A sunset one evening, streamers of orange across the Western sky; another evening, soft pink blushing the clouds in East and West, and streamers glowing mauve and pink. And I thought how very perfect this planet is, so very hospitable to burgeoning life.
Then another thought intrudes. How narrow is our definition of life! Of course this planet is perfect, we evolved here and know no other, we reshape it at our peril. But what if life should be defined another way? Not as the self-replicating activity of a certain pattern of elements but as the ability to perceive outside oneself, indeed to have a “self” with which to perceive.
What if intelligences exist which we cannot perceive? Something based perhaps on a different element, silicon instead of carbon? Or with a completely different way of relating to the universe? Perhaps even the rock at my feet, billions of years old, has an understanding and perception of its place in the universe far exceeding my fleeting carbon-based existence.
And from the infinite to the infinitesimal. Do the bacteria whose DNA in my body vastly outnumbers the human DNA, do these beings partake of my perceptions, or do I partake of theirs, or are we together in an endless feedback loop every day gaining in knowledge and wisdom, increasing our understanding of the universe and our place in it?
Today I think, this is the first time I have not welcomed a birthday. But is it not better than having no birthday, not being here to feel fear of aging? I think about the promising young man, damaged in an accident, who will not live the life he believed would be his. I sorrow for the young woman who may not live to see her small children grow to independence. The best, the only, service I can do for these and others is to rejoice in the fact of my existence. I am here, still competent to see blossoms on trees, feel sun or rain upon my skin, observe wasps amongst the raspberries, a dragonfly flitting, fleet as my life. I am still here to watch starlings on the lawn or listen to the cry of seabirds riding in the ocean of air. I am still here to smell fresh earth as life awakens in springtime, and the fragrance of lilacs or lilies. This gesture to appreciate the life I have been blessed with is perhaps the only gift that I can bring to this world; a profound sense of gratitude that I am here, in this place, at this time, out of all the universe, a fragile moment carved out of eternity.
We now think there may be many, indeed infinite, universes. But do we believe they are like ours, made of matter and energy? Or can we stretch our imagination to consider that they are other than that, somehow each made different, with different substance, different laws?
Intelligence is a fundamental quality of the universe.