Note: This transcript has not been proofread, and therefore its accuracy is not guaranteed.
Wright: Ursula Goodenough is a professor of biology at Washington University in St. Louis and the author of "The Sacred Depths of Nature." I interviewed her in Washington, DC. Well first of all thanks for dropping by our studios today such as they are here.
Ursula Goodenough: My pleasure.
Wright: You are a cell biologist.
Ursula Goodenough: That's right.
Wright: Although the reason we're having this conversation is that you've written a book, "The Sacred Depths of Nature," which is only partly about biology. It's also an attempt, I think this is fair to say, an attempt to reconcile modern biology and really a modern scientific world view with religion in some sense of the world religion, religious outlook in some sense of that term. And there's actually been some controversy over whether you are using the term religion in a full fledged invalid sense and we'll get to that. But the first thing I wanted to ask you is you start the book out by saying you wrote this book because of your father.
Ursula Goodenough: Right.
Wright: What do you mean by that?
Ursula Goodenough: My father was a historian of religion and he brought all sorts of people therefore into the house talking about religion and I just got the sense that it was important that it was something that people did and thought about even though there wasn't much religious practice in my family per say. And so when I became a scientist and as I got older I realized that what I was understanding about the science was a very large story that was had perhaps religious potential so I began to explore that possibility and that's really how I would characterize the book, that it's an exploration to see whether this scientific world view has religious potential or not.
Ursula Goodenough: I'm certainly not the only person who has done that but that was my take on what I was doing.
Wright: Right. Ok.
Wright: Now he, judging by one of the juxtapositions of quotes from him, it sounds like he, in trying to just think about religion in a modern scientific age, he was a bit ambivalent. I mean, it sounds as if he didn't entirely let go of his traditional religion in the end... I mean, let me read the quote: "on the one hand he was known to say 'I do not believe in God' but toward the end of his life he wrote: 'I still pray devoutly and when I do I forget my qualifications and quibbles and call upon Jesus and he comes to me.'" Now, it sounds, I get the impression you have much more fully let go of a traditional conventional kind of religion.
Ursula Goodenough: Well that's because I never had one...
Wright: Ok. That makes it easy, doesn't it.
Ursula Goodenough: He his experience might have been not dissimilar to yours in that he was raised in a fundamentalist Methodist Victorian...
Wright: His father was a minister is that right?
Ursula Goodenough: Not a minister. He was a lawyer, actually. But he was very devout, he was the head of the Sunday school, you know he was just really that was the deal ... Sundays one did nothing except go to church and read the Bible or whatever. So it was a very very... and then he went to seminary he was ordained as a Methodist minister so he had his first 25 years was completely in that tradition and nothing like that was in mine so I didn't have anything to call on in particular...
Ursula Goodenough: ...in the same way he did. And that quote of his about calling on Jesus and he wrote several books about this actually was That he came to see these things as metaphor, as accessing parts of himself that were his religious self.
Ursula Goodenough: I think it's fair to say that he, you know, the standard doctrines of Christianity were things that he did not take literally.
Wright: And you certainly don't?
Ursula Goodenough: No.
Wright: And you use the phrase, you didn't coin the term but you use the phrase "religious naturalism" to describe what this enterprise...what does that mean?
Ursula Goodenough: Ok, well naturalism has been defined by many people. It's just a world view that does not include the supernatural so it's everything else ... quite a bit to think about. And then the religious part is taking naturalism which most people think of as, at best, a philosophy or take on things and asking to what extent does it illicit religious orientation. And so then obviously my task was to figure out how to express what I thought religious orientation is and work with that and that is really how the book evolves.
Wright: Ok and what is religious orientation and maybe I can... let me read a little bit from the book. By the way, it's a very nicely written book and I think other people have commented on that. You you say "What is being religious anyhow? What about the way when I feel when I think about how cells work or how creatures evolve. Doesn't that feel the same as when as when I am listening to the Saint Matthew Passion or standing in the nave of the Notre-Dam cathedral?" So awe is one thing you are talking about. Is that all you're talking about? I mean, you know, there's been some complaints... Richard Dawkins I believe complained a little that you've kind of taken religion out of religion. I mean I don't mean Richard Dawkins would mind if the world ... if religion were banished from the world of course but in other words he thought in claiming to reconcile science with religion you had a pretty minimal definition of what religion is. Is that fair to say?
Ursula Goodenough: Ok. First of all, I don't think that my claim is that I am reconciling science and religion. I'm taking science and asking where what can come from it to us in terms of religion and so I have, since writing the book in the course of lectures and so on, have developed the... what do I mean by religious question in more of a aphoristic way than I do in the book so I now tell audiences that I see religion as being... being religious as dealing with three orientations. One is a reconciliation or finding oneself in ultimacy so large questions God questions, whatever. The second is you pretty much have to use the word spirituality in our culture although I prefer sort of more interiorities so these would be personal experiences including awe, wonder, gratitude, and so on that come to us in all sorts of contexts and I'm suggest as in what you just wrote they can ... experience can I believe come with apprehending the naturalistic world view. And then the third I call communion. This is reaching out, empathy, concern with suffering, that kind of thing. So I see those three as aspects of the religious life.
Ursula Goodenough: Then the question is, in those three areas, how does one orient oneself and to what extent is our naturalism a resource for that orientation.
Wright: And in the case of the first one, the God type questions, your answer is not the God answer. So, what's an example of a kind of answer to that type of question you can have other than the God answer?
Ursula Goodenough: Well, God answers of course come in every flavor imaginable these days so God can be process God can be mind God can be Jack Haughtt and Ken Miller sort of have God working through evolution and so there are all of these ways that God is now configured as well as the ones that come to us from traditional religions where God has much more power then there's the whole personal God part which I do talk about in there at some point. So I don't think that even that there is a God framework out there at this point that I am either accepting or rejecting, My response is that I call myself a non-theist as opposed to an atheist because as I see an atheist as having a belief about God, i.e. that there isn't one. And my I've never been actually very interested in the question I guess is one way to put it. I see it as a question That can be summarized in the aphorism "Why is there anything at all rather than nothing." And science doesn't have any answer to That so what I articulated in the book and continued to do is what I call a covenant with mystery where mystery is itself a (()) noun but I am using it as literally in absence of category it's not like I have a mystery then I put attributions onto it it just ... I don't know the answers.
Wright: Ok. The ... talk a little about your biological world view and how and the one That you lay out in the book and how it fills you with some of the feelings that people commonly associate with religion.
Ursula Goodenough: Well that's the whole book...
Wright: Yea, well, you've got 90 seconds...
Ursula Goodenough: I've got 90 seconds... the way the book is structured is I am very much trying to give the biological world view to my reader whom I assume is not familiar with it so a lot of the book and in fact most of the work I put into the book was trying to generate some sense of understanding about molecules and cells and genetics and so on for the non-scientist because otherwise of course they could not possibly respond to it one way or the other and in fact the usual default response as near as I can tell is one of alienation and non-religious sense...
Wright: The response to science...
Ursula Goodenough: Yes, to this understanding. So the way the book is structured is in 12 parts where each part of the biological story is then followed by what I call a reflection and I worked very hard to try to have the reflection be true to the story that I was telling and not forced in any way. So, let's see, there's... I talk about the origins of life and there I introduce a very important concept, the one of emergence which of course you work with in "Non Zero" as well as of something more for nothing but and the whole notion that that's how biological life biological systems...
Wright: And there have been thresholds where particular properties emerged in the course of evolution.
Ursula Goodenough: Exactly.
Wright: What are some of the key ones?
Ursula Goodenough: Oh, well, so at this at the cellular life it's just life from non life...
Wright: That's a big one... we're all grateful for that one.
Ursula Goodenough: That one is good and then it sort of depends on which radiation you follow. If you follow the eukaryotic one then there was the emergence of sex, the emergence of motility...
Wright: Meaning? Self-propelled movement?
Ursula Goodenough: Yea. So motility is something more I mean you can have a world with no motility in it...
Wright: People take it for granted but it did have to be invented.
Ursula Goodenough: Right and it got invented several times actually with different kinds of motors and molecules. And then the emergence of a neuron that clearly was an idea where you can see the antecedents for it but the way it all comes together generates something more, i.e. a long cell that can make contact with two other cells at either end and that's generated a whole way of coordinating multicellular creatures. So those are some emerging properties. And then consciousness, our particular form of consciousness so lots of different things That we can....
Wright: Now you, you're not contending, you're not arguing necessarily that these were very likely things I mean that's one path you can take and in fact I've taken it and argued that actually reflective intelligent life was fairly likely to evolve and even that that might be some evidence That there's some That natural selection itself was set in motion to attain some end conceivably. But that is what we refer to as natural theology that type of argument, looking, inspecting nature for some signs of divinity in some sense. Religious naturalism is to be contrasted with natural theology because that's not what you're up to right?
Ursula Goodenough: No, that's not what I'm up to.
Wright: But you do find something inspiring about the emergence even if you don't consider it even a flicker of evidence for overarching purpose?
Ursula Goodenough: Right.
Wright: And how...
Ursula Goodenough: Well just the existence of it, the fact of it, the remarkable magic of it...
Wright: What would have guessed...
Ursula Goodenough: Yea,
Wright: ... That this process would have lead to all this...
Ursula Goodenough: ... and my ability to perceive it and experience it. All of that is, to me, worthy of at least as much gratitude as anything else that I find in the traditions, so that whole orientation toward it is for me enough without the added spin which many people put in that there may have been some unmoved mover behind it all.
Wright: Right. So would you say that in your world view there is no... there is meaning in your world view but there is no transcendent source of meaning.
Ursula Goodenough: Right.
Wright: So what is the source of meaning?
Ursula Goodenough: What is?
Wright: Ok. And the appreciation of it...
Ursula Goodenough: And my ability to... and and and... the book ends the one belief statement I make is called a credo of continuation where the idea is that it's so incredible and so beautiful and so improbable that my orientation is to do everything I can to assure that this amazing process continues to go on, including I'll then add a credo of human continuation since I see humans as terrific.
Wright: I agree.
Ursula Goodenough: Celebration of the human is something that doesn't always come from sort of more eco-oriented philosophies where the human is seen as a big problem and that's not where I wind up at all.
Wright: Yea, there is something called eco-spirituality, that's a term you would not put your work in That category.
Ursula Goodenough: No. Not really because most eco-spirituality that has come my way at least the science is soft at best.
Wright: You mean the gia hypothesis and things like that?
Ursula Goodenough: Yes or whatever you know it's kind of there isn't any particular that I can see interest in it or attention to it. It ... you sort of hear there are cells maybe it's almost like an escape from that and to a much more romantic or romanticized view of what nature is than where my training comes ... else and so given my training that all just feels really mushy like somebody going into a museum and saying "Gee pretty colors" when there are Cezannes on the wall. There's something really happening and so that's how I feel about a lot as much as I'm obviously heartened by anyone who takes the natural world seriously I see that what I'm doing is has this other component to it.
Wright: On the third set of issues you think any religion should address I think broadly we could say we are talking about moral issues, I mean compassion, the way you treat other people and so on. I guess one question people would ask about a belief system that does not have a transcendent source of meaning is how can you how can you make truly moral assertions in other words how can you talk about what's right and wrong if there's no ultimate source of right and wrong to align yourself with. I mean how can moral claims be anything other than people saying this is what I think you should do?
Ursula Goodenough: That's a huge problem. I don't think that it's solved by having you know a morality out there because you're still adopting the one that you perceive as being out there and somebody else will have a revelation of another morality out there so I think that all of these moralities are winding up wind up having an arbitrariness to them all. The claims about arbitrary...
Wright: And those people are right that there is you know that there is an ultimate source of meaning...
Ursula Goodenough: That's right but the question is how could such a claim be...
Ursula Goodenough: Verified and that to my knowledge after many thousands of years of claims is something that still ...
Wright: People do seem to disagree over this question don't they?
Ursula Goodenough: Yes. Right.
Wright: And what about the technical question of whether something an outlook can be called religious if it doesn't make a claim about a transcendent or transcendental source of meaning.
Ursula Goodenough: Yeah well I think this urge to find a transcendent source of meaning is huge I mean we are meaning seekers.
Ursula Goodenough: And so that's how we work and that's how all creatures work in some sense. I mean, we're all trying to interpret our context, come up with solutions and so when you get to the human who has this particularly brainy brain the question goes ultimate and or at least larger than what's here and so the answer is what you know so this is then sort of the ultimacy question if you will, transcendent question and the question is do what kinds of answers does one come to and there are all sorts of transcendent response on offer but they to my mind are not necessary to call oneself religious. And obviously this is you know semantics as much as anything else. But I do go ahead and consider myself a religious person and ...
Wright: Thank you .. you go to church don't you?
Ursula Goodenough: I well yea so I don't any more I did for a long time. I have to say that most of what I was getting out of that was a sense of place a sense of history the music and the art and the ritual are of my people and there was something...
Wright: By of my people you mean ...
Ursula Goodenough: WASP But you know, we're a people too you know we're usually set up as beings that which isn't a people because all the other peoples are people but you know my great great grandmother worshiped in a protestant church and I feel a connection and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. But I don't have the same beliefs that I presume she did. I don't... That just isn't, doesn't bother me. What was interesting was when I was in this fairly well it was a liberal presbyterian church as opposed to some of them but the God concepts that I did hear articulated in the few adult things that I went to were quite diverse, everybody was coming up with different ways of doing this so maybe maybe I'm strange in not in feeling comfortable with not having a transcendent framework but I don't think I think that a lot of people who say they have a transcendent framework it's much more a work in progress than it is something that they can really tell you about.
Wright: Let me ask you when you say that there is sacredness is nature. Where most people associate sacredness again with some sacredness you know means kind of divinely sanctioned, I mean sacredness is thought of as coming...
Ursula Goodenough: ... implies a sacred...
Wright: ...from something above or beyond. How where do you what do you mean when you say you've found nature to be sacred.
Ursula Goodenough: Well so all of these terms have that duality so if I say that I feel gratitude for my existence There are many who say well you can't feel gratitude until unless you feel gratitude to someone alright. Sacred can't be sacred without a sacrilizer. Reverence and so on all of these things have to have a meta a causer and all I can say is they don't for me, that I feel like I can experience gratitude just for what is and that I don't have to have a source or a plan or a purpose for that what is and but that seems to just allude people who are temperamentally different than me and I've come to the conclusion that there are two general types of people along these lines, some really need for their meaning to have a meaning maker and others almost don't and I'm not sure That that's anything it certainly nothing that concerns me what I'm trying to suggest is That this naturalism story is one that we can and should all be able to get and appreciate and then at the end of the day those who need a purpose maker for it can organize themselves around That purpose maker and those who don't don't.
Wright: So your world view is not incompatible with the notion of higher purpose it's just an issue you don't get into.
Ursula Goodenough: Right.
Wright: In the book I think you say that one reason you wanted to write about this is because of the point of the Earth's history that we're at right now. There's something There about how There are you know There are a number of problems That the world needs to solve together but There is a lack of a kind of common philosophical/spiritual basis to draw on.
Ursula Goodenough: Right.
Wright: And is I mean is That a fair...
Ursula Goodenough: Yea, that's fair. Now until recently most of our moral and spiritual context was local, in the family, in the church, in the community but That now There are this growing list of global concerns and we don't have any global orientation to base those conversations on and that's because from my perspective and this is really a point That Loyal Rue started out making so I'm really carrying That on That the cosmologies That these individual units are using are not every bodies story whereas the scientific cosmology applies to all of us so therefore has a potential for globalness That the other stories don't have and it's independent of these little stories so it's not really a challenge to them. They can co-exist in my mind ...
Ursula Goodenough: ... in a way That Islam can not necessarily co-exist with Hinduism. They have different trajectories.
Wright: I see.
Ursula Goodenough: Whereas this does not. It's outside of those boxes.
Wright: Because it's not making claims in the areas where they disagree...
Ursula Goodenough: Right.
Wright: ...about theological matters.
Ursula Goodenough: Exactly, exactly.
Ursula Goodenough: So the fantasy in all of this and it's fantasy That might have some bearing a hundred years from now so I have no sense That this is anything That is going to happen in my lifetime but we have to start somewhere. Was there...if the religious potential of every bodies story were something That could come to be experienced by a lot of people That could then serve as the matrix for making global ethical or moral decisions.
Wright: Now a phrase you use in this book is the "epic of evolution" which I guess was coined by E.O. Wilson is That right?
Ursula Goodenough: That's what... that's what Connie Barlow said so...
Wright: Yea, I think it's true. What does it mean to you and how is it important?
Ursula Goodenough: Well so I'm perfectly comfortable with other synonyms so ... Brian Swimm has the universe story, or Thomas Berry has the new story, so all of these things but all of it is this notion That until recently our scientific understandings were quite compartmentalized, There was physics, There was chemistry, and so on and only recently to use Ed's word today ...was even an idea That There was some consolance between these things until quite recently life still was posited as having this (()) other thing coming through and so it's really only certainly in my lifetime That I think one could even say That anybody particularly had a story to tell That was based on scientific understanding. But now There is one and There are a lot of people in the business of telling you and that's one of the things that's fun about the group of people with whom I'm associated is That we all have very different ways of telling it very different things That we emphasize and also you know different people have different take homes different spins in terms of transcendent meaning.
Wright: Well some people see evolution as being more directional than others. Some people might think as I do intelligence was very likely to evolve given enough time. Some people don't.
Ursula Goodenough: Well I think it was very likely to evolve given time. I totally agree with you on That it's just so no question I don't agree with Stephen J. Gould That if you wind it back it wouldn't happen I'm more of a do you know Matt Cartmill? He has a wonderful piece on all of this. But anyway, yea, I think it was you know There were a lot of things That had to happen but those things probably would have happened sooner or later. But That still for me does not generate the therefore it was in a mind.
Wright: Right. The question of direction is separate from the question of design or purpose.
Ursula Goodenough: Right.
Wright: In your mind is directionality any degree of evidence in favor of the hypothesis of overarching design?
Ursula Goodenough: No I see it as the consequence of emergence...
Wright: Well yea.
Ursula Goodenough: ... build. and you do That nicely in "Non Zero." you know once you have something that's built...
Wright: Right. No I certainly agree you can have a mechanistic explanation of how natural selection did it and you're a thorough going reductionist in That sense but ...
Ursula Goodenough: Reductionist emergentist.
Wright: Right I mean That in a pejorative sense of reductionist.
Ursula Goodenough: Ok.
Wright: But in the sense That you think That all of this has a material explanation.
Ursula Goodenough: Right, right.
Wright: I certainly agree That that's the explanation of it's unfolding but the question I'd ask is when a mechanistic thing unfolds in this consistent and very interesting direction isn't That at least some evidence That the overall mechanism and here I mean natural selection was possibly the product of design.
Ursula Goodenough: Go for it.
Wright: You don't think it adds at all to the....
Ursula Goodenough: I could you know I often wonder what it would feel like to you know sort of orient myself in That kind of faith...
Wright: Well I wouldn't call it faith...
Ursula Goodenough: Well it's not something That you can prove so it's something you discern of as ...
Wright: Well There are things That you can't prove That you can still argue empirically about.
Ursula Goodenough: Fine. So but in the end so I can sure I can agree with you That the epic of evolution can be interpreted full blown as design from the start allowed to take off, a goal in mind of the human or whatever goal one is interested in and That That is completely consistent with the data. I mean you know so obviously some design things like Behe type design doesn't...
Wright: Oh right, that's a separate question.
Ursula Goodenough: Right. But the metaconcept That There is some something out There designing it is absolutely nothing That I would ever refute or say I have evidence to refute. I mean, that's the atheist position and I don't I don't have any impulse to go There. But you know at the same time, it's not a orientation That is my own.
Wright: Now one of the things That has emerged is consciousness by which I mean, people use the term differently, I mean I'm not talking about self-consciousness here necessarily but sentience. The subjective .... subjective experience...
Ursula Goodenough: Let's get a few words here so is ... do you have to have a nervous system to be sentient?
Wright: All the things That we're sure pretty sure are sentient have them but I don't know I mean... I'm agnostic...
Ursula Goodenough: I mean plants turn...
Wright: Right, I'm agnostic on the question of whether other information processing systems might be sentient. I don't know the answer to That question. We know at some point finally it got There and I think most of us think it got There sometime before humans, That dogs experience pain and so on..
Ursula Goodenough: How about snails? I mean I argue this in the book...
Wright: Could be... I know you do and could be. It seems to me a kind of less anthropocentric hypothesis to say That sentience is a property that's associated with you know with this with information processing generally or with certain types than to say That only people have it. SO I wouldn't necessarily draw a line between me and snails or between me and bacteria.
Ursula Goodenough: Ok. Fine. So I... the now if I decided to use for this ability of interactiveness if you will as awareness.
Wright: Right although I thought the way you were using it seemed I couldn't tell I thought by awareness it was almost a behavior definition. In other words, the respond to the environment as if aware and I thought and I wasn't sure whether you...
Ursula Goodenough: Well they have they have receptors systems and so on That allow this ability to detect what's out There and respond.
Wright: Right so if something is aware, if a bat is aware then does That mean There is something it is like to be the bat as Thomas Negal put it. I mean is That you mean if you say snail is aware you mean it's like something to be a snail. There's subjective experience associated with it.
Ursula Goodenough: No. I don't because ...
Wright: Yea, okay. That's what I mean.
Ursula Goodenough: Right so therefore so but you know now if you're going to have subjective experience as your criterion for sentience...
Ursula Goodenough: Ok, so then presumably you are at the very least having something with some sort of a brain. So you are...
Wright: I guess.
Ursula Goodenough: ... eliminating bacteria and plants.
Wright: I don't know I mean...
Ursula Goodenough: Ok. I don't know...
Wright: When bacteria you know recoil in the face of noxious stimuli who am I to say they don't feel some little increment of pain? I don't know. They do process information and that's what makes them recoil.
Ursula Goodenough: Right. When I am with chimp and bonobos the few times I have had the opportunity to do That I am quite convinced That I am picking up subjectivity with in observing them in the same way That I pick up subjectivity when I am among humans. And I don't get That sense when I am with dogs and cats with whom I spend a lot of time so I get That they are taking in the environment That they're responding to it That they are fully conscious in the same way That I am but it's not obvious to me That they are self-reflective about their conscious experience.
Ursula Goodenough: And so That is where that's what I would call subjectivity.
Wright: I see.
Ursula Goodenough: But these are all and I don't think That the bonobos That I've spent time with my whole half hour of it have a subjectivity the same as yours.
Wright: Why thank you. I'm very flattered. I've been trying to impress you throughout this interview and I see I've succeeded.\
Wright: In theory you should not be able to ask someone who does not believe in God about the problem of evil but I think I may have found a way so hear me out. You're depicting nature as this kind of sacred thing That I guess it would be going to far to say That you're into nature worship maybe but there's a little of That flavor. And my question is natural selection is indeed wonderful process should fill us all with awe but it's also a really horrible process and the price for it's creation is a huge amount of suffering and death. So why why should a Darwinian view of the world in That way make us feel all That kindly toward nature? I'm glad it created me and everything but it seems to me its arguable whether the beauty of the creation and the fun of being one of it's creations justifies all the out and out suffering That was the price.
Ursula Goodenough: Well how else would you have done it?
Wright: Well That ... I wasn't in charge of the process but I mean in general if I'm going to...
Ursula Goodenough: I mean you have you have matter to work with presumably I mean unless you can construct another a universe but given the universe on offer and the planet on offer...
Wright: It's a very elegant process in terms of you know the simplicity of the thing and how little you need in the way of ingredients in the beginning compared to what you get out of the process. I agree. But its easy in principle, one could look at natural selection and just as easily decide to be horrified as decide to be generally inspired.
Ursula Goodenough: I don't think I'm inspired by mutation and natural selection per say I don't think... That just turns out to be in general the way that something like this is probably going to have to work to get emergent properties unless it's all designed a priori and then you have to worry about how That guy got the ideas but if you don't have the ideas if you don't have it front loaded then it pretty much needs to work That way and I don't ... my orientation is not That you know That I have any awe about this particular process it's kind of mechanical it's kind of self-evident it's what resulted That I find sacred and what ... the fact that it resulted along the way There was a lot of death you know to design a system that has no death in it you really have to organize the whole thing pretty differently and take away entropy and do other kinds of things to get something...
Wright: Although what resulted is also intermittently horrible I mean a lot of the animals spend time killing each other and stuff.
Ursula Goodenough: Right so along the way you know there some creatures once I mean so you have photosynthesis and if it was just done by photosynthesis we might think That it was a pretty peaceful kingdom. but...
Wright: But it's not as fun to be a plant...
Ursula Goodenough: ... as it turns out That the cheap and dirty way of making a living by eating other creatures That have already made a living I mean talk of something that is inevitable, it's pretty inevitable That would have come up the minute you had any kind of life at all and there it is.
Wright: And also I mean we're all presumably glad that it didn't end with photosynthesis because presumably it isn't like much of anything to be a plant. It's very interesting to be a human being,
Ursula Goodenough: Yea, right so but so if we say that plants aren't sentient then yes so the idea That getting so in order to get something that can eat other things you have to get motility comes in pretty quickly and armor comes in pretty quickly and skeletons and all sorts of things That lead up to us and that's kind of...
Wright: So if you were to try to ... I mean one justification might be on this planet and in this universe it seems to be the price you pay for creating really interesting forms of life that can reflect on the meaning of it all.
Ursula Goodenough: Right. In fact that's a phrase in "Sacred Deaths" ...
Wright: I know...
Ursula Goodenough: Death is the price you pay...
Wright: I was pretty sure I hadn't thought of it myself but I was willing to take credit if you hadn't spoken up.
Wright: Finally, let me just ask you you say for a while you were a kind of a non believer who went to church anyway for the atmosphere and so on or maybe a little more profound than That...
Ursula Goodenough: Much more profound...
Wright: But anyway you I know you have at times been a mediator as well. Do you still meditate?
Ursula Goodenough: No I'm not very good at it that's the problem. I have a very hard time shutting down so But in sort of the lotus position kind of way but I certainly to the extent that I do shut down I do in nature contexts so sitting at the ocean, being in a field all by myself I can maximally get out of my own CNN and be somewhere else and so I certainly whether I'm actually getting to any kind of a state that a Buddhist would give me any kind of check mark and say I could go on the next class I don't know. I certainly find the experience of nature to be my most transcendent in a horizontal way.
Wright: Although the word you use in the book which is a word often contrasted with transcendence, eminence. In the context pf meditation right?
Ursula Goodenough: Right. Well I've never heard eminence used in the context of meditation...
Wright: I thought you did... you talk about... let me try to track it down... you say... "I have yet to reach anything in meditation anything approaching Nirvana but when I am invaded by eminence most often in the presence of beauty or love or relief my response is to open myself to it's blessing."
Ursula Goodenough: Ok. Yea. So eminence then for me is just this experience of being this experience of life of my huge sense of gratitude that I have of life that I'm living and I have this astonishing opportunity to explore it and be a part of it.
Ursula Goodenough: It's very humbling.
Wright: Well it may not be Nirvana but if I was a Buddhist instructor I would give you some credit ...
Ursula Goodenough: You would ok.
Wright: Anyway thanks very much for doing this.
Ursula Goodenough: Thanks it's been an interesting interview.