He brought them all home


One hundred years ago today, the day was a Sunday, sank The Endurance.

It was the ship, actually more of a boat, from which Ernest Shackleton had hoped to enable his team to master the South Pole and conquer th’Antarctic.

I am indebted to both the RGS and BBC for bringing to my attention Frank Hurley’s splinteringly clear photographic account of what must have seemed the doomed record of a bizarrely timed expedition.

This link will get you to what I’ve just seen and clearly tells the story more authoritatively than I could.

Apart from the joy of hoping you see it, the reason it seems noteworthy is to applaud the ethic of ‘for its own sake’. I’m sure Shackleton was a beast of an egoist whose force of destiny drove his prudent historical placement. But that can’t have been all of it. Somewhere within his breadth and depth must have been nurtured the notion of striving to leap beyond his own, unsinkable endurance and inspire others likewise.

There seems something splendid in that.

Embryonic understanding


There’s much talk of research using embryos; it seems reasonable to suppose benefits will emerge. The industry requires objects upon which to conduct experiments and must supervene on Ethicists‘ acknowledgment of when Life begins: a foetus first wriggling or sucking its thumb or … something?

What, then, is an embryo? It might be useful to look at the end of Life … or death as it’s often termed.

What does it mean to be dead? The state of Life has left the body; the animating force defining consciousness has separated away? Equally, what does it mean to be alive? That an animating property has inseparably infused itself within and amid an entity – a fertilized egg. Whether a thing is alive or dead seems determined by the presence or absence of this animating property: Mind or Soul or however you choose to term a force utterly resistant to capture.

Can we posit the instant of mingling Mind with Matter is, for the sake of the argument, that moment Life begins? Or, is it vaguely the moment an embryo becomes a foetus; is that when life begins to beat? Yet this is merely one living thing evolving into another – egg, larva, pupa, butterfly: at which stage do we allow it life?

When one dies, everything stops. The counter-factual must be when one lives, everything starts.

It appears we’re still on the starting blocks in the race to understand ramifications of medical research. Freezing embryos, conducting research on them when less than 15 days old: it’s still experimenting on living, sentient, conscious beings.