Happy 3,800,000,047th Birthday to Me

Guess what?

I am lucky to be alive.

My 47 years as this particular individual Homo sapiens has definitely been hairy at times. When I think about the early years, I am sometimes amazed that I survived at all.

But then I think about my “life” for the 3.8 billion years before my current conscious mortal existence and I have to say I have had it pretty damn good in this particular incarnation of life on Earth compared to that of my evolutionary ancestors, if the scientists are to be believed.

Sure, I don’t remember all that history between the first reproducing molecules and prokaryotic cells in the primordial muck of the early chaotic Earth and my explosion into this world as a feeble and helplessly needy Homo sapiens infant some 47 years ago. That’s a limitation of the cycle of life. Heck, I don’t even remember a good portion of my college years, for that matter. But the evidence suggests they happened, and that goes for evolution too, the process that cooked along on the Earth for 3.8 billion years and finally pooped me out (and you too, if you are reading this…KUDOS TO YOU, SURVIVOR!).

The science indicates there’s a continuous line of living organisms (life) between me (and you) now today and those RNA based microbial pioneers billions of years ago, when the Earth was being pummeled by meteorites and the atmosphere was a balmy methane rich smog, essentially.

All those intermediate species between then and now had to navigate a pretty brutal world that was constantly trying to kill them, while at the same time having to find time to produce offspring to keep the cycle of life going. I am damn proud of many of my accomplishments in life, but I literally could not have done it without the hard work of my ancestral lineage. Their accomplishments, in quantity, if not quality, were outstanding. I realize there’s a bit of anthropic principle at work there, since had they not succeeded, I would not be here to praise their narrow escapes from the talons of wily predators (for example). And indeed, there are a lot of species that didn’t make it to today. They went extinct. Their train reached the terminus and all passengers had to disembark.

But here I am. Alive, with 3.8 billion years of evolution under my belt. That’s calls for a beer or two, don’t you think? (Note: 9 PM at Vintage in Madison WI tonight, January 9, 2015).

I am always amused by the saying “life begins at conception,” usually regurgitated by anti-abortion proponents (most of whom, ironically, still report their birthdays as the date they emerged from their moms’ abdominal cavities, not the date their parents made the “two backed beast...”). Conception is usually defined as the fusing of an egg and a sperm to form the zygote embryo of an individual organism. But when you think about it, life doesn’t begin there. That’s just an arbitrary transitional time point, just as arbitrary as the day and time that a baby human gets traumatically ejected from the cuddly warm womb room of its mother into the blazing and awesome expanse of the outside world, after which it hits the ground running and GAME ON!

But an egg and sperm are alive. They are cells with complex cellular machinery and they were produced from the meiotic division (replication) of other cells called germ line cells. Their chromosomes comprise a selection of genes from the father (sperm) and mother (egg), and when they merge at conception, the resulting zygote has a full complement of genes, mixed and matched from the parents and totally ready to rock-n-roll. A zygote begins at conception, but life (that exists today) has been rocking and rolling on the Earth for 3.8 billion years or so.

Granted, an individual’s life span is important. Any given organism is essentially tasked with preserving its complement of genes and transferring them on down the evolutionary pipeline.

We humans tend to have fun with that evolutionary duty, manifesting it as having meaningful, healthy, happy, artistic, and productive lives that generally facilitate the having of more sex that leads to the propagation of said genes into the future.

So happy 3,800,000,047th birthday to me. I invite you to celebrate my high level of Darwinian fitness against the forces of natural selection (and yours too, even if it’s not your actual birthday today…I mean, what’s a few months compared to 3.8 billion years, right?) with me. I’ll be raising a glass (or two) to my ancestors at the Vintage Brew Pub tonight around 9 PM and if you are in the vicinity of Madison WI, feel free to stop by.

In other birthday related ramblings, I was born on January 9th in Melbourne Australia, where the temperature yesterday (my actual birthday correcting for the International Dateline) was about 80 degrees F warmer than Wisconsin was. I wish I were there.

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