Posts Tagged ‘the not-so-reverend bob’
Here’s what reality seems to be.
We live on a planet that is spinning as it orbits around the sun that is the center of our particular solar system. All living things on Earth appear to have begun their life on earth. Life is made up of the elements that were manufactured by the formation of the universe and the deaths of stars , and those elements eventually found their way to a young, coalescing earth. Once on earth, minerals were formed from these elements and liquid water, and here life began, fueled by the energy that blasts out from the ongoing nuclear furnace that is our sun.
Once life took hold, it rapidly diversified through a process we describe as evolution through the process of natural selection, where the ever-changing challenges to survival favored the continuation of one species over another (as well as heritable traits within species), and geographic isolation (combined with random genetic coding errors) led to ever more varieties of living things, each suited to it’s own environment, each occupying a certain niche in nature. This process has continued to this very moment, and will continue as long as the Earth remains a habitable planet.
Humans are a product of this process. We are a species of animal that is related to every other living thing on this planet. We are classified as mammals, and as primates. Our closest living relatives are the Chimpanzees and Bonobos, with whom we share 99% of our DNA. (We also “share” almost as much DNA with mice and about 40% with lettuce).
We humans are clever toolmakers who have developed both verbal and written language, which has allowed us to operate in a conceptual as well as an animal world. Our brains have allowed us to develop technology that has dramatically altered any landscape that we have occupied. We have, in a remarkably short time, grown from a collection of tribes of hunter-gatherers into huge, complex societies and nations.
A most notable feat of human intelligence has been the creation of the scientific method, which has, over the last few hundred years, allowed us to come to a fairly deep understanding of the reality of our biology, our world, and the universe we float in. It is through the investigations of science that we know most of what I have just cataloged.
And yet humans also believe in the existence of God. We have built entire civilizations and cultural institutions around our belief in gods that both created us and who control our fate. Our first explanations of reality were mythological in nature. (Before science gave us a means of testing propositions, one person’s guess was as good as another’s). It would seem fair to say, at this point, that all of the early religious claims about nature and physical reality have been proven false by subsequent scientific discovery. Yet religion and religious belief persists.
And though science has not (and can not) ever disprove the existence of God, science has shown us that there is nothing about our existence on Earth that necessitates the intervention, direction or supervision of any sort of divine agent, supreme deity, or intelligent god. And yet the natural state of a human being appears to include a belief in such a being or force, along with a feeling that all of creation is somehow here for (primarily) our benefit.
But not all humans believe in God.
Perhaps tellingly, it is among scientists that we find the highest percentage of humans who do not believe in god(s) or magic. Which means it is those who know the most about reality that believe the least in what we might call the “unreal”. Yet the number of such unbelievers (including non-believing non-scientists as well) still represents a minority among the human population. This hints at the proposition that magical belief flourishes best in ignorance. But, since belief is coming to be understood as a sort of “default” setting of the human brain, ignorance of reality cannot be seen as the only factor in the continuation of belief in magical things.
Over these last years, I have explored this continuing reality of the believing human in an age of science. Using my own experience as a means of both discovery and explanation, I’ve experienced a rather intensive period of learning and thinking that I have then turned into my weekly “sermons”. And I find myself, now, in the rather interesting position of having “answered” the most basic questions we humans seem to have about life: Where did I come from? Where am I going? Why am I here? And though I could probably go on writing a new “sermon” every week for the rest of my life (because there is always going to be a new scientific discovery, or a new popular science book, or a new personal experience to write about), I’ve realized that it’s time to re-direct the energy I’ve been putting in to this blog into other projects. Because understanding that I am here as the result of natural processes more begs than answers the question of how best to live the life I have (though it does, I think, offer some helpful clues).
I am primarily an artist and performer. I can now see “the not so reverend bob” as one of my creations — a champion for humane reason and science. But playing the extroverted evangelist for evolution has been a bit of a strain on this natural introvert (a bit like a submarine doing battle on the surface). And I think the answer to how to live my life (in this next stage of that life) comes in the form of a recognition that this artist is most effective operating below the surface (like the submarine). And, for now, trite as it may sound, I want more love and less argument in my life. And holding the view I do — that we only have this one life to live — I have only so much time to write my next musical or paint my next painting. (And, besides: it’s not as if anyone’s chances at eternal life will be jeopardized by me not reaching them with the “gospel” of the church of bob)!
So let this be my final sermon on the boblog of the not-so-reverend bob. I’ll keep the site up for those who might want to read one of my 166 sermons (167 counting this one. Yikes!). And I’ll always be ready, like a Minuteman with his musket hanging over the cabin door, to answer the call when needed. But for the foreseeable future I’ll be directing my energies elsewhere. I have other lost creative sheep, as it were, to gather up while the sun still shines.
I want to thank each of you that has visited this blog, and especially my “faithful” readers. I hope that I have given you something worthwhile.
the “retiring” not so reverend Bob Diven
This is a remarkable museum. For one, it’s a beautiful (and beautifully organized) building. For another, it has the distinction of sitting on top of the very deposits that have yielded the countless fossils that occupy the displays.
As you approach the museum you pass by a water-filled pond that was once a tar quarry. There are life-sized replicas of a Columbia Mammoth family — one of whom has been “caught” in the tar hidden beneath the water. This tableau is artifice, of course, but the sulfurous gasses that continue to bubble up into this still-active “asphalt seep” are the real deal, and provide a quietly stunning reminder of a still very active Earth.
Inside the circular museum, one walks past display after display of the mounted fossils that make up a rich catalog of extinct fauna that once roamed the Los Angeles area. The tar pits (in their time) captured every kind of organism, from the truly stupendous Columbian Mammoth to delicate dragon flies. All of the La Brea fossils show the distinctive chocolate patina of their time in the tar. There are sloths, mastodons, condors, ancient buffalo, horses, sabre-toothed cats and dire wolves. Lots and lots of dire wolves.
Did I mention there are lots of dire wolves? One of the more stunning displays is a lighted wall made up of row after row of dire wolf skulls. There could easily be a hundred of them, filling an entire wall, floor to ceiling. (Watch the informational videos in the two museum theaters, and you’ll learn that these skulls are only a hint of the bounty of fossils that continue to come from ongoing excavations on the site).
There are not dinosaurs, of course. The tar pits began their life-capturing career only forty-thousand years ago (which turns out to be an important time-span in the story of the extinction of much of North America’s megafauna). And though there is likely a connection between the arrival of humans on the continent and the subsequent extinction of these large animals, there has only been one human fossil recovered from the pits: a woman from about ten thousand years ago.
I can’t say enough nice things about this museum. It is a fine blend of location, collection and architecture. Everything one could want in a museum experience.
The Page Museum is located in central Los Angeles, right next to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (hint: if you’re planning to visit both, do The Page Museum first — LACMA is a vast and overwhelming campus of buildings and collections).
REVIEWS FROM THE REV: “The Great Divide: Nature and Human Nature in the Old World and the New” by Peter WatsonSunday, January 27th, 2013
This is a deeply interesting book. It is both a meditation upon — and a survey of — all that we know about the similarities and differences between the populations of humans that developed their cultures and societies in isolation from each other in the “Old” and “New” worlds.
Soon after humans migrated across the “Bering land bridge” into North America, that overland route was cut off by rising sea levels. And so the populations of North and South America were cut off from those of Europe, Asia and Africa for some 15,000 years (until the Spanish “discovered” the Americas). In this impressive book, Peter Watson takes the time to cast a clear eye on the ways in which the different conditions in the two worlds influenced the development of human civilizations, and the differences are dramatic.
Some of this ground has been covered by other authors, to be sure, but the value of this book lies in the synthesis of recorded history with the latest discoveries (which have been numerous, especially regarding ancient cultures such as the Incas). In short — the Old and New worlds were very different. The “old” had a broad east-west configuration, allowing the rapid spread of peoples, technologies, crops and ideas. They also had the horse, and a wide range of useful domseticable animals. The “new” world ran north and south, with a wide range of elevations, from mountains to ocean beaches, across a broad range of latitude. Domesticated plants, therefore, were limited in their range. They also had the llama as their only work animal — no ox or horse to pull a plow or to ride from village to village.
But added into this mix is the remarkable fact that some 80 percent of the worlds hallucinogenic plants occur in the new world. In addition, South America, especially, was subject to much more extreme weather and geologic events during this historic period: hurricanes, El Nino events, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. Put this all together and you have one world where the gods seemed to be perpetually angry, and another where they were somewhat benign. The ramifications for ritual and society were dramatic.
I won’t spoil the end of the story, but it gives one a truly useful perspective on how human society has developed into the teeming, technologically astute and religious confederation we experience today.
This is a dense book — it took me some time to read it. But it was worth the time for the knowledge it gave me.