Who Thinks Your Thoughts, Weird Kangaroo?

Who are you, really? Neuroscientists tell us our gut microbiome consists of 100 trillion organism with different DNA from what we inherited from our parents, and that those microbes are connected to our brains via the vagus nerve.

Thus those gut microbes are a part of the mix of signals driving each person’s thought and behavior. Some of them send (for example) signals to the brain triggering food cravings.

So when you have a craving for, say, oatmeal, who is having the craving? You or specific organisms with their own evolutionary agenda in your gut microbiome?

Put another way, I’m hungry, and suddenly it occurs to me to go to a restaurant for oatmeal and coffee. Who thought it, and who wants it?

Hijacked? Fat people and skinny people have very different gut microbiomes driving different food choice impulses. So we appear to be hijacked creatures.

And we’re hijacked in other ways as well. Some of us are part Homo sapien and part Neanderthal (thus bearing a convergence of two species’ genetic agendas). Some of us have had our behavior hijacked by a virus endemic to our cats. Still others of us externalize our memories to our iPhones, which then take on a life of their own.

The human boundary of the hybrid self. So where’s the boundary of this hybrid self? Would you still be a Homo sapien if you were 3% Neanderthal, 40% machine, and 5% gut microbiome? Would it still make sense to call you fully human if you were created in a test tube where all your key genetic traits were selected for by your parents, the government, or a super intelligent computer (for eye color, temperament, math ability, etc.)?

Hybrid kangaroos. Emily Dickinson spoke of herself as a “kangaroo among the beauty.” In other words, she embraced her unconventional nature.

But really, everything in the cosmos is unconventional. Everything has the contingent quality of kangarooness. If looked at in a poetic way, each thing, though mutually interdependent and interconnected, nevertheless manifests its own sui generis uniqueness; its own kangarooness among the beauty.

So in 2115, a hundred years from now, will parents bemoan the hybrid freaks born of genetic tinkering and the mixture of humans with robotics, or will they celebrate and incorporate their sui generis beauty and diversity into love? Perhaps our best hope is to imagine a future in which parents talk like this: “How beautiful are the satyrs these days!” and “Cyborgs in love and married to old-school Homo sapiens? Y.E.S.”

After gay marriage, cyborg rights. My take is that we should orient to love, and try to work out a path for making the eugenic/cyborg/hybrid future a humane future (as opposed to a future where biological tinkering and the deliberate creation of hybrid things are simply forbidden). We should embrace our kangaroos among the beauty if they are oriented to love–for we are all kangaroos among the beauty.

Walt Whitman called the lessons of Nature “variety and freedom.” This accords with both evolution and democracy–though not without tension. Whose variety and whose freedom, exactly, are we talking about here? Are we speaking as Jeffersonians or Nietzscheans?

Tacking toward variety and freedom is a good goal so long as Whitman-like inclusion and love, not raw, Nietzschean power, functions as our North Star.

It’s a nervy world, isn’t it?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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