Tag Archives: Sociology

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.


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.


Deeper Forms of Awareness

We sometimes confuse awareness with the meager and often inaccurate image that is conjured up by the constellation of verbal labels we have swimming around in our head; these things we use to produce a basic map of the world as well as concepts of self other truth and justice and so on… our words produce an image limited by their inability to serve as an accurate measure of the totality of what we experience, not just by a little, but by a huge margin.

Our verbal awareness is responsible for a certain portion of what we know, but this is by no means the only type of awareness, and is in fact a tiny sliver of it. In the midst of this misunderstanding we might miss the many things we know that we have no label for, these are often the drivers of our relationships in ways that our abstract symbols cannot identify, much less understand. Here’s a glimpse into some of the deeper waters of understanding that is embedded in our being.


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 Nature of Nature

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 Relationship Economy that Defines a Coherent Body of Life

The article link below describes how a single species of gut bacteria can reverse autism-related social behavior in mice.

The fact that a single organism can have so much influence on mouse behavior and experience is also a glimpse not only into the powerful biological drivers that result in what all organisms experience as life, but indeed what life experience is founded on. Our behaviors and experience, including whether and how much we are social, as well as whether or not we remain a coherent part of the biological economy over time and so on are based on the relational climate that forms as a result of a parliament of organisms and environmental conditions which together operate as a coherent body which influence behaviors and experience on multiple scales.

The notion that we are an individual species, defined by our local genetics and completely separate entities from other species is dissolving as a useful means to clearly define biology. A lens that sees biology as a relational economy that transcends our notions of individual species – one that renders the image that a coherent biological body consisting of organisms of many different genetic makeups networked together in diverse ways, forming a meta body, complete with a coherent integrated metabolism and the defense mechanisms to defend that integrity in the face of antagonists – is a more appropriate lens.