Why farmpunk?

A farmpunk could be described as a neo-agrarian who approaches [agri]culture, community development and/or design with an anarchistic hacker ethos. "Cyber-agrarian" could supplant neo-agrarian, indicating a back-to-the-land perspective that stands apart from past movements because it is heavily informed by conceptual integration in a post-industrial information society (thus "forward to the land" perhaps?) The art and science of modern ecological design—and ultimately, adapting to post-collapse contexts—will be best achieved through the combined arts of cybermancy and geomancy; an embrace of myth and ritual as eco-technologies. In other words: the old ways of bushcraft and woodlore can be combined with modern technoscience (merely another form of lore) in open and decentralized ways that go beyond pure anarcho-primitivism. This blog is an example of just that. Throughout, natural ecologies must be seen as the original cybernetic systems.

**What we call for at the farmpunk headquarters**
°Freedom of information
°Ground-up action + top-down perspectives
°Local agricultural systems (adhering to permaculture/biodynamic principles) as the nuclei of economies
°Bioregional autonomy
°Computers are optional but can be used for good—see peer to peer tech, social media for direct popular management of natural or political disasters (e.g. Arab Spring), or the mission of the hacker collective Anonymous

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Earthling Identity

We need an identity that is at once tribal, global, and cosmic.

For me this identity is "Earthling".

This identity speaks to the intrinsic ecological worth of each human being. Indeed, we are all "equal" in the eyes of Mother Earth.

Earthling is a tribal name - referring to a resident of a locality - an inhabitant of one niche existing in a much vaster planetary or galactic ecology. This evokes a Star-Wars bar type perspective, in which every human represents one nation - the earth - and are each in fact fully qualified to do so. It also evokes the idea of Buckminster Fuller's "Spaceship Earth", which envisions the earth as a ship on a journey through time and fueled by the celestial engine of the sun. If the earth is a ship, then to be an earthling is to be a sailor, on board for the ride. *This identity, however, is merely a substrate from which we can claim our birthrights as not just passengers, but as navigators. The art of navigation, broadly applied beyond just astronomical sea navigation, is the art of making strategic decisions based on a deep and holistic understanding of the natural world. Historically, it is not only maritime navigators who have read the celestial landscape for the success of the voyage, but shamans and witch doctors who have performed "ecological divination" in service of the successful functioning of their community. Success in various small-scale societies does not then depend on "infinite growth", but on maintained harmony with the encompassing environment. On that note, I can think of half a dozen mystical traditions in history for whom integrated understanding of the relational order between the self and nature represents the pinnacle of esoteric knowledge. I wrote recently myself, in a poem, "green is the color of the philosopher's stone".

Watch out queer theory -- here come earthlings.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

more mythic remediation

I suppose that the prerogative I'm imagining for my generation in their particular task of problem-solving can be divided into two components. One component is the actual endeavor of healing and rebuilding social and ecological systems. The other, which is more of a personal mission that I don't really expect everyone to take up, is the re-appropriation of mythic thought into our vernacular language. I want to make the distinction of spoken language because I think that mythic thought is well-handled by visionary art, science fiction and (most) music. But it is in our common parlance that I have found a lack.

As readily as humans form groups, humans make myths - we are storytellers to the core. Buckminster Fuller would probably point out that we are physiologically predisposed to storytelling, and many other abstract activities besides, since if you compare the way we are shaped to any other animal, we're pretty much brains on a stick. Form follows function. Anteaters have straws as noses, giraffes have long necks, and humans have huge brains and opposable thumbs. And I have no idea why platypi look like that. So then if we can read a function from our form, We are designers and builders - and we will design invisible structures as well as visible ones. These invisible structures are our world-views, our world-maps, our myths. Our language is full of fiction and metaphor, even at the sentence level... as agency is what holds grammar together. (Agency holds...) With simple sentences we tell little stories all the time. It is a myth for me to say that the sun will rise tomorrow morning, as we all know it is really the earth that moves, but according to my perceptual experience, the sun appears to rise. Tailoring speech to our perceptual experience rather than tailoring it to "scientific truth" has obvious advantages - it allows us to succinctly transmit strategically valuable information. In studying the larger mythic structures we've built and the people whom they have served, it's clear that truth and facticity do not coincide at that scale either - nor do they have to. Something can be true without being factual. Culturally significant myths arose from unique dialectics between a people and their ecological niche... and there are tons and tons of those on this earth. That's a lotta truths.

The value of mythic thought has fallen through the cracks in the course of the development of our economic infrastructure, and has often been displaced by an obsession with reductionist science, which really only serves industry, and not the advancement of holistic knowlegde. We've been experiencing increasing loss of participation with our natural environment on individual and collective levels, and the experiences of these two spheres - the individual and the collective - feed and reinforce each other. Collective disconnection with animate forces of nature has consequently shaped our ways of speaking - literally our figures of speech - and this naturally creates a winnowing of our perception. Since language is something we can all consensually agree upon - and perception is not - language often succeeds in modulating perceptual experience to a certain degree. The linguist Edward Sapir said "We see and hear and otherwise experience very largely as we do because the language habits of our community predispose certain choices of interpretation." And indeed, the non-human animate aspects of nature are not as present in our language because they are not as present to our senses. And when they are not well-represented in our language, we lose to opportunity to believe in them - we are not re-minded. We are, however, well equipped to be reminded - we have all the gear necessary - all it takes is some fearless immersion in the woods, or an evening stargazing when there's no moon...

David Abram writes "The perceptual reciprocity between our sensing bodies and the animate, expressive landscape both engenders and supports our more conscious, linguistic reciprocity with others. The complex interchange we call "language" is rooted in the non-verbal exchange always already going on between our own flesh and the flesh of the world. Human languages, then, are informed not only by the structures of the human body and the human community, but by the evocative shapes and patterns of the more-than-human terrain."

Loss of participation with our natural environment - whether it's gardening, hunting, animal husbandry, building with natural materials, or just sleeping outside - is correlated to loss of mythic language. How then do we communicate with each other in the vernacular about our perceptual orientation in the world? I know I would be hard pressed to explain the magical experience of drumming around a fire with scientific language.

Academic papers about quantum mechanics written in English are still incomprehensible to me, because I haven't learned the language that you learn when you study physics at that high of a level. In that same way, the great myths and oracles passed on by bards and shamans are similarly notated - they are condensations of information that go beyond the semantic "carrying capacity" of our everyday speech. A creation myth and paper written by someone with two PhDs both represent instances of using words as meta-symbols - symbols of symbols. But essentially what it means is that their meaning is not apparent to just anyone, but perhaps only apparent to a few people, and then all the rest have to work for it.

Animistic world-views and myths, where forces of nature are embodied and given agency, are ways of mapping the world. Myth-making and world-building are ways of translating the chaotic 'foreign language' of the environment into symbolic schema that can inform human action and orientation in social, natural and indeed super-natural environments. Mapping is a tactical endeavor, enabling a certain kind of navigation through the world, whether through landscape or 'mindscape'. This "mapmaking", whether through invisible or visible mediums, is arguably a universal among humans possessing language. Science is also a way of mapping - the mapmakers simply follow a different set of rules. A professor of mine put it this way: the epistemological function of science is "to make the unknown known" through a process that is characterized by falsification, and religion's function is "to preserve an autonomy for the unknown." I believe that we don't have to choose between the two... and why not plant these two trees next to each other, and see what grows in their collective shade?

Monday, April 20, 2009

The World Bank: Employing the most deranged specimens of homo economicus

As if we all need any more fuel for the fire, lol.

From an internal memo written by the Vice President of the World Bank, 1991

Just between you and me, shouldn’t the World Bank
be encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries
to the LDCs? [least developed countries] I can think of three reasons:

  (1) The measurement of the costs of health
impairing pollution depends on the foregone earnings
from increased morbidity and mortality. From this point
of view a given amount of health impairing pollution
should be done in the country with the lowest cost,
which will be the country with the lowest wages. I think
the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic
waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we
should face up to that.

- Lawrence Summers, World Bank Vice
President and Chief Economist

parenthetical link added

Monday, April 6, 2009

Post-Mythology & Re-Sorcery

There are two distinct themes in the following diatribe that I want to work to connect. One is magic[k]. The other is conscious ecological design/build. I am going to attempt to provide a working definition of magick to make for better grokking. Hey, my spellchecker knows the word "grok", but not the archaic spelling of magic (with a K). Kurious.

This is by no means a comprehensive definition, and please feel free to contribute thoughts of your own... I'm going to be purposefully general because of the concepts we'll work with later on. My definition will probably most reflect a familiarity with the concept of Magick with a K as articulated by Aleister Crowley, and the school of Chaos Magic, which is a syncretistic "post-modern" incarnation and open-reconciliation of various historical occult philosophies. I can't go into the relative depth of my affinity with either of those paradigms, but let me simply say that I see magick as an interface, and a relative perceptual waveform, not something that explains cause and mechanics in the classical scientific sense. As a self-conscious practice, "magick" is superficially the manipulation (and often creation) of symbols. Incipiently - and ideally - this "casting" and placement of symbols in both visible and invisible landscapes represents the deliberate allocation of individual will and attention as well as possibly the manipulation of the attentions of others. Lastly, mobilizing will and focusing attention in magical practice is something that is often honed through meditative and yogic techniques. Perhaps one could call magick the active integration of an ecology of perception with an economy of attention. One can see this cartoonishly crystallized in sleight-of-hand magic, the success of which relies on the magician's understanding and trust of the perceptual tendencies and cognitive apparatus of his audience. In our society sleight-of-hand is streamlined for the goal of entertainment, but similar performative techniques have existed in indigenous shamanic traditions that are geared toward very different goals, like healing. For more on this idea, please refer to David Abram's work.

In regards to the popular term " the dark arts"; dark should not connote malice - it simply connotes the risk to self and others that comes naturally when we learn new things about cause and effect in our environment. Manipulation - and for that matter, deception - are not intrinsically "bad". (In fact, optimal social friction among human and animal groups alike depends on fundamental forms of deception... but that's beyond the scope of this post). Toddlers go through destructively manipulative phases when they figure out certain social "rules"... but hopefully they grow out of it. See what I mean?

Conscious design/build, or ecological design, or geomantic design, or permaculture (etc. etc. etc.) is, for the purposes of juxtaposing our definitions, the manipulation and placement of materials that depends on attention to natural (ecological and social) patterns. Consequently, placement of structures and orientation of built space is intended to steward or optimize such patterns in various ways. Like practical magick, it is a engagement of principles and practices. Magick and Design-Build are both strategic processes. They both involve successive steps; the preliminary mapping of an environment, the installing of infrastructure, and with the addition of the ingredient of consciousness as a critical currency, producing some desired effect.

We have come to rely on professionals to "do magic" and to "design and build" for us. The services of enchanting (corporate media and "entertainment") and building (which we rather unconsciously refer to as "construction") are unsurprisingly commodified. The sort of intention that goes into the built environments we inhabit or the products we find ourselves buying does not address our local conditions, so we forget what locality even is.
We need to go freelance. These crafts really only work through freelance practice and concomitant guild systems that allow practitioners an interface for sharing information and a means for organizing forums.

We must make the incentives to practice these crafts responsibly and holistically more attractive than the incentives to practice them irresponsibly and destructively. The latter incentives abound as we navigate the Capitalist-Protestant game board.

My standpoint probably isn't too hard to guess. Both the creation and placement of symbols, and the creation and placement of structures must be grassroots and ground-up - but don't have to be antagonistic to modes of 'global thinking' and information society. In fact, I dare say that localization, import substitution and bioregional autonomy is a pretty fucking good global ethic. Physical reality: human settlements are located in different bioregions all over the earth. Different societies have produced vastly different ways of both worldview-building and structure-building that are critical to an ongoing dialectic with their local environment. The preservation (and re-creation) of these dialectics provide a way to index and articulate available natural (and social) resource pools. It's prty simple, rly.

The recent emergence and diverse applications of systems theory testifies to our ability on a species-level to just BEGIN to comprehend complex systems and the cause and effect therein. I can't emphasize enough how incredibly novel and powerful this is. It's no less than the fulcrum for the next (post-normal) scientific revolution. The implicit re-infrastructuring potential is comparable to that of the discovery of electricity. Seriously. We find ourselves participating in economic and social systems that were never really planned for implication on such large a scale (not like they could have been sufficiently planned anyway). It's a principle of textbook economics that our economy is a self-regulating, emergent system of allocation. No one designed it. People designed institutions that are now veritable organs of it, yes, but the flux of price value is pretty much an emergent beast. It does it's own thang. The mechanism of the market is interesting for like a few minutes, before you realize how much it just sucks. Anyway, point being: The fact that we can Name these various systems and world-views that have metastasized (and used us as unwitting agents in the process) as undesigned or badly designed is critical to the re-design process. Your brain is what designs things, not God, or similarly, the Dollar. Kevin Kelly has talked about this over at the Technium, and I agree with his idea that the future of efficient systems-design lies in optimally harnessing the creative power of open-access, ground-up action with minimal top-down selection for maximum innovation. (I count two holistic design principles in there...) The million dollar question of course is, who's going to be doing the modulation, and to what end. We can only hope that freedom of information and the health of the earth and its people are high on the list of priorities. We can also hope that the systems we design will adhere to the appropriate scale - that of the municipality. No, I don't think libertarian socialism will solve everything, but I do think it's a Good Place to Start.

The pseudo-twofold theme of this post is consistent with two of our birthrights: geomancy and myth-making. I'm claiming these two birthrights with some newfangled wordicles: re-so(u)rcery and post-mythology, respectively. Brielfly: Re-Sorcery is the practice of creating bioregional autonomy and natural-resource based economy - and implies things like natural building and anti-establishment methods of "sourcing" things in a post-industrial society like DIY and gleaning. Post-mythology is live-action-storytelling: the active process of re-appropriation of the function of myths and locally significant stories: the seamless blending of life and art, the virtual with the tangible. I'm interested in the value of mythic thought in human culture. It's really my number one Muse. If I could locate the arena where most of my activism goes on, it's in the area of story-telling, techno-bardic synthesizing and re-presenting of Highly Relevant Information. I don't want to go into terrible detail here, but simply put: we are physiologically designed for myth-making. I hate it when grammar fucks up my ability to articulate - obviously we aren't designed FOR anything, other than maybe to reproduce. But something sort of big popped up on the way... surprise! It's the neocortex. As Terence said, we are brains on a stick. Ever read the Ender's Game series? (It's scripture to me. Sheepish grin.) There's a superintelligent being named Jane who's "brain" is an emergent property of the interconnection of a future galactic internet that links a federation of human colonies on different planets. Jane can monitor like billions of data streams at once, and hold several hundred of them on levels of conscious attention. The bad guys (government) find out Jane exists and want to try and kill her by shutting down the entire galactic interwebs. Since she exists through the relational order of computers, the possibility that it will for all purposes "kill" her is high, so the Good Guys figure out a way to download Jane's "soul particle" into a human body. [Orson Scott Card articulates this whole system of metaphysics that is like a gnostic Christian remix of quantum physics]. So the point is, when Jane's sentience is transferred to a human body, she gets all antsy and pent up because she can't satisfy her massive ADD, which is actually just her now-restrained ability to hold like a gajillion levels of attention. So periodically she goes into some A.I. version of samadhi and like inhabits the "hive mind" of say an entire forest, or sometimes she even goes back into the internet and races around intergalactic cyberspace at faster-than-light-speed. Us humans go for these "fixes" as well. Y'know -- sensorial overloads. 300? Hazing? Mosh pit? Sugar? We need practical fiction and myth, or else we'll go stir crazy like Jane. Although to her credit, she did eventually pipe down and get married. LoL.

All I'm saying is that once we start to see the grand human legacy of myth-plexes as unimportant or worse the product of 'delusion', then we're really in a sorry state... was it von Goethe who said that there ain't no sorrier bastard than the one who falsely believes he is free? God is laughing. Even if he doesn't exist. He's LOLing with the power of all the LOLCATS in the universe.

We need to reclaim our cognitive and etheric inheritance and assemble as re-sourcerors, an army of white magic wielders. This war will be fought by many allied regiments - which is necessary, for we are dealing with complexity and uncertainty beyond measure. If there is any uniting principle, any mission statement of this un-army, it is healing. Liberation ecology, liberation theology, poetic terrorism, guerrilla energy therapy, gender-recreation, sexual liberation, brave college professors, midwifery, reclaiming our ethnobotanical birthright, seed & logic bombing, having the courage to ask ourselves what local, practical anarchism looks like, and for ___'s sake, teaching our children! Teaching our children without projecting our ego onto them! Co-teaching them with Nature! Having the goal of kneeling prostrate beside them in front of Earth's altar; HAVING THE FUCKING GUTS TO DO THAT! dare to be awed, and odd (reclaim the arcane power of odd numbers: 3:7:9:11:13) This means following the principle of "mystery-design", whether we are stewarding the learning of a three year old or a twenty year old! Mystery design is didactic craft driven by different questions than before - new questions - facilitating a dialectic-dance around common mysteries. Approaching those mysteries with love, /moth to the flame/, not cowering from Mystery in fear - never using Mystery as a mechanism for subordination. Knowing that there is no "the" in front of Mystery, and that it is an edge constantly moving - a wriggling plumed serpent at the periphery of our vision, whose feathers graze our fingertips when we smell the warm earth. Fauns declare it a human right to share a personal Secret with Nature. (In case you're skeptical of anthroposophy, this i[could be]s what Christ Consciousness Is. Not so bad, see?) This secret is a fire. We must not let it die (though it won't really ever die, but it will become invisible. The waveform biorhythm of magical consciousness that twines through us all will wane in its frequency - the crests and troughs of the waveform will become farther and farther apart until it seems to be a flatline. It is then hardest to revive, especially because we have been stamped with the seal of individualism in our society, so many will fail to see this flatline, much less be able to gather mana to remediate it). Empowering and cultivating awareness in our children is vastly more important - and difficult - than starting with answers. That's what doctrine does. It starts with answers. Using Doctrine as a rubric for Action is doing it backwards. It is the effect of someone else's inflorescence, in an ancient time, another place. It is Not Bad, but Not For Us!!! Indeed, there are squadrons emerging in this self-organizing army. They are each comprised of people who have found themselves waking up to an ongoing disaster. They can perhaps be loosely categorized by what they choose to Name this disaster (Naming is a form of Mapping, and also the operative act in a post-modern Magick). There are those who have woken up to the ongoing disaster of the economy. Those of us who have woken to the ongoing ecological disasters. Those facing disasters in the social and the spiritual realms. Then there is the squadron whose mission has perhaps inspired my ranting - and they are the possessors of the Hermetic prerogative of enchanting and healing. We must all Know that it is simply artificial channels which separate us, while still Knowing that Channeling is an extremely important tool. The Hermetic squadron should indeed not stay together, exclusively, and decay, as has happened history over, but meet in spirit and seed every other squadron in body. All systems "decay", so we must design decay into systems. Intelligent decay. That's what cells do. Decay can also be progress. It would behoove us to see them as fundamentally the same phenomenon. (N.B. This is figurative, spirit and body are separate in word, but not in being). Apprentices of Hermes may have already been touched by the feeling that Tricksters Cannot Stay Together In One Place For Too Long. This must be taken as a community design principle, and deserves to be well-accounted for. A fierce love of mine has just pointed me to the delightful website of The Institute for Applied Piracy, a collective of friends who deeply felt the need for a terrestrial base, a place to belong to the land and build ships and hold DIY gatherings. They've done a find job on the mythical remediation I've been taking about, too, playfully and passionately re-appropriating the pirate identity. I also am deeply interested in community farm models where there is rotational control of operations so those of us chronically wanderlusted can go on periodic and necessary walkabouts, sailing the seas whether proverbially or actually. But I digress... to return to the prerogative of the Hermetic sector of our un-army: The other squadrons and platoons of activists and paradigm-fighters each must have a mana pool - a regenerative flow of spiritual capital - and they must all learn to be stewards of this spiritual regeneration. In English: We don't want our activists to burn out, and often they are unfortunately put in danger of doing so. They must be given "spiritual knowledge of how to fish" instead of being given paltry communion wafers by some strange man in a dress. Hopefully we can thus calibrate our local social gyroscopes; do the group organism thing right (Not Like the Borg, obvs.); Open Society To Invisible Circuitry. Let weeds grow/expose our skin to the solar touch/maybe not censor scientific research on the power of the heart. This is how we will accommodate a tribal species that is facing globalization and information overload. Memo: Our identities as a tribal species are not going to change any time soon. Tribes need articulation of magic & mystery through myth. And we need to re-appropriate myth - take mythic thought back from the Advertisers and Popes and Money Machines who have stolen it from us and boiled it down into something unrecognizable as magick. It is vestigal magic that has forgotten itself - sterilized, dead, much like flash-pasteurized milk or the Flavr Savr tomato; cancer causing. The corporate media and the advertising that flows between us and the "free" market achieve their spell-casting power in part because of a very important act: the act of re-naming or un-naming. This is one of the most powerful hexes that exists - just refer to modern re-incarnations of this ancient myth, like The Neverending Story or A Wind in the Door. In communicating to you, product-propaganda objectifies and contextualizes you in a mythic world that does not exist. But alas, they create this mythic infrastructure by feeding your senses with designed input, and a collective illusion is erected by the local phenomena of millions of people being fed copies of the same symbolic/sensory experience. This creates an invisible consensus, a homogenization of perception; a prison! Unfortunately corporate advertising has become bloated with some of the most specialized psychologists on God's green earth. Notice I didn't say "smartest" or "most intelligent". In harmony with Bucky's story of how Kings and Kingdoms and the Power Structures behind them formed, specialization has historically reflected optimization of the populace by the powerful. Consistent with complex adaptive systems theory, optimization of sub-groups in a larger group allows for a wider repertoire of group-level actions. If there are a handful of guys at the top who have access to the yields of many specialized sub-groups, they can manipulate a plurality of abstractions that each represent an incredible amount of human capital, and could only be compiled by extreme individual specialization and focus. These beings of flesh who figure out how to live in a world of nearly 100% abstraction and excel in moving information around for selfish reasons are, upon examination, found to be impromptu arch-sorcerers of a type of magic Blacker than the blood from your liver.
Thus the need for the onslaught of white-magic swarms. At this point we are still very much concerned with protecting ourselves from the black-magic-barrage, and empowering others to do the same. Indeed, protective magic will pave the way for creative magic; the creation of new in/visible structures and machines. For this, we need to cease in the protectionism of the occult, and step to the challenge of actively integrating it. Look what is happening - people are writing books using magical principles about how to seduce women, even using the word "victim" to refer to human beings - and aiming for a consumer market that would have not the faintest interest in the Great Work otherwise! This is a tragedy of consciousness. There are many agendas that use intellectual or magical terrorism. We need inoculation of Liberation Freemasonry and Green Hermeticism - and WE NEED THEM NOW! Fortunately, we do not have to search for 'them' - as one does not search for Elemental Fire - but tends the coals and coaxes the flame out of the aether. Social and spiritual fire, isomorphic in function to its role in the natural world, is coming. God I sound apocalyptic. I encourage you to not take me too seriously.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Geomancy, Phenomenology, and EMF fields

If Reformation theology was summed up by the claim that everyone can minister, then the warcry of the liberation ecologists and freelance gnostics is this: everyone is an ecological participant; a witch doctor of their local environment in amnesia.

This post is kind of priming the system for the next one, which is a huge-ass explosion of brainstuff that came out of me after reading Wood, Metal and the Story of the World by Charles Eisenstein.It was no less than a cosmic reminder for me and a very effective creative trigger. Thank you to Charles through many interconnected series of tubes.

Pretty high on the didactic agenda right now: our birthright as geomancers: speakers of a native eco-etheric language of place.

In his psychedelicious post on Reality Sandwich, builder Charles Eisenstein writes of his journey from being a Math and Philosophy graduate from Yale toward a space of deep appreciation and practice of the material crafts. He currently works with a design/build company called the Earth Alchemists, who are actively informed by the pattern language-based building articulated by Christopher Alexander. A property that drives and informs their craft is the ability a particular architectural realm has to Make You Feel Alive. This is, in turn, a characteristic of Sacredness. This quality of presence is something medicine masons (or scientist-artists as Bucky calls them) try to materially articulate; in essence to 'enchant out of design space'. This is obviously something that Nature excels in through open-design/build... or undesign/unbuild... whatever you'd like to call it. Christopher Alexander calls this quality "the quality without a name". He's right, it is near unspeakable - or at least untranslatable - because it only truly exists in the Green Language - the language that our flesh translates into electrical brain-noise (and those in turn might band together and find their way into what Terence McKenna calls "small mouth noises") This Green Language is all process - it can never be digitalized and abstracted. David Abram calls this the "reciprocity of the perceptual experience." Everyone speaks it, but no one can speak it to anyone else - it can only be spoken between You and Your Environment. This dimension of experience MUST be protected from the festering, colonizing host of abstractions - because language is a virus, you know. Language is technology - and technology is not helpful or harmful until it is used for a Purpose. I'm sad to say that the Green Language has become a foreign language to us. To say that we should protect this mode of communication and co-creation is perhaps rather theological sounding. Let me rephrase it - we should be conscious stewards of the reciprocal regeneration of the sensuous sacred.  Greatly influenced by the thought of Maurice Merleau-Ponty (three cheers for phenomenology: kissing philosophy to death) David Abram writes:

"Maurice Merleau-Ponty, in his classic work, Phenomenology of Perception, suggests that the primordial event of perception is always experienced as a reciprocal encounter between the perceiver and the perceived, a open dialectic wherein my sensing body continually responds and adjusts itself to the things it senses, and wherein the perceived phenomenon responds in turn, disclosing its nuances to me only as I allow myself to be affected by its unique style, its particular dynamism or active agency."

Truly, significant "conversations" experienced in the Green Language can only sufficiently be communicated to other human beings through geomantically-informed design/build. And that, my friends, is part of the collective Great Work of this generation.

One of the currently-needed Assertions of Quality (lest I say "Truths") - a keystone in the paradigm shift - is that WE ARE NOT CLOSED SYSTEMS. No man is an island. Actually, islands aren't even proverbial islands, making that maxim delightfully discordian. We are, to paraphrase Abram, open circuits that are only completed by the encompassing earth. We are touching the earth; the earth is touching us. We are continuously meeting. This simple fact has deep evolutionary implications. These bodies are little ships designed to sail through the unfolding environment on this Particular Planet. Earth is special. It has an aura; its electromagnetic field. Earth's EMF field is created by the orgiastic brouhaha going on in the molten core, and notably is in constant flux (as NASA points out, the North Pole is ditching North America and moving to Russia) Just as our bodies have been whittled by evolution in response to the parameters of our physical environments, our etheric bodies have also been 'programmed' by constant relation with Earth's EMF field. This may sound New Agey, and I sincerely apologize if you get "squicked out" by that stuff. But unfortunately, this Information is too important for me to care about modulating my language any more than I already do, goshdarnit! NASA figured this out when they started sending humans into orbit. Perfectly healthy astronauts would be mysteriously puking. The problem? The body being out of communication with the subsonic frequency generated by Earth's EMF field. The EMF field extends rather far out there, but indeed its frequency on the surface of the Earth (where people do that thing called Being) is unique. After a device was installed onboard space shuttles that emulated this particular subsonic frequency, All was Well. There is circuitry everywhere, and to put it simply, we don't have a fucking clue. As has been pointed out by a sizable handful of cyberpunk visionaries, the world is made of language (Terence said something approximating that cluster of words). To put my own spin on that, the world is in fact comprised of an unknowable plurality of circuitry - which is the prerequisite for language. It is the infrastructure - natural or built, evolved or intelligently designed - that gives language conduits; direction, interrelationship, sometimes even purpose. Indeed, there are many linguistic valence levels online that power the cybernetic gyroscope of being - many currencies through which things communicate, but the fundamental one that continuously sings the bubbling, orgiastic world into being seems to be the Green Language - the language of light and vibration. Matter and energy.

Some brave souls at the Heart Math Institute have wrangled some Ph.D's and having a go at articulating an etheric cybernetics. In particular they attempt to discover the role of biologically-generated EMF fields in social interaction. 

Some excerpts from one of their press releases:

"The heart generates the strongest rhythmic electromagnetic field generated in the body. Measured with modern magnetic field meters, the heart's electromagnetic field is approximately five thousand times greater in strength than the field produced by the brain. The heart's field permeates every cell in the body and radiates up to eight feet outside the body, but theoretically it travels even further, although its field strength is too low to measure.

Previous studies at IHM's Research Center have found that our emotions are reflected in the patterns of our heart rhythms. These changing rhythms appear to be modulating the field produced by the heart, similar to how a radio wave is modulated so that the music we hear can be broadcast. This led IHM researchers to look at the possibility that people may be exchanging electromagnetic energy that is carrying emotional information like radio transmitters and receivers carry music."
full article

To be continued, sort of.

Rendition of the earth's magnetosphere. You have one too, kinda. Oh, also, can someone take some comparative kirlian photography of industrially grown produce versus home-grown organic? I predict scary.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Schrödinger Paradox

I've been thinking lots 'bout entropy & non-equilibrium thermodynamics.

Found an excellent description of Schrödinger's paradox. Central to the paradox is the question of how biological life - on a cellular & indeed biophysical level - cultivates 'syntropy', or order in the face of increasing entropy (as stated by the second law of thermodynamics).

Part of the first Chapter of Into the Cool: Energy Flow, Thermodynamics and Life is available online here.

Schrödinger freakin' predicted the existence of DNA as what he called an "aperiodic crystal" that he guessed chromosomes were made of. What a wizard. Crystals as the infrastructure for the transmission of biological machine code.... mmmyes indeed! Other types of crystals are also what enables us to have cellphones and computers and the internet. Those wily ancient ones! They also are some of the only natural substances to make straight lines (or surfaces) on a level tangible to humans. The rest of nature seems to shun straightness.

Anyway, here's the brain candy at hand:

Schrödinger's focus on what makes progeny from parent, on an as yet unknown crystalline molecule within the chromosome, amounted to a scientific prediction of the nature of the gene. It would take James Watson and Francis Crick ten years to unravel the workings of this "aperiodic crystal"—and identify the hereditary, helical molecule as deoxyribonucleic acid—DNA. …

Schrödinger's third and final lecture introduced a thermodynamic consideration that led in time to what is now known as nonequilibrium thermodynamics. If before he had been talking about order from order—if before he had intimated that mutations had a stochastic component that was in keeping with the second law—he now turned to the question of order from disorder: how does the cell manage to escape the randomizing effects of the second law? After all, it is this escape that makes living forms startling replicants, almost magical three-dimensional copies of themselves.

Reminding his audience of the chemical means by which a small number of atoms control the cell, he asked, "How does an organism concentrate a stream of order on itself and thus escape the decay of atomic chaos mandated by the Second Law of Thermodynamics?"

Now Schrödinger would try to link life with the underlying theorems of thermodynamics. How is order ensured, given that systems of microparticles tend toward disorder? Schrödinger caught sight of the problem. Consider a copy machine: if you copy a copy, it gets dimmer; if you copy that copy, it gets dimmer and duller still. While organisms do lose features of their parents, their copying fidelity is astonishing; and they sometimes progress or improve, evolving complex refinements, sometimes whole new features. How do organisms perpetuate (and even increase) their organization in a universe governed by the second law? We call this "the Schrödinger paradox."

The basic resolution of the Schrödinger paradox is simple: Organisms continue to exist and grow by importing high-quality energy from outside their bodies. They feed on what Schrödinger termed "negative entropy"—the higher organization of light quanta from the sun. Because they are not isolated, or even closed systems, organisms—like sugar crystals forming in a supersaturated solution—increase their organization at the expense of the rise in entropy around them. The basic answer to the paradox has to do with context and hierarchy. Material and energy are transferred from one hierarchical level to another. To understand the growth of natural complex systems such as life, we have to look at what they are part of—the energy and environment around them. In the case of ecosystems and the biosphere, increasing organization and evolution on Earth requires disorganization and degradation elsewhere. You don't get something from nothing.

The spectacular rise of one side of Schrödinger's program—the genetic and informational—has been made at the expense of the other—the energetic and thermodynamic. We do not wish to take anything away from the tremendous success of inquiries into the genetic, languagelike aspect of life. But we do wish to advocate flipping over Schrödinger's record and listening to its other side. In the daring of his vision, what is important is not that Schrödinger made mistakes but that he called attention to the dual information- and energy-handling abilities of living beings—the organization they derived from their parents, on the one hand, and, on the other, the organization they maintain in spite of (and, as we will increasingly see, because of) the second law's mandate for systems to head toward equilibrium.

When we follow Schrödinger we find ways of looking through life to the energetic processes governing not only life but inanimate systems as well. Life's complexity is due not just to its chemical data processing, but to its function as an energy transformer. Indeed, life's DNA replication and RNA protein-building duties may have ridden into existence on a thermodynamic horse. Their roles make sense in the context of an earlier gradient-reducing function. Life is not just a genetic entity. Genes by themselves do nothing more than salt crystals. Life is an open, cycling system organized by the laws of thermodynamics. And it is not the only one.

That last paragraph hints at the sort of molecular organization that I was speculating about in my post on 'evolution as a cosmic algorithm'. Also, I wonder if the sun's role in the 'flux of order' on Earth is fully understood. I mean, duh, we're all running on stardrive, yes, but this sentence in particular made my brain reach a little further:"In the case of ecosystems and the biosphere, increasing organization and evolution on Earth requires disorganization and degradation elsewhere."

Ecological economists are conceptualizing Earth as a minimally, or mostly closed system, sunlight and radiation of course being the inputs & outputs to and from our big blue-green spaceship. The rate at which solar energy reaches the earth is fixed, and moreover lots of it is reflected back by the ozone layer. What boggles my mind is this: imagine how much freakin' degradation is going on in the fucking sun. It's burning up like way more shit in an hour than we've burned here in our entire residency on this planet...

And the earthside answer to all of that orgiastic outpouring is, fundamentally, green things. Algae, grass (terrestrial algae), leaves...These things are nature's solar panels, in an ongoing conversation with sun-love. I know, this is none other than the Gospel, but I'm feeling rather moved to reiterate it. The success and complexity of terrestrial life depends on the ability of organisms to variably mitigate or maximize solar energy absorption - this rule applies to animals as well as plants...we've got melanin in our skin and they've got chlorophyll. And moreover, it applies on all scales - in that respect entire ecosystems function as organisms or cells. And then Mama Earth has the ozone going on. O3. You go girl.

I drank like a quart of raw sap last night, so the trees take credit for this post. If you've never had sap tea or a lumberjack, or just sipped the stuff cold during the course of an evening, try it - do you realize how many minerals from deep underground are in this stuff (which is cleverly disguised as a clear liquid)? Do you realize how much stuff is destroyed in the sugaring process? I love maple syrup as much as the next Vamontah - and so does the rest of the world, which is why every last drop of sap gets turned into the stuff - but the raw or barely-boiled tree blood... mmm, that's the closest thing to mana potion we've got. I know I said that about coffee the other day - I think coffee is like lesser mana potion and sap is greater MP. For the higher level druids.

Mmm. maybe more sap, less whiskey. Whiskey just gets in the way. lol

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Power of Coffee: An Anecdote by Subcomandante Marcos

In brief, Marcos is the spokesman for the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), which, in active opposition to "the wealthy and the State" (locally, the Mexican government), maintains the autonomy of municipalities in the jungles of Chiapas, Mexico. Zapatista communities function politically through an application of libertarian socialism. According to the circus that is my imagination, the Zapatistas are the Mayan consciousness returning to us from a long hibernation deep underground - the wisdom of the pre-Colombian star-sky cultures, formatted to fit our internets, digitalized, logic-bombed... and currently dispersing spores of unknown numbers {{grin}}. Hokay, so, a discussion of Zapatismo is FAR beyond the intention of this post. But I came across a delightful little anecdote that is simply further proof that if life is an RPG, coffee is Magic Mana Potion, as well as being a general Clue that you're On the Right Track. As well as also being Earth's melange (the psychotropic spice in the Dune universe that turns its users into X-men - the harvesting and distribution of which essentially control the interplanetary economy).

Errr. Yeah. Below is a quote from Subcomandante Marcos, telling about a talk had by a group of Zapatistas over the Mexican government's 'peace' proposal back in 1994...

"They advised us to be prudent and to sign the peace [agreement]. They said the government would finish us off in hours or days, at the latest, if we didn't sign for peace... They asked us to prudently surrender and live... Who could live with that shame? Who trades life for dignity? Such sensible advice was useless... All afternoon we talked in the Committee. We tried to find the word 'surrender' in some language but we couldn't. It doesn't translate into Tzotzil nor into Tzeltal and no one remembers that word in Tojolabal or in Chol. We spend hours trying to find an equivalent... Someone arrives with rain pouring off the cap and the rifle, 'Coffee's ready', they tell us. The Committee, as is customary in these parts, takes a vote to see if they'll have coffee or continue trying to find the equivalent of 'SURRENDER' in the language of truth. Coffee wins unanimously. NO ONE SURRENDERS. Will we be alone?"

lol. F'ing Rad.

If you're interested, also see the Wikipedia article on the History of the EZLN.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Breaking the Galilean Spell

Some excerpts from "Breaking the Galiliean Spell" By Stuart A. Kauffman

"Stuart A. Kauffman is a professor at the University of Calgary with a shared appointment between biological sciences and physics and astronomy. He is also the leader of the Institute for Biocomplexity and Informatics (IBI) which conducts leading-edge interdisciplinary research in systems biology."

"Emergence says that, while no laws of physics are violated, life in the biosphere, the evolution of the biosphere, the fullness of our human historicity, and our practical everyday worlds are also real, are not reducible to physics nor explicable from it, and are central to our lives."

"One view of God is that God is our chosen name for the ceaseless creativity in the natural universe, biosphere, and human cultures.

Because of this ceasless creativity, we typically do not and cannot know what will happen. We live our lives forward, as Kierkegaard said. We live as if we knew, as Nietzsche said. We live our lives forward into mystery, and do so with faith and courage, for that is the mandate of life itself. But the fact that we must live our lives forward into a ceaseless creativity that we cannot fully understand means that reason alone is an insufficient guide to living our lives." (the Faun is faun-dancing in response to this)

"Science cannot foretell the evolution of the biosphere, of human technologies, or of human culture of history. A central implication of this new worldview is that we are co-creators of a universe, biosphere, and culture of endlessly novel creativity." (hello, permaculture! = participatory ecology)

"We often turn to a Creator God to explain the existence of life. But rapid progress is being made in current work on the natural origin of life. Self-reproducing molecules have already been demonstrated in experiments. A Creator God is not needed for the origin of life. More, you and I are agents; we act on our own behalf; we do things. In physics, there are only happenings, no doings. Agency has emerged in evolution and cannot be deduced by physics. With agency come meaning and value. We are beyond reductionist nihilism with respect to values in a world of fact. Values exist for organisms, certainly for human organisms and higher animals, and perhaps far lower on the evolutionary scale. So the scientific view of emergence brings with it a place for meaning, doing and value.

Further, the biosphere is a co-constructing emergent whole that evolves persistently. Organisms and the abiotic world create niches for new organisms, in an ongoing open textured exploration of possible organisms. There is a physical basis of this "open texture" in the non-ergodic universe."

I'll work on getting the full PDF up.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

open-flat to closed-sphere cosmography

We often take for granted the implications of the paradigm-shift from a worldview that conceived the world as flat and potentially infinite to a worldview that understood spaceship earth to be a sphere - quite literally a closed loop system (more precisely, a mostly closed-loop system; +/- radiation.) The realization of this geometrical truth about our planet and solar system did, as history reveals, NOT sweep the human population with the viral force that some of us wish it had. There were stronger meme viruses at play (in power) that periodically occluded this vision of the Earth-system in geometric, mathematical and astronomic terms. Instead, the "omni-circular" nature of the earth-system (which symbolizes and contains all other Deep Ecological Principles) has only succeeded in re-formatting select epistemologies. Thus, today we arrive at a piecemeal menu of principles and practices (theory and praxis, doctrine and ritual - call it what you will!) that comprise a haphazardly crafted patchwork of allegorithms (thanks to McKenzie Wark for that word.) Let me define an "allegorithm" as a cosmographic suite of programs; a world-view accompanied by implicit strategic schemata. In our Postmodern-West Medicine Show (a.k.a HERE) we find ourselves having been inducted into multiple allegorithms that may, in light of several benchmarks, particularly the one under discussion, be antithetical to each other. A great example, which has been percolating atop the stove a whole lot these days (see my post on ecological economics) is the disharmony between the human endeavors of economics, religion and science. Of particular concern is the lack of innovative communication between the former two (economics and religion) and the latter (science). Also upsetting is that the Science Game is largely played on a game-board designed by neoclassical economic and Protestant power structures. This severely handicaps the state-space complexity of the game (essentially, the degree of freedom of the scientist-players). This brings me once more to the relieving proposition of post-normal science, which transcends the categories of both science and doctrine.

Before continuing with the issue of cosmography, let's briefly digress so I can elaborate on this. The term "post-normal science" was coined by Silvio O. Funtowicz and Jerome R. Ravetz in papers as early as 1991. I'm thinking about those two quite a bit, since for my Eco-Ec class I'm authoring some metadata for Encyclopedia of Earth under Dr. Funtowicz supervision. (I'm summarizing their 1994 paper "The Worth of a Songbird: Ecological Economics as a Post-Normal Science", the PDF of which you can download here) In their articulation, post normal science is contrasted with 'normal science' (as defined by Thomas Kuhn), the latter of which is generally dogmatic in its framework for problem-solving. Scientific disciplines have 'canonized' methodological toolboxes that are to be used in the discovery of scientific truths by 'professionals' or 'experts' trained in that particular field. The authors propose that scientific research has been conducted in two general categories: "curiosity-motivated" research and "mission-oriented" research (which don't have to be mutually exclusive). Post-normal science is neither of these, but yet still aims to share certain methods and intentions with both of them. Rather, post-normal science is issue (problem) driven. The key concept here is that it is issue-DRIVEN, as opposed to "oriented" or "motivated". This could imply a useful semantical distinction; that the common problems in post-normal sciences (like ecological economics) are the driving forces behind 'research and development'. Thus R & D is propelled or fueled by the need to articulate and solve problems, instead of being "drawn" or "oriented" by an imagined goal in the future - i.e. R & D does not have an 'agenda' by which it is guided in order to meet certain specifications. This ties in to the emphasis Funtowicz and Ravetz place on the need to properly acknowledge the multitude of uncertainty present in our epistemologies - we especially need to recognize this as it applies to knowledge about the functioning & 'cybernetics' of ecological systems, ergo our abilities to predict ecological events and make appropriate policy decisions.

Hmm. Okay, with that said, let's loopback to thinking about cosmography with some Buckyscripture.

This excerpt is from the conclusion to Chapter 2 ("Humans in Universe") of Critical Path

"The British Empire was commanded from the British Isles by great business venturers - the world men who ruled the world's oceans. The British Isles were found to be the most easily defendable shipbuilding bases and were conveniently positioned to rule the whole waterfront of all the European customers of the venturer's Oriental booty. Observing so many ships loaded with so many British sailors (shanghaied out of the British pubs), the world came to identify history's most successful world-outlaw organization as "the British Empire".
This was the first empire of man to occur after we knew that the Earth was a sphere. A sphere is a mathematically finite, omnisymmetrical, closed system. A sphere is finite unity.
As we described in our Introduction, Thomas Malthus, professor of political economics of the East India Company College, was the first economist ever to receive all the vital statistics and economic data from a closed-system world. Once the world is conceived of as a sphere - a finitely closed system - there was no longer an infinite number of possibilities, such as accompanied the misconception of the infinitely extended flat-out world. In an infinite world, with its infinity of possibilities, praying was felt to be "worthwhile."
Because Earth had been discovered by its high-seas masters to be a closed and finite system, the great pirate venturers who controlled the seas took their scientists around the world to discover and disclose to them its exploitable resources. Only because the Earth constituted a closed system could the scientists inspect, in effect, all the species, and only thus was Charles Darwin able to develop the closed-system theory of "evolution of species." Such a theory could not have existed before that. It would have ad to include dragons and sea serpents. All the people in all the previous open-edged empires lived in a system within whose infinity anything could happen or exist. Paganism (or peasantism) wasn't illogical. Geometrically speaking, the pagans could have an infinite number of gods. There were also an infinite number of chances of upsetting the local pattern, which was a most satisfying idea if it happened that the individual didn't like the prevailing local pattern.
It seems strange that we were not taught about the historical, philosophical, and economic significance of the foregoing transition from an open-flat to a closed-sphere world system. Because the churches were strong and the great pirates wished to obscure both their monopoly of riches of the now limited system and their grand world ocean strategy for its control, the significance of the concept of a closed world system was popularly unrealized. The power structure and its patronized educational systems "let well enough alone."


Monday, February 16, 2009

Natural Selection as a Cosmic Algorithm?

My senior seminar in Religion meets once a week, on Wednesday nights. The theme of the seminar this year is applications of evolutionary biology and cognitive science - a nod to the bicentennial of Charles Darwin's birth. Last wednesday, at the very end of class, one of the professors who co-teaches the seminar (and is a bit of an arch-druid in the field of the cognitive science of religion) told quite a provoking story. I relay it below.

Professor Martin’s anecdotal gem of his late-night, wine-infused conversation with David Sloan Wilson and (who was the other guy? Some equally formidable transdisciplinarian, no doubt…) encouraged me to re-approach the viability of Darwinian evolution as a “universal blueprint” applicable beyond the substrate of organic life. Martin revealed that a fundamental thought-engine for these dudes is the informal hypothesis that everything in the universe can be explained by something approximating Darwin’s theory of natural selection. To paraphrase Martin, “THIS is the question that these guys are asking” - implying that when these guys get together and reach the second or third bottle of wine, Symposium-style, it’s this million-dollar proposal that gets verbalized one way or another.

While reviewing the ideas of Dennett and - by proxy - Dawkins, I was skeptical of the practice of applying the biological terminology of taxonomy and phylogeny to cultural and social structures. Although I myself am a lover of the plasticity of language and the “play” it allows, I was uncomfortable with the feeling that these figures of speech were perhaps intended as more than metaphor. No doubt, the ontological stratum occupied by human culture - where cultural transmission takes place - is indeed a complex adaptive system of SOME sort, but it is inherently more complex than the stratum of biotic life alone, (* I've re-worked this thought, see Addendum below...) Indeed, it is from the latter substrate that the occasion for the former arises. When we talk about the process of evolution — what we are talking about is the algorithmic transmission of qualia - of kind. We are also de facto talking about another process that variably collides with or catalyzes this forward-branching progression… the process of “selection”, which can perhaps be understood from another angle as any instance wherein the perpetuation of a kind of thing is “allowed”. There is no doubt that a process of this sort is revealed by the unfolding of cultural history and the transmission of cultural representations. The articulation of a field of memetics is one attempt to designate a scientific paradigm equipped to analyze the “evolution of ideas”, where ideas and their transmission are compared haphazardly to genes and heredity. It is clear to me that memetics is still in the phase of establishment, and we should all work with that in mind.

So, Darwin’s idea applied directly to cultural transmission — all I’m saying is not so fast. It's more complex than that. Perhaps this is a straw man argument and perhaps everyone is disciplining themselves to be duly cautious. To be clear, an open, interdisciplinary dialectic is precisely what is needed.
This all being said, perhaps I can move on to the point of this ramble. Martin’s story at the end of class seemed to be just the right combination of whimsical and profound - I effortlessly found myself playing with the tipsy provocation that had been central to the anecdote. And I decided to engage in a thought experiment where I tried to take the process of natural selection as far back as possible. So before humans and human culture there were social primates, then further back in time there were some mammals, and before that some vertebrates, then finally we get down to a hypothetical point where all earthlings were single-celled organisms. And the way we got to that point (it gets blurry here because this is missing-link territory) was - as DSW offers - something like multiple stages of grouping together of things - atoms, molecules, proteins - that were for myriads of chemical and physical reasons attracted to each other. And at some point groups of proteins were aggregating to make DNA, and then those grouped together to become chromosomes, and then those chromosomes grouped together, too, etc. When considering the idea of “chemical evolution” (thanks to Wilfried from Socialfiction!), I realized that natural selection, viewed in retrograde like this, simply can’t begin with biological selection. When did biological evolution begin, really? Perhaps a process of chemical selection at certain instances graduated to a new “operating system” of algorithms, say for example when proteins figured out how to replicate themselves. But to believe in natural selection itself as being an ex nihilo phenomenon seems completely hypocritical for someone who means to truly sip the kool-aid that delivers the epistemological acid that Dennett speaks of. Isn’t to posit that “evolution” started somewhere - to look for an ultimate origin - just a mirror image of the teleological mistake? What we call “evolution” is perhaps itself an emergent phenomena built on the foundation of even more fundamental forms of “selection”, at the chemical and even atomic levels.


-Monday, March 2-

In response to several comments from friends, I just want to rework a strand of thought in this essay - that regarding the question of a difference in complexity between the substrate of biological evolution and that of cultural evolution. Feedback is much appreciated!

...I feel like I’m eating my words about memetic evolution being “more complex” than genetic evolution. I think I articulated it carelessly, but it truly has made a great jumping-off point for arguement. Indeed, cultural evolution is physically encompassed by biological constraints (human bodies and minds). And - as I’ve said myself before when discussing economies and ecosystems - in terms of potential outcomes and arrangements, a system can’t be more complex than the system which contains it (this is essentially the law of fractal-invariance…) For example, our economy can’t be workably predicated on the notion of infinite growth, because infinite economic growth (which is ipso facto the transformation of natural capital) isn’t possible within a finite, mostly closed system (our planet).

I think the error I may have made involved using ‘complex’ as a descriptor where I should have said ‘complicated’. Relative simplicity is not necessarily a measure of complexity. For example, the abstract board game “Go” - a two-player game played on a gridded board - is parametrically incredibly simple; it essentially has two rules. The simple rules and design of Go allow for an incredibly high number of potential legal game positions and possible games played. Moreover, if one wanted to, one could play Go on a bigger board with more cells, increasing the aforementioned potential values. Often simplicity in design (like optimization of the abilities of elements or agents - in this case, the degree of freedom a player has in a given turn) occasions a great deal of complexity when such elements are involved in some sort of temporal relational order.

But I digress. Let’s use a continuum of fractal invariance to represent the relationship between biological evolution and cultural evolution - the two substrates being in essence part of the same fractal. Is any part of a fractal more complex than another part? Well, no, in the sense that a fractal can never begin to follow different mathematical schema in the course of its growth or unfolding. If it did it would cease to be a fractal. Underlying algorithms stay the same throughout the ‘body’ of the fractal; and its growth simply involves the patterned addition of more (and smaller) of the same units, potentially ad infinitum. Cultural evolution may occur at higher rates and on different scales than biological evolution, but changes in rate and scale do not indicate changes in underlying order. When we are dealing with cultural evolution and biological evolution, we are dealing with a sub-system and its ‘parent system’, respectively. In this case, the sub system often creates the inconvenient perceptual illusion of being independent from its parent system, and yes, the illusion of being ‘more complex’ when it is indeed an extension of The Fractal. However, the cog. sci. pioneers are working to reveal this illusion as merely “sleight-of-epistemology”, to coin a phrase…

Monday, February 9, 2009

Posting some journal articles

Temporarily liberating these articles from captivity, in case anyone is interested. They are just quite good reads, and also seminal. Not pretentious.

Social insects as complex adaptive systems - this article is from 1998, great articulation of the CAS paradigm in the biological sciences

Evolutionary ethics: multilevel selection is not enough (David Sloan Wilson on biological ethics)

Holism and reductionism in evolutionary ecology (also by DSW)

Let me know if these links don't work.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Complex systems 101

I know some of you who drop by here are wise to these matters, but I decided to post this little primer for anyone who perhaps didn't realize how much they wanted to know about this stuff. :P
This is a FAQ from Computerworld.com that very succinctly conceptualizes complex adaptive systems (as they are relevant to software-based modeling).

"January 27, 2003 (Computerworld) -- What are "complex systems" in this context? These are noncomputer systems, such as a company's supply chain. A system is "complex" when it has so many variables and interacting forces that it can't be understood in its entirety or optimized by traditional, top-down approaches.

How can you tame this complexity? Although these systems are complex overall, they use a few simple rules at local levels. For example, in a supply chain system, a rule in a warehouse might be, "Fill orders on a first-in, first-out basis," or "Don't send this truck out on delivery until it is full." Dozens or hundreds of these local "agents" - truck dispatchers, say - acting autonomously produce complex behavior by the system as a whole. It's possible to simulate this complex behavior by programming software agents with a few rules and letting them interact with one another. By optimizing the agents' activities at a local level, it's possible to improve the performance of the system as a whole.

Why are these systems called "adaptive," and why are they sometimes likened to ant colonies? Ants individually have extremely primitive brains, yet collectively they run surprisingly sophisticated and efficient operations. With no central direction, they divide responsibilities among themselves, find food, build and maintain their nests, tend to their young and respond to attacks. And the colonies adapt; if you block access to a source of food, ants will find an alternate route to the food. Complex adaptive systems do the same. For example, if Plant A can't satisfy a customer order because it's temporarily out of a raw material, Plant B may fill the order. Plant B may do this "automatically," based on simple local rules without direction from a central authority.

What is meant by "emerging behavior"? Like ants, individual agents can modify their rules to adapt to changing circumstances, and this can alter the global behavior of the system, often in unpredictable ways. Sometimes small, local changes can have big system impacts, just as a tiny disturbance in the atmosphere over Africa can lead to a hurricane days later in the Gulf of Mexico. Agent-based modeling can help us understand and predict these emerging behaviors and help us devise new rules for the local agents that will improve the performance of the system as a whole. "


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A biological basis for social egalitarianism

Excerpt from David Sloan Wilson's "Evolution for Everyone". Gawd I love this man.

Please keep in mind while reading that this rests on Wilson's argument that what we commonly think of as "individual" organisms (like vertebrates) are in many instances groups of organisms or entities acting in hive-like ways to produce emergent identities. Basically it goes: proteins form groups, which become chromosomes; which populate single-celled organisms, which form groups themselves and reach consensus that enables democratic action (like the slime-mold Dictyostelium)... then "group-organisms" in turn form groups of groups (i.e. social animals)...He encourages his reader, for analytic purposes, to picture ourselves as "neurons in a group brain." dig?

"As Chris documents in his 1999 book Hierarchy in the Forest, egalitarianism pervades not only hunter-gatherer groups but virtually all small-scale human societies. A typical description of the prevailing ethos (from a 1920's account of Alaskan Inuit) is this: "Every man in his eyes has the same rights and the same priviledges as every other man in the community. One may be a better hunter, or a more skillful dancer, or have greater control over the spiritual world, but this does not make him more than one member of a group in which all are free and theoretically equal."
The emphasis on equality among men is telling. Women are often (but not always) excluded from the moral circle and dominated by the very men who insist upon equality among themselves. As a member of the Ona tribe, inhabiting the tip of South America, explained to a Westerner who couldn't believe that they lacked a single chief, "We, the Ona, have many chiefs. The men are all captains and all the women are sailors." The moral circle can similarly exclude all members of other groups. When Chris briefly worked among the Navaho Indians of the American Southwest as a graduate student, he was astounded by their lack of aggressiveness toward each other, which did not prevent the Navaho from traditionally making their living by raiding other tribes.
We tend to marvel at this kind of inconsistency as if it were hypocritical, but instead we should marvel at why we marvel. Consistency might be a virtue for a philosopher, but not for an organism, whether the organism is an individual or a group. An organism must adaptively change its behavior depending upon the context, the very opposite of consistency. We expect an individual organism to have a harmonious internal physiology, regardless of whether it acts as a predator, parasite, competitor, or mutualist toward other organisms. Why, then, should we be surprised when a human group such as a Navaho band exhibits internal harmony, even as it rides off to raid other groups? Remember that we are trying to understand how the traits that we associate with morality evolved as biological adaptations, which requires a detached perspective, like the Greek gods looking down from Mount Olympus. Come to think of it, even the Athenians practiced a form of democracy that was restricted to men and excluded women, slaves, and "barbarians", which was their word for anyone who wasn't Greek. What Boehm and others have shown is that egalitarianism is not a cultural invention that began in ancient Greece, as many have supposed, but is part of our genetic endowment that asserts itself whenever appropriate conditions are met."

"Consistency might be a virtue for a philosopher, but not for an organism..."

Now that's a slam-dunk, right there. I LOVE BIOLOGISTS WHO HACK THE SOCIAL SCIENCES!

I was sitting in my Sociology class the other day that is a requirement for graduating. I've actually taken quite a few Soc. classes at UVM... and I always feel like I just got time-warped to the 1950's. So much of sociology is badly in need of a tune-up. Perhaps a new engine that runs on algae ethanol.

Btw, I'm so curious about DSW's political perspective. How the hell could you NOT be a Zapatista, seeing the world through this lens? Not to mention that group selection theory pretty much hands you the hammer for the last nail in the coffin of neoclassical economic activity. The ultimate success of a society that is based so absurdly on the autonomy of the individual (and which asserts such 'autonomy' through completely wrong, increasingly abstract valuation systems) can be argued against with insights from adaptive sociobiology.

Please see the comments for a continued discourse.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Farm is a Verb...and a Vertex

This is a silly version of my current letter-of-intent:

It has become increasingly evident to me that farming to provide your local community with food, fiber, fuel or some combination thereof is at this point a revolutionary act. On a more personal level, farming also seems to present a continuous application opportunity for many strands of organic knowledge, and a place to reconcile systems of knowledge that have become reductionist and removed elsewhere. To me, the farm integrated with its community is an energy and nutrition delivery system - a catchment system for sunlight - it is to its surrounding environments what a tree is to a forest. In retrospect, it seems like my interest in human nutrition - both physical and spiritual - is what has drawn me to the agrarian awareness that I find myself experiencing. I'm finishing my undergraduate education with a major concentration in Religion - although I think nowadays that if I'd known it was a possibility, I would have certainly chosen "Human Ecology" as a broader, more open-ended option for exploring the questions that I've had. Nevertheless, it has been fascinating for me to learn about the multitude of ways that human societies have created systems for spiritual nutrition - a kind that has remained completely un-quantifiable in the face of other measures of wellness. Among people who incorporate animism or shamanism into their world-view there has seemed to be retained an understanding of deep ecological principles that simply do not survive in many of the perspectives that dominate post-industrial society. So in my imagination, a small diversified farm is a project in modern shamanism - it is a community organ situated in the various spaces between civilization and nature. It is like connective tissue between these two realms - revealing that they are not really separate after all. It is, consequently, a translating mechanism; where a complement of Nature's animate forces - light, water, wind, plant and animal consciousness - are turned into nutrition for people. Lest we think this circuit only conducts energy in one direction, the farm is also simultaneously a means of returning nutrition back to Nature. A farm then should be designed to accommodate earth's natural energy cycles for the co-benefiting of the land and its people. Right now we all face a host of systems that need to be remediated, and - in some cases possibly re-invented. Healed, is the operative verb - and as far as healing methods go, it seems like nourishment is tried and true. This type of healing is primarily prevention - it is building immunity and strength from the ground up, and investing in the fundamental health of systems, as opposed to continually "fixing" broken components of unhealthy systems.

Indeed, there is a need for "speakers" on behalf of Nature, in service of both the community and the surrounding landscape, who work to sense whether there is equilibrium between the two systems - this is the old role of the medicine man! And the more I think about it, the more it seems like there is no one closer to this role than the ecologically-minded farmer. To be sure, it would be overkill to call on every person to fill this role - the applications of the human mind are far too infinite for that. We need other kinds of translators, too!

My proposal is that perhaps, with a scant 2% of our own population "farming", we simply need more translators in this particular space: the space between sunlight and food. Farmside projects like community-supported agriculture, herdshares, community gardening, and educational programs seem to be the lifeblood of the whole idea of civic agriculture. A farm engaging in these sorts of projects can be experienced by people as an integral institution in human settlements, along with courthouses, libraries, schools, churches... It is in the same category as these things, truly. To put it on the community map and make it a place where social action takes place - even if that action is simply a CSA member coming to pick up some veggies - is to take a step in showing people just how intrinsically valuable the farm is!

Oh, I could wax on about the Farm Vision quite happily, but an important thing to address here is: What is my role in that space? What has it been and what will it be?
My role so far has been: to learn, to find my own way of translating - which is in part through writing - and to share my experience and perspective, and let myself be lead by this exchange. It has also been to learn to work with animals (the ones with hooves, especially!) which for me has implicitly been to attempt to understand their consciousness, physiology, our co-evolution with them, and thus their (incredible!) ecological value. It has also been to learn about old ways of food preservation and alchemy - of dairy products in particular - in both history and practice. It has been to learn about grass, and trees, and to come to see pastures and forests as our true masters. It has been, as of late, to think about informed ecological design as an operating system for all these programs and components. And finally, it has been to reach the doorstep of human consciousness, and to realize what Bucky Fuller suggests - that these minds we have may represent one of the most powerful organizational forces in the known universe. When I realize that our hands and our language are - by proxy - our mind, it seems that this mind has evolved with two strong desires: to build things and to share information. The choice then, that we have as individuals, is: A) what to build and B) what information to prioritize. Running this program in my head has returned many answers, many of which change over time. There remains one common answer - and it's something like "farm" and "farming"!

Thanks to my wonderful roommate for lending me The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram. His work has been hugely influential and edifying. You can find lots of cool environmental & human health related news at my roommate Melissa's blog Paradoxes of Whole Living.
Also see Critical Path by Buckminster Fuller, it's the closest thing to his brain in a book.

hack on, eco-punks.

~the faunprince.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Free Peer-Reviewed Information Databases

So here's the problem: Subscriptions to scholarly journals and journal databases cost thousands of dollars per year. A subscription of this sort is not priced to be a single-consumer product; the only entities that can afford to do this are universities. Unsurprisingly.

Wikipedia (and other wikis) represent a revolution in information technology, and have fundamentally changed the search algorithms employed by your average info-seeking human. They have also illustrated the incredible potential of collaborative and intentionally self-regulating structures.

Peer reviewing is when an academic paper is subject to review by a panel of experts in the same field as the article in question. This process is valued for good reason: Many researchers will rely on research from a peer-reviewed article that made it into a journal; if authors falsified data or used insufficient method, they could spawn trajectories of completely irrelevant and misguided thinking among their peers, and most importantly - poor naive undergrads.

So, the value of peer-reviewing is obvious - it is an information valuation system. And it usually works. The problem, so to speak, is that it's impossible for most people to get their paws on peer-reviewed scholarship because of the restricted-access of journal databases (moreover, you practically need a degree in library science to navigate some of these systems). Even if you run a search on Google Scholar, more often than not you'll get carted to an online database that charges you "a la carte" prices for articles... and they're like $30 dollars a pop. With all due respect, fuck that.

Some of these "l33t" databases aren't just for academic papers; Lexis Nexis claims to be the largest searchable archive of periodical news articles (from newspapers and magazines) as well as legal documents and public records published in the U.S. Essentially, it's the closest thing to an electronic library of everything that's every been printed that more than a few people read. lol. It's really popular with lawyers because it contains "all current United States statutes and laws and nearly all published case opinions from the 1770s to the present, and all publicly available unpublished case opinions from 1980 onward" (quoted from the Wiki article). Yup.

So, let's get to the good stuff! A few people at the Gund Institute here at UVM are helping advise an awesome project: The Encyclopedia of Earth. EoE is an open-access peer-reviewed online encyclopedia built with the beloved MediaWiki software that brings you many of the wikis you know and love. It's devoted to the accumulation of articles about Mama Earth - from forestry to geology to systems ecology - but moreover it's infused with the orientation of the field of Ecological Economics toward synergy, activism and problem-solving.

In their own words:

The scope of the Encyclopedia of Earth is the environment of the Earth broadly defined, with particular emphasis on the interaction between society and the natural spheres of the Earth. The scope of the Encyclopedia thus includes:

* The hydrosphere, lithosphere, atmosphere, magnetosphere, cryosphere, and biosphere, and their interactions, especially in regards to how these systems support life and underpin human existence.
* The living organisms on Earth that constitute its biological diversity.
* The interactions and feedbacks among society, biological diversity and the physical systems of the Earth. This includes the social, economic, political, behavioral, technical, cultural, legal, and ethical driving forces behind environmental change.
* Those parts of traditional disciplines that investigate the environment or its interaction with society. This includes the natural, physical, and social sciences, the arts and humanities, and the professional disciplines (education, journalism, business, law, public health, engineering, medicine, public policy).
* The interdisciplinary fields of environmental science—natural and social—that integrate concepts, methods, and analytical tools from multiple fields in the investigation the environment or its interaction with society...

This is a cause for celebration, don't you think?

For ya cyberpunks, there's another great wiki called Scholarpedia that has a lot of stuff on physics, informatics, neuroscience, and dynamical/complex systems. It's a bit less visionary than EoE - imagine it as a forge in which you can fashion yourself a cold, hard, peer-reviewed sword of scientific knowledge...and then enchant it with multiple runes of more scientific knowledge. Some bitches gon' get cut.

However, I do believe that a vision is implied and assumed by the very promotion of open-access, open-source, open-design, open-sesame, projects.

The most useful "common vision" we can hold involves the emergence of many individual understandings of a problem that by this very envisioning becomes a common problem.

The really annoying preliminary problem is the unneccisary copyrighting and commodifying of information. Thus our first common vision/problem should be the design and stewardship of systems that distribute and connect knowledge in ways that maximize human design and innovation... outside of the sticky spiderweb of the market economy. (Remember: it's not about being anti-market, it's about defining-and-respecting the parameters and abilities of the market to work for our ends: the ablities of every toolbox are limited).

A lot of people (more correctly: groups. Universities deal in the dollar, too, and money is probably the best-known shortcut to groupthink) in the academy don't want to make their work open-access (I shouldn't use the verb "want" -- it would be better to say that they don't see the option). I've heard of some professors who won't even let their lectures get videotaped. I can understand where they're coming from - they're afraid of essentially losing their organic value - being replaced by their own disembodied information - competing with an abstraction of themselves!(Um.. A Scanner Darkly, anyone?) Is this a legitimate fear? Is it just a mundane, everyman fear of losing their jobs? Or is open-access really taboo? (I'd love to hear thoughts about this, btw).
So It's a brave thing, what the professors are doing who are contributing to these open-access projects. They are in a way putting the old paradigm of the "career of professorship" on the line. It is a gamble, but I believe they know the game quite well, and are betting on exactly the right things.

Run along now, get blissed out on metadata, and spread the meta-word.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Why Dawkins is Wrong about Memes

So, pop-memetics has been a hot topic o'er the last few years, esp. here on the interwebbies. Here is how Wikipedia defines "a meme": (BTW, you're about to receive the Meta-Meme. I have to say that. It's mah job.)

"A meme (pronounced /miːm/) comprises a unit or element of cultural ideas, symbols or practices; such units or elements transmit from one mind to another through speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena. The etymology of the term relates to the Greek word mimema for mimic.[1] Memes act as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate and respond to selective pressures.[2]
Richard Dawkins coined the word "meme" as a neologism in his book The Selfish Gene (1976) to describe how one might extend evolutionary principles to explain the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena. He gave as examples melodies, catch-phrases, and beliefs (notably religious belief), clothing/fashion, and the technology of building arches.[3]
Meme-theorists contend that memes evolve by natural selection (in a manner similar to that of biological evolution) through the processes of variation, mutation, competition, and inheritance influencing an individual entity's reproductive success. Memes spread through the behaviors that they generate in their hosts. Memes that propagate less prolifically may become extinct, while others may survive, spread, and (for better or for worse) mutate. Theorists point out that memes which replicate the most effectively spread best, and some memes may replicate effectively even when they prove detrimental to the welfare of their hosts.[4]"

Let me introduce Dan Sperber - a french cognitive and social scientist whom I've grown to love in the last couple of years in the hallowed walls of the UVM Religion department building. Sperber has refined the field of memetics, which was very loosely defined by Dawkins BTW, so I kind of feel like I'm employing a straw-man argument using his definition. Point is: Generating the field of memetics wasn't the goal of Dawkin's book. He just threw some stuff out on the table. But that stuff needs to be re-assessed - like a good meme should (as we will see!)

Cultural transmission (what some call memetics) in Sperber's own words:

Just as the human mind is not a blank slate on which culture would somehow imprint its content, the communication process is not a xerox machine copying contents from one mind to another. This is where I part company not just from your standard semiologists or social scientists who take communication to be a coding-decoding system, a transmission system, biased only by social interests, by power, by intentional or unconscious distortions, but that otherwise could deliver a kind of smooth flow of undistorted information. I also part company from Richard Dawkins who sees cultural transmission as based on a process of replication, and who assume that imitation and communication provide a robust replication system.

...What happens is this. Although indeed when things get transmitted they tend to vary with each episode of transmission, these variations tend to gravitate around what I call "cultural attractors", which are, if you look at the dynamics of cultural transmission, points or regions in the space of possibilities, towards which transformations tend to go. The stability of cultural phenomena is not provided by a robust mechanism of replication. It's given in part, yes, by a mechanism of preservation which is not very robust, not very faithful, (and it's not its goal to be so). And it’s given in part by a strong tendency for the construction — in every mind at every moment— of new ideas, new uses of words, new artifacts, new behaviors, to go not in a random direction, but towards attractors. And, by the way, these cultural attractors themselves have a history.

In my interpretation, Sperber has proposed that there is more to cultural transmission than the copying and preservation of memes between minds. In fact, the thrust of one of his most distinct theses is that it is highly ANOMALOUS for memes to be flawlessly copied in transmission, and in fact most memes (he uses the less disputed over term "cultural representations") naturally transform when they are transmitted. We've all been variably seduced by the characterization of memes as "symbionts" or "parasites" for which we are the "hosts", and it can be fun to think of it that way. But the cognitive truth is that the transformation that cultural representations undergo throughout their residence in human minds is in fact what their "transmission" is contingent on! Thus it isn't the flawless copying of memes that accounts for how and why they move through culture, but rather it is the possibility that ideas are transformed to some degree in transmission. It seems like it would be interesting to investigate what exactly is meant by "transformed". When we think of information being transformed, we often think of it being changed semantically. But perhaps this is not the operative mode of transformation that culturally significant memes undergo. Rather than "transforming", a meme being "retrofitted" seems a good way to think about transmission because it denotes the circumstantial accommodation of something - the "installment" of something into an existing framework or system. Notably, minds don't just change memes, memes can change - or "reprogram" -minds. From a brief glance at Sperber's theory it might be hard to imagine how any representations endure through time! Indeed, this is precisely the focus of so much interesting discussion - why do "core" parts of the "code" of certain memes (or memeplexes) persevere, and what exactly constitutes the "core" components of them? And to what extent are these memes are malleable? This is when Sperber's discussion of "cultural attractors" can become relevant. Emphatically, a certain level of "optimal malleability" seems absolutely necessary to enduring cultural representations, and we can assume that ways of representing gods, deities and saints in enduring religious traditions possess an 'optimal scale' - a special ratio of 'stickiness' to 'malleability'.

Thus is the direction of the science of cultural representation/memetics. The social sciences are presently becoming infected accordingly. Hooray!

I quoted from an interview with Sperber that you can find here. I recommend the people and informations he links to. Good stuff.