Thistle in Bloom

The moths, butterflies, flies and ants are eating and courting on the thistle blossoms. The hummingbirds got here too early. Last year we had hummingbirds eating and nesting in their embrace.

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In a stable, sustainable culture, one of the most amazing phenomena is the way that the thousands of life cycles mesh with each other, regulated in large part by the climate, so that the creatures are born when the food is available.

Communities and Evolution

Happy Days Folks,

This week I will refer you to a blog post from last year at about this time. It is even more relevant today.

https://factfictionfancy.wordpress.com/2011/12/31/

Bare Bones Biology 088 – Evolution and Creation
KEOS FM 89.1, Bryan, Texas
Audio download is available at the below link.

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Bare Bones Biology 133B – World Community

Last week I described, in a very general way, how I imagine the human brain processes information. The primary take-away message is that our brains are not universal. We are one species out of billions that are required to operate the functions of the living earth — just as any one cell of our brain is only one out of billions that are required to operate our amazing human brain. Secondly, there are levels of function of the human brain that we do not control – they control us. They control the basic functions of our bodies, and the basic nature of our emotions.

However, we also have higher levels of function in our brains that can adapt to our environment in a conscious way. One of these qualities is how we are learning all the time. Another is our intellect, that we can use to evaluate ourselves and our surroundings. If we try, we can figure out the difference between our perceptions — that is what our reality feels like according to our world view – and what the world really is according to facts that we study in physics, chemistry and biology. For example, we can measure the speed of light using tools designed by our intellect, but according to our perceptions, we would not know about the speed of light. We wouldn’t know that light is energy. We wouldn’t understand energy and would not have learned how to control fire, for example, during the millennia of our origins.

In all those millenia, the problems we faced had to do with how to interact with an overwhelming environment. For example, I was very touched by the last story in the most recent National Geographic. It is the story of an interaction between today and a primitive tribal culture. I won’t tell you the end of the story, but for me it was a heart-wrenching illustration of the choices we must make if we are to survive within the requirements of our environment. (National Geographic, February, 2012, Cave People of Papua, New Guinea.)

Today, we no long live sheltered in the broad green arms of our ecological home. I think that’s one reason why we experience the levels of discomfort, dis-ease and discontent that we do in our culture, but that’s not something we can deal with now. We have already destroyed that long-distant Garden of Eden. We can’t go back and change the mistakes of yesterday. You younger folk don’t realize that yet probably, but it can be demonstrated using, that intellect of ours, that the earth has modified herself to our needs about as much as she can. Our choice now is whether to push the environment even more. If we do, it’s likely to change so much that it can no longer support our needs for air, water, shelter, earth and human companionship.

We can do this, I know our brain is capable of understanding the problems that we face, and we can join together communally to deal with them. However, we cannot face these challenges using only our inborn instincts. If we are to succeed, it will require our intellect in two ways. First, we must educate ourselves about the ecosystem, how it functions and what it needs from us in order to sustain itself; second we must use our intellect to grow a new culture, based in what we know about basic instincts, and on what previous cultures have taught us, and incorporating our scientific knowledge and changing our attitude toward technology.

We now must decide together whether we, as a culture of the world, want to continue using technology to dominate and to make money – or if we will choose to, find a better way, based on a better goal-set than winner/loser. We do know there are better and more satisfying ways for humans to live, and the first thing we need to understand — we are not God. We do not understand the infinite meaning of life, nor can we control it. Our need to control, our ego, our desire to grow life in our image, whether the image be evil or even if it is a good image – that is the source and cause of our man-made disasters.

Lynn Lamoreux
Photo by Lynn, Lucky B Bison

This blog is an expanded version of Bare Bones Biology radio program that will play next week on KEOS Radio, 98.1 FM, Bryan, Texas. Bare Bones Biology is a completely nonprofit project. The podcast can be downloaded at http://traffic.libsyn.com/fff/Bare_Bones_Biology_133_-_World_Community.mp3

Recommended Action/Question for Discussion: Identify the source, and the path from source to table, of each item of food that is part of your Thanksgiving meal. In countries without a day of Thanksgiving (or with one), give thanks for your food at every meal and remember that it comes from the living earth. What, I wonder, is the difference between our living earth, and your God? Or mine?

Recommended References
https://factfictionfancy.wordpress.com/2012/11/14/

Bare Bones Biology Ecology Handbook, free, no strings – https://factfictionfancy.wordpress.com/
On the right side of the page click on the link under “Chapters” to download the PDF.

National Geographic, February, 2012, Cave People of Papua, New Guinea, by Mark Jenkins, Photos by Amy Toensing.

Economy

Shrinking economy. Will we choose to fight over the available resources or grow a new social structure that is sustainable?

Quality is not great, but a good discussion.

Bare Bones Biology 096 – Climate Change V

We can not help the earth maintain a habitable climate by growth, either of the corposystem or of the population because it is not possible to cure any problem by doing more of what caused the problem in the first place. You cannot cure alcoholism with more alcohol. You cannot cure the biological reaction to too much growth by growing more.

The whole of life and all its parts consists of processes that work together to form networks of cycles. The most amazing thing about life is the way all these interacting networks stay balanced. Well, most of the time they stay balanced. If they aren’t balanced the result is sickness or some sort or death. Mostly the balance is maintained quite literally by the availability of the resources. Does that sound familiar? Yes indeed, it sounds just a little bit like classical economics. Not the modern Ponzi economics, but the old fashioned kind where – if you didn’t have carrots, you didn’t sell carrots, and you didn’t eat carrots.

If you don’t have enough resources, for example, if the earth is not capable of making enough food energy to feed all the people – then the delicate balance among all the networks becomes unbalanced. If there is not enough to eat, then people die. If that unbalance leads to shortages, climate change, economic downturns, war, any kind of difficulty – then you can not cure the difficulty by doing more of what caused the unbalance. You can’t cure Ponzi economics by more Ponzi economics because sooner or later you run out of the resources that are necessary to keep the whole scheme growing

You can’t cure climate change by pouring more toxic compounds into the climate, either from people eating and breathing or from corporations and other machines eating and breathing the products of the earth until there are not enough resources left to provide the food energy to drive the interacting networks of nature that keep us alive.

We know these things are facts. And yet we have come to the point where our knowledge about genuinely omnipotent realities is no more respected than your next-door-neighbor’s uninformed opinion. This is too bad, because the technologies to prevent a dreadful end are now available while we are fiddling around with the same technologies that have been causing our problems in the first place.

And while we are talking about these things, let’s consider a couple of more false assumptions that run along the same lines.

1. That there is no climate change, but there are too many people in some other parts of the world, and so if we build a fence around the United States and keep everyone else out we will be OK. This one boggles the mind. You can’t fence out climate change. The earth’s climate goes all the way around the earth from the top to the bottom and all around the middle parts. No fences will stop air.

2. That overpopulation doesn’t exist, apparently it can’t exist (how do they prove that?), and we would be better off to save every human cell. Then, every person will have a better life. We have measured the facts (for example), and they tell us that the earth is losing both its resilience (because of species extinctions) and its sustainability (by what I will refer to as overgrazing). From here on out, if we continue to grow, the more people we have on earth, the more people will suffer starvation and genocide and war and similar fates as the economy crashes because we are running out of resources. Bottom line, if there is not enough to eat, then we cannot provide the good life for more people, and we need to find a solution that will work before more people are victimized by our growth ethic.

3. Then the other side of the coin is the phrase I just heard yesterday again, that there is plenty of food on earth to feed everyone, it’s a re-distribution problem. You know I have heard that old saw my whole long life, and we have more than doubled in numbers of people during that time. Furthermore, every time we destroy another species in our efforts to feed humans – every lost species is a broken link in one of those networks that function to keep the earth alive and healthy.

Bare Bones Biology 096 – Climate Change V
KEOS FM 89.1, Bryan, Texas
Audio download available later this week
here and at http://BareBonesBiology.com

Recommended References: Post Carbon Reader, PCI.org; Networks, by Barabashi; Beyond Ethics by HH The Dalai Lama; Bare Bones Ecology free download on my blog.

BBB088 – Evolution and Creation https://factfictionfancy.wordpress.com/2011/12/31/
BBB022 – Population https://factfictionfancy.wordpress.com/2010/09/19
Earth Policy – http:// http://www.earth-policy.org/

Bare Bones Biology 088 – Evolution and Creation

Until the corposystem started making up fake debates, almost everyone knew that evolution is real, whether or not they knew the word. Everyone still knows it, really, it’s common sense. I mean, we have been using the process of evolution for several hundred years to make domestic animals. What is the difference between a wolf and a pug dog? The pug dog was not created 6000 years ago, it is a product of evolution. Controlled evolution. Monsanto is actively evolving our food supplies. If evolution were not a real thing, life on earth would not keep changing.

The evolution argument is about human political power. It’s a fake debate generated by people who think that evolution is about survival of whoever has the most power. These people think survival of the fittest means working out in the gym until you can kick sand in your neighbors’ faces. Evolution is no such thing.

Ask a dinosaur.

For BBB blogs about evolution, see or listen to Bare Bones Biology 010 through 019. Also BBB 046.

So what I want to talk about today is, what is fitness really? Because what we can do to help the earth today is to give a gift of fitness to our future human generations. And nothing we do could be more important. But as long as we continue to believe that fitness is defined by some kind of competition, we will fail. Biologically, fitness is the ability to survive, as a species, not as individuals.

Fitness really is pretty much the same as sustainability. Fitness is something about how the universe evolved from whatever it was, when everything was subatomic, to what it is now, with step by step levels of increasing complexity in all its parts. Fitness is a component of the process of increasing complexity that is and was the evolution that created the levels of organization of our universe and life and our living world.

There is a wonderful book (Linked, by Baribashi) entitled Linked that describes networks in terms of mathematics. I don’t understand it mathematically, but it must be talking about evolution. The changes of evolution are the increasingly complex networks. Every “advance” in evolution involves the formation of a more complex set of interacting networks. For example, you are a network of interacting organs (kidney, heart, etc), and each organ is a network of interacting cells and the cells are each networks of interacting molecules. That IS how the universe is organized, by networks interacting with other networks, and this book talks about the mathematics of the way networks form. For example:

“Each node is different. Each has some intrinsic quality compelling it to the head of the pack . . . Each node has a different fitness . . .”

I know this insight is very important, because when he says nodes, and I say species, and Buddhists say “emptiness,” we are all talking about the networks of which all of reality is composed. And when he says “fitness” he is not talking about competition. He’s talking about competence. It’s not the same thing at all.

I believe compassion has genetic roots in people, and that it is a component of our fitness on this earth, but compassion is not enough. If we only rely on our compassion, or only our spirituality, or only our technology or our power, we will be the node that fails to survive. Because the entire gigantic ticking clock of the creation is built of networks of networks of networks (that biologists refer to as levels of organization that I have discussed many times). (for example, BBB-051, 052, 056, 057, and more recently 070.

Any newly arising network — that would be us. If it does not FIT into the systems and the processes that have been the source of our creation – it will not survive, no matter how much power and glory it believes itself to have.

Bare Bones Biology 088 – Evolution and Creation
KEOS FM 89.1, Bryan, Texas
Audio download available later this week
here and at http://www.BareBonesBiology.com

Here is a new look at sustainability recommended by our California tentacle.

And a valid commentary that was posted below it.
Good video. Except that the planet – and everything on it, including humans_ – wasn’t “designed”. It evolved.
11mxb 1 day ago

Bare Bones Biology 068 – What to Do 02

Last time I outlined the basic requirements that I think are necessary if we are to build a better future for the children and grandchildren than what we’re building right now. This time I’ll give you a short list of general sort of activities that we can do or not do to head in that positive direction. Next time I have some specific suggestions for what to do at home.

Of the four points for today, the first is, as consumer citizens we need to stop fighting with each other over who is dominant. The questions of right/wrong, winners/losers, all of that dichotomous behavior, setting ourselves against each other to see who is king of the heap will not help us to address our situation with the real king of the heap, and that is the corposystem. We need to focus on our common goal, with whatever level of humility is necessary to go in that direction. And that direction is to grow a better future for the consumer citizens.

Alternatively, stop sitting back and waiting for someone else to solve the problem. Nobody can solve the problem because everyone is part of the cause. So instead of waiting for that to happen, do what you can to identify the root problem. Or just believe me when I tell you what the real root problem is that the mother earth can no longer provide enough food energy resources for all the growth that is happening on her body. And the secondary problem is that the corposystem instead of trying to cut back and reach a sustainable level that can be maintained over an indefinite period of time. Instead of doing that, is trying to promote more growth and yet more growth.

Now there is a good chance that quite a few people will disagree with me on this point. So in that case I will suggest that you do a good job of fact-checking and come back and let me know what you find out and I will give you as many of these Bare Bones Biology programs as you wish to explain it. That was number two. It was a kind of complicated number two.

Number three, refuse to participate in the corposystem’s promotion of growth, as far as that is possible. Unless of course the corposystem would actually re-define itself as having a goal of sustainability, I think we should avoid participating in its harmful activities. My suggestions for that is to pay off your debts so they don’t have control over you, cut up your credit cards, don’t vote for their candidates but do vote, even when you know you will lose. Don’t buy their stuff. You can shop at the Farmers’ Market, for example, and other local sources. Don’t let them take over the internet. Don’t watch their television.

We should learn every little bit that we can about the real true facts that relate to our goal. Our goal would be to understand more and more about, compassion, human rights, and the biological needs of the ecosystem. Everything we can learn that’s real and factual, because nobody knows everything, and the corposystem is projecting on the television and in their propaganda a fairytale life that is not sustainable.

Our job is to learn the facts and grow a sustainable culture. Live the sustainable life style now, that we need to grow a sustainable future; we who know what is happening will be the founders of our children’s future, carriers of the experience and the awareness and the wisdom and knowledge of reality that they will need. Human and economic growth on this planet can no longer be supported by the available resources. We each individually need to understand how the ecosystem functions. How it really functions, so we can prevent a few extremists from messing throwing wrenches into its functional works. But factual knowledge of our ecosystem is not enough.

Many people believe that a compassionate lifestyle will lead to a compassionate future, but compassion is not enough, because the ecosystem does not need compassion — and we can not survive without the ecosystem. What the ecosystem does require is balance, and we need to understand that WE do now know how to maintain that balance. We are not in charge of the ecosystem. As a biologist I assure you we don’t know enough about how it functions to micro-manage the ecosystem. But the ecosystem does work marvelously if we don’t mess it up. We must learn how to let it be, so that it can maintain it’s life and our lives.

I am guessing that most people believe human politics can resolve our problem, but politics is not enough, unless it is informed by an umbrella of compassion and factual knowledge of the ecosystem, and a useful rule of law. So the bottom line is that none of these three aspirations by itself can resolve our problem, but the three together, passed on from generation to generation, can grow a fine and modestly flourishing, sustainable future for human kind on this earth.

And in that light, the fourth suggestion is to learn how to tell the difference between hype and factual information. There is a lot of factual information available, thank goodness for the internet. Find the real information. Fact check. Check the logic. Check the sources. Check the qualifications of the sources. Find out if they are actually being paid by the corposystem to say whatever they are saying. Stop letting their propaganda into your head, no matter how nice it sounds. We can not grow the future on fairy tales, but we can grow a wonderful future based on honesty and real facts.

Bare Bones Biology 068 – What to Do 02
KEOS radio 89.1 FM, Bryan, Texas
Transcript at FactFictionFancy.wordpress.com
Audio later this week at http://www.BareBonesBiology.com

Survival of the Fittest?

So, if species grow and succeed on the basis of survival of the fittest, meaning they are doing something that is good for the ecosystem — then how come the ecosystem pitches them out later and they go extinct?

I think the answer to this is that species succeed on the basis of something they are doing that is “fitness” within the ecosystem. That is, it is useful or at least not harmful within the multiple variables of the whole system. And what the ecosystem needs to survive is “resilience” (that is, the ability to change when conditions change) and “sustainability” (that is the ability to stay in balance by adjusting it’s parts, which is almost but not quite the same as resilience). So if a species does not upset the balance — and it increases the resilience of the system — then it is a happy camper within the system.

So why would it then go extinct, I mean barring the occasional mega-volcano or meteorite? I think most species are good at something, better at something than other species. Humans, those who don’t think the problem through, tend to believe this is “fitness.” Being better. They think being better and better at some little thing, like winning, for example, is fitness, and in a way it is, because it allows the species to fill or create a new niche in the system. Up to a point where it can no longer maintain its balance, a system with more niches will be more resilient than a system with fewer niches.

Most species are therefore good at something that is different from the other species that live in the same space. As time goes by and generations follow generations, and selection pressures of the surroundings tend to continue or increase, I think most species develop whatever is their advantage until it passes a balance point and becomes extreme.

For an example, think of the giraffe. And then if conditions change or they continue to develop the same trait to absurdity, they can’t cope in the system any more. For example, if all the tall trees died as a result of global warming (or anything, tree diseases, whatever) the giraffe would have to compete with everyone else at ground level and would probably become extinct.

Humans, now, have developed their definining characteristics to an even greater absurdity than giraffes. Humans in the USA, young people that I talk to, they actually believe they can control their environment (ecosystem) with the power of their brain, either directly or through creating technologies.

The trouble with having a really good brain as a defining characteristic is that it can go crazy and do absurdly harmful things to its own environment that lead to its own extinction. This is not fitness; it will not survive.

But we do have that brain, and we could use it for something useful if we wanted to.

Sustainability

When I was growing up, and when I was a productive member of the work force, my goal was to save and to share with the future (to sustain) the “American dream.” Of course, that wasn’t my only goal, but it was foundational, and it defined the boundaries of my personal dream. The whole point of “my” dream was that we all can have different dreams so long as my dream does not cause harm to you or your good dream. Of course, that’s an ideal — an impossible island within which to function. Therefore, the other half of my dream is a continual process of negotiating the boundaries of our individual dreams so that our community is a positively functioning whole.

It was only after retirement that I realized some of the people I worked with — and with whom I shared a mutual commitment to the “American Dream” — it wasn’t the same dream at all. We had never explained ourselves to each other, never negotiated our ideas, and so we all were seriously trying hard to sustain different and incompatible dreams. This was a shock to us all, and we very soon were arguing/debating/fighting rather than sustaining. It became clear that we can not build an American Dream if we don’t know what it is and discuss it among ourselves before we start to fight over misunderstandings that we don’t know exist. We cannot understand each other unless we define our words.

Sustainability a word that we must understand if we are to build a future for ourselves, first because Americans have multiple different ideas of what should be sustained, and more importantly because the word was deliberately co-opted by the economic community, following the green revolution, to mean the exact opposite of what it means. The idea of sustainable growth (which is impossible within the living earth ecosystem) has overcome the actual meaning of sustainability. The implications of this reality are, to me, genocidal. I see this campaign to change the meaning of the word sustainability as a deliberate attack on the life and health of the whole earth ecosystem for the profit of a few. Worse, the attack seems to have succeeded, and the result, literally, is a Ponzi type of growth scheme that is manipulating the resources of the entire world. Unfortunately, however, it is not sustainable. The fact of sustainable growth is physically impossible, even though the concept of sustainable growth has become embedded in our culture as a synonym for sustainability.

So the word sustainability is a problem because it seems that most or many Americans believe that it means sustainable growth, and the earth ecosystem can not grow. The size of the earth ecosystem is fixed. The ecosystem has become more efficient in its use of organic energy (it did this primarily by increasing diversity), but we can not change the size of the ecosystem, because the ecosystem functions according to natural laws such as gravity and the second law of thermodynamics that we can not change. If we continue to try to grow the ecosystem, the result will be the same as it sooner or later is with all Ponzi schemes, because sustainable growth is impossible in a living system. Growth in the ecosystem is limited by the ability of plants to convert light energy to organic energy, and we are destroying our plants in our efforts to grow.

If the word “sustainable” has communication problems, another approach might be to use some different words to explain the physical realities of the ecosystem and the things she needs to survive. Rob Hopkins likes to describe ecosystems in terms of “resilience,” and describes resilience as a reflection of the relationship between diversity and survivability, and this is very important (download pdf from Google, title Resilience Thinking). Diversity is one of the basic realities of life systems; higher levels of diversity generate higher probabilities of survival because the living system is a network. As is true of the computer network, diverse possible pathways make for fewer crashes (well described in “Linked: the new science of networks” by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi).

In the human body we might think of cancer as a threat because of the decrease of diversity when one type of cell overtakes the myriad other cell types that individuals require for their survival. A good general discussion of how this has played out in human populations is found in the historical events described in Jared Diamond’s book “Collapse.”

It is also true of ecosystems. The high survival value of diversity in living systems is easy to demonstrate. Still, diversity/resilience is not the only essential element of ecosystem survival, is not identical in its meaning to “sustainable,” and none of these terms refers to growth of either the economy or the biomass on the earth.

The most widely quoted definition of sustainability is the “Brundtland definition” of the 1987 Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” According to your computer dictionary, sustainability is: “Able to be maintained.” Or, in relation to smaller ecosystems: “exploiting natural resources without destroying the ecological balance of a particular area.”

We have already stressed the requirements of the ecosystem:

1 – A forever balance between the amount of available organic energy that flows into the system and the amount of organic energy that is used up within the system (remembering that we are within the system);

2 – A continual flow of information through the system (this is mostly genetics, genes in all organisms carry the code of life and are passed to future generations). In brief, the effective flow of information increases the survivability/diversity of living systems. For example: (a) we know that some people are genetically more susceptible to certain diseases; when the flu comes around, some people are hit harder than other people. If everyone were the same, then everyone would be equally as likely to die of flu. This is a biological survival value for the human species. (b) Similarly, each small or large ecosystem is composed of many different species. The many species permit the ecosystem to use more of the available organic energy to do more kinds of work before all the energy is converted to work or heat and lost. (c) Again, the whole earth ecosystem is composed of a diversity of smaller ecosystems. Clearly, resilience, as defined by Prof. Hopkins, is importantly based in diversity, and is essential to maintain life on earth.

3 – The third major factor that must stay in balance if the living earth is to survive is the cycling of materials such as water and oxygen and carbon dioxide through the whole ecosystem. That we will discuss information flow and materials cycling in separate chapters.

The bottom line is that all these definitions are accurate, and for once the computer definition is excellent and the simplest definition of “sustainability” is: “Able to be maintained.”

We have said that LIFE is not the same reality as A LIVING THING, and that is essentially because a living thing is not sustainable. That is why we all have hopes and dreams of a sustainable ecology/economy for our grandchildren, and that is why our various versions of the “American Dream” always involve pictures in our heads of the children and the grandchildren working the land as we do or boating on Lake Bryan as we do, or celebrating Hannukah as we do or enjoying whatever world view that we enjoy.

But dreams and pictures and words of today are not a reality for tomorrow. It is not the function of the living earth to fulfill our dreams, but to maintain her own life. If we really want our grandchildren to be a living, laughing presence upon this living earth we MUST understand what the ecosystem needs to stay alive and then we must give it to her, because otherwise our own rampant growth upon the earth, just like a cancer in our own bodies, will reduce the resilience and upset the balance to such an extent that the productivity of the earth ecosystem will be reduced and unable to provide enough organic energy to nurture our grandchildren.