The ecology of Witness, and ecology as an inspiration for economic systems

Hello @nadia, hello All - I like to chip in a little part. Having followed the recent webinar I read part of the description about Witness and got puzzled. By the way, I am reading SF (favourite: Octavia Butler or the Strugazki brothers). Hence, I do not feel estranged by the genre / approach.

(a) As expected, Witness seems mainly about interaction of people, governance, power-plays, etc. Drawing on this I was expecting to find little in the description of Witness about features like fluxes of matter (and energy), although these fluxes underpin (any) economy. I found reference to energy attribution, circular economy, reduction of waste, food etc. I was looking (in vain) for matters like ‘waste water treatment’ (pie, poo and washing), ‘use of soil, minerals, irrigation water’ etc. Likewise, I found no reference that human economies (all/ often / mainly) are open systems; fluxes of energy and matter in/out of the system. Thus, it seems to me that attention was little (so far) to some very basic processes / interactions (at the society-Earth-interface) that relate to basic ‘material’ features of societies / economies. Drawing on this it seems to me some study is needed in ‘Track #2’ about what kind of material fluxes have to be ‘modelled’; e.g. is treatment of human waste water a matter for Witness?.

(b) Also, much expected, Witness eclipses the issue of reproduction of humans (pregnancy, birth, child-hood, schooling, education, vocational training,… illness, and death do not seem to be treated (in detail & over time)). However, these processes are relevant in any functioning society / economy. Again, it seems to me a subject for ‘Track #2’.

Rapid forwarding from (a) and (b), I am wondering how any of the districts of ‘Witness’ would go about building and maintaining a hydro-power infrastructures (in a valley) to provide energy and irrigation water for the community for many cycles of human reproduction? A suchlike subject could be a manner to federate studies under ‘Track #2’ that could address the issues mentioned under (a) and (b).


Hi Martin - thank you for the input, it’s very helpful.

And something which ought to interest @yudhanjaya and @ivan In the context of wellbeing in Europe, there are three lines of enquiry/topics that I would like to explore in detail curators personally will be focused on.

  1. Moral and Psychological wellbeing
  2. Health and Social Care
  3. Work, commerce and livelihoods

Perhaps we should add the ones you mention, and maybe call on other participants and people who want to step us as co-curators

  1. Basic material features underpinning economies
  2. Reproduction of humans

Hello @martin, just letting you know that @carolina_carvalho has come forward to write an entry about the ecology of Witness. Maybe the two of you could connect?

I think @yudhanjaya has more or less assumed that solar power is mature tech in Witness. We have several indications that this is so, with The Assembly basically growing out from an experiment (forced by a period of scarcity) of fully decentralized energy production. On the other hand, I imagine a floating city would be mostly flat – not many mountains and valleys for hydro power. But we can change this, of course, or maybe I am mistaken.

Hi! @martin I am currently making some mind maps that would help me make sense precisely of how things would flow in Witness: people, energy, goods, ideas, among other things! They are only half-done and in old-fashioned paper at this point, but I want to put them on Miro and share them in this forum soon.

I would be very happy to collaborate on an Ecology thread! Should we have a chat?

Actually, if anyone wants to do a brainstorm around this, I can put a Zoom link here and anyone who wants to can join us!
@becha this reminded me of you, how about a little hackathon? :slight_smile:

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Hi all,

Hello @alberto - assuming that the ‘energy question’ is tackled by solar power (fine), the problem is still what are the fluxes of matter needed to maintain the society (including building and maintaining any solar parks). What the hydro-power example could illustrate, a solar-park, sea-water de-salination plant,… and wast-water plant could do.

Hello @carolina_carvalho - I am interested. My worry would be to get lost in too may threads (within Ecology). I would like to take something ‘simple’ as supply of clean water (‘downstream’ from activity XYZ). - regards, Martin

Hello @alberto @yudhanjaya @carolina_carvalho - what I read about Witness fits to the (underpinning) assumption that ‘the energy issue’ got handled (= sufficient, equitable & stable supply). However, in terms like ecoSF this looks like dogging a key-issue (e.g. solar panel maintenance cost). My point was to thinks about “to provide energy and irrigation water for the community for many cycles of human reproduction”. May be I am mistaken with the time-window of the ‘excerise’.

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@martin Yes, that sounds wise, it is a very vast subject! I am thinking of starting with climate/microclimates (they seem likely in Avantgrid islands). Then moving on to some of the wildlife, so it would be great if we could be working on different things in parallel, and just making sure that they make sense together, the entry will grow much faster this way.

@alberto @yudhanjaya: Where do I pitch an idea for a potential future district? I was thinking of insect societies today, and came up with an idea for a metadistrict: a group of people from all districts that dislike the divisiveness and distrust between some of them, and decide to create the group to attempt and evolve the human species to a superorganism through anonymous collaboration. They call themselves The Anthill. Initially they don’t need a physical setting, they do it all online in their own spaces, but as the community grows, and the complexity with it, they will probably need a physical location to experiment with being a superorganism at the material level. I imagine this as being deep ecology mixed with prevalent technology to allow for activation of collective intelligence on a platform, maybe even integrating the platform in their own bodies in some way in the future: cyborgs!
I read Novacene by Lovelock this weekend and can’t stop thinking about it! Want to make up some cyborg wildlife as well, maybe even a remote cyborg only island, where AI and environment live harmoniously without human interference.

@carolina_carvalho, this is very wonderful! Meet @KileyArroyo, who wrote to me to suggest a district whose economic institutions would mirror closely an actual ecology:

I am researching how vital nutrients (capitals) are cycled through healthy ecologies, soil in particularly. I’d like to use this as the basis of a speculative economy. I’ve been looking at the specific actors, roles, processes, and structures used to sustain fertile soil and have been mapping these to the levers found in systems change frameworks. For example, trees to enabling institutional structures, nutrient cycling to circular economies, fungi hyphae to mutual aid networks, compost to culture, perennial renewal to liberation.

Kiley, Carolina is working on an entry on the ecology of Witness, and now has come up with this idea of the Anthill.

Here is my suggestion: we have a dedicated online meeting on this. Both Kiley and Carolina would have some time to present their ideas, then we do an extended Q&A and, together, see how to proceed. In general,

I suggest simply creating, in #earthos:witnesspedia, a new topic called “Distrikt proposal: DISTRIKTNAME”. Then we can discuss in the replies, work on the text by making the initial post a wiki, and ask @yudhanjaya to pull it into the canon.


Have you read Maelstrom by Peter Watts? He is one of my favorite authors, and a biologist. He imagines a descendant of the Internet which has become the habitat of “wildlife”, software code that evolves to reproduce in that habitat. Needless to say, it is pointless to look for reliable information in this post-Internet, because reliability has less fitness than virality. Great intuitions from biology, all across his work.

(ps: moving this dialog under the Witnesspedia category).

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Hello friends,

Thank you for your proposal Alberto. A dedicated meeting sounds like a good way to proceed. In preparation, I’ve attached a short article and longer paper about this.

I shared this thinking with none other than Saskia Sassen last week, who is also very excited by the potential.

Please let me know when it might be convenient to connect.

Be well,

How to be a Soil Keeper_Full Version_2021.pdf (22.1 MB)

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@carolina_carvalho +1 for this. Don’t worry about the politics: if you would, focus on describing the ecology and economy and critical aspects of the social contract. I can then come in and extrapolate other facets of culture, a political connection to the main body of Witness, and we can have a back and forth that ends up creating something that fits into what we have. Even if you want to do a metadistrikt, same process - I find the idea of ecology x tech to be fascinating, and given that this gets around meatspace topology, a very interesting structure; I can weave it into other Distrikts once we have the roots planted.

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To aff to this: @martin, very good set of questions. The current state of affairs is handwavium at a Mohs 5.5-ish level of hardness

  • ie: no big lie, reasonable extrapolations based on tech we have today, but neither have we spent much thought in it.

There are certainly unaddressed issues. For solar alone, maintenance costs, the gallium arsenide problem, the whole issue of whether we have the heavy metals needed to keep doing this -

So what say you oversee a restructuring of the energy and water infrastructure in Witness? I will be your narrative support. If we start with the history of Witness, and think okay, how could this plausibly happen? or are there better ways of doing this? we can make the setting much better in terms of the science. I’m completely onboard.

We even have a political group that agitates for decentralized energy tech - the Microgrid Collective - so this would be a great way to have that group advocate for some more experimental energy-generation methods that we may see in the future.

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Hello @yudhanjaya, @alberto - I will think about something simple (and where may have some background) to test this endeavour. I will be much out of my comfort zone. Likely I could sketch a problem case that could be situated in Witness’s (deep) past. Can you give me a link to a description of ‘stage of Witness’ shortly after ‘the Sundering’.

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I’m afraid we don’t have a such a single snapshot of Witness available, other than the history.
What say you to starting with the microcosm that originated everything (in the story?) ->

That way it’s one social contract to deal with. We can expand one distrikt at a time.

Hi everyone,

@KileyArroyo Nice to meet you and looking forward to reading your article! Loved the idea you sent to @alberto and would like to explore further, so a dedicated session sounds like a good next step.
I know very little about economics, but you can count on me for how ecological networks function, here is an article:

A wiki with feedback also sounds like a good idea.

I have not read Maelstrom, but after this introduction, it now seems like I will!
@yudhanjaya Thank you! Have you read Embassytown by China Miéville? Reminded me of his biorigging.

1 Like if you hop over here you’ll see that all the ‘entries’ about distrikts are really just wiki articles with back-and-forths as comments and multiple people editing. To create a new entry, simply hit ‘new topic’!

And yes, I have! I loved the language aspect, since a lot of my work is in computational linguistics for resource-poor languages. If indeed we have biorigging in here, that nicely sets up a Distrikt that trades the output of biorigging and IP. We know there’s a BioMonastery on Avantgrid (Avantgrid: The off-grid archipelago) and the Assembly has a history of modifying genestock, particular wheat (The Assembly of People). It would be cool to have a Distrikt that would be the mecca for folks like these (and even competition, and a source of ideas).

@yudhanjaya That seems like cool work! I’m a bit obsessed with languages and their power as neuron modulators.
Maybe The Anthill doesn’t have biorigging to begin with but then evolves it as it turns into a superorganism, and particularly as the AI evolves with it as well :upside_down_face:

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@carolina_carvalho I heard from @KileyArroyo and we propose to meet next week to kickstart this part of the work. I propose Mondat April 4th at 18.00 CEST (Kiley is in California). @yudhanjaya, you are welcome too, though I completely understand if the timne zone does not work for you.

@alberto @KileyArroyo I can make it! (Monday is April 5th though) I recently met Peter Solling from Optimal Altruism / Evolve, he is also really interested in this topic, particularly what concerns integration of organic life and AI. Would it be alright for him to join?

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