THOUGHTS ON FREEDOM AND HUMILITY
A recent news article on Yahoo (1/3/12) reported that given global warming, certain animal species are adapting to the change. Notably, cold and warm water sharks have begun to mate with one another, creating a new strain capable of existing in a wider temperature range. I thought about this phenomenon as I took my walk through the park later that afternoon.
Let me begin by saying that out of care for us humans, I support efforts to protect the environment. But I’ve never assumed that what we do, for good or ill, jeopardizes all life on the planet. Mankind may succeed in eradicating itself, but as the shark discovery suggests, earth will continue to teem with species long after we are gone.
This last thought had it salutatory effect. Walking under a canopy of trees, I came to understand that the restorative feelings I derive in the park aren’t from my communion with nature but from an innate recognition of its indifference… an understanding which is liberating. Life goes on without my willing it.
The philosopher George Berkeley (1685-1753) set us on the wrong path when he asked if a tree falling in the forest could be said to make a sound if no one hears it. The question is fraught with arrogance and a presumption about human importance. A tree falls. That much is true whether or not human eyes observe it. We do not define the universe but are something less than the blink of an eye in its evolution. The author Stephen Crane tried to put us right:
“A man said to the universe:
‘Sir, I exist.’
However, replied the universe,
The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”
(Stephen Crane: “A Man Said to the Universe”)