Wednesday, June 16, 2010

In the Garden of Eden with a Snake

I've been trying to figure out the Biblical story of Cain and Abel, and I have to confess it makes no sense to me. There's no Biblical context, or metaphoric way, or analogical way, that this story makes sense. The Garden of Eden story makes sense as a creation myth and "what the heck we are doing here anyway?" story. The Garden of Eden story makes sense as a "conciousness" metaphor -- becoming aware of our mortality and our capacity for doing really crappy stuff to each other. Perhaps the Cain Abel story is simply an example of our capacity to murder each other for the most specious of reasons. Like the Smothers Brothers - "Mom always liked you best." But I think there should be more to it. The Garden of Eden story has more going for it -- Garden story sets the stage for us, though, in a metaphorically conceivable way, the creation of the universe and how we got here.

So now we sit here in our blissful serenity Garden- between catastrophes of our own making or others'- wars, plagues, famines, genocide. Nuclear warheads pointed at each other. Biological weapons stored in "secure" facilities. Sure..... Global warming, the large Hadron collector, engineered viruses, giant solar storms -- any one of which could do us in. We sit here between asteroid collisions which have eliminated virtually all life on the planet numerous times. We sit here between ice ages and stifling deserts and inland seas. We blithely sit here virtually on top of supervolcanoes (Yellowstone National Park, Long Valley in California, Valles Caldera in its own National Preserve) and other not so super volcanoes - Naples, Mount Shasta. We turn these end-all-life-as-we-know-it sites into recreation areas and camp on them and roast marshmallows and sing songs..... Talk about whistling past the graveyard!

We are miraculously/accidentally (it depends on your point of view more than anything as far as I can tell) created on a planet just far enough away, but not too far away, from the sun, so that the planet supports liquid water. There are no threatening gamma ray bursters that we know about in the immediate 200 light year radius of earth. Our sun won't fizzle out for another 5 billion years or so...... Stephen Hawking says we need to beware of mean aliens -- as if we could do anything about a species that could interstellar travel to visit us.

Humanity seems to have become aware of itself only as recently as 1300 BCE (according to Jayne's theory of conciousness). So it's not that we've been sitting around for all that long contemplating our navels. If it weren't for the a slight imbalance of matter and anti-matter during the first trillionth of a second of our universe, none of this would matter because we wouldn't be here in the first place.

Some say conciousness was achieved earlier (in 2001 A Space Odyssey a chimp like creature, named Cain perhaps, smashes another on the head, Abel perhaps)- but at best in the scheme of things, a 4 billion year old planet in a 14 billion old universe, it's like conciousness happened this morning at 10:30.... And even that's not universally accepted: quoting from a Huffington Post article, "As Marvin Minsky, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology cognitive scientist and artificial intelligence expert, put it more crudely, "The brain is just a computer made of meat." Nobel Prize winning Francis Crick, British molecular biologist, physicist, and neuroscientist, went further. In his subsequent book Of Molecules and Men, he wrote, "The ultimate aim of the modern movement in biology is to explain all biology in terms of physics and chemistry" -- to analyze, in other words, the meat. And lest there be no doubt about where he stands, philosopher Dennett says, "We're all zombies. Nobody is conscious." So much for Descartes - "I think; therefore, I am."

Even if we posit "conciousness" to ourselves, we get only a sliver of time to provide sense and meaning to each other --40 years maybe. We get a glimpse of our mortality just in the nick of time. We spend the first part of our lives oblivious to our own mortality, and the middle part fighting it, and the last few trying to avoid it and/or welcoming it.....

We must have been created in order to create meaning, I think; or at least, that's what makes sense to me for the slice of time we are here. I may work on a Cain and Abel painting; or like I like to say, "When all else fails, I always say, paint a flower."



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