Sunday, March 05, 2017

Sobering thoughts for a Sunday morning

"We have become the United States of Spite, and we are in this condition because it serves the interests of the plutocrats to have us at each others throats as our quality of life disappears upstream.

This new administration has set about undoing every good thing government has done for us, one vile rescission after another. And they do it with a righteous glee that sickens me. They do it with a logic that is not logic, using facts that are not facts. And they're cheered on by people who are likely to be among their worst victims.
It's hellish."

Friday, February 24, 2017

This is your reality now, and mine.

"....By the time I was 19 years old, I came to view awareness not as a gift, but as a curse." - Guy McPherson, ecologist and revolutionist.
The theme of this blog over the more-than decade it has existed is reality; the realities that exist, that overlap, and those realities in which we choose to exist.

Reality is like multiverses; there are many. One of the past, one of the future, and the combination of these which is the present. Is there one reality? Yes and no (the typical biologist's response to questions).

A reality exists that is outside of our body and minds. Some may call this the 'truth', but that's not exactly accurate. Some may call this 'nature' or 'science', but those are just names we apply to what we really may not know. Or what we think we know.
"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.”- Mark Twain
Hey, but Reality is all that is factual, right? Sometimes, sometimes not. Mark Twain understood what facts really are. Yes, facts are schizophrenic. There are facts whether or not anyone can prove they’re true. Facts do not generally depend on our beliefs or desires. They exist whether or not anyone thinks about them, proves they’re true, and so on.

The law of gravity exists whether or not anyone knows about it, thinks about it, proves it, or believes it. We know this because the fact about gravity is a testable statement, and it has been tested multiple times, over and over. We experience it every day. Thus, as a society, we have labeled it a 'fact'. Evidence we have collected by rigorous testing as a society has been put forth to a collection of people that has accepted it as a 'fact'. However, there are many 'facts' we don't know about. Yet.

Facts, including the word, are used loosely in our language. They can be considered and used in several forms of realism: physical, scientific, epistemic, and moral. In the latter, some facts depend on thoughts, beliefs, and proofs (to some extent). Those are facts about what people think, believe, or prove. Some may not exist in any of the other forms of realism. It is here where Mark Twain saw humankind.

As a scientist, my beliefs center on facts, as they exist in all facets of realism. Often, especially in recent times, this has not been an easy process to reconcile between conflicting evidence and reporting. In the realm of moral realism, sometimes evidence and facts are presented as statements that align with prevailing or personal beliefs. It is the explosion of this type of realism that challenges myself, and everyone of us, to think more critically in what we acknowledge as being factual, despite that it exists or does not.
"Sometimes people just dispute the validity of specific facts. But we find that people sometimes go one step further and... they reframe an issue in untestable ways."- Troy Campbell and Justin Friesen, Why People Fly From Facts. 
The increasing numbers of people choosing to disbelieve, or ignore, evidential and tested factual information continues to astound me. When challenged with tested facts, and providing evidence, people choose (consciously or subconsciously) to accept or not accept both the evidence and the fact. Observations of discussions with people have made me aware that, even when presented with tested or testable facts, they will not change their beliefs, which are tied into their desires. This has been tested and studied, with the same conclusions. Personal bias is the strongest realism that sometimes will trump any that is substantiated by physical, scientific, and epistemic processes.
"Unfortunately, we’ve also learned that facts can only do so much. To avoid coming to undesirable conclusions, people can fly from the facts and use other tools in their deep belief protecting toolbox." - Campbell and Friesen.
 The predominant collective reality is based on not science, not the physical, and not epistemic processes, but personal bias. It is the new disease. And this is what prompted me to run away from The Empire (coined by Guy McPherson) and embark on a life of simplicity, and a mission to help preserve and conserve the environment and wildlife. This is what has kept me awake at night off and on for the past six years, but recently more pronounced. And it is this which I try to reconcile my hope in our species, and the reality of what is happening at the national and global scales.

A comment appeared on social media in response to a column appearing in the New York Times, "The Death of Compassion". Author Charles Blow traces the beginning and sanctions of this country's rampant loss of compassion, from Ronald Regan and now to the Trump administration.  The comment to this reminds me of our choices of reality; "Cultural anthropologists say that empathy is "programmed in" to the human consciousness, or we would not have evolved or be here as a species today. A lack of it may end the long journey..."

This statement sums up many events and struggles occurring in our country and around the globe. Yes, there are still small pockets of compassion and altruism. But they are shrinking fast.

We are seeing today an acceleration of a collapsing civilization, similar to the the process in overpopulated groups of animals faced with increasingly limited resources (population dynamics). Animal species and groups have their own inherent checks and balances, but when that fails, they fight and kill each other. Mice will even eat their babies. Observing that as a child was my first lesson in population dynamics.

A few historians and sociologists recognized this, speaking out and publishing in academic and public media on societal collapse as far back as 2009: "....we now live in an era when multiple, large-scale, interconnected structural crises have pushed the global system to the threshold of catastrophic collapse" (Kuecker and Hall, 2011). In his book,
The Population Bomb, biologist Paul Erlich warned of the consequences of overpopulation and limited resources. Like most of the general public, even some scientists called Erlich a "Doomsayer".

Some sociologists predict that small communities are the most resilient and most likely to survive (Kuecker and Hall, 2011). We have seen this cycle before throughout human civilization, but not on this scale around the world (Childs, 2012). Several biologists and ecologists increasingly join the conversation and offer evidence of collapse (McPherson, 2011).

It seems that only those people that are aware of this speak out. Several predicted our current situation and dysfunction. Many of these people are educated. But they have been discredited as Doom and Gloom Sayers. And ignored. I, too, discounted them. But no more. 
 "The world looked insane to me, but nobody else seemed to notice, so I buried my thoughts, and muddled on. Deep inside, this was tearing me to pieces."  - Tim Bennett
Most people are too caught up in the developing chaos to be aware and acknowledge it, and thereby contribute to the process. Many scientists are torn between taboo emotion or gagged by their institutions. The Empire is falling and the power struggle is on full-bore.
"The unwise man is awake all night, worries over and again. When morning rises he is restless still." - Unknown
America is no longer the "land of the free". It is playing 'the game', internally and abroad. We are not immune, and we have ourselves to blame for allowing this to happen here.
"With the disease of bias, then, societal immunity is better achieved when we encourage people to accept ambiguity, engage in critical thinking, and reject strict ideology. We will never eradicate bias—not from others, not from ourselves, and not from society. But we can become a people more free of ideology and less free of facts."  -  Campbell and Friesen.
Now is the the time to be a Warrior. The facts, the realism -the physical, scientific, epistemic, and moral- have all coalesced into one Reality. This is our world now, and we must shape it otherwise. Or someone else will shape it for us.

For many scientists and activists, gloom is building. We have "stopped believing the stories our civilization tells itself." (Dark Mountain Manifesto, Paul Kingsnorth, longtime climate activist and novelist). If we don't act, we can add the Gloom to the Doom. Time is overdue to act.
"Trump is a cancer on this country and resistance is the remedy. The Trump phenomenon is devoid of compassion, and we must be closed to compromise. No one need try to convince me otherwise. The effort is futile; my conviction is absolute. This is a culture war in which truth is the weapon, righteousness the flag and passion the fuel." - Charles Blow.

  •  Bennett, Tim. What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire, movie by VisionQuest Pictures.
  • Blow, Charles. 2017. "The Death of Compassion," The New York Times,  Feb. 23, 2017.
  • Campbell, Tony and Justin Friesen. 2015. "Why People "Fly from Facts"", Scientific American. March 2, 2015.
  • Childs, Craig. 2012. Apocalyptic Planet, Pantheon Press.
  • Kingsnorth, Paul and Dougald Hine. 2009. Uncivilization: The Dark Mountain Manifesto, self-published. 
  • Kuecker, Glen David, and Tomas D, Hall. 201. Resilience and Community in the Age of World-system Collapse. Nature and Culture, 6:18-40
  • McPherson, Guy. 2011. Walking Away from Empire: A Personal Journey. PublishAmerica, Baltimore, Maryland.PublishAmerica, Baltimore, Maryland 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

This is becoming your reality

It has begun........
Those people that struggle will be struggling more. The inequality will grow wider.
Censorship and propaganda will proliferate. You will know only what the Dictator wants you to know. The federal government will have no transparency.

This is what you voted for. Be prepared to shoulder your responsibility in this.

"Soon after Donald Trump was sworn in as president, his administration undid one of Barack Obama’s last-minute economic-policy actions: a mortgage-fee cut under a government program that’s popular with first-time home buyers and low-income borrowers. The new administration on Friday said it’s canceling a reduction in the Federal Housing Administration’s annual fee for most borrowers. The cut would have reduced the annual premium for someone borrowing $200,000 by $500 in the first year."


"Within hours of the presidential transition, the White House, now under the control of President Donald Trump, took down the Native Americans web page that was part of the Obama White House website for the past eight years.

Also gone from the Trump White House website are web pages on civil rights, people with disabilities and climate change.

New to the White House website is First Lady Melania Trump biography, which is normal when a presidential transition occurs. What is not generally done though is promoting a First Lady’s product, as is now the case. The new web page mentions her  jewelry line sold on QVC."


 "‘‘All bureaus and the department have been directed by incoming administration to shut down Twitter platforms immediately until further notice,’’ said an email circulated to Park Service employees Friday afternoon."


"Shortly after President Donald Trump raised his right hand and took the Oath of Office, the Joining Forces page on went dark."

This is only the beginning. To be silent, is to be complicit.

Not my President!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Modern stressful life and depression

"While being physically ill causes inflammation, it is far from being the only cause. Modern life itself seems to be a state which our body responds to negatively."

An article, Depression Is Only Partly a Psychological Condition, links depression, physical illness, and inflammation. But it is more complex than the process explained by the author.
"While the symptoms of depression are marked by changes in the brain, the cause of the disease may ultimately lie in the body, specifically in a family of proteins called cytokines that set off inflammation."
 One component missing here, but alluded to, is stress. Chronic stress sets off a cascade of inflammatory responses, which affects physical and mental health. For a review of the complex links of chronic stress, depression and many physical illnesses, I recommend a review by  G. Slavich and M. Irwin, From Stress to Inflammation and Major Depressive Disorder: A Social Signal Transduction Theory of Depression.
"This highly conserved biological response to adversity is critical for survival during times of actual physical threat or injury. However, this response can also be activated by modern-day social, symbolic, or imagined threats, leading to an increasingly proinflammatory phenotype that may be a key phenomenon driving depression pathogenesis and recurrence, as well as the overlap of depression with several somatic conditions including asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic pain, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and neurodegeneration."
 A complex environment of chronic stress, poor eating habits, and lack of exercise is probably responsible for more of our modern health (physical and mental) issues than most people realize, and it seems to be an acceptable state of normality in our modern world. No wonder that depression is at an all-time high.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

We've been here before.......

Here we go again.
"I feel like 
I've been here before, 
and you know, 
it makes me wonder, 
what's goin' on, 
under the ground."*
Déjà vu.

But this time, those that rose to protest and civil disobedience in the 1960's are silent or a whisper. Instead, the soma of a privileged class is complacent like walking zombies hooked into a global information stream that ha
s made them numb and elite.

How is it that many of those same protesters of the 60's are silent now? Many that I know personally are talking heads that spew drivel and blindly continue on their indignant paths of privilege.

Some are so full of anger that their mouths and fingers waggle at everyone but themselves as they claim that anarchy is the only way to righteousness. Without admitting that those they voted into office are responsible, or denying they support the tyrants and bullies. Compassion is no longer an option, they cry. "It's all your own fault!", they sigh. And go back to their handwringing while mouthing on and on.

Too many hide behind religion as their flag to change the rules. The old power that whispers behind hands and shouted with self-righteous justification for their own ends to control and bully. Power is their deity that hides their quest for control in the name of a God that vindicates all their words and deeds. While the ghosts of the Spanish Inquisition urge them on and laugh at our ignorance and division.

Do they not realize they are the same as those they label as terrorists, 'unholy', and destroyers? Is spreading their own version of terror their personal salvation?

Some have struggled through darkness and wrestled with their conscience, dropping out of the Rat Empire to advocate awareness, truth and change. A few even campaign for radical change, while feeling mostly alone in a sea of hypocrisy and hopelessness.

And there are those of us that see the ghosts of people in the streets wearing arm bands, waving banners. Some put fingers to keyboards to call attention to the hell that is breaking loose around us. Some thrust mirrors in our faces and point to the public horrors and plights. Others try to pull heads out of the sand and hands away from deaf ears.

But where are the songs? Where are the Pete Seeger's, and Dylan's, and Joan Baez's? Where are the marchers, chanters, and changers?

We drown in words that flash across the TVs and smart phone screens until we are desensitized, dazed and confused. They mean nothing anymore. And we drown in all the noise.

We need the songs and feet on the ground.
'Bang the drum slowly' while we drag our feet.
Take up the voices while moving the beat.
Because we are at war here.

And it may implode.
But the only ones that we can blame,
Are ourselves
In hidden shame.

*Crosby, Stills and Nash, Déjà Vu. 1970.

Monday, June 01, 2015

The Rule of Seven. Happy New Year, Self!!

I hate the number seven. It seems that every seven years, my humanity is tested. Sometimes the trial is tough, challenging, and sometimes I fail. Trip and fall. Hit my head and have a headache for a year. But I always get up, put myself back together and carry on. The Survivor mentality. 

Or, as my father used to say, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

By knowing things that exist, you can know that which does not exist. That is the void.” - Miyamoto Musashi

This time was another test of my humanity. It wasn't as devastating as it was back in 2006. But, then again, I'm not as young as I was either. And betrayals never get any easier to bear. Again, this was partly my own fault for forgiving an earlier transgression that I should have not have. 'Another chance,' I convinced myself. And it bit me a few years later.

"I feel like 

I've been here before, 
and you know, 
it makes me wonder, 
what's goin' on, 
under the ground."
Déjà vu.

Lesson hammered home. The Void.

Yet..... if this past trial had not happened, I would not be where I am now. I am strong, happy, productive, and full of life. Living what exists now, I also know what no longer exists. And I am grateful for that. Rising from the ashes and flying with flames of rebirth. "In my pockets, I carry new-found fruits and seeds that nourish my journeys. And scatter some along my way."

Happy First Anniversary, Phoenix. Welcome back, you old wolf. 
Let's go, brother Coyote. We have an adventurous road of discovery ahead of us.

The truth is that strength lies in the interior of the Warrior: in his heart, his mind and his spirit… The heart is essential in helping the intellect to understand the spirit.” - Miyamoto Musashi, Book of Five Rings

Saturday, December 13, 2014

My Third Law: It Depends!

Should burns take place in spring
Or wait for autumn rain?
Would baiting help or hinder?
Can owl chicks live through flame?
‘I dunno,’ we had to answer.
‘Not sure, can’t really say.
Needs further replication
Might vary day-to-day.’
PhDs require devotion,
Long days with no weekends
But the ultimate conclusion seems
‘Umm, well, it depends.’
- excerpt from post, 'My Grand Conclusion', on zoologist Bron's blog, Working on the Wild Side
The two of us answered in unision..... "It depends." And looked at each other with a knowing smile.

A retired couple asked for information on where to go to see this bird and that bird. Husband asked for specific details: what species, what location, what time. He was dissatisfied with my answers, including "They were seen here yesterday morning, and there yesterday afternoon, and at this location this morning, but they may be anywhere. They don't send us memos on when or where they go."

When asking for exact details on how to get to 'Point A' from 'Point B' (a distance of 125 miles), my explanation of various options of traveling from Point A to Point B resulted in some visible upset. His wife gently reminded him that they aren't in a hurry and he might enjoy experiencing different things along the way. Her comment was met with a hand wave, pointing at a map, and listing what he expected to see, do, encounter, etc. He wanted no surprises.

"If something changes, if we stray from the map, it will be an adventure!", said his wife.

"No! No surprises, and I don't like adventures. Adventures mean poor planning," Husband responded. "How long will it take to get to 'Point B'?"

Wife and I replied simultaneously, "It depends!"

I looked at them both and then asked Husband, "Are you a mathematician?"
Eyebrows went up and he said, "Why, yes! How did you know?".

"A strong aversion of risk and uncertainty," I responded. Wife returned my smile.
"Oh my God, are you a biologist, too?!" Husband asked with raised eyebrows and looking like he was stuck in between two conspirators.  By that time, all three of us were laughing.

Third Law: It Depends!

My First Law, unapologetically borrowed from The First Law of Thermodynamics (aka 'You can't win'), states that where there's a positive, there is a negative. And this is related to My Second Law: 'Everything is relative'. 'Positive' and 'negative' are relative to the perspective of that which observes or experiences the action/reaction, which depends on time, place and being. (Note that the Second Law of Thermodynamics is 'You can't break even'. See blog post linked above.)

I think you can see where I'm going.

My Third Law is 'It Depends'. If anything I have learned in biology and ecology (and life itself) remains constant, it is: It depends. For the person who demands or insists on a life or reality of 'Yes' or 'No', you will either be disappointed or live in perpetual denial. For life is not simply black and white. A vast area of gray reside in between.

Evolution of......

As an undergraduate back in the early 1980's, and in the 'backward' state of Maine, specialization was not the norm. To specialize meant the same fate as an organism that is specific to a very narrow habitat and diet. It could mean death in a drastically changing environment. As most biologists will recognize the analogy, plasticity in lifestyle, education and thinking meant adaptability and survival.

Thrust into the rapidly evolving culture and society of rampant specialization in grad school (Oregon) was somewhat traumatic for me. But that did not deter me from learning and cultivating both professionally and in my own culture, plasticity. It has been ironically amusing to see a reverse in the trend of specialization the last six years, albeit at a slow rate in academia. Several life science disciplines still resist recognition and acceptance of integrated sciences and practice. Even in my beloved field of biology.

An exception is ecology. Perhaps because the very concept and foundation of ecology is based in dynamic and complex relationships. No longer can only one variable be 'the' determinist'. In ecology, models are not equated with 'laws', but serve as bases for probabilities and predictions. With a good dose of 'it depends'.

Evolution itself operates on 'It depends'. Nearly all phenotypic traits are based on the expression of multiple genes interacting within the context of a dynamic relationship with their environment. A trait will evolve and remain as long as it confers fitness within a set of environmental conditions.

Changing one note in a symphony is sometimes drowned out by the rest of the music. Except for rare diseases, one single gene is not responsible for obesity and/or diabetes. Ernst Mayr commented, "The idea that a few people have about the gene being the target of selection is completely impractical; a gene is never visible to natural selection, and in the genotype, it is always in the context with other genes, and the interaction with those other genes make a particular gene either more favorable or less favorable."

Frankly, I feel more comfortable with a world of 'it depends' than dictates of 'The Theory of Everything', the 'Gene for Everything', and 'Models are Laws'. A world of Venn Cubes (a more complex 3-D model of Venn Diagrams ;) makes more sense to me; it's more representative of life and reality. Perhaps I can handle the uncertainty and risk.

So, according to my Third Law, there is a caveat to my First and Second Laws. It depends.

Interview  with the late biologist, Ernst Mayr on

MAYR: "One of the surprising things that I discovered in my work on the philosophy of biology is that when it comes to the physical sciences, any new theory is based on a law, on a natural law. Yet as several leading philosophers have stated, and I agree with them, there are no laws in biology like those of physics. Biologists often use the word law, but for something to be a law, it has to have no exceptions. A law must be beyond space and time, and therefore it cannot be specific. Every general truth in biology though is specific. Biological "laws" are restricted to certain parts of the living world, or certain localized situations, and they are restricted in time. So we can say that their are no laws in biology, except in functional biology which, as I claim, is much closer to the physical sciences, than the historical science of evolution."
EDGE: "Let's call this Mayr's Law."

Further reading:
"The typical ecological answer – it depends", blog post by oikosasa. Website: Oikos: Synthesizing Ecology.
"Which species is best for their host marsh cordgrass? Fiddler crab or mussel? The answer is – it depends"
"Ecological processes depend on …", blog post by CJA Bradshaw. Website:
"In real ‘ecological’ life, things are vastly different. It’s never as straightforward as ‘yes’ or ‘no’, because ecology is complex. There are times that I forget this important aspect when testing a new hypothesis with what seem like unequivocal data, but then reality always hits."