Sunday, September 30, 2012

Chet Raymo, "Six Impossible Things"

"Six Impossible Things"
by Chet Raymo

"It is morning. Early morning. I am sitting at my desk with my laptop open before me. The shelves are lined with books. At my elbow, the big glass windows looking out to Dingle Bay. On the sill, morning glories and tomatoes. At my other elbow, a mug of coffee. In an hour or two I'll have breakfast. This is my White Queen time. "But one can't believe impossible things," cries Alice, in frustration. "Why sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast," replies the White Queen smugly. If I can believe six impossible things before breakfast I count it a useful day.

For example, yesterday I screwed up my puss and believed the life cycle of the slime mold Dictyostelium discoideum. Rather impossible when you think of it, that those teeming amoebas know how to build those gleaming minarets, that it's somehow built into their genome. A four-letter code. Impossible! But I believed it. Why? Because I had seen it with my own eyes.

And the tiny red spider mite that I picked- ever so carefully- off the tomato plant. As small as the period at the end of this sentence. And that little dot- it has legs, and mouth, and eyes, and digestive system, and- and everything I have basically, and it eats and excretes and repeats, just like I do, that pinprick of red. Impossible! But I believed it. Because I placed the spider mite here on my laptop and examined it with my magnifier. And all that was before my coffee was half gone.

Oh, lordy, the world is full of impossible things. And it takes a lot of practice to believe them. I try to practice every morning. Six impossible things before breakfast, I say. But I have one rule. I only believe impossible things that I've seen myself. Or have reliable, reproducible evidence that someone else has seen. Goodness knows there's enough reliably attested impossible things to keep me occupied for many mornings to come without making up impossible things that no one has reliably seen. I don't believe in Cheshire Cats, for instance. Cheshire Cats are all well and good, but they have a way of drifting in and out of existence. You say you talked to a Cheshire Cat, but when I went to look it had faded away. Not even a whisker remained. I require of my impossible things some measure of permanence."

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