Being

Three powerful commentaries on the nature of our existence:

The first is a BBC programme called The Secret Life of Waves.  My father, who died earlier this year, was very keen that we should all watch it, and it helped us hugely after his death, to know that this was what he thought, and wanted to share with his children and grandchildren.

The second is a lecture someone introduced me to recently by Alan Watts, It Starts Now.

And the last is a piece by Richard Hoppe, which I just love, and post with his permission:

A common remark I hear from Christians and other religionists is that an atheist must feel very alone, very isolated, very afraid of death. Not a chance.

Late every night, rain or shine, I walk my big dogs, Sherlock and Watson, usually between 1:00 am and 3:00 am. I live out in the country on 3.5 acres, and while there is some light pollution from my neighbor’s yard light, the meadow up on the north end of the place is shielded by trees and there’s a good view of the north and east sky from overhead to the horizon and half-way to the horizon in the south. When it’s clear the stars are bright. The Great Bear circles around its smaller sibling, the one with Polaris at the end of its handle. Depending on the time of year Casseopia swims in the Milky Way or Orion stalks the sky to the south. Thousands of stars are in view, and there’s an occasional meteor, the moon, or a planet or three for variety.

And every night that I see the stars I think — consciously think — that I am made of star stuff, to steal Carl Sagan’s phrase. Every atom in my body heavier than helium (and virtually all the helium, too) was manufactured in stars by the fusion reactions that produce their heat and light. At the end of those stars’ lives the heavy elements — carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, iron and so on — were flung into space when the stars went nova. Later, another star and its planets — our solar system — condensed out of the clouds of elements generated in those earlier stars and in the end, after many millennia of chemical and biological evolution, those elements made me and my dogs.

So I am literally part of the universe: I am made of elements manufactured in stars. And I am aware of that fact every night when I walk my dogs.

And then there are my dogs, Sherlock and Watson. Both are strays — they chose us, coming to the house out in the country without identification. In spite of our best efforts to find them, their previous owners never appeared, and so Sherlock and Watson have stayed with us.

Sherlock is a Doberman/Rottweiler cross, the best-natured dog I’ve ever had. Watson is a setter/something cross and a goofball. Sherlock was in very good shape when he showed up, with a brand-new collar but no ID. Watson was full grown but was near starving to death — though full-grown he weighed just 40 pounds and every bone in his body was visible. Now they’re both around 70 pounds and are sleek and healthy.

And they are my cousins. That’s a fact of biology: My dogs are my cousins. Many times removed, of course, but we are family in more than the pet/master sense: we’re “blood” relatives. So when I walk them up north every night, we’re a genuine family walking together, three cousins, all of us made from the same star stuff. And I am consciously aware of that fact every night.

When I die I’ll be cremated. My ashes will be scattered somewhere, maybe in a bit of virgin forest that still survives about 40 miles south of here. The atoms of which I’m composed will re-enter the earth’s biological and geological cycles, some being incorporated into plants or animals, some sinking into the earth or riding the wind. And then, billions of years hence when the sun bloats up into a red giant to engulf the earth, boiling off its atmosphere and crust, my atoms will be flung back into space, riding the waves of matter and energy that the sun throws out in its spasms.

So I am connected to the universe on both ends, from the creation of my atoms to their final journey to the stars. And I’m connected to my animals and to all life on earth. How much more connected can I get? I am directly linked into the physical universe, made of atoms manufactured in stars, and I am an integral part of the family of all life, cousin to everything that lives. I’m not alone, not isolated, and not afraid of death.

I won’t know that after I die, of course: I won’t know anything. But I know it now, and that’s what counts.

 

40 Replies to “Being”

  1. hotshoe_
    Ignored
    says:

    Ooh, llovely. I’ll watch the wave story when I sit down to knit.

  2. Robert Byers
    Ignored
    says:

    O can’t believe it. I saw the wave video sometime ago and LOVED IT.
    I loved it because of geomorphology interests in the essence of water. It had great info. I learned from it. It was also well done.
    It had a sad story at the end and made me sad.
    For creationism water power is important as a origin for geology and so a correction on old school geology.
    Well chosen indeed. You gotta love the stuff about the origin of the sounds of the waves.

  3. RBH
    Ignored
    says:

    For some reason I’m remembering the long thread on TalkRational that Nine Wands started in order to chronicle his death from lung cancer. It’s here: http://www.talkrational.org/showthread.php?t=4641

    There’s genuine courage, worn modestly.

  4. Elizabeth Elizabeth
    Ignored
    says:

    It was such genuinely lovely thread. I do miss him.

  5. Elizabeth Elizabeth
    Ignored
    says:

    Robert Byers:
    O can’t believe it. I saw the wave video sometime ago and LOVED IT.
    I loved it because of geomorphology interests in the essence of water. It had great info. I learned from it. It was also well done.
    It had a sad story at the end and made me sad.
    For creationism water power is important as a origin for geology and so a correction on old school geology.
    Well chosen indeed. You gotta love the stuff about the origin of the sounds of the waves.

    So glad you loved it too, Robert! It is one of the best pieces of documentary making I have ever seen.

  6. Allan Miller
    Ignored
    says:

    Yes, I saw the waves one a bit back.

    I too wander about the countryside pondering the clear common-ancestry relationship between my DNA and that of every living thing around me. Common Design my arse!

    And I look at the limestone cliffs, coral fossils neatly stacked right-way-up, and wonder how determined-to-not-see one would have to be to think it all happened at once. I run through millions of years as I chug up the path over The Scar, and look at the breaking wave of the escarpment as it dips to the east, long-gone to the west, a remnant of more life than you could realistically sustain in the sea.

    I’ll certainly be sorry to leave it all, but I consider it a matter of great fortune to have been here at all.

  7. stcordova
    Ignored
    says:

    RBH,

    It is genuinely nice to see you. Sorry we were on opposing sides of an issue for the last 12 years. I’m sure we’d have had many good times talking of your days in the space program if we weren’t talking other things.

    Thank you for visiting.

    Happy holidays.

  8. Neil Rickert
    Ignored
    says:

    I have just finished watching “Waves”.

    This is why I am not a materialist. As that video points out, waves are not made of water. And, similarly, we are not made of molecules. We are processes, not objects.

    Philosophers cannot understand consciousness because they are obsessed with objects.

    The reason that I am sometimes critical of metaphysics, is because a large part of metaphysics is ontology, and ontology is where that obsession with objects begins.

  9. Elizabeth Elizabeth
    Ignored
    says:

    That’s the sense in which I’m not a “materialist” either, Neil, and why people who make inferences as to what I must think based on the assumption that I am are so wide of the mark.

    “Events dear boy, events” as Harold MacMillan is alleged to have said in a quite different contents.

  10. faded_Glory faded_Glory
    Ignored
    says:

    Careful with the word ‘process’. Someone is going to claim that this proves teleology 🙂

  11. Elizabeth Elizabeth
    Ignored
    says:

    Well some processes are teleological, if by that you mean, are directed by a purposive agent.

  12. petrushka
    Ignored
    says:

    Neil Rickert: The reason that I am sometimes critical of metaphysics, is because a large part of metaphysics is ontology, and ontology is where that obsession with objects begins.

    Indeed, counting assumes objects, and counting is the foundation of math.

    😉

  13. Elizabeth Elizabeth
    Ignored
    says:

    You can count events. You can even count waves!

  14. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    faded_Glory:

    Careful with the word ‘process’. Someone is going to claim that this proves teleology 🙂

    Lizzie:

    Well some processes are teleological, if by that you mean, are directed by a purposive agent.

    I think fG is referring to Mung and his claim that all processes are teleological.

  15. petrushka
    Ignored
    says:

    Elizabeth:
    You can count events. You can even count waves!

    We do count things and events, and waves. They could just be artifacts of perception.

    Don’t fall for integers. It’s a trap!

    🙂

  16. Kantian Naturalist Kantian Naturalist
    Ignored
    says:

    Neil Rickert: We are processes, not objects.

    Philosophers cannot understand consciousness because they are obsessed with objects.

    The reason that I am sometimes critical of metaphysics, is because a large part of metaphysics is ontology, and ontology is where that obsession with objects begins.

    Process ontology is a well-defined area of philosophical inquiry. (The only major process ontologist I’ve studied carefully is Deleuze. One of these days I’ll read Whitehead.)

    I don’t think process ontology ‘solves’ the problem of consciousness, though. Shifting the basic ontology from objects to processes (from ‘being’ to ‘becoming’, if you like) changes the kinds of questions one asks. The real stumbling block to an adequate philosophical understanding of consciousness isn’t the commitment to objects per se but to the separation of mindedness and embodiment.

    But it is true (I believe) that we can get a better grasp of the inseparability of mindedness and embodiment within a process ontology.

  17. Elizabeth Elizabeth
    Ignored
    says:

    Kantian Naturalist: The real stumbling block to an adequate philosophical understanding of consciousness isn’t the commitment to objects per se but to the separation of mindedness and embodiment.

    Can you explain this to me?

  18. BruceS
    Ignored
    says:

    Neil Rickert:

    Philosophers cannot understand consciousness because they are obsessed with objects.

    I didn’t see where you explained why neuroscientists and other cognitive scientists have also got it wrong. Did I miss a post?

  19. petrushka
    Ignored
    says:

    Elizabeth: Can you explain this to me?

    I think the problem is best explained by saying, I don’t know.

    I’ve related this before, but it really belongs on this thread.

    At age ten (60 years ago) I had some minor surgery under ether. No accompanying drugs, just the undiluted stuff. Ether used to be a recreational drug, an early version of LSD.

    Don’t try it at home. You will need an anesthesiologist to help you breathe.

    My ether dream, which I compare to near death experiences, was entirely a visual experience of waves. I perceived I was panning away from earth and the galaxy, and everything was made of oscilloscope style waves, only in many colors.

    This was long before such visualizations were commonplace. But since they are now, I can compare my experience to the visualizations produced by some media players.

    That was a long time ago, but I can still see it in memory and feel the sense of being outside the universe.

  20. Patrick Patrick
    Ignored
    says:

    petrushka,

    My ether dream, which I compare to near death experiences, was entirely a visual experience of waves. I perceived I was panning away from earth and the galaxy, and everything was made of oscilloscope style waves, only in many colors.

    This was long before such visualizations were commonplace. But since they are now, I can compare my experience to the visualizations produced by some media players.

    That was a long time ago, but I can still see it in memory and feel the sense of being outside the universe.

    Thanks for sharing that. You can get a similar experience from some breath work meditations. Quantum Light Breath is one of my favorites, despite having nothing to do with quantum mechanics.

    Sometimes it’s pleasant and relaxing, sometimes some old stuff, not entirely pleasant, gets dredged up, and sometimes it reminds me of back when I may or may not have followed the Grateful Dead around.

  21. Neil Rickert
    Ignored
    says:

    Kantian Naturalist: I don’t think process ontology ‘solves’ the problem of consciousness, though.

    Of course not.

    That amounts to an attempt to objectify processes, so that you can treat them as objects.

    We need to change from the “What?” question to the “How?” question.

  22. Elizabeth Elizabeth
    Ignored
    says:

    petrushka: I think the problem is best explained by saying, I don’t know.

    I’ve related this before, but it really belongs on this thread.

    At age ten (60 years ago) I had some minor surgery under ether. No accompanying drugs, just the undiluted stuff. Ether used to be a recreational drug, an early version of LSD.

    Don’t try it at home. You will need an anesthesiologist to help you breathe.

    My ether dream, which I compare to near death experiences, was entirely a visual experience of waves. I perceived I was panning away from earth and the galaxy, and everything was made of oscilloscope style waves, only in many colors.

    This was long before such visualizations were commonplace. But since they are now, I can compare my experience to the visualizations produced by some media players.

    That was a long time ago, but I can still see it in memory and feel the sense of being outside the universe.

    Oh, me too, except I think it was chloroform. I had a general for a tooth extraction. My father was actually the anaesthetist. A very odd experience.

  23. Elizabeth Elizabeth
    Ignored
    says:

    petrushka: We do count things and events, and waves. They could just be artifacts of perception.

    Don’t fall for integers. It’s a trap!

    :)

    Well, I count waves all the time (well, a lot of the time). Also heartbeats. And we are always digitising stuff.

  24. petrushka
    Ignored
    says:

    Elizabeth: A very odd experience.

    It was, for me rather profound. As a result, I identified somewhat with my contemporaries who were trying LSD, but never had any interest in it myself. One trip was enough.

    Now I have vivid dreams.

  25. Patrick Patrick
    Ignored
    says:

    Elizabeth,

    Oh, me too, except I think it was chloroform.

    You kids and your anesthetics. Why can’t you take hallucinogens like normal people?

  26. petrushka
    Ignored
    says:

    Elizabeth: Well, I count waves all the time (well, a lot of the time). Also heartbeats. And we are always digitising stuff.

    Well obviously it’s useful, but I’m not convinced it’s reality.

    It’s transcendentals all the way down. Physics, they say, is not about things, but about relationships, and the relationship constants are transcendental.

    That’s bullshit, but I think it’s a bit classier than Ken Ham’s flood.

  27. Elizabeth Elizabeth
    Ignored
    says:

    petrushka: Well obviously it’s useful, but I’m not convinced it’s reality.

    It isn’t 🙂 We don’t have access to reality, all we have are models. But the models get better all the time.

    But back to the point…

    I love that documentary in so may ways, but I particularly like the emphasis on ocean waves, which really can be said not to consist of material They are not the property of either water or air, but of the interface

    To give Dembski (a little) credit, you could say that they are made of information.

  28. walto walto
    Ignored
    says:

    Condolences on the loss of your dad, Lizzie.

  29. petrushka
    Ignored
    says:

    Elizabeth: which really can be said not to consist of material They are not the property of either water or air, but of the interface

    I find that unconvincing. Water is in motion. We call the regularity of the motion waves. I think perhaps the old debate regarding aether (hmmm…) could be relevant.
    Some waves are motion in a carrier.

  30. Elizabeth Elizabeth
    Ignored
    says:

    OK, let me rephrase: ocean waves are neither a property of the water nor a property of the air, but of the interface between them. In other words, they are an emergent property of the combination of water and air.

  31. Elizabeth Elizabeth
    Ignored
    says:

    walto:
    Condolences on the loss of your dad, Lizzie.

    Thanks, Walto. It’s been a tough year.

  32. Alan Fox Alan Fox
    Ignored
    says:

    Elizabeth: Oh, me too, except I think it was chloroform.

    And me! Mine was morphine. Having had minor surgery to remove shrapnel* from my lower leg, I was kept in overnight at the local hospital. The nurse on duty asked if I needed a painkiller. I said no, I’m fine. She said, oh that’s a shame as the consultant has prescribed a generous shot of morphine if necessary. Slight pause. Me: oh, go on then. I slept well and dreamlessly.

    *industrial accident, I’ve never been under fire!

  33. Alan Fox Alan Fox
    Ignored
    says:

    Elizabeth,

    *sends hug*

    ETA watched the waves video. Sent link to surfer daughter. “Waves are process” πάντα χωρεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει

  34. Allan Miller
    Ignored
    says:

    Neil Rickert,

    This is why I am not a materialist.

    I don’t think anyone self-described as such would restrict their definition of ‘materialism’ to physical stuff, and ignore its behaviour. Matter and energy are interconvertible anyway, and have some direct influence on space and time (and vice versa).

  35. Neil Rickert
    Ignored
    says:

    Allan Miller: I don’t think anyone self-described as such would restrict their definition of ‘materialism’ to physical stuff, and ignore its behaviour.

    Well, that’s probably true. However, I am more concerned with not confusing the people who do not self-describe as materialist.

  36. RBH
    Ignored
    says:

    And then there’s this, from a 35-year old dying of breast cancer:

    So…I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is, apparently, I’m dead. Good news, if you’re reading this, is that you are most definitely not (unless they have wifi in the afterlife). Yes, this sucks. It sucks beyond words, but I’m just so damn glad I lived a life so full of love, joy and amazing friends. I am lucky to honestly say that I have zero regrets and I spent every ounce of energy I had living life to the fullest. I love you all and thank you for this awesome life.

    Whatever religion brings you comfort, I am happy that you have that. However, respect that we are not religious. Please, please, please do not tell Brianna that I am in heaven. In her mind, that means that I chose to be somewhere else and left her. “

    Read the rest at the link.

  37. stcordova
    Ignored
    says:

    Dear RBH,

    I was both moved by your quotation in the OP and by the accounts of the very courageous people you linked to like the woman dying of breast cancer. I will share these accounts with people in my Bible study.

    When I entered the ID debate I was so enthusiastic at the prospect I could be right, but now of late, in light the things you wrote and the links you provided, at some level I wish ID were not true.

    Charles Duke, the man you helped send to the moon, the man who prayed for a blind girl in the name of Jesus and the girl was healed, he gave his life to the Lord Jesus to escape the wrath of the Intelligent Designer. How much I almost wish you were 100% right in your views and I am wrong.

    It’s been an honor knowing you, and I hope you won’t take my comment as something offensive, but my plea is that you might reconsider, there is a remote chance the Gospel I’ve shared with you all these years could be right and that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior.

    I wish good things for you. If I am wrong, then I know things will be well with you, just as you said in the words quoted in the OP.

    Sal

  38. stcordova
    Ignored
    says:

    RBH:

    And then there’s this, from a 35-year old dying of breast cancer:

    So…I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is, apparently, I’m dead. Good news, if you’re reading this, is that you are most definitely not (unless they have wifi in the afterlife). Yes, this sucks. It sucks beyond words, but I’m just so damn glad I lived a life so full of love, joy and amazing friends. I am lucky to honestly say that I have zero regrets and I spent every ounce of energy I had living life to the fullest. I love you all and thank you for this awesome life.

    Whatever religion brings you comfort, I am happy that you have that. However, respect that we are not religious. Please, please, please do not tell Brianna that I am in heaven. In her mind, that means that I chose to be somewhere else and left her. “

    Read the rest at the link.

    That post was on 12/20/15. Maybe this report is late, but it was in the newspapers regarding this lovely lady:

    http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/mothers-message-to-her-young-daughter-lives-on-in-new-memoir-300195511.html

    NAPERVILLE, Ill., Dec. 21, 2015 /PRNewswire/ — Heather McManamy, a Wisconsin mother and terminal cancer patient who first captured headlines this summer for writing dozens of greeting cards for her young daughter’s future life milestones, has died.

  39. stcordova
    Ignored
    says:

    RBH [last comment at TSZ December 20, 2015]:
    And then there’s this, from a 35-year old dying of breast cancer:

    Read the rest at the link.

    In memorial of RBH:

    Richard “Dick” Hoppe, a former member of the Kenyon psychology faculty and an affiliated scholar in biology at the College, died on Wednesday, January 3, 2018. He was 76 and a resident of Mount Vernon’s Country Court Nursing Home.

    A native of Minnesota, born on May 19, 1941, Hoppe served in the U.S. Navy as a Polaris autopilot technician from August 1960 to August 1964. He then entered the University of Minnesota, where he received a B.A. in anthropology and psychology in 1968 before going on to earn a Ph.D. in experimental psychology there in 1972.

    Hoppe joined the Kenyon faculty in 1971 as an assistant professor of psychology. In the summer of 1972, he was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Research in Human Learning. He won promotion to associate professor in 1978 and full professor in 1989.

    “I considered Dick to be a best friend both as a colleague and socially,” says Charles “Chuck” Rice, professor emeritus of psychology. “Professionally, he was brilliant in his field — so much so that he created an innovative mathematically based investment strategy for trading international currency. The technique was so attractive that he eventually decided to give up his tenured position at the College to engage in full-time investing with a group of Kenyon graduates active in that field.

    “Dick did not, however, give up his service to the College Township Fire Department,” Rice emphasizes. “He continued to contribute his time and energy to protect his community. Even after he retired from professional activity, he continued to donate his abilities to community service in a number of ways.”

    Linda Smolak, professor emerita of psychology and the College’s civil rights compliance assessor, remembers, “When I arrived at Kenyon, my office was next door to Dick’s. His intensity and strong opinions, often accompanied by some tai chi movements, initially seemed a bit intimidating. But I quickly learned that his sometimes gruff exterior could not hide his wry sense of humor, his commitment to our students, and his devotion to his wife, Kay. It also couldn’t conceal his willingness to help. Dick was always willing to talk through a problem or a concern. Even when we disagreed, he had a generous spirit.

    “Dick also brought a different perspective to teaching,” Smolak adds. “He had been in the Navy and had worked in industry before coming to the College. Those life experiences informed his teaching. His ‘Industrial/Organizational Psychology’ class was a favorite with our students for its substantial real-life applications.

    “Even after leaving the department to pursue his other interests, Dick was always ready to talk about psychology, investments and even horses. He continued to work with Kenyon students on their business ventures. He was a problem-solver, a person of deep intellectual curiosity in a variety of areas, and a dedicated member of the community.

    Hoppe was widely published in professional journals, with articles on subjects ranging from parapsychology to statistics, from aircraft control designs to the battles between creationism and evolution in the nation’s schools. Active in campus governance, he had served as chair of the faculty, chair of the psychology department, chair of the Social Infractions Division of the Judicial Board, and as a member of numerous other committees and councils.

    “I remember Dick as someone who had an extraordinarily varied and rich life before he came to Kenyon,” says Fred Baumann, professor of political science. “He was the only non-Native American founder of the American Indian Movement, a Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party operative, a missile engineer on submarines, a sculptor, a poet. And I remember him as a brave man willing to stand up for real education, whether that meant taking on creationists in Mount Vernon or those who wanted to politicize education at the College.”

    Hoppe left Kenyon after the 1990-91 academic year to become a freelance consultant specializing in artificial intelligence for market modeling. He joined IntelliTrade in 1993 as a principal with expertise in derivatives trading and risk-estimation consulting. He later returned to the classroom as a visiting faculty member in the biology department.

    Both during and after his time on the faculty, Hoppe was a mainstay of several volunteer organizations in Gambier and elsewhere in Knox County. First among these was the College Township Fire Department, with which he worked for more than 35 years. He was also a former president of the board of Knox-New Hope Industries, co-coordinator of the Knox County Technical Rescue Team, and a six-year member of the Knox County Adolescent Suicide Prevention Task Force, for which he won the 1985 volunteer-of-the-year award from the Knox County Mental Health Association.

    In June 2016, Dick was recognized with the President’s Volunteer Service Award for his work with senior citizens living in long-term-care facilities. He traveled to area nursing homes to ensure that residents were visited quarterly, and he assisted with complaint resolutions.

    Hays Stone ’99, who retired from the College’s Office of Public Affairs, recalls that Hoppe called bingo for years for the Knox County Humane Society, where she also volunteers, until his declining health made it impossible. He had also been a scuba instructor.

    Hoppe is survived by his wife, Kay, a retired teacher in the Mount Vernon City School District.

    Memorial contributions may be made to the Knox County Humane Society, 400 Columbus Road, Mount Vernon, Ohio 43050. A memorial service will be scheduled and announced at a later date.

    http://www.kenyon.edu/middle-path/story/kenyon-mourns-richard-hoppe/

    https://ncse.com/news/2018/01/richard-b-hoppe-iii-dies-0018682

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