‘Good evening, love.’
‘Shh, shh shh…. don’t trouble your weary little head. I wanna pick your brain for a bit, tell you about some ideas I have. You down? I know I am.’
‘Nice. So I was wondering… You ever think life on Earth was always meant to have evolved in the way it did? That when it first originated in the lecherous trenches of the south-west Pacific, or whatever terrestrial place you’d like to imagine it started in, it was, in a sense, destined to grow into what it did? Because the first living things didn’t really have a say in the matter, did they? Those tiny creatures were so devoid of bodily faculties that they couldn’t really “do” anything, everything just “happened”, and they couldn’t really “go” anywhere, they just “went”.
Or let me put it this way: If you can’t control where you’re going, isn’t wherever you end up your destiny? I’d say it must be your destiny, otherwise you wouldn’t have reached it, right? So if the earliest inhabitants of our planet had no say in their existence and no influence over their surroundings, whatever forms of life flowed from them must’ve been meant to be, in the sense that there was no other feasible option for these creatures but to evolve into what they did, due to the inescapability of their surroundings and the powerlessness of their form.
At that point in time “Living things” were not much more than loosely fortified strings of genetic code drifting through space, latching onto any form of energy available. They practically just absorbed whatever nutritious thing happened to float by in order to power their tiny cell-factories so they could duplicate and reproduce, right? You can’t even call it eating yet, something as convenient as a mouth was millions of years away and literally unthinkable by anything present on the planet at that time.
These little microscopic munchkins had no ears to facilitate hearing, no eyes to perceive, no nose to detect, no muscle in sight. The vastly varying resources of our planet were mostly unavailable to them, as they lacked practical means of extracting anything from anything. Some beings couldn’t even be bothered to look for food, so they moved into other cells for their daily dose of protein and eventually started living exclusively in their host’s bodies. Like some sort of eenie meenie society building, where seperate entities merge together to utilize their combined strength in a new form. I know you won’t remember it in the morning, but this process is called endosymbiosis, or even endocytosis. They always think of the most ridiculous names for these things, don’t they, darling?
Did you know those little cellular rascals can have lungs? Well, not the chest vacuums that we know as lungs, of course, but tiny little cell lungs that can extricate oxygen from the cell’s surroundings and expell any superfluous toxins after? They’re called mitochondria and when they started living in other cells, they created their own little walled-off section within the cell to do their business of breathing. Some might count that as an organ, I suppose. Though maybe I’m a bit hasty calling it that. Perhaps my size has blinded me to the intricacies of the fewer-celled.
But back to the argument at hand. Creatures of such small nature, atomically small, unable to explore or evaluate the world at large, could they really have evolved into anyting different than what they did? Was Earth’s tree of life designed to grow and branch out the way it has? Are we “simply” Earth’s creatures? And is there anything on a non-cosmic level that could have really intereferd with the proces that took place?
And where do you think life came from in the first place? Outer space somewhere? Did it travel here via asteroid? Did it originate in space itself or on some other planet that ended up in shatters, taking only the tiniest survivers with it to colonize a new home? Could humans from a different planet have sent their own primal information into space, in the hopes of reaching a suitable host planet like some galactic dandelion seeds fluttering through the nothingness? And do you think there are a lot of different single cell organisms to choose from? How many trees of life types are there? What kind of tree are we? Are we like a pine tree? Do we reside in the tropics of the created? The tundra? Is it all the same? Is this even the human tree, or are we simply a stepping stone? A necessary stage in the development of a creature the likes of which we can not fathom with our spear-monkey minds? Do we leech off the leaves or are we rooted in the trunk?
Are you asleep yet, fluffy brain?
No? Delightfully so.
So what about fish then? They’re a bit bigger than one cell, aren’t they? Quite far up the tree of life already methinks. If the tree of life was a cartoon tree we’d probably be above the little hole for the squirrel family by the time we had full-blown fish swimming about, what you reckon? And even though in our world they are just one of the many fish in the sea, their scales host an entirely separate universe altogether in a way, with billions of little beings working together to form one single living organism that is far greater than the sum of its parts. They have fully developed organs made of many cells, programmed to digest food, take in oxygen, swim around and all that other aquatic goodness that fish get up to.
I think, in a sense, that what the fish is to the ocean, the cell is to the fish. A seemingly tiny bit of weight in the balance of mother nature’s bosom, yet somehow equally important as every other little bit for maintaining her equilibrium. But to what extent do fish decide where they go? To what extent are they left in the hands of brutal miss fortune and lady luck for their evolutionary path? Can a fish notice where it’s heading in the long run and drastically change its way of life? Does a fish have a choice? A sense of self? Can it mourn its inescapable existence? Does it have the ability to contemplate suicide? Can it resent the fact that life locked it within the walls of its skin? Or does it simply do what it does, mobilized by a mysterious force, evolving after the way of the world, eating whatever drifts by whilst trying to scoop up a bit more than his peers? Does it shape itself by an internal will to become something or does it let itself be shaped in accordance with the ocean’s currents, acidity, richness and predators?
Can a single fish change the composition of an ocean? Or redirect its currents? Does it have a say in the evolutionary arms race? Or is it not concerned with anything at all? Is it literally just a thoughtless program running in the server of our world?
That seems a bit unfair to them, doesn’t it? Surely there must be something going on in the mind of a fish, right? It can’t just be a hollow being, spasming through fertility cycles? There must be some sort of degree of that thing that we conscious beings claim to possess, that wisdom, that freedom, that sense of self, that inner will. But how can we be sure? And how is a fish ever going to prove to us that it knows what’s up?
More importantly, even if the fish tries to show us, how will we ever understand that it’s trying to do so? The only measuring stick we have to estimate intelligence or awareness is human behaviour, which must look horrifyingly ridiculous to any animal except some lucky pets. I mean I doubt the billions of animals people murder every day for convenience and luxury would ever dare to assume there is anything non-robotic or maniacal inside their slaughters’s heads. That there is anything “reasonable” locked away in there…
Dolphins are pretty smart. They’re not fish, I know, But ehh…. You know NASA once ran an experiment where they gave LSD to dolphins to try and teach them English? They had this building with these special tanks and some researchers to try and figure out exactly how smart dolphins were. They knew dolphins could communicate with one another through various sounds, something akin to human language, so the researchers thought they must be able to learn English. One thing led to another and eventually the dolphin’s caretaker was jacking off flipper’s lipstick-y prick whilst the good lad never uttered even a single syllable of the Queen’s tongue. The research got cancelled when people found out about the sexual escapades and that was the end of that.
What this teaches us is that people, even at the highest scientific levels of society, in the esteemedly learned echelons of our global nation, are daft like punk, because why the bloody hell didn’t they try to learn the dolphin’s language? Why force them to adapt to us instead of the other way round? They were researchers, not teachers, right? You can be very easily misled by false assumptions you hold as self-evident is what I’m trying to get at here.
Maybe I’m being a bit unfair to the fish, you know. We simply can’t understand them that well, as we don’t usually hang out together or even see each other that much. I suppose it’d be easier to talk about dogs. Specifically dogs. Not cats. Cats are rather useless creatures for this analogy as they don’t really do anything for anyone, they live only for themselves and have minions cater to them for their beauty and elegance. In a sense they are on top of our planet’s food chain, as the apex predator will go out of its way to make sure its cat doesn’t hunger for anything, be it food, shelter or affection. They domesticated themselves, you know? It was them who decided to live with us, not the other way round. I’m not saying I don’t like cats, by the way. I wouldn’t dare. Felix would tear me to shreds as soon as you’d leave for work in the morning and I do cherish my life as a pillow. I get too much head to be upset about much, you dig?
Dogs are better suited for my point here, because dogs work together. They are cells in organs in a body working together with other bodies. How awesome is that? On every level life finds a way to cooperate with both strange and familliar things, so long as they help create a strong union.
Picture this: It’s a long time ago and you’re in the woods somewhere. We’re talking hunreds of thousands of years, millions and millions of days before today. You’re a dog, or better yet a wolf. You’re hungry. Your stomach hurts because that’s what happens when it doesn’t get filled with meaty nutrients every so often. There’s a herd of giant beasts grazing in the tall grass a short mile from here, but there’s no way you’ll ever be able to capture one on your own. You need companions. Luckily for you, you come from a well-bred pack of wolves, so companions are a plenty.
Speaking of companions. Just last week you and your siblings chomped down a colossal herbivore whose carcass fed the whole family for days. At one point during the chase you were knocked down by a foul swing of the creature’s bulky head. You fell to the ground, scamping away as the monstrous thing turned around and started charging towards you. The prey-turned-predator was on his way to pierce your flank with one of its claw-like tusks, but you were saved at the very last moment by a recently adopted lone-wolf from a neighbouring pack, whose urine you’d smelled near your favorite spots in the woods a few times. He came flying out of nowhere and leapt at the creature’s neck just as it was about to gorge you and in one eviscerating bite he severed just about everything connecting the monster’s body to its head.
The beast fell and you sighed a breath of relief, knowing you survived yet another day of hunting. During the feast you took some looks at the guy who saved you and you showed him your appreciation by biting off a good piece of meat and chucking it at him with your mouth. He sniffed it, looked at you and made an approving growl. You will help each other from now on, is what you realized. You acknowledged your bond with signs of affection normally reserved only for family, as those are naturally to be trusted.
Now it so happens that one day, your buddy gets lost. You notice it when you can’t detect his smell as you make your way to the den, you decide to go out and investigate first thing in the morning.
After a little while of wandering aimlessly you finally pick up a hint of his scent. You follow it and it leads to a place where you see him lying on the floor, seemingly calm, surrounded by lanky apes and flickering fire. You consider your friend to be doomed, because there is no way he can escape the evil spawns that perform fire magic and scorch forests. There is also no way you’re going to overpower all of them on your own. You’re familiar with how these monkey folk hunt and function. Your tribe often follows them around to scavenge their kills. You’ve seen them take down mammoths.
But there he is, your friend, in the midst of these aliens. What to do?
You see your friend open his eyes. He sniffs the air and instantly looks at you, but you don’t detect any distress or anxiety in him. He seems to be fine. Just a little beat up around his back legs, like he’s been charged and trampled by a stampeding array of hooves. The humans next to him notice he’s awake and put some meat in front of him, after which they put their paws on his head and stroke him gently. One of them tries to touch his hind legs with some mushy green goo, it seems to sting your buddy a bit, but he stays calm.
You approach him.
The humans stand still and wait for you with wondrous looks. The fire is hot. You tactically curve around it. Some of the humans kneel a little and turn their sides to you as a sign of peace, others discard the things they’re holding so as not to appear threatening. You reach your buddy, sniff around him, he sniffs you, nothing out of the ordinary. You confirm he’s okay, but unable to travel far due to the injury he suffered from those darn herbivorous behemoths. He won’t make it back to the tribe before the new moon. He needs to rest and heal, something the pack will not allow him to do, as they are always on the move and can’t afford to dally for the injured. If he is to survive, it might be best for him to stay here, is what you eventually conclude. And if your friend can trust these things, maybe you can too.
You look around at the strange faces. They look back. It doesn’t feel dangerous. A small monkey girl lets go of her mother and comes up to you. She puts her hands on the flank your buddy saved a few days ago and scratches you a little. Then she pats you with her tiny hands, starting on your body, going from your side to your neck, slowly moving up to your head until she stands directly in front of your snout with fingers caressing your inner ear and her teeth showing in a big friendly grin.
She moves her face even closer to yours and just kind of stands there, looking. You’ve seen these animals from a distance, but you never dreamed of being this close to one.
You look at the thing.
It has eyes like your friend. It has a little fur like your friend. It has a face like your friend. It has limbs like your friend. It lives together with her family like you and your friend.
You stare deep into her eyes. They jitter in their sockets. They glimmer a chestnut reflection and radiate with a special kind of warmth that flies directly from her spirit into your heart and makes you quiver.
“What are you.” is the only question present in your mind.
Are you asleep yet, my sweet reminder?
Still no? I can only say that delights me, though I do worry you’re not getting enough rest. Can I just keep talking or do you want me to shut up?’
But yeah… And so now we have dogs, you know. And that’s pretty neat.
It’s a bit like having a foreign friend on vacation for humans, I suppose. You realize you can’t understand each other using your native language, so general sounds and gestures will have to do. You know a bunch of signs from your dna, some others from your parents and you make up the rest with your friends along the way, so it’s not much of a bother. It’s quite literally kid’s play to talk to strangers with your hands, face and weird noises.
That’s why I don’t think communication is as mysterious as some of us make it out to be: Yes, no, do you want this? can I have this? let’s share, let’s go over there, let’s stay here, are you okay? Let me keep you warm, danger ahead, I’m tired. All of these things can be said with a pair of eyes and head movements by practically any able-bodied animal. And though it might seem difficult to think of a language, it’s not so difficult to see if your simple command or phrase has had the desired effect on the animal in front of you, as they will respond in real-time to which you can then react. Languages can be fluid in that sense.
The same goes for some thoughts and emotions. Do you know the mesmerizing sensation of gleaming sunlight on your skin? That delicious all-encompassing warmth that makes it feel like every single fiber in your body is being pulled towards the giant fire in the sky like a banana ripening on a tree? Or the sweet satisfaction of a cold drink after a long run? A meal after hungering for a while?
And do you know the feeling of agony when you can’t get what you want? Or that gut wrenching feeling we call jealousy when seeing your desired mate dancing with someone that isn’t you? Do you feel better than some people and worse than others? Do you feel the fight in you to become a leader of something someday, if your genes and your will allow it? Because all of those are animalistic feelings, right? Animals do all of those things: they eat, drink, chase prey around town, toast in the sunlight, relax in hot water pools, structuralize their society and fight for power. So they must have some form of the thing we experience as feelings and emotions pushing them towards those objectives.
For example, your body reacting to how nice or bad something feels can make you spend ages contemplating various options, and then after some thinking you will perform an action that you think has been informed by your thoughts.
But a lot of our most cherished feelings could be counted as primal experiences of nature, meaning animals have them too, and on the outside nobody is able to tell exactly why you decided to take a left turn instead of a right. You can try and explain why you think you made the choice, but even then you will find you can’t be sure of your own brain’s motives.
The same goes for the negative feelings. It must make the weaker male suffer to know he would lose in a straight up clash of heads with the current alpha, and the male must be provoked in some way to want the females, otherwise why bother? Would you charge a rhino head first if you didn’t care about the results? Or would you tussle with a silverback? I can’t imagine anyone would do such a thing without being motivated by an incredibly powerful sensation, can you? Which makes me think animals must experience these same sort of feelings we do. I mean Felix is here with me catching rays on the bed the moment there’s a slither of sunny delight to be basked in, it’s tough to imagine he doesn’t get some form of enjoyment out of it. And they bloody love food they do, don’t they?’
‘It’s a shame, because I love thinking and chatting about these things, but we can probably never fully fathom single cells and their reasons, nor fish, nor dogs.
But we dó have a slight grasp on an incredibly well designed collection of cells that lives in our heads. It might not contain all the answers, but it’s the best tool we have available for our search. Many animals have a comparable clump of neurons hiding around somewhere in their bodies, you know? Mostly in the head, but some animals get proper cheeky with it. Octopolaroids have little brains hiding in their tentacools, for instance. And some of our spider friends are nearly entirely made of brains, which they need to keep track of all those wicked webs they weave.
Point being that animals have brains too, with eyes and ears and mouths and skin and bones or any of those mixed with something else attached to them. And those brains regulate the whole thing and assign orders to the individual. All quite similar to humans. So it’s not entirely delusional to say we might have similar experiences, right? We’re all Earthlings after all. We like the sun, our atmosphere, oxygen, and other life on our planet and our bodies are designed to extract energy from those things that just so happen to float around our celestial body. It’s not a coincidence we’re so alike.
Can you imagine all the different creatures that could be living somewhere in the unexplored universe? Do you think they will have a similar “experience” to us? A similar way of processing the environment, a way of thinking? A sense of “being”? Do you think they follow the same hierarchical structure so apparently naturally formed on Earth? Do you think they behave like we do? Do they eat? Do they copulate?
And how would they look at us? Compared to them and their animals us Earthlings might all look very similar. The human species just some sort of eloquent hyper intelligent ant-monkey that ravages the land and enslaves both enemies and other animals to carry out endless tasks of menial labour, not knowing why, not knowing for how much longer.
Okay, woopsie, I almost got all political pillow there. Could you… Could you flip me over real quick? I’m starting to get a little hot-headed. Just get my cool side up again.
Thank you, my sweet reason to be.
So anyway. What do you think that thing is that brings living things together every step of the way? What is it for humans? What brings you together? Because if we can figure out what it is for humans, we might understand our cellular friends better.
It’s kind of sad to say, but it’s mostly circumstances, isn’t it? Your family is your family, and most of your friends are there because they happened to be there. Maybe you share some interests with one another, but once again that’s mostly circumstances, as you’ll become friends with Eric playing on the pitch in your neighborhood and not with Pablo playing three countries away. Your body will trigger butterflies to dally in your stomach for men and women that exist in your sensible environment and your profession is mostly decideded by the century, the country, the income class and the political system into which you are born. All things over which you have no actual control, but that will fundamentally shape your life, your emotions and your windows of thought.
Your life is decided by absolute randomness with a subtle hint of neurotic determinism pushing you to create some sort of pattern in the unrelenting chaos, aimlessly drifting by, looking for food, happiness and a way to improve the current situation, equipped with some handy limbs and a will-power, but mostly left over to the whims of the world and its ever-changing currents.
It’s kind of like the cells in the ocean, isn’t it?
I mean, do you really have freedom of choice? Or do you just move and make up excuses for your movement along the way because facing the fact you are unwittingly being controlled by forces you can’t comprehend is too damn mind-bogglingly painful?
Are you really that different from these tiny cells signalling their simple codes to each other to see if they are compatible to merge and create something new? Aren’t you just as responsive to chemical hints fired into your consciousness? Don’t you push yourself to extremes for a dopamine fix?
And when the cosmic sea has revealed its desire by putting a person in front of you, how do you stick together? How do you continue to grow with one another? What do you call the sensation that makes you want to share yourself with them, and be with them? What’s the name of that feeling that makes you forget a little about your own precious self in exchange for thoughts about someone or something else?
What would you call it, mate?’
‘What would you call that fundamental spirit that makes sunflowers oscillate their days away with the radiant choreographer in the sky? The spirit that torments contemplating artists, that daunts even the sturdiest philosophers, that can bring a mastodont of a man to his knees, begging for forgiveness and perhaps another try?
Do you have a word for it?’
‘I like to call it love.’
‘Yeah. Not the dinner and a movie type, but an existential type of love. A yearning to move with the flow of creation, a sense of vitality that longs to explore the hidden potential stored within the body.
Whatever you want to call it, it exists, we all know it exists. You can feel it when thinking of a thing, a project you’re working on, a person, yourself, the world, existence, you can feel the feeling and be driven forward by newly found energy. You can be tired and lifted up by thinking of the thing you love. You can cure your negativity with it. You can bring joy to others. Chewed-out as it might sound, love makes you feel like you can do anything.
But no matter in what way your love starts, we can be sure that you looked at one another, acknowledged you were from the same species, saw some signs about the other’s body or mannerisms that made you tingle for reasons unknown and because those tingles were exacerbated over time you are now taking care of a little one that demands a good 99% of your time and concentration for the next ten years.
Of course people are so full of themselves that they will attribute this baby to all sorts of magical connections between the two parental units, but did anything magical really happen? Or was the attraction comparable to a cell latching onto another cell? Was your union the work of deep conversations on star lit nights or was it genetic computing that fooled you into thinking it was worth it to splooge out a little nipper?
And what would the cell answer if you could ask it that question? Would the cell have reasons? Would it say: “My receptors were sparked so I assimilated the other entity” or would it try to make itself seem special by describing the vibrance in the water on that faithful day and the penetrating rays of the sun breaking the surface tension? Does it need a reason? At what stage does a creature need a reason?
And what about the gods, to whom we are naught more than cells? Would they see us as insolent? Would they chuckle at our stupidity? Would they weep over our misguided ways? Or would they delight in our struggle, knowing that these are all necessary steps for us to become like them? Because if we are the result of everything smaller than us working together, maybe the way forward is for us to figure out what we could become if we merged our beings into one. If we figured out a way to live in true symbiosis with one another and the planet. Maybe we can upload our brain data some day and store people in a consciouss cloud, a bodiless intelligence. Imagine what such a thing would think. And then imagine what such a bodiless intelligence might evolve into. Imagine what a shapeless being likes to create. Is it not exactly what we imagine when we think of our Gods?
Maybe that’s what thinking is: The invididual’s evolutionary spectator passively telling itself the story of its life. A lurking God delighting in its own creation. Or maybe there’s more to it. Maybe you dó have a say in the matter, maybe you dó choose which way your body moves. If you do, you carry a great responsibility, because that would mean that your individual is the contemplating embodiment of that thing that drives other beings forward unknowingly. It would mean you possess some consciouss form of that timeless essence present in everything from single cells to whatever resides in the heavens above. It would mean we áre gods, in charge of our own personal destiny. Commanders of our souls.
Maybe that’s what makes humans special after all. That they are one of the first creatures on the planet to break the barrier of Godly wisdom. That they carry the burden of knowledge and have the ability to judge something as good or bad in order to evolve in the most optimal manner. Maybe that’s dead wrong and I should just shut up. We don’t know. We might never know. But my best guess is that there is a part of paradise that resides in you, screaming for your love and attention, because it wants to create the ultimate version of you as a step in the right direction on the way to Godhood. I believe you possess a kind of power that allows you to pick your own instinct and decide the fate of life itself with every passing day.
So what are your plans for tomorrow?’