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.

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


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 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 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

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
Audio later this week at

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
Audio at
Levels of Organization – BBB051-Levels of Organization
Emergent Properties – BBB052-Emergent Properties

And the Earth Shudders

This old earth, the ecosystem, the whole universe, is all about balance. (That’s not just my opinion, read up on physics, biology, or just think about it.) If it were not in balance, it would not exist. Out of balance is not sustainable.

Earth ShuddersLFlats

If I knew how, I would make this picture into an animation that shows the earth yanked back and forth by us — by what we want. We don’t want balance. We want to win; we want someone else to lose. We want either-or. Right-wrong. Fear-hate. Nothing in-between. We want to fight it out and win.

We try so hard. But the harder we try, the more we throw the whole system out of balance. Because in-between is where that sustainable balance point can be found. Between winning and losing, between right and wrong, between good and bad. It’s where the love lives. We will never find the sustainable good life until we start to live in balance. So easy. So sad.