Once Upon a Time, I thought I knew Everything.

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The older I get, the less I know.  Isn’t it supposed to work the other way around?  A friend of mine, Jerry, gave me this quote from Bertrand Russell the other day “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”  The Greek philosopher Socrates was once proclaimed to the wisest man in the world. The day before he died, Socrates declared that he knew nothing.  On that same day, the Oracle at Delphi was asked “Who is the wisest man in the world?”  She replied “Socrates is the wisest man in the world.”  This was reported back to Socrates who said “When I was young, I knew everything but now I know nothing.”  The Oracle, who was never wrong, was asked “How can Socrates be the wisest man in the world when he knows nothing?” She replied “Only the wisest man in the world would know that he knows nothing and have the courage and humility to admit it.”

Facts

We go to school to learn many facts and figures.  We study history to learn the story of humanity, we study physics to learn the theory of the cosmos, we study biology to learn how animals grow and develop and we study science so we will know how the world really works.  We learn more and more and are coerced into theories and opinions and positions.  We become more and more certain that we are wiser and smarter.

The more degrees that are conferred on us, the smarter we are supposed to be.  If we are really smart, we begin to feel that all of these facts and data bits are not really helping us to understand the world.  The older most of us get and the more learned most of us become, the more we suspect that there are no truths to the world.  We begin to see that there are always truths behind the truths that we think we have found.  Our profundities become curiosities as we age until at some point they wither away and become obsolete.  How many theories have you seen that were proven wrong?  How many times have you had to eat humble pie because something you were absolutely positively sure about was proven conclusively wrong?

horrible face

I remember seeing a picture in the paper the other day of a man accused of sexually molesting a young girl.  He was accused of pedophilia and charged with a felony offense.  I took one look at the visage staring out of the paper at me and promptly proclaimed “If there were ever a guy who was a pedophile, he sure is.”  A few weeks later, a more complete investigation proved him completely innocent of all offenses and the young girl admitted that she made the story up for some unknown reason.  I was beyond having egg on my face.  You would think that at my age, I would have learned to avoid a rush to judgment.  I can make no excuses for my blatant stupidity.

Every few months, the media finds some new tragedy or murder case to focus on.  A few years ago it was the Trayvon Martin case.  It seemed that every day we were confronted with some new facts that supported a change in who the media wanted us to think was guilty.  Trayvon initiated the encounter.  Zimmerman initiated the encounter.  Trayvon provoked Zimmerman.  Zimmerman provoked Trayvon.  Trayvon was a good kid.  Zimmerman was a good guy loved by all of his friends.  Trayvon was a racist.  Zimmerman was a racist.

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Tapes, witnesses, photo enlargements, medical information, acoustic information, video tapes, the entire gamut was presented daily with one expert after another telling us what they think.   This same scenario plays itself out over and over again in the media.  The “crime of the century” has been replaced by the “crime of the week.”

Right Way

Each day regardless of what news we read or what cable show we watch, it appears we know more and more about less and less.  What are we doing here folks?  Are they looking for truth or are they selling papers?  Are we voyeurs to some weird witch hunt?  Are we taking sides so we can become right?  If so, we will truly have become a Roman Circus instead of a civilized society of laws and courts and presumptions of innocence until proven guilty.

If we can somehow get pass this media circus that pretends to convey the truth,  there are lessons that we need to learn.  If you remember the famous story Rashomon, you may realize that truth is often a matter of perspective and not hard cold facts.

Time for Questions: 

What can you help do to overcome the types of bias and prejudice that the media often promotes?  How can you avoid your own “rush to judgment?”  What does it mean to “judge not others, less you be judged yourself.”  How often do we see the mote in others eyes but ignore the pole in our own?

Life is just beginning.

“We live in a culture where everyone’s opinion, view, and assessment of situations and people spill across social media, a lot of it anonymously, much of it shaped by mindless meanness and ignorance.”  — Mike Barnicle

When the TRUTH Will Not Set You Free!  Part 1 of 3 Parts  

Dangerous-LiarsFor the next three weeks, I want to help us find the truth.  Truth has been said to be the most important element in our lives.  Truth is what everyone wants to find.  Thus truth should make a difference in the world, but does it?  We will examine some specific episodes in history in our search for the truth.  I have selected the following ten situations:

  1. The Trial of Socrates
  2. Slavery
  3. The Crusades
  4. The Inquisition
  5. The Extermination of Native and Indigenous Peoples
  6. Reign of Terror
  7. Scottsboro Boys
  8. The Holocaust
  9. The Khmer Rouge
  10. Roman Catholic Sex Abuse Scandals

What do they all have in common?  What does truth have to do with these injustices?  What truths did the perpetrators subscribe to that allowed these travesties of justice to happen?  What truths did the perpetrators fundamentally ignore?  Would the truth even have made a difference?  Are we more liable to listen to “truth” today or is it simply a fiction that we trot out to justify our prejudices, bigotry and murders.  Will it really set us free or is that simply another myth spread by the powerful to emasculate those with less power?  (Listen to in Search of the Truth  by Guy Sweens)

“Historical injustice is ubiquitous in human history. The origins of just about every institution relevant to human political life has a pedigree stained by injustices of various magnitudes. Slavery, genocide, mass expropriation of property, mass internment, indiscriminate killings of civilians and massive political repression are all depressingly familiar features of human history, both in the distant and more recent past.” —- Historical Injustice, Duncan Ivison, University of Sydney in Jon Dryzek, Bonnie Honnig, Anne Philipps (eds) Oxford Handbook to Political Theory (Oxford, OUP, 2006)

I want to briefly explore each of the above injustices.  I apologize for calling these injustices, they deserve a harsher more critical term that that.  For the victims of these “injustices” were slaughtered, maimed, mutilated, tortured, butchered, immolated, hung, gassed, poisoned, executed and stripped of all human dignity.  The words we can use to describe man’s inhumanity to man can never go far enough to convey the “truth.”  I debated whether to start the New Year of 2015 with such a heavy dose of misery and horror but perhaps it is better to start with some thought for creating a better world and recognizing the work that needs to be done.   We are told that all we need is the truth and the world will be a better place. We are constantly urged to seek the truth and to speak the truth.  But what is the truth and what can these injustices tell us about the truth?  Do you dare to see the truth?  Do you have the stomach for the truth?  I have ordered the above list in a rough chronological order.  Let us together examine each one of these horrors to see what truths were behind their execution.  For surely, one fundamental fact is that no human being acts without some truth.  Thus, you may be as curious as I am to see what truths the perpetrators had subscribed to in the implementation of these deeds.  Also, what were the truths that the victims subscribed to?

Keep in mind that we must give perpetrators the benefit of the doubt.  It is possible that they only thought they had the truth and that each of these injustices was not based on actual truth but an incorrect system of beliefs which we shall dutifully avoid calling lies.  Some might say that each of these injustices represented a lapse in truth.  If so, perhaps we can learn the real truth from looking at them more closely and finding out why there was a lapse.

Truth can be stated in a thousand different ways, yet each one can be true.Swami Vivekananda

These ten injustices range from the death of one man to the death of millions of men and women.  They include the deaths of people from every corner of the earth, every tribe that ever existed and every culture that was ever known.  That is a truth.  But I doubt it is the truth that we seek.  Before we proceed with this exploration, let me warn you.  You may find some truths that you do not want to hear.  What if each injustice in this list was the truth?  What would this tell us about human nature?  Could you look at your fellow human beings and live with this truth?  Do not despair yet, for at this point, I have presented no evidence to show that either truth or false beliefs were behind any of these inequities.  Perhaps, we shall find that truth had nothing to do with them.

But I suppose the most revolutionary act one can engage in is… to tell the truth.”  ― Howard Zinn,

The Trial of Socrates:

death of socratesSocrates, the wisest man in the world was tried in Athens, the world’s greatest democracy sometime around 400 BCE.  Socrates was tried for corrupting the minds of the Athenian youth.  The truth for Socrates was that he never taught anything (since he did not know anything) but he loved to ask questions to stimulate the thinking of other people.  Socrates was teaching Critical Thinking skills before they were popular.  The truth for his persecutors was that it was too dangerous for the young people of Athens to be questioning their elders.  Socrates did not mount a defense, did not hire canny lawyers, did not plead “not guilty by reason of insanity” and did not blame Athenian society for his plight.

“At first, they’ll only dislike what you say, but the more correct you start sounding the more they’ll dislike you.”   Criss Jami

Much to everyone’s chagrin, Socrates plead guilty as charged.  One might wonder what fears could have brought about the conviction of a man teaching other people to think.  Was it the potential fall of the Athenian Democracy or the current threats that leaders saw mounted to this democracy?  Was Socrates really a threat to democracy?  Is this possibly a truth we have not admitted in our own zeal to export democracy all over the world?  Truth:  Thinking is bad.  Truth:  Following orders is good.  Truth:  He who is in charge decides what is true.

Socrates was given a poison called hemlock and his last words were:  “Crito, we owe a rooster to Asclepius.  Please, don’t forget to pay the debt.”

“Everyone knows perfectly well what truth is – everyone except Pontius Pilate and philosophers.  Truth is the quality of being true, and being true is what some statements are. That is to say, truth is a quality of the propositions which underlie correctly-used statements.” — Bob Stone

Slavery:

slavery in IslamSlavery has existed since time immemorial.  Slavery was known in almost every ancient civilization, and society, including SumerAncient EgyptAncient China, the Akkadian EmpireAssyriaAncient IndiaAncient Greece, the Roman Empire, the Islamic Caliphate, the Hebrew kingdoms in Palestine, and the pre-Columbian civilizations of the Americas.  According to Wikipedia:   “Slavery is officially illegal in all countries, but there are still an estimated 20 million to 36 million slaves worldwide.   Mauritania was the last jurisdiction to officially outlaw slavery (in 1981/2007), but about 10% to 20% of its population is estimated to live in slavery.”

Many distinctions and definitions exist regarding types of slavery and conditions related to how slaves were and are still treated, bought and sold.   According to the U.S. State Department, 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year for the purpose of sex, servitude or pornography.  More than 70% are female and half are children.  Without going into the various categories of slavery, anyone with a smidgen of morality can see that all slavery is immoral and cruel.  But that is a truth for the slaves.  What was and is the truth for the slave owners and slave traders?

Truth:  We have a right to their labor and even bodies

Truth:  Slaves are inferior creatures and do not deserve to be treated as we would want ourselves to be treated.

Truth:  If it is my slave, you have no business telling me what I can do with his/her labor.

Truth:  My slaves may have had different ideas regarding these “truths” but their ideas do not count.

Truth:  Money made by slavery is more important than the morality of the trade.

“So our definition of truth needs to be much more flexible than Plato, Descartes and other philosophers claim. I would say that a pragmatic theory of truth is closest: that truth is the ‘thing that works’; if some other set of ideas works better, then it is truer.” — Andrew Warren

Will slavery ever come to an end?  Is there a truth to slavery that will enable all to see the inhumanity of it?  What about the truths that the perpetrators have?  Is their truth less valid than the truth of the slaves?  Does anyone care about the slaves’ truths?  Which truth is truer?  When will the truth arrive to set the slaves free?

“In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.”  ― Galileo Galilei

The Crusades:

From about 1100 CE to 1300 CE, Europe invaded the Mideast with the purported reason of securing the Holy Land for Christian pilgrims.  Some would say the real reason was conquest while others would say it was purely economic.  According to Wikipedia:

Pope Urban II promised forgiveness of all sins to whoever took up the cross and joined in the war.  While there were additional motivations for taking up the cross—opportunity for economic or political gain, desire for adventure, and the feudal obligation to follow one’s lord into battle—to become a soldier for Christ was to express total devotion to God.”

crusadeWhile I find the arguments for the wars intriguing, I am not as interested in the motives for conquest as I am in the truths that both sides, Muslims and Christians used in their massacres of each other.  As Ulysses S. Grant noted about the southern sharecroppers who supported the Civil War, it is curious that so many Christians could be induced to fighting for goals that had no material or even spiritual advantage for them.  Of course, one could argue that the “forgiveness” of sins was some type of spiritual advantage.  I would counter that there would have been easier ways to attain this goal rather than risking one’s life.  Did not confession as a Catholic sacrament exist in 1100 CE?  No, if there was a real reason for the crusades, I think as usual we will find it in the truths that motivated both sides.

Christians then and now believe that God is our God and not the God of Islam.  Allah is not Jehovah or Yahweh or I Am.  Allah is some foreign and heretical interpretation of the “real” god who belongs to Christians.  “Allah Be Praised” is not the same as “In God We Trust.”  Another truth is that Muslims had no right to the Holy Lands.  God (The Christian God) gave the Holy lands to the Catholics by way of Abraham, David and those other Jews who were known as the Israelites but who no longer existed back in 1100 CE.  Of course, Jews were scattered all over Europe but the world was not yet interested in regaining the Holy Lands for Jews.  In fact, in another one hundred years or so, we would start an institution to get rid of Jews and eliminate the heresy that was associated with Jewish beliefs (More on the Inquisition later).

So what truths motivated the Muslims to risk life and limb to protect the Holy Land and to stop the Infidels from regaining the center of Christian spiritual life?  I think the term “Infidel” easily answers this question.  Translated the word Infidel means:  “A Person who has no religious faith; an unbeliever.”  Thus, to many Muslims then and now, an unbeliever is a Christian or Jew who does not believe in Mohammed or Allah.  That is the Allah of Islam.  The truth to a Muslim is that Christians are unbelievers and not worthy of respect.  Of course, not all Muslims believe this.  Another motivational truth was that many Muslims in 1100 CE thought it was their land.  They were upset that French, Italian and German Knights thought that they somehow had a right to lands that had been occupied by Arabs since Ismael’s time.  The truth that “this is my land and not your land” has always been a powerful motivator for fighting (More will be said about this when we talk about the Extermination of Indigenous Peoples).

“Truth is not constant. Some beliefs which were held to be true are now considered false, and some for which truth is now claimed may be deemed false in the future, and vice versa. Truth is good for helping us decide how to act, because it serves as a standard for making some sort of sense of a world populated also by half-truths and untruths.”  —- Ray Pearce

The Inquisition:

Galloping on through history we now arrive at the Inquisition, another great idea to come from the Roman Catholics.  How can we stamp out lies, heresies and false truths?  Heresy can be defined as:  “My beliefs or truths are different from your beliefs or truths and since you have more power than I do, my beliefs are wrong and punishable.”   Solution:  Let’s inquire as to the beliefs that potential heretics (Jews, Cathars, Protestants, Muslims, Free Thinkers, intellectuals and many others) might have in respect to what are the true beliefs that we know are true.  Any suspects whose thinking deviates from our truth will be punished until they are repentant.

“Wherefore if forgers or money and other evil-doers are forewith condemned to death by the secular authority, much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, to be not only excommunicated, but even put to death. “Thomas Aquinas

Inquisition_torture_03This simple inquiry or Inquisition process was complicated by the unfortunate fact that people lie.   Solution:  We will need to torture them to tell the truth.  Complication:  people who are tortured will also lie and tell you whatever you want to hear.  (See the current US Senate Report 2014 on Torture).  Thus, the suspect is dammed if he tells the truth and dammed if he does not, since he won’t be believed in either case.  If he does tell his truth and it is not the right truth he will be burnt at the stake for being a heretic.  Solution:  Burn all suspected heretics no matter what they say.   Is it any wonder, so many people finally left the Old World and when they came to the New World wanted nothing to do with religion, the Pope or the Catholic Church?

“Discovering the truth will be a hurtful and painful experience when the facts or realities turn out to be different from what is expected. Yet there ought to be no grounds for despair if we accept that the ideal of truth, like all other virtues, can be approached rather than attained. This ideal truth can be glimpsed if we manage to be skeptical, independent and open-minded when presented with the supposed facts and realities.”  —- Ian Rizzo

The Extermination of Native and Indigenous Peoples:

Aborigines, Mayans, Native Americans (Indians), Eskimos, Tibetans, Incas, Ainus, Daurs, Bushmen.  All indigenous people.  All subjected to murder, famine and extermination by more powerful invaders who wanted their land or resources.  There is not an inhabited continent on earth where the indigenous people were not persecuted and their rights and even lives forfeit to the invaders.  There is not a time in history where such persecutions have not occurred. From the first historical records to the most recent news reports of mass tribal exterminations in various parts of the world, we see the truth.  The truth of the invaders and the truth of the exterminated though are not the same.

I have listed the Holocaust in a separate category of injustice.  Many historians would see the systematic genocide of the Holocaust as perhaps belonging in my category of Extermination.  We can add numerous examples of genocide to the above list.  The Bosnian Serb massacres, the Rwandan murders, the Armenian massacres, the Cambodian massacres might also fit in the Extermination category but in my scheme of things, I would include them in the Holocaust category since I believe and will show that they are based on a different set of “truths.”  The truths for the extermination of indigenous people as defined by the invaders are:

Truth:  They don’t need the land and stand in the way of progress.

Truth:  Might makes right.  Since we are mightier we can simply take their property.

Truth:  They will never fit in with our way of doing things.

This unfortunate race, whom we had been taking so much pains to save and to civilize, have by their unexpected desertion and ferocious barbarities justified extermination and now await our decision on their fate.”Thomas Jefferson

“The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians. Why not annihilation? Their glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced; better that they die than live the miserable wretches that they are.”L. Frank Baum (Author of the Wizard of Oz)

native_american_indian_six06Looking at the truth from the point of view of those due to be annihilated provides a different perspective on the truth.  We see the White truth that Indians are lazy, barbaric and that their culture stands in the way of progress.  A White truth is that the problems with Indian culture far outweighed any inherent value in their way of life.  They are immoral, cruel and uncivilized and worse they refuse to adopt the “White man’s ways.”  Heck, we gave them reservations, taught them to speak English, sent them to schools to learn to read and write and even sold them booze and now they have casinos.  Truth:  Nothing seems to make them happy.

However, the voices from Native Americans seem to present a different truth:

“Before our white brothers arrived to make us civilized men, we didn’t have any kind of prison. Because of this, we had no delinquents.  Without a prison, there can be no delinquents.  We had no locks or keys and therefore among us there were no thieves.  When someone was so poor that he couldn’t afford a horse, a tent or a blanket, he would, in that case, receive it all as a gift.  We were too uncivilized to give great importance to private property.  We didn’t know any kind of money and consequently, the value of a human being was not determined by his wealth.  We had no written laws laid down, no lawyers, no politicians, therefore we were not able to cheat and swindle one another.  We were really in bad shape before the white men arrived and I don’t know how to explain how we were able to manage without these fundamental things that (so they tell us) are so necessary for a civilized society.”  —John (Fire) Lame Deer, Sioux Lakota – 1903-1976

“I am poor and naked, but I am the chief of the nation. We do not want riches but we do want to train our children right.  Riches would do us no good.  We could not take them with us to the other world. We do not want riches.  We want peace and love.” — Red Cloud

Do Red Cloud’s words sound familiar?  Have you ever heard of a man named Jesus Christ who said:

“Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.” — Luke 6:30

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”  — Mark 8:36

“A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” — John 13:34

It would seem like Red Cloud knew more about the “true” teachings of Jesus then the thousands of Christian missionaries who went to Asia, Africa, South America, North America and elsewhere to teach the pagan barbarian primitives how to be good Christians before they were slaughtered.  Much merit to these missionaries since in the Christian theology, you cannot get to heaven unless you are baptized.  It would be simply awful if these indigenous peoples, whom we planned to rape, rob and murder could not get to heaven.  What do you suppose they will say to their murderers when the murderers arrive in heaven?  Egad!  I just had a terrible thought.  What if all the conquerors and murderers are going to hell?

Let’s wrap this up.  Thanks for your patience.  I never thought this blog would get this long. I suddenly realized it was almost beyond too long and I have decided to break it into two parts.  When I started this blog, it was as much an exploration for me as it may have been for you. I truly wondered if I would find the Truth.  I wondered if a clear set of precepts might emerge which would better help me to understand humanity and how we can allow such injustices to occur.

I thought that by exploring the worst injustices or at least a variety of the worst injustices in history, a light would inevitably shine on the Truth.  Everyone talks about the Truth.  Everyone says they are looking for the Truth.  We all know that the “Truth will set us free.”  Free from what though?  I am more confused than ever.  Thus, the search will continue next week.  You deserve the Truth, if you can handle it.  The problem seems to be in finding it.  In my next blog, we will look at the next five atrocities on my list to see if they will shed more light on the Truth.   We have invested too much time to quit our quest now.

“The truth that makes men free is for the most part the truth which men prefer not to hear.”Herbert Agar

Time for Questions:

Have you found the Truth?  What is your Truth?  What keeps us from the Truth?  Is there really a Truth to be found?  How do you know?  What if there was no truth?

Life is just beginning.

“We must pass through the darkness, to reach the light.”   ― Albert Pike

The Ninth Greatest Mystery of All Time:  What is Life?

lifePeculiar that question is!  Perhaps it is the most peculiar of all the mysteries.  Life is life is it not?  I am either dead or alive.  When I stop living my heart stops beating.  I stop breathing.  My mind dies.  Rigor mortis sets in and my limbs become rigid.  My body begins to decay — BUT STOP– We are describing death not life.

Life is joy.   Life is action.   Life is love.  Love is friendship.  Love is compassion.  Life is charity.  Life is pain and life is pleasure.  Life is complex and life is simple.  Life is toil and life is rest.

In the famous story Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, a number of graves are robbed to provide body parts for a scientific experiment.  The goal of the experiment is to create life.  The patched up body is connected to a bunch of electrodes which are connected to some electrical conductors that are fed by huge electric generators.  At some point in the experiment, the generators explode amidst a large amount of sparks and electrical charges.  Somehow this has the effect of giving life to the dead body which is subsequently named Frankenstein monsterFrankenstein after the scientist who created him.  Of course, a body that is stitched together with multiple body parts lacks a certain symmetry that is considered necessary for human beauty.  Thus, Frankenstein is labeled a monster since he does not conform to traditional norms in terms of his physical appearance.

It is interesting that we find electricity to be connected with life.  Atoms resonate at a certain speed and when they stop resonating death ensues.  If we can mix the right ingredients in a petri dish or a test tube (some call it primal soup) and then run an electric current through it, will we create life?  We have described life earlier but we did not really describe life.  What we described were the symptoms of life, the effects of life.  Animation as opposed to stagnation.  Life is movement.  Death is stillness.  But what is life itself?  What is that spark that we think is connected to an electrical current?

See http://whatislife.stanford.edu/LoCo_files/What-is-Life.pdf  — This is the famous lecture given by Erwin Schrödinger in 1943 at Trinity College in Dublin.

While we live, we defy the logic and order of the universe.  We defy entropy and we defy chaos.  We defy all the known laws of existence.  On this planet, third from the Sun in a not so unique solar system in one of a zillion galaxies in perhaps one of a zillion universes, life has sparked.  Was it electricity, solar energy, geothermal heat, magnetic waves, primal radiation, DNA or will power?  What was the key which created animation from inanimate matter?

Genetics pioneer J. Craig Venter announced Thursday that he and his team have created artificial life for the first time.  Using sequences of genetic code created on a computer, the team assembled a complete DNA of a bacterium, then inserted it in another bacterium and initiated synthesis, or in Venter’s words “booted up” the cell.  In a statement, Venter called the results “the proof of principle that genomes can be designed in the computer, chemically made in the laboratory and transplanted into a recipient cell to produce a new self-replicating cell,” controlled only by the synthetic genome.   Time.com: Scientist creates life.

So we have self-replicating computer cells, interesting but the snag is that they started with a living cell.  They created a new cell out of an already living cell.  Quite a feat but not the same as creating life.  If we are going to create life, it seems we must first find out what life is.  Philosophers, scientists, generals and theologians will all have a different definition of life.

Socrates:  Life is honesty. Life is integrity.  Life is the search for truth.  Life is understanding yourself.

Edwin Schrödinger:  Life seems to be orderly and lawful behavior of matter, not based exclusively on its tendency to go over from order to disorder, but based partly on existing order that is kept up.

General George S. Patton Jr.:  Better to fight for something than live for nothing.

St. Thomas Aquinas:  The soul is like an uninhabited world that comes to life only when God lays His head against us.

DNASeems kind of funny, that no one whether they are a philosopher or scientist can answer the question “what is life?”  Well, they actually do answer the question, but it really tells us little or nothing about what “life” is.  Is life some type of electricity, organic plasma, atoms with a soul, a spirit or the breath of God?  What magic elixir or unknown form of energy renders inert matter into something living, learning and loving?  We can create babies but we cannot figure out how life begins or where the will to live comes from.

“It is interesting that Hindus, when they speak of the creation of the universe do not call it the work of God, they call it the play of God, the Vishnu lila, lila meaning play. And they look upon the whole manifestation of all the universes as a play, as a sport, as a kind of dance — lila perhaps being somewhat related to our word lilt”  — Alan Wilson WattsZen and the Beat Way

I remember years ago (from biology) that it was thought that the smallest unit of life was the cell.  Bacteria were considered to be alive but viruses were in some kind of limbo.  I still don’t really understand this since viruses seem to be doing the same think humans do: Replicating, killing and dying.  Here is what they say about viruses:

Viruses, like bacteria, are microscopic and cause human diseases. But unlike bacteria, viruses are acellular particles(meaning they aren’t made up of living cells like plants and animals are), consisting instead of a central core of either DNA or RNA surrounded by a coating of protein.

Viruses also lack the properties of living things: They have no energy metabolism, they do not grow, they produce no waste products, and they do not respond to stimuli. They also don’t reproduce independently but must replicate by invading living cells.

cold-virus-virus-The above sounds like a reasonable argument to make that viruses are not “living” in the same sense that cellular creatures are.  Nevertheless, they replicate, die and seem to have some will to live or at least as much will as many humans have.  If we assume that the opposite of living is dead, viruses are certainly not dead.  If one were to ask what the “life force” in a virus was or what motivates a virus to take over another organism’s cells, one would have to know what creates life.  The same problem with defining the life force in humans applies to viruses.

“For about 100 years, the scientific c community has repeatedly changed its collective mind over what viruses are. First seen as poisons, then as life-forms, then biological chemicals, viruses today are thought of as being in a gray area between living and nonliving: they cannot replicate on their own but can do so in truly living cells and can also affect the behavior of their hosts profoundly. The categorization of viruses as nonliving during much of the modern era of biological science has had an unintended consequence: it has led most researchers to ignore viruses in the study of evolution. Finally, however, scientists are beginning to appreciate viruses as fundamental players in the history of life.”  — http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/are-viruses-alive-2004/

So, where does that leave us with the initial question “What is life.”  I think the answer must remain we don’t know.  Is it willpower?  Is it a germ that we have not found yet?  Is it some chemical that when mixed with something else creates animation and sentience?  Is it some mysterious force in the universe that we have not yet identified?  Why are animals alive and rocks dead?  Could this mysterious force create “living rocks.”

I promised an answer to the 12 greatest mysteries of all time when I started this series of blogs.  In each one to date, I have attempted to provide some sort of an death-07answer.  Until now, I was fairly happy with my responses to each question.  This ninth question has me stumped.  I cannot think of any place to find an answer.  What makes life for humans may not be the same thing that makes life for a virus or a bacterium.  Goats and dogs might have very different definitions of life but seldom write books or poems about their feelings.   We may someday find out how to extend life but I think we are a long way from finding out what creates life.

“To be alive, it seemed to me, as I stood there in all kinds of sorrow, was to be both original and reflection, and to be dead was to be split off, to be reflection alone.”  ― Teju ColeOpen City

Time for Questions:

What do you think creates life?  Do you think humans will ever be able to create life? Why or why not?  What do you think living means?  Do you live to the fullest or do you take life for granted?  What is the secret to your life?  If you could redo one thing in your life, what would it be?

Life is just beginning.

“The beginning is always today.”  ― Mary Shelley

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