Biotechnology: The Benefits are Relative

Montreal, September 14, 1999

Imagine for a moment that you lived on the surface of a finite unbounded sphere, ... as in the curved-space-time model of the theory of relativity.

Wait a minute!

We do live on the surface of a finite, unbounded, sphere.

Ok, now imagine that you are the representative of a biotechnology company which has developed a very 'successful' genetically modified strain of wheat. By 'successful', is intended that this grain is resistant to disease from airborne spores, or bacteria in the soil and its yield is typically higher (bushels per acre) than 'natural' hybrids which currently predominate. Everyone can be seen to profit from the introduction of this grain since the agricultural overheads are lower (profit margin goes up), ... it doesn't spoil as easily in transport or storage, and the nutrient content is as good as better as the most popular current strains. In short, ... those natural strains which have pre-'dominated', seem unlikely to continue to 'dominate' subsequent to the introduction of the new, genetically modified biotech product.

Such a pattern and outlook is common in the emergent industry of biotechnology whose revenues have risen to over 68 billion dollars per year [1] in the US alone, in short order and the economic promise seems unlimited. In free market conditions, the growth forces are enormous since, in a homocentric sense, there are no downsides. Biotech products in the pharmaceutical area can be shown to improve life expectancy thus there economic and longevity benefits are pulling together.

The public relations part of your job, as the representative of the biotechnology company, become very easy, right, ... everyone benefits for everyone, right?

What is wrong with this picture in a 'complex systems' sense? We know that the activists will complain about the 'unknown' effects on the environment, but in the systems basis of it, what is it that troubles the mind about biotechnology? Why do the aboriginals complain about the 'immorality' of patenting the genetic strains of humans, animals and plants?

The environmentalists will argue that 'natural diversity' will be setback, knowing that all of these biotechnology developments are leading towards the domination of particular, unnatural strains of life. 'Unnatural' meaning that since they have not emerged through 'co-evolution' with their environment, ... the whole-and-part balance which is characteristic of natural life is not 'built in' the them. It is clear that biotechnology, by definition and intention, will reduce diversity and lead to imbalances in natural, environmental ecologies; ... that is in fact what they are designed to do. That is, the goal of biotechnology is to engineer desired qualities (selected qualities will reduce diversity) into the lifeforms and to overcome the [non-homocentric] 'balance' in nature which arises from evolution, ... to 'unbalance' our ecological environment 'in favor of' homo sapiens. The problem relates to this 'beautiful' balance wherein existing diversity co-evolves with itself. As Charles Darwin said in his concluding of 'Origin of the Species'; "There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning, endless forms most beautiful and wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."

While the diversity argument makes much sense intuitively, something much more basic is suggesting itself here, from a 'new sciences' point of view.

In terms of science and rational inquiry, 'diversity' has a particular relevance, which has been pointed out by Henri Poincare in 'Science and Hypothesis'. 'Homogeneity' is an approximation which enables us to model phenomena in terms of variables and equations. As Poincare says, ... while mathematical models can be extremely useful in modelling and answering many questions about natural phenomena, ... these models depend on three approximations (homogeneity, relative independence of remote parts, and simplicity of the elementary fact). Thus, ... one must always ask, ... whether the approximations we are making to formulate the problem in mathematical terms are appropriate relative to the nature of our inquiry.

How does 'homogeneity' and 'diversity' play into this?

If we are studying population and characterize population by the variable 'p', the number of constituents in the population, ... we must use the homogeneity approximation to formulate the model mathematically, and in so doing this implies that all instances of 'p' will follow the same laws in the same way. If, on the other hand, we want to keep track of qualitative differences in the 'instances' of the population, ... the fact that where 'p' is 5, it refers to mary, fred, tom, lucy and jane, who all behave differently under different circumstances, ... we cannot use mathematical equations. As Poincare says; "It is not enough that each elementary phenomenon should obey simple laws: all those that we have to combine must obey the same law; then only is the intervention of mathematics of any use. ... It is therefore, thanks to the approximate homogeneity of the matter studied by physicists, that mathematical physics came into existence." In other words, mathematical physics, and most of 'rational scientific inquiry', is made possible by assuming that the behavior of a 'thing' is not a function of its particular relationship with its containing environment (since rational inquiry is based on the ability to be able to describe the properties and behaviors of things 'in their own right').

The game of pool illustrates this problem between diversity and homogeneity in the context of 'causality' on the one hand and 'co-evolution' (simultaneous interference) on the other. This takes us right into the issues of relativity and quantum duality which apply to all of nature. In particular, the game of pool (which emulates relativistic curved-space-time and quantum duality) shows how 'homogeneity' goes hand-in-hand with 'causality' while 'diversity' goes hand in hand with 'co-evolution'. This will then provide a scientific reasoning framework (as opposed to rational inquiry framework) for the biotechnology issues.

In the game of pool, ... the balls are physically homogeneous but they are diverse in the sense that each one has a unique 'identity' (as indicated by a specific and unique number designation). Because the balls are both homogenous and diverse at the same time, we can see how our assumptions on 'causality' reconcile with the phenomenon of 'co-evolution' where no such assumptions on homogeneity are made.

In a finite unbounded curved space-time 'container', ... as is represented not only in the game of pool [2] but also by the sphere we live on, as Einstein pointed out in his theory of relativity, ... we must consider, in addition to 'things', the 'reciprocal disposition between the 'thing' and its containing space.

In pool, and in general, the presence of 'reciprocal disposition' as a factor takes us from seeing the ensemble of things as a 'sequential unity and plurality' to seeing it as a 'simultaneous unity and plurality'. In other words, if reciprocal disposition is a factor (as it is generally is in relativistic curved space-time), then as soon as we move a thing (no physical contact with another thing need be involved), ... we have changed the 'reciprocal disposition' for each and every other thingl; i.e. we have changed the forward opportunity for each and every ball. In this space-time 'container' implied by reciprocal disposition then, ... there are real physical effects going on which go beyond the notion of 'mechanical dynamics' and 'cause'. The 'effect' we are looking at here is a 'latent effect' which manifests itself over time in terms of the 'channels of resonance' or 'opportunity channels' which open up for a 'thing' or the 'snookering' or 'closing down' of opportunity channels, which prevent it from 'playing'.

Again, as soon as reciprocal disposition becomes a factor, ... our modelling of the phenomenon must go beyond 'causal analysis' and include 'co-evolutional' (interference) effects in space-time. We making any moves, we must consider the impact of the move on the reciprocal disposition of itself and everything else.

In pool or in biotechnology, ... no causal inquiry can give us answers to our questions since causal inquiry is fundamentally incomplete in that it does not and cannot account for reciprocal disposition effects. We cannot speak of the properties, behaviors and prospects of the 'nine ball' or 'disease-resistant genetically modified grain' in their own right, as if these properties are going to DETERMINE what transpires in the system. What transpires is a CO-DEPENDENT function of the 'thing' and its reciprocal disposition, since the movement of one thing can either open up or shut down opportunity for another. The notion of a 'thing' is no longer INDEPENDENT as it is in euclidian space, ... it is instead, a simultaneous part of the whole.

If we have fifteen strains of grain, as we have fifteen balls in pool, ... the prospects of a particular strain or ball depend not just upon their own particular properties and behaviors but more comprehensively, on their 'reciprocal disposition', ... how they are situated with respect to the whole ensemble in which they are immersed constituents; i.e. how they are situated with respect to their 'containing space' and how this effects 'forward play'.

The good pool player knows that he must take care of all the balls (the 'shape' of the configuration) so he puts the management of 'reciprocal disposition' in a primacy over the managing of the individual opportunities a particular ball may have. This is because, as soon as he moves any ball, it changes the forward opportunities for each and every ball (because of reciprocal disposition effect). So he manages firstly, by reciprocal disposition, .... by nudging the balls into resonant patterns which ensure good continuing opportunity for movement for each ball. The mechanical dynamics of cause and effect, the domain of which ball hit which (cause) and where did they end up (effect) become secondary to the real game of 'whole-and-part' harmony cultivation.

The point is, that in a RELATIVISTIC space-time based game, ... where space is curved (self-interfering), finite and unbounded, as in life on this planet, cause and effect due to mechanical dynamics is only one subsidiary aspect of the overall determining aspect of the game, reciprocal disposition. Reciprocal disposition governs the freedom of continuing movement (ontogeny) of the individual entity; i.e. the ontogeny of an entity is effected not just by the 'causal' actions of itself and others, but by the patterns of its access to space-time channels (reciprocal disposition). Causal behaviors, attributed to the properties of the entity in itself, and to those other entities it comes into direct physical contact with are only one subfactor in determining 'reciprocal disposition' (opportunity patterns), such forward opportunity being shaped also by the movements of every other entity in the whole ensemble relative to the whole ensemble.

Evolution occurs by the co-evolving (interference) of the ensemble (environment) with its constituents, as Darwin has pointed out ("selection may be applied to the family, as well as to the individual"), ... in the case of man, ... the co-evolution of the family of man with its own constituents, ... this is the only way the system can continue to bootstrap from lesser to great diversity, as is the observed case in evolution. The family and individual constitute a 'simultaneous unity and plurality' where the behavior of the family is not simply given by the sum of the behaviors of its constituents, but by the interference patterns which form and how these mesh with the containing environment (e.g. as in the flow patterns of an attacking hockey team and the defending team, where 'niche opportunities' may open up due to reciprocal disposition effects which may be penetrated by the attacking team if its reciprocal dispositions based 'shape' 'fits'.).

Similarly, the notion of a 'gene' as an independent 'thing' is our man-made abstraction, and comes from the 'homogeneity' simplification described by Poincare. In curved space-time, we cannot forget that associated with every 'gene' there is 'reciprocal disposition', a historically evolved and continually evolving pattern of opportunity which associated with each and every gene which makes it unique. If we cultivate biotech grain number 9 on all of the agricultural space on the surface of our earth-sphere, then the other 14 natural strains of grain are 'snookered' since their reciprocal disposition offers them no opportunity for continued ontogenetic growth, and they will get 'out of synch' with the changing environment. For example, ... when a new species of fish is brought into a lake, ... the whole ecology is changed and it may not be possible, even with re-stocking, to re-establish a fish which had formerly been 'in equilibrium' in the lake ecology.

The game is therefore not completely DETERMINED by the properties and behaviors of the parts and their causal interactions. Gifted jewish violinists or physicists did not have ontogenetic growth opportunities in 1930's Germany. They were, in terms of relativistic 'reciprocal disposition' effects, 'snookered', and it is important to understand this basic principle if we are going to avoid the traps which our rational inquiry leads us into, ... ration inquiry being capable only of dealing with issues of 'what is', and not 'should be'. 'Should be' content, as Einstein pointed out, must come from 'belief systems' such as religious beliefs or 'cosmic religious experience' and last but not least an 'evolutionary ethic'.

So the game of 'society' is clearly one which involves more than 'the properties and behaviors of the parts'; i.e. it is more than 'causal' and more than 'deterministic' in the classical sense of determinism. Individuals and 'families' within society 'move' in such a way as to influence reciprocal disposition. If a family or nation 'move' so as to retain control all the arable land or all the economic resources or etc., ... then these reciprocal disposition effects will impact the opportunity space for others. This is the complaint of the third world and the native north americans. Our western system of justice, meanwhile, is based on establishing 'cause', ... and the evolution of reciprocal disposition patterns favorable to one group over another is not solely 'causally achieved' but also 'geometrically' achieved (by evolving 'snookering' patterns).

Biotech grain number 9, by occupying a large proportion of the land available for the cultivation of grain, ... 'snookers' the ontogenetic futures of the other 14 natural grains. This is a non-causal characteristic of relativistic curved space-time. This is where the ensemble of things interferes with itself and such interference effects can be intentionally 'driven' or 'managed' to provide a non-causal (beyond the justice system) means of gaining advantage. The patenting (and public acceptance) of Monsanto's 'terminator' seeds changes the 'reciprocal disposition' patterns in the domain of crops and seeds with the result that the opportunity for diverse traditional seed types is reduced. This 'snookering' approach falls out of the 'simultaneous unity and plurality' characteristic of curved space-time, ... which means that the ensemble interferes with itself, ... thus the movement towards the disappearance of diversity and domination of terminator seeds is achieved by interference based coherencies. The responsible party who 'caused' this curved-space result, in geometric terms, is 'the container', the space constituted by the full ensemble of constituents, in the same way that the 'environment' is responsible for evolution of its constituent organisms, yet the environment is its ensemble of constituents.

Causal theory, which underpins our system of justice, is non-relativistic and is blind to 'snookering' manoeuvres (as native north americans continue to argue).

Thus, we can conclude that while the problem of managing biotechnology is 'relativistic', our current management and regulatory practice is non-relativistic, and this leads us into dysfunction as follows;

1. Biotechnology seeks to impose non co-evolved, dominator life-forms into the eco-environment which will reduce diversity. While naturally evolved lifeforms have been 'whole-and-part' harmonized or balanced through their co-evolutionary engenderment, the biotechnology products are simply engineered out of the context of whole-and-part harmony, ... thus they lack an essential characteristic needed for harmonic participation in a living ecology.

2. The 'benefits' of genetically altered products are homocentrically oriented (i.e. they are relative to man's needs and wants) out of the context of their contribution to other 'players' in the ecology. This, combined with the non ecologically balanced nature of genetically altered forms, ... will lead to ecological destabilization which will be impossible to control in the overall sense, but will require actions by man to protect his own major biological interests and dependencies which are being hurt by destabilization. This is basically the same geometrical form of dysfunction which has been going on at macro levels in the industrial age, but it will now be happening at the genomic level which will intensify the severity of the pathology.

3. Man has evolved from the continuing enfoldment and co-evolution of a growing diversity of lifeforms. Thus, biotechnology, with its diversity-reducing and homocentric system optimization focus, will tend towards reverse-evolving the system to the point where it no longer has the capacity for evolving human-like life. Natural ecological resources, which once gave birth to man and are now managed for the purpose of satisfying man's needs and wants, out of the context of those of other species, equates, in the relativistic context of a 'simultaneous unity and plurality', to self-consumption.

4. The view of man as 'above nature' has characterized western religious traditions, and supports the popular notion where man, after strip-mining the earth to the point of exhausting its natural resources, can use his 'rational' powers to move on and colonize other planets. This view contrasts with the religious view of the aboriginal which is supported by relativity and quantum physics, ... the view that reciprocal disposition effects must be accounted for;

"So that they will respect the land, tell your children that the earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves. This we know: The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood that unites one family. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web he does to himself."

To conclude, the move towards the production of biological 'products' which are produced by genetic alteration, bypassing the 'whole-and-part' ecological harmonic balancing which occurs through natural evolution,... and the orienting of these products to the needs of man out of the context of the needs of the overall ecology, will clearly lead to ecological destabilitation which will then have to be 'managed' by man, once again, prioritized to his needs. In this move, man effectively begins to build his own synthetic 'biospheric container' which is no longer in natural equilibrium with the environment as a whole. This is the same situation, though on the deeper level of biology and genetics, ... as in the macroworld of products and services where the Y2K problem has exposed the existence of this resource dependency shell which man has been building around himself and which is not in harmony with our containing nature.

The theories of relativity and quantum mechanics show that nature is a resonant system in which our actions do not add up like the sum of parts but where each movement simultaneous changes the 'reciprocal disposition' effecting each and every other system including the one which intiated the perturbation; i.e. the 'resonant system' or 'web model' of the aboriginals is supported by modern physics.

The notion, therefore, that man is an INDEPENDENT entity who can, with impunity, continue to exploit resources 'out there', out of the context of overall ecosystem needs, is a mental abstraction which is inconsistent with observations of reality and modern science. As we know from experiences such as those with antibiotics and disease-resistant bacteria, ... man is a simultaneous part of the overall ecology, ... a constituent of a 'simultaneous unity and plurality' whose moves, like the moves of a billiard ball over the surface of a curved sphere, propagate forward to the point of bumping into him from behind. The relativistic theory therefore supports the Rifkin - Raeburn scenario of 'The Last Harvest' [3] and associated commentary below.

The benefits of biotechnology are therefore relative, ... relative to man's initial euclidian assumption of being a homogeneous being 'in his own right', ... whose existence can be fully described in terms of his properties and behaviors, ... out of the context of his containing environment. This classical theory, the mainstay of the western world rests upon the notion that nature is a SEQUENTIAL unity and plurality, rather than a SIMULTANEOUS unity and plurality. In the simultaneous unity and plurality view of nature (Heraclitus, Kepler, relativity and modern physics), one cannot split apart the optimization of the 'container' and its 'constituents' since to change one is to immediatel change the other. In the sequential unity and plurality view of mainstream (classical) scientific inquiry and of scientific inquiry in our western culture, ... we are free to optimize 'by parts', so that we can indeed optimize for man's needs out of the context of the 'container'. But as quantum duality tells us, ... 'if you look analytically' at phenomena, you get one result which excludes the interference information, ... and if you 'don't look analytically' at phenomena, you get another result which includes the interference effects. What we are getting when we look at biotechnology analytically is a view which excludes interference effects, ... the dissonance or harmony between the focus of our inquiry and the eco-container we are immersed in. If, on the other hand, we back off our analytical focus on biotechnology and cultivate harmony amongst the interference patterns, ... we will be behaving with an eco-ethos which is what those creatures who consider themselves to be part of a living ecology do to sustain it.

* * *

[1] Except from RACHEL'S ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH WEEKLY #655 ---June 17, 1999---. Under the following banner and introduction;


by Beth Burrows (Director and President of the Edmonds Institute)

"Attempts to forge the world's first treaty to regulate trade in genetically modified products failed this morning when the United States and five other big agricultural exporters rejected a proposal that had the support of the rest of the roughly 130 nations taking part." -- NEW YORK TIMES, February 24, 1999

... Beth Burrows comments on the dominant influence of the $68 billion per year (in the US alone) genetically modified product trade, in a way which makes clear that the implicit regulatory structure for resolving such issues is innately binary-judgemental, ... (as also, is her reaction to it);

* * *

To be there that last night in Cartegena and to realize that the whole world might get no biosafety because one country and its allies refused to allow their genetically engineered commodities to be regulated, to know that there were environmental and human health hazards and they would not be met by precaution, to remember what the head of the U.S. delegation, Melinda Kimble, had said to a group of NGOs the night before -- "The only treaty less popular in the United States than the Convention on Biological Diversity is the Treaty on the Rights of the Child" -- and to recall the audible gasp that followed her remarks as the meaning sunk in: the future was officially unpopular in the United States -- it was too much.

Right after negotiations broke down in Cartegena, I ran into someone from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the corridor; he was on the U.S. delegation.

"How can you stand yourself?" I asked him.

A nearby delegate from Eastern Europe overheard me and looked shocked. "Beth gets very emotional," the FDA guy explained.

"If rationality means risking ecological and human health on the planet for the sake of the profits of one industry," I responded, "then I certainly hope I'm emotional."

"You see what I mean?" said the FDA guy to the delegate.

"You're an evil man," I told the FDA guy.

The listening delegate, who happened to know me, attempted to intervene, "Beth, this is not an evil man. I know him. He's a very nice person. Really."

"No," I explained, "this is not a nice person. He may seem like a nice person. He may be very pleasant but he carries an evil message. If I allow myself to think of him as a nice man, if I do not insist that he is personally responsible for the messages he utters, then one day I am certain he will come and tell me that he was only following orders."

The delegate got my message. I'm not so sure about the FDA guy.

[Beth's subsequent letter to the President etc. follows; ....]

"Because the United States has demonstrated an ability to push its way into the heart of negotiations among parties to a treaty our country has not yet ratified, it will be assumed, and perhaps correctly so, that we are behind every untoward event, utterance, or outcome associated with this treaty. Every use of 'rules' to subvert or prevent the utterance of opposing views--and there was a great deal of such 'rule' manipulation in Cartagena--will be designated an act of the United States. Every personal slight or embarrassment experienced by any of the delegates--and there were many such slights in Cartagena--will be experienced as an affront committed by the United States. Every utterance about the needs of our $68 billion a year industry will be understood as an attack on the environment and citizens of other countries. Continuous argument about protection of our industries will make us hated. We will be seen as the fat, despised, and privileged members of a society seeking only to make more money and become more privileged..."

... Beth goes on to describe the frustration of the 'losers';

"One of the Third World delegates in Cartagena, a gentle scientist who found himself among many others outside closed doors, waiting to hear news from the few 'real negotiators' within, said to me, 'Beth, I honestly thought I was doing something here. I honestly thought our discussions in the contact groups were meaningful. I honestly thought I was making a contribution worthy of what it cost my government to send me here. But this, where all of us wait while they try to force a protocol by using rules most of us hardly know--this is just brutal power, just like the old colonial days.'

"Another delegate asked me on the last day, 'Beth, do they wish to push us into the arms of Sadaam?...'"

[2] The four 'banks' on the rectangular pool table act like mirrors when the balls hit them (they are reflected off of the bank at the same 'incident' angle that they came into the bank). It is useful and equivalent to imagine that instead of being reflected off of the bank they entered into another 'virtual table', which was rotated 90 degrees with respect to the first. In the case of a four bank shot, where the ball hits all four banks and comes back through the point it started going in the same direction, ... the virtual table view is that the ball went through 4 X 90 = 360 degrees while proceeding directly ahead in a straight line. This geometry is equivalent to the ball having rolled around the outside of a sphere (non-euclidian spherical space). The advantage of this view is that one can now imagine how the balls interfere with themselves in spherical space and how the notion of 'reciprocal disposition' (simultaneous unity and plurality) comes into play, ... and how 'container-content-coevolution' comes into play where the 'container' is now seen as the whole ensemble of balls which acts as a self-referential 'container' for its own constituents. The evolution of the ball configuration proceeds by the configuration co-evolving, ... just as Darwin's 'Origin of the Species' suggests that a family and its individual constituents co-evolve.

[3] The following is an excerpt from "The Biotech Century ---Playing Ecological Roulette with Mother Nature's Designs", by Jeremy Rifkin (

In his book 'The Last Harvest', Paul Raeburn, the science editor for Business Week, penetrates to the heart of the problem. He writes, "Scientists can accomplish remarkable feats in manipulating molecules and cells, but they are utterly incapable of re-creating even the simplest forms of life in test tubes. Germplasm provides our lifeline into the future. No breakthrough in fundamental research can compensate for the loss of the genetic material crop breeders depend upon."

Agricultural biotechnology greatly increases the uniformity of agricultural practices as did the Green Revolution when it was introduced more than 30 years ago. Like its predecessor, the goal is to create superior varieties that can be planted as monocultures in agricultural regions all over the world. A handful of life-science companies are staking out the new biotech turf, each aggressively marketing their own patented brands of "super seeds";--and soon "super" farm animals as well. The new transgenic crops and animals are designed to grow faster, produce greater yields, and withstand more varied environmental and weather-related stresses. Their cost effectiveness, in the short run, is likely to guarantee them a robust market. In an industry where profit margins are notoriously low, farmers will likely jump at the opportunity of saving a few dollars per acre and a few cents per pound by shifting quickly to the new transgenic crops and animals.

However, the switch to a handful of patented transgenic seeds and livestock animals will likely further erode the genetic pool as farmers abandon the growing of traditional varieties and breeds in favor of the commercially more competitive patented products. By focusing on short-term market priorities, the biotech industry threatens to destroy the very genetic heirlooms that might one day be worth their weight in gold as a line of defense against new resistant diseases or superbugs.

Most molecular biologists and the biotechnology industry, at large, have all but dismissed the growing criticism of ecologists, whose recent studies suggest that the biotech revolution will likely be accompanied by the proliferation and spread of genetic pollution and the wholesale loss of genetic diversity. Nonetheless, the uncontrollable spread of super weeds, the buildup of resistant strains of bacteria and new super insects, the creation of novel viruses, the destabilization of whole ecosystems, the genetic contamination of food, and the steady depletion of the gene pool are no longer minor considerations, the mere grumbling of a few disgruntled critics. To ignore the warnings is to place the biosphere and civilization in harm's way in the coming years. Pestilence, famine, and the spread of new kinds of diseases throughout the world might yet turn out to be the final act in the script being prepared for the biotech century."

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