Tag Archives: cooperative nature

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 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.

Mate Selection Expressed on a Molecular Scale

The level of detail through which behaviors are expressed that are aligned with ensuring adaptive advantage extends to the microscopic. In this case a strategy for sexual selection involves the production of some kind of protein or chemical in the ovarian fluid of ocellated wrasses which helps define the acceptance or rejection of sperm based on whether the male that emitted it will be more inclined to tend the nest or not. The idea being that those males more fit to carry on the species will be more likely to breed, enabling the species a better chance to continue forward.

From the article: “Female ocellated wrasses prefer males that build nests and take care of the fertilized eggs as they develop. But there are other types of males that do not provide parental care and compete to fertilize the eggs a female lays in the nest prepared by a nesting male. Small “sneaker” males hang out around the nest and dart in to release large amounts of sperm when a female is spawning. The females, however, seem to have found a way to thwart the sneaker males by giving an advantage to the nesting male’s sperm.”

Among the questions that might ride in the undercurrents of such a fantastically coordinated biological process if we anthropomorphize the situation a bit is; How does the female know that the chemical signature of “sneaker” males is different than the nesters? How was she able to translate this information into a coordinated process to produce a chemical in response that is able to  differentiate between sneakers and nesters and select based on criteria that is advantageous to the female? Regardless of whether or not these are legitimate lines of questioning, the behavioral dynamics expressed through the relational field we call biology certainly is intricate, and whether or not these are the right questions is not as important as recognizing that there is room for questions – plenty of food to feed a passionate curiosity.

To read the full article in Science Daily Click Here

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:




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.

Is our social behavior an Echo of Physics?


Every atom the functions as part of our biological system craves specific relationships with other atoms. There are systems that are geared to satisfy those hungers and other systems, like our immune system, that are geared to reject and expel any elements the “do not belong to the in-group” so to speak. It is this complex social dynamic between physical elements that forms and maintains our biological structure.

Like the relationship dynamic that happens on a micro scale, as a whole, our biological system has specific hungers that must be met as well. From a certain perspective, our own behavioral and social actions are, in essence, a reflection of that from which we are physically composed. This can be found clearly echoed in scientific disciplines such as sociology. The following is one example:

According to Social Identity Theory, comparison with an outgroup is the main engine by which positive ingroup distinctiveness is formed.

Experiments conducted by Henri Tajfel and others into the so-called Minimal Group Paradigm illustrate this point well.

In the experiments to see what the minimum was to establish an in-group, a number of assumptions, concepts, values or practices were accepted in order to better allow a view of the onset of human group formation and of the appearance of discriminatory behaviours toward out-group.

From the article:

“Intergroup behaviour was analyzed in a situation of “mere categorization” such as where people involved as subjects in this research were told that they were individually “overestimators” or “underestimators” of the number of dots in a display. It was found that even under very flimsy and apparently baseless assigned social categorisation into two distinct, and previously “unheard of” social categories, in-group favoritism and out-group derogation occurred in the distribution, by the research subjects, of “rewards for participation” in the study.”

This is more evidence that shows how hard wired we are to cling to a group and reject anything perceived as out-group.  For a more detailed look Click Here

What is Important?

This video is a perspective on what’s important.

Here is a text of the narration:

What is important?

What is important? How would we measure it, and how would we know the measure was accurate? Although there are many possible ways, if we use a scale of things that have the most profound influence on our ability to realize our full potential, and use that to measure what we currently apply our energies to as a global culture; we can see the gap, the gap between what’s important, and what we do.

Somewhere in our not so distant past, on some day we couldn’t pinpoint because we weren’t watching, we crossed a critical threshold. We crossed the threshold where we no longer live in a world where people starve because we can’t feed them; we now live in a world where people starve because we don’t feed them. We have the skills and resources to make this a plentiful world, but we do not yet have the focus, nor the will – to do what’s important.

We have the capacity to cultivate a world brimming with potential – potential that can only be realized if we have each other’s backs. Instead we live in a world where, acting out of fear, we have to watch our backs – a world where we have to defend ourselves from ourselves. Maybe we don’t recognize this is the recipe for self made poverty – maybe we are suffering the echo of our collective traumatic past, where a veil of ignorance forced us to be at the mercy of a frightening and often cruel environment, and as a result, we learned to exploit each other, to dominate, or be dominated… This is a past we need to navigate away from if we’re going to cultivate our full potential. Until we do this, we will continue to rob ourselves of what’s important.

What’s important is you – the family, who shapes the lens through which the child understands reality by the way you treat them and each other. You forge their developing identity in the fires of the relationships you expose them to, and this defines whether that fire will refine them, or destroy them. You are the port from which the child launches, and you define what that child will be equipped with to navigate the wider social seas, and how they will influence those they touch – for the rest of their lives. You are what’s important.

What’s important is you – the teachers, who have the wheel that steers the future as you pass the torch of knowledge to the next generations. You’re not merely an installer of facts, but a primary cultivator of the tools that will determine whether we will capably face the challenges that lie before us, or sink under their weight. You have a powerful hand on the rudder that steers this Earthen ship of ours through sometimes troubled waters. Together with the family, you set the tone for the direction we will travel. You are what’s important.

What’s important is you – the friend, who doesn’t have to be asked, but actively seeks to offer your best. Your behavioral vocabulary doesn’t include apathy. You willingly act on behalf of your friends – ready to deliver a comforting word, a helping hand, or a stinging challenge depending on the need – your purpose remains constant – to serve each other. You have a powerful hand in the stability of this Earthen ship in which we all ride. And your aid through the storms, and companionship in fair weather, makes this journey we’re all on worthwhile. You are what’s important.

What’s important is you – the stranger, who may not be familiar with those in other ships that pass by, but know that they are full of kindred kinds – you who understand that it takes all of us, communicating through actions big and small, that we’re in this together, that we share the same waters – and that sharing what we have of value with each other is the reason for the abundance we have. You are the one that opens the door without being asked – you don’t hesitate to act to strengthen the larger community of life on which we all depend for breath because you know you are part of that same body. You are what’s important.

And what’s important is Earth – it is our common ground and our greatest teacher. On it we can stand together and flourish – or divided we can fall back into the soil which once generously gave us this opportunity for a plentiful life. Earth has given us what we need and taught us by writing its lessons into the fabric of who we are – like the need to strike a balance between give and take that’s written into our breath… and how all it asks in return is that we recognize that using that breath to cultivate fruitful relationships is what’s really important.


0003-What Is Important

Have you thanked a retrovirus today?

Fun Fact: Certain viruses embedded in our genome have been found to have a powerful influence on our development. In fact, if it were not for viruses, we would not be mammals, we would still be monotremes laying eggs. Another retrovirus embedded in our genome activates during the early stages of pregnancy and makes it possible for the early grouping of cells to implant in the uterus. The bottom line is, much of the structure we call human, or any other species for that matter, is based on the accumulation of cooperative nourishing relationships that have offered some adaptive advantage.


A Voice in the Choir of Life


The same way we have critical systems and organs in our individual biological membrane, we live in the context of a larger membrane, a larger body of life, which also has critical systems and organs. There are creatures, that if removed or diminished, can severely harm or destroy the body of life on which we depend. Large scale damage caused by relatively small changes in the body of life are called a trophic cascade.

For instance; the presence of wolves obviously changes the behavior of all the animals they prey on which affects all the biological organisms and environments they in turn interact with. If wolves are removed from system, the behaviors of the prey animals changes. Certain plants that were once off limits are now an option, others might now be ignored. The places they walk and how their reproductive drives impact the environment all begin to shift. This change in turn affects a number of other biological and physical systems. The prey animals might overpopulate. They might eradicate certain plant forms and under harvest their former food sources which can threaten or collapse their populations. The plants that depended on them to spread their seed may now be harmed. The point is, biology is an interconnected web, not a collection of isolated genetic islands.

Trophic cascades affect metabolic processes in a biological web, but they also impact social behaviors. If prey animals have less reason to be as cohesive as a herd and have less reason to run and stay fit this can change the way they relate to each other. This might impact their survivability through tough winters which depends on a certain type of sociality. They might get water from different sources changing their impact on the soil and river revetments. This can have an impact on plant life and fish etc. So extensive is the potential effect of a singular change in a biological ecosystem that it can alter the entire biological web all the way down to microorganisms. This type of collective effect in an ecosystem is called a top-down trophic cascade.

Bottom up cascades are also possible. When a primary producer in a food web is eliminated it has enormous ripples of impact up the chain. Removal of a predator, prey, or any creature from an ecosystem can cause a network of cascading consequences to the biological web. Not all of the effects are obvious. One reason these effects can be hard to detect is because many of the consequences are non linear. Some can be buried in a network of interconnections that appear as symptoms far removed from the cause. No matter the origin, this cascading impact on the balance of interdependencies present in biological systems is called a trophic cascade.

The interdependent properties of biological systems that are otherwise invisible are revealed once a trophic cascade lens is applied. If we only apply linear thought to the process of examining biological systems, we might think that whales eating fish diminishes fish stocks. We might also think that eliminating whales from the biological equation would increase fish stocks. This is not how biological systems work. The nature of the whole food web is such that what one creature produces as waste is what another needs as food. As mammals, we need oxygen to power our metabolism. Oxygen is a waste product of photosynthetic organisms. They need the carbon dioxide we produce. Together, we are part of the same body of life.

Trophic cascades are nothing new. Neither is one biological organism acting in such a way that their own survival is jeopardized. The Huronian glaciation was a world wide glaciation event lasting from 2400 million to 2100 million years ago. It was followed by, and probably caused by, the Great Oxygenation Event. This was when atmospheric oxygen began to rise dramatically due to photosynthetic cyanobacteria which appeared on earth about 200 million years prior. At the time there was no complementary life form to cycle the oxygen back into a usable form for the cyanobacteria. As a consequence they were drowning in their own waste. Once Earths oxygen sinks became saturated atmospheric oxygen increased and atmospheric methane decreased which caused a climate shift, triggering a world wide glaciation. Since free oxygen is toxic to obligate anaerobic organisms like cyanobacteria, the concentrations of oxygen are thought to have wiped out most of the Earth’s anaerobic inhabitants at the time.

This means cyanobacteria were responsible for one of the most, if not the most significant extinction events in Earth’s history, including many of them. It was not until aerobic organisms began to evolve which consume oxygen that the Earth began to recover and develop some kind of equilibrium.1 From a very wide lens, we are actually a complex form of dung beetle that consumes and repairs the oxygen by binding it with carbon for use as a metabolite for the very creatures that spawned us so long ago.

Interdependence is the principle of sustained structures in biological systems, and these chains of interdependency have developed complexity over the millennium. The Gaia hypothesis, also known as Gaia theory or Gaia principle, posits that organisms collectively interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a self-regulating system. Together the biological systems help maintain the metabolism of the planet, such that it supports sustained life on the planet. This speaks to the common role of every biologicla creature, and to what can happen if a particular species falls out of harmony with that role.

The same way our individual bodies have critical organs and critical relationships with other organisms that we depend on. Earth itself has a metabolism that we need to cultivate and tend to in order for us to continue. We are a voice in the choir of life. Any creature that falls out of harmony with serving a nourishing role in the body of life has faded from the biological landscape. Sometimes this exit is dramatic and sometimes a lot of splash damage is caused by the chaos of the exit.

Recognizing that not only we, but the other creatures we share this Earth with are part of our collective body of life is part of the cultural paradigm shift that must take place in order for us to sustainably move forward into the future. If we recognize the value of nourishing each other, and the body of life, we also maximize our chances for a fulfilling future. We know that desert environments are full of spines and reflect the harsh realities of their environment. The same way we know the lush fruits of the tropics provide plentiful nourishment sources. The difference is the environment and we have the capacity to cultivate the environment. The real question is will we squander or leverage this capacity to serve the body of life, and by extension ourselves?

Further reading:




1Prokaryotes such as cyanobacteria which are thought to have produced atmospheric oxygen.