Evolution can make life from nothing
But can it create poetry from despair?
"Ophelia" by Sir John Everett Millais
painting by Arcimboldo
Last evolutionary tweak: February 2, 2014
What Thomas is trying to say:
Nowadays cells have organelles, like fine hairs (cilia) on their surfaces, and mitochondria inside. But back in the swamp, they didn’t (nor did they have nuclei, so they are called prokaryotes). But somehow there were already viruses and spirochetes. Like they are infamous for still doing, these infected the prokaryotes but instead of killing the simple, trusting host cell, somehow – ta da! -- got transformed into cilia, etc.
Implanted spirochetes retrained as cilia, or maybe galley slaves.
Lewis Thomas MD, poet laureate of evolution
Evolution is grim, grim business. The only destiny evolution offers any particle of cosmic dust and any living creature in this universe, especially you, is death, extinction, dissolution; the only consolation, recycling. You evolved, but you are to become as if you never were. Your tears for your daughter born blind, or dying, are simply more molecules of salty water, of less value to evolution than fog replenishing the swamp from which your ancestors crawled. Morals, purpose, promise, beauty, love, affection, values, conscience, even God, especially God; solace, comfort, consolation, compassion, if sensed at all, are but momentary artifacts of random perturbations of quarks, subject only to fad and whimsical awards, or, more realistically, contempt.
But does this embarrass Evolutionists? They glory in it. In purple street talk and in science-speak so astringent it puckers the mouth, through clinched teeth – read my lips, – activist evolutionists proclaim Evolution's harshness in peer-reviewed journals and in court, in blogs and at lecterns. Here’s the professor lecturing: “To withhold from students the evidence that natural selection is purposeless—lacking direction, guidance, or goals—is to cheat them of the very essence of that process.” And no cheating in class allowed.
Meanwhile in court Evolutionary lawyers are arguing that it is creationism that speaks in poetry, and therefore, ergo, res ipsa loquitur, even a breath of Creationism is illegal in science class, and prosecutable. There is no Evolutionary purpose in poetry, or beauty. It’s a waste of evolutionary energy.
Evolution isn’t just science, it is very science, the apotheosis and quintessence of science, what Evolution has been evolving into, the whole overriding purpose of Evolution. And science speaks only science-speak, the leanest, most attenuated, meagerest, bleakest language known to homo sapien or porpoise. Absolutely perfect for science but none dare call it poetry. For the record, may it please the court, poetry is more embarrassing to Evolution than heartlessness.
But somehow God and His poetry, and poetic promises (especially in the King James Version), so personal, so consoling, a cosmos removed from the vocabulary of Evolution, still has a hold on the human heart. There’s a market for it. But Evo, which dominates the courts, hasn't tapped it. Grudgingly, nonplused, hoping his peers won’t notice (and they haven’t), a rare odd evolutionist like E.O. Wilson acknowledges that despite the Evolutionary pointlessness of it, “Human beings must have an epic, a sublime account of how the world was created and how humanity became part of it.” And “Material reality discovered by science already possesses more content and grandeur than all religious cosmologies combined. ... intimations of immortality… deep history a thousand times [eons and eons] older than that conceived by the Western religions” standing "in contrast to the feverish end-time visions of Judaeo-Christian and Islamic eschatology." (E.O. Wilson, Consilience, 265; McEwan, cited by Bradley and Tate) Darwin himself said it best: “There is grandeur in this view of life.” In any case, says Wilson, sounding resigned to it, "the evolutionary epic is probably the best myth we will ever have." Go with it! It's, sigh, all you've got
That’s the challenge, to indulge the annoyingly instinctive craving for “a sublime account,” and come up with an evolutionary epic like The Song of Roland, a Norse legend, a Wagnerian opera, or Psalms or Isaiah or Genesis 1, or even Gilgamesh. Not promising.
But, hey, there is hope! In Evolution's very hopelessness is the hoped for poetry. Like alchemy discovering gold in stewed gall, evolution could discover poetry in its very blackness. Like the Pre-Raphaelite painters (also contemporaries of Darwin, as it happens) transformed drowning maidens, like Millais's lovely Ophelia,” into consummate romance, art sublime. Or like Hollywood has perfected bloody zombies wielding assault weapons with one hand and lobbing bombs with the other (a third hand needs to be evolved), that critics claim is award-winning art that transcends a virtual Joker and real blood splashed all over a Colorado theater, and creates millions of real dollars. Blood, death, hopelessness is actually the natural medium and message for evolution, special effects and galas and all, just waiting all those eons for evolution to get over its obsession with science and abhorrence of poetry. Time to move on from court and black robes to black art.
And if special-effects despair doesn’t work, behold the, pardon the word, grandeur of cosmic dust, the Horsehead Nebula (just look, don't ask). O behold the drama and magic of life from nothing. Computerized special effects and stroboscopic flashes and surroundsound Heavy Metal help a lot. And if you must yearn for consolation, take comfort just from being a cog in the evolutionary wheel, a component, the more mindless the better, in the evolutionary welfare state. None dare not call it poetry.
But where is it -- the Evo Epic? It has been there all the time, poised, waiting to be evolved like legs and wings and science-talk.,..just...waiting. But where is it? Dinosaurs and poodle puppies evolution can evolve, but -- talk about embarrassment -- its natural unique poetry, it forgot. Yet to evolve is the actual hard copy epic that can be taught in English Lit class, where it belongs, available for download from Amazon or iTunes. Evolution is still a science-talk swamp that poetry hasn’t crawled out of yet. Maybe in another 100,000,000 years or so.
Evolution hasn't even crowned its poet laureate yet. Now that's strange. Everything, even stinky shoes, gets awards nowadays, but evo's poets never got an award. Awarded for science, Darwin has not been recognized as the poet he was. If not Darwin as scientist-poet laureate, why not E.O. Wilson, or Lucretius, or Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg?
IMPATIENT for Evolution to ever get around to it, I nominate Lewis Thomas, already an exemplary scientist, as Poet Laureate Of Evolution Pro Tem, even if I find myself defending him against all the standard litigationist Evolutionists who are embarrassed to be identified with any kind of poetry. To them I say, O I cry: O let your Laureate sing a song of Evo! Alas, as poetry it may not rise to the level of a Norse legend, or even Marianne Moore. It’s more like Ogden Nash, which, frankly, I prefer to Norse legends or Beowulf any day.
Now then, give ear, O give ear, to Lewis Thomas reciting from his book Lives of A cell.
I AM OCCUPIED, or
Sing a Song of Implantation
At the interior of my cells, driving them, providing the oxidative energy
are the mitochondria
separate creatures, the colonial posterity of migrant prokaryocytes
probably primitive bacteria
that swam into ancestral eukaryotic cells
and stayed there
as much symbionts as the rhizobial bacteria in the roots of beans.
Other little animals, similarly established in my cells,
sorting and balancing me
clustering me together --
my cilia once were spirochetes cruising the swamp,
my centrioles were chloroplasts, my basal bodies were wayward viruses.
Obscure tiny beings at work inside my cells
there they are dancing in my cytoplamic matrix
breathing for my own flesh, but strangers.
each as foreign and as essential as aphids in anthills
more complex than Jamaica Bay
Perhaps it is they who walk through the local park in the early morning.
sensing my senses, listening to my music, thinking my thoughts
I can only hope I retain title to my nuclei
And perhaps it is I who penetrated his books like a spirochete an ingenuous prokaryote, and liberated the soul of his poetry disguised as prose within the paragraphs, and here lovingly and apologetically reformatted it into free verse, and bestowed the title.
O tropes exquisite! O never more poetically murmured Ogden Nash or Shakespeare. O the romance of mindlessly implanted spirochetes, illegal immigrants granted amnesty and lingering on as cilia coughing up phlegm. Spirochetes implanted into your dancing cytoplasm like your sperm mindlessly inseminated – uh-oh! -- her egg to yield progeny forever, rending you immortal and significant, and, if under inauspicious circumstances -- O say not so! -- liable also to implantation of buckshot. Like hair plugs implanted into laughing Joe’s bald scalp, rendering Biden cosmically significant if not immortal beyond the next caucus. Like Giuseppe Arcimboldos's vegies and flowers implanted into canvas to render portraits as immortal as tasty.
O beloved Thomas, thou hast implanted poetry into the dancing matrix of Evolution after all, a victory garden! Here, have a radish. I can only hope that you do retain title to your nuclei, and your spirochetes, when PETA hauls you into court for enslaving spirochetes in your cells, like Evo hauled Creationists into court for speaking poetry. O Poetic justice.
In any case, so inspiring, that poetry, I want into the act. Click here.
hair plugs poetically implanted
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