Death: It’s all Volvox’s Fault!


Do you know what Volvox is?  According to the Princeton University website “Volvox is a genus of chlorophytes, a type of green algae. It forms spherical colonies of up to 50,000 cells. They live in a variety of freshwater habitats, and were first reported by Antonie van Leeuwenhoek in 1700. Volvox developed its colonial lifestyle 200 million years ago.”  And According to Harold, Volvox is the key to understanding death and the role it plays in life:

The chain of life moves from unsexed, potentially immortal amoeba to multicelled creatures engaging in sexual reproduction and subject to death – so, too, does the Eden legend.  In their beginning, Adam-Eve may be seen as symbol of a multicelled individual which, like Volvox, cannot be decisively placed in the plant kingdom or in the animal kingdom.  In Volvox’s beginning it is more plantlike, but Leeuwenhoek, who first described it, “did not know that after a few generations have been vegetatively reproduced by the process he observed there comes a generation that will produce eggs which must be fertilized by sperm before they can develop.”  Volvox, like Adam-Eve, brought natural death as well as sex into the world.  Apparently, death is the price life must pay to become sexed.


One might ask why this is so.  The great American naturalist, Joseph Wood Krutch, approached this question.  With keen insight he tells us, “Off hand most of us would…say that sex is necessary to reproduction…. But as every biologist knows…it isn’t.   Its biological function is the mixing of heredities, not reproduction.  Indeed, we might say that what it actually does is not permit but prevent ‘reproduction’ – if by that you mean complete duplication.”

 Harold seizes on this quote and goes on to explore what Krutch has to say concerning Volvox:

 Krutch says, “Once you had invented the differentiation of the sexes you had started on the way to poetry as Imagewell as to rich variability…” for only mortal creatures evolved; and “if there had never been any such thing as sexuality evolution would have had so little variation to work with that today we all might still be protozoa – or at least some sort of very simple animal.”  Krutch says he assumes that the biologists are right “when they tell me that Volvox, having got as far as it did, seems to have got no farther.  Perhaps some other creature independently paralleled his inventions – which would make the whole thing at least twice as remarkable.”  One senses that he feels a kindredship between this bit of life and man.  His words, “we might all still be protozoa,” show that man thinks of his ancestral forms in human terms – and in these terms legend tells the story.

Adam is the Genesis legend “code name” for amoeba.  Adam-Eve is the  “code name” for Volvox.  This is how sacred scriptures begged to be approached; poetically and allegorically.  Looking beyond the letter for the spirit. Until next time, peace…


Eating Our Way Out of Innocence


Preston Harold continues describing the amoeba and why its course is humanity’s course…

There is no apparent reason why amoeba should ever die.  In the course of its division a new one is not produced: there are “only fragments of the original individuals, whose life has thus been continuous back to the time when life itself was first created…” Like an amoeba, Adam self-divided, and there is no immediately apparent reason why Adam and Eve should ever die.  But when amoebic animal life comes into the picture, innocence goes – as it does in Eden – and this is connected directly with eating.  Joseph Wood Krutch explains:

…all animals must eat something which is or was alive. …No animal, therefore, can be innocent as a plant may be. …And that, perhaps, is the deepest meaning of Original Sin.

The Eden drama relates that loss of innocence is directly related with eating.

And eating leads to death, which we will explore in our next post.  Until then, peace…