Saturday, December 09, 2006

Virus or parasite?

It is often remarked that humans differ ecologically from other animals by virtue of the fact that they exploit, destroy and consume their environmental resources, rather than establishing a state of sustainable equilibrium with their environment. In this respect, humans have been compared, perjoratively, with viruses. Viruses invade other cells, consume the resources of those host cells, (their temporary homes), in order to reproduce, and then destroy those host cells and expand outwards to find other cells which they might invade and exploit. The planet Earth is comparable to the host cell of a viral colony. If human technology destroys the living habitat upon the Earth through some combination of, say, global warming or nuclear war, then humans may conclude that their only chances of survival are to leave the Earth and to colonise other planets in the galaxy. If this comes to pass, then humanity would, indeed, be a super-virus.

There is, however, an alternative type of micro-organism which humanity might decide to mimic: the symbiotic parasite. These are micro-organisms which invade other host cells, but rather than destroying those cells, they evolve with the host DNA to establish a mutual dependency. Perhaps the best-known example of this is the mitochondria in our own eucaryotic cells, which were formerly independent aerobic bacteria, but which have invaded our cells, and, by virtue of performing the function of converting oxygen and sugar molecules into useful work, have become entwined with the structure and function of our own eucaryotic cells. They are parasites, but symbiotic parasites. If humans develop into a state of mutually dependent, sustainable equilibrium, (sustainable at least on the time-scales of stellar evolution), with planet Earth, and begin to play a positive role in the various feedback mechanisms which maintain the atmospheric and biotic equilibrium of the Earth, then humans would function as symbiotic parasites.

The question, then, is this: does humanity want to be a super-virus or a super-symbiotic-parasite?


Anonymous said...

I would suggest that unfortunately very few people are aware of the second alternative of the virus existence. Thus, most do not see any alternative.

Perhaps, this is the time to get on with some well orchestrated education!

Anonymous said...

A quick question, as one newbie blogger to another using the same template - how did you get to have new lines show?

Thank you.

Gordon McCabe said...

Welcome to the blog Rebel! I'm not sure what you mean by 'new lines', but you should be able to adjust some aspect of your blog using the 'settings' tab.

elberry said...

Hutton, of 'Chase me Ladies, I'm in the Cavalry' fame, remarks on 'humanity's rat-like malignancy'; but perhaps the question is not whether we're good or bad, but whether we can be mature enough to avoid self-destruction. Sadly, since most people think when we die that's it, no more me, most people have no real incentive to consider matters beyond their own lifetime.

If belief in reincarnation was prevalent, i imagine there would be more thought for future consequences, possibly.