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US Chemicals
by Jan Sand
2007-05-19 10:23:28
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Summer here in Helsinki is coming on strong. The trees are putting out green "mouse ears", the brown lawns have turned green, and greens of every variety have changed the color of the world.

On my windowsill I have a plastic windowbox filled with soil into which I had pushed the fragments of a couple of tomatoes that I had purchased at the grocery store. Some of the attached seeds had sprouted and now that the days are longer and brighter each day reveals that the sprouts are taller and offer a few more leaves to the sun.

If this automatic process were to stop life here on Earth would soon come to a halt. It is so ordinary, so basic, so accepted without question that very few people think twice about it or even consider that this is the only known place for millions and millions of kilometers in all directions in space where this occurs.

Looking closely at one of the small tomato plant leaves I am impressed with its structure The round stem forms the central support and it functions as a tube, a pipe to supply both structure and nutriment and raw materials for extension. The hydrostatic pressure is vital since, when the water supply decreases or ceases, the structure weakens and the leaf droops and no longer extends its area efficiently to capture the radiant energy from our local star. Beyond that, structural forces within this simple leaf react to the direction of the sunlight so that the maximum area turns orthogonal to catch the light. Within the structure of the leaf branches of the central tube divide it into smaller sectors and within each of these sectors are further divisions, each with its discrete mechanisms for manufacturing more copies of itself.

Somewhere way beyond our atmosphere awkward machines manufactured by brilliant scientists and ingenious engineers whiz through cascades of photons and not much else. They too flex their silicon leaves to watch the sun to generate electricity for hungry spinning gyros and whirling motors and little clicking relays but they are poor static structures and once they fail a bit everything slows down and gradually grinds to a halt. They have no powers at all of self-regeneration.

The small green leaf, on the other hand, garners its necessities and processes them with a technical prowess still quite beyond the capabilities of our best minds and does it all without a thought in its head and without a head to have thoughts.

For each vital process learns from the process before and instructs that which follows. One might say that these are successive thoughts of the oxygen, the hydrogen, the nitrogen, and the faint but important touch of magnesium -green thoughts. Is there intellect there, or is any intellect just the clever join and dissolution in energy quadrille of commingled atoms to some universal music?

For my atoms and I became me in much the same way, except that at the center of my essential energy molecule there is an atom of iron instead of magnesium.

I cannot question that there is wonder in this fantastic coordination to automatically produce leaves and butterflies and giraffes and whales and me. Whatever we may accord to the mind in its clever maneuvers to puzzle out the next moment by deriving it from the last one its fantasies of the future are in no way comparable to the exceedingly intricate cleverness of our communities of chemicals.

If this be mind, they have made the most of it.

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LL2007-05-19 17:58:18
mouse ears!

Sand2007-05-19 22:11:50
As picturesque as "mouse ears" is I wish it were original with me.It is a standard Finnish description of new leaves.

Also. I may have made a mistake in submitting the title of this piece. I meant it to be "Us Chemicals", not "US Chemicals which implies that our chemical makeup is of United States' origin.

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