Thursday, October 21, 2004

The web of life

Reading today, with my four students, an excerpt from David Abram's The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-than-Human World. It is a beautifully written, powerful book, by a gifted philosopher/ecologist.

Like many other contemporary nature writers, Abram looks to indigenous peoples of the world for ways to integrate our lives more fully with non-human nature.

In our excerpt, he describes a transforming experience in Bali, where he has gone seeking shamanic wisdom. He sits alone in an ancient temple enclosure carved into living rock, watching spiders weave their orbs. The craft of the spiders, he writes, "so honed and focused my awareness that the very webwork of the universe, of which my own flesh was a part, seemed to be being spun by their arcane art."

Well, yes. And indeed it is. The "arcane art" is the ceaseless spinning of proteins by DNA in every cell of the spider's body -- spinning, spinning, checking, correcting. Proteins that then, by a geometrical language we are only beginning to understand, give rise to spiders, webs, shamans, and philosophers.

It is a matter of taste, perhaps, but I think I learn more about the "very webwork of the universe" by reading Science and Nature each week than I might learn sitting at the foot of a Balian shaman.