FLÂNEURING IN DZITAS
Last Sunday Newsletter readers Eric and Paul visited from Mérida. One of the much appreciated gifts they brought along was a book, The Nature of Nature, a hefty, 963-page, 2011 compilation of essays by the world's foremost experts in the very things we like to think about here. What is Nature evolving toward? How does human brain function affect our perceptions and thinking about Nature? In fact, what is awareness? And "being"? And, what does it all mean? Among the book's essays were those dealing with the string theory, consciousness and neuroscience, quantum interactive dualism, and eternal inflation.
I parked the book on my table and then the three of us plus my friend Malle went up to Dzitas, a little Maya town maybe 20 minutes north by car of Pisté. The idea was just to walk down Dzitas' backstreets the whole morning gawking at plants in people's backyards, pigs and turkeys, cute kids, the local sinkhole. Along the way Paul introduced me to the French word flâneur, which means, approximately, "to wander aimlessly, relying on serendipity and an open mind and heart to make it a good experience."
We saw a man high in a Ramón tree with his machete cutting branches for his horse to eat; in a shop another man carved a stone flowerpot. Little girls peeped around hut corners and sometimes the fragrance of orange blossoms mingled with dust and the odor of wood ashes and pig manure. A little boy on his house's roof flew a homemade white kite, and all around that house other homemade white kites hung tattered and flapping among tree branches, each one with its own story.
Our flâneuring in Dzitas finished, back in the hut, in the big book on the table I gravitated to an essay by Christian de Duve, Professor Emeritus at both the University of Louvaine and Rockefeller University. He addressed the question of whether in Nature, beyond the uninspired, mechanist inevitability of the way things of physics and chemistry automatically interact and evolve there's "Something Else" -- something giving direction to evolution, something rejoicing when thinking beings gain insights and feel, something we might call The Creator, or God.
All the book's essays ended with formal conclusions so I turned to the conclusion of de Duve's essay to see what his great mind with access to all the latest theories and the most up-to-date data from experiments in all fields of science might conclude about this "Something Else" and the human condition. He wrote, using the pronoun "we" to mean "we humans":
"We are entitled to see ourselves as part of a cosmic pattern that is only beginning to reveal itself. Perhaps some day, in the distant future, better brains than ours will see the pattern more clearly."
So, in 963 pages of the most profound data crunching and struggling for insight, humanity's sages seem to be no clearer about "What's really going on here?" than are most of us who just stumble around in the woods, work in our gardens, and gaze into the sky.
Today, with the gentle feelings of our Dzitas flâneuring still buzzing inside me, and the heavy feeling of the big book still remembered by my hands, here is exactly what I think:
What is the basic human condition? It is a little boy flying his kite from a rooftop, with kite-eating trees all around, but the trees themselves are more beautiful than any kite.
What is the meaning of it all? It is the odor of Orange blossoms mingled with pig manure, carried by the wind that knows only to yield, yet touches everything, and would never presume to even ask such a silly question.