Oh solemn-beating heart of Nature! I have knowledge that thou art bound unto man’s by cords he cannot sever; and, what time they are slackened by him ever, so to attest his own supernal part, still runneth thy vibration fast and strong the slackened cord along. —Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
The following is an excerpt from the last two pages in the book “Darwin, Dogen, and the Extremophile Choice: Fifty Short Essays on What it Means to be Human in the Natural World”. The hard-copy version will be released in the new year:
… I still say there’s a little extremophile bug ready to chew its way out of every human being. And I submit that this alone can disillusion us, and in so doing save us, from the confusing and destructive animal hope that our newly acquired technological intelligence might both take part in, and yet not be defined by, evo-ecological intelligence.
The unconditioned root of all intelligence cannot despair, and the fundamentally moralizing task that the pre-Darwinians wisely set out for us as the “way of affliction”, is more favourable than ever for a gadget-loving animal that shoulders its extremophile responsibilities. Some will still say that the non-material spirituality of this LAST Niche is our most godly possession, for it raises us above other creatures; but I have attempted to demonstrate here that ecologically secure animals have little need for verbal signs that point the way to representational emptiness, signs that more often than not hold Homo sapiens at the crossroads, reading. So maybe this religious promise, and struggle, is just something else we took upon ourselves even as we took our first material steps outside that genetically ordered garden of form-fitted creatures? Or then again, perhaps we can say it’s a remedial gift from a less earthly Host? To keep as long as we understand the sacrifice, and the constant faith, that comes with being a good host in turn?
Along with our greater creative agility, along with these hard-won cultural heirlooms bequeathed by our Promethean ancestors in the story of “reinventing evolution”, we have the advantage of Nature’s untaught, multi-phase pattern to light The Way. We are not alone; the human non-species does have another intelligence to consult—not human, but not alien either—and if we listen to what it is saying, that is if we strain to hear its overburdened silence, we might finally understand that our technology is meant to free us, and Nature too, from our unsustainable dependency on resources that have been evolved to efficiently sustain only eco-evolutionary flourishing. Would this not at least make our task, our endless choosing, less picky and quarrelsome? Let’s be thankful for that, and respectful, as we look beyond our most cherished conventions, and far beyond our outmoded impulses selected long ago by Nature. And let us be guided by Nature’s example to look in stillness, and by Nature’s unconfused moral authenticity to direct our wants and needs in the Right Way—which, once we understand the science, will likely lead human ambition farther and farther away from the older evolution.
We are being called upon to make this choice now, though it will happen willy-nilly. Rather than maintain the self-serving pretence that our technological wings have a stable future ‘in Nature’, a precarious future based on a continuously jiggered sustainability, H. extremophiles adaptus will aim instead for a self-stabilizing ‘containability’. Then this wondrous new immortal, this ‘effortless flourishing of knowledge’, will spread those wings as one fledgling spirit, and we will fly, as only we can and as fast we can, beyond our befouled and sprawling nest in the Tree of Life.
Too theatrical? That’s always the trouble with literary endings. With author-itative ‘finality’. Well, perhaps we’ll find we haven’t changed so fundamentally then. After all, we will be bringing our many gifts with us, as we progress into exotic places; and the facades of our self-contained farms, parks, and other cultivated reminders of wilderness won’t need to change as much as their locations will need to. Keep in mind that we have always been happiest living on the less entangled bank. And then again, think about this: we will once again feel welcome in our ancestral home! If that’s where we want to be. As light-footed visitors this time, of course. Some part of us will always be there anyway, in spirit, “bound by cords [we] cannot sever”.