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The EVOLUTIONARY TIMES | Common Knowledge • Emerging Wisdom








Treasures Hidden in Plain Sight

Very often, I hear people complain about the weather where they live – including weather which is normal for the season.  This has seemed odd to me for a long time.  After all, in today’s modern world (unlike nearly all of our Ancestors), we often have a lot of choices about where we live.  If one really has an issue with the climate in one place, then why live there and complain?  I personally like a climate that includes winters.  Without winters, the years blur together into a constant string of days, and it becomes easy to lose track of the passage of one’s life. 

Snow Monster from Water Spray at -10 Degrees with help from the Kids
So it was fun to watch the wind blow snowy gusts across the frozen fields the other day.  With no trees nearby, it was easy to imagine that I was looking out over the frozen tundra of the Arctic.  In fact, the weather was the same as the temperatures often seen in the Arctic.  It was as if I had been transported there, if only for a little while!  Our Earth gives us a huge variety of environments, from a lush, hot forest to the barren and cold tundra, each with its own charm and beauty.  Yet, travel is often not cheap or convenient, especially for those of us with a family, home and regular job.  Wouldn’t it be a special blessing if the Earth could kindly bring different environments to us, instead of us traveling to them?  I realized that the Earth does exactly that!  For those of us in temperate regions, we see conditions approaching those of the Arctic during the winter, and conditions approaching tropical conditions in the summer.  In some ways, this is even better than traveling to different climates – it’s completely effortless, happening without any work on our part, and we don’t even have to pack!  Our entire homes are brought along with us, along with all our local family & friends!  

It’s so easy to take this for granted – we’re used to it as a normal part of life.  But consider what it would be like to describe the “seasons” to an otherwise similar person who lived on an otherwise similar planet with little or no axial tilt.  It might go something like:

“you’ve got to be kidding me.  You’re saying you sometimes shift Northwards on the planet’s surface?!?”

“Not exactly.  I mean, we don’t actually move.  But the weather becomes like that of the North.”

“….and you don’t have to move?  It just happens?  Like, without warning?”

“Oh, we know when it’ll happen – it happens with one cycle about every 365 days.”

“So one day it suddenly gets cold, then warms back up the next day?”

“No, no – it’s gradual.  It kinda blends into the next season, so we get at least weeks of each climate.  That’s on top of the regular variation like you have.”

“So everyone gets to sample the different climates?”

“most people – it doesn’t change as much near the equator.  Each climate (or “season”) lasts just long enough to fully experience it – much longer and it might get tiring or boring.”

“that would be amazing!  How do you still do your regular work – isn’t everyone fascinated by it, going outside everyday to see the change?”

“everyone expects it, as a fact of life.  Sadly, some even take it for granted!  But it is pretty cool.  In fact, it’s become a major part of many of our different cultures, and is often part our religions, holidays, cooking choices, clothing fashions, and more!”

“But what about the animals?  These ‘seasons’ as you call them, would cause massive extinctions!  An animal from one climate obviously can’t live in a different climate.”

“Some animals have evolved to be able to survive in multiple climates, growing more fur every year just before winter.  Others have evolved to migrate South to avoid the winter.”

“Wow, I knew evolution often gives rise to amazing adaptations, but automatic fur growth and mass migrations of entire species on schedule?  Can you give me a reliable reference source for all this, in a peer-reviewed journal?  Forgive me for being skeptical.”

  “Ok, I’ll find one – but wait until you learn about hibernation!  Some animals, such as turtles and frogs, hibernate through the winter.  Their bodies nearly shut down, and cool to just above freezing (or lower, for those with anti-freeze blood), with their heart rate and breathing becoming so slow that they look dead.   Then, they revive every spring.  Oh, and some trees lose all their leaves, growing them all back a few months later.  The leaves change color before falling off – from green to orange, red, and yellow.”

“Oh, rrrrrriiiight.  You almost had me going for a minute there with the fur, but the zombie frogs and techni-color leaves were just too silly!  OK, funny guy - no, really, what about the animals?  How do they really survive?  I mean, evolution is powerful, so what did it actually come up with?”

“I’m not making this up!  Really!  Look, I’ll get you some pictures, and other sources.”

“sssure, you will….”

Looking over that snowy field, I realized how much our knowledge of our Deep Time history can touch our lives.  Just looking around me at our world often fills me with amazement and joy at our lives today.  Here I am, able to enjoy winter things like building a snow monster with my kids as if I lived in Alaska – knowing that in just a few months, the snow will melt away on its own, and I’ll be in a nearly tropical climate.  And I get to experience this every year!

We are so lucky to live at this time, the first moments in human history when we can understand our 14 billion year history.  Understanding deep time and our Great Story allows me to look back at that Hadean time of collisions in Earth’s history and appreciate how those impacts (including, perhaps, the Theia impact) gave us the axial tilt, and hence, seasons we enjoy today. 

Many cultures have stories of treasures hidden in a person’s normal day to day world – whether it’s gold under the floorboards, a priceless painting on the wall thought to be a cheap knockoff, or similar stories.  Like discovered treasure, I’ve found that Deep Time eyes and knowledge of our Great Story open a window on many of the incredible things we have to be grateful for, which surround us every day, available if only looked for.


Evolutionary Parenting - Great Gift Ideas

Some Last Minute Solstice/Holiday Gift Ideas
Some items shown for the first time this year:

Fun toys for kids:

A really great development!  Charlie’s playhouse – which had great reality-based toys for kids, is evolving – and offering much more!  Check out their fun toys, kids’ books, interactive online games, and more!

DNA Kit: 
Pop Bead DNA (about the same cost, more versatile, but fewer step-by step lesson activities: with a description of how to use them here:
Element blocks for kids ages 2-4 (but also educational just to have around) 
For the Adults & Teens

The Big History Series on the History Channel is a cool overview of how we got here:  


Elemental Birthdays, for Birthdays 1-20, bring our Big History into our lives with fun birthday parties based on the elements:  (Full disclosure – this is the latest project of Heather and I)

Earth and Sky Calendar:, another way to bring our Great Story to your daily life.
Items mentioned earlier that are still the best resources around:
Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, now available on DVD).  
Another great choice is: ”Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!: The Complete First and Second Seasons (1969)”.  
Essential Books for all Families:
For the youngest kids, aged 3 to 6, “Our Family Tree” by Lisa Peters is a great introduction to how we got here.  Next, for ages 5 to 10, is the “Born with a Bang” trilogy by Jennifer Morgan.  After that the child can read on their own, so Richard Dawkins book, “The Magic of Reality” is a good choice.  Here are pictures and links for all three:

The BBC “Walking with” series is also excellent – especially “Monsters”, “Cavemen”, and “Beasts”. - just search amazon or another provider starting with "BBC" and "Walking with......"
Lastly, a very useful collection of resources for parents and educators is at

Happy Holidays!

Supporting Mothers, Supporting their decisions

“New father, huh?  Not getting any sleep, are ya?”
“Actually, I’m getting pretty good sleep.  My wife co-sleeps with the baby, so the baby just wakes up to nurse, then goes back to sleep.  Everyone sleeps better. ”
“Oh………   (confused look)….Um, ….OK.  (uncomfortable silience)…Uh,… see ya ‘round.”
I can’t say how many times that conversation has happened.  Each time we have a new baby, people expect us to have a nightmare of a time sleeping at night for at least weeks after the birth.  It seems like everyone expects problems with what can be a normal, loving, and bonding part of our human lives, and when the relatively easy experience of my family comes up, it’s as if we had said that drugging our baby with heroin made it sleep through the night better.  Newsflash, everyone:  Co-sleeping is an option which is often easy, healthy, and safe – in fact, co-sleeping is still the norm in most of the world outside of our Western culture, and has been the norm for millions of years.  However, it seems that moms are often discouraged from co-sleeping - either subtly or not so subtly.
I know this is a contentious issue, and I encourage everyone to look into the relevant data.  If it were just about me- about whether or not I was getting a good night’s sleep as a father of a new baby, then it really wouldn’t matter much.  But there is much more at stake here - mothers need support, both in help with family work as well as support in making informed decisions free from pressure (especially factually false pressure). 
 It’s already known that babies and mothers who co-sleep also show better sleep coordination, less stress, and many other benefits1, including emotional security that, according to recent studies, helps them their whole lives2.    Mothers who co-sleep are much more likely to breast-feed, and breastfeeding has been shown in multiple studies to benefit us all by producing healthier babies and happier moms3. 
These are important, but there is another important topic that looks like it is being ignored – the possible psychological benefits such as attachment, comfort, and particularly, reduced post partum depression (PPD).  In Western countries, PPD affects a whopping 10-20% of mothers.  Just a quick reality check here – every 1% is 50,000 women every year in the United States.    If the rates of PPD were brought down to that reported in regions where co-sleeping is more common, then hundreds of thousands of our wives, mothers, and sisters would be spared the dark pit of depression, and perhaps some of the suicides and cases of impaired infant care associated with PPD would be prevented.  
But is there any way to reduce PPD?  As mentioned above, we don’t have sufficient research yet, but there are reasons to suspect that increased co-sleeping could help where it is appropriate4.  For one thing, co-sleeping has been shown to make successful breast-feeding more likely, which is known to reduce the likelihood of PPD.  There is another possible reason as well.
For at least millions of years, a baby that was not with its mother at night may well be lost or worse, and the only hope for survival was to cry in terror for mom.  That terror could well be as natural a response as the rooting or grasping reflexes, and it has saved millions of our Ancestor’s lives, or we wouldn’t have it as babies.  As a result, for many babies, sleeping in a distant room could well be forcing a child to experience terror night after night. 
What about the mom’s perspective?  For our Ancestors for millions of years, a birth was followed by co-sleeping, unless the baby was dead or lost.  Infant mortality and stillbirth were facts of life, and it seems plausible to me that millions of years of evolution have resulted in some mental response in the mother when the mother’s body tells her brain that the baby is dead or lost. 
Why is co-sleeping so strongly discouraged?  We all can see that it is the crib industry that advertises so heavily to discourage co-sleeping (such as the recent “safe babies” advertising campaign by JPMA), and the same crib group says that co-sleeping in unsafe on their webpage5.   A little math shows that every 10% of mothers the advertising convinces to use a crib instead of co-sleeping is worth around 50 million dollars in increased sales6.
Oh, that advertising is to help with safety, right?  Maybe not.  The numbers show that co-sleeping likely decreases the deaths from SIDS7, which were 2,000 a year in the United States8.   So if co-sleeping would decrease that by just half, then that’s 1,000 babies saved.  Oh, but doesn’t co-sleeping lead to smothering deaths?   Most of these are from improper sleep arrangements, and even if all of them were real, that still overshadowed by the much larger numbers that occur with crib use (half of 2,000 is much larger than a few dozen). 
Am I blowing this out of proportion?  I hope so, but the more I investigate the more concern I have. 
For me, the embrace of my infants has melted my heart in a way that is impossible to describe.  Just as importantly, I’ve seen how depression can destroy one’s world.  Even the thought of mental harm to anyone’s baby or any mother brings me to tears.  If we can help babies and spare some moms from PPD by co-sleeping, how could we morally fail to do so?  At the very least, we need to find out, based on controlled research, and we need to talk about this issue openly as a society.
This mother’s day, I hope we can agree to bring PPD into the open, as a serious problem affecting us all.  I hope we can pledge to prioritize (and fund) research on PPD and co-sleeping, free from industry influence, putting the interests of mothers and babies first.  I hope we can support all mothers in making informed and guilt-free decisions about what sleeping arrangements work best for them.
In hope, I wish everyone (especially all mothers) a Happy Mother’s Day-

Jon Cleland Host
1.      “Sleep and Psychosomatic Medicine” Pandi-Perumal S.R, Rocco R Ruoti, Milton Kramer, 2007,
2.      Crawford, M. "Parenting practices in the Basque Country: Implications of infant and child-hood sleeping location for personality development", Ethos, 1994, 22, 1: 42–82.
3.      Gartner LM, et al. (2005). "Breastfeeding and the use of human milk [policy statement]". Pediatrics 115 (2): 496–506.
4.      Yes, of course there are factors that need to be taken into account when deciding whether or not to co-sleep.  For instance, babies are not safe co-sleeping with mothers who are using any drugs (including alcohol or tobacco), or are obese.  It’s interesting that obesity and drug use are conditions that were not present in our Pleistocene past.
6.      With 5 million births per year in the United States, if half of those need cribs (the others have cribs from older siblings, etc.), and cribs cost around $100 to $400, plus the crib bedding at $60 to $300, plus other accessories, let’s conservatively say $200. 
5,000,000 x 0.5 x 200 = 500 million dollars every year.
So if their advertising causes just 10% of mothers to use cribs instead of co-sleeping, that’s 50 million dollars in increased sales.
Correct me if I’m wrong on those numbers.  Does anyone have the actual yearly sales of the crib industry?
7.      P. S. Blair, P. J. Fleming, D. Bensley, et al., “Where Should Babies Sleep – Along or With Parents? Factors Influencing the Risk Of SIDS in the CESDI Study,” British Medical Journal 319 (1999): 1457-1462

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By the Glow of a Pig......

*Special April 1st Edition*

4:11 AM, 37 miles North East of Krasnoyarsk, Russia.

Nothing on the magnets.  Darn.  I’m going back to bed.  Excitement from a dream about finally catching a meteor fragment woke me up, and it’s only a matter of time now until I catch one.  Last week, I added 29 more magnets, bringing my total up to 472.   I am a little concerned I might pull in a random car driving by, but back here in the woods I haven’t seen much traffic besides caribou and mutant radioactive pigs. 

In Krasnoyarsk
The pigs are useful at least – they glow so brightly that I can see if anything is on the magnets by their light when they run past at night.  Plus, when my oil lamp in the cabin ran out of oil, I caught one and suspended her from the ceiling for light for a couple days until I could get more caribou oil.  I’ve still got a few bruises from where she kicked my head as I walked under her, but I guess that’s not too bad.  I wish I could figure out why my hair has started falling out, however.  Oh, yeah, there isn’t electricity here.  I’m a little ways outside of Krasnoyarsk, Russia.  Calculating an inverted quantum geometric mean from the GPS coordinates of Tunguska, Sinkhote-Alin, and Chelyabinsk luckily landed me within a few dozen miles of a major city.  Why those places?  Because those are the locations of the biggest meteor impacts witnessed & recorded by humans (on Earth), and if I’m going to catch one, this seems to be the place to be.   
Why have all the biggest meteor impacts recorded by humans hit in Russia?  I don’t know precisely.  Yes, Russia is big, but not that big – only 15% of Earth’s land area, giving odds of 1 in (0.15)3 =  or 3 in a thousand.  It must be some kind of massive quantum field vortex.  When the Chelyabinsk meteor hit back in February, it confirmed my suspicions, and my plan began to take shape.  First, I’d need lots of magnets to catch a meteorite (many meteorites are mostly iron).  How to get a lot of magnets quickly?  So I posed as a Mormon missionary (Elder Jon) to get into homes, and quickly grabbed some magnets from their refrigerator when the resident turned around.  I paid a teenager to pose as my mission partner (Elder Josh). Getting through TSA was a little tricky.  I had to explain why I had hundreds of refrigerator magnets in my carry-on luggage, but after I explained the massive quantum field vortex to them, the TSA agents kinda looked at each other and then let me go through.  I guess they realized how important this was.  I kept having to return cell phones and other devices that attached themselves to my carry-on luggage as I walked through the airport and onto the plane, but that’s not as bad as getting to my new home in Russia and finding that all the data had been erased from my flashdrives and credit cards.  So I had to go into the woods, make a bow and arrow, shoot a caribou, and barter to get basic necessities.  Funny, the mutant radioactive pigs were easier to shoot, but no one would barter anything for them.  Well, back to sleep for me, just as soon as I finish a logbook entry for today’s date…….
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No Flux Capacitor Needed!

Would you like to own a time machine?  Of course, right?  OK, just to avoid the grandfather paradox, how about a time machine that allowed you to go back in time to watch what happens, not to actually change history?  Still cool, huh?  But we don’t have time travel technology, do we?
One of the many incredible marvels of our modern life (compared to the lives of our Ancestors) is how much we can know about our history.  Today, just by popping in a DVD, we can see many segments of that history, such as the American Revolution, the middle ages, or the building of Stonehenge.   For all of these events and so many more, we know many details with decent confidence, based on scientific evidence.  Not only do we have details, but for many of them, we even have video portrayals. 
But how can we know where to start?  For me, comets can help.  While being fascinating in their own right, the appearance of a comet can be a time machine, a reminder to revisit the events in our Ancestry occurring at earlier visits of that same ball of ice and rock.  For instance, Halley’s Comet visited us in 1986, and can prompt us to consider what our world was like at earlier visits, such as in 1910, 1835, …  1066, … 141 CE, … 240 BCE,  or how our distant grandkids will be doing when it returns in 2061, … 2365, etc.   We saw Comet Hale-Bopp in 1997, but it was last here around 2,200 BCE (well before the iron age), and around 6,400 BCE (when many humans were still in the stone age) before that.  What will Earth look like when Comet Hale-Bopp returns in about 4,000 years? 
This year we are lucky to have two comets coming to connect us to our past and our future.   The first will be Comet L4, a small comet (not much brighter than most stars), which will be visible in just a few weeks (mid-March), and which returns every 100,000 years or so.  When it was last here, our Ancestors got their food by hunting and gathering!   Who can guess what our world will be like 100,000, 200,000 and 300,000 years in the future?
The other comet is Comet Nevski, which could be spectacular in December of this year. Comet predicting is notoriously difficult, but Comet Nevski might end up being something to tell the grandkids about, or it could disintegrate.  Regardless of its brightness, its orbital period of perhaps 10,000 years brings us back to the dawn of farming. 
While we haven’t yet invented a time machine, our knowledge of comets and history can give us a moving substitute for one.  It does for me.

Jon Cleland Host


Are Humans Obsolete?

Are Humans Obsolete?


 I, for one, welcome our new computer overlords!   Do you? 

Much concern has been raised in response to the invention and marketing of “Baxter”, an inexpensive robot (about $22,000, less than $4/hr for 3 years of work), who can be trained by hand to do many different kinds of menial (especially assembly line) work.  Oh, so that’s only a concern for the lowest skill workers?  Like….. Doctors!?!?  Meet “Isabel”, a computer program that does medical diagnoses based on the symptoms presented, and is already in use in some places.  Plus, just last year, we all saw the computer Watson win at Jeopardy!.  Are all our jobs going to be replaced, leaving us destitute and homeless?

These fears are nothing new, reflected in the autoworker’s fears in the 1980s, John Henry (and the steam spikedriver) before that, and before that, Paul Bunyan (vs. the chainsaw), and so on.  The replacement of humans by new technologies likely goes even farther back, past Heron, at the famed Alexandrian Library (who devised a vending machine nearly 2,000 years ago), perhaps even to the use of other animals to replace paid human labor.  In all these cases, people moved to different jobs, and the advancements allowed for new job opportunities.  No one today serious suggests that we’d be better off weaving all cloth or digging all ditches by human labor.  Even farther back, our Ancestors for millions of years before becoming human still had to adapt and change  - if not, we'd still be bacteria. 

Looking at this with deep time eyes, it’s clear, both in human advancement and in our evolutionary history, that both change and adaptation to that change are ever present in the real world.  The real world can be hard.  It can require us to learn new skills.  It can change around us in unexpected ways.  But at least, if the past is any guide, in doing so it opens the door to new opportunities for growth and even success.  As the year (and even the Mayan calendar!) come to a close, let’s look toward the next year with hopeful expectation.  See  ya in 2013-

        Jon Cleland Host

Who Is It Still OK to Hate?

by Jon Cleland Host

Already now in January of 2012, at least two incidents of religious disagreement have brought our focus away from the long term trends we looked at in our review of 2011.  

Just last week, the months long effort by Jessica Ahlquist to have a religiously exclusive prayer banner removed from her public high school culminated in a judge ordering the banner’s removal.  

As news of the legal decision came out, she was reminded that atheists/non-believers are still one of the most discriminated-against groups in America: local Christians flooded the facebook and twitter accounts of this 16 year old girl with threats of rape, torture and murder. (See: “Religious Banner Opponent Jessica Ahlquist Stands Tall Despite Threats)

Even her state representative joined in, calling her an “evil little thing”.

This kind of human ugliness is disgusting to watch, but at least no actual violence has erupted yet.

In a similar vein, across the pond in Great Britain, 17 year old Rhys Morgan posted a relatively benign image of Jesus and Mohammad to support freedom of speech. The response was immediate and similar, with threats of violence from both Christians and Muslims. Unlike Jessica Ahlquist, this time the religious bullies won, with Rhys removing the image after his school threatened Rhys with expulsion.   

We are only a few weeks into 2012, and we already have seen these incidents.  Being an election year with a likely Mormon candidate, and a whole world moving forward with greater communication, more are likely on the way.  

Seen close up, with baby steps forward like the banner removal, or others being steps backwards (as in Great Britain), it is easy to be discouraged.  However, a wider view of their place in the overall trends of our world gives more hope.  

From the dawn of human consciousness (indeed, from before that!), we’ve seen ever widening circles of care and concern. Consider: Long ago, all of our ancestors (anywhere in the world) were first concerned only with their kin and local band, then with the larger tribe, then with those who espoused their same religious identity, and outward from there. 

People today fall on that spectrum too, but overall, the trend toward wider circles of care has been inexorable. (Just compare today with 1950, or 1900, or 1095, or earlier.)  It is our great privilege to be participants in this form of social and moral progress – to be able to contribute to this growing love by remembering that all people are brothers and sisters, and acting accordingly.  

In addition to the testimony of our daily actions in how we treat others, we sometimes have the opportunity to directly be involved in this history in the making.  For instance, we can directly thank Jessica for her bravery, and help show her that there are many people in the world who stand with her on the side of inclusion. How? By contributing to a college scholarship fund that has been established for her, here.

As 2012 unfolds, may we each begin to see opportunities for playing even a small part in the ongoing realization that all of us are an important part of the body of life on Earth, and that we are all on the same team, forging together a just, peaceful and sustainable world of the future for everyone.  Together, we are making progress — as a wider view shows. (See Steven Pinker's fabulous new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, if you need to be convinced on this point.)

By Jon Cleland Host, posted on January 27, 2012, by . . .

How Doctors Die: An ICU Nurse Responds

Note by Michael Dowd: A week ago a colleague sent me a link to an obscure blog that had “gone viral”:

“How Doctors Die — It’s Not Like the Rest of Us, But It Should Be"

Tremendously moved, I decided to do my part in spreading this sobering news and vital perspective. One of those who received my email was a young nurse, newly certified for working in the Intensive Care Unit. Below is her response (slightly modified for confidentiality).

Her story brought me to tears of joy and gratitude when I first read it. May there be ever more nurses with the training, the courage, and above all the heart exemplified by this unheralded young hero.


Response by a young “Intensive Care Unit (ICU)” nurse:

Thank you so much for this timely article. Only two months ago I participated in an "End of Life and Palliative Care in the ICU" class, where I was genuinely moved/tormented by the suffering my fellow nurses and I are surrounded with in the ICU.

A peaceful, gentle death is so valuable — and so rare.

I recently cared for a young adult cancer patient at the end of her life.  She came to the ICU after having a bone marrow transplant to deal with the "pre-leukemia" she had developed, owing to an aggressive chemo regimen initiated several years earlier for her breast cancer.

By now, her whole body had deteriorated to such an extent that she required a mask that forced air into her lungs in order to oxygenate.  She spent two weeks in our hospital’s ICU, with her lungs progressively worsening.

All the nurses knew she was not going to leave our unit. But her oncologist kept telling her to “fight it out!”

Finally, and this was on my shift, with her parents at her side, “Gloria” (the name I'll use) finally said that she just wanted the pain to go away.

Suddenly, everything changed.

I had just brought into her room her evening meds — literally thousands of dollars worth of antibiotics and anti-rejection medications.  None of it mattered anymore.

I took down all the unnecessary tubing, started a morphine drip and administered Glycopyrrolate (which dries secretions and softens the "death rattle").

This felt massive to me. I remember this mix of emotions: sadness, relief, and an overwhelming sense that I was a part of something huge.  I still cannot wrap my head around it.

I was able to help transition one profoundly suffering human being from a regimen of “Come on! Power through! Endure, endure, endure!” to, “It’s okay, Gloria. You fought so, so hard. Now close your eyes, let your pain fade, and rest.”

It was beautiful.

Gloria died the following day — not on my shift, but I felt so happy that I had been able to share the transition with her and her parents.

To think of everything we had put this woman through in hopes of an inaccessible cure is just ... sickening.

Medicine has gotten to the point where we've gone as far and as invasive as we can go. I wish people — both we professionals and the public at large — would begin to prioritize a dignified death above all.

Family members need to know that there is far more beauty in spending quality time (rather than simply a quantity of time in the hospital) with their unalterably disabled and ultimately incurable loved ones.

Sadly, when family members must make medical decisions, too often those decisions are influenced by a subconscious need to palliate our own emotional suffering. As well, an irrational fear that we will otherwise be guilty (or at least will feel guilty) spurs good people to say “yes” to absolutely every intervention that forestalls death.

Though I wish everyone could die at home surrounded by love and comfort, I know it is the nature of those battling cancer to often push themselves far past their ability to survive the journey home.

It is my duty to honor this incredible fight and allow them to pass peacefully, without pain — and to let them know that accepting death is the greatest victory.  

~ by an ICU nurse, posted by...
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2011: An Evolutionary Retrospective

by Jon Cleland Host

Compared to our 13.7 billion year history, not much changes in a single year, right?  While that’s true, we can place the changes we’ve seen in the context of an evolutionary perspective - that grand saga of life, which has given us our world. 

On the grandest scale, the Universe continues to expand.  The most distant galaxies are rushing away from us at a blistering speed of over 100,000 miles every second, putting them 3 trillion miles farther from us than just a year ago.  And while we don’t know of any life outside of Earth yet, we have discovered many hundreds of extrasolar planets, most of them discovered in 2011 by the Kepler mission.  Much closer to home, our Sun has become more active, ramping up into the coming solar maximum, and sparking huge Northern Lights this past October 25th.

Our Earth is a planet that has brains, eyes, and the internet, and is a planet that has intentionally launched parts of itself into space.  In November, the most advanced probe to Mars ever made (the Curiosity rover) lifted off flawlessly, showing our continued advancement.  Also advancing, our global connections have greatly increased with at least tens of millions of new internet connections and new wireless hotspots in 2011 (if we have millions of both in just Great Britain, the worldwide total is easily in the tens of millions).  Whether or not this qualifies as a global brain yet is another topic for another day, but our progress is rapid, and who knows what the results will be in the future?  One possible result of our interconnections so far has been the 2011 Arab Spring.  Another has been the information explosion, with as much text written every few days now as humans had written in their entire history up to 2003, and more text written in 2011 than in any other year in our history.  Hopefully this information processing will help us handle the problems of the future, both expected and unexpected.

And we moved toward some of those problems in 2011 as well.  With 134 million new babies born in 2011, the world population continued to increase.  That many births means more mouths to feed, as well as a billion or more new mutations in our gene pool – most being neutral, some harmful, and some beneficial.  (Estimates of the mutation rate per generation in humans varies widely, so I used a very conservative number of around 10.  Some evidence suggests average mutation rates well over 100 mutations per birth.)  With natural selection reduced by our technology, the harmful ones are more likely to increase healthcare costs, and the beneficial ones may fail to spread to everyone.  It will be another challenge for future generations to figure out the best way to handle this constant mutational drumbeat.  That issue won’t really need to be faced for a while, especially compared to our unsustainable energy habits.  In 2011 we burned enough fossil fuel to add about 10 billion metric tons of carbon to the atmosphere, carbon that has been buried underground for millions of years, and now will contribute to global climate change.  Similarly, the rapid extinctions we are causing continue, with both headline losses like the Western Black Rhino, and the loss of at least hundreds of species in 2011, many before they could even be named by science.  Religious based hatred continued in many incidents, including the slaughter of dozens of teens in Norway by a person who wished to “return Europe to its Christian roots”.  Worst of all, I suspect that the majority of humans on our planet are unaware of the threat all of these are posing to our future generations, among so many other threats as well.    

There are also reasons for hope.  The information explosion mentioned earlier may bring the powerful force of our collective creativity to bear on these problems, before they are insurmountable.  The Arab Spring may have helped millions of people move from tyranny towards democracy.  The occupy movement in the United States may be partly driven by concern for future generations, and in 2011, the level of human concern for future generations appears to already exceed that at any point in our history.  Our circles of care continue to expand in many areas, one of which was shown by the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.  Human action in 2011 also gave us a higher use of sustainable energy sources, like wind and solar, than has ever been seen.

Of course, this review of our evolution toward a just, peaceful and sustainable world surely misses a lot, even the most important points.  In addition to the events I simply forgot to mention, many of the most important events of 2011 are likely unreported in the news.  For instance, did millions of teens begin to see our place in this Great Story, and their role in crafting the future, in 2011?  Were there elementary kids who learned the basics of science in 2011 who will go on to use that understanding to find a cure for cancer, or a new solar cell technology decades from now?   We can’t know, but we can trust that this pulse of life, which has overcome even deadlier threats in the past, continues to surge now, in us, at the start of 2012.  May we each do what we can to live up to our potential, for ourselves and for future generations.

In hope - Happy New Year!

~ Jon Cleland Host

One More Circle Around the Sun: Peter Mayer

A fabulous end-of-year anthem!
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