Episode 187: July 23, 2021

As Above, So Below
by Geoffrey Hart

Coral somehow perceives when the conditions are right to disperse its “seed”. When those conditions arise, they collectively cast their gametes (sperm, eggs, or both) into the ocean currents in great clouds that briefly dim the sun, then cross their metaphorical fingers. Most of those gametes never find a suitable partner or place to take root, and simply become part of the detrital food chain that feeds small communities of organisms on the ocean floor. But the fortunate few that do take root build the reefs that are keystones of the ocean’s ecology, nurturing and hosting the evolution of myriad life forms.

Stars, too, somehow perceive when the conditions are right to spawn. When they do, they cast their gametes—atoms, ions, and even some complex molecules that form amidst the cooling ejecta—into the universe. Those elements drift along galactic currents until they too find a propitious place to rest, and there, they create their own reefs that sustain rich shoals of life. (Or they don’t, and become part of the detritus that clutters the space between the stars and annoys astronomers.)

If you’re a Hermetic, you might note that “as above, so below”, and might speculate about deep structures functioning at multiple size scales. Or perhaps you prefer German philosophers, and prefer Goethe’s belief that alles ist blatt: “everything is a leaf”, with the same structure, born of the same rules that function at different scales. (Leibniz called this recursive self-similarity, but you probably know this better as “fractals”.) Whichever treatment you prefer, the power of a metaphor lies in what it reveals. What conditions did the universe sense that caused it to cast itself into the new-formed void, forming the atoms that built the stars that built the planets that built the oceans that built the coral reefs?

Therein lies a story we’re only just beginning to understand.

Geoff (he/him) works as a scientific editor, specializing in helping scientists who have English as their second language publish their research; he also writes fiction in his spare time, and has sold 24 stories thus far. You can find more of his work here!
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