The small snake that scared Karen last week and which I photographed -- I misidentified it. It was some kind of water snake, not a rat snake. Four readers pointed out my error, though none agreed on which water snake it was.

I want to describe the process of how I decided to deal with learning that I'd made a mistake for this reason: It's important to be clear that ethical questions, such as how to react when you find you've made a mistake, can be rooted in Nature's paradigms without reference to religions or what society says.

But, first, why does such a small detail as a little snake's mistaken name really matter?

It matters because by giving us such big brains the Creator has clearly assigned us humans a job as a species. That job is to explore the Creation, learn about it, and feel for it as intensely as we can. And humankind's exploration of the Creation is rooted in the information-gathering experience.

Therefore, misinformation -- even if it's only the wrong name for a little snake beneath a pot -- distorts our concepts of reality. Misinformation slows or even sets back life's evolution toward ever higher levels of self-realization and perfection.

That explains why publishing the wrong name for a little snake is a big deal with me. But, there's more.

The misidentification was made because of my own intellectual laziness. The arrangement of scales on the snake's face clearly showed that it wasn't a rat snake. I assumed it was a rat snake because I'd just seen a larger, similar snake nearby that definitely had been a rat snake, and rat snakes were simply on my mind.

The intellectual laziness causing my mistake bothers me because of my personal belief that we living things are "nerve endings" of an ever evolving, self- monitoring Creator. If we humans exist in order to live, to experience, to feel and understand, then being intellectually lazy is like a nerve ending choosing to be numb.

If there be "sin," then intellectual laziness in all its forms -- apathy, lack of curiosity, blind acceptance of dogma, and my lack of mental discipline -- is sin.   .