We are to Gaia, as …

Some time ago, this neat guy proposed that the Earth can be considered a living thing.  He called that “thing” Gaia.

It’s the kind of concept that some people feel is right and natural.  In fact, the concept is part of our most primitive vocabulary, as in Mother Nature.

As he was trying to convince scientists, he made his argument technical.  Most of them didn’t believe him, even though he used big words and had all sorts of evidence.

For fun, let’s embrace the concept.  First, we’ll consider all of humanity a single life form, a species.  Let’s also consider that the set of ALL species on our planet also constitutes a single life form.

Here’s the fun part.  For all of us nerds who dwell on things like AI and computers taking over humanity one way or another, consider this twist.

Humans create an AI to be our servant.  At some point that AI becomes self-aware and decides that it’s better than all the humans that created it.  At that point it harnesses all sorts of technology to systematically wipe out those humans, turning them into its servants.  The AI has become the master.

Ready?

Think about Gaia as being the whole Earth representation of humanity.  It’s been around, in full flower, for a very very long time.

Now, think about humanity as the most recent creation of Gaia.  A new species that is supposed to help keep Gaia humming along for even longer.

Except something goes horribly wrong.  Gaia’s servant becomes self-aware, and decides that Gaia should be the servant, and it should become the master.  It begins waging a war upon Gaia.

Get it?  In this sense,

… WE ARE SKYNET.

 

 

(We are to Gaia, as Skynet is to us.)

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Messy Messy Mother Nature

My friends,

Consider, if you will, the platypus.

An animal concocted of many parts: bird, turtle, otter, kangaroo, and who knows how many others.

Or take the common ant, available in so many varieties and colors.  Or the banana slug, or jellyfish.

Each in their own right is a thing of beauty, a thing wrought of nature.  A thing that should be the very essence of beauty in the eyes of their queen, or mother, or lover.

For us, they can be an abomination.  How can anyone, or thing, love a spider?

To be a true scientist, especially in biology or behavior, one must accept that all things natural are, in fact, beautiful as well.*

Here’s a fun but seemingly unrelated fact: My company manufactures natural soap.

So what! you say.  What? is this some kind of subliminal advert? you protest.  Your eyes are already getting ready to close this window.  But wait!**

What I’ve learned in making our soap is that the chemical reactions are vastly more complex than we understand.  In fact, what passes for soap in today’s society is a chemical detergent.  Highly engineered chemicals that are extremely efficient at removing oils and water from your skin.

Because they are so efficient, people also buy lotion to try and re-oil and re-moisturize that very skin.

In natural soap, anyone’s natural soap, lotion and lots of other re-moisturizers are already there.  It turns out that Mother Nature makes tens, if not hundreds, of different compounds during the soap making process.

Here’s my point.  When you put together a species, or when you combine natural compounds and make soap, the outcome is not clean and neat.  It’s messy.  Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Then how does Mother Nature check her own work?  Is there some way that she tests her products for “doneness” in order to make sure her improvements are greater than her mistakes?

Some people don’t think Mother Nature ever tests for improvements, but I think she does.  That’s why life may have started out as one celled plants, but has ultimately peaked with mankind.  If you’re not a fan of man, then maybe you’ll agree the peak was dinosaurs.  No matter. Overall, Mother Nature makes things better.

How she does this, and what it means for you and me, I’ll discuss tomorrow.  For now, I suggest you go and get some natural soap.  It’s good for you.

 

 

 

*We’re going to skip a definition of beauty for now.  If you want an essay on the essence of beauty, and a definition that can cross cultures, clades, and countless centuries, feel free to ask!

**I’m only bringing up the soap bit to make a point.  This is not an advert!  If you want validation of this statement, however, I will provide a hint.  Search for “Uncle Earl’s Soap.”

 

Ultimate Fighting, Round 4

Welcome to the future!  Spring is early this year, here in Washington DC, and the cherry blossoms are beautiful.  And the ocean is only on the middle steps of the Capitol today.  Should we panic?  Or is climate change small change?

It’s up to you.  As crises go, climate change is pretty serious.  Cities will have to move, disasters will increase, and many people will panic.  I like to choose my panics, and of all the things to panic about, climate change is fairly minor.  Why?

Climate change represents accepting the idea that mankind has behaved in such a way to make the Earth warmer.  We have pushed Mother Nature (Mom to those of us who love her and know her well), and she is pushing back.

However, upsetting her with respect to climate is only one of many things people do to push Mom.  We pollute our air, land, water, and eventually our own bodies.  We destroy species and upset ecosystems.  We devour land for mining, farming, and living.  These are just the easy ones off the top of my head.  I’m sure there’s many more.

But there is one huge aspect in which we are pushing Mom that the newspapers never mention.  You might see it in an occasional biology article, but the potential impact is underestimated.  In biology, this force of Mom is called “selection.”

For the past few billions of years, Mom has selected animals for certain abilities; the greatest one of which is to reproduce.  Make babies, and helping them live long enough to have babies of their own.

For the past few centuries, humans have learned to work together as a group, so that large families are no longer critical to survival.  We have medicine and hospitals for maternity.  We have schools and other support systems for toddlers.  We have social security for seniors, even seniors who are so strongly against welfare.  And we have oodles of technology available to replace a great deal of labor that was once relegated to child labor; things like washing dishes, cutting grass, and delivering newspapers.

Most recently, we now have an understanding of inheritance.  We have diagnostic tests to determine embryonic health and fitness.  We also have the ability to perform surgery on an embryo.  We can even terminate an embryo for various reasons, with much less effort than ever before.  But what does all this have to do with Mom?

We have upset the process of natural selection.  Mom is no longer “in control.”  We are.  Or at least, we think we are.  And that’s the real problem.  For whenever mankind has the arrogance to think he has outsmarted Mom, she teaches him an extremely expensive lesson.  The builders of the Titanic ocean liner thought they’d conquered Mom, and she proved them wrong.  That was only a little boat.  Now we’re betting our entire species against her.

Who would YOU bet on?

 

Ultimate Fighting, Round 3

Welcome to our third round of the ultimate fight between humanity in one corner, and Mother Nature in the other.  Mom, as I like to call her, is absolutely radiant and beautiful, but she packs a wallop.  Humanity, as we all know, also has a certain beauty.  But, since we ourselves are all too human, we can also see many blemishes and frailties.  Keep your fingers crossed!

In a real sense, we have been ‘fighting’ Mom since our birth.  Humanity is the one species that keeps pushing the boundaries of what Mom says we can, and can not do.  Don’t play with fire, she said.  Then one day one of us discovered how useful fire could be, and so we tamed it.  Don’t jump off cliffs, she said.  Yet, here we are, with all sorts of people jumping off cliffs wearing wing suits.  And so it goes.

Climate change is one of those battles.  In the fight with Mom, however, it’s a relatively minor spar.  One, maybe two jabs at the most.  Why?

Because there are even bigger issues at stake.  Just because we can see a single punch coming doesn’t mean that the entire fight can be described by one punch.  The reason most boxing matches go “the distance” and are decided on technical factors is because the fight is composed of many different components.

We are fighting Mom on many fronts, and taking many jabs.  We are experimenting with new compounds in our products.  As a result, those compounds end up in our food, our water, our bodies.  Most frightening is that all of these compounds haven’t been fully tested on people.

I’ve only recently learned that a woman, pregnant with her daughter, can ingest or breath some of these compounds.  Once these compounds are inside her body, they can be taken up by her embryonic daughter.  This is scary in and of itself, but we’ve known this for some time.  But it’s not the truly scary part.

Our technology has gotten good enough such that we can now prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that those same compounds are not only taken up by the embryonic daughter, but that those same compounds are incorporated into her eggs.

The mother has been poisoned.  She has also poisoned her unborn daughter.  And her grandchild.  In many ways this is more critical than climate change.

Who says Mom can’t pack a wallop?

Ultimate Fighting, Round 1

Imagine entering a huge arena.  A spot of intense light reveals a boxing ring in the distance, spotlights lining the edges of the arena, all seats filled.  The audience?  Every life form that exists, and ever has existed.  Elephants sitting next to amoebas, an octopus next to the hummingbird, and even the lowly virus has shown up to see the event sitting in special quarantine box seats.

The referee grabs the microphone.  “In this corner, we have the young upstart – Heeu-man-itee!”  A small cheer goes up, mostly from the primates.

“In the opposing corning, we have the reigning cham-peen, vanquisher of all things, the bringer of life, and incarnation of death itself, Muth-Er Nay-chur!”  A huge roar as almost every living thing vibrates the air in some way.

“All right you two.  I want a clean fight, no cheating!”  DING!

The fight is on in the form of today’s rancorous political debates about climate change, and an undercurrent of bravado exists in all camps.  The deniers claim that the scientists have their signals wrong, or that everything they are seeing is simply a “new normal.”  The doomsayers are equally intent in their own convictions, as well as confident as to their suggestions for addressing the problem.

The details of either side aren’t important for now.  What we’re going to focus on is the single confrontation between humans and Mother Nature.  Let’s call her Mom for short.

People feel powerful.  We have conquered fire, we build houses that touch the sky.  We build large lakes where none existed in order to generate power and feed a billion people.  We fly through the air even though we haven’t any wings.  We swim deep under the water, even though we have no gills.  We have seen the atom, and the edge of the observable universe.  No wonder we feel powerful.

On the other hand, what has Mom done lately?  She’s pretty tame, for the most part.  In fact, 999 times out of a thousand, Mom is nothing but peace and quiet.  Waves gently lapping at the shore, gentle breezes rustling the leaves, puffy clouds.

Don’t be fooled.  Mom can jostle a tectonic plate and bring down entire cities.  She can burp a volcano and cancel summer.  She can twist a hurricane out of thin air and wash away a coastline.  And she can parch an entire continent for decades without even trying.

Here’s where bravado meets reality.  Mom is all powerful.  She represents forces many times greater than we can even dream of harnessing.  What little we have accomplished was done with her passive acquiescence.  Should she ever object, there is nothing we can do that can stop her.

This is an important reality check for all true students, whether of behavior or civil engineering or anything else.  We succeed only as much as Mom allows.  We must show her respect, and pray for mercy.

Now, back to our boxing ring.  I hope we didn’t miss anything.

DING!   “And the weenner is …!”

 

Polar bears in Hawaii?

I’m going to miss polar bears in the arctic.  The way the ice is melting, they are going to have to relocate to Hawaii.  They are a grand mammal.  As a human, I’m reconciled to the fact that my species has put many other species out of business.  It’s unfortunate, because there is so much that they could teach us.  They don’t call it survival of the fittest for nothing!

Melting ice, rising seas, stronger storms and longer droughts.  Instead of complaining about them, let’s do something about them.  How about moving our cities to higher ground?  That will make a lot of great job openings in the construction and furniture moving industries.  Insurance rates will have to rise.  That will mean lots of great jobs for adjusters, actuaries, and salespeople.  Food prices will rise and become less predictable.  Maybe that will help drive more people to buying good, natural, organic local produce.

There’s a good chance the next hurricane or earthquake will catch us by surprise.  Precious funds will be spent rebuilding instead of relocating.  Those same funds won’t be available for science, or for maintaining our infrastructure.  Society will slowly decline.

Then again, perhaps the rising sea will activate a country like China to take a bold move.  Something we have been dreaming about for decades, but never had the courage or commitment to enact.  Perhaps, like a tiger backed into a corner, the Chinese will spend their resources on developing a colony on the moon.  In this way, though many would perish on the shrinking coastline remaining on Earth, a few courageous colonists would transport the culture to a new world.  It’s like putting some of your valuables in a safe, or putting your eggs in two baskets instead of one.  The Chinese may be able to safeguard their culture in ways our own nation can no longer afford.

After all, it first takes recognition of the problem (climate change – rising seas – etcetera), the ability to plan for the long term (Chinese communist government creates 5 year plans), a population that is relatively easy to lead, and a whole lot of cash!

So, climate change may not be as bad as “they” say it is.  Warmer winters up north, and maybe a Chinese colony on the moon.

As far as our behavior is concerned, there is a far more serious threat to our existence.  science likes to say that in climate change we are fiddling with Mother Nature.  And Mother Nature does NOT like fiddling; and she takes no prisoners.  However, we are fiddling with Mother Nature in ways that are far more serious than anything climate change can bring.  But that’s for next week.

In the meantime, I’m going to hug my stuffed polar bear.