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A Handy Experiment

Freddy inspects a large Tridacna derasa.

Another gray, windy, rainy day. At 10 AM the wind switches from the southwest to the south south east and settles down a bit. I go ashore in the rain and roust the team out of their tents. Today, after spending half their expedition in a gale, everybody wants to go diving weather or no weather. We set off to do some transects in the far end of the lagoon.

Water visibility is poor, about 35 feet. The prolonged storm and westerly winds have stirred up the silt. I am always uncomfortable in murky water. "It's the shark you don't see that gets you," runs through my mind as I dive down to search the lower edge of the reef.

I find a tiny little Tridacna derasa, only 67-mm long. I've never seen such a small giant clam before, it must be only a year or so old. I show it to everyone and we flounder on. Not far along the reef I discover another baby giant clam, this one is another species, Tridacna gigas. It is 250-mm long and very delicate looking. Its mantle is a lovely shade of pastel green. Freddy finds a third species of giant clam, a small Hippopus hippopus, on the reef top. But we don't find any large clams in the lagoon. No doubt the bigger ones get picked off when the local fishermen work the area.

The baby giant clams are unusual. I have only seen them twice before. The first time was in the Shortlands, in a taboo reserve. And the second time was during the pearl oyster survey in Tagula, in the village giant clam reserve Fisheries raided.

Tridacna Derasa closeWe tread water over one of the clams while I explain that the colors in the clam's mantle are from symbiotic zooxenthellae, the same symbionts that live in coral tissues. I point out that this is the only species of clam that rests on its back, its valves open to let sunlight reach the symbiotic plant cells. The clam even has special little crystaline lenses in its mantle tissue to let light penetrate deep so it can grow more plant cells.

The gray day gets to be a bit much and Freddy announces, "Hey! I'm cold. Let's go back."

All of us crowd into the Avon and motor slowly back to Moira where we rinse and dry off under the awning. Freddy fixes some hot herbal tea and we crowd together to keep out of the drizzle.

"I liked your talk on the coral reef megabeast last night," Patty sips her tea. She holds the mug with both hands, warming them. "But I can't really visualize how a community of separate beings can be, itself, one being."

Mike points out, "You're a single being - a Patty - and you are made of trillions of tiny beings called cells."

"It's not the same," Patty objects. "It's more like...well, like you're saying New York is a being made up of lots of different people. I mean some of them don't even live there, just come there for awhile."

"Well, Patty, I agree it's a hard thought to get hold of." I join in, "Our sensory systems see objects, not associations, so it's easy to understand why our logic focuses on things, not behavior networks. Cities really are living associations, but not in the Walt Disney way you might think. "

"Our way of perceiving the world around us also makes us classify the things we see by shape and form, not by behavioral similarities. We see one level of the web concept as the communications of cells making a multicellular animal and we want the next step of the behavior pattern, the interaction of the multicelluar animals, to look like, and behave like, a bigger multicellular animal. But when you think about it, a multicellular animal does not look or behave anything like the cells making it up. And a cell does not look or behave anything like the organic molecules forming it.

"In fact, the real underlying pattern is this. A living system is always formed by the behavior of a collection of smaller systems. The large system is a whole new kind of being with a form and abilities much different than the behavior of its sub-parts."

"So you think New York IS a living being?" Patty is skeptical.

"Of course. It's certainly not dead, right?" I smile.

"Take the people out of New York and what have you got?" Mike laughs, "COCKROACHES!"

"Speaking of cockroaches," Chuck chips in, "You should see the monsters on the island."

"No, I'm serious, I mean you're really serious aren't you?" Patty sits forward.

"OK. I've got a question, a riddle, for you....anyone can answer." I look around, at expectant faces, "Patty is an individual being, a human being. Right. Patty is made up of 100 trillion little animals atrociously misnamed "cells". Each one of these little critters is also an individual being. They all react as individuals and have their own personal perceptions, memories and reactions. With the proper equipment I could isolate one, alive, poke it and it would react, it would move, it would be able to reproduce itself."

"Now, Patty, please, on the count of three I would like you to raise your right hand and touch the end of your nose, OK?" Patty nods. "One....Two....Three!" Patty lets go of the mug of tea with one hand and touches the tip of her nose with her finger.

"So?" she asks, sitting there with one finger on her nose. Everyone else is grinning.

"OK, you can put it down now. Here's the riddle. Patty is an individual being. She, as a conscious entity, decides she will move her arm, hand, finger, body to touch her nose on the count of three. To do this 100 trillion little animals must be informed of her decision. At least one of the little amoeba-shaped animals called neurons, must get the word on what her decision is and must know how to control all those other cells so the whole complex of thousands of billions of animals will move through three dimensional space and succeed in touching the animals forming the tip of her finger to the animals forming the tip of her nose. How does the collective whole, the Patty, tell the first neuron, what to do?"

"How would I know? I wouldn't even know I had cells if I didn't learn it in school. I don't think about it." Patty frowns.

"Well, anyone have an answer?" I ask.

"The neurons of the brain send messages along the nerve cells to the arm muscles which activate them...." begins Mike.

"Hold it," I stop him, "You jumped the first step. How does the Patty entity tell the neuron of her decision? How does her decision kick off the first one? Think of her as an individual being, the cells as individual little beings. How does she - the collective - tell the individuals - any of them - what she wants to do and when to do it?"

"Telepathy," blurts out Anastasia. "It's proof of telepathy. There's no other way."

"Right. According to our way of thinking there is no other way. The collective whole must somehow, telepathically, activate the neurons in their proper order." Everyone looks slightly dubious and awed at this and I let it hang there for a minute. Signs of doubt grow in Mike's face.

"There's something wrong here," he shakes his head.

"True. Our way of thinking is wrong. I set up a false set of parameters. There is no way to explain the process if we stick to those parameters. You see, Patty and her cells are individual beings but they are both - the collective and the parts - manifestations of a single communication network. She appears from moment to moment, she exists, moves, lives, as a result of the behavior of her cells and the whole system all at once. It is a unified behavior system, resulting from the communications between all of her cells. "

"And, the communications of her cells is a result of their own perceptions, memories, reactions and Patty's own perceptions, memories, reactions, and the interaction of these with the world around her." We all huddle over our tea cups in Moira's cockpit and look at the rain for a moment, thinking this over.

"She never could have touched her nose on cue if she did not understand English and therefore what the group expected of her. We were as much a part of her movement as she was and her cells were.

The behavioral system, the intercommunications network, extending between all of us, into and including Patty and every one of her cells, and all her organelles and every molecule and atom in her body, reacted as a whole entity. This communications network extends from the sub-atomic level to the whole planet, manifesting all of the parts of the behavior system all at the same time. Patty would not have been able to touch her nose if there was no oxygen in the air she is breathing or if there was no sun and the temperature was minus 200 Celsius or if the planet's gravity fluctuated wildly or any other part of the system went haywire."

"A living being is a focal point of many forces, both larger and smaller than itself. All life systems fit this definition, including New York. In fact New York is a good example of a living being. Through written and unwritten laws and physical constructs, the city dictates where individual sub-units will be at any given time and what they will be doing. Much the same as our composite selves dictate where our cells will be at any given time and what they will be doing. New York would cease to exist without the behavior of its beings - and here we must include a vast assortment of plants and animals, spread out over a huge section of the world, as part of New York's ecosystem.

"If the continuing, nested system, made up of a vast communication network of beings larger and smaller than New York, stopped functioning there would be only the building blocks - the skeleton - and other behavior systems would destroy even these after awhile."

"Well, if you follow your reasoning to its illogical end," Patty observes, "You'd have to say the whole planet was a living being."

"Lean over and look at the poster over the dinette," I reply. She looks through Moira's companionway at the full Earth picture taken from the Moon. "Now, tell me the planet is not alive. Tell me what you see there is dead."

"This is too much," she laughs. "Ok. It's not dead. I'm on it and I'm alive. OK. It's alive."

"But that's not the illogical end of it," I grin. "Because the planet would not be alive if not for the energy from the sun. Earth's behavior system includes the radiant energy of the Sun. Solar energy fuels all life on the planet. Since we are talking about a Life System, we can't exclude the Sun. We're all of us fueled by sunlight - every thought, every word, every perception, is a transformation of the energy of the Sun. So, from this view the whole complex is a living stellar system."

"What about the galaxy?" Mike injects, "The sun does not exist by itself. It's a part of the galaxy. The sun was formed and exists as a part of the galaxy. We'd have to say - if we are a living stellar system - we are also a living galaxy."

"I agree completely. I like to think about how the whole system is interwoven, how the larger systems interact with the very smallest. With the more common view of life, on a galactic scale, hell, even on a planetary scale, I'm just a tiny piece of dust existing for an impossibly short interval. But with this new view, I am an integral part of the whole living galaxy and what's most exciting of all is, through Man's language, I am consciously aware of being a part of the whole being. Of all the beings in the system, of all the layers of life, only Mankind has conscious knowledge of his place in the universe. Only Mankind knows about cells and neurons and electrons and solar systems and galaxies. And as far as we know, at present, we humans are the consciousness of the planet. Hell, we may be the only part of the whole galaxy with conscious awareness. We may be the consciousness of the galaxy."

"I think I got lost back there with the riddle," Anastasia broods.

"Well, I sort of get what you're saying, but I'm not sure what to do with the idea." Patty gives a wry smile.

"I'm not sure what to do with it either," I admit.

"It sounds like the start of a new religion" Mike completes the round of standard replies, "Maybe you ought to found a new church in L.A."

"It's not new, just a different viewpoint. There's a lot of parallels there with Taoism," Colin points out. "The whole idea of reality being a gradually developing awareness. A dance of sorts. Have you ever read The Tau of Physics?'

"I have a question," Chuck looks unhappy about all this. He has not said much before. "Well, what you've been saying, about the planet being alive and conscious and all. Or the sun or whatever. You make it sound like it's intelligent, like it knows what it's doing. Like it is leading us. OK, so how come we have wars? How come everything seems to be so screwed up environmentally? Wouldn't the planet try to keep itself healthy?"

"Good question, Chuck. Sure, the planet is intelligent - mankind is intelligent and it is part of the planet's integrated communication network.

What I said was, Mankind is the consciousness of the planet. Mankind's language system is in control of us and the planet's future. Remember my talk about consciousness? About how each one of us has a mind able to construct our own bodies, hands, eyes, hair and all and make it all work? About how our own consciousness is like a disk jockey who does not really know or even care how this all happens?"

"Sure, I remember," Chuck still does not look happy.

"Right. Well, the consciousness of the planet is a communication system. It is also an infant, born only about 4500 years ago when Man invented writing. We were very different creatures before language civilized us and made possible science, philosophy and organized religion."

"We can all observe, directly, how this mind system of language makes us all do things. Job descriptions and laws rule our lives..."

"I remember all that, what about the wars?" Patty gets us back on track.

"Wars. Well, I've got three ideas, three images. The first is the image of the planet divided into two big hemispheres, the East and the West, the Left and the Right, the Communal and the Individualist. Just like the two hemispheres of our brains. The pressures between the two are what drives us - us individually and us collectively - on the planet."

"The second image is of all those who lead us into war. They all wear stars. Four star generals, the star on the military cap, stars on flags. Follow your star and if you don't you are in very big trouble."

"The third image is a little more complex. It has to do with Christianity and the Bible. The objective of the Christians - and also other religious groups - is to get off the planet up into heaven. Heaven is located up there, in the sky. This is a very powerful image and has lead millions upon millions of apes to their death in wars guaranteeing the right to follow the Christian Star to Heaven. We take it seriously. I think of it as one of the most basic supraconscious images in the planetary mind. The image of rising up from death and going up, up, up to join the stars in Heaven. It is important to note not all the apes on the planet aspire to get off it. Some billions of humans like it fine right here, but almost all religions recognize an afterlife on some other, higher, level."

"Now lets tie these three images together." I smile, everyone is paying close attention. "Sex. Every form of life must reproduce. Reproduction is a prime descriptive characteristic of all life. But reproduction is not, as we sometimes think, multiplication or duplication of life. Sex is a joining together of genetic memories. Sex is the ultimate communication of dreams. Sex assures the eternal revitalization and rejuvenation of being."

"Sex involves the coming together of gametes containing ancient memories, reaching back to the dawn of life itself more than three billion years ago. It is the duty of each creature, large or small, simple or vastly complex, to send out messengers filled with its knowledge. These join with other, very similar messengers to form new beings."

"I can think of lots of examples of weird and wonderful sex. There is the slime mold, for instance. It exists as separate amoeboid creatures oozing around the forest glades. When food starts to run low the first ones to notice secrete a hormone attracting all the others in the vicinity. The amoebas creep together and heap up into a white, slug-like mass. The slug develops a head end and a tail end and creeps off looking for new feeding grounds. "

"When the slug finds a good spot, some of the amoebas form a long slender tube with their bodies. The amoebas that noticed the food shortage, the ones who secreted the hormone and were thus in the center of the body of the slug, crawl up through the tube. The others seal them off in a chamber on top of the tube and pump oxygen into the tube, building up enough pressure to blast the capsule off into space. It soars up and bursts, distributing the leader amoebas in a large circle in the new area. The body of the slug dies."

"I see similar images in the sea. Visualize life forms like corals assembling tiny packets of memories called larvae. These are ejected from the corals and sent off by the billions into the vast empty space around them - the open sea. If the memories find a suitable place, they build new colonies of corals. If not, they die. In fact, almost all of them die."

"Now, us. Sex. Chuck, if Louise here was to come up to you and ask if it was OK to cut off your little finger what would you say?"

"Hell, NO!" Chuck looks at Louise as if she might try.

"Right. We humans are very attached to our cells, all of them. To lose even a few of them hurts in a very real way. That's what pain is all about. But there are some cells in our body we delight in getting rid of. Cells made to leave us. Cells we will go to wild extremes to get out of us. Our sex cells. Just think of all the insane things male humans have done to get sperm out of their bodies. If, from time to time, we must sacrifice ourselves to do it, we do. Shed a little blood over a woman? It's done often enough. Quit your job, shoot someone, ruin your life for love? Commonplace."

"Now if we consider the Sun/Planet as a living thing, it must also have cells designed to spread its knowing, its memories, to join with other Star/Planets elsewhere in the Galaxy. And lo and behold we find Christians, ready to sacrifice anything at all to get to heaven. A group of animals who WANT to get out of the main body of the planet."

"And the pressures between the right and left hemispheres of the planet generate drives to develop systems like radar. Even now, right this minute, radar arrays are set up as gigantic sensors spanning the planet. These sensors peer lightyears into the galaxy and beyond. The radars simultaneously signal bursts of information in the Hydrogen band. The signals would appear 100 times brighter than any star to any other living planet listening and looking back."

"We find millions of apes reaching out for the stars, developing vehicles to soar into space, methods to live there, spending billions of dollars and lifetimes of energy to perfect the technology of war and the drives of political power into a flowering of the Sun/Earth. And to achieve this monumental biological task, the planet will do anything, sacrifice anything. What are a few million hominid lives to the planetary ultimatum to conjugate? We are individually and collectively driven to reproduce."

"And it's working. Modern hominids are watching movies and reading books and seeing flying saucers. On some supraconscious level we are getting ready for our stellar lovemaking. How many people really believe the salvation from the atomic threat is the coming of beings from another star? The theme runs throughout modern fiction and fantasy."

"Sun/Earth is spawning. At least the scenario makes the insanity of the modern world biologically sane and reasonable. We are an irresponsible, hot blooded, uncivilized planet reaching puberty. Sex is boiling our collective psyche."

"The problem is, the language mind of man, the whole ensemble of Sun/Earth, has no conscious awareness of what's going on. We really do need counselling from another, older stellar system. We're making lots of mistakes. For one thing, I don't believe individual hominids are supposed to be Sun/Earth spermatozoans. Stars breed with radiation. Stellar DNA is, no doubt, made of electronic signals - memories contained in organized pulsed radiation. Such memories travel at the speed of light and are biologically rather inexpensive to make. There is little sacrifice involved in signaling other stars and exchanging information."

"We don't have to jump in a space ship and fly to Sirius - although it would be fun - we just have to send signals. If there are other living stars out there, and I really think there must be, we will breed by signaling them. But if there are not, if we are, indeed alone, Sun/Earth must send actual life out to the other stars to bring them to life. It must. Or life will wither and die and with it, the consciousness of the galaxy."

"Lets talk about baby giant clams," Freddy has heard all this too many times before. She's right. I tell the tale of the giant clams in Tagula and we break to get dinner ready. Tomorrow we all head back to Samarai.

Lots of Luck.

Freddy is ready for some time alone with me, I can tell.

"What do you mean the Lolorua isn't here?" I stare dumfounded at Neil, "Where the hell is it? It should have been here long before us."

"It's lost at sea," Neil looks weary, "We don't know all the details yet."

I'm stunned. "How can they be lost at sea between Wari and here? I talked to them on the radio last night and they were in Wari Lagoon. We couldn't make the beat to Wari so I fell off and spent the night in Pitt Bay behind Basiliki. They were to leave this morning and it's only 60 miles with most of it protected water."

"Somehow they lost steering. We don't know everything yet." Neil begins walking back into the Fisheries station. I follow on his heels, still trying to find out what's going on.

"Well you have radio contact don't you? Where does the skipper say he is." It is getting dark. This is not good.

"He's not sure" Neil replies.

"Damn it, Neil, what the hell is wrong with the Captain and his mate? They must know where they are, they can see islands all over the place out there."

He stops, turns, "He can't look around. The Captain and crew have locked themselves in the cabin and won't come out. We've got an aircraft out looking for them but it's quite rough out there."

Colin and Anastasia came back with us on Moira. They come walking up the path and I tell them, "Mike, Chuck, Patty and Louise are out there somewhere drifting in the Lolorua with their PNG crew locked down below with the chart and probably the provisions. The sea is high, the wind blowing 35 to 40 knots out of the southwest. Assuming the old tub drifts about two or three knots they will pass through the rather thinly spaced islands east of Balisaki sometime this evening. If they miss them they will be in for a long open ocean trip until they get spotted."

"Oh my God," Anastasia gasps, "They'll miss all their plane connections."

"We have a spotter plane ready for the morning and a rescue cutter headed down from Moresby. It should be here by morning, too. We'll get them." Neil assures us.

At dusk the rescue cutter comes around the corner towing the Lolorua. Our intrepid adventurers are on the bridge of the cutter. They are waving and smiling.

We cheer them ashore and, as darkness encloses the station, the group assembles one last time over a lobster and fish feast.

"Mike was the hero," Patty pats him on the shoulder, "Let him tell the story."

Mike, obviously pleased with the role, tells us what happened.

"We were about an hour out of Wari, just off the big rock with the weird face on it, when the Lolorua began swinging madly in the waves. The Captain powered down, spinning the wheel back and forth. She wouldn't respond to the helm. That's when he called in on the radio and said they had hit a log and were disabled. Actually, we didn't hit anything. I checked and found the steering cable had just rusted through and broken so the rudder was flopping around loose."

"Mike put on his gear and was over the side like Superman to the rescue," Patty laughs.

"I figured if I could tie a line on the rudder we could steer it by pulling on one side, then the other. It was a hell of a job tying anything onto the rudder in that seaway."

"We were rolling real bad," Chuck adds, "Mike did a hell of a job."

"We got it all jury rigged and ready to go and the Captain put it in gear and son of a bitch if the line to the skiff wasn't tangled in the prop. The prop wound the line around itself so tight it yanked the shaft right out of the flange holding it onto the engine. It took me an hour to get the rope off the prop but there was no way we could get the shaft back into the coupling."

"Then the captain and his mate got scared and locked themselves down inside the cabin and refused to come out." Louise shakes her head angrily.

"Why? What scared them?" I ask.

"They were just scared. They thought we were all going to drift off and die. And they had the radio down there with them." Louise says.

"Why didn't you break down the door and use the radio yourself?" I look at Mike.

"Well, we thought about it, you know. But the mate is a big guy and he had a real mean looking knife down there. Anyway, in the afternoon we saw a little group of islands ahead and I knew they were our last chance. If we missed them, I remembered the chart showed a big chunk of ocean on the other side. So Chuck and I got in the skiff and we rowed our asses off towing the Lolorua behind one of the little rocks where we could anchor. This morning the airplane spotted us and in a couple of hours the rescue ship showed up, pretty as can be." Mike draws smiles of admiration from us all.

"Here's to your safe return from your unexpected adventure," I lift my glass of water.

"I'll drink to that. Hear, Hear," everyone chimes in.

Summary Report


I can't imagine why I'm feeling down.The report is done; some 150 pages plus charts and figures. I've sent it off to Port Moresby. For the past week I've felt really bad - don't know why. I'm wondering if maybe I've got some sort of parasite. Nothing helps. I'm weak, run down, exhausted.

The final report, in essence, documents there are not enough commercially valuable invertebrates to withstand even a moderate commercial fishery. Small, subsistence-type fisheries are presently keeping the stocks at a sustainable level. We collected some good base-line data on populations of invertebrates in several areas. I recommend a variety of controls and regulations to protect the resources. But I'm almost positive nobody will even bother to read the report and at the moment I don't feel up to doing much to push it.

The expeditions are over. The Provincial Government in Manus has supposedly vetoed the idea of doing surveys there. No doubt with the prodding of someone in Port Moresby. I suppose if I went up there I could work it out, but I'm beat. I just want to call it quits. Some crusader.


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