Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Elemental Alice

Alice and the White Rabbit by Milo Winter
(Revised excerpt from Alice and the Quantum Cat) William B, Shanley, Ed.)

    She was late. The science seminar had already begun. Creeping quietly into the room,  Alice saw a number of people sitting around a large table. She recognized Amit Goswami by his big friendly grin. There was a large motherly woman in green and brown patchwork dress wearing a flowery name tag: Mother Gaia. "How nice to see a woman sitting with the scientists, " Alice thought. "I am rather tired of listening just to men."

    Alice chose a comfortable padded purple armchair covered with grape vines and morning glories, that resembled her chair at home, and, settling herself in its warm embrace, she listened to the panelists discussing the nature of life. Alice heard about the theory of life's spontaneous generation from a random mix of chemicals. And she heard about the Morphogenetic Field--an invisible vital force that guided life's progress like a long streak of good luck. And she heard about Punctuated Equilibrium--a sort of unpredictable quantum jump outside the bounds of Darwinian gradualism. And Goswami spoke too, about how consciousness is always working behind the scenes, first bringing matter into existence and then working within matter to manifest its higher purposes. And then it was Mother Gaia's turn.

Gaia praised the men for their courage in challenging the currently fashionable materialist models. One of life's finest features, she said, is its urge to transcend physical barriers, its urge to move beyond matter into molecules, beyond molecules into cells, from cells into even more complex and unpredictable stages of organization.

You men are part of that initial impulse, she said, that same impulse that raised life out of the primal ooze, that moved fishes onto the land and filled the skies with birds -- that same impulse moves you to devise theories of how life might have begun, and to speculate about what drives life to take on new forms and directions.

As Gaia spoke, Alice begin to fall into reverie, as on that sunny day by the River Isis with her sister and that funny old storyteller. She felt herself drifting aimlessly in a dark warm sea. She passively followed the flow of the current letting it take her where it would. As she relaxed she lost all sense of her body and could not tell where Alice ended and where the current began. Nor could she tell how large she was. For all she knew, lazily drifting, she might be as small as an atom or as large as the Universe.

Far away she seemed to hear the voice of Mother Gaia speaking, or was it Amit Goswami? What was the voice saying? She could barely hear it:

"And the Spirit of God brooded over the waters," it said.

"And the One Mind awoke and looked for another," it said.

"Pull yourself together, Alice,"  said the voice.

And Alice's mind moved in the dark sea and invented quarks, photons and atoms, and connecting the atoms, made molecules. Separating herself from the darkness she made doll-houses from her molecules and inhabited every one. Biologists would call them cells, but she called them "Alice".

And playing with her little doll-houses, she created villages which took on lives of their own which she also called "Alice". And which biologists would call "tissue", would call "organ", would call "organism".

And Alice stretched and divided herself into a million billion forms, changed her mind and ten million old forms vanished, to be replaced by ten million new forms. There were forms that swam and forms that flew and forms that lived on light and forms that loved the darkness. And Alice saw that it was good. And she cherished every one of the forms that her mind had created, even the ones that were lost forever. For Alice remembered everything.

And then all the Alices began devouring one another. She did so enjoy eating! And the devourers were all devoured in turn. It all tasted so good! And they were so much fun to catch. And being frightened prey fleeing from being eaten was fun too.

And then Alice invented sex for the joy of it, for the strangeness, for the joining and for the play. And for the birthing, for all her litters and for the nursing. Sex for her was as much fun as eating. And she called that "Alice" too.

Then Alice invented insects, and elephants, invented writing and fire and photosynthesis. Alice invented seeing and hearing and a million other senses and enjoyed the world thru each one of them. Then Alice invented pain and music and movable type. And Alice saw that it was very good.

Alice wept for joy when she invented man, just as she had wept when she invented electrons and the genetic code. Then Alice invented mathematics, granite, steam engines and the Chandogya Upanishad. She was always coming up with something new.  Her creativity was inexhaustible. Nothing could stop her. And she called it all "Alice".

When she had invented quantum theory it reminded her of that dark stream where she had first discovered herself, where she had broken herself into pieces for the sake of the world. Alice wondered if she would ever be able to stop her ceaseless creation of lovely new forms; Alice wondered whether she would ever stop eating and stop enjoying sex.

And during all of this time (also one of her inventions) she had amused herself immensely but Alice was getting tired and she longed to rest from her play.

So Alice began to feel sleepy and to forget her creations and, as her mind turned away from them, each by each they disappeared into the darkness. One by one all the creatures of the earth vanished, and all of the ideas too, until there was nothing left but Alice Alone dreaming in that dark pool inside of which a lively and beautiful Universe had once flourished.

Alice Growing by John Tenniel

1 comment:

iona miller said...

The Mad Hatter: Have I gone mad?

[Alice checks Hatter's temperature]

Alice Kingsley: I'm afraid so. You're entirely bonkers. But I'll tell you a secret. All the best people are.