The following text is improved version of an article published in a defunct Canadian journal (Andrew Nowicki, "Diversity," The Trumpeter, Vol. 10, No. 2, Spring 1993, pp. 65-68).
Why are we so passionate about biodiversity? Are we obsessed with making money on drugs and foods derived from exotic species? Of course not. Does our survival depend on the survival of the endangered species? Maybe. What about natural beauty? Some species are indeed beautiful, but others are not. The vast majority of species are parasites who have no economic or aesthetic value.
Apparently, our passion is rooted in an instinct that reveres biodiversity for its own sake. This instinct extends to other forms of diversity as well. We would have little appreciation for great works of art, colorful nebulae, or dramatic cloud formations, if they were devoid of diversity. Is our reverence for diversity irrational? Not at all. One might argue that diversity is a virtue in its own right. Such an argument is in the realm of normative ethics, which attempts to define rational principles of ethics. Unfortunately, normative ethics has not made much progress in the past 2000 years. It has produced principles of ethics that are subjective expressions of emotion rather than laws of science. In order to evaluate diversity we must devise a new, rational ethic. This new ethic cannot be universal unless it applies to all forms of life, and it cannot be scientific unless it is based on the laws of nature.
Although nature has a unifying purpose, it does not favor any particular size, shape, relationship, or any other attribute. In fact, the opposite is true. Since the Big Bang, proliferation of diversity has been the only long-term trend. It predominates in natural ecosystems, and in human communities. It sounds radical, but I believe that it is fair to say that: "Proliferation of diversity is the sole purpose of the universe."
I refer to the above statement as "the principle of diversity." Its longevity suggests that it is not going to expire soon. Moreover, if the purpose of the universe does change, and if the change spreads with the speed of light, it will take billions of years before the principle of diversity becomes completely invalid.
Diversity is a matter of survival and prosperity. For example, genetic diversity enhances resistance to disease and adaptability to a changing environment. According to researcher Bradley Cardinale, ecosystems produce up to 50 percent less plant biomass when their biodiversity is impaired. Economic and political diversity are the hallmarks of prosperous human communities. In the absence of diversity, the universe would become an infinite expanse of uniform space, indiscernible from a perfect vacuum. Rice University physicist and bioengineer Michael Deem studied the survival rate of organisms in a rapidly changing environment. He has found out that modularity of genetic code improves the survival rate.
"Modularity and hierarchy are prevalent in biology, from the way atoms are arranged in molecules, molecules into amino acids and amino acids into secondary structures, domains and proteins. This hierarchy continues with multiprotein complexes, protein regulation pathways, cells, organs, individuals, species and ecosystems. Our research suggests that modularity and hierarchy are prevalent because genetic information self-organizes into increasingly more modular forms. A changing environment and the biochemistry of horizontal gene transfer appear to be part of the source for this fundamental creativity of life." - Michael Deem
We cannot preserve diversity unless we know what it is, and how to measure it. Webster's dictionary defines diversity as "the condition of being different or having differences." The definition seems accurate, but it does not provide a good yardstick with which to measure diversity. It is more convenient to define diversity as a complexity of systems. The volume of data necessary to describe a system can be used as a quantitative measure of complexity and diversity. A system is diverse if its description can be compressed into a small computer file by a data compression algorithm, and the combined size of the compressed file and the algorithm is the smallest when they have the same size. A system is redundant if its description can be compressed into a small computer file by a data compression algorithm that is much smaller than the compressed computer file, and the combined size of the compressed file and the algorithm is the smallest when the algorithm is much smaller than the compressed file. A system is random if its description cannot be compressed into a smaller computer file by a data compression algorithm.
If you are inventing a new system, compose it from ideas present in other systems, no matter how exotic, provided that they withstood the test of time. For example, the idea of modularity was invented by nature, but it is just as useful in our artificial creations. If you borrow ideas from systems unrelated to the system you are inventing, you have a fair chance of making a major breakthrough. If you have new idea that is not present in systems that have withstood the test of time, it probably means that you have bad idea.
If you believe that something is normal, you do not understand it. Nothing is normal because when something becomes normal, it is rendered obsolete by the incessant proliferation of diverse, innovative, abnormal ideas. Every thing and person have unique features. On the other hand everything is connected - the same ideas, patterns, and features are present in strange places. If you know the unique features and the interconnections, then, and only then you understand our world.
"Knowledge is a process of piling up facts; wisdom lies in their simplification." - Martin Fischer
"Every man gets a narrower and narrower field of knowledge in which he must be an expert in order to compete with other people. The specialist knows more and more about less and less and finally knows everything about nothing." - Konrad Lorenz
Normative ethics defines ethical actions as those which are good or desirable. We can argue what is good and desirable, but we cannot argue the fact that suppression of diversity reduces our field of options and stifles the breadth of our knowledge. Having few options and little knowledge, we cannot choose the most ethical actions.
The principle of diversity calls for proliferation of diversity in all its forms, including seemingly unwelcome phenomena like parasites, plagues, and mental disorders. Contrary to popular belief, these phenomena are harmful to us only when they proliferate to the point of weakening diversity. Parasites stabilize ecosystems and often evolve into beneficial symbionts, e.g. bacterium Escherichia coli. Parasites and germs accelerate evolution by transfer of genes between unrelated species (horizontal gene transfer). Cells of all advanced organisms, called eukaryotes, have organelles, which are probably descendants of parasites. Mental disorders provide scientists with invaluable information about the human brain. When the bubonic plague ravaged Medieval Europe, the pope lost his authority because he failed to stop the plague. The gentry generally survived the plague due to good hygiene, but they lost their authority because they had to beg the few surviving laborers to do any work. The absence of authorities led to the enlightenment and the shortage of labor led to the industrial revolution. In general, a little bit of horror is a bitter but effective medicine against a cataclysmic horror.
In my opinion, the subjective ideas of justice and compassion belong to ethics for one reason only: they are a glue that holds people together. Without the glue, human communities cannot exist, and cannot produce uniquely human contributions to diversity: science, technology, and art.
The struggle between good and evil is the struggle between diversity and its absence. Western diversity begets more diversity because we thrive in diverse environments. Evil ideologies behave like cancer - they attempt to conquer the world by destroying its diversity. There is no greater contrast between good and evil than the contrast between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Tiny, yet diverse Israel makes great contributions to science and technology. A much bigger, oil rich Saudi Arabia is the most barbaric country on the face of the Earth because it does not tolerate diversity. Islamic ideology, elucidated in the Sharia, was conceived in a desert and it survives in its most pure form only in a desert. Desert is synonymous with the lack of biodiversity, and is often associated with the lack of other forms of diversity as well. This is perfect environment for the ideology that is the antithesis of diversity.
"The (Islamic) concept of al-fikr kufr (is) the idea that the very act of thinking (fikr) makes one an infidel (kufr)." - Tawfiq Hamid
"There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance." - Socrates
"Doubt everything and find your own light." - Siddhartha Gautama = Buddha
The atman is a Hindu term describing individual soul of each living entity and all-pervading soul of the world. According to Advaita philosophical school, the individual soul is the same as the soul of the world.
Our brains must reflect the complexity and diversity of the world in order to understand it. A profound level understanding requires enormous effort that cannot be justified by short term gain; it can only be justified by empathy and reverence for the world. Reverence for all forms of life is a fundamental tenet of normative ethics developed by Albert Schweitzer and other environmentalists.
"Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the Earth are never alone or weary of life." - Rachel Carson
"The Master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence in whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he is always doing both." - Zen Buddhist text
"There is one purpose to life and one only: to bear witness to and understand as much as possible of the complexity of the world - its beauty, its mysteries, its riddles. The more you understand, the more you look, the greater is your enjoyment of life and your sense of peace. That's all there is to it." - Anne Rice
"A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving." - Lao Tzu
The human brain is... "in a critical state... on the cusp of a transition between ordered and random behavior... complex patterning of fluctuations at all scales of space and time... optimizes information transfer, storage capacity, and sensitivity to external stimuli..." (source: Kitzbichler MG, Smith ML, Christensen SR, Bullmore E (2009) Broadband Criticality of Human Brain Network Synchronization. PLoS Comput Biol 5(3): e1000314. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000314, http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000314)
Neither we, nor animals enjoy the idleness of a prison. We want to work, but we hate our job unless it gives us opportunity to learn new skills and to use our creativity. Boring work feels like a prison because it lacks diversity that is the natural environment of our complex brains. Those who have interesting work are workaholics. Do not ask them if they are happy; they do not know, do not care, and are too busy to think about it.
The most creative minds have the intelligence quotient ranging from 115 to 125. If your intelligence quotient is in this range, you can accomplish almost anything if you do not waste time, do not follow the crowd, have plenty of patience, and believe in the beauty of your ideas.
Biodiversity is threatened by the environmental crisis and by the human population explosion. The Earth is already too small to provide a protein-rich diet for the present human population. Wars, plagues, and family planning may slow down the population growth, but they are unlikely to reduce it to a sustainable level. We cannot stem the onslaught of starving throngs upon habitats of endangered animal and plant species unless we discover another habitat that can accommodate the ever-multiplying human population. The rest of this article describes such a habitat - it is the vacuum of the outer space.
An interesting analogy exists between colonization of land and colonization of outer space. Why did aquatic organisms colonize land? Despite the vagaries of weather, land offered generous rewards to the colonists: it stimulated biological evolution, and made technological evolution possible. The outer space offers even greater challenges and greater rewards; without protective gear we feel like fish out of water, but our technology is very efficient in this environment. The combination of a vacuum, cheap solar energy, and weightlessness makes it exceedingly easy to purify, melt, shape, and move objects of arbitrary size. These technological advantages make it feasible to construct large orbital greenhouses sustaining diverse terrestrial ecosystems, as well as nonterrestrial ecosystems, such as a low-gravity rainforest awash in perpetual sunlight.
Faced with the conflict between our technological civilization and nature, some environmentalists have become misanthropes and Luddites. This attitude is understandable, but irrational. Neither we, nor even the primeval Homo erectus could have survived without technology. Our technological civilization has the appearance of a planetary disease not because it is intrinsically evil, but because it is out of place. When practiced on Earth, technology is inefficient and toxic. When practiced in outer space, it is productive and clean because any material, even waste, can be easily processed into useful products. With the help of space technology we can expand terrestrial diversity to the farthest reaches of the solar system, and thereby protect it from natural and man-made disasters. Last, but not least, we can produce great diversity of extraterrestrial species, ecosystems, and human communities.
Space colonization remains a fantasy because it costs about $10,000 to transport one kilogram of cargo from the Earth to low Earth orbit. Rocket propellant costs less than $10 per kilogram of cargo. There is no doubt that cheaper rockets and novel ideas can reduce the cost of space transportation by orders of magnitude.
There is not enough room in the vicinity of the Earth to house its present population; the orbital greenhouses would shade both each other and the Earth from sunlight. The best location for the greenhouses are elliptic orbits linking the Earth and Jupiter. The orbits provide access to the Earth and to juicy Trojan asteroids once every 12 years. When a greenhouse flies by the Earth, it drops off tourists and picks up colonists. In my opinion, it is feasible to move the entire human population into the orbital greenhouses within 50 years.
Prisoners of gravity, escape to outer space. Become cosmic nomads, the hunters of comets and the gatherers of asteroids. Spin cocoons of steel for your new forests and seas. And when you visit the Earth, step lightly, lest you destroy its fragile beauty.
Original article without drawings.   Fermi Paradox.