Tuesday, September 2, 2014
The realms of the very small
What we consider to be subjective reality is often determined by the scale in which the subject is observed. Take for example the relative strength of a puny ant compared to the most powerful human weight lifter, there is just no comparison the ant wins every time. While driving out west large mountains can appear small at a distance. Growing larger over many hours their true mass is discovered.
In my last post I discussed the leaps in evolution that were required to reach the point at which we now find ourselves. I described how simple two dimensional single celled organisms had for the benefit of their species joined together to make a play at a three dimensional world and in doing so had become a whole greater than its parts.
Part and parcel to this transformation would be the sense of individuality that is afforded by this type of existence. This notion of individuality however when looked at from the perspective of the very small becomes less clear. On these scales there is another world in which we inhabit, to which none of us are ever truly conscious to. There we are forced to discover that we did not wholly abandon the world of the microscopic. On these scales the tissues and organs of our bodies begin to resemble tiny machines and factories. Within our bodies thousands of these mechanisms work continuously to keep us alive by producing energy, repairing and replacing cells, and defending itself from foreign invaders.
That’s where my organism comes in. I would introduce you to it however it has no name. But then again he doesn't need one. Its true shape is hidden beneath a mass of skin supported in an erect position by a bony frame of skeleton. It interacts with the world in much the same way as a mollusk tasting and feeling its way about. I envision it to be akin to a six foot worm. To this worm as a child my consciousness was grafted. Each year as I grew older toward adult hood less and less off its original nature was evident to my fledgling mind. Now in a mature state it rules the world of my subconscious warning me of danger and thirst, and oddly precognizant of things in a way I can’t understand. This organism exists in the world of the microorganism where it fights everyday for survival against hosts of foreign aggressors. These aggressors are made up of the greater biome that surrounds us. It is also from this world where arises our primitive drives and emotion that many of us spend a lifetime attempting to master. Though we may have conquered the façade of the macro world there seems to be a constant struggle within the micro world which we can never win. The truth however may be more surprising for in fact we for a long time have reached a kind of Symbiotic equilibrium with our tiny friends.
This week the below referenced articles caught my attention and started me thinking along these lines. In the article it referenced in brief a study that described how closely intertwined we are biologically in relation to the world around us.
The article goes on to describe how our personal biomes are made up of organisms that are highly specific to our own bodies and households and distinct from others. It is well known that these organisms live upon and within our bodies in numbers that far exceed those of our own native human cells. So vast in number are these cells they behave as a benign cloud of life colonizing every environmental niche our bodies come in contact with. These organisms are highly mobile they go where we go. So pervasive are they that within hours of checking into a hotel our own individual biomes will replace those of the previous occupants. In the future because of the highly specific nature that each of our biomes possess it may one day be possible to develop new identification tools akin to fingerprinting. One day these may even prove more reliable than the current standard DNA sequencing.
Scale it up a bit to the level where limbs and appendages take shape. There on these scales just below our ability to distinguish them, hosts of tiny creatures inhabit our skin hair and nails tagging along for a ride. These creatures are just small enough to go unseen yet under a microscope they are familiar enough to be recognized as animals. These tiny creatures since the dawn of time have been evolving along side us on a parallel course. Evolution has ensured that we are exceedingly well suited at acting the part of a host for these happy critters. Whether we like it or not, like the hosts of animals that survive on the fringes of our society we have come to a state of equilibrium with these benign travelers. Spiders, rats, and roaches however that's another story entirely.
Alvin Davison, Practical Zoology (New York: American Book Company, 1906) 131