Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Beware of destructive emotions

Author: Jim Taylor

Writing about the quagmire of lies, distortions, allegations, and denials that beset the news media these days, William Rivers Pitt, syndicated columnist and Senior Editor for the alternative news agency Truthout, commented, In this line of work, despair is not an emotion we can indulge ourselves in.

            He’s right. Despair leads only to a desire to pull the covers up over our heads and hope the world will go away.

            But his advice applies to much more than just despair.

            Because a number of emotions are cancerous. They tend to destroy their host.

            Anger, for example. And hatred. Hate generally harms the hat-er much more than the hat-ee. Contempt, too. Jealousy. Helplessness.

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Don’t even think about infinity!

Author: Jim Taylor

My last few columns have been heavy-duty stuff -- planetary consciousness, divine intervention, the nature of reality. This week, I want to tackle a more lightweight subject: Infinity.

            Granted, most people have never thought much about infinity. Except maybe in astronomy, assuming loosely that the universe goes on forever. In fact, we don’t know where the outer edges of the universe are, because those outer edges are now moving away from us faster than the speed of light. If their light, or radio waves, or whatever, can never reach us, we can never know if there’s anything out there at all.

            A few religious people profess a belief in infinity, although they’re more likely to call it “eternity” -- endless time, rather than endless space.

            My cousin the mathematician will probably disagree with me, but it seems to me that infinity is a logical impossibility.

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How humans gave the earth a lobotomy

Author: Jim Taylor

You’ve probably seen pictures of human nerves – a central neuron with axons and dendrites radiating out from it like the roots of a tree. (If not, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuron)

            The neuron is the trunk, the central core, that contains the cell’s nucleus. The axons and dendrites are the extended arms that connect with other nerve cells to transmit information.

            The resemblance to tree roots may be more than coincidence. UBC-Okanagan forest ecology professor Suzanne Simard has proven conclusively that trees communicate with each other through their roots.

            Dig into the soil of any forest, and you’ll find a network of tree roots, overlapping, inter-weaving. You probably won’t see the second component of communication, the invisible filaments of fungi.

            Simard’s research demonstrates, beyond dispute, that trees send messages, and food, to each other through their roots, with those fungal filaments bridging the gaps in much the same way that synapses work in the human brain.

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The infinite options of flow charts

Author: Jim Taylor

I forgot to set my alarm when I went to bed on Wednesday night. I woke up Thursday morning, too late to go to my usual Rotary breakfast meeting.

            I took the dog for her morning walk instead.

            And on that walk, I met a neighbour who was just taking her dog Jessie for what she was afraid might be its last walk. In a few minutes, the two of them were going to visit a canine specialist, to get the verdict on something filling her dog’s lungs.

             Her dog normally moves on an invisible trampoline, touching the ground just long enough to launch another sub-orbital trajectory. This time it walked. Slowly.

            “I’m a nurse,” my neighbour said. “This sounds terminal to me.”

          If I had gone to Rotary, I would have missed that encounter.

            Some, I’m sure, would explain those coincidences as evidence of divine planning. God intended me to forget to set my alarm, so that I could be there at that moment, on that morning.

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Wisdom from a rearview mirror

Author: Jim Taylor

It rained on our drive home from Vancouver. Although “rained” doesn’t adequately describe the downpour. Genesis says that at creation, God “divided the waters above from the waters below.” On that drive home, the waters above and below re-united.

            There was so much rain on the road that our car used four extra litres of fuel going home than going out, on exactly the same road, just squishing water out of the way of the tires. 

            I would have looked for an Ark, if I could have seen it through a windshield streaming with water. 

            Oddly, my rearview mirrors were still clear. Because the rain wasn’t hitting them at all. I could see clearly, back down the highway. 

            It reminded me of one of Marshall McLuhan’s aphorisms: "We drive into the future using only our rearview mirror." 

            It’s a metaphoric way of saying that we can’t see into the future. 

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Our sense of reality has fuzzy edges

Reality has fuzzy edges

Author: Jim Taylor

The mallet raps gently against the rim of the bowl. The bowl rings, sings, high and clear.

            The sound slowly fades. Do I still hear it? Or do I just imagine that I still hear it? Sound consists of molecules of air vibrating against each other; I know their ripples continue to spread and interact, even when they are no longer audible to my ears.

            There is no clear break between hearing and not-hearing. Between tasting and not-tasting. The boundaries blur.

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Honesty still the best policy

Author: Jim Taylor

Here are three words you will never hear anyone say: “I am lying.”

            The whole point of lying is to make your hearers believe that they are hearing the truth. Why, then, would you tell them that what they’re hearing is not the truth?

            In murder mystery novels and TV shows, witnesses always break down at some point and admit that their previous testimony was less than accurate. “But you have to believe me,” they always say. “I’m telling the truth now.”


            Why should I believe you this time? 

            Earlier this year, National Geographic magazine did a cover story on lying. According to them, lying may correlate with higher intelligence. Liars have to use their brains harder to keep track of multiple stories – both what’s true and what they have claimed is true.

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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: Lying, honesty, truth




Taking casual pleasantries seriously

Author: Jim Taylor

“Hi! How are you?”

“Just fine. And you?”

            The routine exchange of pleasantries is one of the social graces that grease the axles of human interaction. We say the words to acknowledge the other’s presence -- to till the ground, as it were, for our real reason for getting together with that other person. Which, often, is not personal at all.

            Unfortunately, we rarely take the words of the ritual seriously. 

            I had a lawyer friend in Toronto who loathed idle chit-chat. If you greeted him, “How are you?” he commonly barked, “Don’t ask unless you mean it!”

            So I almost always asked him how he was anyway, just to see what would happen. 

            And he, to his credit, answered as if I really did mean it.


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Categories: Soft Edges





What does God worry about?

Author: Jim Taylor

Does God lie awake at night, worrying about things?

            Yes, I know -- that image immediately pictures God as a person. A person who sleeps, in a rumpled bed, tossing and turning. In other words, someone just like one of us, only more so. Psychologists call it “anthropomorphization”-- seeing others in our own image.

            It’s the kind of misplaced identity that led Marc Gellman to title one of his books, “Does God Have a Big Toe?”

            But basic question is not whether God lies awake at night, but whether God -- whatever God may or may not be -- worries.

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Antidote to seasonal depression

Author: Jim Taylor

           Almost ten years ago, in 2008, theologian and bestselling author Karen Armstrong proposed something she called a Charter for Compassion. Over 150,000 people visited a tentative Charter website. A multi-faith, multi-national group of religious thinkers and leaders met in Switzerland, to craft the Charter from suggestions that came in from more than 100 countries.

            Armstrong and the Council of Conscience unveiled the Charter for Compassion on November 12, 2009, in Washington, DC. 

            Although I would personally like to see the Charter extended to include all forms of life -- including those we may not yet have recognized --  the Charter of Compassion as a whole feels like a worthwhile antidote to today’s heating-up climate of incessant bickering.

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