Today, I’m musing about the Age of Biology. I want to digress at the outset. In my last column I wrote, “… think of all the words and numbers—abstractions—each of us is exposed to every day today in the Age of Information!” I misspoke. I should have written the Short-Human-Time of Information–the third Short-Human-Time; #1 was the Agricultural Age and #2 was the Industrial Age. For the record, I learned an Eon is a bigger chunk of time than an Era and (while I’m at it) Periods & Epochs are longer than an Age. An Age, however, lasts for a few million years. We arrogant modern humans have been on Mother Earth for, perhaps, 20,000 years…
Regardless of whether it is more accurate to have written the Short-Human-Time of Biology, Today, I’m musing about the Age of Biology.What is important in life IS life; everything else is secondary and optional.
The word roots for biology are bio– meaning “life” and –ology meaning “the study of”. Therefore, biology means the study of life.
What allows a veterinarian to have a working knowledge of so many animals? It is because of biology. It is because of the universal principles and commonality of life. DNA, the universal source code of life yields near identical anatomical structures and biochemical functions in each and every organ of the estimated 60,000 species of animals within the 5 groups with backbones. “Teach a veterinary student what a liver is and does in one animal and that student now has a basis for understanding what a liver is and does in all animals.”
The reason this Century is and will be the Age of Biology is because there is a lot about life that we don’t understand. The Age of Chemistry and the Age of Physics are bygone times. Yes, there tiny corners of chemistry and physics that we don’t understand. However, we have been able to represent the majority of chemical and physical phenomena by words and numbers. Carl Sagan wrote a book in which he proposed “Science as a Candle in the Dark”. He presented an argument that the history of religion is one of prophecy. He posited “Is there any religion capable of the accurate methods of scientific prophecy?” The example Sagan used was comparing and contrasting religion versus science when it comes to predicting when a solar eclipse might occur. Not only would science be more accurate but it would be humble too. If the prediction were off, the previous formulas (words and numbers) describing the action of the planets would be erased and corrected. Science is written with a pencil, not a pen.
This One Veterinarian’s Musing is not a column about religion versus science. In fact, I am resisting the temptation to outline my belief herein that there is a provable difference between factuality and truth. What I am attempting to convey is this Musing is that in chemistry and physics we are now able to use abstractions to not only to accurately describe the chemical and physical world but we can use those formulas to, for example, put a man on the moon.
No person on this planet; no combination of supercomputers, can describe, or has been able to derive a formula (or formulas) that can successfully describe the workings of a single cell of any particular bacteria, plant, or animal. In contrast to putting a man on the moon, no scientist has been able to use all the ever-increasing volumes of information at our disposal to create life. All life that has ever been on this planet came from some previously living organism.
While there are components to life—parts, if you will to bacteria, plants, animals—living organisms are not machines. Machines, no matter how complicated, are ultimately predictable and controllable. Perhaps because of our belief that money makes the world go around, we have thought of economics as a science. Economists—note the word “con” in economics—are forever baffled and apologetic for their consistent failure to predict the bursting of some financial bubble. As we all face an uncertain economic future, I take comfort in the fact that I am a living organism, that human society is more like a living organism. I am thankful that I am not a machine that I am alive and that I am infused with an unpredictable, uncontrollable, joyousness that is and will continue to be my Wisconsin existence in this Age of Biology.
Published in the Waupaca County Post East newspaper, 9/15/11.
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