Currently I’m reading David Attenborough’s ‘Life on Earth’ – a lovely book full of very thought provoking details. One of them was the explanation of how caterpillars become butterflies. In the egg, there are two kinds of cells. Initially the caterpillar cells grow and the others do not, then, when the caterpillar can get no bigger, it becomes a chrysalis. Inside, the caterpillar cells break down, feeding the butterfly cells which now become active. The new creature develops and emerges.
This really got me thinking. To what extent is the caterpillar turning into the butterfly? It seems to me like one creature dies and another emerges, as though two separate entities had somehow managed to harness the same reproduction process, living in symbiosis. I’ve wondered before what caterpillars know of themselves, and if that seems like death to them – the turning into a butterfly being such a great and tempting death metaphor anyway.
For many people, the way science takes apart and explains things takes away the mystery and the sense of wonder. It’s one of the key issues in the theist/atheist conflict – whether we lose wonder for gaining insight.
I’ve yet to find an answer that didn’t lead to more questions. The butterfly business is a perfect illustration. Yes, it unravels some of the mechanics for me, but it doesn’t actually tell me why this happens, or more importantly, what it means. I have more questions, for knowing about the two kinds of cells, than ever I did before hand – not just about the caterpillars, but the whole nature of life, death and experience. Does this say something about a fluidity between life forms?
There is always more to know, and the more we know, the more questions we will find. Understanding is not, I think, a finite thing. There is no way that we will one day know everything, because each answer brings more questions. I’m inclined to think that knowledge, or the potential for it, is infinite, and that there will always be mystery, always that sense of something more, that we haven’t grasped yet.