Anyway, breakfast. Outside under the pear tree.
Out of the blue, he tests my knowledge about genotype and phenotype and I bullshit along, mumble something about genotype + environment = phenotype* and so on for a while, waiting for the punch line - knowing full well that he is onto something but wants me to figure it out (see above: once a teacher . . .). OK, he lectures on in his benign teaching voice, so what do you know about the extended phenotype?
I am in deep water here because biology is not my forte and bullshitting only gets you that far. But I remember something he mentioned a while ago and I reply, oh you mean that stuff about the brainwashed ants climbing trees for the fungus? Yep, he says, that's an excellent example.
I didn't quite use all these clever words, but I passed the exam.**Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, the zombie-ant fungus (. . .) infects a carpenter ant, (. . . ) grows through the insect’s body, draining it of nutrients and hijacking its mind. Over the course of a week, it compels the ant to leave the safety of its nest and ascend a nearby plant stem. It stops the ant at a height of 25 centimeters—a zone with precisely the right temperature and humidity for the fungus to grow. It forces the ant to permanently lock its mandibles around a leaf. Eventually, it sends a long stalk through the ant’s head, growing into a bulbous capsule full of spores. And because the ant typically climbs a leaf that overhangs its colony’s foraging trails, the fungal spores rain down onto its sisters below, zombifying them in turn. (more here)
But let's take this a step further. Consider the Earth. We humans have been identified as a virus and so, quite naturally, the earth is producing antibodies and stimulating a fever to rid itself of the disease.
Humans are like any other organism, e.g bacteria, with access to an almost abundant energy source — in our case, fossil fuels.
By the time we run out of energy and resources to exploit, our population will crash back to something manageable or die off completely. We are the zombie ants.
How stupid is that compared to the clever fungus. And I don't mean we should enslave ants but good grief, what are we thinking!? Where is the extended phenotype when you need it?
Our problem is the fact that we continue to convince ourselves that since we have all sorts of meaningless gadgets we are special and above such natural processes and that describing our violent and cruel ways of trampling around on this planet with the word 'civilisation' means we are onto some sort of noble path.
We call it progress and think it's normal to be able to buy foods from all over the world when we fancy them and then throw them away when I forget to eat them, to (insert your favourite non-sustainable activity here).
And we all know that this cannot last forever. We pretend we don't, But We Do. Don't tell me you don't. We are skilled in creating delusional thoughts. Anything to stave off the forecast of a much poorer and more vulnerable way of life, while (just look!) nearly every other human’s life on Earth, now and throughout history, has been poorer and more vulnerable than ours.
The hardest part of this is, really, that we know, WE KNOW, how to solve this.
(Remember: 1. It's warming. 2. It's us. 3. We're sure. 4. It's bad. 5. We can fix it.)