Butterflies, Buddha, and Brain Cells
Forget Neanderthal... I am the original early man. While I go about doing my drive-by teaching (I teach Continuing Education courses at various Midwestern universities) I usually arrive an hour to so early. One day I came to the classroom I was assigned to find that a class was already there. The room was full -- well over a hundred students, but there were a few seats left. I decided to sit in and see what was going on. It became obvious that this was a philosophy class because the professor had on a tweed jacket with black patches and there IS a dress code for these things. While he blathered and blethered up front I tried to be a good boy and listen quietly... but then he told the stupid Buddha story.
That isn't it's official title, by the way. It probably has some deeply spiritual eastern name, but it is a story about the Buddha and it is stupid so I'm sticking with my name for it. Here is it: one day the Buddha was meditating and he fell asleep. He dreamed he was a butterfly. When he woke up he wondered "Am I am man who dreamed I was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming I am a man?"
If you don't get the point of the story, it is designed to get young minds to question reality. In some ways, that is the whole point of the first few years of State universities, too! If the students can be convinced that there is no absolute truth, no right and wrong, and no higher moral authority then they can be more easily shaped into what passes for enlightened citizens in our trendier urban salons.
Well... there is only so much I can take. My hand went up. The professor, not knowing me and assuming I was some mid-life crisis returnee, called on me. I said, "It requires approximately 100,000 brain connections to form a picture -- not to mention the millions of support synapses -- and if you want that picture to move or be in color you have to multiply the number of connections exponentially. Butterflies, depending on which species you are discussing, have no more than 5,000 synapses. Therefore, butterflies can't dream. Therefore you are a man dreaming you are a butterfly." I sat back down. The professor stood there -- stunned like a man just kissed by the front bumper of a Mac Truck. I shrugged and said, "Happy to help."
He went on, then, at length about how the POINT of the story was more important than the facts. "In fact", he said (no irony intended, I assume), "everything is but a figment of our individual and collective imaginations."
My hand went up.
"Are you a figment of my imagination?" I asked. He hemmed and hawwed and then said, "Yes."
"Is that table in front of you a figment of my imagination?" I asked. He nodded that it was. "Then what would happen if I picked it up and hit you with it? Would it hurt?" He was baffled, speechless, so I added, "I imagine it would."
Finding his voice he then flung marker on white board drawing graphs and equations and listing Important People's Names who agreed that we cannot, really, ever, KNOW anything.
My hand went up.
"How do you know?"
He dismissed the class. I got to talk to about twenty of the kids for the next half hour as we discussed absolutes. It reminded me of the time that my professor leaned over my desk once many years ago, face red, voice raised, spittle flying, screaming "There are no absolutes!" I merely shrugged and asked, "Does that include that statement?"
No wonder I managed to cram eight years of college into twelve.... but facts are facts, real is real, and God is God. Absolutely.