“So,” you ask, “Why would I treasure life?”
Well, let me take a breath….
A slow, soft inhalation.
A slow, soft exhalation.
Who doesn’t treasure this?
Try not breathing for a bit.
Then a little longer.
And longer still.1
Then tell me you don’t treasure life.
The tortoise and the hare
But that, of course, is just your own life.
Have you ever looked closely at other living things?
At their marvellous interdependence? At their astounding complexity?
The 7,000,000 species of bug?2
Have you ever considered how simple, unassuming lifeforms create environments in which other, more complex life can flourish?3
Life colonises the bleak barren wastelands of the inorganic and makes them habitable.4
That’s one of life’s great traits.
In fact, the simpler the lifeform, the more likely it is to contribute to this.
They colonised this planet in preparation for the rest of us.5
We should be grateful.
We should count ourselves lucky, with friends like these.
Just like us
Take a long hard look at an ant.
Or a spider.
Each tiny limb.
The ant or the spider… They go about their everyday existence… Doing stuff. Trying to live.
Trying to survive.
Just like us.
They’re so beautiful, our fellow creatures. Even the ones who seem ugly at first sight – the ones who seem the most alien – even they have things about them which are beautiful.
Look any creature in the eye (if they have an eye) – even a moth or a beetle – and tell me there’s nothing beautiful or wonderful to be seen in their eyes.
Every single creature: unique and extraordinary.
Each one unrepeatable.
Each one in possession of its own identity.
Everything that lives has identity.
Even an amoeba knows – in a sense of the word – that it’s alive.
Each amoeba has a boundary where it stops and whatever it’s not begins.
Like our skin.6
Amoebas react to change. They try to survive. They reproduce. They move. They ‘eat’ stuff.
Just like us.
A tree knows it’s alive. It has a boundary where tree ends and non-tree begins. It reacts to change. It perpetuates itself. It reproduces.
Just like us.
The hook and the net
A fish knows it’s alive. When the hook is torn from its mouth or it flounders in the net it feels pain, desperation. It struggles to survive.
How can you doubt it?
Wouldn’t you feel the same?
Sentience and self-consciousness are only gradations of identity. Identity and being do not require thought.7
To assign a sense of agency or selfhood to the very simplest life is not anthropomorphic. It’s not that all life is ‘cuddly’ or sits around and ponders, hand to chin, like Rodin’s The Thinker… It’s more that selfhood is a characteristic which defines living creatures. Every living creature is a ‘self’, with a purpose entirely of its own.
A ‘sense of self’ may be utterly basic and reactive, or it may be complex and conscious… but it’s a sliding scale, a matter of degree. Consciousness didn’t erupt from nowhere with a euphoric shout of “I AM!”
Just like the eye, or the hand, the perception of selfhood evolved, became more complex, until at last becoming a water-cooler topic (“Do animals have feelings? Can they think?”) for creatures like us, who enjoy playing games with words.
Thinking about thinking
Some forms of life think. Some forms of life even think about thinking. (That’s us in a nutshell…)
Some lifeforms only feel.
Some life is slow. Some lives are fleeting.
But all life seeks to preserve itself, is intent on perpetuating life, evolves.
We’re not separate from, superior to or above all life. We are one embodiment of life among others. All of us. The whole of humanity. We’re all part of life on Earth.
So… treasure life?
Treasure all the life that inhabits this wonderful planet?
Why wouldn’t we?
- Please don’t try this often or for very long. Hypoxia can cause long-term harm.
- See Stork, Nigel E (2018), How Many Species of Insects and Other Terrestrial Arthropods Are There on Earth?, for a modest estimate. Some scientists believe there are many times this number yet to be formally identified.
- See https://www.albany.edu/faculty/rgk/atm101/ozone.htm on life creating the Ozone layer (thus protecting/enabling future, more complex life forms); or cyanobacteria creating the air that we breath: http://www.bbc.co.uk/earth/story/20150701-the-origin-of-the-air-we-breathe.
- For a brief discussion about death, see ‘A short conversation about the meaning of death’: https://lukeandreski.wordpress.com/2020/01/04/a-short-conversation-about-the-meaning-of-death/ and above.
- See Lovelock, James (1988), Ages of Life, pub. OUP Oxford.
- Just a metaphor! Amoebas have cell membranes rather than skin. Nevertheless, both humans and amoebas possess a boundary that defines the individual life form.
- Capra, Fritjof and Luisi, Pier Luigi (2014) A systems View of Life – a wonderful book.
Luke Andreski is a founding member of the @EthicalRenewal and Ethical Intelligence collectives. His books include Intelligent Ethics (2019), Ethical Intelligence (2019), Short Conversations: During The Plague (2020) and Short Conversations: During the Storm (2021).
His free eBook Our society is sick, but here’s the cure is out now.
Luke is a founding member of the @EthicalRenewal collective and author of Short Conversations: During the Plague (2020), Intelligent Ethics (2019) and Ethical Intelligence (2019).