Tag Archives: Lynn Margulis

Lynn Margulis in conversation with Conner Habib on AEWCH 91.

19 Nov
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Promo
Friends,
This is the most important episode of AEWCH for me. In it I talk with my friend and intellectual mentor, biologist and geoscientist Lynn Margulis. This is, I believe, the last recorded discussion with Lynn before her death from a stroke on November 22, 2011. Lynn was a profound intellect, and, I believe, the most important thinker in the last 50 years.
With James Lovelock, she developed the Gaia theory – that organisms interact with the non-living aspects of the Earth to regulate Earth systems like cloud cover, oceanic salinity, atmospheric gas abundance, and more. She also proved and popularized the notion that organelles in nucleated cells are symbioses of bacterial mergers.
Along with her son Dorion Sagan (from her marriage to Carl Sagan), she developed a new theory of evolution, symbiogenesis, which boldly asserts, and with ample evidence, that new species arise out of symbiotic mergers with bacteria, not through random genetic mutation-meets-natural selection.
The episode is a wide-ranging exploration of Lynn’s work and thought. Because Lynn offer so much, I’ve started this episode off with a lengthy introduction to all her efforts. It’s an intro adapted from the essay I wrote shortly after her death (and it appears in the book Lynn Margulis: The Life And Legacy Of A Scientific Rebel). Feel free to skip past the intro if you’re familiar with her work, or to listen to it as a primer afterward, to get your bearings in the dizzying array of names and scientific concepts on the episode.
On this episode, among many other things:
  • the difference between ecological association and symbiosis
  • why Darwin never mentioned the origin of species
  • why the mainstream pop-science version of evolution is religion, not science
  • “there’s this concept that almost all scientists have that there really is an objective reality, but there’s no evidence whatsoever (for that) because everything observed is through an observer, and that observer tends to be a person…”
  • How all science starts as esoterica
  • How scientific facts are accepted – and not accepted until capitalism approves
  • Is life process or entity
  • Why zoologists have such a hard time understanding evolution
  • “‘Medical science’ is an oxymoron, like ‘military intelligence’.”
  • Why Lynn just wanted to avoid people and read her whole life
  • Emily Dickinson and the Matster
SHOW NOTES
• For more on Lynn, read her countless publications. The two that everyone should read are Symbiotic Planet: A New Look At Evolution and (with Dorion Sagan) Acquiring Genomes: A Theory Of The Origin Of Species. Also, I recommend the text book I had to read for my first course with her, Environmental Evolution – 2nd Edition: Effects of the Origin and Evolution of Life on Planet Earth and her book of essays, Dazzle Gradually: Reflections on the Nature of Nature. A documentary about Lynn’s life and work, Symbiotic Earth, was released in 2017. Here’s Lynn interviewed by geneticist Jay Tischfield and here’s Lynn presenting the Gaia theory to NASA.
• In the episode, we talk several times about the “Homage To Darwin” event, which was organized around Lynn’s year at Oxford. The event featured Lynn, Richard Dawkins, paleobiologist Martin Brasier, biologist Steve Bell, and systems biologist Denis Noble. It’s one of many occasions wherein Lynn revealed the stupidity of Richard Dawkins’s ideas about evolution. It appears in three parts. Part One, Part Two, Part Three. I highly recommend watching all of them.
• Alfred North Whitehead was a profound influence on Lynn’s thinking, especially later in life. She mentions him at the top, and later in the episode, brings up his book The Function Of Reason.
• Lynn says, “We are all Schwendenerists!” means we all accept symbiosis because we accept the truth that lichens are symbiotic organisms. This was discovered by Simon Schwendener, a Swiss botanist.
• Lynn mentions James Watson’s book, DNA: The Secret of Life.
slug
Rosemary and Peter Grant studied the finches on the Galápagos Islands for years.
• An amazing book that expresses clashes between neo-Darwinism and Gaia and symbiogenesis (this is before Lynn and Dorion fully developed the theory of symbiogenesis) is From Gaia to Selfish Genes: Selected Writings in the Life Sciences.
• Would you like to learn about the photosynthetic sea slug? That’s a rehtorical question. Of course you would.
• Here’s a lengthy commentary on the debate between Lynn and Richard Dawkins that gets mentioned a few times in the episode.
• Palentologists Niles Eldrege and Stephen Jay Gould observed and popularized the idea of “punctuated equilibrium” – that most populations of organisms are stable and exhibit little change, until sudden and massive changes occur. This theory is expressed consistently in the fossil record, and in many ways, challenges neo-Darwinian theories of evolution.
• Ludwig Fleck’s book, Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact is a precursor to Thomas Kuhn‘s famous concept of a “paradigm shift,” and it’s a great look into how facts are made, how they inhere, and…then what?
• “The Experiment As Mediator Of Object And Subject” by Goethe (yes, Goethe!) changed my life, and it should be evoked again and again until it changes the face of science.
• A mind-blowing short essay on where organisms start and stop is “Where Do Organisms End?”
• We talked about some of this waaaay back on AEWCH 6 with Alex Tsakiris (and my first chat with Alex, “Fight Science With Science“)
• Lynn often raved about Max King’s book Species Evolution: The Role of Chromosome Change which I (still!) have yet to read.
• Lynn’s book of short stories, Luminous Fish, is quite good. I remember being a little scared to read it and then thinking – why did I expect anything less?
• Here’s a small bit on Swiss Emily Dickinson translator Hans Werner Lüscher.
You can expect a bit more on Lynn’s work – particularly on the origins of sex – from me in the near future.
Until next time, friends,
XO
CH
AERWCH91

Interview about The Culture of the Current + Last Chance to Sign Up!

28 Jul

CHJust a few more days to sign up for my four session online workshop, The Culture of the Current: A Workshop for Facing the World We Live in Now.

Registration is open until 7/30 at 11:59PM!  Below is a quick interview I did with consciousness scholar and pop philosophy writer Jeremy Johnson the new philosophy and consciousness journal, Metapsychosis.

Read the interview, sign up for the course, and spend your next few Sundays envisioning a better world with me!

Jeremy: I’m very drawn to what you’re implying in the description for your workshop. It speaks to our deepest anxieties and hopes right now, doesn’t it? Corrupt powers are consolidating into global behemoths of themselves just as new, revolutionary, political forces and conversations are taking hold. Amazing technology surrounds us, but we’re filled with that creeping anxiety, the dread of living at the edge of a cliff—in our case, the Anthropocene, climate change, etc. The glass is half-full and half-empty, collapsing into a singularity. A new world seems entirely plausible and yet it often feels like we’re about to implode before we get there.

It’s hard to keep this all in your head at once. Especially in your mentioning that some of the very structures of our reality, things we take for granted in modern society, like representative governments and even “religious impulses” are “relics” crumbling in the face of an entirely new way of doing things. So, I might start out by asking you the most preliminary of questions. It’s the big question we’re exploring here at Metapsychosis. How do we even begin to think about all this? What does that kind of thought even look like?

Conner: A kind of downward spiral can happen when you approach the state of the world: The disastrous US election! Mass shootings! Police Brutality! Taken alone, they’re bad enough, but they can build and build until you feel utterly overwhelmed and helpless. So as for how to begin, there are two ways: One is kicking and screaming, which is the tendency (and the one that many people and institutions in power feed on), the other is with some clarity. So that’s how we begin, or how not to begin. We don’t begin with fear, and we understand that whatever is happening is necessary for and even, perhaps, asked of us in this moment. That’s the foundation. If you can’t dispel the fear entirely (and who can?), you notice it, and let your thoughts run parallel to it rather than letting it intrude so much.

Then, one by one, you examine the phenomena. Not just with data — although of course data can be useful — but with an eye for patterns. These might be patterns in the phenomena themselves; for instance, that activist movements such as identity politics movements and Occupy both have profoundly important messages of resistance. It’s clear through them what is being resisted. But alternative positive politics are not articulated in them (that doesn’t make either of these movements lesser movements, by the way; it’s just an observation of what they are). Or there may be patterns in yourself; the expression and limits of your feeling and empathy during crisis events, for example. Why should I feel deeply moved when certain events happen, but not others? Where is that framework coming from? The individual is everyone’s starting place, so it’s ridiculous to look at world events without inquiring into the self, and vice versa.

meandlynn

Lynn and Me.

Which thinkers have contributed to your thought? You’ve got a few listed on your event page, like the biologist Lynn Margulis, and the anthropologist Bruno Latour. I’m interested to know how they helped to develop your ideas.

Lynn was my mentor and like a second mother to me, and I owe some of what I’ve already said to her. She studied two things, really: bacteria and earth systems. And she studied how they intersect. In other words, her view was both microscopic and planetary. Lean forward, stand back. As above, so below. So her perspective and approach was as helpful to me as the content of her work (which was also mind-blowing).

The anthropologist Bruno Latour and some of his colleagues have brought me a long way to understanding how important experience is. Since anthropologists have to take experience seriously, they are, in some ways, the foundation of all other sciences, because all science springs from human sense and experience. Of course, it’s not just my own experience that I need to take seriously, but the reported experiences of others. You can’t just dismiss someone else’s sufferings, desires, beliefs, etc as stupid or “un-evolved.” Anthropology had a tough time with that in the beginning, but has caught up with itself in many ways. But it’s even more than that. Anthropology insists we question our own beliefs and experiences and prejudices, not just of political concepts or whatever, but of reality itself. You have to (here’s a fun academic buzzword, but I think it’s really useful) decolonize your mind; Latour’s particular emphasis is in decolonizing our minds from the phony objectivity claims of scientism. You have to undo yourself to come close to anyone else. What would that mean in encountering not just the indigenous person, as anthropologists are typically thought of doing, but the religious fundamentalist? The Trump supporter? What might you learn if you engaged with them seriously? Anthropology is the science of compassion and real engagement.

I’m glad you picked out these two thinkers to ask me about, since, if I’m going to try to figure out what’s going on in the world, Lynn’s macro/micro perspective — and more importantly the tension between the two — as well as real listening and inner decolonizing, are key.

How does spirituality, or mysticism underpin all of this for you?

Spirituality underpins everything I do. The culture of materialism and consumerism is a specific kind of spirituality, after all, and it’s played a huge part (though it’s not wholly to blame) in getting us where we are now. To keep moving and changing, we’ll have to readdress our spiritualities, even if it’s the spirituality of not having a spirituality.

Does art, or imagination, play a role in this new way of thinking?

Yes, especially fiction and poetry. Poetry is obvious to me: Poetry is a refusal of the world, particularly the names of the world and everything in it, as it is. Poetry demands things be said on new terms, on the terms of the poet first, and then the reader. A poet does not have to accept that a table is a table, they exercise understanding of that object as a relation to their own individuality, and write accordingly. Poets have been saying this for a long time, though not enough people have listened.

Fiction is important, though I wasn’t always so sure why. Once Daniel Pinchbeck asked me what role I thought novels had in the upcoming world (this was before 2012, of course), because he couldn’t see any. He thought — back then, at least — that they were a distraction. I love fiction, but it took years and years for the answer to arise. Now I see clearly that it cultivates compassion and vision. When I read, I have to co-create the world using the symbols in front of me, and in fiction, those symbols are of a non-existent world.

Co-creating the world with the symbols laid out in front of us: What could be a better description of what is needed right now? We need to see what’s before us, learn to read it, internalize it, and then create it by combining it with our individuality. Fiction that pushes on the boundaries of the real is what is most instructive, since what is “real” and “possible” is basically owned by people in power. So we need to start our training in the impossible. As soon as, um, possible.

Was Rudolf Steiner saying something about the Culture of the Current in his own way?

Rudolf Steiner, as your readers probably know, was a late 19th—early 20th Century philosopher, scientist, mystic, etc. He created biodynamic farming, Waldorf schools, and more, directly out of his spiritual-scientific worldview. He wasn’t a prophet, but he had plenty of warnings for us about our time, which was his future. His idea was that the world was going to be slowly permeated by the influences of something called Ahriman. Steiner thought of Ahriman as a literal being, and I think that’s a good way to consider him. But to describe in totally secular terms: Ahriman names the vast realm of materialistic impulses. The dependence on technology, the dampening of feelings, the belief that love is just chemicals in the brain, the idea that we’re biological robots. I mean, he pretty much nailed it long before these ideas were popularized. Not a bad warning. The thing he also said about the age of Ahriman is something I take to heart and that is present in my course: there’s no way to stop Ahriman from coming. There’s no way to stop these impulses from growing and growing. They will do so on their own, with or without our consent. What matters instead is how we meet these impulses. How do we move with them, and eventually redeem them?

Thank you, Conner.  

New In-Depth 4-Session Online Course! The Culture of the Current – A Workshop for Facing the World We Live in Now

29 Jun

book!

One of my great ambitions is to create new models of education that work in and are relevant to the world we live in. To be honest, I was always a little afraid to construct my own long-term course. But after years of work, I’ve finally gathered the vision and confidence to do it. The Culture of the Current is my in-depth, intimate, interactive, and network-creating online workshop on creating a politics and theory of the present day. The description below will lay it all out for you (and I’ve included some photos of thinkers whose work I’ll be drawing on). It’s limited to only 20 participants and it’s going to be great. So read the description below and sign up here. Onward!

Do you get the feeling that something is off with our present moment?

Do you wonder if we’ve taken a horrible turn somewhere along the way to Now?

Are you mystified by the present moment and have no idea how, exactly, we’re going to move forward?

Maybe you’re tuned in to the “this changes everything” advances and stumbles of recent history. Some of these changes seem beneficial and hopeful: alternate forms of currency, 3-D printers, advances in medicine, accessibility to information and creative tools, and more. Others seem terrifying: climate change, growing political unrest, disparity in wealth, ethnic/racial/orientation inequalities.

While people of all eras have felt that theirs was a special one, that their challenges were

LM

Lynn Margulis, biologist

leading to disaster or utopia, something is unique about our moment:

No one seems to have formulated a theory or politics to deal with the changes and challenges we’re facing.

It’s clear that the old structures — our representative government, culture of consumption, scientific theories, religious impulses, etc. — aren’t up to the task. They’re relics, trying — and failing — to keep up with the pace of The Current we live in.

This intimate, in-depth, and interactive four-session online workshop is an answer to those problems.

Instead of waiting for a theorist, economist, or politician to lead the way, you’ll join Conner Habib and your peers in co-creating a theory of the present moment, and developing alternative frameworks for politics and philosophies of everyday life. This is an intimate course, limited to 20 participants.

Together we’ll investigate the most pressing questions of our time:

  • How are the social phenomenon and movements of our day — identity politics, the changing face of governments, internet connectivity and dissonance, environmentalism, and more — connected?
  • What would a theoretical framework that binds all these changes and challenges look like?
  • What does it mean to be human in an era when we have new relationships to space, time, identity, sexuality, and more?
  • How can we best deal with the challenges facing us?
BL

Bruno Latour, anthropologist

The course will start with introductions and Conner Habib’s broad but incomplete theory, “The Culture of The Current,” which will draw from multiple perspectives: scientific ones, philosophical ones, anthropological, occult, and sociological ones. Conner will talk about such wide-ranging topics as the relationship between citizens and their governments, sexual identity, privacy, mass shootings, selfies, and more.

Then participants will work with each other to develop their own theories, which we’ll eventually assemble together. 

In this course you will:

  • Demystify the noise and rush of events of the present day, and find a confident understanding of our moment
  • Push the boundaries of your thought and what’s possible for action and activism, as well as everyday life
  • Leave with developed ideas on the current moment and a new politics
  • Have exclusive access to 3 lectures by Conner Habib during the course and 60 days after the course completes
  • Get 15 hours of ineraction with Conner Habib and peers with similar concerns
  • Create a supportive network of peers to engage with in our tumultuous time
  • Immerse yourself in the writing and work of cutting edge thinkers who are working on progressive initiatives
  • Find pathways forward in our changing world
  • Get an exclusive essay, article, book, and film list of related writers and artists, curated by Conner

Your theories can come from wherever you want, so completely different viewpoints, areas

FBB

Franco “Bifo” Berardi, philosopher

of expertise, and interests are more than welcome. When the world is in such a dramatic flux that it no longer seems real to us, then nothing is off limits, not even the unreal. No one will be “right” or “wrong” so there’s no pressure to create a totally complete or perfect theory. This is a class of cooperation, not competition.

Each group will present their thoughts, and then we’ll move on to creating viable paths forward: How do we now envision new politics? Philosophy? Art? Economy? Science? Anatomies? Religion? Interaction with the natural world? Creativities? Views of identity?

Most importantly, we’ll have a better sense of the answer to this question:

What will it take to enact a hopeful new current of politics and everyday life to flow in?

PRACTICAL STUFF:

DR

Doug Rushkoff, media theorist

The course meets four Sundays in a row, for three hours per session. There’s an intermission in each session.

There are readings which will be sent to you via email by Conner Habib. You’ll be expected to read a bit before the course starts, and then along the way.

This course will be fun, warm, and create a sense of community. It’s for participants who are serious about forming communities and developing real frameworks that address our present day. Participants are expected to: 

  • complete all required readings
  • attend every every session
  • communicate with partners
  • complete all collaborative projects on time

Of course there are exceptions to every rule, and emergencies. That said, you’ll be generally expected to commit to all of the above for the duration of the workshop.

When you sign up, you’ll get a confirmation email. About 10 days before the course starts,

RS

Rudolf Steiner, occultist

you’ll receive another email with the first reading and instructions on how to sign in. It just takes a few clicks, and it’s simple.

SCHOLARSHIPS

It’s so important to me to have dedicated and enthusiastic participants in this course, and I don’t want the fee keeping those people out. To that end, I’ve made two scholarships spots available, one for a full waiver and one for a half waiver. Since this course has taken me quite a bit of time and effort to put together, please only apply for a scholarship if you’re actually in absolute financial need and couldn’t take the course without it. To apply, send me an email and I’ll send you the scholarship application form.

SIGN UP HERE

Sex Before Life (Life Superlives: On the Origins of Sex, Part 4)

9 Apr

This is the final entry in a series of short essays about the origins of sex, inspired by my mentor, the biologist and geoscientist Lynn Margulis,  one of my favorite philosophers, Michel Serres.

Part3 was about the the ultimate sexual merger: Symbiosis.

“Life superlives.”

– Michel Serres

RNALife Superlives: On the Origins of Sex, Part 4

Sex Before Life

We end this series with a story from before the beginning.

Once upon a time,

biology tells us,

Before bacteria…

Before the superliving hypersex of symbiosis…

Before life…

the Earth was teeming with bonds of sugars, phosphates, and nitrogenous substances.

These bonds, or ribonucleic acid (RNA), huddled into themselves, and stretched their ways throughout the surface of the planet.

For these molecules, language was form. When they encounter each other, they strained to understand each other through strange acts of translation. They wrapped themselves up into each other, and this act of language, this braiding of being, created new forms.

A mysterious correspondence: an exchange of material, packed with meaning. This was the exuberant world full of RNA, and this was the birth of sex.

This story provides us with a new and sideways answer to the old question of chicken and egg. Did two chickens having sex make the fertilized egg from which another chicken sprung?

Or did the first chicken spring from a pre-existing egg?

When we look into the origins of sex, we discover an unexpected truth.

Q. Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

A. Sex.

chknegg

Sources

Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Microbial Evolution. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. Origins of Sex: Three Billion Years of Genetic Recombination. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990.

Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. What Is Sex? New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998.

Serres, Michel. Variations on the Body. Minneapolis: Univocal, 2012.

Carnal Incarnations (Life Superlives: On the Origins of Sex, Part 3)

28 Mar

This is the third in a short series of essays about the origins of sex, inspired by my mentor, the biologist and geoscientist Lynn Margulis,  one of my favorite philosophers, Michel Serres.

Part 2 was about the orgy of early life and how it reveals a counterpulse to identity. Part 3 is about the ultimate sexual merger: Symbiosis.

“Life superlives.”

– Michel Serres

daliLife Superlives: On the Origins of Sex, Part 3

Carnal Incarnations

Life was born, and it superlived.

Early organisms brushed up against each other, and when they did, they consumed each other. But not always. Encounter after encounter between them gave rise to a new form of union: symbiosis.

Here’s an example. Imagine a tiny, ancient oxygen-respiring bacterium. Small, but hungry, it was  was a fierce predator. Now imagine a larger, blobbier organism – a thermoplasm, contracting and expanding itself through its shapeless life. The two come together again and again, usually leading to the thermoplasm being invaded and eaten from the inside out by its smaller relative. But not every invasion killed the thermoplasm, and soon – how? We don’t know – the invader organism was taken up by the invaded, incorporated into its being. Permanently.

The thermoplasm could now resist the death-bringing properties of oxygen, and the bacterium found rest from the hunt.

Symbiosis is the ultimate procreative sex act. Two beings merge and form a third. Not a separate being, but a reincarnation of both selves.

Symbiosis is the origin of all multicellular organisms, and likely one of the main motivators of the rise of new species.

Symbiosis is sex, super-sexing.

This creative act is the foundation of human life. Let me explain.

Many protoctists (usually mislabeled “protozoans” – there is no “zoo” in them, since they aren’t animals) like the thermoplasm, reproduce through cell division, also called mitosis, in which an organism copies its own DNA and then pulls itself in two. A startling feature of mitosis is that, even though it’s called cell “division,” it doesn’t actually divide the number or chromosomes, structures in the cell that bear many of the cell’s genes.

In the procreative variety of sex that humans have, sperm and egg cells merge to create a new being. Sperm cells and egg cells have only half the chromosomes compared to the other cells in human beings. When sperm and egg meet, each carries a complimentary half of those chromosomes. This is how sperm and egg meet and form a new being. Rather than dividing (mitosis) humans are created by compliment (meiosis).

Our cells have forms that are meant to meet. They await each other. In other words, human beings are formed through a sort of predestined symbiosis.

Look at your hands, now. They are composed of cells upon cells, grouped together in the whorls and arches of your skin, the bones beneath, the connecting tendons. Your hands are a gathering of cells. And those cells are the ancient agreements of bacteria.

Sex is us. It’s what makes our cells, it’s what made us capable of making new forms of sex and new beings.

And it’s more than just us.

From its inception, sex has been a meeting of forces far beyond bodies and desires.

2In1

Next up: Sex Before Life.

Sources

Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Microbial Evolution. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. Origins of Sex: Three Billion Years of Genetic Recombination. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990.

Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. What Is Sex? New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998.

Serres, Michel. Variations on the Body. Minneapolis: Univocal, 2012.

The Orgy Against Identity (Life Superlives: On the Origins of Sex, Part 2)

18 Mar

This is the second in a short series of essays about the origins of sex, inspired by my mentor, the biologist and geoscientist Lynn Margulis,  one of my favorite philosophers, Michel Serres.

Part 1 was about the first stirrings of sex, with the Sun as a sexual partner. Part 2 is about the constant orgy of life.

“Life superlives.”

– Michel Serres

HB

Life Superlives: On the Origins of Sex, Part 2

The Orgy Against Identity

Life threads through the world, not just living, but superliving, creating more life and more possibilities for what life can be. Every individual has within itself the potential to change, utterly, all potentials.

First, bacteria and the Sun embraced over vast distances, and created sex. After sex was created, different forms of sex were possible.

Bacterial sex can take the form of gene-swapping on a “lateral” level. In other words, genes flow freely from bacterium to bacterium, breaking from an initial host and finding their way into another.

If this happened in humans, “…a man with red hair and freckles might wake up, after a swim with a brunette and her dog, with brown hair and floppy ears.”

Because of their freely exchanged genes, bacteria are engaged in the largest and most continuous orgy of all time.

Or maybe it’s microscopic self-love. It depends on how you define bacterial species:

“(Since) all strains of bacteria can potentially share all bacterial genes, then  strictly speaking, there are no true species in the bacterial world. All bacteria are one  organism,one entity capable of genetic engineering on a planetary or global scale.”

Look closely at the world, and you will see that life defies scale: Are the tiniest organisms really just the largest organism alive, spreading across the planet and into its pores, a giant body with infinite organs? Life superlives.

In another form of bacterial sex, conjugation, a “donor” bacterium transfers genetic material into a “recipient.” The ordinary terms are biological sex — “male” and “female” — are useless in the underlying current of life: hen the donor transfers its genetic material to the recipient, it loses its donor characteristics, and the recipient receives them. Bacteria fuck their identities into each other.

Look closely, again, at the world. You will see the slippage of identity.

pool

Next up: Sex and hypersex.

Sources

Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Microbial Evolution. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. Origins of Sex: Three Billion Years of Genetic Recombination. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990.

Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. What Is Sex? New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998.

Serres, Michel. Variations on the Body. Minneapolis: Univocal, 2012.

 

Life Superlives: On the Origins of Sex, Part 1 (or, Sex in the Gaze of the Sun)

8 Mar

This is the first in a short series of essays about the origins (origins, because there are more than one) of sex. The essays are inspired by my mentor, the biologist and geoscientist Lynn Margulis, and by a little quote by one of my favorite philosophers, Michel Serres

“Life superlives.” 

For Part 1, I’m going way back, to some early starfucking.

Life Superlives: On the Origins of Sex, Part 1

SunSex in the Gaze of the Sun

For all the problems that accompany sex in our lives — shame and fear, jealous lovers, unplanned pregnancies, STIs — one might be surprised that, according to the scientific narrative, sex began as a healing act which diverted crisis.

Once upon a time, billions of years ago, the Sun’s violent and ultraviolet rays cascaded over an ozone-less Earth, greeting the only lifeforms with harsh light. These were the bacteria; prokaryotes, so named for their lack of nuclei (pro = before, karyon = nut or core).

These beings arose only to dissolve in the radiated presence of light.  They already had a way to repair themselves, or life would have never survived its bright beginning. Their DNA — the double-stranded molecule that many of us know about but that scientists still have trouble understanding — had begun to replicate itself through a series of gestures from various enzymes. If one part of a DNA strand was damaged, it was amputated by an enzyme that could cut the DNA bonds apart (a nuclease), and then another enzyme arrived to create wholeness and heal the void.

In the gaze of the Sun, the tiny prokaryotic innards were often too damaged to recombinate on their own. So these beings reached, in the mordial soup, for the ejected DNA of their dead kin, the floating pieces of bodies amongst them. They used their own enzymes in conjunction with the dead to repair themselves.

This was the beginning of sex for living organisms.

It was a co-mingling of partners. The Sun was there first. It aroused the prokaryotes, initiated sex, and then the presence of the dead infused the living with a new possibility for life.

Experiments today that replicate ultraviolet early-Earth intensities prompt similar responses in bacteria.

Life’s first sexual partner was a star.

That also means that by evolutionary implication, our first sexual partner was a star. The ancestors of all our ancestors undulated across the Earth, under a pulsing sexual sphere.

As children, we stare at the Sun, and it blots out our perception. As adults, we know better. When we look at the Sun, we turn away, flushed. It remains a flirtatious, sexual glance cast upon an unbearably beautiful face.

Next: The orgy that exposes identity.

Sources

Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of  Microbial Evolution. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. Origins of Sex: Three Billion Years of Genetic Recombination. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990.

Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. What Is Sex? New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998.

Serres, Michel. Variations on the Body. Minneapolis: Univocal, 2012.