A principle underlying the increasing complexity of the universe. At a critical point of joining constituent parts together, a new WHOLE pops into existence that isn’t like the parts. That may not sound THAT important, but this pattern built Physics, Chemistry, and Life itself; it shows no signs of stopping. More = Different.
Every living thing uses chemistry for communication.
Cells communicate through their own language of chemical signals. Different compounds, such as hormones and neurotransmitters, act like command instructions, telling a cell about the environment around it and communicating instructions.
Insects and animals communicate with chemicals and pheromones, lightly spiced with templated physical signals, in simpler words, body language.
Ants for example (I like talking about ants!) have a smell language that includes the following common phrases:
- I found food, follow me
- Danger (even what KIND of danger in some ants)
- I am your relative (I belong here, and this is my job)
- I am the queen (and here is an evaluation of my health and whether we need princesses, drones, etc)
- I’ve been squashed! Danger!
- I am dead, haul my body out. (Funny article about spraying a living ant with dead ant smell.)
Ants are territorial and maintain borders. The borders are defined with pheromones. They generally steer clear of other territories, but sometimes ants have to fight other ants over food access, invasion,etc. Imagine an ant hive invaded, it’s WAR! But how do they know it? Ants are pretty dumb and they can’t hear a general announcement. An alarm pheromone “goes viral” and the hive goes into an aggressive posture. And then…
“These colonies conduct ritualized tournaments as a part of the defense of their foraging territories. Opposing colonies summon their worker forces to the tournament area, where hundreds of ants perform highly stereotyped display of fights (italics mine). When one colony is considerably stronger than the other, in other words, able to summon a larger worker force, the tournaments end quickly and the weaker colony is sacked. During the final incursions, the queen is killed or driven off and the larvae, pupae, callow and honeypot workers are transported to the raiders nest.
The behavior is mysterious, for ants. Why don’t they simply attack each other? Why is it “highly stereotyped”? The ultimate battle won’t be. They are learning something that affects the outcome. This behavior is symbolic signaling. These are very simple creatures but their scope of communication is roughly parallel to even very complex mammals like wolves. Chemistry is the powerful, swelling music, and body language (stereotyped display) is the lyrics.”
The Ants, Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson (pages 219 & 220)
Scent is fundamental. Continue reading
Humans are born according to an algorithm allowing a wide curve of features and preferences such as:
- Self asserting (extreme archetype: Psychopathic self involvement) | Self transcending (extreme archetype: Saintly generosity and sacrifice)
- Follow the pack (instinctively flows with peer pressure) | Follow my own path (instinctively flows their own way)
- Past loving (keep the familiar = “conservative”) | Future loving (allow for change = “progressive”)
- Preference for small groups (town) | Preference for large groups (city)
- Submissive (naturally accept leadership) | Dominant (naturally take charge)
- Cautious (“Wouldn’t be prudent”) | Daring (risk taking adventurers)
- Wandering (Viking approach) | Homebound (Bushman approach)
- Standard Sexuality | Alternate Sexuality
- Xenophobic | Xenophophilic
One reason we can conclude “It takes all kinds” is because life MAKES all kinds.
Elsewhere I’ve discussed my theory that people who live in big cities and people who live in small towns have become operationally different species. There’s nothing biological here except perhaps if there’s some genetic component concerning which lifestyle you prefer. When humans adapt to a new technology or a new living arrangement (in the community sense) they have altered their strategy of life significantly enough that if some other animal could make an equivalent change they would be deemed a subspecies of the wild type. So from nomad tribes to tiny farming villages to cities of millions is a tremendous change …of script. If you could time travel to the neolithic, scoop up one of an infant pair of twins and return to the present, that baby would grow up embracing a level of complexity and social energy that would make his brother or sister go catatonic if they encountered it.
We are a meta adaptor species. We are an evolutionary cyborg embracing technological transformation. While we embrace the techno change our fundamental species script full of animal reactions hasn’t changed a jot. If a baby from modern times was whisked back to replace that other neolithic baby he wouldn’t grow up puzzled at the technology or the social rules. On this level we have a “just go with it” rule letting us imprint culture like baby ducks imprint Momma.
Well there’s another interesting thing about virtual speciation, we might think of it as a second level of adaptation. Within every human community division of labor is key to operation..we might almost call it the reason for community. Metaphorically if we imagine the village as an animal made up of the different functions performed by the people we can start to see what’s going on. This is almost like organ and tissue differentiation. The village is a virtual organism (as was the wandering tribe) if it’s script fails the organism dies, as do it’s human components. By always embracing ANY technology that excites us we are finding pathways out of a dead end script. We are opening up pathways to new versions of what human means. Continue reading
Some of them look like life in petri dishes, some look like circuit boards. Welcome home.
If we are a super-organism species there must be a mechanism that causes us to behave that way. There must be things that make us create and maintain that structure.
There must be glue that holds it all together, there must be a motivation driving the business of the hive endlessly forward.
I’m going to call these forces the Hive Protection Program
Most of our basic reactions to the world around us rise from the messages of this program. If you find people from very different cultures make you uncomfortable, and your own culture makes you stand and salute. If you believe strongly in your own religion and feel others are deeply wrong. If you have an instinct to help the rich and scorn the poor. You are voicing the hive protection program.
- The hive protection program wants: A broad base
- Most people should be poor, suspicious of “outsiders”, loyal believers in the correctness of the local reality map. It wants these poor people to be a bit hapless and passive and to accept and respect (up to a point) the authority of the local hierarchy of power. It expects this majority of poor to self select to become an army and go and fight and die when directed to.
- The hive protection program wants: a tapering upward middle
- A variable but smallish percentage of the hive the be a buffer zone between the rich and the poor. These people should be pulling up and away from poverty, frightened and striving upward but with reasonable limits of ambition. Happy to let the big sharks strive for the very top but happy to be very powerful toward the minnows below.
- The hive protection program wants: a small pointy top
- A minority of people to be that local hierarchy of power. These people will include an inordinate number of what could be called sociopaths. They should have mild “farmer toward livestock” compassion toward the mass of poor. They shouldn’t drift into “killing fields” ruthlessness toward them but complete disinterest in their well being is generally acceptable. These rich and powerful should have high self regard and feel comfortable being extremely selfish. For them to be entirely motivated by personal well being is the CORRECT setting. Pulling themselves toward the highest point of the pyramid should be their goal.
- (if interested, here is a post I made about some of the innate psychological mechanics involved. The luckier someone is the more they believe it was deserved and they are entitled to it. The more successful a person is the more we kiss up to them..Etc. Click to read. )
There are patterns in humanity that are so obvious that they become invisible. The animal nature of humans becomes invisible as we live it. As our eyes let in light they simultaneously spray “humanity paint” over everything we see. Living as an animal means following your nature seamlessly with no coloring outside the lines. This isn’t forced. We don’t obey our natures, we ARE one with our natures. When you were a teenager, exploring new feelings and experiences at high levels of intensity, there were no breaks to do something else. At the end of the day you didn’t hang up your teenage skin and settle into a hot bath to relax. At every age you have done as you wished AS THOUGH it was free will when it was really a human animal living its nature.
We don’t see what we are a part of …and this is our fundamental blindness. The blindness of the part towards the whole. We don’t see our human nature just as the fish famously doesn’t see the water. And this is a small part of what we don’t see. If we focus hard we can feel our animal natures, we can see them informing our actions…maybe we can even see them around the world echoed billions of times: The same general patterns of adorable babies and cute kids and teenagers, young marrieds, middle aged and elderly. And we can see the castes of humanity as well, the poor and rich, craftsmen, warriors, scholars, politicians, clergy. And the styles of humanity, modest, canny, rude, sexy, moralistic, secretive, shy or outrageous. In the interests of brevity I’m not cataloging all the details, there are many more varieties but far from infinite. We are the jumble of humanity, each one the center of the universe, and each a tiny widget in a cosmic machine.
The earth is covered in all its livable zones with humans acting EXACTLY like humans. We snap into the arrangements humans make like we were crystals forming. Trying to understand the way our sacred absolutely personal lives arise from templated scripting and that both are equally real is like holding your hand in flame or your head underwater. Do you know why you can’t think long and hard about your animal nature? It’s because you are not supposed to. And it’s your own animal nature that stops you.
Whoa, there partner, what about sex and cookies?
No matter what sort of creature you are, you are supposed to stay on task and not start addressing the fourth wall.
That is the first level of blindness. “I am not an animal, I am a human and free to be anything I can conceive.” But certain restrictions may apply. The basic human response is: “I meant to do that”. There is a story in every species. There are parameters, and do’s and don’ts: A “script bible” if you will. Each is a strategy, scripted and programmed. Each is given an allotment of free will and sentience encased within the borders of that strategy. Microbes less than insects, insects less than mice, mice less than wolves, wolves less than man, man less than…less than something that man can’t really imagine because that’s where the damn walls are.
I told you all that to tell you this: There are levels of blindness above that level and there are patterns and meanings above that level. And if you think it’s hard to really grasp your animal nature and your free/not free existence, this next level is something almost no one perceives. What could that be? What body or pattern are we molecules or cells of?
The part we can see from where we are standing is the human hive. It is the millions of people forming an organism without knowing it. We say city, or we say nation, we make those distinctions but we can’t really feel the emergent thing we help to make. We cannot really relate to an autonomous oceanic organism with ourselves cast in the part of kidney cells.
Do you think your cells perceive you, as you know yourself? Do they comprehend your loneliness or your love of being by the ocean? And yet they are the fundamental parts from which THAT you emerges. They are you, but they don’t know it. They go about your business but they don’t know it. And you go about their business but YOU don’t know it. And you are a cell in a non-perceived organism that doesn’t know you, but you work for each other. Both blind and both presumably part of something larger that neither of you suspects.
At the level of cells in the human body everything is playing a part. They aren’t random meaningless “creatures” in an absurd universe, they are simple diligent agents working in a complex bureaucracy that they cannot conceive of. They also can’t know the highly specific role they are playing. What matters is that they do it and they do. And the parallel on our level is that you play a part (or perhaps many) in keeping the organism you are part of healthy and guiding its course. Your politics, spirituality and even sense of humor play a part. Be you all the way, and…imagine the larger world.
If you have an agonizingly hard time finding meaning in the universe remember your nature has you boxed in with an airtight seal. Information that is not about being your animal self is kept from you. The fact that the lens you get to look through doesn’t show the meaning and value in life the way you hope to see them only tells you about the limits of the resolving power of that one lens. It might be that with this vacuum bottle open the whole goddamn universe is out there singing.
Go full-screen with sound on.
Trees in a forest have a network of communications through their roots and a web of fungus. The trees share information and nutrients. They nurture young trees and even direct toxins at plants they “want” to suppress.
Years ago, when he was little I was explaining the word sentient to my son as “being aware of being aware”. I asked him if dogs were sentient. “Yes” he said. “Are rocks sentient?” I asked “No” he replied. “How about trees?” I said. He paused, then: “I’m not sure about that.”
Honestly, I’m not either.
Some trees exude that strange feeling of presence, but that’s a soulful, poetic way of thinking. There isn’t anywhere to go with that idea scientifically. The behaviors described above are so complex that to say that no mind is involved highlights a gap in our understanding of biology and evolution and minds. If not a gap, at least an area stretched to the breaking point. Evolutionary biology would say that the trees are mechanically behaving as their fit ancestors did, said ancestors being lucky recipients of random chance mutations. Yet the trees in the stories I put at the top are aware, somehow of each other, which implies also aware of themselves. They assist some, basically the young and the needy (charity or care or generosity?) and attack others meaning they have friends and enemies? Preferences at least? Even a sort of strategy. And the “Wood wide web” connecting them is obviously a complex symbiotic partnership.
You could take the reductionist point of view that the way I described this was too human-centric. They are helping those they share genes with and suppressing invaders. Perhaps they help “needy” trees because diseased trees represent a health threat to the whole forest. But as cold as we may say it, these trees are active participants and they are AWARE of those young relatives, sick neighbors and enemies. There is a communicating, receiving, evaluating and responding going on here and that if does not require a mind, it then requires some alternative to mind that we do not have a scientific model for.
Giant stands of Broccoli they are not. But the “mind” here is what exactly? Aware of conditions and correct responses but not aware of itself? Is it an individual, or a kind of community mind? A swarm entity?
Around us and in us are living systems by the millions handling virtually everything without the benefit of a conscious mind. In fact a number of studies have shown that our conscious mind is given prompts about what to do, being informed milliseconds before becoming aware of the impulse or decision. Who is this shadowy internal decider, this Dick Cheney within? And how does it not make consciousness itself a subsystem of larger, unconscious system? Does it not force us to imagine how the hell an unconscious actor truly operates, prioritizes and decides?
Consciousness itself, unwitting and bordered by shadows needs to be reimagined as well. Consciousness is like a balloon with a story in it. This fretful, monologuing self seems like it’s stuck with the job of rationalizing our actions and representing a human social unit to all the other human social units. It may be that consciousness, which we tend to think of as the highest evolution of nature is more like a jail cell where each of us keep our separated, parceled out selves. It may be that something extraordinary is going on right outside but we can’t hear it, because we are sealed in.
It might be the voice of the forest.
In the last few generations of video games an interesting change has taken place. Games were once wholly hard scripted: Landscapes had invisible walls you could not pass beyond and possible actions were a limited decision tree of if/then statements.
A number of relatively recent games like Minecraft and Diablo have broken out of this box and approached level creation in a whole new way. Procedural generation of levels means that each new map is one of a kind flowing from a range of controlling factors; things like sea level, atmosphere height, a range of different biomes and all the flora and fauna that go them, including the surface materials and even deep subterranean composition. From forested mountains to swamp, to ocean there are ranges of likelihood and possibility for everything. For example, there are rules about things like how a shore line has a range of possible grades, a sheer drop off would be silly. A canyon will have a certain raggedy unevenness to it as well as a range of possible depths. Biomes will flow into each other at the edges in a way that crossfades each rulebase into a blended compromise.
These are algorithms. They are sets of rules and probabilities and variables for each of these issues. There is a possible range of randomness to all of them and of course limiting HOW MUCH randomness can happen. In most such games you have an option to set some preferences but you won’t really know what that world looks like till you walk around in it.
In more than an abstract way, the universe around us has these algorithms shaping events all the time. Newtonian physics is a catalog of algorithms measuring the variables of gravity, momentum, etc. The periodic table outlines the rules for the materials around us. The weather expresses another set of algorithms about atmospheric variables like warm moist air hitting a high pressure cold front, how hurricanes and tornadoes form, etc. And of course the plants in the various ecosystems have a range of likelihood of thriving and reproducing under different conditions. Animals have a range of possible behaviors in response to various situations determined by species and personality. They also have a range of possible “personality” based upon nature and nurture. For every organism, physical homeostasis is an interrelated cascade of algorithms that dovetail at the borders of all the others I just mentioned.
Natural laws are physical information. They are machine code. They are modules of the programing language of reality.
It’s fascinating to me that the question “are we living in a simulation?” has become a serious scientific and philosophical focus just as we begin to manipulate a technology where we could soon create exactly such a thing in miniature for some unsuspecting AIs. In fact, the word miniature would be illusory because to those AIs the universe would fade off in one direction into impossible vastness and in the other direction telescope down to impossible tininess with themselves stranded on the beach in between.
Exactly like us.
I died as a mineral and became a plant,
I died as plant and rose to animal,
I died as animal and I was Man.
Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?
Yet once more I shall die as Man, to soar
With angels bless’d; but even from angelhood
I must pass on: all except God doth perish.
When I have sacrificed my angel-soul,
I shall become what no mind e’er conceived.
Oh, let me not exist! for Non-existence
Proclaims in organ tones,
To Him we shall return.