(I wrote this on a short-lived blog in 2010. It still represents my best shot at understanding what being alive on this planet means.)
What makes each of us emerge and grow and move and think?
The force of sunlight on spinning matter.
We are momentary patterns in the flow and ebb, warming and cooling, of water and soil under intense sunlight. You and I are massive colonies of bacteria heaved about daily by the sun. Bacteria are massive agglomerations of viruses and protein fragments. Viruses and proteins are not alive, but our bacteria are, and therefore we are.
There cannot be life without death. The world outside us is always changing. But none of us can change his/her internal pattern: once grown, each of us is essentially static as a genome. If we were each potentially immortal and had little or no drive to procreate, our species could not change, and we would die out under changing conditions. You and I are alive today because 400,000 generations of hominids and humans were driven to procreate. Each of our ancestors, randomly different from his/her parents and peers, happened to pass through the filters of natural selection that existed at that moment.
The sun drives us. Circumstances filter us. We need no conscious desire to adapt or change, and we have none within our physical beings. Change is forced on our species and every other species. Only a few lineages survive the filters.
How much do you know about your father’s mother’s mother? Probably almost nothing. How much of her is within you? Probably not much. Human patterns shimmer and evaporate in tiny fragments of time. Let us celebrate this.