Monthly Archives: November 2015

Unlimited Materials and Unlimited Energy?

The replicators in the Star Trek series symbolize a dream of an end to all material scarcity. A similar dream is present in the “new energy movement” seeking unlimited supply of “free” energy.

What most people don’t seem to think about or realize is: Where does it go?

Unlimited input also means unlimited output, with the potential of total pollution.

The only reasonable solution is to create energy circles/traps, to use the same resource or energy as often as possible until it leaves our reach.

About the Boundary between ‘Alive’ and ‘Dead’

We tend to divide the world into a dead (material) part and an alive (biological) part. We call everything in the biological world from animals to bacteria a ‘them’, basically acknowledge them a personality with some kind of intrinsic motivation. But we are not quite sure about viruses, what makes them an interesting case. And everything smaller, macromolecules like DNA, proteins and the whole world of chemicals, is called an ‘it’.

I suggest, that we make this distinction just because we are multicellular beings, who have to die!

In the world of single-celled organisms like Paramecium there is no death by old age.

1_Arturo_Agostino_Paramecium_division_middle   (photo by Arturo Agostino)

They just divide further and further. And this is true for the whole microbial world, as long as the microbes don’t form multicellular structures. When they start building things like that,

Dicty4   multicellular spore containers of Dictyostelium

then programmed cell death comes into play. Cells collude, some form the structure and die, others transform into spores. The spores then get spread from the top of the structure, when it opens.

So, where is the boundary between dead and alive? It is entirely subjective! Death is a relative occurrence in the biological world, just a transformation between levels of aliveness…

What about the levels below – chemicals reactions and the atomic physics underlying them? It’s all part of the game! Every molecule has its specific properties that allow certain interactions, one may say, its ‘will’. Its will is challenged every time, when it encounters other molecules, to either allow or reject a reaction. Why not call this chemical a life form? (I certainly would have enjoyed more to study chemistry and molecular biology, when this metaphor would have been used there. And it would change the behavior of humans who work in these fields a lot…)

Or, to draw a more tangible conclusion: Rocks are not dead!

Alan Watts said it very nicely, what I mean:

They (rocks) contain the potentiality of people in it, the same way seeds of acorn will develop into a plant, when the circumstances are alright.

This is abstract, but totally consistent with the insights of chemistry and biology about the origins of life!

Species or Relationships

We need to put more attention on the relationships between the species, not so much on certain species. Then we will notice and appreciate the context, in which we / someone / a species exist(s) and how connected everything is.

For instance on the biological level we cannot exist without plants and they depend equally on us as animals. We provide the substances they need (carbon dioxide, nitrogen compounds) and vice versa (oxygen, carbohydrates and fats).

Everything we do affects everything else (Earth / climate / our relationships with other people).

Botanical and Zoological Gardens

The old idea of botanical and zoological gardens is a collection of exotic species to show them at home and carry out further research.

Don’t build collections anymore, build ecosystems!

It is not very difficult to realize the connections between species and make them the central message. Many botanical and zoological gardens have already begun to do that by allowing animals in greenhouses or having plants in animal compounds. It can be much more interesting for visitors to realize and watch all the different actions going on, than just one or a few species in a cage without interaction.

A further idea: Show all the levels of evolution, including bacteria and fungi. The categories “plants” and “animals” alone are a little outdated, since we know now, how much richer life on Earth is. Some bacteria and fungi can glow in the dark for instance and have other nicely to watch traits. Mushrooms might not be visible all the time, but they can be included. And it might be possible to build and install large binocular microscopes to watch small or microscopic lifeforms conveniently, or maybe on a screen.