Essay 52. A Supper with Birds and Planes
Essay 52. A Supper with Birds and Planes
1. BIRD WATCHING
I am not an expert in any of the areas I am going to touch upon in this Essay.
My position can be compared with that of a train spotter or plane spotter, none of whom is expected to be a pro in railways or aviation. Even a birdwatcher is not expected to be an ornithologist, although some experience with binoculars may be required for this kind of hobby.
I once felt myself a birdwatcher when I had rushed to the ocean front to watch gannets, rare visitors to Rhode Island coast. The large birds spend all their lives among the waves, settling on the ground only for nesting. A day before I had no idea this bird existed. Announced by a local newspaper, it just came into my view from its usual northern habitat separated by geographical distance from my own.
But what is distance? Even in space it can fluctuate, all the more in time.
Abstract combinatorial space is the third kind of distance.
A child can look more after one parent than the other, a US President can show a startling similarity to a somnolent Russian leader of the bygone era and the gannet still looks to me, an occasional bird spotter, closer to
to the albatross than to the pelican, although the ornithologist knows that gannets and pelicans are closer relatives than gannets and albatrosses.
Birds are also closer to airplanes than to sewing machines and seaweed. The planes not only are born to fly but also look somewhat similar to the birds. Is there an abstract space to accommodate both gannets and albatrosses but also the planes?
Of course, we can put all three in the category of flying objects, but that would completely obscure their origin and relation regardless of how we, humans, see it and more the way we see the relations between aquatic birds.
To put them into the same system, we need a taxonomic unit above kingdom. I will call it sphere, following the ideas of Vladimir Vernadsky (1883-1945), who saw the planet Earth as a union of at least three apparently concentric spheres: geosphere (minerals), biosphere (life), and noösphere (human reason). The spheres developed consecutively, changing the earlier ones. Thus, life created soil and oxygenated atmosphere on the previous geosphere.
None of the three terms was invented by Vernadsky, but his entire vision of the subject (and the subject itself, still undefined and undeveloped today) retains its grip on the imagination of many modern thinkers.
In APPENDIX 2 I present some excerpts from Vernadsky's only widely known paper (1943), translated into English in 1945 by his son George Vernadsky, an American historian. His entire published heritage, over 400 titles, is little known outside Russia where his name is today surrounded by a hype.
Vernadsky supported the idea of J.D. Dana (1813-1895) , the contemporary of Charles Darwin, who wrote about "cephalization" of the world as a definite direction in the evolution of life. Vernadsky, however, quite naturally, believed that the noösphere was the last stage in the evolution of planet Earth as a whole.
NOTE: I don't think we could be sure about anybody's version of the end of history. I see two options: convergence of humans and machines and divergence and competition between them. The two options are, strangely, compatible in a version of the coexistence of humanized machines and machinized people or in a coexistence of the "converted" ones and the primitive old stock humans derisively called renaissanceniks, or rens for short. We can see both trends today. Actually, they are very old. Slavery was the first experiment in machinization of humans, maybe even older than domestication of working animals.
following table Taxonomy of two flying species,
I tentatively expand the classification of objects in the
spirit of Vernadsky's idea that there is only one single
process of evolution on planet Earth and it proceeds in a
definite direction. This evolution, as I see it, is
probably the least explored among the most important
phenomena on earth. As always, I stay away from
theories and, like Vernadsky himself, prefer the
illustrative way of approaching the entire realm of large
complex evolving systems (X-systems or exystems).
NOTE: The sphere of infos can also be included into the unified taxonomy, as the following makeshift example illustrates:
Infos — abstraction — property — position — time — movement — active — aviation (flying).
The above Table illustrates a very simple and not new idea that both man-made things and living organisms have a deep underlying similarities that place them together as forms of generalized life. The similarities are:
1. Technos and bios (things and organisms) reproduce and multiply.
2. Information for reproduction is coded and linearized into a string of symbols. Since the advent of digitalization of information, the digital code for technos is as universal as the nucleotide code for bios.
3. The code changes by random mutation and/or planned recombination (now for bios, too).
4. The generalized life is an open non-equilibrium system.
5. Technos and bios are generalized life forms competing for limited resource of matter and energy.
The intricate webs of relations between very different and distant species inhabiting the same territory are well known. We are also aware of complex relations between humans and the rest of living organisms. The antagonistic relations between birds and planes—and drones and planes—at the airports are just one example.
Appropriating the above intellectual platform, the question about the relation between humans and things is natural and it has been posed many times. Since Technos has not yet been known for recording its own history, human history is the only and probably biased source of facts.
The recent book The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900 by David Edgerton (Oxford University Press, New York, 2007) is an example of a contrarian interpretation of indisputable facts.
2. HISTORY WATCHING
History watching is my hobby.
History has been compared to the train, probably, as much for its propensity to be derailed as for the deadly crushing power. Today history may just drop from the skies in the form of a large passenger plane. Or a flock of them. It can also sprout from long ago contaminated soil.
It is unnatural to draw a parallel between the appearance of the brisk beautiful gannets at Rhode Island shores and the flight of the suicidal and murderous planes on September 11, 2001. There is neither science nor religion to view both in the same frame of reference. The harmless (for us, not the fish) gannets had existed, probably, for millions of years, while the hijacked planes ... but wait a minute! they had existed too, as political species, and they came from the past, too, as a product of a long evolution. After 9-11, hundreds of experts traced the evolution of suicidal terrorism as far back as the story of Samson and Delilah.
The difference, nevertheless, is fundamental: the gannets came from the past and distant present, while the planes came as omens from the future. Poetic imagination, unlike science and religion, can accommodate both, which I have just done without even writing an inevitably shallow for such a subject poem.
3. FOOD WATCHING
This Essay is neither about terrorism, nor about ornithology, nor even about poetry. It is about something that had existed only in my imagination, until I saw, just recently, the first sign of the future as real as a bird or a plane.
The sign came in the form of a bunch of news about the emerging controversy. Here we have to descend from the skies not onto the waves but on a firm and cluttered ground.
The energy crisis and the looming exhaustion of mineral oil resources have drawn attention to the so-called alternative fuels, of which ethanol is the most common, well known, and widely used. The terrain is tricky, messy, and labyrinthine because the fundamental terms, such as energy, work, temperature, and chaos, neither have a single standard definition nor can have it in principle because there is nothing more fundamental to refer to. To start with definitions for fundamentals means to get lost in circular motion.
Ethanol, CH3CH2OH, i.e., alcohol, (ethyl alcohol, to be precise) is one of the most ancient chemical companions of human culture, as well as vulgarity. It is produced by fermentation of various natural sources containing simple sugars: from grape juice to mare's milk. Wheat, barley, rice, potato, and corn contain almost no sugars (they are not sweet) but have a lot of starch, a polymeric form that can be easily split into sugars and fermented. The main component of all dry plants is cellulose. It is more difficult to split cellulose into simple sugars than starch, although a non-chemist would hardly see a difference between their chemical formulas.
NOTE: In chemistry sugars are a class of substances, not the crystals in the sugar bowl, which are sucrose.
The metaphorical albatross of alcohol comes as a good omen but imposes the choice—or balance—between using corn for alcohol as a gasoline substitute and using the same corn for food.
An economist could see the situation as a new arena for the intervention of the invisible hand of market, but I see it as the first real ring for the competition between Things and humans for food. Moreover, it is a manifestation of a new emerging taxonomy in which we have no choice but to place food and gasoline into a higher classification unit: source of energy, for which I see no obvious single word term, but fuel could be a kind of compromise. Both are, thermodynamically and chemically, fuel: stuff that oxidizes to produce energy.
Human food is a source of both energy and nutrients, i.e., matter, while gasoline is just fuel, although it could be an industrial source of matter, too. Chemically, polyethylene and gasoline are much closer than chimpanzee and human. Corn is used by humans and animals as a source of energy rather than nutrients because carbohydrates, the major component of corn, are present in animal organisms in very small quantities.
Liver contains a limited amount of important starch-like substance glycogen that serves as a kind of energy cash on hand for emergency use.
Therefore, I would accept the term fuel for the taxonomic unit comprising both food and mineral fuel. Fat and oil of animal and plant origin are also the source of energy more than of nutrients. Cars can run on used frying oil. It looks strangely, but the term oil in English would also serve as the family name for food and mineral fuel. The Greek term for work, ergon, would fit all languages, except, maybe, Greek, because food and fuel, or, in physical language, the free energy (confusing term for energy convertible into work) is what keeps humans and machines working.
Gasoline, however, is already a hidden component of corn. Food production and transportation requires a lot of fuel just for mechanical movement of tractors and trucks. In a sense, we drink not just milk, juice, wine, and beer, but also gasoline and diesel fuel.
The current dilemma—how to feed our civilization—is well recognized and I have nothing to add to the discussion.
The current energy crisis—the global firestorm ignited by the Industrial Revolution and windblown by the distinctly biotic drive of Technos to grow and multiply—is a rare opportunity for the next generation to watch one of the most radical evolutionary events on earth. Indeed, the end of mineral fuel is for industry like a dimming of the sun for global flora. What is going to happen is really hard to predict, especially if the effects of global warming add up to the boiling politics.
Intuitively—although I believe it can be demonstrated scientifically—I can see in the future the autocratization (opposite of democratization) of developed societies, which can be illustrated by the following visual metaphor of the independence landscape, Figure 1.
After my WW2 childhood, decades of Soviet scarcity, and prison years, food has for me an aura of sanctity even though I have never experienced hunger other than of my own intent. I have a physical sensation of committed sin when I see destruction of food and I instinctively try to prevent it for as long as possible or at least to feed the remnants to other living creatures. I have a good reason to believe that my attitude toward food is shared by millions, if not billions of other people. In 2002, one billion of people (20% of population) lived on $1 a day.
Possible global restructuring as result of
Top: schematically, bottom: metaphorically. Each peak means an independent self-governing subsystem . Source of the mountain landscape. (Norway)
4. SHARING FOOD WITH MACHINE
Today we are nudged by the forces of history to reconsider our menus and start feeding our cars and machines with human food, washing down our own burgers with gasoline. In our times of religious craze, especially in America, what should we think about the delicately expressed, but in essence stern message: You should earn your food by the sweat of your brow? Not by mineral oil? Not by money? Not by birthright?
The new dilemma, therefore, is: Should we share our food with machines?
Note my chauvinism: I don't question our right to drink gasoline.
This looks like an extension of the omnivore's dilemma in the sense Michel Pollan posed it in his book The Omnivore's Dilemma. The dilemma of the global community of species is also more in the sense of Vernadsky. He, however, omitted Technos from his global picture, probably, because he identified it with reason and saw as a part of noosphere. Regardless of any detail, his main idea remains convincing: each new evolutionary layer over the initial prebiotic geosphere changes the older layers.In purely symbolic fashion, without any serious analysis at this point, I envision the evolution of geosphere as a sequence of splits, Figure 2 .
We are used to share our food with strangers and friends. Bios (life), Infos (reason), and Technos (Things) are the three competitive residents of planet Earth with complicated and confused relationships with us, quarrelsome humans whom I call Ethnos, experimenting with terminology.
The era of worshiping the so-called progress, when nature with its creatures and minerals, reason with its quest for truth and justice, and technology with its inventions, medicine, and weaponry—so awesome that war becomes unthinkable—all serving homo sapiens, seem to be losing steam. Progress becomes a business term.
Modern Islamism is an example of how small groups of people in command of germs, chemicals, ideas—radical, as well as traditional—and the latest material embodiments of progress can successfully pursue the quest for destruction of large groups of people and machines by using a human being as a machine. The modern and futuristic medicine promises an even deeper than surgery intervention into the biological nature of a human being by treating it as a machine by methods of molecular engineering.
What are the man-made machines? Aren’t we machine-made machines, at least in part? Just look at our possessions in closets, basements, and garages.
I tried to answer this question from a point of view that was probably not new, but I had nothing to refer to in terms of the modern picture of the world. There must be something in the literature, but I am just not aware of it. I know that the doubt and suspicion regarding technology have never been completely erased from human subconsciousness and from time to time they surface in honest or speculative appeals.
NOTE: Langdon Winner regards technology as a form of life, which is not the same as life form. By form of life he, apparently, understands the way of human life that is imposed by technology on humans, as TV exemplifies. I completely subscribe to his questions and doubts addressed to progress in The Whale and the Reactor and subsequent publications (Are humans obsolete? ), but I regard technology rather as a life form, i.e., a taxonomic unit, a kind of "super-kingdom" of "meta-life," for the lack of more elegant terms in the untidy slums of modern professional vocabulary.
Are we going to design and build circumstances that enlarge possibilities for growth in human freedom, sociability, intelligence, creativity, and self-government? Or are we headed in an altogether different direction? (The Whale and the Reactor, p. 17)
I believe that the pronoun we in evolutionary context today can mean only we: humans, Things, organisms, and ideas.
In APPENDIX 1 I assembled quotations from my Essays and other Web publications in order not to repeat myself in the main text.
Here I simply refer to what I consider a confirmation of the main thesis: technology becomes an independent player in betting on the global fate, a kind of China and India, never being taking seriously until recently. We all compete for fuel: the China of people and the China of machines.
It is my next intriguing problem: what is the thermodynamics of ideas?
I could stop here, but I am tempted to add some general considerations regarding thermodynamics and kinetics of history.
5. THE RUNNING EVENTS
The controversy of feeding machines with corn has given me the first evidence that competition between humans and Things as different taxonomic spheres has already in progress.
NOTE (2016). Things are competing with humans for space, energy, human time, attention, companionship, love, and procreation. Human personal secrets can be seen more important than human life, as follows from the Apple-FBI encryption controversy. Drones and “Internet of things” promise new sources of strong insecurity. Things compete for high ranking among human needs, promoting exchanging megabytes of gratuitous messages and pictures.
encouraged as discouraged by that, I am trying to
formulate here my point of view, the only possible merit
of which is that it is coming from a chemist.
In chemistry, when two different transformation start with the same initial molecule, the fastest transformation determines the outcome in the short run. It is called kinetic control. For example, if A can change into B faster than into C , the fast transformation quickly reduces the concentration of A available for the transformation into C. The rate of chemical reaction is always proportional to the product
of concentrations of all participants in the act of the transformation, in our case, just single A, which is a limited resource. If A was an unlimited resource, B and C would form at different but constant rates. The fastest transformation depletes the resource of A available for the alternative path, so that the formation of C becomes negligible. Chemistry has to deal with competition in its simplest kinetic (i.e., speed-dependent) form, which is wide spread in business, politics, war, sports, and personal life. The fastest wins.
In a track and field run, the outcome depends on the abilities of the runners and not on their interactions. In a chemical run, however, when two chemical transformations of the same substance run concurrently, the faster one kind of sucks out stamina from the slower one.
Earlier I (and, I am sure, quite a few professional economists) connected the declining birth rate in developed and even some developing countries with the competition between children and Things for the parental resources of time and money. You have to pay the stork for the baby with a credit card and a missed TV show. It is difficult, however, to prove it without a serious research, of which I am not aware at present. The fact is that economic progress slows down the birth rates. Things eat people.
I have mentioned the kinetic control, but the outcome of a chemical transformation in the long run (although it is questionable whether modern history has a long run at all) is determined by the thermodynamic control.
I dislike the term thermodynamics if used outside exact sciences. It is perfectly valid there, but implies by its very sound that it is not. I don't see any more universally important knowledge than thermodynamics, however.
Thermodynamics tells what is going to happen in indefinite time, although it usually happens much sooner than eternity: the closed (isolated) dynamic system comes to the most stable state and shows no tendency to move from it. “Dynamic” means that there is a lot of motion in a system. Motion, in turn, means that there are moving components that interact with each other and exchange energy (“share food with poor strangers” sounds more human) until the total energy of the system comes to a minimum.
Thermodynamics of closed systems is of little use if we deal with large complex systems such as society, ideology, culture, technology and running events in them. They not only contain severe limitations on what can interact with what—USA and Iran are an example—but are also able to remain in unstable states for as long as they interact with a source of energy and matter. The Iraq war is another unfortunate example, devouring cannon fodder, fuel, food, and money, all duly dispensed from the rich nation of ours, so rich, that we do not even notice the war on our table.
The Iraq War is an excellent illustration of the kinetic versus thermodynamic control. It had been for some time victorious due to the kinetic effect, until the thermodynamic effect took over. A steady state of attrition is unfavorable for the West because of the incomparable advantage of the insurgents and the historically fatal catatonia of the politically split system.
NOTE: Kinetics should not be set off against thermodynamics: everything is thermodynamics, but kinetics adds an additional—and quite commonsense—assumption regarding the transition state: nothing happens in an instant and something does not happen at all..
The second illustration of the generalized thermodynamics is the story of the collapse of the Soviet empire. The kinetic effect of the Yeltsin revolution soon ended with the gradual retreat toward the steady state of thuggish authoritarian policy. It may seem paradoxical, but Russia is today more thuggish exactly because it is more free and independent.
The reasons for the events in Iraq and Russia have not yet been convincingly researched, but they certainly have something to do with the unavoidable self-destructing side effects of power.
The third example is hypothetical: both China and India are in the kinetic stage and the prospects of the thermodynamic phase are more troubling for China because of its peculiar history, demographics, and power structure.
The fourth example is the history of nuclear energy in the West: kinetic enthusiasm, equally kinetic rejection, and the current stage of recognizing thermodynamic reality. Can we expect the renaissance of horse power? At least among the renaissanceniks?
The Internet could be the fifth story of the Iraq type: triumphal victory, unprecedented exposure to crime, attack, and abuse, and the long painful way toward thermodynamic safety (steady state of loss compensated by insurance), never fully ensured.
On Malthus, see APPENDIX 3
On the future, see APPENDIX 4
APPENDIX 1. Things and humans
Excerpts from Essays and publications in complexity
NOTE (2006): With the exhaustion of energy, water, and soil resources, global society could be expected to scale down its freedom and complexity and enter the stage of involution The recent slowdown trend in population growth and the prospect of depopulation reveals a counteracting factor. This rises the question of
future global and local social patterns in the world where human creations
compete with humans for resources in the increasingly dehumanized world. (p. 439)
I personally believe that today man-made things are the dominating component of the new civilization, money shines as the eternal Sun, and the human being is more faber than homo, more enzyme than DNA. If the resources of mineral fuel are depleted, sun-powered Things have an evolutionary advantage over heavy, errant, and voracious humans who, with their liquid-filled heads, will remain as a source of chaos necessary for further adaptation through mutating social DNA. Biosphere, formerly dominated by life, then by social life, then by exploding ideas, turns into technosphere (p. 44).
I prefer a version of Darwinism in which selection through local mutations and global homeostasis of the entire system (punctuated equilibrium) are complementary and inseparable. As a momentous example, local decisions lead to the global decline of the birth rate as result of competition between children and things:
“Cars and children share at least one thing in common: they are expensive, particularly so in urban surroundings.” B. Wattenberg, Ben J. 2004. Fewer: how the new demography of depopulation will shape our future. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, p. 31
Essay 4. On new overcoats
All this techno-life (Technos, as I would call it) had to be fed with energy, installed, inspected, repaired, disposed of, and exchanged for new and improved species, genera, families, etc., as well as advertised, promoted, sold, insured, and defended from the competing species, genera, families, etc., and provided with well paid, qualified, educated, healthy humans to run all that. Moreover, science and industry could now manufacture and package human health in quantity and quality unheard of before. That was a product of unlimited demand, so that more qualified, educated, etc., etc., ..... to oversee species, genera... etc., etc.
While Things raised productivity—which has been a major justification for their invasion—they acquired a remarkable property of brevity of life. Each new invention and improvement made them obsolete within time essentially shorter than human life. Old Things had to be dumped because old age became a liability for both humans and new Things. The Things lost their traditional resale value. Some very old Things went up in price, but only if they had been practically extinct.
Essay 6. On the Yahoos, or Apologia of Samuel Butler
I do not believe in any Luddite assault on technology. I believe, though, in the war of humans against the species of technology that take away their freedom and privacy, the war in which humans are the most likely losers. I believe that we live in times of a starting divergence between the evolutionary branches of man-made Things and humans. Divergence means competition.
Emerson, unlike Butler and all subsequent detractors of technology, did not mean technology per se, but the Things in general, i.e., the objects of manufacturing and exchange. This seems the most general approach to the evolution of a society that is not exclusively human anymore. By the Things I mean everything for sale, including cars, food, hotel services, movies, government (meaning not corruption but the fact that we pay for it), and even ideas that are becoming Things because of ever widening concept of copyright. Even our personal data and preferences are becoming Things for sale when we disclose them to companies in exchange for some miserable benefit.
Humans legally represent Things, like the abolitionists represented the slaves, parents represent children, and special interest groups represent whales, redwood trees, guns, breast, and colon.
Essay 32. The Split
My general point of view is that the biological evolution is not sufficient to cover the entire evolution of humans. Someday we will have to add Technos (Things) to the evolutionary tree of civilization and, at some point, to record the split between the humans and the Things.
In other words, we can anticipate a new powerful tree of Technos branching off the three of biological life at the point of appearance of humans. The entire tree of evolution will suddenly change its meaning. Biological life will be perceived as just one form of meta-life.
Essay 34. On Loss
Imagine a space traveler who came to Earth from another Galaxy to compare his/her/its observations with those of another traveler who had visited the planet 3000 years earlier. The major observable change would be an immense expansion of all earthly man-made Things.
For the last ten thousand years, the humans have not acquired an extra eye or finger. The evolution of their Things, however, has been explosive.
Technos has populated the Earth in an insect-like abundance, but with much more variety. The kingdom of Things ranges from the pyramids and the inimitable cathedrals made of stone—the oldest and largest survivors—to countless copies of the same design, for example, paper napkins. Technos supports a huge taxonomy of hierarchically arranged species, genera, families, orders, classes, phyla, kingdoms, and domains. Its abundance has been recorded in books, paintings, and films, which are also Things, as well as in the existing Things and old Things kept in museums.
Essay 40. Through the Dragonfly Eye
The ideology of Communism, therefore, was only a derivative of the ideology of production. It is a very unsettling idea.
The Soviet industrial machine was a lousy, inefficient, and bleak prototype of the future, a macabre toy of evolution. Its very poverty, however, was a solution for a scenario of depleted resources of energy.
Heavy, fleshy, vulnerable, gluttonous, hedonistic humans, who need food and water, have no chance in competition with the chips subsisting on solar energy, even if they engage in sex from dawn to dusk, clone themselves by hundreds, and combine it with watching the silicone entertainment. The billions will have to die, like the billions of acorns falling from the oak trees, of hunger, thirst, and war: before the birth.
The Pandora box of industrial growth, to which we owe our freedom, wealth, and comfort, seems to be one of a few (if not the only one) really new, new evolutionary drawers. In fact, it is part of a more general drawer of biological growth. Life is growth through replication and it leads to competition, and competition leads to evolution. A population or a large taxonomic unit (species, genus, family) may survive for a long time because it is not a single organism. A tightly built social mechanism with only one brain, heart, and blood circulation is doomed as any single organism. This is why the single Soviet social organism died, spilling its genes into a pile of rusty but enthusiastic little screws.
Essay 42. Credentials and Credo
The things (i.e., Technos: life forms based on technology instead of biochemistry) may have an evolutionary advantage over wasteful, expensive, and prone to malfunction humans. When humans and things begin to compete for resources, the situation may resemble a version of the war of the worlds.
With modern digital technology we have created an invasion of unusual aliens. Things and us are moving toward the joint digital genetic code but still have different means of its expression. As result, we, humans, are becoming more thingish, programmable, intellectually downsized, standardized, reined in by debt, and controlled, while things become more human, sly, devious, and they develop their representation in the government. The US Government represents things and humans, while the ratio of priorities constantly moves toward the prevalence of things. At the same time the tribal societies fuse humans with weapons, creating the most apocalyptic approximation of the invasion of aliens. The old European societies are under the double pressure from both.
Essay 46. Postmodernity: Postmortem for Modernity
We are a symbiotic life form. In this sense we are similar to lichens consisting of fungi and algae or some crabs living on a mollusk shell. We remember ourselves as homo sapience since we started using tools and fire.
We are the talking and manufacturing primates (Homo faber) in symbiosis with technology. For about a century, but especially in recent decades, this symbiosis has been increasingly turning into a fusion, at least in the West . We are as inseparable from technology as the crab from its shell. In America, we cannot exist without a car, except in the cities, and we cannot even give natural birth in 30% of the pregnancies. Medicine develops into maintenance and repair engineering.
In most of the world we procreate less and less, given the choice between children and less demanding and ostensibly subservient products of technology. The things multiply incomparably faster than humans. They use a digital code, which is a counterpart of organic DNA, and do it in more efficient ways than we who are unable to function without daily food, water, and night sleep.
The things obliquely vote in elections, without going to the polls, and citizens can forgive the government anything but the collapse of production that sustains them. This is what we consider the twentieth century civilization and the postmodernity is in no way different.
Initially an extension of animal limbs, technology has been moving closer toward the classical biological kingdom. Domain could be a good term for the four levels above kingdom—life, society, Technos, and ideas—for which the reproducible and convertible into digital form codes exist.
The species of Technos—from a toothbrush to the giant EMS Queen Mary 2—have acquired a digital code, similar to RNA and DNA of biological forms. Not only the clones can be expressed (brought to existence) from the coded message at appropriate conditions, but also mutants and recombinants. Moreover, many aspects of human behavior can be codified in a digital form, as in the infamous US Tax Code, the Queen Mary 2 of American bureaucracy.
The natural hereditary codification of behavior is an ancient biological feature, which in humans took a new form as the laws of Hammurabi, Bible, Talmud, Confucius, and Koran. Separated from human bodies and put on stone tablets and paper, some of the codes engaged in an independent and vigorous evolution, while others have been dragging their feet.
The digitized technology, previously completely controlled by human minds, moves toward more independence and even competition with humans. We depend much less on the weather than on the stock market indexes. Our life runs under the despotic ticking of the clock and the menace of the neo-Hammurabi codex of schedules and contracts with severe punishment for a breach.
Essay 51. Potato as Food for Thought
I regard man-made Things as a new big component of the system called planet Earth. Technos, or technosphere, in the Vernadsky tradition, is thought to be brought to existence by human desires.
I see in Technos a new super-kingdom of life or, to be more exact, a separate evolving complex system, on par with living organisms and human society. I am sure that today Vernadsky would separate it from the noosphere, but he died in 1945.
As animals diverged from plants and humans later diverged from animals, the things have been diverging from humans since the appearance of digital code, the thingish equivalent of genetic code.
Here we come back to Michael Pollan, a writer with interests comprising a very big chunk of EVERYTHING. I believe that Things use humans as much as humans use Things. I believe they desire each other as much as plants and humans. They can also hate each other. I believe that the belt of the suicide bomber is the killer as much as the bomber himself. More important, Things can compete for resources, and not just space, energy, and matter: the most strained and hopelessly limited resource in our times is time itself.
I believe that the Things with stored digital blueprints are the newest really big historic evolutionary cigar- , peapod-, lens-, or torpedo-shaped trend after the Industrial Revolution (Figure 13). They have been moving to the same position of domination that the humans are used to in relation to organisms and things. They take good care of those who takes care of them. They are our gardeners.
APPENDIX 2: Vladimir Vernadsky
Excerpts from Biosphere and Noosphere, http://www.21stcenturysciencetech.com/Articles%202005/The_Noosphere.pdf
The younger contemporaries of Darwin, J.D. Dana (1813-1895) and J. Le Conte (1823-1901), both great Americans geologists (and Dana, a mineralogist and biologist as well) expounded, even prior to 1859, the empirical generalization that the evolution of living matter is proceeding in a definite direction. This phenomenon was called by Dana "cephalization," and by Le Conte the "psychozoic era."
Here a new riddle has arisen before us. Thought is not a form of energy. How then can it change material processes? That question has not as yet been solved. As far as I know, it was first posed by an American scientist born in Lvov, the mathematician and biophysicist Alfred Lotka.
At present we cannot afford not to realize that, in the great historical tragedy through which we live, we have elementally chosen the right path leading into the noosphere. I say elementally, as the whole history of mankind is proceeding in this direction. The historians and political leaders only begin to approach a comprehension of the phenomena of nature from this point of view. The approach of Winston Churchill (1932) to the problem, from the angle of a historian and political leader, is very interesting.
Now we live in the period of a new geological evolutionary change in the biosphere. We are entering the noosphere. This new elemental geological process is taking place at a stormy time, in the epoch of a destructive world war. But the important fact is that our democratic ideals are in tune with the elemental geological processes, with the law of nature, and with the noosphere. Therefore we may face the future with confidence. It is in our hands. We will not let it go.
In my own scientific work the First World War was reflected in a most decisive way. It radically changed my geological conception of the world. It is in the atmosphere of that war that I have approached a conception of nature, at that time forgotten and thus new for myself and for others, a geochemical and biogeochemical conception embracing both nonliving and living nature from the same point of view.
The noosphere is a new geological phenomenon on our planet. In it for the first time man becomes a large-scale geological force.
Here a new riddle has arisen before us. Thought is not a form of energy. How then can it change material processes? That question has not as yet been solved.
and: Irina Trubetskova, Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky and his Revolutionary Theory of the Biosphere and the Noosphere, http://www-ssg.sr.unh.edu/preceptorial/Summaries_2004/Vernadsky_Pap_ITru.html
In post-Soviet Russia Vernadsky has acquired a utopian cult status, blessed by the authoritarian government. It reminds me of the status of Marxism in Soviet Russia: secular promise of salvation from this world's misery.
On Russian attitude to Vernadsky, see: http://www.vernadsky.ru/Noosfera/Noosfera_14_engl.pdf , where the article by G.B. Naumov, "Noosphere" by V. I. Vernadsky, p. 40, contains an insightful analysis of his main idea.
For Vernadsky, formal definitions were not plausible. He rather tried to explain the essence of notions he used in his works than to formulate a single definition. As a result, in different contexts one and the same term could acquire different hues of coloring, emphasizing one aspect of its meaning or another. (G.B. Naumov).
This is something I like.
APPENDIX 3. Malthus today.
1. Population means humans and their things (or things and their humans).
2. Food means fuel (nutrients and energy) for population.
3. Species of population do not necessarily increase (Darwin pays his debt to Malthus)
Whether the corrections are optimistic or pessimistic is hard to say.
Part of advertisement of BASF corporation in The Economist, September 8-14, 2007:
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Essay 60: http://spirospero.net/artandnexistence.pdf
The ideas of Essays 51 to 56 are developed in INTRODUCTION TO PATTERN CHEMISTRY