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

Bare Bones Biology 082 – Compassion

Practical compassion, energizes life-affirming behaviors. Sometimes known as win-win, practical compassion requires us to understand the needs of the others, and to use that understanding to develop mutually rewarding long-term outcomes. This is not easy when we interact with other living things that aren’t human, because many of the needs of other organisms are different from our own. That’s where science can help us out.

But, you may well say, we have given up on science. We tried it and it clearly didn’t do what we wanted. I would agree completely if we were talking about technology. We have mostly used our technology to despoil, not to affirm life. Especially in recent time. But I’m talking about science, not technology. Science doesn’t do things. Science is a method to learn about the laws of nature and how they function. To learn about light, for example, or how does energy work.

But science doesn’t do anything, therefore science does not promise anything. It simply tries to learn about the laws of nature. The laws of nature are not our responsibility. If we use our knowledge of science to do something or make something, that would be technology. It is our responsibility how we use our knowledge. There is no way that humans can change the laws of nature, but what we humans decide to do with our understanding of the laws of nature is our human responsibility, and I agree with you completely. For the most part our recent uses of technology have not been life affirming. We have failed in our responsibility.

“Nature does not forgive. It is caught in the finality of its impersonal structure.
Nature must be true to its immutable laws. When these laws are broken it must
go on down its path of uniformity.”

In this excerpt, Martin Luther King, Jr., is describing the basic law of cause and effect. For what we have done by misusing our knowledge of science, we are paying the price. We can’t stop the effects of what we have done any more than we could un-throw a rock. But we could stop throwing rocks if we are interested in growing a better future for human kind.

We could stop fighting over our ideas and start collaborating in a compassionate search for a better way of life. We could use our scientific knowledge to inform our practical compassion that I described last week
– and we could use our compassionate human values to inform the way we use our scientific knowledge.

Instead, we continue to fight over ideas. Like – what is more true – science or compassion.

What hogwash – it’s all true. We are human. We are compassionate beings. Our cultures function best when they affirm our compassionate needs. That doesn’t mean EVERYTHING functions better when we affirm our own compassionate needs. Science is not about compassion. Science is a way to study phenomena without the added confusion caused by our emotional needs.

Scoffing at religion because it centers around our emotional needs is self-defeating. Scoffing at science because it does not center around our emotional needs is also self-defeating. We can do better than either of these.

I think every scientist and every technologist should be responsible to learn and apply the basic principles of practical compassion. I also think that every person who claims to be compassionate, or caring, should be responsible to learn about the basic functions of our living world and use her understanding to inform her politics and her good works. Everyone else should do both.

Otherwise, the efforts on all sides, no matter how well intended, will end in ever more wars (OK, you call them debates) over silliness. Science versus compassion. Me versus you. Individual versus the population, and the population versus the whole living, breathing earth. And the result will continue to be lose, lose, lose, lose, lose and lose.

Bare Bones Biology 082 – Compassion
KEOS Radio, 89.1 FM
Audio will be posted later at
WWW.BareBonesBiology.com

Bare Bones Biology 071 – God, Energy, Me

OK, Let’s say there is a God and the Kingdom of God is THIS BIG! As big as this whole piece of paper. Or the room, or whatever. You can make it smaller if you want, but my God is a very big God who generated the whole universe that we know about – and much more that we don’t know about. He’s a busy God, so he set up rules for the universe, so it can run more or less by itself. I mean he does not sit there waiting for a stone to loosen from the wall of the mountain so he can push it on down to the valley. He’s probably busy over on the other side of the universe. So he invented gravity for that sort of thing. And the same with energy. All kinds of energy, the kinds we do understand and those we don’t.

So everything that God understands is this whole piece of paper. Everything that science (I mean real inquiry, not technology) everything that science understands is inside the green line I’ve drawn here. These spaces of course are not proportional, or it would be enormously smaller. Everything that science understands would include some things about some of the kinds of energy. So let’s make a pink line to represent all the kinds of energy that there are, and it overlaps science a little, where science does understand some things about energy. Now let’s add up every person on earth and everything that everyone together understands about everything, and make an orange line. The orange line will overlap all of science and a little bit of the energy space.

And then there is me. I would be a black dot too small to see, but I’ll have to make myself a black line to represent that I know something about all of those things. How wonderful it is that humans have been given the ability to share information. We can know more than any other species on earth. So I overlap the human knowledge space, I know many things about science, I have experiences with energy and with the unknown, so my line overlaps all the other spaces, just a tiny bit.

If I would put a line for my horse, you would see that I know much more than she does. She understands things inside her fence, where to find food and water and what to look out for. And she understands her responsibilities. I once saw her teaching her new foal to stay away from the fence. Things like that. I know more than she does. I know where my food energy actually comes from through photosynthesis, and I know some things about formalized human cultures, and so on.

Now we are halfway through this spot and I haven’t told you anything you didn’t already know. But the reason for all of this is to compare myself, in a way, with the horse. I’m wondering, what is my personal responsibility within the giant system that covers this whole page? The system runs by itself; obviously it’s not my job to run it. There is not much I could do to make it function properly; no more than the horses do. What other responsibility could I have? It must be that my personal responsibility is to not mess it up. I should not interfere with its ability to do what God made it to do.

Is that possible you say? From my little smaller-than-dot in the middle of the page? Could I actually mess up the system? With this enormously powerful God out there, and all those spiritual powers that can come and put it back to rights any time they want to?

The answer is, yes it is possible, at least for us all together, to damage the ecosystem so badly that we can no longer find a home here.

And so now the question is – why would any other entity – any God or entity — want to save us when we won’t even use what we already know to save ourselves? And why would we want to wait and see if they do save us, when it would be so much more pleasant to get together with other people and figure out how we can save ourselves.

Bare Bones Biology 071 – God, Energy, Me
KEOS radio 89.1 FM, Bryan, Texas
Transcript at FactFictionFancy.wordpress.com
Audio later this week at http://www.BareBonesBiology.com

Bare Bones Biology 057-Levels and Population II

Last week I told you about my little informal research project that involved talking to protestors and supporters of our local Planned Parenthood organization. What I learned from that was that the basic goals of both groups are — both right. At levels of organization one (that’s individual people), and two (our human communities), respectively. Today I’ll talk about level four (which is the ecosystem), and level three (the corposystem).

First I will remind us that the ecosystem is a living entity of which we all are a part. We cannot survive without the ecosystem. The ecosystem provides the food energy that we eat to stay alive. There is no other source for our food.

Second, I affirm that humans need compassion for their welfare but the ecosystem does not require compassion. It requires balance. When it becomes unbalanced, the ecosystem responds by trying to reset its balance points, so the carbon cycle and the water cycle and all the cycles that make food all try to stabilize in a new balance. We are adapted to the old balance. Any new balance will end up producing less food for one reason or another; when there is not enough food there is always more violence, war and genocide, and we are also growing epidemics of new diseases that cannot be controlled by the corposystem.

The question is, then, which life is more important – my life or the life of the ecosystem? It’s time for us to begin discussing that question, because the productivity of the earth is already maxed out. So – what is stopping us from getting together and resolving this problem? Primarily the corposystem is stopping us from getting together and stopping the growth, because the corposystem – to continue without changing itself – requires growth. The corposystem (in a “free” country) controls our thinking and our behaviors mostly in two ways. First is by taking control of the media and our school systems – dumbing down the people so they don’t have the knowledge to recognize the lies. Second, it spreads the lies and uses them to organize groups of us to fight with each other over relatively unimportant problems that the corposystem doesn’t care about. (That’s the old divide and conquer, we’ve all heard about that – here’s the modern version.)

This example first came to my attention when one of the protestors in my study referred me to a movie about population growth. The movie was pretty disgusting, with lies and false hate talk and fake statistics. It was made for conservatives and tried to convince us that dreadful things will happen if we don’t grow more. Actually, dreadful things are already happening that are CAUSED BY growth over the past couple hundred years. The movie claims these are caused by lack of growth. Now we can not change what happened before, and the you-know-what is hitting the fan. So it is all the more critical that we have good information. So I turned to another movie which was made for PBS and presumably for political progressives, and that’s when the light dawned. The only difference between the movie made for conservatives, and the movie made for progressives, is the style of presentation. Conservatives got a movie based in hate and fear; and progressives got a movie designed to appeal to those who believe technology will save us. As an aside, technology could help to save us if we were to use it to reduce growth, but of course that was not the message, and also that’s not what we’re doing.

So if you look at both movies, one right after the other, you end up pretty discouraged. The PRIMARY goal of both these movies is to get their respective audiences to continue fighting with each other so that nobody is talking or doing anything about the overwhelming need to stop both population growth and economic growth within this living earth ecosystem.

Folks, we humans all want and need the same basic things. We need food energy to stay alive and we need the compassion of supportive communities. We won’t get these things unless we are willing to define them as our goals and work together to get them. Instead of fighting with each other over something else. And the later we get started the worse it will be for everyone.

Bare Bones Biology 057 – Levels and Population II
KEOS Radio 89.1, Bryan TX
Audio available at http://www.barebonesbiology.com

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

Education

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.

Survival

What we are “fighting for” is a slow decline — not a complete and tragic shattering and loss of the “progress” we have made. The decline is inevitable, because we have, in the past ten years or so, overgrown the resources that can be provided by the ecosystem. But either kind of decline is still possible. This time period, as Karen Armstrong has said, is similar to the age in which the human cultures took a sharp turn toward monotheism (which may have been based in the roots of Buddhism, and certainly was based in India). We have the same kind of opportunity that they had to grow a culture that will lead to sustainable survival. To do this, we must stop dividing into clans that fight with each other and learn to organize compassionately at a high level of organization (for example the whole world order) — or break up into smaller groups so we can organize compassionately around them, as Helena Norberg-Hodge envisions. The problem with monotheism is that that we have created a corposystem that has taken over the job of God and does not respond to human values. The biggest and most powerful idol of all time. If we want to have a God that we can touch and feel, it must be the ecosystem, not the corposystem. Otherwise, we must listen as our God requires compassion as our life style. Or else we will crash and splinter of our own accord as the corposystem is not likely to quietly subside, and the corposystem basically feeds on war, greed and human values.

That’s why we must “fight” for a slow decline by not fighting. Nobody ever wins a fight except the corposystem and the Gods of War. The good news is that we do have the technological knowledge to accomplish a slow decline to the point of sustainable balance. The only thing that stands in our way is greed, war and the corposystem. We must not use any of these as a way to accomplish the goal of peace, compassion and the positive use of technology. To avoid this, we need to understand what is happening and how the corposystem is using what is happening to keep itself alive. It has switched from using the resources of he good earth to help humans to now using human resources to help itself to grow.

But That’s What Science IS!

So he said: “If you leave out all the metaphor — it’s so left brain!”
And I said: “But that’s what science IS.”

This is slide number two from the presentation recently made to the Board of the Houston Peace and Justice Center.

Slide Number One was: The Ecosystem is a Living Thing

Slide Number Two:

I told them: “As a basic scientist, I have a pet peeve. Science and technology overlap, but they should not be lumped. Otherwise, we may come to hate science because of the bad news about technology. And we need scientific knowledge to grow good technologies that might get us out of this mess if we ever decide to use them for the purpose.”

But to be more specific, I should change the above slide to read “modern BASIC SCIENCE.” The goal of good modern basic science is to learn how the ecosystem functions, and to do that we need an unbiased method of communication. Technology is for humans, often with no regard to the ecosystem and what it needs to survive. That’s why I make the distinction between the two. At this point in human history, if we want to succeed as a species and in our communities, we need to understand the ecosystem as she is — not as we wish she were according to our human value systems.

Our chances of understanding the ecosystem are slim if we believe the ecosystem functions according to human metaphors. Therefore, If we really want to leave a flourishing culture to our grandchildren, it’s better to know the real facts about what the ecosystem requires for its good health.

Ask New Orleans

Why would we prefer to ARGUE without facts, rather than check to see if real facts are available.

When the issue is hurricanes — or global warming — or overpopulation — whatever we believe will only change one thing, and that is how we behave. Either we face the facts — or we don’t.

Opinions about facts do not change the facts. Gravity exists, hurricanes exist, global warming exists, overpopulation exists. We can not make-believe these kinds of things away, and the whole point of science (not technology, but science) is to KNOW what are the facts so we can find a way to survive. The function of politics should be to respond to known reality in a way that will bring the greater good to the greater number of people. That’s the only power that politics or technology actually have.

Politics and technology have no power to change facts; only how we respond to them.

Ask New Orleans.

Let’s Avoid Learning from our Mistakes

A mistake on Twitter (see last post) is an unpleasant lesson for one person — or a possibly amusing lesson for however many people read the story.  We all learn by making mistakes; it’s the normal human way of doing things, but of course some mistakes are worse than others.  Climate change, for example, is not something we want to learn by doing.  Much better it would be to know how the climate works — and use that information to help us make the smallest possible mistakes that will cause harm to the least number of people.  Science can help with that sort of question when it involves factual data.

Science is the study of facts, using the scientific method.  We do know a great deal about how things work.  But it seems to take at least ten years of science “knowing” before the problem becomes so obvious that ordinary people (by that I mean politicians) are willing to believe it.  I’m thinking of AIDS, and I’m thinking of Climate Change. Human kind can not control the facts of physics or biology, but human science can learn to understand these facts. After the ten years of doubt, more or less, at some point AIDS or Climate Change become accepted, and then everyone jumps on the bandwagon, and then we get technology, which is not science

We like technology better than science, because we CAN control technology, but considering the numbers of mistakes humans make we should perhaps be more careful about what we decide to do with our technology. Technology uses the information from science to make things.  In our generations, primarily technology is a physical machine that is used by the corporate machine to make money.

And that’s why it’s sometimes difficult to understand the real facts about how things work.  The corporate and political machines know that our knowledge is our power, and so they like to keep the real facts to themselves. The hype from the corporate and political con-machines changes with the times, but the facts do not.

But here I’m getting on my soap box again, the bottom line is:  The facts of biology are not too difficult to understand — not easy, but not too difficult — and once we do understand, we can evaluate all the false claims for ourselves.  When it comes to problems like climate change, it’s very much better to learn how biology really functions —  from a text book written by real scientists than it is to find out — OOOPS, we shouldn’t have done THAT.090316_dsc9642ss