Sunday, May 9, 2010

Ring of Fire

Something happened about 14 billion years ago, or so our version of the story goes. Something happened, maybe from nothing, and here we are now. Someone much like me will likely be here long after I die.

That is the heart of the story. Entropy drives the drama.

I am too wrapped up in life to get hung up in existentialism--a quick peek at a patch of ground teeming with critters reminds me that rejecting anything human does not end the universe.

So while I keep trying to bring my lambs back home to the bigger story that drives science, I often fail when navigating through membranes and enzymes and all kinds of minutiae I am paid to impart.

Johnny Cash knew biology. Willie Nelson still does, and he lives it--you can fill up your truck with BioWillie Fuel.

We love for a lot of reasons, and we do not talk of love in biology for far fewer reasons, but when you get down to it, the business of spilling ourselves into others involves respiration and reproduction. Love is indeed the essence of evolution.

And all along the way, oxygen ultimately rips electrons from sweet sugar, reducing life back to water and carbon dioxide and heat, the same theme in Shakespeare's sonnets and in lurid dime novels. We're all driven by a slow form of fire.

Just ask anyone paying attention.

For the Social Distortion version, take a peek here.

My wife once walked on window ledges, I once pushed motorcycles to their limits.
We fell in love, survived anyway, and now we tell stories.

Mary Oliver wrote "Oxygen," a poem, one of my favorites.
I originally saw it in the New Yorker--you can find it here now.
(Thank you, lucychili!)


John Spencer said...

Joel asked me what kind of tree oil grows on. When I told him that we take it from the earth and that it is not something grown, he literally gasped. "Why would we feed cars something that doesn't grow?" he asked.

I am very wrapped up in existentialism. I have a huge space for paradox and mystery. But life is a vapor and I refuse to waste it on Dancing with the Stars. I believe in God and I believe in the Bible - not always in the historicity of it. The book was never written with the chief goal of moment-by-moment accuracy, but with accuracy to the essence of story and it's the story that has given me a lens.

Last night I felt like I knew biology. Micah stuck his hand in the fish bowl and Joel tried to push him away and in the process, the bowl crashed down and the fish died. All of this happened while I was trying to get rid of an a bunch of ants in the kitchen.

Sometimes I wonder if the real reason I bought Joel and Micah a fish is that it provided training wheels for understanding mortality. Some day our dog will die and they'll be crushed. Some day I'll die and they'll be crushed as well.

Some would say that it was "just a fish." Perhaps it was not so tragic since it was in a fish bowl. But then again, I'm on Twitter, which might be the most human form of fishbowl around. Some would say that it was incapable of emotion. I would just as easily say we're incapable of understanding an animal emotion. If we can't get one another on a human level, then how in the hell do we assume that we understand what's going on in the mind of a fish.

I take a glimpse at Christy as she holds Brenna. Smaller isn't dumber. A lack of language isn't a lack of intelligence. Having babies taught me this.

So, I end the evening by mopping the floor and killing the ants. I take no pleasure in killing ants. They come for survival. I kill for convenience. They were here first. And they are amazing creatures. Sure, they are a little hung up on taking orders, but so am I. Sometimes you have to conform to survive in a colony.

lucychili said...

doyle said...

Dear John,

Joel has it (mostly) right--the hydrocarbon bonds that make oil useful for cars were put together by plants. Cars strip off the electrons of hydrocarbons through combustion, just aw we do.

Any ancient book with old stories developed over generations that do not let facts get in the way of truths is worth a read. I cannot wrap my head around God, but I do have occasional spats with his Son.

(By the way, you should carry your response here over to your blog--more folks need to see it.)

Dear lucychili,

Thanks for the link! I love that poem....

Ben Wildeboer said...

While mostly unrelated to this post, I did think you might like to see this news. A guy did an experiment to test whether foil hats actually work. Turns out they do!

Good news for those who may wear them from time to time.