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Based at The University of Edinburgh, the ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum is part of the ESRC Genomics Network and pioneers new ways to promote and communicate social research on the contemporary life sciences.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

11 Small Songs About Everything


At the heart of
Lived and illusory experience
Is the feeling that there’s somebody watching

That we’re apart from the things we are a part of
That there are always two of each of us.


Our ancestors became objects of worship
So very early on,
Because it is unsettling that the dead
Those who are absent from the world
Stay present in our minds

I suspect that our being incomplete and double,
Has, Ab-originally speaking.
Something to do with feeling
that if, after we’re dead
We exist - Why not now?


The future tense
The ability to imagine consequences
To make plans, have ideas, write them down
And imagine alternative future versions of ourselves
(if we sow or eat the harvest)
Is a subset of this initial, unnerving intuition
And finding death when we discovered life

There are two of me in the future depending
on me right now


In compensation for the experience
of memory and anticipation,
We evolved or we invented
(it hardly matters which)
Our sense of self, a continuous being
With a name
Who was, and is now, and ever shall be.

Perhaps that’s what happened when
Eve bit the apple.
Perhaps that was the Fall


Our conversations with God
Have always been ways to talk
About the future with ourselves.

(The future briefly replaced God, even,
As an object of hope and worship
And as a repository for justification
But has been found to be equally untenable.)


While atheists are fond of saying,
(Leaning forward with a pipe and a pint)
"God has proved himself
An unnecessary hypothesis,"
Some of us, even atheists
Are not comfortable
With the future going the same way.

To live without God and Hope too
Makes us mean and instrumental
Narrow and unpleasant to be with


Reality isn’t good for us
But then
We’ve always known that

We’re still looking for something, anything, in reality
To console us for dying

In the molecules of our sameness
Of memory and inheritance,
Can we find in genomic longevity
A substitute for immortality?
In molecular homogony, for belonging?
Can we find in the changes and contingencies
Of amino acids our identity?
And ways to be happy about what happens next?
Can we pray to the way things really are?
Can we learn
How not to need God
And how not to be him as well?


There is the comfort
That our questions now
Across the wastes of time and political economy
Are the same ones we’ve been asking
Since we got ourselves kicked out of the garden.

Our answers too are all the same
Negotiations of the same dualities
Lostnessess and wishes,
And all of these have been useful.

We’ve made beauty from them
As well as thefts and murders.


Our deeper realities than the real
Called Brahma and quanta and the like
Are better means than they are ends.

Lovely things have been done with them
Our condemned and privileged, evolved or invented
loneliness and love

And terrible, terrible things.


We are adapted to watch ourselves experiencing
The unlikeliness of being real.

Like all adaptations to reality
The only end is failure
while reality goes on.


The measure of everything is everything
The rest is songs and silence.

Peter Arnott is Resident Playwright at the Traverse Theatre Edinburgh, Peter will be hosting a number of public engagements as he explores ideas and seeks inspiration for a genomics related play.

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