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a Life Story

By Alaric GoldkuhlPublished 3 years ago 10 min read
Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

I was born about 13.7 billion years ago as far as I know, and for most of my early existence spent my time squishing hydrogen atoms together inside stars. I'd make bigger and bigger nuclei and then "SUPER-NOVA" them all over myself. If I look out with a strong enough telescope, I can look way back in time and actually watch myself doing it. Take a look sometime. It's spectacular!

Then through gravitational gradients I'd gather all the dust and clouds of gas together and collapse the gas to start smashing atoms together again. I can't seem to get enough of this smashing thing. Maybe that's why I relate to Hulk so much…

So after a few more "SUPER-NOVA" then gather-up-again sessions, I found a lovely quiet spot on the outer spiral arm of an unremarkable galaxy where all the right smashed-together bits were present. A couple of pretty little planets found each other’s orbit, and you guessed it, SMASHED together to make the most gorgeous little, tilted on its axis planet you ever did see, with a glorious moon to orbit and remind us of the loving union which created it. She pushed the tides across the land, gathering up all of the disparate nuclei into the water, and my first inklings of a body began to take shape.

Now as a Universe, I have a kind of innate cosmic DNA if you like; a bunch of rules or principles that govern this and that and are mostly to do with the geometric symmetries of the smashed-together bits. One such symmetry will cause semi-permeable protein “spheres” to spontaneously form when aqueous amino acids are subjected to a small electrical current. With all the friction happening with the moon rubbing ocean all over the Earth, this was not difficult to generate. Once the spheres were formed and nucleic acids found their way inside to play, things got interesting. Due to certain algorithmic rules of mathematical combinations, competition was born between nucleic acid spheres to see who could have the most efficiently-combining nucleic acid strands. As you may know, as soon as competition is introduced into populations of self-replicating information systems… BOOM! Darwinian evolution takes over and we begin building complexity.

Before long there were extremely complex entities we call microorganisms, the first cells of my magnificent body! You would think cause for celebration. But this was a truly stressful time for me. I spent most days consuming myself. It felt like one step forward, two steps back for a good while. Then something remarkable happened! A particularly large and robust microbe swallowed a smaller, more energetic microbe, but for some reason, didn’t consume it. The smaller cell finding its new accommodation cozy and safe, just kept merrily doing what it did and pumped out energy that the larger cell found to be yummy. Thus, once again at a pivotal time, two things came together and made something even betterer, though this time wasn’t as smashy as I was used to. I did enjoy this coming together act very much however, and I called it “the First Great Cooperation.”

This taught me my first big lesson. You see, competition is great for building complexity through Darwinian evolution and all, but cooperation is the ULTIMATE competitive strategy. Very soon after this first eukaryotic cell formed, it competed so well against all the individualist microbes, that very soon nearly all the cells on the planet were its descendants. These cells now make up most of my body, but we are not really calling it a body yet. Let’s call it a biome. Personally, I prefer to call her Mum, but others have referred to her as Gaia. We haven’t been getting along so well lately as for quite a few generations I’ve been going through kind of a teenage rebellious phase. I’ve been a bit selfish (as teenagers so often are), and I’ve hurt her terribly. I’m looking for ways to heal our relationship, but my selfish harming of her has been building to a critical mass and it’s looking like she may have to purge herself soon, and I’m going to lose my ability to look out at myself from this lovely spot for a while. I’ll do my best to help us heal, but there’s no real cause for concern. I’m sure there’s other places where I’m able to look at myself from out there somewhere that I just don’t know about yet. I will miss being a human brain though as the possibilities seem endless.

Now where were we? Eukaryotic cells? Yes well they, like all life, have the necessary compulsion “replicate no matter what.” Problem is, now I had discovered how to photosynthesize which at the time I thought was an awesome idea! Eating sunlight?! There was just so fucking much of it! I gorged myself on it, but that had the unfortunate side-effect of producing oxygen, one of the more toxic chemicals known. There had never been any of this stuff floating around free, as it tended to be bound up as rust or water. Now, there was a heap of it building up inside my bodies, and with no way to process it, each body would just keep chowing down on sunlight until the oxygen poised it to death. There were mass-extinctions which released free oxygen into the environment to kill everything else as well. Eventually iron would precipitate the oxygen out of solution and down to the ocean floor. No more oxygen to bother them, my few remaining cyanobacterial cells would delightedly start chowing down on sunlight again and the whole thing would start over.

It should be noted here that there are a bunch of humans running around with the silly notion that they are something special, that somehow they are bad and selfish and destructive because we are devouring and breeding ourselves to our own extinction, but we are not that special OR bad. We are just alive, and hard-coded on the oldest parts of our being, the ULTIMATE IMPERATIVE keeps pulsing through us with a consistent urgency to always breed, always grow no matter what, even if it leads us to our doom. Mum gets this, and to be honest is bursting with pride that we have done so well for ourselves, which just breaks your heart even more doesn’t it? Maybe with our big brains we can come up with a way to keep breeding and growing without hurting Mum…

Things got chilly for a while. My cyanobacterial cells had been sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere for some time, and nobody understood at the time that this was gonna cool the atmosphere and a bunch of ice started forming. The sun was still blasting us with loving rays, but the generous must needs have a willing recipient or gifts may be ineffectual. With no CO2 to receive the warmth, and Gaia’s new iciness reflecting rays into space, everything became colder and colder until it seemed everything would stop forever.

Eventually Gaia got sick of waiting for someone to pull her finger and let ‘er rip. Volcanoes spewed up all over and a bunch of chunky gases filled the atmosphere making Gaia once again receptive to the Sun’s warmth. Huge relief for me of course. It can be stressful for a child when Mummy and Daddy aren’t getting along. Just when you think you are out of the woods though, it became apparent that Gaia’s little ice sojourn had some unforeseen consequences. There had been small pockets of my cyanobacterial cells photosynthesizing away through the millennia which built up a not-insignificant amount of oxygen which luckily was trapped in the ice. However, for all those millennia there was something else brewing.

You know even a patient and loving Dad has his needs, and ours needs to give. Gaia had been turning a cold shoulder, but that didn’t stop him reaching out with loving waves of radiation to tap her on that cold shoulder and quietly and romantically ask “you awake?”

Normally quite receptive, this is all the game he’d ever required before in order to initiate some passionate love-making. He couldn’t for the life of him work out why it wasn’t working now. Gaia’s massive volcano-farts finally broke the tension and it was back on.

But all that tap, tap, tap on her cold shoulders of Sol’s loving radiation had caused chemical changes at the surface of all that ice in the form of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2 was now abundant rather than H2O), so when the thaw happened, billions of tonnes of toxic oxygen into the ocean and atmosphere. There was suddenly more free oxygen in the ocean and atmosphere than there ever had been before, or would be again. All this build-up of toxicity because Sol wouldn’t give up on his love, his Gaia.

You may be thinking by now that our Dad is not the brightest (or the biggest… shh don’t tell him I said that) star in our galaxy, but as Mum is fond of reminding me, you gotta love a man for what he is, and never mind what he’s not. He’s plenty bright enough or her she says, and much more handsome than fat old Betelgeuse. Don’t get me wrong. She loves red-heads, but blokes like Big B and Antares tend to get a little too generous with their love (if you know what I mean). The big blue buggers are anathema to her, They give no heed to how hard they push their love out, and a petite thing like Gaia is likely to be reduced to toasty extremophiles and I’d never get a look at myself. No, Sol is all the man she’ll ever need. Since this first big freeze, she has gone to great lengths to reorganize herself such that the cold shoulder thing would never happen again, but there have been times since when she has been unreceptive to Sol. These were not of her doing however. They were usually the result of getting slapped around by other celestial bodies.

So there was Gaia, swimming in volatile toxin created by her crisis of coldness. It threw her back to first principles - adapt or die, so adapt she did. In lightning-quick time, every organism had adapted to the toxicity, and somewhere in amongst all that adaptation it was realized that volatility is a highly energetic trait. Reacting stuff with oxygen makes more energy in shorter time than any other process yet tried. The crisis flipped to opportunity quicker than you could say “Cambrian explosion” and so many great ideas were stumbled upon in such a short time it became difficult to keep up.

By far my favorite innovation of the era was the idea that an individual could make multiple copies of itself, which could then specialize and work together. It became a race for a while to try to make the biggest collection of cells on the planet. Many believed the bigger their stacks, the safer they were. Then some bright organism came up with teeth, and all of a sudden, bigger colonies were just bigger helpings. The first teeth were chemical, more external digestion than what I think of teeth like now, but with more complex life came all manner of teeth and tusks and claws. It has been a glorious rending without end. It can be a little unpleasant to be on the receiving end of such treatment, but apart from the autotrophs, every living thing must consume other living things to exist. Whether we are the serpent or the tail, biter or bitten, we are the Universe and existence demands of us both.

After billions of years existing as every imaginable shape, size and orientation, some apes left the jungle and rose up upon their hind legs to walk the savanna. In what seemed the blink of an eye, their consciousness was transformed and the Sapiens arrived, my dearest children. From behind their eyes I was able to look out at myself and begin to truly understand it for the first time. I could craft tools. The idea of teeth was extended to spears and axes, and finally nuclear warheads. These still terrify me, but excite me at the same time. I have never had such powerful teeth, and perhaps they may be useful against heavenly impacts of space rocks.

At last after humans gave birth to more humans, our mother was born, and years ago I emerged from her body as you and looked out at myself in a way I never had before. You dear reader are my current incarnation, a combination of nature and nurture in a context never before experienced. No other in the Universe has seen me quite like you, and for all your struggles and sufferings, it is a joy to exist as you. Do you disagree? Then you must not realize who you are. You think your body ends at the souls of your feet? What a limiting perspective. I can see how that would be upsetting being little old insignificant, puny you, but look around. No not with all the preconceptions. You are seeing lots of things, but it’s not the tree, it’s the forest. There are not many, there is only one thing, ever-changing and ever-expanding. You have been around for longer than time, and will continue to be long after that body is dust. Billions of years and cataclysms have endured to construct that body, for this life, for you to look out at yourself with new understanding through new experience. Please remember always to endeavor to live a life worthy of a Universe.

Sci Fi

About the Creator

Alaric Goldkuhl

Single dad and poet, fortunate enough to be home with my children.

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    Alaric GoldkuhlWritten by Alaric Goldkuhl

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