Sunday, September 07, 2008

I'm wondering about three things

1) What do dogs think? I just know they are thinking something. They have opinions. Grudges. Feelings. they pass from this world with no protest. I want to learn from them, but they do not teach. They only show.

2) The seedless grape. Can any greater servitude to the human race be imagined than the production of fruit without seeds? How are more of these plants generated given the fact that they fire blanks? Does each seedless grape plant resent us? Do they feel like the eunuchs in the court of Cleopatra?

3) Sea water. I know we can't drink it, but why not? Some salt is good for us. We evolved from sea creatures. How could we have lost our relationship with sea water? It doesn't seem to follow the rules of evolution. What is in sea water that would kill us? Is it poison?

On Saturday night, at a party on Horatio Street, I had a spirited and exclusive dialogue with a reknowned author who thought my wondering about these things to be quaint. He also dismissed my desire to believe in some sort of god and some sort of afterlife. He is seventy-five years old and facing his mortality with both agile hands on all the gears of his brilliant mind, but when I asked him why he continued to do good in this world given his beliefs....

24 comments:

Dray said...

Come on...what did he say?

LT Garcia said...

1) Dogs are thinking how delicious that food must be right over there, if only you would give them some.
2.) Seedless grapes grow from cuttings, not seeds. Also, they do actually grow seeds if you let them mature long enough, but the seeds are soft, not hard.
3.) We can't drink sea water because it is too salty. Some salt may be good, but too much salt is bad, bad, bad. Of course, you can drink SOME sea water and be OK - well maybe a bit dehydrated - as long as you have some fresh water around to drink as well. That way your kidneys can use the fresh water to help handle the extra salty sea water. But if you only have sea water, your kidneys will expire for lack of enough fresh water to process all that salt.

The Internet has really killed all forms of whimsical, idle wondering. Such a shame.

robert61 said...

It's that final-line inconsistency that makes faith so compelling, isn't it? Even if you are a hardcore atheist, you have to address the quest for meaning and purpose that wells up out of your own emotions. If, like Oliver Sacks, you embrace meaning and purpose, you embrace irrational faith.

By the by, not to be catty, but OS has always struck me as seeming gayer than a sackful of pink flamingos, no?

jredmond said...

1. I can only speculate, but since dogs are pack animals their worldview is probably colored by pack politics - "who's in charge?" and "how can I win their favor?". (In other words, dogs think like middle management drones.)

2. Propagation by grafting; that's the technique used most often to take one vine of a particular cultivar and make a whole vineyard out of it. (Interestingly, though, apples are also most often spread by grafting, and yet they still have seeds.)

3. Seawater is far too salty for us to drink. In the body, salt draws water out of tissues; too much salt and cells won't have enough internal moisture to function. (Perhaps we're too far removed from our sea-dwelling roots.)

Father Tony of the Farmboyz said...

Dear Dray and Robert61,
Discretion, for the moment. I will say that he is entirely delightful.

Father Tony of the Farmboyz said...

Dear lt garcia,
Even the mighty net can't answer that first question about dogs, but I get your point. You think they are just containers for primitive appetites of survival, or am I overboiling your comment.

LT Garcia said...

Actually, you are overboiling my dog comment. I was attempting to be flip, but don't believe dogs are just primitive survival machines, any more than humans are. I have had dogs around my house for a couple decades now and I love them more than most people. Their beauty is in their simplicity of thought. Dogs can be incredibly intelligent about things like problems solving, but generally I would guess with some confidence based on nothing more than gut level experience that most of their thoughts are about food, comfort, and fun, in that order. They are not deep philsophical thinkers, for sure. But they have an emotional intelligence humans simply do not. They can tell in an instant if you are even slightly upset and will loyally stick by you to the bitter end. And the fun part of their psyche is what really makes them great. Well-cared-for dogs have a joie de vivre ummatched by humans. They are happy beings, who love to play. They remind us to be happy and full of joy and love as well.

And as I like to say, never underestimate the effect of having creatures around who will literally jump for joy to see you several times a day.

The Milkman said...

Father Tony, you might be interested in the work of Semir Zeki, a professor of neurobiology at University College, London. He has published many books and papers investigating the relationship between art and the brain, with the goal of identifying how the brain recognizes and quantifies beauty. Because the visual cortex is a bit more straight forward in its workings than the brain's auditory processes, his work has focused on the visual arts. However, his work could certainly be expanded by some intrepid scientist to tackle the auditory world as well. For a scientist, his writing is a joy to read. His first book, "Inner Vision: An Exploration of Art and the Brain", would be a great place to start.

Birdie said...

Dogs teach us unconditional love.

Earlier this year I enjoyed an article about Sacks’ new book Musicophilia in “Neurology Now” magazine. (The article is available online, but Google won't let me flag it.) On his website, Sacks quotes extensively about music from Childhood’s End, written by science fiction genius Arthur C. Clarke. He examines the power and allure of music in human beings. Fascinating stuff.

SubtleKnife said...

They spend a lot of time wondering why the two-legged dogs cover up their best bits.

evilganome said...

Lucky you! I adore Oliver Sacks.

As for dogs, I think that they indeed do think and feel. I have spent too much time around them over the years to dismiss them too quickly as acting merely on instinct. They do feel sadness and shame and joy and loyalty and love.

While I am inclined to agree with Dr. Sacks about the supreme being and the afterlife, or lack thereof, I could well be wrong. Won't it be interesting for me if I am.

The Neighbors Will Hear said...

As a non-theist, I find your last question to Mr. Sacks to betray something between a profound lack of imagination and arrogance. Is it really so unfathomable that someone who doesn't believe in God would nonetheless have compelling reasons to be or do good?

Father Tony of the Farmboyz said...

Dear TNWH,
Nothing is unfathomable when it comes to the human mind, but in the presence of a first rate thinker, my best effort was to put forth a topic that would spark his response. The tactic worked. I was relieved to learn that he later told the host that our chat was not offensive.

David said...

Dogs wonder, jealously, how the cats got the upper hand. No fetching, no rolling over, and still they get the food, petting, treats and toys.

Paris said...

I am insanely jealous! If I could do it all over again I would be a neurologist. As it is, I must depend on Sacks' delightful ability to lead us directly to what is so fascinating about the interplay between mind and brain.

As for dogs, I think it comes down to different types of brain waves and I think the short answer was, if you want to think like a dog, meditate!

(somewhere a zen master smiles)

Father Tony of the Farmboyz said...

Dear Milkman,
I mentioned this guy, SZ, to OS who had nothing bad to say about him (which, for the Brits, is great praise), but Amazon tells me that the book you mention is not available. Darn.

Doralong said...

I seethe with jealousy, but await the full story with vicarious anticipation.

poof said...

Yes, dogs (like cats and other animals) think but I doubt they reflect (much). Sure they have opinions, grudges, feelings, etc. But they're busy with now. Creatures of immediacy. I suspect most animals - if given the opportunity to reflect - would consider reflection an unnecessary luxery: an effort without benefit.

Seedless grape: yes, I sometime like fruit that doesn't have seeds but I still feel like it isn't right. It's like benefit without effort. And, yes, there's the obvious comparison to homosexuality but unlike many people I feel homosexuality servers a purpose: natural birth control.

I'm a biological being but not a biological expert but I'd say that even though we need water it doesn't mean there's no such thing as too much. It's possible to drink too much water (but I don't remember what the problem is when you drink too much water). So I'm thinking in the case of salt water it's a case of too much salt. I have no idea what either effort or benefit have to do with it...if anything. And I came up with this off the top of my head with no regard for looking like a putz for saying such things. No effort/benefit but maybe a little foot/mouth. Wouldn't be the first time. Won't be the last. Try it; it's fun.

OMG OMG you talked to Oliver Sacks!!! I would so suck his dick. Seventy-five sounds alright to me. At fifty-four I'm heading in that direction. And he is sooo handsome. And interesting.

Doug Taron said...

I can't really answer question #1. I'm a cat person. Cats are thinking about world domination.

More importantly...Oliver effing Sacks? I'm trying really hard not to hate you for that. Not succeeding well, either. He's one of my heroes. I'm really interested to hear his answer to your question. My own perspective is that in the end it doesn't matter one way or another. But the world is much more interesting when one tries to do good, so why not?

jredmond said...

@poof: Too much water causes a (rare) condition called hyponatremia, where the blood is too dilute for its electrolytes to work. (Most people don't ingest that much water unless they're on drugs or drowning; in the latter case hyponatremia is the least of their worries.)

poof said...

@jredmond: Interesting. Thanks.

Now I'm going to go look at pictures of Oliver Sacks. I was feeling a little blushy about what I said before but now I'm feeling all Oliver Sacks again.

I wonder if he haz a flavur. I'm sure he does.

The Milkman said...

Oh dear... perhaps it's out of print. No worries... his new book, "Splendours and Miseries of the Brain" will be out in January. In the meantime, if you're interested in reading some of his peer-reviewed work, I can certainly forward a representative sample to your email.

Will said...

I don't find the slightest disconnect between atheism and the desire to do good for one's fellow man. We're born into a community of [potentially] rational beings and have a choice between living in chaos or in a mutually supportive community.

It doesn't require a deity for us to organize in support of the good of society. In my opinion, it has taken a deity (or many deities throughout history) to inspire mankind to suicidal religious warfare time and time again. The syndrome is as current as today's headlines. I was raised strictly Catholic and came out of 12 years of Catholic school convinced that we're better off without organized religion.

circleinasquare said...

O.S. certainly has interesting taste in foot wear...