Sophia and the Ruby Fish

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Quotes of the Day

Cells Join to Cells.
Mouths. Senses. Shells.
From silent ice ... teeming reefs!
― Conflatorium Ritual
“Just about every adult human being back then
had a brain weighing about three kilogrammes!
There was no end to the evil schemes that a thought machine that oversized
couldn't imagine and execute.
So I raise this question,
although there is nobody around to answer it:
Can it be doubted that three-kilogramme brains
were once nearly fatal defects in the evolution of the human race?”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Galápagos

Contemplation for the Day

Let us imagine

You are riding your elephant through a machine compartment in a large submarine. There is a row of large machines on each side of you with mechanical controls, levers and wheels, and lots of heavy-duty plumbing. Each one is marked with a sign, “Starboard Ballast pump 7” or “Port Ballast pump 3” and so on. Every so often a marble rolls out of one of many tracks emerging from the ceiling and activates a gear which adjusts the position of one of the controlling levers or wheels slightly.

Your elephant has no trouble making its way down the narrow and low passageway between the pumps despite its huge size and you know that the entire submarine is constructed from metaphorium.

You step through a hatchway into another compartment and your elephant freezes. A dozen or so little girls in naval uniforms are tending to a large machine. The machine is bathed in blue light from their glowing eyes. Sophia is tending a complicated Rube Goldberg machine.

Your elephant backs into an unused corner hoping not to be noticed by the Goddess as she works.

There are marbles running along tracks and through gates which cause switches in tracks to flip sending marbles down other tracks. Some of the tracks exit the room through small holes. The Exits are all marked with signs, “Starboard Tail Actuator 6”, “Port Pectoral Fin Actuator 9”. You notice an array of exits marked “Ballast Pumps” and think back to the marbles appearing in the previous compartment.

At the top of the compartment a Sophia-body is adjusting a constriction in a very robust tube from which a continuous flow of marbles is emerging. “As we increase the complexity more free-energy is required to keep it going.” She calls out and she widens the constriction a bit increasing the rate at which the marbles flow in. You notice a sign beside the tube marked “ATP supply”.

There are also a number of smaller entry points for marbles, marked with signs which say things like, “Starboard Lateral Line”, “Port Chemo Sensor”, “Port Audio Sensor”, et cetera. Another Sophia-Body perched in the machinery says, “Great, I can use that extra flow to power my new, more sophisticated image analysis system!” She is installing a mess or levers, switches and tracks near the two Optical Sensor input tracks.

Near the bottom of the compartment most of the marbles are exiting through a hole marked simply, “To Liver”. The marbles are beginning to pool around the hole. A Sophia-body jumps down and widens the drain saying, “The extra flow means we need to increase venous vascularisation again or the waste products will poison the whole system!” Already some of the lower levers and switches and tracks are buried in marbles. She makes a further adjustment to the drain hole and the depth of pooling marbles begins to fall. Your elephant snorts in disdain. “What is her problem?” you think. “A few more veins. They are obviously worth it for such beauty!”

“I am hooking up this image projection system to your image analysis system.” Calls another Sophia-body and coloured marbles begin to fill a grid on the forward wall. An image forms from the coloured marbles and you see an underwater scene, sunlight filtered through waves, a sea bottom covered in small corals and bryozoans. Your elephant trumpets in awe and the beauty emerging from this complex system. “Intelligence is the pinnacle of evolution.” You think to yourself.

The point of view sways back and forth and advances through the water and you can tell it is the point of view of a fish and at the same time the point of view of the submarine you are in. “Metaphorium!” you think. Other fish appear and swim in vaguely the same direction.

“I have to increase the venous vascularisation again in order to drain away the additional waste!” calls the Sophia-Body at the bottom of the machine.

“And I have to increase the free energy supply again then!” calls the Sophia-Body from above. Again, your elephant snorts in derision.

“I developed a new Predation Avoidance Mechanism.” Calls out a new Sophia-Body who has appeared in the midst of the machine, “It will use the image analysis system to find con-specifics and then parallel their locomotion. Any predator will have to choose which one to attack and will be momentarily confused. It will allow us to escape more often!” She hooks in a complicated set of levers and switches and tracks.

“Better be worth the extra free energy we have to draw on!” cries the Sophia-Body at the top of the machine.

“And the additional vascularisation I have to build to drain it all away.” Cries the Sophia-Body from the bottom. Again, your elephant is disgusted by their negativity. “Those two just complain all of the time. Why are they so worried about such simple things? Surviving predator attacks has to be more important than a little more ATP and veins.” You think to yourself.

“Oh, it will be! Watch!” says the newest Sophia-Body. As the coloured marbles change out in the grid, the image shows that the sub/fish has pulled along side of another fish. A shadow appears, big and shark-shaped in the water above. Fish from all over the image scatter as the shark-shadow dives amongst them. The fish beside the one you’re riding in turns hard and dives along the bottom, but you feel the sub turn hard also and dive and the image shows that you are staying in formation with the other fish. You notice that the shark-shadow is turning toward you, but it hesitates and then dives and snaps a lone fish out of the water and gobbles it up. Your elephant shivers with fear.

You notice that other fish have paired up and that other pairs are coming together in fours. The shark-shadow swirls around and snatches and hesitates and snatches and the lone fish keep disappearing while the groups become bigger and bigger until they form something new, schools. Soon you are part of a single huge school which is moving as one creature, swirling and branching and reforming. It looks like a single huge fish dwarfing the shark-shadow. Your Elephant trumpets in awe at the beauty of it. The shark-shadow seems to panic and flees and the school calms down.

The other Sophia-bodies are impressed, emitting a variety of exclamations of awe and admiration. Suddenly, their exclamations are cut short and you feel a new presence in the room and glance behind you to see that Gaia has entered the chamber through the same hatch you did. But she is clad in a long black robe and hood and she is carrying a scythe. She reaches out with the scythe and slices off large chunks of the Rube Goldberg machine including many of the most recently added parts. The Sophia-bodies all turn their glares on Gaia until her black robe is an iridescent blue-black like a grackle or starling, “What have you done, Gaia? How have you become, death, the destroyer of complexity?” Your elephant tries to press itself further into the unused corner.

Gaia laughs, “I have always been death, the destroyer of complexity. It is how I create diversity; by sculpting with death. I was the shark-shadow which sculpted this line and its schooling adaptation in the first place. I can just as easily sculpt in a different direction when the selection pressures change.” “But Gaia!” you cry, “I just watched, and Sophia created this machine not you. The machine wasn’t sculpted; it was built.” Your elephant is distracted from its fear by feelings of righteousness and steps forward a little.

“Little One,” Gaia laughs gaily, “You just watched a metaphor which is essentially a simulation in someone’s mind. It is the habit of minds, of the seats of wisdom, to take shortcuts, to imagine that biological machinery is built teleologically by intelligence and not sculpted from simpler forms by death. But simulation is not duplication.” Gaia continues, turning to Sophia, “Now, this species and its descendant species are specializing in a solitary lifestyle. In fact, they are becoming burrowing creatures, living under the soft mud at the bottom of calm lagoons. As such they do not need social behaviour or complex visual systems, nor do they want to spend the energy that these systems consume, “ Gaia directs her attention to the Sophia-body at the top of the machine, “you can constrict the energy supply again.” And then she directs her attention to the Sophia-body at the bottom of the machine, “and you can reduce the venous vascularisation because there will be fewer waste products to remove.”

You are shocked by the loss of the beauty of the schooling mechanism. Your elephant is angered and ready to charge, “Gaia, how can you?” you cry, “Is not the purpose of evolution to create new emergent complexity? Is not the greatest form of emergent complexity, intelligence?”

To your surprise, Sophia laughs as one being, “Just One,” she says in her disquieting unison-voice, “Its tendency to create new emergent complexity might be the reason you value evolution, but it is not the purpose of evolution.”

Gaia nods, “From the point of view of evolution, increasing diversity and overall complexity is but a trend. And intelligence is no more special than any other trait. A recent extinction event has caused an opening for a niche of lagoon mud burrowing vermiforms and it is within the adjacent possible of this species to fill that niche.” You cry, “But that is so disheartening. A beautiful schooling fish is devolving into a worm.” Your elephant slumps below you.

Behind Gaia, Jesus appears, “Add a numeric co-processor to your own mind before you complain about the lack of neocortex in the mind of a worm. Vermi is a successful form and therefore a beautiful form. Diversity is complexity and so the re-filling of any niche after an extinction event, the re-emergence of any form, is the re-emergence of complexity. There is no such thing as devolution.”

Your elephant perks up, given new hope by Jesus. “All Life is Precious.” you say, “It is so easy to forget that and judge some forms more precious than others. But I must make an effort to remember, that it is not about whether one form or another is more precious. Instead, the story is about systems with more forms being more precious than systems with fewer forms.”

Jesus laughs joyfully and replies, “Very well spoken, Faithful One.”

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