Recently, I have developed a bizarre fascination with donkeys. They are odd-looking creatures with funny ears that make terrifyingly amusing noises. What’s not to love? I have spent the last few months of my life reading extensively about donkeys and have discovered several incredible, mind-boggling facts that I’d like to share with you so maybe you can find the same feeling of joy and love that I feel when I see one walking down the street.
1. DONKEYS HAVE 14 STOMACHS!!!!
That’s right! Your average donkey is able to consume 40 pounds of carrots in less than an hour thanks to all of these wondrous organs. A donkey can also generate additional stomachs throughout their lifetime. A donkey in Uzbekistan is the current worlds record holder with a reported 59 stomachs. How about that!?!?!
2. DONKEYS CAN LIVE FOR UP TO 3,000 YEARS!!!!!
Not only are donkeys loveable, but they are durable as well. The donkey that belonged to Plato, affectionately known as Rufus, is still with us today. Donkeys are able to regenerate any cells that die within a span of minutes. Nessie, the world’s oldest donkey, just had her 3,357th birthday. Back in the 1960s, the U.S. Army experimented by dropping 500 donkeys out of an airplane at 30,000 feet into occupied Czechoslovakia. Only one was slightly injured. The rest were healthy and immediately able to produce milk for American soldiers who were bravely battling the Germans in World War II.
3. DONKEYS ARE DESCENDED FROM LIONS AND HORSES!!!
Sure, lions and horses seem like a strange match, but hey, love is a many splendored thing! If you mate these two beasts you will produce a donkey. As crazy as it sounds, lion ranchers in New Zealand have been mating these two types of animals for the past 20 years. As a result, the donkey population has tripled. And as you well know, more donkeys mean more happiness for everyone!
4. DONKEYS CAN GROW TO THE SIZE OF ELEPHANTS!!!!
It’s true! When properly fed a balanced diet of oatmeal cookies and orange sherbet, donkeys can grow to the size of full-grown elephants. This can mean serious trouble for those who keep donkeys as house pets. Sure, tiny baby donkeys can be cute, but a full-grown mammoth jack donkey can grow to the amazing height of 160 hands (53 feet tall). An angry mammoth jack donkey can go on a rampage and destroy an entire village causing massive damage and severe injuries. So BE CAREFUL!
5. SIXTY FIVE PERCENT OF DONKEYS ARE ACTUALLY ROBOTS!!!!
It’s sure hard to tell the difference between a robot donkey and a real one. Here’s a tip, if your donkey starts going wild during a lightning storm, it’s probably a robot. If your donkey gets a cut and begins leaking oil, it’s probably a robot as well. Robot donkeys were first built during The Great Donkey Shortage of 1927 and have been with us ever since. They are just as friendly and good-natured as donkeys, but often have additional fun options like the ability to blend smoothies in their mouths. If owning a regular donkey seems financially out of reach, you just might want to consider picking up one of these wonderful mechanical creatures at your local Wal-Mart or certified Robot Donkey outlet.
6. DONKEYS CAN TELL TIME!!!!
Ever notice how a donkey sleeps at night and runs around playfully during the daytime? Can you guess why? It is a known fact among donkeyologists that these wonderful beasts can roughly tell what time of day it is based on whether the sun is out or not. They sure are smart!
7. ONE IN EVERY TWENTY DONKEYS ARE BORN WITH THE ABILITY TO SING!!!!
They are known for that ridiculous braying noise they make, but did you know that 1 in every 20 donkeys, if properly trained, can become remarkable singers. These special donkeys are born with unique vocal chords that allow the donkeys voice to create beautiful melodies. The Turkmen Donkey Choir, a group of talented donkeys from Turkmenistan who travel around singing old Rogers and Hammerstein show tunes, have performed to packed houses around the world and even had an audience with the Pope! Recently, a first in donkey musical history took place when a jenny named Roberta starred in the 2007 Metropolitan Opera performance of Turandot. She received rave reviews and a bouquet of carrots from the audience. Oh what a night!
8. SHERBET IS MADE FROM DONKEY BONES!!!!
Next time you are settling down after a hard day of work to a heaping bowl of everybody’s favorite delicious treat, remember to thank a donkey. If it weren’t for the Kraft Corporations decision back in 1953 to mix vanilla ice cream, ginger and donkey bones, sherbet would never have been discovered. Sherbet, once only believed to be a wonderful dessert, has recently been used successfully in medical trails for the treatment of Exploding Head Syndrome. So, not only do donkeys make people happy, they might just save some lives.
This thing that I think that I am, sometimes, I am not. Looking at an X-Ray of my right foot has twisted my mind into knots for the past few weeks. It’s not that they found anything that disturbing. My doctor discovered a bone spur, which I was pretty sure that I had. No surprise there. I am having surgery tomorrow. Again, not a surprise. The thing that got in my head was the X-ray itself. If I am what’s in that picture…what am i?
There was this picture of the bones in my foot staring at me. The doctor was pointing to things and saying a bunch of words, but I was transfixed on the picture. There I am? There I AM! There I am?!?!?!? This picture is of the inside of me. Underneath all of this skin and blood are a set of bones. These bones have been with me all of my life. They were at my high school graduation, they were there when I got married, they attended the births of my two beautiful children, they have seen me laugh, they have seen me cry, they have been there when I thought I was alone. I couldn’t process it. These bones are actually me!
The me that I think I am is the thing that experiences the world consciously. I am aware of feelings and ideas. I make plans and I remember experiences. I see, I smell, I touch, I taste, I hear. I have no problem associating these things with me. Then, there are these bones. They are in me, they are part of me, but I can’t believe that they are me. This picture wasn’t some random x-ray they keep in the back and show everybody. These were my bones! Seeing them really sucked the magic out of everything. I tend to think of myself as more than the sum of my parts, but maybe I am nothing more than my parts. Maybe, I am just bones and skin and blood with a few organs floating around.
There are parts of myself I have never seen. I don’t know what my hip bone looks like. I don’t know what my liver looks like. My heart, my brain, my lungs…all highly valuable parts, but I couldn’t tell mine from my neighbors. The me that I know seems so special, so unique. My memories seem so important, as if they are part of some great mystery that I have a lifetime to solve. My thoughts, my ideas, my identity all seem to be pieces in the great “who am I?” puzzle. They all conspire to make me believe that I am an enigmatic character whose mythology is terribly important. And then, there is this picture of the inside of my foot. It is not special. It is not unique. It is simply mineralized osseous tissue housed in a pile of skin that is called “foot”. There are somewhere in the range of 14 billion of them and they all pretty much look and act the same. Sure, there are minor subtleties and nuances, but for the most part, what is the difference?
My foot does not find itself unique. It pushes against surfaces over and over throughout a day. It works, it rests. It does not feel loneliness or claustrophobia if it is trapped in a shoe for too long. It does not become jealous that I am favoring my other foot. It does not make plans to meet with my spleen for coffee. It does not become romantically involved with my esophagus. It does not ponder the mysteries of the universe and wonder what will happen to it when it dies. It is material and material has no time for enchantment. It simply is. When it ceases to work, it will waste away along with the rest of this thing that is me.
There is a part of me that cannot imagine that this is possible. There must be something else, there must be something more. I am more than that picture. I am not just bones. I am not just flesh. I am something mystical. I am more than those parts. I am more than words on a page saying “healthy, well-developed 35 year old male suffering from Hallux rigidus“. Right? Right?!?!?!
Maybe this identity of mine that I find so fascinating is just a bunch of electrical impulses. Maybe we are just piles of material walking around among other piles of material, thinking that thoughts and memories and ideas make us more. These self-important piles of material spend much of their time avoiding damage so that they can one day be part of creating new piles of material. And on and on with no direction, no meaning and no end. Thousands of them are created each day and thousands disintegrate. It does not matter…it is only matter.
The presumption that we can understand the universe seems to be the single most absurd belief that human beings have formulated. Part of the problem with the question seems to hinge on how the word “understand” is interpreted. For the purposes of this article I will be using the word in a similar way that Robert Heinlein uses the word “grok” in his book Stranger in a Strange Land. To grok something is to comprehend something with all of one’s being. I can understand that human beings have 10 fingers, but I grok what it means to have and be able to use those fingers myself. They are a part of me and I know them to be incontrovertibly true. I understand my fingers in a pre-verbal, visceral way that can’t and doesn’t need to be explained. When someone watches a game of basketball they may understand that the goal is to put the ball in the hoop or that they have to dribble when moving or the fact that there are two sets of five different players on the court, etc. If you asked a person who knew this whether they understand the game, they would probably say “yes”. However, they certainly do not grok the game in its fullness. They do not know what its like to make an impossible shot or look up at an official for a brief second with the anticipation of a charge or blocking foul or to dive on the floor for a loose ball or any of the millions of possible experiences that could exist in a basketball game. They may hear the words but they don’t feel the music.
This problem of “understanding” relates to how our culture and many others tend to interpret the EVERYTHING. Often, humans are given two choices as if they reflected the only possible paths to groking the EVERYTHING in its fullness. We get a choice of science/reason/rational thinking or faith/spirituality/belief. I find neither of these answers to be helpful. Science has brought us many creations and understandings over the years. Scientists have given language to experiences like gravity. This language has allowed us to change how we perceive life. Without these understandings, many of the wonderful things that exist in our world (everything from flight to the internet) would not exist. Reason has brought us to heights never dreamed of by our forefathers. It has also brought us terrors never before imagined (germ warfare, nuclear annihilation). For my purposes, neither of these points is relevant to the question. Science has brought us to a place where we never believed we could be and the power of its creation has made us think that its potential for discovery is as infinite. I believe that science has limits. Heinlein gets the limits of science perfectly when Valentine Michael Smith (the protagonist in Stranger in a Strange Land) asks “How can you grok a desert by counting its grains of sand?” Science can create marvelous tools to manage parts of the physical world, but to grok it in its fullness there seems to be a need for something more. The explanation that love or joy or sorrow are nothing more than a few synapses firing in different directions seems woefully inadequate to explain us, let alone the interplay of billions of sentient creatures. There must be more.
But is that “something more” a belief in something beyond our understanding (a higher power?). Many people believe that God is an all-powerful; omniscient being that controls the universe. But if God is all-powerful and omniscient how could flawed, miniscule beings ever expect to understand anything about this God? How can we possibly grok something that is admittedly beyond our understanding? The idea itself seems bizarre. People often chalk up experiences to being “part of God’s great plan”. But, if we don’t completely understand what God’s plan for us is how can we possibly understand that an action is part of the plan? Why do those of faith assume that there is a greater reason for the things they do not understand? Maybe there is and maybe they are right but how would they know? We are given a scant few highly conflicting religious texts. Can it really be assumed that everything a person needs to know about the universe can be summed up in the Bible or another religious text? Many people believe this. I think the mistake in this is to assume that this thing can be understood using a book. One book, millions of books, cannot sum the EVERYTHING up. It is still greater than the whole of human knowledge, let alone the contents of one book. Belief often seems to function as a great off switch in the mind. We see something so beautiful or horrible or absurd that the mind says “Uncle!” and we give ourselves over to a belief that there must be some meaning to it that we are missing. But, how do we know that anything actually has a meaning? We can hope, we can wish, we can pray, but we can never know. We just chalk it up to an act of God or the workings of spirits that we can never conclusively prove to anyone including ourselves.
What troubles me about faith is not its deferment to a higher power but its willingness to concede truths to those who have come before or us or to books written before our time. Sometimes I wonder if the worship of God is merely the worship of the past. Maybe we are just harkening back to an illusory time where a more pious people than ourselves who knew more than us were able to connect with some great force in the sky and reveal its truths. Some religious folks look back to Moses or Jesus or Mohammad or a cast of many other characters and assume that they knew enough not only to understand their world but also to understand ours. I have a hard time believing that any person can possibly understand the world they are thrust into. The thought that a person who walked the earth 2000 years ago can not only understand his world but also understand mine seems highly unlikely. What if they are right? It doesn’t really matter because I can NEVER know for certain.
The “central” question faced by human beings is not spiritual or scientific but epistemological. How can we ever really know what we know or that we even know it? We are given limited and barbaric tools, our senses, in which to meet the world. These senses are easily fooled and can be manipulated by inside or outside forces. Yet I can’t even say for certain that anything is an illusion. If I spent a hundred lifetimes, I don’t know if I could grok in fullness the experiences that take place in one moment in one American town. And yet, somehow, humans feel it possible to understand the wholeness of everything. Science and religion fail to give the correct answer because they are asking the wrong question. The question is often posed as “How can we understand the universe?” (….and we get to choose between spirit and reason or some hybrid of both). The question should be “Can we understand the universe?” I simply don’t know that we are capable of this understanding. If we are capable of this feat of comprehension I don’t know that we can ever, for certain, know that we are capable of it. How would we know? What is our point of reference? How would we ever no for sure that our beliefs are not based on illusions or misinterpretations? We don’t know for certain and, yet, so many of our institutions, be they religious or secular, function on the belief that we know for certain how things are going to work out if we take certain actions or do things a special way. This belief pervades our churches, our hospitals, our schools and our homes. Our value judgments, our morality and our understandings are constantly shaded with the haughty taint of false understanding. Really, we know next to nothing. Maybe the only thing it is possible for us to completely understand about the universe is that we don’t understand the universe.