In 1637, the philosopher René Descartes wrote that man is “lord and master of nature”. This was the starting signal for unprecedented exploitation, domination and destruction of nature. Since then, modern man has believed that he can use science and technology to make the world serve him. Not only do we owe the prosperity and comfort of the present to this belief, but also man’s salvation from nature through its transformation into data and algorithms, as promised by the IT-giants of the Silicon Valley. We were so close to the goal… – and now this!
Were we really? Doubts are allowed. Descartes believed that the living world was nothing more than a great machine that man could use. Today, we believe it is a single database that we can calculate and optimize with the help of our machines. But Corona teaches us that it is not that easy: that life is neither a machine nor an algorithm, but a fragile event in the midst of a great, wondrous spectacle that the Greeks called phýsis: nature. Although this play follows iron laws, there is still room for anarchy and improvisation. The unpredictable is provided for in the play of nature. Quantum physics teaches that everything could always be different – and that our visible and apparently so reliable world floats on a fluctuating ocean of possibilities. Micro-organisms can mutate at any time. Microbes, with which we were living in peaceful coexistence just a moment ago, can suddenly become a danger to us all. “Everything flows”, Heraclitus once declared. And yet he could not have known that this planet by no means is the “Dominium Terrae” of godlike humanity, but the empire of an immeasurable amount of living beings, whose invisible coexistence, first of all, creates the conditions under which humans can live. The truth is: We are only guests in nature which we cannot control and which is actually flexing its muscles. To make us aware of this in the age of climate change and to take it to the heart is the most urgent lesson the virus teaches us.