Monday, January 29, 2007

On the road to Valence

Like the apostle Paul, it's often when I'm traveling that I receive revelations... but that's probably all we have in common. The reasons why driving is conducive to revelations are easy to understand. When I'm alone in the old Citroën, and the road is straight and wide, the only thing I can do (besides guiding the automobile and being on the alert for possible dangers) is to think about things. So, whenever I have to drop down to Valence to do some shopping, I end up doing a lot of thinking about all kinds of things, both big and small. Most often, my thoughts remain at a fairly low level, like the clouds over Choranche. But it sometimes happens that a good idea springs forth. Sometimes, even, a great idea. As for revelations, they are exceptionally rare events. And the most profound and intense revelations are those that hit you like a thunderbolt from the heavens when you're least expecting it.

The flash of enlightenment that struck me on the road to Valence, a few days ago, was the outcome of reading that has been taking a certain amount of time to sink in, to make its messages at home in my neurons. Readers who have observed some of the posts in my blog (including the confusing one on the theme of the meaning of life) won't be surprised to hear that the spellbinding stuff I've been reading—the source of my awakening—was written by an English scientist, six months younger than me, named Richard Dawkins. If you click on this stylized image of a DNA spiral, you can visit the official Dawkins website... which reveals, incidentally, that he has acquired stardom status throughout the world as a result of his excellent writing style and his courageous and well-informed stance on current themes such as the rational impossibility of divinities responsible for the alleged "intelligent design" of the Cosmos. To my mind, this popular success of Dawkins is a promising positive outcome. After all, a planetary battle is currently raging against the forces of religious obscurantism, and it is reassuring that a few of our commanders should be enlightened scientists rather than mindless politicians, puppets, prophets, priests and soldiers.

The Dawkins-inspired revelation that has just struck me? Like most people, I've always imagined up until now that the fundamental entity of human existence on Earth (that last precision, "on Earth", excludes extraneous allusions to what might or might not exist in the Heavens) is the individual, like you or me, and that our species survives through the biological process of procreation, which involves tiny secondary entities—of interest only to scientific experts—known as chromosomes and genes. Well, today, I realize that this is a totally upside-down (antipodean) view of things, which must indeed be designated as false. The fundamental entities of human, animal and plant existence on Earth are the tiny genes, not individual human beings such as you or me. The genes of animals and plants survive eternally (or almost) in ways that are unthinkable for the animals and plants themselves, which must be seen as mere transient containers or carriers for the immortal genes.

Now, those few assertions might look like a small step for a humble thinker like me, but they're a giant step for global philosophizing about the meaning of our existence. To use another metaphor, we humans are like the Aéropostale planes and FedEx vans that crisscross the planet, so that the mail gets through. [See my earlier post on this theme.] But the mail itself is composed of genes.

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