THE SYMBOL OF LIFE
By Roland Watson
In this short and admittedly abstract article, I want to describe what I call the Symbol of Life. I will return to this symbol at the end of the website, in Part 4.
The symbol of life is an inverted four-sided pyramid - a pyramid turned upside down - with its point resting on a sphere.
Now, many people will recognize this as a representation of a tree, really, of any member of the plant kingdom. Also, it is worth noting that while the structure appears fragile - any touch seemingly will tip it over - we know that it is actually quite strong. Life is able to withstand all manner of shocks.
This symbol has many other meanings as well. For one, it represents the pattern of evolutionary development of any species, plant or animal. Think of a species evolution chart, and also of a genealogy chart turned upside down.
Similarly, for any single organism, the symbol represents its process of aging and maturity, how as one grows older life experience expands in many different directions. In other words, it represents the life cycle.
The actual point of contact of the pyramid and the sphere has great meaning as well. This is the point where the infinite meets the finite, where a seamless totality yields a distinct part. This is also where the root source of life energy, whatever it may be, is converted into life as we know it and experience it. In other words, it represents what is know as a phase transition.
Next, it is important to recognize that the overall shape is not static. Rather, it is dynamic. There is movement, in both directions, between the sphere and the pyramid: between the universe and life.
The movement between the two constitutes a feedback loop. The universe enables, and affects, the development of life; and life, through its behavior, affects the subsequent development of the universe.
Yet another aspect of the symbol is that it illustrates a type of relativity. It can be oriented in any way. There is no absolute up or down. But, at the same time, it is invariant. Life, for all its subjectivity, is real. It is not ephemeral or an illusion. It exists, and this is an absolute.
Leading from this, we can also see that the symbol represents the structure of the field of thought known as philosophy.
As an aside, please don't be afraid of the word "philosophy." Philosophy is simply the understanding of existence that we have achieved using our reason.
For example, if you have ever spent any time thinking about what is going on with life, maybe while you were lying on your back at night looking at the stars, you have engaged in philosophy. If you participate in an organized religion, you pursue religious philosophy. And, through such speculation and experiences, you have developed - even though you might never have thought of it this way - a personal philosophy: of life.
So, and returning to the symbol, the point of contact is the basic philosophical field of epistemology, or what it is or may be possible for us to know, what we cannot know, and what the distinctions are between knowledge and belief.
Predicated on this, and moving up one of the sides of the pyramid, is metaphysics, or our speculations about the nature and purpose of life and the universe.
On the opposite side is ethics, or how we choose how to live our lives. This encompasses how we regulate our behavior relative to ourselves, other people, other species, the planet as a whole, and even the universe.
And finally, and filling the pyramid, are the social, political, economic and environmental philosophies and structures that we create, based on the epistemology, metaphysics and ethics.
Furthermore, we can see that the pyramid of life is symmetrical. Our ethics reflect our metaphysics; and also that there is symmetry between life and the universe. Both start from an unknown, from a singularity, and both expand. They both grow. Indeed, this is another dynamic aspect.
Lastly, and in conclusion, the symbol reflects our responsibility for life, for everything that derives from our actions. Life is strong, but its strength does have limits. We do not have the right or the liberty to end it, to push the pyramid over.
This website also takes the form of this symbol. Part 1 is its point of departure from the infinite, and its foundation; Parts 2 and 3 its growing trunk and networks of branches and leaves; and Part 4, its flowers and fruit, leading, hopefully, to new life.
© Roland Watson 2013