Being and nothingness

July 29th, 2009

File this one under “musings.”

Blue Snail (2004)

"Blue Snail" © 2004 Michael Singman-Aste

Last week I was mowing the lawn, one of the most arbitrary and pointless activities I ever perform. More on that later. Anyway, I think I ran over a snail. Mulched her. And that got me thinking….

A few years ago a colleague of mine and I were discussing our Roombas whilst (he’s British) carpooling to our day job. He mentioned that a slug-eating Roomba-like robot was under development. In addition to the usual logic behind the Roomba–a combination of military mine sweeper algorithm and a drunk careening about the room bouncing off walls–this new gizmo could identify slugs by their glow and eat them. It would then “digest” them and be powered by the slugs they ate.

I was repulsed. It wasn’t so much the idea of eating a slug; Although I’m a vegetarian I imagine that with enough garlic and butter a slug could be slimy yet satisfying. But it was the idea of any living creature’s being devoured by a machine to power it. To me this is worse than just being killed by a machine, bad as that is itself. Think Terminator. Think wood chipper. In those cases one’s body is basically as it was, just more… dispersed. This is much worse than the sickening conversion of human juices to red weeds in Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds,” or the symbiotic relationship between human and machine in “The Matrix.”

The Matrix (1999)

The Matrix (1999)

I’ve always taken comfort in the thought that when we die we are not really gone. I’m not talking about heaven, or remaining in the memories of loved ones. (If we’re lucky). I mean that our bodies remain and, eventually, return to the earth. We nourish plants, they grow and are eaten by animals, yada yada yada. Or we’re killed and eaten by wolves. (Same idea, basically, but eliminating the middleman.) And it seemed to me that our soul, our spark of life, is an energy that is released from our bodies but still exists. I’ve never studied physics–never even took Physics for Poets and Jocks in college–but my layman’s take on the Law of the Conservation of Energy bolstered that view:

The law of conservation of energy states that the total amount of energy in an isolated system remains constant. A consequence of this law is that energy cannot be created nor destroyed. The only thing that can happen with energy in an isolated system is that it can change form, for instance kinetic energy can become thermal energy. Because energy is associated with mass in the Einstein’s theory of relativity, the conservation of energy also implies the conservation of mass in isolated systems (that is, the mass of a system cannot change, so long as energy is not permitted to enter or leave the system) (

Darth Vader’s explanation of the Circle of Life in “The Lion King” helped, too.

Circle of Life, "The Lion King"

Circle of Life, "The Lion King"

But enter the slug-eating robot. Separate from the isolated system, the natural ecology, of the garden. A barbarian at the gates. When the robot consumes and processes the living creature, the creature does not nourish a body that will return to the earth, either as a decaying body or other…. fertilizer; The living creature is converted into electricity. This electricity is converted into kinetic and thermal energy to move the robot forward to find and consume more living creatures.

The slug is gone. Completely gone. We’re talking Stranger in a Strange Land, Martian zapping into non-existence. We’re talking atomic bomb obliteration. The slug has been sent to the f’ing cornfield. I thought about this as I dumped the mulched grass into the composting bin, and imagined it feeding someone’s flower bed or vegetable garden, along with the hapless snail that was in the wrong place at the wrong time. And I uttered aloud her epitaph, “It could have been worse.”

Michael Singman-Aste
Postdiluvian Photo

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2 responses to “Being and nothingness”

  1. Robin says:

    definite food for thought. hmm. kinetic energy is still energy?

  2. […] I wrote in ”Being and Nothingness,” ”… our soul, our spark of life, is an energy that is released from our bodies […]

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