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The way symbols are created and used requires us to change our minds about nature.

by Joseph Siry

Symbols are emblematic expressions of intangible qualities that also represent the influence of real things on our imaginations; any material object representing something influential but insubstantial or abstract, such as the cross , or the equals sign '=' referring to an implied equity, or the zero, ø standing for the absence of a quantity. Symbols reveal our often unexpressed biases in beliefs or ideologies.

personWe are a sentient creature that symbolically represents the world so that we may compare an impression with other people's perceptions. By contrast and comparison each creature conveys information about her surroundings to others. Our skillfully articulate creation of language requires humans to think with a rich symbolic imagery about the world we encounter. Expressing the depth of that encounter with the world and its various living things is one purpose of telling one another stories about nature. Yet we must be careful to use symbols that adequately convey the complex conditions of nature on whom we depend as people, families and social groups.

booksOn a journey one needs a guide and the great books are abiding guides for our steps down the entropy-ridden tunnel of time that wraps around our mortal experience. The indisputably original thinkers whose minds apprehended an entirely new vision of reality have left to us an unbelievably rich legacy of thoughts, analyses, and methodical proofs. They reveal our living earth as a fundamental, yet anomalous place in an otherwise dark, remote universe of 100 billion galaxies. These are clusters of stars both larger and smaller than our devoted sun, are beacons of radioactive energy scattered across the immense curvature of space. The solar system's width is dwarfed by the milky-way galaxy and all but lost in this expanding menagerie of gas fusion engines called stars. Suns and stars explode providing the chemicals of existence; essential atoms in the molecules of life.

 Fortunate are we to find ourselves in the midst of a water-cooled and gas Eath filmheated planet that harbors more life in a few meters of earth, air and water than anywhere else in the earth's gravitational mass. This is because the molten interior of nickel and iron surfacing as magma in volcanoes is far too hot and nutrient poor to breed life. Where the lava or extruded magma meets the sea an explosion of heat and an opportunity for life in the frigid waters of the deep emerges. The boiling and roiling guts of the planet spew forth enriching the seas with a potential haven within which life might thrive. "And his spirit moved across the face of the deep." Buried in the primal stress of cold dark water meeting the viscously hot yet congealing lava, life thrives in the frigid lightless depths of a global ocean. There bacteria eat away through the nutrient rich sulfur vents where submarine volcanoes rise up from the ebony depths of the otherwise stillborn seas.

Life has grabbed a stubborn and uncommonly tenacious hold on the character and descendants of this planet's myriad assembly of living creatures. From single cells, to flowering The Five Kingdom systemplants the variety of natural living things has been symbolically rendered into five great domains or kingdoms of life. Depending on how they acquire a living, their complexity and their formal distinctions, these five kingdoms are like the individual fingers of a working hand and represent this planet's life. Bacteria and plants make up the forefinger and thumb of this dexterous hand. Fungus is the middle finger, single celled plants or animals the ring finger, and multi-cellular animals are the pinkies. The irony of this hand of nature is that the smallest, most exposed finger represents the enormous range of different animals that seem to overwhelm our ideas about what makes up nature. Animals appeal to us because we are one of their kith and kin. The world of animals rests on a mightily complex and majestically sublime stage or foundation of bacteria, fungi and plants. This symbol --the hand of life- conveys a new framework or an ecological perspective because life on earth functions in unison.

 tangled bankAnimals are eukaryotes (like we, the plants and fungi are) at the mercy of climatic and geographical conditions. But we are even more subject to limitations imposed upon us all by the creatures on whom we depend for food (prey), fuel (oxygen), fiber (cellulose), and fodder (hay). The world obviously does not appear to be a functioning hand but the five kingdoms of life is the truly "hidden hand" in the symbolic imagery that is needed to reformulate our vision of the world. This revolution in our story about nature requires us to redefine and articulate our duties to its survival. It should inform us of our debt to this vast experience of life on a remote planet orbiting a tiny star in a distant, tangential arm of the lavish Milky Way galaxy. 

738 words

Fall, 1997

Biological game in which we are participants.