Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ripples through the universe...

Many people wonder why so many events, good or bad, are happening to them. Why does it seem that, far too often all the bad occurs at one time. We might even look around and see someone much more deserving of what we are suffering through, yet they are surrounded by good fortune. Why is this? Well, to be honest, it is all just an illusion of the universe.

To begin to understand the truth of the matter we must first realize a few core truths. The universe is and we are simply a part of it. It may throw hardships or pain our way but we must remember that when they occur, it not because the universe hates us or has singled us out, but because we are part of its inner workings. And like the inner workings of any complex system, things are bound to go wrong from time to time. In fact things must go wrong from time to time as that is the Entropic Rule.

We must remember that we are perceiving things but from a single vantage point. While it is true that from our perspective, it may very well look like the universe it throwing more things at us then at others. That those who are less deserving are receiving more than they should. That those who are innocent are forced to suffer and those who are repugnant wallow in excess.

From our fixed vantage point it looks like patterns and trends, but this is all an illusion. For if we step aside and look at it from another perspective, we truly begin to see things as they are, a series of causes and effects. Like the ripples from a handful of pebbles tossed into a calm pool, we see patterns and direction. We see one part that is more turbulent despite having few stones near them. Whereas another part has many stones, yet their myriad ripples may cancel one another out, leaving the surface with an unexpected calm. These ripples reinforce or cancel one another out, creating complex patterns that seen to be purposeful, but we know full well that they are not. That any purpose is seen only in retrospect and that any pattern that forms does so out of pure randomness.

We can think of each of our lives as one of these pebbles and the ripples to be the events that sculpt our lives. While it may very well seem that we have our unfair share of ripples around us, while those who create the most commotion may find themselves to have the fewest ripples to deal with. It is not because the pond intended for us to have more ripples, but because of chance and random occurrence.

The same can be said for our lives. It may seem like the universe hurtles at us an unfair amount of turmoil and pain. But it is not because the universe has a vendetta against us or enjoys seeing our suffering. Rather, it is because of the random nature of the cosmos that things seem to pile up now and again. We forget that in randomness, there must be those who experience repetition, be it good or bad. For if they did not, then the system, as a whole, would not be random at all, but designed and laid out.

So do not take such events as an omen that one is marked. Instead realize that it is simply part of existence and that, in time, new ripples will form.
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Monday, November 29, 2010


Lets look at the statement FML or "Fuck My Life", just a bit deeper, shall we? One can take it at face value and assume it means that one's life is beyond reconciliation and should thus, simply be fucked, metaphorically, and be done with it.

Or one can look at it in a another way way. If we take the fucking to be literal, that is coitus with our existence, then that means one must physically engage in sexual union with our very being.

Now as we all know, there is good sex and bad sex. If it is bad sex, then all we gain from it is to be left feeling hot and sweaty and not much else, something no one finds very appealing. I'm sure this is what most would think the phrase means, if taken literally.

However there is another literal possibility. In this instance, instead of horrible sex, one has truly great sex. The kind of sex where afterward, your mind is left reeling in a storm of endorphins. Where the body and mind float upon utter ecstasy. Now if this is true, then not only would the physical you be left having one hell of an orgasm, but so would your existence. Since your existence is you, just the you over an extended period of time, one is left to assume that if one's existence achieves climax then you as a person must also do so but over the duration of said existence.

In other words, if done right, to "fuck my life" could very well mean to be left in a state of boundless writhing pleasure. If this is truly the case then I say we should all go about fucking our lives as often as humanly possible.
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Sunday, November 28, 2010

A walk through the park

We have a city park, it really isn't much but I like to walk through it from time to time, as I often do some of my best thinking when I'm just walking and experiencing.

Each year, the city puts up all kinds of lights throughout the park for Christmas and at night, it really is kind of lovely to walk through. I remember always wanting to walk through it when I was younger but my family didn't think it was worth it "you can see all the lights from the streets as we drive by, can't you?" they would say. they didn't understand the value of just walking through and watching.

Part of it is the people, as it is the one time when the park actually has a steady stream of people walking through it. For most of the rest of the year, it is usually just overlooked. But most of all, I love looking around and seeing just how diverse the iconography around me actually is.

Most would never realize it, but the images I saw were truly global. There was Inuit, Mesopotamian, Celtic/Norse, Victorian England, and Czarist Russia. I know most will never realize the vast collection of images that surround them nor will most of them ever grasp their meanings.

But I know them, I know their histories and their origins. Seeing it all around me...it makes me happy. I see the culmination of so many peoples, so many diverse thoughts and cultures, all brought into one single amalgamate.

Most will never see this, but I do, each and every time I walk through that park, and it warms me. I only wish more people would be interested in it and realize what exactly it all means. For it gives me hope. In spite of all our hatreds and bigotries and wars that we humans rage against one another, here is one time when the diversity of humanity is made as one. Here is hope for a future of my species.
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Conservation of Momentum

Hurtling through the imperfect vacuum of interstellar space, an aged and beaten colony ship finds itself nearing the halfway point of its immense journey. Upon the command deck an equally tired and worn captain stands vigilant. Amongst the familiar background whines and hums of her ship, the captain picks out the sound of another’s approach. A beleaguered astrophysicist grimly relays his latest findings…

“Captain, as you know the upgrades to the navigational core were completed earlier this duty cycle.” Turning to acknowledge her trusted adviser the captain asks, “And how are our new systems functioning?” Replying with a calm yet subtly strained tone, the astrophysics replies, “Better then expected, this new system has reanalyzed our course in record time. There have already been a few minor corrections in our vector.” Vaguely intrigued the captain asks “And what might those refinements be exactly?” “Only a slight course correction to make better use of some of the outer planets of our destination. With these adjustments it seems we will be able to shed most of the necessary momentum as we pass by the gas giants in the system.” Nodding in approval the captain turns her attention to her adviser’s seemingly ill fitting tone of word, “Yet despite these refinements, you sound as if there is something amiss.”

Taking a moment to find the right words, the astrophysicist replies, “You are as observant as always," He says with a sigh, "yes, there is a slight problem. According to the latest telemetry, even with the improved momentum burn calculated by the new navigational system, we will still be moving at too great a speed to safely achieve a stable orbit around our destination. We will, instead slow down just long enough to get a good look at our destination before careening past it. As you know, this vessel was designed with efficiency in mind, as such, we do not have the reserve fuel to slow us or even make an attempt at a second rendezvous.” Realizing just how dire the situation is, the captain asks, "By what margin will we miss our destination?"

Taking a long pause before responding, the astrophysicist replies “Approximately one minute, yes we will reach the point of orbital entry one minute ahead of the planet.” The signs of worry emboldened in her features the captain turns to look forward and softly begins to say, “So after all these years of journey, are we really going to lose it all to such a minute fraction of time? After so long a voyage, after so many generations inside this isolated hull, are we to find that all we lack, all that keeps us our race from salvation is a single, last minute?”

As the captains words echo through the silence that that befallen the deck, the soft murmur of a suppressed laughter. The two stern individuals turn towards the ill timed sound. The captain asks in an irate tone, “What exactly do you find so humorous in this? What comedy could you find in the dashed hopes of our collective civilization?” After a bit more stiffed laughter comes a reply “Well, I guess its true what they say, without the last minute nothing does ever gets done...”

In shocked silence the two look at each other for a moment before a wry smile begins to form on the astrophysicist. Knowing that look before from their various conversations throughout the years the captain worryingly asks “What is it, exactly, that you have thought of just now, as I know that look and I know that very few things come from it that I don’t later regret.” After a bit of a dramatic pause comes the reply “While I will need to confirm it with the navigational core, I have just realized that from our current distance to cut off that last crucial minute, all we must lose is the mass of roughly one individual.” Finding the dangerous smile to be infectious the captain replies with a mocking laugh “And I believe we already have our volunteer.”
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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Religion's Pool

We are born into a gloomy bay. Blind and knowing only what we are shown. Those ahead, their hands are grasping for anything, but return only slime. Knowing not what they seek, they relish the feeling. Larger hands guide us away, towards reed pools filled with spines and pearls. Around these we gather, thrusting our virgin hands into the abyss, with a hope beyond precious hope that a pearl will be unveiled as we open our hands, only to find bristles and stones.

We wade prostrate our fingers feeling for any flotsam that might come our way. By chance we find the reaching hands of another passer by. Entangled we float, collecting each other. Each grasping and searching yet never finding. We form whole drifts, each unique in our writhing. Every part a chance to reach for more. Yet none are grasping that precious peal.

We stumble and fall, a misplaced foot upon a slippery stone. Diving in we see nothing, hear nothing and wonder, is this what we were searching for? Hands around us pulling us free. Air refills our lungs, our flailing hands grasp for all we can. Rocks and thistles are all we find.

Angered and blind we thrash but held fast. We are told to search more gently, to keep our calm. We will find what we need in time, just as those of old. So we seek the thing we do not know. Our fingers grasp and pull occasionally a heavy stone.

In time we learn to use the stone. A point of haven, a refuge from the spurs. But another stone has been found. Theirs is like ours but somehow greater they declare. We try and find if this stone is a mirror of ours. All the same, save for a few bits of life dangling below. In this do we find our treasure? But no, the stone falls away again, pushed by stronger hands. Why not stay together? Greater hands twist and split, push away, we all are told to push away.

Alone again wandering, why? Our hands feel through the grime finding nothing more then more tines. We sputter and sink, wondering what lies beneath. A last final claw before we open our maw. No hands to save us as we drown.

But could it be, my last grasp has it all? My fingers pull away from my palm revealing my last found. I dare not see it for if I were to drown, then all would be gone nothing would ever be found.

I feel for the shape, perfectly round. It is what they have lost, now I have found. I look upon its form as I drown. It is nothing, nothing to be found? My mind reals looking for something sound. Now I find, the lost gem was never there, it was always them.

I tear for the surface, finding my air. My eyes open and all around, I see nothing but the lost, hoping to be found. I step toward the only shore I see. Upon reason, I am finally free.
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A bit of atheist Comedy

The secret to great comedy is thus, tell the truth, don't let your internal critic censor yourself, and pay attention to the chaotic world around you. Using these simple rules, anyone can create great comedy. But what differentiates the stand-up from everyone else is confidence. Confidence allows the day laborer to get out in front of a crowd and say the things everyone is thinking, but no one has the guts to say aloud. Far too much of our society has become pent up and repressed. People worry about offending this person or that. But the comedian cuts through all of this. The comedian expresses what people want to say but are afraid that if they say it, they will be shunned. Through comedy we not only have get a release for all these pent up thoughts, but a chance to change things for ourselves. Instead of keeping that bit in let it out, take a chance. If someone is offended, that is their choice. And that is what we often forget, that to be offended is a choice, not a reaction. It is easy to brush off even the most hateful of words with a laugh and perhaps a bit of sharp wit thrown back at the assailant.

We all need comedy to survive the experience that is life. It renews us, comforts us, and even chastises us for our own short comings. It is something that should be found in daily life. And when we are weary and tired, what better feeling is there then to hear your own thoughts pronounced aloud, yet twisted just right so that we can laugh and forget whatever it was that was bothering us.

While I was up helping my dear friend that I mentioned in an earlier post, she was supposed to meet a friend to go to an event. The friend never showed, eventually calling at the last minute stating that he had a gig with his band the following day and could not make it. So my friend asked me if I wanted to join her for it, as she had two tickets already bought and there was no sense in wasting it. What I didn't realize is that the tickets were for front row seats to see Cheech and Chong for their "get it legal" tour. The two of us laughed harder than either of us had in quite some time. It was therapeutic, just like all great comedy should be.

For those of you reading this, here is something to sooth you as well. A bit of comedy from the talent of Jim Jefferies, enjoy.

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Friday, November 26, 2010

The Sound Of Freethinking: #2 God Thinks

As a quick follow up to the first "Sound of Freethinking" comes one of my favorite musical satirists. For those within the subculture, the name Voltaire is well known, outside, it is also well known but for a different individual. Yes, a musical satirist decided to name his project after one of the greatest literary satirists, and I have to say, it is rather fitting. But this modern Voltaire is much more then just a musician, he is also an artist and writer, all of which has a nice satirical edge to it, often even mocking the very subculture that he thrives within. After all, we all need a bit of humility and self deprecation now and then. He goes about his music in a sort of dark cabaret style and it fits him very well.

In This particular song, entitled God Thinks, Voltaire starts off with the kind of lyrics that are designed to offend the listener. But if you are willing to listen further, you will find that what seems horrendously bigoted remarks are actually part of the satire itself. So without further adieu, here is Voltaire telling us what God Thinks.

And for the videophobic...

God thinks all blacks are obsolete farm equipment
God thinks the Jews killed his son and must be punished
God thinks the white man is Satan
God, they know what God thinks

God thinks we should all convert to Judaism
God thinks we must all be Christians and
God thinks we should all embrace Islam
God thinks the only true religion is Hinduism

And I
I know what God thinks
God thinks you're a waste of flesh
God prefers an Atheist

God God
God thinks all people like you are hateful
God thinks all people like you are an embarrassment to creation
self-righteous, judgmental, first to throw a stone
and using His name for your own protection

God thinks the sun revolves around the Earth
God thinks there was something very wrong with Copernicus
God thinks abortion is murder and
God thinks everything that science gave us is wrong
God thinks women deserve it
God thinks AIDS is a form of punishment

I hate people who blame the Devil for their own shortcomings and
I hate people who thank God when things go right

And I
I know what God thinks
God thinks you're an idiot
God prefers a heretic

God God
God thinks all people like you are hateful
God thinks all people like you are an embarrassment to creation
self-righteous, judgmental, first to throw the stone
and using His name for your own agenda

God is a liberal
God is a democrat
God wants you to vote republican
never trust a man who puts his words in the mouth of god
and says it's absolute truth
its lies and it smells like death
its all in a day's work taking money from the poor
Why do you think that God would need your dirty money
if He wants to start a holy war?

self-righteous, judgmental, first to throw a stone
and using His name for your own protection

God thinks puppies need to die and
God thinks babies need to drown
'cause God is neither good nor bad
God is you and me
God is Everything

To be entirely honest, there is little I can say that Voltaire has not said in this song. I am sure most atheists and agnostics will agree that they have argued something similar to what Voltaire has sung here. It is a culmination of all religions stupidity rolled into one nice song. Some may argue that this isn't an atheist song as it ends with a more pantheistic verse. But if someone were to argue that, then they must not have a very good grasp on what pantheism truly is. In fact there are many who could argue that there is very little difference in the thinking of an agnosto-atheist and a pantheist. But either way, the message of this song is still the same and I think it is one that many in the atheist community would relish if only they knew it existed in the first place. Which, of course, is the whole purpose of this segment of this blog.
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The Sound Of Freethinking: #1 Arabian Knights

I would first like to thank Infidel753 whose comment sparked the idea for a re-occurring post. In the comment Infidel753 referenced a song by Siouxsie and the Banshees. The Song is Arabian Knights.

For those of you who wish to just read the lyrics...

The jewel, the prize
Looking into your eyes
Cool pools drown your mind
What else will you find?

I hear a rumor
It was just a rumor

I heard a rumor
What have you done to her?

Myriad lights
They said, I'd be impressed
Arabian Knights
At your primitive best

A tourist oasis
Reflects in seedy sunshades
A monstrous oil tanker
It's wound bleeding in seas

I heard a rumor
What have you done to her?
I heard a rumor
What have you done to her?

Veiled behind screens
Kept as your baby machine
Whilst you conquer more orifices
Of boys, goats and things
Ripped out sheeps eyes
No forks or knives

Myriad lights
They said, "I'd be impressed"
Arabian Knights
At your primitive best

I heard a rumor
What have you done to her?
I heard a rumor
What have you done to her?
I heard a rumor

I think it is rather clear what Siouxsie Sioux is singing here. Even back in the 80's it was clear that Islam had become little more then an expansionist religion that views females as little more than, as Siouxsie put it "baby machines" and its oil reserves as a tool to spread its own influence. This song was produced back in 1981, close to thirty years later and things still have not changed, other then the amount of territory claimed under Islamic rule.

I hope to continue this series with various other songs from the subculture that have something to say about religion. If any of the readers have any other ideas for songs, please let me know, I'm always open for suggestion.
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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Goth and Atheism

This post is one I have wanted to write for quite a long time now. It has to do, partially, with the name I chose for this blog. I have had a lot of people who have read the title and said to me "wait, isn't that a contradiction? How can a Goth be an atheist? Isn't Goth some kind of religion?". Whenever I hear this, I cannot help myself from the cliché of doing a literal face palm.

For those who might be reading this and may have thought something similar or remember hearing someone saying something close to it at one point in your life, I would like to answer this question once and for all. Furthermore, I want to explain why I see the Gothic sub-culture as not only being accepting of atheism, but proving to the readers that the majority of the sub culture would self describe as either atheist or agnostic (or Agnosto-Atheist such as myself, as you will soon discover, such attention to detail and fact is something of a cornerstone in the sub-culture).

So to begin I shall, without any question, state that whatever the goth subculture (or any of its many sub-subcultures...we will get to that later in the post) are absolutely not a religion and have never been even remotely close to one.

The best way to go about stating what the subculture is would be to tell a bit about its history first. What eventually became what we all now know as 'Goth' started in 1980's England. At this point, the term for the subculture was not even known. It started as part of the Punk subculture where some of the more introspective members of the culture started making music that was just a bit different. Instead of being about extroversion and being angry at all the idiocies of the world around us, which was a noble thought to begin with; the music became more introspective. While Punk was raging at the world, these new music artists looked at themselves and thought "what is actually going on and what does it mean to me as an individual". These first proto-goth bands went on to become some of the best remembered "post-punk" artists of all time. Groups such as The Velvet Underground, Nico (who started as a member of The Velvet Underground but then went solo), Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, Iggy Pop, The Birthday Party, and Killing Joke. It was the media who first used the term goth and it was used to describe some of these band, in fact the first usage was to describe the singer of The Velvet Underground, Nico, in 1971.

The term goth was brought up again by independent parts of the media to describe various bands from then on. Martin Hannett, of Joy Division described their music as "dancing music with Gothic overtones". Where as the part owner and manager of Factory Recods, Tony Wilson, Described Joy Division as "Gothic" on the television show "Something Else". The term goth was later thrown around as a derogatory remark by the media to describe the bands Bauhaus and Siouxsie and the Banshees. But it was not until the music critic, Simon Reynolds used the term goth as a "positive identity, a tribal rallying cry" that the still nameless subculture took on that name.

Now that the subculture had a name, had something to call their own, it started to feel itself out. Whether a band called themselves goth or not, these new bands started shaping the subculture. Bands such as Bauhaus, Joy Division, Specimen, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Damned, The Cure, The Birthday Party, Southern Death Cult, Ausgang, Sex Gang Children, The March Violets, 45 Grave, UK Decay, Virgin Prunes, Kommunity FK, Alien Sex Fiend, Christian Death, Gloria Mundi, This Mortal Coil, Dead Can Dance, Mittageisen, Killing joke and even early Adam and the Ants.
Thus began what is now looked back upon as Goth Rock, or as it had been termed within the Punk subculture, Death Rock.

Goth as an individual entity exploded from what had been lain down by previous bands. It was now the 1980's. Some said that Punk was dead, and that music was left in a post-punk world trying to find itself. Others knew that Punk just did what it had previously done, before all the fame; it went back underground and pushed forward. The newly formed goth subculture could now start to step forward and claim individuality. Not just a nebulous out-growth of Punk, but a branch that became an entirely new and individual tree of music and culture. Bands such as Sisters of Mercy, Fields of the Nephilim, The Mission (or The Mission UK as they became known in the states), and Clan of Xymox took the mantel of goth further.

It was now the time of 4AD Records, a record company that signed bands that defined the subculture and those that drifted towards it as well. Names such as The Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, Modern English, The Pixies, Tones On Tail, This Mortal Coil, The Wolfgang Press, Xmal Deutschland, and Camera Obscura. 4AD still lives and in 2008, the owner of the label, known as the Beggars Group finally realized that 4AD was their most prestigious and successful label so they merged them under one name. Originally all of the sub-labels of the Beggars Group were under the label Beggars Banquet, but even the core label knew that 4AD surpassed all the others and decided to rename the entire label as 4AD.

Gothic music continued to branch and unfold in new ways. It soon began to run alongside another subculture spawned by the Punk culture. The Industrial movement paralleled and in many ways has fused with Goth. While there are still those who see Industrial as a subculture all its own, it is generally accepted that it has become part of the Goth subculture. Other branches formed or became intertwined with Goth, such as Ethereal, Heavenly Voices, Neo-Medieval, Darkwave, Synthpop, Futurepop, Shoegazer, Psychobilly and others.

The subculture has grown to encompass so much that where 'goth' stops and another genre starts has become nothing more then shades of gray. It wasn't that goth had overpowered or pushed into these other territories, but what was goth grew to become more. Which brings me to the core of what Goth is. It isn't just a set of music styles, or a group of like minded people, but a mindset. Just as the music that spurred the formation of the subculture was introspective, so is the subculture itself. It developed into something much more then music but about freedom of expression. About art for arts sake. About passion, love and everything that made a person.

Goth was now something entirely more. With the free thinking of its Punk roots and its introspectiveness of its first bands and individuals it became an almost thought process. One where Individuality is key, where knowing oneself and others became habits. Where knowledge was valued alongside music and aesthetics. It is within the gothic subculture that, if one is truly a member, one must be well read, believe that fact must come before belief, put what is true before what is desired and through it all an inner beauty will form of understanding. And through this understanding and knowledge comes even more beauty, for only those that can know something so intimately could truly say they understand.

So it is only now, with this understanding of what goth is, can we answer the question that started this post in the first place. What is the link between atheism and goth? As many probably have discerned they both share many key features. While atheism can only be said as the belief that without substantial evidence there is no reason to form a belief in a deity, one must admit that those who are drawn to it, those who pull themselves from religion, or strive against it often have something in common. It is a sense of individuality and understanding for the sake of understanding. The same key features that make up the gothic subculture.

And these features are what I see as tying the two together, both are individuals, both stand up for knowledge and have a deep seated respect for the person next to them, especially so if they too are experiencing themselves as an individual. As such those reading may find this statistic on the beliefs of goths quite interesting. In fact, here is what religioustolerance.org says about the gothic subculture. While I wish I could give an actual poll on the percentages of 'goths' and their religion, this is quite difficult. For one the idea of self identifying as goth is a bit counter to what goth is. Yes one can say one has gothic tendencies, but one never is goth, for if someone was, then they would be the stereotype and thus would defeat the very purpose of goth. Though for the most part, within the gothic subculture, agnosticism and atheism is the majority, with a bit of pagan, deist, christian and others. But if one is part of the subculture, one of the key ideas is to accept those beside you for who they are. Yes, you will often find a group of 'goths' arguing about the philosophies and logistics behind theism or non-theism. But the end result is just the same as for an amicable atheist and deist, they will both put their points forth and in the end, agree to disagree. They will then go and thank each other for their thoughts and the chance to think in those ways. It is this similarity that I see as connecting the gothic subculture and the atheist 'movement' or whatever the freethinking body wishes to be called. They both respect, they both seek knowledge; they both are open to debate. While there will always be those within the cultures that cause problems for the whole. Stupid kids who think dressing in black and blaring angry music while letting out hate speech against another is trendy. Or the atheist who thinks that yelling out in a church is the best way to be heard. Both are outliers, both are individuals who are making wrong decisions under the guise of the names of us all. Neither represents the whole at all yet both are accepted as the stereotype. Yet another way the two are similar.
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Sunday, November 14, 2010

A potentially amazing idea.

I have been reading the book "Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life" by Carl Zimmer. Already it has been an amazing read, I recommend it to anyone who wishes to garner a greater understanding of microbiology, micro-ecology, and molecular evolution. In one of the sections, Carl Zimmer explains the cycle of evolution that E. coli go through in certain situations. This is displayed rather dramatically when different strains of E. coli compete amongst one another for survival.

Each strain will often grow together as such communal behavior allows for greater survival of a strain. When a bacteria begins to act as a group instead of free roving individuals, they form what is known as a biofilm. Within this biofilm different individuals of the same strain might take over different roles. This is all done by chance, the random turning on and off of genes that occur naturally throughout a microbes life cycle. When a biofilm is threatened by a competing strain of E. coli, there is a chance for certain individuals in the group to sacrifice themselves for the greater good of the colony. They do this by producing a protein known as colicins. Colicins destroy bacteria in many ways. Some doe so by essentially destabilizing the cellular membrane so that all that is contained within can seep out, effectively shutting down the microbe. Others block protein formation while still others target the victims DNA While there are multiple forms of colicin, there is only one way to deliver the them in large numbers. Colicins are rather large by protein standards, as such when an individual E. coli begins to fill up with them, there is no easy way for them to escape. Normally they are produced in small numbers and are pushed out of the cell through certain channel proteins. But with such a large number of colicins, the bacterium gets far too full and lyses (explodes). The act of lyseing is not done by the pressure of the internal environment but by a specific suicide function of the bacterium.

Now you may be asking yourself, why don't the colicins released by the lysing E. coli also effect the neighboring members of the same strain and biofilm? The reason for this is that colicins are naturaly produced in small quantities by all E. coli in biofilms to begin with. To counteract this, they also produce an antitoxin that destroys the colicins before they do any damage. It also has to do with the fact that due to slight genetic differences within strains, the colicin proteins will be shaped slightly different. Each strain produces an antitoxin that is most effective against its own strain's colicins. But other strain's antitoxins won't be as efficient at disabling a sudden burst of foreign colicins and some will slip through the defenses to destroy the competitors.

Now when a certain biofilm is faced with such an attack, random mutations will cause a select few to produce more effective antitoxins. These random survivors will then propagate and begin to out compete the attacking colony. As evolution causes yet another shift of power and the attacking colony begins to shrink due to limited resources, there will often be a chance for a mutation for a yet more potent colicin.

This cycle would seem to be endless, but evolution favors the bold. At some point a random mutation may arise that causes a certain strain to only produce the currently strongest antitoxin, but none of the colicin. While this would, at first seem like an absurd tactic, it is one that works quite well over the long duration. The reason for this goes back to the size of colicins. Remember that colicins are naturlly large proteins to begin with. Any stronger variants of the colicin will be even larger still. It takes a lot of energy and resources to produce all that colicin as well as the antitoxin to protect against it. I'm sure you can now see why the seemingly useless mutation would actually be successful in such an environment. While its competitors are busy wasting all their energy on expensive colicins and antitoxins, this new strain can focus only on producing the strongest antitoxin and reproducing. Over time, it begins to out compete the strong colicin producers entirely.

But it doesn't end here, now that all the colicin producers have been killed off, the area is left clean for the original strain of E. coli to move in. The original strain isn't going about wasting any energy on excess colicins or antitoxins and it can quickly out compete the previous victors of the arms race. This leaves us back where we started. This cycle takes place consistently all the time. What started out as an arms race became a game of rock, paper scissors. Eventually, the cycle will continue on through another rotation.

Now that I have put forth all the background information, I would like to share an insight I had while reading this book. The idea of an evolutionary rock, paper, scissors game led me to a thought that left me rather excited. What if we apply this very same rule of evolution to our current problem of antibiotic resistant bacteria?

Antibiotics and antibiotic resistance work in quite the same way as the colicin antitoxin cycle work. Bacteria produce specific proteins that destroy or deactivate the antibiotics (which are often proteins in their own right). The only thing differentiating a resistant strain from a non-resistant strain is that the resistant strain is constantly pumping out these defensive proteins.

They evolved in much the same way as the antitoxin producing E. coli I mentioned earlier. They began as a normal strain that happened to have a random mutation that allowed for the production of the defensive protein. Over time, these resistant strains came up against more and more types of antibiotics. Each time, the arms race I mentioned earlier takes another step forward.

My idea is this, instead of fighting an arms race with these antibiotic resistant strains, why don't we simply use their own strategies against them? Just as the super antitoxin producers from earlier could out compete the strong colicin and antitoxin producers, so would a common strain out compete an antibacterial resistant strain. But we can do one better then blind evolution. If we were to introduce a strain that was not producing the antibiotic defense proteins but instead devoted all of its energy to reproduction, it would quickly out compete the resistant strain.

All one would have to do in the case of infection of an antibiotic resistant strain is to introduce a group of quickly dividing non-resistant bacterians to the site of the infection and soon the new strain will begin eating up all the resources that the slower resistant bacterians were using until there is nothing left but the non-resistant strain and possibly some mutations within the resistant strain which will have given up some of its defense protein production in favor of faster reproduction. Either way, within a few days you are left with an individual who is not a whole lot more ill then they began but now they are ill with bacterians that would respond to antibiotic treatments.

This kind of treatment would of course be a last resort, but it could very well be the answer to one of the most serious medical problems of our day. This concept would need thorough testing before it could ever be tried in a human patient, but with all that we are uncovering, I would not be surprised if this is the answer that so many have sought for.

Now because this solution is so elegantly simple, it is quite possible that I am not the first to stumble upon it, in fact I would be quite surprised if I was. If anyone has heard of such research, I would love to hear about it in the comments.



Carl Zimmer. (2008) Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life. New York, United States: Pantheon Books.
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