Even today, more than eighty years after Oort’s bold guess, we still don’t have a clue what this dark matter is made of. We know it exists. We know where it is. We have maps of its presence within and around galaxies throughout the universe. We even have stringent constraints on what it is not, but we have no clue what it is. And yes, its presence is overwhelming: for every one kilogram of ordinary matter made out of neutrons and protons and electrons, there are five kilograms of dark matter, made out of who-knows-what.
― Christophe Galfard, The Universe in Your Hand: A Journey Through Space, Time, and Beyond
What can animals teach us about ourselves and the world around us? Perhaps humans are not as superior as we would like to be.
Beasts do not speak our language, nor do they build civilizations we recognize, so we usually consider them lesser beings. Most people are ignorant of the richness of animal life and experience, oblivious to the fact that an animal can teach us much about survival, satisfaction, and sustainability. When catastrophe strikes, the modern human being lacks skills which are intuitive for many beasts, even “domesticated” ones. On that note, I think we could argue that, in some cases, man is actually the one who has been domesticated. Did you know that science now believes that cats meow and purr chiefly to influence human behavior?
Many people recognize the unique personhood of their pets and service animals–their moods, quirks and tastes–and bond deeply with companion animals. In many cases these animals become part of our families and gain a worth slightly below or equal to our own. Precious few humans have the opportunity to enter into an understanding with a wild animal, a contact that verges on the totemic and the spiritual even as it is visceral. This short film, Man and Beast, directed by Daniel Ariola tells the story of Dr. Alan Rabinowitz. In these days of Marvel super hero films, it has a mythological ring to it.
Video via Peter Simonite on Vimeo
Growing up in Queens, the largest borough of New York City, in the 1950s and 60s, Rabinowitz was plagued by an intractable stutter. Placed into classes with troubled students as well as those with physical and mental impairments, he was lonely and frustrated. It was only with animals that he was able to relax and speak normally. The beautiful jaguar he met at the Bronx Zoo became a symbol of the voiceless and helpless. He saw himself in her captivity and frustration. It is she who lends an air of mystery and mythology to Dr. Rabinowitz’s story. His interest in animals led him to study science, which took him out of human civilization to truths that lie in the jungle, beyond human awareness. The second jaguar encounter confirmed his youthful promise and set him on a journey to protect animals all over the globe. Dr. Rabinowitz’s journey ended last year, as he succumbed to leukemia at the age of 64. What a privilege that he was able to dedicate his life the protection and study of animals that inspired him!
Dr. Rabinowitz worked for the Wildlife Conversation Society for almost thirty years. He discovered new species of mammal, including the Leaf Deer, in Myanmar, where he also helped found five national parks. He created the Jaguar Corridor, a series of protected pathways and environments, from Mexico to Argentina and established the world’s first jaguar sanctuary in Belize, the Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Preserve. As the head of Panthera, the company he co-founded to continue his mission of helping big cats, he initiated work on a Tiger Corridor in Asia. He also worked in Taiwan and Thailand, founding and championing national parks and animal sanctuaries and studying beasts. His vision and drive are legendary, all stemming from childhood pain he was able to transmute into action. You can read a tribute to him on Panthera’s website.
It takes a fearless, unflinching love and deep humility to accept the universe as it is. The most effective way he knew to accomplish that, the most powerful tool at his disposal, was the scientific method, which over time winnows out deception. It can’t give you absolute truth because science is a permanent revolution, always subject to revision, but it can give you successive approximations of reality.
You may define ‘serendipity’ as the art of profiting from unexpected occurrences. When you do things in that way you get unexpected results. Then you do something else and you get unexpected results in another line, and you do that on a third line and then all of a sudden you see that one of these lines has something to do with the other. Then you make a discovery that you never could have made by going on a direct road.
A man becomes creative, whether he is an artist or a scientist, when he finds a new unity in the variety of nature. He does so by finding a likeness between things which were not thought alike before, and this gives him a sense at the same time of richness and of understanding. The creative mind is a mind that looks for unexpected likenesses.
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.
The extraordinary thing we now know, thanks to Crick and Watson’s discovery of DNA and the decoding of the human and other genomes, is that all life, everything, all the three million species of life and plant life-all have the same source. We all come from a single source. Everything that lives has its genetic code written in the same alphabet. Unity creates diversity. So don’t think of one God, one truth, one way. Think of one God creating this extraordinary number of ways, the 6,800 languages that are actually spoken. Don’t think there’s only one language within which we can speak to God.
—Jonathan Sacks, “Enriched by Difference”, from On Being with Krista Tippett
They’re ghosts, surely, and Rabbit absolutely believes in them. There are things in the world, strange machinations of physics and chemistry, queer intersections of biology and theology, that Rabbit hasn’t the slightest interest in assuming he’ll ever understand or be able to solve. They’re simply there to be believed in, and Rabbit is a born believer. He wants to believe. He has always thought of life as pregnant with possibility– a freak twister or wardrobe the only thing separating him from another world– so ghosts, spirits, aliens and supreme beings coexist within Rabbit with ease. There’s a kind of beauty in accepting the possibility, if not the plausibility, of everything imaginable.
―Kate Racculia, Bellweather Rhapsody
People today have forgotten they’re really just a part of nature. Yet, they destroy the nature on which our lives depend. They always think they can make something better. Especially scientists. They may be smart, but most don’t understand the heart of nature. They only invent things that, in the end, make people unhappy. Yet they’re so proud of their inventions. What’s worse, most people are, too. They view them as if they were miracles. They worship them. They don’t know it, but they’re losing nature. They don’t see that they’re going to perish. The most important things for human beings are clean air and clean water.
I am nothing but
Oxygen and hydrogen,
A luminous sphere of plasma
Held together by helium and gravity,
And like a balloon I float on earth,
Waiting to be released back into the sky,
Waiting to go back in the reverse direction
From which I came,
Traveling through a warm tunnel of light,
And out into a dark, cold abyss
Where I will explode into a thousand pieces.
I shall leave behind my body,
Just like air abandons the skin of
A shattered balloon,
And the magnetic dust that carries my
Heart and spirit will lift us back
To congregate and shine
With the stars.
In the fluorescent
Kingdom of the constellations,
I will once again be called by
My soul’s true name.
And my heart,
It will flicker again,
With every memory
From its many
And with every wish
Made by a child.
―Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem