From Bill Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything":
It starts with a single cell. The first cell splits to become two, and the two become four and so on. After just forty-seven doublings, you have ten thousand trillion (10, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000) cells in your body and are ready to spring forth as a human being. And every one of those cells knows exactly what to do to preserve and nurture you from the moment of conception to your last breath.
You have no secrets from your cells. They know ffar more about you than you do. Each one carries a copy of the complete generic code--the instruction manual for your body--so it knows not only how to do its job but every other job in the body. Never in your life will you have to remind a cell to keep and eye on its adenosine triphosphate levels or to find a place for the extra squirt of folic acod that's just unexpectedly turned up. It will do that for you, and millions more things besides.
Every cell in nature is a thing of wonder. Even the simplest are far beyond the limits of human ingenuity. To build the most basic yeast cell, for example, you would have miniaturize about the same number of components as are found in a Boeing 777 jetliner and fit them into a sphere just five microns across; then somehow you would have to persuade that sphrer to reproduce.
But yeast cells are as nothing compared with human cells, which are not just more varied and complicated, but vastly more fascinating because of thei complex interactions.
Your cells are a country of ten thousand trillion citizens, each devoted to your overall well-being. There isn't a thing they don't do for you. They let you feel pleasure and form thoughts. They enable you to stand and stretch and caper. When you eat, they exatract the nutrients, distribute the energy, and carry off the wastes--all those things you learned about in junior high school biology--but they also remember to make you hungry in the first place and reward you with a feeling of well-being afterward so that you won't forget to eat again. They keep your hair growing, your ears waxed, your brain quietly purring. They manage every corner of your being. They will unhesitatingly die for you--billions of them do so daily. And not once in all your years have you thanked even one of them. So let us take a moment now to regard them with the wonder and appreciation they deserve.
Ch. 24, "Cells"
I do take that moment--quite frequently over the past few weeks. The more pointless life seems to be in the face of death, the more wonderful such an effortful, unexplainable, baffling, infuriating, amazing, unending, glorious struggle seems to be. Cells don't get vacations. They work every moment of their life to their death. More work than even the most industrious human will ever do.
Even as I wonder at this miraculous phenomena--and yes, I choose the M-word word carefully. There's no reason life should try so hard, or exist in the first place. None that we yet know of, anyway--I wonder why they are, why they persist. Why at all. They don't think or want, as far as we know. So why?
Why do my cells fight for life so valiantly even as I don't see the point at all? I can remember being seven, and wondering what the point of starting anything was if it would eventually end. Even the most fun projects--especially those. Until recently, I wasn't sufficiently curious to extend that question to my life. Why am I alive, if one day, I'll be dead. Why exist, if I can't exist perpetually? And following that--ahem--logic, why would anyone or anything want to exist perpetually? Infinity is a long time, and life isn't surfeit with comfort and happiness, for most people or animals.
I don't understand any of it. If there's an objective, across-the-board point, what's the point of knowing the point? Does the knowing change anything? Probably not. And if there's no point, then would knowing there isn't change anything, besides making some people happy they're right, and others depressed that they're so wrong?
Whether or not it changes anything, point--or lack of--seems worth knowing. Yet it's one of many things I will blink out of existence without coming close to knowing. The only things I want from life are answers. More than I want happiness, because happiness is subject to change. Facts are not. So best guesses? Really don't count.
But biology is fascinating, to say the least. And I'm sure I am saying the least, what with my layman's understanding of the basics. Junior high, indeed.
"The Seether is neither big nor small. The Seether is the center of it all."--Veruca Salt