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Seeing the cosmos in a grain of sand.

   Earth. Sky. Plants. Animals. The sun, the moon and the stars. The
   smell of rain on hot dry soil. The roar of the wind in a tree. That
   sudden, silent flickering, way out across the sea at night, of
   lightning all along the horizon, in cloud after towering cloud, and
   then, after a pause, thunder, humbled by the size of things to
   sound as tiny as the footsteps of a mouse crossing a cathedral's
   nave.

   Who hasn't stopped to brood on these, on air and breath and light,
   on algae and insect, mammal and bird and all the other inhabitants
   of this small parish in which we humans wake--the planet's
   biosphere?

   Who hasn't stopped to brood on science, how century after century
   our forebears have watched the turn of the stars, have numbered the
   days from spring to spring and counted the baskets of barley,
   lentils and leeks, have pondered a while and then decided to till
   or sow on a different date, adapting here, discarding there the
   folklore used to tend a terraced field? Watching, measuring,
   experimenting--the elemental arts of science, which century after
   century bursts open the borders of common sense, disclosing fresh
   nooks and niches in nature, the organelle and nucleus, the
   fern-print in rocks, the food-webs of fungi and molluscs in a
   marsh, the chasm in space, billowing with dust, where a star begins
   to burn. All there, for millions and millions of years, all there
   before our eyes yet subtly hidden from our sight, as if deep down
   and round all things there waits a cloud of unknowing. Who hasn't
   seen a wisp of cirrus, a bank of grey-white cumulus appear in the
   skies of a hot blue noon?

   These are the boundaries of a clear idea, the substance of
   incertitude, which reason cannot help but register along the
   horizon of the known. What new expedition of science, its bowsprit
   heaving with the swell, its navigator and naturalist on deck, with
   map and telescope in hand, has never anchored in the airy, granular
   opalescence of such a cloud and glimpsed the ghostly promontory of
   an island never foraged before and heard, beyond the slap of the
   waves along the strakes of the ship, the muffled cries of strange
   new creatures along a strange new shore? Eureka! shouts from such
   bright clouds, then echoes, echoes in the mind, in moments as
   numerate as when Archimedes steps into his morning bath, his
   thinking linking the volume and weight, the gold and silver of a
   crown, in hours as sacred as when Elijah raises his head from his
   knees on a hill and stares and stares at a cloud that lifts like a
   hand, a blessing from the sea, in times as ordinary as when
   half-asleep you sway in the corridor of a train that drags past a
   billboard, a flood-lit car-lot, the streets of a London dusk and
   hear a phrase, said years before by a colleague in Cape Town at
   work, float in like a phantom, drift past a memory of something you
   did that day then flash-fuse a concept that patterns, explains and
   predicts a part of you.

   Imagine the mind-seethe next when a woman, a mother, a shade in
   skins who's walked for a week through a forest reaches the bracken
   at its edge. Standing, child on hip, beside her hunter-gatherer
   man-mate in the gloom, her whole being-in-the-world brimming with
   curiosity, excitement and fear, a thousand years, as it were, of
   tramping north across the plains of Africa behind her sun-browned
   arms and legs, her cracked and leathery heels she quietly lifts the
   dripping leaves, the acorns of the branch in front of her.

   She bends and sees a slope of grass, a drift of mist. She starts to
   register the puzzling shapes of strange phenomena not seen, not
   languaged before, an icicle, let's say, a red-berried bush, a
   tangle of brambles along a brook, a mottled buck, horns down,
   sniffing what we her bloodline now call moss.

   Further ahead, past lichened rocks that vaguely match those in her
   mind, she spots a blur, a kind of blotch of oddly tall and pointed
   dark green trees, then higher up the scree, a featureless
   glimmering below a stark grey crag, a silent expanse of something
   never dreamt of before, something so huge, so terrifyingly white
   and glittering she hears her chest-cave thud, thud, thud. Consider
   too the storm, the millivolt storm in the mind when first an
   astronaut plonked down a foot on the moon, and clomping about in
   the sun's fierce light, his lead-soled boots and silver-white
   space-suit like a deep-sea diver's gear, his helmeted head like a
   prophet's in a wilderness alive with voices from far, first grasped
   how close is the moon's horizon, how like a cliff-edge in space,
   how deep and empty the star-stippled cavity through which he'd fall
   and fall, flailing his legs and arms, if gravity, for just one
   second, relinquished its grip and shuddered at the light-years of
   loneliness in the chasm of space at his feet.

   A skydive through maw-like space, lonely, anguished, twisting and
   tumbling, is that the full destiny of the conscious mind? A cloud
   of knowing unknowing, in things as miniature as the cell-rack that
   stores the whole design of a whale, as macroscopic as the mystery
   that swirls and hurls a galaxy through space, as modest as the
   shell after shell of electrons that nano-hertz a grain of sand, is
   that the terminus of science, the most our consciousness can ever
   know?

   Consider for example the modest expectation, the comforting
   assumption that small was finite, that the micro-cosmos was stable
   and had an end, that hidden somewhere in the table of elements, the
   depths of a proton, the glinting and dying of a photon spasm in the
   nuclear factory of a star or coiled as it were in the space-end,
   the infinitesimal calculus of a quark, there'd be a terminus, an
   ultimate reality, a Lilliput to end all Lilliputs.

   Who knows, finality might be real, an indissoluble bouquet of
   energy exploded into existence, let's imagine, when some invisible
   particle yanked round and round a circular cave, a tunnelling below
   the Alps, by the vacuum-like suction of its tubular corridor of
   magnetic power until its speck of Icarus is
   flying-flying-flying--almost as fast
   as light is smashed right into another, shattering
   in a flash, a shrapnel of shards.

   All much too small, too fleeting for the cumbrous tongs of a
   thought to pincer between the rough, intrusive tweezer-tips of noun
   and verb, and far, far too quick a melt-down, a rupture in the
   mind-made matrix of spaced-out time to fizz-flash outside the
   high-tech halo of that ring, but still, let's imagine, enough of a
   streak through a chamber of cloud, enough of a probability sieved
   into sight by the butterfly net of statistics for scientists to
   announce, "At last! This small and no further! For ever!"

   Who knows, who knows. I mean a few short thousand years from now
   perhaps a team of nano-physicists and substrate astronauts inside a
   lab will dot-weld together a space-craft as strange, as
   inconceivable today as lasers and gamma-ray detectors,
   vein-tunnelling cameras and stents would have been to the
   wood-fired, bronze-filing smiths of the astrolabe. A helical rocket
   of hadrons, let's imagine, whose motor's a pulsing muon, where
   inside-out, outside-in oscillations from one force-field to the
   next will send the spacecraft spurting right through the warp-web
   of a nucleus out into the chasms of spacious complexity packed into
   the plainest quark until it shoots around a multi-verse where one
   is zero, the future the past glass fairground its of bulge and
   squeeze the in seems it as is nothing and .tnorf ot kcab sogol a,
   sespanys fo dnarts a, dnim fo eudiser a eb ti sselnu

   Who knows indeed what strange, what live and beautiful complexities
   are packed within the Chinese boxes, the mansions of the
   micro-world, complexities as murky and gelatinous, so to speak, as
   a grove of kelp whose sepia-brown ribbons of life, stretching up,
   up from the sea-bed towards the broken, silvery play of sunlight in
   the watery ceiling above undulate gently from side to side in the
   oval glass of an aquanaut's mask as if they were nymphs from
   another world, all slender and moist of skin that swayed round a
   shrine to Proteus in some fish-glinted Atlantis square.

   "Proteus?" you ask, "that shambling tramp with foam and salt in his
   beard, that rough-voiced shepherd of the supple and slithery
   seal-fishes of the surf? What's such a clown to us who video his
   undersea grots with digital cameras and harnessed to a kite and
   tugged by a motorboat soar high above his home?"

   Not much, I'd say, not much until his raw metamorphoses are
   remembered, when dainty-brained astronomers and philosophers, from
   Arabia and Greece, their vessel anchored, its white sails drooping,
   in Homer's myth-deep seas would trouble his sagacity, wandering
   past the seal-pack snoring on a beach, the smouldering green and
   purplish wrack, a soggy heap of fly-swarmed fur, until they panted,
   sweating, up a scrub-lined track towards a cavern in a cliff and
   put their measuring-strings, their iron dividers, their oak-cut
   rulers down and stooped inside his surf-loud, shell-littered,
   soot-frescoed academy and sat.

   Where was the Sage, the bearded Myth-Incarnate, the brilliant
   Nature-Man? Nowhere at all. Only a breeze off the sea. A trickle of
   smoke from a hearth. Only charred scraps of a goat-skin scroll. The
   glint of a fish-scale on a stone. It was a moment, shall we say,
   fraught with perplexity and numinous with hope.

   Then al-Battani's far-eyed forebear saw, or as he later said, he
   thought he saw the stars float from a rock where zodiacs and arcs
   were scraped across the soot which drifted off, he said, like
   grains of fire blown from a desert hearth at night. Were these
   bright grains, he asked, not balanced on the nomad breath of God?

   Then straight-backed Thales shivered. He'd sat on deck for hours
   and hours arguing excitedly that moisture disguised was the source
   and sustenance of life, that angles at the base of isosceles
   triangles, wherever one travelled, were twins, and whether you
   spoke in a Sanskrit or Coptic, diameters sliced circles in half,
   all new hypotheses, all verified for the very first time in the
   geometry of a mind.

   Gruff Thales was hot and tired and half-asleep, he told his kin
   when home, and drowsing saw what seemed to be a goat-legged
   shadow-shape slide past, a superstition, a myth he thought, who
   pressed reed-pipes against his mouth and blew a song as sweet, as
   languid and as whispering as the evening wind that flows across his
   boyhood haunts, across the green Meander River's banks, then danced
   a rough dance, this way and that, in time with the music he made.

   But when Thales stood and asked his name and what all the dancing
   was for the man-goat shied then disappeared, back into the dark wet
   stains on a wall, back into a fern-greened cleft of rock where
   spring-drips dribbled and oozed, then after a moment, burst back in
   a rush, swerved past the seated philosophers and galloping through
   scrub reached an estuary and vanished in a bed of reeds, leaving
   the geometer with a memory of music, a hoof, a chest, a twinkling
   eye.

   This sudden metamorphosis of beast or myth into phylum, function
   and cell, this switch of illusions still happens when scientists
   sniff and finger the data, when theory jumps clean out the muddle,
   the fruit-fly becomes a bag of genes.

   I mean consider the way a small, innocuous, beige-green splodge of
   a sponge that squats like a cactus, a loner, a sombre mood on the
   pearly white sea-bed transmogrifies in a trice, a twitch of
   metaphors, to a sessile, amorphous shrub, a Poriferum of ancient
   lineage, a Spongia ulosa stuposa say, smoking sperm.

   Remember that dive, that pilgrimage, that emigrant's tour of
   ancestral ground, that fin-footed, goggle-faced, bubble-gushing dip
   in the Ganges of your origins when zipped in seal-sleek rubber, a
   tank of the atmosphere angelic on your back you floated past
   lobsters, past starfish, purple anemones and silver-fish shoals?

   It's amazing! you thought, how a modest sponge is born anew in a
   chemist's mind, becoming in a flow of perceptions, an instant
   transfiguration of billions of cells, a lattice-work of calcium,
   carbon and oxygen, with scattered anaglyphs of iron, no lattice in
   itself alive, each locked to the next by force-fields bracing the
   gaps, by gradients of nano-energies which consciousness can gesture
   at but never see.

   You've never grasped how [Fe.sub.2][O.sub.3][Al.sub.2][O.sub.3]
   grips into the universal grid of things? Well, don't despair, just
   twenty years immersed in molecules will do the trick. You're a bit
   too busy for that? Well, tour the sub-sea bio-sites all over the
   web and look, your colonnades of chemicals turn into an animal much
   older than man, a skin, a skein of pores that sieves and chews
   bacteria like you and I chew bread, a Henry Moore-like statue, all
   rounded, organic and organised around its holes.

   No? Do the cyclic adenosine monophosphate ions in the sponge leave
   you dazed? Do Taj Mahals of ectoderm, endoderm, gastrula and
   blastopore mean not a bean? Does your philosophy foreclose on the
   individuality of each molecule in the air, each cell in the sea,
   each atom of hydrogen in the fusion plants of a billion stars,
   aghast to concede even the temperate uniqueness, the quietly
   differentiated lives of the pinacocytes, amoebocytes and
   choanocytes that squat in grove after grove like Quakers at
   prayer-meetings, polite and silent, sitting at the bottom of the
   sea. Then scratch below the wiggling flagella and see the bone-ware
   of the sponge, no skeleton as it were, to rib and spine a ravenous
   filter battered by the tides, but multiplicities of micro-bones,
   designed and purpose-built by cells on site like bio-trusses,
   sail-stiffeners, an immanence of scaffolding upholding a life.

   No? You could go Greek of course, all Greco-Latin and precisely
   precise, and eyeing such bonelets, bright-lit in the jeweller's
   cabinet of a microscope, could scorn the humanistic thought that
   some resembled asterisks in three-d, that others looked like a
   dandelion, a spillikin, a model of a tetrahedral bond and say,
   "Well look at that spicule! What a fine specimen of a siliceous
   spike with granolithic, pre-Cambrian spiny hexactines that is,
   wouldn't you agree?"

   Variety and pattern, then, deep down the linked labyrinths of each
   living thing, each sponge, each atom a multiplex in fact, a
   Prometheus unbound by science, a metamorphosis in waiting, like
   animals and gods in Ovid's fluidity of mind, an algorithm at work
   within a live internet, an Omega, an Alpha-point of signs.

   Sign-words like these--unspiralling from some primordial reptilian
   squawk, evolving with each biome of earth, finessing with the
   fingers and the brain and aeon after aeon becoming more numbered,
   more nuzzling, more detached, extruding a site-specific noun and
   verb, a syntax like the cytoskeleton of a cell, unfolding from an
   ancient, a still originating logos more inscapes of belief, more
   figures of speech, more formulae and equations and lexicons of
   science incarnating thus a consciousness, a cornucopian
   consciousness in space-time whose blood-flow's the metaphors of
   life that matter which is minded makes.

   What marvels they are, embodying the metamorphoses of mass we
   perceive, mutations as dazzling, as sudden and domestic and
   temporarily disconcerting as that smash-out of photons, that fierce
   white explosion in a microwave oven which flashes into sight when a
   spoon, a modestly ordinary mild-steel spoon, is left by mistake on
   the floodlit ceramic saucer of, say, a flowered cup of tea.

   What happens next, when the fairground carousel of glass begins to
   turn? That calm and shiny scooper of sweetness, that stirrer of a
   steaming brew as happily innocent of cathode and current,
   electrostatics and electron flows as guests who sit at the kitchen
   table, sleepily ingesting their muesli and milk, revolves through
   something invisibly vigorous, a wind of pulsating waves, a hail of
   atom-agitating particles till Bang! smoke, lights, Damascus
   time--it touches the wall of a hearth where Prometheus Electrified
   has hid his fire.

   Think too of mutations as numinous as a single stream of bright
   white light which pressing through a prism in the Attic
   amphitheatre of a lecture hall splays out into bands of colour,
   into shimmering pillars of purple and blue, rich yellow, orange and
   red on the starkly blank rectangular sky of a screen.

   Who hasn't marvelled at such a revelation, not of the whole, of
   course, for all of us live, to modulate the metaphor, inside the
   pit of an orchestra, inside as it were an unheard suite of roaring,
   tinkling, booming resonance and stumbling round the instruments,
   from dim-lit music-stand to stand, are only vaguely aware that some
   enormous music is shuddering the air.

   We glimpse at times a bass or treble clef, feel round the piano's
   lifted lid and floundering past the feet of cellists, the
   throb-wood of a double-bass, end up, let's say, among the crashing
   of cymbals, the rumbling of drums, then looking out, across the
   rows of heads, towards the back-lit galleries, the chandeliers, the
   dusty blue and gilt brocade that domes the auditorium we sigh and
   say, "How peaceful is the night! And how serene the stars!"

   No, no, never a revelation of the whole, not even of the smallest
   particle, the humblest sponge, the minimalist music of whistlers in
   the ionosphere. There are at best the brief illuminations we live
   by, the micro-Eucharists that feed our endless hunger for
   significance yet leave us hungering for more, for more eurekas that
   flicker, move off and fade, like a storm far out at sea.

   But take that moment in a lecture hall, when shimmering on the
   screen the columns of blue, of green and red electrified an
   immediate amazement as if in every glimmer and gleam of light we
   absorb, from birth to death, there waits a hidden colonnade, an
   immanent portico that opens out into the huge divinity of energy
   which everywhere sustains the universe we see.

   That moment, I'd say, was a close communion of science and
   consciousness, a coalescence of body, mind and light whose
   mediating, ministering material resembled the strands, the blobules
   of colour that painters squeeze from tubes whose grids of electrons
   splatter sieved photons deep into the mind's dark orb.

   How deeply bewildering, how redemptive it is to sense that art has
   evolved, the handiwork of a gene-line that also crafts money,
   missiles and medicines. Think only of the shouts of glee, the
   exultant bedlam that erupts after break when punnets of paint are
   found on the drab linoleum of a pre-school floor.

   What wonders they are, those silt-luscious lakes of bright titanium
   yellow, perylene maroon, purple madder, oxide of chromium and
   manganese blue, that mud-bath of umber, that dip-tank of
   ultramarine where boys in shorts are pondering the absorption
   spectrum of tearful Susanna's bedraggled bear?

   Imagine the teacher, dressed in jeans, a dark blue apron smudged
   with paint, who stands with her back to a trough-like sink piled
   with brushes and jars and sighs, with a weary contentment, at the
   sight of her babbling creative kids bent over the colours, as if in
   a trance, as she wipes off her hands with a rag the inky black
   smears from the tabloids cut up and scattered across the floor.
   Look! Child after child, a sleeve pulled up, an elbow raised, a
   wrist bent back deliciously pats and wiggles a hand in a pigment's
   wet meniscus of molecules then lifts the palm and lovingly,
   drippingly squishes the mark of the rainbow on headline after
   headline of human folly and disgrace, chortling with delight. Do we
   love art and science, the pattern-prints, the artefacts of
   significance because the apes and anthropoids of Africa, still
   gallivanting in our genes, sniffed and fingered roots and fruits
   and communed with the hues of dawn?

   Did the drive to survive, the demiurge to thrive in each small
   moated cell nudge out more strings of neurons in the brain, more
   internets of synapses, more sensitivities of sight and smell, more
   lightning flashes of cognition, more ways of foraging for bulbs,
   roasting an antelope and raising a child, more modes of telling a
   story, coupling with a mate and trancing a dance, unfolding in fact
   imagination more quickly than the empathy of the brain?

   Who knows, who knows, but consciousness the liberator is also the
   beast deep in whose biomes of cerebral cells the reptile glowers,
   lashing its tail, and imagination, so creative, so much the
   astonishing Mozart of the mind, imagination, when disconnected,
   from fuller circuitries of psyche and time, sends spurts of envy
   burning through the cortex, or coolly plans a Somme.

   No wonder we turn to art, to science, to quests for redemption and
   grace to stay one tool, one song, one prayer ahead of the
   holocausts we embody, hustled by the ions of curiosity that make us
   keep leaving the known behind.

   I mean why did the sensors in each eye, the bundled threads of
   their nerves, the thought-flickers of the mind unfocus the other
   imagos that filled that hall, the fire-extinguisher, let's say, all
   cheerfully red and competent beside a door, the Exit signs, the
   rows of youthful heads, the heart inked on my desk in blue, the
   motes of dust that floated tumbling and twinkling through a stream
   of light?

   Enigmas these, enigmas whose full intermingled complexities elude
   the mind, each one a Gordian-knot nexus of the very old, the very
   distant with the new, each molecule a delicate commingling of
   cosmic gravity with the very small, in kinships as improbable as
   the sun with the chlorophyll of a sprig of mint, the impersonality
   of electro-magnetism with the individuating urge of an ant.

   Inseparable in fact, these kinships, and billions and billions of
   offspring old, yet ruptured in the leafy habitat of Eden, the
   bonding biosphere of the One in the very act of saying, Look, look,
   that stalk of wheat is green with grain! and further undone, their
   resonance of electro-magnetic forces ripped open, their web-strands
   of consilience dangling, with each rough act of winnowing, each new
   experiment in a lab, each table and graph, each tentative
   hypothesis, each micro-biologist's report, each agro-business
   estimate of revenue per ton till the harvest of science from a
   grain of wheat ruptures the silos in the mind.

   Perhaps that's true, more terrifyingly true than the brave
   porosities of a self, the valiant psyche of that allergy-skinned
   assemblage of sensitivities the soul can even begin to contemplate,
   lest we become a wild-eyed, tormented Lear who lurches through the
   mist and rain, his sweet, sweet sanity gone for ever.

   Gone like a heap of stones, where once the motley troubadour sang
   in a hall, the horses pranced in the stable-yard and pure white
   swans paddled the moat, gone like a library in flames, its
   book-stacks toppling in a migraine of thoughts that come so thick
   and fast, in such huge gusts, they send the roof-tiles flying and
   howl through the burning galleries till charred black beam and
   cornice fall and smoulder and hiss, chaotic in heaps, in the cold
   grey oblivion of the rain.

   Well, staggering about like a dataholic, bingeing on megabytes of
   facts or not, what scholars who research a new disease, an aphid
   destroying acres of wheat, the short-wave radiation of a neutron
   star, a proton-pump in the skin of a cell, the molecules of carbon
   in the troposphere, the water in an emptying aquifer, what
   scientist has ever predicted a terminus to discovery, a closure to
   science?

   And even a latter-day polymath, an Einstein who tunnels for years
   and years in and below the great Amazonian forests of physics,
   biology and chemistry, like a mole, a torch on his forehead, in
   search of an explanation for everything, even whiz-kids like him,
   the moment he'd merged the sciences into one maths would
   immediately have to emerge and scratch through new work on the web
   then fiddle and twiddle with the constants, the formulae he found
   all over again, such is the mutability, the flux of paradigms, the
   time-flowed findings of science. Was Newton a mystic when he said
   the scientist stands on the edge of a sea?

   But hang on, Herr Doctor Polymath Professor, what human can ever
   hope to leap right out of his skin, right out of the flesh and
   blood of the brain and leaving the flare-paths of neurons, the
   flickering synapses behind go walk-about in the terra incognita
   that is not time or space or mind?

   Thought's boundaries are real, for Godel discerned a limit to maths
   and proved, quite modestly, that any arithmetic is always
   incomplete. And Bohr announced, surfacing like an Orpheus from a
   micro-world, that unpredictability was predictable everywhere
   inside the nucleus. And Planck mapped out a parallel world of what
   is smaller than small, those tiniest of tiny time-spans and
   energy-amps and spaces in space where minuscule matrices of forces
   grip neurons with massive finesse, a cosmos where human touch is
   coarse and quantum caprice the rule, whose honeycomb in miniature
   is the substrate of all our eyes perceive and ten to the power of
   minus something baffling and bewildering in size.

   And Heisenberg, who considered his physics a liturgy, a walk of
   faith, established a shocking incertitude, not grounded on wild
   superstition but based on a mathematical model of the granular
   energy he probed. Atoms and electrons from far, he said, were
   patterns of probabilities, but viewed up close, their patterns
   dissolved in a blur of random events as motes of energy, as
   messenger particles fuzzed in and out of mass.

   Fleas in a box? Star-spangled acrobats in a circus-tent thick with
   fog who tumble from rung to invisible rung? Well, hardly, Mr
   Heisenberg, but no one who's tried to chase an electron speeding
   around a nucleus or pinpoint a separable event in the vacuoles, the
   chasms of nano-space would probably disagree that it's easier to
   catch the wind in the hand than isolate the mass, the speed and
   position of one sub-nuclear speck in one split second of the
   outside-inside flow-through of energy called mass.

   Worse for militant rigidities of mind, for fundamentalists allergic
   to fuzz attempting to do a Procrustes on science [{by pruning
   sub-nuclear physics} {by neatening anatomy, by trimming fluid
   mechanics, ecology and cosmology} {BY SQUIDGING BIOLOGY, ZOOLOGY,
   HYDROLOGY, AEROLOGY, MYCOLOGY AND ENTOMOLOGY} {till all scientia
   was squashed and tidied away in bed after narrow bunk-bed inside
   the mind}] would morph a bus-load of cattering backpackers into a
   morgue of stiffs.

   Imagine the mayhem, the massacre of subtlety, complexity,
   hypothesis, were most of geology and geomorphology, palaeontology
   and ichthyology as well as the megabytes of physiology, of
   pathology and neuropathology of pharmacology and gastroenterology
   and gynaecology and gerontology mashed into that government hotel
   for ideologues, goons and party hacks, that hospice for
   reductionists, The Ology of Ologies to End all Ologies.

   Take one domain, just one, and squelch, as it were, across the
   sedges that fringe the mudflats of a wide brown river as the tide
   slithers back, with a spade in one hand, a sack in the other and a
   truck on the bank.

   Let's say you're determined to extract, to enshrine in a city's
   aquarium a sampling of the fauna and flora alive in the Canaan of
   that river mouth, to bring right home to the shoals of school-kids,
   the teachers and tourists, the mothers with toddlers in tow, the
   straggle of name-tagged delegates traipsing in with cameras from a
   conference on global shipping or trade how utterly sacred is the
   interdependence of soil, water and plants for life, how vulnerable
   is the estuary to the blue-green asphyxia of a shroud of oil, the
   seahorse in the reeds to phosphates that mucous its rose-window
   gills.

   Dream on, diligent digger, if we are as I think we anxious
   earthlings are, epiphanies of dust, begotten and evolved when this
   small planet of ours was battered by flights of asteroids and
   swaddled in a cloud of steam, epiphanies of impersonal nuclei,
   sub-nuclear storms, electrons, quarks which billions of years
   before were fused and fissioned from burning gas inside the kiln of
   a long-vanished star, which incarnate a miracle now, the skill of a
   helix to spin off a gene, the drive of each cell to survive.

   Dig on, dreamer, dig into the slush of your estuary and help us
   revere what those first morsels of life morphed into, the millions
   of prawns, the bloodworms and molluscs below the mud, the
   crackle-backed crab scuttling through sedge-grass with the offering
   of a shrimp in its claw, the algae, the clams, the worms in wells
   that suck and whoosh for hours, the cormorant on a rock, its wings
   held open like a black umbrella to dry.

   And hovering, hovering its blue-green lapis lazuli glitter above
   the reeds that sudden kingfisher up in the air again, hungering
   like the imagination for the energy of a food, for significance
   stored in the murk of its habitat. The wing-whirr lifts, eyeing the
   water-smudged, silver-pale slivers below which dart and drift, this
   way and that, in the wind-rumpled eddying tide, then hovers
   forward, drops its beak, slaps shut its plumage and plummets down,
   down, down--till it crashes its fleck-blur into the flesh of a
   gleam.

   Note that, naturalist, as well as the rusty old tin, the oil-slick
   in the reeds, the fumes of a diesel-fed tractor that wafts across a
   wetland on the wind, and marvel how fluidly this feathered
   macromolecule of sugars and fats, of proteins and nucleotides
   infuses fresh oxygen in the throb of its blood, then let me ask
   why, why it is that the more you make us conscious of life, the
   multiple dimensions of life in a river-mouth, the more there is to
   learn.

   Think only of the crowds of copepods, tiny crustaceans with
   antennae, a spiky swizzle-stick of a tail, nibbling soft residues
   that granule the silt as they wriggle and drift, squiggle and glide
   through the flow of the tide, a thousand to a bucket and each the
   workplace of a billion diligent cells, each one the locus, the
   life-site of a fierce, autonomous telos to survive where quantum
   creativity pops out, in generation after gene generation, that
   quirk of a creature better adapted to a change in the weather or
   grub.

   Imagine a hundred researchers, sloshing this way and that in the
   estuary, in shorts and wide-brimmed hats, with scoop-nets,
   clip-boards and jars, all trying to understand more of copepod
   life, by measuring their feelers, counting their offspring and
   trying to locate where and when they breed.

   Envisage next an insect anthropologist, a curiosity made more
   curious still by years and years of research, an emigre intellect,
   a Prospero of science, who seated in a curtained caravan, parked in
   the bushes on the river bank, peers into a matt-black microscope
   and twiddling a pair of virtual pliers glues onto the
   crab-coloured, louse-speckled armour of a copepod's back a
   video-camera and a radio transmitter, each smaller than the tip of
   a pin.

   What would our visionary see, when seated in front of his caravan
   desk with wired-up copepod back in the river, browsing the silt
   once more, he taps the radio receiver's keys, intent on focusing a
   copepod movie from blurry cloudscapes of pixels that jiggle all
   over his monitor screen, yearning to glide like a Zheng He across a
   habitat not journeyed before by riding the back of that digitized
   goblin, that high-tech estuarine elf?

   What brave new worlds, each whispering a poetry never heard before
   would slowly float their spectral silhouettes towards him on the
   screen, silhouettes of minuscule islands, forested by fungi whose
   hills are green with gardens of lavish bacteria and symmetrical
   shrubberies of mould. "Focus, focus!" you shout in alarm as dead
   ahead, suspended in the sky, the gel of water molecules, a
   sand-grain bigger than an asteroid looms.

   The camera-elf dives, a shoal of diatoms glints through a cloudy
   gloom, the rock slides overhead, and then look, look, top right,
   another copepod is nudging close, a clutch of shrink-wrapped eggs
   held in her swimmerets.

   Trr-teek. "Sssh! What's Goblin saying?" you ask. "Why here? Why
   now?" Trr-teeka-teek. The speak-head wiggles and shoots away, but
   not before you know you've peeped into a cranny more creatured and
   crafted by life, more individuated, more complex than you can ever
   hope to grasp in full.

   Finality in knowledge, the safety of an endpoint, the security of a
   fact, weren't these desired in the craving of our nomad forebears
   for a cave? A cave that's safe from the slobbering hyena that
   stalks upwind at night, from running men with fat-smeared chests
   who hand-axe foes to death? A kinship womb, a trance-dance shrine
   where painted on rough quartz a white-and-ochre eland leaps high
   above a posse of hunters with spears? A kindergarten, so to speak,
   where cave-kids handcraft hippos from clay and stare at night
   across the fire at shadows that squiggle across a wall?

   But lairs like these, while safer than the lion-stalked grassy
   plains below, have paths through bush towards their openings that
   enemies soon climb, are home to quarrels, to lungs that fester as
   well as lullabies and chants, have scuttling bugs and oozing slugs
   and things that nip the softer parts.

   How long in fact, could people born in hospitals enjoy the fine
   perfume of skins pegged out to dry across the floor, the steady,
   generous shower of nutrients from a ceiling that twitters with
   eco-heavenly choirs of bats, the dimpled toddler's puddled ponds,
   the talismans of monkey brains hung on a strand across the cave and
   little mounds, bejewelled by flies that mulch the mountain slopes,
   the Eden groves of mothering Africa?

   And troubling, much more troubling for fine philosophies of perfect
   forms where Beauty, Truth and Wisdom shine on and on through all
   eternity and life is but a shadow-land, a transience of error,
   suffering and greed, the branches burning in the hearth flare up in
   draughts, then fade away, the dusty rays of light that deeply
   stream into the cave at dawn and dusk lift up and drop and swing
   across the mouth as earth spins round and tilts as if that source
   of truth, the light, kept changing in the whirling of the One.

   And seated on a skin, or moving back and forth across the
   rind-strewn sand and going out and coming in again, the animals
   out-shadow who they are, a frieze of changing silhouettes, a
   blurred and silent film in black-and-white where psyches loom then
   shrink away, from giant-to-chimpanzee-to-gnome, where skulls one
   day are skinny Giacomettis, then chubby Boteros the next as if
   irregular regularity, and movement, and change was life's abiding
   truth.

   Do I exaggerate? No noble Plato, not at all. Think only of
   astronomy's flux, the hash-marks, the arrows that spluttered from
   the nibs of stylus and quill on the astro-maps of Egypt, of China,
   Mesopotamia and Arabia and Greece. The splutters are the
   thought-logs, the mind-maps of watchers and thinkers who made
   immaculate sense of the data by inferring that the sun and moon,
   the stars and planets and all the heavens turned round and round
   the earth.

   Theirs was impeccable science. They mulled into existence in the
   mind an explanatory principle, a logical illusion derived by reason
   from maths. And we who stroke in our consciousness the idea that
   we've improved, are more intelligent than they, more sussed and in
   charge of our selves than the generations of homo sapiens sapiens
   that trekked out of Africa, we do well to remember that even an
   Einstein blundered into the new.

   The universe was fixed, was staid and steady as a barn of stars he
   assumed when first he conjectured that light-speed, energy and mass
   were linked. To clamp the sprawl of the whole equation together, he
   added a constant, a symbol, a potency which much like the cog of a
   governor in a gear-box ensured that the cylinder head gasket of the
   giant machine did not explode. Persuaded, years on, by news of the
   red-shifted light from a speeding star he relented at last and
   rubbed off a blackboard with the back of his sleeve a chalk-mark, a
   lambda that held the whole universe together in his mind.

   Think too of how the crystal spheres, the wandering planets left
   the board, with Dalton's odd atoms, Darwin's gemmules and Lamarck's
   pods of peas. And think of the whiskered physicians, so learned, so
   enlightened and wise who'd venepuncture a pale, hysterical
   patient's vapours and blood away.

   Think too of the friends of phlogiston, the foes of Gondwanaland
   and aids, the skilled phrenologist assessing a psyche by feeling
   the bumps on a skull, the alchemists and eugenicists, the
   intelligent patrons of the Piltdown man, the big-brained homunculi
   who lived curled up inside a droplet of sperm.

   All wrong, all superseded by a subtler, broader understanding of
   life, by constants and equations that better fitted a fuller
   assembly of facts like those amassed by Copernicus to reveal the
   ellipses of the planets, by measurements and discoveries in one
   domain, which used in another illuminate a lunette in reality not
   glimpsed in the consciousness till then. I'm thinking of a
   scientist who'd studied the songs of whales for years, who ambling
   past the elephants in a zoo, perceived a rippling in the air that
   shuddered and went, remembered the bass vibrato she'd registered
   when near a great organ in a church, a rumble she felt more than
   heard, and suddenly realised that the great grey herbivores of bush
   and plain communicated like whales in wave-lengths too long for
   humans to hear.

   I'm thinking as well of the small grey sensitivities constructed by
   science and moored on the seabed to spy on the slide-by traffic of
   submarines. Re-jigged by geologists, to map the electro-magnetic
   fields of the earth, these cochleas of metal confirmed what
   scientists had mooted for years, that aeons and aeons ago the
   cloud-swirled continents we know today were joined together in one
   enormous land-mass protruding from the sea.

   I'm thinking not only of the surge and fade of new ideas in the
   mind, but moments of sudden illumination, those moments of no going
   back as when an ancestor of the species first uttered a bead-string
   of words, kindled a fire, chipped out a hand-axe or charcoaled a
   deity in a cave.

   Embedded in a changing biosphere, made restless by quantum caprice,
   chattering, scrapping and playing in scurrying groups of
   flea-picking kin and endlessly monkeying about with things picked
   up on the forest floor our consciousness becomes more imaginative,
   more complex with time, a cosmic time that is itself a bursting out
   of energy into mass and mind.

   I mean just imagine the mind-burst when a puzzled Sumerian priest,
   having dampened the tablet of clay in his hand, sharpened his
   stylus and slowly etched, in space as it were, a bird-headed god
   and a tree, then turned the pen over, dabbed down the rough O of
   its other end and said on the temple porch, "Could this small moon
   stand for a ten?"

   Or when a scholar in Babylon, impatient with the bulkiness of clay,
   the clumsiness of pictographs that couldn't depict the flow of
   talk, spread out a fibre-thewed sheet of pulped papyrus across the
   floor, dipped the nib-tip of a whittled feather into egg-yolk and
   charcoal dust and mouth open, straining to separate and say each
   syllable out loud like a five-year-old youngster learning to spell,
   scratched onto that rag the spindly, leaky-edged letters of the
   first ever word written down.

   What an epiphany that was, what a prising open of reality still
   occurs when thoughts transformed by the hand enter the meta-world
   of a text, whose symbols encrypt a potential energy, a transcending
   significance that flicker like lightning in the mind of the reader
   in the lingui-sphere.

   Axes and ploughs, numbers and words and subtler artefacts of
   thought, the matrices of enlargement, like Maxwell's forces,
   Newton's calculus, the cells of Schleiden and Bohr's mathematics of
   the quantum domain, all potencies of perception as much as the
   hieroglyphs of ink on a page.

   How eerie, how astonishing to think that the bio-chemistry of an
   ant can live beside the physics of the stars in the brain-cells of
   the mind. The mind's that absorbent, a passive activity and an
   active passivity, inseparable from the node of timed-space energy
   in which we breathe, and born to fiddle, like Faraday, with bits of
   wire, magnets and dials, desirous of meaning as well as facts,
   prone to belittle the great unknown and restlessly lunging from one
   nebulosity of knowledge to the next.

   At times a wandering jellyfish, a blob that floats far out in the
   deep, a domed medusa, with tentacles dangling, which wallows and
   drifts as swell after swell, squeeze after slow-moving squeeze of
   gravity keeps swilling its rubbery cerebrum with washes of a
   nutrient sea.

   At other times the mind stays home, a priest, a philosopher in
   residence, a little low bush, rounded, resilient and restless in
   the winds of a dune, and older than land-life, ancestral in its
   austerity of function and form, that headless progenitor of ours,
   that grit-spitting blob waving its arms.

   Salaams beige Polyp, begot of a protozoa deep in the womb-wet of
   the sea! All hail, shy seed of the seed of my seed! My
   Mater-and-Pater-All-in-One! Begetter of all the begetters that
   begat and begat until they begat my begetter!

   How ridiculous and marvellous, plucky and lugubrious an umbilicus
   you are, standing there, standing up straight, month after month,
   in tides like gales. You are, I guess, the peasant Grandma, the hag
   the kids are so ashamed of, a stumpy old has-been, a hairdo gone
   Bonsai, the antonym of hip and cool.

   But hey, Forebear, that protein-splitting enzyme you fashioned in
   your cells, that mega-invention in miniature unfurled, am I right,
   a few short eons on, each voltage-gate in each meniscus of me, each
   thought I have, each word. So what if you're as boring to
   city-slickers as a tea-bag in the bottom of the bin, to me, moist
   shrub, you're the space-time of the cosmos turned outside in.

   But the polyp-lobes of a cortex now are as labile as aardvarks late
   at night, as cacophonous and yellow and purple and scarlet as a
   cockatoo in a cage, as mobile as midges, as languid as a
   full-bellied lion dozing below a fever-tree. One moment the mind's
   a pot of stew, steaming with the bones of theories, the meat, the
   potatoes and onions of information, the garlic aroma of a faith.
   The next it's compressed, the slim proboscis of a dragonfly
   drinking a pond that stores in each drop a menagerie of marvels as
   in a temple cut from stone, and then even smaller, a hair-thin
   traffic of electrons probing a grain of sand that beams onto
   crystal tiles like mosaics inside a tiny St Mark's or a mosque.
   Small wonder then that the history of science is the history of
   human beings who keep on changing their mind about the nature of
   nature, and the mind, a history, let's say, of theories that rise
   and fall, of paradigms that melt away, a flux that teaches us never
   to foreclose on the likelihood that we are wrong, on the certainty
   that beyond the algorithm waves something quite unforeseen. In that
   humility, that readiness to ponder afresh, the vigour of science is
   bred.

   For science is not the pure, immaculate conception of a
   mathematics, a galvanised lattice-work of verities, awaiting
   discovery in outer space or even a theme-park museum of ideas,
   whose geodesic dome of glass shimmering with lights above the
   smoggy miasma of human ignorance entices us to murmur, "Look no
   further, this is reality, this is the truth."

   There is, I suppose, a beguiling optimism to such a vision of
   science, an optimism which some might regard as innocent and others
   naive, as if a quick-fingered, inquisitive hunter-gatherer, a few
   seconds on, in cosmic time, from tubers and berries and huddling at
   night up trees could chew the roots and swing on the monkey ropes
   of all the universe.

   A root, a branch, a bushveld outside the mind, yet also
   magnificently within. For bird-song in the bush, the stench of
   carrion, the photons from the sun both stream past our heads and
   pour right into the portals of our perception.

   What a transubstantiation then occurs! For sound and light and
   scent then change, change subtly, silently and irreversibly into
   consciousness, into quivers of electricity shivering this way and
   that across the brain, a lightning squall that's then
   transmogrified, into thoughts and words, into brief verisimilitudes
   of what is, into Look, look a bush on fire! into continua with
   different quanta of complexity, that flare into images, into models
   of reality, hints and clues that never ever can hold the whole but
   incarnate as much of the whole as makes a painting comprehensible,
   as thoughts cloud up and disaggregate in the memory matrix of the
   brain.

   Consider Monet, bearded, be-smocked, standing in a field of
   poppies, his canvas on an easel in front of him, his palette and
   brush in hand. A child with a handful of poppies, a woman with a
   hat and parasol are wading through the grass of the field, but as
   we observe the two he drops his gaze from the clouds, the tree-line
   at the end of the field, and paints on the canvas, a little above
   an off-white oblong in the trees, a roughly square intaglio of
   terracotta. Aha! says the mind, a roof!

   The top of the roof smears off into cloud, the brush-stroke left
   visible, as if incompleteness of expression, the acceptance of
   incompleteness was human and natural when trying to envisage a
   farmhouse in a field.

   The poppies too, in exuberant splodge after splotch of poppy-red
   paint, are illusions of the flower, real illusions, not mere
   disjunctured fantasies of what the child holds tight in a hand,
   what memory names as a flower.

   Beyond the palette in Monet's hand, beyond the focal length of his
   oils are the whiskery tips of grass blades too intricate, too
   numerous to paint, the smell of soil, the croak of a glossy black
   crow that flaps down the road, the colicky anxiety he feels in his
   gut about the unpaid accounts on his desk, the memory, as it were,
   of a sunset in the stone-quay harbour at Le Havre when first he
   abandoned his brushes and painted light with a palette knife.

   All hovering in his consciousness, like an energised time-space in
   flux, and all omitted from the space-frame of the canvas to create
   an illusion which scientists might call a figure, an incomplete
   model of the whole, and artists a landscape whose colours and
   tranquillity beautify the mind.

   Einstein, I like to imagine, experienced a similar ensemble of felt
   ideas, a similar coming and going of niggles and hopes, irritations
   and fears, amusements, filial concerns, stirrings in the loins as
   well as the bowels the night he modelled the universe in his humble
   apartment in Berne.

   I see him now, in shirt-sleeves and braces as he leans across a
   table-top chaotic with unfinished bowls of soup, an infant's toys,
   science journals and books by Maxwell and Hertz, the boredom with
   his job postponed, a messy idea that light was particulate coming
   and going in his mind, as he answers a question from his wife,
   wipes his mouth with a napkin, rocks with one hand the
   wicker-hooded basket that cradles their infant then starts to write
   with the other the words of a paper, five pages long.

   Five pages of numbers and words, that's all, an array of
   hieroglyphs that stand for patterns in the cosmos more complex than
   themselves, like Monet's dabs of paint, like pictographs on a
   tablet of clay in Ur, like ethics intoned by Mohammed or chiselled
   by Moses into a stone, like ziggurat and monolith, altar and shrine
   and the Taj Mahals to love that human spirituality transmutes into
   meaning from the stones of earth.

   A spirituality embodied in the genes, in the chemistry of
   consciousness, a yearning for meaning, an urge to belong, to
   understand and to improve as visceral as the telos to survive, to
   replicate that throbs each tiny cell.

   A spirituality that filters the phenomena received and mixed in the
   mind, that fuses them into artefacts of interpretation,
   transcendent of the self, each artefact explanatory of a domain, a
   complexity larger than itself, each incomplete and complete as a
   creed, a painting of a field in France, a book that calls itself an
   introduction to the bio-chemistry of the brain.

   These are the holons of understanding, the force-fields of
   interpretation that help us make sense of the flick-past phenomena
   we live in each day, that fuse together images, thoughts and
   emotions from past experience and flicker them through the mind,
   displaying as it were a documentary, a history channel of
   significant events observed by a watcher on a couch.

   These holons are the granules of our identity, of feelings and
   significance, and come and go in our consciousness as naturally as
   an animal breathes. Their sudden flares of micro-volts, blazing
   through a network of nerves, incarnate meaning after meaning in the
   blood-fed flesh-lobes of the brain. Again and again and again, they
   shimmer their esemplastic metaphors in silent explosions of
   lightning through the cumulus clouds of the mind.

   The more coherent and figurative, the fuller and more
   inter-energised the shimmers of these holons become, by means
   perhaps of meditation and the integrating electricity of prayer,
   the less disjunctured is thought, the more comprehensive and
   connected the force-fields within the mind and, who knows, the more
   serene and wise, the more humane the animal.

   Holons cohere in assemblages of memories, a tree here, umbrellas
   there, which flit in and out of view, while the photons of a
   tallish, raggedy tree, of the hints of a brolly beside a sort of
   head this side of a kind of horizon keep spattering pointillist
   packets of energy into the retinas of the viewer who stands, let us
   say, in a book-shop, a painting by Monet open on a page.

   Next comes an act of recognition, performed by a force-field on a
   couch, which matches the holon with the data and prompts the psyche
   to exclaim, I've got it, got it! That scratch and a zero means ten,
   the ten of everything! or How poignant that looks, a mother in a
   field of red poppies in France! or Hang on, kid, I've just
   discovered that energy, mass and time are one.

   How intimate then, are mind, energy and time, how delicately,
   eerily intimate is the thought of a star as well as the tiny
   photons that shoot from its mantle and having tunnelled through the
   cosmos for millions and millions of years splash silently into the
   retina of a child looking up through the bush at night.

   This intimacy is unasked for, is the force-field habitat of our
   being on earth, is as loving, as tender, chastening and firm as a
   mother's embrace of a child, is as fresh and new each second of the
   day as the air breathed into each lung, and old as the hunger of
   each animal's enzymes for minuscule snacks of zinc, for tiny
   helpings of cobalt, nickel and selenium, not freely dished up on
   land that feasted our ravenous ancestor cells inside their hot
   restaurant the sea.

   This intimacy is native to energy, to time that's matter and mass
   in drag, to earth where cosmic dust becomes aware, where cortices,
   as it were create home videos out of the insensate minerals of
   carbon-coiled life and streaming the pixels and pigments together,
   picture in silhouettes how photons of sunlight meta-morph into
   oxygen in the foliage of earth and hydrogen, in the heat-crush of a
   star, cracks out into helium clouds.

   Hydrogen and helium, sunlight and oxygen, the brain-cells and the
   mind--all intimacies that amaze us, along with the inseparable
   interdependencies of predator and prey, of creature after
   energy-craving creature in webs, in latticed webs of life-giving
   death that leave us bewildered and appalled.

   Consider as well the fizz, the consilience of forces that simmer
   all around our brains and blood, unnoticed except by the aerials of
   our instruments. I'm thinking of the bulleting specks of neutrinos,
   emitted by a super-nova millions and millions of light-years away,
   that shoot right through a skull, the pale blue light that the bees
   perceive, the gradients in magnetic skies that navigate a bird
   migrating home through gale-torn mist above dark seas, the fluid
   adhesive of the gravity that stops a hat from floating off into
   space.

   I'm meaning as well, as best as words can, the enormous invisible
   energy that hugs the invisibly tiny universe of the nucleus and
   electron together and the Babel in the biosphere of television,
   telephone and radio waves.

   Too much, much too much energy for the brain of the species to
   absorb, to sort into patterns and turn into sense, too noisy and
   messy and blurred and so chaotic, so violent and vicious when human
   animals claw and fight that missionaries of science, the humble
   scholars of algebra and astronomy suggest that homo ferox should
   phase out into a life of clear and cool ideas, a calm Nirvana of
   symmetry and predictability, progress and enlightenment in which
   the reason-adoring multitudes of science-minded people can dwell.

   Science is more human, more fickle than that. Science is made by
   people with different fads and fancies, who follow intuitions and
   tussle for power. Science is the result of accident as well as the
   product of a budget and plan, accidents as unpredictable as a puff
   of penicillin spores landing on a plate, the sway of a chain-hung
   lamp in a church, the clonk of an apple on a head.

   Science is shaped by decisions in committees, jealousy among
   colleagues, by the funding policies of nation states, the politics
   of university faculties, the budget of the pharmaceutical
   corporate, the race to get to the moon.

   Science works more like a coral, a wetland of data full of rot and
   reeds, a huge, untidy, smouldering compost-heap of new and
   discarded ideas, a fusion plant of theories that nutrient our
   understanding of the universe, a phase-space in which the arts and
   faith can induce new images and words in both the micro-cosmos of
   the particle and what remains for us to explore, the macro-space of
   the cosmos through which this planet sails its tiny ark.
COPYRIGHT 2008 Program of English Studies, University of Natal
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Article Details
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Author:Mann, Chris
Publication:Current Writing: Text and Reception in Southern Africa
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2008
Words:9100
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