Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Bacteria Are US - A Novel Perspective

Sometimes I read something that seems obvious in retrospect, but sounds so bizarre upon first glance. From the Nov 22,2010 New Yorker article on fermented foods - "Nature's Spoils":

"There is no such thing as an individual," Lynn Margulis, a biologist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, told me recently. "What we see as animals are partly just integrated sets of bacteria." Nearly all the DNA in our bodies belongs to microorganisms: they outnumber our cells nine to one. They process the nutrients in our guys, produce the chemicals that trigger sleep, ferment the sweat on our skin and the glucose in our muscles. [] They work with the immune system to mediate chemical reactinos and drive out the most common infections. Even our own cells are kept alive by mitochonidria - the tiny microbial engines in our cytoplasm. Bacteria are us.


Blogger billoo said...

"What we see as animals are partly just integrated sets of bacteria."

and that thought was itself just the product of atoms or bacteria?

"what we see as animals"
ROFL :-)

E-K..hans jonas is brill. on this.

November 24, 2010 4:58 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Yes, the mind/body issue is one I have thought about quite a bit. I tend to lean towards materialistic explanations... I guess as a computer guy, it makes sense to me.

Thanks for the Hans Jonas reference - I have to confess that I had not heard of him before...

November 24, 2010 8:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh no, not a computer guy..I wish you had told me earlier, E-K! :-)

Yes, Hans Jonas is great. The relevant essays are from his 'Phenomenon of Life'

it's quite interesting how we've moved into a dualism (it used to be mind/body/soul).

As Hans Jonas says..if we're just a 'thinking reed' then at least we know that. Animals may as well (to some degree) but if we're "just" integrated bacteria (or atoms) then why should we even bother with "explanations"

Hope all else is well.



November 24, 2010 10:26 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...


>Animals may as well (to some degree)

I think this is the crux of the matter. If the difference between man and the rest of the universe is a difference of degree and not a difference of kind, then man is nothing special.

So what that we are more self aware than other living things? Bats can see in the dark, we can't. Spiders can weave webs. Pigeons can navigate back home across an ocean... So enhanced consciousness is our little special gift, BFD.

November 29, 2010 11:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

E-k, I tend to think that it is a big deal: literature, art, poetry, music, architecture etc., etc.

But no, I do think you make an important point. Isn't the problem keeping a balance between the two perspectives?

1. that other life forms have no reason whatsoever (or are just matter in motion)..therefore can be 'subdued' or

2. that we're all just, fundamentally, animals.

The more difficult stance would be that of continuity AND discontinuity (a bit like an object and its image) ..or some might see this in religious terms (the essence and attributes of G_d)

November 29, 2010 7:31 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Odd coincidence, one of my kids had to read this to me tonight for his religious school assignment...

'Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” '

Not sure if I get the bit about the object and its image...

November 29, 2010 9:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Spooky coincidence! :-)

the object is radically distinct from the image, transcends it..is real, whilst the image is completely dependent for its 'existence' on the object. On the other hand, though, the image is the image of the object, and not nothing, or not an image of something else.

gosh, all that does sound very medieval! :-0

November 29, 2010 9:52 PM  

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