Carl Sagan Discusses Man’s Arrogance About Nature

  • Mankind cannot live without Nature but Nature can live without mankind.
  • Mankind has compelled his nature upon Nature.
  • Charles Darwin has famously said that “Man in his arrogance thinks himself a great work, worthy of the interposition of a deity. More humble, and I believe truer, to consider him created from animals.”
  • A quote  from Gozilla that holds a lot of truth is “The arrogance of man is in thinking that Nature is in our control and not the other way around.”
  • Joanna Macy defines the “Great Turning” as “a name for the essential adventure of our time: the shift from the Industrial Growth Society to a life-sustaining civilization “.

 

All of these comments imply that the solution to the environmental ills of mankind is a change in worldview from an attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or in presumptuous claims or assumptions. We call this arrogance, ownership, and control. A new and very positive worldview by human culture that will assure our future on this Planet is a consciousness of our connection with everything coupled with a sense of our interdependence with everything our Planet.

 

One of my favorite people is the late Carl Sagan who is famous for his in-depth talks on many subjects. Here is one review of Sagan’s work.

 

“Sagan’s ability to convey his ideas allowed many people to understand the cosmos better—simultaneously emphasizing the value and worthiness of the human race, and the relative insignificance of the Earth in comparison to the Universe. He delivered the 1977 series of Royal Institution Christmas Lectures in London. He hosted and, with Ann Druyan, co-wrote and co-produced the highly popular thirteen-part Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.”

 

One of my Carl Sagan favorites is his discussion of man’s arrogance. The definition of arrogance is when a person believes he or she is better than others, knows more than everyone else, and acts out these beliefs. An example of arrogance is when a person believes that he is never wrong and is “entitled to do certain things that prove destructive. The title of Sagan’s talk  “Man And His Arrogance”. You can view his talk by way of a Youtube video.

If you prefer to read the text of Carl Sagan’s speech, I provide it below:

 

“See that star?

“You mean that bright red one?” his daughter asks in return

“Yes, it might not be there anymore. It might be gone by now, exploded or something. Its light is still crossing space, just reaching our eyes now. But we don’t see it as it is, we see it as it was.”

Many people experience a stirring sense of wonder when they first confront this simple truth. Why? why should it be so compelling. The immense distances to the stars and the galaxies means we see everything in the past. Some as they were before the earth came to be. Telescopes are time machines.

Long ago, when an early galaxy began to pour light out in to the surrounding darkness no witness could have known that billions of years later. Some remote clumps of rock and metal, ice and organic molecules would fall together to form a place that we call earth. And surely nobody could have imagined that life would arise, and thinking beings evolve who would one day capture a fraction of that light and would try to puzzle out what sent it on its way.

We can recognize here a shortcoming, in some circumstances serious, in our ability to understand the world. Characteristically, willie-nilly we seem compelled to project our own nature onto nature. Man in his arrogance thinks himself a great work worthy of the interposition of a deity. Darwin wrote in his notebook, more humble, and I think truer to consider himself created from animals.

We’re johnny-come-latelys; we live in the cosmic boondocks; we emerged from microbes in muck; Apes are our cousins; our thoughts are not entirely our own, and on top of that we’re making a mess of our planet and becoming a danger to ourselves.

The trapdoor beneath our feet swings open. We find ourselves in bottomless free fall. We are lost in a great darkness and there is nobody to send out a search party. Given so harsh a reality, of course we are inclined to shut our eyes and pretend that we are safe and snug at home, that the fall is only a bad dream. If it takes a little myth and ritual to get us through a night that seems endless, who among us cannot sympathize and understand?

We long to be here for a purpose. Even though, despite much self-deception, none is evident. The significance of our lives and our fragile planet is then determined by our own wisdom and courage. We are the custodians of life’s meaning. We long for parents to care for us, to forgive us of our errors, to save us from our childish mistakes. But knowledge of preferable to ignorance. Better, by far, to embrace the harsh reality than a reassuring fable.

Modern science has been a voyage into the unknown, with a lesson in humility waiting at every stop. Our common sense intuitions can be mistaken. Our preferences don’t count. We do not live in a privileged reference frame. If we crave some cosmic purpose, then let us find ourselves a worthy goal.”

 

For Your Further Consideration

 

This essay, and other essays in this web site, present ideas to environmental educators and all stewards of Nature about ecoliteracy and legacy.   The emphasis is on two key ideas:

  • Our earth is a living system that transports and transforms energy. The key to an active ecoliteracy 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, This worldview includes the fact that all of Nature is interconnected and interdependent.
  • Environmental education is not simply offering facts. Environmental education must be hands-on and place-based if ideas, facts, and effective conservation strategies are to become a consciousness in the minds and hearts of our youth. Environmental education must include the the passing of this consciousness to future generation.

 

Please Comment

 

The purpose of this web site is to build a dialog between myself and my readers. I invite you to offer your comments, your critique, and to share your ideas with all of my readers in the comment space provided below.

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 regular Tweets that announce my essays, you will see when I retweet something that I read and that I think is important.

My Video Essays

Here is a list of video essays that I have created over the years.

An Antarctic Adventure

In 2004, as part of a two-week excursion in the Southern Atlantic Ocean, we explored parts of the Antarctic Peninsula.    Of particular interest to me, was breaking through ice fields to allow another ship to pass. Also, the incredible wildlife, visits to research stations, and the awesome experience of crossing the stormy Drake Passage as we headed back to Cape Horn and the southern tip of South America.

Sights and Sounds In The Southern Ocean

Since it is physically impossible for me to transport you to some of my favorite places, through the magic of my videos I can share some of the sights and sounds that I have experienced.  Here is a 9 minute video of creatures and their sounds that I encountered while visiting South Georgia Island and the Falkland Islands in the Southern Atlantic Ocean. Below the video there are explanations for each clip.

Visting My Elders

One of my favorite spots for engaging Nature is Ironwood Forest National Monument near Tucson, Arizona. In the secluded solitude of this wonderful desert, I am alone listening, observing, and meditating without any human interruption.

As is my daily practice, I sit outside at dawn anticipating the “golden hour” when the Saguaro Cactus glows from the light of the morning dawn and the birds greet the day in song. Thomas Merton calls this the “virgin point” of the day when Nature asks permission to be.

BIrd Flocks Are Airborne Ecosystems

Each year I set aside some time to observe and photograph the flocks of Sandhill Cranes that migrate to Southeastern Arizona and New Mexico. There is some kind of magic in a flock of birds. There is a synchrony of leaderless energy as the group flows through the air going here and then there while changing shapes that respond to some hidden force. I want to share with you my passion for the migrating Sandhill Cranes at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area near McNeal, Arizona. I captured this video during the 2015 and 2016 winter seasons.

Here is a list of nature videos created by other people

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.

 

Nature’s Relationships : What Is Life ?

What Is Life ?

 

 

If we could surrender to Earth’s intelligence, we would rise up rooted—like trees.”

~ Rainier Maria Rilke

 

What Is Life ? This is a question with many answers. A dictionary might tell us that life is a distinctive characteristic of a living organism that has he capacity to grow, metabolize, respond to stimuli, adapt, and reproduce. But, defining life requires a greater depth if we are to understand how Nature operates.

 

We can define living things by their structure:

  • Living Things are Composed of Cells
  • Living Things Have Different Levels of Organization
  • Living Things Are A Network of Systems

 

Or, we could define living things in terms of energy:

  • Living Things Transport and Transform Energy
  • Living Things Respond To Their Environment
  • Living Things Grow
  • Living Things Reproduce
  • Living Things Adapt To Their Environment

 

We can say that the essence of life is a process:

All life processes intermingle and are somehow dependent upon each other. Everything within Nature is interconnected and interdependent. More than mere interconnectedness, interdependence refers to the tendency of all life on Earth to be fundamentally linked and mutually dependent upon each other. Interdependence is a defining feature of all of Nature and Her ecosystems. Animals depend on plants for the production of oxygen, while plants absorb the carbon dioxide released by animals. Bees, butterflies, and birds assist in pollination and seed dispersal, enabling the reproduction of a multitude of plant species on which other organisms depend for food and shelter. And, of course, Earth’s connectedness with the sun’s energy is of primary importance because solar energy drives all life.

 

Life is a living system:

We can see that humans are also interconnected to and interdependent with Nature. Nonetheless, humanity fails to embrace the idea that every living thing on earth, including humans, is inextricably interconnected to every other living being. This refusal by humanity to accept our interdependence with Nature is a basic reason why the effects of human overpopulation and over-consumption exist.

 

Life is a collection of systems:

We will never understand life and we will be unable to resolve our population crisis until we recognize that life is a collection of systems. While we may not realize it, we encounter and connect with systems every moment of our lives. Our bodies are a large collection of interconnected, self-maintaining systems. Every person we meet, every organization we work with, every animal, every tree, and every ecosystem is a system.

 

Life is a continuum:

The endless complexity of life is organized into patterns which repeat themselves as they energize each hierarchical level of an ecosystem.  From the ceaseless streaming of protoplasm to the many-vectored activities of supranational systems, there are continuous flows through living systems as they maintain their highly organized steady states.

 

We humans need to embrace a systems view of life:

It is important to recognize that we need to understand systems and the systems view of life because systems are the networks by which life’s vital energy is transported and transformed. A thorough understanding of Nature’s living systems, as well as energy flow within these systems, is key to the development of conservation programs by human beings. When a conservation program developed by humans proves ineffective, it is usually because there was insufficient comprehension of living systems and Nature’s energy flow within these systems.

 

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.

 

 

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 Nature Contain Symmetry

Because we humans are pattern seeking organisms, symmetry has always fascinated us. We view symmetrical objects such as the regular repeating patterns of ancient pottery, weavings, and tilings as pleasing, proportioned, balanced, and harmonious. Patterns in Nature also possess symmetry in space or in time.

Since the description or classification of many patterns in Nature is difficult,  symmetry is a handy “device” for classifying and organizing information about pattern structure and pattern processes.

Symmetry, according to the American Heritage Dictionary is an “Exact correspondence of form and constituent configuration on opposite sides of a dividing line or plane or about a center or an axis”. If it is impossible to to distinguish between the original and final positions of a moved object, we say it has symmetry. Said another way, an object possesses symmetry if it retains its form or shape after some form of transformation or change.

The star fish is an example of radial symmetry. Rotating this animal one-fifth of a turn doesn’t change the object, its pattern, or its appearance even though the positions of the arms have changed. In other words, the pattern remains the same even though the animal is rotated. This pattern is said to be “invariant” under rotation around its center.

The Common Buckeye butterfly is an example of mirror (sometimes called “bilateral”) symmetry. It is symmetrical along its longitudinal axis (head to tail). Its left side is a mirror image of its right side. This pattern is said to be ” invariant” under mirror reflections along this axis. Nature has preserved the symmetrical pattern of this creature. The shape and pattern of the left side is the same as a mirror image of its right side. The human body contains bilateral symmetry.

Basic maneuvers such as rotating the star fish or looking at mirror images of a butterfly are called symmetry operations. Symmetry operations provide a basis for classifying objects or patterns in terms of symmetry. It is for this reason that a study of patterns in Nature is also a study of symmetry.

Symmetry is a pattern classification scheme. There are various symmetry classifications including:

  • Bilateral (mirror) symmetry is symmetrical with respect to its reflection. The butterfly and most mammals are symmetrical along the main body axis.
  • Radial (rotational) symmetry, as seen in a starfish, is where similar parts are regularly arranged around a central axis and the pattern looks the same after a certain amount of rotation.
  • Translational symmetry, such as repeating tiles or wallpaper patterns, means that a particular translation of an object to another location does not change its pattern.
  • Scaling symmetry which is the property of a pattern where each part of which  is identical to the whole as seen at different magnifications. This is commonly called self similarity — a property that characterizes a fractal shape.  Our lungs and tree branches are examples of scaling symmetry.
  • Time symmetry, such as the periodic behavior of ocean waves or music, involves changes in time. Symmetry can also be a description of non-geometric forms such as time and space.

The study of symmetry is the study of invariance in nature. It is also the study of nature’s regularities during natural events or changes. Symmetry ideas are used to conceptualize pattern formation. In particular, It is said that patterns in nature are formed through “symmetry breaking” — making something less symmetrical (having fewer symmetries than its predecessor).

A sphere is an example of “perfect symmetry”.  It is symmetrical no matter how you rotate it.  It remains invariant in shape under certain classes of transformations such as rotation, reflection, inversion, or more abstract operations.

But, the deformation of a sphere results in the breaking of that “perfect symmetry”. Shown is a series of computer generated distortions of the sphere that are that are similar to cellular development. Each distortion has its own symmetry but a lesser symmetry than the perfect symmetry of the sphere.

All but the perfect sphere are no longer invariant under certain classes of transformations such as rotation and reflection. This distortion or process of change is called “symmetry breaking” – some loss of symmetry. Each object is a new or different pattern with its own symmetry.

Scientists regard  symmetry breaking  to be the process of new pattern formation. Broken symmetries are important because they help us classify unexpected changes in form. Through the process of symmetry breaking, new patterns in nature are formed. New structure is gained as symmetry is lost.

The above figure is an illustration of the actual patterns of development at various stages of cleavage where the symmetry of the sphere (fertilized egg) is broken and new patterns are formed with less than perfect symmetry.

Symmetry and the study of patterns in Nature are closely related because patterns in Nature are manifestations of resistance to change. By understanding the symmetry of natural patterns,  we have the opportunity and means to classify types of patterns in Nature even though we may not fully understand the underlying pattern formation processes.

Thanks for reading this blog post. The purpose for these blogs is to develop a dialog between myself and my readers. You are encouraged to offer your comments in the space provided below.

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 twice-monthly announcements of new blogs that I post. Your security is important to me. Please know that your email address is never distributed to anyone.

Stars, Bubbles and Beehives – Complexity Joined

Nature is a hierarchy of interrelationships that start at the atomic level where molecules are formed.

In an attempt to synthesize and to simplify, much has been said about the idea that patterns in Nature can be described with simple physical laws. This idea has appealed to mathematicians, physicists, and others who adhere to the reductionist world view. While it is true that physical laws play a very important part in pattern formation, they are only part of the story as the honey bee demonstrates.

My story begins with the stars — complex dynamic systems where the hydrogen atom hangs out. Somehow, the complex system of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom joined to produce water molecules and  water drops — both  hierarchies of complex systems.

Of all the shapes in our geometric inventory, a sphere has the smallest surface area for a given volume. A common drop of water  is a naturally ordered sphere that is shaped by the influence of physical forces called surface tension.

Each water molecule interrelates with neighboring molecules by way of intermolecular forces that result in the molecules being attracted to each other. Within the liquid’s body, each molecule is pulled equally in all directions by neighboring molecules, resulting in a net force of zero. But, at the surface of the liquid, the water molecules are pulled inwards by other water molecules deeper inside the liquid. This happens because the water’s surface molecules are more strongly attracted to other water molecules in the liquid than to the molecules of  air  that surround the water drop. This net difference in attractive forces is called surface tension.

Surface tension at a water drop’s interface with its surroundings results in the formation of the smallest area for its given volume. The physical forces (patterns in themselves) associated with surface tension create a pattern — in this case a spherical water drop.

A water bubble is sustained as a result of the balance between the gas pressure inside the bubble and the forces associated with surface tension. The bubble’s internal gas pressure tends to push the sphere apart. This is counteracted by the bubble’s surface tension acting around the surface of the sphere to provide a net force that pushes inward.

Foam is a collection of bubbles. The weight or gravitational forces that act upon a collection of bubbles causes them to “pack”. A two dimensional packing of foam bubbles results in bubbles whose walls meet at 120 degree angles — forming roughly hexagonal cells. If the bubbles are of unequal diameter, the hexagons are unequal. But, if the bubbles are of equal diameter, the hexagons are of equal size — taking on the appearance of a honey comb.

What we see  is a hierarchy of interrelationships that start at the atomic level where molecules are formed. Atomic forces result in molecules interrelating in various ways. Differences in the strength of molecular forces define phenomena such as surface tension. The gravitational joining of objects created by these phenomena results in more complex systems – like foam. It is the connectivity of and interrelationships between these complex systems that result in what we see as bubbles and foam.

But, what does all of this have to do with honeycombs? As we shall see, they represent the joining of complex systems – the physical forces just described with biological patterns in Nature. With the honeycomb, we get to observe the synergistic joining of animate and inanimate patterns in Nature.

The hive and the bees within are both hierarchal complex dynamic systems. Somehow, whether through genetic, epigenetic, or cultural patterns, the bees acquire patterns of behavior. Again patterns within patterns. Somehow, the bees know to harvest the correct components from other patterns in Nature (like flowers) so as to create bees wax within their wax glands.

While constructing a honeycomb, bees use their bodies as a template. They make each close packed wax cell perfectly cylindrical, like a tube. The bees raise the temperature of the wax to 37-40 degrees Centigrade. Like glass, the beeswax becomes increasingly fluid as it is heated. The mobility of one wax particle with respect to another changes significantly at this specific transition temperature. Much like the foam forming process discussed earlier, the warmed wax cells take on their hexagonal shape due to their gravitational compression by the six closest neighbors in the packed arrangement of the cylindrical cells.

The entire process of  creating a honeycomb in a hive, therefore, comes from the joining of many different patterns in Nature – molecular structure, physical laws, bee behavior, plants, and more. All complex systems within complex systems. Everything connected in some way. All with some form of regularity.

 

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 Meeting At Guerrero Negro

The story about patterns in Nature is a story about order. And, what could be more orderly than a regularly repeating pattern over time? Things like cycles and synchronization. Heartbeats, ocean waves, day and night. And also gray whales.

One of Nature’s really intriguing patterns in time is the annual 12,000 mile round trip migration of some 20,000 gray whales. This journey is one of the longest animal migrations known to man. Every autumn, these 45 foot leviathans leave their summer feeding grounds in the cold arctic waters of the Bering Sea and travel along the North American coast to the Pacific coastal lagoons of Baja California, Mexico. One of the three lagoon complexes that they choose is Scammon’s Lagoon (known to the Mexicans as Laguna Ojo de Liebre). Scammon’s Lagoon and its connecting Laguna Guerrero Negro (Black Warrior Lagoon) are situated near the town of Guerrero Negro about half way down the Baja Peninsula. The lagoon and the town are named after a whaling ship that went down here in 1858, the Guerrero Negro.

The whales  meet at Guerrero Negro and the two other Baja lagoons apparently (a human presumption) because the shallow waters make the act of birth, the caring for new born calves , and breeding easy. These lagoons also offer protection of the young from killer whales and sharks.

In addition to the annual pattern of this long journey, there are interesting migration sub-patterns in time within the culture. Wikipedia describes this as follows (paraphrased):

“The first whales to arrive are usually pregnant mothers that look for the protection of the lagoons to bear their calves, along with single females seeking mates. By mid-February to mid-March, the bulk of the population has arrived in the lagoons, filling them with nursing, calving and mating gray whales.Throughout February and March, the first to leave the lagoons are males and females without new calves. Pregnant females and nursing mothers with their newborns are the last to depart, leaving only when their calves are ready for the journey, which is usually from late March to mid-April. Often a few mothers linger with their young calves well into May. By late March or early April, the returning northbound animals can be seen from from the shores of Washington State in the US as well as Canada.”

Gray Whale Video

Because gray whales are coastal migrators, their movements have been well observed by we humans. There is a great amount of detail available on the Internet. But, the questions of why and how are not really answered.  Since the thinking of a gray whale is elusive, our explanations emerge only through the lens of our anthropomorphic point of view. At best we can presume that a gray whale is a coastal navigator because the creature is capable of maintaining a memory map of geographic landmarks (they do seem to “spy hop” — look around) or of ocean current characteristics. Somehow, the young are able to imprint these clues — whatever they might be. And, it appears that these animals are able to communicate.

What fascinates me about all of this is that, beyond the patterns in time that seem to drive the gray whale, there is another pattern in Nature lurking beyond our cognitive lens. That pattern is intelligence. I firmly believe that the arrogant nature of we humans prohibits us from accepting the fact that animal intelligence may be at a much higher level than that which we are willing to give credit. The gray whale’s different activity patterns and separated arrival and departure times while at the lagoons is, to me, a clue that some kind of patterns of intelligence do exist because decisions appear to be made. The first part of the four minute video shows some form of cognition as the whales move up to the observer’s boats with apparent interest.

With your comments, please let me know what you think.

Going With The Flow

One doesn’t usually think of water as a pattern in Nature. But when you stop to think about it, waterfalls, rushing streams, ocean waves, and the ripples in quiet lakes are interesting and sometimes breathtaking visual patterns. And, of course, the phenomena that drive these patterns are patterns in themselves.

Within the beauty created by water are currents — the flow of water. In the oceans of the world, many life forms, patterns themselves, connect with  that flow.  Usually unseen, flow patterns are profoundly important to Nature’s well being.

Take the Antarctic Convergence as an example. This is a fancy name for a juncture where four major ocean currents are connected. The Antarctic Circumpolar Current , another pattern in Nature, flows from west to east as it circles around Antarctica. The Antarctic Circumpolar Current connects to the currents of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans and serves as the principle means of exchange between these bodies of water. It also helps preserve the ice sheet on the Antarctic continent by buffering the continent from the warmer currents to the north.

The line where the Antarctic Circumpolar Current connects with the northern currents is called the Antarctic Convergence. The complicated current flow along this line results in an upwelling and mixing of detritus nutrients from the ocean floor. The garbage of the sea is recycled. This pattern results in very nutrient rich waters that result in a network of life that biologists call a “food chain”. The area is very rich in krill which is the keystone food source. So, many patterns in Nature, creatures who frequent the area,  are nourished from this joining of ocean currents.

If you visit the Falklands or South Georgia Island, islands close to the convergence, the results of water flow  are obvious on a grand scale. Huge numbers of penguins, seals, sea lions, and marine birds rest and procreate here. But very few live on these islands. Instead, their life is at sea where they are intimately connected to the riches produced by the convergence of some our planet’s largest bodies of water.

And for us, this massive network of patterns in Nature is a lesson in respect and reverence for the fact that we are all connected.

The Ironwood And The Cactus

Fortunately, the opportunity to actually engage patterns in Nature comes to me often.  As time passes, I will be sharing some of these experiences and my thoughts about these experiences with you.

One of my very favorite places to camp is Ironwood Forest National Monument (I just call it “Ironwood”) west of Tucson, Arizona. This public land is managed by BLM.  BLM describes the tract as  “Taking its name from one of the longest living trees in the Arizona desert, the 129,000-acre Ironwood Forest National Monument is a true Sonoran Desert showcase. Keeping company with the Ironwood trees are Mesquite, Palo Verde, Creosote, and Saguaro, blanketing the monument floor beneath rugged mountain ranges named Silver Bell, Waterman and Sawtooth. In between, desert valleys lay quietly to complete the setting.”

Ironwood ForestI like this place for three reasons. First, there is a pristine feeling because few people go there. There are no public facilities and, given some ecological common sense, you can camp anywhere.  It is wonderfully quiet. Except for occasional aircraft noise, you can hear Nature without the noise of humanity. Second, Ironwood has magnificent early morning light that changes color as the sun rises. The changing light casts a magnificent golden glow on the plants and the nearby mountain. As an avid nature photographer, I’m thrilled.

But, my third reason for loving this place is the most important. Ironwood is home to some very interesting patterns in Nature. The most obvious is the crazily shaped arms of the Saguaro cactus. But my favorite is the Ironwood trees, along with the Palo Verde and Mesquite, and how they act as nursery plants to protect the Saguaro.  This demonstration of a temporal symbiotic pattern in Nature fascinates  me particularly because it involves preferential attachment — a key factor in the reason why patterns in Nature are what they are.

Let’s start first by talking about nursery plants. Seedlings from certain species germinate only in certain selected spots. One criteria for the Saguaro Cactus seed to germinate is protection from the harsh desert sun. Wind and stream water move the Saguaro seeds until some are caught up at the base of the Ironwood, Palo Verde, and Mesquite plants. The leafy branches offer the needed protection and the seed germinates to become a seedling. And there the cactus sits for its entire long life that averages 200 years.

All over Ironwood you can see this nursery plant arrangement with a large cactus poking its body up through the top of a Palo Verde or Ironwood tree or a Mesquite bush. Likewise, many young cacti are dwarfed by their nursery plant. But, I also see many Saguaro cacti without nursery plants.  The Palo Verde has an estimated lifespan of 100 years. The Mesquite has a lifespan of 40-110 years. The Saguaro outlives both of these nursery plants. That is why one sees many solo Saguaro. Their nursery plants have died a long time ago. But, the Ironwood Tree lives 300 to 600 years — outlasting the Saguaro. That is why there are many large Saguaros living within the branches of the Ironwood Tree. And that is why I see dead Saguaros embraced by the Ironwood.

So, what about “preferential attachment”?  Patterns in Nature are what they are because they are interconnected to other patterns in Nature. Preferential attachment describes the way that patterns in Nature connect. It describes the character of the connection network in which a pattern exists. In fact, along with growth, preferential attachment appears to be an essential process in the formation of patterns in Nature.  If you want to buy a book on-line, you would prefer to connect to Amazon rather than to my blog site. Many more people want to buy books on Amazon than to read my blog. Amazon, with its reputation, preferentially draws people to its major Internet hub site.

One could say that the Saguaro seed “prefers” to make a connection with the Ironwood, the Palo Verde, or the Mesquite. While this process lacks any “conscious” effort it is clear that the seed will not germinate under creosote bushes that drop a chemical that kills any seed growth. Other plants lack the ability to entrap the seed. And, a Cactus seed lying out in the open will die due to exposure from the sun — even if water is available. So, there is a pattern to who and how a Saguaro seed becomes protected.

Preferential attachment, the way something connects, is indeed a pattern in Nature. It is the reason that Nature’s networks are the way they are. It is ubiquitous. It drives social networks (there are only certain people you prefer to communicate with), ecosystems (predators prefer only certain prey – there would be no food chain without a preference for prey), and our own metabolism (without any consciousness molecules prefer to bond only to certain other molecules).

Your comments are greatly appreciated.

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