18. Our Connecting Machine

This is the next chapter of a book called “Pyramids and Trees: Attachment, Addiction, Empire, and a Nation Bursting Forth.

As a human parent, we have one real job:  To get our child addicted.  

…to people.  We call it connecting, and hopefully we connect to good people in a nicely balanced relational mesh.  If connecting humans is evolution’s strategy for our species, our biology and brains evolved with this end in mind: Connect to as many people as deeply as possible, while retaining individuality. 

That individuality is our own gift to the species.  The best humans are the ones who are most relationally connected to humans, without losing their own identity. 

This Goldilocks balance keeps our individuality healthy and makes us better contributors to the Whole species.  If we isolate too much, we are like a sheep who has wandered off from the pack.  With no science or reality to keep us in check, we become easily manipulated by whatever has our trust.  Even if we survived the manipulation, our own awesome discoveries and growth would do the human race a fat lot of good, since we don’t talk to anyone.

On the other hand, if we are too integrated, we have no sense of self and are pretty worthless.  We follow the pop culture without calling anything into question, and are just another easily manipulated check mark on an election ballot. 

A balanced human contributes to the building of human society and ordering the world together in harmony. 

To keep this homeostasis, we had to have a rock solid emotional foundation on which to build.  Evolutionary biology handed rock solid hardware, but it had to be programmed with rock solid software.  

This is how we did it. 

With each one of us, the emotional foundation was built in the first year of our life – the year of Magic.

To cram 86 billion neurons into your head, and then get that head out of your mom’s vagina before it killed her, evolution got creative.  It decided to give you an underdeveloped brain in utero, and you would have to finish development outside in the cold.[1] 

Infant brains are a bit like computers with BIOS[2] installed – hardware with a very basic framework of firmware, set up and ready to be programmed.

Over the course of a few years, through a series of leveraged trades, your brain transforms into fully operational software you’ll need to run C:\LIFE.

THE PROGRAMMING BEGINS

Whoever gives a baby’s brain attention and energy is it’s best chance at survival and development.  This is the baby’s domination plan for the earth.

And it’s genius.  If attention is every person’s gold, the baby’s got a fantastic game plan.   Which is good, since it’s the baby’s only option.

So all of that highly evolved skull-jelly is really primed for attention.  Human Positive Attention is the Great Stimulator for growth, and this baby is desperate for stimulation. 

The baby brain vets the sources around it for the best opportunity for stimulating attention, on a Great Stimulation Search.  The winner(s) – the one who stimulates it the most – gets the loyalty of the baby and the prize of attaching to and programming the brain.

Your little 7-pound newborn gelatinous body had almost no power, but all kinds of leverage.  Being your parents’ gamble for the future, you were a little vessel of themselves that they were highly invested in. 

You were their dictator, and no matter how badly you abused them, they had little choice but to serve your every need.  You screamed, and they came running.  You liked it.  They allowed you to exploit and violate all their normal routines and even their health.  Basically, they worshipped you.  And the ones who did it best won your highest regard.  Generally, Mom.  Sorry, dad. You can have silver.

THE GREAT SURVIVAL QUEST

Your first need was to find food.  Pretty key, so the brain stem took that one on and caused you to scream like crazy, even if it killed you. So you invested what you had – your unfettered emotions – by throwing them out into the cold chaotic world to see if anyone cared to respond. 


It didn’t take long for you to figure out that whoever was giving you milk was a superstar:  Mom.  You went ahead and forgave her for forcing you into a conehead during birth.

The smell and taste of mom’s milk stimulated your olfactory senses and taste buds –

— and your first two senses began to develop around this magical Liquid of Survival.  Your brain didn’t just connect to the milk, but to wonderful human giving it to you.  Your brain began to release oxytocin when mom showed up and cuddled you.  Along with her milk, you learned to distinguish the smell of her amniotic fluid and skin by two weeks of age.  Smell and taste were your most primitive forms of connection.[3]  Ideally, they were fine-tuned by your mom.

Through this openness to vulnerability, your sensory input became intimate with and deeply connected to your mom, your codependent savior-servant.

Score two for human connection.

The next battle to program you was for Touch.  Your brain also quickly figured out it should prefer the touch of this life-giving, loving, nurturing momma skin over other textures.   It was like a silky, warm blanket of comfort and protection that let your spazzing brain CHILL and helped your metabolic temperature keep homeostasis.  Just connect to Momma’s skin. [4]

So our touch senses also became regulated and balanced via an inextricable connection with mom.

Next came hearing.   This sense first developed by listening to 2 things – a rhythm of mom’s heartbeat and her voice.[5]  (That and some gurgling intestines, which is probably why we still like Halloween.)

Soon, mom started talking to you in goo-goo- ga-ga voice, intuitively and freakishly, modulating her vocal tones over a range of several octaves each sentence when she talked to you, [6] even though she never does that to adults (awkward).  

The ranges of pitch when speaking to various folks/pets.[7]

All this tone variation caught your spaz-brain’s attention like a wild episode of SpongeBob SquarePants.  You were an emotional mess-ball of snot, freaking out at all the unsafe things in the world, and a whisper wouldn’t do.  Mum caught your attention by spazzing out her voice to meet you in your wild emotional state. 

Captivating. First, she[8] mostly fed you on her left boob while speaking and singing into your left ear, which helped develop your right brain.[9]  At this point, you were only paying attention to basic tones, which seems to be why your right brain took the lead on musicality.  After a couple of months, she started holding you from behind, playing with you like a puppet and speaking into your right ear, about the time you were paying attention to words. This is probably why your left brain took the lead on words. [10]

Your auditory circuits are now firmly adapted for the reception of a human’s voice over other pitches.    You learned to associate a voice with the fulfillment of your needs.  You also learned to associate tone with mood, quite handy for survival.  A 1-year old child, while they don’t know our language yet, knows their mothers voice and intentions by their tone.[11]  Music is the foundation for speech.[12] All this positive, safe attention.

This lady was the ticket.  And you programmed your hearing and emotions via connecting with her.  4-Zip.

Last and greatest sense to develop: sight.   

This one took a while.  When you were born, everything looked like this:

And finally, this sight came into view:

These three dots started it all.

These three dots started it all.

You quickly figured out that these three dots were pretty special, because they accompanied every great gift for survival.  A face.  Faces were so important that a pea-sized region of your brain, called the Fusiform Face Area (FFA), is completely dedicated to deciphering the complex algorithms needed to recognize the tiniest of differences here.[13]

Mom, Dad, and your crazy uncle Roy got busy making all these goofy faces up close.  Same thing happened as with baby talk—exaggerated expressions caught your attention, and you were mesmerized:

I’m still a little pissed that mom and dad quit making funny faces.

These funny faces helped you exercise your FFA and primed your sight for social awareness. Just as zebras are connoisseurs of stripes, we are facial recognition wizards.  Unlike any other animal, we can tell apart virtually every human we’ve ever met just based on face and categorize hundreds of emotional states based on the tiniest variation in expression.

These faces were the only Netflix we had, and we binged.  We fell deeper in attachment, and our vision got clearer, with these faces as the pinnacle of our visual existence.

Faces are the most important object we look at, because understanding them is the key to a successful life.  We subconsciously traverse the world scanning faces and gleaning all kinds of information based on their expressions.  Thanks to mirror neurons, we even feel a bit of what they are feeling and match our own expression to theirs. 

All this training really paid off, so that now you can know the meaning to every emoji on your phone, and many more NOT on your phone.

Nothing is more frustrating than not being able to find the right emoji when you need it most.

This facial training, provided for free by mom and dad, connected you.  If they felt sad, you downloaded it.  If they felt joy, it was contagious. 

In a healthy home, those adults were emotionally stable.  Over several years, your connection to stable emotional adults anchored your volatile baby emotions and took you from

The more you attached to them, the more you would regulate your emotions like theirs.  With all your senses in sync, your neuropsychology was developed by and for those who poured life into you.

Attachment. 

Mom and Dad and Uncle Roy got your brain addicted to human stimulation, because the only chance you have at surviving is bonding with humans.

The depths to which social connection is intertwined with our existence have still hardly been explored.   New studies are consistently finding that our social interaction affects not only our psychological well-being, but even basic vital functions such as our hormones,[14] digestive tracts,[15] immune systems,[16] and life expectancy.[17]

We are hardwired all the way to our core for human connection. 


REFERENCES

[1] This is why our brains double in size in year one!  Fun fact:  IQ can be predicted by measuring baby’s head circumference at birth and again at 1 month.  More head growth in month 1 = higher IQ later.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4530288/

[2] Ask someone born between 1975-1990.

[3] Seriously, smell.  One study gave menstruating women shirts from different types men, and they were most attracted to the smell of the most symmetrical [generally, healthiest and most attractive] men.  Read it and weep: Human body odour, symmetry and attractiveness. A Rikowski and K Grammer; Proc Biol Sci. 1999 May 7; 266(1422): 869–874.

[4] See the videos from Dr. Karyn Puvis that explain sensory development. Start here: https://empoweredtoconnect.org/resources/understanding-sensory-processing/

[5] All that chaos/order/chaos/order homeostasis bit has created quite a few rhythmatic sequences in nature, like day/night, life/death, and momma’s heartbeat.  Which is why you like to groove to the beat.   Don’t you?  Don’t lie.

[6] Listen to yourself when you talk to babies?  Why?  WHYYYYYY??   You’re training that little dude.  Instinct.  You got it.  Just for fun, try talking to a baby like normal bass monotone and watch everybody freak out- including baby.

[7] Gergely, A., Faragó, T., Galambos, Á. et al. (2017). Differential effects of speech situations on mothers’ and fathers’ infant-directed and dog-directed speech: An acoustic analysis. Sci Rep 7, 13739 https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-13883-2

[8] That’s 88% of moms who are right-handed. Southpaws, please flip all right-left hemisphere references hither forth.

[9] The hypothesis is that This is why, in 88% of people, left hemisphere only can talk, while righty can sing notes.  Cool, huh?

[10] This is all called the Mother’s Voice hypothesis, and has gained a ton of traction in recent years.  https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/animal-emotions/201701/mums-babies-and-their-brains-why-they-take-sides; also see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3439120/  

[11] One study was done that showed one year olds responded the same way to their mother saying things in English or greek, regardless of what was being said. https://medicalxpress.com/news/2012-01-english-greek-toddlers-tone.html

[12] Awesome study showing this concept: Brandt, Gebrian, & Slevc. (2012).  Music and Early Language Acquisition.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3439120/  For adults, see Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink.  describes a study done by medical researchers that found that by using a content-filtered audio recording of conversations between doctors and patients, they could predict which doctors were more likely to be sued for medical malpractice.   They took four 10-second clips of conversation between doctor-patient, filtered the audio so that they couldn’t understand the words, but could only hear the tone of voice, and in 40 seconds time could predict with high accuracy if you would get sued.  

[13] This pea-size part of our brain, called the Fusiform Face Area, has one job: to recognize faces, specifically, eyes, nose, and mouth.  This somehow connects us to states of empathy.  One study brain-scanned people watching a stick being broken.  Nothing.  Blank stare.  Then, they took another stick, drew a smiley face on it, and broke it – and their brain went beserk with empathy and shock.  

[14] https://www.socialconnectedness.org/social-science-101-this-is-your-brain-on-social/

[15] https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-37298-9

[16]https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0024320500005063  

[17] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1745691614568352?journalCode=ppsa

17. Relationship Gardens

Note: This is the next release from a book.

Over millennia, our lifestyles co-evolved with our brain’s social capacity.  By the time we began settling in villages around 10,000 years ago, we had two million years of hardwired social superpowers that placed us in large social structures which maximized our social capacity.  

Given our max capacity of around 150 living relationships, it should be unsurprising that we’ve been organizing in noticeable social clusters of 100-200 people for recorded history: tribal villages, army companies, churches, and corporate teams.  Remote villages around the world are still the visual remnant of these clusters.  I recently visited these two rural villages in Haiti.

Notice that each one has about 150 residents, who know one another like family, but hardly know those in the next village, only ½ mile away.  This is typical in the developing world.


Our relationship garden is more complex than a single number, though.  Dunbar said the full spread looks like this:

Each of these friendships takes time and emotional processing.  Our closest relationships with our best buds take about 40% of our social time, and require years of shared experiences to grow.  Evolution did not wire us for quick friend turnover.   We can’t undo relationships or magically grow new ones overnight.  Dunbar’s evidence showed that, once we’re in our 20’s, our inner circle of 3-5 isn’t likely to change much, and if it does, someone must be shoved out in order to add more.[1]

This spread of concentric friend circles optimized our social abilities within a balanced framework of deep and broad friendships.  More than just maximizing network power, though, it stabilized our psychosocial brain within a “relational mesh.”  

Lots of diverse relationships makes each of us socially stronger and psychologically balanced, similar to how diverse genetics make us physically healthier.  Our relationship gardens keep us in psychosocial homeostasis.  Beyond just balance, having a common unified system of friends in a circle provides us a feeling of strength and support that 150 disconnected friends can not.[2]

This social support is monumentally important to not only our brains, but our bodies.  The top 2 factors in prolonging our lives have been found to be social integration in a circles such as this, and deep close relationships.[3]

As resilient as we are, our entire body system of hormones and trip sensors are precariously situated right in the middle of this mesh. To say we are affected by it is too simple.  We were built to live into it.  

To get here, we had to develop the hardware and software of a superior relator and communicator all along the way.  The social brain we inherited had long evolved to communicate broadly and deeply in community groups, millions of years ago all before we ever uttered a single word.  

This brain was the ultimate connecting machine.


[1] That’s because life actually DOES get faster to you as we get older.  Your 4 College Years (age 18-21) occupy as much of your perception as the 13 years from age 67-80.  VSauce can explain it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6LyCC6jjcx8 

[2] This study found that having friends who know each other gives us a stronger sense of support than having disconnected friends. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/10/201007085609.htm

[3]  See this awesome talk by Susan Pinker: https://www.ted.com/talks/susan_pinker_the_secret_to_living_longer_may_be_your_social_life?language=en Also, this study: Holt-Lunstad, J., & Smith, T. (2015). Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Mortality: A Meta-Analytic Review.. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10(2), 227-237.

16. Words and Knowledge

This is the next release of a book which you can read here.

Cooking was the beginning of the end.  It provided us enough power separation that our species would become unstoppable.  The next hack was just a matter of time:  Words.

One day, about 100,000 years ago,[1] we figured them out.  Tim Urban[2] was on the scene and recorded it.

Words were revolutionary – abstract visual imprints on the brain that connected sounds with imagery.  Each word was an empathy container to let the other brain know exactly what we meant.  

It was an energy-saving hack to copy a thought into another human brain.  Words connected people by lighting up the same auditory synaptic pattern in each of the two brains.  They were the original copy-paste, allowing people to comprehend others’ thoughts at a higher resolution of consciousness than ever before.

Thaaaaat’s what he meant. Yep.

Words united people under a common understanding.  To do this, we both had to go along with some arbitrary agreement that we would pretend that THIS SOUND meant THIS THING. It took a lot of cooperation and playing along and agreeing.

This was made possible only by the abundance of food that the human race was experiencing, and trust.  We had the margin to take chances to cooperate.

Words allowed people to share more experiences, be more vulnerable, and relationships did this:[3]

But the system was never perfect.  Words were built on experiences, which invoke feelings.  Bob’s buddy had to UNDERSTAND a need and a feeling before he could know and care to throw Bob a rock. 

Words were also an extension of power, like little microloans of our personal story. Sharing makes us vulnerable.  So words, like friendships, were always built on trust.  Trust that our friend would repay the loan by reciprocating goodness one day.

We trust that the person we’re dealing with isn’t going to take advantage of us.  Words are like a cosigner on a loan that allows people to take risks.  Bob’s friend could have killed him with the rock. Words just made way for a bigger gamble of trust.  They opened the door for us to exchange or trade physical objects, like tools or food – which spiraled into global trade and development.  To date, no other animal on the planet has developed enough trust to begin trading.[4]

Nope.

Before words, we taught by visual cues, like how a wolf might teach her pups to hunt, or a crow may teach another crow to use a tool.  People died young, and education was sloooooooooooowww.[5]

After language, we could share and adopt increasingly complex information and pass it down to the next generation and all the other tribes around us without everybody having to relearn everything by watching.  All this was based on trust. 

Each generation’s base of knowledge could grow from a new higher starting point because they could make brain copies of what older people told them. [6]

So our knowledge compounded and spiraled.  We shared more, and every tribe grew more powerful.  If one person figured out how to make a spear, they could spread the knowledge everywhere and save the whole species a ton of work. Evolution sped up.   

So we entered this cycle:

By 6,000 B.C., we were engaged in complex bartering across long distances.[7]  The whole species became more efficient, more specialized, and more dependent on each person’s contribution. 

More parental investment evolved into teaching a crap-ton to our kids before letting them out of the nest.  Today, our Tribal Knowledge Growth Curve has been off the charts.   We now spend 25 years with the best education system in history just to learn how to be functioning adult homo sapiens.

Think about it:

Polar bears be like…

Humans? —

We train people by having knowledgeable (Powerful) people give attention to less knowledgeable people, pouring out the golden stream for the next generation to get enough to survive.

Specialized knowledge became our superpower, and we now exhaust ourselves for 25 years transferring our knowledge and skill through a tiny stream of attention to our little humans just to make them successful big humans.  Our kids store up two decades of this knowledge power before they can even become a net positive for our species.[8]

See that dip at age 14?  Those are 8th graders.

This specialized training becomes part of what it means to be a full human.  Knowledge and connection are forms of power rolled into our developing bodies.

Basically an Oyster’s mom leaves it a savings account worth $1 at a 0.000001% APY, and a human leaves their kids with a Power portfolio with CD’s, bonds, stocks, real estate, and options.  As a whole, we evolved to depend on this transfer, and became needy and helpless.

After tens of thousands of years of this cycle, today’s babies require more than ever before. 

We are high maintenance and highly specialized.  We have become helpless surviving alone.[9]  Even if you pit a human against a chimpanzee on a deserted island in a game of Survivor, the chimp wins hands down.  Pit 10 humans against 10 chimps, and the chimps still win.  It’s only when you put 1,000 humans together, that we conquer. 

To thrive, each of us must oversee a super-mega-ultra garden of living relationships that depend on words, commitments, integrity, and trust.

This brain’s just getting started.

The paradox here is that the most civilized human adults on earth are almost as individually helpless as our baby counterparts.

Humans power lies completely in our capability to communicate with large numbers of people very, very efficiently. We’re not oysters, we’re no longer even chimps, and we’re going to need to be able to have next-level connection skills to wield Human-Level-Power.

Give a person a bit of knowledge, and you will feed them for a day.  But give them the ability to acquire knowledge, and you will feed them for a lifetime.  People skills breed success.

You already knew this, right?

Lesson: If we are going to go from zero to advanced calculus in 25 years, we have to get along and develop enormous connection skills.  We can’t get distracted or bitch, moan, and debate every day along the way.

The most advanced humans would need the most advanced connecting skills on the best network of relationships to access the power and cooperation of others.   So evolution worked really hard to arrive here.

Dunbar’s Number

Today – and until we evolve more neurons – we are stuck at around 86 billion.  Impressive, but we still have limits on our social abilities and capacity for trust.  Anthropologist Robin Dunbar took the size of our neocortex, and, using fancy math, came up with the now-famous “Dunbar’s Number:” 

[drum roll…]

Roll…

Roll…

scRoll…

Ta-Da.

I know, disappointing.  That’s it. 

That’s how many humans you can stay friends with.  And you kind of knew this.  This is roughly the number of people, who, if you walked into a bar and saw them, you might actually have a drink with. 

Your brain’s relationship garden can only keep 150 plants alive.


[1] VERY blurry timeline on this. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origin_of_language  But we are definitely sure that it happened basically like Tim’s cartoon depicts.

[2] Waitbutwhy.com, Thanks, Tim. 

[3] These guys and girls came up with an index to measure relationship closeness. I’m betting wildebeests would suck on this scale.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4466912/

[4] Matt Ridley (2013).  When Ideas have Sex, TED 2010. https://www.ted.com/talks/matt_ridley_when_ideas_have_sex/transcript?language=en

[5] Also credit to waitbutwhy for this graph.  Just go read the post.

[6] These also compliments of Tim.  Great job, Tim!

[7] https://www.mint.com/barter-system-history-the-past-and-present#:~:text=Generally%2C%20trading%20in%20this%20manner,Online%20auctions%20and%20swap%20markets.&text=The%20history%20of%20bartering%20dates,various%20other%20cities%20across%20oceans.

[8] Kaplan, H., Hooper, P.L., & Gurven, M. (2009) The evolutionary and ecological roots of human social organization. https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rstb.2009.0115

[9] Except this guy: The Man of the Hole. Unreal.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man_of_the_Hole

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/