Monday, August 6, 2012

We are Extraordinary

We are extraordinary creatures. Formed from chemicals that can only be created by the unimaginable pressures and temperatures at the heart of dying stars, endowed with the power to detect our world in various ways that have been developing for hundreds of millions of years. The perceptive powers of our senses are limited compared with large numbers of animals, and we do not have at all some senses that other animals have, and yet these powers, though not the greatest among life forms, are extraordinary enough. That a bunch of chemicals can combine, reproduce, be aware of themselves and process information about the world around them is in fact so remarkable that we cannot even begin to understand it. Science accepts that some things just are.

Yet we can describe how the world works from what we can perceive. We can conceive means to make things easier to understand, we can imagine models that allows us to perceive things with the mind that are beyond the perception of our bodily senses, we can probe the invisibly small and interpret the unimaginably distant, and we can grasp how this affects us, and our place within it.

When I say we, I mean a small number in the most extreme cases, and a larger number who have a more general understanding. I once clung by my fingertips to the coattails of this last group, but it doesn't matter one way or the other. The fact that I share a species with such people is quite something.

We are extraordinary. Why do so many of us choose to be not even ordinary?


Sackerson said...

"The eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility" - Einstein.

CIngram said...

And as usual, he was right. But it is only comprehensible to us, perhaps because only we can frame the questions. On the other hand, it must have some form of order, some stablility to be identified, or we couldn't exist at all.

Vincent said...

I don't know what you're saying in your last paragraph, but it sounds vaguely disparaging.

We are extraordinary compared with whom or what? What does it mean to be not even ordinary? How is it possible to know what "so many of us choose"? What do you mean by "why"? I don't imagine you are asking some reader of your blog to explain the processes whereby "so many of us" make choices in their lives. It's more like a rhetorical "why?"

I get a vague sense that you are despising some people, whom you see as a numerous group with common characteristics, on the grounds of their failure to understand, from some kind of analytical scientific perspective, how extraordinary we are for having the power to describe how the world works, and grasp unimaginable things with our imaginations.

CIngram said...

Hmm. It was meant as an exhortation, and was intended to be positive and encouraging. Clearly the spirit in which I wrote it got lost in the drafting somewhere.

But we are extraordinary, in that we are, uniquely among animals, able to wonder who and where we are, how it all works, and to find a surprising number of answers. It wasn't my intention to be disparaging or contemptuous in the last sentence, but I do find it frustrating, personally frustrating, when I see people who have no interest in the questions or the answers, and little or no interest in making more of themselves than they absolutely have to.

It's not a matter of understanding everything, but of being inspired by the fact that it can be understood by, at least some, human minds. The great mass of people will go to their graves unaware of and unconcerned about what they might have been. They may well be happier for it, but to someone who tries to form minds and characters for a living, and who is fascinated by the world around him, I find it frustrating.

Vincent said...

Thanks for the clarification! We see things completely differently. To me, there is built into every living creature, animal and vegetable, and doubtless pervading the mineral world too, a potential for partaking in the One, the universal consciousness. With your knowledge of Sanskrit you have doubtless got to know lots of terms in that language which refer to it - Brahman etc. But for me I don't bother with the Upanishads and so forth any more.

The way I see it - and this goes way off on a limb, probably, in the opposite direction from Indian philosophy - this so-called Crown of Creation is the furthest of all from being aware of the One. As we go up the chain through mammals, higher mammals, homo sapiens, our ability to maintain a simple connection to the One gets harder and harder. I think that for a slug, it is effortless. I've been to a place where they look after severely brain-damaged children. I'm pretty sure one was in a state of bliss which radiated out to her carers.

So I might be as frustrated as you about wasted lives, but see the benchmark as utterly different.

And when I talk about the One, it's just a way to speak of it, and not based on any scripture or school of mysticism; only my own way of seeing myself in the world.

CIngram said...

It's a completely different way of seeing the world. You see intelligence, or consciousness, as separating us from... whatever it is our spirit reaches towards. I see it as essential to recognising our nature and purpose*, though I have no idea how to get there.

Indian literature is full of characters who embody qualities that give them inner peace. It has not taught me how to achieve it myself, though. I think it's partly that many practices are arid and symbolic, a form of magic, rather than leading in themselves to the end they seek.

*that word shouldn't be treated as anything more than an attempt at a label for something I can't otherwise name.