The Immense Journey, by Loren Eiseley

Re: The Immense Journey, by Loren Eiseley

Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 11:17 pm

The Dream Animal

It will now be seen that in spite of the dramatic press announcements which thundered the end of Darwinism and of missing links, our little homuncular elf proved nothing of the kind. Even if he turned out to be on the main line of evolutionary ascent leading to man--and this is still exceedingly doubtful--he has, at present, nothing to tell us about the human brain. He is small, he is not by any stretch of imagination a man, and if he did indeed become one, the event still lay millions of years in the future. No amount of headlines can turn the little creature from Tuscany into a human being without recourse to evolutionary change. The writers who had seized upon the "little man" as a refutation of Darwin's general thesis had, at best, been merely acclaiming a new "missing link."

We must now examine, however, some recent aspects of the problem to which I have previously given attention: the mystery which enshrouds the rise of the human brain. A most perceptive philosopher once remarked that the truth about man is inside him. This may well prove to be the case, but the difficulty is to get the secret out, if indeed it lies there, and once it is revealed, to be sure that it is read correctly.

Every so often out of the millions of the human population, a six-year-old child or a teen-age youth dies of old age. The cause of this curious disease, known as progeria, or premature aging, is totally unknown. Clinical cases are reported of complete hairlessness, wrinkled and flabby skin, along with senile changes in the heart and blood vessels. Medical science has observed in these rare cases an enormous increase in the velocity of aging, but the mechanism involved remains as yet undiscovered, though the cause may lie somewhere among the ductless glands.

The affliction, rare though it is, reveals a mysterious clock in the body, a clock capable of running fast or slow, shortening life or extending it and, like the more visible portions of our anatomy, being subjected to evolutionary selection. This clock, however, has another even more curious aspect: it may affect the growth rate of particular organs. In this way certain peculiar animal specializations have appeared, such as the huge antlers of the extinct Irish elk, or the dagger-like fangs of the saber-toothed tiger.

Man, too, has a curious specialization of a more abstract and generalized type, his brain. If this brain, a brain more than twice as large as that of a much bigger animal--the gorilla--is to be acquired in infancy, its major growth must take place with far greater rapidity than in the case of man's nearest living relatives, the great apes. It must literally spring up like an overnight mushroom, and this greatly accelerated growth must take place during the first months after birth. If it took place in the embryo, man would long since have disappeared from the planet -- it would have been literally impossible for him to have been born. As it is, the head of the infant is one of the factors making human birth comparatively difficult.. When we are born, however, our brain size, about 330 cubic centimeters, is only slightly larger than that of a gorilla baby. This is why human and anthropoid young look so appealingly similar in their earliest infancy.

A little later, an amazing development takes place in the human offspring. In the first year of life its brain trebles in size. It is this peculiar leap, unlike anything else we know in the animal world, which gives to man his uniquely human qualities. When the leap fails, as in those rare instances where the brain does not grow, microcephaly, "pinheadedness," is the result, and the child is then an idiot. Somewhere among the inner secrets of the body is one which keeps the time for human brain growth. If we compare our brains with those of other primate relatives (recognizing, as we do, many similarities of structure) we are yet unable to perceive at what point in time or under what evolutionary conditions the actual human forerunner began to manifest this strange postnatal brain expansion. It has carried him far beyond the mental span of his surviving relatives. As our previously quoted authority, Dr. Tilly Edinger of Harvard, has declared, "the brain of Homo Sapiens has not evolved from the brains it is compared with by comparative anatomy; it developed within the Hominidae, at a late stage of the evolution of this family whose other species are all extinct."

We can, in other words, weigh, measure and dissect the brains of any number of existing monkeys. We may learn much in the process, but the key to our human brain clock is not among them. It arose in the germ plasm <of the human group alone and we are the last living representatives of that family. As we contemplate, however, the old biological law that, to a certain degree, the history of the development of the individual tends to reproduce the evolutionary history of the group to which it belongs, we cannot help but wonder if this remarkable spurt in brain development may not represent something roughly akin to what happened in the geological past of man--a sudden or explosive increase which was achieved in a relatively short period, geologically speaking. We have already opened this topic in our discussion of the Darwin-Wallace argument. Let us now see what new evidence bears upon the facts we set forth there.

In discussing the significance of the Piltdown hoax and its bearing upon the Darwin-Wallace controversy, I used the accepted orthodox geological estimate of the time involved in that series of fluctuating events which we speak of popularly as the "Ice Age." I pointed out that almost all of what we know about human evolution is confined to this period. Long though one million years may seem compared with our few millennia of written history, it is, in geological terms, in evolutionary terms, a mere minute's tick of the astronomical clock.

Among other forms of life than man, few marked transformations occurred. Rather, the Ice Age was, particularly toward its close, a time of great extinctions. Some of the huge beasts whose intercontinental migrations had laid down the first paths along which man had traveled, vanished totally from the earth. Mammoths, the Temperate Zone elephants, dropped the last of their heavy tusks along the receding fringes of the ice. The long- horned bisons upon whose herds man had nourished himself for many a long century of illiterate wanderings, faded back into the past. The ape whose cultural remnants at the beginning of the first glaciation can scarcely be distinguished from chance bits of stone has, by the ending of the fourth ice, become artist and world rover, penetrator of the five continents, and master of all.

There is nothing quite like this event in all the time that went before; the end of brute animal dominance upon earth had come at last. For good or ill, the growth of forests or their destruction, the spread of deserts or their elimination, would lie more and more at the whim of that cunning and insatiable creature who slipped so mysteriously out of the green twilight of nature's laboratory a short million years ago.

A million years is a short time as evolution clocks its progress. We assume, of course, that below that point the creature which was to become man was still walking on his hind feet, but there is every reason to think that the bulging cortex which would later measure stars and ice ages was still a dim, impoverished region in a skull box whose capacity was no greater than that of other apes. Still, a million years in the life history of a single active species like man is a long time, and powerful selective forces must have been at work as ice sheets ground their way across vast areas of the temperate zones. But suppose, just suppose for a moment, that this period of the great ice advances did not last a million years--suppose our geological estimates are mistaken. Suppose that this period we have been estimating at one million years should instead have lasted, say, a third of that time.

In that case, what are we to think of the story of man? Into what foreshortened and cramped circumstances is the human drama to be reduced, a drama, moreover, which, besides evolutionary change, involves time for the spread of man into the New World? Such an episode, it is obvious, would involve a complete reexamination of our thinking upon the subject of human evolution. In 1956 Dr. Cesare Emiliani of the University of Chicago introduced just this startling factor into the dating of the Ice Age. He did it by the application of a new dating process developed in the field of atomic physics.[fn1]

The method, it should be explained at the outset, is not the carbon-14 technique which has become so widely publicized in the last decade. That method has applications which, at best, can carry us back around thirty to forty thousand years. The new technique elaborated in the University of Chicago laboratories involves oxygen-18. By studying the amount of this isotope in the shells of sea creatures it was found that the percentage of oxygen-18 in the limy shell of, say, an oyster would reveal the temperature of the water in which the oyster had lived when its shell was being secreted. This is because oxygen-18 enters chemical reactions differently at different temperatures. For example, as the temperature of the water increases, the oxygen-18 in the shell decreases.

By using marine cores, specimens of undisturbed sediments brought up from the ocean floor, Dr. Emiliani has been able to subject these chalky deposits full of tiny shells to careful oxygen-18 analysis. He has found, as he analyzed the chemical nature of the seas' "long snowfall," that is, the age-long rain of microscopic shells falling gently to the sea bottom, that marked changes in water temperature could be discerned for different periods in the past. As he studied layer after layer of the chalky ooze brought up in sequential order from the depths, he found that the times of maximum ice expansion on the continents coincided with periods of marked cold beyond that of the present, as revealed in the oxygen-18 content of the minute shells from the ocean floor.

Studying Atlantic and Caribbean cores, Emiliani came to the conclusion that the earliest great cold period, most probably coinciding with the onset of the first glaciation in Europe, was probably no earlier than about three hundred thousand years ago. Oxygen-18, of course, indicates periods of relative warmth or cold, not years. The dating triumph was achieved by the well-known carbon-14 technique for the upper levels of the deposits within the forty thousand-year range, since carbon-14 also occurs in the chalk ooze.

By establishing the beginning of the last ice recession at about twenty thousand years, it was possible, as a result of the undisturbed uniform nature of the sea deposits, to project the datings backward by the combination of the cold graph and the apparent rate at which the deposits had been laid down, as determined from the carbon dates of the more recent levels. The study reveals a considerable degree of regularity in the waxing and waning of the ice sheets at intervals of about fifty to sixty thousand years.

Dr. Emiliani and his co-workers have thus produced an Ice Age chronology startlingly different from orthodox estimates, but one which is being widely and favorably considered. The newer scheme allows about six hundred thousand years for the total of Ice Age time. Actually the modification is more striking than this figure would indicate. Older figures placed the first, or Gunz glaciation, distant from us at the bottom of the Ice Age by almost a million years. The new chronology would place this ice sheet only about three hundred thousand years remote and then allow perhaps three hundred thousand more years, much less accurately computable and quite indefinite, for certain vague preglacial events. These might include our oldest traces of the Australopithecine man-apes and the first dim traces of crude pebble and bone tools, possibly made by some, at least, of these South African anthropoids.

As we have already indicated, most of our collection of human fossils is derived from the last half of the Pleistocene, even by the old chronology. In this new arrangement the bulk of this material is found to be less than two hundred thousand years old. Man, in Dr. Emiliani's own words, had "the apparent ability to evolve rapidly." This is almost an understatement. The new chronology would appear to suggest a spectacular, even more explosive development than I have previously suggested.

Unfortunately the full outlines of this story cannot, as yet, be made out. Our fossils are too scattered and too few. If the Fontechevade cranium from the French third interglacial represents a man essentially like ourselves, as in brain he appears to be, we can date our species as in existence perhaps seventy thousand years ago, though its total diffusion, in terms of area, at that date would be unknown. If the problematical Swanscombe skull--discovered in England--whose face is missing but whose cranial capacity falls within the modern range, should prove, in time, to be also of our own species, "modern" man would have been in existence perhaps one hundred twenty thousand years before the present.

Even if the men of this period should, in the end, prove to have a face somewhat more massive than that of modern man, an essentially modern brain at so early a date can only suggest, in the light of Emiliani's new datings, that the rise of man from a brain level represented in earliest preglacial times by the South African man-apes took place with extreme rapidity. Either this occurred, or other fossil forms are not on the main line of human ascent at all. This latter theory, if we still try to cling to a slow type of human evolution, would imply that the true origin of our species is lost in some older pre-Ice Age level, and that all the other human fossils represent side lines and blind alleys of development, living fossils already archaic in Pleistocene times.

Some, contending for this view, have pointed out that carbon-14 datings close to the forty-thousand-year mark have recently been recorded in America. This, it has been argued, suggests a remarkably wide and early diffusion for man, if he is really so young as is now suggested. Just lately, however, some of the earliest carbon-14 dates from the Southwest have been challenged. Professor Frederick Zeuner of the University of London has recently (1957) reported that carbon samples subjected to alkaline washing give dates much earlier than they should actually be. Some of the carbon-14 necessary for accurate dating is apparently removed by subjection to this treatment, thus raising the age of the sample. As a consequence, some of the very earliest American dates from the Southwest may be subject to upward revision. There is no doubt that man had reached America in the closing Ice Age, but these earlier dates will be subject to serious scrutiny.

Interestingly enough, the Keilor skull from Australia, once supposed to be a very early third interglacia,l man of our own species, has now been elevated, on the basis of carbon dates, to definitely postglacial times. Thus, on this remote continent, there is now no reliable evidence of extremely ancient human intrusion. Furthermore, if we turn to the Old World and seek to carry men much like our-selves further back toward the first glaciation, we have to ask why we so rapidly descend into seemingly cultureless or almost cultureless levels. If man approximating ourselves is truly much older than we imagine, it is conceivable that his physical remains might for long escape us. It seems unlikely, however, that a large-brained form, if widely diffused, would have left so little evidence of his activities. It would appear, then, that within the very brief period between about five hundred thousand to one hundred fifty thousand years ago, man acquired the essential features of a modern brain. Admittedly the outlines of this process are dim, but all the evidence at our command points to this process as being surprisingly rapid!

Such rapidity suggests other modes of selection and evolution than those implied in the nineteenth-century literature with its emphasis on intergroup "struggle" which, in turn, would have demanded large populations. We must make plain here, however, that to reject the older Darwinian arguments is not necessarily to reject: the principle of natural selection. We may be simply dealing with a situation in which both Darwin and Wallace failed, in different ways, to see what selective forces might be at work in man. Most of the Victorian biologists were heavily concerned with the more visible aspects of the struggle for existence. They saw it in the ruthless, expanding industrial ism around them; they tended to see nature as totally "red in tooth and claw."

The anthropologist had yet to subject native societies to careful scrutiny, or to learn that people of different cultures were remarkably like ourselves in their basic mental make-up. They were often regarded as mentally inferior, living fossils pushed to the wall and going under in the struggle with the dominating white. Wallace, as we have already seen, stood somewhat outside this Victorian prejudice, and having himself endured economic want, almost alone among the great biologists of his time, sought for another key to the development of man.

His thoughts led him in a somewhat mystical direction, yet certain of the facts he recorded were valid enough. He wrote early, however, so that natural explanations which could now be offered were, understandably, not available to him at that time. It is impressive that Wallace observed, though he did not understand, what we today call the pedomorphic features of man--his almost hairless body, his helpless childhood, his surprisingly developed brain--which he rightly judged to be in some manner related to the uniqueness of man. His conclusion that the linguistic ability of natives is in no way inferior to that of "higher" races--a commonplace today--was, in its own time, a courageous statement made in considerable contradiction to beliefs widely held even among scientists.

Although there is still much that we do not understand, it is likely that the selective forces working upon the humanization of man lay essentially in the nature of the socio-cultural world itself. Man, in other words, once he had "crossed over" into this new invisible environment, was being as rigorously selected for survival within it as the first fish that waddled up the shore on its fins. I have said that this new world was "invisible." I do so advisedly. It lay, not so much in his surroundings as in man's brain, in his way of looking at the world around him and at the social environment he was beginning to create in his tiny human groupings.

He was becoming something the world had never seen before--a dream animal- - living at least partially within a secret universe of his own creation and sharing that secret universe in his head with other, similar heads. Symbolic communication had begun. Man had escaped out of the eternal present of the animal world into a knowledge of past and future. The unseen gods, the powers behind the world of phenomenal appearance, began to stalk through his dreams.

Nature, one might say, through the powers of this mind, grossly superstitious though it might be in its naive examination of wind and water, was beginning to reach out into the dark behind itself. Nature was beginning to evade its own limitations in the shape of this strange, dreaming and observant brain. It was a weird multiheaded universe going on, unseen and immaterial save as its thoughts smoldered in the eyes of hunters huddled by night fires, or were translated into pictures upon cave walls, or were expressed in the trappings of myth or ritual. The Eden of the eternal present that the animal world had known for ages was shattered at last. Through the human mind, time and darkness, good and evil, would enter and possess the world.

The Victorian biologists, intent upon the nature of the animal struggle for existence, in some degree misread human society and the kind of social selection toward brain enhancement which would be the product of unceasing struggle, not by ax and spear in the war of nature, but in that world of streaming shadows forever hidden behind the forehead of man. It was a struggle for symbolic communication, for in this new societal world communication meant life. The world of instinct was passing. This emergent creature was not whole, was not made truly human until, in infancy, the dreams of the group, the social constellation amidst which his own orbit was cast, had been implanted in the waiting, receptive substance of his brain.

How did this brain first come? How fast did it come? Probing among rocks and battered skulls, scientists find that the answers are few. There are many living members of the primate order--that order which includes man-- who live in groups, but show no signs of becoming men. Their brains bear a family resemblance to our own, but they are not the brains of men. They contain, instead, only the shrewd, wild thoughts that serve to remind us of the solitary door which began to open for us once, and once only, long ago, as the earth swung in some tilted, sunlit orbit far backward on the roads of space.

If one attempts to read the complexities of the story, one is not surprised that man is alone on the planet. Rather, one is amazed and humbled that man was achieved at all. For four things had to happen, and if they had not happened simultaneously, or at least kept pace with each other, the bones of man would lie abortive and forgotten in the sandstones of the past:

I. His brain had almost to treble in size.

2. This had to be effected, not in the womb, but rapidly, after birth.

3. Childhood had to be lengthened to allow this brain, divested of most of its precise instinctive responses, to receive, store, and learn to utilize what it received from others.

4. The family bonds had to survive seasonal mating and become permanent, if this odd new creature was to be prepared for his adult role.

Each one of these major points demanded a multitude of minor biological adjustments, yet all of this---change of growth rate, lengthened age, increased blood supply to the head, moved apparently with rapidity. It is a dizzying spectacle with which we have nothing to compare. The event is complex, it is many-sided, and what touched it off is hidden under the leaf mold of forgotten centuries.

Somewhere in the glacial mists that shroud the past, Nature found a way of speeding the proliferation of brain cells and did it by the ruthless elimination of everything not needed to that end. We lost our hairy covering, our jaws and teeth were reduced in size, our sex life was postponed, our infancy became among the most helpless of any of the animals because everything had to wait upon the development of that fast-growing mushroom which had sprung up in our heads.

Now in man, above all creatures, brain is the really important specialization. As Gavin de Beer, Director of the British Museum of Natural History, has suggested, it appears that if infancy is lengthened, there is a correspondingly lengthier retention of embryonic tissues capable of undergoing change. [fn2] Here, apparently, is a possible means of stepping up brain growth. The anthropoid ape, because of its shorter life cycle and slow brain growth, does not make use of nearly the amount of primitive neuroblasts--the embryonic and migrating nerve cells--possible in the lengthier, and at the same time paradoxically accelerated development of the human child. The clock in the body, in other words, has placed a limit upon the pace at which the ape brain grows--a limit which, as we have seen, the human ancestors in some manner escaped. This is a simplification of a complicated problem, but it hints at the answer to Wallace's question of long ago as to why man shows such a strange, rich mental life, many of whose artistic aspects can have had little direct value measured in the old utilitarian terms of the selection of all qualities in the struggle for existence.

When these released potentialities for brain growth began, they carried man into a new world where the old laws no longer totally held. With every advance in language, in symbolic thought, the brain paths multiplied. Significantly enough, those which are most heavily involved in the life processes, and are most ancient, mature first. The most recently acquired and less specialized regions of the brain, the "silent areas," mature last. Some neurologists, not without reason, suspect that here may lie other potentialities which only the future of the race may reveal.

Even now, however, the brain of man, with all its individual never-to-be-abandoned richness, is becoming merely a unit in the vast social brain which is potentially immortal, and whose memory is the heaped wisdom of the world's great thinkers. The scientist Haldane, brooding upon the future, has speculated that we will even further prolong our childhood and retard maturity if brain advance continues.

It is unlikely, however, in our present comfortable circumstances, that the pace of human change will ever again speed at the accelerated rate it knew when man strove against extinction. The story of Eden is a greater allegory than man has ever guessed. For it was truly man who, walking memoryless through bars of sunlight and shade in the morning of the world, sat down and passed a wondering hand across his heavy forehead. Time and darkness, knowledge of good and evil, have walked with him ever since. It is the destiny struck by the clock in the body in that brief space between the beginning of the first ice and that of the second. In just that interval a new world of terror and loneliness appears to have been created in the soul of man.

For the first time in four billion years a living creature had contemplated himself and heard with a sudden, unaccountable loneliness, the whisper of the wind in the night reeds. Perhaps he knew, there in the grass by the chill waters, that he had before him an immense journey. Perhaps that same foreboding still troubles the hearts of those who walk out of a crowded room and stare with relief into the abyss of space so long as there is a star to be seen twinkling across those miles of emptiness.



1. "Note on Absolute Chronology of Human Evolution," Science 123 (1956). pp. 924-26.

2. Embryos and Ancestors, rev. ed. (New York, Oxford, 1951), p. 93.
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Re: The Immense Journey, by Loren Eiseley

Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 11:18 pm

Man of the Future

There are days when I may find myself unduly pessimistic about the future of man. Indeed, I will confess that there have been occasions when I swore I would never again make the study of time a profession. My walls are lined with books expounding its mysteries, my hands have been split and raw with grubbing into the quicklime of its waste bins and hidden crevices. I have stared so much at death that I can recognize the lingering personalities in the faces of skulls and feel accompanying affinities and repulsions.

One such skull lies in the lockers of a great metropolitan museum. It is labeled simply: Strandlooper, South Africa. I have never looked longer into any human face than I have upon the features of that skull. I come there often, drawn in spite of myself. It is a face that would lend reality to the fantastic tales of our childhood. There is a hint of Wells's Time Machine folk in it -- those pathetic, childlike people whom Wells pictures as haunting earth's autumnal cities in the far future of the dying planet.

Yet this skull has not been spirited back to us through future eras by a time machine. It is a thing, instead, of the millennial past. It is a caricature of modern man, not by reason of its primitiveness but, startlingly, because of a modernity outreaching his own. It constitutes, in fact, a mysterious prophecy and warning. For at the very moment in which students of humanity have been sketching their concept of the man of the future, that being has already come, and lived, and passed away.

We men of today are insatiably curious about ourselves and desperately in need of reassurance. Beneath our boisterous self-confidence is fear -- a growing fear of the future we are in the process of creating. In such a mood we turn the pages of our favorite magazine and, like as not, come straight upon a description of the man of the future.

The descriptions are never pessimistic; they always, with sublime confidence, involve just one variety of mankind -- our own -- and they are always subtly flattering. In fact, a distinguished colleague of mine who was adept at this kind of prophecy once allowed a somewhat etherealized version of his own lofty brow to be used as an illustration of what the man of the future was to look like. Even the bald spot didn't matter -- all the men of the future were to be bald, anyway.

Occasionally I show this picture to students. They find it highly comforting. Somebody with a lot of brains will save humanity at the proper moment. "It's all right," they say, looking at my friend's picture labeled "Man of the Future." "It's O.K. Somebody's keeping an eye on things. Our heads are getting bigger and our teeth are getting smaller. Look!"

Their voices ring with youthful confidence, the confidence engendered by my persuasive colleagues and myself. At times I glow a little with their reflected enthusiasm. I should like to regain that confidence, that warmth. I should like to but ...

There's just one thing we haven't quite dared to mention. It's this, and you won't believe it. It's all happened already. Back there in the past, ten thousand years ago. The man of the future, with the big brain, the small teeth.

Where did it get him? Nowhere. Maybe there isn't any future. Or, if there is, maybe it's only what you can find in a little heap of bones on a certain South African beach.

Many of you who read this belong to the white race. We like to think about this man of the future as being white. It flatters our ego. But the man of the future in the past I'm talking about was not white. He lived in Africa. His brain was bigger than your brain. His face was straight and small, almost a child's face. He was the end evolutionary product in a direction quite similar to the one anthropologists tell us is the road down which we are traveling.

In the minds of many scholars, a process of "foetalization" is one of the chief mechanisms by which man of today has sloughed off his ferocious appearance of a million years ago, prolonged his childhood, and increased the size of his brain. "Foetalization" or "pedomorphism," as it is termed, means simply the retention, into adult life, of bodily characters which at some earlier stage of evolutionary history were actually only infantile. Such traits were rapidly lost as the animal attained maturity.

If we examine the life history of one of the existing great apes and compare its development with that of man, we observe that the infantile stages of both man and ape are far more similar than the two will be in maturity. At birth, as we have seen, the brain of the gorilla is close to the size of that of the human infant. Both newborn gorilla and human child are much more alike, facially, than they will ever be in adult life because the gorilla infant will, in the course of time, develop an enormously powerful and protrusive muzzle. The sutures of his skull will close early; his brain will grow very little more.

By contrast, human brain growth will first spurt and then grow steadily over an extended youth. Cranial sutures will remain open into adult life. Teeth will be later in their eruption. Furthermore, the great armored skull and the fighting characters of the anthropoid male will be held in abeyance.

Instead, the human child, through a more extended infancy, will approach a maturity marked by the retention of the smooth-browed skull of childhood. His jaws will be tucked inconspicuously under a forehead lacking the huge, muscle-bearing ridges of the ape. In some unknown manner, the ductless glands which stimulate or inhibit growth have, in the course of human evolution, stepped down the pace of development and increased the life span. Our helpless but well-cared-for childhood allows a longer time for brain growth and, as an indirect consequence, human development has slowly been steered away from the ape-like adulthood of our big-jawed forbears.

Modern man retains something of his youthful gaiety and nimble mental habits far into adult life. The great male anthropoids, by contrast, lose the playful friendliness of youth. In the end the massive skull houses a small, savage, and often morose brain. It is doubtful whether our thick-skulled forerunners viewed life very pleasantly in their advancing years.

We of today, then, are pedomorphs -- the childlike, yet mature products of a simian line whose years have lengthened and whose adolescence has become long drawn out. We are, for our day and time, civilized. We eat soft food, and an Eskimo child can outbite us. We show signs, in our shortening jaws, of losing our wisdom teeth. Our brain has risen over our eyes and few, even of our professional fighters, show enough trace of a brow ridge to impress a half-grown gorilla. The signs point steadily onward toward a further lightening of the skull box and the additional compression of the jaws.

Imagine this trend continuing in modern man. Imagine our general average cranial capacity rising by two hundred cubic centimeters while the face continued to reduce proportionately. Obviously we would possess a much higher ratio of brain size to face size than now exists. We would, paradoxically, resemble somewhat our children of today. Children acquire facial prominence late in growth under the endocrine stimulus of maturity. Until that stimulus occurs, their faces bear a smaller ratio to the size of the brain case. It was so with these early South Africans.

But no, you may object, this whole process is in some way dependent upon civilization and grows out of it. Man's body and his culture mutually control each other. To that extent we are masters of our physical destiny. This mysterious change that is happening to our bodies is epitomized at just one point today, the point of the highest achieved civilization upon earth -- our own.

I believed this statement once, believed it whole-heartedly. Sometimes it is so very logical I believe it still as my colleague's ascetic, earnest, and ennobled face gazes out at me from the screen. It carries the lineaments of my own kind, the race to which I belong. But it is not, I know now, the most foetalized race nor the largest brained. That game had already been played out before written history began -- played out in an obscure backwater of the world where sails never came and where the human horde chipped flint as our ancestors had chipped it northward in Europe when the vast ice lay heavy on the land.

These people were not civilized; they were not white. But they meet in every major aspect the physical description of the man of tomorrow. They achieved that status on the raw and primitive diet of a savage. Their delicate and gracefully reduced teeth and fragile jaws are striking testimony to some strange inward hastening of change. Nothing about their environment in the least explains them. They were tomorrow's children surely, born by error into a lion country of spears and sand.

Africa is not a black man's continent in the way we are inclined to think. Like other great land areas it has its uneasy amalgams, its genetically strange variants, its racial deviants whose blood stream is no longer traceable. We know only that the first true men who disturbed the screaming sea birds over Table Bay were a folk that humanity has never looked upon again save as their type has wavered into brief emergence in an occasional mixed descendant. They are related in some dim manner to the modern Kalahari Bushman, but he is dwarfed in brain and body and hastening fast toward eventual extinction. The Bushman's forerunners, by contrast, might have stepped with Weena out of the future eras of the Time Machine.

Widespread along the South African coast, in the lowest strata of ancient cliff shelters, as well as inland in Ice Age gravel and other primeval deposits, lie the bones of these unique people. So remote are they from us in time that the first archaeologists who probed their caves and seashore middens had expected to reveal some distant and primitive human forerunner such as Neanderthal man. Instead their spades uncovered an unknown branch of humanity which, in the words of Sir Arthur Keith, the great English anatomist, "outrivals in brain volume any people of Europe, ancient or modern ..."

But that is not all. Dr. Drennan of the University of Capetown comments upon one such specimen in anatomical wonder: "It appears ultramodern in many of its features, surpassing the European in almost every direction. That is to say, it is less simian than any modern skull." This ultramodernity Dr. Drennan attributes to the curious foetalization of which I have spoken.

More fascinating than big brain capacity in itself, however, is the relation of the cranium to the base of the skull and to the face. The skull base, that is, the part from the root of the nose to the spinal opening, is buckled and shortened in a way characteristic of the child's skull before the base expands to aid in the creation of the adult face. Thus, on this permanently shortened cranial base, the great brain expands, bulging the forehead heavily above the eyes and leaving the face neatly retracted beneath the brow. There is nothing in this face to suggest the protrusive facial angle of the true Negro. It is, as Dr. Drennan says, "ultra- modern," even by Caucasian standards. The bottom of the skull grew, apparently, at a slow and childlike tempo while the pace-setting brain lengthened and broadened to a huge maturity.

When the skull is studied in projection and ratios computed, we find that these fossil South African folk, generally called "Boskop" or "Boskopoids" after the site of first discovery, have the amazing cranium-to-face ratio of almost five to one. In Europeans it is about three to one. This figure is a marked indication of the degree to which face size had been "modernized" and subordinated to brain growth. It is true that Dr. Ronald Singer has recently contended that the "Boskop" people cannot be successfully differentiated from the Bushman because Boskopoid features can be observed in this latter group, but even he would not deny the appearance of the peculiarly pedomorphic and ultrahuman features we have been discussing. At best, he would contend, in contrast to Keith and Drennan, that these characters have emerged in a sporadic fashion throughout the racial history of South Africa. By contrast, the facial structure of existing Caucasians, advanced though we imagine it, has only a mediocre rating.

The teeth vary a little from the usual idea about man of the future, yet they, too, are modern. Our prophecies generally include the speculation that we will, in time lose our third molar teeth. This seems likely indeed for the tooth often fails to erupt, crowds, and causes trouble. The Boskop folk had no such difficulty. Their teeth are small, neatly reduced in proportion to their delicate jaws, and free from any sign of the dental ills that trouble us. Here, in a hunter's world that would seem to have demanded at least the stout modern dentition of the Congo Negro, nature had decreed otherwise. These teeth could have nibbled sedately at the Waldorf, nor would the customers have been alarmed.

With the face, however, it would have been otherwise. In its anatomical structure we observe characters which relate these people both with the dwarf modern Bushman and to some ancient Negroid strain distinct from the West Coast blacks. We believe that they had the tightly-kinked "pepper-corn" hair of the Bushman as well as his yellow-brown skin. A branch of the Negro race has thus produced what is actually, so far as we can judge from the anatomical standpoint, one of the most ultrahuman types that ever lived! Had these characters appeared among whites, they would undoubtedly have been used in invidious comparisons with other "lesser" races.

We can, of course, repeat the final, unanswerable question: What did this tremendous brain mean to the Boskop people? We can marvel over their curious and exotic anatomy. We can wonder at the mysterious powers hidden in the human body, so potent that once unleashed they brought this more than modern being into existence on the very threshold of the Ice Age.

We can debate for days whether that magnificent cranial endowment actually represented a superior brain. We can smile pityingly at his miserable shell heaps, point to the mute stones that were his only tools. We can do this, but in doing it we are mocking our own rude forefathers of a similar day and time. We are forgetting the high artistic sensitivity which flowered in the closing Ice Age of Europe and which, oddly, blossomed here as well, lingering on even among the dwarfed Bushmen of the Kalahari. No, we cannot dismiss the Boskop people on such grounds, for even remarkable potential endowment cannot create high civilization overnight.

What we can say is that perhaps the unloosed mechanism ran too fast, that these people may have been ill-equipped physically to compete against the onrush of more ferocious and less foetalized folk. In a certain sense the biological clock had speeded them out of their time and place -- a time which ten thousand years later has still not arrived. We may speculate that even mentally they may have lacked something of the elemental savagery of their competitors.

Their evolutionary gallop has led precisely nowhere save to a dwarfed and dying folk -- if, with some authorities, we accept the later Bushmen as their descendants. This, then, was the logical end of complete foetalization: a desperate struggle to survive among a welter of more prolific and aggressive stocks. The answer to the one great question is still nowhere, still nothing. But there in the darkened laboratory, after the students have gone, I look once more at the exalted photograph of my friend upon the screen, noting character by character the foetalized refinement by which the artist has attempted to indicate the projected trend of future development -- the expanded brain, the delicate face.

I look, and I know I have seen it all before, reading, as I have long grown used to doing, the bones through the living flesh. I have seen this face in another racial guise in another and forgotten day. And once again I grow aware of that eternal flickering of forms which we are now too worldly wise to label progress, and whose meaning forever escapes us.

The man of the future came, and looked out among us once with wistful, if unsophisticated eyes. He left his bones in the rubble of an alien land. If we read evolution aright, he may come again in another million years. Are the evolutionary forces searching for the right moment of his appearance? Or is his appearance itself destined always, even in the moment of emergence, to mark the end of the drama and foretell the extinction of a race?

Perhaps the strange interior clockwork that is here revealed as so indifferent to environmental surroundings has set, after all, a limit to the human time it keeps. That is the real question propounded by my friend's fine face. That is the question that I sometimes think the Boskop folk have answered. I wish I could be sure. I wish I knew.

Whatever else these skulls or those of occasional variant moderns may tell us, one thing they clearly reveal: Those who contend that because of present human cranial size, and the limitations of the human pelvis, man's brain is no longer capable of further expansion, are mistaken. Cranial capacities of almost a third more than the modern average have been occasionally attained among the Boskop people and even in rare individuals among other less foetalized races. The secret does not lie in the size of the brain before birth; rather, as we have seen, it is contained in that strange spurt which in the first year of life carries man upward and outward into a social world from which his fellow beings are excluded. Whether that postnatal expansion is destined to be further enhanced in the long eras to come there is no telling, nor, perhaps, does it matter greatly. For in the creation of the social brain, nature, through man, has eluded the trap which has engulfed in one way or another every other form of life on the planet. Within the reasonable limits of the brain that now exists, she has placed the long continuity of civilized memory as it lies packed in the world's great libraries. The need is not really for more brains, the need is now for a gentler, a more tolerant people than those who won for us against the ice, the tiger, and the bear. The hand that hefted the ax, out of some old blind allegiance to the past fondles the machine gun as lovingly. It is a habit man will have to break to survive, but the roots go very deep.

I once sat, a prisoner, long ago, and watched a peasant soldier just recently equipped with a submachine gun swing the gun slowly into line with my body. It was a beautiful weapon and his finger toyed hesitantly with the trigger. Suddenly to possess all that power and then to be forbidden to use it must have been almost too much for the man to contain. I remember, also, a protesting female voice nearby--the eternal civilizing voice of women who know that men are fools and children, and irresponsible. Sheepishly the peon slowly dropped the gun muzzle away from my chest. The black eyes over the barrel looked out at me a little wicked, a little desirous of better understanding.

"Thompson, Tome'-son'," he repeated proudly, slapping the barrel. "Tome'-son'." I nodded a little weakly, relaxing with a sigh. After all, we were men together and understood this great subject of destruction. And was I not a citizen of the country that had produced this wonderful mechanism? So I nodded again and said carefully after him. "Thompson, Tome'-son', Bueno, si, muy bueno." We looked at each other then, smiling a male smile that ran all the way back to the Ice Age. In academic halls since, considering the future of humanity, I have never been quite free of the memory of that soldier's smile. I weigh it mentally against the future whenever one of those delicate forgotten skulls is placed upon my desk.
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Re: The Immense Journey, by Loren Eiseley

Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 11:18 pm

Little Men and Flying Saucers

Today, as never before, the sky is menacing. Things seen indifferently last century by the wandering lamp-lighter now trouble a generation that has grown up to the wail of air-raid sirens and the ominous expectation that the roof may fall at any moment. Even in daytime, reflected light on a floating dandelion seed, or a spider riding a wisp of gossamer in the sun's eye, can bring excited questions from the novice unused to estimating the distance or nature of aerial objects.

Since we now talk, write, and dream endlessly of space rockets, it is no surprise that this thinking yields the obverse of the coin: that the rocket or its equivalent may have come first to us from somewhere "outside." As a youth, I may as well confess, I waited expectantly for it to happen. So deep is the conviction that there must be life out there beyond the dark, one thinks that if they are more advanced than ourselves they may come across space at any moment, perhaps in our generation. Later, contemplating the infinity of time, one wonders if perchance their messages came long ago, hurtling into the swamp muck of the steaming coal forests, the bright projectile clambered over by hissing reptiles, and the delicate instruments running mindlessly down with no report.

Sometimes when young, and fossil hunting in the western Badlands, I had thought it might yet be found, corroding and long dead, in the Tertiary sod that was once green under the rumbling feet of titanotheres. Surely, in the infinite wastes of time, in the lapse of suns and wane of systems, the passage, if it were possible, would have been achieved. But the bright projectile has not been found and now, in sobering middle age, I have long since ceased to look. Moreover, the present theory of the expanding universe has made time, as we know it, no longer infinite. If the entire universe was created in a single explosive instant a few billion years ago, there has not been a sufficient period for all things to occur even behind the star shoals of the outer galaxies. In the light of this fact it is now just conceivable that there may be nowhere in space a mind superior to our own.

If such a mind should exist, there are many reasons why it could not reside in the person of a little man. There is, however, a terrible human fascination about the miniature, and one little man in the hands of the spinner of folk tales can multiply with incredible rapidity. Our unexplainable passion for the small is not quenched at the borders of space, nor, as we shall see, in the spinning rings of the atom. The flying saucer and the much publicized little men from space equate neatly with our own projected dreams.

When I first heard of the little man there was no talk of flying saucers, nor did his owner ascribe to him anything more than an earthly origin. It has been almost a quarter of a century since I encountered him in a bone hunter's camp in the West. A rancher had brought him to us in a box. "I figured you'd maybe know about him," he said. "He'll cost you money, though. There's money in that little man."

"Man ?" we said.

"Man," he countered. "What you'd call a pygmy or a dwarf, but smaller than any show dwarf I ever did see. A mummy, too, a little dead mummy. I figure it was some kind of bein' like us, but little. They put him in the place I found him; maybe it was a thousand years ago. You'll likely know."

Our heads met over the box. The last paper was withdrawn. The creature emerged on the man's palm. I've seen a lot of odd things in the years since, and fakes by the score, but that little fellow gave me the creeps. He might have been two feet high in a standing posture--not more. He was mummified in a crouching position, arms folded. The face with closed eyes seemed vaguely evil. I could have sworn I was dreaming.

I touched it. There was a peculiar, fleshy consistency about it, still. It was not a dry mummy. It was more like what you would expect a natural cave mummy to be like. It had no tail. I know because I looked. And to this day the little man sits on there, in my brain, and as plain as yesterday I can see the faint half-smirk of his mouth and the tiny black hands at his knees.

"You can have it for two hundred bucks," said the man. We glanced at each other, sighed, and shook our heads. "We aren't in the market," we said. "We're collecting, not buying, and we're staying with our bones."

"Okay," said the man and gave us a straight look, closing his box. "I'm going to the carnival down below tonight. There's money in him. There's money in that little man."

I think it may have been just as well for us that we made no purchase. I have never liked the little man, nor the description of the carnival to which he and his owner were going. It may be, I used to think, that I will yet encounter him before I die, in some little colored tent on a country midway. Once, in the years since, I have heard a description that sounded like him in another guise. It involved a fantastic tale of some Paleozoic beings who hunted among the tree ferns when the world was ruled by croaking amphibians. The story did not impress me; I knew him by then for what he was: an anomalous mummified stillbirth with an undeveloped brain.

I never expected to see him emerge again in books on flying saucers, or to see the "little men" multiply and become so common that columnists would take note of them. Nor, though I should have known better, did I expect to live to hear my little man ascribed an extraplanetary origin. There is a story back of him, it is true, but it is a history of this earth, and, of all unlikely things, it involves that great man of science, Charles Darwin, though by a curious, lengthy, and involved route.

Men have been men for so long that they tend not to question the fact. All their experience tells them that their children will precisely resemble themselves; that kittens will become cats and cats will have kittens, and that even caterpillars, though the pattern seems a little odd, will become butterflies, and butterflies will produce caterpillars. It is so habitual an event that we do not stop to ask why this happens, or to consider that this amazing precision in results implies a strange ordering of life in a world we often think is chanceful and meaningless.

A few wise men since the time of the Greeks have found it a source of wonder, but they have been a minority. Most people have shrugged and spoken indifferently of the gods, or contented themselves, as the Christian world did for so long, with the idea of special creation of each species. Nevertheless, the wise ones kept on wondering.

They found, as they began their first groping attempts to classify and arrange the living world, that in spite of the assumed individual creation of every living species by the supernatural intervention of divine power, a basic similarity of structure existed among many forms of life. This was a remarkable thing to find among supposedly individual creations. Offhand one would say that a much greater degree of spontaneous novelty would have been possible. In fact, man once innocently believed himself part of such a creation. The fabulous animals of the ancient bestiaries, the mermaids, griffins, and centaurs, not to mention the men whose ears were so large that their owners slept in them, would have been the natural, spontaneous products of such uncontrolled, creative whimsy.

But there was the pattern: the ape and the man with their bone-by-bone correspondence. The very fact that one can add a plural to the word reptile and so suggest anything from a brontosaurus to a garter snake shows that a pattern exists. Birds all have feathers, wings, and claws; they are a common class in spite of their diversities. They have been pulled into many shapes, but there is still an eternal "birdliness" about them. They are built on a common plan, just as I share mammalian characters with a small mouse who inhabits my desk drawer. This is hard to account for in a disordered world, so that recently when I came upon this mouse, trapped and terrified in the wastebasket, his similarity to myself rendered me helpless, and out of sheer embarrassment I connived in his escape.

Now so long as these remarkable patterns could be observed only in the living world around us, they occasioned no great alarm. Even after Cuvier, in 1812, made a magnificent attempt to reduce the forms of animal life to four basic blueprints or "archetypes" of divergent character, no one was particularly disturbed--least of all from the religious point of view. In the words of one great naturalist, Louis Agassiz, "This plan of creation ... has not grown out of the necessary action of physical laws, but was the free conception of the Almighty Intellect, matured in his thought before it was manifested in tangible external forms."

It was not long, however, before pattern, the divine blueprint, first recognized in the existing world, was extended by the geologist across the deeps of time. The animal world of the past was in the process of discovery. It proved to be a world without man. Curiously enough, it was soon learned that extinct animals could be fitted into the broad classifications of the existing world. They were mammals or amphibia or reptiles, as the case might be. Though no living eye had beheld them, they seemed to mark the continuation of the divine abstraction, the eternal patterns, across the enormous time gulfs of the past.

The second fact, that man had not been discovered, was a cause for dismay. In the man-centered universe of the time, one can appreciate the anguish of the Reverend, Mr. Kirby discovering the Age of Reptiles: "Who can think that a being of unbounded power, wisdom, and goodness, should create a world merely for the habitation of a race of monsters, without a single, rational being in it to serve and glorify him ?" This is the wounded outcry of the human ego as it fails to discover its dominance among the beasts of the past. Even more tragically, it learns that the world supposedly made for its enjoyment has existed for untold eons entirely indifferent to its coming. The chill vapors of time and space are beginning to filter under the closed door of the human intellect.

It was in these difficult straits, in the black night of his direst foreboding, that the doctrine of geologic prophecy was evolved by man. For fifty years it would hold time at bay, and in one last great effort its proponents, by clever analogies, would attempt to extend the human drama across the infinite worlds of space; it echoes among us still in the shape of the little men of the flying saucers. No braver mythos was ever devised under the cold eye of science.

In an old book from my shelves, Hugh Miller's The Testimony of the Rocks, I find this passage: "Higher still in one of the deposits of the Trias we are startled by what seems to be the impression of a human hand of an uncouth massive shape, but with the thumb apparently set in opposition, as in man, to the other fingers."

There is only one way to understand this literature. The biologists of the first half of the nineteenth century had recognized that the unity of animal organization descends into past ages and is observable in forms no living eye has beheld. It was, they believed, an immaterial, a supernatural line of connection. They refused to see in this unity of plan an actual physical relationship. Instead they read the past as a successive series of creations and extinctions upon a divinely modifiable but consistent plan. "Geology," said one writer, "unrolls a prophetic scroll, in which the earlier animated creation points on to the later."

In 1726, before the rise of geological theology, Professor Scheuchzer of Zurich had discovered and described the skeleton of a long extinct amphibian as that of Homo Diluvii testis, "Man, witness of the Rood." The remains, after being piously termed "a rare relic of the accursed race of the primitive world," were found to be those of an animal, and interest in the fossil ceased. With the development of geological prophecy, however, we find this giant salamander reappearing in the writings of that eminent Scotch philosopher, James McCosh. Admitting the true nature of the relic, McCosh, undaunted, contended in 1857: "Long ages had yet to roll on before the consummation of the vertebrate type; the preparations for man's appearance were not yet completed. Nevertheless, in this fossil of Scheuchzer's there was a prefiguration of the more perfect type which man's bony framework presents." Thus the swinging pick of the geologist at work in the world's bone yards did not, at first, disturb the abstract beauty of the Platonic forms. Instead, the recognition of the past enveloped life with a strange premonitory quality, a sense of prophecy and doom as carefully ordered as the movement on some great stage,

It is in the light of this philosophy that the hand, "massive" and of "uncouth shape," must be interpreted. It foreshadows, out of that slimy concourse of sprawling amphibians and gaping lizards, the eventual emergence of man. Splayed, monstrous, and mud-smeared, it haunts the future. That it is the footprint of some wandering reptilian beast of the coal swamps may be granted, but it is also a vertebrate. Its very body forecasts the times to come.

It would be erroneous, however, to conceive of reptiles as being the major preoccupation of our geological prophets. They scanned the anatomy of fishes, birds, and salamanders, seeking in their skeletons anticipations of the more perfect structure of man. If they found footprints of fossil bipeds it was a "sign" foretelling man. All things led in his direction. Prior to his entrance the stage was merely under preparation. In this way the blow to the human ego had been softened. The past was only the prologue to the Great Play. Man was at the heart of things after all.

It was a strange half century, as one looks back upon it--that fifty years before the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species. It was dominated y a generation that saw the world as a complex symbolic system pointing in the direction of man, who was foreknown and prefigured from the beginning. Man, who comes last, is the end of this strange cycle. With him, in the eyes of many of these thinkers, the process ceases and no further changes in the world of life are to be expected. Since the transcendental "evolutionists" were man-centered, questions involving divergent evolution and adaptation did not come easily to their minds. Working with an immaterial and abstract Platonic concept, it was inevitable that they should seek to extend their doctrine across the deeps of space. Because the pattern was capable of modification, the possibility of the existence of small men, large men, or men of different colors upon other planets did not trouble them, but men they ought to be. There was little comprehension of the fact that man had acquired his particular bodily structure and upright posture through a peculiar set of evolutionary circumstances, not easily to be duplicated.

The theory of the plurality of worlds is a very ancient one; that is, the notion that the lights seen elsewhere in space may be bodies like that which we inhabit. After the rise of the Copernican astronomy and the growing realization that our earth is part of a planetary system revolving around a central sun, it was often contended by philosophers that the other stars seen in space must be similar suns with similar planetary satellites.

Quarrels arose between those who believed God's power infinitely and creatively extended among the stars, and those who regarded it as heresy and dangerous to Christian belief to imply that the Infinite Mind might be concerned with more than the beings of this planet. It was a struggle heightened by an enormous extension of man's vision into the worlds of the infinitely far and the infinitely small, the telescope and the microscope having momentarily stunned the human imagination. Some clung frantically to the little tight-fenced world of the Middle Ages, refusing to acknowledge what these instruments revealed. Others, with greater willingness to accept the new tried nevertheless to equate what they saw with old beliefs and to elaborate an "astrotheology."

In the fifties of the last century there was a great outburst of interest in the possibility of life on other worlds. The recently discovered life history of our own planet and improvements in astronomical apparatus had all excited great interests on the part of a public wavering in its loyalty between old religious dogmas and the new revelations of science. Speculation, in many instances, was roaming far in advance of actual observation.

"The inhabitants of Jupiter," wrote William Whewell in I854, "must ... it would seem, be cartilaginous, and glutinous masses. If life be there it does not seem in any way likely that the living things can be anything higher in the scale of being, than such boneless watery, pulpy creatures ..."

This remark is not intended as merely innocent theorizing. In his work Plurality of Worlds, Whewell indicates his definite opposition to the idea that the other planets, or the more remote worlds in other galaxies, are inhabited. At best he is willing to grant the existence of a few gelatinous creatures such as he mentions in the above passage, but that man is to be found elsewhere, he denies;. He argues that there are superior and inferior regions of space. Man, preceded by endless eons of lower creatures in time, is yet a superior being. He calls attention to the fact that "the intelligent part of creation is thrust into the compass of a few years, in the course of myriads of ages; why not then into the compass of a few miles, in the expanse of systems ?" On this earth a "supernatural interposition" has introduced man; the planet is unique.

Whewell's essay generated a storm of discussion. His was not the popular side of the controversy. Sir David Brewster countered with a volume significantly titled More Worlds Than One, in which he bluntly asserts: "The function of one satellite must be the function of all the rest. The function of our Moon, to give light to the earth, must be the function of the other twenty-two moons of the system; and the function of the Earth, to support inhabitants, must be the function of all other planets." He dwells on the "grand combination" of "infinity of life, with infinity of matter."

Brewster, moreover, calls attention to the invisible domain revealed by the microscope and argues from this that God has all along been attentive to forms of life of which we had no knowledge. So intriguing became the relativity of size that one author even produced a work whose subtitle bore the query Are Ultimate Atoms lnhabited Worlds? Stories like Fitz-James O'Brien's "The Diamond Lens," or Ray Cummings' "The Girl in the Golden Atom," stem from such thought.

Another writer, William Williams, in The Universe No Desert, the Earth No Monopoly, strikes more directly at the heart of the argument. He invokes geological prophecy and extends it directly across space: "The archetypal idea of man, revealed in the lower vertebrated animals, proves God's foreknowledge of man's existence; and it equally applies to vertebrates on Jupiter or Neptune as to those on the Earth; and still farther, to the Universe, as these animals were within its precincts."

Williams was not the first nor the last man to utter these sentiments, but he did so with a fierce singleness of purpose. The life plans were immanent, prophetic, and immaterial. They could thus be projected across space. Why, he argues with the same horror that the Reverend Mr. Kirby had exhibited toward the Age of Reptiles, should God "banish his own image to one diminutive enclosure and surround ... the residue of His immense Person with unintelligent, half-formed, crude monsters?" If man is regarded as a good production here, he must be found in endless duplication throughout the worlds. The pattern in the rocks of this earth is the pattern of the whole.

The shattering of this scheme of geological prophecy was the work of many men, but it was Charles Darwin who brought the event to pass, and who engineered what was to be one of the most dreadful blows that the human ego has ever sustained: the demonstration of man's physical relationship to the world of the lower animals. It is quite apparent, however, that there is an aspect of Darwin's discoveries which has never penetrated to the mind of the general public. It is the fact that once undirected variation and natural selection are introduced as the mechanism controlling the development of plants and animals, the evolution of every world in space becomes a series of unique historical events. The precise accidental duplication of a complex form of life is extremely unlikely to occur in even the same environment, let alone in the different background and atmosphere of a far-off world.

In the modern literature on space travel. I have read about cabbage men and bird men; I have investigated the loves of the lizard men and the tree men, but in each case have labored under no illusion. I have been reading about a man, Homo sapiens I that common earthling, clapped into an ill-fitting coat of feathers and retaining all his basic human attributes including an eye for the pretty girl who has just emerged from the space ship. His lechery and miscegenating proclivities have an oddly human ring, and if this is all we are going to find on other planets, I, for one, am going to be content to stay at home. There is quite enough of that sort of thing down here, without encouraging it throughout the starry systems.

The truth is that man is a solitary and peculiar development. I do not mean this in any irreverent or contemptuous sense. I want merely to point out that when Charles Darwin and his colleagues established the community of descent of the living world, and observed the fact of divergent evolutionary adaptation, they destroyed forever the concept of geological prophecy. They did not eliminate the possibility of life on other worlds, but the biological principles which they established have totally removed the likelihood that our descendants, in the next few decades, will be entertaining little men from Mars. I would be much more willing to consider the possibility of sitting !down to lunch with a purple polyp, but even this has anatomical comparisons with the life of this planet.

Geologic prophecy was based on two things: first, a belief, as we have seen, in the man-centered nature of the universe, and second, the assumption that since the animals of the past had no physical connection with those' of the present, some kind of abstract, immaterial plan in the mind of the Creator linked the forms of the past with those of the present day. The early-nineteenth-century thinkers perceived a genuine relationship, but their attachment to the idea of special creation prevented them from recognizing that the relationship arose out of simple biological "descent with modification."

Man could not be proved preordained or predestined from the beginning simply because he showed certain affinities to Paleozoic vertebrates. Instead, he was merely one of many descendants of the early vertebrate line. A moose or a mongoose would have had equally good reason to contend that as a modern vertebrate he had been "pre-figured from the beginning," and that the universe had been organized with him in mind.

The situation is something like that of walking through a hall of trick mirrors and being pulled out of shape. The mirror of time does that to all things living, and the distortions stay. Nevertheless, there is a pattern of sorts, so that if you have come by the mirror that makes men, and somewhere behind you there is a mirror that makes black cats, you can still see the pattern. You and the cat are related; the shreds of the original shape are in your bones and the shreds of primordial thought patterns move in the eyes of both of you and are understood by both. But somewhere there must be an original pattern; somewhere cat and man and weasel must leap into a single shape. That shape lies inconceivably remote from us now, far back along the time stream. It is historical. In that sense, and in that sense only, the archetype did indeed exist.

Darwin saw clearly that the succession of life on this planet was not a formal pattern imposed from without, or moving exclusively in one direction. Whatever else life might be, it was adjustable and not fixed. It worked its way through difficult environments. It modified and then, if necessary, it modified again, along roads which would never be retraced. Every creature alive is the product of a unique history. The statistical probability of its precise reduplication on another planet is so small as to be meaningless. Life, even cellular life, may exist out yonder in the dark. But high or low in nature, it will not wear the shape of man. That shape is the evolutionary product of a strange, long wandering through the attics of the forest roof, and so great are the chances of failure, that nothing precisely and identically human is likely ever to come that way again.

The picture of the little man of long ago rises before me as I write. As I have said, he was simply a foetal monster, long since scientifically diagnosed and dismissed. The small skull that lent the illusion of maturity to the mummified infant contained a brain which had failed to develop. The describers of two-foot men forget that a normal human brain cannot function with a capacity, at the very minimum, of less than about nine hundred cubic centimeters. A man with a hundred-cubic-centimeter brain will not be a builder of flying saucers; he will be less intelligent than an ape. In any case, he does not exist.

In a universe whose size is beyond human imagining, where our world floats like a dust mote in the void of night, men have grown inconceivably lonely. We scan the time scale and the mechanisms of life itself for portents and signs of the invisible. As the only thinking mammals on the planet--perhaps the only thinking animals in the entire sidereal universe--the burden of consciousness has grown heavy upon us. We watch the stars, but the signs are uncertain. We uncover the bones of the past and seek for our origins. There is a path there, but it appears to wander. The vagaries of the road may have a meaning, however; it is thus we torture ourselves.

Lights come and go in the night sky. Men, troubled at last by the things they build, may toss in their sleep and dream bad dreams, or lie awake while the meteors whisper greenly overhead. But nowhere in all space or on a thou- sand worlds will there be men to share our loneliness. There may be wisdom; there may be power; somewhere across space great instruments, handled by strange, manipulative organs, may stare vainly at our floating cloud wrack, their owners yearning as we yearn. Nevertheless, in the nature of life and in the principles of evolution we have had our answer. Of men elsewhere, and beyond, there will be none forever.
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Re: The Immense Journey, by Loren Eiseley

Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 11:19 pm

The Judgment of the Birds

It is a commonplace of all religious thought, even the most primitive, that the man seeking visions and insight must go apart from his fellows and live for a time in the wilderness. If he is of the proper sort, he will return with a message. It may not be a message from the god he set out to seek, but even if he has failed in that particular, he will have had a vision or seen a marvel, and these are always worth listening to and thinking about.

The world, I have come to believe, is a very queer place, but we have been part of this queerness for so long that we tend to take it for granted. We rush to and fro like Mad Hatters upon our peculiar errands, all the time imagining our surroundings to be dull and ourselves quite ordinary creatures. Actually, there is nothing in the world to encourage this idea, but such is the mind of man, and this is why he finds it necessary from time to time to send emissaries into the wilderness in the hope of learning of great events, or plans in store for him, that will resuscitate his waning taste for life. His great news services, his world-wide radio network, he knows with a last remnant of healthy distrust will be of no use to him in this matter. No miracle can withstand a radio broadcast, and it is certain that it would be no miracle if it could. One must seek, then, what only the solitary approach can give - a natural revelation.

Let it be understood that I am not the sort of man to whom is entrusted direct knowledge of great events or prophesies. A naturalist, however, spends much of his life alone, and my life is no exception. Even in New York City there are patches of wilderness, and a man by himself is bound to undergo certain experiences falling into the class of which I speak. I set mine down, therefore: a matter of pigeons, a flight of chemicals, and a judgement of birds, in the hope that they will come to the eye of those who have retained a true taste for the marvelous, and who are capable of discerning in the flow of ordinary events the point at which the mundane world gives way to quite another dimension.

New York is not, on the whole, the best place to enjoy the downright miraculous nature of the planet. There are, I do not doubt, many remarkable stories to be heard there and many strange sights to be seen, but to grasp a marvel fully it must be savored from all aspects. This cannot be done while one is being jostled and hustled along a crowded street. Nevertheless, in any city there are true wildernesses where a man can be alone. It can happen in a hotel room, or on the high roofs at dawn.

One night on the twentieth floor of a midtown hotel I awoke in the dark and grew restless. On an impulse I climbed upon the broad old-fashioned window sill, opened the curtains and peered out. It was the hour just before dawn, the hour when men sigh in their sleep, or, if awake, strive to focus their wavering eyesight upon a world emerging from the shadows. I leaned out sleepily through the open window. I had expected depths, but not the sight I saw.

I found I was looking down from that great height into a series of curious cupolas or lofts that I could just barely make out in the darkness. As I looked, the outlines of these lofts became more distinct because the light was being reflected from the wings of pigeons who, in utter silence, were beginning to float outward upon the city. In and out through the open slits in the cupolas passed the white-winged birds on their mysterious errands. At this hour the city was theirs, and quietly, without the brush of a single wing tip against stone in that high, eerie place, they were taking over the spires of Manhattan. They were pouring upward in a light that was not yet perceptible to human eyes, while far down in the blackness of the alleys it was still midnight.

As I crouched half asleep across the sill, I had a moment's illusion that the world had changed in the night, as in some immense snowfall, and that if I were to leave, it would have to be as these other inhabitants were doing, by the window. I should have to launch out into that great bottomless void with the simple confidence of young birds reared high up there among the familiar chimney pots and interposed horrors of the abyss.

I leaned farther out. To and fro went the white wings, to and fro. There were no sounds from any of them. They knew man was asleep and this light for a little while was theirs. Or perhaps I had only dreamed about man in this city of wings - which he could surely never have built. Perhaps I, myself, was one of these birds dreaming unpleasantly a moment of old dangers far below as I teetered on a window ledge.

Around and around went the wings. It needed only a little courage, only a little shove from the window ledge to enter that city of light. The muscles of my hands were already making little premonitory lunges. I wanted to enter that city and go away over the roofs in the first dawn. I wanted to enter it so badly that I drew back carefully into the room and opened the hall door. I found my coat on the chair, and it slowly became clear to me that there was a way down through the floors, that I was, after all, only a man.

I dressed then and went back to my own kind, and I have been rather more than usually careful since not to look into the city of light. I had seen, just once, man's greatest creation from a strange inverted angle, and it was not really his at all. I will never forget how these wings went round and round, and how, by the merest pressure of the fingers and a feeling for air, one might go away over the roofs. It is a knowledge, however, that is better kept to oneself. I think of it sometimes in such a way that the wings, beginning far down in the black depths of the mind, begin to rise and whirl till all the mind is lit by their spinning, and there is a sense of things passing away, but lightly, as a wing might veer over an obstacle.

To see from an inverted angle, however, is not a gift allotted merely to the human imagination. I have come to suspect that within their degree it is sensed by animals, though perhaps as rarely as among men. The time has to be right; one has to be, by chance or intention, upon the border of two worlds. And sometimes these two borders may shift or interpenetrate and one sees the miraculous.

I once saw this happen to a crow.

This crow lives near my house, and though I have never injured him, he takes good care to stay up in the very highest trees and, in general, to avoid humanity. His world begins at about the limit of my eyesight.

On the particular morning when this episode occurred, the whole countryside was buried in one of the thickest fogs in years. The ceiling was absolutely zero. All planes were grounded, and even a pedestrian could hardly see his outstretched hand before him.

I was groping across a field in the general direction of the railroad station, following a dimly outlined path. Suddenly out of the fog, at about the level of my eyes, and so closely that I flinched, there flashed a pair of immense black wings and a huge beak. The whole bird rushed over my head with a frantic cawing outcry of such hideous terror as I have never heard in a crow's voice before, and never expect to hear again.

He was lost and startled, I thought, as I recovered my poise. He ought not to have flown out in this fog. He'd knock his silly brains out.

All afternoon that great awkward cry rang in my head. Merely being lost in a fog seemed scarcely to account for it - especially in a tough, intelligent old bandit such as I knew that particular crow to be. I even looked once in the mirror to see what it might be about me that had so revolted him that he had cried out in protest to the very stones.

Finally, as I worked my way homeward along the path, the solution came to me. It should have been clear before. The borders of our worlds had shifted. It was the fog that had done it. That crow, and I knew him well, never under normal circumstances flew low near men. He had been lost all right, but it was more than that. He had thought he was high up, and when he encountered me looming gigantically through the fog, he had perceived a ghastly and, to the crow mind, unnatural sight. He had seen a man walking on air, desecrating the very heart of the crow kingdom, a harbinger of the most profound evil a crow mind could conceive of - air-walking men. The encounter, he must have thought, had taken place a hundred feet over the roofs.

He caws now when he sees me leaving for the station in the morning, and I fancy that in that note I catch the uncertainty of a mind that has come to know things are not always what they seem. He has seen a marvel in his heights of air and is no longer as other crows. He has experienced the human world from an unlikely perspective. He and I share a viewpoint in common: our worlds have interpenetrated, and we both have faith in the miraculous.

It is a faith that in my own case has been augmented by two remarkable sights. As I have hinted previously, I once saw some very odd chemicals fly across a waste so dead it might have been upon the moon, and once, by an even more fantastic piece of luck, I was present when a group of birds passed a judgement upon life.

On the maps of the old voyageurs it is called Mauvaises Terres, the evil lands, and slurred a little with the passage through many minds, it has come down to us anglicized as the Badlands. The soft shuffle of mocassins has passed through its canyons on the grim business of war and flight, but the last of those slight disturbances of immemorial silences died out almost a century ago. The land, if one may call it a land, is a waste as lifeless as that valley in which lie the kings of Egypt. Like the Valley of the Kings, it is a mausoleum, a place of dry bones in what once was a place of life. Now it has silences as deep as those in the moon's airless chasms.

Nothing grows among its pinnacles; there is no shade except under great toadstools of sandstone whose bases have been eaten to the shape of wine glasses by the wind. Everything is flaking, cracking, disintegrating, wearing away in the long, imperceptible weather of time. The ash of ancient volcanic outbursts still sterilizes its soil, and its colors in that waste are the colors that flame in the lonely sunsets on dead planets. Men come there but rarely, and for one purpose only, the collection of bones.

It was a late hour on a cold, wind-bitten autumn day when I climbed a great hill spined like a dinosaur's back and tried to take my bearings. The tumbled waste fell away in waves in all directions. Blue air was darkening into purple along the bases of the hills. I shifted my knapsack, heavy with the petrified bones of long-vanished creatures, and studied my compass. I wanted to be out of there by nightfall, and already the sun was going sullenly down in the west.

It was then that I saw the flight coming on. It was moving like a little close-knit body of black specks that danced and darted and closed again. It was pouring from the north and heading toward me with the undeviated relentlessness of a compass needle. It streamed through the shadows rising out of of monstrous gorges. It rushed over towering pinnacles in the red light of the sun, or momentarily sank from sight within their shade. Across that desert of eroding clay and wind-worn stone they came with a faint wild twittering that filled all the air about me as those tiny living bullets hurtled past me into the night.

It may not strike you as a marvel. It would not, perhaps, unless you stood in the middle of a dead world at sunset, but that was where I stood. Fifty million years lay under my feet, fifty million years of bellowing monsters moving in a green world now gone so utterly that its very light was traveling on the farther edge of space. The chemicals of all that vanished age lay about me in the ground. Around me still lay the the shearing molars of dead titanotheres, the delicate sabers of soft-stepping cats, the hollow sockets that had held the eyes of many a strange, outmoded beast. Those eyes had looked out upon a world as real as ours; dark, savage brains had roamed and roared their challenges into the steaming night.

Now they were still here, or, put it as you will, the chemicals that made them were here about me in the ground. The carbon that had driven them ran blackly in the eroding stone. The stain of iron was in the clays. The iron did not remember the blood it had once moved within, the phosphorus had forgot the savage brain. The little individual moment had ebbed from all those strange combinations of chemicals as it would ebb from our living bodies into the sinks and runnels of oncoming time.

I had lifted up a fistful of that ground. I held it while that wild flight of south-bound warblers hurtled over me into the oncoming dark. There went phosphorus, there went iron, there went carbon, there beat the calcium in those hurrying wings. Alone on a dead planet I watched that incredible miracle speeding past. It rany by some true compass over field and waste land. It cried its individual ecstasies into the air until the gullies rang. It swerved like a single body, it knew itself and, lonely, it bunched close in the racing darkness, its individual entities feeling about them the rising night. And so, crying to each other in their identity, they passed away out of my view.

I dropped my fistful of earth. I heard it roll inanimate back into the gully at the base of the hill: iron, carbon, the chemicals of life. Like men from those wild tribes who had haunted these hills before me seeking visions, I made my sign to the great darkness. It was not a mocking sign, and I was not mocked. As I walked into my camp late that night, one man, rousing from his blankets beside the fire, asked sleepily, "What did you see?"

"I think, a miracle," I said softly, but I said it to myself. Behind me that vast waste began to glow under the rising moon.

I have said that I saw a judgment upon life, and that it was not passed by men. Those who stare at birds in cages or who test minds by their closeness to our own may not care for it. It comes from far away out of my past, in a place of pouring waters and green leaves. I shall never see an episode like it again if I live to be a hundred, nor do I think that one man in a million has ever seen it, because man is an intruder into such silences. The light must be right, and the observer must remain unseen. No man sets up such an experiment. What he sees, he sees by chance.

You may put it that I had come over a mountain, that I had slogged through fern and pine needles for half a long day, and that on the edge of a little glade with one long, crooked branch extending across it, I had sat down to rest with my back against a stump. Through accident I was concealed from the glade, although I could see into it perfectly.

The sun was warm there, and the murmurs of forest life blurred softly away in my sleep. When I awoke, dimly aware of some commotion and outcry in the clearing, the light was slanting down through the pines in such a way that the glade was lit like some vast cathedral. I could see the dust motes of wood pollen in the long shaft of light, and there on the extended branch sat an enormous raven with a red and squirming nestling in its beak.

The sound that awoke me was the outraged cries of the nestling's parents, who flew helplessly in circles about the clearing. The sleek black monster was indifferent to them. He gulped, whetted his beak on the dead branch a moment and sat still. Up to that point the little tragedy followed the usual pattern. But suddenly, out of all that area of woodland, a soft sound of complaint began to rise. Into the glade fluttered small birds of half a dozen varieties drawn by the anguished outcries of the tiny parents.

No one dared to attack the raven. But they cried there in some instinctive common misery, the bereaved and the unbereaved. The glade filled with their soft rustling and their cries. They fluttered as though to point their wings at the murderer. There was a dim intangible ethic he had violated, that they knew. He was a bird of death.

And he, the murderer, the black bird at the heart of life, sat on there, glistening in the common light, formidable, unmoving, unperturbed, untouchable.

The sighing died. It was then I saw the judgment. It was the judgment of life against death. I will never see it again so forcefully presented. I will never hear it again in notes so tragically prolonged. For in the midst of protest, they forgot the violence. There, in that clearing, the crystal note of a song sparrow lifted hesitantly in the hush. And finally, after painful fluttering, another took the song, and then another, the song passing from one bird to another, doubtfully at first, as though some evil thing were being slowly forgotten. Till suddenly they took heart and sang from many throats joyously together as birds who are known to sing. They sang because life is sweet and sunlight beautiful. They sang under the brooding shadow of the raven. In simple truth they had forgotten the raven, for they were the singers of life, and not of death.

I was not of that airy company. My limbs were the heavy limbs of an earthbound creature who could climb mountains, even the mountains of the mind, only by a great effort of will. I knew I had seen a marvel and observed a judgment, but the mind which was my human endowment was sure to question it and be at me day by day with its heresies until I grew to doubt the meaning of what I had seen. Eventually darkness and subtleties would ring me round once more.

And so it proved until, on the top of a stepladder, I made one more observation upon life. It was cold that autumn evening, and, standing under a suburban street light in a spate of leaves and beginning snow, I was suddenly conscious of some huge and hairy shadows dancing over the pavement. They seemed attached to an odd, globular shape that was magnified above me. There was no mistaking it. I was standing under the shadow of an orb-weaving spider. Gigantically projected against the street, she was about her spinning when everything was going underground. Even her cables were magnified upon the sidewalk and already I was half-entangled in their shadows.

"Good Lord," I thought, "she has found herself a kind of minor sun and is going to upset the course of nature."

I procured a ladder from my yard and climbed up it to inspect the situation. There she was, the universe running down around her, warmly arranged among her guy ropes attached to the lamp supports - a great black and yellow embodiment of the life force, not giving up to either frost or stepladders. She ignored me and went on tightening and improving her web.

I stood over her on the ladder, a faint snow touching my cheeks, and surveyed her universe. There were a couple of iridescent green beetle cases turning slowly on a loose strand of web, a fragment of luminescent eye from a moth's wing and a large indeterminable object, perhaps a cicada, that had struggled and been wrapped in silk. There were also little bits and slivers, little red and blue flashes from the scales of anonymous wings that had crashed there.

Some days, I thought, they will be dull and gray and the shine will be out of them; then the dew will polish them again and drops hang on the silk until everything is gleaming and turning in the light. It is like a mind, really, where everything changes but remains, and in the end you have these eaten-out bits of experience like beetle wings.

I stood over here a moment longer, comprehending somewhat reluctantly that her adventure against the great blind forces of winter, her seizure of this warming globe of light, would come to nothing and was hopeless. Nevertheless it brought the birds back into my mind, and that faraway song which had traveled with growing strength around a forest clearing years ago - a kind of heroism, a world where even a spider refuses to lie down and die if a rope can still be spun on a star. Maybe man himself will fight like this in the end, I thought, slowly realizing that the web and its threatening yellow occupant had been added to some luminous store of experience, shining for a moment in the fogbound reaches of my brain.

The mind, it came to me as I slowly descended the ladder, is a very remarkable thing; it has gotten itself a kind of courage by looking at a spider in a street lamp. Here was something that ought to be passed on to those who will fight our final freezing battle with the void. I thought of setting it down carefully as a message to the future: In the days of the frost seek a minor sun.

But as I hesitated, it became plain that something was wrong. The marvel was escaping - a sense of bigness beyond man's power to grasp, the essence of life in its great dealings with the universe. It was better, I decided, for the emissaries returning from the wilderness, even if they were merely descending from a stepladder, to record their marvel, not to define its meaning. In that way it would go echoing on through the minds of men, each grasping at that beyond out of which the miracles emerge, and which, once defined, ceases to satisfy the human need for symbols.

In the end I merely made a mental note: One specimen of Epeira observed building a web in a street light. Late autumn and cold for spiders. Cold for men, too. I shivered and left the lamp glowing there in my mind. The last I saw of Epeira she was hauling steadily away on a cable. I stepped carefully over her shadow as I walked away.
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Re: The Immense Journey, by Loren Eiseley

Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 11:19 pm

The Bird and the Machine

I suppose their little bones have years ago been lost among the stones and winds of those high glacial pastures. I suppose their feathers blew eventually into the piles of tumble-weed beneath the straggling cattle fences and rotted there in the mountain snows, along with dead steers and all the other things that drift to an end in the corners of the wire. I do not quite know why I should be thinking of birds over the New York Times at breakfast, particularly the birds of my youth half a continent away. It is a funny thing what the brain will do with memories and how it will treasure them and finally bring them into odd juxtapositions with other things, as though it wanted to make a design, or get some meaning out of them, whether you want it or not, or even see it.

It used to seem marvelous to me, but I read now that there are machines that can do these things in a small way, machines that can crawl about like animals, and that it may not be long now until they do more things---maybe even make themselves--I saw that piece in the Times just now. And then they will, maybe--well, who knows--but you read about it more and more with no one making any protest, and already they can add better than we and reach up and hear things through the dark and finger the guns over the night sky.

This is the new world that I read about at breakfast. This is the world that confronts me in my biological books and journals, until there are times when I sit quietly in my chair and try to hear the little purr of the cogs in my head and the tubes flaring and dying as the messages go through them and the circuits snap shut or open. This is the great age, make no mistake about it; the robot has been born somewhat appropriately along with the atom bomb, and the brain they say now is just another type of more complicated feedback system. The engineers have its basic principles worked out; it's mechanical, you know; nothing to get superstitious about; and man can always improve on nature once he gets the idea. Well, he's got it all right and that's why, I guess, that I sit here in my chair, with the article crunched in my hand, remembering those two birds and that blue mountain sunlight. There is another magazine article on my desk that reads "Machines Are Getting Smarter Every Day." I don't deny it, but I'll still stick with the birds. It's life I believe in, not machines.

Maybe you don't believe there is any difference. A skeleton is all joints and pulleys, I'll admit. And when man was in his simpler stages of machine building in the eighteenth century, he quickly saw the resemblances. "What," wrote Hobbes, "is the heart but aspiring, and the nerves but so many strings, and the joints but so many wheels, giving motion to the whole body?" Tinkering about in their shops it was inevitable in the end that men would see the world as a huge machine "subdivided into an infinite number of lesser machines."

The idea took on with a vengeance. Little automatons toured the country--dolls controlled by clockwork. Clocks described as little worlds were taken on tours by their designers. They were made up of moving figures, shifting scenes and other remarkable devices. The life of the cell was unknown. Man, whether he was conceived as possessing a soul or not, moved and jerked about like these tiny puppets. A human being thought of himself in terms of his own tools and implements. He had been fashioned like the puppets he produced and was only a more clever model made by a greater designer.

Then in the nineteenth century, the cell was discovered, and the single machine in its turn was found to be the product of millions of infinitesimal machines--the cells. Now, finally, the cell itself dissolves away into an abstract chemical machine--and that into some intangible, inexpressible flow of energy. The secret seems to lurk all about, the wheels get smaller and smaller, and they turn more rapidly, but when you try to seize it the life is gone--and so, by popular definition, some would say that life was never there in the first place. The wheels and the cogs are the secret and we can make them better in time---machines that will run faster and more accurately than real mice to real cheese.

I have no doubt it can be done, though a mouse harvesting seeds on an autumn thistle is to me a fine sight and more complicated, I think, in his multiform activity, than a machine "mouse" running a maze. Also, I like to think of the possible shape of the future brooding in mice, just as it brooded once in a rather ordinary mousy insectivore who became a man. It leaves a nice fine indeterminate sense of wonder that even an electronic brain hasn't got, because you know perfectly well that if the electronic brain changes, it will be because of something man has done to it. But what man will do to himself he doesn't really know. A certain scale of time and a ghostly intangible thing called change are ticking in him. Powers and potentialities like the oak in the seed, or a red and awful ruin. Either way, it's impressive; and the mouse has it, too. Or those birds, I'll never forget those birds--yet before I measured their significance, I learned the lesson of time first of all. I was young then and left alone in a great desert--part of an expedition that had scattered its men over several hundred miles in order to carry on research more effectively. I learned there that time is a series of planes existing superficially in the same universe. The tempo is a human illusion, a subjective clock ticking in our own kind of protoplasm.

As the long months passed, I began to live on the slower planes and to observe more readily what passed for life there. I sauntered, I passed more and more slowly up and down the canyons in the dry baking heat of midsummer. I slumbered for long hours in the shade of huge brown boulders that had gathered in tilted companies out on the flats. I had forgotten the world of men and the world had forgotten me. Now and then I found a skull in the canyons, and these justified my remaining there. I took a serene cold interest in these discoveries. I had come, like many a naturalist before me, to view life with a wary and subdued attention. I had grown to take pleasure in the divested bone.

I sat once on a high ridge that fell away before me into a waste of sand dunes. I sat through hours of a long afternoon. Finally, as I glanced beside my boot an indistinct configuration caught my eye. It was a coiled rattlesnake, a big one. How long he had sat with me I do not know. I had not frightened him. We were both locked in the sleepwalking tempo of the earlier world, baking in the same high air and sunshine. Perhaps he had been there when I came. He slept on as I left, his coils, so ill discerned by me, dissolving once more among the stones and gravel from which I had barely made him out.

Another time I got on a higher ridge, among some tough little wind-warped pines half covered over with sand in a basin-like depression that caught everything carried by the air up to those heights. There were a few thin bones of birds, some cracked shells of indeterminable age, and the knotty fingers of pine roots bulged out of shape from their long and agonizing grasp upon the crevices of the rock. I lay under the pines in the sparse shade and went to sleep once more.

It grew cold finally, for autumn was in the air by then, and the few things that lived thereabouts were sinking down into an even chillier scale of time. In the moments between sleeping and waking I saw the roots about me and slowly, slowly, a foot in what seemed many centuries, I moved my sleep-stiffened hands over the scaling bark and lifted my numbed face after the vanishing sun. I was a great awkward thing of knots and aching limbs, trapped up there in some long, patient endurance that involved the necessity of putting living fingers into rock and by slow, aching expansion bursting those rocks asunder. I suppose, so thin and slow was the time of my pulse by then, that I might have stayed on to drift still deeper into the lower cadences of the frost, or the crystalline life that glistens pebbles, or shines in a snowflake, or dreams in the meteoric iron between the worlds.

It was a dim descent, but time was present in it. Somewhere far down in that scale the notion struck me that one might come the other way. Not many months thereafter I joined some colleagues heading higher into a remote windy tableland where huge bones were reputed to protrude like boulders from the turf. I had drowsed with reptiles and moved with the century-long pulse of trees; now, lethargically, I was climbing back up some invisible ladder of quickening hours. There had been talk of birds in connection with my duties. Birds are intense, fast-living creatures--reptiles, I suppose one might say, that have escaped out of the heavy sleep of time, transformed fairy creatures dancing over sunlit meadows. It is a youthful fancy, no doubt, but because of something that happened up there among the escarpments of that range, it remains with me a lifelong impression. I can never bear to see a bird imprisoned.

We came into that valley through the trailing mists of a spring night. It was a place that looked as though it might never have known the foot of man, but our scouts had been ahead of us and we knew all about the abandoned cabin of stone that lay far up on one hillside. It had been built in the land rush of the last century and then lost to the cattlemen again as the marginal soils failed to take to the plow.

There were spots like this all over that country. Lost graves marked by unlettered stones and old corroding rim-fire cartridge cases lying where somebody had made a stand among the boulders that rimmed the valley. They are all that remain of the range wars; the men are under the stones now. I could see our cavalcade winding in and out through the mist below us: torches, the reflection of the truck lights on our collecting tins, and the far-off bumping of a loose dinosaur thigh bone in the bottom of a trailer. I stood on a rock a moment looking down and thinking what it cost in money and equipment to capture the past.

We had, in addition, instructions to lay hands on the present. The word had come through to get them alive--birds, reptiles, anything. A zoo somewhere abroad needed restocking. It was one of those reciprocal matters in which science involves itself. Maybe our museum needed a stray ostrich egg and this was the payoff. Anyhow, my job was to help capture some birds and that was why I was there before the trucks.

The cabin had not been occupied for years. We intended to clean it out and live in it, but there were holes in the roof and the birds had come in and were roosting in the rafters. You could depend on it in a place like this where everything blew away, and even a bird needed some place out of the weather and away from coyotes. A cabin going back to nature in a wild place draws them till they come in, listening at the eaves, I imagine, pecking softly among the shingles till they find a hole and then suddenly the place is theirs and man is forgotten.

Sometimes of late years I find myself thinking the most beautiful sight in the world might be the birds taking over New York after the last man has run away to the hills. I will never live to see it, of course, but I know just how it will sound because I've lived up high and I know the sort of watch birds keep on us. I've listened to sparrows tapping tentatively on the outside of air conditioners when they thought no one was listening, and I know how other birds test the vibrations that come up to them through the television aerials.

"Is he gone ?" they ask, and the vibrations come up from below, "Not yet, not yet."

Well, to come back, I got the door open softly and I had the spotlight all ready to turn on and blind whatever birds there were so they couldn't see to get out through the roof. I had a short piece of ladder to put against the far wall where there was a shelf on which I expected to make the biggest haul. I had all the information I needed just like any skilled assassin. I pushed the door open, the hinges squeaking only a little. A bird or two stirred--I could hear them--but nothing flew and there was a faint starlight through the holes in the roof.

I padded across the floor, got the ladder up and the light ready, and slithered up the ladder till my head and arms were over the shelf. Everything was dark as pitch except for the starlight at the little place back of the shelf near the eaves. With the light to blind them, they'll never make it. I had them. I reached my arm carefully over in order to be ready to seize whatever was there and I put the flash on the edge of the shelf where it would stand by itself when I turned it on. That way I'd be able to use both hands.

Everything worked perfectly except for one detail--I didn't know what kind of birds were there. I never thought about it at all, and it wouldn't have mattered if I had. My orders were to get something interesting. I snapped on the flash and sure enough there was a great beating and feathers flying, but instead of my having them, they, or rather he, had me. He had my hand, that is, and for a small hawk not much bigger than my fist he was doing all right. I heard him give one short metallic cry when the light went on and my hand descended on the bird beside him; after that he was busy with his claws and his beak was sunk in my thumb. In the struggle I knocked the lamp over on the shelf, and his mate got her sight back and whisked neatly through the hole in the roof and off among the stars outside. It all happened in fifteen seconds and you might think I would have fallen down the ladder, but no, I had a professional assassin's reputation to keep up, and the bird, of course, made the mistake of thinking the hand was the enemy and not the eyes behind it. He chewed my thumb up pretty effectively and lacerated my hand with his claws, but in the end I got him, having two hands to work with.

He was a sparrow hawk and a fine young male in the prime of life. I was sorry not to catch the pair of them, but as I dripped blood and folded his wings carefully, holding him by the back so that he couldn't strike again, I had to admit the two of them might have been more than I could have handled under the circumstances. The little fellow had saved his mate by diverting me, and that was that. He was born to it, and made no outcry now, resting in my hand hopelessly, but peering toward me in the shadows behind the lamp with a fierce, almost indifferent glance. He neither gave nor expected mercy and something out of the high air passed from him to me, stirring a faint embarrassment.

I quit looking into that eye and managed to get my huge carcass with its fist full of prey back down the ladder. I put the bird in a box too small to allow him to injure himself by struggle and walked out to welcome the arriving trucks. It had been a long day, and camp still to make in the darkness. In the morning that bird would be just another episode. He would go back with the bones in the truck to a small cage in a city where he would spend the rest of his life. And a good thing, too. I sucked my aching thumb and spat out some blood. An assassin has to get used to these things. I had a professional reputation to keep up.

In the morning, with the change that comes on suddenly in that high country, the mist that had hovered below us in the valley was gone. The sky was a deep blue, and one could see for miles over the high outcroppings of stone. I was up early and brought the box in which the little hawk was imprisoned out onto the grass where I was building a cage. A wind as cool as a mountain spring ran over the grass and stirred my hair. It was a fine day to be alive. I looked up and all around and at the hole in the cabin roof out of which the other little hawk had fled. There was no sign of her anywhere that I could see.

"Probably in the next county by now," I thought cynically, but before beginning work I decided I'd have a look at my last night's capture.

Secretively, I looked again all around the camp and up and down and opened the box. I got him right out in my hand with his wings folded properly and I was careful not to startle him. He lay limp in my grasp and I could feel his heart pound under the feathers but he only looked beyond me and up.

I saw him look that last look away beyond me into a sky so full of light that I could not follow his gaze. The little breeze flowed over me again, and nearby a mountain aspen shook all its tiny leaves. I suppose I must have had an idea then of what I was going to do, but I never let it come up into consciousness. I just reached over and laid the hawk on the grass.

He lay there a long minute without hope, unmoving, his eyes still fixed on that blue vault above him. It must have been that he was already so far away in heart that he never felt the release from my hand. He never even stood. He just lay with his breast against the grass.

In the next second after that long minute he was gone. Like a flicker of light, he had vanished with my eyes full on him, but without actually seeing even a premonitory wing beat. He was gone straight into that towering emptiness of light and crystal that my eyes could scarcely bear to penetrate. For another long moment there was silence. I could not see him. The light was too intense. Then from far up somewhere a cry came ringing down.

I was young then and had seen little of the world, but when I heard that cry my heart turned over. It was not the cry of the hawk I had captured; for, by shifting my position against the sun, I was now seeing further up. Straight out of the sun's eye, where she must have been soaring restlessly above us for untold hours, hurtled his mate. And from far up, ringing from peak to peak of the summits over us, came a cry of such unutterable and ecstatic joy that it sounds down across the years and tingles among the cups on my quiet breakfast table.

I saw them both now. He was rising fast to meet her. They met in a great soaring gyre that turned to a whirling circle and a dance of wings. Once more, just once, their two voices, joined in a harsh wild medley of question and response, struck and echoed against the pinnacles of the valley. Then they were gone forever somewhere into those upper regions beyond the eyes of men.

I am older now, and sleep less, and have seen most of what there is to see and am not very much impressed any more, I suppose, by anything. "What Next in the Attributes of Machines?" my morning headline runs. "It Might Be the Power to Reproduce Themselves."

I lay the paper down and across my mind a phrase floats insinuatingly: "It does not seem that there is anything in the construction, constituents, or behavior of the human being which it is essentially impossible for science to duplicate and synthesize. On the other hand. .."

All over the city the cogs in the hard, bright mechanisms have begun to turn. Figures move through computers, names are spelled out, a thoughtful machine selects the fingerprints of a wanted criminal from an array of thousands. In the laboratory an electronic mouse runs swiftly through a maze toward the cheese it can neither taste nor enjoy. On the second run it does better than a living mouse.

"On the other hand. .." Ah, my mind takes up, on the other hand the machine does not bleed, ache, hang for hours in the empty sky in a torment of hope to learn the fate of another machine, nor does it cry out with joy nor dance in the air with the fierce passion of a bird. Far off, over a distance greater than space, that remote cry from the heart of heaven makes a faint buzzing among my breakfast dishes and passes on and away.
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Re: The Immense Journey, by Loren Eiseley

Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 11:19 pm

The Secret of Life

I am middle-aged now, but in the autumn I always seek for it again hopefully. On some day when the leaves are red, or fallen, and just after the birds are gone, I put on my hat and an old jacket, and over the protests of my wife that I will catch cold, I start my search. I go carefully down the apartment steps and climb, instead of jump, over the wall. A bit further I reach an unkempt field full of brown stalks and emptied seed pods.

By the time I get to the wood I am carrying all manner of seeds hooked in my coat or piercing my socks or sticking by ingenious devices to my shoestrings. I let them ride. After all, who am I to contend against such ingenuity? It is obvious that nature, or some part of it in the shape of these seeds, has intentions beyond this field and has made plans to travel with me.

We, the seeds and I, climb another wall together and sit down to rest, while I consider the best way to search for the secret of life. The seeds remain very quiet and some slip off into the crevices of the rock. A woolly-bear caterpillar hurries across a ledge, going late to some tremendous transformation, but about this he knows as little as I.

It is not an auspicious beginning. The things alive do not know the secret, and there may be those who would doubt the wisdom of coming out among discarded husks in the dead year to pursue such questions. They might say the proper time is spring, when one can consult the water rats or listen to little chirps under the stones. Of late years, however, I have come to suspect that the mystery may just as well be solved in a carved and intricate seed case out of which the life has flown, as in the seed itself.

In autumn one is not confused by activity and green leaves. The underlying apparatus, the hooks, needles, stalks, wires, suction cups, thin pipes, and iridescent bladders are all exposed in a gigantic dissection. These are the essentials. Do not be deceived simply because the life has flown out of them. It will return, but in the meantime there is an unparalleled opportunity to examine in sharp and beautiful angularity the shape of life without its disturbing muddle of juices and leaves. As I grow older and conserve my efforts, I shall give this season my final and undivided attention. I shall be found puzzling over the saw teeth on the desiccated leg of a dead grasshopper or standing bemused in a brown sea of rusty stems. Somewhere in this discarded machinery may lie the key to the secret. I shall not let it escape through lack of diligence or through fear of the smiles of people in high windows. I am sure now that life is not what it is purported to be and that nature, in the canny words of a Scotch theologue, "is not as natural as it looks." I have learned this in a small suburban field, after a good many years spent in much wilder places upon far less fantastic quests.

The notion that mice can be generated spontaneously from bundles of old clothes is so delightfully whimsicial that it is easy to see why men were loath to abandon it. One could accept such accidents in a topsy-turvy universe without trying to decide what transformation of buckles into bones and shoe buttons into eyes had taken place. One could take life as a kind of fantastic magic and not blink too obviously when it appeared, beady-eyed and bustling, under the laundry in the back room.

It was only with the rise of modern biology and the discovery that the trail of life led backward toward infinitesimal beginnings in primordial sloughs, that men began the serious dissection and analysis of the cell. Darwin, in one of his less guarded moments, had spoken hopefully of the possibility that life had emerged from inorganic matter in some "warm little pond." From that day to this biologists have poured, analyzed, minced, and shredded recalcitrant protoplasm in a fruitless attempt to create life from non- living matter. It seemed inevitable, if we could trace life down through simpler stages, that we must finally arrive at the point where, under the proper chemical conditions, the mysterious borderline that bounds the inanimate must be crossed. It seemed clear that life was a material manifestation. Somewhere, somehow, sometime, in the mysterious chemistry of carbon, the long march toward the talking animal had begun.

A hundred years ago men spoke optimistically about solving the secret, or at the very least they thought the next generation would be in a position to do so. Periodically there were claims that the emergence of life from matter had been observed, but in every case the observer proved to be self-deluded. It became obvious that the secret of life was not to be had by a little casual experimentation, and that life in today's terms appeared to arise only through the medium of preexisting life. Yet, if science was not to be embarrassed by some kind of mind-matter dualism and a complete and irrational break between life and the world of inorganic matter, the emergence of life had, in some way, to be accounted for. Nevertheless, as the years passed, the secret remained locked in its living jelly, in spite of larger microscopes and more formidable means of dissection. As a matter of fact the mystery was heightened because all this intensified effort revealed that even the supposedly simple amoeba was a complex, self-operating chemical factory. The notion that he was a simple blob, the discovery of whose chemical composition would enable us instantly to set the life process in operation, turned out to be, at best, a monstrous caricature of the truth.

With the failure of these many efforts science was left in the somewhat embarrassing position of having to postulate theories of living origins which it could not demonstrate. After having chided the theologian for his reliance on myth and miracle, science found itself in the unenviable position of having to create a mythology of its own: namely, the assumption that what, after long effort, could not be proved to take place today had, in truth, taken place in the primeval past.

My use of the term mythology is perhaps a little harsh. One does occasionally observe, however, a tendency for the beginning zoological textbook to take the unwary reader by a hop, skip, and jump from the little steaming pond or the beneficent chemical crucible of the sea, into the lower world of life with such sureness and rapidity that it is easy to assume that there is no mystery about this matter at all, or, if there is, that it is a very little one.

This attitude has indeed been sharply criticized by the distinguished British biologist Woodger, who remarked some years ago: "Unstable organic compounds and chlorophyll corpuscles do not persist or come into existence in nature on their own account at the present day, and consequently it is necessary to postulate that conditions were once such that this did happen although and in spite of the fact that our knowledge of nature does not give us any warrant for making such a supposition ... It is simple dogmatism--asserting that what you want to believe did in fact happen."

Yet, unless we are to turn to supernatural explanations or reinvoke a dualism which is scientifically dubious, we are forced inevitably toward only two possible explanations of life upon earth. One of these, although not entirely disproved, is most certainly out of fashion and surrounded with greater obstacles to its acceptance than at the time it was formulated. I refer, of course, to the suggestion of Lord Kelvin and Svante Arrhenius that life did not arise on this planet, but was wafted here through the depths of space. Microscopic spores, it was contended, have: great resistance to extremes of cold and might have come into our atmosphere with meteoric dust, or have been driven across the earth's orbit by light pressure. In this view, once the seed was "planted" in soil congenial to its development, it then proceeded to elaborate, evolve, and adjust until the higher organisms had emerged.

This theory had a certain attraction as a way out of an embarrassing dilemma, but it suffers from the defect of explaining nothing, even if it should prove true. It does not elucidate the nature of life. It simply removes the inconvenient problem of origins to far-off spaces or worlds into which we will never penetrate. Since life makes use of the chemical compounds of this earth, it would seem better to proceed, until incontrovertible evidence to the contrary is obtained, on the assumption that life has actually arisen upon this planet. The now widely accepted view that the entire universe in its present state is limited in time, and the apparently lethal nature of unscreened solar radiation are both obstacles which greatly lessen the likelihood that life has come to us across the infinite wastes of space. Once more, therefore, we are forced to examine our remaining notion that life is not coterminous with matter, but has arisen from it.

If the single-celled protozoans that riot in roadside pools are not the simplest forms of life, if, as we know today, these creatures are already highly adapted and really complex, though minute beings, then where are we to turn in the search for something simple enough to suggest the greatest missing link of all--the link between living and dead matter? It is this problem that keeps me wandering fruitlessly in pastures and weed thickets even though I know this is an old-fashioned naturalist's approach, and that busy men in laboratories have little patience with my scufflings of autumn leaves, or attempts to question beetles in decaying bark. Besides, many of these men are now fascinated by the crystalline viruses and have turned that remarkable instrument, the electron microscope, upon strange molecular "beings" never previously seen by man. Some are satisfied with this glimpse below the cell and find the virus a halfway station on the road to life. Perhaps it is, but as I wander about in the thin mist that is beginning to filter among these decaying stems and ruined spider webs, a kind of disconsolate uncertainty has taken hold of me.

I have come to suspect that this long descent down the ladder of life, beautiful and instructive though it may be, will not lead us to the final secret. In fact I have ceased to believe in the final brew or the ultimate chemical. There is, I know, a kind of heresy, a shocking negation of our confidence in blue-steel microtomes and men in white in making such a statement. I would not be understood to speak ill of scientific effort, for in simple truth I would not be alive today except for the microscopes and the blue steel. It is only that somewhere among these seeds and beetle shells and abandoned grasshopper legs I find something that is not accounted for very clearly in the dissections to the ultimate virus or crystal or protein particle. Even if the secret is contained in these things, in other words, I do not think it will yield to the kind of analysis our science is capable of making.

Imagine, for a moment, that you have drunk from a magician's goblet. Reverse the irreversible stream of time. Go down the dark stairwell out of which the race has ascended. Find yourself at last on the bottom most steps of time, slipping, sliding, and wallowing by scale and fin down into the muck and ooze out of which you arose. Pass by grunts and voiceless hissings below the last tree ferns. Eyeless and earless, float in the primal waters, sense sunlight you cannot see and stretch absorbing tentacles toward vague tastes that float in water. Still, in your formless shiftings, the you remains: the sliding particles, the juices, the transformations are working in an exquisitely patterned rhythm which has no other purpose than your preservation--you, the entity, the ameboid being whose substance contains the unfathomable future. Even so does every man come upward from the waters of his birth.

Yet if at any moment the magician bending over you should cry, "Speak! Tell us of that road!" you could not respond. The sensations are yours but not--and this is one of the great mysteries--the power over the body. You cannot describe how the body you inhabit functions, or picture or control the flights and spinnings, the dance of the molecules that compose it, or why they chose to dance into that particular pattern which is you, or, again, why up the long stairway of the eons they dance from one shape to another. It is for this reason that I am no longer interested in final particles. Follow them as you will, pursue them until they become nameless protein crystals replicating on the verge of life. Use all the great powers of the mind and pass backward until you hang with the dire faces of the conquerors in the hydrogen cloud from which the sun was born. You will then have performed the ultimate dissection that our analytic age demands, but the cloud will still veil the secret and, if not the cloud, then the nothingness into which, it now appears, the cloud, in its turn, may be dissolved. The secret, if one may paraphrase a savage vocabulary, lies in the egg of night.

Only along the edges of this field after the frost there are little whispers of it. Once even on a memorable autumn afternoon I discovered a sunning blacksnake brooding among the leaves like the very simulacrum of old night. He slid unhurriedly away, carrying his version of the secret with him in such a glittering menace of scales that I was abashed and could only follow admiringly from a little distance. I observed him well, however, and am sure he carried his share of the common mystery into the stones of my neighbor's wall, and is sleeping endlessly on in the winter darkness with one great coil locked around that glistening head. He is guarding a strange, reptilian darkness which is not night or nothingness, but has, instead, its momentary vision of mouse bones or a bird's egg, in the soft rising and ebbing of the tides of life. The snake has diverted me, however. It was the dissection of a field that was to occupy us--a dissection in search of secrets--a dissection such as a probing and inquisitive age demands.

Every so often one encounters articles in leading magazines with titles such as "The Spark of Life," "The Secret of Life," "New Hormone Key to Life," or other similar optimistic proclamations. Only yesterday, for example, I discovered in the New York Times a headline announcing: "Scientist Predicts Creation of Life in Laboratory." The Moscow-date-lined dispatch announced that Academician Olga Lepeshinskaya had predicted that "in the not too distant future, Soviet scientists would create 'life." "The time is not far off," warns the formidable Madame Olga, "when we shall be able to obtain the vital substance artificially." She said it with such vigor that I had about the same reaction as I do to announcements about atomic bombs. In fact I half started up to latch the door before an invading tide of Russian protoplasm flowed in upon me.

What finally enabled me to regain my shaken confidence was the recollection that these pronouncements have been going on for well over a century. Just now the Russian scientists show a particular tendency to issue such blasts--committed politically, as they are, to an uncompromising materialism and the boastfulness of very young science. Furthermore, Madame Lepeshinskaya's remarks as reported in the press had a curiously old-fashioned flavor about them. The protoplasm she referred to sounded amazingly like the outmoded Urschleim or Autoplasson of Haeckel--simplified mucoid slimes no longer taken very seriously. American versions-- and one must remember they are often journalistic interpretations of scientists' studies rather than direct quotations from the scientists themselves--are more apt to fall into another pattern. Someone has found a new chemical, vitamin, or similar necessary ingredient without which life will not flourish. By the time this reaches the more sensational press, it may have become the "secret of life." The only thing the inexperienced reader may not comprehend is the fact that no one of these items, even the most recently discovered, is the secret. Instead, the substance is probably a part, a very small part, of a larger enigma which is well-nigh as inscrutable as it ever was. If anything, the growing list of catalysts, hormones, plasma genes, and other hobgoblins involved in the work of life only serves to underline the enormous complexity of the secret. "To grasp in detail," says the German biologist Von Bertalanffy, "the physico-chemical organization of the simplest cell is far beyond our capacity."

It is not, you understand, disrespect for the laudable and persistent patience of these dedicated scientists happily lost in their maze of pipettes, smells, and gas flames, that has led me into this runaway excursion to the wood. It is rather the loneliness of a man who knows he will not live to see the mystery solved, and who, furthermore, has come to believe that it will not be solved when the first humanly synthesized particle begins--if it ever does--to multiply itself in some unknown solution.

It is really a matter, I suppose, of the kind of questions one asks oneself. Some day we may be able to say with assurance, "We came from such and such a protein particle, possessing the powers of organizing in a manner leading under certain circumstances to that complex entity known as the cell, and from the cell by various steps onward, to multiple cell formation." I mean we may be able to say all this with great surety and elaboration of detail, but it is not the answer to the grasshopper's leg, brown and black and saw-toothed here in my hand, nor the answer to the seeds still clinging tenaciously to my coat, nor to this field, nor to the subtle essences of memory, delight, and wistfulness moving among the thin wires of my brain.

I suppose that in the forty-five years of my existence every atom, every molecule that composes me has changed its position or danced away and beyond to become part of other things. New molecules have come from the grass and the bodies of animals to be part of me a little while, yet in this spinning, light and airy as a midge swarm in a shaft of sunlight, my memories hold, and a loved face of twenty years ago is before me still. Nor is that face, nor all my years, caught cellularly as in some cold precise photographic pattern, some gross, mechanical reproduction of the past. My memory holds the past and yet paradoxically knows, at the same time, that the past is gone and will never come again. It cherishes dead faces and silenced voices, yes, and lost evenings of childhood. In some odd nonspatial way it contains houses and rooms that have been torn timber from timber and brick from brick. These have a greater permanence in that midge dance which contains them than ever they had in the world of reality. It is for this reason that Academician Olga Lepeshinskaya has not answered the kind of questions one may ask in an open field.

If the day comes when the slime of the laboratory for the first time crawls under man's direction, we shall have great need of humbleness. It will be difficult for us to believe, in our pride of achievement, that the secret of life has slipped through our fingers and eludes us still. 'We will list all the chemicals and the reactions. The men who have become gods will pose austerely before the popping flashbulbs of news photographers, and there will be few to consider--so deep is the mind-set of an age--whether the desire to link life to matter may not have blinded us to the more remarkable characteristics of both.

As for me, if I am still around on that day, I intend to put on my oId hat and climb over the wall as usual. I shall see strange mechanisms lying as they lie here now, in the autumn rain, strange pipes that transported the substance of life, the intricate seedcase out of which the life has flown. I shall observe no thing green, no delicate transpirations of leaves, nor subtle comings and goings of vapor. The little sunlit factories of the chloroplasts will have dissolved away into common earth.

Beautiful, angular, and bare the machinery of life will lie exposed, as it now is, to my view. There will be the thin, blue skeleton of a hare tumbled in a little heap, and crouching over it I will marvel, as I marvel now, at the wonderful correlation of parts, the perfect adaptation to purpose, the individually vanished and yet persisting pattern which is now hopping on some other hill. I will wonder, as always, in what manner "particles" pursue such devious plans and symmetries. I will ask once more in what way it is managed, that the simple dust takes on a history and begins to weave these unique and never recurring apparitions in the stream of time. I shall wonder what strange forces at the heart of matter regulate the tiny beating of a rabbit's heart or the dim dream that builds a milkweed pod.

It is said by men who know about these things that the smallest living cell probably contains over a quarter of a million protein molecules engaged in the multitudinous coordinated activities which make up the phenomenon of life. At the instant of death, whether of man or microbe, that ordered, incredible spinning passes away in an almost furious haste of those same particles to get themselves back into the chaotic, unplanned earth.

I do not think, if someone finally twists the key successfully in the tiniest and most humble house of life, that many of these questions will be answered, or that the dark forces which create lights in the deep sea and living batteries in the waters of tropical swamps, or the dread cycles of parasites, or the most noble workings of the human brain, will be much if at all revealed. Rather, I would say that if "dead" matter has reared up this curious landscape of fiddling crickets, song sparrows, and wondering men, it must be plain even to the most devoted materialist that the matter of which he speaks contains amazing, if not dreadful powers, and may not impossibly be, as Hardy has suggested, "but one mask of many worn by the Great Face behind."
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