An Artificial World

(From my comment over at DM’s blog, inspired by a conversation with Sean and a post by Shlok.)

The greatest change every to befall earth is not climate, or glaciation, or any of that: it is the rising-up of a artificial genome-plex — that giant interspecies culture that began with a few proto-chimpanzees kicked out of the forest and now stands at hundreds of species that that are “artificial” — man, dog, cat, cow, horse, and others. Of all large animals that existed before this new community, every one has since been domesticated (that is, breeding has led to the survival of docile offspring while the rest have been allowed to die off) or kept around for amusement (elephants, rhinos, and the rest)

This has never happened before.

10,000 years ago the artificial genome-plex radically expanded its scope, adding plants to its army. Corn, wheat, barley, potatoes — all manner of plant species that could not exist by themselves in the wild — were artificially created from free ancestors.

When Jurassic Park came out, the idea of bringing dinosaurs back to life seemed incredible. I think now it’s just as much a matter of time. Same thing for other extinct animals, and extinct plants.

The genome-plex is preparing to cross time.

What Jurassic fruits taste the sweetest? Which plants eaten by the triceratops would make good raw material for ethanol? I think we’ll live to have a good idea of the answer to these questions.

We live in a world, radically artificial twice over, and we haven’t begun to see what it will hold.

27 thoughts on “An Artificial World”

  1. Wow. Now *this* is an interesting “take” on things.
    Interesting observation. (As for my opinion, well, can't make up my mind on it yet. Would like to see others' take first….)

  2. Somewhat creepy, perhaps, but promising as long as we think these possibilities in terms of science (maybe).

    “We live in a world, radically artificial twice over” ~ have you read Baudrillard?

  3. Dan,
    I absolutely agree. Few people, particularly earth worshipers, realize how changed the earth's landscape is from human hands, outside some old stone ruins. Indeed, when this change is recognized, it is regarded somehow unnatural, yet this has been going on since apes could swing a bone. Books like “The World Without Us”[1] fetishize the fantasy that human change is unnatural. Or, even more bizarre, those who argue that it would have been better that we not exist at all. [2]
    It reaches the heights of hilarity when such people worship the aboriginal as an Rousseuian perfect man. Yet, it was the Australian aborigines who contrived to sail to Australis en mass, then proceeded to burn the low forests that existed there, driving out and killing the man-eating giant lizards that greeted them and forever changing the landscape of the continent. It was also the Indian of meso-America that that derived corn from a weed that looks nothing like its moder ancestor, a much more difficult feat than those who cultivated wheat or rye.
    So, yes, this is in many ways an artificial world, but it has become so in the most natural of ways and to to see our genetic tinkering as anything but a continuation of such is to be ignorant of history.



  4. Someone is working on re-incarnating extinct plant species? I'd love a link on that, if its happening already.

    I'm still impatiently waiting for my pet woolly mammoth. From what I understand, the only real problem is the logistics of getting a successful birth from an elephant.

  5. A nifty article on “biobricks,” which would be shocking if we hadn't been doing the same thing (creating new, coopted species from old, free ones) for thousands of years. [1]


    Looking forward to your opinion!


    No, but I just read the wikipedia article on him after I read your comment. 🙂

    (I must have come across the name while reading Matrix and Philosophy, but aside from the incompressible idea of simulwhatever it is I don't think I remembered much 🙂 )


    Absolutely agree.


    I don't know of any present work on cloning extinct plants, but I see nothing to stop it.

    Cloned extinct animals would have an entirely different epigenome than their ancient twins (a wild woolly mammoth would grow up in a womb of mammoth cytoplasm, while a cloned up presumably would be influenced by the elephant cytoplasm)… but if you could make it dwarf enough, that would be a cute pet!


  6. Dan,
    I'm happy you were able to understand what I was writing as now that I look at it, it is filled with typos. Such is the danger of writing quickly under the stress of “It's late, aren't you coming to bed?!” coming from my girlfriend.

  7. “When Jurassic Park came out, the idea of bringing dinosaurs back to life seemed incredible. I think now it's just as much a matter of time. Same thing for other extinct animals, and extinct plants.”

    Well, assuming that the atmosphere will not be an obstacle in bringing back extinct animals and plants. After all, isn't the size of curtain extinct animals attributed to the fluctuation of oxygen in the atmosphere, with Dinosaurs existing during of time of thinner oxygen and required a larger set of lungs to breath?

  8. ElamBend,

    I wouldn't be comparing the charms of a blog with a lady if you want to keep her! 🙂


    Hadn't heard that — do you have any more on that theory?

  9. The timing of this thread is fantastic. This semester I've heard several professors say that history was not progressive, and I was trying to think of a way to argue the opposite point. That the world and life itself is artificially manipulated by human beings would seem to be an interesting way to refute that claim. Cool post.

  10. zenpundit,

    That would lead to /real/ race problem!


    How would you define history? (A serious question.) How can someone say a certain place and time is in history, and another place and time is in pre-history?

    My assumption is that it has something to do with the rate of spread of technology…

  11. “Bring back the Neanderthal”

    After reading the Pygmy post the above disturbs me. Would be brought back as food or as cheap slave labour?

    Jeez, If Europe depopulates…would there use Neanderthal “guest workers”? Maybe not. Maybe they would see that as a better alternative to muslims. Yikes. What about aging China? Or Russia? Hmm…Would/could Korean missionaries Christianize them? Would they have human rights? How could they communicate? This would make an interesting Science Fiction novella or blog post.

  12. zenpundit,

    Unsure about how neanderthals would vary from us. Whatever the difference, it seems enough to have been killed off in relatively short order, even in areas where they were physically more adapted.

    Adam & Purpleslog,

    Interesting thoughts!

  13. Not sure eating golem would be a good idea, Elam. Not sure eating any of the Middle Earth races would be a good idea except maybe the Elves and Hobbits, and I can think of better things to do with them (especially the elven women);)

  14. Oklahoma has a lock on neanderthals for the football team.

    @Michael: I don't want to eat the golem, just for them to do my work and mayber dress in blue tights, red boots and a cape to go flying around a saving people.

  15. “How would you define history? (A serious question.) How can someone say a certain place and time is in history, and another place and time is in pre-history?

    My assumption is that it has something to do with the rate of spread of technology…”

    I don't think I could provide a definition, but here are a few thoughts:

    I agree regarding technology. I would say that writing and text itself is a form of technology, and any historical period prior to literacy is considered pre-history.

    I wouldn't say that there is a single Objective history that progresses through time, but different subjective understandings of history. History implies a specific ideational image of technology, and maybe social organization as well.

    Maybe it's about how ideas about technology evolve over time, and how they influence an individual's perception of the world over time. The existence of nuclear weapons might be an example of how one technology changes ideas about conventional interstate war and its usefulness. As a historical outcome, it couldn't have happened unless the ideas about war in the international system had forced states to develop new technologies as a means to increase military capacity.

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