It is not that devising technologies, or progress, is a human prerogative. Some animals ‘invent’ too — to carve and manipulate environmental objects and improve their quality of life (QoL). Chimps, for example, peel off twigs to make better termite traps. Beavers temper and arrange ‘logs’ and ‘sticks’ to make handy dams, just as much as a host of worms and insect larvae accumulate sand grains and ‘cement’ them together to make their homes. However, one basic fact remains: each of the species cited has more than a single miracle to sculpt.
This, therefore, calls for a true perception of what is, apparently, the most fundamental characteristic of the human species — one that may have, perforce, determined our origins itself. The spin-off: our technology, as a result, has always been a truly natural and inescapable progression of life — more so, as intelligent, thinking species, influenced by the several codes of the universe. Agreed that this may not always be a rational theory, but what is important is a ‘string’ of our own biological characteristics that have emerged over time.
Scholars acknowledge that certain appropriate comparisons for human technology exist. So, the question is: could we continue to characterise human biology as technology? Perhaps, yes. However, the fact remains that biological technology has been shaped by natural selection. Such disparities may be adequate grist for our own technology mill too, when we move increasingly towards a position comparable to biological systems — one that promptly guides our genetic elements. What’s more, the biological world includes a classy assortment of technologies. Call it mechanical, chemical and computational. Yet, the argument prevails: our technology of biological chemistry, in its totality, needs analyses, while the technology of biological computation still remains quite unfathomed.
Interestingly, the likeness of engineering with biomechanics is itself rich and varied enough to provide extraordinary insights into both biological chemistry and bio-computation. Prokaryotes — single-celled organisms — for example, are biochemical geniuses, directing basic chemistry to make their living and also identifying their roles, even though they do extraordinarily diminutive orchestration with external mechanical forces. Some scholars again observe that the absence of structural metals, in biology, is proof enough that animals would be far better off if only they had them. Here’s another analogy. The pliability of metals explains their elevated toughness, but organisms have also found other routes to attain it. However, if ‘elasticity’ underlines the usage of metals in human technology, there’s nothing like such a mechanism at work that would allow an animal to ‘mend’ a broken tooth. The argument that the metals we use in our technology were ignored by evolution, because of their poor presence in seawater, holds no credence, for instance, when investigated from the geological standpoint. Three billion years ago, when free oxygen was a scarce commodity, iron and uranium were delicately soluble; the great iron deposits of our living planet are enough evidence of the ‘crystallisation’ of iron that helped oxidative photosynthesis to come of age. The inference is obvious. As we come to grips with the rapidly-expanding fields of biotechnology and nanotechnology, cultivated comparisons will perpetually transform the way we look at either archetype. You gotcha the point — for good reasons too.
(The writer is a wellness
physician and author)
Rajgopal Nidamboor