Wednesday, January 12, 2011

I Have a Cold

I have a cold. As illnesses sometimes do, this one inspired me to write a self-centric view of evolutionary history. It is as follows:
Some 4-ish billion years ago, a string of RNA crawled out of earth’s primordial ooze, perhaps onto a catalytic piece of clay, and figured out how to spontaneously replicate. Life was conceived. This was not life as an infant or even a fetus, but life as an embryo. A naked strand of ribonucleic acid—unfeeling, insentient, immobile, and according to most scientists, actually still lifeless.
But then nucleic acids took on a coat of lipids, forming the primitive cell and life earned its name in the eyes of science. This primitive cell gave rise to early bacteria and bacteria to complex cells. Life began to move, communicate, and yes, sexually reproduce. These complex cells began forming colonies and soon, colonies yielded the first multi-cellular creatures—at first, nothing more than a slime-like blob, but a primitive creature nonetheless. Blobs eventually gave rise to sponges and jellyfish, which in turn yielded bugs and crustaceans. So not only did life begin feeding, it began feeling.
Over time, bugs and crustaceans crawled onto land, developed a backbone and started breathing dry air. Before amphibious land dwellers could monopolize terrestrial land, however, they were joined by their reptilian and mammalian cousins. So in a matter of a few billion years, life had not only developed the ability to scuttle across the continents, but also to see, smell, hear and taste. From these senses, complex thoughts and memories sprung forth. And as history proceeded from 4-legged rodent-like mammals to ape-like bipeds, life crossed miraculously into self-awareness.
Then at last, from the walking, talking, breathing, feeling, thinking, sensing, self-aware early primates came humans. Humans who would apply all the aforementioned gifts to study science, learn medicine, and pass standardized tests. It was life’s grandest act, according to humans themselves. But, of course, the lifeless, breathless, unfeeling naked RNA that started this whole journey spawned a much less tedious product. A cold virus. An infectious strand of ribonucleic acid that makes humans studying medicine wish they could for a moment be a bit more unfeeling, immobile, and insentient. Clearly, life evolved a sense of irony somewhere along the way.

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