Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Armchair Philosophy: Assumptions

Assumptions are what we make when it's looks as though there's clear evidence about something. Sometimes they can be trusted, sometimes not. Can we assume, for example, that the Congress always acts in the best interests of the citizens it purports to represent? Can we assume that there is no water on the moon or on Mars? Can we assume that life requires water and sunlight to exist? Everywhere you turn these days, there are surprises about what assumptions need to be re-examined.
     In viewing again the DVDs of the excellent BBC Planet Earth series (see my earlier post), I am amazed to see the weird and intriguing creatures that manage to live in super hot blasts at the bottom of the ocean, thriving because of the opening of the very earth itself, the extremophile bacteria clinging to the sides of gypsum crystals in limestone caves carved by sulfuric acid, the emperor penguins huddled in Antarctica for four dark months with no food and incredible cold, holding eggs under their bellies. The assumptions -- about where life can take hold, what undiscovered creatures exist, and what harm we humans are doing to our planet -- all these "truths" are coming up for grabs, so to speak, every day.
     What does this mean? I think it means we need to be open to what is happening around us, curious about the world we live in, awake and aware enough in the present tense to take in all that we can. Here's a nice, small-scale surprise from this past weekend that gently makes the point. We had taken a drive with a friend to a county park a half-hour away. This is November in Illinois, so the days are short and not very warm. We didn't leave until after three in the afternoon. So we assumed that we wouldn't see any wildlife in the park, but just have a nice drive. We stopped to walk a bit around a small still pond. Nothing but unmoving water and reeds. Calm, quiet, empty. Just as we were about to get back in the car -- practically right in front of us -- up pops a pied billed grebe, a cute little duck-like bird who dives under the water for food, staying down quite a while. Hah! So the pond wasn't devoid of life (not to mention life in the murky water, insects, nocturnal residents, such as frogs, who weren't running around in the afternoon, and, of course, the microscopic millions). Later, in the assumed-to-be deserted woods, we had the great fortune to see, again up close and suddenly emerging out of "nowhere," a beautiful male deer with a rack of antlers, three on each side, and several does.
     Life, beauty, knowledge, understanding -- all can be waiting to show themselves if we are open, if we question our assumptions, if we live in the present moment.

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