Feb 23, 2023
“How are you at riddles? Let’s see!”
Riddle #1: I’m black and white and red all over; what am I?
Guess: A newspaper!
Well, good try, but we don’t allow archaic constructions in this game, and nobody uses the word ‘newspaper’ anymore, so your answer is disallowed. (If we allowed ‘newspaper’, we’d have to allow Old English words from Beowulf, et al. and that would be quite messy.)
Answer: A blushing zebra. Try again?
Riddle #2: I’m a living organism, I weigh 40 times more than a Blue Whale, and I’m at least 5,000 years old (but who’s counting?); what am I?
Guess: A dragon? The Loch Ness Monster? The Blob?
All good guesses but none correct.
Answer: A Quaking Aspen.
Get it? “A Quaking Aspen,” hilarious…right?
Not so much? Well, no wonder; it’s not a joke. It’s a Quaking Aspen for pity’s sake!
Not just any Quaking Aspen as it turns out; it’s a particular Quaking Aspen that answers to the name of, you guessed it, Pando. (Do all trees have proper names…or just this one? Do they know their own names like dogs and cats?)
Being Pando: What’s it like being me? Well, I’m one tree, but I have more than 40,000 stems (you’d call them ‘trunks’). I cover 100 acres. And in case you were wondering, my pronouns are he and him, but my sexual orientation, sadly, is still unknown (I reproduce asexually).
I’m 40,000 trunks, each trunk a clone of all the others, each tapping into a common root system, but each with its own bark, its own crown (foliage), its own lifecycle (not 5,000 years…maybe a few hundred), and each with its own personal survival challenges (weather, fire, predators, parasites, disease, human beings, etc.).
So, what’s it like being Pando? It is not easy to enter the intellectual life of a tree. There is little doubt that trees communicate with each other, recognize nuclear family members, care for the young, the sick and the elderly in their midst, and proactively share available resources (e.g., water).
Nutshell: trees engage in eleemosynary behavior. Their motto: Do Ergo Sum. More than most members of a certain unnamed animal species I know well, they love their neighbors as themselves. But it is hard to imagine what sort of ideation accompanies this activity. Obviously, it would be non-verbal. The activity of trees seems clearly intentional…but is it conscious?
To whatever extent Pando is ‘aware’, is that awareness solely at the level of the organism itself or is it distributed among its member off-shoots? Are we talking Federal Reserve (central bank) here…or are we talking Blockchain? (Lie quiet Hamilton, I mean that is Alexander Hamilton.) Or is it both?
But back to Matthew: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” As yourself! ‘As’ is different from ‘like’. ‘Like X?’ I recognize the dignity and equality X (i.e., the other). ‘As X?’ I recognize myself in the other. For Pando, ‘as’ and ‘like’ are synonymous. Pando is simultaneously self and other.
All of which brings us back to that “certain unnamed animal species” we met earlier. According to Jesus (Matthew), we are to love our neighbors as (not like) ourselves. Is that an ethical ideal? Or does it reflect an ontological reality?
Am I Pando? (Or at least Pando-like?) Am I one among the 8 billion living stems of a single organism? (This has been an insight of mystics, East and West, for millennia.) Am I my sister as well as my sister’s keeper? Do I automatically do unto myself what I do unto others?
On this site, we have repeatedly argued that reality is inherently recursive. Accordingly, we live in a universe with a curved (vs. flat) ontology – not ‘just’ a curved topology. Karma is real. It’s not a reaction to an action, it is embedded in the action itself.
Well, food for thought all around. But whether we are Pando-like or not, we can agree that human beings have a lot to learn, not only from Pando, but from trees generally (trees which, BTW, share 50% of our DNA).