Friday, March 29, 2013

Star Stuff and Slime Mould

We are all made of recycled material. All of our constituent atoms and molecules have been part of something else, some time. Carl Sagan once said:

And we, we who embody the local eyes, and ears, and thoughts, and feelings of the cosmos - we've begun at last to wonder about our origins. Star stuff contemplating the stars, organized collections of 10 billion billion billion atoms contemplating the evolution of matter - tracing that long path by which it arrived at consciousness here on the planet Earth and, perhaps, throughout the cosmos.

Yes, every atom in my body began its existence in this star, our sun, or in some other star, sometime during the last thirteen or fourteen billion years. That sounds glorious, and it is. But every atom and molecule of my body has also constituted part of many other things during that time, inanimate objects and animate objects, plants and animals. Parts of me were borne by a Neanderthal wandering the frozen wastes of Europe, by a slime mould under a rotting log, by Socrates, Confucius, Jesus and Attila the Hun. Fragments of me have passed through Asians, Africans, North American Indians, indigenous Australians. Parts of me are being subtracted and added every day.

It is not our genes alone which determine our heritage, in the sense of where we have come from. Our genes simply provide the template that shapes the matter from which we are constructed. And our genes are completely indifferent to the origin of that matter. I may be a “pure blood” Caucasian or Amerindian; but the atoms and molecules that actually make up that blood? Well, they may have been in a pope, or the fæces of a gnat; or, indeed, the fæces of a pope. Fragments of me may have once belonged to a saint performing a miracle; or to a malarial parasite.

So, if you happen to be racist (and no one ever is, of course – just a “patriot”, or a “concerned citizen”), you are never going to wash out that damn spot.

Maybe they'll remember me is FREE all Easter weekend (Pacific Standard Time) - grab a copy and write a review! 

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