Saturday, February 01, 2020


"Our cells are stuffed with containers. They store DNA in a nucleus, for example, and generate fuel in compartments called mitochondria. They destroy old proteins inside tiny housekeeping machines called lysosomes.

"Our cells also build themselves a skeleton of filaments, constructed out of Lego-like building blocks. By extending some filaments and breaking others apart, the cells can change their shape and even move over surfaces.

"Species that share these complex cells are known as eukaryotes, and they all descend from a common ancestor that lived an estimated two billion years ago."  (Carl Zimmer)

Cells, which are the first skin-enclosed independent beings in water, begin to be us when they become eukaryotes because that's the beginning of sex.  Until then, cells reproduced by splitting, but now it was possible to exchange the protein-making information held in the deeper internal skin of the nucleus.  Reproduction was accompanied by variation and because some of the mutations were an advantage, the DNA change persisted.  Over time the accumulation of change added up to increasingly elaborate creatures.  That's evolution.  It was not based on power-over, but on fittingness to the environment.

Joseph LeDoux, in his most recent book, "The Deep History of Ourselves", focuses on the sequence over four billion years, but also introduces the term of "earliest common ancestor of a group."  As it turns out, this is an arbitrary choice along a lengthy series of small changes rather than a sudden jump from one creature to another, though sometimes small edits reach a tipping point which is a new animal.  But there must have been an earliest common ancestor of a creature with two sides (bilateral), a creature with a notochord for nerves, another later with a spine of vertebrae, and on through the categories:  fishes, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, primates, hominins, and modern humans.  This book is invaluable, a guide, a source, and hundreds of links to more.

The importance of knowing this is that each step is built on the protein DNA plan for the version just previous, which is the point of the book called "Your Inner Fish" by Neil Shubin.  Your inner ape probably comes to the surface rather often, and your inner mammal is also easy to feel.  What makes trouble is the inner reptile, that cold-blooded creature with no love for its young which don't develop inside it and need no feeding or cleaning.

It is the feeding and cleaning and talking face-to-face that begin the creation of the space between infant and care-giver, which becomes a play-space with other toddlers, and a dyad space for conversation and attunement   "Attunement describes how reactive a person is to another's emotional needs and moods. A person who is well attuned will respond with appropriate language and behaviors based on another person's emotional state."  This is what grows into the "liminal" or "over the threshold" space/time that allows human flexibility and growth, especially when it is linked to a ceremony or ritual that intensifies and secures openness.

It is in those circumstances that we are most likely to feel the deep meaning of the sacred moment.  It has no content specifically, but seems to be a state of mind and flesh based on harmony, memory, and awareness.  Besides the careful and perhaps traditional contexts, this moment of Holiness can come by surprise, breaking through something like meditation, sex, mundane chores, or the kind of focus and concentration that is timeless, called "flow."  Arts from architecture to music to visual works are both part of kindling Holiness and sustaining it.

Eurasia, which might possibly be better named Asiaeuro, is a bicoastal continent with Russia and the Middle East as flyover country.  The two coasts have developed in quite different ways, but it's unclear why.the Pacific coast of the continent has remained open to emotion and the arts, thus finding the sacred everywhere.  Possibly this is because of writing and the tyranny of books, thus empowering rules and dominations by Roman thought as they swept up the continent.

Others are interested in the African sources of human development and wonder if the answer is in the genomes or the fossil record.  Why are Euros so scornful of Africans and so insistent that it was the Euros who discovered monotheism and who insist that everyone admit it.  It was those Roman Euros who invented colonialism and who profited from the riches of the Americas who didn't even know the value of precious metals, coffee, and  cocoa, ignoring the powerful understanding of human participation in the ecosphere.  It wasn't until David Quammen's explanation of the DNA -- shared by every creature since our earliest common ancestor and only divided into creatures by the existence of our skins -- that we saw our unity with all beings.

When the fittingness of a creature is uneven, when the environment changes so much that it requires different characteristics in order to survive, when a new creature or new ability appears, it may push the earlier skin-creatures aside.  The clearest sign we have that something is not working is the huge number of people living on sidewalks or in migrant camps with barely life-sustaining conditions.  

A subtler sign is that families are so disrupted that the basic caregiving, life-giving, formation of the space where the infant becomes human is denied, neglected, or deformed.  Much of the delight in early life interaction is replaced by fancy stuff that means nothing to the baby, but asserts the status and conformity of the mother.

A barely dawning science is the study of the cell, esp. the human cell, in particular the brain cell.  With petri dishes as cribs, scientists are creating little organelles with no skins so they can study the skeleton of filaments, the little containers, the portals in the skins, the long tentacles for whatever it is they do -- maybe send electrochemical messages.

Our notion of religion is simply out of date.  It doesn't fit the land -- which is badly damaged -- it doesn't fit the animals and plants -- which are eliminated -- and it doesn't fit us except in our turf/status/wealth deviousness.  If it did fit the earth's reality, wouldn't it rise up against the politics that enslave us and protect senators even those not wearing togas?  But maybe somewhere someone is mutating in a way that lets them access Holiness that shows a different way.

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