Thu Jun 29, 2006
The very first thing to die on it’s own, without the intervention of an outside agent, was an organism called Volvox. The first life that we know of whose cells perish from old age, rather than misfortune. Before humble Volvox all other living things would go on forever, the immortal bacteria, the barely describable virus. Volvox introduced death by natural causes to the world, and all living things that came after that were as complex, or more so, followed suit, and found programmed within them some pace maker, set to expire after they had done their duty on the earth. All plants, all animals that sprung from this little algae shared this little death in common with it, and also the other innovation introduced into the vaults of creation by this tumbling capsid, the ability to combine genetic material from two parents to create a truly new individual, the desire to have sex.
The tale of Adam and Eve bringing death and corruption into the garden of eden at the same moment as shame seems to me now to be more than an idle moral play. In the evolution of life on this planet sex did herald death, but the garden then was a poor and simple place before these drivers of change, of need, took hold and drove the systems of life into a perpetual war for dominance of resources that somehow and accidentally spat us breathing and panting onto the shore.
When I was younger I should have felt immortal, but there was always a fragility to the world around me. At any moment a sudden shift might take hold and break down the walls that held together what I thought of as my existence. Sitting in the sun looking down at the ants threading between blades of grass my brow would tighten as I tried to make scrutable their encoded wanderings.
And now I look about me, and it seems that those same blades of light that made clear to me my ignorance when I was a child are now highlighting again the fragility of the world, and the incredible insouciance that other people tread through their lives with.
We are all rolling along on our own hidden roller-coaster ride.
In the dark Volvox keeps rolling on, spawning it’s children, suspended in waters, like some tiny sun cast adrift in the intergalactic spaces, the centre of it’s own epicycle, it’s own birthings and dyings.
I am four billion years removed from this speck, and at the same time i could hardly feel closer.