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By Joe Perez

Everyone knows the human individual is autonomous, a separate being in itself. Not so fast, says evolutionary biologist David P. Barash of the University of Washington, writing recently in "Who's in Charge Inside Your Head?" for the New York Times. Drawing on research into parasites which alter the consciousness of their victims, Barash says:

It may be distressing to those committed to “autonomy,” but such manipulators [as Echinococcus and Dicrocoelium] have inherited the earth. Including us.

Take coughing, or sneezing. It may be beneficial for an infected person to cough up or sneeze out some of her tiny organismic invaders, although it isn't so healthful for others nearby. But what if coughing and sneezing aren't merely symptoms but also, even primarily, a manipulation of us, the “host,” by influenza viruses? Shades of zombie bees, fattened mice and grass-blade-besotted ants.

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