The Biggest Backstory
“Though justice be thy plea, consider this –
that in the course of justice,
none of us should see salvation.”
– Portia, in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice
Greetings GJH friends and members. Things are always more complicated than they seem. Maybe not always, but surely most of the time. Just about anywhere past “one plus one equals two,” what we know, what we can take to the bank, and that upon which we think we can rely suffer considerable corrosion when subjected to deeper analysis or the unforgiving test of time. In Vietnam, the word “yes” frequently means “no,” although one would probably have to spend years there to fathom the nuances each time the word is uttered. In our Nation’s capital, the words “read my lips” mean anything but. Nationally, “I do” only holds true for 60% of marriages. And its not just words that fail under the searing scrutiny of reality. There is a lack of certitude in nearly every aspect of our existence. The person we want to be is rarely the one we are being. The things we treasure most can be snatched away with the next ring of our phone. Such is life. One cosmic double slit experiment. Dr Quantum – Double Slit Experiment – YouTube
Perhaps this is why we come by our comfort with ambiguity so naturally. Granted, we sometimes allow our thinking to be constrained by rigid constructs that fit our view of how things should be rather than how things are, and we love to over-simplify almost everything, but deep down almost all of us understand that there is so much we don’t understand. Any subject, any place, any time, we rarely get past the second or third layer of the metaphorical onion. It might be for this reason that we all love the backstory. The main narrative we usually know, but the backstory is where all the action is. Only the backstory can explain why this or that really happened. GJH – intentionally or otherwise – frequently exploits this dynamic to fill our lecture halls because it is in the very nature of science to focus on the backstory. And for earth science enthusiasts, we have the mother of all backstories this week. The one that takes us about as close as we can get to the center of the onion.
Everyone knows what a microbe is, more or less. They are small, seemingly insignificant primitive single-cell lifeforms that abound in every niche on this planet. But that is not the real story. We could not live without microbes, although they would do just fine without us, which casts the notion of insignificance in a new and uncomfortable light. There are more microbes on your right hand than there are people on earth. They constitute nearly 80% of the biomass in our world. Nature’s original nanotechnologists, they were more than three billion years old by the time the first dinosaur showed up, and they were fundamental to the development of every living thing thing and every life-sustaining environment that followed. This Tuesday, University of Michigan Professor Greg Dick will be present to give us a whole new appreciation for the role these microorganisms played and continue to play in driving the chemistry of life and the shaping of our world. His lecture will focus on the punk-rockers of the microbial world (extremophiles) that thrive today in the same extreme and hostile environments that predominated when life began on earth. We hope to see you – and the billions of microbes keeping you alive – there this Tuesday.