The Impossible Naturalist

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‘We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred? ‘                   Richard Dawkins




As soon as he could count it was clear

he was the mathematically impossible winner of a life

in this galaxy, star, earth, in this time,

here at a center of this civilization.


So soon as he could read and reason it was clear

he was the impossible winner of other lotteries:

culture, language, technology, and history;

he would demarcate the borders of infinity. 


In puberty, at the rising of the numinous,

fearless, fevered and foolish as youth can be,

emboldened by Darwinian science, and Learning, he  planned to steal

candy from the bloody jaws of God.


But this miracle child of blind Chance

stole only the shared lone eye of the three blind Fates.

Now, cherishing it like his own newborn child,

he sings joyously, though chained to the walls of Time.


Yet then recalls that for science nothing is certain;

to doubt is the only law and commandment.

He chants and sings and looks through his stolen eye,

and only fears to see an Eye look back.

Stone’s Child

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Dust from the graves of time-dead stars

waits in the magma of a planetary core,

is delivered of earth’s molten womb

against the  will of a  jealous gravity,


unaware it’s only inert stone,

as blind and dumb as dirt,

but wonders why things sing and weep,

on a rock whirling between infinities.


A  sculptor imagines stone’s child

can be chiseled free to take part

in a conversation about eternity

among mortal children of mortal stars.                    



Satan’s Sleeping Eight

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My friend Sydney forwarded a video clip circulating on the net which makes clear we – who have only two eyes, one body, and one brain, seldom –or never- understand the implications of large numbers.  In the case of the video, the number is not infinity, but merely the relatively tiny population of China, which Wikipedia lists as 1,354,040,000 in 2012.

Watch the video clip: DANCE OF 1000 HANDS  *   


Who might predict that among 1.35 billion Chinese are so many deaf and mute women of similar age, size, and body type, who could and would devote so much of their lives to a dance group? Yet the number of Chinese says so!  What do larger numbers say – a trillion – a quadrillion,  Avogadro’s number?  Infinity?

The closest I have come recently to a big number – for me big – was reading Victor Hugo’s 5000 page Les Miserables.   And that’s a lie-that I read it all – I kindled and scanned much of Hugo’s many long digressions, of interest only to those for whom life had not yet been limited, like mine, by access to limitless electronic information. The movie was   long enough, even as a re-statement, in a different medium, about a remote culture, and age, and I felt not miserable at all. But that number-5000  pages – is a miniscule. Unlike large numbers it’s easy to understand its implications.  While I try, though, I can’t  grasp the  meaning of numbers that reflect, say,  the population of China, nor what they imply – beyond the  tangible evidence of  (how many, 100?  1000 fingers sounds more reasonable, but poetic license can be excused.) deaf and voiceless dancing young women, I can’t guess what else that moderately big number suggests- let alone what  really big ciphers might tell say.

To my tiny mind, infinity– the sleeping eight -– seems to require there is an infinite number of me; of you; of earths, of Victor Hugos. But do I really hear that infinite voice? No.  Even dark matter, strings, the Beginning, the End, and ‘life everlasting’ are more real to me than infinity.  
I can only cloyingly confine infinity to a mathematical symbol, the sleeping eight. There, like any unreal number, it can be manipulated, squared and so on. But I don’t hear its words. And maybe that’s just as well. What it seems to want to do to me — at the least — is to ruin my indefensible joy at being one, myself, alive, here, and now. So get thee behind me Satan, Don’t whisper at me with your infinite lie about infinity and knowledge. No wonder SHe kicked you out of heaven.


* The Dance of the Hands first major international debut was in Athens a the 2004 Paralympics.  But it had long been in the repertoire of the Chinese Disabled People’s Performing Art Troupe and had traveled to more than 40 countries.  The lead dancer, Tai Lihua, has a BA from the Hubei Fine Arts Institute.