Does a coral polyp give a fleeting thought to the giant reef on which it is rooted and which gave it life? The answer is, probably, no. In success it is confident and ruthless. Its concerns are to compete with its neighbours except where co-operation is to its own advantage, avoid its enemies, and reproduce its kind. Yet it owes everything to the millennia of effort which created the great mass of rock of which it is today’s flowering.
The polyp does not see the reef, it does not feel it except as the point to which it clings; the reef makes no sound; it expresses no views. It is in fact dead, it’s being is in its presence alone, and in a thousand million years it may well still be there – uplifted to some mountain top or buried deep in some ocean floor – one of the greatest physical creations ever achieved by life on earth.
Jack – I deciphered letter by letter as I eased away the encrusting lichen of the gravestone – Sprat.
Jack Sprat is my name. The gravestone was quite clear about it. “Sacred to the memory of two of the best of parents, Jack Sprat, died 1854 aged 92, and Mary Sprat, died 1849, aged 78.”
These two were my great great great great grandparents, and the message patiently spelt out to me across the generations had perhaps been dispatched on its way by my great great great grandfather, whose own grave lay in close proximity. Through the brief words of that silent message these people, of whom yesterday I had never heard, suddenly became real. Mundane day by mundane day they had lived real lives, had many times seen the rising and the setting of the sun, had played in their infancy, known love and being loved, had worked and died; by their lives they had ensured the passing of life to me. I owe everything to them,
My great great great great grandparents. There were 64 of these, 64 unknown people who wandered through 64 real lives and deaths of which my ignorance is near complete. And their mothers and fathers, and their mothers and fathers again? Millions and millions of them – countless. I owe everything to every one of them. I am rooted in them.
Firstly there was the great mountain of loving which gave me life- as loving of its own sort gave life to the coral polyp- but there was much more than this. These people learnt to speak and use tools, then to write, and slowly, painfully, they began to learn to think. They learnt to peer into the very large and the very small, the far past and even in a way into the far future.
What all these millions of people created was, is, a huge invisible cloud of knowing. In itself this cloud has no substance like the reef, although it gives rise to plenty of physical objects, mostly short lived. Without this cloud of knowing hovering around my head I could still have seen the sunset; I like to think I might still have marvelled at the sunset. I could have sought food and shelter, I could have done my loving too. I could have been confident and ruthless as if I were some wild creature living by the hour – not all that far removed from a coral polyp or perhaps even a large self conscious amoeba.
But, but, but.
This cloud of knowing brought into being by all these millions of people is a new feature of life on earth, different in kind from anything that has ever gone before.
Formless and silent, it is today oozing, creeping, clawing its way up to a critical size where it begins to have a life of its own, and a power not merely to move mountains but to shatter the instinctive behaviour patterns and beliefs which formed the giant rock underpinning its creators.
As the rock begins to crumble before the onslaught, will the whole edifice come crashing to the ground, or can we hope that the joint labours of Jack Sprat and all humanity past and present have somehow summoned up a new entity in a new dimension of infinite potential? An entity which can float free of the rock?
Watch this space…