Wednesday, February 21, 2007

That Intricate Blindness

So much depends on a levee made of sand
Holding the sinking land from the river,
The water eating away at its base
As houses are built by the blind
And the deaf and the mute,
Houses like capsids amidst the lawns
Plated on petri dish earth.

So much depends on consequence delayed
And creaking pumps sucking what would be
As fast as it comes in like a blind snake
Hunting a mouse.
So much depends on those constructed things
Big and leaky on the edge of disaster.

And yet, surrounding each cell the mosaic assembles itself blindly
As lipids jostle each other and proteins
Shape themselves into pumps and channels,
A levee of sorts way beyond paper thin,
but that keeps at bay
What otherwise would be.

This week's Poetry Thursday prompt is 'The Body Knows' and that is reflected in this poem which contrasts our ability, or lack there of sometimes, to avert disaster and depend on our technology even though we use it in a shorted sighted almost blind way. And yet we depend on processes that are also blind in terms of the intricate operation of each of our cells. There is nothing mystical here. After all, the pumps and channels I refer to after all arise through the evolutionary process- the intricate blindness of the title.

So I am contrasting two types of blindness. The first type comes about because of our own political and analytical shortcomings which unless we recognize and account for them lead to disaster. The second type of blindness is that of the evolutionary process which has had 3.5 billion plus years to do what Daniel Dennett refers to as R and D or research and development leading to the marvelous adaptations exhibited by the body. This intricate blindness gives rise to the illusion that 'the body knows.'

The poem's first lines about levees are inspired by a discussion on NPR this morning about how ill prepared we are to deal with disasters, the example used being the fragility of the levee systems in the Sacramento California area. The discussion was with the author of a new book called The Edge of Disaster. See this link for another review.

The poem is also inspired by another interesting review of a book, this time on the limitations of mathematical models of natural phenomena:

The Problems in Modeling Nature, With Its Unruly Natural Tendencies

I have not read the book and I personally believe in the utility of mathematical models, but certainly there are severe limitations on the exactitude possible using standard modeling.

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