Humans are honey badgers… well, some of us

As much as I love geeks, occasionally their lack of whimsy or imagination can be painfully frustrating. When things don’t fall squarely within the confines of logic or science, they must be denigrated and/or mocked until they fall into line.

Except that sometimes logic and science isn’t the point.

Sometimes there are things both fascinating and powerful that fall very much outside the realm of logic and science, and the human mind couldn’t give a shit that what it believes isn’t technically “real”. (And no, Lord praising will not be occurring in this blog post.) 🙂

Sometimes, where the inexplicable is concerned, humans are veritable honey badgers. Make sense? Replicable? No. And we don’t give a shit.

Over the past week or two, I’ve shared a couple of stories from others on the social webs, both of which I find fascinating for that reason. The geeks were all over the lack of science, which, given that one of the stories involved dead people, seemed kind of irrelevant.

In this story: The Dark Side of the Placebo Effect: When Intense Belief Kills, over 100 southeast Asian immigrants to the US died in the early 80s. From nightmares. Now, of course, the story isn’t quite that simple, but I recommend giving it a read. Fascinating stuff. A really interesting illustration of the power of belief, community, and ritual.

In this story: The Truth About Hair and why Indians would keep their hair long, during the Vietnam War, Native American trackers whose hair had been shorn when they joined the military lost their skills. Is hair really an extension of the nervous system, or just an easy event to latch on to when the answer is more psychological?

Some things will fail testing. Some occurrences don’t fit into neat boxes. And hey, there’s always the observer effect.

And yet, we live with and are affected by the inexplicable every day. Doctors can tell an infertile woman that they can find no medical reason she can’t get pregnant. Doesn’t mean she’ll just say, “Oh, okay…” and conceive the next day. Or would it convince a suicide bomber not to detonate if an atheist pointed out that there is no proof of a G/god or afterlife? Doubtful.

As cool as science is, the power of belief and the inexplicable can be far cooler. Because you don’t have to stop where science has to. The imagination can take over and “what if” becomes your set of parameters. Of course, we’re humans, and I’m a realist, so I’m aware that we’d be as or more likely to use that to hurt people as to help them should we achieve miraculous abilities or understanding, but isn’t it the rule-bending and -breaking “what ifs” that give birth to true innovation?

I guess there is a branch of science where that stuff fits. It is called theoretical physics, after all. But of course it’s often not our own minds that hold us back, but the words from the ones around us. Kids are wild and creative and adventurous and not the least self-conscious… up to a certain age. That’s not accidental. Happens to grown-ups, too.

As noted, I’m not terribly religious, nor am I a patchouli-scented hippie, but imagining is interesting. Simply believing without having to tear things apart to determine how they tick is often a pleasant way to live. And horror movies would be rather few and far between if the existence of monsters had to be proven before they could star in films. There is plenty of ground between believing everything and believing nothing.

And besides, as Arthur C. Clarke told us, there’s a pretty good chance the magic is just technology, anyway. We just haven’t caught up to it yet. And this honey badger is okay with that, too.

It gets dark earlier

Like many people, I’ve always loved fall. The crisp air, the cooler temperatures, the smell of leaves, etc. Though I know people, like my friend Violet, who have serious issues with fall. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, it’s the season of death. (At the same time, though, the Jewish celebration of New Year in the fall has always made a great deal of sense to me.)

I seemed to be immune to this phenomenon until the last few years. I believe it started when, Sherry and I each had three deaths in the fall. (Two years ago? Three? I find I can no longer remember.) Mostly family, as I recall, and some more expected than others. I particularly remember how hot it was the day of my aunt’s funeral.

And then there was the former PostRank office. Typically I loved the fact that we were on the fifth floor, and the windows were big and wrapped around the building. I had a wonderful view of uptown Waterloo and various neighbourhoods, the trees as they changed with the seasons, and the landscape under snowfall.

What I also had was a front row seat to death. On Allen Street, behind the office, there are several churches, and directly across the street on King is a funeral home. So every time a member of one of those congregations died, I knew. Every time there was a visitation or funeral at Erb & Good, I was some weird kind of spectator. And more than once I crossed the street in my sensible heels and conservative attire to attend visitations of my own.

Same as it ever was, probably, but it gets to you, watching the rituals of the dead practically every day — sometimes more than once — from mid-fall until well into spring. You can’t help but ponder your own mortality and that of those you love.

One of the things I become ever more cognizant of as I get older is that not everyone dies old. Somehow it seems like we should be advanced enough medically and technologically to ensure longevity by now. And yet, among others, I know of the deaths of two pre-teen children this summer (accidental drowning and suicide — suicide).

The season has started. In the last little while I have learned of two terminal cancer diagnoses and the recent death of an acquaintance’s mother. It’s only September 20th. Beyond that, my Dad turns 70 next week, and Mom turns 65 in early November. Parents as seniors is a hard thing to process. I have found myself physically shaking my head to clear it when I have started doing mental calculations on how long my Dad can hope to live past this milestone.

But we keep breathing, keep moving. Smile at the pictures of my niece’s first day of school. Take part in as many social events as my comfort level can manage. Give and take hugs wherever they’re offered.

But sometimes you will be left alone in your own head, or what’s going on in your own head doesn’t matter, because someone else needs you. (And, in fact, helping and serving others is about the best thing for you sometimes.)

It does get dark earlier now, but not all year.