“Of natural bodies some have life in them, others do not.”
Aristotle, On the Soul
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It seldom catches our attention. So easy is it for us to pass it by without noticing.
That tree is alive. Choose the tree—it matters not which one: the specimen maple in the back yard; the yoshino cherry out front; the apple tree in the orchard; the lone pine clinging to the mountainside; or that white oak, one among many, standing silently in the forest.
How do I begin to comprehend what is going on here? I will pull up a chair and sit down. And observe.
Matter can live. It can nourish itself; it can grow; it can reproduce. Living matter is no ordinary matter. It is animated matter; and it is different, as is evident in the unique character of living actions. Matter never acts this way, except when it is alive.
The scientist’s description of how living things act does not lessen the astonishing character of these actions. It highlights it.
In me there is living matter, just as in the tree. Remarkably, unless plants live; I cannot. Our living is intimately intertwined—as the roots of trees—whether I see this or not.
To understand human life, I do well to try to understand the deep commonality between myself and other living material things. There is a time to emphasize the difference; but the difference is only understood in a context of sameness, and of interwoven destinies.
Living material things. I live with them. I eat some. I tend to some. I contemplate some. I can care about, learn from, and be grateful for them all. Indeed, I am one.
Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), student of Plato, tutor of Alexander the Great, has been considered by many to be the greatest ancient philosopher. On the Soul is his study of the amazing reality of living things.
Image: Oak in Winter. Donald Peattie (1898-1964)
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