thinking out loud here - moral thoughts

Do you have any microscopy questions, which you are afraid to ask? This is your place.
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curiosity
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thinking out loud here - moral thoughts

#1 Post by curiosity » Sat Nov 23, 2019 9:37 am

Hi everyone,

I have been fascinated by the microscopic world for a while. The ability to use a microscope to see the unseen seems almost magical.
About a month ago, I finally bought T490B darkfield microscope and have spent hours with it.
Yesterday I took some water from a nearby pond in a test tube. I could see with the naked eye some organisms inside, mainly larva and branchiopods.
I took a drop from it and saw many microorganisms under the microscope and was very excited and eager to learn more.

Then I started to have some heavy thoughts that I would like to share.
I feel that I don't nearly know anything about this microorganisms and as a result I don't know what conditions they need in order to survive or how am I affecting them.
Even of greater importance, I am not sure what is the importance of their lives or how even try to value it (can I?).

This uncertainty comes with some practical questions:
Currently the water is still in the test tube and I am not sure what should I do with it.
Should I return the microorganisms?
Should I keep them in a jar and add water to it?
Was taking them in the first place morally valid?
Where does the line goes between different types of lives?
I have used a lot of thought experiments in order to figure my moral standpoint out, but I feel that I lack knowledge and would like some feedback.

Thanks!

Chris Dee
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Re: thinking out loud here - moral thoughts

#2 Post by Chris Dee » Sat Nov 23, 2019 10:30 am

I was brought up not to waste things, so left over samples are returned. As humans we kill millions of microbes daily washing ourselves, walking, cooking, even just breathing. Stopping breathing will prevent further deaths and may increase microbe populations in the long run. ;)

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Re: thinking out loud here - moral thoughts

#3 Post by MichaelG. » Sat Nov 23, 2019 10:49 am

May I suggest reading this recent discussion:
viewtopic.php?f=25&t=7795&hilit=mintakax
Dan [mintakax] prompted some serious introspection.

MichaelG.
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wporter
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Re: thinking out loud here - moral thoughts

#4 Post by wporter » Sat Nov 23, 2019 3:13 pm

If it makes you feel better, by all means return them to their original habitat. But realize that this action is for you, not them. In some manner this can be seen as symbolically honoring or respecting life, but it is probably only really meaningful to you, not so much to the microscopic critters. As pointed out, we kill uncounted billions, on purpose or by accident, in the course of our daily lives; there are uncounted trillions left alive. Do they feel pain? Probably nothing like what we experience.

Personally, we should be more concerned about the shoddy way we treat larger organisms (e.g., factory hog farms vs free-range operations) that we can see (and potentially empathize with) without microscopes. Anthropomorphizing paramecium, and empathizing with their plights, can be seen as a cognitive dissonance: taking care with protozoa, while feeling free to treat one's fellow humans like dirt. Of course, we humans can manage to justify anything we do, in terms of self-interest.

The value of life is what you make it. The universe presumably doesn't care. Life to it is just one more natural phenomenon, like rust, something that happens. Does a star regret going nova, and wiping out an entire solar system? Probably not. Life takes care of life, everything else is a crap shoot. But you have to draw the line at some sort of practical boundary, where you can care, but not let it threaten your functional survival (mental health, energy budget, etc.)

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Re: thinking out loud here - moral thoughts

#5 Post by apochronaut » Mon Nov 25, 2019 12:21 am

I used to have a small high end farm to table lunch bar in the core of T.O. , where I provided our farm foods, direct to the likes of buddhist petro bankers and meditating TSX mining stockbrokers. There was a "vegan" juice bar nearby within a fairly small space, so some of our more enlightened fares attracted them on their pilgrimmage to the higher side of their sustenance.
,
One of their juicers made an unusual howl, which sounded quite a bit like something complaining loudly about the process of being minced. A lot of spirulina went through that juicer and I used to think, and out loud sometimes, whether that was a poor, unfortunate, group of parameciums trapped unsuspectingly in a pureed vegan delicacy. Maybe it was just some of the spirulina themselves, those that self identified as animals, lamenting their fate in the melange of a vegan slop, rather than being presented as the inherited bretheren of a more noble dish.

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Re: thinking out loud here - moral thoughts

#6 Post by wstenberg » Mon Nov 25, 2019 4:04 am

No matter how kind you are to microbes, they will not reciprocate. They will still be happy to infect your brain or liver.
If you decide to re-introduce them to the environment, they will be killed or eaten.
In labs that I have worked in, there have been policies prohibiting release of microorganisms into the environment once they have been in the laboratory.
Not trying to be harsh here, but the few hours that they have lived in your test tube- probably a longer, happier, and healthier life than they would have had the wild. It's tough out there.
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Re: thinking out loud here - moral thoughts

#7 Post by Roldorf » Mon Nov 25, 2019 1:07 pm

We all kill and absorb thousands of microbiological organisms weekly if not daily in our bodies, why worry about a few in a microscope petri-dish? These microorganisms would not care (even if they had the ability to care) if they killed you in the process of their invasion of your corpus.
Morals are not in the world view of these creatures so why would you get uptight about it.
The universe is in the process of wiping out all living things as it runs down, so if 'GOD' doesn't care why should you.
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Re: thinking out loud here - moral thoughts

#8 Post by 75RR » Mon Nov 25, 2019 2:32 pm

I can sympathize with the OP’s dilemma.

It is as if one were to go on safari with a camera rather than a gun, and then have the guides shoot the animals so that we can get a close-up photo.

It is because mankind’s default setting is ‘I don’t care’ that we are in the mess that we are in.
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Re: thinking out loud here - moral thoughts

#9 Post by Roldorf » Mon Nov 25, 2019 4:54 pm

Hi 75rr
Perhaps you are correct maybe we shouldn't kill all these microbes there would be a lot less humans on the planet and therefore more non humans, which would of course still die due to those pesky microbes which infect them. My wife say's what do I hope to achieve by this useless discussion and I think I would agree (nothing).
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Re: thinking out loud here - moral thoughts

#10 Post by Tom Jones » Mon Nov 25, 2019 5:07 pm

Ignoring for the moment the fact that everything we do each day involves the death of a lot of organisms in one way or another... :shock: so many that the number of them in your sample doesn't even reach the level of a rounding error... :D

How many organisms are you going to squash to death :oops: while walking back to the collection site to reintroduce your modified-by-storage sample to the wild? :cry:

How many insects will die a horrible death, squashed against the bumper or windshield of your car as you drive? :twisted:

Why are they less deserving of life than your pond sample? :mrgreen:

etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. :roll:

Flush 'em and let them fight it out at the sewage treatment plant! 8-)

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Re: thinking out loud here - moral thoughts

#11 Post by carlh6902 » Fri Nov 29, 2019 7:01 am

One way to look at it if you return them, you could kill more trudging to the water and back to release them, than are in the test tube. One thing you can do is put them in a jar, add some chlorine-free water to top it up. Add a few decaying leaves, and a few grains or rice and very now and again, and you've got your own microcosm.

Carl
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Re: thinking out loud here - moral thoughts

#12 Post by actinophrys » Fri Nov 29, 2019 6:20 pm

Some time ago there was a news story where someone had built a sling to help their sick goldfish recover. Some people I talked to thought that was delightful; others (all ones I know in person, mind, not online randoms) would scoff and point out how the resources could have been used for more important things, like helping other humans. Which might be valid, yet somehow when time or money were spent on movies or decorating cars or even thoroughly wasted, the concern never came up.

So it seems to me some people are genuinely uncomfortable with the idea of taking pleasure in helping some lesser creature, even something like a pet fish, to the point where they feel the need to make up reasons they wouldn't apply to any other leisure activity. For someone whose instinct is to be a star thrower instead, needless to say that reasoning isn't going to offer much value. The two are operating from different philosophical commitments.

Speaking then as one of those who is probably closer to curiosity in this respect: the peril of being scooped up by a microscopist is probably not so different from the constant other things that happen to microbes. Their lives are extremely disposable, and it would be very hard to balance out some sort of utilitarian maximum for them, save avoiding limits like wholesale environmental destruction. Still for those taken, it's easy enough to restore their small chance of surviving to have offspring, as a sort of gratitude for what I've learned from them. I always return my personal samples, usually to the same place but at least to a similar one; and I very much doubt that action is somehow going to cause more harm than any of the other excursions we make.

That may be for my own sake, but then the whole hobby is for my own sake. The considerations change when there is more at stake; I have delivered protozoa to labs with no return when I thought there was genuine scientific importance in doing so, and unhesitatingly murdered them en masse when some were taking larger lives in my aquarium. But when it's just for me, well...my pleasure here is in discovering living things and goes away with destroying them.

Others will have different aims, and will have to work things out differently, but I think it is worthwhile to work them out. Hopefully then, curiosity, these thoughts have some value as feedback for you.

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Re: thinking out loud here - moral thoughts

#13 Post by MicroBob » Fri Nov 29, 2019 10:15 pm

Hi together,
I like it when people think about their impact on the world. It is not easy to do the optimal thing but usually not difficult to avois the worst choices.
In practice I would have a long way to bring my plancton samples back to where they come from. But what I have is two small plancton tanks on the window sill of my lab/office room. There I empty samples after observation and wash of the samples from the slides. These tanks require nearly no maintenance. Out tomcat drinks from them and some water evaporates so I have to top them off once in a while. occasionally a bit of hay or squashed rice grains and that's it.

Bob

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Re: thinking out loud here - moral thoughts

#14 Post by Crusty » Sat Dec 07, 2019 5:28 pm

Over the past few days I have watched a coleps ingest a small cell, fungi attack a rotifer (I think), and an amoeba engulf a diatom. This seems to be what nature is about. While I applaud your concern for the lives swimming in the samples we collect I try not to be too obsessive about it.

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Re: thinking out loud here - moral thoughts

#15 Post by mintakax » Sat Jan 11, 2020 11:19 pm

I make every effort I can to minimize the harm I may cause the organisms that I observe and culture. Why ? Because I care. Caring about other beings doesn't have to be rationalized or described by any relative analysis. It isn't even a choice, it's just how I have to do it. All beings are governed by the law of cause and effect and are intimately inter connected. I try and be especially careful with these micro organisms because I observe them simply for my own recreation, not a need, not of benefit to others.

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Re: thinking out loud here - moral thoughts

#16 Post by WhyMe » Sun Jan 12, 2020 1:51 am

Doesn't most life need to kill to live?

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Re: thinking out loud here - moral thoughts

#17 Post by janvangastel » Sun Jan 12, 2020 6:14 am

The mere fact that an organism, however small and whatever it does, exists, justifies its existence. I sometimes have the same feelings as the topic starter. We place micro organisms between two pieces of glass - where they certainly die - just for fun, no other reason. Same as fishing for fun and hunting for fun. So the question of the TS is a relevant one. The fact that we kill micro organisms by just breathing or washing ourselves does not implicate that there is no moral question involved when killing organisms just for fun. I think the only right thing to say is: "yes, I kill organisms for fun, because me having fun is more important to me than the live of the creatures I kill".

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Re: thinking out loud here - moral thoughts

#18 Post by Hobbyst46 » Sun Jan 12, 2020 8:24 am

janvangastel wrote:
Sun Jan 12, 2020 6:14 am
The mere fact that an organism, however small and whatever it does, exists, justifies its existence. I sometimes have the same feelings as the topic starter. We place micro organisms between two pieces of glass - where they certainly die - just for fun, no other reason. Same as fishing for fun and hunting for fun. So the question of the TS is a relevant one. The fact that we kill micro organisms by just breathing or washing ourselves does not implicate that there is no moral question involved when killing organisms just for fun. I think the only right thing to say is: "yes, I kill organisms for fun, because me having fun is more important to me than the live of the creatures I kill".
Very well said. Exactly my thoughts.
Supporting thoughts:
Protozoans and many other critters are order of magnitudes than billions in numbers, and are not endangered specie as far as we know. The number of human microbe hunters is small, relative to both those numbers and the total human population, so microscopy does not eradicate lives.
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Re: thinking out loud here - moral thoughts

#19 Post by MichaelG. » Sun Jan 12, 2020 9:46 am

janvangastel wrote:
Sun Jan 12, 2020 6:14 am
I think the only right thing to say is: "yes, I kill organisms for fun, because me having fun is more important to me than the live of the creatures I kill".
Very succinct, Jan

For those who do microscopy for more than amusement, I am sure that ‘the end justifies the means’ ... but the rest of us would do well to make that simple admission.

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Re: thinking out loud here - moral thoughts

#20 Post by MicroBob » Sun Jan 12, 2020 10:20 am

Hi together,
whether real research work is done or not - in my view it is always the question whether the output is in good relation to the damage. For the hobbyist the output can be to get more knowledge of nature, apreciate it more and spread this knowledge. This makes it acceptable in my eyes to collect samples here and there. A drop of oil dripping from the bicycle chain will do much more harm in comparison.
I have three pond tanks into which I release my samples and find that the life in the ponds changes from time to time.

Bob

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Re: thinking out loud here - moral thoughts

#21 Post by PeteM » Sun Jan 12, 2020 5:40 pm

Be interesting, perhaps, to turn the question on its head.

Should various viruses (ebola, hantavirus, rabies, smallpox, cholera, leprosy, tuberculosis, plague, flu, etc.) feel bad about the millions of humans they've killed in the normal course of their days?? Do bacteria (staph, pneumonia, salmonella, e-coli etc.) feel some moral imperative? What about lethal protists (malaria, giardia, toxoplasmosis, brain-eating amoeba . . .)? One can go all the way up the food chain to find humans prey, accidental, intentionally stalked, or otherwise.

One thing that has struck me in the natural reactions of younger children is that some are fascinated by nature, right down to the smallest scale they can see. Others are spooked by it.

FWIW, bacteria cells in our body apparently outnumber human cells in our body by about 10:1. Viruses in our bodies outnumber cells something like 100:1. Most of these are friends, or at least good neighbors.

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Re: thinking out loud here - moral thoughts

#22 Post by mintakax » Mon Jan 13, 2020 1:36 am

janvangastel wrote:
Sun Jan 12, 2020 6:14 am
The mere fact that an organism, however small and whatever it does, exists, justifies its existence. I sometimes have the same feelings as the topic starter. We place micro organisms between two pieces of glass - where they certainly die - just for fun, no other reason. Same as fishing for fun and hunting for fun. So the question of the TS is a relevant one. The fact that we kill micro organisms by just breathing or washing ourselves does not implicate that there is no moral question involved when killing organisms just for fun. I think the only right thing to say is: "YES, I KILL ORGANISMS FOR FUN, BECAUSE ME HAVING FUN IS MORE IMPORTANT TO ME THAN THE LIVE OF THE CREATURES I KILL".
Yes, I believe that this is exactly the nuts and bolts of it. If I go for a recreational hike, organisms that I step on will die. I know this, but I would never let that fact stop me from going on a hike. For me what makes microscopy different is that I frequently can observe the harm I am causing, ie.. squishing larger organisms with a slide cover, letting a sample dry out, tossing it the the trash, etc. As others have suggested there are steps that one can take to minimize this. How drastic or inconvenient these steps are is a personal decision. I switched to an inverted scope and do not use slip covers any more. I rinse all my samples back into the culture dish or my pond aquarium. I don't purposely let the sample dry out. Do some organisms die because I am observing them ? Almost certainly, but I am mindful of that fact and I do respect and appreciate their existence. Microscopy has increased my awareness of life at scales much smaller than those that I exist in, so in some sense it has bred a deeper appreciation of all life and the struggles of all beings.
The fact that this question has generated so many response shows, I think, that we all have an appreciation for life :)

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