13 February 2006

What the octopus?

Have you ever regarded something that was transformed, by the peculiar state of your mind at that moment, into something quite different, and yet the essence of itself? It only happened to me once, just recently.

Perhaps it was the preoccupation of "Why," but when it happened, I barely had time to reach for a pen, as I didn't do anything but act as secretary. Yet the happening was as natural as an octopus jumping into fishnet tights, because of course, the octopus is an eight-legged ballerina.

More than that, I can't explain. But I hope someday, to meet the octopus again.

from The Edge of the Sea by Rachel Carson (unedited excerpt)*

In the sea there are mysterious comings and goings, both in space and time: the movements of migratory species, the strange phenomenon of succession by which, in one and the same area, one species appears in profusion, flourishing for a time, and then dies out, only to have its place taken by another and then another, like actors in a pageant passing before our eyes. And there are other mysteries. The phenomenon of 'red tides' has been known from early days, recurring again and again down to the present time — a phenomenon in which the sea becomes discoloured because of the extraordinary multiplication of some minute form, often dinoflagellate, and in which there are disastrous side effects in the shape of mass mortalities among fish and some of the invertebrates. Then there is the problem of curious and seemingly erratic movements of fish, into or away from certain areas, often with sharp economic consequences.

When the so-called 'Atlantic water' floods the south coast of England, herring become abundant within the range of the Plymouth fisheries, certain characteristic plankton animals occur in profusion, and certain species of invertebrates flourish in the intertidal zone. When, however, this water mass is replaced by Channel water, the cast of characters undergoes many changes.

In the discovery of the biological role played by the sea water and all it contains, we may be about to reach an understanding of these old mysteries. For it is now clear that in the sea nothing lives to itself. The very water is altered, in its chemical nature and in its capacity for influencing life processes, by the fact that certain forms have lived within it and have passed on to it new substances capable of inducing far-reaching effects. So the present is linked with past and future, and each living thing with all that surrounds it.

*Rachel Carson, The Edge of the Sea, Chapter Two, "Patterns of Shore Life", pgs 44-45, Panther Books Ltd. London 1965
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The biology of human history

In the course of human history there are mysterious comings and goings, both in space and time: the movements of peoples, the strange phenomenon of succession by which, in one and the same area, one culture appears in profusion, flourishing for a time, and then dies out, only to have its place taken by another and then another, like actors in a pageant passing before our eyes. And there are other mysteries. The phenomenon of mass hysteria has been known from early days, recurring again and again down to the present time — a phenomenon in which the populace become obsessed because of the extraordinary multiplication of some idea, often a perceived villain, and in which there are disastrous side effects in the shape of mass mortalities among minorities and various individuals labelled as "the enemy". Then there is the problem of curious and seemingly erratic movements of people, into or away from certain areas, often with sharp economic consequences.

When societally-created disaster floods the roads with a populace yearning to escape, refugees become abundant in neighbouring countries, and various types of black marketeers flourish in the lucrative zone between the places of peace and prosperity, and that of danger and deprivation. When, however, the situation of societally-created disaster is replaced by a situation of prosperity, freedom and safety, fleeing refugees are replaced by immigrants, and the cast of characters undergoes many changes.

In the discovery of the biological role played by human society and all it contains, we may be about to reach an understanding of these old mysteries. For it is now clear that in human society, nothing lives to itself. The very social fabric is altered, in its nature and in its capacity for influencing human activity, by the fact that certain ideas have lived within it and have passed on to it new ideas capable of inducing far-reaching effects. So the present is linked with past and future, and all history and each human and living thing, with all that surrounds us.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Beautifully put -- and quoted! We're very much part of nature (and the last few weeks have offered ample demonstration of the madness of crowds).
--Faren