Albert Einstein once spoke, "Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind." That really should be the end of this blog post. Who can add to the wisdom of Einstein?
But, if you know me at all, you know I can't just leave well enough alone. So here's my take. Einstein, eat your heart out.
In ecology, we study the relationships between organisms and their environments. Our focus is often divided into hierarchical levels - organism, population, community, ecosystem, biosphere - each inclusive of the level before, representing relationships at broader and broader scopes.
I often wonder if the scale of this macro stuff is all wrong. If we just haven’t distanced our lens enough.
When we study at the level of an organism, for example, it’s beautiful to see how complex arrangements of systems are specialized to perform specific functions. Digestive system, endocrine system, nervous system, etc. all working together for the survival of this one entity (a single organism). Let’s zoom in on our lens a bit.
If we look at an individual cell of that organism, the organelles of that cell are performing in a similar synchronous dance; nucleus providing overall guidance, lysosomes breaking down energy, mitochondria converting that energy into a useable form. Our cells are like mini-mes, complete with their own sets of organs and all the DNA that makes us, well, us. This is not revolutionary thinking. People often compare the systems of a cell to the larger systems of an organism.
So let’s zoom back out to the organismal level, but this time, consider a slightly different train of thought. Could we as individuals not just be like single cells? Our organs operating like so many organelles?
Zoom back further, to the population level. By its traditional definition, a population is a group of organisms of the same species which interact. When we view ourselves as cells, the human population is very much a collective unit functioning together like an organ. Wars and times of peace; productivity and technology; all of our history, our present and future playing on the stage of this greater organism. We have some role - perhaps a heart, perhaps an intestine - let's not get too grandiose.
Zoom out further, to the level of community. Biologically defined as an interacting group of multiple species. Here we see the human population (as an organ) interacting and trading off resources with other organs much like our own bodies do (the digestive system working in sync with the circulatory system etc.). A system of organs (populations of people, and plants, and animals) all striving to maintain homeostasis. Trading off resources in the larger ecosystem to achieve a balance. (Hopefully our own population isn’t getting too greedy - uncontrolled growth by another name is cancer).
The big question becomes, what is at that highest zoom? As we continue to back out further and further from our own cell-like existence.
The Earth? Perhaps that is the true living organism? Or perhaps it’s much larger than that little ball of dust in orbit. The One that holds all consciousness’ by my thinking, is Time.
If you can hold for a moment, the assumption that we are only cells in something much greater than ourselves, then my consciousness, the mind I reference as my own is simply a cell in a larger collective fabric of human/animal/living consciousness.
All of my experiences, my thoughts, my ideas, my consciousness, gets carried on long after my individual cell (or body) is dead. My cell may be dead, but the larger organism of which I am a part lives on, unaware even of my demise. It’s not that it doesn’t care. I’m sure at some level the universe is grateful for my role in its life. Probably about as aware and grateful as we are of the fact that in 24 hours we lose a million skin cells. A million little lights of potential consciousness. But this shouldn't be too upsetting.
Our skin cells are not lost anymore than we are at death. Each cell (or life) having contributed to the life of something bigger than itself. Just because my skin cells die, I don’t. And just because I too will die, my consciousness won’t. Not in so much as it is carried in the very DNA of this larger organism that I call Time.
Isn’t it remarkable that every living thing on Earth is comprised of 4 simple nucleotides? ACTG. Every mistake, every victory, every challenge, every success is stored somewhere in those magical base pairs of DNA. The arrangement of DNA makes me, me; you, you; and a banana a banana. But it's the exact same stuff in all of us.
DNA that changes within me during my lifetime, throughout my experiences.
DNA that I change in others through merely interacting with them at one point, in one lifetime.
DNA, this incredible molecule that binds all life forms together in a collective consciousness of sorts as we fumble from one lifetime to the next, rearranged, recomposed, and reformed as the energy that continues to renew itself within us.
To me, this is an awesome God. A universe that continues to expand, repeat, twist back onto itself and hold us as precious components in this moment.
Worship on as you will, because to me, we ultimately are one and the same. Significant specks in something much greater than we dare imagine.