Virus — On the Edge of Art & Science, Human Beings & Nature

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With the outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic in China and spreading out to the world, the public and academics have been discussing the attack of this “new type” of virus on human species and how we can react at biological, social, and economic levels in order to go through this crisis, which started in the late 2019. Yet, examining this issue from different and macro perspectives, we can consider the virus to be acting as the messenger among art and science, human beings, and nature.

So much has been clarified about coronaviruses and other viruses in biology. Viruses are tiny infectious agents that replicate only inside the living cells of an organism, and they have been described as the “miracle biomolecules at the edge of life” (i.e., between life form and non-life form) (Koonin & Starokadomskyy, 2016). Viruses can infect all types of life forms, from animals and plants to microorganisms. They are considered as non-organisms since they cannot survive outside the host systems they infect. However, such interpretation of viruses based on its dependence on hosts is rather subjective and biased. As the matter of fact, nearly all living forms or organisms are dependent on their living environment and other surrounding systems and processes to provide raw materials or energy (photosynthesis etc.), without which they cannot survive independently. Hence, although human beings are considered the organism, we can also be classified as “parasites/viruses” within some other systems. 

According to thermodynamic theory and research work from Nobel-laureate physicist Erwin Schrödinger and Austrian physicist Ludwig Boltzmann, the general struggle for existence of animate beings is not a struggle for raw materials—these, for organisms, are air, water, and soil, all abundantly available—nor for energy that exists in plenty in anybody in the form of heat, but is a struggle for [negative] entropy (Boltzmann, 1974). Entropy is the quantitative measure of the degree of disorder in any physical system. This means that any life form, whether viruses or human beings, regardless its complexity, needs to create lots of chaos (disorders) in the environment to gain negative entropy in order to build and stabilize itself. Any changes in biodiversity that lead to lower entropy production would be considered detrimental to system stability (Vallino, 2010). Unfortunately, this means human beings or society, on its way to evolve into a highly structured and complex entity, needs to disrupt the surrounding nature and other living system/species including viruses. Thus, it makes sense to consider the coronavirus epidemic in China as a good example of such interaction among different systems: human species release lots of disorders (entropy) to the environment, the virus feels the pressure and reacts by creating chaos to human beings with such a disease in order to stabilize themselves as a system and survive. Ideas about the relationship between entropy and living organisms have inspired hypotheses in many contexts, including psychology, sociology, information theory, the origin of life, and the possibility of extraterrestrial life.

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