Bare Bones Biology 245 – Dancing Inside of Life

As stated in my blog last week, I’m beginning a series of opinion pieces (my opinions) in response to the opinion pieces of others. This week I respond to Paul Kingsworth, writing at http://www.tricycle.com/special-section/witness. I had so much to say that it was impossible to put in the KEOS podcast version. Below is the full version, with the parts in green indicating what was omitted from the podcast.

Much of our confusion about climate change is caused by our current cultural rejection of science in favor of human emotional solutions to nonhuman non-emotional realities. However, the realities are not so complicated, and if we are truly looking for answers, reality-based answers are not hard to understand.

Our current generations seem often to image science as a destructive demon, rather than as a tool that we are using to understand the reality of natural law. This demonic image does not relate to the reality that basic science (defined as the effort to understand reality using the scientific method) is not technology (defined as the use of natural laws to serve the needs and desires of humans), and basic science is neither destructive nor constructive. It is the human hand that makes good or bad use of our knowledge; and the Biosystem simply accommodates itself to whatever happens.

We humans don’t like this. And so we throw our little tantrums trying, in effect, to blame Life for being what it is, and use our tools to force it to our will, rather than using science and technology to flourish within the limitations imposed by the nature of the Biosystem.

Many of us, including the author of the Tricycle article to which this post is a response (http://www.tricycle.com/special-section/witness, by Paul Kingsnorth), have learned that our human desire to dominate does not work, when applied to the Life System known as Earth. Therefore, many of us are trying to explain this in our different ways. Below is my response upon reading the above article. This is not a criticism; it is a conversational response from my perspective.

1) We cannot solve prob140825-sunrise-ASC_0993slems outside of or beyond ourselves by trying to control them. God and Nature are well beyond the levels of human control.

2) It is a misrepresentation to say that the nature of Nature changes. The nature of Nature does not change, and that is a good thing: first it means that Life is possible; second it means that we can understand what to expect from nature. The more we know about the unchangeable Laws of Life, the better we can plan our human cultures, actions, and other behaviors so that they nurture rather than damage the current manifestation of the Life of Earth.

However — and I am not nit-picking here, because it is very important that we understand the difference between the nature of nature, that is natural law, and the particular manifestation of natural Law that is Life. It is true that the most basic (and unchanging) Fact of Life is that it can and does constantly change in a responsive dance with and within its environment. Thus we can count on change and we can learn (that’s what basic science is good for) what the Biosystem requires of us, if we are to avoid generating life-threatening changes such as climate change or worse.

3) Life does change, to save itself from death, whenever that is possible. That is one definition of Life. And the unavoidable implication is that death is a necessary component of the nature of Life. That does not mean that extinctions are the endings of Life. On the contrary, they are an extreme form of the ongoing rebalancing of Life.

We cannot change the nature of Life, or the fact that Life requires death in order to continue balancing itself in changing environmental conditions. But we certainly could nurture the maintenance of a balanced environment, so as to reduce the need for changes in the Life of the Biosystem, as we do for individual human lives every day. And we absolutely should consider doing so in our efforts to understand the holistic meaning of compassion. If only because we are human and that’s what humans do.

4) As humans, we also must achieve a dynamic balance among the things we choose to do and believe. If we want to survive, save our communities, our species, then we must modify our behaviors. That is what living things do to avoid death. Indeed it is the most basic nature of Life. The idea that we can change how Life functions to stay alive (that is that we can change the nature of Life) is pure human ego. We cannot. Nor can we change our basic human makeup. What we can do, because humans can learn and understand, is learn to change our behaviors so as to avoid threatening the current manifestation of the Life of the Biosystem.

5) To maintain itself as a living entity, the Earth has “started over” several times to rebalance itself from the bottom up. We refer to these events as mass extinctions. Earth is an unimaginably complex system, but obviously is capable of reaching a dynamic balance that can sustain itself — because that is what it is doing when subunits of the Life system crash in the extinctions. However, given an environment that does not threaten its existence, it’s not usually necessary to crash the whole system in order to rebalance it; rebalancing is happening all the time. It’s what Life is. (An excellent background reference for this systems function of Life is The Great Courses, A New History of Life.)

6) All that above DOES NOT MEAN THERE IS NOTHING WE CAN DO ABOUT OUR PLIGHT. The previous extinction events occurred at times when the creatures did not have human brains capable of studying the nature of Life and figuring out what behaviors we are doing that cause death or unbalance.

Because we DO KNOW, through the good basic science – if we are willing to study the known facts of Life and not only contemplate our own human navel – that we can change our destiny at any time, by changing our individual and communal behaviors that are specifically threatening to the Life of Earth.

We can develop our intellectual brain. Instead of trying to be heroes, we can work humbly to learn how to better understand the factual needs of the Biosystem for its own healthy balance, sustainability and resilience.

At the same time, we can develop our compassionate brain/body. If we are to practice true compassion, we must, when there is a conflict between human life and the Life of Earth, we must find a way, or look for ways to nurture the Life of Earth, even over “human rights” and avoid knee-jerk responses that further threaten the balance of Life.

This is not a passive acceptance of reality. Not at all. It is learning as much as we possibly can about the reality of Life that contains the reality of humans. And learning how to participate positively, rather than negatively in our dance with Life.

7) We humans have been “gifted” with brains that are capable of figuring out what we could be doing to nurture ourselves, not by trying to change an unchangeable system but by fitting ourselves into the balancing act that is necessary to maintain our lives as part of the Life of Earth, because we cannot live without the Life of Earth, and it is our behaviors that are changing the environment, and the changing environment requires the Earth to change itself in order to keep itself alive. The bottom line is that the Life of Earth will not choose our welfare over its own. And it is bigger and more powerful, in a million ways, than we are.

The point here is – if we decide to educate ourselves sufficiently to understand the real problem – we can start thinking and talking together about real practical solutions rather than continue trying to dominate the unchangeable nature of nature. Which can’t be dominated.

And while sitting, we could wonder why we seem to have such a need to dominate;

2013-01-13 Cannon River2RFsand learn to recognize that “need” when we see it in ourselves and others.

8) We know and have known, at least during all of my long life, that what we are doing wrong is called overpopulation. Overpopulation is defined as generating more organisms of a species than there are resources available for its survival within the normal environment.

The resources are all those other species that we are destroying, and we are destroying them primarily by taking their food (and other things they need), because we are using all the earth to provide food (and other forms of energy) for ourselves, because there are not enough energy resources on earth to feed all of us humans, as well as the other species. I wrote that sentence as a cycle intentionally.

Overpopulation is normal and has been studied, and because we have the brain and the science and the technology we can do (or could be doing) what other species cannot. We ccould decide to save ourselves before the Earth saves itself by eliminating us. We could voluntarily change our normal behaviors in order to cut the cycle of overpopulation and live within our means.

Cycles can be changed, but we cannot avoid paying for our hubris, and nothing can change overnight. In other words, we can’t “win” any battle against the normal functions of the Biosystem, but we could cooperate in the rebalancing.

And while sitting we can wonder why we believe that it is our obligation to win?
And learn to recognize that compulsion when we feel it.

9) Communally we have chosen to use technologies for domination, rather than cooperation. We have many reasons/excuses for this, and they all make good sense humanly. But nature is not human and doesn’t care about our reasons, our egos, or our human emotions or aspirations or who is to blame for what — unless those traits threaten the Life of Earth. At that point, nature responds (and is now responding) by protecting its own life.

Instead of continuing this losing fight to the death, we can dedicate our genius to understand the fact-based, nonhuman needs of nature and helping to fulfill them. If you haven’t read Eaarth (Bill McKibben) you could start there, with the hard copy book so you can follow up on his references cited.

And while sitting we can wonder why we would rather fight than collaborate.

We are what we are; It is what It is.
Shed some tears.
Carry on working for the welfare of all sentient beings.
Intelligently, compassionately, and without regard for the outcome.

10) If we ever decide we care more about the community of humans within the Life of Earth, more than we care about our own egos, rationalizations, hopes, aspirations and emotions, then we can readily (though not easily) bring our behaviors under our own control, because we already know very precisely what the primary problem is. It is overpopulation, overgrowth, and a bushel-full of other sins that arise directly therefrom.

“When threatened
by fear and desire
let ego go.”
(A Joseph Campbell Companion, Diane Osbon, page 144)

To me, most of basic science (not technology used to dominate, but basic science that is used to understand) seems a recognition of natural law that has many parallels in Buddhist teachings, which are after all, in large part also based in natural law.
As is the Biosystem.
And human beings.

Dr. M. Lynn Lamoreux

A copy of the podcast can be obtained at:

References:

http://www.tricycle.com/special-section/witness
The Great Courses, A New History of Life
Eaarth by Bill McKibben
A Joseph Campbell Companion, Diane Osbon

Photographs

Winter Picture courtesy of: vairochanafarm.wordpress.com/
Mountain Picture – © Photos by Lynn

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