“We have only this moment,
sparkling like a star in our hand...
and melting like a snowflake.”

Beyond Knowing

Zdzisław Beksiński, Untitled
Excerpt from Loren Eiseley's book "The Star Thrower", chapter "The Hidden Teacher":
"(...) I once received an unexpected lesson from a spider. It happened far away on a rainy morning in the west. I had come up a long gulch looking for fossils, and there, just at the eye level, lurked a huge yellow-and-black orb spider, whose web was moored to the tall spears of buffalo grass at the edge of the arroyo. It was her universe, and her senses did not extend beyond the lines and spokes of the great wheel she inhabited. Her extended claws could feel every vibration throughout that delicate structure. She knew the tug of wind, the fall of a raindrop, the flutter of a trapped moth's wing. Down one spoke of the web ran a stout ribbon of gossamer on which she could hurry out to investigate her prey."
"Curious, I took a pencil from my pocket and touched a strand of the web. Immediately there was a response. The web, plucked by its menacing occupant, began to vibrate until it was a blur. Anything that had brushed claw or wing against that amazing snare would be thoroughly entrapped. As the vibrations slowed, I could see the owner fingering her guidelines for signs of struggle. A pencil point was an intrusion into this universe for which no precedent existed. Spider was circumscribed by spider ideas; its universe was spider universe. All outside was irrational, extraneous, at best raw material for spider. As I proceeded on my way along the gully, like a vast impossible shadow, I realised that in the world of spider I did not exist."
"Moreover, I considered, as I tramped along, that to the phagocytes, the white blood cells, clambering even now with some kind of elementary intelligence amid the thin pipes and tubing of my body - creatures without whose ministrations I could not exist - the conscious "I" of which I was aware had no significance to these amoeboid beings. I was, instead, a kind of chemical web that brought meaningful messages to them, a natural environment seemingly immortal if they could have thought about it, since generations of them had lived and perished, and would continue to so live and die, in that odd fabric which contained my intelligence - a misty light that was beginning to seem floating and tenuous even to me."
 "I began to see that, among the many universes in which the world of living creatures existed, some were large, some small, but that all, including man's, were in some way limited or finite. We were creatures of many different dimensions passing through each other"s lives like ghosts through doors."
"In the years since, my mind has many times returned to that far moment of my encounter with the orb spider. A message has arisen only now from the misty shreds of that webbed universe. What was it that had so troubled me about the incident? Was it that spidery indifference to the human triumph?"
"If so, that triumph was very real and could not be denied. I saw, had many times seen; both mentally and in the seams of exposed strata, the long backward stretch of time whose recovery is one of the great feats of modern science. I saw the drifting cells of the early seas from which all life, including our own, has arisen. The salt of those ancient seas is in our own blood, its lime is in our bones. Every time we walk along a beach some ancient urge disturbs us so that we find ourselves shedding shoes and garments or scavenging among seaweed and whitened timbers like the homesick refugees of a long war."
"And war it has been indeed - the long war of life against its inhospitable environment, a war that lasted for perhaps three billion years. It began with strange chemicals seething under a sky lacking in oxygen; it was waged through long ages until the first green plants learned to harness the light of the nearest star, our sun. The human brain, so frail, so perishable, so full of inexhaustible dreams and hungers, burns by the power of the leaf."
"The hurrying blood cells charged with oxygen carry more of that element to the human brain than to any other part of the body. A few moments' loss of vital air and the phenomenon we know as consciousness goes down into the black night of inorganic things. The human body is a magical vessel, but its life is linked with an element it can not produce. Only the green plant knows the secret of transforming the light that comes to us across the far reaches of space. There is no better illustration of the intricacy of man's relationship with other living things."
 "The student of fossil life would be forced to tell us that if we take the past into consideration the vast majority of earth's creatures - perhaps over 90 percent - have vanished. Forms that flourished for a far longer time that man has existed upon earth have become either extinct or so transformed that their descendants are scarcely recognisable. The specialised perish with the environment that created them, the tooth of the tiger fail at last, the lances of men strike down the last mammoth."
"In three billion years of slow change and groping effort only one living creature has succeeded in escaping the trap of specialisation that has led in time to so much death and wasted endeavour. It is man, but the word should be uttered softly, for his story is not yet done."
"With the rise of the human brain, with the appearance of a creature whose upright body enabled two limbs to be freed for the exploration and manipulation of his environment, there had at last emerged a creature with a specialisation - the brain - that, paradoxically, offered escape from specialisation. Many animals driven into the nooks and crannies of nature have achieved momentary survival only at the cost of later extinction."
"Was it this that troubled me and brought my mind back to a tiny universe among the grass blades, a spider's universe concerned with spider thought?" 
"Perhaps."
"The mind that once visualised animals on a cave wall is now engaged in a vast ramification of itself through time and space. Man has broken through the boundaries that control all other life. I saw, at last; the reason my recollection of that great spider on the arryo's rim, fingering its universe against the sky."
"The spider was a symbol of man in miniature. The wheel of the web brought the analogy home clearly. Man, too, lies at the heart of a web, a web extending through the starry reaches of sideral space, as well as backward into the realm of prehistory. His great eye upon Mount Palomar looks into a distance of millions of light-years, his radio ear hears the whisper of even more remote galaxies, he peers through the electron microscope upon the minute particles of his own being. It is a web no creature of earth has ever spun before. Like the orb spider, man lies at the heart of it, listening. Knowledge has given him the memory of earth's history beyond the time of his emergence. Like the spider's claw, a part of him touches a world he will never enter in the flesh. Even now, one can see him reaching forward into time with new machines, computing, analysing, until elements of the shadowy future will also compose part of the invisible web he fingers."
"Yet still my spider lingers in memory against the sunset sky. Spider thoughts in a spider universe - sensitive to raindrop and moth flutter, nothing beyond, nothing allowed for the unexpected, the inserted pencil from the world outside."
"Is man at heart any different from the spider, I wonder: man thoughts, as limited as spider thoughts, contemplating now the nearest star with the threat of bringing with him the fungus rot from earth, wars, violence; the burden of a population he refuses to control, cherishing again his dream of the Adamic Eden he had pursued and lost in the green forests of America. Now it beckons again like a mirage from beyond the moon. Let man spin his web, I thought further; it is his nature. But I considered also the work of the phagocytes swarming in the rivers of my blood, the unresting cells in their mortal universe. What is it we are a part of that we do not see, as the spider was not gifted to discern my face, or my little probe into her world?"
"We are too content with our sensory extensions, with the fulfilment of that Ice Age mind that began its journey amidst the cold of vast tundras and that pauses only briefly before its leap into space. It is no longer enough to see as man sees - even to the ends of the universe. It is not enough to hold nuclear energy in one's hand like a spear, as a man would hold it, or see the lightning, or times past, or time to come, as man would see it. If we continue to do this, the great brain - the human brain - will be only a new version of the old trap, and nature is full of traps for the beast that cannot learn."
"It is not sufficient any longer to listen at the end of a wire to the rustlings of galaxies; it is not enough even to examine the great coil of DNA in which is coded the very alphabet of life. These are our extended perceptions. But beyond lies the great darkness of the ultimate Dreamer, who dreamed the light and the galaxies. Before act was, or substance existed, imagination grew in the dark. Man partakes of that ultimate wonder and creativeness. As we turn from the galaxies to the swarming cells of our own being, which toil for something, some entity beyond their grasp, let us remember man, the self-fabricator, who came across an ice age to look into the mirrors and the magic of science. Surely he did not come to see himself or his wild visage only. He came because he is at heart a listener and a searcher for some transcendent realm beyond himself. This he has worshipped by many names, even in the dismal caves of his beginning. Man, the self-fabricator, is so by reason of gifts he had no part in devising - and so he searches as the single living cell in the beginning must have sought the ghostly creature it was to serve. (...)"

1 comment:

Sensei said...

I enjoy Loren Eiseley's works...
My favorite is The Invisible Pyramid...

- Pax