Monday, May 30, 2011

Connectedness in nature ("the and")

Of course, the world of nature is a world of connectedness. Soil (along with sunlight and water) nurtures plants and trees, animals eat plants and each other, their droppings in turn nurture the soil, and in death they further nurture the soil and the bacteria that reside there.  In that small way, we continue to live after death, continuing to nurture and participate in the process of life.  Similarly, in a manner of speaking, our current place in the world is simply a continuation of evolutionary processes that began millions of years ago, beginning with the birth of single celled creatures, and continuing through the development of intelligent animals, our parents and voila.  We are simply participants in something that began long long ago and will continue long after we are gone.  In that very limited sense,  the Indian belief in reincarnation can be said to have a scientific basis.
In sum, we are connected, both physically and temporally, to the world around us, to the world that was and the world that will be.  The "and" is ever present in all its glory.
The process of analytical thinking consists, in large part, in breaking things down into their component parts and examining these components.   Thus, analytical thinking, and possibly all thinking, involves a destruction of the connectedness that exists in nature.   We destroy them so we can see them.  As the most wonderful part of being human is having the ability to see.  In school, unfortunately, it is easy to lose sight of this big picture. It takes a great teacher to bring it into focus.

More on agriculture

  Thus, man is the only sentient being that engages in agriculture, and agriculture necessarily involves the destruction of some species to favor others.  As earlier noted, animals and plants constantly work together.  Sometimes they will destroy each other for food, but none besides man will destroy other species solely to make way for a favored plant or animal, as the farmer does when he clears fields, or the gardener does when he pulls weeds.   Thus, in agriculture, man has attempted to usurp the natural design of the world, and to remake it in the design he favored.  The agricultural act is an attempt to redesign the world, or to play the role of God.
  In sum, the destruction of the diversity found in nature (the "or") had its roots not in the industrial revolution or some other modern event but in the development of of agriculture some 15,000 years ago.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Ideas on love in the context of the "and" and the "or"

Interesting piece today by Jonathan Franzen in the Times.  If, like most politicians, you are consumed by a desire to be liked, rather than be loved, you change your behavior in an attempt to meet the expectations of those you wish to be liked by. (dangling part?) Since you are not true to your core self, you lose any sense of self, or your "orness".  And in your attempts, usually successful, to manipulate the feelings of those you wish to be liked by, you develop contempt for them.  This behavior, paradoxically, leads to a diminution of both the "and" (your bond with others) and the "or".  If, on the other hand, you become involved in a loving relationship, all of you, both the good and the bad, is on display.  Your sense of self, the "or", is strengthened, as is the "and", as you view the loved one as more than one who can be manipulated.  You love the whole person, every inch of him or her.  Both the "or" and the "and" are actualized.  Not that I would know anything about that.

Evolution again

Biologist will remind you that the study of evolution is not just the study of competition between species, but the study of cooperation.  Thus, the "and" is always at work in evolutionary development.  It is thought be some that multi-celled creatures evolved from single celled creatures when single celled creatures huddled together, possibly to hide from predators or for protection.  There were obviously various types of atomic bonding involved here.   However, they began to act as multicelled units, and different sets of cells divided the labor between them.  Thus, to a certain extent, the single celled units sacrificed their autonomy in order to survive.  It can be said that through the "and", the "or" sacrificed itself.  However, the eventual result was greater diversity, as we have already seen that units of limited types (say 20 types of amino acids) are combined through the "and" into various sets of combinations, the diversity is infinite.  Thus, the "or" was ingeniously farsighted, temporarily sacrificing itself for its own benefit, or rather that of its decendants.
As earlier noted, the "and" is constantly at work throughout nature.  Bees pollinate flowers.  Birds eat berries, defecating their seeds. Alliances abound.  And yes of course humans domesticate plants and animals, trying to choose winners and losers.  As Michael Pollan points out, prior to the advent of factory farming, this may have worked to the benefit of the animals being domesticated, who were given food and shelter.  Of course, the human act of domestication is also, in several ways a destructive act.  Farmers, and gardeners for that matter, eradicate weeds.  Farmers, in the act of clearing land for their farms, clear millions of other species vying for a place in the world.  The act of domestication inevitably involves the destruction of the "or" for the benefit of the "and", in contrast to the relatively voluntary act of self sacrifice that occurred when single celled animals evolved into multi-celled creatures, the human destruction of the "or" has had disastrous consequences...

Thursday, May 26, 2011

agriculture et al

We have explained how, in reproduction, the power of the "and" is utilized to the benefit of the "or".  The  "and" temporarily bonds two individuals, a male and a female, to create a third. And this third is different from the two from which it came as he or she has inherited a combination of genes coming from the two parents, to the benefit of the "or."
However, humans appear to the the only species to appropriate the "and" found in nature in order to replicate other species, whether they be plants or animals.  More recently, they have been utilizing the power of the "and" found in nature to create proteins and vaccines through biotechnology.  They may insert the genes that make the proteins into e-coli bacteria and use the power of the "and" to breed the bacteria.  The act of inserting the genes, or splicing genes or plasmids together is a purely human exercise of the "and", which is followed by harnessing the "and" found in nature, allowing the bacteria to reproduce.  A similar harnessing of the "and" is involved in the production of vaccine.
In any event, by harnessing the power of the "and" found in nature, man has undoubtedly benefited himself in the short run.  But the result of factory farming and the monopolistic use of genetically modified crops has been less biodiversity.   In other words, by appropriating the power of the "and" found in nature, and using that power to breed animals, plants et. al, man has diminished the "or".  The "and" and the "or" are out of balance.  And that cannot be good for the planet.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


It must be said, though, that the appropriation of fire was not, in itself, the creation of a tool. It is possible that the first use of fire involved the repeated use of hot embers, from fires that had occurred naturally.  Nonetheless, it is clear that the "and" had its hand in the lighting of subsequent fires, as wood would be added to these hot embers.  And the more sophisticated creation of fire that followed, from the combination of flint and steel, was a human invention in the strictest sense. It required the combination of things that did not naturally occur in nature.  In this, as in other tools, described in the last post, we see the application of the "and" to create new things, or to increase the diversity of the "or".  And fire was an important social tool.  In all primitive cultures, tribes would gather around the fire, to cook food or partake of its warmth.  Thus, fire was a crucial element of social cohesion.  Thus, we see the beginnings of another "and/or" cycle.  The combination of elements (flint and steel, embers and additional wood) leads to additional tools, or the perpetuation of the "or".  The perpetuation of the "or" creates additional social cohesion, perpetuating the "and".  This, in turn, perpetuated the development of language skills and more sophisticated brains, which were capable of developing new tools.  It can be said that all tools involve the social perpetuation of the "and", as all tools are meant to be used by other people, or to make life easier for the whole group.
At the same time, the development of tools led to more specialization, or a greater division of labor, in other words, the perpetuation of the "or".  And in the end, it led to less social cohesion, as smaller and smaller groups of people, families, single people, were now able to get by on their own.  And we have already seen that the perpetuation of the synthetic "or", led to the destruction of nonhuman species, or the destruction of the natural "or".  Cycles, cycles.


So, what of the use of invention?  For humans are to a large extent distinguished from other animals in their ability to use tools.  To be sure, some monkeys strip the bark from sticks and dip them into ant or termite nests, and otters use stones to crack shells.  But the human use of tools involves a change of form not present in that of other species.  A stick is still a stick, and sticks are often stripped of their bark naturally. Human tools involve a change of form not found in nature.  Their departure from nature has become more and more progressed as man has advanced over the years.  First we had wooden spears, probably not extraordinarily different from sticks found in nature.  Rocks were chipped or broken, but rocks are chipped and broken in the course of natural events.  But tools, over the years, have become less and less natural.  We can say that by creating new forms, adding to the forms that already exist, man has, to a large extent, sought to appropriate the individuation of the "or", to play the role of God.  Most tool making involves putting things together in ways not found in nature, whether metal, stones, wood and twine (bows and arrows), gasoline and numerous metal, rubber and plastic parts (cars and trucks), or the combination of entirely new molecules (plastics, various medications).  Thus, in a way not too dissimilar to that found in nature (which we have discussed in earlier posts) man has appropriated the "and", gathering things together, to increase the diversity of the "or".  Of course, what has happened over the years, is that as he has increased the diversity of a synthetic "or", he has decreased that of the natural "or" but destroying forests and causing the extinction of thousands of species.  The pace of human invention has increased exponentially during our lifetimes.  So has the death of the planet.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Maintaining a healthy "or"

It has long been known that the ability to adapt, to seemingly assume more than one identity, or the maintenance of a healthy "or" is necessary for a healthy existence on various levels.  On a cellular level, we see this accomplished in numerous ways.
We saw in an earlier post how diversity can result from relative simplicity by simply changing the sequence of various pieces  (i.e ABC can be changed to ACB and the like).  The cell can seemingly change the order of certain genes when the situation calls for it.  For example, when a certain gene needs to be deactivated, a flippase gene can make an enzyme which inverts the order of genes.  The flippase gene can then seemingly be inserted between the gene that needs to be deactivated and that genes promoter.
Some types of adaptation do not involve a change in the order of genes but simply the temporary movement of sections of DNA.  For example, "repressors", which normally repress a gene which may encode the sequence for an enzyme which digests a certain type of molecule, can themselves seemingly jump away from the DNA when they (the repressors) need to be deactivated.   Thus, a repressor for a gene encoding the enzyme that digests lactose will, in the presence of lactose, seem to jump away from the DNA sequence and cling to the lactose molecule.  This allows the RNA polymerase to slip through, read the DNA, produce messenger RNA and thus begin the sequence of enzyme production (amino acids bind to transfer RNA, and ribosomes then assemble the enzymes out of the amino acids.)
The diversity of the "or"  is necessary for, and expresses itself in the production of antibodies.  According to Gonnick, certain cells have toolkits containing hundreds of pieces of DNA.  When a foreign invader, such as the cold I am getting over, rears its ugly head, the cell can assemble the pieces of DNA in millions of ways to make the appropriate antibody.  Thus, we have yet another example of the "or" taking advantage of the "and" to make millions of different things from a few hundred pieces.
Humans have recently begun to appropriate the "or" to splice together different genes, also known as recombinant DNA technology.  Of course, the human mind has always sought to appropriate the diversity of the "or" to make things that don't exist in nature.   Whether they can truly appropriate something that they don't own, and the effect of these efforts will require another post.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Mitosos and meiosis: the "and" and "or" in action

We see the "and" and the "or" at work in the process of both mitosis and meiosis.

Firstly, it might be worth noting that the "and" places a limit, not significant, the the degree of diversity that may appear through the imposition of rules.  Among these rules is that the nucleotide base "C" may only pair with "G" and the base "A" may only pair with "T".   DNA, as we know, consists of sequences of these pairs, millions or billions of pairs long.

In mitosis, each member of the pair, in essence, pulls away from each other.  In this pulling away and differentiation, we see an expression of the "or".  However, at the same time each base is pulling away from its partner, it is pairing up with another base, its complementary base, which is essentially the same base as its former partner.  Thus, with regard to the pair "CG", the "C" will pull away from its partner, "G" (the or), but partner with another G (the "and" in action).  Similarly, the "G" in the original pair pulls away from its initial partner (a "C") and will pair up with another "C" (the "and" in action once again.)  The new sequences of pairs fold around each other just as the old sequences.  Thus, in the creation of new sets of DNA, (and new cells which we won't describe), we see a predominance of the "and".

In the process of meiosis, gametes, which as I understand are eggs and sperm, are formed.  Each gamete, a single celled creature,  has half the number of chromosomes that the mother and father had.  In meiosis, as I understand, through a similar interaction of the "and" and "or" to that which occurs in mitosis, the chromosomes double and thicken. Then each pair of chromosones pair up with an essentially identical pair of chromosomes, called a homologous pair.  Then these cells are divided or pulled part into new cells not once but twice.   Thus, we see the operation of the "or" on two occasions.  A total of four gametes are made, each with half the number of chromosomes of the original cell.  Thus, in meioses, we see the predominance of the "or".

Of course, in sexual reproduction, two gametes come together to make a new cell with the original number of chromosomes, only a new assortment.  Thus, though in meiosis we see the predominance of the "or", in the combination of of gametes, we see a victory of both the "and" and the "or", in the form of greater diversity.  After the new cell is formed, it repeatedly reproduces, and the new cells are differentiated according to function (i.e. skin cells, blood cells etc.)  At this point we see an explosion of both the "and" and the "or", not dissimilar to that which took place at the time of the big bang.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

More on the "and" and the "or" at a cellular level

From our last post, we see how the repetition of relatively few elements into various sequences can result in incredible diversity.  The study of cellular DNA also reveals that cells have various lengthy sequences of nucleotide bases, and these sequences repeat themselves thousands of times.  It is not currently known what funcion, if any, these sequences have.   However, it is known that the "or" limits the degree of repetition somewhat when transcribing DNA to make proteins.   Apparently, after messenger RNA is formed, before it can be read, spliceasomes splice up this RNA, cutting out various portions thereof and then putting it back together.   T-RNA then attaches itself to this mRNA, and to the end of this t-rna, an amino acid is attached.  It seems that these amino acids are able to slip outside the nucleus of the cell, and a ribosme takes these amino acids and constructs a protein.  Why all these steps are necessary is not clear. It is possible that some of the useless DNA was deposited by viruses.  Retroviruses themselves take advantage of the "and" to replicate and insert their DNA into chromosomes.   The "or", namely the transcription process, then splices away some of these sequences, or so it seems.

While the "or" takes advantage of the repetition of the "and" to create diversity, in the form of thousands of genes, proteins, enzymes and the like, the "and" also prospers when cells reproduce.  We see the "and"'s expressions on a macro level when we note that virtually every cell has the same DNA, the same endless sequences of nucleotide bases.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


Through the creation of life, the "and" imposed order upon the chaos of the "or".  This earth was was set upon by swirling clouds of poisonous gas, and violent streams of boiling plasma erupting without provocation.  According to one theory, somewhere, some of this much hardened into a lipid like substance, shielding the chemicals inside from the fury of the world, and within these lipids the chemical reactions necessary for the existence of life began to take hold.  The order imposed by the "or" was initially tyrannical.  Diversity was an afterthought.  Somewhere along the line, these single celled creatures discovered chlorophyl, which they used to convert water, carbon dioxide and sunlight (which is energy), into food. These algae conquered the earth.  But they made the mistake of emitting oxygen.  And this oxygen made the earth a more hospital place for animals like us, in part by converting methane and ammonia to carbon dioxide and nitrogen.  The "and" had vanquished the chaos of the unrestrained "or" by itself becoming a tyrant, something that happens all to often in the human world.   However, by creating the prosperity of an oxygen rich environment, the "and" created the conditions for the "or" to assume its rightful place.  Creatures that breathed oxygen and ate algae were formed, and later creatures that ate these creatures came into being.   The diversity of the "or" began to take hold.