Children in Interesting Times

Children in Interesting Times

Milky Way's local supercluster.
Milky Way’s local supercluster.

I grew up in an educated household that did not believe in space aliens. Period.  What were we, idiots? Yet now you and I live in a time of serious and costly scientific searches for beings somewhere else in the universe. Of course we are, how anthropocentric we were back then! Vanity. Law of averages. Great big infinite universe. Bound to be other intelligences. Right?

So I was shaken by this recent science headline: 100,000 Galaxies, and No Obvious Signs of Life.  Silly, but I feel bereft. Like a vacuum has sucked fellow-feeling from the universe and we’re back to being the Only Ones.

Reminds me how often contemporary life requires paradigm shifts.  Deep down, the bedrock of what is keeps shifting. Remember when our bodies were us?  Now our personal cells are outnumbered ten to one by bacterial cells.  A Scientific American article can say, we are practically walking petri dishes. Funny, you don’t look like a petri dish.

And now I don’t only have a brain in my cranium I have another brain in my gut.  The ENS [enteric nervous system] was serving animals as a “brain” long before vertebrates swam along with their spinal chords and crania.  The ENS remains active in us today.

The Eden of biotic diversity of my youth has given way to a Great Extinction.  Polar bears, tigers, elephants — pillars of animal majesty — are on the rout. Pluto was a planet, now it’s just a rock.  Crouching under school desks  is no way to escape an atomic bomb.  People with darker-than-white skins are inferior (unless they surf).  A human outer ear can come out of a 3D printer.  And here comes Augmented Reality. A future insult may be Who’s writing your augmentation?


These are big changes for a psyche to absorb.  The givens get taken away.  Although no animal we know of processes reality in abstractions, other beasts have a sense of continuity, of what feels normal.  What would it do to a chimp if you kept changing its habitat — a cage with a stainless steel feeding bowl, then spacious open lands, then housed next to a noisy train terminal with its shrill pace. My guess is the chimp would go a little mad.  Be disturbed.  So I wonder what happens inside humans who adapt and adapt and adapt as what’s true keeps morphing out from under them.

I ask myself and I hear the supposed Chinese curse May your children live in interesting times.

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