11 Mar 22

Why fish don't exist

I listened to this book on Audible while running, and it was a pleasant experience, but I wish I had liked it more.

Lulu Miller weaves together adventure, philosophy, history, murder mystery, autobiography, and science. It is entertaining at times, and the philosophy of a universe ruled by chaos is very attractive to me. But it annoyed me that Lulu takes that far into the book to "reveal" that David Starr Jordan was a eugenicist: simply Googling him reveals that right away. Did Miller really spend that whole time obsessed with him without seeing that first?

My takeaways were:

  • The Universe doesn't make any sense and it is ruled by chaos, but humans can't help but try to order things with their models and categories. Our models are always wrong, our boundaries are always artificial.

  • The Universe also relentlessly resists our attempts to hold it still, to preserve, to organize, to remember. It is just a matter of time until any of our precious collections turn to dust.

  • Humans often make the mistake of putting themselves on "top" of some hidden hierarchy of nature, but the truth is that there isn't one: animals evolved to be highly specialized in different things. We can't swim like fish, we can't fly like birds, and they can't form cultures like we do. This doesn't mean we are superior, just different.

  • Our unstoppable drive to create categories also leads to errors like racism, nationalism, homophobia, eugenics, etc. If we only could understand better that the Universe doesn't draw lines around groups, we could find better ways to co-exist.

  • Seeing the world from a scientific point of view doesn't mean it loses its wonder. Repeated through the book is Darwin's quote:

    There is grandeur in this view of life


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