"Zen teaches nothing; it merely enables us to wake up and become aware. It does not teach, it points." ~D.T. Suzuki

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Truth or Climate Consequences

or Don't Give Up

 or Climate Consequences
We are responsible for this and we must change our ways if we truly love life.
Don't Give Up
The U.N.'s IPCC report is finally out and the news about climate change is grim... with a silver lining.

Honestly. There's no denying it now unless it is by willful ignorance or malice. Some climate deniers and skeptics still point to a slowdown in warming as proof of a long term trend. The truth is, this is at best a hiatus. It reflects expected random climate fluctuations and the fact that 1998 was picked as a starting point for recording the temperatures. It turns out 1998 was a particularly hot year, thus setting things high to begin with.  Heat is also being temporarily stored in the oceans and rising ocean temperatures bear witness to this process. One of the consequences is that the heat will eventually be released in one way or another. This last ditch argument by deniers doesn't change the clear upward progression over a longer period of time.

The pathology of denial will not change the resulting data or the facts of solid science. Denial won't be averting the greater disasters of tomorrow, either. Our children's children will suffer in a changed world. A world we changed... and did nothing about. Shamefully the greed of some has tricked many into complacency or idiocy.  Denial is also not thinking of future generations. WHETHER OR NOT YOU BELIEVE THE SCIENCE. If all the non-sustainable resources (like carbon fuels) are used up today, none is left for those of tomorrow. Except the pollution and mess we leave behind to them as a dirty legacy. With an exponentially growing population, increasingly consuming resources these things don't change whether you believe that climate change is happening or not, WE CANNOT CONTINUE ON THE SAME COURSE.  There are many things we need to change to "green" anyway. The conclusion is the same, not doing anything will be a threat to our survival. WE MUST ACT NOW! If I'm shouting its because some seem deaf to the facts.

And yet...The un-deniable truth is the entire planet is warming and we are doing it. Over the course of this century, global warming will continue. If we don't change course, the consequences will be that weather extremes will be more severe, the poles and glaciers will melt, the sea level will rise and living conditions will get worse. Plants and animals will suffer and die, people will suffer and die. I know. It's not a pretty picture. But putting your head in the sand won't help. What will it take for humanity to see through the big oil lobbyists' almost psychopathic greed and pay attention to the scientific facts that have been presented for decades. You don't need to burn to avoid fire. Today, climate change is a fact. How will you act?

However, here's the silver lining...

There is a 95 percent likelihood that human activity is the cause. Why is this a silver lining? Well, it means that we can do something about our attitudes and activity and mitigate the coming disaster. But this can only be done as long as we (humanity, the world) face the stark facts before us all. The truth is we must save ourselves from ourselves. Further consequences to this are that planetary biodiversity, animal and plant abundance and distribution will all change drastically. Displacement and disruption will affect all ecosystems across the globe, including human habitation, economy, agriculture, health and much more.

We are accelerating mass extinctions.
Eventually, it could be our own. 
But we can do something about it.
The changes are already underway and will last for centuries to come.
Some of the damage is unavoidable now, but not all.

Are we ignorant frogs in a pot? Or just insanely greedy pigs?
Are we sapient beings?
We must decide now.

Global warming is caused by human activity

We add trillions of tons of CO2 into the air

90% of the heat has been stored in the oceans

Billions of tons of ice melting from the poles

Decreased ocean salinity from fresh water ice melt

Decreases in ocean pH, aciditity from CO2

Air temperatures are rising globally

Already a  scary list
and I'll be posting more here
from the report in the coming days

What troubles me; the mention of geoengineering.

Will only get worse if we continue our present course

Even if we stopped now, effects will linger for years

Changes in the marine biota, ecosystems & weather

A disaster for coast lines from the rise in sea levels

Changes to ocean current patterns, Gulf Stream, etc.

Corrosive damage to fish & coral populations

Drought, floods, storms, higher energy consumption

Already a  scary list
and I'll be posting more here
from the report in the coming days

 I'll leave geoengineering for another day.
© 2013 MU-Peter Shimon

Monday, September 23, 2013


or What Are You? A Neanderthal?

What Are You?

A Neanderthal?

Homo sapiens neanderthalensis
La Chapelle-aux-Saints 1
"The Old Man" 60,000 yrs. old

I was attracted to paleo-anthropology and evolutionary ecology because like most humans I wanted to know my origins. I studied the Neanderthals because they were us and yet not us. I was certainly curious how a species that managed to endure for hundreds of thousands of years became extinct. I looked at all the evidence I could get my hands on, poured over all the published arguments and discussed with others, as to what happened to the Neanderthals. Did they mix and hybridize with humans? What happened? I had to know!

Did We "Dance" With Neanderthals?

La Chapelle-aux-Saints cave
was the first discovery of a Neanderthal tomb

What I had seen, showed that their physical and cultural differences from us were VERY narrow. Had they met, would there be a barrier to mating, and if they were not too different genetically, could it have been possible to have viable hybrid offspring from this mix?

As I have researched and patiently waited the years, for the field work and science that would recover more intact Neanderthal DNA, new sequencing techniques that would build a bigger database of both the human and Neanderthal genome. All these would provide the whole Neanderthal genome and the human data that would help with the unanswered questions about the final fate of my favorite subject, our close relatives,
the Neanderthals.

What happened to the Neanderthals?

They were not dumb. They were not brutes.
And in a way they're not entirely extinct either.

Want to see a real live Neanderthal?
Look in the mirror.
This short video will explain
ALL (non-african) humans in the world today
have a genome with about 2-4 percent,
uniquely Neanderthal DNA.

So, if your ancestors were not from African, then...
You Are A Humanderthal

The Neanderthals lived for hundreds of thousands of years. They showed the first glimmers of modern behaviors such as a sophisticated stone tool culture, control of fire, hunting and gathering, caring for the infirm and elderly, and interestingly some amount of symbolic or ritual behavior including burial of the dead. These traits we consider quite human and when you learn more about them you will see that there's no shame in being Neanderthal.

There is genetic evidence that when humans came out of Africa between 80,000 and 50,000 years ago the first encounter and therefore chance for human and Neanderthal interbreeding happened in the Levant. Beyond this, it is not known if mating may have continued throughout Europe and Asia. But it seems it could have until about 35-25,000 years ago, when after this time... the Neanderthal sites, their remains and artifacts are no longer found in the archeological record.

An Excellent Presentation by Carl Zimmer
Neanderthal Facial Reconstruction 
Then as compared to Now

You see what you think you see... Compare how we used to think of Neanderthals, to what we know now. With more finds and new technologies, we realize...hey, they look a lot more like us! They didn't look like what we first thought at all. But then again, there was still a great deal we didn't know about them.

That was then. Now we have quite a bit of evidence to clear up many of the questions surrounding who the Neanderthals were, what might have happened to them, and what was their evolutionary and contemporary relationship with humans.

Over the years of research, refinement of technique and of course new finds, we have learned much about them.yet there remains so much more about them to be learned. Where they differ in genes and mutations can teach medicine more about many diseases. The further study of their genome has much to contribute to evolutionary medicine.

 They likely had language and beyond tool production and other behaviors,

Neanderthals had their own aesthetics.

The Neanderthals indeed had culture(s)
passed on from generation to generation.

One still intriguing question that new dating methods have brought up is the artists who made the cave art in Europe. Was that only a modern human trait? Or was that the innovation that came from their meeting or mating? A Cro-magnon hybrid? Why there is cave art and what is the meaning of the art is speculative at best.

At more than 40,800 years old, these dots and crimson hand stencils on the walls of a cave called El Castillo in Spain are the world's oldest cave art.

 It is the earliest time that the archeology shows humans and Neanderthals began overlapping in Western Europe roughly 45,000 years ago. 

The details of Neanderthals are fascinating.
In future posts I hope to share more of those, including details of the Neanderthal sites and the human cave art that I have excavated or visited in Southern France.
Are We Human? or Are We Dancers?
© 2013 MU-Peter Shimon

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Bull's Eye

or The Point of the Arrow
A Bull's Eye
The Point of the Arrow
"The man, the art, the work
--it is all one.”
Eugen Herrigel
(Zen in the Art of Archery)
“The right art," cried the Master, "is purposeless, aimless!
The more obstinately you try to learn how to shoot the arrow for the sake of hitting the goal,
the less you will succeed in the one and the further the other will recede.
What stands in your way is that you have a much too willful will.
You think that what you do not do yourself does not happen.”
 Eugen Herrigel,  Zen in the Art of Archery

After winning several archery contests,
the young and rather boastful champion challenged a Zen master
who was renowned for his skill as an archer.

The young man demonstrated
remarkable technical proficiency
when he hit a distant bull's eye on his first try, and then split that arrow with his second shot.
"There," he said to the old man, "see if you can match that!"
Undisturbed, the master did not draw his bow, but rather motioned for the young archer
to follow him up the mountain.

Curious about the old fellow's intentions,
the champion followed him high into the mountain until they reached a deep chasm spanned by a rather flimsy and shaky log.

Calmly stepping out onto the middle
of the unsteady and certainly perilous bridge,
the old master
picked a far away tree as a target,
drew his bow,
and fired a clean, direct hit.
“You have described only too well," replied the Master, "where the difficulty lies...The right shot at the right moment does not come because you do not let go of yourself. You...brace yourself for failure. So long as that is so, you have no choice but to call forth something yourself that ought to happen independently of you, and so long as you call it forth your hand will not open in the right way--like the hand of a child.”
Eugen Herrigel,  Zen in the Art of Archery
"Now it is your turn,"
he said as he gracefully stepped back onto the safe ground.
“This, then, is what counts: a lightning reaction which has no further need of conscious observation.
In this respect at least the pupil makes himself independent of all conscious purpose.”
Eugen Herrigel,  Zen in the Art of Archery
Staring with terror
into the seemingly bottomless and beckoning abyss,
the young man
could not force himself to step out onto the log,
no less shoot at a target.
"Don't think of what you have to do, don't consider how to carry it out!" he exclaimed.
"The shot will only go smoothly when it takes the archer himself by surprise."
Eugen Herrigel, Zen in the Art of Archery
"You have much skill with your bow," the master said,
sensing his challenger's predicament,
"but you have little skill with the mind
that lets loose the shot."
“And what impels him to repeat this process at every single lesson, and, with the same remorseless insistence, to make his pupils copy it without the least alteration? He sticks to this traditional custom because he knows from experience that the preparations for working put him simultaneously in the right frame of mind for creating. The meditative repose in which he performs them gives him that vital loosening and equability of all his powers, that collectedness and presence of mind, without which no right work can be done.”
Eugen Herrigel,  Zen in the Art of Archery
According to the Nippon Kyudo Federation the supreme goal of kyudo is the state of shin-zen-bi, roughly "truth-goodness-beauty",which can be approximated as: when archers shoot correctly (i.e. truthfully) with virtuous spirit and attitude toward all persons and all things which relate to kyudo (i.e. with goodness), beautiful shooting is realised naturally.
Zen Archery 
Sensei Suzuki

"In the case of archery,
the hitter and the hit
are no longer two opposing objects,
but are one reality." 

Eugen Herrigel, Zen in the Art of Archery
© 2013 MU-Peter Shimon

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Gould-en Heart

Stephen Jay Gould
September 10 1941 - May 20 2002
Years ago (circa 1989) Dr. Gould was invited to speak in the William Osler Series of talks at McGill University. I was just starting out as an undergrad at Concordia U at the time. Having read Ever Since Darwin, as well as having read his other books, I was also a subscriber to Natural History magazine just for his articles, so I was eager to hear him lecture in person. The lecture was amazing, yet, my girlfriend at the time and I along with some classmates, watched in shock as one woman stood up in the middle of the lecture and pointing a finger, started ranting and berating Gould (“Show me a tenth of eye Stephen Jay Gould… blah, blah, blah). Gould never lost his cool and simply but politely reminded the woman that everyone had come to hear HIM talk and not HER… So would she please SIT DOWN. She kept on going and security eventually escorted her out and his talk continued. But not without a good laugh.

After the lecture, Dr. Gould hung out at the podium taking questions and what not, from a group of people gathered around him. My girlfriend knowing how keen I was, asked why I didn’t go down and join the group. She said, “This is a great chance for you to go and shake his hand.” In my youth I guess (I don’t know, I just didn’t like the groupie scene. It really turned me off.), I insisted “No thanks. I don’t want to shake his hand as just another 'fan'. I’d rather finish my studies and earn his handshake as a colleague.”

We left soon after that and I kicked myself all the way home. For years I struggled with the feeling that I was too proud and stubborn for missing an opportunity to let him know his work was appreciated.

Forward a few years later (circa 1993) and I was a graduate student. As fate would have it, this time Dr. Gould was invited to lecture by Concordia. After the lecture, The Biology Graduate Association (of which I was Co-treasurer) had invited him to a wine and cheese at our building across the street. Of course there were neo-Darwinists, Modern Synth and Dawkins fans in our dept. So you can imagine it was an amusing evening with much great discussion. At some point Dr. Gould and I got to talking alone and eventually I told him about the McGill lecture years before and the conversation I had with my girlfriend . Well, he slowly gave me a big smile and said “Peter, after talking with you tonight, I consider you a colleague...Put'er there..” He extended his hand, took mine and shook it vigorously. . .

I can't put into words what that meant to me.

And.. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't on the verge of tears... I believe he was a man to be admired as much for his generosity and heart as for his mind and his work.

My cherished souvenirs of that night we first met, was a signed copy of Wonderful Life, our conversation...
but most of all was that handshake and his calling me a colleague. A Gould-en heart.

Stephen Jay Gould (September 10, 1941 – May 20, 2002) was an American paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and historian of science. He was also one of the most influential and widely read writers of popular science of his generation. Gould spent most of his career teaching at Harvard University and working at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. In the later years of his life, Gould also taught biology and evolution at New York University.

Gould's most significant contribution to evolutionary biology was the theory of punctuated equilibrium, which he developed with Niles Eldredge in 1972.The theory proposes that most evolution is marked by long periods of evolutionary stability, which is punctuated by rare instances of branching evolution. The theory was contrasted against phyletic gradualism, the popular idea that evolutionary change is marked by a pattern of smooth and continuous change in the fossil record.

Most of Gould's empirical research was based on the land snail genera Poecilozonites and Cerion. He also contributed to evolutionary developmental biology, and has received wide praise for his book Ontogeny and Phylogeny. In evolutionary theory he opposed strict selectionism, sociobiology as applied to humans, and evolutionary psychology. He campaigned against creationism and proposed that science and religion should be considered two distinct fields (or "magisteria") whose authorities do not overlap.

Gould was known by the general public mainly from his 300 popular essays in the magazine Natural History, and his books written for a non-specialist audience. In April 2000, the US Library of Congress named him a "Living Legend".

© 2013 MU-Peter Shimon

Sunday, September 1, 2013

I've Learned

or Every day is back to school!
I've Learned

Life offers its wisdom generously. Everything teaches. Not everyone learns.
I've learned

that no matter what happens,

or how bad it seems today,

life does go on,

and it will be better tomorrow.

I've learned

that you can tell a lot about a person
by the way he/she handles
these three things:

a rainy day,

lost luggage,

and tangled Christmas tree lights.
I've learned

that regardless of your relationship

with your parents,

you'll miss them

when they're gone from your life.
I've learned

that making a living

is not the same thing as making a life.

I've learned

that life sometimes gives you a second chance.
I've learned

that you shouldn't go through life

with a catcher's mitt on both hands;


need to be able to throw some things back.

I've learned

that whenever I decide something

with an open heart,

I usually make the right decision. 
I've learned

that even when I have pains,

I don't have to be one.

I've learned

that every day you should reach out

and touch someone.

People love a warm hug,

or just a friendly pat on the back. 
I've learned

that I still have a lot to learn.

I've learned

that people will forget what you said,

people will forget what you did,

but people will never forget

how you made them feel.


For more, visit

One Percent
© 2013 MU-Peter Shimon