To welcome new readers and perhaps for the benefit of regular ones as well, I’m inserting here a short piece on the themes that I think connect this blog’s posts. Such connections may not be obvious since the post topics range from fossils to beavers to daily life to Steven Pinker. Evolution ties the topics together to some extent. But underlying evolution is the theme of the length of our biological past and the role that such history plays or could play in our lives. For me that history of life has taken on a spiritual aspect. I find that my dying feels a little less catastrophic when I think about my connection to a long chain of ancestors. The nature of right and wrong looks a little clearer as I learn more about how competition and cooperation have played out together as living things have evolved. Our biological past is a resource for our spiritual questions.
In writing the blog, I look for topics that will highlight this view of our history and will be highlighted by it in turn. In the previous post, for example, on the billions of years of life that pre-date the first visible animal fossils, the gap between what we think of as old and what is actually much older is dramatic—jarring, I think, to our usual notion of how long ago life began. Similarly, in many of the posts, the theme is essentially that much of the fuss of our lives is the fuss of not only all humans but also of other, nonhuman lives as well, past and present. The story of living things on earth echoes with the puzzles, the pain, and the beauty of being alive.
So welcome, reader, or welcome back. You can find a detailed discussion of the themes mentioned here at “Finding Spirituality in Biology,” on the tab near the top of the page.