The last thing a fish notices is water, or so the saying goes. I’m of the opinion that we are in some kind of bubble not unlike the housing bubble we just popped or the burst of the tech sector bubble a few years ago. This one, however, is exponentially larger and possibly feels more like what it must have felt for those people at the start of the Industrial Revolution in the later part of the 18th century. There are obviously various reactions that people go through in these transitional moments. Fear, excitement, a step back, paralysis, innovation, or denial to name a few. What will happen moving forward? I am not one hundred percent sure as it is hard to step outside of the bubble. It takes creativity and imagination. Indeed, I believe that right-brained people of this world may in fact be the new leaders of our future. Time will tell if my instincts were correct.
It is no shock when I say industrialized, consumptionized thinking is coming to an end. Moreover, the related and resulting climate change is the leveling factor that may spur this change quickly forward. We can no longer expect to make, consume and throw away. This way of life is simply not sustainable. This is especially true while the population is adding billions of new middle class that are trying to catch up with the rest of the industrial world. Some in this bubble are fearful or myopic and will not accept that this bubble is expanding to the point of maximum pressure. They don’t even see it. Others, with thoughtful leaders in companies and organizations such as Dupont, GE, Coke, various NGO’s, civil society and some scientists realize that climate change, and new ways of seeing system interrelation is occurring and are taking steps beyond the bubble. They realize that to survive and thrive in the future they must plan and create that future. I state all of this as a back drop for what I am to say next: If we are to thrive in the next stage of human existence and development it will be because we have carefully observed the environment as an interrelated system of connections, with us humans being one of those connections as opposed to “the” connection, and that we taken positive action to create sustainability. Nature, to which we belong, whether you believe it is of intelligent design or of chance, is the ultimate example. As it thrives, we thrive. As we cause all or any part of its demise, we will also destroy ourselves and those organisms and life around us.
So where, you might ask, does all of this fit into problem solving? I learned today that there may be particles of matter that travel faster than light. I also went to a small gathering where Amos N. Guiora, an expert on the Middle East and the son of two holocaust survivors, spoke about terrorism. I also happened by chance to read an article in a magazine that examined cell design. You may ask again what does this have to do with problem solving? My answer is this: Possibly everything.
When I read today that there was something that could possibly travel faster than light I stopped to ask myself, what else do we likely don’t know? That is always the more difficult part of the equation. You see, what we know tends to be more easy, comfortable, and stress-less. But, as we step out of our comfort level, or outside of the bubble if you will, we start to ask those less easy and possibly more stressful questions that take us to the next step. But with stress will come growth. As I have been contemplating systems in trying to see the big picture, I came to the conclusion that the rules of systems, like physics, that was possibly turned on its head today, should be able to be applied in both directions if the theory was to be consistent and able to stand up to scrutiny. In other words, I should also be able to go small and see consistency. That is why I decided to look at a cell.
I stumbled across an article in the May 2008 issue of Scientific American entitled, “How Cells Cleans House” written by Vojo Deretic and Daniel Klionsky. I do not make any claims to the discipline of biology. My 17 year-old daughter knows more than I do here. What I do know, to some degree, is problem solving. And what I find interesting is taking something from one discipline that appears to be unrelated and applying it to my discipline. It is called synthesis. Whether it is music and mediation or cell structure and problem solving, it helps me to understand the bigger system in which we live and hopefully create something new. So here is what I learned today about cells, terrorism, the speed of light and problem solving.
Inside a cell, as some of you know from high school, is what is known as the nucleus. Outside of the nucleus is cytoplasm, a jelly like place where vast amounts of other molecules and organelles live and carry on their daily business. This outside area or complex eventually becomes gummed up and creates excess garbage because of ongoing cell life and operations that the insides of these cells do. So, in order to do the cleanup a cell does a process of autophagy (Greek for self-eating– primarily through the use of phagophores that surround the garbage) to rid itself of sludge or old bits of garbage. This process also in turn acts as a defense against harmful viruses or bacteria that enter the system. When the process of autophagy runs too fast, slow or malfunctions the consequences can be dire. Crohns disease is an example of when autophagy runs too slow. Also, Alzheimer’s is a breakdown of autophagy. Some cancers occur if the autophagy process is too fast.
The world we live in has been in a make, use and throw away cycle for give or take 200 plus years. We have become gummed up. Our landfills are at capacity, or oceans are acidified, our atmosphere is polluted and are oceans are rising due to too much CO2 and melting ice. There are wars, intractable conflicts in the Middle East, a burgeoning middle class, depletion of nonrenewable resources and a lack of overall leadership that is not forward-looking and not based in truth. Our leaders are afraid to tell us this: We have to roll up our sleeves and work hard and sacrifice if we want any future. Autophagy is the cellular equivalent of mediation or problem solving and the continuous recycling of components. In problem solving, as in autophagy, we provide a defense against situations that enter the human system that could cause us harm. The key to effective problem solving, as in autophagy, is timing control. Too fast or too slow in either problem solving or autophagy can be equally as damaging. Controlling the speed of autophagy and problem solving is imperative.
Back to the cell. The autophagosomes, or the carriers of the garbage, then take this cargo of unwanted sludge to a lysosomes or a disposal plant. The useful pieces are recycled and the rest is digested and used as energy. Apparently, all of this systems work within the cell evolved from the need to survive. Several kinds of stresses most likely caused this type of action. Absence of growth, starvation, etc. all signaled to the cell to speed up its assembly of autophagosomes. Hence when nutrients are scarce autophagy intensifies.
Are we not in a need to survive mode and needing to evolve? The fact that a cell has learned to recycle, and use the excess as fuel is also telling. A smart forward looking business or industry and the problem solvers it surrounds itself with, should do the same should it wish to survive. The leaders of Coke, Dupont, GE and others have awakened to this fact and are actually teaming up with NGOs–something not even thought of a few years ago and seen as taboo– in an effort to progress to the other side of the bubble and thrive in the next phase of human and planetary development. Like autophagy, problem solvers and the smart creators of business in the future should also systematically evolve from a need to survive to be number one at any cost to a more systemic production and housecleaning function that is absolutely vital to the world.
Autophagy helps rid the cell of unwanted problems. For instance, proteins can sometimes be combined wrongfully within a cell, malfunction and wear out over time. It is up to autophagy to cull them or sequester them before it becomes a problem. When a problem occurs autophagy production is intensified. Should this example not be mimicked in our world as well? Something that Amos Guiora said tonight stuck in my mind. Although I do not claim to know all of his writings and a couple of things he said tonight I would question as overly provocative and not necessary helpful in problem solving, I found him to be extremely articulate, well read, and thought stimulating. A portion of what he said indicated that counter-terrorism should take on two tracts. One was the soft approach and the other was the hard approach. I believe what he was trying to say is that the soft approach would be the building of schools, hospitals, roads, reconciliation, mediation, and problem solving of all types. The hard approach was war, and targeted assassination. Although I find myself in the first category as a problem solver, cells, after autophagy has failed also induce apoptosis (known as the angel of death) for the greater good of the organism. In this process, malignant cells or structures within a cell are removed to make room for newer more robust cells or structures. Again, I am a problem solver and am not suggesting apoptosis as a way to solve problems. In fact, autophagy can possibly be controlled to an extent that apoptosis is rarely needed.
Faulty mitochondrion can wreak havoc if it sets off apoptosis at the wrong time. A mini flaw in a small part of one cell can lead inadvertently to the death of the entire cell. Autophagy is the fail safe mechanism against this type of mistake. They can resolve the issues of the damaged mitochondria. Mitochondria can release what’s known as reactive oxygen species or ROS. If these levels are kept under control by antioxidants that scavenge ROS then all is well. If however, the antioxidants do not maintain control and ROS gets out of control, then it becomes a cancer threat. Once again, autophagy steps in by removing the dysfunctional mitochondria. The process can switch from cleanup with autophagy or to death with an apoptotic decision for the benefit of the cell and the organism in which is resides. Again, I am not suggesting death as an alternative, but I find it interesting that autophagy, and in our case of the metaphor, problem solving, is given such a heightened job to remove dysfunction.
In some diseases like HIV and legionnaires disease the disease or virus has learned how to use a autophagy to its own benefit and instead kill the cell and organism as a whole. The disease HIV does so for example by appearing to shed its shell and inducing the autophagy to come in. When it does enter apoptosis is kicked in and the process of clean up ceases. So here is the problem solvers dilemma: Beware that you do not become a pawn in the play of the imposter who wishes nothing more to use you. Think Hitler in his use of Chamberlain. Perhaps for the good of the organism and the system as a whole this is the disease that must be cut off and sequestered until it regains healthy status, if ever.
Scientists are just beginning to understand our cellular system and the learning of controlling it by promoting or inhibiting autophagy. Problem solvers everywhere are in the process of evolving and learning to help clean house. Becoming systemic, more prevalent, and controlling the rates of engagement within the field of problem solving in order to clean our house will likewise be key. Being engaged in systemic thinking holds great promise for our future.
Oh, I failed to mention my thoughts about the new theory that there are particles faster than the speed of light. Einstein, possibly still thinking in some other dimension, is probably beyond this new idea and has come to the relative conclusion that “thought” is faster than light. If I am right, you just proved it on the other end of my thought.