Petri Dish Called Earth.
It happens, now and then, that when microscopic organisms grow in a petri dish that a species starts suddenly taking over all the available “lebensraum”, crowding all the other cultures out, and suddenly disappears after having killed most of its fellow organisms, not having any more room to expand in. It is wholly natural happening, observable also during the stages of developing ecosystems before they reach a state of a relative stability. A species suddenly flourishes, seemingly triumphing over other species, to disappear in a blink of an eye, as if. This phenomenon might happen a few times during ecological successions that ensue when an ecological system gets disturbed from the outside of that system, and that continues till the ecosystem reaches a state of a dynamic balance in which ecological processes cycle around their mean values.
Analogically, one could see the entire earth system as being a vast petri dish that got disturbed from the outside by an asteroid some sixty million years ago, whose impact caused the demise of a vast number of faunal and floral species. Ever since then the earth ecological system has been recovering from the disturbance, going through successional stages that eventually will result in a relatively stable climax, unless another asteroid, or other unusual catastrophe would cause a process of re-stabilization anew. And, as in any other isolated system that is undergoing a process of stabilization, we might be able to discern the evidence of species coming and going in ongoing successions. One of those species in our giant petri dish earth is a hairless ape that is coming to a prominence currently, one that started over-crowding the earth, crowding out many other fellow “petri dish” species. Most likely this species will also suddenly disappear after its bloom and will be replaced by some, till now insignificant, contender. These goings-on will continue till the earth system reaches a relative stability again, eventually (unless disturbed from the outside of this relative system again, etc.).
This currently on earth dominant species is us, humans, of course, and we are not the only species that happens to ever have been dominant (from time to time) in our giant petri dish. Our behavior is nothing unnatural, we behave as a myriad other species in a myriad of ecosystems would – we are fully natural, and so is everything we do. We are an indelible part of the nature. We might even expedite our own (and most of other species around us) extinction, but that would be also fully natural, judging by what we know about ecological developments. Looking at our earth petri dish from a macroscopic point of view, business is always as usual. So – why should anyone care about what humans are doing?
The answer is that we, humans, should care, for purely selfish reasons, if we ever do care about ourselves and about our offspring. It is very obvious that most calamities and sufferings that humans are subject to are human made. Humans are their own main source of their miseries. They are very much like any microscopic organism (presumably non-intelligent) in a petri dish that by its very own success as a species undermines its own future continuity and well-being. Humans do not seem to be any different from any such species, despite their own self-declared superiority to all other life. We even call our own species “sapient” (“full of knowledge”, “sagacious”, according to Webster’s). This self-denomination, obviously, is not true, judging by the overall human behavior which is not different from the behavior of any “successful” species in any petri dish. It would very much seem from observing life in petri dishes that the real recipe for a real long term success for any truly intelligent species would be to strive for a stability of existence of all the different microorganisms in any petri dish, including the petri dish Earth, and if there is a real intelligence in any petri dish (be it a glass one, the petri dish earth, or the petri dish universe), it would be undetectable, not distinct from any other organisms around, because an intelligent species would have to, for purely selfish reasons, in order to succeed in the long term, care as much about any other species as about itself. This paradoxical recipe for success might not make sense to many humans today, but unless it does, we cannot call ourselves “Homo sapient”. Judging by our “success” we are enjoying now at the expense of other life in our petri dish, we are not enough “full of knowledge” yet.
N.B. This article was inspired by The Sixth Extinction by Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin (Doubleday, 1995; Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1996).
The Sixth Extinction synopsis: www.well.com/user/davidu/sixthextinction.html