Bare Bones Biology 053 – Winning is an Emergent Property

For me, the concept of emergent properties (Bare Bones Biology 017, FactFictionFancy-How Can we Know so Little, is critical to understanding our human power inside our living and nonliving environment. And this is important because any living thing needs to understand power relationships to stay alive. How much personal power do I have? How much power is attributable to God? Or to the Ecosystem? These relationships are very fundamental, and if we mis-interpret them we may end up on our keesters. Or extinct. Or just miserable wanting our world to be something it can not be.

If we truly understand the reality of emergent properties — that is, if we appreciate the fact that all of our physical reality is the result of a complex combination of factors — causes and effects — then there is no such thing as a winner. Or even a hero.

Ho, indeed, big jump there, but how can there be a winner if the individual who won was not individually responsible for the win? For example, I once won. I won a court case. I can give you a list as long as your arm of conditions and people and coincidences without which I would not have won, no matter how good the cause and no matter how diligently and skillfully I worked.

I noticed this disconnect in our thinking, between the concept of winner and the reality of complexity, while struggling to make sense of our American idea that “everyone can be a winner,” that I saw on a schoolroom wall. I have been one, and I don’t think so. Or maybe someone has changed the meaning of the word – winner. As I understand American English, a winner is someone who won something by using her own power or skill. In order to win something, the winner has to beat something. Usually what she beats is other people. Just look around. I think there must be at least ten or fifteen losers produced in our culture for every winner. How can we believe that everyone can be a winner with something like 1/5 of our population under the poverty line? That can’t be winning, and I don’t think anyone is actually counting the losers. A lot of losers are over the poverty line – way over the poverty line.

During my lifetime this tendency in our culture has increased dramatically, as has our delight in blaming each other for whatever happens that we don’t like. We shout the praises of the winners, and blame the losers for their losses, because we believe we all are personally in control of own wins and losses. It’s not true. Every win reflects a complex history of interactions, most of which we don’t personally control. And so does every loss.

If you want an example of the absurd extremes this can reach – just look at the Congress of today where everyone is assuming his own omniscience, and is busy blaming everyone else, and nobody is willing to work toward the solution itself, because it is really complicated and would require cooperation among the millions of parts that must fall into place in the right way to reach an emergent solution.

Interestingly, this morning news reported that the imprisoned sons of Mubarac are unable to comprehend what it means not to have a cell phone in jail, so the reporter said. I guess they thought their power was an innate and immutable part of their personal makeup — stronger even than the laws of nature. It’s not. The only power we really have is our good luck plus our understanding of the merging facts and processes, and the probable consequences of the choices we make. The very most that we can ever accomplish is to focus the threads of cause and effect toward a goal. We have everything we need right now to align our human presence with the physical realities of the world we live in — except we don’t have the will to define our common goal and then go for it.

Bare Bones Biology 053 – Winning
KEOS radio 89.1, Bryan, Texas
Transcript at
Audio at

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Peach Clubhouse Newsletter 110429

Our Schedule of Movies and Radio Spots Upcoming

Week of May 1 – Bare Bones Biology 053 – Winning – on KEOS Radio 89.1 Bryan TX

Tuesday May 3 at 6 pm at the Peach Clubhouse we will show the dark history of three men from California who have been imprisoned, two of them for 37 years, most of the time in solitary confinement.
“In the Land of the Free.”

On Thursday May 5, at noontime I will rerun Gasland if there is a demand.

For the remainder of May there will be no regularly scheduled events as the Peach Clubhouse will be closed.

Excellent Reading from Our London Tentacle
“Anyone who believes in indefinite growth in anything physical, on a physically finite planet, is either mad – or an economist.”

Latest Update on our Very Active California Tentacle
Stewards of our Children’s Future in Benicia had another stimulating second lecture workshop this past Tuesday, April 26th: Understanding Climate Change with Dr Betsy Julian (see the UTube link below)
The first and second lectures are linked to the Benicia Public Library’s webpage:
Direct link to the current second lecture is

Latest Update on Fracking in Texas
The Texas Drought Project is planning a Fracking Tour with affected Texas Landowners and other experts to come to our community on June 10-12. We all are welcome to help with the organization. Another showing of Gasland may be scheduled for June 1, that is not certain. Contact me or Alyssa if you want to be involved.

Post Carbon Institute takes on Exxon Mobil

And what good timing. I heard on the radio yesterday that Exxon this year made the biggest profit in the history of all history. One would think they could almost single-handedly make birth control technology available to all the poor of the world who want it. And then I went to the pump where gas was over $3. There is a lot of good information in the post carbon newsletter, written by people who know what they are talking about.

Post Carbon Institute | Leading the transition to a resilient world

Stewards of our Children’s Future-Lecture #2

Levels Yet Again

I’ve done more radio spots on Levels of Organization than any other one thing, because I think it’s the most important and most neglected law of nature that we know about. The concept has two halves. The first half is that there are levels of reality that are made from combining simpler levels. A simple example would be a pie that is made of whatever pies are made of. The second half of the concept is that different levels have different characteristics and also different needs. A pie is definitely different from salt, even though salt is one of the ingredients.

The requirements for welfare are also different, one level from the other, in the levels of things that are alive, so that sometimes it is not possible to have all the requirements that are needed at all the levels. We can’t have everything we want. This gives rise to moral dilemmas of the tragic kind. They are tragic in the “Greek Tragedy” sense, because we can’t avoid them. We must either decide to honor the one level — and that has tragic consequences — or the other level and that also has tragic consequences, or choose to not decide, which also has its tragic results. But aside from the Greek tragedies, it’s really hard to find understandable examples of this law of nature.

Then — as I was driving home yesterday, I heard Diane Rehm interview Eric Felten about his new book “Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue,” that seems to be mostly about this kind of thing.

The Diane Rehm interview was excellent. Nobody used the term levels, but actually the whole thing was about that subject, and Diane Rehm is obviously familiar with the idea. She kept highlighting it. She and Eric Felton used different levels in their discussion than I have in my simplified system.

Mine are:
Individual, population, corposystem, ecosystem

The levels they used on this show:
Individual, friendship, marriage, family, employer, community, country

Some of the examples they used — you can be loyal to your friendship or to your friend or to yourself, but not always to all three. If you are Bernie Maddoff’s son, you cannot remain loyal to yourself and to your community and to your father’s behavior all at the same time. David Kuzinski’s brother had to choose between turning in his brother or allow him to continue damaging the community welfare. The “first responders,” such as firemen, whose obligation is to serve the community, all run off to help their own families (when the tornado hits).

And the one I never forget, though I don’t even know if it is true – the jewish mother hiding from Hitlers’ death squad who smothered her squawling child to save the community she was hiding with.

Eric Felton believes this natural law, the levels of organization around which the universe is organized is a “tragic flaw” of reality. I think, on the contrary, that all natural laws are perfect just the way they are – because, of course, there would be no universe without the natural laws that make the universe function the way it does function. I think these relationships are organized the way they are so that the levels of reality can stay balanced among themselves. If you are a religious person, you must believe that God made these laws for a reason, if we do or we do not know the reason.

If we want to live in this world, we can not insist that the universal laws, or God, should step aside so that we can re-organize it more like what we think it should be. That is not one of the available choices. And to pretend that any human or group of humans completely understands either the science or the will of God is an outrageously egotistical, powermonger stance. We don’t even know what all the levels are.

Any power that we have for the good of ourselves and our communities, now and for the future, must come from understanding more and more exactly how the universe — and especially the ecosystem that gives us life – how it really DOES function and fulfilling our obligations to that reality.

Questions Answered

• What is your stance on overpopulation?

My stance is not relevant. Measurable facts are what we need to understand problems, whenever they are available. It is not difficult to know these facts. After we understand the problem, then we can have opinions about how to fix it. The basic problem is a balance of how much food is available and how many living things need it to eat. This can easily be measured. The person I know who has done the best job of measuring is Lester Brown (because he has been doing it for about 40 years and because he is honest).

• How can we stop it?

Overpopulation is a very complex problem to stop. Again, Lester Brown may have the most balanced view, because he tries to measure all the different factors that need to be addressed. I say balanced view because he studies many parameters: food resources, non-food energy resources, climate change and other problems that are brought about by an imbalance in the ecosystem. But we will need information from all fields of research to bring the problem under control in time. Apparently some people don’t want to control the problem, because there is one thing we could do tomorrow that would have a dramatic positive effect, and that would be to make birth control available to all women and men and families who want it. At the present time we are withholding this technology from the people who need it. Other kinds of solution would take longer and might be too late.

• Should we slow down birth rates?

If we don’t slow down birth rates, then they will slow down anyway beause the population will be reduced by war, starvation, genocide and epidemics. Providing birth control for people who can’t afford children or don’t want them would be very, very much kinder than killing them with war and genocide or letting them die in famines and epidemics. Those are the options — because this is a problem that is controlled by the ecosystem and neither humans nor the economy are more powerful than the ecosystem. We can’t change the natural laws that control the ecosystem, and if the ecosystem dies then everything inside it also dies.

The problem is very simple:

a) All food for humans and for all animals and for all ecosystems and also for all plants and most micro-organisms comes from photosynthesis. Only plants and green bacteria can do photosynthesis. They can make food for themselves. Every other living entity in the earth ecosystem must eat plants (or eat something else that eats plants or green bacteria) in order to stay alive. This is a good system as long as you have more photosynthetic organisms (producers) than you have of non-photosynthetic organisms (consumers).

b) The problem arises when you get more consumers than producers, and that is where the world is right now. From then on, something has to die so we can eat. For about the past 50 years it has been other species dying so we can use their portion of the available food. Now we are at the point where we are beginning to kill of each other and the plants. That’s when starvation begins because the plants make our food. The climate change question is similar. Photosynthesis makes oxygen. Eating and digesting food makes carbon dioxide, and it’s a cycle. I can send you a handbook that explains in more detail if you want it. Or you can download from this blog on the right side, Bare Bones Ecology Energy Handbook. The earth has a circulatory system of oxygen and carbon dioxide that must stay in balance. The circulatory system basically runs by the climate. Or is the climate. When that gets out of balance, the ecosystem will react. Just as any living thing will react when its physiology gets out of balance. It will try to not die. One of the important things that will then happen is that a lot of the plants will die because they are adapted to the balance we did have. It is the plants that make our food. We do not get food from oil wells or from the sun or from the wind, and we can not make food. (Because of the natural laws of thermodynamics that is also explained in the Bare Bones Ecology Energy Handbook.)

• How could we slow down birth rates?

Answered above.

• Is a bigger population hurting the economy? Is it helping it?

That question is not relevant to the problem. It is a question economists like to ask so that we will not be thinking about the real food resource problem. The economy has no power in this relationship. The ecosystem has the power. The economy is inside the ecosystem. The economy cannot make food, and neither can it change the laws of nature that keep us all alive. A bigger population is hurting the ecosystem very badly and if the ecosystem crashes we will all die and there won’t be any economy.

• Why is population often so centered? For example 8 million people in NYC.

This is not my kind of question, though I know it is partly a result of overpopulation because when people lose their homes from any kind of disaster they will tend to go to cities. If they had a little farm and they got their food from the farm, and they lose it – then they have no food and go where they hope to get a job.

Overpopulation causes starvation, genocide, war, disease — and global warming is melting the ice. So a lot of people are losing their homes. Melting the ice, for example, means people lose their land for two reasons. One is that the oceans get higher, so for example Bangladesh and some islands and Florida and some other places are getting smaller because the water is higher. Another reason is that the mountain glaciers are the source of the great rivers of many continents. If the rivers stop running and the deserts take their place, then the people will have to go away because the plants will die and the farmers can’t grow food anymore.

• What do you estimate the worlds population will be at in 2025?

This is not relevant. Why would we want to wait around to find out?

• Will birth rates slow down?

There are no valid statistics on this because this has never before happened to humans. However, all normal organisms make more babies than can survive. That is one of the natural laws. I don’t think there is any reason to believe that humans are abnormal in this respect.

But we can guess. A standard growth curve for most species is exponential, so long as plenty of food is available. That means the population doubles in shorter and shorter and shorter intervals until the food runs out. Then the population stops increasing. Then it crashes. The reason it stops increasing is because of war, famine, disease, genocide, etc. In mice and rats, some of the animals become crazy and start killing infant mice and rats.

The difference between humans and mice and rats is that humans have a brain that can understand what is happening and we have birth control technologies that we are not making available to the people who need it. So right now is the time we should be using both.

Peach Clubhouse Newsletter-110425

Happy Easter all. I think you will really enjoy this, but with one caveat. The largest living thing on earth (contrary to what they say) is the whole earth ecosystem.

Much has happened, notably the movie Gasland made us wonder where the fracking is proposed in Texas – in relation to our sources of water. We want pure water coming out of our city and personal water wells. So now I have those maps at the Peach Clubhouse or you can get them from


Tuesday, April 26 at 6 pm, a Dalai Lama Renaissance, an amusing movie in which a group of powerful movers and shakers goes to visit His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, in Dharamsala.
Thursday, April 28, Peach clubhouse is closed
Friday, April 29, at 3 PM, in the meditation room at the Peach Clubhouse, the Brazos Insight Meditation Society will meet for meditation followed by discussion over a cup of green tea. You don’t have to sit on the floor. I usually don’t. But you can.

The first Tuesday night movie will be on May 3. The title is “In the Land of the Free,” and it is quite a grim story of the Angola 3. I think we can call this a local community concern, as is the Gas Fracking. More about that later.

Regular hours are Tuesday 9 to 4, Thursday 9 to 2, Friday 9 to 4. But the Peach Clubhouse will be closed during the second and third weeks of May.

Contemplation: Why do I get so upset when people bring our popular “aint-it-awful” mantra into the Peach Clubhouse? Well for one thing, I got the Peach clubhouse as a way to get away from toxic mantras. Because the constant contemplation of what we can not do results in — weakness — and what is worse, it offers up our personal power on the altar of the Corposystem. This blog and this house are all about our personal responsibility and power – not weakness. We have no guarantees in life, but our living earth is worth the effort to save her, no matter what. Everybody – please read “Powers of the Weak,” by Elizabeth Janeway. You can get it for seventeen cents on Amazon. And it’s on the shelf at the Peach Clubhouse. Chapter 11 discusses the first power of the weak. Disbelief. Not to believe their propaganda or our cultural acquiescence, without first examining all the alternative routes toward the common good. The second power is in community. There are plenty more that fly along under the radar. The trick is to look for them and then find ways to use them. There will be plenty of work for all.

Photo is of Robert King