...so many explanations...


Those not familiar with Fred, or even those who are, may not realize all the different levels of meaning for Fred's "Genesis". This should clear things up a bit, allowing for more appreciation for the site.

Linguistic Origins

Genesis is a Greek word related to all the "gen"-based words -- generate, generation, genital, gene, regenerate, gentle, genius, general. The Indo-European root beneath it is something like "gand" or "gnt" -- it means birth, or to bear, to give birth to. The root also produces the "nat" words -- natal, nature, natural, native, nativity -- and, in the Germanic branch, kin, kind, akin, kindergarten, king, kindness, kinship, etc.

This branching tree of words is for me a continuation of Darwin's branching tree of evolutionary descent, which is one of the reasons I used the word "Genesis" as the title of my epic poem about the bringing of Earthly life to Mars.

I sometimes visualize Genesis as the Caduceus of Mercury/Hermes, and the Metatron of Moses/Set, the twined snakes of DNA that Mercury got in exchange for the lyre he invented and that Apollo wanted to give to his son, Orpheus the poet.

Biblical References

[Caduceus] In the gospel of Matthew, 25:14-30, Jesus tells a remarkable parable. The kingdom of Heaven, he says, is like a wealthy man who goes travelling, and lends his three servants money (reckoned in weights of specie called talents) until his return. The servant that gets five talents uses the money to trade, and doubles the money to ten, which he gives to his master on his return. The servant that gets two talents also doubles the money, to four, and renders it to his master. The wealthy man praises these two servants and promotes them, effectively making them partners in his firm. The third servant buries his talent in the ground and repays it unrisked and unenhanced, explaining that he was afraid that the master, who has a hard reputation of reaping where he has not sown, would blame him if he lost the money in a risky venture. The master condemns him, and orders the one talent to be taken away and given to the servant with ten talents, explaining angrily that the one-talent servant should at least have "put the money to the exchangers"--played the financial market--so that he could have given it back with usury (interest). "For unto every one that hath shall be given," Jesus concludes, ". . . but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath."

This disturbing story is traditionally taken to be about our duty to develop the natural capabilities given us by God, that it is not enough to sit on one's bodily and mental gifts, preserving them for the final audit of death; we are expected to risk them in the world, make something of ourselves, and have something to show for our lives. This metaphorical interpretation, which comfortably internalizes and defuses the problematic financial and interpersonal implications of the story, is no doubt partially correct. Indeed, the word "talent," which had always meant a physical weight (with metaphorical extensions in the senses of counterweight, tax, charge, cost, punishment, retaliation, and money denominations) has now come in English to mean exclusively a special ability or psychological gift, because of the weight of this interpretation of the parable. But the parable also has a more direct and less palatable meaning, concerning the morality of commerce, whose implications are the more fascinating and far-reaching for having been muffled through so many centuries of prejudice against business.

The fundamental structure of the parable is that we start out in debt, having taken out a loan (from God, from the physical world, from nature, from our ancestors, from our parents, from our nation), and that it is not enough that we repay the principal; we are justly being charged interest as well. In other words, we are expected to reimburse the lender for the time during which we have the use of the loan; the value we have been given is not the value of the money but the value of the money times the amount of time we have the manage of it. What this means is that we have to run just to stand still; it is up to us to increase the value of what we have been lent, by at least the interest rate, and preferably by more still. The master has bought a bond in the servant's enterprise, which must be redeemed when it expires at a face value higher than what the master paid for it.

The parable adds however that if we, the servant, can show a sufficiently favorable return on the investment, that is, if we treat the bondholder as a shareholder in our business, and pay him not just the stipulated interest but also the dividend accorded to a part owner, the original bond may be exchanged at its expiry for a share in the lender's enterprise--the servant is made a stockholder in the master's firm. Thus the use of time becomes the key issue; time must be cultivated and enriched at a faster rate than the interest on the loan; if we can do so, treating our creditor as we would a shareholder, we can ourselves be transformed from a debtor into an owner, so that we and our former creditor now own stock in each other's businesses. By the proper use of time--"use" in the financial sense--the bond we owed can become a unit of profitable stock that we own, and the interest we once paid over the passage of time now becomes due to us.

An old, rather blasphemous song from the 'sixties made fun of the shady economics of fundamentalist and evangelical religion:

Jesus puts his money in the First National Bank,
Jesus puts his money in the First National Bank,
Jesus puts his money in the First National Bank,
Jesus saves.

But the connection between saving as the accumulation of money at interest and saving as spiritual salvation is not an altogether frivolous or coincidental one. Words that have the same sound but unconnected meanings tend to drift apart; but "save" remains resolutely ambiguous, because its different meanings amplify rather than suppress each other.

Jesus' parable is a kind of gloss on the story of Jacob and Laban, another story of saving and salvation, which Shylock quotes in The Merchant of Venice. In the story Jacob serves as the ranch manager for his uncle and father-in-law Laban, who is, like the Master in Jesus' parable, a hard man who reaps where he does not sow. Jacob is so expert and creative in his work that he makes Laban a rich man, and despite the fact that Laban keeps changing the rules of his employment, Jacob ends up with both of Laban's daughters and huge flocks and herds of his own. He serves seven years for Laban's elder daughter Leah, seven years for the younger daughter Rachel, and six years for his share of Laban's flocks and herds. Jacob's peculiar expertise seems to be in animal breeding: he mates the most vigorous stock in his uncle's herds and improves the breeds. Jacob's genetic expertise, the story insists, is taught to him by God, who also promises to bless Jacob himself with a multitude of descendants.

Thus among other things the story is about what one might call traditional evolutionary theory. Success is defined as reproductive success; Jacob is the fittest in these terms. He himself sires twelve sons by various women. He prospers by acting as a selective force on his herds, accelerating their evolution by what in modern terms we would call genetic engineering. What the story says about God is that God is the spirit of evolution and the true guide for what will survive into the future. But God too reaps where He does not sow: a rentier, so to speak, an owner of the means of production who gives employment to his workers. God, like Laban, is a kind of friendly adversary whose demands for repayment create the economic discipline and stimulate the technical ingenuity that ensure prosperity, and whose arbitrary tests warrant the survivor as the rightful heir to the future. The Bible story hammers this point home by having Jacob wrestle all night with a man (usually interpreted as an angel) who actually turns out to have been God Himself. Jacob suffers a torn sinew in his thigh from this battle, but gets in recompense a divine blessing, and a new name: Israel, that is, the position of ancestor to the whole nation. Jacob, the great saver, is saved.

Let us return to Jesus' version of the story. The Master expects a return on his money equivalent to what a competent money manager could get by playing the financial markets over the period of time the Master is away. The interest rate represents the cost of time. In present-day scientific terms the cost of time is the increase of entropy, or thermodynamic disorder. In human life the increase of entropy shows up in the process of aging--including the onset of menopause, which is a key element in the Jacob and Laban story and in the whole related cycle of stories in Genesis. As Shakespeare describes it so movingly in the Sonnets, we, and the physical world around us, wear out over time. The order that we inherit is a loan, which not only must be repaid, but also carries with it a finance charge; the repayment is death, and the finance charge is aging. But two of the servants in the story manage to beat the entropic market rate. Jesus says that they do it through trade, which means that if he has the Jacob and Laban story in mind, which he surely must, Jesus equates trade with the process of evolutionary husbandry practiced by Jacob.1. In other parables of production, such as that of the sower, Jesus explicitly outlines the process of natural selection that enables one seed to bring forth a hundredfold while another brings forth only fortyfold and another none at all. Thus trade, or productive business, is the continuation of the natural process of creative evolution, and it is one way in which we can use the investment loan of our lives and the available resources of nature to beat the interest rate of entropy.

These economics coincide closely with certain leading ideas in contemporary cosmological physics. The universe is subject to the increase of thermodynamic disorder over time; the demands of Laban and of the Master in the parable cannot be denied. But other processes are at work. The enormous pressure within the dense primal fireball causes it to expand. As the universe expands, it cools. The cooling process itself triggers spontaneous symmetry-breaking, as when crystals suddenly form in a supersaturated cooling solution, or frost-flowers blossom on a winter windowpane. Crystals and frost may seem very symmetrical, but they are much less so, forming along specific planes and axes as they do, than the omnidirectional symmetry of the liquid or vapor that gave them birth. That symmetry-breaking can give rise to higher levels of order, embodied in more and more complex molecular forms whose asymmetries paradoxically provide a whole new field of opportunities for new kinds of symmetry to emerge. These forms must in turn compete with one another for survival, and thus further elaborate themselves, until in at least one place in the universe they generated the amazing variety of living organisms, including Jacob's rams and ewes, and Jacob himself. Thus the evolutionary view of the universe corresponds nicely with the Biblical conception that life is a debt to be repaid with interest, but also an investment, which if properly used can yield a return superior to the interest rate.

His knowledge of stockbreeding is symbolized by the rather mysterious procedure of setting up a peeled branch before the herds when they come to drink; this peeled branch is interpreted in the Kabbala as being related to the metatron of Moses, the staff which can change into a snake and back, and is also connected with the institution of circumcision, the process by which a Hebrew male was enabled to give birth to himself a second time and be reborn in the spirit. There is an even more fascinating implication; the metatron of the Torah is one version of the magic staff shared by many circum-Mediterranean religions, and is a direct analogue of the caduceus of Hermes/Mercury. As we have already seen, the caduceus is an exact diagram of the double-helix DNA molecule. Jacob is evidently a ancient expert in recombinant DNA!

"Genesis" has roots of course to the very beginning of our existence. It has intertwined itself in a double helix design into the fabric of life and therefore serves as the perfect name for a growing site of an author who is constantly thinking about where we sprung from.

...FT End.