Bare Bones Biology 364 – Population

While Bitsy ate this morning I converted a mess of watts into hot coffee, which seems important on a cold day on the mountaintop, and I’m now watching a young rabbit hop tentatively down the hill toward our cabin.


The massive numbers of young of other species that share our canyon ecosystem are spreading out to occupy the land; to find their place in the story of Life before the night-time expands and the daytime contracts to a white, shivering shadow of its summer self; and the living is hard.


Now, just going into September, the canyon is a study in cute. Cute baby lizards, frogs and toads; moving threads that metamorphose, when you almost step on them, into tiny garter snakes with big heads; bunnies; rock squirrels; stilt-walking turkeys. I haven’t seen hide nor hair of deer or elk this fall, but now this young bear has come to the canyon and walks right on through the yard as though he owns the place. Maybe he does. Is he looking for his winter cave? Not in my shed I hope. Probably I should make a door for it.

Most of the birds have flocked up and are leaving which, in a nature-evolved landscape, makes good sense, but in a world where man believes that he knows better than nature, migration has more than the normal dangers, and yet greater because they are invisible. Pesticides, detergents, and all that stuff that owes its existence to oil wells. It seems like every year fewer return, for this is a Biosystem in decline.


Bitsy and I came back yesterday from a difficult trip to Santa Fe where we listened (through a lovely audio device provided by the venue, missing not a word, it’s much better than my hearing aids) to Dr. Geoffrey West (2017) describe his recent work that centers around the mathematics of growth.


This may be the first time I’ve come away from a math story wishing that I could, in addition to understanding the story, also carry the mathematics further into the areas where it overlaps my own recent work. Mathematics – in spite of being cold and abstract and generally aloof from the Life that I study — has some important advantages, and the first is you don’t need to haul around a wet-lab in your backpack. The second is that it apparently puts us in touch with our universal realities at the most basic level that is possible. But of course one must understand the language, and mathematics, like any other language, can cause catastrophic problems if we mis-use it. For example if our assumptions and conclusions are based on some dogma rather than on factual reality. So another advantage of math is that the results can be tested against factual reality using physical experiments. The scientific method. Or straight statistics.

Now that I’m motivated, I don’t quite know how to go about learning the language. Start in the middle and work toward both ends? I already did the timeses.


It was a good trip, in spite of the summer smog of Santa Fe; probably all the worse for the hurricane gathering in the Gulf; and the toxic perfume, pesticide, detergent auras that city people carry around with them wherever they go.


The lecture was fine, and better yet Dr. West is one of Time’s one-hundred most influential people of last year, and best of all his most important mathematical points perfectly coincide with a couple of my most important assumptions (!) for which I have (had) essentially no statistical support, not having a wet lab or the math.


I can do that, now I am retired. I can tell you my conclusions from a lifetime of thinking and asking questions. That’s what retirement is for, to describe the wisdom that hides within the facts that “they” won’t publish without data (and rightly so, the scientific method is important). I can tell what I have learned — if I know the difference between a conclusion and a fact, and I know why it is important.



I have always been deeply frustrated by reductionist science: “Reducing downward is vastly easier than explaining upward.” (Johnson. 1999, page 9). Reductionist documentation of data is very much easier than drawing valid holistic conclusions from the data.


Of course it is – emergent properties (Part One, Chapter 06) are usual and normal and by definition unpredictable. But the holistic conclusions are so much more beautiful.


Easy or not, my scientific questions and insights have always leaned toward holistic observations that bring their intrinsic beauty to the data. Perhaps because such insights tell me to beware of our corposystem worldview when it tells us that human technological power is more important than biological wisdom – or even biological facts — now that we are hooked on the fact-based technology rather than the survival message that they carry.


For a couple of hours in that auditorium in Santa Fe, I felt like myself again, opening up my brain to input from a good and competent speaker who shares my interest in subjects that most people don’t want to talk about.


And then Bitsy and I drove back in the dark to the new trailer, slept a few hours and got up to finish the shopping and drive on home in the smog that hovered over the whole length of the Chama River Valley, from it’s mouth in Española at least to Chama, and who knows, maybe all the way to the Chama Basin wilderness area in Colorado. The air in Cebola was nearly as yellow as that in Santa Fe, but we were forging ahead OK until a road block stopped us within a swirling cloud of hot asphalt smoke and kept us there for 30 or 40 minutes.


I don’t know of any ordinary thing that is more damaging to the old brain cells than asphalt fumes, and by the time we gratefully left the evil cloud behind, I thought we might not make it all the way back without me passing out, and there are not very many places to safely stop and sleep it off for a day or two between Cebola and anywhere else. At least not with food and electricity, which I do prefer.


So ASAP we turned left, over the Continental Divide and down the other side to our own little canyon, where we pulled to the side of the road, turned off the engine, leaned back the drooping head and let the heavy eyelids relax. Safe now, no hurry, and before dark we carried on into the clean air of the canyon.


Breathing, breathing, breathing. Should not be a privilege for those who can afford it, but that is politics and my job as a Chaplain to the Biosystem and as a one little naturally evolved system is to perpetuate myself so that I can do the work, without contributing more bad than good to the welfare of the Biosystem. To find a way to perpetuate myself via a win-win relationship with the Biosystem, rather than a win-lose relationship required for success within the corposystem. I’ve done both. Now I look to the future of humankind within the Biosystem.


Just a bit more time to share what has been gifted to me. Not more human bodies, babies, victims of our egoistic selfishness, into a world of ever more human suffering, but the information that has created Life itself, and is the greatest form of human power (Everett, 2017, Prologue; Part One, Chapter 03).


That contribution will focus on Book 25, Evolution for Citizens of the Biosystem.



Part One of Book 25 is probably finished. Finished !!     In part one, I describe the essence of how systems hang together. How that reality is different from the corpo-technology world view whose motto was the inaccurate meme: “Survival of the Fittest.” A blatant and unsustainable win-lose philosophy. Fun when you are the winner, at least in in the moment, but catastrophic for everyone else.  Part One is dedicated in honor of Father John Dear and Roshi Joan Halifax.


Part One brings together some background information that most of us have heard before in bits and pieces, but few have heard as interconnected and essential to understanding of Life as a naturally evolved complex adaptive system.


Very few of us actually seem to think like naturally evolved citizens of the Biosystem. We once did, of course. The old cultures understood Life systems. Life is the culmination of naturally evolved systems, the great work of creation science. Greater than the stars, even, and the early humans understood how this works, relative to their own lives, though they didn’t know the technical details. Now we have reversed that paradigm.


Nowadays, to the detriment of our understanding, more than half of us are raised in cities, where we learn to believe that humans are at the top of the systemic pecking order and that systems are not natural, nor evolved, but created in the mighty mind of the man-god, who can “fix” anything so that it functions in the way that he believes it should.


Such nonsense.   But most of us believe it without thinking at all. It’s part of our world view. Knee-jerk. City folk, anyhow.


Dr. West seems to believe that the human city is the epitome of systemic human development. He didn’t exactly say so, and could very well have been hinting at “devil’s advocate.” Either way, I expect that idea is wrong, based on his own summarized data that clearly shows how cities do NOT function sustainably, but rather more like mini-overpopulation events.


As far as I can tell, we are now believing in the mathematics of overpopulation, without regard to the biology of overpopulation.   I did read Murray Gell-Mann’s book, and I remember him, as a mathematician and physicist, repeating, over and over, that the mathematics (the speculative model) must represent nature.

And in addition “they” are now trying to tell me that overpopulation is “not a problem” because it is leveling out (apparently as described by demographers; as far as I know demographers study humans, not biological systems). To me, idea that we should use any human concept, mathematical or otherwise, without first testing it against reality, or that we should use the entire human species as our experimental model, is appalling. The corposystem quit funding population studies after about two of them gave results the contradict the corposystem’s most prominent emergent characteristic – growth for gain. What the corposystem won’t fund should make its micro-components stop and think, given that the prime function of any naturally evolved complex adaptive system is to perpetuate itself.


To this observer, it is clear, evident and obvious that overpopulation is a problem, and the “wait and see” excuise carries with it some extremely naïve false assumptions. False assumptions are built into world views. It’s our job to tease them out. For example: 1) that conditions twenty years from now will be essentially the same as they are now; 2) that reality is homo-centric, driven by human behavior rather than the Biosysem response to such behavior; 3) that the Biosystem is merely a background for our activities, rather than the other way around; and 4) that the big one, that humans can control nature.


The changes predicted by demographers (or anyone else) will NOT arise somehow from the mind of man and its ability to understand complex adaptive systems.   They will not. They cannot. They will arise from the “mind” of the far more complex complex adaptive system known as the Biosystem. The “mind” that is created by the functional interactions of billions of links and nodes, analogously to the interactions of neurons in the human brain.



What I know is that we cannot predict the changes that will arise in the “mind” of the Biosystem, using mathematics or any other measure, because we are ignorant of most of the functions of naturally evolved systemic interactions, and we have no way to predict their emergent properties.


I don’t need to know the math to understand that, and neither do you. Though I would still like to learn the math. Maybe I could point out some of the false assumptions enshrined within, given that my mind is no longer corposystem compliant.


Humans are not the center of Life, no more than the Earth is the center of the solar system, and we can’t make it be so with mathematics or religion or technologies. It is what it is, and we have at least three choices remaining: 1) fight with it, that is fight to control natural law as we are doing now; 2) sit on our duff and do nothing, which, I agree, is less likely to cause terminal damage if we could make everyone do it: 3) collaborate with the Life of Earth by removing the cause of its dis-ease. The cause well known beyond doubt. There are more people living on earth now than the earth can feed without destroying the links and nodes of itself.


We forget to our peril that the corposystem motto is: “Play now, pay later.” We forget that, when any overpopulation curve levels out, that means now is “later,” that is the beginning of the crash, and it will get a lot worse and very likely never get better if we break so many of the living links that hold together the Biosystem that she is forced to start over again from the beginning, as has happened more than once before (Sutherland, 2013).


We can not change how cause and effect works by ignoring the fact that WE DON’T KNOW HOW IT WORKS, and mathematics can’t tell us how it works at the level of emergent holistic properties of the systems functioning together to generate Life.   See Lewin (1992, page 125, a short discussion of the “Humpty Dumpty Effect.”)   It is the species that we are extincting, mostly unawares, that do the recycling that makes possible the emergent property of Life. In fact, that make Life (and our life) possible. We don’t know how they do it.


In short, the corposystem, including all its technologies, is a Ponzi scheme. Life is not. That seems to be what West (2017) has shown by giving us graph after graph of the properties of Life and then showing the extreme difference between that reality and the graph of exponential (Ponzi) growth, both of the human population and of cities. The latter will crash; the former are sustainable.


It is also what ecologists have been saying for as long as there have been ecologists.


The difference between the overpopulation graph (curve) that is generated by human technologies (including cities as technologies) – between human technologies and naturally evolved systems is apparently about efficiency – it surely must involve the ways in which nature selects FOR systemic interactions (exchanges of information) that are sufficiently efficient to be sustainable. Whereas the corposystem only cares about what works NOW to make money (growth now: crash later)

The solution to our overpopulation problem is nowhere near as simplistic as any of the excuses I have heard for not reducing our populations, as compassionately as possible, and thus massively reducing the suffering now and especially the suffering to come — of humans and other sentient beings.


The solution cannot be simply what we think of as recycling, because we are part of a system composed of systems, and the recycling is not done by the person(s) or the individual system that uses the resources, but by ALL THOSE OTHER SPECIES that we are destroying by – essentially by eating them up – by using their ecosystems to feed our growth. It’s apparently about trophic levels and niches and the relationships AMONG SYSTEMS that we barely understand, more than about the study of A SYSTEM, such as we envision homo-centrically. As we overgraze our resources, that is destroy them, we are the oroborus that eats itself until nothing is left.


The “wait and see what happens” play now pay later solution is appalling.


But that’s only my own educated opinion. You should read the book, Scale, by Geoffrey West. Great title, sounds like a murder mystery. Good book.

Part Two of my book 25 (Evolution for Citizens of the Biosystem) describes some of the major components of the system of Life in an effort to imagine how they work together so that no one thing is in charge — no one link or node or process or natural law, but the entire reality functions to protect the sustainability of the whole of Life.


Part Three will be dedicated in honor of impacts on my own life, to Margie Carter, Tibby Russell, and Yoko Kawa. Because this is a very personal book, part three is about humans, personally, and it is interesting to me that I awoke this morning realizing that these three people, at critical times in the flow of my life, shaped the stream – upstream actually – to the top of this mountain, and here I am, me and Bitsy and this cutest of little brown bears that is obviously b/b in genotype, and the stream of Life of which we are a part, and its genotype is a part, that have been flowing through time from the beginning of Life (or almost the beginning in the case of the brown genotype), composed of energy/mass and information for four or five billion years of the Life of Earth.


Dr. West did not talk about information. Someone asked the question. Too difficult to measure. He is right, it very likely explains everything else that we dldn’t already know, but what we do know is enough to resolve the root cause of our plethora of problems.


Part three of book 25 will be entitled “What can we Do?” Meaning what can we as individuals do to help sustain this entire, overpowering community of communities, given that we are only one micro-component of the whole. I was asked that question hundreds of times after I became an activist (in those days, that was our excuse for not doing the obvious, as recommended by The Dalai Lama for one, “find the cause and fix it.”


I respond to the excuses as they come along, maybe I’ll share my list in Part Three, but at that time I was trying to explain that naturally evolved systems will fall apart, actually “adapt” themselves beyond repair, if the balance among the myriad parts exceeds the capacity of the interacting links and nodes of the system to hang together. “What can we do?” the question, whether it is meant as a put-down or an intellectual query, it’s just another excuse to avoid taking responsibility for our responsibilities to the whole. Just one more among the many, many facts, fictions and fairy-tales that we humans use to avoid challenging our own toxic world views. Or I should rather say the toxic links of our naturally evolved complex adaptive world views. The power struggle between what we want and the reality of how Life functions to stay alive.


And Life itself is the most magnificent of the creations of our universe, so why are we struggling against its nature? Why don’t we go with the flow of our destiny within the miracle of the Creation? It seems to me, both in the poetic sense and from the technical perspective, that we as individuals and as a species, what we are truly struggling for, is our birthright, and I doubt very much if we will find it in our power struggles, unless we have a clearly defined world view that aligns with the factual reality of how Life functions, and then we can find a way to wrap our individual and collective behaviors around that world view.

Power struggles, that is dominational power struggles; generally do not solve problems. Rather, they create conflict that is perpetuated by the world views that they initiate, re-generate and pass down through the generations (Eagleman, 2015; Everett, 2017).

Dominational power struggles, as espoused by the corposystem “ethic” ( growth by domination for gain), function to energize and re-affirm the win/lose relationships of our dominational culture. The corposystem perpetuates itself in large part by generating power struggles among its own micro-components that energize the system. The system they energize is not sustainable because it is based in a flawed Ponzi ethic, and the result is that the never-ending power struggles create the entropy that ultimately will destroy the system from the inside out,


Prof. Seth Lloyd might use an exploding supernova star as an example of a naturally evolved system that can no longer maintain itself, in a markedly analogous fashion, when the balance among its parts cannot be maintained. (


The function of a naturally evolved system is to maintain itself. Power struggles maintain the dominational corposystem ethic. It is the over-all corposystem system maintaining itself. That’s what nataurally evolved systems do, and that is only one reason that we do not want to empower our dominational system. Another reason is that nobody wins in the end, when a Ponzi system crashes.


Win-lose is not abnormal in nature (see Chapter 03 and part 02, where I explain that nature responds to its environment by changing the structure of the systems of which it is composed), but “survival of the fittest” is simplistic to the point of inaccuracy and is contrary to natural sustainability – to the real nature of how all of nature evolved, as best we can know right now. By “we” I mean everything from the big-bang onward; I mean really and basically how nature itself functions.


Win-lose relationships between a system and its environment, and within its self, are normal in times of change, if the behavior of the system becomes misaligned with the survival needs of its environment. Successful systems realign themselves toward a win-win relationship with their environment – or they are eliminated. Evolution functions by retaining systems that contribute to the welfare of the whole. That is, creation in nature favors win-win.


What we need to remember, is that the environment “knows” what it needs and we do not “know better.” It “knows,” in fact, in a way that is analogous to how a brain “knows” (Eagleman, 2015) The knowing is built into the structures and behaviors of the naturally evolved system itself. If we genuinely want to survive, as a species within the Biosystem, the first question we must ask in NOT: “What can we do?” The first and most important question is: “What does the Biosystem require of us?” because that is how Life stays alive, and we are a part of that Life. We cannot enable the welfare of the Biosystem if we won’t even ask that question before we apply our corposystem win-lose power. “What do you need? What can we do to help you?”


Perhaps we need to reduce carbon dioxide output; perhaps we need to be more efficient; but that will not be enough. Perhaps we need to leave some ecosystems alone so that the Earth can heal herself. One of the most horrifying visions I have heard on the web was of an Earth completely blanketed by small permaculture farms. Completely dominated by the will of man who doesn’t even understand how it functions to stay alive. For a more rational vision see Wilson, 2016. Those of us who were raised in the corposystem, especially in the cities, will see this vision homocentrically, but the Life of Earth that is our own life probably will not concur.


Perhaps it would be best to just simply support the Biosystem in its own task of maintaining the intricately interactive naturally evolved, incredibly complex (beyond the capacity of any computer to emulate) relationships that balance the billions of functions of Life so that all the interacting partners benefit from the relationships.


To support the Biosystem’s efforts to recover by reducing our own populations as quickly and as compassionately as possible, rather than waiting until the Biosystem does it for us. Without the compassion.


We cannot successfully tell our environment what it must do to align itself with our wants. Or, of course we can tell it, using our behaviors to communicate our attitudes, but it will do what naturally evolved systems have done from the beginning of our universe. It will do whatever it can to perpetuate itself.


It might be possible, if we put our naturally evolved minds to the task, to understand what is required of US – NOT what we want to force the Biosystem to do, but what we must do if we ever decide to survive within the Biosystem as it has given us the life to do.


Because all behaviors have consequences within the Biosystem. Waiting around to see what happens is a behavior. It is an experiment, using people as our laboratory animals. (Other people, we hope.) It would never pass our guidelines for treatment of laboratory animals, let alone the children we are creating as part of the experiment. It is not an experiment that a sane person would espouse, given that we know the cause of the problem without doing the experiment or the math. The root physical cause of our plethora of modern problems is that there are more people on Earth than the Earth can feed without destroying itself.



This is Bare Bones Biology, a production of

The podcast can be opened, after tomorrow, at:


Eagleman, David. 2015. The Brain; The Story of You. Vintage


Everett, Caleb. 2017. Numbers and the Making of Us. Harvard University Press.

Johnson, 1999. Strange Beauty; Murray Gell-Mann and the Revolution in Twentieth-Century    Physics.  Vintage.


Gell-Mann, Murray, Nobel Prizewinner, The Quark and the Jaguar, 1994. A.W.H.Freeman/Holt Paperback. This fine, authoritative, and challenging book, written by a Nobel Prize winner, is available at the Chama Library.


Sutherland, Stuart. 2013. A New History of Life. The Teaching Company, Course Number 1520.


West, Geoffrey. 2017. Scale. Penguin Books.


Wilson, Edward O. 2016. Half-Earth: Our planet’s fight for Life . W. W. Norton

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