by Mark Swint
Opposites attract. It’s an adage as old as time itself. Sir Isaac Newton made it one of the foundational statements of the universe when he published his laws of Motion; he said, in essence, “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” This is not to be confused with the statement by the author Bob Wells who said “for every action there is an equal and opposite government program.” It is this opposite force that give impetus for all motion on earth. Rockets soar and airplanes fly expressly because of Newton’s law. In fact the energy exerted by a rocket motor is expressed in units called ‘Newtons’. When we stand up, or walk, it is because our feet have exerted a force against the earth which ‘pushes back’. Since we are smaller than the earth it is we who move against a fixed surface (the scientific literalist will tell you, not incorrectly, that the earth also moves ever so slightly in the opposite direction when we walk). By the way, you do realize that the Earth is bi-polar?
Since the beginning of civilization the idea that everything has its opposite has existed in everything we do. The Chinese Yin Yang was born of this notion and reflects the nature and necessity of opposition in everything in life. The actual Yin Yang concept is exemplified by a mountain whose east side is illuminated in the morning by the Sun while its west side lies in shadow, occluded by the mountain itself. In the afternoon, as the Sun makes its way westward, the opposite becomes true and that which was dark is now light and that which was light is now in shadows.
In the Book of Mormon a father speaks to his son of this issue and states that not only is opposition a fact of life but a requisite fact of life. He says “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.” He goes on to explain that without sadness we could not experience joy, that we must know the bad to appreciate the good, the bitter to know the sweet, and that without sin there is no righteousness, without law there is no wickedness.
The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, “That which does not kill me makes me stronger!” He was simply stating, in a most poetic form, the universal law of opposition recognized by all others before him. In his most literal context he explains how we build muscle through exercise. The lifting of heavy weights is designed to tax our muscles beyond their normal strength. This actually causes muscle tissue to be torn down and damaged. It rebuilds stronger and more able to exert the forces demanded of it and we grow stronger. We all know, and have experienced the growth that comes through trials. It is the challenges we face that either defeat us or make us stronger. No one ever grew stronger by simply laying on a beach all day drinking Mai Tais. Similarly, our expression for someone who does nothing all day, every day, “Couch Potato”, implies the inherent weakness that befalls one who does not rise to take on and meet a challenge or at least become actively engaged. Boredom, sloth and indolence are all conditions that befall the inactive and unmotivated mind while energy, sharpness and acuity are all traits enjoyed by those who stay active and enthusiastically and aggressively engage with the world, taking on whatever challenges it may throw at them.
Nature, at its most elemental state recognizes the need, nay, the necessity of opposition. The atom is itself is a composite of positive and negative forces. Each proton in the nucleus is balanced by an electron whirling in a cloud above it. It is the combination of Protons and Electrons, positive and negative, that make up every element in the universe and that give us substance (Yes, Virginia, there are also Neutrons but their contribution is to the stability of the nucleus and they do not establish the nature of the element nor its chemical properties). Strip away all the negative electrons from the positive protons and you are left with a mass of nothingness Stephen Hawking first called a “Black Hole”. A Black Hole is a mass of gravity that sucks everything into it and lets nothing escape. It is lifeless and the epitome of death and oblivion.
So, why do I go on and on about this? It is because of the conundrum of life. Life appears to ignore the most basic laws of the universe and has no tangible place or justification within the laws of physics. Life exists in defiance of the universe and it fends off every attempt by the universe to defeat it. Eventually everything dies, but not before it has replicated itself and left another to carry on the battle. Nature throws hurricanes, and tornados, and blizzards, and droughts at us constantly but we survive. The Sun, which ironically injects the energy into the world that we ultimately use to exist, bombards us with radiations of various sorts trying to kill us. The universe gets in on this conspiracy by constantly bombarding us with cosmic radiation equally willing to kill us and burn us up.
As if that weren’t enough we are faced with the very laws of the universe which declare that we should not be. The Second Law of Thermodynamics, first postulated by French physicist Sadi Carnot, is also referred to as the Law of Entropy. While it is somewhat complex, it basically states that all things return to their most basic and fundamental state. Cold warms up to neutral. Hot cools down to neutral. Mountains eventually erode and fall while valleys slowly fill up and disappear. It is the law of Entropy at work that makes your car rust and the paint on your house fade. It is Entropy that takes a brand new, nicely paved road and eventually turns it into a cracked and weedy path. If left untended, all roads ever built would eventually break up and return to the basic earth upon which they sit. The great pyramids of Egypt and the temples of the Mayans are stark reminders that the glory that man erects to his pride and ego will all, one day, crumble and disappear. At its most basic interpretation Entropy makes organized things return to a disorganized state to chaos. As the Bible says, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
So consider the miracle of life. In seeming defiance of Entropy, life takes unorganized matter and organizes it! A seed sits in soil and with a little water and a little sunshine it slowly extracts minerals and elements from that soil and organizes them into stems leaves and flowers of every color, emitting fragrances that please the nose and attract other living creatures that unwittingly help the plant reproduce itself. Similarly, a mother carrying a fertilized egg eats a piece of fruit or a vegetable and a little protein and a baby forms within her belly. There is bone where there was no bone and there is blood and skin and organs where there was none before. The process of gestation and birth is miraculous on so many levels, but among them is the fact that unorganized matter becomes organized onto life, in defiance of Entropy! What a great victory for life.
But just what is life? I mean, we take dirt and rock and water and turn it into cement with which we erect soaring skyscrapers. We refine aluminum and titanium and magnesium and turn them into airplanes that soar above the earth at 600 miles per hour! Is this not also organized matter? Does this not also defy Entropy? Indeed! And can the skyscraper build itself? Can the airplane build itself? No, these things are the products of living beings who created them first in their minds and then with their hands. So, what is life? From where does it originate? How does it happen to be?
The author Bill Bryson, in his wonderful book “A Short History of Nearly Everything” makes a wonderful observation. He says; “It is a slightly arresting notion that if you were top pick yourself apart with tweezers, one atom at a time, you would end up with a mound of atomic dust, none of which had ever been alive but all of which had once been you.” So, where is life. Where did it come from? What makes it alive? Who or what struck that spark? Lightning? Maybe, but not likely. You see, it’s not a matter of electricity! Electricity is just the flow of unbound electrons. We have plenty of electrons. Everything in the universe is comprised, at least in part, of electrons. It is not electricity that makes life. It would be more accurate to ascribe life to proteins and amino acids that make up the substance of cells and living organisms. We could narrow it down to a couple of long chain polymers comprised of nucleotides made up of segments called chromosomes constructed of four basic components identified by their first letters G A T and C. Guanine, Adenine, Thymine and Cytosine combine to define the DNA formula that makes and defines us; what we are, what color our hair is, how tall we are etc. etc. proclaiming that a lightning strike is responsible for this is akin to claiming that the dictionary is the product of an explosion in a print shop ( a well worn analogy I admit but it fits).
And yet, in the grand scheme of things isn’t life just the Yin to the Yang of the cold, stark, bleak emptiness of Space? Is it not the light to balance the dark? We are looking and nothing less than Extropy to balance Entropy. While it is true that individual life blinks out as quickly as it starts, life in general goes on and life forms – biomass if you will – continue to exist and procreate. Is this not the pattern for inanimate matter as well? On the quantum level we allow for matter to blink into and out of existence continually. Matter is constantly changing to energy and back again. Yet to the larger, visible world it appears static. So too life remains constant in the face of death. We fly over a large city and everyday it looks the same, even though some have died and some have been born.
So, here’s the deal! Why not God? Why can’t there be a deity? We tend to refer to God as a supreme being. Is this wrong? No! Of course there is a supreme being. That is a fact that happens the instant you have more than one species of life. Is not an Orchid of a higher order than a fungus? Is not a bug of a higher order than a microbe? In intelligence, is not a dog smarter than a slug? Is not a human more creative than a cow? You see, everything exists in a hierarchy, the one above the other in some manner or measurement. Philosophy aside, living creatures exist on differing planes, each within their own realm and each with their own biological imperatives. So who gets to say that that hierarchy stops with Homo Sapiens, with Mankind? Who made us the Supreme Being? Is that not arrogance of the first degree? Can the system not support even one more level of supremacy? Or two, or three, or a hundred more? Is it so totally out of the realm of possibility that a higher life form might exist on a higher plane than we? Is this not tantamount to us living on a plane of existence incomprehensible to a worm?
I would posit that it is the fool who sees nothing beyond his own existence and the bigger fool who loudly proclaims that there can be no existence higher than his own.
I don’t know. I could be wrong.