Bear cubs in California are displaying an alarming affection for humans. Victims of brain encephalitis, their behavior seems cute, but it could cost them their lives. Some with the illness are lucky enough to be adopted by a wildlife refuge or zoo. The rest are euthanized because they can’t survive in the wild.
No one knows what causes the disease, but bears live best when they avoid humans. We pose a danger to them and the planet in the form of wars, pestilence, a depleted ecology, and climate change. Given the outcome, why nature has gifted our species with superior brains and agile bodies is a mystery.
Despite our considerable aptitudes, we have little understanding of the inner workings of our minds. Each kernel of knowledge we’ve gleaned we owe to the vagaries of experience. To be endowed and ignorant strikes me as a cosmic joke.
In opposition to our condition, we do thirst to know ourselves. We ask many questions. Why are our brains larger than those of other primates? Or, after death, why do some brain cells awake and become active? The last, called zombies, are the same that clean up tissue damaged by a stroke. Why they become alive after death is a puzzle.
We have learned a little about our brain size, thanks to science. Gene ZEB2 regulates neuron development in primates and stays active in human development longer than in other species. More neurons give us bigger brains but to what end? Do they result in more peaceful societies than those of chimpanzees and gorillas?
Much of what we know about who we are, we owe to Machiavelli. He taught that politics and morality are strangers, that it is better to govern with fear than with love, that a triumphant leader will use deception, treachery, and crime to obtain desired outcomes.
Spun nearly 500 years ago, his theories remain viable. Would anyone in the 21st century deny that Machiavelli best describes the behavior of tyrants and the ambitious in the modern world? Even those with good intentions seem willing to sacrifice the means to obtain the ends
Chuck Schumer pulls a rabbit out of a hat hoping to redistribute more wealth to the poor. Section 304 of the 1974 budget law is the means with which he hopes to thwart Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell, the antagonist who waits to unleash the filibuster like a guillotine.
Those of us on the sidelines watch in suspense knowing “the game is afoot.” Some of us even cheer for Schumer not questioning whether the game is honorable or merely clever?
Has nature erred in giving us brains we can neither control nor fathom? Or, is it sensible to blame nature as if it were capable of design? Perhaps we are no more than a throwing of the dice?
One scientist has argued that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will never rival the human brain because a computer is incapable of consciousness. His bold statement leaves me to shake my head. How can we be certain a robot will never be conscious when we are ignorant about what consciousness is?
To ask a question often leads to more questions than answers. That is life’s irony. Nonetheless, age has taught me one truth. On this planet, the smartest creatures are the bears that run away from humans.