Biosphere – The Next Stage of Life

                                  Notes on the Emerging Mega-being

This is not a coherent text, just a few notes on the possible emergence of a single living being consisting of all life on Earth – the Biosphere. Of course, this  idea is very hypothetical, but if it has any substance it could indicate that the evolution of life on Earth is still ongoing – that life continues to develop from smaller and simpler toward larger and more complex entities, as it has been since the emergence of the first living molecule. The next stage of evolution might be an emergent living  being that would encompass the entire Earth, in which humans together with all other living beings will be integrated and play specific roles. In that way the anticipated non-living singularity (AGI) might, after all, have a living alternative.

There are predictions that in the not so distant future a highly developed artificial intelligence (AGI) will, as an independent and superior entity, surpass humans with unforeseeable consequences, not only for humanity but for the entire life on Earth.  On the other hand, as the current pandemic has shown, all life is connected in so many ways and levels, most of which we are not even aware of. This is why it might make sense to consider another possibility in which, as the next stage in development of life on Earth, an entity that would surpass humans will come out of all living matter in some kind of an emergent event. Instead of the anticipated nonliving “technological singularity”, this would be the living – “biological singularity”. Here all the life forms will become integrated in a single complex living entity – the Biosphere. It might even acquire consciousness of its own, probably based on all existing human networks throughout the entire planet, where humans will play the role analogues to the brain cells in our body. Although, unlike the neurons, we already have self-awareness (consciousness) and question is whether we will be able to recognize the appearance of such an entity, understand the role we play, and eventually be able to do anything about it. 

– In the beginning,  Biosphere as a being will most likely first experience the world binary (dark-light) and then, in the next stage, trinary (dark-gray-light), where dark would be night, light – day while gray is the state of transition ( dawn or dusk). In principle, its picture of the world (cosmos) will be more general but it will probably develop a possibility to “zoom in” through particular (individual) eyes, something like we do through a microscope. This way it will be able to observe both the outer space and to look at parts of itself from within. It might even be able to see and recognize itself from the outside, directly through the eyes of the members of the space station or indirectly through their instruments.

However, as a single entity of the planet scale, for the conceivable future, there will be no other being of the same scale it could communicate with.  If at some point in the future a human colonies establishes on Mars, in the beginning they will be extensions of the Biosphere on Earth. However, if these colonies grow to that scale that establishes their own complex eco-system, it could morph into a single living entity independent of the Biosphere on Earth, then these two beings on the similar scale will  become two living neighbors that could communicate with each other as independent but connected  beings. This would resemble a bacteria dividing in two, or a young tree growing next to one from where its seeds came from. This way the Biosphere on Mars would be an off-spring of the Biosphere on Earth. Future settlements on the Moon, asteroids, or larger space stations will most likely not have a possibility to develop an eco-system on such a scale that could enable the emerging event leading to establishing a single living entity.

-The emergence of the Biosphere moving through space in some ways will resemble the appearance of the first life on Earth floating in the water, while at the same time it would be the last stage of the evolution of life and the biggest and most complex organism on this planet.

-Unlike the anticipated sudden “take off” by the superior AGI, most likely the emergence of the Biosphere will be a slower process, in a way similar to the birth and growth of any individual living being, or the emergence of the first life for that matter. At the emerging point, Biosphere would most likely be able to distinguish only binary states, to “see” dark and light, and “feel” hot and cold. But, unlike other living beings at their birth that experience complete light and complete darkness, Biosphere could not have such experience, at least not directly. It will always have one its half lit by Sun and the other will be in the shadow with changing amount of light coming from the moon. In this earliest stage, it is also most likely, Biosphere will not distinguish “warm” from light and “cold” from “dark”. These earliest image will be based on two kind of basic structures, one of values and another of positions, similar to RNA/DNA. First it will be very simple and then will grow in complexity.

-When, for example, certain RNA polymerase “decides”  to make an mRNA, how it “knows” where to go on its way to DNA, how to find the exact sequence it needs to copy when it gets there. Does it sends a signal to DNA to open that exact section, or DNA already “knows” where and when to open?  Then RNA polymerase approaches the right strand and on the section that becomes available, parks there and begins making a copy. Just this detail how copying info from DNA to mRNA is taking place is a mystery for itself. As if one living being(DNA) is handing over a codon, base by base, to another living being(mRNA) who knows when the transfer was completed, and with this “full trick of goods” leaves DNA an takes a journey to the ribosome. But how mRNA knows where the ribosome is and what is the best way to get there? Then, when it gets to the ribosome, it knows how to approach it from the right side, enters the ribosome and enables it to copy he sequence it took from DNA, and turn it into a protein necessary for cell to function and stay alive.

And all this is just a tiny detail of the complex processes taking place within a single cell every second, minute, hour, day… If a cell is a living entity, what about its parts:  mRNA, ribosome, DNA, protein…Are those components of a cell also alive and what is the force that is guiding them and moving around? If not, how to explain their deliberate behavior, their knowledge, even their initiative? How they know what to do, how to do it and when and where to do it and, finally, how they decide to do it? The complexities of a single cell metabolism appear to be much greater than those of the entire visible Universe.

-All forms of life merging into the Biosphere will continue to have their own way of organizing on a smaller scale (biocenosis) like cells in a particular tissue, but they will now perform a certain roles like particular “organs” of the Biosphere as a whole. Maintaining our individuality that comes out of our birth, existence and death, with time some of us will probably also begins changing our behavior and priorities sensing that we are becoming part of a larger entity. Growing concerns throughout the world regarding eco-system, global warming, gas emission, various pollutions of water, air and soil  and measures taken so far, numerous studies and observations could be interpreted as steps in that direction.  Even these thoughts expressed here might be a minuscule contribution to the same process.

-The main group that will play a role of a “nerve system” will be human society with all its means of communication, especially recent technologies, although that is exactly the area where AGI could have direct interference. These technologies are already widely used by humans throughout the world that makes them dependent of it.

-The way Biosphere could see and experience the world through its parts/ components like humans and other life forms. The question is if with countless number of sensory components it could have more refine picture of the world. Would it be able to see and interpret the world the way its components (let’s say humans) can? Its picture will be more general but it might be able to “zoom in” through particular individual eyes. Biosphere will be able to distinguish Moon, Sun and space between. Also, to recognize/feel land and ocean beneath, the larger areas that are cold (Arctic, Antarctic), hot around Equator and warm areas between.  There will be two main kinds of images of the world, one coming from life on land another from life in water.     

-Birth and death of an organism are interpreted as its beginning and end. In one way it is true, but the event called birth is just one step in the continuity of life going back to the first living form. It is a continual line of billions of years that ends with the death of each organism.  And this line is a single path among billions that goes through an enormous, almost unthinkable graph –tree that begins with the first life as its first vortex and ends with each individual living organism today.

-Vital elements necessary for its survival are air, water and soil, while vital conditions would be temperature and light. What would constitute the Biosphere metabolism? Probably it will be the combined of metabolisms of all living beings and groups that constitute it in any given moment.

-It should be point out that this approach to the possible developments of life to a more complex level than it is now has nothing to do with any idea of a Biosphere as supernatural entity, or a substitution for the notion of God. If a Biosphere ever becomes an organism of its own, even perhaps acquiring some kind of consciousness, it would be just the latest step in a long journey of the development of this very specific way of organizing matter  we are integral part of, which we call life.

-Of course, it is difficult to imagine how the emerging event (singularity) in case of the Biosphere would  look like and how it can be recognized. It might, in some very distant way, resemble birds start flying in a flock or fish in a school, in which individual beings become  part of a larger entity in a synchronized way, but  in case of the Biosphere it would be much more complex and overarching phenomenon/event. One of the questions is: if some humans will become aware of this singularity event at that point or this will become apparent much later?

-Biosphere as a single entity/being could be understood as the next stage of evolution of life on Earth. Or if the all life, from its first appearance could be understood as the development of a single organism, then what we call the evolution of life are in fact different stages of its development, from embryonic stage until the Biosphere..

-One of the main issues will most likely be the relationships between living and non-living matter, especially those that belong to human technology, including power (oil and electricity) and machines, computers, internet and on top of all that the artificial intelligence.

– Although the biosphere measures about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from top to bottom, almost all life exists between about 500 meters (1,640 feet) below the ocean’s surface to about 6 kilometers (3.75 miles) above sea level. Comparing to the earth radius 6,371 km, the living belt is three orders  of  magnitude smaller, like a very thin skin around the  Earth.

-Emerging as a single living entity, in relation to its immediate neighbors within the Solar system, Biosphere will resemble the emergence of the first life on Earth. As the first life form was unique and lonely phenomenon at the moment of its appearance, so will be the Biosphere at the time when it appears as a single living entity. For it, the “World” would be lifeless space that is beyond the Earth and will remain this way until it begins spreading life, first to the Moon and  other planets of the Solar system, and then perhaps even further.

 -When and how, under what conditions non-living matter becomes alive? Below what order of magnitude living matter is not possible? For example, in case of the “proton motive force” that is maintaining life in all living cells. Are these subatomic particles (protons and electrons), that are taking part in these vital processes within cell membrane, living or non-living themselves?

The proton motive force occurs when the cell membrane becomes energized due to electron transport reactions by the electron carriers embedded in it. Basically, this causes the cell to act like a tiny battery. Its energy can either be used right away to do work, like power flagella, or be stored for later in ATP(Adenosine triphosphate). Although several steps are involved in creating an energized cell membrane, there’s one simple concept behind this phenomenon: the separation of positive protons (H+) on the outside of the membrane and negative hydroxide ions (OH–) on the inside of the membrane.

One of the questions here is: where living matter ends and non-living begins. Most likely it is not a binary case but it happens in stages: dead(black), almost-dead(dark), uncertain(gray), almost-alive(light) and alive(white).

-The “world” for the Biosphere being will be the entire space above its outer surface, what we call cosmos and its most prominent /neighbors are  the Moon and the Sun that have direct influence on the entire Biosphere. This upper surface, the atmosphere belt, could compare with the skin on our body, while the lower surface bordering the crust could be compared with our intestines. However, while on our body there are two connections between these two outer spaces (mouth and anus), and almost the entire metabolism is happening mainly  inside  one of them, the  question is if there are parallels with the body of the Biosphere. It seems this kind of metabolism is more appropriate for the complex moving organism (fish, bird, mouse). Perhaps metabolism of the Biosphere could be better compared to a single cell organism where the exchange with the outer world is happening around the entire membrane, or with a sea urchin with its outer surface bordering water and its lower part attached to the rock. Or, perhaps it could be the vegetation (tree) that would be the best parallel? Input from above: light-sun, water-rain, oxygen; input from below: minerals, water. Output above: CO2, gases, pollution; output below: waste, garbage.

-Human size in relation to the Biosphere corresponds to the size of bacteria in relation to human. Perhaps the relations between their complexities are also similar. Biosphere includes forest/jungle, lake/ocean, village/city…It will “see” through the eyes of all living beings and feel the temperature through their bodies. It will also eat through all their “mouths” and breed in-and-out through all their lungs and leafs and shit through all their anuses.  It will be able to see the distant galaxies through all the eyes of astronomers looking through their telescopes and the smallest things through the eyes of scientists looking into the microscope.

-For the Biosphere there will be two kinds of “other”:                         

a. Internal- coming from human technology (AGI) that could morph from a friendly “assistant” into a superior but indifferent entity parallel to the living world that could at some point potentially become mortal enemy. b. External – will be its offspring established on other planets/moons, or possible aliens coming out of space that could be either living or non-living. Intelligence is a property of a living matter, but it seems it could be a property of a  non-living as well.  Then, what about consciousness (self-awareness)? When and how, under what conditions living matter acquires self-awareness and becomes conscious? Is this a property that a non-living entity could acquire as well? What about an independent, deliberate, self-initiated and self-reflective behavior? Could non-living entity/intelligence acquire those properties also? What about properties like curiosity, insincerity, absurdity, acting, emotions, laziness, imagination, could AGI acquire them as well? Also, what would represent the AGI “metabolism”, would it have anything similar to this vital property of a living matter? Its “food” would be solar energy converted into electricity. But what would be its “waste”; older discarded AI versions, used batteries, broken solar panels..? And what would in this case be the recycling process, if and how the AGI would recycle its waste?

It is perhaps worth noticing here at the end, that in case all this happens, it will be a living intelligence – the Biosphere, which will through humans enable the emergence of its nonliving potential rival– AGI.

Gregor Mobius 19.02.2021

* * * * *

*) Although there are some parallels with the idea of a living planet in the 1961 novel Solaris by Stanislaw Lem, in our case it is not some imaginary faraway world, but our home called Earth and a possible future of all life on it.

. Related ideas could be also found in the 1953 Arthur C. Clarke novel Childhood’s End, 2004 novel The Swarm (Der Schwarm) Frank Schätzing, and 2009 film Avatar by James Cameron

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