The Weight of History
by Claude Needham Ph.D.
I don't know; it might not bother you, but every now and then I get a little weirded out by the shear mass of history. We like to think of ourselves and our planet as being new. "Oh, look dear. It's the sunrise. A new day is on its way." In case you weren't aware of it, the sun doesn't rise. No more than it's true that W.C. Fields would actually thrust his nose firmly between his opponent's teeth and pulled him to the floor on top of him. "Yes, officer, I admit it. I repeated slammed my face and body into the assailants fists and feet." The sun is the equivalent of a solar couch-potato. It sits at the center of the solar system while a bunch of planets, asteroids and a few comets revolve and rotate -- apparently industrious. We'll leave the question of true industry to the philosophers. Not because they are equipped to handle it -- but because it drives them crazy and I do so love watching them scuttle around like Kafkaesque cockroaches trying to extract the apple of an idea from their backsides.
To be fair to the sun, it's not always such a stay-at-home lazy-do-nothing. Quite the contrary. In its capacity as a star the sun is very much the mover and groover. Maybe when viewed from the proper frame of reference your household couch-potato isn't such a lazy bum after all. Let's face it guys. If you provide warmth so a bunch of hairless apes don't freeze their bare little butts off and provide enough rays to grow food for their hairless not-so-little bellies you get better press.
So what does this have to do with the apparency of newness that gets ascribed to each day. You got me there. From a physical point of view we're looking at a rather large ball of molten stuff (magma) with a thin crust of mostly cooled scum (terra firmae) floating on the surface of said ball spinning like a top while it makes a yearly revolution around the sun.
In case you were wondering how we know that it takes the Earth a year to revolve around the sun -- we (meaning some long-dead guy that was an amateur in his day but is now called a scientist) defined it that way. A year is the time it takes for the Earth to go once around the sun and a day is the time it takes for the Earth to spin once on the dial. Hopefully the music of the spheres doesn't go the way of FM. Are you old enough to remember when FM was experimental music and mostly non-commercial? At one point it was a social crime to listen to FM and you could be rat-packed if they (the not-so-hairless descendants of killer apes) caught you reading science fiction. I don't know if nature abhors it, but people sure have a hard time handling anything new or different -- too new fangled I guess.
So what does all of this have to do with my being weirded out by the shear pressure of history? I spent a lot of time studying water in graduate school. For a few years I was on the front of research into the physical-chemical properties of water. Then, I dropped out of the race and fell back into the spectator stands of Science magazine and Scientific American. Water is one of the major wonders of science and very understudied -- and I don't mean there are lots of aspiring actresses hoping it breaks a leg just before opening night. We are talking not-enough-good-scientists-directing-serious-attention-into-the-area. For the longest time it totally puzzled me why such a rich area of study as the physical-chemical properties of water went so neglected. I had a brief chat with Madame Pullman about just this point following her guest lecture. She had a similar lament about phosphate head rotations in cellular membranes.
Then one Friday night during the qualitative sampling of various fermented hop-products the answer came to me. Actually, it was more during the process of returning said fermented products. You are aware, I assume, that you can't buy beer? So while I was busy returning a rather large quantity of rented beer it suddenly dawned on me that a dinosaur probably carried the very same water molecules that I had recently shuttled the fifty feet from table to bathroom. The little H2Os that I was so earnestly hoping would not splash back at me were probably veterans of thousands, hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of round trip excursions into and out of dinosaur bladders.
When I got back to the table, my lab partners were just beginning the sampling process of a new pitcher -- for further qualitative analysis one would assume. Biologist may be able to draw a graph based on a single point, but chemists (like us) needed lots of data points. Physicists on the other hand know all the formulas. Give them one data point and they can extrapolate the rest of the graph.
After a brief, but enthusiastic on my part, exposition concerning my recent leap of understanding into the history of water molecules my former friends looked at me as if I had just crawled out from under a rather scummy and ill-kempt rock rather than just returned from a rather scummy and ill-kempt restroom.
It was many months later that the full implication of my lab-mates' responses became clear to me. No one wanted to confront the fact that every glass of water that one drank contained molecules of H2O that have been through countless millions of kidneys and bladders. Oh, I can hear the scientific-realists now, saying "Yes, but the water molecules get cleaned-up by sand-filtration and the evaporative rain process". Well, if that's true why can't we all became virgins again by a good shower and move to a new town?
Nature is the ultimate recycler. Did you know that nature is still using the same formula for water that it has been using since... maybe even clear back to just a few days after the most recent big bang? Recent big bang? It's a bitch isn't it? Even the big bang was made from previously used parts. Universes - Second Hand & New-to-You - Easy terms.
And this thing about the Frankenstein monster being made from the dead flesh of many different people? Have you ever wonders where exactly in your anatomy the steak and potatoes from last night went to?
I know these are groady thoughts and not exactly scientific -- i.e. there is some emotional content. Still, all in all, it might be better to hold within ones collected consciousness just a small remembrance of ones place in the massive scheme of things. We are not the first and we won't be the last to use the atoms and molecules that make up the lump of hamburger called "me". We are renters in every sense of the word. And don't give me that "we like to buy rather than rent so that we can build up a little equity in the house." Who you going to sell to and where you going to move if they buy?