From Model Organism to Spirit Animal

November 22, 2017 By arne hendriks Off

Evolution is not just a process of change: it’s also a process of holding on to what works. When one species mutates into another, most of it remains the same. We still are to some extent most of the beings we’ve been in the past. At the same time we’re also already connected to the being we’ll be in the future. The principle of common ancestry allows us to learn much about the human genome through studying the DNA of kindred spirits like nematodes, fruit flies, mice and zebrafish. We’re not that different from each other.

To overcome our inherited shortcomings humanity has been quick to benefit from the quantification of genetic data of model organisms, yet we are reluctant to learn from its behaviour. Scientists working with model organisms are  less interested in what and how it eats, how it chooses a partner or how it organises other aspects of its life. And that’s a mistake. Human behaviour has much to re-learn from animal behaviour. Rather than being scientific models, representing a simplification of human reality, we should understand the model organism as a spirit animal that can show us a way out of our moral darkness. If we’re able to take this first step there’s no limit to what we can learn. Perhaps we can even learn how to shrink.