Predatory threats and defensive responses is a central theme in the Dawn Of Life exhibit at the ROM. The spiny-backed mollusc, Wiwaxia (above left), is an example of how a peace-loving algae-eater was able to protect itself from hungry predators. As I view these fossils and the brilliant reconstructions in the Gallery, I reflect on my own carbon unit. Although I am living a half-billion years later than Wiwaxia, I understand that similar predatory and defensive mechanisms are available to me today – deeply buried, but there nevertheless.
This has led to many deeper reflections about the complexities and mysteries of the human organism. Thinking Through The Body by Richard Shusterman is proving to be a very helpful guide. (Young Man By The Sea, by Hipplolyte Flandrin, above right, is featured on the book’s cover.) Being in touch with the human body opens many doors that remain closed to mere intellectual inquiry.
At one point, Shusterman suggests that our ability to pay conscious attention to what is happening is a uniquely human survival tool – more powerful than sharp teeth and prickly spines:
As human consciousness evolved to help us survive in an ever-changing world, our attention has become habituated to – and requires – change.
Of course, humans also have the capacity to concentrate attention on activity that has nothing to do with their current physical environment. And on this topic, Wiwaxia is silent.