“Would you offer violence to a well intentioned virus on its slow road to symbiosis?”
–William S. Burroughs, “The Electronic Revolution”
(Editor’s Note: this was originally published on March 17, 2019)
I’m going to talk about a topic that is largely anchored in matters of biology, but will at some point take a sharp left turn into the esoteric.
Now, I believe there are two things in this world we vastly underestimate: bacteria and viruses. I don’t think we fully understand them and what they can do, especially in terms of how they operate inside the human body.
I. TOXOPLASMA GONDII
There are legitimately ways that brain-parasites—I mean, literal fucking BRAIN PARASITES—can impact human behavior. And the most “common” of those parasites that we know of is Toxoplasma gondii, found in suicidal rats and cat feces.
It is very possible that by now, you have come across the classic 2012 Atlantic article “How Your Cat Is Making You Crazy.” If you haven’t yet read it: go stop everything and read this motherfucker. Because it’s not the quirky idea that cat-lovers might be manipulated by Toxoplasma gondii into loving their feline companions that is what’s really important about the article…
…it’s the concept of how easy it would be for any bacteria, virus, or what-have-you to control your damn brain.
Let’s start with the basic premise of how Toxoplasma gondii works in rat brains. Basically, the parasite needs to get inside cats—because that’s where it likes to reproduce. But in order to get inside cats, it needs a vehicle…like rats. Once the cat eats or bites into the infected rat, it will then become the spawning station for the now-happy Toxoplasma gondii.
And then the owners of the cats catch the parasite from handling their pet’s poop…”making” them more inclined to love their cats (thus maintaining the all -important spawning station).
II. “MAD LOVE”
But how to get rats close enough to cats for this all to happen? The parasite fucks with the rat’s brain, making them “attracted” to the cats and even specifically cat urine (which is how you know the rats are crazy, because who the fuck likes the smell of cat urine?).
Basically: the parasite makes the rats suicidal.
And this is not some type of new thing in the animal kingdom. According to the article:
Familiar to most of us, of course, is the rabies virus. On the verge of killing a dog, bat, or other warm-blooded host, it stirs the animal into a rage while simultaneously migrating from the nervous system to the creature’s saliva, ensuring that when the host bites, the virus will live on in a new carrier. But aside from rabies, stories of parasites commandeering the behavior of large-brained mammals are rare. The far more common victims of parasitic mind control—at least the ones we know about—are fish, crustaceans, and legions of insects, according to Janice Moore, a behavioral biologist at Colorado State University. “Flies, ants, caterpillars, wasps, you name it—there are truckloads of them behaving weirdly as a result of parasites,” she says.
But researcher Jaroslav Flegr, the subject of the Atlantic article, believes this sort of parasitic mind-control goes on in mammals—and even humans—far more than we currently suspect. And his theory is that Toxoplasma gondii doesn’t just “bias” the infected humans towards cats…but it actually impacts their overall personalities and even whom they are sexually attracted to:
Compared with uninfected men, males who had the parasite were more introverted, suspicious, oblivious to other people’s opinions of them, and inclined to disregard rules. Infected women, on the other hand, presented in exactly the opposite way: they were more outgoing, trusting, image-conscious, and rule-abiding than uninfected women.
III. LIFE IN SYMBIOSIS
The parasite might also be a “tipping point” for those predisposed to suicidal tendencies, impulsive behavior, and even schizophrenia. So basically: what messes up the brains of rats and makes them do stupid potentially life-ending things may also be impacting human brains in ways that if not exactly identical…seem a little bit similar.
While we are talking about animals here, the idea that some tiny organism or even organic compound could be transmitted to make humans suicidal…that’s the plot to The Happening, isn’t it? (oops spoilers).
This brings me to relevant information I found in the book The Black Goddess And The Unseen Real, by Peter Redgrove. He believes that our lives and indeed very bodies are far more intertwined with all sorts of tiny creatures from the “outside” than we think:
In truth, there are passed in every way through every creature continuous streams of nucleoprotein, which is the kind of molecule that carries information, whether as gamete nucleus or virus: it is the library of life, continually rewritten and added to.
Further: that it’s a perfectly normal process that only gets “flagged” once something goes pear-shaped:
Thus ‘we live in a dancing matrix of viruses…’ Virus diseases, so much of the province of medicine, ‘may be looked on as an accident, something dropped.’ That we are so preoccupied with antisepsis and death and disease seems like ‘human chauvanism.’ ‘Devouring nature as an idea is, then, the wrong way round, for the majority of associations between living beings are ‘essentially cooperative’…
How many of our other behaviors are manipulated by outside forces from the microscopic realms? My guess is: probably a hell of a lot more than we think.
Which all brings me to several questions:
- What if at least some what has been popularly thought of as “possession” by outside entities (demons, “traditional” aliens, ghosts, etc.) is really “biological” in nature? Which is to say: the entity doing the “possessing” are one of this microscopic creatures?
- Do these tiny organisms (parasites, viruses, etc.) have an “intelligence?” And if so, is their intelligence greater than we suspect?
- Along with bacteria, viruses, and parasites, should we group DNA as another “intelligence” that can “possess” human beings to do certain things (like being immediately attracted to a certain person based on genetic resonance).
- How much free will do we actually have when our environment and very bodies are so inundated with these microscopic creatures?
- Can there be such a thing as a “benevolent” parasite? Or to put it another way: Is the “romance” between the infected rat and its target cat—or the infected cat and its infected doting human—really that bad in and of itself? For again, doesn’t our drive to “breed” with certain people—immediate physical attractions—also dictated, to an extent, by the strange “intelligences” residing in our bodies?
I cannot help but think of Alan Watts’ observation that what looks like a diseased or dying plant is, seen another way, a site of incredible bursting life for other organisms. Perhaps it’s all just a matter of context: one person’s parasite can be another’s symbiotic “buddy.”
V. A WORD OR TWO ABOUT BACTERIA
To be clear: while not all bacteria are parasites, some—like the ones that cause cholera, small pox, and the Bubonic plague—definitely are parasitic in nature.
But even when we consider the bacteria that aren’t parasitic…there sure are a lot of them. In the million trillion trillions, bacteria greatly outnumber all other forms of life on Earth. They are also the oldest lifeform on Earth. In a way, they are sort of like our actual “Old Ones”—though they are not only waiting under the seas and ice and earth for their “time,” but under our flesh.
Assuming they originated on Earth at all (a massive rabbit hole for another day).
There are around 39 trillion bacterial cells in a single human body. What if bacteria had a type of “intelligence” that modern science doesn’t even know how to measure yet? What if they had larger “goals” than we could even fathom? What if they were working towards a larger purpose, via perhaps a “hive mind,” that we couldn’t even comprehend? Certainly, this all sounds very farfetched. But every day “legitimate” science is not only uncovering things that formerly seemed farfetched…they are also uncovering/recognizing the reality that there are some things they just don’t know yet.
It’s just fiction, of course, but there is a passage in my novel ELVIN in which the “channeled entity” explains to the protagonist why bacteria is so important:
So after The Great Issuing Forth came the gods—and these gods, the manifestation of abstract concepts, begat further gods. And these gods were simultaneously concepts and “hardened” into their counterparts in the physical matrix—energy packets, hardening into atoms, hardening into more complex structures. They were “growing” and continuing to multiply…each successive “generation” a lesser power than that of the previous.
If we consider the hierarchy from most powerful to least:
2. Children of Gods
3. And their children’s children
4. And their children’s children’s children
5. And their children’s children’s children’s children
6. And so on, countless generations
T: Wait, what? Bacteria?!
E: The gods had great hopes for bacteria. Still do.
T: Like…when I wipe my ass, that type of bacteria?
E: They form a complex field of energy-intelligence that encircles what you perceive as your planet.
I’ll leave you with this thought from William S. Burroughs on viruses. Obviously, he’s talking more about ideas and words being the viruses in this quote from The Electronic Revolution…but perhaps the same sentiment applies:
It is worth noting that if a virus were to attain a state of wholly benign equilibrium with its host cell it is unlikely that its presence would be readily detected OR THAT IT WOULD NECESSARILY BE RECOGNIZED AS A VIRUS.