Why Was I Given The Power To Think?
Author: Bittu Sahgal
Photo: Nayan Khanolkar.
When I see a frog, beetle, or skink that has found a spot on this planet to call its own I am overcome with gratitude and gobsmacked with wonder. How can things be so utterly beautiful and so miraculously functional all at once?
These sheathed woodtuft mushrooms offer this Raorchestes frog temporary refuge. The partnership is ancient. Fungi possibly emerged on Earth some 1,300 million years ago. Plants 600 million years later. Frogs had to wait another 300 million years (give or take a few million) before males could serenade potential amphibian mates. Fungi hence laid the foundation for plants and, working together, both accidentally helped craft a biosphere able to support myriad lifeforms – including this Raorchestes frog resting softly in its moist asylum.
Even as a child I hated it when questions cropped up in my head to which I knew no answers could emerge. How many stars are there in the sky and where does the universe end? How did life on Earth begin? As I grew older, the questions became more complex, but continued flowing. How come dirty water evaporates and falls as rain we can safely drink? How does one skin cell know precisely how to unite with another to heal a wound? Darwin, Gould, Wilson and Dawkins opened door after door for me, only to have 10 more doors materialise for each one that opened.
To me all this is pure magic. It’s mystical. And it’s wonderful beyond comprehension. I feel lucky to be alive. When I am alone, far from civilisation, in the quiet of a forest, desert, or uninhabited island, I like to pretend I am an early human, gazing in wonder and amazement at the sun, moon and stars. But they did not have even the rudimentary benefits of science to explain the obscurities of outer or inner space… so surely their wonder must have been more wondrous I imagine.
Back in the city I wonder about different things. When did human experience turn into knowledge… and knowledge into science? What possessed the system to gift us the ability to think abstract thoughts? What does it mean for this frog and for us all that Homo sapiens has launched the Anthropocene, where we have become the agents of geological and ecological change?
One last question. If I was gifted with the mind-blowing power of thought, why can’t I come up with more answers?
First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXVII No. 2, February 2017.