The Custodians of Life’s Meaning

This is an inspiring video about humanism from the Carl Sagan series. Nearly every word is quote-worthy, but I’ll just pick a few of them: 
“The significance of our lives, and our fragile planet, is then determined only by our own wisdom and courage. We are the custodians of life’s meaning. We long for a parent to care for us, to forgive us our errors, to save us from our childish mistakes. But knowledge is preferable to ignorance. Better by far to embrace the hard truth than a reassuring fable... If we crave some cosmic purpose, then let us find ourselves a worthy goal.”

A Final Middle Finger

I’ve been thinking a lot about adversity and resilience lately, both in a general sense and due to events going on in the lives of my students, friends, and extended family (as well as my own). There’s a lot to say about these things from a theoretical perspective, but that does not fit here. Instead, this one is personal, about my Uncle Jimmy.


A dear uncle of mine passed away recently. He was a great guy – a jokester and a ballbuster, but also a generous and kind soul, a good father and husband. As a prank, he once clandestinely paged a coworker every day for years, just for fun, to watch him glance down at his pager in confusion. (I don’t think he ever discovered who was behind it).  When I was a boy, he was my Little League coach. As an adult, when I returned home from graduate school in order to be closer to family while I wrote my dissertation, he and my aunt asked their upstairs tenants not to renew their lease so that my wife and I could have their apartment (with rent at a family rate discount). “Blood is thicker than water,” he said.

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On the Odds of Your Existence

Last week I volunteered to read a story for my older son’s 3rd grade class. The book I selected was Dr. Seuss’ “Oh the Places You’ll Go” because I think it does a nice job of conveying the theme of perseverance in a kid-friendly way, which is the reason I read it often to my boys at home.

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Cosmically Connected Primates

“For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.”                 

– Carl Sagan, Contact

Three different people have shared the inspirational video below with me in the past two days, and I thought it deserved to be disseminated as widely as possible. It’s the response of astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson to the question: “what is the most astounding fact you know about the universe?” In his answer, Tyson elaborates on the majestic idea that the heavier elements crucial for organic life owe their origins to the incredible pressures created within aging stars. Those stars then exploded and released their newly forged contents into surrounding space, some of which eventually coalesced into us (to make a long story short).

By itself, that concept is sublime, and it should be enough to sustain one’s sense of awe for a long while. But Tyson also goes a bit farther, speculating on why this idea elicits such an emotional response within us. 

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Empathy in Flux

All is flux.” – Heraclitus

Before criticizing someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you do criticize them, you are a mile away… and you have their shoes.”      –Jack Handey

Stop motion photo of a girl jumping rope. A few moments of an individual life. (Photo by Harold Edgerton).

My advisor in graduate school, Mike Little, once shared with the class that he fantasized about a machine that would provide instantaneous biological data just by having a person walk through it. As he described it, the machine would work something like an airport metal detector, only instead of revealing any concealed objects, it would assess the types of variables that biological anthropologists salivate over – anthropometrics, body composition, blood pressure, hormonal profiles, presence of infections, etc. If only…

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Awe and Wonder

I think these videos help put things into perspective. Sometimes when you’ve got your head buried in your work and/or in life in general, it’s important to step back and forget about the minutia or strife in order to remember that we find ourselves in a physically beautiful world. Two of these videos view earth from space. The third is a time lapse of various landscapes in the state of Oregon. I’ve not yet been to Oregon (though I will visit there in a few months), but the larger point is that we are surrounded by pieces of nature that elicit awe and wonder.


It really is a beautiful world. 


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Wonderful World

There’s not much that I need to add here. It’s just a beautiful video that Ed Yong kindly shared with his readers: 

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On Life, Death, and Shaking Hands with Your Ancestors

Appropriately, I’m writing this in the middle of Hurricane Irene.

.A couple of days ago, NPR posted this quote on death by Steve Jobs. 

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.”

Direct ancestor/ descendants holding hands (my sons and I)

Digging a bit deeper, I was able to find that the quote came from a commencement speech Jobs gave at Stanford University in 2005, about a year after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. By now, most people probably know that Mr. Jobs stepped down as CEO of Apple last week, and there has been speculation that this may tie into his past health issues. Such a close encounter with mortality would likely make any person pause and reflect on the big picture, and why it is that we ultimately share the same destination. I empathize deeply with Mr. Jobs, Christopher Hitchens, the people of Somalia and, well, everyone, since we must all one day confront the fact that our time here is finite. Death is the ultimate equalizer.

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On Parenthood

It’s hard to believe that my older son was born almost eight years ago. Sometimes I remind him that at one point he was only a little longer than my forearm, and that I could hold him in one hand. He’s a little taller than that now.

A duet

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Life is Still Beautiful

I wrote this last year, as a memorial to my brother Kevin. It means as much to me today as when I first wrote it.

Kevin (Feb 26, 1977- May 14, 2000) with his son, Daniel