Cordyceps and the Gaia hypothesis

This movie is pretty interesting summary of how some species of fungi can attach to insects, invade their brain, control them for a limited period of time, and then dissolve them from the inside out.

Now, what’s the point this post? Well, this movie got me thinking about how nature regulates itself. Cordyceps become more deadly to an insect species the more numerous it becomes, thus preventing overpopulation; it regulates overall ecosystem stability. But what about humans? It seems that we can defeat pretty much every feedback mechanism nature has its disposal. No food in the 60’s? Green revolution baby. Bubonic plague, no problem, we can figure out to combat it and the same seems to be true — at least for the time being — for things like AIDS and Ebola. It makes me wonder if the self limiting mechanism for humans is the very tool that allows us to impudently defy other natural limitations to growth: the brain. With our brain, we made nuclear weapons and the modern energy economy. I’m not saying that these things will result in our downfall, but it’s interesting to wonder if our greatest asset holds the key to our undoing.

There is also the connection to the Gaia hypothesis, which is the hypothesis that many processes in the earth’s macro chemistry resemble self-regulate processes characteristic of homeostasis in living things. More crudely, the idea posits that earth itself is a single living organism that regulates itself (ocean salinity, and temperature) in the same way that animals do (think of humans which also regulate internal salinity and temperature). Of course, some dismissively point out simply that the earth cannot reproduce, but I’m not so sure. If humans terra-formed mars for habitation, would this not be an example of earth reproducing itself; giving rise to something that propagated the macro entity. In an interesting way, this possibility suggests that human rationality is like a type of DNA for non-biological objects. Living things use DNA to make similar copies of themselves, but perhaps hunks of rock and configurations of chemicals use rationality to “procreate.” By making it possible for animals such as us to evolve and then break free of the population limiting techniques of nature (see above), earth has essentially guaranteed that we will need to go to the stars. Since earth has, through its chemical composition, conditioned us to require a certain biosphere, it has guaranteed that we replicate such a composition as we spread to the stars.

But then what does genetic engineering mean? What if we generate humans that can live on alien planets that are unlike earth (maybe they learn how to breathe CO2)? Such an innovation would, in a very interesting sense, make earth extinct. There would be no more need to produce more earth-like atmospheres.

What would happen if we found alien species also trying to replicate the conditions of their planet? What if we found that human and alien space colonization altered the universe in small but predictable ways. Should we then conclude that the UNIVERSE is alive (with big bangs as its life cycle)? Would this result in the merging of physics in biology, where physics is just the study of the largest possible organism, the universe?

I realize all of this speculative and wildly so, but all I’m saying is that it’s an interesting way to think about things.

Now if only I had a category for “ridiculously unsupported cosmological hypotheses.” I guess I’ll go with “uncategorized.”


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