Saturday, September 6, 2008

Society killzones, a population control mechanism.

What if the killzone is inside you?  What if, eh?  In high school I had a biology teacher who gleefully referred to the penicillin barrier as "the kill zone."  I often wonder if he had more than an inkling, and if his not yet felt inklings coloured my life.

The "kill zone" is that ring of penicillin you paint in the agar-agar growth medium, to prevent whatever you're culturing in the centre from reaching the edges of the petri dish.  The smudge of living fungus, or whatever that you put in the centre, multiplies happily until it reaches the barrier, where it's stopped.  Works great for non-airborne things, and I spent most of my time peering at the throngs of bugs I grew, never having to worry about them getting loose and contaminating other experiments, other people, or myself.

But since then I've discovered that we humans have a lot of built-in kill zones and barriers.  For example - try to think about a truly infinite Universe - at some stage you'll run into a place where your mind won't go further, outside of which you just can't comprehend. 

For example, if I tell you the Universe is infinite and so is Time, you'll nod and say "ah yes - and it's curved, too" without really batting an eyelid.  Then I'll ask you whether you believe in God or The Big Bang.  "Oh yeah!" you'll say, "I tend to believe " whatever theory you follow.  And then I'll lead you into the place where we can't cross...

See, if the Universe and Time really are infinite, then at some point in the Universe, at some time, there will have been or is yet to be, a moment when God creates the Universe.  And wherever or whenever in the Universe that happens, it will by default become true in the entire Universe...  So the theologists will rub their hands gleefully and will politely point out that this shows how entirely pruent it is, to live a good Christian life.  Just because, once and wherce this happens, it will become The Law.

At which point I'll happily point out to them that by the definition of "infinite possibility" there must also be a whence and wherce, in which the Universe appeared in the blinking of a Big Bang.  And that too, once or wherce it happens, must also become The Law.  Ditto for Buddhism, zoroastrianism, spontaneous generationism, and "it just happened"ism.  And, indeed, for EVERY conceivable scenario of Universal Creation.  In fact, there MUST be a place in the Universe where it's not true that the Universe is infinite, too.

They're all true.  And when it sinks in that you can't conceive that, not at all, you'll have found one of your mental killzones.

Similarly, it seems there are biological killzones in living creatures too.  I've read about an experiment done with rats, which demonstrate that while there's biological pressure to reproduce and prosper, there's also a killzone which comes into effect when populations grow too large.  Rats were given ideal food and water conditions, in a strictly limited amount of space. 

First few generations of rats flourished and prospered in Rat Heaven. Then as the population pressure increased, their society began to break down.  Mothers stopped looking after infants, stopped keeping healthy clean nests, and often went out and got pregnant immediately they'd given birth, abandoning the litter.  Fights and squabbles became more callous and deadly and were fought more often, over next to no provocation.  Rats sought escape in repetitive addictive behaviours. 

Look - that is a piece of research I can't recall where I read it, but it impressed me even back then when I read it, because of the parallels I saw in human society.  All species have a drive to "live long and prosper" but apparently we also have a killzone which says "enough is enough" and then kicks in.  Honestly, look around and see the increase in the same sick-society symptoms as those rats showed.  We're well on the way to rebalancing our population. 

I have a theory that the increase in the speed at which we can get from place to place has something to do with a perception of a greatly increased population, and therefore the "life is cheap" symptoms creep in.  Also, we probably communicate with between 10 and thousands more people than our ancestors, so once again we experience much the same population pressure as we would if those people were all living in the same place as us.  And I'm guessing that whatever mechanism causes the socialisation failures in us is being tickled by this huge perceived population.

Maybe autistic people have developed the ultimate coping mechanism...

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