The social and cultural benefits of genetic ancestry testing

 

I received my 23andme results a few weeks back and it has reminded me of a few things about genetic testing. Depending on how it’s used, it can definitely have some drawbacks. But it can also have many personal and social / cultural benefits.

Here are some of the possible social and cultural benefits that come to mind.

We are reminded that we are all overwhelmingly alike. Only about 0.5% of our genetic material has to do with our particular geographic or ethnic history. We are overwhelmingly alike as human beings, and as Earthlings we are also overwhelmingly alike. As human beings, we share almost all our history and ancestors, and as Earthlings we share a great deal of our history and ancestors.

Many of us, and especially in North America, have a far more mixed ancestry than we may expect. For instance, some who identify as “white” may have Asian, North-American, or African ancestry mixed in.

Same or similar genetic sequence-patterns are found in most or all human populations. So when the different companies assign an ethnic group based on particular patterns, they do it based on statistics and probably. Any particular pattern may be more prevalent in some groups but are found in other groups as well. So the analysis is not always accurate. Again, it’s a reminder of how similar we are.

Our official family history isn’t always the same as the genetic one. We have an official set of ancestors. We have a genetic set of ancestors. And the two are not always the same. This may help us hold our identity more lightly. We can (learn to) embrace and appreciate both.

This all makes it more difficult to justify or hold onto racism. (Although I am sure some will be able to if they really want to.) We are all Africans. We share almost all of our DNA. Many of us are more mixed than we think. Any differences are, in the big picture, very superficial.

As genetic testing becomes more common and our understanding improves, it may well have an impact on culture. And, if we want, it may help us see how closely we all are related. It may widen and deepen our sense of “us” as human beings and even as part of the Earth community.

As mentioned, there are also possible drawbacks. For instance, it’s easy to misinterpret or hold certain interpretations as more solid than they are. And some may get stressed out by certain interpretations of their health or ancestry data. They may realize one or both of their parents (or grandparents) are not the ones they thought they were. Or they may mistakenly think that’s the case based on misguided interpretation of the data. Or they may think that a slight statistical increase in likelihood of a certain illness means they are actually likely to get it (which may not be the case at all). And I guess there is some risk that employees or governments can use certain data in unfortunate ways. (I don’t think it’s happening much or at all now, but there is always the risk.)

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Shifting center of gravity into more universal identities

 

In some ways, any challenging life situation is an invitation to release identification with more superficial identities (roles, work, gender, preferences etc.) and shift the center of gravity into more universal ones.

– from a previous post

This is a part of healing and awakening, and – to some extent- sustainability and creating a society that works better for all, including future generations and ecosystems.

We all have a mix of different identities. Some set us apart and some are more universal. Some are conscious and some are less so. Some have strong identifications and some not so much. And they come from culture, family, and personal experience (sometimes reactivity).

Life tends to challenge the identities that set us apart, and the more strongly we are identified with them the more stressful and dramatic we may experience those challenges. For instance, we may be identified with being young but we inevitably get older. We may be identified with being healthy, strong, and active, but get sick. We are identified with a political orientation but realize something else makes more sense. And so on. The identities that set us apart typically have to do with roles we play in life, whether it’s relationships, work, age, gender, or different political, religious, or other orientations.

There is nothing wrong with these identities. They all serve a function. We couldn’t live without them. But when life challenges them, as it tends to do, it is painful to have invested them with too much energy.

And that’s an invitation to notice and question these identities, and perhaps shift our center of gravity into more universal identities. These more universal identities include being human, part of life, part of the Universe, being awareness, that which all happens within and as, and so on.

As usual with these type of things, we cannot consciously shift the center of gravity into more universal ones. Any shift requires a ripening that largely operates outside of our conscious awareness and largely comes from influences far outside of us as individuals. And yet, we can invite it to happen through various practices or explorations.

We can identify and question identities through inquiry (Living Inquiry, The Work). We can engage in practices that come from and help us shift into more universal orientations such as heart centered practices (ho’o, jesus prayer, all-inclusive gratitude practice). We can help more universal identities come alive for us through Epic of Evolution type experiences and practices (Practices to Reconnect). We can do energy work that tends to, over time, shift identifications into more universal ones (yoga, tai chi, chi gong, Vortex Healing etc.). And there is a great number of other approaches that similarly helps us shift our center of gravity to more universal identities.

Note: When I say “influences far outside of us as individuals” I mean influences from the past and from the wider social and ecological wholes. Anything that happens has innumerable causes, and these stretch back to beginning of time and out to the furthest reaches of the universe. And that includes any ripening that happens in us and any shifts in identifications.

Thoughts: a risky experiment

 

Thoughts is one of life’s risky experiments.

It seems to work pretty well for non-human species. I assume many non-human species too have thoughts that mimic the senses. Imagined sensory information that helps them remember the past, plan for the future, and function in the present.

We humans have gone one step further. We have created language out of a combination of images and sounds. That’s another level of abstraction, and one that is both powerful and dangerous.

It’s powerful since it allows us to explore the world in the abstract. It allows us to take what’s already there in less abstract thought, and create everything human civilization has created – from agriculture and cities to science, art, and technology.

It’s dangerous. When we take our thoughts to be real and true, it creates suffering for ourselves and can easily do so for others as well. And that happens at social (war, religion, oppression) and individual levels.

And it’s a risky experiment from life’s side. It may not work out for very long. We may self-destruct because of our inability to use thoughts in the most beneficial way. And we may take some ecosystems and other species with us. Of course, it’s not really that risky since everything dies anyway – species, ecosystems, living planets, solar systems, and the universe as a whole. It may just speed up the death of some species. And as we know from Earth’s history, mass extinctions create room for new species, ecosystems, and life innovations. (It’s also not “risky” since it’s not a planned evolutionary step, it just happened because it happened to give our species a survival advantage.)

Thoughts can be a very useful tool. As mentioned above, it seems to work pretty well in its less abstract version, prior to more complex language. And even with higher levels of abstraction, it can work well. We can recognize thoughts as a tool of limited value. They are very valuable in helping us orient and function in the world. And yet, they can’t do anything more. They are questions about the world. They have no absolute or final truth to them.

Who knows, perhaps humans will eventually evolve so a majority of us inherently know that thoughts are tools only. If so, humanity may have a long lifespan.

From a Darwinist point of view, this will require those who are less inclined to believe thoughts to have a survival advantage and produce more offspring. On the surface, that may not seem to be happening. Although who knows. If we are around for long enough, we – as a species – will see.

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If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person

 

Oxygen and the air pressure are always being monitored. In the event of a decompression, an oxygen mask will automatically appear in front of you. To start the flow of oxygen, pull the mask towards you. Place it firmly over your nose and mouth, secure the elastic band behind your head, and breathe normally. Although the bag does not inflate, oxygen is flowing to the mask. If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person. Keep your mask on until a uniformed crew member advises you to remove it.

This is the classic analogy, but it’s still very appropriate.

Take care of your own basic needs first, and then you’ll be in a much better position to assist others.

On the one hand, this is a dynamic balance. Sometimes, it’s appropriat to focus on taking care of our own needs. Other times, we are in a position to focus more on the needs of others. And this often changes with the roles we play over the course of a day and a lifetime.

On the other hand, they are two sides of the same coin. We may spend time taking care of our own needs, for instance when we need healing or to get basic needs taken care of, and that benefits others in the moment or later. Or we may find ways to assist others in ways that are deeply nurturing and meaningful to us, and also takes care of our own material needs.

Several things may help us find and live these solutions that simultaneously benefit and nurture ourselves and the wider world (even if it’s in apparently small ways).

It helps when we hold the bigger picture in mind. When we seek solutions good for all, including future generations. And when we are open to solutions outside of what we expect or are familiar with.

It helps when we take care of our beliefs and identifications around either being a self-sacrificing martyr or selfish. The solutions present themselves easier the less we are identified with these, and the more we are free from them.

It helps the less substantial we take the imagined boundary between ourselves and the larger whole to be. The more we experience it as just a temporarily imagined boundary, the easier it is to act in ways good for ourselves and the wider whole.

And it helps the more healed we are as human beings. Wounds often make us act in reactive ways, including from reactive and narrow-minded self-preservation. The more healed and whole we are, the more natural it is to wish to act in a way that’s kind and informed by larger picture concerns.

And working on these is, in itself, an example of a solution that benefit ourselves and the larger whole.

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My larger body

 

Some statements are often seen as poetic or romantic, but in this case, it’s a literal reality.

My larger body is nature and society. My larger body is this planet. My larger body is this solar system and universe.

My existence as a human being depends 100% on this larger body for its existence and survival. The only boundaries between this human self and the larger whole is imagined, and invested with reality only by our minds.

This is very real from a ordinary material and scientific point of view.

And going beyond that, as what I am – what all experience happens within and as – it’s all what I am.

It may seem a romantic or hippyish notion, but it has very real consequences for how we live our lives.

If I see myself as a human being mostly separate from the larger whole, I’ll act accordingly. I’ll act as if the health and well being the larger social and ecological systems matters little for my own health and well being. I’ll tend to act from a short term and narrow perspective. I’ll tend to act in a way that’s – intentionally or not – harmful for the larger whole. And we create our societies, social systems, and worlviews to reflect this. We’ll use economic models that assume that the health and well being of the larger whole doesn’t really matter. We’ll create transportation systems, production systems, food systems, water systems, energy systems, and more that reflect this world view. And we’ll reap the consequences individually and collective. That’s what we see today with a growing awareness of the consequences of toxins in our air, land, and water, diminishing ecosystems, and climate change.

If I see the larger social and ecological systems as my larger body, my view and actions will be different. I’ll act from a longer term and larger perspective. I’ll seek solutions that benefits myself as well as the whole. And we’ll collective use worldviews and systems that reflect this reality and this desire to support life at all levels.

If I see the solar systema and universe as my larger body, I’ll tend to experience a deep and profound sense of belonging and meaning. As Carl Sagan said, we are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. We are the universe bringing itself into conscious awareness.

Of course, this has to be a lived reality for us. It may become a living reality through natural adult maturation and development. It may happen if we live in a society or group where this is a mainstream view. And it can happen through education and experiences such as the Practices to Reconnect by Joanna Macy.

I am aware that I am using the word “reality” here and it’s not really that. It’s a perception. An experience. A worldview. But “reality” works as a shorthand even if it’s not that precise.

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Keeping the big picture in mind

 

A recent survey asked “All things considered, do you think the world is getting better or worse, or neither getting better nor worse?”. In Sweden 10% thought things are getting better, in the US they were only 6%, and in Germany only 4%. Very few people think that the world is getting better.

What is the evidence that we need to consider when answering this question? The question is about how the world has changed and so we must take a historical perspective. And the question is about the world as a whole and the answer must therefore consider everybody. The answer must consider the history of global living conditions – a history of everyone.

– from A history of global living conditions in 5 charts by Max Roser

It’s important to keep the big picture in mind, especially with a media that tends to narrowly focus on what doesn’t work. In this case, the bigger picture is how the human condition has changed over the last two centuries. It’s equally important to make decisions for future generations, and

It’s equally important to make decisions for future generations. And to see ourselves in the context of the history of the Universe as a whole. We are – quite literally – the universe expressing, experiencing and exploring itself. Remembering that gives a sense of awe and is amazing, exciting, and sobering.

Carl Sagan: We who embody the local eyes and ears and thoughts and feelings of the cosmos

 

And we who embody the local eyes and ears and thoughts and feelings of the cosmos we’ve begun, at last, to wonder about our origins. Star stuff, contemplating the stars, organized collections of 10 billion-billion-billion atoms contemplating the evolution of matter, tracing that long path by which it arrived at consciousness here on the planet Earth and perhaps, throughout the cosmos.

– Carl Sagan, Cosmos, episode 13

 

Thomas Berry: The story of the universe is the personal story of everybody

 

The story of the universe is the personal story of everybody.

– Thomas Berry in an interview with Drew Dellinger, June 1998

I can’t say it more clearly or simply.
The history if the universe is the personal story of all of us, of all beings and everything else.

In our modern science-based story of the universe, we are told how we expanded rapidly as energy (Big Bang), how we became light and matter, formed into stars and solar systems, how we exploded as stars and formed heavier elements and new solar systems, how we eventually formed into this planet, and how this planet formed itself into life, and eventually all life we see and know today. This is all my personal story. And yours.

When we tell this story, it’s often told from a more fragmented perspective. We look at it from the perspective of the parts. And it’s equally or more accurate to look at it from the perspective of the whole as well as the parts. We can say that the universe formed itself into all these things.

This story is also often told in the third person as “it”. It – the universe – formed itself into all these things. It’s equally true and accurate to tell this story in the first person plural. We formed into all these things, and eventually, what we see and know today.

Even from a mainstream science perspective, the universe is a seamless whole that formed itself into everything we see and know today, including you and me. Everything is “we”.

These are vital differences. Do we tell this story from the perspective of the parts and in the third person? Or do we tell this story from the perspective of the whole and the parts, and in the first person? These different views have real life consequences. They inform how we perceive ourselves, the universe, and our relationship to everything. They inform how we live and act. They even inform policies and how we organize ourselves as a society.

The first view creates the type of western and global society we see today. One that’s not aligned with ecological realities, and one that does not take nonhuman life, ecosystems, and future generations into account in any significant way. The second view has the potential to transform our society into one that is more aligned with ecological realities and takes nonhuman life, ecosystems, and future generations into account when it comes to policies and how we live and organize ourselves.

Identification = worried love

 

Why is there suffering?

That’s an old questions for us humans. (I realize that the real question, the one behind this one, is what can we do about it? That’s a topic for other posts.)

One answer is perhaps equally old: Suffering comes from beliefs. Identification with certain thoughts. Velcro. Mistaken identity.

These point to the same thing: Mind takes certain thoughts, certain images and thoughts, as real and true. It identifies with these thoughts. It takes their viewpoint. It sees the world from their perspective, and holds onto it as true. And it does that through associating these images and words with certain sensations (often different depending on the thought), and these sensations seem – to the mind – to lend solidity and reality to the thoughts.

Why does the mind do this?

It may be because we observe those around us doing it, as kids and later as adults. It seems to be what people do here. So we do it too. And we pass it on.

It may have an evolutionary function. Perhaps the stress created an extra urgency that somehow has offered a survival advantage for our ancestors. An advantage that outweighed the drawbacks of stress, struggle, and conflict.

It may also be a quirk of evolution. We evolved that way, to be inclined to identify with thoughts rather than recognizing them as thoughts, through a coincidence. Perhaps it could have gone a different direction. (I am not so sure about that, but it’s possible.)

It may also be that since thoughts – abstract representations using words and images – is a relatively new phenomenon in our evolution, we still haven’t quite figured out how to relate to it well. We are still novices when it comes to using this tool called thought. So we stumble. It’s still messy. And perhaps sometime in the future, we as a species will relate to it with more clarity.

In any case, it’s innocent.

And it’s Lila. The universe expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself. The dance of life. Divine play.

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13.8 billion years old

 

When someone asks me how old I am, I sometimes say 13.8 billion years old.

It’s as true as whatever my passport says. Perhaps even more true. And it’s something we all share. It’s something we all share, whether we are galaxies, solar systems, stars, planets, ecosystems, plants, animals, emotions, thoughts, experiences of all sorts, molecules, atoms, quarks. We were all born 13.8 billion years ago.

We have evolved. Changed. We look quite different from back then.

But we are all the universe in it’s local expression. We are all how the universe has evolved, and is currently expressing itself.

As humans, and living beings, we are how the universe is currently expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself. We are a 13.8 billion year old universe experiencing itself.

We are, as Carl Sagan said, the local eyes, ears, emotions and thoughts of the universe bringing itself into awareness.

And that’s no joke. It’s as real as saying there was a certain number of years since I, as a human individual, was born. I have changed greatly as a human being since then. The universe has changed greatly as a universe since then. Everything physical in me is part of that 13.8 billion year old universe. And every pattern, dynamic and process in me is the result of 13.8 billion years of evolution.

This literally changes everything. When I take this in, feel it, find real examples of how it’s true, everything changes. My whole perspective changes. The context for my life changes.

Universe fascinated by itself

 

The universe is fascinated by itself.

And in our case, the universe is fascinated by itself as an individual, a culture and a civilization, in all the ways we are fascinated by anything at all. At this level, there is no reason for it and it doesn’t need a reason.

In an evolutionary perspective, there is of course a reason. It makes good sense to be fascinated, to explore, experience, learn and so on. It aids survival to be interested in life, in our surroundings, in each other, in ourselves, in anything at all.

Today, this fascination is perhaps most obvious in our fascination in all forms of media – TV, internet, movies, podcast, music, performances, newspapers, magazines and so on. It’s an endless fascination where we absorb, experience, learn about ourselves, each other, the world,  and life.

It’s the fascination of the universe of itself, in all of these ways. It’s the universe evolved into a planet, and into a species for whom it makes evolutionary sense to be curious and interested in the world.

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Old blogs and rants

 

I just added a link to my old blogs in the about section, and thought I would add them here too.

Here is a list of my my old blogs, where the most interesting one may be the Rants. It’s mostly about US politics, and I see  lots of beliefs there!

I also have a few old essays listed, and these are also included and more easily read on this site.

Ecospirituality – an outline for a presentation I gave in Madison, Wisconsin.

Ecospirituality: an outline of a worldview – text fragments for an older website.

Ecopsychology, ecospirituality, deep ecology and health – a letter translated from Norwegian.

Økopsykologi, økospiritualityet, dypøkologi og helse – et åpent brev

First space flight

 

It’s fifty years ago today since Earth saw itself from space – from earth orbit.

It’s only 16 years since Earth found the first planet around another star.

And it may be only a matter of years or decades until this living planet finds another living planet.

Earth came to life, then formed itself into humans and technology, and through humans and technology experience itself from space, find planets around other stars, and may well find another living planet – a sibling in another solar system.

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Journey of Man

 

I gave my parents each a genetics test for their birthdays, which revealed – not surprisingly – that our maternal ancestors on either side came out of Africa, through the Middle-East, and then respectively journeyed through Central Europe and Eastern Europe, and eventually into Scandinavia.

I also recently joined Geni, a social media/family tree site, mostly to help my father with his genealogy research.

In either case, whether it is historical or genetic genealogy, it reveals how hugely interconnected we are as soon as we go back just a few generations. It is our collective history that is revealed. Going back a few hundred thousand, or one or two million of years, it gets even more collective, including other species and eventually all of earth’s life. And going back some billion of years, it includes stars, galaxies, and all of the universe.

It’s funny how something that is traditionally viewed as a personal and family matter – genealogy – turns out to be that which reveals how interconnected we are, and that our history is shared and collective.

Why I am 13.7 billion years old

 

My birthday is coming up (again!) later this month, and I get curious about my age again.

I first notice that here and now, in immediacy, there is timelessness. Whatever happens in the sense fields happen within timelessness, and that includes any thoughts about past, future and present. Those are all labels. Interpretations. Ways to organize and make sense of what’s happening in the sense fields.

Among those stories of time, I find the most basic one is the story of time itself. A story saying there is a time line with past, future and present. This one helps place events where they seem to belong, and this helps me – as a human being in the world – to function and operate. It is not a flawless system (I edit and even make up memories of the past, and sometimes actually believe my own stories about time and what happened, happens, and will happen), but it generally works pretty well. It’s functional.

One of these stories of time says I was born so and so many years ago. It’s the story that’s reflected in my passport and birth certificate, and what most people in my culture use for themselves and when they think about how old I am.

Another of these stories is the deep time story. This universe was “born” about 13.7 billion years ago, and that’s how old I am. Again, in our culture, this doesn’t quite make sense. I am a human being, not the universe. But it actually makes a great deal of sense from another perspective. Everything I am, as this human being, is quite literally 13.7 billion years old. It is the product of the 13.7 billion year old evolution of this universe.

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My genetic journey

 

I have given my parents a kit each from The Genographic Project so they can map the journey of their ancestors on the female side. It’s fun, and it does give a more immediate sense of connection with our ancestors going back a few tens of thousands of years. And the results become part of a mapping of human migration paths, which makes it more than worthwhile.

At the same time, the maps we will receive is just two strands of thousands and thousands. The full picture of the journeys of of ancestors is far richer and more dense. And beyond the human, there is an even richer picture. We are are closely related. We are all parts of the living evolving Earth.

So it is fun. It becomes part of an important research projects which helps us recognize ourselves as part of an intimate human family. And yet, the results will be a couple of random strands from an infinitely more rich tapestry, and we are all – all Earth life – closely related anyway. This is just another reminder.

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Worldviews: Epic of Evolution & Fundamentalism

 

We are engaged in a great battle for ideas that Christians understand to be a battle for hearts, minds, and souls. Dowd and his fellow evangelists for evolution are certain that they own the future, and that biblical Christianity will simply fade and disappear. “Ours is a time of space telescopes, electron microscopes, supercomputers, and the worldwide web,” he asserts. His conclusion: “This is not a time for parsing the lessons given to a few goatherds, tentmakers, and camel drivers.”

Well, give Michael Dowd credit for reminding us where the rejection of biblical Christianity inevitably leads.

This is from a post by Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He gives a very accurate description of Michael Dowd’s views.

And I am also genuinely curious about the last sentence. For me, what comes up is compassion and relevance.  I am pretty sure that’s not what Albert thinks of. He speaks to an audience where they must have a shared understanding of what he refers to, and I am not quite sure what it is.

If I imagine into it based on my very rudimentary knowledge of more fundamentalist views (I have never encountered them personally, nor did I grow up in a culture where these views existed), I can find something. I imagine he may refer to the “ills” of modern secular society, such as materialism, fragmentation of families and communities, alienation, misguided youth and so on. I share those same concerns.

But if that is true, there is an irony there. Michael Dowd shows how science can be a source of a deep sense of meaning, belonging, compassion, a widening circle of care, and ethical guidelines. He is pointing out the (quite obvious, to be honest) shortcomings of fundamentalism, and instead offers a profoundly meaningful worldview that can be adopted and shared by Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Taoists, and atheists alike. What’s not to like about that?

It doesn’t tear something down or reduces possibilities. It offers something different that can enrich the views of people from any tradition and background.

The only thing it is exclusive of is a literal interpretation of ancient texts, and that is of course what doesn’t sit too well with fundamentalists.

Quantum physics and evolution as pointers

 

The scientific approach in general is a good guideline and pointer for our own “spiritual” explorations.

And within science itself, it seems that the study of the very small and the very large both are fertile ground for pointers and guidelines for exploration.

Science in general helps us recognize that we don’t know. We operate from our own world of images and this is just a map. It may be very helpful in a practical sense in everyday life but there is no “truth” in it. Examples from quantum physics, the study of the very small, helps bring this home.

Through this, we notice that we may assume that there is an objective world “out there”, and it is helpful to act in daily life as if it is so, but this too is just an image. As is the images of a me and I (doer, observer). As we notice these images as images, as content of experience, there is an invitation for identification to release out of these images. We can still use any and all of them in a practical and pragmatic way, to help us function and orient in the world, but they are recognized as images, helpful tools only, and not any absolute truth. And we can notice what happens when there is identification with the viewpoints of some of these images, including the images of a me and I, and what happens when there is a softening or release of this identification and we are more free to play with and make use of these images while recognizing them as images only.

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New podcast series from Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow

 

Thus, in addition to posting as a podcast series our occasional ruminations as “America’s Evolutionary Evangelists”, and in addition to teaching the epic of evolution as an inspiring modern-day creation story to kids and adults across North America, Connie and I are excited to have recently launched two new podcast series in which we interview and dialogue with leaders in science, education, and progressive religious initiatives: “Inspiring Naturalism” and “Evolving Faith”.

Two new podcast series from Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow. Highly recommended. Follow the links above, or find them on iTunes.

The excerpt above is from a blog post by Michael Dowd from the Thank God for Evolution website.

Not happiness

 

As they like to point out in evolutionary psychology, we are designed for survival and reproduction, not for happiness. Happiness is just one of many emotions and impulses that guide choices and action, and have been selected for through the generatons. It is one of many “modules” that has a survival and reproductive value for us, and is not a goal in itself – although it certainly may appear that way for us at times.

And it seems that it is the same from the perspective of the universe as a whole, or reality, or God. The universe express, explore, and experience itself in always new ways, in its infinite richness, and one of the ways it does this – at an obvious level – is through evolution. The universe evolves from energy to matter to galaxies to solar systems to living planets to ecological systems to social systems to technology, science, and art, and the everyday experiences of any being – and in all of these ways it express, explore, and experience itself in always new ways. Happiness is one of innumerable facets of how it explores and experiences itself.

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Evolution, biology and environment

 

There is a shared view among all human sciences:

Our biology makes everything we know possible: metabolism, walking, digesting, feeling, thinking, anger, joy, sadness, culture, technology, imagination, creativity, compassion, ethics, a sense of meaning, and anything that is part of our individual and collective lives.

Some of it is shared among all Earth life. Much of it is shared among all animals. A great deal of shared among all mammals. Even more is shared among all humans. And some is differently emphasized among humans.

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Living in the present

 

The present moment is highly overrated. From an evolutionary perspective, the past and the future are where it’s at. Any aardvark, antelope, cat, or cockroach can effortlessly reside in the present moment. Only human beings can engage deeply with the past and consciously co-create the future. By doing so, by looking outward with aims of bettering our world, big or small, we also walk a path that leads to inner fulfillment.
– from by Evolutionary Spirituality: Coming Home to Reality by Michael Dowd

I agree completely. And yet, there is a common misunderstanding here.

The “present” doesn’t exclude past and future. It is just a reminder to notice thought as thought.

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13.7 billion years

 

My birthday is coming up, and a couple of people have asked how old I am.

In the context of birthdays the answer is simple. It is the age of this human organism after it emerged from the womb.

But there are many other ways of answering the question. Each one equally valid and meaningful, and sometimes even more meaningful.

This organism was born a certain number of years ago, although the dynamics and shape of this organism has changed dramatically since then. The only thing that tells me it is the same organism are stories of different types – name, memories, photographs etc.

My subjective age is different. I experience myself as infinitely old, very young, as about 20 years old, when I am reminded of it – about the age of this organism, and as having no age at all.

This organism was conceived and developed for about 9 months prior to its birth and becoming visible to others, so that is a more accurate age than years from birth.

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Compassion and meaning through the story of evolution

 

evolution4

A friend of mine is a psychologist, and in a recent conversation, she expressed a dislike for evolutionary psychology. In her view, it justifies a cynical and sometimes brutal view on humans.

As any story, the story of evolution is a tool, and it can be used in many different ways.

It is true, some have used a particularly distorted versions of Social Darwinism to justify brutality and injustice. The Nazis are probably the most extreme example.

And yet, the story of evolution can also be used with great wisdom and compassion, as a support for ourselves and others, and even for non-human species and future generations. And more and more scientists, psychologists and others are catching on to this.

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