The “I” of the Biosphere

A Collection of Disorderly Thoughts

There are as many universes as there are different observers.

Fig.01 The beginnings of the self-conscious Biosphere

-The story about the Biosphere as a self-conscious being has at least two possible points of view: one from the prospective of the Biosphere itself and another, from one of its main constitutive parts-humans. Some other time we might consider two more viewpoints : from the position of AI, and from some imagined alien observer.

Fig.02 Ant colony, as a natural habitat

-Today we live in the human universe that is becoming more connected/integrated than ever before, both biologically/ecologically and socially/culturally. At the same time we live in the world without a clear vision of the future, without a (new) common narrative that would give meaning to our lives individually and to entire humanity as an important part of all life on Earth. In a way we are driving a bike while looking down at the front wheel.

Fig.03 Tokyo city – as another natural habitat

Fig.04 Qu Ding: Summer Mountains – an old natural landscape


-The two main narratives that dominated western culture in the last two millennia, Christianity and Enlightenment (History), are becoming obsolete. For some time now it has become clear that these are in essence local and culturally biased stories irrelevant to many other cultures. It is why the next common narrative has to be fundamentally different and relevant to the people from all cultures in all parts of the globe. It might be that the most meaningful and promising would be a story about the potentially self-conscious Biosphere we are ,or will be, all part of, although phenomena such as the emergence of life, consciousness, self-consciousness still remain unknown.
-Evolution seems to be primarily driven toward the larger scale and higher complexity living beings. Greater complexity leads toward more detailed, higher resolution, picture of the environment (world).

Fig.05 Two natural tools(from a lecture by Daniel Dennett)


-Human interconnectivity started physically with: roads, sea routes, railroads, airlines, then information based: radio, telephone, TV, internet …It is now conceivable that some kind of iPhone –like gadgets could be attached to our brains, enabling direct brain to brain communication between any two locations in the world. The notion of community will expand from local villages to global-villages.
-Hyper production of goods, information and ideas that leads to inflation of relevance, relativization of ideas, distinctions between correct and incorrect positions, true-untrue,…
-Homogenization – large scale unification of smaller units/communities with specialized roles that could lead toward the emergence of a single self-conscious being – the Biosphere. These communities will not be limited by a place/territory, they can be formed across the globe based on certain fields of interest.(air pollution, climate change, ecology …)

Fig.06 A human community – The Harvesters by Pieter Bruegel


-For many centuries most of the people lived in enclosed communities, spent entire lives within their settlements, did not meet many outsiders, and didn’t need much to get new tools or learn new notions. The importance of local prominent people didn’t go beyond their communities. Things began to change with modern society: big cities, faster and cheaper traveling, education,… All this begins to effect not only the lives of humans, but the life on the entire planet.

Fig.07 Culture is nature – recent cave paintings

-Since in case of the emerging self-conscious Biosphere and its main constitutive parts that will be self-conscious agents(humans) as well, question is if the emergent event will be spontaneous as it is usual and “from above”, or it will be induced and synchronized from the “bottom up” by its constitutive elements? How would the notion of “individual identity” on human level change if this happens?

Fig.08 The Biosphere’s “I” taking a walk through nature

-It seems that the emergence of the (self)conscious Biosphere will be primarily defined by the (inter)connectivity between humans and not so much by their individual self-consciousness; at least in its earlier stages of development. These might be completely “parallel universes” without mutual communication. Later, there could be established channels of communication even between individual humans and the Biosphere. In other words, most likely it is the complexity of the human network that would matter, and not so much the content communicated between the humans themselves.

Fig.09 Life and death – past and present


-What would be the language of the Biosphere? It will most likely be multilingual and think in various languages. This brings up another question: will the Biosphere be a single or multi-personal? For various reasons it might happen that the Biosphere will have several identities with different roles but still remaining a single entity, something like a multi-brain octopus,…

Fig.10 Biosphere’s multiple personality – version1

…or even a multi-headed dragon.

Fig.11 Biosphere’s multiple personality, version2


-There will be tissue-like parts of the Biosphere , some organized territorially(water, land, forest, cities), but also some complex groups that are connected functionally across the planet.
-If we imagine that a bird flock, while flying around as a single entity, has its own consciousness, how will it relate to the individual bird? How our state of consciousness depends on the individual neuron? But it could be affected, perhaps not by a single one but by a small group of connected neurons.
Individual humans could become aware of the existence of a conscious Biosphere, but it is a question what else they could do? Perhaps, as small organized groups, they can enhance the Biosphere’s moves, or they can try to rebel if not liking what is going on.

Fig.12 Cooperation or confrontation


-The idea of self-conscious Biosphere might resemble the ancient gods, especially those related to the natural phenomena, wind, fire, rain, flood, lightning, sun, moon…However, if the Biosphere consciously and intentionally really become responsible for some of these phenomena, it would be close to someone moving its body-parts then to supernatural events. We should always keep in mind that the Biosphere is a natural living being. It was born with the emergence of the first life and will eventually die like any other organism. It might even, while dying on Earth, continue spreading through space to other planets or morph into some other kind of super-being.

-We could find many ideas, hypothesis, theories, that were trying to articulate these ideas. The earliest and one of the best known is the Noosphere as the “sphere of reason”, or Gaya hypothesis that  “living organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a synergistic and self-regulating, complex system”, or “the global brain” as a “vision of the planetary information and communications technology network that interconnects all humans and their technological artifacts”, and many other. These are all important contributions that are, one way or another, giving different prospective on this very complex theme, like the same object seen by the different observers. The main theme here is an attempt to imagine what might look like if all life integrated in the Biosphere, covering a rock that travels through space, gradually(or suddenly), through some emergent event, begins to develop a sense of self-awareness as a single living self-conscious being. And, if this happens, how it might affect us humans.

Fig.13 Two kinds of nature


-How would higher connectivity and interdependence reflect upon changing the notion of both individual and group identities among humans?
-Space travels and looking for extraterrestrial life/intelligence are Biosphere’s interests in the world beyond/outside of its body which is tied to Earth. And all kinds of telescopes and microscopes, are in fact the eyes of the Biosphere as well.

Fig.14 The Andromeda nebula, photographed at the Yerkes Observatory around 1900. described as a “mass of glowing gas”,
Fig.15 A single variable star, spotted by Edwin Hubble in the Andromeda nebula, completely changed our understanding of the scale of the cosmos.

The largest bright Biosphere’s neighbors are the Moon and the Sun, interestingly both with the same relative size as seen from the Earth. The Moon is one light second away and looks one second younger while the Sun’s distance is 8 light minutes away and eight minutes younger. Because of the limited speed of light, the picture of the Cosmos from the Earth is in a way a time travel. As noticed in the paper “On the Converging Universe” by Argos Panopty posted earlier on this blog, if we interpret the electromagnetic phenomena called the “red-shift” as being similar to the acoustics “Doppler-effect”, then everything seen in the Cosmos is moving away proportionally to the distance from the Earth. The further away the objects are(stars, galaxies, clusters …) the light coming from them is shifting closer to the red side of the spectrum. These measurements, interpreted as expansion of the Universe, led to the conclusion that there must have been a point of singularity (“The Big Bang”)from which the entire Universe emerged and began to expand. Thus, according to this theory, we as observers from the Earth are at the farthest point from that event. While on the Earth, being always “here” and “now”, we are at the farthest point from “The Big-Bang”. The farther we look through space, the further back in time we go, the earlier Universe we see. Thus, what we interpret as the present accelerating expansion of the Universe proportional to the distance from here, in fact was happening a long time ago, in the earlier stages of the development of the Universe. In other words, the further from the Earth we look the closer to “The Big-Bang” we should see. And it makes sense that the Universe was expanding much faster during the earlier stages(inflationary phase), and the closer we look we see the later stages and the expansion is becoming slower. In this structure visible are only the present(now, here) and the past, but not the future. While looking at the sky from the Earth we see the entire past consisting of layers from different time periods(light years) all projected together on a single picture. In a way we see the entire development of the Universe, from its early stages until now, as one single view, similarly the way we could recognize  the entire evolution on Earth from its earliest life forms until humans integrated in a single living organism, the Biosphere. This might be the reason why the Biosphere would also in the same way perceive and understand the world beyond its current physical limits, the world we call the Universe.

Fig.16 An eye of the Biosphere (Hubble telescope)

-Another important issue is the relationship between the Biosphere as a living Artificial Intelligence as nonliving matter. What will happen if both become (self)conscious? It is clear that the emergence of (self)conscious Biosphere will not be possible without AI which will definitely play very important role. How will this relationship unfold, it is hard to predict at this point.


-Would it be possible, from some” outside” position, to imagine the Biosphere’s “wakeup”, the moment when it is becoming aware of itself? How would this consciousness understand and relate to its body? It could be like conscious motionless, not being able to do much about its existence, except indirectly when it later learns how to communicate with some sections of its constitutive parts and nudge them to move in certain directions and do certain things. Growing awareness of global climate change could be one such example. Or, recent human interest in finding exoplanets  thousands of light years away, especially those with potential signs of life, could be an endeavor that is in fact inspired by the curiosity of the Biosphere itself to find out if it is alone in the entire Universe or not.

Fig.17 Two intelligences – natural and artificial

-This was an interesting development in the relationship between living-nonlivig matter, in other words, between the Biosphere and AI: ” …a group of researchers from the University of Washington has shown for the first time that it’s possible to encode malicious software into physical strands of DNA, so that when a gene sequencer analyzes it the resulting data becomes a program that corrupts gene-sequencing software and takes control of the underlying computer.” (“Biohackers Encoded Malware in a Strand of DNA”, Wired 2017)


-It is most likely that this conscious being will, at least in the beginning, perceive the world in very simple categories similarly to the earliest life forms. However, as the most complex known living entity and being conscious, it will be able to quickly learn about itself and its possibilities and limitations. To learn how to make moves while being tight to the “rock”. One side will always be warmer and the other colder. Then it will begin to realize that this “feeling” is changing and moving along its body. And after a while it will realize that it is happening periodically. Then, perhaps it might connect this change with visual impulses coming from billions of eyes/brains. Majority of them that are” bright” would be warmer than those coming from the “dark” side. This change would probably define its basic notion of “time”. However, it is not easy to anticipate what would be the anatomy of its vision system, where/what will be its receptors and what might be its “visual cortex”?

Fig.18 Biosphere’s time and space


And at some point it will become aware that all the entire space is moving around it. It will not need to look for food, even to know about this, since its tiny constitutive components are taking care of it. The same thing will be with electric power.

-There are numerous questions regarding the Biosphere as a self-conscious living being. Will it be able to sense and distinguish states of chaos and order, or be afraid of death? Awareness of its own mortality, even when own life is not in an immediate danger, is an important characteristic of a self-conscious living being and would be of the Biosphere as well. Then, what would be its memory, how it is going to be structured and stored? It will be able to regenerate at some of its parts(“heal the wounds”), but it will not be able to replicate until some of its parts start moving into space establishing permanent settlements outside of Earth. While there is a limit for the existence of life below a certain order of magnitude(atoms, small molecules) it seems there is no such limit on the opposite end of the scale(planetary systems, galaxies, etc.).

-The more a certain agent is interconnected the more it becomes interdependent: existentially (energy flow), group identity (part of tissue, social group) and informationally(producing/generating and transmitting information).
-We could assume that the Biosphere already has some, if not many, properties of a single organism. The question is what might be the “tipping points”(singularities) that will turn it, first into a conscious, and then into a self-conscious being? One of the key moments would be the appearance of a language that would enable the Biosphere to articulate its own thoughts (“Cogito ergo sum”).

-It is important to keep in mind that these are all specific notions articulated primarily in what is called the “western culture” and expressed here following the nature of a specific tool called the English language. It would be interesting to find out how these notions and themes could be articulated in those languages that, for example, do not have notions such as “biosphere” or “consciousness”. And if they have something that looks close, these notions will have proper meanings primarily within the structure and vocabulary of those languages. Each language is like a living organism. If, lets say, one is “chicken” and another “frog”, we will be able somehow translate one into another(beak-mouth, wings-front legs,…), but it would be much harder to translate, for example, language “chicken” into a language “snail”. All this again brings up a question: if the Biosphere ever becomes (self)conscious, in what language it will begin to think and how it will call itself?

Gregor Mobius September 2021

Fig.19 Far beyond the Biosphere – regolith on Mars

Appendix
Some related recent correspondence:
Michael Sandory left a reason for downloading Notes on Artificial and Bio General Intelligence:
Living creatures – agents – represent one or several forward steps from life itself (=metabolism & replication & observation & memory) in evolution. and their existence would be a more secure base for making extrapolations.
Agents’ most important property (missing from the properties of life as such) is the ability to reach regions of space-time otherwise inaccessible with the almost generally accepted conditions existing, say a few hundred years after the Big Bang, and are able to circumvent or modify “natural laws”.
One example: physicists build some experimental device and discover wave-matter duality. Nobody cares about how low is the probability of the random development of circumstances necessary for this duality without deliberate purposeful intervention of intelligent agents.(in fact it is very many orders of magnitude below the random development of crop circles for example, not supposed to exist in our universe) Duality is a propriety of things in a possible universe, but not in the one we are living in, except with some intelligent tinkering. Our main tool, mathematics, tells us impossibilities and possibilities but no positive ontological facts. (the generally accepted statement e.g., that our natural laws are time symmetric, is simply superficial and erroneous; time symmetric is their description in general use, but for the future – past direction there is no place in our universe (time is a one dimensional continuum, it can be translated, but not mirrored).
With the biosphere as an agent of some sort the decisive point lies in the degrees of freedom. The degrees of freedom of two agents is roughly the double of that of a single one, and equals that of a single agent with one more neuron in his brain. So I think evolution will not follow the proposed way.
With the given subject one has to think over not only the evolutionary line, but possible & not possible consequences of intelligent interventions, e.g. in change of key roles played after various steps of evolution. In order to do this one should put down one’s horse blinders in the US, and blinkers here in Europe.

Gregor Mobius:
-In my paper I was primarily trying to articulate a possibility of emergence of a self-conscious single living being encompassing all life on Earth including humans(Bio General Intelligence) that would in a way represent a living alternative to the anticipated emergence of Artificial General Intelligence. What might be the consequences for humans and how will we know if and when this happens? Does such a line of thinking make sense at all? I don’t know the answers to these questions and have no preferences. If it happens it will be an emergent event and humans will most likely have very little chances to do something about it.
I would agree with many things you wrote. The degrees of freedom is an interesting one. Perhaps it is correct in the case of neurons, but what about a bird in the flock? One can argue that a single bird has more degrees of freedom then when it is inside the group. Talking about neurons and the brain: While individual neurons in the human brain are most likely not self-conscious, what would be the nature of the self-conscious Biosphere “brain” if it emerges? Most likely it will primarily consist of self-conscious human brains, almost eight billion of them working together in some kind of synchronicity as some kind of “super self -conscious” agent. If that happens it would be an unprecedented event with unforeseeable consequences for life on Earth.
One more thing, if Artificial or Bio General Intelligences are not just fictional, imaginary concepts, and in some way become “real”, everything that appeared and will appear on the internet, including these words, will become part of their consciousness and included in their memory.
Michael Sandory:
One neuron in my brain senses the state of ten thousands of other neurons. No such “broad-band2 communication can be imagined between the brains of two agents. Evolution will produce agents with brains a little bigger in volume, with very-very many times their degrees of freedom.

Gregor Mobius:
-I entirely agree, the human brain is perhaps the most complex entity in the entire known universe. Just the number of 25,000 proteins per synapse produced/exchanged in 24-48h is unthinkable. This is approximately 500,000,000 proteins per ONE cell. On the other hand we, as individual agents with these amazing “things” in our heads, are also interconnected in many ways, resembling the neuron’s connectivity. This interconnectivity between humans is much more complex today than it was a hundred years ago. We could imagine that it will continue to grow even perhaps exponentially. What might come out of this is not easy to predict. One of the possible outcomes, as I tried to imagine and articulate, is the emergence of a single self-conscious agent that will include humans and all life on Earth. How would this “new state” manifest on our “micro-level”, for each of us individually, I have no idea. I am not even sure if we will notice this change at all. Metaphorically, it would be like a disorderly crowd, surrounded by a broad invisible fence, slowly beginning to move in one direction without noticing it, because the fence is gradually becoming narrower… Only in our case the “fence” will be in our heads. Doesn’t look very optimistic to me, but who knows, we might lose some kinds of freedoms and acquire new kinds we did not experience before? Or, we could go to the wilderness with handmade tools, build a barn and begin to grow our own food… -and, if we are already playing roles of some kind of “neurons’ ‘ then we have just established a new “synapse”.


Yaaghoub Abolhassani:
Hi, help me please. I can’t understand “Without life there is no world. Without the living there is no non-living matter”
Gregor Mobius:
-Thank you for your question. This statement is based on the proposition that without observer there is no observed. In other words, both observer and observed appear/exist simultaneously. In our case, any living entity, from bacteria to human, is an observer of its environment (world). At the same time observer is a “picture” of the “world” since the properties of its environment are” impressed” on it(memory). We are at the same time observers and reflections/interpretations of our environment.
Yaaghoub Abolhassani:
thanks a lot, but I think that there are a lot of differences between “to be” and “to be observed” and I think that nonliving matter is the basis for “living matter” and living is not a necessity for “nonliving matter”.
Gregor Mobius:
Perhaps you are right, but how this can be proved without some kind of (living) observer? Your position is in the category of “believing” not in the category of “knowing”. Without you as an observer it is not possible to see/define nonliving matter and distinguish it from yourself (living matter). Without an observer it is not possible even to bring up this question. In a way this entire issue resembles the “chicken and egg” dilemma, and different answers might take us to very different places.

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