In Praise of Alcohol | Mind You

By Dr David Laing Dawson

Evolution has given us the cognitive processes to dominate all the species on this poor planet. It has also given us sufficient self awareness to see that we are rapidly destroying everything. Our brains allow us to explore the workings of the universe without ever letting us really understand time, infinity, beginnings and endings. For all our struggles to find our authentic selves, to create satisfying mythologies of eternal life, we know we are really just bags of mostly water with limited life spans, and crumbling cartilage, shrinking telomeres, and aging cells.

On a warm evening in early May I fill a glass with ice and bourbon and go down to the patio to sit on cushioned rattan to watch the clouds filter sunlight as its source drops toward the horizon. Though usually I see the sun moving, for a moment I can imagine it is our planet revolving, rotating away, while the sun is stationary.

The breeze is fine, the colors of the sky shift and change, black swifts glide across the vineyards, an eagle circles above the shore of the lake. I sip my drink and all is quiet. And peaceful and satisfying. For a moment I can lose awareness of black holes, cellular mutations, and mortality, of war, of ignorance, my self, my bag of mostly water, and even Donald Trump.

A lobster can distinguish its own claw from that of another lobster, an elephant may know when it is time to die, dolphins may signal each other some complex messages, but evolution gave our particular species of ape sufficient self awareness to experience the terror of existence. It was then, I am sure, that we sought ways of dampening that awareness, if only for minutes and hours at a time.

We all seek those moments, the moments we can safely dampen our terrible self awareness. There are other means of course, from peyote, marijuana, opioids, to delusions of control and immortality, to a belief the mind will continue when the brain is gone.

But thank God for wine, or, if not God, then the manner yeast metabolizes sugar, and alcohol evaporates before water boils, and the way our evolved brains have cultivated pinot noir and aging in oak barrels.

In moderation, of course.

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