Friday, December 16, 2011

One Step Over the liNE

white stripe  by Seeking Tao
white stripe , a photo by Seeking Tao on Flickr.
My friend’s cat has been quite ill and my friend has started wondering:
Is she getting better? or
Is she dying?
Where is the line, the demarcation?

Long ago, my father taught me the phrase “asymptotically approaching.”
He was a chemist by training and shared many such wonderfully polysyllabic phrases.
I miss Pop. He crossed that Line over 15 years ago.
And yet, how is that possible?
If there is a finish line, and each step that you take gets you half way there… then even though you keep getting closer, you’re always only half way there.
In short, you can only “asymptotically approach.”

This reminds me of the biggest regret I have from my days of teaching biology.
It happened when I was in graduate school.
I taught an introductory lab course that was filled with non-biology majors, college freshman to juniors. The brightest student in there was a young kid from a local high school who was just sitting in.
One evening he hung around till everyone was gone to ask me a question:
Where was the line between inanimate and animate?

What a wonderful question!
In fact, I had taken it as my own for several years and really studied it. The answer is incredibly illusive.
While anyone can see a rock is inanimate and a parakeet is obviously animate,
there is actually no clear line of demarcation.
Animate: inanimate. What is a virus?
Life: nonliving? Crystals grow, reducing entropy and thus do not decay.
Alive: dead. When do we pull the plug on vegetative states?
If the extremes are so clear cut, why is an actual demarcation point impossible to find?

Curiously, back into 1960’s there was a Letter to the Editor published in the flagship science journal, Nature.The writer wanted to point out that since there could be no demarcation between animate and inanimate, it followed there could also be no clear demarcation for the arising of consciousness.
For if there were, we could simply make that the criterion for life and thus solve that question recognized as unanswerable.

Alive: dead.
Getting better: dying.
Consciousness present: consciousness absent.

Make no mistake – this issue is totally about consciousness.
It’s about the inseparable, unity of Creation, dependently arising, and how It also appears dualistically.

Oh! And why do I regret the boy asking me this question?
Because when he asked I was tired. It came at the end of a long day and I didn’t have the energy and the enthusiasm that young man deserved.  I feel sorrow for that lapse.
But, I’m also betting he just looked elsewhere for his answer.
Scientist, you see, are seekers through and through.

No comments: