(from History Today)
'Seeing the elephant' was a popular 19th century Americanism
describing an adventurous experience
usually obtained at great cost.
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The original germ of this Question rumbled in with the phrase "The Elephant In The Room",
which came from who knows where,
and I applied it to the succession of Questions we've addressed in 4+ years of Convivium, asking myself:
what have we been talking AROUND all this time?
What's at the epicenter and axis of what we've been talking about?
What is/are the REALLY BIG Question/s?
(My candidate/s is/are Mind and Consciousness: too big to grapple with directly).
And once Elephants lumbered into view, a cascade of wonderments came with them. Somewhere there are Questions to be formulated from all of this:
What about the metaphors that invoke the elephantine?
And writings about pachyderms?
And what about the actual Being, from the tusks of which so many billiard balls and piano keys and bits of Oriental Art have been manufactured?
And what about the genocide of elephants perpetrated by Homo sapiens, which continues and feeds a now-illicit market.
And what about elephants as communicators...
Here's a Just So story:
'In the High and Far off Times, the Elephant ... had no trunk,' wrote Rudyard Kipling. 'He had just a blackish, bulgy nose, as big as a boot, that he could wriggle about from side to side.' But there was one elephant's child who was more curious than the rest. He wanted to know what the crocodile had for dinner. Since no one would tell him, he went down to the banks of the [Great Grey-Green Greasy] Limpopo to find out for himself. When he bent down to see, the crocodile bit his nose — and pulled until it was 'nearly five feet long'. That, Kipling smiled, was how the elephant got its trunk. (via History Today, 2021)
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* * * * *
And so we find ourselves pretty deep in the weeds of metaphor, which I've spent a morning plumbing amongst and want to consider as a separate issue, but first:
(YouTube has many many cute baby elephant videos)
Cultural depictions of elephants (Wikipedia)
The Six Blind Men, a tale/parable that is surely 2500 years old, and known in various versions: Jain, Hindu, Buddhist, Sufi, Baha'i... and down to Werner Heisenberg: We have to remember that what we observe is not nature in itself,
but nature exposed to our method of questioning.
Jonathan Haidt's invocation of The Elephant and the Rider (from The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom ). See Creative Huddle summary:a useful analogy for thinking about behaviour change. Haidt argues that we have two sides: an emotional side (the Elephant), and an analytical, rational side (its Rider). Haidt's analogy has it that the Rider is rational and can therefore see a path ahead while underneath him, the Elephant provides the power for the journey. However the Elephant is irrational and driven by emotion and instinct... What should we do to keep in control of the Elephant? As the rational Rider we might know where we want to go, but we need to motivate the Elephant by tapping into emotion. Finally to improve the chances of the Elephant staying on course, shorten the distance and remove any obstacles.
(graphic by Paul Van Slembrouck)
and compare with Plato's Chariot Allegory, from Phaedrus
A bold new proposal for matching high-technology people and professions...years of detailed study by the finest minds in the field of psychoindustrial interpersonal optimization have resulted in the development of a simple and fool-proof test to determine the best match between personality and profession. Now, at last, people can be infallibly assigned to the jobs for which they are truly best suited.
The procedure is simple: Each subject is sent to Africa to hunt elephants. The subsequent elephant-hunting behavior is then categorized by comparison to the classification rules outlined below. The subject should be assigned to the general job classification that best matches the observed behavior.
...Lawyers don't hunt elephants, but they do follow the herds around
arguing about who owns the droppings.
Software lawyers will claim that they own an entire herd
based on the look and feel of one dropping.
Shooting an Elephant (George Orwell 1936 — marvelous writing, harrowing reading. Caveat lector.) See Wikipedia article for more context.
And my own conjunctions with elephants, first-hand and second-hand:
In 1882, Barnum purchased Jumbo for $10,000 from the Royal Zoological Society in London. After a great protest from many in England, including Queen Victoria, Barnum brought Jumbo to America. The elephant toured with the Barnum & Bailey Circus for the next several years, traveling on a specially constructed rail car that was large enough to hold him.(see bits from the PT Barnum Papers)
In 1885, Jumbo was killed by an oncoming train in St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada. Their keeper was leading Jumbo and Tom Thumb, a dwarf elephant, across the train yard when a train came down a little-used track and struck the mighty pachyderm. According to legend (spread by Barnum), Jumbo pushed Tom Thumb out of the path of the oncoming train, saving his life, and reached out his trunk to his keeper, Matthew Scott, before dying.
...Barnum had Jumbo's skeleton and hide saved and mounted separately. Stuffed Jumbo continued to tour with the circus until 1889, when he was given to Tufts to be displayed in the Barnum Museum of Natural History, a building named for its benefactor, P.T. Barnum. Barnum hoped that the stuffed elephant would provide useful publicity for Tufts College. Jumbo's bones were mounted and given to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where they were on display for many years.
...Jumbo was housed in the Barnum Museum until 1975, when much of the building and its contents, including Jumbo, were destroyed by fire. The next day, a member of the Department of Athletics salvaged ashes from the site where Jumbo had stood and placed them in a peanut butter jar, which continues to serve as a good luck charm for Tufts athletics teams.
(The story of Jumbo)
And so to metaphor, one of those words we use easily but without thinking much about its etymology and the lexical territory its meaning stretches to cover. And now somewhat swamped by Meta®
more comprehensive, transcending, self-referential
a word or phrase that has more meaning than the sum of its words
metagaming: playing a game while exploiting or subverting its rules
metadata: data about data
metacognition: cognition about cognition
metahumor: joking about the ways humor is expressed
viz. Paris graffito
Things I Hate:
the old rhetorical trick
of taking a debate or analysis
to another level of abstraction
...There is, literally, no world that we can understand separate from the metaphors we use. They are, metaphorically, woven into the fabric of reality, as Benjamin Genta writes in this highly illuminating essay, a fine introduction to the vastly influential Lakoff and Johnson Metaphors We Live By (1980). The question then is what happens to the world when we start to use different metaphors?
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Metaphor
Wikipedia on Metaphor
Metaphors in Educational Videos
a "meta" in gaming terminology is a generally agreed upon strategy by the community.
Said strategy is considered to be the most optimal way to win/ has the best performance at a specific task.
Some people have defined meta as an acronym meaning
Most Effective Tactics Available
In the wee hours of Saturday I awoke with a fully-formed Question and a cascade of ideas for the next phase of this communique:
What Animal Minds and Consciousnesses seem especially intriguing to you?
There doesn't have to be just one. You could entertain a whole Ecology of co-living species
and wonder if there are Metaphors or similes to be discerned:
"...like a fox..." or the British "you cow!"...
What is it about ...otters ...ferrets ...owls ...orcas ...elephant seals
...crows ...ants ...penguins ...starlings
(consider the Mind, the Consciousness of a Murmuration)
you might even consider the Mind and Consciousness of Hobbes
When I was in graduate school 50+ years ago, the conventional understanding was that Ethology was focused upon animal behavior, with no presumption of accessible mind or consciousness on a par with that found in humans. 'Instinct' was at least a subtext, and operant conditioning provided the primary research paradigm (though there were beginning to be researchers who actually engaged with animals on their own ground --think the chimpanzee and gorilla and orangutan field studies in which Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas were pioneers).
We have no difficulty in seeing animals as purposeful beings, entirely conscious within the awareness of their particular umwelt, and in quite complex relationships with others of their kind, animating communities with means/modes of communication. I think of the captive gibbon in Simanggang, Sarawak: every morning he vocalized, hoping for an answer from somebody else somewhere. No answering call ever came...
Back to my sense that the REALLY BIG Questions of Convivium are centered on Mind and Consciousness. Why not try for a different approach to conceiving their capabilities, and thus perhaps gaining an enhanced idea of our own Minds and Consciousnesses by exploring those of other species?
If you spend any time/attention at all on the doings and beings of another life form, you discover profound complexities in what they do, and how they are in the world. This is obviously true of herds of elephants, of murders of crows, of pods of whales, parliaments of owls (and, for a Good Time, consider the wonderful spectrum of collective nouns). It's easy to come to the realization that they have minds and consciousness, that they live by communicating, as do we —that they form societies, and that it's not too much of a stretch to recognize that they operate within cultures. We know all those things about animals with whom we are bound into ecologies of domestication and 'wildness' (a distinction that we make, the domesticates being (as we think) under our control and command) ...and we have sacred texts to prove it:
But that 'we' doesn't take in the notion of animal consciousness of the Jains, or of Buddhism, and ahimsa, and "a life of harmlessness and renunciation" vis-a-vis other forms of life ...and what about those Wheels of Karma, folks?
Andy Leaves the Wheel
And while we're at it, what about a stretch into the nature of unliving beings like the rocks, within which or upon which we project attributes from the worlds of the living? What about the Mind, the Consciousness of
and his colleagues in my Maine Photographers Showcase population?
Their Being is IN and OF our Minds and Consciousness: they are /imaginary/ in a meta-dimensional sense...
which ties directly into my thoughts about Imagination.
Humans seem pretty sure that they ARE the Crown of Creation — or so they've generally behaved ever since they learned to talk, to HAVE histories in narrative form, to keep records in various media (which begin with stories in a Just-So mode, and dramas limned on cave walls, and purposive ceremonies, and symbolic representations ... and before you know it, METAPHORS to pass around as tokens (even memes) ... and pyramids and ziggurats and earthworks and kivas and temples and agoras and parking lots and granaries and ...infrastructure to support the quotidian...
BUT human life interdigitates with the lives of vast numbers of other beings, down at least to the bacteria that inhabit our gut biomes, and the fungi that swarm, and even the goddam viruses that aren't even quite 'living' and may or may not qualify as embodying Minds and Consciousnesses...
And that's just the Terrestrial. Why ASSUME that WE Earthly beings are alone in the Cosmos? Why not entertain thoughts of other Dimensions, perhaps utterly inaccessible to us until we ... learn to think and perceive differently. And of course some have expanded outward from the purely Earthbound —think Dante, think Swedenborg, think any number of sci-fi and speculative fiction writers/talesmiths. Think Enheduanna ("the first author known by name") and the creators of Gilgamesh, think of the Egyptian pantheon, think of the Bardo... Sure is a lot of marvelous territory in all that.
And while we're at it, what about dragons (this being their Year), and kami and other Shinto beings
There are other ways of conceiving of the universe of /imaginary/creatures, and of constructing bestiaries than the Western canon.
And then start to assemble your own history of the Imaginary animate persons... Some of mine:
Eeyore and Pooh and Piglet and all of Rabbit's Friends and Relations
The Wind in the Willows: Mole, Water Rat, Badger, the Glorious Toad of Toad Hall, assorted stoats and weasels...
Hobbits and Elves and Dwarves of LotR
the Okefenokee of Walt Kelly (MY gateway experience of animal character)
and Walt Disney and those who came after
And Terry Pratchett's Discworld
And of the daemons in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials
And of Calvin and Hobbes (what is the Character of the character of Hobbes?)
and on and on...
What wonderful worlds.
On Saturday night I fell to wondering when I had first encountered the concept of hive mind (hive-mind, hivemind), and when and where it had first been instantiated, and to what various uses it has been put. A couple of early Sunday morning hours of due diligence produced a body of material to explore in the usual rabbity ways:
The first appearance of 'hive mind' in sci-fi was in James Schmitz' "The Second Night of Summer" (Galaxy, December 1950).
Meanwhile, a fewYouTube videos that might inspire:
* * * * *
I spent an hour or so wandering in the fetid swamps of instinct. Yerkes puts it quite well:
The meaning of instinct is by no means perfectly clear. Yerkes says, "Instinct is one of those historical concepts which has been overgrown by meaning. It is so incrusted with traditional significance that it is almost impossible to use it for the exact descriptive purposes of science." (60).
(in Luther Bernard's Instinct: A Study in Social Psychology, 1924)
In the world of dictionaries we find these unsatisfactory definitions:
...in popular usage, any inherent or unlearned predisposition (behavioral or otherwise) or motivational force...
(APA Dictionary of Psychology)
'Instinct' is not some module in the brain —rather, the term is an attempt to coin a METAPHOR for complex somethings we observe but don't understand in other animals. We begin to know much more about the neuroscience of animals' vastly different ways of Being in the world, but it's pretty specialized knowledge and hasn't made its way very far into popular perception.
The lion and lioness above suggest how lame 'instinct' is to describe their paso doble...
* * * * *
Let's add in some evolutionary evidence by asking how far back in terrestrial history do we find evidence for the appearance of multicellular beings with "the possibility of cooperative behaviors" (and thus perhaps proto-consciousness) on Earth? Here's the latest from Small Things Considered:
From analyses on microfossils found in ancient rocks in China, the authors of the report estimate that there were filamentous multicellular eukaryotes 1.6 billion years ago. That age is worth noting for two reasons. First, it is about 600 million years earlier than prior evidence for multicellular eukaryotes. Second, it is pretty much concomitant with the age of microfossils of the first eukaryotes. In other words, multicellularity — in this case chains of cells — seems to have been a rapid evolutionary transition for eukaryotes. Strikingly, the scant microfossil evidence that we have for early multicellular prokaryotes — about 3.5 billion years ago — suggests they arose early in life's natural history. Multicellularity, in the form of cells not separating after growth and division, is likely easy and thus fast to attain. And you can see that there can be numerous advantages to existing as a group of cells. It opens the possibility for cooperative behaviors such as division of labor, and protection from environmental stresses, including predation. It should therefore not be surprising that multicellularity has evolved multiple times during the more than 3.5 billion years of evolution of life on Earth.
...we must recognize that there are profound differences in the degrees of multicellular complexity. One approach to describing these differences — the one that the authors of the recent report seem to favor — is that there are "simple multicellular organisms, with cell-cell adhesion but limited communication or differentiation among constituent cells" and then there is "complex multicellularity, with greater directed intercellular communication and more pronounced cell and tissue differentiation."
...Prokaryotic multicellularity evolved very early and it is very common. And now we know that the earliest known multicellular eukaryotes appeared at pretty much the same time as the last eukaryotic common ancestor (1.6 billion years ago), as the recent study shows. Yet, it took nearly another billion years of evolution before numerous obligate multicellular organisms arose independently; witness the green and red algae, the fungi, and the animals.
So can we imagine living beings as being something along the lines of transducers for the force we imagine as distributed Consciousness, in some sort of analogy to the energy transducers that transform photon energy from the Sun, and so power nearly all forms of terrestrial life? [but see also Microbial Rhodopsins, about the pigment retinal]. I haven't seen anybody espousing such a wacky notion yet (and I have no idea what sensors could confirm such a hypothetical force), but Hold My Beer...
Mitochondria and Chloroplasts both act as energy transducers because they convert one form of energy into another or change energy from one source into another source. Mitochondria acts as energy transducer as it oxidises glucose and fatty acids to produce the energy currency called ATP...
...Mitochondria are living, dynamic, maternally inherited, energy-transforming, biosynthetic, and signaling organelles that actively transduce biological information. We argue that mitochondria are the processor of the cell, and together with the nucleus and other organelles they constitute the mitochondrial information processing system (MIPS). (see Mitochondrial signal transduction)
There are articles and books that become CLASSICS and seem to change everything they touch. Thus, Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) [whence 'paradigm' entered the common lexicon], and Thomas Nagel's "What is it like to be a bat?" (1974) are two that had wide (and still-continuing) influence, and subtly altered the ground on which understanding was built for anybody who encountered them. If you are at a receptive age, you grasp the insight and internalize the framework and are never the same afterwards.
What Is It Like to Be a Bat? (Wikipedia)
Nagel's 1974 article from Philosophical Review
Is There Something It's Like to Be a Garden Snail? Eric Schwitzgebel (2020)
I spent some more time in and around Umwelt and here collect some links to revisit:
Umwelt in Wikipediawhich includes this description of a tick's umwelt:"...this eyeless animal finds the way to her watchpoint [at the top of a tall blade of grass] with the help of only its skin's general sensitivity to light. The approach of her prey becomes apparent to this blind and deaf bandit only through her sense of smell. The odor of butyric acid, which emanates from the sebaceous follicles of all mammals, works on the tick as a signal that causes her to abandon her post (on top of the blade of grass/bush) and fall blindly downward toward her prey. If she is fortunate enough to fall on something warm (which she perceives by means of an organ sensible to a precise temperature) then she has attained her prey, the warm-blooded animal, and thereafter needs only the help of her sense of touch to find the least hairy spot possible and embed herself up to her head in the cutaneous tissue of her prey. She can now slowly suck up a stream of warm blood."
(Giorgio Agamben, paraphrasing von Uexküll)
Jakob Johann von Uexküll in Wikipedia
Cognized environment in Wikipedia
Biosemiotics in WikipediaBiosemiotics is the study of meaning making processes in the living realm, or, to elaborate, a study of
According to the basic types of semiosis under study, biosemiotics can be divided into
- signification, communication and habit formation of living processes
- semiosis (creating and changing sign relations) in living nature
- the biological basis of all signs and sign interpretation
- interpretative processes, codes and cognition in organisms
According to the dominant aspect of semiosis under study, the following labels have been used: biopragmatics, biosemantics, and biosyntactics.
- vegetative semiotics (also endosemiotics, or phytosemiotics), the study of semiosis at the cellular and molecular level (including the translation processes related to genome and the organic form or phenotype); vegetative semiosis occurs in all organisms at their cellular and tissue level; vegetative semiotics includes prokaryote semiotics, sign-mediated interactions in bacteria communities such as quorum sensing and quorum quenching.
- zoosemiotics or animal semiotics, or the study of animal forms of knowing; animal semiosis occurs in the organisms with neuromuscular system, also includes anthroposemiotics, the study of semiotic behavior in humans.
Semiotics in Wikipedia
Sensorium in Wikipediaarea of study is sensory (or perceptual) ecology. This field aims at understanding the unique sensory and interpretive systems all organisms develop, based on the specific ecological environments they live in, experience and adapt to. A key researcher in this field has been psychologist James J. Gibson, who has written numerous seminal volumes considering the senses in terms of holistic, self-contained perceptual systems. These exhibit their own mindful, interpretive behaviour, rather than acting simply as conduits delivering information for cognitive processing, as in more representational philosophies of perception or theories of psychology (1966, 1979). Perceptual systems detect affordances in objects in the world, directing attention towards information about an object in terms of the possible uses it affords an organism.(via which I ran across the term 'sensory ecology' describing the complexity of surroundings ["focusing on the information organisms obtain about their environment."])
The individual sensory systems of the body are only parts of these broader perceptual ecologies, which include the physical apparatus of sensation, the environment being sensed, as well as both learned and innate systems for directing attention and interpreting the results. These systems represent and enact the information (as an influence which leads to a transformation) required to perceive, identify or reason about the world, and are distributed across the very design and structures of the body, in relation to the physical environment, as well as in the concepts and interpretations of the mind. This information varies according to species, physical environment, and the context of information in the social and cultural systems of perception, which also change over time and space, and as an individual learns through living. Any single perceptual modality may include or overlap multiple sensory structures, as well as other modes of perception, and the sum of their relations and the ratio of mixture and importance comprise a sensorium. The perception, understanding, and reasoning of an organism is dependent on the particular experience of the world delivered by changing ratios of sense.
Returning to the Question as posed,
...and equipped with the idea that every lifeform can be said to have an umwelt, and with the ecological paradigm, which sees all living things occupying sectors/niches in realspace, all busily transducing solar energy... Why they are, we don't know... but they are and do, and the biosphere is complex in the extreme — so many specialists, each with a separate set of capabilities and strategies for being alive.
Horses are pretty good at being horses and ticks seem (on the evidence of our own deer ticks) to be pretty good at ticking. They do it in mindful interaction with their environment, and in that way, via Sensoria of highly varied configuration, they surely meet the stage of being conscious, which has a continuum of refinement and elaboration of capabilities.
Seeing every animal species as appearing in local populations with specific capabilities for operating in a physical environment, intertwined with multiple other species ... even to begin to map the complexity of such biomes is a mighty challenge, with so many moving parts and multiple systemic entanglements.
Here we teeter on the brink of panpsychism... an ancient Theory of Everything, in which all living things (and, arguably, not-living things too) participate in the consciousness that fills the cosmos. I latched onto David Skrbina's Panpsychism in the West (2017) and started reading... Kindle Notebook captures some of the first couple of chapters. See Oxford Bibliographies for a good brief introduction, and Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy for a longer exposition. The first paragraphs:
Panpsychism is the view that all things have a mind or a mind-like quality. The word itself was coined by the Italian philosopher Francesco Patrizi in the sixteenth century, and derives from the two Greek words pan (all) and psyche (soul or mind). This definition is quite general, and raises two immediate questions: (1) What does one mean by "all things"? (2) What does one mean by "mind"? On the first question, some philosophers have argued that literally every object in the universe, every part of every object, and every system of objects possesses some mind-like quality. Other philosophers have been more restrictive, arguing that only certain broad classes of things possess mind (in which case one is perhaps not a true panpsychist), or that, at least, the smallest parts of things—such as atoms—possess mind. The second question—what is mind?—is more difficult and contentious. Here panpsychism is on neither better nor worse footing than any other approach to mind; it argues only that one's notion of mind, however conceived, must apply in some degree to all things.
The panpsychist conception of mind must be sufficiently broad to plausibly encompass humans and non-human objects as well. Panpsychists typically see the human mind as a unique, highly-refined instance of some more universal concept. They argue that mind in, say, lower animals, plants, or rocks is neither as sophisticated nor as complex as that of human beings. But this in turn raises new questions: What common mental quality or qualities are shared by these things? And why should we even call such qualities "mental" in the first place?
Panpsychism, then, is not a formal theory of mind. Rather, it is a conjecture about how widespread the phenomenon of mind is in the universe. Panpsychism does not necessarily attempt to define "mind" (although many panpsychists do this), nor does it necessarily explain how mind relates to the objects that possess it. As a result, panpsychism is more of an overarching concept, a kind of meta-theory of mind. More details are required to incorporate it into a fully-developed theory of mind.
(And on Thursday): morning serendipity often produces new perspectives to consider. Today's:
...sonic intercellular communication between bacteria may reflect electromagnetic intracellular communication involving coherent vibrational modes that could integrate enzyme activities and gene expression." When I read "coherent vibration modes" I thought lasers. And yes, that's what they were implying, "a biological analogue to the pumped laser" inside the cell. Could this intracellular integration lead to intercellular communication?
(were the thrombolites choral?)
Two quite marvelously à propos books: Ed Yong's An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us and Alexandra Horowitz's On Looking: A Walker's Guide to the Art of Observation. Finding them in my Kindle Library took me through many other titles from the last decade of digital reading and listening, and I note with interest that a lot of them have to do with Mind and Consciousness, broadly characterized. A lot to return to.
Ed Yong's book tugs me back to the central importance of von Uexküll's umwelt as we are reminded that...animals have different perceptual worlds.... My Kindle Notebook (mostly gathered during the first time through the book) might be a good stepping stone.
I ran across and was able to download as a pdf a volume edited by David Skrbina that greatly enlarges my conviction that panpsychism is worthy of attention and effort: Mind That Abides: Panpsychism In The New Millennium. There's a chapter that seems like it might have been written with ME in mind, and here's my Kindle Notebook of extracts: "The awareness of rock: East-Asian understandings and implications" by Graham Parkes.
...and somehow all of this panpsychist-umweltian-biospheric-Gaian stuff links up with the present kerfuffles over Artificial Intelligence. The realm of automata is a tempting rabbit hole...
...it's clear that automata often had a hieratic function — inducting audiences into belief in higher powers, religious or otherwise. Humanoid robots today can occupy a similar role, enticing audiences with the possibility not of divine miracles but of otherworldly and fabulous technological futures featuring super-intelligent computer brains and legions of tireless artificial workers...
...Androids are notoriously difficult to build, with engineers forced to compete with millions of years of human evolution, in terms not only of biological hardware (muscle density, power storage) but also of software (balance, eye-hand co-ordination). They do offer certain advantages, such as the ability to slot seamlessly into working environments built for humans. But robot-shaped robots are more practical. The most effective robot in your house is a waterproof box filled with jets and sprays rather than a pair of mechanical arms that attempts to wash the dishes for you...
...When videos of Sophia or Optimus are shared online, people respond with fear, delight and awe. Are they being fooled? Do they believe?
(James Vincent, in a LRB review for Miracles and Machines: A 16th-Century Automaton and Its Legend, by Elizabeth King and W. David Todd)
And consider this (from a subscriber-only post on Medium, by Jeffrey Anthony):
In the last year, with the public release of various generative AI models, we've witnessed a significant shift across multiple domains of our lives. This shift is particularly evident in the emergence of an interdisciplinary field focused on 'Planetary Sapience.' This novel concept blends technology with the evolutionary processes of life, suggesting that planetary-scale computation is deeply integrated into, not separate from, the ecological logic of our world.
To fully grasp this paradigm shift, imagine observing Earth from a few light-years away. Through this alien lens, we'd see Earth's 4.5 billion-year history unfold dramatically: from its primordial chaos, through the explosion of life, to the mesmerizing transformation of our planet. The climax of this story is marked by the rapid emergence of an 'artificial' layer — a complex network of satellites and fibers encircling and embedded on the planet's surface. This development is not just a leap in technology; it represents a profound philosophical shift...
This layer bestows upon the planet an unprecedented ability to observe and comprehend itself — a form of planetary self-awareness and reflection. This shift in Earth's evolution signifies the emergence of a sentient layer, an evolution of techno-as-self. It marks a new epoch where technology is no longer seen as merely an artificial replacement for life, but rather as an integral part of life itself.
...In the paper 'Intelligence as a Planetary Scale Process,' published in the International Journal of Astrobiology, Sara Walker and her colleagues propose a broader view of intelligence. They argue that intelligence is not confined to individual attributes but is a collective phenomenon, manifesting across a spectrum of scales and timeframes, from the decision-making processes of social insects to the intricate chemical interactions within cells. This collective intelligence, exemplified by our global societal behaviors, has the potential to function at the planetary scale.
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I ran across a YouTube domain of short expositions on Life (there are many...) and figure that they belong as well with panpsychism as anywhere else:
Manta Rays: "the most intelligent fish"
Neurons and Synapses
A Microscopic Tour of Death
* * * * *
And, as so often happens, Emergence Magazine contributes a relevant perspective in Honoring the Wild Proliferation of Earthly Perspectives, transcript of a conversation between Merlin Sheldrake and David Abram. I've excerpted perhaps-too-many trenchant bits, and the whole thing is really worth immersing self in...Exploring the many kinds of selves that compose our breathing biosphere, cultural ecologist David Abram and mycologist Merlin Sheldrake assert the selfhood and agency of the fluxing multitudes with whom we share the Earth...
...our bodacious love and concern for the wider and much wilder community of earthly agencies, for the whole cantankerous collective of what you so aptly call "entangled life." (Abram)
...What we call arts and sciences both arise from our faculties of imagination, wonder, and curiosity—regarding the phenomena unfolding around us and regarding our own ability to meaningfully experience these phenomena. The bifurcation between the "sciences" and the "arts"—itself founded on a centuries-old bifurcation of the world into "primary" quantities and "secondary" qualities—has erected all sorts of confusing boundaries that we stumble over, mistaking them for natural features of our minds... (Sheldrake)
...the ways that we speak profoundly influence our sensory experience. Words have this remarkable efficacy, a kind of dangerous but splendid magic: they transform the world by altering our perception of the world. Words can enliven our senses, opening a wild and luminous vibrance in things we earlier took for granted—the soil underfoot, for instance, or a river, or even the wind blustering its way through the city streets. But words can also stop up our ears and cloud our eyes, stifling our spontaneous somatic empathy with other beings and with the animate landscape surging and gesticulating all around us. (Abram)
...Life is a story of wild intimacies and relationships, and any sustained look at the living world reveals that individual organisms aren't so much natural facts as categories that depend on our point of view. For instance, a substantial proportion of our genome has been acquired from viruses, and we carry around more foreign bacteria than cells of our own, without which we would not grow and behave as we do. Our microbial relationships are about as intimate as any can be, but we are not a special case. Bacteria host smaller bacteria and viruses within them. The intricacy of these webs of relation raises interesting questions. What are you calling an individual person? (Sheldrake)
...Having or being a self, in common parlance, signifies something rather more focused and agential than simply having being; a self is the sort of subject-like presence that one would readily associate with having rights. Selfhood implies the capacity to act, and to experience, to feel and to suffer and to enjoy as well. Selfhood conveys just what many folks seem to want to convey by using personhood, but without the human-centered overtones. And yet self remains a remarkably open and democratic notion, a quality accessible to any and all things, since—at least in English—we can affirm of anything (woodland, wetland, toad, boulder, compost heap, beehive, or eroding mountain) that it manifestly is itself, or its self.
The notion of self, in other words, is rather subversively animistic. The English language reflexively attributes a kind of self to all things, even to rocks and to words and to cumulous clouds—"the darkening sky feels ominous, today, but that cloud itself has a beguiling shape"—yet as soon as we stop to consider the term, we realize that selves are feelingful, qualitative presences. (Abram)
...selfhood is far from static; an oak or a forest remains itself even as the character of that tree, or the composition of that woodland, is steadily shifting—just as I, too, am an ongoing process of evolution and metamorphosis. A self is not a determinate, fixed identity, but a way of unfolding, a process, a style of changing to meet the ever-shifting circumstances. And it bears mentioning that selves are constituted by their relationships to others. A self or subject is not an enclosed being, but rather a nexus of relations to other selves. (Abram)
...We are multitudes, composed of and decomposed by the vast populations of microbes that live in and on us. And, of course, we are all embedded within and constituted by constant fluid interchange with our surroundings, through our breath and numberless other thermodynamic fluxes. The matter that makes up your body today is different from the matter that will make up your body in a few years. Your self is not a stable thing but rather a field of stability through which matter is passing—much like a river, a whirlpool, or a weather system. (Sheldrake)
...Places have power. The dynamic mix of plants, animals, fungi, and minerals that compose any habitat, interacting with the waters and weather patterns that circulate through that place, ensures that there's a unique intelligence to each ecosystem, a specific sentience with its own calms and turbulences, its own moods that affect and alter our moods whenever we're in that terrain. Maybe it's this that we seek to respect, however obliquely, when we speak of the selfhood of a place. (Abram)
...ultimately, we might want to (quietly) admit that the only real self or fully coherent subjectivity here is really the vast biosphere itself—this immense spherical metabolism—and that your and my apparently separate selves, like those of a river system or a storm cell, are just internal expressions of the wider self of the biosphere, of the anima mundi. Each of us—you, me, and the Amanita muscaria—is an embodied expression, or avatar, of the animate Earth.
From this Gaian perspective, wherein we recognize the whirling planet as our larger Body, each relatively coherent bioregion, or ecosystem, might be considered a unique tissue or organ of the larger metabolic entity, an organ of the breathing Earth. (Abram)
...it feels especially important that we accord some kind of agency not just to the overtly biological aspects of our world but also to the rocky substrate of things, and to the waters and the weather—to those parts of the world that have heretofore been considered utterly inanimate. Because as long as we assume that there is some basic layer of the world that is definitively inert, without any agency or dynamism whatsoever, then it is likely—inevitable, I think—that we'll continue to conceptualize the world in a hierarchical manner, as a "ladder" or a "great chain of being," wherein a purely passive and inanimate layer of matter provides the foundation upon which we set certain "lower" organisms—those ostensibly exhibiting a very minimal amount of "life" (lichens are sometimes forced into this role). Above those we situate other organisms that we think have a bit more vitality, erecting a conceptual pyramid wherein plants are positioned above lichens but underneath certain "lower" animals (like barnacles), themselves arrayed beneath more ambulatory animals with successively "higher" degrees of life, with humankind of course positioned at or near the top, just under the angels and the pure, bodiless freedom of God. (Abram)
...The conventional subject matter of physics and chemistry, commonly referred to as strictly "physical processes"—fluid dynamics, melting, freezing, chemical reactions, flows of energy, etc.—determine the possibilities and evolution of living organisms. Living organisms then feed back biological information into these same "physical processes," determining new climatic and geological possibilities. The rules determine the game and the game determines the rules. Biological organisms in a sense domesticate physical processes. Our bones, like the shells of tortoises, are domesticated minerals. And, yet, a large proportion of the mineral mass in the biosphere was originally created by living organisms. Our bodies are full of tides and weather systems, chemical weather systems, flow systems, vortices. Life fades into nonlife so gradually that it's actually hard to locate a border, let alone police one. (Sheldrake)
...we need a much broader, more expansive sense of life—perhaps a more playful and mischievous sense of vitality. (Abram)
...Literal truth, as the word itself suggests, is an artifact of literacy. It originally meant "being true to the letter of the law"—that is, "to the letter of scripture." For something to be literally true meant that it matched what was written down in the sacred texts. Gradually, over the centuries, alphabetic civilization transferred the apparent fixity of the written-down text to our literate sense of the ostensibly fixed, factual nature of the world at large. And so, today, after I give a talk, someone might say to me: "David, you spoke of slipping into conversation with a lichen-encrusted boulder. But c'mon, really: Is it literally true that the rock spoke to you?"
To which I would have to answer "No. It is not literally true. And yet it surely did speak to me." For I am trying to articulate a truth that is much older, and deeper, than literal truth. (Abram)
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And this just in from Lapham's Quarterly:1891 | New York City
Everything Everywhere All at Once
The effects of gravitation, of heat, and of light we observe daily, and soon we get accustomed to them, and soon they lose for us the character of the marvelous and wonderful. But electricity and magnetism, with their singular relationship, with their seemingly dual character, unique among the forces in nature, with their phenomena of attractions, repulsions, and rotations, stimulate and excite the mind to thought and research. We are now confident that electric and magnetic phenomena are attributable to ether; and we are, perhaps, justified in saying that the effects of static electricity are effects of ether under strain, and those of dynamic electricity and electromagnetism effects of ether in motion. But this still leaves unanswered the question as to what electricity and magnetism are. First, we naturally inquire, is there such a thing as electricity? In interpreting electric phenomena, we may speak of electricity or of an electric condition, state, or effect. If we speak of electric effects, we must distinguish two effects opposite in character, and neutralizing each other. In a medium of the properties of ether we cannot exert a strain or produce a displacement or motion of any kind without causing in the surrounding medium an equivalent and opposite effect. But if we speak of electricity, meaning a thing, we must, I think, abandon the idea of two electricities. For how can we imagine that there should be two things, equivalent in amount, alike in their properties, but of opposite character, both clinging to matter, both attracting and completely neutralizing each other? If there is such a thing as electricity, there can be only one such thing, and excess and want of that one thing, possibly, though more probably its condition, determines the positive and negative character.
What, of all things, the existence of which we know, have we the best reason to call electricity? We know that it acts like an incompressible fluid; that there must be a constant quantity of it in nature; that it can be neither produced nor destroyed; and that electric and ether phenomena are identical. The idea at once suggests itself, therefore, that electricity might be ether. I must confess that I cannot believe in two electricities, much less in a doubly constituted ether. Electricity cannot be called ether in the broad sense of the term, but nothing would seem to stand in the way of calling electricity ether associated with matter—bound ether—or, in other words, that the so-called static charge of the molecule is ether associated in some way with the molecule. Looking at it in that light, we would be justified in saying that electricity is concerned in all molecular action. Now, precisely what the ether surrounding the molecules is, wherein it differs from ether in general, can only be conjectured. It cannot differ in density, ether being incompressible; it must, therefore, be under some strain or in motion, and the latter is the more probable. To understand its functions it would be necessary to have an exact idea of the physical construction of matter.
But of all the views of nature, the one which assumes one matter and one force, and a perfect uniformity throughout, is the most scientific and the most likely to be true. An infinitesimal world, with the molecules and their atoms spinning and moving in orbits in much the same manner as celestial bodies, carrying with them ether, which is probably spinning with them—in other words, carrying with them static charges—seems to my mind the most probable view, one which in a plausible manner accounts for most of the phenomena observed. The spinning of the molecules and their ether sets up ether tensions or electrostatic strains; the equalization of ether tensions sets up ether motions or electric currents, and the orbital movements produce the effects of electro- and permanent magnetism. About fifteen years ago, Professor Henry A. Rowland demonstrated a most interesting and important fact—namely, that a static charge carried around produces the effects of an electric current. We can conceive lines or tubes of force which physically exist, being formed of rows of directed moving molecules; we can see that these lines must be closed; that they must tend to shorten and expand, etc. It likewise explains in a reasonable way the most puzzling phenomenon of all, permanent magnetism.
We are whirling through the endless space with inconceivable speed. All around us everything is spinning, everything is moving, everywhere is energy. There must be some way of availing ourselves of this energy more directly. Then, with the light obtained from the medium, with the power derived from it, with every form of energy obtained without effort, from the store forever inexhaustible, humanity will advance with giant strides. The mere contemplation of these magnificent possibilities expands our minds, strengthens our hopes, and fills our hearts with supreme delight.
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...it's an 'elegant hypothesis', the authors conclude...
(James Vincent, as cited above)
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An inspiring bit of text:All libraries, everywhere, are connected by the bookworm holes in space created by the strong space-time distortions found around any large collections of books.
Only a very few librarians learn the secret, and there are inflexible rules about making use of the fact. Because it amounts to time travel, and time travel causes big problems.
(Terry Pratchett Small Gods pages 215-216)
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"Hon, do you think it's time you took a break from the light-therapy lamp?"