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Saturday, February 7, 2015

Love and the Cambrian Explosion

When certain trilobites began developing eye-spots,
it was a game-changer.
Long, long ago, sea critters moved around aimlessly, from time to time bumping into each other.  If they bumped into something edible, they ate it, and if they bumped into something predatory, it ate them.  The situation remained pretty much unaltered for two billion years, but then about five hundred million years ago, certain trilobites developed eye spots.

This changed everything.

All of a sudden - and by "sudden" I mean twenty million years - trilobites could see where they were heading.  If they were heading to something yummy, they sped up; if they were heading toward something that would eat them, they changed course.  Naturally, this innovation put tremendous evolutionary pressure on all the other organisms to adapt.  Many of them did not - four mass extinctions occurred during the Cambrian period - but the creatures that did adapt evolved with astounding rapidity, and in the next half-billion years gave rise to the enormous profusion and diversity of life we see around us today.

The thing I want to point out is that trilobites did not "invent light."  Light had been there all along; trilobites merely learned how to see it.  Along the way, organisms developed other senses, too, but again - except in the case of hallucinations or mirages - they only sense what already exists.  When someone's baking cookies, there really are cookie molecules free floating in the air that get up in your nostrils and trigger olfactory sensors.  Your ear doesn't make music; sound-waves make a Rube-Goldberg mechanism bang together in your ear so you know when Merle Haggard sings about his mamma.  A nearby set of tubes functions like a spirit-level designed by aliens, signalling you if you're standing upright, falling over, or spinning around.  But you really are upright, toppling, or spinning whether you know it or not - the cochlea is just your body's way of letting you know.

What if it's the same with love?

What if love is something pre-existent in the universe and had been there even before the trilobites - like light or sound-waves?  Maybe all of the biological apparatus of love - the glands and hormones and autonomic responses - are elaborate sensory organs - what else could they be? - that allow us to perceive a phenomenon just as real as cookie molecules or gravity.  

A parent has a relationship to its offspring whether it knows it or not, and an organism has a relationship to its mate.  Many creatures, most even, don't perceive this relationship.  Spiders will eat their mates and offspring, too, given the chance, just as some sharks will eat their fellow sharks: but maybe this is no different than a sightless fish bumping into the walls of its underwater cave.

We all have relationships to our parents, siblings, mates, and offspring.  We have a relationship to all creatures of the same kind: ie, human beings.  We have a further relationship - because life evolved from a common ancestor - to all life: that which lived before, is living now, and has not come into being.  And because life emerged from insensate matter, we have a relationship to that, too: to the stars and distant galaxies, to quasars and quarks and muons.  

That relationship is love, and it has been there the whole time.  We've only recently begun learning to see it.

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