Stalking The Wild Multihumanism

Alternate (better) title: Becoming (multi)Human (thanks to Mark Frazier)

True and perfect Friendship is, to make one heart and mind of many hearts and bodies.
Pythagoras

fractal hand 480px × 408px

Perhaps the most momentous biological innovation next to the origin of life itself was when single-celled organisms evolved into multicellular ones. What were the specific survival advantages that promoted that transition? What were the small steps involved?

Per Wikipedia:

There are various mechanisms by which multicellularity could have evolved.

One hypothesis is that a group of function-specific cells aggregated into a slug-like mass called a grex, which moved as a multicellular unit. This is essentially what slime molds do. Another hypothesis is that a primitive cell underwent nucleus division, thereby becoming a syncytium. A membrane would then form around each nucleus (and the cellular space and organelles occupied in the space), thereby resulting in a group of connected cells in one organism (this mechanism is observable in Drosophila). A third hypothesis is that, as a unicellular organism divided, the daughter cells failed to separate, resulting in a conglomeration of identical cells in one organism, which could later develop specialized tissues. This is what plant and animal embryos do as well as colonial choanoflagellates.[6][7]   (Wikipedia/multicellular_organism)

In that context I’d like to discuss another possible phase-shift in the evolution of living systems that might be equally momentous– the multi-multicellular organism, and more specifically the multihuman organism or multihumanism. Theoretically, the multihuman organism is to the single-human organism as the multicellular organism is to the single-celled organism.

What would a multihumanism look like? How might it come about?

What it isn’t:

  1. It is not sociality or eusociality, although that is most certainly a prerequisite. Social structures or institutions like marriage, family, community, tribes, geopolitical states, religions, etc. are probably necessary precursors to multiorganism; but they are not it. Certain religious cults (YUCK!) may be as far as sociality alone can take us towards multihumanism. Hopefully those are no more than evolutionary false starts or dead ends.
  2.  It is not asymmetric inclusion. Most multicellular organisms are hosts to a microbiome of other organisms that are typically of lower phylogenetic types–viruses, bacteria, and even multicellular parasites.

Plagiomnium affine, Laminazellen, Rostock

A multiorganism is a union of multiple organisms of the same or comparable type at a level that is more profound and stable than sociality alone. A multiorganism also reproduces in kind.

Consider the slime molds. Their properties and behavior seem to fluctuate between that of a social colony of single-celled organisms and a true multicellular organism. Highly eusocial insects (ants, bees, etc.) seem to approach or border on being multiorganisms.

So, again, what might a multiorganism of humans or a human multiorganism — a multihumanism — look like?

Hopefully not like “The Human Centipede.”

Credit: South Park

After all, even the cells in our bodies are not “stitched” together that rigidly. There is a wide range between extremes of structural rigidity or solidity, and structural flexibility or fluidity, in organisms. Existing examples of semi-multiorganism such as slime molds or ant colonies are very fluid in their physical structure. A multihumanism might be even more so, and yet its structure or configuration would be more spatially, functionally, and temporally coherent and stable than anything produced by sociality alone and it would have the ability to reproduce itself in kind.

Nor should it be like the Borg (Star Trek).

Captain Picard as Locutus. “Resistance is futile–you will be assimilated.”

Like the Human Centipede, the Borg is another example of a very, very bad multihumanism design. The somewhat libertarian creators of Star Trek viewed all forms of collectivism (except perhaps the United Federation of Planets) with extreme skepticism.  So should we all as far as implementation details are concerned, but our skepticism should be of the scientific, open-minded type –not  the closed-minded reactionary type.

Any proposal or plan for becoming (multi)human constitutes an extraordinary hypotheses and as such demands extraordinary proof of safety, efficacy, and general utility. At the very least we need approval from The Consumer Report, the Underwriters Laboratory, and a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

No matter what else we might imagine or suppose, things like love, empathy, compassion, etc. are essential for a multihumanism that will be palatable to its human constituents and consistent with their best interests.

The self-actualization and well-being of a multihumanism should not come at the cost of corresponding needs of the individual constituents. There must be a net increase in happiness and well-being.

Any thoughts?

Poor Richard

[This essay is brought to you by coffee + Napoleon brandy]

Related PRA 2.0 Posts:

Portuguese Man o’ War: An Organism Made of Organisms?

The natural history of knowledge

Natural History

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Commenting on:

And Now A Word From Our Sponsor …

Does your dualism lose its flavor on the bedpost overnight?
Unblock your inquiry with a dose of Peirce’s Elixir Triadic❢

Inquiry Driven Systems : Are There Apps For That?

In which Jon Awbrey raises the subject of the “Relationship between emergent-evolved systems and engineered systems.”

That points toward what I like to call the “natural history” of cognition, inquiry, logic, mathematics, language, etc. We might learn things from the natural, sequential development of such faculties and systems that could be either prescriptive or proscriptive for modern engineering practice.

I like looking for the earliest and simplest instances of things. Unfortunately the early natural history of most things is largely unknown. Take the evolution of the triangle or the number three in human cognition, for example. But even in the absence of historical data we might gain something from thought experiments or inferences about what the evolutionary sequence might have been in the light of things we do know about the human bio-computer.

Incidentally, thinking about threes and triangles, the basic transistor (perhaps a fairly close man-made analogue of a primitive neuron or a even a bit of DNA) that we now “print” with exotic nano-particle ink is a thing with a tripartite configuration. I guess such three-part structure actually applies to most switches, many instances of which greatly predate biology.

Animation of the structure of a section of DNA...

Structure of a section of DNA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And commenting on a related post on Jon’s blog, Inquiry into Inquiry, Definition and Determination : 10 :

“Suffice it to say that a sign endeavors to represent, in part at least, an Object, which is therefore in a sense the cause, or determinant, of the sign even if the sign represents its object falsely.” — Charles S. Peirce

Typically symbols or signs are objects of higher compression (or lower resolution or complexity) than the objects they represent, but in some cases the reverse may be true.

I think of knowledge as consisting of networks of associations. If each association has a probability and each network has a geometry, then the structure of knowledge isn’t much different from the structure of physical stuff. Perhaps we will find a sort of quantum mechanics or geometrodynamics of knowledge.

Presumably the brain uses a wide variety of relatively specialized algorithms and heuristics (evolved and learned) depending on the kinds of signs, objects or data types and structures involved in a task.

fractal Von_Koch_curve

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How useful Is fractal geometry for representing recursive networks of objects-associations?

A mirror of silver and glass makes no critical analysis of what it reflects, but we think that few (if any) reflections are perfect. When light reflected from objects in our field of vision enters the eye a series of additional reflections are created by our optical and visual systems. The eye and brain apply adaptive-corrective algorithms all along the way. Among these are associations with previously recorded and computed objects, signs, rules, etc.that provide context and some critical analysis — a comprehensive (in some degree) grasp. Many “leaps and grasps” have occurred before we are consciously aware of an image at all.

What we know or comprehend about something is largely (wholly?) based on comparisons and contrasts (positive and negative associations) with other stuff we already know. Following the development of knowledge backwards to its origins, the original vestige of prior knowledge presumably comes somehow from the DNA and possibly other materials of the fertilized embryonic germ cell and this is inherited by the first neuroblasts that go on to form the brain.

Contrasts and comparisons (associations) are fundamental operations of the biochemical machines that run up and down the DNA chains making DNA repairs, copying it, building proteins based on it, etc. At the biochemical level reflections (associations) typically come in the form of positively or negatively matching shapes and electromagnetic charges.

I think we agree that the geometry of the basic unit of association is triadic. I tend to think of it most often in terms of two nodes and a connecting line, the basic unit of a network; rather than as a triangle. A triangle, it seems, has more than three parts (3 sides + 3 vertices + 3 angles + an enclosed area = 10 parts — at least!).

Poor Richard

Are we born evil? Being Human Conference 2013

Zero to Maker: Getting to Speed with the Maker – FORA.tv

maker movement think_1

Zero to Maker: Getting to Speed with the Maker Movement (23:57) from Maker Faire on FORA.tv

A 23-minute video from World Maker Faire New York 2013. Some gems: “Just-in-time learning.” “It isn’t do-it-yourself (DIY) — its do-it-together.”

 

CONTRARY BRIN: Shall we give up on reason?

Will we genetic-cavemen ever become the logical beings we flatter ourselves into believing we are? Or that Science Fiction says we might become?  Recent research suggests that we have a long slog ahead of us… and yes, even the smartest best-educated folks allow their pre-set beliefs and passions to interfere with basic mental processes, if their close-held biases might be under threat. Indeed we have all seen this tenacity in online arguments, in which cogent – even devastating and fact-rich — rebuttals don’t sway the other guy even an iota. See: Scientists’ depressing new discovery about the brain.
 
We already knew this. The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes. Clearly this is what goes on as know-nothings rage against scientists and other professionals. –David Brin

via CONTRARY BRIN.

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If the Dunning–Kruger effect describes the delusional superiority of unskilled know-nothings, what should we call the brilliant self-delusions hatched by our best and brightest minds? The cognitively biased genius may be a greater threat to the fate of civilization than the self-deluded dumb-ass.

Bertrand-Russell-the-whole-problem-with-the-world-is-that-fools-and-fantatics-are-always-so-certain-of-themselves-wiser-pepole-so-full-of-doubts

Notice that Russell says wiser people are full of doubts–not smarter people or better-educated people.  Is there a consistent correlation between intelligence and wisdom? If my personal experience is any guide, there often seems to be an inverse relation between the two at the high end of the intelligence scale. There never seems to be any shortage of highly-intelligent and well-educated fools. It reminds me of the correlation between income (or wealth) and happiness. Up to a point increasing wealth is positively correlated with increasing happiness and decreasing stress. But at some point there is a diminishing return, and then eventually the relationship becomes inversely proportional. So too with intelligence and wisdom. So too with knowledge and certainty.

PR

Jane Austen

“I have no talent for certainty.”

Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

Exposure to Toxic Environmental Agents

Exposure to Toxic Environmental Agents

ABSTRACT: Reducing exposure to toxic environmental agents is a critical area of intervention for obstetricians, gynecologists, and other reproductive health care professionals. Patient exposure to toxic environmental chemicals and other stressors is ubiquitous, and preconception and prenatal exposure to toxic environmental agents can have a profound and lasting effect on reproductive health across the life course. Prenatal exposure to certain chemicals has been documented to increase the risk of cancer in childhood; adult male exposure to pesticides is linked to altered semen quality, sterility, and prostate cancer; and postnatal exposure to some pesticides can interfere with all developmental stages of reproductive function in adult females, including puberty, menstruation and ovulation, fertility and fecundity, and menopause. Many environmental factors harmful to reproductive health disproportionately affect vulnerable and underserved populations, which leaves some populations, including underserved women, more vulnerable to adverse reproductive health effects than other populations. The evidence that links exposure to toxic environmental agents and adverse reproductive and developmental health outcomes is sufficiently robust, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine join leading scientists and other clinical practitioners in calling for timely action to identify and reduce exposure to toxic environmental agents while addressing the consequences of such exposure.

via ACOG – Exposure to Toxic Environmental Agents.

[The hazards of toxic exposure go far beyond reproduction and prenatal development. Toxic exposures can affect all stages of human growth and development, but the earlier the exposure the more profound the risks and effects tend to be. The developing brain is particularly vulnerable. Numerous adverse emotional and behavioral consequences have been correlated with such exposures. –PR]

DNA Double Take

Genomic Mosaicism

Genomic Mosaicism

“…scientists are discovering that — to a surprising degree — we contain genetic multitudes. Not long ago, researchers had thought it was rare for the cells in a single healthy person to differ genetically in a significant way. But scientists are finding that it’s quite common for an individual to have multiple genomes. Some people, for example, have groups of cells with mutations that are not found in the rest of the body. Some have genomes that came from other people.”

via DNA Double Take – NYTimes.com.

[Chimerism and genomic mosaicism may be far more common then formerly suspected–perhaps even typical. There may be huge implications for biology, medicine and forensics–PR]

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