Bare Bones Biology 185 – Fiction

Every human person arrives with an inborn mental capacity and a phenomenal ability to integrate experience into a logical world view ( Personally, my brain seems to prefer pictures and holistic patterns rather than the details of fact or fancy. Supposedly, my kind of brain belongs in an artist, or a story-teller, rather than a scientist. And it’s true, my colleagues seem to be much more devoted to details than I. So it’s difficult to understand why I chose to become a biologist.

Maybe it’s because I also know, I feel like I have always known, that it’s better to start with real facts on the long journey of life, and use those facts to integrate one’s self into the patterns and pictures of the whole living earth. Facts are universal. Therefore, it’s safer to build one’s life around facts than around individual opinions – but only if the facts are integrated into the patterns and visions of the reality of the whole living earth. Individual facts — out of context – no. They box up our brains into one or other category with no escape – no way to join the flow of Life — as in reality it consists of the emergent confluence of billions of factoids.

Historically, story-telling has transmitted the factual wisdom of the generations – teaching behaviors that empower the communal welfare within the superior powers of the environment. On the contrary, for the most part, the stories that are raising up our children today teach behaviors that are destructive to community, and assume powers that humans do not have. Listen to Carl Sagan, an author/scientist.

“We live in an age based on science and technology with formidable powers, and if we don’t understand it, by we I mean the general public, then who is making all the decisions about science and technology that will determine what kind of future our children will be living in? Just some members of congress? There’s no more than a handful of members of congress that have any knowledge of science at all. . . This combustible combination of ignorance and power, sooner or later will blow up in our faces. Who is running the science and technology in a democracy if the people don’t know anything about it. And the second reason I’m worried about this is that science is more than a body of knowledge. It’s a way of thinking; a way of skeptically interrogating the universe with a fine understanding of human fallability. If we are not able to ask skeptical questions — to interrogate those who tell us that something is true – to be skeptical of those in authority, then we’re up for grabs for the next charlatan political or religious supremacist that comes along. It’s a thing that Jefferson laid great stress on. It’s not enough, he said, to enshrine some rights in the constitution. The people have to be educated, and they have to practice their skepticism and their education. Otherwise, we don’t run the government. The Government runs us.”

That is why I stated, when I began this series, that I would not deal in metaphor, but in measurable facts. We surviving humans need to face the facts of life so that there may be a human future. Instead, we are hiding our heads in fictions that are not viable. Our youth have ended up believing that the facts are metaphors and the metaphors are factual.

normal_ian-symbol-danaus-plexippus copy

But today, for the first time, I am praising a work of fiction. Barbara Kingsolver, another scientist/writer with perhaps what we would traditionally consider a more feminine perspective, has written a lovely piece of fiction entitled Flight Behavior. Flight Behavior is a holistically beautiful book that is built upon biological facts and human truths that invite us to deal with life and death realities. And with skepticism and education.

And it’s a good read.

This is Bear Bones Biology, a production of and KEOS radio, 89.1 FM, in Bryan, Texas. For a podcast of this week’s program go to or click on the link below.

Prof. Sagan quote is an excerpt from the Charlie Rose Show. I recommend you listen to the full version of the interview:

Flight Behavior, by Barbara Kingsolver, was published by Harper and is also available as an unabridged audio book published by Harper Audio.

Bare Bones Biology 124 – Education

Last week I said: “We begin by taking the responsibility to educate ourselves about all the many sides of the population issue.”

I said this because one of the favorite corposystem power ploys is to distract us from our goal and occupy us with fake debates that do not interfere with corposystem desire to do whatever it wants to do. This is just another version of the old “divide and conquer” ploy. People who are fighting with each other cannot solve problems, for at least two reasons. One reason is that the solution to any problem is many sided.

Debates are two-sided sound bites and fun games, if we think life is nothing more than a game of winners and losers (that is not, by the way, how evolution functions (Bare Bones Biology 088 to 091) but debates do not resolve problems. Instead they prevent people from even evaluating and discussing problems — even problems that threaten their own futures — which is the second reason that debates don’t solve problems.

So what are the many sides of this overpopulation problem? I could begin by making a huge list of human opinions about overpopulation, but, human opinions cannot change the natural laws that permit our biosystem to survive. God the creator made the biosystem to function the way it does function, and that IS how nature works. Life feeds death and death feeds life.

God’s very breath is the breath of life and lifein the biosystem, whether we like it or not, and I think that’s why we don’t like it. We want what we want for ourselves – we want to use the earth for our own selves, and we don’t really care how many other species we kill off, and we don’t want to hear about it.

The trouble is, those species ARE the biosystem. They are what God breathed into the biosystem to make our air, water, fire (energy) and earth. That is how life on earth, the biosystem, functions to stay alive. God is Life – or God created Life.

That’s why I mention levels of organizationlevels of function of the biosystem) every chance I get. Individual level, population level, and all of life, the biosystem. If we are to make wise decisions, we must consider how the other levels affect us. If we could once realize that ONLY solving human problems is NOT the solution to human problems we would be far better off. Because humans cannot HAVE everything they want without causing irreparable damage to the biosystem. And anything that damages the biosystem is harmful to human individuals and human populations and even to the corposystem.

Every person on earth, except the most isolated, the sociopathic, or the super-spoiled, knows that we must have a balance between the wants and needs of individual humans and the requirements for community welfare. Individual humans cannot have everything they want if whatever they want causes harm to the community. Society is a constant readjustment between individuals, families and populations, in which nobody ever gets everything they want. We could paraphrase Mitt Romney’s recent “joke.” Obama wants to help the biosystem; I want to help you.

This is ignorance generating ignorance, because right now the biosystem is (check the facts, please) maxed out of earth, air, energy and water that we need to stay alive. Therefore, nobody can help anyone unless we all help the biosystem. The best way to learn how the biosystem stays alive and healthy is to read widely, and discuss the issues, and then check the facts. I’m talking about everyone – especially those who believe they already understand the biosystem. Most of us don’t. And then come back to the political arena and help to change our own behavior.

Debates do not solve problems; they only result in everyone trying to prove they are better than everyone else.

They aren’t.

And while we are playing ego games, the bottom line is we cannot continue to live in the biosystem unless we also reduce the numbers of people who are draining away the breath of life from the biosystem.

This blog is an expanded version of Bare Bones Biology radio program that is playing this week on KEOS Radio, 98.1 FM, Bryan, Texas. The podcast can be downloaded later this week at

Recommended References

Bare Bones Biology Energy Handbook Download

(First blog in this series)
(Second blog in this series)

Bare Bones Biology 020,
Bare Bones Biology 021,
Bare Bones Biology 022,

Power Ploys 066, corposystem-power/

Bare Bones Biology 009 to 019 and 088 to 091


Levels of Organization…d-population-i…-population-ii/

Bare Bones Biology 122 – Human Hands

This blog is an expanded version of Bare Bones Biology radio program that is playing this week on KEOS Radio, 98.1 FM, Bryan, Texas. A podcast can be downloaded later this week at:

Hold up your hand flat open with your palm facing me. As though you were a policeman trying to stop an onrushing disaster.

Your four fingers and your thumb are all pointing in different directions.

Now let’s think of your four fingers and your thumb as problems or “actions” that you and other socially conscious people are promoting — spending your time, energy and money, using your life to benefit your family, the community and humankind in general. Every person using his/her best skills to address one or other of the major actions, trying to relieve the problems faced by humankind today.

Let’s say your first finger represents hunger, and all the people trying to reduce world hunger. The second finger can represent global warming. The third finger can represent conflict, for example war, politics, genocide, modern economics. And the fourth finger represents religion and spirituality. Your thumb represents overpopulation.

What I notice about this hand is that all five of the digits are pointing off toward different and separate goals. If you added together the five different problems, and the people who are working to address these problems. Well, they are not working together for a common goal – they are going off in five different directions. Often they fight or argue with each other or they simply ignore each other, rather than discussing common goals. For this reason the work of one group often cancels out the gains of one or more of the other groups.

For example, one group is working for compassion in the belief that a compassionate community will not fight. Another group tries to win because they believe that will solve all our problems. The climate change group, after a few hundred years of evidence, is finally beginning to recognize its problem is real and is trying to decide whether to adapt or deal with the root cause of climate change. The hunger group can’t possibly accomplish its goal in the face of climate change and excessive population growth. And the overpopulation group believes that no positive goals can be achieved by continuing the destructive path that caused these problems in the first place.

We imagine if all the groups accomplished their goals they would all add up to a successful community. The reality, however, looks more like a mish-mash of confusing goals and conflicting interests.

Efficient and effective problem solving does not jump out into the world in five different directions at once, with the different parts of itself fighting among themselves. Modern business practice has made many serious mistakes, but at least one good concept has come out of it, and that is goal setting. Good business defines its goals, sets its guidelines, and informs all parties involved.

Our basic human goal is to live in a community that is sustainable into the future. Surely it must be, and if it’s not we should ask each other why not, because we aren’t acting as though it were. We have all these five problems, and more, dashing off in all directions at the same time. Don’t you agree that we could organize ourselves in some way that would at least have a chance of growing a positive future? I think such a future is possible.

If our primary goal really is the common welfare, then we can align our four fingers to represent of our commitment to the common goal of human sustainability on this earth, in good health, at least through the lifetimes of our grandchildren. If my genuine stated goal is the same as the stated goals of people working in different disciplines – then we will cease to be all working for different outcomes.

Next, we can recognize the physical facts: (1) that nobody can accomplish anything if there is not enough food for them to eat, (2) that all our food comes from the earth, and (3) the earth now has more people than it can feed. If you don’t believe these are real facts, then you have an obligation to the hungry humans in the world to fact-check your belief system.

So we then fold our thumb under at the roots of the four fingers, to represent represent the facts: (1) that overpopulation is at the root of all of the other problems. Yes we have had these problems in the past and we did not solve them before. Blame your heritage. Now is now and now we cannot solve them if a large part of the earth’s population is desperately struggling to make a living, and ; (2) therefore, that no other compassionate goal can be accomplished when there are more people than the earth can feed; and (3) therefore, the four other goals cannot be solved in the presence of overpopulation.

Therefore, if we genuinely want to accomplish our goals. If we want our behavior to reflect our commitment to the real goal, and regardless of our personal expertise or our primary interest — hunger, global warming, conflict resolution (community) or spirituality – then it is our obligation to spend a portion of our effort, every day, to help compassionately reverse human overpopulation, first informing ourselves about why it is a problem, and then addressing that problem as it relates to our own special skills and projects. I tend to judge people’s compassion by their behavior. When I see anyone brush off this obligation with a platitude or a blank look — we all do really know how important it is. Then I wonder why they don’t really want to know. Can it be they don’t want to help carry the burden of responsibility that goes with knowledge?

And then – we all work together to accomplish both the root goal and the individual goals by enclosing all of life on earth within the fully informed, goal-oriented, responsible, compassionate hand of human kind.

And then, you ask. (Everyone does.): “But it is such a big problem, what can I do?” The answer is – in this sequence:

1-You can recognize that this is not about “me.” It’s not about who does what at the level of individual decision making. Do not promote the fake debate ( over family planning, which is corposystem propaganda meant prevent us from growing our personal and community power ( the ecosystem. Instead study the real overpopulation threat, which is about human suffering at the level of the population, and at the level of survival of the whole living earth.

2-Do not waste time blaming anyone; it will not accomplish our common goal. Instead educate yourself and others about the suffering of populations of humans who do not have access to family planning because our corposystem is withholding that resource from them.

3-Education yourself about how the ecosystem functions to maintain its balance and therefore it’s welfare and its life (you could start with the Bare Bones Ecology Energy Handbook downloadable from the right side of this blog site).

4-Discuss all three “sides” of the issue with family and friends. The “sides” minimally can be described as the conflicting needs of individual persons, families, communities, and the whole earth ecosystem.

5-What we need most right now is the political will to make family planning available compassionately to everyone on earth who wants it and needs it for their health and well being. Work as a citizen to bring this to the people who need and want it.

Bare Bones Biology 122 – Human Hands

Bioneers this Year

Here is a great talk from this year’s Bioneers. Karen Brown from the Center for Ecoliteracy. If you want more, the center has a newsletter that comes once a month, always with excellent content.

Benicia Education

As you know, our group has several tentacles. The Benicia group is very active. You may remember that Dot’s article about population growth even “made” the Benicia newspaper. Now I bring you news of two more actions from Benicia, California. The first is Marilyn’s letter in answer to my recent rant about education. Her letter is posted below.

The second activity is a lecture series sponsored by The Community Sustainability Commission, collaborating with Solano Community College. The lecture series is intended to help us understand and fulfill our obligation to create a more sustainable community and economy, to reduce our impacts on climate and respect, repair and restore the natural world around us. The series is entitled:

“Stewards of Our Children’s Future: 2011… For Ecologic + Economic Health = Community Resilience.” CSC.flyer for lecture series.3.21.11

The lectures begin April 12, run for 6 weeks, and will be posted on UTube and we will plan to maintain copies in our library at the Peach Clubhouse. The commission is also planning a longer series beginning in the summer.

But today we hear from Marilyn in Benicia.

Last night, several of us Sustainability Commissioners on the edu workshop, attended Mary Farmer Elementary school’s science fair, which was set up in a multipurpose room at the school in Benicia, California. There were about 12 long tables set up, and each one had room for about 4 projects, each done as a panel display, (main panel in the center, two wings on the side). It was clear that the science teacher had given guidance and limits as to the formatting of the displays, which did remind me of an international cell-biology conference held in San Francisco, which several of us had been invited to drop in on, to view the displays. The studies involved hypotheses about sources for evolutionary changes in various critters (for instance, about evolution of dorsal fin structure in dolphins).

Anyway, I was impressed to see the kids’ displays and what they’d chosen to investigate. Each display outlined, in the child’s own words, (this varied, depending on age and whether info was sought by computer search, etc) a subject problem that would be probed by investigation, observation and experiment. Also noted: the hypothesis, the chosen method that would be pursued to accomplish a comparative study; tools involved; controls and limits, including time frames; journal entries of observations made, and finally, a conclusion that restated the hypothesis and the “result” derived. The last statement was “what I learned” from doing the experiment. I think you would have been moved. There were kids at all grade levels up to 6th grade involved, yet the requirements for the studies were consistent, so that even a kindergarten level project demonstrated that the child had learned about the nature of an experiment and how to think through the process of investigation, how to observe, etc etc. Some of the projects were very simple to accomplish. For example, to show how an egg could be made to float, the child only needed a wide beaker, water, an egg, and lots of salt. Photos were taken of the egg in the glass as more salt was added to the water. The last photo showed a floating egg. The project had been defined in terms of a question to be answered: “What is density?” There were other pictures explaining the concept–of a fist being pushed through a bowl of popcorn, and by contrast, a fist being “stopped” by a hard popcorn ball. There was a brief statement about the molecular character of different materials as related to the idea of density, so that the invisible structure of water and that of an egg could be compared by virtue of how much space a particular molecule occupied in relation to others in its vicinity. So, even a very simple experiment, to float an egg, had huge import for learning about the physical world.

What was evident was the level and quality of instruction by the several science teachers whose classes were represented.

The problem you cite about the quality of science education, or lack thereof, (teaching by memorization–too true, I imagine, in undergrad training for medicine!), is not limited to the physical sciences. Twenty-five years ago, studies in liberal arts became “fuzzied up” or politicized, “PC’d” or what have you, until you could hardly think why you were bothering to read a book rather than its annotated “deconstructed” version produced either by venerated lit critters installed in various named chairs at ivy league schools, or, echoed by the lower level acolytes of same, stuck and underpaid at Podunk State College. Sociological analysis trumped any tribute to feeling for the ineffable qualities so intrinsic to great works of art. (Example: a third-rate etching of sowers in the field could be rendered “equal” to a Van Gogh or Millet, if a work’s cultural value is made equivalent to its social content and “lessons” thus derived about class and whatever other topical issue prized. Apparently, there’s hope that this fashion is waning… none too soon. It’s a dismal situation, but havoc is being wrought, departments are being dismantled or drastically cut, so that maybe all that will be left is the facsimile, “edu online”. If there ever was the opportunity for serious teaching, (and there were always noble teaching efforts made by a few who really stood out, looking back) now there’s going to be even less opportunity and hope for real mentoring and apprenticing… well, the worst case scenario may be the only affordable option anymore.

Your rant about people not being able to discern FACT from OPINION with regard the physical laws of the universe, and also, about the applied uses scientific research is driven toward and where we’ve ended up without sense of restraint or judgment as to long term effects, etc. etc., speaks to a VERY DEEP problem of communication, considering the propaganda for status quo, and given the enormous deficit in people’s grasp of the interrelatedness of all things and beings on the planet, and how utterly dependent we are on a maintained healthy diversity of life and living systems on land and in the oceans. It seems there’s hardly any discussion of the concept of a closed system and LIMITS. I’m especially sensitive to the kind of casual banter about promoting “sustainability” as if discussion of ecology were a sidebar discussion not central to conceiving of a “more sustainable” way of life. So few seem to understand the fundamental necessity of the concept of LIMITS. We seem in a rush to talk about making a “green economy” while avoiding the third rail discussions pertinent to how, in a short space of time, in no more than 150 years, have we reached such a point of accelerated declines of all earth’s ancient resources. After 30+ years, even after the second book “Beyond Limits to Growth”, it’s still difficult to get anyone to spend more than a few minutes talking about “overshoot” of the planet’s carrying capacity by expanding populations. (The “Story of Progress”, the single reignite story we continue to tell ourselves, according to Greer is the most destructive mythos humankind has ever promulgated.) How to bring people toward deeper understanding of the core problem is a central question for those of us who find ourselves working with others on projects that might invite such learning, such as the aquaponics project proposed to us by Randy, as we gardened on Wednesday.

A project such as aquaponics suggests invites curiosity, and a learning opportunity about closed systems–at least, until you take a fish out of the water and eat it. That, too, is a lesson! Perhaps there should be an altar nearby, where a ceremonial act of gratitude could be performed to acknowledge the taking of a fish from its tank. The utilitarian function of such a project, e.g., to provide food for others and also plausible income for those operating it, can also shed light on the problem of producing more food for more people — when do we stop having so many mouths to feed anyway? Why not fund birth control centers everywhere instead and build schools for girls and get women into colleges?

Well, as always, your meditations and “rants” open up whole realms of questions to ponder. In the end, we address both the immediate sense of urgency and emergency (I love how the word “emergency” suggests an emergent “thing”, no matter whether a crisis or the bloom on a rose in spring), but we can’t help ourselves but look way farther out and around, beyond our own deaths, about the fate of our wondrous world and to that “end”, what our brief time here means.

Marilyn talks about aquaponics because that is another of the education proposals of the Benicia Council. More about that very active group in an upcoming blog.


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.

Your Test Question for Today

Can you tell me why I claim the following statement (taken from an older PBS documentary that I think was entitled DNA) is a cop-out? So far I have thought of three reasons.

“There are many very serious problems facing humans, among them poverty and ignorance. And about these problems we can do very little, but cancer is something we can actually do something about, so I work on cancer.”

Mike Wigler, Cold Spring Harbor