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Termite Hindguts and the Copernican Principle

The birds are trilling their love songs, the jasmine spraying the air with fragrance. A spring day. I'm at my familiar spot on the back porch. It is good to be alive. I'm reading a book that is not only well-written but has the vapors of merit that come from being checked out of the public library. It's The Ecology of Eden, by Evan Eisenberg. And I come to a passage about microbes that live in the hindgut of termites:

"To make sure that each has a full complement of these vital microbes, termites engage in coprophagy: that is, they eat one another's stool. The hindgut of a modern termite is a zoo, many of whose denizens have amazing symbioses among themselves. For example, a lozenge-shaped microbe called Mixotricha paradoxa is propelled through the fluids of the gut by half a million spirochetes that cling to its side, beating in synchrony like galley slaves."

Let us review. You've got a termite. In its guts is a microbe shaped like a cough drop. Latched onto the microbe are tiny organisms that help it swim through the darkness of the excretory tract. I don't want to be a snob, but this strikes me as the bottom of the ol' totem pole.

True, we shouldn't be speciesist. We shouldn't mock the phylogeny of others simply because they are fated to, for example, hatch in cow dung. The enlightened citizen of the biosphere knows how to say the word "maggot" without it sounding like an insult.

And yet as I sit here, enjoying life, enjoying sentience, I am wondering why I get to be so lucky.

Why am I not a poop-eating parasite living my entire life in the darkness of a bug's rectum?

Which brings up the blood-curdling, shrieking-violins follow-up: How do I know I'm not?

We're into epistemologically hairy territory here. It would be deeply disturbing to wake from our human dream and discover that it's going to be another day of rowing in an insect's bowels. There are troubling metaphorical possibilities as well. The other day I tried to sign up for a parking space in the company garage, and was told that there's a 25-year waiting list. That would mean I'd get a space at the age of 70. That's mighty close to Termite Hindgut Country.

Invariably we struggle with the mystery of being who we are. Seriously: Why are you you? Haven't you ever stared into the bathroom mirror at 3 in the morning and thought: Why did I turn out to be this person and not someone else?

After many years of dialing experts on deadline, I've learned whom to call in a serious existential emergency: J. Richard Gott, professor of astrophysics at Princeton University.

"Rich, I have a question. Why am I me, and not, like, a bug, or a tree, or a blade of grass?"

This is what I love about Dr. Gott: He doesn't miss a beat! It's like he's been waiting for someone to call with that question.

"It's sort of an anthropic question," he begins. "To ask that question, you have to be an intelligent observer. A tree doesn't ask this question. A bug doesn't ask that question."

He calls this an "observational selection effect." And he cites the Copernican Principle. We must assume that we are ultimately very ordinary rather than privileged.

"You have to ask yourself, is what you're observing unusual relative to other intelligent observers?"

It's not. My profound existential question is something any intelligent observer could ask. It's mundane.

This explains the parking problem. The Copernican Principle states that I should not be in a special position in regard to all the people who might or might not have a parking space. The likely fate of a human being is to be, in most respects, ordinary -- not as a matter of good or bad luck, but merely as a statistical probability in a universe that is deeply probabilistic.

The Copernican Principle states that we would expect to be alive during a period of high population rather than low population -- which is exactly the case. We would also expect to live in a country with a large population, such as the United States.

Gott has used the Copernican Principle to argue that we'll probably never colonize the galaxy. We could, but that would put all of us in a special place -- the home planet. He mocks the concept: "How exciting it is! We're on the founding planet of a galactic empire! We're very lucky!"

Luck is not to be expected.

"You, in particular," he says to me, "are not likely to be special."

That isn't exactly what I wanted to hear. The fate of man is to be not special, to be ordinary, to be in the mid-range of everything.

But I can think of a worse existence.

[From the Sunday magazine. A royalty for the use of the word "coprophagy" has been paid to Weingarten.]

By Joel Achenbach  |  May 14, 2006; 8:02 AM ET
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Next: Too Many Books


And here I've been feeling guilty for the last few days for inadvertently launching the last week's Corn Poop Boodle. Sheesh.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 14, 2006 8:44 AM | Report abuse

SCC: Make that "the Legendary Corn Poop Boodle."

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 14, 2006 8:46 AM | Report abuse

Mudge, I hope you feel special, in spite of the legendary Corn Poop Boodle. Because you are! (At least to this Achenaddict...)

Posted by: Slyness | May 14, 2006 8:59 AM | Report abuse

Is it just me, or was this Kit kind of hard to find?
(I accessed it through the "Next" link at the bottom of the Disciplined Sloth Kit.)
Has it got something to do with cache clearing? (Not that I really know what that means.)

Posted by: Tom fan | May 14, 2006 9:08 AM | Report abuse

Good morning, friends. Happy Mother's Day to all that share that high place. May God bless you, and keep you, and love you more than you can imagine through Him that died for all, Christ Jesus. And remember, Mothers rule.

And here we have another poop piece written by none other than our boss, Joel. And all with such big words, and such an important stance and place. My, my, Mudge, will wonders never cease. Poop dressed up, with science. Doesn't get any better than that. With words that one has to look up to get the full impact. Well, in my case it will have to wait, we're off to Sunday school, and I don't even have my clothes on yet. G-girl is dressed and ready to go. And everyone out there enjoy this Mother's Day and cherish it much. Isn't God just wonderful and great. He put man over stuff, but He gave women the gift of creation. Mothers rule.

Posted by: Cassandra S | May 14, 2006 9:13 AM | Report abuse

[And now for something completely different, a comment on the column:]

OK, so I can understand that it's statistically likely that we'd be alive and conscious in a highly populated era of history and a highly populated country, which might go some way toward explaining why we exist here and now rather than at any other time or in any other place. (I'm still not totally convinced, though; I'll always wonder why I wasn't a caveman. Although, how do I know I wasn't?) Nevertheless, isn't the fact that our consciousness has taken human form pretty amazing? Aren't there way more bugs and insects on the planet than there are people? Why aren't I a bug? And yeah, I know -- a bug isn't conscious enough to even question its consciousness. But does that make the question any less valid? Can't we ask the question on behalf of the bugs? Surely they should still be factored into the equation.


In the Days of the Caveman

When you go on camping trips
You're stuck right out in nature
Foraging the forest like a primate
Using sharpened tools instead of hotplates

Your thumb and forefinger
Supposed to show you're not a wild beast
You can hear their noises at night time
They don't have to keep a certain bedtime

See in the shapes of my body
Leftover parts from the apes and monkeys

Sometimes when I lay awake
I hear the rainfall on my tent fly
I think of all the insects that are sleeping
And wonder if the animals are dreaming

See in the shapes of my body
Leftover parts from the apes and monkeys

In the days of the caveman
And mammoths, and glaciers
Bugs and trees were your food then
No pyjamas, or doctors

And when I finally get to sleep
I dream in Technicolor
I see creatures come back from the Ice Age
Alive and being fed inside a zoo cage

See in the shapes of my body
Leftover parts from the apes and monkeys

In the days of the caveman
And mammoths, and glaciers
Bugs and trees were your food then
No pyjamas, or doctors

-- Crash Test Dummies, from the album "God Shuffled His Feet"

Posted by: Dreamer | May 14, 2006 9:15 AM | Report abuse

One more editorial comment for everybody's consideration:

This column is about so much more than poop. Please consider.

Posted by: Tom fan | May 14, 2006 9:17 AM | Report abuse

This is not just something specialized for the anal crowd, this is Meaningful, this is about the highs and lows of the Self, the Ego, actually this is about the lows. As for the highs, Mudge told us yesterday about his family outing with the fascinating observation, "It doesn't get any better." Today, it doesn't get any worse. If I may put it another way, this blog is about the journey of the English-speaking Ego from the highs to the lows and back again. House with a porch (riff on porching), and a yard (riff on yard-care), kids (riff on packing them in the car to go somewhere), these are the highs. Beetle dung is the lows. The funny thing is that at the lows suddenly we get--not Buddhism--but---SCIENCE. These meaningful bouts with Joel's nothingness, and everyone's, leads us--him anyway--to talk about the cosmos, the universe, the non-Ego. That's how meaningful this is. Sometimes we have the gentle group-soothing of the Ego, sometimes the frisson of the infinite cosmos. Sturm und Drang mit occasional jokes and a pat on the back for experimental science. A little out of date maybe, as far as world-views go, considering the man is a college graduate, but what else is new. The problem is where you go with it. The public-policy applications so far haven't been brilliant, I think we can say. Talking about letting Massaoui rot in hell on earth, because it makes you feel better, that kind of thing. Kbertocci and a few others stood up to this , but... My actual point: The Sturm und Drang of the English-speaking ego is what gave us George W Bush, so lets have more and more of it, over and over again, is that the idea?

Posted by: a cellist | May 14, 2006 10:05 AM | Report abuse

Speaking of epistomology, the Evil Filter isn't letting me post a harmless post. Hmmm.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 14, 2006 10:09 AM | Report abuse

Rectum? Damn near killed 'em!

Posted by: TBG | May 14, 2006 10:12 AM | Report abuse

*rimshot* (no pun intended)

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 14, 2006 10:22 AM | Report abuse

It's very simple, really:

I am me because I am not you. What a sad world 'twould be if we were all us. Or something like that.

And how nice we have a devotee of stringed instruments with us today. "Public-policy applications" of the Boodle? Who knew?


Posted by: Scottynuke | May 14, 2006 10:44 AM | Report abuse

Oh, and 'Mudge, belated congrats on the Hybrid Highlander. What exactly did you cross Connor MacLeod with, anyway?


Posted by: Scottynuke | May 14, 2006 10:46 AM | Report abuse

One part Connor MacLeod, three parts Toshiro Mifune. Add teriyaki sauce (3 oz.), dash of Chinese 5-spices, pop under the broiler for 7 minutes or until browned. Season and serve.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 14, 2006 11:22 AM | Report abuse

"Isn't God just wonderful and great. He put man over stuff, but He gave women the gift of creation. Mothers rule."

Cassandra, that should be embroidered on a pillow, or in a greeting card or something.

You rule. Happy Mother's Day to you.


Posted by: TBG | May 14, 2006 12:18 PM | Report abuse

"Poop dressed up, with science. Doesn't get any better than that."

And that, my dear Cassandra, should be written on a classroom blackboard or something (bathroom wall?).


Posted by: TBG | May 14, 2006 12:21 PM | Report abuse

i kind of have a problem with the, for lack of a better term, "what if it's all a dream" type of philosophy. simply put, i'm too much a pragmatist. sure, it might be a dream, but that doesn't influence my everyday life. one still has to live, go to work or school, play, waste time, sloth around. (can sloth be a verb?) "Nothing matters because nothing is real, so I have no responsibility and I can do whatever i want to whatever or whomever i want to." Granted that's a little extreme, but that type of selfishness is not that uncommon. you have to live life thinking that it does matter, your actions often do have consequences.

ok, sorry, getting out of the preaching mode.

Posted by: tangent | May 14, 2006 12:29 PM | Report abuse

oh yeah.

Happy Mothers Day!!!

Posted by: tangent | May 14, 2006 12:31 PM | Report abuse

My appreciation of ecology (started, I guess, by reading "Silent Spring" when in junior high) took off in college when I started reading Rene Dubos' popular books. This French scientist (who worked at Rockefeller University in New York) was fascinated by those interior goings-on, and apparently the fun continues--you have a busy ecosystem living inside you, and you live off some of its sophisticated biochemical products.

Joel's Kit makes me wonder what would have been said had Jorge Luis Borges enjoyed a big steak lunch with Rene Dubos, lubricated by some good French wine. Then again, was Borges really Important, or just a blessing to high school Spanish students because of his utterly transparent writing style? He might have enjoyed that puzzle.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | May 14, 2006 12:34 PM | Report abuse

Joel's remarkable sentence, "Which brings up the blood-curdling, shrieking-violins follow-up: How do I know I'm not?" brings up squeaking violins, which provided the soundtrack for Mark Lewis's documentary film "Rats" (he also did "Cane Toad" and Animalicious"). Lewis used about four dozen very talented rats for his portrayals of gritty urban life. The background squeaking was perfect.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | May 14, 2006 12:39 PM | Report abuse

>A tree doesn't ask this question. A bug doesn't ask that question."

And he knows that... how?

Posted by: Error Flynn | May 14, 2006 1:08 PM | Report abuse

The Copro**gic principle that Achenbach quoted is for "averages".

Nothing is truly average, except for an atom of hydrogen.

Some days I think that half of humanity's problems arise from everybody assuming theirs is the average situation. This gives rise to blindness to suffering, and also the perception that everybody who differs from "the norm" must be abnormal and thus exterminated like vermin.

Using that Copro**agic principle, you could argue that water will never become ice on earth because of the average temperature of earth forbids it.

Or you could argue that liquid water or solid ice does not exist because on average, the universe is full of vacummy nothing and H20 exists as a frozen vapor in outer space, so that's all there is.

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 14, 2006 1:10 PM | Report abuse

SCC: This filter wouldn't let me use the word Achembach used. I don't mean Copernican, though. The other one.

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 14, 2006 1:11 PM | Report abuse

I'm have way through an NPR podcast from and old Scince Friday episode that talks about the dependence of the American food chain on corn. Which of course is fraught with metaphor.

And does this WaPo article or any of our other recent scatological boodles discuss the origin of the phrase sh1t-eating grin? I'm sure it is somehow appropriate here.

Posted by: yellojkt | May 14, 2006 1:14 PM | Report abuse

Tom fan, it's just you...or at least it's not me, too, this time...

Error, you have a point. I must go spend the day amongst the weeds, again, and I swear they're much more aware than we give them credit for. Their diabolical laughter is ringing in my ears already (or is that me?!?).

Happy Mother's Day! Here's a link to Julia Ward Howe's proclamation in 1870 for a Mother's Day for Peace:

Posted by: mostlylurking | May 14, 2006 1:16 PM | Report abuse

>Their diabolical laughter is ringing in my ears already (or is that me?!?).

Well, at least they're laughing and not quietly planning something... I think I saw one of mine actually flip me the bird yesterday.

Posted by: Error Flynn | May 14, 2006 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Checking in from Key West

I'm still working on my sloth skills...

Quality time with my art student offspring last night included a viewing of the new film Art School Confidential. I don't know how it would be for civilians, but for us it was really priceless. It is a sharp satire, very true to life, and also has enough of a plot to be like a real movie, and enough Hollywood talent to make it a professional production.

So, today kb jr. is off downtown shopping and I practiced my sloth by just taking off aimlessly on my bike, over to the beach and then along the beach and eventually, since we're on an island, I kept going long enough that I ended up back where I started. A little pool lounging, meeting back up with the family, and I'll soon be ready for the advanced methods: there are hammocks on the beach of our hotel--strung between palm trees. I'm planning to get a photo of THAT to prove to anybody who wants to know who is the queen of lounging around here. Oops, I slipped and made a plan. But it's only tentative, I hasten to assure you.

While I was touring the southernmost city, I was thinking of this column, among other things. It first came to me that although I was familiar with the Word in Question, I did not know how to pronounce it, and then immediately after I had that thought I realized that this is a freebie: I will never have an occasion to pronounce this word.

I'll just type it to see if it gets through the filter (*tries to submit, gets comment held for review*)

*demonstrates tenacity and ingenuity to sneak it through*:
c o p r o p h a g y.

Oh, there is definitely something wrong with a policy that allows professional journalists to publish a word in a family newspaper but doesn't allow private citizens to type that same word into the comments on the website. WHO MAKES THESE RULES, ANYWAY!

Posted by: kbertocci | May 14, 2006 2:07 PM | Report abuse

I find the Copernican Principal comforting. One day, many years from now after the final great wars, when historians look back to the 21st century and identify exactly when things started to go all to heck, there is a chance I might not be mentioned by name. I'm not that special.

Posted by: RD Padouk | May 14, 2006 2:31 PM | Report abuse

SCC: Principle, not Principal. Unless you go to Copernican High.


I think you are interpreting The Copernican Principle too harshly. The Copernican principle just states that it is foolish to postulate a priori that any observer is special. It doesn't negate that possibility. Expressed in statistical terms it is just a statement that the odds are finding oneself out at the tails of the distribution are, by definition, small. Nevertheless it is possible. It is possible that we are alone in the universe. It is possible that I will win the lottery. It is possible that all of human history will in some mysterious way be directly dependant upon what I eat for lunch. None of these are things are likely, but keeping the possibility in mind is part of what makes life tolerable.

Posted by: RD Padouk | May 14, 2006 2:59 PM | Report abuse

sonofcarl, free pass around the velvet rope;

Posted by: bh | May 14, 2006 3:19 PM | Report abuse

Cassandra, I've been thinking about you today. Hope your family is with you and keeping you company on this Mothers' Day. Your son is with you, somewhere...

What a great kit! So much to think about. I had never thought I could be swimming in a bug's intestines. However, I've wondered if I'm dumber than I really am. I mean, I don't think I'm stupid. But I don't think I'm inordinately smart. I likely fit into the Copernican Principle just fine and I'm average. But what if I'm not? Good grades in school don't really mean I'm smart. Being bilingual is a matter of necessity, and has little to do with being smart. I don't care if I'm not very attractive, I don't care if I never get to be famous. I would even be happy to live inside a termite if I could be absolutely sure I'm not stupid.

Well, I guess it's better than being agoraphobic...

Happy mothers' day.

Posted by: a bea c | May 14, 2006 3:51 PM | Report abuse

Every time I ask the question to myself, "Why me?", a thunderous voice booms out from the clouds of my imagination and retorts "Because I chose you, Pat!" It makes for a real short and simple prayer and answer session.

Posted by: Pat | May 14, 2006 4:02 PM | Report abuse

I'm going to look at this a different way...

It seems that the fact that one sperm in gazillions made its way to an egg, broke through and fertilized it at a particular time makes me incredibly special in the face of all the averages.

Besides, I've got a lot of microbes inside me who think I'm God.

Posted by: TBG | May 14, 2006 4:51 PM | Report abuse

TBG, now you're talking! On average, we don't exist.
That's an important thing to remember.

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 14, 2006 6:05 PM | Report abuse

Who knows. Maybe live as a Mixotricha paradoxa is a party all the time.

Posted by: RD Padouk | May 14, 2006 6:15 PM | Report abuse

SCC: life not live. For example, I imagine the average Mixotricha paradoxa has never made a typo in its life....

Posted by: RD Padouk | May 14, 2006 6:16 PM | Report abuse

Then I learn that the active ingredient in the beer I drink to make those sporting events tolerable is actually yeast excrement. One species poop, another species treasure!

Posted by: Pat | May 14, 2006 6:28 PM | Report abuse

Happy Mothers' Day, everyone!

1. TBG, for my microbes, I'm definitely an "Old Testament" God with some of the stuff I eat. I think they were just getting over the last round of fire and brimstone when along came Mothers' Day brunch.

2. RD, I have not found a Mr. Stripey up here yet. I am looking. I wonder if seeds can be sent over the border?

3. Copro-etc. That was what blocked my post back on Poopstorm day. Joel, are you just rubbing our noses in it [so to speak] because we can't use it and you can? Boy, that's doubleplusungood.

4. bh, thanks.

Posted by: SonofCarl | May 14, 2006 6:43 PM | Report abuse

tangent writes:
"i kind of have a problem with the, for lack of a better term, 'what if it's all a dream' type of philosophy. . . . 'Nothing matters because nothing is real, so I have no responsibility and I can do whatever i want to whatever or whomever i want to.' . . . . you have to live life thinking that it does matter, your actions often do have consequences."

I would argue that if you take the what-if-it's-a-dream possibility seriously, you could actually end up being *more* mindful of the consequences of your actions, not less. Buddhists, for example, basically believe that the world is an illusion, yet they are incredibly compassionate and responsible. Strict Buddhists literally will not harm a flea. They believe in karma -- that every action, no matter how small, has a consequence -- and one of the main purposes of their lives is to become enlightened enough to escape the illusion, or the dream, and the cycle of birth and rebirth. To them, it's not just a matter of living out this lifetime and hoping for a reward in the next. They're prepared for the long haul -- thousands of reincarnations, possibly for eternity. They take full responsibility for their dream and for the dream of all other sentient beings. The same thing can't always be said about folks who have a more materialistic view of the world.

If life really is a dream, then ultimately the person who is having the dream is *you*. Only you can change it, make it better. I'd call that a pretty big responsibility.

Posted by: Dreamer | May 14, 2006 6:46 PM | Report abuse

SonofCarl: I bought my Mr. Stripey at an exclusive boutique known as "Walmart." Beyond that I am ignorant as to how one might be obtained, although I assume there are mail-order firms on the internet who sell to Canada.

Posted by: RD Padouk | May 14, 2006 7:00 PM | Report abuse

Being the plain and simple person that I am, I doubt I get the full meaning of Joel's kit. From my limited understanding, I'm thinking the question is being asked, why was I born or why do I exist. It's a question that has been asked by the most brilliant thinkers and the greatest of men. Personally, I won't venture to say that I know the answer. For thoughts concerning my existence I reach for the Holy Scriptures, and I believe what they tell me. I seek God's face in what I do, and I believe that God loves me very much, because He sent His Son, Jesus, to be sin for me, Him who knew no sin. He paid for that sin with His blood, and I accept Him, heart, soul, body, mind, all of it. And thank God through Christ everyday that He allows me to see this beautiful world that He created. Simple, but it works for me. It will work for you, too.

Posted by: Cassandra S | May 14, 2006 7:05 PM | Report abuse

It's so nice of you, a bea c, to have me in your thoughts today. It is a great kindness on your part, and a balm for my hurting heart.

Posted by: Cassandra S | May 14, 2006 7:09 PM | Report abuse

TBG- back at you. Hope your Mother's Day is the best. Thanks for the nice comment.

Posted by: Cassandra S | May 14, 2006 7:12 PM | Report abuse

SonofCarl, you should be able to mail order seeds across the border, although I doubt you could get plants. Have you tried Versey Seeds or the Dominion Seed catologue here, they may have the plants as well as the seeds. Or try Holes which is located in Edmonton and has a huge selection of plants (not sure about vegetables but would seem reasonable for them to have.

Posted by: dmd | May 14, 2006 7:33 PM | Report abuse

Cassandra, do not forget to include yourself as part of that beautiful world. Happy Mothers Day

Posted by: dmd | May 14, 2006 7:35 PM | Report abuse

SoC,link for seeds for Mr. Stripey in Canada.

Posted by: dmd | May 14, 2006 7:39 PM | Report abuse

RD & SonofCarl, isn't it true that our seed companies are selling seeds much cheaper to Canada, which in turn enables Canadian seed sellers to sell them back to Americans at a cheaper cost?

I think the Federal Seed Commission is trying to end this, but in the meantime many local counties are beginning Canadian Seed Programs to get those cheaper seeds in the hands of the low-income elderly gardeners here in the States.

Posted by: TBG | May 14, 2006 7:39 PM | Report abuse

TBG, its all part of our socialized gardening!!

Posted by: dmd | May 14, 2006 7:41 PM | Report abuse

You can believe life is a dream, but if you walk in front of a bus it's going to be a very painful dream. This approach is much more useful if you've just taken some peyote and read Carlos Castenada.

Mindfulness and compassion lead me to escort ladybugs out of the house, but when ants are undermining my beloved patio I don't feel bad crushing them. Well, a little. But I still do it. Karma's nice, but I'm not attached to it.

What we perceive the world to be is certainly an illusion, if for no other reason than we can see and hear and feel only a very limited frequency spectrum. It is quite a different world indeed to many of the little creatures that inhabit it with us. We cannot experience their reality, and given the variations in humans, we can just barely experience each others. (Try nailing down certain variations of red and orange between man and woman, for instance. Or "Is it cold in here?")

For all we know the manifestation and signs of "intelligence" are also species-specific.

If the observer actually changes the observed as suggested by quantum mechanics, for all we know we actually manifest whatever god we believe in as we believe when we're in the correct space. For all we know, that space is actually physical and changes as we zoom through the cosmos.

And as my friend and noted slacker Brian Eden said back in the day: "Why the universe, and if not, why not?"

I say: Go nuts, have fun.

Posted by: Error Flynn | May 14, 2006 8:02 PM | Report abuse

Indeed, Error.


You've gotta know
That there's more to this world
Than what you have seen
'Cause we all
Have a limited view
Of what it can be

As we move along
With our blinders on
Each one of us feels a little stranded
And you can't explain or understand it
Each one of us is on a different planet
Amidst all the to and fro
Someone can say hello
Here we go

-- John Brion, from the soundtrack to the film "Punch-Drunk Love"

Posted by: Dreamer | May 14, 2006 8:18 PM | Report abuse

Hmmmm. I think I get Dreamer. If all is a dream, then all is connected, even if you can't see it or make sense of it-- such is the way of dreams.

One minute you're singing in your grandpa's underwear as you walk on a beach, the next minute you're an international spy facing down charging bulls in a plane.

And of course, if you're a Freudian buddhist, everything symbolizes your sexuality. If you're a Jungian buddhist, everything is symbolic somehow.

So the flea could be a symbol for "flee to cover."

Of course, if you actually live your life this way, you are very likely to be committed to an institution as a schizophrenic.

"Yeast, termites, gut parasites, Pat, Dreamer, boodles, we don't exist...."

Hmm, I'd take that as a hint to wake up.

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 14, 2006 9:01 PM | Report abuse

There is a theory, a notion really, that all matter is composed of the same particle eternally oscillating in time. I find this concept of little practical value, but it sure is cool to think about. Likewise, sometimes I wonder if all consciousness is but the manifestation of some single universal cognitive force anonymously interpreted through our unique physical circumstances. This would make the question of why we are born when and as we are moot. I admit that this idea adds nothing to my daily challenges. It is silly, arbitrary, un-provable and fundamentally non-physical. But I sure do find it cool to think about.

Posted by: RD Padouk | May 14, 2006 9:10 PM | Report abuse

Dreamer, the way you describe Buddhism, it sounds positively Platonic, if I remember Plato correctly.

Was it Puck who said, 'Humankind cannot bear much reality"? So true.

As Cassandra noted, lovely day in the Carolinas. Thunderstorms bypassed us completely, darn it. We need rain so much! I'm watering my two tomatoes (cherry and Early Girl), but it's not warm enough for them to grow yet.

At the close of church service this morning, we recognized recent graduates. There is a sizable colony of Sudanese young men in Charlotte, and my church has been involved with them since our children's minister encountered them, totally at a loss, in the grocery store. One of our Lost Boys graduated from Mars Hill last week and was awarded their caring award for his involvement in humanitarian efforts on campus. What this young man has been through and achieved in spite of unimaginable horror, is nothing short of miraculous. Truly God is with them.

It was an inspiring beginning for a happy Mother's Day. My daughters made lunch for me, and we had a pleasant meal. As Mudge noted, life doesn't get any better than this.

Posted by: Slyness | May 14, 2006 9:27 PM | Report abuse

One lost random thought. Meaning is transitive. It only exists as a concept if there is consciousness involved. To say something "has meaning" is nonsensical unless it is stipulated to whom the meaning refers. So something can have meaning to a friend, meaning to a child, meaning to a puppy, and meaning to a hindgut bacterium with equal validity. Since meaning only exists in terms of consciousness, and consciousness is ephemeral, so to is meaning. This suggests, to me, a quite sensible interpretation. Whoever, or whatever you are, seek meaning in each moment of each day as an end in itself. The past is gone, and the future murky. All that exists is right now. Try to make it meaningful to as many people as you can. And that includes yourself.

Happy Mother's Day to all mothers everywhere.

Your meaning is assured.

Posted by: RD Padouk | May 14, 2006 9:27 PM | Report abuse

I meant last random thought, but lost random thought kinda works too.

Posted by: RD Padouk | May 14, 2006 9:29 PM | Report abuse

"Lost Random Thought" - now there's a handle for ya.

As for meaning, I'm meaning to have some Chinese sesame noodles and a little red wine.


Posted by: Error Flynn | May 14, 2006 9:39 PM | Report abuse

lost was good
Hail mothers

Posted by: Boko999 | May 14, 2006 9:49 PM | Report abuse

Slyness... you still here? I just made our reservations for Charlotte. Looks like we'll be staying there the nights of August 14 and 15. I hope you and Jack will be available for a Charlotte-area BPH on one of those days.

We're going to check out Queens University in Charlotte and then Guilford and High Point after that.

Email me at boodler[AT] and we can make some arrangements.

Slyness, now that your shirt has "outed" you to your family, your husband and mine can figure out if they recognize each other from their Tarheel boodle.

jack... will your porch be available?

Posted by: TBG | May 14, 2006 10:11 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of lost random thoughts, where is Bayou Self? Eurotrash, Shiloh, LP? Hope you're all just too busy to boodle...but hope you can check in once in awhile...Not that I've caught up on on all the boodles from last week.

And Happy Birthday, Jack Bruce!

Posted by: mostlylurking | May 14, 2006 10:17 PM | Report abuse

Don't forget Don from I-270. Hope his prostate surgery went well and he's on the mend.

Don.. are you here? We're thinking aboutcha.

Posted by: TBG | May 14, 2006 10:20 PM | Report abuse

Thanks all re: tomatoes. I'm probably too late this year to start from seed, but I will get some ordered and Mr. Stripey will be served in 2007.

PS According to that link Mr. Stipey's alternate name is Mr. Strippy. No comment.

Posted by: SonofCarl | May 14, 2006 10:31 PM | Report abuse

To anyone unfamiliar with the aforementioned Shiloh, BayouSelf, etc. I direct you to the AchenArchives. Between 5pm and 11:30pm.

A personal favorite.

Posted by: Error Flynn | May 14, 2006 10:54 PM | Report abuse

Slyness, it was T.S. Eliot who said "Humankind cannot bear very much reality" in "Murder in the Cathedral."

RD Padouk-- so all matter is kind of like an old-fashioned screensaver? I always did find those oscillating triangles a little hypnotic.

But what is a particle? I think that concept is fuzzier than we think... we keep breaking down things and even quarks aren't exactly little billard balls zinging around, they clump in threes and have strange rules of assortment.

I have a relative who was trying to figure out a mathematical proof for a "point" that wasn't circular in its logic. "What's the point?" I asked.
"I don't know yet."

I was thinking the other day that you need more than one sense to "learn" the world-- Plato's cave nothwithstanding, if that guy could not feel, smell, touch, or hear himself at all, it's unlikely that he would have any personal frame of reference to deduce the outside world very much.

What would it be like to be the Naked Eye Emerson wrote about and only function in one sense-- No sensation of movement, no sensation of yourself changing your own perceptions...

They did experiments with kittens-- one kitten explored on little paws, towing another kitten in the wagon. They later tested the two kittens, and the one that had put the muscle work into exploration was very much more adept and aware of where to go rather than the wagon-bound kitten.

You gotta triangulate reality, I guess.

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 14, 2006 10:57 PM | Report abuse

Another way of putting it is that if we were to wake up from the dream, we would have to do it slowly, because if we woke up all at once, we would Freak Out.

Indeed, Plato's allegoroy of the cave is pretty cool. I can't find the original, but here's an interpretation from one of my favorite spiritual texts (a Christian one, not a Buddhist one -- go figure):

". . . there are men imprisoned in a cave, chained so tightly they can't move enough to turn their heads or even their eyes. All they can see is the wall of this cave in front of them. They've been there so long it's all they can remember; it's all they know. They can see these shadows on the wall in front of them and hear some sound. Because it's all they know, they *think* that what they're looking at is reality. It's all pretty dismal, but they're so used to it they think it's normal and they become sort of comfortable with it.

"Finally, one of the prisoners manages to break free, and he's able to turn around and see that he's in a cave. He can also see some light coming from the direction of the entrance. It takes a long time for his eyes to be able to stand the light, but when he makes it to to entrance he can see people walking by on the road outside, and it's their shadows that are being cast on the wall inside the cave.

"Realizing the prisoners inside the cave can't see that what they're looking at is untrue, the freed prisoner goes back and tries to share his knowledge with them. They're so used to their own way of thinking, that they don't really want to hear what the free one has to say. In fact, it's just the opposite. They want to kill him. . . . People may *think* they want to be free, but they're not really willing to give up their own way of looking at things."

-- from "The Disapperance of the Universe: Straight Talk About Illusions, Past Lives, Religion, Sex, Politics, and the Miracles of Forgiveness," by Gary R. Renard

Posted by: Dreamer | May 15, 2006 2:32 AM | Report abuse

And yes, maybe I'm ready to be committed to a mental institution. (A Buddhist would say that could be a bad thing, or it could be a good thing. Best not to judge it one way or the other.)


"[When people] ask themselves if there is something more, or, Why am I here? What is the purpose of life? Where am I going? What happens when I die? -- when they start to ask those questions, they start to flirt and interact with the perception that they may be having a nervous breakdown . . . and in reality, what they're doing is that their old concepts of how they viewed their life and the world start to fall apart.

". . . we're rewiring the brain, literally reconnecting to a new concept. Then ultimately it changes us from the inside out. If I change my mind, will I change my choices? If I change my choices, will my life change? Why can't I change? What am I addicted to? What will I lose that I'm chemically attached to, and what person, place, thing, time or event am I chemically attached to that I don't want to lose because I may have to experience the chemical withdrawal from that? Hence the human drama."

-- Joseph Dispenza, in "What the Bleep Do We Know!?"

Posted by: Dreamer | May 15, 2006 2:51 AM | Report abuse

Coincidence? At the bottom of the comment area was an ad for "DC Pest Control." This association of ads to content by google is scary. It's gone now. See ya. Happy day after Mothers' Day.


Posted by: boondocklurker | May 15, 2006 2:51 AM | Report abuse

allegory, not allegorory.
And Buddhist, not Buddhist Buddhist. (That one wasn't my fault, but I'll take responsibility for it nevertheless.)

Posted by: Dreamer | May 15, 2006 2:54 AM | Report abuse

It's gonna be ok. my dear

Posted by: le duiy hoa | May 15, 2006 5:22 AM | Report abuse

Monday already??!?!?!

And please, especially since we were discussing meaning and context, someone explain this to me:

I had to call work yesterday, and the guy who answered the phone ended the call by wishing ME a Happy Mothers' Day. That's somewhat like praying to the East when Allah listens in the West. And then the all-male cast of "Baseball Tonight" on ESPN all wished each other a Happy Mothers' Day. Not their wives, not their mothers, EACH OTHER.

Am I missing something here?


Posted by: Scottynuke | May 15, 2006 7:36 AM | Report abuse

TBG, I can hardly wait! This will be sooo much fun! I'll be in touch.

Wilbrod, I should have known that one...I've even been to Canterbury and stood at the place where Becket was struck down.

Now I remember. What Puck said was, "What fools these mortals be!" Also completely true.

Posted by: slyness | May 15, 2006 7:38 AM | Report abuse

Error, you are more likely correct than our esteemed Prof. Maybe, in 25 years, we will be stunned to find out that trees speak a romance language.

"Everything counts in Large Amounts."
=== Depeche Mode

Posted by: Dolphin Michael | May 15, 2006 7:54 AM | Report abuse

Ha! That's funny, Scottynuke.
If you weren't so, like, manly looking and manly sounding, you could take umbrage at being wished a happy Mother's Day.

More than a decade ago, when I had first moved to D.C., my husband was away and I went out to do some sightseeing, or something, on a Sunday that happened to be Mother's Day. I stopped in at a Boston Market for lunch and made the mistake of dining in, forgetting that that might make people feel sorry for me as a woman dining alone on Mother's Day. Well, a woman who was working there, clearing tables and such, just would not leave me alone! First, she wished me a happy Mother's Day, so I just kind of smiled and nodded and got on with my meal. But that wasn't enough. She later came up to me again, and asked me what I was doing there all by myself on Mother's Day, and was I a mother (no, I'm not). (I guess she was having a little trouble thinking outside the Mother's-Day box.) I went in there feeling fine, but by the end of the whole thing I was starting to wonder if maybe I was supposed to be feeling sorry for myself.

I know, she was just trying to be nice. But not *everyone* is a mother -- especially if you happen to be male, eh Scotty?

Posted by: Achenfan | May 15, 2006 7:57 AM | Report abuse

Good morning, friends. Had a beautiful day yesterday. Went to church, daughter came, took me out to eat, and brought presents. Kinda ended on a sad note. G-girl went back with mother. No one here but me now, and that's okay. Hope your day is good, and that you come to realize that God loves you more than you can imagine through Him that died for all, Christ Jesus.

Nani, I hope you don't mind me borrowing your g-girl phrase. It so much shorter than the other way, and I like the sound of it. I didn't hear from my grandsons, I guess their mother is still upset with me. I missed them yesterday. I know it going to work out for good.

I believe the question of our existence and the purpose is a good one. Although many points of view are brought forward, I don't believe it to be as complicated as we make it. Of course this comes from one that believes in God through Christ, which to me, puts all things in perspective. Not everyone believes because it is too simple, and considered foolishness by many. Complex and difficult have the day, because the belief is that if it is that way there has to be some truth to it. Not necessarily so. Scripture says it is a stumbling block for those that consider themselves bright and intelligent, but salvation for those that believe. And as I heard somewhere in a movie, it is belief that gets one there.

Posted by: Cassandra S | May 15, 2006 8:16 AM | Report abuse

A-fan, I'm all for gender equity, but that was ridiculous!!!

If you look at it as reflexive politeness, it's OK, I guess.


Posted by: Scottynuke | May 15, 2006 8:18 AM | Report abuse

JERRY: Hey, do you believe I got Happy New Yeared today? It's February!
ELAINE: I once got Happy New Yeared in March.
JERRY: It's disgusting.
ELAINE: It's pathetic.

Posted by: Achenfan | May 15, 2006 8:25 AM | Report abuse

Cassandra, one of my favorite pieces of music is A Simple Song, from Leonard Bernstein's Mass. It's a riff on Psalm 121 (also one of my favorites) but the refrain always gets me: "For God is the simplest of all..." There's a thought to ponder.

Posted by: slyness | May 15, 2006 8:42 AM | Report abuse

slyness, Good point. Good morning Cassandra!

I find that I sometimes have to remind myself to make sure that I let people know that I care for them... even those, who I don't know.... simple greetings and a smile. It changes the day for both them and me.

Love and caring are simple. It is the gentle push in the correct direction. So often our world is overcome by those who want to tell us how to be. They make rules that crash into the reality of life. These rule makers get angry about reality. Love allows you to make better decisions. Be nice and supportive to everyone and help those in need.

It isn't that hard to understand.

Finally, words ring hollow. I watched Newt-boy on TV yesterday. He was pleading for a come-to-gether for a real dialogue. As one of the original divisors, he needs to JUST DO. He was just making noise.

Newt should look at someone like Jimmy Carter or some of those that he bashes like Edwards and Gore and see what they are doing with their time out of the limelight. Newt, do something for others... whether it is using your big brain or raising money and awareness, but go do first and then come back and ask for a coming-to-gether.

Posted by: Dolphin Michael | May 15, 2006 8:59 AM | Report abuse

Happy belated Mother's Day to you moms in the Boodle.

I refrained from Boodling this weekend to keep my focus on my wife and the kids.

This Rough Draft is a great example of why I like Joel's writing (and thinking) so much. From the back porch, to bug poop, to man's place in the universe, all in 800 words with extra fun puns.

One further comment:
I do not look at myself and wonder why I'm not someone else.

But I bet my wife does.


Posted by: bc | May 15, 2006 9:25 AM | Report abuse

"I refrained from Boodling this weekend to keep my focus on my wife and the kids."

BC why would she wish you were someone else when you do something like that.

Posted by: dmd | May 15, 2006 9:31 AM | Report abuse

Belated Happy Mother's Day to ya, scottynuke.

I'm beginning to grow concerned 'bout all them gators in Florida eating people--three in the last week. I believe we may need to send in the National Guard to secure the Everglades.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 15, 2006 9:32 AM | Report abuse

Mudge, are gators the new disappeared blondes?

Posted by: Dolphin Michael | May 15, 2006 9:35 AM | Report abuse

This is a perfect Kit! Now, if my wife complains why I can't be more like a particular person (something she does with diminishing frequency during the course of our marriage, thankfully), I can simply say: "You know, I COULD have been born as a single cell organism that is propelled through the bowel of a termite by even smaller single cell organism."

Then again, she'd have some smart*ss answer to that too.

Posted by: CowTown | May 15, 2006 9:46 AM | Report abuse

Of course, we should have seen this coming as soon as the cruise lines started letting gators book cheap accomodations on cruises.

Posted by: Dolphin Michael | May 15, 2006 9:47 AM | Report abuse

CowTown, My wife asked my why I couldn't be more like Donald Trump, so I divorced her.

Posted by: Dolphin Michael | May 15, 2006 9:49 AM | Report abuse

And to you, 'Mudge.

In all this Mother's Day excitement, I forgot to ask if anyone else caught "The Princess Bride" on AMC Saturday night. I could have sworn I heard Wesley say one of the previous Dread Pirate Roberts was actually named "Cummberbund."


Posted by: Scottynuke | May 15, 2006 9:49 AM | Report abuse

SCC: "Cummerbund," of course.

Dang Mondays... *grumble*

Posted by: Scottynuke | May 15, 2006 9:50 AM | Report abuse

"Why can't you be more like Lloyd Braun!"

-- Estelle Costanza

Posted by: Achenfan | May 15, 2006 9:56 AM | Report abuse

Did anyone see Al Gore on SNL? Crooks and Liars has the video, if you didn't...

Some funny chuckles.

Posted by: Dolphin Michael | May 15, 2006 10:13 AM | Report abuse

I practised determined sloth this weekend, though I did plant some perennials and weed some flower beds. In between it all was sloth. For Mother's Day my boys called me, and I called my mom, and then I practised sitting in the sun doing absolutely nothing of worth. It was a truly splendid weekend.

Why am I here? I am here to appreciate great days like that.

Posted by: dr | May 15, 2006 10:22 AM | Report abuse

Yes DM, saw Al Gore and for a few minutes was transported to that fantasyland of "if only," followed by a sickening thud back to reality.

Posted by: Bad Sneakers | May 15, 2006 10:23 AM | Report abuse

I believe "Cummerbund" is in the book as well. So you probably didn't mishear Wesley.

Dreamer-- aren't you confusing Buddhism with Taoism? Or are you an Eastern Buddhist by nature?

"It could be good, it could be bad" sounds like a Taoist parable about the man who had his stallion run away. "How unlucky!" people said. "Maybe, maybe not" the man said.
The stallion came back, leading some wild mares he'd chatted up. "How lucky!" people said. "Maybe, maybe not" the man said.
The man's son tried to tame one of the wild mares and broke his leg. "how unlucky!" "Maybe, maybe not" the man said.
The Emperor's messengers came around to round up the men to be sent for soldiers. Many men never came back from that war.

The man's son could not go because his leg was broken.


Posted by: Wilbrod | May 15, 2006 10:34 AM | Report abuse

SCC-- I SWEAR I didn't type "mishear" twice. It must be this program. program.

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 15, 2006 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Wilbrod - Arise from your remorse. I see no double word. That phenomenon is a bug in the way Explorer works with the blog software. If you view the blog with Navigator or Firefox, all is well.

Posted by: RD Padouk | May 15, 2006 10:47 AM | Report abuse

A bug??? In EXPLORER???

Allah forfend...


Posted by: Scottynuke | May 15, 2006 11:08 AM | Report abuse

I've sometimes suspected that we're all, cosmologically speaking, Septic Tank Technician Specialists, in the service of the unseen, unknown boss, The Man.

Within that reality, we love, propagate, hate, war, buy Hummers or take bicycles, invent social strata, gossip, go to large piles we call "the porch" or "North Carolina" or other places I won't invent descriptions of, and generally busy ourselves with activity, if we're not consciously striving to sloth.

The Man and his buddies look to us occasionally for amusement, as we did as children with our glass-enclosed ant farms.

Other than that, I've feeling very optimistic today.

Posted by: kindathinker | May 15, 2006 11:18 AM | Report abuse

Actually, scotty, I did catch "The Princess Bride," about halfway through, and briefly considered alerting the boodle, but the boodle was just about asleep anyway at that point, and the movie was half over. I was channel-flipping, and suddenly there was Inigo Montoya, and I just laughed before he even said anything.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 15, 2006 11:21 AM | Report abuse

New Kit!!!!!!

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 15, 2006 11:41 AM | Report abuse

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