This week, we found out some "humbling" things about the tree of life, which has been redrawn to accommodate thousands of newly discovered forms of bacteria. Some people may be inclined to feel diminished by such advances in science, though this one could just as easily make people feel more elite, given that, unlike the bacterial multitudes, we're made from many cells working together.

There are, however, a couple of features of the new tree that upend the way humankind sees its place in the cosmos — features that are known to scientists but whose impacts have yet to work their way through the culture at large.

First, there is the fact that the tree has no "top." It's more of a tumbleweed of life. The branches that lead to E. coli are as long as the ones leading to humans. There are no higher or lower organisms any more than there are higher or lower cousins in a genealogical tree.