Thursday, January 9, 2014

Post 7: Magic is Life

Important: For the first 7 posts on this Blog, it is best to read them in order!

Magic is Life

In order for any of our magical spells to work appropriately; the spell has to be grounded – meaning that the magical spell has to return the power back to the source.  
I proposed in an earlier post that the “source” is the marriage of heaven and earth.  Where the radiance from the heavens, either from our star the Sun during the day, or from the Sun’s neighbors at night – where this radiance falls and meets the earth, either on land or on water – here at the marriage of heaven and earth we find the source of our lives, and the source of life itself.  

I now want to focus on a mostly overlooked aspect of life that can perhaps help us understand more about magic. I know that this might seem strange, but I want to talk about bacteria. Because bacteria are literally invisible to us, bacteria are far too easy to overlook for their massive role in our world, in our lives.

Scientists now believe that life on earth is about 3.5 to 4 billion years old, and that for the majority of that time, for almost 2 billion years, bacteria were the only living beings on Earth.

These are admittedly realms of time beyond our ability to imagine – and for the majority of this unimaginable time on Earth, the only living beings were those unnoticeable to our present senses. Part of me would like to stop this post right here, and just have everyone meditate on that simple fact.

How did everything else besides bacteria eventually evolve (the eukaryotes – which include protozoa, fungi, plants and animals)? Well, scientists now believe that more complex life forms evolved through symbiogenesis, which literally means “creation through symbiosis” – in this case, symbiosis between two bacteria.
The first eukaryote evolved from two bacteria in such an intimate relationship with one another that one got subsumed into the other and became an organelle. As if they made a deal. ‘Look’, one said, ‘I’ll take care of the whole energy production business, with ATP and all, and you take care of all the other functions of the cell.’ We call these ancient ones “mitochondria”, and they now take care of energy production within all eukaryotic (non-bacterial) cells.
Then, for the evolution of green algae, the precursors to all modern plants, scientists believe there was a protist – a single cell organism with an organelle such as mitochondria as I’ve just described – in intimate relationship with a cyanobacterium (a photosynthetic bacteria) and it was such an intimate relationship that the same thing once again happened – symbiogenesis. The cyanobacteria got subsumed into the matrix of the protist and became an organelle. These organelles, or ancient ones, became what we now call “chloroplasts” within the cells of all modern algae and plants. 

One could argue that all of life is either a bacterium, or an amalgamation of bacteria which joined forces to create more complex cells.
Many modern taxonomists no longer talk about the 5 kingdoms of life like they did when I was in high school, but about 3 kingdoms, two of which are bacteria (the eubacteria and the archea bacteria). The third kingdom is everything else – the eukaryotes which includes the plants, animals, fungi, and protists – each of which used to be classified as their own kingdom.  The point of this change was to emphasize that all animals, plants, fungi, and protists are actually more alike one another than the eubacteria and the archea bacteria are alike one another.

These bacterial kingdoms are themselves arguably like big super species, or super organisms. What I mean here is that historically the definition for a species is a group of organisms that can produce fertile offspring by having sex with one another.  Well, for a long time, we assumed that bacteria didn’t have “true” sex.
Well, although it is true that bacteria reproduce asexually by simply splitting into two, it turns out that all bacteria are still having “sex” with one another all of the time.  Biologists call it “horizontal” or “lateral gene transfer”. Bacteria regularly go up to one another and swap genetic information; they swap snippets of their DNA with each other. So it turns out that we call bacterial “species” are more like temporary “habits” within this bacterial super-organism.

Bacteria themselves continue to play an absolutely crucial role in the ongoing lives of supposedly “higher” organisms.  Take the soil food web, for example.  For those unfamiliar with the soil food web, I think the best way to describe it is to point out that for an average plant, 1/4 of all the sugars the plant creates through photosynthesis are “leached” out of the plant’s roots into the surrounding soil.  When biologists first realized this, they were astonished that a biological system could have evolved that was that leaky and inefficient. But then they realized that it wasn’t inefficient at all – that the plants’ leachate feeds huge populations of beneficial bacteria and fungi, upon which a whole microbial ecology - “the soil food web” - grows.
Why would a plant trouble itself with cultivating a “soil food web”? It turns out that bacteria and fungi are experts at releasing organic acids that break down earthen particles and extract nutrients from them; that bind soil particles together and create the humus that gives soil a crumbly structure, and that magically allows for both good water retention and water drainage, essential for plant health. 
Bacteria and fungi are very nutrient dense, and all of the other microorganisms that eat them like protists and nematodes have to eat a lot of bacteria and fungi to get the carbon they need, so then the protists and nematodes wind up “pooping” out the excess nutrients in soluble form right there by the roots of the plants – exactly what the plants need. 
It has been pointed out that it’s almost like the plants are “farming” this microbial ecology all around their roots, in order to achieve all these many benefits.
What I want to ask, however, is:  Who is farming whom?

It has been known for a while now that an average human body contains more than 10 times as many bacterial cells as it does human cells: (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=strange-but-true-humans-carry-more-bacterial-cells-than-human-ones)  Try reading this linked article, and then ask yourself again, who is farming whom?

So, to summarize here: 
For the majority of life on earth – for roughly the first 2 billion years – bacteria were the only life forms on earth.
Ever since then, all the non-bacterial living cells evolved as amalgamations of bacteria themselves. 
All bacteria are like one big super organism in a strange sense, continually swapping genetic information with one another.
And one could argue that they seem to be “farming” all supposedly “higher” life forms.
Bacteria are the ones that gave birth to our oxygen atmosphere.  Bacteria are the ones who primarily seed our clouds and therefore give us rain and rivers, and therefore, life on land.
There is an unfathomably deep intelligence within the bacterial realm.

What are bacteria but little spheres of flesh? And what is flesh but the 5th element? Flesh is characteristically different from the other four elements – earth, air, water and fire – and is actually the weaver of the 4 elements, the conversation holder between the inside and outside of organisms.  And what is on the outside of any one bacterium is the whole cosmos, which includes all of the other bacteria.
But what’s on the outside of each of those other bacteria is, once again, the whole cosmos, which includes all of the other bacteria, including the bacteria previously mentioned.  And what’s on the outside of each of those bacteria is the whole cosmos, including the two previously mentioned. And so on, and so on.  There is this crazy way in which flesh really is all one. “Inter-subjectivity”, phenomenologists call it.
For us animals, we need to remember that flesh is not just our skin, but all those organs where the inside and outside of us meet, greet, converse and explore – our eyes, our ears, our nostrils, our mouth, our entire gastro-intestinal track, our lungs, our sexual organs – this is the conversation holder between the inside and outside of us.   
Too often we assume that our flesh is just our skin, and that “who we are” is simply what is on the inside of our skin. I would argue instead that “who we are” is the ongoing conversation between the inside and outside of our flesh.

So much of modern physics has pointed out that what we call “matter” is barely even there, that when you break it all apart; matter is almost all empty space.  This has led entire legions of “new agers” and the like to proclaim that reality is but a dream.  But what I want to say is – No, no. A dream is what each and every one of us does within us. Reality is instead an ongoing conversation amongst all of us. And I for one am definitely including bacteria and all other life forms in the definition of “us”.
At the core of so many of these conversations is the question: Is there some aspect of the cosmos that has not yet been unfolded, expressed, made manifest?  If not, then let’s do it together. 

Magic is not supernatural. Magic is not pretend. Magic is life.

Check out the next Clueless Honky Blog post for more.
Thanks for your time and attention





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