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Something odd... 
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Post Something odd...
On page 59...

Quote:
Another creature enlisted in a superorganism is the citizen of a society called the sponge. To you and me, a sponge is quite clearly a single clump of squeezable stuff. But that singularity is an illusion. Take a living sponge, run it through a sieve into a bucket, and the sponge breaks up into a muddy liquid that clouds the water into which it falls. That cloud is a mob of self-sufficient cells, wrenched from their comfortably settled life between familiar neighbors and set adrift in a chaotic world. Each of those cells has theoretically got everything it takes to handle life on its own; but something inside the newly liberated sponge cell tells it, "You either live in a group or you cannot live at all." The microbeasts search frantically for their old companions, then labor to reconstruct the social system that bound them together. Within a few hours, the water in your bucket grows clear, and sitting at the bottom is a complete, reconstituted sponge.

Like the sponge cells and the slime mold amoebas, you and I are parts of a vast population whose pooled efforts move some larger creature on its path through life. Like the sponge cells, we cannot live in total seperation from the human clump. We are components of a superorganism.


This is fascinating. I'm not sure I buy the notion that humans are at the same level of interdependency to sponges and slime molds, but he does seem to be onto something. I'd like to hear your views Jeremy, as I know you took issue with his theory that humans can work towards the survival of the social group more so than their own survival. I did see where you said that you acknowledge this as cultural and not biological, but isn't our culture an aspect of the naturalistic world?

What drives the sponge to reunite into a clump? And I am wondering if each cell actually meets up with their exact previous neighbors, or just any old sponge cell.

Chris

Edited by: Chris OConnor  at: 10/30/05 4:14 pm



Fri Nov 01, 2002 11:39 am
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Post Re: Something odd...
Chris, I think its just any cell of a few types....there are only like 3 or 4 cell types in a sponge. They're excessively simple organisms.




Fri Nov 01, 2002 7:44 pm
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Post Re: Something odd...
Mainstream biology resistes "group selection" because no physical mechanism has ever been posited. If the obvious answer is impossible, then there must be another answer.

The principle of the selfish gene resolves the puzzle of animals warning their cohorts and other instances of altruism very nicely without resorting to the mysticism of "good of the group". To understand it, it is important to keep in mind that genes or evolution "trying" to accomplish anything is a metaphor; useful at times, misleading at others.

What is actually happening is the group of genes which code for the behaviour "leap in the air and scream when you see a predator" are spread far and wide throughout the population of gazelles. Now it is true that the individual who jumps up may get eaten. However, she has protected copies of that gene (or to be technically accurate, group of genes) which exist in the population.

The mechanism of selection is still taking place individual by individual... it has to; individuals reproduce and die. But the driving force behind it is the gene that gets itself passed on, or not.




Fri Nov 01, 2002 10:57 pm
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Post Re: Something odd...
Speaking of oddities; Bloom (or his editor) got the name of "On The Origin of Species" wrong.




Sat Nov 02, 2002 1:20 am
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Post Re: Something odd...
Jeremy:

What was the mistake?

Chris

Edited by: Chris OConnor  at: 10/30/05 4:15 pm



Sat Nov 02, 2002 1:27 am
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Post Re: Something odd...
Quote:
What drives the sponge to reunite into a clump? And I am wondering if each cell actually meets up with their exact previous neighbors, or just any old sponge cell.


I'm not sure about sponges, but with slime molds which go about as individual cells and then aggregate into a multicellular structure to produce spores (when they begin to starve), it's a spatial deal both in that 'any neighbor-cell will do' as well as in the sense of it being a process governed in large part by structural constraints and principles of organization than any sort of natural selection scenarios. An interesting bit there is that it's the "weaker" cells (the slower, less vigorous ones) which become spores - make of that what you will *shrug* I'm not sure how solid that argument is or if it has anything to do with the phenomenon. Ricard Sole, et al, has done a lot interseting stuff regarding structural constraints and spatial patterns in organisms if you're interested in the subject. For principles of organization, there are the all the usual suspects (Francisco Varela, Stuart Kauffman, Per Bak, Humberto Maturana, etc., etc.)




Tue Nov 05, 2002 2:26 pm


Post Re: Something odd...
I think the comparison between societies and cells is useful...of course cells are generally better tuned to each other and less likely to become destructive to the body, but if you think of corrosive forces in society as a kind of "cancer" you can take the metaphor into interesting realms.

That also brings up the possibility that societies have "killer cells" to eliminate certain kinds of social dissonance. Certainly homophobes, prostitute-slayers and other "type killers" feel they are serving the superorganism (often literally associating society's moral purity with a Superbeing like a deity) by eliminating whatever triggers their "cleansing" response.

It also brings up the possibility of tuning ourselves to be more receptive to the social types that can form stronger tissues. I wonder if some people are "stem cells" that can more easily change roles and act as interpreters or initiators of social transformation? Is there a sort of blueprint which emerges in tribes, putting each cell in place? Would that blueprint be largely genetic or a result of circumstances unfolding along the scaffolding of physical DNA?

Michael






Wed Nov 06, 2002 6:17 am


Post Re: Something odd...
Yes, the comparison can be interesting, but I think one needs to be very, very careful in how such analogies are used. The danger is that the analogy comes to be taken as the literal reality - critical differences can be obscurred and imaginary/erroneous equivalences created. Social Darwinism is the classic example of how very wrong things can go when analogy and reality are conflated, but the problem can be more subtle in the damage it can do to understanding.

Is it really the case that cells are better tuned to each other? Or, is it the case that people are simply tuned to each other differently? In my opinion at least, people are extraordinarily well tuned to each other - but (for one thing) they are also a much more autonomous entity than a cell, so their relationship and interactions are of a different quality. In this light, for example, one can say that it is the cell which is more likely to become destructive in terms of it doing damage to the organism as a whole since their margin for error is so narrow, the interdependency greater, and their adaptability pretty much zero.

How is that the analogy allows for such contradictory statements (cell is more/less likely to be destructive)? Or, questioning the specifics of the analogy: why do we view 'type killers' as perpetrating an especially heinous crime, one that is not only a crime against individuals, but a crime against society and humanity in general?

This sort of discrepency between the systems needs to be highlighted and fully accounted for before any analogy can be made or conclusions drawn, else it can be very misleading. Glossing over the differences simply allows way too broad a spectrum of interpretation (such that it can mean whatever one wants it to mean); or worse, it can become a case where it's the analogy rather than the data which dictates the interpretation.

I'm not saying that is what Dr. Bloom has done, but the question I feel needs to be answered here is: Is it the case that a sponge is the equivalent of a society?

A top level question for that might be: Does a society have the distinct boundaries and identity as an entity that a sponge has?




Wed Nov 06, 2002 4:43 pm
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Post Re: Something odd...
Ani Osiris & Michael:

Your posts have me thinking back to a long conversation my father and I had about a year ago as we were driving along Clearwater Beach. The talk drifted from one subject to another, but finally rested upon world hunger - specifically the plight of Ethiopians.

Both of us felt frustrated as we attempted to devise a quick-fix to world hunger (as if there is one), until we settled on a solution I am embarrased to divulge. Perhaps we were both guilty of Social Darwinism and didn't even realize it.

What is the old phrase...Give a man a fish and you'll feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you'll feed him for life. To summarize our discussion, we both concluded that feeding the millions of starving Ethiopians temporarily is doing nothing but postponing the inevitable. Their environment cannot support them. They live in a desert. Spending billions of dollars to feed these people is the same as feeding them for a day, but they lack the ability and resources to ever feed themselves or to fish.

The real solution seems to be to educate them on birth control and provide free options for reducing the birth rate in their nation. But what do we do about the millions of starving people that are currently hanging on to life only because we air drop grain and food products every day? Social Darwinism might justify just letting them die, and as horrible as it sounds I still don't see another solution. Reduce food and medical and allow nature to take its course. Spend the limited resources that exist on preventing the problem to perpetuate by educating the people on birth control, and teaching them how to fish for themselves.

Chris

PS I went back into this post before you guys ripped me to shreads. I'm not saying I would actually allow them to starve, but I am saying that it seems to be the only real solution. My post is to illuminate the complexity of the issue, and not to offer my own personal $2 fix.

Edited by: Chris OConnor  at: 10/30/05 4:15 pm



Thu Nov 07, 2002 12:29 am
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