One of my companions is dying.
This is not my first rodeo. I have had many pet companions in my life, and some have lived long lives, and some have had their lives abruptly shortened. But either way, each has left a unique, cherished mark on my life that I would not change in any way. But while that does not negate the sadness and sense of loss that I feel when the end occurs, there is a lesson even in that.
In one of my first blog posts about robots, I wrote this:
My dog is much more than something that barks and performs tricks. When she greets me at the door, she teaches me the value of companionship. When she’s hungry or wants to go out, she reinforces the responsibility that comes with caring for another living being. When she snuggles up to me on the couch, she is rewarding me for the trust I have earned from her. When she sleeps between me and my wife on the bed, and we are both holding her, she acts as a conduit between us that enhances my feelings of coexistence and connectedness. And when she ultimately moves on to doggie heaven – as all dogs do at some point in time – she will teach me an important lesson about grief and the cycle of life. As all my dogs have.
Every pet we have is like a mini cycle of life: From the time we get them as a little peanut and have to teach them the ropes, through their adolescent and adult years, and into old age when we have to tend to them and ease them on. And every one of these little cycles reinforces both the connection we all have as living beings and the impermanence of that connection. I cherish my dogs and cats not only because I love them, but because I know that the time I have with them is limited and precious. And that is the way it should be with all of our friends and companions, animal or human.
So as I ease my companion in his final days and help him move on, I will try to focus less on the grief and more on the remembrance and duty I have to repay him for the companionship he has provided me over the years. And the thing about our animal companions is this: They do not concern themselves with remorse or death. They are creatures of the moment, and my remaining moments with him should be the same.
As always in a democracy, there are issues where we can agree, and there are issues where we cannot agree. I can agree, for example, that the establishment has done a poor job of protecting the middle class. I can also agree that it has done a poor job of allowing minorities to enter it. Where I cannot agree is that the person gleefully supported by David Duke and white supremacists is the right person to fix it. I will never agree with that. Ever.
What is consciousness? That is a question that has stymied humanity for probably as long as we have been conscious, whatever that is. And with theories ranging from the purely mechanistic to the deeply spiritual and everywhere in between, it doesn’t seem that we will be converging on a definitive answer any time soon. For my own interests, however, the question is not so much the how, but the why. I am not so much interested in how we are conscious, but why we became conscious and, building on that, where consciousness will be taking us in the future.
In discussing why we became conscious, a good starting point is to examine the evolutionary basis for consciousness. There is still a quite robust debate as to whether consciousness is, in itself, a selectable trait or merely a consequence of something else, but let’s assume for the sake of this discussion that there is an evolutionary advantage for consciousness; that being conscious gives us a competitive edge. If so, then why might that be? Continue reading
It was just over a year ago that I kicked off this blog with the following quote from Saint Thomas Aquinas:
The name of being wise is reserved to him alone whose consideration is about the end of the universe, which end is also the beginning of the universe.
I then proceeded to write on a variety of topics—technology, politics, global warming, philosophy and religion, whatever—some of which I extended into multi-post series, and so on. And then I stopped for a little while. You see, I had started this blog to vent some things (much to the happiness of my wife, who was, frankly, tired of hearing me gripe about them), but as a side effect of venting, I eventually began to feel a lost sense of purpose. After all, those of us who take the time to start and write on our blogs are, to some extent, just yelling into the wind. And after yelling into the wind for a while, I began to ask myself: what’s the point?
The Internet tells me that “to dissent” is to publicly disagree with an official opinion or set of beliefs; to withhold assent; to express an attitude of non-agreement to a prevailing idea or an entity; to refuse to conform to the policies of the state. It is a guiding philosophy of activism; it is the spirit that drives civil disobedience and radicalism; and, at its heart it is the battle for the soul that rages within each one of us every day, in foro conscientiae: before the tribunal of conscience.
Inarguably, an important part of the study of war is why war in the first place. To this, many explanations have been given over the centuries: religion, power, competition for scarce resources, some inclination to war that is supposedly innate to mankind’s psyche. Yet, beneath all of these lie one common thread: the desire for wealth. To wit: war is almost always a result of the friction between the longing of those who do not have wealth to acquire it, and the need of those who have it to both retain it, and acquire more.
From the theories proposed by Sir Francis Galton at the turn of the twentieth century, to the warnings illustrated by the movie Gattica at the turn of the twenty-first, the concept that mankind can somehow deterministically improve its genetic lot has been an undercurrent of political thought for a very long time. Yet, one has to wonder about this fascination. Certainly, we are the only species on this planet for which this is an innate concern, though undoubtedly this is linked, in no small part, to our ability to conceptualize sorrow with our current form and, thus, contrive some ideal to improve upon it. No other animal, after all, has ever gazed upon its reflection in a pool of water and been so enamored with perfection as our own. However, just because we can conceptualize an idea does not mean we have the intellectual capacity to properly act upon it.