Bare Bones Biology 201 – Genotypes, Phenotypes and Evolution

Living things have the ability to respond to their environment. That means both the internal environment and the external environment. For example, you as a living thing – your physiology and your behavior change if you get too hot or too cold. An ecosystem also responds to heat or cold. It is also a living thing, and it responds to its environment by changing the species of which it consists.

Organisms respond to change using the processes studied in embryology, physiology and behavior — the ecosystems and the Biosystem use evolution to respond to change.

Your physiology, and also your embryology and development, and behavior, are regulated by all the genes in your body interacting with your internal and external environment, so that you can take food and air and water, and use them to become what you are. In that way the genes, responding to your environment, produce you as a “thing,”

Put into my model of Life that I described in last week’s Bare Bones Biology blog, you can be thought of as a node produced by the network of processes that maintain your Life. The processes can be thought of as the invisible Life force, and you are the solid object that results. Solid objects (nodes, things) have phenotypes.

I’m sorry we must add another uncommon word to this story, but the word phenotype is important. Your phenotype is everything about you, from your red hair to your behaviors to your physiological responses to the environment. Mostly your phenotype is caused by the processes that are regulated by your genotype, and those processes are studied in the science of Genetics. Accidents (amputation for example) can influence your phenotype but not your genotype. Accidents are not inheritable. Your culture can be inherited, but only by your training, not by your genes.

140227-tree-ASC_8143RSs copyHigher Life forms, such as an ecosystem or the Biosystem, also respond to change in the environment. Their responses to change are regulated by evolution, the natural Law of Life. Your body uses processes regulated by your genotype to grow and respond to change (and so be alive). The ecosystem uses all the phenotypes in the system – interacting with five other processes we discussed in order to grow and respond to change (and so be alive).

It was Darwin’s genius to recognize that living “things” (he was looking at organisms, but it could have been cells or ecosystems) all have slightly different phenotypes – color, behavior, health, any characteristic of a “thing” can be selected for or against, and so long as it can be inherited by the next generation it is a selectable phenotype that can respond to the power of the Law of Evolution.

In the Cosmos example, tameness was the phenotype selected for. This is the portion of evolution that Darwin recognized and we have come to think of as “survival of the fittest.” That term is nothing more than a silly reductionist sound bite, good for the human ego, but if we want to understand how evolution really does function and conceivably save ourselves by conforming to the Law of Life, survival of the fittest will be of no use to us. For one thing we are very far from the fittest species, because we would rather have money than survival. We will have to modify our own phenotypes (behaviors) so that we affirm and support the Life of the whole.

But that’s an aside, what we want to explain today is that natural selection or artificial selection act upon phenotypes, and most phenotypes are generated by genotypes. The genotype of each living thing is unique because of the way genetics works, which we are not discussing today. At all the various levels of organization of life from the most simple cell to the most complex Biosystem.

Genotype → Phenotype -→ Evolution

But remember that the processes of evolution can only use phenotypes that are inheritable from one generation to the next.

And we said all that so we could answer one of Gary’s original questions about epigenetics. Epigenetics is the study of heritable changes in gene activity that are not caused by changes in the DNA sequence.

Epigenetics is not relavent to evolution. Epigenetics is relevant to genetics, such as how genes are mixed around in cells, and how genes are regulated in cells to turn on and off. We have not been talking about genetics except to say that any trait or phenotype can be used in the process of evolution if it is inheritable.

To download the podcast of this blog, the direct download URL is:

Bare Bones Biology 200 – What Depends on What?

Here is the direct download of the podcast from a question posed by Sheila.

If you want to go to the podcast, I cannot make the link work here, but the address is:
and in front of that you must put http://

The blog is quite a lot more inclusive and will be posted on this weekend.
Sorry to be late, but Bitsy and I are moving to a location that has no internet access and this requires adaptation.


What does a system depend on? The answer is that everything in a system, more or less, depends on everything else in a system, and if the system changes, then everything else in the system must rebalance itself. This is what is meant by sustainability, and it is a definition of Life that we have been using in the past few blogs. If the system cannot rebalance itself, then it crashes – or dies.

The other question is “How did the system originate, so elegantly balanced?” And the answer is that the Law of Evolution creates sustainable systems. That’s what it does, and how it does this is fairly well understood in the disciplines of embryology, evolution and ecology. I certainly cannot explain it in 600 words, but I keep on biting off chunks of information that – if you keep trying to understand them – will ultimate convince you that systems evolve by maintaining their balance when conditions change. (Or they die if the conditions change so rapidly or dramatically that the system cannot rebalance.)

That information does not answer the God question, of course, but in my opinion, if God created the universe, then God created the universe to function the way it does function . I do not claim to understand God, but I do know a lot about what God has created, and I would far rather study and try to understand the works of God than the products of the human ego. If God created the universe, then God created the laws of nature to work the way they do work.

There are several laws of nature that are studied in different disciplines. The natural Law of Gravity describes some properties of matter. Matter is things that have mass and/or weight. The natural laws of Thermodynamics describe how energy functions. Energy does not have mass; energy is the ability to do work, and work is done, basically, when something happens. Energy is required for processes to do work. The natural law of Evolution describes how living systems maintain themselves, using matter and energy. Last week I described six qualities that define both Life and the Natural Law of Evolution, which is the Natural Law of Life

To appreciate any of these natural laws it is important to think of ourselves, and all of Life as systems, rather than “things.” A system is a group of processes that function together, each supporting the functions of others in the system, to maintain the whole system.

Life on Earth is a system, the Ecosystem, or Biosystem. Ecosystems are the subsystems of the entire Biosystem. Populations are subsystems of ecosystems. Individuals, such as you and me are subsystems of populations, but even we are not independently “things,” because we could not exist without the Earth system of which we are a part, and we could not exist without the subsystems that are a part of us – our lungs, kidneys, heart, digestive system – and those are systems composed of living cells.

A system is a network of interacting processes that function together to maintain the whole system. “Things,” such as ourselves, are simply temporary nodes – like the jewels in the metaphorical “net of Indra.” Or like the nodes (web pages and other nodes) of the internet. “Things” are objects with phenotypes. Things (nodes, objects with phenotypes) are necessary to maintain the integrity of the processes and to cause the processes, as I said above to function together, each supporting the functions of other processes — rather than each process functioning randomly or separately. Evolutionary selection acts upon the nodes (things, phenotypes) of the network and the network of processes generates the things.

For example, an airplane is a thing that brings together all the processes necessary for commercial flight. If you take away any of the processes, or change the configuration of the processes and/or the environment in which they function, the thing may not work.

A system consists of processes that do the functions (actions, behaviors) of the network of which the system is composed, and “things” are the nodes, connecting points, intersections of functions that join together the processes so as to maintain the integrity of the system. My favorite metaphor of a system is one of those stick figures that can be generated by a computer.

The stick figure is a model, usually a cartoon, that can move and change its shape. It consists of dots (representing in this model, things, nodes, jewels) joined together by lines (representing processes). All the processes work together to maintain the functions of the whole, while the nodes represent the ways in which the processes interact to maintain the integrity and the phenotype of the whole, so it is able to respond to the law of Evolution and thus maintain itself.

This model is applicable at all the levels of Life. Each node of a complex system represents a subsystem that is also composed of processes linked by things. For example, you are a system. One of the nodes of you as a system is your heart. Furthermore, at all levels, the things (nodes) are also subsystems. Our heart is a self-sustaining system consisting of things (nodes) and processes. Thus, everything interacts with everything else at the nodes, and in a way that maintains the balance of the whole complex of interacting systems.

I believe this may be the meaning of the mathematical concept of a multidimensional universe. I have no way to check the math, but that’s OK, because for me it makes a whole lot more sense to study the reality of Life itself. Especially as we humans have reached the point where the things we create are destroying the balance and the links that maintain the integrity of the nested set of process that is Life itself.

If you have trouble imagining this you should realize that NOBODY CAN understand the balancing interactions of the whole system of Life itself. There are far more links and nodes in the whole of Life than in our brains and computers combined. This is why we should not try to change Life systems without using the precautionary principle – that is, we should look at ALL the possible results of our meddling, both good and bad, because all actions cause both good and bad results. That is a very important meaning of yin and yang – the balance must be maintained or the system will change itself into something we won’t like, and that is indeed happening, partly because our culture is more interested in controlling what we believe to be bad – or pretending that it does not exist – than dealing with the reality.

NOTE: for the image, go back to a previous blog and refer to the chart of levels of organization:

The function of our corposystem is to use biological links and nodes to make money. These links and nodes evolved to exquisitely regulate Life itself – not for profit. We humans are redirecting the interactions of Life to the purpose of making money, and this unbalances the links and nodes that are necessary for Life Itself to exist on earth. And so, the re-organization of the nodes and links changes Life, because that’s what is unique about Life. It changes when its environment changes – because that’s how the Law of Life (evolution) maintains Life. If it cannot change using the links and nodes it has available – it dies (crashes, as our corposystem is now crashing as a result of imbalance.). And then a different system grows by the coming together of a different configuration of links, nodes, environment and overall function. Evolution does not change existing systems that are unsustainable. What it does do, if the existing system is unable to respond or (as we are doing) tries to fight against the needs of nature — is get rid of the existing system and start over using evolution to build a whole new set of interacting nodes and processes beginning with lower levels of complexity – such as a more primitive animal, or even the cell.

This is really good (really hard) question contributed by Sheila and produced by FactFictionFancy and KEOS radio 89.1 FM, Bryan, Texas.

Next week the other really hard question that we have been working up to, from Gary: If evolution acts as described in Cosmos and in nearly all basic genetics courses, then why doesn’t it operate gradually?

Bare Bones Biology 199 – Evolution

In Bare Bones Biology 198 ( and in the blog that was posted to FactFictionFancy the following day (, I listed six characteristics of all living things that make them responsive to the world outside of their own bodies.

That is an important definition of Life. Life and living things are responsive to the environment, and their environment is everything that is outside their own bodies. They are also responsive to the internal environment, which is everything that is going on inside their own bodies. Within physiological limits, Life is able to respond to change. If it can’t – it dies.

Most people notice this and think it is ordinary – of course — ! It is ordinary to us. We are alive. We eat, we walk, we talk, we try not to run in front of cars. But in the universe, so far as we know, the interconnected systems that can reproduce their own kind and recycle the materials of which they are made, and find food and use it to do those things – this is not ordinary.

110825droughtasc_3018sls-copyIt was the greatest and most marvelous event after The Creation itself, when a group of processes came together, to form a unitary system that was able to respond to the environment by moving toward food or moving away from noxious things. It was the creation of Life. Life is a system composed of a set, or sets, of processes that function to respond to the environment in which it lives by reproducing its own kind.

Six qualities that make life possible, that I listed in those last two blogs are: 1- Inheritance of traits; 2- Variability of traits; 3- Reproduction; 4- Death; 5- Transmission of traits to the following generation; 6 – Interconnectedness of the processes of one living system with all the other living systems on earth.

Those qualities are essential for all living systems and their subsystems — all species – to maintain Life on Earth. And the original “invention” of Life was the coming together of a group of processes that maintain life by responding to the environment in which they live.

Evolution is the Law of Life on earth; Evolution makes Life possible because Evolution is how Life responds to its environment. Without evolution there could be no Life as we know it on earth, because Life and living things must be able to respond to their environment or they could not stay alive. Think of the first breath of air that a newborn infant inhales. Think of the color of your eyes, or of your skin, that you inherited from your grandparents, or great-grandparents. If there were no evolution, Life could not respond to conditions in the environment and there would be no Life.

A living thing is a system that is able to respond to its environment to find food, water, air so that it can reproduce itself and continue staying alive generation after generation. It is the natural Law of Evolution that guides and balances all these processes of Life (and a myriad more) within all organisms and between all organisms and all other systems on Earth as the entire interacting set of systems continues to use the energy from food to respond to the environment and so to stay alive.

Evolution is NOT primarily survival of the fittest. Evolution is the natural process that permits living systems to respond to their environments and so to maintain and BALANCE all the processes that are required for living systems to stay alive — including life and death, reproduction, using food energy and cycling the water and nutrients through the whole interacting set of systems and subsystems. Therefore – if you still think of Evolution as “survival of the fittest,” or any other sound bite that is more simplistic than the holistic balancing act that Evolution actually is, you cannot understand climate change, and regardless if you are one of the bad guys or one of the good guys – if you win or if you lose — you cannot help to make wise plans for the future of humans on this living earth.

This is Bare Bones Biology, a production of FactFictionFancy and KEOS FM 98.1, Bryan, Texas. A copy of the podcast can be downloaded here:


In Bare Bones Biology 198 I said that
Evolution is the process of change in the gene pools of species over time. A species is a particular kind of living thing and its gene pool is all the genes in all the individuals of that species.

The function of the process of evolution is to maintain Life. This is done by balancing the following characteristics of living things:
1. The inherited physical and behavioral characteristics of organisms (living things) are transmitted by the genes from one generation to the next.
2. Every living thing is a least a little bit different genetically from every other living thing;
3. In all species, more offspring are born than can survive because long-term there is not enough food available for them all to survive.
4. The genes of those that do survive are passed to the next generation.
5. Individual organisms do not evolve. They can change, but evolution is the difference between the gene pool of one generation and the gene pool of the next generation.
6. The entire Biosystem evolves all at the same time together.
The function of the natural Law of Evolution, the basic Law of Life, is to maintain LIFE by mainaining a viable BALANCE among all the interacting factors at all the many levels of the Life on Earth.

The next question is – what is a Level of Life.? And how do they interact?

Levels of Organization of Life

The Biosystem is a Network of Levels of Organization

The diagram below needs explanation, but it won’t be easy, because the Bosystem is so complicated that it is impossible humanly to represent or to fully understand.
If you find it mind boggling to comprehend the levels of organization, all interacting among and between themselves, then you are just like the scientists, the politicians, the religious and everyone else. Fortunately, we do not need to understand all the little details of the system in order to have a good idea of how it functions — the structural and functional requirements for it to stay alive — and that is our goal. A basic appreciation of the beautiful idea of networking. and of the levels of organization, is background for understanding the flow of energy, and of other things, through the living ecosystem. Life is possible because of the internet of living and nonliving things through all the levels. The basic format of these realities is outlined in the below diagram.

The ecosystem consists of sets and subsets of living and nonliving entities that interact between and among themselves. We can not represent the entire system in a diagram for two reason. One is that the sets and subsets (levels of organization)
are flexible, a fact that is necessary for their survival (sustainability). The other is that there are just too many interactions to understand or represent.

For example, looking to the diagram, there are ecosystems within ecosystems. I am a functioning part of the pasture ecosystem and the East Texas group of ecosystems and in fact all the ecosystems in the world because I contribute to the materials (such as carbon dioxide) and the energy flow and many other activities that occur within each of these ecosystems and the whole earth ecosystem. If I could draw all the lines of interaction between myself and all the other ecosystems and all the other levels of organizations, the entire page would be black. So I drew only one or two or a few lines to feebly represent just a few interactions.

Imagine that everything interacts with everything on this diagram in some way(s) and also everything interacts with millions of other entities that make up the living system. For example, your heart interacts with every other component of your body; your resilience and therefore your survivability (sustainability) would be unlikely if any of these interacting components of your body were missing. All the organs work together to maintain your life. This is represented by the lines between the heart and kidney and skin on the diagram. However, it is true of every organ in your body. They all interact. Similarly, the leaves, bark and other organs of a tree all interact with each other to make the tree alive, and the tree interacts with nearly everything else in the ecosystem, including us.

We are only one component of the metabolism of the ecosystem. Our lungs breathe the oxygen that is provided by plants; our food gives us the energy we require for life; the environment degrades our wastes, so that we are not suffocated in a dung-heap of the unused byproducts of our metabolism, and these byproducts are re-used by other organisms. These processes are carried out by other organism that all are interacting within all the big and little ecosystems of life on earth. We could not survive without the other elements of the ecosystem, and we also contribute to the other elements of the ecosystem.

Levels of organization are shown on the diagram by the large headings on the left side of the page. Levels of organization are a special type of interaction that we have discussed before. Everything in the universe is composed of other, smaller things. These relationships are referred to as levels of organization. A very few example relationships of this kind are shown in the diagram with vertical lines. To summarize some of the levels of organization that exist:

1-The whole earth ecosystem is made up of smaller ecosystems and organisms. The whole earth ecosystem is the biggest (most inclusive) organized level of Life on earth.
2-Organisms are made up of organs and their environment
3-Organs are composed of specialized tissues and their environment.
4-Tissues are composed of specialized cells and their environment
5-Cells can be organisms or they can be subunits of organisms. The cell is the basic unit of life. Below the cellular level of organization, life as we define it is not present in the interacting systems of which it is composed. However, obviously, are also necessary for Life to exist because living things are composed of them.
6-Cells would not be alive without the precisely organized organelles, macromolecules and molecules of which they are composed.
7-Organelles are subunits of the cell that perform specific functions. For example, the chloroplast is an organelle that is made up of macromolecules and molecules that, in the environment provided by the cell can do the processes of photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process of changing light energy to chemical energy that is used to form the energy bonds of macromolecules.
8-Macromolecules are organic molecules joined together with other molecules by energy bonds.
9-Molecules are made of atoms that are joined together in very specific ways by energy bonds. The kinds of energy bonds and the kinds of relationships between the atoms are not random. They depend upon the fact that different kinds of atoms have different characteristics.
10-Atoms can not be seen or directly measured individually. However, if we collect a few million/billion atoms of the same kind, all together in one place we would call that an element. There are not very many elements that (in their special combinations as molecules) make up all the living and nonliving things of the ecosystem. These elements/atoms are diagrammed by chemists in the “periodic table.” A lovely book by Theodore Gray and Nick Mann describes and illustrates all these basic elements (and atoms) of our existence.

Atoms are studied by physicists. There are many metaphoric descriptions of atoms, but the bottom line is we do not fully comprehend atoms from our perch so much higher up in the levels of the ecosystem (just as we do not fully comprehend things that are at levels of organization over our heads. Our sensory organs are designed to function in our own level.) What we need to know is that atoms are matter (they have mass, which means they have weight and volume. Everything from your desk to your grandmother is composed of atoms). Atoms also carry the energy that we require to do any kind of action in our lives or in the ecosystem. The energy of atoms determines how the different atoms can make energy bonds with other atoms so that molecules can form, and macromolecules, and organelles, and on up the levels.

It is important to know that humans do not understand most of these interactions. It’s also important to remember that any system that has more interactions, to a point, is likely to be more resilient (suggested reading linked by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi). Resilience is largely the result of complexity and is essential to life. Increased complexity of a network increases resilience because it makes available “fail-safe” options by providing several methods of accomplishing each process. Increased complexity can also increase the efficiency of energy usage (notice these elements also can be true of social organizations).

However, this does not mean that more complexity is always better than less complexity. Complexity is not the only element of life that is essential, and complexity must be maintained in balance with all the other essential components of ecosystem viability. Too much complexity can be as harmful to the balanced organization of a network as too little complexity. We could not be alive if the nature of the chemistry and physics of our environment were different than they are, or if the interactions within the ecosystem ceased to function. All the levels and all the interactions make us what we are.

Evolution not only functions to maintain balance among all these levels of Life.

Evolution also created at least some of them.

It is my personal opinion that the process of Evolution is so basic to existence that it is probably responsible for creating all the levels.

And only God could create the process of Evolution. But I don’t see any reason to argue about those last two points, because it is not our job to determine how the universe functions.

Our common goal and our human responsibility to God and to each other and all sentient beings is to individually and collectively do our very best to pass on to the seventh generation of humans yet to come a sustainable, reasonably comfortable human culture within a healthy Biosystem.

Bare Bones Biology 198 – Law of Life

Now you have watched Neil deGrasse Tyson’s second Cosmos show on the subject of evolution, in which he described the process of evolution by natural selection of domestic dog from wild dog or wolf. There is an equally elegant description in a National Geographic magazine, I think two years ago with a lovely color cover showing your favorite breed of dog – descended by artificial selection from some gene pool of early domestic dogs. These facts can be stated very confidently for several reasons, but one of the reasons is gene sequencing. Several groups of geneticists have been working to physically sequence the genes (that means find out what genes are present in which individuals, breeds and species, and in what sequence these genes are found in the nuclei of the cells. They construct pedigrees based on the genes.)

The direct line of inheritance can be confirmed in the dogs and other species that are being sequenced just as easily as they can be determined in humans. If you believe in genetics or in genetic engineering or in mutations or in treating genetically caused ailments, then you must believe in evolution, because the evidence is as clear as your own family tree.

120110-tree-_DSC2280L2SsHowever, as I said last week, Dr. Tyson did not present the graduate course in evolution, but the basic description of how evolution works today and has worked over the history of Life on Earth. In a very general way, evolution operates by natural selection, or artificial selection, for traits that are useful to a species. A species is all the organisms of the same kind. This does not mean that evolution IS “survival of the fittest,” as so many of us have proclaimed in our modern age –trying to believe that we are the fittest.

So what is evolution really? I have said it is the process of change in the gene pool over time. That is true, but not very helpful because it doesn’t explain how or why. Darwinian theory would suggest that the change in the gene pool is caused by six basic biological realities that are always present in all life forms:

1. The physical and behavioral characteristics of organisms are caused by their genes. Actually they are also caused by various accidents and experiences. The percentage of characteristics that are caused by inheritance, by the genes, is known as the heritability. Most often it is more than 50%.

2. No two organisms are genetically identical unless they are identical twins. Therefore the vast majority of organisms are somewhat different from each other in their physical and behavioral characteristics. First there is a very small, probably constant, rate of mistakes when the genes are copied to make the eggs and sperms; second, the process of making the eggs and sperms specifically causes the genes to recombine so that the genes come together in new combinations, creating a constant source of genetic variability. So everyone is a little bit different – even trees and bugs.

3. More offspring of all species are produced than can survive. If all the individuals of a species do survive, then the species will die out, because it will eat up all the available food and starve. That is not “fittest.”

4. If the species does survive, then the genes of those individuals do survive may be passed on to the next generation. You may call that fitness if you wish, but if you insist on doing so, you need to study the facts and discover that it is rarely the dominant, chest-pounding male that survives best, although occasionally one of them passes along an unusually large number of sperms – more likely the clever and nurturing female will provide both the genetic and the behavioral traits that most influence the survivability of the following generation.

5. The most important fact of Life that we must realize if we care about the future is that no individual organism evolves. Many organisms can learn, and human organisms can pass on that learning, but we are born with the physically heritable traits that we have and we cannot change our genetics.

6. No species evolves in isolation. Not dogs, not humans, not trees nor bugs. All the species in the Biosystem affect all the other species in small or large ways, and the ENTIRE BIOSYSTEM is a living unit, just as your body is a living unit – therefore – EVERYTHING evolves together with everything else in the Biosystem. It does NOT evolve according to human values. Most of the species are not human. The Biosystem and all the species evolve together according to the natural laws that permit life to exist on earth.

The function of the natural Law of Evolution, the basic Law of Life, is to maintain a viable BALANCE among all these factors at all the many levels of the Life on Earth.

So let’s get that fitness soundbite out of our heads and figure out how evolution really works so maybe we might actually survive.

This is Bare Bones Biology, a production of FactFictionFancy and KEOS Radio, 89.1, Bryan, TX. A copy of the podcast may be downloaded at:

This blog and two upcoming blogs are written in response to a question asked by Gary Gripp and two questions asked at the Monday Lunch group. Good questions are most helpful; otherwise – how can we discuss the issues?

Bare Bones Biology 197 – Law of Life

Our basic human goal is to build a sustainable, reasonably comfortable future, within a healthy Biosystem, for the welfare of the seventh generation of humans yet to come.

Or at least that had better be our basic human goal, because if we continue playing around with our Trekky toys, we will end up – well, who knows.

If your goal is to help generate a sustainable, reasonably comfortable future, within a healthy Biosystem, for the seventh generation of humans yet to come, then you have something worthwhile to work for, and that is a blessing in itself.

111006-SantaFe-ASC_3474sNow please do not tell me you plan to accomplish that goal by telling the Biosystem how it must behave in order to be healthy. Right? Look around you. That’s what almost everyone is doing – trying to conquer the Biosystem, fold it up in a little package, roll it into a tiny little ball that we can put into our pocket, and let it out twice a day like the family cow, to give us what we cannot give ourselves – earth, air, fire and water.

That will not work.

What is the point of wasting our lives trying to do something that won’t work?

I have always thought the awfulest fate would be to spend one’s life struggling valiantly in the name of some false human God, such as winning or sinning or “follow the leader,” and then in the end realize that you had, talents and skills that could have been used to benefit others but you were too busy trying to be King of the Anthill.

But of course, humans are not omniscient, and so humans keep trying and failing to make a “better” future for our grandchildren. I think mostly the reasons for the failure are not lack of good will, or even selfishness, but mostly we don’t understand that we are part of a system, or several interconnected systems that are not human, and that these systems do not function according to how we believe they should function. So we get upset and throw tantrums rather than figure out how they actually DO function so we can get with the program.

Of course, all of the systems on earth do function according to very strict natural laws that make life possible on earth, and it would be the easiest thing in the world for us to learn about the laws of nature first, and then use our ingenuity to accommodate our cultures to the rule of natural law – rather than trying to squeeze nature into our unique human value systems.

Nature is not human and does not operate according to human value systems.

Nature operates according to the laws of nature: Gravity, thermodynamics, Evolution. We cannot accomplish our goal of sustainability by trying to change the ways in which nature functions.

And all around me heads nod – “of course – everyone knows that” – and then everyone goes on with the business of trying to make the Biosystem operate according to our human values. Wait. All but one. I hear one person over there asking the right question.
“How does the Biosystem function?”

And the answer is that Life on Earth, the Biosystem, operates, or functions, according to the natural Law of Evolution, and we cannot change that fact.

Now go and watch Neill deGrasse Tyson, Cosmos, quick, while it is still free, the second show, and remember:

1. evolution is NOT primarily survival of the fittest individual, and we will make no progress until we can get that soundbite out of our heads; primarily evolution is about the emergence of novel systems.

2. COSMOS is not an advanced course in evolution, but it is also not wrong, not a game, not an opinion, and it makes no difference whether or not you understand or agree with it.

You cannot possibly contribute to the welfare of humans on earth by arguing about whether or not well established facts are real. The best you can do that way is waste your own life. The real winners will be those who use real facts to benefit the Life system of which we all are part.

This is Bare Bones Biology, a production of FactFictionFancy and KEOS FM radio, 89.1, Bryan, Texas.

The podcast of this program can be downloaded at:

Bare Bones Biology 196 – Why do we Need to Change?

(sorry to be late folks, he evil flu bug has damaged my system)

140228-Upaya-ASC_8170RSsWhy do we want to build a human society (system) that is sustainable and reasonably comfortable for humans? I mean aside from being comfortable the most important reason is sustainability. That means that we as a human society can pass on our values and skills to the next generation, unto the seventh generation as we pointed out last week. The job of this generation is to build a social framework that is sustainable – not to destroy the resources that supply our social system.

Our corposystem has exactly the opposite driving property. That in itself is a reason to work for change.

Unfortunately for us as individuals, our social framework that we inherited from seven earlier generations – that system is flawed. And it is a system. Systems are characterized by two properties that individual humans can’t change.

1. Systems are self-perpetuating. Or as someone once told me, the function of a system is to maintain itself.

Every little part of a system works to maintain the system itself. This is automatic and you or I as individuals cannot change it. Believe me, I have tried, and I know that countless others have as well because they ask and keep asking “What can we Do?” I have answered: “Do not participate in the system.” And at the same time: “Discussion, discussion, discussion.” So far nobody seems to have been happy with this answer, probably because when we try – people turn their backs on us, or shun us, or worse. That is because – the function of a system is to maintain itself, and we are trying to consider ideas that are not permitted or understood by the majority of people in our modern corposystem.

Another example of a biological system is an individual cell. If you were to diagram that system, the feedback loops and the interactions that maintain the life of a cell – you will find diagrams in any cell biology book – it is not different in principle from a diagram of a social system. This is how a system maintains itself. All or nearly all of the functions of a system are cyclic within the system, not open ended, and so the system itself does not change its core properties; in fact, in favorable environment it becomes more extremely like itself. For example the core property of a cell system is to maintain Life. The reductionist details do change, constantly, but the guiding properties of the system remain for as long as the system survives.

2. A system – every system – grows or is created around a core set of properties that is “successful.” It has become very clear that the core properties of our corposystem are violence used to maintain growth for profit. The result of this is that our corposystem growth is destroying the Biosystem that provides all our food, air and water.

Thus we must add to our goal the necessity to reduce suffering of the Biosystem – because that is where we live and is the only place we can live – and as we reduce suffering OF the Biosystem, by providing what it needs to be healthy — we reduce the suffering of all sentient beings.

Obviously, our corposystem is not serving our goal, which is to build a sustainable future for the seventh generation to come while reducing suffering of the Biosystem. We spend a lot of energy spinning our wheels trying to change the toxic system we are in. That is not bad, but it also is not working. What to do?

I suggest we should consider giving at least as much of our energy to nurturing a different system that does represent our interests. In fact there is a parallel human system that has already begun more than 2500 years ago, and is represented occasionally by heroes such as Jesus, Gandhi – you can name them. Protect that system, nurture it, don’t let it die.

But at the same time, we must never forget out basic goal, which is to build a sustainable future for the seventh generation to come, within a healthy Biosystem, because if we forget that again we will just end up back where we are – co-opted by the corposystem.

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