Protecting biodiversity: Standing under Niagara with a teaspoon

We just crossed the International Day for Biological Diversity on 22nd May.

My day was pleasantly spent listening to an eminent scholar, belonging to a rare and now vanishing breed of scientists who lived in an era where natural science was experienced on the ground.

These people have a handle beyond the ordinary, as actually experiencing nature has almost a spiritual power to make you wise about Her ways that no book or intellectual introspection can ever manage.

As he was talking passionately about sacred groves that most old world communities have where no hunting or cutting trees was permitted, and how it contributed as an engine of biodiversity for a region, I was extremely jealous.

Jealous because the biology, as I know it, lacks that sensorial and experiential quality that makes nature mysterious and wonderful.

For me, it threw up a philosophical question.

Knowing nature is the real job of science, but can we face the ugly truths about our universe?

Total disruption in our understanding of nature is not rare, as Copernicus or Darwin did shake foundations of the empirical world that we directly experience by showing deeper mechanisms.

A lot worse, but thankfully lesser known due to its mathematical complexity was the arrival of quantum physics where God was seen to be a gambler; but, for me, the disruption brought forth by biology is the most epic, as it changes life as we see it.

To start with, any modern biologist would find the very idea of humans protecting the biodiversity of this planet not just audacious, but completely absurd.

Our claims of protecting biodiversity can most optimistically be viewed as someone standing under Niagara with a teaspoon, or rather a fork, and claiming to save the mighty waterfall.

Even more amusing are those who are saving individual life forms. They are kids standing in front of a massive random number generator churning out trillions of different number every second and shouting “Hey! That number 6.547 is so beautiful! We must save it to protect this machine!!”

Life on Earth doesn’t have biodiversity. The reality is exactly the other way round.

Life on Earth actually has NO bio-similarity. No life form is similar to other, so the idea of saving diversity is a complete delusion.

So, the natural world that my venerable friend wanted us to protect is almost an imaginary intellectual construct of the human mind. It is just a phenotypic expression of genetic code, and its real nature is now becoming obvious to scientists brave enough to face it.

The emergence of genetics is doing exactly the same with the natural world what quantum physics did to the physical universe. We have entered a microcosm of nature where rules of the game are different.

In this alien microcosm, life has turned into an interplay of molecular shapes, life has turned into information and hence life has gone “in silico”.

“In silico” literally means “in silicon” as the superficial understanding of computers links them to silicon chips. In actual sense, modern biological research has moved from “in vitro” (in glass) to “in silico”, i.e. from test tubes to computer simulations.

A modern biologist can sit inside a dark room with a supercomputer and figure out how a pangolin digests ants without stepping out and seeing either an ant or a pangolin.

If a naturalist from Gen-past steps in that room expecting pangolins and ants, all he/she will see would be some strange 3D structures rotating on the screen trying to fit into each other.

While it is a great theme to ponder about to considered wise on social media, we have another more critical question.

The nature around us is surely changing, possibly at an accelerated rate due to our actions.

What should we be actually doing right now?

The answer has to be practical and executable, and for that, I will have to get off the high horse of data analytics and bioinformatics and return to my venerable friend and the wisdom that he discovered in ancient cultures.

If we look at empirical learning offered by life on earth through its four odd billion years of existence, there are two very important takeaways.

The biggest threat to life is a change, and the only solution life has to deal with change is through churning out infinite diversity.

The sacred groves that ancient people nurtured are symbolic to this core wisdom.

Sacred groves provide an undisturbed environment to nature away from accelerated changes caused by humans. They are like stem cells in a body. Nature can heal itself in case of a catastrophe using these ecological seeds.

What is even more critical to understand is the social base of sacred groves. Today we have national parks, sanctuaries and other protected areas recognised by the law. And that could be a problem and not a solution.

Sacred groves need no law enforcement. They stem from a collective psyche. Ancient cultures linked spirituality to nature instead of law. If a spiritual link is achieved, its power is eternal and beyond the requirement of law.

So, the real solution we can have to the real problem as a life form, i.e. how to keep the candle of life burning on this hostile planet is in ensuring biodiversity to continue by connecting with nature at a higher plane of spirituality and sense that we all are one.

As life gets in silico, reconnecting humans with nature spiritually is bound to get tougher, and here is where instilling love for nature should have been a solution. Unfortunately, this emotional link with nature is plagued by a different malaise. Today love for nature has become an obsession founded on misinformation.

Nature lovers are no longer spiritually linked with nature. They have turned into self-righteous fanatics. Just when it is our hour of need, we appear to have entered in this era of crisis with multiple problems at hand.

So, if you are a young green crusader wanting to save the planet, here are a couple of personal requests I have to you.

To start with, life is never about individual life forms. Life is best protected as an ecological system. So, loving a tree or a dog or a pigeon is not the key. The key is to not interfere and let nature do its job.

Start sensing nature at a plain beyond love. See the bigger picture, give her space, admire Her, instead of trying to control her.

In addition to this, you will also have a completely new handle to nature, and that is incredible advancements in biological sciences. Let us remember that humans have always fared better at survival through learning more about this universe so this could be a golden opportunity for you.

Invest time and efforts in understanding Her. Knowing Her better is the only way to Her heart.

So, if you really want to help nature, this is not the time to flood social media with one more photograph of T2 drinking water in Ranthambhore. This is the time to learn biology and crunch data that life is.

Happy International Day for Biological Diversity, with a hope that it is not too late!

I am happy to admit that I have managed surviving till now with minimum effort as all my intellect has be used to avoid doing anything meaningful. As I needed to while all the free time I generated in course of being lazy, science has been my favorite muse that I have enjoyed company of. As an effort to kill time (in a way, to get even with it) one fine day I decided to write a science column, more for my personal amusement than to attract readers. After getting educated about the attention span of modern readers from my editor, it became more like a challenge to tackle esoteric subjects in 600 words that I have managed to remain interested in for more than a year now. I do not want to add my worldly profile here as these are ideas that need to be considered only on the merits they carry and not as an opinion of a certain human being.

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