Ego and Interconnectedness

One in everything, everything in one. Tee shirt from Nara temple.

 

I haven’t been fond of the term “ego,” as popularly used, from way back. Always seemed what someone spat that out when they were justifying their own behavior, which was almost invariably self-serving, and meant to stop the conversation. Ego was bad. End of story. I called it on you first, and with more aggressive belief I am right, so I win.

I have come around a bit. Not about using it in that way, as a word to bludgeon others into seeing things one’s way. Ego is useful to consider as a process of reifying ourselves as a solid entity that can be protected and preserved. Not very Buddhist, and often quite uncompassionate and even frankly toxic.

Well, it is easy to see ego write large in our president, isn’t it? Self interest uber alles. No lie, no harm to truth, justice and the American way, that isn’t on the table if it furthers his personal agenda.

In Buddhism we have the 3 poisons, anger, greed and ignorance (usually taken to be ignorance writ large, about the nature of Truth, not say, lacking knowledge of calculus. Of course, ignorance of things you need to know to function compassionately could be included, see my previous post/rant).

These poisons usually arise because you are trying to protect yourself, your projected image of who you are, in order to “feel” that the stories you tell yourself are true. Because the alternative is that you have to face impermanence and death, or at least the fact that you aren’t all you hoped you would be, life isn’t what you want and expected. You lose control, the bottom can fall out (is that all bad? Well, it can be scary to our propped-up model of who we are that we carry in our heads, our egos).

Nyogen Roshi suggested reading books Anthony De Mello this last Summer. There are two in particular, with Awareness and Awakening in the titles. A clue to where he is at. Like Zen, like all mindfulness and spiritual practice, wake up, pay attention, see what is there past your conditioning. Your ego, a term he favors, so I reassessed for myself.

De Mello was born in India, a Catholic, became a therapist and Jesuit, got kicked out of the church for his teachings. He taught that religion as practiced is usually at best a waste of time, a diversion (I paraphrase). He believed most of his patients as a psychologist didn’t really want to get better. I am agnostic about the latter point, as I never did such a practice, but he has a point. I certainly see myself skirt issues and the hard work of facing my bullshit from time to time.

And I have found his advice very helpful in my practice, that is, in my daily life. If you are disappointed, hurt and angry, fearful, jealous or whining, ask how your ego is involved. What is your conditioning? What are you protecting? What are you afraid of? What is your anger and hurt masking?

Sure, people will do you wrong. How do you experience it? After all, De Mello points out, are you surprised if you are hurt by people? Didn’t you know what assholes we all are much of the time?  Did you think it was only you and your parents? If people are very toxic and you can’t handle them, then disengage, he suggests. Move on. Don’t get dragged into their delusions any more than you have to or than is helpful. Don’t let them gaslight you, condition you.

Okay, some people do criminal or very deeply egregious things, and you may need help dealing with that. Your emotions and intellect can be guides, that’s why they evolved, just understand that they will outlive their usefulness fairly quickly, but that doesn’t mean they won’t hang around.

But Post-traumatic stress is real, and there are treatments. If it is that bad, and meditation and practice and chanting or yoga or relaxation exercises or talking to friends, whatever positive activities that you normally do when things go south, isn’t enough, get help. Cognitive therapy, ketamine, neurolinguistic programming (is that still a thing? I knew a therapist who swore by it being effective for PTSD), whatever you need. I am not expert on that, so I am just throwing out things I have heard might help. Get help if you need it. Right away.

Some people are dangerous and if you are unlucky enough to be victimized you may need help from the authorities. They will likely hurt others, so it is compassionate to stop them. Maybe you will be doing them a favor, as in the gangbangers I meet who are trying to live without crime and deal with their anger, their horrible past history of being victims of abuse that led them to where they are, in constructive ways.

I would add, again referring to my last post, if it is a matter of protecting others, you are one victim among many, or it barely touches you but touches others painfully, as in social, political or environmental big picture issues, disengage from taking it personally, see how much of your attitude is your ego, but engage on a principled level of defending others, especially those who may not be able to defend themselves.

(oh, and by the way, if you are fortunate have money, be generous and help those who are doing the hard, frontline work. If nothing else motivates you, it is a good selfish investment. Let it prop up your ego, heck, I don’t care. Maybe you deserve it. I won’t be Zen purist for you. Just, do the right thing.).

Anyway, as I wrote above, I have found De Mello’s advice very helpful. If I am brooding, hurt, angry, what is the issue? Not only the facts of the matter as I see them. Certainly, I may have to point out what is up, that someone was careless or had an agenda that was serving their ego and I was collateral damage, but what about my attitude? Is it just self-image protection? Is my “ego” bruised? My comfortable lifestyle threatened? To the degree that is the case, my efforts will often make matters worse, my life will suck just a bit more, if I don’t recognize that and let it “self-liberate.” And that has been useful, it can work, at least for the usual daily personal life slings and arrows.

I mean, it won’t help pass the deepest koan, but it helps me get through somewhat tough personal barriers. And in fact, that is not separate, I suspect, from the deepest koan. Not only because almost all separations are imagined or flimsy, as it is all One, interconnected, but also it seems it would be hard to see into the heart of the matter, life and death and Being, touch Mind directly, to see the true nature of Oneness and “interbeing” ( as Thich Nat Han likes to say) if you are in your head, licking your ego wounds. Heck, it is hard to even really pay attention to what is in front of you, to wake up on any level, if you are so distracted. Again, I’m not an expert, just my suspicion.

Now, regarding science, I may put up some suggested readings later, but for now since I just  brought up the interconnectedness and last post implied it by talking about ecology, let me suggest a popular science book that came out several years ago that I just got around to reading (yay retirement): “I Contain Multitudes” by Ed Yong. Fantastic book. It is deep biology, story after story of interconnectedness. It makes no promise to reveal deep mysteries of Cosmic Truth, but it kind of does, as all honest things do, if you follow the threads and read between the lines. It is about the microbiome, sure, a current and recent buzzword, our internal (well, counting skin, also external) body’s ecology, and there are other books and articles about the microbiome and human health. But this goes into much more than that. It isn’t just human centric, and I love that. We are so full of ourselves, even though we are looking to be such a failed evolutionary experiment! Anyway, you needn’t have any science background to read it even though it blew my mind and I know a lot about biology.

Retirement and What Practice and Compassion Are For Me Now.

I have taken a break from writing on this blog for some time, mostly because my retirement was on the front burner.

First there was the process of retiring. Not just the nuts and bolts stuff. As a physician I had months of saying goodbye to patients, some of whom I have known most of their lives, from childhood through teen years to adulthood, with careers and family, some as long as 20 years. Others I have seen go from young adults to middle aged, or middle aged to elderly (like me!). Even those I have known for less time, the bonds often grow thick and fast. Some serious diseases, adventures, trials, we shared.

Saying goodbye. Many, many tears.

Of course, with most patients it wasn’t so intense, but for some it was a major deal for both them and me.

Now I have been retired for 3 months, and in that time it has been about seeing what my new life is. That process is ongoing.

And no, while I miss my patients and colleagues, I do not miss the identity of physician. Others will step into that role, the world goes on. I never believed that defined me. It was right livelihood, and I love that I did that. Now I don’t do that. Letting go of people and relationships was difficult, of my role of being a physician was easy.

So now:

I do a bit more at the Zen center.

I have arranged volunteering, for example canvasing and phone banking with the Democrats (this is a critical time, obviously), and with groups like Homeboy Industries (the world’s largest gang reintroduction program for those seeking a life after crime). I am on the board of Swipe Out Hunger (swipehunger.org) that is involved in food insecurity in colleges, a major problem for those trying to improve their lives though education. Even conservative republicans should want to help out with that! Bootstraps and all.

I have always had concerns about the environment as a high priority; it was part of what led me to the commune I lived on when I dropped out 45 years ago, and I am currently getting more educated and active.

I mean, you do know 16 year old Greta Thunberg is right, don’t you? We are on fire. Ecosystems are collapsing. I don’t buy that all life on earth is at risk from the increased CO2 and warming. Life bounced back from much worse climate change. We have already started a mass extinction, and many species, perhaps most, wont survive, of course. Including some that have lasted hundreds of millions of years. But that doesn’t mean life on earth wont survive. It has survived mass extinctions before. But on the other hand, the toxins we are releasing (including plastics) are more of a global long-term threat to life that we can barely even guess about, let alone quantify. that could be a real game changer, in the worse way, much more than climate change.

For us humans climate change is a different matter. We are set up so precariously, our civilization is so fragile, our population so large, that climate changes our ancestors would have barely noticed (they did go through all sorts of climate changes, ice ages, then warming and sea level changes, etc) can wipe us out in a few decades.

Don’t you just want to cry? I do.

Speaking of Greta, at first, I wasn’t such a fan, but then I realized it was the rhetoric around her that put me off. The whole “from the mouths of babes thing.” I thought that if it took Greta to wake you up, you weren’t paying attention for the last several decades! That’s of course true, but that’s not her fault, I realized. No, she just started doing her thing, and somehow it started getting attention. Good for her. She is fantastic. I believe that she is sincere, she doesn’t want fame, she wants the dumb shits who aren’t doing what they should be doing to stop being dumb shits and listen, not to her but to scientists, and for all responsible people in any position of power and influence to do what they should be doing. And for the rest of us to push them (and ourselves!) to do the right thing, to do more. Not find excuses for inaction: it’s too big, too tough, this or that wont do enough, some say. It wont matter. Well duh, probably not, but doing nothing is even worse. That certainly guarantees failure. Doing anything, even a tiny bit, helps set the tone of the discussion, shows you care, and can seed bigger action, as long as it doesn’t become an excuse not to do even more if and when you can.

Kids should speak up and yes, we should listen out of compassion; they are looking at severe devastation in their lifetime if Trump and other outlandishly greedy willfully ignorant people have their way, and if the rest of us just go about our lives as if it will take care of itself and there’s little we can do.

Being rich wont prevent anyone from being crushed by this as it gets worse. The rich think it will, but they will be in prisons of their own making. They can’t escape for long. The social disruptions in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, central and South America, and so in the US and Europe, the demagoguery and populism, the difficulties this will bring, will eventually be impossible to escape no matter how rich you are. Climate change is  already causing significant disruptions and problems politically and socially. The rich and willfully ignorant are just too greedy and so too stupid to see it. They hope they can run out the clock, or buy their way out, blinded by their desires and delusions. It won’t work forever. This is too big. You can’t print money or bitcoin to buy your way out of it. (aside: do you know how much energy bitcoin uses? A travesty). Hungry ghosts, no satiating them, even if it hurts them and others.

As for my interests and practice, I find it is not enough to think about Cosmic Truths and philosophy, quantum coolness, entanglement, and non-dualism. And even meditation can be just a waste of time, IF we don’t use any wisdom and sanity and energy we generate to put compassion into action to the best of our abilities and resources.

I am not saying you shouldn’t read and think about all that, certainly I am a big fan of practice and meditation, which over all I do now more than before, I am just saying right now, the interface of science and Zen, and philosophic insights about non-dualism, is not the heart of my practice. That is all foundational, but I find I have enough to go on and it is time to realize it, to make it real. Yes, I look forward to reading the next book on Biocentrism by Robert Lanza when it comes out. But for me now, to express my practice in my life is what matters. I am not waiting for anutara samyak sambodhi, ultimate enlightenment, or the next great book or scientific-spritual-philosophical insight.

Don’t let practice be an excuse, a prop for your ego. A reason to disengage.

At least, that’s how I see it for myself right now.

Certainly, we can’t all be scientists, policy makers, or Greta. But we can do whatever we can do. Practice without compassion is limited at best, and compassion without expression is conceptual nonsense, an oxymoron, or perhaps just simple self-indulgence. Mental masturbation.

If you are too hurt by your life, so destroyed by the world, sure, take some time and get it together. But in the meantime, how about, if you at all can, acting “as if.” As if you had compassion and some ability to function. It needn’t be big stuff. It can be very little stuff. Baby steps. But we need all hands on deck, doing whatever little you can.

Even just offering a bit of encouragement to those who can do more and are trying, maybe just showing gratitude and respect, is something, is enough, if that’s all you got.

Oh, and please no hand wringing about the Trump impeachment proceedings. If it loses us the election, then we would have lost anyway. If our country is that ethically and morally bereft, and there is evidence unfortunately that it is, then worrying and plotting and strategy wont help.

We have to do this impeachment proceeding. It is clearly the right thing to do. It is at the foundation of any fair system, especially a democracy, that no one is above the law and that getting a foreign power, or for that matter any power, person or any institution, to help you crush your enemies outside of the law and due process, is an abuse of power.

So, we already won! The truth is out there. That is sufficient.

You think it has to be more? It has to be that the senate, miracle of miracles, finally comes around and sets Trump packing?  Republicans get sane and fair? Puhleeeese! Okay, maybe there will be such a miracle. But do you think we will be better off if we have Handmaid’s Tale Pence in the white house with his theocracy? You think he’s a closet environmentalist (well, he may be in the closet… just not that one) who will save the day?  I want Trump out, sure, our future depends on it, but if it means by the election so be it. In fact, putting Pence in the office might make it harder to elect a Democrat (some moderate republicans and independents will use it as an excuse not to vote Democrat) and prevent doing something about climate change.

Yes, the Dems did little about the environment, and did some bad things, let some stuff get by on their watch, but they did some good things. They at least tried. Now we are driving headlong toward the abyss, republican foot heavy on the pedal…

And again, if we lose the election, let’s lose it by doing what is right, not by over thinking it or cringing in fear.

Okay, you know all this. Sorry. Had to get it out there in case there was any hesitation or lack of clarity. This is our lives now.

If you need it in spiritual terms: think of it as our karma, a quest, a spiritual challenge, a cosmic battle, a spiritual test of who you are in your heart, your gut, deep, deep down. You know, like the stories where the beggar turns out to be a saint or god testing you. Whatever inspires you. Whatever story gets you out of your head into action, real compassion.

We need to be on this.

And I likely will get back to more spiritual themes and maybe math and science and maybe some more cosmic vision, sharing some of my fiction, etc. Lighten up a bit! We’ll see.

But for now, this is where my practice, where Zen and Science, has led me, and I promised from the beginning I would be honest with you, that I’d share my journey. Otherwise what’s the point? I am not after likes or followers.

 

New Aidan Novel, Stories and Life

 

I have published my second novel, “Aidan and The Mummy Girl Save the Universe.”  It s, like my first book “Aidan and the Dragon Girl Save the world” about Aidan Alvarado, 11 year old dream detective. You don’t need to have read the first book to enjoy this one. The books have history, mystery, mythology, Zen and adventure. If you are interested in knowing more, look at my other website ralphlevinson.com. it is available of course on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and other sites, as print or eBook, but the coolest thing is that a friend ordered it from a bookstore in Amsterdam. I love bookstores!

The theme of the new book is in the dedication: to those who try not to be trapped by their stories.

How you frame your world in your mind is how you experience it in a recursive delusional trap if you aren’t awake and present (and very careful). The narrative we run is often a product and symptom of our fears and greed and ignorance, although we dress them up to be much more palatable.

The Lankavatara and other sutras, and Nyogen Roshi, point out how we spend our lives reacting to our projected idea of the world.

I am amazed at the depth of my conditioning, the degree to which I am trapped by the past, re-telling my life to myself as some sort of talisman. I wrote about this previously; to paraphrase Lily Tomlin: to wish for a better past is crazy.

This is at the core of my practice now: Not being trapped by my idea of the world, by my conditioning, by my stories.

This practice isn’t about not remembering things, not thinking, or not loving stories. That’s what brains are for. The operant wording: not to be trapped by stories. Stories are powerful. They are “skillful means,” upaya, in Buddhist jargon. Stories can reveal truths that we can’t weigh or measure, that we don’t have a clear quantitative metric for. Myth and stories have a place in communicating how we experience the world before measurement, for exploring values and truths that rely on judgment and perspective.

 

In the one everything, in everything the one. Tee shirt I bought at Nara Temple in Japan. It’s from a sutra.

 

I haven’t written on this website for a while. I don’t have much more to say about science and Zen, All is change.  Particles are localized waves. The currency is energy, the substance is energy. Nothing solid, nothing fixed, all is contingent. The relative (all things and events, particle and wave) is embedded in and inseparable from the absolute (which science cannot name. Energy? Quantum and gravitational fields? Strings? Quantum loops? These aren’t the absolute, but the most basic expression of what arises from the absolute, as close as science can get). That’s what science tells us that might inspire a Zen practitioner in the quest to not be limited by and attached to our senses and how our brains put together the world (biologic conditioning), while at the same time not rejecting our brains, our karma.

Then there are a lot of cool details in science. I have been enjoying the science channel’s “How the Universe Works” about cosmology and astrophysics. Gets pretty trippy.

The science that most interests me most now is life science, and more of a global life perspective. That means plants, invertebrates, and microbes. Most “biomass”: plants. Most number of organisms: viruses. Vertebrate species are few compared to insects and bacteria. JBS Haldane, a scientist (genetics) in the first half of the 20thcentury, wrote, “God has an inordinate fondness for stars and beetles.” (Wikiquote.org goes through the variations of this)

As an aside, Haldane also wrote: my suspicion is not only that the universe is queerer than we suppose but queerer than we can suppose.

The limits of concepts, well known to Zen.

We can even make it about us: Photosynthetic plankton create about half the oxygen we breathe. If we lose bees and we lose a big chunk of our food supply. But in fact, we are dwarfed as an expression of living potential.  Ecology. What we are doing to our environment (climate change. May be the topic of my next novel, Aidan and the Dragon Girl, Princess Peace, whose father is Dragon King of the East Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, are pissed about what us stupid monkeys are doing to the ocean.)

So, yes, I love studying life. It does allow a humbling and yet exhilarating perspective on our lives: the deep and abiding dance of carbon we are part of. The cycling of energy in a kaleidoscope of form and function. As Darwin wrote at the end of “Origin of Species”: endless forms most beautiful. Savor the phrase, savor life. Kind of Buddhist in a way.

 

Nature Shows, Mind, Non-Dualsim and Intelligent Design

Straight up:

I do not, as I have written before, believe in intelligent design.

It is a dualistic concept, and so misses the deep Truth of how things are.

And in our culture intelligent design is theistic and literal religious scriptural dogma in disguise in order to try and pass off superstition as science and Truth to corrupt the minds of the young in school and the old in life.

We project our stories, our, intellect, including our understanding of randomness and creation based on our four dimensional perceptions, our scale of time and space, on life as we see it, so there is the appearance of design.

I have written about Huxley and Darwin and my respect for them and evolution. I have a collection of contemporary (to them i.e. late 19th century) Huxley and Darwin books. If you have read about plant communication (like the recent books “What a Plant Knows” or “Brilliant Green”), you have Darwin to thank. I was watching a TV special on Carnivorous plants that quotes Darwin’s studies. I have his book on insectivorous plants, the American edition of 1875, that  someone picked up and bought over 140 years ago to read! I love having the artifact that is contemporary with these original ideas and great efforts to clarify the matter of what nature is up to.

Having set that out in black and white, in bold italics, let me say that it doesn’t mean I am not sympathetic to intelligent design believers who are sincere! I mean, life is so abundant and resilient: think how fast life rebounded after multiple huge extinction events. Cant keep it down. It would take a total destruction of earth to wipe it out, like a comet blowing earth apart, and even then some might survive on the remains of the planet.

And the manifestations of life, the “solutions” (forgive the anthropomorphizing) to problems of survival, are so robust, so varied, complex and elegant that if you don’t pause to marvel and question whatever you may believe, no matter how scientific, you need to watch more nature shows and read more nature books and regain a sense of wonder and awe with a bit of humility!

While random variation and the obvious continuation of what works, that is, natural selection, are true and clear mechanisms for evolution (a recent Scientific American article and new book “How to Tame a Fox” illustrates a human/fox model of how selection works to create species; a model because it is manipulated with intent that natural selection does not have),  I find, despite my loyalty to evolution, that I wonder if there isn’t, in some sense, more to it than blind random chance filtered through the editing function of reproductive success. It almost pains me to type those words, but I can’t deny the sense I have that the syllogism, strong as it is, of natural selection is true and necessary, but not sufficient.

Maybe it is a matter of something like the thought patterns in Bernardo Kastrup’s top down idealism, the nature of That Which Experiences (TWE) or Mind. Maybe it is something deep about the laws of nature that we don’t write understand. I know the standard answer is deep time, randomness rules when vast numbers are involved, but I am not so convinced. Yes, I know that sounds like intelligent design. But I don’t see it as occurring “outside” of Mind, as intelligent or designed by a higher power, deity or otherwise. Rather it seems to me that Nature and Mind are one, and that matters in how the Universe unfolds.

Maybe I am wrong and apostate in this, but I am so overwhelmed by the exuberance and range of life, the incredible lack of chance implied by the way it ranges into the extremes of the world and will not be denied, that I am willing to entertain the possibility that while random chance and selection clearly are important, they just may not be the whole story on what life is as a manifestation of Mind.

In fact, the problem with defining life, and it is tough to do, as I have written before, may imply that life is not all that special, except in the way that all is special. Or nothing is special. You know, like in “ordinary mind is the way.” Or that life is a projection of Mind, perhaps in a way that Biocentrism and the Lankavatara sutra seem to me to imply, or for that matter any non-dualistic Mind-only approach seems to me to imply.

Yes, we can all agree we are made of star stuff, not separate from the workings of the cosmos. But what underlies all of that?

The mind of God (if you like that theistic approach)?

Life is, I believe, as Stephen Gaskin titled one of his books, Mind at Play.

Does matter make mind or is matter a manifestation of Mind? A foundational question. Same goes for life as for all matter, for that matter, does mind make life or life make mind.

Life is Mind. Mind is life.

That’s what I think Biocentrism is about. That’s what I think “Mind is Buddha” is about.

I am a medical scientist; this is not something I would want to confuse people about. I am only saying keep an open mind as to what life is and the role of randomness in the Universe we experience.

One show on PBS that inspired this post just now was an episode of Nature called Forest of The Lynx. Watch it. Especially note at 27-29 minutes about the trees and rain. Trees bioengineering their environment. Trees are too cool. Consciousness without brains in the animal sense of brains. Some trees, like some insects, function as super-organisms. And fungi and trees… OK I digress. Hard not to as this stuff is so wonderful! Of course now “the Hidden Life of Trees” is deservedly a best seller. Good book to read so you can really marvel at trees. But back to the PBS Nature show the forest of the lynx; at 27-29 minutes (watch the whole thing of course), they mention that trees release a molecule when they are stressed by drought, but don’t name the molecule. I am not sure what molecule they were referring to that trees release is (why don’t they just say? Frustrating when even PBS dumbs down; we can handle a word with two or more syllables), but here’s something similar: cosmic rays and trees and pine and marijuana resin and quantum effects might make clouds/rain. And have medicinal properties (Bold italics below are mine):

Ion-induced nucleation of pure biogenic particles

  • Jasper Kirkby, Jonathan Duplissy, Kamalika Sengupta, Carla Frege, Hamish Gordon, Christina Williamson, Martin Heinritzi, Mario Simon, Chao Yan, João Almeida, Jasmin Tröstl, Tuomo Nieminen, Ismael K. Ortega, Robert Wagner, Alexey Adamov, Antonio Amorim, Anne-Kathrin Bernhammer, Federico Bianchi, Martin Breitenlechner, Sophia Brilke, Xuemeng Chen, Jill Craven, Antonio Dias, Sebastian Ehrhart, Richard C. Flagan et al.

Nature 533, 521–526 (26 May 2016) doi:10.1038/nature17953

Received 06 July 2015 Accepted 16 March 2016 Published online 25 May 2016

Atmospheric aerosols and their effect on clouds are thought to be important for anthropogenic radiative forcing of the climate, yet remain poorly understood1. Globally, around half of cloud condensation nuclei originate from nucleation of atmospheric vapours2. It is thought that sulfuric acid is essential to initiate most particle formation in the atmosphere3, 4, and that ions have a relatively minor role5. Some laboratory studies, however, have reported organic particle formation without the intentional addition of sulfuric acid, although contamination could not be excluded6, 7. Here we present evidence for the formation of aerosol particles from highly oxidized biogenic vapours in the absence of sulfuric acid in a large chamber under atmospheric conditions. The highly oxygenated molecules (HOMs) are produced by ozonolysis of α-pinene. We find that ions from Galactic cosmic rays increase the nucleation rate by one to two orders of magnitude compared with neutral nucleation. Our experimental findings are supported by quantum chemical calculations of the cluster binding energies of representative HOMs. Ion-induced nucleation of pure organic particles constitutes a potentially widespread source of aerosol particles in terrestrial environments with low sulfuric acid pollution.

Regarding Pinene:

(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Pinene (C10H16) is a bicyclic monoterpene chemical compound.[1] There are two structural isomers of pinene found in nature: α-pinene and β-pinene. As the name suggests, both forms are important constituents of pine resin; they are also found in the resins of many other conifers, as well as in non-coniferous plants such as camphorweed (Heterotheca)[3] and big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata). Both isomers are used by many insects in their chemical communication system. The two isomers of pinene constitute the major component of turpentine.

Biosynthesis[edit]

α-Pinene and β-pinene are both produced from geranyl pyrophosphate, via cyclisation of linaloyl pyrophosphate followed by loss of a proton from the carbocation equivalent.

Plants[edit]

Alpha-pinene is the most widely encountered terpenoid in nature[4] and is highly repellant to insects.[5]

Alpha-pinene appears in conifers and numerous other plants.[6] Pinene is a major component of the essential oils of Sideritis spp. (ironwort)[7] and Salvia spp. (sage).[8] Cannabis also contains alpha-pinene.[6] Resin from Pistacia terebinthus (commonly known as terebinth or turpentine tree) is rich in pinene. Pine nuts produced by pine trees contain pinene.[6]

Makrut lime fruit peel contains an essential oil comparable to lime fruit peel oil; its main components are limonene and β-pinene.[9]

Usage[edit]

In chemical industry, selective oxidation of pinene with some catalysts gives many compounds for perfumery, such as artificial odorants. An important oxidation product is verbenone, along with pinene oxide, verbenol and verbenyl hydroperoxide. [10]

Pinenes are the primary constituents of turpentine.

Pinene has also been used as anti-cancer agent in Traditional Chinese medicine, also for its anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, expectorant and bronchodilator properties.[11]

 

The Crown of Creation (?)

 images

Here’s my current suggestion for the coolest animal (hint: it is not us, either despite of, or maybe because of, our awesome and dangerous brains and opposable thumbs):

TARDIGRADA

Sounds impressive! Actually, despite sounding like the name of some hard-core conquering emperor, it means ‘slow step’ in Latin.

Less impressively, it is also known as the water bear.

But it is WAY more impressive than any marauding horde.

There’s a great chapter about them in the book “Animal Earth, the amazing diversity of living creatures.” I like this book; while limiting itself to animals (not plants, say, or bacteria, etc.) it has examples of all the major groups, and so despite our brain chauvinism, vertebrates are barely mentioned.

At 0.003 to 0.08 inches you can barely see it without magnification. They live in both marine and fresh water. These can be extreme environments and collections of water as thin as the layer of water on moss or on  “lichen encrusting a headstone.” There’s some likely in your immediate vicinity right now. Some are “herbivorous” eating plants and algal cells, others are predatory on small animals like nematodes (ubiquitous small worms). In marine waters they tend to reproduce sexually. In fresh waters, some are hermaphrodites and others can reproduce by parthenogenesis, meaning mother’s eggs just start doing their thing, no need for sperm. So, for those water bears there is no need for males.

But here’s the coolest part:

They undergo “cryptobiosis,” described as a kind of “death-like suspended animation.” The dehydrate over less than an hour and become what is called a “tun.” They use glycerol and a trehalose, a simple sugar to replace water molecules. The tun can tolerate:

Temperatures approaching absolute zero (much colder, it says, than liquid nitrogen)

Temperatures up to 120 centigrade or 250 degrees Fahrenheit (they can live in hot springs without being in this living dead condition)

“Huge doses of radiation”

A “hard vacuum”

Up to 600 atmospheres of pressure.

images-2

So, you think global warming is a threat to life on earth? Think again. Of course rats and roaches wont care either if our coastal cities are under water, our economies dive, millions starve from lack of water from loss of run off from major mountain ranges and destroyed habitats and ecosystems.

We will take down  ourselves, and a large percent of species on earth if we continue living as we have, but many will survive.

Earth has put up with more than we can dish out, and life has survived massive extinctions before (the book “The Sixth Extinction” will teach you about that, as will any good history of life on earth or a trip to a good natural history museum.)

This extinction is unique in that it is the first massive extinction done knowingly, out of pure greed and willful stupidity and self-deception, so some call it the Anthropocene (Latin for people fucked it up. Well, not exactly; it means the people’s period. Power to the people!).

So I worry less about earth or even life on earth than I shake my head at our arrogance and hurt for our kids and grandkids. Species come and go. Biology, evolution, is not romantic or sentimental. Life on earth  has the urge to survive, to grow and develop, to evolve, but it is not unidirectionally goal directed. We are. Let’s not fool ourselves. Our concerns about the environment are basically about us. Earth just finds us wordy apes petty, rude and annoying, not existentially threatening. In a few millions of years even our most toxic remnants will be dissolved, dissipated, and metamorphosed (OK some will take a few tens, or even hundreds, of  millions of years, but earth has deep time).

We’re not water bears; we’re not that cool. We are just an evolutionary experiment—fragile bodies with overblown, overly self-important, big wordy brains. Is there a chance that we will look up from our devices, our efficiencies, our clinging and our lusts, with our attention spans less than goldfishes, to see past our encrusted defense outer and inner mechanisms, be brave, and do the right thing? Judging from the popularity of certain republicans who thrive on greed, ignorance, fear and hate right now, I am not convinced. Judging from the reaction to them of many, to the wisdom of some I know and read and hear about, I am allowing myself some tiny sliver of hope.

Zen impartiality or not, I’d like my grandkids not to live in a seething hell of destroyed civilizations and ecosystems.

images-1