Recently, I read a short piece about a woman who performed a wing transplant on a living monarch butterfly in Topeka, Kansas.
When this butterfly emerged from her chrysalis, it was plain that one of her wings had not formed properly, and it seemed unlikely that she would survive. Keepers at the local zoo, however, were hopeful. They enlisted artist Katie Van Blaricum. With a delicate touch and some superglue, Van Blaricum was able to attach a donor wing (from a different but similarly-sized species) to the injured insect. And within a day or two, the monarch was able to fly away normally.
I found this amazing. I wouldn’t have imagined it possible.
Commenters on this online article mostly shared my wonder and appreciation. A fair number, though, questioned whether or not it was worth it. Several remarked that it seemed a waste of time and effort: “A lot of work for a bug that’s probably going to end up squashed on the windshield of a semi in three days…” That sort of thing. Which is, I suppose, a not-unreasonable perspective on the grand scheme of things.
Still, as regards the life of this particular butterfly, one must admit that the effort absolutely was worth it. Whether she gets eaten by a bird next week or manages to migrate to Mexico, mate, and lay a thousand eggs, this new wing represents the possibility of everything to come.
And what, after all, is the grand scheme of Life if not an aggregate of all the individual lives that compose it? All of us — every butterfly, every wing.
Many of you have heard me gripe about pseudo-science when it gets presented as “evidence” for un-provable spiritual concepts. Sorry if I sound peevish. But hear me out:
Spirituality is called meta-physics because it is beyond or outside the merely physical. This doesn’t mean it’s not real, simply that it can’t be materially quantified. Metaphysics includes all sorts of things that are perfectly real yet ultimately intangible — ideals, values, ideas, consciousness, feelings, love. It includes stuff we experience all the time. And we can express our metaphysical nature through art and music and poetry and relationship and philosophy and spirituality. But, always, such things elude objectivity. They can’t be contained in a box, a book, a program, or system. They don’t abide by the rules of space and time and ordinary physics. They are bigger and beyond.
I do understand the desire to try to bridge the apparent physical-metaphysical gap with the fascinating ideas offered by theoretical quantum mechanics and other “new sciences.” Chaos theory, string theory, multi-dimensionality, the observer effect, quantum entanglement, and other explorations seem to offer a refreshing way to describe our material world in the language of spirit. Or speak to the spiritual realm in the language of science. Or both — that’s what makes it so groovy and appealing.
It bugs me, though, when this gets misrepresented as “proof.” Because it isn’t proof, it isn’t about proof, and claiming proof seems to me to undermine both the matter and the spirit of it, both the physics and the metaphysics of it.
The material world is fascinating and beautiful, and on the quantum scale it is weird and wonderful, but twisting its expansive questions into half-baked answers to prove spiritual points just makes it sound silly. And while it may seem supportive and affirming to try to pin down spiritual intangibles with hard science, I don’t know that de-mystifying Love and Consciousness necessarily makes them more real or more accessible. Some things — some of the most important things — are better with mystery and magic left in them. Let it be mystical. Let it be magic.
The so-called “Butterfly Effect” has been especially rankling for me lately.
The butterfly effect isn’t even an actual scientific theory, but it gets presented as one all the time. I’ve encountered it three times in different places over the past few weeks, in terms like: “Science has proven that a butterfly flapping its wings can lead to a storm on the other side of the planet.” Which simply is not true; science has proven no such thing; it’s not a scientific fact.
It is, however, a glorious metaphor for the idea that everyone and everything is interconnected, and that small things can have large, non-linear impacts in a complex system. Which I do believe to be true. Actually, for me, that’s more than just true — it’s important and obvious. AND it is without evidence. It’s important and obvious and beyond provability. Because such effects are not bound only by physics.
The effect of the butterfly flapping its transplanted wings in Kansas City isn’t the literal stirring of an air current that gets amplified into a typhoon on some distant ocean. (I mean, there’s a connection in everything, yeah, but the cause-effect of it is separated by so many degrees and involves so many gazillion other factors that it becomes ridiculous.) The effect is of the butterfly flapping its transplanted wings in KC is, immediately and directly, that it can stir our hearts. It can touch our souls. It can inspire strangers around the world to believe in a new possibility, giving us hope.
The luminous non-linear web of relationship and causation is largely metaphysical.
Anthropologist Margaret Mead is often credited with saying, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
I’ve always loved this quote. But it turns out, according to Quote Investigator, that Mead might not have ever said it. Others assert that she might have said it, or something like it, but was completely off-base about it. I was surprised to discover that lots of people think it’s just plain wrong, deriding it as hopeful psychobabble — unworkable, feel-good optimism.
Here’s my thing: Hope, Commitment, Faith, and Courage all live in a realm beyond the physical. They’re interpretive and subjective. And they are as full of meaning and power as they are devoid of evidentiary proof. And there’s nothing wrong with that! Metaphysical is not less-than-physical, but beyond it. Beyond, where a flapping wing and a beating heart truly can transform anything and everything.
I can’t wait to be with you this Sunday, July 9. 10:00am at Maple Street Dance Space. With the divine Patty Stephens. XO, Drew
©2023 Drew Groves