Earth history, our future

We have choice, we have self-control

A blog addressing self-control. The piece of the environmental puzzle we each own. A contribution to the whole, if we so choose.

As CoP26 gets moving past the administrative tasks of state, I find myself wondering on what it is we all do that makes changes for the common good so hard to follow through.

The piece I think we all lose sight of, is self-control. Behavioural control in its most personal form. There is contemporary debate as to what consciousness is, and whether it is even a thing at all. Whether free will or biology, given the magnitude of the dilemma we all now face together, I am minded to think that the answer to that matters little. This is our moment to make action our goal. That starts at home. With a little reorientation of our self-control

Success requires clarity of purpose and self-control

For every self-made success these two factors seem to me present. There is clarity of purpose. And intent on keeping to this task, and thereby enacting self-control. When people talk in admirable terms of ambition, effectiveness, or being on the ball. When addressing ourselves as being present. In the moment. As one person, as a team, or collaborators in a project. We purposefully take to action and all distraction is kept under control.

v | b | t

The achievement accomplished is appraised based upon what was before, compared to what is now. Or what is now possible, that was not possible before. This achievement required a visibility, a clear directed change by the actor(s). It then took behaviours directed towards this goal. A determination to overcome unforeseen event. And a personal and/or shared trust that this could be seen through.

Managing behaviour is what we do

What makes consciousness interesting here is what is going on within. We are permanently being distracted. Distraction is at the heart of what our competing systems within us do. They present us with choice, or bring to our awareness wider issues, opportunity, or threat, to give option to reprioritise some more.

The privilege of the human condition is the extent to which we have put ourselves at the fulcrum of this distraction. We can act upon distraction with additional strategic inference. We can move our inference to higher levels of perspective. We can move our enquiry to lower levels of insight but higher levels of detail. We can seek more detail or bigger picture or put time to both. We can communicate this enquiry or we can do this from within. We can place ourselves in externally different, better, more challenging, less certain, or more exciting, places to be distracted over and over again.


That is what I take choice to mean today. These days of global need. We have basic needs as individuals. Our brain and body collude to make us ever aware of that fact. Our social instincts enable that need to be embraced as family concern. Tribal influence. National pride. And now, if we choose, global unity to inform a global act.


What this also reflects is the fundamentals of our biology. Fundamentals of our chemistry before life was even a thing. There is finite resource and more demand than supply. Nature and chaos find their own delicate equilibrium. We are gifted with the means to make something of that equilibrium. By our action we do some nudging of our own.

Competing towards collaborative ends

But now we compete not for ourselves. Instead we compete for the future versions of us. As our biology today reflects from all before. Whatever happens at CoP26, that all begins right here. In each home. With our manner of self-control. Making choice toward future generations we will not know. Or taking more for ourselves, eating more seeds than we sow.

We are each a project | within this project. This is our project of correction. Of planned redirection. To find the ultimate equilibrium. The platform that can sustain us all. This place on earth remains our ultimate system. We can choose it. Or it can consume us all.


Supplemental note: Earth History as observed in terms of behaviour

Intended change by us as humans vs the behaviours of chemistry or biology – a reflection on which is which. The latter requires none of the choice decisions we can make, but for all our talking is this road we passively take.

Archean Era to now

~3.5 Billion years of earth history. A few basics of what behaviours came before.

Settled chemistry

Any dynamic system can be said to behave. Predictably, or not. Well, or not. Living, or not. Nor is there anything in life that holds a privileged place in playing a part in change. In geology you can study what happens when the same chemistry plays out in different arenas with different agents of change. Deep within the Earth’s crust, in magma chambers, minerals and crystals can emerge differently from the chemical grabs that are made for the same finite resource. Time, heat, and gravity playing roles in what ingredients sit where. The conditions of what is left, dictating what is next. Some ingredients becoming heavy, others relatively light. Gravity settling occurring through relative viscosity. More pressure from above, or more heat from below can change the rates and settled nature within. There is only temporary stability and rates of change. Add more pressure or more heat, some of the solid masses return to liquid form, and what chemistry had been claimed becomes free to be reclaimed by new crystallising processes once again.

Change is inevitable

There was therefore behaviour before there was life. Chemical reaction and physical change well studied in timespans we humans have geologically categorised. At global scale this reflected atmospheric conditions where greenhouse effects were a positive influence. A young sun with heat held within a primitive atmosphere enabling temperatures that support liquid water to prevail. Pillow lava flows from 3.5 billion years ago evidence of this early water. Spewing into this water, were volcanic vents depositing chemical mixtures with energy and ingredients for life all mixing and settling within. Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) settling amidst amino acids and other key components that would eventually make biological cells (cf. Science Direct).

Acting not settling

We are not rocks. Bacteria and archaea made the early headway there. How we define the precise moment that there was life is still not completely clear. At its most basic level however, the sentiment of passive chemical action makes way for biologically active intent. Perhaps. Settling into the chemical glue still brings about reactions, but the objective action may have some process its form is additionally enabling it to do.

Passive to active as regulated behaviour

An autopoiesis is what is now termed to describe these, and all subsequent, emerging first choices made. A regulation of the first defended boundary. A containment within the first cell. An inner influence to the outside chemical glue. Early life. Mobility in water. Gathering, collecting, interacting. Then finding new heat from the sun. Converting wider bandwidths of energy in the form of light.

Therein presenting a growing need for biologically active regulations.

Definition of autopoiesis

…the property of a living system (such as a bacterial cell or a multicellular organism) that allows it to maintain and renew itself by regulating its composition and conserving its boundaries… the mechanisms of self-production are the key to understand both the diversity and the uniqueness of the living.— Francisco J. Varela, in Self-Organizing Systems: An Interdisciplinary Approach, 1981

…the ancient common ancestor which evolved autopoiesis and thus became the first living cell.— Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan, What is Life?, 2000


Still several billion years ago, amidst the trillions of chance events, an archaea and a bacteria were conjoined – rather than the one consumed – a Union. A first inkling into the power upgrade available if cooperation can resume. A repeatable fact that ballooned. This is mitochondrial symbiosis, that is still evidencing that chance happening today. Adding advantage of symbiosis, to the advancement and specialisms of two cells not dividing but instead remaining together and acting as one, and diversity of chance exponentially grows.

This is more than just selfish genes. This is life and 2 billion years of it as competing in rates of growth, not rates of evolution to hunt or avoid being the prey.

The predator age is much more recent. The Cambrian period. It begins in earnest 550 million years ago. With such predation the fashion of the age, competition steps up another gear.

Here is where a split of opinion in contemporary science exists. Whether the nature of us all is as savage as some would hold. Or whether a collaborative realism exists borne of that bacterial age. As explained by biochemist Dr. Nick Lane.

This discrepancy is partly responsible for the schism that has opened between Margulis and neo-darwinists like Dawkins. Dawkins’ ideas about selfish genes are equivocal when applied to bacteria (which he does not try to do). For Margulis, however, the whole tapestry of evolution is woven by the collaborations of bacteria, which form not just colonies but the very fabric of individual bodies and minds, responsible even for our consciousness, via the threadlike networks of microtubules in the brain. Indeed, Margulis pictures the entire biosphere as the construct of collaborating bacteria – Gaia, the concept that she pioneered with James Lovelock

Dr. Nick Lane pp10

Not that Dawkins deems the selfish gene to be opposing others.

My first book, The Selfish Gene, could equally have been called The Cooperative Gene without a word of the book itself needing to be changed… Selfishness and cooperation are two sides of a Darwinian coin. Each gene promotes its own selfish welfare, by cooperating with other genes in the sexually stirred gene pool which is the gene’s environment, to build shared bodies

Richard Dawkins “The ancestors tale” cited by Lane pp11-12

From a behavioural perspective, the underlying point is the active role now played. The finite resources now in chemical soups that may be ingested, breathed, absorbed, or converted within, becoming increasingly complexed, and biology finding new ways to play. The passive competition of process of chemical reactions now a regulated phenomena. All now biological actions as determined by a need.

Complex enough to choose

It is only very recently – once the rarity of a brain cortex became sufficiently engorged that chemistry, biology, and the increasing complexity of organisation of process – that the divisions and specialisms of more and complex multi-cellular organisms became a means of influence with an awareness of their all. The mammalian brain, surrounding an emotionally reactive middle, but still influenced by the compulsions of a reptilian spinal column and stem. It is with this growing complexity that the external world, offering a momentary window of stability, that symbology and learning had a chance to stay.

Even now we debate what is real. Not only of this account of a history, but also of what is real by the perceptions of own minds. What the brain translates – from messages as smells, recoding from light-sensitive retinas, vibrations of sound, and an array of felt messaging from our boundary edges coated in skin – are the best guessed of a collective system of cells in the brain (only 10% of which are neurons) is a translation of sensed experience. From this space inside a skull shaped prison, a dark and silent space between our ears and behind our eyes, our brain perceives what is real. Who are we to be so bold as to think what each brain holds true? We can but presume and suppose. Only we.

Even our close cousins see through different eyes. Pay different attention to smell. And as for other possible consciousness such as our octopus cousins – of shared simple worm like grandparents from 350 million years ago – they skulk alone. One per 5 million or so offspring making it to their version of adulthood. Their wits tested in the extreme with plenty of interest in decision-making. Neuronal connections but in a very different home.

Each system of systems we each represents by the boundary layer of our skin, is in competition within. As it is with all complexity of life. Our distractions of our systems are just more complete in their means to make all feel as one.

How do we all win and compete?

Against this shared history of everything, this is the challenge of our time. Our whole chemical-biological-history has been about taking what our own internal systems need. Reward of survival via our selfishness, our greed. Social instinct a more recent win bonus for the biology that is able to collaborate and become more and with greater speed. That is the lesson I think we now all need to take heed.

Socially mobile, individually doomed

That it is our social skills that make us more adaptive to environments than all other living beings we oppose. Our shared ability to abstractly take constraints and limitations, add new perspective, introduce outside chemistry with our mathematics and our physics, our metallurgy, and technology, and become more. Yes, we compete. Neanderthals once vouched for how good we are at that. But we compete best together.

Now we need to compete as nothing has ever competed before. We compete beyond our inner need, and greed. Define better our tasks and our goals. Seek solutions to global problems we all now own.

Whether free will or not our biology gives us choice. What we now choose is with intent. We actively direct our next actions. We find new motivations for shared self-control. Or like rocks, we all passively sink. Let’s not leave it to nature to decide.

Updating your software

Do we get old, or just out of date? Failing to keep up with the pace of change.

This is a reflection upon a month of projects | within projects of my own. My preparations for more learning and sharing. Conclusions reaffirmed that the plan is how to adapt, not how to optimise my time. All such reflection leaving me to ponder what it is to be part of the intended change.

First day of work – this is how quickly I witnessed change

My first day of work – city work – was in 1995. I recall computers were an optional mystery box, monitors claiming the biggest corner of a desk. Snopake or Tippex sat in everyone’s top drawer – paint applied to handwritten mistakes. Fax machines had replaced the telex, but only just. Financial reports ran from special printers, via a C:Prompt instruction in WANG. Is it nearly home time? No need to stop reading these green coloured pages of chopped trees. 5pm was announced by the smell of freshly lit cigarettes at one desk in three.

I remember my early PFI deals even into 2002 being managed by the fax. An endless churn of drafts of contracts. Often just the pages with handwritten notes, comments, edits, or rejections from your counterpart. The next formal edition of the draft then couriered – contracts by the box load – fresh from the lawyer’s print room. Meetings could last for days. Bankers, government, investors interests or contractors, for each the strategic walk out was a thing. Eventually, when bluff was called, the piles of papers in a boardroom on the day of financial close was a sight to behold. Thousands of pages, hundreds of documents. Each one ticking a box, as a condition precedent to the loan.

Then the Nokia 3310 was everywhere. As a better ‘phone. But business cards still had landline numbers first. You rang them and expected someone to say hello. I was junior enough to then inherit my first blackberry from my boss. It was not assumed you had a mobile phone. If a financial close was late, it was a moral dilemma as to whether to wait at your desk, a single spotlight in the dark. Is it to be another round of faxes, or dare I hope everyone else was going home.

First day of school – this is how quickly I now witnessed change

All of these thoughts passed me by this afternoon. Contemplating how much has changed in the two years since registering for my last MSc. A process today more automated and remote. No queues. No presence needed. Not like two years before – which I suppose was the last registration year before Covid19. In just two years much more is now assumed in student understanding of interfaces between apps and servers – and access to inboxes – once passwords have been retrieved. I found myself comparing these to little rewards for reaching the next level, the next download, the next stage gate. Mario or Zelda would be proud. New access to new instructions on video. The next mission. To then upload a photo or fill a form. Submitted to then trigger another email in an inbox, both of which are new. To then finally be linked back to the same login screens as before. But now returned triumphant. Transformed by the new identification tag, new passwords, and onward to new screens.

I don’t think I have ever been so grateful to finally land in a virtual space. Close enough to my new department to find a folder marked “instructions for postgraduates”. And from there I was just three clicks from a 65 page PDF. “Welcome!”, it begins, “All you need is here”.

First day – since yesterday

Covid19 has moved us all on at a pace. I think perhaps the pace of change in the last two years reflects as much as my last twenty. At least when I consider change in what is now normal in conducting trade. If only because of the enforced acceptance by many who would otherwise resist. University, just like all institutions, have found new ways. Adversity breeds invention. History tells us a good war can advance what is already on its way. But this time perhaps the adversity and societal shifts came in a fragile peace. Or maybe a bio-war – a viral enemy. Are we all now opened up to more change to come? And the more we change the more we support the next. How primed must we all now be to the potential for more.

First day – this is how I see the game has changed

Here is the kicker. How quickly has more change now arrived? Carrying under its arm nothing but new risks we each now face. To become obsolete or be ready for the next. Press continue, and to level-up.

Is this what now happens if you ever want to stop playing? Five years ago I would have insisted that that is the point of the pension and the plan. But with so much change, I think the moment I stop renewing my software and keep current via each new patch, is the last day. The final day. The full stop. Is this why life seems to speed up with age? If change is indeed all we do. To have counted too many days resisting, and feel too tired to then catch up. Maybe that is what it is to be old. Ignoring the body-craft and the face lifts. Maybe this is what it is to be old in mind.

First day – every day

Each of us a personal project as “time-bound intended change”

Change. It does not stop. It is intended only by our human needs. Impacted by our actions, and the merit of our deeds. Each of us as a project. A time-bound intended change. All of us one project – aligned – or as many projects as we may choose to disagree.

Within each of us, the less we intend to change, the more bound we feel to time. External to all of us, the less we account for the impact of our intended change, the less time left we may be bound.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

1,000 year project?

WARNING! This is a poem…

Immortality, immorality, our collective totality

Living to 1000 years. We are nearly there I’m told. The first already walks among us.  But it will all end in tears.  The target is 1 year prolonged per year. And we are already at 3 months. This is seemingly now science fact, but who deemed this a good idea?

Individual mortality is the key to our collective future. Nature’s way of keeping our firmware up to date, our DNA shelf life intact.  Still able to download the latest life apps, model updates, our iClone contract

By three our boundaries are discovered, challenged and reset. From five our persona is shining through or cruelly being offset. We are taught what is expected in the playground and class.  By our teens we push, rebel, rejoice, disregard, make anew, reflect and into adulthood pass.

By our twenties our views are solidified, we know what we hold dear. Our values, our futures, our priorities smear. Our persona and challenge now soiled and caked. Optimism or realism well mixed but partially baked. New doors open, but others firmly shut. Maybe the beginnings of getting stuck in a rut.

And so it goes, our opinions funnel, our outlooks narrow, life knocks and jostles. Gives but mostly takes. Our patience grows thin, realities set in.  Expectations and standards becoming ever clearer and absolute. Our defence of what’s right, steadfast, resolute

Until one day, we’re not so fresh faced. Momentum and change look more like challenge, and an unrelenting pace.  Excitement replaced with fear, distrust, scorn. A worry that this is someone else’s dawn.  Ahead a stark reality, that boundaries being tested now are the ones we built anew.  Our stores of hope and dreams now others plunder, it’s now our ideals that are askew.

This is everybody’s story, our shared indignity. But to hold tight an ideal, is to preserve our anchor in history.  It is forever the next generation that is unbound from yesterday.  As they prepare for life’s journey, we should relieve them of our luggage. Simply share your moral compass to help them find their own way.

And let the teacher be taught. Gift your experience but accept the gift of experience anew. Be open, be accepting, embrace change as privilege. Like bearing witness the dawning of a new day.  Be reverent not irrelevant. Transpose, translate, transform. The day you stop learning is the day you punch your ticket home.

Live in the moment, think in the future, remember the past. And if you want a different outlook, put on a different mask. If you climb a single mountain, your journey ends with a single view. Keep climbing new mountains, find new challenge, face your fears, and seek not to live forever in the cocoon of your bygone years.

But dear science, let’s not outstay our time. Let nature be, allow others time upon the throne. When our candles are many, roots deep, we become overgrown. Our aim is to leave a legacy, not extend our loan.  Advance us not to our third production stage, our diminishing return. Retire us gracefully, allow us a little oil to burn. When our work complete, a few years in the sun, when our software is obsolete.

To live beyond our means, is to extend our credit endlessly. Our overdraft looks hard to pay when interest is calculated continuously. Our negative return rate, our -2.71828, the cost of our outstayed welcome now increasing exponentially.

In our disposable world, what parts will be left at the end for our first 1000-year gene? The reboots, the upgrades, the contracts renewed. Fixed then dropped, broken, or cracked, our proteins hacked, batteries replaced, search history rephrased, old data erased.

Imagine William the Conqueror, 1000 years on. Staring, calculating, a returning gaze like Tolkien’s Sauron.  Having lived through so much, forgotten more than we know. What message would he offer, what imparting knowledge bestow?  A living history, a walking lament of past deeds, twenty lifetimes of sorrow. The death of so many seeds. An immortalised shell.  Eye now transfixed on the time we squander or sell.  Born in a time of the first paper as cash, Knut’s fight with the tide, crusades, religious genocide.  Allegiances changed in the blink of Harold’s eye. Towers built, countless blood spilt. Then rule of law signed, sciences uncovered, abstract thought, mathematics, continents and planets discovered.  Diseases tamed, civilisations maimed, powerhouses built, fought, elevated and shamed.

The 1000-year man. Who could live through so much, so many histories repeated. Technology advancing, human endeavour undefeated.  Lesson unlearned, a planet spurned. A 1000 years to plot and scheme. Or just chill on the sofa, lol at a meme, mindless viewing on Netflix, face stuffed with ice cream.  Only one Amazon is growing as our forests pack our greed.  Space adventure paid by courier, greatness measured in likes, not deed.

Lowering IQ to have common denominator.  Our own Will I am the conqueror, technology our subjugator.  Our internet of things, the knowledge of the world.  A flower for humanity, knowledge on every petal unfurled.  Our library of Alexandria, present in every palm and family homestead.  Packed to the rafters, an infinity of learning, yet nine in ten hits taken from the top shelf instead.

Technology advancing rapidly, but Moore’s law seemingly on the wane.  Lives set on comfort, popularity our polarity, our ambition merely fame.  With such time to waste, and yet in constant haste, science declared natures timeline is too soon.  We will defy you with our biological boon. Swept aside, cleaned up, parts anew, our genetic nod to Trigger’s broom

So is longevity humanities gift, or just our final curse? An immortal soul aboard an ungodly hearse.  And in his old age, 1000-year-old man will be stuck in his unfathomable cage. Perhaps travelling to some distant place, body re-engineered for outer space.  There is time yet. We have a whole universe to explore, claim and deface.

A 1000 years, it’s not for me.  Someone else can transcend the approaching singularity.  No upgrades to my firmware, or artificial reboots to my health, to accompany a constant recalibration of self.  The endless wonder of what life’s really for. I’ll be content with my 3 score years and ten, well maybe then just a couple more…

Warren 18th December 2019

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here: