Friday, April 6, 2012

COMMENSALITY: Two Bodied or Many-Bodied ?

Michael Marshall
Modernity, NEWTONIAN Modernity, was a simple-minded ideology, asking simple questions and expecting even simpler answers.

The NAIF philosophy of a NAIF-minded age.

Newton more or less correctly predicted the short term stability of the biggest objects in our Solar System, after they had stopped their earlier ,dangerously irregular ,behavior when the Solar System was in its youth.

He could correctly predict the future paths a single big object and a single small object would make, considering only that both attracted each other via the force of gravity.

Sun and Earth, Earth and Moon : Newtonian Science's triumph : 'Solving the Two Body Problem'.

But the really dangerous objects in the Solar System these days are those tens of thousands of various-sized irregular chunks of rock in the Asteroid Belt.

Because they are so small they reflect little sunlight and so are dark and nearly invisible to even today's best human observation tools and skill sets.

All those semi-equally-sized thousands of irregularly shaped rocks tumbling about relatively near to each other leads to highly unpredictable summing of the gravity forces acting on each other, minute by minute, let alone decades in advance.

This means the asteroids' paths through space are highly erratic in normal times.

 Even worse, they can fall into a sort of avalanche-waiting-to-happen mode where a tiny unexpected twitch could send a huge high speed missile headed for Earth with the force of hundreds to hundreds of thousands of H-Bombs.

If we don't see them in time, and if we don't send up a rocket and a nuclear bomb to divert their path away from Earth, its game over civilized Humanity and maybe even game over all Life on Earth bigger than a microbe as well.

Preventing this should have been JOB ONE in the 300 plus years that Newtonian Science has been around, but it's scientific theories simply weren't up for the job.

Fair enough I say: admit it, and let someone else do the job right.

But no.

Newtonian Science was proclaimed - and taught - (is still taught) as all that a practical man needs to order his world.

A problem that Modernist Science couldn't solve wasn't explained away as 'being in God's hands', (because of course Modernity didn't believe in God.)

No, it simply wasn't talked about as all.

Newton's laws could tell us that Mars wasn't about to crash into the Earth - which none of us had thought would ever happen anyway, even before Science chimed in with its me-too-ism.

(I say 'Mars isn't about to crash into Earth' because newer computer models show a very slim chance it could happen someday if the variety of gravity forces in the entire Solar System happen to hit a not-so-sweet resonance point.)

That was Newtonism's 'triumph' and it was the hollowest triumph ever touted this since of Madison Avenue hucksterism.

Newtonian Science's failures were many (predict the weather or turbulent current flows anyone ?) but the failure to predict an asteroid killing us all while we sleep overnight has to be its biggest single failure.

The real world, outside the tenured offices and laboratories of basic science, is the home of applied science and this is where Newton hit a snag.

The Sun and the Earth have an infinite number of gravity and electromagnetic forces impacting on them, from all angles, at all
levels of energy, and varying independently minute by minute.

There is no real world 'two body problems' .

I repeat, no real world 'two body problems'- all problems  in this universe/ in this reality are many-bodied.

Admitably all those forces upon the Earth normally are tiny, even when summed in some unholy alliance, compared to the attraction the giant Sun has for the tiny Earth.

So a 'two body problem' is really like the relationship between that of parent and child, man and woman, master and slave,human host and microbe.

I hope one can begin to see the social/economic/ideological attraction for the modernist male for saying that the important problems in the physical world are all 'two body problems'.

It can neatly be carried over to all of life's problems.

And , of course, everything that happens seem to happen as seen through the larger object's eyes.

For example.

We tend to think and act as if the microbes upon us are either predators (parasites) or spongers (commensal) or at best creatures we endure because we give them lots of free food and they give us back a few vitamins (mutualists).

We are the HOSTS and they mostly unwanted guests eating at our table: its another two bodied problem, big Sun-like Host and tiny parasite-like Earth.

But in fact, we humans can only breath air, survive in a moderately stable climate and find food to live off of, because of microbes.

(My definition of microbe is all life forms too small to see with the casual naked eye --- effectively they are invisible to us.)

Remove just them, but all of them, and Humanity would start dying off in a few months and I do not see any way we could do much about it.

They have not just been on Earth for a thousand times longer than humanoids have - and a million times longer than civilized humanity has , they live everywhere --- from miles underground to high in the sky, in frozen ice and scalding hot chemical waters.

And size ?

Individually invisible, collectively they well outweigh all other life on Earth - not just humans but giant whales and giant trees as well.

They are our Host globally and we are their Host locally (on or in our individual bodies.)

But once we look with our new commensally-oriented eyes, we quickly find there are many Hosts and Guests interacting throughout the Earth's biosphere.

We could claim that "we get our oxygen through trees" (not true but partially true - we get some from them) - "we don't need microbes after they taught the trees to split water and give us oxygen".

But in fact most trees could not survive if the microbial fungi that co-exist by their roots weren't there, these two lifeforms are simultaneously Host and Guest, clinging to each other closely for continued life.

Consequences quickly multiply unexpectedly in a many-bodied commensal world: when a fungicide ends up killing the fungi on those roots and the trees start dying, for example.

But that is a problem relatively easy to avoid.

However all the various recycling of scarce nutrients that keep the earth livable and edible react with one another in complex and unpredictable ways that are well beyond our understanding let alone our controlling at the present time.

By this I mean they react sort of consistently with each other up to a point in a sort of 'varying mildly around a midpoint equilibrium' and then suddenly shift to a wholly new equilibrium point that could leave the world very different indeed.

As in puff - all human are gone.

Nothing dramatic seems to happen for a long time as we alter the ratios of the various nutrients (oxygen,nitrogen,carbon,sulfur, phosphorus, potassium, etc) flying about around us until they reach that point in an avalanche's life when the slightest breeze causes a landslide.

Mars suddenly does crash into Earth or the polar ice caps suddenly do all melt in 25 years.

We can't solve any many-bodied problem in physics with the entire global economy devoted to the computer trying to solve it.

And basic science craves exact solutions and reproducibility as basic tenets of whether something is scientific.

Unexpectedly, I totally agree with them.

Most of the 'science' successes that we humans talk about today , and most of them from the past, hasn't been pure science, but rather trial and error technology, informed massively by the near successes of pure science.

Many bodied problems - the problems of the real world, can not be solved in the exact meaning of scientists and math professors.

But we can often get in real close, coming up with a tentative, approximate, temporary solution, provided we also keep our eyes open for any signs of a sudden change possibly coming up in the near future.

We do it by trial and error, caution, openness, humility - muddling through.

Similarly with Life on Earth and its 'many bodied commensality' - we can't perfectly solve it or perfectly predict it, but we can muddle through it, with caution mixed with openness to change and humility to admitting failures....

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