9 July 2006

Hidden among the thoughts that trip spontaneously across our minds are seeds that may blossom as creative genius.

Hidden among the mundanities of our daily schedules are the levers for political transformation.

Hidden among our social interactions are the roots of world peace.

~ Josh Mitteldorf

8 July 2006

“Love is what we are born with. Fear is what we learn. The spiritual journey is the unlearning of fear and prejudices and the acceptance of love back in our hearts...

“We are held back not by the love that we didn't receive in the past, but by the love that we fail to extend in the present.”

– Marianne Williamson, born this day in 1952

7 July 2006

“If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing”

– Marc Chagall, born this day in 1887


6 July 2006

“It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.”

 John Steinbeck described the internal process that gave him creative material for writing.

5 July 2006

If you close your eyes,
a river, silent and beautiful, fills you from within
flows forward, darkens you:

Night brings its wetness to beaches of your soul.

– Octavio Paz
choral setting by Eric Whitacre

4 July 2006

The Biology of Empathy

Are we evolved in a process of competition one-on-one or cooperation in teams (families, communities, armies)?  One of the qualities that enables cooperation to evolve over competition is recognition of other individuals.  This makes it possible for me to remember that you were nice to me, while he was mean to me, and to reciprocate accordingly.  A more sophisticated adaptation is empathy: if you are happy or if you are hurting, I can look at you and my feelings shadow your own.  This is an intrinsic, pre-programmed response that motivates me to act in our collective interest, not just my individual interest.

Until recently, biologists assumed that reciprocity was a function of higher animals only, and that empathy was yet more exclusive: a quality evolved in primates, or perhaps even something that made humans unique.  If the biologists had consulted a dog-lover, they might have suspected that empathy has a broader biological basis.

The NYTimes Science page today reports on work by Jeffrey Mogil of McGill University, demonstrating both face recognition and empathy in mice.  Not only do mice recognize each other and feel each other's pain, but the two adaptations are linked so that a mouse will empathize more strongly with a cage-mate or a blood relative than with another mouse that is new and unfamiliar.

original article in Science Magazine
summary and contextual interpretation in the same issue of Science

3 July 2006

Tom Stoppard and Franz Kafka, both born the 3d of July, both bring us the gift of stepping outside ourselves and regarding all with a detached enjoyment of the irony of it all; thus is tragedy transcended, and meaning extracted from the void, only to be laughed at and recycled as paradox. 

“You can hold yourself back from the sufferings of the world, that is something you are free to do and it accords with your nature, but perhaps this very holding back is the one suffering you could avoid.”

~ Kafka

“We cross our bridges when we come to them and burn them behind us, with nothing to show for our progress except a memory of the smell of smoke, and a presumption that once our eyes watered”

~ Stoppard