Home > Nature, Uncategorized > Life (not the TV show) and death (not the person)

Life (not the TV show) and death (not the person)

In keeping with tradition, my father got me a Swiss Army Knife for my recent birthday. My first thought was, “COOL!” but my second thought was, “Why do the Swiss need army knives? They’re always neutral.” After I laughed at my wittiness for making fun of the history of a country different from my own I found out that the Swiss actually had the knives made in the 1890s. The first knives had a single blade, a can opener, a screwdriver, and a reamer. That’s right a reamer. If, by some odd twist of fate, a crazy doctor had kidnapped you and sewn your anus shut, I would literally be able to ream you a new one. You should take comfort in that fact, I know I do. My new one has all that plus a Phillips head screwdriver, a bottle opener, a toothpick, tweezers, and a second knife. All of this fits into a pretty compact little handle. This is nice since I don’t need a dorky looking belt attachment to carry it around since it doesn’t leave an embarrassing looking bulge in my pocket. While this is probably the most standard of tool sets (sometimes the Phillips head is swapped out for a corkscrew), it’s far from the most expansive. In 2006 the manufacturer Wegner made a knife with 85 devices. The knife is 9 inches thick and cost $1400. As such, it’s the least functional multi-function tool ever devised. Still, the thinner, more functional, models got the Swiss Army Knife a spot in the Museum of Modern Art.

Pretty cool, huh?

To continue on a completely different subject, the passing of my birthday led me to thoughts of my own mortality. This would have made the gift of a knife delightfully ironic, but I was thinking of far, far off in the future. I came to a conclusion about what I would like done with my body after death. Obviously, the ideal funeral would involve me being jettisoned from a starship while a Scotsman plays Amazing Grace on the bagpipes. I doubt that this will be happening, though. I’d imagine that if we become advanced enough to master starships we’d have moved past the need of bagpipes.  My second best option would be a burial at sea. I do have a slight affinity for the oceans of the world and it seems only fitting that my final resting place would be there. However, I don’t want any normal burial. Instead of having ashes scattered or being hucked out in a casket, I’d simply like to be dumped into the ocean, possibly with a weight attached so that I don’t float.

This would be so that instead of simply rotting, my body could be broken down and eaten. A little bizarre and morbid to think of, but I think that it would be exciting to be thrown down to the bottom of the food chain. That way the energy that my body is made up of would be able to change and be used again. In essence, a part of me would go on living. And not just once, but numerous times and in numerous forms as small animals eat me and then those animals are eaten by bigger and bigger animals.

There are a few problems with this. I’m pretty sure it’s against a number of international laws to simply dump a body into the ocean. Some people, authoritative types mostly, might even see this as some sort of attempt to cover something up. While I certainly wouldn’t suffer any from these kinds of setbacks, the people assigned to care for my body and its disposal would probably face some pretty dire consequences. The other problem being that I wouldn’t want to be injected with formaldehyde, since I’d imagine that anything eating me would probably not enjoy getting food poisoning. Again, I wouldn’t be put off by some rotting here or there, but my caretakers wouldn’t appreciate it. This did disturb me a bit though, until I hatched upon the idea that I could be cryogenically frozen. Fish don’t care about freezer burn, do they?

If that shouldn’t work for some reasons (most likely the reasons I’ve stated above) I’d like to be buried. Not in some graveyard in a coffin, but in the open. Again, that way I would decompose and be eaten and worked up with the food chain. This would again pose problems as to the logistics of the whole plan. I couldn’t just be dumped in any old forest. Imagine if some hunter were to find me down the road. He’s looking for a deer, comes through a clearing, and all of a sudden there I am with a fox gnawing at my liver. Then there would be a whole investigation thing, which would be a whole other set of hassles. At the very least the hunter would probably throw up, and that’s just icky.

Here’s to hoping that they get working on those starships sooner rather than later.

Now that I’ve already probably disturbed you we can move onto happier, more awesome topics. I found a couple articles recently which discuss how varied life can be on this planet. We always knew that life was varied here, very varied, but these two examples probably take the cake for most extreme lifeforms.

The first lives in a volcanic lake. That is, a lake within a volcano. The lake is 5 times saltier than sea water and has an arsenic count 20,000 times higher than what is deemed safe for human consumption. Since the lake is four and a half kilometers above sea level, there is less oxygen, and deadly UV light gets in easier. There’s also the danger of noxious sulfuric gas that’s constantly emitted. And, oh yeah, did I mention that the lake is in a freaking volcano? It’s shocking enough that any organism can survive in such an environment, but scientists have actually found flamingos there. The flamingos feed basically the same way that certain whales do. They taken huge amounts of water, filter out the food and then pass the rest right out. To survive, they regularly drink large quantities of water from the lake. The coolest thing is that, with such lethal conditions, scientists believe that by studying these creatures, they can get a glimpse of what the earliest life forms on Earth were like.

This reminds me of a scene from the last episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Q shows Picard how life formed.

You see this? This is you. I’m serious! Right here, life is about to form on this planet for the very first time. A group of amino acids are about to combine to form the first protein. The building blocks
of what you call “life.” Strange, isn’t it? Everything you know, your entire civilization, it all begins right here in this little pond of goo. Appropriate somehow, isn’t it? Too bad you didn’t bring your microscope; it’s really quite fascinating.

It’s odd that the first living things that ever were came from a world which we would probably compare to Hell. I’d imagine that the volcanic lake would appear the same way.

Well, what could be more impressive than a couple of creatures that can exist in otherwise lethal conditions? How about a creature that can exist

in an environment completely bereft of oxygen?

Viruses and bacteria have been known to live in areas without oxygen but this article talks of an entirely new species that lives in deep sediment. There are other species like it, but those species occasionally dig themselves out and enter an oxygen rich area to breathe. If a species like this can live and thrive, it makes you wonder what other types of things could evolve in places we haven’t explored yet. This includes places here on Earth, but also extends to other planets.

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