Please have a look at what will hopefully be an excellent initiative, in raising awareness.
As one imagines the good exerted into an abstract form, so it bends, warps and coagulates into multitudinous dimensions. It sets, quivers and becomes a coherent structure. The medium however does not matter as beauty – the projection of the good – is solidified. Thus, when it enters one’s ears, that most noble of openings, it allows itself to press its fingers into the mind, bracketed off by the skull of impertinence. It reaches and tugs away at the transgressions one affirms through the reality of discord – because noise is nothing but notes that have yet to be notated. Thus, gathered up, the different noises of the world are set to a horizon of beauty and the dawn of comprehension sets their shadows racing. This is the pleasure of harmonies, chord-progressions, off-beats, time-signatures. If the ultimate place of beauty, some Utopia in an abstract domain, had gates it surely would have to be opened by singing into its locks; if the grounds were paved, they would be covered the most beautiful sound in the world: the harmonised, human voice. As the hands of music close our eyes and touch our lips and enter our veins to pump the heart of the good, so it begins to let our feet walk on a path toward the numinous. A path and never a destination. The pleasure of music is that it might be our universe squeezed into a fist of comprehension, sifted into the auditory nerves, and thus made manifest in the smile and tears that creep across our face as the final chord rings.
Taking matters into their own hands finds another meaning here. We are presented with the “findings” (i.e.: arbitrary assumptions) of a palm-reader who has looked at the (photographs of) hands of Jacob Zuma and Hellen Zille. Chiromancy or palmistry is a side-show failure of extravagance because there are no crystal-balls, beautiful Tarot cards or the wonderful Norse futhark, carved into almond-branches. Instead, these “readers” use people’s hands to divine the gullible’s past, present, future problems and failures, dreams and successes. All divination has yet to prove itself as a scientific fact and is strangely resistant to normal procedural methods of deciding whether they are even 75% accurate. Now, when we are approaching a new dawn in the country’s history, we are left holding candles and making faces out of shadows. We need to turn on the light and point out the problems with reason and open eyes, not magic cards and fake readings.
Let me highlight the problems with palm-reading. I believed for two or three years that I could read palms. I sincerely believed I was able to “see” that their heart-line indicated a predilection for hard men; the head-line indicated a false belief in their own potential; their Mount of Venus showed they had a soft interior masked by a shell of quick anger. And this divination was after I had used and dealt with the Norse runes as an alternative to Tarot cards, which I thought was too complicated for me.
I remember many incidents which spurned me on. Several times, when speaking to someone who comes to you with the mindset of “This person knows a mysterious art. They can tell me something about myself” they are easily impressed. (Type “cold-reading” into Google and you should be on your way to winning people over, easily. It is not something I am particularly proud of looking back.) People would be crying on my shoulder, male and female; people would laugh easily at finding out something: “You have a wonderful sense of humour which you struggle to show and thus appears to not even be there. But it does sometimes arise.” (Notice, you say x [you have a sense of humour] and then you immediately justify it with not-x [you do not show your sense of humour]. You can’t go wrong)
People thanked me and informed me weeks later how accurate I was.
I felt happy to be helping people.
But of course, its all nonsense. The truth is that people want to talk about themselves, they need a neutral person to just be sensitive to their existence and acknowledge it. They need a critical eye to see that their body-language indicates they are introverted, their shifting eyes indicates their need to speak, their arms want to be held. It is very easy and all incredibly normal. There is nothing fantastical or magical about it, except that we all have a disposition to being told by someone else what to do about ourselves. We love to be told something unique about ourselves, we love to hear that we are central to some cosmic plan in which we fit like a puzzle-piece.
But palmistry, like all forms of divination, is false. It has never (and, I predict, will never) yield any positive results and there is no scientific reason at all to associate the hands and the lines with anything to do with your life. (Be worried that on this WikiHow page, it says: “Do not be fooled by people who say palm-reading is for entertainment purposes only. There is scientifically-substantiated evidence of correlation between palm features and psychological traits.” There is no link to these scientifically verifiable results)
Here are a few reasons for it being at the least unlikely and at the most incredibly stupid.
1. The Problem of Imposition/Connection
Like astrology, palm-readers can not tell you how the lines are connected to one’s life. They simply are. This is a human imposition on a neutral object in nature: it is, what we call in psychology, a false-positive. False-positives are the basis for all superstition: All us animals are programmed by evolution to be statisticians. For example, BF Skinner (a name I know most of my fellow psychologists hate given his complete dismissal of the inner workings of the mind) called the actions of responding to a false-positive “superstition”. He saw it in his pigeons, when they reacted to a random event which just happened to coincide with the falling of a food pellet. Thus, let us say the pigeon banged her wing against the glass and a food pellet fell. Perhaps the pigeon does it again and this time, by pure luck, the pellet fell again. To the pigeon, bang glass with wing results in reception of food.
But there is no causal connection between the banging of the glass and the food pellet. It is simply the pigeon imposing its own association on to neutral and unconnected objects.
Hence, the imposition of our desires on to distant planets and stars; the imposition of meaning into cards, hands, runes, books, words and rituals. Most people have a “lucky charm” or a “lucky tie”, which when they utitlise it, resulted in very good things in the past. Indeed, I still believe a certain song is my good-luck song with the full knowledge that there is no association between listening to a random song and events in my life going well. It helps us feel grounded, but it is an offshoot of our incredible brains coagulating the chaotic world around us, into a coherency from which we can comprehend our and its existence. It is how we survive. But superstition is its dark-side.
Our ancestors appear to have been the ones who held false-positive beliefs (believe there is a connection when there is no connection). They were the ones who saw lions in the shadows and snakes in the trees. Sure, there might not have been any snakes or lions, but they ran away and restricted access to such areas. The ones who had false-negative beliefs (believe no, hence negative, connection when there is a connection) ignored the rustle in the branches and the tapping of claws in the darkness and simply thought it to be nothing. Then, of course, they were killed by the mamba or mawled by the lion. Naturally, those who were more cautious – to the point where they were cautious about things that were not even there – were the ones most likely to survive, and therefore breed. And we are the progeny of such disclosure.
2. The Hands Themselves
Hands change. They get calloused, lose fingers, lines extend and change. This does not repudiate palm-readers claims. In fact, it strengthens their position. They can point to a human and say, we change all the time. So do our hands. Therefore, because they both change, we can read the latter to decide on the former.
But this is false. Firstly, as I indicated in the previous point, the connection between our hands and our lives is simply a psychological imposition we have garnered from our ancestral mindsets. How are they connected and how can we test that connection actually exists?
Secondly, just because x changes and y changes too, doesn’t mean that they can say anything about the other. That is a false connection. That is simply using the word “change” loosely. Hands change physically; whereas people change psychologically, physically, emotionally, etc. Palm-readers will smile and nod and say: “Yes, but all those emotional changes become physical changes on the palm. They are like diary-entries: they indicate the change and we can read it as such.”
The problem with this explanation is that it is unfalsifiable. This is the most terrible of all positions to be in, since, according to scientific methodology, we must be able to postulate what position, idea, opinion or action needs to arise to refute the claim. Popper said: “A theory that explains everything, explains nothing” – which is why Intelligent Design creationism can not be a science. To many people, it shows that it is a good thing that a position is unfalsifiable, since you can not show it to be wrong. But one can create all manner of unfalsifiable claims which are blatantly not true. For example, as you are reading this there is a little purple man standing on your left – who only appears to you. If you look he will appear on your right. If you look there he will be back on your left, etc. It is impossible to see him. I have just made this up, but it is unfalsifiable. You can not postulate recording since he does not appear in cameras, other people can’t see him… One can see how ridiculous this is and similarly, it is ridiculous for all such positions which are unfalsifiable. Hence, why we do not include it as a position viable in philosophy and science.
Palm-readers can create all manner of reasons and no two palm-readers will give you the same in-depth result. No doubt many palm-readers will all agree in saying general things about you: “You are sensitive, you are kind, you are nice, etc.” but that is something nearly anyone can discern with proper body-language and attention skills. When they come down to the finger details, we can almost guarantee that no two palm-readers will agree. There is a reason why no large group of astrologers, when they are tested, have ever agreed that the blank profile matches the same Zodiac sign. Whilst the profile belongs to a Gemini, for example, all the astrologers will see the profile as something different.
Why? Because it is a human interpretation, much like their judgments of music (I do not think that we should lessen the aesthetic appreciation for beauty to the banal notions of subjectivity. For a beautiful discussion on beauty, see Roger Scruton’s Beauty). The major difference is that they could be wrong, since the specific profile matches a specific person who was born in early June, and is therefore – according the astrologers’ own charts – a Gemini. Similarly, with palm-reading. One palm-reader might call you an “air” hand – meaning light, sensitive and warm – whilst another might call you an “earth” hand – hard, deep, pragmatic. Complete opposites according to the “lore” of palm-readings.
3. Why Palm Reading is Specifically Different from Other Divinations
A major reason why palm-reading is a bit more effective is the human touch. Unlike Tarot cards or astrology, palm-reading actually invites the reader to physically touch the person. The body-part is itself the object of divination, rather than a card or ball. Our brains ignite in a maelstrom of connections when we are touched by someone. Consider how we react when someone who we might be interested in, a beautiful woman for example, touches us. However, consider our reaction to that same person if they have betrayed us, in a deeply scarring way. We feel revolted or uncomfortable – yet that same person’s touch bathed us in a glow of wonder not so long before.
When it comes to palm-reading, both sides are at an advantage for the palm-reader. For himself, he is able to feel tiny movements in the person’s hands. Do they immediately hold his hand? Do they flinch? The touch also allows the person to be more open to the palm-reader, especially when they begin to relax their hands in the other person’s. The human touch, the acquiescence to touch, is an acknowledgement of trust. Thus, we allow all manner of private thoughts to drip out in bright clarity for sensitive readers. You can see it when you grab hold of your lover’s hand – watch how their voice changes slightly when they speak to you, watch how they calm down, if they are angry about someone or something. Or, if you try and touch them, they might recoil which also indicates something. The human touch is very powerful and is a gateway to understanding other people. There is a reason we shake hands – notice, next time you shake someone’s hand, whether their grip is firm or loose, and how they engage with you following their strength.
For this reason, palm-reading is deceptively good at opening the closed gates of other people. The human touch, like a key, opens those gates – whether to reveal acquiescence or to allow immediate recoil. Both reactions however are tell-tale signs which are easily discernible.
To get to the in-depth analysis of the Argus article, itself, however, will have to wait till next time. That should be fun…
It seems my previous article has been put here, but with different (and worse) language. I imagine the language is worse because it appears to be a translation, which was then translated back into English. This has been happening a lot – i.e. people copying my posts in full, without my persmission. I don’t have a problem with it, I just would like to be asked first, and only if it has the same bloody sentences! I have asked the person involved to please contact me. I am not upset, just annoyed. I at least am happy that my article was liked enough to be copied!
My friend, Rodrigo Neely, has elucidated on his concept of love. The thing about Rodrigo is this: he is not only brilliant in his thinking but is unashamedly a better writer than yours truly. That should sound highly insulting to one whose prime source of life is English, in practice and focus and exposition, and has no secondary language to fall back on. Rodrigo, not only speaks English as another language, but writes it better than I could hope to.
I recall a post of his from The Edger (when it was still active – now it’s being renovated) which to this day sends shivers down my spine. We have supported each other during various outbreaks of emotional responses from colleagues, defending each other where appropriate. Oh and yes – he is also good-looking but beside the point here, ladies (and um gents).
Being a psychologist – well at least having a small degree in it – I was delighted that he had delved into evolutionary psychology. Of course it has had a somewhat sordid history of predicting everything from drinking milkshakes to why suicide bombers are most likely to be Muslim that somewhat taints this exciting field of inquiry. Rodrigo knows all this, saying as a disclaimer to a talk he delivered and citing the late Stephen Jay Gould: “we [must not] over step the predictive power of evolutionary psychology.” So my echoes of inquiry find a ripple in his trajectory of knowledge and thus our horizons have become eclipsed by the same value and honesty in our dawning enterprises.
However, the one area we seem to differ – by the end I hope to show we do not – is our view of love. Not only am I against marrying for love, I am against relationships based solely on love. I find pure love – or what it commonly known as romance – to be an insult to our sensibilities. Thus far, I hope most people can agree with me. There are as many definitions of love as there are positions in the Kama Sutra (so I have heard), but let me outline Rodrigo’s view of it.
His latest post is his synthesising of a naturalistic explanation with the poetical fomenting of an archetype. I much agree with his definition:
I have come up with a basic definition of love. This definition is up for grabs, I am still working on it. My main inspiration is personal experience.
I believe love is the hyperactivity of the nucleus accumbens deep in the limbic system of your brain. This is the same part of the brain employed by heroin, and other delightful addictions.
What I propose this feels like is a great joy and fascination with the other person.
The immediate critique this meets is that I am not describing love but infatuation.
I believe, as a die hard naturalist, this is a false dichotomy.
What people call infatuation is love unsustained.
Steven Pinker, in How the Mind Works, says that we should find someone to be with who is genuinely interested in us emotionally. Why? This is perhaps the most genuine form of affirmation, since there is no way to force one to fall in love with another. The fact that it is based on a very strong emotion indicates that this person really does like you for you. We should avoid people who love us for specific things – similarly, we should not say we are “in love” when we only like someone because she is, say, blonde and gorgeous. That would, according to Rodrigo’s definition be infatuation. As the great H.L. Mencken said:
[A man] succumbs to a pair of well-managed eyes, a graceful twist of the body, a synthetic complexion or a skillful display of legs without giving the slightest thought to the fact that a whole woman is there, and that within the cranial cavity of a woman lies a brain, and that the idiosyncrasies of that brain are of vastly more importance than all imaginable physical stigmata combined.
As previously stated, this is the opposite end of the spectrum. Somewhere in the middle lies the kind of love worth wanting: not premised on loving for specific characteristics but the skeletal framework itself which blooms these flowers of wonder we love to pluck and smell. At the other end of the spectrum – which might be considered a spectrum of rationality with all its iridescence throbbing like a pumped up rainbow – lies one that is too rational.
This is where I find myself.
Yates famously said that: “People who are sensible about love are incapable of it.” But what he means by sensible is not the colloquial use of correct judgment. What he means are those who are careful, tentative and judge according to the basis in reason. As previously said, the reason this is not the correct methodology for judging a partner is it removes the authenticity that arises from judging their emotional connection. It is this which is hard to fake and, if true, shows they love us for being us – not aspects which they can tick off that says “This will make a good partner”.
Please note, however, that many people can easily “fake it” and we will all usually come across this at some point in our lives. The greatest pain is realising that what we thought was love from the other person was not, yet our knot tying the bridge to him or her was. Watching it fray is a terrible thing but is bound to happen to us.
So the two ends of rational perspectives remain: either we are infatuated (we are enamoured by specific traits of the person, thus we have a crush or infatuation) or we are robotic (this person fulfills these requirements, therefore she is fine to mate and be with as a partner). Both are wrong. Suspended between both is the desirable position. This does not repudiate loving small things about your partner: I, for example, am fascinated by my partner’s eyes. I find eyes incredible but find hers to be bewitching in their power. And we can be glad they compliment aspects of ourselves: I am not a very attractive individual, whilst she is and has better social skills than myself. Perhaps they embody aspects we hope to attain: friendliness, charm, and so on. By being with them, it makes us more rounded individuals to learn how they are charming (at least according to our own standards). Since we know their movements and body better than most other’s, we can learn faster from them. (No doubt, all those with an evolutionary-ready mind are already picking up on the advantages of such a relationship).
Why then do I disagree with Rodrigo?
It is mainly along these lines, in which Rodrigo writes:
But even relationships between those who are responsible and kind sadly collapse. They fall as the two people cannot find the long lost yearning they once felt for each other. They search their dendritic forest inside their head and can find nothing that lights the torch.
The … torch is the state of being in love with the other person.
It assembles all the wonderful ecstasy you have known with this person who you have at one time enjoyed so much that they aroused all of your greatest instincts from antiquity. Your very genes sang their name inside your body.
To make love last with a precious being who beckons you, you must understand that the fuel for great intimacy in joy is … stored within your memories.
Here Rodrigo appears to be saying we must focus on the memory of various things, our own past, their past, to rekindle the flame long lost. By remembering – and perhaps he means reiterating the emotions which lead to be enamoured – we light the emotions so that they burn us enough to ignite the shadows which underpin the relationship. This makes sense, but my disagreement lies in what I think should be the goal: To allow the relationship to evolve so that it no longer needs the spurring of first emotions. The relationship must fuse into the lives of the two people, such that it is no longer a matter of working out how to feel that way again but that the feelings have being diluted to work with the stream of everyday reality. Indeed, it seems that if we have to rekindle the love from the past – itself a ghost, tied to the future by a stake through the heart – it seems suspicious of the authenticity Rodrigo, myself and Pinker are advocating.
Also, I am suspicious of love for romantic reasons since it leads to deluded notions of sanctity, in marriage and the conception of children. I think both marriage and the creation of more people are mistaken enterprises and very poor reasons for wanting a long-lasting relationship. With the guiding hand of our partner, we should be learning how to help our fellow humans better, not how to create more (for the latest in the anti-natalist position, see Professor Benatar’s brilliant and mostly misunderstood Better Never to Have Been); we should be learning how to spread the wonder we have for the person we love, onto the universe and our species as a whole.
Now, don’t even get me started on romantic “literature” and movies… Can someone honestly be true to themselves and enjoy those insults to human sensibilities?
The Indelible Stamp
When words can not do, consider breathing. When you breathe in, it begins one of the most complex, beautiful and structured events to occur throughout the known universe. As air passes through your nostrils, the elimination of harmful excesses begins. It is a tough agent who is able to survive your body’s display of your immune system. After the air has passed through your nostrils, filtered by tiny hairs and mucus, it passes down into your throat. It then travels down into your lungs, caged behind your ribs. There your lungs fill like balloons. Blood is oxygenated – which attaches energy to blood cells to deliver it to every part of your body. The chemical reactions that take place, on even a microscopic level, would fill several blackboards of any chemistry lab. Yet this is happening right now, while you read this.
I have used words but words can do little justice to the intricate net of complexity, which begins its first stitching when we breathe. This is how we know we are alive. Strange as it may seem this is the answer to one of the biggest questions we face as conscious entities: “How do I know I’m alive?” Biologically the answer is: “You are breathing.”
But that does not make it fulfilling or all-encompassing of this question. Consider the Meaning of Life: in this same way the meaning of life is to pass on your genes. I do not find either of these answers satisfactory. I would never reply with “to breed” – even though this is the correct answer. I might not use this, but maybe some sexually active people might. Does this mean they are living more fulfilling lives than the rest of us? No. In fact it is, more often than not, quite the opposite.
Life and its mysteries are not dispelled by chemical equations and biology, or philosophy and religion. As Darwin said “there is a grandeur in this view of life”, viewing it through the wonder that science and open-mindedness afford. I can not sway you to accept science or naturalism as opposed to religion or supernaturalism. As I said, words can not do. But we have to ask, are we not awed at our existence through the discoveries of science? As opposed to the gibbering, slavish, pestilential existence that is so depraving on display, as grown men and women supplicate themselves before an invisible god. What monotheist god lavishes in carnal human exhibitions, as opposed to demanding us to cover our bodies, never speak of sexual doings, to shroud women from head-to-toe? Where is the humanity in feeling sickened by what makes us human, where is the humanity in hating the only gateway we have with this world, our world?
Humanism entails nothing supernatural to its tenets. We are dealing with the Here, the Current, The Brief Spotlight we have on this world. And we are unique in how we deal with that spotlight. Sir Peter Medawar (1) considers humans the only species to live in the spotlight, with a consideration for what occurred in the darkness of the past and the darkness of the future and we should not be wasting our brief time in the spotlight of the present.
And it certainly is brief. Our longing for something more, something intrinsically beyond our conception but which touches us at so-called “divine moments” is perfectly natural. But natural does not mean good. The leaves of plants are natural and there is a misconception regarding it to be healthy, or worse, good for us. Plants are a form of life – they don’t want to be eaten. To suppose that plants are healthy or good for us intrinsically is to give into the homocentric – the opposite of humanist – notion that something occurring naturally in the world is created for our pleasure. No it is not. Plants have poisons and toxins and thorns precisely to ward off groping fingers. Natural is not good: Cancer is natural, myopia is natural, but that is not necessarily a good thing.
Humanism then does not deny the numinous and transcendent (2), in fact as a humanist I’m trying to inspire it. But instead of directing our awe at something invisible, we should direct it at something beautiful. Even gazing at the incredible flagellum of Escherichia coli is enough to make any decent person pause. As I stated in an article for Skeptic (3), humans should feel ashamed at their pathetic form of transport: putting one foot in front of the other – when compared to E. coli’s powerful motors thrusting its way toward food. We fade into a monotone of ability when faced with the power of a micro-organism: creating propellers, make-shift cities that can destroy and travel, the ability to destroy hundreds of people by being inside their body. But don’t stop there: consider scientists using E. coli to create smart-drugs that can fight cancer as the cancer changes; consider it being the first organism to have its genes isolated. In fact, it is a minority of people on this planet who don’t have E. coli in their gut protecting them this instant (4).
And humans? Take a moment to look at the power of micro-organisms and reflect: It is humanity who are the slaves, not those bacteria who live in us. In fact, we could not live without most of that bacteria. My question is actually incorrect. I shouldn’t say “humans” – because if we took a measurement of DNA throughout our body, most of it would not be human. The question is actually this: where do these bacteria inside end and we begin?
1. Medawar, P.B. & J.S. (1977) The Life Science. London: Wildwood House.
2. I am averse to the word “spiritual” as it has too many connotations. But the idea is still similar.
3. Moosa, T. (2008) ‘Darwin’s Tiny White Box’ in Skeptic, Vol. 14 (3)
4. Zimmer, C. (2008) Microcosm: E coli and the new science of life. London: William Heinemann.
Humanism and the Need for Wonder
What makes us human? What simply outlines and describes a human being? Whilst I would love to delve more into this, it is not the focus. Rather my point is this: The fact that we can pose such a question is itself something to be awed about. We like to think, arrogantly, we know what “intelligence” is, what “stress”, what “being human” is. We struggle with these concepts all the time. And I find John and Mary Gribbin’s answer the most correct, in their book of the same name: “Being human simply means being one of a variety of animal on planet Earth.” (1)
So should humanism rather be considered along the lines of PETA – that bizarre organisation that has turned into a cult? Why don’t we consider people when we fight for animal rights? We know through evidence that we are animals. There is no ‘seat for the soul’ or any form of Cartesian dualism, through which a spirit can slither and take residence. We are animals – of this there can be no doubt. If you doubt me, investigate our closest cousins, chimps. Helping, sharing, caring all linger alongside warfare, brutality and conquest (2). Our genetic makeup matches theirs 99.8% – the genes are of course exactly the same. People have a hard time realising their cousins are not just swinging from tree to tree but are those daffodils underneath too. That all life on earth reproduces essentially the same way is testament to the awe-inspiring realisation that we are all related. Not just us humans but yourself and your favourite goldfish, plant or flower.
Thus: What separates us from the chimpanzees, animal rights groups are trying to “save”? David Attenborough asked this, too:
Man has credited himself with several talents to distinguish him from all other animals. Once we thought that we were the only creatures to make and use tools. We now know that this is not so: chimpanzees do so and so do finches in the Galapagos that cut and trim long thorns to use as pins for extracting grubs from holes in wood. Even our complex spoken language seems less special the more we learn about the communication used by chimpanzees and dolphins.(3)
It is these sorts of realisations that science affords which spurn people toward more supernaturalist ideologies. We might refer to these as Unweaved Rainbow Realisations, after Keats’ charge against Newton. Once people’s rainbows have shattered into a thousand tinkling shards of painful truth, they are more inclined to seek other, more industrious rainbows (4). Rainbows up in the sky dictating our births (astrology); rainbows too complex for science to demolish (god, theology and the meanings of ‘holy’ books); rainbows that disguise themselves as valid (creationism and intelligent design); and rainbows, which once tasted, heal and help (homeopathy, crystal healing, angel-therapy). The pots of gold, though illusions, are still enticing. People’s yearning for beauty, meaning and wonder are a thirst for the numinous. And, like a man denied water in a desert, the illusion can still be as enticing as the actual: A mirage is no less enticing for not being true.
How then are we to promote humanism in the teeth of “rainbows”? Even by postulating science we seem to tread on our own toes: through science we appear to reduce humanity to simply being animals. There appears to be nothing “special” about us. And science trumps rainbows again and again. Humanity’s flight from reason is beginning to sound like the blur of jet-engines. Science’s answers are breed and breathe, not helpful in defining meaning.
And in the face of this, we know people would choose mirages over empty sand. But why do people choose superstition again and again? Science appears to make life dull, meaningless and utterly worthless. As I’ve said and as is my main point: science does in itself give no answer. It is a tool to discover the world and universe. It is the most powerful tool – so powerful that we have established facts that are true throughout the universe. No superstition can make such a bold claim and justify it.
But with all its power and beauty, science appears to dissolve humans from their core into lifeless husks pushed and manipulated by bacteria and a fragile brain. As Bertrand Russell put it at the beginning of What I Believe: “Man is a part of Nature, not something contrasted with Nature. His thoughts and his bodily movements follow the same laws that describe the motion of stars and atoms.”(5) People’s usual reaction is the sound of a rainbow shattering: No! I refuse to be scientifically measurable and subject to those same laws! I am special!
Yet, if we stop, if we breathe, if we ponder perhaps the rainbow reforms. Consider: a rainbow is no less beautiful in that we know it is a mixture of light and condensation. And life is no less beautiful, miraculous or awe-inspiring just because we are subject to physical laws. In fact we are not subjects, we are discoverers. The word “law” implies prescriptive, whereas Natural Laws are descriptive as the sky is blue. You can not defy gravity, deny germs. That is part of Natural Laws. Understanding these Laws has helped us create a better society (we have eradicated smallpox through our understanding of natural laws, to name a small example; we are able to make crops that help billions of chronically poor thanks to people like the great Nobel laureate Norman Borlaugh).
Yes. We are subject to the same descriptive equations that fit anything. If there is one human here and another human there, that makes two humans. Descriptions do not make it any less amazing that we are around to calculate such a simple matter! I find it incredible that I am “obeying” the same Laws as a entire planets and powerful stars (from where we all came in the first place).
I find that my connection to the universe is there, literally written in the stars. I do not want to be above the world I want to be part of it. I do not want to be some special being observing animals, I want to be part of a great animal kingdom myself. That we have touched the moon, the stars, the sky, that we all have loves, hates, fears, is testament to our need to belong. We all want to belong to something higher or greater than us – the aspirations for the numinous, by traversing the paths of rainbows – but I think humanism finally launches hooks to pull those rainbows down. Like a great sheet it must tumble. We must bring ourselves back down to earth.
We need only grasp that we are here, alone and dependant upon each other for this to work. Though the rainbows are beautiful, we must not forget they are still people. Whether you see a rainbow or a mixture of light and condensation, we are the same. We want to belong and there is nothing better to belong to than that great ape: Homo sapiens. We must eradicate the fear that science destroys the numinous and show it inspires the grandest connection of all: We are connected to the stars, the planets, the galaxies. All of us. If there is anything greater to be connected to, I have not found it. And I will even make a prediction based on the stars: I do not think there will ever be anything greater than this concurrent connection. Rejoice in your belonging to the cosmos.
And don’t forget to breathe.
1. Gribbin, J. and Gribbin, M. (1998) Being Human. London: Phoenix Paperbacks.
2. I hate the term “going ape” – I find other apes to be more civil than most humans.
3. Attenborough, D. (1986) ‘The Compulsive Communicators’ in Life on Earth: A Natural History. London: Fontana Paperbacks, p. 302
4. Dawkins, R. (2006) Unweaving the Rainbow. London: Penguin.
5. Russell, B. (2001) What I Believe. London: Routledge