The Incredible Persistence of Life


I saw a long tangle (several meters) of creeper vines outside that have grown along the ground and begun to spread over a large expanse of sheet metal. And it got me thinking: left alone for twenty or thirty years, and this sheet of metal will be completely hidden by vegetation. First the tangled vines will trap and accumulate dead leaves (preventing them from being washed elsewhere in the rains), dust and all sorts of organic material. This will form a kind of ‘mud’ or soil within which future seeds can grow – from dandelion seeds to seeds dropped in bird poop or whatever. These seeds will grow and their roots will spread across the sheet of metal, thickening and holding the soil ‘mat’ together even more. The metal underneath will keep this living biomass separate from the rest of the Earth so that we could hypothetically lift it off years later.

Life is the truly impressive, perpetually changing, form of ex-sistence as I’ve been looking at it. Persistence – genuine persistence, not apparent persistence – it seems to me, is made possible by perpetual ‘difference’ or change, so that Life is somehow more persistent (“per ex-sistence”) than the rest. Of course, it could be argued quite rightly that the metal sheet is just as persistent as the biomass, but it does seem somehow of a ‘lower order’ don’t you think? Like repetitive change being less impressive that non-repeating change. The atoms vibrate back and forth within the crystalline structure of the metal – a repetitive process and quite boring. But the organic matter has vibrating atoms, surely, but also moving atoms, bouncing atoms, and an exchange of atoms, incessantly!

Being persistent does not make it unstoppable. If it stops here, on planet Earth, I am fairly certain that there will be Life elsewhere, and perpetually (or at the very least until the end of the Universe). But that being said, our Life is precious to us because it is the only life we will encounter within our lifetime – hopefully we’ll explore other planets, but I certainly won’t live to see it – and so we have a responsibility to encourage its growth, nurture its variety and maintain its balanced environment.

What do you think? Does living matter somehow have more je-ne-sais-quoi than non-living matter?

5 thoughts on “The Incredible Persistence of Life

    1. Excellent question! Didn’t some ancient cultures consider fire as a living organism?
      Fire is, after all, not really ‘atomic’ but rather ionic – bits of atoms. Fire is the plasma, a.k.a. ‘the fourth phase of matter’. And let’s not forget that there are hot and cold plasmas (seriously, when I found this out, it blew my mind because I’d always assumed things had to be super-heated to reach plasma phase, just like boiling water gives steam. How wrong I was!).

      But yes, your three words hit like a bomb. Fire is highly non-repetitive change, and yet I, personally, wouldn’t consider it ‘living.’ Touché my dear friend, touché!

    1. Tough one! I’d have to think about it. Considering “It’s all atoms” anyway, the line is not so clear-cut.

      I guess my distinction would be between repeating and non-repeating changes. But thinking about it more, the question becomes one of timescale – some ‘non-repeating’ changes become repeating when we consider aeons instead of seconds…

      1. I like your answer, you put some thought into it. It’s a philosophical question and perhaps the real answer is not possible using language? But it’s nice to try 🙂 Thanks!

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