The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life
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Saturday, December 20, 2003
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GO BEAGLE: As you space-heads all know, there are a bunch of spacecraft on their way to Mars at the moment. Unfortunately, we Earthlings haven’t had much luck so far in sending stuff out to study the red planet. Two-thirds of all our Martian probes have either crashed or fizzled out or gone astray. Hopefully the current batch will do a bit better.

There was good news the other day when the Eurospace ship, the Mars Express, successfully shot off its landing component known as the Beagle 2. If somehow the two ships can evade the Martian jinx, the Mars Express will go into orbit and the Beagle will land on the surface of Mars on Christmas Day. If the thing still works at that point, it will study the Martian soil for signs of life — germs, really, not footprints of huge alien creatures.

I’m rooting for the “Beagle”. It was built and paid for by the British, and was thus named after the ship that Charles Darwin used to explore the various forms of life on the Pacific Islands. (Nonetheless, it’s still a cute name that makes you think of Snoopy in space). The British could really use a lift these days. It mustn’t be easy to be a formerly great empire. But then again, they have plenty of company nearby — Greece, Rome and Russia come to mind. Who knows, maybe someday the USA is going to be a second-rate nation and some other lands are going to set the world’s agenda — China, India, Brazil? Then we too are going to have to get used to being ignored and pushed around while we maintain our royal pretensions.

The Brits were once natural conquerors, but the 20th Century was rather cruel to them (some of people they conquered would say it was a just dessert). But if their “Beagle” can make it to Mars, maybe they can get their conquering spirit back and direct it towards the heavens. Wouldn’t that be great if all of the world’s people could somehow lose their interest in killing each other and re-direct their energies toward conquering the voids of outer space. Well, call me a techno-idealist; I suppose it ain’t gonna happen any time soon. But if the Beagle 2 somehow makes it on Christmas day (appropriately enough), perhaps it will be one more small step for men (and women), and one more giant leap for (hu)mankind.

WINTER SOLSTACE KOAN: I don’t really know any Zen koans, but I’ve heard that they are used as an exercise in taming the monkey mind. I may have thought one up at dinner tonite. It’s about death — something that you naturally think about at this time of year, when days are short and the winds are cold. My koan goes something like this: If everything must die, then death will someday be no more. You might object in that death is not a “thing” but a process or a principal. But then again, all processes die off and principals have their lifespans too. But what would it mean if death were somehow to be swallowed up by its own presumption? I’m not at all sure. Would it affirm the Christian myth, or would it just lead to some totally absolute Zen form of ultra-nothingness? Or some other possibility? Well, that’s the fun of a koan. You can chase the idea around all night long and never nail it down. At some point you just say “aw, hell”. And maybe then you’re one step closer to the “Mu” of the great Zenmasters!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:01 pm      

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