Tag Archives: Nature

The Relationship Economy Expressed through Nature

The relationships that are woven into the fabric of nature stretch across a spectrum from predatory and parasitic all the way to mutually beneficial, and in some cases the relationship can become necessary. (Obligate) The common thread throughout the biological relationship economy is that the relationships that take root and survive over time either provide a benefit in terms of what was necessary at some point to survive and propagate in the context of the environment, or at least those that do not prevent survival from happening.

When we consider how relationships emerge in this context we can see that thin times would be inclined to produce behaviors where higher risk in exchange for nutrition would be part of the process, bringing about relationships at the parasitic and predatory end of the spectrum. More fruitful times would incline a more mutually beneficial relationship economy to develop – one that improves the adaptive strength of the whole relationship community. This range of behaviors that emerges in the context of environmental cues over time can then become ingrained as the adaptive strategy until and unless this strategy becomes a selective disadvantage, in which case there will either be a behavior change, or extinction. The behaviors that emerge over time develop multiple levels of complexity because of fluctuations in the availability of nutrients and climate conditions etc. In this climate pockets of mutually beneficial behaviors such as organs in a body can exist inside a predatory organism which also needs to hunt and kill other organisms as a predator in order to feed.

The link below illustrates an example of a mutually beneficial relationship that developed between fruit bearing trees and elephants, where the elephant gets fruit in exchange for spreading the seed of the tree and producing a “fertilizer” package in which to plant it. This relationship strengthens the adaptive advantage for both organisms, making them in effect part of a singular relationship climate – interdependent. The tapestry of relationships expressed through nature communicates what is possible in climates of cultivation vs. those of domination as well as how the spectrum of relationships shape what a given organism will experience as life.

It is significant to note that we humans have the capacity to shape the environment. We are not simply destined to react. We can participate. If we leverage this ability effectively, we can shape our experience by shaping the relationship economy in which we exist to be mre inclined to produce “fruitful” relationships.

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/04/amazing-african-elephants-may-transport-seeds-farther-any-other-land-animal

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.

https://phys.org/news/2017-02-biologists-years-textbook-wisdom-explanation.html

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.

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

Cancer Is a Biological Outlaw

0152-Monopoly Win

Cancer is a biological outlaw. It begins its career as a cell triggered by a set of circumstances that cause it to diverge from participating in a contributory role in the community it draws nourishment from. Instead of a vested stake in the biological community that sustains it, cancer turns to a life characterized by parasitic behaviors that turn predatory over time.

Cancer turns against the cooperative unity on which biological systems depend and becomes an expression of destructive greed and consumption without a community aligned purpose. Its implied purpose narrows to its own interests, to the immediate gratification, to right now, to more and more, to domination over cultivation – to itself at the expense of the community. Through its behaviors, cancer becomes a biological outlaw.

If cancer was assigned the attributes of a self aware being, it would be defined as either failing to recognize its detrimental behavior toward its own future, or identified as someone that doesn’t care. Either way, it’s devoid of participating in the implied social contract that all sustainable living systems depend on; that of working in the limited context of the environment and contributing nourishing value back to the biological community it depends on for life, so that community is stronger than it ever could be as isolated parts.

There are many kinds of cancer with many different causes, but the common thread is a lack of regard to translate the taking from the community with corresponding activities to give back something of value to it. In the case of Pancreatic cancer, once the cancer takes root and steals the resources it needs to establish a foothold, it begins to use that theft to hijack the production machinery of nearby cells to feed itself even more. It uses this fuel to grow stronger and demand more. With increased strength, it now causes the enslaved cells working at a frenzied pace to serve its demands to sacrifice their lives in order to make more room for it, and for it to selectively feed on the dying remains to strengthen the cancerous process still more…

Cancer can enjoy a burst of extravagant artificial wealth by predatorily consuming great quantities of the genuine wealth produced by the nourishing relational acts of the biological community from which it feeds. As it increasingly consumes without regard for renewal, it crosses a terminal threshold where its demands exceed the capacity of the system to compensate for the collective theft, murder and interference of nourishing biological commerce. It is at this point where the biological system cancer depends on to fuel its excesses collapses in on itself.

Why does cancer behave this way? Why does this myopic collection of predatory behaviors consume without an eye for the sustainability of the system on which it depends? Cancer dominates, but if its strategy is successful, it becomes a victim of its own success. It ends up dominating itself out of existence. It is destroyed itself in a bonfire of its own greed and ignorance.

Upon seeing this cancerous behavioral agenda clearly exposed we might recognize that cancer comes in many forms. We might be inclined to see the parallels between cellular cancer and social behavioral cancer on other scales. Upon seeing this parallel and coupling it with some of the behavioral dynamics coursing through our human behavioral veins, we might be compelled to wonder if there is such a thing as “Mancreatic Cancer”. We might also ask whether we ourselves are engaged in aligning our individual and collective activities toward cultivating that which sustains us – that which we need.

When it comes to the micro decisions that lead to the macro effects of our life, not only reflected back on itself, but echoing outward to the community at large, we may want to be careful to define success before we engage in it, because in our frenzy to accomplish a false success, we could find out too late that as soon as somebody wins at monopoly, the game is over for everyone.

For more information about the way Pancreatic Cancer works: Click Here

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