Friday, September 09, 2005


The following three paragraphs are again from Sagan's COSMOS, a book which I just finished today, June 14, 2005 after several sessions of on and off reading, filling in with other books from time to time. What gets me about this passage is how easily I can slip into accepting what I am as if this skin that I walk the world in were the only possible skin to be in.

"Were the Earth to be started over again with all its physical features identical, it is extremely unlikely that anything closely resembling a human being would ever again emerge. There is a powerful random character to the evolutionary process. A cosmic ray striking a different gene, producing a different mutation, can have small consequences early but profound consequences late. Happenstance may play a powerful role in biology, as it does in history. The farther back the critical events occur, the more powerfully can they influence the present.

"For example, consider our hands. We have five fingers, including one opposable thumb. They serve us quite well. But I think we would be served equally well with six fingers including a thumb, or four fingers including a thumb, or maybe five fingers and two thumbs. There is nothing intrinsically best about our particular configuration of fingers, which we ordinarily think of as so natural and inevitable. We have five fingers because we have descended from a Devonian fish that had five phalanges or bones in its fins. Had we descended from a fish with four or six phalanges, we would have four or six fingers on each hand and would think them perfectly natural. We use base ten arithmetic only because we have ten fingers on our hands. Had the arrangement been otherwise, we would use base eight or base twelve arithmetic and relegate base ten to the New Math. The same point applies, I believe, to many more essential aspects of our being—our hereditary material, our internal biochemistry, our form, stature, organ systems, loves and hates, passions and despairs, tenderness and aggression, even our analytical processes—all of these are, at least in part, the result of apparently minor accidents in our immensely long evolutionary history.

"Perhaps if one less dragonfly had drowned in the Carboniferous swamps, the intelligent organisms on our planet today would have feathers and teach their young in rookeries. The pattern of evolutionary causality is a web of astonishing complexity; the incompleteness of our understanding humbles us."


"Reading these two genomes side by side, it's amazing to see the evolutionary changes that are occurring. I couldn't imagine Darwin looking for stronger confirmation of his theories." —Univ. of Washington professor Robert Waterson, commenting on a study released last week that found humans and chimps have genetic blueprints that are 96 percent identical.


Colleges in China are having trouble with their students having sex in the dorm, so they're cracking down. They're threatening to expel anyone who doesn't quit having sex in the dorms. They're no long offering free condoms. Trouble is, their students are, therefore, taking to the streets to have sex. In Beijing, they flock to a popular park and copulate on the lawn. Passersby call these couples "land mines". Be careful where you step. —from NEWSWEEK (September, 2005, p. 12)


It’s interesting science fiction to imagine how one might go back in time and alter current events, but when you search through history, you often find moments that changed history, though the events were mere coincidences. James Burke produced a wonderful PBS series about those kinds of connections in history when one thing led to another to a seemingly inevitable conclusion. He called it “The Day The Universe Changed”. In fact I’ve got the companion book to that series and will eventually begin reading it. But here, in COSMOS, on Sagan’s page 303, is a footnote:

“When La Perouse was mustering the ship's company in France, there were many bright and eager young men who applied but were turned own. One of them was a Corsican artillery officer named Napoleon Bonaparte. It was an interesting branch point in the history of the world. If La Perouse had accepted Bonaparte, the Rosetta stone might never have been found, Champollion might never have decrypted Egyptian hieroglyphics, and in many more important respects our recent history might have been changed significantly.”

La Perouse was a French explorer who touched down in North America in Alaska. The rejected Bonaparte later conquered Egypt, and a French soldier, working on fortifications along the Nile, uncovered the Rosetta stone that Champollion later used to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics.


Bush gets elected, and then god strikes us with 9/11. But fundamentalists don't get the message. They re-elect the Pres. and keep the Republican congress strong. So now god gives us Katrina. Isn't it obvious the message we're getting from the fundamentalist god? What will happen after 2006 or 2008 if Republicans aren't turned out of office nationwide? Nuclear war????

"Avarice is the sphincter of the heart." —Matthew Green

No comments: