An uplifting news item, poem, thought or quotation each day.
Archive of past entries

8 May 2005

The classical Chinese calligrapher prepares his mind and body, chooses an inspired moment, then creates a work of beauty and grace with a few perfect brushstrokes.

In a moment of inspiration, you or I might perceive a situation in its entirety, know what is to be done, and find resolve to choose our path.

But how do we come to trust this inspired choice? How do we distinguish our clear insight from lesser impulses like wishful thinking or irrational fear?

Many years of patient practice support the calligrapher’s moment of creation. Likewise, our judgment of a moment stands on a lifetime of accumulated wisdom. The best support of all comes from having looked inward with honesty and courage.

-Josh Mitteldorf

7 May 2005

It was just five years ago that the announcement was made that the human genome had been sequenced. The Human Genome Project, begun in 1990, had seemed almost impossibly ambitious when announced by the first President Bush. But a private consortium (Celera, Inc) pushed the government project with direct, side-by-side competition, and the project was completed two years ahead of schedule, and 10% under its $3 billion budget.

So fast has the technology advanced, that today, an entire genome with 3.2 billion base pairs can be read in 6 months at a cost of just $20 million. But the next two years may hold a far bigger breakthrough. Helicos BioSciences in Cambridge, MA and Solexa in England have both announced that by the end of next year they will be selling machines that complete the entire analysis in 3 days, and are cheap enough that every doctor’s office can afford one.

The point is that my genome and your genome are different in small but subtle ways, so an individual’s genome contains unique information about him. Many medical treatments, from antibiotics to chemotherapy, can be more effective when they are targeted to a particular individual. This will soon be routine.

6 May 2005

There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

-Jane Kenyon

5 May 2005

If you want what visible reality
can give, you're an employee.
If you want the unseen world,
you're not living your truth.
Both wishes are foolish,
but you'll be forgiven for forgetting
that what you really want is
love's confusing joy.

-Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi 1207-1273

4 May 2005

Evolution Squared

How has biological evolution managed to create so much functional complexity in the short space of a few billion years? (This is a question with which creationists taunt biological scientists, claiming it ‘obviously’ has no answer except the intervention of a divine intelligence.)

Creationists are wrong to give up on a scientific answer to this question; but scientists would be wrong to minimize the powerful appeal of the question itself.  Evolutionary theory has no answers yet about the ‘rate of evolution’. It is a question about which we are free to wonder and to speculate.

One avenue for exploration that I find most tantalizing is in a branch of evolutionary science known as ‘evolvability theory’, or ‘evolution of evolution’, which I fondly refer to as ‘evolution squared’: There is evidence that the process of evolution is itself subject to evolution, and that genes are structured in such a way as to make the process more efficient than mere blind mutation and natural selection. My favorite example: there are master genes, called hox genes, that switch on entire developmental processes. A hox gene can create an eye or a leg in its entirety by invoking all the necessary gene expressions.

The existence of hox genes adds not one whit to "fitness"; but it does have a huge effect on the process of evolution, and the rate at which a community of plants or animals can adapt. How did chromosomes come to be structured in this way? "Survival of the fittest" doesn’t address this question. Perhaps a revolution in evolutionary theory is in the offing.

3 May 2005

But fear of the inexplicable has not alone impoverished
the existence of the individual; the relationship between
one human being and another has also been cramped by it,
as though it had been lifted out of the riverbed of
endless possibilities and set down in a fallow spot on the
bank, to which nothing happens. For it is not inertia alone
that is responsible for human relationships repeating
themselves from case to case, indescribably monotonous and
unrenewed: it is shyness before any sort of new, unforeseeable
experience with which one does not think oneself able to cope.

Only someone who is ready for everything, who excludes
nothing, not even the most enigmatical, will live the relation
to another as something alive and will himself draw exhaustively
from his own existence....

...We have no reason to
mistrust our world, for it is not against us. Has it terrors,
they are our terrors; has it abysses, those abuses belong to us
Are dangers at hand? we must try to love them. And if only we
arrange our lives according to that principle which counsels us
to hold always to the greatest difficulty, then that which now
still seems to us the most alien will become what we most trust
and find most faithful... Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are
princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave.
Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something delicate
that wants help from us. 

Fear of the Inexplicable, by Rainer Maria Rilke

2 May 2005

"Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours."

-C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity