“Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this sun of York was coined by Shakespeare and put into print in Richard III, 1594. The ‘sun of York’ wasn’t of course a comment on Yorkshire weather but on King Richard. In this play Shakespeare presents an account of Richard’s character that, until the late 20th century, largely formed the popular opinion of him as a malevolent, deformed schemer. Historians now view that representation as a dramatic plot device – necessary for the villainous role that Shakespeare had allocated him. It isn’t consistent with what is now known of Richard III, who in many ways showed himself to be an enlightened and forward-looking monarch. The discovery of Richard’s skeleton under a car park in Leicester has provided precise evidence of the extent of his deformity. While being somewhat curved Richard’s spinal deformity has now been shown to have been exaggerated and deliberately faked in some portraits.
Living matter is a ‘particular case’ of ‘ordinary matter’. It’s composed of the very same kind of atoms and its ‘living character’ is provided by the particular manner in which those atoms relate to each other. Otherwise said, the living matter is ordinary matter organized in a particular manner.
Furthermore, this ‘particular’ manner of organization’ has been honed through eons of ‘evolution‘.
Living matter depends on being able to perform two things.
It has to ‘Differentiate’ and to ‘Communicate’.
Each organism, no matter how simple or how complex, has to be able to keep its ‘inside’ separate from its ‘outside’ and to be able to ‘decide’, according to its own rules/needs, what goes in and what goes out.
A previously living individual organism dies the very moment when it can no longer fulfill any of these two conditions.
All organisms which live by exactly the same ‘rules’ belong to the same species and need to be able to communicate those rules across successive generations. As soon as the organisms belonging to one species fail to do so that species becomes extinct.
A special observation must be made about the fact that the species whose organisms have found ways to communicate directly among the members of the same generation tend to be ‘sturdier’ that those whose members communicate exclusively with their successors.
For instance bacteria which have ‘learned’ to transmit to their ‘kin’ information about how to survive when ‘intoxicated’ with antibiotics have it easier that those who cannot do such a thing.
Human being are a ‘special case’ in the animal kingdom, just as ‘living matter’ is a special case of ‘ordinary matter’.
We are both animals and something else than that.
We’ve taken differentiation and communication to the next level. We perform them ‘on purpose’.
We have become ‘aware’ of what we are capable of.
We knowingly use our power to differentiate and choose (some of) the criteria we use when differentiating.
We knowingly use our power to differentiate and choose what to communicate of what we know.
And we consider this behaviour as being ‘rational’.
Some of us are so aware of what is going on that are constantly warning us about the limited nature of our rationality.
They say that our rationality is in fact ‘bounded‘ and that we should give up pretending that we are maximizing/optimizing anything since, in reality, all that we do is adopt/defend the first solution that seems good enough for our self-imposed goals/criteria.
Yet so few of us yield to this kind of warnings and continue to purposefully use ‘communication tricks’ in order to establish their version of the reality. Just as the Bard had done in his days.
Let me go back to what humans are in relation to the rest of the animal kingdom and extend the analogy with the difference between living matter and ordinary matter.
I’ve already mentioned that species whose members are ‘more generous’ communicators are better survivors than those whose members communicate less.
Now please imagine what would happen if a few bacteria, otherwise able to ‘share’ their ‘knowledge’ with their brethren, learn how to ‘crack’ a certain antibiotic but choose to keep that to themselves.
The ‘optimists’ among us would say that those bacteria will eventually give birth to a new species of ‘super-bugs’
The pessimists would observe that their small number dramatically increases their chances of being ‘cooked’ to death in an autoclave or ‘dissolved’ by the next swab with bactericide before having any chance at multiplying themselves into eternity.
Meanwhile the cynics/realists among us would start studying how to convince more bacteria to stop contributing to the shared pool of information about how to beat their common enemy, the antibiotic. And, probably, the best way to do it would be to inform the other bacteria that some of them are holding up information. If the bacteria would behave like so many of us currently do all of them would stop all information sharing. To our delight, of course.
Let’s take a step closer to the end of this post and try to evaluate what would happen if those few bacteria would choose to share false information about how to deal with antibiotics. Purposefully, in their attempt at becoming ‘dominant’.
A very ‘rational’ attempt, according to some of us…
‘Alternate reality’, anyone?