Spring: What are the Chances?

Spring has arrived. Our unfortunate fealty to the numbing Age of Reason precludes our playful use of the word “Miracle”, even as we dance helplessly through the sudden profusion of lupine, poppy and lavender. So instead we’ll sing this Hymn to Her. Take your neighbor’s hand in a legally actionable show of shared humanity, and let’s go.

What is Spring? Life loudly reasserts herself, that’s what. Frosty the Snowman is reduced to a sad puddle and we laughingly kick his dumb top hat over the fragrant hedge. Bears awaken from their slumber, stretch luxuriously and start singing. Forest bunnies stand on their hind legs, link their furry little arms, dance in a circle and are set upon by singing bears. Fall and Winter exit with a curt bow, the biosphere slams the door behind them and goes shamelessly crazy with celebration, in colors that happily stress the limits of the visible spectrum. The plant kingdom opens its smiling yap to the bath of sunlight, stems and leaves and less pronounceable plant bits go suddenly turgid with chlorophyll, unreasonably happy bugs gather in humming, musical clouds to swirl deliriously through fields of wildflower. Megafauna rattle the hard-packed tundra with their bashful backrubs, and little boys and girls, yet unsullied, chase each other from the merry-go-round to the kickball field and back again, following a heart-powered program at least as old as the Boötes Void. That is, Wyeth politely yields the floor to Chagall. Very occasionally a whale will be observed in the Santa Barbara Channel sporting a Trader Joe’s bouquet in its blowhole. It’s that time of year.

Spring: The Hard Problem

The magic of Spring has a somewhat reductionist explanation. The Earth is inclined on its axis just so. Begat by a generally incomprehensible “Bang” 13.8 billion years ago (we’re assured through straight faces), today our stupidly lucky rock makes its lumpen way around the neighborhood fireball, here tilted toward the Old Dear, there away. This angular disposition yields changes of seasons, cyclical eruptions of joy in the plant and animal kingdoms, and hastily folded notes handed secretly around in third period algebra. Cellular Life does its thrilling and largely mysterious Springtime jig and we find ourselves smiling through tears. Pardon the Grammar, But Ain’t Life Grand (Mel Torme, et al) ?

Here’s the problem: Life’s a miracle (oh for g*d’s sake—don’t start!); or if not a miracle, a monstrously boggling equation, a glissando of numerical chutzpah. As the sometimes stammering physicist Roger Penrose has noted (along with Martin Rees, Paul Davies, and many many others of the slide rule set), the universe we live in is a crazily privileged subset of all possible universes. How so? Let’s just say the Cosmos is one of the most neatly built cuckoo clocks ever to self-assemble from an exploding scrapyard. Following the hallowed and probably soundless Big Bang, the fine, feathery micro-bits of the concussed universe fell together with an exactitude that can ulcerize a mathematician. You can look it up. Start with Anthropic Principle.

Life Inside a Spark

But the so-called “Fine-Tuning” of the universe? At best it’s a preamble. The dissemination and later clumping of exploded quantum debris into stars, galaxies, and jauntily tilted, sun-drenched  home planets is not explicable, nor need it be. The one thing we can say is this: the subcutaneous thrill that attends the arrival of Spring suggests both greater and fainter forces than those at work on our warily flirtatious protons and neutrons. This is the Hard Problem of Spring.

Something is going on. Something momentous is going on. But if you exist, and love, and mow the lawn and teach the kids to drive in the eternally blossoming spark of a lightning strike, that wild improbability is the fabric of your everyday. Get your arms around it. We’re all of us the insanely improbable payoff of the craziest bet modern math can describe. And when you know that the whole of your existence is balanced on a knife edge, powdered donuts taste better. They just do.

Take somebody’s hand—we came through the explosion. Spring is impossible. Long live Spring.