Can a computer program bring
I had been thinking about my biomorph computer program and securing a place to conduct this experiment for years, but the one obstacle that stood in my way was removed only this last December 23rd, 1995.
Biomorphs are computer-generated objects which exhibit lifelike behaviors. The name for them came from a previous experimenter in this field, an Oxford zoologist named Dawkins, who had borrowed the word from Desmond Morris for animal-like shapes in Morris's own surrealistic paintings. One could just as rightly described the unutterably monstrous and worse-than-perverse abominations of Hieronymus Bosch's fear-conceived canvases as "biomorphs," but it was not the often chimeric forms that biomorphic constructions took which interested me, except as such forms bear directly on their functions and behaviors. This is what I had wanted to study in a brand new way and in greater depth than previous computer scientists and evolutionary theorists, but, unlike all these others, my concern was not with life as it actually is on Earth. My biomorphs, while programmed to exhibit basic life functions, would be far too simple for worthwhile comparison to be made with real living beings competing for survival in complex environments, and their environments would be narrowly defined. I agreed that artificial systems which exhibit lifelike behaviors were interesting and worthy of investigation in their own rights, whether or not we think that the processes that they mimic have played a role in the development or mechanics of life as we already know it to be, but this was not what my experiment was about.
I felt that my own unique idea could help us expand our understanding of life as it could be, or perhaps as it was very long ago on the Earth before the fossil record even begins, or as it is in very remote regions of the universe, or as it might be in the distant future of our own planet.
What I had needed was a "closed system," that is, a computer isolated from all others with its own electrical power source, isolated from all other mainframes, websites, etc., and not accessible from outside. It would have to be clear from phone lines and any other extraneous source of contamination. Since hackers managed to find their way into CIA computers and wreak havoc with computer viruses, I had long ago judged no system to be safe. What I had needed and wanted was my own independent and isolated source of alternate electrical power either in an isolated location or in a soundproof room. I had a gasoline-run generator, but lacked a feasible working locale.
When I first heard that Sonja Teleki died it meant nothing to me: I didn't know her. She had been a Doctor of Obstetrics and Gynecology in Hungary and had come to the United States in the 1970's after having defected from the Communist regime. She was a distant relative that neither my family nor I knew; or if my parents knew of her they never mentioned her or her circumstances. She died and left me her property: a huge house in the Echo Lake area of Mountainside, NJ. The house was situated on a hill in the foothill portion of the Appalachian Mountains called the Watchung Mountains. There was nothing strange about this and she did make her reasons for leaving me her property known in her will: I was an educated woman like her. At first I considered this an inconvenience since I never wanted to own a home and thought I'd have to go through the trouble of selling it. As it turned out, it was a windfall.
The first and second story of the interior of the house, as well as the attic, were in excellent condition with furniture, of a modest style, all intact and in place. The house, as I soon discovered, was not just built on the mountain; it was built in the mountain, cut into the solid rock, and extended far below what one could see when viewing the house from outside. The cellar was exceptionally deep and was connected to an additional and equally deep sub-cellar by a sturdily built staircase. The cellar was clean and well-kept with the only furniture being a large old-fashioned kitchen table, one upholstered chair, a fold-up cot and two large bookshelves containing mostly standard, but also new, medical textbooks on neurology and genetics. The sub-cellar was completely empty and there were no signs of dust or mildew, but there were also no signs of furniture ever having been there. Like the cellar, the sub-cellar consisted of one large room with several round, large, floor-to-ceiling beams. It was in the sub-cellar that I received my windfall.
In the sub-cellar was a well or rounded shaft cut even deeper down into the mountain. At the bottom of the well was a very rapidly flowing stream. In the past I had tried using a gasoline-run generator to keep my computer isolated, but the noise had been unbearable not only to me but to neighbors. I also had only been able to continue working on my project after normal working hours in the evenings, when neighbors were home and bothered by the noise. Here I would easily be able to harness the power of this deep, underground, rushing stream and generate enough power to run my computer by setting up an hydraulic turbine at the bottom of the well. Here I had an independent, isolated power source that would not disturb anyone or make undue noise. The diameter of the well measured four feet, which enabled me to easily got to the bottom to set up equipment by the stream. And this I did do. Apart from this, the entire house, including the sub-cellar, was hooked up to the standard city power source. I chose to locate my computer room in the sub-cellar, isolated from the rest of the house. At the time it never occurred to me to wonder why there was an electrical power hookup, including wall-outlets, in this bare room. After all, Sonja Teleki didn't build the house and the original builders may well have used this sub-cellar; indeed, they may have used the shaft or well to get drinking water from the stream. Would anyone conclude otherwise? I didn't give it a second thought.
In addition to inheriting her home to do with as I chose, I discovered that she left me a rather large sum of money, enough to retire on, if chose to live in her home or at least not sell it to strangers. This was a larger windfall than most might imagine. I had been reluctant to apply for a standard government or private research grant, which would have required me to detail my theory and demonstrate my computer program. I did not want to end up like Lise Meitner or Rosalind Franklin, whose ideas and work were stolen by men who not only received credit and reward for the women's ideas, but had since come down in history as The Discoverers while these two women had been nearly forgotten. After all, who has heard that Meitner, in her lab in Germany, was the first to succeed in producing fission with uranium? Who has heard of Franklin's discovery of the DNA helix? Yet anyone could visit Germany and see "Otto Hahn's lab," and everyone has heard of Watson and Crick. It would be I, Brenda Temurov, who would get the credit and possibly (hopefully) a Nobel Prize. But I digress.
By mid-February, of 1996, I was settled in my new home with everything, including my computer and its separate power source set up; all I had to do was begin structuring and then initiating my biomorph program. I didn't have to rush into anything; I was now self-sufficient with plenty of time to work at my own pace. I decided to bring a few conveniences into the sub-cellar: battery-run hot-plate, coffee, sugar and the like. I'd start work the next morning and, in the meantime, relax in the cellar and peruse some of the books Sonja Teleki had on her shelves. The newer books on neurology and genetics peaked my interests just a tad. I fell asleep in the middle of Dr. Antonio Damasio's neurology book, Descartes' Error.
There was absolutely nothing remarkable in the books I scanned to cause the dream, but the first night in my new home I had a very disturbing dream. There is nothing about the dream I can remember with detail except the overall feeling of extreme stress that permeated throughout, which did not abate when I partially awoke. There were images I recalled, bloody images but nothing choate, and an in-general feeling of pursuit, of being pursued by -- an "impact of word-forms" whispering after me that could have been triggered by the books I scanned before sleeping. There was a sticky quality to the dream, as in the type of dream where you are pursued but can't run anywhere because you are running through syrup and wearing high-heeled shoes with one shoe having a broken heel requiring you to run awkwardly as if clubfooted. In such dreams, it never occurs to the dreamer to take off her shoes. What seemed to be pursuing me were -- whispers! Phrases: "The placental birth." "The neural net." "The axonic bodies." "The foetal attachment."
Psychologically, if one caters to such notions, I could see some vague meaning in the dream. I was single. I never desired marriage or the permanent company of any male sale for the on-the-spot satisfaction of a sexual urge. I regarded men, once they'd developed an obsession for one woman they called "love," as pest and whiners with all the time in the world to waste engaging in primate grooming behaviors. Even intelligent men with interesting things to talk about became imbeciles when they "fell in love." Then their conversations held about as much interest for me as someone's housewife telling me that she mowed her lawn: her statement made out of context and with no meaning to me or anyone else save that she'd be trying to say something to make conversation (make noise). I did not want children and considered having any of my own a complete and boring waste of my time. I had always been a creature of the mind, primarily interested in things of the mind. A crying, babbling and diaper-dirty human was something that held my attention for less than five seconds. I had always had, as such, a passion for knowledge and not for people and, even at a very young age, concluded that "the family act" was an outmoded comedy. Now I inherited a perfect place and a lot of money to pursue knowledge from a complete stranger. I knew almost nothing about Sonja Teleki and didn't care to know anything about her. But what I did know, combined with my own personal views and feelings, may have caused the stressful dreams: she was a Doctor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, a pregnant-woman doctor, a baby doctor; I had just scanned her books on neurology and genetics. The whispering, pursuing phrases of my nightmare all had to do with subjects that centered around Sonja Teleki or, at least, her job and studies. Yet she had herself been a woman after my own heart who had bequeathed all of this to me not in spite of my independence but because of it. What bothered me the most, however, and what I found hard to dismiss were the continued whisperings of the same phrases that I heard after I was partially awake: awake enough to tell myself I had a bad dream and then consciously strain to listen to what was making a whispering sound! Nonetheless, this was quickly dismissed as I focused on the work ahead of me.
My ideas were actually quite simple, or at least I thought so. I was a veteran, from my student days at Newark College of Engineering, of the famous "Core Wars," a game played by me and other computer addicts around the country. The idea behind these games was to write computer programs that compete against each other for processing time and space in a computer's memory. The idea struck me that this was itself a feature of Life as Darwin had conceived it: animals compete against one another for food and territory. The idea and the comparison with living things were not original with me, of course, because so-called "computer viruses" do just that: they unintentionally, or most likely through sabotage or vandalism, take over personal computers, workstations, and mainframe around the world, infecting them, that is, overwriting important data, files and instructions, and even damaging many computer's operating systems. Computer viruses contain instructions for their own reproduction and can thereby spread via transfer to magnetic media, such as discs and tapes. Some viruses consist of programs that can run independently, traveling from computer to computer through the now burgeoning global computer network, the Internet, etc. Such was my own concern for an isolated system immune to such damage. I also made sure to keep my own data on discs never used on any other computer and to never use a foreign disc in my own computer. Indeed, every disc I used, one for each of my programs, was fresh and new, and each one of my separate programs, which would run continuously without necessary supervision, would run through its own hard drive. I couldn't risk information from one program seeping into another. In truth, what I referred to as "my computer" was in fact "my computers."
I did not indulge in the speculation rife among many theoreticians who wonder if such things as computer viruses and other vandalware, such as more esoteric forms known as Trojan horses, logic bombs, and trapdoors, are really "alive." A coworker at my former job had shown me a newspaper cutting in which the world-famous physicist and "architect" of black hole theory, Stephen Hawking, had stunned a conference of scientists by stating that, while computers themselves, as they exist today, are not alive and do not "think," he believed that computer viruses were alive in that they fit many proposed scientific definitions as to "What is Life." They did not fit my definition of life, however, because they lacked one ingredient in a hard-science definition of living things that I subscribed to: it is not so important that a living thing can reproduce itself! After all, crystals are not alive but they do reproduce and actual viruses, the kind that cause everything from runny noses of AIDS, completely lack any machinery to reproduce! To me what was most important to the question of "What is Life" had agreement with NASA's exobiologists, who hold the view that a living thing evolves, most probably according to the laws set forth by Charles Darwin. So if we see something showing evolution, it is alive. I thought this idea worked very well: by this definition, crystals and computer viruses are not alive because they never evolve, but a rhinovirus, which causes the common cold, is alive even if it cannot reproduce and can remain inert and "inanimate," so to speak, for centuries. It is alive because it does show evolution. In fact, it evolves so fast that there can never be a cure for it: the virus always evolves into a new strain resistant to any medicine initially effective against it.
I conceived my biomorphs to be like computer viruses and other such "vandalware." Whether or not they would behave like living things and evolve would be borne out by my environmental program, which ran along strict lines of Darwinian evolution as this was originally conceived, that is, a program that would not include ecological catastrophes.
My first program was one I simply called "Darwin." I generated my biomorphs using strings of computer code rather than the way bodies are generated by genes. I programmed my computer to carry out minor changes or "mutations" in the codes describing each type of biomorph. My computer could, at any time, display the shape or form of these biomorphs, including new ones which developed by mutation, at any time on the monitor. The program included a feature I called "crossover," in which biomorphs of close enough type, whether originally put into the program by me or whether they were ones that developed on their own through random mutation, could pass to each other bits of the computer codes out of which they were constructed, thereby producing offspring and even new species of biomorphs if the codes were mutated in any way. To simplify things for this basic program, I did not attempt to program any kind of artificial environment in which the biomorphs performed tasks. This would have been too difficult, especially to simulate any kind of environment even remotely as complex as the real world. Instead, my program selected biomorphs for survival or extinction in regards only to competing for time and space in my computer's memory, and in regards to each other. This was actually more like what goes on in tropical rain forests, wherein life is more diverse than anywhere else on the known Earth, for in those lush and teeming breeding grounds the environment is monotonous and steady, and living things there are known to adapt and select more in relationship to each other than directly in relationship to the environment. They will, in other words, adapt primarily to what other life forms prey upon them, interfere with their food collection, get in their way when locomoting, provide beneficial services, etc. They evolve more in relation to this biotic environment than to climate, available nutrients, etc. It is strictly Darwinian, but simplified, so this model was eminently useful to me at this early stage.
Just as a good word processor can reduce a typed character to a single dot and display the entire layout of a page on the screen as a shaded area, I programmed my computer to display its memory capacity as a spherical globe on the screen, which I called my "food puff." This shaded area stood for the many megabytes of memory for which the biomorphs would compete, i.e., their food. All was in place to begin running my program. It may seem artificial, but the entire "nutrient supply," (food puff) of the entire virtual planet Earth was sitting in a single blob on the screen. And in this world mutations would occur very rapidly, so that I could actually see what life forms developed or emerged, something no human has ever done in real life. Even the simplest processes of biological evolution are so long spanning, humans don't live long enough to see even the beginnings of evolutionary change. In my virtual environment, time would be "speeded up," and I'd to able to witness my Darwin Program of evolution at work.
When I set my program in motion, I was astonished and delighted at the richness of morphological types that emerged very rapidly before my eyes. The original crew of biomorphs consisted of only five types or "species," which I named Abb, Bibb, Cibb, Dibb and Ebb. Their shapes were know to me for I constructed them based on their codes and chose them only for aesthetic reasons. One of my favorites was Dibb, which looked like a tiny bat-winged insect. Soon there were entire populations of them gnawing dents in the food puff, clamoring past one another, and past new types, which mutation produced. I was delighted and pleased that such a simple but powerful program could produce such a wonderful range of artificial "living" things without recourse to "god" or a "creator." I, in fact, designed the entire thing, but I did not design what emerged as the program was run, which would have been too complex for any programmer to foresee and set up. I watched in awe as one type mutation, which appeared suddenly when offspring of Bibb mated with Cibb, was too large to butt its way past the other teeming populations of biomorphs, which, at that time, numbered over two dozen types. This large biomorph could not get into the food puff and was the first loser in the game that Darwin rightly called "the struggle for survival!" I observed the evolving biomorphs exhibit counterparts to such biological phenomena as symbiosis, parasitism, biological "arms races," niche seizure, etc. I did not put any of this into the original program!
As such, the days ran smoothly as did my Darwin Program, with the only odd thing being the strange dreams I kept having. All of the dreams were the same as the first, with only the word-phrases changing. Abruptly I'd be in the dream: pursued. Always there was non-scenery, not the lack of scenery, but "non-scenery," a subtle difference. I seemed to be nowhere, unable to flee anywhere, yet was being pursued by whispers: "The bonded dispersion." "The nutrient cycling." "The vegetative mosaic." "The parsimonious radiations." "The monotonous diversity." Yet only with the continued watching of my Darwin Program, as it played itself out, did these word-phrases come to have any meaning. They were all disparate, qualified substantives in an odd, compacted-synthetic form which had to do with evolution.
Using a fresh disc, I created a modified version of Darwin while keeping the initial program running independently. In the past the notion of moving continents and catastrophes had been put forth by cultures with their own oral doctrines, or by crackpot occultists who heard the original from members of these oral cultures and then took the information and did what they chose to do with it. I always wondered why such people even bothered to ask and bother these cultures about their oral history if they intended to ignore what they were told and then invent lies and worse: claim that "priests of these oral cultures" had told them all they knew. If anything, these religious fools only served to keep any serious consideration of such notions out of the hard sciences, not to mention the disservice they did to these other cultures. With more hard evidence lining up to prove the reality of continental drift, which would cause catastrophe, and proof that more devastating and random catastrophes did occur, Steven J. Gould and Niles Eldredge postulated a modified Darwinian theory called "Punctuated Equilibrium." Life evolved along Darwinian lines and attained an equilibrium. Then a random or other catastrophe, a punctuation, would cause massive extinctions. Then simultaneous diversification of the remaining life would ensure: Darwinian evolution would follow. This was to be my next program, which I chose to call the Gould Program.
I put the Darwin Program into another, separate hard drive and added the new, more realistic element to it. My Gould Program included a "fitness landscape" like that which the real world contained: mountains and valleys, light sources, etc., which was constantly changing. I had the computer clock turn a pink light on and off the screen every second, simulating a diurnal light source. My Gould Program was more complex in another way: I began it with seven original biomorphs -- two more than the original five in the Darwin Program -- called Fibb, Gibb, Hibb, Ibb, Jibb, Kibb and Libb, plus an ancestral organism I called "Cell," which spawn them: like the Nobel Laureate Christian de Duve's "The Ancestor of All Life." Cell survived throughout the program, but not in any direct competition against its spawn, like real cells. I programmed Cell to sire other biomorphs in the course of the program at random and at random times, and made it sexless. I speeded this program up considerably, too, so that each generation of biomorph could only live about thirty seconds or so on the average, enabling me to observe time passing even faster. Since I knew from the success of my Darwin Program that my virtual Earth would shortly be teeming with all sorts of new biomorphs, and since this program was even more speeded up, I had been afraid that my computer's memory would get overloaded, which would just freeze the entire virtual ecosystem. Therefore I put in saving subroutines, which actually made my Gould Program even more realistic. One subroutine automatically randomly killed off old, error-prone organisms who might otherwise have had no direct predators. I called this subroutine "Disease," and this worked like diseases in real life. I wanted organisms to die primarily because greedier and more successful organisms monopolized resources, as in real life, predator and prey. I also added an historical element to this program, a subroutine I called "Asteroid," which caused periodic, random, and wholesale extinctions of even young and fit species. I also included a subroutine I called "Continent," which modified the fitness landscape in ways that were completely independent of the biomorphs, ever creating new ecological niches for living things. By analogy, Continent would suddenly create or destroy variously sized parts of the computer's memory, effectively depriving random populations of biomorphs of their "food and living space" when they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, as had happened in real life when continents drifted apart or crashed into each other.
I set this program in motion, watching the pink light come on for "the first day" as Cell spawned Fibb, Gibb, Hibb, Ibb, Jibb, Kibb and Libb. These newborns ambulated about the food puff, and immediately copied themselves into free space in the computer's memory, as expected. Soon new kinds of biomorphs were appearing, spawned frequently as mutations occurred in reproduction. My computer was conveniently set to display the size of each genome's population in the ensuing riot of development and destruction. Mutants appeared, some with even smaller genomes than the original seven biomorphs, that is, formed based on shorter strings of computer code. One such population grew so large that their numbers far exceeded the numbers of the older biomorphs. It appeared that biomorphs needing few instructions in their reproduction codes "grazed" more effectively in the space available, as if telling me that I was a rank amateur at being "god": I thought I had made these biomorphs as simple as possible, purely for reasons of convenience, but this program seemed to be saying, "You can make successful virtual life forms much simpler -- here's how!" The biomorphs had "figured out" a way to do this apart from the program I had given them!
Yet complexity appeared everywhere. One biomorph appeared with less than half of the instructions I had thought absolutely necessary for these beings to even begin to act like living things, yet it was very successful: it had too few instructions to replicate on its own, and it was dependent on another biomorph to help it reproduce! It was the first of many such parasites. Many of these drove other biomorphs to extinction. Every time the subroutine Asteroid took effect, biomorphs that had been few in number and well in the background often became the dominant forms. Just like in real life: mammals were hardly noticeable when dinosaurs ruled, but, after an asteroid or meteor destroyed dinosaurs, mammals had their day. It was sheer luck, or bad luck. It was very exciting, but there were long periods of elapsed time when nothing happened, very dull episodes in which mutations were the only changes in the complex of life one could see in my program.
Eventually, this program passed into a long episode from which it never emerged, even after days of time amounting to virtual millennia: the program had evolved into a corner, so to speak. After hundred of millions of generations of explosively processing and building biomorphs, a great sorting out occurred leaving only Cell and a handful of successful biomorphs who inherited the virtual Earth. Even the periodic occurrence of Asteroid did not seem to effect these final, hardy survivors. All of them ancestrally traced back to only two of the original seven biomorphs spawned by Cell: Fibb and Gibb. Like the Darwin Program, I let my Gould Program keep running.
As I had now come to expect, I had my nightly dreams, but now I began to see a pattern. The first dream had directly to do with books I had scanned belonging to Sonja Teleki. Immediately after initiating my Darwin Program, and every night after watching it run all day long, the dream, or at least the whispers pursuing me in the dream, had to do with the Darwin Program and what I was seeing, combined with what I knew to be true about evolution. Now there was an additional change, though the non-landscape quality remained. The whispers now said: "The toxic nutrient." "The changing oxygen." "The frozen continent." "The suffocating iridium." "The predatory prey." All of these things were in conformity with my Gould Program! The only thing I couldn't shake off was the sheer dread present during the dream, the feeling of pursuit with nowhere to run, coupled with the sticky inability to run. And, of course, that ever-present, lingering and almost audible whispering I could still hear upon awakening. No matter which room I slept in, this happened. It wasn't an acoustical phenomenon having to do with the house or possible outside noise, as it never happened when I was just lying down quietly. The whispers would begin in the dream and continue audibly when I'd become partially awake. Then they'd cease!
I next considered initiating a program with biomorphs that behaved more like human beings, as envisioned by the "Man the Mighty Hunter" clique of scholars. The most popular writer along these lines was Desmond Morris. For a zoologist, he certainly came up with comical, if not ludicrous, ideas, as if he forgot what evolution was all about, as when he stated, in The Naked Ape, that women evolved breasts in order to attract males, or human skin evolved nakedness to make us sexier. Did this zoologist imagine that, say, fish "decided" to move up onto the land and risk their own survival from the lack of water to breathe? Or did he realize they were forced onto the land by drastic environmental pressures that exterminated most of them, while only a few survived to become amphibious? And which humans was he talking about? Hairy white women with flat chests? Or hairless Asians? Or buxom women? What was good about Desmond Morris, however, was that he enabled curious laymen to realize that man is also an animal and, if anything, Morris's overt and open discussions of nakedness and sex (both Christian phobias) were healthy and liberating, for those who needed it. I called this my Morris Program and, as usual, used a fresh disc and ran the program on its own separate hard drive.
I copies the basic Gould Program, but with a new and relevant addition: a voracious predator, biomorphs very much like human beings, using a subroutine which I called "Artifice," which would come into play when and if these biomorphs were confronted by either stronger predators or my subroutine Disease. The Artifice subroutine worked to counteract natural selection, but not counteract wholesale slaughter, or war, between various groups of this biomorph's offspring! I gave this biomorph an especially greedy program, like a mighty hunter who avidly devours as much of the computer memory as possibly with little effective obstruction or competition from other biomorphs which it could defeat through Artifice. The result was not too hard to predict, but, of course, I had to see it for myself without assuming I knew what would happen: this predator, called Mibb, quickly assimilated as much of the food puff as possible, and I watched in horror as it committed wholesale annihilation of other biomorphs in ever escalating biological arms races with them, until nothing was left but this predator, along with an ever dwindling supply of computer memory for it to inhabit (food puff for it to eat). Mibb and its offspring had decimated the other four original biomorphs in this program, Obb, Pibb and Qibb, along with their offspring, which included many newer kinds of biomorphs that had evolved, such as some of Mibb's own offspring. This program did not evolve any further as did the Darwin and Group Programs: it crashed in self-destruction. With only a finite amount of computer memory to occupy, like the real Earth and its finite resources (air, water and land being real resources), and with this all taken up by Mibb and its remaining offspring, it became impossible for them to replicate their code anywhere. The program self-destructed. It wasn't a pretty sight to watch in lieu of the fact that these biomorphs behaved like man, or rather like the kind of "man" Desmond Morris usually used for his examples.
Before retiring I wondered what the whispering word-phrases would be. I even invented a few of my own and got a laugh out of them: "The huge breasts" (I envisioned the English model Twiggy whom I had long ago nicknamed, "Anorexia Ectomorphis"); "The big stud" (I envisioned a skinny, almost gawky-looking wimp with a tiny, flaccid penis). As such, I fell asleep with a smile on my face and in a humorous and very sarcastic mood.
The dream which followed shocked me awake. There was nothing humorous about this dream, this nightmare. And the dream was markedly different. For one thing, I was not in the dream except as a passive watcher. I was not being pursued at all, but I saw men and women scattering in terror from some unseen horror. Suddenly a man would vanish, being sucked into the ground by nothing visible. He'd just vanish into the hard earth, no remains of him, no hole where he entered the Earth. And blood. All over there was blood as if the very Earth spewed it forth after sucking the terrified humans into itself. There was nothing more gruesome than this, but it was not the sight that made this a nightmare: it was the feel of it. While I was passively observing, unable to not observe, there was a permeating, cell-deep, gene-deep, soul-deep feeling, or mixture of feelings glued together to form One Feeling. These were the feelings of the human I watched as they seemed to be trying to flee the Earth itself, which sought to devour them: abject terror combined with panic combined with a cloying feeling of shame of some kind, an isolation from life itself and all its creature. They were feeling a fear of the planet, of the ground they walked on, which randomly sucked one into itself only to spit out, like so much filth, their own life's blood. If I had to put a name on the One Feeling these humans felt, I'd have to call it: "Damned." I didn't understand it, but knew they felt this. Along with this were the whispers, but this time they didn't seem to pursue me but more-or-less tell me these things as I watched unable to look away: "The living fossil." "The keystone predator." "The naked apes." "The attractive skin." "The luxuriant scarcity." Upon reflecting, I realized that none of the whispers related to the dreamscape. The whispers made sense in lieu of my Morris Program, but the dream, this nightmare, only made sense if one considered my hard-Atheism and absolute hatred of Christianity and all it stood for, and its not having one, single redeeming quality. If anything, the only positive thing I ever saw in it was that it could function as a true opiate of the people! I was glad that the Morris Program petered out with the biomorphs self-destructing. I could not bear to have this dream again and feel as severed and outcast from Nature and Life as did these people as I watched the Earth spit them out.
The next program I set up was based on the pre-Darwinian ideas of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, which were put forth in modern times, and in a stronger form, by Trofim Lysenko. Aside from being known for classifying invertebrates as apart from vertebrates, Lamarck thought that the characteristics a living organism acquired in life could also be inherited. It was this idea that was carried forth by Lysenko in the U.S.S.R. True, people liked to make fun of him and/or discredit him today, but I had to wonder who they were to over-exaggerate and then scoff when they were still arguing that obviously inherited aptitudes and abilities were "merely environmental," and not just environmental, but "due to nurture." These hard science dismissers were being as political as Lysenko in a country that espoused freedom of expression. What was a truly acquired ability? Could one prove that this was not genetic, a phenotype expressing a genotype? Neither Darwin nor Lamarck knew what genes were when they formulated their theories and Darwin didn't exactly argue against Lamarck: he didn't know and even agreed with much that Lamarck said. No one could explain why identical twins, separated at birth, often got the same types of pets and gave them the same names! Yet it happened quite a lot. The ability to speak language would be an inherited trait. But which language you spoke, and surely what you'd choose to name a pet, would be acquired. Lysenko's basic principle was, "the unity of the organism with the environment.": all parts of an organism were thought to take part in heredity, which could be changed by the environment and passed on, in the changed form, to the organism's offspring. That sounded like environmentally caused genetic structural change to me, which was inherited by offspring. I never was one to understand the battle over "genes versus environment," because it was the environment primarily that shaped the genes , which changed due to pressures from the environment the organism lived in. The "all [other] parts of the organism" would undergo a change, but, according to Darwinian Law, this would be due to the genes having changed. But little was specifically known then about genes: a person could very well have genes for something (genotype), yet no one would be able to know or see this unless something environmental caused these genes to express themselves in the person. Only then (phenotype) would anyone be able to see this as a trait or behavior. Given the inherited genes, a man could grow up to play baseball and develop a strong and overdeveloped right arm. According to Lysenkoism, his child would likewise have strong and overdeveloped right arms. This is not to be so, but -- they might well have the aptitude for developing this and for playing ball. My question was always this: where does one draw a line and can we be sure that, if the man fathered children after he developed this arm, they wouldn't have even more of an aptitude for similar development than they would had he fathered them prior to developing his own arm? The human genome is not mapped: there are many "silent" genes whose reason for being is still unknown. When I thought of how science imagined the human brain worked, even twenty years ago, I had to marvel at the snobbery and hubris exhibited by those who'd look down on and completely dismiss Lysenko. Lysenko may have observed traits that were purely genetic and thus inherited. He'd only be able to see this by observing behavior and, oftentimes, behaviors do run in families because they are genetic. Only recently has a set of genes for "spontaneous, antisocial, violent behavior" been mapped out. And so we an see that the children of criminals do not grow up to be criminals due to the way they are raised. They have the hardwiring for it in their genes. Whether or not the genotype expresses itself in what we an later observe as a phenotypically violent person might be determined by the environment and, given the prevailing human environment, we'd be safe to expect violent behavior and one more criminal -- and his victims. Yet there are still people whose emotional fits of denial surpass anything Lysenko said, even now with this hard data, when they wish (as in wishful thinking) to exculpate such criminal behavior or poor aptitude by "blaming" some extraneous outside force (like the devil). As such, and with a kind of vindictive spirit, I chose to call this new program my Lysenko Program.
To this program I added what I thought to be a potentially interesting complication I called "acquired learning": biomorphs could mimic one another if their instruction codes permitted it, and could pass information they had acquired during their short lives directly to their offspring as if by genetic inheritance. Unlike the real Lysenko, who had to base his ideas on what he could observe, which may or may not have been genetic, my Lysenko Program left no room for doubt. For example, a biomorph that had explored a difficult and mazey route to the food puff without any reward or success could nonetheless subsequently find its mark in a similar maze much more quickly. Not only that, but its offspring could do the same. Biomorphs in this program could leave markers or information for others to pick up, as they explored or foraged, to guide them into the memory. Each biomorph was programmed with only a finite set of instructions, so I considered it a great success when the numbers of behaviors they evidenced began to far exceed the original programs, showing that evolution was once again occurring before my amazed eyes. Not all biomorphs could "address" each other, however. I called this "Comrade": whether interactions between any particular biomorphs were even possible was wholly dependent on a certain pattern similarity of the codes governing their construction, what one might call "like wills to like." Some biomorphs could thereby exploit the instructions sets -- like genomes -- representing other biomorphs. But unlike a computer virus, none were ever allowed to overwrite another's set completely.
As I ran and observed my Lysenko Program, I noticed clear signs that the time seemed even more speeded up than in the other three programs. Some biomorphs, including Ribb, who was one of the three originals I started this program with, which included Sibb and Tibb, began mimicking other biomorphs, as if it could perform according to certain other biomorphs' programs. The offspring of a mutant generation produced by a crossing of Ribb and Tibb appeared to be manipulating two colored dots, one orange and one green, that were part of the fitness landscape, that is, part of the "material" reality of this virtual world that my landscape subroutine made available to them. These biomorphs were passing their manipulation behaviors on to their offspring. One such behavior consisted of building walls around parts of the computer memory, as if protecting a food hoard. These building performances got more and more elaborate and sophisticated, as offspring kept duplicating them and sometimes improving on them. At first some of the biomorphs made all green structures while others made them all orange. Next the patterns began to vary. Next the biomorphs began to mix the two colors so that there were three types of color patterns with, by this time, hundreds of varied geometrical patterns. I felt as if I were witnessing the evolution of a culture, and I could not shake the feeling that I had now not just created virtual life forms in cyberspace, but that I had now created intelligent artificial life forms having . . . artificial intelligence? And a culture? This was particularly disturbing to me because the possibility of intelligence in a biomorph opened up a whole new possibility: that of communication with it! I shuddered to think of this, but I had to try one more thing. I had to see what would happen. Without giving these biomorphs any further instructions, by adding to the program or subroutines already in operation, I allowed an additional purple dot to enter the landscape of their virtual world. My eyes were riveted on the screen as I waited to see what the offspring of Ribb, Sibb and Tibb would do and I didn't have to wait long.
They began utilizing the purple color to build and soon there were not three different color patterns, but seven different patterns: three were two tone, three monotone and one was all three colors! This was not in my Lysenko Program. But the ability to inherit cultural knowledge was. What I saw happening before my eyes was proof of intelligence, independent of my own program.
To be truthful, the results I obtained from my Lysenko Program floored me. It was also, by far, the prettiest program. I didn't want to stop watching these biomorphs building, but I had to get sleep. The thought of sleeping, since that one dream brought on by the Morris Program, filled me with dread. As a result, I didn't get to sleep quickly and I kept jerking awake when I began to drift off; but, finally, sleep overtook me. The dream was the usual, back-to-normal, non-scenery affair with one difference: the whispers seemed to be phrased as questions. Though this dream still remained stressful, it was a relief from the previous night's terror, yet, at the same time, the questioning quality of the whispers seemed very strange. Since I reasoned that my own programs were being played back by my own brain in odd word-phrases, why would I question my own program? The whispers said or asked: "The universal niche?" "The knowing population?" "The communal seeds?" The factoried leaves?" Then the sound of a loud crash as of something large falling down before another word-phrase question: "The bonded dispersion?" I had the distinct impression that someone was nearby waiting for me to answer! Could my biomorphs, virtual life-forms who were virtually alive, but which had shown true signs of real intelligence, be -- trying to communicate with me?
When I finally awakened completely and went into the cellar, I was surprised to discover that there had, indeed, been a loud crashing sound, which probably affected the content of my dream, though I could not know if the crashing sound coincided with the dream. One of the bookshelves in the cellar had fallen down, scattering Sonja Teleki's medical books all over the floor. I could not determine what made the bookshelf fall, but dismissed this as "one of those things." Perhaps a few books were not pushed in enough and this somehow tipped the balance of the bookshelf. There was no way to reconstruct this scenario, as the books were inexplicably placed as if they exploded out or were pulled out and heaved a distance. There was no damage to any of the books. However, on going to prepare my cup of coffee, I noticed that the sugar, which had previously been neat in its bowl, was now in a mess on my table. This caused me concern. A prowler entering the house and looking for something would account for the books being in such a scattered state. I opted for this idea because there was no way that the sugar could have extricated itself from its container unless it was purposefully removed by someone carelessly using it; they'd have to have scooped up a spoonful of the sugar with the spoon kept inside the closed bowl and then spilled some, or at least opened the lid of the bowl and spilled it by shaking the container. The spoon was still in the bowl.
I ran back up into the bedroom and picked up the revolver I kept by my bed: no single and educated woman should be without one! I carefully inspected the doors and windows to ensure that they were all still locked and untampered with. Nothing was amiss. Then I cautiously returned to the cellar with the loaded gun. The hairs on the back of my neck instantly pricked up as I immediately saw the medical books on the second bookshelf in noticeable disarray. Someone had to be down here. Ever more cautious than before and ready to shoot on sight, I descended into the sub-cellar. Did I have something worth robbing? Hell, yes: tens of thousands of dollars worth of computer equipment and just about nothing else worth robbing in the entire house.
The sight that met my eyes brought a simultaneous lurch of fear and a nervous laugh of relief. The computer printouts, formerly neatly placed on tables and in perfect order, were now scattered all about the sub-cellar floor, as were pencils and pens. My ashtray was spilled over and cigarette butts were likewise strewn about the floor. And there were rats! Cute little things, all white, that raised their heads when I approached and then went about their business, scurrying to and fro all over the floor and my computer printouts! They weren't afraid of me and this I deduced not only from their behavior, but their color: white. Sonja Teleki had apparently been doing some manner of research with rats, though I could not imagine where she had kept them or where they had hidden for the months since she died and the weeks I had lived here. Nonetheless, there they were, the culprits. The poor things were probably starving. They seemed healthy enough and weren't afraid of me. I was glad of that. Whatever Sonja had been doing, she did not harm the animals and had obviously treated them with kindness. I made up my mind to purchase a large animal cage, where I'd keep them as pets.
It was upon returning upstairs to replace the gun that I became further perplexed. The bed, which I had previously made upon awakening, was now in a wrinkled and disordered state. Likewise my pajamas, which I had neatly placed on the bureau top, were now in a disordered mess on the floor. I wondered if rats were also in my bedroom, but didn't see any evidence of them or hear anything.
It was then that I heard another crash coming from the kitchen. Again, with gun in hand, I ran down the stairs to look, but the only thing I found were the dishes scattered and broken on the floor. They had been previously placed, neatly stacked, in the rubber drainer next to the sink. They couldn't have just rolled out of there and I didn't think the rats would have been able to usurp them.
As such, I continued searching the house for a prowler and finally came to wonder about the first and only unscientific possibility I had ever considered in my life: poltergeists! For the entire day was spent finding things that were formerly in an ordered state laying about disordered and even broken.
Created: March 12, 1999; Updated: August 9, 2004