My parents aside, there's no individual I owe more to in my personal intellectual and ethical development than my odler brother, John. From my earliest memories, he took a proactive role in teaching me: the basics of grammar and spelling, mathematics, and above all, the natural world. He read Ranger Rick as a boy, and knew the flora and fauna of the hilly, deciduous woodlands of Upstate New York where we grew up. He had a knack for finding Indian arrowheads, for cracking open rocks to reveal fossils, for trapping rare butterflies. He took me along with him, never treating me like the tagalong that I was.
He taught me my respect for science. He taught me the scientific method--not the simple version we learned in school, but the epistemology behind it, the skepticism that must pervade it. He was always a big thinker: while still barely into our teens, he would hold forth on theories that later took root in the works of sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists, about the ways that human behavior has evolved, bound up intimately in our very biological being.
I thought of him just now because he posted a comment on a recent blog entry about my time in Austin. "Bro, you have to check out the bats," he said. The Bats. Couldn't find a band by that name among the hundreds playing here. So I pinged him again, and he sent me this link. Oh--real bats. Pity I'm not going to have the time to see them.
John taught me a love of books, and though our literary tastes have diverged--he's still an avid sci-fi and fantasy reader, while I rarely touch the stuff--he still points me to excellent science writing, concerned to this day that my liberal arts background is a handicap to understanding the realities underpinning our universe.
Of the four siblings In my family, John is easiily the most Confucian in character: scholarly, fierecely familial, ethical. Filial too--though in his own way, and my parents might not see it that way. Ironically, he's the one who's probably least interested in China--in actually living in China, at least. For that reason, we've fallen somewhat out of touch. I understand: he has a wife and three daughters, a busy job at a software startup in Northern California. But you don't know how I'd value some quality time alone with him, for one of those talks like we used to have lying there at night in the room we shared.