Friday, January 11, 2019

Go out and Live, Part 2—An Intelligent Partnership

Photograph by the author

Neal and I had Sylvia over last night and the three of us had an extended exchange over dinner about the nature of our work. 

 While we were speaking, I tried to explain the experience of how I meet each new impression and see how it deposits material within each of the centers. While doing so, I had occasion to work for up to an article in the latest scientific American called “Team Players” by Jeffrey Marlow and Roger Braakman. Now, I realize that few of you have a digital subscription (or any subscription at all) to scientific American, so I’ll briefly describe the article. It is complex, so be a bit patient.

 Vast amounts of methane gas and sulfate perpetually seep up into the ocean from beneath the seabed. A great deal more of this greenhouse gas ought to reach the Earth’s atmosphere than ever does; scientists have been aware since the 1980s that the methane and sulfate disappear somehow, but no one understood why. In the early 2000’s, it was understood that several different kinds of microbes were digesting these substances, anaerobically oxidizing the methane. They were eating about 80% of the methane and sulfate seeping up into ocean water, creating massive Carbonate mounds.

 What has become apparent over the last few years, through some highly technical sleuthing, is that there are a number of bacteria engaged in this activity, and that each one of them in the complex partnership functionally lacks some of the genetic material required to do the essential tasks. They rely on their partners, who do have that genetic material, to support one end of the function, without which they could not survive. In order to achieve their tasks and live, in other words, these various bacteria, which are distinctly different species, must completely rely on a community of others who “speak” completely different languages when they do, which have completely different capacities for living.  Only their relationship to one another keeps them alive; and each one of them, strangers though they are to one another, contributes something absolutely essential to the process:

"The newly discovered cells' genomes often lack the ability to make all the amino acids needed to build their protein or the nucleotides for constructing their DNA, suggesting they acquire these building blocks from neighboring cells with a surplus. These communities also appear to extract energy from the environment through a collective process: individual cells perform certain chemical conversions and pass the product down the chain to other cells for subsequent reactions.
—ibid, see above link.

 This is very much like the way my centers operate in relationship to one another. Each one of them is absolute essential to the process of living, and each one of them contributes an extraordinarily vital part of the impressions that I take in about the world. When a single impression comes in, it is a food. 

But alone, no one center has the ability (the “genetic material”) that’s needed to digest this food. Like the bacteria described in the article,  functionally unable to support itself and live without the abilities and work of its partners. It can contribute at best one-third of the essential process needed to understand the impression and help it feed me more deeply; but anyone center is completely lacking in the capacity of its two other partners to perceive (contribute to the digestion of) that same impression. 

They must cooperate in order for me to think, sense, and feel my relationship to each impression as it comes in. 

This arrangement, this deeply complex community of relationships, is what keeps me alive and allows me to digest my life. Yet I don’t understand the fact; and I certainly don’t understand that the universe is arranged in this way from top to bottom. The bacteria in the seabed, in other words, have a lesson to teach me if I want to learn something from them.

Describing it to Sylvia and Neal last night, I attempted to explain how my intellect perceives an impression one way and it answers me, sinking down deep within my being. Yet my sensation appreciates that impression in a quite different way, bringing it into me through a quite different neural network and depositing its material in yet another location; and my feeling appreciates it in yet a third subtle and intelligently nuanced manner, depositing the material throughout the body in a third way.

 What all of this means is that when an impression flows into me, in order to be digested, the various parts need to fully cooperate so that each one of them provides the vital intelligence of its own perceptual ability to the understanding of that impression of life. Now, I fully understand that this is difficult to comprehend, even intellectually — which is why the experiential tools of sensation and feeling need to participate even here.

Generally speaking, impressions flowing to me in a very fragmented way, and I tend to take in an impression quite clearly with one center but not the others. It’s a fractured world of perception; yet perceptions can be much more whole and to be deposited much more deeply if all three parts are participating, and it is absolutely inevitable that my entire experience of life will change if the way that I take impressions in changes. 

—Part 2 of an essay written November 18, 2018, Sparkill, NY

warm regards,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

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