From a book I almost wrote…a lifetime ago

apple-gravityWhere would we be without Sir Isaac Newton?  Well, probably right where we are, we’d just be a little worse off is all.  Where would we be without gravity?  Better yet; what would we be without gravity?  This would be very different indeed.  Gravity defines life on earth; it binds us to our planet and binds our planet to its position in the solar system.  It also binds our sun in its position relative to the rest of the universe, even though that position is ever changing; gravity is what makes everything make sense for us.  It is a constant in our universe (though cutting edge science is beginning to refute that idea) and it dictates what we can and can’t do.

It governs our weight, relative to our atmosphere, it provides the means to assign a value to mass, and in fact it was the first invisible phenomena of our universe to be detected, categorized and measured.  In essence, gravity is the reason we’re here at all.

Without gravity, the chemical wastes spewed out by our sun billions of years ago, would never have had the chance to connect, to congeal and to ultimately form a solid.  Without gravity, hydrogen and oxygen molecules could never have condensed to create water, and well, without water, we don’t exist.  Gravity is the ultimate designer too, it provided the means by which plants grow their many varied structures, and eons ago it forced early sea creatures to adapt their biology in order to survive on land (among other things).

It restricts us as well; it says we can’t fly, and proves it every time we jump off a cliff.  Gravity gave birds the advantage of flight, but they tricked it by reducing their mass by way of hollow, non-dense bones, making them light enough to glide on air currents while big enough to survive.

And in this way, gravity has shaped the chair.  This one constant demanded that we abide by its laws and be governed by the pressure of the universe pushing down on us.  Inevitably, we got tired and decided to sit down, and the chair was there to support us in our time of need.  Its structure is sturdy, four legs (though sometimes not), supporting a seat, a back support (or not) and possibly some arm rests, all of which are under the same pressures as us, they feel the same weight, the same pull as us, and yet, the chair holds us.  In structure and form, the chair defies gravity.

This is no big deal you say; after all, most everything on earth defies gravity in some way or another, and you may be right…in fact, you are right.  It’s nothing special, until you think of life without gravity!

Amorphous blobs of proto-matter, floating, hovering and clinging to the atmosphere.  They resemble giant three-dimensional pools of toxic waste.  They’re grey, sticky in texture and seemingly lifeless, until you hear it.  It’s quiet at first, a low rumble, like the infancy of some great gurgling burp in the belly of a bar-stool football fan.  The rumbling gets louder, it creates sound waves that resonate deep inside you, and soon it becomes a deafening boom, over and over, and through all this invisible commotion, you finally see it; the grey blobs of matter begin to move, slowly at first, but they pick up speed, moving away from you, changing shape and propelling themselves by sound waves.

On this strange planet, gravity, or the lack thereof, helped evolution create a very different animal population.  They didn’t feel the force of gravity pushing them toward the earth, they didn’t have to fight against their own weight to move through their environment, and as a result, natural selection took them on very different paths of evolution than us.  They have no need for legs or supportive structures; they have no need of limbs at all, for locomotion or for any other reason.  Theirs is an existence of weightless leisure, though I’m certain they face perils none-the-less.  Weather patterns exist on even the most barren and alien worlds we know, so for sure, this planet would suffer the same changing winds, and I would imagine a species whose life is spent hovering above the surface of the ground, would be acutely affected by the winds.

Consider the chair in such an environment, it would be utterly absurd.  To confine ones self to the rigid formality of furniture, when the atmosphere is more than supportive and much more appealing; who would do such a thing?  Though, if a higher intelligence evolved in such a place, would they not have need to structure and organize the things in their lives?  The acquisition and collecting of things may be uniquely human, and it may be limited to us because of our gravitational environment.  In our gravity, things generally stay where we put them, though not necessarily so on a low or zero gravity world.

This is only one end of the gravitational spectrum however, what about life on giant planets, whose gravitational fields are many hundreds of times greater than that on earth?  Can life survive in that environment?  The answer is yes, resoundingly; we know from the study of extremophiles here on earth -a growing field of micro biology studying single celled and some multi-cellular but simple life forms mainly classified on both the archaea and eucharyote branches of the biological tree of life – that species of microbial life, such as bacteria and protists, thrive in the vast and crushing depths of our deepest oceans, huddled near geothermal vents in the sea floor, and virtually unchanged for the past billion years.  Life can, and does, exist and flourish in such extreme environments.  So what does that mean for the chair?

One would imagine that the demands of survival in such crushing gravity would necessitate the development of very small organisms, creatures whose structures must be dense enough to survive the atmospheric pressure, yet small enough to ensure their super dense mass doesn’t make movement impossible where necessary.  Very little in this environment would venture above the crust of the planets surface, and most life would exist inside protective rock formations.  It, again, would be ridiculous to conceive of such life making use of chairs.

These are two extremes however, and while we may not reside at the mean mark of the universes’ gravitational spectrum, we are at least living in the only environment that we could possibly have survived.

Mankind, even among the many thousands of species of life here on earth, is exceedingly fragile, we are frail and weak compared to our evolutionary counterparts, we are naturally ill-equipped to survive even in the environments we continually inhabit.  Outside of a small swath of tropical and sub-tropical locales around the equatorial belt of this spinning blue ball, humans would surely perish if left to survive only with our uncovered flesh exposed to the elements, anywhere but within walking distance of a sandy white beach.  Indeed, just beyond that beach is a soup of oceanic life, teaming with diversity and evolutionary adaptability, all of it surviving and thriving in an environment that is in direct opposition to that which is necessary for our own survival, and none of it, not a single species other than man, has ever seen fit to design, construct and use a chair of any kind.

 

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