Welcome to this podcast about all the things we’ve learnt from sperm.
Learn from sperm
Intro Hiya, how’s it going?
[Once the sperm cell enters the egg, its tail falls off.] Didn’t see that coming, did ya? ♪ tune
Welcome to this episode about the wisdom of sperm, why there have to be so many, and what we can learn from them. It is the first solo episode of Season 3 and since the MCBE launched on LinkedIn. The MCBE is the Mirzarafie Centre for Biology Excellence. You may be familiar with the new LinkedIn newsletters. I decided to launch the Curious Natural Philosopher newsletter recently, and it’s already got over 1,200 subscribers.
If you’d like to find it, there’s a link in the show notes!
It’s called the curious natural philosopher because I’ve come to think of myself as a curious natural philosopher, in my life, in my personality and in my work. I believe there are powerful and fascinating parallels to be drawn between the natural world and our human experiences. That the way trees grow big and strong and provide more shelter and food for many other species is why they’re the emblem of government parties and other institutions; that the tiny embryo stuck in a seed with a wing is a story of rebirth and having faith in the lifeless wind that will propel you over the river to a bright new destination.
That the economic wisdom of pollen production knows exactly how much extra to make for a return on investment in the following generation of plants. That the egg cell accumulates nutrients in its liar inside the body, but moves just that little bit to meet the sperm in the oviduct, and the sperm travels from one body to another one, crossing that bridge, finding its way, negotiating the unknown with its teammates, but shields its precious cargo that it’s held onto for the past several months as it brewed itself into maturity ready for the journey ahead.
And that these insights are plain to see in every simple moment on Earth, and I fully intend to collect them all. This is the first such deep dive. Learn from sperm. It’s a good starting place because it has powerful parallels to history, politics, society and biology, and also because there’s been something comical and dismissive about male fertility, with the backdrop of news about decreasing fertility and disappearing y chromosome. For more on the x and y chromosomes, check out season 1 episode 3, also linked in the show notes.
So let’s do it… what can we really learn from sperm?
Everything is built on networks. Society is a pyramid scheme more or less, money begets money, networks beget networks, status begets status. There are religious and occult schemas that teach this: create a pyramid or hierarchy to run things, to create things.
This is seen in , or maybe even inspired by, nature. Have you ever wondered why there are so many sperm cells being produced when only 1 is needed? What is the purpose of this huge network? What is the purpose of such wastage? What is the purpose of the 9,999,999,999 that don’t make it? Well, here it is.
Whenever there is a vanishingly small probability of success, say 0.01%, this is the only way to achieve success. For example, with a probability of just 0.01%, if you had a single shot, it would not happen. Even if you had 10 shots. It would still not happen. If you had 100 shots, then it would finally happen, but only once. By producing exponential opportunities, you tackle the low probability of success.
This is seen in fishes producing lots of eggs because they’re externally fertilised and thus have a low probability of survival. You see it in the flying pollen and all the stuff thrown up in the air during spring…
You might still wonder… what happens to the wastage? Pretty much most of all that stuff is wasted, seemingly. Firstly, it isn’t necessarily wasted in the big scheme of things. Secondly, without the so-called wastage, the success would be impossible. Armies also work like this. The prospect of death is baked into them, but with a mission and purpose, it is seen as worthwhile. The sacrifice and battle is baked into the system.
You might’ve watched videos of the sperm’s journey to the egg. The environment is harsh. Extremely deadly. There are traps. Acid. So much resistance and difficulty. But just like a trap in the woods, once the bear steps into it, it’s used up. The next bear won’t be caught. Once every trap has been found, and every attack received, the remaining survivors have a clear path to their destination. The ones who sacrifice themselves are the ones plugging the gaps and paving the way for the victors.
They are weakening the resistance. They are booking slots. Taking up space. Diluting any enemies. And it is that expedition that produces a winner. The fallen ones look like waste, but they’re winners in the shadows. They are the unseen wings that push the winner to its flight. They are one and the same. They may be billions of sperm, but they are one man, and there may be many men, but they are one species, there may be many species but there is one life.
There is so much to learn from sperm. They are excited and work together. They’re competing, but they’re collaborating too. They can’t work in isolation, they need to feel each other’s spur to keep going. Have you ever walked or cycled or driven alone, relaxed, at your own pace? Then a few more people show up, and suddenly you feel like a race just started? That instinctive call to action is baked into us and sperm do it that way. The more, the better, the more, the stronger, the more, the faster. That drive is not in any individual, but it works as a force connecting the parts together. Together, we’re going somewhere and we will get there, and even if one of us makes it, we all make it. It’s highly inspirational. It permeates the running of institutions, the texts of religions, human connection. We’ve learnt from sperm.
When we’re connected, there are no winners without losers. When we’re alone, there are winners who feel like losers. When we’re together, all losers feel like winners. Sport is a beautiful example of this. When you’re in flow, losing and winning are just technicalities because we’re all having such a great time and we feel we’re growing together.
This is another property of sperm. Fun. Pleasure, enjoyment, flow, vibes. Maybe we can’t know how they feel, but let’s just say they feel however people feel when they’re delivering them into the world, which is pretty good. They feel however people feel when they’re captivated by something beautiful, worthwhile, fun. How people feel when they’re in union in the church, music hall or political rally. Focus on the process not the outcome. Enjoy the process not the metrics.
Grow and make us all the richer. The extra twigs on the weeds? They’ll be next year’s homes for the baby birds. The maple’s shade? A whole neighbourhood for so many others. All the pollen and nectar? Bounty for the insects. Something for themselves, but so much more for others. And so whenever we aim for something for ourselves, the best way to secure it is to simultaneously give so much more to others. It’s a marriage of divine generosity and personal ambition.
So many businesses are based on this principle. A pyramid approach where you offer something to a huge audience at the bottom, and slowly tease customers up to the top where only a handful of people pay you lots of money that is then enough to fund the whole pyramid.
It’s impossible to find those people in one step, so by creating a pyramid, you have a large base of leads to work with, so again, that principle of low probability comes in. even if any given lead only has a probability of 0.01% of becoming a paying customer, by giving yourself 100 leads, that allows 1 customer. 1,000 leads can become 10 customers, 10,000,000 leads becomes 100,000 customers. So the pyramid effect is powerful. Here are a couple of other examples.
I was reading some of Rumi’s inspirational quotes online, and they struck me. You may already be familiar with some of them. What you seek is seeking you. Why choose to stay in chains when the door is so wide open? After reading these for some time, I kept reading into the thousands of other quotes. I realised quickly that I didn’t resonate with all of them, and the quotes at the top must’ve been the most famous ones or perhaps the best ones that the whole world has been resonating with for centuries. Rumi must’ve written far more than what became famous.
The same network effect is at play here. Learn from sperm. The second example is a post on LinkedIn by a writer that goes something like this: write poorly, write ok, write well, write ok, write a masterpiece, write ok, write poorly. The only constant is to write. It speaks to the same idea of sticking to the process not the outcome. That the winning piece cannot be reliably picked in one go, that it emerges spontaneously from a pool of naturally competing and contrasting contenders created by the same mind or the same man. That the diversity of creation meets the unknowns of the universe, and that some of those will meet end to end to produce bliss and life. Isn’t it fascinating?
We’re about halfway through the season, and it’s about right as it’s June! I make a point of producing the seasons organically and to their own timing, and it amazes me how on point they always are. We think the earth stops moving if we ditch our schedule, that the sun will fall out of the sky and that we’ll drop down dead. And yet, after letting go, we find out that our internal rhythm is just as real as the clock on the wall, and infinitely more reliable and powerful.
I recently found myself panicking over some podcast statistics, fixating on whether the downloads are growing season on season. And then I read about Dr. Stephen Perse. The prestigious schools in the UK bearing his name look contemporary enough, but the guy died in the 17th century and left his will to build the schools. That anything can so powerfully outlast its creator and his time was a simple reminder for myself that the purpose of creation, be it a school, podcast or philosophy, cannot be as vain as the viral thing this minute. If it’s good enough to share in the present, then it’s good forever. After all, 80% of the universe is in the dark. There ain’t no vanity metrics there. See you in the next one, and if you fancy pictures to the audio, many of which are birds, subscribe to the Curious Natural Philosopher on LinkedIn.
Thanks for listening, and remember, eggs also compete within their group of around 15 follicles every cycle. The winner is ovulated while the rest go back into the ether.
[fun fact] Byeeee ♪ tune