Viral Brains

In my last post Charles Darwin and I put us on a footing with worms as sentient beings with intelligence. And I encouraged feelings of deep love for mud. But lets note our very very intimate relationship with and debt to entities that are not even quite living by any definition: viruses.  Part of our genome, our collection of genes, including DNA that doesn’t code for proteins and used to be considered “junk” but is now known to include critically important stretches of DNA that determine which genes will be expressed (that regulate the genes), is actually derived from viruses. Such viruses result in DNA that has been incorporated into our genome, and it turns out that we may in part owe our mammalian intelligence to these viruses!

And going the other way to now extinct cousins, if your ancestors left Africa before some 50,000 to 75,000 years ago then  1-2% of your genes are variations from your ancestors having sex with Neanderthals and 30-80% of the Neanderthal genome are variants can be found to be in the modern human genome, shared by those of us early out of Africa types.

Why do I bring this up? To remind us that what we are is the same thing as viruses and Neanderthals. Or if you are a later out-of-African, not Neanderthal, but still viruses!

And sure, we share genes with bacteria, and plants. And we are made of elements brewed in stars actually, we are like complex planets. But that sounds more acceptable somehow, I think, for most of us. Sure we are star stuff, sounds awesome, but viruses, and Neanderthals?

When the old masters said “Buddha is shit” or Buddha is a worm” or “Buddha is a virus or Neanderthal” or “we are mud” (ok, they probably didn’t say that) they weren’t speaking in riddles, metaphors or trying to shock. They were simply being accurate.

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