Tuesday, September 11, 2012


     While preparing dinner the other night, my ten year old daughter asked what the purpose of ants is, so I explained they help fertilize plants, help with decomposition, they work the soil and are like nature's housekeepers, keeping the earth tidy. Then, she paused and asked about spiders, so I said they eat insects we don't like, like ants.  I added, "Now, mosquitos, fleas, ticks, lice and other parasites serve no purpose. They can die." 

     "Mom, what about humans? What purpose do humans serve? They pollute and kill, so what is the point of a human?" she pondered.

     "Well, the great thing about humans is that we make choices to pollute and kill." She wasn't following me.  "You see, humans have free will and consciousness.  They can choose to do wonderful, beautiful things, or they can be destructive and do awful things." I realized that my words did not answer her question, I merely described potential, not purpose. "Microbes. Bacteria."

     "What are you talking about, Mom?" Angelina leaned her head to the side and stuck her chin out, while furrows appeared in her little nose and brow.

     "Remember I told you that humans are really ninety percent microbial, that only ten percent of our cells are human?"

     "Yes, Mom, you told me this a millon times," she said, shaking her head in the affirmative.

     "Well, you know, the entire planet is microbial too.  So, what if it's all about the microbes? What if humans exist in order to serve the purpose of the microbes? Like, each of us is just a planet for the microbes that exist on us and in us."

     "Mom," she said, as her voice became slightly more bass, "that idea freaks me out. You are freakin' me out, woman!"

     I shrugged my shoulders and raised my left hand into the air as if to suggest that it's just another idea, "Hey, it's the only purpose I can think of!"

     Philosophers have, for millennia, attempted to answer the seemingly simple, yet most puzzling question life can offer-  a child can ask it, but a quadrillion minds who worked tirelessly until the end of time (if that exists) would not be able to think of one, true reason that all would accept.  There are ideas about utility and greater good, existential happiness, pleasure, responsibility and absolutes, whether free will really exists, whether free will is meant to serve in duty, that life has no meaning or purpose at all... on and on, around and around people go, trying to make sense of life.

     Last year, I wrote an article called "Space Invaders" that discussed the eerie antithesis of human existence- that we're not really human at all.  In a US News article from 2008, Matt Kane, from the National Science Foundation, said, "If all of Earth's microbes died, so would everything else, including us, but if everything else died, microbes would do just fine."

     Microbiologists have been attempting to globally map microbial genomes (this links to an interactive map, showing the current genome mapping at the Microbial Genomics Program) which seems like a daunting and impossible task since there are more microbes that exist in a spoonful of dirt than stars that exist in our galaxy... about 100 billion.  According to the article linked above, humans, depending upon where they live and how they are born (vaginally or Caesarian section), can be host to many different bacteria- so not all humans are created equal. Our biology is different and our response to internal and external environment depends wholly upon the microbial colonies that exist on us and in us.  

     In the future, perhaps science will have the perfect formula for colonizing bacteria in and on humans to allow us to reach our biological peak of perfection- nonetheless, benefit or not, the microbes reign.  

     What if our brains and all of our directed consciousness are the evolutionary response to bacteria's need for optimal survival?  If only our egos would let us believe this is true, we might be a lot happier with the result being more compassion and less suffering. After all, life is so very small and so very large- it seems like a lie when we promote the idea of the "individual".

         Now, humans, you billions of inner-planetary planets, you will learn to bow to your microbial overlords! And for the sake of all us, throw away that anti-bacterial soap.

(Image Source- http://theboldcorsicanflame.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/bold-bacterial.jpg)