Randomness

Interesting study on cancer and the extended degree of randomness now thought to be associated with most diagnoses. It is humbling and horrifying to think our very existence; our lovers, our children, our passions all hinge on a daily roll of the genetic dice.  It is a morbid casino.  Dozens of tables hawking multiple different games; Craps over here…Roulette this way… Fortunes won and lost multiple times a day.  Inside each of us, cell division is happenings between 50 and 70 billion times a day (who really knows, maybe half that number maybe double; it’s a lot).  To keep it simple, let’s agree that cancer results from some error in cell division that results in run away cell growth.  I roll the mortal dice up to 70 billion times a day.  The research out of John’s Hopkins published in the January edition of the journal Science provides evidence that two-thirds of cancer result from a random errors in cell division.  The remaining one-third is attributed to environmental and lifestyle variables.  First, I cannot even comprehend the number 70 billion.  One million is very hard to visualize.  Assuming you can grasp one million (I’ll argue that is at the outer limit for most people to truly comprehend), you would have to take the outer reaches of you perception and multiply that by 70,000.  To get where I am going, think of the outer limit of perception and double it.  This is difficult.  70,000 times is meaningless.  As I worry about the mortgage and paying for a spring break trip, my body is gambling at odds and costs above anything I regularly encounter.

Randomness is something that makes most people uncomfortable.  There is something in each of us that treasures the opposite; predictability.  We like to be surprised in movies and championship series but not in our daily lives.  The fundamental motivator of science, religion and fortune tellers is the powerful drive to understand our world.  The idea that something as significant as the death of a family member could be the result of chance is terrifying.  Dwell too long on the idea and it can be paralyzing – each of walking around with our own personal time bomb and worse, each of our loved ones.  Disease is only one of our dance partners in randomness.  Accidents ask for our hand as well.  Two cars leaving their driveways miles apart and through a series of unrelated events and decisions meet violently in some nondescript intersection.  A new widow or orphan is born.  This is an oppressive weight to carry around.  Why?  Anytime tragedy strikes, ‘why’ is the central question.  Why did this happen to me (her, him)?  It is as though the incident is less distressing if we can assign a reason.  He smoked two packs a day.  She was texting and driving.  He never took very good care of himself.  It was genetic.  Anything to convince us it was not simply chance.

What is about a sense of control, false or otherwise, that we find so comforting?  Is that it lets us believe we can prevent bad things by not making the ‘mistakes’ others have?  When I read stories about drug addicts and alcoholics, lack of control often plays a leading role.  The sense that life happens and bad things occur with a disturbing indifference to our efforts.  “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” as it was described by Milan Kundera in his book by the same name.  We have one life to live and events largely out our control shape it.  We are along for the ride as unnerving as any backseat motorcycle ride, destiny whipping by in a blur.  Always in the back of our minds the question of whether our random selection of a route will lead us to a violent destiny in an otherwise quiet intersection.

Just thinking through this as I write builds an urge to reach for a drink at 7 in the morning (I didn’t).  The need for escape is palpable.  As I observe my world and the experience of living in it, a lot can be explained by this need for distraction.  Books, movies, sermons, concerts, drugs, prostitution…  all ways to distract us from our day to day existence and the dreadful truth the we ‘don’t know what tomorrow brings’.  Much of the anxiety experienced by people struggling with mental health is focused on uncertainty – what will happen at the meeting, will she love me tomorrow, when will I die.  I guess the fine line between normal and insane is the ability to function in the face of the unknowable.  This is not say mental illness is a simple matter or that ill people just need to chill.  Rather that I see a correlation in well being and the ability to enjoy the ride without obsessing over the daily destination.  Simply stated, obsessing over the future is a quick way to addiction through attempts to medicate away the terror.

I do not have any answers.  I face the same fear. I fall for the same distractions.  I seek the same escape.  All I know to do is make an effort toward gratitude and presence.  I am saddened at how much I have missed in my life by not being grateful and present.  Nurturing the ability to observe while resisting the illusion of control may be the secret to a more peaceful existence.  This is the reason I write.  Spending time each day (or once a year when I fail to follow through) working through my thoughts on paper helps reinforce some simple truths.  We would all be better if we celebrated New Day’s Eve – a brief but thoughtful recognition of all the beauty, mystery and love we encountered during the day and the promise of new encounters tomorrow.

FBC Part 2

After I wrote my original post titled “Familiarity Breeds Contempt” I had a very cool perspective as I went through the next couple days.  I was conscious of all the bizarre things we have come to take for granted – ignoring a glorious star that is massive, dense and hot beyond anything we can comprehend as it breaks the horizon every morning and powers life as we know it.  So as I went through my day with a new detached perspective (I guess the point of the previous post) I became aware of many more amazing things I interact with every day.  Although it was one of the things that occurred to me, I am not going into the whole pregnancy, child birth and children.  When broken down it is almost alien (foreign, not from outer space – not that kind of blog).

One of the things I gave much thought to was dogs.  My own life and consciousness is impossible to grasp and now I have to contend with another consciousness in the house.  This is allegorical so let’s not start the philosophical battle of whether dogs are conscious.  Mine is so we will focus there.  As I sat on my couch petting my Golden Receiver providing obvious pleasure she clearly expressed, I was aware of the strange nature of our relationship.  First the idea that a relationship is even possible.  Two minds experiencing two radically different realities communicating.  More incredible, communicating ideas and emotion.  Just as I can look in the mirror and stare into my own eyes and have no idea who I really am or where I came from, I can stare into Holly’s eyes and get the same feeling.  Dog’s may not be self aware as we are (a mind able to comprehend its existence but not its nature).

This is the central idea of my blog.  I get so wrapped up in the complexity of the way I choose to live that the glory, beauty and awe of existence dissolves into an empty cycle of trivial tasks that I mistake for my life.

 

Familiarity Breeds Comptempt

Hubble GalaxyI am blind to the miracles that surround me. Every day, this magnificent star 93 million miles away reveals itself in an explosion of color and warmth. Every day this happens and rarely do I bother to look. Every second an organ beats in my chest. Tireless. Breath fills my lungs and passes molecules into a fluid that traverses miles of tiny tubes picking up and dropping off chemicals. This activity is all directed from somewhere deep in my brain out of my reach. Surrounding this primitive control center is a dense web of cells carrying electrical and chemical signals one to the next. These waves of forces and particles somehow interact to create everything I know; my sense of self, my understanding of the environment around me and what little perception I have of the universe. These interactions are the intangible things that make me human. Emotions. My sixth sense. Things that only exist in my brain yet influence every part of my being. The love I feel for my family, the anxiety I feel facing the unknown, the hatred infiltrating my inner peace seeing injustice; all figments of my imagination existing only as an ebb and flow of tiny forces across tiny cells in a tiny brian on a tiny planet in an infinite universe. In this tiny space I can consider the vastness of space, the concept of time, the meaning of life. I can wonder to myself is the universe really an infinitely large thing outside or an infinitely small thing inside me. These observations stand not only for me, they are repeated at least once for each of my 6 billion fellow beings. The magic extends beyond the 6 billion observers to the trillions of other life forms. How impossible is it for an oak tree to crawl out of an acorn?

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Each Day a New Dawn

New Year’s Eve is about looking back and looking ahead. TV shows, News programs, music stations and web sites looks back over the previous year to identify the best and worst of the year in every possible category. After every combination of top-something lists are complete, attention is turned to predicting the best and worst in the year to come. 365 days and nights of activity around the globe distilled down to top 50 and 100 lists. The lists are made by other people through the lens of their experience. What significance to me are the top 100 search terms or top 50 viral videos. Is Time Magazine’s 50 most interesting people interesting to me? Maybe.

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Happy 2015!

Sunset titleI find myself facing another New Year’s Eve with the same curiosity I have always had.  What is it about New Year’s that everyone finds so significant.  Is New Year’s Eve any different than any other eve?  Is there any real significance about January 1 that is not also true about January 2 and the other 364 evenings and mornings we face?  Moreover, what is about New Year’s Eve that incites people all over the globe to drink more, smoke more and party more than any other night?  Is it just a much needed and universally accepted excuse to get drunk and act a fool?  Is it something more insidious reminding us of our mortality and magnified beyond our birthday by the shared angst of the global population on a single day?

On a morning run, I was struck by the overt friendliness that affects everyone this time of year.  The same people I pass on the street the rest of the year without a glance now bubble out of themselves with warm wishes for a happy New Year.  It is the same with clerks at the store, neighbors silent the rest of the year and acquaintances we hear from only on the precipice of a dawning annum.  Why so friendly and optimistic today?  Why not so every day?  Why is it so easy (or so expected) on this day? How would the world be different if we all treated every day like the fresh start it is?

Then there is the annual tradition of resolutions to be better people – better shape, better health, better relationships better business, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters.  As though this one special night is the only shot we have all year.  A special ‘open enrollment’ for deciding to be better.  Be careful how you choose, you are stuck with your decisions until next Dec 31.

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