A Million Different Things: Noon, Meditation #2

Meditation #2 from the middle section, Noon, in this free serialization of my book, A Million Different Things: Meditations of The World’s Happiest Man, concerns itself with the role of cooperation in nature. A full index for the articles so far can be found at: Gift of A Million Different Things

David Stone, Writer

Appreciation comes in unlimited sizes, shapes and flavors.

Recently, I was watching a television show about life forms discovered so deep in the ocean that the weight of the water would crush a truck. Cameras designed to record images in places too dangerous for men and women to visit had been lowered to the ocean floor. Many of the newly discovered creatures thrived near vents ejecting boiling water as heat from the Earth’s core escaped through gashes along the continental shelves.
I’d expected to see dull life forms reduced to the basics in conditions under which not a single previously known creature could survive. Instead, I saw oceanic fauna not much unlike inhabitants of shallower waters. Colorful and deceptive, they probed their environments for the essentials of life–nutrients and, presumably, mating partners. It amazed me that the forces that caused life to originate in so many forms and to evolve were so powerful and resilient that not even the most unforgiving conditions stopped them.

Smart theories exist, but the truth is that we really don’t know how or why life got started. Still, nothing I’ve ever read made any sense of why it should happen forcefully under what we’d learned to consider conditions so hostile that plants and animals could never survive, let alone flourish.

If the diversity of living things we’ve found so far doesn’t make our spirits lift in appreciation of what has occurred before our branch extended from the stem, think about how successfully it all interlocks and works in communication. The family of man throughout the world, functioning most commonly as a single complex unit, is an example. Individuals in South Africa produce diamonds for American ornaments. Americans produce entertainment that is consumed throughout the world. Chileans tend vineyards along the steep slopes of their sliver of a country on the Pacific Ocean, and Nova Scotian fishermen drink wine after hauling in a day’s catch that can find its way across continents. These are a few of the most obvious examples of cooperation, and this connectedness is nothing next to the invisible dependencies that make living things possible.

Find Great Gifts in Fine Art and Cat Art: Deborah Julian Photography

Mainstream estimates tell us that ninety percent of the cells involved in what we call a human body are not human. Many are bacteria that digest our food and build our immune systems. Others just hang around the vibrant ecosystem known as a man or a woman and take advantage of the benefits. Only a tiny number of them ever cause trouble. We’ve learned to live harmoniously with our non-human hangers-on because it’s what evolution encourages, pairing up, achieving mutual benefits. Trees grow roots that stabilize soils full of worms, insects and larger mammals. Birds transport seeds that help assure the continued evolution of plants and the animals they feed. At times, the interactions between species are miserable or violent. Plants poison animals, and animals kill other animals. But the occurrence of violent episodes is relatively rare and usually controlled by need. Nature seems to have provided a braking mechanism that stops any one element from the destruction of another. A history of certain bacteria offers a good example.

When the bacteria associated with bubonic plague ravaged the world in the fifteen and sixteen centuries, wiping out as much as thirty percent of the population of Europe, these microscopic invaders were unknown to us. Travelers, usually, introduced the killers into a community, and virulent, painful sickness exploded in the population. Often, death came in such a flood that bodies went unburied for want of gravediggers. The bacteria flourished, even as desperate efforts were made to fend off the invisible invasions. None brought lasting success. Yet, the bacteria seemed to know enough to stop before destroying an entire population. They seemed to withdraw in time. In the Middle Ages, the killing would end inexplicably. Officials then might credit prayers or secular efforts, but it seems unlikely that any actions taken were effective. The bacteria seemed to know when it was necessary to stop in time to preserve enough hosts to maintain their evolution. If they killed everyone, it was suicidal. In the centuries that followed, we’ve learned much about bacteria and have developed techniques for dealing with them, but these geniuses of evolution seemed to have devised their own strategies for dealing with us. They’ve become our successful partners, usually without committing any crimes.

From: A Million Different Things: Meditations of The World’s Happiest Man

David Stone, Writer