Night Talks

Night Talks is a new monthly column featuring photos & philosophical musings
by Joe McMurray


Occasionally, I’m struck in a profound way by odd things. For example, I recently watched a video made by some marine scientists of various sea creatures feeding at the bottom of the ocean. The scientists had attached a camera and a chunk of meat to an apparatus which they sunk to the sea-floor. An array of primitive animals – sightless eels and sharks, giant shrimp, schools of tiny ghost-like fish – then appeared and began to slowly devour the bait, working at it in small bites. Though they were fairly grotesque, it wasn’t the way the creatures looked that freaked me out: it was the idea of them all the way down there, in total darkness, scavenging endlessly for whatever food they might happen to find, and even more soberingly, of (creatures like) them doing so for hundreds of millions of years. It’s like a kind of seething, inverse example of deep-time. 

While things like mountains (or the sun and the stars, whatever ancient, seemingly permanent objects), on account of their scale and stasis, are grave reminders of the vast expanses of time unfolding all around us, these fish, whose relatively short lives occur unseen, achieve the same effect through their seeming insignificance. In both cases it is a matter of appearances. Mountains will eventually erode and thus only appear monumental from our limited perspective. In the same sense, primordial sea-floor beings only appear to be insignificant, existing as they do in a world without light, being born and dying without even the possibility of being noticed, at least by us. You could at once imagine with an equal sense of awe the mountains bearing witness to the rise and fall of the succession of human civilizations, and the little fishes going about their lightless lives completely oblivious to all of it. I used to think that in a perfect world, my friends and family could throw my body into the ocean when I died. Now I don’t know.

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