Bare Bones Biology 216 – The Ends of Human Thinking

Humility based in factual reality; Reverence for the miracle that is beyond our human understanding. (Paul Woodruff, 2001, Reverence, Renewing a Forgotten Virtue). We were almost there and we blew it, and with it very likely our last chance to participate as a species in God’s miracle of creation.

With every limiting factor
that we have overcome, rather than learning more about how to survive in balance within the Creation, we have just puffed out our chest with self-important vainglory and pushed harder against the Laws of Nature that are essential to our survival. But the facts are still the facts that we cannot change. Two and Two still equals four and the function of the Creation of Life is still to maintain Life IN BALANCE – not to make us rich and powerful.

We humans can decide to change the temperature of a body of water, whether it be water in a beaker or in the entire ocean system. Or we can decide not to stop changing it, which is the same thing. This is an example of changing a phenotype, a thing (temperature of water), a node in the net of Life that is subject to and interacts with the processes of its own creation. Changing phenotypes, that’s something we “things” can do. In fact, it is our function, to be born into an environment and modify that environment in a way that benefits the whole of Life on Earth. It is a responsibility – an opportunity worthy of the Gods, or our responsibility TO the God of the Creation. The God of Life. The God that created the Law of Life. It’s our job.

Boo18-05-EarthFlowerLFlatWhat is NOT our job, and is in fact impossible, is our current effort to CHANGE the Law of Life. We can heat up water in a beaker or in the entire ocean until it changes into hydrogen and hydroxyl (
bare-bones-bio…king-in-cycles/), but we cannot change the outcomes of these actions, for two reasons at least. First, we don’t even KNOW all the outcomes, the effects on the balance of our climate for example; and second because no human force, fancy or wish can change the Laws of Thermodynamics and the systems with which they interact. In fact, in my opinion, the Laws of thermodynamics are very likely subsets of the “Law of Life” that generates and balances the complexity of Life on Earth.

Or consider the unspoken promise of the medical system — that we can defeat death. What nonsense. It’s a lose/lose effort because (a) we can’t succeed, and (b) in the effort, we are destroying the balance of our own relationship with Life — with no long-term benefit to anyone. And the primary immediate result is conflict. How much better it would be to put all that energy into growing, hand in hand with the Law of Life, a sustainable, reasonably comfortable human presence on this living Earth.

Someone told me yesterday that the environment is destroying people. Another example of the many ways in which the corposystem perpetuates its own myth. NO. It is the people who are destroying the environment that we need for our survival – as I have repeated so many times – and our place in it. When we believe ourselves to be the center of the Creation, our beliefs become twisted. We are not the center of the Creation.

Isn’t it likely that the Creation of Life, which is the environment, is a greater event than the creation of our own human species? Isn’t that why humans require religion? To remind us that we are NOT God. We can rearrange phenotypes, but we did not and cannot create Life, and very likely it was not created for our own personal aggrandizement. If we want to continue participating in the reality of Life, then we must admit that we are not God(s) and get a grip on our ego and greed and violence, so that we can align our own human ethic with the Law of God’s Creation.

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

Paul Woodruff, 2001, Reverence, Renewing a Forgotten Virtue

Bare Bones Biology 107 – Right, Left, or Wrong?

Warning – my use of the terms right-brain and left-brain in this blog is almost entirely metaphorical, and not scientifically precise. But I hope you’ll get the point.

In my career as a semi-faculty person there was a time when I needed support from the other women in my academic institution. But there weren’t any other women scientists, barring one or two who had problems of their own. So I turned to the women of the social sciences for support and the rest of that story is long and tedious, and though it was very successful, you don’t want to hear about that.

In the meantime, it seemed to me that my liberal arts supporters didn’t understand what I was talking about much of the time. It evidently seemed to them that they DID understand, and so I set out to improve myself. I began to attend seminars on the social science side of campus, in addition to the science side, and what a shock that was. It wasn’t the words – not even the specialized vocabulary, which is easy enough to learn if one makes the effort. It was how we think differently; how they don’t think like I think.

I am talking about how a scientist thought about her subject in those days. Now it has changed again, and most of what they call science is really technology, but that only deepens the divide. And I’m talking about how a social scientist thought about her subject. I found it to be – not a different way of talking, but a different way of thinking.

Think about it. The intuitive, fluid, “right-brain” sort of thinking, recognizes the importance of emotion in the whole construct, and instinct, and therefore has very few numbers to guide its logic. But that’s the way it must be, because social scientists are basically studying people. The hard sciences — there is a reason they are called the hard sciences, and it’s not because they are difficult. In many ways they are easier, if that’s how one learns to think. Linear, crisply defined, boxed-in, precise scientific thinking. Because that’s how the universe appears to us to function, scientific logic is best suited to the study of subjects that are outside the control of the human mind. The molecular structure of water, or the sequence of genes in a chromosome. These things lend themselves to “left-brain” sort of thinking. Unfortunately, we generally do not recognize these right brain/left brain differences, and when academicians say “critical thinking skills,” they are almost invariably talking about right-brain skills. I have found it easier for the students to the more direct and straightforward critical thinking skills through science, and then graduate to the more difficult, fluid, questions addressed by the liberal arts.

There was an age when we taught both skills to all the students. I was required to take two years of liberal arts before beginning my training in science. That seems like day before yesterday. And then the pendulum swung far to the left (brain) and it seems just yesterday that science overtook the liberal arts, and then technology took over science and helped to create modern left-brain economics. When this was taken to the extreme our human values were swallowed up, and so we developed a corposystem that is now trying to recreate life itself in our human image.

I suppose it is in reaction to these excesses that today the pendulum is swinging all the way back toward the right brain. It seems like we are currently engaged in a battle between those on the right (brain) and those on the left (brain). Just today I learned that the right (brain) is taking a stand (again) in Tennessee, where all the schools will now be required to use inappropriate right-brain critical thinking skills to evaluate hard core science in the classrooms. Folks, the universe does not operate on right(brain) human skills and neither does the corposystem, although it’s happy to take advantage of what it knows about these. It would be better if we understood the world we live in. Right, wrong and left.

And I have an even better idea. Why not everyone learn to use BOTH right brain logic AND left brain logic and also learn where each approach is most useful to our common welfare.

Bare Bones Biology 107 – Right, Left, or Wrong?
KEOS-FM 89.1
Audio available here
or at


For what it’s worth on a slightly peripheral issue (science teaching), my interest in school, as a student, was the way in which knowledge empowered my understanding and therefore my ability to function using my own resources instead of as a tool of the system. I have seen this happen to a small percentage of my students every year when I was teaching (college level).

We have replaced science in the curriculum from the bottom up we have replaced it with nature study and “fuzzy bunny” (feel-good) compassion lessons. In fact realistic compassion often doesn’t feel good, and nature study is not science. Neither the appreciation of nature nor that nice fuzzy feeling leads to empowerment. I doubt if most teachers want their students to be empowered to know how to function and learn without the help of a teacher.

It is not appropriate to teach students critical empowerment tools for thinking until they are about 12 or 14 years of age, because that’s when they begin to “get it.” However, in our school system now (and we in Texas are working on continuing this into college) we do not teach students how to learn for themselves. We the teachers are “God,” the student must memorize and believe what we say. Only last week I had a friend (college graduate) rant on for about half an hour about how he was taught the names of all the humanoids in his anthropology class, and then they changed them all. Therefore you can’t believe anything in science. He never let me answer, but it is obvious that he was never taught any science. Science has nothing to do with memorizing the names of anything (except you have to have words to talk about things). Science is about learning how things work so we can be empowered not to throw a spanner in the works (spanner is british for wrench). The way to win an argument in that world where only words are real is to believe whatever you believe and don’t let anyone else have a chance to change your belief. The way to grow one’s understanding through science is to discuss/evaluate the issues based on the differences between measurable facts and opinions. To avoid talking about anything because it doesn’t feel good to be wrong — that is the outcome of teaching feel-good “science.” (I’ve had other people tell me “the facts keep changing” and I know very few people who actually know what a fact is, as differentiated from an opinion.)

There is no better tool in our arsenal than real science, starting with the basics, to teach students how to answer questions for themselves and in their communities — and come up with answers that correlate with reality. If we base our behaviors on opinions (as this generation has been taught to do) then we will have continuing massive disasters, because human opinions CAN NOT CHANGE physical facts. However, our teachers are trained in the liberal arts and do not know how to do this for themselves — much less teach students how. The liberal arts (out of curiosity I spent a whole year going to seminars in the department) have an almost entirely different set of critical thinking skills, and that is where our best students tend to go now, because they do get answers that relate to self-empowerment. So whenever they tell us they are teaching critical thinking skills — they are — but those skills involve HUMAN behaviors — not the primal laws of the universe.

And then there is technology, which is not science. Science is the quest to understand how things work in the real world — not our ticket to sell those things to the highest bidder.

So we are in a mess, but it will not help to train more and more students about human behaviors in the absence of aligning those behaviors with reality via the basic sciences. Nor will it help to train more and more students about the power of reductionist science in the hands of humans — without also teaching them both about basic science and about our human responsibilities to each other and to the way the world really does function — that we can’t change. How many of our teachers have even been exposed to these ideas? Why not? So then what do we expect of them or of their students?

How many people at Lawrence Livermore really understand what I just said above? If not, how do they expect to train more scientists who have the compassion to care about the implications of what they are studying and learn biology to go with their physics and their obligation to humanity and the ecosystem?

You have a wonderful project. I feel quite sure you can get funding from the “system” to set this up and it will train people how to make more food. But, really, why do we need more food? The bottom line is that only the ecosystem can make food for us to eat — and the more of the ecosystem resources we use for ourselves to eat, the less likely the ecosystem is to survive with us in it? And the more human suffering will result.

OK? That’s your question for today. Most people answer that this is an interim action for the emergency. I heard that 50 years ago and ever since. What I want to see is someone making some kind of effort to deal with the real problem that causes the emergencies — and teaching all these fine students that there is no such thing as winning unless we address reality itself.