I’ll never forget the realization that came with my first foray into astronomy: we are much too small to matter, or to understand anything. Deep within The Reader, I’ve stumbled upon a series of clues. Taken together, they suggest that I was quite right to lament our stature, but wrong to think that we are too big.
The truth ended up being so obvious that I feel the fool for not seeing it earlier. The evidence is all around us, even as I write this. Stephen Jay Gould, one of the greatest evolutionary thinkers since Darwin, tried to warn us. The universe… Life… it’s all about the extremely small. It’s about bacteria and things even more infinitesimal.
DNA is nothing more than a chemical program written on a computer with four keys. The arrangement of those four compounds creates proteins that do amazing things. How do they work? By having their chemical structure stretched along a line, their outermost electrons pull and push one another, twisting the proteins into various shapes. The engine of life is as simple as this.
Simple, but powerful and far-reaching. Look at the warring around us. Look at the potential we have to organize ourselves in battalions for murder. We ascribe macro-causes to these phenomenon: religion, territory, ego, oil. But these explanations are mere symptoms of a deeper cause. Something very small within us, all of us, is really in control. We ignore this, or refuse to learn it, for the same reason many people balk at astronomy: we hate to learn how insignificant we are.
The best example of our inability to grasp scope comes in our rare attempts to achieve it. When I hear humans compare ourselves to ants, in order to stress scale, I feel compelled to tell them: humans and ants exist on the same scale. Look at how they wage war with one another. Do they have culture? Religion? Ego? It would require such a stretch to say they do that we would diminish what those words mean to us. What they have in common with ourselves is DNA. Instructions to replicate, to hoard resources, to smash the competition.
The truth of our enormous insignificance goes one step further: we are not the dominant life-form on planet Earth. No multi-cellular organism is. Even combined, we are outweighed by the combined mass of all single-celled creatures. And what is true on Earth is truer across the universe. The grandest battle, the largest war in the history of all existence is being waged by large creatures at the whim of the smallest.
Molly and her friends take a very long time to discover the truth of this. Fortunately, they came to this realization in time…