Life…we all delve and dwell in it and when I say all I indeed do mean all…life. From the microorganism no larger than 1/10 the size of a human cell to the 30m/100ft blue whale, life has been going about its business here on Earth for around 3.8 billion years. But immersed and inundated in life every second of our life, do we truly know what it is? For sure, as surrounded by it we take it for granted and perhaps do not fully appreciate its essence, in particular in considering all its myriad forms.
|Bacterial microbes ~ Life|
We do bestow our blessings on genetic relations for sure, but a blade of grass is given no special attention or even thought. Now why is that; should it not have any reserved respect for making it into life’s fold?
Life as what we know is bound only on this third stone from the sun we call Earth. We are stationed in one solar system out of approximately 100 billion with our sun as one out of a collection of 200 billion in our galaxy, the Milky Way. Further, the Milky Way is one of upwards to 500 billion galaxies with their suns and solar systems in our universe and that is only accounting for the ones that their emanated light has finally reached us. The observable universe as a sphere has a radius of ~ 46 billion light years. One light year is just under 9.5 trillion kilometers or around 6 trillion miles. Now that is much more than a hop, skip and a jump, but throughout all that vastness, tiny Earth is the only place we know that supplies and supports living existence.
|Blue Whale ~ Life|
This is no doubt not to say life is nowhere else, for that thinking is statistical foolish folly. It is just that Earth so far is the only place we know of its presence.
With that said, now getting back to that blade of grass. One blade of grass…what odds were in its favor to exist? What odds were against it to prevail? We as an individual are much like the blade of grass in life, for our being was in beating insurmountable odds. Let’s clarify.
For you to come into play as a part of life, no Las Vegas gambler would have laid wager on you, for it would be a losing venture from the start. No less though, you fooled the bettor, but here is why he/she would have betted against you.
For you to have come into being, first out of the billions of people, your parents had to meet and become intimate in one particular romantic passage. Any other moment in time...to be…you would have failed. From your father, out of the millions of sperm cell haploids competing, only the precise one had to enter one particular egg gamete your mother had dropped from the thousands in her ovaries onto her uterus. The two cells fused into a zygote that later becomes uniquely you.
That is amazing in itself, but still, considering that your mother’s parents and your father’s parents had to do the same act at the right moment and so on with your great grandparents, great-great grandparents and great-great-great grandparents on down the line had to be punctilious as well. You are indeed an authentic prodigy in beating the odds to exist in life and no less…here you are…
Perhaps with this in mind, the commonality we are exposed to daily and what we perceive in our human environs, we should take a little more note and not allow the mundane ever day thoughts supersede the knowledge in knowing what each and every one of us are…true miracles.
And yes, even that blade of grass is as well, as the phenomenon of life transcends into all its myriad forms as a rarity.
Evolutionary My Dear Watson:
What makes us so special that we want to exclude ourselves from the rest of life forms trumping us up as Mother Superior? We came up with deities to stroke our superiority over the beasts of the field, the feathered fowl of the air and swimming creatures from the deep. We have tendencies to concentrate on the few differences rather than admitting all the similarities between us and other animal clades.
In an environment, all animal species possess unique strategies in surviving the conditions they’ve been offered by Mama Nature. Where one group utilizes efficacies in stronger than average senses such as sight and smell along with nimble swiftness, another goes for brute strength. Examples are the gazelle and rhinoceros. Man does not possess exceptional senses, nor is he powerfully built when compared to the rest of the animal mass. No, for his continued survival, man’s conditioned strategies went for intelligence.
Our brain is a true wonderment. Although except for size when compared to the species’ size, our brain is not much different from other mammal species and in particular other primates.
Our brain’s origins have a very primitive source of 505 million years ago. We have coelenterates to be thankful for our minds’ humble beginnings. The jellyfish has no true brain to speak of, but it for the first time (in the fossil record anyway) was the animal to develop a nervous system. Jelly fish possess a ‘nerve net’ agglomeration and along with ganglion-like structures formed the first nervous system; a precursor to a brain. This message system, though slow seemed to work, so it was passed on and modified.
From the jellyfish’s ‘nerve net,’ placoderms were the first fish to expound on it 430 million years ago by developing a brainstem and a telencephalon which is the embryonic stage from which the mature cerebellum develops. By the time the first amphibians arose 370 million years ago, a collective brain composed of a forebrain, midbrain, hindbrain, cerebellum, and cerebrum, had made an appearance.
When reptiles arose 312 million years ago, the amphibian brain came along with the package, but was festooned and broadened. The reptile brain is called the ‘triune brain’ and in evolution is the model of all mammalian brains. In mammals the reptile’s paleomammalian and neomammalian regions were improved upon with a neocortex, along with the enhancement of the amygdala, occipital condyles and temporal lobe. Further in primates, complex social characteristics were added to the function of the brain.
Essentially the lizard brain is our old brain. However, though mammalian brains are an improved version of the reptiles, since the basal ganglia are found in the forebrains of all vertebrates, the evolutionary ancestor to all reptile and mammal brains dates back to a common ancestor of around 500 million years ago.
For the reptile, everything is recorded pretty much in black and white in the ‘triune brain’ and never is the situation the fault of the brain’s owner. The reptile is capable of primal judgment in which our brain inherited. A lizard can determine to be aware of an event or to trust or not trust another species encounter. Humans borrowed from the reptilian brainstem the ‘fight or flight’ experience with no conscious effort involved. That is why we jump when we’re suddenly scared. No mindful thought came into play; it was merely a response reaction to survival.
In going the intelligent route, there were and are consequences. With face to face encounters, our primitive ancestors had no advantage when confronted with a predator. He/she could not run as fast, climb as fast and was not stronger. There are a few hominid fossil remains that bear this out with predator teeth scrapings and punctures on the fossilized bones. But with the pursuance of intelligence, once man learned to fashion tools then weaponry, the odds turned more favorable.
This intelligence thing seemed to be working out as various hominin species (the human clade) in the Australopithecus, Homo habilis, Homo ergaster and Homo erectus began radiating out. But alas, there were physiological disadvantages in further developing intelligence.
In order to have increased intelligence, the size of the brain accordingly had to be increased. With a larger brain, the housing had to be enlarged that led to a bigger head and skull. To support that big head, a broader shoulder base had to evolve.
With all these enlarged head and shoulder girth adaptations to increase intelligence, it played havoc on the female in childbirth. Her body had to commit to some serious sexual dimorphism if she and her infant were going to survive birth. By the time Homo habilis showed up, the pubic area was rearranged being lowered with refashioned pelvic bones ushering in the ability to unhinge during delivery. The birth canal had changed from a shallow bony ring to a deep curved tube. In addition, once a successful birth occurred, the infant’s brain was still in a fetal state so needed far more time to mature, causing the mother to devote more time to the helpless infant and toddler’s needs.
This was a dangerous circumstance living in the wilds. So to ensure her mate stuck around to provide and defend while she nurtured the hapless child, along with other strategies, she also developed breasts and gave up estrus cycles to be receptive year round enticing the male to stay.
We may think that with all those long legs and neck, a giraffe birth would be far more difficult, but not so…human birth is the most difficult of all mammalian births. The human female body cannot forgo much more dimorphism to accommodate a still enlarging brain.
Many elements came into play to nurture our intelligence such as a taller slender upright frame and opposable thumbs as genetically induced, while the taming of fire was a learned behavior. But once again greater intelligent premiums were at a cost, for our brain consumes 20% of our entire caloric intake.
In the human brain’s evolved development and current architecture, as simplified but explained above, in using Charles Darwin’s phrase, our brain is a classic case of, “descent with modification.”
B’have Yoreself Ya Hear:
As ya see, our brain is not so special a deified gift after all, for the main components have been borrowed from older animal life lineages and simply embellished upon.
Most mammals feel emotion and pain, something we thought scientifically was not so just a little over a hundred years ago. Some arrogant individuals today still insist this is so…the ignoramuses. Other animals besides ourselves not only feel, they can reason to cause and effect, exhibit cognitive thinking, show empathy/remorse behaviors and utilize conscious decision making. About the only thing our brain affords us that other animal brains do not afford them is the faculty of conceptualization, or in simpler terms…imagination.
Through all this intelligence evolvement, it is the ability to wholly cycle image formation that makes us stand out from the rest of the animal world. Although on the point that one considers dreaming as a form of imagining, one could give a credible argument that other animals indeed do exhibit imagination as all mammals dream, even the little mouse.
With dreaming aside, in the ability to form new images in the mind that have not been previously expressed or experienced as au courant cognizance, imagination has aided us in our wits, which has been a huge and successful survival tactic.
Most other animals cannot adapt to sudden change and is one of the major concerns in climate change. A yak with small ears, a heavy long coat of hair covering dense wooly fur underneath is specially adapted for the extremely cold climate of the Himalayans where it makes its home. Put the yak in the desert and it dies. The same goes for the Gila monster. Put this lizard away from his desert home into the Himalayans and it dies.
Man is a naked animal with virtually no protection from climatic elements, but our wits have allowed us to adapt to virtually any environment. This is not a genetic solution, but an imaginative learned one. Where it is cold, through wit, we clothed ourselves. Where it is hot, we stayed cool by stripping off clothing. In both climates we built shelters to accommodate.
Without the imaginative wit edge, we could not accomplish this. Still though, sometimes our wits elude us. Captain Sir John Franklin’s 1845 expedition to seek the Northwest Passage in the Arctic ended in despair with all crewmen eventually perishing. They could not gather their wits and survive the hostile environmental conditions. Ironically, only a few miles from one of the doomed crew’s camping sites, there was an Inuit village that did quite well in the same environment due to learned wits.
Man also seems at times to want to leave his valuable imaginative knowledge behind and instead resort to a more primitive urging in aggression. There assuredly are isolated cases of animal species killing other species or their own kind without provocation or need of food, but not to the extent of man in his endless warfare endeavors. What other animal do you know of that declares war?
Any human society harbors a lurid and sordid few individuals that actually enjoy killing. Although there are exceptions in other animal species to wantonly kill such as a male lion killing a lioness’ cubs to make her receive him sexually, or sanguinary ants enslaving other ant species to perform work, no other species, except for man and the common chimp kill for pleasure. Yes on rare instances, it has been observed in the wilds of chimpanzees gaining up on one they don’t like and killing him, but that appears to be an everyday occurrence with man.
America, God bless her, likes to portray herself as a peaceful nation, but yet its military firepower budget costs more than the next ten other countries’ defense budgets combined.
Currently, Russia has no business intervening militarily into sovereign Ukraine, but then again America has no business in issuing threats to Russia if it does. Ukraine is Russia’s neighbor. If the inverse were occurring in Mexico, a U.S. neighbor, would we receive warmly, Russia’s demands that we stay out of Mexico?
Let’s get back to imagining how we can all get along.
The Final Slack:
What came first…matter or energy? Just like the chicken and egg scenario this is an easy one; it is energy that came first. In the beginning, energy was the universe until mass energy equivalence allowed the Higgs boson, a sub-atomic but scalar particle to endow energy with mass converting it into matter. This makes energy and matter intimately related. In fact as explained by E=mc2, anyone adding 25 kilowatt hours of energy to an object (matter) that matter increases its mass (weight) by one microgram. This role can also be reversed as again explained in Einstein’s famous equation where units of mass from matter can be converted back to energy states.
The Higgs field is made up of Higgs bosons and even though Higgs bosons have mass, even heavy mass as far as sub-atomic particles go, the Higgs field is massless. But, this field is continuous as the bosons rapidly decay. We along with the rest of the universe all live inside the Higgs field for it is the quality of physical existence. As such, the colloquial name tag for the Higgs boson is the ‘God particle.’
There we have it; the physical existence of all is only due to the Higgs boson, but there’s a conundrum that belies this exotic manifest; at least for me anyway.
Encoded information…what is that…its effects are physical and it certainly isn’t spiritual although its results remarkably are. What I’m speaking of here is the encoded information in that tiny seed that when conditions are right the tiny seed’s info carried out will result in one magnificent tall tree.
That encoded information is not matter, it is not energy whether potential or kinetic and it is certainly not some spirit directing the construction of the tree. Yet that info resurrects energy, mass and matter from seed to tree.
I’ll let ya figure that one out and once ya do, get back to me ya hear…
P.S. Just to let ya know, the egg came first.