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Thursday, October 11, 2012

My Modest "Big TOE"*

Petri Dish Mold
Random petri dish image discovered at Wiggy's Words of Wisdom

(Post title a reference to - and yes, a dig at - Thomas Campbell's My Big TOE*)
[Biological systems] are sustainable, each organism exhibiting bounded growth up to an optimum size. (Yes, yeast can't handle vats of concentrated sugar-water without a population explosion followed by collapse, but then vats of concentrated sugar-water are not their natual habitat—or anyone else's!)
- Dmitry Orlov, In Praise of Anarchy, Part II
As I sit here in Phoenix reading Dmitry, head baking in the sunny climate of the Arizona Kookocracy, it all comes together - a Big Theory of Everything. OK, not everything, but a nonetheless a sizeable chunk of all things political, sociological and bacteriological.

Vats of concentrated sugar-water are not their natual habitat—or anyone else's! This observation lends one to the contemplation of all that is undifferentiated, abundant, and yet ultimately bounded.
  • Undifferentiated - For yeast, it is a yummy food supply that looks the same in all directions. For the denizens of Phoenix, there's nary a cloud in the sky and no vagaries of weather. And for the human race, the exploitation of the delightfully fungible ancient sunlight that is fossil fuel.

  • Abundant - Partly due to its undifferentiated access (ubiquity tends to suppress consideration of potential supply interruptions,) yeast will feast with nary a check nor balance in the calories that keep on coming. Phoenicians are not inclined to concern themselves with the cycles of weather that explicitly worry the production and harvest of food* in the testier climes, and one could argue (as I am doing here) that this also contributes to an implicit "What, me worry?" psychology that crowds all contemplations of consequences. As for fossil fuels... well, you get the point. Car culture, I'm looking at you.

  • Ultimately Bounded - Oops - hey yeast, the sugar runs out at the edge of the dish. Yo Phoenix, your devil-may-care you-don't-shovel-sunshine civic dilettantism exhausts your politics. And of course, everybody knows about Peak Oil now, right? Right? (If you're still ostriching on this issue, let me assure you that your financial markets and militaries are quite aware of it.)
Point being, if we insist on the mindlessness of yeastiness, we're all going to die. Orlov's essays offer some optimism on the question - and more's the irony in that.

That is all. (That wasn't too heavy, was it?)


*TOE = Theory of Everything. Why a dig, you ask? Well... while Campbell preempts this objection (go ahead, read his book, watch his talks) - I'll just say that when you glibly place consciousness as the over-arching reality in which material existence is just a subset, then you very easily can then slide into an holistic explanation of any phenomenon that may cross your scientific mind. It's reality as virtual reality, and it really is no different than any other metaphysical/religious system.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. Just don't try to shoehorn it into the natural sciences.

*Of course I gloss and oversimplify the issue of food in a city that gets it mostly all trucked in at this point, but this is a dry humor piece. Anyway, any objections raised would only underscore my "ultimately bounded" point.


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