Saturday, February 24, 2007

Experiment Earth?

So many millions of eyes opening as dawn sweeps like a tsunami of light around the planet. Billions of eyes, trillions of eyes. Bird eyes, human eyes, cat eyes, dog eyes, fish eyes, crab eyes, lizard eyes, insect eyes. Blue eyes, green eyes, dark eyes, yellow eyes. Eyes that are round, that are slits, that are multiple, that are on the front of the head, on the sides of the head, on stalks. All opening and turning to welcome the light.

Flights of white ibises above the Everglades, the beauty of great blue herons against the glowing sky. Night creatures become still and silent and close their eyes to the sun as alligator eyes sense the new warmth and long tails slowly stir.

A small plane drones above my bedroom -- a flying man, eyes turned toward the brightening Atlantic twenty miles to the east. Porpoise eyes roll above the water’s surface near the beaches, pelicans glide in long formations above the snowy sand, sandpipers dance to and fro with the rhythm of the waves. Barnacles cling to pilings, oysters cling to rocks. A human delivers newspapers along my street. A mole tunnels just beneath the soil, raising a long mound in the grass, while a possum waddles back into the woods after its nocturnal rounds.

As I evoke the diversity of life, I’ve hardly begun. I’ve covered the first inch of a thousand miles. I haven’t even mentioned the plants. The insects alone are a universe of ingenious designs. Undersea life, from whales to microscopic, includes marvels that can hardly be imagined – fins, tentacles, pincers, claws, poisons, smokescreens, lights,camouflage, mimicry and more and more and more.

Life is everywhere, even in the most unlikely places -- icy or steaming or eternally dark – and everywhere it presents itself in fabulous variations. And each life is a point of view different from all the others.

Some time ago I asked myself questions: “Why are there so many different forms of life?” “And why are the forms so radically different that many seem to have nothing at all in common?” “Wouldn’t fish have sufficed?” “Wouldn’t just one kind of fish have sufficed?” “Why the multiplicity?”

One theory was that the Earth is a kind of spaceship whose purpose is to preserve life during a very long time, and the best insurance is to develop as many varied forms of life as possible in the hope that at least one will prove itself able to pull through.

But the answer that appealed to me the most is that life on Earth is an experiment. I even pictured cosmic-sized scientists in white coats looking down into a glass box, like an aquarium, to observe how their experiment was progressing. The experiment is a kind of game to make the maximum number of different life forms evolve from simple beginnings with the greatest possible variation -- the end goal being to see which form will be most successful in mastering or outlasting the others.

Of course I don’t know what the end goal is, if there is one, and it probably has higher aspects than what I’ve mentioned here, but the irony of the evolutionary process is that if there is a “last species standing” aspect to the experiment, a “who will be the survivor?” quest, then the winner is likely to be a simple creature of the kind which began the process, because all the life forms depend on those below for survival. Humans would like to think they will win because they are the smartest, but not only are they the most likely to make themselves extinct through war, but also they are so dependent on so many other life forms that they could not possibly end up the sole survivor on Earth. Sorry, intelligence, you lose.

I don’t know who will survive or for how long, but I hear the betting is heavy on the roaches.

(Photo, snail on gerbera, by Julia Lee)


  1. "Roaches?" YUK! I was told bottom feeders, the kind that do not need another life form to survive. I am guessing your scientists are flying around in those UFO's. Am I right?

  2. Interesting to look on Earth in a teleological way. I think there are many different ways to look at the Universe (Earth cannot exist without the rest of the Universe!) which can coexist.

    Scientific cosmology and neo-Darwinian theory posit a blind progression with no end in view. But I always assume - and this assumption cannot be switched off my my will or intellect - that there is a more purposive thing which goes beyond the building blocks of physics and evolution of life-forms.

    The part of me that picks up spiritual insights has learned not to elaborate them with reason, or even to verbalise them (for language is a tool of intellect).

    Anyhow, I loved your post for its broad sense and poetic expression of life.

  3. Yves, thank you very much for your comment and compliment. I'm glad someone appreciated the poetic aspect of my post.

    "Teleological": You often supply an apt word I couldn't think of as I was writing. (Like your words for "half awake", which I've once more forgotten!) When I was a young man like you, I also was a living thesaurus.

    Have you read Bergson's "Creative Evolution"? It has been 40 years since I read it, but as I recall, it would be relevant to our discussion.

    I feel most comfortable with the idea that there is a creative, intelligent force improvising evolution as it goes along, without necessarily directing evolution toward an ultimate goal . . . but what do I know?

  4. who or what will survive?

    well, i`m betting on me.

    the consciousness that is doing all the experiencing.

    there`s no point otherwise.

    the one irrefutable position is that i am experiencing.

    everything else can be debated.