Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Nevermore, May 22: Parables, Life, and the Undead

The book discussion ranged far afield as usual, from the ancient Middle East to the future of mankind, with a side discussion of the soul thrown in for good measure.
In The Power of Parable:  How Fiction By Jesus Became Fiction About Jesus, John Crossan discusses the parables Jesus told and attempts to put them into context.  The author goes a bit further, and describes his belief that some of authors of the Gospels were using parables as well in their descriptions of Jesus’ life. Crossan contends that what some have interpreted as history is actually parable. Crossan is a professor emeritus at DePaul University and is the author of several books about Jesus, including The Historical Jesus.
Edward O. Wilson is one of the best known living biologists, and also one of those rare scientists who has a gift of being able to explain complex ideas in ways both understandable and beautiful.  One of the most remarkable qualities is that after decades of study, he still retains his sense of wonder.  Wilson’s specialty has been social insects, particularly ants. In his new book The Social Conquest of Earth, he tackles the big questions of life, combining biology, philosophy and religion to render a fascinating new view of humankind.  Are the bonds of kinship really the strongest?
Kinship is also part of the subject of Fatal Colours: Towton 1461—England’s Most Brutal Battle by George Goodwin.  The bloodiest battle ever fought on English soil came in the 15th century when two opposing families each claimed the right to the English throne.  Popularly known as “The War of the Roses” because of the family emblems, armies of the House of Lancaster and the House of York met on the battlefield, resulting in some 28,000 casualties. 
The discussion moved on from questions of life to the problem of death with The Undead by Dick Teresi.  Today’s medical advances have made it very difficult to determine when life actually ends.  There are a few standard tests used, but the bottom line is that you are dead when your doctor says you’re dead— unless your relatives want to go to court to say otherwise.  The book is darkly humorous and horrifying by turns, especially when the subject is organ transplantation.  This is definitely a book to make you think about what constitutes consciousness, personhood and life.
In The Singularity is Near,  Ray Kurzweil postulates a time when technological advances will become so rapid that humans will merge with machines to create a new entity with biological elements.  He sees this as bringing an end to most of the traditional ills of the world:  hunger, environmental concerns, and even death.  It’s up to the reader to decide if this is exciting or terrifying.
No one suggested Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? as a follow-up book, but it might be a good addition.

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