Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Reason?

Whatever you say, you see.  So when you say nothing, you see everything.
Matt Kahn

Come January 1st Emory University becomes a smoke free environment.  Smokers won’t even be allowed to stand outside of buildings to have a cigarette.  Last fall when employees were renewing benefits selections, we had to sign a certificate that we didn’t smoke.  Next year smokers will have to pay an extra $50 per month in insurance premium.
Why all the changes?
Because everybody knows that smoking causes cancer!
Or to be more precise, smoking greatly increases the risk of cancer-
everyone also knows a smoker than seems to escape Scott free.
By profession I am a molecular geneticist.  That’s a discipline that is kind of renown for being the ultimate in reductionism, the ultimate advocate for biological cause and effect.
At least that was the stance as recently as 10 years ago.
But, all that reductionism, in a perfect yin-yang flip, led right into the arms of systems theory, an appreciation of the web of life wherein everything affects everything else.

At work I study a protein, encoded by a gene that when knocked out (mutated) causes the bacteria to stop synthesizing four different antibiotics.
However, we still don’t know how this disruption of antibiotic production actually occurs.
That’s because we’ve learned that when that one gene is knockout, several hundred genes change their behavior dramatically.
There is this whole web of interactions, actions and reactions.
I think of this as biology coming finally to the Buddhist emptiness teachings which speak of Creation as only dependencies arising.

Today, I got an email from a friend who commented, re a Woody Woodpecker cartoon I had sent her (go figure):
In compassionate friends [a group for parents who have lost a child] there are two camps – one believes, as I do, that there is some rhyme and reason to events – a plan in which Charlie’s death makes sense. Nothing is random. 
And another group believes the Divine sets things in motion but is not intimately involved in the day to day such that there is an element of randomness in the car accident or the cancer – God with a capital G does not have a hand in it other than that he created the initial creation….
Even though I believe there are no coincidences and things do not happen randomly – I also sometimes entertain the thought that I could be completely wrong on this and it could all be pretty random.  I don’t like that thought.

Theoretical physicist, Michio Kaku, says that Einstein talked about two Gods.
There is God, the interventionist, who listens to and answers our prayers.  Einstein didn’t buy this. However, he did believe in a God of order, harmony and elegance. 
But does that mean that nothing is random?

Actually, what does it mean to say, Nothing is random? 
Does that translate into, There is a reason for everything?
And is the appeal of Reason actually the hope that, One day I can understand?
...And if that is the real belief here, does that bring true relief and freedom?

I came across this video the other day in which Matt Kahn asks you to repeat a phrase so that you can feel your response to simply saying the words.
I think that’s a very nice experiment to try.

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