Sunday, March 6, 2011

On the Origins of Life

Everyone who reads in this space is well aware of the fact that I am a firm supporter and devoted follower of the work principles that Jeanne DeSalzmann brought to us when she carried on in Gurdjieff's footsteps. She was, however, intensely focused on the practical aspects of inner work–as perhaps she should have been. We don't see evidence from her of an interest in the sciences on the same order as what Gurdjieff brought.

Once again, this doesn't seem remarkable–they were different people. However, in light of Gurdjieff's instruction, in Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson to engage in “the constant striving to know ever more and more about the laws of world creation and world maintenance,” which he cited as the third "obligolnian striving," it would appear we have an equal obligation to study the material principles of the outside world as well.

This brings us to the subject of today's post, which is about discovery of fossils which provide the strongest evidence yet that life did not originally evolve on earth, but elsewhere, and that it arrived here in meteorites. This particular theory, which has been accepted as one of the potential correct explanations for the origin of life by biologists, is referred to as panspermia.

This theory, which majority opinion rejects, finds considerable support because of evidence that life appears so early in the fossil record on this planet. The planet is considered to be somewhere on the order of 4 billion years old, but at 3 1/2 billion years, there are already strong fossil evidences of stromatolites- structures formed by cyanobacteria, organisms that are still alive today and are indubitably DNA-based lifeforms.

What makes this meaningful is that the DNA molecule is a highly sophisticated molecule. It has clearly undergone millennia of evolutionary pressure in order to reach the state we meet it in today--and the evidence of fossil and contemporary stromatolites shows that it had already undergone that evolution by the time it first showed up here on earth.

The odds of that type of evolutionary pressure and development taking place on early Earth, where we know conditions were almost certainly inimical to life (nothing, after all, can spring to life on a flaming ball of lava and boiling steam) are very nearly zero. Prominent paleontologist Simon Conway Morris explained this in considerable detail in his fine book “Life's Solutions.”

Despite this (to me) rather compelling argument, this explanation for where life on earth originally came from is not currently in the mainstream.

Nonetheless, this particular article in the New York Times about evidence for alien life in meteorites appears to provide hard evidence supporting the theory. The evidence is not ephemeral; it's detailed, and there is a good deal of it. Anyone interested in examining the original journal publication for all the details can look here.

The significance of this discovery is that the life in the meteorites is not, in fact, alien at all. It appears to be evidence for cyanobacteria–one of the earliest forms of life on earth. In other words, it is exactly the kind of life that would have seeded the planet, if anything did.

The significance of this discovery, if it is indeed the real thing, cannot be understated. Gurdjieff explains that life is ubiquitous, that is, it occurs all over the universe. He furthermore claims that life shares the same types of forms over the whole universe–that is, three brained beings, or animals with emotional, intellectual, and physical capacities exist everywhere, and that even other life forms familiar to us, such as wheat, are common to all planets with life.

Those who scoff at such ideas and think that aliens would adopt radically different forms would do well to read Morris's book. it simply and almost definitely is not the case, despite what all the science fiction movies you have seen would tell us. Morris explains rather neatly how very narrowly constrained the paths of DNA-based evolution actually are, and why we see almost identical life forms arise again and again because of that.

Not only does this discovery and its ramifications underscore my impression that Gurdjieff was a scientifically minded man, as well as a spiritual master–making him without any doubt unusual within the context of his vocation–it also offers a perspective that once and for all eliminates any narcissistic idea about man being special or unique. This particular foible of mankind was one that Beelzebub mercilessly and repeatedly laid waste to throughout the course of his conversations with his grandson Hassein.

Now, perhaps, are we are finally invited to join the rest of the universe, and admit that we are part of it, not some special case or exception with unique or magical abilities, whether they be scientific or metaphysical? We'll see.

It's unlikely, of course, that mankind will acquire any humility as a result of this. But those of us engaged in spiritual work may, perhaps, feel just a bit more of a connection with this vast enterprise we call a universe--

and pause with even deeper questions inside of us at night when we look up at the stars.

May our prayers be heard.

1 comment:

  1. That which calls to me the most in all spiritual work is the insistence on humility as a quality to be developed, a perspective to grow into. Of course it has long been recognised by feminists that the very concept of humility carries within it problems for half the human race. For years I struggled with these same problems, and yet, and yet, still I felt as if there was something missing from my ruminations. And then finally I got it....humility is not subseviance, either to another human (female to male) nor to a male god; no true humility is grounded in the deep freedom of surrendering to an unknowing and mysterious matrix which inhabits both my inner and outer world, the place where the immanent Divine lives inside, and the outer universe where Her transcendent presence carries me and within which I live and move and have my being. Now that's humility!

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