Sunday, November 23, 2008

William Irwin Thompson - Thinking Otherwise

This is a great article from William Irwin Thompson - Thinking Otherwise - posted in his Wild Finance column at Wild River Review. We need more public thinkers who can see the larger perspective represented in this article.

Thinking Otherwise

By William Irwin Thompson

"We Irish think otherwise." Bishop Berkeley

Thoughts on Bailing Out Detroit pt 2, November 22, 2008

What do extinction and apoptosis have in common? (Relax, you have a dictionary and Wikipedia just a mouse click away.) Roshi Joan Halifax would say impermanence. Without extinction, biospheres would suffocate; without programmed cell death, cancerous organs would kill organisms.

With apologies to Darwin, properly speaking, species don't evolve, biospheres do. In the hominization of the primates, the narrative of the moment tells us that upright posture and encephalation were characteristic of the shift from hominid to hominin; but both these traits are expressed in a shift of environments in which the climate in the biosphere changes from tropical rain forest to sparsely forested savannah. Individual apes, such as gibbons can do nicely for themselves in the dense forest with a single mate in a group of two or three; they have only to reach out lazily and pluck their fruit from the tall trees in which they safely live. But when the climate changes and the trees become sparse and widely separated, the primates have to descend, stand tall to look around for predators, and learn how to deal with all their fellows doing the same thing. Those who can read faces and body language, understand news systems of association through dominance, come to terms with complex mating and collective protection of neonates in small groups, begin to experience selective pressure toward developing brains that can map all this new activity. And so in the Baldwinian evolution of "use it or lose it," an activity reinforced heightens its further development. That is the good news; the bad news is that the shift from one biospheric organization (or attractor) is a catastrophe bifurcation.

As we all are beginning to learn living through this economic catastrophe bifurcation, our global economy is not a market but a planetary biosphere. Trying to understand the day's news with the eighteenth century economics of Adam Smith is like trying to understand the neuroscience of the brain with phrenology.

There is, however, good news for conservatives. Evolution is not simply a linear system of progress; it is also inherently conservative. If a cell develops that works through olfactory detection, it can be tinkered with to work also for photoreception. If a fin works well in water, it may also be conserved to be used in a new way as an arm. If cyanobacteria can be useful at large in the shallow seas to produce an oxygenated atmosphere; they can also be tinkered with to become mitochondria inside cells to aid the larger and more complex cell with a nucleus to consume interior pollutants, produce a new energy cycle with ATP, and help the nucleus along with its invention of sexual reproduction. And in the archetypal association of sex and death--what Opera is all about--mitochondria take up a new role in apoptosis. Innovation is cool, but conservation is good. We need both.
Read the whole article.

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