The Unknown 80

I read somewhere that more than eighty percent of the combined biomass of everything we consider “alive and living” on this planet is made up of microbes. However big and brilliant and accomplished we may think we are, we can't hold a candle to the world of the tiny unseen.

Thriving hords of countless organisms so small the only reason we can even hope to identify them at all is by use of the most cutting edge technological equipment we can put together. Maybe that's why they mean so little to us. Most of us don't even know they are there. Or in the cases when we do, we really REALLY want to forget. After all, who enjoys the awareness of their body doubling as a free buffet for nearly incalculable myriads of microbes and bacteria on a daily basis?

So, we are selective when choosing what we want to know about ourselves and life as it is around us. Understandably so, I suppose, even if it does give us a somewhat skewed view of the world we exist in.

As if having to tolerate the existence of all these creepy infinitesimal little buggers in places where we just don't want them to be isn't bad enough, we also have to accept that we lack the ability to rid ourselves of them… which all in all is a good thing, as we actually depend on them completely for our survival. Again, not something that counts in their favour, since we don't like being dependent on anything that doesn't equally depend on us. And let's face it… they were all but the first to arrive and will most likely be amongst the last to ever leave…. they don't give a hoot whether we are here or not. It's just… a very practical temporary opportunity to take advantage of. And they do. And we should count ourselves lucky. Another reason backing the “ignorance is bliss” notion…

The only time when any of them seem to gain any kind of recognition from us at all is when they inconveniently disturb our lives by making us sick or threatening our immediate habitats. Then we hurl the entire arsenal of our estimed scientific progress at them, hoping that some wonder drug or another may kill them off for good. Which we must remember really isn't a desirable outcome. Yet being as bad with the concept of “moderation” in this case as we tend to be in most others that arsenal is well on the way to being completely exhausted, as strain after strain mutate to develop resistance.

So where does all this leave us, and why the heck am I all of a sudden giving a semi-scientific speech on one of the topics I know just about nothing of, namely the interrelation between humans and microbes?

Well, it occured to me that this is all very typical human behavior. We are mindnumbingly ignorant of 80 % of what actually goes on in the world, yet consider ourselves superior in insight by far and so feel absolutely confident and content to throw some quack-cure at it with the arrogant belief that the consequences won't be as bad as having to endure until a more well-thought out and lasting solution is found.

Every day of our lives we go about living as we think we should, based on the assessments we've made for what is right and best and most efficient in terms of reaching whatever goal we have set for ourselves. And in this day and age of “enlightenment” and self-realisation and individuality we like to think that we have an insight and understanding into ourselves that validate the autonomy we demand and the choices we make.

But if we can be so – willingly? – unaware of 80 % of everything sharing this world with us (not to mention the remaining percents of flora and fauna that don't happen to be in our immediate surroundings and therefore only receive ideological attention whenever someone cries out to save the rainforests or adopt a panda) … is it then not also plausible that for all the psychology, holistic teachings and religions and morals and politics and whatever else we fill our heads with… that we really shouldn't be all all that surprised or indignant at the occasional discovery that we didn't get something quite right?

Nobody likes to know they are a microbe-buffet, and nobody likes to know bad things about themselves. Truth can be unpleasant whatever the topic in question. And while it surely would advocate the need for more a more humble and studious approach… maybe it wouldn't be so horrible to simply keep those unseen … unknown 80 % in mind… before we make our minds up about something. Odds are we will regret it if we ignore them.



The Unknown 80

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