memetic extrusion through N-dimensional space-time
Wednesday, November 28 2012
Despite a clammy coldness that seemed to delight in working its way through clothing light enough to work in, today I began work on assembling my new custom woodcart from a combination of virgin steel bars and scrap. The most important of the virgin metal was the three foot long 5/8 inch rod that would serve as the axle for the new cart. Using a homebrewed stick-welder attachment to my wire-feed welder that allowed me to weld with enormous power, it was a fairly simple matter to weld two-foot pieces of L-cross-section steel orthogonal to the axle. Over time I've gotten much better at making reliable welds, but they're always hideously ugly no matter what I do. The problem seems to be that I've yet to figure out how to stay on target once the auto-dimming on my mask has kicked in.
This evening while Gretchen was out, I found myself watching the Frontline about Poor Kids, that is, kids growing up in poverty. I'm sure Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Mitt Romney, and their ilk, if they saw the show in their DVR harvest, didn't bother watching because "Who really cares about black inner-city children anyway?" But of course the clever producers at Frontline had anticipated this and decided to show child poverty as it really exists in this country, not as it exists in the minds of people whose most impoverished phase of life saw them eating dinner off an ironing board. It turns out that it is mostly white and suburban, and only one of the threads focused on a black family (which also appeared to be suburban). What was most striking was the intelligence of the kids. They spoke movingly about their respective plights, which often included difficulty getting enough food. (I'm sure I wasn't the only person watching who found the persistence of hunger in this country in 2012 as alarming.)
It was a great show and had an unusual resonance for me. While I was never technically poor as a kid, after moving to Virginia from Maryland in 1976, our family went a whole year without a source of income. Sure, there were savings that could be spent down, but my parents came out of the Great Depression, and there were to be no luxuries (such as health insurance or toys) while spending down savings. Indeed, there were to be no luxuries even after my mother landed a good teaching job at Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind. If I wanted something, I had to save my lunch money to buy it (I lived in a remote part of the county without a car, so getting a job would have been difficult). That was how I bought my first computer back in 1983 (an $80 VIC-20). While I never went hungry except to save lunch money (when, that is, I was no longer eligible for free lunch), there was a period in my preteens when the availablity of food didn't always seem like a certainty, and so when I ate I tended to do so quickly and until I was stuffed. Such habits are hard to lose, and I eat that way to this day. The habits of a poor kid have been helpful in life, making me independent and resourceful. But there are downsides as well; having nothing as a kid has made me into something of a hoarder as an adult. It's also made me inherently less generous than I would like to be. Both habits are nicely checked by Gretchen, who, at least with regard to necessities and material things, had a very different childhood.
As you know, sometimes when Gretchen is out and I'm by myself back at the house, I like to climb into the bathtub, turn on the water (I need to be in the bathtub as it fills), spark up a bowl and smoke me some marijuana (which remains a crime in the State of New York, though it's not a big one). As I lay there in the bathtub staring up at the long-legged spiders near the ceiling, I found myself wondering about living fossils, that is, creatures that haven't changed much in appearance over millions of years. Part of what was informing my thinking was all the trolling I've been doing at the Answers in Genesis Facebook page (all in the guise of one of my many Facebook alter-egos; my main persona has been banned from Answers in Genesis for years). It's not that Creationism explains very much in Biology (indeed, in well-planned Universe, God would have surely given whales gills instead of lungs), but I've been doing a lot of thinking about what might be convincing to an intelligent Creationist, assuming any exist. But the persistence of living fossils isn't particularly well-explained by evolutionary theory. Indeed, one would think that basic body shapes would drift over time along with environments. But then it occurred to me that certain environments might be exceptionally stable over millions of years, and those creatures most perfectly exploiting them would tend to be ones that we recognize today as living fossils.
As someone with a keen interest in data visualization, one of the things I most enjoy about marijuana is the vividness of the mental imagery it brings. Mind you, I don't actually "see" such visualizations any more than I see them when I don't smoke pot; to truly "see" things with one's mind's eye usually requires a hallucinogen (or a prolonged lack of sleep) at the minimum. But my propensity to create visual models seems to be one of several mental abilities that marijuana enhances. And it was one such model that suddenly came to me as I was considering this problem of persistent ecological niches. The model was of an N-dimensional material containing tunnels through it. The dimensions would include all of those necessary to describe an ecological niche (it could be thousands or even millions, so true visualization would be impossible) combined with time. To visualize this space-time material using the three dimensions that our brains can actually operate upon, one would describe an environment using only two dimensions while the third would be time. In such a visualization, niches would appear to be worm holes and other voids in the material. Voids would open, widen, neck down, branch, and close over time, producing a matrix through which organisms would radiate like roots. Of course, the "actual" N-dimensional space-time material would be impossible to visualize, but in its simplest form it would produce a structure similar to the tree of life. I saw life forms propagating through this material as a form of extrusion, with organisms pressing hard against the walls of their multi-dimensional niche tubes, occasionally breaking through and discovering new niches to exploit or creating opportunities (niches) for other organisms to exploit in an endlessly-recursive manner. The pressure against those niche-tube walls is simply the pressure of any population against the limits of its environment. We can call that Malthusian Pressure, and it drives the whole process. Over time, species radiate into new niches, occasionally breaking into those that exist beyond all previously-occupied limits of one of the many environmental dimensions.
Here you can see the extrusion of the tree of life through two-dimensions of environment and one of time. Those branches that survive this block of space-time end up as circular channels exiting at the top of the cube. Those that go extinct end up as sharp-tipped prongs in the "material."
Partly because I was pretty well stoned when all this occurred to me, it all struck me as incredibly profound. I felt like I'd had a Eureka moment, and I was so impressed that my heart began to pound. But my conscious self was to magnanimous to take all the credit; I felt credit should also go to the many other "persons" inhabiting my brain beneath my consciousness. Those, like all the people who work behind the scenes at The Colbert Report are the unsung heroes who make it all happen. For my conscious self to take credit for the idea of memetic extrusion through N-dimensional space-time would be like me taking credit for flying myself across the country at 600 miles per hour when all I did was pay for a ticket and board a plane. So I found myself silently giving credit to "whatever part of my brain" had come up with the idea. I wondered for a moment if there would be any jealousy expressed by the other parts of my brain, but there was absolutely none. I found myself staring at the columns of bathroom tiles reaching up to the ceiling, and imagining that each column was a different part of my brain. They all stood there impassively, none showing either glee or disappointment. The brain might be a team of rivals, but it doesn't have any of the emotional complexity that exists in relationships between human individuals.
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