We Aren’t Quite Tardigrades, But We Are More Resilient Than We Think
August 16, 2021 ~ Written by: W.B. “Bud” Kirchner
Approx. Read Time: 7 Minutes
This article is a continuation of a theme I started (amazingly) more than a year ago in response to what everyone thought was a brief blip of challenges caused by COVID-19.
Perhaps the best description of events, including recent developments related to a new strain, could be best summarized as two steps forward and one (at times two) steps back.
And so I persevere in trying to provide relevant comments.
Let’s start by setting the bar impossibly high
What does it mean to “survive” under “extreme conditions” as illustrated by COVID-19 today, but with climate issues, diversity, etc. soon to test us?
Let me start with an extreme example – not that it is directly relevant, but if nothing else (in an absurd context) it is inspirational.
Who would not like to be a tardigrade?
Is this not resilience?
Thomas Boothby at the University of Wyoming in Laramie lists the threats that tardigrades can endure:
“They can survive being dried out. They can survive being frozen down to about a degree above absolute zero, which is the temperature at which all molecular motion stops. In their dry state they can be heated up well past the boiling point of water. They can survive thousands of times as much radiation as we can. And they’re the only animal we know of that can survive prolonged exposure to the vacuum of outer space.” (#4)
As though this isn’t impressive enough, Elizabeth Gamillo (#3) reports:
“To further test the water bear’s survival limits, researchers loaded the microscopic beings into a gun and fired them at sand bag targets to test their impact survival rate, according to a study published in Astrobiology. It turns out, tardigrades can survive the violent impacts, but only to a certain point before they begin to fall apart. It could be the first step in exploring whether life can be distributed to other planets via asteroids—if the impact doesn’t kill the lifeform first.”
Evidence that things could be worse
Having set the bar impossibly (read tardigrade) high, let’s spend a bit of time on recent evidence that we are more resilient than we might at first think.
I found some of the following in an article by Aknin, Zaki and Dunn (#1) that started with the premise that “as clinical scientists and research psychologists have pointed out, the coronavirus pandemic has created many conditions that might lead to psychological distress: sudden, widespread disruptions to people’s livelihoods and social connections; millions bereaved; and the most vulnerable subjected to long-lasting hardship. A global collapse in well-being has seemed inevitable.”
They combed through close to 1,000 studies that examined hundreds of thousands of people from nearly 100 countries and more than a little bit surprising they determined:
- “As spring turned to summer, something remarkable happened: Average levels of depression, anxiety, and distress began to fall.”
- “Looking at the world as a whole, we saw no trace of a decline in life satisfaction: People in 2020 rated their lives at 5.75 on average, identical to the average in previous years.”
- “However, real-time data from official government sources in 21 countries showed no detectable increase in instances of suicide from April to July 2020, relative to previous years.”
- “When people actually experience these losses, however, their misery tends to fade far faster than they imagined it would.”
- “But study after study demonstrates that a majority of the survivors either bounce back quickly or never show a substantial decline in mental health.”
- “The coronavirus’s mental-health toll was not distributed evenly. Early on, some segments of the population—including women and parents of young children—exhibited an especially pronounced increase in overall psychological distress.”
- “As the pandemic progressed, lasting mental-health challenges disproportionately affected people who were facing financial issues, individuals who got sick with COVID-19, and those who had been struggling with physical and mental-health disorders prior to the pandemic.”
Not quite tardigrade like, but we do have resilience
Salient points as summarized by Lara Aknin, Jamil Zaki, and Elizabeth Dunn:
- “Human beings possess what some researchers call a psychological immune system, a host of cognitive abilities that enable us to make the best of even the worst situation. For example, after breaking up with a romantic partner, people may focus on the ex’s annoying habits or relish their newfound free time.”
- “We learned that people can handle temporary changes to their lifestyle—such as working from home, giving up travel, or even going into isolation—better than some policy makers seemed to assume.”
- “People are more resilient than they themselves realize.”
While many of the conclusions in the foregoing seem hard to accept at face value, I believe the conclusion is irrefutable (the emphasis is mine):
- “As we look ahead to the world’s next great challenges—including a future pandemic—we need to remember this hard-won lesson: Human beings are not passive victims of change but active stewards of our own well-being. This knowledge should empower us to make the disruptive changes our societies may require, even as we support the individuals and communities that have been hit hardest”. (#1)
- Lara Aknin, Jamil Zaki, and Elizabeth Dunn – The Pandemic Did Not Affect Mental Health the Way You Think
- Thor Benson – Back to not-so-normal: Psychologists eye pandemic stress as U.S. reopens
- Elizabeth Gamillo – Water Bears Can Survive Impact Speeds of 1,845 Miles Per Hour
- Michael Marshall – Tardigrades: nature’s great survivors
About the Author: W.B. “Bud” Kirchner is a serial entrepreneur and philanthropist with more than 50 years of business success. He is not a scientist or an academic but he does have a diversified exposure to neuroscience, psychology and related cognitive sciences. Generally speaking, the ideas he expresses here are business-angled expansions of other people’s ideas, so when possible, he will link to the original reference.