life and times of a species

We are by nature very self-centered. At every stage in our lives, we look at those younger than us as being ‘young’. And those who are older than us are ‘old’. People from other countries, or other cultures, are ‘alien’. But we’re okay, we’re ‘normal’.

When relating to the animal world, I myself have a special regard for butterflies and frogs. Both of them have two incarnations, and I can very well identify with them. I have a feeling that we too have more than one incarnation, so to speak. The butterfly starts out as a worm, and the frog as a pollywog. Anthropology has always fascinated me because of both the similarities and the differences between people around the world.


I remember reading an article many years ago about the life of species. I don’t remember who it was that wrote it, and don’t remember the name of the article. But what impressed me then, was that some researchers had found a type of snail that had lived slightly off shore of a Greek island, and they were able to evaluate the age of the shells by carbon dating. They came to the conclusion that they had before them the history of that species; from when it was a very young species till it had grown old, and was nearing extinction. As the species became more mature, the form of the shell became more beautiful. But at a much later stage, some of the round areas became more angular. The species was getting decadent.

This same process is seen in individual people, and in societies… and in nations. Sometimes it evokes sadness. More often contempt. Life at the height of its development, has contempt for weakness… but even in decadence we often see ourselves as superior to others, more aware… more connected to the truth. It takes a rare wisdom to be aware of the world as a whole; to leave our egocentric point of view and start searching for the wonders outside of ourselves.

Why do it? Because we are connected to all of the world, and the more we learn, the more we understand the world around us, the richer this life of ours becomes.


60 responses to “life and times of a species

  1. Beautiful, I agree and also enjoyed what you shared with us, dear Shimon. Thank you, have a nice weekend, love, nia

  2. What a wonderful post – and yes I to believe that we experience more than one incarnation in this lifetime. Thank you so much for starting this day off on such a positive and beautiful footing. Janet. xx

    • Yes, Janet… You’re a great example of just what I like to think about in that realm. From the stock exchange to art… Moving through worlds… and geographically as well, on both sides of the pond. Some folks would think it fantasy. But we know, there are so many possibilities out there. Why, there are even real hummingbirds in this world. xxx

  3. Splendid, Shimon. ‘Only Connect’ as E M Forster subtitled Howard’s End. And if we don’t try to connect with other people and life forms, how impoverished our life would be. I love the story of the decadent shell. A state of becoming overwrought, or over-reaching until one becomes redundant. That’s a fascinating thought. There is just so much to learn. Every day there is something new to discover. What a great gift is that. Happy weekend to you.

  4. A civilization becomes decadent; is our’s becoming so?

    • I would be the last to say so, Peter, because I’m hoping for just the opposite. And in my lifetime, I have seen some great beginnings. A lot of people are pessimistic. When the TV became popular, it was thought that westerners would all turn into couch potatoes. Now there are those who think the cell phone is going to burn our ears off. I’m an optimist. I feel we’re still going through our infancy, and adulthood lies ahead.

  5. Very nicely put – such an interesting analogy.

  6. a rather short post from you, Shimon, but spot on, as always. Have a wonderful weekend.

    • Thanks very much, Loisa. There are some subjects… that no matter how much I’d say… there would be more… but the idea keeps us thinking. Wishing you too a beautiful week.

  7. …thank you for reflecting on this, Shimon. The Name reveals what we do know. Thinking this is too little, we search and search and say our little ‘Ahahs!’ and behave as if we are the masters of our own domain. But we still don’t know two things: where we came from, and where we we will end up. That alone demands humility.

    • Yes Lance, when we are young, we want to change the world. When we reach maturity, we try to learn how we fit in… what matters… and who else is here… and as we continue to grow, we are grateful for all we’ve been given. There is more than we’ll ever fully understand. Thanks for your comment.

  8. I wouldn’t have understood this half as well 20 years ago. I suspect I will understand it even better 20 years from now. Good Shabbos, Shimon.

    • Thank you very much, Jacquie. I still find it amusing to remember that a prominent revolutionary in the 60s told the youth of that time, ‘Don’t trust anyone over 30’. I remember thinking that he was a great pessimist, despite being a revolutionary (in the cultural revolution of the time). Not everyone sells out. And many of us grow more sensitive and aware with the passing of time, and so we’re open to more possibilities as we grow older. Thanks for your comment and my best wishes for a gut woch.

  9. What a lovely meditation, Shimon; thank you. The photo is just beautiful…a blessed Shabbat and new week to you.

  10. Hello, Shimon! My own life, while very full, has been busy to the point where I have chosen to spend my time away from the blogging world. What a nice re-entry with this lovely post. Yes, I agree. We are all connected and understanding is the path to a richer existence. Have a nice weekend, my friend!

    • I remember when I first discovered the blogosphere, I was looking and searching for interesting pages… and it seemed I never found enough. But after a while, I realized that there would always be more out there, than I could ever taste. Good to hear you’re life is full of activity. May it continue to be rich and gratifying, Cathy. And thank you so much for coming by.

  11. A wise observation, Shimon — and one that perhaps requires the accretion of years to be able to make. I wonder what sort of shells we individuals leave behind.

    • You ask a very good question, Nina… especially since you direct it in regards to us as individuals. As a society, I would think of great buildings and monuments… time capsules buried in the ground and sent out to space. But as individuals, I fear that our characteristic ‘home’ (as compared to the shell of the snail) is more likely to be intellectual in character… the letters written to loved ones, the tools we used all our lives, and the collection of plastic bags that we save for some emergency near the door to the kitchen. For many years, I had a few fountain pens that I thought most represented my life on this earth, and were dearest and closest to me. I even considered leaving them to my children as a final souvenir. But now they have been replaced by a computer which itself is replaced every few years… And it isn’t one computer either. There is one desk top, and a couple of lap tops, and a large tablet and a small tablet… and all the words and pictures that go through it will soon become irrelevant, I believe… Of course, when we find an interesting shell, it’s just one (or a few) out of millions that were here and gone… maybe the human equivalent of the shell will be a rusty plow, or a hard disc that could only work on a system that no longer exists… or maybe your question… echoing in the minds of those who come after us… wishing you a very sweet week, with good music and a few laughs.

  12. Brief but succint!
    May the force be with you Shimon.

  13. I agree, so well said, Mr. Shimon. We learn, the more we understand the world around us… and be open-minded to people and culture.

    • This is an age of specialization, Amy. And we seem more like the busy bees all the time. What a great pleasure it is to have an open mind. Thanks for your comment.

  14. Your writing and loving thoughts make my world richer , dear Shimon , and I thank you from a heart searching for light …love and blessings , megxxx

    • The wonderful thing about reading and writing, Meg… and I discovered that many years ago, when I was still a child, is that it enables us to communicate with others in far away places… and even in different times. I discovered that reading was a transcendental experience. And I have loved it ever since. May you find much light and sustenance for the soul, friendship and strength.

  15. Leaving our self centered selves seems to come more easily as we age. Maybe because we’ve had more time to realize that there is a connection between us all. At least for those lucky enough to realize that, to allow for that. Your photo is marvelous.

    • A baby checks out its own hands and feet. It is most concerned with its own existence, and with the breast that feeds it. As we grow older, we start examining our environment. At every stage of life, there are difficulties, frustrations and tests… emotions that run away with us… fears and shame. But there are also the possibilities for great finds and bliss. And we have to learn to choose what works for us. Thanks so much for your comment, Angeline.

  16. And as countries continue to repeat history rather than integrate its lessons, do people contribute to their own obsolescence? I would hope for a better way forward. And yet, I think of the snail of which you speak…and in its aging, such simple beauty.

    • We live in a world of contradictions, my dear Mimi. The simple is found at the core of the most complicated. It is our sense of things that makes things simple or complicated, and we have been given choice. What a great blessing. Aging too, brings many rewards… and all we have to do, is not fight it. Our countries, are very much like families of men, women. and children. Let us pray for the wise leadership of these families.

  17. It always amazes me how each of us gets some different meaning from your posts. For me, this spoke of our learning to accept the world just as it is by moving away from the ego to a feeling of connection to all.

    • Thank you so much for your sweet comment, Gypsy Bev. I couldn’t think of any higher praise. For when writing to an audience unknown, it is so difficult at times, to reach each reader on the level of a face to face conversation. All the same, that is my aspiration. And if in fact, each person understands a bit differently, it’s an indication that I’m managing somehow to do that. Your feedback is very gratifying.

  18. Beautiful! Well said! 🙂

  19. Very good. Well thought out. Very well written. The only part I can’t subscribe to is the reincarnation.

    • Ah Jim… there are things in this world that push our buttons, and it’s as if we hear something that we’ve already dealt with. When I speak of reincarnation, I speak of the person who was once an engineer, and then grew wings as an artist… or the farmer who tilled the earth, and sweated under the hot sun, and then found himself telling stories while sitting in the shade, a pool of water in his view. Not everyone, for sure… but there are those of us who’ve had a number of reincarnations in this life, and I count myself as one. Thanks very much for your comment.

  20. A beautiful picture Shimon. Your words as ever carry much wisdom. I think as others have said, one needs to reach a certain age before we begin to appreciate the truth in what you say!

    • Sometimes, Chillbrook, I look in the mirror in my bathroom… and see my father. And I say to myself, ‘how the hell did that happen?’ And especially since I was highly critical as a young man, I don’t study the image too long. I just take it as a reminder… and I’m out of there. Life is great. But some of the jokes are on us.

  21. Wonderful! Yes! I totally agree, we are all a part of this world, yet often exist within it, isolated from the bigger picture. I love those moments when I feel a part of nature rather than a viewer of nature. It is so easy to live in a bubble, but every choice we all make affects our planet earth…
    I would be interested to hear more on your feeling that we may have more than one incarnation, do you mean we change and evolve in our lifetime or suspect we may reincarnate? I do find the subject utterly fascinating and have read of animals and incidents of reincarnation too, all I know for sure, is that the more we all discover as a species, the more we have to learn. I do love your posts, you always get me thinking!xxx

    • Many, many years ago, I visited Disneyland. And what I got out of it was that it is better to truly live integrated in a wee tiny part of this great world, than to see the greatest wonders from inside a bubble… and as you say, Dina, we make our choices, and one choice opens up the possibilities for the next… and the next.
      My life has been so full up till now, that I haven’t gotten around to trying to imagine what’ll be after I’m dead. But I can tell you, that looking back, it does seem as if I’ve had numerous different lives. That the man from previous lives is hardly recognizable in my present state. And it’s amusing at times, to come across an artifact or a piece of work from one of those previous lives… and ask myself… how did he do that? Best wishes always. xxx

  22. A lovely post Shimon.

    Your last paragraph; how I wish it were true in fact and action. The sentiments I have absolutely no argument with at all, it is the reality of what I perceive is happening amongst and with homo sapiens in this world that opposes the thesis.

    • Every fashion begins with just a few who are enthusiastic. Within our little circle of friends, we can share the excitement of appreciation, and the inspiration that comes with it… and who knows… maybe others will find it too. There was a time when only the very few knew how to read and write, and now millions write their status reports on facebook. We must have hope. And we have seen some great advances in our lifetimes, Thanks very much for your comment, menhir.

  23. Over the past couple of decades I’ve repeatedly had occasion to think that the older I get, the less I understand people. Even worse is that I can often make sense of the human world if I adopt some very cynical assumptions.

    • I agree with you, Steve, that our perspective does change as we get older. But there’s a great difference if we focus in on individuals or on mankind as a whole, And even when we think of the great masses, we see that they are moved by exceptional individuals for the good and for the bad. It is not just the politicians and the commercial interests that influence us. There are also idealists, and songwriters who have great followings. And let’s not forget the example of Bill Gates. I think there is room for optimism. Thank you very much for your comment.

  24. Now that I have some years behind me, I’ve come to imagine my life in thirds, Shimon. First came a period of taking in: physical nourishment, formal education, the expectations of others. Next came a time of doing: great activity in an assortment of careers (those incarnations you speak of), travel, building a business. Today? There’s no question that my last third of life has become more reflective: a time for sifting and sorting, thinking, writing.

    Perhaps you read Peggy Noonan’s article in the Wall Street Journal, titled “Our Decadent Elites. I have a friend who spends more time on K Street in DC than she’s happy with, but her observations about life and lobbying there seem to support some of Noonan’s points.

    What does give me a certain pleasure is knowing that, while I can’t control their shenanigans, or how they loot the treasury, or the ends that their ludicrous policies may bring us to, I do have greater control over my own life than a younger me ever imagined. Living in an alternative universe may be a sign of psychosis — or it may be a wholly rational response to a world gone mad. It’s interesting to ponder, in any event. Thanks for your post, and its subtle reminder that society’s values don’t have to be my own.

    • I read Peggy Noonan’s article just because you mentioned it. I hadn’t heard of her before that, and most of my reading is in Hebrew in any case. I am not so familiar with TV, and don’t see popular shows. But it seems to me that within the framework of democracy, representatives are often willing to clown in order to win the friendship or admiration of the masses, and I’m not so sure it’s bad. I think there is decadence. It comes out most obviously in the cooperation between government and commercial and military industries. Sometimes it goes as far as taking bribes. It is hard for us to block such developments, but I do think it’s possible. And I agree with you, that we don’t have to adopt the popular notions or the momentary values. If we are a very small minority, we may be negligible in a political election, but still influence society in the long term. That has happened many times in history. A small group of people with a minority opinion has turned the tide. Thank you very much, Linda, for your comment.

  25. This was fascinating and factual. I respect your research and do think transformations are possible in a species. Such a deep post with good lessons. Thank you so much, Shimon.

    • I’m very glad you enjoyed the post, reocochran. People, societies, and sometimes a species as a whole… we are always going through changes. Sometimes they are so gradual we don’t see them. Sometimes, as in the case of little children, we do. And once we are aware of the changes and the growth, we can influence the changes too. Thanks for your comment.

  26. So true. And beautifully expressed as always. Now more than ever I am convinced of how similar we are beneath all our outward dissimilarities. And I do believe that the younger generation, in this more open world, is more aware of the fact than we were. So, yes, I am positive too.

    • I believe there is a lot of room for optimism, Madhu. Often, if we just leave it to chance, we will see the banal and the shallow. But when we look for beauty, we will find that too. Thanks for the comment.

  27. My ‘mycentric’ perspective is that over time I become more aware, know less and accrue a little of what I may call ‘wisdom’ that makes me hugely tolerant of everything to the point that life has to cajole from me an opinion now and then, a judgement once in a while, and the arousal of some dormant inclination to interfere in the sometimes brutal practices of human culture.

    But yeah, I get what you mean.

    • I agree with you, Marsh. Sometimes we have to stand up and offer an alternative view, even when it is unpopular and may give rise to antagonism. But even when we don’t find ourselves in such a dramatic situation; the way we live as individuals, the kindness and respect we offer to others, and the capacity we have to empathize with our surroundings, does influence others… and the world as well. Thanks for your comment.

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