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#23505 - 09/23/12 04:25 PM So you think that going paperless is green...
jchuzi Online


Registered: 08/04/09
Loc: New York State
Power, Pollution and the Internet shows that there is no free lunch. It all comes down to too many people chasing limited resources and producing too much waste for the planet to handle. I expect that civilization, as we know, it will be largely gone by the end of the century. It's even possible that humans will be extinct.

Probably, that's the best thing that could happen to life on earth.
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#23509 - 09/23/12 09:12 PM Re: So you think that going paperless is green... [Re: jchuzi]
tacit Offline


Registered: 08/03/09
Loc: Portland, Oregon, USA
Human extinction is...implausible. A lower standard of living overall? Economic and political upheaval? Sure. Extinction? That's extremely unlikely; it's more difficult to kill off every human being on the planet than you might realize. We are nothing if not adaptable.

I fail to see, however, exactly how it is that human extinction would be "the best thing that could happen to life on earth."
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#23510 - 09/23/12 10:10 PM Re: So you think that going paperless is green... [Re: tacit]
artie505 Online


Registered: 08/04/09
I don't think humanity is on the verge of extinction, rather I've got a gut feeling that it's on the verge of its next evolutionary step. (I've seen nothing to indicate that homo-sapiens makes full use of its brain, hell, it doesn't even make full use of the part it makes use of.)

It looks to me like h-s is well along the road to creating a world in which h-s is non-survival, literally driving itself over the edge of its capabilities.
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#23511 - 09/24/12 02:44 AM Re: So you think that going paperless is green... [Re: tacit]
jchuzi Online


Registered: 08/04/09
Loc: New York State
Originally Posted By: tacit
I fail to see, however, exactly how it is that human extinction would be "the best thing that could happen to life on earth."
Considering the unchecked increase in the human population, its effects on parts of the environment (oceans, for example) that were considered to be too big to ruin, the spread of communications and travel, it seems that there is a valid analogy between humans and cancer. If one considers the earth to be a large organism, comparable to a multicellular creature, humans are cells. Cancer cells do exactly what humans are doing: They spread uncontrollably, kill off healthy cells, replace those cells but don't pick up their functions, establish new ways to nourish themselves via vascularization (analogous to food supply chains), and all at the expense of the rest of the organism.

It has been said that that the greatest mass extinction in the history of the earth is happening right now, caused by anthropogenic changes. Climate change is one of many but cancer cells also cause environmental changes in the victim.

I know that I'm a pessimist, but I feel that the best hope for life on earth is to have humans out of the picture. When I read the daily newspaper and look at the extreme stupidity of people, I don't get the idea that I'm wrong. People have always been stupid. Now, our population is large enough so that it can really do bad things.
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#23512 - 09/24/12 09:47 AM Re: So you think that going paperless is green... [Re: tacit]
ryck Offline


Registered: 08/04/09
Loc: Okanagan Valley
Originally Posted By: tacit
I fail to see, however, exactly how it is that human extinction would be "the best thing that could happen to life on earth."

I agree with Jon. Humans are probably the one species that the earth can do without. All the rest would find their natural balance.
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#23515 - 09/24/12 01:04 PM Re: So you think that going paperless is green... [Re: jchuzi]
tacit Offline


Registered: 08/03/09
Loc: Portland, Oregon, USA
Originally Posted By: jchuzi
Originally Posted By: tacit
I fail to see, however, exactly how it is that human extinction would be "the best thing that could happen to life on earth."
Considering the unchecked increase in the human population, its effects on parts of the environment (oceans, for example) that were considered to be too big to ruin, the spread of communications and travel, it seems that there is a valid analogy between humans and cancer.


Humans are hardly unique in this regard. All organisms, from single-celled bacteria to leopards, have a biological imperative to spread as much as they can. Even at the expense of other organisms. Leopards are out-competing cheetahs, and cheetahs will likely soon become extinct because of it. Cyanobacteria have wiped out more species of life on earth than any other single cause, including both human activity and the meteor that exterminated the dinosaurs.


Originally Posted By: jchuzi
If one considers the earth to be a large organism, comparable to a multicellular creature, humans are cells. Cancer cells do exactly what humans are doing: They spread uncontrollably, kill off healthy cells, replace those cells but don't pick up their functions, establish new ways to nourish themselves via vascularization (analogous to food supply chains), and all at the expense of the rest of the organism.


The idea that the earth is a single large organism is badly flawed. Single organisms don't have many different kinds of cells, all of which are in competition with one another. Single organisms don't have some types of cells that render other types of cells extinct.

I have never understood why people believe that human beings are anything unusual or out of the ordinary. The natural order produces species which compete with each other. Some species survive, and drive other species into extinction. This has been going on since the very first life appeared on this planet. This is what nature does. This is how the system works.

Originally Posted By: jchuzi
It has been said that that the greatest mass extinction in the history of the earth is happening right now, caused by anthropogenic changes. Climate change is one of many but cancer cells also cause environmental changes in the victim.


And the people who say that, don't know about the mass extinction that happened when cyanobacteria first appeared. Before them, there was no oxygen in our atmosphere. After them, there was. The lowly cyanobacteria wiped out all but two of the species on the entire planet.

The second greatest mass extinction event in history was the Permian/ Triassic
die-off, which wiped out 90% of the species on the planet at that time, for reasons that are still not understood.

By way of comparison, the current, anthropic extinction event, the Holocene Extinction, has so far affected less than a quarter of extant species and is unlikely to affect more than half even if it continues unchecked. This is a large extinction event, to be sure, but it's nowhere near "the greatest mass extinction in the history of the earth." It's not even in the top ten, hysterical Greenpeace literature to the contrary. (One of my girlfriends is an evolutionary biologist, and the founder of the Beaty Biodiversity Museum in Vancouver, BC. I have excellent fact-checking resources on this.)

Originally Posted By: jchuzi
I know that I'm a pessimist, but I feel that the best hope for life on earth is to have humans out of the picture. When I read the daily newspaper and look at the extreme stupidity of people, I don't get the idea that I'm wrong. People have always been stupid. Now, our population is large enough so that it can really do bad things.


What will change for life on earth if humans disappear? Do you believe that there will be no more mass extinction events if all the humans are gone? Do you believe that species will no longer go extinct, or that all the organisms on the planet will suddenly live together in peace? What, exactly, do you see as the benefit of a world without people?

Originally Posted By: ryck
I agree with Jon. Humans are probably the one species that the earth can do without. All the rest would find their natural balance.


There is no such thing as "natural balance." That idea is nonsense; it's a prettified, Western fiction that's rooted in a Walt-Disneyesque understanding of nature.

All organisms--ALL organisms, every single one, with no exceptions--fight for survival at the expense of other organisms. Doesn't matter if we're talking about tsetse flies or trees or grass or leopards or spider monkeys or orchids or tapeworms or daffodils.

What we erroneously see as "balance" is the temporary and transient events where organisms in an ecological niche have battled each other to a momentary stalemate. The forces of natural selection are as relentless and implacable as gravity. The very instant something changes--the very instant some organism gains even a tiny advantage--that so-called "balance" is shattered and the losers become extinct, never to be seen again.

This is how it has been since the beginning. This is how it will always be, humans or no humans. Trilobites, megazostrodon, and millions of other species have all managed to go extinct without any human help at all.

The one thing that humans have that all the other forms of life on earth don't have is that humans alone can anticipate and take responsibility for their own actions. A species of fungus can wipe out an entire species of tree, and wipe itself out in the process, and that's all part of the natural order. Only humans can choose NOT to do that. Even though we don't always choose wisely, that still makes us potentially far better than that species of fungus.
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#23517 - 09/24/12 02:39 PM Re: So you think that going paperless is green... [Re: tacit]
ryck Offline


Registered: 08/04/09
Loc: Okanagan Valley
Originally Posted By: tacit
There is no such thing as "natural balance." That idea is nonsense; it's a prettified, Western fiction that's rooted in a Walt-Disneyesque understanding of nature.

A bacterium or a meteor have periodically destroyed everything, but it's hardly logical to conclude that things weren't in balance before the catastrophe or that natural balance wasn't restored afterward.

The players may have changed after the catastrophe but the result was the same.The species figured out how to rely on one another for survival.

Were/are some predators? Of course, but that's part of the survival for both. Big cats hunting gnus don't take down the strongest or swiftest. The fittest survive and breed in numbers large enough to maintain their existence while being food for others.

It's only man (trophy hunters and poachers) who weakens the species by taking the prime animals. Leopards and other big cats are rapidly going extinct more because man has destroyed their breeding and hunting grounds than because of their competition for prey.

Wolves are are a good example of animals understanding the prey-predator relationship. Wolves will have a large territory but limit their hunting to one part of it for a few years. They then move to another part of their territory, where they have not hunted and the prey are more plentiful. By the time they complete the cycle and get back to where they started, the number of prey is back up.

And the balance is not just about who has who on the menu. I rely on that tree outside my window for oxygen. If that tree and all it's cousins disappear, we're all going.

Originally Posted By: tacit
The one thing that humans have that all the other forms of life on earth don't have is that humans alone can anticipate and take responsibility for their own actions.

Good luck with that.


Edited by ryck (09/24/12 02:43 PM)
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#23520 - 09/24/12 04:06 PM Re: So you think that going paperless is green... [Re: ryck]
joemikeb Online
Moderator

Registered: 08/04/09
Loc: Fort Worth, Texas
Originally Posted By: ryck
Originally Posted By: tacit
The one thing that humans have that all the other forms of life on earth don't have is that humans alone can anticipate and take responsibility for their own actions.

Good luck with that.

At least humans have the ability to make a choice. Whether they will or not, and what choice they might make are different questions.
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#23524 - 09/25/12 12:23 AM Re: So you think that going paperless is green... [Re: joemikeb]
ryck Offline


Registered: 08/04/09
Loc: Okanagan Valley
Originally Posted By: joemikeb
....and what choice they might make are different questions.

....exactly the reason for my cynicism. We continue to see sufficient choices by both individuals and organizations to understand Jon's pessimism at the start of the thread.


Edited by ryck (09/25/12 12:24 AM)
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#23525 - 09/25/12 03:18 AM Re: So you think that going paperless is green... [Re: ryck]
joemikeb Online
Moderator

Registered: 08/04/09
Loc: Fort Worth, Texas
Sadly we seem to be in an era when "informed self interest" is subsumed by greed. frown
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#23527 - 09/25/12 07:32 AM Re: So you think that going paperless is green... [Re: ryck]
MacManiac Online
Moderator

Registered: 08/04/09
Loc: Paradise....on the central Ore...
Quote:
It's only man (trophy hunters and poachers) who weakens the species by taking the prime animals. Leopards and other big cats are rapidly going extinct more because man has destroyed their breeding and hunting grounds than because of their competition for prey.


While that may be TOTALLY true where poachers (criminals) are concerned, trophy hunters are part of the selection process you've described where the focus is not on the prime vibrant member of the herd, but rather on the "grey-beard" past his prime reproductive years (with the trophy rack or big mane, etc.). When someone hunts at that level, the substantial fees paid go DIRECTLY into the same conservation effort which you support.

Your view on the impact of shrinking habitat due to man's cultural expansion is exactly on target, however, please keep in mind that habitat preservation and restoration is also one of the key areas that the hunting community has been very successful in funding and implementing.
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#23533 - 09/25/12 05:05 PM Re: So you think that going paperless is green... [Re: ryck]
tacit Offline


Registered: 08/03/09
Loc: Portland, Oregon, USA
Originally Posted By: ryck
A bacterium or a meteor have periodically destroyed everything, but it's hardly logical to conclude that things weren't in balance before the catastrophe or that natural balance wasn't restored afterward.


Like I said, the idea of "balance" is a myth. Extinctions happen all the time even without catastrophic extinction events.

Originally Posted By: ryck
The players may have changed after the catastrophe but the result was the same.The species figured out how to rely on one another for survival.


Species don't "figure out" anything. They do what they have to do to survive. Sometimes that means devouring other species. Sometimes it means running away from predators. Sometimes it means parasitizing other species; parasties have been more responsible for species extinction than any other non-catastrophic event. (Indeed, the study of evolutionary biology is very much the study of parasites.)

When there is a "balance," it is a temporary stalemate. One change in disease resistance to a species' immune system, one accidental drifting of an invasive species into a new environment, one forest fire, one change in a river's flow, and the stalemate is punctured, and the battle starts anew.

Originally Posted By: ryck
Were/are some predators? Of course, but that's part of the survival for both. Big cats hunting gnus don't take down the strongest or swiftest. The fittest survive and breed in numbers large enough to maintain their existence while being food for others.


They will take down the strongest or the swiftest if they can. There is no plan; they take down anything they can get. Small, old, and weak prey animals are easier targets, as are young and sick, but they will, if they can, quite happily take down anything. They do not make decisions not to. There is no "balance."

Originally Posted By: ryck
It's only man (trophy hunters and poachers) who weakens the species by taking the prime animals.


False. parasites do the same thing. So do predators driven by hunger.

Originally Posted By: ryck
Leopards and other big cats are rapidly going extinct more because man has destroyed their breeding and hunting grounds than because of their competition for prey.


Partly true. Leopards are facing diminishing habitat from humans, so they are moving into areas previously dominated by cheetahs. Leopards are more efficient predators, so they are sqeezing out the cheetahs.

In this particular case, anthropic changes are responsible, but the same things happen in nature in ways that have nothing to do with humans. Again, this has been part of nature ever since life first appeared.

Originally Posted By: ryck
Wolves are are a good example of animals understanding the prey-predator relationship. Wolves will have a large territory but limit their hunting to one part of it for a few years. They then move to another part of their territory, where they have not hunted and the prey are more plentiful. By the time they complete the cycle and get back to where they started, the number of prey is back up.


To believe that this is based on a higher "understanding" is to grossly misunderstand animal behavior. Wolves patrol large territories and they will hunt different parts of it at different times, but this is not because they are cognizant of anything more than their bellies and their urge to breed. Complex systems develop without any cognitive understanding on the part of the individuals or the species in the cycle. You might just as well say that locusts choose to have 7-year cycles because they know that it takes seven years for plant ecosystems to regrow!

The reality is more complex. Wolves go where the prey is. As they move in search of prey, the populations of prey animals behind them have an opportunity to rebound. There's no conscious awareness, no planning, no predicting the future or making conscious choices.

Originally Posted By: ryck
And the balance is not just about who has who on the menu. I rely on that tree outside my window for oxygen. If that tree and all it's cousins disappear, we're all going.


Again, there is no "balance." When the first photosynthetic organisms appeared, they exterminated every other species on the ENTIRE PLANET except two.

That tree makes oxygen not as a service to other organisms, but because that it how its metabolism works. It doesn't know or give a toss about "balance." That is a human concept. Plants took an atmosphere that had no oxygen and they poisoned it with oxygen, wiping out almost all other forms of life. The few forms of life that survived eventually adapted to the new environment. Now we have an oxygen-rich environment, and that is the environment all the organisms we see around us developed in. So, unsurprisingly, they are adapted to oxygen. If something changes, then a lot of species will go extinct again, and new species will adapt to the new environment.

There is no balance. There is constant change, never-ending struggle, constant extinction, and constant adaptation. It never stops. There is no balance.

Originally Posted By: ryck
Originally Posted By: tacit
The one thing that humans have that all the other forms of life on earth don't have is that humans alone can anticipate and take responsibility for their own actions.

Good luck with that.


Sometimes, we choose to save a species on the brink of extinction.

Name any other organism that has ever done that.
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#23536 - 09/26/12 12:33 PM Re: So you think that going paperless is green... [Re: tacit]
ryck Offline


Registered: 08/04/09
Loc: Okanagan Valley
Originally Posted By: tacit
Species don't "figure out" anything.

I don't think anyone should make such a blanket statement. We are a long way from having complete answers to questions about animal behaviour, communications, et cetera, and much of what we thought was true is now being refuted with new answers being written constantly.

To quote Dale Peterson from his 2011 book "The Moral Lives of Animals":

"Yes, you are reading about animals and animal behavior. But so much about animals and their ways remains vague, mysterious, unknown; and we are left, so often, looking at animals and what they do through a dark glass, seeing only momentarily the beast emerge, as if on a dark night, before disappearing silently, then quietly emerging once more only to disappear in silence once more. Our knowledge is still limited, in other words, and what we do know about animal behavior is powerfully obscured by long-standing habits of thought."

Originally Posted By: tacit
They will take down the strongest or the swiftest if they can.

I agree that can happen, but it is not the norm. A wolf, or any other predator, will kill any animal that is presented at a disadvantage and that animal may be in its prime. However, the predator typically takes the aged, diseased, very young, et cetera.

The 'weeding out' leaves the largest number of stronger and swifter animals to breed and maintain the numbers that benefit both the predator and prey. That is, in my opinion, a mutually beneficial balance.

Originally Posted By: tacit
That tree makes oxygen not as a service to other organisms, but because that it how its metabolism works. It doesn't know or give a toss about "balance."

I don't understand your point. I didn't suggest the trees had a meeting and decided to support the balance of nature by providing oxygen for those who need it. My point was that the fact of their oxygen generation is key to the survival of many other species, including us.

I would also suggest that various plant forms have their own balanced ecosystems by providing shade, nutrients et cetera for one another. In fact, insects are part of that balance....and any forest provides the examples.

Is something going to happen that will upset that balance? Yup. A perfect example is man mowing down the South American rain forests in order to stick hamburgers in his face.

Originally Posted By: tacit
Sometimes, we choose to save a species on the brink of extinction.

Humans periodically choosing to save "a species" is taking "responsibility for their own actions"?

Perhaps it would be better if humans acted more responsibly in the first place instead of causing the extinctions. We now have an extinction rate far higher than the natural rate (estimates from 1,000 to 10,000 times) and it appears that we are almost wholly responsible.

Whatever the exact figures might be, conservation experts have described the phenomenon as the "sixth great extinction" and we are driving it. I think that supports Jon's original concern.

Originally Posted By: tacit
There is no balance. There is constant change, never-ending struggle, constant extinction, and constant adaptation. It never stops. There is no balance.

At which point I guess we agree to disagree. You don't believe in a balance and I do.....and it doesn't appear either of us is about to change the other's mind. Ironically, I guess that's a kind of balance. wink



Edited by ryck (09/26/12 12:35 PM)
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#23538 - 09/26/12 01:06 PM Re: So you think that going paperless is green... [Re: ryck]
jchuzi Online


Registered: 08/04/09
Loc: New York State
Just to jump into the fray:

Tacit has a keen understanding of evolutionary theory. That said, Ryck has a good point about many things being unknown. There used to be a fad in psychology (behaviorism) that posited that all animal behavior was automaton-like, with no ability to think. That, of course, is pure arrogance on our part. I'm not saying that I agree that animals think about all the consequences of their action, but neither do humans. We all tend to do what is expedient in the interests of survival.

As to the Gaia hypothesis that I referred to in my previous post (i.e., that the earth is similar to a multicellular organism), that was an analogy. On the other hand, our definition of a multicellular organism is constantly evolving. It is now known, for example, that the human body has more bacterial cells than human cells, and we cannot live without these symbionts. They provide digestive enzymes, compete with pathogens (preventing them from establishing themselves) and produce many vitamins. Since this is the case, are we really organisms or small ecosystems? I doubt that humans are unique in this way.

Now, to the question of humans acting responsibly and/or intelligently: I have been on this earth for 67 years and have discovered that my understanding of life is directly dependent upon my experiences, not what I was taught. In my youth, older people tried to tell me about what they had learned but I was unable to understand them. Now, I do. As a famous musician (I forget his name) quipped, "Life can only be understood by looking backward. Unfortunately, we have to live it while looking forward."

Bear in mind that, by the time people get perspective on things, the world is run by younger people who cannot possibly appreciate that experience. In my view, this is one reason why we never seem to learn anything but continue to make the same mistakes. Many older people, of course, never learn and continue their pursuit of money, sex, and power. I also believe that anyone who seeks power should be automatically disqualified from gaining it. Very few want power for altruistic reasons.
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#23540 - 09/26/12 08:51 PM Re: So you think that going paperless is green... [Re: ryck]
tacit Offline


Registered: 08/03/09
Loc: Portland, Oregon, USA
Originally Posted By: ryck
At which point I guess we agree to disagree. You don't believe in a balance and I do.....and it doesn't appear either of us is about to change the other's mind. Ironically, I guess that's a kind of balance. wink


The thing that always strikes me about "agreeing to disagree" is that it applies quite well to opinions, but rather less well to facts. "Nature exists in a balance" is an empirical statement of fact, not an opinion, provided you've defined what the word "balance" means. You may 'disagree' with the notion that any so-called "balance" in nature is transient and temporary at best, and that the reality of nature is constant change and constant extinction...but the facts are against you if you do.

Predator-prey "balance," for instance, holds only so long as absolutely nothing changes. It's a precarious situation, like sand growing in an hourglass. The moment anything changes, whether it be weather or mutation or the introduction of new disease or parasites, that so-called "balance" collapses, and species go extinct. This happened before man came to be. It will happen after man is gone.

Originally Posted By: jchuzi
As to the Gaia hypothesis that I referred to in my previous post (i.e., that the earth is similar to a multicellular organism), that was an analogy. On the other hand, our definition of a multicellular organism is constantly evolving. It is now known, for example, that the human body has more bacterial cells than human cells, and we cannot live without these symbionts. They provide digestive enzymes, compete with pathogens (preventing them from establishing themselves) and produce many vitamins. Since this is the case, are we really organisms or small ecosystems? I doubt that humans are unique in this way.


I get the analogy. I just don't think it's very strong.

It's flawed for two reasons. First, the earth does not behave in any meaningful way like a single organism. It behaves like a complex web of different organisms with different survival strategies, some of which are cooperative, some of which are competitive, and the vast majority of which are parasitic. (Like I said before, the study of evolutionary biology is the study of parasites; parasites outnumber free-living species of life on this planet by *at least* four to one.)

So comparing the earth with a person falls flat. We are home to a large number of organisms, a small handful of which are symbiotic, many of which are parasitic, and a great bulk of which are just along for the ride, but in no meaningful sense does our body behave like a complex set of interdependent ecosystems the way the planet does.

Second, the earth-as-Gaia model neglects the fact that this complex web of interconnected ecosystems does not behave, react, or change in unison in any way like a single organism. There is no central organization. There is no single system. There is overarching structure.

Instead, there is a whole lot of DNA being expressed in a whole lot of organisms, and whatever changes work in the short term are propagated, regardless of their effect on other organisms or on the ecosystem as a whole. There is no long-term plan. Every mutation, every adaptation, is local and specific. And, more important, the forces of adaptation and natural selection are utterly, completely without forethought or destination, and entirely without any sort of long-term plan.

Contrary to popular misconception, evolution is not an upward curve in the direction of greater complexity, greater sophistication, or greater "balance;" the human immunodeficiency virus is, by any reasonable understanding of evolutionary biology a more "highly evolved" organism than human beings are. And it doesn't give a toss about "balance" or anything else.

I talked about this conversation with my evolutionary biologist girlfriend last night. Her opinion, which I think is a good one, is that anyone who argues in favor of "natural balance" or that the world's ecosystems would be "better off" without humans in it should read two books: Parasite Rex: Inside the Bizarre World of Nature's Most Dangerous Creatures by Carl Zimmer, and The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design by Richard Dawkins.

The first is an exploration of how any sort of Walt Disney idea of nature is deeply, profoundly flawed, and why one of the single most driving forces of nature isn't predator-prey relationships but rather the unceasing, never-ending warfare of parasite-host relationships. I'm going to Canada to visit her this week, and her science book club will be discussing this book; the discussion is being led by Dr. Rosemary Redfield, who recently published a paper refuting the notion of organisms adapted to metabolisms built on arsenic.

The second is without question the single best introduction to the ideas of evolutionary biology I have ever encountered. It neatly demolishes many deeply-cherished ideas about "natural order" and debunks most of the common misconceptions about how nature and evolutionary adaptation works; I dearly wish that there could be a law saying nobody is allowed to talk about how evolution is "random" or is about "survival of the fittest" (to cite two of the most common misperceptions) without first reading this book.
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#23544 - 09/27/12 07:16 AM Re: So you think that going paperless is green... [Re: tacit]
alternaut Offline

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To me Jon's statement seems to originate in the following frustration: (1) the fear that humans are on their way to irrevocably ruin their environment, and (2) can understand this and conceivably do something about it, but (3) likely won't do so in time, for a variety of reasons. Should disaster come about, it will likely affect many if not all other species as well. For those species it may indeed be better if humanity exits Stage Right, but regardless of that extinction event, 'Life' will eventually bounce back in ways we cannot predict, and it doesn't have the capability to 'care' one way or the other.

Like tacit, I don't think humanity will get extinct because of the hole it currently appears to be digging itself into. It's not that extinction is impossible, it just seems much more likely to me that civilization might collapse amidst a massive die-off, but that population remnants will survive. Coincidentally, that will give both humanity and the rest of life on earth some respite. And if we assume that human activity is instrumental in recent end current environmental changes, let's not forget that the effect of humanity on the extinction of other species is a mixed bag: while species variety as a whole may decline, certain species seem to be taking advantage of (some of) the manmade changes. But any balance that might be invoked has to be dynamic, and hence more apparent than real, like a movie on Pause. 'Real' life proceeds without premeditation or oversight, and depends entirely on (local) circumstances.

I do not quite agree with tacit when he states that "evolution is not an upward curve in the direction of greater complexity", if only because that's pretty much what has happened so far (albeit perhaps not in a straight line). There are a number of examples to cite, but I'll only take one here. Once a solution to a problem has manifested itself, it can and has been reused as-is, even while alternatives continue to develop. There is a definite tendency to build upon previous success, as this conveys certain advantages. But even when circumstances change and evolution modifies genomes, genes subserving previous solutions aren't discarded, but may persist. However, this doesn't mean that 'lesser' solutions necessarily fall by the wayside, only that a habitat might change due to intra-niche competition. And that's pretty much what we see, and it explains the continued existence of certain archaic species, particularly (but not exclusively) among the 'simpler' life forms.
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#23548 - 09/27/12 02:54 PM Re: So you think that going paperless is green... [Re: tacit]
ryck Offline


Registered: 08/04/09
Loc: Okanagan Valley
Originally Posted By: tacit
The thing that always strikes me about "agreeing to disagree" is that it applies quite well to opinions, but rather less well to facts. "Nature exists in a balance" is an empirical statement of fact, not an opinion, provided you've defined what the word "balance" means.

We have a difference of opinions.

It is an indisputable fact that there are mutually reliant relationships existing throughout nature and going far beyond the limited example in this thread of the predator-prey relationship. Insects, vegetation and and yes, your parasites, are all part of it.

In my opinion that fact represents a balance. In your opinion, it is not. We can agree to disagree.

Originally Posted By: tacit
You may 'disagree' with the notion that any so-called "balance" in nature is transient and temporary at best, and that the reality of nature is constant change and constant extinction...but the facts are against you if you do.

I haven't disagreed that the balance will change, or that there have been and will be extinctions. I said that a bacterium or a meteor may have periodically destroyed everything, but it's hardly logical to conclude that things weren't in balance before the catastrophe or that natural balance wasn't restored afterward.

Constant change doesn't automatically preclude constant rebalancing.

Originally Posted By: tacit
Predator-prey "balance," for instance, holds only so long as absolutely nothing changes. It's a precarious situation, like sand growing in an hourglass. The moment anything changes, whether it be weather or mutation or the introduction of new disease or parasites, that so-called "balance" collapses...

....anyone who argues in favor of "natural balance" or that the world's ecosystems would be "better off" without humans in it should read two books: Parasite Rex: Inside the Bizarre World of Nature's Most Dangerous Creatures by Carl Zimmer, and The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design by Richard Dawkins.

The first is an exploration of how any sort of Walt Disney idea of nature is deeply, profoundly flawed, and why one of the single most driving forces of nature isn't predator-prey relationships but rather the unceasing, never-ending warfare of parasite-host relationships.

The Zimmer book seems most pertinent to this thread and I will read it. In looking through the reader reviews I do note that some have concluded that even the parasites have a role to play in balance. To quote only a couple:

"We learn from Zimmer that scientists are not only learning to use parasites to re-balance the ecological disasters mankind has wreaked, they are beginning to believe many modern maladies such as allergies & colitis are caused by the lack of parasites in urbanized humanity!"

"....if it is true that parasites are a third and in many ways causal factor in the well-known phenomenon whereby wolves cull the weak out of the caribou herd, it is not accurate to claim that the parasites are "the" drivers of evolution. It is, however, accurate to say that parasites co-evolved with both caribou and wolf, and that the role parasites generally have played in all natural selection has been consistently and systematically over-looked and under-considered in the evolution literature."


Edited by ryck (09/27/12 02:56 PM)
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#23566 - 09/28/12 05:34 PM Re: So you think that going paperless is green... [Re: alternaut]
tacit Offline


Registered: 08/03/09
Loc: Portland, Oregon, USA
Originally Posted By: alternaut
I do not quite agree with tacit when he states that "evolution is not an upward curve in the direction of greater complexity", if only because that's pretty much what has happened so far (albeit perhaps not in a straight line). There are a number of examples to cite, but I'll only take one here. Once a solution to a problem has manifested itself, it can and has been reused as-is, even while alternatives continue to develop. There is a definite tendency to build upon previous success, as this conveys certain advantages. But even when circumstances change and evolution modifies genomes, genes subserving previous solutions aren't discarded, but may persist. However, this doesn't mean that 'lesser' solutions necessarily fall by the wayside, only that a habitat might change due to intra-niche competition. And that's pretty much what we see, and it explains the continued existence of certain archaic species, particularly (but not exclusively) among the 'simpler' life forms.


New species appear all the time, and many of those new species are quite simple; the human immunodeficiency virus and the strain of gonorrhea that is resistant to antibiotics are two examples of extremely highly evolved organisms--arguably much more highly evolved than humans are.

Evolution can produce increasingly complex organisms, but it's not directed that way. There's no guidance or planning, no push toward more and more complex organisms. The famous picture of the simpler apes leading in a line toward humanity is misleading, because it suggests that evolutionary forces are goal-directed when they aren't. There's nothing inevitable about, say, the development of sapience; indeed, if humans were to disappear, it's quite likely that nothing sapient would ever appear again.

Evolutionary biology is especially active among insects, where a profusion of species exists--there are more species of beetle than of any other type of life on earth. Many species of insects are subject to much greater adaptive pressure than most other organisms, and so evolve much more quickly...but they're not (necessary) evolving in the direction of greatest complexity. Adaptation by natural selection is short-term and localized; it doesn't have a plan or a goal.

Similarly, organisms that start down one path and then veer off of it--aquatic mammals, for instance--haven't "devolved," because there's no "direction" to evolution. They have adapted to selective pressures. Those pressures do not necessarily prod an organism in any one specific direction; certainly not toward greater complexity. Species can seem to backtrack, losing adaptations they used to have, losing complexity, or losing the ability to function in a particular environment, as the conditions change.

So I'm not trying to say that evolutionary forces don't produce organisms of greater complexity; clearly, they can. I'm saying that there's nothing inevitable about it. A more complex organism is not necessarily more "highly evolved" than a less complex organism. Organisms subject to evolutionary pressures do not necessarily become more complex over time. There is no arc of evolution, no arrow pointing away from simpler organisms toward more complex organisms. Complexity is selected for when it offers a survival advantage; simplicity is selected for when it offers an advantage.
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#23572 - 09/29/12 01:04 PM Re: So you think that going paperless is green... [Re: tacit]
alternaut Offline

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Nice argument. tongue It seems to me that we may have some semantics issues around evolutionary concepts like 'direction' or 'push toward', but not around 'highly evolved' or 'complex organisms'. You consider such development to be entirely coincidental in that it's not directed, and I wonder whether that stance can be maintained unqualified in situations where fewer than all possible niches are occupied, and possibly even when they all are.

I'm not valuing one niche over another, I'm just observing that life on earth started out with minimal variety and complexity, and developed to include greater variety and complexity, and that once more complex systems appear they have reappeared in a variety of forms and niches. Not the other way around, although it may seem that way when viewing isolated time periods along the way. I was primarily referring to this overall sequence, which is arguably consistent, and perhaps inevitable, although the latter wasn't my point.

If evolution of certain organisms (like insects) is especially active (read: fast), it's usually because evolutionary pressure and with it speciation increases in species with stricter adaptation to smaller niches, which are both more frequently subject to as well as more sensitive to changing conditions. Brains may increase niche-manipulation abilities, which in turn may deflect (part of) evolutionary pressures. Since pressure, and more specifically its release, implies direction, this deflectional bias can be seen to provide a directional advantage, which given proper circumstances will generate new candidate species. I suppose we can argue about the level of such 'direction' (e.g., overarching or incremental), and (to a lesser extent) about the applicability of 'inevitability' here.

Of course, when focusing on the fraction of life forms with complex brains and certain associated behaviors, we're disregarding the vast majority of organisms on earth. On top of that, we don't yet have much in the way of well described and comprehensive examples of a putative complex brain effect of the kind presented by Homo sapiens, since it is a relatively recent phenomenon with a long and as yet incomplete incubation time on the only planet we know to harbor this variety of life. And, to tie this back to Jon's original post, we may never know, if this experiment self-destructs before it runs its course.
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#23603 - 10/01/12 11:18 AM Re: So you think that going paperless is green... [Re: alternaut]
tacit Offline


Registered: 08/03/09
Loc: Portland, Oregon, USA
Originally Posted By: alternaut
Nice argument. tongue It seems to me that we may have some semantics issues around evolutionary concepts like 'direction' or 'push toward', but not around 'highly evolved' or 'complex organisms'. You consider such development to be entirely coincidental in that it's not directed, and I wonder whether that stance can be maintained unqualified in situations where fewer than all possible niches are occupied, and possibly even when they all are.


I don't consider them entirely coincidental; natural selection is a non-random process. I do consider them unguided. In an ecosystem where organisms filling a particular niche have been wiped out, you will often find other organisms adapting to fill that niche; that's why convergent dimorphism (similar looking animals with similar behaviors but vastly different evolutionary heritages) are so common.

The place it runs off the rails is in thinking that evolution is goal-directed or that a particular type of complexity is inevitable. Humans tend to see evolution as a progression from simpler organisms at the bottom to us at the top. That's absolutely not the way it works. In fact, were humans to be suddenly wiped out tomorrow, it's quite likely that our level of sapience, with our enormous brains and abstract language and sophisticated tool use, might never appear again.

Originally Posted By: alternaut
I'm not valuing one niche over another, I'm just observing that life on earth started out with minimal variety and complexity, and developed to include greater variety and complexity, and that once more complex systems appear they have reappeared in a variety of forms and niches. Not the other way around, although it may seem that way when viewing isolated time periods along the way. I was primarily referring to this overall sequence, which is arguably consistent, and perhaps inevitable, although the latter wasn't my point.


The overall development of a wide variety of complex organisms certainly looks inevitable from our perspective, since we live in an ecosystem dominated by an explosion of extremely complex forms.

But consider the fact that for more than half of the history of life on this planet, there were only single-celled organisms.

It's likely that had cyanobacteria not developed photosynthesis, there would still be nothing but single-celled organisms. The development of photosynthesis, which (unlike developments like the eye or venom or other sophisticated adaptations) appears to have happened only once, poisoned the air with toxic oxygen and wiped out every species of life on the planet with only a couple of exceptions; but that toxic, highly reactive, corrosive oxygen also enabled the development of cells with rapid metabolisms, better able to develop the complexity we see today. And photosynthesis provided a way to power all those new types of life.

Without that development, it's possible the planet might have gone through all its days and never produced anything as complex as a jellyfish, much less a vertebrate. So in that sense, complexity isn't inevitable.

Now that it exists, of course, it is inevitable in the sense that if a complex species goes extinct, another will arise to fill its niche. But it's not inevitable that any PARTICULAR adaptation--sapience, for example--will arise.

Originally Posted By: alternaut
If evolution of certain organisms (like insects) is especially active (read: fast), it's usually because evolutionary pressure and with it speciation increases in species with stricter adaptation to smaller niches, which are both more frequently subject to as well as more sensitive to changing conditions. Brains may increase niche-manipulation abilities, which in turn may deflect (part of) evolutionary pressures. Since pressure, and more specifically its release, implies direction, this deflectional bias can be seen to provide a directional advantage, which given proper circumstances will generate new candidate species. I suppose we can argue about the level of such 'direction' (e.g., overarching or incremental), and (to a lesser extent) about the applicability of 'inevitability' here.


Part of the issue with this conversation does seem to be in poor definitions of words like 'balance,' 'complex,' and 'direction,' of course. smile

We think of things like convergent dimorphism as being inevitable, and in our particular situation with our particular biosphere they (to some extent) are. But think about how many of the evolutionary adaptive pressures are the result of other organisms. Go back all the way to the start, and begin again with the first self-replicating molecules, and the tape won't play out the same way. We might never get multicellular organisms. If we do, we might never get vertebrates. Even if we get those, we might never get land-dwelling vertebrates. Organisms evolve to fill niches, but those niches are peculiar to the particular biosphere. Different biosphere, different niches. Different niches, different evolutionary pressures. Different pressures, different results.

Even the flow of water on this planet is influenced by biology; the patterns of large rivers seem to have developed as a result of the way vegetation evolved on this planet. Change that, and you change the course of evolutionary history.

Hell, it gets weird even if you think about what we all believe to be true: large vertebrate predators preying on large vertebrate prey animals.

The standard narrative, taught in schools and talked about on television, is that predators prey on the weak and sick prey animals, culling the herd and keeping it healthy. It makes sense to us. It's easy to grasp. But we're learning that it absolutely, positively isn't true.

The book Parasite Rex I mentioned earlier talks about how the predator/prey relationship is driven far, far less by the population dynamics of prey animals than we ever realized. Instead, it is driven almost entirely by parasites, which modify prey animals to make them more likely to be caught by predators and modifies predators to make them more likely to target infected prey animals.

The toxoplasma parasite infects rats and changes their brains to make them unafraid of cats, making them easier prey for cats. It does this because it can only grow in rats, but it can only reproduce in the bodies of cats. There is a fish parasite that leaves the fist healthy and strong, but changes its behavior so that it becomes easier for birds to catch. An infected fish is thirty times more likely to be caught and eaten by a bird than an uninfected fish. (Imagine what wuld happen to the population of predatory birds if they had to work THIRTY TIMES as hard to catch fish!)

Even with large-scale macrofauna, this is the case. The cycle of predation of wolves is driven by another parasite that grows in the body of moose and breeds in the body of wolves. The infected moose are not weaker or sicklier than uninfected moose; if the parasite sickened or killed the moose, it would die too. Infected moose are just as strong and just as healthy...but the parasite changes their behavior so that they are less prone to run away from wolves, by changing their response to fear. They become clumsy and slow when they're afraid, and the wolves catch them more easily.

This increased availability of food makes a moose population better able to support more predators like wolves. The so-called "balance" between predator and prey populations that we have all heard about on TV is orchestrated by parasites, more than by any other single factor. When the parasites change, the "balance" changes.

That's why I say there is no such thing as "balance." It changes constantly. Year by year, month by month, sometimes week by week, the variables change and the so-called "balance" changes. That's not "balance" in any sense of the word that I understand; that's an ever-changing cycle of boom and bust that can and very, very often does lead to extinction. (If nature is in "balance," then so is the stock market!)

Originally Posted By: alternaut
Of course, when focusing on the fraction of life forms with complex brains and certain associated behaviors, we're disregarding the vast majority of organisms on earth. On top of that, we don't yet have much in the way of well described and comprehensive examples of a putative complex brain effect of the kind presented by Homo sapiens, since it is a relatively recent phenomenon with a long and as yet incomplete incubation time on the only planet we know to harbor this variety of life. And, to tie this back to Jon's original post, we may never know, if this experiment self-destructs before it runs its course.


Most of nature's experiments self-destruct. That's kind of how nature works. We see cycles of mass extinctions, then explosions of diversity, then mass extinctions...even without outside calamities like meteor hits. This is exactly how nature works!

Ideas like "increasing diversity of life is better than decreasing diversity of life" and "extinction is bad" are HUMAN ideas. They are not "natural" ideas. It is meaningless to talk about nature being "better off" without humans; as far as nature is concerned, there IS no "better" or "worse". It is only humans who have those values. No other species do.

It's also a mistake to think of humans as "bad for nature" but things like cyanobacteria, which exterminated far more species than we could ever do even if we were to deliberately try to kill everything, as "natural". Cyanobacteria are natural...and so are we. We are not separate from nature. The same natural processes that gave rise to cyanobacteria--and wiped out almost all other life on the planet--also gave rise to us. If it is "natural" for things like the oxygen extinction to happen but "unnatural" for things like anthropic extinction to happen, someone is hanging on to a whole lot of cognitive dissonance...

There is one thing that does make us special. We can have the power to wipe out another species and then choose not to. We have, from time to time, done that. No other organism in this planet's history can say that.


Edited by tacit (10/01/12 11:20 AM)
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#23699 - 10/07/12 08:01 AM Re: So you think that going paperless is green... [Re: tacit]
jchuzi Online


Registered: 08/04/09
Loc: New York State
US congressman on House science committee calls evolution, Big Bang Theory lies from 'pit of hell'. And this moron has influence in making science policy.

They walk among us and they have power. mad
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#23700 - 10/07/12 08:14 AM Re: So you think that going paperless is green... [Re: jchuzi]
alternaut Offline

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Don't let it ruin your Sunday morning coffee, Jon, and look at the bright side: what's not to like about good old Macchiavelli? At least you have to admit that Congressman Broun may have had an education that included some philosophy, if you assume that he couldn't have come up with something like the ends justify the means by himself. smirk
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#23702 - 10/07/12 09:04 AM Re: So you think that going paperless is green... [Re: alternaut]
jchuzi Online


Registered: 08/04/09
Loc: New York State
Let's not forget the origin of the word "politics". It comes from the Greek "poly", meaning "many", and "tics", meaning "blood suckers".
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#23704 - 10/07/12 11:57 AM Re: So you think that going paperless is green... [Re: jchuzi]
tacit Offline


Registered: 08/03/09
Loc: Portland, Oregon, USA
Originally Posted By: jchuzi
US congressman on House science committee calls evolution, Big Bang Theory lies from 'pit of hell'. And this moron has influence in making science policy.

They walk among us and they have power. mad


Ugh. That's just...I don't even know where to start.This is the point where the rubber meets the road--the place I have problems with people who say things like "Everyone is entitled to their beliefs" and "It's wrong to challenge the beliefs of others."

It's okay to believe that the world is 6,000 years old or that the moon is made of green cheese as long is you're doing it in the privacy of your own head, but the moment this nonsense starts becoming the basis for public policy, things go straight off the rails, over the embankment, and down the cliff, to explode in a fireball that becomes a blazing wildfire that engulfs all reason and sanity.

When George W. was in office, the head of the President's Committee on Bioethics was a fundamentalist named Leon Kass. Kass was responsible for the ban on stem cell research, and he also lobbied Congress unsuccessfully for a similar ban on anti-aging and longevity on the grounds that "Christians already know how to live forever."

It's the combination of Bronze Age superstition and public policy that gets me. Since people act--and vote--in accordance with their beliefs, so a society in which irrational beliefs are coddled becomes a society with irrational public policy.
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#23706 - 10/07/12 01:00 PM Re: So you think that going paperless is green... [Re: tacit]
alternaut Offline

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I certainly agree with the gist of what you're saying. That being said, I must confess that I think it remarkable that the US has gotten as far as it did culturally, technologically, scientifically etc., despite the fact that it can be considered a fundamentally religious country. That qualification more often than not comes with a developmental sea anchor of continental proportions. I guess it's a good thing the fundamentalists haven't been more extreme and numerous given their predilection for biblically violent talk, not that that is something to rave about. Anyway, that's democracy for you...
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