Afternoon Inquisition

Afternoon Inquisition 5.18.09

In the comments on last week’s AI, a couple of people mentioned that pregnancy is no big deal, that it’s been going on for somewhere between 6000 and a billion or so years (based on whether or not you’re Kirk Cameron). But I have to disagree. Just because something isn’t novel or rare doesn’t mean it isn’t humbling and awe inspiring. Creating people, no matter how many times it happens, just blows my mind. I mean, there was nothing… then hey hey hey… then PEOPLE! Tiny people!

And it’s not just reproduction, I feel that way about lots of things – small things like spider webs and larger things like snow storms and thunderstorms or even everything that happens somewhere other than Earth. Sometimes I just look around at everything around me and I can’t believe that I’m a part of it all. I feel completely insignificant and hugely significant at the same time. “Ordinary Miracles” as Sarah McLachlan calls them. While I don’t believe in “miracles”, I certainly understand the sentiment… and the fact that I don’t believe in a creator makes it all the more “miraculous”.

What are the things around you that, while ordinary, inspire awe and wonder? What simple things blow your mind?


Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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  1. I was always amazed by foods and how we figured out what was safe and what would kill us. I always figured it was a lot of trial and error. Then a friend told me “They probably just avoided the tress and bushes with all the skeletons laying around.”

    Thanks Todd.

  2. I remember seeing a time-lapse film loop of mitosis when I was in high school, which drove home the point that nature operates on a level far below what we can see with the naked eye. Even though I have a much better understanding of the process now than I did then, it’s still a powerful thing to remember.

    More recently, though, the top honor has to be helping my kids learn to read.

  3. You mean other than pregnant women and babies?

    I would have to say breaking down everyday things into their bio-chemical reactions. Seeing the different pathways that energy takes, starting with the sun coming down, and traveling in many directions. Photosynthesis blows my mind, that the energy of the sun can be stored in a tree, and then released later as fire. (I feel I don’t have the attention span for T.V, but I love sitting and staring into a fire.)

    Conscious thought, that I can actually think and consider these things. It is easy to become overwhelmed with it all.

    Also LIFE blows my mind. It is such a wonderful cereal, and can’t believe that a mere mortal was able to create such a wonderful thing out of whole grain oats. Also life as a characteristic of organisms that exhibit certain biological processes is pretty cool as well.

  4. In answer to the question posed, I find the fact that stars are huge furnaces of heat, in which the temperatures are mind boggling, and the gravity required to keep them intact is truly awe-inspiring. Then I imagine the distances between stars, galaxies, nebulas, and other celestial objects, and I can’t even comprehend those distances. I can only catch a glimpse of how far they are when written down on paper, and that’s nothing!

  5. When late October hits and it’s suddenly nice outside again, I’m in awe of how I survived the summer. (Can you tell I’m waiting for October? And it’s only MAY?)

    I was amazed at my cat last night. He cracks me up. Cats can be so silly.

    I’m amazed daily at how lucky I am to have the friends that I do.

  6. The moon. It’s always changing, has visible features to help imagine the shape and landscape of it, and it’s nearby. It seems close enough and simple enough to wrap my mind around, but it’s distant enough that it always defeats me, trying to get a sense of that distance, and size, and features, and the relationship between the Earth and the moon, gravity and tides and tidal locking. And when that has utterly defeated me, holding it all in my head at once, I blow my own mind trying to add the sun. Now any hope of comprehending it all is shattered. And you can keep zooming out again, and again, each time reducing the previous picture to a pixel, or less. That’s humbling, and these are just the most basic elements of the universe. Big balls of hydrogen and helium surrounded by various clumps of other elements. And all I can really get a visceral connection to is the moon, that tiny, tiny little sliver of it all, and even that dwarfs me and any distance I might travel in my life. It’s as far as my naked eye can see, and still make out what I’m seeing.

  7. Healing. Totally taken for granted, but I get a cut or blister and a few days later it’s like new, it never existed. Would that my bike tires worked as well.

  8. I like this topic, pardon the self indulgence.

    The little dramatic lives all around you outside. Wasps hunting, bees gathering pollen, ants working together to move mountains by each carrying away small stones, spiders spinning webs, ant lions waiting patiently for a meal, and even the trees slowly taking in sun and water and other nutrients and turning all those things in to more bits of tree.

  9. Besides the whole pregnancy bit, it’s fascinating to watch kids grow up. My nephew is about 10 months old and is just starting to communicate meaningfully – he can do the sign language for “more” and will repeat syllables or noises you make, stuff like that. Also his balance and coordination are getting good – he’ll stand if you hold his hands, but he can also react and maintain his balance if you try to move your hands and throw him off a little.

    None of this is a surprise to anyone who’s been around babies much, but it’s still fascinating to me. Humans start out with these undirected, madcap behaviors – crying and wiggling to start out with, then grabbing, eating, babbling, throwing, touching, shaking, hitting, watching… And gradually all these meaningful actions and desires start to emerge. It always serves to remind me that we are a learning and exploring species, from day one.

  10. Sunset on clouds, Thunder storms, the sea, forests … life in general is pretty damn grand I have to say, mine and everyone else’s :p

  11. I’ve probably gone on about this before but… The Moon! I mean, there’s a whole other world right there! It’s big enough to pass for a planet but close enough that we can make out surface features. You can sometimes even see it in the daytime. It’s so close and so big that it can even block the sun.

    I bet most terrestrial planets don’t have anything like that. Oh, sure, everyone always goes on about Saturn but I bet gas giants with rings are a dime a dozen. A homeworld with a moon big enough to live on? Now that’s impressive. Who want to get aliens to visit? Send out postcards of the Moon in the sky. They’ll be like “No way! We have got to go there this summer.”

  12. I’m totally amazed by the thought that all of stuff that we see – all the elements that make up us and everything else – were created in stars somewhere out in the universe. Crazy…

  13. Life.
    Any biological function and pathway is amazing when you look at it closely enough.

    Sometime, it is intricately complex, and sometime, it is even more amazing as seemingly complex and fine regulation are achieved through very basic feedbacks.
    Bacteria are especially good at that. Their gene regulation is pretty basic, and yet, they have multiple finely tuned pathways operating at the same time…

    I am regularly blown away by these stuff and end up giggling to myself for fifteen minutes before I can get back to work and finish reading this god-damned article.

  14. When I am skiing at Copper Mountain in Colorado – and I hit a fresh trail and it is unearthly quiet and I can only hear my breath and everything is crystalline perfectness, overbright and makes me feel like an interloper. . .

  15. If I was to be honest Id have to say female ‘naughty’ bits. I can’t help it, I’m fascinated by them. Actually I’m pretty awestruck by the non-naughty bits too.

    There’s a Seinfeld episode where Jerry reveals he’s a breast man. Elaine says she figured he was a leg man. Jerry’s response :

    “Legs?! Why would I be interested in legs? I have legs!”

    If I weren’t being honest I’d say ants.


  16. I am always amazed when looking at a piece of art (in particular pen & ink or pencil drawings), and how a handful of oddly shaped and twisted lines can suddenly make a picture.

  17. Vision is pretty amazing when you think about what’s really happening.

    Sure, it SEEMS like you see the computer screen in front of you, but really you’re seeing a combination of the photons it generates and the photons reflected off of it.

    And photons are really particles, so essentially your eyes are just particle detectors, constantly scanning the photons being emitted/reflected by the objects around you.

    Then these particle detectors send an electrical report via the optic nerve into your brain, where certain neurons in the visual cortex fire in patterns that somehow decode the report the eyes transmitted in such a way that you can, say, see a predator lurking or move your hand to the right place to catch a baseball. It’s incredible.

  18. Hmmm….I don’t know how to explain it other than the “hum” of life, I suppose. How every day, the paper gets delivered, the teachers show up to school to teach my kid, dinner gets done….it all goes on and on no matter what happens.

  19. What are the things around you that, while ordinary, inspire awe and wonder?

    Wow, where to begin?

    Well, random stuff would include the simplicity of sand between my toes and warm sunshine on my shoulders, as well as summertime sunsets on the bayou, and the spiritual calming of the ocean’s ancient rhythm. A single guitar lick from a favorite song, or a melody that carries a fond memory. Phantom tastes, like a lovers lips when she’s not around, or smells, like of the perfume she wore the night we met. Shiner beer, Guinness, Augusteiner, Spaten, Fosters, Jameson, Bushmill’s, Crown Royal, Captain Morgan, Jose Quervo, and Jack Daniel’s, which loosen my tongue and sharpening my wit on some occasions and fog an already addled mind on others. How does booze do that?

    I’d give a nod to the number 37 just because, the glorious sounds of people in the throes of laughter, Tina Turner’s legs from ’68 to ’85, every single picture from the Hubble telescope, and the company of good friends at the end of a hard day.

    As far as people go, I’d include the starting line-up from my childhood: Poe, Wells, Hawthorne, Lovecraft, Tolkien, Bradbury, and Twain. And coming off the bench: Melville, Dickens, Clarke, Azimov, Verne, and Eco. Really anyone who introduces me to the dreams and nightmares that I love so much. These are the real magicians of the human race.

    Also, Jimmi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert Collins, Albert King, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, and all the blues guitar slingers that blister my mind and shake my soul. Robert Johnson, his music and his mystery. Janis Joplin for singing the blues as loud as Texas, and Marcia Ball for her cross-legged style, and for keeping her fingernails long so they click when she plays the piano. Morrison, Dylan, Zevon, Williams, Young, Springsteen, Kristofferson, Henley, Orbison, Rait, Cash, Seger, Nelson, Holly, Haggard, Frey, Petty, Townes Van Zandt, Joel, Buffett, and all the true American troubadours.

    Everyone who puts forth an effort to pull us out of the dark ages. Science and the beauty championed by Carl Sagan.

    And I can’t forget the genius who first put bacon on a cheeseburger, the designers of the 1959 Corvette, the people of Costa Rica, Hef, all the Stooges except Curly Joe, Robert Duval in Apocalypse Now, Harry Houdini for his escapes, his illusions, and for exposing frauds, Benny Hill’s chase scenes, aerosol cheese, and the buxom serving wenches at Renaissance Fairs around the country.

    And of course, women, the profound mysteries they hold, and all the pleasures therein.

  20. Computers and all that tech stuff

    first of all, the mouse/windows. Just think about it, to you, it seems like you’re clicking on something, however, really, there’s nothing there-physically- to click on. Then, there’s the whole internet thing. I work with files, and you go to the filing cabinet, and look up the file. However, with the size and scope of the internet, I can type in, and it takes me here. Then, there’s memory. Its just a bunch of electrons, hanging around, but when organized, it can be arranged in such a way to “recall” information stored. I understand the physics behind it-its the concept behind it.

  21. I am so glad I’m not the only wide-eyed slack-jawed dork in the group.

    These are really fantastic, guys. Thanks for sharing… and keep them coming!

  22. The ocean. I’ve lived by the ocean my whole life, and I find that just hearing the hiss of the retreating waves on pebbles instantly calms me, even when I didn’t realise I was stressed out. There’s this huge alien world right there! Forget the moon – methane lakes and volcanic vents on the sea floor! Even many species we think are familiar, like eels and sharks, we don’t even know where they breed, or how or when.

    I’m also pretty in awe of the written novel – someone can write something down, and someone else can read it, and pictures and sounds and emotional attachments can form in our brains. The way we see the story is influenced, but not entirely dictated, by the author – it’s a very intimate form of communication, really.

  23. “What simple things blow your mind?”

    Well, I’ve gotta say, Jenny McCarthy. Can’t get any simpler than that and whenever she opens her mouth it completely blows my mind.

  24. There are a lot of things that amaze me, but one of the most amazing for me are airplanes.

    I always like to ride in a window seat so I can look down at the clouds…the grand canyon…tiny houses…look *down* at the clouds…how cool is that?

    I feel silly, but when I’m looking down at the earth from my coach seat, I cry tears of joy. I’m seeing what only gods should be able to see.

    The fact that human beings are intelligent enough to come up with the technology that gives us god-like powers completely amazes me. It’s like I’m a cavegirl that was unfrozen and given tickets to Vegas…it all seems like magic.

  25. Nature.

    The big stuff, like standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon when you’re lucky enough and there’s nobody around yakking and you don’t hear the tour buses. Just drinking in the nature’s history in silence.

    Or the ocean. Doesn’t matter which one. The fact that there’s millions of little coral villages and schools of countless varieties of fish and mammals happily going about surviving man.

    To little nature, spiders (that I don’t like but can appreciate) and bees and even the annoying birds.

    Baby hands. How toddlers do things with their tiny hands without even thinking about it.

    And attraction. How you can walk into a room full of people and one person catches your attention and speeds up your heart just a bit. You’ve no control over that attraction, and it might not even be the kind of person usually are attracted to. If we could all just shed those social rules and follow the paths that nature tries to lead us on, where would we go?

  26. Every now and again, it hits me that people are living in space. Right now! On a frickin’ space station! And it’s so commonplace that most people don’t even care! Dude!

    As far as awe-inspiring, watching a thunderstorm at night from an airplane is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Walking through a Buddhist graveyard in Mt. Koya, Japan that’s been in use for hundreds of years, in utter stillness, and experiencing the same effect, in nearly the same setting, as pilgrims hundreds of years earlier. It felt almost otherworldly.

  27. Every once in awhile, when I’m deep inside my own head, mulling over some problem or other, I’ll suddenly be struck with the thought that everybody else has the same kind of internal process. Everyone – each person on my street, on my block, in my city, my country, all over the freakin’ world – has their own innumerable daily thoughts about a myriad of topics. Six (and a significant fraction) billion of us, all thinkin’ about stuff. All those umptillion neurons firing all the time. Wild.

    It’s simultaneously awe-inspiring how much cogitating is going on, and frustrating that such a large portion of it is wasted on whatever Oprah had on that afternoon.

  28. It’s the simple things really.

    Like when partially germinated grain is exposed to that wonderful fungus Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Those little eukaryotes know exactly what to do. A krebs cycle or two later, that liquid gold we call *Beer* is ready to be poured into a nice pint glass.

    Yeast is the real Jesus: it turns water (and grain) into beer.

  29. The night sky. I’m still awe-struck by it every time I catch a glimpse of a constellation or I’m out at a dark site. It’s so bad, I’ll sometimes trip over my feet walking around at night because I’m too busy looking up.

    Rocket launches, shuttle launches, old Saturn V footage… they all make me teary-eyed. That’s us… LEAVING THE PLANET. All the little things that had to be worked out and figured out and designed. Even if we’re not going far, even if we’re coming right back, it still puts me into a state of reverence every time.

  30. Sometimes what’s most amazing to me is that I am still amazed at all anymore. I love the mystery of the human mind and emotions and how we are all just composed of atoms and chemicals and neurons firing different things — things that are just pure science, but somehow create this ability to feel intense emotions and to love and think and create.

    I am at awe at how we are just here and now and there is no afterlife and this is it, the one chance we’ve got, and we’re just so fucking insignificant in the whole scheme of things. It’s pretty amazing and beautiful, if you ask me.

  31. The organism-

    it starts out as one cell, which then makes copies of itself. Well, when you make a copy, its the exact same thing-logically.

    But this isn’t. How does a cell know when to be a liver cell, a kidney cell, a bone cell, a brain cell. No one organized them, you know, red team, blue team. And you don’t have bone cells in your skin, or skin cells in your liver, or liver cells in your brain. They don’t get mixed up. They are more smarter than us! You know if we got split up, someone in Elyse’s team would be over with Sam’s team, who would have someone in Marasala’s team, who would etc.

  32. I’ve been a lurker here, but I love this question enough to register.

    Everyone’s answers are right on, but for me it’s all in my garden. Seeds are just these little dried up nuggets that come in packets from the garden center, or that I shake out of last year’s dried flowerheads. But poke them into the ground and give them a little water and they become these amazing little green living things. Pushing aside the soil, uncoiling, stretching out their leaves, reaching for the sun. I took an intro biology class a couple of summers ago. For weeks after studying photosynthesis I would stop in my tracks, staring at leaves and stems and boggling at the fantastically complex chemical reactions that were going on inside them.

    And plants aren’t the only wonderful things in my garden. Last year I saw a couple of garter snakes; this spring I have a whole crew of them sunning themselves in my rock garden. They’re beautiful and wonderful and they move like they’re made of water, flowing from place to place. Whenever I dig I turn up fat wiggly earthworms and little curled up centipedes–the robins know this and follow me around waiting for the snack I’m unearthing for them. And the butterflies–I’ve spent some my happiest hours following them with my camera as they go from flower to flower. This year I’m planting butterfly weed to give the caterpillars something to eat.

    My garden is a living ecosystem that, by choosing what habitats I create, what I plant and what I pull, I direct to some extent. I’m far from the most potent actor in it, though. Gardening is a humbling and awe-inspiring process, really. It’s a dance between control of, and surrender to, natural forces, most of which are beyond my sight and my comprehension.

  33. When I was younger, in the early 80’s, I went to art school. I was taught how to create commercial graphics the ‘old’ way on a drawing board. I purchased my first computer in 1991. Back then the only real graphics software available came on a MAC. Since I couldnt afford one of those, I did the best I could to learn graphics on a PC. Then along came CorelDraw. I was thrilled and I have never looked back. I now know both Illustrator and Photoshop and have used both quite a lot. I like photoshop for raster editing but believe me, for vector drawing, NOTHING can compete with CorelDraw. As a professional graphic artist with almost 25 years experience, I can say that with conviction. I stand in both awe and wonder at the folks who create and maintain those software products. They have given me years of happy productivity both in my workplace and for my own amusement at home.

    I am also awed by the result of passing gas in a bathtub. Obviously I’m easily amused and have rather low standards.

  34. Oh, and one other thing-

    Looking at M104, the Sombrero Galaxy, for the first time through my 10″ Dobsonian telescope. My first successful photo of M42, the Orion Nebula, with my Televue and a Canon Rebel DSLR camera…now that was Awesome!
    I guess I am saying that I’m awestruck by amatuer astronomy in general. I wish all of you could experience what I have seen. Hubble photos are wonderful but to see these things with your own eyes from the ground with your own instrument and your own skill at finding things without a computer drive system? Well, it’s indescribable.

  35. My husbands cousin is working on her masters in biology. She is focusing on the implantation of embryos in the endometrial lining. Talking to her was mind blowing. She went on about the technical part of how that happens. I can’t say I understood it all but I walked away amazed that anything is born ever.

    I’m always amazed that I am in my body. The whole idea of consciousness emerging from my brain makes my jaw drop. I try not to think about it too hard. I’m a little afraid that if I understand it I’ll suddenly go all Dr Manhattan minus the blue wang.

  36. What really blows my mind are well, minds. :) The fact that we learn about and understand the world around us is incredible. Physics, Geometry, Literature, Math, Astronomy – that these things even exist as ideas chokes me up and brings a tear to my eye.

  37. Dreams. The whole process is bizarre and amazing all at once. Nightmares, happy dreams, creative masterpieces … all put together in the same mass of matter.

  38. Once in awhile I zone out and start thinking about how awesome it is that I have control over all these limbs, this whole body. They’re all mine, it’s all mine. It’s my body. I can do what I want with it. I can make it run or jump or knit or turn pages or juggle or whatever the hell I feel like doing (that I can physically accomplish).

    Sometimes that just blows me away. Then I end up looking like I’m high, staring at my hand in wonder.

    (I’ve never done drugs in my life, FYI).

  39. @Pinkbunny:
    Oh man, I had the same feeling when I was learning about the process of implantation in class! What a fascinating process.

    Speaking of pregnancy, I have to say I’m pretty amazed by the fetuses that I get to scan with ultrasound. I’m lucky enough to see the little guys in action every day at my practicum! My favorite are the 20 week-ers, so very human and yet alien-esque at the same time. And they move around and kick and suck on their arms and yawn and swallow. So very different from the 3 cm long peanut it was only 10 weeks before!

  40. I am often (embarassingly) moved to tears by the unexpected kindness of others. Most of all by strangers. I was in a car accident last week and the woman who ran the red light and hit me (with 1 child, 2 babies, and 2 senior citizens in her car) couldn’t even make eye contact with me, and never said a word to me, which was unfortunate. At the same time, the kind man behind me in traffic stopped, stood with me for almost a half an hour with his small toddler, comforting me. He offered to call my husband and assure him that I was alright after he watched me call him and be less than convincing. He gave me his number and asked me to call him later to let him know that I was OK. Another lady stopped and asked if she could pray with me (I was polite and told her “Thank you, I’m not a religious person, but if you’d like to say something for me, that would be nice.”) There were a number of other complete strangers that stopped to assure that everyone was OK and offer help.

    While I am often overwhelmed by the lack of humanity, I am, at times, equally overwhelmed by random acts of kindness. They DO exist.

  41. Well, after all the wonderful posts about how amazing life is in its simplicity and complexity, mine is probably an indication that I need to get a life. What’s amazing to me despite its simplicity is the diagonalization proof method:

    <geek-out>you take some set of numbers that can supposedly be put into a list numbered off by positive integers and make a list of them. Then you have a quadrant of a plane filled with digits: left to right the decimal expansion of the numbers and top down the numbers themselves. Lastly, you create a number that’s in the set in question but not on the list by tweaking the digits on the diagonal. That contradicts the premise that you started with, that you could list the members of the set.

    The method can be used for a variety of proofs like that of the uncountability of the real numbers, the impossibility of writing a computer program that will test other computer programs to see whether they will come up with results, and the fact that you can’t come up with a complete description of the natural numbers.</geek-out>

  42. There’s several kinds of amazement.

    There’s the kind where you put your cup of coffee down on the desk and suddenly realise how the reason your cup doesn’t fall through is all due to the relatively weak attraction between the atoms that make up the wood, and the sheer number of atoms present that make it a solid, sturdy surface that bears the weight of your cup.
    Or how it’s mere friction that’s keeping the screws in place and keeping everything about your desk securely fastened and attached.

    If any one of those forces would suddenly disappear, the universe would quite litterally fall apart.

    Then there’s the brain-splodey kind of musings where you try to wrap your brain around concepts like the universe being infinitely large, having no “edge”, and also nothing beyond or outside.

    Then finally there’s also the amazement of realising your historical insignificance (as @si1verdrake mentioned before), like walking around in the Roman amfitheatre in Nimes, and realising it’s been there for about 2000 years, and between 80 to 100 generations of people have existed in and around that building, walked on those very steps, touched those walls. And it’s still there after all this time, as a silent witness of all that transpired throughout the ages. 80 generations of people that are now dead and mostly forgotten, as I will be too some day. People who made history, the common people who walked next to Ceasar, people who fought in the crusades hoping to gain their freedom, etc…
    Little people doing big things even though they’d never know it or even reap the rewards of what they did. People leaving a tiny mark on the world, like wearing out the granite of the steps just a little bit, until after two millenia, a good 3 inches of stone have completely disappeared leaving a highly polished indentation in the steps of where everyone walked. Including me. Taking a little bit of that building with me on the bottom of my shoes and the palm of my hands …

  43. What are the things around you that, while ordinary, inspire awe and wonder?

    Jumbo Jets over London.

    I used to work by London Bridge and walking over it every morning, I’d watch the airliners crawling across the sky (apparently) just above the buildings.

    The nearest thing to magic I’ve ever seen, I rmember thinking “I’d feel much safer if I could see the strings holding them up…”

  44. The variety of nature that I can experience from my home in a small urban area. I see Blue Herons all the time in the creek down the hill. I’ve had a couple of Cooper’s Hawks hunting in my alley way. I hear owls out my windows many warm nights. The armadillos I could do without though!

  45. 1) The scale of things.

    To stand next to something like a building, that’s just absolutely huge compared to you, and think about how compared to something like a state, the building is nothing. Then to think of a state next to the earth, the earth next to the sun. The sun next to the space inside the solar system is nothing. The solar system next to the galaxy. The galaxy next to the distance between galaxies.

    All of the stuff in the universe besides all of the empty space, is approximately a zero/infinity ration. And to think how small we are next to all of the stuff, that’s again a zero/infinity ratio.

    We’re insignificant.

    2) Special relativity. The fact that light always goes the same speed regardless of the observer blows my mind. The whole mass-increasing, length-decreasing and time-slowing with increased velocity also blows my mind. The concept of space-time is woo-ey, but apparently true.

    That’s all. Those are neat.

    So we’ve got that going for us, which is nice.

  46. Some things that have left a lasting impression on me:

    1) observing the moons of Jupiter with a cheap telescope when I was around 13 or so.

    2) Studying biochemistry in college, and learning about how the nucleic acids code for different amino acids. I was studying computer science at the same time, and it was became immediately obvious to me that DNA is a communications protocol with built-in redundancy to correct for transmission errors. Very cool.

  47. Civilization and it’s fruits. Most often represented by cars and driving, since it’s while driving these thoughts hit me.

    I have a quite ordinary profession, yet still I can afford to drive a vehicle that will take me 60-100 km away in _an_ hour.
    When my grandmother was two years old, in 1920, there was one motorcar in Norway per 400 Norwegians, buses included, and all roads where gravel. In Western Norway with all it’s fjords, the main mode of transportation was by boat.
    A mere 90 years later we have asphalt roads going everywhere, Western Norway is riddled with tunnels, and people are willing to brave hour long traffic jams for the sense of freedom in driving your own car. All made possible by all of us somehow working together, and by the insanely cheap energy source we have in fossil fuels.

  48. Amanda’s latest post brings me to my #3-

    Killer blobs, slime molds, and other amorphous living beings out of 50’2 Sci-Fi.

    Way to push the envelope between animal/vegetable, little guys!

  49. I’m a programmer, and perhaps this is just part of the way I view the world, but…

    Hadrons link into atoms. Atoms join into molecules. Molecules gather into dust. Dust collapses into stars and planets. Planets are chemical factories in their own rights, producing all sorts of random sludge. Some of that sludge was able to induce the creation of more sludge like it. Life started, evolved, and made a whole lot more mess – including redwoods that reach hundreds of feet into the sky, blue whales swimming in the ocean, virii that ravage populations, and technologies that can let people on opposite sides of a planet communicate and share ideas.

    The most remarkable thing is that these things *weren’t* designed, but merely happened due to the interaction of a few basic rules: it’s programming without a programmer. A friend of mine refers to that kind of thing as both “process” and “asthetic” – “procetic” in his term. And it’s the most amazing thing I can think of, because it’s everything.

  50. Walking through a forest…
    Through a Japanese stroll garden…
    By a lake or river…
    The sky and clouds
    Starry clear nights…

  51. When I was in college and walked half a mile to class every day, it gave me time to think. Whenever I was waiting at a stop light, I would often think how amazing traffic is. Everyone has different starting and ending points, but they all follow a few basic rules, like an algorithm, and they all get where they are going with surprisingly few accidents. It’s sort of like a dance to me.

  52. a couple people mentioned conscious thought, but i’d have to go with the whole brain/mind. from what i’ve heard and read it’s amazing any one of us manage to function at all. what’s real? how does the mind filter out the “correct” stuff and thoughts? how does it “know” or learn to filter this as opposed to that?

    from my limited knowledge (and i use that term very loosely) it seems that a very, very many ghost and alien abductions that people experience could be explained, for lack of a better phrase, as slight malfunctions of the brain. the whole being paralyzed yet awake, hearing voices, or someone calling your name. interesting.

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