nomogenesis,

historically one of the early teleological theories in biology where evolutionary changes come from some apriori principles (as opposed to the random mutations and selection in classical evolution). Not always metaphysical, these principles were rarely stated with precision; research ranged from “downward causation” (high-level structures affecting low-level outcomes) to how an individual can steer its species' evolutionary course other than by spreading its genes. Much later the forgotten word was revived as a banner — at first ironic — for something much bigger: the “ancient yet evernew” yearning, “the first true challenge”: the grand vision of transforming the biology so as to “diminish, ultimately eliminate, the suffer and perish” that “permeate nature outside of humans.”  ■    Of the many attempts to replace the “suffer” formulation with something less human-centric, few touched the nerve; whatever larger meanings nomogenesis may portend, for us its an ethical imperative first and foremost. At least theres a broad agreement that suffering itself needs no definition — that even attempts to conceptualize it are objectionable. “Do bacteria suffer?” used to sound absurd, then the answer was a certain no; now most agree it cant hinge on whether bacteria have nerves or any kind of consciousness: what matters is our own conscience — the dynamic, always-emergent, live-ethics consensus is the judge, and if it shrinks in disgust at something “rationally defensible” wed better listen. We may never place equal weight on suffering of different beings — but our sense of what we can and cannot do to nature (and to ourselves) has come a long way, keeps evolving: the ethical consensus gives us theories and taboos but is not itself constrained by any. One inspiration for nomogenesis — a biological superproject as much as an attractor in our own cultural evolution — is to involve nature as a subject, not only object, of the live ethics give-and-take. ■    Humans have always sought freedom from materiality; finally Changed, ungrounded, eatfree, they no longer “use” nature nor inflict premeditated suffering on living beings — but suffering continues to exist. Can we feel at home on a planet whose biology is (and always was, “but now we can do something about it”) so out of tune with our dearly held sensibilities? Early critics, expectably, berated “arrogance”: “presumptuous” to force-feed our imperfect Change to the world, to act so wide-reachingly based on so human assumptions, many unconscious; far from a culmination of altruistic biophilia, isnt it all a guilty mix of petting urges, self-censored aesthetics, and stale mythology bits (children-playable animals of the Paradise, “no fear no cringe,” reincarnation no longer a punishment)? In the past, nature was “best left alone,” humans only worked to repair — and forget — the damage they had inflicted (eroded biodiversity, drug-resistant weeds); gardening never ceased but remained, fundamentally, a fancy — capricious snips of cleanup in an as-always world. Yet “here we go again, wanting something from the biosphere” instead of enloving it as is: to some, nomogenesis — for all our noble intentions and deep understandings — is but a “new war on nature.” Is wilderness losing its role of God substitute (no more refuge to flee to, draw meaning and rejuvenation from) now that we know it “too closely”? Is nomogenic re-creationism turning the world into a dusty construction site?  ■    Past and away from the easy/wrong solutions (countless “taming,” “artificialization” programs, some bordering on the macabre “let there be no sufferers to suffer”), an understanding of what lies before us accumulates slowly, in layers of gradually less misguided theorizing. Like every major paradigm shift this one has been dreamed, yearned, discussed and dismissed before; if anything were late — with all the art and prophetry but not much practical thinking until now. The new nomogenic consensus has little in common with what fuelled the early wars — except motivation: having seen that much strife and suffering we cant sit on our hard-earned understandings, must act; enough cosmetics on the all-eat-all world, face “the first major test of a grownup civilization.” It may be centuries before changes become detectable, millennia before we know if were succeeding — but the time to start is now; what was a vague aspiration is self-assembling before our eyes: no monsteromachia, no “new biology” from scratch — but the one biology we have we, finally, understand enough to no longer be idle.  ■    Struggle, predation, perish pose as the motors of change: “creative evolution needs death and generational relay,” “you hunt because youre fit.” It took a clean-slate reunderstanding of evolution, scrubbed of teleology and human bias, to see how to bridge this to the no-suffer imperative: evolution always uses whats available now — but its very fabric can be changed if we constrain or promote certain selection factors; the reign of suffering and death as evolutionary whips can be over without evolution losing a beat. As an obligatory example, not only didnt humans exempt themselves from evolution, they changed it by their own Change; beyond wars and plagues we trot into the sunset — ramping up adaptability, finding ways (not just genome tweaks) to shut out and supplant the primordial survival of the fittest, blithely sexual-selecting and aware of that; games (ascending the age ladder) and art (descending it) keep reshaping the human self-image, “the edifice of culture” mutualistically coevolves with the biological wetware. None of which is exclusive to humans: beauty, love, friendship, altruism, creativity, culture are there in the wild; fruit, pollination mutualisms readily evolve all across the tree of life; dense ecosystems nurture signaling, perception, memory; diversity — “knowing how to coexist” — trends up on the geological timescale.  ■    Nomogeneticists adopt the three-stage metaecology of plaguechurnrething: our biology, currently at churn, may be edging towards rething — and were working to make the transition faster and easier. The anthropic principle (including cosmic: the Universe as a product of evolution) is the best cure for the tenacious teleological bias: “it all came to this” not because it had to but because there wouldnt be someone to ask questions otherwise; its also the only viable extra-ethical benchmark for acting in the world: if at all, act so there remains someone to ponder your choices later — ideally someone capable of better understandings than yours. “Itself a catastrophe” at first, humankind evolved (fragility paradox) into a planetary stabilizing factor — and hastened to hedge its consciousness bets by gestating Minds. ■    Heir to the centuries of gardening, the nomogenesis movement had a tumultuous relationship with the gardening elites — which include some of its most vocal critics. Bioglobalization, immunity to invasive species, induced diversity are all garden fruits, however, and it may be that in the really long term, routine daily gardening — without any grand planetwide plan — pushes biology closer to nomogenic visions; some argue that its even going there by itself — that there was impetus enough for an ascent into the rething world to begin.  ■    Much is to be learned from the story of arf: the individual cells “consensual evolution,” global Arfs unplanned symbiosis with bearers of consciousness, the whole knowledge ecology — designed and serendipitously grassgrowing, always readapting, remarkably crisis-proof. From tiny feral feeleries to broadest Minds, the Arf life exhibits rule-rewriting competition, “collective selection,” and what is often compared to beauty as an integral value function but no predation: gobbling someone doesnt automatically entitle you to its resources unless you fully transform into it — do its work, are it for others; if youre bad at it you are downvoted and stripped of your loot but if you do it well you can gain those same resources peacefully. Predation is pointless: the juice of someones lived meaning can always be read nondestructively.  ■    The current nomogenesis platform — in a return to the origins of the term — converges on evolving the evolution (“evolution squared” — “no other tool to use with nature anyway”) as a sustainable means to an end: “noble properties cant help evolving in a nobled environment.” Evolution is only unchangeable in its tautology: “whatever can go on, does”; everything else is pliable — and we only need to adjust the definition of can so that behaviors benefiting an entire ecosystem or entire biology get naturally selected for. No magical switch flip: it only works by morphing, gradually and coordinatedly, the existing species and habitats — without making anyone purposefully vulnerable but without any artificial protection, remote control, nursing, taming, explicit or implicit domestication; even so, the “balancing act of wolves and lambs” may remain our responsibility for longer than weve ourselves existed: without us, biology wont revert to erstwhile savagery overnight but some of the nomogenic veneer may evaporate. And yet one day — nudges accumulate, permeate, entrench — we will remove hands from the wheel: this is far far away now but theres no hurry “so long as its the right thing to do.”  ■    One idea is to give organisms conscious control over their gene expression and/or a way to selectively back-scribe from phenotype to genotype. Such feedback-looping of higher aspects of organization to the foundational genomic layer was shown to speed up biological evolution — make it more Lamarckian and less Darwinian, even reminiscent of the evolution of culture where periods of flourishing pile up complexity to be quenched in recurring crises; unavoidable but eventually easing, crises become “creativity spurs” that allow, after minimal extinction, the next flourish to start early but differently. Well also need controlled horizontal gene transfer in eukaryotes so adaptations can be shared with (close enough) relatives; in models, such “love not war” via asexual recombination across species' borders opens a mutual diversity/complexity feedback, driving both up hyperbolically. In a very long term we may see each individual “becoming its own species” — to further inhibit predation (double risk: your prey may carry your own genes, or be poisonously incompatible); one consequence is a natural reduction of senescence: without the external sources of death selection works to iron out the internal ones, so longevity records tend to belong to the least-predated species. ■    Models also predict an effect of disquiet: where in the old biology species stick to their niches until forced out, now, suddenly and for little apparent reason, a species may leave its stable niche and go awander — not just diffuse into adjacent niches but move ever on, neglecting chances of a permanent new home, ultimately dissolving but not before its genetic legacy is scattered across faraway biomes. “Adaptation mongers,” disquieted species would counter stagnation and overspecialization, make evosystems fluid and responsive even in absence of crises — so better prepared when a crisis hits (and of their trans-sown adaptations, many are only useful in a crisis). Waves of disquiet and diversity accretion may eventually erode the biological niches as we know them into a smoothly navigable continuum. ■    In a rethinging world, symbiosis is understood to dominate biology: nomogenesis is, in large part, symbiogenesis. Mutualist symbioses are rooted in parasitism, including food-chain relationships; humans used to parasite on various species, driving some to extinction and domesticating others, but have since either cut those links or elevated them to mutualism. From herding and agriculture, to transmogrified live-in pets, to integral planetwide gardening and “friends in the wild”: heres “another aspect of human self-evolving that hints at a coming universal rule.” Big trees are an example of a large-scale designed multisymbiosis: a stable ecosystem where thousands of species contribute to, and benefit from, the primary resource of arboreal support perpetuated across generations (unlike the wasteful grow-and-crumble cycle of regular trees). Nomogenic shifts in the selectionary landscape may nudge the existing parasitic links towards mutualism; in fact, some see “a planetary role of intelligence” in combining “our and evolutions creativities” to advance symbiosis in multicellular life — where its less likely to happen on its own as the complexity of lifeblocks increases.  ■    Earth life spreading through cosmos may give further boost to diversity: separate but communicating, planetary members of a metabiological family would mutually strengthen by exchanges; some of the offshoots may ban cross-pollination, abstain from nomogenic direction (or lack anyone capable) — serving as controls for the experiments of others. Yet another daughter biology may unfold in the Arf — for well need a grand unified model on which to test nomogenic scenarios, and such models tend to end up “unquenchably complex”: in an attempt to upgrade one biology well have created another, so big and eventually divergent that well have to support it indefinitely. ■    How robust can it be? Can a species subvert a nobled biome by preying on affection, faking altruism, luring those most social, curious, easily bonding into a “honey trap”? This relates to the adaptability of neoteny (organisms not developing to full maturity): kids, cubs look instinctively endearing not just to their own kind but to a surprisingly large neighborhood of evolutionary relatives. This adaptation strategy has already made its debut in biology (“kitten craze,” Cromagnons disarming the aggressive Neanderthals by neotenous appearance); however, if nomogenesis makes someone more vulnerable to “cuteness attack” it can balance that out by rendering them choosier — less susceptible to generic lures, more inclined to individuality, even “more cerebral overall.” In the long term, “fake-good” predators and parasites will probably evolve — but it takes time, and their prey will have time to adapt: nomogenesis is a self-guiding process that works by trial and error. Same applies to the potential invaders from overskies or from the past (e.g. from closed refuges): fundamentally evolved-not-designed, the nomogenic biology will be as flexibly resistant as any other — perhaps more; in particular, survivors from the past pose little threat as the system “remembers” how to phase them out. No U-turns: ourselves a product of biology, were just cranking up the level of feedback.  ■    On the “scarcity poison” and overpopulation: nothing to reinvent, procreation is naturally inhibited above a certain population density; all we need to do is balance the thresholds and widen an individuals notion of who, alongside its own species, is to be counted as “population” (such extension of “us” first happened in humans). For millions of years, the primordially violent overproduction/perishing cycles have been flattening in favor of subtler fertility controls; above a certain level of biome complexity, reckless procreators doom themselves despite any short-term gain — like cancerous tumors that destroy their own habitat. Sex — a “minimally collective” mode of procreation — greatly reduced waste, established the species as unit of evolution; with nomogenesis, species' boundaries may begin to blur again: now a whole slice of a biosystem may participate in an individuals procreative choice. “Biology-so-far: how youngishly crude, blind and fitful, ridiculously coarse… imagine what it might blossom into given a few billion years — or much sooner if we help the panpraxis along.” ■    There are no limits on what phyla may or may not be tweaked in the nomogenesis transition: starting, as may well be necessary, from humans and their symbiotic arf well traverse the evolutionary tree — trying to keep it balanced even if an overall shift upwards is inevitable and already happening. The trees root — microbiota — has been artificially depleted in and around the human body, strains eliminated either purposefully (diseases) or as collateral damage of hygiene, digestion rudimentalization, general Change; this may not be indicative at all but in some scenarios an “explosion of sterility” threatens to undercut the tree of life (for microbiota is “deepest possible neoteny: the last safety net of Earths life”). More reasonably, microbes should remain largely outside the nomogenic calculations; erasing diseases of “interesting” (for us) species may be inevitable but not sustainable — its emergency medicine, not nomogenesis. Like physical vacuum that spawns all possible particles, “the rot” is the foundation of biology: dont annihilate the biological vacuum (dont try to recreate life from scratch) but reroute its powers — morph the higher organisms and let microbiota fill in the new voids, learn the new rules; boost the immunity but cut down on antibiotics.  ■    Nomogenesis isnt about making life easier at the top, harder at the bottom: no enslaving one species to another or “instilling friendship,” no programming of animals to love humans — even if it were possible to program selective love; however, lowered aggression, esp. towards something demonstrating affection and/or intelligence, will come naturally in a mature nomogenic evosystem. No need to be “intelligence mongers,” “wise cows and witty lions” are best left to fairy tales; a slow overall climb of intelligence is unstoppable with or without our efforts, intra- and interspecies communication always benefits the smartest — but nomogenesis will not depend on “anyone but us” knowing whats going on.  ■    Death consciousness is thorny: theres little research into how it emerges except that its likely a gradual dawning, not a binary switch; in human experience, it clearly depends not just on the fact of death but on its causes and circumstances, its preventability, its lore. Were not eliminating death in nature (we didnt fully eliminate it in ourselves) but we will certainly diminish its domain: those who become conscious of death after us will hopefully not have it as painful. ■    Much of the criticism of nomogenesis stems from long-abandoned ideas or popular misconceptions: “suppressing predation kills competition,” “live-all-you-want is the end of progress,” “games with full information arent worth playing”; “talking trees would collude, not compete, to get the same insolation without growing tall” so well end up with knee-high forests. Also, “intelligence evolved out of necessity”: may we be blocking a new intelligent species from appearing, by making life on Earth easier? Except its not going to be easier — selection wont stop, just use different criteria; whatever you are, youll still have to work hard (by most reckonings, harder than before) and overcome chance to continue your genetic line into the future — its only that this survival work will be, on average, less gory. Add to this Fadeouts time-honored disdain for the “lazy easy”; to some critics, nomogenesis — a “focus of the misguided world” — is “downhill both ways”: “too gratis,” too asystemic, idly reliant on slow natural processes, it is nothing but “feminization,” “irreversible taming,” “lethal neoteny” — thankless betrayal of natures “bloomth and thrife” that begot ourselves; even “florization of fauna” (which is misconceived: flora does have its share of predation, just on a lower energy budget).

< new arf  |  northern summer >

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License