Saturday, August 10, 2013

Loren Eiseley: on stability

"Life is never fixed and stable.  It is always mercurial, rolling and splitting, disappearing and re-emerging in a most unpredictable fashion.  I never make a journey to a wood or a mountain without experiencing the temptation to explode a puffball in a new clearing or stopping to encourage some sleepy monster that is just cracking out of the earth mold.  This is, of course, an irresponsible attitude, since I cannot tell what will come of it, but if the world hangs on such matters it may be well to act boldly and realize all immanent possibilities at once.  Shake the seeds out of their pods, I say, launch the milkweed down, and set the lizards scuttling.  We are in a creative universe.  Let us then create.  After all, man himself is the unlikely consequence of such forces. In the spring when a breath of wind sets the propellers of the maple seeds to whirring, I always say to myself hopefully, "After us the dragons.

To have dragons one must have change; that is the first principle of dragon lore.  Otherwise everything becomes stale, commonplace, and observed.  I suspect that it is this unimaginative boredom that leads to the vulgar comment that evolution may be all very well as a theory but you can never really see anything in the process of change.  There is also the even more obtuse and less defensible attitude of those who speak of the world's creative energies as being exhausted, the animals small and showing no significant signs of advance.  'Everything is specialized in blind channels,' some observers contend.  'Life is now locked permanently in little roadside pools, or perching dolefully on television aerials.'

Such men never pause to think how they might have looked gasping fishily through mats of green  algae in the Devonian swamps, but that is where the homunculus who preceded them had his abode.  I have never lost a reverent and profound respect for swamps, even individually induced ones.  I remember too well what, on occasion, has come out of them.  Only a purblind concern with the present can so limit men's views, and it is my contention that sympathetic observer, even at this moment, can witness such marvels of transitional behavior, such hoverings between the then and the now, as to lay forever to rest the notion that evolution belongs somewhere the witch world of the past."

-- Loren Eiseley --
from The Night Country

Loren Eiseley is not the first to talk about unending change in the world: Taoists, Heraclitus, and Montaigne among many others had also noted this, but we forget and we need to be reminded of this regularly.  In textbooks that discuss evolution, how many end the exposition with the present day and never go on to talk about future evolutionary modifications.

The same is true of human affairs.  I remember when the Soviet Union collapsed and the Iron Curtain came down in the early '90s.  The wise ones talked about peace, the end of the arms race, the reduction of military forces now that the Cold War had ended.  The money spent on weaponry could now be put to peaceful uses to benefit humanity.  And now.  .  .

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