Gaia and the Protozoan Alliance
This is one page of the Metaphoriuminomicon
Quote for the Day
- Cells transcend themselves
- Uniting with multitudes of sisters to become something more;
- Complex life explodes into a dazzling diversity of forms!
-SolSeed Sabbath Ritual for the Conflatorium season
Contemplation for the Day
You are floating in water. But the water seems thick, syrupy. You can't see clearly, but you can tell that there is a translucent shadow off to your left. You torque your flagellum to face the shadow and then spin it smoothly to propel yourself toward the light. Your progress is slow because of the thickness of the water. But as you reach the source of the shadow your collar begins to fill with tiny bacteria which you gobble up hungrily. Suddenly a dark blue-green shadow appears to your right. You spin your flagellum quicker trying to escape it, but it locks on and constructs a cytoplasmic bridge into you. You feel it inject mRNA. You read the message. It says, "Hello Little One."
You synthesize an mRNA message of your own and send it back, "Gaia, when did we become protozoans?"
The message that comes back encodes some joyful laughter and then, "Little one, you have the question wrong, the right question is when did you cease to be protozoans? Remember that at one time your ancestor was a protozoan. The lessons of space-time tell you that although the single cell that was that protozoan has split many times, there was never any way to say which of the daughter cells was the original cell and which was the new cell. In essence, at each division, each of the daughter cells is the parent cell. Which means every cell in your human body, actually _is_ that protozoan. Today, you get to dream about being the last protozoan in your ancestral line."
You continue to travel along accompanied by the Gaia protozoan. You feel that the time has come. For millions of years your kind has begun each individual life as a swimmer, like yourself. But as the individual ages, it finds a good place to settle and attaches to a rock to rest and capture passing food and build up the energy to divide into two swimmers again. The time has come for you to settle. A rock presents itself and you attach a basal stock to the rock and begin to use your flagellum to draw water through your collar filtering out bacteria. You can feel Gaia doing the same beside you. Sometimes lots of bacteria come and you feast and grow fatter and sometimes there are none and you go hungry and shrink. But slowly you feel yourself growing more than shrinking. It takes a long time. The days pass in waxing and waning light.
You synthesize another mRNA to Gaia, "It feels good to do this. As a human I would be bored out of my skull, but in some sense, I am happy doing this. Especially when the sun shines."
The message you get back is a poem,
"Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came. "—Gerard Manley Hopkins, (excerpt from Poems and Prose, 1985, "As Kingfishers Catch Fire")
You go back to silently filtering water. Slowly as the days pass you begin to feel it is time once again. Mitosis happens. There are two of you. You are neither one nor the other. You struggle to be one of the other. After a while you settle into the being of the left one. The two of you yearn to swim but something has gone wrong. You are not only still attached to the rock, you are attached to the other. You cannot swim. You cannot take separate action. You feel your separate agency being subsumed. You are no longer able to do what you do. Instead you are a mere slave. You are a mere part of something bigger. Most of your agency is flowing upward away from you to the superorganism that is you plus that other cell.
"Gaia, I am no longer me, but instead a mere part of something bigger. I no longer control my existence, but I am controlled." You send the mRNA through your private channel to Gaia.
The message comes back. "Little one, you have always been part of something bigger. You have also always been a whole made of parts. Sometimes the parts are physically attached to each other in the present moment, sometimes they are only attached in the past through the four-dimensional brane of space-time. Sometimes the parts have greater agency, sometimes they cooperate more closely to give agency to the greater whole. In this dream you can travel between holonic levels and understand the satisfying fit between agency and contribution."
You want to swim away. That is what your kind does at this point. You each swim and find a new place and start again. But instead you stay attached to the rock and to the other daughter cell. Still you are filtering water. You are doing the same thing, but you are no longer doing it for you. You are doing it for 'we', the superorganism of two cells. The fruits of your labour are not going to you but being sucked out of you by the other cell. And then comes the time when there are no bacteria coming into your collar. But now you do not go hungry. The other cell is now feeding you through the same bridge that earlier was sucking the food out of you. The two of you together grow more quickly than you did apart. Soon you are going through Mitosis again. You choose a daughter cell to be and now there are three others working with you. Again, you find that you are more efficient when you work with others. And so, Mitosis comes again and again. Each time you select a daughter cell to be and then there are seven others attached to you and then fifteen and, well you are a protozoan, soon you can't count that high.
Then after one burst of mitosis you sense dozens of cells detach and swim away. You find you no longer long to go with them. This is no longer what you do. You are your self. A filtering cell in the body of a simple animal. Filtering is what you do. Filtering is you. For that you came into existence.
But then your perspective shifts. The words "I" and "we" become difficult to distinguish. Are you the "I" of that cell inside a "we" of all the cells in the animal, or are you the "I" of the animal itself. At the same time, you feel your collective agency as a multicellular being forming. The "we" of us many cells, becomes the "I" of this one animal and for a moment you experience and understand both perspectives superimposed upon one another. And then the "I" of multicellularity asserts itself and you know that you have become something new.
"Gaia, was that the moment when animals came into existence. From this moment all animals from sponges to kangaroos, from blue wales to sand fleas, from eagles to manta rays, all of them came from this moment that I just experienced?"
"There are no edges, only gradients, little one. This being will produce free swimming single cells sporadically and many of those free swimmers will return to a single celled mode of being and some of those singled cells will repeat this moment. How many times your ancestors oscillated back and forth across the edge of multicellularity is a question that is hard to answer. Even today, you produce single celled swimmers and those single cells grow into new individuals, babies. Life has explored many life cycles among the animals. There is a gradient between the life cycles of single celled choanoflagellates and the haplodiplontic life cycle of most modern vertebrates. Identifying a single moment of transition is not possible."
As you ponder this you return to reality and find yourself with Gaia's People and not Gaia the Protozoan.