When you think about it, and we seldom do, whatever exists in the environment that naturally surrounds us is awesome. In every cubic centimeter “out there” dwell organized arrangements of chemical substances that draw the attention of our human senses. Although we have given these objects a variety of names and classifications, we are not able to comprehend exactly how they are constituted and how they actually function.
Despite our arrogant attitude that assumes homo sapiens are capable of understanding what we encounter in Nature, we can’t begin to appreciate the magnificent complexity that makes the smallest external event possible. That comment is not meant to be a criticism of our human narrow-mindedness, but rather a humble observation of the infinite challenge that lies before us in deciphering Nature’s laws and understanding all the varied activities that we come in contact with on this small, overheating planet.
Scientists tell us that planet Earth is merely an unpretentious, rocky sphere flattened at the poles and bulging at the equator that elliptically trails an average star in an unimpressive galaxy spinning endlessly toward an unknown future in an unchartered universe of irregularly populated nothingness. Sooner or later these scientists predict the Earth will be amalgamated into some immense Black Hole somewhere.
What little we know about what goes on near us in that vast nothingness is violently awesome, beautifully colorful, astonishingly intricate, terrifyingly powerful, and sometimes inspirationally peaceful. From our restricted vantage point. The whole universe is infinitely greater than the sum of its parts, yet the parts in themselves are intricately interspersed, interrelated, and interdependent.
The cycles, the dynamism, the velocity of the infinitesimal pieces, the inviolable laws governing force fields operating throughout the universal staggers the imagination and befuddles our best human intellects. Still, we are undeterred amidst these overwhelming challenges to our human capabilities in our attempts to perceive the rationale behind each simple observation. We launch ourselves innocently into the abyss of intimidating emptiness, rarely accepting our severe limitations in understanding the paradoxes that still await our discovery and explanation.
The truth beckons us. The arrow of time points promisingly into the future. The rewards for unraveling the twisted braid of the Gordian Knot which fastens all the wonders that unite our universe motivate us to move ahead on the road to discovery and understanding. We can’t resist this temptation even though that road may take us where we do not wish to go. Lured by the desire of attaining “glory” for being the first to uncover something inexplicable, scientists trudge on hoping to find the wisdom to understand the underlying logic that controls and monitors everything we encounter.
An ambitious task? A worthwhile quest? For a few of us, proceeding will lead to some material progress like that found by the majority of the settlers that came to America. For others, it will mark the end of their peace and happiness and introduce a change to a way of life based on false beliefs.
To the more “resourceful” will go the spoils, be they beneficial or detrimental. Either consequence must be accepted, because it seems to be inherent in the longevity of the existence of anything that endures. What is awesome, however, is that an equal distribution of this important “resourcefulness” is not awarded to each member of a species, or to all the other species. Plus, being resourceful seems to demand rapid adaptation. Our short history has shown us that undeniable principle in operation, although we reject it. We want to impose our human principles on our environment without sufficiently understanding the deeper principles that determine how the universe is actually structured to fulfill its hidden purpose.
What is wondrous, miraculous, and truly amazing to us are the various processes that can be observed as they affect each plant and animal. The growth and alteration in size, color, and composition have been used by us humans to identify “living” things. Changes that involve the less active mineral substances are less apparent. These manifestations of growth or alteration are not considered sufficient evidence of “living” because the changes are so subtle and slow, except in the case of active volcanoes and gradually moving glaciers. These can be considered “active” or “inactive,” “alive” or “dead.” Nevertheless, all change, organic or inorganic, is remarkable! Maybe we humans should redefine more precisely what the word “living” actually signifies.
To make complicated processes simple and intellectually manageable, we give them highfalutin terms like photosynthesis, spontaneous combustion, transpiration, evaporation, condensation, procreation, autogenesis, etc. which generally cover what happens in Nature without describing the process in any great detail.
A walk through a flowering garden can strike awe into anyone sensitive enough to wonder why plants have structures and flowers, flowers have unique design and color, and these internally engineered designs somehow have a purpose in replicating the whole flowering plant when visiting bees pollinate the pistils so that seeds are eventually generated. The process of reproduction via pollination, of growth via photosynthesis, of transporting fluids via osmosis, etc. all contribute to creating the sensually recognizable plant we categorize according to certain characteristics it possesses with other similar plants.
How all these processes work together at the infinitesimal level is vaguely understood. We cannot photograph that level of activity and study it, only theorize about what is happening and give that theoretical process a name. The great diversity of plants and of the individuals in all plant species indicates the difficulty of reproducing identical plant life. Why such individuality is permitted is baffling. Why such consistent self-cloning somehow maintains the species yet allows for the refinement necessary to adapt to environmental change is equally bewildering. Who made these rules governing all these processes? Who communicates them throughout our planet, maybe throughout our galaxy? And who enforces these intricate rules, amends them, and up-dates them? I don’t want to try an answer those questions.
Where is the data base stored in the tiny seed at conception that controls the pithiness of the stem, the height of the plant, the configuration of the root system, the distance between branches, the size of the leaves, the outline of the leaf, the color of the flower, the perfume of the flower, the number of petals, the texture of the petals, the style of the stamen and pistils, the recognition of adequate pollination for conception of seed cells, etc.?
That “et cetera” covers a multitude of decisions, event coordination, message delivery to cells as they divide, and a whole host of details in a complex flow chart of the critical path that must be followed to build a new plant capable of reproducing itself! Not a small achievement for a simple flowering plant like a dandelion. And a very different, but similar, outline must be designed for a parasitic plant like a mushroom.
Where do these designs originate? Where is the intelligence come from to launch a prototype? What laboratory did the experimenting that refined all the processes required to multiply cells, move fluids, respond to light or energy from the sun, adapt to many adverse environmental challenges, create defense mechanisms like toxins and thorns to ward off predators, extract necessary chemicals from the air, the minerals in the soil and in the water?
Who engineered this particular design to convert all the generic elements we have listed on some chart into a plant “package” with a unique, definable structure that benefits (if not maximizes) the growth, survival, and future reproduction of the parent plant? Ingenious work was done by some brilliant group of plant designers somewhere, I would surmise. If only they would have left us a blueprint or textbook to help us understand the rationale behind creating the first plant.
Enter the quizzical mind of our combined scientific community. They ask: “Why are there two different types of “living” things: plants and animals? One, that is basically sedentary, rooted to one place where it obtains its sustenance, and one, that moves its anatomical structure through the air, water, and sometimes dirt in search of its sustenance?”
These experts cannot answer these questions today, only note what facts they have observed with their primitive tools of investigation. Better tools than those of other creatures, however! They can alter a species of plant and develop new strains of a more resistant, potentially longer lived plant. This does not mean that they change the processes. They merely followed the recipe hoping to produce an adaptation that yields the results the experimenters are seeking. What change is sought may not benefit the species, but only time will tell whether or not it enhances the species’ longevity.
Look closely at a flower, a leaf, a branch, a piece of the root of any handy plant. Don’t you wonder how it extracts what it needs from the air, the occasional rain, and the seemingly indestructible elements of compacted dirt where it grows? Where does this little seed obtain the strength to move aside this resistant dirt to make a home for itself? (Or burst open a rock for the growth in size its continued survival requires?) Dumbfounding is the evidence of the power of plants to start life and maintain it despite the surrounding adversity.
“So what?” you may ask. Why waste time contemplating our navel and speculating about the weirdness of creation? The plants and animals were put here for the benefit and use of mankind. Isn’t that what our noble forefathers told us? Maybe so. Yet, the principles that are ignored by the innocent must be understood. Whatever we learn must recognize what these principles teach us.
Humans cannot forget that we are just one species. Others similar to us have perished. Our species may not continue itself once overpopulation of our environment with human beings begins to exhaust the natural resources that support our life style. If resourcefulness is required and adaptation is mandatory, we must study the principles of Nature to discover what adaptation prolongs the longevity of a species, and particularly of our species.
The Coastal Redwoods in California have adapted to climate, pests, fire, and other adverse environmental conditions. All except the relentless cutting of human chain saws. They fortunately are a “renewable” resource: one that can be farmed and protected with human intervention and care. These trees have built a vital data bank of valuable survival skills.
If we could somehow tap into their stored intelligence in order to spread the wealth of information to other important plants that are stressed by their environment, we could help “educate” these plants into developing ways to be resourceful. However, if we destroy the environment conducive to propagation and survival faster than these plants can adapt themselves, then we are harming ourselves indirectly because we do not adequately understand the inter-connectedness of all the elements that make up the “life” that inhabits this planet.
We may have doomed our species already. We cannot know for sure. Unfortunately, until we discover and understand all the principles of creation, continuity, and replenishment, we will lose our awesome plant and animal neighbors that share this delicate home with us, one by one.
We may not appreciate the role of one little plant in the grand scheme of “things”, but we had better learn to appreciate the scientific intelligence that decided to cultivate that little plant in this gritty soil inside our very special biosphere. Each species is awesome, and each individual of a species may be even more awesome. That particular individual may possess the key to unraveling the secrets we need to understand for our species to survive what we cannot foresee.
We can despise our “useless” plant and animal neighbors and try to eradicate weeds or eliminate pests in an effort to promote further human dominance on our spaceship Earth. But can we answer our own doubts that one day a more intelligent species will evolve or arrive from outer space and cause the disappearance of our present human species?
Our replacement may already be among us. He or she may be our enlightened offspring. Or an evolving animal “neighbor” that we carelessly step on or burn with controlled fires in our forest.
Each sweet “mystery of life” that humans uncover will be awesome, so I’m going back “outside” to smell the roses and observe the flowers blooming there.