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Wetwares Hacking The Noosphere 2gether

Living Collectivities and Global Feedback

Richard Doyle


Transient Creatures

Hong Kong

November 9, 2008

Seven Questions for the Noosphere



"And eyes,- on every side

Perfect, diversified;

And nowhere end of Thee, nowhere beginning,

Nowhere a centre! Shifts-

Wherever soul's gaze lifts-

Thy central Self, all-wielding, and all-winning!"


Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 11 ( Arnold translation)


(1)Do we create living art, or do we fall in love with living things that best express to us what it means to be alive?

Living art and artificial life live by reflecting our desire to know what life means back to us. Perhaps Life eludes definition because it is self referential - it is engaged in the process of self description. No wonder some of it glows!




(2) Where does this "expression" of "what it means to be alive" take place? We can call this place the "noosphere" after the work of Soviet scientist Vladimir Vernadsky. The noosphere is the third layer on earth we can map. This helps us map the earth not as a political or even geoloogical entity, but as a thermodynamic transformer. after the lithosphere ( the earth's mineral form), the biosphere ( the thin layer of life on the planet). Note that each layer is "nested" in the other, as in" " lithosphere[biosphere[noosphere]] " "The noosphere is the the earth's information layer ( an organized layer of dynamic attention) and has been discussed by scientists as diverse as Carl Jung and Karl Popper. Note that the noosphere is not limited to the meshed technologies of the Web; instead, the global information infrastructure should be seen as an effect of a prior, evolutionary transformation that began when some aspects of the biosphere - for example butterflies, flowers, crickets, whales, song birds, grasshoppers and humans - began growing what Jablonka and Lamb call a new "dimension" of evolution. Here, competition reigns not only for fitness but for attention: Ecosystems began to signal different facets of themselves with light and sound, experimenting with attention in order connect mates, camouflage each other, or frighten predators with a weakspot for sonic or visual hacks. Fireflies glow, capturing the attention of a prospective mate. Why does Alba glow? When Wang Lang developed the Northern Praying Mantis style of martial arts, he did so by focusing his attention on a living system: mantis interacting with prey. The Noosphere is the collective and perhaps self organizing effect of all the attention being focused in the noosphere on the biosphere, from ribosomes transcribing and translating DNA to someone beholding a Twitter feed about Brangelina. Today, some of that attention is focused on the continued existence of the biosphere, and, hence, the noosphere. I told you we were self referential!


"Behold! this is the Universe!- Look! what is live and dead

I gather all in one- in Me! Gaze, as thy lips have said

On GOD, ETERNAL, VERY GOD! See ME! what thou prayest!"

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 11 ( Arnold translation)



(3)What does it mean to be alive?The main scientific theory of living systems today focuses its attention on the role of DNA as the most "vital" information in living systems. In this model, humans and other living systems are "wetwares" for the network of DNA information. "Alba glows because of the GFP gene that is being expressed by Alba's DNA under UV light." As the substrate for expression, wetware leaks, yielding less "organisms" than membranes implicated in each other, sliding and folding breath into a complex of energetic tissue exchange. Some bioart focuses on new expressions of DNA information, and most artificial life ( computer code replicating on a computer, subject to natural selection and evolution) is modeled on DNA. DNA has captured the attention of many of us. Yet to many scientists it is clear that larger scale structures are necessary and not optional for any living system. The Gaia Hypothesis ( Margulis & Lovelock) suggests, based on atmospheric data gathered from an atmosphere radiated with atomic tests, that the entire planet is alive.


"Thou canst not!- nor, with human eyes, Arjuna! ever mayest!

Therefore I give thee sense divine. Have other eyes, new light!

And, look! This is My glory, unveiled to mortal sight!"'


Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 11 ( Arnold translation)


(4)What does it mean to mean? Many scientists from developmental biology, ecology, thermodynamics and other disciplines that involve changes in scale have argued that "information" alone is insufficient to sustain living systems - they instead require "meaning." While "information" is a quantitative measure of the number of yes or no questions it takes to determine the content of any message or "information", "meaning" refers to "information" informed, shaped, by context. This context has layers - personal, ethnic, national,planetary, even galactic. "Information" reports, "Meaning" transforms context based on context. Even an interruption has meaning in this context.


(5)What does it mean to focus our attention on the biosphere, now?

It means nothing more or less than the Kung Fu discussed in the earlier question. Northern Praying Mantis martial arts occurs when human beings focus their attention on Mantis behavior and borrow from it, and and seek replicate to it with respect, even love. Biologists call this use of already existing order "stigmergy\" after the French biologist Rene Grassé coined the term in 1959, and is not limited to mimicry; instead it requires a following and gathering of signs in the environment ""It is derived from the Greek words stigma ‘sign’ and ergon ‘action,’ and captures the notion that an agent’s actions leave signs in the environment, signs that it and other agents sense and that determine their subsequent actions.” Focusing our attention on the Praying Mantis and the signs it leaves in the environment - its movements and stillness - we find that it is always, even when it is in a cage, enmeshed with an ecosystem. Understandably, because it has so much to teach us, because there is so much en-chanting beauty and effect in its movements, we sometimes remember the mantis and forget the ecosystem.



(6) How can we focus our attention on the biosphere, now? Ecologist Howard Odum created a language he called "energese" to help us remember the larger scales of ecosystems even while we study the bioart of all creation. While the creation of a visual language that is even slightly better at imaging the energetic flows of our ecosystems would likely yield a good deal of insight for practicioners of sustainability, perhaps supporting an "autoptrophic " evolution of humans, Odum was not very successful in getting others to use his scheme. Seeking to amplify the flows of our embodiement, "energese" seems to have been insufficiently sticky , i.e. it has not yet captured the attention of most noospheric participants. Odum also described what he called the "macroscope" - a conceptual vision that seeks to remember the whole even as we become fascinated by the parts. Capturing our attention with bioluminesence (stigmergy) monstrosity (stigmergy) and the uncanny (stigmergy) Transient represent life for a living. Yet by provoking the question "What does it mean to be alive?" ( along with many other emotional and aesthetic responses), bioart and artificial life lead us, inevitably, back to the whole. The Noosphere, as the collective effect of attention on the biosphere, urges our thinking toward the



(7) How can I glow with an inner light like a transgenic bunny?


The French scientist Jean Baptiste Lamarck invented modern biology ( and modern evolutionary theory) in the late 18th and early 19th century. Lamarack taught that biology, as the science of life, should focus on the internal as well as external aspects of living systems:


Lamarck: "I considered inner feeling, that is, the feeling of being alive, which only animals enjoying the faculty of feeling possess. I collected the known facts concerning this matter, as well as my own observations, and I was soon convinced that this inner feeling constituted a power essential to take into account."

Contemporary biology excels at studying small parts of living systems from the outside in, but does less well when it comes to what biologists Eva Jablonka and Marion J. Lamb call "putting Humpty Dumpty Back together again.". Understanding living systems means including all aspects of living systems and mapping them as a Whole, including this "inner feeling. " Perhaps bioart and artificial life, properly viewed, ask us to consider life from the inside out. "What does it mean to be alive?" becomes a meaningful scientific question in Lamarck's terms only when we ask what it feels like from the inside. Scientist and Buddhist monk Alan Wallace insists that we bring as much rigor and respect to our investigation of the "inner world" as we do in our outer world, and it is here that much research in the science of mind is focused today.In other words, the "subjective" experience - what it feels like to us, now - must be investigated if we are to respond to the question "What is life?". This is not work that can be done by others, but must instead be done by each of us, by ourselves, together. This "contemplative biology" asks us to focus on the "inner light" described in the diverse mystical traditions of the world. Aldous Huxley, author and brother of biologist Julian Huxley, called this the "Perrenial Philosophy", and this "inner" knowledge abounds in discussion of an "inner light." Yes, this is indeed old research: I have traveled here from Pennslyvania, whose founder, William Penn meditated in silence and saw an inner light:


''That blessed principle, the Eternal Word... is Pythagoras's real light and salt of ages; Anaxagoras's divine mind; Socrates's good spirit; Timaeus's unbegotten principle and author of all light; ....''''


Vernadsky, in describing the Noosphere ,focused on the effects of collective attention on the biosphere. But, of course, our subjective experience, our minds in all of their readily observed transience are part of the biosphere, and it is precisely the transcience of the biosphere upon which it would seem urgent to focus our attention, 2gether.

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