It Is Said


September 09, 1992|By ROBERT BURRUSS

KENSINGTON. — Out of the cradle

onto dry land

here it is


atoms with consciousness;

matter with curiosity.

Richard Feynman,

''The Value of Science'' Kensington. -- "It is said'' is a phrase used by the Navajos in their Creation Legend. It is said that the five-finger Earth Surface People, the Navajos, descended from the Air-Spirit People, who, in the language of the Bilagaana, the White Man, are insects. ''That is what is said,'' is also a Navajo phrase. That is what is said.

Who are we? Where did we come from? These questions are in all cultures. And in all cultures there are legends.

In Western culture we have technology. We build cars. We build aircraft. We build cities. We build social organizations that cover whole continents. And we have a communication network that covers the planet. The Western secular creation legend is correspondingly different in the particulars from that of the Navajo, but in general it is the same.

It is said in the Western Creation Legend that we humans came from ape-like creatures, and that we share a common ancestor with modern apes, an ancestor that lived as recently as 3 million years ago.

It is said that even further back, yet as recently as 80 million years ago, our ancestors were shrew-like creatures, nocturnal mice scavenging at the feet of dinosaurs. Thus, it is said, we share a common ancestor from that time with modern mice -- and with cats and dogs and horses and squirrels and even elephants and whales. That is what is said.

It is also said that as recently as 500 million years ago our ancestors were fish. We are descendants of fish. Their genes endure in us, having come to us across 500 million years. Those fish were also the ancestors, it is said, of modern fish -- and of snakes and birds and cows and woolly mammoths and dinosaurs. That is what is said.

It is said that 2 billion years ago our ancestors were bacteria. We are the descendants of bacteria. We are walking colonies of cells that descended from sea bacteria. We share those bacterial ancestors, it is said, with modern bacteria -- and with spiders, redwood trees, sea weed, earthworms, slime molds, grass, moss and flowers.

A pattern is evident in these things that are said: The more ancient the ancestor, the more widely is that ancestor shared among things that today we call living creatures. That is the pattern evident in these things that are said.

We can think of ourselves, and of all other presently living creatures -- and of all creatures that have ever lived -- as having descended from an Ancestral Cell that lived some 3.5 billion years ago. It can as well be said that we and all other living creatures are the products of a survival strategy by which that Ancestral Cell continues to endure, and even thrive. Genetic patterns that existed in bacteria thousands of millions of years ago survive, it is said, in the soil, in our bodies, in trees and grass. The now-living things are the present shape of the body of the Ancestral Cell.

That too has been said, but not lately or often.

What is not said at all -- what has not been said by those who say most of these things, partly because it is currently a heretical view of ourselves -- is that our ancestry goes all the way back to molecules and atoms -- to raw matter itself.

It is said that the material of the earth and of our bodies is the soot from a huge star that exploded long ago. That has been said. Thus we share a common ancestry with rocks -- and with mountains, and with the whole earth, to its core, and with the sun itself, and with all material things.

Further, though also not said in our culture, at least not lately, all the material things we know in our daily lives are products of an unacknowledged property of matter: its ability to assume shape. Shape is a significant property of matter. Nor has it been generally acknowledged that life itself and consciousness, too, are properties of matter, properties evoked by energy of sunlight. Sunlight drives matter in convections, in eddy currents, into shapes that are molecules, proteins, dinosaurs, trees, cities, the LA freeway, Roseanne Barr, and here we are.

Whether there are gods or there are not, the too-obvious-to-dwell-upon mysteries of what we call base, dead matter are maybe too dangerous to the present order to dwell upon. For us sophisticated modern people, the cheapness of raw matter cheapens us if we acknowledge our relationship to it. We are matter with pretense to knowledge of the deadness of matter.

So, who are we?

It is written -- verily above -- that life and being are properties of matter: We are among the shapes that matter can assume, guided or not by some Greater Awareness. Life is an arrangement of matter -- moving transient shape on the surface of eternal matter. Our bodies are bodies of matter. Our thoughts are the thoughts of matter. Our souls are the souls of matter.

The mysteries of matter are simultaneously more immediate and further beyond comprehension than the mysteries of any god we can create. We are matter, yet we cannot comprehend matter. That is one of the mysteries of matter.

Can we hope ever to comprehend the Creator of material mysteries that are beyond comprehension? A 14-year-old girl, in a moment of inspiration unburdened of sophistication and standard learning, pointed out, ''Maybe God is not as complex as what God has created. Maybe the stone by the side of the road is God.''

What a simple thought: Stone, Matter, God. Is all matter God? Does it matter that matter be regarded as God? Clearly, only if it matters. Indeed, God could well be less complex and less mysterious than what God has created. ''A God could do that,'' the girl said.

Thus it is said. Thus it is written. This is the written word of matter.

Robert Burruss is an engineer and free-lance writer.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.