The Extended Self: the cosmos within



Traditionally what we consider to be “self” is restricted to the collection of 10 trillion or so familiar eukaryote cells that make up our bodies and well-known organs such as our skin, the heart, and the liver. However, the “omic” technologies of the 21st century have radically redefined this view, so that “self” can now be seen to extend well beyond the traditional precinct of our visible form, and to now include our resident bacterial community, that is its invisible human microbiota. These bacteria that reside on or in our bodies are not merely present as passengers and we exist in a state of dynamic and mutual symbiosis with these inhabitants. Moreover, it seems likely that these organisms are able to influence our wellbeing, our mental health, and even our ability to learn. Such findings are challenging radically our anthropocentric view of life and are revealing a new kind of microbiologically influenced subjectivity.

In the work here my gut microbiome was cultured as bacterial colonies on a number of Plate Count Agar plates. Next the water, that makes up the major component of the media, was carefully removed so that the agar entered a translucent glassy state which incorporates and transforms the bacterial colonies so that they become biological lenses.

The glass-like films containing aspects of my micro biome (below)


When light is passed through these it is transformed and acquires characteristics derived from its interaction with the bacteria that it passes through. The process inverts normal  microscopic practice, in the sense that what would normally only be visible under a microscope, is now projected into the world that we can see allowing the observer to interact with my multitudinal bacterial otherness.

Aspects of my microbiome projected into the visible world (below)

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