The Randomness of Bees

I was 17, and happened to be sitting next to that girl – Gail or something – who was generally considered by the rest of the class to be a bit weird.

Honey Bees, Beehive, Honey, Bees“I mean just look at bees,” she said to me.
This was a conversation opener, apropos to nothing.  We weren’t even doing a biology lesson.
“What about them?” I said warily.
“Well just THINK about it!” she exclaimed. “I mean how can anyone – ANYONE – argue that life is random, that everything just happened to evolve the way it did by a series of chances. So stupid!  Think about bees, Janet. (I hate it when people use my full name, but Gail wasn’t the sort to shorten it, the way everyone else did.) Think about the way they live… the patterns… it’s all just SO perfect.”

She drifted off into a blissful reverie, religious ecstasy temporarily quenching her evangelical zeal. Gail was a fundamentalist Christian.
I grunted and began focusing hard on my work.

The fact that I can recall that rather odd snippet of conversation fifty years later, though, goes to show the effect her comments made on me.  I’ve never forgotten that incident and as I continued through my life, my mind often travelled back to Gail and her bees.  Were we, and all that we share our planet with, really the result of some fluke of natural selection?  It merited consideration, certainly.

People, Doctors, Medic, ScientistIf you’ve just done the maths, you’ll have deduced that I was educated in the shiny black and white op-art sixties.  Science was at its zenith.  It was the new religion.  Scientists knew everything.  They could send rockets to the moon.  They could explain anything that needed an explanation.  Other points of view were rudely brushed aside as superstition or ignorance.  To disagree with the concept of life emerging from a rather fortuitous combination of chemicals, temperature, light and moisture in primeval swamps was almost heresy.  It meant you had to be a Creationist – someone who, like Gail, believed the beginning of the Bible contained a factual account of the beginning of the World.

Decades rolled by and I kept thinking.  I became increasingly disillusioned with the pomposity of the scientists who were more than happy to sweep inconvenient truths under their lab benches and persuade museums to hide away artefacts that didn’t fit their version of events.  On the other hand, I remained unconvinced by Gail’s merciful-but-actually-pretty-vengeful God and his six day fix on the bottomless void.

Fortunately for me, life is more nuanced these days.  The growth of digital information, multi-culturalism and alternative ways of thinking and being, mean that despite the continued persistence of some purists and fundamentalists on all sides, terms like Consciousness and Awareness and Intention have gained sway.

It’s no longer either/or.  Even scientists are discovering that we influence our lives, our bodies, our wellness and our experience through our thoughts and expectations.  For me, God has drifted away from being a strict headmaster with a hippy son to become a benign Intelligence, of which all Life is some kind of infinitessimal part.

Understanding the implications of quantum science removes the barrier between living and non-living.  We know, now, how much energy, how much LIFE there is in even the most apparently inert object.  Everything is, well, ert.

So OK Gail, I’ll give you that one.  There is no randomness in bees.  They are a pretty wonderful example of that Divine Intelligence playing out.

Solar Eclipse 2017, Totality, 2017And now, I’ve got one for you:  eclipses.  Is it random chance that when we stand on this one little planet, amongst a mass of celestial bodies, our Moon (which is, in astronomical terms, tiny but very close) can exactly block out our view of our Sun, which is far bigger but far further away?

If Life didn’t randomly evolve on this planet, then do the positions of the heavenly bodies need to be viewed as random, or is there a Divine Intelligence at work there too?

Can we listen again to the music of the spheres?  Can we begin to understand why the ancients built megalithic structures with such care and precision, aligning them to star patterns, compass directions and equinoxes?

We are all hard-wired to love pattern, to reach into it and to understand and reproduce it, whether we are humans or bees.

And there’s this….

 

Ali on Fire

It was a shopping street, pedestrianised, but only because the steep, cobbled hill was never built for vehicles.  Fairly crowded.  I have no back-story for why I was there, but I was.

The young man passed close by me – his clothes were poor quality.  A white top with a grey and black hoodie over it.  He pulled the hood up as he walked by and something drew my attention to him.  I saw that he had a lighter in his hand.  Suddenly I realised what he was about to do.

He looked, rather shyly, around him and muttered, “Sorry,” as he put the flame to his clothing.

An instinct for self preservation made me leap back, but the street was narrow, with shops on either side.

“It won’t take long,” he was saying, in the same, sad apologetic tone.  “The pain will be over quick.”  He rolled himself into a ball and began rolling down the hill.

The flames licked half-heartedly at his clothes.  As he rolled, they went out.  Suddenly he was back at the top, close to me again.

“Not enough petrol,” he said miserably and began looking around as if searching for a source of more.

In an instant I was in front of him.  It struck me as slightly odd that I couldn’t smell any petrol.  “Think of your mother!”  I was screaming at him.

He sneered nastily, but looked at me.

I held his gaze and repeated it.  This time it got through.  He hung his head and looked so wretched and miserable that I risked putting my hand on his shoulder.  He didn’t resist.

“Come on, let’s sort you out,” I said, and led him back to where I worked.  It was an educational establishment.

“Hungry?” I asked, as he slumped into a chair.

He looked up, hope burning in his eyes.  The boy was ravenous.  I hunted about for pieces of food.  My teaching assistant, a lovely motherly soul I’d worked with for many years, found some cake and handed it to him.

“She’s a good guy,” he remarked to me, as he shovelled food into his mouth.  A couple of the students had appeared by now – lads around his age..  No one asked any questions.  They sized up the situation and began hunting in lockers and cupboards, finding more snacks he could eat.

He started talking to me then.  Told me his name was Ali.  Told me about his siblings and his father – a man he loved and respected; a man who would be heartbroken to know his son died a martyr to his fundamentalist cause.

He told me he belonged to a group.  They had a leader.
“We got to do what he says,” Ali explained, with a slight helpless shrug. “It’s like this -.”
And now I was seeing him in a separate location, over to the right and slightly above where I and the others were still gathered around the table.

Hold on…

Ali was over there with a rather ramshackle group of young guys who looked similar to him, being drilled by a thin man with dark eyes who barked commands and instructions at them.  They had to repeat what he said as soon as the words were out of his mouth.  No time for them to think – to process his words.  His words became their words.  Simple and effective.  Ali and the others were being indoctrinated.  Ali was being chosen.  I could feel his pride and his despair and his regret all mingled together.

So how come I’m able to see all this?  Just now Ali was sitting eating at my table.  His location has changed, like in a film… or… a dream.

I was still in the school, or college, or whatever it was.  The students who’d been helping find food for Ali were watching his scene as well.  They’d realised what was going on and were swearing at him, calling him ugly names.  I was remonstrating with them – imploring them to listen and understand his dilemma.

At the same time it’s dawning on me that this is a dream.  

Ali is a character in my dream.  

Or maybe I’m a character in his?  This feels more likely.

Now I know it’s a dream, it unravels.  But not before – telepathically now – Ali tells me he chose me to help him decide.  I wake up, knowing I’ve helped him.

 

Ever done that?  Gone to bed with a massive problem, slept on it and woken, knowing what you must do?  Would it be too far-fetched to believe that Ali, whoever he is, did just that, somewhere?  Might he, at some level beyond waking consciousness, have invited me into his dream to help him work through the choices?  If so, I’m honoured to have been chosen and I wish him well.