Sunday, February 28, 2010

Pleasure Matrix

Below is something that I've been toying with.  I don't know a good application for it yet, but I think it's interesting.  It should be said before hand that this is not absolute by any stretch of the imagination, and can vary from day to day and person by person.  Don't think of them as distinct boxes, but clouds.  Also, the arrangement is quite subjective and I could very easily be persuaded to arrange it otherwise.

I think its value could come in getting us to think towards how we can maximize our "greater" pleasures (longer term, greater intensity) and stop exchanging the "lesser" for the "greater."

High Longevity
Low Longevity
High IntensityRelationship pleasure-fulfillment, generosity, altruism, love, hopeGoal achievement pleasureSensory pleasure--sex, food, music, aromas

Self-expression pleasures-art
Power based pleasure--revenge,
Low Intensity
Work pleasure/"A job well done"safety and security pleasure

Top Left--Identity contingent--from within--conscience driven
Top Right--Situationally contingent--from without--carnally driven

Other notes concerning the above:

Power is a type relationship.
It's interesting to think about the possible difference between men's and women's pleasure matrixes.  Women: more relational/safety.  Men: more power, work driven.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Symbiosis and Spirituality--From Bios to Zoe

It's been my experience that most good teachers are reactionaries.  They have an incisive, biting, driven, passionate banner to wave because no one else hardly is.  It is their one voice that must speak all the more forcefully to meet the din of dissenters.  I, in some ways, feel the need to do that for morality in the secular and scientific realm.  I am hardly alone in this endeavor, but I feel very passionately that the religious right needs to know that there are humanists and atheists out there that care very deeply and think very intensely on matters of ethics.  That's partly why I write this.

There is one word that people commonly mis-define in their colloquial understanding of  Darwinism: fittest.

The false understanding of the "survival of the fittest" is that it means "survival of the most ruthless."  Kill or be killed.  It's a dog eat dog world, after all.

I really do believe that this slanted message is an underlying obstacle to many religious towards evolution.  It could be put like this--evolution is mean and bad and therefore is wrong.  Basically, if society embraces ruthless evolution, then it will spiral into a more hostile, dangerous place.  So, it's rejected outright.

I'll give you two examples taken from a super-dee-duper conservative Christian website:

Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest’ ideas thus powerfully shaped Stalin’s approach to society. Oppression, self glorification, atheism and murder resulted from Stalin’s rejection of his Creator after reading and believing the evolutionary ideas of Darwin. And the most tragic aspect of all? That while Stalin was turning his back on his Creator, he was building his philosophy on a lie.

Hitler’s understanding of the history of life, and that of Marx, Stalin and Mao, was not devised by a German, Russian or Chinese. It was shaped by an Englishman named Charles Darwin.
Darwin’s book, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, Or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1859), laid the groundwork for their worldviews. They each applied the principle of ‘survival of the fittest’ to their own situation.
For Marx and Stalin it was class struggle; for Hitler it was racial struggle. And because Darwinism undermined the authority of the Bible on origins, it meant that, logically, there was no accountability to God for the mass murder they used to implement their ideas. In fact, such tactics could be justified by Darwinism. Without an absolute standard of right and wrong, those in power are not accountable to any standard. So ‘might’ becomes ‘right’.
As Darwin’s evolutionary thinking became widely welcomed and absorbed by society, it not only convinced leaders like Marx and Hitler, but it became a ‘scientific’ framework justifying the public acceptance of their actions for the ‘benefit’ of all humanity.<>

Conservatives aren't the only one's that have this impression of nature being, "Red in tooth and claw," as Tennyson put it.

In Civilization and Its Discontents, Sigmond Freud took a similar line, arguing that society depends on the renunciation of animal passions and conformity to learned social norms.

In The Self Gene, Richard Dawkins states: "Be warned that if you wish, as I do, to build a society in which individuals cooperate generously and unselfishly towards a common good, you can expect little help from biological nature.  Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish."

In some ways, I don't disagree, but the problem is when 'is' becomes 'ought' or 'ought' becomes 'is.'  The Moral Fallacy of science goes like this: "if it's good, it's true" (and conversely, "if it's bad, it's false").  As in, evolution is morally corrupt and therefore false.  Another fallacy that we secularists can, on some occasions, be guilty of is the Natural Fallacy--if it's true, then it's right.  Example: backstabbing competition is natural in the animal kingdom and therefore acceptable.

The view that we perhaps ought to take is to separate the animal from the genes.  Borrowing from the water shed book The Selfish Gene I will elaborate a little with a tiny taste of some the Greek that I learned from seminary, once again, taking advantage of the sometimes descriptive superiority of that sublime language.  There are two words that we translate from Greek into English as 'life'--'bios', from which we get 'biology' and 'zoe,' from which comes a really cool chick's name.  By doing so I hope to answer the question, "What's the purpose of life?"  Well, it depends on which 'life' you're talking about.

Bios-- is all about survival.  Genes will do anything they possibly can to replicate.  'Bad' things like rape, cannibalism, incest, murder, infanticide and parasitism.  Or, 'good' things like symbiosis, reciprocal altruism, offspring nurture, generosity, etc.

Zoe-- is all about fulfillment.   It's not just the existence of life, but the living of life, and its enjoyment and pleasure.  It's less about not being dead and more about truly being alive.  It's about serving our consciousness rather than being automatons following the commands of our genes.

I hope you'll allow yourself the gift of meditating on the fact that we are the first species that, in a way, can essentially tell our genes to f*&% off.  Every other species before us has done one thing with their life--obediently done exactly what their genes tell them to do.  We're the first species that can make counter reproduction, and consciously make counter survival choices--like adoption, homosexual partnership, having pets instead of kids, a life devoted to a mission like curing cancer or reducing poverty.

From a 'bios' view pleasure (in all its forms-- base carnal motivated and altruistic conscience motivated) is a means to an ends of successful reproduction.  From a 'zoe' view pleasure is an ends in and of itself.

I'll leave you with an application question: are you more about surviving or more about thriving?  Genes or consciousness?  Replication or fulfillment?

I Believe in...Church (An Appeal for Unitarian Universalism)

     "It's the end of the world!  Judgement Day is coming!" to secular ears sounds a lot like, "The sky is falling!" Rife with the post hoc fallacy, conservative Christians conclude that every headline in the news is yet another irrefutable sign that histories closing curtain is just around the corner.  It's an understandable reaction to be incredulous to this kind of thinking, but I often have a different reaction every time I hear it.  I don't think about the end of history.  I think about the end of religion.  Will the end of religion soon come?  Will it ever end?  Will some hypothetic future race living on Mars still turn to Mecca daily?  Will they do their Rosary, recite the Hadith and offer incense to figurines?  There have been so many before us that have declared the end of religion and today seem as blantantly, patently wrong as those proclaiming the end of the world. It just keeps sticking around.  And I think it should stick around.  Here's why:

I may not be sure if I believe in God and I know longer believe in religion, but I believe unwaveringly, wholeheartedly, unalterably, single-mindedly in church.

Church has been a powerful agent of change in my life and in the social fabric of the world and it should stay that way.

    From infant baptism to grave, I'm sure my life will be book ended with church.  Within those caps are the volumes of my life that have been largely positively influenced by church, perhaps not religion, but definitely church.  Straight out of college I entered seminary looking for answers.  Unfortunatly, half way through I gave up on finding those answers, became disillusioned with religion and set off to find the secular, social equivilent of church.  Knowing that I needed a community of people around me to find a future mate, experience friendships and enjoy a good rousing debate or stimulating conversation (I need that like I need air), I tried various affinity groups dabbling in local athletics, musicians circles, outdoor clubs, volunteering at a non-profit organization, as well as simply trying to connect with old friends.  The contrast was stark with my previous experience with churches and has helped me form the below list of advantages that church offers.

     I 've heard a psychologist say that children don't need quality time, they need quantity time.  That's true for adults, too.  Church provides regular exposure to the same group of people.  Weekly you bump shoulders with people slowly learning who they are, what they stand for, where they come from and where they want to go. It's this long term exposure that is absolutely critical to growing ties of trust and a depth of knowledge letting you really know someone.  Affinity groups often don't allow this.  They're too transient.  Work, volunteer and social clubs can be just as bad.  Church stands alone as the most likely place to find steady, long term relationships.

    Secondly, church exposes us to a wide variety of ages.  Detractors might point out that church doesn't provide a wide variety of ethnicities (sunday is the most segregated day of the week) or a wide variety of ideologies and points of view.  That stereotypical assertion has not been my experience, but I can see why they say that.   Where, however, can a person be exposed to every age group of people? I've experienced the joys of feeling like a big brother to kids in the youth group and at the same time formed mentor relationships with men decades older than me all in one morning!  Both of which have been infinitely valuable and fulfilling to me.

    We need inspiration.  And, no, I don't mean this in the cheesey feel good, self help, chicken soup for the soul crap.  I mean we need inspirerers.  Proverbs 29:18 - "Where there is no vision the people perish."  Vision comes from envisioners.  We need to surround ourself with people greater than ourselves.  Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Everyman is my superior.  In that, I learn from him."  I am often very conscious how that I need older, wiser, smarter, inspiring men around me to function at my optimum.  I need a model.  I need someone to follow.  In many instances we error too much on thinking we need to be a leader, a revolutionary, when 9 times out of 10 what the world needs is not another leader, but someone who knows how to follow well, to learn from others, to be inspired, to emulate their positive behaviors and qualities.  When I run I think of Dean Karnazes.  When I speak I think of Chad Turnbull.  When I need to be the life of the party I think of Michelle Solano.  When I need to listen and empathize I think of Nevin Mawhinney.  When I want to peak perform as a guitarist I think of Tommy Emmanuel.  When I need to get really dynamic teaching I think of Lucy-Kate Walton.  Et al.  I need inspiring people.  You do, too.  Furthermore, you need a place to meet those people!!!

    Lastly, one of the key ingredients that makes church so wonderful is the nature of the relationships--they're voluntary.  In my tenure within the Christian church I've volunteered thousands and thousands of hours.  Why?  Yes, out of religious duty.  Yes, to accomplish something I thought was important.  But, also because I really enjoyed working with people that were there because they wanted to be.  It was their choice.  People at work are there mostly because they have to for money.  There is a different flavor, depth and richness to voluntary friendships that simply can't exist in any other circumstance.  People's jokes are funnier, insights profounder, virtues saintlier, stories more captivating and all because at any point both parties could leave.  Typically, though, they don't.  They like each other too darn much.

    There is no social incubator more effective than church.  In this growingly secular age, theism and religion have been decried, but I plea that we don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Church is and must remain a place that people can regularly and consistently gather to share their lives together, to live out this word: community.  Science may leave us with no reason for a creator and no reason for religion, but our very DNA demands that we have community, a tribal group around us to challenge us, grow us, and share in this common journey.  People need people and there simply is no better societal structure to provide the same benefits.

So, is there a church out their that offers all the salubrious qualities of church without all the dog-gone dogma?  Yes!  Unitarian Universalism!  I've been going to a Unitarian church for a little more than 6 months and love it!  A survey of the congregation showed that about 50% of the members describes themselves as an Atheist, Agnostic or Humanist.  There are no set doctrines--only a commitment to learning from the wisdom of the ages, personally growing and helping others in the community and world at large.  I love it. :)  If you live in Orlando message me and come!  If you live elsewhere find more info here:

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Why Biology is Important

I'm biased.  I know.  But, hopefully you'll be a little more convinced after this.

Biology is the 'Queen of the Sciences' (formerly a designation for Theology during the Middle Ages).  Think of it like this, quantum mechanics and physics serve chemistry and chemistry serves biology.  It lies at the pinnacle of the sciences, the top of the pyramid.

Not only that, but all other fields of study--the humanities, literature, art, sociology, psychology, etc. are nothing but the fruition of human biology.

Biology alone stands between the gap as the culmination of the sciences and the creator of the humanities.

Pretty neat, huh?  Makes you want to learn more about biology, doesn't it?

If that wasn't enough, here are some other reasons to love and learn biology:

Medical-- we need biology to understand and care for the body, both our own and our loved ones.  In 1984, in Linda Loma, California, Leonard Bailey, MD, implanted a baboon heart into a 12-day-old girl who came to be known as "Baby Fae."  She died after twenty days.  When the doctor was asked why a baboon heart, being evolutionarily distant, and not a chimpanzee the doctor replied that he didn't believe in evolution and hadn't considered that as a factor.

Evolutionary Psychology--we need biology to understand our mind--why you and your loved ones act/think/feel the way you do.

Existential Explanatory Function--we need biology to understand our origins--who you are and where you came from.

Morality--we need biology to understand our actions--how did we get moral sentiments, what principles should guide our life, etc.

Conservation--we need biology to understand our world and how to protect our future offsprings world.  There is a largely one to one ratio between those that disbelieve in evolution, think the world is 6k years old ad those that question global warming.

Economic - America ranks dreadfully low in science education and our economy suffers because of a denial of evolution.

Other sciences - denying evolution and the age of the Earth likewise attacks geology, astronomy, psychology, genetics, oceanography, plate tectonics, physics and every other science.

Fascination--we need biology to understand our 'relatives'--other organisms and the manifold beauty they manifest--the weird, the wild, and the wonderful.


Three Species of Ants that Will Change Your Life

Weaver Ants:  

Leaf Cutter Ants:

Honey Pot Ants: <>  (Don't worry Cooliris kicks ass.  You'll thank me if you don't have it already.)


Screw with your head--think about how they evolved.  Slowly, incrementally, random successful behavior and attributes were selected that made them more likely to pick up hold a piece of leaf still, to pick up a larva, to move it back and forth, for it to secrete silk, or to have some ants be a storehouse fed and used by others or a gardener that tends fungus with bacteria.  Fucking amazing.

Monday, February 8, 2010

How to View Religion

What is religion?

It's a system of relationships

Dual meaning of system:  System can refer to ideology (grouping of ideas);  System refer to identity (grouping of people).

Types of Relationships: 
  • Others--morality (think Confucianism, Taoism, etc.)
  • World--stewardship (think animism, Mother Earth religions, etc.)
  • Self--inner peace, a irenic conscience  (characterized by zen buddhism, etc.)
  • God--metaphysics/theology (typified by islam, Judaism, etc.)
  • Future--eschatology/after life (think Heaven/Hell, etc.)

Advantage to this view: allows flexibility in borrowing from multiple ideologies that specialize in one of the above fields to be learned from.  Religion doesn't have to be dogma.  It can be a heuristic method of thinking about interactions of different parties.  An allegory rather than absolutes.

It can also help us realize that you can excise the metaphysics and still keep the morals.  It can be all about keeping the baby while ditching the water.  

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Pain, Depression, Anxiety--Evolution's Explanation

Pain is evolution's way of saying, "Don't do that.  It will hurt you."

Sadness is evolution's way of causing us to value relationships, avoid their loss.  "Don't lose this relationship, valuable commodity, etc."

Anxiety causes us to achieve goals, act within social norms, get work done etc.  "Don't behave antisocially."

All of the above have been advantageous to have for our species and have (otherwise we wouldn't have them most likely) and can be viewed as positive mechanisms to be harnessed and managed rather than emotions to be squelched, over-medicated or eliminated completely

Phobias--Evolution's Tell-tale Tipoffs

Why are we not afraid of driving without a seat belt in the same way we are afraid of heights?  Why aren't we afraid of a blow drier in the bath tub the same way we are of the dark?  Sex without a condom vs poisonous animals?

Natural selection hasn't accounted for our recent trappings.  Interesting.

Ideas from .  Dawkins/Pinker's interview.

Landscaping--Evolutionary Penchant

Steven Pinker, evolutionary psychologist god, pointed out something I never thought of--the inordinate amount of money that we spend on landscaping, potted plants, flowers, living/traveling to scenic vistas could be evolutionarily selected for.  Those that cared about plants, agriculture or lush, productive forests, lived.

I've often thought about this with my love of the water.  I can stare out the ocean, a river, a lake for an eternity.   It's calming, irenic and soul pacifying.  Why?  Maybe, just maybe because our ancestors that lived near water survived better than those that it had no effect upon.

Your consciousness not only likes it, but so do your genes.

I seem to end all my blogs this way, but that's fucking brilliant.  I love it.

Titans conversing: Dawkins interviews Pinker that involved this discussion-->

Symbiosis and Spirituality--Selfishness vs. Selflessness

What defines selfless behavior?
What defines selfish behavior?

I'd like to ask you to think about these questions while considering the below examples of symbiotic relationships.  Are the various characters with the relationship selfish in trying to take something from the relationship or selfless in their giving and caring for the other party.

  • There are a myriad of species on the reef that act as cleaners.  The set up shop on a particular coral out cropping often displaying their 'open' sign with particular stripes or coloration.  Who do they clean?  They clean predators many times their size.  Predators that could very, very easily consume them since they cleaners often focus on the area most prone to parasites--the mouth.  Why don't they, then?  A mutual dependance, an interlocking mutuality.  <>
  • A near blind shrimp is good at digging a hole and a goby fish with massive eyes needs a home.  Bingo, presto, a match made in proverbial heaven.  I am particularly fond of this symbiotic relationship since I've watched it for a good number of hours.  It's amazing to see the constant contact of fin to antennae that is used to communicate the slightest threat.
  • Just watch this one--aphid and ants.  Let me just say how fascinated I am with ant cooperation--honey pot ants, weaver ants, leaf cutter (more to come there), their structure of roles and function as guard, harvester, queen attendant, etc., etc.  They will work with anything to survive.
  • Leaf Cutter Ants and Fungi.  This is effing brilliant because it's a tri-level symbiosis.  I've also heard that they have a special pouch for fungal transportation.  How awesome is that?
  • So worth watching.  Honey badger and Honey Guide bird--also known as Indicator indicator.
  • I include this one just cuz it's cool.  Fish and bioluminesence.
  • Other honorable mentions:
    • The classic sea anemone/clownfish relationship.
    • Coral/nudibranchs/giant clams using zooxanthellae to photosynthesize.
    • Lichens--the stuff that grows on trees and rocks are fungi and algae living together.
    • Vampire bat live symbiotically (loose definition) using reciprical altruism and exchanging blood that they've acquired that night. So, on tough nights one guy will help out another.  And the next night vice versa.  If the favor is not recipricated then there is an advanced system of shunning and remembering who owes who.
    • Terrestrial plants--90% live with mycorrhizae fungi to fix nitrogen.  You know how when you buy fertilizer it has numbers like: 10-10-10?  Those are three essential compounds--nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium.  Nitrogen is an essential plant growth component, but the problem is that they can't make it and it isn't very naturally occurring in a usable form (since it's so stable and nonreactive).  Solution?  Have other organisms help you out and give them something in exchange--nutrients and a safe environment!!
    • Endophytes--awesome because we know so bloody little about them.  They are bacteria/fungus that live in every plant every studied, but for largely unknown reasons.  Some fungal endophytes have beneficial effects on the trees in which they live. They can enhance the trees' protection against disease and leaf-eating insects. For example, a fungal endophyte makes white spruce needles less appetizing to the spruce budworm. Furthermore, fungal endophytes (Microshaeropsis arundinis) are the only known potential biological control agent for white pine blister rust.
    • Oophila amblystomatis, commonly known as chlamydomonad algae or salamander algae, is a species of single-celled alga. The Latin specific name means "loves salamander eggs". It does not occur anywhere in nature other than in the eggs of a few amphibians, such as those of the spotted salamander, Ambystoma maculatum. The alga can invade and grow within an egg's jelly. Once inside, it metabolizes the carbon dioxide produced by the embryo and provides it with oxygen as a result of photosynthesis
    •  Siboglinid tube worm--They are the only known animals that, as adults, completely lack a mouth, gut and anus. They feed primarily on symbiotic hydrogen sulfide- or methane-oxidizing bacteria living in an internal organ, the trophosome. One gram of trophosome tissue can contain one billion bacteria. It is not completely understood how the worms instigate their relationship with the bacteria. One theory is that the very young worm has a vent on its body permitting the entry of the bacteria from the water
    • Arabian Babblers--have a host of seemingly altruistic behavior.  Males vie for sentinel positions which have the inherent danger of extra exposure to predators.  They also will share food with non-relatives, communally tending nests and taking care their young.  Why?  As a fitness indicator.  The babbler males are basically saying, "Hey, check me out.  I'm so healthy, my genes are so great that I have awesome vision, speed and agility that I can get away from predators.  My genes are so great that I can actually gather food not only for myself and my kids, but I have left overs for yours!"  Fascinating!  Think how that line of thinking could role over into humanity!
    • Back to the selfishness discussion.  So, are the above examples of selfishness since they are working for their own benefit, or is it that they're selfless in their generosity and altruism?  Well, what I'd like for you to see is how unhelpful those terms really are.  Consider this quote.
      "All men seek happiness.  This is without exception.  Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end.  The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views.  The [volitional] will never takes the least step but to this object.  This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves."  Blaise Pascal
      Blaise is saying that all behavior is selfish--it all is seeking happiness.  Perhaps not well.  Perhaps with incredibly flawed logic, but nevertheless every human ever, including Jesus, Ghandi and Mother Theresa all were selfish and behaving in a way that they thought would maximize their own pleasure.
      Consider an example of a heist.  An armed robber points a gun at your face and says, "Give me all your money!!"  It may seem that you have no choice, but you do and it is always toward the end that you think, in that moment, will bring you the most pleasure.  E.g., you think that money and death will bring you more pleasure than life with no money.  
      All behavior has motivations.  All motivations are inherently selfish in some respect.
      Another example:  
      Is it selfless to donate to charities?  No.  
      Is it selfless or selfish to donate for tax benefits?  Ya, probably.  
      Is it selfish to donate to impress those around you when the 'plate' is passed?  Ya, I'd say so.
      What about to avoid guilt?  Hmm...
      What about for the self satisfaction of knowing you did the right thing?  Hmm...
      What about to honor another's memory or wishes?  Hmmm...
      What about to enjoy another's enjoyment, take pleasure in another's pleasure?  Hmmm...
      The correct answer to the above is that, yes, they all are selfish, but we may not normally think in that respect simply because selfishness can have a selfless side.
      Adam Smith in the Wealth of Nations wrote, "By pursuing his own interest he [, man,] frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it."
      I think it is much more helpful to think in terms of:
        • Benevolent selfishness--symbiotic.  win-win scenario.  Seeks one's own betterment through the bettering of others.  Keeps the freedom of the other party intact.
        • Malevolent selfishness--parasitic/predatory. win-lose scenario.  Forceful.  Robbing.
      How is this view of selfishness helpful?
      • It allows you to consciously, intentionally use positive reinforcement to increase the likelihood of beneficial behavior in your life.  Meaning, if you can focus on and enjoy the internal mechanisms that made you feel good when you do the right thing then you are more likely to behave that way again next time.  If your wife wants you to take out the trash then it might be smart to feel gratified when you've honored her wishes and acted responsibly, etc.
      • It also makes you more conscious and intentional about higher forms of enjoyment--like fulfillment as opposed to carnal pleasure.  Life really can be about trading lesser pleasures for greater ones.  Example:  I can give food to the hungry and receive fulfillment instead.  Life isn't about self-denial and asceticism.  It's about gaining the highest forms of pleasure--which also involves improving others lives.  That's symbiosis.  That's what the great saints of the world intuitively already knew.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Evolution of Justice, Equity, Community Concern and Leadership

Okay, this is freaking awesome so I had to share it.  Our species (and others) need a large group to survive either for protection against opposing factions, predators or to group hunt/gather.  

We come to a problem.

How do you keep a group from breaking apart because of fights, quarrels and competition for limited resources or mates?

Solution: have a hierarchy, a pecking order.

Exemplified in chimpanzees, this hierarchy is mediated by an alpha male that steps in and breaks up fights between various parties.  To have a single character representing the "final say" in arbitration is the easiest (and some times most effective) way of maintaining order.  Furthermore, their authority is most widely respected when it is impartial and doesn't side with those most likely to benefit themselves (like through reciprocity).  

Key-->not only could this have been how leadership could have evolved (through a necessary stabilizing force in large groups), but also could  be how our since of equity, justice and community concern could have evolved.  We needed to be able as leaders or subordinates to know how to effectively take sides with equity/justice instead of a party, which would only perpetuate the division.

The added benefit for the leader male could have been that through this mediation role he could have forced out other males from becoming next in line for alpha status.  

I love this sh*%$.  That is awesome.

Symbiosis and Spirituality--Moral Narrative--A Brief History of Life

As in my previous blog, I’d like to elaborate on the first idea that religion teaches morality through narrative and apply that template to the example of symbiosis and see if any helpful moral lesson might emerge.

Premise: the history of life shows cooperation works.

In grade school did you ever have the depressing realization that most of history is a cataloging of wars and death?  Well, contrary to popular opinion, nature is actually a superb example of peace, tranquility and cooperation.  Yes, there is competition and “war” on the micro level, like between that of a lion and an impala, but on the macro level it has always been cooperation (necessarily so to avoid collapse).  The following will be a history of the cooperation of life, with the intent of teaching morality from the Utilitarian perspective of morality as espoused by Jeremy Bentham.  E,i., cooperation works, it causes the greatest amount of good, therefore do it.  More on that to come.

4 Billion years ago—Our Cenancestor
The first life was a community of gene exchanging organisms cooperatively working on the recipe that was to become the first self-replicating life.

3.5-2.0 billion years ago—Endosymbiosis
Lynn Margulis, a visionary biologist was one of the first to vanguard the idea that the organelles within eukaryotic cells were formerly other bacteria like organisms.  This can be readily seen in both the structural simililarity, method of replication, their ring of DNA, cellular machinery and even a sensitivity to certain antibiotics.  Also known as endosymbios, this could have first developed by aerobic and anaerobic life ganging up together to produce an all-in-one cell that could have its oxygen loving portion in operation while in the presence of oxygen and then vice versa in its absence.  This would have been quite an advantage as the atmospheric oxygen levels rose from trace to several percentage points of the atmosphere.
PARADIGM SHIFT—you aren’t a ‘human’ you are a host of like a dozen different organisms working together

3.5-2.0 bya—Gaian Ecosystem
Take in a deep cleansing breath.  Now realize what you just breathed in—the farts of bacteria over the last several billion years.  Did you know that our atmosphere is nothing like it was when earth was a “baby”?  If it weren’t for life we’d have an atmosphere like Mars—98% carbon dioxide and trace oxygen and nitrogen.  In fact, that’s one of the major ways that we can tell that there probably isn’t life on Mars—there’s no atmospheric evidence whatsoever. 
James Lovelock brought for the Gaian hypothesis which basically states that life fosters more life.  At the beginning our atmposphere was  98% Carbon dioxide (and we’re worried about 35 parts per million) and now after several billion years of life we’ve produced are near optimum balance of oxygen (21&--not too much to be overly oxidizing , mutating and conflagrating and not too little to not allow cellular respiration and anemia), and Nitrogen (78%--a marvelously inert, stable and nonreactive medium) producing just the right Goldie Locks balance. 

1.5 billion years ago-- Multicellular Life
Further refines the idea of working as a team of specialists.  

600  mya—Sexual Reproduction
Organisms cooperated and exchanged DNA thus spawning sexual reproduction as a means to quickly and safely evolve.  Think of it.  What was the main means of evolving to a changing environment prior to sexual reproduction?  Mutation!  Which, by the way, is a kind of crappy way of evolving.  The only reason that they can make up for this random, typically deleterious form of evolution is that they make up for  it in sheer mass of offspring (perhaps you’ve seen the videos of bacteria dividing until they fill up the screen). Furthermore a “bank” of genes was later developed in the concept of recessive genes, which have the advantage of storing a host of evolutionary potentialities in them that can manifest themselves as necessary to adapt to the changing environment.  Please appreciate and realize the magnitude of this change.  There’s no way in hell we’d be possible (or even any advanced life/evolution) with this innovation and cooperation of genes.

450 mya?—Digestion Symbiosis
Simple animals with the first digestive tracts co-evolve with bacteria (and later fungi) to digest food more completely. 
2ND PARADIGM SHIFT--While I’ve found a number of estimations, it’s likely that our bodies have roughly 10 trillion cells within them.  Ready for a shocker?  How many bacteria cells do you think that you have in and on your body?  Possibly upwards of 100 trillion bacteria cells.  Let me point out the obvious, you are more bacteria than you are human!!!  Not in weight and not in mass, but in simply nose-count  you are more bacteria than human!!!

450 mya-- Plants
Plants colonize the land possibly by the symbiosis of fungi (structure) and cyanobacteria (food production).  Don’t miss this.  This is huge.  Land couldn’t have been colonized without plants.  There was essentially no life on land for 3.5 billion years.  It was a strictly aquatic phenomenon.  Then two forms of life teamed up and stormed in land.  Without plants there could have been no herbivores, predators, forests, grasslands, etc.  Huge revolution made possible, once again, by cooperation.

200mya?—Mammary Glands
It’s a form of symbiosis between a mother and child.  The child offers a way to pass on the mother's DNA and the mother offers milk.  Btw, ever thought about how boobies evolved?  I mean, weird question, right?  Think about it, other animals don’t have them.  There aren’t reptile or bird knockers in existence.  So, how did they evolve?  The short answer is they used to be sweat glands.  Example—the platypus.  In addition to being a marvelous freak of nature the platypus also exhibits a number of wonderfully ancient attributes, like laying eggs and demonstrating an evolutionary intermediary between sweat gland and mammary gland.  The don’t have teats—the sweat the milk and the baby simply licks the mother’s chest.  How messed up is that?

140 mya-- Flowering Plants
Did you know that flowering plants evolved after the advent of the dinosaurs?  They evolved symbiotically using insects as pollinators and animals as seed distributors.  There success can be seen in how they now outnumber ferns and conifers 20 to 1.  Don’t underestimate the ripple effects of this.  If there were no flowering plants, then there would be no fruit (at least like we think of it), then in addition to being no butterflies, honey bees, cotton, roses, orchids, there would be no us, our primate ancestors frugivores.

?-- The origin of hominid spoken language
Major symbiosis advancement.  We’ve succeed as a species because our ability to cooperatively stack our knowledge.  Example: we know how to build computers because we learned how to build machines to make them because we learned how to do metallurgy because we learned how to make fire, etc.  Our knowledge can build on each other’s through communication.

2m-25,000 ya?-- Allo parenting
In order to have large brains we needed to have small bodies as babies (lack of space/maternal resources).  This disproportionate head to body size made us feeble and incapable to take care of ourselves as infants.  Contrast our species with that of the wildebeest.  If the wildebeest baby can’t immediately stand and be able to move with the herd then it will be abandoned and left to the predators.  My brother just had a baby and it can’t even roll over or life its head, let alone walk!  It will be another year before that!  So, in order to compensate for this brain advantage and subsequent body disadvantage we have developed some highly specialized forms of care for our young.  Allo (Greek for ‘other’) parenting describes how the job of food gathering and distribution is a communal effort within a tribe and is no longer the sole responsibility of the direct parents.  It’s too great a task for one person in the wild.  It really does take a village to feed our young growing brains.  Please appreciate our costly our brains are—a chess Grandmaster can burn 6-7k cal a day just by thinking (says Robert Sapolsky).

10k ya?-- Symbiotic agriculture invented

9k ya-- First animals symbiotically domesticated

+6k ya-- First city-states created giving structure and stability through cooperation--taxes, army, judicial system, police, fire department, etc.  This is a highly advanced form of symbiosis.

+5k ya-- First written language invented to ease trade between persons and states--exchanged information accurately over distance and time.  Monumental advancement in informational symbiosis.

Summary: in the words of the Jesus, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."  

In the words of Stephen Covey, the math of synergy (or in this case symbiosis) isn't one plus one equals two.  It's one plus one equals three.  The sum of the parts is greater than the whole.

In the words of Benjamin Franklin, "We must hang together, gentlemen...else, we shall most assuredly hang separately."

In the words of Lee Walton, "Cooperation out competes competition."

The history of evolution has taught us that it isn't just dog eat dog, kill or be killed, out compete, out cheat, out smart others.

It's I need you.

And you need me.