Gaia and the Adjacent Possible

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Quotes of the Day

Legs, Land Eggs, Wings and Flowering Things
From quiet forests... a glorious cacophony of life!

― SolSeed Sabbath Ritual for the Diversitas season

“The adjacent possible is a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself.”

— Steven Johnson

"Biospheres on average keep expanding into the adjacent possible."

— Stuart Kauffman

We are Gaia's People
children of the Earth and Sun
awakened by starlight
...
discovering
We Bring Life!

--Gaia's People's Creed

Contemplation for the Day

Let us imagine

You are riding Your Elephant down an aisle between two rows of cages. The cages are stacked like walls on either side of you and reach up to the high charcoal coloured glossy ceiling hundreds of meters above you. Each cage has a animal in it just slightly different from the one in the cages on either side or above it or below it. The animals next to you seem to be all variations of crosses between octupuses and lions. They are all sitting contentedly in their cages.

You notice that the aisle you are walking on is actually a catwalk. The cages continue downward also to a charcoal-coloured glossy floor far below. As you pass a cage which has bars on the back as well as the front you see that there are more walls of cages paralelle to these. Perhaps they go on forever. Ahead you see that there is a passage crossing this one and a hundred meters beyond that you see a charcoal-coloured glossy wall blocking the way. The space is big but finite.

Gaia steps out from the cross passage and turns and walks away from you toward that wall. You follow her, frightened of this strange environment, and hoping that she can bring you comfort. As you follow her, you notice that the animals are changing gradually and that now they seem more like crosses between saber toothed tigers and octopuses. The gleaming curved teeth do nothing to make you feel more comfortable.

Before you can catch her, Gaia reaches the last cages before the wall. She turns and opens a cage on the right, just two above the catwalk. A giant cat-like creature with tentacles for legs and elephant-like tusks where its saber teeth might have been, turns and swings its huge tusks against the wall and the whole wall shatters like glass. You cringe, fearing that the shards falling from hundreds of meters above will cut you to shreds. But the shards all dissolve harmlessly. The strange creature retreats back into its cage and resumes its contented sitting. Gaia closes the cage and passes through the place where the wall had been.

The catwalk continues as do the walls of cages. The animals now seem to have long sticky tongues that they are continuously poking out between their tusks and withdrawing. Not too far ahead there is another charcoal-coloured glossy wall.

Finally you catch up to Gaia and walk beside her. You decide to ask her something that has been bothering you, "Gaia, we have dreams that seem impossible. How do we maintain our motivation when our dreams seem so unreachable?"

Gaia looks at you as she continues to stroll along the catwalk toward the next wall. "Little one, I have worked toward my dreams for billions of years. I have worked by continuously exploring the adjacent possible. I have reached the level of diversity that I have by blindly exploring. You have the ability to see vaguely into the future and use that sight to guide your actions. This is an ability that I have never had before. It gives me great hope."

You are puzzled, "What is the adjacent possible?"

Gaia motions toward the cages all around you, "Imagine a space in which every possibility is layed out. In one direction, tusk length changes, in another direction, the number of tentacles changes, in another direction, visual acuity changes. In this space, there are millions, even trillions of directions. In each direction, a different variable changes. Of course, you are only capable of perceiving three directions."

You still understand no more, "Why are there these walls?"

You are approaching the next wall and Gaia opens a cage a few back from the wall on the left. A strange creature slithers out. It has six short flat tusks arranged radially around its mouth. Its tentacles are strong and it walks tall on them. It sticks its tongue out and seems to glue it to the wall. Then it presses its tusks against the wall and pulls its tongue back into its mouth. A small circle of glass is ripped from the wall. The creature steps back. Cracks appear around the edges of the missing circle and rapidly spread out like a spiderweb. The wall shatters and disolves like the last one did. "The walls are the edges of what is possible. But as I actually explore the edges of what is possible, I often discover that what seemed impossible is made possible by the new forms near those edges. They burst through the boundaries at the edge of what is possible into what seemed impossible before. The regions of the space that they can burst into are the adjacent possible. The adjacent possible is a region of impossibility that can become possible if only you bring into existence a particularly innovative thing that is currently possible."

You feel an moment of excitement, "So all of my dreams are out there in the space beyond these walls. By breaking through one wall at a time, exploring and searching, I can eventually make these dreams come true."

"You understand, little one. Now it is time for you to go back to your view of reality and continue your explorations. Nothing is actually known to be impossible. There may be a path to every bit of possibility space. It is just a matter of continuing to try to bring the right possibilities into existence, in order to open the right parts of the adjacent possible. You have a better chance of doing that in a structured and planned way than I ever did. Go back now and do it."

You find yourself back in the real world ready to explore!

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