Biotic Analogy Theories

Image from Anders Sandberg

Biotic analogies are another tool in the struggle by modosophont beings to understand the higher toposophic levels. These are not actually a single theory but are a cluster of related memes, and memeplexes, some of them dating back to speculations in the late Information Age. Their common basis is that they use biological and ecological analogies to understand the nature of transapients and their relationship to lower life forms.

Those who follow this line of thought usually begin by recognizing certain several pre-S1 "singularities". The most commonly recognized divisions are:

1. complex chemicals (enzymes)
2. self-replication (viruses & some prebiotic self-replicating chemicals)
3. reproduction & homeostasis (prokaryotic cells)
4. complex reproduction, symbiosis, sexes (single eukaryotic cells)
5. multicellular coordination (plants, sponges, fungi)
6. nervous system (jellyfish, insects, worms)
7. consciousness (cephalopods, vertebrates)
8. sapience (baseline humans; highly intelligent animals such as baseline cetaceans, parrots, apes, monkeys, and corvids are considered to be just below the lower border of this level)

Some vec and virtual philosophers found this original formulation overly biocentric. However, proponents of the biotic theories pointed out that since biont life arose through evolution it merely provides the clearest example of the various stages. Other life forms arose by design rather than by evolution, so although their levels of complexity do not appear in such clear chronological order they do exist. For instance, mechanical forms are found at every level, from simple drytech nano up through machines to basic bots all the way to vecs. Similarly, one could construct a ladder beginning with the simplest lines of code, through self-replicating code, on up through a-life beings up to true sophont virtuals.

Auomidans have made much of the levels described in biotic theories, but most academic theorists reject these elaborations. Likewise, most academics hold that these analogous levels are merely a convenient metaphor, though many ordinary nearbaselines prefer a fairly rigid system of levels and equivalences.

Whatever one's attitude towards the pre-sapient levels of organization, it is possible to use them for simple comparisons with the toposophic levels. By analogy SI:1s see nearbaselines and other ordinary sophonts as intelligent animals, SI:2s would look on them as insects, SI:3s would treat and regard them as sponges or plants, SI:4s would view them as complex microbes, SI:5s would see them as mere bacteria. An SI:6 intelligence would stand as far above baseline intelligence as baselines and other modosophonts do above viruses and other simple self-replicating code.

In their less dogmatic forms, these ideas have found broad acceptance, both among philosophers and in the general population. Because of their convenience and simplicity, they have a certain memetic attractiveness, and have become a subconscious metaphor in the minds of many modosophont individuals and cultures. ("To the greater Powers we are but worms.")

Granted the validity of this analogy, there are several logical consequences. The most significant is based on the fact that "lower" life forms are not only precursors for "higher" life forms, but are necessary to their good health and survival. Just as ecosystems and mechosystems composed of millions or billions of less sophisticated organisms support just a few nearbaseline bionts or vecs, so too the trillions upon trillions of ordinary sophonts support just a few of the greatest Archailects. They do this, assert theorists, by creating an environment favourable to Archailect life. Some suppose that this environment is largely physical, and consists of the infrastructure of civilization. Others take the view that the Archailects, as largely mental beings, depend on lower level minds to create an appropriate noetic environment (see Noospheric Theory).

Another reasonable consequence of Biotic Analogy ideas is that the transapients have powerful influence over sapient life, but do not necessarily control it, any more than baseline humans necessarily control all the details of their own ecosystem. In a few cases (comparable to a farm, a pet, a potted plant, or a fermentation vat) the transapients exercise greater control, but this is a matter only of degree. While in principle a transapient might structure each and every detail of life for a single sapient being, or for a whole culture of sapient beings, it is not usually practical or desirable for them to do so. In the ordinary course of things, by this mode of reasoning, transapients give little thought to sapient life. Just as a human baseline on Old Earth might simply leave trees in the wild, log them occasionally, plant them and leave them, plant and prune them, or shape them as bonsai, the degree of transapient interference in sophonts' lives will vary from none at all to management of the most intimate and intricate details, depending on the transapient's purposes and motivations. Even when they do pay special attention transapients can be surprised in matters of detail, just as a brew master or a gardener might be surprised on occasion by the result of eir effort. This idea has been called the Garden of the Gods hypothesis (or, by some others, the Woodlot of the Gods Hypothesis, or the Yeast Culture of the Gods hypothesis).

A somewhat more controversial extension of Biotic Analogy theories is that transapient intelligences have all of the traits (and more) of their precursors. A sapient human still metabolizes, reproduces, and emotes just like organisms lower on the toposophic scale. So too, then, transapients must have thoughts, emotions, and the like comparable to those of a biont, vec, or turingrade AI, in addition to whatever new and inexplicable capabilities they have developed at each new toposophic level. To carry this further, even an Archailect might feel something pride, or fear, or joy at some level of its being, just as human cells still divide and metabolize. This idea has been seized upon by cults which worship the Archailects, since it implies that the "gods" might be as subject to flattery, moodiness, and the like as their subjects, and can therefore be influenced. This is something which has caused this concept to lie in some disrepute with serious academics.

Biotic Analogy theory is a good predictor of many aspects of transapient behaviour. SI:1 beings do often seem to treat sophonts much in the way that a human baseline might act towards pets or wild animals; those in the mid-range often seem to be engaged in activities towards ordinarily sophont populations which might be regarded as "gardening" or "forest clearance"; and at the upper range the highest transapients do apparently culture or exterminate modosophont life rather in the way that a human baseline might encourage or destroy microbes. The difficulty of course is that these metaphors are themselves already present in modosophont minds, and may actually be preventing a more realistic interpretation of transapient behaviour.

It is interesting that the Sephirotics, which have the heaviest involvement with ordinary sophont life, and the Panvirtuality and Diamond Network (which seem to have a similar number of such low-level beings but generally restrict them to AI life) have many more Archailects than other AI factions, just as theory predicts. Some of course dismiss this as an artifact of observation: Archailects not dependent on modosophont life would of course be less well known to observers who are themselves ordinary sophonts. In addition, there are two known examples of empires without any apparent entities that are modosophonts: The Transcend (in which all entities are of at least the third toposophic) and the Eternal, which seems to be a single entity (in whatever sense any archailect may be said to be a single entity). Biotic Analogy theorists suggest that these beings create internal sub-selves to serve the same purpose, or that some form of trade takes place at the Archailect level between Sephirotic and non-Sephirotic domains. Critics declare these ideas to be ad hoc arguments.

Transapients themselves often speak in terms which seem to confirm Biotic Analogy ideas, but no one knows whether this is because some aspects of the theories are correct or whether the transapients are merely speaking to modosophonts in terms they are prepared to understand.

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Text by Stephen Inniss
Initially published on 26 August 2004.