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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Of Grasses and Fish, Mobile, and Immobile Life Forms

What would the world be without grass or fish . . . . I may imagine, though grimly, a world with JUST grasses and fish. . . but cannot see the world without them, perhaps because they are part of the greater body. . . that makes the rest of us possible.

The evolution of Homo sapiens as a species, living on a microdot called Earth, begins with the story of a minute silicon spark left to coalesce from the the same solar nebula that made the sun. The vast reaches of time and space are for the most part a story of 'inorganic' matter, which according to terrestrial-chemistry, is non-life.


Humans, glib from the hubris of success in the past few milliseconds of universal time, make the assumption that intelligence is the mark of all life forms, and that only the living possess intelligence. I wish to immediately challenge that assumption, and also to blur the distinction between what 'lives' and want we consider 'non-living'.

These assumptions are so foundational, so un-challenged that they slip into our thoughts unawares. Part of the human mythos. A computer now may now easily defeat nearly all humans at chess. Is this not intelligence? Ah you argue, who gave the machine it's intelligence? Rules were set up, programs created. Yes, true. . . but so it is with any task. A child, created by two adults, knows nothing confronting a chess set for the first time. So it was for "Deep Thought" the IBM machine programmed to play, learn from, and eventually beat some of the best grand-masters of the game.

What are the distinctions between life and non life? We are born, so are atoms. We evolve. Matter evolves. Molecules heavier than iron decay into iron, atoms lighter build over universal time towards iron, which sinks like the core of a planet into the middle of the periodic table of matter. All of matter seems to obey laws of physics some of which as humans we seem to understand.

Matter engages in an exchange of energy, and mass, just as life forms do. The time is upon us when we shall be throwing aside such distinctions.

Our mythos arises from our story, our history, the tale we tell ourselves about ourselves. How "we" happened to become. How "We" were created. This history is so important to us that it is nearly essential for any believing in the story to believe also that such stories are rare in the universe, and are not concurrent here on Planet Earth. In other words only "We" are the most intelligent life form on this planet. Only we represent intelligence within this solar system, and only we are likely intelligent beings in this immediate part of our galaxy.

So how did life evolve? How did it arise, seemingly spontaneously, from what is non-living?

This question immediately divides even scientific thinkers into two camps, between the spontaneous evolutionists on board the planet - 'It all happened here' . . . from those that believe that a spore or crystalline DNA arrived from somewhere else in the galaxy. "It happened outside."

The spontaneous evolutionists have Miller's early experiements with amino acids to point to. It is possible to create an environment of boiling gases, methane, and with enough energy in the form of UV and electricity, to create amino acids in a primeval soup. Thus life formed itself out of the raw elements of the earth.

Others believe the precursors to life arrived from off-planet. DNA travels well, and for long distances, within a spore. The common fungus, mushroom, has spores that will survive even a nuclear explosion. The vacuum and freeze of outer space is a perfect place for drifting spores. Comets, those dirty snowballs, already shown to hold some residues of living materials, may have been the transport mechanisms for DNA possibly arriving from another realm.

Whichever camp you re in we still run up against a mystery. And our untested assumption - that only life may rise to life to other life.

How did life evolve? What is this history of 'evolution' without the first and most fundemental step, the creation of life? Are we talking about a distinction that came about instantly, or are there half steps, between what lives, and what does not live?

By what credo do we assume that all things move towards a higher state? And what is the use of this distinction, higher/lower/ more/less, dumb/intelligent living/dead in the first place?

Such questions lead to issues of thermodynamics, and the big bang. A universe that cools through expansion may in fact be crystalizing, and the process of forming crystals is not unlike the process of intelligence formation. DNA is crystalline in nature, so is quartz, the crystalline form of the ubiquitous silica, which along with alumina, form the mass of this planet.

Once assumptions about 'evolution' on a physical, not an organic, plane have been resolved, we have the groundwork out of the way for considering intelligence, and the possible evolution of intelligence.

The troublesome distinctions disappear the instant we concede that the little silicon chip that we are living upon IS in fact living, not partially, but entirely, and the little skim of what we now call 'life' that is on it's surface is merely a brief story or episode in the greater inorganic evolution of this earth, sun, our galaxy, our universe. All of it is alive.

The earth is pursuing a cosmic self-organization through phases of organized cooling just as algae forms on a stagnant pond.

The notion "I am a free being" is hatched by an illusion that we are free beings. Whether to have coffee or tea, whether to stand or sit, or what career choice we make.

That freedom of choice-making is not something that we can get rid of. So where is the freedom? Every fish in the sea must make 'decisions' about which way to turn, right left, up down. True this is part of it's thinking. And each fish, when reacting to danger or a promise of reward, will react slightly differently. But all react, else they aren't fish.

Think of this for a moment. You have choices, but you cannot rid yourself of your choices. Even a prisoner locked in the darkest cell has choices, which haunt his brain until his heart stops and his cells die. Then if he is left to rot as was the case in many 19th century prisons, even the rats and flies that take over his corpse have 'freedoms', about which way to turn, which way to fly.

I am free to act, yes, but that freedom is not gained freely. You inherit this, all beings do. Even quantum science is seeing that this fact of nature is mirrored the smallest behaviours of leptons, as if they were thinking alongside us!

Cognitive science has for the most part focused on a study of intelligence, as if it were the result of a process and organization of matter for the express purpose of intelligence. What is a brain but a dedicated pile of neurons, whose purpose is to guide the rest of our bodies, intelligently.

For centuries, science only admitted intelligence to be present in the higher mammals, now however the vast body of science 'intelligence' anywhere neurons or neural networks, are to be found, even, or particularly in laboratory research, in worms, but for the most part it is a science that studies cognition in animals. The notion of botanical intelligence? That is on the outskirts of present study.

What of inorganic intelligence? . . .

Cognitive racism, admitting intelligence only in neuron-possessing anima, comes about I believe due to the uniquely human need to define boundaries with convenient categories of language, that are grafted off our own evolutions of language. This limits the search for intelligence to beings that are mobile. Think about it. Who is studying consciousness in trees, in fungi, in grasses that feed the animals and humans in vast plains across the globe.

We have this inbred tendency to think that which is immobile is dumb, and without capability of thought or perception, and that which moves, is possesses consciousness in some degree. Consciousness and mobility, are therefore viewed as analogous. If I describe someone met at a party as 'quick-moving' the assumption will be one of intelligence, relative to someone described as 'slow', ponderous. "Oblamov" by the Russian writer Ivan Goncharov was one to superbly explore the notion that intelligence could reside in a massive, immobile being, consigned to a bed!

Using linguistically derived categories has led us to a study of relative ''intelligence", and that has meant the study of intelligence within ourselves as compared to that of our evolutionary cousins, the mammals, fishes, birds, insects, and worms.
As humans, we’ll admit to possibility of extraterrestrial intelligence much more quickly than we'll admit that the bedrock of this earth is alive.

Yet an exploration of the neurons of all of these animate forms reveals a similar level of evolution. In fact every animal on the planet today has within it's genes the same degree of evolution, in years, as any other. In fact the shorted lived organisms have had more generations to evolve, and perfect their code for survival.

So by what metric do we measure intelligence. The winner at a game of chess? Or the survivor on the planet? If intelligence is a measure of evolutionary ‘fitness’ then extreme intelligence should then uniquely qualify it’s possessor to survive. Yet looking at the race currently it does not seem that we shall outlive either the grasses or the fishes, or the mosquitoes.

And if survival is to be any measure of ultimate intelligence then humans should be swift to lower their banner of supremacy, for the grasses and fishes as are sure to outlive us as a virus or food shortage is most likely to do us in. Let us not forget the continuum of primates that have evolved and yet died off. .. . perhaps our time is as brief relatively, as Australopithecus.

Our definitions, or rather categories that seek definitions, with 3-D maps of skin surfaces, or today, increasingly, via internet communications "I am what I emit and absorb on the web!" . . . . . are all, whatever definition we use to describe 'you' or 'me' as an 'individual' seem unsatisfactory.

The Ancient Vedic philosophers considered the cow, sacred to all Hindus today, liguistically as an extension of the grass that it ate. . . the root for cattle, is 'grass-ness'. As we are but expressions of the earth perhaps we should re-title ourselves from Homo sapiens' to 'Earth-Ness'. Mommy I saw an Earth-Ness monster!

A momentary image made by the light that falls on a coffee-mug on a tabletop in the morning, unveils an event of organization and intelligence that itself might challenge any definitional notions of a cognitive science.

The image may be captured, and appreciated, by an eye, or by a camera. Or by multiple cameras from multiple angles and multiple distances. Or multiple cameras at multiple distances taking the image at multiple times. So it may be seen from a satellite!. . . or by a supremely organized lens at the other end of the galaxy. In fact the notion of the coffee mug ever being 'lost' as the rays of light float away from it, is nonsense. The image of what has happened is never lost, because the photos are not lost, and if they are, there is mass to show for it.

The essence of the coffe-mug's existence could in theory be reassembled photon by photon, at any moment in time or history, and for that matter, were there a supreme enough being with a supreme enough technology, could be reassbled before the coffee mug was even produced or fired, or before the table was made. The technology of cameras is only one level of what 'intelligence' can do to render as an artifice, what is fleeting and immaterial, yet also permanent, and immortal.

So where is the driving intelligence to begin with? If I give you a thousand sums to do, chances are you will make errors with a certain percentage of them. However a beam of light from any source, hardly makes an error at all. Yes, it is shown that a single photon, may erroneously pursue a seperate path from what predestiny it seems to inherit, but that depends on what you the observer are thinking at the time. So the photon behaves according to rules, but also listens to it's neighbors.

Light beams don't lie. They don't err, and so they ultimately must be the most pure form of intelligence. And the most universal, and the most ubiquitous . . light, or energy, is everywhere.

But what of my own intelligence, my self-defined notion of thought as existing within my hot brain, a locus of temperature higher than it's immediate surrounding shell and environment.

If the forgoing is true then I am nothing but a brief solar flare, a finite fractal form defined and separate in temperature locus, from that of the earth itself, like the spume that breaks from the sea and falls back, or the sparks that fly from a fire and is swallowed up by the night. For just as the earth is a spec of silica preserving itself until a date of oblivion with the sun itself, and just as every worm and man is on a date of oblivian with the earth, so even our sun has a date with supernova extinction or red dwarf death.

Cognitive science prefers to study the intelligence of mobile organic masses simply because the categories of them are convenient to describe. They are topologically disctinct from other forms. Finding the end of a root mass of an individual oak tree is very difficult, nearly impossible. . it is formally, and practically inseparable from the earth. Grasses, which share roots, are they one being or many?

A swirling ball of fish in the sea. . . one being . . .or many.

The masses of humans in todays cites, miraculously seem to thrive on a technology that is gradually consuming the surface of this earth. One being, or many? Seem to thrive is the key phrase here. . . . seen in long-time, in Earth time, perhaps we would notice that 'thrive' is an overstatement. Yes we have exploded in population, and so we are likely to crash as well.

So to my son, I applaud your interest in fishes and grasses. .. . being much closer to the lives of the earth and sea.

But that which moves through it all, just as the energy of the sun still moves through you and me, and through every blade of grass and every fish, and still is pulsing from the center of this iron-cored earth of ours, that which moves through it all, and the supreme intelligence of all, is something I believe based in light, in energy, and the interplay of energy between all masses.

What am I but a brief story, that might be told, or might not be, a history, a cv, a catalogue raisonnee, of deeds, misdeeds, works, thoughts, sounds, smells, digestions . .. that may be catalogued and thought of as within the category of a certain Mark Potter.

What is the town where I worked summers as a youngster but a brief story, a tale of dispossession of a valley by one creed over another, a story of brass and copper fortunes built, and buildings and labor unions and societies formed.

But whatever will, or desire I distill and attribute to a unique and solitary power over my own fate, I believe is a huge mythology that is nevertheless convenient and useful to me as a surviving, (thus far) unit of organic mass upon this earth.

This mythology is not of my own making. Nor is my response to it. . . .

The cosmos invites us to dance - it has the steps already memorized. We dance it's dance. Sometimes perfectly the way Leonardo did a few times in his life. Most of the time imperfectly. But we dance. Only the dance is immortal. Only the dance is intelligent. The lullabies that we sing to ourselves are just mythologies that disctract us from the real vision, the vastness and greatness of everything that is out there and everything that in fact sees and feels on a scale that dwarfs our own, just as we imagine our intelligence dwarfs the intelligence of a mosquito. It doesn't at all. The mosquito dances just as we do.

The dance is one of light and mass, and there are dimensions beyond light and mass as well, realms of being yet undiscovered. Every atom contributes to this overall intelligence. The galaxies may view each other as brothers and sisters, just as the earth may scratch at the itchy rot that abrades it's surface, the little elves that doggedly seperate one metal from another, iron from iron ore, makes piles of gold, and refines this silicon chip of ours to what end?

Are we but individual tasks, sons and daughters of a greater task. . . . . . . . if so what task is that? If our topological fractal definition of self has forgotten the parent that made that self.

Who is the wiser here?


Today I made some pots,
No cash money though,
Then with a flash I saw,
Clay pots don't matter, much at all.

I'll pour my sadness into my heart
And release it, wild bird into the world.
And find another sad bird longing just beneath it
And let that one go too.

Shadows of Winter

The autumn sun hid months ago,
       beneath moist red leaves.

Tired, I lie in a patch of snow.
I go digging for it.
Snow, leaves, twigs, dirt . . .

Thoughts and dreams,
   fire, tea water.
My kiln trails smoke,
   . . . into a grey sky.


My old typewriter waits,
   with faded paper.

I have no intention to write,
yet how easily thoughts become words,
   above her little face.

My fingers hover in a realm,
   dividing present and future.

Guttenberg's thoughts
   remain private.

But become duplicate,
   when I sit at his keys.

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