Quiet DaysJanuary 9, 2011
My wife is just visiting her younger sister, who has big personal troubles as a longtime relationship is breaking up and everything is crumbling down around her. I have a quiet time with my five cats. I write on some texts which eventually could become blog entries, in between I practice on the piano or play guitar. In the evening I make my daily walk in the forest with the cats.
It is the middle of winter and quit cold. Wendy and Sumo aka Indi don’t participate in the walks — they wait for warmer days. The tradition of walking with the cats started in fall 2005 and though the cats are very devoted and consistent trekkers/wanderers/walkers, in winter we always suspended this activity. It is only since last winter that Princess Min Ki insists to continue with the walks even on the coldest winter days. At first Min Ki and I were alone in our adventures but this winter Rosy and Cindy are joining us.
When we come home from the walk, I prepare the evening meal for my cats and then I sit down for one or two hours on a computer or I work in the music studio and after that I go to bed. It is a quiet and uneventful life, and though my wife is away I don’t feel lonely because I am always surrounded by my little cat friends. Sometimes I would prefer to be completely alone but that is not happening, I’m under constant 24hour/7day supervision.
Before I go to bed I usually say goodnight to all cats and then I sneak into my bedroom and I lay down and make myself comfortable. Unfortunately it is deadly certain that after a little while I will hear a scratching sound. Princess Min Ki has developed the habit to scratch on my bedroom door until I let her in and then she lays down on the blanket and sleeps as I sleep.
I would prefer to sleep alone, and I could indeed in all my relationships and in two marriages manage it to sleep alone. I like to sleep with the window open, because I like to breath fresh air. In winter it may be a bit cold but with a warm eiderdown it is bearable. It was always at the start of the cold season that me spouse at that time decided, that it would be indeed better to have separate bedrooms.
As I live now at the edge of a forest the air is clear and free from pollution (except when a farmers tractor is passing), and I don’t want to miss one minute of breathing and enjoying this fresh air. Having the window open has also the advantage that my cats, who normally like to be around me and to accompany me in everything what I am doing stay outside and spend the night in rooms of the house that are warm even in winter.
Princess Min Ki obviously doesn’t mind the cold, she is a tough cookie!
I was told that most cats prefer to sleep near the feet, but Mi Ki lays down beside my chest. Sometimes when I wake up and open my eyes I look into her eyes, and as I slowly emerge from the land of dreams I realize, that she is quietly sitting beside me and is looking at me.
I am one of the persons who need lot of sleep. Protein folding and moving memory to longtime memory areas and other cleanup operations of my brain take a little bit longer than for average persons. It was always like this, I need at least ten hours of sleep to feel well and be ready for another day. Cats need also lot of sleep, they spend two thirds of their life sleeping. In this respect Min Ki would be the perfect sleeping partner, unfortunately she has the habit to go up at around five o clock, scratching on the door till I let her out. After ten minutes she is scratching again till I let her in and then we continue sleeping till I have completed my ten hour sleep schedule.
Fortunately I never have a problem to fall asleep again after these interruptions, it is only in the ten minutes when Princess Min Ki is outside that I don’t continue sleeping as I normally would. It is in these ten minutes that novel and atypical ideas and notions and pictures appear and lead me into weird lucid dreams and crazy visions and sometimes the weird dreams and crazy visions persevere even after Min Ki has joined me again.
I have already published one of this dreams with the title “Mothers of the World” on the blog and I intend to publish further weird dreams and crazy visions.
The thoughts that came into my mind this morning were a bit unusual because they were not as surreal as my dreams normally are.
I first thought about Charles Darwin and I contemplated, that his discovery of the law of evolution by natural selection could be the key to understand everything, what is going on around us. His book “The Origin Of Species”, published in 1859, is for me one of the most important writings in the history of mankind.
Natural selection can explain a lot, not only the evolution of species but also complex climatic changes and even the very nature of our solar system. For example: The planets that are rotating around the sun are the ones that made it in the end. There were probably other planets in the history of the solar system that didn’t make it and crashed into the sun and others that disappeared into the wider universe.
As I thought about Darwin, I suddenly was irritated and perplexed by the realization, that I seldom read anything about the argument, that natural selection cannot work without self-regulating processes. Darwin’s thinking, from an early date, was permeated with the idea of self-regulating systems but this point nevertheless is not clearly described in his writings.
Alfred Russel Wallace was a contemporary of Darwin and could be rightly viewed as the co-discoverer of natural selection. He wrote in a paper for the Linneaean Society: “The action of this principle is exactly like that of the centrifugal governor of the steam engine, which checks and corrects any irregularities almost before they become evident”.
James Lovelock presented his “Gaia Hypotheses” (earth feedback hypothesis), Frank Ryan wrote about “Symbiotic Creativity”, Betts/Lenton about “Sequential Selection”, but none of these theories is widely accepted in the scientific community. Alfred Russel Wallace is long forgotten.
Natural selection can explain a lot, and together with the idea of feedback/self-correction it can explain even more. Could Newtons classical mechanics or even quantum mechanics be nothing else than an abridged and straightened interpretation of dynamical systems + self-regulating processes + natural selection?
I will avoid scientific terms in the following paragraphs and I will try to describe the principle of self-regulating processes and feedback as clear and simple as possible:
In a complex dynamical system as the earth undoubtedly is with an unimaginable number of forces, materials, causal chains and interactions, a practically infinite number of processes will be going on (chaos theory/non-linear dynamical systems). Every natural process will go forward and change the involved materials and also change itself until it either fizzles out (dies down) or destroys the paramount system. Most natural processes will die down because they reach physical limits or are effected, interrupted, overruled by other processes and they will not destroy the paramount system because it is too stable and rigid to be threatened by small unregulated processes.
This short description is a drastic simplification because all processes interact with each other but simplification is the only possible way to describe the main principles of self-regulation with words.
Some of the processes that emerge in a complex system will accidentally include a feedback loop. A feedback loop means that the outcome of the process has an effect of the process itself. A feedback can be negative, what would mean that an increased output of the process will diminish/attenuate the process and a diminished output will increase/extend the process. A negative feedback can result in an oscillating system where the oscillation frequency and amplitude are regulated by the latency and the strength of the feedback. If the feedback is strong enough it can lead to a stable system that sustains itself in perpetuity.
When the feedback is positive, the process will increase/accelerate (runaway process) and either stop when it has reached its limits or destroy the system. There will be also processes that would die down by the nature of their inner working or when the opposing forces are strong and in such cases a positive feedback could sustain the process.
Natural processes will have many feedback loops and many nodes where the feedback is inserted. The ecological balance between species is a perfect example for a self-regulating system. The predator species will eat and destroy the population of their pray and then be diminished by starvation till the population of the pray species recovers. Bacteria will cause the decline of populations and with that their own decline. Other bacteria may be beneficial (intestinal flora) and thrive together with the host.
Some natural processes with a positive feedback loop will become very powerful and cause significant changes before they stop. The rapid growth of algae is a perfect example: Algal bloom can destroy fish stocks and kill all life in lakes and rivers, because algae use up all oxygen needed by other plant and animal species. Algae can cause dead zones in oceans. In September 2009 a massive algal bloom off the US northwest coast left 10,000 seabirds dead and in July 2010 satellite images revealed a toxic algal bloom in the Baltic Sea that stretched from Finland to parts of Germany and Poland.
A scientific hypothesis claims that toxins from algae played a major role in most of the six mass extinctions that happened in the history of the planet (the sixth mass extinction, the “Holocene extinction” is just going on).
The deregulation of the homo sapiens
Humans have undoubtedly impeded and foiled the natural regulation process with the development of tools and weapons. Humans, like algae, belong to the category of natural processes that become very powerful and cause significant changes before they stop.
Humans tipped the ecological balance in many areas and they are trying to replace the defunct ecological systems with their own designs which makes matters only worse because the man-made systems are crude and not efficient and not sustainable in the long term because they need and waste a high amount of resources.
Humans are a runaway process and they are causing climate change, mass extinction of species, poisoning of the biosphere. They transform the environment in such a profound way that in a not too distant future all species will have a hard time to survive on this planet, including humans themselves.
It could be an interesting intellectual exercise to speculate about possible scenarios and maybe I will do that in subsequent blog entries and dabble in the “art of futurology”. Here in this text I only want to address a few points that could amount to a negative feedback loop and a self-regulation of humans:
Man-made pollutants like toxic heavy metals (mercury, arsenic, lead), PCBs, DDT, dioxins and other POPs (persistent organic pollutants) and pollution caused by human activity (ozone) will compromise our immune system and cause allergies, genetic defects, cancer. It will make us vulnerable against diseases — worldwide epidemics of unimaginable proportions are a possible outcome.
Climate change and the breakdown of biological systems will diminish the food supply, genetically modified food could turn out to be a long term health risk.
EMF (electromagnetic field) radiation from cell phones, cell phone towers, computers and also to a lesser extent EMF from power lines and all electric and electronic devices could also turn out to be a long tern health risk.
Humans kill each other in wars and this behavior could increase significantly as mineral resources and food supplies run out.
I will hopefully not have to bear the full consequences of the runaway process that human evolution has become, yet my son and my two stepsons could have a hard time in their later years. I plan to discuss this matter with them and tell them what I know, in the end they must decide by themselves and organize their lives by themselves.
I also want to make clear to the reader that this text is not meant to be a “wakeup call” or a plea to change the direction of human civilization. I have no stake in this issue and I’m neither pessimistic nor optimistic. Even if human activity results in such a fundamental change of the earth’s biosphere that life based on DNA – RNA – protein is not possible anymore, it would not rule out the emergence of complex self regulating processes based on other substances.
Jupiter and Saturn are so much bigger than Earth and there is a lot going on there. It is possible that complex systems exist on these planets which resemble something what even we humans with our limited imagination could describe as self aware and self reflective creatures.
I want to close this text with a transcript of a George Carlin comedy act. He is one of my all time heroes! This particular Carlin routine was by the way praised by Rush Limbough with the words: “A lot of people think of George Carlin as a wacko liberal satirist, controversialist or what have you, and on occasion he was. But he really skewered everything, and when it comes to the environmental left, George Carlin was one of us.”
Interesting to see, that Rush Limbough obviously had no idea, what was going on in this standup routine. I don’t call Rush Limbough and Glenn Beck or other stars of the Fox propaganda machine idiots, because that would be rude, but I consider them as another prove that humans are not “the crown of creation” (whatever that means).
You got people like this around you? Country is full of them now! People walking around all day long, every minute of the day — worried about EVERYTHING! Worried about the air, worried about the water, worried about the soil. Worried about insecticides, pesticides, food additives, carcinogens; worried about radon gas; worried about asbestos. Worried about saving endangered species.
Let me tell you about endangered species, all right? Saving endangered species is just one more arrogant attempt by humans to control Nature! It’s arrogant meddling! It’s what got us into trouble in the first place! Doesn’t anybody understand that? Interfering with Nature! Leave Nature alone! Haven’t we done enough?
We’re so self-important! Everybody’s going to save something now. “Save the trees; save the bees; save the whales; save those snails.” And the greatest arrogance of all, “Save the planet.” WHAT? Are these people kidding me? Save the planet? We don’t even know how to take care of ourselves yet. We haven’t learned how to care for one another, we’re gonna save the planet?
I’m getting tired of that. I’m tired of Earth Day! I’m tired of these self-righteous environmentalists; these white, bourgeois liberals who think the only thing wrong with this country is there aren’t enough bicycle paths. People trying to make the world safe for their Volvos. Besides, environmentalists don’t give a shit about the planet. They don’t care about the planet. Not in the abstract they don’t. You know what they’re interested in? A clean place to live. Their own habitat. They’re worried that some day in the future, they might be personally inconvenienced. Narrow, unenlightened self-interest doesn’t impress me.
Besides, there is nothing wrong with the planet. The planet is fine. The PEOPLE are fucked. Difference! The planet is fine. Compared to the people, the planet is doing great. Been here four and a half billion years. Did you ever think about the arithmetic? The planet has been here four and a half billion years. We’ve been here, what? A hundred thousand? Maybe two hundred thousand? And we’ve only been engaged in heavy industry for a little over two hundred years. Two hundred years versus four and a half billion. And we have the CONCEIT to think that somehow we’re a threat? That somehow we’re gonna put in jeopardy this beautiful little blue-green ball that’s just floating around the sun?
The planet has been through a lot worse than us. Been through earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, continental drift, solar flares, sun spots, magnetic storms, the magnetic reversal of the poles; hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets and asteroids and meteors; worldwide floods, tidal waves, worldwide fires, erosion, cosmic rays, recurring ice ages… And we think some plastic bags, and some aluminum cans are going to make a difference? The planet… the planet isn’t going anywhere. WE ARE!
We’re going away. Pack your shit, folks. We’re going away. And we won’t leave much of a trace, either. Thank God for that. Maybe a little styrofoam. The planet will be here and we’ll be long gone. Just another failed mutation. Just another closed-end biological mistake. An evolutionary cul-de-sac. The planet will shake us off like a bad case of fleas. A surface nuisance.
You wanna know how the planet is doing? Ask those people at Pompeii, who are frozen into position from volcanic ash, “How the planet’s doing?” You wanna know if the planet’s all right, ask those people in Mexico City or Armenia or a hundred other places buried under thousands of tons of earthquake rubble, if they feel like a threat to the planet.
The planet will be here for a long, – LONG – time after we’re gone, and it will heal itself; it will cleanse itself, because that’s what it does. It’s a self-correcting system. The air and the water will recover; the earth will be renewed; and, if it’s true that plastic is not degradable, well, the planet will simply incorporate plastic into a new paradigm: the Earth plus plastic! The Earth doesn’t share our prejudice towards plastic. Plastic came out of the Earth. The Earth probably sees plastic as just another one of its children. Could be the only reason the Earth allowed us to be spawned from it in the first place. It wanted plastic for itself. Didn’t know how to make it. Needed us. Could be the answer to our age-old philosophical question, “Why are we here?” Plastic!
So, the plastic is here, our job is done, we can be phased out now. And I think that it has started already, don’t you? I think, to be fair, the planet probably sees us as a mild threat. Something to be dealt with. And I am sure the planet will defend itself in the manner of a large organism, like a beehive or an ant colony, and muster a defense. I am sure the planet will think of something. What would you do if you were the planet trying to defend against this pesky, troublesome species? Let’s see… What might… Hmm.. Viruses! Viruses might be good. They seem vulnerable to viruses. And, uh…viruses are tricky, always mutating and forming new strains whenever a vaccine is developed.
Perhaps, this first virus could be one that compromises the immune system of these creatures. Perhaps a human immunodeficiency virus, making them vulnerable to all sorts of other diseases and infections that might come along. And maybe it could be spread sexually, making them a little reluctant to engage in the act of reproduction.
Well, that’s a poetic note. And it’s a start. And I can dream, can’t I? See I don’t worry about the little things: bees, trees, whales, snails. I think we’re part of a greater wisdom than we will never understand. A higher order. Call it what you want. Know what I call it? The Big Electron. The Big Electron… Whoooa. It doesn’t punish; it doesn’t reward; it doesn’t judge at all. It just is. And so are we. For a little while.
I would not be able to say it as poignant as Georg! I’m a bit jealous but at least I got an idea now how I could discuss the various matters of life in future blog entries. It seems that Georg Carlin didn’t know about James Lovelock. If he would have used the name “Gaia” instead of “The Big Electron”, it would have been a well deserved endorsement for Lovelock.
Maybe as I write the last sentences of this text Gaia is watching and is smiling (or is doing whatever the equivalent of smiling may be). Maybe right now a group of self-regulating processes from Jupiter or Saturn that we never would classify as life because they are not based on DNA – RNA – proteins are watching me writing this text and they are nodding wisely (or are doing whatever their equivalent of nodding wisely may be) and saying to each other: “Not bad, this level of insight from such a simple self-regulating process assembly”.
Maybe nobody is watching, maybe nobody does care, maybe (and most probably) I’m not of any importance and what I am doing is of no significance and will have no measurable impact on anything. I’m just a tiny grain of sand in an unimaginable big universe.
That my life will be of no significance and have no impact at all is for sure the more likely case. But to be on the save side, these last words: “Thank you, my friends from Jupiter and Saturn for your endorsement, it is very much appreciated!”