Animals, Anthropology, Biological Computation, Biology, Biometrics, Education, Nature, PDF, Science

Darwinism About Darwinism (Joeri Witteveen)


Review of Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection by Peter Godfrey-Smith (Oxford Uni Press 2009)

“… devoted to fleshing out what makes a population Darwinian. This is done by scoring a given population on a variety of parameters, such as H, the fidelity of heredity, and V, the abundance of variation. So, instead of saying that a population must have heredity and variation—in the vein of the classical approach—the Darwinian populations framework ranks populations according to how much it possesses of each. The H and V parameters are familiar; they are derived from the classical summaries. The other parameters are less obvious. G-S discusses several important ones, but notes that these do not exhaust the options; other parameters may also be important in judging how Darwinian a population is. The new parameters that are discussed at some length are α, defined as the competitive interaction with respect to reproduction, C, for “continuity” or smoothness of the fitness landscape, and S, the dependence of reproductive differences on “intrinsic character.” The concept of continuity was introduced by Lewontin as the principle that “small changes in a characteristic must result in only small changes in ecological relations” (Lewontin 1978: 169). G-S extends this principle, and turns it into a parameter. One way to understand C is as the smoothness of the fitness landscape. The smoother the fitness landscape, the higher the value C takes for the population under consideration. C is determined by causes of both internal and external nature. Internal influences stem from the organism’s physiology and development. External influences on C are location, and interaction with others. G-S assigns the internal/external difference its own parameter, S, for “intrinsic character.” The higher a population’s score on C and S, the more Darwinian are the individuals it is composed of. C and S not only tell us something about what makes individuals more Darwinian, they also serve as a replacement for another vexed notion in evolutionary theory: drift. Selection is often contrasted with drift; change may be due to selection and/or drift. G-S suggests that the C and S parameters dissolve this dichotomy. What we take to be drift is in fact a combination of low values of C and/or S. So drift and selection are not two distinct factors, but are “distinctions along the gradients of S and C” (p. 61). After having discussed some of the parameters, G-S introduces a spatial framework of three-dimensional “Darwinian spaces” as a tool for further analysis. Along each of the three axes of a Darwinian space, we can put a parameter, on which a score from 0 to 1 can be obtained. For instance, if we put the H, C, and S parameters along the axes and start scoring populations, one that scores close to (0,0,0) is very marginal, and one that sits close to (1,1,1) is a paradigmatic Darwinian population. Scoring somewhere in between will make it a minimal Darwinian population.”


Anthropology, Bacteria, Farming, History, Medicine, Nature, PDF, Society

‘Darwinian Gastronomy: why we use spices’ (1999) Sherman and Billing

“An early attempt to use statistical analysis of cookbooks to reveal deeper patterns about what we eat and why. The paper theorizes that there is an evolutionary benefit to eating spices: “by cleansing food of pathogens before consumption, spice users contribute to the health, longevity and fitness of themselves, their families and their guests.” There is more disease in the tropics and this is also where most spices are added to food, or so the paper seems to argues. Personally I think the argument runs the risk of putting the horse behind the carriage. Spices predominately grow in tropical areas and it makes sense to expect that this is where they eat them most.”


Architecture, Art, Biology, Biometrics, Brain, Capitalism, Economy, Education, History, Mathematics, Medicine, Nature, philosophy, Psychology, Science, Society

Kantian Legacy in Nineteenth Century Science

“The book examines Kant’s influence on five strands of nineteenth-century scientific thought: Naturphilosophie and the effect of German Romanticism (especially Goethe) on biology; Fries’s philosophy of science; Helmholtz’s rejection of Naturphilosophie and Romanticism; neo-Kantianism and its return to “methodological” concerns in natural science and academic philosophy; and Poincaré and his reflections on scientific epistemology. The essays give a nuanced picture of Kant’s legacy to nineteenth-century thinkers and of the rich interaction between philosophical ideas and discoveries in the natural and mathematical sciences during this period. They point to the ways that the scientific developments of the nineteenth century link Kant’s thought to the science of the twentieth century.”


Anthropology, Archeology, Biometrics, Economy, Farming, History, Medicine, Nature, Science, Society

Phytoliths in Pottery Reveal the Use of Spice in European Prehistoric Cuisine

Opium poppy (Papaver somniferum)
Dill (Anethum graveolens)
Caper (Capparis spinosa)
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)
Cumin (Cuminum cyminum)
A kind of mustard ? (Cruciferae family)
“Figure 1. Early contexts from which spices have been recovered, with photomicrographs of globular sinuate phytoliths recovered from the pottery styles illustrated. Showing, A) A map of Europe showing an inset of the study area and sites from which the pot residues were acquired;, including also the Near East and northern Africa indicating early contexts where spices have been recovered: a) Menneville, France (Papaver somniferum L.), b) Eberdingen, Germany (Papaver somniferum L.), c) Seeberg, Switzerland (Papaver somniferum L.), d) Niederwil, Switzerland (Papaver somniferum L.), e) Swiss Lake Villages, Switzerland (Anethum graveolens L.), f) Cueva de los Murcielags, Spain (Papaver somniferum L.), g) Hacilar, Turkey (Capparis spinosa L.), h) Tell Abu Hureya, Syria (Caparis spinosa L.), i) Tell ed-Der, Syria (Coriandrum sativum L. and Cuminum cyminum L.), j) Khafaji, Iraq (Cruciferae family), k) Tell Aswad, Syria (Capparis spinosa L.), l) Nahal Hemar Cave, Israel (Coriandrum sativum L.), m) Tutankhamun’s tomb, Egypt (Coriandrum sativum L.), n) Tomb of Kha, Egypt (Cuminum cyminum L.), o) Tomb of Amenophis II, Egypt (Anethum graveolens L.), p) Hala Sultan Tekke, Cyprus (Capparis spinosa L.), q) Heilbronn, Germany (Papaver somniferum L.), r) Zeslawice, Poland (Papaver somniferum L.) [compiled using 8–17]. B) Hunter-gatherer pointed-based vessel (on the left) and Early Neolithic flat-based vessel (on the right). C) Scanning Electron Microscope image of a globular sinuate phytolith embedded in a food residue, D) optical light microscope image of modern Alliaria petiolata globular sinuate phytoliths, and E) optical light microscope image of archaeological globular sinuate phytolith examples.


Bacteria, Bio hacking, Biological Computation, Biology, Biometrics, Code, DNA, Medicine, Music, Nature, Neural Networks, PDF, Radio, Science, Sound

Bacterial Radio

“There has been considerable interest in bacterial communities wherein a bacterium is connected to neighbor- ing bacteria by means of narrow nanowires. It is believed that the purpose of the nanowires is to allow for intercellular electronic communications. More advanced on the evolutionary scale are the more modern bacterial communities which are wireless. The electromagnetic signals sent from a bacterium to neighboring bacteria can be due to relatively low frequency electron level transitions within DNA.”


Animals, Biology, Biometrics, DNA, Economy, Education, Nature, Neural Networks, Science, Social intelligence, Society

Twittering bacteria: on bacteria… social intelligence

“New research suggests that microbial life can be even richer: highly social, intricately networked, and teeming with interactions [47]. Bassler [3] and other researchers have determined that bacteria communicate using molecules comparable to pheromones. By tapping into this cell-to-cell network, microbes are able to collectively track changes in their environment, conspire with their own species, build mutually beneficial alliances with other types of bacteria, gain advantages over competitors, and communicate with their hosts – the sort of collective strategizing typically ascribed to bees, ants, and people, not to bacteria. Eshel Ben-Jacob [6] indicate that bacteria have developed intricate communication capabilities (e.g. quorum-sensing, chemotactic signalling and plasmid exchange) to cooperatively self-organize into highly structured colonies with elevated environmental adaptability, proposing that they maintain linguistic communication. Meaning-based communication permits colonial identity, intentional behavior (e.g. pheromone-based courtship for mating), purposeful alteration of colony structure (e.g. formation of fruiting bodies), decision-making (e.g. to sporulate) and the recognition and identification of other colonies – features we might begin to associate with a bacterial social intelligence.”


Art, Automata, Education, Mathematics, Nature, philosophy

The Binary Symmetry of MC Hess

My interest in this subject extends from daily experiences with geometry and typography over a 35-year career of visual design. The terminology is personal and was created as needed. In late 1986, while sketching on a quadrille pad, I generated this little drawing and asked myself a seemingly simple question: How many different 5×5 images will nature allow? After filling pages of quadrille pad I realized that imagination alone wasn’t up to the task (not an easy thing for an artist to accept). I next made a 20-foot-wide wallchart and kept searching for a method to generate quantities of these symbols. Over several years I worked on the 5×5 problem in my spare time. It soon became my favorite intellectual diversion. I thought of it as some kind of hyper-digital I Ching. I thought of it as my Glass Bead Game.


Algorithm, Art, Astrology, Automata, Biology, Chaos, DIY, Maker, Man/Machine, Mathematics, Nature

Owen Schuh

“Owen Schuh uses mathematical procedures, sometimes with the aid of a calculator as well as bespoke drawing machines, to generate emergent drawings which evoke computational and natural system visualisations. One of the key aspects of Owen’s work is the use of simple formulae, iteratively, to direct the growth of complex structures – local calculations give rise to autonomous and unexpected global configurations.”


Algorithm, Animals, Automata, Bio hacking, Biology, Biometrics, DNA, Man/Machine, Medicine, Nature, Neural Networks, PDF, phenomenology, Science

The Algorithmic Origins Of Life

“To avoid an infinite regress, in which the blueprint of a self-replicating UC contains the blueprint which contains the blueprint . . . ad infinitum, Von Neumann proposed that in the biological case the blueprint must play a dual role: it should contain instructions – an algorithm – to make a certain kind of machine (e.g. UC – Universal Constructor) but should also be blindly copied as a mere physical structure, without reference to the instructions its contains, and thus reference itself only indirectly. This dual hardware/software role mirrors precisely that played by DNA, where genes act both passively as physical structures to be copied, and are actively read-out as a source of algorithmic instructions. To implement this dualistic role, von Neumann appended a “supervisory unit” to his automata whose task is to supervise which of these two roles the blueprint must play at a given time, thereby ensuring that the blueprint is treated both as an algorithm to be read–out and as a structure to be copied, depending on the context. In this manner, the organization of a von Neumann automaton ensures that instructions remain logically differentiated from their physical representation. To be functional over successive generations, a complete self-replicating automaton must therefore consist of three components: a UC, an (instructional) blueprint, and a supervisory unit.”

Algorithm, Ethics, Interface, Man/Machine, Mathematics, Nature, Neural Networks, philosophy, Robots, Science, Society, Tactical Media

Robot Ethnography

“Rather, the point of anthropology is typically to locate a people who are typically strange and foreign to us, and then relate the way in which those people live, showing not only how they are different from us but also how they are the same. In doing so, we learn not only about others, but also ourselves. So in that framework, I tend to agree with the critics who say that only way to give a vitalistic account of a robot society is by projecting too many human qualities onto the non-human. What is then left is a non-vitalistic ethnography: an account of a culture devoid of life. Like with Latour and agency, once we show that life is not a necessary criterion for this thing called culture, then the fun really begins — and you can see why lots of people would oppose this.”

Animals, Architecture, Bio hacking, Biology, Biometrics, Nature, phenomenology, Science, Tactical Media

Urban frogs use drains as mating megaphones

“This is perhaps the first study to show that an animal preferentially uses human-made structures to potentially enhance the sounds of its vocal communication signals,” says Mark Bee, a biologist at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, in St Paul. “These males could be taking advantage of the enhanced acoustics in drainage ditches to outdo their competition.”


Art, Automata, Biology, Biometrics, Film, History, Interface, Man/Machine, Music, Nature, Neural Networks, PDF, Robots, Science, Society, Sound, Tactical Media

Sholpo, Russian sound Art Histories and Generation Z

“Graphical (Drawn) Sound is a technology of synthesizing sound from light that was developed in Soviet Russia in 1929 as a consequence of the newly invented sound-on-film technology, which made possible access to the sound as a trace in a form that could be studied and manipulated. It also opened up the way for a systematic analysis of these traces such that they could be used to produce any sound at will. The laboratories that were soon created became the first-ever prototypes of the future centres for computer music. While most inventors of electronic musical instruments were developing tools for performers, the majority of methods and instruments based on Graphical Sound techniques were created for composers. Similar to modern computer music techniques, the composer could produce the final synthesized soundtrack without need for any performers or intermediates. At exactly the same time similar efforts were being undertaken in Germany by Rudolf Pfenninger in Munich and, somewhat later, by Oscar Fischinger in Berlin. Among the researchers working with Graphical Sound after World War II were the famous filmmaker Norman McLaren (Canada) and the composer and inventor Daphne Oram (UK)”


Animals, Biology, Biometrics, Brain, Farming, Nature, Neural Networks, Science

Cognitive Maps in Bees

“Experimentally captured and displaced bees often depart from the release site in the compass direction they were bent on before their capture, even though this no longer heads them toward their goal. When they discover their error, however, the bees set off more or less directly toward their goal. This ability to orient toward a goal from an arbitrary point in the familiar environment is evidence that they have an integrated metric map of the experienced environment.”


Algorithm, Animals, Biology, Biometrics, Brain, Film, Man/Machine, Medicine, Nature, Neural Networks, Science

Filming the World Laboratory Cybernetic History in Das Netz

“But in the brain as McCulloch and Pitts imagine it, computation does not proceed along an infinite linear tape. Instead, complex series of equations are mapped out as pathways through a finite network of neurons. Patterns of electrochemical impulses correspond to the propositions of symbolic logic, expressed in the mathematical terms developed earlier in the century by logical empiricists such as Carnap (with whom Pitts had studied).7 Thus, the very process of thinking in language becomes equivalent to neural computation. In this way, the two scientists arrived at their fundamental breakthrough, stated in the title of their 1943 paper: “A Logical Calculus of Ideas Immanent in Nervous Activity.”8 What they had done was to map out the possible circuits of feedback in the flesh.”


Algorithm, Animals, Art, Biology, Biometrics, Brain, Education, Man/Machine, Mathematics, Medicine, Nature, Neural Networks, philosophy, Science

Neuro inspired computational elements (Dyson Lecture)

“Alfred Smee (1818-1877) is known for publishing a series of books on a field he called electro-biology, the relation of electricity to the vital functions of the human body. He argued that instinct and reason could be deduced from electro-biology. For Smee, an idea consists of a collection of electrically stimulated nerve fibers. Using the technology of the 19th century, Smee conceived mechanical machines for presenting his ideas. Smee’s Relational Machine (so called because it represented the relationship between the various properties, comprising an idea), was intended to represent one thought, idea, or mental image at a time.”


Algorithm, Biology, DIY, Farming, Maker, Nature, Neural Networks, phenomenology, Science, Tactical Media

Earth Computer

“The earth computer conceives of a (computational) device of the same substance as the earth, to be embedded in the earth and embedding a quotation (after Edgar Allen Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym). The central conceit is the use of the earth itself as a dirty, irrational computational device. An attempt will be made to reproduce common components, such as memory, power supply, and CPU with earth-based elements; a form of computational land art. Techniques borrowed from the semiconductor and computer industry will be applied to the raw earth substrate either in situ (documented actions at Whitby) or as a speculative performance.”


Algorithm, Art, Bio hacking, DIY, DNA, Farming, Mathematics, Nature, Neural Networks, Robots, Science

Agricultural Printing/Altered Landscapes

“The project uses the idea of “Agricultural Printing” to explore the possibilities of digital fabrication carried over into farming. The experiment applies algorithms to partition and to create an environmentally beneficial structure into a standard biomass/energy production field. These additional areas establish, or improve, the connectivity for fauna and flora between habitats. This increased diversity also eases typical problems of monocultures e.g. less vermin → reduced usage of pesticides.”


Animals, Biology, Brain, Ethics, Nature, Science, Society

Canine Morality

“Interestingly, dogs even outsmart chimpanzees on some theory-of-mind tests. When a researcher points at one of two cups, for example, dogs almost always run to the cup that is pointed to, a sign that they have intuited what the scientist was thinking — i.e., that the researcher was trying to show the dog something. Chimps, by contrast, have no idea what we mean when we point at something.”

Algorithm, Bio hacking, Biology, DNA, Ethics, Man/Machine, Medicine, Nature, Science, Society

Autodesk Builds Its Own Virus, as the Software Giant Develops Design Tools for Life Itself

“Of course, putting these tools into more people’s hands carries risks as well. While scientists see great potential to create novel medicines, vaccines and nanomaterials, bad actors could attempt to use them to create bio-weapons.”


Algorithm, Art, Brain, Interface, Maker, Man/Machine, Music, Nature, Neural Networks, phenomenology, Science, Sound

Ralf Baecker is my hero.

“Ralf Baecker is an artist with a background in computer science, who works with and about technologie. He builds speculative machines and installations that investigate the digital and its cultural origin, with a focus on the encounter of thought and the (physical) world. He considers computers and cybernetic machines as epistemological hardware rather than tools.”


Biology, Brain, Education, Interface, Medicine, Nature, PDF, philosophy, Science, Society

Rythyms of the Brain

“Due to its ability to give rise to spontaneous activity, the brain does not simply process information but also generates information. As a result, the world outside is not simply “coded” by meaningless “bits” of neuronal spikes but gets embed- ded into a context, an important part of which is time.”

Biology, Brain, Nature, phenomenology, Science, Society

Social Spiders

“In laboratory experiments, the researchers showed that spiders exposed to the same group day after day developed stronger and more distinctive personalities than those that were shifted from one set of spiders to the next. Moreover, the spiders in a stable social setting grew ever less like one another over time.”


Art, Interface, Maker, Music, Nature, Science, Sound

Cloud Music (1974)

“… is the result of one such collaboration between three innovative and influential artists; Robert Watts, David Behrman and Bob Diamond. Robert Watts (1923- 1988) was the conceptual instigator for Cloud Music and a leading artist within Fluxus, one of the major avant-garde art movements of the late 20th century. As a trained engineer, he was an influential champion of non-traditional materials and regularly challenged the processes of art making. David Behrman (b. 1937) is an internationally recognized experimental music composer. He regularly collaborated with Merce Cunningham and John Cage, and continues to perform and exhibit multimedia installations worldwide. Bob Diamond (b. 1946) is an electrical engineer and mathematician who went to university at the age of 16. He was subsequently hired by NASA at 18 to work on Saturn Booster Rockets, (so his work is also represented at the National Air and Space Museum). In the late 60s, he turned his attention – and considerable technical aptitude – to begin working as an artist. Together these artists literally invented new technologies to realize a shared creative vision.”