I’ve been on a HUGE artwork tear the past few days, in prep for something nifty I’m unveiling this Monday–Lupa-calia (yes, there’s a hint–it’s art-related!) While I’ve been doing so, I’ve been watching a LOT of various nature documentaries on Netflix. I find it entertaining that they call the sorts of things I like to watch “cerebral”, especially as some of what I’ve been watching has been things about the evolution of Homo sapiens. However, it’s ranged from that, to disasters that shaped the Earth and made life here possible, to what the nature of death is and how it’s ultimately defined.
The more I find out about the world, and indeed, the universe we live in, the more I fall in love with it and the more precious it becomes. On an immediate level I worry for the very near future of this planet and its inhabitants. The only people denying climate change caused by humans are the most stubborn and least willing to listen, those who desperately grope for anything to support their continued denialism.
But on a broader scale, all this research–and it is a form of research–is making my perspective continually less anthropocentric, and more awe-struck by the immense scale of time and space. We are not all-powerful beings, though our ability to manipulate our environments and ourselves is impressive. For example, if another asteroid like the one at the K-T boundary at the end of the Cretaceous hits the Earth, we would be just as dead as the dinosaurs; the animals that survived the chain reactions of natural disasters that resulted were mostly small burrowers. And yes, the Earth and the existence of life on it have survived several mass extinctions, but the scale of time it has taken to recover from these has been almost unfathomable, measured in millions of years. Being relatively large, calorie-hungry critters would definitely be a hindrance to our survival as a species if a disaster on that scale occurred–and if we keep up our actions, we may cause enough global climate change to test that hypothesis.
I am also less and less enamored of the claim that the Earth loves us, and that Nature cares about us. We are but a tiny brief blip in history; on the one-year calendar that represents all of time, we exist in the last few seconds of New Year’s Eve. We’re really not all that important, and why should we be more important than species that lasted for many more millions of years than we have? But I also don’t think “Nature” is angry with us, either. We’re talking about a planet that routinely obliterates entire ecosystems with massive volcanic eruptions and the like. While the Earth isn’t in as much of a state of upheaval as it was a couple of billion years ago, it’s still not exactly the safest it could be.
We’ve gotten complacent in the past couple of hundred years as the Industrial Revolution has caused some of us to live longer and be more insulated against illness, injury, and other such problems. For me, being more mindful of where we are in all of this has contributed a certain level of humility to my perspective. On a short-term level, sure, we’re doing some neat things, and there’s no reason not to try to make human existence as universally good as it can be as long as we’re here. And yes, the fact that we are conscious, aware, observant on a level that perhaps no other animal has ever been, is a damned impressive thing.
But we are just one of a plethora of amazing, fascinating, and uniquely skilled species that have graced this planet. Most are gone now. But as I trace the lines of my ancestors and their relatives far, far back, all the way to tiny bacteria, and before that, perhaps, chemicals that gave rise to DNA–my sense of my place in all this is that I am a much smaller, younger, and less overarching being than many humans would claim.
And I’m alright with that. They say spirituality is about feeling one with something bigger than the self. All metaphysics and otherworldly things aside, knowing that I am a part of this ever-evolving macro-eco-system Planet Earth, in an impossibly vast Universe, is enough of a spiritual core for me.
The Early Modern philosopher Benedict Spinoza, beginning with some innocuous looking metaphysical premises about the world we share, managed to construct an impressive Pantheism where the Divine neither loved you nor hated you.
Your post here reminds me a little of Spinoza’s Pantheism, and seems to add something important to the metaphysics Spinoza constructs. Spinoza’s uncompromising rationalism, for all its other strengths, remains very, very dry, and doesn’t “click” very well upon an intuitive level. The study of things like evolution and astronomy and nature generally adds something at once vital and breathing and very messy, and it’s exactly the messy element which lets messy beings like ourselves grasp the immensity and the sacred quality of the cosmos which we share. For this little glimpse into the messy, the terrifying, and the beautiful, I thank you.
You are most welcome, and thank you for giving me another thread to follow in my explorations!
This is exactly how I feel – and I love watching those very same documentaries. (I also squeed aloud the other day to find that the entire “Walking WIth…” series is on instant watch. 😀 ), and that feeling of realization of what a huge, expansive world you’re actually a part of is a huge part of why I want to be a paleontologist and am working toward that goal.
Though this did make me wonder, since it’s streaming, have you watched the “Life After People” documentary? I found that absolutely fascinating. 😀
Not yet, but it’s now on the to-watch list!
This whole post is wonderful, but I wanted to single this out as my favorite part:
But as I trace the lines of my ancestors and their relatives far, far back, all the way to tiny bacteria, and before that, perhaps, chemicals that gave rise to DNA–my sense of my place in all this is that I am a much smaller, younger, and less overarching being than many humans would claim.
Oh man. I am so glad I’m not the only person who does this. I’ve had a hard time clicking with ancestor work in general, and the only way I could really make it work was to pull it back to tiny protoplasmic blobs in the ocean, which makes me feel awfully young and very small — but in a good way. One of the traditions I’m working in these days works a lot with the idea of the deified First Ancestor(s), and that kind of work takes on a dramatically different bent when they aren’t even human, I think.
With that being said, it’s kind of funny that I’ve gotten more of a feeling of resonance from primordial goop than my own grandparents 😛
Thank you for letting me know it resonated with you so much!
While I certainly love myth and mysticism, for me learning about natural science has by far been more valuable to me as a neopagan. Also, I’d be interested in seeing which documentaries are your favorites. Perhaps a Lupa’s Top Ten sometime in the future?