Thursday, January 22, 2015

Synthetics : everything and anything -- from nothing

Natural antibiotics : perhaps a something, underneath everything

As a naive little child, I was fascinated - like a white mouse before a cobra - by the audacious claims of Fifties synthetic scientists - those modern day alchemists of chemistry and physics.
From out of nothing, nothing but coal, air and water, nothing but bog ordinary atoms like silicon, they said that they could make any molecule, any mixture - even any atom - known on Earth.

Anything and everything.

More than that, they could design and create as yet unknown molecules, mixtures and elements.

Anything and everything.

All from nothing.

Captain America, synthesist and superhero.

And what then -- once they did make all these molecules & mixtures perfectly, reliably, repeatedly, cheaply over and over - out of nothing , almost nothing but abundant and cheap raw materials ?

There really won't be a need then for Mother Nature to go on making them imperfectly and with all those bothersome and unexpected irregularities would there be ?

True, synthetic production did not directly lead to the today's Sixth Extinction (Humanity's Plenticide against Nature) but it smooth the way, it did ease the human conscience.

After all, why fret over rapidly declining numbers of elephants (and their precious elephant tusks) when artificial ivory made much better, much cheaper and much more reliable billiard balls ?

The gene pool had always been way too big - way too many parasites dining off bounty that more properly belonged to Man - the sooner the pool was drained and the whole thing was sorted the better.

The Fifties Synthesist puffed their pipes in their porcelain white labs, not so quietly expecting ever-upward success for the human species .

The Miracle of Penicillin -- from the humble slime

Completely opposite in their expectations were the Willy and Joe plodders among some of the naturalist scientists of the Fifties.

Though most professed to be atheists , there was an almost old fashioned Christianity about their scientific actions and beliefs.

(Miracles & Atheists ?!)

These scientists wanted to systemically plod their way through all of Nature's bounty, patiently hoping against hope that they might find another life-saving compound like penicillin.

Their expectations weren't that great, so they wanted all of Nature to be preserved, as is, as much as humanly possible.

For even if they failed to find a new miracle today, who knew when yesterday's useless bug or weed might be tomorrow's natural treasure ?

Maybe God had produced what seemed like a trulyexcessive number of beetles as Huxley had grumbled (an estimated 400,000 separate species at last count), but perhaps God had his reasons - reasons we were not yet privy to.

And who knew what unknown natural disaster lay ahead to test the human race - a drastic climate change or deadly pandemic - when some unknown compound lurking in some dirty dark forgotten hellhole might not prove our humble savior ?

Rather than plenticide against Nature and her excessively large gene pool, these scientists took comfort in the size of her current gene pool and sought ways to see it remained as big and as varied as possible.

Against the confident synthesists, all these Fifties scientist much more modestly hoped for was that the human species might survive a little while longer.

Synthetist versus Naturalist : two wildly different takes on the human relationship to existing physical reality.

Not a perfect fit to Dunlap & McCright's Production scientist versus Impact scientist thesis but I believe suggestive none the less ...

No comments:

Post a Comment