Words by Ulban (he/him), 18 QLD
We’ve always defined ourselves by our technology. First came the Stone Age, then the Bronze Age, then the Iron Age – throughout history, technology has been a fundamental part of human progress.
However, the most influential technology in history, is often ignored. This technology is the foundation of every civilisation. It has caused everything from the rise of the Mongol Empire to the Industrial Revolution.
What’s more, we’ve only discovered 14% of this technology to date. The other 86% is now being actively destroyed along with all the potential breakthroughs it could create.
What is this technology?
Life. Or to be more specific, other living species.
When most of us think of technology, ‘domestication’ is typically not on the list. However, it is the primary reason why you have food on your plate and clothes on your back. Most of us hardly need to think about this, despite it being a primary concern for humans for centuries. Yet for something that is so influential, the importance of domestication is still often overlooked.
This is in part because we still don’t understand life. The complex machinery of animals and plants are the result of a very complicated emergent process spanning billions of years. Even with great advancements in digital and mechanical technologies, we still do not fully grasp how even the most basic cells function. We’re even further away from understanding how non-living atoms self-organize into sentient beings.
We act like we understand the value of nature. But a massive portion of life on this planet is ‘alien’ to us.
This quickly becomes apparent once you look more closely. For example, what we think of as ‘food’ can also be thought of as a series of tools and tricks used to ensure a species’ survival. Take barley, for example, which disguised itself as wheat to take advantage of our cultivation. All the fruits you’ve eaten are tricks used by plants to spread their seeds. It could be argued that we only exist because plants need us.
Beyond domestication, so many of our greatest achievements came from the wellspring of inspiration that is nature. We only knew heavier-than-air flight was possible due to birds. Even now, our best drones can’t function as well as innumerable species of insects. Evolution crafted the lenses in our eyes millions of years before the camera. Leaves use quantum computations to outperform any solar panel in their efficiency.
Unfortunately, we’ve entered the Anthropocene – an epoch in which humans are significantly impacting climate and ecosystems. We are wiping out biodiversity around the world, and we’re deleting our largest repository of potential technologies along with it.
Take the axolotl for example. If a human gets their limbs chopped off, that’s that. Not so for the axolotl, a creature that has lots to teach us about cellular regeneration – a literal superpower. Yet there may be only 1000 of them left in their original habitat.
The blue whale – the biggest organism on the planet and famously endangered – is not affected by cancer. A disease that has plagued humanity throughout the ages seems to already have been solved. It’s rather difficult to study this phenomenon for two reasons. The first is because the blue whale is so large, and the second is because they almost went extinct due to our actions.
Then there are primates – the closest living relatives to humans. Their sleeping and eating habits, social interactions and group dynamics have been instrumental in psychological research. Because their DNA is so similar to our own, primates could help us learn more about the human brain, leading to better ways to manage serious mental illnesses. In case you haven’t noticed, most primates are being wiped out too.
And these are only the species we know of! There’s still 86% more of them out there. Alien organisms using alien technology. We’re destroying them without even fully realising it.
This is what makes environmentalism the most worthwhile. Humans aren’t alone on this planet, we’re a small part of a much greater whole. As far as we know, life is rare in the universe, we may never encounter other beings. This is all the more reason to keep the aliens we have here on Earth, alive.
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