If I am not careful, I am going to begin sounding like my friend, Matt Segall —not a bad thing, just this blog post’s content is more his forte than it is my typical fare. I was recently hiking Mt. Pisgah, which is in North Carolina, and I was struck by some ideas; dualities in reflection, mostly. Near the top of the craggy trail, which is hardly “moderate,” as at least one website claimed, I chanced upon a tree and shrubbery-like growth that looked like something out of a movie.
The pictures do not do justice what was before the camera. What one might be able to see is the complex layers of life on the organisms. On the tree was an ivy of some sort, a grassy fuzz upon it and the bark of the tree, fungal patches upon those, in some places, and then insects (ants and some others that I could not identify). There was even a kind of slime dripping from the tree. This tree, and the shrubbery next to it, weren’t just alive; all trees are living; but this tree had layers of life, as if there were something about it and its location that made it a cite that burgeoned and teemed with life upon life upon life. My mind went back to Ben Woodward’s book, Slime Dynamics, a work that illustrates and examines somewhat scientifically, in a sense, but much more poetically and philosophically, the life-bearing quality of “slime,” generically so called. All too often, we forget that theory and data are never married, allowing people of the Western scientistic age to think of science as the only empirical pursuit, where phenomena are confronted with or stand in immediate relation to theory. Likewise, “empiricism,” because we so forget about the chasm that shall seemingly forever exist between data and theory, is considered indicative of invasion, intervening, manipulation, and control. This is not Goethe’s empiricism. In taking these pictures, what I had before me was the data to Woodward’s poetry and philosophy.
Just as important is what I didn’t see. I didn’t detect mold. I even had my most sensitive instrument with me: my nose. Uncontrollable sneezing ensues when I am in the presence of molds. Given the ever-presence of water in this particularly lush location, I’d expect to find mold, but I didn’t. The duality that arose in my mind, consequent upon this consideration, was mold-as-death. Woodward didn’t make this distinction; in fact, he played on the literary dark features of slime in literature, not just the life-bearing aspect. What came to mind was the pseudoscientific theory of Robert O. Young, whose theory, found in his book, The pH Miracle, champions a view in which people do not get old, “they mold.” From this, one acquires an association of mold with death, while slime, perhaps an ooze of abiogenesis, is fundamental to basic life. I am fond of this duality, because, in discussions with whole-foods nutrition expert and food philosopher, Samuel Suska, has lumped fungi in with mold, which I feel is not quite the way to go. For instance, Chinese and Ayurvedic medicines feature mushrooms as an important restorative, etc. The above duality resolves this, in my mind, distinguishing the life-bearing slimes and the associated (e.g., fungi) from the death-indicative mold.
The last point I would like to add is the humbling consideration that maybe the Western scientific mentality, though pragmatically very useful, is not the way we need to be looking at things. As Alan Watts puts it in his lecture series converted into a book, The Tao of Philosophy, the Western world views nature as mechanistic, stupid, and something to be controlled, mastered, and subdued. Instead, maybe we need to look at Nature as organismic —and I am sad to say that so few Westerners have taken the pains to try to work out this line of knowledge and understanding. In the very approachable, non-technical verbiage of Watts, which I think is altogether appropriate: we need to view Nature as Naturing, people as peopling, trees as treeing, and Earth as Earthing. I am doubtful that philosophy will ever find “natural categories,” as they are called, which means that all such distinctions used by science are arbitrary, employed for pragmatic ends, containing some truth, but just a modicum. Therefore, the layers of life found near the top of Mt. Pisgah are not to be pulled apart, and what we see is more like what philosophy and poetry are liable to tell us we are seeing: we see Life Lifing.
 Much like Massimo Pigliucci, I am fascinated by a number of pseudo-scientific theories. My affinity, however, originates in the fact that I find many of these theories, though the virtual entirety be bunk, some kernel or bit of truth, or potential truth, in some portion of them.