On a Beach Walk: #71 (Homeostasis)

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I like walking the beach. It’s good for the mind, body, and soul – and refreshing on my feet.

Recently thinking about balance caused me to wonder toward a related word – a very important biological concept. A word that is often mentioned and defined in biology textbook’s Chapter 1 or 2 as an important term – then seldom resurfacing. Teachers knowing its importance will regularly reinforce the concept throughout the course. Textbooks stressing this important concept are rare, therefore outside the mainstream.

The word – homeostasis – isn’t one that pops into everyday conversation. We don’t hear it on the news broadcasts or read it in news articles. Homeostasis has probably appeared as a Jeopardy answer in the form of a question, but doubtfully as a full category.

Homeostasis is that word that many do not know, but one that people know examples while not associating the examples to the word. Homeostasis has to do with balance, but not in the same sense as the actions when trying to walk a railroad track or balance beam.

Although our body is constantly producing heat, homeostasis is that mechanism keeping our body temperature relatively the same by releasing heat. If the body temperature lowers, a homeostasis mechanism adjusts to keep heat in and possibly produce more heat. After all, have you ever shivered?

Because reptiles don’t have an automatic mechanism to regulate body temperature, they adjust by responding with behaviors –  sunning on a rock to increase body temperature, or seeking  cool shade or a hole in the ground to keep the body from overheating.

In order to maintain a body temperature, the organism must have senses to detect external and internal temperature, plus ways to transmit those information/signals to bring about a response to maintain the balance – that’s homeostasis.

We take in water – most commonly through food and beverages. Our cells also constantly produce water. Our blood, over 50% water, continuously passes through our kidneys, which constantly removes water from the blood so it is released from the body as the key ingredient in urine. That’s homeostasis.

Water moving in and out of our body – yet, a mechanism is in place to keep the water level within us relatively constant. Making us thirsty when necessary – retaining water when needed – eliminating the excess if necessary. That’s homeostasis.

Many cells have water continuously entering, yet they don’t explode from over-swelling because of a mechanism for removing water is in place. That’s homeostasis.

Plants take in water through their roots, but also release water through their leaves – so plants must have a mechanism for regulating the two. Who would have imagined a similarity our kidneys have with plants – That’s homeostasis.

All living things require constant energy to survive, and regardless if caught, prepared, or made themselves, that energy comes from food – That’s homeostasis.

Our cells are constantly using food from the blood to make the energy required to sustain life. After we eat, our digestive system prepares the food so cells can use it. The final products of digestion move into the blood from transport to the cells for their use or to storage cells for later use. Insulin plays an important role in maintaining the sugar level in the blood – that’s homeostasis.

Living things have many examples of homeostasis, and maintaining body temperature and water and food levels are a few examples – but there are many others.

Yes – homeostasis is an important concept in biology and in life because it is important to all living things – birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, single cells, insects, worms, sponges, jellyfish, clams, crabs, plants, and more – all living things.

My teacher side came out for this walk – but maybe my thoughts have given you something to think about. After all, I like walking the beach is good for the mind, body, and soul – and refreshing on my feet.

On a Beach Walk: No. 51 (Hearing)

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I like walking the beach. It’s good for the mind, body, and soul – and refreshing on my feet.

Hearing the sounds of the sea as I walk is relaxing. The sequence of the upswell at the start of the breaking waves to the clap of the crest’s splash to the shoosh gently fading away. I even hear the popping of the tiny bubbles as water caresses my feet.

That sound is repetitive and constant while dominating the beach’s soundscape – but both similar and different with each passing day.

Hearing – the only sense relying on vibrations. The shell of our outer ear captures the sound waves of the sea and then directs those waves that we don’t hear then to the eardrum – causing it to vibrate. – which causes the 3 bones of the middle ear to vibrate – yet we do not hear.

The vibrating bones cause another membrane to vibrate – which causes inner ear fluid to vibrate – then nerve endings specialized to a particular wavelength of sound detect the vibrations – yet we do not hear.

Nerves carry the detected messages to a specialized section in the brain that puts all the messages together into what we hear. Ahhhh … now I hear the sounds of the sea that I enjoy.

I think of the classic holiday song, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” because we apply our own perspective into interpreting sounds. What one enjoys, another may not.

Without hearing, sound is silence to the listener. They do not hear the emotions music conveys. They do not experience the sounds of nature. They cannot differentiate the soundscapes of the beach, the stream, the woods, and the meadow.

They do not hear the words of love, encouragement, support, enthusiasm, and wisdom. They do not hear the voice that gives one peace. On the plus side, they are protected from the political noise of partisan pickering, personal slander, and consistent vitriol.

I think of the animals in nature whose hearing mechanism is like ours – yet some are acutely more sensitive for protective purposes. Dogs have nerve endings for detecting frequencies beyond our upper range, so they painfully hear the dog whistle that we cannot hear. Deer, who detect a slight rustling of the ground caused by a seemingly quiet step by a human in the distance.

Hearing isn’t the same as listening. Some may say listening is sophisticated hearing. Listening is mindful attention to what is said. Listening is focusing on the spoken words, not on what to say in response. Listening is something we give someone – respect – a gift that connects us to others.

Listening stimulates our thoughts. Listening make one better. Listening leads to a great understanding. Listening connects humanity. Listening joins us with nature as we concentrate on the natural sounds while trying to apply meaning.

But, some favor being heard or hearing their own voice. Then again, maybe they simply favor telling over listening.

Hearing – a sense that we value – yet take for granted. Does listening to loud music through headphones at a high volume demonstrate a greater value for music than hearing? But what did I know then – or simply did I not listen to wisdom? Is this a reason for my hearing aids today?
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I have a choice when I walk. I can hear the wind or I can listen to it. Thinking about what the wind is saying or even letting the mind wander and wonder. After all, I like walking the beach because it is good for the mind, body, and soul – and refreshing on my feet.