Thought for the Day - Akhandadhi Das - 30/01/2013

Good morning. On Sunday night, a new science series began on BBC2. In Wonders of Life, Professor Brian Cox explores that most diverse and complex phenomenon: Life – He presented a summary of the processes that have converted primordial energy into living beings. But however well we analyse the chemical processes, we're still left with the unresolved mystery: complex things such as cells, plants and creatures have a much higher information content than the stardust from which they are composed. Where does that additional information come from? And, as Professor Cox reminded us – there are two distinct responses to that conundrum.

Is it from chance interactions of atoms and molecules and random mutations of genes: or is there some underlying source of information which guides the way matter develops into increasingly complex organisms.

The debate between those who see life as a wholly chemical phenomenon and those who believe in a spiritual spark will persist. Because, says the Bhagavad-gita, these two viewpoints arise from the two types of intelligence inherent in human beings. One type favours the idea that everything has come about by chance; and the other that there is a non-material cause and purpose to the universe.

There’s been a regular incident with my pets at home that has often reminded me about this dichotomy of understanding. They’re two lovely spaniels with very different personalities.

The smaller one, Malibu, growls when she sees animals on the television, especially big cats. The other one, Buffy, wonders why Malibu’s so excited, but she just doesn’t register the TV animals at all. I’ve wondered: which of them is more intelligent? Malibu, who recognises the animals? Or Buffy, who pays no heed to the images? But, maybe it’s not a question of more intelligence – just a different way of seeing the world. Perhaps like Buffy and Malibu, the two kinds of human thinking just can’t comprehend why the other doesn’t share the same conclusions from the same evidence in front of both of us.

Still, our differences do matter. As the Gita acknowledges, our two modes of understanding each produce quite different interpretations of how we choose to lead our life and contribute to society. So, avoiding arrogance and disdain, we do need to debate our viewpoints and how they affect one another so we can build on the best that we all have to offer.

Buffy died last month. For over twelve years, she’d been my shadow. The final illness came on quickly. Before the vet could arrive, Buffy lay in our arms, gave a gentle cough and was gone. Had she just run out of steam? And, had the spark of life departed?

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