Star Larvae Hypothesis
Nature's Plan for Humankind
Part 1. Metabolic Metaphysics
or Niche Construction
become even harder to define when they extend their metabolisms
through, and become dependent on, their own artifacts.
glass, concrete, ceramics, and silicon circuitry,
along with polymers, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, and countless other products derived from petroleum,
constitute much of the environment of the industrialized world.
The inhabitants of that world operate on a metabolic continuum with
these materials, so integrated into modern life have the materials become. Implantable medical devices, now are approaching
the nano-scale and undermine the distinction between metabolism and artifact. In a high-tech milieu,
distinctions between organism and technology grow fuzzier by the moment.
Man a Machine
Back in the eighteenth century, a bumper crop of new
technologies fed radical philosophies of human nature. In this milieu, French
philosopher Julien Offray de la Mettrie perceived structural and functional similarities
between humans and their machines and, as had Rene Descartes previously, took
the mechanistic mode to be nature’s
default and the organic to be a special case.
La Mettrie extended
Descartes' view and reduced even the mind to mechanical processes of
the body. In 1748 he presented his mechanistic philosophy in Man
La Mettrie regarded animals of all types, including human beings,
as complicated mechanical devices. Biological life seemed to him to be
nothing more than a style of machinery—of a high order but nonetheless
reducible to mechanics, hydraulics, pneumatics, and so forth. No metaphysical
souls or Cartesian "mental substance" needed.
man has developed extensions for practically everything he used
to do with his body. The evolution of weapons begins with the teeth
and the fist and ends with the atom bomb. Clothes and houses are
extensions of man’s biological temperature-control mechanisms.
Furniture takes the place of squatting and sitting on the ground.
Power tools, glasses, TV, telephones, and books which carry the
voice across both time and space are examples of material extensions.
Money is a way of extending and storing labor. Our transportation
networks now do what we used to do with our feet and backs. In
fact, all man-made material things can be treated as extensions
of what man once did with his body or some specialized part of
— Edward T. Hall
did not use the term intelligent design in the context of nature's
machinery, but a positive implication for theology is there. La Mettrie
looked in a different direction and as a result promoted an intellectual fashion
that became hostile toward theological ideas. In the wake of the Enlightenment, mechanistic
philosophy gained prominence. It accepted natural law as a first cause and extended its application to the biological world.
In the intervening years this view has served not only as bedrock
for the modern secular mindset and as fertile ground for behaviorism, but also as a mechanistic
model of health and medicine, and as a wall between science and
religion. But in its early years it provided freethinkers with a needed
alternative to church dogma. It's cast humankind
as natural machine, albeit a machine whose origins remained mysterious. Darwin
later cemented the link between natural law and human origins.
artificial purification of all milieus, atmospheres, and environments
will supplant the failing internal immune systems. If these immune systems
are breaking down it is because an irreversible tendency called progress
pushes the human body and spirit into relinquishing its systems of defense
and self-determination, only to replace them with technical artifacts.
Divested of his defenses, man becomes eminently vulnerable to science."
— Jean Baudrillard
Ecstasy of Communication
recently, in the 1960s, La Mettrie's model got stood on its head. Media theorist Marshall
McLuhan also intuited a continuum from bodies to machines.
But he made the case that machines, properly understood, are imitations,
or extensions, of capacities of the human body—not Man A
but Machine A Man. McLuhan’s book The
Mechanical Bride is
a kind of anti-sequel to La Mettrie's "Man A Machine."
phrase mechanical bride refers to the libidinal appeal of
machinery and commercial culture’s exploitation of that appeal.
The postwar advertising culture that McLuhan analyzed embraced consumer gadgetry and appliances, and the family car was the star of the show. Advertisers
hawked cars with an artful juxtaposing of engineering achievements and
female anatomy. McLuhan points out that a perhaps less visible but nonetheless
identifiable trend was the complementary tendency to use technological
jargon and blueprint-type graphics to advertise intimate products, such
as female undergarments. McLuhan had discovered a place in the modern
unconscious that conflates sexual allure with the seductions of
technology. The psychology seemed to him to be a natural adaptation
to the evolving relationship between urbanites and their gadgets, the
collections of extensions of bodies that constitute homes and cities.
Electricity, in McLuhan's analysis, adds to the mechanical extensions of muscle and bone a psychical extension of mental faculties.
and La Mettrie both perceived organic qualities inherent in technology,
but each adopted a different view as to which was the original and which the knock-off—the organic
or the technological. But
in a feedback cycle starting points are arbitrary. Just as the nonliving
hair that covers a human head can be said to enjoy a symbiotic relationship
with the organism from which it sprouts, and to which it presumably confers
some adaptive advantage, technologies are symbiotic with the organisms
from which they sprout and to which they confer adaptive advantage. The critter
and its environment, including its constructed environment, are
In the biological
world, symbiosis can help
organisms overcome physical circumstances
and expand into new territories. Technologies deliver the same
capacity. The orbital space
around Earth, for example, gradually is opening up as an ecological
niche for human habitation, as a result of human symbiosis with technology.
Recently, this evolutionary mechanism has been called niche
technology in the context of symbiosis undermines the notion that human
inventions are inherently antithetical or detrimental to nature—that they are unnatural. Inventions
take on the character rather of extensions of the organism, ones to which the organism adapts, as McLuhan saw. And, as such, technologies are natural
extensions of the metabolic processes of the human body and human society.
McLuhan grasped this relationship, observing in Understanding
man in the normal use of technology (or his variously extended
body) is perpetually modified by it and in turn finds ever
new ways of modifying his technology. Man becomes, as it were, the
sex organs of the machine world, as the bee of the plant world,
enabling it to fecundate and to evolve ever new forms."
Richard Dawkins complements and extends McLuhan's thinking with his
notion of "the extended phenotype." In the book of that title Dawkins
examines various instances of animal industry, such as the dam building
of beavers, nest building of birds, and pebble-house building of an insect
called the caddis fly. Presumably—and this is clearest
in the case of insects—these animals do not learn from instruction
by experts how to go about building the various artifacts. Dawkins makes the case that
animal-built structures enhance the adaptive advantage of the creatures
that build them and, like McLuhan, characterizes the structures as functional
extensions of the bodies of the builders. Dawkins comments in The
house of a caddis strictly is not a part of its cellular
body, but it does fit snugly round the body. If the body is regarded
as a gene vehicle, or survival machine, it is easy to see
the stone house as a kind of extra protective wall, in a functional
sense the outer part of the vehicle. It just happens to be
made of stone rather than chitin."
extension just happens to be made of inorganic material, as are many of humankind's metabolic extensions. Its relationship
to its builder transcends the distinction between the organic and the
inorganic and challenges any neat delineation of the organism distinct
from its environment (and it lends itself to artistic exploitation). Organism, artifact, and environment meld into a
web of metabolic interweavings.
The family life of the beaver is adapted to an environment that beavers
manufacture from sticks and mud and some rudimentary sense of architecture.
Certain ants manage the environments of their underground "farms" in
which they cultivate as crops certain fungi. Homo sapiens mines
the Earth for ores and hydrocarbons and builds shopping malls and space
stations. These species then adapt to the circumstances that their own
handiwork imposes upon them. Technologies participate fundamentally in
the dynamics of organic life and its evolution, because technologies
bestow an adaptive advantage to the genes that guide the behaviors from
which the technologies result. Technologies participate in feedback
loops with their fabricators. The indivisible evolutionary unit of a technological
species is the unit of organism-technology symbiosis. Sociobiologist
Edward O. Wilson rendered essentially the same concept in terms of "gene-culture
Urban humanity live in a technological infrastructure that delivers countless
adaptive adjuncts to the human organism: waste disposal, temperature control,
antibiotics, processed foods, and so on. Domesticated urbanites
have become inseparable from such artifacts, or anatomical and
psychological extensions. So,
with its industrial mass potentially straining Earth's resilience, where is encapsulated urban humanity headed?
a set of concepts that recasts the problem in terms of a
natural evolutionary juncture: Technology is humankind's symbiotic partner
in managing a migration, a birth, and a metamorphosis. The human-technology
symbiosis is preparing to shepherd a human migration, midwife a Gaian
delivery, and complete the encapsulation process, which will provide biology's
photoelectrochemical metabolism with a suitable environment within which
to metamorphose, or mutate, into a gravitational-nuclear metabolism.
As if we
had a choice.
NEXT > Coincidence and Creativity in Nature
Star Larvae Hypothesis:
a genus of organism.
The stellar life cycle includes a larval phase.
Biological life constitutes the larval phase of the stellar life cycle.
hypothesis presents a teleological model of nature, in which
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