Life Drawing - Female

While literally naval-gazing, one of the interesting things I've been mulling over is that human bodies are made up of a multitude of creatures, working symbiotically together.

This idea has fascinated me for a long time, and was the impetus for my Symbiosis painting, recently featured on The Eloquent Atheist. Only recently did I come across an explanation for where the microflora largely come from.

Most of the symbiotic bacteria are transferred to infants from the mother, mainly during birth, and from the breast-feeding and foodstuffs to follow. I thought this topic would be an interesting counterpoint to these life drawings I did of a model at the Toronto School of Art last spring. Less so simply because the model was female; moreso because of every move, every pose we all make every day, we are a multitude of organisms working together, resting together and just being together.

While reading Daniel Dennett's Breaking The Spell, he makes another arresting point. Not only do you have an entire ecosystem of bacteria in your body, on your skin, "your body is composed of perhaps a hundred trillion cells, and nine out of ten of them are not human cells! (p.86)" The important point is that they are not transmitted genetically.

Some people say we are really all alone trapped inside our own minds and bodies. We seldom think of what organisms we share our bodies with, and that our whole lives, the ecosystem living within us and on us, is still evolving.

Bacteria can evolve at a prodigious rate; and for men, we carry them around, populations evolving as we subject their environments to espresso and fine cheeses, beer and pizza, until our whole system collapses. For women, it goes further. Women pass on their evolved-since-birth microflora to their children, when they give birth. As Dennett points out (p.86 again), since it is not a genetic inheritance, and so a surrogate-mother still gives her infant a large portion of its future health during the minutes of birth.

In an interesting turn in one of my favourite sci-fi series, a few characters in David Brin's Heaven's Reach , part of the Uplift Storm trilogy, find themselves becoming symbiotically entangled not only with other similar, oxygen-breathing aliens, but also with the mysterious hydrogen breathers that live inside gas giants. All of them are swallowed up, to transcend into being part of a new organism known as 'Mother'.

There are more interesting things to learn about this subject. Check out the Wikipedia entry, and more at ScienceBlogs.

Amazing. No person is an island; but we are all ecosystems.

Glendon Mellow featured on The Eloquent Atheist

The Eloquent Atheist, an online atheist & humanist magazine, has featured one of my paintings, Symbiosis.

This is the first entry by a visual artist on The Eloquent Atheist, and naturally (not supernaturally) I am very excited to be a part of it! From The Eloquent Atheist:

"Our intent is to expose people to the positive aspects of Atheism and
Humanism through various types of the written arts..."

I do consider myself to be a Bright , a term coined a few years ago for one who believes in a natural universe. It is an umbrella term, or at least it seeks to be for people who variably describe themselves as atheists, humanists, rationalists, Darwinists, skeptics and freethinkers. Some find the "Bright" name unappealing, and worry it is too arrogant or silly. A proposed term (I believe by Daniel Dennett) for people who believe in the supernatural, is "Supers". I have chronicled my growth out of agnostic-pagan thought before, and I like the Bright label. Hard to say you're a Darwinist when you are talking about astronomy or quantum mechanics, since evolution by natural selection doesn't enter into it.

Just to be all linky about it,
the article is here.

A bio about me is on
The Eloquent Atheist here.

My original post about the painting
Symbiosis is here.

I also posted
a sketch I did of the painting here.

There are a lot of great articles and pieces of poetry on The Eloquent Atheist. A special piece by Harvey H. Madison called Cosmic Connection struck a chord with me, it is secular numinism, if I may say such a contradiction in terms. As well, Michael W. Jones' short story, Night Sky is a thoughtful portrayal of realising which universe we really live in. Fans of astronomy should check these out.

Thanks to Michael W. Jones and Marilyn Westfall at The Eloquent Atheist for creating a great magazine, and for showcasing my artwork.

Life Drawing - Male

Nothing is as interesting to human beings as looking in a mirror, or looking at each other. Humans evolved on the African savannah and as a species became very good at some specific things.

We can hurl medium-sized rocks and sticks a medium distance. We can run and throw at the same time, better than any other animal.

We are excellent at recognising patterns, to the point of finding frequent, imaginative false-positives.

We can instantly see the mistakes or novelties in depictions of the human form.

A strange thing has happened while reading two different books at the same time. I was reading the hard-sci-fi novel about global warming, Fifty Degrees Below, by Kim Stanley Robinson, and I am still enjoying philosopher Daniel Dennett 's Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, and both of these books are mentioning Acheulean hand-axes.

I had never heard of these before, and they are a fascinating part of our prehistoric heritage, throughout the Old World continents, really, that I am quite upset this was never mentioned in school. I mean, they were in use for almost a solid million years! Some mysteries still elude us as to their use, but they were obviously important enough to be so abundant, and in my book, by age 12, should have been mentioned, studied and discussed.

One of my favourite characters that I have read in years, is Frank Vanderwal in K.S. Robinson's Fifty Degrees Below. He finds out about these hand axes from some target-frisbee-throwing freegans, and decides it is a nice neolithic way to get exercise.

After a nearly a million years of making and teaching about Acheulean hand-axes to generation after generation, might there be a propensity for making and caring for tools, and feeling satisfied when using them well that is reinforced neurologically? Do we have a receptor that releases a trickle of endorphins when tool use is successful? As an artist, I feel it seems likely. However, that is anecdotal, and not worth as much as evidence pursued, double-blind trials followed, and theories confirmed.

In the spirit of our forebears, those deadly upright artisans, this post contains images of life drawings I did last spring, where the model was holding a long pole throughout the poses.