Sustainability Education

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts” — Rachel Carson

On occasion, I’ve expressed my anger over humanity’s lack of a consciousness toward Nature and our precious natural resources. Four of my readers have privately taken me to task for my negative comments. In truth, they were right because I was not offering solutions, I was simply complaining.

Indeed, recent history accurately portrays an ongoing and angry battle between environmentalists and those who feel they can dominate Nature. No one is winning even though the key issue is ultimately the survival of humanity in a gradually deteriorating environment that is partly the result of human insensitivity.  

As noted in a previous post, nature photographer, Rafael Rojas , states that we are the first generation of human beings that are totally detached from the natural world. He says :

“for millions of years we have lived as another species grounded to our natural environment. But now, cities have become the new ecosystem for us, an artificially created one where, instead of experiences so basic to our natural history, we now fill ourselves with  money, career, success, commercial malls and technology. Our urban world and its goodies keep us busy, and alienated in most cases. It has become impossible for us to remember what happened to the natural world that our ancestors enjoyed.”

I believe that Rojas accurately states the problem – a lack of Nature consciousness within much of the human race. The result is a deteriorating environment. I have come to believe that the restoration of a Nature consciousness necessary for a healthy environment cannot be resolved through the tension of conflicting views. This has been the mistake of many well-meaning environmental groups.

So, how does one restore a consciousness for Nature in human beings? Most certainly, the adults are not listening because they are too busy with their goodies. Many people and groups are now coming to realize that the secret lies in our children and in our youth. Young people respond and learn through awe and wonder.

Richard Louv of Children and Nature Network says:

“I will never forget the time I sprawled in the grass, turned over a rock, discovered the bugs crawling underneath…and realized that I was part of a bigger world. ”

Young people are not yet culturally conditioned to a way of life where humanity dominates Nature. They are open to new ideas and new world views.  The idea of protecting our Earth by building a Nature consciousness within our next generation is gaining momentum. Of many groups with growing sustainability education ideas, I note four who direct their programs to our young people:

Nature Conservancy LEAF program

Children and Nature Network 

Dr. Scott Sampson

Arkive Education

As for me, I am an educator in Mexico doing special programs with talented Mexican youth. With the premise that young people listen to young people, my group of 15 teens are creating and teaching a hands-on environmental consciousness program that will be offered by them to all of the schools in Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico. This month we are starting with fourth grade children because they are very responsive to ideas that are presented with awe and wonder. Our basic theme is that everything in Nature is connected. In the Guaymas area, we are fortunate to have a beautiful estuary with much wildlife and plants. The theme of connections in Nature will be presented at the estuary where everyone can see, touch, smell and listen to real connections in Nature. In this setting, we are emphasizing the importance of these connections.

There are many teachers, environmental specialists, and devout Nature lovers among my group of readers. I strongly encourage you to comment with your ideas that may help us develop, grow, and sustain this effort. It would bring me great joy to know that this new program is being developed with the help of my readers. And, you will know that you are part of an important team that helps build a new consciousness for Nature within young people.

The Conservation Of Quiet

 

Silence in Nature is an endangered species that impacts all creatures

I spend much time alone in forests, deserts, prairies, wetlands and other places where you would expect to experience a quiet serenity. Places where only Nature is speaking. Places where one can experience Nature’s “symphony” as I described in my previous post  . Sadly, quiet places like this are very hard to find. Silence in Nature is an endangered species that impacts all creatures including those whose images are displayed in this post.

Acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton defines real quiet as the presence, not an absence, of sound. Quiet is an absence of noise. In his book “One Square Inch Of Silence: One Man’s Quest To Preserve Quiet” he says:

“Silence is a sound, many, many sounds. I’ve heard more than I can count. Silence is the moonlit song of the coyote signing the air, and the answer of its mate. It is the falling whisper of snow that will later melt with an astonishing reggae rhythm so crisp that you will want to dance to it. It is the sound of pollinating winged insects vibrating soft tunes as they defensively dart in and out of the pine boughs to temporarily escape the breeze, a mix of insect hum and pine sigh that will stick with you all day. Silence is the passing flock of chestnut-backed chickadees and red-breasted nuthatches”

 

Natural soundscapes are the voices of whole ecological systems

 

Every living organism—from the tiniest to the largest—and every site on earth has its own acoustic signature.

I’ve become resigned to the fact that while I crave the experience of quiet that is described by Hempton, many humans love such places because of the open opportunity for them to exercise their own  ways of making noise. Chain saws, motorcycles, ATVs, dogs, people talking on nature trails, and other sounds of humanity contradict the peace of wind blowing through the trees, or a raven cawing. I’m particularly astonished at bird watcher groups where a quiet countenance is necessary to observe our feathered friends. Yet, some bird folks loudly chatter among themselves then express astonishment that there are no birds to see.

Human noises – deliberate or not deliberate, well meaning or malicious – interrupt or break vital communication links between creatures in Nature. These sonic links serve procreation, mating, warning, defense and other behaviors that are essential to wildlife for daily living and and for survival.  Quiet –  Hempton’s “absence of noise” –  is a vital natural resource. Species, other than human, depend on absence of noise so that their vital communication links can function.

 

The conservation of quiet is just as important as other  forms of ecological conservation

 

I don’t see this important idea being promoted to the public by respected conservation organizations or by our government agencies whose job it is to conserve public lands and the creatures that live there.  If anything, these agencies seem ignorant of the issue. There is a lack of sonic consciousness – a consciousness of the importance of quiet in Nature.

In fairness, the science of “acoustic ecology” is a relatively new field. The work of soundscape ecologists like Bernie Krause and Gordon Hempton is not broadly known. But, after making your own comparison of the soundscapes I provided in my last post, I think you will agree that it doesn’t take a scientist to note the profound difference in the health of the ecosystems that I recorded.

Recent research has shown that many creatures can alter their sounds to accommodate the sounds of mankind.  Scientists are beginning to realize the stress of humanity’s widening sonic footprint on natural ecosystems. In 2003, a Dutch team studying a common songbird, the great tit, reported in Nature Magazine that males of the species shifted their calls to a higher frequency in cities, where low-frequency human noise masked their normal song range. Nightingales sing louder in louder environments. Robins — usually diurnal singers — switch to nighttime songs in areas that are chaotic by day. Subjected to constant mechanical whirring, certain primates, bats, whales, squirrels and frogs all change their cries. Many other animals, it seems, lack the physical equipment to adapt, and perish or move away. Not only are Nature’s creatures editing their tunes in real time — as the great tits do — but natural selection is also rewarding louder, higher-frequency singers, redirecting the course of evolution.

Species can fight for airtime in a limited sound bandwidth by changing their volume or frequency, or by rescheduling the timing of their calls. But there’s no way animals can alter their ability to listen — a skill necessary for their very survival. Human noise can conceal, for example, the twig-snap of a prowler or the skittering of prey. In the United States, where more than 80 percent of land is within two-thirds of a mile of a road, the listening area available to most creatures is rapidly shrinking.

Explosive human sounds can have catastrophic impacts, especially underwater, where they travel faster and farther than they do in the air. Researchers believe that porpoises and whales have beached themselves fleeing the high-pitched shrieks of U.S. Navy sonar. They also blame the low-frequency booms ships use to search for oil and gas for fatally ripping through the organs squid use to detect vibrations. Proof is emerging that the droning of freeway traffic and the 24/7 rumbling of natural-gas-pipeline compressors directly harm the ability of birds nesting nearby to reproduce.

 

Creature sounds are connecting mechanisms within an ecosystem

 

Because , the conservation of quiet is the conservation of vital connections in Nature. Acoustic ecologist, Davyd Betchkal,   notes that studies are beginning to suggest that human noise pollution is imperiling habitat “as surely as a bulldozer or oil spill”.

The evidence is growing that man’s noise is not just an irritating pollutant. It breaks connections in Nature.  It produces broken links that destroy ecosystems. With the massive ecological footprint of mankind on a worldwide basis, there is little that creatures within an ecosystem can do but adapt and struggle to survive.

Much of what is needed is a change in worldview – an increase in ecological consciousness.  We must disabuse ourselves of the notion that any of us can improve on the natural world by our presence or by what we manage to create. In the case of our noise, we need to develop a sonic consciousness – sensitivity to how our sounds impact the lives of Earth’s other creatures. The daunting idea of changing modern man’s domineering worldview of Nature has some potentially positive solutions that rest within our education system and with our children. Dr. Scott Sampson, a paleontologist, has written extensively on this subject. In his blog post entitled “A Country Of Naturalists”  he says:

” … my central concern is how we are to go about connecting humanity with nature, with the assumption that we cannot achieve anything approaching sustainability without a mindset that embeds us inside nature…The practice of natural history, experiential education in Nature should form the bedrock of education”.

I strongly recommend that you read Scott Sampson’s “Education And Sustainability” blog post.

The view that positive ecological solutions start with the mindsets of our youth has become an action item with the Nature Conservancy. To its credit, the Nature Conservancy is working with young people to build the next generation of conservationists through their LEAF program.

Perhaps, through our youth and programs of sustainability education, humanity will begin to restore its connection with Nature that it lost a century ago. And through that revived worldview and what we now know about Nature’s soundscapes, a sonic consciousness would be forthcoming.

 

Why Do I Write These Essays?

Nothing in Nature exists in isolation. The movement of life’s energy, which originates in the sun, takes place because everything is interconnected and interdependent. Your consciousness of interdependence in Nature means that, every time you engage Nature, you ask yourself how a creature, a plant, yourself, or a natural object is connected to another and to Nature’s greater scheme of things. With this awareness you are prepared to protect Nature’s environment that sustains you. And, you create your legacy by encouraging others to do likewise.

 

If, after reading my essays, you find yourself embracing these ideas, I am thrilled in knowing that I’ve played some small part in setting this world view in motion in your mind.

 

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Broken Links

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe”. – John Muir

The words of our grandmothers and grandfathers have taught us respect for the Web of Life and the interdependence of all things in the Universe. The stories passed down through oral traditions remind us that we are all connected.” – Ancient Native American saying

“Life is a self-replicating hierarchy of levels. Biology is the study of the levels that compose the hierarchy. No phenomenon at any level can be wholly characterized without incorporating other phenomena that arise at all levels. Genes prescribe proteins, proteins self-assemble into cells, cells multiply and aggregate to form organs, organs arise as parts of organisms, and organisms gather sequentially into societies, populations and ecosystems. Natural selection that targets a trait at any of these levels ripples in effect across all the others.” – From “The Superorganism” by E.O. Wilson and Bert Holldubler

 

I’m just returning from a summer of spending quiet time in the forests and prairies of Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and South Dakota. During this summer, I’ve done a lot of thinking about my focus, my direction, and my “voice”.

It has been almost three years since I’ve started writing books and about a year since I started writing a blog about patterns and connections in Nature. I’ve been gradually leaning toward subjects on connections in Nature because I’ve grown to realize that broken links within any ecosystem are the key to any ecological problem, large or small.

As I watched people in the forests with their ATVs, dogs, and constant social chatter, I became convinced that a large part of humanity is  dependent on their toys to bring happiness. They fail to realize or care about the role humanity is playing in destroying the very basis for life – Nature. I have come to believe that the human race is gradually destroying the links that hold Nature together. As I see it, unless there are major changes in how humanity views life on Earth – a renewal of reverence for Nature if you will – there will ultimately be an extinction of the human race. We are selectively destroying the connecting links that hold Nature together. In destroying these links, we destroy the habitat on which we depend.

So, I’ve decided to strengthen the emphasis of connections in Nature in this blog.  My content will continue to  include both the identification of patterns and connections (links) in Nature. But, I intend to suggest how these links are being affected by humanity and how the destruction of these links could lead to large or small ecological disasters.

I’ve been working on a new book about connections in Nature. As I develop my material and observe humanity during my travels, I have decided on the book’s title. I am hoping to release “Broken Links: The Self-Extinction Of Man” by the end of the year. Much of the material in the book will be developed in blog posts with the hope that my readers will enter into a dialog with me. In this post, I present the premise for future blog posts and for my new book.   

Some 65 million years ago, a mass extinction (known as the K-T event by modern science) took place. The event wiped out  about three quarters of Earth’s species. The worst hit organisms were those in the oceans. On land, the Dinosaur  went extinct. Mammals and most non- dinosaurian reptiles seemed to be relatively unaffected. Terrestrial plants suffered to a large extent.

There are several hypotheses as to why and how the extinction took place – a meteorite which crashed in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and/or large volcanic eruptions are the predominant ideas. There is one certainty, however. Vital links within the Earth’s ecosystems were broken. To wit, the essential link of energy flow from the sun to the Earth was altered because the sun’s energy had a difficult time penetrating the clouds created by meteorite impact and/or volcanic eruptions. This altered link in Nature resulted  in global warming that changed the environment in which creatures and plants had adapted. And diminished solar energy  effected the processes of photosynthesis in plants. The result was a cascading effect where the food supply and the environmental surroundings were severely altered. Connections in Nature, links that tie Nature’s organisms into functioning ecologies, were broken.

We are facing another ecological crisis caused by broken links in Nature. But this time it is not an event precipitated by Nature. Instead, it is precipitated by man. And in the course of events, man will create his own extinction while it is predicted by experts that other creatures may survive.

The cause of this potential extinction is modern man’s world view. Herein lies a paradox – a conflict of truths. A conflict that affects your very existence as a human being on this earth.

One of the two conflicting truths in this paradox is described by nature photographer, Rafael Rojas , when he notes that we are the first generation of human beings that are totally detached from the natural world. He says “for millions of years we have lived as another species grounded to our natural environment. But now, cities have become the new ecosystem for us, an artificially created one where, instead of experiences so basic to our natural history, we now fill ourselves with  money, career, success, commercial malls and technology. Our urban world and its goodies keep us busy, and alienated in most cases. It has become impossible for us to remember what happened to the natural world that our ancestors enjoyed.”

Sadly, most of human contact with Nature is in passing. We drive by. We take a glimpse. At best, we get a quick emotional “fix”.  We are not connecting. We are ready to move on to our distractions, our cell phones, and our toys rather than linger a while. We are preoccupied with “things” in our lives because “things” make us happy. We are not beholding Nature. We are not seriously conscious about how we are interconnected with Nature and how our actions may affect vital connections within the ecosystem that we live. In fact, we probably never think about it.

This image of two adults and their child riding an ATV was taken in a national forest campground   with beautiful, thick woods and an awesome rushing stream. They arrived without giving the forest or the stream a look. Instead, the ATV was fired up and set at idle for about 15 minutes before they took off for a ride. At their campsite. they left behind two hounds who were tied up and who loudly bayed and cried the entire hour the family was gone. As I write this paragraph in the San Isabel National Forest, other’s are running their noisy dirt bikes. And, a young adult just walked by plugged into her iPod. All of this was taking place with the full knowledge and endorsement of the US National Forest Service. So much for a quiet weekend engaging Nature. So much for the ecological damage that these people are imposing on the creatures in this forest. And, these destructive habits and a lack of respect for life are being passed on to the next human generation as culturally acceptable.

The distraction of driving the ATV and it’s noise disconnected this young family from their awesome surroundings. The parents didn’t  bother to guide their son through the Nature that surrounded them. The ATV and dog noises disrupted those important sounds that are vital communication links between forest creatures. My next post will talk about these sounds. Acoustic ecologist, Gordon Hempton says that silence is an endangered species. He defines real quiet as a presence – not an absence of sound, but an absence of noise. Scientists are now discovering that human noise does affect the viability of an ecosystem.

The truth on the other side of this paradox is that nothing on earth, or in our universe for that matter, exists in and of itself. As noted in the quote from E.O. Wilson presented at the top of this post,  everything exists within a network of interrelationships where everything is dependent on everything else. It is in these links that Nature is defined. And, it is by understanding and respecting Nature’s interrelationships that we grow to “know” Nature, protect Nature, and thus assure our survival. 

The paradox is that modern humans are detached from a Nature that is interconnected. Humanity’s detachment from a highly connected Nature is very dangerous because an awareness and the protection of Nature’s connected patterns by we humans is essential to our continued existence on Earth. 

Here is an example. It has been well publicized in the media that we humans have the power to destroy our vital connection to the sun by either blocking or accelerating the flow of energy from sun to earth. Our gaseous emissions from coal burning, the use of fluorides, and other chemicals can cause both the blockage of energy flow or excessive energy flow through holes in our protective ozone layer. This is an important example of how we are adversely altering a vital connection in Nature in a way that will ultimately destroy humanity. It is a repeat of the K-T extinction, but this time caused by humanity and not by Nature. 

My premise in this blog post is that much of humanity is disconnected from Nature. As such, those  disconnected souls would loath reading this blog or my books. Thus, another paradox. How do those of us who understand and wish to survive instill an awareness of our interconnected nature to those who really need to become aware?? I have no magic wand. But, I do hope that what I have to say will encourage the explorers, adventurers, and discoverers who do read my writings to somehow help spread the word. As my blog writing progresses, I will offer some suggested action items. For indeed, our survival as a race is dependent upon the respect and preservation of the links within all of Nature. It is dependent on a reverence for Nature that a large part of our race lacks.

In the next post, I will talk about and demonstrate some sounds in Nature and explain why they are important links that shouldn’t be broken by man.  These sounds are indicators of the health of an ecosystem. Human noise pollution, like dogs and ATVs, causes disruption of these connections in Nature. Stay tuned for more.

Your comments are always welcome. To receive a notice whenever I post a new blog, please sign up for my newsletter. 

Lessons From Lichens

“By stripping off the bonds of individuality the lichens have produced a world-conquering union. They cover nearly ten percent of the land’s surface, especially in the treeless far north, where winter reigns for most of the year. Even in a tree-filled mandala in Tennessee, every rock, trunk, and twig is crusted with lichen”. David Haskell in his book “The Forest Unseen” 

Lichens are both very beautiful patterns in Nature as well as living demonstrations of the importance of connections in Nature. A lichen is composed of at least two different but connected organisms – a fungus and a colony of microscopic green algae or cyanobacteria (“blue-green” algae). The fungus supplies a root structure, the lichen shape, and reproductive structures. The fungus is also able to find, soak up, and retain water and nutrients. The algae or bacterial cells provide carbohydrates to the combined organism through photosynthesis – something a fungus cannot do. In effect, the fungus is fed by the algal partner. The algae partners in lichens cannot live outside their host, nor can the host live without its algae. It is their connection to each other and to their environment that permits each composite organism to survive and to thrive.

Lichens are true environmental survivors. During droughts, they dry and become dormant. But once water is available, they rapidly absorb water and spring back to life.  According to Wikipedia, lichens are found “.. on leaves and branches in rain forests and temperate woodland, on bare rock, including walls and gravestones, and on exposed soil surfaces. Lichens must compete with plants for access to sunlight, but because of their small size and slow growth, they thrive in places where higher plants have difficulty growing. Lichens are often the first to settle in places lacking soil, constituting the sole vegetation in some extreme environments such as those found at high mountain elevations and at high latitudes. Some survive in the tough conditions of deserts, and others on frozen soil of the Arctic regions.”

Lichens are enormously successful worldwide because of the essential interconnections between their composite organisms. The lichen is a fascinating example of how connections in Nature result in an organism that is greater than the sum of its parts. This synergy is key to how Nature functions.

David Haskell notes that

“We are lichens on a grand scale.”

The organs in your body are dependent on each other. Your cells connect to sources of energy through your blood stream. Your blood stream interconnects with your lungs and stomach to receive oxygen and food from your environment while expelling waste products. Indeed, you are a highly complex interconnected super-organism.  The same idea of interconnectivity that permits a lichen to exist also is important to your very existence and survival.

Both the lichen and our human bodies are indeed parts of Nature because we are physically connected with Nature in many ways. Our very survival requires that we recognize, respect, and preserve that interconnectivity in all of Nature. 

You may view more of my lichen images here.

For Your Further Consideration

  • Our earth is a living system that transports and transforms the energy necessary for all life to exist. The key to an active group of ecoliterate humans that results in a healthy environment for all life on earth is the building of a systems view of life into the minds and hearts of humanity – particularly our youth. This worldview (the “Living Earth Story”) is supported  by the fact that all of Nature is interconnected and interdependent.
  • Environmental educators,  their students, scientists, and all stewards of Nature  are a powerful progressive force that, through their knowledge about Nature, through the legacies that they create for the future, and through their informed actions are capable of overseeing the well-being of our home —  Mother Earth
  • Environmental education is not simply offering facts. Environmental education must include the acts of passing a worldview of a Mother Earth on to Environmental education must be hands-on, and action-based if ideas, facts, and effective conservation strategies are to become a consciousness in the minds and hearts of all of our youth.
  • This website offers a free PDF book entitled “Empowering Stewards of Nature – Lessons From The Web of Life”. The book offers education methodology and content for creating Nature’s “Living Earth Story” within our youth and all stewards of Nature.. To download this book, follow the instructions on the right side of the web-site when you click the photograph of the book. 
  • If you are interested in working with me, other environmental educators, and other stewards of Nature to build a legacy of young people who will embrace and evangelize the worldview that “Everything on Earth is Connected and Interdependent”, please provide your questions and comments in the space provided below or by contacting me at my Twitter account @ballenamar.

 

Please Comment  Here

 

Patterns In Time – Synchrony

Synchronous oscillatory activity is a universal phenomenon that occurs in biological systems.

 

“At the heart of the universe is a steady, insistent beat: the sound of cycles in sync. It pervades nature at every scale from the nucleus to the cosmos. Every night along the tidal rivers of Malaysia, thousands of fireflies congregate in the mangroves and flash in unison, without any leader or cue from the environment. Trillions of electrons march in lockstep in a superconductor, enabling electricity to flow through it with zero resistance. In the solar system, gravitational synchrony can eject huge boulders out of the asteroid belt and toward Earth; the cataclysmic impact of one such meteor is thought to have killed the dinosaurs. Even our bodies are symphonies of rhythm, kept alive by the relentless, coordinated firing of thousands of pacemaker cells in our hearts. In every case, these feats of synchrony occur spontaneously, almost as if nature has an eerie yearning for order.”

A quote from Sync – The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order by Steven Strogatz

Patterns in nature are connected systems that use complex networks as an internal means of carrying out their function. These networks have a structure that is usually composed of a small-world architecture.  These networks also contain dynamic processes that are routed within the network’s architecture. The fireflies noted above can be thought of as network nodes that contain lighting mechanisms. The links between the nodes are the communication or signaling processes that go on continuously between individual fireflies. In this case, the links represent dynamic patterns in time. The Black Bear catching as Salmon is an example of synchrony in time. The bear has arrived at this river during that time of the year when Salmon are running.

This post addresses the subject of synchrony and how synchronous patterns at all levels provide clues as to how nature’s patterns are formed. How they are dynamically driven by processes occurring over time. A synchronous pattern is the relation that exists when things occur at the same time, the simultaneity of events or motions.

Oscillators

Synchrony at a local level can be the energy or force that ultimately results in self-organization  at a system level.  Two animate or inanimate individuals who operate as coupled oscillators in a synchronous mode at a local level can result in the emergent behavior that is characteristic of complex systems.

According to Wikipedia, “Oscillation is the repetitive variation, typically over time, of some measure about a central value (often a point of equilibrium) or between two or more different states.” Examples of oscillation include swinging pendulums, heartbeats, and tidal rhythms.

There is growing evidence that at the heart of every synchronous pattern in nature is a “coupled oscillator”. An oscillator is a device that causes oscillations to take place. To provide some form of energy that moves in a regular pattern or cycle. There are oscillators that are electrically driven, chemically driven, or behaviorally driven. It appears that any rhythmic pattern is based on an oscillator of some sort.

A coupled oscillator is a series of single oscillators that, with time, cause each other to act or synchronize to a rhythm. A coupled oscillator is a series of synchronized single oscillators.  The fireflies noted earlier are an example of coupled oscillators in nature.

Many of nature’s coupled oscillators produce and drive unseen forces that are temporal in nature. These invisible forces are patterns themselves. They are many times the energy or connecting links between visible or more obvious patterns in nature. Sometimes these connecting patterns are the precise rhythms of natural clocks. Others are forces between objects that vary in intensity and period. Nature’s coupled oscillators include circadian clocks, inanimate clocks, human menstrual synchronization, the earth’s moon, and social behavior.

The Circadian Clock

The Greek work “circadian” means “about daily”. Intuitively, we are all familiar with our own biological clock and, at least in general terms, the rhythm of nature. Our own internal circadian pacemaker is a group of cells that act as a chronometer to keep us in synchrony with our world. That pacemaker is a chemically driven coupled oscillator.

One of the effects of a circadian clock is our internal cycle of sleeping and being awake. According to Strogatz, our body’s synchrony operates at three different levels. First, cells within an organ are mutually synchronized much like a coupled oscillator. Second, synchrony occurs between organs keeping the same periodicity even though function may vary. The third level of synchronization is between our body and the world around us.

Our body’s basic clock is a cycle of daily body temperatures. The mechanism within our body that varies body temperature is a coupled oscillator. It is our body temperature mechanism that has a direct effect on the amount and quality of sleep.

Inanimate Clocks

A common experiment in physics class involves two pendulums in close proximity.  Each pendulum is started with its own periodicity. With time, the pendulums move in synchrony (sometimes called sympathy). The sympathy of pendulums was originally noted by Christian Huygens in 1665 when he found that the pendulums on his two clocks ultimately oscillate together.

Strogatz notes that “the sympathy of clocks taught us that the capacity for sync does not depend on intelligence, or life, or natural selection. It springs from the deepest source of all: the laws of physics”. From this recognition of inanimate sync, the laser was invented as was power grids and computer clocks.

Human Menstrual Synchronization

Extensively studied, human female menstrual cycles can become synchronized amongst women in close physical contact. Apparently this results from chemical communication between women. Strogatz describes an experiment by McClintock and Stern where they ” took swabs from the armpits of women at different points in their menstrual cycles and dabbed them on the upper lips of other women, the donor secretions shifted the phase of the recipient’s cycle in a systematic way”. These experiments imply that coupled biological oscillators are operating.

Earth’s Moon

Our moon turns exactly on its own axis at the same rate as it orbits the earth. The consequence is that we always see only one side of the moon. This is an example of a gravitational/centrifugal coupling between two bodies.

Social Behavior

Patterns and synchrony are not restricted to only simply explained phenomena.  Strogatz asks: “Could the sudden emergence of a fad be analogous to the way that fireflies suddenly start blinking in unison?”  Synchronization of social phenomena is not necessarily rhythmic.


The following 23 minute movie offers a wonderful talk by Steven Strogatz at on the ideas associated with synchrony.

 

Why Do I Write These Essays?

Nothing in Nature exists in isolation. The movement of life’s energy, which originates in the sun, takes place because everything is interconnected and interdependent. Your consciousness of interdependence in Nature means that, every time you engage Nature, you ask yourself how a creature, a plant, yourself, or a natural object is connected to another and to Nature’s greater scheme of things. With this awareness you are prepared to protect Nature’s environment that sustains you. And, you create your legacy by encouraging others to do likewise.

 

If, after reading my essays, you find yourself embracing these ideas, I am thrilled in knowing that I’ve played some small part in setting this world view in motion in your mind.

 

Please Comment and Subscribe

I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter using the sign-up form provided at the upper right corner of this web page. As a subscriber you will receive regular email announcements of new essays that I publish or popular essays that i have previously published. In these essays you will have the opportunity to share comments and ideas about a topic. Your security is important to me. Please know that your email address is never distributed to anyone.

 

You are strongly encouraged to become one of my 11,000+ followers on Twitter. My Twitter ID is @ballenamar . With Twitter, in addition to receiving daily Tweets that announce my essays, you will see when I retweet something that I read and that I think is important.

 

A Fractal Forest

I recently spent a couple of weeks on the road looking for contemplative experiences in Nature. Mojave National Preserve offers such an opportunity. Located about 100 miles southwest of noisy, congested, and run-down Las Vegas, Mojave National Preserve is the perfect contrast. It is extremely quiet and has very few humans. Fire has left part of the preserve starkly barren with a few remaining Pinion Pine and Juniper trees here and there. But, from this mixture of life and death, a strange fractal beauty has emerged. I’m surrounded by thousands of fractal shapes. Dead trees with their magnificent, connected. self-similar structures making themselves available for we humans to see.

Here, I’m surrounded by an art gallery that displays a basic physical structure of life that we know as fractals. Little twigs connected to little branches which are connected to bigger branches which are connected to one or more trunks. All of this is supported by an equally complex and connected structure that we know as roots. Each level is similar to the previous level and the next level. We humans call this self-similarity – a magnified portion of a structure looks the same as the whole.

Here, I am viewing the fundamental geometric structure of much of Nature. My own lungs, kidneys, and blood transport system have the same structure as do these trees. So do river systems, ecosystems, and many fish schools, bird flocks, and animal herds. The self-similar fractal structure is a manifestation of Nature’s interconnected being.

As I engaged that scene in which I was privileged to experiernce, the host of barren trees, even in death, brought together the aesthetic, the spiritual, and the logical voices of Nature. My perceptive senses were awed by the aesthetic beauty of these fractal structures. My spiritual self reminds me that everything is connected. And, my logical self provides a factual basis for the beautifully connected geometry that was before me.

What Is A Pattern In Nature ?

A Pattern In Nature Is A Connected Set Of Interrelationships

Heaven is my father and earth is my mother, and I, a small child, find myself placed intimately between them. What fills the universe I regard as my body; what directs the universe I regard as my Nature. All people are my brothers and sisters; all things are my companions.
— Chang Tsai

A friend of mine recently emailed me asking about my definition of a pattern in Nature saying: “ I am curious about your definition of patterns. I would define pattern as a repetition of an element. I get the image in my mind of orderliness. I think it would be helpful for the average person, like me, with no education in art or nature to understand your perspective, your definition of patterns.”

The word “pattern” is a term that typically describes repeating visual objects or events. An example is M.C. Escher’s 1938 woodcut entitled “Sky and Water 1”. Here we have a series of repeating fish and birds. Each object is precisely placed by the artist into a static display.

Such fixed and predictable patterns as Escher’s woodcut are, of course, rarely found in Nature. The design and placement of patterns in Nature do not come from an artist’s hand but from the connected and dynamic interactions of natural objects in both space and time. They interact with each other and are all components of yet larger patterns. These systems of interacting patterns that abound in Nature are called complex adaptive systems. A developing organism, a tree, a mountain stream, a maturing ecosystem, and the evolving biosphere are all examples of connected and dynamic systems of patterns in nature.

Fish schools are excellent examples of patterns in Nature. Here the group is formed because of simple rules applied locally by each individual. There is no need for a leader or overseer to dictate to the other fish how fast they must swim and in which direction. Every individual sorts this out for itself — solely by watching its nearest neighbors and adjusting its reaction to theirs. The adjustments are made according to three rules. Rule #1: Move toward the average position of my nearest neighbors. Rule #2: Move in the same direction as my nearest neighbors. Rule #3: Maintain a minimum distance from my nearest neighbors. These rules are applied when an individual fish senses the proximity of its nearest neighbors through the use of its eyes and its lateral lines – pressure-sensing organisms that run along the length of its body.

The collective action of individuals (each a pattern in Nature) following these rules results in a self-organizing super-organism, itself a pattern in Nature, with a behavior that is greater than the sum of its component patterns. This phenomenon of pattern emergence is ubiquitous in Nature where transient and interconnecting sub-patterns operate.

It is important to note that patterns in Nature are both irregular and finite. Escher’s woodcut has both a mathematical regularity and can easily extend beyond the frame onto infinity. A fish school, a honeycomb, and a tree trunk are all organized but can be irregular in shape. Their forms also occupy only a finite space.

Escher portrays a pattern that manifests a static order. Patterns in Nature, just like the fish school, are manifestations of an underlying dynamic order. Instead of being formed by the hands and soul of an artist, these patterns in Nature are dynamically formed by individual group members according to a set of organizing principles.

Historically, Western science has viewed Nature as constructed from a set of fixed laws that can predict almost anything through mathematics. The predictive equations of Newton and Kepler have sent men to the moon and have been powerful models in the fields of physics and chemistry. But, this “reductionist” worldview fails when addressing any complex system of interrelated phenomena and patterns. For example, the reductionist’s worldview of laws and equations cannot predict the complex behavior of biological systems like fish schools, stock market performance, the weather, and other patterns in nature.

The ancient Chinese described patterns in Nature as systematic organizing principles instead of mathematical equations. This worldview, known as the Li (pronounced “lee”), has been around for millennia. The Li represents the organizing principles that underlie every aspect of the universe. Jeremy Lent’s blog says that: “Before a thing exists, there first must exist its principles of organization… The concept of the Li fills in a missing dimension to our Western reductionist worldview while bringing us closer to understanding all complex adaptive systems that include patterns in nature.” The idea of the Li is that it emphasizes a holistic understanding of the universe by examining its organizing principles rather than by studying individual behavior through mathematical models. Joseph Needham says “Li is in effect a Great Pattern in which all lesser patterns are included…”

Only in the last few years has modern science begun to embrace a holistic worldview to study interrelated phenomena. What has emerged is the examination of complex adaptive systems, self-similarity (fractals), self-organization, and chaos theory. These subjects all address the idea of systematic organizing principles. The fish school noted above was described in terms of its organizing principles (the organizational rule set for individual fish) rather than through equations and physical laws. The tool used by Western science to study these organizing principles is computer simulation rather than mathematical equations.

Jeremy Lent goes on to say that “This highlights a fundamental difference between Western mental constructs of the universe, with an external Lawmaker appointing order to the natural world and enforcing it, and the Chinese construct, where order arises from the intrinsic relationship between things in the universe ….. This is the same dynamic being discovered by Western complexity theorists and systems biologists in recent decades, as they investigate the principles of self-organization in the natural world.” This merging of Western and Eastern ideas serves to build a conceptual unity that will ultimately help define the internal dynamics of patterns in Nature.

The question: “What is a pattern in Nature?”, can be answered by turning to the Li. A pattern in nature is a set of dynamic organizing principles that, when applied, result in an interconnecting organic or inorganic form or process. Put another way:

A pattern in Nature is a connected set of interrelationships that are manifested in some form or function.

This definition of a pattern in Nature by way of the Li is profound. For it describes a connection between all things in our universe. Not just a spiritual connection but also physical connections that are bound by real energy and real function. In thinking about the Li and its approach to defining patterns in Nature, one begins to see unity in Nature where all things are somehow connected through their organizing principles. Patterns in Nature are dynamic connecting interrelationships between everything. They are the manifestation of the fact that everything is connected.

Nothing in Nature exists in isolation. The movement of life’s energy, which originates in the sun, takes place because everything is interconnected and interdependent. Your consciousness of interdependence in Nature means that every time you engage Nature, you ask yourself how a creature, a plant, yourself, or a natural object is connected to another and to Nature’s greater scheme of things. With this awareness, you are prepared to protect Nature’s environment that sustains you. And, you create your legacy by encouraging others to do likewise.

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We Are All Connected

 

 

While we may know some facts about nature, we do not really “know” nature.

 

Thomas Merton, the writer, poet, artist, and Trappist monk, once said in his essay entitled “A Search For Solitude”: “Man can know all about God’s creation by examining its phenomena, by dissecting and experimenting and this is all good. But it is misleading, because with this kind of knowledge you do not really know the beings you know. You only know about them”.

Most of our contact with nature is in passing. We drive by. We take a glimpse. We get a quick emotional “fix”. Nothing more. We are not connecting. There is no true immersion. We are not totally engaged in the moment. We are ready to move on rather than linger a while. We are preoccupied with “things” in our lives. We are not beholding nature. 

A forest is entered, not viewed. We do not really engage or know a forest until we are well within it both physically, aesthetically, and spiritually. Engaging nature means “knowing” rather than just “knowing about”. “Knowing” means observing and understanding how nature is connected. It means knowing our interrelationships, our connections, with our surroundings. It means us being connected with those surroundings – those patterns in nature.

LeafBut, how are we connected? Let’s address this question by first looking at a simple plant or tree leaf which you have found and are holding in your hand. That leaf is a pattern in nature. In fact, it is at least three patterns. Now, a pattern in nature can simply be a form or structure – such as the shape of the leaf. But, a pattern can also be a process like a behavior or metabolism in our bodies. A pattern can also mean the relationship between two patterns – like the ecosystem or food chain in a pond or in a forest.

Back to our leaf. It is obviously a physical pattern as we can see from its shape. But, we quickly see a second pattern – the veins in the leaf. These veins are shaped in a tree-like structure we call a fractal pattern. They serve a purpose which is another pattern. They transport energy to the plant and transport waste gases to the leaf for release into the atmosphere. Another pattern is the cells of the leaf. These cells are directly or indirectly connected to the veins. They contain chloroplasts which convert the sun’s energy into useful energy for the plant. These cells also bring in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. They are all process patterns instead of structural patterns.

If we were to take our leaf and sit in a forest asking how we are connected to that forest and to nature, we might start by first looking at a plant’s connections as we just did. Ask the question: How am I connected to this leaf?

We humans have many of the same patterns as the leaf and the plant. First, we share some of the same genes. For example, mustard grass has 15% of the genes in the human genome. And, our lungs and kidneys have the same function and structure as the leaf veins – fractal patterns. Like the leaf, we inhale our atmosphere and exhale our waste products. And, of course, we have cells in our body. The fact is that there is a unity of pattern structures and functions between plants in our forest and us. There are connections on many levels. We know the forest because we know us. When you hold that leaf, you are holding a little bit of you.

Among the many beautiful trees there is one tree, set beside the stream, which calls you. You sit down, your back against the trunk. You feel the strength of that tree as you rest against it. You gradually become absorbed into its life, aware of its roots reaching down to draw strength and sustenance from Mother Earth. Its branches lift toward the sun, absorbing the life force from the sun and the air. You become aware of the flow of life from earth to heaven, the inbreathing and outbreathing. You become the tree.

— Paraphrased from The Still Voice

As we contemplate those features of our leaf that are similar to us, we may ask the following questions.

  • How am I related to this forest?
  • What patterns connect me to it and to Nature?
  • What patterns connect me to you?
  • What is the pattern that connects all of life and all that is not living?

As we sit in our forest, engaging Nature, and pondering these questions, we find ourselves considering the sacred. We find ourselves looking for the Creator in the Created as we ask: “What is the Pattern That Connects?”

In these questions about patterns and connections rests the core of “knowing” nature and nature’s patterns. We may never have complete answers, but we grow to “know” nature as we live the questions themselves.

Poet Alison Hawthorne Deming describes the connections between all things in her wonderfully profound poem “The Web”.

It is possible there is a certain
kind of beauty as large as the trees
that survive the five-hundred year fire,
the fifty-year flood, trees we can’t
comprehend even standing
beside them with outstretched arms
to gauge their span,
a certain kind of beauty
so strong, so deeply concealed
in relationship –black truffle
to red-backed vole to spotted owl
to Douglas fir, bats and gnats,
beetles and moss, flying squirrel
and the high-rise of a snag,
each needing and feeding the other—
a conversation so quiet
the human world can vanish into it?
A beauty moves in such a place
like snowmelt sieving through
the fungal mats that underlie and
interlace the giant firs, tunneling
under streams where cutthroat fry
live a meter deep in gravel, a beauty
fluming downstream over rocks
that have a hold on place
lasting longer than most nations,
sluicing under deadfall spanners
that rise and float to let floodwaters pass,
a beauty that fills the space of the forest
with music that can erupt as
varied thrush or warbler, calypso
orchid or stream violet, forest
a conversation not an argument,
a beauty gathering such clarity and force
it breaks the mind’s fearful hold on its
little moment steeping it in a more dense
Intelligibility, within which centuries
and distances answer each other
and speak at last with one and the same voice.

 

Why Do I Write These Essays?

Nothing in Nature exists in isolation. The movement of life’s energy, which originates in the sun, takes place because everything is interconnected and interdependent. Your consciousness of interdependence in Nature means that, every time you engage Nature, you ask yourself how a creature, a plant, yourself, or a natural object is connected to another and to Nature’s greater scheme of things. With this awareness you are prepared to protect Nature’s environment that sustains you. And, you create your legacy by encouraging others to do likewise.

 

If, after reading my essays, you find yourself embracing these ideas, I am thrilled in knowing that I’ve played some small part in setting this world view in motion in your mind.

 

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