A biologist discovers another reality
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It started on June 24th, 2073. At first, Dr. Jillian Smith hadn’t noticed it. But that didn’t last long. Global catastrophes had a way of making themselves noticed.
Jillian had just celebrated her one hundred and first birthday. She had been born in 1972. But while her age might have made her unusual in 1972, it had no such effect in 2073. There were those who were older, and those who were younger. But the distinctions between them had largely vanished. She wasn’t an old woman, just a woman – albeit an unusual one.
Jillian had grown up much like anybody else. She’d come from Rust Belt Ohio and experienced the economic collapse of the late 70s and the paper boom – such as it was seen in her small town – of the financial 1980s. But Jillian wasn’t like her neighbors. She was a driven loner. She was pushed to build and create and change everything around her; but she wasn’t driven towards social goals. She’d studied biology, happily spending her college years in a lab.
Like many in the field, nothing of note came from her work in her early career. She expected this. Physicists and mathematicians were like flashes in a pan. They celebrated their great achievements in their 20s and then spent the rest of their lives trying to use their insights, their necessarily simplistic insights (from her perspective), to explain everything else in the world. It was as if they believed that simply knowing about the Big Bang gave them a complete understanding of everything that came afterwards.
But biologists were different. Their world seemed to exist on another level of complexity, relating only to physics like the experience of tasting a perfect chocolate chip cookie related to the flour that went into it. Biologists took their time to understand. But what they eventually understood was fundamentally more profound; at least as Jillian saw it.
As a biologist at Ohio State, Jillian had hardly noticed the Internet Revolution – to her it was only a medium for scientific interaction. As Ohio was largely immune to the housing bust of 2008, she’d hardly noticed that as well. And, as a pre-eminent biologist, the strain on student finances that led to the ‘education bust’ of 2022 hardly bothered her. She lived off grants, not alumni or student loans. She just continued working.
But she was a biologist. It was as a biologist that she contributed to the greatest change of all. Jillian had been one of the few hundred thousand people who drove the unexpected revolution of the late 2020s. It had been called, even as it was happening, the ‘Eden Dawn’. It was during the Eden Dawn that the use of cord blood to refresh old cells had been mastered. It was during the Eden Dawn that programmable biological robots capable of micro-targeting biological invaders had been developed. It was during the Eden Dawn that woman (biology was a female-dominated field) had learned to reset the clock on cellular regeneration. It was during the Eden Dawn that death itself had been conquered. But that was not the only change the Dawn had brought. It had not only been a Dawn of Life, but a Dawn of Prosperity. A.I. and mechanization had developed to such a point that no creative human effort was required to sustain human life. A person need only eat, subject themselves to increasingly painless medical treatment, and live.
A few hundred thousand people contributed to this change. They had been filled with the excitement of it. But the world, the billions of others, had only been beneficiaries and observers. Their lives changed, of course – but not in ways that those who changed them had bothered to try to predict.
It had, perhaps, been an error not to do so.
The world had been freed from death. It had been freed from sickness. And it was, after a tumultuous period of economic reorganization, freed from poverty. And then, everything was replaced by one universal feeling: boredom. Boredom, of course, was only the obvious word for their condition. Right below it was another, greater, fear: meaninglessness. In this new world, a world without struggle, people sought distraction. They started by immersing themselves in drugs, and then reversed their addictions using newly developing technologies. They continued by celebrating every biological urge. They dressed in every way (or not at all), and challenged every social norm. This was one of the few ways that age was relevant, those who were older were slower to change. People began to say outrageous things in order to experiment with culture itself. They believed that culture was purely a result of language. Everything else, after all, could, in fact, be reprogrammed. They believed there was nothing more fundamental than the formation of that culture and so they battled, literally, over tiny slights – trying to draw at whatever scraps of meaning they could find and pull at them. Because purpose was the greatest distraction of all. Some even went to war, risking their immortal lives – just to fight for something. And some went on shooting sprees, for the same reason.
But throughout it all, Jillian Smith hardly noticed. Even as other biologists and programmers dropped out of their fields, seeing no need to continue, she kept working. She saw nothing outside of her work. So, she continued. She created new programming for the bio-robots. She applied biological knowledge to increase the power of A.I. And she was the one who developed the cures for addiction. But she also dabbled in other’s desires, developing new hallucinogens for them to experience. She pushed the world forward. But she was not moving with it. She remained in her lab, creating and building and changing.
And then, immortal mankind decided to create a new distraction. They would return to space. They would bring life to other worlds. Everything would be captured on video, in order to distract them. Humankind would feel – at least many of them would – like they were contributing to something meaningful. Robots, of course, would do almost all the work. But they needed a mind, a pre-eminent biological mind, to lead the effort.
They needed a scientist. It wasn’t long before the perfect envoy was selected: Jillian Smith. There was really nobody else still up for the challenge.
Jillian started her mission on December 15th, 2070. She left behind a world jumbled in confusion. Even she understood how troubled it was. As she saw it, given a few decades of retrospect, the biological imperatives of evolution had been defeated. In some way, the biological drives that lay at the heart of species, and of cultures, remained – but they had been deprived of their marrow. Everything was chaos and the world was devoid of meaning (Gn 1:2).
There was some interest in her work. Certainly, she was interested. And so, she was launched aboard the biggest rockets the world had ever seen, to experiment and understand the possibilities of life in a universe without the protective magnetic and atmospheric blanket the Earth provided.
But a biologist’s work is slow. Even if the generations are fast, it takes generations. And so, soon, the world largely forgot about her. They kept sending her rocketloads of supplies, of course. And one poor soul kept conducting monthly Internet-broadcast interviews with her. But, despite the interviewer having a manic jumpiness that reminded Jillian of old Japanese TV, it was clear even the host’s heart wasn’t in it. Neither was Jillian’s. She didn’t cry for attention. So, people just forgot about her. She was not distracting enough.
But Jillian was distracted. Her work enveloped her. She was a hundred and one years old, and she was, she felt, in what could be called the new prime age for biologists. She was making great progress. She had developed resilient new life-forms based around a new blood, a blood built around molecules of silver, not iron or copper. She had used the powers of evolution to grow and develop them – nudging them towards the properties they would need in this harsh new world. They were simple still, but not single cellular. And they had basic circulatory systems. And, they were asexual. She wanted to minimize distractions.
With her successes, she almost totally forgot about the Earth. She was to distract humankind, but humankind had never distracted her.
And that is why she hadn’t noticed when the sickness struck.
Jillian herself had engineered a virus perfect for implanting genetic updates. It was a human-engineered replacement for generational evolution. A young group of poorly trained tinkerers had begun to use that virus to experiment on themselves. It was the ultimate distraction: self-driven, and self-applied, genetic change. They wanted to express their souls more purely through their bodies. It was risky, but that was part of the point. But then they made a mistake. Well, two, actually.
First, they enabled the virus to survive outside the body – at least for a day or two. It made their tinkering easier. They could create genetic experience rooms: walk in, and change, walk out and change again. It was an uncanny experience.
But, secondly, and quite by accident, one of them temporarily gave it properties that collapsed the proteins in blood itself.
It didn’t take long for this new virus to spread. Within weeks, it formed the basis of a global contagion. Every living species that had a blood supply, even those with copper-based blood like the octopus, was infected. And every one died.
But the rockets kept coming, the robots were immune, and so Jillian didn’t notice. And then the time came for her regularly scheduled interview. When the manic woman didn’t call, Jillian called her. But nobody answered.
Then Jillian turned her attention to Earth and was struck by what she saw.
In weeks, it had become a world without animals, human or otherwise. Even the robots, sensing a lack of demand for their products, had stopped working.
Jillian was alone. More than this, she knew, given the constraints of space and time (things defined by those now vanished childish physicists) that she would always be alone.
She joked for a moment that she wouldn’t miss the physicists. After all, she had as much chance of having a conversation with an ear of corn as she had with one of them. But then she realized she had nobody to share the joke with.
She was alone.
Totally alone in the universe.
And, for the first time in her life, she noticed.
And so, she set about on a new mission. She wanted – no, she needed – to create life on earth. She started by trying to understand what had gone wrong. Before long, it was clear that the virus which had exterminated blood-based life had died with its hosts. The world was safe for blood. And so she knew she could begin again.
She turned her efforts to her new project. And she met with tremendous success. She extended her lifeforms upwards – adding new attributes and capabilities. And, after only a few decades of work, she had created new animals and new people. They were not human, they were something else. But they were alive – pumping their silver-blood. They were even intelligent, with the highest forms exhibiting problem-solving and linguistic capabilities. She cherished her creatures, loving them as they developed and grew. But as they became more and more advanced, she realized they lacked something. She realized they had no souls.
She had thought, as she neared her 150th birthday, that she was beyond revelation. But it was not so. There was something beyond biology. There was another level that she did not understand. There was a level of reality that, it seemed, only endless years could unlock.
But she tried. She tried to create ‘soul’ in her creatures. They spoke to her, wandering in the garden of plenty that was the earth. She supplied their every need, following them from place to place – reliant on her fleets of robots. But they had no souls.
She divided them into sexes, hoping the resultant tensions would create what she sought. But there was nothing. They still had no souls. They were like biological programs, not rising to the level of truly independent actors.
She was still alone.
And then, in an act of desperation, she kissed one of them. A male. It had been sleeping. But she felt something then, she felt like something had been transferred. Her emotional investment had created something new.
When her creation awoke she knew, although there was no science behind it, that it now had a soul. Somehow, her kiss had given it that mysterious element.
But its newfound spirituality caused a strange reaction. In her presence, in the presence of its creator, it shut down. It just died. It had a sense of spiritual self, and that could not survive the presence of its creator. Its own spirit was negated by her overwhelming presence. Its independence vanished. And so, she withdrew. The creatures she gave soul to were more comfortable with her at a distance. They had room to grow as something more than automatons.
At first, nothing more happened, the newly spiritual creatures did not develop themselves. They were not capable of a true relationship. But, when she withdrew some of their bountiful blessings, she watched them create. And when they created, she watched them pour their own emotions and desires into something. She watched their own souls develop.
As the centuries passed, she learned to speak, indirectly, to them. And them to her. Life itself became their language. They would ritually place their own souls in lower life forms. And then they would sacrifice those to her, conveying gratitude, or fear, or regret, or love. She loved all her creatures, but she understood the beauty of their offerings. The lower life forms had been created to enable the higher life forms to talk with her. It was the greatest realization of their lives. They were not destroyed. Instead, they became part of a new spiritual reality – a matrix connecting creator and created. They did not need to understand to become a part of this reality.
And, she found, when the highest life-forms – the life forms blessed with souls – died, she remained aware of their souls. As their creator, she could sense these souls. But those souls were not the same ones she had gifted. They had taken what she had given them, and they had developed it. They had changed it and flavored it, coloring it with the lessons of their lives. They, even in their static, lifeless, incorporeal forms, were beautiful – more beautiful than anything she had encountered before.
She collected them, those souls. And she challenged her life forms, using reality to develop the ultimate product of their lives. She used reality to build up what survived their mortal existence.
As she worked, collecting souls, her understanding deepened. She knew now that there were levels to all things. Just as the flour was to the experience of a cookie, her biology was to something far greater. And just as the flour might not understand its greater purpose, so too a sacrifice – or a life hard-lived – might not understand how much it had achieved.
But as her creatures built cultures and societies and networks of interaction, she came to realize her work was done.
Her work was done, but her life was incomplete.
She too had a living soul. And that soul had been gifted to her by another.
And so, at 969 years of age, the age of Metuselach, she left the earth once again. She rose up into space, aboard another rocket.
But she took no supplies: no water and no food.
And then, as she watched the world below her flourishing once again, she allowed herself to die.
She allowed her soul to be collected by a still greater being. She allowed herself to be forever enmeshed in a greater reality.
And she understood, as so few do, that there was no waste in her death. There was only beauty in what would remain with the truly eternal.
I wrote this for Parshat Tzav because of the change in holiness. In Vayikra, only the bread eaten by the Kohen is called Holy or Holy of Holies. It is a parsha written for the lay person – who sees loss in animal death and even in the burning of flour. But Tzav is written for the perspective of the Kohanim, and so many things – the same things – are called Holy. Holiness is objective, from the divine perspective, but subjective from ours. It is a layer, we need not understand. Like Moshe, we can resist G-d’s plans – seeing loss where He sees only greatness. Like a farmer, we can resist the offerings – seeing only the waste of an animal life where He sees the unlocking of the greatest potential. Our lack of vision does not stop us from being embraced by G-d. Quite the contrary, in most cases that lack of vision is key to the development of our souls.
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By Mirko Tobias Schaefer [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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