Our Adaptive Art, Science, and Environment (WAS: Robin's Arts...)

Amara Graps (amara@amara.com)
Wed, 29 Sep 1999 21:02:03 +0100

Dear Extropes,

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (sentience@pobox.com) wrote: Tue, 28 Sep 1999

>I love it! So bees evolve aesthetic preferences to mate with
>other bees, and then flowers evolve to conform to bees'
>aesthetic preferences to increase pollination, and then humans
>evolve to find flowers aesthetic so as to select good foraging
>grounds. Thus transmitting a set of aesthetic preferences
>*from* bees *to* humans *across an intervening species*.

I saw the direction that this thread was heading (adaptive art) and I love it!

Thanks for a most enjoyable mail-list-read during the last week.

Eliezer and Eric were discussing a set of aesthetic preferences, transmitting and evolving across intervening species.

How about taking that concept to a full circle? We can say that for some (people, species, etc.), the more "evolving" the process is, the more "beautiful" it is. And so aesthetic attraction begets reproduction, and so on.

For me, adaptivity and evolution is quite aesthetically pleasing (e.g. artistically beautiful). Life, one of the most "adaptive" processes around, is wet, spontaneous, chaotic, vibrant, surprising. In my environment, I find most appealing those things that have an "organic" and "alive" quality.

So if we were to design our future environment, how might we do it? I say "grow it" and let the adaptive processes figure it out. I think that the result would be not only quite functional but aesthetically pleasing, as well.

We can look at the processes that bring about our "emergent order environment" and notice some common threads. I find these common threads in Minds and Free Markets,in additon to Ecologies/Evolution.

(These common threads are perhaps well-known by now. I put this list together about 10 years ago, and someday, I may finish my paper for Extropy about it.).

Common Threads in Emergent Order Systems

A process that follows the above elements is a nonlinear and dissipative process that links microscopic behavior with macroscopic behavior into an unpredictable (and I think beautiful) form.

Mathematically/Dynamically, the system might be characterized in phase space by a strange attractor. Philosophically, this process means that we have a world that is interconnected, unpredictable, but with a subtle order present. Even what appears on the surface as disordered contains a high degree of implicit correlation. Sometimes the below-the-surface-correlation can be triggered, and it emerges to shape the system.

So I think that to design our future environent, start with something that has these above elements, and then let it grow!

An example of the emergent order from such elements is urban evolution. In 1980, Prigogine, used a variation of the logistic (survival) equation to characterize an urban region in terms of economic functions located at places called "cities" (this model is described in _From Being to Becoming_, Freeman). The economic functions were dependent on the populations, and he had a feedback loop in which the functions and populations depended on population increase and competition from other rival production elements. What resulted were "clusters" (cities) in a land area that looks very much like our urbanization today. And it was the result of many agents operating under similar constraints and pursuing their own goals.

Another example of beautiful adaptibility that we may be able to use in designing our future environment are plants like the skunk cabbage. Why? Because it is a warm-blooded plant (to a limited extent) and very adaptible.

I started thinking about plant-engineering and warm-blooded plants in our future human space settlements after reading a wonderful article by Freeman Dyson. In November 1997, Freeman Dyson wrote an article for _The Atlantic Monthly_ magazine called "Warm-Blooded Plants and Freeze-Dried Fish" about searching for life, space exploration, and human space settlements. He said that for about two weeks, the skunk cabbage maintains a warm temperature by rapidly metabolizing starch stored inside the part of its anatomy known as the spadix. The spadix is supposedly warm enough to melt snow around it. The evolutionary advantage of warm-bloodedness to the plant is probably that it attracts small beetles or other insects that linger in the spadix and pollinate the flowers. The spadix is not a greenhouse, and the supply of starch is not sufficient to maintain a warm temperature year-round. However, in more extreme environemnts, the adaptibility could be pushed.

Dyson writes:

     "Plants could grow greenhouses (so far the idea remains a
     theory) just as turtles s grow shell. These plants could
     keep warm by the light from a distant Sun and conserve the
     oxygen that they produce by photosynthesis. The greenhouse
     would consist of a thick skin providing thermal
     insulation, with small transparent windows to admit
     sunlight. Outside the skin would be an array of simple
     lenses, focusing sunlight through the windows into the
     interior. The windows would have to be small, to limit the
     loss of heat from outward radiation. The plant would also
     need deep roots, to tap water and nutrients from warmer
     layers underground. Inside the greenhouse the plant could
     grow leaves and flowers in an oxygen-containing habitat
     where aerobic microbes and animals might also live. Groups
     of greenhouses could grow together to form extended
     habitats for other species of plants and animals. An
     attendant community of microbes and fungi might help the
     plants to extract nutrients from the local ice or soil.
     Pores in the outer skin of the greenhouse might open to
     admit carbon dioxide from the atmosphere outside, with
     miniature airlocks and cold traps to keep losses of oxygen
     and water to a minimum."

Neat, huh?

Finally, to end this dynamically-evolving note, I will say that my intellectual/emotional divisions between art and science are not sharp. In fact the boundaries for me are fuzzy and the two areas in my real world overlap each other alot. I quite agree with E. Shaun Russell's comment:

>That is the beauty of our future: one day, science will
>be so like art, and art so like science, that it will be
>impossible and superfluous to distinguish one from the

Thanks for the fun thread!


Amara Graps                  email: amara@amara.com
Computational Physics        vita:  finger agraps@shell5.ba.best.com
Multiplex Answers            URL:   http://www.amara.com/
     "Trust in the Universe, but tie up your camels first."
               (adaptation of a Sufi proverb)