nomogenesis,

historically one of the early teleological theories in biology that postulated some apriori principles guiding evolutionary change (as opposed to the random mutations and selection in classical evolution); just what those principles are was never too clear — from “downward causation” (high-level structures affecting low-level outcomes) to the totally uncontroversial aesthetic underpinnings of sexual selection. Much later the word was resurrected as a banner — at first ironic — for something much bigger: the “ancient/evernew yearning,” “the first true challenge”: the project of evolving the biology itself so as to “diminish, ultimately eliminate, the suffer and perish” that “permeate nature outside of humans.”  ■    Many tried to replace the “suffer formula” with something “less subjective” — but nomogenesis remains, for us, an ethical imperative before anything else; at least theres a broad agreement that suffering itself bears no definition — that any attempt to rationalize it is objectionable. “Do bacteria suffer?” used to sound absurd, or the answer was a plain no; by now, it matters little whether bacteria have nerves or consciousness — what counts is our own conscience: the shaky, always-emergent, live-ethics consensus of the ethically competent is the only judge… which, if it shrinks in disgust at something “rationally defensible,” wed better obey. Admittedly well never place equal weight on suffering of dissimilar beings — but our sense of what we can or cannot do to nature has come a long way, keeps evolving; the ethical consensus may produce 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 merely object, of the live ethics boiling pot. ■    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 in a biology which is (always was, “but now we can do something about it”) so out of tune with our dearly held sensibilities? Critics, expectably, berated “arrogance”: “presumptuous” to force-feed our hurried Change to the world, to act so sweepingly based on so human assumptions, many unconscious; far from a culmination of altruistic biophilia, isnt it just 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 working 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: not a few see nomogenesis — for all our noble intentions and deep understandings — as a “new war on nature.” Has wilderness lost its role of God substitute (a 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 is accumulating slowly, in layers of gradually less misguided speculation. Like every major paradigm shift this one has been dreamed, yearned, debated and dismissed before; if anything were late — with all the art and prophetry but not much practical thinking until now. The modern theory has little in common with what fuelled the early wars — except motivation: we know the strife, feel the suffering, cant sit on our hard-earned understandings; enough cosmetics on the all-eat-all world, face “the first real 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; 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 when youre fit.” It took a clean-slate reunderstanding of evolution, scrubbed of teleology and (paradoxically) human bias, to see how to bridge this to the no-suffer imperative: evolution uses whatever works — and changes seamlessly when we constrain or promote certain selection factors; the reign of suffering and death as whips or progress can be over without evolution missing 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, shutting out 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: currently at churn, our biology may be edging towards rething, and its on us to make the transition painless. The anthropic principle (including cosmic — the Universe as a product of evolution) is one cure for the tenacious teleological bias: it didnt come to this because it had to but because there would be no one to ask questions otherwise; its also the only viable extra-ethical benchmark for our choices: always act so that there is someone to ponder your choice later — ideally someone capable of better understandings than you. “Itself a catastrophe” at first, humankind evolved (fragility paradox) into a planetary stabilizing factor — and hastened to hedge its bets by gestating Minds. ■    After centuries of gardening, modern nomogenesis movement is often in opposition to the gardening elites that include some of its harshest critics. Yet the bioglobalization, biome-level immunity, induced diversity are all garden fruits — and it may be that in the really long term, routine daily gardening without any grand planetwide plan would recreate the entire biology per nomogenic visions… or perhaps theres been “impetus enough” and the ascent into the world of rething is already unstoppable.  ■    Much is to be learned from the story of arf: the “consensus evolution” of the artificial cell, global Arfs unplanned symbiosis with bearers of consciousness, the whole knowledge ecology — designed and serendipitously grassgrowing, always (re)adapting, 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 entitle you to its resources unless you morph into it, do its work, are it for others; if youre bad at it you are downvoted and stripped of your loot, but if youre good you could have had 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; all else is pliable — and we simply 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 leaving anyone purposefully vulnerable but without any artificial protection, remote control, nursing or taming, explicit or implicit domestication. Even so, the wolves/lambs balance is likely to remain our responsibility for longer than weve ourselves existed — “without us,” biology may not revert to erstwhile savagery overnight but the nomogenic veneer would evaporate; and yet one day — nudges accumulate, permeate, entrench — we will take our hands off the wheel: better slow than wrong.  ■    What if we give organisms a degree of volitional control over gene expression and a way to selectively back-scribe from phenotype to genotype? Such feedback-looping of higher aspects of organization to the genomic layer was shown to speed up biological evolution — making it more Lamarckian than Darwinian, similar to the evolution of culture where summers of flourishing accumulate complexity to be melted in recurring crises; unavoidable but eventually easing, crises become creativity spurs that allow, at the cost of some extinction, the next flourish to start early and go differently. We may also enable 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 exponentially.  ■    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 rove ever on, never finding a permanent new home, ultimately dissolving but not before its genetic legacy is scattered across multiple biomes. “Adaptation mongers,” disquieted species 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 very long term species may end up reduced pretty much to individuals — further inhibiting predation (which becomes double risk: your prey may carry your own genes so youll hurt your evolutionary chance by killing it, or it can be biochemically incompatible enough to be poisonous), which in turn will suppress senescence: without external sources of death, selection works to iron out the internal ones, promoting longevity in the least-predated species. ■    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-crumble cycle of regular trees). Nomogenic shifts in the selectionary landscape may nudge the existing parasitic links towards mutualism; in fact, some see “the 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 be another 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 or 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: we will need a large-scale model on which to test nomogenic scenarios, and such models often end up “unquenchably complex” — in an attempt to upgrade one biology well have created another, eventually divergent, which well have to support 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 (juvenilization): kids, cubs look instinctively endearing — not just to their own kind but to a surprisingly large neighborhood of evolutionary relatives. Such adaptation strategy has already made its debut in biology (“kitten craze,” Cromagnons vs Neanderthals); however, if nomogenesis makes someone more vulnerable to “cuteness attack” it may 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; same applies to the potential invaders from overskies or from the past (e.g. from closed refuges): fundamentally evolved-not-designed, the nomogenic biology should be as elastically resistant as any other (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: theres nothing to reinvent, procreation is already inhibited naturally above a certain population density; all we need to do is balance the levels and widen the notion of who, apart from an individuals own species, is counted as “population” (“extension of us” that first happened in humans). For millions of years, the primordially violent overproduction/perish cycles have been subsiding 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 blur again as a whole slice of a biosystem participates 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.” ■    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 entire evolutionary tree — keeping it in balance even if an overall shift upwards is inevitable and already happening. The trees roots — microbiota — have been long artificially depleted in and around the human body, strains eliminated both purposefully (diseases) and as collateral damage of hygiene, digestion rudimentalization, general Change; thus, in some scenarios, an “explosion of sterility” threatens to undercut the tree of life (microbiota being “the deepest possible neoteny: the last safety net of Earths life”) — though more reasonably, microbes would remain largely outside the nomogenic calculations: erasing diseases of “interesting” (for us) species may be inevitable but its emergency medicine, not nomogenesis. Like physical vacuum that spawns all possible particles, “the rot” is a foundation of biology; were not annihilating the biological vacuum (not trying to recreate life from scratch) but rerouting its powers — morphing higher organisms so that microbiota may fill in the new voids, learn the new rules: we boost the immunity but cut down on antibiotics.  ■    Nomogenesis is not about making life easier at the top, harder at the bottom: no enslaving one species to another, no “friendship pills,” no programming of animals to love humans — even if it were possible to program selective love; however, a general decrease in aggression, esp. towards whatever demonstrates affection and/or intelligence, will come naturally in a mature nomogenic evosystem. We are no intelligence mongers, “wise cows and witty lions” are best left to fairy tales — but a slow overall climb of intelligence is unstoppable anyway, intra- and interspecies communication always benefiting the smartest; nomogenesis, though, 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; at least in human experience, it 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 shrink its domain: whoever becomes death-conscious after us will hopefully not have it as miserable. ■    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 creativity,” “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 lazy 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 about ease — nomogenic selection never stops, just uses different criteria; whatever you are, you 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 is a “focus of the misguided world,” “downhill both ways” — too gratis, too asystemic, idly reliant on slow natural processes, it is but “feminization,” “florization of fauna” (misconceived: flora has predation too, if on a lower energy budget), “irreversible taming,” “lethal neoteny”… thankless betrayal of the “bloomth and thrife” that begot ourselves.

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