This is just a downright flippant Gross Oversimplification™ of some things that I’ve noticed over the years which seem to come up in every science class, though occasionally they are described in slightly different ways or under different names. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I find these principles always buried, somewhere, in every observation of the natural world.
I present them here mainly for people who don’t have a background in science, though I’m hoping those who do will at least find this mildly amusing. Essentially, I just want to mention these things now on the assumption that it might help some people understand some of the basic reliable assumptions that science uses. Since they also then explain the underlying principles that drive the biochemistry that’s important to the microbiology that I want to get into, and I’d like as many people as possible to understand what I’m talking about when I do.
Therefore, I’m going to attempt to describe, using my Super Undergraduate Writing Skills, in very brief terms, everything you need to know to understand basic biochemical processes that I plan to try to explain to the best of my current ability later. I apologize in advance to any serious “hard science” types who may suffer blurred vision, seizures, dizziness, upset stomach, or psychiatric anaphylaxis from reading this.
(As always, if I get something outright wrong here, please say so…)
Part 1. The Most Important Observation of the Natural World: “You can’t get something from nothing – or vice versa”. Or in other words, nothing ever magically appears or disappears. If something appears where there previously wasn’t something, it came from somewhere. If something disappears, it went somewhere – it hasn’t simply ceased to exist. This is more or less all that is meant by “The First Law of Thermodynamics” in physics. In practice, this is what’s being invoked whenever you hear someone describing a scientific “Conservation of [whatever]”. You can still chemically combine things to make completely different substances, melt solids into liquids, bubble gasses away or dissolve solids, turn one kind of energy into another (like turning electrical force into light), and so forth, but in the end the amount of material and energy at the end should be the same as when you started. (It’s even possible to turn material directly into energy and energy into particles of matter, but as far as I know this only actually happens in conditions that matter to people like high-energy physicists and such, not in biological systems.)
This is a handy principle – it lets you measure things indirectly. If, for example, you’re studying some kind of chemical reaction that makes hydrogen gas, you can measure just the amount of hydrogen that comes out when you mix the chemicals together and be confident that this will tell you exactly how much hydrogen was chemically combined into the original ingredients that reacted. Or if you put a three-ounce cricket in a cage with a 12-ounce snake, then come back a few minutes later and discover that the cricket has “disappeared” but the snake now weighs 15 ounces, it should be obvious what’s happened without having to give the snake an MRI.
I’ll pause here for comments before I get to parts 2 (regarding the 2nd law of thermodynamics) and 3 (tying the first two parts together to make Equilibrium and such), both of which I’ll try to get to tomorrow, unless it turns out that I’m completely butchering this whole explanation and have to fill in with something else while I rework it…