Archives for category: biology

There’s an entire literature discussing which animals – besides us, humans, are able to use tools.
Most authors also make a clear distinction between the animals which just pick an object and transform it into a tool by using it as such and the animals which actually transform the future tool according to the intended use.

The difference between using a twig ‘as it was found’ and sharpening it first with the teeth.

This morning, watching some birds while having my breakfast, I just realized that the vast majority of them are superb tool makers. Them birds, I mean. Not just the heavily publicized Caledonian Crows….

I repeat. Most of them.
Most of them are superb tool makers.

Most birds are nest builders.
In fact, they not only build houses, of sorts.
They are building uteri. Or uteruses, if you prefer this spelling. Places where eggs are laid and cared for.

What more elaborate tool is there?

Attempting to value individualism over collectivism is similar to trying to establish which came first, the chicken or the egg.

Having experienced both – collectivism and individualism put in practice as political principles, I have noticed that neither extreme is capable of working in a sustainable manner.

Communist regimes had fallen one after another.
Fascist regimes did the very same thing.
Pirate republics could never resist for long.

Coming back to what is happening in the US, I’m afraid very few people are aware of how much collective thinking had been embedded in the American Psyche. The good kind of collective thinking…
Americans go to church. A place where you go to to be together, not alone.
Americans used to help each-other. Charity used to be a big thing. Slowly, it had become a dirty word.
And so on.

Individuals can not exist on their own. They need each other to survive. And to thrive.
Collectives can not last for long unless the individuals who constitute them do respect each-other. Help each-other maintain and develop their individuality.

As simple as that.

Imagine having a festering boil. On your ass, for good measure.
You may take to the doctor, for treatment.
Or you may wait, hoping your organism will be strong enough to heal itself.
This being your call.
Nobody else but you has anything to say about this situation.
Let’s say you have chosen to go to the hospital.
Once there, the matter has gotten somewhat ‘out of your hands’. You still have the last word but the doctor calls the more important shots. Pun indended, of course.
He can simply open up the boil, put you on a course of antibiotics and send you home.
He might decide to check you up and see whether the boil is a symptom of something deeper.
He might attempt to rip you off by ordering, all at once, a host of complex tests and of fancy treatments.
Or all at once.
Cut up your boil, set you on a course of antibiotics, order a decent set of tests and still rip you off.
‘Is there a point to all these?’
Yep!
How the ‘good’ doctor will choose to treat you is the consequence of how you have chosen him. And of how the community you belong to had chosen to organise its health system.
But the more consequential decision, whether to go to the doctor in the first place, is yours.
I’m not going to analyse the factors you have to balance – we’d go back to how the community you belong to had chosen to organise its health system.
I’m only going to parade the possible outcomes.
A nice scar on your butt and a decent tab for you – or for your insurer, to pick up on your way out.
Acompanied, hopefully, by an otherwise clean bill of health.
A nice scar, and a clean bill of health, accompanied by an outrageous invoice.
These being the ‘good’ outcomes.
The doctor might find out, after reading the test results, that you also have, say, a blood disease. One perfectly treatable by modern medicine. But which would have easily killed you if you had waited much longer.
The doctor might also find out, after reading the test results, that the boil is the symptom of an incurable disease. One which will kill you for sure. Only now you’ll die in the relative comfort of the available paliative treatment you can afford.
Or you might choose to nurse your boil at home.
Get out fine. And a lot cheaper!
Die of an apparently unrelated disease six months later.
Or pass out because of a sepsis which had eventually became untreatable. Due to your own prevarications….
‘And what has the boil on my ass to do with Covid?!?’
Covid is a boil on our collective ass.
We might decide to treat it ‘on the go’, hoping that on the ‘other side’ our lives will return to normal.
Or we might decide to use it as an opportunity!
An opportunity to clean up our act….

‘From virus? What?!? And from which one?’

From none in particular.
From all of them, since all viruses are nothing but information!

‘Huh???’

Most biologists consider viruses to be something ‘in between’. Not exactly ‘life’, since they cannot replicate themselves, but something more than mere matter.

Only this approach sets very straight limits to how we understand life itself.
Or should I rather use ‘narrow’ instead of ‘straight’?
‘Narrow’ as in ‘not wide enough’ minded?

“Information which perpetuates itself”.

Does this sound right for you?

We. humans, are individual human beings. ‘Social’, indeed, but, nevertheless, individual. It’s our individual-ness which sets us apart from our nearest cousins. Chimps and bonobos.
It’s our individual-ness which sets the parameters of our world-view. That being the reason for our attempt to define life as a characteristic of the individual organisms which happen to be alive.

This being the moment when I feel the urge to direct your attention upon a seminal book.

Hmmm… the Origin of Species…

If evolution is about ‘Species’, then what about life itself being more about species than about individuals?

What about life being more about the process through which information is passed along from one generation to another than about an individual organism being alive or not?

In this sense, ‘virus’ would belong to the realm of the living, right?

What next?

Crows are deemed to be the smartest birds around.

“Crows are the hominins of the bird kingdom,”
“Like our own ancestors, they evolved proportionally massive brains by increasing both their body size and brain size at the same time, with the brain size increase happening even more rapidly.”
Dr. Jeroen Smaers

Crows have also witnessed our evolution.

All life transforms its habitat.
Living things actually pass ‘segments’ of their habitat through their digestive systems. Digest them. Consume the useful components and discard the rest. And, finally, excrete whatever their metabolism had turned the useful components into. Urea and carbon dioxide, to name but a couple. For us, mammals. Other living creatures contribute something else to their environments.

The blue-green algae of yore are believed to have produced the oxygen we breathe now.
Wolf Reintroduction Changes Ecosystem in Yellowstone“.
Humans alter their ‘nesting’ places in ways sometimes detrimental to their own well being.

So, basically, we – as a society, actually ‘digest’ our planet. Our home… Our only home!

Are we happy with the results?

Are you happy with what you’ve done to your home?
To OUR home?

According to Alan Hayek – the guy who claims the copyright for the relevant entry into the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the wager doesn’t make any sense unless you consider that God is, however remotely, possible.

Now, that I grabbed your attention, let me point it to the subject du jour.

The face mask!

To wear or not to wear one…

Strangely enough, many of those who believe in God are adamantly refusing to wear a mask.
They don’t actually see God yet they find the world as THE argument for His existence.
And, at the same time, they refuse to acknowledge the seriousness of the Covid 19 pandemic. Which had already killed, or hastened the death of, more than 1.2 million people worldwide.

OK, almost no mask – specially the ones worn by us, civilians, is 100% fool-proof.
But wearing one is far better than none at all…
OK, most of us would weather the infection with relative ease.
But some would die!
Then why spread it around?

For that, if you didn’t already know, is more than half of what the masks do!
They make it harder for those of us who already have it – but don’t know it yet, to spread it around.

Help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by protecting yourself and others. Keep in mind that you may have the virus even if you don’t have symptoms.

You still consider it to be a muzzle?

Why? Only because it is mandated by the government?
And you don’t trust your own government? While living in a democratic country?

But since when do you rely on your government to tell you which is the sensible thing to do?

Culture is to human communities what DNA is to biological species.

It transports vital information from one generation to the other. Hence providing a venue for survival.
Furthermore, both culture and DNA can change in time. Hence providing a venue for evolution.

The difference between culture and DNA being, of course, the fact that culture is way more fluid than DNA.
DNA changes only once for each generation – what you get at birth is what you’re taking to the grave, while culture is in constant flux.
No individual organism has anything to say about their genetic information but almost every human is capable of learning almost anything.

Now for the historical part.

Stage one.

Veneration of the elders. The elders were the depositories of the common knowledge. Hence everybody took good care of the ‘data bases’.

Stage two.

Somebody learned to write.
Elders were no longer indispensable. More and more information could be ‘warehoused’ in alternative ways.
A structure was needed to manage the new ways of dealing with the vital information.

Stage three.

The state is born.
At first the structures which insured that culture was passed from one generation to another had been rather empiric: kingdoms, monasteries, etc.
Soon after the Enlightenment things had become more rational. Cultured people became nations and the academic scholars gave us the state. As the structure charged to make sure that culture and people stay together. Hence providing for the nation’s survival.

States who had been in constant contact – read rivalry, kept each-other fit. Or else.
States ‘removed’ from reality – geographically, by becoming too powerful to care or both, had experienced a natural decay. The people at the top of the food chain had forgotten about those at the bottom and those at the bottom had lost faith in their leadership.

States too weak to survive – for various reasons, have succumbed while those too powerful for their own sake have eventually imploded.

Psychology to the rescue.

Culture is more fluid than DNA for a reason.
DNA follows exclusively the laws of nature while culture is heavily influenced by us.
We, men, are the measure of all things.
All life heavily transforms the place it inhabits.
So do we, humans. Only we do it willingly. On purpose, that is.

Now, that we have amassed so much information – about life in general and about how we relate, as agents, to the entire process, we have reached a reckoning moment. What next?

Are we going to choose the path of the cuckoo or that shown to us by Hokule-a?

There is no such thing as a soul?
OK, then how do you explain what happened the last time you encountered a soul-less person?
You didn’t?
Good for you only I have my doubts.

Either a divine gift or an emanation of the human mind, soul is what separates us from the animal realm.

Or this is how we see things…

After all, we are the ones who believe it is normal for us to eat animals and who consider it a tragedy for one of us, humans, to ‘return to nature’. In any circumstances…

Anyway, things are complicated… Until recently – historically speaking, some of us were comfortable with the notion that skin colour determines the ‘quality’ of one’s soul. Caucasian plantation owners used black slaves to work their land and Arabian rulers used ‘white flesh’ to adorn their harems…

Further complications spring up when we consider the fate of the soul.
Is it going anywhere after it’s ‘host’ passes away? To some other place? Does it come back to fulfill its Karma?
Or it literally goes to meet its Maker? As in ‘for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. (Genesis 3:18)’?

And when does this soul appears in earnest?
The moment when we leave the womb? A few years later, during the process through which we become conscious human beings?
Or, as some people choose to believe, in the very moment when each of us has been conceived by their parents?

As an aside, what about those conceived in a lab? Do they have a soul?

What about sexes? Are feminine souls equivalent with the masculine ones?
What happens to a transgender soul?

Are we a natural occurrence? A product of evolution? In a constant process of ‘improvement’? Obviously imperfect but, generally speaking, striving to ‘fail better’?

Or are we an imperfect ‘artifact’?

Cause this is the only issue on which there is a consensus… Everybody is convinced we’re ‘defective’. From the staunchest believer to the most rabid atheist…

I really have to stop. And go comfort my soul with something nice.

Albert Einstein, a physicist, had noticed that observations are relative to the “frame of reference” where the observer happens to make his observations.

Humberto Maturana, a biologist, has reached the conclusion that consciousness – or ‘self awareness’, as he prefers to call it, is a personal trait which is developed by individuals living in concert.

Blending Einstein’s and Maturana’s ideas, it is easy to ‘see’ that observations made by human individuals depend, simultaneously, on two referential systems. Or frames of reference, in Einstein’s terms.

On the actual, ‘geographic’, ‘place’ where the individual makes their observations.
And on the ‘cultural place’ where the conscience – inner referential system, of the observing individual had been ‘shaped’.

Otherwise put, nobody can see things which are not there. Nor ‘see’ – a.k.a. understand, things which are too ‘distant’ from what that person already ‘knows’. Accepts as being ‘normal’. Feels like being ‘right’.

To make things just a tad ‘clearer’ – ‘nature versus nurture’, we must consider the vagaries of individual ‘biology’. Some people see/hear/smell/feel differently than others. And even ‘think’ differently.

And my point is?

Maturana made it before me. The ‘other’ – the more different, the better, is a source of richness. IF we treat each-other the right way. If we help each-other by ‘concerting’ our observations about what we have in common.
The ‘place’ we observe. Einstein’s referential frame. Where we ‘happen to stand’. Together.

And there’s something else I’d like you to read.

“J.K. Rowling Writes about Her Reasons for Speaking out on Sex and Gender Issues”
https://www.jkrowling.com/opinions/j-k-rowling-writes-about-her-reasons-for-speaking-out-on-sex-and-gender-issues

What if our self awareness, otherwise known as conscience, has evolved in order to understand, accept and mitigate randomness?

There’s no evolution – hence no life, without randomness.
Yet life, anyway you look at it, is about maintaining a certain degree of order.

Whenever there’s so much randomness that life can no longer adapt to it… evolution stops.
Whenever structures become so big/rigid that they find it harder and harder to evolve, they eventually succumb to an otherwise survivable amount of randomness. Dinosaurs and too big to fail corporations versus mice and flexible operators.

In a nutshell, self-awareness is about not being ‘fooled by randomness‘.

And to avoid the deepest pitfall we’ll encounter during this never ending journey – randomness will always be wider than our individual ability to encompass it, we must keep remembering that conscience is selfish. Untrained, it is more about protecting itself than about helping the entire ‘individual’ to survive.

‘What?!?’

Yes, it’s hard to believe!
But what other explanation is there for so many of us continuing to smoke after finding out, the hard way, that this habit might actually kill us?
I use this example simply because I still remember the cigarette I smoked when I last visited the grave where rests a woman I loved dearly. And who is no longer with us because of lung cancer.

Too often our conscience will prefer to rationalize away new information than accept that past choices could have been better.

I’m certain all of you are already too familiar with ‘confirmation bias‘.

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