Tag Archives: biological relationships

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”

 

 

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.

The Evolution of Behaviors

Behaviorism Will Peck For Food

In 1948, B. F. Skinner published a landmark paper illustrating how animals develop superstition. Basically, if an animal is fed at irregular intervals it associates whatever behaviors it happened to be doing right before receiving food with receiving food. After that, it thinks those behaviors are what brings the food. It develops a “superstitious connection” between the unrelated behavior and the food.

This understanding of how connections are developed has been the foundation of behavioral conditioning and behavioral psychology since its discovery. This capacity for false (or true) association based on whatever happens to coincide at a particualr time is stitched onto our perception faculties and consequently, our psychology. People given mild stimulants unbeknownst to them have been recorded associating the effects of the stimulant with the things happening in their local happenings for instance. It is also important to emphasize that while the perception faculties sometimes falsely associate correlations, sometimes these factors are actually causal, and understanding this causal connection can lead to a survival advantage. This is probably why the capacity is seated in our biological makeup to begin with.

Our biological perception tendency to weave coincidental happenings into causal connections (which may be true or untrue) has an enormous implication in terms of understanding ourselves, our culture, our history, and the level of trust we can place on our individual certainties if we apply the information appropriately. It easily explains the reason medicine was stagnated for centuries by such notions as humors. It explains the cultural prevalence and behaviors that flow from beliefs in omens, and may be the foundation for all the world’s superstitions and religions. It may also be a strong if not causal factor in some disorders such as O.C.D. and other destructive compulsive behaviors. It has strong implications on our sociality because of the underlying message of acceptance or rejection we get for adopting certain ideas or behaviors as well. This may also be the foundation of bird song and language itself. The list goes on…

Behaviorism Will Press Lever For Food

While this symbolic association built into our perception faculties has definite survival value in that it is rooted in searching for a cause in order to more intentionally choose specific behaviors that lead toward survival, it is also true that these faculties are not entirely accurate, and come with a downside. This aspect of evolutionary biology, where a benefit comes with a potential downside is not unusual in the least. Evolution in peppered with these cost/benefit aspects, and much of who and what we are is a product of those competing priorities

 

Is Farming Evolution’s First Step toward Complex Organisms?

0001-Is Farming Evolutions Forst Step

There are certain ants that farm aphids for the food they produce, protecting and defending them for the nourishing survival value they provide. Leafcutter ants farm leaves in order to grow a fungus. This relationship has endured so long that they now depend on each other for existence.

We see a gradient of relationships in biology that go from optional beneficial value such as a food source or protection etc. these relationships can develop into a mutual dependency and perhaps grow all the way to an obligate relationship where one cannot live without the other. In effect, the once separate organisms that farmed each other may merge into an inseparable dance, becoming in effect, one body – each depending on the other for survival.

The various organs in our body follow this mutually dependent relational scheme, but so do some relationships in nature that transcend species lines like that of leafcutter ants and the fungus they farm. We may be witnessing a gradient of relationships that move along a spectrum from useful to necessary and in some cases result in once separate organisms becoming a singular organism over time.

This process of merging may begin with what could be termed “farming” or relationships built on mutual benefit, that over time merge into a single body of mutually nourishing entities. Eukaryotic cells are thought to have emerged over 2 billion years ago may have been one such merger that began as “farming”.

Creatures and or biological bits of information such as proteins and RNA etc. that provide adaptive value may have become so dependent on each other that they merged into a singular body. This in fact may be the backbone of evolution.

Of course this is speculation, but it may be that farming is the start of the process for more complex life forms, but where did farming begin? Perhaps it began long before eukaryotic creatures arose on earth and may have been a precursor to that merger known as endosymbiosis that led to eukaryotic cells.

The article linked below illustrates a farming relationship between a bacteria and amoeba where the bacteria turn the amoeba into farmers. This is one piece of evidence that may indicate that farming may have begun before the emergence of eukaryotes and may indeed be the first step toward the sort of biological convergence we know of as complex organisms.

For the article on the relationship between the bacteria and amoeba that appeared in National Geographic in 2015: Click Here

 

To see more on Ants Farming Aphids:

For more on leafcutter ants:

 

 

 

Self Replicating Proteins May be a Clue to Life Origins

The proteins in our body must not only be the right configuration, but the right shape. Prions are misfolded proteins that are also self replicating which can cause biological systems to malfunction such as forming holes in the brain called spongiform encephalitis (Mad Cow disease or Crutchfield Jacobs disease in humans).

Prions can spread from one organism to another by mouth, blood or contaminated surfaces. Like infectious viruses, prions can also have variants, or strains, that produce different effects, not all of which are harmful. Unlike the rest of biologically active structures, prions don’t have information-storage molecules like DNA or RNA, yet they are able to copy and transmit biological information. This has strained the idea that all replication of proteins must come from an information coding system like DNA or RNA. While it does put some strain on the validity of our conventional interpretations of how things happen in evolution and biology (that proteins are “only” manufactured from DNA to RNA and then to final form as protein), it may also be a clue to our origins. (Note* retroviruses are also known to violate this rule, called the central dogma of molecular biology)

Some researchers have proposed that it may be possible, due to the ease with which amino acids and peptides can be produced by abiotic means; that the first protocells may have been proteins only encapsulated in lipid membranes. (For more information look up Fox’s protein microspheres). These microspheres may have only acquired nucleic acids as an adaptation later on as a means information storage related to reproduction.

In other words; it is thought that proteins may have reproduced themselves by some autocatalytic process at first, like that which we see in prions today. Evidence for this can be seen in the fact that there are still noncoded peptides in certain bacteria to this day (See Day, 1979, p. 369). Is it possible that proteins began working in mutually beneficial symbiotic relation to each other and some of which eventually specialized in information storage and protein synthesis” This type of relationship dynamic is known to have happened in the case of mitochondria and chloroplasts, Eukaryotes are thought to originated as symbiotic prokaryote organisms that fused into obligate (necessary-inseparable) form.

Is it possible that RNA and DNA were adaptive strategies in service of prions? Is the behavior of prions a clue to our origins? Time may tell.

Here’s more on Prions:

Developing Sustainable Cycles in Farming

Developing sustainable cycles in farming is important. Although we have come a long way in terms of production capacity, this is not the same as developing a sustainable model. Capturing the principles of sustainability is of great value because it leans us toward a future that is not peppered with boom and bust cycles because we did not tend to our long game. Here is one such person, who may happen to have a crappy job, but is leading the charge for the future.

The Coming Social Age

Luther Standing Bear

The Japanese have a word “kodokushi” that means “lonely death”. It refers to people who died so socially disconnected they got noticed as a result of unpaid bills or the stench of their decay. From a wider view, this kind of death is an expression of social stress on a cultural level. It is increasing in places like Japan, where an individual’s social identity has been strongly tied to what that person does – their status in an atmosphere of decreasing opportunity to fulfill roles of that nature. When jobs dry up in a culture that heavily associates social identity to roles such as work and status with nothing of merit to replace it, so does a person’s social life and identity.

This type of expression of social stress is also true in the context of cultures that use unspoken inferences to imply false paths to satisfaction like; monetary and or material success is the path to satisfied social standing. Or a celebrity culture,where popularity is equivocated with success and satisfaction. In these cases it sometimes leads to the opposite; isolation in the form of a prison of superficial relationships and a servile life of superficial show that looks enticing from afar, but is quietly alienating and unsatisfactory to those within its grips. The false illusion can ultimately craft a pluralistic ignorance engine in the culture where people are enchanted by the notion and spend their lives desperately chasing the empty dream – the missing piece of satisfaction that is never to be found in a social maze that is actually a prison disguised as a prize – with only the promise of fulfillment, but no actual satisfaction.

Expressions of stress due to cultural identity crises happen anywhere there is a false path to satisfaction, but also anywhere a former means of forming a social identity is shattered and a path for a new social identity is not clearly established. When disruptions to the social economy, and by extension our connections to each other, are stressed and or destroyed, we become displaced and exhibit stress responses. Various exhibitions of stress like kodokushi are the result in individuals or whole cultures displaced by changes in the environment for which we are ill equipped to adapt.

We have witnessed this identity problem in indigenous people’s throughout the world. Those that have been displaced by western civilization suffer in the wake of social economic stresses. The basis by which the people established their identity was destroyed, and with it, the people. Where the means to form a valuable identity in a social context is disrupted, and no clear alternative path to cultivate a solid socially valued identity is presented, much less cultivated, we see expressions of stress. These social malnourishment stresses are expressed in many forms, including kodokushi. Sometimes self destructive alienation and deterioration take the form of life ending addictions, crime, and other predatory acts such as abuse, or in the case of western technological societies; a sacrifice of quality intimate relationships for gadgets, entertainment and superficial social posturing, none of which are fitting staples of nutrition for our innate human social hungers. As a result, we elevate the most vacuous inconsequential banalities to the status of ultra importance and proceed to swarm on it as if it had real merit – a cycle of self perpetuating distractions that keep us from addressing the reality of our desperately unsatisfied state.

In the west, our fickle passion for a flurry of distracting gadgets and banalities increasingly consumes our time, but does not lead to fundamental satisfaction. As we have distanced ourselves from nature, we have distanced ourselves from ourselves, and this has led to many expressions of cultural stress. When displaced from satisfying forms of social nutrition, we become socially ravenous creatures, desperately consuming anything that remotely looks like food, including social junk food, and each other, for the sake of forging a social identity – even if that identity is an unsatisfying and self perpetuating farce.

On a larger cultural scale, these expressions of cultural stress are the pre quake tremors that precede a much larger tectonic shift laying at the threshold of our near future. One of the fundamental challenges we face as a global culture is how to establish a satisfying identity in the context of the fact that our material needs will be increasingly met through technology. As technology increasingly replaces the need for human participation in the traditional hunt-gather-perform aspects of human sociality, we face a social identity crisis of unprecedented proportions as a species. Our traditionally formed social identities were based on necessary roles which are now increasingly being displaced by automation. If we do not act preemptively to craft a a new social economy, we will face the backlash of stressed humans desperately trying to get their bearings in a world we longer understand.

As we are carried forward on the inevitable currents of time that move us toward the future, in order to succeed, we need to understand that we are primarily social creatures with material needs – not material creatures with social needs. It has always been so, although the social currency has been historically based on material, this is changing and we need to adapt, or suffer the consequences of maladaptation. Although we have historically conflated material needs with social ones out of necessity, as this base erodes we need to recast our understanding of ourselves. We need to focus in on what has always been the driver of human satisfaction all along, sociality. This is the common denominator, and of paramount importance to recognize to successfully move forward. With this in mind it is perhaps wise to recognize that we are entering the social age.

As technology increasingly fulfills our material needs, the stability of our future will need to be built on what we bring that is of social value, rather than what has been of material value. This requires some rewiring of our traditional perceptions of what is of value. We need to move from material mindset to a social one. It is not a mistake that the stone age, bronze age, iron age and the industrial age gave way to the information age. The move has been from material to non-material values. We must now recognize now that the common denominator that has always been social. The variable has been what fills our fundamental hierarchy of needs. Social is what we must now put at the forefront of our understanding of what is of value. Adding value in a social context is what we need to recognize, cultivate and strive for as humans in order to have our bearings in the social age – in order to adapt. Our attempt to fill our social needs with materials pays an ever diminishing return on our level of satisfaction. This is based on the law of supply and demand. The degree to which we make the transition to the social age economy effectively is the degree to which we harmonize with what has been at the foundation of our human nature all along – and that is social. Delivering products of constructive social value is heart the new economy.

 

Here is an article related to kodokushi http://nautil.us/blog/alienation-is-killing-americans-and-japanese