Bare Bones Biology 356 – A Woman is Not a Family

Women’s rights, and specifically women’s suffrage is an excellent model for a number of society’s ills and it also usefully models the ignorant kind of linear thinking that causes many of those ills.

Don’t misunderstand. There is nothing wrong with being ignorant; it is the normal human condition. The word simply means uninformed. We all are ignorant of one thing or another, and it is far the best to know it, rather than to stumble around in the dark, false belief that we are well informed about important issues that we do not fully understand. And the women’s suffrage struggles of the past can make us a good example.

 

We were mostly taught to reason from top to bottom and from bottom to top, as though the universe were based in those hierarchies — or to reason from side to side, as though all the things and processes in our lives were parallel and comparable. Either kind of image leaves most of the rest of the universe, outside of ourselves, mentally invisible, because Life, in particular, is not that simple, and instead is a complex of evolved self-perpetuating systems, none of which are linear or strictly parallel; but more accurately all of which are nestled together within, around, between, and intimately encompassed among other evolved systems. The older metaphors more nearly parallel the systemic reality (say, more than 10,000 years ago, ref. Joseph Campbell). The Creation as Life, nurtured in a womb.)

 

At this time of overpopulations, extinctions and climate change, it is important that we know how things fit together naturally to enhance each other, and recognize that man-made destruction does not represent our power over nature; it represents nature’s power over us

 

The fact is that not women nor families, nor our human social systems are linear, not from top to bottom not from side to side. Not linear.

 

Earlier women’s suffrage arguments, as they relate to biological reality, can give us a good example, as reported by Prof. Pamela Radcliff, University of California at San Diego, in a series of lectures, mostly lecture number 6, that is available from The Teaching Company, entitled Interpreting the 20th Century: The struggle Over Democracy, course number 8090, in 2004.

 

Dr. Radcliff explains that, during the struggle over women’s suffrage early in the 20th century, one of the arguments against women as voters defined women as not individual persons, but as a component of a different entity — the family.

 

Well – of course women are components of the family, but so are men. And children. And dogs and cats. And sometimes goldfish. And the environment in which the whole family operates is also an integral component of the family. Woman as family or even woman as a component of family, is not meaningful in relation to decisions about who is an adult, human, participatory citizen. Women participate in all sorts of things – and so do men. Whether or not they are components of the family is not a difference between women compared with men. They both are, if they are and aren’t if they aren’t. That’s probably why it didn’t fly, because that argument doesn’t make logical biological sense.

 

I’m guessing the logic behind that particular argument was a false belief that biological systems are linear – that is, top-down organizations, sort of like a Russian doll, consisting of a man who directs the women who directs the children. In those days, most Western people did think that Life, and the Universe, are ordered that way. Now we know better.

 

A family is an evolved, complex adaptive system. Actually, so is a woman, but a woman is a different kind of evolved, complex adaptive system from a family and a similar kind of system to a man.

A woman, or a man, is a system composed of organs, tissues, cells and the environment in which all of those things can exist and with which they interact to maintain Life.

 

The cells, tissues, organs are things. Their behaviors maintain Life. Life is not a thing, it is a quality or characteristic that can only be maintained by the behaviors of the cells, tissues and organs within a compatible environmental system. We can refer to the cells, tissues and organs as subsystems. They are also systems; less complex systems.

 

Most of us already knew that people are made of cells, tissues and organs. The more difficult concept is that the whole system (the woman – or any other evolved system) is NOT ONLY the sum of all her parts. She is more than that. The whole woman-system consists of all its parts (things); plus all the functions and behaviors that the parts do as they interact with each other; plus the environment that sustains the whole woman-system; plus the emergent property that is generated by the functions of the parts as they interact with the environment.

 

For example, one of the parts might be a stomach. That is a thing. What it does (its behavior, or function) is to digest food. The food comes from the environment. All are connected with each other and with all the other parts of the woman-system. When all of the components of the woman-system do their jobs at the right times and places relative to the requirements of the environment, the result is LIFE. The woman remains alive. LIFE is one the emergent properties of that system. LIFE cannot exist without its interacting behaviors.

 

If one of the subsystems – it doesn’t matter which one, imagine the stomach again – if one stops doing its behaviors in a correlated fashion, then all the parts of the woman are still there, but the woman may no longer be alive. All the subsystems may still exist, but the emergent property is no more. The woman is dead.

 

So to summarize, an evolved system consists of: (1) the subunits of the system and (2) their correct behaviors, interacting with each other and (3) with the environment and (4) the emergent properties that result.

 

A woman is an evolved system composed of organs and tissues and cells and their behaviors in their environments. So is a man. So is a child.

 

A family is not. A family is an evolved system, sure enough, but nearly everything in our universe is an evolved system of one kind or another, and the family is a different kind. It is not an organism. It is a social system and its subsystems are not organs; they are people. People who do behaviors together (and in their environment) that result in the emergent social system known as the family.

 

A family is a higher-level system that is maintained by the behaviors and functions of the organisms of which it is composed, interacting with their environment. Its subsystems are men, women, children and other. Higher level means more complex. More complicated, because it is composed of people-systems in addition to their organs, tissues and cells.

 

We do not need to know these facts in order to understand how evolved systems maintain our lives, but if we consider these differently ordered relationships – different from what we were taught — as we contemplate the inconceivable complexity of the millions of systems of which we are a part, the knowledge gives us a more accurate image of the reality of how the Life of Earth manages to stay alive. This can be useful if we want to stay alive in joy and compassion.

 

Life is not a Russian doll in which one entity dominates another entity that dominates or nurtures another entity. Life is not basically a competition, nor is it “survival of the fittest” as that meme is usually interpreted.

 

The whole of Life nurtures the whole of Life. If not, it gets excluded from Life.

 

A family is not a Russian Doll with a man nurturing a woman who is nurturing the children. A family is not even a man plus a woman plus the children. A family is a whole separate higher-level system, and unique, each family a little different from every other family, but the whole of one family (any and every family) is generated by the physiological and behavioral interactions among ALL its subsystems (that is the people and other organisms who make up the family) and the environment in which it is able to survive.

 

If one of the subsystems — that is, one of the people or the environment — any one of them — stops doing its behaviors in a correlated fashion, then all the subsystems may still be there, but the emergent nature of a well-integrated family is no longer viable. The family “dies.”

 

Joseph Campbell elegantly described the family as a separate, emergent entity that is more than the sum of its parts. He commented that when one member of a family makes sacrifices on behalf of the family unit, she is not sacrificing to another individual, but “to the family” itself, as a separate and more complex emergent entity. (Campbell & Moyers, Power of Myth, DVD).

This is how evolved complex-adaptive systems stay “alive,” including human social or professional systems. The system is more than the sum of its parts, and it has emergent properties with which it interacts with all the other systems around it, so that entire the community of systems is benefited. Evolution is the fundamentally cooperative Law of Systems.

A woman is an individual organism, one component of a family. The other components are often a man and one or more children and the environment in which they are able to exist together.

 

The woman is not the family. The man is not the family. The dog is not the family. The children are not the family. The family itself is an emergent property that arises out of the relationships AMONG those three (more or less) entities and their environment. If these relationships are more collaborative than not, the emergent result will be more productive and pleasant. Or not.

 

If the relationships arise out of the flawed, linear “world view” that man dominates woman, who is the family, then half of adult humankind doesn’t get to vote, and the result is conflict and suffering at the individual level and at the family level and also at the level of the entire society, assuming it is a society (environment) that is based on voting.

 

A woman is not a family; it is an organism defined by the code in its DNA.

A family is not a woman, but a social system that is defined usually by local custom or law and by the interactions among its members.

 

A brain is not a cell (even though it is made of cells);

A cell is not a brain (because one cell by itself cannot do what brains do).

 

A corporation is a human social system that is defined by, and evolved around its corporate charter and composed of people and their existing environment.

A person is not a corporation, is not defined by any kind of human charter, but by its own DNA, and is not composed of organisms, but rather of organs.

 

A corporation is not a person, by any valid definition.

A person is not a corporation.

 

A cell is not a tissue, and a tissue is not a cell.

A person is not a cell, not even a zygote, which is a single cell.

A cell is not a person.

 

All the systems of Life are made of subsystems, from the whole living Biosystem to the smallest cell. And no complete system or subsystem operates in linear fashion.

 

Linear logic, therefore, vertical or horizontal, cannot arrive at logically consistent conclusions about how life functions at any level. Linear logic can (and has) given us bits and pieces, but that is the best it can do, and if we want to survive in this world we must pay attention to the other half of ourselves (the environment that we are destroying) and to our subsystems, because they are as much a part of our own selves as is our emergent Life.

 

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

 

A copy of the podcast can be downloaded at: http://directory.libsyn.com/episode/index/id/5146404

 

© 2017, M. Lynn Lamoreux, PhD, Photos by Lynn

MLLamoreux@hotmail.com

 

 

References Cited:

 

Prof. Joseph Campbell & Bill Moyers, Power of Myth, PBS, DVD.

 

Prof. Pamela Radcliff, University of California at San Diego, in a series of lectures, mostly lecture number 6, that is available from The Teaching Company, entitled Interpreting the 20th Century: The struggle Over Democracy, course number 8090.

 

 

Bare Bones Biology 306 – Butterflies

I want to explain something in 600 words that may not be possible, and that is a relationship between or among butterflies. These are not real butterflies, but a metaphor that we have been applying to different but interconnected mental constructs.

 

“At the edge of chaos emerges creativity” – emergence, an ugly sort of term that has been shortened and verbified by the corposystem in its never ending effort to make believe that humans control Life rather than the other way around. I keep talking about the corposystem world view because I believe it is the cause of our current malaise and will end in enormous suffering of humans and all other sentient beings. So today I am talking about the metaphor of butterflies that the corposystem world view uses BOTH in trying to describe the creativity at the edge of unstable natural phenomena such as weather (and climate) AND as the emergence of beauty, of Life, from the cocoon of its origins on Earth.

WorldviewAction

 

Like concepts without rationale, these metaphors flutter around our heads as we use them to support whatever we believe – rather than informing their beauty at a higher level by incorporating their source, the amazing reality of Life itself and our part in it, and what I am about to say about these metaphors, in my effort to align them with factual reality rather than with human wish-stories, what I am about to say may also lie at the edge of chaos where naturally evolved systems emerge and where they must inevitably either change, in order to conform with the Law of Life that makes Life of Earth possible –

 

or die.

 

We probably can agree that Life itself was not created by humans and the Laws of Nature that nurture Life were also not created by humans. These facts suggest that we humans (especially the corposystem, as it now contains the most overt human power) that we would all be better off if we were to align our power with the needs of Life rather than continue our historic and unsustainable battle to conquer the Earth and all that lives thereon. No matter who created it.

 

Who created it is not the point of life or death, except that our behaviors are strongly controlled by our worldview (a naturally evolved system).

 

Corposystem Cycle

 

A system that is available to our evolution. A naturally evolving system that we could be using to align ourselves with The Law of Life, but for the most part we are not.

 

I am not now talking about the “bad guys.” I have noticed that the “bad guys” most often know exactly what they are doing. Because they enjoy what they are doing. I am now talking about you and me. The “good guys.” It is time we stop sacrificing ourselves to the corposystem ethic in the belief that we are changing the corposystem ethic. We are not – we are ‘ENABLING” the addictive corposystem ethic that would have long since crashed were it not for our good intentions.

 

 

The corposystem ethic does not solve the problem, either in the hands of the bad guys or in the hands of you and me.

 

So then the question becomes not about behaviors, but about worldviews. How does the butterfly of a biologically rational, sustainable worldview emerge from the corposystem that believes it IS biologically rational, but in reality is just turning the dominance wheel one way (the “good guys”) or the other way (the “bad guys”) neither of which bows to the reality of the Law of Life?

 

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

 

A copy of the podcast can be downloaded at:  http://traffic.libsyn.com/fff/Bare_Bones_Biology_306_-_Butterflies.mp3

 

 

 

Bare Bones Biology 266F – Holons, Levels, Systems, Emergent Properties

It’s the words that push us apart. There are a lot more words than there are important ideas. Listen to the ideas.

 “Following Arthur Koestler and Ken Wilber, I use the term holon to refer to the nested nature of the universe. A holon is a whole that is also part of a larger whole and is itself composed of smaller wholes. Everything is part of something bigger and is made of smaller components nested within it. Each of those wholes/parts, or holons is creative. So the Universe is made of creative holons.”    Micheal Dowd, Thank God for Evolution.

I have talked about this very important idea more times, in my 266 blogs, than any other idea or fact. I have never used the term holon, because it is a new term coined to represent a reality that humans have known from nearly our beginning. It doesn’t matter what words we used, so long as we can understand each oher. The Reality is what it is, and anyone can understand it who cares to.

 

150626-canyon-ASC_7565RLSs copy The following is more like what I have been saying. A holon is a whole system that is part of a larger whole system and is itself composed of smaller whole systems. Every kind of holon is a unit that has unique “emergent properties,” that is, it creates its emergent “phenotype” or emergent properties by means of the laws of nature, or what I have referred to as the “Law of Life.” So, the universe is made of and generated by creative, naturally evolved systems in response to the most basic natural law that we know about. More basic, I believe, than the recently confirmed Higgs-Boson because what I have been referring to as the “Law of Life” is not imaginable as a THING, but is THE creative process, of which we are a part. So the universe is made of creative holons/evolved systems. No disagreement there, just different words.

On the other hand, if you think deeply about your own world view in relation to the above, you will probably find that the basic flaw in your world view (don’t fuss, everyone has basic flaws in their world views) is your imprinted belief that natural systems, processes and values are linear. This belief is as false as the older belief in a flat earth around which the sun orbits, and for similar reasons. It is homocentric and linear. The universe is not.

If we want to survive in this whole universe system that is composed of interconnected subsystems, we must change our own thinking to conform with the reality of the cosmos, because there is no way that we can continue to defeat or defy the power of the cosmos as we have been trying to do, for the last couple of millennia.

The universe is NOT a m150704-train-ASC_7962RLSsachine that we can control. It is a creative principle that we try to describe by defining the laws of nature.

 

Here’s another one.

What is a black hole? Astronomically? I do not know, and I hope the answer is not relevant to our survival, but I do know a different idea that is attached to that phrase that is relevant.

Many recognize the experience and Joseph Campbell reported it as part of a Native American growing-up ceremony for young men. Those of you who have stood on the edge of your own “black hole” will recognize it, and those who have not – you had to be there.   You have a choice, when you get to the black hole. You can let go and jump right into that black hole of fear. Fear of the reality of life that is not at all what you were taught; fear of the future that is not at all what you had planned. The other option is to turn back — to cling to the comfort and safety of the world view that was your birthrite.

The psychological black hole is the place of growing up within a new creation – a new and more realistic world view. Not that “aha” moment when everything comes together to make sense, but the eventual realization that we are not the everything that makes sense, nor can we control it. It is the time when we choose to let go our efforts to control that which is not really under our control and recognize that we are part of a whole – a holon with unique emergent properties that the living Earth can discard at any time these properties become a threat to its own holistic self. It’s a time of fear, but it could be the time when we reach out and touch the face of our Creator and begin to live within a true faith grounded in the wisdom of reality.

Homo sapiens teeters today at the brink of the black hole. The only control we have over the future is the choice that we make right now.

 

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

A copy of the podcast can be obtained at: http://traffic.libsyn.com/fff/Bare_Bones_Biology_266F_-_Holons.mp3

 

 

References

Michael Dowd. 2009. Thank God for Evolution. Plume

Bare Bones Biology 056 – Levels and Population I

Bare Bones Biology 057-Levels and Population II

Bare Bones Biology 070 – Levels of Organization Again

Bare Bones Biology 058 – Happiness

“May all living things enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.
May they be free from suffering and the root of suffering.”

I recently attended a weekend workshop at Omega Institute , where Pema Chodron explained, “The root of happiness is when we can stop struggling with ourselves just as we are, and against the world and our experience just as it is.”

She spent eight hours explaining this statement, and of course I can’t tell you about it in just five minutes, but the concept coincides perfectly with our scientific understanding of life on earth. And it reminded me of one of the most important ideas in the Bible, that is humility. When three bodies of knowledge converge, it’s time to pay attention. If we want to be “happy” or content, we need to have the humility to recognize that humans cannot change the works of God. We can’t change how the ecosystem functions. Even if we are the biggest cheese in the corposystem. Even if we are a biologist.

Biology is the study of life, and life is a fragile flower, beautiful and delicately balanced at the intersection of the interacting laws of physics. Change one little bit of it, and life will change as well. In fact, that is a definition of life. It changes as conditions change. That’s how it stays alive. But life CAN NOT change the basic laws of nature that give rise to life in the first place.

If we want to survive, let alone in happiness or contentment, we need to know what we can change and what we cannot change without destroying the interacting emergent balance that is life itself. It’s not hard to understand. It’s common sense, once we know how the power flows through the ecosystem, and if you want to know this you can download the Bare Bones Ecology Energy Handbook from my web site.

Life exists on earth because the natural laws are exactly as they are. If gravity were a tad off, or energy transfer were not as it is, we would not exist. If the diversity of species is sufficiently diminished, the living earth will not be able to accommodate the changing conditions of life. That’s how it stays alive. The living earth could die, just as your living body can die, if the balance of its needs is overwhelmed.

Technology can not change these things. We are not God; when we struggle against God’s miracle we are fighting against God, or the ecosystem, or life as it must be if it is to be. Exactly as the corposystem is now fighting in a vain and ill-advised effort to overwhelm the ecosystem. It is the worst kind of hubris to believe that we have more power or knowledge than God – or the ecosystem. I think it is the worst kind of criminality, because we know what the ecosystem needs to stay alive, and we know what will happen if we mess it up, and yet we publish continuing propaganda promoting ever greater messing, rather than to admit our mistakes and come together in an effort to bring a better quality of life to our future generations.

“The root of happiness is when we can stop struggling with ourselves just as we are and the world and our experience just as it is.” Pema Chodron

The Bible refers to this happy quality as humility. Recognizing reality for what it is.

Our experience of suffering arises from our struggle against the realities of the miracle of life.

Doing the right thing is not a struggle against reality – it is the process of going with the flow of positive human values informed by the needs of other living things and their emergent properties. The right thing to do exists where the best of human values affirm the long-term welfare of all sentient beings at all of their levels of organization.

Bare Bones Biology 058 – Happiness
KEOS 89.1 FM, Bryan, TX
Download after Monday at http://www.BareBonesBiology.com

Bare Bones Biology 054 – Power and Success

Here on the internet I found a perfect example to illustrate the ideas of levels of organization and emergent properties, using other peoples’ words and experiences. For this illustration I’ll only focus on two levels, the economy and the universe, and I will not quote or link the authors because I haven’t asked their permission, but if you are one of them thank you, I appreciate your insights. First the economy.

(Post) “Modern economics is not a normative science. (Normative = establishing a norm.) Economists don’t say things like “business decisions SHOULD be determined by the market”; rather, they make bold assertions: “business decisions ARE determined by the market”. Firms …are either in business to make money, or they don’t stay in business. Charities put their donations to the uses the donors intend them for, or they don’t continue to get donations. In either case, the ones that survive and thrive are the ones who know how to give their patrons what they want. This is only depressing if you persist in the belief that the universe ought to be wired differently. Being “pro-market” is like being “pro-gravity”. Both exist, and both work according to their respective laws, whether you “believe in” them or not.”

Whoa, I thought when I read that. I was following this along OK until we got to the point where the ECONOMY is considered the equivalent of the UNIVERSE in terms of how it operates. The universe is MANY emergent properties more complex than the economy, and the economy is only a little tiny weenie subset of the universe, and furthermore it is man-made. Finally, I thought, finally I can understand why economists seem to me to be so illogical. But I did not respond on the internet. Happily, someone else did, and that post reads:

(post) “As for the “laws of economics”; (unlike the law of gravity) they have re-written those laws every fifty years since Adam Smith & continue to do so. So perhaps “rules” “guidelines-for-now” would be more accurate terms than “laws”.

That’s the end of that quote. Now we have another post, which I finally did get into the action, and this is roughly what I said:

“Yes! Finally someone gets it” ECONOMICS can never be more than a study of human behavior. If human behavior does not align itself with the laws of nature, then the laws of nature will simply eliminate humans. Therefore, the rules of economics do not MATTER to our human welfare on this earth. It matters how we behave relative to the requirements for our survival. The only good that economics has to offer would be if it were to help bring our human behaviors into line with the requirements of the ecosystem that we need to stay alive.”

That’s the end of that quote, and I will add that is not what economics is doing right now. But that’s my opinion as a biologist. Let’s next quote the opinion of the Dalai Lama, as reported in the 2010 report of the Mind and Life Institute.

“Classic economic theory is based on the assumption that humans are self-interested and rational actors, and casts doubt on the very existence of altruism. New research in both economics and neuroscience reveals a much richer and more complex picture of humanity where altruism and compassion are not only part of the equation, but can be encouraged and learned. Further, research is revealing that pro-social behavior is critical for the survival of humanity, while egoistic and non-altruistic behavior are antithetical to human well-being.” 2010 Annual Report, Mind & Life Institute

To the economist I say that “laws of economics” probably do exist, but I will not believe that you understand them until you can explain how they relate to the laws of the universe, of which they are a miniscule and relatively impotent subset.

Bare Bones Biology 053 – Winning
KEOS radio 89.1, Bryan, Texas
Transcript at factfictionfancy.wordpress.com
Audio at http://www.BareBonesBiology.com

http://www.mindandlife.org/
Levels of Organization – BBB051-Levels of Organization
Emergent Properties – BBB052-Emergent Properties

Bare Bones Biology 053 – Winning is an Emergent Property

For me, the concept of emergent properties (Bare Bones Biology 017, FactFictionFancy-How Can we Know so Little, is critical to understanding our human power inside our living and nonliving environment. And this is important because any living thing needs to understand power relationships to stay alive. How much personal power do I have? How much power is attributable to God? Or to the Ecosystem? These relationships are very fundamental, and if we mis-interpret them we may end up on our keesters. Or extinct. Or just miserable wanting our world to be something it can not be.

If we truly understand the reality of emergent properties — that is, if we appreciate the fact that all of our physical reality is the result of a complex combination of factors — causes and effects — then there is no such thing as a winner. Or even a hero.

Ho, indeed, big jump there, but how can there be a winner if the individual who won was not individually responsible for the win? For example, I once won. I won a court case. I can give you a list as long as your arm of conditions and people and coincidences without which I would not have won, no matter how good the cause and no matter how diligently and skillfully I worked.

I noticed this disconnect in our thinking, between the concept of winner and the reality of complexity, while struggling to make sense of our American idea that “everyone can be a winner,” that I saw on a schoolroom wall. I have been one, and I don’t think so. Or maybe someone has changed the meaning of the word – winner. As I understand American English, a winner is someone who won something by using her own power or skill. In order to win something, the winner has to beat something. Usually what she beats is other people. Just look around. I think there must be at least ten or fifteen losers produced in our culture for every winner. How can we believe that everyone can be a winner with something like 1/5 of our population under the poverty line? That can’t be winning, and I don’t think anyone is actually counting the losers. A lot of losers are over the poverty line – way over the poverty line.

During my lifetime this tendency in our culture has increased dramatically, as has our delight in blaming each other for whatever happens that we don’t like. We shout the praises of the winners, and blame the losers for their losses, because we believe we all are personally in control of own wins and losses. It’s not true. Every win reflects a complex history of interactions, most of which we don’t personally control. And so does every loss.

If you want an example of the absurd extremes this can reach – just look at the Congress of today where everyone is assuming his own omniscience, and is busy blaming everyone else, and nobody is willing to work toward the solution itself, because it is really complicated and would require cooperation among the millions of parts that must fall into place in the right way to reach an emergent solution.

Interestingly, this morning news reported that the imprisoned sons of Mubarac are unable to comprehend what it means not to have a cell phone in jail, so the reporter said. I guess they thought their power was an innate and immutable part of their personal makeup — stronger even than the laws of nature. It’s not. The only power we really have is our good luck plus our understanding of the merging facts and processes, and the probable consequences of the choices we make. The very most that we can ever accomplish is to focus the threads of cause and effect toward a goal. We have everything we need right now to align our human presence with the physical realities of the world we live in — except we don’t have the will to define our common goal and then go for it.

Bare Bones Biology 053 – Winning
KEOS radio 89.1, Bryan, Texas
Transcript at factfictionfancy.wordpress.com
Audio at http://www.BareBonesBiology.com

Permalink URL – http://barebonesbiology.com/bbb053-winning-mp3

Bare Bones Biology 052 – Emergent Properties

I expect you know what I am doing in this current mini-series of audiocasts. I’m following the outline of the “simplest solution” that I proposed a few weeks ago.

Having spent my life trying to figure out how things work and then squeezing the result into a five-minute spot – well, I was quite proud of that, and now it seems useful to expand it a little and talk about how it applies to real life. Today I’m thinking about the human tragedy that results from our failure to understand emergent properties.

Last time I talked about levels of organization – the way in which the universe is organized so that bigger things are made of smaller things that are made of smaller things that are made of smaller things. It wouldn’t have to be that way, you know, but in our universe it is that way. The most important aspect of that kind of organization is that new things and new qualities and characteristics appear – it seems that they appear magically, and that’s why they are called emergent properties.

Where there was no life – life appears. You know this was not so obvious to people a couple hundred years ago. They thought life emerged from – for example that mice and cockroaches were born out of piles of rags and trash. But they are not. Life comes from life, and life is much more complicated than a pile of trash. The simplest kind of life, the cell, with all its hundreds of different kinds of molecules that each can do it’s special function when and where it is needed – anything less complex could not be alive. If you take a cell apart – poof! Life is gone and all you have remaining is a pile of thousands of different kinds of molecules. Life was in the emergent property generated by the special way those molecules were organized.

A more complicated life form, such as a person who is made of trillions of intricately organized cells, also has emergent properties. For example the ability to think – or to make urine, or blood, or to express compassion – that a cell cannot do because it doesn’t have all the necessary parts to make those characteristics possible. How we came to have those characteristics is another question. The physical reality is that emergent properties do exist and they explain a great many things.

Emergent properties explain water, that is a liquid at room temperature but results when two different gases are bonded together in a particular way; emergent properties explain life, that is, the ability to use energy to move and grow; it explains the human capacity for compassion that is inherited from one generation to the next; and it explains the tragedy of our human relationship within the ecosystem. That we have come to express our human compassion in a way that is harmful to our host. Through our care and compassion for each other, expressed in medicine and food shared and hundreds of other shared elements of our shared livelihood, we have grown our presence on this earth until our very growth is unbalancing the life force of the ecosystem, you might say the Garden of Eden, that gives life to us. That greater life force, just like yours and mine, must stay balanced to stay alive. It is the balanced complexity of all the interacting functions that maintains its life and all our lives together.

We have enough power — through our intelligence, our science, our humanities, and our technologies – we have enough power to save and nourish and grow our Garden of Eden, the ecosystem, in a sustainable balance with our own human welfare. Nothing is stopping us but ourselves.

Bare Bones Biology 052 – Emergent Properties
KEOS radio 89.1, Bryan, Texas
Transcript at factfictionfancy.wordpress.com
Audio at http://www.BareBonesBiology.com