|Molecules and Atoms of the Air|
A basic knowledge of chemistry is invaluable when trying to understand life. Chemistry trumps religion, culture and all other human imaginings. A realization of what we are, as opposed to who we are, is a gateway to mental liberation from impeding illusions.
From the bread I am baking as I write this to a recent reference to cremated remains in a novel I am reading, an understanding and acceptance of the chemistry of life enhances my existence. Knowing that a cap-full of cider vinegar alters the pH of my bread dough to give it a silky texture may not be akin to achieving world peace, but it is a reminder of the notable impact of small incremental change in life. Every morning I take a handful of small pills which keep me alive by chemically sterilizing a lethal virus in my body. And, this body which I try so hard to maintain, can be reduced to a jar-full of inanimate dust with a hot flame in minutes.
Reflecting on the chemistry of the food I eat, the water I drink, the air I breathe keeps me 'real' in a way that few other practices can. Understanding that those gurgles that occur after I eat are the sounds of my internal chemistry lab as it tends to converting my food to parts of me. The awareness of what comes out of my body is as informative as paying attention to what goes in.
The young are commonly immune to this personal awareness of chemistry. Their hormones are driving their brains to achieve or to breed with their bodies. At the other end of the spectrum of life, the old are often obsessed and vigilant about their body chemistry and mechanics. This comes from feeling pain and weakness, which get the brain's attention in a big way.
The recent pink slime controversy illustrates how aversive people are when faced with the realities of their chemical lives. Making the decision to consume the organic matter of another animal is a far more drastic step than quibbling over what part of that animal is being processed for your consumption. Pink slime or filet mignon use the same basic net metabolism in a human body. In fact, from a chemical perspective, pink slime is barely distinguishable from prime cut by the body. The fantasies and tastes of the brain, also products of chemistry, make the distinctions which cause enthusiasm or revulsion.
As a humanist, I think it is important for me to stay real when assessing my life and environment. Seeing reality on a chemical and physical level removes man of the silly barriers and distinctions which obscure the path to goodness. Goodness, constituted by nonviolence, fairness and generosity, is the wonder of being human in a simply chemical and physical world. We have the rare choice in the context of a chemical and physical Universe to move from happenstance to intentional progress for ourselves as a species and for an entire planet. That choice lies within every one of us every day.