The emergence of self-organizing, complex adaptive systems has occurred twice on this planet. In the first instance, an independent, competitively reproducing molecule, RNA, because of its unique structural and bonding characteristics, became the first entity that could pair symbolic information (base pair sequence) with materials for making tools – amino acids, matching three base pair codons to specific amino acids for protein chain assembly. The information inherent to the RNA sequences would later be transcribed into more resilient DNA libraries. The amino acid tools, including enzymes, were much more capable of breaking into energy and resource gradients existing at that time and facilitated the development of information and cellular structures like nuclei, cytoskeletons and mitotic spindles. Once cells were prevalent and capable of deriving molecular and particulate nutrition from the environment. It was only a matter of time though before evolution would find a way to break into the next great energy opportunity – whole, living cells. To consume individual cells it became necessary for previously single cells to form cell groups that could surround and engulf single cells and consume them. Early adaptations led to primitive guts or enclosures where digestive enzymes could be released to digest captive cells. These primitive predators would later become fully developed organisms with various specialized tissues for capturing food, digestion, excretion, immune systems etc. The result has been a continuous co-evolution of cellular forms for hundreds of millions of years, some being capable of using the sun as an energy source while others continued along the predatory path consuming other organisms whole or by ripping the body apart and consuming macerated tissues. The ecosystem emerged with many different competing cellular forms.
Neutrophil consuming Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
Phagocytosis is used by many predatory eukaryotes including the amoebas which can become rather large. A successful predatory strategy was to form organisms, vast colonies of cells with specialized functions capable of ingesting and processing the tissues of other organisms. Humans became tribal with coordinating communication in order to access gradients inaccessible to single individual.
The emergence of the second complex adaptive system, the technological one, occurred in much the same manner as the molecular one. The key functionality for human RNA is the ability to create information and then translate that into a sequence of bonding or manipulations of matter in the environment, much like proteins are synthesized from amino acids. For instance, an early hominid could have seen or imagined swinging a club at a predator. The imagery in the brain (information) is then translated into a hand grasping a stout club in the environment and swinging it wildly at threatening predators. Generational transfer of the information could occur by simply watching what others do and emulating them. The ability to “bond” and manipulate tools such as clubs and stones was made possible by the free hands of the early hominids that had been useful in holding branches, picking fruits from trees and nits from fur. Likewise, within the evolving neocortex there was an increasing ability to imagine and rehearse actions, a mutative property of the brain.
Combining information (brain) with an ability to deftly manipulate matter in furtherance of survival goals resulted in a rapid advantage over those organisms relying upon fortuitous genetic mutations. As occurred with the cells, humans tended to form social groups, specialize, develop tribal behaviors and cooperate to kill and consume organisms too large for a single human to dispatch. It is this nexus between tool symbolism (brain/RNA template) and ability to bond or synthesize the symbolized tool that starts the movement of man and molecular RNA into the intermediate role between symbolic information and tool. Eventually both man and RNA would not be limited to one or a few tools for the individual, but would begin to function within a system capable of making hundreds of different tools systematically in factories and in cells. The success of the new tools at breaking open new gradients, much more capable than the unequipped human or RNA, would guarantee a continued progress in the direction of systematic existence. RNA would go on to become a specialized intermediate between DNA and the tool making process just as humans have become intermediaries between their own alpha-numeric information and tool/infrastructure manufacture.
Papuan men working on tools and sago.
The hands modify and build tools after consulting with the imagery recorded in the brain. Nothing very complex could be accomplished during mankind’s early history because the emerging complexity requires a fidelity recording of information as found in written records and drawings or DNA. Humans are particularly good at accomplishing rapid evolution by purposefully rearranging and modifying information within the brain to be translated into new tool construction. Homo sapiens used few tools for hundreds of thousands of years until recorded information began to reflect the specifications of various components of tools mined and refined and the processes that led to finished tools.
Not only can hands manipulate matter to form tools, they may also have been used for language before the advent of spoken language and may have evolved their dexterity, useful in building and grasping tools, from the evolved usefulness in conveying ideas.
It is generally believed that the human transition to RNA-like functioning in the assembly of technological tools was a fortuitous event for Homo sapiens. Many tools have evolved, the distribution vessels have grown, the technological cells have been built, the information has been recorded and even speciation (tribalism/nationhood) has occurred. But all is not what it seems for the former vine swinging hominid turned key tapper, lever puller and knob twister. The same ferocity of competition that has existed in the ecosystem for the duration of its existence has been conserved by the various entities within the technological system. A competition to grow and profit in accordance with the Maximum Power Principle (MPP) is still prevalent. Instead of a technological nirvana, we experience a technologically based arms race, nation against nation, corporation against corporation, individual against individual, each trying to win the lion’s share of resources and profit. In the background of this all-consuming technological competition is an ecosystem seen only as a resource gradient and waste sink with infinite capacities to facilitate the on-going evolution and metabolism of the technological system. We’re too busy competing with each other for “wealth” to notice that we’re destroying the system that sustains us.
The human RNA toiling in the cells seem unwilling and unable to break away from the trajectory of the Maximum Power Principle which has shaped their behaviors over geologic time periods. It may simply be impossible to get them to “stand down” even in the face of disaster. Even though they have great intelligence in building and using tools, they lack a behavioral mechanism of restraint, but instead navigate from one reward to the next in joyous celebration of their conquests. Even with a modicum of knowledge about our ill-fated course, we seem as determined as bacteria in a petri dish or malignant cancer cells to continue growing until the supporting system collapses.
Many humans believe there is a great purpose to the technology, but it is simply the stuff of energy/resource gradient consumption and differs little in purpose than what one might find in a cell or organism. Better, faster, more, more growth, more profit – but there is no purpose except to survive the predatory behavior of one’s rivals at any moment in time while gathering enough energy/resources to maintain metabolism and reproduce. Incremental evolution -slow in the case of system one, the ecosystem, and comparatively rapid in the case of system two, the technological system, leads neither to an eventual nirvana nor promised land but simply to more of the same competition to consume gradients and dominate opponents.
House to house combat in retaking Seoul, South Korea. Korean War.
Some things will never be finished on this planet, like the competition between conduits for territory and resources.
Nuclear ballistic missile submarine USS Nebraska.
Like a neutrophil roaming the extra cellular matrix, this technological product intends to defend the integrity of national borders and interests with technological tissue destroying weapons of mass destruction. Like the Megalodon sp. it will some day go extinct, but it’s unlikely it will have the 20 million year run of the shark. Perhaps a few more decades at most since the current state of disequilibrium is in the process of being punctuated – bigly.