Tag Archives: society

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.

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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.

http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/31536/title/Animal-Mind-Control/

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.

https://www.labroots.com/trending/neuroscience/6586/brain-inflammation-obesity

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.

https://phys.org/news/2017-07-reveals-genes-constantly-rearranged-cells.html

Self Inflicted Cultural Wounds

From my perspective, as long as medicine is a for profit business, and not held as a high social value that is geared to attract people motivated by the act of service toward the strength and well being of the population it will have a parasitic and predatory edge to it. This edge will, like cancer skew both research and practices to incline toward generating income over wellness, eroding the strength of the people it is supposed to strengthen. In other words, we author our own poverty due to a self inflicted cultural values problem which leads to destructive symptoms, including institutional structures that feed on, rather than nourish the strength that comes from having each other’s backs rather than being on each other’s backs. The pill dependent marketing driven culture, as well as the high priced profiteers of the industry are symptoms of that failure to recognize where our bread is really buttered.

Bonus irony points: The article about this is in “Vanity Fair” http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2009/09/health-care200909

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:

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318103.php?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=gplus

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”

 

 

Striking a Balance between Tradition and Rebellion

tradition

Here’s a couple thoughts on the value of the balance between traditions and the rebellious agents that emerge each generation to challenge them and test both their strengths and limitations. This perspective may be subject to revision. Some assembly required. Void where prohibited by law.

Traditions are the bonds that hold a society together. They lay the foundation for trust by enabling an expectation for behaviors that, if accommodated, can help the individual to navigate – to forge a niche. They calm the social waters so to speak, make it a familiar place, rather than frightening one that saps all our energy trying to figure friend from foe, but this strength of tradition only works if they are held in the proper strength. Traditions held too rigidly and overbearingly cause the social structure to become unable to adapt to changes, so it shatters under the weight of that need to change when it inevitably comes, too loose and the social structure devolves into chaos along and the fruits of cooperation and integrity die off.

In just the right measure, the balance between tradition and rebellion helps a society to prepare for and adapt to the variables it needs to face in a developing social and physical environment. The conflict between tradition and the rebel is also a ritual reminder and ceremony of sorts that reinforces the bonds we need to forge a society at all. (The biological drivers for this are, in effect, a religion embedded in our nature that many of us only know by their abstract, literally untrue, yet figuratively valid capture in the various rituals and religions that have emerged over the years) From my perspective, traditions and rebellion are like water – too much, we drown in them lifelessly floating as an object, merely existing more so than living, too few, and we die an agonizing death from the thirst we need to satisfy in order to remain integrated.

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.