Watching how animals learn

My essay this year in Cosmos & History’s collection of papers on “What Is Life” is importantly about noticing that animals are not primarily involved in conflict, as the Darwinian theory and the equations of ecology are described to mean.   Life’s Hidden Resources for Learning

When watching animals behave, fish in a stream or mice in the shadows, or even ants, they’re primarily involved in exploring.    That learning behavior, poking around their local environments, seems focused on finding things that are free to use, and, won’t get them in danger.

Punishment is not what guides that, but discovery.
Punishment is what signals that a learning process has failed!

It’s the learning animals are observably doing on their own, actively and individually, about their own particular environment, that most determines their individual successes or failures.

The following is from a 12/25 response to an email conversation, with Mary & Stan.   We were talking about

how the depression and apathy of caged animals is evidence of how their natural learning in interrupted by being caged… Continue reading Watching how animals learn

Mutation, answers for fruitful questions

my comments with Stan Salthe’s


S: Overall, my point is that nature’s workings are mysterious, and we (think we) understand (just a small portion of) them by way of our discourses.

[ph] Yes, and the portion we can codify in language and write in terms that are culturally meaningful to us and relevant to scientific methods is the useful knowledge available it seems to me. The other half is the pointers and hooks that our rule making gives us to be better explorers of the not well described behaviors of complex physical things themselves. Continue reading Mutation, answers for fruitful questions

Signal from nature of strain

Mary’s response (to my note below)


Phil – You are so nice to set your ideas forth. This one really resonates with me:

It’s that signal from nature of strain on the resource that we need to read differently. We’ve been reading it backwards, essentially. We’ve been seeing it as a signal of where to do things so our systems can continue multiplying.

We need change that to reading it as a signal of “enough”

…..and point to how to set holistic targets for where everything connected should stabilize.

Of course, to do that you need to break the growth imperative, which would mean going through the struggle of figuring out how to talk about it. It’s all about continually multiplying opportunity inevitably leasing to trouble too, after all. Continue reading Signal from nature of strain

What I can’t explain about (__) is …

Responding to a Teacher with a website of teaching tools (appended below).


I appreciate your noticing the key phrase “ask the dumb questions” in my comment. It’s fishing for better questions generally that I was writing about.

I’m sort of a specialist in the “unasked but obviously unexplained” stuff. Usually we only “see” our own meanings for things, steered by only by our own present questions. So we miss a whole world streaming bye with questions no one knows the answer to never being asked.

I think the main job of a kid is to ask the unasked questions, not to repeat back stock answers. For example we all operate within natural systems that are not organized like our cultural values and stereotypes for them at all. Continue reading What I can’t explain about (__) is …

Between the laws?

2nd Post to FRIAM following yesterday’s post (1st follows) re: Stewart Kauffman’s ”Reinventing the sacred” lecture

So, partly prompted by how it seemed Kauffman got there. There’s a particularly curious “hiding place” for nature’s accumulative individuality and complex behavior within an otherwise “deterministic” universe obeying universal natural laws…

Between the laws,… a “hiding place” for nature’s vitality!

It’s the somewhat deceptive meaning of “uncertainty”. If you prove an uncertainty for some outcome it means that actual events will “at most” do one thing, and “at least” do another. That’s “information” about a probability of behavior, not a specification for individual behaviors. Continue reading Between the laws?

When do we hit the limits of the earth?

Dan Bloom had commented:

” I SEE NO WAY OUT FROM THIS MESS. but it won’t hit the fan until 200, 400 more years…. until then, maybe until 2100 at least, we will muddle along….and the climate tsunami, when it hits, it won’t hit all at once, like in Thailand, it will hit the beach here slowly, over a period of maybe 10 to 100 years… “


Hi, I hate to be the one to tell you, but the point of vanishing returns for multiplying our use of the earth has been crossed. I think we’ll be very lucky to stabilize for decades. There seem to be several environmental collapses underway, as majestically developmental but irreversible as they are.

Our bets on what we could accomplish have completely fallen apart. The ’snag’ the economies ran into does not seem to be some mysterious malfunction brought about by everyone doing their expert jobs suddenly screwing up all at once, or even greed…!!

The whole purpose of the system both when it does and doesn’t work is greed.   So that’s not the event now occurring.

No, we ran into the earth with a bang!

… given the main design principle for building our system as expanding as fast as humanly possible till we run into something to stop it. Continue reading When do we hit the limits of the earth?

Multilevel selection in evolution – Devo-evo?

Letter to John Smart,

I’m very interested in your Evo-Devo Universe project.  I also found some interesting examples of development, that operates by multi-level selection.  Below is a bit of a very nice clear example, a case of punctuated equilibrium occurring by a series of rapid evolutionary progressions (spurts), for a plankton species, G. tumida.  It goes from being small and smooth to big and bumpy, in a half million years.   What’s unique about the succession is the strong evidence of repeated rapid evolutionary progress.

The math I use is a little different, diagnostic math not deterministic math.   The theory is a little different, too, about how to look beyond representational theory.  One identifies natural systems as complex organizational developments, working as a whole.    But your “big idea” that the universe is doing what life is doing, fits very well. Continue reading Multilevel selection in evolution – Devo-evo?

Biofuel impacts on food

Re: Letters to Science in response to the paper by Tim Searchinger of Princeton and R. A. Houghton of Woods Hole et. all. in February.   It surprised the scientific world by documenting the oversights in calculating the environmental impacts of bio-fuels.

Biofuel production consumes food resources and produce added CO2.   It happens by causing the conversion of productive ecologies into farms.    These letters clarify some of the issues that were left unclear in their paper, but still leave big things out]

Letter to Science,

The 10/17/08 letters in Science by Vinod Khosla and reply by Tim Searchinger and R. A. Houghton do clarify some to the complicated measurement problems regarding the environmental impacts of bio-fuels on food production. Both seem to miss the largest of the growing strains on the food production resources of the earth. The real culprits are urbanization and economic growth, of course. Continue reading Biofuel impacts on food

Responses to Brown’s nuclear piece

Re: Lester Brown’s   “THE FLAWED ECONOMICS OF NUCLEAR POWER” Circulated  by Charlie Hall to his “peak oil’ list for comment.   Lester has been among the most farsighted observers of the collision between man and earth.

Lester does his usual great job, and makes everyone’s usual great error.

He expertly addresses a part of the puzzle without mentioning the whole puzzle that all the alternates look as bad.

I think the lack of solar and wind development at scale is fairly obvious, and the same as the reason he points to for the lack of new nuclear power plants.   It’s not really economic.   The same has been true during the whole 40 year vigorous search for alternative fuels.    Continue reading Responses to Brown’s nuclear piece

The tail is capable of wagging the dog


How evolution seems to have alternated in majestic cycles in developing the oxygen atmosphere is indeed a wonderful thing to discover.   I expect that theory of how the banded Iron formations in Proterozoic rocks might have been caused will hold up.

To put it in the larger context, the cycles you speak of from 1.8 to 2.5 billion years ago preceded the history of complex animal life that began with the Cambrian explosion ~550 million years ago.     Below is a chart from a full professional study (in Paleobiology) of ocean biodiversity (not bio-mass) that followed.

It shows two main periods, 250 million years of irregularly steady diversity of primitive animal life, a sharp dip and then 250 million years of exploding diversity of modern animal life…  which we in our stupidity are putting a great big dent in!

Continue reading The tail is capable of wagging the dog