Knowing that we are all in this together evokes a sense of community and well-being. Not long ago humanity had a narrower, species-centric view of what we are in all this together involved. Happily, science is rapidly showing us just how deep and vast the we of this actually reaches.
The Science News article, Inside Job, covers research that offers us yet another warning of the danger of willfully innovating while ignorant of the constant, as chapter 16 cautions. This reminds me of the Science News’ reports on green house gases and global warming in the mid 80’s. It only took 20 years for this to become widely known. Alas, this knowledge has yet to result in very much corrective action. I imagine the perceived loss-to-gain ratio (cost/benefit) isn’t compelling enough. No doubt, the biological issues raised in this report will fair no better than other issues we know we should address.
Actually, this is more of an immediate loss to immediate gain ratio. For global warming, the immediate loss is high, like giving up fossil fuel, without any immediate gain. In fact, the only gain would be a serious attempt to avoid the coming disaster. That didn’t work for abolishing nuclear weapons so why should it for anything else? Interestingly, the climatic consequences are gradually coming to fruition, as are the biological consequences previewed in this report, Inside Job. How disastrous do circumstances need to get before the gain feels worth the loss?
Alas, the wisdom of balance has yet to play a major role in human behavior. Instead, the bio-hoodwink (p.11, p.100) impels us to feel ‘the more the better’. Perceived immediate gain drives us, and naturally so. After all, we are animals! Yet, we have no trouble understanding the danger. Chapter 70 alludes to the ironic difference between ostensible understanding and true understanding… My words are very easy to understand and very easy to put into practice, yet [ironically] no one in the world can understand them or put them into practice. (See We only understand what we already know, p.254.)
On the bright side, science is relentlessly, albeit gradually, proving how interconnected everything is. That bodes well for the long-term future! Especially considering how naive we were on these matters just a few short centuries ago. We do learn, even if at a snail’s pace.
Here are a few excerpts from the Science News report. The comment at the end of the article by one of the researchers tickled me. (For more information, Google: Gut microbes influence behavior)
Teeming masses of bacteria are in your mouth, on your skin, up your nose and on the surface of your eye, in your stomach, deep in your bowels and well, just about everywhere. In fact, the number of bacterial cells you harbor exceeds the count of your own body’s cells by 10-to-1.
They are — for the most part — friendly. So friendly that many scientists now view humans as conglomerate superorganisms composed of thousands of species. Scientists have dubbed this internal flora the “microbiome,” a nod to the little ecosystems that have blossomed in the body throughout human evolution.
These microbes are no mere hitchhikers. They’re hard at work cleaning up your insides and pumping out compounds that have all kinds of effects on health, development and perhaps even some behavior, emerging evidence suggests.
New experiments — mostly with mice — are uncovering secrets about how bacteria beguile, coax and outright manipulate their hosts, including humans.
The thought of microbes controlling the body may tickle Pettersson, but most people are squeamish about even having bacteria around. “Everywhere you look people are trying to make the world germfree,” says Martin Blaser, a microbiologist at New York University.
But a bacteria-free world is neither practical nor healthy. Blaser and others think that hygienic practices are not only getting rid of pathogens but are also causing populations of helpful bacteria to dwindle, leading to disease. This disappearing-microbiota theory is slightly different from the hygiene hypothesis, which holds that reduced exposure to pathogens leads to a maladjusted immune system, which in turn causes allergies and asthma (SN: 8/26/00, p. 134). Breaking up with the bacterial buddies that humans evolved with could have even more profound effects on health.
“Clean water is great. I wouldn’t choose otherwise, but sometimes there are unforeseen consequences,” Blaser says. In addition to widespread use of antibiotics to battle infections and purposely kill bacteria, humans are changing their microbial makeups in some unexpected ways. For example:
- Clean water = People pick up fewer fecal bacteria
- Bathing= Changes a person’s mix of bacteria on skin (1)
- Reduced breast feeding=Babies get fewer bacteria from contact with mother
- Smaller families=Fewer hand-me-downs from siblings
- Increased cesarean sections=Babies get few bacteria from birth canal
- Dental fillings=Changes a person’s mix of bacteria in mouth
It’s been slow in coming, but an awareness is growing that small creatures can wield great influence on the development of the human brain, immune system and other parts of the body. It should come as no great surprise, Mazmanian says. After all, bacteria shape their environments all the time, creating teeming colonies around vents in the ocean floor and helping build coral reefs and rain forests. “I don’t see us as being any different from a coral reef,” he says. “But humans are narcissists by nature, and most of the rest of the world isn’t ready to admit that little, ignorant bacteria could be in charge.”
Buddha’s 1st Noble Truth describes the source of sorrow that all animals can feel, “… sad it is to be joined with that which we dislike, sadder still is the separation from that which we love, and painful is the craving for that which can’t be obtained”. For social animals like us, feeling that others share this burden helps alleviate this pain, while the isolation and loneliness common in civilization aggravates it.
The sense of isolation fades away if we look farther afield for timeless connection. Insects can serve as a tool to humble and weaken the isolating “illusion of self”(ego). They are available to ponder most anywhere you happen to be. By sincerely observing the similarities—the profound sameness of chapter 56—between you and them can help alleviate the “illusion of self” and the sense of isolation and disconnection it causes. Insects, like humans, vigorously work and not shirk as chapter 2 puts it… indeed, perhaps more so than us. Become a bug for a moment and feel how we are all in this together!
(1) I quit using soap decades ago in favor of a stiff brush to simulate some aspects of living wild in the jungle. It’s a loose simulation, but it seems beneficial from the bacteria sense. When in doubt about most anything, I consider how ancestral hominids lived and wild animals still do. This has offered me the best guidance overall. This helps me avoid being hoodwinked by the latest great “answer” that civilization comes up with.