Last night I had trouble sleeping. I awoke at 2:23 needing to go to the bathroom, which was pretty much as normal. But I had difficulty getting back to sleep afterwards, which is at least somewhat abnormal.
As I watched the light show constantly running on the inside of my eyelids two thoughts came to mind: the first was another way to show just how much we automatically think the universe is about us; the second reflected on how far along the path of having seized-up I have already come.
The first was simply the old philosophical question with which most of us are quite familiar: If a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound? How you answer that question has always seemed to me to depend simply on how you define “sound.” It seemed a silly question to me. But last night, for the first time, I realized it is really about your world view. In my half-awake state, I realized it should make no difference what I think. Do the other trees realize the compatriot has fallen is the more pertinent query. If a tree falls, do the others know it?
Perhaps even more importantly, are there others left to know it?
I got a book about the sixth extinction for Christmas, which is what has a lot of us concerned these days. A lot of the rest of us are also totally unaware of it. It’s what people are talking about when they wax loquacious about biodiversity. What is frequently ignored is that humanity is crowding so many other species out of the group of living beings via consumption of their habitats that the Earth is seeing it’s sixth major extinction event since it was created.
One of the first five extinction events nearly killed every living being on the planet.
The sixth extinction event, by the way, doesn’t even allude to global warming or climate change. It is merely an observation about survival of species up to now.
That your grandmother is still alive is never taken as proof she will be alive next year. However, that the survival of some of life on Earth through the travails of previous mass extinctions is the unspoken “proof” that the life on Earth is unkillable. And this is one of the hardest objections to overcome which I regularly encounter in my attempts to convince people we should start trying to get off the planet.
Are our minds too small to embrace the idea that we should regard size as unrelated to “living being?” Why is that? What makes us think the Earth as a whole can’t be thought of as a single, living being? Is it just that it is so big? The microscope allowed us to see how small microbes–living organisms–can be. That everyday realities can obscure truths is part of our daily experience. For example, we all have the experience of a flat Earth (by our perception of it) being, in fact, spherical.
Why don’t we see that the Earth itself is alive? Having smaller living beings on its surface should no more change our recognition of that than our realization that microbes live on our own surfaces should make us reject the fact of our own status of “life form.”
I think it takes no stretch of the imagination to see that the life force on thiksplanet is the thing most threatened by climate change. We may wish it differently, but there is no evidence to support our belief that Gaia, as I call it, is immortal. There is, in fact, plenty of evidence to the contrary. To start with, Gaia would be our only experience with a living being which was not mortal. Secondarily, we would soon realize that the survival of humanity is not crucial to the survival of Gaia.
But regarding the Earth as a life form in its own right would make everything so much easier. I, and many others, call that being “Gaia” and it is this being that I think should be thought of as the potential target of all our efforts “to save the planet.” Note: none of this says anything about the survival of humanity.
Evidence even gives us reason to believe other planets in our own solar system may have once been living, but no longer are. How long can our luck last? The question ought not be whether Gaia is immortal, but whether there is anything we might do to extend her presence as an alive creature. But until we get beyond the mythological belief that Gaia cannot die, we will have none of it.
While I’m on the topic, I want to mention what seems to me to be the most obvious way to guarantee Gaia survives. We should be terraforming Mars, an activity which will only be accomplished by first making the alien planet habitable to non-humans. The task is hard and time-consuming, no matter where the terraforming is targeted, so we should have been doing it since Apollo, but we haven’t been. There is no time like the present, though, so better late than never.
Moving on to the other thought, which many of you will find more palatable. For who knows what reason, I awoke to the realization that I couldn’t put a last name to the man who used to be my best Tahoe friend.
Until about nine years ago, he and his wife had been Barb and my first phone call whenever we were planning a social gathering. The relationship continued even after Barb and I separated. But some three or four years ago, the wife cut Roger and I off altogether, probably largely due to an insensitive remark I made to her saying something about her head and plenty of sand. Knowing how strongly I feel about climate change, you can easily imagine. Anyway, the inability to call Roger’s last name out of memory rapidly (it took probably more than a minute to come up with it–and then I temporarily even lost the first name) threw me into a bit of a panic.
Working against me was the fact I had been trying consciously to forget the name of a boss at LTCC unsuccessfully for many years. She had proven my nemesis there and hadn’t been a very good boss in the first place. How could I not forget her name and yet not remember Roger’s?
The only conclusion that seemed compatible with all the facts seemed to be that I might have already seized up.
Sometimes I think the option of going into some sort of dream state when one dies might not be so good after all.