Microcosm and Macrocosm
I was looking down on rainbows in 2007 unaware of the environmental impact of human activities and how it boomerangs on us. When I started practicing medicine, I became increasingly aware of importance not only of our diet and lifestyle but also of our interaction with the environment on our ‘health’. I also started seeing parallels between micro and macro worlds.
Human being is said to be a congregation of some 35 trillion cells (just an estimate). For an individual to live and thrive, that many numbers of intelligent cells have to co-exist, co-ordinate, co-operate. In short, they have to live in harmony with each other and the environment. Each of these cells has defined function and it performs that function with integrity. When you say ‘I am so and so’, you are actually talking about this congregation or colony of trillions of intelligent individual cells, living in harmony with each other. There are astounding networks, communication channels and regulating mechanism for these trillions of cells to communicate and work in unison as ‘you’. However, occasionally something goes wrong and the harmony is disturbed. When your own cells start attacking your other cells, you develop and suffer what is called an ‘autoimmune disease’ some examples of which are rheumatoid arthritis, alopecia areata, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes.
The life cycle of every cell of the body involves growth, accessing and storage of nutrients, division by replication of the DNA and lastly, death. Each cell interacts with internal and external environment through surveillance system and receptors. Depending on the circumstances, it determines appropriate course of action and is able to activate appropriate pathway. There are complicated mechanisms to balance proliferation of cells and cell deaths. When an error occurs in these mechanisms, some cells start to divide uncontrollably. They proliferate rapidly and form what is broadly called ‘a tumour’. If it has the ability to spread to distant locations or invade other tissues, it is called cancer! Cancer cells not only divide uncontrollably, they usurp body’s energy reserves causing death of other cells leading to death of the human being. In short, the survival of a human being as far as the internal environment is concerned, depends not on each cell trying to compete, fight and win but harmonious co-existence of all the individual cells.
Now, one can easily draw parallels between a ‘person’ and a ‘society’. As long as most individuals or groups of individuals co-exist, co-operate and do their jobs fairly well, society seems to function smoothly. But if they start fighting each other or one group starts to attack the other, the peace and harmony gets disturbed and it becomes a dysfunctional society. When the things go out of control, we call that as anarchy.
One can easily equate the same concept to the whole of the living world and then one starts to wonder if the human race is the cancer of the living planet. Human race seems to be proliferating uncontrollably and usurping finite resources of the planet. It has also invaded and altered the habitat of all other species. Human population growth and profligate consumption are believed to be the major drivers of climate change and ongoing 6th mass extinction.
How to stop this cancer. Answer lies in understanding the pathology and learning to self-regulate. In the 20th century alongside the progress in the development of weapons of mass destruction, especially the nuclear weapons, humans have largely learned to co-exist without resorting to too much violence (compared to earlier centuries). It could be a wisdom born out of sense of self-preservation since no one is really safe in the nuclear-powered world. Now in the 21st century, we must learn to self-regulate. We must learn to respect and co-exist not only with fellow human beings but also with other life forms. Our self-preservation now depends on that!
Fear and ignorance are the main causes of hatred and violence. Better understanding of other life forms i.e. plants, animals, bees and even bacteria, should help us get over our fears and help us co-exist with nature. Rather than aiming to tame nature, we must find our rightful place in the circle of life…