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Scripting News, the weblog started in 1997 that bootstrapped the blogging revolution.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody! Permanent link to this item in the archive.

A picture named turkey.gifOver the years, starting in 1994, I've written Thanksgiving messages. Essays, lists, whatever. Every year the message is the same. Thanks. It's a message that never goes out of style.

Thanksgiving is the best holiday. You don't have to believe in any particular god to be part of it, or even believe in god at all.

This holiday includes everyone. All you have to do to participate is be thankful.

We have other inclusive holidays. July 4. Veterans Day. Martin Luther King's birthday. But Thanksgiving is the one that's about thanks.

This being the year of Twitter lists, I made a list of the people on Twitter who I'm thankful for. It's a dynamic thing. I'll be adding to it over the next few days but I'm not going to point to it though, because it'll be a short-lived thing.

Rather than make a big list here on the blog, I've whittled my Thanksgiving thought down to one idea that I'd like to express thanks for. The mystery of life.

At some point in childhood we realize we don't have a clue what existence is about, or the limits of existence. I think everyone reaches this point, whether or not they believe in god or an after-life. I think religion is a way to bundle up the confusion in a box and put it Over There so we can get on with living.

Every so often something happens, a family member or friend dies, and that makes the confusion come front and center. And once in a lifetime someone as close as a father dies, and that floors you. You get knocked down, and as you come back up, you're not the same person you were before. The mystery of life and the question of existence after life, they're always there, but they loom much larger after a loss.

I am not a member of the church of "I Know There's Nothing" after death. My father, however, was a member. He said he knew there was nothing.

Me, I'm a mystic about What It All Means.

I celebrate the mystery of it.

I think, by extrapolation, that every species thinks it's the highest form of life. Largely because they can't experience the existence of higher forms of life, even when they're there.

An example. Think about a bird. We think we're more conscious and more intelligent than a bird. Maybe we are. But is the bird aware that we exist? Not sure about that. Maybe we're like weather to birds? Or earthquakes or locusts. Does the bird acknowlege our superior intellect? More doubtful. Now just go down the hierarchy a few steps and sooner or later you reach a species that isn't aware that we exist. And assume it's true that we are superior, that means that a superior form exists for them that they are not aware of. So now put your focus on the human species. How could it be that we are the most advanced species there is? That would seem pretty lucky. And if we weren't the most advanced, if there were superior beings walking among us, would we even be aware of them? I think we wouldn't.

8/28/96: "Do they have bee priests and doctors to provide spiritual context, or to shrug their shoulders and say that nothing can be done?"

And with mysteries that we can identify but have no clue how to explain (like the conflicting theories of the universe that apply in black holes) -- is it impossible that there are species in the universe who have figured it out? And if they have, what capabilities does that knowledge give them that we can't even imagine?

Think back to the human species before Einstein formulated the Theory of Relativity. In some ways we haven't changed, but in others, we're a whole new species just because of that one discovery.

Physicists believe there is a theory that pulls all existence together into a single framework, and it's not hard to imagine that the knowledge that flows from that theory will lift our species to a new level. Maybe right there, at that moment, we will become a higher form of life? Hard to know until it happens.

Okay, so what does all this mean?

Well, there's an arrogance to saying you know that there's no existence before or after life. That our soul, the core of our being, our awareness, is just wasted when we die. That there is no purpose to living. No purpose at all. It's arrogant to think you know that. Because the fact is you don't know.

It also betrays a pessimism that is all too common in our species. Maybe it's just survivors and refugees like my father who had this pessimism. Hard to know.

I think it's clear that the only rational answer to all the questions that our species is not yet equipped to answer: Who Knows. Put them in a box, over there, close the box and go on living. And once a year, on Thanksgiving Day, thank the box, and hug someone close to you, eat too much food, watch some TV, go for a walk and get ready for Christmas.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!


Last update: Thursday, November 26, 2009 at 10:27 AM Pacific.

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A picture named dave.jpgDave Winer, 54, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.

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