Bare Bones Biology 248 – Instinct and Learning

“One essential step in learning to more genuinely see each other is to bother to look. . . if they don’t make much of an impression on us … it is all too easy to look right through them.” – Sharon Salzberg., “A More Complete Attention”

Bare Bones Biology 248 – Instinct and Learning

When you raise a child, you try to give it the knowledge that it needs to lead a successful and rewarding life.

150308-WinterP-ASC_3821RLSs copyIn the first stage of life, humans and also other higher animals learn about the world. All organisms have instincts that are in our genetic code. Higher mammals, such as ourselves, grow bigger brains, and as we grow up, our brains are able to merge the instincts that come from our genetic makeup and the experiences of our early days, to grow a worldview that will guide our successful and rewarding lives if the world stays pretty much the same as what we experienced growing up.

Our instincts and our experiences become entwined into our worldview, and we keep adding to this awareness throughout our lives. It is our world view that makes it possible for us to survive in the world, and by the time we are about ten or twelve years old we have an image of reality that will or will not help us to lead successful and rewarding lives – depending on whether or not our worldview matches the world we end up in.

We are barely aware of our worldview. It just feels to us as though it were reality – just what is now and always will be. But it’s not reality; it was our reality when we were growing up. But meantime the human world changes.

There are so many humans on earth today, with so many different worldviews, that we are causing the world to change so fast that nobody’s feet are firmly planted in reality, and the young people who are raised so carefully and conscientiously by their parents must go out into a world that does not match the world they grew up in.

I think you know all this; you are aware of a myriad of “different opinions” held by the people all around you, arising from what they believe to be reality, and because our parents wanted peace among all the people, most of us were taught that “everyone has a right to his own opinion.”

150320-Canyon-ASC_3953RLSsLike most sound bites, that one is not true, because some opinions are harmful, but it is true that everyone in modern times does have a somewhat different worldview, basically because we all were brought up in different realities. And pity the children who were raised in a television world that never was real and never can be.

Nobody knows everything about reality, and therefore everyone makes mistakes, and so people evolved to live in social groups, because a group of three people, for example, knows more about reality than one person alone. Each person of a group or a culture has a different skill-set and wisdom-set to offer the group, and the society is more or less successful according to how it takes advantage of the whole set, using that set to grow a successful and rewarding cultural worldview within the reality of Life of the time.

But no society understands all of the mind of God, or reality, or the Biosystem, because each of these entites is bigger than all our worldviews combined. That’s why societies make mistakes and fail in the same way that individuals do. And as an individual, when your social belief system – the worldview it has engrained into your brain so deeply that you believe it to be ultimate truth – when that turns out to be wrong – it feels like God died, and our first reaction is denial. Then we cling with all our might to our limited little window/view of God’s reality rather than deal directly and responsibly with what is happening. That seems to be just how it is – how human minds are made to operate.

Though if we think about it, we could probably do a little better.

A boddhisatva is a person who knows all this and nevertheless reaches out her hand to share in the world of the sinking ship.

This is Bare Bones Biology, a production of FactFictionFancy and KEOS radio, 89.1 in Bryan, Texas.

A copy of this podcast is available at:

Bare Bones Biology 212 – Thinking From Both Ends

“Some people (cling) to angst as if it were a virtue. I let it go with relief. Optimism (is) a gift at birth. Bottles (are) half full, not half empty.” (Dick Francis, “To the Hilt”)

140624-snake-ASC_9468RSss copyIn fact, any bottle or glass that is half full is also half empty, and if, for example, you live out-of-doors in rattlesnake country, as I do, you would be wise to look first to the rattlesnake’s fangs, and then to its beauty. (This picture is not a rattlesnake. Upside? We are keeping it to eat mice. The mice are very cute. Downside? Hanta virus, and there was a very serious recent case of someone who did not KNOW about Hanta virus.)

Here’s a small example of withholding the half-empty information in order to influence decision making and sell stuff. Take a look at the hybrid sunflower seeds I bought last week in Santa Fe. Pretty picture on the front of the package. Writing on the back explains that these sunflowers are better than most, because they “do not drip pollen on your beautiful tabletop.” OK, that’s the good news. Now tell us the rest. No such luck. The package does not mention the downside. Everything has a downside.

I assume the downside of these hybrid sunflowers is that they cannot make viable seeds. At least that is a common result of hybridization. Like a mule, which is also a hybrid organism. Mules are very useful animals with special talents, but unfortunately they are sterile and so cannot make more mules. These seeds, I assume, are also sterile. That’s why they don’t make pollen and that’s also why they probably don’t make fertile seeds.

I’m not saying we should mope about in “angst” because we don’t know how to make wise decisions. But we do need to take responsibility for both ends of each problem. The good and bad, the yin and yang, the half-full and half-empty. Find ALL the information you need to make wise decisions, which is all the good and all the bad – fact check the information – discuss it with people who have genuine expertise and with people who will be affected by your decisions — and make a plan.

We cannot grow a healthy community when some people are not willing to look at the downside; other people are getting rich by withholding the information we need to make wise decisions; and everyone else is confused because they don’t see the connection between the upside and the downside. Or they choose to ignore the fact that everything has a downside. And that’s the kind of human interactions we are promoting today.

So what are we doing instead? We are fighting it out, which is the same as not deciding. When we choose to not research the downside and the upside, or in other ways avoid our responsibility to make wise decisions – we are deciding to not decide. Not making decisions is a choice; that’s why I say there are always more than two choices attached to any problem. When you choose to not choose wisely, you are in fact choosing to let someone else choose for you. You are choosing to be the victim of other people’s choices.

Here’s a really big and very important example.
First I’ll give a glass-half-full opinion:

“We should encourage growth of the human population because population growth maintains economic growth.”

Here is a half empty opinion:

“We should try to avoid human overpopulation because in the long run the economy will crash from not having enough resources to feed the growth AND because human over-growth kills off other parts of the Biosystem that create the resources.”

There are data to support both answers, but if you are fighting on the side of either answer by claiming the other is not true — rather than studying and discussing the problem from both ends – then we all are losing forever our precious opportunity to make wise choices now.

This is Bare Bones Biology, a production of FactFictionFanc and KEOS radio, 89.1 FM, in Bryan, Texas.

A copy of this podcast can be downloaded at:

Bare Bones Biology 211 – Looking for the Right Answer

There is no right answer. There isn’t even a best answer for all time because conditions keep changing in the environment. THAT is one reason that it’s so important to discuss our decisions before we act on them. In fact this is so important that we probably still have laws requiring that we use the Precautionary Principle in our decision making, and before that we had a method for democratic decision-making, and before that we had town councils and the like, and before that we had tribes with various tribal methods of decision-making that relied on ancient wisdoms combined with discussion of one sort or another
bare-bones-bio…riginal-wisdom). Because we are a social species.

140620-canyon-ASC_9443RLSss copyThe GROUP contains the higher wisdom. The individual — in spite of the amazing arrogance of our current generations who believe they know all the answers – is relatively ignorant. It’s simple arithmatic. One brain cannot contain as much knowledge as many brains. Therefore, the best way to generate better answers is by discussion of the many brains among themselves, based in honest history and the knowledge of the difference between facts and opinions. That is why social species exist. The selective evolutionary advantage of social species is the emergence of wisdom. Wisdom is not about right answers. Wisdom arises from experience (history), knowledge (facts and opinions) and discussion. History and opinions change. Therefore, wisdom is not a right answer for all time.

Life is not about “right” answers; Life is about balance; it depends upon conditions. If we want to participate successfully in Life, we do not need CONTROL over that balance because one of the facts is we CANNOT control the fact that life is all about balance — because we live in a Biosystem that is constantly striving to maintain its balance in order to stay alive. Therefore, wisdom must also be about balance. Balance between facts that we cannot change and opinions that help us decide which of many possible answers is best in this time and place. So let’s forget about waiting around for the right answer and instead work together to grow a wise answer for the future of human kind.

Try this approach. Begin, of course, with good questions. Then put the same good questions to each major level of organization that is necessary for human welfare. You will get different right answers. We know that because we see every day people writing ignorant rants on the internet because they believe that FIGHTING over these ignorant beliefs is the only way to accomplish a sensible balance. It’s not. There is no only way, but the best way for humans, because our special talent is training our brains, is discussion.

Our good question is based on our overall long- term goal, which is to build a reasonably comfortable human presence within a healthy biosystem. Our good question for discussion is what do we need? Now we apply that question to each level of organization that is necessary or dominant in our current human social system. What do I and my family need? What does my community need? What does the corposystem need? What does the Biosystem need?

Make a diagram of the results and you will find that everyone needs everyone else, more or less, but when you get specific there are differences. For example, the corposystem believes it must have population growth or it will crash; I say population growth will CAUSE the corposystem to crash by causing irreconcilable damage to the Biosystem.

Next questions – What must we change to rebalance this particular problem? Fact – We cannot change what the Biosystem needs (which is balance), because we have no control over the basic Law of Life that determines Biosystem function. That means we must change our own minds to align with the Law of Life. And if we can’t reach a balance in ourselves between the arrogance of certainty and the irresponsibility of not participating in this serious discussion – the Biosystem will eliminate the corposystem from Life on Earth, and as we are the corposystem – that means us.

I seldom recommend PBS any more, but I suggest you watch the program I happened to catch today, entitled “Salmon,” if you want a fine example of how everything relates to everything else, and why corposystem technology should not try to over-ride biological reality.

This is Bare Bones Biology, a production of FactFictionFancy and KEOS radio, 89.1 FM, Bryan, Texas.

The podcast of this program can be downloaded at:

Bare Bones Biology 178 – Do Something

131116-Benicia-ASC_7186RLSsSo much for the glass is three-quarters empty. Most people do not want to sit around watching it fade away. They want to DO SOMETHING,

What we need to do, in order to achieve our goal of developing a viable, sustainable, reasonably comfortable human presence within the Life system of earth — is to change the human corposystem from a destructive force to a constructive force for Life. I have defined system and Biosystem and corposystem in toward the end of the post.

We humans have grown the corposystem. All of us are part of this corposystem. Thus we can change the corposystem. It won’t be easy, because one of the functions of a system, any system, is to maintain itself. (

But it is possible. We can change the corposystem from a competition-based growth machine into a Life-nurturing maintenance system. Simply by deciding what we all want, and discussing among ourselves how to get it, we can change the system.

I believe what we all want is not “happiness” (undefined and undefinable), nor is it peace defined as absence of war, nor any of the things we are touting that divide us. I believe what we all want is to develop a viable, sustainable, reasonably comfortable human system.

To be viable, sustainable and reasonably comfortable, our corposystem must be changed from what it is now, because now it is not viable long term, and it is based on a competition-and-growth model that is biologically unsustainable and humanly unethical. To be biologically sustainable, the corposystem must stop trying to get what it wants by competing with the Biosystem; to be humanly ethical, we must develop a nurturing model that compassionately supports the needs of the Biosystem, some of which conflict with our own desires. That’s it – we must all (or at least the majority of us) cooperate in that effort, discuss it, evaluate it and stop letting the corposystem tell us what we can and cannot talk about — and it will happen.

If we all have the same goal, and I think we do, then we need to discuss that goal among ourselves rationally, compassionately, realistically, and we will get there. Of course we will also need to learn how to interact in a rational compassionate realistic manner, but I trust us to learn these skills when we finally realize the current corposystem competition (war) model will end in a fight to the death between the corposystem and the Biosystem.

Most of us are not really interested in promoting a fight to the death, especially when we cannot win.

Most people know these things, at least intuitively, and a great many people are working hard or at least contributing by their daily behaviors, such as recycling, to the welfare of the whole community of the Biosystem. But many of the people who are working hard are, in fact, working at cross purposes. Why? Mostly because we do not define and discuss our goals in terms of compatibility with the needs of both of the human community and of the Biological community (defined in

Where to begin? Start talking cooperatively about our common goals on our mastheads, letterheads, in our meetings and mission statements. Avoid competing against or dis-respecting the efforts of others who have the same goals and missions. Everyone. No matter what is your individual talent and/or life mission. Everyone can do this.

Systems evolve, and we can evolve this one if we recognize that it IS a system, and it will inevitably try to protect itself from change. How does the corposystem protect itself?

In our culture at this time, the corposystem protects itself primarily by PREVENTING us humans from engaging in honest, ethical, constructive, fact-based communication that engages all the three parts of our brains (

And what I see the most is defensive rather than constructive responses.

How to change the corposystem? Talk about it.

( bare-bones-bio…a-quarter-full/)

Facts are real; learn about them; individual “heroism” does not grow communal “happiness;” the glass is not half full, and we need to learn about the things that are wrong so we can intelligently deal with them; our behaviors today absolutely affect the quality of life of our grandchildren; blame-placing does not solve problems; speculation should be relevant to the facts on the ground or it won’t solve the problems on the ground; anger and hatred that are used to dominate others do not solve either our own problems or theirs; and even in the most benevolent conditions, focusing on the small picture without regard to the overall Facts of Life only tends to perpetuate the system we already have.

How to change the corposystem? Stop being controlled by the corposystem mantras, either the pie-in-the-sky fairy tales or.the claims that there is nothing we can do. They are all excuses to avoid positive change. If our corposystem tells us that we must not think about positive change, or it tells us to believe in magic, or it tells us we can’t talk rationally about hard issues such as population or climate change ( — then –

131116-May-ASC_7202Rsthe way to change our system is to talk — reasonably, rationally and constructively about these problems as they relate to our common goal — to develop a viable, sustainable, reasonably comfortable human presence within the Life of Earth.

Please don’t tell me you can’t think, or that you have more important things to do than to talk.

This is Bare Bones Biology, a production of FactFictionFancy and KEOS 89.1 FM radio in Bryan, Texas. A copy of this podcast can be downloaded at:

Bare Bones Biology 116 – Wendy Johnson Workshop

Bare Bones Biology 107 through today, 116, are about communication. Different kinds of communication. And of course we didn’t scratch the surface. Communications has become an entire discipline. I know someone with a PhD in the subject. But there’s nothing new about the simple point of this series of blogs — that all communications are real, but they are useful to us in different ways, as we grow own personal future or, more importantly in the long view as we try to resolve the biological illness that faces our ecosystem.
We know we cannot survive without the ecosystem. Therefore, picking out whatever we like to believe, or whatever communication stirs our emotions, or whatever we wish were true — and working very, very hard for it – or going with the flow because that’s normal human behavior – none of those approaches to communication will resolve our current biological dilemma. What we mostly need is good information and good discussion. Sometimes a good place to look for these is in a workshop setting.

I recently attended a workshop about the four elements with Wendy Johnson (author of “Gardening At the Dragon’s Gate,” Bantam Dell), at Upaya Zen Center (

The workshop experience merged our awareness of our human values, emotions and needs with the mother-nurture of nature as we examined each of the four elements that are organized by Buddhism as: earth, water, fire and air (and space). We all know that these are the fruits of the ecosystem, that we cannot do without them, that our behaviors influence their availability, and that I have also been talking about these issues from my perspective of our physical survival needs. It was a joy to experience Wendy’s beautiful rendition of the same issues, blending the physical survival needs with our human emotional needs and a practical approach, learning through gardening, that goes beyond either perspective.

We really could resolve our biological dilemma, if we would only reach that one step beyond the science and beyond the emotions and use our inborn compassionate nature, and our recognition that the problem at its roots is biological, as an incentive to study the fact-based needs of the ecosystem – and find a way to give the mother life what it needs that is different from what we need – for it and for ourselves and our future. We have everything to do that — except the will. The facts are available and so are the technologies. The compassionate will, however, is being drowned in a sea of fear, hostility, short-sighted self-interest and false propaganda.

Here is Wendy’s better vision.

“I love to make the connection between the outer waters of the world and the inner waters that do compose us. Three-fifths of water of our bodies is carried inside our cells, and then another two/fifths outside as blood plasma, cerebro-spinal fluid and intestinal tract fluid. So we are walking bags of water. We can feel that. Especially in a dry place. Those of us from the Bay Area, from Portland, Oregon, where water animates the air. We have to search for the resonance that is our human inheritance.

“And every day, every day, three percent of the water in our bodies is replenished with new molecules. Water from the deep abyss of the ocean, I was thinking this morning we are replenished, not only with fresh water, but from water that is in the huge hydrologic cycle, coming up fresh, and that water includes water from the depths of the Gulf of Mexico, water mixed with the ancient fire of oil, water from rain on the tall grass prairie, and from the ancient forests. Actually, we measure water, in the woods, we measure water by how much stored fog and vapor. In the ancient redwoods, now whittled down to 2.5 percent of their original size. How much water they give back, so stepping into the redwood forest, I remember years ago with Thich Nhat Hanh (, he said: ‘We step into a Sangha of water and life.’ You can feel it, stepping onto that ground, water vapor breathing with the trees. So, three percent of our bodies are always refreshed by the upwelling and the sinking down, by the rhythm of water.

“And yet water shortage, water depletion, the so-called resource, I hate to even use that word in connection with water, the so-called resourcefulness of water is already one of the greatest challenges we are facing.”
For more of this and the remaining elements, check out Wendy’s podcasts part one and part two at Upaya Or for air, surely you remember Bare Bones Biology 093 was also pretty good, and the same general interdependence relationship is also true of energy (fire) and earth. I recommend you listen to Wendy’s podcasts of this workshop, parts one and two, and I also highly recommend her dharma talk of the previous week.

During this workshop, we went down to the little Santa Fe River to put our feet in the water and wonder what it would feel like without water.

Bitsy and I went back again last week and splashed about while the children swung on the tire. But two days later there was no more water in the little Santa Fe river. Only a place in the bottom of the channel where some animal had tried to dig for it.
Bare Bones Biology 116 – Wendy Johnson Workshop
KEOS-FM, 89.1, Bryan, Texas
For a podcast of this radio spot, click here
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Recommended References and Trackbacks:
Upaya Zen Center,
Wendy Johnson, Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate
Bare Bones Biology 107-115 and 093
Thich Nhat