Monday, September 14, 2009

Changing to stay the same

I'm chewing on a piece of non-fiction writing at the moment. It's reached the 'happy shambles' stage; hence my breaking away for a quick blog. 

The background research for this essay/memoir has taken me on a journey into worlds populated by such thrilling concepts as noosphere* and autopoiesis.** 

Amongst the books on my pile are Labyrinth by Peter Pesic, Ernst Haeckel's magnificent Art Forms from the Ocean (his exquisitely observed and rendered drawings - from 1862 - are enough to make a gal heady) and 'What is Life?' by Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan.

 from Ernst Haeckel's Art Forms of the Ocean 

Whilst roaming the internet, I happened upon an inspirational site; Anita Bruce is a UK-based artist whose work is largely prompted by Haeckel's biology atlas; using fine natural thread, she creates complex colonies of plankton, coral and starfish. Thematically, this links in with a global movement of people currently working with textiles in related ways, almost all of them drawing our attention to pressing environmental questions.   

Going back to Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan's book, here are two brief excerpts to tantalize...

"So, what is life? Life is a material process, sifting and surfing over matter like a strange, slow wave. It is a controlled, artistic chaos, a set of chemical reactions so staggeringly complex that more than eighty million years ago it produced the mammalian brain that now, in human form, composes love letters and uses silicon computers to calculate the temperature of matter at the origin of the universe. Life, moreover, appears to be on the verge of perceiving for the first time its strange but true place in an inexorably evolving cosmos..."


"... So, what is life? Life is evolutionary exuberance; it is what happens when expanding populations of sensing, active organisms knock up against each other and work things out. Life is animals at play. It is a marvel of inventions for cooling and warming, collecting and dispersing, eating and evading, wooing and deceiving. Life is awareness and responsiveness; it is consciousness and even self-consciousness. Life, historical contingency and wily curiosity, is the flapping fin and soaring wing of animal ingenuity, the avant-garde of the connected biosphere epitomized by Kingdom Animalia... "

Expansive, optimistic, boundary-pushing stuff. 


For Teilhard, the noosphere is best described as a sort of 'collective consciousness' of human-beings. It emerges through and is constituted by the interaction of human minds. The noosphere has grown in step with the organization of the human mass in relation to itself as it populates the earth. As mankind organizes itself in more complex social networks, the higher the noosphere will grow in awareness. This is an extension of Teilhard's Law of Complexity/Consciousness, the law describing the nature of evolution in the universe. Teilhard argued that the noosphere is growing towards an even greater integration and unification, culminating in the Omega point, which he saw as the goal of history. The goal of history, then, is an apex of thought/consciousness. 

** the essence of which means 'changing to stay the same.' Autopoiesis is a term that applies as much to the single cell as to the biosphere. Applied to species, it leads to evolution.


  1. What beauty you are filling your life with Claire. (You might be interested in this blogger ... )

  2. Those Art Forms from the Ocean are giving me palpitations! Stunning.

  3. Hi Claire. Enthusiastic thanks for the gift of an introduction to Ernst Heackel, 19th c German scientist, philosopher, Darwinian, Aquarian -- all in all, quite a specimen himself. I'm very happy to know about him, for the exquisite excellence of his art, and for the connection it sparked. His work is spiritually akin to the botanical portraits of the (also German) photographer Karl Blossfeldt (check it out:, who was just 30 years younger than Heackel, and, judging by appearances, quite possibly influenced by him. Blossfeldt has been a spiritual grandfather of mine for many years; it's a pleasure to get to know another Great Father from the family tree.

  4. There's an unfortunate postscript to my previous comment about Haeckel. Further research has revealed his belief in the doctrine of "polygenism," a theory that claimed the various races of humanity were in fact different species. Polygenism became the ground for some pretty nasty pseudo-scientific racism, which Haeckel, sad to say, endorsed: "Caucasian . . . man [he wrote] has from time immemorial been placed at the head of all the races of men, as the most highly developed and perfect." *sigh* This steals nothing from the artwork, to be sure, but how vexing and sad that the man could be so expansively passionate toward sea anemones, and so damnably ignorant of his fellow human beings. On this he was neither the first nor the last, but it does rather tarnish the Great Father business, doesn't it?