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A new world...| lands to explore...|...and stories within stories to tell.|Welcome to SJORIA

Our Place In The Universe

You know something that really blows my mind? Why do people think that a miracle is no longer a miracle if it can be explained? Why does something have to be magical and defy logic in order to be amazing, beautiful, and valuable?

The explanations for how things work and why they work make them all the more incredible in my mind. Knowing that a whole, unique, individual person is encoded in the DNA of a microscopic zygote at the very moment of conception, right down to their eye colour, hair colour, number of tastebuds, individual fingerprints, all the tools that person will use to experience the world in the unique way that they do, ALL of it, is right there at conception. The individual shape of the nose and the eyes, the face, it's all determined, it just hasn't grown yet. Everything that makes that person who they are, short of the experiences in life that will help shape some of their personality traits or views on the world, is right there the moment sperm and egg make contact. It makes life all the more interesting to me. Knowing how my brain and body work don't make me feel like any less of a person, and were I able to artificially recreate a "me" following the same rules as applied to my own existence, the new "me" would be another person, and it wouldn't be any less miraculous to me.

On another note, why are we so biased that we think that being human is being the most "advanced" life form, judging another being's value and "progress" by how it measures up to likeness of our own? We are social creatures, so we measure ants, bees, and other social insects as being "more advanced" than their solitary peers in the insect world. We build things, so we say that birds, wasps, beavers and other creatures that build homes are "more advanced" than nomadic species. +10 intelligence points if they also use tools, as we do. We communicate via verbal languages, but only those creatures who learn to mimic our language or respond to commands we give them in our language are counted as intelligent (dogs, apes, parrots, etc). Speck, we don't even count each other as intelligent if we don't understand the same language. Our inability to learn how to communicate with a wasp or a whale doesn't detriment the intelligence we perceive in ourselves, however.

From a religious standpoint, man and man alone was created in the image of God. However, I am also religious, and fully believe that man was created in the image of God. But I am not threatened by the idea that my God also designed every plant and animal on this planet, according to His perfect design. I do not feel that the intrinsic value of another life form threatens my own worth. Does it ever occur to us that maybe, just maybe, an ant is a perfect ant, designed suitably for its sphere of existence? That a hummingbird leads the perfect life for a hummingbird? Why must these creatures become humans or more human-like in order to be "higher organisms", and therefore more worthy of respect, compassion, and life? There is no one perfect species that would make the world go 'round all on its own, in my opinion. Life on Earth is an complex, intricate, multi-player project. Each life form depends on another life form in some way, shape, or form.

Why must an autistic child behave and learn in the same way a so-called "normal" child does in order to be considered healthy? Historically speaking, why must the "savage" speak English and wear the style of clothing Europeans do to be "civilized"?

It's like Earth is just too big and beautiful for our society to comprehend, so it (and I say "it" because I am speaking of collective human understanding, though each one of us, individually, hold views that are just as gloriously diverse and unique as is the rest of the world) tries to dumb it all down, label it, and stick it in a bottle to compensate for its own lack of understanding, rather than gradually building a much bigger and accurate picture.

I think the long and the short of that spiel is, I feel society needs to broaden its collective concept of what makes life valuable. Pardon me for pulling a Disney here, but why should the only lifeforms of value be the ones that "look and think like you?" or serve you, or whatever.

Anyone who knows me knows that I adore taxonomy. I love the classifications. It reminds me of search terms, with Animalia being pretty broad and Canis lupus being pretty darn specific. But labels are really starting to bug me. They're too simplified. They don't give the whole picture. Every form of classification, from taxonomy to personality tests, all these boxes we create to organize similar and different things in order to better understand them, they're good for only surface understanding. Homo sapiens works great if I'm searching for any human. "Homo sapiens + Female + Mormon" narrows it down a little. "Homo sapiens + Female + Mormon + Bearded" narrows it down a lot. But still, there are probably other search results. But if someone wants to find "me", they'd have to get really, really specific, because there is only one being on the face of planet Earth that has exactly my same DNA, life experiences, et cetera. Even if I were cloned, the clone would still grow up in an entirely different environment and have different life experiences than I. She and I might have a whole lot in common; looks, interests, tastes, et cetera, but it is impossible for her to be another me. Even if you managed to completely simulate all the environmental factors of the year 1992, my mother's womb, and copy with mathematical preciseness the apartment I grew up in and every single activity that took place therein, the moment she chose something differently than I did, the experiment would be ruined. I am the only me. You are the only you. I think individuality is universal. But we're not wired to recognize the difference between one deer and the next. They all look the same to us unless we're paying extra close attention. Plus, it's a whole lot easier to imagine that chickens come from the chicken factory than that they are bred and slaughtered en masse.

Easy bothers me. Easy takes away from the value of these living things. Now, mind, I'm not going all vegan here and saying we shouldn't eat meat or whatever. But let's not deny the reality that these are, in fact, living, breathing, thinking individuals, just because that makes us feel more comfortable with ourselves. Unfortunately, we live in a world where living things kill other living things to survive. That's the way it is. The lion is going to eat the lamb until Christ comes again. But ignoring the sanctity of life so that it's easier for us to mass produce and literally torture these animals as if they have no thoughts or feelings bugs me. Think about it. We literally depend on taking a life that took anywhere from three months (chickens, for instance) to a hundred years (beluga sturgeon) to develop, so that we can live another day or two. They should be treated with respect and kindness.

I was watching a Youtube video recently displaying an experiment in which a jumping spider was strapped into a custom restraining device and glued there with hot wax to keep it motionless as a tiny wire was inserted into the brain to monitor neural activity in response to visual stimuli. Responses in the comment sections leaned heavily on the side of compassion for the spider. Some people chided those who expressed compassion (in their own ways, ranging from sympathy for the spider to aggression for the scientists conducting the experiment).

Someone posted that they hoped the spider didn't feel pain. Someone assured them that spiders are just living microchips. I posed the question, does something have to experience pain like us to deserve compassion? Given the ferocity of some commentators in chiding those with compassionate responses, I fully expected to be trolled. However, to my delight, the person who responded to my question had a wonderfully intelligent and well thought out reply. While he sympathized with the spider, he also held the position that some life forms are merely alive, but unfeeling, like biological computers.

I posted another response, because it really got me thinking. I'll re-post it here, because my views contained therein are important to me, and I do not wish to lose what I wrote should I lose track of the aforementioned video.

I mean, scientifically speaking, every biological life form is a living computer to some extent or another. The point of being alive but unfeeling is possibly only the most basic, for such an organism would not react to destructive {ie. painful} stimulus. Spiders feel pain, as they move away from whatever is causing them harm. Do they experience the same emotions regarding pain that we do? Certainly not. For one, they are not social creatures and therefore have no need to express their pain to others. For another, the sensations we describe as "emotion" are the physical/chemical changes that occur in our bodies and brains as a result of either external or internal stimuli. (Does that devalue our emotions at all? I don't think so, but some who are of the opinion that magical "things being as they are" is more valuable than science "our understanding of why things are as they are" might think so.) A spider's physiology is completely different from ours (eg. in order to feel "so mad I'm going to explode" I have to have a cardiovascular system with an increased heart rate and arterial tension. Putting aside all the social and environmental factors which need have a role to play in an organism's existence in order for anger to be a beneficial reaction, spiders, obviously, don't have veins). 

Their psychology, that is, how their brains process "thoughts", what that means, and how/if they feel about it emotionally (speaking here of emotions being the physical changes in the body as a result of threatening stimuli), is something we cannot at this point hope to understand, as they cannot communicate it to us. But we can observe even without invasive procedures that it unpleasant to them. That's why they move away from whatever is causing them harm rather than ignore it or move towards it. Someone on here commented that this is more like a reflexive reaction, like when a doctor taps on your knee. This is simply not the case, as one may observe a threatened spider plans their method of escape (eg. seeking out a place to hide) and the intensity by which they flee escalates by way of increased activity should the method fail. That sort of reaction is quite a bit more complex than a mere knee-jerk reaction. Please also note that when my leg jumps reflexively as a result of contact with my nerves, it returns to a state of placidity after the fact. If a spider's leg is injured, it draws the leg in towards the body to protect it from further harm. This, again, displays that the repercussions of injury extend further than a mere reflexive avoidance.

On that note, I feel that what these men proved could have been done just as easily by basic observation. The spider reacts differently, physically, when it observes different objects. We may observe by its stance and reaction that it can tell the difference between the shape of a fly and the shape of another spider or an object in its environment, whether it is hunting, observing, or moving away. Just like any creature, spiders have a "body language" that is unique to their kind. That, to me, is much more telling than a series of electrical impulses in its brain when it is utterly immobilized otherwise. Obviously, the spider can see a fly and its brain recognizes it as a fly. That is all that these men proved by this experiment. The expense of other creatures to improve our own is, at times, a necessary evil, I will admit. Evil, because we as humans are capable of empathy to a point of altruism. That's why the first reaction of so many of us to this video is abhorrence, for we see a helpless creature which has done no harm at the mercy (or the lack thereof) of powerful beings that are slowly killing it. The point I sought to express by my original question is, I feel that our natural inclination to feel altruistic towards a creature so different from our own species is part of what makes us as humans unique, and we should not try to reason it away based on if a creature experiences pain in the same way we do, for that would demote our altruism to a form of flawed empathy. It feels pain, and to cause pain and death needlessly, regardless of whether that pain is the same as my own, is wrong, in my opinion.

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