Metamorphosis and Metastasis



Birdwing Butterfly

By Andrew Lim

Two big polysyllabic words. Nevertheless, it has made its way into mainstream use via different routes, one through early education, the other when illness strikes someone you know. Top of mind answer for metamorphosis is the butterfly, which starts as an icky itchyworm (sosyal for higad) and finishes as a work of art, beautiful to look at. Usual grade school biology stuff. For metastasis, it is a more closely defined condition arising from the spread of a disease (usually cancer) from the initial site to other parts of the body.

One signifies growth and improvement and movement from nice to good to great; the other signals dread and a dark foreboding. One leads to glory, the other likely leads to a denouement. Expanding its usage into the realm of society, a Third World country previously in the throes of poverty and injustice but have racked successive years of growth and made inroads in fighting corruption can be characterized as on metamorphosis mode. A metastasizing society on the other hand, can be described as discarding all notion of civility, losing trust in institutions, justifying the means by pointing to its ends. Care must be used however, in comparing a single organism like an insect or a human body to society as the latter is infinitely more complex. After all, society is composed of several organisms itself.

Metamorphosis uses what nature has given us – oxygen, water, sunlight and the nutrients from what we devour to continue one’s path to growth and development. You can’t get more natural than that. In building great societies: evidence based arguments, freedom of information with few restrictions. Robust institutions. Rule of law. Human development, not death-driven development. Consistencies in policy pronouncements. The admiration and pride of the community of nations.

On the other hand, metastasis introduces an alien (induced by a carcinogen for instance), tricks the host into multiplying itself that eventually leads to its destruction and death. Are lies, non-sequiturs, unfounded statements grabbed from Facebook and other social media the carcinogens of our time?

In literature and film study, we are lectured on the narrative arc, that gradual upwards slope which builds to that most anticipated state of all, until the lights are switched on again or the book cover is closed. The middle part is usually the best; no wonder in most trilogies the second part is the most applauded: Empire Strikes Back, Godfather 2, The Two Towers.

In the film “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, Pitt’s charcter is born as an old man that gradually transforms into an infant by the end of the film. He is Brad Pitt the handsome while his contemporaries are slowing and aging. The author’s genius is in showing to us how much of a gift our middle years are; and even if we reverse the aging process, both bookends of infancy and old age are the same- you are not in control, and your best has either come and gone or is yet to come.

Which leads us to the final question: is an old organism capable of metamorphosis? Emphasis on the word “organism” because we are discussing the progression of things in the natural world. An old car for example, can be remodeled and restored to showroom standards but it is not an organic process. It does not do it by itself.

The answer is a definite no. It is not in the natural order of things. Neurology shows us how our brain develops the equivalent of grooves in old vinyl records as we age; the diamond stylus keeps on treading the same path over and over again. It takes tremendous effort as well as self-awareness to produce new tracks.

And usually, we succumb to the carcinogens of pride, arrogance and apathy, human frailties we have had since mankind began.

39 Responses to “Metamorphosis and Metastasis”
  1. NHerrera says:

    Thank you for this blog. It is greatly relevant to our times. The thoughts associated with the blog relates well to what is happening to our dear earth-ship, the countries around the world and their people, with special relevance to our own country.

    One short trivial note. May not the word metamorphosis describe also the transformation from positive to negative instead of just signifying “… growth and improvement and movement from nice to good to great”?

  2. chempo says:

    A very apt topic of the day Andrew.

    Let’s hope the Philippines is’nt an Amorphophallus titanum, it morps into a huge flower once every 40 years, it then withers and dies.

    • NHerrera says:


      Your note made me google the period of the Romans from their metamorphosis to their metastasis, and the Wikipedia provides such a panorama:

      * Roman Republic — from 6th century BC to 27 BC
      * Roman Empire to the Western Component — 27 BC to 476 AD
      * Roman Empire to the Eastern Component — 476 AD to 1453 AD

      What a historical sweep: 20 centuries.

    • edgar lores says:

      Chempo, what a stinky analogy. 😉

    • James Sia says:

      That’s an awesome looking flower though.

  3. edgar lores says:

    1. I find the meaning of the root words interesting coupled with the prefix meta-, which means after or beyond.

    2. For me, the final question is open-ended. It depends on the individual

    2.1. Within life, the answer is a definite maybe. As we age, mental faculties decline along with bodily functions. Knowledge may decline, remain the same, or even increase, as the old fogies in The Society would attest. Accordingly, the latest studies in neuroplasticity would suggest that with increased learning comes growth in which the adult brain can regenerate throughout life.

    2.2. In the afterlife, the answer is also a definite maybe. We may metamorphose into angels. To be sure, some people we know won’t.

    • NHerrera says:

      Aah, what a welcome news of a link. There is still hope for old fogies like myself.

      • NHerrera says:

        A note on my posting of the image of the brain. I don’t know why but using an iPad tablet earlier, an older model, I didn’t get a copy of the link url of edgar’s link on brain plasticity. So I went via a copy of the jpg image and private posting at imgur and used its direct url to show the image.

        But using my laptop with Windows 10 I got the copy of the url link to the image — so I did not need imgur after all. (Note to edgar, does this show my brain is not as plastic?)

  4. andrewlim8 says:

    When I mentioned in my essay that “It takes tremendous effort as well as self-awareness to produce new tracks” , that includes the capacity to choose to do the right thing.

    To change, specially in issues involving moral choices at an old age requires tremendous effort, I believe. The road to perdition is so wide and smooth, so many just slide down.

    • NHerrera says:

      Last paragraph: I subscribe to that, but it is made easier if some sense of moral values has somehow made a foundation on the person early enough; and a sense of balancing things on important matters had become a habit.

    • edgar lores says:

      I agree with Andrew. I would add great courage.

      And I agree with NHerrera… with a caveat. I think Andrew is saying that it is difficult to change one’s moral values in old age. Unless. as NHerrera says, part of our moral values includes the impartial weighing of issues. This would be very rare?

      As an example of Andrew’s rule of thumb, I would cite the justices of the US Supreme Court who are tagged as liberal or conservatives and rarely stray from their orientations. And don’t forget the GMA-appointed justices of our own high court. The rarity in the latter would be Justice Carpio.

      • NHerrera says:

        Good example. It seems the admirable Sr Associate Justice Antonio Carpio has, besides having an exceptional brain, a very “neuro-plastic” one. I hope that the country can continue to use that brain well beyond his retirement on his 70th birthday, 26 October 2019.

  5. josephivo says:

    Is it this digital age that makes us think in binary terms? Metamorphosis or not, metastasis or not? Kill drug pushers or not?

    All has to do with degree. Poison does not exist, it is the amount that makes the poison. 10 liter of water at once can be lethal, a few atoms of cyanate doesn’t harm anybody. Is one civilian killed acceptable when you can eliminate 100 enemy fighters? Are 100 civilians killed acceptable when you can eliminate one ruthless enemy fighter? Where on this scale does collateral damage becomes acceptable? We all agree on collateral damage, we all differ on the acceptable degree.

    It gets more complicated as we have to factor in the confidence level of our prognosis. Is it 100% sure that we will kill one civilian or is it fifty/fifty or just do we have 1% chance? How do we calculate in probabilities?

    And it is proven that we are not consistent in our judgements. They depend on our state of mind. Softer when our stomach is full, more strict when we are hungry. Sometimes we prioritize the “deontology”, sometimes we prioritize the “utilitarian”, following the proper rules or evaluating the outcome. Our fast (emotional) brain looks at what is fair, what follows the rules, our slow (rational) brain looks at how to maximize the outcome.

    Different people are better at different approaches. Some are 100% emotional, 0% rational, others are 0% emotional and 100% rational, but most are somewhere in between. Where? That depends partly on out genes, the ease of creating some pathways, partly on our education, the development of some pathways, part on the environment or the availability of certain chemicals. Education involves parenting, schooling, culture, experiences…

    Metamorphosis from where to where, for what % of the population, how robust…. ? Metastasis in what degree, how harmful are the cells, is the spread facilitate by certain enzymes… ? General terms can serve as a start, to guide thinking, but we always have to beef them up to be useful.

  6. NHerrera says:


    For as long as we are on the subject of metastasis let me post this, subject to deletion of the post by the author of the blog topic according to the policy of da boss, the owner and administrator of the blog.


    Those who have gone through physics in High School or, for some, early College, may recall comfortably or uncomfortably those formulas or exercises which treats of linear motion involving time, distance, speed and acceleration.

    Well that same set of formulas can be used in the extermination of say diseased, contagious chickens. Suppose we have started a program of exterminating these chickens. We may have started slow but it has accelerated with success in the process. Relabeled, this linear motion formula may be written as

    E = RT + 1/2 AT^2 or its equivalent, using some algebraic manipulation, A = 2*(E – RT)/ T^2


    E = total number of chickens exterminated or eliminated In a period of
    T = number of days
    R = starting number of chickens exterminated on the first day
    A = acceleration in chickens eliminated per day per day. (Note that the unit of acceleration is given as items per unit of time squared. In linear motion its is say meters per sec squared or meters per sec per sec or simply m/s^2 in the nomenclature of physics)

    Suppose on the first day of the campaign, 10 such diseased chickens were exterminated, and after 75 days or 2-1/2 months 3000 were exterminated, then if we assume constant acceleration in the extermination, we have the acceleration rate using the second formula, the following acceleration rate,

    A = 2*(3000 – 10*75)/ 75^2 = 0.8 exterminated chickens/day/day

    Now let us do some extrapolation. Let us suppose that we have a program of extermination of these chickens. Assuming this acceleration rate (0.8 chickens exterminated/day/day) remains valid, we have, using the first formula, the following:

    After 6 months or 365/2 = 182.5 days,

    E = 10*182.5 + 0.5*0.8*182.5^2 = 15,148 chickens exterminated.

    After 1 year or 365 days,

    E= 10*365 + 0.5*0.8*365^2 = 56,940 chickens exterminated.

    After 6 years or 365*6 = 2190 days,

    E= 10*2190 + 0.5*0.8*2190^2 =. 1,940,340 chickens exterminated.


    * Clearly there are a lot of assumptions made in the exercise above.

    * If the estimated number of diseased chickens, say, after 6 years is 3.0 million, we are falling short of this target; our estimate comes to only 1.94 million.

    * More importantly, for the implementers of the program there may come a fatigue before half-way of the period is even reached, fatigue not remorse, because we are dealing here with diseased, contagious chickens.

    • edgar lores says:

      NHerrera, What? There is no provision for chickens that cross the road?

      • NHerrera says:

        Ah, for as long as the chicken crossing the road is not diseased, the chicken gets a pass. 🙂

        • edgar lores says:

          It’s possible some chickens were diseased but got rehabilitated enough to cross the road. It all depends on how they are treated, you see.

          Also, some panicked after seeing the first-year toll. They thought, “OMG, I better stop smoking this stuff!” 🙂

          • andy ibay says:

            Paumanhin po, sa pagiging palasingit because I am just partly a creature of experience dahil sa pinag aralan. I got only three units in Poultry Husbandry; Poultry husbandry 11. For a city boy it was really interesting to learn that one rooster is enough to copulate and make the eggs of 15 pullets fertile (not bugok), that chicken are known scientifically as Gallus gallus Linn; our wild Labuyo is Gallus bankiva; that chickens are not really chickens when cornered and will fight to the death anything to defend itself; that chicken balot and penoy could taste better than those of ducks and itiks.

            For their meat and for fattening it is best to caponize cockerels for food if not grown into cocks for fighting. We were required to caponize 2 cockerels by incision and picking out their testicles.

            As a fieldman working with farmers, poultry raisers and fishermen, I find it saddening to learn and visit poultry farms with thousands of chickens wiped out by infestation. In one farm visited harvesting chicken could fatten the dogs because those whose wings are broken are thrown to the guard dogs which ate them raw. I used to know how many chickens daily become Max chickens. Kentucky Fried Chicken occasionally get complaints because of the inhuman way they killed chickens. In western society there are also chicken rights as there are human rights.

              • andy ibay says:

                Thanks Mr. IBRS, nice. though it strikes me like it is a re-invention of tom and jerry. turning the tables by the mouse on the cat. creativity, commercial creativity even in the arts may or could pay more; Picasso and Renoir may have provided the examples that classic creativity in the arts pays a lot only long after they have passed. Any way the cartoons are truly entertaining and even de-stressing.

              • NHerrera says:

                Irineo: thanks for that series on Leghorn and other Looney Tunes cartoon. I cannot outgrow my love for cartoons. Andy is right. Great for relaxation — one great way to relax when wearied by the mental travails that confront us in the Philippines these days

    • chempo says:

      I used to sleep, I mean, sit, at the back of the class so now I cannot remember anything about the maths of kinetics. All I recall is kinetics formulae play arround with 2 basic formulae :


      Can’t remember what the letters all mean but now I think it’s something like this :
      a = assasins
      dv = Davao
      dt = Duterte
      v = violence
      ds = dead for sure.

    • Harry Tan says:

      Adding on these assumptions are:

      1. To be statistically valid and accounted for, some (or majority) of this exterminated chickens should be labeled with a cardboard “Infected chicken ako. Wag tularan.” Or, something else related. The cardboard is a must.

      2.1 Those chickens on the list of the poultry lord are already marked ‘infected’. The exterminators can apprehend/arrest them without chicken search warrant or chicken arrest warrant. They can also execute them on site especially when “nanlaban.”

      2.2 The assigned ‘exterminators’ can use the random selection on identifying these infected chickens. Without any regard for due process of chicken law.

      [May or may not add more to these further assumptions…]

    • Joe America says:

      NHerrera, may I post this on my Facebook? It will get a lot of reads, I think. And is powerful at dehumanizing the . . . well . . . extrajudicial killing of chickens.

  7. NHerrera says:

    Off Topic


    It is a topic which will never get out of fashion no matter the high-tech world that we live in. If I have to buy the latest high end smartphone based only on the spokesmen of the companies selling the phone, the matter of credibility of the spokesman comes to the fore. In fact, without being conscious about it, we go through the day subconsciously evaluating credibility of what we read and what we hear through the day.

    Comes now the matter of credibility of a witness before the Senate Committee on Justice. One may loosely say something which is fallacious — false in one, false in all — as offered by my erstwhile favorite Senator, Cayetano. It is fallacious for certainly if I utter ten items of math, say, two can be false but the other eight may not be.

    Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, Dean of San Beda Law School, from which President Duterte got his law degree, has an enlightening take on the matter of credibility of a witness in the following link.

    • Edgar Lores says:

      And what to make of the President’s silence? Does it affirm or deny the credibility of the Senate’s witness testimony?

      He cannot deny because he has affirmed links with death squads before.

      Neither can he affirm because he would have to — resign?

      He is in a zugzwang.

  8. Grasya says:

    I cannot understand why people always associate metamorphosis with butterflies. When the word was recently (oh but how long ago it seems) introduced into the Philippine political lexicon, the first thing that came to my mind was Kafka’s story. So I had no expectations.

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