The Uniqueness of Humans | Dr. Robert Sapolsky Class Day Lecture 2009

Same basic design, novel use:

  • Aggression
  • Theory of mind
  • The golden rule (tit for tat)
  • Empathy
  • Please in anticipation and gratification postponement
  • Culture

Nice Community of Practice realisation (11:45 minutes in) by Albert-László Barabási:

Different networks have common properties; cells, internet, social network. Therefore a computer scientist, cell biologist, physicist, social scientist need to get together and hang out…swap tools, swap ideas, swap concepts, and understand each other cause we’re talking about networks

Great stuff about network medicine.

One gene is not alone responsible for a function or disease, it’s many, and we need to study how they relate to each other. The disease is the breakdown of the network. Just like a cars lights may not work (cause of fuse, battery, cable)…many reasons could lead to the same outcome. In a disease there’s lots of different ways that some part of your cellular network breaks down…it’s not limited to the particular component that is breaking down. Because ‘that’ component interacts with many other components, the defect spreads essentially and the network becomes incapacitated. We will never fully understand the disease unless we look at the neural networks behind the cell, map them out and describe their dynamics. A car mechanic will follow a map, find the defect and replace the part. In medicine there is no map, can’t check where the broken part is, just make guesses…has the phenotype but doesn’t know what the mechanics is, and instead of replacing the broken part, if it finds a cable is broken, it just puts another battery on, so you give a drug the maintains the functioning of the person, without ever fixing the problem

Not to be outdone, our Kiwi cousins banned playground “rules” in several primary schools. Kids were allowed to climb trees, negotiate play and choose their own adventure. Their results? A similar reduction in bullying, as well as a drop in vandalism and serious injuries. I repeat, a drop in serious injuries. Why? Because the kids are learning self-discipline and self-control, taking personal responsibility for their own risk and ability evaluation, thereby increasing autonomy and competence.

Permaculture A Quiet Revolution

Ecosystem of sustainable enterprising at a Brazil Permaculture institution

We have encouraged our people to open business…the kitchen now is an independent business, books are an independent business, and 6 other companies that are attached to this system we have created here. And we encourage more people to do that to propose business ventures. Why is that? Cause we don’t want employees, so this all thing about employees doesn’t work well in brazil. But if you teach people and encourage them to be enterprising, turn their ideas into viable business solutions. And that’s connected to a sustainable product and to an ethical view of profit and incomes, you can create sustainability now.

Work with nature not against it.


Nature has been doing this longer than us. An ecosystem with minimal intervention is adequately able to regenerate it’s soil

Monoculture depletes the social faster than it can be regenerated. Plus the external energy and cost required to grow the feedstock and distribute it

Permaculture is minimal input for maximum ouput.


This is how we do metallurgy eg bike tube design…building with strength yet minimal weight

Then there’s the biomechanics;an optimal blend of bike geometry for puropose, and fit to the rider…design that enables minimal force for maximum result, and less impact eg fatigue, on the bike and rider.

You could even relate this to software as a service:

…Nick Carr’s book The Big Switch p 132…

…as “software as a service” companies grow in scale they don’t grow in costs that much compared to industrial-based companies eg. “Craigslist doesn’t have to buy printing presses ink, and paper” as it grows in scale.

This is called INCREASING RETURNS TO SCALE…”the more products they sell, the more profitable they become”

In the traditional industrial world the dynamic is the opposite, it’s DIMINISHING RETURNS TO SCALE…”as a producer of physical goods increases its output, it sooner or later has to begin paying more for its inputs - for the raw materials, components, supplies, real estate, and workers that it needs to make and sell its products. It can offset these higher input costs by achieving economies of scale - by using fewer inputs to make each additional product - but eventually the higher costs overwhelm the scale economies, and the company’s profits, or returns, begin to shrink. The law of diminishing returns in effect sets limits on the size of companies, or at least on the size of their profits”

Robert Paterson on Ecosystems, not products

Here we can see the Network characteristics embodied in the Pasture system. 

It is made up of very small nodes. In the Pasture system, herds and operations have to be kept small so as the ensure the best fit with the animal to the environment. The farmer is selling Trust. Trust that the food is safe and that her practices help the environment. To do this, farms have to be small. They cannot scale vertically. These small limits are governed by how nature works and not by engineering.  500 hens drop 200 pounds of nitrogen an acre. The most that land can take up is 300 pounds. Any more is wasted or worse runs off. (Joel Salatin) The nodes are all designed around nature’s limits. The traditional farmer is locked into a war with Nature and so locked into the costs. Traditional farming cannot compete on its own terms with this as Scale is the opposite in the two systems.


Most of the resources in Networks are attracted in for free. In conventional farming the war against nature drives most of the costs such as diesel, machinery, chemical inputs. All have to be purchased. It’s an arms race that the conventional farmer has to lose in the end. But nature and the animals do most of the work in the pasture system. Nature becomes an ally rather than an adversary.  So the need for capital is diminished and so is the need to draw down the natural capital and so lose trust.


Over time Networks become increasingly diverse and dense which increases resilience. Pasture systems use several breeds of animals in rotation on the pasture. Each adds its own value. Even labour!  All the time the underlying core assets, the soil and the attendant natural systems increase in real value. The  Traditional Farmer is locked into monoculture and hence the progressive devaluation of the soil and natural systems. In the end the traditional farm has to fail.


Networks are governed by a purpose and by a few protocols. Pasture Systems have a declared purpose and a clear set of protocols or standards.


Visa International holds together its vast ecology with a handful of very tightly held rules that define how all the banks connect with each other.

This then is the heart of the management of a natural system – a small number of protocols that enable the full diversity of the system to connect securely. But in a machine all the parts have to fit into each other demanding uniformity in the parts. This is why most of the effort is in control and process engineering. This is why the scale limit of the machine is so small.


The Traditional Farmer is locked into making a profit at the expense of all else. He is “owned” by the larger players in the system who all have their sole financial success as the goal. Over time the traditional system has to work against the interests of all except a few. In so doing they have to lose the trust and support of society.


Networks are based on real relationships and not transactions – Most Pasture Producers sell direct to the public. Your real identity is vital. Even Whole Foods identifies its Pasture Farmers by name. Quality and Trust are personal.

In the traditional system the vast scale makes all relationships impersonal. So quality is mediated by regulators. These are often gamed and co-opted. Over time quality declines and trust is lost.


Natural Organization - The Rules - Part 3 - The Design - The Structure

Natural Organization - The Rules - Part 4 - The Design - How it works