptions that are not as immutable as we might like to think.

The religious criticize the non-religious for being motivated most by a desire to avoid responsibility to God.  The underlying assumption is that the non-believer is fighting against nature (the same nature that so clearly proclaims His presence) by refusing to obey God.  On one level, this is true.  For if there is one thing very clear about humans, it is that we are natural believers.  Therefore, those that move beyond belief are, in essence, fighting against their nature.  But what does that say about the believers, then?  Could it be they who are the ones most locked into their natural, animal nature?  That would be truly ironic: if it turned out that they are not the enlightened ones, but instead are the deniers of reality that they imagine all those nonbeleivers to be!  The believers, then, turn out to represent the primitive in humankind, and not the enlightened after all.

I don’t blame them.  I’ve been a believer and so I get it.  And I don’t expect their numbers to drop dramatically in my lifetime (if ever).  I just want it to be known that they are, ironically, the very thing they criticize in the non-believer: they are the ones maintaining a reality almost completely dependent upon belief.

(I need to be clear here that irrational belief is not the sole domain of those that believe in God.  A human is just as capable of attaching irrational belief to non-theistic sources, be they aliens, computers or any number of conspiracy theories.  I am equally opposed to all irrational belief).

So, to get back to where we started:  Did an actual God reach out millions of light years away from us, and hang every single star (as well as every grain of cosmic dust that floats in any number of the galaxies we will never be able to see from earth)?  Did he create those long-dead stars that coalesced and collapsed upon themselves in titanic explosions, creating the elements that he then used to form the individual cells with which each of our bodies (and every other living thing on earth) are formed?  In light of what we actually know about the universe, could this idea be any more absurd?  And it is the non-believers who are the deniers of reality?

We humans struggle so hard with who and what we really are.  It’s really a difficult thing for us to imagine with any sort of consistent clarity.  But, then, evolution did no better job preparing our brains for a realistic self-conception that it did setting us up for grasping the distance between the stars.

One thing is for sure, however: the distance between us and the stars we see at night is not just greater than our human brains can comfortably imagine: it is greater than any God we humans can imagine could possibly reach.

t.n.s.r. bob

CARTOONS FROM THE REV

Sunday, May 20th, 2012

The "rev" waits for a train to the Philadelphia airport.

SERMON: “The Brain: A User’s Guide — Abridged” by the not-so-reverend bob

Sunday, May 20th, 2012

WHAT OUR BRAINS ARE GOOD AT:

Keeping us from stepping on a rattlesnake.

Getting us to throw up when we see someone else do it.

Thinking about sex.

These are survival responses: fight or flight; mirror neurons that pay detailed attention to what those close to us are feeling, experiencing, or seeing, and; reproducing to ensure the continuation of the species.

What our brains are not good at:

Critically examining things we hear from others.

Perceiving reality without a thick filter of magical belief.

Not being fearful.

Our brains are physical machines that have evolved with us over millions of years.  They exist because they are good at keeping us alive and fruitful.  We exist because they work as well as they do.

When we started using tools to aid our survival (around 6 million years ago), we were on our way toward becoming the dominant life form on the planet that we are today.  Our advancement, however, was slow.  But over time our cleverness led us to things like fire and cooked food (which fed our growing brains while reducing the need for our huge ape-like chewing muscles, which then allowed our brain cases to expand to the limits finally imposed on them by natural selection — namely the width of the human female’s pelvis).

We are the tool-making ape, and because of the protections we have built for ourselves from the forces of nature (extreme heat, cold and disease), and our ability to alter the environments we live in (as well as the plants and animals we live with), we have spread out and flourished.  In just the last 15,000 years we went from a small bunch migrating out of Africa to the global population of modern humans we are now.

This is no small success.  But we are mistaken to lean as much as we do on the idea that our brains are more than our most advanced sensory organ — that our minds are something that transcends the physical world.  They don’t.

As I sat on a park bench today, watching a pair of grackles chase a squirrel from the lawn beneath “their” tree, and then return to their mix of mating and feeding behavior, I was reminded that, if you get right down to it, the “purpose” of life is to continue to live.  Life, by any definition, is a complex process that exists only by dint of its ability to feed itself and reproduce.  Even the most mindless of life is propelled by this innate impulse.  And we humans are no different.

But, of course, we are very different when it comes to cognition. All animals have brains, some small, some large.  And some of those animals are eerily similar to us in having a social sense and an emotional interior life.  Some even make simple tools.  But none have the self-awareness that we humans do, and I think that gives us a very singular set of existential problems to deal with.

We humans have huge brains. Okay, maybe not quite THIS huge!

In particular is the question of “why us?”  Our attempts to answer that existential question have created thousands of gods, thousands of religions to go with those gods, and creation myths aplenty — all of them stories with us at the center, revealing some satisfying aspect of our “true” purpose here on Earth.

Of course one of the problems with that approach is that we are not divine in origin (at least as far as we can tell), nor are we “intelligently designed”.  What we are is  “naturally selected” (a process that can bring about results that easily mimic what we might consider “design”).  And what we generally end up with, then, is a lofty narrative of our special creation draped over the pulsing drive of the survival-insuring primitive animal brain.  This is a recipe for conflict and cognitive dissonance on a fairly grand scale!

The fact that we are living in an age of technology and science lends support to our already-elevated view of our brain’s “designed” perfection.  Therefore we consistently overestimate the power of the human brain — to the point that many believe that with the right amount of practice, we can project ourselves across the universe, read other minds or predict the future.  At the same time we under-estimate some of the real powers of the brain: such as our natural animal wariness that can create debilitating fears, irrational thoughts and faulty perception.  Both are problematic.

The predicament that we are in is this: we are alive, we are conscious, and the only organ we have for navigating that rather stunning state of existence is a multi-layered, quirky sensory organ that retains its most primitive life-preserving functions even as it serves as the source of our most lofty, artistic and humane expressions.  Darwin wasn’t just whistling “Dixie” when he said that “…man with all his noble qualities …still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin. ”  We do.  Oh, indeed, we do.

The truth is that we humans can seem to be rational only as a sort of last resort.  As I observe the battle lines of ideological debate in our current Presidential campaign, I am mostly struck by how many people are willing to take, at face value, almost any falsehood as long as it promises to support their belief-dependent view of reality.  If I could put one idea into the brains of all of my fellow citizens, it would be to embrace the true challenge that ownership of an evolved conscious mind entails, and learn to use our brains as effectively as possible (which has to include an awareness of the many quirks, biases and sensory mistakes that it is subject to).

It is a paradoxical challenge, this: using one part of our brain to figure out where the other parts of that same brain might be leading us astray.  But this is our reality: everything about our consciousness is playing out within the confines of our physical bodies.  (Though little wonder — since it can feel at times like there’s more than one person inside our head — so many of us are willing to imagine the different parts of our own consciousness as external beings, be they demons, spirits or angels).

Our brains may not be perfect, but they are certainly remarkable.  We just have to remember that they can rule us (fear) as much as we rule them (reason).  The best we can do is come to an understanding — an alliance, if you will — with the several aspects of our brain, and recognize the reality of what is happening inside our skulls.

t.n.s.r. bob

[CORRECTION/CLARIFICATION: My statement “In just the last 15,000 years we went from a small bunch migrating out of Africa to the global population of modern humans we are now.” is incorrect in that modern humans had already occupied regions of the Middle East and Central Europe before this time, but our global expansion has occurred within the last 15,000 years.  — t.n.s.r. bob

CARTOONS FROM THE REV

Sunday, March 4th, 2012

Although absolutely no help in moving things out of the studio, the dinosaurs seemed very concerned about where I was moving to.

REVIEWS FROM THE REV: “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” a film by Werner Herzog.

Sunday, February 19th, 2012

Werner Herzog is an odd duck (based on the glimpse into his mind that his documentaries have given me).  But he is an odd duck that meditates on human stories that seem to matter.  And the recent discovery of paleolithic cave art inside Chauvet Cave in France definitely matters.

Granted rare access to this carefully protected site, Herzog gives us a mesmerizing and unsettling glimpse into just how modern we modern humans are.  What I mean by that is this: to study the highly stylized and sophisticated cave drawings and paintings by our European forbears (created some thirty to forty-thousand years ago –the oldest found to date) is to come face to face with the reality that they were most definitely us.

Admittedly, I watched Cave of Forgotten Dreams with the eye of a professional artist, but there is nothing at all “primitive” about the artwork these anonymous humans left behind.  And as the documentary points out, this was all during a time when most of Europe was covered with glaciers, and we were sharing that cold (but sunny and well-stocked) landscape with our distant cousins the Neanderthals.

This is history and science described with a passionate humanity.  Herzog is justly fascinated with the art itself, but his real passion is to somehow try to transcend the chasm of time and feel his way into the world that these Cro-magnon artists inhabited.  This is the point where science leaves off, and imagination takes hold.  This is Herzog’s domain, and he explores it heedless of whether he will sound silly or not (he sometimes does).

But being seen as a bit silly is a very small price to pay for such insight into our shared humanity.

t.n.s.r. bob

The Rev gives is 3.5 out of 4!

REVIEWS FROM THE REV: “Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything” by David Bellos

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

“The infinite flexibility of language and our experience of shared emotion in reading novels and poems and at the movies must also cast doubt on whether there are any human experiences that cannot in principle be shared.  On the other side of this thorny tangle is the intuitive knowledge that what we feel is unique to us and can never be fully identified with anything felt by anyone else.  That inexpressible residue of the individual is ineffable — and the ineffable is precisely what cannot be translated”  

(From “Is That a Fish in Your Ear?” p. 151)

David Bellos is a Princeton professor with a lot to say about translation.  Now you may be like me and think that there is, indeed, something to be said about translation, but not 338 pages worth.  Which means that you — like me — would be wrong.

From the start I could tell that this is a writer who is as much philosopher as translator, and historian as much as linguist.  There is no statement about what translation is (or what it is not) that does not — it turns out — deserve the author’s clarifying attention.  I was tempted to be bored with the entire thing, and kept waiting for the moment when I was finally going to say “enough!” and put the book down.

But that moment never came.

For it turns out that there is, indeed, much to say about translation.  And, as the title suggests, when you start to talk about translation you end up having to talk about the meaning of, well, everything.

Bellos is a sneakily delightful writer.  And even as each chapter feels like falling anew down a rabbit hole chasing after wild hares of translation babble, he always brings us back with a single clarifying sentence that perfectly sets up the next chapter’s wild ride.

But how do I tell you what this book is actually about?  It is about the history, practice and future of translation from one language into another.  This seems a fairly straightforward topic.  But it turns out that as soon as you start dissecting just what makes a “good” or a “bad” translation, you are immediately thrown upon the reality that language is not the fixed target we tend to think it is.  After all, not a one of us uses our native language in just the same way, and this is bound to have implications for the poor sod that then tries to carry our thoughts, ideas, stories and jokes into another human’s language.

If you have any interest in ideas and how ideas are expressed or the myths and realities about the differences between languages, and you have a moderate tolerance for complexity mixed with a taste for precise thinking, you will enjoy this book as much as I did.

Yes, there is a lot to say about translation, and this book says it in a clear, concise and highly entertaining way.

t.n.s.r. bob

The rev gives it four Dimetrodons out of four!

SERMON: “Neurtinos or Nutella?” by the not-so-reverend bob

Sunday, December 11th, 2011

Why are we here?  What is the meaning of life?  Why is there evil in the world?

Each of those questions is flawed from the start, as they generally presuppose an answer of a certain kind — a response that would be the peanut-butter to the jelly in the spiritual sandwich.  But what if we ask the universe for peanut-butter and get subatomic particles instead?  Neutrinos instead of Nutella?

From the moment that we ask these value-laden questions we are bound to be unhappy with the answers that nature has on offer.

There is no “why” simply because there is no responsible cosmic party from whom we can demand an accounting of their creation.  Or, to be more precise, there is no evidence for an intentional agent (read: creator) in the universe.  This may be the hardest thing for a human to accept (though it’s probably not that easy for a dog to accept either — you’ve seen their eyes when you try to explain that there is no more hot dog after you’ve eaten the last bite).  There is only “why” in the form of explanation, or description.  These are the questions that science answers.  Why are we here? Because we evolved here.  Why did we evolve here?  Because the life that led to us started here.  Why?  Because the conditions were right for life to begin.  The rest is filled in with the rather amazing details of genetics, plate tectonics, chemistry, biology, photosynthesis, natural selection, multicellular life forms, viruses, bacterias, reproduction, mutation, history, culture, language, economics, psychology and everything else we’ve learned to study and observe about ourselves and the world we live in.  In short, we could easily rival the most inquisitive two-year old with an endless list of “why’s”.

Religion has answered the question of “What is the purpose of man” with versions of “To know God and love Him forever”.  But the only reason that God can pass as an answer to any of the most fundamental questions about life is through a flawed understanding of what those questions really are, and the kind of answers we can expect to get to those questions.

God was clearly an early stab at “meaning” (I say “clearly” because we know that ideas of gods and spirits go very far back in our intellectual history).  And since “God” was there first, “He” has thereafter flavored the discussion, and thereby warped the questions we ask of life.  For what is there about life, the universe, and everything that gives us any expectation of the kind of answers that religion implies by the questions it asks?  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.

The provocative title of Christopher Hitchen’s bestselling book was “God is Not Great”.  But I would go even further and say that God is small.  Because God as an idea is — when all is said and done — reductionist, limiting, unimaginative and  far from up to the challenge of encompassing the “creation” we find ourselves in.  Religion — it turns out — is all of the things the religious project onto science.  For the religious leader will pronounce (without the necessary irony) that a “belief” in science reduces humans to nothing more than protoplasm; a collection of cells; mere apes.  But we really are all of those things!  The believer in a divine creator will further state that evolution makes the incredible claim that something (life) can spring from nothing (inert materials).  The irony again is that this is what religion — not science — claims: that God, by some miraculous act, formed Adam out of dust and heavenly spit.  (Which, if taken metaphorically, isn’t a bad poetic description of how minerals and liquid water might have been energized by solar energy at the beginnings of life).  Because we are intelligent, they argue, we must have been created by an equal or greater intelligence.  Really?

The problem is that the universe is just too big (and too vast, and fast and complicated) to have come out of a mind.  Any mind.

"Thou Shalt Not." Illustration by Bob Diven.

Our idea of mind comes from our own experiences of having one, a trait which seems to lure many of us into trying to imagine what a really, really, really big mind would be like.  But our imaginings are of necessity limited to, well, what we ourselves can imagine (which is limited to our actual knowledge and past experience).  And as colorful, delightful and surprising as the human mind can be, it is a limited, physical organ.  We resist this notion when we tell ourselves that the brain itself is unlimited, if only we could teach ourselves the ways of unleashing it.  But this is pipe-dream stuff — childhood fantasy at work.

But in so many ways, we humans never get out of our childhood.  And how could we expect to, really?  We are born completely dependent upon seemingly omnipotent others, and that is a habit we never unlearn.  We are profoundly (PROFOUNDLY) social animals: we can literally feel each other’s pain due to the power of our brain’s mirroring capacity.  Our lives are these rich sensory experiences filtered through intricate and fecund inner feelingscapes.  It is, truly, a wonder to be alive.  And far, far too wonderful (and tragic, and heartbreaking and beautiful) to be compressed into the sorry, sad lump of inert platitudes that are religion’s very highest achievements.

Throughout history religion has resisted the expansion of the human consciousness by constantly reducing newly-acquired human knowledge to either the heretic’s prison or the fires of censorship.  The religious leader must be constantly herding the multiple intellects of his flock into as narrow a corral as possible, lest they stray (here their use of the term “flock” reveals its shadier tones).

Religion has always resisted science (as it continues to today).  Proven data which the preacher cannot co-opt is preached against.  And we are expected to believe that this is the path to the eternal, unlimited, bigger-than-anything-that-ever-was-or-ever-will-be-God-of-the-universe?  Can we not see the terrible irony here that a God that great should demand servile minds so small?

As Hitchens likes to point out: for a leader of believers who claim to have their eyes on the next world, preachers sure seem pretty concerned about building their fiefdoms here on earth.  As Scrooge would say “There is much more of gravy than the grave” about this God.

But what of hope?  You are surrounded by millions of your fellow humans (not to mention every other life form on this planet) that are in the exact same boat you are: facing their own mortality.  Why waste precious time on a world that is not awaiting us while ignoring the one world we actually have, here and now?

So if “why” isn’t the question we can — or even should — ask, what is?

It is the central question of Humanism: Knowing what we know, how do we go about living satisfying, meaningful lives?

That is the actual challenge we all face.  It is in the ways that we work out that answer that “meaning” is found.  And meaning, in the end, is personal.  It is, in fact, the only place that meaning can exist.  It is the only place to ask and answer the questions of “why”.

t.n.s.r. bob

SERMON: “My Three Brains” by the not-so-reverend bob

Sunday, December 4th, 2011

How can something that is not “real” have “real” consequences?

The brain takes in perceptual data and works like the dickens to make sense of it.  As Gary Marcus points out (in Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind — reviewed this blog) the brain works in a contextual framework — meaning that it pulls from past experience any potentially applicable memory to match up with new stimuli.  The results can be amazing, tragic, generally helpful or humorous.  That this “system” works as well as it does may be more a testament to its sheer computing power than its perfection: our brains most assuredly are not perfect, but they are big.  And they are fast!  (How fast?  Read “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” by Malcolm Gladwell, reviewed this blog).

So what about the times when the brain gets it wrong?  By the time our firing synapses return a faulty “mental Google” search from the dusty shelves of memory, our brain has already initiated the creation of a chemical response to the situation it thinks we are in (again — see “Blink”).  For those of us with “anxious” brains, this usually means a sudden fear response: a chemical climate for fight or flight.  So although the mental perception is false, the physical response is none-the-less real.  With the result that we can easily perceive a non-threatening situation as threatening (or fill in your favorite response here) aided by the evidence of our body chemistry, which is pretty damn hard to ignore.  (As Joni Mitchell sings: “It’s hard to tell, when you’re in the spell, if it’s wrong or if it’s real.”)  This, in short, is how we make ourselves crazy: this is where we get the idea that we create our own reality.

Yes, we humans have huge brains!

This is what we deal with by having the brains we have.  We are completely capable of reacting — or more to the point, over-reacting — on a regular basis.  We now know why this happens:  We are still animals at our core, with a more recent, rational mind layered on top.

We are like a mental three-layered cake, and when our finely-tuned senses make that snap decision that the chips are, indeed, down, the animal takes over and the rational brain is bound, gagged, blindfolded and taken along for the ride.  Only in the safety and calming that follows can we analyze what just happened and figure out whether we were right to run.

The survival implications for the persistence of such an extreme fear reaction are obvious: the ones who run with a few false positives survive — the more thoughtful who linger just once too often, don’t.

But the implications for our modern life are enormous:  in short, we are not well adapted to the safe, comfortable lives we actually lead.  We are anxious and ready to defend ourselves in a world where that magnitude of response is rarely truly called for (unless you have a pride of saber tooth cats living in your garden).

Road rage, domestic violence, mental anguish, panic attacks.  If we added up all of these emotional/psychological events and measured the proportionality of the response to the actual (physical) threat to our life that each triggering event represented, do you think we would see anything resembling an equal scale of input to response?  Of course not.  We all know this.  We understand it.  But we are nevertheless subject to the continued discomfort of what we’ve now labelled as stress, anxiety and a portion of our mental disorders.

It’s a challenge — one of the many of living with the quirky brains we actually have (as opposed to the perfect brains we’d like to think we have).  I heard Garrision Keillor once quip that “There’s no “off” switch for genius”.  True, that.  But there is also no “off” switch for our brains: even while asleep, they are churning away.

So there are reasons that our neurosis are so damn tenacious.  But external reality is not always one of them.  It is more often our perception of the world, and recognizing that we are animals bred for wariness can’t help but give us that much more leverage when it comes to calming ourselves enough to enjoy these rather remarkable lives of relative luxury and ease that we now live.

Civilization has been the means of our move away from individual violence (which, contrary to popular perception, is historically much lower than it was in our past).  As we have domesticated ourselves, we have learned to extend trust to strangers, and that trust has allowed us to create the wealth, safety and ease we now experience.

But our brains have millions of years of experience being wary.  It turns out to be our natural state (in fact, the chemicals of love and bonding work by suppressing our natural wariness of strangers).  Perhaps it is the counter-force to our propensity for belief in the irrational (which is likely merely an by-product of our social natures that make us want to believe anything a trusted person tells us).

So even though you and I live mostly free of the threat of real violence, we have television, the internet and popular entertainment that trade in murder and mayhem as if it were the air we breathe.  It may turn out to be that — in some fundamental way — we don’t really ever want to let our guard down, no matter how cozy our living room, plush our recliner, or seemingly content our pet cat.

Maybe our ice-age brains are still not quite convinced that the world has changed.  You and I may be modern people living in a globalized world, but the deeper parts of our brains have seen the ice sheets come, or the crops fail, or a war overtake the land.  And that ice-age human brain lives alongside the modern and the ancient lizard in our crowded skulls.

All three of our brains working together, trying to figure out what’s really going on.

t.n.s.r. bob

REVIEWS FROM THE REV: “Japan’s Killer Quake” NOVA/PBS

Sunday, November 27th, 2011

I watched this program when it first aired, and it was everything I’ve come to expect from NOVA and more.  It ran in two parts, with an addendum made up of more personal stories from the survivors.

There were several things that struck me in this show.  One was amateur video of a phenomenon geologists have described, but that I’d never seen: liquified soils squirting up from fissures in pavement.  It is an amazing thing to see, and not a little disquieting.  The other was the animated timeline map showing the location of all of the earthquakes and aftershocks that made up the totality of this event.  They appear as red dots along a series of fault lines over a period of two months.  It is a stunning overview of an earthquake event the likes of which I had not seen before.  It is also a testament to the forces of geology that so many are willing to dismiss as “acts of God”.

The program can be viewed on-line.

t.n.s.r. bob

The rev gives it four Dimetrodons out of four!