15. How Humans Ruled the World

Note: This is the next release of a book. Follow it here.

You and I started out as little spermies, lost in a mess looking for home.  In a feat that I am still trying to wrap my head around, we were each gold medal winners in a wilderness trek against 300 million of our closest siblings.[1]

We were Mother Nature’s biggest double-or-nothing gamble at life yet: a HUMAN.  Never has so much collective order been leveraged into one birth.  But life moves forward when the Search to bond with the Other is stronger than the risk of death.  So every animal since the eukaryotes has really pretty much gone crazy about this thing called sex.  

Case: I give you the American Oyster.  She is the reproductive champ of the animal kingdom.  This lady lays 500 million eggs EVERY YEAR.   

She is also the worst mother of the animal kingdom.  Only 2-3 of her 500 million eggs, on average, will survive to reproduce. [2]   (Moms, if you ever get down on yourself about your parenting, just know it could be worse.)  Oysters are an extreme r-selected species, which means they are horribly inept and have to produce millions of copies so that a couple can survive.

It also means that, in baby Oyster World, you’re on your own, pal.  Gooood LUCK with that life thing.

We humans are the opposite – an extreme k-selected species.   We have, by far, the fewest number of offspring per year of life of any mammal – about 1 child for every 29 years we live, globally.[3][4]

R-selected = least mothering and least parental investment.

K-selected = most mothering and most parental investment  

Being K-Selected also means we all start out as the weakest, most helpless ‘little thangs’.

This ball of tears and mush is abso-freakin-lutely helpless.

Through social connection, though, something magic happens – the most helpless, needy balls of tissue on the planet somehow transform into the toughest, smartest, most creatively adaptive species on earth.  Now, we put lions in zoos for our toddlers to walk by and point at.[5]  All the other animals are under our control. 

I AM HOMOSAPIEN.  ALL OTHER CREATURES MUST BOW BEFORE HOMOSAPIEN.[6]

The ancient Genesis narrative told how the Gods created humans as animals, and then gave them the power to rule and subdue the earth and have dominion over the other organisms.  In fact, humans became so powerful so quickly, that we started accidentally destroying the other organisms like crazy. In the ancient mythic stories from all around the world, the gods flooded the earth in an attempt to kill humans because we were so destructive.

Together

Obviously, our power comes from working together. This is Metcalfe’s law.  More relationships = more communication = more awareness = faster growth = more collective power.  Not just a little more, but exponentially more. And over time, this compounds and spirals. 

…Well, up to a point.  

See, because 5,000 wildebeests are pretty dumb, right?

TOO MANY in a single network comes at the cost of deep individual relationships.  Collective power isn’t JUST lots of us in one place, but it’s also about how deeply the individuals are connected in a common narrative. 

In a wild world, this requires individual trust, something wildebeests don’t have.

Not with my trash can.

Trust grows in felt safety, the idea that your investment of attention is worth it with that individual.  If I pour out my attention to her, will she reciprocate it one day by giving me hers?

So a trust relationship, like a healthy human, can only grow in homeostasis.  Give and take.  Over time, reciprocity builds trust. 

Trust is the ability to throw your raw emotions and full self into the chaos of the other’s possession.  It enables us to lend others our power.   The collateral for trust is our observational experience with that person.  So trust takes deep observational skills with deep brains over time.  With each individual, it has to be grown and, once grown, maintained.  Like a happy vine. 

Relationships are living things. 

Invisible, but alive nonetheless.

Trust opens the door for deeper information transfer – power transfer.  It tells our conscious Will that the other person is okay to share some gold with.

Much more than for a wildebeest, each relationship becomes like a living organism to grow and maintain.   Trust is like a watered plant, as we must regularly revisit other’s stories and rekindle the flame as we update ourselves with their lives.  It’s like keeping up with the latest episode of the Gilmore Girls. 

As you might imagine, it takes an incredible amount of neural energy to tend to even a few deep relationships.  Multiply that by many friends, and this costs a lot of energy.  

One empathic mama.  Too much drama makes her very, very tired.

These connections were expensive.  Evolution had to select strategies:

Even though these connections were expensive, the return on investment would be worth it, because of what we could achieve together.  So primate evolution answered the call. Our brains began to spend a crapton of energy to observe individual distinctions among other primates.   We began to classify, sort, rank, and file observations as a way to build trust and co-operational abilities.   Our brain grew. 

For each 1 billion neurons, it takes about 6 calories (kCal) of energy per day just to operate.  So this 3 pounds of flesh is only 2.5% of our body mass, but consumes 25% of our energy.

Our brains became more and more dense as we became more and more social. 

The only way to drive up both number and depth of relationship would be more brainpower.

One million years ago, we were likely consuming about 1600 calories per day, similar to modern chimps. 

That’s 8-10 hours a day wasted foraging for raw food, just to keep the lights on upstairs.  Since that’s pretty much eating all the time, we primates finally hit an upper social limit.  We couldn’t eat more, couldn’t evolve more brainpower, and couldn’t evolve to be any more social than that. 

So we stopped evolving there, right?

Welp.  No.  

One day, another breakthrough – we learned to control fire and cooked some food. [7]

Fire and cooking meant hitting the energy lottery in places where food was abundant.  Now, instead of grazing all day (which I may/may not still occasionally be guilty of), we could free up hours a day for juicy gossip and fun things, enabling trust and extending our social group.   Over time, our brains evolved until nature presented us with this graph:

Brain size and social group size co-evolved to become larger, having more energy pumped into our bodies. Thanks to cooking, we can now eat 2,000 calories in 10 minutes, and our brain reigns supreme of the social connectors – all without sacrificing relationship depth.

If there is any trait of the human brain that makes it an evolutionary unicorn, it is our ability to observe and remember tiny distinctions among others in our species.  This leads to cooperation and trust.

Thus, we became the most prolific socializers, ever.

Selection pressures within our own human tribes came to demand that only the most cooperative of us would be most likely to reproduce. 

Do you really want to make babies with a loser? No, you don’t.  

Nature selected for the most socially skilled, empathic humans, with the largest neocortex (wrinkled part).  This selection compounded, and our snowball kept rolling.

We finally broke through in number and depth of relationships:

= EXPONENTIAL HUMAN NETWORK POWER

Wildebeest never individuated their relationships and grew trust.  Other primates, like chimps and orangutans learned to individuate, but never grew the brainpower to expand their social circles.

But more energy gave us the break we needed, and the snowball rolled until one day, we discovered the next hack, and the snowball would only speed up more.


[1] Imagine every single person in the entire United States lined up in a race.  That’s the race you WON, you badass spermie, you.  *Fistbump*  Note, this is the very male version of the story.  Some might identify better with the discretionary wisdom of the egg, tidying up your little eggy home.   You wisely turned all the bad guys away and only let the RIGHT one in.  *Fistbump for providing MUCH needed discretion.*

[2] Next time your kids are going bonkers in a restaurant and you’re feeling like a failure, just remember Ms. Oyster and think, “At least I’m not her”.   She puts out 2 functioning adults while the other 499,999,998 of her kids literally die.  Spaghetti on the floor might not be so bad.

[3] UN estimates the Global Total Fertility Rate to be 2.5 children per woman in 2015, while global life expectancy was 72 years in 2015.   72/2.5 = 28.8.  Does NOT mean you can only have kids at ages 29 and 58.

[4] Also, if youre in the subspecies Whitis Suburbananis, you have like 1.3 kids and live to be 95.

[5] Okay, THEY do.  I don’t.

[6] Ask someone born between 1975-1985.

[7] Suzana Herculano-Houzel, “What’s So Special About the Human Brain.,” TEDGlobal 2013. Fantastic talk, Suzana!

14: Attachment: Attention

Note: This is the next part of a book!

SECTION 3: ATTACHMENT

“Attachment is the foundation for mental health.” – Dr. Karyn Purvis


Ch. 14: ATTENTION

The human brain largely formed through a concept we now know as attachment.

What is the Something Bigger that you and I are attached to? 

That is the Human Question. 

And attention is our individual human answer.  Attention is where all the power of our 75 trillion cells is pointed.  It is a constant stream of consciousness always flowing towards something that receives it. 

You might say that all of the energy we consume becomes pointed towards whatever we give our attention to. 

The 11,000 watts you are burning right now are currently being burned so that you can sit in a temperate climate and read this book.  This book is the direction or flow of the entire you right now. If you were watching a cat video, the earth would be sacrificing those watts so you could bond with that cat.  But you’re not bonding with a cat video, obviously; the earth is paying for you to bond with this book.

In a few minutes or seconds, it will shift and you will focus your attention elsewhere, like your screaming kid or a work call. So attention is a meandering stream, always changing directions.

We can’t stop the flow. Trying to stop yourself from giving your attention to things is like trying to dam a stream with your hands or plug a water hose with your thumb.

Consciousness – attention – is the pinnacle of an individual’s existence and a magic gateway to higher levels.

What we give our attention to is, for that brief moment, our “why.” It is our purpose, albeit for a second. 

This girl is giving her attention to making an arrowhead.  Right now, all of her muscles, neurons, and tissues are working together in beautiful synchrony for one goal: 

a pointed rock. 

In one sense, she made it.  But in another, the universe did.  For the moment, she aligns all of her sunlight and earth toward this end.

This guy is giving his attention to flipping M&M’s in the air and catching them with his mouth to impress the ladies. 

Mother Earth’s 11,000 watts are paying for that, hoping for a return on the investment. It is also our investment of time and energy.  We give attention.  We pay attention.   

Then, something magical happens.  Our brains grow an emotional bond to its investments.  

Attachment

We grow hope for something in return.  Care grows.  It’s why you care about the stocks you own more than the ones you don’t.  You clean the house you live in, not your neighbor’s.  You invest in that which… you have already invested in.  It is a cycle of loyalty.

And, thanks to evolutionary hacks, these brains don’t really care whether the investment of attention is in something concrete or abstract, living or non-living.

And here we are, 8 billion ants scurrying around, each constantly investing this steady stream of energy.  It’s sort of like our power mountain is a volcano, and attention is high energy lava spewing out our eyeballs, except this lava is a stream of gold. 

She likes it.

Attention isn’t just the most powerful thing we have.   It is the culmination of everything we have in the present.

That which has our attention has our body and all its energy and power captive

That power is quite the prize.   Win Warren Buffett’s attention for a moment, and you now have a brief shot at accessing all that power he is sitting on. 

I know– Buffett looks more like Kim Jong Un with grey hair, but I didn’t want to redraw him, K? And yes, he has way more money.

Whatever has your attention has a shot at getting some of your bank accounts, your work, your skill, your knowledge, and your loyalty.   

Interestingly, this golden stream is extremely narrow.  For all the giant reservoir of data stored up here in our head’s hard drive, the stream flowing out is pitiful in comparison.  We have billions of bytes of stored data in our memory, but our perceptual bandwidth of conscious attention is only a few bits.[1] That’s all we can focus on at a time.

And this tiny stream is guarded by a bouncer:  our conscious will or volition.  This bouncer is the boss, the head executive of a large corporation.  Unfortunately, the bouncer is not a particularly good one.[2]

If anything wants our attention, it needs to convince the bouncer.  Sweet talk this guy, and he is a sucker, always diverting the stream of our attention elsewhere like a Black Friday shopper looking for good deals.  His job is monumentally important: pay attention to the correct things, and our reservoir will continue to fill.  We will grow and become more powerful. 

Spend too much time paying attention to the wrong things, and we will be drained.  Others will siphon our power away, cashing in on our lack of discipline.

That is why there is such an epic battle going on for your attention, both inside and out.

THE CORPORATION

Internally, your body is fighting for the gold.  Our nervous system is its own competitive hierarchy – a corporation – full of dutiful workers constantly seeking attention for their needs.

Assuming your name is also Larry, we’ll call you Larry, Inc.  Your body has lots of internal divisions.

This is the executive boardroom (which conveniently meets in your body’s top floor office):

Ladies and gents, the most complex organ ever created.

From the best we can tell,[3] your nervous system division reps (nerves) meet here all day with the executive team to tackle important company topics like dry skin, invading infections, bowel movements, wanting a college degree, and really liking sex. 

Here – in the brain – the big decisions are made, and the body’s attention budget is allocated.  Most smaller needs are taken care of within their own lower department.  We call these departments our subconscious

But the toughest problems, or those the lower body can’t fix alone, get their moment with the executive team: the conscious mind.

The Frontal Lobe. Execs meet here.

It’s Tuesday afternoon, and you, Larry, have a mild itch on your southern abdomen.  Let’s have a peek at the neurons meeting inside your Lobe:

Ultimately, the issues are filtered by the team. For each, they ignore it, table it, or take immediate action.  They rank priorities, also a bit like March Madness, with thousands of whiny contestants all the time:

The male dilemma.  Same finalists every time.

Here, the minor inflammation in the hips isn’t quite enough to present as conscious pain, so you, Larry, are never aware.  Neither does the infection issue, because the white blood cell team is so badass they almost always get the job done.  You thoughtlessly staved off an ephemeral urge to read a book for now.  So…hungry and horny battle it out yet again.

It is a very, very high stakes contest to capture the momentary abundance of the entire company by convincing the bouncer- the CEO – to take action.  The winner gets access to all the “voluntary” muscles of the body, the mind, and all the excess power under your control. 

The Lobe directs the whole body to go buy a cheeseburger, instead of making babies. 

But the attention battle is never over.

Say you fall and break a leg on the way to get your burger. 

The dynamic Lobe reacts and reprioritizes a broken leg over a cheeseburger.  It directs your hands to dial an ambulance, while your hypothalamus tells your stomach to shut his ass up and wait.  It taps all the resources under its power: voluntary muscles, networks of friends, 9-1-1 helpers, money, and transportation.

The same fingers that can type 911 could also be forking over $50 to someone on Venmo, or filling out paperwork for a mortgage, or typing out a Classic novel.  But in this moment, they’ve made their choice.  Larry needs help.  His leg is screaming and impossible to ignore.  And he is pouring out his assets to get attention.

We call this SPENDING.

If all we ever do is gratify our internal attention desires, our power does this:

Spent.

So we must give away attention as well.

The river goes both ways, and the CEO/bouncer/consciousness – must constantly delegate access to not only internal forces, but external ones as well. 

They want the gold, too.   And they are quite loud.  And they are smart.  Mesmerize the bouncer, and you have opened the gate to Larry’s assets.

It should be no shock that the battle for attention is humanity’s last battleground.   The fight to capture attention is fierce, with giant multinational corporations at war over our 75 trillion cells and their resources. We call it the attention economy, and the prize of the attention economy is the human and everything the human controls, even if for a second.

This is the March Madness, external conference. 

All for control of a few bits of information for a few seconds at a time.

The truth is, the tiny stream of attention is in constant flow directing deals, transactions, and tradeoffs.   Every day, we wake up and spend the entire day giving our attention in exchange for something.  We trade it to feel something, or to acquire something in order to feel something later. 

We give our attention to a cat video to feel amused.  We give our attention to a Rom-Com to feel warm fuzzies. 

Or, we think longer term.  We might give our attention to a calculus professor –

to gain more intellectual power –

to exchange that for a job –

to exchange that for a paycheck –

to exchange that for a nice house –

to exchange that for —

well, others’ attention.

Leverage.

You’ve gotta give money to make money, and the same is true with attention.  Long term thinkers who routinely give their attention to friends and calculus probably stand to be more powerful than people who give all their attention to cat videos. Not only would they become more powerful, but they would become more mentally healthy.

That’s because we were born with a wonderful, unchangeable neural circuitry that lives in its sweet spot when we give our attention to– and attach to–humans.  We were wired each this way from birth, at a level deeper than we can control.  It is how we came to rule the world, how we created such a mess, and strangely enough, the only way out of the mess.


[1] Brains are impossibly efficient.  The actual amount you process is widely debated, anywhere from 16 bits to 20,000 bits. But we almost universally agree on this point:  Conscious perception is a tiny fraction of the total information you can access. Can  you think of every single memory you’ve ever had – all at once?  In fact, your visual perception even sucks worse than you think.  Try out this neat trick with the playing card:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4898652/  Also, the bandwith of consciousness discussion, decent middle of the road explanation:  https://sites.psu.edu/psych256sp14/2014/03/09/the-bandwidth-of-consciousness/

[2] I mean, I should really give him/her some credit.  Brain pruning (discussed later) is pretty incredible.

[3] Pretty good explanation here: https://www.medicaldaily.com/human-brain-consciousness-episodic-memory-personal-narrative-social-structure-384757

[4] Okay, okay, it doesn’t.  Mine is worse.

13. Scaling Up

Note: this is the next part of a book.

We thought we were kings and queens of our mountain of stored power, and that all food and tools and domesticated animals and subordinate family members bowed to us. 

Certainly, there was some truth to the fact that we were perched atop a mountain, extracting power from things below, managers of our own little economy.

But the bigger truth was that we were actually on track to becoming a part of something bigger on the rise behind us.  

The Mountain of Order didn’t stop with you and me or cute little households. The snowball just kept rolling, almost as if individual humans were merely a passing thought of evolution. 

Today, we are part of families, cities, and nations.  We are members of sports teams, friend networks, corporations, and even the billions of us connected via communication.  You and I are but another rung on evolution’s bigger ladder.  Only recently have we realized just how helplessly we are but a contributor to a Bigger Story that is not about us.

Whether individuals are the highest form of consciousness, remains to be seen.  But we are most definitely not the highest form of order.

That’s because we can’t stop ourselves from continuing to order the world together.  

Just look at us. 

The famous psychologist Carl Jung described it as being “possessed.”  We don’t even know any other way to live.  Once the snowball got rolling, it just plowed over us and we became a part of this weird, unexplainable ordering force at work all along. 

We are but a bunch of ordering freaks – running around like ants, ordering stored power all day long.

 What a fascinating species. 

We call it “work.”  And we can’t get enough of it.  It’s in our DNA.

We order bricks and wood.  

We order steel, rubber and plastic.

We order metal and silicon.  

We order numbers.

We order ourselves.

We order words and relationships and workforces and cities and nations and militaries and governments.

At your job, you order something.  You may:

  • Order raw materials into buildings (construction)
  • Order digits (programming)
  • Order synaptic patterns (education)
  • Order molecules (medicine). 

You may order transactions (sales/retail), order people and tasks (management), or order finances (accounting). 

On the weekend, or in the evenings, you probably let loose and have a little chaotic fun.  But over time, we are net builders of order, all scurrying around directing power where we think it should go to build more, on this helpless runaway train of order.

But why?

Why do we constantly, constantly order everything?  

We put cups into cupboards, food in our bellies, clothes into closets, and pictures on walls.  And we like it.  We order water into pipes, electricity into wires, cars onto roads, and Enya songs on our playlist.[1]

We love it.[2]  We don’t post Instagrams of this:

Why care if everything is in rhythm, secure, growing, healthy, and powerful?  Why order?

The only answer we can give is so we don’t lose the order we’ve already built.  You may think, “No, I just work so I can pay the bills and not die.”  That’s exactly what I mean, you big ball of ordered tissue friend, you.

Essentially– we’ve invested so much in our cosmic game of double-or-nothing, we might as well keep rolling the dice.  

Getting better.

We call it a “survival instinct” or a thirst for power.  But 100% of us are helplessly hardwired with it.  Is it even us – the human individual – that is seeking order?   Here we are, a peculiar bunch of ants on a giant blue marble in space, scurrying around mindlessly to get the best exchange rate on stored sunlight.  

All to build something.


But what?  We’re all fighting, trading, and slaving away, and have no idea why.

The more we have been able to zoom out and conceptualize the whole of humanity, the clearer it is that we are helpless pawns in a larger epic growing. 

We are attached to something bigger.


[1] Well, you might.

[2] Which is why I’m beating my body into submission to order the words in this book.

12. Leverage

Note: This is the next chapter release of a book!

Our real consumption diagram looks like this:[1]

It would be pretty hard to eat 227,000 calories per day.  But you’re probably staring at your phone while putting gas in your car or reading in the air conditioning.  It’s hard to fathom that the products you have and their energy came almost entirely from living things.[2]

They did. 

We couldn’t eat more, so we found some hacks.  The uphill snowball of power had no brakes.  Why should it stop at the level of “organism”?

It had no reason to.

Power was evolution’s driver.  Every system on the pyramid had always managed to find ways to become more powerful by owning and merging with more resources, like molecules or spinach leaves. 

We couldn’t physically merge with more and more food now, because digestion is pretty slow. But we could abstractly merge with it.  Just as well.

 So one Sunday morning a few hundred million years ago, a Triassic Oak Tree made Triassic acorns, and Triassic Squirrels buried them.

Hard to tell, but not my artwork.[3]

They figured out that some energy sources, like nuts, did not decay as quickly as others.  The brightest, most powerful squirrels – and later, humans – STORED food power for themselves for later.  

Why let slow digestion limit us in acquiring power?  This was the first recognition of time; that there will be a future me that will be hungry again, but I can go ahead and get his food now.  It was also our way of giving time the middle finger.

Once I have the nuts, they become a part of my empire, a bigger entity than just naked me.

So we moved from burying nuts to hiding frozen food in caves, and the snowball grew as our growing brains began to think more about the future.

Storing food, though, has its limits.  So much maintenance and guarding.  Food rots.  And our highly evolved body reached a max food-calorie digestion limit of about 2,000 per day. Pathetic. We could way out-consume that.

So one Tuesday, about 2.6 million years ago, our great grandparents came up with another power storage hack:  tools.  We could merge our bodies with other objects besides food that would help us procure shitloads of food later.  Since we couldn’t eat tools, we decided to just carry them.

Stored order to leverage more order.

If we sacrifices our power and attention now in order to build (order) a club or an arrowhead, it would help us save even more energy later by its efficiency.  Genius.

So just like we had consumed food, we began to consume tools to leverage even more food for less energy. The tools became a part of us, like our stored food.  Bigger empire.  We were cute little cyborgs, and our tools went with us everywhere.

The original cyborg.

Tools were leverage.  If our bodies were like stocks, tools were like options, drastically expanding our own capabilities by leveraging a small bit up front to make for a way more lucrative future. .

Hammering coconuts?   

Worth it. 

Worth what?  Our now.  Our present attention and the order stored in us.

All investing in a glorious day when we could kick it back, relax, and hammer the shit out of some coconuts like a boss.  No one was there to photograph it, but we know it paid off with giant coconut parties. 

More energy to amass more energy. The evolutionary survivors are generally those who thought long term- and stored it up. They made it through longer bouts of chaos, like storms and winters.

BUILDINGS

One year, Coconut Bob’s great-grandkids began to think even longer term about his future and make bigger landgrabs.

So he called another meeting.

This mountain of order we were amassing needed to be protected from chaos.  Like a whole life policy for our portfolio. 

Worth it.

Our houses looked like little cell membranes, protecting the entire Empire and helping the system keep homeostasis in chaos.

If forging a tool leveraged a few hours of sacrificed now for a few months of more order, then building a building was the super-long-term play: a few days of sacrificed now for many, many years of potential order.

With buildings, the power snowball was really picking up steam.

And this was just the beginning.

An empire of empires of empires was on its way.


[1] Again, Geoffrey West and his 11,000 watt equation.  11,000 watts for 24 hrs = 227,000 kCal/day.  I looked forever and he was the only person I could find who had done serious calculations on this. Admittedly, it may be off by quite a bit. But, by quite a bit, we don’t really mean quite a bit, since we can easily access all the national and global totals of energy consumption and divide.  I did my own independently, and I came up somewhere north of 10,000 watts.  Not bad. https://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/19/magazine/19Urban_West-t.html

[2] This refers to all types of energy, not just electricity.  All in all, the vast majority of energy we use still comes from fossil fuels, which is – you got it – from living things. Renewable electricity generation is the first major energy sources humans have ever used that bypass living things.

[3] Please don’t sue me, Fox.  You’d win and my kids would starve.

11. The Food Chain

Note: See the entire book here.

Our appetite for power did not slow down with just our need to survive one more day.  Evolution designed us to amass as much power as possible, because we needed it just to eek out a life.  We had a a Power gas pedal, but no Power brakes.  There was no built in mechanism of contentment for when we had enough.

The ordering had become a runaway uphill snowball of complexity and power.  

All this power needed fuel.

So we giants came to rely on food: prepackaged complexities of proteins, carbs, and fats made possible by the sacrifice of less powerful things below.  Now, we rely on a daily vortex of energy constantly sucked from the earth.

Let’s take a look at the simple food chain that keeps you and I breathing at a baseline of alive.

Plants start us off, those heroes. 

Look at you, you photosynthesizing hero.

They freakishly convert about 3-6% of SUNLIGHT into BIOMASS.  MIND=BLOWN.   If you thought all this power and order stuff was getting weird before, just realize that plants figured out how to store power—from photons.

Remember, this plant itself is like you – a fantastically complex ordered system of systems of scaled up Evolutionary Gambling Winnings.  A bank account of stored order. Power.

And you need him.  Yes, you need his fantastic molecules of B12 and Fiber and Selenium and complex carbs, don’t you?  That’s why you’re eyeballing him.  I see you.

What ensues is not a simple lunch.  It is a hostile takeover.   A coup of unfathomable power exchange between two giants.  

The original corporate merger.

Winner declared.

The plant has already done all the hard work of assembling sunlight and earth into useful molecules, and you just roll into town and swipe it on your way out the door to yoga.  Next time you eat a leafy green, thank it.

Next, your body goes through the enormously complex task of merging with the newly acquired Order called “spinach”, and assimilating the useful parts to become part of our body. Far more intricate than any corporation.

Stored power is the foundation of our life.  But then, entropy. 

So our survival depends on us locating and extracting more stored power from wherever we can find it.  Now, here we stand at the top of the food chain, committing hostile takeovers of fried chicken sandwiches,[1] funneling our 95 watts[2] of energy from Momma Earth.   

But Mother Earth pay a lot more, still.  Since each organism consumes its own energy, and digestion isn’t perfect, it takes a lot more than 2,000 calories to feed us.  To keep it simple, we use the 10% rule.  After the first level, 10 percent of the energy from each level in the pyramid makes it to the next.[3]  

Take a fox.

If you have a 4-member food chain like this one, the sun must produce a constant 3 million watts just to keep a grey fox alive at a measly 30 watts[4].  Countless photons gave energy to trillions upon trillions of living cells, which all sacrificed themselves so this fox could eat just a few chickens.  Millions of years of biological engineering through death and life, all for a meal.  The fox had better be damn thankful for that chicken. 

Also, as you might imagine, a single fox would also have to cover a lot of territory to get its 3 million watts. 

Looking down on a flat map, it may look like this:

A blade of grass can thrive in a territory of square centimeter, while a carnivore like a grey wolf may require a territory as big as over 2,000 square kilometers.[5]  Suffice it to say, it take a ton of earth to keep one top-level carnivore alive.  Its why people plead with you to be a vegetarian.[6]

The suck one fox puts on the earth is enormous.  But a human? 

It would be really really great to think that, since we’re a little bigger than Mr. Fox, it would look like this:

So, about triple – about 8-9 million watts, right?

Wrong.  That would assume that all we did was eat. 


[1] Popeye’s or Chick-Fil-A?  I will never forget where I was the week of the Great Chicken Sandwich Twitter War of 2019.

[2] Did you know you can convert watts to calories? 95 watts for 24 hours straight is 1,960 calories per day, right at the 2,000 that the FDA uses to base a normal adult diet on your nutrition labels.  A new LED bulb, if it could eat, would only eat about 190 calories, or 2 Tbsp of peanut butter. 

[3] Except the first level—the plants only convert and pass on about 1% of sunlight energy that hits them.

[4] Okay, watts?  Calories?  Aren’t those different things?  Well, sort of.  Math nerds, lets square this away.  Watts measure the amount of energy transferred per second, where as calories are the amount of energy stored in something.  But as long as there is a continuous cycle of consumption, you can consider them the same thing.  Put it like this:  If calories were like how much water were in your city’s water tower, then watts would be the rate at which it is flowing through your faucet.  Those are very different.  BUT if your water tower is continuously being refilled faster than you can drain it, then its all a wash.  See what I did there?

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolf

[6] To be clear, I’m not pleading.  But I am pleading with you to not eat bluefin tuna or grey wolf steaks. Don’t.

10. The Quest

Note: This is the next chapter of a Book release.

Successful organic material continued its conquest. Each time it replicated, this new Order called life faced the Chaos of its random natural environment.  The most fitting copies survived to spread.

It was like March Madness:  DNA vs. the Universe. 

Each time, Order had to conquer chaos, even at the risk of death. [1]  Or our entire existence wouldn’t be.  The Force within that Searched for order had to be greater than the DNA’s own need to survive.  

Love had to be stronger than fear of death.

The pattern continued:  Get your shit together.  Throw yourself out into the world and die conquering.

It’s in our DNA. 

The only other choice we had was, be afraid and die afraid; never take any chances, and life stops there.  

Even for us winners, homeostasis can only last so long; this guy can’t keep his balancing act together forever. 

Keeping that complex dynamic organism alive is like trying to perpetually balance a pencil on its tip. [2]  It grows top-heavy in a chaotic random environment. Cells get damaged and the system comes crashing down to its death.

Keeping the big crash from happening is called “staying safe”, i.e., avoiding death.  There are lots of clever ways organisms can do this from the top down. And yet reality remains that single blood clot can kill an organism, or a man texting while driving drifts into the other lane — and poof.  One tiny mishap at the top, and the whole system kerplunks.  

Avoiding a crash doesn’t guarantee a system to live, either.  The traumatic death of a pencil crash is only one way to die.  The system can also suffer a death from a thousand papercuts — or starve.  This is death from the inside out.

So there would always come the time when each DNA would brave a chaotic, suicidal attempt at propagating life before the pencil fell.  It has no other choice.  It is the Quest that conquers Chaos by turning it into Order.  

Epic.

So every system rolls the dice.  The mandate of life is that we must take a chance against Chaos and wager it all to spawn something new.

Victorious order folds into order, folded into order. Over the long course of history, order continued to win just barely enough that life proliferated everywhere, always kept in balance by the threat of Chaotic death from every side.  Every time order won, it re-gambled all of its winnings by creating another generation of more powerful life.  Like a cosmic game of double-or-nothing, with the winnings piling up.

So this guy dying:

– is a WAY bigger loss than THIS GUY dying:

Over time, Order continued its march, becoming more ordered each generation, in what we now call the Evolution of Biological Complexity.[3]  There’s no such thing as JUST evolution.  There is only CO-evolution, with life battling chaotic forces.  

Order (life) evolved like a fractal, each branch defined by each environment’s unique chaos.

Okay, skip a few billion years. [4]  I’m hungry.  Let’s just say eventually-eventually- eventually, THIS HAPPENED:

The Biological Family Tree, Very Abbreviated Version[5]

There we are on the far right. (Not a political statement)

The whole time, a paradox was happening.

While this Chaos-Order battle of evolution created THAT weird tree-looking-fractal-thingy, it also simultaneously created this upside-down tree: a hierarchy within each one of us:

Each level of order in near-perfect balance, folded into the next to create a giant. Now, 75 trillion cells typing on a computer in a room of a house[6] on a street in a city in a country, all on Momma Earth.   And it’s all bound up in a wonderful state of homeostasis. 

Hi.  That’s me.  75 trillion cells, after coffee.[7]



[1] More than 99% of all species that have ever existed are now extinct.  And that’s just organisms.  Think about how many trial runs of early DNA didn’t make it!

[2] Apparently, about 1.3 seconds.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3vAoJhIWms

[3] Some people still don’t believe in evolution.  If it doesn’t sound right that life could evolve to be more complex, then just look at how much we have evolved since 1950.  Is life more or less complex now?  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution_of_biological_complexity

[4] If you’re wondering about these years, just Google, people.  Already told you.

[5] Why does it look like a brain?  That’s a different book.  

[6] Bonus points if you caught that I’m no longer in my classroom.  Turns out, I move around.  Daily.

[7] Fun fact of Order: if you unwound all the DNA in my body and placed it end to end, it would stretch to the moon and back – 175,000 times.

9. Homeostasis

Note: This is the next part of a book.

Through trial and error, DNA’s descendants got really, really good at making babies.   

A crucial key of a cell’s replication was it’s ability to fix its own internal errors before moving on.  Cells and DNA are not only self-replicating, but self-repairing.  A cell must get its own house in order before it is in any condition to go conquer the world or obtain any more power.  If it has damaged, missing, or disordered organelles or nucleotides, it gets sick and can’t replicate. 

This cell one sick puppy.

At it’s core, each single cell requires homeostasis.  Early life forms evolved to first have their own molecules in balance, before they could go light up the world. 

And they did.

Life spread everywhere. The pattern of self-repair that DNA started became the way of all life and the evolutionary mandate. 

Be healthy and in near-perfect stable order, or you will die.  (Okay, so you’ll die anyways, but if you’re healthy, you get to make babies first.)

DNA is a freaking pro.  The worst replication error rate we have found in human DNA is only 1 error out of 100 nucleotides, and it can be as little as 1 in 1 billion.[1] 

Overacheiver.

To survive the chaos, nature kept busy all these years evolving backup plans and redundancies to get the entire organism stabilized if something was off.  It wasn’t only DNA that had to self-balance.  It was every living thing scaled on it.

Every cell has to figure out how to repair damage.  Every tissue has to figure out how to heal.  Every organ and system and organism spent 3 billion years of life and death becoming what many doctors call “self-healing organisms.”

Homeostasis-finders. 

Balance-keepers.

Chaos/Order balancers.

With every warm-blooded mammal, an impossibly complex interconnection of hormones, trip sensors, temperature regulators and balancing mechanisms like cochlea and growth hormones and brain-muscle synaptic patterns and oxygen-based heart rate response systems and blood clotting chemicals.

Life is balance built on top of balance on top of balance.

Time for another yin-yang.

And why wouldn’t it be?  Every generation was just another contest with chaos – a slug fest of back and forth shots.



You’d better have a stable foundation or you’ll get knocked on your ass.

If order didn’t adapt to the punches that the random chaotic environments of nature threw at it, we would have all been extinct a long time ago.  The wild earth was too difficult of a puzzle to solve,  because there are millions of different ways to die in the wild.  She was a contestant that would not be easily beaten.  That’s why 99.9% of all species in history are currently extinct.  The winners were only those with the utmost amount of balance that creates the utmost amount of adaptation.

The least you can do is give them some credit for making it this far.

All of us live constantly on the thin skin of where chaos and order meet.   We are all Goldilocks creatures, with built in mechanisms and inner systems that challenge our own systems–

This is us.

– like coevolving left and right brain hemispheres, coevolving adrenaline and noradrenaline, or coevolving sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.  

Homeostasis was the only way we could consistently defeat the chaos. 

And with every success, we Ordered ones made our way and ventured out to gain more power – only to meet more chaos.


[1] https://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/dna-replication-and-causes-of-mutation-409/

8. Life

Note: This is part of a book release! Check it out.

So we don’t know how life actually started.  That part is at least as weird as how the universe started.  But somehow this quest of order continued with the rise of tiny molecules.

One Wednesday, about 4 billion years ago, a molecule named Adenine hooked up with its crush Thymine (juicy Jr. High gossip[1]) — and Cytosine and Guanine swiped left for each other.   Empowered by Daddy Sun, little molecules were born, and love ran free.

Then the pairs found each other and decided to double date.  Ok, it was more like polyamory.  I know this part is gross, but somehow they all eventually ended up in a big molecule orgy and made lots of molecule babies. We don’t (want to) know the details, but this whole thing combined and ordered itself into a self-copying, self-replicating machine called RNA.  

Please tell your mind is blown.

Consider the following:

These molecules were us.  Long before we were animals or even bacteria, we were combining energy and resources in apparent pursuit of order/power.   

And we found this recipe for how to get our precious power.  It goes like this:

POWER RECIPE (makes 1 dozen)             

Begin with starter batch of order. That’s me.  So begin with me.  

-Add 1 tsp of resource mass. (Steal ready-made resources from other ordered thing if possible.)

-Add 1 tsp of Energy. 

Digest.

There we were, little molecules pushing our way up the evolutionary Power Mountain, and push we did, powered by earth’s molecular food and the sun’s energy.  

Molecules bonding and surviving to create copies of themselves became more complex each generation.  Soon, there were trillions of pairs of pairs of pairs bonding with other elements and making more selves. 

After a long uphill climb–

Nature finally presented us with this:

Take a bow, you glorious wonder.

A cell. It was the original self-replicating computer chip that programmed all of life, built on the magnificent order of things below.  The first cells were probably something like cyanobacteria. There she stands, this reproductive mother.  The Queen of order, 3 billion years ago.

The jewel of her heart was DNA, the engine of life.  For simplicity’s sake, lets do this:

I can’t believe I just wasted 20 pages for this triangle.

All of life, bound up and intricately balanced in a blissful state of homeostasis.


[1] So the back story is, Adenine first fell in love with another dude named Uracil, had babies we call RNA.  Then, she ditched him for this newer hotter guy named Thymine.

7. It All Came From Somewhere

Note: This is part of a book release!

This is going somewhere, I promise.”  – Seth

[1] It all came from our parents, at least for us.  They themselves were already mountains of order of quarks rolled into atoms rolled into molecules.  Roll that in and let’s just say these fine folks gave us all the power we humans have:

Momma Earth spun out of his side over 4 billion years ago, like a piece of flesh.[2]  The ancient storytellers have long had a sense that we were born from the earth.  Native American Apaches told of Isanaklesh, the conception of earth as Mother. The Phrygians told of Cybele.  The Hindus have Mula Prakriti.

In the Genesis account, Chava (Eve) was the mother of all the living.  She was taken from the side of the dude, Adam. There was a pre-existing unity, then the girl was yanked out.

Now, life is born in that thin place where the order from the sun collides with the cold chaos of earth:  the biosphere. [3]

It’s as if the Sun’s rays impregnated Momma earth (gross, I know) with living energy, and she gave birth to algae, trees, animals, and us.  Maybe this is why the ancient mythologies insisted on earth being a she.  Fertile, that queen.

So, essentially, our material resources come from this girl:

But our energy comes from this guy:

And our lives are comprised of combining their forces into forms of power to create order.  And spend it. That pretty much sums up all human activity.

We might also say that

Power = Resources x Energy

Put another way, we get all the mass from the planet we live on, and virtually all our energy from the sun. [4]

99% of all energy on earth comes from this magnificent ball of nuclear fusion we happen to sit beside.[5]  And every living thing. Including you and I and your boss and your crazy in-law and your Aloe Vera plant and your dog and your real estate agent and the coronavirus, are all scrambling for a piece of it. 

Let’s take a sanity break.

There.

So we’re all fighting for earth and sunlight, even, unfortunately, at the beach. 

Quite the Prize, apparently.

On one hand, there’s a lot of it.  It’s a big earth, and Daddy Sun continuously smatters her with about 173 quadrillion watts of light energy.[6]  On the other hand, We capture only a tiny fraction of it, and with this little daily dose of photons in this tiny sliver of a biosphere, sprang all the life we know of in the universe.


[1] If you’re a young earth creationist, skip this section and let’s still love each other.

[2] 4.6 billion years ago, the earth and the planets spun out of the sun.  Pretty great.

[3] The biosphere pretty much contains every single living thing on earth, from the deepest ocean life to the highest flying critters, and its only 12 miles thick!  Compare that to the earth+atmosphere radius of over 4,000 miles!  If the earth were an NBA basketball the biosphere would be as thin as 3 sheets of notebook paper. https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/biosphere/

[5] The other 1%?  Geothermal.  The sun gave us that too, a long, long time ago.

[6] Honestly seems like abuse to me, but I guess traditions were different 4 billion years ago.  https://phys.org/news/2011-10-vast-amounts-solar-energy-earth.html

6. Everything is Power

Note: This is the next part of a book release!  Table of Contents.

The weird gets weirder here, but then it will start to make more sense.  A lot of things confused me until the fateful day I discovered this:

Power = Order-Chaos.  

That little tidbit took me 35 years.  

Power is quite the strange result of particles slamming into earth at 300,000 m/s.[1]

Washington politics and Wall Street firms are just a compounding of 4 billion years of a relentless photon attack on a cold, chaotic rock.

Power is also what we get when energy (photons) combines with resources (earth).

P = E + R

Power always gravitates towards and spirals into more power, as if it has an appetite for more of itself.  Why?  Ask me in 35 years.

To get it, Power must consume more resources or energy. When it does, the power sort of multiplies and folds in on itself.  It becomes stored, and we call that….order.  

So, this is a cyclical chicken-or-egg thing, yes. Order is excess power stored efficiently.  Like folded laundry.  Or money in a bank account.  Or rollover minutes.[2] And really powerful power is…excess order. 

There is potential in the ordering itself. Confusing, I know.


Think of it like this:

Example 1: A black Labrador rescued from the Shelter costs about $150.  But this trained black Labrador guide dog for the Blind is worth about $50,000[3].  The real cost isn’t the muscle and skin and bones, but the training and ordering of the dog/s brain synapses and muscle memory into that of a legit guide dog.

Example 2: The word processor I am using is nothing more than billions of switches on a little piece of silicon.  The little piece of silicon is near worthless, except all of those switches happen to be programmed perfectly to be on/off in the exact order needed to make this computer function. 

So when you get a bunch of stuff ordered together, it is a storehouse of potential awesomeness ready to be spent.

Order IS power. 

If you’re a math nerd, think about it like this:  Power is the difference between the amount of order and chaos in a room.

Order – Chaos = Power.

If you’re an MMA fighter:  Power is how bad order pummels chaos.

If you’re a tidy person:  Power is the difference between a clean house and a disaster.

Power, then, is like the potential energy your Jr. High science teacher taught you about. 

If you roll a boulder up a mountain, you are putting energy into a resource.  Power.

— which may or may not turn into a crashing avalanche of destruction one day.

Almost everything we see, hear, smell, do, make, and experience, is a product of power. 

When you are saving money, you are doing this:

You now have the potential to spend it!  Good for you!  Now go, retire in Tahiti, you.

When you clean up your house, the trash is empty, and the dishes are stacked away, you are here:

Good for you!  You can now plop on the sofa and throw your socks on the floor like an animal while you drink a well-deserved pilsner.

When you relax and drink that brew, you are fueling up with more energy to spend:

Okay, you get it.  Those are all easy to see.  So let’s dive a tad deeper. 

Relationships are power.  You had to carefully order your stories to sync with one another’s.[4] We call it “liking” people.

It’s really, really important that we pause here to take stock that virtually everything we have is made of power.

Good health is power, because it means your body is maintained in optimal working order.

Education is power, because your synapses had to be ordered in a way that syncs with reality and the narrative of the Human Collective.

Reputation is power, because you had to be honest and give to others in order to build trust, and not take shortcuts.

Physical energy is power, because you are rested, restored and ready to put your body to service.

Creative energy is power because your brain is inspired and ready to make great new things. 

Emotional energy is power, because you can only listen to somebody bitch about their problems for so long before you have the life sucked out of you.   A to the men, sisters.

Positivity is power,because the default state of the human brain in nature is fear.  Positivity requires safety, stability, and emotional attachment.  These cost big time.

In fact, anything that must be worked for, fought for, assembled, created, restored, or put in order is power.  The work of previous generations who built our buildings and figured out calculus for us were passing down accumulating power, and we inherited it.

But all power came from somewhere.   We call these somewheres “resources”.  

Resources

Yes, this is getting annoying, but resources are just lower forms of power, in all the potential they contain.  Every resource can be used for whatever purpose we decide.

Energy is a resource because no one else has spent that particular energy yet.

A clear stream is a resource because no one else has extracted or used/polluted the water.

A tree is a resource because it is full of energy and potential just standing in the woods uncut.

Get it?  Okay, but let’s go further.  Unseen resources matter.  

A blank canvas is a resource because no one else has spoiled it yet.  Potential.

A quiet room is a resource because no one else is filling it up with sounds to be heard.

Visual space is a resource because you aren’t being distracted or —

An open calendar slot is a resource.  Potential time.

A listening friend is a resource.  Potential attention and care.

A Facebook network that you’ve not yet nagged with your kids’ school fundraisers is a resource because they haven’t unfollowed you.  Yet.

These resources are like mountains available to some of us, potential energy yet unspent.  

But one day…

               We finally ask those Facebook friends to buy our kids’ cookie dough.   Unfollowed.

 We dump our problems onto a listening friend.   Bluh.

We crank up the music and drown out the quiet.   Huh??

We paint the picture.  Done.

We drink the water.  Gone.

We spend the resource and let the boulder roll down towards chaos and emptiness.

In a healthy world, order and chaos are kept in balance. 

That damn yin-yang again.

Too much chaos kills us, and too much order is suffocating and oppressive.

You intuitively know this.  Do you really want to live in a house like this?

With— dear, God — polished floors?  No, no you don’t. And if you do, I don’t want to be your friend. Too much order produces communist governments and dictatorships.  Too much order breeds profectionists.[5]

No one should have too much order.   Because, what’s the point if you’re never going to spend it?

Health is a rhythmic balance.   

We eat and then go burn it off.  We breathe in, then breathe out.  We save money — and spend it.  We clean the house, then live in it.  We get healthy, then spend our health on a life of meaning. 

But why?

This, as I can tell, is the 8-billion person question.   

All of us are living towards something, whether we acknowledge it or not.   

You clean your house in order to raise a healthy family there or have friends over.  You drink the water in order to sustain physical health.  You crank up the music in order to fill your soul with emotion.

It all came from somewhere.   And it all is going somewhere.


[1] Those particles themselves aren’t even the beginning, but this has to start somewhere.  While we’re in the footnotes, look at a photon, for crying out loud.  Its already a few steps up the hierarchy of order.  Mind blown.

[2] Kids, we used to have these cell phones that…. never mind.

[3] https://puppyintraining.com/how-much-does-a-guide-dog-cost/

[4] Yes, that’s how we fall in love – or just find that friend we’re in sync with.  All we are doing is essentially aligning our narratives and feeling safety from the commonality.  More on that later. 

[5] I did that just to piss you off.