Category Archives: Practice

Biology is a Symphony of Variations Built on a Coherent Theme

 

Any coherent system in nature has some combination of self similarity with other systems as well as some unique points of differentiation. In other words; nature has themes, and variations on the theme. Biology is no exception to this rule. When we consider the mind boggling complexity with which the relationship economy we call biology is expressed on many scales, we can easily get lost in the complexity. In order to understand it with a maximally useful perspective we must be able to tell the difference between the self similar themes and the mind boggling variations on those themes.

With an understanding of the difference between theme and variation, we can then identify the key leverage points which influence various systems more intentionally and effectively. As we ferret out the principle axioms on which complex systems rely – the simple rules behind the complexity – the global properties threaded through the biological economy – we then have tools to more rapidly see the many variations on the theme, and with this clarified vision, we are also poised to more effectively influence the nature of the processes and by extension our experience of life.

The heartbeat of the integrity on which biological systems rely is a relationship economy built on a cultivated harmony of mutually nourishing relationships, along with a proportional attendance to defending that nourishing relationship field from antagonists. This two stroke relational engine is facilitated by various means of perception structures that are aimed at identifying nourishment from antagonist, as well as a repertoire of corresponding behaviors that relate appropriately with each type of perception.

Biological systems must acquire information and act appropriately on that information – information related to acquiring nourishment while avoiding and or destroying antagonists. Acquiring nourishment in service of the mutually nourishing relationship field that defines its continuing coherency, along with an immune system to protect that nourishing social economy is the theme. Acquiring and sharing information to this “nourish and protect” end, along with manufacturing structures that facilitate a proportional response, is how biological systems are “expressed”.

Biology can be viewed as a collection of structures that must perceive and share information across the network of mutually nourishing bodies, as well as structures that can act on these perceptions. We see this theme at the cellular level, between cells, at the organ level, between organs, and at the species level, and between species. The same way varied expressions of musical communication can be generated from a basic theme of 7 notes, the overarching theme of the biological economy is variously expressed by way of simple thematic foundations – variations on the theme.

This “perception and response” theme that facilitates the axiomatic core of “nourish and protect” behavior is itself the thematic nucleus of biology. If information needs to be shared, it is accomplished by way of structures purposed toward a specific “meaning” that fits into this thematic core. If a defense requirement is perceived by way of structure, it is also expressed behaviorally by way of structure. Structures in the context of biology convey meaning.

These meaningful structures from which biology is composed also have self similar themes. Many established structures are variations on the theme; “perceive and respond to nourish and protect” – established structures are frequently repurposed to accomplish many different things in service of the perceiving and communication engine in service of nourishing and protecting.

With all of this in mind, we can then see that the way communication is facilitated by way of certain structures in the brain may be an expression of an isomorphic theme – a representation of the way organisms communicate between each other in the form of viral “communications” in the brain may also be seen as the means of carrying out the functions of perceiving, nourishing and defending in the larger biological body of life. Bacteria share information by way of structures, and viruses are certainly worthy of being considered as a potential means by which perceiving, nourishing and defending goes on in an ecosystem. The reason this may be worth consideration is because “thoughts” in the form of viral like structures is the the physical form of the information economy within the brain. When we consider this pathway for information sharing, we might ponder how this same structural process might play out in the larger body of life, using viral like particles as the means of sharing information, nourishing and or protecting integrity.

Brain Cells Share Information With Virus-Like Capsules

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/01/brain-cells-can-share-information-using-a-gene-that-came-from-viruses/550403/

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The Backfire Effect: Plain Truth Sometimes Increases Ignorance

 

The backfire effect is a name for the human social phenomena that exists where when we are given evidence counter to our already established belief, even if that belief is a hope, desire or the like in disguise, we tend to not only reject the conflicting evidence, but believe even more strongly in our original proposition as a result of the encounter.

This makes the many self appointed “rational warriors” in our culture agents of increasing cultural ignorance when tactics of persuasion that include things like ridicule, and loudly speaking what is perceived to be “important science” to what is is perceived as “the unwashed masses” are employed. Rather than agents of increasing rationality, ridicule and brutal honesty are not effective, regardless of whether or not they may be true.

We see this cultural phenomena in the anti vaccine movement, and other beliefs that require a vigorous denial of plain evidence to maintain. My guess is the reasons for this are at least partially rooted in the fact that, generally speaking, we are social-emotional creatures with a small capacity for rational thought. We are not rational creatures who are also social and emotional. When sincere efforts to combat ignorance simply use fact, and do not also accommodate those emotional-social realities, they tend to backfire fortifying ignorance among those of us who perceive we’re under attack.

Our personal identities have their own ideological immune response system and like our biological one, we become more able to fend off “attacks” over time as we’re exposed to them. Additionally, we can develop what amounts to an ideological autoimmune disease in our perception faculties, where we retreat to a belief matrix that is increasingly divorced from pragmatic realities.

The methods by which we communicate, including the social-emotional subtext of those communications, become part of the means by which things are accepted or rejected. This is the reality of the social economy. Genuine persuasion appears to be built on trust, and that trust sometimes must be established over time, especially when in the context of a prior relational strain stemming from perceived disrespect, or a history of prior emotional strain related to the topic on the part of the person(s) being communicated with. The capacity to communicate in the context of ideological differences requires more than an economy of facts. It must also include a baseline of respect at the very least as a starter for any real communication to have a chance to take place.

*France’s fact-based approach to teaching the public about Lyme disease has backfired*

From the article: “Rather than quieting the concerns of Lyme advocates, France’s national plan is further entrenching two extremes.”

https://undark.org/article/france-chronic-lyme-disease/

 

More information on the backfire effect: https://medium.com/homeland-security/the-social-psychology-of-the-backfire-effect-locking-up-the-gears-of-your-mind-a79d4e6e8061

 

There are some who think the backfire effect is not real, or at least exxagerated. Here is an article about this.

http://mashable.com/2017/05/06/oatmeal-backfire-effect-comic/#Py0CmJZf3iqr

In-Groups and Out-Groups: A Biological Perspective

There is a certain fungus that is able to control certain ants to serve as a vehicle to further its own reproductive ends. The ant, in this case, dies in service of reproducing the fungus. There is also the case of the bacterial parasite T. Gondii which edits rodent brains to be attracted to felines so they get eaten, which helps the bacteria to enter its spawning grounds, which is in a feline gut. (it also edits other mammal brains in different ways) There are numerous cases of parasites and viruses that have the capacity to influence other organisms in service of their specific ends. It could be said that this is the norm in nature – competing influences that ultimately result in emergent behaviors that we typically identify as belonging to “an organism” but are in fact based on the collective property of many organisms.

When we consider that we are also a collection of various organisms that are influenced by each other, each with various agendas and various means of carrying that agenda out, we can begin to see that what we call our choices, and what we think of as our identity, may in fact be a byproduct of the parliamentary constellation of influences that rises from the pool of biological organisms that define us. We may be a reflection of the relationship field from which we are composed which extends beyond human genetics.

A recognition of this, at least from the parasitic sense, there is a now “theory” on the block called ; “The parasite-stress theory” which sees our personal and cultural identities through the lens of the parasitic creatures that influence us to service their various needs. In some real respects, it posits that our cultures in large part are an emergent property of the parasitic microbes that influence our behaviors.

The evidence for this idea is the strong correlation between the strength of parasites in the relationship field of the people in a given culture and their relative state of peace or conflict in addition to whether or not the culture is conformist or individualistic etc. In other words, what we see as culture may be a mirror effect of the relationship field between organisms.

According to this video; the parasite-stress theory may be a general theory of culture and sociality. In a nutshell it acknowledges the fact that the various strategies organisms have to influence other organisms to serve its purposes do have a role in defining this thing we call us. My thought is that it would be a more accurate lens if it looked at the full spectrum of organisms, some of which are on the mutually beneficial range of influence – commensal organisms having a stake in the success of the community it depends on – and doing what they can to offer benefits such as stability, defense, long life and so on. In other words, I think this theory is on to something, but is not yet complete. If we factored in the full spectrum of influences, (rather than just the parasitic segment) we would be able to understand that our opportunity for cultivating an intentional experience of life, rather than riding ignorantly on the winds of biological chance, is rooted in whether or not we intentionally tend the biological relationship field of which we are, on which we depend and that defines this thing we call “us” to be inclined toward the commensal, mutually beneficial segment of the spectrum of relationships.

Nature Echoes Nourish and Defend Behaviors on Many Scales

When our immune system sees a pathogen, something it perceives as harmful, it establishes ways to effectively neutralize or destroy that destructive agent. In doing this, it uses weapons (destructive agents), and vectors (vehicles) to carry the weapons it uses in defend to their appropriate location.

On a broader scale, this same defense of integrity through an “immune response strategy” may be what is going on at a larger scale in biological ecosystems. Since nature establishes defenses (things which destroy perceived pathogens) by establishing defensive weapons and looking for vectors to carry these destructive agents to their appropriate location in order to effect the “immune response”, why would we not expect to see this happening on different scales, from cell to body, to larger bodies of life?

The only difference in this relational dynamic that happens in a cell or single multicellular organisms that also may be happening in ecosystems may be the scale. This “immune response” may be also happening between larger bodies of life – bodies of life which transcend single organisms, and are constructed of networked metabolic structures that are stitched together through a vast array of species and subsystems within species – bodies of life that, although composed of many kinds of organisms, have a need to nourish itself, as well as protective skins and other defenses to protect itself, in addition to porous biological boundaries, the same way an individual cell or a larger organism does.

These larger bodies of life, which sometimes clash as a result of the existential debt nature demands for any coherent biological body – to nourish and protect itself, and to mount defenses against antagonists to that coherency. This may be the legend of the map that defines relationship landscape we see in biological ecosystems. It may also explain why, when there is less need for these defensive weapons to be carried to and fro to perceived pathogens in these larger bodies of life, that we also see these vectors less populated with these transgenic weapons, as we see in the case of mosquitoes in the rain forest, which tend to be less populated with the weapons of defense. Just a thought…

Disease-carrying mosquitoes rare in undisturbed tropical forests

From the article: “We found that fewer mosquito species known to carry disease-causing pathogens live in forested areas compared to disturbed ones… Mosquito species from altered forest sites are more likely to transmit disease than mosquitoes native to an area of mature tropical forest.”

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-08-disease-carrying-mosquitoes-rare-undisturbed-tropical.html

Biology Reveals Insights into Human Culture

This is an excellent documentary that illustrates how biological ecosystems find an equilibrium that is a suitable adaptive response to the environment. This means all the organisms that express nourishing and defense behaviors in a given ecosystem become specifically suited to the environment and each other. Islands are one of the places this biological balance is illustrated clearly; where the particulars of the environment along with the baseline biological ecosystem that inherited the island come to express a behavioral economy that is adaptive in that specific context. Islands with no large land predators may bring about flightless birds for instance because of the lack of need to fly away.

Christmas Island is an excellent illustration of how that biological equilibrium can be dramatically disrupted by a newcomer to the biological social economy. This disruption can expose weaknesses that are present because there was no need to build defenses against the strategies of the imported invader prior to its arrival. This is what drives biology’s own evolutionary expression of a “Game of Thrones” and may also be a good insight into the way the various human cultures evolved throughout the world – a reflection of populations finding equilibrium with the environment, reflecting its nature, coupled with the periodic need to adapt to “invaders” as we began to cross pollinate as a result of things like trade, climate shifts and so on, leading to the human version of “Game of Thrones”.

Powerful Influence from Small Changes

While this article is on *Brain Inflammation and Obesity* specifically, there seems to be a number of deeper implications if we apply a wide angle lens to the fact that certain infections, or microbiome populations, or traumas, etc. in the context of our complex biological system can shift behavioral expressions on more than physical scales. This influence on our relational landscape has a powerful influence on our experience of life. Extrapolated further we might begin to get a glimpse of how our evolution, history, culture and sense of identity might all be far more nebulous and arbitrary than we are used to believing.

https://www.labroots.com/trending/neuroscience/6586/brain-inflammation-obesity

Childhood Experience Can Echo for a Lifetime

Our developmental environment can be the foundation of behavioral echoes that last a lifetime. While it is possible for these behavioral echoes to serve to instill useful social behaviors, providing a framework to cultivate a satisfying experience of life, they can also have the opposite effect depending on their nature. Some can be persistently destructive. Here is one example of how childhood trauma can become a potential eroding struggle throughout adult life.

https://medicalxpress.com/news/2017-08-gamblers-childhood-traumas.html

The Language of Biology

Biology is a complex relational economy that produces coherent “meaning” in the form of structures and ongoing relationships that are aimed at specific goal oriented ends. Like verbal language and its capacity to produce the more complicated structures that are possible within its range of expression, like comedy or drama for instance, to accomplish the communication effectively requires certain contexts in order for them to work as intended. We see this same communication requirement in biology. Here’s an example of how that opportunity for a complex communication to convey something constructive or restorative can be destroyed by context:

https://medicalxpress.com/news/2017-08-gut-viruses-tied-potentially-deadly.html

How Smell Shapes Our Lives

There is no thing that we do on a macro scale that is not echoed on many other scales, including micro. Like ripples in a pond the relationships that define biological systems and subsystem are characterized by recurring echoes of self similarity and a blend of dissonance. This blend of tradition and flexibility – of dedication to ritual and diversity – is what composes the adaptive range of behaviors we must express in proportion to the opportunities and challenges presented by way of a variable environment – and this is also what characterizes this magnificent symphony of structure we call biology. The capacity to use smell as a means of communicating and understanding that environment as well as negotiating it effectively is no exception to this rule. Here’s a closer look:

Deeper Forms of Awareness

We sometimes confuse awareness with the meager and often inaccurate image that is conjured up by the constellation of verbal labels we have swimming around in our head; these things we use to produce a basic map of the world as well as concepts of self other truth and justice and so on… our words produce an image limited by their inability to serve as an accurate measure of the totality of what we experience, not just by a little, but by a huge margin.

Our verbal awareness is responsible for a certain portion of what we know, but this is by no means the only type of awareness, and is in fact a tiny sliver of it. In the midst of this misunderstanding we might miss the many things we know that we have no label for, these are often the drivers of our relationships in ways that our abstract symbols cannot identify, much less understand. Here’s a glimpse into some of the deeper waters of understanding that is embedded in our being.

https://medicalxpress.com/news/2017-07-infants.html