Bare Bones Biology 200 – What Depends on What?

Here is the direct download of the podcast from a question posed by Sheila.

If you want to go to the podcast, I cannot make the link work here, but the address is:
and in front of that you must put http://

The blog is quite a lot more inclusive and will be posted on this weekend.
Sorry to be late, but Bitsy and I are moving to a location that has no internet access and this requires adaptation.


What does a system depend on? The answer is that everything in a system, more or less, depends on everything else in a system, and if the system changes, then everything else in the system must rebalance itself. This is what is meant by sustainability, and it is a definition of Life that we have been using in the past few blogs. If the system cannot rebalance itself, then it crashes – or dies.

The other question is “How did the system originate, so elegantly balanced?” And the answer is that the Law of Evolution creates sustainable systems. That’s what it does, and how it does this is fairly well understood in the disciplines of embryology, evolution and ecology. I certainly cannot explain it in 600 words, but I keep on biting off chunks of information that – if you keep trying to understand them – will ultimate convince you that systems evolve by maintaining their balance when conditions change. (Or they die if the conditions change so rapidly or dramatically that the system cannot rebalance.)

That information does not answer the God question, of course, but in my opinion, if God created the universe, then God created the universe to function the way it does function . I do not claim to understand God, but I do know a lot about what God has created, and I would far rather study and try to understand the works of God than the products of the human ego. If God created the universe, then God created the laws of nature to work the way they do work.

There are several laws of nature that are studied in different disciplines. The natural Law of Gravity describes some properties of matter. Matter is things that have mass and/or weight. The natural laws of Thermodynamics describe how energy functions. Energy does not have mass; energy is the ability to do work, and work is done, basically, when something happens. Energy is required for processes to do work. The natural law of Evolution describes how living systems maintain themselves, using matter and energy. Last week I described six qualities that define both Life and the Natural Law of Evolution, which is the Natural Law of Life

To appreciate any of these natural laws it is important to think of ourselves, and all of Life as systems, rather than “things.” A system is a group of processes that function together, each supporting the functions of others in the system, to maintain the whole system.

Life on Earth is a system, the Ecosystem, or Biosystem. Ecosystems are the subsystems of the entire Biosystem. Populations are subsystems of ecosystems. Individuals, such as you and me are subsystems of populations, but even we are not independently “things,” because we could not exist without the Earth system of which we are a part, and we could not exist without the subsystems that are a part of us – our lungs, kidneys, heart, digestive system – and those are systems composed of living cells.

A system is a network of interacting processes that function together to maintain the whole system. “Things,” such as ourselves, are simply temporary nodes – like the jewels in the metaphorical “net of Indra.” Or like the nodes (web pages and other nodes) of the internet. “Things” are objects with phenotypes. Things (nodes, objects with phenotypes) are necessary to maintain the integrity of the processes and to cause the processes, as I said above to function together, each supporting the functions of other processes — rather than each process functioning randomly or separately. Evolutionary selection acts upon the nodes (things, phenotypes) of the network and the network of processes generates the things.

For example, an airplane is a thing that brings together all the processes necessary for commercial flight. If you take away any of the processes, or change the configuration of the processes and/or the environment in which they function, the thing may not work.

A system consists of processes that do the functions (actions, behaviors) of the network of which the system is composed, and “things” are the nodes, connecting points, intersections of functions that join together the processes so as to maintain the integrity of the system. My favorite metaphor of a system is one of those stick figures that can be generated by a computer.

The stick figure is a model, usually a cartoon, that can move and change its shape. It consists of dots (representing in this model, things, nodes, jewels) joined together by lines (representing processes). All the processes work together to maintain the functions of the whole, while the nodes represent the ways in which the processes interact to maintain the integrity and the phenotype of the whole, so it is able to respond to the law of Evolution and thus maintain itself.

This model is applicable at all the levels of Life. Each node of a complex system represents a subsystem that is also composed of processes linked by things. For example, you are a system. One of the nodes of you as a system is your heart. Furthermore, at all levels, the things (nodes) are also subsystems. Our heart is a self-sustaining system consisting of things (nodes) and processes. Thus, everything interacts with everything else at the nodes, and in a way that maintains the balance of the whole complex of interacting systems.

I believe this may be the meaning of the mathematical concept of a multidimensional universe. I have no way to check the math, but that’s OK, because for me it makes a whole lot more sense to study the reality of Life itself. Especially as we humans have reached the point where the things we create are destroying the balance and the links that maintain the integrity of the nested set of process that is Life itself.

If you have trouble imagining this you should realize that NOBODY CAN understand the balancing interactions of the whole system of Life itself. There are far more links and nodes in the whole of Life than in our brains and computers combined. This is why we should not try to change Life systems without using the precautionary principle – that is, we should look at ALL the possible results of our meddling, both good and bad, because all actions cause both good and bad results. That is a very important meaning of yin and yang – the balance must be maintained or the system will change itself into something we won’t like, and that is indeed happening, partly because our culture is more interested in controlling what we believe to be bad – or pretending that it does not exist – than dealing with the reality.

NOTE: for the image, go back to a previous blog and refer to the chart of levels of organization:

The function of our corposystem is to use biological links and nodes to make money. These links and nodes evolved to exquisitely regulate Life itself – not for profit. We humans are redirecting the interactions of Life to the purpose of making money, and this unbalances the links and nodes that are necessary for Life Itself to exist on earth. And so, the re-organization of the nodes and links changes Life, because that’s what is unique about Life. It changes when its environment changes – because that’s how the Law of Life (evolution) maintains Life. If it cannot change using the links and nodes it has available – it dies (crashes, as our corposystem is now crashing as a result of imbalance.). And then a different system grows by the coming together of a different configuration of links, nodes, environment and overall function. Evolution does not change existing systems that are unsustainable. What it does do, if the existing system is unable to respond or (as we are doing) tries to fight against the needs of nature — is get rid of the existing system and start over using evolution to build a whole new set of interacting nodes and processes beginning with lower levels of complexity – such as a more primitive animal, or even the cell.

This is really good (really hard) question contributed by Sheila and produced by FactFictionFancy and KEOS radio 89.1 FM, Bryan, Texas.

Next week the other really hard question that we have been working up to, from Gary: If evolution acts as described in Cosmos and in nearly all basic genetics courses, then why doesn’t it operate gradually?

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