Chapter 2 – Are we special?

What’s so extraordinarily special about us? Actually if we think superficially about it, we may be nothing quite special. As a superior specie or being, take a look at the minute bees or ants. Is there any particular one that’s so special apart from the foreordained functional queen? Does it make a difference which ones you stomp on or which ones get devoured? One squelch is all it takes to render any of them into the realm of the Gone and Forgotten. Or for that matter, look at stray dogs. Is there any one in particular that’s so special? Does it actually matter which one gets run over by a passing truck or which ones get to eat or how long ago one had had a mating encounter?

Likewise, we ourselves may be nothing special since we are but only one being, co-existing among the approximate seven billion humanoids living on this planet. To a higher existence, we must seem comparable to thriving colonies of bees and ants, except that we are not as hard working as those insects. Simply, we think of recreation far too often and seek out every opportunity to take things easy. Does it then actually matter who amongst us gets squelched, who gets to eat, who has a decent break or who gets waylaid?

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Minnie The Shih Tzu

To top it all, we generally think highly of ourselves and that we shall be in others’ fond memories and that we are going to be terribly missed after we are gone. We hope that we get at least a decent funeral or better still, a grand finale of a send-off. The elementary truth is that after we depart, most of us will dwell amongst the Gone and Forgotten unless we have been iconic enough to have been steered into the annals of recorded history. It’s evanescence. Frankly and to say the least, how many amongst us actually visit the graves of our grandparents, great-grandparents or great-great grandparents? Where is our cut-off line? Fact is it might be sooner than you’d have hoped.

So much for sheer practical thinking!

How can any decent and intelligent being say such demoralizing things or have the audacity to even harbour such disparaging thoughts? All these sound so demeaning, utterly disillusioning and of course, emphatically insulting, don’t they? The ultimate ponder could well be for what purpose, if any, were we born for? Is it simply to make up the numbers in humanity and to unconsciously contribute more problems and competition associated with living? Where do we expect to go after this interlude on Earth?

Irrefutably, we are all so very special indeed. Yes, every single one of us!

For starters, we’re supposedly the most intelligent and capable of the species. We have evolved through civilization and the technological advances of the past century alone that man has achieved is simply flabbergasting. We build and we control. We invented the dominion of money. We founded religion and articulated politics. We also furthered upon the elements of sciences, mathematics, physics, chemistry, medicine and all other wondrous ground-breaking skills and cerebral principles.

We, the pleasure-seeking and discerning specie, cook and garnish our palate; and are unimaginably creative in our stupendous renditions of cuisine culture. We create and play beautiful music that’s ever so pleasing to our ears and invented a dazzling kaleidoscope of euphonious musical instruments. We bring forth delightful and exquisite works of art. On the organizational front, we succeed in making people serve and obey us just by dispensing printed paper we call money. Many of us common folks live in grandeur and supreme comforts as compared to our cave-dwelling forefathers.

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Ephesus, Turkey

We create machines of sorts to manufacture products and to aid and simplify our everyday lives. We even create gigantic machines which defy gravity and fly as far out as into outer space. Rationally, there’s so much to relate to on our achievements, so much so and in essence, it would require encyclopaedic volumes just to list down humanity’s achievements.

In actuality, when we delve into the subject even superficially but nevertheless philosophically, we would easily conclude that we are all indeed special. When we think about the probability of our conception, it is extraordinarily remote. In mathematical terms, it’s perhaps gazillions-to-one.

We can try to fathom but what are the possibilities of our ancestors and even parents ever having met each other to eventually derive to our existence? This becomes even more remote should any of them hail from different countries or distant regions of the world. Just visualize a chap named John whose father is Sri Lankan and mother Chinese originating from Singapore who incidentally also had a Thai maternal grandmother. John travelled to England to read law and met Jenny who was from the Caribbean and whose father is a German Swiss but whose mother had Syrian and Jamaican parents. So John’s children have Sri Lankan, Chinese, Thai, German, Syrian and Jamaican ancestry.

Just visualize that in 1800, the world’s population was estimated at 1 billion. That doubled to 2 billion by 1927; 3 billion by 1960; 4 billion by 1974; 5 billion by 1987; 6 billion by 1999 and 7 billion by 2012. So it’s all becoming more remote and extraordinary as we move along. Those earlier populations suffered through devastating and demographically decimating wars and disease but in just a little over 200 years, world population has increased 7-folds. So the probability of you being born as you are today is also 7 times slimmer than in 1800.

With the probability of conception, medical science cites that men ejaculate some 250 million sperms on the average in a single encounter or session of sexual intercourse. Multiply that by frequency of sex along with our probability combinations of genealogical lineage and the odds become so numbingly mind-boggling and enormously astronomical. But that is only a platonic observation because the odds are aggrandized even further with other prevalent attributes and circumstances.

With a typical pH of 3.8 – 4.4, the vagina is inherently acidic by nature and altogether a rather hostile environment for sperms. Lactobacilli produce lactic acid to help maintain vaginal health while instinctively the female immune system is triggered when semen, which is treated as pathogens, is present in the vagina. Then there’s the situation with vagina mucus where preferably it should be albumen-like. Often too, a woman’s cervical mucus is too thick which hinders sperms from penetrating the cervix. All these act like natural spermicides and hence too, nature created seminal plasma to be alkaline. Upon ejaculation, pH in the vagina changes towards neutral. Sperm also contains immunosuppressant to suppress the female’s immune system. So they counteract on the vagina’s immune reaction to semen.

We release some 250 million sperms but only an estimated 1000 or so ever make it to the fallopian tube. So the odds are only about 0.000005% chance of each sperm cell making it that far. The odds are further reduced by 200 times because as experts put it, only 5 or 6 sperms would actually have made it that far to be close enough to fertilize. Not every attempt at fertilisation is successful even when all the favourable conditions are in place. As some experts put it, it takes an estimated 100 attempts to fertilise the egg. This also means that only 1 in 100 X 250,000,000 sperms is successful. Viola, it’s a 1 in 25 billion probability.

Sperm cells become very active when an egg is present owing to the surrounding cells releasing a sweet scent called progesterone and sperm has to slough through layers of proteins. The head of the sperm pops to release enzymes to allow it to cross through the protein barrier of the egg. Then capacitation or the piercing is complete. Yet still, the sperm has only a few hours to live. Upon entry, the DNA payload is delivered and the genetic blueprint of the child is set. Also, the egg’s protective protein changes and it doesn’t allow other sperm to enter.

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The fertilised egg is known as a zygote. Next it forms a blastocyst which is a hollow structure. The mass of cells inside will be the embryo while the outer wall will become the placenta as well as other nutrient-providing tissues to nourish the foetus. The zygote then makes a four-day journey down the fallopian tube toward the uterus to latch on in a process known as implantation. This might not be successful. Female foetuses very quickly develop millions of immature eggs that they will carry into adulthood. That’s ample stocking because she only discharges one ovum a month upon reaching puberty till menopause. There are only 120 months in 40 years.

Even after all that, existing data show that some 70% of natural single conceptions have no real chance of surviving 6 weeks of gestation. The remaining 30% will have about 90% chance to survive to term. From a statistical perspective, it takes, on the average, four months to get pregnant. Conception probability is around 25% per month, if you have regular unprotected sex around the time of ovulation. A woman’s probability of conceiving is rated at 90% when she’s 20 and immediately reduces to 70% at 30; 55% at 35; 45% at 40 and only 6% at age 45.

Undeniably, we are all individuals although we may be reliant on others mentally, emotionally and spiritually – yet the combinations of elements that combine to make each and every one of us, make us unique. Essentially, no two human beings are exactly the same and that even though identical twins share the same DNA they are nonetheless still two different souls and persons. They too are likely to differ in character and some physical attributes.

Our brains are like huge information accumulating and collating membrane-computers with an estimated 100 billion to 200 billion neurons and 1,000 trillion or 1 quadrillion connections. Numerically it is 100,000,000,000 to 200,000,000,000 neurons and 1,000,000,000,000,000 connections. That is inconceivably complex and basically beyond comprehension. Absorbing information incessantly, they are switched on and kept functional on a perennial 24-7-365 basis.

They process and record every bit of information derived from all our five senses and even wilfully tap into our imagination, ingenuity and creativity. Some of us may even have the “6th.” sense. According to neurology and science, every minute bit of information including fragments of fleeting thoughts are stored in the brain whether in the fore-conscious, subconscious or any other section.

It amalgamates, collates and churns out information cocktails – some of which are hazardous and far-out as well. This is apart from the more primordial and instinctive directional functions such as running the bodily machinery. So, we may have come to the conscious realization and perhaps acceptance, that our brain is in fact the most powerful and complex organ in our body. In comprehension, though it’s incapable of functioning without the other life-sustaining organs, it nevertheless manages the entire system. This is reminiscent of a flamboyant conductor with his orchestra. Yet it’s so fragile.

In reckoning, what happens to our memories once we are devoid of life? Was it all meant to exclusively serve us in this incarnation by aiding us to attune to the conditions and requisites of existence: whether in an extracting or contributory manner? Or could it have in the interim been transmitting and depositing information to higher powers such as what we commonly refer to as the Creator or God?

After all when we think about it, we never even asked to be born. They practically and forcibly just sent us here and equipped us with some inborn “assets and liabilities” merely to help us get by while we trudge through the passage of life. Somehow, we can’t help but to conclude that we are required to serve and fulfill some unspecified tasks while at the same time, have to stomach a lot of nonsense and limitations. It’s as if all has been preordained and while “they” sent us here to “work”, they even made it harder (whatever for) by placing wanton impediments and even dangers along our life’s path. “They” don’t promise us anything apart for the fact that we have to constantly strive but they give us a “break” every now and then. Overall, life cynically resembles some form of penitentiary or mold-making.

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Ephesus, Turkey

Half the time, we are concerned and preoccupied mainly with self-preservation. More often than not, avarice overwhelms us and like it or not, we are often thrown into circumstances that we would rather avoid while most of the time, we are forced to think. Besides the elements that make things or situations hard for us, people “help” by making things even harder. Often too, we are required to do some work – whether good or bad – to contribute to the workings of this macroscopic system we call existence.

Well, maybe we are nothing but just an “instrument” for experimentation and for the purpose of data collection. Like NASA sending probes to Mars, those gadgets are there only to serve NASA. They test soil samples and wander aimlessly upon the desolate Martian terrain and beam their findings back to Earth. Then they expire! Now, those probes may not be as smart and versatile as we are since they’re mechanical or aptly put, man-made. So NASA has to tolerate and contend with all kinds of malfunction and setbacks. Alas, we envision some semblance of intents and purposes in our very own existence.

How different does that make us? Seems a rather similar fate, doesn’t it? While NASA has to contend with all the mechanical foul-ups, our Creator has to content with our quirks, idiosyncrasies and deviations. Sometimes he intends and prefers for us to turn left but we turn right instead. Often, he wants us to contribute but we extract. But unlike the probes, we happen to be self-sustaining as well as self-destructive.

Moreover, unlike the probes, we are always asking and asking from God the moment things get challenging and seemingly insurmountable. Surprisingly, we have the audacity to expect God to intervene or at least say “here have a quarter” or “take these two and call me again in the morning”. So here we are. We may have got a grasp of some purpose of life. However, it’s fair to remind ourselves that change is the only sure thing in life. Identifiably, self-preservation, continuity and progeny are fundamental to life’s purpose. Yet, life in itself is wholly enigmatic.

My question, amidst all our freewill, faith and presumptions, is whether we are going to accumulate junk or prized acquisitions on behalf of our senders? As it stands, all our knowledge, altruism, experience, ingenuity and faith in God are not going to save our hastily moribund body. For all we know, it may well be that during our lifetime we have been transmitting all our mental data to a heavenly data bank and after our departure, we may be going through eventual extraction and debriefing. It may be that everything and anything we have garnered through life would just be extirpated leaving no scraps for wastage.

It’ll be as if our souls undergo celestial vacuuming and filtration. Everybody’s life may well have been purely “God’s” business and that we were mere vehicles or instruments – thus manifesting that indeed “He” lives through us.

In sheer realization, now, if our lives meant something, then the ants that we stomp on and the strays that get run over all have their befitting roles and vocations in this existence too. It all seems very much to be that way and is indeed undeniable. Philosophically, this principle applies to all life forms ranging from mammals, reptiles, plants and insects all the way to microscopic bacteria, viruses and infinitely deep beyond.

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One predominant fact remains and that is we live in a predatory world. There would always be predators out there lurking and menacing. Sometimes, it’s an uncompromising situation of you or them. So apart from all the obstructions and entrapments placed along our path, we are constantly kept confused by irony and contradictions of sorts.

Don’t be disheartened or despair though. Just live your life respectably and let “God” take care of the nitty-gritty. That way, you are likely not to be excreted like waste but may continue on as a nutrient – and that’s God’s nutrient.

So, yes indeed, we are all so very special!

Author: J. Sam Barr

Greetings from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

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