Bare Bones Biology 127 – Community

Now that I am back from my trip, you will not be surprised to hear that I did not find any answers to the big questions. The biggest thing I learned is that nearly everyone I spoke with uses the same words to mean different things. Words are almost the most important things about being human, and the whole point of having words is so we can work together as human “communities,” because cooperating groups can accomplish more, working together, than any one person can accomplish alone. But that effort all falls apart in frustration and irritation if we are each using our same words to mean different things.

So I want to talk about community, because we humans are all hepped up right now about community-building. Maybe defining the words I used above, human and community, might be a good start, but let’s go back even farther. I have met people who do not know the meaning of the term earth, and there could be no humans and no communities and no life without the earth. So let’s start there.

One meaning of earth is a rather upscale word for dirt, isn’t it. Just plain old dirt that could be good dirt for growing food, or mountaintop dirt, or even the clay in the Brazos Valley. That’s the dirt we must have to stand on, build houses on, and grow our food. That is the first meaning of earth, but it’s not what I want to discuss.

What I’m talking about now is the whole planet Earth, the big blue and green and brown living marble as it is seen and photographed from a space ship. That earth is a living, breathing bit of life, floating in space. In fact, that earth is the only complete, self-contained unit of life that we know about in all the universe.

The whole living earth has several names. Biosphere is a term used in The Ecological World View, written by Charles Krebs. Krebs says: “Ecosystems consist of communities and their physical environment.” And he says that: “. . . they can be aggregated to include the whole earth ecosystem, or biosphere, which is sometimes called the ecosphere.” So the only complete unit of life that is not part of some other bit of life – the only one in all of space that we know about – the words that describe that amazing thing, are the earth or the biosphere or the ecosphere. Sometimes I like to call it the whole earth ecosystem, but the term ecosystem can be confusing because the whole earth ecosystem is made up of subunits that are also called ecosystems. And besides that, the same word has been widely used by the corposystem to apply to all sorts of combinations of things that are not really ecosystems. So no wonder we get confused some times.

A non-technical term for the whole living earth is Gaia, the concept introduced by James Lovelock. Sometimes I use this term to emphasize that the whole earth biosphere is a complete, stand-alone living thing within the universe.

The earth is not the universe. The universe is everything. All the stars and planets and moons and space and sun and energy and matter and everything that we don’t know about. The planet earth is only a small part, a tiny part of that, but the planet earth is important to us because it is the place that gives us our own lives. To do this, the planet makes its own food and water and climate and atmosphere and all the living things. It does this to stay alive.

The basic function of life is to perpetuate life.

And so the next question is, what has all that to do with community?

Bare Bones Biology is a completely nonprofit project. This edition aired on KEOS radio, 89.1 FM. The audio is available at http://www.BareBonesBiology.com. We use the .com because we also refuse to become or behave as an integral part of the corposystem that is destroying both our lifestyles and our place in the communal life of earth.


Recommended References

Krebs, Charles. The Ecological World View.
Margulis, Lynn. Symbiotic Planet. Amherst, MA: Basic Books, 1998.
Lovelock, James. The Vanishing Face of Gaia. New York: Penguin Books, 2009.

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
http://www.BareBonesBiology.com

Bare Bones Biology 094 – Climate Change III

Oh, and yes, all these physicists who believe that they understand life because they have some convenient information about the basic laws of the universe. As far as anyone knows, life is not the center of the universe, and while life does operate according to the laws of physics, it is not studied by the science of physics. As far as anyone knows, life is the whole of the reacting, breathing, interacting earth, and physics says nothing about the higher Levels of Organization (and) beyond the properties of energy and matter. Well, not nothing. Physics is very important because it informs us about fundamental natural laws like gravity and energy that everything must obey.

Life couldn’t exist if it did not obey the fundamental laws. But of course, EVERYTHING obeys the fundamental laws, or it wouldn’t be here. That’s what fundamental means. And everything is not life. The purpose of biology is to learn to understand what is the difference between life and everything else.

Everything must obey the law of thermodynamics, so biologists study that. But all the non-life also obeys the laws of thermodynamics. Thermodynamics is not what makes life alive. It is necessary but not sufficient.

Biology is the study of life, and therefore biology is the study of the whole earth ecosystem and how the living earth and all its parts is different from non-life and – more importantly — how we can stay alive without causing harm to the whole earth ecosystem that gives us our lives.

The ecosystem stays alive because of interacting cycles of functions and properties, of energy and matter, because of the ability to transmit information by genetics so that the ecosystem can respond to change, and because of the ability to flow energy from the sun into plants and from plants into every other living thing. And the ecosystem also stays alive because of the ability of itself to recycle the key materials that it needs to stay alive – like carbon dioxide and oxygen and water. Carbon and oxygen and water recycle through the living earth just as they recycle through our own bodies. They are a part of life. They are the climate – the respiratory system – of the living entity we call the earth ecosystem. If they didn’t change – if the climate didn’t change – the earth would not be alive and we would not be here.

There is no debate among biologists about whether or not living things change. There would be no life if it couldn’t change in response to what is happening around and within it. That is the foundational necessity of being alive, and all illness, disease and death are the result of not being able to change in response to one’s environment. Climate change is real, the fake debate is about politics, not about life. And the function of the fake debate is to prevent we the people from figuring out what to do about it, because what we must do about it would diminish the preposterous wealth and power of the corposystem.

So what can we do to give a gift of fitness to our human future within our living earth? We have three options, at least. 1) We can do something useful to help humans — that is, to help the earth maintain a climate that is suitable for human life. That’s what most biologists prefer to spend their time thinking about. 2) We can do something that is harmful to the health of the living earth. That will cause devastation to the future of humans on this earth. Or 3) we can do nothing and let the climate rebalance itself without regard for our needs.

The trouble with doing nothing is that it will result in unimaginable suffering because of the vastly greater number of people, animals, plants and other living things that will be affected, and that’s why I prefer option number one, do something useful to help humans.

And the way to do that is to find a way to stop the growth that is causing the ecosystem to rebalance and readjust all its millions of cycles of life, in response to our waste products.

Bare Bones Biology 094 – Climate Change
KEOS FM 89.1, Bryan, Texas
Audio download available later this week
here and at http://BareBonesBiology.com

Recommended Readings: Bare Bones Ecology free download on my blog.

Bare Bones Biology 084 – Imagine

This is the last in the series describing what I think are the bottom line requirements to grow a better future for our human lives within this living earth ecosystem. It’s been tried before, with varying levels of success, and other people are proposing other, equally serious recipes for our future welfare. We’ll look at a few of them later. First I want to summarize.

Compassion and basic scientific knowledge should be applied to our interactions with each other and with all other living things including the ecosystem. To do this we should each, as individuals, first try to separate out the immutable facts from our personal opinions, and if they don’t line up we should try to figure out why not.

Second, we each need to understand the basic requirements for life, the fact that life is the whole earth ecosystem, so far as we know, and that we are a subunit of that life. A living thing (which is not the same as ”life”) can be defined as an entity, either an ecosystem or a part of the ecosystem that carries within itself the genetic information that is required to drive all the functions of its life. The functions of life consist of cycles of interactions within the entity and between entities at all the multiple levels of complexity.

We are not the director of this symphony of life. The whole ecosystem does not revolve around humans, any more than the whole solar system revolves around the earth. We don’t even really know how it works. Only that it does. And that it operates according to the laws of physics, primarily, as well as other natural laws that we cannot change. Humans cannot improve on the nature of nature, but we can do a lot of harm to ourselves if we unbalance the functions of life and reduce the resilience of the ecosystem. The term resilience refers to the capacity of the ecosystem to rebalance itself.

And third, we must understand that the universal law of cause and effect operates no matter what we choose to do. We cannot change it with our technologies. The commonest inquiry that I get is: “What can I do?” or “What would you do?” (to fix things.)

The answer is that there is nothing on earth that we can do to change the universal law of cause and effect. That means, if the earth is now overpopulated and we are using more natural resources than are available – then that’s the way it is and we cannot change that fact because the cause is back in our history somewhere and we cannot change history.

That does not mean you should be sitting on your keester enjoying TV when there are things you can do to change the history of the future generations, so that they will not be worse off because of us being here sitting on our keesters watching TV.

We cannot avoid the crunch that is coming. But right now is the time to build a version of human society that could bring to the future something better than a corrupt corposystem that sucks the life out of life. That seems to be the culture we will grow unless we pluck up a little pluck, stop being afraid of words, learn how to LISTEN to people who are not exactly like we are, or like we think they should be, and collaborate, starting today in every small way that we can, to build a future for us all – no matter what happens next.

I’m saying that I think the minimum requirement to grow a viable, sustainable human social structure is that the citizens must be educated in the skills of: practical compassion applied to problem solving; the nature and needs of a healthy ecosystem; a rule of law that recognizes the conflicting human values at the individual level and the level of the whole.

Bare Bones Biology 084 – Imagine
KEOS Radio, 89.1 FM
Audio will be posted later at
WWW.BareBonesBiology.com