José A. Lutzenberger
April 1993
Article dedicated to Mr Hans Peter Dürr
on his 60th birthday in 1994.

The other day I lost a dear friend. He was so young, so cute, so smart, so intensively alive and playful. He used to relax under the lamp on my desk. He was a six week old red hair male cat with round deep blue eyes. He died a sudden, violent, meaningless death.

From early childhood I always spent much of my time trying to understand, ever more awestruck, the ungraspable mystery and indescribable beauty of the Universe. Why is it things are the way they are? How come we and our fellowcreatures, virus, bacteria, fungi, algae, plants and animals, are here? Why is it that matter, or matter-energy as physicist prefer to call it, has the capacity, or is it the inevitability, to evolve in complexity of structure and function all the way from that of a simple crystal to that of the brain of the frolicsome dolphin? How come our planet, for eons circling its sun, an average star among hundreds of billions, far out in a branch of our galaxy, among hundreds of billions of other galaxies, has evolved into the living jewel it is, with its myriad forms of living beings, of biochemical and organic structures, of forms of behavior and small and largescale integration within the life-process and between life and non-life, achieving global bio-geo-physiological homeostasis? How come, among our fellow-planets, all dead, ours alone, Gaia, is so gloriously alive? Are there other living planets circling other suns in our or other galaxies? Will we ever know?

And how divine to be allowed to contemplate all this, to consciously participate, if only for a blink, which is what our lifespan is within cosmic, planetary, geologic and organic evolution, to feel the irresistible urge to ask these questions, well aware we will never have all the answers, that, indeed, there will be more new questions for every answer.

Consciously participate? Yes, what is consciousness? How and why do we experience pleasure, joy, exhilaration, wonder; pain, grief, sadness and despair or pride and shame? Where, in the scale of growing complexity in the structuring of matter does awareness arise? Does an amoeba feel something? We know for sure that a computer, at least of the types we have today, has no consciousness, no matter how complex the circuits on its chips and how intricate its handling of data. There is an (as yet?) untransposable barrier of transcendence between what a computer can do and what is natural for the most primitive of mammals, or fish, or crab! That's why when I see an earthworm wriggling on the hook of an angler, nobody can convince me it doesn't suffer acute pain. Don't tell me it is just reflexes! Now, do plants have perceptions, pleasant or unpleasant? Does it even make sense to ask this question? If you are wont to handle plants, you know there certainly is sensitivity, perhaps there is something akin to what we call perception, but, in the absence of a nervous system, it must be so different we cannot even imagine how to describe it, like when particle physicists speak of the "flavour" or "color" of quarks.

Oswald, my little friend, was just beginning to really awaken to cat life, wondering, exploring, touching, playing, jumping, rolling, running, climbing, recognizing us humans, learning to get around in his little world. Actually he had two worlds, one in town, with a dark, junglelike garden, the other one Gaia-Corner in the open spaces of the Pampa, plus the car that took him from one to the other place and back once a week. He felt so perfectly at home in the three places. He was totally alert and so trusting, he felt so sheltered, he never complained, he always seemed so happy. His world kept growing, he ventured farther out. Then - he climbed into the warm space under the hood of a parked car. When the ignition key was switched on his short spell of happy awareness met a ghastly end at the blades of the fan.

Individual life, so precious, yet so frail, so ephemeral!

Unbearable pain overtook me. I couldn't grasp it, like a mother who sees her child crushed in an accident. It took days for my grief to abate. While still smarting I had to go to a cattle auction. What a world! The brutality of the cowboys, the "objectivity" of the "experts", of the sellers and buyers. It was an association promoting the breeding of Indian water buffaloes. There were talks and speeches, all very professional, unemmotional, as becomes experts pretending to be scientific. The cows, the heifers, the bulls were seen as just the right kind of merchandise for a rancher to make money with. A maquette was also presented of a small slaughterhouse. Prominent on the model was the figure of the man whith the sledghammer... For the participants, sipping drinks, it was all so perfectly normal. In my mind the deep blue trusting eyes of Oswald lingered on. I couldn't help crying again. My sadness only deepened when I looked at the buffaloes being herded around. They too had such beautiful faces, though so different. Some of the calfs looked me straight in the eye, they too were so alive, so alert, but they were terrified!

Killing and dying are essential in the overall life-process. But why is there so much suffering? Why?

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