Through the Mist

I feel slightly more human this morning than I’ve felt the last few days. I’m not sure that’s a good thing, though. Feeling human means something different for me than it once did. No longer is it a matter of pride or gratitude or [I shudder to think] a sense of superiority. Today, it’s more a matter of simply acknowledging biology; and recognizing that biology delivers reality, not flaws.

It was not a flaw in human physiology that allowed me to catch a cold (or whatever has beleaguered me with discomfort these past few days). No flaws in the genetic patterns of viruses generated an attack on my immune system, causing respiratory distress and discomfort. Biology simply exists, in all its forms and all its responses to the environments through which it wades. Cancer, tuberculosis, the common cold, the flu—endless lists of diseases and maladies—are merely biological adjustments to circumstance. They are not flaws. They are manifestations of biology in all its wondrous and terrible forms. That is not to say we ought to simply accept them as they come. Of course not. But if we curse them as if they were scourges inflicted on us by some mysterious evil force, we waste energy better used to combat them. A long, convoluted explanation exists in my head to support my argument, but I’m not sufficiently clear-headed to express it at the moment, so I’ll leave it for now. But I’m sufficiently alert to shift gears to a different, yet related, topic.

Humans teach one another what to believe. Religion and science have, for the most part, either been complementary to one another or at least tolerant of one another for much of human history. But there have been periods during which they have been deeply at odds. And always (well, that’s a long time…) there have been fundamental disagreements on some core philosophies. Regardless of agreement or disagreement, religion and science have been perpetuated through teaching. The foundation of teaching is belief in the subjects being taught. The foundation of learning is confidence in the teacher and the degree to which his or her world view is believable. And that relies, in large part (though not entirely), on personality. A charismatic preacher might have more success in shaping a child’s world view than would a crotchety old physicist who is not particularly enamored with children. In my view, that’s a shame. Because I believe physics and the physicist are far more credible than the charismatic preacher. But someone else, someone who was shaped by an earlier version of the charismatic preacher, might assert the preacher is more credible. That maddens me. But I understand it. I just don’t like it. Because I believe in biology and in science and in the revelations of the scientific disciplines; disciplines that can quickly and radically change their world view based on evidence. Unlike religion, where change moves at the pace of thick, ice-cold molasses flowing down a hill during a frigid winter storm. Am I biased? Moderately. Well, perhaps somewhat more than that.

Why is this on my mind and what does it have to do with my cold? It’s because I imagine some people I know saying “I’ll pray for you to get over this cold” if they knew I felt ill. And others would say “Have you seen a doctor? Are you drinking plenty of fluids? Getting plenty of vitamin C?”  Religion versus science, the latest version.

If I had supernatural powers, one of the things I might do is remove from all human minds the belief in supernatural powers. They can keep other aspects of religion, but let’s eliminate the belief in all-powerful faeries and gods and such that control us and the world in which we live, okay? Let’s seek explanations in science and, especially, biology. Let’s explore the biological basis for our religious beliefs. Let’s rally around one another—all cultures the world over—and explore the world in which we live, all from the same perspective. We can keep or eliminate, at our individual discretion, spirituality and its brethren (personally, I think spirituality is another name for compassion or empathy, which argues for keeping it). But let’s rely exclusively on information we can test. And let’s be ready to turn on a dime if the data says we should.

I’m saying nothing new; I’ve said it all before and others have said it better. But I’ve never said it on a Tuesday in early January 2020, which makes this a first for me. I pray for a quick and complete recovery from this cold or bubonic plague or flu or tuberculosis or rabies or bipolar disorder or whatever it is that’s screwing with my sleep patterns and producing gallons and gallons of snot. I implore Zeus/Jupiter and Apollo and Aphrodite and Poseidon/Neptune and all the others to rid me of this horrid affliction so that I may go forth in the world and make my mark (much like a dog peeing on a tree).

Seriously, this illness is getting in the way of things that matter, so I’m ready to boot it out of my life. I need biology to be my friend in this. I need more daytime cold/flu syrup to muck with my biological response to this biological attack. I wish my wife would awaken and go to Walgreen’s on my behalf to buy more of the stuff; I’ve swallowed the last 15 mL and need more.  And orange juice. I need fresh orange juice. Perhaps I should go where I can pick fresh oranges. Or, perhaps, I should go back to bed and try to sleep a bit more. That might be a welcome biological response to the ongoing aches in my muscles.

Today is a little better than yesterday. At least my fingers are more willing to be manipulated to strike the keyboard with greater frequency. And my mind is spilling more stuff onto the screen in front of me. Progress. I think I feel progress, albeit not as much as I’d like. Onward, though, through the mist.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to Through the Mist

  1. Thanks, Pat. I may just return to paragraph 3 and flesh it out one day. I enjoy mucking with such stuff. And I enjoy playing with irony (as if that’s not obvious)! Even in the throes of a cold, at least my mind is functioning well enough that I can think and write moderately coherent irony. 😉 I appreciate your comments and your thought-provoking perspective.

  2. Pat Newcomb says:

    Paragraphs 3, 4, and 5 are quite insightful (on a global as well as personal scale). I appreciate the forthrightness to name the dissonance in wanting to believe in a supernatural power that will choose you for special treatment over the simple reality that eventually (with help from modern chemistry) the condition that is creating all the discomfort will relent and your body return to a functioning equilibrium. Paragraph 3 could be parsed even further when muse and ability to breathe return. Get well soon.

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