Bare Bones Biology 056 – Levels and Population I

People talk about levels of organization all the time, only they don’t know it, and they don’t know that different levels have different characteristics, and therefore different problems and solutions. For example:

Excerpt from Interview with Alan Senauke Part I, The Interdependence Project Podcast

“What is right view? In this sense, the view that this person had was quite correctly looking at exploitative labor practices and perhaps ecologically destructive manufacturing processes. So she saw that and was able to work on that. But the main issue is to me one of the entire question of consumption and consumerism, and the manufacture of desire . . .”

Both people are right, but the solution to one problem diminishes the solution to the other. In comparison I reproduce below an excerpt the “Advent of Evolutionary Christianity,” with Michael Dowd and Ian Barbour. Again they are talking about levels of organization, but this time they label the relationship. As a result, it they can make positive parallels between religious thinking and documented scientific realities, rather than trying to understand which is “right.”

Barbour: “The other insight that I think religious views can benefit from understanding is the idea of levels of organization. That’s become much more prominent in recent scientific thought. I think you call it the “nested hierarchy”?
Dowd: Yes, yes, “nested emergence.” Speak to that if you could—please.
Barbour: Well, I think the idea of emergence of new levels (both in evolutionary history and in the growth of an embryo)—that new levels of organization come into being . . .”

and then he went on to make his point. My point is that he set the subject clearly and the discussion that followed was more clear for it.

Ian Barbour was talking about levels of development. If we want to talk about levels of physical reality, we might set our levels at individual (level one) population (level two) corposystem (political and economic complex, level three) and ecosystem (level four, the most complex level, that contains all the others) – then it is clear that what is good for one level is not necessarily good for the next level. I can say, for example, that pesticides are good for me personally (level one), and they are great for the corposystem to make money with (level three), but they are very harmful to the ecosystem (level four) – and we require the ecosystem for our survival. That’s the reality; then we have to decide what to do about it.

This is the background for an informal study that I did at our local Planned Parenthood.

First I asked as many protestors as possible why they were picketing the organization. They gave me literature and also personal stories about individuals, level one. Harm to embryos and fetuses. There are good statistics that show any harm to embryos and fetuses is about 3% of what this organization might do, but anyone can understand why humans need and want to protect what they view as other human individuals. Kindness and compassion toward other individuals is a necessary human value. So they are right.

I then received permission to ask the same question of volunteers who support the organization, and their answers in every case related to the welfare of the community (the community is level two), and often referred to medical help they had needed and received. They maintain that individuals can not be healthy unless they are wanted and supported within a healthy community. There are a lot of data to show that they are also right.

So what we have here is an argument in which both sides are right, and they don’t know it because they don’t understand that different levels of organization have different requirements for their welfare, and because of this, the problems and solutions are different at different levels.

Next week I’ll talk about levels three and four in this same non-argument, and on Tuesday the 31st at the Peach Clubhouse, we will show the first good movie I’ve seen on the subject.

Bare Bones Biology 056 – Levels and Population I
KEOS Radio, 89.1, Bryan, TX
audio download

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