Amazing Universe

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A friend recently sent me a couple of articles about science by scientistss. One says that what we don’t know remains much greater and more significant than what we do, even though we’ve learned a tremendous amount in the last 250 years. And even much of what we actually DO know is both amazing and mysterious to an extent that we rarely seem to notice. Thinking about some of the things mentioned triggered associations for me with various things that have impressed me.

One such thing was a TV program I happened to see between 25 and 30 years ago, probably either on the Discovery Channel or PBS. It was about, of all things, elephant shit, and the role it plays in supporting a variety of plants and animals. That role strikes me as truly elegant (despite what we might call its pedestrian nature) way of fitting into the vast mosaic of nature. But the use of the word elegant reminds me of another reflection: menstruation strikes me as being an inelegant part of reproduction, and I would have thought that a God presumed to be both all-powerful and benevolent could have come up with something better. It’s one of several handicaps a female body has: menstruation keeps many women anemic for most of their adult lives, and when that portion of their lives ends, they’re liable to hormonal discomforts, as well as osteoporosos more frequently than males. The construction of the female body also makes women more vulnerable to urinary tract infections, simply because bacteria have a much shorter bath to travel from their urethras to their bladders than is true in male bodies. This reminds me of what Leonard Mlodonow said, in his debate with Deepak Chopra, about evolution not always finding the BEST solution to a problem, but one that would work “well enough.” Sexual reproduction on this world obviously works “well enough.”

Which reminds me of a question in one of the articles: why did life change from exclusively asexual reproduction to sexuality, especially when asexual reproduction guarantees that all of an organism’s DNA will be projected into the future? One obvious reason is that sexual reproduction guarantees mixtures and changes that have the possibility of being positive, just as they do of being negative.

But this brings up further questions. One is, how and why did nonflowering vegetation change to flowering varieties? The how is especially problematic. Darwin’s theory proposes that evolution works through mutation, and that successful mutations persist, eventually differentiating into new species. But how could flowering vegetation survive initially without bees, their symbiotic parters? Or how could bees survive without flowering plants? We have no fossil evidence to suggest how this could have happened. At some point flowering plants appear, and there are no intermediate forms recorded. Though there are some clear examples of evolution working, not all of Darwin’s theory seems tenable.

This further suggests the mystery of the role of sexuality in life. There are a lot of views about sex: some think it’s good, some thing it’s evil, but most of the time we seem to assume that we understand it. I think nothing could be further from the truth, particularly when it comes to our species. Consider that unlike all (I think) other animals, humans have sex at any time of the year, and that among other mammals the male is always more impessive than the female. In humans, just the opposite. One thing that can be said for certain of sexuality is that it’s a powerful drive, not just in humans, but in most of the rest of life on this world. Males fight for the right to copulate in the animal kingdom, just as they do among humans. It’s obvious that sexuality and reproduction play a central role in most of the life we know of, including our own, but exactly what its role is really isn’t that clear. Because the drive is so powerful, it can be combined with other human passions, like rage and pain, which produces a whole range of behaviors from devotion and responsibility to jealousy, rape and murder.

And if sex were essentially evil, as some seem to think, one could imagine that God could have arranged that it was indulged in only for reproduction, and that women would get pregnant each time. Since that is obviously not the case, what can we infer? My own inference that there is some further function for sexuality beyond reproduction, which we may not even suspect. The discussion can continue to the cellular level, where it’s difficult to see how the DNA molecule came into existence by accident, it being such a complex construction. Besides that, someone estimated that only about 8% of the molecule is for reproduction. What’s the rest of it for? The rest of it is commonly called “junk DNA” precisely because we DON’T know what it’s for. No doubt it’s possible to speculate, but as far as I know, no one has a clear idea about it. But the DNA molecule is the basis for most of the life on this world.

Energy pours into this world daily, first from the sun, which might be considered as the tangible representative of God in this solar system, but also from a variety of other sources among the stars. And in response, we, and the rest of life here on earth all radiate back at them, as well as to each other. It all is energy, most of it invisible to us, though it may influence us. Matter is energy, energy is matter, and we’re part of that constant cosmic dance. It’s all mysterious, even the parts we think we know. Our view is always limited, and there’s always another that will turn the most common object or phenomenon into something amazing, when we have the chance to see it from a new perspective. Science and religion, when they’re alive, can provide those perspectives, but what was once liberating, when it becomes too old, becomes imprisoning. One of my teachers used to speak of being on the growing edge of life, because it’s constantly growing, from the most primitive forms that existed precariously to an ever more complex panorama covering the whole earth and biosphere, even places where few would think life could sustain itself. Many think it’s all conscious, even the objects most inanimate, and we can choose to grow in consciousness or not. And even those who do are often not consistent about it. But what an amazing universe we’re part of and reflect.

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