Species as a concept is a lie. The taxonomic division between species and the precise definition of speciesation is mutable and contended; check EO Wilson. “But that’s biology. It’s a blurry, ill-defined kind of science.”
Listen; everything we understand is couched in terms we – or at least a certain number of us – can understand, which involves inventing concepts that break down and make manageable the whole vast and ever-changing universe of space and time, breaking it into chunks that our evolved-on-a-specific-star-orbiting-rock-in-response-to-specific-geographic-and-meteorological-and-environmental-pressures-then-developed-a-culture-and-society-and-culturally-dependent-language-and-thinking-patterns water-based sodium-electricity carbon-driven teeny weeny grey lump brains can digest, with a suitable run-up. We can only perceive directly the most incredibly narrow frequency band of “light” and “sound”; we’re staring at the universe through a slit that makes a letterbox (or the windscreen of a Citroën Dyane if you’re so inclined) look like the Pacific Ocean. Our limitations begin with but are not limited to the fact that our brains evolved for something else entirely and frequently hijack our attempts at objectivity with unconscious bias generated by cultural history or even more stupid things like “the need for sustenance” or “evolutionary focus on reproduction”.
At the end of last year I went to a talk about the archaeology of the Arab Revolt at the British Museum, because I am an adult and can do whatever the hell I want with my free time. There was no free coffee, but during the talk the author of the forthcoming book about the excavations talked about the groundbreaking (I think this is a pun that archaeologists are required by law to make) interdisciplinary approach to finding the right sites for these digs, combining local histories, archive materials, ethnography, a whole lot of disciplines my uneducated Creative Writing BA self thought were the same discipline anyway, and some other stuff, in order to confirm that among other things, a man whose job had been to write detailed and precise reports back to his superiors hadn’t been lying or exaggerating in them about the locations and breadth of various raids during said Revolt.
Further back, Failed Rock Star, walking hair product advert, subject of nationwide sexual fantasies and occasional particle physicist Dr Brian Cox presented a lavish BBC documentary, Wonders of Life, which observant readers blessed with a functioning memory will recall I wanked on about at length here, when I was evidently fairly high on oxytocin:
As soon as you start learning across different disciplines it becomes evident in a way it never was before that everything is in some way relevant to something else: the process of galaxy collisions millions of years ago and millions of light-years away helps to pinpoint the precise point in history in which a terrible plague was presaged by the coming of a new star in the heavens; evolution driven by chemistry and the test of the environment on gene expression helps to explain human behaviour and the propensity for war-making; understanding the chemical nature of love in the brain may one day lead to debates over whether it is ethical to induce empathy in psychopaths and a wave of alternate history fiction about famous tyrants infected with great affection instead, for Literature students to analyse and reframe.
Divisions between chemistry and biology, geography and geology and ecology, meteorology and so on elide part of the picture in order to make it possible to focus on others; but getting down to the human nitty-gritty requires that, at some point, all of universal history is taken into account.
Why does the Apollo Belvedere look like that? Aesthetic choices, culturally-driven (evolution/biology, migration patterns of early humans driven by environmental necessicites relating to ecology and meteorology and evolved needs prior to the mass migration of mankind; cultural interactions between societies growing up due to isolation between different groups); material requirements dictated by physics (geology, crystallogy, material science…); costs (economics, history, the entire network of historical logistics which takes in geography and the limits of the human body and technological development plus information science and historical politics); religion…
Every node of explanation throws up more to be looked at, which connects with other concerns, and other concerns, and no doubt even when everything is explained to a thoroughly subatomic and pre-Big Bang level further complications will continue to arise (I know full well I am not the equal to this, it took my Long-Suffering Boyfriend and I an entire day to even get vaguely to grips with what the concept of a light cone is). There is no limit to the things that can and should be taken into consideration, no end to the distortions to every event or item (or if you want to think of it this way; consider that a leaf is also a time object, and go and have a lie-down) created by other events and items and their interactions with each other; no apparent end-point at which everything becomes simple.
Anyway if any of the staff from Foyles on Charing Cross Road are reading, this is why I was standing in the middle of the history of science section of your book shop looking hunted and chewing my fingernail.