Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
Tonight at The Long Count rehearsal the ensemble explored the idea of organic evolution onstage, attempting to depict a living being that had started existence as six separate organisms, then two separate organisms composed of three original organisms each, and finally a single, lumbering creature that had formed by consuming and adopting the scene’s narrator.
I spent entirely too much time arguing about evolution this week at a different blog’s comments section. The concept has formed a bit of a prism around my perception as a result. I’m instantly drawn to discussions that even tangentially broach the topic. Naturally, tonight’s rehearsal was like several live wires sparking at once.
Maybe fifteen years ago, evolution was not something I thought about very much at all outside of science classes. It seemed too large a concept, something that happened over such a lengthy period of time as to be unobservable in any concrete way, and as such, while I felt the theories made sense, it didn’t hold my attention in any real way. Then, in 1997, scientists discovered a snow-white emperor penguin. I was absolutely gobsmacked by the news, by the immediate and observable evidence of a mutation specifically designed to give a distinct advantage to this animal’s survival and chances of passing along its genetic material. I could see the possibilities of the emperor penguin clearly, laid out over a thousand years, of birds shedding their hereditary tuxedos and adopting the principles of environmental camouflage.
There’s a passage in Anne Rice’s novel Memnoch the Devil, that always stood out against what I considered an otherwise mediocre work of fiction. In the passage, the vampire Lestat is shown the cosmos by the titular character, is told of the true nature of reality. The “truth,” or so explains the Devil, is that God, while omnipotent, was not completely omniscient, and had no idea where He had come from in the first place.
And so He created the universe to watch Himself evolve.
This notion haunts me. Not only the idea of a God so lonely and in need of personal meaning that it caused him to create reality as we know it, but also of the idea that maybe the universe is a series of smaller and smaller concentric circles, that God is watching in his aquarium the formation of a higher being like Himself, a being who will one day wonder where He came from, and who will then be seized by the compulsion to create an entire universe to watch Himself evolve.
I am haunted also by the thought that we are destined to one day be the sort of beings we only create science fiction about, human beings with comic-book abilities that live for thousands of years, human beings free of the things that we consider so dire and difficult now. I wonder what the cost of such near-perfection will be and if we will be too busy being near-perfect to notice or care; if such cost will only seem like a cost at all to those left behind by natural selection.
Who will we be? What will we become? How much control do we truly have over the outcome of our species? How much control do we want? I don’t know the answers and I also don’t know if they can be nearly as terrifying as the questions.
I do understand my rhetorical opponents at the other comments board, the ones steadfastly claiming that Evolution is a Lie. The theory that we might have emerged from creatures that slowly turned into us means that we might one day turn into something else entirely, and it is horrible to realize that maybe you are still in process, that you are not the final draft of anything but merely the latest revision. Faced with such a prospect, it is infinitely more comforting to believe that you yourself are already a perfect creation of an infallible artist.
But artists are often misinterpreted, and just because something is more comforting doesn’t mean it is true.
The key is not to establish a reality that you find more comfortable, but to acknowledge reality as it is and then become comfortable with it.