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A hole in the ground

Some time ago I was visiting Helsinki. I met Matti, my friend from the university years. We wandered the streets and ended up sitting in a park, discussing culture and philosophy. Then I headed towards a restaurant, to meet more of my friends. I was descending a stairway made of stones, built on a hillside. On the hillside lawn I saw a drunk, talking to himself. There weren't that many other people around, and I guessed that it will be very likely that the drunk will want to talk with me when I get closer to him - oh well, I thought, and went on. As I got closer, the drunk turned to face me, with his eyes shining he told me:
- Look, there's a hole in the ground! A hole, there!
- Oh, let me see - yes, there's a hole!
- It is important to notice all this kind of little things. To stop and to watch, to see and to notice. To have time to pay attention.
- Yeah, if you are just busy hurrying onwards, you'll walk past all the interesting details without noticing anything.
- Some animals have made the hole. Animals have been digging here, animals, some digging animals!
- Seems so, indeed. Maybe city bunnies?
- In the night when it is dark, they creep out of this hole and climb the walls of houses [which made me kind of a wonder how do bunnies climb walls].
- Really?
- Yes. The city is no more poisoning rats. The rats climb the walls of houses. In the night.
- Ah, rats! Do you think so? Well, it might be true.
- Yes. And the hole goes deep into the ground, deep like this [he drew curves in the air with his hands].
- No doubt, it is a network of tunnels.
- Deep down it goes [somehow, his eyes looked like he was on a shamanistic trip, seeing the hole as a gate to an parallel reality where spirits dwell]
- That's interesting!
- It is important to have time to stop to look at all this kind of interesting little details, like holes. Deep down goes the hole. Animals have made it. It is important for us humans to be friends with nature, to live in harmony with nature, as otherwise ... oh, otherwise ...
- We end up in trouble?
- Trouble yeah we are all fucked if we don't live in harmony with nature!
- Sure thing!

I had already made my way down the stairway and I was standing on the street. The drunk was standing on the lawn, about the level of my chest, and there was a sharp drop from the lawn to the street. Apparently, the drunk couldn't get down to the street, and I saw a new kind of spark in his eyes, as he said:
- I'll jump into your arms!
- Sure, why not. I'll help you down. [I grabbed him and helped him jump down safely.]
- It is so important to have time to notice all the little things. Animals have made the hole.
- Yes, the rats. Oh, I'm going to that direction.
- I'll come with you. Animals had made that hole. It is important to have time to notice all that kind of interesting things. And to live in harmony with nature.

We walked down the street. On the street there was a metal box - something you usually don't pay any attention to, unless you want to paint tags on it. I think it was something which covers some electric insallations or somesuch... I really don't know, as usually I just walk past such metal boxes without thinking about what they are and what they do. But the drunk stopped by the box, saying:
- These metal cases, they are a problem.
- A problem?
- Yeah, see, like this one is so close to a building. There is a very narrow space in between the box and the building. Now how do you clean that space?
- It is hard to clean it, I guess.
- Yeah, and the city janitors don't have time to clean this kind of narrow spaces. Dry leaves get stuck there, collecting moisture, and soon the metal case gets all rusted. What a problem, but no-one has time to stop to see it. No-one notices this kind of little things!
- Sure. People are so busy going somewhere that they don't have time to see where they are.
- Like that hole in the ground. It is very important! For animals!
- It is the home of those animals.
- Their home, yes, and they have made it.
- With their very own paws, they have been digging. [I made digging gestures in the air with my hands. He laughed and did the same.]

Still laughing, he grabbed by arm, leaned his forehead against my shoulder, saying:
- Oh you are so funny!
- Yes I am =)

And then he put up such a poetry that I'm not able to remember exactly, and even less able to translate to english. But it had EU, ancient goddesses and what not - but the punchline was the traditional one - he was asking for a couple of coins so that he can go buy beer for himself. Why not, I liked him anyway so I gave him some coins. We said farewell, he went to a supermarket and I continued to the restaurant.


Later on, when I was back at home, I shared this little story in facebook. Katja, another friend from the university years, replied with this interesting link. And Matti simply asked "then what if nature doesn't want to live in harmony with me?" - and that is a good question! I think I've been often talking about "living in harmony with oneself, others and nature", as if it was something self-evident and non-problematical. But, stopping to really think about it, it is easy to see that the concept of harmony isn't all that clear.

Actually, idea of disharmony seems to be pretty common, at least in western culture. The Christian tradition has a strong dualism of Good and Evil, fighting against each other. In the Paradise there was harmony, but since then the human life has been all struggle and hardships - and it is going to be like this until The Apocalypse comes... Those Jehowa's Witnesses who visit me every now and then, they seem to belive that harmony is when lions and sheep are friends and nobody gets killed. With this concept of harmony, it is clear that there won't be harmony on this earth.

For another example, let's take Darwin. He says that evolution is driven by survival of the fittest. Nature, in general, is like a vast battleground where the weak are likely to be destroyed before they get to produce offspring. From this point of view, nature sure doesn't want to live in harmony with anyone - it is all about trying to secure one's own survival and reproduction. Or, from a slightly different angle - genes aim to copy themselves, using organisms as copy machines. (Matti pointed out that there are theories about how this kind of competition produces kind of an optimal balance. So, what seems like harmony and balance, is based on unregulated competition. I guess I have to take a closer look on such teories, to see where I agree and if I disagree then is it possible to justify my arguments).

Anyhow, this takes me to a yet another small story. I guess I was something like 14 or 15 years old, it was still the times of cold war. On the TV there was a movie about UK agents on covert mission to retrieve a load of plutonium used for nuclear warheads. The mission was a success, only that the two agents got a lethal dose of radiation, and the movie was mostly about that. Following these two men, who knew that they are going to die, and how did they spend their days from that on... Finally, the other of them hired contract killers to finish him off, and the other one got delusional. He was hallucinating, and saw a female figure who offered words of comfort: "It might be that a nuclear war breaks out and the civilization is wiped off. There will be nuclear winter, and the planet will be covered with ice. But that is not the end of all life. Slowly, small dark-coloured flowers will grow in every here and there where there is soil free of ice. And as the dark color absorbs a lot of sunlight, it will make the temperature to rise - some ice will melt, and more of the dark flowers will grow, and eventually the planet heals itself. The Earth is a single living organism, The Gaia." I found this idea rather fascinating, and later on I found that it is a theory of a talented British scientist, James Lovelock. It might be that I read a book about Lovelock, I can't remember exactly. But what I remember is that several years later I programmed a simple Gaia demo. It had an area of soil, with populations of white and dark flowers. From a darwinian viewpoint, the populations are competiting against each other, trying to gain more territory. But from lovelockian point of view, both populations belong to a greater organism, with self-refulating mechanisms to maintain harmony.

Maybe a month ago that Gaia-demo popped up in a casual conversation over facebook. And it made me to start learning JavaScript. So, insteaf of pictures, I'll post a link to a re-make of the Gaia-demo, my very first JavaScript project =)

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As a related note; with Matti we discussed mostly themes about human group behavior; different concepts about organization and co-operation, tradition and peer pressure and the basic human need to belong to a group.

I think that my encounter with this random drunkard was a good example; he was looking for company, and wanted to share his findings with me. He needed help getting down to the street. Making jokes and engaging in a shared physical activity of making funny digging gestures in the air - this kind of things reinforce a feeling of being-together. Which he also expressed with touching, leaning his head against my shoulder in a very friendly manner, as if we were members of an ancient tribe lost in the urban city. And in his discussion there was a subtle tone of seeing the bypassers as "those others who are so busy that they don't have time to notice all these important little details", and us two as "those who have time, those who know something special, those who are united in this fascination of hidden details." A lone human lost alone in the wilderness is sure going to be eaten by predators. Safety is with ones own group. And when kicked, pushed and bullied by the mainstream society, a lone drunkard is still seeking for his own tribe, a group which would walk with him, stand by his side and offer a network of mutual help.

Ah, one more link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3S0LNGA2hp8


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