Acquired Book By: I am a reviewer for Prometheus Books and their imprints starting in  as I contacted them through their Edelweiss catalogues and Twitter. I appreciated the diversity of titles across genre and literary explorations – especially focusing on Historical Fiction, Mystery, Science Fiction and Scientific Topics in Non-Fiction. I received a complimentary copy of “Complexity” direct from the publisher Prometheus Books in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared herein.
musings about the introduction:
Right out of the gate, Burger warmed me to his compassionate view of life when he cross-compared the natural biodiversity of our world with the multicultural diversity of our biped humanity. If you lament about the world at large long enough, there is an incredible girth of biological ancestry percolating all round us. It is not just our footprints and our legacies which are resplendently observational in this world, but there is a depth of evolutionary evidence of how the natural world has progressed forward through millennia and augmented itself to become adaptive and changeable per each environ and region on Earth.
I must admit, part of the reason why I had my eye keenly attached to Paleontology was to understand the back-history of the natural world. When I uncovered AstroBotany a few years ago, it took studying the subject from a completely new point of view and by such, granting a new angle of approach. I think this is why I was originally considering studying Archaeology rather than Anthropology; as although I am dearly interested in culture and traditional heritages of different ethnic backgrounds; one thing has kept constant about my scientific interests: I like to dig into the past and seek out the mannerisms of the how species and humanity lived through the different ages. Inasmuch as I appreciate uncovering the socio-psychological make-up of our own actions, there is a measure of joy in back-tracking through how the natural world has evolved forward through their own timeline.
He breaks down the terms: Biodiversity vs. Complexity as both directly relate to how our understanding of the natural order and presence of everything (human vs natural world) correlate, inter-relate and are individually unique from one another too. Systematically there are intersections of everything and everyone on Earth (as one would naturally observe) but when he mentioned the tundra and the the rain forest, I just smirked! Those were the two biodiverse regions which perked my interest early-on as a child. I loved how uniquely different those regions were and how incredible it was to peer into the wildlife and the natural organisations which called each space their home. The habitats were awe-inspiring for a girl growing into an appreciation for conservation and preservation of natural environs. I was a budding environmentalist before I ever understood the full spectrum of Earth’s fragile balance between ecological preservations and the impact of our human actions. By the age of ten, when I first saw Medicine Man in the theater, you could say it all came full circle and since then, I have been passionately curious about the steps we can take to reduce our industrialism and live more authentically towards a greener tomorrow using upcycling, recycling and natural innovative science to improve our way of life.
Growing up in Science class, one of my favourite bits to graduating into seventh grade was starting to get a more scientific foundation on the order of species. My seventh grade teacher had a living biosphere of his own – we had an outside zoo attached to our classroom where farm animals resided in a lovingly cared for pen and where inside, we had aquariums and cages full of small animals which added to the joy of researching natural habitats. It is also where I fell in love with the class hamster but never thought I’d be blessed to take him home. He lived four years, nearly five (impressive for a little guy) and he still has a fond place in my heart. Aside from meeting my first ham-ham of joy, I was eagerly itching to better understand how everything in the natural world was organised and classified. Mind you, for a girl in a classroom full of peers who’d much rather be outside in the sunshine, I was an oddity. I loved being holed up inside my textbook and musing about how everything in nature had it’s own blueprint to identify itself. There was a specific tool set in nature to give you clues and hints towards how everything belongs by genus, species and family. Of course it’s more complex than this, as you can read about in this article but I was simply mentioning I was wicked fascinated by the conception of everything having a particular place in which to belong.
I used to read hierarchical charts like Amateur Ancestry Sleuths read genealogical graphs and family trees! There is a lot of data about how the natural world is understood and broken down into Plants and Animals. The hierarchy is the code which helps you understand the connections and the diverse components of what makes each individual organisation uniquely themselves whilst having a comparatively similar component of another species, too. There are cross-similarities as much as there are inherent differences and I have always wanted to have a better foundation of understanding of how all of this co-relates and diverts into sub-categories of order. To put it a different way, understanding the natural world is similar to having a blueprint of the break-down of genre in Literature. You have sub-genres and sub-categories of interest broken into thematic inclusions and styles of crafting stories together through either Fiction or Non-Fiction. You can spend a lifetime seeking stories moving through genres and generations of writers whose influences continue to shape the literary world. So, too, is the same for understanding the biosphere. You first have to understand how to approach the topic and then, you get to have fun exploring everything that makes Earth bio-diverse as it is right now.
I was quite charmed Burger chose to avoid discussing Insects – as personally, they never interested me in the least! I have a love/hate relationship with Insects overall. Yes, I recognise they have a place in this world but on a truly personal level of honest reflection? I could literally bypass their presence in my life. There are few exceptions to this rule: butterflies, dragonflies and a few others to make my soul smile but in general, the world of insects and I are not on speaking terms.
Plant Diversity | Essential to Biodiversity:
I oft wondered why my peers gave little credit or credence to plant and trees. After all, it wasn’t hard to understand how we are able to breathe (ie. trees are our source of oxygen) but so, too it wasn’t hard to fathom how the flora and fauna in a natural habitat was key to a sustainable habitat for all the lovely creatures who called that local environ their home. I used to be keenly invested in tracing photosynthesis on both land and sea. When it comes to the ocean, the most unique discovery was how life is still adaptively responsive beyond the layer of sunlight penetration where the world is completely dark and absent from the effects of photosynthetic processes. Mind you, those creatures in the deepest layers of the ocean freak me out of my skull! They are straight out of a story of Horror but on the flip side of that coin, it’s not their fault they are structurally horrific to look at as to them, we’re the odd ones who scare them!
Since I was a Young Astronaut, I have been especially curious about the Cosmic diversity and complexities of life in the vacuum of space. Partially why I loved spending so much time at my local Science Center was for the joy of uncovering more about life in the universe from our humble observational knowledge back here on Earth. It is also why I have a penchant for reading and writing Hard Science Fiction stories. There is a lot more understanding on the diverse aspects of what makes the environments on the planets so eloquently complex nowadays than even when I was growing up as much more is known. I oft found it curious how at one point in time, Science Fiction was a bit limited in speculating a living environment for planets; as basic science for those locations was still anyone’s educated guess. To find out which of the planets are sustainable for life and which ones are a boiling stew of environmental causticity is quite humourous now.
The irony I felt was that if our Earth is diversely complex and structured, why would we think the Cosmic structure of those planets would be less than our own? Wouldn’t it be a better working theory to acknowledge the planets in our solar system were equally complex to understand if Earth is still being processed, categorised and understood on a fundamental level?
I also liked getting a small grasp of how the other planets keep our planet healthy – I knew there was more to the ‘order’ and ‘distance’ of the planets than what was being shared during my school years. For starters, nothing is coincidental – not in life and not in nature. There are reasons for everything even if we are not entirely clued into those reasons until a day of new understanding alights on our path, which doesn’t discredit there is a purpose for why things simply ‘are’. It was quite curious how the placement of the planets not only effect our planet’s health but they also, effectively alter how each of the planets can thrive in their own unique environments, too. Again, there is more to the world and the universe than what is generally understood. For starters, by what is being explained the very positioning of the other planets create a ‘fail-safe’ for Earth; an invisible protective shield for drawing objects away from us inasmuch as consistently influencing our weather and the cycle of living habitats.
Why Earth is a blessed place to call ‘home’:
Aside from contemplating the spherical dimension of the sky and the curvature of the Earth, I oft contemplated gravity and our inability to realise how gravity itself places such an important role in our lives. The absence of our daily visual observation of how we can walk, stand and run on solid ground is a credit to the hidden metrics of how gravity influences our way of life. However, there are other hidden factors which are indicators of how life on Earth is sustained and able to be generationally increased. Everything from our tilt to our cyclic seasons to how our girth and size allows us to be spread between different climatic zones.
Laughs. When Burger started to talk about ‘plate tectonics’, it reminded me about how my classmates nearly groaned about how I wanted to spend an incessant amount of time discussing the subject! Mostly the science behind this Earthbound marvel is why we study Volcanology and have a ready appreciation for earthquake science which is still in the rudimentary stages of being understood. Interesting new point of insight: plate tectonics re-release carbon dioxide! Now, why did my science teachers leave out that bit of fodder from our chats? It’s a system of purging a surplus of toxic gas if it were to be allowed to continue to collect in places where it’s unhealthy levels would start to interfere with the natural order of our world. Now that’s a new layer of insight past what influences volcanoes and earthquakes and the dynamic shift in topographical elevations!
Religion and Science:
As I have blogged about in the past, my pursuit of Science is from a girl who walks in faith. I am not the first nor the last person who has found common ground in pursuing Science without forsaking her faith. To me, to understand how the universe and Earth are in sync with each other is another extension of understanding the universal truths of where we live. It isn’t to takeaway from religion nor to fully embrace Science without faith; we each walk our own path and make our minds on how best to approach the larger questions which will always be present in our world. (see also Review) Burger adds his two cents on the subject and in effect, leaves the reader to decide where they stand which is the only way to leave it, truly.
One interesting point in this section of his Introduction is when he stipulated this:
But science is different; it is nothing more than a pragmatic way of trying to understand the world through carefully controlled experiments, the origin and elaboration of biodiversity are historical questions. In these instances we formulate historical scenarios and then seek evidence from nature to support or reject a given scenario. It’s very much like detectives trying to solve a crime.
-quoted from Complexity by William C. Burger with permission of the publisher
On this vein of thought, the study of Biodiversity is a funneling of retracing the history of the natural world in pursuit to understand where we are today. It is another way of knowing why our natural environment is changing and re-defining itself once more through geological evolution. It’s a mark of historical reference to better understand what happened in the past in order to continue to strive towards a better future.
Land and Sea Variants of Biological Life:
As Burger has concentrated his research and observations to terrestrial entities rather than oceanographic species, he does give a brief interlude about how the ocean is enriched by biodiversity if only as a footnote on the subject. The oceans account for 90% of the living sphere but they contain a radically reduce amount of living organisms when cross-compared to those living on land (ourselves included!). I have known about this for quite a long while – as I spent a bit of time during seventh grade in a different school than the one I hinted about earlier (where I adopted my first hamster). In the former school, where I had spent sixth grade as well; I had a wicked lovely science teacher who taught through experiments and encouraged us to have an independent mind. My second science teacher that year attempted this but fell short a bit due to angst stemming out of devastating budget cuts (ie. he lost all funding to keep his animals). In the first school, my teacher introduced a broad appreciation for the oceans, the currents and the cycle of how the oceans are controlled by the moon and tides. It was a wicked introduction but also, affirming by scale and design: this is when I realised how large 90% of anything truly is in proportion to geologic size. I was developing a healthy interest in oceanography, thermodynamics, geophysics, marine biology and paleooceanology with a small interest in climatology which would increase lateron.
This very readable overview of natural history explores the dynamics that have made our planet so rich in biodiversity over time and supported the rise and dominance of our own species.
Tracing the arc of evolutionary history, biologist William C. Burger shows that cooperation and symbiosis have played a critical role in the ever increasing complexity of life on earth. Life may have started from the evolution of cooperating organic molecules, which outpaced their noncooperating neighbors. A prime example of symbiosis was the early incorporation of mitochondria into the eukaryotic cell (through a process called “endosymbiosis”). This event gave these cells a powerful new source of energy. Later, cooperation was again key when millions to trillions of individual eukaryotic cells eventually came together to build the unitary structures of large plants and animals. And cooperation between individuals of the same species resulted in complex animal societies, such as ant colonies and bee hives.
Turning to our own species, the author argues that our ability to cooperate, along with incessant inter-group conflict, has driven the advancement of cultures, the elaboration of our technologies, and made us the most “invasive” species on the planet. But our very success has now become a huge problem, as our world dominion threatens the future of the biosphere and confronts us with a very uncertain future.
Thought-provoking and full of fascinating detail, this eloquently told story of life on earth and our place within it presents a grand perspective and raises many important questions.
Places to find the book:
Published by Prometheus Books
on 14th June, 2016
Format: Hardcover Edition
Available Formats: Trade Paperback & Ebook
Converse via: #Nature, #Conservation, #Biodiversity + #ScienceBooksRead More