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Life's Infrastructure

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December 2019 presentation to Melbourne Emergence Meetup in the scope of ongoing Supervenience project series and as corollary to November's presentation re human infrastructure projects the group has taken an interest in. Includes pictures from recent visits to Stony Creek toxic fire site and Mud Island.

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Life's Infrastructure

  1. 1. Life’s Infrastructure soils, swamps, streams, sands, sea shores, shallows, seasons, sticks & stones signs, signals, smells, sights, sounds & a return to Mud Island Tony Smith Melbourne Emergence Meetup 12 December 2019
  2. 2. Stones to me are the objects that parallel all life, more so than trees or mortal things because stones are almost immortal. They know things learned over deep time. Stone represents earth, tools and spirit; it conveys meaning through its use and through its resilience to the elements. At the same time it ages, cracking and eroding as time wears it down, but it is still there, filled with energy and spirit. Tasmanian Max (Dyers?) quoted by Tyson Yunkaporta
  3. 3. Complexity 101: Gradient Dissipation Thriving at interfaces: air, water, rock Growing your own: trees, corals, shells Burrowing, nest construction, Beavers Navigation guides, collective knowledge Adaptive use of human infrastructure Going up Stony Creek to toxic fire site Opportunistic return to Mud Island Ibis at Pelican lake Cairnlea 25 May 2019 Life’s Infrastructure
  4. 4. Too Funny for Words Abstractions, Category Errors, Epistemic Cuts Life on an Active Planet The Two-edged Sword Multiple Paths to Emergence Constraints and Degrees of Freedom Birds and Others Interweb to Facebook Better than Out of Control Information, Maps and Territories Urban Hydrology out of Sight Going Down with the Egg Basket Self-organising, Adaptive Codification and Communication Exploiting a Dissipating Gradient: creaming, trickle down Dystopian Utopias and Science Fiction Towards Healthy General Knowledge The Inside View: knowing when you're dreaming Verbal Blindness Accepting Cosmological Responsibility
  5. 5. Life has emerged from chemistry and physics across billions of years and organisational structures have emerged subsequently, so it is useful to ground attempts to appreciate these extraordinary arenas of diversity on the sound foundations of complex systems theory, of which the most fundamental is the emergence of novel order/organisation requiring and accelerating the dissipation of some energising gradient. Yarrawonga Weir 25 May 2016 Complexity 101: Gradient Dissipation
  6. 6. Ilya Prigogine’s 1977 Chemistry Nobel on emergence of new structures through internal self-reorganisation of dissipating systems was foundational to the study of complex systems. Such dissipation is a consequence of far from equilibrium thresholds moving towards equilibrium against impedance of their components, an understanding which brings order to the seeming chaos of biology. Radiation from the visible surface (but don’t look) of our local thermonuclear reactor with a frequency distribution following the standard black body curve for 5700°C from infrared through visible to human wavelengths to ultraviolet. A small portion of that radiation powers photosynthesis in plants and algae providing reusable energy storage in the form of oxygen gas and sugars which can be released later by combustion to reform the water and carbon dioxide originally consumed. Much of that majority of the solar radiation which isn’t directly reflected evaporates water, driving planet shaping hydrological and atmospheric cycles including erosion, deposition, ice formation and flow. April’s Supervenience presentation was on Dissipating Gradients & Sinks, including much more that doesn’t need to be duplicated here, at least not beyond reiterating that “the Supervenience book/project is centrally about extending the understanding of dissipation into the domains of minds and money.”
  7. 7. It is highly likely that abiogenesis of Life's earliest prokaryotic cells occurred at the undersea interface between active volcanic rock and tidal waters, two fluidic systems with very different operational timings that create far from equilibrium adjacencies. Once free oxygen persisted for long enough for highly differentiated multicellular eukaryotes to adapt to breathing air and living on land, these new interfaces became productive. Intertidal zone 10 January 2014 Thriving at interfaces: air, water, rock
  8. 8. Specific individual histories of geological deposition, deformation and interaction with tidal, wave and weather cycles create each unique habitat around southern Australia’s rocky shores where encrusting animals and algae provide a home for crustaceans and fish. Petroleum geologist Waltham’s 2014 book goes deep into peculiarities of cosmological and planetary history, including a very thorough account of natural climate variability, which make the odds of being here so small as to require the weak anthropic principle.Gutter Life: intertidal intensity
  9. 9. While the larger scale processes that shape our physical universe are more energetic, either through accumulation or intrinsically, the chemistry of life is based on localised molecular interactions towards the low end of the energy spectrum where reactants need to be kept within a narrow range of environmental variables to retain efficacy and to be transported to reaction sites through liquid water. Representation of the most basic of these processes in human language, even assisted by diagrams and models, is encyclopaedic, e.g: Adenosine_triphosphate, Nicotinamide_adenine_dinucleotide. While the actual pathway of abiogenesis may be beyond current research capabilities, not helped by the lack of comparators to our one example, general inferences are credible enough to assume opportunistic steps working with mostly common components.
  10. 10. While metabolism is confined to fluid cells, the diversity of multicellular life rests on its ability to produce hard skeletal materials that support growth and provide protection. Beyond those producer species, this hard stuff is readily coopted by others for their own purposes, from climbing creepers to access barriers proving safer living spaces to Hermit Crabs. Such accumulated hard stuff is also vital to sedimentation processes that build continents. Shell accretion 23 November 2019 Growing your own: trees, corals, shells
  11. 11. Boron atoms are only produced by cosmic ray fission and are strongly oxidised so seem unlikely candidates for a major biological role. However boron is essential to the healthy vegetative growth of buds and root tips as well as to the strength of plant cell walls. Without its catalytic role there would not be trees substantial enough to encourage the evolution of primates, nor such a kick starter houseboat construction material.
  12. 12. View Point reef Way back when Beneath the waves, holding fast while water flows past can be a productive strategy for diverse phyla of sessile animals
  13. 13. Traces of burrows are amongst the oldest indicators of animal life, some dating to the Ediacaran period which preceded the Cambrian. While some substrates allow digging animals to effectively swim through sand or mud, it is more stable yet still malleable soils which enable many animals, including eusocial insects, to excavate more permanent dwellings. Wood is a key component of many birds' nests and, at another scale, Beaver dams. Mud Island 23 November 2019 Burrowing, nest construction, Beavers
  14. 14. Yarrawonga 25 May 2016 Horehound & its bugs Sydenham Park 2 April 2017
  15. 15. 6 May 2010: They’re the Donald Trumps of Beaver world; as in real estate development–they don’t yet have their own celebrity apprentice shows. Several beaver families have built one of the largest beaver dams ever, in northern Canada, large enough to be visible from space. 19 September 2014: Rob Mark walks in to get his own pic. 16 August 2017: The Guardian provides long form general commentary on these rodent protagonists.
  16. 16. Almost invisible web St Leonards 20 October 2017
  17. 17. With 50,000+ nests now in a breeding colony established 1991, Straw-necked Ibis do “not feed on (Mud Island,) flocks commute to the Bellarine and Mornington Peninsulas, and the Geelong- Werribee region to forage in pastoral land.” Other critters make more spectacular journeys on other timeframes, all depending on environmental signals including polarising reflections from water surfaces, and mostly in company so knowledge is shared implicitly. Ruddy Turnstones breed in the Arctic St Leonards 17 October 2017 Navigation guides, collective knowledge
  18. 18. Mates Park, Albury 3 September 2014 https://vimeo.com/105479288
  19. 19. While the recent planetary takeover by humans, domesticates, stowaways and detritus is disastrous for most species who make their living in older ecosystems, the spread of agriculture, pasture, cities, harvesting and connecting infrastructure is facilitating range expansion and densification by species able to exploit such new opportunities. Social media is also facilitating wider awareness of friendly interactions. Starlings, radio mast Cobram 23 May 2016 Adaptive use of human infrastructure
  20. 20. With its ability to respond to stimuli, its “intelligence”, distributed to bud formation and growing tips, it’s a challenge to a mobile animal to even imagine what it would be like to be a tree, despite Enid Blyton’s best efforts informing many childhoods. Yes, we can see a reflection of our own notions of personhood in the octopus, especially when their most interesting behaviours are recorded and shared, but struggle to extend that to a bee hive or other eusocial insect nest, finding it easier to focus on the behaviour of individuals even while we recognise some collective behaviour of humans as being of another order to our own day to day personal affairs. Plague locusts and murmurations of starlings are something else again, closer to football crowds and mass protests than we might want to admit. Whether Straw-necked Ibis at Mud Island, Grey-headed Flying-foxes at Yarra Bend, or Little Corellas at Yarrawonga Weir, colony-forming flying creatures share a strategy for aggregating and disaggregating between colony and feeding grounds which can include regathering places at street corner electricity poles and must include information sharing, including by olfaction, on what they found on their separate travels. Familiar sound of trees full of roosting birds in the evening or morning suggest further information sharing, including reunions and planning. Social media saturated with minimal marginal cost image and video clip sharing has transformed public awareness of the wonders of the natural world away from the spectacular extremism so beloved of traditional nature documentary makers to ordinary day to day encounters showing love of life and caring to be far more widespread than Genesis, Descartes or Skinner would allow. Yarrawonga Weir 25 May 2016 Horsham 21 April 2016
  21. 21. A Saturday afternoon without enough time to justify going home and out again between Footscray and Sunshine events instead presented an opportunity to explore Stony Creek upstream from Paramount Road. Fifteen months of clean up since the fire water flood has cleared tracks along this once inaccessible green ribbon through the ageing industrial estate with plenty of signs of life returning and no real obstacles to reaching the burnt shell. Going up Stony Creek to toxic fire site
  22. 22. At the centre of Nepean Bay Bar and covered by both RAMSAR and National Park protections, it became imperative to take a first hand look just when Mud Island's regular transport provider moved on. In 2019 a hiking Meetup organiser and a tour boat operator combined to offer a first visit in early March which stayed mostly on the southwest beach facing Port Phillip Heads, then a very different return in late November to the eastern and northern shores. Opportunistic return to Mud Island
  23. 23. Suggestions! Questions? Menkhorst,Peter.(2010). Asurveyofcolonially-breedingbirdsonMudIslands,PortPhillip, Victoria;withanannotatedlistofallterrestrialvertebrates. ArthurRylahInstituteforEnvironmentalResearch.