The Interactive Paradigm – Journal, 09.07.16

Class Readings

How has our historical perception of the physical universe changed?


“Our Picture of the Universe” by Stephen Hawking

“The Particle Zoo” by Gary Zukav

The Universe and Doctor Einstein by Lincoln Barnett


Is the biological landscape an interactive design?


“Earth as a Spaceship” by Kenneth E. Boulding

“Collective Wisdom, Slime-mold Style” by Andy Clark

“Our Journey East: Exploring Foreign Territory” by Harriet Beinfield and Efram Korngold


Notes on the Readings


Suggested Reading: Natural Born Cyborgs


Class Overview

We discussed the readings in order to determine how they contribute to an Interactive Paradigm. I am going to attempt to reconstruct the argument and add my own research and notes. I feel as if I am missing something important. I understand most of what we talked about, but the feeling that something extremely important is eluding me is too strong to ignore. I am going to do some independent reading and research to combine with the class discussion and my notes and see where it leads me.


Notes & Research

How has our historical perception of the physical universe changed?


We have evolved from indeterminacy to determinacy to indeterminacy.


Early man lived in an indeterminate universe. The general pattern of religious development from animism to polytheism does not require absolute causation. Man did not yet feel himself entitled to certainty. The arrival of monotheism signaled a shift to a more determinate and static paradigm. If only one god exists, that god retains all power. An all powerful being is responsible for everything. This gives man ultimate cause. A monotheistic, determinate world view resists change because to allow change is self-defeating.


Observation of the natural world ultimately defeats determinacy. Scientific knowledge builds exponentially. If the world is round, it must move in an ellipse. If it moves in an ellipse there must be gravity. If gravity works, then the universe has to be infinite. If the universe is infinite what turned it on? Observation of expansion suggests that there may have been an explosion. If there is an explosion then “god” is quite limited in what he could have done to “start” the universe. If god is limited then he is not omnipotent. If he is not omnipotent then he is not god. If there is no god then there is no ultimate cause. If there is no ultimate cause then we can’t really be sure of anything.


Comparing Determinisms
Information Constructed From Information Philosopher[1]
Predeterminism Determinism Determination Adequate Determinism Indeterminism
Everything is inevitable Everything is inevitable Everything is not inevitable Nothing is inevitable but… Nothing is inevitable
can be determined can be determined can be determined Large things can be determined Nothing can be determined
all decided at the beginning of the universe all a consequence of whatever came before all predictable based on prior events Based on statistics (law of large numbers). Nearly Certain for macroscopic objects. Failure of any determinism. Because some things cannot be determined. Absolute certainty is impossible.
Monotheism Newtonian Phsyics
Scientific Study above the Quantum Level
Quantum Mechanics
Uncertainty (Heisenberg)
Schrödinger’s Cat
Spontaneous Radioactive Decay
There is no Free Will Free Will Free Will
Static Structures For all Practical Purposes Theoretical (Quantum)
Causa sui is the Latin name for a self-caused cause, one that is not the result of prior events
Macro Mind – Allows exertion of will to determine responsible actions Micro Mind – Quantum, unpredictable, occurrences generate free randomness

Modern physics is looking for the ultimate cause. The General Theory of Relativity explains that gravity results from the curvature of space-time. This theory pretty much explains everything on a macro-scale. It tells us that the universe is expanding. It explains black holes. It tells us about the movement of the planets. All the big stuff is wrapped up with General relativity. Relativity does not explain the micro world. That is where Quantum Mechanics comes in. Quantum mechanics explains the world of high energy particles. Together, the two theories explain just about everything except each other. Explaining both would require a Unified Theory of Everything, which does not yet exist.


Even without a unified theory, we have learned a great deal from Quantum Mechanics. IN Quantum physics there is no difference between empty space and not empty space. We ask, what is something made of but every time we answer, we must go a step deeper. It is made of cells. It is made of fibers. It is made of atoms, of electrons and protons and on and on and on. This is chaos that lurks underneath the illusion of order. Things are happening on the subatomic level that even our best technology cannot fully perceive. Perception itself can change the nature of the thing. It is unpredictable. It is the essence of the indeterminate world view.


Duchap, Nude Dscending a Staircase

Determinism is a stubborn force. It does not want to let go and so there are many lingering aspects of it in our world. Religions that fight to exist when clearly they are no longer necessary, refusal to accept scientific advancement, dismissal of the arts and the false creation of danger-myths surrounding that which does not conform. It is damaging and it is stubborn, but it is not strong enough. The Indeterminate Paradigm is manifesting throughout society in everything from science to the arts.


Art reflects life. We know that time is not the same everywhere. We see this in art like “Nude Descending a Staircase” which depicts the movement of the model through time where time is not a static construct.


Quantum Theory tells us that we can’t always know what is real because the universe exists in a state of paradox. Mysteries exist that we do not even possess the language to discuss. We make practical assumptions so that we are not frozen in an endless loop of “but why” but practical assumptions do not account for the mysteries. We know now that a thing can exist as two things. Light is both a particle and a wave. A particle reaction both exists and does not exist. Quantum forces are defined by annihilation and creation in the some point in time.  Western thought has changed and must continue to change to acknowledge possibility of coexistent opposites.


Is the biological landscape an interactive design?


The biological landscape is an interactive design. Nothing exists that is independent of the whole.


The hard fact of it is that Earth is basically a closed system. We have the sun, an occasionally asteroid and potentially some nuclear energy to add to the equation, but that is it. We cannot import new materials at this time. Maybe someday we will be able to do so. The possibility exists in science fiction and is certainly speculated on in science-fact, but it is well outside of our current grasp. Whatever technology might be able to accomplish the task would use up more resources than it would supply. We cannot go out to a cosmic wholesale club and replace what we have lost. We have to get by on what we have. The population of earth is vast but it is sustainable if we rethink the way that we live.


We can no longer afford to waste our energy on “insoluble problems.” It is senseless to attempt to use or available resources to exert control over the hearts and minds of human-beings. We are intractable beings who will not be controlled in such a manner. Better instead to spend what we have on building a world that maximizes human choice while minimizing human evil where evil is defined as the negation of human individuality. This is not to say that human can ever live together in a perfect state of individuality. This is neither possible, nor desirable. We are dependent upon each other to reflect our own consciousness back to us so that we can understand ourselves within the context of “other.” Complete individuality is a myth, but maximized individuality is not.


The purpose of society is to create maximized individuality for all of its members. In order to make individualized choices a person must be autonomous. No one can choose who exists under threat of security. And so, society must provide, even for the least of us, a fulfillment of basic needs. This is not done because any specific individual “deserves” it but rather, because we, as a society are obligated by decency and our own honor to do it. Ignorance is also the enemy of individuality, And so, it is necessary to create an open-market of information that is available to all as a part of our global intellect. This is as close to group consciousness as can be made to exist. Each human being is part of a whole and has a right to the cannon of knowledge that has been passed down through generations so that it can continue to grow and develop into the future.


Human beings do not always like to think of themselves as part of a global system, but it is the truth. Not only are we part of a global system but we are also part of many functional subsystems. The systems govern themselves through both direct and indirect emergence. Direct emergence relies on individual interaction with little influence from the background. This is best exemplified by the laws governing cars in a traffic jam. Indirect emergence is a product of environmental factors. Termites build mounds and ants swarm to food in response to environmental stimuli. Harmony occurs when everyone gains the desired goal or equilibrium is reached. Either way, the interaction cannot be avoided.


Not all interactions are obvious physical events. Sometimes we interact with our environment without any awareness at all. Physics tells us that we are made of energy. Everything is made of energy. Matter is an illusion. If that is so, then in every moment that we exists, our energy is interacting with others. Many philosophers have theorized that this is true long before science confirmed it. The Taoist idea of Qui and Tao, have long held that we are part of a universal way. This is more than theory. It is fact. We see it with the constant bombardment of radiation that passes through our seemingly solid physical bodies. Interaction is not a choice. It is a state of being.


Creative Response to “The Earth is a Spaceship”

My response may have little to do with interactivity. The mental images jumping into my head are overwhelming my more rational analysis.


In the imagination,” starts the essay. The phrase, like the phrase “once upon a time” feels hardwired into the brain. It is like a shiny red button that begs to be pushed. It is connected directly into the occipital lobe. CLICK. Microfilament send pulses of stimulation directly to the Occipital lobe of the brain. Images instantly flash into existence, a giant silvery craft with long hotrod fins etched with bad-boy, racing flames and a, “Born to Ride” logo. Portholes like a Jules Verne submarine open up a view of the inside. It is crowded with people and animals and artifacts and dirt and dust and giant cold viruses that swarm in vast clouds spraying mucus and gritty, grainy spores through the population. An elephant lumbers majestically past, wearing a heavy, steel plated robe. Its ear’s are pierced with colorful stones and blinking lights. A dolphin  undulates through the air, flying over the heads of the milling population on prosthetic wings that extend from the muscular tube of its’ body into wide, sleek planes like a sting-ray. The people were masks with bubble-headed glass shaped into totemic images and painted in wild, garish colors. They carry with them all of their sacred possessions, paper books, glass pipes of colored smoke and vials of sparkling powder, weapons devoid of usefulness but reshaped and reformed into sticks and scepters that sometimes erupt with fireworks and light pulses. The jumbled mass of chaotic life spins with centrifugal force as it barrels through the great unknown universe. All of this, is “in the imagination.


So, what does this have to do with interactivity? Maybe my subconscious response is smarter than I thought. Why did I see such a provocative image?


The densely packed population represents the crowding of our global ecosystem.


The animals wearing human clothing and technology represent the advancement of science. The idea of enhanced animals is “unnatural” and therefore undesirable to many minds. While I might not think it is a good idea in reality, the theory is more compelling. Science will be advanced. We have already seen how important it is to ensure that we make rational, moral choices to govern how we use it. I think it links back to what was said about natural selection. If we live in an indeterminate universe and If we were created according to the laws of that universe, then what we do is also governed by those laws and everything we do is, in fact, natural. We cannot simply decide that we will not advance science that is “unnatural.” We cannot rely on a moral code dictated by a determinate worldview.  We have to do better. The question of whether or not it is wrong to use technology to alter or enhance animals is a good example of the philosophical and moral questions that we will eventually be faced with. The first instinctive response is that it is so obviously wrong, but closer consideration begs the question, “why?”


I read a science fiction series that addresses the question from a unique perspective. There is a reason science fiction is often (and more accurately) referred to as “speculative Fiction.” The genre allows us to speculate on theoretical possibilities. These books are built around a world were all species are “uplifted” by some other species. They are gifted with intelligence by a superior species. In exchange for that service, they are subservient to their parent species for a period of time. Humans are depicted as the only species to have gained intelligence without benefit of uplift. The books revolve around the question, “who uplifted the humans.” They are relatively decent science fiction books if you like hard science fiction. They don’t make any serious attempt to be based in fact. The science is relatively silly. The moral and social questions are not.


The humans in the books have uplifted dolphins and apes. They justify this by arguing that if they have the ability to confer intelligence, they also have the obligation to do it. Intelligence decreases suffering. If they refuse to offer intelligence when it can be given, then it is the equivalent to withholding food from a starving animal. I am not sure I agree with that argument, but the argument itself is not bad. Of course, if you do grant intelligence to a “lesser” species, you could argue that you would effectively be exterminating the species because they would no longer be themselves. But, you can counter that argument as well. The species in question would undoubtedly chose intelligence. There is no way to ask them without first doing it and once achieved it is unlikely that they would give it up. That means that by withholding intelligence we would also be destroying the species. Maybe we are the selective pressure that should help them advance? It is all complicated and frustrating. It would take someone far smarter than I am to untangle it all.


Physics looks for a Unifying Theory of Everything. If it were found, it must necessarily extend to morality. This is the argument some people use for the existence of god. If a unifying theory exists, it is called god and we cannot know his name.


That also makes me think of the mental picture that formed in my mind when reading The Earth as a Spaceship. What I saw had a strong “Noah’s Ark” impression. This may be because of the logic just mentioned but it is also a reflection of my own context. My memory is steeped in religious metaphor, even when I wish it were not!


The image I saw also suggests something about my opinions about the future. The people have weapons but don’t seem to know or care how to use them.  This indicates that I was thinking that humans are smart enough to figure out how to get past the petty distractions of national conflicts. The animals and people wore glass masks and reverted to a primitive style of decoration. Maybe that is evidence that I think people will figure it out, but not too soon. First they have to destroy things enough that masks are needed. The garish colors and tribal styles seem joyful, so even if it takes a while, they will be happy about the results.


Sometimes shit happens but once it happens all we can do is make the best of it and move on.


Maybe my creative impulse contains more analysis than I thought it did. It’s a good brainstorm for the essay.




[1] “Determinism.” The Information Philosopher. Accessed September 09, 2016.