Whiskey Papers season 2: The Microbiome climax

Every time we are so sure that we have a clear and undeniable sense of our place in the universe, we end up being wrong. We just can’t get over how unimportant the individual is. For a long time we sought answers in the DNA, then the human genome. Which, it turns out, is a mere percent of what we needed to be thinking about….microbiota pushes us to think generationally for the first time in a meaningful, consequential way.

We are not unique, and we are not special.

We are often wrong precisely about the things that disgust us, literally destabilizing our sense of what is going on. Disgust can block logical reasoning, for a time anyways. It’s within the things that we conventionally find to be creepy, taboo, or an affront to our sense of self that lie the sexiest mind altering revelations. The sweet stuff stays in hiding: the stuff that changes our state of being. Enter: “skinny poop vodka” investment opportunity.

The surface of our skin now scratches for different reasons.
We understand what it really means to cohabitate.
We meditate on the lookout for “oneness” with our face microbiota.

It grosses us out, then it turns us on. Disgust gives way to functional concerns.

As Gilbert stresses, “the birth of a mammal is not merely the origin of a new distinct (traditional) individual, but the onset of a new community.” We are birthing universes.

It is no longer possible to think that pure, sterile environments are either optimal or desirable. We’ve been here before: no shit, isolation is bad! Now we need to let “others” in, all the way inside us, it’s more intimate. Internal diversification is imperative for the sanctity of our bodies and minds.

This is postcolonial science — and, it’s much sexier. This is the end of unilateral language, the end of universal power. What a wonderful coup de grace to the remaining poisonous bits of the story that the white man or any human is really superior to any other form of life. The hologenome has permanently delegitimated the ideas of “lesser” or “superior.”

Plato’s forms come crumbling down. It’s the end of idolizing purity. In light of the microbiome — those ideas smack of self-indulgence at the expense of clarity like the alchemist’s class-confused metaphysics. Poop is more precious than gold.

Isolation from our environment is unhealthy.
Hygiene is now reinvented.
Germ free is linked to bad cholesterol.

Even our sense of time and transformability of our physiology are fundamentally challenged by the hologenome. The human — now reclassified as a holobiont — becomes a small piece of a much larger network, which is immediately reactive and micrologically adaptive: it embodies the need for constant communication between all the communities.

The unit of evolution has changed. This is beyond epigenetics. The hereditary isn’t guaranteed: the only way it sticks is to keep doing it. Old tropes are challenged by the fall of purity. All of a sudden hereditary transmission guarantees nothing compared to the effects of environment, proximity, actual real interaction.

Turns out that “hereditary” only amounts to consistent sequencing, nothing beyond behavior and environment actually guarantees or secures our best intentions for the future.

Evolution is now immediate. It’s not just about who we mate with (Sexual Selection) or who we outcompete (Natural Selection), but about how we cohabitate with these universes inside us and among us. The timescale involved in changing this internal community is also shockingly immediate. We eat more fiber, we drool over magical yogurts, maybe we should rub our faces together more. The things we do in our lifetime affect our lineage. It’s fun and powerful.

The realization of all the different actors within us, and the new complexity of evolutionary mechanics — it gets massive. And then the group — our group at Whiskey Papers 2.2 — begins to break all of this into functional parts, and even down to core molecules with specific action potentials.

If individuality is an illusion propped up to sustain our cognitive abilities by way of creating the space for reflexive language (we refer to ourselves in the first person “I” thus we are conscious), then what is its value in light of the room filled with floating, mating microbiota, this complex interweb of organisms living together? The larger role of the community creates understanding of our insides. And we all are thinking about the actual microbiota floating and mating in the very room where these conversations are flowing.

So, what is our role as the human species in relation to the microbiota communities that we are clearly part of? Perhaps it’s the capacity to reflect on the nature of the larger union at hand. After all, the microbiotes aren’t asking for C level decision making. We will assume the executive role here.


Whiskey Papers 2.2, The Microbiome. San Francisco, 4/13/18



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Schommer, N. N., & Gallo, R. L. (2013). Structure and function of the human skin microbiome. Trends in Microbiology21(12), 660–668. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.tim.2013.10.001


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