Chrysalis


When I was 14, I visited my grandparents in England. Next door to my grandparents lived a funny old guy who insisted that my brothers and I accompany him to his greenhouse to see a chrysalis. He had found it in the fields nearby and had cut the branch holding it and brought it to his greenhouse to "keep it warm." He explained to us that in a few weeks, a beautiful butterfly would slowly wriggle its way out of the cocoon and fly away.

What happens inside a chrysalis is truly amazing. Basically, the caterpillar, which has spent its entire life crawling and eating, suddenly decides to hang upside down and spin itself into its own coffin. Once the coffin is complete, the caterpillar proceeds to release enzymes that turns its body and brain to soup. From this soup, a new entity is incubated and an entirely new creature emerges. Truly a metaphor for rebirth.

Interestingly, new research indicates that the butterfly recalls its former life as a caterpillar. Scientists at Georgetown University conducted a test a decade or so ago where they repeatedly exposed caterpillars to a certain type of smelly gas and then jolted them with electricity. Then they waited for the caterpillars to cocoon themselves into moths. Lo and behold, the moths exhibited an aversion to the smelly gas. They had remembered.

This brings me to my question: If the caterpillar and the butterfly are the same consciousness--to the extent that an insect can be said to be conscious--then does that mean that the process of self-digestion that the caterpillar goes through causes the creature to suffer? I don't think it's possible that it doesn't. And yet, the prospect of being able to transform so completely that a creature which was once earthbound is able to miraculously take flight is so alluring that the caterpillar consents to dissolve itself.

And you thought adolescence was tough!


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