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Remote Ready Biology Learning Activities

Remote Ready Biology Learning Activities has 50 remote-ready activities, which work for either your classroom or remote teaching.

Serendipia - Ghitis

Jacob (Jake) Ghitis, Professor of Medicine and Hematology (retired), is a long time Serendipian, interested in science and education (among other things), and lives in Israel.

(appeared originally in About Serendip Forum, June 20, July 17, August 8, 1997)


NOTE: I am reprinting this story, which was posted incompletely (June 20 and July 17, 1997). Well, my fellow serendipitants, here I go with the story about a SERENDIPITOUS discovery.

In my research work as hematologist, I was interested in the study of anemia. It was a regrettable fact that in the place where I was living there were many infants suffering from severe chronic malnutrition. During the years, I joined efforts with other researchers and together we explored several clinical aspects of those unfortunate children. From the hematological point of view, I found that the production of the bone-marrow red-cell precursors was diminished and that when adequate protein was provided, there occurred a rapid proliferation of such precursors, and that Soya protein was as good as milk in this regard. I also found signs that indicated the associated lack of the vitamin Folic Acid. Using my own modification of a method based on microbial growth to quantify it, I found that--contrary to current belief--milk contains an appreciable concentration of folic acid (folate).

This discovery being of great import, I set out to clarify if the folate in milk was as biologically active to children as it was to the bacteria used for the assay. I shall not dwell on the technical details of the experiment. However, the following is pertinent to my story, which actually has a dark human side, and a bright one, in which serendipity played a role. The bright side I may summarize as follows: The two children who served as experimental subjects had to be fed milk containing variable amounts of folate. To that effect, milk had to be made devoid of the vitamin, followed by mixing it with milk whose content was determined by means of the microbial assay. Since certain type of powdered charcoal adsorbs commercial folic acid from an aqueous suspension, I asked my technician to examine if it would work also on the biological, natural folate present as a solute in milk. She found that, indeed, milk was made free of the vitamin. And here is where serendipity enters the stage! Through a misunderstanding, the technician had boiled the milk before adding the charcoal!!! Jake told her to repeat the test using non-boiled milk. "Will it make a difference," she asked. Well, it did make a difference, for there was no adsorption from fresh milk!

I realized that the natural folate was bound to a large molecule, a protein, which was too large to be adsorbable and that heat, by denaturing it, permitted the folate to be adsorbed by the charcoal! What an euphoria: to suddenly realize that you have discovered a secret of Nature, that your name will be engraved in the Annals of Science until the sun burns down! It was clear that a new, radioactive method was going to be developed to measure folate. I had discovered how the mammary gland concentrates the tiny amount of folate present in the blood plasma, i.e., how a biological compound is concentrated in an anatomical compartment.

NOTE: "Folic acid" is the popular name for a vitamin of the B group, found especially in green leafs ("folia"). In living organisms the vitamin assumes several chemical configurations, all of which are referred to as "folates." The synthetic, stable artificial derivative used medically, is called "folic acid."

The experimental subjects were two infants who had been abandoned by their impecunious mothers. These foundlings were brought to the hospital due to some disease associated with severe malnutrition. They also suffered from folate deficiency, so that we had them transferred to our research Metabolic Ward, where they were fed a well balanced diet—except that they were given a mixture of autoclaved reconstituted milk (which I had found to be almost free of folate activity in the bioassay) with non-autoclaved regular milk. By gradually increasing the proportion of the latter, whose folate content was measured, we determined the approximate daily requirement of folate—as the deficiency signs in the bone marrow (megaloblastosis) started to recede. Then came the second part of the experiment, consisting of two phases. In the first, the milk ingested was made entirely folate-free (by charcoal adsorption of autoclaved milk); it didn’t take long until the hematological manifestations of folate deficiency reappeared. At this point, folic acid was given in gradually increasing doses until improvement was again observed. The amount of folic acid (pharmacological) required for improvement was found to be roughly equivalent to the amount of folate in milk previously found to be required. Thus the bacteria growth used in the folate bioassay of milk appeared to reflect the biologic activity of the vitamin in it, as compared with the commercial folic acid, which is 100% available.

It is not important to understand the cursorily written details on the nature of the experiment. The point is, the work was published in a leading journal devoted to nutritional diseases—due care being taken to include a follow- up note stating that one of the infants had been adopted by one of the attending nurses, while the other returned to his mother and was provided with dietetic supplements. No long after the paper was published, the Editor of the journal referred to my collaborator and myself a letter written by one of its readers and whose contents may be summarized as follows: " I was shocked to read in your Journal a paper delving on experiments performed on human beings. Submitting children to a diet with the express intention of developing a nutritional deficiency is unethical, to say the least."

The Editor asked for our reply and solicited our permission to publish the letter and our answer to it. I sent my answer and permission, yet did not hear anymore about that complaint or any thing else on the subject. I am going to write here my answer, but firstly try to put in YOUR own words the meaning of "to say the least."

Here is my reply letter: "Since the experimental procedure had a logical purpose and was conducted with decorum and within the confines of the law, we must conclude that more than unethical, our work is being qualified as immoral. We cannot fail to understand the reasons for such judgment; we can only call the attention to the fact that we did our best to avoid irreparable damage. Also, a basically good nutritional status was assured during the critical early stages of those unfortunate infant’s lives, And, most important—according to the prevailing conditions—had they not been chosen by us as experimental subjects, they would not have survived in their natural environment."

NOTE: I might later on analyze the linguistic meaning of "TO SAY THE LEAST."

(appeared originally in About Serendip forum, August 14, 1997)


This is a story written in first person by a person whom I know very well. His dreams, I daresay, sometimes seem to respond in a very labyrinthine manner to his quest for creative thinking. Here it goes:

I WAS READING A BOOK on the creative act, the author's contention being that to create a work of art or science, two types of thinking processes are required. The first one the author calls "Janusian thinking"—derived from the Roman aboriginal Janus, the god of the beginnings and by inference, of creation. Janus is usually depicted as having two faces, each one looking in opposite directions. The creative mind is capable of simultaneously envisaging a concept and its antithesis; the conflict is solved through the creation of something new of recognizable value. Like when the matter-energy antithesis was solved by the equation E=mc2.

The second process the author calls "homospatial thinking"—whereby two objects are conceived as simultaneously occupying the same space; again the conflict is solved by an artistic or scientific creation. The reader's attention is directed by the author to the fact that dreams utilize similar techniques, except that conflict is not present—since in dreams antithesis is taken for granted, while homospatiality is solved by condensation. Thus the two mentioned creative types of thinking are considered mirror images of processes occurring in dreams.

Spurred by such seminal ideas, I thought of investigating if a given device used in literature can be shown to be a mirror image of a device used in dreams.

That day I attended a lecture in English on a type of "hermetic writing" dealing with instances where the reader must be bilingual in order to capture peculiarities resulting from the purposeful influence of a second language upon the writers work. Just before the lecture I was introduced to a French-speaking colleague of the lecturer. I was unable to define where she was from, so I asked her if from France or from Belgium. She was from neither.

That evening my wife and I watched a Hebrew TV program about a plant that grows by the Dead Sea and whose fruit, which resembles a testicle, can be utilized to make a "ptil" (Hebrew for "candle-wick."). The Spanish term for "wick" escaped me at that moment, so I asked my wife. Not being satisfied with her translation, I resorted to the "brainstorm technique"; five words came to my mind, all of them starting with the syllable "pa" pronounced as in ‘palace.’ Concentrating on that syllable, soon I remembered the right word: "pabilo" (pronounced pabEElo). My wife was not convinced, yet the Spanish dictionary proved me correct; incidentally, I learned that "despabilarse",which I knew meant to wake up from a slumber, derives from the action of removing the burnt-out portion of the wick, with the resulting enlivening of the flame.<>

Later on I was conversing with a person interested in literature and I commented about my intention of finding if a literary device, like parody, for instance, can be shown to be a mirror image of a device utilized by dreams. As an example, I said: "like converting the solemn "To be or not to be" into the inane "to eat or not to eat", as is done, to comic effect, in daily parlance.

That night I dreamed the following: I ask a young woman where she is from. She answers: "Tuberculosis." Since such answer is clearly a non-sequitur, I ask her again—and twice more I get the same answer; she then says "Yichilov" (the name of a hospital in Tel-Aviv).

Dear reader: I stop here, before the deciphering of the dream, to give you the chance to find some clues.

(Originally appeared in About Serendip forum, August 16, 1997)


Attempting to interpret the dream, I thought that tuberculosis is called in short .T.B.--meaning that when the young woman answered enigmatically and I was not sure of what I was hearing, my reaction had been: "Have I heard 'tuberculosis' or have I not," or, in short: "T.B. or not T.B.?" ( Free association showed that 'ptil' (wick) is assonant with B.T. (the inverse of T.B.). Likewise, the doubt about 'pabilo' could be construed as 'pabil-or-not-pabil'. The following night I dreamed being asked about a street called Efraim Efrati. Not having heard of such a name, I asked for more information and it transpired that the street might not be in Haifa, but in Tel-Aviv, or perhaps in Jerusalem.. The question, therefore, was: "Tel-Aviv or not Tel-Aviv?"--again a pun on the opening words of the soliloquy.
In order not to leave the impression that my oneiric processes had been intended--so to say--just to satisfy my desire of finding parody as a dream mechanism, I have to give hints on the emotional determinants behind these two dreams. 'Tuberculosis' and 'Yichilov" (a hospital in T-Aviv) bring to mind thoughts of disease and death OR cure, i.e., to live OR not. The meaning of "aviv" (spring)is quite expressive; it may be easily converted into Spanish 'viva' or French 'vive’. The 'ptil' is related to life and death-- since it was made from a plant that grows by the Dead Sea; it is reminiscent of life--burning away. (An approximate sound of 'ptil' in French, in addition to a slight modification of the English sound of 'wick,' permit yet another--associated--interpretation, with the opposite action implied by the word 'despabilarse' ( to rise from a slumber), an allusion to a manifestation of aging (which is akin to approaching death.)
The sound 'efra'--from Ephraim and Ephrati may be phonetically associated to the Hebrew 'efer' meaning ash, and 'afar' meaning soil ('dust'): being born and dying.

To be continued.. You might be surprised, but the main meaning of the Paradise story is intimately associated with the present one. Think of the snake, and read about Enkidu's death and what happened when the Sumerian god Gilgamesh tried to bring him back to life. By the way, the Paradise story might be associated with the presently raging debate about the Flight from Reason, and also to the Cartesian doubt. You know, the author of the present story might be convinced to tell us how he used the main explication of Adam and Eve's archetypical story to help a beautiful fiftyish woman understand why she was so anxious about mild pain and inflammation.

(Originally appeared in About Serendip forum, August 17, 1997)


The sound 'efra', from Efraim and Efrati (both Hebrew names) may be phonetically associated with the Hebrew 'efer', meaning ash; the sound is reminiscent of 'afar', soil dust in Hebrew, related to being born, created, from dust--and to dying and becoming dust again.

The name Yihilovmay be construed, by free association, as integrating sounds from two languages: Yihi--meaning in Hebrew " long live," and Lov(e). In this way, the thoughts of disease and death conveyed by a hospital are neutralized by the antithesis"long live love." Here is an example of the condensation technique used by dreams to solve the problem of an idea and its antithesis. The deciphering of this type of "hermetic" dream based on bilinguality is an example of how dreams may work as mirror images of the "hermetic writing" alluded to by the lecturer, whose presentation was in English but his mother tongue was French. But a written parody cannot be "hermetic" if the author wants it to be understood, even though the reader is able to enjoy the writer's literary creation. Not so with a dream, where only its interpretation is capable of causing an aesthetic impression and intellectual pleasure.

I will offer now a more extensive example of a dream in which a neologism is used in a hermetic fashion and in which parody is of the essence in the dream: A young physician was working in a town not too far from a source of one of the Amazonas River affluents. He was carrying on a friendly relation with the wife of another colleague who was usually absent, as he practiced in another town. A lawyer rented a room of his house to the young doctor. This lawyer, who served as a judge in the faraway city, was also called 'doctor,' as is the custom in South America. The house had a garden where grapes were grown; people used to sneak into the garden to pick-up the fruit. The young doctor found such behavior most unbecoming and wrote on a slip of paper, which he affixed to the wall: " Forbidden to pick-up the grapes in the absence of the doctor."

Now the dream that night was as follows: The older colleague is referring to a partum (delivery) that the young doctor had attended, and is angrily saying that his ethical behavior had been contemptible. He threatens with filing a complaint to the Medical Association, accusing him of 'bicompartition'The dreamer feels anxiety, although he doesn't understand the neologism. He thinks that the intention is to accuse him of unethically splitting fees with the colleague who referred the patient, and the anxiety ceases, since he does not subscribe to that practice. Then, the older colleague signals a wall and exclaims: "And look." Again the anxiety, but--not seeing anything on the wall, anxiety gives place to just puzzlement.

OK, readers, are you puzzled too? Let me know what do see in my friend's dream.

(Originally appeared in About Serendip forum, August 18, 1997)


It is clear that the dream by itself has no special appeal. It is only after its interpretation that it becomes a satirical parody: Compartitionderives from the Latin-Spanish 'compartir,' to share, to part between two or more (notice that share comes from shear). 'Partum' (delivery) shares the same root, like ‘partake.’ 'Bi-compartition' would mean specificaly 'to share between two.' The colleague was actually stating: "You are unethical since you want to share my wife with me."

The wall in the dream refers to the one with the note about picking-up the grapes, a clear reference to taking advantage of the older colleague's absence. So far, so good, but where is the parodic element? Well, the young physician had been riled by people's unauthorized picking-up the grapes--actually a minor misdemeanor. Moreover, in the dream he thought of being falsely accused of splitting fees--a minor unethicallity. Yet the main and true transgression--coveting another man's wife--was not apparent: he did not see the writing in the wall.

It is not farfetched to consider that the garden and the grapes of contention are references to the forbidden fruit of Eden and that the 'doctor'-judge can be equated to the owner, who had 'leased' a small portion of his property, while he himself was absent. Besides, the probably Oedipal connotations of the dream make one wonder whether there is an intimate connection between these two constellations--where the mother is the forbidden fruit an God is the forbidding father. *See my Comment on the 'Cain's hypothesis*

The central theme of the dream being 'Thou shall not covet thy neighbor's wife' is transformed into 'Thou shall not eat the grapes of the owner' and 'Thou shall not share fees.' These two prohibitions make fun of the central, awesome moral theme and are accompanied by the simultaneous denial of conflict: "I am entitled to eat the grapes since I live here" and " I do not share fees." Giving free association rein, let us recall that in the myth of Eden Adam first denies the transgression--denial being an important primary psychological defense mechanism against anxiety. But then, when confronted with the facts, he meekly defends himself by blaming Eve, who then triumphantly projects the blame onto the snake, rationalizing: It is she who tempted me."

Let us stop here. Eventually I will explain why indeed it was 'the snake' (metaphorically speaking) who tempted her, although it has nothing to do with this fantastic but true story, as recounted by my friend. Any additions, there in cyberspace?

(Originally appeared in About Serendip forum, August 23, 1997)


Turning back to Oedipus, he gets his mother by conveniently being unaware of the slain man's identity, as well as the identity of the widowed Queen he marries. Conventionally, the Oedipal conflict is solved by identifying with the father and becoming interested in other women. In Sophocles' play, Oedipus kills the King, yet he becomes the King, so that the King is actually "alive." ("The King is dead; long live the King!") And the woman he marries is not his mother, since she is actually his legitimate wife. (How can his sons be also his brothers?) The eventual solution to this tragic situation was to conveniently get rid of the mother-wife by having her kill herself and by the unwitting criminal son-husband blinding himself, as if he wouldn't be able to see the enormity of his deed against cultural tradition and mores.

In the dream, the young doctor looked at the wall, and saw nothing--as if he were blind. He had rationalized, now he was repressing. Anxiety was avoided--although not through parody this time, but through psychological defense mechanisms. Leaving aside loose free association, let us return to the subject of parody and dreams.

Parody, a word that derives from paraand ode, meaning very loosely a purposeful imitation of a known work of art or style, usually has a comic intention. The intention is to reduce the emotional impact or significance of the original composition or style, with the consequent generation of relief. Awe gives way to mirth, worry turns into exhilaration, and fear changes into comicality and laughter.

Thus if we were to accept that dreams can use a parody-like device, it would appear to serve an anxiety-allaying function--as it does in literature. "To be or not to be"--with its awesome signification--if facetiously converted into "T.B. or not T.B." and "Tel Aviv" or not Tel Aviv," is expected to cease arousing anxiety. In dreams the comicality may be only apparent--for behind the parody, other serious meanings may be lurking.

Consciously written parody cannot be 'hermetic' as in the dream, yet in order to qualify as a work of art--a creation--it must integrate dream-like subtlety with imponderable ambiguity.....

(Originally appeared in About Serendip forum, August 22, 1997)


I have been contributing here some ideas on entropy of the fourth kind, the natural tendency to disorder (chaos), requiring energy input to overcome that tendency. Now I will be dealing with the classic Second Law of Thermodynamics. Do not recoil, please: Although I don't understand (and therefore am not interested) in thermodynamics, I do know what I am talking about, because it does not require much of a capacity for understanding. OK, what I call here ‘the fourth kind’ refers to the natural tendency to DISORDER, requiring energy input to prevent it. Why do most living organisms require nutrients, if not to prevent becoming dust?

Now I will expound on the better known kind of entropy, which declares that it is impossible to enjoy for productive work all the energy derived from a given source. A classic example is the internal combustion engine, which must lose a percentage of the energy produced by gasoline reacting with air's oxygen, in the form of HOT gases expelled through the exhaust ('thermos’ means HEAT). The subject of the present exposition has to do with Creation, God, Big Bang, Light and especially ORDER. I will show that the Big Bang was a tremendous 'expansion' (no connection with the Expansion Theory), to differentiate it from 'explosion,' a term which brings to mind the idea of HEAT and of the resulting fire and light. Why so? Because there was NO entropy: there was no loss of the Primal Energy, all of which created HYDROGEN. Indeed, what kind of matter was there to become heated? (Just introduce your hand into a hot oven and feel the warmth of the air. But do not touch its wall or any other solid!) This has been the ONLY instance of absolute absence of entropy: The big bang was a cold and dark event. Shortly afterwards, as is accepted, the gravity force ( itself created at that very moment) fused minuscule amounts of hydrogen into helium at the core of enormous hydrogen clouds; at that precise moment appeared the first--'classic'--entropy, meaning that not all the hydrogen matter can be utilized in this fusion process; the small remaining portion was converted into HEAT and the resultant LIGHT. Why so? Because the enormous amount of hydrogen present in the cloud could now absorb the heat, which transformed into light: These are the stars.

One can only marvel that in Genesis God is described as initially creating ORDER and only later creating LIGHT. In fact, light is a concrete entity resulting from ORDER, which in turn is an abstraction, an Idea, in Plato's sense.
Indeed, what's the sense of creating light only to see chaos?

(Originally appeared in About Serendip forum, August 28, 1997)

Re: Charles Krauthammer. Washington Post writers Group. Jerusalem Post July 30 .
My dear friend Charles: I liked your column about the Cosmos very much, especially against the backdrop of your agreement with my ideas. As I have said, we live in an age where having the time to spend it constructively is an overstatement, you know what I mean? We are so busy improving world-wide information, that there is not much time left to gather information for ourselves. We must emphasize the rules of Linguistic and Analytic Philosophy, called in short "Linguistic Analysis." Not Wittgenstein, whith his ponderous Tractatus, which fortunately I have not read, as he himself said is a lot of nonsense. Ah! But Russell, Whitehead and other Oxfordians, those are clear and precise, although I haven't read them either, because... what for, philosophy, if it won't give me the means to become a first rate bridge payer? Yet, I can recite with mine own eyes shut and mine hands tied in front of my back all there is to say about L.A., to wit, 'Be unambiguous.' That's it!. Of course, Charles, if you are a second-rate da Vinci, you may try an ambiguous smile, and if you are a third rate Joyce, you might wish to have been in his wake. You have preempted some of my ideas rather late, such as saying that "the only thing more incomprehensible than S. Hawking's 'A Brief History of Time' is the fact that it was a best-seller for more than a year." Speaking of books, you mention S. Weinberg's--Nobelist physicist--'The First Three Minutes' (of the big bang), yet fall head and tails for T. Ferris's latest, 'The Whole Shebang.' You add, my dear Charles, that Ferris--in two or three pages--can explain Einstein's wheelings on the curvature of space. Well, I have news for you:
I will explain, here and now, the gist of Space and Time, with the conundrum of Entropy added as a bonus to the patient kibitzers . But first, R. Jastrow's 'God And The Astronomers' saying that the scientists, reaching the peak of their journey of discovery will find there a bunch of theologians tired of waiting for them, is real funny, while your own words about the Bible Code having sold because of the amazing feat of accurately predicting the past, is even funnier. OK, Charles, hold fast to your chair, for here comes Space, Time and Entropy in a nutshell.
One thinks of Space as something vast and empty, waiting to be filled up. I say, not so, there is no space independent of matter, for the latter creates the former. Expand the compacted energy present as Primal Energy in the Ultimate Blackhole, formed when reaching the CEN (critical energy number)--actually the total energy-matter--and you get another big bang, just like the last one of 15 billion ago (take a cappala years more or less). Presto, space is created, like a zipping, and it will continue being created ("expanding") until the critical volume is attained, once the total mass of existing matter reaches the end point, based on a complex divine formula. So you see, space is finite! It would be infinite if somebody would add some more energy-matter to it, except that the Principle of Critical Energy-Mass states that you cannot condense finite and infinite, except in dreams and in an Eistenian-like equation

Ergo, Space is a dimension of Matter.
As for Time: It cannot be expanded and constricted, for it goes always forward. Can you imagine a natural situation in which Time halts to a standstill and then restarts? The flick would come from something that actually cannot act, for it is also still. You realize how easy it is to come to the conclusion that time could never have started? Ergo, there was never a beginning and there will never be an end for the Cosmos. Time is measured by change, which in turn is a result of energy effects. So? Simple: Time is a dimension of Energy. Who cares if Space is curved and if Time can be warped by speed?
Now the bonus: ENTROPY. This subject has become more entropic since my colleague in science (Hawking) added his own, i.e., the information present in black holes! Then there is the one related to communication efficiency, and also on some kind of statistics. Stick, I say, to the original Entropy: It deals with the Second Law of Thermodynamics (compare with my own Laws of Being, here in Serendip), referring to the impossibility of utilizing all the energy obtained from a given source in order to do work. The portion not exploited is expressed as the entropy of the system used to do work, thus measuring the efficiency of the system, say, a motor, whether electric or internal-combustion type. Most of the non-utilized energy is converted into heat. Remember that the non-exploited energy of hydrogen fusion is wasted as heat--and its resultant, light (as in the stars).
This Second Law of Thermodynamics includes also the natural tendency to disorder, which demands energy to be prevented or reversed. Now , my dear Charles, I strongly suggest naming these two entropies that make up the Second Law of Thermodynamics: Entropy Of The First Kind and Of The Second Kind, respectively. The one of the second kind interests us serendipitants mostly, for we are bent on using our brain--our mind--in thinking how to create Order and fight DISORDER. We would like to have our memorial plaque read : "The strove for ORDER... yet failed, and the world came to a chaotic end. Still... what a magnificent species they were!"

(Originally appeared in About Serendip forum, 9 September, 1997)


A personal overview. What one talks or writes about and how
Communication is essentially a purposeful exchange of information (dialogue). Information is most commonly conveyed by means of language. Language is by and large better understood through clearly spoken or written words. One talks or writes in sentences. A given sentence may be:

a) Essentially true ("He knows to write").
b) Essentially false ("Nobody ever learns to write").
c) Non-sensical ("One flew writing a koo koo").
d) Abstruse ("The writer's soul is divinely inspired").

Only the essentially true sentences will be considered, for the other kinds do not provide clear information, being therefore unsuitable for linguistic communication. A useful name for an essentially true sentence is alethic. Suppose you say: '' John is a good fellow,'' and somebody contradicts you, saying ''No, John is a rascal.'' Your sentence may not tell the truth, yet it is alethic--as it might be true. Compare with an essentially false, non-alethic sentence, ''Everybody is always happy.'' Nobody in his sane mind can deny the absurdity of such a proposition, nor can he deny the alethic quality of saying, '' Somebody is happy sometime.'' Therefore, we shall consider only alethic sentences, whose contents can be of one of four kinds:
1) Sentient, 2) Axiological, 3) Intellective, 4) Existential (Ostensive).

1) Sentient subjects .- Comprising three kinds: a. Exteroceptive, b. Interoceptive, c. Affective.
2) Axiological subjects .- Comprising four kinds: a. Deontic, b. Telic. c. Intrinsic. d. Aestethic.
3) Intellective.
4) Existential or Ostensive.


(Originally appeared in Complexity forum, 18 September, 1997)

ON AXIOLOGY (Value judgments)
Many years ago, sitting in judgment of an intern who had behaved unbecomingly, I commented that his conduct had been ‘immature.’ A colleague of mine, whom I held in great esteem, observed that immaturity is not a valid reason to criticize or judge a human act. I was deeply impressed by his observation, and set out to clarify this subject. My search of the pertinent literature not having been productive, I had to define myself the criteria to describe and specifically criticize a given human act.

I reached the conclusion that there are five criteria, no less and no more, which are utilized all over the world, in all cultures and epochs, for human societies to judge and punish an unbecoming act, as defined by each society to fit the need to protect its functioning, i.e., to keep public order.
It became clear to me that an act may be judged by more than one of such five criteria. Also,that in the case of just one of these criteria, the punishment is meted out by the transgressor himself, with no need for the society to intervene. Moreover, the punishment may be as mild as becoming the subject of gossip, which is the simplest way a society has developed to keep it unblemished.
The criteria will be exposed and analyzed here in the briefest possible manner.

1.- Common Sense: This is the simplest of the criteria. For instance, if somebody enters troubled waters with no absolute need (like having the explicit intention of committing suicide), or bets against impossible odds, people will comment that such a person lacks ‘horse sense’ or that his behavior was illogical. This is the only situation where the culprit punishes himself.

2.- Etiquette, or Aesthetical Behavior: Unpleasant manners, as defined by a given society, give rise to criticism and complaining. As a result, the culprit is shunned by the social circle.

3.- Ethics: Guilds or professional associations, religious denominations, political parties, family circles, political groups, or any other organizations, create their own rules; the members are penalized by that segment of society if they don’t follow suit.

4.- Morals: These may differ among peoples of different countries and may change with the passing of time. Even in a given society at a given moment there may be disagreement on a given subject. Killing is considered universally immoral, except in self-defense or in war. Adultery and homosexuality, on the other hand, are variably criticized by different societies, at different times, and even by different groups of individuals within the same society. An immoral act may lead to various types of punishment, depending on its presumed character and gravity.

5. The law: This criterion is the most pervading and important of all five. Many immoral acts—like killing not in self-defense—are considered unlawful, and law-breakers are therefore punished with fines, imprisonment—or worse. And not every unlawful act is considered immoral, such as passing through a red traffic light. A member of a Mafia group might kill the ‘wrong colleague’ of another group. He would be criticized by his ‘colleagues’ as having behaved stupidly—that is, non-sensically. He might have compromised the ‘ethical’ rules of the Mafia in general or of his own group in particular. Not all members of society at large will judge him as having committed an immoral act, while the legal machinery is liable to prosecute him with variable degrees of zeal, for having committed a criminal act.

This is now the place to remind the reader about the letter criticizing the experimental procedure on abandoned children.The author of the critical letter had stated that the procedure had been "unethical, to say the least," suggesting therefore that it had even transgressed moral principles. I answered with words that were intended to mean that the experiment had been conducted according to ethical principles and with logic, since it followed a scientific protocol. Obviously also with inherent decorum (respectfully), and according to legal procedure. As for morals--the main issue implyed--we had actually saved those children from almost certain death and had gone as far as providing for their survival.


(Originally appeared in Complexity, Biology, ? forums, October 17, 1997)


1.- The appearance of Man.
2.- The evolution of Woman and the start of Civilization.
3.- Morals, Ethics, Etiquette and the Law.
4.- The Law as object of Politics.
5.- Skepticism in Politics.

Several millions of years ago our ancestors-- the 'MENWOMEN' -- lived in an unstructured way: there was no Society, and reproduction was haphazard, whereby anyone could function as male or as female, impregnate or be impregnated, sire or give birth and breast-feed.
One day—as a result of a chromosomal deletional mutation, a defective creature was born. He lacked the female anatomical characteristics and was bigger and stronger. As he matured, he impregnated many Menwomen. This defective creature, this giant—this Man—sired many sturdy Men, who in turn populated the earth. The Menwomen were comparatively weak to compete with those Titans, becoming as a result relegated to a passive, receptive, fruitive role. When a Manwoman gave birth to a Man, 'shehe' suffered pain, for this son was big: only Menwomen with wide hips were able to survive the delivery of a son—-of a Man.

With the passing of time, the male attributes of Menwomen atrophied by reasons of Natural Selection, while their female characteristics, accordingly, became salient. And so, Woman slowly evolved and became perfected.

One day a Man was watching disinterestedly a Woman, while lazily picking up lice from his hairy skin. She approached—exuding a powerful scent and walking with a swinging motion along a single line. He realized that she was special and that he desired her, not only for penetration, but also to become one flesh with her—to keep her for himself, by his side. Others reacted similarly, and he experienced a strange, unpleasant sensation, which he was still unable to interpret as an emotion: he felt jealousy. And he not only became aware of this Woman, he became also conscious of himself. There he stood, detached, alone, naked.

He objectivated this transcendental experience by tracing on the earth a rough figure of the human body. His neighbors quivered as they watched him fascinated, feeling that their world had been entirely shaken and transformed. One of them sketched the anatomical contrast between man and woman; another delineated clumsily one of the existing animals, and a third a tree, the clouds, the disc of the sun.
That night they slept fitfully, not so much due to the discordant noises generated by predatory beasts--but because they realized that their internal world had made eruption. The next day other extraordinary things continued to happen: these neighbors observed each other, and a yet unknown expression appeared on their faces--intent curiosity.
Suddenly, a ferocious animal leaped, and the group took to flight; the woman tripped, fell down, broke a leg and whined pitifully, overcome by pain and fright. Her man stopped in his tracks, with a new realization: not only he--but somebody else, she, his woman--was in danger. She was an even greater danger than himself and she required his help. Guided by her cries he found her, took her in his strong hands and ran into a cave.
Thus the feeling of responsibility was born, and civilization started in earnest. Man and Woman had moved west of Paradise.

The family, the group and Society began to take shape; also the belief in supernatural entities--terrible and destructive, or tender and protective. The instinct of self-preservation made place to evolutioned manifestations which represented obligations of man toward his neighbor, the group, society and the gods. Responsibility and its corollary--guilt--developed.
Morals were defined as the fulfillment of precepts emanated from divine sources, essential for the preservation of society. Ethics embodied regulations proper to groups, while etiquette represented the rules of aesthetic behavior in a cult society. Whoever did not conform to the rules of a given group organized for private purposes--such as guilds, religions, family, political parties--was punished according to written or unwritten protocols; those who did not conform to acceptable behavior in society were rejected by it.
The moral precepts were more difficult to establish and impose. Those related to commandments originated putatively from supernatural authority were considered immutable, of universal value representing normative truth; their transgression was qualified as immoral acts, resulting in the repulse by society.
A body of laws had to be developed that permitted different ways of applying coercion to preserve morals. This function was delegated to the clerical establishment, in what respected to the Divinity, while secular authority was invested with the power of establishing laws and sanctions in the public areas of property and services, and in the private sector of personal integrity and individual property. The infringement of these enactments was judged as minor infraction, misdemeanor or felony, and could be condemned as immoral if it affected the precepts emanating from revelation.

A complex Society, ruled by a body of statutes, gave place to a bureaucratic State and to an enforcing Government charged with seeing to it that the laws were obeyed. The possibility of doctoring the laws in order to favor different sectors or strata of the society induced the struggle for power, i.e., to POLITICS. Political parties employed rhetorical or violent means for the achievement of their objectives.
Different dialectics were exploited to uphold the political platforms--but no scientific method could be discerned to demonstrate which one was the best for society, for axiological pronouncements are essentially problematic.

Every citizen interested in the socioeconomic evolvement of the milieu in which he lives makes a synthesis of his personal interests, concepts about law, morals, ethics and etiquette, desirable freedom of individual liberty and type of culture that he finds appealing; he then chooses the political movement which he considers as the most representative of his way of feeling and thinking.

No political platform is demonstrably better than others. The pacific or violent crash of political ideas determines a preponderance, stable only in appearance. For all movements are essentially unstable, evolutive, always looking for the truth-- without ever finding her.

(Originally appeared in About Serendip forum, November 4, 1997)


Do you remember my friend 'Jake' of PARODY and DREAMS fame?
I ask because I had the unusual opportunity of receiving from his wife a confidential letter of very intimate nature, which I am transcribing here with minor modifications, as required by the nature of its contents. She learned from her husband basic notions on the workings of the unconscious, enough to write the following amazing account, which throws incandescent light on the universal underpinnings of divorce. I'm planning a serial recount, allowing for questions and answers between the sections.

Well, let's start with the modified {by me} paragraph that opens her narrative.

" .... I agreed with 'Jake' that... ***** ... had mismanaged the matter, yet at the same time I was against the hard way he {'Jake'} had reacted. For all his vaunted psychological, humanistic and scientific knowledge, he was not above petty, primitively narcissistic emotional reactions. I couldn't help thinking that I was contemplating--in a microcosm--the tragic state of all humanity. Although 'tragic' is perhaps not the appropriate adjective; it might be enough to detachedly suggest that mankind--in the course of its evolution--has not yet outgrown the stage of immature narcissism.

I couldn't fail to notice that Jake's hostile feelings toward ***** influenced his attitude toward me, which became even more remote. Thus, the conjunction was favorable for divorce. I initiated the present memoirs expecting that by the time I finished writing them, the parting would be a definitive, accomplished fact. Now I find myself almost at my writing's and wit's end yet still being unable to decide, to make up my mind. Why? Did Jake's renewed interest in archetypes play a role on my indecision?

Following a lead of an archetype that he 'found' thirty years before, now he 'discovered' the way Man suddenly appeared on the crust of our planet--while Woman slowly evolved. Jake's theory explained why the human male behaves in his characteristically unacceptable way. Did Jake's ramblings affect my reasoning in a subtle way? And what shall I say about what he read to me from a book concerning "Coolidge’s effect"?
If all this apparent nonsense was actually true, then I had been mistaken--gravely so--in my judgments. I shudder at the thought of the shadows that the above mentioned speculations may cast upon man-woman relations. Yet as long as the world is the way it is, on should be open to new ideas, to fresh attempts at understanding. When the rate of divorce has reached staggering proportions, it is time to think that there is something basically wrong in man-woman transactions. I do not have the answers, of course. So the only thing I can do is let the flux of my thoughts follow its untrammeled course.
I started mentioning the possible influence of archetypes upon my hesitancy in asking for divorce. Jake had learned from Jung’s writings about archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, yet he had been unable to clearly grasp the meaning of those concepts until he came across them while practicing in a southern town of Colombia in 1951...


(Originally appeared in About Serendip forum, November 4, 1997)


The material was provided by dreams and by psychosomatic manifestations of his patients. The most important archetype pertaining to this painful story was provided came from a very unusual symptom: lack of sensibility in half the face. However,I'll start with dreams and with some probable archetypes manifested in them, before I proceed to describing the one that served as the platform for Jake's 'discovery' of man's sudden creation.

Allow me first start with a relatively simple episode that was not even related to a dream but to an unconscious act and which may not even be related at all with archetypes. It happened when Jake was studying medicine and became interested in Freud's works. Jake was sitting at the library, reading Freud; a classmate sat by his side and struck up a conversation, while engaged in doodling.
"Do you really believe that it is feasable to uncover the unconscious by the analysis of dreams and parapraxes?" he asked.

"To prove to you that it is indeed possible to decipher unconscious manifestations of the mind, I am going to tell you at the moment you are worried by the delay in your girlfriend's menstruation." said Jake.

The fellow's reaction was to open his mouth, drop the pencil and ask, his voice aquiver, "How on earth...?" Jake, fearing that he might be tried as a latter-day sorcerer, clarified immediately: "Take a look at your doodling." The fellow examined it with negative results, yet prompted by Jake he visualized the drawn female reproductive organs. Jake explained that the unclear doodle reflected the rebellion of the unconscious against the attempted repression of the reality of a menacing unwanted pregnancy.{This situation at the prehistoric time when no oral anticonceptives existed prompted many friends of Jake to follow his intuitive suggestion of giving the girlfriends a large amount of estrogen the very day--or night--that the sin was commited.}

Well, the fellow agreed with Jake--that is, with Sigmund--and left in a daze. Jake was so exhilarated with his 'bull' interpretation, that when another classmate sat by his side, Jake took a fresh newspaper neatly folded and saying "Watch!" he send the newspaper fly with a swift rotating motion. It fell right on top of the narrow counter situated at a distance of about 1.5 meters, continued swirling and finally rested neatly in place.

The impassive classmate solemnly stated: "Two hits!" "Why two?" Jake asked. "Because you not only did something most improbable--you also announced that you were going to do it!" the classmate explained.

When Jake told me this 'newspaper story' first, so out of context with the central theme, he had the strange feeling of not knowing what moved him to do so, and rationalized that it just served to show that an upswing mood of self-esteem may work wonders at the sphere of delicate motor coordination. Yet he found later-on that this recollection referred to a childhood experince which had tinted in an incredible manner his character...


(Originally appeared in About Serendip forum, November 5, 1997)


Now, I just offered a specific example of an unconscious act of a person in the waking state. It's known that dreams are also elaborated by unconscious processes and that in certain cases they are easily deciphered. Take the case of the woman who recurrently dreamed of hanging white clothes on a line. Jake had learned from W. Stekel's book that such dream refers to diapers--that is, to newly born babies. So when a young friend of his said to Jake, "I've heard that you interpret dreams; can you tell me why my aunt frequently dreams that she hangs white cloths," Jake said to her, your aunt is childless; she despairs of becoming pregnant, which appears to be a medical impossibility."
Jake could not convince his friend that since hanging white cloths refers to babies, and that her aunt was most probably married for quite a few years, the repeated dream strongly suggested a long-lasting unsolved problem of infertility.

At any rate, the point is, why hanging cloths is symbolic of a newborn? It is easy to explain that a number of white cloths being hung on a clothes-line brings to mind the idea of lots of diapers being in use, but is this mental image unconsciously learned? Or have newborn babies been draped in white cloths for so many millennia that such image became finally imprinted in the brain of all women, and they are born with it? As if eventually a given 'potential gene' from a pool of 'blank' genes (a 'protogene') was imprinted by such image and it then became inheritable-an integral part of the female gene makeup.

Consider also the case of the girl who arrived in Cali with a group of youngsters on their way from a South American country to Israel. She was referred to Jake because of the sudden manifestation of several vague symptoms, but mainly feelings of mental depression. I t was clear that she was suffering from acute emotional stress.
Jake asked her to tell any dream she could remember, expecting to rapidly obtain a clue to her acute, situational reaction. She said that the night before she had dreamed of ironing a white dress; to her horror, the iron had burned out a hole. Very delicately Jake told her that the white dress represented her 'purity'--that is, her virginity, that the hot iron stood for sexual passion and that the hole represented the deflowering. Her depression and associated symptoms indicated that he regretted having yielded, perhaps because the partner did not share her love for him, so that her ‘sacrifice’ had not been emotionally justified.<
The girl wept and agreed wit the interpretation of the dream and with the clarification of her symptoms' cause.

Now, the point is: whiteness, a well-known symbol of purity, is acquired, or is it an inherited mental image?


(Originally appeared in About Serendip forum, November 9, 1997)


When Jake exercised his profession in southern Colombia, he had the opportunity of analyzing at length a young male patient adult whose symptomatology was of a clear neurotic origin, as depicted by its vagueness and atypical features on top of the patient's tense demeanor. There were feelings of desperation, anxiety, depression and lack of purpose. He was a teacher of elementary school, intelligent but of little learning; most amazing, he had never left town. In other words, he had never seen a train or anything connected with urban life. Only a few houses enjoyed the little electricity provided by a gasoline generator. There was no television and only a third-rate movie theater that the patient did not visit, since he lived in an even smaller town.

Jake told the patient that he might be helped by means of a treatment based on revealing his thoughts and dreams to Jake--in order to find out what was troubling his spirit. The patient manifested some bewilderment, but agreed to the treatment--since he realized that he was ill at spirit.
Soon it became clear that the subject was a sworn atheist, which indicated that he had searched for God, and having not founding Him, reacted angrily to the frustration by denying His existence. Besides, or expectedly, the patient hated the memory of his father, a person who had been cold and unloving.
The patient returned a few days later and recounted his first dream, in which he sees a man coming toward the marketplace to sell his cure-all potions--a snake around his neck and shoulders, claiming to be a miracle worker; this charlatan hung some hides on a line. Jake explained to the analizand that he was equating the analyst to a quack doctor using unorthodox treatment, criticizing him also for exposing the patient's ‘hide’ or ‘dirty linen’ to stranger's eyes. The patient chuckled, as he realized that there is truth in the analysis of dreams.

Those images are seemingly quite simple and may not require further elaboration. But later on the patient dreamt that he stroke a match in a dark room and that his father blew it in anger. Jake was most impressed, since this was a rather clear image of Zeus being angry at his son Prometheus for having revealed the secret of fire. The patient was unable to contribute to the interpretation; he had not read about those mythical gods. Thus, we might start to think that the myth has some hidden universal meaning basic to the origin and evolution of humanity.
Further on, a dream showed the patient walking on a dark night along a very narrow path in the mountains, holding a child by his hand. Wild beasts fell to the deep abyss, bellowing guttural cries of mortal fear and primeval horror. As the patient kept walking and approaching the end of the path, he descried a distant light, like of a house.

Jake had learned from Stekel's writings that a child in a dream frequently symbolizes the child Jesus, so he asked the patient, "Do you know the child?"
"Yes, he is my youngest son."

"What is his name?" Jake was sure that the answer would be 'Jesus.' But the answer was:

Jake asked, "Redento? I've never heard that name before!"
"I took away the last letter of 'Redemptor' and made up a new name for my son."

"What made you give your child such name?"
"My son was born on a Good Friday. I believed that his birth was a sign that my troubled spirit was about to be redeemed.


(Originally appeared in About Serendip forum, November 11, 1997)


The patient learned that in the dream, the narrow path in the dark night represented his constraining insecurity and the lack of meaning in life that he felt; the precipice and the wild beasts stood for sin and hell, while the child and the light referred to Jesus guiding him to a recovered belief in the Church, the house of God.
The Christ symbol is of recent origin and exclusive to Christians; it cannot be inherited. In other words, it is not yet archetypal--it does not form part of images that are present in the unconscious--except, perhaps, in a protomorphic (father-son) manner.

The following was the last dream of the analysis. It was the last because it actually indicated that the analysis had come to its end.
"I am like in a circus. A woman is tied to a pole. A bull is about to charge toward her. I jump into the ring, and seizing the bull by the horns, make it tumble. I proceed to untie the woman--and then I march to Rome."
"When did you read Quo Vadis? asked Jake. He was stunned to hear that the patient did not know that novel. Jake explained that the bull represented his atheism, the woman the religious beliefs that he had rejected. He was now ready to return to Rome,i.e., to accept Catholicism back.

The patient wrote a letter to Jake some time later. It arrived one day before we got married. He wanted to thank Jake for having shown him the light, for having freed him from the ropes of ignorance and for helping him recover his faith. He was now able to understand and--for the first time--feel love for his dead father.

Jake had also learned through this person the meaning of the scene of Ursus fighting the bull in Quo Vadis?. It represented the victory of early Christianism over Roman paganism. But...why had Sienkiewicz and the patient used the same image? There was, most probably, an archetypal element involved. The bull must have played an important role in man's life during the millennia. Minoan history and the persisting cruel bullfighting perhaps attest to such a role. Still, proof of the existence of archetipes was still forthcoming...


(Originally appeared in About Serendip forum, November 13, 1997)


Another patient, a boy in his early adolescence, was brought for treatment on account of convulsive seizures that had appeared sometime after his widowed mother remarried. Jake got the impression that the patient was suffering from a functional--emotionally related --convulsive disorder. A sad picture emerged of a yearning for an indifferent stepfather's attention, this unrequited love fighting violent jealousy and deep hatred toward him for having usurped the deceased father's place. Jake had read that psychically determined convulsions may reflect the unconscious liberation of repressed hostility and aggression reaching murderous proportions. The patient was easily hypnotized.

"When was the last time you had a convulsive attack?"
"Yesterday morning."

"What were you doing?"
"I was chopping wood with an ax."

"Now you are back at that moment...Start telling me what is happening."
"I'm chopping wood...My stepfather walks by...I am overcome by a strong rage...I want to hurt him..."
After a few seconds, the patient adds, "I fall to the ground."

"While you are on the ground you are having a dream. Tell me what you see."
"I split my stepfather's skull with the ax."

Very gingerly,--using hypnosis at first and thereafter in the waking state, Jake succeeded in bringing to the boy's understanding the terrible ambivalent feelings toward his stepfather and the way he was escaping from this aggressive drive by creating a convulsive state in which he liberated his rage without feeling the terrible anxiety of guilt. The convulsions ceased.

Now, the point is, this patient brought to Jake's mind the image of Dostoyevsky's Raskolnikov using an ax as a macabre and--most important--unusually cumbersome, primitive killing weapon. Jake felt that there might be a connection and meant to look up if the Russian writer had also suffered from convulsions. He let the matter stay until his interest reawakened some thirty years later. It happened when he read a book on anthropology about a strong suggestion that at a certain stage of evolution, man's ancestor had suddenly become carnivorous and had acquired the capacity to kill by means of a weapon. The alleged instrument was the antelope's femur, and the killing was effected by bashing the victim's skull.


(Originally appeared in About Serendip forum, November 16, 1997)


My husband realized that if such hypothesis was true, then the most archaic way of killing known to man--applying a blow to the head--might have imprinted a gene of the collective unconscious, thus becoming inheritable as a component archetype.
Man had afterward learned to kill from a distance by hurling stones and shooting arrows; he also learned the sophisticated use of sharp-edged weapons and eventually abandoned the crude--primitive--original way of killing.
However, under given circumstances of intense rage related to primitive narcissism hurt, the archaic way of killing might surface--especially if an appropriate instrument were at hand. And an ax is quite such instrument. Would the splitting of the head symbolize a personality split by ambivalence, such as Jake's patient was suffering? Did Dostoyevsky suffer such a psychic schism? Did he undergo the personal experience of seeing an ax while enraged, and feeling a titillating murderous desire to use it?
Are the Karamazov brothers his split personalities, and parricide the central theme? Why did the attacks make him so blissful, what did he dream?

Jake opened the encyclopedia and found that the Russian author had indeed suffered in his adult years from convulsive seizures; he had been strongly ambivalent and had written stories about the "double." No mention of axes or aggressive tendencies, only compulsive gambling. Was gambling and resulting ruin the way of expressing and expiating murderous repressed urges?

But I'm not interested in pursuing such leads, nor was Jake. I expressly have not told how the anthropologist's theory about ancient man suddenly becoming a killer cared to explain the dramatic suddenness of such a fateful change. I've withheld such information because it came to Jake's attention after he himself had reached a conclusion that tallied with the anthropologist's theory, although from another angle. To wit, Jake's own personal belief about the sudden appearance of a creature called Man--as contrasted with the existing Manwomen--and about the eventual emergence of Woman. And Jake had held the "proof" of that belief for thirty years! It took him that length of time before he tied tails and was enabled to reconstruct the history of how it happened!


(Originally appeared in About Serendip forum, November 17, 1997)


Such delayed clarifications can occur after a short or a long time. Remember my recent description of how Jake--on the wake of a surge of self-esteem--had sent fly a fresh newspaper which fell neatly on a library counter? He had even summoned the attention of a classmate to the feat he meant to perform. I wrote that I did not know why I was mentioning a seemingly insignificant detail, and made an attempt at rationalizing. Well, my explanation was correct, yet it fell far from telling the whole story.
Just two days later (as I traveled with Jake to spend the weekend), in a flash I understood the connection. Remember when he, as a child, bought a pound of sugar for his mother and as he was about to lay it on the table, the package escaped his hands and the sugar dispersed on the floor? There had been a scolding and an acrid observation about his clumsy hands("Do you expect to become a surgeon with such hands?!").
Well, it had not been a table he was about to lay the sugar on but a glass-topped counter in his father's shop. Then, many years later, as he realized the brilliance of his interpretation of his classmate's doodling, Jake sees another counter and unconsciously annuls the early trauma by potently implying, "Look at the ability I possess! I am not clumsy!" And from a distance he neatly deposits the newspaper on top of the counter!

Other instances of delayed clarification are the interpretation of the following two dreams that Jake, as he was wont to do, revealed to me. The first one, "I am flying an airplane together with Joe.(We are collaborators in research work.) It is night and very dark; we reach a remote, unknown land. There is an open grave; we look into it, wondering what it means. I know (we both know?) that an important secret is interred, but I can not decipher it."
Jake initially thought that in the area of mind analysis (the flight into a dark and buried place), Joe represented the analyst helping him in his analytic search. Well, quite recently he realized that Joe is pronounced similarly to yo in Spanish, meaning I. Joe is thus a reference to himself. The search is for identity.
You see, there is much more in the dream than meets the eye: the far-away land is indeed a land! I am going to prove it to you right now! O.K., now listen to the second dream: "I'm holding a bowl of soup containing paste in the shape of letters, such as is fed to children. The letters form a word. I know it is important--it gives a clue to a secret."
Again, the idea of a repressed childhood trauma. But, again too--an attempt to identify (a word)--a search for identity. Not convinced? Well, there was actually a third dream which provided the key: "I think of the words, Sven-gun."
These two words are a corruption of Sten-gun, the name of a submachine gun that Jake carried in the war, for self-protection. Once, while attending an injured soldier, he left the weapon on the ground while bandaging the wound. As they were about to abandon the difficult terrain, Jake heard shouts coming from a file of Arabs from Ramlah who were abandoning their homes as refugees. One of them pointed at the gun forgotten on the floor. Ashamedly, Jake recovered it.
The letter t of Sten is changed for a v in Sven. The letter t is masculine--circumcised--while v is feminine--vagina is written with it. Compare it with balls, a clearly masculine letter. Jake's parents abandoned Europe--like refugees. Jake was born after one year in another land; his identity had been injured, had lost its robustness, its masculinity.

Now allow me to ask: Is this dream Jake's exclusive property? Or is it a tragic nightmare shared by the sons of wandering people?




Note: Reader, please remember that I am posting the letter received from my friend Jake's wife!

(Originally appeared in About Serendip forum, November 19, 1997)


As I wrote you, Jake found proof of the existence of an archetype as he treated a patient in the remote Andean town. That person, a married man in his fifties, had come from the capital city, having heard of my future husband's medical excellence. He complained of so many vague symptoms--while looking quite healthy--that Jake realized that he had a psychosomatic problem in his hands. He asked, "How did your disease begin?"
"With a paralysis of the right side of my face."

"You mean, you couldn't move the right side of the face?"
"I could, but I did not feel it."

"Then it was not a paralysis, but a lack of sensibility."
"Yes, I did not feel the right side of my face."

"The whole half, or just part of it."
"The whole face."

"In that case, listen to me carefully. You appear to be an intelligent and educated person, so that I can openly to you.
"Some time ago, on account of her age, your wife ceased responding to your sexual solicitations. As a result, your interest shifted to a young woman, with whom you are entangled. Being a good Catholic, you are suffering twinges of conscience. Your religious upbringing is urging you to give up your paramour, yet your desire for her is overwhelming. Your symptoms are the manifestation of the unresolved moral conflict. Solve it, and your symptoms will vanish."

"I had heard that you are some sort of sorcerer, but I did not expect such a feat of soul reading. How on earth could you know all that?!"
"Quite simply. It is an anatomical impossibility to suffer from an anesthesia of a whole side of the face; therefore, your symptom had to have a psychic origin. As you know, in Spanish the wife is colloquially called cara mitad , meaning dear half . Cara stands for dear, but it also signifies face--so that dear half can be construed as face half, that is, half face." Jake continued:
"Since your disease, as you said, started with an insensibility of your dear half, I inferred that 'insensibility' actually meant frigidity--lack of sexual response or interest. Considering that your initial symptom suggested that your wife's frigidity is the source of your present illness, I assumed that you reacted in a way that created an emotional conflict. That's why I surmised that, on the one hand, you found yourself a lover and, on the other hand, your moral principles are severely strained." The patient had been listening intently, and after some reflection he said:

Well, your explanation sounds extremely logical, except for one thing that doesn't quite fit...You see, I was not aware that the wife is folksily called cara mitad."

It was now Jake's turn to be surprised. The patient was very thankful to Jake and left. Jake remained seated, wondering. A few minutes later he snapped his fingers and exclaimed, "Archetype!" as if he had shouted, "Eureka!" Because it became clear to him that the patient's symbolic symptom was a somatization resulting--not from the patient's Personal Unconscious--but from his Collective Unconscious!
It had become evident that the colloquial cara mitad--dear half--meant that there was some truth in the myth of woman having issued from man! Except that Jake couldn't figure how that happened--until some time ago.


(Originally appeared in About Serendip forum, November 20, 1997)


(My dear friend, I have extended myself knowing that you are interested in the affairs of Jake and myself. In fact, that is the main reason for writing this. I'm about to finish this story, and feel a sort of relief. Thank you!)
I questioned Jake on his new ideas and he told me, "Originally I had thought that civilization started when a primal man stopped in his flight in order to save an endangered companion. Now all of a sudden I realized that man sprang out abruptly, while woman evolved slowly, from a common hermaphroditic ancestor. Civilization started when the human male desired, not just any human female--but a certain one. In other words, when he fell in love."
"How can you prove your far-fetched theory?" I asked him.
"I don't know and I don't have to. I just intuit that it is true." He closed.

He was really convinced and started to read and meditate on the subject. One day he told me, "I've been reading on hermaphroditism, a word that derives from Hermes and Afrodite. According to one version of the myth, she fell in love and desired to become one with him; her wish was granted. This myth does not help much, since I posit an inverse sequence. I learned also that there exist hermaphroditic fishes; it is entirely possible that other animals--including humans--were bisexual at some time of their evolution until one of a number of deletional mutations succeeded in creating a viable male. I also learned that there is actually a myth about humans being originally androgynous; this myth is apparently related to the Bible: In Genesis it is written, "Male and female God created them." A little further on, surprisingly, Adam is created and one of his ribs is transfigured into Eve. I read again about Prometheus--the first man according to Greek mythology. He stole the fire from the gods and started human civilization. His father Zeus punished him by sending Pandora--the first woman--carrying with her a box containing all kinds of human evils.
"So now I believe I got the whole picture: our ancestors were hermaphrodites. They had two X chromosomes just like woman has. Those bisexual humanoids felt no selective sexual interest. They mated instinctively and ate leisurely from whatever lay at hand. Now, there is--on the one hand--adaptation, a slow process consisting in the natural selection of variations, (mild genetic modifications that confer to an organism survival advantages), and--on the other hand--successful drastic mutation, resulting in the sudden appearance of a viable, distinctly new subspecies."


(Originally appeared in About Serendip forum, November 22, 1997)


"The X chromosome happens to be quite susceptible to mutation, as proven by the fact that there exist two types of hemophilia and several abnormal variants of hemoglobin whose genes are located in that chromosome.
"One day, a whole segment of an X chromosome of a germ-cell (egg) from a given woman was destroyed, deleted. This segment happens to contain many genes, among them several required for sexual development. The damage was caused by a surge of ionizing radiation, such as X-rays or gamma-rays from a relatively near exploding star. Similar phenomena might have affected other animals as well. The mutation was of such a nature that permitted the birth of a defective fetus whose feminine features were rudimentary: he was outstandingly masculine. This was the first human male. He was big and strong. He was a son , not a son-daughter .
"The delivery of such large fetuses caused pain ("You shall bear sons with pain.") and worse, death, unless the hermaphroditic mother was wide-hipped--that is, unless her feminine traits predominated.

"These male creatures started to populate the earth. ("There were giants in those times.") Instinctively, those Titans preferred the menwomen who showed prevalent feminine bodily attributes. In this way, by dint of natural selection of antropogenic source, the masculine traits of menwomen became almost obliterated and shehe gradually became woman through the survival of those fit to satisfy men's desires and to give birth to sons without perishing at delivery.
"It figures then that the 'rib' taken out from Adam (the first man) is actually the chromosomal fragment deleted from a given manwoman. The biblical myth is a remnant of an ancient fantasy-legend derived from the innate, archetypal knowledge that the human male had lost part of his original being: part of his feminine self.

"Eve sprang from Adam only in the sense that it took time for woman to evolve through adaptation after man's sudden appearance.
"When the human female was well differentiated, one man suddenly became aware of a special emotion aroused by a specific woman. This emotion was love and love meant self-consciousness and other-consciousness; it also meant the desire of possessing a given woman. This wish to possess--and the jealousy and aggressiveness generated by the desire to obtain and to defend the desired woman--signaled the dawn of civilization. For, what is civilization but the effects of man's desires?

"The myths of Prometheus and Pandora are interpreted likewise: when woman evolved, the fire of desire and love--which had initiated civilization--brought on his wake protective jealousy, aggression, and all kinds of evil that are part and parcel thereof."


(Originally appeared in About Serendip forum, November 23, 1997)


A few days later Jake told me that, to his great delight, he had read in a book which dealt with the African genesis of man, a theory about an ancestor becoming suddenly carnivorous and a killer as a result of a mutation! Jake felt that his own hypothesis was somewhat supported by the fact that another mind had also thought of mutation to explain the sudden appearance of a given revolutionary characteristic of man. Jake incorporated (quite eclectically) the new knowledge by adding that when man abruptly made his debut--as a result of a mutational deletion of one of the two X chromosomes of a 'manwoman'--he was also born with a flair for flesh and a knack for killing.

(Was then this desire for flesh by killing--I ask--the drive that truly impelled man, signaling the dawn of so-called civilization?

Jake went on elaborating. He read to me, from a book on sexual evolution, about 'Coolidge's effect.' Such is the name applied to the observation that a bull refuses to mount the same cow more than a few times in succesion. There is no way to cheat the stud: it has to be offered a new cow if it is to continue. The peculiar appellative is based on an anecdote about President Coolidge, who had been visiting a farm with his wife and he chuckled upon hearing that information. When arriving at the chicken coop, his wife asked if roosters are also active only a few times a day. She chuckled when the man in charge answered, "No, ma'am, many times." At this point her husband asked if it was with the same chicken. Mr. Coolidge chuckled a second time when the answer was, "No, sir, always with a different one." (Let me tell you that I don't find that funny at all!)

The author of the book endeavored to explain why the human male tends toward promiscuity and polygamy. The so-called 'Coolidge's effect' of the animal kingdom he pretends to be a paradigm, his contention being that--for the preservation of the species--one pugnacious male inseminating several females makes a contribution, while there is nothing to be gained and much to be lost by female promiscuity. Although I found those arguments cogent, I couldn't agree with their tendenciousness. Nor did I like Jake's observation that although the author had a point there, he also had his own one, which was as follows.

"Man is an imperfect creature. His Y chromosome lacks genes that are present in the X chromosome, making man--as contrasted with woman--susceptible to suffer from hemophilia, when inheriting a defective X chromosome from his mother. Evolutive adaptation wouldn't have led to the creation and perpetuation of a chromosome beset with inimical genetic makeup, while drastic mutation certainly would.
"That genes determining one or the other of the two so-called 'opposite sexes' are haphazardly mixed with entirely unrelated ones is quite an indication that separation of the sexes did not play a pervading--'proto-intelligent'--role in evolution. Therefore, male and female cannot be thought as slowly 'planned' and 'mirroring,' opposite sexes. No, they are, the first, a mutant, while the second is an evolvent, as are most living organisms.
"When man suddenly appeared by mutation, the hermaphrodites were forced by men's choices and by reproductive pressures to evolve until their masculine traits were almost obliterated. Their phallus gradually decreased in size until it became a clitoris. Yet, this minuscule phallus--afraid, so to say--of showing up, preserved its original sensibility."


(Originally appeared in Brain and Behavior forum, December 18, 1997)


From a recent issue of Science I obtained the following information, derived from experiments with laboratory mice. Neurons devoted to alertness, memory and learning possess an enzyme capable of rapidly inactivating ethanol, the common drinking alcohol. Mice made deficient in such enzyme suffer from alcohol intoxication manifestations at much lower alcohol levels. That is all...
Well, from that information it is permissible to offer the following hypothesis.

1.- We have known that when ethanol enters the body, it is catabolized by an enzyme present in liver cells. Low levels of that enzyme result in higher blood and tissue alcohol levels.
2.- What has been discovered now is that when alcohol penetrates the neurons, it is catabolized by a second, different type of enzyme.

Therefore, measuring alcohol blood levels will provide a parameter of quantitative ingestion and of qualitative disposal of alcohol by the liver cells. Yet the important information, namely how much of it is rapidly disposed off by the neurons, is not gathered at all.

As a corollary, only very low blood alcohol concentrations can provide negative information, while the presence of 'significantly' high levels do not provide the positive information about neuronal intoxication!

If so, then in the absence of an immediate test for neuronal alcohol nanolevels, only an ulterior examination performed in a specialized laboratory--for testing the neurological functions of alertness, memory and learning at standard alcohol ingestion doses--will be capable of testifying to the significance of the blood alcohol levels present at the moment of sample withdrawal...

Should the driver perish in an accident, more significant than blood alcohol levels will be an intelligent analysis of the driver's overall behavior. High alcohol blood levels will pale against a history of responsible behavior in situations that demanded alertness, memory and immediate learning of road dangers.

If the reader is unwilling to accept this hypothesis as valid, let him explain. If he is willing, what would he opine about the responsibility of the person driving the car that crashed with Princes Dianne dying inside it?
Also, can the reader derive parallel hypotheses on the effects of potential toxic chemicals on other body tissues?


(Originally appeared in Brain and Behavior forum, December 20, 1997)



On Dec 15 1997 you posted:

Jake, thank you for making your comments on meta-thinking so clear...I did fail to understand what you originally meant by the term meta-thinking. To think about thinking. OK, now where will that take me?

Man is the only living organism which has evolved sufficiently as to be capable of meta-thinking. Aristotle probably wrote on this subject, but he could not know that this is an evolutionary attainment. He apparently was so taken by this impressive capacity of human animal beings, that he attributed it to a special godly manifestation. I am just stating that animals other than man, whether rational in different degrees or not, have not evolved to such degree. If dolphins are capable of meta-thinking, they are not so at man’s level. Should there be a race of man-looking organisms incapable of meta-thinking, they would be classified as ‘sub-humans.’ Please tell me if this is clear and where does it take you to.

...How we think?

There are different types of thinking. I’ll post an article on the subject for your benefit, as soon as feasible. In the meantime, consider that there is, for instance, the simple, ‘autistic thinking,’ which is the common day-dreaming, just recalling. Then, non-creative realistic thinking, used in simple dialogue, and then creative thinking, the fount of scientific and artistic outpour. You are interested in this latter specific mode of thinking, which is also an impressive evolutionary result. Man (woman too) has developed specific brain areas for such effect. Everything related to thinking, such as memory and learning, both immediate and long-term, is effected by specific proteins—therefore, by genes. Genes vary between organisms and between the same organisms.

Where we think? Depends on the circumstances and personal preferences.

What we think?

Autistically, we just recall thousands of recent or past experiences.
Non creatively, yet realistically, we think about the subject of the dialogue in which we are engaged.
Creatively, well, I suggest reading my post on Parody and Dreams.

Why we think?

I believe that there is an inherent property in the elements, starting from Hydrogen, from which all organic components, including living organisms, derive their capacity to be created and to evolve. {A post of mine, ‘Quantum and Love,’ waxes lyrical on this theme.} Fundamentally, it is the electrons and their electrical charge which allow the creation and subsequent development and evolution of life forms. A limited number of the elements are appropriate for such purpose. There are even elements which we can live without them, such as lead. They exist because of stringent physical laws. Now, aside the 92 natural elements, several others are man-created, mostly being very unstable and even radioactive. The explanation, they are too large to support cohesive forces. Yet, theory says that element 114 will be impressively stable. If so, it will truly become the element of the 21st century. It might affect civilization as plastics did for our century.
We think because we are made of the stuff that results in our being thinking, and then meta-thinking, animals.

...Yes, if we could answer these questions about thinking, we might actually approach ‘truth’...It would serve to take us to the pinnacle of knowledge, for to know these things would answer the question, why are we here as we are, seemingly different from other life? Perhaps cats and dogs do not concern themselves with such thoughts of this nature and perhaps it is the thing that separates us from them. If so it is a fine line since cats do think and so do other animals. As a fine line it also could mean that any animal could join us on the "human level" as some believe the dolphin has already. This fine line brings up some serious moral questions of how we treat other life on this planet that we share. Many things to think about, on top of thinking about thinking.

This is abstruse language. Analytic and Linguistic Philosophy rejects this type of musings, accepting only alethic subjects for dialog. I shall do my best to continue the subject of linguistic communication, broached only once in SERENDIP several weeks ago. I am not criticizing anybody, just avoiding pointless discourse. Please remember that I am a contributor to SERENDIPIA in what pertains to brain, mind and thinking, explicitly avoiding metaphysical musings.


(Originally appeared in Brain and Behavior forum, December 20, 1997)



ON Dec 18 1997 you wrote:

I shall not insult your intelligence by trying to explain why I felt insulted, it is, as you know, purely a subjective feeling, one I chose to feel.

Laura, I post in Serendip both for pleasure and for learning. If somebody benefits from my writing, I can call it a value added. Polemic is out of the question, except when it is conducted on a platform appropriate for mutual benefit. You might have noticed that some of my posts are tinged with humor and some are poetry, although related to Serendip's main raison d'etre (brain, mind and thinking).
Therefore, subjective feelings are of interest only as a matter for educated analysis. I shall limit myself to question your presumed ability of 'choosing' subjective feelings. As for "insulting the intelligence," is just a cliche.

...Stephen Hawking realized that...(Do you) know...(of)...any other physicists who have been on the best-selling lists...?

I'd suggest reading my letter to Charles Krauthammer, posted as "On Time and Space."

...As to your alcohol theory,...if the liver is damaged so that it cannot process ethanol as quickly as a healthy liver,..those brain things...(neurons)...have more alcohol to deal with ...if so, is it possible for them to be overwhelmed to such a degree that impairment of the body's reactions are compromised?...An individual imbibing...a weight/height equivalent amount of alcohol and..a healthy liver..could be 'legally' drunk and command of his reflexes...

There are two variables involved: the alcohol blood level and the neurons' capacity of 'destroying' (catabolizing) alcohol. The net result of alcohol intoxication therefore depends on their interplay. The constant is the amount of alcohol imbibed per weight of the individuals. Variable degrees of liver damage will result in variable blood concentrations, thus variably taxing different individuals' neurons having equal detoxyfying capacities. With inequal capacities, the result will be in favor of the better endowed.
This is an example of applying algebraic principles in metalogic, which deals with syntax and the logic of language.

Is there any way for medical science to ascertain this, possibly clearing persons of DWI's whose reflexes are not...(necessarily)... impaired...(correlatively) with...their alcohol...levels?

This is precisely what I advocate in my post! It is possible to develop methods for that end, applicable to surviving drivers.

...Is it possible that the driver of Di's vehicle, in spite of having drunk a considerable amount of alcohol,...was...'in control of his reflexes' to the same degree of a...sober person?

On the basis of existing knowledge, it will be found that a few individuals possess a genetic enzyme variant in their neurons, which provides them with up to ten times the regular capacity for destroying alcohol. This will explain their unusual immunity to alcohol effects. Perhaps Alexander the Great was a famous case in question.

And do we really want to complicate the issue of drunk driving by this information?

Science manifests an inherent 'perverse desire' for complicating life, parallel to the inherent 'badness' that allows evolution. (As explained in my post "On Evil.")


(Originally appeared in Brain and Behavior forum, December 20, 1997)



On Dec 19 1997 you wrote:

Language serves...two...(main)...functions. One is to convey information/attitude/perspective as unambiguously as possible.

Why not consider that information is a 'folder' that contains attitude, perspective, and whatever?

The other...(main) to convey the same... (information)... .with a fairly high degree of ambiguity.

The former...(function) valuable for exploring the logical implications of a particular set of...(compound)...information...The latter...(function) equally valuable as a way of eliciting from others...(compound)...information...different from one's own.

Jake was (as I see it)...dealing with the first main function of language,...while Laura was interested in the second main function... Serendip is an appropriate place for both...(main)...kinds of language use. Indeed, it is the interplay between the two that is essential to progressively getting things less wrong.
Being as precise as one can be makes clear the limitations of one's current understanding, both of what's going on and of the words and concepts one uses to try and make sense of...what is going on...(Jake's alcohol piece is an illustration).
Being less precise is essential to conveying/collecting the additional... (compound) ...information...from which one might...learn to become)...less wrong.

This dialogue will move me to post thoughts on ambiguity and the novel...

None of this, of course,...(jibes with)...being deliberately obscure nor...with...intellectual snobbery. Laura is right (and I think Jake would agree) that...such...attitudes...(will necessarily)...convey a sense of creating...(in Serendip)..."a club closed to the initiated". Science(and philosophy)...,(as well as any other suject matter)..., comprehensible to every...(Serendipian),...for the reasons Laura gives, as well as for two others. Science (and philosophy) NEED the additional perspectives and insights of people who are neither professional scientists nor professional philosphers. And, following Laura's thought, I'm never sure...(that)...I really understand... a formal argument or line of evidence UNTIL I can...(formulate) in language that is comprehensible to anyone...(interested in the subject matter)...Invariably, in trying to make it so, I discover new understandings myelf (I suspect this is part of why Hawking...and others...write the books they do)...(and post in Serendip)...

I hope this learned discourse of Paul will serve to dispel misunderstandings and to stimulate creative dialog in Serendip!


(Originally appeared in Brain and Behavior forum, December 21, 1997)




On Dec 18 11 1997 you wrote:

I am a little surprised that Dr. J. Ghitis would be attacking Willard Quine (Dec. 17)in connection with the subject of verbal clarity.

I actually wrote to Laura Cody,

"This week I read about Quine's 67 years production...My impression was that he has been wasting his and other's time. I demand clarity."

Ed, I was bored just reading about Quine's frightening outpour! And just on the subject of Being! He couldn't have been clear if he had to work 67 yr. hacking on the same subject. Although I must confess that fortunately I've not read any of his, I should have known something of it, had it been of real import. This post of you is prompting me to write in the near future a very concise essay on Being and Existing, showing the cosmic difference between these two philosophical concepts. For such purpose, I'll have to delve on the Torah's two given God's Names, as well as on etymological sources.

After all, Quine is primarily known as a logician, not as a philosopher in the classic sense, and his writing is generally a model of clarity and precision.

I knew that Quine is a logician, interested in analytical and linguistic analysis. i did not criticize the clarity and precision of a writing I have not perused. I would agree on this point, had he written just one treatise on the subject of being. Allow me to try and make just one point here: Quine says that being is anything that can be perceived or conceived by the mind. All right, but what happens? we had Plato with the ideas or forms, actually concepts. then there came the complication of Ontology, a concept clear to biologists, who puzzle at the philosophical meaning of this word, which refers to Being, no matter its nature. then we have the rather clear concept of Metaphysics as generally understood, without any post-Aristotelian added meaning. Yet the philosophers of Being borrowed that word for their own benefit!

Now allow me to say the following: Existing is absolutely different from Being, and yet I have the impression that nobody has dealt with this crucial philosophical concept, on which I intend to deal sometime.

Of course, that brings up a problem with the "clarity of thought" approach. Those who are interested in clarity of thought above all usually have nothing or little to say. And for that reason they don't seem very productive. They publish a lot but when all is said and done it does not mean that much, and that may be Quine's downfall.

This is an unwarranted generalization, except when relating to Quine.

Analytic philosophy also is a good case in point. It was significant only in what it rejected (i.e. most of the work of past philosophers)...

That's quite an accomplishment! It was an offshoot of the Positivistic Philosophy, from which it is actually inseparable.

...but it did not really have that much to say, and it could be rated as one of the most sterile and unproductive schools of thought since the 14th century and the time of the medieval Scholastics.

How so? I must confess again that fortunately I did not read Wittgenstein's Tractatus, which he preferred not to have written. I'll refer you to my post 'Space and Time,' where I mention other luminaries, like Russel and Whitehead, which I have not read either. I have stressed that to me the Positivistic Analytic Linguistic Philosophy can be zipped as "Be unambiguous!" The exact words in my letter to Laura Cody were,

Analytic and Linguistic Philosophy, derivatives of the Positivistic Philosophy, can be summarized as: "Be unambiguous!"

It should be clear, then, that further dwelling on this discussion will be "sterile and unproductive." As Laura said, and you will agree, we should avoid becoming too sophisticated. Serendip is not a place for an "exclusive club." Your posts, as those of other contributors, have been a source of inspiration to me!

Clear concise language only has a limited applicability in some of the most basic areas of science, physics, chemistry, and such like. It works out very clumsily in social sciences like economics, sociology, or history. It can be done but unfortunately it does not mean much. Endorsing it rather indiscriminately could even be considered rather naive.

Why should clear language, concise as it ought to be, have a limited applicability? In your phrase above, the word "only" requires a comma, after or before it, in order to make the phrase clear! The rest is just the expression of an unsupported opinion, clearly not clear. I suggest rephrasing it.

(Originally appeared in Brain and Behavior forum, December 23, 1997)


To Laura Cody

On Dec 17 1997 you wrote,

I feel as though I have just been insulted. Of course it is just a feeling, nothing scientific there, and I am probably mistaken, or have misunderstood your missive again.

Could you be specific? Please rephrase your lines; you will understand your thoughts better and might decide to delete those lines.

I too, do very little reading of philosophers unless it is necessary; they are usually too obscure for my tastes...

After finishing this dialogue post, I'll work on an idea about the specific function of Serendip, which touches on this phrase. (It is already posted in About...Serendip.) very interested in the question of why we are here, for what reason. Science has shed much light on how things work, but that does not answer the why.

Your questions on existential meanings are widespread among human beings. Not even dolphins ask, nor are they worried about the possible 'unpleasant' answers.The scientific answer is:

We are here because we evolved from the first molecule(s) which allowed replication.

You know about 'Mad cow's' disease and similar. A Nobel price was adjudicated this year to the scientist who some 20 years ago suggested that some peculiar abnormal proteins ('prions') have the property of influencing some normal proteins to adopt the abnormal configuration.
Complex proteins have three dimensions, configuring a net of self-interconnections. Their electromagnetic properties make them powerful in their specific functions of acting on other molecules. In this regard, they constitute the principle of life.

There are many cells in the blood circulation. By definition they constitute particles, being naturally insoluble. There are some fat molecules which float in suspension (insoluble), yet are not inimical to the capillary circulation. Proteins in the bood are soluble. Prions are unnatural--insoluble--proteins. Eventually, their accumulation results in blocking of capillaries, mainly in the nervous system. Disease results from this phenomenon.
Proteins with special configurations have catalytic properties; they are enzymes. The evolution to enzymatic RNA and then to DNA perfected the pathway toward replicating organisms--true life forms. Perhaps eggs were developed, from which organisms were hatched. Later on, these organisms might have incorporated the eggs. (At any rate, the 'egg' must have preceded the 'chicken,' in the evolutionary sense.)
The Internet and Serendip developed when Man himself evolved from a primate form and created the platform for the technological applications required for you and me to be engaged in the present dialogue.

It is quite clear, I would say, why we are here!

...there may be more, such as, 'does God exist?' that is still legitimatly in the realm of philosophy and theology.

The realm of theology is a sacrosanctum, where science is not interested in visiting, and where philosophy would be unwelcome. As for philosophy itself, it has been losing ground under science's onslaught. Medicine is becoming more of a 'science' and less of an 'art', as biology and cybernetics advance. Notice, however, that Medicine is not a Science. Sciences are the study of Natural phenomena. Medicine is a composite of many Sciences, particularly Biology, and of a lot of technological applications.

The study of Linguistics includes the thinking about clear expression of information, where it is called 'Analytic and Linguistic Philosophy,' yet it is a philosophy in the sense of defining a way to approaching the expression of unambiguous, non-abstruse, entirely alethic language. It is a philosophy because it is neither a science nor an art but a School of thinking.

Now, where does all this considerations place us on the question,..."Is there God,...a God, God?"...

Laura, you are asking me such cosmic question, obviously hoping that I have the answer...Well, I do!

There is no evidence for the existence of a Supreme Being, a Creator of everything. Yet it is practically inconceivable that the Universe was self-created. We have not evolved sufficiently to solve this mystery. Still, the really important point is, the presumed Creator does not show himself (with capital H). All his presumed properties have been invented by theologians. So be it, but, can he influence History? Meaning, can he stay the sun, the moon, part waters and what not?
But most importantly, can he change 'luck,'? Or is Determinism a fact? If it is, then there is no free will .
Science will not offer you a positive answer. So, what can we do?

We go to the most developed latter-day mind, meaning, Albert Einstein. We find that he believed in a Creator, why not, indeed? He said that God "did not play dice," meaning, His physical Laws cannot be bent with ideas of inscapable indeterminacy. Was he wrong? Only in that the Principle of Indeterminacy became recognized as well based. Yet it does not precude the unbendingness of physical laws. This and more, in spite of of all his humane bent, Einstein did not invoke God nor was he religious. It might be safely assumed that he saw eye to eye with Spinoza. A good philosophy, I'd say!

Paul G's. work on free will is what drew me into this exchange in the first place, plus the interest in what exactly separates us from the animal kingdom. At this point I don't believe that there is anything that separates us from the state of nature (other animals) except a mistaken idea that humans are somehow special.

I would agree with you, should you delete the words 'mistaken idea' and 'somehow.' Are you ashamed or guilt-ridden for being at the pinnacle of evolution? It's not your fault!

So we think, or even think about thinking, or explore our universe and learn things about it. We could just be a point along the path of evolution, eventually to be thought of--by those who follow us--as no more than jellyfish.

Agreed! But please do not equate me to a jellyfish. What about Homo Somewhat Sapiens?

But we humans have done serious damage to the environment by believing ourselves to be outside of nature and masters of nature.

Laura, please include me out of this generalization.

We have pulled the rubberband taut and when it snaps back, it will do so with a vengeance.

Is there anything I can do?

If I have upset you with my simplicity, well I apologize and shall refrain from commenting upon your obviously superior intellectual and scientific musings.

You have stimulated my brain, mind and thinking, thank you. As for my obvious 'superior expostulations,' well I have made an honest effort to learn from others, during a rather extensive time span. I wish to share the results, because it gives me pleasure.

(Originally appeared in Brain and Behavior forum, December 23, 1997)


In my comment "Thoughts on Language" (Dec. 20) I wrote, "This dialogue will move me to post thoughts on ambiguity and the novel..." Well, here it goes.

'Positivistic,' 'Analytic and Linguistic Philosophy' principles allow clear, concise, unambiguous language, the main tool for conveying messages, the elements of communication.
In the novel, the language tends to be somewhat lyric and a measure of flourish is fine. But mainly, the novelist does not purport to intentionally convey a message to the reader!
Such an attempt would blemish the essence of the novel, which should be, axiomatically, a compelling work of fiction. It is a spontaneous--albeit polished--creation, variously redolent of the variegated attributes of literary art. It might be influenced by the Collective Unconscious, but it is certainly dictated by the Individual Unconscious of the author. And no unconscious can deliberately convey messages; thus, the reader may act as an interpreter at best. He is the one who might tell the author what it is that moved him to writer what he has written.
Conveying a deliberate message, the author can not aver to be a novelist, but just a gifted preacher, a visionary prophet, or an inspired social reformer.

The reader may content himself with enjoying a novel as a story that first awakens his natural curiosity and then satisfies it. He may also let himself be involved in a world more passionate than his. His intellect may be stimulated by the unraveling of an ingeniously ambiguous plot. Being part child himself--with a vague recollection of the time when thought was omnipotent--he revels in the mature fantasy of a novel. Or else his religiosity or his sense of social justice is awed by the prophetic grandeur of a passage. His educated aesthetic sensibility delights in the artistically--yet deliberately--elaborated pattern of a novel, and finally, his innate sense of beauty is immersed in the spontaneous manifold cadences and overall flowing rhythm of an elegantly written novel.

But...reading a novel to get a deliberate message? The reader might wrest one out of a novel--if he were in such a quest. But if so, he has wrought it with his own mind's probing cunning.

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