January 22, 2015

Small Fires In the Deep


Bioluminescent bacteria occur nearly everywhere, and probably most spectacularly as the rare "milky sea" phenomenon, particularly in the Indian Ocean where mariners report steaming for hours through a sea glowing with a soft white light as far as the eye can see. -- The Bioluminescence Page

There is another world above this one; or outside of this one; the way to it is thru the smoke of this one, & the hole that smoke goes through. The ladder is the way through the smoke hole; the ladder holds up, some say, the world above; it might have been a tree or pole; I think it is merely a way. -- Gary Snyder- Through the Smoke Hole

These days she wakes before dawn. The sound of the automatic coffee grinder and its aroma is her alarm. Before first light today, out on the deck overlooking the Pacific, she was gazing at the sea and saw, across the flat miles of ocean stretching out to Catalina, bright flashes come and go like wet fireworks exploding under the waves. Binoculars brought the flashes closer but didn't explain them. They were scattered all across the wide water except where the full moon sliding down the sky towards the western horizon smoothed a bright white band across the slate sea.

Later, when he woke, she brought him out on the deck to see the place where she'd witnessed this strange antediluvian light show. After a few more minutes he noticed that, in the rising light, large patches of the sea were dark, as if secret islands had risen just beneath the surface. Secret until his 'compulsion to explain the mysterious' arose.

"It's most likely a large algae bloom," he claimed. "When it was dark and the algae was stirred up by waves, breaking combers probably excited and concentrated the algae. What you saw was bioluminescence."

"Bioluminescence," she said. "That's such a fine, soft word."

They watched the dark islands under the surface of the sea for awhile longer and he wished he'd seen the flashes in the pre-dawn dark.

Toward the end of his life, Carl Sagan wrote a book about how most of humanity still lives in a "demon-haunted world;" and how science drives us relentlessly out of the dark oceans of our ignorance until, like some stump-legged fish, we scramble gasping onto the thin, dry strands of our knowledge about the truth of this world.

One of those strands in his mind was 'knowing' that the miracle of rush lights within the ocean was caused by the phenomenon we label "bioluminescence."

Mystery seen, mystery solved.

Wonder summed by science, our youngest and most robust religion. A religion whose prime attraction is to transubstantiate the miraculous with the dependable; whose creed reverses the Eucharist by rendering the body and blood of God into bland bread and indifferent wine.

He'd long been a lay member of this fresh, muscular faith whose liturgies are written in arcane symbols of mathematics rather than arcane phrases of Latin. As a lay member and mere acolyte his understanding of science is as shallow as his faith in science is adamantine. He has worshiped the Saints Einstein, Darwin, Newton, and Bohr. He has believed that in time all will be known and, when all is known, all will be explained and all mystery resolved. He has not yet read The Testament of the Unified Field, but he hopes to before he dies and rejoins that Unified Field as empty matter glowing in the dark. Some of our current priests growing old in the quest assure him that he will. They currently hope to hunt Higgs-Boson to its burrow.

Yet still he wonders. Still he persists in his scientific heresy.

He wonders, "When we explain what we experience in life in the steel language of science, do we drive the mystery out or merely mix more mystery in?"

Sometimes he answers, "Perhaps neither. Perhaps what we do, through our relentless human need to explain, is to simply dive, as blindly as fish born deep below the light, ever deeper into the miracle. Perhaps we dive deep in the hope that the light from our minds and souls will, on some immensely distant day, grow large enough and bright enough to illuminate one crest of one wave rising once only out of the darkness. And that something, somewhere else in the immense darkness in which we dwell, will see our small fire and answer."


Posted by gerardvanderleun at January 22, 2015 11:46 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Seen, and duly noted.

I've bookmarked this perfect meditation; pressed it between digital pages like a hopeful, Spring rose.

There's few things quite so wonderful as sharing a luminous mystery with a million of your closest friends. Happy Valentine's Day, Gerard, to you and yours.

Posted by: Joan of Argghh at February 14, 2012 2:58 AM

You can know everything and understand nothing. Understanding is a leap beyond rational knowing and depends on faith, of course.

And. A wiser man than me pointed out that discovery is the 'action' of the unknown.

And. The wisest man I've ever encountered noted that we should leave ultimate secrets of the meaning/purpose of the universe to the creator and be happy with our lot which is to search endlessly for the same.

Posted by: John Hinds at February 14, 2012 6:02 AM

Ever since I took a graduate course in Chinese history 45 years ago, I have wondered why science and scientific method emerged in the Western world and not in China. The Chinese, of course, also wondered why. After all, the brilliant historian Charles Needham documented the hundreds of inventions that ended up being merely toys or gimmicks in China, such as gunpowder and currency, but that had long ago been created by the Chinese. So it seems that the seeds of science--inventiveness, creativity, cleverness--existed outside the West too.

I believe I recently discovered the answer. In my reading about religion in the West, I discovered that theologians and historians of Christianity again and again comment upon the lawfulness of God. Now I see that only in a context where there was an underlying and strong believe in the lawfulness of God could there arise a corresponding belief in the lawfulness of the universe in general. Science--the search for the laws of the universe--arose from Christianity.

Science couldn't arise in China because there was no substrate of belief in a universe guided by a lawful being. Science couldn't arise in the Islamic world because the Islamic God is capricious--Allah's will cannot be predicted.

The question for the present age is: can science continue to exist without the substrate of belief in a lawful God provided by the Judeo-Christian heritage? Have some scientists, by rejecting Christianity, actually uncut the basis of their own science?

Posted by: Gloria at February 14, 2012 11:36 AM

Millions of tiny little creatures, glowing as they dance the dance of life. Tiny little creatures with long splendiferous names, known and loved as individuals not even by themselves, yet lighting huge swaths of the world, like tiny galaxies in the sea of night.

Naming and explaining it deepens the mystery and beauty, really.

Posted by: Maureen at February 14, 2012 2:01 PM

The word bioluminescent just tickles the tongue, even as beholding its effect tickles the eyes.

Posted by: Jewel at February 14, 2012 6:09 PM

How humorous the power of a life form as simple as bacteria to confound.

Posted by: robinstarfish at February 14, 2012 8:53 PM


Posted by: M. Simon at February 19, 2012 6:40 PM

G, I do love this feast you've prepared and shared. My thanks to you!

Very glad also to read Gloria's thoughts.

Posted by: DeAnn at August 3, 2013 6:12 AM

In the end, we, as humans, seek answers through science to become one with God.

The ability not just to feel the wonder and amazement of phenomena, but to create that wonder and amazement in the hearts of others is a powerful force. It is the power to capture hearts and minds, even if only for a moment.

Those who understand the relationship between God and awe are constantly revelling in their own amazement at the beauty and complexity of his works, happy to be following his path.

Those who deny it are driven mad in their inability to explain why they cannot match or even truly understand the depths of the power emanating from a being they are trying so hard to prove does not exist.

Posted by: dan at January 23, 2015 8:23 AM

Issac Newton would have witnessed bioluminescence as a religious experience, after he deduced what it was. The Rationalist commonly mistake the great man to be one of their own and the father of scientific method.

Newton resurrected would overturn the tables of science at the temple of government like the wild man he was. His records were sealed for three hundred years because he was a heretic in his day, in other words, a proper skeptic.

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