Thursday, April 5, 2012

E is for Ecology

[This is the 5th of my April A-Z Challenge series of posts on Symbols, Glyphs, and Sigils. Each day I'll try to include some material that old-school role-playing gamers will find useful, but I can't guarantee that there won't also just be a few posts filled with weirdness for the sake of weirdness....]

Usually when one sees the word "ecology" these days, it's meant to refer to the natural, biological environment of planet Earth.  But people have extended the concept in so many other interesting ways.  The familiar Theta-like symbol is artist Ron Cobb's superposition of a lower-case "e" (for environment) with a lower-case "o" (for organism).  The intersection of these two terms is certainly general enough to reach beyond thoughts of endangered species and air pollution....

Piled on top of the natural biosphere is the multi-layered noosphere of human society and knowledge, and on top of that is the recent dawning of a global infosphere.  What could be next?  Thinkers from Teilhard de Chardin to Frank Tipler saw it all collapsing eventually toward an infinite-density Omega Point.  On the other hand, David Zindell, in his Neverness books, envisioned it all continually expanding outwards...
There is an ecology of information. Stars will die; people and gods will die, but information is conserved. Macroscopic information decays to microscopic information. But microscopic information is eventually concentrated. Nothing is lost. Gods exist to devour information. The lower intelligences sort, filter, concentrate and organize information. And the gods feed.
Zindell's "gods" are complex fusions of biology and computer, in the end expanding into uncountable quantum multiverses.  The "happy ending" of the story (of all stories?) is essentially that once Life reaches a certain level of complexity, it fills all of existence with its diversity and can never be completely extinguished.

Heady stuff!  Coming back down to the ground -- and to my daily refrain of real-life applications to RPG la-la land -- I think back to the multiple layers of social activity that Zak Sabbath laid out here.  It turns out that a tabletop role-playing game can contain a quite complex "ecology" of psychological interactions:
You get both Lord of the Rings and the Mystery Science Theatering of the Lord of the Rings. In this way, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts -- it's not just hanging out with your friends plus an adventure story plus the challenge of a game -- it's also and largely that fourth thing that only happens when all of them happen together.
People often talk about cognitive dissonance, but here's a place where the layers can play together in "cognitive consonance."  (Is that a thing?)  In any case, I think those of us on the "inside" may sometimes let familiarity dull the wonder that rightly should be directed at this many-layered, many-splendoured pastime of ours!

7 comments:

  1. Information
    Informatics Advanced World collects and shares highly scalable Informatics Data and organizes it for good interpretation, simple and understandable presentation so that any one can easily analyze and spread such Information.

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  2. I am Glad to See that random Words like "Information" need to be consistently Capitalized in such Spammy spam SPam SpaM...

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  3. 'You get both Lord of the Rings and the Mystery Science Theatering of the Lord of the Rings. In this way, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts -- it's not just hanging out with your friends plus an adventure story plus the challenge of a game -- it's also and largely that fourth thing that only happens when all of them happen together.'

    Emergence. A preoccupation of mine. Cyg, this post rocked.

    Re: Omega Point, heard of/read this: http://www.amazon.com/The-Physics-Immortality-Cosmology-Resurrection/dp/0385467990/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top ? Bell curve on the Amazon reviews but I remember liking it when I read it, about nine years ago. Lot has changed in the ecology of my own in the interim, tho ...

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    1. This, too, came to, ahem, mind: http://www.amazon.com/Steps-Ecology-Mind-Anthropology-Epistemology/dp/0226039056/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1333642264&sr=8-1

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  4. I didn't know about Bateson; thanks! I hope to run into Tipler some day...

    I hope that I made clear that the quote about the MSTing of LOTR wasn't my own... it's from Zak, who gives the lie to many tired stereotypes about D&D players... :-)

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  5. Noted.

    Had you heard of Tipler, before?

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    1. Yup... in my day job, there's an infamous few who escape into the wider world... Tipler, Sagan, Gregory Benford, even Brian May of Queen!

      Ah well... someday my PBS series will come... :-)

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