27 March 2013

The Sapiens and the Sea Urchin

Echinus esculentus – the species of sea urchin I sometimes find on the shore in front of my house at a very low tide – can live for up to sixteen years. Kim Suozzi, of Homo sapiens, got twenty-three. What shall we make of this?

Kim was undoubtedly more complex than a sea urchin, so the cancer that killed her had a much greater bulk of DNA from which to emerge as random mutation. Her complexity was also manifest in a quick and pragmatic mind; a mind booted up from a brain equipped for vastly greater outreach than the simple boundary definitions of our spiny Echinus.

The last dead sea urchin I saw had been killed by a seagull. A powerful, expertly-aimed peck to the top-mounted gonads, and the sea urchin’s cells were off on a new helter-skelter branch of the carbon cycle, beginning in the digestive tract of a Larus argentatus. Some of the seagull’s far-flung excrement may have lodged in a receptive crack in a rock, there to nourish new life – pretty sea-pinks, daisies, bacteria.

The Echinus cells that entered my own digestive tract the last (and only) time I ate one, fed back into the cycle far less efficiently; putrefying in the base of a septic tank for several months prior to removal to a processing plant by a big yellow tanker.

Don’t you find that the idea of dead Echinus gonad cells processed through the digestive systems of Chordata makes for a poetic illustration of the majesty of the cycle of life? No? Why not? What about the prosaic old one about the tree planted over a buried dead body. Better, yes?

If you are the sort of person that insists on trotting out such Pagan banalities then you’re going to have to learn to take the rough with the smooth.

Without such cycles there would be no life. That is true. But our response to this truth is entirely open to revision. If it is not open to revision then we are thinking in a primitive and simplistic way, ignoring the burgeoning complexity thrown up by the strange state of self-awareness birthed, in us, by the cycle of life, feeding and filth.

Despite her youth, Kim grasped the complexity. She removed her outreach/inreach organ – her brain – from the accidental tyranny of the cycle. It has been cryopreserved.

If you choose to behave like Echinus esculentus, you’ll find a myriad ways to surrender to the whims of the chain of endless, dumb, recycling. But no poetry. If you choose to really think like a sapiens you’ll take the truth of the cycle on board; then, after weighing up your slim options, you’ll do your damnedest to break free of it.