Swimming in the Same Pond

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At a fundamental level all the wealth and community we have been able to accumulate and sustain over the years has been built on the degree to which we have been able to forge cooperative relationships. A mutual stake in nourishing each other’s success and well being is the foundation of all real wealth.

Ectosymbiotic Theory

This article is intended mostly for people with an evolution, biology or otherwise similar background. It is a proposed tool to understand the relationships that define life with a little more clarity. The intention is to lay the foundation to be better prepared to make good choices about how to cultivate life in intentional directions. It is not a light read. Feedback is both welcomed and sought after; how to articulate the idea better, where to take it so it can be of most value, or identify the reasons it should be trashed as bunk, altered, etc. Although I tried somewhat to make it understandable to people familiar basic biology, to those who dive in and get caught in the quagmire of a  partially formed idea that is not articulated as well as it could be, I apologize in advance.

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We are not alone. Without the plants, animals and chemicals like H2O and O2 we could not survive. Many of the microbes that live in and on us are also essential to the coherent system of relationships that establishes and maintains our biological integrity. Without these relationships we would disintegrate. The same way our organs deliver nourishing value to each other, communicating through their semi porous membranes in a community fashion, we live in the context of a greater body of life.

Endosymbiosis is a proposed theory that establishes the boundaries of an organism by relationship, not by DNA. To understand this concept we can start with the fact that many of the organelles (tiny organs) inside eukaryotic cells (the kind we’re made of) were once separate prokaryotic creatures that came together to work as a single unit. This comming together of seperate life forms as one inside a single membrane is called endosymbiosis. We humans are multicellular eukaryotic organisms. The same community of relationships that make up our cells is echoed in the way our organs relate to each other. The theory proposed here, ectosymbiosis,  suggests that organisms are also built on the same principle of community, working together as a single body even though they are separated by DNA, membranes and the like. The key binder is a mutual role in each other’s survival.

An ectosymbiotic entity is defined here as any coherent web of biological relationships that, as a whole, forms an interdependent dynamic self-sustaining body. In biological terms ectosymbiotic organisms are dominated by mutualistic and commensal relationship dynamics that are both necessary and sufficient to nourish and perpetuate the ectosymbiotic organism. In contrast to the typical method of biological cartography where organisms are defined along genetic or as contained within a singular membrane such as a skin, ectosymbiotic organisms are defined by the collection of functions that mutually serve the entire community and are a necessary element of that body of relationships to nourish and sustain the collective body over time.[1] In biological cartography terms, with ectosymbiosis as the axiom to establish geographic boundaries of an organism we would group all the relationship systems like biosynthesis, metabolic pathways, as well as carbon oxygen and nitrogen fixing as part of the same ectosymbiotic organism without respect to geno-specific lines or those between organic and inorganic.[2] An ectosymbiotic membrane may encompass only a subset of the relationship functions in a specific species and the rest of the functions associated with that same species might be part of a completely different ectosymbiotic organism. It can also mean that a species or set of functional outcomes in one location is part of an ectosymbiotic organism where in another location it is not. Another way to look at ectosymbiosis is to identify the essential biodiversity to the point where it functions as a singular self sustaining body.

The following chart categorizes the relationships present in biological systems by their effect within the system and assigns a number based on whether the relationship produces strength or weakness in the overall integrity of the system. This model is designed to serve as a crude lens to better understand the general workings of biological systems, not as a precise metric to understand systemic thresholds of integrity and the like. These systemic effects are meant as a means to characterize the nature of relationships within systems such as mechanical and biology:

RelationshipTypes

The positive and negative values associated with each effect in the chart are intended as a method to give an approximate measure the relative strength of a system. The idea being if the relationship dynamics within the system and the environment were plotted based on the type of relationships and the context of a system and its environment it would demonstrate strengths and weaknesses. The primary purpose of this matrix is serve as a lens through which systems can be assessed from a macro perspective. The weakness of this crude type of lens is that would not identify micro vulnerabilities that could exist that might be exploited using relatively minor negativistic effects at a specific critical points in the system.

The same way microscopic lenses inherently reveal micro scale structures while obscuring macro scale ones, and telescopic lenses do the opposite, this abstract relational lens is meant as a telescopic view of systems. The value would be attained by measuring the strength of the ectosymbiotic organism in the context of the other relational factors, including other ectosymbiotic organisms in relationship with each other.

Ectosymbiotic organisms include all relationships necessary to sustain a body of life, whether organic or not, therefore an ectosymbiotic body is not bounded by genetic lines, but is instead defined by functional lines. The outside membrane of an ectosymbiotic organism can be drawn where antagonistic, amensalistic and competitive relationship dynamics that threaten the function of the internal workings exist.[3] Any relational element, no matter whether organic, inorganic, energetic, spatial, temporal or otherwise that does not strengthen the relational field of an ectosymbiotic organism body is considered “other”. Any neutral relationships in contact with the ectosymbiotic organism either internally or externally are just that; neutral.

What is the value of categorizing relationships through an ectosymbiotic lens?

Here are a couple key elements that would be made visible using an ectosymbiotic lens: The same way understanding the physics of erosion led to contour farming and subsequently no till farming in agriculture, we would be better positioned to understand and cultivate strength in biological relational systems that provide strength to the nourishing foundations on which we both stand and depend. We would be better positioned to understand how tampering with segments in the chain can have a cascade effect on the entire system as well as what that cascade effect might be. This could lead to better planning and execution of strategies that cultivate growth. It would help differentiate what is a “botanical weed”[4] in the context of a given ectosymbiotic system vs. what is perhaps an unpleasant but necessary element in the ectosymbiotic body.

We would be able to identify the global properties that emerge at different layers of organization; i.e. cell, organ, body and ecosystem and understand the value of cultivating mutually beneficial relationships as the key to strengthening the overall integrity of the body of life. Traditionally ecosystems have been defined by what is there, not by what would happen if the ecosystem was specifically cultivated as part of the same interconnected system.

Predictions if the hypothetical model is true:

We would expect to see the same differentiated morphological profiles in ectosymbiotic body that we see in other biological entities with differing germ layer profiles. This means we would expect to see some ectosymbiotic bodies would be monoblastic in nature like sponges,[5] diploblastic in nature like jellyfish and triploblastic morphologies such as we see in placental mammals. Extremophiles would probably fit in the monoblastic ectosymbiotic profile because of their autotrophic nature at the edge of the biological membrane. We would see some forms of radial symmetry with a differentiated top to bottom in diploblastic ectosymbiotic organism groupings as well as top down differentiations. We would also expect to see bilateral symmetry, differentiated front to back and top and bottom in triploblastic ectosymbiotic organisms.[6]

Within the triploblastic ectosymbiotic organism we would expect to see the same systems we see in a singular speciated organism of a triploblastic morphology. This would include the following:

  • A nervous system – Enables communication to send, receive, and process nerve and sensory impulses.
    • This would include a central nervous system as in a brain and spinal cord
    • a peripheral nervous system that branches off of the brain and spinal cord model carrying signals to the muscle and gland portions of the ectosymbiotic organism
    • an autonomic nervous system to controls involuntary actions such as heartbeat and digestion, regulation of certain systems.
  • A circulatory system enabling systemic transport and deploy nutrition, and certain elements that need system wide transport such as immune components through structures that mimic the arteries, veins, and capillaries.
  • A respiratory system that brings breath into the system and releases waste back out. (There may be multiple systems)
  • A lymphatic system that filters out disease-causing organisms and helps to drain waste in and around tissues and plays a role in defense against infectious intruders.
  • An endocrine system producing hormones histamines and other chemical communicators to control or influence various body functions such as metabolism, growth, and reproduction.
  • A urinary system that enables the processing and excretion of waste fluids as well as a role in regulating the flow of hydration.
  • A muscular system that enables movement as a function of activities and adaptation including involuntary such as would control the stomach and intestine cardiac etc. and voluntary which could carry out acts of volition.
  • A digestive system to break down food and obtain energy. This would include any necessary non-organic as well as organic sources in the ectosymbiotic body.
  • An integumentary system or a membrane to protect the rest of the body from various kinds of damage, define the boundary of the body and to play roles in regulating internal systems, aid the immune system elimination of waste, play a role in regulating homeostasis etc.
  • An Immune system – The immune system protects against infection and disease.
  • A skeletal or support system to aid in internal and or external support such tubules, skeleton, exoskeleton or shell.

Since commensal and mutualistic symbiotic relationships are the synaptic connections in an ectosymbiotic body, we would expect pathogenic attacks on an ectosymbiotic body to be responded to by specific species or groups of species within that body that play the immune defense system roles. The idea being we would look for same types of relational dynamics we see in organs and systems in our bodies to be mirrored in an ectosymbiotic relational body. The same way organelles are part of cells, cells are part of organs and organs are part of a body, we would expect to see a species as an organ or tissue in an ectosymbiotic body performing a specific task in the context of a community.

The immune defense system in an ectosymbiotic organism might take the form of specific bacteria attacking a pathogenic organism that destructively feeds on its relational web, or perhaps the immune response would be carried out by developing a destructive mechanism such as a strand of viral RNA capsid and organelle mechanisms to work in concert to attack the offending pathogenic host as we see in the case of HIV. The idea being one ectosymbiotic body is immunologically responding to disrupt the commensal and mutualistic symbiotic relationships that characterize the attacking ectosymbiotic organism’s attempts at homeostasis. This might take the form of destroying a critical primary producer in the ectosymbiotic matrix, or a key element in the bio-relational chain that attempts to disrupt the dependencies on nourishing flows within the ectosymbiotic body of the pathogenic vector. The fact that humans destroy the host of certain bacteria that live in avian esophageal tracts may in fact be the reason we get the flu. A bacterium that has an ectosymbiotic relationship may be producing a viral strand of RNA as a defense mechanism of its ectosymbiotic body. Plants and bacteria may adapt methodologies from their normal biochemical behaviors such as transformation, transduction and bacterial conjugation as vectors for functions like breathing, vision and so on.

Organ elements such as vision and brain functions within an ectosymbiotic organism would not necessarily be apparent if we are too parochial in our view of organs and tissues. Conventional understanding of organs must be viewed through a relationship lens and not a morphological one in order for the organ and tissue functions of an ectosymbiotic organism to appear. Vision and cognitive functions might involve one species within the ectosymbiotic organism reading the histamine profile of another organism within its body as a signal that necessitates an adaptive or homeostatic behavioral expression. In essence this is the method for stimulus response mechanisms within the ectosymbiotic organism as well as cognition. We would expect to see a hierarchy of concentric awareness the same as we do in triploblastic organisms. In other words; the same way our body functions as an organ or a cell we would expect to see this concentric representation on the ectosymbiotic organism level.

We must not limit ourselves to expecting nonporous membranes in ectosymbiotic organisms. There would be a biodiversity of ectosymbiotic organisms the same as we see it on a species level.

Since this is a relational lens and not a genetic one, we would not necessarily want to limit our lens to genetic similarity either. Male and female splitting would be an expression of ectosymbiotic nature within a species. Differentiated tasks aligned around a singular purpose is the relational axiom. The male female aspect of many organisms is just such an expression. We would be able to trace male female aspect this back to the split that happened after autotrophic organisms almost drown in their own feces (O2) that forged that first ectosymbiotic split in the form of heterotrophs. This ectosymbiotic organism lens could further clarify everything from evolution to current bio-relational dynamics.

A Venn diagram model might be best to visualize these morphological connections in ectosymbiotic bodies. Were an ectosymbiotic organism or web to be drawn out it would look like a rhizomatic Venn diagram – a network of intertwined symbiotic relationships. It may also be that a singular self-correcting ectosymbiotic body exists and parasitic and predatory mechanisms within it are methodologies for self-correction.

Should the ectosymbiotic organism hypothesis prove true its usefulness would become apparent in terms of tracing the vectors of pathology between organisms to manipulate, leverage and or cut off vector pathways – the same way antiseptics or probiotics can cut off vector pathways or facilitate health of certain pathogens in human relational environments.

Hint: We might see primary producer organisms as part of the lung digestive function in ectosymbiotic organisms. A profound possibility might be that discover there is a fully functioning cognitive creature or creatures woven into the body of life that we have been missing because our focus is on reductive abstractions instead of a system biased rhizomatic lens. The same way we see a much more revealing image of the cosmos using radio telescopes and the like, using an ectosymbiotic organism lens may help us see our own nature with more depth and understanding.

[1] It should be noted that “nourish” is used here in the sense of developing to saturate an environment to the fullest extent and “sustain” is used in a broad sense to include behaviors such as renewal in the form of reproduction when this is a necessary means of sustaining the system.

[2] One example of this would be how lightning and atmospheric nitrogen participate in nitrogen fixing which is necessary for plant metabolism.

[3] This is not to imply that ectosymbiotic bodies do not have to deal with negative relational aspects, just that these negative relationship aspects are not part of the ectosymbiotic body. (There may be necessary exceptions to this)

[4] A botanical weed is defined here as any life form seated in the context of an ectosymbiotic body that exhibits antagonistic, amensalistic or competitive relational dynamic.

[5] porifera

[6] It would not be unusual to see these same characteristic groupings mirrored in social bodies, linguistics, behavior profiles, thinking capacities, personality profiles etc. For instance a person exposed to extreme stresses might have a monoblastic personality profile, unable to connect with mutual beneficial lines across a pluralistic social landscape.

Why We Believe and Do What We Do

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Over the millennia we humans have developed a number of adaptive techniques in our arsenal of perceptions and responses that have aided our survival. Along with things like opposable thumbs is the ability of our perception equipment to rapidly fill in the blanks with limited information. Because careful deliberation of all options at the rate our senses absorb and process things fully would often result in death, the assumption shortcut is a handy survival skill at times.

We are tuned to recognize patterns and rapidly fill in the blanks using our existing experience as putty. Our brains sacrifice accuracy for speed. Recognizing danger or finding food was sometimes built on the smallest of queues. In historical settings, filling in the blanks was highly necessary and often a matter of life or death. As a consequence we have keen sense of anticipation.

Pattern recognition comes in handy in a number of ways. Knowing that animals walk a certain path at a certain time of day in rhythms is extremely valuable over using our feeble nose and claws to scratch out a meal. We have shaped our capacity for pattern recognition over the years into such things as the making spears and hooks, tents and fire. We have the advantage of predictive foreknowledge that we now use to service a variety of our needs. It also offers a number of other perks as well like air conditioning and plastic choo choo trains.

Language itself may be an outcropping of pattern recognition. We associate a certain sounds with objects or events and over time; voila!! Blah blah… As with all the features of adaptive biology, pattern recognition does come with a cost. Two main points on this front: First; we see patterns where they are which is helpful, but we also see patterns where they are not which can be disastrous. Second; because patterns are what we use as a basic survival tool and they are the foundation of our identity, they also motivate us to obsessively defend and preserve them as our comfort zone whether or not they’re toxic, nourishing and/or neutral.

Pattern recognition has been a sort of superhero in human adaptation. We have good reason to consider it our friend, but our friend has some baggage. We associate familiar patterns with comfort. Our tribal affinity is built on pattern recognition. This survival skill extends into where and what to eat, who is a friend or foe, but it can also be a trap. As children we learn to negotiate our world with pattern recognition as the divider between danger and safety, self and other. As a result, we tend to weigh what we have been exposed to in these early days as a “safe zone”, a familiar area. As a consequence, if we’re exposed to a toxic maladaptive relationship climate coupled with shallow thought stopping ideas, we tend to hold on to that as our safe zone throughout life, even though it objectively poisons our potential. In other words; we can be sincere and wrong at the same time. We can be patterned to cycle destruction in our lives and we can be unaware that we are the warden of our own prison.

Our pattern recognition wetware leaves us very prone to confirmation bias. People who are brought up in certain cultures have a tendency to see their culture as the one true, correct, right, wonderful culture from whom all blessings flow, and all other cultures as strange, wrong, unworthy of serious consideration or abominable. Unless we learn to transcend our personal prejudices, they will shape what we see to fit inside their limiting lens and falsely confirm what we already think is true.

Certain assumptions about people the world and events are installed on the surface of our eyes and ears, etc. by our experience, particularly early childhood experience. Whatever happens to go by our senses in the future is shaped by those experiences. Before we render a picture of what we see in our minds, it is reformed to fit our preconceived patterns. We can end up seeing nothing more than a reflection of our early developmental environment, not the real world. Plato described our awareness as a cave[1] we must emerge from. A womb in which some of us float as a stillborn carcass never to emerge and see the light of day.

Our clinginess to the familiar without respect to whether or not it’s nourishing also affects what we pay more or less attention to. In the social sciences there is something called a breaching experiment that examine our reactions to violations of commonly accepted social rules or norms. We get upset when things do not go as we expect them to even if that violation is not harmful at all. Our love affair with the familiar can be fun to watch.

Another cost of pattern recognition is that we also pay more attention to strange things because our sensory equipment is tuned to identify and place new experience in the context of the familiar – the pattern. We get stuck on the unusual because we struggle more to frame it in our personal context. That’s the reason we generally see the likelihood of a plane crash as more frightening than the likelihood of a car crash even though planes are much safer statistically. Our perception is warped by our obsession with the familiar and our need to grapple with the unfamiliar.

In summary, pattern recognition provides us with comfort in the familiar, but it comes with downsides. It leads those of us who have a toxic or myopic familiar environment to be more comfortable reinforcing that toxic swill. Some of us have to collect so many negative social stamps per week in order to fill up their stamp book. Some of us cycle through broken relationships with substances or behaviors. Some of us think our values are what we decided when the truth is they are more often a reflection of what we were exposed to. This doesn’t mean we’re hopelessly locked in a prison of happenstance. It means coasting toward full self-awareness is not an option. We have to work at it because we are geared to project our prejudices on our social landscape and use that projection as a stand in for reality.

Our relationship with the familiar is of course necessary, but the point is, if we don’t get both the strengths and the limitations of any of our human faculties, we’re prone to suffer an inability to use clear vision as the means by which we navigate.

[1] Appeared in Plato’s “The Republic” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allegory_of_the_Cave

A Matter of Control

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The idea that we influence others by trying to install our point of view about what they should do has not worked very well for us as a human race so far. Occasionally we have been able to force compliance, but sustained behaviors come from commitment, not compliance. Perhaps we should consider the idea that this energy we spend attempting to edit the behaviors of our peers would be better spent editing our own.

The Language of Life Part 4 of 5

This is part 4 of 5 on a series called: “The Language of Life”.

These are thoughts on how reality and more specifically biology communicates and how this communication relates to everything from our personal lives to what we face on the global stage.

What Biology Says about Relevance

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For any species to continue it must maintain the capacity to adapt to the environment in a sustainable way as well as pass on the ability to sense and negotiate the environment to their offspring. Adaptability takes many forms, but one common thread that runs through the entire body of life is the need to live within ones environmental means – to establish and maintain equilibrium or endure the consequences of disequilibrium.

If a species exploits an environment beyond the environment’s capacity to replenish, it leads to the demise of that same species. While an immediate increase in population might come as a result of some quantum leap in the capacity of a species to exploit the environment to draw nourishment, if that new capacity exceeds the carrying capacity of the environment to renew itself, the stage is set for a population crash, even though that crash may be displaced in time.

Another illustration of the need for equilibrium communicated through biology is the need to provide and receive nourishment in order to continue. Each organ in a biological body scheme must continuously adapt to provide nourishing value to the community of organs as it also draws nourishment from that same community. Because environments change, the need to be flexible is also important. Vestigial organs are those that fade from relevance and eventually existence because they no longer provide anything of nourishing value in the context of the body’s community of organs.

Each species of life is an organ in the larger body of life. The same principle that applies to organs in the body, applies to a species in the context of the body of life. Humanity must recognize and behave as if our place at nature’s table is provisional on our role as cultivators of nourishing value in the context of the body of life. Being aware of this role is not sufficient, nothing short of performing this role will sustain our place in the body of life.

This fact of life is stated plainly through the structure of biology.

The Language of Life Part 3 of 5

Part 3 of 5 on a series called “The Language of Life”. This series explores reality, and more specifically biology, as an engine of communication. Based on the communication made through the cosmos, it explores what it says about who we are, how we can understand and apply this information to find fulfillment and where we might be going in the future.

What Biology Says about Investment

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Not all truth is painless… We have only so much energy to cultivate whatever we’re going to do in life.

We can focus on what can be done, but some of us focus on what we want to do. If what we what to do, no matter how noble or worthy, is not what can be done, we must abandon it or we will end up doing nothing. A fertile climate of soil, seeds and patience can yield an abundant harvest. An infertile climate will never yield, no matter how hard we work. To spend our life trying to cultivate a barren field trades the meaning and life we could have cultivated for whisps of meaningless dust.

The Language of Life Part 2 of 5

Part 2 of 5 on a series called “The Language of Life”. This series explores reality, and more specifically biology, as an engine of communication. Based on the communication made through the cosmos, it explores what it says about who we are, how we can understand and apply this information to find fulfillment and where we might be going in the future.

Our Invisible Friends

imaginary-friend We have to be very careful about the invisible friends we make. The invisible friends, made with words and ideas, stitched together with faith. These abstract concepts that live inside us and yet are, by nature, separate from objective reality because they are only real by virtue of our belief in them. Depending on their nature, they can guide us to cultivate a nourishing relationship climate and elevate us to the pinnacle of ecstasy, or drain us of all vitality and leave us gasping for life. We make them coherent and breathe life into them through our individual collective belief.

The ideas that become real when we respond to our belief in them would die without that breath of life we breathe into them. They ride the thermals of our faith and we put them in castles made of stories. We allow them to govern us as monarchs that must be trusted feared and worshiped to wield the power they do over our lives. Once believed, these abstractions form a lens that bends what we see into their image. A mixed lens of fact and fancy shapes the currents that steer our experience of life.

Abstractions are neither good nor evil, they simply are what they are; the verbal currency we use to give form and substance to our values, whatever those values may be. Hate is one of the fruits of abstraction. Belief in hate can lead us to exact the violent worst from ourselves and spread it like a virus, to beget more hate. The idea that humanity can be carved up with abstractions used as justification to artificially divide the “worthy” and the “unworthy” when the real truth is closer to poverty spawned by apathy dressed in self-righteous abstractions.

Much of what we call religion and politics is built on the currency of abstraction floating on faith. The battles to control the abstract narrative by manipulating the cultural winds of faith can ensnare us in the crossfire of heated poverty inducing battles that are founded on faith and made real by our actions. These invisible friends that ride the thermals of faith and give birth to behaviors can be the source of freedom or enslavement.

Some ideas can combine to become thought stopping prisons made with bricks of abstraction, others can be the source to freedom and greater depth perception. They can help us to know our nature and navigate more effectively through these murky waters of reality. We can use our invisible friends to form nourishing social bonds, bring vitality to community, protect us, and help us weather the storms and cope with terrible circumstances that might have otherwise been unbearable. They can enable us to embrace beauty, truth and many other heights and forms of intimacy and ecstasy.

Let’s choose our words wisely with an eye toward how they collectively serve to bring about constructive and nourishing behaviors that help us grow and realize our full potential. Our words,  combined with our faith in them, are the currency that powers what we do to and for each other. They powerfully shape the nature of the waters in which we all swim.