Tag Archives: life

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.


The Biological Community Defines Our Experience of Life

If we unpack the implications of the fact that a single celled parasite like Toxoplasma gondii can develop a strategy to modify mammalian neurophysiology and behaviors to suit its own biological ends, we can begin to appreciate the fact that the community of friends and foes in our local biological relationship field set the tone for what we experience as life.

There is a full spectrum of relationships that is possible in any given biological community that can span the spectrum from obligate (necessary) mutualism to parasitic and predatory relationship dynamics where seizing the fruit produced by other organisms is the core behavioral property of the organism.

Depending on the biological community’s bias toward cooperation involving mutual nourishment and common defense, or toward parasitic and predatory relational dynamics, the organism based community will tend toward homeostasis (balance), or instability. This makes whether or not we learn about, and act to appropriately tend the many organisms from which our local biology is composed is a key factor in whether balance or imbalance (health or disease) will happen. It also plays a key role in defining our identity and shaping experience of life. This makes understanding and cultivating the biological relational system we are part of a critical factor in effectively steering our experience of life.

Here is an article outlining how a number of parasitic and predatory organisms press their agenda within the larger biological community. It is important to remember that there is a full spectrum of relationship possibilities, some of which bring nourishment, strength and health or defense of the integrity of the system against disruptive agents.


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.


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.


How Smell Shapes Our Lives

There is no thing that we do on a macro scale that does not exist on a micro scale. Recurring echoes of self similarity with a blend of melodic dissonance is what makes up the magnificent symphony of structure we call biology. Smell is no exception:

The Strategy Employed by Nature to get Things Done

When it comes to accomplishing tasks in the face of various forms of adversity and an environment that would need to be cultivated or persuaded to move toward a specific goal, one way of breaking down the various strategies that are possible to do this is a concept called destinationist. A destinationist strategy accepts that the current state of affairs is not desirable and that change is necessary, but rather than being a determinist, where the strategy appears to be “all or none”, where arms are flapped or folded folded and scowls are formed and baying at the moon over the current circumstances – how wrong everybody is and how the world is not right is the de facto strategy, the destinationist uses a strategy which accepts the reality of the current landscape, and attempts to move in the correct direction using realistic doable steps, perhaps not knowing if full success is possible or warranted. Nature appears to have this destinationist philosophy as it attempts to do things to move in a certain direction, even though the current solution may not be perfect. One example it the following: “while having diarrhoea might be a nightmare, not having it could be an even worse fate.”

Here is an article detailing how the body uses a destinationist strategy to deal with stomach issues that comes with some pain, but is best given the overall picture.


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.

The Problem With Deception

Our assumptions form a lens that renders a convincing image in our mind. The lens can then begin to calibrate the relative value of evidence we see so that it reinforces the assumption. Because the lens produces certainty, but not necessarily accuracy, we may end up in a convincing cocoon of certainty even though it is potentially false. The problem with deception is, if we are deceived, by definition we are unaware of it. Many of us appear to confuse the certainty rendered through the lens built on our assumptions with the truth. The real tragedy is when we use that certainty to dismiss, disregard and even dehumanize each other… If we ride on the winds of our false certainty to diminish each other, we also become the the authors of our own poverty.

Here’s a more detailed look at confirmation bias: https://thewisdomoflife.wordpress.com/2012/06/09/confirmation-bias-what-is-it-why-is-it-important-and-what-can-we-do-about-it-2/

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.