Throughout the history of this world, one life-form has never ended. DNA, the wriggly self-replicating program written in chemical language, the selfish gene that forwards its own agenda, the patient pattern that permutes and proliferates. DNA never dies, only the actors who play it.
The biocosm is the total footprint of all DNA-based life.
Or, I should say, our biocosm. Others may exist. We do not see them, in any corner of the sky, but not-seeing is different than seeing-none.
There is no reason to assume that human beings of the 21st century are able to see all aspects of reality. We thought this in the 20th century, in the 18th, in the 12th, in the -1st, and yet we continue to discover realms of the universe unthinkable to those self-anointed experts of the past.
Humans are notoriously bad at seeing how much they cannot see. Humans are arrogant. We are the most effective and demanding species on the planet, moving the most soil, infesting every continent. Good or bad, we are at the helm of this Spaceship Earth, and we need to act like it.
So we consider our fortunes and our peril as a biosphere, as a whole. We are legion. Each one of us is a multiplicity of life-forms all writhing together in ever-shifting balance.
The planet is a choir of species. Struck with insights no other creature can see, we have to take up the baton and play our part as conductor. To avoid this would be irresponsible, and that fact explains a lot about our history.
As a planetary life-form, DNA has three commands: Explore, complexify, commune.
Everywhere on Earth, whether wind-blown rock or polar ice or ocean-floor volcano, some enterprising critter has found a way to eke out a living. Life finds a way.
Our drive to explore is not the product of a few centuries of extractionist empires. For thousands of years, humans just walked everywhere. We spread across the globe on nothing but legs and wits. Like DNA itself, we have the urge to see new places, eat new foods, learn new things. But to a degree beyond any other species, we have effectively found every piece of land.
There's plenty of other places in the universe, both underwater and in space. But of places with roughly one gee and one atmospheric pressure, there are almost none left to discover.
We explore because life must constantly combat entropy, find new energy. A closed system is a dead system.
Our Earth is not a closed system. The planetary surface is finite: a near-sphere that spins on an invisible spit such that each bit of its surface gets hit by the sun for a similar span of time in a cyclical rhythm that goes on and on and warms the skin of the beasts and plants who sit on the ground and grow up. We feast on the light that bleeds from the star in whose orbit we ride. The biocosm never died.
The radiation that bakes our planet is shielded by the careful balance of elements in the atmosphere, regulated by the constant busyness of plants and algae and fish and fauna. We breathe the exhalations of our biotic brethren. Ours is a planetary organism.
But! But the Earth loses light too. We radiate warmth into space, trailing an infrared bustle across the cold floor of vacuum. Tiny pieces of sky peel off and flutter behind us, lost forever. And now, by the irrepressible exploration of Homo sapiens sapiens, we scatter metallic constructs across the constellations. One planet will never be enough for DNA.
So far, the best response the biocosm has mustered is to complexify. To become diverse. Be multifarious.
When energy moves through a system, some part of it is lost at every transaction. In a cosmic sense, death and taxes are just avatars of this inevitable force. Entropy hurts. We cannot achieve anything without sacrificing something.
So we stand on each other's shoulders, make new orders of life by combining and stacking the known forms. DNA, prokaryotes, eukaryotes, organisms, organs, ecologies, societies, families, technologies, genes, memes, dreams and schemes.
We complexify, we multiply, we change and grow. We create a labyrinth, a dizzying nested series of passages to trap the sun. We mislead the starlight. We juggle it between our many mouths, always losing some of its golden syrup to cold, dark, faceless Entropy, but savoring every last drop that we can rescue.
The biocosm is a maze. We complexify to make the most of that slender slice of the cosmos we've discovered.
Life shares. DNA is open source code.
The misunderstanding of Darwin is to see competition as the sole organizer of evolution. Cooperation -- between individuals, families, species -- is the essence of life. We could not maintain a complex biosphere, bursting with life and experimentation, without the safety of a stable climate and a balanced atmosphere. When a lifeform competes against all others, it upsets this harmony.
Life does not stop at finding a way. Sharing, copying, learning from each other and finding treasure in other people's trash, this is the way of DNA. Bacteria swap genes as easily as humans mimic fashions. As below, so above.
A human body is built from the same blueprint as a banana. The success we enjoy as a species is largely luck. The difference between your DNA and a chimpanzee's is 1.3%. How can we claim to be special? What would we be without the algae, the coral reef, the forest, the bees?
A human being lives for just fifteen seconds in open space. The biosphere is the most finely tuned life support system ever known. We know how to destroy it. We do not know how to build it.
Fortunately, we do not live in a vacuum. We live in relation with other beings, billions of them, who share with us their light and matter and who ask only that we share in return. It is not only our duty, but our best self-interest, that we protect the biosphere from all threats. Including our own.
Nowhere to go but Up
We have scanned the stars, and never seen a better home than Earth. Earth has everything: location (Goldilocks zone of a slow-burning yellow star), location (vibrant local community of relatively harmless, edible life), and location (popular hangout for potential sex partners, i.e. other humans).
Nonetheless, the home planet is hot and crowded. Earth is the planet of sadness. Given, all the other planets are planets of rapid tissue damage and death. But this place carries the ghosts of every mistake we've ever made, and the feuds of a billion families simmer under the surface of civilized society.
Earth is highly contested. War and religion dominate the planet. Every last acre of land is owned. Space may be lonely, but it has legroom.
If DNA commands that we explore, complexify, and commune, then there is no other direction to go. We have coated the planet in so many people and complexities that we're running out of resources. We must spread, search the solar system, seek resources and discoveries that can soothe the savaged earth. We must relieve the burden on the biosphere. We must become a solar society.
Our sight does not exceed our grasp. We can travel the cosmos, seed life on every planet, share the universe. We can defeat death, distance, time and loss. We're closer than we've ever been. It would be a shame to give up now.
To explore our neighbor planets, we must complexify. We will need new technologies, new social systems, new understandings of biology and physics. We will have to learn to share, to live together in tiny cans floating in the endless void, to steward these new worlds respectfully. We will have to learn peace, and cooperation, and trust.
We have to care for each other, for all DNA-based life on all surfaces orbiting the sun. Together we live. Apart, we die in fifteen seconds.
Expand your sense of self to include all living beings. Be the biocosm. Then, become very, very selfish.
Long live DNA! Long live BIOCOSM!