Bare Bones Biology 315 – Canaries and Snake Oil

This is the end of the Bare Bones Biology mini-series on canaries. For now, that is. We will come back as events arise. Only it reminds me this time of year, as the seasons turn and the tourists and snake oil salesmen pour into our clean little villages and turn the sky from azure to an off-white skim milk hue. Canaries, of course, refers to “canaries in the coal mines” of earlier days (you can look it up on the web; I only have 600 words here).

 

And so as we canaries are forced to flee the villages into the ever-diminishing safe places of our land, the snake oil salesmen converge, with silver-tongue fairy tales such as “My asphalt is environmentally friendly,” and if challenged are likely as not to fall back on Jesus. I have read the Bible (old and new) and am quite sure that Jesus said nothing at all about asphalt, but He did have some things to say about money. I recommend you read it.
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But that’s not what I want to say today. I want to say, for the canaries of our world who are more sensitive to health hazards, or more aware of the causes of them, if you are a true canary, then your problems are not your body. They are your sensitive awareness of your body that in better times, olden times, some of which I can actually remember, would have made you a leader.

In a culture where money is reverenced over health, and dominance over leadership, you and I will just naturally be inclined to believe the snake oil, because our culture doesn’t tell us the real story. We can (and some do) spend all our lives trying to find our answers in “fixing” this or that about ourselves, our homes, our towns, when the cause of the problem is, literally, the “fixes.”

AND YET THE FACTS ARE AVAILABLE ON THE INTERNET from organizations that have actually tested these ingredients. That’s why producers do not want to label their products. They don’t want us to know.

 

Please, canaries, never believe a sales pitch until you go to an authoritative web site (not another sales pitch) and get the real facts.

 

Your doctor cannot “cure” a problem that is not a part of your body; your psychological counselor cannot cure a problem that is not in your mind. Make sure, of course, that’s the first thing you should check. And if that’s not it, look for the cause elsewhere.   Buying stuff cannot cure a problem if the stuff you buy makes you sicker than you were before you bought it. And while we blame our own bodies and minds, we are only shoveling money, into the pockets of the snake oil salesmen. And so we experiment over and over, in the belief that something is wrong with Us, when the cause is in fact the growth and pollution of the places in which we live.

 

We could be using it to clean up the environment that really is sick. We could, for example:

 

1 – Remove the perfume and candles from public places; they are as bad as cigarettes or worse;
160428-BrazosCliffs-ASC_4068RLSs copy2 – Lose the cleaning products that you don’t need that simply turn your clothing and your home into environmental hazards for you and your children;

3 – And as for the asphalt and any other thing that sounds too good to be true – ask for a genuine government-approved fact sheet, listing all ingredients, and look up each ingredient on a reputable web site. It happens I did this for a report last year and I have a few words left here so I’ll quote one sentence from that report.

“Asphalt processing and asphalt roofing manufacturing facilities are major sources of hazardous air pollutants such as formaldehyde, hexane, phenol, polycyclic organic matter, and toluene. Exposure to these air toxics may cause cancer, central nervous system problems, liver damage, respiratory problems and skin irritation.” [EPA, The United States of American Environmental Protection Agency].

The air you breathe and the water you drink are at least as important to your health as the food you eat, and the ingredients that we put into the air and water deserve at least as much responsible reporting.

This is Bare Bones Biology, a production of Https://FactFictionFancy.Wordpress.com.

A copy of this podcast can be downloaded at: http://traffic.libsyn.com/fff/Bare_Bones_Biology_315_-_Canaries_and_Snake_Oil.mp3

 

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Bare Bones Biology 296 – Suicide by Corposystem

160215-mapletreebud-asc_2612_1RSsThe universe we live in is composed of interacting, naturally evolved systems. We did not create this miracle, but we are part of it; and there are rules, laws of nature that we are slowly learning to understand. And the worst part — it seems we must ever and again, both as individuals with thinking minds, and as social systems, relearn all the same old painful lessons that have been learned the hard way so many times before by others of our kind. We have guides to the “laws” of human behaviors encoded in the structures of our wisdom traditions.

 

The Law of Life itself on this earth is basically simple and is framed by the balance of energy and entropy; of work and information; and the systems that naturally arise within that frame. This universe is what it is; we add our own complications. In fact it is part of our nature as living things to add complications. Complications are a part of evolution. But we have this nice brain and all those wisdom traditions to help us, not to mention modern science, all studying the same universe. You’d think we would learn the rules.

 

As individuals, we humans are naturally evolved systems. We are composed of naturally evolved systems and we are parts of the whole naturally evolved system that maintains itself by balancing the relationships among energy and entropy using the natural laws that regulate work and information. This fact has implications.

One of these implications is that we embody functions within and among the systems. Whether or not we want to. And the better we can manage these functions the less suffering we will cause to others. Or actually, I should say the more suffering we will prevent, because if we were to use our beautiful brain to manage our behaviors within the wisdom traditions and the wisdom of science (I am not talking about technology here, but our knowledge of cause and effect) we could be preventing suffering rather than causing it.

 

You already know my personal prime directive to do more good than harm in my time on this earth. This kind of aspiration is not possible to accomplish if we refuse to see the downside as well as the up side of our behaviors. For me, figuring out the meaning of good and harm is enough of a challenge to keep me going until someone else takes over, but I do have one important guide in the effort. I know that I cannot change the natural laws, and therefore I must align my plans and behaviors with what is, and not with what I wish it were.

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I am tempted to say the four noble laws of nature, but some out there may not have a sufficient sense of humor, or is it irony, to enjoy that line. Oh, let’s leave it. It is not likely to do more harm than good. How many people will read this anyhow??

 

One of the primary functions of a system is to maintain itself. You and I are naturally evolved systems composed of other systems that all function together to maintain the whole. Our respective liver, heart, digestive system, excretory system, and above all, in humans, our most highly evolved subsystem, our brain. And our mind. Part of our job of life is to take very good care of all the systems of which we are composed. For the benefit of the whole. That is, for ourselves individually, for the social systems of which we are a part: family, tribe, and now a new system that, like it or not, we are creating together, the global corposystem.

Another primary function of each naturally evolved system is to do no harm to the larger systems of which it is a part. To do good if possible. Because these are our environment, and our environment is the other half of who we are.

 

Now here’s the downside of that magnificent brain of ours and the corposystem that it is creating. The corposystem, that is us, rather than to helping to form a collaborative whole, is determined to establish domination over the Biosystem. The corposystem – in its war against the Biosystem, is making us choose.

 

In this kind of triangle, we cannot do more good than harm unless we think very deeply about the “unexpected” but not unexpectable consequences of our actions.

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This is Bare Bones Biology, a production of FactFictionFancy.Wordpress.com

 

The podcast of this blog is available at:  http://traffic.libsyn.com/fff/Bare_Bones_Biology_296_-_Suicide_by_Corposystem.mp3

 

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Picture Day – After the Storm

By the time the sun came back out there was four feet of snow on the roof. Not good for it.

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And it is beautiful on our street

 

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But Cold

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Bare Bones Biology 245 – Dancing Inside of Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. M. Lynn Lamoreux

A copy of the podcast can be obtained at:

References:

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

Photographs

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

Bare Bones Biology 220 – Healthy Living

Last evening, I was puttering around, thinking about healthy living. You know, the three of us have started a healthy living project (https://factfictionfancy.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/). The phone rang. It was my nearest neighbor. Her car stopped working, someone gave her a ride to the top of the canyon, and there she was, stuck and alone, three and a half miles away. Walking home for three miles in the deep, dark bottom of the canyon, with only half a moon rising and no defense bigger than a stick. It may not be unhealthy, but it feels like it. Being eaten by a bear, is that really what the word means? Unhealthy? Or is it just bad luck?

1408113-canyon_gardenASC_0821RLss copyThe Oxford American dictionary gives the definition of healthy as: “Having or showing or producing good health.” The thesaurus on my computer is a little more specific, and answers the necessary next question: “What is health?” by saying: “The general condition of something in terms of soundness, vitality and proper functioning.”

I like functional definitions, because they can usually be tested. For example, if your kidney is not functioning properly, that very fact suggests a method to determine the cause of the problem. But that would be unhealthy. You might know you are unhealthy because you feel bad. It’s not so easy to recognize how good a healthy person can feel, and use that good feeling to maintain vital, living health. Some people “feel bad” and don’t even know it. They think it is normal.

The problem of how to stay healthy has increased enormously in the past 20 or 30 years. The culture I was born into studied biology in hopes of improving the human condition. The so-called “greatest generation” genuinely cared about human welfare. On the contrary, the prime directive of the newly evolved corposystem is the bottom line, and so it uses the word healthy primarily to get us to buy stuff. Or to believe whatever it wants us to believe. So the words no longer mean what they mean. That’s why I’m taking all this time to define the words healthy and health before we continue with our Healthy Living project.

Health is the general condition of something in terms of soundness, vitality and proper functioning. Healthy refers to something that is sound, vital and functioning properly.

140904-canyon-ASC_1128RLSss copyIs that you? Is it me? Is it my sunflower that I planted earlier this year? The community that provides our sewage disposal and clean water and food? Is it the trees on the side of our mountain? Is it perhaps the entire mountain ecosystem? Is it the whole living earth? Is the earth functioning properly? Proper for what? For whom? Who says what is proper? Surely not the drug companies.

The dictionary says that healthy is lacking disease. Is that just me, living with the bears so that I can avoid the bad-air sickness that now covers most of our country, causing “epidemics” of asthma, alzheimers, cancers of various kinds? Does healthy only apply to humans? Or also to horses and dogs and cats and bears and trees and corn, and even kidneys and ecosystems and cells? I guess so. I guess anything that can die can be unhealthy. And we all know that disease is not the only cause of disease. For example, goiter can be caused by a mineral deficiency, and obesity is a proven cause of ill health because it unbalances so many interactions within our physiology that must function properly to continually balance our physiology at the point of health, as we meet the physical and emotional challenges of our environment.

So it’s not so simple to maintain health, is it? But I think we can agree about the definition, and I think we can use the definition, in coming weeks, to define the questions we need to think about if we want to be healthy. Healthy for whom, and why, and how?

This is Bare Bones Biology a product of FactFictionFancy.Wordpress.com and KEOS radio 89.1 FM in Bryan, Texas.

A podcast of this blog can be downloaded at:

Thistle in Bloom

The moths, butterflies, flies and ants are eating and courting on the thistle blossoms. The hummingbirds got here too early. Last year we had hummingbirds eating and nesting in their embrace.

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In a stable, sustainable culture, one of the most amazing phenomena is the way that the thousands of life cycles mesh with each other, regulated in large part by the climate, so that the creatures are born when the food is available.