Cosmic orphans

the creation James Tissot 1836 -1902 Teh Jewish Museum

 

Nearly beginning a new year , and that seems to me to be a good time for some reflection in the company of a reknown anthropologist Loren Eiseley.  He wrote a piece to introduce part of the fifteenth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, and I have included two small quotes to whet your appetite.

It appears to me that what the author is suggesting , is that the human condition is significantly different to that of other species because of the size of our brain which has adapted to intellectual capacities which we ourselves  do not understand or always put to good use.  The future of mankind has often in our history appeared to be either dangerously under threat, or at some sort of crossroads that changes how we live.  These are times we live in too, technology is driving change at a rate that once could not have been dreamt of.  We have threats of climate change which are not inconsiderable.  Everyday living makes demands on all of us that we forget to question, and decisions are multiplied exponentially across the globe which continuously aggravates the existing problems of consumption and availablility of food, water, resources.

Sometimes reflection is necessary, to stop and consider how best we can lead our lives individually and as societies.  Loren narrates how his father explained some of the deeper questions to him as a youngster, after he had come across a turtle that had been riddled with shot.  In that story, LOren’s father describes mankind as a cosmic orphan, struggling to find his way in a difficult, challenging world.

Because man was truly an orphan and confined to no single way of life, he was, in essence a prison breaker. But in ignorance his very knowledge sometimes led from one terrible prison to another. Was the final problem then, to escape himself, or, if not that, to reconcile his devastating intellect with his heart? All of the knowledge set down in great books directly or indirectly affects this problem. It is the problem of every man, for even the indifferent man is making, unknown to himself, his own callous judgment.

I love the power of his storytelling and the insight he displays in his writing, a poetic sensibility which enhances his anthropology.

 “None there be, can rehearse the whole tale.” That phrase, too, contains the warning that man is an orphan of uncertain beginnings and an indefinite ending. All that the archaeological and anthropological sciences can do is to place a somewhat flawed crystal before man and say: This is the way you came, these are your present dangers; somewhere, seen dimly beyond, lies your destiny. God help you, you are a cosmic orphan, a symbol-shifting magician, mostly immature and inattentive without humility of heart. This the old ones knew long ago in the great deserts under the stars. This they sought to learn and pass on. It is the only hope of men.

The whole article can be found here

 http://library.eb.co.uk/original?content_id=1325&pager.offset=0

Image is Tissot  The Creation

Happy New Year to everyone!

 

 

 

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