109 - Bruce Damer on The Origins and Future of Life

Ep. 109

Bruce Damer is a living legend and international man of mystery – specifically, the mystery of our cosmos, to which he’s devoted his life to exploring: the origins of life, simulating artificial life in computers, deriving amazing new plans for asteroid mining, and cultivating his ability to receive scientific inspiration from “endotripping” (in which he stimulates his brain’s own release of psychoactive compounds known to increase functional connectivity between brain regions). He’s about to work with Google to adapt his origins of life research to simulated models of the increasingly exciting hot springs origin hypothesis he’s been working on with Dave Deamer of UC Santa Cruz for the last several years. And he’s been traveling around the world experimenting with thermal pools, getting extremely close to actually creating new living systems in situ as evidence of their model. Not to mention his talks with numerous national and private space agencies to take the S.H.E.P.H.E.R.D. asteroid mining scheme into space to kickstart the division and reproduction of our biosphere among/between the stars…

I find it amazing that anyone as potently psychedelic as Bruce gets the focused listening attention of audiences at NASA, Scientific American, Google, and numerous esteemed academic communities around the world. A late-career PhD who spent his early years designing software that changed the world and going on adventures with his dear friend Terence McKenna, talking to Bruce is an inspiration and reminder that the big questions really DO take the dedication of a lifetime – and that dedication DOES bear fruit.

(Appropriately to the McKenna link, there were some connectivity issues during our call that stretched out Bruce’s voice in a way very reminiscent of the Shpongle grain delay remixes of Terence’s talks. I left these in because I think they’re funny and in keeping with the good doctor’s trippy ideas, but apologies regardless.)

Bruce was the second guest of this show way back in Episode 4, but that was three years ago and his work (and my ability to discuss it with him) has developed considerably since then. Enjoy this high-level update about one of the deepest questions we have on the table, right now…the profound implications of this new model of life’s origins for everything from business and politics to the strategies for thriving through an age of worldwide turbulence and transition…

Bruce’s Website:


We Discuss:

• Updates on Bruce’s efforts to recreate the conditions of the original “progenote,” a living system before the invention of cells;

• How modern life prevents a second “Genesis” from happening on the Earth;

• Why life must have started in a wet-dry cycling pond, and not in the sea or on land;

• The three properties of life: crowding/containment; networks; and information storage – or P,I,M: Probability, Interaction, Memory;

• The origin of life as a niche-construction process;

• The origin of life vs. the origin of individuality and competition – likelihood that started as integrated consortia, not free-living cells in resource conflict;

• Scaling up the progenote origin of life hypothesis to human systems and the origins of human civilization with “social protocells”;

• Does life require organic molecules, or is it primarily an informational process?

• Are memes even a real thing? (Compared to genes, we can’t point to one…)

• Working with Google to simulate the origins of life with a chemistry-modeling deep learning system;

• The increasing evolvability of (some) genomes in ever-more complex environments leading to a transition from genetic to cultural inheritance;

• How evolutionary networks can bump themselves off local fitness peaks and into novelty to prevent becoming over-adapted to tiny niches;

• Cycles of federalism and fragmentation in both nature and society;

• The possibility of a global plan to build sea walls – to make it an issue of national defense, and a better use of our time than border walls;

• What can we learn from the origins of life about the future of planetary culture and the ongoing evolution of our “progenote planet?”


Bruce on Future Fossils Podcast Episode 4:


Michael’s Version 1.0 Mind Map & Bibliography of research on major evolutionary transitions in self-organizing systems:


Evolution Evolving Conference:


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134 - Anthony Thogmartin on Mind, Music, and Technology

Ep. 134
Multi-instrumentalist musician Anthony Thogmartin of Papadosio [band], EarthCry [solo project], and Seed to Stage [music production tutorials] joins us for the first time since Episode 10 to talk about navigating the exponentially expanding body of human knowledge, how interfacing with different media technologies yields new minds and selves at the intersection, and the profound creative evolution he and his band have undergone by embracing tools like Ableton Live. For the ten-plus years I’ve known him, Anthony’s optimism and enthusiasm have inspired me to seize the day and strive for new horizons, and whether or not you make music I have no doubt this conversation will inspire you as well.Future Fossils Podcast is entirely listener-supported. Support the show on Patreon for more inspiring extras than you probably have time for.Buy any of the books we mention in this episode through my Amazon Shop and I’ll receive a tiny kickback at no extra cost to you.Mentioned:Ishi Crew, Complexity Explorers Facebook Group, Scott E. Page, Mirta Galesic, SpaceWeather.com, Neal.Fun/deep-sea, Caitlin McShea, InterPlanetaryFest.org, Sam Brouse, Korg Minilogue, Ableton Push, Meow Wolf, Jessica Flack, The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin, Darwin’s Pharmacy by Richard Doyle, Gary Weber, Erik Davis, A Cyborg Manifesto by Donna Haraway, The Shallows by Nicholas Carr, Plato, Thoth, Technopoly by Neil Postman, America Before by Graham Hancock, Wile E. Coyote, Star Trek, Google Translate, Ableton Live, Bitwig, Microdose VR, Android Jones, Anson Phong, Sennheiser, Magic Leap, David Block, Phaedroid, Glitch Mob, Mi.Mu gloves, Oculus Quest, Google Duo, Burning Man, Sweet Melis, The Glass Cage by Nicholas CarrDiscussed:The value of long-form media and the conversation as ways of deepening our engagement with an accelerating world.Neurodiversity and the “social molecule,” and how being different together is good for all of us.“The only reason we [human beings] made it is because we’re good at talking to each other.”Our understanding of the planet is not just expanding outward, but also inward…not just into the vastness of space but deeper into the oceans and crust and into inner space.The more attention you pour into things, the more finely differentiated they become, and things get bigger on the inside than they are on the outside. Earthcry’s concept album Identity Mitosis and its multimedia storytelling about a conversation between AI and Gaia long after the extinction of humankind.What does the future look like without us?Living at the bottleneck between the complexity of the micro and the macro.The self as a plural ecosystem and the conscience as the voice of various unconscious neural motifs erupting into consciousness.Awakening as the abandoning of episodic autobiographic memory and the vice grip of the default mode network.The egoic self as a kind of electrical phenomenon, and possibly a kind of auxiliary or emergency preservation mode (not our natural state of balanced health).Metabolic ontology and the possibility of reality itself changing with the states of the extended body-mind in psychogenic networks.The cybernetic self and how performing music is also being a part of the music technology ecosystem.The dependency of thought on the mediation of technology…handwriting vs. typing, etc., and how different selves emerge in different contexts.Polarization and our refusal to understand one another.Generation gaps in technological fluency.Is the Universal Translator not RUNNING Starfleet?Letting Ableton Live take over Papadosio.YouTube vs. Instagram.Moore's Law and miniaturization in music performance, and moving with the current of technological evolution rather than against it.Michael’s open call to developers to help us create software for controlling music and visuals simultaneously with a gestural interface in virtual reality……and Anthony’s disclaimers about why this hasn’t happened yet.Augmented reality versus virtual reality and how evolution is co-evolving with the human body and mind (not just people adapting to technology).What matters depends on the scale at which you’re paying attention.Future Fossils Theme Music:“God Detector” by Evan “Skytree” Snyder feat. Michael Garfield

133 - Brian Swimme on Telling A New Story of Our Universe

Ep. 133
This week’s guest is mathematician and cosmologist Brian Swimme, faculty at CIIS’ Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness Program and author of several books, including The Universe is a Green Dragon: A Cosmic Creation Story (which we discuss in this episode).Brian is a major voice in the conversation about the new myths required for us in an age of planetary culture, an articulate and approachable thinker whose warmth and generosity — virtues equal to his intellectual achievement —really shine through in this conversation.Brian at CIIS Brian at the Center for Humans and NatureBrian’s documentary, Journey of the UniverseBrian’s Coursera class“A lot of scientists will say, ‘I don’t have a metaphysics. I just deal with facts.’ But it’s not the case…”“Locating ourselves in time I think is the fundamental scientific or spiritual challenge.”“The Earth is closer to a living organism than it is a collection of objects.”“One of the fundamental errors of the modern period is RUINING this idea of Singularity…it’s thinking of ourselves as the intelligent species in a world that is basically a collection of objects. And then we imagine that we with our clever minds are creating technology…rather than joining a process.”“It could be that the future of science depends on the question of the within, the inner world…”We Discuss:Locating ourselves in time…The Universe is a Green Dragon: A Cosmic Creation StoryZak Stein (Episode 97)What We Learn From Mass ExtinctionsWe Are Something The Planet Is Doing Thomas BerryPierre Teilhard de Chardin (although V.I. Vernadsky coined the term “noosphere”)James P. CarseErnst HaeckelSean Esbjörn-Hargens (Episodes 60 + 113)Dr. Blue (Episode 124)Theme Music: “God Detector” by Evan “Skytree” Snyder (feat. Michael Garfield)https://skytree.bandcamp.com/track/god-detector-ft-michael-garfieldAdditional Music: “Valles Marineris” by Michael Garfieldhttps://michaelgarfield.bandcamp.com/album/martian-arts-epSupport this show on Patreon to join the book club and for secret episodes:https://patreon.com/michaelgarfield

132 - Erik Davis on Perturbations in the Reality Field

Ep. 132
This week’s guest is author, culture critic, and philosopher of the weird Erik Davis, whose work has been one of my main inspirations for almost ten years. His latest work of epic scholarship, High Weirdness: Drugs, Esoterica, and Visionary Experience in the Seventies, is an exploration of topics I presumed inaccessible to academic inquiry so masterful I’ve been evangelizing it for months and basically forced a copy on my boss (David Krakauer, President of the Santa Fe Institute, who was a guest in Episode 75). 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