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Saturday, January 1, 2011


23.5º is a number of significance. It is more important than Santa Claus; more important than December 31; more important than Jesus.  It is more important than all the bunting, ribbons and bric-a-brac that we tie onto the few days around the sun’s long march along the horizon to apogee or perigee, depending on one’s quite arbitrary location on this globe.  Whether it is firecrackers, prayer, gathering in huge crowds or getting pinched for DUI (this list is not intended to be exhaustive), the observance of the coming of a new year is all about 23.5º; the rest is fluff. 

Life as it presently exists, including humans… this requires a momentary pause to say that most humans have a very wrong impression of our origin and raison d'être: most people think, whether from evolution, infinite reincarnation or special creation, that somehow humans were THE goal of life on earth; that we were inevitable.  But we were not inevitable; we were only possible. There are billions, trillions, of possible organisms that do not and have never existed; life has no mandate to bring to fruition what is possible.  The existence of the Living Order is only about maintaining the information linage that underlies it, not the manifestation of any particular form of life. 

So I’ll begin again. Life as it presently exists, including humans, depends on the 23.5º of angle that the earth takes to the plane of its orbit around the sun.  While there are many consequences to that angle, the most obvious are the seasons of the year and the changing length of days.  We humans have made much of these acts of nature, but nature has made more of them.  

Without the perturbations of the seasons it is very likely that life on earth would have remained a simpler affair.  The cycles of heat and cold would have been on scales of thousands and millions of years rather than on a yearly schedule.  A seasonless world would have almost certainly not produced mammals as we know them and, as we are mammals, no humans [1]

No humans. No Santa Claus. No December 31. No Jesus. No bunting or bric-a-brac and no new year; nothing would mark the yearly travel of the earth around the sun.  But, of course, we are set at an angle of 23.5º, humans did evolve and do celebrate the northern hemisphere process of the sun’s increasing power.  We celebrate in a most trivial way and we celebrate the wrong things.  We should be celebrating 23.5º. 

“This is all so silly,” one might say.  “So the earth is inclined 23.5º, so what! I just wanna have fun at New Year’s.”  And in this spirit here is my New Year message:

There are two resolutions that humanity needs to make: The first is to begin to realize our true relationship with the earth upon which we live.  We would think it foolish for a homeowner to chop the walls from his or her home for firewood; that would be missing the point of living in a house.  Yet, that is what we are doing to the earth.  

This resolution requires that we learn some things, like the importance of 23.5º.  Again, not an unusual requirement for living organisms.  We need to meet our neighbors.  Our human neighbors, certainly, but importantly the other living things that surround us, support us, supply us and even assault us.  Compared to “primitive man” we know very little about the immediate forces that impinge on us.  Our ancestors had to have acquired a vast and veridical knowledge of their world to survive; we are surrounded by equally vast forces about which we know nothing and much what we think we know is wrong. 

We have passed the adolescence of our cultural development and our relationship with the earth.  We must give up our childish ways and learn to live with and within the biophysical laws of the planetary surface.  Just as with living things, what can exist must be possible, but possibility is only that, an opportunity.  It is a possibility of the Consciousness Order that we can recognize our need to live in the discoverable Reality; it is that possibility that we must try to actualize. 

The second resolution is to have fun, to find the human spirit of fun from within ourselves and cease to rely so much on packaged fun that has come to replace human play.  This is not so obscure.  Most of us can fall to such fun and play almost instantly given the chance.  Family gatherings, strangers walking and talking together, lovers meeting at the end of a day, the solitary naturalist in communion with his or her observations.  We can see this in the play of young children and the daily lives of materially simple people.  

I am not saying that we should return to living as hunter-gathers, but that we can individually resolve to try to rediscover the wellspring of our humanity, a humanity that has been so abused by our many successes and excesses. 

These resolutions maybe foreign to our typical thinking, but beginnings are always small and uncertain things. 

[1] There is more to this. The origin of our angle of inclination and the moon are closely related.  The moon acts as a giant stabilizer to maintain the earth’s inclination preventing a wild wobbling that would have surely deformed the crust far more rapidly than the present rate.  Continental plates sliding around 10 times faster (or more) would have made the stabilities necessary for complex life far more rare and fleeting.  All of the earth’s physical processes would have been greatly affected from the structure of the core to the magnetosphere.


Michael Dawson said...

JK, is there a short book devoted to this topic of orbital and geological luck? I'm interested, and think my 15-yo son might also be...

James Keye said...

Michael, I can think of no book or section thereof devoted to the literally hundreds of events that have led to the biophysical stabilities required for the abundant and complex life of this planet. I will, however, send you a list of what I am aware of.