Tag Archives: nature

A History of Problem Solving: A Selection from The Alphabet Versus the Goddess

“Long before there were cities, books, and inkwells, there were clans, caves, and middens. Human societies were shaped by the exacting rules of evolution: losers became extinct, winners survived. The crucial module guaranteeing the tribes continuance was the family unit. All members prospered under this arrangement. A man was cared for by a solicitous woman and learned about the pleasures of playing with small children. A woman enjoyed the security she needed to devote her time to her offspring. Each gained a friend, lover, confidant, and helpmate. Children matured in a safe atmosphere guided by two caring role models. The tribe as a whole could count on the steady replenishment of both skilled hunters and pregnant mothers. This system works better than any alternative ever tried.

A husband and wife, over time, begin to resemble one another in physical appearance. The melding of their physiognomic features is also reflected, to varying degrees, in their souls. A woman’s presence in a man’s life tends to soften his hard edges, just as her proximity to him tends to stiffen her central core. A mate increases the possibility that each member of the couple will exhibit that difficult-to-define quality called common sense.

Men and women often arrive at conclusions and plans of action differently. Some situations are best addressed by focused, step-by-step “masculine” logic, while holistic, “feminine” intuition comprehending many components in a complex whorl is better in others. Couples benefit from having access to each other’s major hemispheric processes, which over time also strengthens their own personal minor mode. The blending of feminine knowing and masculine reason in each individual and each couple generates good sense. The wisest figure in the mythologies of ancient cultures was often a hermaphrodite- a male-female- such as Tiresias, a blind seer.

Humans belong to that class of animals called “social predators.” Their hunting strategy resembles that used by wolf packs and lion prides; all members of the social unit hunt in concert to kill prey. The protracted childhoods of human young made female participation on these forays unfeasible. The all-male hunting party came into existence in only our species and with it the ethos of the left brain.

The template for all subsequent male projects remained the original hunting party, the ultimate purpose of which was to kill. Therein lay the problem. When men began to spend extensive time in each other’s company, they amplified each other’s hunter-killer instincts. When the hunting party became an “army,” the prey became other humans. The result has been a historical record pungent with the acrid smell of fear, havoc, and death.

The greatest counterbalance to men’s death-dealing inpulse is to engage them in the lives of women and entangle their legs with children. The most dangerous result of these all-male cultures bereft of the input from women is the loss of common sense. The phrase “common sense” has several meanings. In one, it is the wisdom of all the senses, a holistic and simultaneous grasp of multiple converging determinants. In this meaning common sense is intuitive and is often the opposite of logic. In another meaning, it is the wisdom of more than one person. It is the result of the give-and-take of face-to-face conversation with another, which allows one to ‘hear oneself think.’ In this second meaning, common sense is wisdom generated ‘in common.’

Confronted by a knotty problem a person of turns to a trusted adviser, not so much to receive the solution as to engage in a problem solving dialogue. A man can resort to two entirely different advisers: his female significant other or another man. His interactions with these two most likely will be quite different.

There are certain conventions men generally obey when talking to each other. Dialogues occur in the light, with no physical contact, and both men are dressed, facing each other vertically. When a man consults his woman, it is often at night, in the dark, while both are horizontal in a position of repose, and there is frequently skin touching skin.

In both these colloquies, he talks in order to bounce his ideas off his listener and evaluate his or her response. The male adviser or woman confidante serves as his sounding board. Men, over many centuries and across a diverse range of cultures, would concur that in interpersonal matters, the best “sounding board” is often a soft pillow with a woman’s head on it. Further, this syzygy of skin, night, and goose feathers is conducive to sleep. A thoughtful person when confronted by a difficult dilemma for which others demand an immediate answer will frequently withhold his reply until after he has “slept on” it. By using this common saw, he tacitly acknowledges the vital importance of talking over the problem with his mate before falling asleep and then letting the right hemisphere dream its wisdom into his response. Come morning, horizontal thinking has worked its magic and the individual has arrived at an answer that makes common sense smile.

Men need the counsel of women to help them sort out what is important from what is folly. This need is particularly acute if the man is the head of a vast enterprise. In such situations the other men to whom he might turn for advice-those under him-will often have their own personal agendas, which may influence the opinions they give their alpha male. The wife of the alpha male is often a truer resource-sharing his life, her fate is intimately entwined with his. And the alternative kind of wisdom she brings to his problem make her counsel so uniquely valuable to him.

Few men who have enjoyed a good relationship with a woman would disagree with the proposition that a woman’s assistance in male problem-solving is indispensable. Eliminating her from the process greatly increases the possibility that a man might make a wrong-headed decision about matters of import. History books are filled with such examples.”

~Leonard Shlain, The Alphabet Versus the Goddess


The Life of Birds: Finding Partners

David Attenborough reveals how male birds use both extraordinary displays and bizarre rituals in order to turn a females head, and how for many species its girl power that rules the dating game. Curassows and guans have bizarre calls that sound just like dropping bombs and electric drills. On the Galapagos Islands, frigate birds pump up their vivid red throat pouches. While the tiny fairy wren of southern Australia is revealed as the most promiscuous bird in the world.

A BBC documentary


Everything I Know about Sex, I Learned from Birds

How do we learn how to select our life partners? How do we learn what a loving relationship is? Most people would say there is some learned knowledge from our families and some ingrained impulse from our biology. I was born with baby fever, and an intense desire to further the species. This biological urge has dominated my search for a mate. I may have been overly focused on finding a good father for my future children that I have neglected to consider who would make a good partner for me, irregardless of children.

My informal sex education was a weird conglomeration of information, like that of most people. Before I ever had a personal interest in boys and sex, I knew I wanted kids. My own mother told me that I have wanted kids for as long as has known me. And I wasn’t very picky about where my babies came from either. In elementary school I had a strong conviction that I would find an abandoned baby in a basket on my way to school one day. Around that time, my favorite book was Baby Island by Carol Ryrie Brink in which two sisters (ages 12 and 10) and four babies they were carrying for end up in a life boat after their ship starts taking on water. If you had asked me then what five items I would take with me to a desert island, I would have said four babies and a crate of condensed milk! 

In fifth grade, I checked out The Miracle of Life from the library to watch at home, just for fun. The science of pregnancy fascinated me, and still does…part of me wants to be pregnant just to study the phenomenon first-hand. My class watched the film later that school year, and I felt so mature, and probably a little superior, that I had already seen it, and hadn’t been grossed about the ending…or maybe they didn’t even show that to us.

Discussing pregnancy and birth never made me uncomfortable until I started to associate them with sex. I must have known how someone got pregnant, but I cannot recall the specifics about when or how I learned what sex was. The topic of sex began to embarrass me and I became kind of prudish. What I think happened was I was implicitly raised to believe certain topics were meant to be private, not talked about openly, and this included sex. Consequently, once I knew how babies were made, I was always shocked when someone would announce enthusiastically that she was pregnant. What I heard was a loud admission that she and her husband had had sex! When my mother got pregnant through IVF, it was hard for me to say the word, “pregnant” out loud, even though in that case sex was not the direct cause. And to this day, I still immaturely think about sex every time I hear about a new pregnancy, I am just no longer embarrassed by the topic.

In high school, I stopped watching any television or contemporary movies as an experiment, preferring musicals with the likes of Judy Garland and Gene Kelly. Considering how PG these films are, and since sexuality was not really discussed in my home or with my friends, I had to get my misinformation about sex elsewhere. Spurred on by my budding sexuality, I developed a proclivity for nature documentaries about the mating behaviors of animals. I was especially fond of the ones on birds! See some prime examples below:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqsMTZQ-pmE

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L54bxmZy_NE

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pG5SUX1V6BE

In the life of birds, it is the males who try to impress the females and the females who select their mate when they find the one with the most impressive voice, plumage, or nest. The males never seem to care who their partner is as long as they have one. As for infidelity, animal males may impregnate many females, but the females are not blameless either. Some female birds cuckold their mates into raising the children of another bird (named for the cuckoo bird). So, I think I got the impression that men are supposed to attract me and I get to keep the one I choose!

Unfortunately humans are not birds, and our mating rituals are much less straightforward. I have “chosen” many men who I was convinced would be good fathers to my future babies. But when these partners opted out of our relationship, I was very confused. I hadn’t done anything wrong, I was fulfilling all my responsibilities as a partner, so how could they choose to leave?!

If I am honest, I still do not understand why anyone decides to end a serious relationship, be it a friendship or a romantic partnership. I have always stood by my choices without question. The more I realize my choice is not all that matters, the trickier it is to trust myself to again attempt to choose a mate.

I had a good first date last night and so I plan to see the man again. But I am scared that I do not know what qualities might make him a good choice. All I know at this point, is that I was attracted to him physically, we had fun, and we agree about what kind of relationship we want as far as we could discuss it in one night. Although, I wish I was a female bird who could make a quick decision and be done, I am trying to remember that I am a female human and there are more factors to consider than voice, plumage and nests.

So, dear Self, be picky like a bird, but take your time with your evaluations…be patient like a human, but have a clear idea of what you want…and please do not choose someone just to pass on your genes with…human love involves so much more! Keep going on dates, see who is out there. But love before offspring. Love someone for yourself, and see what comes from that. You have a human form in this incarnation, so love like one, and leave the birds to be birds!

Your Past Self


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