Archives for posts with tag: Darwin

Darwin had wrote “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection“.
Some of us had mistakenly understood ‘evolution’ as being a ‘fight for survival’.
‘Fight’ as in ‘kill/subdue all those around you’, not ‘strive to improve yourself’, unfortunately.

Ernst Mayr had put things right. ‘Evolution is not about the survival of the fittest but about the demise of the unfit.

Adam Smith, a philosopher, had explained to us that free market capitalism functions because ‘the butcher, the brewer and the baker‘ cooperate across their respective ‘professions’, fully understanding that by respecting each-others work each of them would better serve their individual interests than by struggling individually.
Unfortunately too many of his contemporaries, and some later exegetes, mistook Smith’s words as meaning that ‘Greed is Good’.
And proceeded accordingly. Which was just another ‘application’ of Gresham’s Law. The ‘greedier’ among the capitalists slowly climbed to a dominant position and created a situation later described as ‘savage capitalism.’
Since people have a tendency to over-react, and to make matters worse instead of solving the problem, Karl Marx came up with an even more stupid idea than ‘Greed is Good’. According to him, the world should be run, in an equally authoritative manner, by a different class of people. Not by the ‘greedy capitalists’ but by the ‘virtuous communists’.
As if there ever was any real difference between dictators…

Almost a century later than Smith, Emil Durkheim, a sociologist, revisited the concept of ‘cooperation’ – from another angle, and demonstrated that society had leaped forward when each of its members developed his/hers particular talents instead of toiling together indiscriminately.  And then traded, on the free market, the results of their efforts. Nothing really new, just told in a different manner.
A marked difference from the ‘rantings’ of Marx. Who, by the way, had assessed the situation perfectly. Which makes it all the more baffling the fact that he was able to propose such aberrant remedies.

Almost simultaneously with Durkheim, another guy had noticed two very interesting things.  After a successful career as an engineer Vilfredo Pareto had started to study economics. Then he turned his attention to sociology. As an economist he had noticed the Pareto Principle – 80% of the results (income) are produced by 20% of the causes (agents), while as a sociologist he discovered that whenever social mobility, upwards as well as downwards, is hampered, the society where this happens will, sooner rather than later, experience serious difficulties. In fact this observation is quite straightforward. Whenever young people from the ‘lower strata’ cannot accede, despite being better qualified and harder working, to more meaningful positions because those positions are ‘safeguarded’ for members belonging to the ruling minority, the people from the lower strata stop striving while those from the ruling minority become lazy and careless. The recipe for disaster, don’t you think?
If we put both Pareto’s observations together we discover something similar to Smith’s budding concept of a free market. Whenever an individual, or a group of individuals, become so powerful as to dwarf those around them, economically as well as politically, the free market, economically as well as socially, stops working.

That’s why all monopolies have never failed to collapse.
That’s why all authoritarian regimes, including those built according to Marx’s rantings, have eventually failed – causing great harm to those fool enough to believe in them.

That’s why dinosaurs had disappeared – they had grown too big for their own good.
They behaved as if they were ‘greedy’. They seemed more interested in dominating the world instead of minding their own business.
Fishes – which are older than dinosaurs – survived and thrived.
Crocodiles, alligators, turtles, tortoises, snakes and you name whatever other reptiles come to your mind have survived the same conditions that have cut the mighty dinosaurs down to size.

That’s why Mayr goes on warning us. ‘Evolution is not about the survival of the fittest but about the demise of the unfit.

Let’s not destroy ourselves, as a species, attempting to prove him wrong.

Pareto’s elite theory is rather straightforward.
As soon as a society ‘grinds to a halt’ tension starts to build up. A ‘lion’ – or a coalition of lions, will sooner or later seize the opportunity and ‘make a grab for it’.
By tearing the calcified sinews which tied the society down the lions actions unleash – for the moment, at least, the creative forces that could not assert themselves. Things become markedly better than they used to be.
Because the lions are ‘lazy’ they soon hire ‘foxes’ to run the show. Unfortunately the foxes tend to be rather narrow minded and soon their narrow-mindedness coupled with the decrepitude of the lion ‘in charge’ bring back the society to the original – aka bogged down, situation.
A younger lion/fresh coalition of lions restarts the cycle.
Basically we have the definition of the boom-bust cycle.
A very compelling example would be the manner in which communist states had crumbled under their own weight. Or the manner in which all monopolies – or even companies in dominant positions, eventually screw up. The automobile industry – a mature economic field, would be a very good example for this.
Nothing dramatically different from Schumpeter’s ideas, albeit at a different scale.
Ideally, in a free (aka fully functional) ‘market’ there are a number of lions which keep each-other at bay and a big enough number of foxes to keep the show together. The lions, acting in concert, make sure that the foxes do not take over while the foxes prevent the lions from driving the whole thing over the cliff.
If the circulation of the elites is hampered, in any way, shape or form, the continuous/evolutionary social and economical fine tuning no longer works and the society reverts to the boom-bust cycle.
A really free market would closely resemble Darwin’s, or more exactly Mayr’s, evolution while the present situation is one where the circulation of the elites has been brought almost to a halt.
The whole process tends to be rather ‘circular’. As in a vicious circle.
Or a virtuous one. As it used to be, until very recently.

NB. This blog is more like a collection of notes than anything else.
I write them down because doing this streamlines my thinking process and I make them public because readers’ feed-back (mostly on FB) is very helpful.

when does chemistry become more than the sum of its parts?”

This evening I’ve read, in rather close succession, two very interesting lines.

The second was the one I just quoted above.  It comes from a BBC article titled: “There are over 100 definitions for life and all are wrong!

A little earlier I had come across Confucius’ “When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.

I could not resist the temptation to put these two together.

Rather than defining ‘life’ I’ll try to see what obviously (?!?) differentiates ‘living creatures’ from ‘chemically driven’ systems.


Life is about individuals. Huge, small, whatever. But each of them are individual beings.
Each of them, including the viruses, have a ‘membrane’ which separates ‘inside’ from outside and the survival of each individual depends on this membrane being able to do it’s job.

Chemical systems also have separations that ‘contain’ them into an ‘inside’ only those separations are not, in any way, controlled by the system itself as it happens with the membranes that separate the living individuals from their environment.


While life is about individuals, it’s also about ‘species’.
If you remember, Darwin’s seminal book was entitled “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life“.

Species are nothing but ‘lineages’ of slightly different individuals who somehow manage to pass from one generation to another enough ‘structural’ (genetic) information so that the species remains ‘consistent’ but, simultaneously, the ‘replication process’ is flexible enough to allow for enough ‘mutations’ – which constitute the engine of evolution. The process is very well explained here: “What Evolution is” by Ernst Mayr.
Moreover the information that is, somehow, passed from one generation to another is contained inside each individual and ‘entrusted’ individually and ‘personally’ – not by an outside agent, as it maybe the case for the chemical systems we use in our labs or industries.

According to these ‘criteria’ viruses would be alive while computer programs ‘not yet’. Not until they’ll learn to replicate themselves in a manner flexible enough to be called ‘evolutive’.



Ever since people have become aware of their own awareness philosophers have entertained opposing views as to what is more important: matter or soul.

The materialists point out that everything, including us, is made of matter and, hence, nothing would be possible without it while the idealists maintain that everything that exists is nothing but a projection of our own thoughts.

As an engineer who had designed (material) objects before actually building them I find it strangely rewarding that both these fiercely opposing sides are, simultaneously, right.

Just as we are simultaneously made of flesh and animated by souls.

If you disagree, just pinch yourself.
Now tell me, ‘did it hurt?’.
Who felt it? Your flesh or your soul?
And who’s able to meditate about the whole experience? How come are we not only able to feel things but also to think about them? Then to communicate, efficiently, among ourselves about our relatively different experiences?
Surely, there must be something shared amongst us, something that constitutes not only a medium for our communication but also a common base for our experiences.

I’m going to use ‘reality’ to designate that commonality, irrespective of the fact that reality is a two tiered thing.

A material reality, something that exists per se – according to its own, natural, set of laws, and a social reality, something that we, the people, have agreed upon – either willingly or by omission to protest, efficiently, against it.

These two tiers of reality are no longer independent.

In fact they have never been. The social reality has grown, as a bud, ‘on top’ of the material reality. And this has happened according to an opportunity enshrined in the natural laws that govern the very existence of the material reality.

Now, after its birth, social reality has started to alter the material one.
In two ways.
By developing an ever more sophisticated understanding of the inner workings we gradually discover inside the material realm and, subsequently, by using various aspects of that (inherently limited) understanding in order to effect voluntary change.

I’m going to make a brief pause here.
Social reality is a human construct, one that came to life fueled by our own volition and shaped by the sum of the choices we’ve made during our entire history.
The mere fact that we are also ‘animals’ – and have changed the world around us by our mere, and long time unwitting, existence, is something else. Related to our social existence but nevertheless different from it.

What I’m trying to say is that by coming of age – by becoming aware of our own awareness, we are currently adding a third dimension to that Ouroboros thing.
The ‘serpent’ has been ‘eating its tail’ from the very beginning of the world. New stars have been born from the dust left after the older ones have exploded and decaying organic matter is what used to feed our crops until a few short years ago – and still does for the organic farmers.
But now, that we’ve become aware of the entire process – and of our contribution to it, we are in a position to influence its direction.

We can turn it into a vicious or a virtuous circle.

Which will it be?

who needs what

And please, please, don’t make this confusion.
People do, as for now at least, need ‘nature’ in order to lead what we call/feel to be a normal life.
But nature also somehow needs us. Otherwise it wouldn’t have allowed us to become what we are today.

Until now, during our development, we haven’t broken, not significantly at least, any natural laws. Otherwise we wouldn’t have reached this stage – according to Ernst Mayr’s interpretation of  Darwin’s teachings, anyway.
Evolution is not about the survival of the fittest but about the demise of the unfit.
We’re not dead yet, are we?

Let’s keep it that way, lest we’re gonna be replaced.



Bashing ‘religion’ has become a pastime…

But did you know that it was a catholic priest that came up with the Big Bang Theory

and that Darwin was at least as interested in religion as he was in the theory of evolution? OK, in time he had become agnostic, like I am, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t religious.

A real scientist knows that knowledge is infinite and that he has no chance of mastering it all.
A truly religious person believes that there is something ‘above’ him and that his partaking in that something produces a strong bond between those who share that belief.
The person who barely reads one book, or more, and thinks that he knows it all is a fundamentalist, not at all a religious person.
A scientist can be a religious person and a religious person can be a scientist but neither a scientist nor a truly religious person can ever become a fundamentalist.
Religion is, above all, about respecting the others. So much so as to be able to cooperate with them.
Being convinced that you are in possession of the whole truth and that (most of) the rest of the world is wrong is the dead opposite of being religious.

Ilie Badescu, unul dintre stalpii sociologiei contemporane romanesti, ne atrage atentia ca “…marile revolutii se dezmiarda in mediul cel mai reactionar cu putinta. Marile reactii, procesele reactionare, sunt tot atat de necesare, ba poate ca acestea sunt, pana la urma, cele care confera sens, atat cat poate fi acesta, oricaror revolutii”. (Enciclopedia Sociologiei, 2005, Vol 1, pg 6)

Spunerea poate parea banala.
Pana la urma despre acelasi concept vorbeste ‘Legea a treia’ a lui Newton: “atunci când un corp acționează asupra altui corp cu o forță (numită forță de acțiune), cel de-al doilea corp acționează și el asupra primului cu o forță (numită forță de reacțiune) de aceeași mărime și de aceeași direcție, dar de sens contrar.”, legea inductiei electromagnetice: “Eu, curentul cel indus, / Totdeauna m-am opus / Cauzei ce m-a produs.“, teoria evolutiei a lui Darwin: ‘speciile supravietuiesc doar in masura in care reactioneaza adecvat la schimbarile din mediul in care traiesc‘ precum si “Construirea sociala a realitatii” de Berger si Luckmann.

Evident ca sunt deosebiri calitative. Daca in primele trei cazuri reactiile sunt de tip ‘automat’ – ‘specificate’ de legile valabile in cazul fiecarui domeniu – in  cea de a patra situatie ‘reactiile’ sunt modelate de liberul arbitru al persoanelor implicate in interactiune.

Ei bine, modul in care Ilie Badescu prezinta acest concept – ‘inainte’ si ‘dupa’ – este extrem de important in intelegerea a ceea ce este ‘schimbarea sociala’. Revolutiile apar in mijlocul si din cauza unor medii reactionare iar in urma fiecare dintre ele ‘supravietuitorii’ reactioneza la ceea ce s-a intamplat si isi recladesc societatea. Cu alte cuvinte daca ‘reactiunea’ initiala ar fi fost mai putin intensa lucrurile ar fi putut fi schimbate treptat, fara sa fie nevoie de o ‘revolutie’ in adevaratul sens al cuvantului. la fel, pentru ca o revolutie sa nu se iroseasca este nevoie ca ‘reactiunea’ sa fie adecvata la motivele care au produs acea rasturnare de situatie.

Genul asta de analiza poate fi facut si pe evenimente mai marunte iar concluziile desprinse s-ar putea sa fie surprinzatoare.

In urma cu aproape un an o fata a fost ‘condusa’ pe un camp unde a intretinut relatii sexuale cu 6 tineri dupa care a fost condusa pe un alt camp unde celor 6 li s-a alaturat un al 7 iar fata a mai indurat inca un calvar. Dupa ce a ajuns acasa tanara i-a acuzat pe cei 7 de viol iar trei dintre ei au recunoscut faptele. Acum toti sunt acasa, sub control judiciar, si isi asteapta procesul.

Fapta mi se pare barbara dar nu despre asta am de gand sa vorbesc acum ci despre modul in care reactiile noastre releva amanunte interesante despre societatea in care traim.

Consatenii agresorilor sar in apararea acestora, „Şapte băieţi de oameni gospodari” si o desfiinteaza pe victima: „Aşa-i trebuie, dacă s-a urcat în maşină cu şapte. Dacă era fată cuminte nu păţea nimic”. Trecand peste ‘amanuntul’ ca fata s-a urcat in masina cu doar doi dintre agresori – unul dintre ei fiind ‘prieten’ cu prietenul victimei – nu pot sa nu ma intreb ce s-o fi intamplat cu mentalul colectiv al oamenilor din satul acela? Pana nu demult actele sexuale in grup erau considerate aberatii… acum oamenii organizeaza campanii de sustinere pe Facebook si cer ‘să nu fie pedepsiţi cei şapte „pentru câteva minute de plăcere””
Ce s-a intamplat cu solidaritatea tipica micilor comunitati?

E adevarat ca mersul istoriei a fost dur cu comunitatile de la ses. Mai intai aparitia arendasilor – ciocoi a produs o intensificare a ‘luptei de clasa’. Acestora nu le pasa de nimic in afara de castigul imediat – vechii boieri, proprietarii pamanturilor, mai aveau o oarecare legatura cu locurile, ciocoii luau in arenda mosia, stateau cativa ani si plecau in alta parte dupa ce il inselau si pe boier. Nici o mirare ca taranii au dezvoltat ‘strategii de supravietuire’ care presupuneau ‘disparitia misterioasa’ a unei parti din recolta.
Dupa colectivizare fenomenul s-a accentuat iar oamenii furau, pentru a supravietui, roadele propriului pamant.

Numai ca genul asta de ambiguitate morala nu putea sa ramana fara consecinte. Chiar si pentru un observator neantrenat exista diferente enorme intre satele cooperativizate si cele ocolite de acest flagel. Nu este vorba aici despre dimensiunea caselor ci despre modul in care sunt gospodarite aceste sate, despre cum unii matura si altii nu in fata curtilor. Despre modul in care oamenii se ajuta, sau nu, unii pe ceilalti. Despre ce parere au unii si altii despre furt. Sau despre viol.

Initial nici restul societatii nu a reactionat mult mai bine. Trec peste faptul ca cei 7 se plimba pe strada si pot da nas in nas in orice moment cu victima lor. Pana la urma acest aspect se va rezolva. Sau cel putin asa sper.
Unii s-au indignat atat de tare incat au propus pedeapsa cu inchisoare pe viata pentru cei 7 – si au folosit pentru a-i descrie termenul de ‘limbrici’.
Apoi si-au facut aparitia comentatori care pun pe acelasi plan exagerarile din ambele tabere. Ca si cum indignarea deplasata ar fi acelasi lucru cu ‘favorizarea infractorului’. Nici una nu este buna dar nu sunt in nici un caz comparabile.
Altii prefera sa nu bage in seama ce se intampla. Dupa principiul ca ce nu stiu nu poate sa-mi faca rau. Ba da, numai ca nici macar nu vei sti ce ti se intampla.

Toate astea nu sunt altceva decat simptomul atomizarii societatii. In loc de o mare comunitate – natiunea – am inceput sa dezvoltam tot felul de loialitati meschine de tipul ‘noi impotriva celorlalti’ – care de cele mai multe ori sunt descrisi ca fiind mult inferiori. Femeile sunt menite sa-i distreze pe barbati, Toata Romania stie ca moldovenii/ moldovencele sunt o buba a societatii noatre

Din fericire incepe sa se faca auzita si ‘majoritatea de obicei tacuta’. Curg mesajele de sustinere a victimei si incep sa iasa la iveala alte si alte cazuri de viol a caror anchetare a batut pana acum pasul pe loc.

Exact asa cum spunea Ilie Badescu, dormim asa cum ne asternem. Avem datoria, fata de noi insine, sa rezolvam problemele inainte sa se instaureze starea de exasperare. Trebuie sa trecem odata peste efectele trecutului pentru ca nu are cine o faca in locul nostru. Altfel ne vom strecura printre degetele istoriei si vom deveni o simpla umbra pe una dintre paginile ei.

What on Earth is ‘itall’ and why would anyone bother about it?

Let me re-frame that.
Why on Earth are we so obsessed with winning in the first place?
It’s indeed nice to win from time to time but aren’t we overdoing it? Regardless of costs?

“Suppose that you are charged with selling a single food item to at least a hundred million people in a highly diverse society.  You can pick whatever item you wish, but you can pick only one.  If you fall short of getting at least 100,000,000 people to voluntarily choose your item over a rival item that will be offered by a competitor, you lose.  (Your competitor is playing by the same rules that you are playing by.)

Being highly competitive, you hate losing.  So you carefully go about selecting which item to choose.”

Already been there? You must surely understand where I’m driving at. Even if you are not ‘that competitive’ yourself you must’ve been wondering why hamburgers taste the same almost all over the world, and not only those mass produced by McDonald’s.

You see, there are two sides of the winning game. No, not those two obvious ones – the two players.
There are the players and the spectators. None could exist without the others but only the players, and the trainers, are aware of this.
Yet the very existence of the game and the manner in which it is played heavily influences the life of the people belonging to both categories.

As Don Boudreaux explains us in “Insipidness Guaranteed” our very fondness of winning big leads to the market being inundated by the very blandest – but generally acceptable – of products. Originality becomes stifled, contrary to the very fact that, from time to time, it’s exactly the original thing that gets the jackpot.

Three things concur to this.

I already mentioned the first.
Most players, or at least those at the top, know what’s going on while most of the (paying) spectators don’t. This leads to the spectators watching mesmerized what’s happening in the pitch while the players ratchet up the tension till it becomes unbearable least the spectators become bored and leave. So the spectators spend their time, and resources, watching instead of creatively using their brains to build something new – and potentially useful.

Our culturally enhanced obsession for winning.
Those players insist because they are plainly ‘hooked’. ‘Adrenaline is one of the most powerful drugs‘. This is true, if you don’t believe me check it on The problem with this particular addiction is that adrenaline is produced naturally in our body when we compete and that the winning moment is ‘scored’ in the brain by a powerful shot of dopamine, another hugely addictive natural drug.
On top of winning being highly pleasurable, and addictive, it is also positively sanctioned by the society. Drunkenness and being high on drugs are shunned by a considerable number of people while winning is applauded by all.

It also helps.
Yes, winning helps a lot. Otherwise ‘the quest for winning’ would have withered away a long ago by the very same mechanism that encouraged the advent of the moderate altruistic behavior – natural evolution.
No, this is not about ‘the survival of the fittest’ – that’s a mirepresentation of Darwin’s words, set straight by Ernst Mayr in ‘What Evolution Is: ‘It’s not about the survival of the fittest but about the demise of those who cannot cope’.
So, competition is good in the sense that it’s telling the loosers ‘stop trying this and look for another venture if you want to thrive/survive’. The real winners are exactly those who understand something when they loose.

Just as we need to balance altruism with the need to preserve our own personae, both physically and psychologically, then constantly adjust that balance according to the prevailing circumstances, we also need to understand where our obsession for winning has brought us.

When all we want is to win, we tend to forget that survival is, most of the times for individuals and at all times for the communities, more important the winning.
Darwin had titled his most important work ‘On the origin of species by means of natural selection‘ and had amply demonstrated there that ‘natural selection’ (= competition) is just a means toward the ultimate survival. Evolution, that is.
That’s why we are hard wired to compete among ourselves – so those more adapted to a certain environment might continue doing what they are good at while the others are ‘encouraged’ to look for something else to do. But natural selection never works on the premises that ‘the winner takes it all’, very seldom competitors that belong to the same species kill each other.

Ernst Mayr amply demonstrates in the book I already mentioned that overspecialization is bad for you. ‘Survival of the fittest’ is stupid precisely because of that. ‘Being the fittest’ – and doing it for any considerable amount of time – means gradually becoming unable to cope with the slightest change that might occur in your environment.
That’s why natural selection includes a mechanism through which small alterations appear haphazardly in our DNA – those who are benign enough survive and provide the individuals that carry them with additional capabilities, so that they might take advantage of slightly different conditions than those where their ancestors have evolved.

We, the humans, have raised this to a new level. By becoming self-conscious – ‘aware of our own awareness’ in Humberto Maturana’s terms – we have developed a certain individual originality – and the need not only to manifest it but also to convince those around us that our ideas are better than theirs. Sometimes by any means at our disposal.
If you don’t believe me read again Plato’s Republic: “Then, I said, the business of us who are the founders of the State will be to compel the best minds to attain that knowledge which we have already shown to be the greatest of all-they must continue to ascend until they arrive at the good; but when they have ascended and seen enough we must not allow them to do as they do now.”

Maybe it is high time for us to understand that a 2500 years old fallacy is still a fallacy. Plato marked the pinnacle of the Greek civilization, not it’s start. After he published his works, and Pericles had finished building his architectural wonders, Athens went slowly downwards and gradually lost it’s significance. Telling people what to think is the sure fire recipe for disaster. Ask the Soviets if you think what happened to the disciples of Plato isn’t convincing enough.

Coming back to where we started, winning, I have to remind you that a fundamentally aggressive attitude leads to the complete disappearance of respect. The aggressor becomes so engrossed in what he does that not only ceases to respect those around him – “He who is not for us is against us” was how Lenin used to see the world – but also looses sight of what he does to himself and to where he is leading his followers.

At the end of the article that spurred me into writing this, Dan Boudreaux, the author, bitterly ejaculates: “No one should be surprised that candidates for the U.S. presidency transact mostly in platitudes and are forever performing deeds on the campaign trail that any self-respecting person with independent judgment and a genuine sense and appreciation of his or her uniqueness would never in a million years dream of doing.  And the closer a candidate gets to the political promised land, the more intense becomes the pressure for him or her to be the political equivalent of a Bud Lite.”

Why, I ask all of you, would they – or any other of the putatively democratic candidates – do any different if we, the voters, continue to behave as hapless spectators and choose to watch as they fight for power instead of (powerfully) reminding them that they are being interviewed for a job, not wrestling for the privilege to take home the prom-queen?

And if they don’t get it – cause they’re too busy flaunting their feathers, we don’t get it – cause we’ve been hypnotized by those very same feathers as they are, how come the trainers – those close advisers who handle the players at every occasion – don’t get it that the whole bandwagon has started to go astray?!?

Real democracy means that the would be leaders put on the table the important issues, discuss them honestly till the voters develop a real understanding of what is going on and then some of them get elected by a knowledgeable community to implement a set of policies.

Where do you see this happening in our days?
Animal Talk: Breaking the Codes of Animal Language:

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