Monday, April 23, 2012

On the Origins of Teepees.

Listening to Radiolab got me thinking, as it tends to do.  They posed an amusing, seemingly flippant question:

Why the cowboy hat?  

Where did the cowboy hat come from?  Who invented it? 

The Radiolab show on Patient Zero makes the interesting claim that it wasn’t Stetson and his “Boss of The Plains” hat that was so lusted after, nor was it the cowboys who bent and kneaded and abused their hats into the shape we now know as a cowboy hat. 

It was a process more akin to the fur of a mouse.

Slightly more and fluffier fur will make give a mouse a slightly greater survival advantage in cold climates.  So it is the climate, and the evolutionary vectors of the mouse, dictating the outcome of fur.

Well, climate, that is easy, people study that all the time and make predictions.  Stetson did that to make his ‘perfect hat’ for the west.  It’s how people play the stocks or cash in on a fashion trend.

But what even is an ‘evolutionary vector’?

For all I know I invented the term myself. 

Evolution is any change improving the survival advantage of, traditionally an animal, but really anything that can reproduce- an idea or a system.  But  vectors are a way of plotting the direction of ‘progress’ in evolution.  

Evolutionary Vectors are trying to predict whether a particular structure or system will consume greater or lesser energy over time.

 Evolutionary vectors are trying to calculate the odds of whether it is sustainable or prone to boom-and-bust or more or less robust against extinction.

But the question comes in whether we can engineer faster or more efficient evolutionary vectors?  Can we, as the mouse, decide longer fur is better for us?

Well, isn’t that as simple as putting on a coat?

It’s so easy for us to put on a coat when it’s cold outside.  And shed one when it’s warm.  How much easier and more responsive than fur coats that must molt and regrow.

Which leads to a very simple observation:  Mice don’t wear coats.

In other words, humans are more capable of manipulating and changing their environment than any living thing has ever before.

Evolution works by contradicting expected entropy.  Living things are energy concentrators.  And they are energy manipulators, trying to store energy to do work when it is most advantageous to the genes of the living thing.

People have taken this to the extreme, trying to burn through millions of years of accumulated biological energy (in the form of hydrocarbon chains) in a few decades.  And shit, we fucking rock at it.

But, this would clearly fall into the category of unsustainable.  Our margin of error is fairly large, but our rate of consumption is really too astronomical to debate.  Millions of years in à Tens of years out.  We’re draining out of the well much faster than it can refill.

But heck, we’ve gotten this far.  Maybe we have a chance to start collectively thinking in longer terms than minutes, days, meals and orgasms.

So when I look out my airplane window right now, 30,000 feet over the Midwest, (and creating about ten thousand times my fair share of greenhouse gasses from fossil fuel emissions) I see the pac-man shapes made by rotating watering systems. 

Crop circles.  The graffiti that aliens would make to mark their visits.  But here, as far as the eyes can see, are crop circles made by people, driven by very basic animal needs.  Needs like energy-concentration.  Energy concentrated in plants by the sun.

We have come a long way.  We are in a place of potential and understanding far beyond anything we saw before.  We are blossoming a beautiful awareness of our impact on the world around us.  We know amazing things about the human mind, about the physics of our universe, about the diversity of life.  Einstein would tell us we are standing on the shoulders of giants. 

But our understanding is still very piecemeal, and very theoretical.  The wisdom of scientists and philosophers has not really been integrated.  Small pockets of special interest control valuable insights carrying with them hidden implications.

People are still communicating at a very animal level.

If we are to survive, we must learn to better share the collective wisdom of the world with each other.
We need a better system for communicating complex viewpoints on complex issues.  A system that is accessible, adaptable, and revisable by all people.  A system that is fair but competitive.

And hell, we are very close.

It is predicted that almost one in seven people in the world are on Facebook. Fiber optics transmit data packets at the speed of light.  What does that say for communication?
(With seven degrees of separation, does this mean that everyone knows someone on Facebook?)

We have massive-scale wikis on a wide range of subjects. What does this tell us about vox-populi, the voice of the people- collaboration in popular thought?

The evolutionary vectors are all pointing toward a fusion of our strengths, playing against our weaknesses.  We must work together.  We must work for future us’s who have not been born yet.  
The survival advantage is too great.

So put on your coat, it’s cold outside.

No comments:

Post a Comment