Saturday, 15 August 2009

Am I late?

You know I have a thing about dandelions. I find these plants fascinating in many senses, although this does not really seem to be a popular opinion among lawn-owners.

One of the fascinating facts about dandelions is the way they reproduce. Many dandelion species do it by apomixis, which means they do not reproduce sexually, which means there are no two individual "parents" that produce offspring, but a single individual that produces exact genetic copies of itself.

This kind of reproduction, based on an exact duplication of genetic material, is not very different from the cellular division that happens in our bodies all the time, say when our hair or nails grow or when new red blood cells are created in our bone marrow. In a sense, dandelions or other species that reproduce asexually, challenge our conception of what an organism is.

In his book The Extended Phenotype Richard Dawkins makes a mind-blowing point about dandelions and organisms (emphasis is mine):

"Janzen (1977) faces up to the same difficulty, suggesting that a clone of dandelions should be regarded as one 'evolutionary individual' [...], equivalent to a single tree although spread out along the ground rather than raised up in the air on a trunk, and although divided up into separate physical 'plants' [...]. According to this view, there may be as few as four individual dandelions competing with each other for the territory of the whole of North America. [...]"
Dawkins, R.: The Extended Phenotype, Oxford University Press, New York, 1982, p.254

It is mid-August now and the peak of dandelion flowering season is long gone. Long gone? If you pay attention, you still might see some late-comers, those poor lazy ones that are always too late.

Am I late?

And if you come down close enough, you almost can hear them asking themselves: What is going on here??? Where is everybody???

Sunday, 9 August 2009


An image, alone, is nothing. Light reflected on different objects, on different materials, that absorb different parts of the rainbow each.

But when this same light crosses our pupils to be projected, upside down, on our retina, there begins the journey of interpretation, the search for meaning. And this is a journey that happens independently in our heads and hence it is something absolutely personal and subjective.

On the long way between the photosensitive cells deep down in our eyes and the formation of a picture, of a memory, of a remembrance in our mind, nerve impulses must travel at lightning speed across thousands of milions of neural connections that are arranged the way they are because this is precisely what makes us how we are, what makes us who we are, and not somebody else.

The image, those thousands of electrical signals that travel across our neurons, takes form in our minds through a process whose complexity we only begin to grasp. This image, or the model of it that exists in our neurons, is checked against hundreds of thousands of other shapes, colours, textures, that we have been linking throughout our lives to feelings, emotions, remembrances, ... meanings. And even though these meanings have a lot to do with our culture, they still are something unique and personal for each individual.


An illuminated blue cube on top of a pole with a white U letter would mean, on every German-speaking country, something as trivial as a subway station (in German, U-Bahn, abbreviation for Untergrundbahn, lit. "underground railway"). In my present situation, on the shores of the Mediterranean, in the city that welcomed me as I was 17 years old, the picture of such a cube has a very different meaning. This U indicates here an ambulance entrance to the hospital where I am writing this post from.


Today this U means for me the battle that I have just witnessed. A battle fought against those evil cells that, at random, out of pure egoism, decide to turn immortal.

Luckily, a battle that has been won.