koyaanisqatsi: we are what we are

This post is an off-the cuff unedited response to a post on my friend Louis’s blog, Ralston Creek Review. Louis is a musicologist and intelligent guy and accomplished scholar, among other things, and I recommend his blog highly.

I am responding to Louis’ post here rather than there because of the length of my response and also because I haven’t taken the time to clean up my own rambling, loose-limbed expressions and produce a reasonably coherent piece of work. I don’t want to pollute his meticulous blog anymore than I already have. His post is located at: http://ralstoncreekreview.com/song-of-the-week-silver-threads-and-golden-needles/ .

Here is the part of Louis’ post I am responding to:

My wife Cathy and I attended a wedding last weekend. The bride was an elementary school teacher and the groom a former tax lawyer who quit his practice to open a chain of marijuana dispensaries. As we drove into the parking lot at the wedding venue, we saw in the spots reserved for the bide and groom a Ferrari sports car and a Porsche SUV – which is a couple hundred thousand dollars worth of transportation. I had no idea that grade school teachers are paid that well.

It was a very nice ceremony and reception, but a few things struck me as sort of strange. For example, the officiant (it was not a very religious ceremony), thought it appropriate to include an old joke in his remarks. It was the one about a woman who accompanied her husband to a medical appointment. After the husband had been examined, the doctor asked to speak to his wife in private. He told her that her husband’s condition was very precarious, and that virtually any stress could have disastrous consequences. The doctor told her that she would have to care for her husband with great love and tenderness, cook him carefully planned meals, prevent him from doing strenuous household chores and generally “baby” him for several months. The wife said she understood, and went to meet her husband in the waiting room. As they were walking out to their car, the husband asked, “What did the doctor have to say?” The wife replied, “He said you’re going to die.”

And here’s my response:

Dear Louis,

I would have the same thoughts you express if I were exposed to what you witnessed that day. And I have more, of course, which will follow.

A parking lot serving as a trophy case for conspicuous over-consumption by folks who, as they say, just have “too damn much money” is both a sign of the times and a sigh-inspiring observation that things are the same as they ever were in the human paradigm.

And the joke, with its undertones of egocentric precedence and unencumbered, uncommitted selfishness at a ceremony where traditionally two are selflessly united as one is humorous in that sort of subtle, unfunny way which tickles the fears of people and incites nervous laughter – but to me it is more an expression about the overweening sense of personal entitlement which has become prevalent in America, and the larger fatal flaw present in humanity which requires conquest and triumph rather than cooperation and coexistence.

Paul Simon said, observing the empty rounds of unsatisfied, unconscious seekers, “I don’t find this stuff amusing anymore.” Neither do I. I just look at it and think, well, that’s just the way it is – for them. And it affects us all.

Your observation is a single, small picture containing things which inspired an extrapolation of a much broader perspective for me. I recently watched the movie “Little Big Man” again, and a documentary series about the development of the American west. Your observations and the reminder of the native American perspective also led me to remember the movie “Koyaanisqatsi”. And of course we both share a good knowledge of human history which can be brought to bear in a larger perspective on this single snapshot, and my musings included that as well.

I think homo sapiens has indeed finally reached the place where it is evident to some of us that all the silver threads and golden needles developed by humanity cannot mend the heart of our evolutionary mandate and what it has delivered us to.

In Little Big Man, the character Old Lodge Skins (played by Chief Dan George) observes: “…the human beings (i.e., the native Americans), my son, they believe everything is alive. Not only man and animals. But also water, earth, stone… but the white man, they believe everything is dead. Stone, earth, animals. And people! Even their own people! If things keep trying to live, the white man will rub them out.”

The native Americans saw the projected outcome of destructive over-consumption, and were bewildered that the social paradigms of the invaders had made them ignorant of the eventual result of their predations on others and the planet.

In the Hopi language, the word koyaanisqatsi means “life of moral corruption and turmoil” or “life out of balance,” and certainly describes the modern ways and means of homo sapiens. In the American documentary film (1982) of the same name, a clear pictorial record of that unbalanced life is presented. Here’s an edited excerpt from Wikipedia describing the film and how the director, Godfrey Reggio, described it:

Reggio stated that “these (the Qatsi trilogy) films have never been about the effect of technology, of industry on people. It’s been that every[thing] – politics, education, things of the financial structure, the nation state structure, language, the culture, religion – all of that exists within the host of technology. …It’s not that we use technology, we live technology.” In other words, we are technology.

And when I realize the final, clear point of all of this – that we have become what we are – I am reminded of Robert Oppenheimer’s observation when the first atomic bomb was detonated, when he quoted the words of Shiva from the Bhagavad Gita: “…now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds…”

We are what we are. If the ways and means evolved in the human paradigm in the past six thousand years or so were a social paradigm and not an evolutionary imperative that goes to the very bone of our DNA, my thoughts on the future of homo sapiens might be moderated some. But I don’t think that’s the case. Homo sapiens has realized its own potential and simultaneous downfall in a genetic mandate which calls for its own extinction before it can assume the grace of its origin as depicted in myth by the Garden of Eden.

There is now a demonstrated level of probability that the current human species homo sapiens will prove to be an unsuccessful evolutionary development and will become extinct. Human adaptability as well as the evolutionary development of alternate subsets within a species both constitute a counterbalance to that ultimate development and produce a certain value of hope in the calculation of that probability.

There is a small chance that current levels of homo sapiens adaptability will prove to be capable of effecting long term proactive efforts rather than being simply reactive to developments after the fact, and will collectively rise to a level which will manage a massive transfiguration and readjustment of the ways and means of their present nature and history. But it doesn’t seem to be much of a chance.

Overall it seems to me that even if homo sapiens as a species finds its place in creation and learns to live in balance with the source of its sustenance – the planetary biosphere – there will have to be a cataclysmic adjustment, a culling of population numbers on a nearly unimaginable scale. I think it’s become a nearly unavoidable probability. And I don’t think that homo sapiens will survive the cut.

I do have one solid hope for the future of humanity. The thing is, it doesn’t include the survival of homo sapiens as a species.

Homo sapiens has had a good run, and for awhile its evolved nature has proven successful – at least for a certain value of “successful.” But the timeline of the universe is nearly eternal, and the duration of the human experiment a mote on that scale. If homo sapiens proves, after a seemingly successful run of ten or a hundred thousand years, to in the end be an unsuccessful development, the earth and the universe will not even blink when it disappears. New species will appear, and have their turn.

I think that there is evidence in the historical record of the past six thousand years that a new evolutionary line is developing in the human species. Just as Cro-Magnon superseded the Neanderthal, I think there is a human species already present on earth which shares a great part of the gene pool of homo sapiens and yet has a certain measure of divergent, alternate characteristics which effectively distant it from homo sapiens.

I also think this new species is only just beginning to identify itself and the presence of like others, and that the threshold of conscious recognition of its divergent nature is approaching in part because of the end homo sapiens is arriving at, and in part because the increased connectivity of the technological world has made it possible to see like others in spite of their relative rarity in the masses of homo sapiens.

They are not the reconstituted Übermensch of Nietzsche and the Nazis, or Olaf Stapledon’s “Odd John,” or Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land.” The early history of Heinlein’s Valentine Smith as the child raised by wolves and the characterization of Smith as “homo superior” offers a slight description of what the new species might appear to be in the eyes of homo sapiens, but it is only an inkling.

It has been observed that the internal mental processing environment of a person with a given IQ level can be unfathomable to another person with an IQ level removed as little as ten points either way from that baseline. I think that in the same way it is unfathomable for homo sapiens to divine the nature of the new species within its midst. The hope I have for humanity is not that homo sapiens would identify the new line of “homo nova”, but that these new humans would discover and see each other, and survive the end of homo sapiens, and carry their own human line forward.

The fall of the old line and the ascension of homo nova will be a birth in every sense of the word, an explosive paroxysm, as homo sapiens succumbs to its fatal flaw and homo nova rises from those ashes. It will take awhile. The transcendent vector will be obscure in the short term, and a proven fact in the long run. All we can see right now are the inklings, the precursors, the path behind us, and what it has led to. What comes next is unimaginable to most of us, but it does hold hope for a future for a branch of humanity which is viable, and better than its antecedents.

All of these thoughts probably seem to most as an odd flower to be seeded by the picture you shared, but to me it is as clear and plain as can be.

Anyway, that’s what I thought about in response to your post.

PS: If you’re interested, at one time I was enamored of the cyber punk genre and took a bit of time to attempt it myself. The end result, preliminary and sparse and unfinished, languished in my files unpolished and forgotten, and when I discovered it again I didn’t think much of it and decided it was too much of a mess to mess with. Later I decided to put the thing on the net as a rough seed for something called “The Cyberpunk Novel Project v. 1.0”. It is located at https://novageddon.wordpress.com/ . It has languished in the back channels of cyberspace ever since, and for quite awhile, with nary a taker.

After writing the above thoughts I revisited the site because it does have some of what I’ve reflected on here incorporated into it, particularly in sections which are excerpts from the “Encyclopedia Cumulatus, 2165 (Gregorian)”. Have a look, if you’re so inclined, and perhaps there will be enough substance there to engender some thoughts of your own about the present and future nature of the human species.

I’d be interested in what you think about the subject.

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17 Responses to koyaanisqatsi: we are what we are

  1. Louis W. says:

    Whoa boy. You have given whoever reads this a lot to think about. To be honest, I have not yet thought about all you have written, but I have managed a few thoughts.

    First, all forms of Homo nova may not necessarily help humans or the Earth to survive. I am sure you have read Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, in which the new form of human ends up destroying the planet before becoming mature enough to know any better. I have always had a sense of fondness for this world, so I do hope that the future you envision is more correct than the one in Clarke’s book.

    Next, I always wonder about how much we can rely on DNA to identify species for us. It has been substantially less than a century since anyone had even an inkling that DNA carries genetic material. Ever since that realization, though, the whole world seems to have believed more and more over time that the makeup of DNA is the basic determiner of all that we and every other species in the world are or will be. I wonder, though, if most of the people who believe that – most of whom are not scientists – are mistaking the blueprints for the architect.

    It seems more realistic to say that some extra-DNA impetus must have caused an early hominid or two to raise up onto two legs for a better view of the savannah or to see a stick or a rock as a tool to make life easier. It was only after that initial impetus that DNA began to alter or mutate in such a way as to facilitate helpful changes in behavior, and ultimately structure.

    Modern science does recognize that there are behavioral, and even physical changes, that can take place within a single lifetime through mechanisms of what are called epigenetic. Moreover, such changes, which to not affect the DNA sequence, appear capable of being inherited by subsequent generations. Bruce Lipton has written some interesting books trying to explain epigenetic changes to the common person.

    Even looking at only DNA and its role as a genetic blueprint, differences between species are really tiny. In researching a post I wrote about DNA testing and my dog, Darcy, as a puppy (http://ralstoncreekreview.com/day-58-darcy-dog/), I learned that the difference in DNA structure between a domestic dog and a wolf is barely 1%. Among hominids, it appears to be even less. Figures I have seen indicate that about 99.7% of the base pairs of the modern human and Neanderthal genomes are identical, and that modern humans each have from 1% up to about 5% of Neanderthal genes, depending on race. I think it is probably more for some of us.

    That 0.3% difference is very small. Some studies have shown that differences among the most diverse current racial populations is about half as large. So, are different racial populations diverging into separate species? I don’t think you are saying or implying that. Rather, I think your Homo nova is evolving, or has evolved, across all humanity through, again, an extra-DNA mechanism.

    Looking at your comment on the quote from Old Lodge Skins in Little Big Man that everything – “water, earth stone” – is alive refutes any belief that some may have that life is defined by DNA. These other types of life that are all around us exist and persist without any DNA at all, at least that we have detected.

    To change the subject and tone, let me turn to a personal recollection of Koyaanisqatsi. The film was made, as you say, in 1982. However, it was not generally released until the autumn of 1983. It played in Denver for just a few weeks in late September and early October of that year, and only at the Esquire Theater. Our son Michael was born on October 12, 1983, and it was the last movie that Cathy and I saw before his birth.
    As you know, the film is a temporally altered collage with (weird) music by Philip Glass and no dialog or narration. That is not necessarily what a pregnant woman wants to experience. To this day, Cathy still says it was the worst movie she has ever seen – and she remembers every detail of it.

    Finally, let me conclude my thoughts-to-date with another Ferrari story. A guy I knew for many years, who passed away last year, had a very successful business in the early and mid-1960s. He appreciated certain types of cars, so he and his wife took a trip to Italy, went to the Ferrari factory and purchased a brand new automobile for $30,000, or so. That was a lot for a car in those days. They spent a few weeks driving it around Europe, and then brought it home to Denver. He drove it from time to time, and treated it very nicely for a few years until the economy deteriorated. He had serious financial setbacks and the Ferrari eventually ended up in his garage, with a few odd pieces lying here and there. After his death, his children had to figure out what to do with the car. Recently, they found a buyer from out of state willing to pay $300,000 for that nearly 50-year old car that doesn’t run. The buyer has also committed to spending an additional $350,000 over the next three years to restore the Ferrari.

    You mentioned the unfathomable differences in mental processing that exist over a 10-point IQ differential. There are also unfathomable differences between those who collect or drive vintage or super-luxury automobiles and those that don’t – and males of our species certainly cannot fathom the thoughts and feelings of a pregnant woman.

    I can’t say that one way of processing is any better than the other.

    • bobgriffith says:

      Sorry to learn of Cathy’s bad experience watching the movie Koyaanisqatsi. It has a visceral impact, for sure.

      As far as the varying sentiments behind accessory and vanity automobile ownership go, I know that some are more noble – or at least more tolerable and understandable – than others. I’m reluctant to condemn all forms of over-consumption in that regard, but the fact behind the machine is not pretty from my point of view. Most of the social and technological human machineries in operation these days and their outputs involve deprivation of others, reduction of finite planetary resources often for purposes of vanity, and degradation of the biosphere.

      At the level of the extreme purist I’d say sell the damn car and give the money to something which raises the quality of life on earth for people rather than reduces it. At a practical level I’d say people do what they do, it is what it is, and acknowledge that condition even though I often don’t support it. And at the dead bang mean level of current human consciousness I’d say people are going to simply please themselves without thinking any further than that.

      As for Arthur C. Clarke’s speculations, I’d have to say that they were based in an anthropomorphic perspective from the viewpoint of homo sapiens, and marginally useful at best. As are mine. On the pictorial timeline which begins with a monkey and concludes with a modern Cro-Magnon standing erect in the sun of a new evolutionary dawn, our position on a similar chart ending in homo nova would place us at the equivalent point where we were no longer dragging our knuckles on the ground and looking for grubs, but not yet consistently looking forward and straightening up.

      I appreciate your generosity of spirit when you observe that you can’t say that one way of processing is any better than the other. Perhaps there isn’t any difference and it’s just about the quality and quantity of information input which produces such wildly variable output. I personally think that processing modalities do have an effect on output, and I believe there are genetically coded ways and systems related to processing information neurally which do produce better output.

      So. The genetic mechanism and how it is constituted in its nature and modified by its nurture, or environment… Whether a new mod, generated epigenetically, or an existing definition in the baseline code proves to be the source of a critically needed survival mode upgrade seems moot to me.

      I suppose that when speculating about the development of a “homo nova” it could be viewed as the manifestation of an epigenetic effect on potentials already coded in the homo sapiens genome. After all, human beings are constituted to be adaptable, flexible organisms who process complex input and widely varied environmental conditions and adjust their actions and physiology accordingly, and so survive, and whatever specificity in their coding is present will become prevalent over generations. That coding is already present.

      Epigenetic effects are cellularly sourced in part by environmental and experiential influences, but these causes produce the effects as a manifestation of the fundamental, individual-specific constitution defined by DNA. Mitotic inheritance, or the passing of modifications from mother to daughter cells, is not maintained in a precise manner, and from what I know about it it’s more about environmental genetic mods. Such modifications are a source of code variation down through the generations which follow, just like mutations, and of course the evolutionary paradigm says that if it works it will survive and continue.

      I’d characterize epigenetic changes as superficial code alterations which occur at a level of “try-ons” and, if successful over time, become part of the baseline code.

      I think there are currently existing DNA coding combinations in individuals which “wake up” as the result of an environmental “switch” which is more responsive in those individuals. If the environmental stimulation which incited these developments became usual rather than unusual, and only those individuals with those particular characteristics proved adaptable to the changes, then it’s obvious those individuals would survive and over time the baseline genome would alter as much as it has since the Neanderthals.

      The result would be an epigenetic mod which either added an entirely new characteristic to the genome, or in some way raised the order of occurrence and/or activation of an existing characteristic. My thought is the combination would be the cause – epigenetic mods and mutations in concert with the baseline code and potentials already there.

      Variations between genomes are small, as you note. However, variations within a genome are another thing entirely. A small series of pairs in a certain order of ATGC on the helix can account for significant variation. The entire human genome helix has about 3 billion bases and about 20,000 genes on 23 pairs of chromosomes. Within a set that large an exponentially high potential for variation in combinations exists, and individual combinations could be small and rare and yet nevertheless have a profound effect upon the definition of any given individual.

      It appears to me, for example, that depending on the environment an individual encounters, the genome already has produced individuals who are coded in such a way to be stimulated to responsively develop more than the usual number of synaptic cortical connections than would normally be necessary to meet a “normal” environment. It also appears to me that the primary things in the environment which incite such a development are first, complexity, and then adversity, and the more complex and adverse the environment the more responsive the mechanism is.

      In such a case the secondary, subsequent generation of more cortical connections for more processing power required by a complex and/or adverse environment could be characterized as an epigenetic effect stimulated by the environment, but it would only occur if the base code which defines that option has included that possibility as a part of the potential of the individual, and has also instructed other systems to also constitute and hook themselves up in such a way as to create a particular condition to facilitate that effect.

      If extensive cortical hookup augments and increased synaptic production are possible in a given individual it would be the result of a (relatively) rare combination which “turns on” as a result of environmental inputs. The systems which receive those inputs would most likely have to be constituted in a rare way as well. I’d speculate the configuration would be partially related to certain configurations of the paleo-mammalian brain stem and outlying receptor systems like the adrenal system.

      The end result, regardless of the mechanism, would be the same. An evolutionary mod with a higher chance of survival, because it can figure out what is stupid and what is not stupid and respond with a higher degree of responsive energy to avoid one and embrace the other. We have that slow and rudimentary capability now, of course, but there is a certain amount of drag on our prospects for survival as a result of the influence of knuckle-dragging, grub-seeking elements still present in our population.

      So it goes.

  2. bobgriffith says:

    As a followup to the thoughts here, here’s a link to a recent study done at the University of Illinois which studied epigenetic effects on cell differentiation in stem cells: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150626083806.htm

    Cell differentiation is about genetic switches which are activated at the cellular level to create different types of tissues. A quote from the article says,

    “Epigenetic modifications to histones can trigger the activation of a large number of genes simultaneously, instead of regulating one gene at a time,” says Jalees Rehman, associate professor of medicine and pharmacology at UIC, and an author on the paper. “We wanted to see if we could identify epigenetic regulators of stem cell differentiation — a highly complex process, involving the transition of a cell that can form any type of tissue early on in development, into one that is locked in to producing only one cell type.”

    This comes to bear on this conversation in that it indicates that histone modifications in cells can set off a complex series of gene sequences specific to environmental factors which effect cellular histones. The full range of sequences possible is of course exponential and at this point the science is in the earliest, simplest stages of trying to identify a single class of histone modifications related to stem cell differentiation.

    The hypothesis which I suspect will prove out is that histone modifications at the cellular level due to environmental adversity and complexity activate a complex sequence of events in multiple genes. This sequence then leads to the development of more cortical neurons and other physio-neural augments which produce complex synaptic pathways which basically create a higher level of information processing capability. Over time, individuals who are constituted to be most responsive to such modifications will survive in the environments which stimulate such development, and those who are not so constituted or less so will not. The extension of such developments would be “homo nova”.

    More grist for the mill.

    • bobgriffith says:

      I’m thinking the old line of homo sapiens that doesn’t process well could be a species characteristic equated with the appendix, a vestigial organ that at one time had a function and purpose which enabled humans to survive in their environment. Now the old human design which has led us to go forth and conquer and consume without considering the consequences of our paradigm, whether it is socially or genetically sourced, is experiencing the endgame of its actions.

      In the future “vestigial stupidity” might be the best way to describe the condition afflicting that portion of the population which is incapable of keeping up with current events.

  3. Louis W. says:

    Some scientists say that the appendix is a vestigial organ with no real function kn the modern H. sapiens body. However, it seems that the appendix does protect the “good” bacteria in our gut and help to repopulate those bacteria when necessary. Many people, of course, do not consider those bacteria part of the body, even though they outnumber all of the other cells in the human body.

    Some scientists (not necessarily the same ones) say that over 95% of the total energy-mass content of the universe is so-called dark matter and dark energy. What they mean is that the equations that describe the physical universe do not coincide with observations of that universe unless we postulate the existence of dark, unseen, matter and energy.

    And, some scientists say that each atom is actually more than 99% empty space – a vacuum.

    And, some scientists will say that nature abhors a vacuum.

    So, I would like to say that perhaps it would be possible that the dark matter and energy is taking up what is believed to be empty space in atoms. However, some scientists say that is not possible; and they have equations to prove it.

    A further however is that atoms are not really tiny specks with electrons and neutrons and protons and muons and gluons, etc. Rather, they are tiny fields of energy that may or may not be composed of quarks. The perceived or perceivable effects of those energy fields drop off quickly over very tiny distances, but theoretically the fields never drop to zero, no matter how far away one may look. Consequently, every single atom is probably more realistically seen as having infinite size. Therefore, if dark matter is going to be anywhere it would have to be within the infinite atom.

    Now I would like to change the subject.

    It is well known that the physical world we perceive through our senses is only a limited subset of reality. Bats hear and transmit sounds that do not exist to human ears. Dogs live in a world of smells that human noses can’t imagine. Snakes can “see” thermally, detecting infrared as well as visible light.

    In short, we know that there are forms of electromagnetic energy on the earth and throughout the universe that our species cannot directly detect. We have evolved in such a way that we detect what is necessary to make it more likely that our species will survive. Other species have evolved differently and detect those things which make their survival more likely. Perhaps it would be helpful to define species based on the type of energy they can detect; but that is not how it is done.

    The modern version of the human has developed a technological capacity that allows us to make instruments to detect things like sights, sounds and smells that are beyond our limited sensory range, so we know those other ways of sensing are out there. [Note: to keep this discussion from getting completely out of hand, I am sort of limiting it to animals or animal-like beings without considering the sensory abilities of things like plants and mushrooms.]

    That extension of our senses, though, is only an extension of the ability to measure electromagnetic fields. Some scientists will tell you that all matter is governed by electromagnetism, together with gravity and the strong and weak atomic forces. Those probably define matter as we know it, but can they define dark matter and energy?

    I think not. I think there are “more things in heaven and earth, Horatio [Horatio is a name used by “some scientists”], than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Just as most people do not think of the bacteria in their gut as an essential part of their bodies and beings, there are not many who think that the four basic material forces represent only the “tip of the iceberg.”

    I have a few more thoughts about Homo nova that I will try to crystallize later. This reply is becoming too lengthy, however. What I am essentially trying to say is that if H. nova is going to be of much help to vestigial H. sapiens like me, it may be because it is a species that can sense and work with forms of energy that some scientists cannot even imagine today.

    Does such an ability develop genetically or epigenetically or through divine intervention? Who knew that “Silver Threads and Golden Needles” would lead to the overtaxing of my poor, limited brain like this?

  4. bobgriffith says:

    Good thoughts, and the field expands. Perhaps like the appendix, vestigial stupidity may prove to be of some further use further on down the timeline just as the appendix has, although I have no idea what that would be. I have too much of it myself or I could probably tell you.

    Now that physics has been invoked we spread out a little bit here, and the limitations of human perception in looking at the nature of truth and the universe expand it even more. If we keep going we’ll probably get to the point where we realize that all our understanding is little more than reality reduced to understandable allegory, metaphor and myth – simulacrums which are made in and useful only within our own little human roundhouse because of our limited nature. Then we’ll get to the point where we begin to suspect there really is no time, and no space which accommodates the point, line, area, volume, atom, quark, etc anywhere other than in our own mind. After that we will begin to go out of our mind, and shortly after that we will get outside our mind, experience a strong electromagnetic attraction to the higher forms of unified agricultural field products and decide it is best to go have a beer and listen to “Silver Threads and Golden Needles” (…can not mend this brain o’ mine…) with our sweethearts. We can follow up with In the Gloaming, then Auld Lang Syne, and by then we’ll have had enough to finish up with Boney Maronie and go toddling home happily to bed.

    Is it time for Oktoberfest yet? I say yes, because time is an illusion and I can say it’s Oktoberfest if I want to, right? I’ll meet you there and we can carry on this conversation after an icy mug of some sort of hearty harvest hoppy thing. You order, I don’t know much about the stuff these days. We’ll see you guys there!

    If you crystallize some thoughts send them on, you have my sincere interest. Even if they do follow the above route we can take some of the crystals with us and see if they make little bubbles in the beer…

  5. Louis W. says:

    I feel relieved. After reading your Oktoberfest illusion I feel that I am not required to attempt any tricky, serious thoughts on this subject. I can sit back and wait for Homo nova to explain it. I believe I will call H. nova either “boss” or “massah” to get on their good side.

    I do know that there are multiple uses for vestigial stupidity. I use it many times a day, myself.

    Finally, let me qualify some of what I wrote earlier by pointing out that it must be taken in the context of Einstein’s observation that “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”

  6. bobgriffith says:

    And yet more news, this from National Geographic at: http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2015/07/24/warming-climate-megabeast-deaths/

    “Around 34,000 years ago, woolly mammoths went extinct from parts of Europe, only to be replaced by… woolly mammoths. The two groups—the disappearing individuals and their substitutes—belonged to the same species. If you looked at their fossils, you probably couldn’t tell them apart. Their genes, however, reveal them to be part of two genetically distinct lineages, one of which suddenly displaced the other.”

    Another bit to put up on the board here regarding environmental stressors which goad epigenetic cellular switches to turn on in them that has’em in their genetic potentials. Them that ain’t got’em in this case probably ended up in some Pleistocene version of Big Oil like the La Brea Tar Pits, while the new Woolly Novas had the sense to walk around them.

  7. bobgriffith says:

    Might as well throw this one in the pot, too. It’s at: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/07/11/the-more-real-threat-posed-by-powerful-computers/

    “In October, Elon Musk called artificial intelligence “our greatest existential threat,” and equated making machines that think with “summoning the demon.” In December, Stephen Hawking said “full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” And this year, Bill Gates said he was “concerned about super intelligence,” which he appeared to think was just a few decades away.

    “But if the human race is at peril from killer robots, the problem is probably not artificial intelligence. It is more likely to be artificial stupidity. The difference between those two ideas says much about how we think about computers.”

    Care to calculate the probability that vestigial stupidity will be programmed into AI’s? I suppose after products of Cyberdyne Systems (The Terminator) and the Tyrell Corporation (Blade Runner) supercede Homo Sapiens, and Homo Novas have just thrown up their hands and left the planet, what will remain will be a ongoing scrum between Republican AI’s, and Democrat AI’s, and Independent AI’s, and Conspiracy Theory AI’s, and Humanist and Corporate and Oligarchic and Consumer AI’s, and they will probably eventually come to an evolutionary tipping point resulting in the creation of a bio-species called Homo Sapiens.

    Maybe the universe isn’t composed of dark energy and dark matter. What if the whole dog-gone works is running on vestigial stupidity?

    When you order for me at Oktoberfest, better make it two of the Really Really Big Tankards.

  8. Louis W. says:

    This isn’t exactly on topic – but it is close. Here is a link to a review by Matthew Fox of Kabbalah and Ecology: God’s Image in the More-Than-Human World (2015), by David Seidenberg. He writes about eco-theology and how we humans (H. sapiens of H. nova) are capable of hastening our own extinction or our evolution.

  9. bobgriffith says:

    This is a great add to the material here, Louis. Thank you! I don’t think it’s off-context at all. Take-aways include the following:

    Recognizing the image of God in ourselves and in others is not about mere gazing, but about action, divine action, that is to say, compassion. Nouns are not enough; verbs matter. Right action matters… the starting point for a profound eco-theology…leads to action, including the action of letting go. Letting go of self-centered and anthropocentric thinking (that) “we are the only images of God.”

    …the image of God…applies not just to individual beings but to the universe as a whole. The whole universe and the Earth is created in God’s image. This echoes Aquinas’s teaching in the thirteenth century that the most excellent thing in the universe is not the human but the universe itself.

    …every being carries the divine spark… there are sparks of the dimension of divinity in all things, whether inanimate or living… divine sparks everywhere. These sparks depict the divine presence, the intrinsic holiness and sacredness of all beings—and therefore the “intrinsic value” deep within all things.

    Mary Oliver, in her poem, “At the River Clarion”, talks about the “word” (Logos) of the river, the water, the rock, the moss beneath the water, all of which are saying, “I am part of holiness.” That is the Cosmic Christ—the image of God, the Buddha Nature, the holiness or Shechinah in all things.

    Ideologies and programs that reinforce anthropocentrism or sectarianism—from consumer capitalism to imperial militarism, from corporate idolatry to religious fundamentalism—are agents of crucifixion, killing soul and planet, killing the Cosmic Christ and Buddha Nature and Tselem all over again in the empire’s name and in the name of the reptilian brain. We can do better than that. We can act from a level of being one with the holy.


    In the context of the consciousness of homo nova being an upgrade to homo sapiens I’d say one of the defining characteristics of the new line is an intrinsically broader perspective, a “global perspective” if you will, drawing in larger masses of information and processing it proficiently, resulting in a conscious awareness of connected patterns and the nature of their connections. Novas will see the mysteries of the mystics and recognize the meta of metaphysics, not as a result of transport from the right brain to the left brain as the article remarks, but as a true synthesis of a cortex unified by more neural pathways. The spiritual aspects of the upgrade will be intrinsic and clear.

    The article mentions the scientist Gregory Bateson, who “…wrestled the last ten years of his life with this most pressing question: “What is the pattern that connects?” For example, what connects the Crab Nebula in the sky with the genes of a crawfish on earth or in our bodies? “

    The ability to identify correlations in broad data sets is a defining characteristic of true intelligence. The thing about homo sapiens is a demonstrated inability of the group at large to generate a cumulative consensus of consciousness and embrace resultant conscious action which results in a higher survival quotient for the species.

    Historically we’ve proven that our vector time and again has involved a constantly failing paradigm. We begin simply, connected to the universe, submitted to the mysteries of earth and air and fire and water, our roots are agricultural and basic, our intrinsic gifts of adaptation and manipulation confined to the basic requirements of our being.

    Eventually though we end up in complex social, religious and technological structures which, while built block on block and by rights should be nothing more than a sum of those parts, become structures which take on a life of their own, generating ever more complex possibilities of combination. Pretty soon our paradigm leads us to the recurring apex of the great risen – and fallen – civilizations behind us.

    Oligarchs and egocentric religions are produced as the most powerful local manifestations of those complex possibilities, and the machine which accommodates and encourages their rise eventually begins to degrade and dissolve because those developments are not viable: they favor the few and devalue the many, and the many naturally rebel against conditions which reduce the likelihood of their own survival. The culture collapses, and another follows the same path, rises in the same way, and falls yet again.

    I think homo nova will be, and is, and has been for quite some time – albeit in low numbers – the human who makes that connection, who sees that old paradigm as intrinsically incompatible with what the article refers to as the Cosmic Christ.

    I’ve mentioned William Ophuls before on this blog. His perspective is a good starting point for understanding part of what I think will be a given in the perspective of homo nova. I highly recommend his work, particularly “Immoderate Greatness”. It’s short and way worth the time.

    Thanks for the article link, Louis.

  10. bobgriffith says:

    If you’re interested, here’s some interesting info about ENCODE findings and a controversial schism in the science ENCODE has precipitated. It’s a 4-part series on ENCODE that Casey Luskin has been publishing this year in Salvo Magazine. Parts 1, 2, and 3 have already been published. Part 4 will be published later this year.

    I found the reprinted articles at Evolution News at : http://www.evolutionnews.org/

    Part 1 can be found at Salvo Magazine: http://www.salvomag.com/new/articles/salvo31/the-encode-embroilment-part-I.php .

    Part 2: http://www.salvomag.com/new/articles/salvo32/the-encode-embroilment-part-II.php

    Part 3:: http://www.salvomag.com/new/articles/salvo33/the-encode-embroilment-part-III.php

    The prelude to the series is here: http://www.evolutionnews.org/2015/07/encode

    Here’s an excerpt from Part 2 about the flexibility of the coding system which first defines and then “custom tailors” an organism with highly complex RNA transcripts (which in the context of our conversation indicate that epigenetic influences on RNA may be a factor in the development of potentials which produce homo nova as a species):

    “…we find meaningful patterns of RNA production throughout the genome, creating an orchestrated army of bio-molecules that correlate with the activity of transcription factors–proteins that turn genes on and off. This suggests that our genome’s biochemical activity is not just doing something, but doing something very important. And it’s not hard to speculate what sort of tasks these RNAs might be doing, for RNA molecules can have all kinds of biochemical functions–including enzymatic properties and gene regulatory functions–whether or not they are translated into proteins.

    “The fact that DNA transcription is immense–and nonrandom–was confirmed in a 2013 paper that studied RNA transcripts in yeast. It found that while the yeast genome contains only about 6,000 genes, there were over 1.8 million unique RNA transcripts, which were “arranged in a remarkably complex, overlapping pattern across the genome.”

    All of which seems to admit the possibility of the hypothesis I stated above, that:

    “The hypothesis which I suspect will prove out is that histone modifications at the cellular level due to environmental adversity and complexity activate a complex sequence of events in multiple genes. This sequence then leads to the development of more cortical neurons and other physio-neural augments which produce complex synaptic pathways which basically create a higher level of information processing capability. Over time, individuals who are constituted to be most responsive to such modifications will survive in the environments which stimulate such development, and those who are not so constituted or less so will not. The extension of such developments would be “homo nova”.”

  11. Louis W. says:

    I had not heard of Salvo Magazine before this. I read the articles you mentioned, as well as a few others in the magazine. With respect to those discussing ENCODE, I found the information interesting. I was also impressed that the author could come across as knowledgeable and objective while promoting very specific moral agenda.

    For instance, he repeatedly talks of the ENCODE findings refuting the idea of “junk DNA,” and therefore refuting what he claims is an essential tenet of scientific theories of evolution. While the term “junk DNA” has been used by many scientific writers, the better term (at least in my opinion) is “non-coding DNA.” The question considered by the extensive ENCODE research is to whether and to what extent the non-coding DNA is associated with one or more biochemical functions.

    To my non-scientific mind, it has not been seriously believed that all of the non-coding DNA was devoid of such functional associations. For instance, you can go to the website for the National Human Genome Research Institute, the body that oversees and funds the ENCODE research, and find statements from even before the ENCODE results were published saying things like, humans share approximately 60% of our DNA with a banana plant.

    Now, there are significant differences between most humans and most banana plants, so that shared 60% is certainly non-coding. However, the fact that there is such an overlap between two species that are so different indicates that it must be functional. Why else would it have stayed around for all these millenia?

    While there are many differences between human and plant cells, there are also very many similarities. That would lead me to postulate that the non-coding DNA must play a role in cell processes and/or what we called epigenetic mechanisms.

    Be that as it may, I don’t think it would help much in the present discussion to try to get any more detailed – or even to consider whether there is any truth in my postulation.

    My son, Michael, has a Master’s degree in microbiology. He has not worked in that field since he graduated. Still, his knowledge of genetics is much greater than mine. I mentioned your idea of Homo nova to him, and his first question was, “How are you defining ‘species’?” That, of course, is the most important question.

    The traditional definition of “species” is a group of similar living organisms capable of interbreeding. That may have been adequate in the world known to Linnaeus and his contemporaries, but it is only of limited use today.

    For the past 50 or 60 years, geneticists have focused more on DNA similarities in matters concerning species. Again looking at the National Human Genome Research Institute website, I ran across a statement from just a few years ago to the effect that “the basic cell structure of DNA (ie, double helix) is shared among all living organisms.” Even that belief is of limited use today.

    Or perhaps it is important to define “living organism” as well as “species.” As for the interbreeding part, there are many microorganisms that reproduce through simple cell division and have no need to interbreed. As for the double helix, there are many viruses that have single strand DNA, and that single strand DNA is shared with their hosts.

    Beyond that, viruses can also share DNA between and among individuals that would traditionally be classified as different species, making the concepts upon which existing taxonomic systems are based a bit outdated. Additionally, in some microorganisms, genetic material is carried by RNA, as well as DNA.

    I have said previously that the focus on DNA as the be-all and end-all of genetics is really mistaking the blueprints for the architect. DNA is important, it makes our cells work, and those, in turn, make our whole beings work. The difference between Homo nova and Homo sapiens, though, is probably going to be found on a different level than that of DNA.

    I am not disputing your idea that there are and will be Homo nova. I just don’t know how to define or characterize those folks, at the moment.

  12. bobgriffith says:

    Well, the traditional DNA model is becoming simplistic, much the same as the old atomic model, as investigation of its processes and nature drills down into ever deeper layers of complexity. And of course the levels of complexity in both areas are of such a magnitude that our understanding about both has a long way to go.

    Even our definitions are subject to modification in that process, and serve only as a reference point for further investigation. As far as “living organism” and “species” are concerned, I think those terms are fairly well delineated in the traditional taxonomic hierarchy. The evolutionary and developmental mechanisms behind the term “species”, as you observe, are becoming subject to modification as we learn more about the nature of DNA, RNA, and the biochemical transcripts in play at that level.

    All working metaphorical models (and their definitions) have a limited shelf life, and as they are investigated eventually morph into entire libraries. The taxonomic definitions serve my purpose here. My hypothesis is a speculative projection which can’t yet be proven in the sense that science can say, “yes, that can happen because we know those coding potentials are present in the species genetic potential and they would occur as a result of x and proceed as a progression from a to b to c.”

    A hypothesis is a reference point, a supposition informed by general observation and deemed worthy and possible enough to merit further study. I can wait for the returns and stand by the hypothesis as being an accurate overview of what is in play as organisms evolve and change. The Darwinian model is certainly not in and of itself complete, but I would not say it is inadequate in describing certain characteristics of evolution. Natural selection and its relationship to genetic variations becoming common characteristics of a species (or sub species) is a pattern which seems relevant to me.

    Heck, the vector from Neanderthal to Cro-Magnon is obvious evidence that bio-modification in a genus leads to a variant in the genus which we call a species, and species contain variations denoted as sub-species. Taxonomic terms, yes, but they effectively describe the vector of a mechanism and help define the ground. The mechanism of delivery itself is interesting and worthy of investigation, but it does seem to me that study about that requires a specificity of focus and perspective which often removes itself from the big picture. It’s a sort of necessary tunnel-vision effect required by the specific aims of the investigative process. It will be good to have a grip on the actual mechanism, but the general nature and overall effects seem obvious to me.

    Species differentiation which leads to the decline of a current norm and rise of a “new normal” typically occurs over long periods of time. A new subspecies would be in evidence, but not noticeably so, long before it became established in a majority and recognized as variant enough to be classified as a new development of a genus or species. Natural selection factors appear to sometimes enhance the numbers of a new development simply because the older, established mechanism proves to not have the survival quotient of the newer configuration in a suddenly changed environment.

    I can agree with you that the difference between Homo nova and Homo sapiens is probably going to be found on a different level than that of DNA. I do think that it will be found in the potentials of DNA, which for now, for purposes of visualization, I’d characterize as the source of all succeeding tributaries. The complex relationship of RNA transcripts and epigenetic influences will produce a better understanding, of course.

  13. Louis W. says:

    You write as if you realize that this subject has been beat nearly to death, and now we have to wait a few generations to see what develops. You are right, of course; and I apologize for the damage I have inflicted on the poor subject.

    The question of what is a “living organism” is actually a fairly hot topic in biology and ethics. People in those fields talk about whether a virus should be considered something that is living and about when will/did the computer acquire enough of the attributes of a living thing that we should consider it to be a living thing. That inquiry loses importance, though, if we believe, with Old Lodge Skins, that everything is alive.

    Several comments ago, I mentioned that when the first hominid raised up on two legs to better view across the savanna, it did so not because a gene had mutated, but in response to some other kind of force or impetus. Well, obviously the ability for it to do so was already encoded in its genes and those of it fellow hominids. Within a very short time that trait was pushed to the front of the gene-making machinery – and here we are.

    Similarly, whatever it is that will finally distinguish Homo nova from Homo sapiens is probably in our genetic material as we speak. Some force or impetus has brought, or will bring, it out. It should be fun.

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