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 factfictionfancy.wordpress.com
Audio at http://www.BareBonesBiology.com

Permalink URL – http://barebonesbiology.com/bbb053-winning-mp3

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