Immortality Is Unnatural

PZ Meyers provides an evolutionary reason for why immortality is “both impossible and undesirable”:

We already have a potent defense against death put in place by evolution: it’s called more death. That sounds contradictory, I know, but that’s the way it works. Every cell replication has a probability of corruption and error, and our defense against that is to constrain every subpopulation of cells and tissues with a limited lifespan …

The undesirability of immortality derives from the proponents’ emphasis on what is good for the individual over what is good for the population. There’s a kind of selfish appeal to perpetuating oneself forever, but from the perspective of a population, such individuals have an analog: they are cancers. That’s exactly what a cancer is: a unit of the organism, a liver cell or skin cell, that has successfully shed the governors on its mortality and achieved immortality…and grows selfishly, at the expense of the organism.

How Wonder Works


Jessa Gamble explores the mechanics of awe:

Last year, Stanford consumer behaviour researcher Melanie Rudd was able to define and measure awe, the kind architecture can evoke through soaring vaulted ceilings of cathedrals. What makes cathedrals and canyons awe-inspiring is partly their physical vastness. We marvel over the sheer scale of what we are seeing, and that helps to produce awe. But the 20th time we walk into the same cathedral, it may not have the same effect. That’s because awe is not just the experience of vastness. We have to be so surprised by the vastness that we don’t feel we fully grasp it. We stand at the edge of a cavernous space and marvel at its boundless capacity. We want to understand, but it’s hard to hold the mammoth volume in our minds.

Awe has two key components: perceptual vastness and what’s called the “need for accommodation”. The latter involves a desire to interpret that vastness by learning more about the world. The builders of Oxford’s dreaming spires clued in to this effect in Medieval times, and more centres of learning could stand to take their cue.

(Photo by Flickr user Al King)

Taken By A Name

Lauren Markoe interviews Cameron Partridge, a lecturer at Harvard and chaplain at Boston University who, “[a]fter college…graduated from Harvard Divinity School, married her girlfriend, became an Episcopal priest, changed her name — and changed her gender.” The whole exchange is worth reading, but his description of choosing a new name stands out:

In a way, the name chose me. I was at a point in my life when my previous name (which I prefer not to publicly disclose) felt like it no longer fit. I wanted a name that conveyed some sense of gender complexity, since I consider gender in general and my own in particular to be less than straightforward.

At the same time, I had no desire to totally jettison the history — including the thoughtfulness of my parents — caught up in my birth name. Then one day when I was getting sushi takeout, the person behind the register “misheard” my old name as Cameron.

It was a bolt from the blue. I thought, “I think I’ll take that to go too, thanks.” Eventually I looked it up. It turned out to mean something slightly askew: bent nose, crooked stream, or craggy rock. Years earlier I’d bought a button from a queer bookstore that said, simply, “bent.”

And I recalled being struck by a line from Ecclesiastes that I once heard the former Episcopal presiding bishop, Frank Griswold, preach in connection with the scandalous quality of the Christian gospel: “Consider the work of God: Who can make straight what God has made crooked?”

In a profile of Partridge published earlier this year, Becky Garrison emphasized the impact of Partridge being trans on his ministry:

Partridge does not feel his transgender status has hindered his role as a chaplain; if anything, it has helped him connect with students. “In one sense, my being trans doesn’t matter,” he said. “In another way, I’m able to have certain conversations about the complexities of human identity with college students, who are figuring out their own identities.”

The Spiritual Facts Of Life, Ctd

The Dish recently highlighted German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk’s idiosyncratic take on religion. In an in-depth exploration of the thinker’s oeuvre, Adam Kirsch elaborates:

One of the most appealing things about Sloterdijk’s philosophy is that, like literature, it leaves itself vulnerable. It does not attempt to anticipate and to refute all possible objections. And the objections to You Must Change Your Life, as with Bubbles, are not far to seek. For one thing, by conceiving of religion as an elite training regimen, Sloterdijk implies that a religion is justified only by its saints. Anyone who is not a saint is insignificant, and so the average person’s experience of religious meanings—whether metaphysical doctrine or spiritual consolation or tradition or identity or communion—is dismissed out of hand. This is false to the lived reality of religion for most people, and shows how tendentious Sloterdijk’s equation of religion with “practice” really is.

The Chastity Fallacy

Tim Challies thinks evangelicals are making a mistake in obsessing over virginity:

The obsession manifests itself in the pre-marriage course where the young man who burned up his teens and early twenties staring at tens of thousands of pornographic images somehow thinks he holds the moral high ground over the young woman who had sex one time with one boyfriend. After all, he is a virgin and she is not. She is the one who ought to seek his forgiveness for giving to someone else what was rightly his.

It manifests itself in young people who ask questions about “technical virginity” like doing these sexual acts, which stop short of full-on sexual intercourse, are somehow less serious or less morally significant than going all the way. “It’s okay, I’m still a virgin!”

This obsession with virginity measures so many of the wrong things, asks so many of the wrong questions, delivers so many of the wrong answers.

The Context Of Kink

Lisa Miller wonders where sexual idiosyncrasies stem from. First she looks to childhood:

There is hardly a transvestite—defined in the literature as a straight man whose sexual arousal depends on wearing women’s clothes—who doesn’t remember being dressed up in his older sister’s bras and panties. Enema fetishists, for whom the ultimate erotic act is to be splayed across someone’s lap with a rubber hose in their rectum, are rarer than they used to be, says Lehne, but those that do exist tend to be older Jewish men of Eastern European descent whose mothers used enemas to force the issue when their little ones didn’t poo on cue. The Other Side of Desire contains the story of a man with a foot fetish so overpowering that he found it difficult to listen to the weather report in winter; just hearing the words feet of snow could make him hard. He confided to a therapist that in second grade, ashamed that he could not read, he looked down at the floor to avoid being called on. There, he saw his classmates’ feet.

On to society:

What you find sexually titillating probably depends as much on where you live and when you live there as it does on whether an amputee librarian taught you how to use the Dewey decimal system. Hairless genitals are the thing right now, whether you call them a taste or a fetish; but in the first part of the twentieth century, an earthy abundance of pubic hair was preferred. Foot fetishes increase during sexually transmitted disease epidemics, Ohio State researchers found in 1998; the Brits have raincoat fetishes; and the Japanese, for whatever reason, have a predilection for used schoolgirl underpants. In Israel, according to a survey by PornMD, porn surfers search prostate most of all; in the ­Palestinian territories, family; and in Syria—go figure—aunt.