Friday, November 11, 2005

Gaia

"Oh, gosh, Kent, get off it," Madison complained.

They were in the lounge, two scientists the very splitting image of the ancient stereotype. Jet-black cups of coffee liberated their aromas into the air. All around entropy waxed ever and small particles contributed inexorably to the ultimate decline of the universe.

"I still say, why not?"

Madison sighed theatrically, and proceeded to vent cigarette smoke at the other man's face. Ash fell from the glowing stub as his hands danced in dramatic chagrin. "Utter frivolity, I say. You're a scientist, man, not some New Age hippie in bandanas. The department wants our paper out by next week and we sit here and talk about scientific improbabilities."

He had almost substituted the word for "impossibilities", but Madison was an old hand and naturally had all his bases covered. It was almost an instinctive reaction, but one that eliminated several precedents for professional suicide.

Kent's face was still lit in that manic glow, an almost childlike wonder dancing across his craggy features. Madison blanched sourly, and took another puff from his cigarette. Particles clashed. On the other side of the world a dog whimpered. Kent, as usual, was oblivious to his partner's apparent lack of enthusiasm. "Just think, now, it would be utterly fantastic, wouldn't it, Madison. Just as we are the incorporated totality of all our cells, linked together in biological and chemical harmony, may not our world be made up of the totality of all life, all of us cells in the vast structure, only that we think and know? The earth is an organism, a singular entity, like common biology, the sum of all parts working in cohesion. A Gaia, not in the traditional Asimovian sense, but something that we have lived with since the beginning."

Madison took another puff. "One thing, Kent. We fight each other. We don't work together. Life on earth has always been a war, a competition. Utterly unlike how our bodies work."

Kent's smile was brilliant. "Ah, but there I catch you, Madison. You're too narrow-minded. Life flourishes on Earth, does it not? Does that not mean that life is successful on Earth? Yes. What we are faced with is that traditional outcropping of the old Fermi Paradox. How can we know the circumstances of xenobiological development, or assume that it is similar to our own? An alien's body may be a battlefield of mutation and hypermutation that allows it to thrive. Or perhaps something like the battle of sperm to penetrate the ova. The strongest plasmoids dominate its mutagenic development. In fact, that is exactly what happens to us. Purposeful genetic selection! Wouldn't that be wonderful? No matter how it is done?"

Once Kent got into the mood, there was no stopping him. Madison bent forward and grasped at his coffee. Soon his expression turned blissful, as the strong liquid coursed through his system, suffusing it with tender warmth. "Why are you doing this to me, Kent?" he muttered.

"So," Kent went on, "Gaia may well exist, a proto-consciousness governed by its constituent cells. Which, in turn, are governed by their own! Why, the galaxy itself could well be such an entity! Of course, it would think the most glacial thoughts, and its experiental lifespan merely lasting a human lifetime. And humans will spread, if it does come to that. We may well spread across our Galaxy one day."

Madison did not give voice to this line of thought. Kent's words painted the human race as some form of malaise, proliferating across Nature like some malignant cancer. Is that what we are, then? Cells gone insane? The nightmare of the environmenalist treehuggers. What a dreadful metaphor for the totality of human achievement.

He could not wonder if the metaphor was not more apt than it seemed. His mind wandered to all the myraid tools of death that could potentially assail the human race. Volcanoes, floods, tsunamis, hell, even meteors like those which had caused the Chixulub crater at the Yucatan. All means to induce some twisted form of apoptosis, the cell death of humanity. He wondered if the Trojans that now clustered around Jupiter's lagrange point were not now potential scalpels, primed to cut humanity out of the steaming innards of an ailing world. He wondered if the threat of solar prominences and solar storms were not like the radiologist's weapons, the inscrutable tracers or radioscopy machines deployed to deal with these malignant growths.

Madison could almost sense those cosmic judges, not knowing that they were already watching from below.

1 comment:

Mythical said...

Fritz Leiber back in the early 1970s hypothesized that the worlds in which we live were bubbles in some kind of metaomnipresent beer foam. Surface tension keeps bubbles from merging, and hence the universes don't normally meet. And all this was enunicated in his very amusing Fafhrd and Grey Mouser fantasy sequence.