Biosphere as a Living Being

  The Next Common Narrative

Will humans and other life on this planet eventually become integrated into the Biosphere as a single living entity?

           “Earth seen from the Moon”, in 19th c. and today.

The current global pandemic is yet another phenomenon that shows to what degree humans are primarily biological creatures tightly connected with other living beings on Earth into endlessly complex entity named the Biosphere.

Image of the Earth, dubbed ‘Pale Blue Dot’, is a part of the first ever ‘portrait’ of the solar system taken by Voyager1- February14, 1990

It is becoming obvious that our future narrative will not be determined by a story from scripture or history , but by a story emerging from our common biological nature; a story which all the people regardless of geography and cultural differences, race or ethnicity, could identify with; a story in which “culture” will become part of the broader cultural concept called “nature”.  While the stories from various cultures were often separating and confronting people, a story that would have the Biosphere in its foundation could unite the entire humanity in a common narrative.

Humans on the Mt. Everest, Amazon river and in the Ocean

Life as observer. Various organizations of living mater, regardless of their size and complexity: RNA, bacteria, multicellular organisms, human biology, human society, the entire biosphere, they are all specific kinds of observers. Interpretation of the world by all these life forms as observers (from RNA level up to the Biosphere) is most likely based on the same perception/ interpretation of the environment characteristic for the earliest life forms.

Binary World

First, it was binary(dark-light), then it became trinary (black-gray-white) until arriving to five-element scale (black-dark-gray-light-white) with countless combinations of four of them within the linear RNA/DNA strands.

Trinary World

Visual representation of RNA/DNA bases as five values on the gray-scale

The question is, if the Biosphere ever emerges as a single being, what would be its main properties. Would it be able to “see” the world only from the inside out, or it might become capable to perceive itself from the outside as well? This seems highly unlikely since it would have to be a position outside of the (organic, DNA-based) life as we know it. One possible option would a view from some non-organic(AGI) position, or from an alien, non-DNA based, life form. The another  related question is: would the Biosphere ever develop some kind of Bio General Intelligence (BGI) and reach a point of self-awareness, and how would that happen? And, being “born” some four billion (human)years ago, would the Biosphere ever die, as all the other living organisms do, or will it continue to expand beyond the Earth indefinitely, as it seems to be the case up to now?

Metabolism is one of the most important properties of all living organisms. Energy (food) enters the organism in one end, and after being digested/processed comes out on another end, like in the case of a warm.

Earthwarm

This process could be recognized not only within the human body  (mouth-anus ) but on the larger scale in the kitchen-toilet and supermarket-garbage dump relationships.

Kitchen and toilet

Supermarket and landfill

We should not neglect the reverse process in which that waste, transformed in some way, often comes back into our kitchen.

Toilet and kitchen

It could also be recognized in the binary relationship between birth and death, while lifespan between could be interpreted as metabolism, conversion of energy from the environment by the living organism. And awareness that every living being must die seems to be one one of the properties characteristic for humans.

Birth and death

Maternity hospital – Parsi burial site

Native American burial

-The Four Elements. Since ancient times there was awareness, articulated by Empedocles, about the “four elements” that are in the foundation of all the material world: earth, water, air and fire (light). From today’s prospective these four non-organic phenomena are essential for the emergence and survival of life on Earth including the entire biosphere as such.

The Four Elements

These “four elements”, essential for the life on Earth, are nonorganic and this is why contemporary “four sphere” division like this below is correct only on some formal/topological level neglecting the fact that the (organic) biosphere is fundamentally different from the three other (nonorganic)”spheres”. They are all vital for maintaining the life but they themselves are not living entities as living matter is. There is water without life, there is air without life and there is earth without life, but there is no biosphere without life.

The Four Spheres of Earth

Living and non-living. Below the size of the smallest living system (DNA/RNA) there is only non-living matter, as it is the case at some point beyond the biggest living system – the Biosphere. The smallest living molecule and the entire Biosphere are two ends on the scale of life on Earth. The Biosphere seems to be its biggest and most complex manifestation. However, the difference between these two border cases is not only in their size, but that the DNA consists only of non-living matter while the Biosphere, on the macro level, consists of living matter. While other living forms appear in various numbers and quantities, Biosphere is the only such entity on this planet. When the first living molecule (proto-RNA) appeared on Earth, that molecule was the entire Biosphere as well. Since then the Biosphere grew to the scale of the Earth now “stretching fingers” to Moon and Mars.

RNA and Biosphere

-Biosphere as entity. Biosphere might at some point acquire certain properties based on emergence processes and start behaving as a distinct entity – a single organism. It would be the biggest and most complex organism on this planet surrounded with the atmosphere above and the lithosphere below, as its proto-membrane(s). We should try to learn the best ways to live together and inside it and adjust our lives and behavior in a way that helps all, the Biosphere and individual spices, including humans, as its components.

Species living on Earth

If and when the Biosphere starts behaving as a single organism, it is most likely that in the beginning it would be unconscious of itself, and it will take time to acquire self-awareness. It seems reaching that point will not happen without humans and their “brain power.” Humans should start understanding themselves, interpreting the world around them and their place in it, primarily through the perspective of the Biosphere.

Bird-flock and fish-school

The question is how the process/event of emergence might look like in case of the Biosphere if it ever takes place? When the elements/ parts of the emerging entity(fish in the school, bird in the flock , or ant in the colony) take part in forming the new larger entity, it appears that each individual part is not “aware” of this, they do not and cannot “see” themselves as a part of the emerging phenomenon from the “outside”. What is the tipping point in the process of moving from one stage (single bird) to another (flock), from a single entity (unit) to a much larger group formation with some very different properties? Is it something similar that was happening in the transition from non-living to a living matter and vice versa? Does the emergence processes in case of non-living and living matter (water and ants) have some similarities?

Droplet and wave

It seems that in cases of non-living matter the tipping point is reached by the quantity of units. First, two gas atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen are producing a liquid molecule of water. Then a number of water molecules produce a droplet of water with its own emerging properties. Then a single water droplet joins many others in producing a river stream or an ocean wave. This example shows that same unit can take part in forming different types of emerging phenomena (stream, wave), and that it can even take part as a unit within another emerging event (droplet, wave). Also, the transition from a gas atom to a liquid molecule is not matter of large quantity, but from a droplet to a wave, it is. Another question relevant in case of the Biosphere is: how the emergence phenomena in case of the living matter are different from the non-living? How transition from one-cell to multi-cell organism differs from one fish and a fish school, or one bird and a bird flock?

Ant and colony

In case of higher multi-cell organism there is a specialization of cells and division of roles/labor, but the parallel specialization appears among ants and bees. So, which of these two models of organizing living matter: bird-flock or ant-colony might be manifested/expressed in case of the Biosphere?

Life on Earth

Perhaps it might start as a bird-flock and morph into ant-colony model. At some point it might even become something closer to the complex living organisms with highly specialized cells and organs and with the brain as its central organ, where in case of the Biosphere the human (brain)network would be parallel to the single (human) brain.

Alexei Leonov 1965 – Buzz Aldrin 1969

Life Beyond Earth. Today, in spite of the evolution logic, both “simple” bacteria and complex human are successful in surviving on Earth. However, so far it seems that only the humans are capable to take life out of the Earth, out of the existing Biosphere and expand it. The way astronauts were carrying with them a micro-atmosphere into the space, resembles the first animals that moved from the sea to the soil carrying within them a micro-hydrosphere. When the astronauts “landed” on the Moon, they were not representing only humans but the entire life on Earth as well. In other words, when humans went to the Moon, it is both the DNA and the Biosphere that went there too. And, if necessary, in this way humans could take with them any other organism and save the life as such from a potential extinction, something like the present time Noah’s Ark.  This is possible since not all the human knowledge is passed genetically but also through teaching. This way acquiring and passing the knowledge is much faster than knowledge transmitted genetically but, on the other hand, it can also be easily lost, since it is not preserved and passed internally – through the gens.

Apollo11, Moon 1969

-Natural-artificial. Humans are living matter. All non-living matter used by humans, including (high) technology, internet, artificial intelligence(AI), is in essence just a tool or prosthesis. Only in case if and when some non-living matter (AGI) reaches a stage when it becomes independent from humans, with its own will, it should be considered as an alien, an entity outside of the Biosphere, and the relationships with it will have to be negotiated. Competition over the energy resources will most likely be one of the major issues. It seems there are only these three options: cooperation, coexistence and confrontation. There is also a possibility of symbiotic cohabitation, but it could be either very sophisticated prosthesis, or double-minded entity with one or more non-living “minds” attached to human brain.

Cyborg

Living matter – orders of magnitude

Biosphere

-It is considered that the Biosphere is a 20km wide spherical belt, 0.5km below the sea floor to about 6km above sea level.(What about air-traffic, or a space-station?)

Biosphere

Habitat

Taos Pueblo(above) – Tokyo(below)

Human

-human/mule size 150-180cm

Human and mule

Multicellular organism

-The size of Volvox colonies can range from 100-6000 microns (10⁻⁶m)

Volvox

One cell organism

-Size of the bacteria is around 1000 nm (nm =10⁻⁹ m)

Bacteria

RNA/DNA

The average persistence length is 46–50 nm or 140–150 base pairs (the width is 1- 2 nm).

RNA strand

Biosphere is defined as a living stratum on Earth composed of living organisms (biota) and the abiotic (nonliving) factors from which they derive energy and nutrients. Themes related to preservation of our eco-system are present in our everyday life for a long time, ecology is studied and thought at schools, many (non)governmental institutions are addressing issues of global warming, air pollution, climate change,.. all effecting the Biosphere, but usually these are considered as side-effects, a necessary “price” for economic growth and social prosperity. This kind of attitude has to change fundamentally both on individual and broader social level. Maintaining natural living conditions necessary for the well being of the entire life on Earth, including human, through the support and preservations of the entire Biosphere should become the primary goal of contemporary society and all other human activities should be conducted having in mind this goal. All human activities going in this direction should be encouraged and supported while those pushing in the opposite direction should be discouraged and suppressed as much as it is possible. Issues related to life and the Biosphere ought to be the main themes/subjects of the educational system and media, and should define and shape both economy and politics.

In that respect all individual and collective endeavors and projects that are one way or another addressing the issues related to life on Earth, like those mentioned below, should be recognized, publically promoted and supported.

Gregor Mobius October 3, 2020

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Biosphere 2

Biosphere 2 is a research facility located in Oracle Arizona originally constructed between 1987 and 1991. Its mission was to serve as a center for research and teaching about Earth, its living systems, and its place in the universe.[Built to be an artificial, closed eco-system or vivarium, it remains the largest closed system ever constructed. Biosphere 2 was originally meant to demonstrate the viability of closed ecological systems to support and maintain human life in Outer Space. 

Biosphere 2- Oracle Arizona 1987-91

It was designed to explore the web of interactions within life systems in a structure with different areas based on various biological biomes. In addition to the several biomes and living quarters for people, there was an agricultural area and work space to study the interactions between humans, farming, technology and the rest of nature as a new kind of laboratory for the study of the global ecology. Its mission was a two-year closure experiment with a crew of eight humans (“biospherians”). Long-term it was seen as a precursor to gain knowledge about the use of closed biospheres in space-colonization. As an experimental ecological facility it allowed the study and manipulation of a mini bio-system without harming Earth’s biosphere.

Biosphere 2- Oracle Arizona 1987-91

Metabolic Studio – Los Angeles

Metabolic Studio is an exceptional place/laboratory that for many years now, through numerous projects and initiatives, was addressing some of the fundamental issues regarding the environment and the entire Biosphere. Initiated and led by Lauren Bon, since 2005 Metabolic Studio realized many important projects like Not a Cornfield, 100 Mules March, Bending the LA River and many more. In 2017 she wrote:

Can a metabolic studio catalyze living systems? The scope of Metabolic Studio’s engagement is perhaps its most definable feature — it is three hundred miles in length along the course of LA’s watershed, from the Owens Valley out into the ocean at Long Beach. Metabolic Studio has evolved its practice in this bioregion by creating actions that respect, reanimate, remediate, and reconnect a watershed that we humans fundamentally rely upon...

Not a Cornfield Metabolic Studio, LA 2005

Can we sustain residual spaces that exist in between and outside of infrastructure? Metabolic Studio emerged from my 2005 action Not A Cornfield, which focused on the transformation of an industrial brownfield into an agricultural site over one growing cycle. Metabolic Studio emerged from the energy we created in this devalued place on the edge of the edge of the city.

One Hundred Mules Walking the Los Angeles Aqueduct, Metabolic Studio 2013. ,

If a metabolic studio embodies energetic change, what is it changing? Metabolic Studio is highly reactive to its context in terms of pinpointing the ways it can support the narrative of human existence as it unfolds, fully cognizant of the threats heaped upon us all. We figure out what we can shift and attempt to structure our actions with the aspiration to demonstrate that another modality of being is possible.

Bending the River Metabolic Studio, 2012-present,

It would be also interesting to watch this most recent Common Ground conversation conversation organized by the Metabolic Studio. https://brooklynrail.org/events/2020/10/02/common-ground-a-conversation-with-dr-vandana-shiva/

New Fabrics – New Stuff.

Design with Technical Textiles

An exhibition titled New Fabrics-New Stuff opened on August 23, 2017 in the St. Gallen Textile Museum in Switzerland. The exhibition curated by Michael Fehr was focused on an aspect of textile production that is relatively little known. It was beyond the world of fashion and interior decoration that the wide field of technical textiles and smart textiles unfolds in multi-faceted applications. The exhibition avoided the usual view of textiles, for even well-known textile techniques and materials appear in completely unaccustomed spheres of application and combinations. They are used in medicine and wellness, in the automotive industry, in architecture and in energy generation.

New Fabrics – New Stuff, St.Gallen Textile Museum 2017

After a reviewing the long history of these functional textiles, the exhibition was focused entirely on known and unknown fibers and materials, the way in which they are processed and the applications of the “new fabrics” in our everyday lives. The exhibition showed that the modern world is far more “textile” than is generally assumed and that new materials could relate to living matter as some kind of “environmental cyborgs”.

New Fabrics – New Stuff, St.Gallen Textile Museum 2017

The International Space Station (ISS)

The station serves as a microgravity and space environment research laboratory in which scientific research is conducted in astrobiology, astronomy, meteorology, physics, and other fields. The ISS is suited for testing the spacecraft systems and equipment required for possible future long-duration missions to the Moon and Mars.

ISS-International Space Station

The first ISS component was launched in 1998, and the first long-term residents arrived on 2 November 2000. The station has since been continuously occupied for 19 years and 335 days, the longest continuous human presence in low Earth orbit, having surpassed the previous record of 9 years and 357 days held by the Mir space station. The latest major pressurised module, Leonardo, was fitted in 2011 and an experimental inflatable space habitat was added in 2016. Development and assembly of the station continues, with several major new Russian elements scheduled for launch starting in 2020. As of December 2018, the station is expected to operate until 2030.

ISS-International Space Station( interior)

Between light and dark

One of important properties of all living matter is a capability to observe/ interpret its environment and remember this experience. In order to preserve their structural integrity, to survive, the earliest life form (living molecule) had to acquire “information” about the properties of their immediate surroundings. It seems reasonable to assume that those vital properties had been what we call “hot” and “cold”, which at that point were most likely the same as “light” and “dark”. However, in order to be able to distinguish the properties of its surroundings, this “knowledge” had to be at some point distinguished for the first time, and then encoded/impressed into these molecules as an integral part of their structure, as some kind of “memory”. Those earliest living molecules, proto-observers, which by some chain of events acquired this capacity to sense/recognize “hot” and “cold” and preserve it, had a much better chance of survival. Thus, the very basic properties of our environment that we could distinguish today as hot-cold, dark-light, order-disorder, were most likely first acquired by the earliest living molecules (proto-RNA?), then encoded and memorized within their molecular structure and then transmitted to all living matter including us.

Binary RNA

This example is also a binary series based on a medium light image (gray) and very dark (black) organized into 12 positions consisting of 6A and 6U that would form a 3×4 matrix with the highest state of entropy .

High entropy RNA sequence

The next example is a SARS-CoV-2 binary sequence of 16 positions starting with another low entropy state (p.10016) consisting of 8C (dark), 7A (gray) and one U (black) base.

Covid-19 sequence, p.10016

Bionanotechnology

Nanobiotechnology, bionanotechnology, and nanobiology are terms that refer to the intersection of nanotechnology and biology. Given that the subject is one that has only emerged very recently, bionanotechnology and nanobiotechnology serve as blanket terms for various related technologies.

This discipline helps to indicate the merger of biological research with various fields of nanotechnology. Concepts that are enhanced through nanobiology include: nanodevices (such as biological machines), nanoparticles, and nanoscale phenomena that occurs within the discipline of nanotechnology. This technical approach to biology allows scientists to imagine and create systems that can be used for biological research. Biologically inspired nanotechnology uses biological systems as the inspirations for technologies not yet produced. However, as with nanotechnology and biotechnology, bionanotechnology does have many potential ethical issues associated with it.


The most important objectives that are frequently found in nanobiology involve applying nanotools to relevant medical/biological problems and refining these applications. Developing new tools, such as peptoid nanosheets, for medical and biological purposes is another primary objective in nanotechnology. New nanotools are often made by refining the applications of the nanotools that are already being used. The imaging of native biomolecules, biological membranes, and tissues is also a major topic for nanobiology researchers. Other topics concerning nanobiology include the use of cantilever array sensors and the application of nanophotonics for manipulating molecular processes in living cells.

Underwater habitats

Tektite-I habitat 1969

Underwater habitats are underwater structures in which people can live for extended periods and carry out most of the basic human functions of a 24-hour day, such as working, resting, eating, attending to personal hygiene, and sleeping. In this context ‘habitat’ is generally used in a narrow sense to mean the interior and immediate exterior of the structure and its fixtures, but not its surrounding marine environment. Most early underwater habitats lacked regenerative systems for air, water, food, electricity, and other resources. However, recently some new underwater habitats allow for these resources to be delivered using pipes, or generated within the habitat, rather than manually delivered.

Hippocampe, Underwater Habitat – 1981

An underwater habitat has to meet the needs of human physiology and provide suitable environmental conditions, and the one which is most critical is breathing air of suitable quality. Others concern the physical environment (pressure, temperature, light, humidity), the chemical environment (drinking water, food, waste products, toxins) and the biological environment (hazardous sea creatures, microorganisms, marine fungi). Much of the science covering underwater habitats and their technology designed to meet human requirements is shared with diving, diving bells, submersible vehicles and submarines, and spacecraft.

Aquarius laboratory  2013

The Continuum
An Architecture for a Conceivable Future
Karl Ernst Osthaus-Museum Hagen 2002

This amazing project by Günther L. Eckert’ dated 1979/80 title –The Continuum – An Architecture for a Conceivable Future, was presented 2002 at the exhibition Museutopia curated by Michael Fehr at the Karl Ernst Osthaus Museum in Hagen and introduced in his article Survival in a Second Nature. Here is only a short description and few illustrations from this very elaborate project as described in the article.

Is it conceivable and technically possible to create the material basis for a way of life that would permit humankind “to advance in the process of Nature”? This is the question underlying the project, which architect Günther L Eckert (1927-2001) conceived in 1979/80. Eckert answered this question not in the mode of typical architectural utopias but by an as elegant as feasible strictly technical proposal. This is why his Continuum was chosen to serve as the conceptual platform for the exhibition Museutopia – Steps into other worlds, which itself is dedicated to the
question how we would live when Mankind’s surviving on earth were no longer synonymous with its further destruction.

The Continuum, which Günther Eckert also calls The Tube, is a tubular
construction measuring 35,000 kilometers in length and 250 meters in diameter, suspended on pylons 300 meters above sea level. It is to span the globe between the 40th and 50th parallels along approximately the following course: Le Havre – Saarbrücken – Krakow – Stalingrad (Volgograd) – Agadyr – Ulan Bator – Tsitsihar – Sapporo – Eureka – Salt Lake City – Boston – Brest. 40 internal rapid transport links serve the East-West routes, three subsidiary connections link north and South America, Europe and Africa, Asia and Australia.

The Continuum is to be constructed according to the principles of bridge building (on pylons 500 meters apart) and divided into one-kilometer sections with an expansion joint between each section. One section consists of ten sub-sections, which are in turn sub-divided into four construction units measuring 25 meters each. The Continuum is built on a cubist module system (edge length 10 meters) designed as either an open construction or a container.

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