Archive for June, 2013

Scatter, Adapt and Remember (cross-posted from S.A.G.A.N.)

June 10, 2013

Note: S.A.G.A.N. is a social network for astrobiologists, and I have promised I will write some poems for them. Like this one!

Last month I went to see a talk by Annalee Newitz of about her new book, Scatter, Adapt and Remember. In the talk, she went over some of Earth’s previous mass extinctions and their notable survivors, and discussed how humanity might manage to make it through the next one, whatever its cause might be.

It was an excellent talk and it inspired me to write the following poem.

Scatter, Adapt and Remember
inspired by Annalee Newitz

Four billion years after the Earth coalesced,
in the Cambrian period, life held a fest-
ival of evolution that still holds us rapt.
Lesson the first: to adapt.

Life took this to heart with impressive effect,
but the number of species has not grown unchecked.
Several times mass extinctions remorselessly zapped
All species that couldn’t adapt.

The survivors escaped from conditions grown harsh
by leaving their homeland of forest or marsh
for new habitats change hadn’t managed to shatter.
Lesson the second: to scatter.

They carried on re-population apace,
and their many descendants took over the place–
till disaster re-taught them the two things that matter:
how to adapt and to scatter.

They evolved new skills after each terrible blight,
like lungs, and warm-bloodedness, uteri, flight.
Then one kindled bright flames from a neuronal ember
and learned Lesson Three: to remember.

For a species had suddenly mastered the means
to store useful skillsets outside of its genes.
All able to learn from their cleverest member
how to scatter, adapt and remember.

When the next big volcano or meteor hits
We’ll survive through our cities, our brains and our bits
We’ll weather the storms of a years-long December(1)
And scatter, adapt and remember.

(1) e.g. snowstorms if your reference point is in Canada, firestorms if in Australia, torrential rains in Brazil, etc. There are a wide variety of disastrous Decembers to choose from.