Bitsy is snoring fl at out on the fl oor of our little travel trailer, taking up the entire space. She has been bored stiff for the past four days while I, first, slept for two days more or less, and then worked for two days to produce the current blog/podcast, and so today she rejoiced in a whole afternoon of social interactions.
We arrived a bit early at the end of the rail line in Santa Fe, because we like watching trains come in, and so chose the opportunity for a bit of restful meditation while waiting for the event. Or at least I meditated. She watched and waited for something more interesting to happen. Which it surely did. What fun to meet my cousin Nancy, whom I have not seen since I was more or less about 6 or 8 years old. We had at least two lifetimes to talk about, while Bitsy flirted with every passing dog lover, and finally tried to make friends with the entire trainload of people heading back to Albuquerque.
Biology is Not a Confusion of Conflicting Opinions
Biology is the Study of Measurable Facts
About the Natural Laws that Created Life on Earth
Next month will be the third anniversary of Bare Bones Biology. Here we replay the first episode, which is as true today as it was three years ago.
Why not begin with the television where some guy last night spent quite a few thousands of dollars trying to tell me the government should not be spending so much money because job creation comes from what he calls “the real world.” He claims the real world is small business.
Pardon me? I thought we agreed the earth is not flat. If the earth is round, then small business is not at its center. But much more seriously, if we truly believe the wealth of this country comes from small business, or from any other individual human endeavor, we will continue to trash the ecosystem in the name of our own wealth. And when it’s gone, or more likely when we use up the resources that create our wealth, oops, no more small business.
There is no center to the living ecosystem. Everything interacts with everything else. The living ecosystem runs by rules that we, including small business, must learn to understand if we truly want to create jobs. We can not build a healthy culture without a healthy ecosystem. We forget that we live inside the ecosystem. Look out your window. See those trees. They give us life. Without them, literally, we would not exist. The earth would be like Mars. Dead.
Have we forgotten that all money is based in resources? And all the resources of life come from the ecosystem. Or are we confused by the illogical and conflicting claims of the public media — even PBS and the school system? Has it become so complicated that we give up trying to understand? How do we know if all that outside my window is healthy, or if it isn’t?
Bare Bones Biology agrees that life is confusing, but we say it’s not as confusing as the media make it out to be. Sometimes human politics wants us to be confused about things that are very well understood. Certainly details of the ecosystem are more complicated than humans can understand. It would take longer than my life to figure out all the details of all the relationships among all the living things just in my front yard. There are so many interactions, and everything depends on something else, and it’s all changing all the time. True. That’s life. And that’s what it looks like if we continue to look down at all the details, and forget to look up at the bare bones functional framework of the whole system.
I’m a biologist, did I tell you that? And I can tell you that scientists are confused about all the details of the ecosystem. But the good thing about science and scientists is that they usually know what they do know and what they don’t know. And for the most part we are not confused about the bare bones functional laws that drive the ecosystem. The basic laws of nature are as solid and universal and reliable as gravity, and the laws of transfer of energy, that’s thermodynamics, and life on earth — which is the ecosystem — is built around these natural laws.
We need to understand these laws and how they relate to biology if we want to rebuild a healthy human presence within a healthy ecosystem. Biology is not a confusion of conflicting opinions. Biology is the study of measurable facts about the natural laws that permit life on earth. Facts do not change. That’s why we call them facts. And they don’t care about our opinions. I don’t understand why we want to fight over them, given that we all need the same things. We are acting like a bunch of cartoon characters with question marks over our heads, trying to decide whether to swim across the alligator infested river, or take a flimsy canoe, when there is a well built bridge just over on the left side of the picture. It would make a lot more sense, wouldn’t it, to sit back together and figure out how to get across the bridge. To get what we all need by nurturing the health of our ecosystem.
So Bare Bones Biology will focus on the facts and their logic, that shows how everything truly does fit together in the largest unit of life that we know anything about, the whole earth ecosystem.
This is Bare Bones Biology, a weekly production of FactFictionFancy.com, and KEOS radio, in Bryan, Texas. The podcast can be downloaded at:
Bitsy lifted her head off my leg and went to sniff around the edges of her window on the passenger side of the truck. My lungs begged for more GOOD air for a good change. The sky gradually changed to a proper sky color, and, avoiding cities, we crossed over into the fresh air of New Mexico.
Next time I’ll avoid Lubbock – got lost in exact same place again, after rattling around city streets for half an hour. Amarillo, a city that I like reasonably well has been under highway construction for so long that I gave up trying to remember what lane to be in, and went via Lubbock instead. What an astonishingly illogical state is Texas. Too bad, too. Texas had everything going for it when I arrived 35 years ago. If we had carried on with Ann Richards’ responsibility to the future, instead of wallowing in yesterday’s old, dry dreams of empire that have proven over and again in human history to be not viable, we in Texas could have led the world toward a future instead of toward its destruction and I would no be driving through the chill northern air.
Anyhow, I can breath in New Mexico, especially while I am not inside an infernal machine made of metal and oil and gas with all the windows rolled up, and the trip through Billy the Kid country is mostly fresh and fine, especially if you like red dirt and blue skies. And it is quite interesting that in the absence of toxic chemicals I lose all cravings for coffee and sugar.
But it is hard work for the truck and for me on a two-lane road with a heavy side wind, and quite a few giant trucks trying to pass without blowing me off the road. I spent the time between excitements imagining Billy, who was part of that frontier dream of yesterday, riding for – well it took us three hours with a truck that has big gas tanks – and he with only a horse for transportation in a land with no grass or water in sight.
We arrived at the Santa Rosa Trailer Park because I already knew it was there, and we stayed for an extra day because they have fixed their internet, access is not rationed, and it’s good to take a rest day whenever possible. And there was a forecast of snow in Santa Fe, which is only about 100 miles away. An easy drive for a last day.
The Santa Rosa Trailer Park is not easy to see or find, because it is relatively quiet. It’s tucked away down from the road, and it’s the OLD road, not the new highway 40. There are more trails around the park than I have the energy to walk. And they have real dinners. I bought dinner for myself two days in a row. A record. All they lack is a dog park for Bitsy, who got bored and grumpy and curled up under the sleep bag in the 50 degree temperature. Who knows what is the chill factor in a 30 mph wind that never stops.
Oh yes, we also gained an hour, which means it is either earlier or later than my body thinks it is, and I overheard someone say we are about to gain another one — or lose the first one – again – tomorrow. No wonder the children of today believe that humans control the universal empire. Or could, if we try hard enough.
My question still is: how can we be aware of our human ego, and all the negative, painful behaviors that it generates — how can we use that knowledge to grow a more positive, life-supporting human community? Our efforts to treat the symptoms of ecosystem dysfunction — our hubris — are humane, admirable and heroic – variously they include: teach compassion, feed the hungry, build a fence and keep ‘em out, war. However, the painful truth is that these efforts will not solve our problems, because they are based in what humans want, without regard to what Life needs to stay healthy.
To solve our problems, we cannot continue to do our behaviors that caused the problems in the first place. Instead, we must change our behaviors to give back to the whole of Life what Life needs to maintain itself. To do that, we must study what is needed and why. If we really do want to do more good than harm, we need to stop playing corposystem games and listen to and understand what we the human community are doing that is harmful to the biological community.
By the time this program is broadcast, the transcript will be posted, and above and below the transcript a diagram http://factfictionfancy.wordpress.com/2012/12/04/5456/
that attempts to describe the most basic way that our corposystem of today is, in the overall, causing more harm than good to our life systems. Our job is to change the nature of the corposystem to conform to the needs of nature. That is, to make it sustainable. For people who only have the audio, I will try to describe.
On the left is diagrammed the cycle of Life. The function of Life is to transduce light energy into food energy and then to use this food energy to nourish all the interconnected processes that keep the whole of Life alive. This is rather similar to our individual lives, except that individually we eat food energy and transduce it into chemical energy that we use to nourish all the processes that keep our own bodies alive.
Perhaps the biggest difference between individual lives and all of Life is what happens to the materials that are left over, after we individuals do all the work of living. We think of these materials as waste products of life; materials like carbon, oxygen, proteins, feces and dead bodies. That sort of thing. But they are not waste products; they are essential components of the cycle of life that uses them over and over again to sustain the processes of Life.
Life is miraculous in the universe. The second miracle of life is how it recycles, gives back to the cycle of Life the materials of which it is composed, so that the materials are used again for another cycle — always available to maintain the body of Life – things like cells and trees and people. The relationship among the food energy and the work of recycling materials and the heat energy is essential to Life as we know it.
The first miracle is the way Life uses energy (1). Energy cannot be created or destroyed or recycled, but so long as the sun is shining, the plants can use that light energy from the sun to make food. After the food energy is used to do work, it changes into heat energy and is released into the body of Life.
The third miracle of Life is the genetic information that keeps all this in balance — but that is a story for another day. For now we must recognize that all the processes of life must stay in balance in order to maintain Life.
The cycle of our corpo-political human system, the corposystem, is shown on the right side of the diagram, where you can see that the corposystem unbalances the cycle of Life. The corposystem takes what it wants but does not “give back” proportionally to the cycle of life. That’s your life I’m talking about, and more your grandchildren’s.
The ecosystem, the left part of the diagram, generates food (carbohydrates, proteins, lipids etc.) using recycled materials plus energy. Burning energy (any kind of burning, including metabolism in our cells) releases the original materials, which are mostly in the form of carbon dioxide and water. This is the energy cycle, but it is much more than only energy. The balance between the photysynthesis by the green organisms, and the recycling of the materials, also creates our atmosphere; and the relationship between the atmosphere and the sunlight maintains our global climate. The sunlight is important to photosynthesis and photosynthesis and sunlight are important to our climate. This is only one example of the essential multifactorial balancing act of life.
The corposystem unbalances these essential functions in more than one way. First, it burns fossil fuels, in addition to the food energy provided by today’s ecosystem, thus unbalancing relationships between photosynthesis, production of heat by combustion and by the atmospheric conditions, the generation of materials, and their use.
In addition, of course, the ecosystem consists of billions of other cycles – life cycles, chemical cycles, atmospheric, you can list more. The function of the ecosystem is to provide the energy to all these activities, including: (1) to provide food energy so the organisms can do the work required to keep the ecosystem – and now the corposystem — cycling; (2) to operate machines and energize technologies, especially computers, that it uses to organize people and other machines; (3) to make things to sell, often things the corposystem cannot use or recycle, such as poisonous or non-degradable substances, computers, television sets, etc. In short, the corposystem takes food energy and materials from the ecosystem and uses them to make stuff to sell. The product of corposystem cycle is to make profit — not to nourish Life. The system is evaluated largely, in our culture, by who wins, rather than by the balance of factors required to maintain Life.
The obvious end point of a cycle that is taking out more than it is giving back is – it will run out of resources. Since 1997 the corposystem (that is us) has been taking out from the earth ecosystem more than the ecosystem can replace (for examples, download on my home page, right side, Planetary Stewardship). The ecosystem can tolerate a lot of unbalancing and rebalancing but there is indeed a tipping point beyond which it will change itself in ways that will not permit human life.
So to restate the original question here: “How can we become aware of our place in Life so that we can give back to Life what it needs to give us what we need?” I know that a simplistic, egotistical human effort to dominate nature, whether for compassion or for war, will not save nature. We must bow to the needs of nature if we want to survive. To do that we need to learn what those needs are, and nearly all of our leaders are much too busy winning to know, learn or care about anything else. It’s up to us.
Photos by Lynn
This blog is an expanded version of Bare Bones Biology radio program that will play next week on KEOS Radio, 98.1 FM, Bryan, Texas. Bare Bones Biology is a completely nonprofit project. The podcast can be downloaded at
(1) Energy is defined as the ability to do work. All the processes that keep us alive are work. They can be recognized in the simplest way by the fact that things move and processes happen because they use energy. Bare Bones Ecology Energy Handbook explains in more detail.
Question for Discussion:
How can you develop a small, local, life-supporting community that seeks information about the real facts of Life, while at the same time making our human lives less competitive and more compassionate?
Look at the two pictures in this blog. How many things do you see that cannot be recycled by the corposystem. Don’t forget the flyspray they used on the horses ☺
Bare Bones Biology Ecology Energy Handbook
Go to the right side of the page under Chapters and download your free no strings PDF.
What Won’t Work – http://factfictionfancy.wordpress.com/2011/02/13/
Corposystem Games – http://factfictionfancy.wordpress.com/2011/09/13/
Diagram – http://factfictionfancy.wordpress.com/2012/12/04/5456/
human_community, ecosystem_dysfunction, symptoms, compassion, fence, war, starvation, problems, give_back, what_is_needed, corposystem_games, biological_community, corposystem, Life=All_Life, food_energy, materials, recycle, energy, sustainable, interconnected processes