A BIOLOGICAL STUDY
The newborn nebulae existed for aeons as mere lucent clouds of gas, featureless and mindless. But when within each flattening globe a bright dense core had appeared, this came to rule the whole mass with its preponderant sway, and with the ceaseless and violent outrush of its radiation.
And presently, when the primal beings within the core had become very crowded, and very subject to mutual influence and to the overmastering tempest of light on which they were tossed, there was formed, deep within the incandescent heart of the core itself, a unifying centre of life, a region no larger than the bulk of a thousand stars, but dense almost as a liquid, and turbulent with such fury of radiation as had not occurred since the atom-cosmos first responded to God's word.
Within this boiling cauldron of the divine physical energy, within this tense and enduring system of intricate currents, antagonized yet cooperative, within this vast germ cell set in the vaster yoke of the nebular core, the new vital order was mysteriously welded, and the myriad dissociated primal beings were at last harnessed an domesticated for the support and service of a theme of spirit more admirable than their own, namely for the embryonic mind of the nebula.
Little by little, this vital centre organized the whole core as a balanced yet ever-changing system of hurricanes, trade winds, tornadoes, subservient in all their operations to the vital needs of the whole.
And as the airy streamers and filaments of the nebular disc began to appear, these also were inwardly organized to the requirements of the new being. They became in fact true living tissues, fulfilling all manner of delicate vital functions, though they were but ordered winds, more tenuous than any, man-made "vacuum." Strange that such loose-knit material could form the body of such a vivid spirit!
It is not surprising that I could not discover the mechanism of this steady internal evolution. But one point seemed to me certain. Natural selection played an important part within each nebula, favouring some experiments in vital organization and destroying others, much as on earth it favours some races of organisms and destroys others.
The living nebula has no need to gather energy from the world outside its own substance. Its font of power lies in the very matter which is its flesh. Its hunting ground and its prey are within its own intestines. It feeds upon its own secretion. For the primal beings within it provide by their myriadfold ejaculations a lavish source of power.
Thus the living nebula is exempt from that necessity which is of the first but not of the highest importance to every terrestrial creature, namely the need to reach out into the environment for light and food. Yet in spite of this heaven-sent exemption, there was to come a time when it would be flung away, and the whole cosmical community of nebulae would be shattered by conflict over mechanical power.
In spite of deep differences, the nebulae and the living things of earth are at bottom akin, for in each the prime vital tendency and the most urgent desire are directed toward self-maintenance and development; and in both kinds of life there is needed for this end a constant flow of energy. Further, just as for terrestrial creatures the procuring of physical energy is the main practical enterprise, so in the living nebula the first of all tasks is to secure to its own vital processes a lavish supply of its own internal radiation. But the nebula's task is in one respect the easier and in another the more difficult. It never suffers from dearth but the torrential violence of its own energy spate is apt to rend and shatter its flimsy tissues.
Since they have no need to seek food abroad or to avoid being preyed upon, none of the young nebulae save those significant few which grow up in enduring groups, develop organs of external sense. For the lone nebula, experience is entirely of events within its own body. But of those internal events it develops a very poignant and subtle awareness. It has an urgent need to be sensitive to the fluctuations of its internal energies, so that it may control and organize their expression and prevent them from damaging its tissues. So varied and inconstant are the patterns of events within the great fluid body, that physiological controls are seldom automatic, as they are with us, but almost always under conscious and intelligent guidance.
The core and the tresses of the living nebula are composed of many kinds of tissues, each a pattern of little enduring whirlwinds of many gasses and dusts in physical relation with one another. Scattered through these tissues are many organs of sensation and of control, and many insulated tracks for the transmission of messages between the core and the tresses. By means of this complex organization the nebula becomes very precisely aware of the intricate pattern of events which constitute its bodily life, and it influences them very minutely according to its wishes. It is sensitive to all the frequencies of radiation, to pressure, to warmth and cold and to many chemical changes. It can retard and quicken the flow of its radiation in different parts of its body. It can also, by stimulating certain regions to expand or contract, alter the shape of its convolutions.
Since a nebula is so large that the cosmical light takes many thousands of years to travel across it, its nerve currents, though moving at the speed of light, are in a sense very sluggish. The whole tempo of nebular life is therefore, from the human point of view, fantastically slow. Passages of thought which a human brain would perform in a few seconds would take the huge nebular brain many years. Yet in terms of its own life its mental operations are rapid. "Quick as thought" is an analogy as true for the nebula as for man. For slow as its thinking seems to us, its responses to events occurring in its remote extremities are far slower. In dealing with such events it has to take into account time lost on the inward and outward passage of the nerve current, just as we, when we carryon a correspondence, have to take into account time lost in the post.
Owing to the extreme slowness of their experience, the nebulae tend to be much impressed by the swiftness and elusive changefulness of events. And when at last, after aeons of maturity, they begin to notice in themselves that decay which we associate with senescence, they are dismayed at the brevity of their life.
In its earliest phase the foetal mind of the nebula hovers long between the deepest slumber and drowsy waking. It basks in its own inherent sunshine. It luxuriates in the confused streaming and stroking and thrusting of its living winds, as they move among one another on their ordered courses. But as the ages pass, it comes to feel more accurately its patterned currents and the spreading torrents of its radiation; and little by little it takes charge of its own economy. It has by now perceptions not only of light and darkness, pressures, balance, and a thousand tactual textures, but also of vigour, faintness, fatigue, restlessness, the glow of health, and innumerable local strains and pains. These manifold characters it experiences with all the precision which we know only in perceiving the external world. It inwardly feels and sees its body in more detail than we achieve in touching and seeing external objects. But of its environment it knows less than we know of our digestive operations.
As a human infant, lying in its cot, discovers its toes and exults in dictating their movements, so the infant nebula discovers not toes and fingers, ears and genitals, but the living and mobile tresses that are its limbs. But whereas the human infant discovers its body's external aspect and at the same time sets about exploring the vast external world, the lone nebulae is externally blind and numb. Yet internally it encounters such diversified and passionate experience, that in many cases, though this may seem almost incredible, the lone nebulae have developed a considerable intricacy of thought and a vast and subtle gamut of emotions. I shall later try to give some idea of this strange life.
The mental life of the lone nebulae had of course to be carried on entirely without the use of language. That it could proceed at all, thus hobbled, may seem impossible. But I found that the more advanced of the lone nebulae had, as a matter of fact, been driven to develop a kind of "internal language" of symbolic images and incipient gestures. In many cases this proved a very efficient vehicle for the process of their thought and feeling.
Only the relatively few nebulae which were "born" in groups developed normally any perception of events occurring beyond their own bodies. For these it was very important to react to the whole group in which they lived, for they had far-reaching influences on one another, determining their mutual orbits, shaping each other, with their tidal attraction, sometimes tearing limbs from one another, sometimes caressing one another, sometimes fighting to the death, sometimes ecstatically merging.
Even in infancy the social nebulae began to be mutually sensitive. Their external perceptions were derived from experience of the distortion of their vital form by the gravitational sway of their neighbours, and from light which impinged upon their outer tissues.
I need not tell in detail how, from the direction, strength and texture of these external influences, the young social nebulae came to apprehend one another as physical objects. Their visual perceptions were of course very different from those which we obtain by lens and retina. Their grasp of the solid form of seen objects was based on their power of discriminating slight differences in the direction of the light rays which entered their tissues at different points. Thus their seeing consisted of the apprehension of innumerable ever-changing parallaxes, the relations of which were automatically analysed in the brain tracts of the core, and perceived as external objects having precise shapes and colours and sizes, and moving at definite distances from the point of vision.
When I had succeeded in mastering this odd way of seeing, I found it no less subtle and no less aesthetically significant than the familiar human mode.
The nebula's sense of external attraction was at bottom not unlike a blend of our touch, our balance, and our kinaesthesis. But it was developed with the same subtlety as nebular vision. It afforded very precise perceptions of masses at a distance, discriminating them with surprising accuracy in respect of shape and detailed texture of density. Thus it amounted to a kind of "tactual seeing" entirely unknown to man.
In addition to these two ways of perceiving one another, the social nebulae could sense differences of electric charge in their neighbours. And as electric changes were symptomatic of emotional changes, this electric sensitivity had for the percipient a strong emotive significance.
Along with powers of external perception came powers of voluntary locomotion. In infancy the nebula's orbit was determined solely by the simpler principles which we call physical. But as the young creatures developed needs to avoid and approach one another, they acquired also, little by little, the power to control their movements. This was done by directing the discharge of their radiation in such a manner that the recoil might propel them whither they willed. At first this voluntary control produced but a slight perturbation of the normal orbit, but in time it came to be used with greater effect. It was not until the discovery of mechanical power, the subatomic energy derived from the disintegration of the flesh of their slaughtered fellows, that the social nebulae were able to make long voyages from group to group.
The social nebulae could communicate with one another. In infancy they learned to associate certain t appearances of their neighbours with impending approach or flight, hostility or friendliness, vigour or fatigue, and so on. In time they came to make deliberate use of these spontaneous "gestures" to communicate their intentions to one another. And, from these clumsy babblings of childhood each group of nebulae developed in maturity a more or less efficient language, which grew up in close association with the internal "language" of symbolic images and movements. The external language in its finished state consisted entirely of delicate rhythmic changes of radiation produced and received by specialized organs.
Chapter 4 Nebula
Nebula Maker Contents