Bare Bones Biology 293 – Reinventing the Wheel

I am not a physicist. Far from it. I had to take calculus in order to be a good biologist, and I never did understand it until I was able to intuitively grasp what they were talking about, and even then I couldn’t actually DO it without going back to the book every time for the various mathematical expressions that I needed. Nevertheless, I got it mostly right, because, as Neil deGrasse Tyson is supposed to have said: The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” And I know his mentor, Carl Sagan, said something similar. And it is true, by definition.
Neil deGrasse Tyson
Facts are facts.

Of course.

That is why many of us lean toward science. Well understood facts are completely reliable, and we can’t say that for many other things on this earth – even some of us choose “science” as our God.

That is a big mistake. First, most people do not understand that technology is NOT basic science. Technology is very powerful, but it is merely a manifestation of man the toolmaker, not man the omniscient god. Humans are not God, and if you want evidence of that, just go for a walk in any city. If you want power, technology is a lot of fun. If you want a future, then it is better to take a path that leads toward fact-based wisdom that combines the benefits of good basic science with the learned experience of human mistakes.

To be a physicist, you need calculus, but you only need to be about 25 years old or so to begin; for wisdom, you need experience, your own and as many generations as possible behind you, on top of your knowledge of the facts of history and of basic science, and that of course is why powermongers, first most quietly and now most forcefully, are overwhelming our sources of information with fake facts. Well, actually, it’s not possible to fake a fact unless the listener is not paying attention, but we seem to have a great lot of people listening to the media with their emotions rather than with their minds, and so the powermongers are succeeding elegantly in this country. They don’t even have to work very hard to pull the wool over our eyes. It’s what we want, so we the people are doing it for them, but that is another story.

This story is about humans choosing between wisdom and power. We have chosen power, I think largely based on a false meme: “Survival of the Fittest” is NOT how Life functions to stay alive, and it would take a little effort – not much, but beginning with a questing mind – to understand how evolution really does work to generate and maintain living systems. I’m not talking about technological systems that powermongers use to elevate themselves. I’m talking about real, sustainable systems that maintain themselves and us by balancing the interacting systems of which they are composed

How, then, do humans find wisdom – the elusive antidote to power? First we acknowledge the real facts and discuss their implications for the entire Biosystem, ourselves included — the root, rock-bottom facts that generated Life on Earth, that guide how naturally evolved systems interact with each other to grow better systems. Those processes do not change. The systems change, of course, but not the processes.

151224-XMasEve-ASC_0886RSsOnce we have the knowledge, then our wisdom challenge is more complex. We must of course acknowledge our human instincts and emotions, but we must go beyond that level of understanding to figure out how to navigate our path among the facts of today and into a sustainable future. We are not ants, that make their decisions instinctually, based on response to chemicals in their environments (or if we are, it isn’t working well). The gift of wisdom, when we accept it, is our ability to factor the facts into a wisdom tradition that suits the environments.

The facts give us power to make war over whatever we choose, but wisdom gives us the power to use the facts to make a future for ourselves within Life on earth. We probably can’t do both as our resources dwindle; it’s too bad we have chosen war over sustainability.

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For Those of you Interested in Some Positive News About Economics

Anomalous economists to convene at Santa Fe Institute


Reprinted with permission of Santa Fe Institute Update (Follow SFI online at
Last year, at Her Majesty’s Treasury in London, a global team of economists calling themselves Curriculum Openaccess Resources for Economics, or CORE, launched an ambitious, unconventional project.

This February, CORE will meet at Santa Fe Institute to discuss how to make sure their anomalous efforts have a lasting impact on how students learn economics – and the way they think about science.  “CORE is teaching economics as if the last 30 years had happened,” says SFI Professor Samuel Bowles, one of the group’s founders, referring both to the financial crisis of 2008, which took many economists by  surprise, and the growing acknowledgment among economists that not everyone is entirely selfish as traditional economic theory asserts.


CORE’s interactive ebook, The Economy, is not your usual Econ 101 fare. First, it emphasizes identifying and modeling empirical regularities rather than developing mathematical models from a set of abstract, often dubious assumptions about economic behavior. Second, it focuses on fundamental issues that are connected to economics but that other texts tend to ignore – issues like financial instability, wealth creation in capitalist societies, inequality, and environmental sustainability.


Students come to economics wanting to tackle those problems, and recent innovations in economics have a lot to say about them, wrote CORE director and University College London professor Wendy Carlin recently in the Financial Times.


As striking as the book’s content is the price. Competing textbooks sell for upwards of $200, but The Economy is free and available to anyone with an internetconnected device at


“Meeting at SFI is a natural for CORE,” says Bowles. “We are teaching first-year students to think about the economy as a complex, dynamical system and to beware of static metaphors and disciplinary parochialism.”  The question now, Bowles says, is how to ensure that CORE continues to grow and mobilize the diverse inputs from teachers, students, and other users. 

Others contributing to CORE are SFI External Professors Rajiv Sethi and Simon DeDeo. n

Bare Bones Biology 292 – There Are Rules

Last week I pointed out that religion and science teach us, at the top levels of their understandings, one big message. The message is that there are rules and we are far better off in the real world if we follow these rules than if we do not. I think that’s why humans evolved both religion and science – because the more we know about the rules, the better able we are survive and flourish in a real world of rules.


160119-TurkeyWe all live in the same world, more or less comfortably, and therefore our wisdom traditions, including both science and religion, as studied by for example Prof. Huston Smith and by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Prof. Joseph Campbell, Karen Armstrong, and others – if they do a good job of studying the higher-level information, that is the wisdom that is illuminated for us by the various religions and by basic science (not politically useful technologies, but the basic science that attempts to learn what the rules are and how they function) — that higher level information should be the same or similar in all the wisdom traditions, because we are, indeed, one world. Not a different world for science and then a collection of different worlds for the various religious expressions.


What do I mean by higher-level information? I mean the actual rules, the laws of nature, stripped of their various metaphorical interpretations. Every religion and also basic science abound with metaphorical elaborations of the rules for safe conduct in the world, and they vary from culture to culture, but the message is similar, and in that similarity are the truths that describe the rules of nature/God that are necessary to the proper function of the universe, the Biosystem, and humans within the Biosystem.


There are at least three levels of understanding in every wisdom tradition. First we grow to understand the culture into which we are born, all the things we automatically learn, that tie our instincts to our particular culture of birth — such as language and our interpersonal relationships and our relationships with our immediate environment.

The second level is our education, including the vivid metaphors of our religion that function to align our behaviors with our instinct for survival. Third, beyond the metaphor, is the highest level of understanding the facts of history and the laws of God and nature.


160118-cabin-ASC_1370sFor example, all the major religions encourage compassion, preferably “wise compassion,” or “pure compassion,” that is not entangled with negative motivation, because compassion, like any human emotion, can be used for self-aggrandizement (that is, pride), and these same major religions (and the basic science) also carry the message that: “Pride goeth before a fall.”


In my lifetime I have seen this meme actualized at every level of human endeavor, yet I have never seen a culture so prideful as are we in this world right now, and yes, we are mining compassion for all it is worth, both for money and self-aggrandizement. We actually believe we only need to think of a thing and it is do-able without any down side or blowback – just because it was we who thought of it. Scary it is. Where is our religion when we need it? And our basic science?


At the peak of human understanding, where the teachings agree, there lies wisdom, and that wisdom tells us there is an “unseen order” that drives reality. We only need to listen.




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Huston Smith. 2005. The Soul of Christianity. Harper, San Francisco.

His Holiness The Dalai Lama. 2010. Toward a True Kinship of Faiths. Doubleday     Religion.

Joseph Campbell. 1972. Myths to Live By. The Penguin Group

E. O. Wilson.  Sociobiology.

Karen Armstrong. A History of God.

Bare Bones Biology 291 – Enlightenment?

Most people pursue a quest of one kind or another. We seem to be made that way, always dissatisfied unless we know the answer or are looking for it. As a scientist, I tend to appreciate answers that are factual. I agree with Sean Carroll, quoted froASC_0975-for blogm The Great Courses, The Higgs Boson and beyond, 2015:

“Really, the reason why we devote our lives and our money to . . (basic scientific research) . . is because we want to know the answer. . . We want to discover the way the world works. . . We want to know what this nature is that we live in, what are the rules, what are the ingredients.”


I have confidence in the factual reality of a statistically evaluated experiment that is conducted by a person who is well trained in the tools of his discipline and peer reviewed by other experts.

But of course the limits of both basic science and statistics are significant, and if we have no other source of reality, then many of our questions are left unanswered. Science and mathematics may be our best windows onto factual reality, but there are other kinds of reality that can be studied using other methods. History, Art, philosophy, religion, even economics and politics; much can be learned from the humanities, especially if we remember that what we are learning about is humans, and humans are not everything; we are not omniscient. Therefore the answers will not fulfill our thirst for omniscience any more than basic science and mathematics do. And nobody can be truly expert in all.
As a result, in seeking omniscience, we end in chaos, unless we stand on the shoulders of history, as a vertical dimension, and on the validity of other world views, as a horizontal dimension, and search the past and present dimensions for signs of common human insights that emerge from diverse human experiences. One of these is quoted by Huston Smith in “The Soul of Christianity:

“in its broadest terms, religion says that there is an unseen order and that our supreme
good lies in rightful relations to it” (from William James, in Varieties of Religious

In other words, from the concentrated wisdoms of two quite different windows on reality
emerges the same view, suggesting that:

There are rules — the universe and the Biosytem and the human reality operate according to natural laws —
1- These rules are not fully known to us;
2- These rules certainly are not made by us, and we cannot change them;
3- We want to know what they are;
4- Speaking from the viewpoint of evolution, it may be very much to our advantage to understand those rules that relate to human behaviors, and that may be why we all (or nearly all) have an internal need to set out upon our individual quests to find meaning within our individual environments;
5- and we all must settle for something less than omniscience.ASC_1197- for blog

Some of us refuse to settle.


But what if our individual enlightenment lies in understanding that very fact — that we can NOT be God after all, because we have not the capacity for omniscience. For one small but finite reason, there are not enough neural connections in any one brain to organize or comprehend the whole of God’s Laws of Nature.
Really we know this, but we nevertheless carry on with our various quests for omniscience, and I suspect in the back of our subconscious awareness, the quest is not so much for omniscience as for omnipotence.
We want to know everything so that we can be in control of everything and have our own way with the world.
We would do better to spend our energies trying to understand the power we do have — and its implications for the future welfare of all sentient beings — rather than trying to rewrite the laws of Life.
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Bare Bones Biology 290 – What Can we Do?

We could try to evolve a sustainable new human social system to replace the corposystem paradigm that requires us to behave in terms of growth for gain, now that growth for gain is no longer sustainable.

Are some people already trying to do this?  Of course they are, there are many good efforts, most of which I do not know about because there are so many small efforts, and they are focused on Biosystem needs rather than advertising, because for the most part (but not entirely), the most admired and “successful” groups are successful beASC_1094*cause they are working within the corposystem paradigm of growth by competition for gain, and we cannot do that while at the same time working for the balanced sustainability of human life on earth.

Because it is the corposystem paradigm of growth by competition for gain that is the primary root cause of the problem we are trying to cure.

We cannot succeed in changing the corposystem paradigm by spending all our energies inside the corposystem paradigm.  We cannot grow our actions using competition without supporting and reinforcing the corposystem paradigm of growth by competition because it is growth itself that must inevitably unbalance (or over-balance) the corposystem so badly that it crashes,.  All we need do is wait – and many people are doing that.

But, at least we are finally talking about the right thing, the root cause of the array of human social problems, which is growth.  Over=growth of the human social system compared with all the other systems that sustain the Biosystem.  The Biosystem (that is Life, our environmental system) requires balance.

Will it take another 60 years or so before we can  understand you can’t do degrowth (that is rebalancing) of humans relative to the environment — while at the same time forcing growth of humans?  Without causing massive human suffering?  It is astonishing that we can talk about growth and degrowth as though those words were all completely separate from more than 7 billion – or is it 8 billion now? People.  While we could be making birth control available to everyone who wants it as a first tentative step in the right direction.  ASC_1079 copyHow can we expect economists and politicians to pull back on the technologies and etc., while just not concerning themselves about the growth in population?  Callous, that’s us.

Degrowth is absolutely essential or we will all suffer greatly;
We can’t have degrowth without degrowth.

This is what I hear people arguing about on the internet?
Does that make sense?
Then why are we still trying to force people who do not want babies to have babies?

It does not make sense.  Neither our arguments nor our behaviors.  It’s time to do something worthwhile.

I think all this nonsense is happening largely because we are allowing ourselves to be brainwashed by one little corposystem meme that isn’t even correct, and it is the same meme that created Hitler’s – or at least justified Hitler’s world view.  And I think that’s one reason we won’t talk about it.  “Survival of the Fittest” is the meme and it is incorrect.  That is NOT primarily how evolution works, so we are killing ourselves over something that isn’t even true.

Survival of the fittest does NOT refer to – let’s say all the rabbits fighting with each other and killing each other off.  Survival of the fittest doesn’t even say whatever we mean by fitness.  What we really mean by fitness is survival of the most useful SPECIES, not the individuals in the species, and then we must define useful.  ASC_1081 copy

Useful must mean the COMBINATION of species that can help the ENVIRONMENT (the Biosystem) to survive.  That is how evolved systems do survive, how evolution works, and nearly all our corposystem message is based on an opposite concept — competition – us against the Biosystem.  Not us helping the Biosystem to survive.  Well, if we keep it up, the Biosystem will not survive, or only the bare bones of it, and neither will Homo sapiens within it.

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