I am not a fan of Henry Giroux, but somewhere he says teachers ought to be “intellectuals.” I guess that’s what I am. Once I went to an on campus talk by Richard Rorty. Very few showed up. Hardly anybody from philosophy, but a few people from English. One of the English professors saw me and said, sort of dryly, “I might have known you would be here. You’re an intellectual.”
Perhaps being an intellectual is like being a perpetual learner. While those biology lectures I attended for my research writing class were boring, especially after hearing them five years in a row, I did enjoy learning about the biological stuff. But maybe I was able to enjoy it because I didn’t have to memorize and regurgitate it. I didn’t take notes. I listened and day dreamed.
Somewhere Paul Goodman says all true learning arises from need, desire, curiosity and imagination. Biology can excite the imagination. I noticed for example that some of the viruses looked a good deal like the lunar landing module. They had amazing shapes. And my colleagues got a bit sick of me because I would spout biological stuff and went around saying that we were all going to be killed by some microbial disease, and if we had any social conscience at all, none of us would use those soaps that say they kill bacteria.
The only right way to kill bacteria is with something like alcohol. That causes the cell wall(s) of the microbe to burst. Bam! They are dead. Alcohol is a true bactericide. But that store bought stuff you squirt on your hands kills the bacteria, not by blowing them up, by screwing with its DNA. You just don’t want to screw with a bacterium’s DNA because those critters are very, very adaptable. You end up killing off 99% of them but the 1% that remains may have a resistance to the bacteria killer and those suckers will only grow stronger. Bacteria actually swap DNA. I mean they are swimming along and for some reason one bacterium just swaps DNA with a bacteria like itself. It’s like, “Hi how are you. Let’s swap!” That’s how they adapt. Constant swapping.
So I told my colleagues every time you use that drug store bacteria killer you are acting out of your own selfish interests (your desire to not get a cold or flu) and not thinking of the future of the human race. And on top of that when you use the drug store stuff, you may kill a number of them, but most you don’t because bacteria aren’t stupid. They flee! And the bacteria that are on your hands end up on the face of the person sitting across from you.
Also we have several hundred different kinds of bacteria and microbial creatures living right inside of us. Each human being is a complex ecological system. Many of these bacteria serve vital purposes, vital to us I mean. They are essential to the digestion of some vitamins and minerals. We can’t live without them. Over millions of years mammals have developed symbiotic relations with a whole host of bacterium.
I had a friend for example who had a really bad ear infection but had to fly somewhere. So the doctor gave her some powerful stuff to kill the infection so she could fly. But the anti-biotic ended up killing off all of one type of bacteria. My friend had horrible headaches and even flashes of temporary blindness. The bacteria the antibiotic had killed off fed on another and without it there, the other bacteria had gone ape-shit crazy, and my friend was suffering from the “feces” or byproducts of the crazy bacteria. So they tried to restore the ecological balance by having my friend eat noting but PROTEIN for six months, since the bacteria that had gone ape-shit crazy was dependent upon starches (sugars) for its survival.
Maybe it’s just me. But this sort of thing excites my imagination.