The measure of a life well lived is arguably one that was at least aimed at rendering something constructive in the wake of the numerous sacrifices that the larger community of life has had to make for us to have lived at all. This delivery of something more than what is taken from the community that we collectively depend on to nourish us is the very essence of “bearing fruit”. This lesson is well crafted and clearly communicated through the structure of nature in so many ways – that we can count the seeds in an apple, but not the apples in a seed, as long as those seeds are cultivated in a nourishing environment to their mature potential. Fruit, in many forms, including social, can pay endless dividends that are greater than the sacrificial investment that must be made to bring them to fruition. Recognizing, and tending to these opportunities is the essence of life.
Some few of us humans get recognized as monuments of constructive contribution (whether deserved or not). Still others of us are also well known, but for another reason; because we have left a notorious wave of destruction in our wake. The overwhelming majority of us also get to express significance, either fruitful or notorious, in another way – not as individuals, but by way of participating in something greater than ourselves – by being part of some collective effort that either strengthens our chances to remain coherent and to thrive as a community going forward, or that threatens that hedge against chaos we must maintain so that we do not get swallowed by the antagonists that would destroy the ordered economy of relationships that renders integrity that we all depend on.
The significance of what we do in these larger bodies of influence, and the fruit they bear upon maturity, is not necessarily understood by those of us that participate in them as individuals. We may be completely oblivious to the significance and power of our contributions, constructive or destructive, yet we still play our roles. We can be an example of one of these collective efforts that has the capacity to pay constructive dividends, if we passionately search out and cultivate that opportunity over time. We can also be thankful for thousands and millions who have played roles in making our potential future little more fruitful by way of discovering and cultivating these opportunities.
Our preparedness, and in some cases, our willingness to bravely face and adapt to the challenges the environment places upon us as a species will determine whether or not it will endure, or sink beneath the threshold required by nature to maintain our integrity over time. Part of nature’s inherent demand is that we we find and cultivate the routines that produce the fruit that nourishes us. Part of facing this challenge is a willingness to face the unknown – to be explorers, and make this effort part of what drives our flexibility to turn the formerly unknown to an advantage, rather than continue to fear and avoid it until it devours us in our ignorance. It is this blend of flexibility and rigidity that we are best prepared to endure the waves of chaos that would otherwise erode our integrity.
We owe a committed debt of gratitude to those of us who make the sacrificial effort to illuminate the darkness and make it part of where we can dwell – those willing to search for and cultivate these undiscovered fruits. This ode to the many unsung heroes among us that are the lifeblood of our strength and vitality may not be praised in song often enough, but they nonetheless deserving of our thanks. Thank you to all you who are out there doing things to give back to this community we share and depend on for life.
The basic nature expressed through biological systems all the way from the atoms and molecules that flit about in our cellular cytoplasm, through the organelles that serve as the institutional expressions of stability, producing and installing the various proteins we need, through the organs which have different capabilities that are dovetailed with each other, to the way we fit as species in the context of an ecosystem which we are part of and depend on for life must operate by the principle of nourishing and defending the continuing coherency of that entire system in order to remain coherent over time.
Whenever we focus at any level in a coherent biological system, we see the principle of the nourishment and the defense of coherency in the context of an environment with both nourishing and antagonistic agents at work. The coherent community of relationships of which we are composed dynamically differentiates friend from foe, and uses that perception to either call to service that which nourishes or defends itself against antagonists to remain coherent as a system over time.
Out of this fantastically complex blend of relationships, biology brings order to relative chaos. As biological creatures we are destined to engage in this process of nourishing and defending the coherency we depend on to continue. In this relational community we see the emergence of an implied purpose etched into all biological systems, whether or not these systems are at odds with each other. We call this global purpose expressed through biology by many names like survival instinct, nature, and so on, but the overarching unified purpose is that of nourishing and maintaining coherency over time. As byproducts of this theme we see acts of kindness, fruitful relationships as well as sacrifice in the mix. These various characters are the agents of balance and growth we depend on to realize our potential.
One of the prime necessary defenders in a local biological system like our own are the immune cells called “killer cells”. These cells target bacteria that are perceived as a threat and eradicate them so that they do not destroy the cooperative nourishing bonds that we depend on to remain coherent as a biological entity. Here is a closer look at how these soldiers of coherency that work and sacrifice on our behalf do their part in the tapestry of characters in this biological community that works to nourish and defend itself over time.
Microbial murder mystery solved
From the article: “…for the first time, researchers have caught killer cells red-handed in the act of microbial murder, observing them as they systematically killed three strains of microbes: E. coli and the bacteria responsible for causing Listeria infection and tuberculosis. The process inflicts bacterial cell death regardless of whether the environment contains oxygen or not… [The] findings… reveal that killer cells act methodically, shooting deadly enzymes into bacteria to “program” a complete internal breakdown and cell death.”
The same way we have an internal thought life and from that wider field of opportunity we decide what to say or not say, our cells also have these same processes that determine what to leave in and what to leave out. Here is a video outlining the process by which these decisions on what get expressed or silenced in a cell get made.
If we look with a wide angle lens at a topographical map of the whole of nature, we see a web of interconnected relational systems, each with some combination of self similarity and differentiation. Atoms are similar to other atoms, with some key differences. Cells are similar to other cells, yet with key differences. These elements of structure also relate to each other in a combination of self similar and differentiated ways. A reverberating echo of self similarity and differentiation that we could use to see the nature of the entire relationship landscape we call the cosmos.
Of course we could categorize the many systems we see in nature many ways, some more useful than others, but one of the more useful ways of looking at interconnected systems, at least as they relate to us, is to gauge their value based on how well or poorly they contribute to what we need as biological creatures to stay coherent… Let’s take a look:
Continuing with a wide angle lens approach to looking at nature, we might see the question begging through the whole structure: Why are there any coherent systems in nature at all? Even deeper: Why are there complex adaptive coherent systems such as we see expressed through our own biology and the larger tapestry of life into which we are woven? This question has tickled the minds of inquisitive people in some way shape or form ever since we’ve had occasion to turn our gaze toward understanding this cosmic womb we are both part of, and continuously bathed in.
To find the answer to this, we can begin by looking at the global properties on which all coherent structures stand; to see what is communicated through all of them, and use this as a foundation to understand all structure. Whenever we see systems that maintain some form of equilibrium such as an atom, a solar system or an organism, we also see that they behave in two key ways. They both nourish and defend the coherency of the system in the face of the whole of nature, which has a blend of both nourishing and antagonistic elements in relation to that system. With this in mind, it appears the complex tapestry of relationships in nature is inclined to accumulate those things which result in a sustained coherency. This coherency is established through nourishing behaviors and defensive behaviors against antagonists to that coherency.
Here’s a link to just one example of a relationship between cacao plants and microbes that protect its coherency, but examples of nourish and defend behaviors can be found as the foundation of every coherent field of relationships in nature that is sustained over time. In fact; it could be said that this is the nature of nature.
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.
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.
Posted in Practice
Tagged biological relationships, Biology, Community, cooperative nature, Evolution, life, Nature, Nonverbal communication, relationships, society, Sociology