Notes about religion

September 11, 2010 permalink

Saint Expeditus of the GTD

A photo in the recent Big Picture post about the men trapped in the Chilean mine features a small impromptu shrine to San Expedito, a saint I hadn’t heard of before (I’m not Catholic or even especially religious so I’m ignorant about a lot of these things). In English he’s known as Saint Expeditus, and the name’s a pretty big giveaway: with one foot he’s crushing a crow cawing the word ‘cras’ (the ancient Roman’s onomatopoeia for a crow call, but more importantly it’s also the Latin word for tomorrow  — wordplay!) and he bears aloft a cross with the inscription ‘hodie’ (today). So basically he’s the patron saint of Getting Things Done.

Other things I like about this guy: his very existence and origin story is a bit sketchy, maybe even attributable to human language error, he’s big in the realm of Haitian Vodou and African-American hoodoo (while looking this stuff up, I came across more than one source from New Orleans instructing that you should leave him offerings of Sara Lee pound cake! weirdly specific!), and according to a 2004 Wired article, he’s the patron saint of nerds and hackers.

August 29, 2009 permalink

Human uniqueness and the denial of death

[Geneticist Danny Brower] explained that with full self-awareness and inter-subjectivity would also come awareness of death and mortality. Thus, far from being useful, the resulting overwhelming fear would be a dead-end evolutionary barrier, curbing activities and cognitive functions necessary for survival and reproductive fitness. […] In his view, the only way these properties could become positively selected was if they emerged simultaneously with neural mechanisms for denying mortality.
If this logic is correct, many warm-blooded species may have previously achieved complete self-awareness and inter-subjectivity, but then failed to survive because of the extremely negative immediate consequences. Perhaps we should be looking for the mechanisms (or loss of mechanisms) that allow us to delude ourselves and others about reality, even while realizing that both we and others are capable of such delusions and false beliefs.

We humans are an odd lot.

From Nature’s Correspondance section, “Human uniqueness and the denial of death”, August 5, 2009. doi:10.1038/460684c;