Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Biology & Negative Space

I'm a scientist. I love order and logic and reason (even if I don't always employ them). I have a degree in Physics and a degree in Chemistry and have always regarded Biology as the illogical and unpredictable brother of "purer" sciences. Its a class you take because you have to, not because you want to.

So when I read that the Pyramid of Life, a construct by the biological community to explain biological order, has the smallest and simplest components located on the LARGEST and BOTTOMMOST layer of the Pyramid, it seemed a little backwards to me. Just a touch upside down.

And every higher and smaller layer also "contains" everything below and within it. So if the lowest and largest layer is subatomic particles, the next one up is smaller and is Atoms. And so on, up to the peak, which is the ecosystem as a whole. As you travel up the pyramid, you are increasing the degree of biological order. More stuff in less space!
Source: The Pyramid of Life Article

It sort of seems to me that an office building or an inverted pyramid would be more appropriate. Or a graph. Or something. Anything except having your smallest components on the largest layer.

So it seems that the biologists have inadvertently invented what I'm going to call Negative Space Biology - that is, the process of fitting an increasingly large number of organisms in a decreasingly small spatial representation.

The easiest explanation is that each layer is "built" upon the next. Atoms are built from subatomic particles and so on. And also, only those with extremely literal and physics oriented minds (like me) would be bothered by this.

Glad I got that out of my system.


  1. Hmmm....my understanding of it is that each layer is more inclusive but not neccessarily more ordered. A molecule could certainly (in my brain) be considered more orderly than an ecosystem with all it's interwoven elements. Though there are significantly more atoms on earth than ecosystems so maybe it's quantitative?

    Then again my text book says all cells come from living cells and then hypothosizes how life much have come from non-living matter spontaneously.

    Who needs the laws of physics anyway? I'm sure the current laws of thermodynamics didn't apply 6 billion years ago.

    "Its a class you take because you have to, not because you want to." - that's how I feel about Physics!

    1. I believe the actual term the book uses is "increasing biological order" and the molecular/atomic layers are referred to as chemical order.

      I'll take your physics class if you take my bio class...