Monday, January 16, 2012

Hobbes was right

Apparently a fungus infects carpenter ants, feeding on them and turning them into zombies that walk around erratically. The fungus makes the ant walk towards the understory of the forest, where the fungus grows better, then finally spores grow out of the dead ant's head. (Via Radley Balko.)

The universe is not your friend. All of us are mere grist to the mill of evolution - if there is a niche for some creature (virus/fungus/insect/tiger) to use you successfully as a food source, and they happen to be adapted enough for the purpose, they will do so. If you want to know why I celebrate the triumph of man's economic development and its ability to shape the natural environment, this is why. It's easy to think of nature as some gentle and cute-looking endangered species, like the Iberian Lynx. But you would do just as well to also think of the fungus in Thailand slowly devouring carpenter ants. This, my friends, is the world we live in.

The great Robert Frost observed all this a long time ago.
I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth --
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches' broth --
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.  
What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?--
If design govern in a thing so small. 
Or as Thomas Hobbes put it in Leviathan - the life of man in the natural state is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."

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