The Bigger Story

I like the idea of evolution. You start with something, usually something small, and follow it as it expands and grows, adding more and more complex parts and systems until it begins to feel unwieldy and messy. Or you start at the mess, the thing too huge and complicated to understand, and you work backwards until it shrinks down to the tiny nub with which all this began.

The big bang led to a hot soup of particles and elements that slowly (thousands of years slowly) cooled to create nebulae that created stars that created planets, that all sped outwards away from each other; and eventually the old stars exploded into supernovae that created new nebulae that made new stars and new planets until–

Hundreds of thousands of years later here we are, on planet Earth in the solar system in the Milky Way Galaxy.

And on Earth, a series of little miracles: Water and sunlight. Single celled organisms that somehow doubled themselves from one cell to two and then on up. Weird alien sea creatures swimming in the hot early oceans. Crawling amphibian things that breathed air. Little mammals. Big mammals. Apes. Primates with opposable thumbs. Primates that stood on hind legs, stood straighter and straighter still. Homo erectus, homo neanderthalis. Homo sapiens.

Mouths and throats evolved too, to allow early sounds resembling speech, early languages that soon gave way to basic grammar and syntax. Simple stone tools, then metals, then blended metals, then steam, then synthetics, now computers, tomorrow…?

Evolution leaves its mark, its story for us to find in all the little things in our lives. The Norman conquest of England in 1066 can be found in our language, which is peppered with French-based words despite being Germanic in origins. Our (possibly irrational) fears of bugs, spiders, and snakes are the same inherited fears that kept long-ago ancestors alive to pass on their genes. Our traditions are cobbled together from previous versions: Halloween is All Hallows’ Eve is Samhain. We innocently chant “Ring around the rosy / Pockets full of posies / Ashes, ashes / We all fall down” hundreds of years after the Black Death and the posies that supposedly kept the plague away, and the bodies that were burnt to ashes, and the towns that were left empty after nearly everyone fell down dead.

You can draw a straight line from ancient Greek theater through European opera to today’s modern cinema epic. You can take the movie Shrek and follow its threads all the way back to the earliest of myths and fairytales, from King Arthur to the Brothers Grimm. Star Wars comes from Wagner’s Ring Cycle which came from Norse mythology. On and on and on.

Today we tell stories about going toward the stars–the “final frontier,” the space race, the future. But the stars are in our pasts, too. As Carl Sagan says, “We’re all made of star stuff.”

We’re just bits of an old supernova, that’s all–an explosion of stuff that became a nebula that condensed into stars and then made planets, one of which was Earth…

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2 thoughts on “The Bigger Story

  1. Lura, this is SUCH a beautiful post. I’m an evolution fanatic (I like to think I’m an evolutionary biologist in my could-have-been dimension life), and this has got to be the most poignant, poetic summary I’ve ever read. I mean that seriously. I’m going to re-read it right now. =)

  2. Aw, thanks Annie! I'm glad to learn I'm not the only science nerd in the online writing world. It's weird because I used to think I hated science, but I only hated DOING science. I love the theories and the bigger picture that science provides.

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