Saturday, 11 July 2015

genesis or æolian dust

The always intriguing Æon magazine invites us to imagine an ecosystem that’s parallel to our own familiarly flourishing one but possibly quite independent—not quite like the writhing, invisible world of microscopic beings that Anton van Leeuwenhoek saw for the first time in the 1670s as this discovery did not have immediately recognisable and world-shattering consequences, since these animalcules seemed to have less to do with the majesty of man than anything imaginable—and along side the life that we know in such a radically different and unorthodox way so as to be completely alien in organisation and expression.
I think there are good indicators that our prejudice is slowly succumbing to surprise and serendipity—the resourcefulness of biology, as the search continues for extra-terrestrial intelligence and we find niches of creeping and reproducing beings in the most unexpected of places, but for all these positive developments, we still could fail if our criteria for thriving only cleaves to what we know and expect. Of course it would be more exciting and apparent to be confronted with the mute artefacts of an otherworldly civilisation or megafauna lopping across far-away plains—rather than enigmatic crystals, sludge, erosion, curious matter circling the drain, or creatures perpetuated by human belief in numerology or patent medicines and are happy hitchhikers. One concrete example given of a seemingly biogenic phenomena (that may have originated in a genesis before the one that’s our creation narrative or afterwards, like viruses, plasmids and preons that seem to prey on our weaknesses) is in the patina called desert varnish, debated since before the time of Darwin whether vegetable or mineral, of a sheen that forms on the surface of rocks, that’s extremely hydrophobic and contains elements not native to the local environment. The varnish, however, is inchoate, endemic to deserts around the world, from Africa to the Antarctic, and is even that verdigris that was scrapped away by our ancestors to produce the most ancient and enduring petroglyphs as signs that we were here too.