Tag Archives: cooperative relationships

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:


The Decision Making Process in Cells

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.

Beware of Social Predators

To know oneself is critical to being able to navigate with any kind of intention in life. Without an appropriate knowledge of self we run the risk of drifting on the currents of happenstance, reflecting what we were exposed to while recording and reporting it without a meaningful and effective voice. Just as important as knowing oneself is knowing the enemy. Understanding the people and things that can diminish or destroy us is important to effectively navigate the hazards that are in the relationship climate we live in.

Among the hazards are social predators. Those that employ destructive and exploitative strategies to seize whatever you might have to offer and repurpose it to serve themselves at your expense – to take without offering any real reciprocal value or having a mutual stake in your success as well as their own. Social predators are pirates, not farmers that cultivate something of nourishing value that strengthens the whole community. They are destructive agents that, if not sufficiently defended against, corrupt and diminish the ability for nourishing behaviors to take place – behaviors that bind together, support and strengthen a sustainable social community.  Among the things predators misuse to service destructive ends are authority, reciprocity, liking, scarcity, social proof, and our tendency toward commitment and consistency. Here’s a deeper look at a these particular strategies employed by social predators to invite you to a meal… as part of their menu:


How Trauma Can Distort Our Vision

The fight or flight response, that section of our biological expression that leaps into action to deal with a perceived threats is mirrored in many behavioral systems throughout the biological body of life. From the heat shock proteins that leap into defense activities within a cell that perceives threat, to the immune system which leaps into action when it sees a potentially harmful agent. The heartbeat of biology are systems built on collections of nourishing relationships that also have the capacity to defend that nourishing community against antagonists.

The article below is an example of how the brain of a stickleback fish produces alterations in gene expression up to two hours after it interacts with an intruder. This illustration of the way the brain attends to perceived threat is also an illustration of what the emotionally powerful events like the unknown and the traumatic do to affect our own experience of life. It may explain why they are so effective at etching themselves into a prominent place in the lens through which we see ourselves and the world from that defining event, forward – and why these seeds of identity can be a source of wisdom to help us navigate future hazards more effectively, or become a source of cyclic torture if they are not calibrated to be proportional to the current events we will encounter. In other words, we can become prisoners of episodes from our past because of the powerful way they can shape what we see from that point forward.


The Social Life of Plants

Plants have any number of methods to communicate both internally and externally in order to keep themselves informed and respond to their environment and developmental needs. They use this vast array of capacities to negotiate their way toward maturity and reproduction among other things. As it turns out, plants have a rich social life. They are for instance able to forge relationships with various benefactors in the plant and animal kingdoms and coordinate their effort, including the recruitment of other creatures, to ward off antagonists. They sense, and think without the means of a brain as we understand brains, yet they have the capacity to perceive and respond on remarkable levels which we are only beginning to understand. Here is a documentary on some of the recently discovered attributes of plants.

The Seeds of Human Culture are in the Cell

The notion that DNA is a static information repository is fading, as is the notion that RNA and protein are passive outcomes of DNA. Together all the structures in the cell form a dynamic community that includes a social life (cellular communication), institutional structures (golgi apparatus, ribosomes, etc.), a police force (phagocytes), roads (microtubules), transport vehicles (Kinesin, Dynein), local culture (see article link below), and so on. In other words; there is nothing that we express on a macro scale that is not also echoed on micro scales. We reflect of the nature of the cosmos. It could not be otherwise.


Chemistry is Language

Just because we are not consciously aware of the influence of chemical communication signals that inform and direct our behaviors does not mean they are not present in abundance. The same way chemical signals like hormones within the body inform and direct the behaviors of various cells and organs, chemical signals also do this between us. Pheromones are chemical signals that change the behaviors of other animals of the same species.

Pheromone actions in humans have been investigated, but the evidence thus far is generally considered weak. While the evidence of pheremonic communication among every other organism is staggering, signaling such things as alarm, where food sources are, triggering sexual arousal and behaviors, bonding behaviors, repulsion and attraction and so on, somehow we have resisted acknowledging this same communication channel happening among humans.

My guess is this area of science has been historically stagnated by false assumptions and wishful thinking. Perhaps a desire to keep humans in a special class, perhaps due to the fact that we idolize verbal awareness so much we confuse our meager, error prone , but convincing verbal map with the actual territory, but the evidence that we are just like every other biological organism, the product of a complex tapestry of communication on multiple levels, which we only get to see a fragment of, is now emerging with more convincing vigor. Here is one such study along those lines:


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

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.

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