Friday, February 24, 2017


The boy found by Professor Lee Berger's son and his dog.

Chris Anderson’s question, “what are human beings for?” was almost unaddressed in his TED talk that I described in yesterday’s post.  So I spent some time thinking about it and then thought of looking at vids on the subject.  

If the ad I saw (Momondo) comes with this, it will feature our multitude of DNA connections by showing people discovering their own genomes.  But the vid itself is about a sculptor making a replication of a hominin from the deep past, like millions of years ago.

Migration patterns.  Another version of investigating the ancient ties between a person’s DNA and the regions from which they came, in the days when people stayed put and became unique because of the place and the ways of being in it.

Leakey Foundation explains that the ancestors of today’s humans are a great cloud of variations that finally acquire mind and emotion loops that we share — though we’re still quite different from each other.

This is a video for those who are interested and for kids, because it features a major discovery found by a 9-year-old boy: the bones of another boy from millions of years ago.  The dad of the living boy explains.

There are two forces that act deeply on human beings that are not explored in these videos, mostly because you can’t really see them on a vid.  They are molecules and microbes.  (I’ll come back to that.)  Also, in earlier times you couldn’t see the main force that varied all these ancient hominins in the past,  Now we can.  It was climate change.  Today we can see it in action: the droughts, the melting polar caps, the people forced out of their homes.

In the past those who opened their minds to evolution have seen hominins and hominids as a matter of linear progress, going along a time/path through the millennia as though they were one brave “Otzie” (the man found frozen from a mere few thousand years ago).  In fact, humans — like all other species — have been a wave, a herd, a hustling mass of refugees and explorers fanning out over the land masses and even the seas, sending long fingers of sojourners into all the possible places for humans to inhabit, inventing ways to survive as they went until they made homes in the caves along river valleys, along warm coasts where there were fish or frozen coasts where there were marine mammals, deep into forests and high along mountain shoulders, and even on camels in sand deserts.  As they went, the environments changed them.  Some whole groups died.  Others thrived.

Why would it be different now?

Estimated at the moment is that there were maybe 200 different versions of hominins until we settled into the last known final drafts, us and the Neanderthals we have now absorbed.  Africans have no Neanderthal DNA.  Eastern Asians and American Indians have Denisovian DNA and from another group that can’t be identified so far.  Some call it Melanesian and their descendants appear to have sailed to South America earlier than those on foot — maybe.  Remember Kon-Tiki?

Back to the microbes and molecules.  Besides hunting fossils with GPS and radioactive carbon dating, we have been ransacking our own bodies.  Forget the DNA body-plan that guides gestation — once born and adult how do bodies actually work?  What makes it veer off from good health?  How much can we control?

We’re told now that in the process of birth we acquire many one-celled beings.  By the time we die — we are told — we are carrying bacteria and so on that is half the bulk of our bodies made of the cells we generated according to DNA instructions.  In fact, some will say that we — like coral atolls — are actually colonies of one-celled animals that collaborate to provide oxygen, nutrition, and movement for the whole colony that is a human being.

So all individuals with so much family and ethnic pride, all that gilded nationalism and smiling identity — like the people shown getting their DNA analyzed — is probably valid for some purposes, mostly cultural — but totally submerged in the great waves of human and hominin beings over the million-year eons who have gone before, gone alongside, and are now just gone.

Quite aside from triggering climate change in a way we never have before, we are now able to construct molecules, the minute assemblages of atoms that are information-carriers, interactors, even creators of our flesh and the world around us.  We can make insulin.  We can make new molecules that aren’t quite like insulin but do the same thing.  Frankenstein doesn’t have to be a whole new human being — it can be a manmade Frankenfood or Frankenmed or just a plastic polymer chain that no mammalian system has ever encountered before.

The Frankenmolecules sink into the sea, collect at the bottom of abysses where creatures imbibe them, dying and rising to the top where the fish we eat eat them, until they saturate the world so that they get into polar bear mother’s milk and we inhale them — like it or not.

We worry about war and opiates (among the other brain-deranging chemicals we seek out) but fewer of us fear food additives or the out-gassing of new carpets.  Both make some of us sick.  This is not including the viruses that travel among us by various means and demand even more molecular inventions to correct the captured cell-components.  

Overpopulation of the planet has been a concern for a long time.  Some say this is the purpose of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse that deal out death in the Bible:  war, famine, plague, and natural catastrophe.  This reframes mass death as a necessary editing, and sometimes claims are made that it gives renewed vigor to those left.  But only a few people are looking at modern subtle toxic edits: shortening life-spans, lowering birth rates, and causing simple “failure to thrive,” formally called “inanition.”  Also what I call “pencil deaths,” those caused by failure of governments to allot resources to anyone they don’t like, i.e. people not like them that they don’t understand, which is why we always want our representation to be at least proportional to the actual population.

Build all the walls you like — they mean nothing.  Become as enraged as you like.  It means nothing.  The problem and the solution are within us.  Where do we go from here?

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