How to Cherish Your Human Condition: The Poetic Naturalist Loren Eiseley on the Meaning of Life

“The reality is that we’re all potential fossils nonetheless carrying inside our our bodies the crudities of former existences, the marks of a world during which dwelling creatures circulate with little extra consistency than clouds from age to age.”

How to Cherish Your Human Condition: The Poetic Naturalist Loren Eiseley on the Meaning of Life

It could possibly pivot a tough day to keep in mind that we’re “atoms with consciousness… matter with curiosity.” However for all of its innumerable glories, consciousness comes with a value that may be troublesome to bear — consciousness, with its immense capability for love, and for loneliness.

We should bear all of it, as we watch our humanity and its crowning cognitive achievement dishonored by superstition and mindless violence and cruelties of which no different animal is succesful, discovering it increasingly more troublesome to take pleasure in our evolutionary inheritance.

On these days when the prices of consciousness mount to heavy the guts, after I lengthy to fall in love once more with being human, I return to some calibrating passages by the poetic anthropologist and naturalist Loren Eiseley (September 3, 1907–July 9, 1977) from his altogether transcendent 1957 e-book The Immense Journey (public library) — his report of “the prowlings of 1 thoughts which has sought to discover, to know, and to benefit from the miracles of this world, each out and in of science.”

Geological strata from Geographical Portfolio by Levi Walter Yaggy, 1887. (Accessible as a print, benefitting The Nature Conservancy.)

Descending into an unlimited slit in Earth’s crust — “an ideal cross part by maybe ten million years of time” — searching for fossils, Eiseley describes the cranium he discovers entombed in stone a number of million years down this chute of time:

It was not, after all, human. I used to be deep, deep under the time of man* in a distant age close to the start of the reign of mammals. I squatted on my heels within the slim ravine, and we stared somewhat blankly at one another, the cranium and I. There have been marks of generalized primitiveness in that low, pinched mind case and grinning jaw that marked it as mendacity far again alongside these converging roads the place… cat and man and weasel should leap right into a single form.

Eiseley meets the bygone creature with a jolt of perspective:

The cranium lay tilted in such a way that it stared, sightless, up at me as if I, too, have been already caught a number of ft above him within the strata and, in my flip, have been staring upward at that strip of sky which the ages have been carrying farther away from me beneath the tumbling particles of falling mountains. The creature had by no means lived to see a person, and I, what was it I used to be by no means going to see? … I assumed, as I patiently started the duty of chiseling into the stone across the cranium, I’d by no means once more excavate a fossil beneath circumstances which led to so vivid an impression that I used to be already one myself. The reality is that we’re all potential fossils nonetheless carrying inside our our bodies the crudities of former existences, the marks of a world during which dwelling creatures circulate with little extra consistency than clouds from age to age.

With a watch to the heedful opposable thumbs excavating the cranium, he provides:

It’s not a nasty image of that lengthy wandering, I assumed once more — the human hand that has been fin and scaly reptile foot and furry paw.

Artwork by Sophie Blackall from Issues to Look Ahead to

To recollect this, similar to remembering that we solely exist due to flowers, is to permit an consciousness that reaches past cerebral information and into some deep creaturely gladness that, right away, makes you’re feeling linked to all the things else alive, grateful to be a part of this immense dwelling symphony of time and probability.

Out of this consciousness Eiseley wrests the supreme reward of consciousness — its irrepressible impulse to make that means out of detached reality. In consonance with Alan Watts’s assertion that “if the universe is meaningless, so is the assertion that it’s so [for] the that means and goal of dancing is the dance,” he writes:

Maybe there isn’t a that means in it in any respect, the thought went on inside me, save that of journey itself, as far as males can see. It has altered with the probabilities of life, and the probabilities introduced us right here; nevertheless it was an excellent journey — lengthy, maybe — however an excellent journey beneath a pleasing solar. Don’t search for the aim. Consider the way in which we got here and be somewhat proud. Consider this hand — the utter ache of its first enterprise on the pebbly shore.

Loren Eiseley ({Photograph}: Bernie Cleff)

In a passage nothing lower than countercultural at the moment, once we dwell entombed within the information cycle of a perpetual current, he provides:

Maybe the Slit, with its uncovered bones and its far-off vanishing sky, has come to face symbolically in my thoughts for a dimension denied to man, the dimension of time. Just like the wistaria on the backyard wall he’s rooted in his explicit century. Out of it — ahead or backward — he can’t run. As he stands on his circumscribed pinpoint of time, his sight for the previous is rising longer, and even the shadowy outlines of the galactic future are rising clearer, although his personal destiny he can’t but see. Alongside the dimension of time, man, just like the rooted vine in area, might by no means cross in particular person. Contemplating the innumerable units by which the senseless root has evaded the restrictions of its personal stability, nonetheless, it could be that man himself is slowly reaching powers over a brand new dimension — a dimension able to presenting him with a knowledge he has barely begun to discern. By way of what number of dimensions and what number of media will life should cross? Down what number of roads among the many stars should man propel himself searching for the ultimate secret? The journey is troublesome, immense, at occasions unattainable, but that won’t deter a few of us from making an attempt it… We’ve got joined the caravan, you would possibly say, at a sure level; we are going to journey so far as we will, however we can’t in a single lifetime see all that we want to see or study all that we starvation to know.

Complement this fragment of the endlessly perspectival The Immense Journey with Eiseley on the muskrat as a lens on the that means of life, then revisit his equally poetic and kindred-minded up to date Lewis Thomas on how you can dwell with our human fragility.

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