The evolution of least resistance

My wife used to get after me about taking the easy way out. She used to call me lazy. I say used to because she doesn’t anymore and it’s not because I’ve changed, she just gave up. We would be in the middle of cooking a meal and she would say “oh we forgot the (insert random ingredient), can you cut some up real quick?” Of course this would be after I had already done the food prep, put the cutting board away and was pouring a drink and reading my book. So I would always reply with an “it’s ok, don’t worry about it.” This is where she would call me lazy. But the way I see it is that the extra effort was not critical so why bother? It’s not like the meal would be radically different without the ingredient, though be careful, this statement needs to be case by case. Mac and cheese without the mac or cheese would be a weird entrée, but spaghetti without onions is still basically spaghetti. This is just the way I was brought up. We are very flexible people. It was shown to me again when my family flew out for the wedding and my wife was asking all sorts of questions about flight times and who was renting a car, where was everyone staying and so on. They provided none of the answers to these questions. It’s more of a “we’ll figure it out when we get there” kind of attitude. This drives her nuts because it’s the total opposite of how she operates. But is this really the wrong approach, this laziness of mine? What do most other people do, or better yet, what does all life naturally want to do? If given a choice between backtracking and moving forward, what is the most common tendency? I’m not talking about a “no effort” approach because this won’t get you very far. What I’m talking about here is the path of least resistance.

Everything works on this principle. When I hear the phrase ‘path of least resistance’ I always think of the electrical classes I’ve had. Components on circuit boards called ‘resistors’ provide, well, resistance to the electricity entering it and allow only a certain amount to pass through. Water works this way too. When you are spraying your lawn with a garden hose, the water in it is at a higher pressure than the outside air. You squeeze the trigger of the nozzle and the water gladly comes shooting out because that is easier than staying in the hose. Even temperature works this way. You open the front door on a cold day and the warm air inside, whose molecules are vibrating very quickly because of its temperature thus more pressure, rushes out to the cold air outside that is not vibrating as fast. There is less resistance to move outside than to stay in. All things in our world operate with this simple principle, and it is this that also made up our world in the first place.

A long time ago (in a galaxy not very far away) we had a planet of simple elements all held to the earth by its gravity. Different elements have different charges and these charges change when they interact with others in the world. You rub your feet across carpet and that friction adds electrons to your body (or takes them away, I’m not sure which but you get the same results) making your charge different than when you were standing still. You touch someone near you with a different charge than your own and those excess electrons happily leap between you two the same way water leaps from the hose. This sharing of electrons is what creates chemical bonds also; it’s what allows oxygen and hydrogen to create water. The new molecules created from lazy electrons then mix with others and then influence yet other molecules in now different ways. Eventually this least resistance activity builds up over hundreds of millions of years. Every time a chemical bond occurs it makes it more attractable to other elements, and you keep building up and making more complex things. Soon amino acids start forming and these combine in arrangements to form proteins. You start to see organic substances that eventually lead to DNA. Richard Dawkins, author of “The Selfish Gene”, describes the first ‘replicators’ which were just chains of molecules that lazily shared electrons and bonded. When they mixed with other molecules in the early earth, their molecules would attract the opposite equivalent to its own building blocks and form a mirror image of itself. This mirror image would then make a mirror image of itself and thus you have a complete copy of the original molecular chain. This same principle is how DNA copies itself; though it sort of splits in half and each half attracts the opposite equivalent building block until you have two whole versions of the original DNA strand. It’s the path of least resistance, things attracting to what it is easily attracted to, that keeps working up to even more complex configurations of matter. Eventually you get cells, then multi-celled organisms and then finally plants and animals and humans. Life began simply with particles and molecules’ just sort of getting together with whatever was easiest to get with, its oppositely charged companion.

This is where my story takes a twist. I bet you didn’t think this article was going to be about health did you? Life works because the things that go together easily, does, and the things that are hard to go together, usually won’t. Over the history of our planet this simple idea has created a complex arrangement of things that work even if we don’t know why. Science tries its hardest to understand these things, mainly with a reductionist approach. What I mean by this is that they break down something to its individual components and try to understand it one thing at a time. Often they get hung up on the individual parts of something and forget that all things influence each other. Oranges have been marketed for its Vitamin C. They found it within them at one time and focused so intently on it that now when you hear about oranges most people think of this vitamin. Did you know broccoli contains more of it than oranges do? Bananas have Potassium. Milk has Vitamin D. Fish have Omega 3’s. Obviously these foods contain more than just what they are marketed for but this is what science fixates on when determining if something is good or bad. In the 1840’s when it was discovered that plants need good amounts of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium to grow, it became all about ways to get more of those three things. Shortly after 1900 they figured it out and we have been using synthetic fertilizers ever since. Those that garden know however that there are more things that influence a plants growth than just the presence of these elements. The temperature, shade, duration of sunlight, pests, amount of water and how much drainage it has also plays a part. There are so many variables to everything in life that until we get the fastest of quantum computers I don’t think we will ever be able to figure it all out.

Still, science tries hard and good for them. They do research and perform studies to find the effects of things and for the most part they do a good job. We have advanced tremendously in the last 100 years in regards to health and medicine, but should we just give them blind faith? Do they really know what they are doing yet? Let me give you an example that came from an issue of National Geographic magazine a few months back. There was an article on cloning animals that are extinct. I’m not talking about Jurassic Park here, but animals that have died off in the last 10 or 20 years and those we still have good amounts of usable DNA. In 2000 the last of a type of mountain goat called the Bucardo had died. A team of scientists preserved her cells in a laboratory and a few years later injected its nuclei into goat eggs emptied of its own DNA, and then implanted these eggs into surrogate mothers. After 57 implantations, only 7 animals became pregnant. Of those seven, six ended in miscarriages and the one remaining carried the clone to full term. She survived for just 10 minutes after birth and only with efforts to help her breathe since she struggled on her own. One of her lungs had grown a gigantic extra lobe as solid as a liver. This was the best science could do at replicating a life that naturally had figured out how to do it all on its own with perfect lungs and other working organs. Picture that four and a half pound baby goat with its tongue hanging out of its mouth struggling to breathe (not my words, national geographic) and think about the idea that modern medicine is just a team of scientists trying to replicate the natural order of things the same way these others tried making a goat.

Now I’m not saying modern medicine is all bad. When it comes to stitching up cuts, placing broken bones, open heart surgery and such, they’ve got it beat, hands down. Mother Nature could never do that and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I’m more so talking about pharmaceuticals and manmade replacements for natural ingredients. Have you ever seen a warning label of possible side effects from peppermint? They help with stomach aches and indigestion but most people grab some pepto bismal (which side effects include: Anxiety, possible loss of hearing, confusion, constipation (severe), diarrhea, difficulty in speaking or slurred speech, dizziness, drowsiness (severe), fast or deep breathing, headache, increased sweating, increased thirst, mental depression, muscle spasm, muscle weakness, nausea or vomiting, ringing in ears, stomach pain, trembling, uncontrollable flapping of hands, vision problems). Obviously this is the extreme cases but think back to all the commercials of other pills and medicines that you’ve heard disclaimers and possible side effects for. Doctors and scientists try to help but they are putting together things that may not go so well together. They synthetically create substances that occur naturally and get it as close as they can, but without knowing how these things have been built up by least resistance over millions of years, they just can’t get it precisely right. Study after study shows that ingesting natural sources of vitamins are many times more effective than synthetically made substances. A plant with naturally occurring vitamins has evolved in a way that those mix easily within our bodies and give the benefits it needs. Science just makes a chemically similar copy of those vitamins from usually the most economical (cheapest) ingredients and seals it into pill form. This same idea goes for genetically modified organisms (GMO) used for food. There are arguments that say we have been genetically modifying foods since the beginning of agriculture by cross pollinating or trait selecting, but this is different. This is taking toxins produced by bacteria and viruses, injecting that DNA in with corn DNA and allowing it to kill insects so we supposedly won’t have to use pesticides. Again, think back to the baby goat and warning labels and decide if you want to take a chance on science getting this risky strategy right.

If you are thinking “oh this hippie is just complaining about the “man” and corporations destroying the earth and blah, blah, blah” then you have it all wrong. If science can make foods that won’t have to use pesticides then I’m all for it, but only when science gets it right. We are not to that point. Do you really want to eat food from the same company who made the ‘agent orange’ that killed and diseased so many back in the Vietnam era? The same way I don’t buy new iPhones until all the bugs are worked out is the same approach I take to my food and medicine. But by all means, keep working in the labs. Keep trying to improve that formula. Until then, instead of taking a blood pressure medication with side effects, I’ll change my diet and exercise. Instead of sleeping pills for insomnia, I’m going to meditate, drink chamomile tea and create habits that induce easier rest. The modern hospital and pharmaceutical industry has been around for less than 100 years. The chemical formula of most pills has not been around long enough to know exactly what the long term effects are, good or bad. There are herbs and plants however that have thousands of years of proven results. I’ll put my money on that and wait for science to catch up. You could do the same, or you could keep doing what is easier in the short term and just take whatever pill you get prescribed. It’s only your life you are betting with.

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About aaroninthought

I read too much and I think too much. I have questions and not enough time in the day to ponder where the answers will lead me. I've always been a better writer than speaker. This is my first attempt...
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