The four basic requirements of human life: water, food, clothing, shelter. Practically speaking, you might as well add a fifth: Society, for Society is necessary for good mental health, for procuring enough variety in the diet for optimum health, and for advancing living standards much beyond the bestial state.
There is also another thing that we need—need far worse than any of the five things just mentioned—and yet we take it so much for granted that we usually neglect to mention it when talking about basic human needs– and no, it’s not cellphones; it’s air— but more specifically, a particular component of air that comprises almost 21% of Earth’s atmosphere: oxygen.
We can go without water for several days, without food for a week or more, without clothing or shelter for extended periods (if living in the comfortable latitudes and at the right time of year). But Oxygen… minutes only can pass, and without it, we will most certainly die.
We tend to ignore this outrageous dependency, just as we tend to ignore how most actions we take assume the presence of one G of gravity. Our lungs, part of our involuntary muscles system, inflate and deflate with air many times a day, even while we are sleeping, and we hardly think about it. Just think how cumbersome it would be if we could only get the Oxygen we so incessantly require by eating grass or leaves. We’d hardly have time for doing anything else but eating. No thank you— my life revolves around food enough as it is!
On the other hand, as vital as Oxygen is, it has been known for quiet some time to be poisonous in large doses. Actually, there is accumulating evidence that even our normal consumption of Oxygen is slowly poisoning us over our life-time.
The Oxygen molecule and its role in the Universe is one of my special areas of interest. I have a several such areas—too many really (when one has too many areas of special interest –as I admit to having– then one can never truly “specialize”—which is unfortunate on several levels, but most obviously concerning one’s place in Society, for Society, naturally enough, awards specialists. Dilettantes and amateurs like me are a dime a dozen).
You know, I think I’ll stop the post for today on that depressing note. For my next few entries, I’m going to be posting about the book I just read by Nick Lane, OXYGEN: The Molecule That Made The World. It will be an exploration of Good and Evil, Hope and Despair, Health and Decay… It will be an exploration, basically, of how Oxygen giveth life, and how Oxygen taketh life away.