Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Tale Of Toonces

"I've got a cat." Those shocking words came out of my Ladyfriend's mouth a few weeks ago. Surprising to me because she is a "dog person," and at best only found my cats down through the years interesting.
But being the big-hearted person she is, she fed the scrawny little scared kitty. 

We bought a carrier for the cat so she would be protected from the elements, but kitty preferred to hide under Ladyfriend's house.

The presence of the cat made her two little dogs - Bella and Scooby - quite unhappy. Ladyfriend wouldn't leave her front door open so the dogs could look out the storm door and bark at passersby. Her dogs are natural hunting dogs (dachshunds), and couldn't resist the urge to attack the cat. She also curtailed their outdoor time because they smelled kitty and acted all crazy.

This went on for a while as Ladyfriend tried to persuade me what a nice addition kitty would be to my world. The last of my cats died off earlier this year and I had said I was out of the cat business. Besides, my cats were outdoor cats I had befriended. Ladyfriend's kitty seems to have once been someone's pet. She shows no fear of humans.

Finally I gave in, without having ever met kitty and with just the picture above to go by, and went out to purchase a litter box, grooming aids, a supply of cat food, and, of course, some toys. It has been a very long time since I had an indoor cat. I wasn't sure I wanted this headache/responsibility. (I'm still not.)

But Ladyfriend informed me that if I didn't take in the cat, she would be forced to take it to the animal shelter. Her dogs were just too unhappy and she is too dedicated to them to make any changes. Besides, she isn't and never has been a "cat person."

Long story short, I finally gave in.

It took three tries and two weekends of disappointments for her finally to be able to corral kitty into the carrier for the trip to my house. She had first tried to just put the cat in her car and drive over. Bad idea. That sweet, docile little fur ball quickly morphed into a wildcat. Mission aborted.

The next weekend we got a friend who has quite a bit of cat experience to go over and put the cat in the carrier (I didn't want to be involved in the deed because I wanted to get off on the right foot with kitty). She got the cat in, but kitty pulled a Houdini and escaped from her confines before the delivery could be made. Another aborted mission and another disappointment for me. I had allowed myself to get "psyched up."

I waffled all during the past week but finally said I would give the idea one more try. Ladyfriend got her son to put kitty in the carrier. Shortly after a most unhappy cat was delivered to my house.

I had wanted a weekend off from work and without a lot of activities planned in order to have a chance to bond with my new cat and get her used to her new digs. Good thing, too. This has been a long weekend.

When I first let Toonces out of her carrier (Ladyfriend hates that name, has trouble pronouncing it, but anyone who is a longtime of viewer Saturday Night Live will probably recognize it as a skit-character name - but I have no plans to let Toonces drive!), she tried to find an exit. Failing that, she crawled under my bed to hide. And there she spent a good portion of Friday evening. However, she finally came out to eat, then jumped on my bed and went to sleep. In fact, she slept beside me on top of the covers all night. Awwwwwwwww.

Saturday was better, but she still spent the bulk of the day under the bed. She will sit for long periods in my lap and nap. I would say awwww about that too, but I was afraid she was just scared and coping. She spent most of Saturday night on top of the covers in my bed, but woke me up around 1 a.m. wanting to be fed.

I was afraid she had been outside long enough that she would have trouble transitioning to a house cat. I watched carefully that first night to see if she would use the litter box. I never saw her go. However, Saturday morning found me happily (just a tinge of sarcasm here) scooping out kitty waste.

It is Sunday morning now. Toonces has been in my lap once already - her idea. Yesterday it was warm and I had my windows open. At one point Toonces jumped into the window and sat on the sill just looking out. She moaned a pitiful moan that I interpreted as a longing for the outdoors. This morning I have the storm door open so she can look out. She did briefly, but without moaning. She has absolutely zero interest in playing with toys I bought for her (some little balls with bells inside and some stuffed mice). She will rub against me and especially my hand when I hold it down to pet her. She "talks" to me, especially when hungry. She is under the bed now as I type this.

I guess this is an experiment. For me at least. I can't begin to imagine what is going through Toonces' head. I bet she wonders what happened to Ladyfriend. And I bet she wonders why I keep calling her Toonces.

We will see what happens....

Friday, October 24, 2014

Death Of An Atheist Giant

Although I missed it when it was news, I recently noticed the passing of one of the more influential New Atheists, often called "the fifth horseman" among them, Victor Stenger, of a heart attack at age 79.

Stenger was a physics processor who made it his task to show the superiority of the modern scientific worldview over religion. authoring a number of books dedicated to the effort, including a New York Times bestseller, God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist. Among his other notable titles were Not by Design: The Origin of the Universe, Has Science Found God? The Latest Results in the Search for Purpose in the Universe, God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion, and God and the Atom.

He was well-known for his saying-turned-into-teeshirt-slogan: "Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings." Which in my humble opinion is an oversimplification at best. One sympathetic towards religion might respond in kind: Religion brings comfort in times of trouble. Science created nuclear weapons. Maybe both true so far as they go, but neither going far enough.

Two things I'm not fond of: using science as a defense against religion; using science to bolster religion. My feeble effort to make my way though this great divisive issue is to recognize a compatibility of science with either religious and non-religious attitudes.

The problem I have with the New Atheists is that they seem forevermore the counterpart of the religious fundamentalist. It seems to me biologist Rupert Sheldrake states it accurately in his book Science Set Free (page 328):

Much of the hypocrisy of science comes from assuming the mantle of absolute truth, which is a relic of the ethos of absolute religious and political power when mechanistic science was born. Of course, there are disagreements among scientists, and the sciences are continually changing and developing. But a monopoly of truth remains the ideal. Dissenting voices are heretical. Fair public debates are alien to the culture of the sciences.

The "fifth horseman" did speak powerfully for those who want to use science as "the mantle of absolute truth," especially for arguing atheism. But I'm one of those who feel skeptical about the human ability to discern "absolute truth." I say that with regard to religious or spiritual authority as well.

I do disagree with New Atheism, especially as expressed by Stenger in 2012, that religion "is and always has been a blight on humanity that has hindered our progress for millennia and now threatens our very existence." I think that describes religious extremism. But Stenger and his companions go beyond battling religious extremism, I think, to the point of reaching the opposite extreme.

Dr. Stenger's influence will far outlive him no doubt. I only wish it had been dedicated to moderation. Nevertheless, it's hard to deny that a giant has fallen.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

At The Appointed Hour

I love these oddball stories that just seem soooooooo improbable. I love the mysterious.

Let me give an example. This week our area lost a local icon and institution. Award winning and record holding (an astounding 74 years on the same job) radio broadcaster Luther Massingill died yesterday at age 92. He died almost in the saddle. In fact, he was on the air until last Tuesday. He showed up for work Wednesday not feeling well but a coworker convinced him to go to the doctor. He was hospitalized and died there yesterday morning.

Now let me tell you just a bit about Luther. And Luther is what the entire city of Chattanooga, Tennessee and the entire tri-state area here knew him as. My mother grew up listening to him, just as I did. His radio show informed us kids when snowed had canceled school, allowing us to roll over and go back to sleep. If Luther even mentioned that snow was in the forecast the entire city, it seemed, would rush to the store for necessaries.

He was courted by larger radio markets, including an effort by Ted Turner to take him to Atlanta. But Luther wanted to stay in his beloved city of Chattanooga. When he was inducted in the National Radio Hall of Fame two years ago, he mentioned he would like to do what he was doing at least a few more years.

Also he was known as the area founder of lost dogs. In fact, my mother once called his radio show looking for a Chihuahua for her asthmatic child (me), folk wisdom holding those dogs were good for asthma sufferers. A little old lady had to give up her little "Tip," who became our beloved pet for a decade until his death. And he was big fund raiser for the local humane society, helping to find homes for thousands of pets.
 But Luther found thousands of local pets who had come up missing, making for many happy reunions.

His radio career at WDEF radio was astounding, but WDEF also started the first local television station in 1954. Luther went on air on television also. He did a local "Community Calendar" on the noon news program. His television career was in its 60th year. Simply an amazing and beloved man who loved what he did and never thought about retiring.

Now I could go on and on about this man, as could anyone who was born here. But I will turn to an oddity in this story that was picked up on by locals and was even mentioned in the local media remembrances of him: Luther died at 6:00 in the morning, the very time his radio show always started. How totally fitting.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Talking About Magic!

Sunday's New York Times featured a little piece by Michael A. Graziano on the question Are We Really Conscious? Graziano is a Psychology and Neuroscience professor at prestigious Princeton University.

His article reminds me why I have become less and less taken with reductionistic science. Now I'm no scientist. However, sometimes I feel some of this is more philosophy of science. (Of course, I'm no philosopher, either!) So I don't feel I'm being anti-science if I withhold my acceptance of some of the more radical and counterintuitive (and Graziano readily admits that his theory of consciousness is counterintuitive) ideas scientists come up with.

If I understand him correctly, the brain functions as a machine that processes data. It processes information but lacks true subjective awareness. He explains it briefly:

How does the brain go beyond processing information to become subjectively aware of information? The answer is: It doesn’t. When we introspect and seem to find that ghostly thing — awareness, consciousness, the way green looks or pain feels — our cognitive machinery is accessing internal models and those models are providing information that is wrong. The machinery is computing an elaborate story about a magical-seeming property. And there is no way for the brain to determine through introspection that the story is wrong, because introspection always accesses the same incorrect information.

The more humans are reduced to "meat machines," the more I tend to rebel. So consciousness is a "ghostly thing" and "magic-seeming property"?

But why can't our intuition be correct here and our consciousness be a genuine thing? Are the implications just too troubling for some?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Some Thoughts About Magical Thinking (So-called)

I once wrote a post about my animistic childhood. It seems to me from what I've investigated that animism is a natural view that slowly - but not completely, psychologists assure us - gets educated out of us.

Also, it seems that most psychologists and other students of the human psyche are convinced "magical thinking" is innate, a product of the evolution of the human mind.

Nothing about that troubles me. It seems to me as natural as nudity (after all, we are born naked and must be taught to wear clothing, and usually that takes years!). However, "magical thinking" so-called is considered bad form among adults similarly to public nudity. We are slowly but methodically taught to suppress it.

Lately I've found myself working back towards the animism of my youth, back towards panpsychism (defined by the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy as "the view that all things have a mind or a mind-like quality"). I've gone back to listening to my instincts and intuition more, allowing these more of a role in my analysis of things.

It is all well and good to point out that these are primitive and pre-educational ideas. Again I have no problem with that. But I think that doesn't necessarily sound the death knell. I would point out that very young children soon discover the law of gravity naturally enough without science classes and technical information. Of course the how is always helpful in understanding the why. But the "hows" are sometimes very slow in coming. So why close our minds prematurely?

Don't assume I'm turning my back on the scientific worldview. But I am coming to grips more with how sometimes yesterday's superstitions can become tomorrow's scientific knowledge. Folk wisdom often becomes accepted scientific knowledge (chicken soup anyone?).

In my personal worldview (which is always open to revision) science and spirituality do intersect and are not necessarily opponents. Magic works for me as a metaphor for that which we don't fully understand; it embraces the wonderment that basic elements can somehow coalesce into magnificent complexity. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014


This is another one of my familylore posts which I'm fond of sharing on my blogs. I grew up hearing about it, and even though it sounds downright superstitious, it seems to be eerily substantiated.

A bit of background is necessary. The year is 1961. My parents are living in a rented house with their toddler (me) and my older brother. Mom was always really close to her parents, and as they grew older it was she who kept an eye on them. Now they were living with us.

November brought the final illness of my grandfather. He died in the hospital at the ripe age of 77. This happened about two weeks before Thanksgiving. And a sad Thanksgiving it was for my mother. I was of course too young to remember it, but she often related how difficult it was to have our family Thanksgiving dinner there with my grandfather's empty chair.

Christmas was not better. We always cherished these winter holidays as family events. Mom was in a depression which continued throughout the heartbreaking, cold winter. But another thing happened that winter - right in the midst of my mom's sadness over the loss of her father: my younger brother was conceived (and duly delivered the following September).

When my younger brother was young it was more than obvious to all that he was the very - as we say here in the southern United States - "spittin' image" (really: spirit and image) of my mom's father.

And the older he got the more he looked like his late grandfather. The biggest difference in resemblance is he has our dad's brown eyes (as do I). But whereas my father stood 5'3" tall, my brother grew to be 5'10". The same height as Granddad! And he was until recent years lean and lanky like Granddad as well.

Mom always said she felt as if she had marked my brother in her womb because of the intense grief she experienced over losing her father. I don't suppose it is so unusual for a baby to resemble one of its grandparents. Yet the convergence of these events always lent a specialness my brother's birth. (In fact, my mom has some rather amazing stories about all three of her children's births).

So I guess genes do whatever they do, as does nature in general. However, I still find it hard to ignore meaningful coincidences and to give great credence to absolute randomness.