Learning from Ladakh

I have just obtained this fine book that is for some reason not easy to find in libraries. How can that be? Just in the prologue material it explains our position on planet earth more clearly than I have seen it expressed anywhere else.

Learning from Ladakh, Helena Norberg-Hodge, ISBN: 0-87156-559-5

Grasshopper Gardens

Pandora came up the pipes into the kitchen sink. Did you know that scorpions carry their babies on their backs?


Relationships also have emergent properties that would not exist if the one or the other were not involved. Or, as Joseph Campbell used to say, in a marriage we do not sacrifice for the other person, but for the relationship itself.

Bare Bones Biology Transcript 017 – Emergent Properties

It seems like the hardest scientific things to explain are those that everyone already understands. Like gravity for example. Or emergent properties. My favorite emergent property is thinking, and lately I’ve been thinking quite a lot about emergent properties.

An emergent property — let me warn you, I think some British scientist made up this definition, because it sounds very high-tone, but the reality is amazingly real. In fact it’s fun to know these things, and when I give you some examples it will make more sense. And don’t bother to write it down, you can always go to my blog for double-check.

An emergent property is a capability or function that can not be present in less complicated things because it requires the cooperative and coordinated functions of all its many different of parts. All the parts must work together to produce the property, capability or function. The property may “emerge” as a new thing. Like our brains for example, can think in languages, but to do this it must be very complicated and well organized.

Life is an emergent property. We can define life as the ability to manage itself because it has the genetic information in every cell that directs all the processes of life. Life is not present in atoms or molecules, but it is present in cells. Atoms and molecules are not as complicated as living cells. They don’t have enough bells and whistles, all working together, to do all the functions that are necessary for living things to stay alive. So, even though atoms and molecules and macromolecules are essential components of cells, and they are necessary for the life of the cell, individually they aren’t actually alive. It is the perfectly organized complexity that permits life to be alive. Life is an emergent property of the cell, and the cell is the simplest most basic unit that can do all the jobs necessary to stay alive.

It’s not only living things that have emergent properties. The emergent property of a car would be that you can drive around in it. You can’t drive around in a steering wheel or an engine or a transmission, but when you get these things all properly organized together you can drive around. An emergent property of a kidney is the ability to make urine. An emergent property of our culture is the corporation. Now I’m thinking about a watch, and I can do this because an emergent property of the brain is thinking.

All cells are alive, but cells can’t think, because thinking requires this huge organ that we have in our head that is made out of millions of interconnecting nerve endings, from cells, that all are cooperating to accomplish the task of thinking. Thinking is the emergent property of the brain.

Now the whole earth ecosystem — talk about complicated — talk about organized. The ecosystem is much more complicated than my brain, or even all the brains in the whole world. So there is no way my brain can know and understand the emergent property that is most characteristic of the ecosystem, whatever it may be, any more than a cell in my big toe — or even a cell in my brain — can understand how people think.

So what was that you said about human technology saving us from the ecosystem?

Think again. The ecosystem is already doing what it is supposed to do to stay alive, and there is no way we can make it better. We can’t change these things because they run on universal laws like gravity, the laws of thermodynamics, and the law of cause and effect.

But we sure can interfere with their function if we throw the ecosystem off balance and upset the complexity of her organization by our reverence for growth, growth, growth, when more growth will only throw her works more out of balance by reducing the diversity of all the parts and messing up the organization.

We are not gods, you know. We can not change or control the universal laws of nature.

Bare Bones Biology 017
Produced by FactFictionFancy and
KEOS Radio, 98.1, Bryan

Grasshopper Gardens – Toads

Bitsy’s got one of those toads cornered. They are so much FUN to watch. I guess she knows that toads have “nasty glands” on their backs and we shouldn’t eat them, but if you want to try we have a whole herd of them here in Grassopper Gardens. All sizes.
Next Sunday morning on Bare Bones Biology the subject is Emergent Properties. I never hear anyone talk about emergent properties, even though they are probably the most wondrous manifestations of physical reality that we can understand. Well, at least I think so. I love to understand how things work. Especially things that seem to be miraculous. And then there is always another miraculous manifestation hiding behind every one that we learn to understand. It’s like exploring.

6:55 am on KEOS 98.1, and right here on this blog.

Grasshopper Gardens 100810

A family of toads lives under the big water trough, I don’t remember if I told you. The puddle near the trough has dried up, but I was able to make a little movie before it did that I will use some day for a podcast. Meantime, the surviving young have grown to nearly half size. It’s fun, when the tub has dried out and I tip it on its side to hose out the detritus and possible baby mosquitoes, to watch all the toads either huddle in their little caves or jump under the new location of the tub. But some of them won’t budge, so Bitsy and I tease them out of the way before we tip the trough back into position to fill it up for the horses. We (well I) don’t want to think of some poor little toad caught under there with no way to escape.