Monday, July 12, 2010

The Second Coming

Fashionable physics frightens Father’s dreaming child.
Not answers alone, their questions vex to nightmare.

Eternity narrowly escaped too recently, too-familiar
Spectres as pitiless as the sun materialize….

From imperceptible dimensions to infinite
Multiverses with wholly other logistics and laws—
Harboring what rough beasts, what desert birds
With what indignant natures, what insidious intents?—
Too reminiscent of dusty draconic doxologies
Inevitable realms inaccessible to sense
And measurement where Primeval Movers haunt.

Priests in alabaster temples scribe their esoteric math
Heirs of authority chant “believe” and “behave” and “beyond”

Dismiss the fear, dear child. Summon the harshest insults
One can conjure… Call them eunuchs. Call them “Christians”

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Virtues of Heresy

Five years ago a claim that Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans mated and bore offspring would have fallen outside the bounds of scientific orthodoxy.  Hundreds of textbooks and articles and popularizing documentaries preached the doctrine of survival by competition alone. The prevalence of such dogmas amused me then, and offend me now.  How myopic and xenophobic and religulous do those sermons appear today!

By all accounts humans tend to be quite sexually opportunistic creatures. As long as our kind has written down their stories half-man/half-beast legends, Nephalim accounts, and anecdotes and prohibitions regarding “bestiality” have abounded. If sheep and dogs and pigs and horses are not safe from our sexual opportunism why would Neanderthals, so anatomically (and, it turns out,genetically) compatible, have escaped? And if Neander was so inclined how did we? Interspecies couplings, while rare, are considered a “natural occurrence” among many mammalian species. Why should we expect otherwise of our own kind?

Not long ago, to entertain the thought was to border on the unthinkable. If Europeans interbreeding with Africans ever inspired disgust and moral outrage, humans with Neanderthals inspired more. If the orthodox doctrine of human homogeneity and its moral of kinship was to be preserved, banish the thought… prohibit the research! Deprived of our 6,000 year Adam we hastily embraced a 60,000 year Adam. Now it appears we must look further back, perhaps 600,000 years… or more if, as I predict, populations of H. Erectus (or other) in Asia will prove to have undergone a similar assimilation. We have opened the genetic Pandora’s Box, and genetic Ham (sapiens), Shem (erectus), and Japheth (neanderthalis) are loosed upon the world.

As much as our hearts may bleed, all this does likely not point to the story of our ancestors making love and not war—history is rarely that tidy—but of engaging in war and deviancy and rape and pillage and bigotry and competition and fragile truces sometimes secured by exotic exchanges of bodily fluids which sometimes produced strange brews in the gene pool.

The old family tree looked like figure 1. Behold how aesthetic! {Look, dad, no fornicating!} But that is not how life works. Lately we revised the tree to figure 2, the moral self-congratulatory model. Now we are moving toward a tree with “vines” of genetic transfer draping virtually all the branches, represented by figure 3. For now, “It's official: Most of us are part Neanderthal” (Discovery News), "Neanderthals live on in non-Africans." The old orthodoxy is dead. Long live the new orthodoxy! Now... let us be heretics.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


As part of its “Big Questions Essay Series” the John Templeton Foundation put the question “Does Evolution Explain Human Nature? to a panel of prominent personalities from a range of fields. Having read the writing heads, what follows is my short retort.


… if by “evolution” we mean that set of processes underlying emergence and by “human nature” we mean that set of features—physiological, psychological, sociological, etc.—which all members of our species share in common. If by “evolution” we mean the extended synthesis, so much depends upon how much we expect from our cause to explain. By meaning our terms thus broadly we barely inch beyond Aristotle whose celebrated formulae took the shape of “man is by nature a _____ beast.” The small step which proves a giant leap forward was made when we substituted Darwin's has become for Aristotle’s is. This stride proves a step back toward the tutelage of Heraclitus.

Πάντα ῥεῖ , everything flows, nutshells the wisdom of Heraclitus. This formula employs the wisdom-traditional Pan-Sprüche, all-metaphors, presaging present-day physicists’ “all is energy,” their mechanisms of transformation echoing Heraclitus’s Logos of becoming. “All things come to pass in accordance with this Logos,” he is remembered to have uttered. In this story Heraclitus emerges as a PMH, a philosophically modern human.

Our understanding of the processes underlying change and the features which all the members of our species share is far far far from complete… but should we expect otherwise? The prevailing 4.6B year world metanarrative puts PMH at the tail end of a long story of becoming. If we were to condense the world-story to a 24-hour day, PMH emerges at 23:59:59.9. How much becoming ought we expect in a handful of milliseconds? In this context human sapiens appears in slime-mold stage.

No good metanarratives leave us in medias res. By all accounts a new day will dawn, another 24 dramatic hours will be played out upon the stage before, in the fullness of time (at the end of day two) stellar fire consumes our world with apocalyptic fury. Give us a second—53,240 years to those tending the metaphor—and let the logos of becoming take its course. By all statistical accounts our species has another second… 24-48 seconds to be precise.^ A second ago, according to the story, we were hunter-gatherers lacking modern language. By this reckoning, a second ago human nature was not modern human nature,* our species’ “great leap forward” taking place 8-9 deciseconds ago.

The real big question remains how well does the prevailing metanarrative explain us? While E.O. Wilson’s pragmatic ideal of a grand evolutionary epic, a chapter in Carl Sagan’s cosmic saga, enjoys its vogue status, its verses have yet to be written... nature is yet to be named, Logos is yet to be fluently spoken. The glory of this quintessence of stardust is our open canon.


^ The average life-span of top-predator species on our planet has been a few million years.

* “Modern human behavior is observed in cultural universals which are the key elements shared by all groups of people throughout the history of humanity.” Wikipedia

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Our House Rules

Economics rules our lives—
games of exchange

The house of our youth
blessed with poverty
impressed on our soft body
everything has worth

water, earth, air, fire
grains, beads, coins, papers
names, books, records, accounts
space, time, light, speed

With Thalesic inspiration
present-day Einsteins
intone the sacred mantra
all’s energy – energy’s all

Neither made nor destroyed
E manifests in myriads
of useful transformations—
eternal exchange without loss

All our crises must have owed to
malappraisal, inefficiencies
& us blind to possibilities
of Universal humanity

Change of games—
Want more : waste not

Monday, June 7, 2010

Godly Gambles

Albert Einstein is famously remembered for this sound-bit of dogma, “God does not play dice.” Oxymoron in Einstein’s metaphor that he was, might have been illumined by none other than the Reverend Newton.

A capable Sir could prove in principle the outcome of every cast of die to be completely predictable. Were it possible to calculate every factor—initial position, initial rotation, initial velocity, the makeup of the surface upon which the dice lands and rolls, the plethora of resistances and pressures, etc. and any changes in those conditions during the toss—we could determine every outcome every time. Of course in order to calculate every factor in such an episode would require a God-like observer, one whose act of observation has no impact upon the results.

Such God-likeness has always been a practical ideal driving human scientific endeavor. If the past century has taught us anything it is never to say "never" (or "always") of human scientific formulation. Physical law after physical law, upon closer inspection, has admitted of exception. In the fullness of time, computing capability appeared, accelerating science's ability to model complex systems. When our grandchildren carry processors capable of processing tredaflops per second equipped with then-generation sensors, will quantum uncertainty, that bane of Einstein's genius, appear quite so uncertain?

Without resorting to anything as silly as supernature we are fully justified to expect the dawning of a glorious future day Einstein might have called Immanuel, a glorified humankind in the image of the Gods they once upon a time imagined for themselves. We may cast gowral into our midst, and all its decision is our own... as our laws and prophets foretold "We are all gods."

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A Child's Miracle (for Zenhumans)

Now we are convinced
No “miracles,” intrusions of supernatural
into natural world, have ever occurred
What, now, might we mean by the word?
The unlikeliest of unexpected windfalls?
The most fortuitous of improbable occurrences?
The eucoincidence of eucoincidences?
On the tongue can the word continue now to carry
the same sense of wonder and magnificence?
It must… Now, it carries much more.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Adrift alone, to my conscious some curious curve of cosmos
My surge to catch with nets of words forms stormy waves sweeping
Rhythmically crashing against old cliffs of Idio’, bursting prismatic
And impact by impact reshaping the lines of shore.