Thursday, November 6, 2008

Cellular play.

There is playing and there is playing. There are pyramids and there are pyramids. Because of my early history with systems theory I am leery of using such an abstract geometrical principle to describe the behavior of the purely organic socially complex and even colonized human being. Using pyramids to describe a hierarchy of needs as the Scottish Government so eloquently does, is probably more fundamentally useful than the gaming participation pyramids in terms of being a finished form. Systems theory teaches us that organic models describe organic systems more accurately. There is even the idea in emerging systems theory that you can build better machines and better digital systems if you use natural complex organic systems as the model. Usually it is the reverse. As in "your brain is a computer", which is meaningful in a sort of one dimensional sense. The intercession of DNA means that your brain is an order or more more complex than the system described by "computer". The internet was modeled after the brain, and so it becomes a more organic and compelling model. As we shifted in magnitudes and orders of complexity with the internet we began to be able to see understand and use natural systems more and more as models of the types of projects that we wanted to create.

Rather than placing such an emphasis on the low number of people who are creating the content or pushing forwards the interactive aspect of the small part of a system we are looking at, I prefer to see it in more fractal terms, more repeating self similar terms.

In the artists community in the city way back when there were vast tracts of unused industrial buildings to be repurposed as studios, we used the analogy of a cellular system. The eukaryote cell naturally, that great symbiotic structure of combined abilities. Like great wandering group of (hyperspecialized) superheroes the cell has many functioning and useful subsets of members. There was an understanding that in a large scene a smaller set of people were actually mostly responsible for setting the stage. This we saw as the nucleus, and it is easy to dismiss the rest as "lurkers" I suppose.

In reality the *rest* of everybody in a scene all have very unique and important participatory roles to play. It was something I caught a hint of in the 21'st century ideas report on EXTREME-SCALE COLLABORATION. The statement:

"Perhaps most important is working the participation pyramid: not everyone will participate equally but everyone has something to offer."

struck me very deeply.

We say "everyone has a place on the great hoop of life"... the doctors say that.

In a cell, different small sub components perform all sorts of functions. The endoplasmic reticulum creates special tubes and spaces in which proteins are synthesized and moved, the mitochondria produce atp and energy currency, chloroplasts photosynthesize and also create energy reserves in the cells own currencies of proton exchange. The golgi bodies move these bits around, lysomes help digest material and some extrusomes help repel other systems that are threatening.

It is an endless complexity of metaphor.

Ten years after we started repurposing the city we had to create a sort of unicellular being. We scrapped together parades and clowns and vaudeville acts and puppets and even a coffeehouse and brought in the era of the small scale collaboration between large scale collaborators. A combined purpose negotiated by the "nucleus" artists of several cellular scenes.

The reasoning was to build bridges between the cognitive constructs of urban and rural. Just like the Hog Farm had their rural Black Oak Ranch and their urban Berkeley pad there was need from the younger artists to be able to flow between the very social urban centers and the clear air, water, work and clean food of the countryside retreats.

Except we never owned anything. We were born after that boom...*the boom*. All the money evaporated as we came of age didn't matter...we made a scene anyway. We used the street, we used the public dancehalls, we used the woods and the desert and the old cow palace. What mattered the most was the sticky behavior, owning the place was nice however you could always just borrow it. We had no choice. Owning was a matter of attitude. So what if they throw us all out onto the streets of downtown LA in the middle of the night in full costume, walking on stilts and painted and nearly naked. So what if our parents were there, and the permits were valid. You still can not take the circus out of the mystic and you can nott take the mystic out of the circus.

The secret clown cell society continued. It matured beyond the loose conglomeration of cells that simply floats and wonders into a seemingly solid yet diversely independent Portuguese man of war. P. physalis, or the blue bottle as it is sometimes known, is a swarm of swarms and a conglomeration of cells that themselves conglomerate. It is called Siphonophorae, and it is a colony that appears similar to a jellyfish (which is an individual). A formed colony that forms colonies.

The zooids do this by being morphologically and functionally specialized. Unlike the highly specialized bunch of superheroes involved in the group production that is our cells, the siphonophorae are composed of mostly two types of form; medusoid and polyploid zooids that cannot really live apart. These two simple forms are diversely expressed so that specialized structures can be produced by the group organism, including creating a sail for floating and moving, stinging tentacles, Gonozoids for reproduction and even light emitting structures that produce rare red bioluminescence.

Small fish can even have a commensal symbiotic relationship and live among the tentacles. Several of the units can band together, strung together like a long feather boa and even hunt underwater. Colonies and large scale groupings of blue bottles moving in huge swarms are common.

These natural structures give me great inspiration for extreme scale collaboration, because they remind us that many of the answers we are seeking are written already in the book of nature. As long as we can stop burning libraries down long enough to learn to read the wonder written there.


Jane said...

thank you -- this is enormously interesting and insightful! what a great essay... many, many thanks for sharing it.

NZLTA said...

Agreed! Really interesting read, and useful ideas to feed into some of the things I've been mulling over lately too. =) Thanks!

rtgarden2019 said...

Such great collaborative company is an inspiration.