Posted by: drjamm | June 6, 2008

Top of the food chain? — a mistaken belief

jamm101_0134wtmk, originally uploaded by drjamm.

The above photo was taken in Lighthouse Park. It shows fungi living in moss, moss living on an old stump of a tree that grew in the rich rotting vegetable matter and vibrantly alive earth-world of small animals and plants. A squirrel’s midden of fir cone husks can be seen in the background.

I have grown up with the unquestioned belief that humans are at the top of the food chain. I say belief because, of course, there is much evidence to the contrary. First, when we are brave enough to think about it, we know that humans can be and are prey to large carnivores; as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz would say, “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” And second, we are prey to many parasites — like the mosquito — as well as, bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Actually, the by-products of the smallest of fungi thriving inside the human body can be just a lethal as an attack by a large predator — the end result differing only on a scale of time. So how could I, as a rational scientist, NOT have questioned this belief early on in my life?

In fact, I did not have cause to question this “top of the food chain” presumption until I was nursing my baby. As with most nursing mothers, I not only had to eat, but also, drink A LOT MORE than I ever did before I had a baby. But since my former eating habits were so unconscious, I had quite a bit of trouble making the necessary adaptation. Our breast-feeding failures matched our successes until one day I had an epiphany, “I am on a food chain!!!” I know my place in the food chain should have been self-apparent my whole life, but actually I never had to consciously act like I was on a food chain before. To be a successful nursing mom, I had to truly get — at a deep soul level — that what I ate and drank absolutely affected the baby I so much wanted to feed and comfort.

Recently, I had my nursing epiphany validated when I listened to Michael Pollan’s TEDtalk presentation (available from iTunes-podcasts-TEDtalks-audio or video) entitled, “The Omnivore’s Next Dilemma.” In that talk, Michael Pollan, points out the error in our Cartesian (a.k.a. Descarte: “I think, therefore, I am”) philosophical roots. Just because we can not only think, but also, be conscious of our thinking process does not de facto make us “king of the hill.” All the fundamental laws of Nature still apply regardless of what we think about it. I see now that the very construct of food CHAIN describes one of our society’s fundamental thinking errors. My epiphany a decade ago has matured as I have humbled and clarified my view of my right place in Nature.

As Unitarians, we believe we are part of an interconnected Web of Life. Our place in the interconnected web is complex — and simple — all at the same time. For me, listening to Michael Pollan’s lecture this past month has made my journey from “unquestionably top of the food chain” to “on the food chain” to “interwoven in Web of Life” crystal clear. As a rational scientist, I am now ready to focus on biological evidence and my own personal lived experiences and put aside erroneous beliefs no matter how ingrained and sanctioned. Believing that “humans are at the top of the food chain” is tantamount to believing that, “the emperor has new clothes.”

Namaste and Blessed Be.

Credits and Links:

L. Frank Baum (1900) The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Michael Pollan: The Omnivore’s Next Dilemma at TEDtalks. “What if human consciousness isn’t the end-all and be-all of Darwinism? What if we are all just pawns in corn’s clever strategy game to rule the Earth? Author Michael Pollan asks us to see the world from a plant’s-eye view.”

(bright heart singing, copyright 2008 – jamm. Creative commons attribution, non-commercial sharing only (translation: feel free to quote me in context or use this entry but please always credit me for my work, thanks.)


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