Studying life

When we talk about Biology, most of people think about studying animals and plants, and although this science does include the study of them, reducing it to only two groups is a mistake.

Biology is defined as the science that studies living beings, and as complex as living things are, so is this science.

As biologists, we study from the chemical composition of a cell, to the most complex relations that occur between complete ecosystems. Inside and outside these ends, there are several ramifications that are necessary to comprehend life. Biology can explain how a species evolved, the reasons of its current distribution, its behavior, the traits of its embryological development, how Earth was thousands or millions of years ago, the function of microorganisms, the relation between organisms of the same or different species, the function of different molecules in a system, and a lot more. And this, without considering that we can specialize in one type of organism and study all of the above on it.

Studying life is not easy, and in many situations we depend on other sciences and disciplines to explain itself or other phenomena in nature. With frequence, biology is involved with anthropology, sociology, politics, geography, medicine, engineering, technology and even economy. When working altogether, these disciplines aid in understanding the relationship between humans and nature, how we have influenced it, and how it has influenced and been useful to us. Furthermore, it is only with them that we can search for more sustainable ways to exist as humanity.

As part of nature, humans rely directly and indirectly on ecosystems and their services. However, in the last decades, natural resources have been so damaged that we are causing the sixth mass extinction in the history of Earth. Only in Guatemala, natural forest covers about one third of the territory and is restricted, almost exclusively, to Protected Areas.

This is why Biology is so important, because is through it that we can find solutions to problems that threat our own existence in Earth. And this is not all; even industries, like the pharmaceutical and food ones, have used the foundations that biology has settled to create new products that improve the life quality of humans. Medicine, through parasitology, physiology, biotechnology, and others, is no exception.

In Guatemala, we still have a lot to research and discover. Research opportunities in biology are huge, but are hindered by the lack of interest of authorities in funding and promoting any kind of science, specially if it benefits the common good.

This is why we march.

History, what for?

History’s purpose is often questioned because it is believed that it does not affect the daily life of normal people; even in the Academy, its role as a science is doubted.

Usually, citizens believe that the work of History is limited to remind us of important personalities and dates. However, this is a consequence of how we have rote-learned History in school.

There is a popular acclaim that says “whoever doesn’t know their history, is condemned to repeat it”, and this is completely true, but the central point is not what happened but how it happened. This is what encourages reflection and, in consequence, has a pedagogical role for citizens.

Thus, to understand how we function as a society, it is necessary to resort to history, because our future is chained to past events.

History is useful, for example, to understand the ideological polarization we are suffering today, where we’re trying to reduce everything to a fight between the righ-wing and the left-wing; this is not casual but causal. Also, it is used to detect when some politicians manipulate history in order to adjust it to their discourse.

Photo by Mauro Calanchina.

A historian’s labor can be compared to solving a ten-thousand piece puzzle, when only we’re given two-hundred. Therefore, history is often making use of other disciplines; sociology, demography, archaeology, architecture, anthropology, etc., help History to assemble this big puzzle.

In Guatemala, there is a lot of work that has to be done, not only because there are several gaps in our past, but also because sometimes it is necessary to rewrite history. It is imperative that we change the form in which we are teaching history in order to make it more attractive and welcoming to critical analysis and debate.

I invite everyone to forget shyness and come closer to this wonderful science.

Translation by Andrea Martínez.