Creation’s Taxonomy

Saint Thomas Aquinas set the thing rolling very clearly with the question: ‘How many sorts of created things are there?’

“The answer is four. There are those which just are as stones; those which are and live as plants; those which are and live and move as animals; and those which are and live and move and think as man.

“The changing order of complexity between the stone and virus is just one monstrous step. The other steps are not just changes in complexity, but are changes in the order of complexity.

“The gross initial step is the ability to use information at all. On the whole, the physical universe is without information.”

~ Gregory Bateson

Different is not sick

…if you are not like everybody else, then you are abnormal, if you are abnormal , then you are sick. These three categories, not being like everybody else, not being normal and being sick are in fact very different but have been reduced to the same thing.”

— Michel Foucault, (2004)
‘Je suis un artificier’.
In Roger-Pol Droit (ed.), Michel Foucault, entretiens.
Paris: Odile Jacob, p. 95.
(Interview conducted in 1975.
This passage trans. Clare O’Farrell.)

Why Humans Live Past the Age of Reproduction

As the body of human knowledge grew over the ages, and as the social and cultural life of our species became more complex, the value of older adults increased as well.

This is why natural selection has favored a relatively long human life span despite the fact that the female reproductive potential typically ends in the late forties.

Clearly, when it comes to human beings, the capacities to teach, to transmit wisdom and skills, and to serve as a repository for the culture are just as important as the capacity to reproduce. The complexity of today’s global society and the variety of skills required to master those complexities only amplify the importance of the older adults among us.

~ Gene D. Cohen, M.D., Ph.D.

Where are the Families of Fabled Heroes?

Unlike Hindi films, modern North American films rarely embed the hero in the thick traditions and obligations of family history. It is a rare movie indeed when we meet the hero’s parents.

So wrote cultural anthropologist Richard A. Shweder, of the University of Chicago, and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, University of Virginia, in a chapter for the Handbook of Emotions (2000).

We don’t meet the parents of Hollywood heroes because many of our culture’s iconic superheroes are orphaned. Or might as well be.

Batman’s parents are dead; victims of a violent crime. Superman’s folks died in a disaster on a far away planet. Luke Skywalker was the son of a mostly absent, and decidedly bad, father. He barely had a mother. (The character that appeared later in the Star Wars franchise, played by Natalie Portman, was an afterthought.)

At a time when the very definition and role of family in our culture is muddled (perhaps because it is in transition), we might not be surprised that our cultural heroes seem to spring forward without parental guidance and support. Or in spite of it.

Yet, the Batman and Superman narratives go back many decades to their comic book origins in the mid-last century. Perhaps they helped set us upon the path we find ourselves today.

Still, no matter how the entertainment industry construes the hero’s journey, social relationships early in life have a profound impact on shaping how each of us perceives, interprets, and relates to the world.

Given a choice between nurturing parents or becoming orphaned, even most Superheroes probably would take the hugs.