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Monday, August 25, 2014

HUMANITY'S GREATEST INVENTION

If you review all the literature about our best inventions, you will get the usual suspects:  wheel, nuclear bombs and the internet.  These, and all technological developments, are important, of course, but they were the result of an even greater feat:  SOCIETY.

Sure, ants and bees have colonies.  So do apes and a range of other species.  But humanity kept improving on our invention.

Let's take the habitat of the King of Beasts, for example. The lead lion is said to mate up to 40 times per day.  That's about all he does, for his pride, usually five or so, raises the cubs and does the hunting.  Okay, he shoos away hyenas, but really has a brutal life, for his reign is short.  The nuclear option is to bite off the testicles, something I actually saw on my safari in Tanzania.  Then the new King kills the cubs, eating some of them.  In a controlled tourist site, the rangers call in a veterinarian to treat the loser, who is forever disgraced, but lives on.  Human beings have improved on this lifestyle.

So, going back, probably to our very apelike early ancestors, first came the nuclear family, then communities.  In the beginning, Man cleverly created God.  There are other views of Genesis, of course.  Religion might have been essential for us to survive.  What better way to control the masses to mostly be good when someone up there was constantly watching.  This can be debated, but religion has also provided a reason for conquest and further aggrandizement.  In any case, tools, languages, farms, the written word...transport, the internet, leading to the smartphone and Amazon.com.  The formation of society provided the base from which we humanized Planet Earth, not necessarily for our long term good, as global warming seems now a threat.  This will be inconvenient, but the Greenhouse Effect will not terminate life as we know it.  If nothing else, microscopic life should somehow prevail.

Microbes, then, could well derail our greatest invention.  They are bacteria, viruses and achaea.  In case you missed it, archaea only began to be classified from the 1970's, and we now seem to have three life domains;


I bet you didn't know you were eukaryotic?  

My gut pick is that these microorganisms will be our long-term problem.  Already, there are ten times more microbe cells in and on our bodies than human cells.  And 99% of them are good, if not essential to our health.  It is believed that bacteria, for example, create half the oxygen in our atmosphere.  Not surprisingly, our environment has more bacterial biomass in weight than all the existing plants and animals.  In case you were wondering, here is the global biomass in millions of tons:
  1. 1000   cyanobacteria
  2.   520   cattle
  3.   445   termites
  4.   379   arctic krill
  5.   350   humans (but we are catching up, for in 2005 this number was 287)
Will these bacteria get intelligent and outsmart us?  Nah, one simple genetic change could well overcome us humans.  This could be natural or engineered by us.  Our hope then might be viruses, for there are more viruses than bacteria, and their mission in life is to kill bacteria (on the left, a virus attacking a bacterium, while to the right is their relative size, with the latter the larger):


However, as I'm mostly speculating in this posting, I predict that a genetic change in some virus could well make that crucial difference for life on earth.  Be fruitful and multiply could well also be the mission of these microbes.  They are simple cells and there is some debate if they are even alive, for they can't even replicate themselves.  Remember, avian flu and ebola are caused by viruses.

Indubitably, there most probably will be life in many other worlds throughout our Universe.  However, it is possible that Homo sapiens might be the ONLY life to form a productive and intelligent society.  If we ever get to explore exoplanets--and my best guess is that this will not occur in this millennium--the most I suspect we will find will be various forms of microbes.  The reason is that it is possible that some truly intelligent life form could have evolved, but some natural or "man"-made genetic change of microbes eventually prevailed.  Thus my second prediction is that life will someday be found, but they will only be viruses, not even bacteria, for they will in time be made extinct by their rivals.

Thus, about our future existence, China is not our problem.  The Andromeda Strain?  Possible, for no doubt there are fatal strains from other galaxies that should have the potential to somehow find some way to drift to Planet Earth after a few billion years.  However the distances are so great and the survival potential of any life form in outer space is so low that the odds are minuscule that they will be a threat to humanity.  

Keep in mind that light takes 100,000 years to just travel from one end of our Milky Way galaxy to the other.  If a microbe traveling in space can move at 500 kilometers/second (about a million miles/hour ), it will cruise 300,000 times slower than light.  This means it will take 30 billion years just to get across our galaxy, which is among 500 billion galaxies in space.  As the Big Bang was only 13.8 billion years ago, and solar systems have been around only a fraction of that period, colonization of Planet Earth by alien microbes would be limited to only those stars in the general vicinity of our Sun.

I'm more and more beginning to feel that we are probably unique in the Universe, for, let's face it, the silence from space has been deafening.  This is Fermi's Question:  Where are they?  Or:

The apparent size and age of the universe suggest that many technologically advanced extraterrestrial civilizations ought to exist.  However, this hypothesis seems inconsistent with the lack of observational evidence to support it.

Humanity overcame the Cold War.  However, the greater war remains ahead of us.  Super intelligent robots?  Nanotechnology?  The next giant asteroid?  Nope.  VIRUSES!  But there's hope, for what about wormholes, parallel universes and who knows what.

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Marie in the East Pacific is now a mere hurricane at 145 MPH, and, better yet, appears to further be moving to the open seas and colder water:


In the Atlantic, Cristobal is but a tropical storm at 55 MPH, but should become a hurricane, and continue to avoid the Eastern Seaboard:


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