Yesterday

In Bare Bones Biology 198 https://factfictionfancy.wordpress.com/2014/03/30/ I said that
Evolution is the process of change in the gene pools of species over time. A species is a particular kind of living thing and its gene pool is all the genes in all the individuals of that species.

The function of the process of evolution is to maintain Life. This is done by balancing the following characteristics of living things:
1. The inherited physical and behavioral characteristics of organisms (living things) are transmitted by the genes from one generation to the next.
2. Every living thing is a least a little bit different genetically from every other living thing;
3. In all species, more offspring are born than can survive because long-term there is not enough food available for them all to survive.
4. The genes of those that do survive are passed to the next generation.
5. Individual organisms do not evolve. They can change, but evolution is the difference between the gene pool of one generation and the gene pool of the next generation.
6. The entire Biosystem evolves all at the same time together.
The function of the natural Law of Evolution, the basic Law of Life, is to maintain LIFE by mainaining a viable BALANCE among all the interacting factors at all the many levels of the Life on Earth.

The next question is – what is a Level of Life.? And how do they interact?

Levels of Organization of Life

https://factfictionfancy.wordpress.com/2009/12/07/levels-of-organization/

The Biosystem is a Network of Levels of Organization

The diagram below needs explanation, but it won’t be easy, because the Bosystem is so complicated that it is impossible humanly to represent or to fully understand.
If you find it mind boggling to comprehend the levels of organization, all interacting among and between themselves, then you are just like the scientists, the politicians, the religious and everyone else. Fortunately, we do not need to understand all the little details of the system in order to have a good idea of how it functions — the structural and functional requirements for it to stay alive — and that is our goal. A basic appreciation of the beautiful idea of networking. and of the levels of organization, is background for understanding the flow of energy, and of other things, through the living ecosystem. Life is possible because of the internet of living and nonliving things through all the levels. The basic format of these realities is outlined in the below diagram.

The ecosystem consists of sets and subsets of living and nonliving entities that interact between and among themselves. We can not represent the entire system in a diagram for two reason. One is that the sets and subsets (levels of organization)
are flexible, a fact that is necessary for their survival (sustainability). The other is that there are just too many interactions to understand or represent.

For example, looking to the diagram, there are ecosystems within ecosystems. I am a functioning part of the pasture ecosystem and the East Texas group of ecosystems and in fact all the ecosystems in the world because I contribute to the materials (such as carbon dioxide) and the energy flow and many other activities that occur within each of these ecosystems and the whole earth ecosystem. If I could draw all the lines of interaction between myself and all the other ecosystems and all the other levels of organizations, the entire page would be black. So I drew only one or two or a few lines to feebly represent just a few interactions.

Imagine that everything interacts with everything on this diagram in some way(s) and also everything interacts with millions of other entities that make up the living system. For example, your heart interacts with every other component of your body; your resilience and therefore your survivability (sustainability) would be unlikely if any of these interacting components of your body were missing. All the organs work together to maintain your life. This is represented by the lines between the heart and kidney and skin on the diagram. However, it is true of every organ in your body. They all interact. Similarly, the leaves, bark and other organs of a tree all interact with each other to make the tree alive, and the tree interacts with nearly everything else in the ecosystem, including us.

We are only one component of the metabolism of the ecosystem. Our lungs breathe the oxygen that is provided by plants; our food gives us the energy we require for life; the environment degrades our wastes, so that we are not suffocated in a dung-heap of the unused byproducts of our metabolism, and these byproducts are re-used by other organisms. These processes are carried out by other organism that all are interacting within all the big and little ecosystems of life on earth. We could not survive without the other elements of the ecosystem, and we also contribute to the other elements of the ecosystem.

Levels of organization are shown on the diagram by the large headings on the left side of the page. Levels of organization are a special type of interaction that we have discussed before. Everything in the universe is composed of other, smaller things. These relationships are referred to as levels of organization. A very few example relationships of this kind are shown in the diagram with vertical lines. To summarize some of the levels of organization that exist:

1-The whole earth ecosystem is made up of smaller ecosystems and organisms. The whole earth ecosystem is the biggest (most inclusive) organized level of Life on earth.
2-Organisms are made up of organs and their environment
3-Organs are composed of specialized tissues and their environment.
4-Tissues are composed of specialized cells and their environment
5-Cells can be organisms or they can be subunits of organisms. The cell is the basic unit of life. Below the cellular level of organization, life as we define it is not present in the interacting systems of which it is composed. However, obviously, are also necessary for Life to exist because living things are composed of them.
6-Cells would not be alive without the precisely organized organelles, macromolecules and molecules of which they are composed.
7-Organelles are subunits of the cell that perform specific functions. For example, the chloroplast is an organelle that is made up of macromolecules and molecules that, in the environment provided by the cell can do the processes of photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process of changing light energy to chemical energy that is used to form the energy bonds of macromolecules.
8-Macromolecules are organic molecules joined together with other molecules by energy bonds.
9-Molecules are made of atoms that are joined together in very specific ways by energy bonds. The kinds of energy bonds and the kinds of relationships between the atoms are not random. They depend upon the fact that different kinds of atoms have different characteristics.
10-Atoms can not be seen or directly measured individually. However, if we collect a few million/billion atoms of the same kind, all together in one place we would call that an element. There are not very many elements that (in their special combinations as molecules) make up all the living and nonliving things of the ecosystem. These elements/atoms are diagrammed by chemists in the “periodic table.” A lovely book by Theodore Gray and Nick Mann describes and illustrates all these basic elements (and atoms) of our existence.

Atoms are studied by physicists. There are many metaphoric descriptions of atoms, but the bottom line is we do not fully comprehend atoms from our perch so much higher up in the levels of the ecosystem (just as we do not fully comprehend things that are at levels of organization over our heads. Our sensory organs are designed to function in our own level.) What we need to know is that atoms are matter (they have mass, which means they have weight and volume. Everything from your desk to your grandmother is composed of atoms). Atoms also carry the energy that we require to do any kind of action in our lives or in the ecosystem. The energy of atoms determines how the different atoms can make energy bonds with other atoms so that molecules can form, and macromolecules, and organelles, and on up the levels.

It is important to know that humans do not understand most of these interactions. It’s also important to remember that any system that has more interactions, to a point, is likely to be more resilient (suggested reading linked by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi). Resilience is largely the result of complexity and is essential to life. Increased complexity of a network increases resilience because it makes available “fail-safe” options by providing several methods of accomplishing each process. Increased complexity can also increase the efficiency of energy usage (notice these elements also can be true of social organizations).

However, this does not mean that more complexity is always better than less complexity. Complexity is not the only element of life that is essential, and complexity must be maintained in balance with all the other essential components of ecosystem viability. Too much complexity can be as harmful to the balanced organization of a network as too little complexity. We could not be alive if the nature of the chemistry and physics of our environment were different than they are, or if the interactions within the ecosystem ceased to function. All the levels and all the interactions make us what we are.

Evolution not only functions to maintain balance among all these levels of Life.

Evolution also created at least some of them.

It is my personal opinion that the process of Evolution is so basic to existence that it is probably responsible for creating all the levels.

And only God could create the process of Evolution. But I don’t see any reason to argue about those last two points, because it is not our job to determine how the universe functions.

Our common goal and our human responsibility to God and to each other and all sentient beings is to individually and collectively do our very best to pass on to the seventh generation of humans yet to come a sustainable, reasonably comfortable human culture within a healthy Biosystem.

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Bare Bones Biology 198 – Law of Life

Now you have watched Neil deGrasse Tyson’s second Cosmos show on the subject of evolution, in which he described the process of evolution by natural selection of domestic dog from wild dog or wolf. There is an equally elegant description in a National Geographic magazine, I think two years ago with a lovely color cover showing your favorite breed of dog – descended by artificial selection from some gene pool of early domestic dogs. These facts can be stated very confidently for several reasons, but one of the reasons is gene sequencing. Several groups of geneticists have been working to physically sequence the genes (that means find out what genes are present in which individuals, breeds and species, and in what sequence these genes are found in the nuclei of the cells. They construct pedigrees based on the genes.)

The direct line of inheritance can be confirmed in the dogs and other species that are being sequenced just as easily as they can be determined in humans. If you believe in genetics or in genetic engineering or in mutations or in treating genetically caused ailments, then you must believe in evolution, because the evidence is as clear as your own family tree.

120110-tree-_DSC2280L2SsHowever, as I said last week, Dr. Tyson did not present the graduate course in evolution, but the basic description of how evolution works today and has worked over the history of Life on Earth. In a very general way, evolution operates by natural selection, or artificial selection, for traits that are useful to a species. A species is all the organisms of the same kind. This does not mean that evolution IS “survival of the fittest,” as so many of us have proclaimed in our modern age –trying to believe that we are the fittest.

So what is evolution really? I have said it is the process of change in the gene pool over time. That is true, but not very helpful because it doesn’t explain how or why. Darwinian theory would suggest that the change in the gene pool is caused by six basic biological realities that are always present in all life forms:

1. The physical and behavioral characteristics of organisms are caused by their genes. Actually they are also caused by various accidents and experiences. The percentage of characteristics that are caused by inheritance, by the genes, is known as the heritability. Most often it is more than 50%.

2. No two organisms are genetically identical unless they are identical twins. Therefore the vast majority of organisms are somewhat different from each other in their physical and behavioral characteristics. First there is a very small, probably constant, rate of mistakes when the genes are copied to make the eggs and sperms; second, the process of making the eggs and sperms specifically causes the genes to recombine so that the genes come together in new combinations, creating a constant source of genetic variability. So everyone is a little bit different – even trees and bugs.

3. More offspring of all species are produced than can survive. If all the individuals of a species do survive, then the species will die out, because it will eat up all the available food and starve. That is not “fittest.”

4. If the species does survive, then the genes of those individuals do survive may be passed on to the next generation. You may call that fitness if you wish, but if you insist on doing so, you need to study the facts and discover that it is rarely the dominant, chest-pounding male that survives best, although occasionally one of them passes along an unusually large number of sperms – more likely the clever and nurturing female will provide both the genetic and the behavioral traits that most influence the survivability of the following generation.

5. The most important fact of Life that we must realize if we care about the future is that no individual organism evolves. Many organisms can learn, and human organisms can pass on that learning, but we are born with the physically heritable traits that we have and we cannot change our genetics.

6. No species evolves in isolation. Not dogs, not humans, not trees nor bugs. All the species in the Biosystem affect all the other species in small or large ways, and the ENTIRE BIOSYSTEM is a living unit, just as your body is a living unit – therefore – EVERYTHING evolves together with everything else in the Biosystem. It does NOT evolve according to human values. Most of the species are not human. The Biosystem and all the species evolve together according to the natural laws that permit life to exist on earth.

The function of the natural Law of Evolution, the basic Law of Life, is to maintain a viable BALANCE among all these factors at all the many levels of the Life on Earth.

So let’s get that fitness soundbite out of our heads and figure out how evolution really works so maybe we might actually survive.

This is Bare Bones Biology, a production of FactFictionFancy and KEOS Radio, 89.1, Bryan, TX. A copy of the podcast may be downloaded at:

This blog and two upcoming blogs are written in response to a question asked by Gary Gripp and two questions asked at the Monday Lunch group. Good questions are most helpful; otherwise – how can we discuss the issues?

Bare Bones Biology 197 – Law of Life

Our basic human goal is to build a sustainable, reasonably comfortable future, within a healthy Biosystem, for the welfare of the seventh generation of humans yet to come.

Or at least that had better be our basic human goal, because if we continue playing around with our Trekky toys, we will end up – well, who knows.

If your goal is to help generate a sustainable, reasonably comfortable future, within a healthy Biosystem, for the seventh generation of humans yet to come, then you have something worthwhile to work for, and that is a blessing in itself.

111006-SantaFe-ASC_3474sNow please do not tell me you plan to accomplish that goal by telling the Biosystem how it must behave in order to be healthy. Right? Look around you. That’s what almost everyone is doing – trying to conquer the Biosystem, fold it up in a little package, roll it into a tiny little ball that we can put into our pocket, and let it out twice a day like the family cow, to give us what we cannot give ourselves – earth, air, fire and water.

That will not work.

What is the point of wasting our lives trying to do something that won’t work?

I have always thought the awfulest fate would be to spend one’s life struggling valiantly in the name of some false human God, such as winning or sinning or “follow the leader,” and then in the end realize that you had, talents and skills that could have been used to benefit others but you were too busy trying to be King of the Anthill.

But of course, humans are not omniscient, and so humans keep trying and failing to make a “better” future for our grandchildren. I think mostly the reasons for the failure are not lack of good will, or even selfishness, but mostly we don’t understand that we are part of a system, or several interconnected systems that are not human, and that these systems do not function according to how we believe they should function. So we get upset and throw tantrums rather than figure out how they actually DO function so we can get with the program.

Of course, all of the systems on earth do function according to very strict natural laws that make life possible on earth, and it would be the easiest thing in the world for us to learn about the laws of nature first, and then use our ingenuity to accommodate our cultures to the rule of natural law – rather than trying to squeeze nature into our unique human value systems.

Nature is not human and does not operate according to human value systems.

Nature operates according to the laws of nature: Gravity, thermodynamics, Evolution. We cannot accomplish our goal of sustainability by trying to change the ways in which nature functions.

And all around me heads nod – “of course – everyone knows that” – and then everyone goes on with the business of trying to make the Biosystem operate according to our human values. Wait. All but one. I hear one person over there asking the right question.
“How does the Biosystem function?”

And the answer is that Life on Earth, the Biosystem, operates, or functions, according to the natural Law of Evolution, and we cannot change that fact.

Now go and watch Neill deGrasse Tyson, Cosmos, quick, while it is still free http://www.cosmosontv.com/watch/195050051992, the second show, and remember:

1. evolution is NOT primarily survival of the fittest individual, and we will make no progress until we can get that soundbite out of our heads; primarily evolution is about the emergence of novel systems.

2. COSMOS is not an advanced course in evolution, but it is also not wrong, not a game, not an opinion, and it makes no difference whether or not you understand or agree with it.

You cannot possibly contribute to the welfare of humans on earth by arguing about whether or not well established facts are real. The best you can do that way is waste your own life. The real winners will be those who use real facts to benefit the Life system of which we all are part.

This is Bare Bones Biology, a production of FactFictionFancy and KEOS FM radio, 89.1, Bryan, Texas.

The podcast of this program can be downloaded at:

Bare Bones Biology 196 – Why do we Need to Change?

(sorry to be late folks, he evil flu bug has damaged my system)

140228-Upaya-ASC_8170RSsWhy do we want to build a human society (system) that is sustainable and reasonably comfortable for humans? I mean aside from being comfortable the most important reason is sustainability. That means that we as a human society can pass on our values and skills to the next generation, unto the seventh generation as we pointed out last week. http://traffic.libsyn.com/fff/OrenLyons_with_Bill_Moyers-AccountabilityB.mp3 The job of this generation is to build a social framework that is sustainable – not to destroy the resources that supply our social system.

Our corposystem has exactly the opposite driving property. That in itself is a reason to work for change.

Unfortunately for us as individuals, our social framework that we inherited from seven earlier generations – that system is flawed. And it is a system. Systems are characterized by two properties that individual humans can’t change.

1. Systems are self-perpetuating. Or as someone once told me, the function of a system is to maintain itself.

Every little part of a system works to maintain the system itself. This is automatic and you or I as individuals cannot change it. Believe me, I have tried, and I know that countless others have as well because they ask and keep asking “What can we Do?” I have answered: “Do not participate in the system.” And at the same time: “Discussion, discussion, discussion.” So far nobody seems to have been happy with this answer, probably because when we try – people turn their backs on us, or shun us, or worse. That is because – the function of a system is to maintain itself, and we are trying to consider ideas that are not permitted or understood by the majority of people in our modern corposystem.

Another example of a biological system is an individual cell. If you were to diagram that system, the feedback loops and the interactions that maintain the life of a cell – you will find diagrams in any cell biology book – it is not different in principle from a diagram of a social system. This is how a system maintains itself. All or nearly all of the functions of a system are cyclic within the system, not open ended, and so the system itself does not change its core properties; in fact, in favorable environment it becomes more extremely like itself. For example the core property of a cell system is to maintain Life. The reductionist details do change, constantly, but the guiding properties of the system remain for as long as the system survives.

2. A system – every system – grows or is created around a core set of properties that is “successful.” It has become very clear that the core properties of our corposystem are violence used to maintain growth for profit. The result of this is that our corposystem growth is destroying the Biosystem that provides all our food, air and water.

Thus we must add to our goal the necessity to reduce suffering of the Biosystem – because that is where we live and is the only place we can live – and as we reduce suffering OF the Biosystem, by providing what it needs to be healthy — we reduce the suffering of all sentient beings.

Obviously, our corposystem is not serving our goal, which is to build a sustainable future for the seventh generation to come while reducing suffering of the Biosystem. We spend a lot of energy spinning our wheels trying to change the toxic system we are in. That is not bad, but it also is not working. What to do?

I suggest we should consider giving at least as much of our energy to nurturing a different system that does represent our interests. In fact there is a parallel human system that has already begun more than 2500 years ago, and is represented occasionally by heroes such as Jesus, Gandhi – you can name them. Protect that system, nurture it, don’t let it die.

But at the same time, we must never forget out basic goal, which is to build a sustainable future for the seventh generation to come, within a healthy Biosystem, because if we forget that again we will just end up back where we are – co-opted by the corposystem.

Direct Download Podcast – http://traffic.libsyn.com/fff/Bare_Bones_Biology_196_-_Why.mp3

Bare Bones Biology 195 – What do we Want?

120805-Nukes-ASC_9471s2

We want to build a human society (system) that is sustainable and reasonably comfortable for humans. That was the dream of the founding fathers; that was the dream of Martin Luther King Jr., and the reason we supported his dream; that was the dream of Jesus and Gandhi and Mandela and countless other dreamers you and I have never heard of. But we-the-people messed it up. So that is not what we have been building.

How did we mess it up? Maybe we didn’t clearly understand the dream in the first place, or maybe we learned too much (but not enough) about too many things in too short a time. Or maybe the power of our technologies and the hubris of our assumptions led us astray.

I had to look up the word hubris a while ago, and now I use it quite a lot because it means pride multiplied by conceit, audacity and self-importance, and that’s what we Americans are. But those were not our intentions, and that does not describe the likes of Jesus and Gandhi, et al. Stubborn they were, but not prideful in the sense of conceit on top of ignorance. Nevertheless, regardless of our intentions, hubris is what we have come to, simply because we are a part of the modern American corposystem, a system that functions out of the energy of hubris.

That is not what I want; my mission has always been to build a human system that is sustainable and reasonably comfortable within the nurturing environment of a healthy Biosystem. Because that is the only way humans can “give forward” toward a viable future. http://traffic.libsyn.com/fff/OrenLyons_with_Bill_Moyers-AccountabilityB.mp3

It would be a lot of fun to go ahead as we are, King of the Hill with all our toys. But it doesn’t work; we are using our toys to destroy our own hill, and destruction does not lead to any of the good things that humans can achieve. I want to grow a joyful human future that is sustainable. I do not want to nurture the suffering generated by the violent blip in a universe of time that is our corposystem of today. http://traffic.libsyn.com/fff/AmyGoodman_OrenLyons_DN130809-clip.mp3

Every system grows or is created around a core characteristic that is “successful.” And it measures its own success in relation to the “ideal” embodied by its own core characteristic. I have said above that our current American corposystem is built around – one of the core characteristics is “hubris.” Because all systems are cyclic, that also means that the people with the most hubris become the most “successful,” or perhaps a better word would be most appreciated, within our existing corposystem. That is one of the ways that a system maintains itself. Of course there are good ways to build pride, but our system does not consider those ways successful. That’s why I use the word hubris.

Our corposystem hubris is built upon a dream of domination (power plus violence) that is maintained by growth based in greed. That is, growth for profit. Not a pretty story, and definitely not sustainable. Nothing in the entire universe, so far as we know, can grow forever. Certainly nothing that is part of the earth can grow forever, and besides that problem, we need all the other parts of the Earth system to make our air, water, and soil, and to capture our energy for us. That’s why the corposystem is already crashing, and the worst part is that it is ruining the Biosystem resources for any future humans.

I believe most of us would rather build a new human system on this earth that is sustainable within a nurturing Biosystem and is based on human values that we admire because we can proudly share them.

So — let’s do it.

This is Bare Bones Biology, a production of FactFictionFancy and KEOS radio, 89.1, Bryan Texas. The podcast can be downloaded here: http://traffic.libsyn.com/fff/Bare_Bones_Biology_195_-_What_do_we_Want_asnd.mp3

Outside the Circle

I had an insight this morning, when I woke up after a couple hours’ sleep, trying to finish my book 11. The insight was that an entire chapter is missing, so once again I will not have time to finish and who knows how many years will go by before I can find a few clear weeks once again to try to get the whole thing in my head at the same time.

And then I connected that up with our modern inability to see anything but the bits and pieces (reductionism) of our lives, and something I wrote about teaching people to think about one thing at a time. That memory was about a highly respected teacher of university level teachers, who told me I was doing bad teaching and “unfair” if I required a student to know more than one bit of information per test question. Astonished me speechless, because if I were to actually DO that, it would be impossible to teach biology. All emergent properties would fall apart if they only functioned one bit at a time. Everything is connected. If we can’t understand that —

Oh, yes, we haven’t taught biology for at least three generations. Well, now we know where that came from.

So it becomes impossible to see the big picture because we simply can’t think about a big picture one bit at a time. Climate change is one example. All the people who are trying to pretend it isn’t so (even though we could have saved ourselves if we had stopped pretending) they are all looking at one thing at a time, and so long as they can believe that thing is manageable, they are happy even as we drown.

Because that’s what I was doing. I was looking at one picture at a time, trying to make it perfect for the photo book, and forgot the book was missing an entire chapter. Without one of its chapters, it doesn’t matter if the pictures are perfect because there is no book.

Outside the Circle

I’m just finishing my new book, Outside the Circle. What a pain in the neck. I’ll be glad when it’s over and glad I wrote/photographed it. It’s about the facts of life.

April20.P1000545-BLOG

Of course this particular picture I had very little work to do, only to see the shed by the railroad station, but I’m also very glad I took the picture, as they tore down the shed the next week, and I think this is an impressive work of art.