Some thoughts on Parenting

Here’s a couple thoughts on parenting (from an old guy who made many mistakes, so keep or toss this advice as you see fit.)

The best advice I know for a parent is to shape the social environment as best you can to make sure the child (children) has a way to control their behavior. In other words, putting them in time out for 5 or 10 minutes because they lost their temper and are misbehaving is not as effective as putting them in time out and telling them to come back out as soon as they calm down and are willing to act appropriately. The idea is to make sure they know what the expectation is and that they have some measure of control over what happens to them by how well or poorly they meet the expectation. When kids just get punished for wrongdoing it tends to make them think they are “bad”, rather than develop a sense that the thing they did was disruptive or destructive. The first is about developing a negative identity, the second is about expressing constructive behaviors and restoring one’s place in a social context. Punishment delivered from authority also creates a learned helplessness and a dependency on authority figures which can be dangerous and is often exploited. The idea behind teaching children to steer rather than steering things for them is about crafting behavior so their identity develops in a healthy way to understand that they have a rudder and some influence on what happens based on how they behave.

It can be difficult with real small kids to convey the message that they participate in what happens to them, but as soon as they can learn to steer for themselves, a parent’s job is to do their best to guide them to steer themselves well in the social and environmental waters they will have to face. The point is, emotional and behavioral discipline is the engine that makes the difference between somebody who life happens to, and somebody who makes life happen.

I think it is also important to remember that the job of a parent is not to protect children from all harm, it is to help them to cope effectively in a world that will have some percentage of jerks and disappointments. They need to be exposed to some of these things to practice how to deal effectively. This means learning how to deal with unfairness, death, and things beyond their personal control as well as how to accomplish constructive things by effectively assessing what they can do and leveraging what they can do to craft intentional outcomes. If you create a safe space they may not have the coping skills when they face the real world and they will be shocked that laundry doesn’t do itself, things cost money, and choices have consequences.

Where does Intelligence Reside?

The one on the left is a wasp, the one on the right is a moth. The question is; Where, how and on what level does the intelligence by which this mimicry takes place reside?


If we define intelligence as the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills, examples of mimicry like the example detailed in this story (linked below) have always left me wondering how a biological organism would be able to perceive and respond, at whatever level it takes, to recognize and assemble this cloak of deception without some capacity to sense “other minds” as well as a capacity to carry out a morphological change in response to that recognition of what’s going on in the mind of the other species…

For this moth to drape itself in the cloak of a wasp is a remarkable event, which we seem to be able to adequately describe, but our descriptions are certainly not explanations. In terms of explaining the event, what we typically call out, (adaptation, which is a description, not really an explanation) seems inadequate on its own without some kind of recognition of a sophisticated capacity for conceptualization and response embedded in the biological framework going on at some level that produces this sophisticated expression of adaptation. Just thinking out loud here.

The Power Law and The Nature of Systems

Zipf’s law, also known as the power law identifies the uncanny consistency of the frequency of behaviors in natural systems, including complex organized adaptive systems like biology. For instance; the frequency of the most used word in any language no matter where it originates will occur approximately twice as often as the second most frequent word, three times as often as the third most frequent word, and so on.

Ziph’s law goes by other names, such as the power law, but the orderly distribution of relative frequency is remarkably consistent across many systems, these include physical, biological, and social systems. City populations follow this distribution. So do the sizes of craters on the moon, the strength of solar flares, the frequency of behavior patterns such as sex or foraging in various animal species as well as the sizes of activity patterns of neuronal populations, volcanic eruptions, and so on. It is also true of social systems.

This information on Ziph’s law has a lot of implications if it is fully unpacked. If we extract the value from what it means we might consider the fruitless waste of time it is doing things like angrily baying at the moon over the 1%, or whatever name is given to primary social influencers. Changing Ziph’s law seems fairly unlikely to succeed no matter how loudly we squeal. It is perhaps a more effective strategy to focus instead on the fact that we are all responsible for the tone of the relationship climate we all live in and contribute to.

Based on the fact that natural systems arrange around this law, including social systems, a more effective thing would be to build a social economy based on how much we can give to each other, rather than how much we can get from each other. In this way those who, in the future, will assume the inevitable mantle of having the most influence might also be inclined to behave with these same values. Even if this took a couple generations to take root and bear fruit, it would be worthwhile. A quote attributed Gandhi, perhaps falsely, but good advice no matter where it came from comes to mind; “Be The Change You Want To See In The World”



What Is Going On In The Brains Of People Who Can’t Enjoy Music



Our brains can be thought of as a collection of “cognitive organs” that must work in concert to be able to function fully. The same way a malfunction or weak connection, or an excessively strong connection for that matter between the organs in our body can cause many issues, some advantageous and some limiting, the strength of the connections between brain regions can also have an impact on how we see things and what our reactions to those things are.

When we consider how these differences can affect our individual and collective experiences we can begin to understand how these causes and effects play out. With this knowledge we can make better choices. In the case outlined in the article below, a reduced functional connectivity between the cortical regions responsible for processing sound and the subcortical regions related to reward can cause a condition called musical anhedonia. Musical anhedonia is the inability to be moved emotionally by music. Understanding this condition closer may reveal some interesting things about our nature and our evolutionary development.

Here are a couple articles to dig into the topic a little deeper:

Lack of joy from music linked to brain disconnection

What Is Musical Anhedonia? The Brains Of People Who Can’t Enjoy Music May Provide Clues About Evolution

Striking a Balance between Tradition and Rebellion


Here’s a couple thoughts on the value of the balance between traditions and the rebellious agents that emerge each generation to challenge them and test both their strengths and limitations. This perspective may be subject to revision. Some assembly required. Void where prohibited by law.

Traditions are the bonds that hold a society together. They lay the foundation for trust by enabling an expectation for behaviors that, if accommodated, can help the individual to navigate – to forge a niche. They calm the social waters so to speak, make it a familiar place, rather than frightening one that saps all our energy trying to figure friend from foe, but this strength of tradition only works if they are held in the proper strength. Traditions held too rigidly and overbearingly cause the social structure to become unable to adapt to changes, so it shatters under the weight of that need to change when it inevitably comes, too loose and the social structure devolves into chaos along and the fruits of cooperation and integrity die off.

In just the right measure, the balance between tradition and rebellion helps a society to prepare for and adapt to the variables it needs to face in a developing social and physical environment. The conflict between tradition and the rebel is also a ritual reminder and ceremony of sorts that reinforces the bonds we need to forge a society at all. (The biological drivers for this are, in effect, a religion embedded in our nature that many of us only know by their abstract, literally untrue, yet figuratively valid capture in the various rituals and religions that have emerged over the years) From my perspective, traditions and rebellion are like water – too much, we drown in them lifelessly floating as an object, merely existing more so than living, too few, and we die an agonizing death from the thirst we need to satisfy in order to remain integrated.

When Objects and Actions are Laced with Meaning


There are many ways to look at language. Depending on the lens we use to look at it, different aspects of how language relates to our experience of life are revealed. If we use a lens that looks at language as a two pronged process, the first based on identifying objects and actions, and the second, optionally breathing meaning into these objects and actions, this lens enables us to clearly see the roots of human identity and culture. From this perspective, we can form a map that is able to move us more effectively in intentional directions.

The first aspect of language is in identifying objects and actions. This is the basis of understanding the physical world, the second aspect is the basis of identity and culture and also becomes the means by which we express the nature of our emotional being. A rock is a rock, unless it’s a special rock, imbued with meaning. A rock embellished with a story, and a history, with cultural significance can become an object for which people act to fight and die for.

Throwing is an action involving an object in motion, until and unless it is imbued with meaning. Throwing a coin into a fountain for instance means nothing more than the description of the process, unless that action also symbolizes the hopes for the thrower to realize a wish. If the act is connected to meaning it is then transformed from a mere act, to something significant. It is this significance, that the individual and cultural world is built on. This blend of objects and, or actions and meaning is the fire on which our individual and group identities, indeed our perception of consciousness is formed.

We could study the structure of the alphabet for an eternity and never have the key to know it’s significance unless we shares meaning. Meaning, until and unless it is shared is sterile. It can only live within an individual, but if it is packaged up and transmitted one to another, its significance can spread. It is this replication of, and defense of a particular set of shared meanings which defines groups or cultures. Our experience of life is determined by object and action to be sure, but it is also defined by meaning. Our cultural bonds grow in a soil of object and action, but the energy that drives the experience is built on meaning.

So powerful is this aspect of meaning in our lives, that we humans can suffer from ideological blindness where we become so lost in the meaning that we lose sight of their connection to objects and actions. At the extreme, it is possible to become infected by a totalitarian regime of meaning, that locks us in a frustrated prison of expectation and frenzy, where we fruitlessly attempt to get reality to conform using our ideals, not realizing that it is the loss of our moorings in reality that is the problem, and not reality’s failure to conform.

Reality sets the boundaries to the possible, it is up to us to appropriately blend significance into the mix of objects and actions to accomplish anything real. It is this awareness of the basis of expression that enables us to express a meaningful life.

Humans are Part of a Much Larger Biological Parliament of Relationships

We humans are part of a much larger biological parliament of relationships. It is this wide context of relationships that transcends “human” and includes the other life forms we live in the context of is what defines how we experience our life. It is the whole community, not any isolated part that defines what we call “us”. Injuries that impact this larger biological parliamentary body of relationships we are composed of can powerfully shape us over time. Minor injuries for instance can heal without any long term effects, but deeper kinds of injuries can echo for long periods. We commonly know that serious wounds to our physical body, or severe trauma experiences can reshape our brain structure and define how we respond to the world from that point forward,. What is not as commonly known is that injuries to the collection of microbes that live in and on us (called the microbiome) can also affect the way we see and respond to the world for a long time. In this case, research done in mice indicates that a mother under stress can result in injuries to the microbiome we depend on for many aspects of development. This can cause cognitive defects and anxiety in the child, and the effects of these injuries can persist all the way through adulthood.

Life is an interconnected tapestry of relationships that requires certain conditions to be cultivated in order to be able to realize it’s full potential. Recognizing these the widely dispersed cause and effect cues in this complex relationship field is the key to being able to shape them intentionally.

Click here to read further “Stress During Pregnancy Negatively Impacts Fetus, Microbiome may Explain Why

The Two Primary Drivers of Biological and Social Order

Any coherent unit of order, no matter if it is biological or social from an organism, to a group, to organizations and communities, or nation states are established by two primary behavioral drivers. The first driver is a collection of coordinated activities that establish the integrity of the unit. A group needs a cementing bond to identify “self” from “other”. Self behaviors are aligned around the community. In biological terms, an individual organism is built on a framework of shared genetics and common epigenetics that form a cohesive bond. In the case of complex creatures like ourselves, this coordinated effort extends to specialized organs that coordinate activities to maintain integrity, and the ability to collectively obtain and metabolize nutrients that also maintain the integrity.

In social terms, integrity also has bonds, these bonds may be formed with a set of ideas. It could be the love of a sport, or the behaviors that support the commonwealth of the community. In all cases, the global principle is that there is some form of cohesive glue that establishes and maintains the integrity of the group, thus establishing a metabolism social order.

Behavioral expressions are the way a social group demonstrates and reassures itself that it is maintaining integrity as a cohesive unit. These behaviors are how a group nourishes itself. This can come in the form of ritual behaviors such social nit picking in chimpanzees, or in the case of humans, it could come in the form of uniform clothing, symbols, the wearing of hats, common language, saluting a flags, the saying of pledges, or taking of oaths either formal or informal. These things, and how they are valued determine the strength of the bonds that maintain the metabolism of the group.

The second primary driver of group cohesion is the development of a kind of “behavioral immune system” that has the capacity to reject any behaviors or contend with situations that are perceived to be potentially harmful or destructive to the integrity of the group. This social immune system that provides a defensive group cohesion engine is not unique to humans by any means. In fact, we are but one expression of this global biological driver that is threaded throughout the entire web of biological life from top to bottom. We see its expression biochemically and socially.

Here is one small example of this principle at work in the case of ravens, those that cheat are excluded from the protective network of cooperative birds. Ravens are able to cooperate when, for example, mobbing predators, but they exclude cheaters because they free ride on the assumed risks the others take. Here is more detail on this group cohesion behavior in ravens.

Phylosymbiosis: Cooperative Relationships as a Matter of Survival


It has become increasingly apparent that larger organisms like ourselves cannot live alone. A certain community of bacterial associates must live in, and on a host organism. This relationship is sometimes essential for the host’s well being as well as that of the the microorganisms. Different animals have a specific array of microorganisms that function in roles that offer adaptive advantage in the context of the environment. These roles include digestion, protection from destructive pathogens and so on. They have also been shown to play roles in reproduction and sociality among other things.

This relationship between host and microbial organisms should perhaps come as no surprise because complex organisms such as ourselves arose from cooperative ties between microorganisms and viral components. We are, from a certain perspective, a microbial community ourselves as we are composed of a community of like cells, differentiated slightly into various organ roles that operate as a community. This same principle applies to the more fluid, extended microbial community in the environment.

How this community of relationships forms and develops between a host and the microbiome has been the focus of recent studies on the cutting edge of evolutionary biology. It appears that the relationship between host an microbiome can and does shape the evolutionary path of this collective “community”. Each organism plays a role as a voice in a choir, and the persistent demands of the environment is the choirmaster. The fact that there are severe fitness disadvantages in hosts that don’t have an appropriate blend of microorganism companions is an indication of how crucial this cooperative communal role is to develop. Together, the host and all the corresponding microorganisms that live in together are called a metaorganism.

The host organism actively cultivates a climate to identify microbial friends from enemies. One of the things that emerged in terms of understanding how these communal relationships are forged is that the host’s is able to recognize phylogenic similarities between itself and the various microbial genomes. It does so using its immune system as the sensor to differentiate friend from foe. In other words; the host’s genotype is in part responsible for the composition of microbiota which the metaorganism consists of. The more distantly related species, the less preferred it is. Of particular note is the fact that self similarity in the collective genomes between host and microbe are tied to their inclination to service each other’s needs. Phylogenetic similarity is what appears to incline them to confer advantage toward each other. In other words, the more similar, the more likely their behaviors will center on cooperation.

The host’s immune system is the vehicle that cultivates specific relationships from the environmental microbiome. It is this recapitulation of host phylogeny by microbiota that is called phylosymbiotic relationship. Over time, this relationship field in the metaorganism inclines toward a host-bacterial homeostasis that collectively offers adaptive advantages and in some cases, obligate (necessary) relationships, without which the communal social system would break down.

For more on this, see Seth Bordenstein’s talk on the topic.

On Bacterial Intelligence And Sociality

Although Eshel-Ben Jacob Died in June of 2015, during his life he was a leader in the theory of self-organization and pattern formation in open systems. He extended this work to include adaptive complex systems and biocomplexity. He studed bacterial self-organization, through a lens that holds bacteria the key or seminal force that can lead to our understanding how larger biological systems work, incluging ourselves.

Microbes are often thought of as reactive participants in the scheme of life. Mindlessly chewing away on food they happen to stumble on without much in the way of insight about the future, how they fit in to the larger biological community, or any other kind of depth perception necessary to navigate with competency toward a more certain future in a sometimes antagonistic and ever changing world, but this is simply not so according discoveries made by Eshel-Ben Jacob. He discovered, among other things that they exhibit population control, have an understanding of the need for biological diversity in order to deal effectively with changing environments, in addition to a powerful range of adaptive tools to negotiate the environment. As it turns out, bacteria may not be simple in any respect, they may merely express their intelligence and social life in different ways, on different scales than we do. This thought provoking lecture, given at google, is well worth a listen.