As I sat at the stoplight on my way out of my neighborhood this morning, I was surprised to be there. Not at that intersection, really, but there at all. This happens to me from time to time; I’ll have a moment where I am struck by the absurdity of this whole proposition—life.
It is absurd that I drive a car to work every day on roads. The very existence of roads and traffic lights and bus stops is preposterous. It’s all so improbable. It is absurd that I go to work every day, sit on an orange beanbag, and spend my day pressing buttons. And even more absurd are the massive, evolving systems that have made this reality possible.
It’s really staggering when I think about it. I look around, and I wonder how all this happened, and continues to happen. One cannot even begin to conceive of all the curiosity, accidents happy and otherwise, driven exploration, and universal laws that have combined to take me and my kind out of the trees and into houses filled with trinkets, doodads, and machines.
I am blown away by everything in these moments. How could you not be?
I am eating a brownie out of the foil I wrapped it in before I left the house this morning. How much thought, effort, ingenuity, and technology went into just this tiny thing? Someone had to figure out that wild wheat was edible, then growable, then refinable, then combinable with other ingredients (all of which needed to be discovered individually through trial and error.) For chrissakes, this brownie couldn’t have even existed without Columbus’ discovery of the New World, and the chocolate therein. I’m having this particular morning snack only because Queen Isabella said “yes.”
Don’t even get me started on the aluminum foil.
But it’s not just man-made things that are absurd. So are birds and bunny rabbits and giraffes and manatees. The variety of evolved and evolving creatures on this planet is really quite amazing. I was watching ground squirrels out the back door at work this morning, and marveling at how big I am compared to them; no wonder they scatter if I so much as twitch. How would I feel if I were faced with an animal 136 feet tall? That’s the kind of scale we’re talking about. And yet there is no animal that big. Even the biggest blue whale and the tallest dinosaur fall short.
The relationships, too, are strange. I live with 3 dogs. In my house. 3 (arguably) wild animals live inside my house and sit on my furniture and destroy my shoes. How did that relationship come about, exactly? And which was the first bird that thought it’d be a good idea to clean a hippo’s teeth? Whatever possessed him to try it? Did he get chomped, and it was actually the second, smarter one to try it that kicked off millennia of symbiosis?
Evolution of anything is pretty amazing, but what always captures my thoughts is the catalyst for the evolution. I don’t really think that there is a gene for hippo-teeth cleaning; many, many of the things that we observe today were learned and have become the culture of the animals involved as the animals themselves evolved. How did that happen?
Who first decided to melt animal fat? And why did one person drop a sliced potato into it, and another decide that the resulting hot oil would be awesome for tipping over castle walls? And based on that history, how did Alberto decide the same would be good for your hair?
When I consider each thing in my environment individually, I realize how improbable it was that that one thing would’ve developed. Consider the lowly toothpick. It is a mere splinter of wood. What made a human being decide that he wanted to clean his teeth at all? And at what point did that person say, “Well, sheesh, if I wait around for a bird to come clean my teeth, I’ll wait forever, ‘cause it sure ain’t happening, so I’d best come up with something myself”? Humans don’t eat branches, so it’s unlikely that someone accidentally caught a splinter between her teeth and said, “Hey, that’s not so bad! And birchy fresh, too!” Someone identified a need and then created this tool. How many times did s/he rewhittle the same stick to get it to the perfect size? And with what? One needed a tool for that, too. And now there are whole factories dedicated to the production of these little sticks.
When you consider everything in your environment as a whole, it can be overwhelming in a really cool (I think) way. We ignore it most of the time, as it’s just everyday life. I know I do. But sometimes I become hyperaware, and I still think it’s crazy that any and all of it exists. I can ponder it from an atheistic sense, and I can ponder it from a “there’s a greater reality” sense, and it’s incredible regardless. It is millions of years of Bob Newhart sketches.
On my way to work, then, I drove past the Christian school that was advertising their annual “Advanced Biology Spaghetti Supper,” a sign that cracks me up every year. I don’t think I want to know what the Advanced Biology class is putting into its spaghetti. And my perception of the absurdity of this life was only reinforced by this sign, as it is by a hundred unlikely occurrences and nonsensical actions I observe people taking every day.
In a recent e-mail to Shenry, I discussed the fact that the brain experiences the dream state exactly as the conscious state. In my dreams I taste and smell and feel and see things, and when I’m lucky enough to remember my dreams, there is no qualitative difference in those memories than those of things I experienced while awake. The brain makes no distinction. I’ve been keeping a dream journal since October. I started it in hopes of becoming a more lucid dreamer, one who was able to retain those dreams for later examination so I could potentially tap into interesting and greater truths.
What I’ve discovered is that my dreams are just as surreal as I always thought they were, but then again so is life. Christian biology classes throwing spaghetti feeds sounds like something straight out of my dreamworld, and I wondered if perhaps this life was the dream of a different, higher me.
It certainly would explain a lot.