194 - Simon Conway Morris on Convergent Evolution & Creative Mass Extinctions
How much of natural history is inevitable, and how much is the result of chance? Do mass extinctions slow the evolution of the biosphere, or speed it up? These are two of the six great questions of biology explored by Simon Conway Morris, famous evolutionary theorist, in his latest book. From Extraterrestrials to Animal Minds: Six Myths of Evolution (Templeton Press) is a meticulously researched, cheeky and inspiring romp through both the living and extinct worlds, challenging a handful of widespread beliefs and offering provocative alternatives. Conway Morris is a character, even amidst the strange ranks of his fellow natural history researchers, and his arguments bear careful scrutiny. As someone drawn to mavericks and weirdos and enamored by contrarian perspectives, I can’t help but like his work — and reading him forced me to reconsider some of my assumptions even as it validated other long-held hunches.
In this episode, we talk about his book and what his work implies — and I get fanboy on him and assault him with a bunch of lengthy questions like Tim Murphy in Jurassic Park. Strap in for a deep dive into evolution’s laziness, complexity and process, cooption and repurposing of novel traits, great puzzles in prehistory, ancient food webs, evolutionary radiation, symbiosis, flowers, death, and more… And when you’re done, go read his book and dig a dozen more related episodes on Patreon!
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195. 195 - A.I. Art: An Emergency Panel with Julian Picaza, Evo Heyning, Micah Daigle, Jamie Curcio, & Topher Sipes02:09:39Complete show notes at PatreonRate and review the show at Apple PodcastsBrowse my newsletter, original art, prints, merchandise, etc.✨ About This Episode:This week we dig down as what W.J.T. Mitchell called “paleontologists of the present” to explore the ramifications of A.I. on the creative economy as lensed through two notorious William Gibson quotes: “The future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed” and “The street finds its own uses for things.” Joining me on the call are artists Evo Heyning, Micah Daigle, James Curcio, Topher Sipes, and Julian Picaza — all of whom I hold in high esteem and all of whom are doing fascinating things both with A.I. tools and without them.I recommend this profound discussion for some refreshing sobriety in what has so far proven to be a totally crazy pants public discourse dominated by people who either submit unthinkingly to new technologies or run from them screaming without anchoring their perspectives in any kind of historical perspective whatsoever…Be sure to give this episode’s extensive show notes your careful attention, as I’ve collected here a whole semester’s worth of reading and listening materials on this and adjacent subjects with the goal of having a single master compendium to drop into public threads on these subjects whenever possible. (I of course encourage you to do the same!)This conversation continues with lively and respectful interaction every single day in the members-only Future Fossils Facebook Group. Join us!Lastly, a note about the audio: Once again I had horrible technical issues with my recording platform and had to spend time piecing this conversation back together instead of giving it a proper edit and mix treatment. My apologies for not managing to match the style to the substance…but this conversation is so timely and urgent I didn’t want to waste another two weeks polishing it before getting it to you.Enjoy, and thanks for listening!✨ Other Ways To Support The Show:• MichaelGarfield.substack.com for digest emails• MichaelGarfieldArt.com for art prints and original paintings• MichaelGarfield.Bandcamp.com for over 100 hours of original music• linktr.ee/michaelgarfield for a trove of creations and numerous options for tipping
193. 193 - Kimberly Dill on Environmental Philosophy: In Defense of Wildness & Night01:59:08This week I talk with environmental philosopher and Santa Clara Clara Assistant Professor Kimberly Dill, an old friend of mine from Austin, Texas whom I met at Bouldin Creek Coffee over lemon maté sours and a deep dive into Eastern nondual traditions while she was in school studying arguments against free will under acclaimed analytic philosopher Galen Strawson. She has since grown into a formidable scholar and ethics instructor in her own right and positively exudes a studious, diligent, caring, and starry-eyed vibe at all times…an utterly unique and finely-honed heart and intellect who stands out from the rest of my belovedly strange cohort of Austin festival-going slacker friends.I’ve been chasing her down to be on the podcast for years and am delighted she and I finally managed to link up to record this potent dialogue on the relationality of humankind and the wild world in which we are inextricably entangled, the substantive differences between our simulations and the originals they fail to fully reproduce, the importance of forests and dark skies to our psychospiritual well-being, where modern Western festival culture fails in its declared goal of delivering us back into right relations and ecstatic harmony with our kosmos…plus much else.Read the ✨ EXTENSIVE ✨ show notes, and join the Future Fossils community, at Patreon.Rate and review the show at Apple PodcastsBrowse my newsletter, original art, prints, merchandise, NFTs, etc.✨ Side Note:My big, BIG thanks to everyone for being so patient with me while my family and I suffered through some extraordinary challenges over the last months. I can’t tell you enough how much it means to me to have retained nearly everyone’s Patreon support while my wife and I dealt with two constantly sick kids, a number of our own health issues, and major upgrades to our home and big transitions at work.The good news is that I also managed to record interviews with the legendary Simon Conway Morris and Robert Poynton in that time and will be sharing those with you in short order! So, again, thanks for your subscriptions, your glowing Apple Podcasts reviews, and your engagement in the Future Fossils Facebook group…and stay tuned for several exciting big announcements soon!(Big thanks to my father-in-law Kevin Taylor for helping edit this episode!)
192. 192 - My Cataract: An Initiation 👁✨51:24This week I go solo and get reflective on age, noise, loss, mystery, stars and angels, dreams and seasons, modern science and the retrieval of magic...Read the ✨ EXTENSIVE ✨ show notes, and join the Future Fossils community, at Patreon. cataract (n.) early 15c., "a waterfall, floodgate, furious rush of water," from Latin cataracta "waterfall," from Greek katarhaktes "waterfall, broken water; a kind of portcullis," noun use of an adjective compound meaning "swooping, down-rushing," from kata "down" (see cata-). The second element is traced either to arhattein "to strike hard" (in which case the compound is kat-arrhattein), or to rhattein "to dash, break." Its alternative sense in Latin of "portcullis" probably passed through French and gave English the meaning "eye disease characterized by opacity of the lens" (early 15c.), on the notion of "obstruction" (to eyesight). (from etymology.com)Episode Art & Music:Aldebaran by Michael Garfield (2020) (prints available)Pavo: Music for Mystery by Michael Garfield (2017)Other Ways To Support:• linktr.ee/michaelgarfield will take you to a trove of art and music• Venmo: @futurefossils• PayPal.me/michaelgarfield• ETH: FutureFossils.eth• BTC: 1At2LQbkQmgDugkchkP6QkDJCvJ5rv3Jm
191. 191 - Roland Harwood on Learning To Be Liminal01:09:04Subscribe wherever you dig podcastsRate and review the show at Apple PodcastsBrowse my newsletter, original art, prints, merchandise, NFTs, etc.Dig into the complete, extensive show notes (and join our online community) at PatreonThis week on the show I chat with the storied, insightful, multidimensional Roland Harwood (Twitter | LinkedIn | Liminal | Participatory City Foundation) — a “compulsive connector,” generalist, “failed astronaut,” pianist, Founder, CEO, Trustee, impresario of international collective intelligence projects, and generally fascinating person. In a conversation that already feels somewhat archaeological (it was recorded in November 2021 and references discussions that have already developed significantly over the last year), we explore the martial art of living in transition, of thriving in the in-between spaces, of dealing with the unpredictable and the fundamental uncertainty of our lives. We also rap on the subjects of innovation, global weirding, organizational evolution, technology, hope, and happiness. Dig into the complete show notes for plenty to follow up on!Intro and outro music is from my forthcoming EP, “Ephemeropolis,” available soon at Bandcamp and Patreon.Special thanks to Tami Pudina for her help with this episode! Check out her work at hyperdriveanthropology.com.
190. 190 - Lauren Seyler on Dark Microbiology & Right Relations in Science01:25:15Rate and review the show at Apple PodcastsDig into the complete, extensive show notes at PatreonThis week we’re joined by Lauren Seyler, Assistant Professor of Biology at Stockton University (Lab Website, Twitter @darkmicrobio, Google Scholar), who studies the microscopic living world that flourishes in dark places: the mud of coastal marshes, inside rocks, and in sediments at the bottom of the sea. She’s also co-authored a number of publications on how scientists can work ethically with Indigenous peoples, and applies her scientific research to questions of astrobiology: the search for life and intelligence in outer space.In this episode, we discuss the life/non-life boundary, evolution as thermodynamics, anaerobic microbes as the invisible labor supporting all life on Earth, the origin of life: in the light, or in the dark?, the wonderful world of -omics, individual vs. Institutional agency and the necessary revolution of consciousness required for effective collective action at planetary scale, power and responsibility, best practices for working with the Indigenous as a scientist, stepping up to biospheric stewardship, and practicing right relations across scales (not just micro-macro but also across space and time).Special thanks to Tami Pudina for her help with editing this episode! Check out her work at hyperdriveanthropology.com.
189. 189 - Planet-scale Musical Chairs: 21st Century Human Geography with Parag Khanna01:19:36This week on Future Fossils, we sync up with globe-trotting (Singapore-based) futurist Parag Khanna, author of several internationally best-selling books on the shifting landscape of human geography and technological evolution. My acquaintance with Parag dates back all the way to 2011 when I found his Hybrid Reality Institute, and started writing for his BigThink blog, thanks to the writing of Jason Silva — I knew this was a party I couldn’t miss, even though I was then, as now, deeply ambivalent about the contours of the futures he and his colleagues were making visible with their rigorous research. This spirit has defined my entire adult life: if you want to help steer something in a better direction, you might just have to get your hands down into the murk and engage with it deeply enough to be in the position to make a difference. So when his agent contacted me about interviewing him about his latest book, 2021’s Move: The Forces Uprooting Us, I knew it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. But let me be clear that Parag sees things very differently than I do, and I appreciate that about him: he has a keen sense of the risks and dangers of our times but emphasizes the opportunities because the facts are there to support it. If you move around as much as he does, and always has, you get a kind of synoptic view of the planet and the tension between individual destiny and collective momentum comes into a new tuning. This is a beast of a conversation. It was hell to edit. I’m glad it happened. Here you go!Complete, extensive show notes at Patreon.✨ Housekeeping:• Intro music is "You're In My Self-Portrait" from my 2012 album Golden Hour. Outro music is "City of Jewels" from my 2013 EP of the same name. For something completely different, check out my latest live album, recorded at Meow Wolf Santa Fe while opening for DeVotchKa.✨ Other Ways To Support The Work & Community:• My roughly-monthly newsletter at Substack• Venmo: @futurefossils• PayPal.me/michaelgarfield• ETH: FutureFossils.eth• BTC: 1At2LQbkQmgDugkchkP6QkDJCvJ5rv3Jm• NFTs: Rarible | Foundation | Voice | Hic Et Nunc | Mint Songs
188. 188 - LARPing as a Nation-State with Jon Hillis & 0xZakk of CABIN DAO and Christian Lemp of Diamond DAO01:21:41Complete, EXTENSIVE show notes at Patreon.com/michaelgarfield!As guest 0xZakk says at the very end of this conversation, most of the construction projects throughout the history of civilization have been coercive. What does it look like when we actually build things in a really cooperative way? This episode was recorded in November 2021 when the cryptocurrency markets were insanely bullish and the world relatively stable…but releasing it now, in July 2022, seems more aptly-timed than I could have anticipated.The United States Supreme Court has failed the great majority of American citizens not just once but several shocking and historic times in one week, hacking away at women’s reproductive rights, the EPA, and gun safety all at once. The Supreme Court majority was largely appointed by presidents that lost the popular vote, our nation is embroiled in hearings about a violent coup attempt spearheaded by the former President, and people on both sides of the constructed political divide seem more desperate than ever before in living memory. At the same time, both stocks and digital currencies, and the economic possibilities they support, are suffering through what seems like it will be a protracted winter. So it’s a PERFECT moment to talk about the visions we commit to building through the hardship, and the new responsibilities we must assume as citizens — not just of nation-states, but of the digital communities and cultures that we voluntarily participate in, the neighborhoods and cities that we live in. When a big tree dies in the forest, its falling lets in light that stimulates a contest between saplings — and we’re seeing something similar now in this rapid blooming of experiments in governance and finance, legal regulations and privately-organized society. Suddenly projects like the CABIN DAO seem prescient and urgent, so I’m glad to share this potent conversation with Jon Hillis and @0xZakk of CABIN DAO and Christian Lemp of Diamond DAO — three of the many people working hard at the frontiers of blockchain-based social innovation. In this episode we talk about what it means to live-action roleplay as a city-state, how physical geography and online culture overlap in their experiments, and what should stay illegible and wild amidst this wave of techy change…If you enjoy this show, please take a moment to subscribe, rate, and review wherever you prefer to listen. I’ve been extremely busy backstage working on a suite of Future Fossils projects that extend beyond the podcast, some of which you can glimpse on my Instagram and Twitter feeds…big changes coming soon, and inspiration’s flowing. If you want the inner track on all the music, art, and writing I am cooking up — or if you simply see the value in these conversations and my work at large, I hope you’ll join the other awesome people chipping in with listener support at Patreon.com/michaelgarfield — where I’m sharing an enormous folder of new A.I. artwork, updated every day.Lastly, I just re-launched my now thirteen-year-old blog on Substack — for roughly monthly digests of new work, join 7,500 other readers at michaelgarfield.substack.com. More soon.
187. 187 - Fear & Loathing on the Electronic Frontier with Kevin Welch & David Hensley of EFF-Austin01:22:03Find the complete show notes for this episode on Patreon. This episode was recorded live in Austin, Texas at the West China Tea House in partnership with EFF-Austin, a non-profit committed to the establishment and protection of digital rights and defense of the wealth of digital information, innovation, and technology. Founded in 1991 as a local sub-chapter of The Electronic Frontier Foundation and run as an independent organization, EFF-Austin promotes the right of all citizens to communicate and share information without unreasonable constraint — as well as the fundamental right to explore, tinker, create, and innovate along the frontier of emerging technologies. In this episode, I talk with Kevin Welch and David Hensley about why digital rights matter to our analog lives; whether and how the genies of rampant technological innovation can be forced back into the bottle; how to think about the inherent tensions between individuals and institutions; what esoteric traditions and superhero movies may have to teach us about living in the 21st century, and considerably more. I also make entirely too many references to Michael Crichton novels.I’ve collaborated with EFF-Austin on previous episodes of Future Fossils you may also enjoy:33 - Jon Lebkowsky (Pluralist Utopias & The World Wide Web's Wild West)92 - Panel: The Pre- and Post-History of VR, Surveillance, and Swarm IntelligenceAgain, Patreon is really the place you want to be checking out the resources for this show (and, of course, it's the place to go to take a shower in the awesome stuff I reserve for supporters).