Bare Bones Biology 206 – How to LEARN What to Do

The scientist studies and studies to learn more and more about less and less until she knows everything about nothing. There is a core of important truth in that old joke.

Science began as the study of the facts of Life that we cannot change – how the whole system of Life functions to stay alive. Now the corposystem has converted – perverted the scientific method to the study of reductionist technologies in an effort to dominate and change the Laws of Nature. It won’t work. Science is the study of the facts of Life that we cannot change. Science is not the process of creating gadgets for the purpose of making power and money. That is technology.

I was a reluctant participant in the conversion of science into technology, as the corposystem sought to grow bigger and better weapons in its efforts to dominate the Biosystem. And now the corposystem is funding studies in the humanities in hopes of generating technologies to control we-the-people

140522-rainymorning-ASC_9164ELSss copyI also watched the rise of the “nonprofits,” and their incorporation into the corposystem, which is another long story, but briefly the general function of the nonprofits now is to wipe the behind of the corposystem. To clean up the messes that it makes, and in this way most of the nonprofits enable the abusive behaviors of the corposystem. Think about it. There isn’t time here to give examples, but almost every overworked, charismatic, nonprofit drama queen, along with her followers, is in the long term supporting the crimes against humanity that are being committed by the corposystem, because the nonprofits now are an integral part of the corposystem and are taking our money to accomplish chores that are the proper function of a government, while our tax dollars are largely used to make war.

Body and Mind. Biology and Humanity, Science and Religion. The corposystem seeks to control them all, and now the corposystem is poised to take final control over our last source of good information, the internet. These, my friends, are examples of ways that a system functions to maintain itself. In this case a social system.

So why not just let the corposystem take charge? Why do we need good information about how things work, when the solution to the evils of the corposystem is to simply stop doing the wrong thing and begin to do the right thing? Stop pollution; stop war; learn how to live a nonviolent life style; recycle; become better producers; stop over-consumption.

140526-SimpleLife-ASC_9202RLSss copyGood question. Good idea. I’m for it. But it won’t work. It’s not enough, because humans are not the center of the universe. We live in and on the Biosystem, and we must also serve the needs of the Biosystem or we cannot survive within the Biosystem. That is one of the bits of information that we need to internalize if we want to give forward to the future generations of humans, and it is one of the bits of information the corposystem is suppressing in its efforts to make us “happy” so we will not try to genuinely understand the real world outside the corposystem and will simply let the corposystem decide what is right and what is wrong (please read or reread the classic novel “1984” by George Orwell).

We need good information about how the Biosystem functions, in order to avoid being removed from the Biosystem by the natural results of our own behaviors. Even good behaviors can and do cause long-term harm.

We already know these things. They are in the sciences and the humanities. We know what is the “right thing,” the necessary thing to do for human survival, and that is to conform ourselves to the laws of nature, rather than continuing the effort to conform nature to our preferences. We have no choice in any case. The corposystem cannot dominate the power of the whole system of Life on Earth and neither can our preferences. The result of the effort will be a dreadful blowback upon our children and grandchildren. We know this. It has already begun.

And so why don’t we all get together and do something to prevent the blowback? We easily could, and that is why we need good information. As long as we the people don’t understand how the Biosystem functions. Or if we believe what the corposystem has taught us to believe, rather than making the effort to study and internalize the factual truths about the system of Life. As long as we don’t know how these things function, we cannot stop the dysunction.

No human can understand all the reductionist details about how Life functions, but anyone can understand the basic principles — and then expand that knowledge to apply to individual practical situations. It’s quite simple. Life is about balance among all the parts of the Biosystem. From the perspective of the Law of Life, we humans are only one of the parts, and we are not the part that creates fire, food, air, water, and the good earth.

Download the podcast at this address:

Survival and Evolution

The function of a system is to perpetuate itself. Biologically, this is done by regulation of the information systems by the environment. That is another way of saying that evolution is a process of change over time mediated by natural selection.

In terms of the genome, of course the information system is the genes; in the social context, the information system is the brain (nervous system). The genes generate a system (in humans an organ system, the organ system then becomes part of the environmental influence on further evolution, we get a brain). Our brain is one of a social creature. For this reason, even though the emotional part of the brain can’t really explain itself, it CAN respond to the environment by growing a culture; that means it can communicate with other human creatures in space. More importantly it means that the culure then becomes part of the environment that evolves the brain to become more intricate. The system (in this case the brain, for a giraffe it’s the neck that gives the whole organism system a selective advantage) perpetuates itself and selects, usually for a more and more specialized version of itself within its successful niche. Whatever is our selective advantage (or think of a giraffe neck) becomes selected FOR ever more strongly as all the organisms within the whole Biosystem evolve together, finding ever more narrow niches, meaning that their functions become more and more specialized within the entire ecosystem. The brain, again, or ours, then learned to communicate over time, as well as space some point the brain learns to communicate over time (story telling, then writing, then the technologies) as well as space, and then it becomes the strongest element in its own environment as it specializes in using and growing an intellectual brain on top of the emotional brain.

There is a dance between the environment system and the brain system that generates the flow of information (gene pool) that defines the species system. This concept is the same as levels of organization except the idea of levels of organization tries to linearize the process so that our brain can conceptualize it, but the reality is that every system interfaces at one level AND another with all the other systems, which is what I read also in Tibetan Buddhism. The only way I can visualize this is to mentally draw a bunch of bubbles, each of which represents a system (I guess beginning with cells if we work up from the bottom levels of life, but of course one could go biochemical, chemical, etc.) all the bubbles are inside other bubbles and interact with other bubbles, and all of them represent actions, not things. Processes. What they really respresent is systems that have evolved because they work to maintain the life of our biggest bubble short of God’s universe – the Biosystem. Each system evolved in an environment and in that environment each system evolved because the whole Biosystem is more efficient with that system than without it (Let’s refer to that as the first law of evolution and defines “fitness” – all the systems and subsystems in a biosystem are successful insofar as they contribute to the more efficient survival of the whole Biosystem.) Because these bubbles must ALL be functioning well if the whole is to be sustainable. The second basic law of evolution is that the primary function of any system is to maintain itself. An efficiently functioning Biosystem evolves to be more and more like itself (as I described above relative to organ systems, the human brain or the giraffe’s neck).

130822-LittleCreel-ASC_5599RSsChanges happen when system break down. Or systems break down when changes happen. Evolution cannot be understood at an individual level. The entire Biosystem crawls through time as a unitary Life Form that responds to internal and external change according to the efficiency (or lack of efficiency) of the interacting processes.

In all cases, the system evolves over time in response to its environment, and all the systems evolve together. The way I picture this is to imagine how all the organs in an organ system must evolve together within the skin, which is within the ecosystem — or the organism doesn’t survive. At the same time, every change in the organ system bubble must conform to the needs of the cellular (biochemical) system of bubbles of which it is composed. And also at the same time it must fit itself into its relationship with the species system (biological community) of which it is a part. In doing this, it will tend either to maintain its efficiently,

sustainably functioning self, or, if some part of the “physiology” of the Biosystem breaks the bounds of the checks and balances that maintain it sustainably – then it will begin to change it’s own environment (which is the sum of all the species at any given time – or rather it is the sum of the billions of processes implemented by all the species together, plus the internal and external environment that they all together mediate).

In the case of the human brain, of course, once it evolved the ability to communicate both laterally and linearly (and then systematically) it became a uniquely conscious vehicle for evolution, and at that point it took upon itself (like it or not) the RESPONSIBILITY to care for the welfare not only of its neighbor in the cave but also of the sum of the species (all the sentient beings) of which it is a participating member. Responsibility is not a choice – at the level of a brain, responsibility is part of maintaining the subsystem of which it is a part. The brain is responsible for the welfare of the body, and for the welfare of the human community and for the welfare of the environment that we are sacrificing to our personal wants and wishes.

All this is what I also hear in the Tibetan Buddhist texts that I have read – those that I could understand, and whether I contributed the understanding to the text or the text contributed an understanding to me – I think it is as real when written by a monk as it is when written by an evolutionary biologist.

There are two bottom lines here that seem important right now:
1. We are responsible as individuals to our own organism (ourselves) and (because we can’t survive in a failed system) to our environment in which other organisms must participate. We could say this is self-preservation on two levels (this is why “survival of the fittest” does NOT describe the process of evolution unless you define fitness to exclude simplistic competition.) This responsibility can be thought of as: sustainability and resilience. Resilience basically is a way the system maintains itself by all the parts interacting. Sustainability is a more linear idea that seems mostly to encompass the ongoing balance among the resources and the needs, probably old-fashioned supply/demand economics reflects an idea of sustainability, whereas resilience is more akin to the benefits provided by the fail-safe functions of a space-ship environment.

130822-LittleCreel-ASC_5602RLSs2. The function of any system is to maintain itself. When this FAILS for any reason the failing system throws up variables. Actually the system is always throwing up variables, that is a Third law of evolution that we already knew from Darwin. When a system starts to fail, these variables are not as readily absorbed into the system bubble; they splinter into a thousand bits (genetic recombination, social breakdown, species breaking up into subspecies) and the bits try to specialize into niches and/or generate niches they can survive in. Whether or not they succeed depends on the internal and external environments.

That’s where we are at; in our case it has become a process of social evolution that maintains itself primarily using false information to create fraudulent social environments, that could have been real environments if we didn’t have too many people for the resources. When people do realize that the social niches (social systems) are no longer able to maintain themselves because the environment in which they evolved no longer exists or is dying – or there simply isn’t enough food for everyone — that is the source of war and revolutions.

a. we would rather resolve the issues without violence
b. but we can’t because the breakdown of the system is throwing up multiple new social systems that do compete with each other. This is the part of evolution that has to do with competition, and that mostly happens when systems are failing because (usually because the environment has changed so much the system can’t cope) – all the rest of evolution is about communication, integration, connection and cooperation. Even in non-social species, but of course not using words, rather actions and functions.
c. We are humans. We have at our disposal, in addition – words, concepts and ideas.
d. Therefore, if we want to survive we need to take a step in regulating our own evolution. There are three requirements for that: (1) stop changing the environment into which we evolved. That requires a sustainable culture, and developing a sustainable culture requires DISCUSSION RATHER THAN COMPETITION. At all levels of organization. (2) the goal is to do this without the war stage of confrontation among the groups.

I think this would require that we understand how evolution really works. I know that there are several groups out there trying to evolve humans, but none of them are functioning to fulfill the requirements outlined above because none of them understands how evolution really works. Our culture is based in competition and war. That concept grew out of a very primitive understanding of how evolution really functions – “survival of the fitness – a concept that cannot succeed unless one defines fitness as I have above.

Unfortunately, ALL the major competing groups in our corposystem culture believe in the corposystem ethic, even while they also believe we must evolve.

Yes indeed we will evolve, but we CANNOT evolve in a “humane” direction by using the failed corposystem ethic because the corposystem ethic is based in WAR and always has been. Even the compassion groups do not see themselves as they use a corposystem war ethic to change the corposystem war ethic.

If we want to succeed in evolving a better social system, we MUST NOT war against the systems that keep us alive (the corposystem war against the biosystem). Rather we must change ourselves in a direction that conforms with the welfare of the whole. Those “evolution” groups do know this. What they don’t understand is that you can’t use stories to change facts, and you can’t work for the welfare of the whole if you don’t know what it needs that is different from what humans need, and you can’t know this while at the same time excluding facts of nature from the conversation. And you can’t do it AT ALL if your mode is debate based in human opinions.

Humans have a brain that responds to stories. However, the ability to respond to stories is not enough. If we want a humane environment we must honor the process of evolution as it really is, not as “survival of the fittest (undefined).” We must use our analytical brain to debunk the corposystem, to understand evolution, and to SKIP the step that requires competition and violence. If we insist upon using the corposystem ideology to change the corposystem ideology, without recognizing that the corposystem is a failed system throwing up competing variants, because THAT IS HOW EVOLUTON FUNCTIONS, then we are lost, because we are promoting a failed system. Even the compassion movements are doing this. That is not changing a system; it is part of how the system – how it maintains itself. If we are going to use ONLY stories in this effort (no matter that the above is true) rather than evolve ourselves into a species that can USE OUR WHOLE BRAIN, NOT ONLY THE PRIMITIVE BRAIN to regulate ourselves in our environment, then there is a chance we might break out of our own failed system.

Either we use our thinking brain – on top of and including the emotional brain and the survival brain — to do that or we don’t. If we cannot grow a sufficient number of people who consciously promote discussion of the cause of the failure of our corposystem culture, then evolution will take hold, we will split up into factions and the factions will become more and more violent.

We cannot CHANGE the corposystem by conforming to what it does not want us to do. And right now what it does not want us to do is to use the analytical part of our brains, along with the emotional (storytelling) part to understand the real issues sufficiently to change the system or grow a new system that is both sustainable and resilient in relation to the efficiency of the Life processes of the entire Biosystem.

Every person on earth can contribute to this effort of understanding the real issues if we are willing to figure out what the real issues are and discuss them on a daily basis at least use the words IN ADDITION TO WHATEVER ELSE WE MUST DO TO MAINTAIN OUR BUBBLES. And if we who actually are educated do not make the effort every day to at least USE THE WORD “overpopulation,” and support and encourage those who are trying to save us from it – then the human world will end in fire (war).

Either we take charge of our own information systems or we fail.

If we refuse to address the causative issues (those discussions that are not permitted by the corposystem, and figure out the methods the corposystem uses to repress the info), or if we believe that humans are more powerful than the causative issues, then we will fail. If we can develop a culture in which ALL HUMANS take some responsibility for discussing the real issue that we face in addition to whatever else they are doing to maintain the environment that we need for survival – then there is still time.

That’s why God gave us a uniquely conscious brain.

Bare Bones Biology 160 – Words Evolve

Words evolve, especially English words, until one person can be talking about facts, or energy, or evolution, while she is thinking something entirely different from the person who is listening to exactly the same words that mean something different in her mind. So, if you want to talk about facts or energy or evolution, and you don’t like my definitions, you should tell me yours and perhaps we can both talk about the same things. That is the first step in any discussion, and discussion is the first step to deciding if we care enough about each other to face the facts of our survival on this living earth.

130721-sunrise-ASC_4801sFACTS. Facts are realities that are true whether or not there were humans and whether or not we believe them. Facts are things like gravity, weight, thermodynamics, measurable energy, and death. The whole of human history and human power grew in the questioning human mind that wanted to understand the facts of Life IN ORDER TO SURVIVE into a comfortable future. That is, until the last few generations. Now, it seems, we no longer believe that our survival depends upon the facts of Life. Instead, we have come to believe that we can change the facts to suit ourselves. We even write books about it that I will not reference, but we actually believe them.

But the unfortunate thing about facts is that it doesn’t matter what we believe, the facts keep on going just the way they always have done, because a fact is not something humans decided to believe in. A fact is something that would be here even if there were no humans, and the bottom line fact is this — humans cannot survive without the living earth that gives us life – it is the forever facts that created the living earth Biosystem — and competing with that which gives us life does not make us big and wonderful and powerful; it makes us dead.

But of course we would be dead anyway, sooner or later, so the more important reason to understand the facts of Life is to avoid causing misery and suffering by fighting wars against realities that we cannot change, and to know the difference between what we humans can control and what we cannot control.

130721-deer-ASC_4812SsENERGY. In order to understand the basic facts of Life, we must understand that physical energy and human energy are not the same thing and we DO NOT KNOW what human energy is or how it relates to physical energy. Therefore we do not know how to control it.

Most of us can agree that there is such a thing as what I am referring to as human energy. I know that physical energy is a measurable fact; I know that I have experienced human energy in various ways; and I know that human energy is not the same kind of thermodynamic, measurable fact that is described by the Laws of Thermodynamics. But that is about all we do understand about human energy, and we know a lot about thermodynamic energy. The most important thing we know about it is that many people think human energy is more important than thermodynamic energy, and therefore humans can ignore the thermodynamic facts of Life described by the science of Physics.
The fact is, there would be no Life and no living earth without the flow of energy through the biological system that is the whole living earth, and this flow of energy must “obey” the measurable energy Laws of Thermodynamics.

Or to put it another way, the entire universe is how it is because (in part) of the Laws of Thermodynamics. If there were no humans, this would still be true. Whatever we can do with human energy, we cannot change the Law of Gravity, the Law of Evolution, or the Laws of Thermodynamics because these facts that we call laws were used in the Creation of Life. Without them, we would not exist, and there would be no human energy. So, if you know a lot about human energy, good for you. We need to know more; but that is not an excuse to ignore the facts about thermodynamic energy.

This is Bare Bones Biology, a production of KEOS radio, 89.1 FM, in Bryan, Texas, and FactFictionFancy. A podcast of this program can be downloaded at Bare Bones Biology as soon as we can sort out the problem that was caused when someone not myself tried to access my credit card information. In the meantime, if you want a podcast, please send your email address to and I will send you the mp3 version. It might take a couple of days as I find my way to a place where the trackless wilderness intersects an email access point. Most likely at the Mystery Store in downtown Chama, where good email access and good books are available.

Problems solved, here you can download the podcast:

Survival of the Fittest?

So, if species grow and succeed on the basis of survival of the fittest, meaning they are doing something that is good for the ecosystem — then how come the ecosystem pitches them out later and they go extinct?

I think the answer to this is that species succeed on the basis of something they are doing that is “fitness” within the ecosystem. That is, it is useful or at least not harmful within the multiple variables of the whole system. And what the ecosystem needs to survive is “resilience” (that is, the ability to change when conditions change) and “sustainability” (that is the ability to stay in balance by adjusting it’s parts, which is almost but not quite the same as resilience). So if a species does not upset the balance — and it increases the resilience of the system — then it is a happy camper within the system.

So why would it then go extinct, I mean barring the occasional mega-volcano or meteorite? I think most species are good at something, better at something than other species. Humans, those who don’t think the problem through, tend to believe this is “fitness.” Being better. They think being better and better at some little thing, like winning, for example, is fitness, and in a way it is, because it allows the species to fill or create a new niche in the system. Up to a point where it can no longer maintain its balance, a system with more niches will be more resilient than a system with fewer niches.

Most species are therefore good at something that is different from the other species that live in the same space. As time goes by and generations follow generations, and selection pressures of the surroundings tend to continue or increase, I think most species develop whatever is their advantage until it passes a balance point and becomes extreme.

For an example, think of the giraffe. And then if conditions change or they continue to develop the same trait to absurdity, they can’t cope in the system any more. For example, if all the tall trees died as a result of global warming (or anything, tree diseases, whatever) the giraffe would have to compete with everyone else at ground level and would probably become extinct.

Humans, now, have developed their definining characteristics to an even greater absurdity than giraffes. Humans in the USA, young people that I talk to, they actually believe they can control their environment (ecosystem) with the power of their brain, either directly or through creating technologies.

The trouble with having a really good brain as a defining characteristic is that it can go crazy and do absurdly harmful things to its own environment that lead to its own extinction. This is not fitness; it will not survive.

But we do have that brain, and we could use it for something useful if we wanted to.

Bare Bones Ecology – Fini

The full moon set and the sun rose, as I swung my camera back and forth from West to East.

BareBonesEcology, our ongoing project that describes the flow of energy, the recycling of materials, and the enormous power of the information that guides life on earth. Cest fini!

All that remains is to edit for print. !!!!!!! 🙂

For our blog, this now leaves Sunday and Thursday free for random thoughts and new projects. And the days between for random photographs of the ecosystem. After today I will be working on the upcoming course (Bare Bones Ecology – Energy, to be held at the Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History) and will probably put notes from that project.

In the meantime, on Wednesdays, I will continue to post the transcript of the week’s radio spot that airs on KEOS (98.1) on Sunday morning at 6:55 and Tuesday evening at 8:55.

Today we are celebrating.

Limiting Factors

We have shown that the most important requirement for life of a cell or of an organism or of an ecosystem is to maintain a balance among all the conditions necessary for life, most of which involve energy, materials and communication.

We have shown that the behaviors of the different species of organisms are responsible for distributing energy throughout the whole ecosystem.

We have shown that the behaviors of the different species of organisms are responsible for distribution the materials of life, atoms and molecules, throughout the ecosystem.

We have shown that the behaviors of the different species are responsible for the ability of the ecosystem to react to conditions inside and outside that might be a threat to her life.

We have said that the more species an ecosystem is supporting, the more balanced and resilient that ecosystem is, because every different species has a slightly different behavior. So any little problems that happen with one or another species will have only a minor impact on the balance of the ecosystem. Other species will be able to do the same job in a slightly different way, and the more such species are available the more likely the ecosystem is to survive.

Now let’s talk about how the ecosystem protects herself in the case of some species over-running the ecosystem, like a cancer over-runs an individual organism, and so threatening the lives of the other species hat are required for balance and resilience and life of the ecosystem. For the most part, this function is performed day by day and year by year by limiting factors that are a part of the balance of the whole.

Let’s take for example a species that lives in the desert. The usual limiting factor in a desert is water. If there are too many individuals, then the whole community is likely to run short of water, and most of the individuals will die. So then there are not too many. Those that remain are the individuals who are best able to live without water, and these will pass on their genomes to the next generation. The result is that deserts are filled with organisms that have evolved intricate adaptations to the desert climate.

Water is the limiting factor in this environment that drives both balanced populations and evolution.

Suppose for one year there is more than enough water, then the population of desert mice, for example, will bloom, and the mice will begin to eat up all their food supply, until it is gone, and many will starve. In that year, food is the limiting factor.

If food is not limiting, then predators are likely to take the surplus mice in the next following breeding season. After a bloom of mice, there is likely to be a bloom of foxes, as the ecosystem uses her innate behaviors to maintain the balance that is necessary for her life.

If this fails, then the overcrowded conditions of the mice is likely to provide excellent conditions for the evolution of viral or bacterial diseases.

Notice that these limiting factors are not enemies of our species or of the ecosystem. They create the perfect conditions for any species to survive over long periods of time in an earthly ecosystem. If we really do want to survive, then we will need to understand limiting factors as friends and allies, and manage them accordingly.

The next limiting factor, if a species manages to work its way past all the previous, will be that the population becomes so large and begins to use so much energy that the waste products begin to threaten the balance between the source of energy (plants) and the using up of energy (food) until the waste products begin to affect the environment (as in global warming).

Experiments have been done, using rats or mice that are provided with all the food and water they could possibly need. When populations become so great that they are crawling all over each other, then their behaviors become “nutsy:” infanticide, murder and war increase.

At this point, the species is probably doomed to extinction by destruction of all the things it needs to stay alive.

The only difference between us and the other species is that we understand what we are doing to God’s Garden of Eden — or we can understand if we want to, because the information is available. And because of our brain — we get to choose whether or not we want to continue trashing the ecosystem. If we decide we want to provide a reasonable life style for a reasonable number of humans on the face of this earth, we must begin passing out the birth control to everyone who wants it IMMEDIATELY.

In this way our technology might save some of us.

No human technology can change the basic laws of nature that keep the ecosystem alive. No human technology can remove the limiting factors or safely unbalance the ecosystem.

Our human environment now is the whole earth ecosystem, and we are now using more resources than the ecosystem can consistently produce. I have seen what happens to mice that overpopulate their environments. Those pictures are in my mind as I see the choices we are now making.

But we are the only species in history that has been given the freedom to choose.

We can help to balance the ecosystem — the flow of energy, the recycling of materials and the balance of species.

Or —


Genetic Variability and Evolution

We have already shown that evolution is a foundational reality of life on earth. We showed it in two ways. The first proof we gave is that we can do it. If humans can manipulate genetics to evolve new breeds of dogs, cats, cattle, horses, and other species, then of course evolution does exist. Even further than that, we can do genetic engineering. Not that we really want to discuss genetic engineering of plants and animals in this chapter, but I’m sure you have heard of it, and we can point to the fact that genetic engineering is possible only because we understand the basic principles of life that are required for evolution:

1. Genetics. The fact that genes are passed from parent to child;
2. The variability of phenotypes among all living creatures that is assured by sexual reproduction;
3. Selection of some genomes rather than other to pass on genes to the gene pool of the next generation.

The other evidence we have given for evolution is that life is defined by its ability to respond to external and internal change, and that the response involves inherited behaviors that preserve the life. This is true of cells that have chemical messengers and their receptors — and organisms that have brains and nerves and hormones — and it is true of ecosystems through the phenotypes of the organisms. A phenotype is a physical characteristic of an organism that is caused by a gene or genotype of that organism.

So now we want to describe how evolution functions in nature to preserve the lives of ecosystems. Next time, we will describe the basic processes that are required for evolution to happen.

First we’ll do a quick run through of genetic terms. We remember that each individual gene (usually) has one function that it regulates by making a specific and unique protein inside of some cell. Maybe this gene is responsible for your red hair, for a simple example. Mc1r is the name of the gene. Red hair is the name of your hair phenotype. Obviously, it takes more than Mc1r to make all of you, and in fact there are thousands of genes in each of your cells. Each pair of genes has a particular function that is associated with a particular phenotype. If you add them all together, the resulting phenome is YOU. All the genes that make up YOU are your genome. Your genome is not exactly the same as my genome. For one thing, your Mc1r gene codes for red hair and my MC1R gene codes for not-red hair. So we all have hair genes, but that does not mean we are all identical. Your genome is not identical to my genome.

A species is a group of animals of the same kind that could or do interbreed. So humans are all of the same species (Homo sapiens). Because humans can interbreed and often do, therefore we all share the same gene pool, whether we have red hair or not-red hair or kinky hair or unpigmented skin we all share the same gene pool. All the genes in all the humans is the gene pool of humans. The gene pool is even more variable than any of the genomes. This variability is the result of sexual reproduction (meiosis followed by fertilization) and is extremely important for survival of both the species and the ecosystem. It is the communication system of the ecosystem.

Different species do not interbreed (that’s the definition of a species) so they can not share the same gene pool. Every different species has its own function in the ecosystem. For example, most of the species of plants are producers, because they can make organic molecules using energy from the sun. Animals of different kinds are consumers. Consumers cannot make organic molecules (we have to eat them). One of our jobs is to help recycle the materials, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, that the plants need to make more organic molecules. The energy can not be recycled, and that’s why the life of the entire ecosystem depends entirely on plants. And there are species that do all the other various jobs that are necessary to keep an ecosystem alive.

All the different species do their jobs in the ecosystem by their behaviors. So the ecosystem ocean of all the gene pools of all the different species is made up of a vast array of behaviors.

That’s the background.

Now I want to use an example to explain how this communication system functions. These are from two different species of flowers that I found in my front yard when I drove back home this afternoon.

Here is the first species. Maybe you can tell me what it is. All I know is that most of the plants have pink flowers, but this plant has white flowers. Let’s assume this species of plant has a job to do in the ecosystem, or it probably wouldn’t be here, even if we don’t know what the job is. We do know what flowers are for. The purpose of flowers is to do sexual reproduction so the plant can make more plants of the same kind. Sexual reproduction involves the fusion of sperms with eggs. Or in the case of flowers it involves finding some way for the pollen to get to the egg, and usually that involves some kind of insect, maybe a bee or some other kind of insect that is attracted to this flower. The genome of the insect determines its behavior. The genome of the flower determines its behavior. The two behaviors are both required for the flower to reproduce. In this case a mutation in one plant has caused the flowers to be white instead of pink. How might this affect the whole collection of organisms that do all the jobs in the ecosystem?

Are any of the regular pollinators attracted to white flowers?
Are the white flowers able to get pollinated?
Is some other pollinator possibly attracted to the white flowers?
Are the white flowers maybe MORE attractive to the normal insect or some other insect that normally doesn’t visit this particular kind of flower?
Do the white flowers for some reason survive better in our drought conditions of the past two years?
Which of these plants will make more babies for next year, the pink ones or the white ones?

Depending on the answers to those questions and many more questions during the development of the plant we will see next year either more or fewer of the white flowers. This is the process of evolution. This is life. This is the ecosystem being responsive to its environment by making available many different species that all have:

1- different behaviors
2- variability in the behaviors because there is variability in the gene pools of the species.

Without the ability to respond to internal and external changes, the ecosystem could not be alive.

The requirements for this responsiveness are two:

1- Phenotypic variability must be available, and this variability must be inheritable. We have already stated that most phenotypic variability is the result of genotypic variability. Genotypic variability is the result of sexual reproduction that we described previously. It is the norm in our ecosystem. If God invented sexual reproduction, it was not for your pleasure. It was to provide the variability that is necessary so the ecosystem can respond to environmental conditions.

2- In any species, on the averages, the individual organisms (and their genomes) that successfully raise babies are those that pass on their genes to the next generation. Natural selection is the process of choosing which genomes (out of the entire gene pool of the species) will be passed to the next generation. Natural selection consists of (on the averages) the combination of the phenotypes and conditions that both change with every breeding season. The genomes that can make offspring that survive best in the conditions of that particular growing season will be more likely to pass on to the next generation. The result of natural selection is that the some percentage of the gene pool is passed on to the next generation. In the next breeding season there will again be variability, because of sexual reproduction, and again only those organisms with the phenotypes that are most compatible with whatever the environment is that year — they will be the ones that breed and rear their young to make the next following generation. This is the process of natural selection.

Evolution is a change in the gene pool over time as a result of selection. Evolution is not a theory. It is a proven fact of life.

Evolution is NOT survival of the fittest.

Evolution is survival of the organism that helps the ecosystem to maintain its viable balance among all the thousands/millions of jobs that are done by the millions of species that make up the ecosystem and must be maintained in balance for the ecosystem to stay alive.

What remains, in our next blog, is to discuss are some of the methods the ecosystem uses to get rid of species that threaten this balance.

Life Is

Life is the innate, internal ability to respond to the environment rather than just sit there and be destroyed by it. The flow of information sustains life because it senses the environment and cues the living response. The hand on the hot stove is a reasonable example of this process, but very limiting as a concept because we need the whole of the ecosystem information system to stay alive — in addition to our own nervous system.

Life at any level is maintained by:
1. Flow of energy
2. Recycling materials
3. Flow of information that maintains the balance among all these things.
4. The ability to balance all of the above.

To visualize the flow of information through the whole ecosystem, we need to imagine the functions of the various species of organisms within all the smaller ecosystems that make up the whole. Textbooks often use a pond ecosystem as an example, because it is easier to imagine than a gigantic whole that has no inputs or outputs. Ponds, of course, are in contact with land and air, which helps them to keep their balance. The whole earth has no such buffer to help her maintain herself in space.

But here is the pond, and lets take only four species of organisms. An ecosystem with only four species could not possibly maintain a balance, but let’s pretend.

A water weed
A plant-eating bug
A bug-eating animal
A fungus that eats dead things.

The sun shines on the green water weed. It’s job in the ecosystem is to use the energy from the sun to make organic molecules by photosynthesis. It uses carbon dioxide and oxygen to make organic molecules. It uses the energy contained in the organic molecules, and also the carbon and oxygen, and nitrogen that its roots bring from the bottom of the pond, to make the cells of its own body. The plant also does cellular respiration. So the plant is very important to the life of the pond. It has made organic molecules using energy from the sun, nitrogen from the earth and carbon dioxide from the air. It breathes out more oxygen than it takes in. The plant “knows” how to be a plant because of all its genes that work together to cause all the right functions to happen in the right cells at the right time of its development.

The plant-eating bug eats the plant and uses the energy from the organic molecules, and also the carbon and nitrogen and oxygen to make the cells of its own body. It breathes in oxygen to do cellular respiration and it breathes out carbon dioxide, because all the energy for it to stay alive comes from the process of cellular respiration that breaks down the organic molecules of plant that the bug ate. The animal “knows” how to eat plants and also how to digest them and how to make its own cells because of all its genes that work together to cause all the right functions to happen in the right cells at the right time of its development.

The bug-eating animal eats the plant-eating bugs and uses the energy from the organic molecules, and the carbon and nitrogen and oxygen, to make the cells of its own body. It breathes in oxygen and breathes out carbon dioxide and for all the work of staying alive it uses the energy that was stored in the organic molecules of the bugs that it eats. The behaviors of this animal are also directed by all its genes. It “knows” how to catch bugs and also how to digest them and how to make its own cells because of all its genes that work together to cause all the right functions to happen in the right cells at the right time of its development.

All of these organisms die and defecate, and fall to the bottom of the pond, where the fungus digests the remaining organic molecules, releasing the nitrogen back to the soil and more carbon dioxide into the water. It uses the energy that was stored in the organic molecules to do the work of staying alive, until all or almost all of the organic molecules are broken down and there is no more energy available until some other organisms in the pond defecate or die. Even the fungus “knows” how to do what it does because of the genes that control whatever enzymes and other proteins are produced in its body at the right time and in the right place.

So there are three reasons for explaining this tiny ecosystem to you:

1. Such an ecosystem could not survive for very long because there are not enough different kinds of organisms doing all the jobs. For example, think what would happen if the environmental temperature changed so that species of plant could not survive in that pond. The whole system would crash. The more different species are doing the same or similar jobs, the more likely the pond is to stay alive. This is what Rob Hopkins refers to as “resilience.” It is essential to survival of an ecosystem that it maintain a balance among hundreds of different species that have similar functions but slightly different genomes, so that some of them may be able to survive if the conditions change.

2. Do not imagine that these are the only functions necessary for an ecosystem to survive. Another reason why many hundreds of species are required to do the job of maintaining balance in an ecosystem is that there are many hundreds of different jobs to do. I only listed four basic jobs. Energy flow, recycling of carbon and oxygen and recycling of nitrogen. Many hundreds of molecules need to be recycled, and many hundreds of species are required to ensure the proper flow of energy to every portion of any ecosystem so that the whole may stay alive.

Ecosystems can die.

3. Notice it is the behaviors of the organisms that direct the flow of energy and the flow of materials through an ecosystem. Behaviors of organisms are controlled in large part by the genome of the organism, that is all the genes in the organisms. The gene pool of the organism is all the genes in a particular species. The gene pools of all the organisms and all the species in an ecosystem ARE the flow of information through the ecosystem. Again, Rob Hopkins is correct that the resilience of any ecosystem is much greater, the more variation there is in the ocean of all the gene pools of all the organisms in that ecosystem. Just in case some change happens in or around the ecosystem, if there is a lot of variability in that ocean of genes, then it is more likely that the ecosystem can survive, because it is more likely that some organisms will survive that are required to do all the jobs of energy flow and materials recycling.

This IS evolution.

It is simply silly to argue whether or not evolution exists. Evolution is one of the most important laws of nature, along with gravity and the first and second laws of thermodynamics and the law of cause and effect, that the Creator gave to The Creation so that it can exist. If there were no evolution there would be no life on earth today.

Evolution is NOT survival of the fittest individual within a species. It is survival of a species that helps and does not harm the balance of jobs that are required for the whole ecosystem to stay alive.

The Spirit of God

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God moved over the face of the waters.”

That’s my favorite quote from the Bible.

It doesn’t say exactly how He did it. But here we are in this very fine Garden of Eden, the only living thing within light years, in the midst of a universe of fire and ice. It is indeed miraculous. If a miracle is something that our little pea brains can’t understand, then we are surrounded by miracles and it would be better that we don’t forget it.

Whether or not we can feel the spirit of God moving among the miracles, and even though nobody understands everything, we do know some of the basic natural laws that keep this life alive. Werner von Braun, who I think was a physicist, said: “The universe is hostile only when you do not know its laws. For those who know and obey, the universe is friendly.”

So how do we get to know its laws? I expect he was thinking about the laws of physics, and I expect he was right. We would not get very far trying to pretend we can walk on clouds (even though it makes you want to try sometimes, looking down on them from an airplane) and we wouldn’t get very far without wheels and combustion and all of that kind of technology based in the reality of natural phenomena. And we won’t get very far pretending that life can exist in absence of what it needs to be alive. The word of man is not more powerful than the works of God that lie all around us and proclaim themselves for us to see and understand. And obey — or not. We have the freedom to choose — and as we continue to choose unwisely, the universe becomes more and more hostile.

We are even pretending that we don’t need what we do need for life to stay alive. Right now we need the ecosystem to stay alive. How can we not understand that the ecosystem is a living thing with all the needs of living things? I don’t know the answer to that question, but let’s talk about the needs of all living things. The natural laws of being alive. Boiled rigtht down to the bare bones, they are threefold, and they are the same for the tiniest cell as they are for you and me and for the whole great earth ecosystem that you can see from the moon. If you were foolish enough to go to the moon.

We need food because it requires work to stay alive, and there is a universal law of energy that says no work can happen without energy. We get energy to stay alive from our food. Food does not come from supermarkets or from the sun. It comes from plants, that is from our garden of eden. Once we have eaten the food — we can’t eat it again. Actually we could, but most of the available energy has already been used from the food by the time we defecate it, and energy does not recycle.

We need to recycle materials such as oxygen and carbon dioxide and nitrogen and carbon and all the elements that are part of life. That is another reason we eat. Also it’s why we breathe. And to direct all these activities, every kind of life needs to have the information available that tells it how to use the energy, by digestion and all that, and how to recycle the materials, for example by breathing, in order to stay alive.

All processes require information. We do the processes — we do everything that we do because of our genes. Our genetic code. We can be alive because our genetic code knows exactly when and where to make an enzyme to digest the meal we just ate, and exactly when and where to make a nerve cell or a pigment cell or a muscle cell, or exactly how to think.

These three things — energy from plants, the recycling of elements and compounds, and the genetic code to direct all the whole processes — these are required by every living thing, from the tiniest prokaryotic cell to the entire whole ecosystem itself.

How do we know this? Because without any one of them, life ceases. We do not know everything about anything, but we know that — if God created life — then that’s how he created it to be.

Energy and Information Drive the Cycles

It’s not easy to think about levels of organization as real things. It’s much easier to think of ourselves as real and everything else as a thing, but in fact we are only one cog in the wheel of life — from the life of a cell that perhaps makes up part of your body to the interacting behaviors of organisms, from plants to animals to fungi and other organisms that all interact to spread the food of life throughout the ecosystem.

What would it feel like to be an ecosystem? Or a cell? We can’t know things like that; the only thing we can know is what it feels like to have a brain. They don’t. But we do have the advantage that we can use the brain to figure out what we should do or should not do if we want to stay alive. One thing we should do is to think about our relationships with the other parts of the creation. If we believe in God, then it is a certainty that these other parts of the creation were put here so that we could survive and thrive; if we don’t believe in God, these other parts of the creation are still necessary for our survival. If we want to survive, then, the God question is not nearly as important as the responsibility question. If we only think about what we want today, we have now enough power to throw the ecosystem off balance forever. That’s what the scientists mean by the “tipping point.”

We talk about the tipping point as though we could see it or measure it. We can not. If you were a scientist, you might say: “We don’t want to do that experiment.” It’s no different from experimenting with human lives. Why on this living earth would we want to “wait and see what happens” before we do what we know is necessary to our survival into the future of life on earth?

So let’s try to think about levels of organizations again, and how they relate to the flow of energy and the cycling of materials through the ecosystem, and the flow of information through space and time. Because those are the three requirements for survival of any living thing. Materials recycle, energy flows throughout, information directs all the processes through time.

Let’s begin with the materials that cycle through the whole, because that is relatively easy to imagine. Materials are made of atoms. Atoms are the basic units of elements, or you could say the basic units of matter. Elements are the building blocks of matter. Molecules are made of atoms. Your desk is made of atoms and molecules. If your desk is wood, it’s made of organic molecules. If your desk is metal, it’s made of inorganic atoms and molecules . The difference is the organic molecules are carbon based and were made by trees.

Wood is mostly cellulose. Cellulose is a carbohydrate that was made by a tree using energy from sunlight to bond together carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms in a particularly strong configuration. If you burn up your desk, that sun energy is released as heat, the carbon atoms combine with oxygen from the atmosphere to make carbon dioxide, and the hydrogen atoms combine with oxygen from the atmosphere to make water (or actually steam at this temperature).

We do not eat wood because we can’t digest wood. That is, our bodies do not have the necessary enzymes to break apart the molecules of cellulose. If you eat sawdust, for example, it will come out pretty much as it went in. But if you eat a potato that is made of other kinds of carbohydrates, it gets all broken up in your gut into glucose molecules, and then the glucose molecules are transferred from the gut into your blood and they are pumped around your whole body so that every cell in your body has some glucose to burn. Just like you burned your desk, except the cells are able to burn the glucose ever so slowly and capture the energy to do the work of staying alive. The work of staying alive is mostly making other kinds of molecules. All of that is controlled and directed by your genes. Humans don’t have genes that will direct the digestion of sawdust. Quite a few different kinds of organisms do. They can digest sawdust and recapture the energy that is in wood and use it as food to stay alive.

Why do we not have the enzymes to digest sawdust? Enzymes are proteins. For every different kind of protein produced in a living body there is a genetic code. The human genome (all the genes) is not set up for us to eat wood. However, there are genes in fungi, for example, that do make enzymes for digesting sawdust. In the entire ecosystem, there are genes that permit every function that is required for the flow of energy through the ecosystem. This is necessary for keeping the entire ecosystem alive.

Think what happens if you cut off the flow of blood to one part of your body so it can not receive the glucose or the oxygen it needs. That same sort of thing happens if we prevent one part of the ecosystem from getting the organic molecules (food) that it needs to stay alive.

So, basically, food is organic molecules that are burned inside the body. Most of the energy is then used to do the work of staying alive. All of the functions of staying alive are directed by the genes

Notice, this has nothing to do with burning trees or burning gasoline, and this is one of the very important things the media do not want to tell you about. We are talking about using organic molecules to stay alive, not to drive cars. Burning the organic molecules inside our cells and breathing out the carbon dioxide and urinating the water. Not putting them in a big pile and destroying them. Either way, the result is carbon dioxide and water into the atmosphere, and the energy is gone away as heat.

Global warming.

When the ecosystem is in balance, then the carbon dioxide and water would be breathed in by the plants and used to make more organic molecules, under the direction of the plant genes, so all the related cycles of life could be repeated, over and over again, directed by all the genomes of all the organisms.

Similarly, all the other kinds of atoms and molecules that we need to be alive are recycled by the ecosystem. We don’t need to describe every different kind of cycle, because that information is available on the internet. The important point is that all the animals and plants and other organisms are involved in this kind of recycling. Different kinds of organisms have different tasks in the various cycles. They all work together to keep the cycles of materials balanced so that nobody ends up poisoned and nobody ends up deficient in some kind of atom or molecule that is needed for life to stay alive. The energy to do all this work comes from the sun and is not recycled. (Contrary to what you may have heard in the media.) It is changed into heat. The genetic information that directs all these millions of processes and keeps them in balance is not recycled. It is carried forward by sexual and asexual reproduction from one generation to another, changing a bit over time in response to changes in the conditions of the whole of life (we will describe this next post). Materials recycle; energy flows through and is lost; information, if lost, is forever gone.

This sort of thing does not happen on the moon. It does not happen on Mars. It does not happen on the sun. Because none of those places are alive. It will not happen on the earth if we throw it so far beyond the tipping point that it can no longer recover its balance.